Tuesday, October 24, 2017

HOW TO SUCCESSFULLY FINISH WRITING A NOVEL

With NaNo fast approaching and everyone offering their two cents as to how to successfully finish the challenge, I figured I’d add my own thoughts. Keep in mind: I’m a slow writer. Like, glacially slow. Currently I have to turn in at least one new book a year (drafted at least 3 times before I meet that deadline), and edit another book for publication (which requires at least three rounds: revision, copyedits, proof pass), all within 12 months.

It’s a lot for me so I have to be really careful how I manage my time. Because I am incapable of writing a draft in a month. That means every day of the year counts for me. I either need to be working, or intentionally on vacation—one of the two. What can NOT happen is losing days to staring at my computer and doing nothing.

Also, I don’t like first drafting. No, scratch that. I loathe first drafting. Let’s just be upfront and honest with how much I detest that process. Writing a first draft suuuuuuuucks. I consider myself a redrafter. I enjoy the process of editing. Of taking a pile of crap and MAKING it something. But you have to write a first draft in order to create that second draft. So these are some of my coping skills in order to do that.

The key is to write. 
No, you don’t have to write everyday, but it helps. It also helps to take breaks. You need to find the balance. Ride the line between forcing yourself to do the work, and letting yourself have time off. Only you know where that line is. The key is to be honest with yourself. A lot of times people “take a break” but really it’s just procrastination and laziness.  You need to have a hard conversation with yourself (for me it’s usually daily, haha) and ask, “Have I done the most work I can today?” And if the answer is no, GET TO WORK.

Schedules work.
It’s nice to be a free spirit and all, but really, without strict deadlines, things don’t get done. Make a list of the items you need to accomplish, divide that up into a workable schedule, and WORK THE PLAN. Keep in mind that self-imposed deadlines don’t work if you don’t believe in them. Seriously. You have to hold yourself accountable. Or get a friend or two to help you.

Of course, having someone inquire about your progress is a double edged sword. There’s nothing worse than my mom calling after a particularly unproductive week and asking, “So how’s the book going?” NOT WELL, OKAY?! BACK OFF. Not that I say this to her. My answer is usually, “I don’t want to talk about it.” :)

Create a task list and then make yourself stick to it. Give yourself rewards if that kind of thing works for you. 

Use whatever you have to get the words out.
Writing for me is a numbers game. Most times it’s like pulling teeth. So one of my coping skills is to take advantage of every thought. There are moments when scenes come to you, use them. And they’ll always come at the most inopportune time. Like, WORST TIMING EVER. So you have to be prepared for them.

I find myself using my phone or iPad a lot. Mostly because the phone happens to be in my hand at any given time. There are lots of apps available: Scrivener app, the standard Notes app, Google docs, even Word. Take advantage of them and sync them with a cloud service. No matter what I put in my phone, it always appears on either my desktop or laptop the next time I sign on.

When I’m drafting I also have a small notebook in my purse and on my side table. Sometimes you just have to go low-tech if the words aren’t coming, or if you have to dash off dialog fast. I find that if I’m having a difficult time starting my writing day, picking up a pen and free-writing a little will open up the words for me.

When you’re done writing by hand, scan (or take a photo of) the document and drop it in your Scrivener file (this is where Scrivener comes in handy). Type it in with side-by-side view or wait to type in later to jumpstart your words if you have a slow morning the next day.

Organization is everything.
I mean really, seriously, everything. There’s a point when you’re writing that you completely lose track of your story. You have to trust in the notes you created when you were fresh and clear on the book. Believing in them is the only thing that gets me to finish a draft without quitting. Because sometimes (usually in the middle of the book) I have nothing else: no ability to see my project clearly and hate for every word I’m writing.

You need a plan. 
And I say “plan” verses “outline” because I don’t want this to be dismissed with an eyeroll that “I’m a pantser so I don’t agree with this part.” You don’t have to outline everything. But what you do need to have is a clear idea of where you want to go. What is the inciting incident? What is the obstacle? What major scenes can you see/ are you excited about? How do you want this book to end?

At the very least you should know these key ideas. Otherwise you’re going to be 30K into it and be lost. LOST. And you’re going to look around and ask, “What the heck was this book about anyway?” Plus, if you don’t know those key things, rewriting is going to feel overwhelming. And it’s debilitating (at least to me) to lose half or more of a manuscript just because I didn’t have a plan.

Take notes.
Before, after, during. Anytime you think of something, write it down.

It is helpful to use a program like Scrivener for a first draft when you’re note taking. You can create scenes within your document and then drop the notes where they belong (change the icons so you can find them easy). That way you won’t be temped to go back if it’s an earlier scene. If it’s a later scene, you’ll remember what you wanted to include when you write it. Bonus, when you go to tackle the second draft, you already have a built in guideline.

Write out of order.
No one says that you HAVE to write from beginning to end. Skip the scenes that are being horrible. Don’t waste time on them. One of two things will happen: 1. The scene works itself out in your head and you can come back and write it with ease. Or 2. You realize it doesn’t work with the story anyway and that’s why it wasn’t working.

You can also write in sections within your chapters. Write things that are coming to you. Write dialog if that’s what is coming. Or write all the scene details. You can rearrange them later. Just get something out that you can work with for edits. Keep them in separate documents within the chapter of your Scrivener file. This makes it easier to edit them together in the next draft.

Quality and substance of your scenes/plot matters more than word count.
You don’t need to focus on perfect wording, but there should be something workable that you can rewrite. If you know you’re going in the wrong direction—STOP. Seriously, stop. Write something else you know you’ll keep until you can figure out what went wrong with what you have.

Don’t stress yourself out. 
Breaks are as important as making yourself work. Ideas work themselves out in your downtimes. So don’t be afraid to take them. Shower. Nap. Walk. For some reason those three are my go to when I’m stressing over a particular plot issue. Don’t stay at the computer. The answers won’t come from staring at a blank screen.

Find inspiration.
Sometimes you need to refill the well. Writing a book is drudgery. It's rare that a first draft high will last the entire length of the draft. It certainly happens though, and if that's you, I'm totally jealous. But the majority of writers aren't going to be inspired by their book for the long haul, so find inspiration somewhere else.

Get out of the house. Go people watch. Go to a museum and look at art. See a movie. Read a book.

Sometimes I just need to rest my brain. If I'm heavily drafting, I find it difficult to read or watch tv because the stimulation is too much. And I just don't have that much mental energy to invest. So I'll put on an audible book of something I've already read and love, turn out the lights, and close my eyes. It helps me to keep in a storytelling mindset without me needing to be an active participant in the story. 

Now we come right back around to the first piece of advice: you’ve got to write.
Do the work. Writing is a muscle. You have to exercise that muscle, and if you don’t, it atrophies. I get out of the habit of drafting too. Once I switch focus to editing and then come back to drafting, my word counts are ridiculously low. It’s hard to get the word count up again. But you have to make an effort.

Work up to large daily numbers. Push yourself a little more every day. The key is consistency. Not three thousand words of brain dump and then you burn yourself out for a week.

You also have to know that you CAN DO THIS. Writing a manuscript isn’t a specialized career. You don’t have to study it forever in order to do it. All you have to do is write—put one word in front of another until your brain wants to explode. It’s tedious but achievable. And it’s hard work for a mediocre payoff. Yes, there are people who are brilliant and work masterpieces the first time out and have a voice that’s a gift from the Gods. But for the majority of us mortals, writing is a slog of suck and we don’t know what we’re doing more than half of the time. AND THAT’S OKAY.

Do not focus on good writing. Your first draft will be utter crap anyway. You will never, ever hit that perfection on the first draft. So don’t even stress yourself about it!

The very FIRST thing you have to do is finish. That’s it. That should be your entire focus from the time you start your first draft till the end. Nothing else. Get the words in the document.


And notice I didn’t title this “be successful at NaNo” because if you don’t hit 50K, who cares? It’s more important that you finish your novel. And you don’t have to do that in a month. You just have to DO IT.

Thursday, April 13, 2017

Starting New

I turned in The Stolen Sky recently and while I wait to receive edits I’m faced with that dreaded blankness of a new book. 

It’s always like this—the fear of the unknown, the lack of motivation to start, the crushing weight of wondering if it’s worth it. Sometimes I ask myself why I write. For me it’s a masochistic practice. The high comes from the pain. I’ve never felt that blind rush of euphoria other writers describe when they’re “in the zone.” I can’t ever remember a time where it was easy and fun. It’s always been work for me. The practice soul crushing at times. 

Yet, I start all over again putting one word after another. 

I know the joy comes eventually. This has been proved over and over. The book always comes to an end. I just have to trust myself to get there. 

Not the temporal kind of joy that comes when someone special brings you flowers, or someone compliments you—the kind you have no ownership in. This joy is deeper and more weighted. It comes after you’ve spent endless months crying as you try to master something and yet fail with every attempt. The kind that comes after you embraced that perfection is unattainable. And then, as if the pieces suddenly fit together, the task is done.

This is what writing is like for me. 

It’s no wonder I drag my feet to start the journey again. The pain, the weariness, sleepless nights, anxiety so thick it stops my breath—all that is in my future. Should I step forward, it’s inevitable. 

And still, I walk on that road with my head held high. I know I can to this. I know the reward is worth it. All that stands between me and “the end” is the work. Even that is not so hard if I only focus on today. This moment is all I have. And so I take a deep breath, hold it until my lungs burn, and start once more. 





Tuesday, March 7, 2017

Links, oh my!

Let’s all pretend it hasn’t been forever since I’ve written on my blog. ;)


I have some updates and links:

My second book in the Split City series got a title change. It’s now called The Stolen Sky. You can preorder it and you can add it to your Goodreads list. The publication date is December 5, 2017.

I also have several links to book giveaways for The Breaking Light!

My publisher is running a 100 e-book giveaway on Goodreads. The odds are pretty good right now, so please enter!

I also did an interview graciously hosted by YA Books Central. They’re holding a three book giveaway on their site as well as letting you read the first chapter of The Breaking Light.



My goal this year is to have some regular posts on this blog. It’s difficult right now, though, because my deadline for The Stolen Sky is in just over 20 days. That’s my first priority.


But soon. Soooooon! I’ll figure out something to write here. Right now my updates would revolve around stretch pants, Nutella, and fast food. At least until I finish this book.

Saturday, October 22, 2016

NANOWRIMO 2016

Shocking news: I’m going to attempt 50K in NaNo this year. Like, really give it the ol’ “try my best to meet that word count even if it kills me” attempt.

I’ve participated for years. Though I never really “try” since (1) I’m not much of a fast drafter and (2) I’m usually editing something in November. So my “participation” usually means showing up at the NaNo events and working in a group setting. THAT’S the part of NaNo I adore, the community.

But this year the stars aligned and I have to write a draft STAT so that I allow myself time to edit and expand it before I need to turn it in. So the faster I get that first draft written and marinating in my head, the better.

I average about 20K a month, every month. That number is steady even when I have other editing going on, and life stuff, etc. You would think the jump between 20K and 50K isn’t much. But let me tell you: it so is. I don’t know if I can do it.

Especially since I have a huge chunk of time in November when I’m not going to be able to participate. I have exactly 20 free days next month. This means I need to write 2500 per day to meet 50K. OMG. 

HONESTY: That number (2500 per day), I don’t know if it’s possible for a single day, let alone 20 times.


To hit my average (20K a month target) I write 1K M-F and then catch up on the weekends if I don’t meet that goal. Yeah. It’s a pathetic number, I agree. Especially since writing is my full time job. You’d think if I stayed home during the day with 6 hours of dedicated writing time, I’d end up with more than 1K a day. Not so much.

The reality is that I DO need to increase my production of words overall. Because my numbers are pathetic and I need to work out a new strategy going forward. Or at least prove to myself that writing more in a day is completely possible. I’m hoping that NaNo will help me do that—GET OUT OF MY HEAD and work.

I won’t write endless crap, though, just to make the word count. Typical NaNo advice is: don’t erase anything, just keep writing words even if the words don’t mean anything. Or add a sex scene. Or blow something up!

So, NO. That’s not going to happen. I’ve got to have a working draft by the end of this. The whole point of fast drafting is for me to end up with something useable so that I have MORE time to edit and craft it into something amazing before my deadline.


Okay so now we come to the second part of this post where I give some advice. I’m kind of a NaNo junky which means that I LOVE to read/watch everyone’s thoughts on it.

Here’s my two cents if you want it.

How to write a useable first draft:

  • No two novels will be written the same even by the same author. I don’t know why this is. But whatever. Don’t try to follow advice that’s not working for you. Any advice should enhance your own flow as a writer, not drive you insane.

  • Remember that first drafts are junk. And by that I mean: the editing is really where the novel is. So if you don’t like the section you’re writing—SKIP IT. If it’s boring, you’re probably going to cut it anyway. Focus on the story. If you get ideas for world building, write that down. Ideas for characters, write that down. But really: story, story, story. All the other crap… uh, I mean enhancing… can come later.

  • You don’t need to write linearly. If you want to, great. But as far as I’m concerned: Screw that, man. I can’t tell you how often I work backward. I mean, how are you supposed to know how to plan stuff beforehand without writing the end result? Added to this point: get Scrivener. If you’re working in Word, then you are forced to write linear. That’s how the program is set up. With Scrivener you can write all over the place and rearrange to suit your needs.

  • You also don’t need to write full scenes. That’s another thing that Scrivener is good for: collecting pieces of a scene within a designated chapter. Write a section of dialog. Or a section of atmosphere. Whatever you feel needs to be in that particular scene—BUT DON’T CONNECT IT. You can put it together later. The reasons for not connecting them now is that you can move the pieces into other scenes if you find that necessary at a later point (as I often do), AND you won’t end up with one long piece of text that has pages of world building followed by pages of dialog. That crap all needs to be interspersed. If it starts out broken apart when you edit, it’s THAT MUCH EASIER. Especially if you’ve taken the time to label your sections.

  • Know where you’re going. I’m a plotter, BUT even if you’re a pantser, it’s MUCH easier if you have a goal on the horizon. If you don’t, well… the draft is not so usable, you know? Because you’re going to have a LOT of wandering to cut and reshape.

  • Keep notes within your mess of a draft. This is especially helpful when you’re writing out of order because suddenly you’ll have an epiphany which means that several things have to happen within the draft leading up to that point. Note each thing in the section that it should happen so you remember it when you get there. I do this by creating a doc (obviously each chapter for me would be a folder) labeled NOTES and then I change the icon to a yellow notepad. Then when I get to that scene I can split the screen (as you can do in Scrivener) with the notes on the right and work on the left.

  • If you feel like you’re on the wrong track, STOP FOR A DAY AND THINK THROUGH YOUR PLOT. That’s your gut telling you that you’re veering off-course. A big part of writing is instinct. Hone that. You will thank me later.

And that concludes my practical advice on drafting.

I do want to throw in that you don’t have to be afraid to switch up your manuscript during drafting, or after drafting. Part of the reason that I adore Scrivener is the ability to move everything around and reorganize. Make use of the notecard feature. It works. Sometimes a writer has to step back and visually see the draft in plotted pieces—rather than words—in order to recognize where the beats should/should not be.

Happy NaNoing.

Ohhhhh, and friend me (HLHansen)!!!!



***

Tuesday, October 11, 2016

THE STATIC GRAY

I’ve been avoiding social media for the most part. One, because it feels like insanity out there. ESPECIALLY on Twitter. Every day there seems to be a new explosion. But here too because The Words, they don’t want to come. It’s a dry, DRY well of nothing.

The second reason I’ve been on a social media hiatus is because I’ve been busy. I’ve got so much to do, yo.

I’m working on reading through my proof copy for THE BREAKING LIGHT. It’s the last time it will be in my hands so I feel like I need to check every word one more time.

I’m also drafting Book Two. Which I sold and the announcement went live yesterday. I can now tell you the title: THE STATIC GRAY. 



Yay! It’s going to be awesome. I’m ecstatic that I get to continue on with this story. It’s incredibly fun to write.

Because I was asked: I don’t keep a writing page on Facebook. I don’t think they’re useful. I’d have to keep up with it for starters (and you all know how good I am with that! SNICKER). But also with the algorithm now, any page I’ve “liked” on FB I rarely see anyway. It’s annoying! I like them because I want to see them. 

Instead I decided to open my Facebook page to followers. I post a combo of “open” and “private” posts, so you will see stuff. Usually book stuff which is what I would have put on a writing page anyway. I won’t however accept friendship unless I know you. I post too much stuff with my kids and as they’ve asked for their lives to be more private, I’ve got to respect that. 


~

Tuesday, July 5, 2016

Patronus Charms and Other Sparkly Things

The biggest problem with this blog is that I’m not sure what it wants to BE.

Writing here used to be easy. It was a catalog of my family’s adventures as we moved around the world. It was mostly for my family so that I could keep in touch and share our stories. The majority of those posts have been taken off-line at this point. 

My kids were small then, and didn’t have opinions about what I posted about them online. Now they’re savvy and know how to navigate their way to my blog and do NOT want me posting about them. They don’t care so much that I post cell phone pictures on Instagram as long as my account is locked (they’re words, not mine). They’re a little more hesitant when I share stories on Facebook.

Which limits the stories I can tell here as well as the pictures I can post. 

I also don’t want this blog to become a “Hey, I’m an author website, so I’ll only talk about my books!” site. That would take away the joy of writing here.



July is already busy five days in. I’ve joined Camp NaNo and I’m in a cabin with other local writers. That’s been fun. I’ve made no secret that the NaNo format doesn’t work for me. I never “win.” And admittedly, I don’t ever try. 

Writing a bunch of words in a document so that I have to sort through them later is NOT the way I write. I’m a big proponent of write the way that makes you successful, and that’s not the NaNo way for me.

But.

I LOVE the community, especially here in Vegas. I’ve landed in a place where people actively write and they have a continuous presence both online and in person throughout the year. I love it.

So I’ll be spending July writing, which I’d be doing anyway (haha). But I also have an edit that I have to do, so I may not get too many words on the page. If I can make 30K, I’ll be thrilled.



Here’s a 4th of July picture. We’re practicing our patronus charms. Mine is a honey badger.




Tuesday, June 7, 2016

The Breaking Light

I meant to write this post last week. I really, really did. But then I got busy and, you know… LIFE.

Anyway, I was on the phone with my mom grumbling under my breath about Blogger. Seriously, what’s up with it? It’s being all funky. It won’t let me type in the text box. I had to write this on a separate document and copy it in.


Mom: What are you doing, writing a blog post?

Me: Yes.

Mom: Don't make me faint.


She thinks she’s a comedian!

Which leads me to another conversation I had with her (and the entire point of this post):

A while back I had a shiny new idea for a book.

Me: I was thinking, it would be cool to write a Romeo and Juliet story.

Her: Sounds good.

Me: But gender switch them.

Her: What?

Me: Yeah, and make it Science Fiction. And they can live in the dark! How cool would that be?

Her: What are you even talking about?

Me: Trust me, you’re going to love it.


And so I wrote it. And it sold. And I’m freaking out.







Now it’s summer and we’re doing summer things. Which includes Bekah deciding that she’s going to write a book too since, you know, “It looks like an easy enough way to make money.”

Thursday, March 17, 2016

Spring Break Stay-cation

There was a moment yesterday when I realized that I needed to cull the chaos of my life and bring it down a notch before I had a mental break. One of those things involved a Spring Break trip to Big Bear: a week without internet or television, two dogs in limited space, people who would be bored out of their skulls, and me with lots and lots of work to do.

I made an executive decision to cancel it. I told the kids that we’d have a stay-cation instead where they would have limited rules (obey, don’t fight, and no eating in the bedrooms — Bekah hates the not eating in the rooms rule is still being enforced) but other than that, they can pretty much do what they want. I won’t monitor what they’re eating (as a matter of fact, there are items currently in the house that I do not normally purchase: cookies, chips, and other crappy junk), they won’t have a bedtime, they don’t have to get dressed or showered at all if they don’t choose to, and I won’t force them to leave the house unless it’s voted on (majority rules).

We did however tell them that they have to spend family time with us every day (movies, board games, etc) for a minimum of 2 hours. And that the world goes back to normal on Thursday when Steven goes back to work so that their sleep schedules can get back on track. Plus they’ll probably stink by then and I’ll be going nuts about it.

Bekah: So that means that if I’m on my iPad at 3am, I won’t be grounded?

Steven: As long as you don’t wake me up, we won’t have a problem.

Bekah: And I can eat cookies and ice cream all day?

Me: There is real food to make for lunches like sandwiches or ramen, and we do have dinners planned, but it’s mostly easy stuff like hot dogs and hamburgers. We also bought some steaks. 

Steven: Grilled stuff.

Bekah: This is going to be the best vacation ever! Better than Hawaii!


Seriously? Staying home and not getting dressed for a week, eating sugar 24/7, and never sleeping is a better vacation than Hawaii?! Who knew this would make my kids so happy? I could have saved THOUSANDS of dollars on vacations over the years! What the heck?

Friday, January 15, 2016

The Spark Notebook

The Spark Notebook has changed my life. I love it. It’s a planner-like notebook with weekly self-reflection prompts, calendar, goals (yearly/monthly/weekly), achievement progress, and weekly/daily tracking. I don’t use it for a planner because it’s bound (hardcover, like a book) which makes it impossible for me to utilize it in that capacity (I use the HappyPlanner for actual planning), but you could if that’s what you wanted.

I decided to use the Spark Notebook for my 2016 writing journal. Jotting down all the shiny new ideas I have, noting anything I think about involving characters and plot, big epiphanies I have about structure and content, keeping track of my daily/weekly/monthly writing goals, etc. It’s become a journal where I tuck everything that’s loose in my brain so it has a place to be.

I have kept writing journals for a while and they don’t tend to do me much good because I can’t stand anything unstructured. Especially when it’s ANOTHER blank page to fill. ZZZZ. But in this case it’s easy because I only have to fill in one block. And if I need, I have several per day.

It’s been excellent for planning my month ahead, and then breaking it down to work on small bits of it per week. I’ve found that the weekly self-reflection pages have helped to put me in a more focused mindset to write or edit.

I thought about the other applications I personally could use it for:

A daily journal.
Keeping track of fitness/weight loss goals and progress.
Photography ideas/shoots


I’d share pictures of mine but it’s morphed into a personal glimpse of my thought process. I didn’t realize how much having a structured book could become so much more for me than a blank journal.

Monday, August 3, 2015

Summer Is Almost Over

There’s an insistent part of my brain tells me (daily) that I need to write a blog post. The thing is: I’m behind in everything in my life and blogging comes last.

Except for writing. I’m on track with that.


***
Paris was wonderful. I’d show you pictures except I haven’t edited any of them. I’m lucky they’re on my computer to begin with because shortly after I downloaded them I lost my camera cord.

Which brings me to my next point: I’m out of practice with photography.

I had a friend visit a couple weeks ago and we set out to photograph Freemont Street.

I captured utter drivel. It was depressing. I couldn’t see the shot in order to compose anything. I mean, there were naked people on the street (no joke) and my internal dialog was: this place is booooooring.

My friend encouraged me to, “Shoot through it.”

Because, yeah, that’s what you have to do. Like anything, it’s all about practice. Shooting a bunch of crap before you start to see things.


***
I have been writing. A LOT. There was a point this summer where I became frustrated that my current manuscript is not finished so I set a crazy working pace for myself. Because… OMG. I haven’t been this in love with a book in years.

I was also distraught because I backtracked at about 50K to rewrite it from 3rd to 1st.

That was a GOOD decision, BTW. Yet frustrating because couldn’t I have figured that out to begin with? I would have saved myself months of effort. It’s not like switching tense is simply a matter of changing pronouns. Sooooo, yeah.

I made myself a laborious schedule so that I can finish this manuscript soon-ish. “Soon-ish” currently looking like a November timeframe, and “finished” meaning edited a couple of times.


***
My one-year-old puppy has lost her mind. She ATE A HOLE in my brand new carpet. Not in a normal sized room either. I’m not thrilled, as you can imagine.  I could also point out that she was not in my care at the time. Both dogs behave when they’re with me because I watch them. A concept my children have yet to understand.

And then there was yesterday when that same puppy ran into the plug under my desk and shut off my computer while I was using it. I lost large sections of my novel.

I. ABOUT. DIED.

I spent three hours reconstructing it from saved drafts. I don’t think I lost anything of value. Phew.


***
Three more weeks until school starts. It may be the very first time in history that I’ve ever said this, but: I’m not ready. NOT AT ALL. I can’t stand the horrifying amounts of homework, common core, and absolutely no time for the kids to read for pleasure, or draw, or paint. Kids need to stretch their brains with creativity too – but that’s a whole other ranty blog post. 


Ciao for now, peeps.

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