Category Archives: Writing Tips

Editing a Monster: Index Card Therapy

I’ve mentioned before that I’m still editing my monster of a novel I did during last year’s NaNoWriMo. And y’all? I do not like editing. I am not good at it. Ask me to write something – anything – any length – and I’ll do it. Ask me to take that mountain and whittle it down into a terrarium, and I lose my damn mind.

As I consider this crazy, meandering thing, I’ve found that I have a lot of characters. So I’m trying a technique that uses a tool I’ve read about many writers employing when they are working on books: index cards.

Here is the process I’m using. For now. Until I get tired of it. But you might find it helpful!

  1. Take an index card. Write the name of your character on the blank side, including possibly a picture if you have one or a brief physical description.
  2. On the back, it’s bullet list time. Write down what part you want that character to play — are they the hero? The villain? Someone’s foil?
  3. Next, write down what they want, ultimately. Their best case scenario. Where they seek to find themselves.
  4. Write down a few of their favorite things and who they are most linked to in the story.
  5. Write down what you like about the character. Maybe it’s their dialogue. Maybe it’s just the fact that they seem like someone you would want to be friends with (or, on the other hand, someone you’d like to be running from).

Now, take the cards and lay them out on a table or flat surface. How does your cast look? Did you struggle to find things to write about them? Are there characters you could put together into one MEGA AWESOME CHARACTER FUSION? If your book was a movie, would you want to see it?

Over the next few weeks leading up to NaNoWriMo, I’d like to talk more about my editing process. If there are any aspects to this you would especially be interested in hearing about, leave me a comment here or head over to my Facebook page! Or Twitter! Or homing dolphin!

Woe is You, Maybe, But WHOA is Me!

I read a piece in the New York Times today that I found during my nightly looksie of the Twittersphere. It was tucked away between political ramblings, San Diego Comic Con calm down and adorable doodles. It was about writers and their perspective on their body of work, and how there seems to be this constant malaise after pieces are done. According to this writer, at the end of the day, writers can’t even stand to look at what they’ve done, and there is this terrible feeling of disappointment.

And I found myself tipping my head and feeling really, really sad.

During my twenties, I owned the whole image of ‘serious’ writers as these downtrodden, perpetually anxious, sighing lot. “Writers are supposed to be miserable,” I was essentially told. “Happy writers aren’t good writers.” Being a writer meant, if the ‘classic’ examples were to be any indication, hating the process, loathing the words themselves and doing it because it was a calling. For if we did not, then who would? It all came off very masochistic. And not even in the good way.

If I had a time machine, I would go back to the twenty-something me, shake her a little and go, “Yeah, okay, that’s garbage. Stop looking at that shit and go write something you’ll love.”

And I don’t just mean the content itself, but the whole process. Write something you’ll love making. Write something you’ll look forward to looking at. Write something that you can hand off to a friend and be like, “Hey, man, I wrote this thing. All of these words came out of my brainstuffs!” Don’t look at what you’ve written as some sort of reminder of your mortality or some posse of gargoyle antagonists sitting on your shelf, waiting for you to go to sleep so they can whisper thoughts of fear and failure in your ear. Put party hats on your books. Sure, the early stuff probably is ripe with terrible prose, but laugh at it the way you would at baby pictures.

Yeah, dude, we’re all going to die (unless someone is here and willing to give me robot parts, because seriously, sign me the eff up). So if you’re going to take on something as your art and you are going to be spending at least a decent portion of your waking hours doing it, then maybe you ought to at least like it, right?

The Simplicity of Giving Advice with Neil Himself

This weekend, I got to watch something really cool on Twitter.

As a bit of background because you may be new here, I think Neil Gaiman is a pretty cool guy (and the Award for Understatement of the Year goes tooooo…). His fiction is great, the people in his life are awesome and inspiring (I interviewed Cat Mihos for How to Have a Day Job, and she is a really fantastic lady), and he is a wellspring of cool.

On Sunday, while waiting for his plane to take off, Neil took questions on Twitter. About anything: writing, love, publishing, John Hodgman (well, I think John just showed up to the party), etc. And I found myself really moved by the simplicity of his answers. Not even in that ‘you only have a thimble’s worth of words to use on Twitter’ but just how straight to the point it was. It felt like finding little stones at the bottom of a rushing stream. I found myself moved and inspired.

A few of my favorites included:

“I have a lot of ideas, and even more unfinished stories… How do I pick up the pencil from here?”

“When’s the best time to write?”

“And advice to someone who want to start writing?”

“Advice to self-doubting writers-in-training who got extremely rusty after a long time of not writing?”

Notice a theme?

Always write. Even if (especially if) you don’t know what you’re doing. Make it happen. Let the words come out. Make the art. Your hands will learn what to do, but only if you hush up the brain and let them move.

And remember, whether you’re an artist or a human being:

“How do you get over heartbreak?”

 

5 Writer Reminders

  1. Not everything is going to be awesome. Still keep writing, though, anyway. You never know when one of those rocks is going to be a gem.
  2. Look at the world through the eyes of your pen. Make note of how things are, how things make you feel, and then put it into your work.
  3. If you are writing anything, you are doing more than a huge population of people in the world. Perspective: appreciate it.
  4. You can’t write all the time. Still try to.
  5. You are your own worst enemy. Worse than the rejections, worse than the critics, worse than all the people who smile and nod at you. Because they get to be outside of your head until you let them in.

5 Ways to Improve Dialogue

1. Go outside and listen to people talking. Restaurants, coffee shops, shopping malls and sporting events are all great places to see how people interact naturally. Make note of their emotional states and patterns of their speech. Do they pause at certain points? What words make them slow down or react?

2. Decide where your character is from and then seek out material from those locations. Youtube is a great resource for this. If it’s a language you know, listen to the radio stations for that area. If it’s a completely new place (a fantasy land or foreign planet) get a few ideas of what earmarks their local language may have.

3. Read your dialogue out loud. With others, if possible. You can usually tell immediately if something sounds contrived or unnatural. Is the emotional force of the scene being communicated in the words, or is the conversation too flaccid? If you can, try to improvise with people and record what works.

4. Learn how to format dialogue in prose. This may sound like a ‘duh’ but I can’t tell you how many issues I’ve seen that have been caused by lack of clarity resulting from poor dialogue tagging and misinterpreted writing.

5. Tap into how you feel. When two lovers are talking to each other, do you get warm fuzzies? Do you get nervous when the hero and the villain are at each other’s throats? Do you get teary when characters are saying goodbye for the last time? Even if you aren’t having a dramatic response, your heart should have some sort of reaction to your writing. If it’s not, ask yourself why.

5 Ways to Win a Reader’s Heart

  1. Well-rounded villains.
  2. A plot twist that is awesome without being contrived.
  3. Great lines of dialogue.
  4. Sensuality (not even necessary sexuality).
  5. A touch of magic.

Paper: It’s Not Just for Wrapping

So this weekend I did something that I never thought I would do.

I printed the entire draft of my novel.

Well, I didn’t print it. I had it printed at Fedex. I got it 3-hole-punched and then I purchased a binder for it to live in. I also double-spaced the draft so I had room for notes and line-editing.

And y’all. Y’all.

I will never not print my first draft of anything ever again.

It’s so satisfying. And not because of any sort of aesthetic, like the feel of the paper or the scratch of the pen, although those things are very nice. No, it’s because I’m not seeing it the way I see every single other part of my day: on the other side of a screen. I don’t find myself going cross-eyed at walls of text. I’m not terrified of cutting and pasting chapters because I think that at that moment my computer is going to crash or Internet demons will steal my words away into an oblivion of deletion.

If I want to move a chapter, I literally pick it up and rearrange it.

If I like a passage, I can draw a giant smiley face.

If I hate something, I can punch it without replacing my monitor.

Try it. Print out a short story or a poem or a blog post. Look at it with a pen in your hand. Really read it. Write on it. Cross shit out. Underline words. Doodle in the margins.

It’s a completely different experience.