Posts tagged with: writing tips
Posted by June Love Mar 4 2013, 12:01 am in writing tips
Have you ever sat down to write only to discover your spirit is willing, but your mind refuses to cooperate? Sometimes, it’s because we’ve had to put down our writing for awhile due to a new job, an illness, or perhaps motherhood. Whatever the reason, it’s often difficult to get back into the swing of things. So, how do we get our writing momentum back?
I recently went through a severe anti-focus bout. After seeking advice from different friends and through a process of trial and error, I finally found my way back. However, I know me and know that I can be easily distracted. To help me for the next time my mind wants to wander, I compiled the tips into an easy-to-remember format. Should you ever sit down to write and realize all you’re doing is staring into space, then I hope at least one of these tips will help you.
Fill your free time with your story. FREE TIME?!? Normally, I’d be the first one to fall on the floor laughing at this, but by becoming more aware of how I spend my time, I learned I have a lot more free time than I thought. By free time, I mean the times when you’re doing mindless tasks, such as taking a shower, drying your hair, exercising, cooking, or driving to the store (okay, to be fair, I don’t necessarily consider driving mindless, but I think you know what I mean). If you’re in the middle of the story, then think about what you’d like to happen next. If you’re plotter and have all the stars aligned, then think about your dialogue. It doesn’t really matter what you’re thinking about, as long as your story is occupying your mind.
Overlook your inner editor. At my last chapter meeting, a chapter mate said she’d learned over the years some writers were in a perpetual state of editing. She looked at me and said, “You’re very close to becoming one, so start writing and stop sweating the small stuff.” Because my writing time had become so erratic, I would find myself constantly re-reading my story to familiarize myself with my plot and characters. Then, of course, I’d start editing what I was reading. Before I knew it, my writing time was over and I had no new words on the page. I finally decided if I was going to move my story forward, I had to learn not to go back and clean up my writing. For someone who is an organized control freak with OCD tendencies, I can tell you this wasn’t easy. Right now, my inner editor is on vacation. She’ll be back by the time I finish my book. If you’ve been away from your story, I’m not saying you can’t go back and catch up with where you are, just be careful of falling into the trap of re-hashing the same scene time after time.
Clear your mind. Did you know that this is one of the hardest things for people to do? We are always thinking about something–even if we’re just thinking about clearing our minds. Yes, I’ve done this. Our minds are constantly racing with daily tasks that need accomplishing. When it comes to writing, we need to clear our minds of those thousands of other things we think we should be doing and let our creativity flow. Again, I’ll refer to that side of me that used to believe everything in my little universe had to be perfect before I could sit down, without guilt, to write. Laundry done, house cleaned, groceries bought, etc. A rough wake-up call is all it took for me to realize that life will never be perfect and neither will the world stop if I sit down to write with dust bunnies under my bed. If you’re having trouble focusing, then try to clear the clutter out of your mind and see if that helps you.
Understand what writing routine works best for you. We can’t measure ourselves by what “Super Writer” does. Each individual must figure out what works best for them and then move at their own pace. Some writers prefer early morning, while others do their best work burning the midnight oil. I have a friend who writes during her fifteen- minute breaks at work. Maybe it’s not an ideal situation, but it’s what works for her in her particular situation. I admire her for her determination to write regardless the obstacles. Finding our peak time is only half the battle, the other half is making it routine. That doesn’t mean life won’t throw you curve balls, but it’s up to us to maintain our momentum by adapting. I’ll be the first to admit I haven’t done this lately, but I’m learning.
Sit down and write. Sometimes things can happen that will alter our perspective on life. It can be something minor, or it can be a major. Regardless, the occurrence will shape our thoughts, our emotions, and our beliefs from that point forward. Because of the change in my life, I suddenly had both the time and freedom to write. Instead of taking advantage of it, I’d make excuses not to write. This inability to sit down and write had nothing to do with a clean house or clean laundry and everything to do with fear. You see, for a while there, I didn’t have that gnawing need to write and it scared the hell out of me. Had I lost my passion? My creativity? Each morning, I’d boot up my laptop, open my WIP, and then decide I needed another cup of coffee. Or, I needed to let the dog out. Or, I needed to organize the apps on my phone. This went on for days. Then, one morning I decided I had to know. Either I was a writer or I wasn’t. If I wasn’t, I didn’t need to waste any more time pretending. The time had come to either stay in the chair and write, or let fear find other things for me to do. I wrote 509 words that day. Not Super Writer by any means, but at least I was writing. The best part was I couldn’t wait until the next day to write some more. The worries I’d had flew out the window as soon my fingers began flying over the keyboard. All it took was just sitting down and writing.
How do you stay focused? If you’ve been distracted, what do you do to get back on track?
Posted by Dani Wade Dec 11 2012, 1:00 am in Christmas, holiday, motivation, perseverance, time management, writer's life, writing tips
It’s December, and we are currently knee deep into the annual holiday season. As women, we are usually the ones responsible for the planning and plotting that goes into holidays, even if they aren’t being held at our house. The same is true for me—I do the planning, my hubby does the inviting (usually without telling me until the last minute). We end up with a house full of family and friends who eat, talk, laugh, and play games all Christmas day. That’s after a month full of other parties, family celebrations, gift buying, etc. Something I enjoy with a heart full of gratitude.
But all this partying makes it tough to get any writing done. The list of things to do can extend to infinity sometimes (or at least feel like it). All this extra party planning can really cramp my writing style. I’m sure even you non-writers find time short during this busy season. So what’s an author to do?
Here are a few tips:
1. Up your word count on the days you CAN write.
I know this sounds like it will take even more time, but when you do get uninterrupted writing time, do your best to up the amount of your goal. My usual goal for weekdays is 750 words, but for December I’m aiming for 1250. This way, I can manage a few days off during the month without guilt or getting really behind. So push yourself to do more, and enjoy your reward later.
2. Take it One Small Step at a Time
It can be overwhelming to sit down and face a 1000 word goal, but how about 250 words? Oftentimes, I don’t write my whole goal in one sitting. I can’t, because I have very few uninterrupted chunks of time in my day. So here’s how I approach it: During my morning break at work, I plot out the scenes I’m going to work on that day. Then on my lunch break (30 minutes) I type on the Alphasmart. I also have 1 hour set aside for writing directly after dinner. I try to keep that sacred (doesn’t always work, but I try).
Then thirty minutes while the kids do homework or clean their rooms or 30 minutes while the hubby watches a television show. Just 30 more minute before bedtime, then I can sleep. You’d be surprised how much easier it is to tackle any large project in smaller steps.
3. Be Prepared
For plotters, this is much easier. But it is also doable for pantsters too. Before putting down your pen for the day, take a few moments to write out the first few sentences of your next scene. Make sure your notes on the coming pages are complete and you have a decent map for where you are heading. This will make jumping into the next session much easier (no staring at a blank page wondering what the heck you were thinking to have them break into the warehouse so soon…) and your writing will flow more quickly from the start.
I find a To Do list essential for big projects and my writing is no different. This way, I can see how much time I have, then jump into whatever task I have time for, without worrying I’ll forget what else needs to be done.
4. Utilize the Buddy System
Find a writing friend who needs to accomplish as much as you do at this time. Vow to keep each other accountable. Daily emails require you to send in those totals, even if the sum is 0 (and embarrassing enough to force your hands to the keyboard). Set up times for write ins (getting together for the sole purpose of writing—bookstores are great for this).
And don’t forget a reward. Plan an outing to get your nails painted or a massage when all the hard work is done. A night out to dinner with some girlfriends. Or form an accountability group where everyone pitches in $10, and the top three performers during the holiday season get to split the pot for After Christmas shopping! This will give you a tangible reward, other than the relief you’ll feel when you see all those words on the page.
My hope is that you’ll be able to be as productive as I hope to be this holiday season. We’re all busy. I know that. But you can still manage something (this is me giving ME a pep talk here). So tell me your best advice for getting writing (and other holiday tasks) done during this busy time. (because I need all the help I can get!)
Posted by Gwynlyn MacKenzie Oct 18 2012, 12:01 am in craft, editing, employing beta readers, writing, writing tips
During my teens, Max Factor and Mary Quant dominated the make-up aisles. Periwinkle-blue cream eyeshadow (looked like silvery-blue foil), Petal Pink lipstick (one drop of blood in a vat of chalk would have had more color), thick, black eyeliner, and blackest-black mascara applied with a trowel to lashes later separated with either a straight or safety pin were de rigueur. All the coolest gals added a ‘cat-eye’ flourish to their eyeliner, mimicking the models walking NY’s runways.
Like all teens, I wanted to be cool, so I followed the program. The heavy black, with a little assist from the shimmery periwinkle, made my crystal-blue eyes shine like beacons across a midnight sea. With my lips all but erased, they made a striking focal point. I knew it to be true. My mirror told me so.
Now, our high school had mirrors on every corner of every hall—ostensibly for safety, but who cared about that? Teenage girls just want to be certain they look good. So, being a teenaged girl, I knew the location of every one. There should have been no room for suprises, right?
One day, while walking to class and arguing with a friend over a potentially tricky AP bio test, I glanced up. Some garishly raccoon-eyed chick who looked like death very slightly warmed stared back at me like I was the nightmare come to life, not she. It took me a moment to realize my friend and I had reached an intersection, and since that death-masked horror wore the same outfit as I—well, you get the picture. I wanted to vomit. All the people who’d offered make-up advice (including my mom who I had, naturally, ignored) hadn’t been jealous or spiteful or just plain mean. They’d been trying to make me see the truth.
That’s when I realized mirrors lie. Or, perhaps more accurately, we lie to ourselves, seeing what we expect to see—until faced by a mirror for which we are unprepared.
The same can be said of our writing. We look at it and look at it until we cease to see what’s there. We can practically recite it by rote, so when we read, we see only what we want to see and ignore flaws evident to anyone but ourselves.
I’ve often heard other writers suggest putting a work aside for several weeks before attempting to edit. The idea is to see it with new eyes.
Newsflash: You haven’t changed much in those few weeks or months, and the story you wrote, the product of your imagination, research, blood, sweat, and tears, is still yours. You will pick it up determined to be objective, but you won’t see the death mask; you will see crystalline-blue and be deluded by your own expectations. Your eyes can never be new to the story again. It’s like trying to regain innocence lost. It isn’t going to happen.
So many people are going the indie route to publishing these days, which is good in many ways. However, we can all agree there’s a great deal of dreck available, tarnishing the credibility of hard-working, responsible indie authors. While many can’t afford professional editing—yet—there are alternatives that can better the product of both the indie and traditionally published author.
I do the lion’s share of the editing for my critique partner. I don’t claim to be an editor, mind you, but I am rather anal about quality, and when trying to make something the best it can be, that usually undesirable characteristic can be a blessing.
One of the tools I use is a voice program that reads the work aloud. A word missing? Your ear will catch it even if you eyes don’t. Awkward phrasing? Trust your ears. Unrealistic dialogue? Ears are a much more reliable detector than eyes.
Even so, never underestimate the value of a second set of eyes. Don’t have a CP or a particularly anal friend? Get a couple of Beta Readers. These can be anyone who reads romance. Romance readers have expectations, and they’ll let you know if you fall short. If you confuse them, they’ll tell you. They don’t need professional training to recognize slow pacing or cardboard characters before you submit to an editor or agent or make the jump to indie publishing.
If you plan to go indie and can afford it, hire a professional editor. Of course, finding a good one may require some work, but both the effort and the cost will be small in comparison to the potential rewards. Ask around. Talk to other writers. Join the appropriate loops. There are good, free-lance editors available.
Don’t let yourself be deceived. Realizing that ugly girl in the mirror is you is nauseating, but make-up comes off with a bit of soap and water. Realizing you sent your book into the world too soon, painted on a death-mask that no amount of cleanser can remove, could destroy something precious. Don’t risk it.
Have you encounted a mirror, whether literal or metaphorical, that has revealed something you’d rather not have seen (fitting room mirrors don’t count; those things are simply diabolical), and how do you go about the editing process?
Posted by Autumn Jordon Sep 20 2012, 12:01 am in Autumn Jordon, characterization, craft, golden heart, inspiration, Movitation, muse, Point Of View, Seasonings, Seasons, writer's advice, writer's journey, writer's life, writing romance, writing tips, writing tools
If you’re thinking this blog is about setting, you’re totally wrong. Maybe I should’ve changed the title so you wouldn’t have thought so, but after I started brainstorming ideas for a blog it actually fit.
My original idea was to write about two lessons I learned many years ago from my creative writing professor which, yes, would’ve pertained to setting, but then two of my Ruby sisters had also mentioned on our private loop that they planned blogs about the subject. Although I knew we’d approach the subject matter from different angles, I kind of figured our readers would say enough already. So I’ll save my thoughts on setting for another time.
Anyway, going back to my creative writing classes— since I know you’re all dying to know what they were—the first one was free writing. We all know what that is, right? You just write whatever comes to mind without stopping for a length of time and the writing doesn’t need to follow rhythm or reason. It’s a way of freeing your muse. Thinking about that lesson helped me put a twist on the second lecture, which was setting sense and had to do with experiencing your world, and ‘Wala’ I think I came up with unique tutorial for our awesome followers.
Posted by Hope Ramsay Sep 13 2012, 12:01 am in craft, Scrivener, writer's advice, writing tips, writing tools
I am a plotter, not a pantser. I would no more think about starting a book without a plan for it, than I would leave my house on a long trip without my GPS. I’ve been a plotter for a long time, and it used to be that I kept all my notes, GMC charts, photos of characters, plot outlines and whatnot in separate documents for each book. Then I would create a great big fat Word document for the manuscript. And I would start writing the story at the beginning and end on the last page. Every book was written in a linear fashion.
Enter Scrivener, a word processing program that’s designed to help authors manage bigger works of fiction. I tried this program out about a year ago. And it’s changed everything. I honestly don’t know how I would plot or write without this software program. I mentioned this recently in a comment on the blog, and immediately my Ruby Sisters suggested that I write a blog. So here it is.
Organizing the plot, subplot, and plot layers.
My books are complicated. They have one main romantic plot, a romantic subplot, a couple of plot layers and a series arc. To get all this straight in my head before writing a book, I used to graph it all out on a piece of paper. Here’s an example of the kind of graph I would make before starting out:
In these visual plots I would assign a color to each arc and jot down (in teeny tiny writing) a bunch of scenes that I thought would be important to telling the story. I used to keep this chart in front of me as I wrote and I would amend it and scratch stuff out and by the end of the process I usually had a book, but my plot paper would be wrinkled and erased and a total mess.
I may still use a piece of paper to get me started, but once I’ve got my ideas down, I immediately transfer them into Scrivener, making a lot of use of the the program’s virtual index cards.
Each of my scene cards is given a color code to indicate the plot, sublot, or plot layer that applies. I provide a title for each of these scene cards and then a short synopsis about what I think is going to happen in the scene. I will then apply plot steps to the cards so that I know whether a scene is showing the ordinary world or a turning point of some kind.
How do I do this?
For the plot colors, I use Scrivener’s label options, which I edit to reflect the various plots, subplot and plot layers of my WIP.
For the plot steps I use Scrivener’s built-in status tags, which are designed to show which scenes are finished which are yet to be written. But I ignore the way Scrivener wants to use these tags, and have changed them to story step tags that I can apply to my scene cards. These story steps take the place of the W form of my hand written plot arcs. I know where along that imaginary arc of rising and falling action each of these story steps falls.
I want every scene to move one of the various plots or plot layers along. But sometimes there are scenes that may move along more than one plot or layer. I will assign a color to the card to reflect it’s main purpose in the story, but I’ll use Scrivener’s Key Words to put a little splash of color along the edge of the card to tell me that the scene is going to relate to actions in other layers or arcs.
So in the example above. The scene in question is the initial scene of the Last Chance Book Club and falls into the book club plot layer (yellow). Its story purpose is to show the ordinary world of the book club members, but it will also move along the main plot (green) having to do with the hero and heroine battling over possession of the abandoned Coca-Cola bottling plant.
You can set up your own labels, status values and keywords by checking the options in the “Project” menu on the Scrivener menu bar. Since I’m plot driven my tags and colors relate to those things. But if you’re more of a character driven writer, I’m sure you can figure out ways of organizing your scene cards to help you figure out what’s going on in the character’s arc. The program gives you so many tools to organize your work before you even start writing.
Keeping me on track as I write
Eventually I have to quit organizing myself and start writing. Here’s where Scrivener’s writing interface provides some more cool tools. Here’s a picture of the main interface:
Down the left hand side of the interface are all of my scene cards – from beginning to end. I end up adding scenes as I go along, and being able to see them in color is is incredibly helpful. I can see my story from forty-thousand feet. The colors tell me if I’m veering off track. And, most important, when I get to the end of a scene, I don’t have to think too hard about what comes next. And if I’m not really feeling it for the scene that’s supposed to come next, I can jump ahead and write in a non-linear way. Most important, I can move scenes around. I do this all the time. Scrivener makes it easy for me to keep the tension going by helping me to see where the story is going next.
In addition, on the right hand side of the screen is a place to put document notes. I cannot tell you how helpful this is. Instead of having editing notes scattered all over the place in comments that are hard to find. All my editing or drafting notes are right there. In the case of this example, you can see that I spent a moment before drafting the scene to think about what my POV character’s goal is, who the antagonist is in the scene and how the scene will turn out in a mini-disaster for my POV character.
All the plot notes are right there
I still have documents with character GMCs, character names and descriptions, research, maps of the town and whatnot. But now, instead of having them printed out and tucked into a folder or notebook, I can load all of that right into Scrivener. If I am confused and need to refresh my memory, all I have to do is split the screen and open up the research document or GMC. Below is a screen shot of my current WIP with the scene in the upper screen, and my GMC chart in the lower screen.
A few last words
Scrivener also does a few nifty things that I really love. It allows me to track how many words I’ve written in a writing session. I set my goal at 2000 words per session, and it’s amazing how that accountability keeps me producing words at a faster rate than ever before. I can also see my overall progress on a project which can be terrifying or gratifying depending on when my deadline might be. Finally, all of my problems with where to place chapter breaks have disappeared. I don’t worry about them anymore. I just write form scene to scene and in the end I insert chapters where they make sense.
I can’t imagine writing a large project like a novel in another other word processing program. I’ve become a total Scrivener convert.
I hope this gives you some idea of the program’s features and how you can use them for your own writing process. I certainly wouldn’t impose my OCD writing process on anyone. But Scrivener allows me to be ultra organized which makes me sooooooo happy.
I’m happy to answer any questions about the program or my crazy writing process.
Posted by Gwynlyn MacKenzie Aug 29 2012, 12:01 am in Blog-iversary, Getting to know you, helping hands, writing tips
It’s hard to believe three years have passed since we first started this blog. I hope everyone is looking forward to our upcoming Blog-iversary which will be celebrated with our usual verve and plenty of swag! (Being Rubies, the sparkle comes naturally!)
That said, none of this would be possible without our faithful cadre of readers.
From the start, our mission has been to extend a helping hand to those traveling the rough road to publication. Along the way we’ve been honored to meet some of you in person, but for the most part, have made your acquaintance through blog posts, the Winter Writing Festival, and social media. Not to put too fine a point on it, we’d like to know you better because without your support, your questions, your faith and trust, we wouldn’t be here.
So today is all about you. While you can get to know us through the blog posts and our profiles on the blog, we still don’t know you as well as we would like. Is there something more we can do to help you along? Something you would like to see addressed on the blog? Now is the time to let us know.
Of course, talking about ourselves isn’t always easy, so here are a few questions to get you started:
What do you write?
Do you write under your own name or a pseudonym, and why did you make that choice?
Who is your favorite author? (And, no, our feelings won’t be hurt if it isn’t a Ruby!)
What made you decide to write, and how long have you been at it?
How long have you been with us, how did you find us, and have we helped you in any way?
What obstacles have you overcome and how did you overcome them? (And these can be as small as writing around the day job or a new baby or as large as a tragedy or devastating illness. We’ve all been where you are in some way, and your answer might well help someone else.)
Do you write to music? If so, what kind? How does it help you?
What are your goals? Where do you see yourself in five years?
See? Nothing too intrusive. Your answers can be as long and detailed or as short and concise as you wish. Remember, today is all about you, so if it pleases you to do so, you can ask the Rubies to jump in and answer the same questions or ask them any questions you have. I can’t promise every Ruby will show to answer those questions (we have more than a couple on deadline right now! YAY!!!), but I wouldn’t be at all surprised if they did. They’re all good that way.
It’s important to us that you realize how much we appreciate each and every one of you. We know how precious time is and are more than congnizant of the honor you bestow by spending some of that limited time with us. It has been our pleasure to serve you over the last two years, and we hope to continue doing so for many more.
(And just because I can, here’s a sneak peak at one of the offerings to be given away at our upcoming celebration.)
- Ruby Slipper Ring Holder
Posted by Heather McCollum Aug 22 2012, 1:00 am in busy, muse, peace, writing tips
The sweltering days of summer will soon start melting into the colorful, crisp days of autumn. I will once again be able to carry my 5-year-old’s restaurant balloon outside without fear of it touching the sizzling side of a car and exploding. No matter which stage of life you find yourself, the change of seasons and the start of the new school year signals a time to get organized.
Here in NC we have year-round school so a week ago my three little monsters, I mean angels, skipped merrily back to the classroom (if merrily means drooped shoulders and grim faces). This theoretically gives me more uninterrupted time to write. Which is just what I need since my editor is expecting a 100,000 word sequel by December.
So I have been trying to adjust my schedule to best use all this “free” time. I wake, start laundry, get the kids ready for school, drop my middle schoolers off at 7:45 AM, do yoga, drop my Kindergartener off at 8:45 AM, walk the dog, grocery shop, make my lovely kale juice and drink it, disrupt the fire ants who insist on making a home in my herb garden, unload the dishwasher, drink my chai tea on the back porch while doing the crossword puzzle and watching birds, ignore that it’s lunchtime, and sit down to write. I also try to squeeze in cleaning parts of the house, answering e-mail, blogging, showering and starting something in the crock pot for dinner. Ugh! Where’s my blasted Wonder Woman cape when I need it?!
I know some of you are looking at my list and mentally crossing off things I could trim.
1) I don’t want to use poison on the ants because then I can’t eat the herbs so I’m annoying them everyday until they move on. We’ll see if it works.
2) I’ve got health issues so I need to do my yoga or I can’t move, and with three kids I MUST move A LOT. This also goes for the kale juice.
3) That leaves my Peace of the Day – chai tea while doing the crossword puzzle and watching birds.
What is a Peace of the Day, and why can’t I eliminate it? It’s that part of my day that if I miss it, my body and psyche know that things aren’t normal. Either life is too busy or there’s been an emergency. It is a ritual that centers my whole day, grounds me so that I can be productive. If I jump immediately into writing without making my chai, I feel rushed and tense and nothing seems to flow. What is your Peace of the Day?
Here’s one way to find out. Fill in the blank: “I was so busy today I didn’t even get to ______.” Now if you filled in “use the bathroom”, that doesn’t count. Question: how many of you multi-task while using the bathroom? I am not proud to say that one time I managed to clean my bathroom while sitting on the toilet. At the time I thought I was Super Susie Homemaker, but now I realize I was working way too much into my day.
If you don’t get anything else out of this post, remember this. Stop multi-tasking in the bathroom. Bathroom time is sacred time. Husbands, fathers, old men in the park – they all know this. They spend time reading, relaxing and escaping on the pot. We can at least sit still for a few minutes. Sacred time, not Peace of the Day.
Try again. “I was so busy today I didn’t even get to ______.” For some it’s their morning coffee, prayer, or run. It’s personal and can change over time. It may seem like something to eliminate from your overflowing to-do list, but I warn you not to.
The creative mind is delicate. Rushing about and then plopping down to produce pages can range from being very difficult to completely impossible. By taking our Peace of the Day we persuade our muses to come out and play. So don’t feel guilty for taking time to start your day right.
As autumn trickles in with cooler mornings and shades of red, orange, and gold, think about your daily schedule. Maybe you don’t have a schedule and that works for you. For me the day speeds along way too fast if I don’t have goals.
Maybe you don’t have a Peace of the Day. It took me fighting cancer to find mine. Before that it was just eating breakfast which was a life necessity not a soul-inspiring ritual. Try out a few: watch birds, do Sudoku, meditate, play with your dog, or brew tea in a real teapot.
Maybe your schedule just needs a little revision. Start with guarding your Peace of the Day. Make it something you truly appreciate, something that feeds your spirit, and coaxes your muse. Everyone deserves peace, but it is something we must grant ourselves. Otherwise it will never find a place on our to-do lists.
I’d love to hear about your Peace of the Day and if you feel more productive when you make sure to work it in. Have a peaceful and productive day!
Posted by Hope Ramsay Aug 7 2012, 12:01 am in craft, inspiration, writer's advice, writer's journey, writing romance, writing tips, writing tools
In the middle of May, I took some time off from my hellish work schedule for a retreat, up in the mountains of North Carolina. The occasion was a weekend hosted by singer-songwriter David Wilcox. As always, listening to David’s music recharges my batteries. But I have to say that the most surprising and inspiring moments of this year’s retreat came during a workshop for songwriters given by Laura Hope-Gill, a North Carolina poet. (http://laurahopegill.blogspot.com/)
Laura spoke of the alchemy of the writing process. And her discussion of alchemy has led me on an interesting writer’s journey.
Posted by Tina Joyce Beckett Apr 25 2012, 12:01 am in craft, plotting, writing tips
String Theory? I bet you didn’t know I was actually a budding physicist in disguise? Right. I only wish I understood the ins and outs of String Theory. It makes as much sense to me as the rationale behind ice-hole swimming. Brrr. The thought of it boggles my mind. This post is about something a little different from String Theory in its traditional form. But it does involve string, and it is a theory—kind of.
Interested in playing? Here’s a detailed list of instructions on how to set up the game. I warn you, it’s complicated:
- Cut a length of string (or yarn).
- Tie the ends together to form a loop.
- Weave the loop around your fingers.
- Start playing.
See? You might need to read those steps a couple of times until you get the hang of it. Or visit You Tube to see the experts in action.
Now that you’ve set up your game (i.e., your plot), here are some things to consider as you play:
- The string remains the same piece of string, no matter how many loops we cross. How does this relate to writing? Our basic story is still there, beneath whatever twists and turns we throw at our characters.
- Dropping one thread can make a drastic change. Compare cat’s cradle to Jacob’s ladder. We can get two very different results from the same simple piece of string. Changing one aspect of our plot can make a big difference.
- The more complicated we make the pattern, the more care we should take when proceeding to the next step. This applies to plot points as well. When there are lots of crossed threads to deal with, we have to think carefully about our next move. One misstep and everything comes unraveled. But it’s not the end of the world. We still have our thread (the basic story). Just start manipulating those strings all over again.
- After so many twists and turns, the pattern begins to repeat itself. In certain versions of the string game, the pattern eventually loops back to the beginning. Know when to wrap up the story. When you first start playing (or writing), it may look like there are an infinite number of combinations, but that can be deceptive. Be careful not to let your plot turn into one big circle, where nothing new happens.
- Get a little help from your friends. Yes, we can play the string game on our own (as evidenced by the number of You Tube videos out there). But I always had more fun playing with a friend…or two or three. We Rubies are constantly tossing around plot ideas and asking for help. If you get stuck, find some writing buddies to help you think through the process.
- The most important step of all: Have Fun. Play. Write. Have fun with your characters and those twists and turns, because who wants to do something that feels like drudgery? Not me. So go forth and conquer those plots, but have fun while doing it!
So that’s my theory in a nutshell. How about you? Any analogies you’d like to share? Do you like your plots simple or impossibly complicated?