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How To Write A Fast First Draft

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The more I write, the more I value the advice from professional writers: write first, edit later. Some say write drunk, edit sober, but I feel that might lead to other issues. But going back to the point of this article—why does it take so long to come up with the first draft? Speaking from experience I can identify two reasons:b

  • Being obsessive about the perfection of the manuscript
  • Abiding to a myth that writing perfectly from the start gets you through the end faster

The first issue is something I find most people are battling. It’s that compulsion that makes you delete two words just so that you replace the third one behind them with a better word and then resume writing (by retyping those two words as well). It’s that annoying squiggly line that tells you made a typo and you must go back to fix it.

Guess what? You don’t have to!

Most of the words and sentences you write will be edited later. Chances are some of those words you agonize over right now will be changed and some of those typos will be moot. So, why bother? A two step forward, one step back approach to writing is a killer for your imagination and your fingers. It’s like running a marathon, but every few yards you’d stop, sit and clean your sneakers until they are perfectly clean. It kills your rhythm and your momentum.

And when I say it makes your fingers tired, I am not joking. If for every line of text you delete one word and you retype two, you are typing two too many words per line. And your writing time is extremely precious, much too precious to be spent at this stage on fixing your writing.

Your first draft is not good

As for the second part: unless you are a genius (and I sure hope you are) your first draft will not be your best work. I know for a fact that is true for myself. No matter how much I think a first draft is good, after a month of breaking away from it, I inevitably red line that text to death. Why is that?

The answer is this: every manuscript contains a story and the writing represents the way that story is told. So, as a writer, you must figure out the story (with its characters, setting, and plot) and then figure out a way to deliver it that works for that particular story. So, your first goal here is to get the story down. In time, your style and your voice will develop and will define itself unique to you. So, the more you write the less you will have to figure out how to deliver the story; it will come more naturally and your first drafts will become better. But never overestimate your first draft. As soon as you do, you will become a “fix-as-you-go”-er, and that will kill your time and imagination.

If you are an outliner, you might say: But I already know my story. I have a detailed outline. To which I say, fine, but get to the end of it and see if your story still matches up to your outline 100%. From experience I can tell you that it won’t. And also, the fact that your story is already formed in your head is not the problem here. The problem is trying to put it on paper perfectly from the first run.

As a matter of fact, the outliners have a much bigger problem than people who write without an outline. You have the story in bullet points, and now you are looking at a scary blank page. It’s very tempting after you wrote one page to go back and “fix it,” or “make it better,” just to have a reason not to move on to page #2. That’s the death of your manuscript. You’ll be running a marathon through quicksand, holding bags of gravel in your hands.

Stop it! Keep writing. Fix later!

Okay, So What Do I Do?

So, what do you take from all of this? What is the big, elusive secret to writing a fast first draft? There’s really no secret. You know it, but you must accept it: Allow yourself to write badly. Turn off that spell checker. You don’t need it. With today’s tools you can spell check a huge manuscript in a matter of minutes. But that’s to be done later. First, forget that you can even use your backspace. Imagine you are writing on a typewriter. The hassle of going back and fixing something on a typewriter is so big, you’d never do it. Keep going forward and never backward.

Once you get into that state of mind, you need two more things: focusand time. Both are easier said than done, believe me!

Focus means that you should eliminate all your distractions, get yourself in a location that is prone to writing, and shut off the world. Close the door, turn off the TV, radio, or anything distracting (unless you are someone who can only write with music). Most of all, put your phones and IPads far away from you and don’t keep your email open. Close everything that doesn’t have to do with writing your manuscript.

Time is the second aspect and it’s a big one. We all know that time is scarce, besides being money. But time is not completely difficult to manage, with a little effort. In a previous article I describe how you can write by time and accomplish your daily quota, so probably you should read that if you are having trouble managing your writing time.

As an example, in my best weeks, I probably write about 15,000 words. This means that, theoretically, should I be able to keep that pace, I could finish a 90,000 words manuscript in just six weeks. That’s a month and a half to a complete novel! It’s possible!

The truth is, if you want to be a writer, you must put in the effort. Just like your biceps doesn’t grow just because you lift a 20 pound barbell every Wednesday morning, your writing skill will not improve if you do not put in the effort.

So, manage your time, keep focused, write your weekly quota every week, and always keep moving forward!

Re-frame Your Thinking

I know it’s a very hard thing to do, because this asks us to let go of things we’ve been taught all your life. At work, we write emails and memos and they have to be perfect. We agonize over a message for thirty minutes to make sure none of the words are misspelled or (my God!) the wrong words. It’s the reality of the world we live in.

But when it comes to your writing, here is a realization that could help you break through that paradigm: NOBODY gets to see your first draft but you!

Read that out loud a few times. Nobody gets to see it and nobody should, because it is not good. Even if it is good, it should be deemed not good until reviewed. So, all you have to do is relax and give yourself the permission to write badly.

Once you’ve pushed through that first draft, turn away from it. For two weeks, maybe more. Work on other things, other projects, but keep writing. Just don’t think about that draft. Weeks later, open it up and start editing your work. Heavy work lies ahead of you, my friend, but guess what: you at least have a complete manuscript!

Actual Typing

Of course, if we are talking about how to produce a manuscript fast, we must not forget the actual act of typing. Some people type faster and some people type slower. If you think your typing abilities are a hurdle, you should definitely seek out a crash course into fast typing. There are many out there, some of them inexpensive. There are also a lot of online resources that could help you. One of them is TypingWeb, but there are others. Use them, especially if they’re free.

I hope this little article will help someone out there write their first draft fast! Please share your opinions in the comments section about the ways you handle your first drafts.

Good Luck

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Best Blogs For Writers

Best Blogs for WritersAs a writer you must listen to the pulse of the industry and always be ready to absorb new knowledge. One way is to follow blogs written by established pillars of the writing and publishing community. These are literary agents, editors, publishers, and writers who spend their time sharing their knowledge through their blogs. Below are some of the blogs I read regularly and I find them extremely useful for both aspiring and established writers. Everyday I find interesting, inspiring, and informative articles in these blogs, so my recommendation is to add them to your stream and read them. Also, I would appreciate if you can comment with some of the blogs that you read so I can add them to my list.

Literary Agent Blogs


Janet Reid, Literary Agent Janet Reid, Literary Agent

Janet Reid is a literary agent with FinePrint Literary Management agency in New York City. If you want to know what an agent expects from a writer, make sure you follow this blog. (Twitter: @Janet_Reid)


Rachel Gardner Rachel Gardner

Rachel Gardner is a literary agent with Books and Such Literary Agency. Her blog is full of cool tips on how to publish your book and how to submit to agents. (Twitter: @RachelleGardner)


Pub Rants Pub Rants

Kristin established Nelson Literary Agency, LLC, in 2002 and she’s very active in the writing scene. Follow her blog for good insights into the publishing industry and the agent’s life. (Facebook: Kristin Nelson)


Nathan Bransford Nathan Bransford

Nathan Bransford was formerly a literary agent with Curtis Brown Ltd. and is now the social media manager at CNET. He’s also a successfully published author and shares a lot of good stuff on his blog. (Twitter: @NathanBransford)


Writers Helping Writers Blogs


Christina Katz Christina Katz – The Prosperous Writer

Christina Katz, AKA The Writer Mama and The Prosperous Writer, is the author of three books from Writer’s Digest: The Writer’s Workout, Get Known Before the Book Deal, and Writer Mama. Her writing career tips and parenting advice appear regularly in national, regional, and online publications. (Twitter: @thewritermama)


Creative Writing with the Crimson League Creative Writing with the Crimson League

Victoria Grefer is a published writer and book enthusiast. She loves to share her knowledge on the writing craft and her posts are concise, to the point, and include practical tips you can apply right away. (Twitter: @vgrefer)


Jeff Goins Writer Jeff Goins Writer

Jeff is a passionate writer who likes to share his knowledge and struggles in hopes of helping other writers succeed. He writes about publishing, the writing craft, and everything else related. His motto is: ‘If you have a passion for creativity and changing the world, this blog is for you.’ (Twitter: @JeffGoins)


Jeff Goins Writer Terribleminds

Chuck Wendig is a novelist, screenwriter, and game designer. This is his blog where he talks a lot about writing and other cool things. (Twitter: @ChuckWendig)


Jeff Goins Writer WORDplay – Helping Writers Become Authors

K.M.Weiland’s advice for writers is: ‘Writing is both a gift and an art. As a gift, it must be approached with humility: the writer is only the vessel through which inspiration flows. As an art, it must be approached with passion and discipline: a gift that’s never developed wasn’t worth the giving.’ If you want more of that, follow her amazing blog. (Twitter: @KMWeiland)


Write With Fey Write With Fey

Chrys Fey is an avid writer. She started ‘Write With Fey’ to share her writing ways hoping to inspire others. She posts specific writing tips and techniques that will help any writer with his/her craft. (Facebook: Chrys Fey)


Writing Craft Help Blogs


  • Jane Friedman – Writing, reading, and publishing in the digital age

    Jane was the publisher of Writer’s Digest (F+W Media) and she is the most trusted voice in the publishing industry.

  • Grammar Girl

    Mignon Fogarty is the host of Grammar Girl. If you write, you need her.

  • Daily Writing Tips

    This is a blog about improving your writing. Every day they’ll send you a grammar, spelling, punctuation or vocabulary tip.

  • The Writing Reader

    Get a new writing prompt every day. In addition, the blog publishes a biweekly blog carnival sharing tips from various other blogs.

  • Wordserve Water Cooler

    A group of authors sharing tips and tricks of the trade, and a peek inside the life as an agented author.

  • Writer Beware!

    Writer Beware ® is the public face of the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America’s Committee on Writing Scams. Read and be aware.

  • Writer Unboxed

    A community of writers started by novelists Therese Walsh and Kathleen Bolton, where contributors from all sides of the writing industry share tips and knowledge.

  • Writers and Authors

    Jo Linsdell, an award winning freelance writer, launched Writers and Authors in an attempt to get contributions from other writers and share them with the world.

  • The Writers Alley

    A group of Aspiring Authors walking up the streets, alleys, and sidewalks toward publication.

Other Blogs


  • Chuck Sambuchino’s Guide to Literary Agents

    An excellent resource for any writer. Chuck posts great info about how to write query letters, book proposals, how to approach agents; he introduces new agents and posts interviews relevant to publishing.

  • Brian Klems’ The Writer Dig

    Brian A. Klems is a published author and the online editor of WritersDigest.com. His blog, which covers everything writing—from grammar rules to publishing—is one of the most popular in the writing community.

  • Make a Living Writing

    Carol Tice started this blog in 2008 and it has become one of the most popular blogs for freelance writers.

  • A Newbie’s Guide to Publishing

    Joe Konrath is a writer and his blog helps writers get published.

  • Positive Writer

    This blog is the brainchild of Bryan Hutchinson. He enjoys writing positive essays that help inspire, encourage and motivate others.

  • The Renegade Writer

    Another blog created by two authors, designed to help freelance writers succeed.

  • Kill Zone

    The Kill Zone is the musings of 11 top thriller and mystery authors covering topics that inspire, anger, amuse, and entertain.

  • The Write Practice

    The Write Practice is here to kick-start your practice. You have to write millions of words no one is ever going to see before you can write the ones that will change someone’s life.

  • The Writer’s Digest There Are No Rules

    Get on the cutting edge of today’s publishing trends and how authors can succeed in a world of fast-paced technological change, guided by the editors of Writer’s Digest. You’ll get an inside look at the work, play, and passion of the publishing business and find practical tools for success.

That’s my list! Remember, if you know any good blogs on writing, please add them in the comments so I can update my list and, more importantly, to start following them!

Thank you.

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Start with the Beginning AND the Ending

This is a piece of advice you hear a lot from seasoned writers. I know I’ve heard my share of it, but to be honest I didn’t really apply it in my work until recently. I am a very detailed outliner, so I know from the start where will I go and where will I end. But recently, while working on two novels, I found myself in a strange predicament.

I knew how the story should go, but I couldn’t go on with it. It wasn’t really writer’s block, I had all the scenes planned out, I knew exactly what should happen to the smallest detail, but I couldn’t move on with it.

I concluded it was writer’s fatigue. I’ve been working on two novels at the same time while trying to sprinkle a short story every now and then, and posts on my blog as well. I think my brain just refused to go on. That’s when I turned to the technique I want to discuss here: write your ending as soon as you write your beginning.

How does that translate in practical advice for a novel: After you write your first chapter, or after you reach your first conflict, take a break and write the ending. Not all the ending, just the important part. It could be a chapter, a scene, or a series of scenes.

How does that help, you will ask? Let me tell you what it did for me, and I think that it is a pure psychological ‘trick,’ a writer’s Placebo, if you will.

I sat down and I wrote the last 3 scenes of my novel. They were the scenes where everything I worked over those 100k pages came together. Plot lines were closed, mysteries revealed, characters’ quests concluded. People shook hands and said goodbye.

As soon as I did that, somehow, deep down inside of me, I felt like I almost finished the book. It felt as if by the simple act of writing that final part, I have managed to close a circle and everything just fell into place.

I came to the realization that I CAN finish the book, and I proved to myself that the ending is in fact possible. After all, I wrote it.

Once I did that, it was as if a dark veil had been lifted off my eyes. I started writing, filling up the gaps between the point where I was stuck and that new ending. And it worked.

My brain somehow accepted the fact that this is just a matter of completing something that is almost done. But having that ending there — that was just like a little carrot I need to see dangling in front of my eyes. A reason to chase. It helped me make that final leap and pull out of that frozen place.

It felt good.

Will it work for you? I can’t tell. But try it out. I think this will work even if you are not an outliner. If you are a seat-off-your-pants kind of writer and you simply write by going with the flow, this doesn’t prevent you from writing an ending. As a matter of fact, your final ending can be completely different from the one you pre-wrote, but its goal is just to ‘trick’ your mind, to show you that the ending is in sight.

It was the same for me: my final ending was different than what I wrote. Not in substance, but in delivery — as I said, I am an outliner. But in the end it served its purpose. It gave me the confidence that I can finish the book and it allowed me to read my ending out loud and have that fulfilling feeling you get when you reach the ending of a book.

And, by the way, you can work this technique in short stories as well. The short story is just an extremely scaled down novel, so scale down your beginning and ending. Maybe your ending will be one or two sentences, or a paragraph, but the results will be the same…

So, there you have it. One tip that I hope will help you move on with your writing, when you get stuck.

I am curious to know if you ever employed this technique yourself and if so, how did it work for you?

Best of luck,

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How To Self-Edit Your Novel

Self-Editing for Fiction WritersSo, you finished your first draft. You listened to the advice of seasoned writers who told you not to edit your work as you go, but just push through with your writing and be done with the first draft first. Bravo & kudos to you! That’s a great achievement. So, what’s next?

Before I answer that, let me say that this post assumes that you already know how to write a novel. So, we won’t dwell into the theory of fiction writing even though some of the concepts overlap. Ideally, if you could write a perfect first draft you already know how to write a novel and self-edit all at once. Personally, I can’t and many writers can’t either. That’s why self-editing is such an important part of the process.

To start, the first thing you must do, once you typed that END at the bottom of your novel, is to take some time off. Not time off writing, but time away from this novel. Two to three weeks should do it. During that time, write something else, read something new, take on cooking, whatever you need, but stay away from your novel.

Isolating yourself from the plot and the characters will help you be a better editor of your work. The longer you stay away from it, the better your will read it with different eyes. That’s why I think all writers should have two or three novels and a few short stories in the works at the same time — it helps you drop one and still have work to do on another.

Below is the schedule that I use to self-edit my work. It’s something that works for me and it might work for you too. Or, perhaps you will just use it as a guideline and tweak it to your personal preference.

Quick Error Check

Self-Editing TyposMy first goal is to get rid of all the obvious typos and mistakes that clog the reading. You will do this again at the end, more thoroughly, but for now, prepare your document for your eyes.

I first use an automated spell check, like Word. This will help me clean-up a lot of typos, double spaces and things like that. Another thing that always happens to me is mistyping character names or places. That is particularly problematic when working with unusual names in sci/fi or fantasy. One way to deal with it is to add the correct name to your dictionary — make sure it IS correct — then do the spellcheck. All the wrong spellings will be caught by the program.

Fast Read – Structure & Plot

Self-Editing Plot and StructureAfter you eliminated those annoying typos you are ready to do the first major read. You want to read fast, don’t agonize over each and every sentence. What you are looking for here is fixing structure and pace problems, as well as inconsistencies in the plot.

I recommend that you do this first check on paper. Print your manuscript at 1.5 spacing (to save some space) and smaller than usual margins (for the same reason). You can use a service such as FedEx Kinkos where you can print your manuscript online and pick it up from the nearest location. For a 250 page manuscript I paid $28. It’s not cheap, especially if you want to do it multiple times, but it’s worth seeing it on paper at least for the first time, and once again when you are done.

I think it’s a good idea to do this on a printed version because in your very first self-edit run you will have a LOT of changes. Use a red pen and, as you read along, mark your document. Put a star on the side and a short note over the paragraph. Here are some examples: “Foreshadow the knife,” “Why does he still have the bag,” “Add more description here,” and so on.

At the end of the first read-through you will wind up with a lot of notes related to plot, structure, and characters. As you read along your chapters, have a notebook handy as well. Write down things that you need to work on: Character XYZ needs additional development, Setting in Chapter 10 needs to
be described in more details, Dialogue in Chapter 7 is too long, etc.

If you are like most writers you will discover a few sub-plots that are left hanging. If I get to the end of your book and ask myself “whatever happened to xyz?” chances are you forgot to tell me what happened. Fix that. Close all the sub-plots, make sure your ending delivers on the promise you set at the beginning.

Once you finish this step sit down immediately and make all the changes in your editing software. You want to have everything fresh in your mind. As you make these changes, feel free to adjust some words as well. During your read you probably captured repetitions. This happens to me when I stop writing in the middle of a chapter, then I pick up a day later but I don’t have the time to re-read what I wrote before. I know how to go on, but on many occasions I use some words in the beginning of my new work that were also used in the ending of the previous day work. I catch these in my edit session and fix them here.

So, after step one and two you should have a grammatically correct, typo-free manuscript, that’s also structured correctly. The plot flows as it should and the whole manuscript starts to feel good.

Pace and Length

Self-Editing Pace and LengthThere are many ways to tell a good story. If it’s a novel you have to be aware that nobody can read the entire thing in one shot. Your goal is to get the reader to come back and finish the novel, be excited to wake up and continue, but also understand that there will be times when he/she needs to put it down.
The pace and length of your novel are going to help the reader. It’s pretty obvious that long, slow chapters will read slower, and short, fast chapters will read faster.

If you want an analogy, car chases are great in a movie, and drum solos wonderful in a concert. But if they last for twenty minutes you start to feel burnt out. The same goes with your story. You must start strong, make your reader love your novel, but then slow down a bit, only to pick it up later. That’s why people love roller-coasters – up and down is fun and exciting.

So, what you do here is read your story and feel the pace. Does it take too long to read one chapter? Then break it up in two. Is a chapter too short, it feels like it ends too abruptly? Combine it with the next. Does each of your chapters start with a good hook and end with a good cliffhanger?

Now, this doesn’t mean ending each chapter with “…and the wooden boards started to crack under his feet.” That will work for one chapter, but too much of it and it becomes predictable. Do it more subtly, throw something from the left field, but more important: always deliver on it.

Don’t end a chapter with a good hook and start the next chapter with a two page description of the sunset. Actually, you should never describe anything for two pages, much so a sunset, but that’s a different story. My point is: if you have to choose, choose to under-promise and over-deliver, not the other way around. The reader will remember always being disappointed. But if you promise less and give a lot more, they will love it and keep on reading.

Side note: not ALL your chapters should start with a hook or end with a cliff-hanger – you should read through your novel and try to anticipate when people are about to put your book down, and then insert the cliffhanger. It’s not easy. As a matter of fact, pace problems are the hardest to diagnose because reading is so subjective.

But do your best. Your goal here is to arrange your scenes and chapters in a way that makes reading feel natural. The moment your reader has to struggle to go through the chapters, he will not open the book again. You might need to ask your friends, family or a writer’s group to help you with one read to identify pace issues.

Strengthen the setting

Self-Editing SettingI insert this here because the setting develops in your head and it’s easy to forget that the reader doesn’t have the same vision as you. All the reader has is what stems out of your words. So, at this stage in your self-editing, you should pay attention to the setting. Does it come through clearly? Is it easy to see where people are and where does the action takes place? Do you find spots in your novel where you have nothing but heads talking in the air? Fix that. Here you might add some description, but be aware that it slows down your pace. Don’t dump it all in one spot. Instead, sprinkle it naturally within the story.

Every time you read a chapter and ask yourself: where did this whole thing happen, you most likely have a setting problem.

Character development

Self-Editing Character DevelopmentKeep in mind that good fiction creates a strong emotional response in people. And because people are alive they tend to do that by reacting to other people’s actions, situations, predicaments and so on. Your characters are therefore responsible for making that connection and creating that spark. If you have a milieu story or a plot-driven story it’s easy to forget characters. If you have a character driven story, it is unforgivable. Either way, you must read your novel and see if you characters are clearly developed.

Are they one-dimensional carton talking heads? Fix that. Give them thoughts, emotions, ideas, fears, weaknesses. At this point you must fix all of these problems. The good news is that you don’t need to do a lot of it. Your characters are the story so chances are they are present throughout. All you need to do is go in and add some things here and there. Show that nice lady scream at a homeless man, to make us hate her a bit. Show that bad drug dealer help a handicapped person cross a street, to make us like him a little. Play with the reader’s emotions and it will pay off.

What’s The Right Word?

Self-Editing StyleNow that your structure is proper and the pace adequate, it’s time to go deeper. Now you are going to edit for style.

I am talking about adding that elusive melody to your prose. It’s that layer that sits on top of your writer’s voice and filters it one way or another. This has to do with sentence forming, word usage and word combinations. It’s at the most granular level – sentence level, or even less than that. It is here where you evaluate your usage of adjectives, adverbs, nouns and verbs. It is here where you must make sure that your sentences flow nicely and paragraphs are chained naturally.

Most likely you will find a lot of issues here by reading your work out loud, or, even better, by having somebody else read it for you. You will catch stumbles and you will also catch great paragraphs. Learn how to avoid the first and duplicate the latter.

Some of the important aspects of style have to do with clichés, adverbs, and adjectives – all of them used extensively in first drafts because they help you write. But during the editing phase, it’s time to let them go. They served the purpose of helping you drive the plot, now do the right thing and get rid of them.

Clichés are a biggie. We use them every day in our speech so it is not unusual that they crawl into our prose as well. Let’s put it this way: If you can’t find a better, more evocative way of saying something, remove the cliché anyway. The reader will appreciate the lack of something more so than a cliché, which indicates a lazy writer and, perhaps, an amateur. Cut those out without mercy. If you want to check more on clichés, check this list of 681 Clichés to Avoid in Your Creative Writing. (http://www.be-a-better-writer.com/cliches.html)

Next, look for overuse of adverbs and adjectives. When looking for adverbs (“he said angrily”), ask yourself: is there a way to replace the adverb with a stronger verb, or add some additional cues that allow the reader to understand the situation? Adverbs are the easiest way to ‘tell not show,’ so be aware and keep them at a minimum. You can use your editing software to look for words that end in “ly.”

As for adjectives, they tend to find their way in your writing because they help you visualize things. You write things like “large room” and “long train,” but if you really think about them, they add no value. Unless we are talking about a Giant, we all know a train is big, right? So, why say it? If the adjective doesn’t add something or somehow changes the way the reader thinks about the noun it modifies, it’s probably not needed. Use strong nouns instead, nouns that force the reader to imagine. For example say that a “steel monster raced down the track,” rather than a “giant train raced down the track.”

Polish your description – this is a biggie. You have to find the right trade-off between describing the setting, which tends to bore the reader, and letting the reader imagine things, which may confuse them. Try to find ways to express your thoughts through all the senses. If you want to describe a yellow sunset, don’t go into the usual “the sun shone bright, its rays bathing the shivering tree leaves.” Go with “a lemon light filled the air.” Lemon is yellow and sour. Now you must think on how the light makes you feel, rather than how it looks, but you do get how it looks by paying attention to how it makes you feel.

Hooks and grabs

Self-Editing Hooks and CliffhangersAt this stage you probably have a pretty decent manuscript. Typos and grammar mistakes are at minimum if not gone completely. Your plot is tight, structure is working, pace and length are good. Your style and voice oozes from the manuscript; you feel you can almost call it great. So what’s next?

Make it better.

We all know that your first 50 pages must be perfect and great, your first 5 pages must be amazing and grand, and your first page must be fantastic and beyond amazing. That’s an absolute requirement to grab the reader’s attention and make them stay for the rest of the journey. This becomes increasingly important if you are a beginning writer who needs to find an agent or a publisher to accept your first work.

So, go back and re-apply everything from above, on the first 50, 5 and 1 pages, in that order. The fewer pages you work on, the more aggressive you must be in your edits. Don’t be lazy; read it over and over until it is perfect.

Final revision

Self-Editing ManuscriptSo, let’s see where we are so far:
– we cleaned up the typos and names
– we checked the structure and made sure all plot lines make sense
– we verified the pace and made sure it flows well
– we are certain the setting is clear
– we developed our characters and made them connect
– we inserted hooks and cliffhangers throughout the manuscript
– we did stylistic corrections by removing repetitions, clichés, unnecessary adverbs and adjectives

Now your novel should be in a much better shape, probably close to its final draft. This is probably the time to take another step away from it. Give it another two-three weeks. Put it out of your mind and distance yourself from it. When you return, make your final changes along the same lines as above, but do them all in one shot. By this time you should have very few things to edit.

Last but not least: do a final proofreading. If you are not a good proofreader — I am not at all, for example — perhaps it’s a good idea to do that with a professional proofreader. This is particularly important if you are a beginning writer. If your manuscript still has typos and grammar mistakes, it will be difficult for an agent or editor to take you seriously. So, make sure your final step is one last round of proofreading. Here you will tighten the sentences, make sure all your commas are in the right spot, all typos are eliminated and so on.

Let it go

Self-Editing Manuscript SubmissionIf you got here, you are ready to send your manuscript out. Just send it.

If you went through the steps above (maybe more than once), you are not doing yourself any favors if you do not submit the novel already. Chances are you will not be able to make it better. They say that a novel is never finished, and sometimes that’s true. Often after I send a story, two minutes later I think of a way to write something that sounds better. But it doesn’t really matter. There’s a point in perfection when all variants of the ‘perfect’ have the same relative value, so you are not doing yourself any service by not submitting it. Let go.

[UPDATE] I am adding an update to address a few comments I received: once you are done with your self-editing process, your manuscript will not be ready for publishing. Your manuscript will be ready to be reviewed by a professional editor. It could be the editor who will ultimately publish your work, or just a freelance editor you hired. So, when I said ‘submit,’ I meant submit it to the next chain in the editing process. There’s only so much you can do, and a professional editor is the next logical step. In the meantime, you should start your next novel! [END UPDATE]

Final notes

As I said, this is my personal self-editing schedule. Yours might be different. You might combine things, do it faster, I don’t know. However you do it, make sure you do it, and I’d love to hear about your process and how you structure your self-edit?

Additional Resources:

Books:
Self Editing for Fiction writers by Renni Browne
Revision and Self Editing by James Scott Bell
Line by Line: how to edit your own writing by Claire Kehrwald Cook

Posts:
Self Editing by Lori Handeland
10 ways to improve your writing by self-editing by Susan Harkins
Before you submit: Some tips for Self-Editing by Carol Saller
Self Editing Success by Carole Moore

Best of luck,

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How to complete your NaNoWriMo 30-Day Novel

 

NaNoWriMo-180x180I signed up for NaNoWriMo for the first time in 2011, but I didn’t participate. I felt unfit for it, not ready, or otherwise scared of the magnitude of the project. In 2012, one of the members of my writers group asked if anyone else is doing the NaNoWriMo, so I said yes. I didn’t think about it, and I just said yes. If I had thought about it, I would’ve probably bailed again.

Here I am in December, two weeks after completing my first NaNoWriMo. I am still not over the joy of this little success, so much so that I decided to write a blog post and describe how I did it and how you should not look at this as a scary project, but a challenge and a way to improve your writing skills.

First of all, if you are not at all aware with what NaNoWriMo is, it’s a writing challenge where participants must complete a novel of 50,000 words or more, in 30 days, during the month of November. There are many other similar contests, but this particular one is very popular and pretty well organized. In 2011 there were 250,000+ participants, and that’s pretty impressive, if you think about it. To learn more about the contest, head to their main page and read their about section: http://www.nanowrimo.org/

The Challenge

So, let’s recap: 50,000 words in 30 days. That’s about 200 pages (double spaced, standard margins, 12 pt. font). Mathematically, that is not more than a mere 1,667 words per day, or about 6 to 7 pages. This translates in about 1 to 2 hours per day of typing. Piece of cake, right?

Well, as we all know, writing a novel is not about math, unless you are writing some kind of algebra textbook. It’s a lot more than that, and most of it has to do with what’s in your head. Let’s look at the real challenges:

1) Mental Challenge:

  • You can’t wrap your mind around the fact that it is just too much in too little time

2) Creative Challenge

  • You don’t have an idea for a novel right now
  • You will never be able to produce a sellable manuscript in 30 days

3) Physical Challenge

  • You are afraid that you cannot type so much, so fast
  • You are afraid that you don’t have enough time to dedicate to writing
  • You are a master outliner and you can’t bare not outlining your novel properly

Now let’s tear each one of these into pieces, and find real-life methods to get over them.

Mental Challenge

Writer's Mental ChallengeThis is probably one of the biggest hurdles in the path of any achievement: self-doubt, lack of confidence, fear of failure, procrastination. All of these live in your head. You don’t think of yourself good enough to do it, you are afraid of what others will think about you if you fail, and there’s nobody around you to give you a push. Guess what? Neither one of these are real.

Every single person that ever created or invented anything started from scratch. And if they would’ve stopped because they were afraid of failure, the world would not be where it is today. Instead, they replaced the fear with hope. And hope drove their desire to succeed. And even when they failed, they didn’t stop. “If I find 10,000 ways something won’t work,” Thomas Edison said about working on the lighbulb, “I haven’t failed. I am not discouraged, because every wrong attempt discarded is another step forward.”

And guess what? You have a huge advantage over those pioneers, when it comes to writing. You have books that teach you how to write, you have seminars and conferences, you have books written by others that can inspire you, and you have a community of writers to support you.

Once you come to terms with the fact that you are a writer, you can jump over this hurdle. You go everyday at your work and perform your tasks– accounting, sales, what have you. If anyone doubts you can do those, you will get offended, right? Well, then it’s time that you decide you are a writer and stop being afraid of actually acting like a writer. That is– write.

If you haven’t done this already, pick-up a piece of paper and write in big letters: “I Am A Writer.” Glue it in your home in front of your eyes so you never forget.

So, write. Push through the fear and do it anyway. Recognize that nothing that brings glory and satisfaction is ever accomplished without some degree of fear. Just don’t think about it. Try your best to reject every thought that pops in your head and tells you that you can’t make it.

DECIDE that you CAN make it.

That’s your first and hardest step.

Creative Challenge

Writer's Creative ChallengeThe second hurdle comes after you decided to do it. Now the question is: what am I going to write about? There are people who sit on a good idea for years, and NEVER get the chance to turn it into words. If you are one of those lucky ones, you won’t have a problem. Take that idea and run with it. But most likely you will be like the vast majority– you don’t have an idea yet. That’s a scary thought, a thought that fuels those fears you dealt with above. So, what do you do?

Simple: re-frame the way you think about the challenge, and don’t let the lack of a readily available novel idea be the thought that drives your process.

To understand that, let’s take a step back first and look at what is this challenge going to help you accomplish:

1) Publish a novel
2) Improve your writing skills (style, grammar, structure)
3) Expand your writing spectrum (genres)
4) Help you get better at putting words on paper

This particular contest will not result in a publishable manuscript. Read that again, and again, and again. At the end of the thirty days, unless your name is Faulkner, you will probably not be able to publish the manuscript. You will be able to turn it into a publishable manuscript later on, as you will see, but initially it will be just a rough draft.

So, your manuscript doesn’t have to be perfect! That’s a big relief. It simply doesn’t have to be perfect. As a matter of fact, the longer your first 30-day draft, the less perfect it will be. There’s an inverse relation between the writing quality and the writing quantity, in a limited span of time. This contest asks you to finish 50,000 words, not 50,000 PERFECT words. So, for now, strike number 1). Things are getting easier. No pressure to hand the manuscript on November 30th to anyone to read.

Improving your writing skills is by far the number one goal for this contest, in my opinion. It’s one of those elusive obvious things that are right there, in your face, but you just don’t see them. In your head, the prestige of finishing is great, being able to tell your friends and family is awesome, and publishing your work is grand. But at the end of the day, this challenge will help you become a better writer.

The advice you get from every single writing evangelist is this: write, write, and write. Don’t look back, don’t you dare… Just keep writing through the end. Then, take a break, take a breath, look back, and start fixing. But the process of pushing forward and putting words on paper is what will eventually drive your continuous improvement as a writer.

The more words you are able to put on the paper, the better you get at establishing a proper work ethic, an the better that process goes, the more confidence you will get. The more self-confidence you acquire the faster and better you will write. It’s a growing spiral of improvement. You will start taking chances, getting outside of your comfort zone, explore, experiment, and test. This is what this type of challenge will bring you most, and it’s a priceless gift.

So, don’t be afraid if your novel idea is not the next New York Bestseller. You have time for that. Now write about anything that makes you feel comfortable. There are a lot of sites that help you brainstorm and I also wrote a blog post on writer’s block. Don’t let the lack of a great idea be a deterrent to your goal of learning how to impose your own writing schedule, and improving your writing style.

Physical Challenge

So, above we dealt with the ‘why’ you should and can do this, and then with the ‘what’ should you writeWriter's physical challenge about. Now let’s move to the ‘how.’ The answer to this will depend a lot on your style as a writer. Are you an outliner, who likes to plan every move of your novel, or are you a seat-off-your-pants kind of writer, where you write with no plan in mind and let your imagination guide each step?

Well, obviously the non-outlining writers will feel more confident with this project, since they can just start writing. The outliners will feel a bit scared by the idea that they won’t be able to spend their weeks and weeks of planning and outlining.

Personally, I am a big outliner. I like to take my story from the one line blurb up to a complete scene list, character bibles, maps and world-building. To get over this, I decided that I will sacrifice one day and one day only for outlining. This is how I did it.

I figured that an average scene for me is about 800-1000 words, based on prior experience. I felt that a chapter should be roughly 10-15 pages. So, I decided that my outline will contain 16 chapters, each with 4 scenes of about 800 words. I used good-old Excel to start a table with the following headers: Scene number, Scene Description, Number of Words, chapter, Total Words.

Next was the overall story structure. Again, we don’t have a lot of time here, so I decided to go with the well-known, established and loved by many, three-act-structure. So, I assumed that my first act was going to be about 25%, second act about 50%, and the third act the remaining 25%. I color coded my excel sheet to see the clear separation and at the bottom, below the table, I made three rows with formulas to keep track of the real size of each act.

Now I had a pretty decent skeleton for a good start. If you want to take a look at the Excel sheet and use it in your own project, grab this writing quota Excel tracking sheet that I prepared for you. Use it freely as you wish.

Now, the minimum average number of words you must write every day is 1,667, but you don’t want to be there. You want to be at least 50% higher so you can slowly get yourself a nice safety cushion. I set my own personal goal to be 2,500 words per day. That’s about 3 scenes, or almost one full chapter.

Ok, now with a quick skeleton and the plan for each day, there was one more thing I had to do: decide how this novel will end. Why is this important?

The fun of writing a novel is in the process of creation. You are the God of your characters, you are building the world, you give them life and you make them interact. That’s great, but you are not writing for your characters, you are writing for a reader, and readers, usually, like to finish a book and enjoy its ending. So, as much as the fun lies in your second act, your last act is the one that will leave the final mark on your reader. Equally important, the first act is the one that will grab your reader and make him read the entire book.

So, the minimal preparation here should be this: how do I start? Keywords: attention grabbing, interesting action, character introduction. And how do I end? Keywords: emotional connection, closing the circle, tying all the plot lines.

If you want to make the road from the first few pages until the last few pages to be a fun one for you, at least decide from the beginning what will be on those few pages. And again, you don’t have to be perfect here as we are still in the planning phase. But have a general idea of your ending. Is it a dark ending? Is your protagonist going to die or lose someone dear? Is it a happy ending where the boy gets the girl? Or maybe a bitter sweet ending where the boy saves he girl but still loses her? Either way, if you decide this from the start you will have a far easier time filling the gap between your beginning and your ending.

So, at this point: you have decided you can do this, you more or less know what your novel will be all about, you prepared yourself a generic outline, and you have established how you novel starts and ends. That’s all you need, now start writing!

Keeping Up

TimerOnce you start writing, once you get into your routine, you will find it hard to stop, and I mean it! But there will also be days when you won’t be able to write. Maybe because of your job, illness, family functions, and so on. But you have to strive hard to keep that average going.

If you find it really hard to allocate the time you need to write your daily quota, read my other article “Writing when Busy.” It gives you some specific ideas about how to write when you are very busy.

But regardless, don’t get hung up on the daily quota too much. The daily goal is great, but what you are looking for here is a weekly quota, much more than a daily one. You have to output about 12,500 words per week. Make sure you keep to that. There will be days when you write more and days when you write less. Your weekends are a good way to catch up, so if you missed your quota in one or two days, get back on track during the weekend. If you are over your quota, good for you, but don’t relax and rest right away. Write more, you will love it in week four when you are almost done.

Editing

How do you edit your work during the month of November? The short answer is: you don’t. Given that you are writing everyday more than 2000 words, chances are you don’t even need to re-read what you wrote the day before in order to keep your story on track. It will all be in your head. If you are on chapter 10 and you can’t remember the name of that town, just put a “?” as placeholder and you will search and replace later on.

Obviously, if you are the kind of writer that needs to read yesterday’s work just to get back into the “writing mode,” by all means, do it. But keep it short. Remember, your goal here is to write a lot, not to write perfectly from the start.

If you want a compromise do this: first write your daily quota of new words and, only if you meet it, you are allowed to read your work from the day before and do some light editing. Keep it fun and challenge yourself!

Other ways to get you motivated

The NaNoWriMo allows the participants to join regional groups. Each group organizes various writing sessions where a group of people get together with their laptops in a public place, like a library or a bookstore, and write. It’s a good motivator to be around other writers, so if you have trouble focusing by yourself, use them.

The forums on NaNoWriMo are also filled with posts that help writers with advice and encouragement.

On the NaNoWriMo site look for friendly faces or other people who write in your genres and add them as your writing buddies. You will be able to see their progress and compare it against yours.

Search the web for posts such as the one you are reading right now. There’s a lot of information out there and many ways to get motivated. As soon as you feel like you are going stale or ready to procrastinate, turn to these resources and use them as a ‘kick in the butt.’ You will be happy later when you are done!

November 30

ChampagneYou did it! It’s November 30th and your 50,000 words are done! So, wait no more and submit your work. Make sure you don’t stop exactly at 50,000, by the way, push through 51,000 or so, to make sure that your word processor’s word count will match their word count. Sometimes there is a slight difference, so you want to make sure you have a good cushion.

Congratulations!! Now, take a week or two away from this novel. Work on other things. Then two weeks later come back. Start polishing your work, but even before that, decide if your novel will stay at 50,000 words or if you need more. Depending on your genre and the standards, you might find yourself in need of another 25,000 words or maybe more. Now that you know the process, adding those words should be easy.

Now you have a month or so to do your first review and bring your word-count where you want it to be. Enjoy your holidays and your new year’s, but remember: by the end of January you should have your second round of edits done, and your novel should now be in a somewhat presentable state.

From here on, it’s all about polishing and making it better. But that’s not the subject of this article. I just wanted you to get here, and what you do from this point on is different story. But give yourself a warm hug and treat yourself to whatever you love most. You deserve it.

You learned writing discipline, the hardest hurdle on your way to writing success. You improved your style and you learned how to write fast and organize your thoughts in your head. You learned how to keep track of your writing and stick to your quotas.

You just became a better writer.

I’d love to hear some comments from people who completed their NaNoWriMo. What was your process like? What were your fears and how did you go over them? What advice do you have for other writers on how to accomplish this successfully?

Last, but not least, I challenge you to make your own NaNoWriMo. Pick any month, and be the only participant. See if you can do it. Actually, let me correct that: prove that you can do it!

Good Luck!

Books

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Why You Should Write Short Stories

I like big things, don’t you? I like a big house, a big car, and when it comes to writing I really enjoy a giant story world. I am probably one of the many writers suffering from what I call the “Silmarillion” syndrome. That’s that thing when you want to feel like a God and create vast things so that people can look at them and go ‘wow’!

But ask anyone who ever tried to build an Eifel Tower from Legos– it’s not the easiest of tasks. It requires a lot of concentration, attention, ability to split the large into small parts, have each small part make sense on its own, and then find its place inside the big picture. And everything must flow like music, be catchy and relevant, pleasant looking and emotional, wonderful, amazing and great. No pressure there, none at all…

But the truth is that’s what I always thought a writer’s life should be– about creating big things. I dream of the novel that becomes a trilogy and the trilogy that becomes part of a multiverse Saga that spans space and time. A Saga that later becomes a movie, then a series, then a… Ok, I’ll stop, you get my point– I am a megalomaniac, and there’s nothing wrong with that, as long as you show that behavior at the right moment and at the right time.

First Things First

Now, I’m not saying you shouldn’t start writing the Saga of the Century right of the bat, but what I am trying to say is that it will be a bit harder. One way to ease the pain is to learn how to focus on those little pieces down at the base. Learn how to build your basic Lego structures and soon you will have enough skills to put them together into a massive architectural wonder.

I am talking, of course, about short stories. Just like (I assume) many other writers, I started by totally ignoring short stories. I thought that I would waste good ideas that could become a novel in just a few pages, and I thought that instead of being focused I will become completely scattered. I wasn’t totally wrong, but I soon learned that that was not necessarily a bad thing.

What is a Short Story?

A short story is a fully developed story, with plot, setting, and characters, but significantly shorter than a novel. There are some discussions on the proper length of a short story, but I usually consider a short story anything between 1,000 words to 10,000 words. Note that those stories shorter than 1000 words typically fall into the flash-fiction category.

In my opinion a good length for a short story is between 2,500 and 5,000 words. At an average of 250 words per page, you get a story between 10 to 20 pages, double-spaced. Keep in mind that these are not set in stone, just guidelines to give you some idea.

Length is the main aspect that differentiates a short story from a novel. All other aspects are more similar than different. A short story will follow a mini three act structure, will have a developed plot and a climax, will have characters, dialogue, description and narrative. Unlike novels though, in a short story the brevity is paramount. You must get to the point and get there fast; there’s no space to waste, you simply cannot afford it. Make each line, paragraph and page count; be stingy with words and you will develop the ability to say more with less.

Why Should You Write Short Stories?

Now I am finally getting to the point of this post. Let’s look at the pros and cons of writing short stories:

Pros

Lower Complexity – Short stories are easier to write, hands down. Unlike the novel where you need to track what happens over 300 or more pages, here you need to keep track of what happens on 10 pages. Every time you work on your short story you can read your story again in entirety to refresh your memory. It’s far easier.

Multiple Projects – You can easily work on a lot of short story projects at the same time, just because they are smaller and that allows you to move your focus from one to the other without damage to either story. With novels, you might work on more than one, but each requires a lot of concentration, so switching gears, whereas possible, will not be that easy.

Quick Brainstorming – When you brainstorm for ideas, turn those ideas into a short story, even if the idea was designed for a major novel. This will train your brain to take a kindle of an idea and turn it into living words. You can do this many times a day, and you can have as many stories as you have ideas.

Learn Different Techniques – The short story is a condensed novel, a very brief novel if you will. If you want to improve on certain techniques, use short stories to practice them. Do you have trouble controlling your point of view? Write the same story from different points of view. Having trouble with a fiction element? Maybe dialogue or description? Write a few short stories and focus on those aspects only. Each story will add knowledge to that particular building block and in time your overall writing technique and style will get better.

Create a Name – This is one of the most important ones, especially for the beginning writers. As a beginner, you have no name. Nobody heard of you, so what they have to do is take your word for it and a few pages of your work and decide if they want to publish you. That’s why publishing your first novel is a hard, hard job. So, look at short stories as little stepping stones toward your novel publishing. First you will start with smaller, less known publications. Once you publish a story, and another story, and another, then you move to the next level. Larger, better known publications, wider distribution, and so on. By the time you are ready to publish a full novel, your name is now floating in the atmosphere. You can refer agents and publishers to your short story works. Maybe one of the editors that published your short story is willing to give you a testimonial. Either way, you are no longer a nobody in the eyes of the book publisher. You are somebody that wrote stuff that made it to print already. That’s a huge step.

Cons

Competitive Market – As in any industry, when things are easy to do, there’s going to be a lot of people doing them. Short stories are easier to write, so a lot more people will be writing them. Some of them really, really good. So, you will compete with a lot of others trying to publish stories in limited spaces such as magazines or anthologies. One advice I can give you is to look for niche genres, things that are not as popular, places where the competition is less fierce. This may give you the advantage you need to break out of the pack.

Low Pay – The average pay for short stories is between 0 and 5 cents per word. I am talking about new writers, not about Stephen King, ok? So, it is virtually impossible to live as a writer just from short stories. Sad but true.

Time Away from Big Projects – As always, the more time you focus on short stories, the less time you have to dedicate to your larger projects. But that is a matter of time management. Organize your work and your time in such a way that balances between your short stories and your novels.

Conclusion

So, in conclusion, I think that short stories will help your writing development process. They will be fuel for your imagination and will help train your fingers. Writing them will allow you to circumvent writer’s block that happens in large works and will teach you how to quickly switch gears and focus between projects. They will help you create a name for yourself and will pave the way to your novel publishing career.

If you are a writer, I am very curious if you feel the same about short stories, and if you are a reader, let me know how many short stories do you read every year, give or take? I am just curious…

Thank you,

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Writer’s Block or Will-Power Block

writer's block

Tips to Overcome Writer’s Block

If you are a writer it’s almost a certainty that at one point in your writing life you experienced what’s called a “writer’s block”. I say “what’s called,” and I quote it because I am not 100% certain that writer’s block, per se, is a phenomenon exclusively dedicated to writers.

Let me back up a bit and explain what I am talking about. I’ve been in writer’s block hell, more than once, and this is how it has manifested for me: all day I’d run around doing my things, my work, my chores, and so on, but never stop thinking about writing. I feel excited about it, I think of new plot lines, new scenes, new characters and settings. During my commute I read books on writing or my favorite authors and observe the way they worked their craft.

The Black Hole

The whole day is basically a preamble for my evening writing. Then I finally get home, chat with my wife about our day, eat, take a shower, put my child to bed, drink some tea or a glass of wine, and eventually sit down at my desk. Turn on the computer, fix the keyboard, fire up my writing software and Bam! That’s when it starts. A feeling of emptiness, a deep black whole inside my brain and my body, a twirling sand trap in which I am slowly sinking, deeper and deeper. The sand fetters my feet, then my arms and eventually covers my face, fills my nostrils and mouth and suffocates me.

My fingers feel stiff. I type a sentence. I can’t write another one, I have to read the first one first. I read it. It sounds stupid, puerile, idiotic. I delete it. I write a line of dialogue, ending it with XYZ said. Now I read the name of the protagonist. It sounds childish and dumb. Now I am thinking I have to go back and change the name throughout the entire manuscript. Now I am panicked. What if everything else sucks as well? Do I have to change everything? What do I do???

An hour later I am still staring at the screen, just three shy words crawling in front of the blinking cursor, mocking me with his joyous flicker. So, I turn everything off and I go away and that’s when it happens… the worst thing ever. I say to myself: “it’s ok, I probably didn’t feel it today. I’ll do it tomorrow.”

That is Doom, with capital “F”. Because the truth is this: tomorrow is never easier. Tomorrow you carry on the weight of the doubts of today. Tomorrow you won’t forget the panic you set in today. Tomorrow will be worse. And just saying that “I didn’t feel like it” is a defense mechanism. It’s a way for me to be at peace with myself. It’s a lie, I lie to myself trying to sugarcoat my lack of will power.

Everyday Block

And we do this in all aspects of life, don’t we? Have you had one of those days in the office where you just don’t feel like doing anything? And you roam around the office, dragging folders and files around, looking busy, making copies of blank papers and faxing doodles to non-existent numbers? No, it’s just me? Ok… But you did experience something similar to that. And at the end of the day you had a friend or family member close and you said: “You know, today I just didn’t feel like doing shit.” And you feel good. You feel redeemed. You didn’t lose the day. You just didn’t feel it. You’ll pick it up tomorrow, you say, forgetting you now have a pile of stuff to catch up with.

So, let me return to my point: the writer’s block is not a write’s block, it’s just a human block. It’s a part of our being, it’s our procrastination baggage that we carry everywhere. It’s almost the same as leaving the dirty dish on the table, because it’s easier to wash it tomorrow. It’s not a writer’s block, it’s just you being lazy!

Ok, so what can you do about it? I created my own plan of breaking out of this deadly locked out state. I needed a way to free my mind and my body from this lazy glue that covers me like a death cloud and slows down every bit of my being. I found that the secret to that is to 1) change focus and 2) do it fast.

Change Focus

writer's blockI strongly believe that as a writer you should never stop at working on only one project. Of course, you may have your “big” project, the book, the novel or what have you. But alongside that project you should always keep writing other things. You should always flex your writing brain by reaching out into other genres, into non-fiction, or even into poetry.

This is how I do it: I have an ongoing Word file where I do my writing exercises. I don’t even separate it by anything because it’s basically just a dump of writing bits whose purpose is exclusively to fire up my brain.

When you feel like you don’t “feel like it”, don’t argue with that feeling. It’s hard wired into your brain. The more you fight it, the deeper you will go. Instead, change focus. Stop the work that you’re doing and turn yourself to a different project. Open up the ongoing file and write a page long sentence. Do not stop until you completely fill-in a page. Do not put a period until you reach the end.

Do you need writing prompts? Ideally I’d like you to think of something yourself; for example, go back to your entire day. Start from the morning and do a fast-forward in your head. Did anything capture you during the day? A person, a place, an event, a sound, anything? Make the story about that. If you are really stuck and you don’t know what to write about, use a writing prompt. On this site I present (almost) daily a new writing prompt. Get some from here: Writing Prompts.

After you finished with this page, don’t waste time reading it. Go to the next page and write one page in a genre that you hate. For example, if you are Sci-Fi author, try to write a romance page. Or even better, dwell into erotica or murder mystery. Anything that you are 100% not comfortable writing. Guess what: nobody cares what you write because nobody will read it, probably not even you.

What do these exercises accomplish: one, is getting your hand to answer to your brain. You are putting words on paper. You are generating content. Second, it forces your brain to go outside of the comfort zone. Just like your biceps lifting 15 pounds everyday and getting to a plateau, so does your creative side of your brain. Sometimes it needs a jolt of something different. Sometimes, writing into a genre that you genuinely dislike may remind you how much you like your genre. Now you are again excited about getting back to your project.

Regardless of the type of exercise you use, try to make it to 1000 words. It’s not a lot, but just enough to get you going.

Do It Fast

Whenever you feel the block taking over, don’t try to fight it. You will only dig a deeper hole. Change focus right away and stay away from your project for those 1000 words. Then try to get back to it. If you still can’t you have two options: do it all over again or start from the beginning. I hope you will excuse me for being coy, but the reality is this: your block is a mental state that you accept. If you accept it, soon it will become a part of who you are. Don’t let that happen. Act fast, act now.

Change your focus and reframe yourself. Do it as many times as it takes until you feel you climbed back out of the sand.

Keep at it!

writer's blockIn reality, depending on the severity, it may take a few days, but I guarantee that if you keep at it and you do not let yourself trapped into the downspiral, you will overcome the block and you will be back at writing in no time.

And let me share a little secret with you: this post was me changing focus. As a matter of fact, I find that non-fiction is a great way to completely shift focus. If you are a blogger you can use that to your advantage. Write some posts, post some comments. Keep writing something different every time. You will not only pull yourself out of the blackness of the block, but in the same time you will improve your writing craft and you will flex those little brain cells and take your creativity to new levels.

Your story

Do you have any writer’s block horror stories? What happened, how did it manifest? What did you do to get out of it? Did you get out of it? Use the comment box below to share your story or thoughts with us and help the community!

All the best,

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