How to Finish That First Draft

I thought it an appropriate post for today because that is where I’m at right now with a project that, until a month ago, was entirely unplanned. Yes, yes, details to follow on the wings of a book update. But not today. Because I want to finish the first draft first. And I’m writing this post to encourage you with your first draft, and also to give myself a kick to finish mine. 🙂  I know, I’m horrible.

But seriously. First. Drafts. Are. Torture.

Why? Because

1. You probably don’t know exactly how it’s going to end.

Figuring out an ending, at least for me, is almost impossible. It’s got to be just right. It has to be good. And that’s the tricky part.

2. You get halfway or so through the story and you realize . . . it’s RUBBISH!

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We all get to this point, especially with the first draft. But fear not, there’s some potential there somewhere. And remember, there’s a ninety-percent chance it’s not as bad as you think. We writers can’t judge our own work. So don’t you dare throw it in the shredder until you let someone objectively read it. (Hear that, me??) Or maybe a couple someones, to be safe.

 

Now let’s move on. That’s why the first draft is so hard, if you were not already aware. But there are certainly a few tricks in the book for finishing that first draft. In no specific order, some of these I’ve implemented, others I ought to. 🙂

1. WRITE OUT ALL POSSIBILITIES FOR AN ENDING.

This one, of course, applies mostly to those of us who are at the end of our draft – and if you are, then you’re probably also at the end of your supply of coffee or tea or pretzels or apple cider or whatever else you use to keep your sanity during the writing process. I heartily recommend you treat yourself when all this nonsense is over.

Okay, yeah, I’m getting sidetracked. So, take out the good ol’ fashioned notebook and write out all the ideas you have for an ending. Then pick one. And if you can’t pick . . .

2. PICK AT RANDOM, WRITE IT, THEN HAVE A CRITIQUE PARTNER READ IT AND GIVE THEIR ADVICE AS TO AN ALTERNATE ENDING, IF NEEDED.

That title was quite self-explanatory. But you get the idea. Whatever you do, just plunge through. (See what that was, there?) Don’t stop to fuss over that lame adjective or that weak verb or that two-dimensional character arc. You’ll worry about that in the editing process.

3. TAKE A SHORT – SHORT! – BREAK.

Take a couple days to breathe if you think that will help. It might give you a push to keep going, but don’t let a breather ruin your momentum.

4. OUTLINE, OUTLINE, OUTLINE.

Never take a plot outline for granted unless you’re not a planner when it comes to the writing process. A detailed outline, while it is bound to change and should be expected and allowed to change, can be invaluable as you put together your masterpiece. I could not write two chapters without an outline. However, note that a first draft is the one in which the plot and the characters will not bend to your will. That’s the second draft.

 

Whatever you do to push through the many treacherous adventures of the first draft, don’t stop writing. Do not take your word for it when your mind laments over the absurdity of every word you’ve just written. You know why that happens? I have a theory. Maybe it’s because your heart would give a more favorable opinion than your mind regarding your book, but your heart has been shredded, scorched, and put back together with your characters, and therefore, by the end of the book, it refuses to keep up your optimism.

And now, let’s chat! What is your advice for conquering the giants in the first draft? Resupply your survival food and we’ll chat in the comments.

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How to Write on Crazy Deadlines (it’s not as hard as it might seem)

There’s something in all of us, I think, that resents a deadline. We steer clear wherever we can, or do something really smart like finish wwaayy before the actual deadline. But as writers, we are doomed to face a lot of deadlines. And there are a few tricks to mastering them so they’re not quite so daunting.

1. PACE YOURSELF

I recently took part in NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month) and this was one of the most valuable lessons I learned. In order to write on a deadline, especially one as crazy as 50,000 words in 30 days, you must pace yourself according to the time-word count ratio. Once you enter a place where you are regularly writing a substantial amount on a daily basis, you can actually find yourself in the “zone” of writing more often than not. This was also the case for me in NaNo. The more I wrote, the more I experienced the steady flow of inspiration.

2. WRITE MORE THAN YOU NEED TO

This one is not quite so obvious as the former but can actually help on a lengthy deadline as well as a tighter one. Not only can it help in entering the flow of writing, but it can take off some of the pressure and allow you a day off.

3. DON’T TAKE ON TOO MANY UNNECESSARY DEADLINES . . .

. . . because that can cause serious stress. 🙂 Bear in mind any deadlines you may have in other areas before taking one or more on in writing.

4. KEEP TRACK

This can be crucial, depending on the project. In something such as NaNoWriMo, your words per day are cataloged for you, and this is essential in knowing how much to push yourself and how much to pace yourself.

Are there any I’ve missed? What are your techniques for writing to a deadline? Share them in the comments so we can help new writers explore all the possibilities of writing armed with foreknowledge!

Merry Christmas, Happy New Year, and a Book Update

So, friends, let’s get back to blogging after a substantial break. Christmas can get busy, can’t it?

How was your Christmas season? Show of hands – how many of you received either reader- or writer-oriented gifts under the tree? Like a good book? Or a new notebook? Or a stash of bookmarks just for you? (Do you lose bookmarks as often as I do? I literally lose as many bookmarks as I acquire.)

Movin’ on, let’s talk about New Year’s resolutions . . . or revolutions? 🙂 I haven’t set any yet. *grins sheepishly* I’ll let ya all know. But anywho, resolutions are good. Goal-setting and all that. Anybody making plans for NaNo in 2018? Okay, that is one resolution I’m making.

We covered Christmas and New Year’s pretty quick . . . but I did promise you all a book update, now didn’t I?

It’s been ages since I announced the stage of my portal fantasy novel, but since NaNoWriMo, there hasn’t been a ton or writing going on. I’m going to be taking January to actually finish the second draft of the novel. Eeeppp! Prayers needed, folks, seriously. That and pizza, please??? Or a little ice cream. Or a lot of cold chicken legs. Mmm, those are good. Who else is taking January for a writing surge? Let me know so I can send you some of that pizza and those cold chicken legs . . . or would you rather just the pizza?

🙂

Yeah, yeah, I’m rambling. But anyway, I’m also polishing up a revised synopsis, which I won’t actually – probably – release until my critique partner and I go through the second draft together, as I’ll need to garner her opinion on a few plot adjustments.

So there is where we be at this December 27th, 2017-soon-to-be-’18. (Was any of that grammatically correct, I wonder.) What’s up in your world?

Let’s chat! Where are you going this New Year? Any special plans? If you haven’t already seen it or made a plan to see it, you must watch The Man Who Invented Christmas. It . . . is . . . fantastic. If you’re a writer or a Charles Dickens’ fan or just a reader, watch that movie. Seriously.

Is Your Story Made of Starlight Dust? (The long-awaited part 2)

Was it really a long-awaited part 2? I don’t know. You tell me. I know it was long-awaited for me because it has pretty much taken me since part 1 to discover the answer to the unanswered question I raised in that post – what is starlight dust and how does it fly from your imagination and into your story?

If you don’t remember or did not read that post, I encourage you to check it out. There were some wonderful responses!

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Is your story one of starlight dust?

So. The question I asked as I puzzled over it in my own mind was, “Why do I write some stories and they just completely flow? There’s little effort to really get it out, and it comes out solid and good. Why do I write other stories and, after great effort and writer’s block, it comes forth choppy, jagged, empty?”

My critique partner and I settled on our own term for this mystery – starlight dust – and I proceeded to observe in my own work when I saw that “dust” and when I didn’t. It’s been eons . . . but I believe I’ve discovered what starlight dust in the written word means to me.

There is not one strict answer. Show of hands, how many of you have seen the epically awesome, squeal-worthy, downright incredible The Man Who Invented Christmas? It’s in theaters now, if you haven’t even heard of it – inconceivable! – and you must watch the trailer. Anyway, enough fangirling – never enough! – let me get to the point.

Spoiler Free: In the above-mentioned movie, we witness the process Charles Dickens went through to write the second-greatest Christmas story of all time, A Christmas Carol. The first-greatest is Jesus’. But I think we’re safe to presume A Christmas Carol ranks second. Okay, so, in this new movie, providing the following bits of the film are true to Dickens’ life, we see an enormous portion of that author’s life, past, and convictions being poured into the book he worked so hard to produce.

And thus, we see starlight dust. Because of what Dickens put of himself into the story – without trying to – it came to life. Again, providing those tidbits of the film are true, as I have done no research on the topic, because A Christmas Carol came straight from Dickens’ heart, it was showered in starlight dust.

So, our past, present, and personal convictions can drastically affect whatever it is we’re writing. They can give the story that special glow I now label starlight dust.

What else? Having observed my own writing, I believe there’s another source. And it’s just a plain and painful fact: Some stories we can put our hearts into, and some we cannot. It is the blessing-in-disguise of writing. But when you can pour passion, like your convictions, into whatever it is you’re writing, it can illuminate the words so they become totally yours.

Of course, just because you deal with writer’s block or fatigue or pulling your hair out – do you do that? I’ve never experienced it – or slamming your head against a brick wall – or your keyboard. I don’t recommend either – those things do not mean there is no starlight dust to be found, or that what you’re struggling with isn’t what you should be writing. Beware of falling into those excuses.

There are, of course, many, many other sources for that special light only you can give your story. We wouldn’t have enough time to write down or read through all of them. Perhaps the major ones are the two highlighted here – convictions/you and passion. But many more exist and only you can uncover what starlight dust means for you.

So, while you’re puzzling over that, go watch The Man Who Invented Christmas. I saw it in theaters yesterday for my first-ever visit to a theater. (I know, I know. I’m sixteen and have never been to a theater.) It was an interesting experience. 🙂

Tell me, friends, what does starlight dust mean to you? Any tidbits you can share to encourage someone struggling as I was with figuring out what’s wrong with this story? And perhaps the most important question of the day . . . drumroll commences . . . drumroll ends . . . HAVE YOU SEEN THE MAN WHO INVENTED CHRISTMAS YET!

Writing Non-Fiction (and an exciting update)

So, yes, school has utterly annihilated my blogging schedule. Yep. *sheepish grin* I’m terribly sorry . . . but I have an exciting announcement at the end of this blog post that I believe we’ll all find fortuitous. 🙂 Anyway . . . let’s talk about writing, shall we?

Okay, how many of you have ever read or written non-fiction? Show of hands? Non-fiction is good to read, but can be difficult to write. There’s a balance that should be found in the flow, a readability that comes across easily to a reader. And of course, don’t exaggerate. 🙂 . . . Too much . . .

But suppose you’re doing a more “real-life” sort of non-fiction, like the following piece written prior to a fundraising event for an agriculture program:

“Stewardship” is essentially taking care of something considered worth protecting. Think about it. We protect heirloom seeds. We preserve heritage livestock. We save household antiques! We have become stewards of these things. Why? Because we have made the decision that they are worth protecting for today and tomorrow and the next generation. My vision for Stewardship is the same, only rather than preserving a breed of heritage livestock, Stewardship preserves a way of life. A way of raising the animal that returns the entire farm to sustainability. Educating the people, empowering the farmer, restoring the herd . . . 

That is stewardship.

This piece was intended to capture attention. Did it succeed? Did it draw you in? I’m genuinely asking you these questions,  because . . . I’m the author of that piece up there. 🙂 Yep. That’s the announcement. I’m a hair’s breath from launching an agricultural program from the family farm which will proceed with the vision outlined in that paragraph. That was a snippet from the soon-to-be-published website,  which I will link here by Friday.

In addition, there’s an important reason that I am announcing this. Next month I will be launching a GoFundMe campaign for this project. You can find lots more information and updates here, on my new blog. I will also be adding numerous updates via this blog, so get prepared.

Also, please get prepared to join the movement. Stewardship is a quest to revolutionize the small farm in a way that will feed our families and our communities for generations to come. This GoFundMe campaign is the launching pad for this project. We can’t do it without you, my friend. Let’s make a difference. Together.

Until next time! Tell me what you think. Have any questions? Let’s start the conversation . . . and change the world.

The Many Uses for Secondary Characters

So, no matter what you’re writing, you probably have some characters that aren’t as important as the MC(s), but they’re just kinda there. The awesome thing about these seemingly unimportant characters? They can become important. Remember, you’re the author. You can more or less make them do what you want. However, it does sometimes feel like the story has taken on a life of its own. 🙂

There are numerous uses for a secondary character. One of the best, they’re expendable. If you need a character to get killed off, but you can’t bear to do it to a main character, consider fashioning a secondary one for that purpose alone. *wicked chuckle* Make them likable, too. *wicked chuckle*

Anyway, another great use for your secondary characters is how they can subtly influence the plot to steer it in a desired direction. For instance, I once wrote a draft in which an SC caused the main character to end up in this particular situation, which was the climax. She did this unintentionally – it was her presence and what that brought about in the story.

You can also have one or two SC(s) create a subplot. However, be aware that subplots can be used to “kill some time” and not to move the story along. You pretty much want everything – or close to everything, at least – to move your story along.

HOW OFTEN SHOULD A SECONDARY CHARACTER APPEAR ON SCREEN . . . OR PAPER?

It depends on their level of importance. You may have them start out in the first draft as a secondary character and end up by the last draft as an MC. It happens. 🙂 But how often a strictly SC will appear depends totally on the way you’re using them in the story. Typically, these characters in my stories have very important roles, but remain expendable.

DO I RUN THE RISK OF DISTRACTING FROM THE STORY WITH A SECONDARY CHARACTER?

That’s always possible, but if writing a first draft, don’t worry about it. You can edit later. Just remember if you’re bringing in an SC, it is probably to build on or move forward the story.

And now, LET’S CHAT. How do you use secondary characters in your story? Have I left something out? What is your opinion on subplots? Pour yourself some apple cider – or coffee, if you prefer – and I’ll bring dessert. Healthy dessert, mind you. 🙂 Anybody up for carrot cake?

Writing a Synopsis – How to and How Not

Don’t forget to stop by my new blog, Diary of a Teenage Prepper, for fun homesteading updates!

 

It doesn’t seem like it would be that big of an issue, right? A synopsis just states what the book is about. No problem.

If only . . .

Today, let us delve into the tricks, the how-tos and how-not-tos, of writing a synopsis.

HOW-TO #1 – READ THEM

The best way to figure out how to write a synopsis is to read them. How much info do they give? How much do they withhold? Take note of key words and phrases. Is the title of the book incorporated into the synopsis or left out? Above all, does it make you want to find out what happens? All of these things are critical points of crafting a gripping synopsis.

HOW-TO #2 – PRACTICE MAKES ALMOST PERFECT

I can’t think of any synopsis that is “perfect.” They’re just blurbs, more or less, and perfection is vastly opinion, but anyway – #2. Practice writing a synopsis for your WIP. No matter the stage, write one out and read it over and over again, compare it with the ones you’ve read, read it to someone else. All of these things should help smooth out a synopsis for your work.

HOW-NOT-TO #1 – MAKING IT TOO LONG

I have heard it said that a common problem among authors looking to self-publish is a synopsis that is too long. Just remember, you’re giving the reader a taste, not the entire banquet. You aren’t writing a book report in which every detail must be disclosed. But for that matter, don’t make it too short, either.

HOW-NOT-TO #2 – THINKING IT’S NOT IMPORTANT

A synopsis, in my opinion, is every bit as important as, say, the cover or the first line. It is the invitation for a reader to pick up the book and read it. A synopsis is important. You don’t have to stress over it. Maybe try incorporating a few of these thoughts to get you started. I’ve even used the creation of a synopsis to help in my outlining, and believe me, it does help.

ONE-LINERS AND THE WHAT-IF QUESTION

A grabbing sentence to start off a synopsis can be a pretty great idea. So can a what-if question. After all, a creative what-if setting in a plot – “What if gravity worked in the opposite way?” “What if the sky was orange?” “What if humans were the size of ladybugs?” – can pull a reader in all on its own. So if you’re story has its own what-if, why leave it out when creating your synopsis?

And because she’s one of my favorite authors, I can’t resist sharing her fantastic what-if-question synopsis. Nadine Brandes wrote the Out of Time Series, and her opener for the first of those novels was entirely gripping. Here’s why: “How would you live if you knew the day you’d die?” Who can resist that? I don’t want to know the day I’ll die, so if this character does . . . well, I have to know about it. 🙂

TELL ME YOUR OPINION! What pulls you into a book? Is it the cover? Synopsis? First line? Last line? (I should hope it’s not the last line.) Let me hear from you in the comments! We’ll chat about bookish things.

Crafting Characters – Antagonist’s Apex

There’s a trick to crafting your antagonist. As much as it may seem like their only purpose is to throw a wrench in things for your MC(s) and be hated by the readers, that is not entirely true. The best way to nail down a solid antagonist is to give them a side that can be related to and felt for by the reader and by you.

Yep, I said it. If you can’t swallow that yet, that’s okay. Keep on!

EXAMPLES OF THE ANTAGONIST APEX

What I’ve called the antagonist apex is where the reader is brought to a point or a side of the character that makes them stop and grumble, “I thought I was supposed to hate him/her” because they’ve suddenly found him/her to be slightly less hateable than they thought . . .  Is that confusing? Here’s a good example.

 

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Martin Cummins as Henry Gowen in “When Calls the Heart”

In the popular frontier TV series When Calls the Heart (all you fellow “hearties” please raise your hand in the comments!), you will find one of the best examples of a remarkably solid antagonist. Henry Gowen, as portrayed by Martin Cummins, has so many different levels of character, good and bad, that it’s hard to keep up. He is seen as despicably evil at times and is completely despised, and as someone deeper at other times, someone with more on the inside than just greed.

Because of this, he cannot be universally hated. This makes him a great antagonist, and makes whoever wrote his character a really good writer. 🙂

WHY IS IT IMPORTANT?

This is one of the more, I believe, optional parts of writing. You by no means have to make your antagonist 3-dimensional, but it is highly recommended. Fill in the cracks – make them human. Give them a cause we can understand – not agree with, but understand. Give them a motivation that is clear and realistic. But above all, make them human. Give them qualities and depth that leave the reader – and maybe even your protagonist – feeling just a tiny bit sorry for them.

AND NOW . . . let me hear your opinion!

Have you had any experience with these things in the past, whether in work you’ve read or written? Do you agree or disagree with this approach to an antagonist? Do you feel the reader should despise that character? Why or why not? Don’t be shy! Let’s chat.

To Shine as Broken Glass – There is Hope!

Broken.

That’s a hurtful place to be, and yet we’ve all been there. We’ve gone to sleep in tears that no one will see left to dry on our cheeks. We’ve woken up feeling as though we waged war through the night. We’ve wandered through days begging why.

Sun reflects brightly on glass. It reflects all the brighter on broken glass, amplified by the jagged edges and reflected by the places where the breaking took place.

When in the place of broken, we can commonly wonder why we feel no hope, if there is any such thing left to feel. Whether we face loss, discouragement, anger, illness or fear, we long for hope, for some remnant of the sun to shine upon us, just once.

Why bear the pain of broken? What is the reward for turmoil?

To shine as broken glass.

If this is your question today, there is hope, my friend, there is. Reach for it with the very last of your strength!

 

hardship quote

As writers – and artists in general – we are not in the least immune to the harsh sting disappointment or depression. In fact, I’ve been told we’re rather susceptible targets. 🙂  But when these things confront us, when the challenges around us block what may flow upon the page, take heart! My friend, we will come out on the other side alive. There is light at the end of this tunnel. If you are afraid of the dark, take the hand of the person beside you. They’re likely afraid of the dark too.

You’re not alone.

As an artist, coming out on the other side of hardship is quite likely to make you a better writer, or musician, or poet, etc. Sky high is inevitably followed some day by the depths of low, the result of a bitterly fallen world and the basic unfairness of life. Thank the King we do not trudge through the lows alone. Jesus holds my hand.

My friend . . . Jesus holds your hand, too.

Broken. It’s a hurtful place to be. Why suffer through hardship when all we can see is the dark?

Because the sun shines brightest on the broken glass.

Anchor

Is Your Story Made of Starlight Dust?

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Has your story captured the light of starlight dust?

Is your story one of starlight dust?

You know what that looks like. The special ones, the ordinary topics made extraordinary in ways that make a reader stand back in amazement. A reader may never be sure just what it was about that story that made it so special, it just had that . . . something.

It had your starlight dust.

Starlight dust is that one little sparkle that no other story can have – it is the fingerprint of you, the author. Starlight dust is what takes a topic so ordinary one might contemplate nodding off at the mention of it, and making it . . . beautiful.

A story that is lacking this fingerprint, this sparkle, is generally easy to spot. Your voice develops the dust. (Allow me some poetic license here – I know it’s called “star dust.” I’m just mixing it up.) As you grow as a writer, your personal voice behind the pen will become more apparent to you and to your readers. This can be where the starlight dust shines. It is yours. Something completely your own that may be recognized and remembered, depending on how brightly it shines.

You’ve been a victim of reading starlight dust all the time. Think back to the last book you read that you really liked. For me, that would be Winter Haven. What was so special about that book for you? What was so special about Winter Haven for me? They had starlight dust. They bore the fingerprint and the voice of the one who wrote it. They were unique because of this, and I know for Winter Haven, it stood out because of it.

But don’t get too excited yet . . .

NOT EVERY STORY HAS THE STARLIGHT DUST

Sorry if I burst your bubble. Look, there are good stories and bad stories, in terms of the writing itself. I’ve recently worked on a story with no issue whatsoever – the outlining was good, the inspiration was flowing, and I wasn’t stuck. No writer’s block. Miraculous! BUT . . . the story was lacking. Something.

Through this odd predicament, and through the advice of my brilliant critique partner who saw the exact same thing in the writing of this story, I discovered starlight dust. I don’t know why some stories and manuscripts “have it” and some don’t. If you’ve discovered that for yourself, please let me know. Because this is very important to remember, the lack of starlight dust does not mean you’re struggling with writer’s block. I may once have believed this, but as I explained in this paragraph, it’s evidently not true.

Starlight dust is the voice and fingerprint of the author, and when it shines, it can make any story blazing bright and unique, but I don’t believe it is something that can be forced through a pen. I don’t understand where it comes from – maybe it is the result of you pouring your all into the words which spill upon the page – or why it isn’t always there.

How can you recognize its absence? Simple. Go over you story and see if something is lacking. You should be able to tell. If you can’t, get a critique partner or have a friend read it who isn’t afraid to give you an honest opinion. Then go back to the drawing board. Try rewriting a bit, or maybe do some more outlining. I can’t tell you how to fix the absence of starlight dust, since I’m in that position right now. Soooooo . . . this post may well be a part one. If I strike gold in figuring out how to solve the starlight dust problem, I’ll let y’all know!

🙂 (By the way, I have to give all the credit of identifying and naming “starlight dust” to my critique partner.) 🙂

Meantime, take a look at your work, and as you do so, ask a question:

Can you see the light of the starlight dust?