90-Day Novel-Day 4 Check-in

90 Day Novel Challenge

It’s Day 4 of the 90-Day Novel Challenge.

Leave a comment below with the number of words you completed today.

For a true writer each book should be a new beginning where he tries against for something that is beyond attainment. He should always try for something that has never been done or that others have tried and failed. Then sometimes, with great luck, he will succeed. –Earnest Hemingway

90-Day Novel-Day 2 Check-in

90 Day Novel Challenge

It’s Day 2 of the 90-Day Novel Challenge.

Leave a comment below with the number of words you completed today.

I have been writing a long time and have learned some things, not only from my own long hard work, but from a writing class I had for three years. In this class were all kinds of people: prosperous and poor, stenographers, housewives, salesmen, cultivated people and little servant girls who had never been to high school, timid people and bold ones, slow and quick ones.

This is what I learned: that everybody is talented, original and has something important to say.. –Brenda Ueland

90-Day Novel-Day 1 Check-in

90 Day Novel Challenge

It’s Day 1 of the 90-Day Novel Challenge.

Leave a comment below with the number of words you completed today.

If you want to write, you can. Fear stops most people from writing, not lack of talent, whatever that is. Who am I? What right have I to speak? Who will listen to me if I do? You’re a human being, with a unique story to tell, and you have every right. If you speak with passion. many of us will listen. We need stories to live, all of us. We live by story. Yours enlarges the circle. –Richard Rhodes

90-Day Novel Challenge!

90 Day Novel Challenge

The Saturday Writer girls are holding their own 90-Day Novel Challenge!

What’s the challenge?

We are committing to write a minimum of 890 words each day for 90 days. This can be on an existing manuscript or on a completely new story, your choice.

When does it start?

We’re starting on Monday, June 8. If you can’t start Monday, feel free to jump in when you can.

Who can participate?

Anyone! We’d love to have you join us.

How does it work?

We’ll have a new post each day for you to leave a comment on with your report of that day’s progress. Tell us how many words you wrote that day, how the writing went, where you’re at in your novel, ask any questions you’d like some feedback on, etc. Whatever you’d like to share is fine with us.

Why do this?

Because we all need a kick in the pants now and then to get us started or to help us maintain momentum on our story. By committing to finishing a small number of words each day (and being publicly accountable for getting them done), we can get our novels written!

Where do I sign up?

Right here. Just leave a comment on this post announcing your intent to participate in the 90-Day Novel Challenge.

Here’s to 90 days of great writing!

3 Things to Avoid Even If You’re a Bestselling Author

In my early 20’s I discovered historical romances and fell in love with them. I quickly found some favorite authors and devoured everything they wrote. As time went by, I drifted away from them and only recently found some new books by those favorite authors. This time around, my reading experience with them has been different.

I still enjoy the stories, but now that I’ve been writing myself for a number of years, I notice a lot more about the writing technique used in the books I read.

A Lump of Backstory

I discovered that one of my most favorite authors is quite fond of backstory, delivered in a huge lump at the beginning of the book. One book had 40 pages… yes, you read that right. 40 pages of backstory to begin the book. I quickly found myself skimming and flipping page after page to get to the actual story with the hero and heroine.

Instead of dumping a lot of past information at the very beginning of the book, she could have included it throughout the story as the characters interacted. As the reader, I would have questioned some of the behaviors of the characters without the backstory, but posing story questions (Why did she react like that? What is the secret he doesn’t want to talk about?) and not answering them right away would keep me reading through the book to find the answers.

Realization #1: A glob of backstory is not a good start to your book. Backstory should be used like salt… a sprinkle here and there throughout the story as seasoning. Too much salt and the resulting story is inedible (or unreadable).

Missing Action

Another author was fond of leaving out details of the story action. For example, “Hero turned away from the stairs, deciding he’d wait to talk to Heroine after supper. He turned back at the noise and started up the stairs.” What noise? Where’s the explanation of what he heard? In this case, we later find out the noise was Heroine having a huge cat fight with her sister. Why couldn’t the author just say that Hero suddenly heard screaming and loud crashes from upstairs?

Realization #2: It’s not clever to leave out details of the action as if they are implied by the character’s reaction to something. It’s just confusing and confusing your reader too much will cause them to stop reading your book.

Important Scenes Happening Off Camera

This technique seemed like a cop-out and an incredible missed opportunity. The author skipped over scenes that could have provided heightened suspense or revealed the inner qualities of the characters.

For example, Heroine is kidnapped by train robbers because she has seen their faces and can paint likenesses for the local sheriff to put on Wanted Posters. Hero rides after Heroine, worrying about her. After riding a full day and spending a fretful night beside a campfire, Hero finds Heroine hidden in a haystack in a barn. She falls into his arms, trembling from the kidnapping ordeal.

Wait… where’s the scene of the Heroine bravely standing up to the train robbers? Even a scene of her cowering and afraid of them as they threaten to kill her? It took an entire day for the Hero to get to her location. What was happening to her during that time? Where’s the scene that explains why she’s hiding in a haystack with the train robbers mysteriously vanished?

These were prime opportunities to show us more of Heroine’s inner strength in the face of danger, her intelligence in trying to find ways to escape. Even an opportunity to paint the train robbers as a real threat so that Hero’s eventual rescue of Heroine is truly heroic. But instead, the author chose to skip over the scenes and instead have the Heroine tell the Hero that the train robbers had stashed her in the haystack for the night so the wife of one of them wouldn’t realize they had kidnapped anyone. (Okay, this was a HUH? moment in itself.) The Hero doesn’t even get a showdown with the train robbers. Instead, he takes Heroine back to her family and the sheriff rounds up the train robbers, again off camera, so the threat is suddenly, and easily, eliminated.

Realization #3 – Don’t leave out the best scenes. Use the action scenes to give the reader better insight into your characters. Use them to raise the tension in the story and increase the danger to the characters. Leaving out scenes like this only robs the reader of the chance to really fall in love with your characters and to be enthralled with your story.

What I’ve Learned

Though the books had flaws, I still enjoyed them. I’ll continue to read these authors, though I’m not as awestruck by their talent as I once was. Instead, I realize now how difficult it can be to write a great story.

The craft of writing a great story is a lot harder than most people realize. When you get all the pieces right, it’s magic. When you don’t… well, you’re providing a learning opportunity for us other writers out there. And I’m going to keep reading and keep learning from every book I read.

Review of How to Think Sideways-Month 1

I’m taking an online class this year, How to Think Sideways: Career Survival School for Writers from Holly Lisle. It’s a six-month class with a lesson each week. Since this is turning out to be a terrific class (like all of Holly’s stuff, really) I’m going to give you a review each month of the material we’ve covered and how it worked for me.

Week 1 – How to Break the Thinking Barriers to Your Success

In this lesson Holly addresses four areas of thinking that will hold you back from achieving the success you want as a writer. We all know that a lot of our success is built on our attitude. If you have a negative attitude and give up easily, you aren’t going to achieve much. Holly zeroes in on four specific thinking problems that writers face – Safe, Perfect, Victim, Feel. Perfect is my barrier. I think I need to make my stories perfect from the beginning. Even though I consciously know that, there is a small, nagging voice in the back of my head that says, “You could do this better. You should do this better. If you aren’t going to make it perfect, why are you writing?” And before you know it, I’ve stopped writing, or never really started on a project, because I’m defeated before I even begin.

Holly gives practical exercises for each of the four barriers to help you break through them. For Perfect, she advises using a ten-minute timer and practicing just writing–no corrections, no rethinking, just keep writing the entire ten minutes. Tell the Editor in your head to shut up and let your fingers fly.

Week 2 – How to Discover Your Writing “Sweet Spot”

I loved this lesson, but it was HARD. The basis for this lesson is on how you define yourself as a writer. If you define yourself as a writer of Westerns, what did you do when the Western genre dried up and rolled away like a tumbleweed? Same thing for the horror genre, unless your name was Stephen King. Holly advises that instead of defining yourself in terms of a specific genre, you uncover your “Sweet Spot” material. This is the material that resonates with you, that is unique to you as a person. It can be objects, themes, sounds, sights, tastes–anything.

Here’s an example. Holly provides six prompts to get you started. One is “I am drawn to”. On my Sweet Spot diagram, I have listed outer space, sparkly things, sad songs, sacrifice, tragedy, rain, and blank journals. If the science fiction genre dried up tomorrow, I could still write stories about outer space by using that element in a different way. Maybe my contemporary romance character is an astronomer, or maybe just a head-in-the-clouds stargazer. The themes or elements of sacrifice and tragedy can be found in any genre.

What Holly is doing here is giving you the key to being able to continue writing material that means something to you, no matter what the publishing world does. This week is priceless, in my opinion.

Week 3 – How to Generate Ideas on a Deadline

For this week, we got to practice listening to our Muse to get ideas. We “seed” our minds with our Sweet Spot material, not picking anything deliberately, but just reading over the diagrams to plant the items in our head. Then she recommends you walk away and do something else. Anything else that is NOT writing. Don’t deliberately try to come up with ideas for a story. Just let your Muse throw up ideas to you as it decides to.

It might seem a little hocus-pocus, new agey, but haven’t we all experienced that moment when you’re busy working on something and out of the blue you get an idea for a story? What Holly is trying to do here is to train your mind to be receptive to those ideas that your mind comes up with, instead of shutting them down immediately with a “That idea’s no good” or “I hate Westerns. Why would I want to write about a cowboy?” Negative thoughts shut down the Muse, so Holly shows you how to work with your Muse to keep the ideas coming.

Week 4 – How to Recognize and Build on Good Ideas

In this lesson we learned about the Sentence. I’m sure you’ve heard other writers talk about how you need to be able to state your story idea or premise in one sentence–the 10-second elevator pitch, if you will. Holly shows you how to construct a sentence first, before you start creating background and doing worldbuilding for your story. If you don’t have the Sentence, all the worldbuilding you do is for nothing. Holly learned this by personal experience with her Korre series (Talyn and Hawkspar).

If you want to be able to “sell” your novel to an agent or an editor, you need to be able to capture the essence of the story in the Sentence, so they “get it”. If you can’t, good luck selling your story, no matter how finely detailed and crafted it might be.

Holly is teaching from the standpoint of starting a brand-new novel, but all of the material is applicable to a current work-in-progress. I find this especially helpful as I’m currently rethinking the science fiction novel I’m working on. I’m a bit lost in a muddle and I think it is because I don’t have the Sentence worked out for it. Give me another month of lessons and I’ll be well on my way.

If you’re interested in signing up for How to Think Sideways, you can check it out here. And check back in a month for the next report on Month 2.

Creating a Plan to Achieve Your Writing Goals for 2009

January is almost upon us and with it, a new year in which to pursue your writing goals. You do have goals, right? Because writing without a goal is like driving without a destination. Sure, you can get a lot of driving done without knowing where you’re going, but all that does is put miles on your car. You never actually get anywhere interesting or useful. Writing without a goal is the same. You can get a lot of writing done, but without some goal, what’s the point? It’s just aimless writing.

For 2009, set some writing goals for yourself. It doesn’t matter what your goals are, only that you have them. For example, you could:

Once you have some goals determined, you need to figure out how to get them done. Two methods from my project management days for achieving your goals are Start Forward and Finish Backward.

Start Forward

The Start Forward method involves starting where you are right now and scheduling from that point forward.

So let’s say you have an idea for a novel. In the Start Forward method you would :

  1. write out the steps to take you from idea to finished manuscript
  2. estimate how much time each step would take
  3. set target dates for each step
  4. evaluate your finish date and see if it meets your expectations (for example, if you want to write a finished manuscript this year, but your plan ends in February 2010, you’ll need to make some adjustments to your plan to get it done by December 2009)
  5. begin working your plan

Start Forward gives you an end date based on how long each step will take you.

Finish Backward

The Finish Backward method involves starting at the end and working backwards.

So let’s say that you have an idea for a novel and you want to get the novel written by December 2009. In the Finish Backward method you would:

  1. start at the end – a finished manuscript in December
  2. determine what step needs to occur before that (editing and revision of the story)
  3. determine the step before that (rough draft finished) and continue backward until you reach the idea stage
  4. estimate how long each step will take
  5. starting in December, schedule backwards using the time for each step to determine when you will need to start working on your story
  6. begin working your plan

Whichever method you choose, set writing goals for 2009 so you can make progress toward your writing destination. What are your writing goals for 2009?

What I Learned from NaNo 2008

This was my fifth year doing NaNo. I started off very strong… and died in the middle. Died is probably an exaggeration. But here it is the 30th and I have 28,000 words done. So this is about what I learned from this year’s NaNo.

Accountability is Good

I started November with two family members and my writing group all participating in NaNo. The two family members dropped out within a week. My writing group stayed strong and made tremendous progress on their novels. They had daily checkins on their progress through our Yahoo group. Check-ins which I didn’t participate in. If I had… I think I would have made better progress. There’s nothing like your friends harassing you to keep you writing.

Pre-Planning is Important

I didn’t do a lot of pre-planning on my novel. I meant to, but let October get away from me. And I found that I needed all of that detailed planning to keep making progress and to keep my writing spirits up during November. For my first newsletter on Learn to Write Fiction, I covered the writing process that Elizabeth George uses and it sounds perfect for me. I need that character and setting work done ahead of time so I know what I’m going to write when I sit down.

Maintaining Momentum is a Must

I kept up during the first ten days or so. Then I missed a day, then two and before I knew it I was 10,000 words behind where I should be. To succeed in NaNo, I have to write 1667 words every day without fail. If I skip even one, it is even harder to write the next day.

Clear the Decks

In addition to NaNo in November, I had my day job and my work on Learn to Write Fiction which is essentially another job. Two jobs and writing a novel is a tough combination. I’d have been better off to get November’s website work done ahead of time so that I only had the novel to work on.


So what will happen to my novel? I plan to finish it, just at a slower pace. And after I do the necessary pre-work.

If you participated in NaNo this year, what did you learn?


NaNo is Here Again!

This is my fifth year doing NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month). The first four years I finished my 50,000 words with relative ease. Last year, I started off with good intentions… and then stopped. Why? I’m not entirely sure. I just got tired of pushing toward 50,000. I knew I could achieve it if I wanted to and so I didn’t have the urge to prove myself that I had the first few years.

This year, I’m doing it again. And there are some new nuances that should keep me on track. For one, I’ve made my NaNo intentions very public by announcing them on my website, www.learntowritefiction.com. To stop before hitting 50,000 would be a huge visible flop. (As a writer, never understimate the power of peer pressure and public humiliation to keep you writing.)

Also, this year, I’m applying some of the tricks that I’ve learned over the past four years to help me stay the course and finish.

Enlist your friends and family – this year, my sister-in-law, my brother (first-timer!), and my significant other (another first-timer!) are all doing NaNo with me. Nothing keeps you going like shared pain and taunting challenges from your family.

Use short bursts – When I sit down to write, I do so in 15-20 minute increments. I can crank out the words, knowing that I only have to describe the immediate scene in my head and nothing else. A short break and them I’m ready for another sprint.

Reward yourself profusely – this year I’m giving myself MP3 downloads at the end of each week IF I’m on track with my word count. At the end of NaNo and 50,000 words… a HUGE reward. I haven’t decided on what that will be yet, but it will be good. My significant other is considering an XBox 360 as his major prize.

Don’t be afraid to write crap – the theme of 2008 NaNo for my NaNo Region (Des Moines, IA) is “Yay, Crap!” You know you’re going to write crap at some point during NaNo… maybe all the way through it. So don’t kick yourself over it… celebrate it! Writing crap means you have something to work with when you hit the editing stage.

Have fun! – this is the main reason to do NaNo and the main attitude you should have when doing NaNo. It’s a breakneck thrill ride in novel-writing. The words look like picket fence posts as they zoom past you on the novel highway. Enjoy the ride!

If you don’t have any friends or family doing NaNo, let me be your cheering section. Add me as a Writing Buddy on the NaNo website, so I can follow your progress and heckle you as needed toward your own 50,000 word goal. Here’s to a great November!