Posted in writing

Things I’ve learned from rewriting chapter one a million times

Sometimes, a writer just has to scrap what their doing and start over. It’s frustrating, but sometimes, rewriting something is unavoidable.

This week, I’ve restarted one of my stories for what feels like the millionth time. It probably wouldn’t be so frustrating if I have ten or so more chapters afterwards, but I don’t. Oh, I have an outline, but there’s nothing quite like knowing where you’re going. And an outline doesn’t show a writer what’s going to happen in her book. It’s the difference between knowing and experiencing.

I try to keep an open mind about rewriting and critiquing, and I’ve realized a few things.

It’s okay to rewrite something a million times

As writers, we learn and improve upon our craft by doing it over and over. There’s no short cut to being a good writer. So rewriting your work simply means you’re giving yourself more time to improve your craft.

Every time you pull out your computer or a piece of paper and jot down some words, your becoming a better writer.  Your words will be better, and your story will improve. It’s when you stop writing that things get worse.

Rewriting clarifies things

One reason why I’ve been rewriting is because I don’t know where the story is going. The vision in my head isn’t clear enough, and my characters haven’t been talking to me.

By writing the same scene over and over–or, in my case, twenty completely different scenes–I not only refined the scene into the best version itself it could be, I got to commit to paper different ideas and see which worked the best. Like painting a puzzle and trying to put it together at the same time. I had too many ideas and options, and I needed to weed through them.

Rewriting made me listen

While trying to find the plot for my book, I had to do a lot of rereading and thinking. I read my previous story, read my notes, and read my ideas. I listened to my characters, and did a lot of gut checking. What was giving me fits? What was making me stumble? Was I trying to hard? Was I, perhaps, going in the wrong direction?

It’s hard to force a story into a shape it doesn’t want to fit into. Some people will scoff at the idea of a story writing itself. We are writers–we control the story, not the other way around. Well, sometimes that’s the case. And sometimes it isn’t.

But if your story won’t go the direction you want it to, maybe it’s best to stop forcing it and see what it wants to do. That may mean giving up on something you’d been dead set on doing for forever, or killing a character or something. But what have you got to lose? Maybe your story will be better for writing itself. I do know that when you quit fighting it, writing can be easier.

Rewriting made me review the basics

I will admit, after rewriting the same part of the story over and over, I kind of forgot what I was doing. I mean, I knew it was chapter one, but I forgot what chapter ones were supposed to look like.

So I searched the internet for information.

First chapters are supposed to capture the audience’s attention, so they aren’t supposed to be boring. You introduce your characters, your setting or story world, and the plot. You start writing as late in the story as you can. Most importantly, you’re supposed to make people want to read the next page. That’s hard to do.

The review helped. It gave me bones and rules and structure to work with. Now I had a frame to dress my story on.

Concluding thoughts

I know I’m not going to be done rewriting my story. I’ve barely even started. I may have to scrap what I’ve done yet again and start over, but maybe I won’t have to do it for several more chapters.

Maybe. I won’t know until I get there. It’s hard to know where you’re going when you don’t know where you’re going.

But you won’t know where your going until you know where your going.

Confusing, but hopefully you know what I mean.

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Posted in writing

How to Find Nothing to Write About

What do you do when you hit writer’s block?

penLet’s pretend you have this burning urge to write something. You don’t know what. You just know your fingers itch to dance over the keyboard, to feel the rough, woody texture of a well-chewed pencil against your palm, and to smell the crisp coolness of new paper.

You don’t know what you want to write about. You just know if you don’t write something, you’re going to go stir crazy.

So you decide to write something. You get everything set up. Your computer is booted up, your paper and pencil is in your hand, and you’re sitting in a comfortable place. You’re all ready to write, and you settle your fingers over the keyboard to key the first stroke of genius and you wait for the words to come.

And you wait.

And wait some more.

Still waiting . . . .

What’s this? Oh no! You can’t think of anything to write about! What are you doing wrong? You don’t know. You’ve got everything set up. Why aren’t the words coming? Hm. Maybe you need to brainstorm.

Good idea!

But how?

Let me tell you. Follow these methods, and you will never fail to find nothing to write about.


Brainstorming for a Novel

  1. Stare at the computer. Wait for inspiration. You’ll eventually think of something to write about. And while you’re waiting, make sure you take frequent potty and lunch breaks. Oh, and don’t forget to plan for your many birthdays, because you probably won’t think of anything to write until you become old and gray.
  2. Pick up the phone. Call your significant other. Then your friends. Next your writing partners. Get on Facebook and talk to acquaintances you barely remember becoming friends with. Ask them for their opinion about what you should write about. Take lots of notes. Repeat this step as many times as needed until you think of something to write about. Remember to pay your phone and internet bill.
  3. listen-to-mozart-while-workingDig out all your story idea notes from all the nooks and crannies you’ve crammed them in. Pull out the boxes from under your bed, the ones full of files from high-school and college. Sort through them. Spend a week sorting them. Throw away half of what you find. Put away the files you decide to keep. Keep out the story ideas you find. Then go to your computer and print out the notes you stored on the computer. Next empty out the desk. Throw away all the old receipts you discover in there. Oops—dig out that one receipt with something scribbled on the back. It could be a gem. Finally go to your bookshelf and pull out the books with pieces of papers crammed in them. You know. The ones you wrote daydreams in. Take Advil and Benadryl for the headache and allergies the dust stirs up.
  4. Take all these scraps of paper and dump them in a pile on your bed. Make sure all the laundry is put away first and the bed is made before you do this. Look at your pile of paper. Suddenly, it hits you that you need some way to organize all these pieces of paper. So you decide to go to your nearest Staples store and pick up a few supplies. You leave with a hundred dollars of three ring binders, boxes, file folders, tabs, and those clear plastic protector thingys. Oh, and a bunch of plastic recipe card holders, because it occurs to you they are the perfect size to hold the giant stack of index cards and napkins with story ideas written on them. Spend another week organizing your ideas pile by paper size and subject. Take more Advil for your headache.
  5. Repeat step two and tell them all about the story ideas you found. This time, eat a tub of ice-cream or comfort food of your choice to counter the wave of anxiety you feel over your indecision of what to write. There are just so many things in the pile to write about!
  6. Look through your stack. Enni Minni Miney Moe . . . . eh, that doesn’t sound good. Let’s try again. Enni Minni Miney Moe . . . . nothing appeals!
  7. Take out a sheet of paper to start afresh. Brain storm. Write out whatever comes to mind. List the contents of your stack of ideas if you have to. Raid your kid’s school supply paper stash. Crumble and throw away whatever you don’t like. Use up your trashbags. Buy more as needed.
  8. Brainstorm some more. This time draw out idea webs. You discover this to be rather helpful, but you can’t find any piece of paper big enough, so you decide to tape lots of pieces of paper together. You do so until you have a sheet of paper covering the living room floor. Kneel very gently and, using a crayon, draw out your idea web. Get very excited, because now that you’ve gotten going, you’ve discovered you’ve hit on a great idea. Now you just need to follow it through and finish it. Which you do.
  9. sidewalk-chalkNow jump up and down. Do a dance. Now, look down. Oh, no! You’ve torn your paper. Hmm. Maybe that wasn’t a good idea. So you go to your daughter’s room and steal her sidewalk chalk. Don’t have a daughter or sidewalk chalk? Buy some at Wal-Mart. The chalk, not the daughter. Now, spend all day drawing out your story idea with sidewalk chalk. Go back into town and buy knee pads. Make changes to your web as inspiration hits you. Have you finished it yet? Good. Now, hurry up and take pictures of it before it rains.
  10. Take your pictures and put them up on the wall. Stare, think and make notes. Get your outline ready. Talk it over some more on the phone. Repeat step two.
  11. Having done all this, you feel ready to tackle your New Great American Novel. So now get ready to write. Get a glass of water, reorganize your notes, boot up your computer and get comfortable. Put your fingers over the keyboard and wait for inspiration. Wait for it. Wait for it . . . still waiting . . . . Now, conclude that after all this work your idea sucks and you need a new one. Repeat steps one through eleven until something materializes on the screen by magic.

Congratulations! You have now succeeded in finding nothing to write about. Wasn’t that easy?

Seriously, though. There are a few good ideas in this list. Try them. Just not the sidewalk chalk idea. Too hard on the knees.

 

Posted in Uncategorized, writing

Things I’ve learned from reading my favorite authors

penWriters are avid readers. If you are a writer and you aren’t a reader, you should be. Read whatever you want, in any genre you want, but read. The reason why is fairly simple. Reading is not only fun, but it is educational. That may sound hokey, but it’s true. You can learn a lot by reading other writers’ works.

I’m not the most avid reader in the world, but I’ve read my share of books and I’ve learn a lot from them. Here are just three things that I’ve learned from my favorite books and authors.

1. You want to develop characters? Torture them.

My favorite books, the ones I’ve read so many times the pages are falling out, have one thing in common: awesome characters, and awesome character development. Characters are a lot like real people. People grow and change; they don’t stay the same. People make mistakes. They go through bad times and have things challenge them, and when they come out on the other side of those changes, they are either better or worse for it.

Your story is a window into your character’s life. Your character can’t change if things don’t happen to them. They need to be challenged–whether mentally, emotionally, physically or spiritually–in order to grow. Where there is challenge, then your story has conflict, and conflict is always good for the story.

This means you can’t be kind to your characters. You have to be mean to them. If the characters in your story don’t make you cry, ache, get angry or wring out some kind of reaction from you, then chances are your doing something wrong. What is the worst thing that can happen to them? Put them through it. If your character is rich, then maybe he should lose his fortune. Is he proud? Maybe he should be humbled. You’re the one who best knows your character–be mean to them.

2. Write the character’s thoughts on paper.

People’s minds are a fascinating place. What makes them tick? How do they feel about a particular thing? What were they feeling when this event happened? In real life, we can’t answer these questions because none of us can read minds. In books, however, readers can often get a glimpse not only into the life of characters, but their minds as well.

I learned about the term stream of consciousness while still in high school. It is a technique of writing, where the story is told entirely through a character’s thoughts. William Faulkner’s The Sound and the Fury is one famous example of this, as is James Joyce’s Ulysses. 

Telling a story entirely through stream of consciousness isn’t done much today, but the technique is used all the time. Character’s thoughts pop up in most books I read, some more than others. Part of it has to do with what point of view the story is written in. If it is written in the first person point of view, then we will see more of what goes on in a person’s head than say, a story written in third person. But even with third person omniscient we sometimes get into people’s heads.

Using this technique accomplishes several things. For one thing, there is no better way to get to know a character than by reading their thoughts. Secondly, there is no better way to build tension than to have a person’s thoughts conflict with what is going on around them. And thirdly, writing a characters thoughts down is the first step toward character development.

3. Get to know your characters.

Of course, you can’t develop your characters or write down their thoughts if you don’t know your character inside and out. You need to know more than just what they look like. Where are they from? What is their favorite foods? Do they have allergies? What do they do for a living? Where do they live? What kind of car do they drive? What happened when they grew up?

If you know what makes them tick, then you will know how your character will react in certain situations. Do you know why your character has a fear of the water? Maybe they saw someone drown when they were young. If this is the case, then maybe your character shouldn’t be a lifeguard.

If you don’t know the answer to any of these questions, then maybe you should.  Write down as many questions like these that you can think of, and interview your character. Get to know them. Who knows–something may come up that changes the entire face of your story.

4. Always improve on your craft.

I’ve seen examples of authors who improve and others who don’t–and I have favorites among both categories. With some authors, you can go through their works and see how they’ve improved in their career. It’s kind of awesome, really. Every great author started somewhere, but look at where they are now. It gives me hope to read my favorite authors’ early works, because really, those early works aren’t that different from mine. This is the level of writing they were at when they were first published, and it gives me hope that publication is possible with me.

Then there are the authors that don’t improve. They reach a plateau and then that’s it. Their writing doesn’t change, doesn’t get worse, but doesn’t improve either. They get into a rut and for whatever reason, they refuse to leave it. I find this frustrating because truthfully, reading the same book over and over gets kind of boring. The only reason I still read books written from that author is because they have long ago gotten me addicted to the stories and I want to know how the series ends.

Lesson: if you don’t want your readers to fall asleep in the middle of your story, keep improving on your craft. Avoid ruts.