Category Archives: Writing

Things I Want to Improve About My Writing

WritingThere are some things I need to learn or improve about my writing:

Finding the right amount of outlining

I tend to over-outline. Having a solid outline is the only way for me to write, but too much IS too much. It can prevent you from sitting and actually writing the story, because the outline feels incomplete. Or it can make you too fixated on only one possible solution you fail to see what’s best for the story. That’s why I need to find the minimal amount of outline I need and just start writing.

Knowing where to start

One of the most important things about writing a good story is to know where to start and where to end it. I know when to end a novel. My endings are good. I have a trouble figuring out how to open a novel. My problem is that I grew up with 19th and early 20th century literature. Things take ages to start rolling in those books. I’m used to preparatory chapters and I’m used to having a first hint of a plot circa page 50. However, you can’t go like that anymore. It’s important to start when your story actually starts: not with introduction of the characters or setting, but with the first conflict in the story. I know all of this, and I can identify when it’s a good point to start, and yet I don’t know how to do it without any character or setting introduction.

Being able to cut and change

This is probably one of the most difficult things, because I tend to get emotionally attached to plots, characters and scenes. It’s worst when it’s something I’ve planned for a long time, even since the first idea for a novel. When plots and situations are linked with the story from the beginning, it makes it seem like they’re essential, like they’re integral for the story. So even if it turns out that they don’t fit, I try to force my plot around them. Because hey, I’ve always seen my characters running away from point A to point B using a  boat during a stormy night, so how come I can completely disregard this scene? This scene is been here forever, it’s one of the first things outlined for the story, it’s one of the first things I saw in my mind when I got inspired to write this story! How can I change it, how can I cut it? And yet, that’s the only right thing to do. If it doesn’t fit into the written story (or even outline), it needs to be changed. It doesn’t matter how long it’s been part of the story.

Knowing how to say things with the least amount of words

Unlike this subtitle, I need to make my writing as concise as possible. This is one of my most serious weaknesses. I tend to over explain. I use many words when few would do much better. I repeat myself. I throw too much description. I repeat myself. I never know how to control my word count.

Finding Beta Readers

I know the importance of quality Beta readers, but I still feel hesitant to share my work. This is a huge mistake. You can’t  write a good story without Beta readers. There’s a point for any writer where you need to learn how to share your work with others and how to accept criticism. Interestingly enough, the mere sharing (having someone read it) feels more terrifying to me than people criticizing it. In any case, it’s juvenile and it needs to stop.

Practicing my English

I don’t write in English, and at the same time, I know writing in English is the best way to go if I ever want to be published. However, whatever I write in English seems like pure crap to me, and I’m not even talking about bad grammar – bad grammar is possible to fix. I just don’t seem to have my voice in English, which is a shame. I can do ok when it comes to articles and essays, but not fiction. As usual, practice makes it perfect, but I guess I’m just too much of a coward to try.

Finding the best revision method

When I was younger, I didn’t do any revisions for my novels. I wrote ferociously as a teen, but  mostly to entertain myself and to put my daydreams into words. I lived through these stories, and once they were written, I’d move to the next one. I didn’t have any wish to publish them, and only a few selected people were allowed to read them.

It’s one of the reasons why my revision skills are seriously lacking. I am still trying to figure out the best way to do it: the best way to let it sit on the side, and the best way to identify all the problems in the writing and to find solutions. The best way to cut, and then cut some more. The best way to know when I should stop revising and move to another story.

Photo credit: Olivander via photopin cc

NaNoWriMo is Over (and What I Learned)

So, NaNoWriMo is over, and I won! Well, as usual, I managed to write more than 50 000 words in a month (around 64 000 to be exact), but, unsurprisingly, my novel is far from being finished. I’m currently at chapter 9 out of about 30. Go figure.

Well, this is fantasy so it’s understandable that the word count is higher. I am still unsure if this is going to be a single novel or a trilogy. There is sure enough material for a trilogy (or at least a duology – is there such a thing as a fantasy duology, BTW?), but it’s definitely one story and no part is a standalone novel. I am not sure. I figured I have to write it all to see where it stands.

What have I learn during this NaNoWriMo? Well, for starts, that I write much better under pressure – my best word count score was in 2010 while I was working away from home and had only limited time to write. When I have more time (or I think I have more time), I tend to over think. Overthinking = bad for writing. These things should be left for the revision. Seriously: the first draft will suck anyway, so you need to write it as productively as you can, to tell the whole story for the first time and to see where you stand.

Another thing I learned is that I need to find a balance between plotting and pantsing. I’m not going to lie: I’m a big plotter. I can’t write unless I know all the important elements of a story. But what I consider a key element can basically be… anything. See the problem? I am one of those people who world build to no end and plot every single thing. I’ve spent years – as in, almost a decade – plotting this fantasy story. Yes, you read that right: the first time I started plotting it, Lord of the Rings movies were in cinemas. I was in my early 20s. Oh, I feel so old now.

But back to the point: I am a plotter, a big one. But sometimes, it doesn’t work for a story, mainly because it a) prevents you from writing until you figured everything out and b) it can make you bored by the story by the end of the plotting because there’s nothing new for you to discover in it. And perhaps the most important: you can’t plot everything until you start writing – the actual process of writing will change some of your ideas, and it’s the only way to see what works and what doesn’t. So I figured I had to develop a bit of a looser approach, to become a bit, just a bit of a pantser. So, I am letting this story navigates itself. It allows me to see the story the way a reader would. There’s more on this topic and I hope I’ll write more about it (plotting vs pantsing), but the point is that I’m leaving some things open and it makes my writing a bit slower because I constantly need to re-evaluate what I’ve written and see if it works.

I also learned it’s difficult for me to write action-packed scenes or sudden changes in setting. The story is about a journey (road movie style… well, more of a fantasy quest), and I constantly need to take my characters, move them around, and there’s always something going on. While some of this stuff is exciting to write, I have a feeling I’m not dedicating enough time to my characters, their personalities and the “deeper” parts of the story (Ugh. I hate this word. Sounds pretentious). What I mean is that I like slower parts because they allows me to explore characters, setting and the overall point of the story better – but since they are on the move, I don’t feel I can do it adequately. Maybe I’m just imagining things, but it’s a bit difficult for me to adapt to this faster pace.

It’s also a bit challenging to write with so many characters (there are 8 main characters, plus one that will also be significant). It’s not my first time to do it, but this time I want to do it right. I just have to accept that certain characters will get more “screen” time than the others, and it’s fine, but I need to find a balance so I can explore their personalities. I know a lot about all of them (I’ve been plotting the story for almost a decade, remember?), and it’s a bit challenging to make this short version work, so to speak. I also need to find a way to make my main character a big of an egoistical jerk but still sympathetic and relatable. But it’s another kind of a challenge.

Music. I am not a band member and my characters are musicians. I can’t play and they can, so it is challenging. It’s one of the reasons that kept me in the plotting stage for so long, because I didn’t feel ready to start writing before I do my research about these technical aspects of music. But you know what? I actually figured out that music and sound in my world are different than here, so I have a freedom of making my own rules on how musicians might feel and what they do. It’s one of those things I figured out only after I started writing the story, which is another reason why all plotters should learn how to be pantsers at least a bit.

Stuff I learned in previous NaNoWriMos that are still true today: I’ve learned a lot from previous NaNos, especially the 2010 one. Some of this things are: dialogue. I am good at it. Well, good enough to express my characters’ personalities through dialogue. I used to believe dialogue is not my strength and that I shouldn’t use it often, but now I see it’s actually one of the best aspect of my writing (there’s still room for improvement, of course). Another thing I learned is that I can write from a male POV. I had no idea how that would go, but 2010 NaNo taught me that I can write from a male POV, which is good, because this year’s story has a male protagonist. I also learned how to describe things: instead of throwing a full-blown description section, I give little hints and describe people and settings in a few key lines. It works better and it’s more memorable that way.

Doing NaNoWriMo

Two years ago, just a week before I graduated from university (and had a nasty cold shower of reality when it comes to job options in my country – first of many, that is), I joined NaNoWriMo.

So yes, you can say this happening is important for me. Both emotionally and as a writer. I need someone to, well, make me write. I really like the support and the sense of being there together, writing 50 000 words (or more!) in a month. It may sound counter-productive (you can’t create art on a cue, right?), but it’s actually important becuase it does make you write. This is a great thing for those who tend to find excuses and procrastinate to no end. To all those who never feel ready or never feel like it’s the right moment, or who never feel their ideas are good enough. It does make you write, as in, actually write; put words on (electronic) paper, turn your inner editor off and don’t look back.

There’s some great motivation coming from the task of writing a novel in a month.

The Novel Itself

There’s this idea of mine I feel really passionate about. It’s almost decade in the making – sounds ambitious, but frankly, it’s almost a decade of daydreaming and procrastinating and not the actual writing. Not really proper outlining, except in some key concepts.

It’s a story about a somewhat crazy world of hippies and rednecks and evil magnates and nature and a group of misfits on a journey. And rock music. Lots of it.

It’s fantasy, and it requires a lot of world building. In a way, you are never ready when you wish to do something like this. There’s still a lot of research and world building you need to do. But I kind of realized that I have to start writing it at one point. I need to write that first draft because I really want to tell this story, but daydreaming about it is just not enough. I need to write that first draft, at least partially and NaNoWriMo seems like a good place to start. Like I said, writing a novel with so many other people doing the same can motivate a person to stop procrastinating and actually do it.

Am I scared? Shit scared. But I really want to tell this story.

The 7 Pillars of Writing

Writing process is individual, and what works for one person might be completely useless for somebody else. Still, here are some essential things most writers need to learn how to do (in their unique ways):

Reading

You can’t be a good writer if you don’t read. Read a lot, read good books, read bad books, read books of the kind you want to write. It’s more than just having fun: reading makes you understand what works and what doesn’t work in a novel.

Inspiration

Learn to recognize a story idea when it presents itself to you. This is one of the rare effortless moments (everything else is hard work), so learn to embrace it. When something seems inspiring, or when you start thinking about a plot idea or a dialogue, make sure to write it down.

Outlining

Outlining is expanding your idea, and it’s all down to your unique writing method. No two writers do it in the same way. There are plotters and pantsers. Plotters like to have every single thing planned before they sit to write the first draft. Pantsers start without an outline, but that doesn’t mean they work without one. For these people, a first draft serves as an outline. Whatever you do, you need to find a way to expand your initial idea into a coherent story. Since there are many different ways to do it, you need to find the one that works for you. The only way to know is to try and see what suits you.

Writing

This is the actual process of putting words on paper. Never (ever, ever) mistake an outline or a story you have in your head for the actual writing. If you want to be a writer, you need to WRITE. You need to put those words on paper (a real or electronic one, doesn’t matter) to produce a first draft. It’s not easy. Most of it will seem like rubbish, and a lot of it will be rubbish. You’ll experience frustration, inspiration, confusion and a writer’s block. It’s important to keep writing. If you have to, set a strict regime. For example, write two hours a day. No exceptions. You’ll write even when it’s the last thing you want to do, even when your words seem like the worst crap ever written. This is the only way to get it done with the first draft and the only way to practice your craft.

Revising

This is another big step. You need to learn how to turn that mess of a first draft into something that makes sense. Again, the revising process is highly individual, so you need to learn what works best for you. Some people start with identifying problems with the story. Others revise line by line. Some include Beta readers right from the start. The only seemingly universal thing about the revision is that you shouldn’t start it right away. You need to put your story aside for a while and get back to it later. All stories will need at least one revision, probably more. However, you also need to know when to stop revising. There’s no need to do a 14th revision of a story. At one point, you just have to let it go and move to your next story.

Sharing

You can’t write a good story without some constructive criticism (emphasis on constructive). This is what Beta readers are for. In a way, this step is part of the revising process. Some people prefer to share their material with Beta readers right from the start, while others choose to make the story as good as possible. Some even share the material in the process of writing the first draft, or even before, when they’re outlining or thinking about good solutions. Whatever you do, understand the importance of Beta readers (and other people who can help you). You need this feedback; no book exists without readers.

Publishing

Not all writers want to publish their work, but unless you’re writing diary or a story for yourself, chances are you’ll want people to read your story. There are many ways to bring it to the readers, from sharing it among your friends or publishing it on your blog to seeking a commercial publisher. Each of these methods require a different approach, so you need to know what you want for your story and you need to understand the rules of the game. If you wish to be published traditionally (or even if you want to self-publish), you will need to deal with the business side of writing. Many writers refuse to think about writing in commercial terms, but you need to understand how things work in order to choose the best path for you and your work.

Writing About How to Write

I want to write about writing.

While this is, in essence, a personal blog, most of the time I don’t feel comfortable enough to write about my personal life or problems, so it was always more about the external things, such as movie review, social commentary or random rants. I also love to write about writing, not because I believe I’m an expert in the field (far from it), but because I like to have a space where I can share my thoughts and observations on fiction writing.

I also feel this theme might be inspiring enough to make me blog more often – at least twice a week, because this blog is in urgent need of some updating. While I was never popular – far from it – I’ve witnessed, over and over again, visitors leaving when there’s nothing new on the blog for weeks (you can’t blame them).

Stuff I want to blog about:

Writing tips

Again, I don’t want to pretend I’m an expert, so these will mostly be some observations I will, first and foremost, write as a reminder to myself. It might include points on characterization and plot, DOs and DON’Ts, common misconceptions, writing myths, etc.

Existing example of this kind of posts: How NOT to create Mary Sue

My writing process

These posts will cover my own way of outlining, writing and revising, writing schedule and stuff that works (or doesn’t work) for me.

Existing example: Choosing Character Names

Fiction I like & dislike

These will probably be made as reviews. Same goes for film reviews.

Existing example: The Power of Writing: Atonement

Things I probably won’t blog about:

Short stories, poems, essays, etc. The posts will focus on novel writing, because this is what I’m experienced with. Which is, by the way, a serious problem: a writer needs to know how to write in different formats. I suck at writing poems and I don’t know how to write short stories. It’s bad. So I might reconsider short story writing, but since there are so many things so be said about novel writing, I’m not sure about this. As for essays, I am good at them, but they’re completely different beasts.

Writing excerpts. I’m not confident enough in my English to share my writing online. I might reconsider this, because I know it’s impossible to practice your craft without beta readers and some critique.

This doesn’t mean I’ll turn this into a writing blog. However, expect to see more writing-related posts from now on.