Give yourself the gift of writing

As writers, we all dream of an unending vista of available writing time. No breaks, no interruptions—other than spending 40% of our time compulsively checking Twitter of course—just one neverending sweet, sweet writing zone. Wide open spaces like this are normally a good thing. It’s what we think we want. But when it comes to creativity, sometimes too much space allows for too much procrastination (so we’ve heard… *checks Amazon Prime to see if the Marvelous Mrs. Maisel has dropped yet*). When there’s no specific destination, you can end up spinning in circles, getting nowhere, making yourself dizzy with all the possibilities.

cat choices

Contrary to what most of us might think, deadlines are not creativity killers. Deadlines provide direction and structure. A deadline gets the heart pumping and silences the inner critic that might otherwise go on for days like someone that’s just discovered how to thread their 280 character tweets. And a deadline provides a much needed sense of accomplishment in a field in which it’s virtually impossible to receive unanimous praise… and when you’re trying to make it, it’s a field in which even the most basic of recognition or validation is hard to come by.

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This is one reason why NaNoWriMo is so popular. Suddenly, during the month of November, ALL THE WRITERS are inspired to hit the goal of writing the novel that’s been in their mind for months, years, or even decades. At first, you hit the laptop full force. You go HAM on that draft. You put off the laundry, skip happy hour, survive on leftovers and keep to your writing schedule. But then the laundry starts to pile up, co-workers and friends start wondering where you are, and suddenly you need to make a dessert for Thanksgiving dinner. So your novel takes a reluctant backseat to errands, dinner dates, family… and, well, life.

Sad Stitch

This is how your novel feels when you’re not writing it.

And as the holiday lights go up, your laptop can just get buried under wrapping paper, gift tags, and tiny sparkly trees. The novel becomes a file in a folder in another folder that maybe won’t get opened until you need to look for those old pictures your dad sent you of family members you’ve never met (remember those? The ones you promised you’d print for him?).

But it doesn’t have to be that way! Remember the excitement of the last few days of October? The dedication and verve you felt on November 1st? That sense of achievement when you hit save on those first thousand words? That feeling when you went from writing a page or two per month to writing twenty, thirty, forty… You can have all those feels again! You deserve them!

Rey lightsaber

How it feels when you OWN that word count target

All you need is a new deadline. NaNoWriMo may be ending today, but that doesn’t mean you have to stop writing and achieving. If you didn’t finish, or meet your goals, give yourself another deadline. Make it as small and realistic for your schedule as it needs to be. That could be 500 words per day, or 1,000 per week. Or 5,000 by New Year’s Day. You can even just commit to 10 or 15 minutes per day, or say you want to write 5 lines per day. Whatever it is, make sure it fits your schedule and your life… and commit to it. Hit those goals! And if you don’t, create new ones that you can hit. Not only will you find your word count steadily increasing, but the more you write, the easier it is to write. If your brain is in Writer Mode every day, the writing will flow. The longer you leave it between sessions, the more work you’ll have to do to crank the Writing Machine back up again.

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November may be National Novel Writing Month, but December is the month of gift giving. So give yourself the gift of getting your novel down and on the page, and done. And remember, writing novels is forever, not just for Christmas. Make it your resolution in January to complete it. Make February “editing the first 30%” month. Make March “solve this character’s arc” month. Make April the “make it funny” month.

You get the idea. Find out what works best for you, and do it! And keep doing it.

Now stop reading this and get writing!

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5 bite-sized writing insights from Patrick Ness

At a recent Barnes & Noble event for his beautiful and extraordinary new novel RELEASE, Patrick Ness shared some great writing insights:

  1. It’s always interesting hearing writers talk about writing… but ultimately, no two writers write the same way, so find the way and the process that works for you.
  2. Everything in writing is world-building, whether you’re writing sci-fi or contemporary YA. The things you’re writing about don’t have to be true, they just have to be convincing. You just have to create a world in which those things could logically happen.
  3. A book is not a song. A book is a performance of a song. It’s how you sing it that counts.
  4. You can write about anything in YA as long as you earn it. The only time things are harmful is if they’re cheaply handled.
  5. He doesn’t outline, but he usually knows the last line, and some general story beats. Everything else is discovery. (But see tip #1 above — he was very clear, that’s just what works for him! It may not work for you).

There you have it! 5 things to think about when you’re daydreaming or outlining or drafting or editing. Ness also shared on-set Chaos Walking photos of him with Tom Holland and Nick Jonas… by quickly holding up his phone so no one could really see them! Anticipation in the room was high for the movie, it’s fair to say! Ness was also super-focused on the audience — he grabbed a bunch of huge medical textbooks to put on his chair for him to sit on so that the folks at the back could see him. The man is a legend. So, absorb his insights, then make them your own—and kick some serious writing ass!—so that one day your thoughts on writing are the topic of a blog!

Release cover

One day can change everything: Patrick Ness’s RELEASE

Patrick Ness, the staggeringly talented YA deity behind the Chaos Walking trilogy, A Monster Calls, More Than This, and the heartbreakingly brilliant—and heartbreakingly canceled—TV show CLASS (which featured some of the greatest YA sci-fi writing we’ve ever seen), has a new book out. This is, of course, a very good thing. The book is called RELEASE and—spoiler—it’s wonderful. This is why you should read it.

Release cover

This brilliant ad extraordinary cover art is by Erin Fitzsimmons

Get Writing! Characters…

Luna, Dudley, Fred, George, Cho, James, Lilly, Viktor…

You know them instantly. Even though it wasn’t their name on the cover. And we’re willing to bet you can name at least a dozen more of the characters that shaped Harry’s world. (Go on, do it! At least 12. Go!) Another roll of the dice says you know each of those characters’ histories, their arcs, their quirks, and the roles they each played in Harry’s life.

Luna

A good story has a leading character (or more than one) that you can root for, and supporting characters that you can relate to. But how many books or movies have a whole cast that you feel are part of your family? That you’d really want to be part of your family?

Dobby spark

Moment of silence

Of those few that come to mind, how many are some of your favorite books of all time?

Characters play a pivotal role in every good story. Or, at least, they should. This is why you have to go through your work and make sure that every character is memorable; for those characters who are there just to advance the plot or provide exposition, give them something real to do, something to feel, something that makes us feel, or laugh, or recognize something of ourselves in them.

Weasleys

Once you’ve done that, you’ll be ready. Because our exercise this time is more like an exorcise…

Remove the least significant character in your work.

SPN Adam

Maybe one day Adam will come back to Supernatural.

If they are truly insignificant, removing them will quicken the pace, give another more meaningful character something more to do, and avoid any confusion the reader or viewer may have in keeping your cast straight in their mind.

This should be challenging. If it’s not—and you George RR Martin-ed one of your cast with zero hesitation—then jump right back in there and do it again with the next least significant character.

Be ruthless.

Keep going until all you are left with is your very own Weasley family. (Except Percy)

Percy

Harsh but real. Sorry, Molly.