Writer Life Lesson #24: Sometimes It’s Better Not to Outline

I have been working on a novel and its series for nearly eight years now. Several of them have had outlines and several of them haven’t. All of them have been started during National Novel Writing Month and a few of them have been finished. Why am I telling you about my projects in a post about outlining?

Because Sometimes it’s better not to outline.

The first few drafts of book one of my series, I outlined, which set the pace for the rest of the series. There are three point of views and each of them have twelve chapters. So thirty-six chapters per book. That’s easy enough, right? It helps with pacing and makes sure that the book doesn’t get too long and winded. “Ok, it’s section 10/12, time to start wrapping it up,”I think to myself as I write and begin to get bored with the plot after months and months.

The problem however, is that a lot of times when I get to section ten or eleven, I still have so much story and I shoehorn the plot in and plan to fix it later. It’s an ugly process, but for post-nano and finishing novels it works for me.

Until recently, that is.

I’ve lost count of the number of drafts that I’ve written for the first book of my series. I have tried to stick to the “Twelve chapters of each point of view, nice and tidy at thirty-six chapters” plan, but for this rewrite, because there is so much information in the first book that needs to be added in, I have decided to chuck my outline and chapter structures. I have decided to just write what needs to be written and fill in the blanks later.

I have the basic plot and know where the characters need to end up at the end of the novel, but I’m letting them surprise me with what happens in between and leaving myself notes as I go. It’s a freeing process, because the characters can breathe and have organic interactions and have time to expand before they all reach the end.

I’m finding so many more interesting things than I would have if I had stuck to my outline.¬† Some of my best novels so far have been ones where I have a loose outline or none at all.

If you’re stuck, try not outlining and see what happens.

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Writer Life Lesson #23: Write Three Sentences

Yes, you are reading that correctly. Just three sentences.

Life is busy for most writers. We have day jobs, kids, pets, outside life to deal with once we leave the page. Several things interrupt us from our stories and as more days pass it becomes more difficult to get back into the story.

We also have distractions, such as Netflix, TV, flash games. I have been guilty lately of giving into the distractions instead of writing and falling deeper into despair that I haven’t been writing.

How do I fix that? Write Three Sentences.

It almost seems too easy, right? For some of you, it might be. Some of you writers are probably thinking “That’s it?!”. But hear me out.

If you’re distracted, binging Netflix, stuck playing Facebook games, or catatonic after your day job, three sentences can feel like a mountain.

My new binge has been listening to podcasts. They can vary in length from fifteen minutes to an hour, sometimes an hour and a half. I’ve told myself that age old excuse of “I’ll write after this podcast ends” and then it automatically starts to play the next one and I think that same thought. Repeat Ad Nauseum until it’s time to go to bed.

What I have decided to do, and that works for me, is pausing the podcast, writing three sentences and then returning to the podcast, or the Netflix episode, or whatever else has been captivating my attention.

Over the past couple days, I have written about three thousand words just three sentences at a time. I’m in love with my story and characters again and am finally advancing the plot. An added bonus is I no longer have days where I don’t write anything. Even if it’s 100 words, that’s still something.

If you’re like me, and distracted by social media, Netflix, podcasts, TED talks, or anything else, and still wanting to write, pause that Netflix episode, that podcast, that TED talk, take a break from whatever is pulling you away from your writing and write three sentences .

Hopefully, when you do, one of these things will happen. You will either want to continue writing more than those three sentences or want to get back to whatever was distracting you. If you do go back to what was distracting you, try the three sentence rule again at the next break.

Even if you do just write three sentences at a time, eventually your project will be finished.

Writing Ruts

No matter what kind of writing project you attempt, you are going to run into roadblocks, or writer’s block, or mental blocks. All kinds of blocks are bad.

I recently won NaNoWriMo 2016 with a whopping 100K. It was such a huge accomplishment considering the past few years I have always struggled to write every day. This year, I did. I kept the momentum going and before I knew it I was hitting 50K and then 75K and then finally 100K.

You may be wondering: Why is she telling me a success story? 

Why am I telling you?

Because it was a success, I hit the word count goal, but the story wasn’t done. I still had five sections to finish. And once I felt like I had won, writing felt like pulling teeth.

My inner editor came back with a vengeance.

The writers block that I had been pushing away, through day after day of writing, finally rolled back down crushing me.

The beautiful characters and story that I had been weaving became stale.

The words had escaped like tortured prisoners.

And I couldn’t write like I was.

Weeks went by without the word counts in the thousands, and I felt like it all just sucked.

So what should you do when you reach that point?

There are a few options.

Change Your View

If you’re writing on a screen, it can become monotonous. The same background (usually white) and the same font and black letters, it gets boring. The paragraphs all look the same, and the words blend and even read monotonous.

So change your view. Make the font the farthest thing from the original font that you can still read, change the background color to neon pink, intent and unindent until it’s barely recognizable.

Even more simple? Write on a different screen. Switch from the laptop to the phone, or vice versa.

Work on Something Else

If you are anything like me, you have a lot of projects that are either half done, or written in notebooks and not typed, or any combination of those two. I started writing the old fashioned way, in notebooks, so I have a lot of drafts that I have yet to type up. When I get stuck on a current project, I turn to those.

I turn to those, to crank out a chapter or two, for several reasons.

  1. They are several years old and it allows me to surprise myself
  2. They are several years old and so bad that the grammar and spelling and everything makes me cringe. Most of the time it gets rid of any doubts that I have about my current work.

Another thing I turn to is fanfiction. Not to read it, but to write it, to try something I might be scared or anxious to try in something original.

Sometimes it helps to just have characters that are a little more developed tackle the problems first and then make it more original.


Go on Social Media

Yes! Scroll through facebook, or twitter, or tumblr or any other social media.

But here’s the trick. Pick a common word (I like “The” or “and”) and every time you see that word in a post, write a sentence in your work.

You might be surprised what comes out.

Those are usually how I get writing.

What are your tips for getting out of a writing rut?

Writer Life Lesson #22: Every Piece You Write is Important… Even Fanfiction

What are you writing right now? Is it a novel, an essay, a smut filled fanfiction, literally anything else where you put words on paper?

First: Good for you! You’re writing. 

Second: Don’t stop writing and don’t ever throw it away. It’s important to your writing craft. 

Every Piece You Write is Important. 

Think about your whole writing career for a second. Whether you started writing yesterday or two decades ago, you have a writing career. Now think about all the stories you have worked on, finished or not. 

Whether they were published, or thrown into a drawer never to see the light of day again, they are important to how you see yourself and how you build yourself as a writer. 

Even those fanfiction stories you wrote in middle school and high school. 

Just by writing, whether it’s a short story for school or a long novel series, or even something small like one great sentence, you are improving your writing career and getting one word closer to finishing that story, or chapter, or book, or even series. 

By trying things in stories, even if that story will never be published, or be seen by readers, you are improving and gaining knowledge of how to make things better the next time you decided to use that idea. 

That is why I love fanfiction. Both writing and reading it. It gives me a chance to try things in a novel I hope to eventually publish and see how people react to it without actually using it in my novel yet. 

An example would be the parallels between my novel and a fanfiction story I was writing last year. 

In my novel series, a character suffers from amnesia (clich√© ? Yes, but trying to make it less so). In the fanfiction, a character wakes up after an OD with amnesia, and I got to play around with how to both write and format flashbacks between the characters without it being too clunky or boring. 

Every piece is important to our growth as writers. 

Stuck on how to write something? Why not try fanfiction and see what happens!

Good luck in all your writing endeavors! 

Tuesday How To: Make the Conflict Match Your Characters

So you’re all set to start writing. You have your  favorite drink or snack on hand, you have the timer set for at least 10 minutes, ready to get down at least some words that sound semi smart in this writing session, and you have your characters all fleshed out and ready to go.

Or do you?

Part of being a writer is working with conflict and how it affects your characters. Every conflict should affect characters in some way, but certain conflicts will affect them more.

Take the difference between a trained fighter and a plumber. If you put the fighter into an MMA ring, he would have no problems understanding how to fight and possibly win against the other fighter. You put that plumber in the ring and now you have a conflict. Does the plumber know how to win against the other fighter or not?

There is your conflict. 

I like to think of conflict as “What is the worst possible thing that could happen to this character that they could possibly come out of and possibly be happy?” 

An example I’ll give you is from the series I am currently working on. The main character in book one, when his story starts, is a weakling who lets other people make most of his choices for him. In the relationship with his best friend, he is the weaker of the two, and he lets her run the show. When the shift happens, when his best friend can no longer make decisions, he has to step up and be the strong one in their relationship. This is part of his growth throughout the series, and it creates conflict later in the series when she starts to make choices for herself again.

The best way to make a conflict is to decide how far you want to push your characters. What they need to be pushed forward into their world and fight for what they need. 

A good rule of thumb is to use opposites. 

Let’s return to the plumber and the fighter for a few moments. Let’s say the plumber is a pacifist and is against fighting, but his wife and kids are kidnapped by someone. Pacifist plumber tries the nice route, going to where the villain is keeping his wife and kids, but he gets his ass handed to him by the hulk like bouncer. Now Mr. Plumber has a choice, which creates conflict.

Should he go against his ideals and train to kick the bouncer’s ass and save his family, or should he keep his ideals and try to deal with the villain another way?

Depending on what you, as the writer, choose, it could be two very different stories. 

How do you make your conflicts match your characters strengths and weaknesses?

Writer Life Lesson #21: Set a Timer and Write Like Mad

Writing is a difficult task, and yet the easiest task in the world. All you have to do is put words on paper, any words at all. That, unfortunately can become pretty complicated when you add in work, school, family time, shopping, etc etc etc. When you add in all the other aspects of life, writing can seem to become not as important as everything else. 

This week’s lesson: Set a Timer and Write Like Mad!

It sounds easy enough, right? Set a timer and just write. It doesn’t matter what, or where, or even how. As long as words are going down on the page, whatever the medium, you are making progress. 

I usually set a timer for 10 or 15 minutes to start with, since starting with a full hour or even 45 minutes can be very intimidating. This can change depending on your desire to write too, or how much time you actually have. Some days, all you’re going to get is five minutes, as unfortunate as that may be. 

This method works so well because it gets past that feeling of unworthiness and the fear of messing up and helps to break through to that sweet spot of writing where everything just falls into place. It will get you into the writing mood. 

I am off to do 10 minutes, anyone want to join?

How To Tuesday: Every Story Needs Conflict

We’ve all read stories where it seems like nothing is happening. Stories that are boring, or slow, or maybe the characters just aren’t working for us as readers. I find that most of the time when stories bore me, it’s because the conflict doesn’t resonate with me, or that there doesn’t seem to be a conflict, or high enough stakes for me to have an interest in the results. 

Every story needs to have some sort of conflict. 

Whether it’s the fact that your character can’t find the right shoes for their prom dress or the character has to diffuse a bomb before the timer goes off and he can’t tell what color word to cut because he’s colorblind. Your story needs a conflict, something to resolve for the story to feel complete. 

If you don’t have a conflict for your characters, it might as well be a story where everyone is happy and nothing bad ever happens. Even short stories need conflicts, something to move the plot forward and engage the reader and make them care about the characters and what happens to them. Even the simplest of things can become conflicts. 

The easiest way to come up with a conflict is to think of the word thing that could happen to your character and make it happen, but we will talk more about that next week.