13 Life Lessons – 2011 Brithday Edition

Two days ago, I  just celebrated my birthday.  Another year lived.  Another year of lessons learned.  As part of my annual birthday blogging ritual, I’d like to take a moment to share a few of the ones I’ve learned this year (go here to see my previous ones):

  1. Do have a plan.
  2. Do have a backup plan in case the first plan fails.
  3. Don’t overplan. Be careful – it is possible to do so much planning, that you don’t leave any time for actual doing.
  4. Avoiding and ignoring are not the same thing. Avoiding is the prevention of something from happening. Ignoring is pretending that what already happened, didn’t.
  5. Avoid unnecessary drama and your life will be much less stressful.
  6. But not all drama is unnecessary … there are some things worth fighting over, worth getting upset and loud about, worth defending. Learn to tell the difference between what’s petty and what’s hefty.
  7. Sometimes, it’s not what you do that’s the problem. It’s who you’re doing it for and with, and why.
  8. The way you present or position something will drastically affect how it is perceived. Little girls dancing with a horizontal pole? It’s called Ballet and is widely praised. Little girls dancing with a vertical pole? It’s called Obscene and widely detested.
  9. There are some absolutely brilliant, amazing women in this world. Don’t underestimate the female persuasion.
  10. Rebooting fixes way more than just computers.
  11. It’s easy to be your own worst enemy. Stop fighting with yourself and become your biggest champion, your most generous supporter.
  12. Doesn’t matter what you look like – you will find it hard to see the pretty on the outside if you feel shitty on the inside.
  13. The better you understand something, the greater your potential to love it. This goes for works of art, skills, spouses, children, and yourself.

What are some of the lessons you learned this year?

13 Ways To Write Faster

I’ve started NaNoWriMo more than 2 weeks late (I have a good excuse at least – I was finishing up another book!). So chances are quite slim that I’ll win NaNo with such a late start, but that doesn’t mean I’m not going to put up my best efforts to get as much of the first draft done on this new manuscript as possible this  month. I’m going to try to break my own normal writing pace to the application of the following tips and techniques:

  1. Try waking up an hour or so earlier than usual, and writing as soon as I wake up when my mind is still in a semi-lucid state
  2. Or, write late at night just before I go to sleep, when my internal editor is too tired to interfere
  3. Write in the voice that comes natural to me. Don’t over-think it
  4. Plan ahead – have an idea of what I’m going to write before each session
  5. Write in timed sprints
  6. Create a writing ritual, which could include a special location to write, music, incense, etc.
  7. Don’t self edit as I write
  8. Don’t go back and edit what I previously wrote until I’ve finished the entire draft
  9. Touch type without looking at the keyboard (last time I checked, I can type up to 90 words a minutes)
  10. Allow myself to write out of order – if there is a particular scene begging to be written, go ahead and write it
  11. Get rid of distractions. Turn off the tv, go close yourself up in a room somewhere, turn the ringer off the phone
  12. Do research ahead of time (or write about stuff I already know)
  13. Use the tools I’m already familiar and comfortable with. Maybe this isn’t the time to try that new software program …

How I Write: Using The Document Map in MS Word

This is the eleventh and final installment in the “HOW I WRITE” series I’m participating in every Wednesday with several writers, where we all discuss how we approach writing a book. Every writer has a different process and this project gives us a chance to share and compare ours. Click on the “How I Write” image to find a list of the participating writers and links to their blogs.

Last week we talked about Resources to help hone the writing craft. It’s on open topic for this week, and I chose: Using the Document Map in Microsoft Word.

As I mentioned last month while discussing how I write the first draft , when drafting (and revising) a manuscript, I take the outline I created in my spreadsheet and transfer it into a Word document in the format of a book with chapter and scene titles.   But because I already generally have the entire story laid out, every once in a while I sometimes flesh out scenes out of order. I use Word’s Document Map feature to help me jump from scene to scene and chapter to chapter easily.

How to use the Document Map in MS Word

Step 1: Give your chapters titles that can help you identify what’s in it, instead of just numbers.  For example, instead of calling it “Chapter 5″, call it “Chapter 5: The First Kiss”. If you give your scene breaks titles too, like “***Dreaming About Eric” instead of just “***”, you will make it even easier to navigate your manuscript. You can always change the names of the chapters and scenes to get rid of the descriptive titles once you have finished the manuscript and no longer need them.

Step 2: Make all of your chapter and scene break titles style type Heading 1. (Highlight the title and select Heading 1 from the Styles menu)

Step 3: Turn on the Document Map feature. In Word 2007 or earlier, click View > Document Map. In Word 2010 or later, go to View > Navigation Pane and select the first tab underthe search box (it’ll say “Browse the headings in  your document” when you mouse over it).

Benefits of the Document Map 

  • Provides you with a list of all of your headers a sidebar
  • By making your chapter and scene titles headers, you’ll have a clickable outline of your manuscript
  • Jump to a specific chapter or scene in your manuscript by clicking on the header in the document map
  • It shows you where you are in the manuscript by highlighting the header in the document map of the corresponding section your cursor is in

I hope that helps you get started using the Document Map feature in Word! If you have any questions, feel free to leave it here in the comments.

Don’t forget to visit other participating blogs to see other writers’ open topic for today. Thanks for joining me in the How I Write series – it’s been fun!

13 Life Lessons

As you know, I just celebrated a birthday last week.  Another year lived.  Another year of lessons learned.  I’d like to take a moment to share a few (go here to see the ones I shared previously):

  1. Before you can be true to anyone else, you have to be true to yourself.
  2. The older you get, the harder it is to break bad habits.
  3. You’d be surprised by what you can get if you only just ask.
  4. The term “Common Sense” is really quite a misnomer. It isn’t all that common, nor is it a sense.
  5. Times have changed. If you think you can make it JUST by relying on an employer for financial security, you may be putting yourself and your family at risk.
  6. The ones you fight with the hardest tend to be the ones you love the most.
  7. Doesn’t matter how well they get along or like each other. If a pair of partners aren’t both working towards the same shared, clearly understood goal, the partnership is headed for big trouble. Be the partnership a marriage, business partnership or project team.
  8. Sometimes you have to be the “bad guy” in order to save the day.
  9. I am not the exact same person today I was 20 years ago, or 10 years ago, or even a year ago. And I’m happy about that – I’m changing because I’m growing, maturing, evolving.
  10. I’m beginning to bet that more relationships fail because one person didn’t change, more-so than because they did.
  11. Parents don’t always know what’s best.
  12. There’s no point in complaining about it if you’re not going to do anything help make it change.
  13. If you insist on trying to take large, rapid steps there, you’ll likely wear yourself out before you even come close. But take it one focused, determined, small step at a time and chances are high you will eventually get there.

What are some of the lessons you learned this year?

How I Write: Resources

This is the tenth installment in the “HOW I WRITE” series I’m participating in every Wednesday with several writers, where we all discuss how we approach writing a book. Every writer has a different process and this project gives us a chance to share and compare ours. Click on the “How I Write” image to find a list of the participating writers and links to their blogs.

Last week we talked about Knowing When You’re Done.  This week’s topic is Writing Resources.

Creative writing is a fascinating activity. Not only is it a craft, a hobby, an innate ability and an emotional outlet, it’s also a skill. And as with all skills there are different levels, and thus there’s always room for improvement -whether you’ve got ten published books under your belt or you’re  just beginning to try your hand at writing fiction. The absolute best way to improve the craft is to simply keep reading and writing, but there are tons of great books and courses which can help you hone specific techniques.

Here are some of my favorites so far:

Books (also available visually here):

Courses / Workshops:

Don’t forget to visit other participating blogs to see what resources other writers recommend. Next week’s topic is open, and I’m going talk a little about one of my favorite writing tools!

How I Write: Knowing When You’re Done

This is the ninth installment in the “HOW I WRITE” series I’m participating in every Wednesday with several writers, where we all discuss how we approach writing a book. Every writer has a different process and this project gives us a chance to share and compare ours. Click on the “How I Write” image to find a list of the participating writers and links to their blogs.

Last week we talked about Revision – First Pass, Resources and Critique Groups. This week’s topic is Knowing When You’re Done.

Unfortunately, there isn’t a magical formula that determines the exact number of revisions I need to do before my book is “done”, and ready to submit. I put “done” in parenthesis because there are so many different ways you can tell a story,  many different words you could have used, many additional scenes you could have added. You could easily never be done editing a book, to tell the truth. But working on the same book forever just isn’t a good position to put yourself in.

So how do you know when you’re done working on a book?

For myself, I have just one rule. One test that is simple to apply but challenging to pass. And it’s this:

When I can read every single sentence in my manuscript with confidence, it’s done.

I mean, really read every sentence. Without rolling my eyes. Without wanting to skip over it. Without stumbling over the words. Without being bored. I believe that if I’m rolling my eyes, skipping over sentences, stumbling  or feel bored with anything I wrote, then chances are high so will others who read it, and therefore it needs to be fixed.

Feedback from my critique partners and beta readers count quite a bit here too, but although they can tell me how well they think I’ve done, they can’t really tell me whether or not I’m actually DONE.  Only I can tell that.

**thinks for a moment** And my editor.

Check out other participating blogs to learn what they think of this topic. Come back next week for my recommended Books on the Craft.

How I Write: Revision – First Pass, Resources and Critique Groups

This is the eight installment in the “HOW I WRITE” series I’m participating in every Wednesday with several writers, where we all discuss how we approach writing a book. Every writer has a different process and this project gives us a chance to share and compare ours. Click on the “How I Write” image to find a list of the participating writers and links to their blogs.

Last week we talked about Revision – How To Begin. This week’s topic is Revision – First Pass, Resources and Critique Groups.

This week’s topic is quite timely, as I’m revising a book right now. As I mentioned last week, I’m still refining my revision process, and so the way I’m doing it now may or may not be exactly the way I do it for the next book – who knows. But in the meantime, here’s my process for first pass revisions.

  1. Revisit the storyboard. As discussed previously.
  2. Print the manuscript. Double-spaced, with text on just one side of the paper.
  3. Read the printed manuscript, marking up problem areas on each page with a red pen as I go. I use the margins and the back of the pages to take notes. I suppose sticky notes, index cards or notebooks would work, but I’m prone to either misplacing those of having one of my children steal them when I’m not looking and turn them into Pac-man and Super Mario Brothers cutouts. It takes me about 2 to 5 days to complete this step, and I don’t stop until I’ve made it to the end of the book and noted all the areas I need to change. I’m looking for things like:
    • Technical and continuity errors (Did I contradict myself? Mix up character names? Break the rules of my own world?)
    • Weak and awkward phrases
    • Lacking emotion/description/tension
    • Does each scene have a goal, conflict and resolution (or motivation to make a new decision)?
    • Unrealistic dialog (when I read it out loud, does it sound realistic? forced? corny?)
    • “Telling” (summarizing events and feelings) instead of “Showing” (describing them as they unfold)
    • Overuse of words
    • Places where the story drags
    • Scenes that feel incomplete
    • Grammar errors, misspellings and typos
  4. With my marked-up printed pages and scribbled notes as a guide, I save a new version of my manuscript and type in the revisions. I try not to leave a scene until it is completely revised.
  5. Give it to my critique partner, hubby and perhaps an honest friend to read and share their opinion. I don’t participate in any critique groups at this time, but I’m finding that I’m getting the feedback I need right now from these two or three folks just fine.

Here’s a few of the resources I use when editing (the ones with an asterisk (*) are free):

And that’s how I get through a first pass at revisions. Next week I’ll cover how I know when the story is done, and ready to submit. Don’t forget to visit other participating blogs to see how differently we writers handle revisions!

How I Write: Revision – How To Begin

This is the seventh installment in the “HOW I WRITE” series I’m participating in every Wednesday with several writers, where we all discuss how we approach writing a book. Every writer has a different process and this project gives us a chance to share and compare ours. Click on the “How I Write” image to find a list of the participating writers and links to their blogs.

Last week we talked about Getting Through The Middle. This week we’ll discuss Revision – How To Begin.

So, I’ve finishing writing the first draft from the beginning to end. And boy is it rough. It’s now time to get ready to revise what I wrote! Honestly, I’m still discovering what does and doesn’t work for me when it comes to revising. I’ve approached the revisions to each of the five books I’ve worked on in the past few years, five different ways. I suspect that as I continue to hone my writing skills, I may modify my revision process further still. But regardless of how – and how many times, exactly – I revise a book, I like to prepare for revisions using the same two steps.

Step 1: Revisit the outline / storyboard I came up with back when I was just starting to write the book.  At this point I update it to reflect the story I’ve actually written, instead of the one I thought I was going to.

Since it provides a high-level snapshot of the entire draft, I then analyze the storyboard. Do I think that I captured the themes I wanted to? Did my characters grow as I intended? Did I show any character growth at all? I make note of any major issues identified and scenes/chapters that I know will need a lot of work.

Step 2 : Print out the story. Recently I discovered I can catch errors faster and easier when I first read through a hard copy of the draft and make notes with a pen, than when I try to just dive into typing revisions directly into the book.

I think for a long time I worried about wasting ink and paper on rough drafts. But I have since found that ink and paper are dirt cheap when compared to the cost of the vodka, the medical attention required for the forehead I’ve been banging on the desk, a new desk that hasn’t been banged up by my forehead, and the wigs to replace the hair I tore out while trying to force myself through initial revisions on-screen.

So that’s how I begin to revise. Next week I’ll talk more about the actual revision process. Check out the other participating blogs to see how more writers get ready to revise their work.

How I Write: Motivation – Getting Through the Middle Pages

This is the sixth installment in the “HOW I WRITE” series I’m participating in every Wednesday with several writers, where we all discuss how we approach writing a book. Every writer has a different process and this project gives us a chance to share and compare ours. Click on the “How I Write” image to find a list of the participating writers and links to their blogs.

Last week we talked about starting The First Draft. This week’s topic is Motivation: Getting Through the Middle Pages.

Perhaps I’m unique in possessing this sentiment – but I actually enjoy writing the middle pages more than any other part of a book. There’s too much stress involved in making sure you’ve opened in the right point in the story and that your “hook” is a good one, and in trying to ensure that you’ve delivered a satisfying ending that appropriately wraps up the tension you’d been building and the climax you’d been leading up to for chapters and chapters. The heart of the story is actually in the middle of the book, and I actually find that I am more motivated to write that part than either the beginning or the end.

The real challenge for me, I believe, isn’t a lack of motivation to write the middle pages. It’s either a) the lack of certainty of what exactly should happen in the middle pages, or b) losing confidence in the story right around the middle. I find that doing a storyboard or outline helps me with potential issue “a”, but potential issue “b” is a more complicated one. Halfway through the first draft of a story I sometimes hit this point where I worry that it’s crap. The writing, the characters, the idea itself – everything. I usually get past this phase of self-doubt by getting feedback from my critique partner or having someone who I know will honestly tell me if the story sucks and if so why (like my husband or a frank friend). Anybody other than me showing a genuine interest in the story is usually the confidence boost I need to keep going.

If I’m still stuck after that, then it’s usually a sign that I either genuinely need a break from that story, or I just need to apply more discipline to get my booty in my chair and my fingers on the keyboard.

Check out these participating blogs to see how other writers find the motivation to make it through the middle pages of a draft. See ya for the next topic: Revision – How to Begin.

How I Write: The First Draft

This is the fifth installment in the “HOW I WRITE” series I’m participating in every Wednesday with several writers, where we all discuss how we approach writing a book. Every writer has a different process and this project gives us a chance to share and compare ours. Click on the “How I Write” image to find a list of the participating writers and links to their blogs.

This week’s topic is The First Draft.

Once I’ve completed the 8 preparation steps I discussed during last week’s topic on Starting a New Book, writing the first draft is a rather simple process. I take the outline I created in my spreadsheet and transfer it into a Word document in the format of a book. Sometimes my outlines contain actual snippets of dialog or narrative from scenes, other times there’s only the summary of the events. Either way – I paste it into in my Word document as if they were actual scenes / chapters. By the time I’m actually ready to start drafting, I already have a few thousand words of story with designated scenes and chapters!

So at this point, finishing the first draft is moreso about “filling in the blanks” than anything else. I visit each summary or incomplete scene I already wrote and flesh it out. I do a couple of scenes a day, with each day visiting the last scene I wrote before to make sure it flows smoothly. For instance, on Monday I may flesh out the first chapter. On Tueday, I’ll go over chapter 1 again and then dive into chapter 2. On Wednesday, I’ll revisit chapter 2 before fleshing out chapter 3, and so on. But because I already generally have the entire story laid out, every once in a while I sometimes flesh out scenes out of order. I use Word’s Document Map feature to help me jump from scene to scene and chapter to chapter easily.

That’s it. Actually writing the first draft sounds simple when I write it out. If only it were simple to get my butt in the chair and write every time I’m supposed to … *sighs*

Don’t forget to visit other participating blogs to see how other writers develop characters, plots and imaginary worlds. Come back for next week’s topic: Motivation / Getting Through the Middle.