Last week I promised some tips for actually writing down your ideas. Ideas can come with every gust of wind, but actually turning them into a story… that’s work.
“If you want to be a writer, you should be writing.”
For me, that has been the single most useful piece of advice I’ve ever received in my writing career. It was the moment when I realized I had to make a choice: I could continue to dabble with poetry and half-finished stories and book reviews, or I could become a writer.
God gave me a talent for writing, and a passion for it. To not utilize or hone that talent would be to squander the gift I have been given. I don’t know where my writing will take me, or if any of my books will ever be best-sellers… those successes in the eyes of the world can only come from God (and I’m bad enough at marketing to ensure my inability to ever take credit for that sort of rise to fame). But that’s not what I’m striving for with my stories. I only hope to inspire others, to point to my Savior, to entertain, and to tell good stories that families can read and enjoy together. If I can achieve that, then I have done what I set out to do. If I achieve more… then to God be the glory! (To God be the glory either way, of course, as I can do none of this on my own, and He is the Author of all authors).
Before you begin, it might be worth thinking through what you want to accomplish with your gift and talent. But you don’t have to have it all figured out before you put words on the page. I still don’t have it all figured out! We’re in this together, dear Writer.
Different stages of the writing process are going to be difficult for each writer. Some writers love the outlining process, others love that fast and furious drafting stage, still others most look forward to the painstaking edits and polishing. Your favorite stage may be someone else’s least favorite stage… and vice versa.
However, when it comes down to it, regardless of how it looks or which aspect of writing is your favorite or which one you dread the most… every writer trods the same basic path that leads us from idea to creation to finished product.
But how do I get there?
That is entirely up to you. Your process is not guaranteed to look the exact same as any other writer’s. But I can give you a few tips and tricks to help you get started!
Outlines: Outlines are honestly one of the places where I struggle the most. I was the student who finished writing their papers early so that I could create the outline. I pantsed (wrote by the seat of my pants) my way through King’s Warrior. Since Second Son is a prequel, I had at least a basic built-in outline that helped me stay on track with where the story was going. By the time I got to Yorien’s Hand I had done some editing and rewriting of King’s Warrior and realized just how much rewriting I had to do when I wrote a 140K-word novel without bothering to know where the story was headed first! So… slowly but surely I have begun teaching myself to work with at least a basic outline. Some people need detailed outlines with every scene worked out ahead of time. Other people don’t like outlines at all. For me, I like to have a very basic outline for each main character’s story arc, but I keep it short and allow it to be fluid if necessary… because the best part of writing is when the characters decide to take the story out of my hands, and I like being flexible enough to follow them when they do. But my first tip for getting started would be: Try an outline. Let it be flexible if you need to… don’t think of it as a shovelful of dirt that smothers your creativity, let it be as basic as a compass – just pointing north. It doesn’t have to be super detailed or complex with every stop along the journey plotted out. (It can be if that’s what you need) Simply try one… figure out what sort of outline works for you.
Just Write It: You knew you’d find the post title in here somewhere, right? So you’ve tried an outline and you love it or hate it or feel very meh about it… and now that blank page is staring at you… it’s intimidating… overwhelming… what do you do? Well, to paraphrase something a popular sports brand is fond of saying….
Just Write It!
Just begin. Sit down, put your fingers on those keys (or grab that pencil/pen/crayon) and start writing! Remember last week’s tip? This is where you have to really buckle down and block out the whisper in your ear that it’s not good enough, not original enough, not … enough. Because this is your ROUGH DRAFT. They use the word “rough” for a reason. You do not have to be Mozart… you can be a brilliant author AND still need to edit your work later. For me, Word Sprints have been a huge help this year when it comes to getting my rough draft on paper. I sort of figure out what the basic gist is going to be of the next scene I’m going to write, set a timer, and then I type as fast as I can until the timer stops. Then I reward myself with a cookie, or a few minutes on facebook, or jumping jacks (whatever works, right?) I have been using this method since March and I cannot even express how helpful it has been! In the past three months, I feel like this method has actually helped train the creative parts of my brain to turn on when I sit down to write.
For more information on learning how to write by sprinting and training your brain to get into the creative mode, I highly recommend the book 5,000 Words Per Hour: Write Faster, Write Smarter by Chris Fox. I don’t do everything he suggests, but I do feel like I learned a lot and his methods I have implemented into my writing process have been invaluable and have enabled me to write 95,000 words over the past 3 months – only writing on weekdays.
Draft Zero: Maybe the idea of a rough draft is still too intimidating. Maybe you need to allow yourself to be extra-messy with the first things you put on paper. My friend Deborah came up with a Draft Zero approach to writing that she describes brilliantly in THIS POST. Definitely recommend reading it!
Half Draft: I do something between Zero Drafting and Rough Drafting these days. Because I can’t really allow myself to completely ignore typos/capitalization/punctuation errors… but I have also enjoyed the freedom of writing super fast for word sprints without being too concerned about whether or not those errors are happening without me noticing… I do something I like to call the “Half Draft Approach.” I start with a SUPER basic outline/story arc, and then I word sprint my way through scenes. If I notice myself making a typo I allow myself to fix it, but I also don’t let myself get bogged down in the minutiae of precision, as I know that I will be word-smithing in the coming drafts.
Also, Scrivener! Such a great tool for drafting. I love it to pieces. It definitely took some getting used to, but now I can’t imagine not having it. I love how I can keep ALL my bits and pieces and ideas and character sheets and even inspiring images and things in the same file and don’t have to go hunting through my folders wondering, “What did I call that document when I named the currency for this world???” It also makes converting my files into pretty ebooks super easy. (I do not work for Scrivener, nor am I getting anything out of recommending it to you. I just really like it).
What do you think, dear Writer? Do you think any of these tips or tricks might work for you to help you begin putting those words down on the page? Have you used any of these ideas? Which ones work well for you? Do you have any other ideas or tips that you have found useful? Do you have any topics you’re really hoping I cover in this series of posts? I’d love to continue the conversation in the comments section below!