MYC: Conquering the Dreaded Blank Page (and other drafting tricks)

Welcome to this week’s Master Your Craft post! Each Wednesday we’ll discuss prewriting and drafting a new book from the BIG IDEA to QUERYING. Last week, we reviewed our treasure trove of pre-writing posts. Today we’re on to starting — and keeping going on — your first draft.

You’ve finally arrived. You’ve got your coffee (or tea), your snacks, your favorite writing socks. Your writing space is perfectly set up, and you’ve got an hour or two of quiet uninterrupted writing time.

You open your computer, gently rest your hands on the keyboard, and…

Now what?

Many, many writers are daunted by the sight of a blank page. It’s a little unnerving to open a new document and realize that you’re exactly zero words into a 60,000+ word manuscript.

And even when you’ve tackled the blank page, there will come a moment when you sit down to write, and nothing comes out. You’re stuck. Where is this scene going? What happens next? It’s easy to waste a lot of time staring at the blinking cursor, trying to find your way back into your story.

While we can’t eliminate the fear and frustration completely, we can help you overcome.

Here are some of our favorite Winged Pen tips for conquering the blank page and pushing through the sticky spots:

Julie: I have a lot of time to stare at the blank page built into my writing process, since I usually prewrite for about six months and then draft in a month or so. But I also try to stop mid-scene at the end of each writing session so I can pick up the next day knowing roughly what needs to happen.

I also use a placeholder [TK] in the ms when there’s a fact or bit of research I need to look up. So I’ll write something like [TK research what moon jellies eat] and just keep going rather than stopping and going down the worm hole of doing research, which can pull me off track for days. I also use [TK] when I know something needs to happen but can’t figure out what. So I might write [TK Nic bickers with Mom over something to introduce frustration].

Jennifer: You know, the blank page has never been an issue. The beginning is always the easiest part for me. It’s everything past the first few pages that is hard. But getting past being stuck? For me, if I’m stuck, it means I took a wrong turn, and I need to go a few pages back and decide if this is really where I want to be. Sometimes I push through, but usually, I need to figure out what the problem is.

Michelle: I stop and have a heart to heart with my MC to ask (her usually) what the problem is. I also use the tricks that were in my Creativity to the Rescue post.

Halli: I tell myself I’m just going to write notes about the MS. Nothing official, just whatever comes to mind. Usually I find a place to start. I have also been known to write a scene or scenes out of order if that’s what strikes me at the time, but that is not my preferred method.

Gabrielle: Long walks and hot showers. Looking at art.

Gita: I give myself a very small amount of time to write. It could be 1 minute, 5, or 10–whatever seems very easy, no problem at all. I set the timer and usually I find myself needing more time. I repeat until I don’t need it anymore.

Richelle: From my years of writing to hard deadlines, I’ve learned that a blank page is far, far worse than bad copy. So I write something down, even if it’s complete garbage. I can always fix it later! I don’t remember where I read this, but one of my favorite pieces of writing advice is that your first draft is you telling yourself your story. Subsequent drafts are you telling it to someone else. I keep that in mind while drafting, and it eases a lot of my anxiety – after all, I’m just telling myself a story, not writing the next best-seller!

As for stuck spots, like Julie, I stop mid-scene – or sometimes mid-sentence – to keep my momentum going and give myself a road map for the next writing session.

And if that’s not enough inspiration, try these tried-and-true drafting tips:

  • Check in with your outline or other pre-writing work. Chances are there is a pivotal scene, key character motivation, or even a phrase of inspiration that will propel you back into your story.
  • Backstory is a great way to remind yourself where your characters have been and where they’re going. For best effect, connect your backstory scene with the current scene…and then watch as the ideas start flowing for what comes next. (For more on backstory, check out this post.)
  • If you’re stuck on a scene, try writing it in a different tense, or from a different perspective. Have the main character’s mom or best friend tell what happens next, or change from first person to third (or vice versa).
  • Often, when our scenes aren’t sparking enough for us to want to write them, it’s because we’ve made it too easy for our characters to get what they want. Toss a new obstacle or two into your scene and see what happens. It can be as simple as making their environment a bit more challenging, like having two characters try to talk over a fight happening nearby. Or if your MC is just trying to get to her bestie’s house, make it difficult for her. A sprained ankle? A lost child who needs her help? Those obstacles could add a spark to your scene and help you find new ways to keep going.

Above all, when you’re in the thicket of drafting, remember that perfect is the enemy of done. You don’t need anyone else to understand what you’re trying to do right now. You just need to get it down, to tell yourself what happens next.

Revisions are the magical place where your own bedtime story gets shaped into a book that we all want to read.

Tune in next week when we will look at ways to overcome the dreaded saggy middle!

Introducing Master Your Craft: A New Series by the Winged Pen

Master Your Craft

The last month has been an exciting time here at The Winged Pen as Pennies have been hard at work behind the scenes coming up with a surprise for you.

Today, to coincide with Camp NaNo – the virtual writer’s retreat that helps you fit writing into your busy life – we’re excited to launch our new blog series: Master Your Craft with the Winged Pen (#WPMYC).

Every Wednesday for the next several months, we will take you through the entire process of writing a novel – everything from getting the Big Idea, all the way to the final, ready-to-query manuscript.

Our Pennies will share with you all of our best techniques and tools, starting with pre-writing tricks, including character development, research and world-building, to make your drafting as painless as possible.

Of course, writing a novel is going to include some pain, so we’ll walk you through the drafting process, too. We’ll help you fight that terrible enemy of the drafting novelist: the fear of the blank page. And we’ve got a host of tips and tricks to help you overcome the stalls, blocks and annoying plot bunnies that threaten to derail every first draft.

And once you’ve got your story down on paper, we’ll give you all of our favorite techniques for making a story shine until it positively gleams.

Each of our Pennies has a slightly different process and does each of our steps in a different order, so don’t feel like you have to follow this formula exactly. Instead, think of it as a compendium of writerly advice designed to help you on your novel-writing journey.

Writing a novel can be a lonely, demoralizing process. But it doesn’t have to be. Let us help you – and help each other – to shape the vibrant and enduring stories that are living so vividly in our heads into the best manuscripts we can possibly make.

We can’t wait to start sharing this treasure trove of posts with you! If you’re not already following us, go ahead and sign up so you won’t miss a single tip. And if you know someone struggling to write a novel, tell them to sign up, too. The fun starts next Wednesday, so don’t miss out!

Finally, if you have questions, comments or just want to cheer us on (sometimes we need cheering, too!), comment away here or on any of our Master Your Craft posts. We love to hear from you!

Find Mentors after Pitch Wars?

If Pitch Wars 2017 seems too far away or too selective for you, you can always try out other mentorship programs available online.

Some are free and some come with a fee. I have listed both below.

But first….

What should you expect from a mentor?

A mentor is a professional who is ahead of the game and understands the industry better than you. By definition, a mentor advises, guides.

However, a mentor is not your friend, like a CP (critique partner) could be. A mentor is NOT someone with a magic wand like a Book Doctor or a Ghost Writer.

A mentor will point out what you need to work on, and will give you pointers and references.

Mentors will talk to you periodically, from just a few hours up to a year.

Finally, a mentor will be most helpful if you’ve tried your best, maybe won a few awards or competitions, sent a bunch of queries that did not amount to anything, and you’re now ready to move to the next level.

FREE MENTORSHIP PROGRAMS:

Writing with the stars is a mentorship opportunity for intermediate picture book writers and illustrators. 3 months mentorship. <http://beckytarabooks.com/contest/>

AWP Mentorship: Every Spring and Fall. The program matches new and established writers for a three-month series of modules covering topics from craft to publication to the writing life. < https://www.awpwriter.org/community_calendar/mentorship_program_overview>

Australian Society of Authors (ASA) mentorship. The ASA offers paid mentorships to all published and unpublished writers and picture book illustrators with a work-in-progress. <https://www.asauthors.org/emerging-writers-and-illustrators-mentorships>

CBS Diversity Institute’s Writers Mentoring Program (script writing) Will help you get your TV show on the way. <https://www.cbscorporation.com/diversity/diversity-institute/writers-mentoring-program/>

Gemini Ink Mentorship Program: Spring. Apply to the Gemini Ink 2016 Mentorship Program and be one of four writers chosen to work one-on-one over a six month period with a nationally recognized author on a book-length project, free of charge. < http://geminiink.org/writing-mentorships/>

SCBWI Mentorship Programs. Any SCBWI regions offer mentorship programs that match established members with up-and-coming authors and illustrators. Some of these programs are open to just members in a particular region, others are open to any SCBWI member. < https://www.scbwi.org/scbwi-mentorship-programs/>

WNDB (We Need Diverse Books) Mentorship Program: October.  For the 2017 year, WNDB is offering mentorships to ten upcoming voices—eight aspiring authors and two illustrators—who are diverse or working on diverse books. <http://weneeddiversebooks.org/aboutapply/>

Virginia G. Piper Center for Creative Writing. Your Novel Year: Summer. Arizona State University. Online Certificate Program in the country for those looking to write Young Adult novels. <https://piper.asu.edu/novel>  

Leigh Shulman’s Women’s Writing Mentorship Exchange. For women. Will read through answers and choose 65 people to work with the mentors. Results come in June. <http://thefutureisred.com/birthday-giveaway-2016/>

The WoMentoring project. Accessible to only women, especially women who cannot afford a traditional mentorship program. This organization depends entirely on volunteers. <https://womentoringproject.co.uk/>  

1st 5 Pages Writing free Workshop. Will workshop your first five pages with authors and an agent. <http://www.1st5pageswritingworkshop.com/p/mentor-schedule.html>

MENTORSHIP PROGRAMS WITH A FEE:  

Inked Voices. An online group gathering professionals (agents, editors, writers) and a selective number of writers in a critique group.<https://www.inkedvoices.com/group/pro_groups/>

UCLA’s One-on-One Mentorships. Mentorships give you access to an instructor Monday through Friday for 4 full weeks.  You receive feedback every 12-24 hours for most work and 24-36 hours for longer material. <http://writers.uclaextension.edu/programs-services/mentorships/>

Amanda Hampson’s The Write Workshops, promises to complete your first draft in 12 months with a writing mentor. Affordable monthly fee (about $100). <http://thewriteworkshops.com/writingmentor/>

Novel in a Year Mentoring Course. In twelve monthly sessions, you will be able to submit instalments of up to 10,000 words for your editor to assess as you go. First month free. <http://www.danielgoldsmith.co.uk/writers_mentors.php>  

The Dzanc Creative Writing Mentorships is an online program designed to allow writers to work one-on-one with published authors and editors to shape their short story, novel, poem, or essay. Has an extensive list of authors ready to work with you. <http://www.dzancbooks.org/creative-writing-mentorships/>  

Creative nonfiction offers its own mentoring Program, at <https://www.creativenonfiction.org/mentoring-program>  

The NSW Writers’ Center Mentorship. A NSWWC mentorship is an opportunity for you to work one-on-one (either face-to-face, by email, Skype or over the phone) with an experienced writer or editor. <http://www.nswwc.org.au/support-for-writers/mentorship-program/>  

Blue Pencil mentorships. Professional children’s authors and illustrators who are Members of CANSCAIP will give a critique and answer five follow-up questions. You need to be a current CANSCAIP member before applying. <http://www.canscaip.org/Mentorship>  

Bespoke Mentoring. Mentoring for 3, 6 or 12 months. They will support you every step of the way, from structuring your novel to advice on where to go next with the final product. <https://www.writersandartists.co.uk/writers/services/bespoke-mentoring>

Australian Writers Mentoring Program to offer high-level mentoring to new and emerging writers of fiction and non-fiction.  The program runs over six months,  providing five one-on-one meetings with an established, award-winning writer.  Before each meeting the mentor will read up to ten thousand words of your work-in-progress. <http://writermentors.com/>  

GRANTS:

For parents with young kids. <http://apply.sustainableartsfoundation.org/>

RESOURCES:

Find a writing coach. <http://www.book-editing.com/writing-coach.html>

Mentoring and coaching. <http://www.nawe.co.uk/the-writers-compass/events-and-opportunities/mentoring-and-coaching.html>

 

If you liked this article, visit Sussu Leclerc at Novel Without Further Ado.

A follow up on Twitter or Pinterest is always appreciated.

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Want to Make More Progress in 2017? Write Down Your Writing Goals

It’s the New Year – new calendars, new notebooks, a new start!

I am a New Year junkie. I love the reminders to reflect on the previous year and lay out plans for the year to come. But as a staunch list-maker, I don’t just noodle on my goals for the year, I write them down.

At the end of each year, I pull up my 12-months-old list, x-ing out the goals I’ve accomplished, and mulling over the ones I haven’t. Some goals surprise me – did I really think that was a priority in 2016? And some are oddly outdated, reflections of circumstances that no longer exist in my life, like the year I insisted I was going to get back into shape, only to discover I was pregnant before I could even make the appointment to tour the gym.

I have a friend who writes herself a letter every New Year’s Day, telling her future self about the things she hopes to accomplish, the problems she’s currently facing and the hopes and fears she holds for the coming twelve months. The next New Year’s Eve, she opens the letter and reads the time capsule from exactly a year ago.

It turns out, my friend and I both practice a key strategy for success: writing down your goals.

New research reported here in NYMag.com, appears to show that the simple act of writing down your goals makes you much more likely to achieve them.

Of course, a big section of my 2017 Goal List is devoted to writing. Every year, I think about where I am now – what am I working on? What do I have waiting in the wings? How much time/energy will each of these projects take? Where do I want to go with each? And then I formulate a plan.

Are you ready to set your writing goals for 2017? Grab your coffee, your notebook and some chocolate and follow these tips:

DO be specific: Write a best-seller is not a great goal. Not only is the sales status of your book almost entirely out of your control, but the goal itself is too vague to be of use. Instead try to hone in on what you’ve already got going on. Finish first draft of my dog in space book or Query Yellowstone Adventure YA are more realistic.

DO set deadlines: I love to give myself a rough timeline. On my list this year is Finish first draft of YA WIP by March. Knowing how much I have to go and my current pace, this feels like a reasonable, achievable goal – and it serves as motivation if I start to slow down or slack off.

DO be flexible: Sometimes we can’t or don’t accomplish our goals for reasons out of our control. Sometimes our goals change completely. You can be determined to query your picture book about fairies, but if you hear fairies are done, or you suddenly realize you were meant to write adult true crime, that’s OK. Adjust mid-year.

DON’T beat yourself up: All too often, I’ll check in on my goals halfway through the year and zero in on how much I haven’t accomplished, instead of seeing how much I have. If you need to course-correct, that doesn’t mean you’re a bad or lazy person. It means you have a life! And you still have another six months to get back on track.

For me, the act of writing down my writing goals also becomes an affirmation that this endeavor is important, worthy of my time and attention. And in a business where progress can be achingly slow, it is heartening to see that I really have moved forward as the months have rolled past.

Do you write out your writing goals? How does it work for you? And if you’re trying it this year for the first time, let me know how it goes! Maybe we can do a check-in in June and see how much progress we’ve all made.

Write on!

Ready… Set… WRITE!

running-498257_640If you read Julie’s post, you know it’s National Novel Writing Month again, which means a whole bunch of us are sweating through each day trying to write 50,000-ish words by the end of November.

While I’m not participating this year, I am still trying to keep up my own momentum on my current WIP.

But time has been so very tight for me this fall, and my normal writing routine wasn’t working for me. Instead of getting frustrated, though, I decided to try something new: sprinting.

Here’s how it works for me: I set my timer (generally for 15 minutes, though you can aim for more time if you have it), shut down the Internet, put my document in “focus mode” and start typing. I do not stop until the timer dings.

When I first started sprinting, I would get 250-400 words down each session. But as I got more used to it, I started hitting well over 500. Two fifteen minute sprints a day gets me back to my old goal of 1,000 words a day – all in a lot less time.

Of course, sprinting can be a little scary. I still sometimes have a moment of panic before I start my timer: what if I can’t find the words? But that fear is offset by the freewheeling joy of writing without second-guessing, without going back to edit, without stopping to ponder this word or that one.

There are a couple of different ways to approach sprinting. I like to keep working from where I left off – I find that sprinting forces me to be more focused about where I’m going with each scene. I have to know what’s going to happen each time I sit down to sprint, which means I have had to plot out each scene – and know what its purpose is in the overall story – beforehand.

If that’s too daunting or you’re worried about getting stuck, you can also plan out sprints for specific scenes. Some writers like to sprint through difficult-to-write scenes, knowing that sometimes getting something down is better than getting it down perfectly. Others sprint through character sketches or other important background writing.

I’ve always done my sprints solo, but there is a whole writing subculture devoted to social sprinting. This month, the NaNoWriMo Word Sprint feed (@NaNoWordSprints) will run periodic group sprints, some of which might include prompts or challenges to help you get unstuck.

There are even apps you can download, like WriteOrDie!, which rewards (or punishes!) you for reaching (or not reaching) your goals.

I think my favorite thing about sprinting is that it doesn’t allow me time to go back. I could easily spend half my writing time re-reading and tinkering with the words I’ve already written instead of writing new ones. With sprinting, I’m saving that word-shining for revisions.

I don’t know that I’d want to write an entire novel in sprints. But I’m enjoying the sense of accomplishment I have each day after my sprint is done. And I know that as I race one kid to volleyball practice and my husband shuttles another to soccer while I text instructions to my oldest on how to put the rice on without burning down the house, that even if there’s chaos all around me, my writing is still getting done.

I’d love to hear about your sprinting techniques – please share them in the comments!

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