It’s almost time for me to print out the rough draft of my novel, to read through the whole thing with fresh eyes, as if I just brought it home from the bookstore. But first, I have a few more goals to accomplish: I WILL finish reading Midnight’s Children by Salman Rushdie (I was born at exactly midnight and I enjoyed many of his other books, so I thought it would be a fun read when I bought it at the airport about five years ago. It seems no matter how much I read, I’m only half-way through.) and I WILL finish the draft of my mid-grade fiction story and make a mock-up of my picture book. I’m pretty close on all of these goals so I’ve given myself (and now you can hold me to it) until the end of the July 4th weekend to finish (these goals) before the big first-draft read.
In the meantime, I thought I would share some writing tools that helped me get all my words to the page:
- Morning Pages – as recommended by Julia Cameron author of many inspirational books including the Complete Artists Way where I first discovered morning pages.
- The Plot-o-Matic – a rendition of PLOTTOMATIC! introduced by John Dufresne in his intelligent and useful book on writing, Is Life Like This?.
- Dialogue Warm-up – a way that I get my writing going when my plan for the day escapes me. When I run out of things to say, I let my characters start up a conversation and watch where it goes.
Writing every day has not been easy for me, but I’m pretty close now. Throughout my journey to (almost) writing every day, I read everything in my local library on writing and everything recommended to me, plus a lot more. Only a few things really stuck with me and, through some development, still work for me.
Everyone has different amounts of time they can commit to their writing and most have to SQUEEZE it into their hectic lives (and family tithes). Making time for your passion makes you better for all the other people in your life, so that is why I want to emphasize . . .
- Morning Pages – Get up twenty minutes early if you have to. It will be totally worth it. Find three lined 8.5 X 11 sheets of paper. I use a thick college ruled notebook (I’m addicted to kukumusu designs, but they’re expensive and my super-favorite is already out of print, so I buy a bunch at a time). Start writing. Do not get dressed. Maybe make a pot of tea or coffee, but then – Start writing. Do not get up and do the things you remind yourself to do while you’re writing. Do not lift pen from paper. Write everything that comes to mind even if it is “I can’t think of anything” then “I’m spacing off”, etc. Keep writing until you fill all three pages. No excuses. No I have to’s.
Staying at the page for all three pages is much more difficult than I ever expected. I’ve worked with morning pages for years and looking back at my filled journals, there was very little written, but paragraphs of things done and things to do, with either woeful disappointments in not accomplishing these lists, or motivational speeches to myself of how I would accomplish these lists. After a while, however, I noticed if I did my morning pages those thoughts wouldn’t nag at me when I took a walk, or when I tried to meditate. I had more room for creative thought. More recently, I’ve started spending only the first page on those should do’s and the other two pages on character development and story ideas. These days most of my writing for the day is retyping my Morning Pages. I took a long time to get here, but if you have a story burning inside you, but can’t find time to write, set that alarm twenty minutes earlier than normal and give Morning Pages a try.
What about those days when even your morning pages won’t get you where you want to go? You feel dry of ideas, you want someone to just hand you a character, a conflict, or your character’s next step. Try the . . .
- Plot-o-Matic – I loved reading Dufresne’s book, Is Life Like This? and I will bring it up more when I work through my rewrite. A plot-o-matic is easy to make. I made a Word document with large print, bold type, centered in 3” X 2” rectangles. I printed the subjects – Dufresne used occupations and I added character descriptions like “Conspiracy Junky” and “Disco Dancer”- on green cardstock, the needs or wants of those subjects on yellow cardstock, and an action the character took on blue cardstock. I cut out the different colored “cards” and turned them upside down so I couldn’t see what my options were and chose one of each. If you take a look at the picture at the top of this post you’ll see I drew “A conspiracy junky wants to rescue kittens, so he listens at the wall as the neighbors argue” Fun right? Why rescue kittens? What conspiracy could the neighbors be part of? Are they the neighbors’ kittens? This tool can be great for story ideas, but you can also customize it to help you decide what your characters will do next. Limit the subject pile to only include your characters and choose wants and actions until you feel inspired. Remember to write at least five minutes for every combination you choose. Exploring what you don’t think will happen can be even more exciting than what you thought you were looking for.
And finally, my personal trick that gets my mental juices flowing when I’m not quite sure what to write about . . .
- Dialogue warm-up – Discovering dialogue as a way to get my juices flowing was a major step to finishing the draft of my novel. The way it works for me is: I’ll imagine I’m speaking from one of my character’s point of view. Who does she want to talk to today? Who might she run into in the scene I’m thinking about? Who do I picture when I write, “Oh, wow, didn’t expect to see you here.” I let their conversation flow. While I write, I picture their motivations, what they are saying and not saying, who they might talk about. Where are they as they converse? Are they in public? Does another person join them? By the time I have finished writing a short conversation, I often have my next scene in my head, even if I never use the conversation in a finished piece, somehow my characters tell me what I need to know. Try it. Let the conversation flow. It’s fun. Big Tip: Don’t worry about dialog punctuation, or he said she said while you’re getting it out in these dialogue warm-ups. Only pay attention to starting a new paragraph for each new person speaking and adding physical descriptions of vocal or body language nuances that seem important. Be in the moment. You can put in all the other stuff when the conversation is over.
I hope at least one of these tools that work for me helps you find what works for you. The only way to know what works, and doesn’t work, is to physically put pen to paper in ways you haven’t tried yet. The job is only a little bit thinkin’ about it and a whole lot of writing it down.
I would love to hear some of the things you’ve discovered to keep pen to page. Please share your tips in the comments.