Wednesday, September 24, 2014

What is the Key to Writing Successfully?

One of the most important things to have as a writer, more important than knowledge, experience or a great writer’s platform; is momentum.

Momentum is the key to writing successfully, and it is what you get when you’re on a roll, when you’ve got your story in mind or already started, and you have the drive to continue working on it until it’s finished, regardless of whatever else you are doing.

So how do you get it? 

Here are the ten practices I use to maintain constant writing momentum.

1.  Write every day.

Make it a habit.  Find what time of day best suits you and set aside that time to write.  Think of it as your ‘me’ time and it helps to minimize the feeling of selfishness that authors can sometimes get.  Consider writing a favour you do for yourself each day; like exercising your brain.

2.  Write at least 1000 words per day.

1000 words is basically 2.5 pages single-spaced.  Not a lot.  But it’s the regularly doing that many words a day that’s going to get that book finished.  Even if the words suck, at least you’re writing down something.  It’s like primer; you can’t do a good job painting a wall if you don’t prime first.  You can always go back and make changes when the book is complete.

The key here is setting a goal.  Every time you set a goal and meet or exceed it, it makes you feel good and gives you more motivation.  It becomes a cycle and, more importantly, it becomes a habit.  A good habit. 

3.  Make notes after you’ve finished your writing session.

We can’t always finish a scene or chapter before we get interrupted or run out of time.  The best way to maintain good writing momentum from the last time you wrote is to remember exactly what you were planning to write next. 

It’s also a good idea to make notes for future chapters or plot ideas, even character lines that can be used later.  Don’t always rely on memory because then you’re sure to forget once ideas pile up, and then you’ll be kicking yourself for forgetting and worse, for not writing them down.

4.  Do not let other book ideas interrupt you finishing your current project.

You’re right in the middle of writing your latest manuscript.  Suddenly a new book idea pops into your head.  It’s such a phenomenal story idea that you are so tempted to pause your current project and start the new one.  A month later, the same thing happens.  Do you see a pattern here? 

What ends up happening is that you have five or six current writing projects on the go, and you’ve lost sense of your original feel and ideas for most of them. 

The way to stop this is to pull over and take a break, for an hour, from your current writing project.  Write down every possible detail you can about the new project idea that has come to you.  Any detail, down to a possible line or the thought pattern you had when the storyline arrived inside your head.  Save it to a Word document and shelve it.  You can go back and add to it if more comes to you, whether it’s more ideas for that current story, or another book idea. 

As a writer, this is bound to happen, and be thankful that it does.  There are lots of writers out there who would beg and steal to have this kind of flow of inspiration.  But don’t let it distract you.  Take control of it and unleash it when your original project is done.  Otherwise you’re risking losing momentum in your projects because you’re constantly switching from one book idea to the next.

5.  Do not go back and edit until your book is finished. 

Small edits are fine.  Or if something in the timeline isn’t working once you’ve reached a certain point.  What I’m referring to is major plot changes halfway through the book.  What ends up happening is that your original book plan becomes so skewed from constantly making changes, that you lose momentum and give up.

If you have an idea for a different plot, consider that a new plot and make notes in the file mentioned in tip#4.

6.  Go back and re-read. 

Sometimes we do have to put our work away for a while.  Whether it’s due to illness, personal life situations or in my case, having your kids home for the summer.  I do still try to squeeze in some writing each day when I can even if it seems impossible.  But in the event that you do have to walk away from it, make sure you come back and simply re-read where you left off or even the whole manuscript.  Don’t just shelve the book for good and start anew.

7.  Make small sacrifices.

Many of us watch what we may think is just a little television, or spend a perceived small amount of time surfing the internet or on social media.  But if you record the actual time that you use on each or individually, you’d be surprised how much it amounts to. 

One of the best things I ever did for myself was to turn off all the notifications I had on my cell phone.  It was such a distraction getting Facebook and Twitter updates constantly, I barely got any writing done.  The same holds true for the television.  If you cut even one or two shows out per night, you’d be amazed how much writing you can get done.

8.  Get a good laptop, and a good laptop bag.

When I say this, I mean a laptop that is comfortable to use under any circumstance.  Why?  Because if you use little bits of time while on road trips or when you know you’re going to be waiting (at the doctor’s office, dentist, etc.), you can use that time to write.  A good laptop bag is a huge must for me, because my last laptop was so damaged from being knocked around inside a makeshift bag, I nearly lost all my files because it simply gave out on me one day without notice.

9.  Read if you can’t write.

Every night before bed I read.  Sometimes I write, too, but for the most part I’m too tired to write.  Reading good books is food for a writer’s brain.  Consider that if you don’t read that you’re literally starving your brain if you want to continue being a writer.  You simply cannot have the tools involved in writing good books if you’re not reading them too.

10.  Get plenty of rest.

This is somewhat self-explanatory.  However, one interesting point I will note here is that for me, sometimes if I’m feeling particularly ‘out of steam’ literary-wise, I take a nap.  Somehow, usually when I awake, an idea has popped out of my head that gets me out of my temporary slump. 

Needless to say if you haven’t had a good night’s sleep there’s no point in trying to hash out your 1000 words.  Take a nap or give it a go the next day; or hey, if you’re feeling brave, give it a shot! 

Conclusion

Not everything happens overnight; try to implement one or two of these practices over a weekly basis.  It took me nine years to grasp all these things, so take your time.

These are all the steps I follow and so far I’ve had really great momentum with my writing career.  In the nine years that I’ve been writing I have 11 books to my credit (5 self-published, 2 others being released by traditional publishers later this year, and 4 other manuscripts looking for homes) so what can I tell you?  If you want to be successful at writing, write! 


Do you have any additional steps you take to help keep your writing momentum going?  Please share below!

Sandy is the author of fiction and memoirs.  Her latest release is a funny, kid-style memoir called No Thanks, Mommy, I Peed Yesterday.  

Coming Soon!  Don't Mess with Daddy's Girl, Book Two in her police procedural series, is a gripping romantic suspense about a man's love of two things: his girlfriend and the stock market.  Learn more.

Subscribe and get Book One for FREE today!  Click here for details.

To learn more about Sandy, please visit her website by clicking here.  



Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Before Submitting to an Agent, Make Sure Your Book Has These Ten Things

This post is not about making sure your book has the obvious like a catchy title, professional formatting, editing and cover design.  In this post I’m going to discuss the things that are beneath the surface, and only visible once the reader begins diving into a story.

1.  Gripping first chapter

In today’s literary world, the first chapter is so critical.  Not only must you capture your reader’s attention (sometimes on the first page), but you also have to nearly synopsise your entire novel here; without giving away too much.  The first chapter needs to give a real feel for what’s going to happen throughout the entire story. 

(The best example of a remarkable first chapter is Sandra Brown’s Best Kept Secrets-her first chapter encompasses all the elements discussed in this post).

Tip:  Sometimes it's best to add your first chapter after all other chapters are completed.

2.  Geography

Whether or not the story is told in an important place, the reader needs to feel like they’re there geographically.  If you cannot actually visit the place where the plot occurs, then research it.  Read books that take place where your story will, even read maps or picture books that show and tell about the area.  The reader needs to use all five senses to get a feel for where the characters are.

3.  Setting

This is not the same thing as the geographic setting.  The setting can be chronological (past, present or future), it can also be demographic (on a farm in Connecticut with an Hamish family, or in the year 3000 on Mars with a bunch of aliens), make the reader see where they are and feel as though they are a fly on the wall, witnessing all the scenes.

4.  Chapter Conclusion

Each chapter needs to give the reader a reason to keep reading; and I don’t mean this to sound patronizing.  All chapters should have enthralling content, but at the end of the chapter, in order to keep the reader from putting down the book, you need to give them a strong reason not to. 

There are several techniques to do this:

a)  Cliff hanger (most common)
b)  An open-ended question
c)  A questionable look, scene or character being introduced
d)  Leave the reader hanging; end the scene in the middle of the next chapter (the best example of this is E.L. James’s Fifty Shades of Grey).

5.  Pacing

I’ll use E.L. James’s Fifty Shades of Grey in this example again.  If Ana had discovered Christian’s fondness for S & M long after she learned of his painful childhood, the sexual tension and the love story would have unravelled all at the wrong pace.  She gradually fell in love with him as she learned more and more about his childhood. 

All stories must have proper pacing.  You can’t have Peter falling in love with Paula before your climax occurs, unless of course, that is your climax.  Readers want to be challenged and surprised.  Keep them guessing; give them plenty of breadcrumbs along the way, but ultimately keep them turning the pages and nail your climax at the correct time.

6.  No Strings Attached

Once you’ve reached the point in your novel where the climax is about to happen, make sure all the subplots and mystery are going to tie up in the end.  Don’t leave your reader hanging on until your next book is released to find out what’s going to happen.  To most readers that is a turn-off (unless you’re J.K. Rowling or E.L. James and can get away with that).  Bring all the elements and characters together in the end. Let your reader walk away with a contented smile on their face.

7.  Teach Them Something

Any New York Times bestselling book I’ve ever read has taught me something.  Whether it was a moral or literal lesson, I’ve walked away having gained some knowledge.  This is especially true for historical novels.  For example, Philippa Gregory’s entire Tudor novel line is chocked full of in-depth historical facts interlaced within the fictitious portions of the books.  She explains everything in detail in the beginning and end and she includes diagrams of family trees when needed to illustrate what happened within the story.  All her books are fictitious, but you take away some true knowledge of history.

Another example is a recent book I read: Jodi Picoult’s House Rules.  In this novel, the main character suffers from Asperger’s Syndrome.  The author deeply educates the reader in regards to what the condition is, what it’s like to have it and what it looks and feels like to the victim’s loved ones and others around him. 

There are hundreds of other examples of this that I can think of, but the point is that the reader should feel like you had first-hand knowledge of the main theme of the book.  If you don’t have first-hand knowledge; get it.  Whether it’s through researching books, interviewing people, visiting places, whatever it is, make your reader believe you know your stuff, and care that they know it too.

8.  Use Words That Fit

I’m not talking about grammar or repetition here; we all know well enough that you need to have your manuscript properly edited.  What I am talking about is the proper use of words.  There is nothing more boring than reading a book that either has too many fancy words, or nothing but plain language.  My personal rule of thumb is to make sure each page has at least two uncommon words, but make sure the sentence correctly reflects the word, so the reader doesn’t have to bring out the dictionary and decode.

If you’re a seasoned reader this process will come out naturally.  As Stephen King states in his book On Writing, your writer’s toolbox should continue to be packed daily with new words you’ve learned from reading good books.  If you’re not a seasoned reader, trying to stick in fancy words here and there will be obvious.

So what’s the solution?  Read.  Read.  Read.  Every day.

9.  Make Them Laugh

Part of being human is to have emotion.  If you can make your reader laugh out loud, you’re golden.  I don’t mean telling a joke, but that is acceptable if it fits, I mean give them a funny situation and help them feel it.  Bring sunshine to their day.  If nothing else, a reader will tell at least a few people the funny part of your story. It could be one of the most memorable parts of your book so don’t gloss over it.

10.  Make Them Feel

It’s not enough to describe a scene and all that encompasses it.  It isn’t enough to tell the story and what happens within it.  If you want a reader to remember your book, they have to feel it.  Tear their heart out with a tragic ending, make them want to run for the little girl who’s about to cross the busy road unattended.  It’s not enough for the reader to feel like they’re there, make them feel what the characters feel emotionally, physically, environmentally and psychologically. 

You can do this by making them committed to your story.  By committed I mean that they don’t want to put the book down; they have made a commitment to themselves to read it until it’s finished.  Don’t disappoint them by giving them a shallow, underdeveloped plot or character.  If you use all ten elements discussed above, you have at least a decent chance you’ll have a happy reader, perhaps even a loyal one.

Conclusion

I am by no means a New York Times bestselling author, but I aspire to be.  Every day I read bestselling novels, and all these points are what I’ve derived from the books I’ve read.  I do implement all elements into my writing, and I certainly hope to one day be a memorable writer.

Do you have any points to add?  Have I missed anything?  If you can think of any tips that I’ve missed, please feel free to add them into the comments.  I’m happy to hear any additions!

Sandy is the author of fiction and memoirs.  Her latest release is a funny, kid-style memoir called No Thanks, Mommy, I Peed Yesterday.  

Coming Soon!  Don't Mess with Daddy's Girl, Book Two in her police procedural series, is a gripping romantic suspense about a man's love of two things: his girlfriend and the stock market.  Learn more.

Subscribe and get Book One for FREE today!  Click here for details.

To learn more about Sandy, please visit her website by clicking here.  



Writers: A Free and Easy Way to Advertise Your Books

I'm taking a bit of a break from writing for the weekend, and instead focusing on new and improved ways to promote my books, and I stumb...