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7 Strategies to Stop Writer Procrastination

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Sometimes it’s just impossible to write. Life gets in the way or something shinier comes along, something way more fun than writing.

I’ve been writing for ten years now, and I’ve come up with several strategies to give myself a kick start when the last thing I want to do is write to meet a looming deadline.

1. Do timed writing sessions.

Set your oven timer or computer/phone timer for half an hour or an hour. Sit down and write until the timer goes off. Repeat throughout the day until your target number of words is achieved.

2. Do timed writing sessions with other writers.

Call a friend and do a joint writing session. If you belong to a group like Savvy Authors or Romance Divas pop into their chat rooms and do some sprint writing with other writers. Find other writers on Twitter using the hashtag #1k1hr and accept their challenge.

3. Go to a cafe or library.

Write in a cafe or a library – a place where you can’t leap up and do something else. This is my favorite strategy.

4. Give yourself a deadline/target.

Then sit down and write. Kick your deadline’s butt. I try to write 2000 words most days. If I’m having a tough time keeping my butt in my seat, I’ll break down my target words into 500 word blocks and attack them in shorter writing sessions.

5. Earn a treat.

Make a deal with yourself. If you sit down and write the required number of words within a specified time, you’ll receive a treat. The treat can be something like watching a movie or taking time out to read a book or a chocolate bar.

6. Try working on a scene that comes later in the book.

Sometimes we need a change of pace to get the words flowing.

7. Just do it.

Sometimes, we need to grit it out and force ourselves to write. The output mightn’t be pretty, but remember that at least we’re putting words to paper. We can always fix them later during the polishing stage.

Do you have any additional suggestions?

Tips for Naming Characters

Florida Everglades

We visited the Florida Everglades late last year. This photo was taken at the Shark Valley entrance of the park and shows some of the typical scenery in the area. The water was pristine and we saw lots of birds along with alligators sunning themselves.

Today I’m visiting Ellora’s Cave author Diana Hunter with a writing post on tips for naming characters. Follow this link to Diana’s blog to read my post.

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Thirteen Pieces of Advice for Aspiring Writers

Thursday Thirteen

I’ve been in a writing mood recently, which is great from my point of view. Today, I wrote “the end” on my current work in progress. Since my mind is in the groove, I thought I’d give some advice to aspiring authors.

1. Sit down and write every day. Make writing into a good habit.

2. Join a writing group, either a chapter or an online community for support.

3. Read and read widely. Analyze books that work for you and those that don’t. Use them as a learning tool.

4. Make a point to learn about websites and social media.

5. Enter writing competitions to help yourself improve and also to give yourself a writing deadline.

6. Research markets, agents and editors to familiarize yourself with what publishers and agents are looking for. This will help you narrow down who to submit your book to. If you’re thinking about self-publishing learn as much as you can about the process.

7. Keep a record of how much you can comfortably write each day. Knowledge of your possible output will help you once you’re published and facing deadlines.

8. Take online classes and attend conferences to learn as much as you can. I’ve been published for a while now, and I’m still learning!

9. When it comes to actual plotting, try all the different methods. Plotting, pansting and in between until you find a method that works for you.

10. There is no right or wrong way to write a book. There is only your way.

11. Find a critique partner/s to help critique your work and critique other writers’ work. This is a learning process too.

12. Once you’ve completed and polished your book send it off to your chosen publisher or agent. While you’re waiting, start work on your next book. If you’re self-publishing, complete the publishing process and start work on the next book.

13. Celebrate each success because writing is a difficult business and plain hard work.

Do you have any suggestions to add to my list?

Fixing A Broken Character

Recently someone told me the hero in my story wasn’t heroic and didn’t behave like a hero. He was unsympathetic. Instead of panicking or becoming defensive, I took another look at my hero and, to my horror, found the criticism was justified. While I still liked my character, I definitely needed to do something to make him more likeable to readers.

Most of us want to read about characters that have the qualities we see in our friends and family—the same qualities we like to think we possess. We want to connect with characters and be able to relate to them.

So how do we do this?

In his book, Writing the Breakout Novel, Donald Maass says we should start showing the reader that our character has heroic qualities right from the first page of our book. Even if our character is an average person, in an ordinary job, we need to demonstrate a special quality in them. At the start of a book, it will most likely be something small. They might help an elderly woman cross the road or rescue the next-door neighbor’s cat from a tree, but it will make us, the reader, sit up and pay attention. This is a character we would like as a friend, and we want to follow them through the course of the book, during the ups and downs, to the happy ending.

In my case, I looked at my character’s interactions with other characters. My hero snapped and snarled quite a bit, so I softened his language and the way he interacted with the other characters. I added some extra scenes, which I hope show my hero in a favorable light. I also looked at the inner conflict and checked I’d done everything I needed to in this area.

Fixing unsympathetic characters isn’t easy, and I hope I’ve managed to get the job done. I’m awaiting the verdict at present.

Do you have any hints for changing unsympathetic characters to ones that readers will love? And do you agree with Donald Maass—that we should see the hero/heroine doing something heroic almost as soon as we meet them in the story?

Finding Foster Homes for Orphan Sentences

Kat DuncanKat Duncan is my special guest today. Kat likes to write and teach. She also likes to write about teaching and teach about writing. Today she’s giving us a few hints about finding foster homes for orphan sentences.

Have you ever tried the writing technique called layering? It works like this: you draft out your basic scene with “he said” and “she said” or “he did” then “she did”. After you’ve got that bare bones framework you go back and add details such as where they are, what they look like, the weather, the room they are in, how they feel, etc.

The trouble with this technique is that it often results in disjointed scenes. Just when the dialogue gets going, the author throws in a scenery detail or stops to have the character focus on something other than the person she’s talking to. The worst blooper of this kind happens when one character asks a question and the other character goes off into a paragraph of thinking before answering.

So what’s the solution? You don’t want to skimp on these important details, so you really need to keep them. But you have to give these poor orphans a home. Make them feel part of the family. You will want to learn how to blend dialogue, action and scenery for best effect. One easy way to do this is to give your character a reason for observing the scenery, or for moving about in the scene. Linking the scene to the character’s emotions is the most direct way of doing this.

Let’s take an example and see the progression. Here’s a snippet of conversation:

“Say what you mean, Anna.”

“Okay, I will. You can’t just barge back into my life after so long and expect to pick up where you left off.”

“It hasn’t been that long.”

“It’s not about how long. It’s about assuming that you leaving had no effect on me.”

“So, you missed me?”

“I missed you, yes. And then I got over you.”

Now that I’ve got the basic dialogue, I want to add some dialogue tags and maybe some emotions, scenery and action. I’ll layer it on all at once:

“Say what you mean, Anna,” he said.

“Okay, I will. You can’t just barge back into my life after so long and expect to pick up where you left off.” She glanced out the window at a pigeon pecking crumbs on the windowsill.

“It hasn’t been that long.”

“It’s not about how long,” she said, lifting her head to stare into his dark eyes. “It’s about assuming that you leaving had no effect on me.”

“So, you missed me?” His voice dropped to that familiar seductiveness and he reached for her.

She stepped away from his outstretched hand. “I missed you. Yes. And then I got over you.”

Can you pick out the orphan sentence? It’s the one with the pigeon. I tried to give a sense of where they were while they were talking. Mentioning “out the window” tells you they are indoors. The pigeon on the windowsill tells you they are probably in an urban setting, perhaps a few stories above ground.
But…

It doesn’t fit the scene. It’s an orphan because it doesn’t connect properly with what came before it or after it. I also tried to give a sense of discomfort for Anna. Suddenly looking away at something ordinary during a conversation indicates unease and uncertainty. But the sentence isn’t working the way I intended. Let’s see if I can make this orphan sentence part of the scene’s family:

“Say what you mean, Anna,” he said.

“Okay, I will.” She edged away from him and faced the window. “You can’t just barge back into my life after so long and expect to pick up where you left off.”

“It hasn’t been that long.”

“It’s not about how long,” she said, waving a hand to shoo the pigeon pecking on the windowsill. “It’s about assuming that you leaving had no effect on me.”

“So, you missed me?” His voice dropped to that familiar seductiveness and he reached for her.

She folded her arms against her body and stared out at the cold cityscape. “I missed you. Yes. And then I got over you.”

Better, don’t you think?

Layering can work well. Just watch for those orphan sentences when you’re re-reading and be sure to give them a good home. For more examples of how to blend action, scenery and emotional details, check out my year-long novel writing course at Savvy Authors beginning in May, 2011. You can also find me on the web at http://www.katduncan.net

Writer Tips: Editing

I recently did a self-editing course with Angela James from Carina Press. One of the first things she tells course participants to do is read your work aloud. I’ve done this a little bit in the past and always felt a little stupid talking to myself. But the thing is when you read your work aloud, you listen to the flow of the words and hear any little stutters or awkward phrasing.

If you don’t like reading try Natural Soft. It’s a free text to speech software. Check it out.

Another idea I came across while doing the self-editing course is Wordle, which is a word cloud. Use this with your manuscripts to highlight overused words. A note with this one–I couldn’t get it to work for a long time. The problem was my Java, which was out of date. If you have problems go to Java and do an update.

And a final note–if you have a chance to do Angela’s self-editing course jump at it. I learned a lot and found the course very helpful.

House of the Cat Up For An Award!

House of the CatExciting news! I received an email from Whipped Cream Reviews letting me know that House of the Cat has been nominated for Best Book of 2010.
Voting opens on Mon 14 February.

I’d like to share some excellent writing articles from the Women on Writing website.

How to Trim the Fat from Your Manuscript

Recovering From Injury: Bouncing Back From a Rejection

Get Your Marketing Plan in Shape

Bullies, Bastards & Bitches!

Thursday Thirteen

I’ll often pick up a writing craft book at the library. Recently I picked up a copy of Bullies, Bastards And Bitches: How To Write The Bad Guys Of Fiction by Jessica Page Morrell. I’ve found it fascinating and definitely helpful in writing villains. The author has included a list of characteristics of villains, which is very appropriate for this time of the year. Villains abound at Halloween, right?

Thirteen Characteristics of Villains

1. Villains are consistently bad. Their behavior isn’t random or a one-off act of nastiness.

2. They have a defining event in their background that set them on their path of bad behavior.

3. They often have secrets they’re desperate to hide from others.

4. They’re not usually afraid of confrontation.

5. Villains are complicated and multi-dimensional.

6. They’re unpredictable.

7. Viallains sacrifice victims to achieve their own ends.

8. Villains often have an aspect of narcissism in their personality makeup.

9. They like to take extreme risks.

10. They’re usually alpha males or females and have underlings who defer to them.

11. Villains like to obsess about details and their plan of attack.

12. A villain controls others by using guilt and loyalty.

13. A villain plays head games and is very good at playing them.

As you can see, a hero might possess some of the above characteristics. The villain and the hero are often two parts of the same coin.

Who is your favorite fictional villain?

Writer Tip: Nalini Singh

“If a scene just isn’t working, and yet it’s critical to the storyline, try writing it from the point of view of one of the other characters. You might be surprised at the difference it makes!”

Visit Nalini Singh’s website
Purchase Nalini’s latest release, Archangel’s Kiss

Writer Tip: Kaye Manro

“GET HOOKED!

What does that mean? Simply, we must write stories that grab readers at page one and never let them go. It’s not as easy as it seems. To start with, a stellar beginning/opening is vital these days, especially for aspiring authors if we want that coveted publishing contract.

According to statistics, editors/agents reject manuscripts before they’ve finished reading the first few pages. I wanted to know why. So I studied many books on the craft of writing and took several creative writing classes that addressed that very issue. I also read and researched multi-published authors’ books, trying to get the feel of what set them apart. Then I practiced, rewrote and practiced again hoping to get the words right.

Here’s a stellar ‘Get Hooked’ opening from Carved In Stone by Vickie Taylor (Berkley Sensation): Nothing reminded Nathan Cross he wasn’t human so much as an attractive woman watching his every move from across a crowded room.

Now doesn’t that make you want to read more? It does me. The book continues to be stellar throughout and never lets the reader down all the way to the end.

Our first goal as an author is to evoke an emotional response that hooks the reader. Les Edgerton, leading authority on writing stellar hooks says, “If you are able to capture the right beginning, you’ve written a small version of the whole story right there.”

How can we go wrong with that? The best advice I can give about hooking editors, agents and ultimately readers, is to write a stellar opening and then make sure the rest of your story lives up to that fabulous beginning.”

Kaye Manro
www.kayemanro.com

Kaye Manro’s science fiction romance FORBIDDEN LOVE releases at Red Rose Publishing on May 20, 2010.