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Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Jump Start Your Writing Process by Åsa Maria Bradley

For me, the most difficult part about writing a book is not developing three dimensional characters, crafting a tight and properly paced plot, or perfecting the phrasing of my sentences. I do those things in my head all the time while I’m walking the dog, having a shower, or standing in line at the grocery store. No, the biggest challenge is to sit my derrière down and actually write. I have the butt-in-chair thing down, but am still working on fingers-writing-words-and-not-checking-Facebook-or-email.

Most of the time, I’m stalling because I don’t know where my story needs to go next or the scene I’m working on is not developing the way I need it to. This can happen during any stage of my project, before starting a novel, in the dreary sagging middle, or as I’m almost at the finish line. Although I’m a “pantser” by nature, I like my story to organically grow on the pages without working from an outline, I’ve found that in order to actually get a book written and not waste all my writing time on social media, I need some sort of guideline. I use the following three tools to keep my story on track and give myself an extra spark of writing energy when I sit down to work.

1) Write the Pitch Early in the Process
You may ask how on earth you would know what to pitch before you’ve written the book, but think about what the pitch actually contains. A good pitch or query highlights the goal, motivation, and conflict (GMT) of your characters and story. Things you should have at the forefront as you write your book. The best advice I ever got on pitching came from Mary Buckham at a conference in 2010. After I’d spent hours during “pitch fest” trying to perfect my blurb while practicing it on other writers, and still not getting it down, Mary pulled me aside and told me about the four W questions. She said a good pitch should answer the following questions:
-Who? (Who is your main character?)
-What? (What do they want? Goal)
-Why? (why do they want it? Motivation)
-Why not? (Why can’t they have it? Conflict)
Although I att first I concentrated on the external plot too much, now I can jot down answers to these questions very quickly and make sure my scenes enhance the GMT as I shape my story.  (If you’re interested, I have a worksheet that explains what Mary taught me in more detail on my website.)

2) Create a Revisable Synopsis Before You Write Chapter 4
Okay, so this sounds even crazier than doing your pitch before the book is finished, but wouldn’t it be wonderful if you had the synopsis almost all done by the time you finished your book? What if I told you that by spending an hour or two answering a few simple questions, you will nail down your turning points and how they reflect the internal and external conflict? No, I’m not blowing smoke up your behind, it can actually happen. Wonderful author Debra Hale made it possible when she created her What to Pack in Your Short Synopsis questionnaire. You may not have all the answers to her questions early on in your project, but you’ll know that you need to figure them out as you continue writing and your story will improve quickly, without additional drafts. You will of course have to tweak the synopsis as your details change, but the main scaffolding of your story construction is in place and all you’re doing late on is redecorating, changing curtains, or maybe even buying new furniture, okay fine, sometimes going as far as ripping out the carpet. Still, this saves a lot of time, I promise.

3) Write Scenes Out of Order
This may not seem like a big deal to most of you, but I don’t do well when I have to complete task number 4 before 1-3 are completed. I’m not sure how I can be a pantser and still be obsessed with the order of my scenes, but there it is. I used to stay stuck on a page because I didn’t know what was going to happen in the next scene. I usually knew where the scene needed to end up, I just didn’t know how to get there. The first time I allowed myself to skip a scene altogether, I hyperventilated because of how reckless I felt. (Yes, I may have OCD issues.) An amazing thing happened, as I wrote the next scene, the preceding scene  wrote itself in my subconscious and it was easy going back and putting it down on the page. Now that I write using the guidelines of my pitch and synopsis, skipping scenes is easy and my OCD doesn’t eve peak up from the dark place in which I’ve suppressed it.
These methods have helped me jump start novels, but they also help me focus during each writing session. Since I have mapped out where my story needs to go, without nailing down specific details, I can still be creative in shaping my story without meandering down paths that should never have been taken, or even worse, staring at a blank page for minutes before booting up Facebook and Twitter. It’s like heading out on a road trip where anything is possible, but I’ve been responsible enough to make sure I know where stop for meals and bio breaks. Because whether we are planners or pantsers when we write, we all need to eat and pee during our creative process.
I hope some of these methods help you jump start your writing. Do you have any other tips for how we can optimize our writing time?
Åsa Maria Bradley new paranormal series features Vikings and Valkyries and their struggle to keep the world safe from Ragnarök—the god’s final battle. She’s originally from Sweden, where Norse mythology and history is ever present in archeological finds and buildings around the village where she grew up. Her articles have appeared in several magazines and she had an essay included in FEMALE NOMAD AND FRIENDS: TALES OF BREAKING FREE AND BREAKING BREAD AROUND THE WORLD (Three River Press 2010). She lives in Washington State with her British husband and a used dog of indeterminate breed. Visit her at AsaMariaBradley.com.


Winter Wiley said...

Great post Asa....sounds like an awesome interactive workshop. Something to consider. Appreciate the tips and tools.

Asa Maria Bradley said...

Thanks, Winter. Hope you found something you could use.

Nancy said...

Great tips! I never thought to write the pitch first. I do, though, write scenes out of order My problem is the 'saggy middle' but I strive to improve with great characters.

Anonymous said...

Great info. And you give a good presentation :) Vikings are hot!!!!


Toni said...

This is cool!