Every year at this time, I do a year in review where I take a hard look at my writing process and look for ways to improve. This year, I’m sharing those insights with you, my pretties!
I’ve hit on five basic elements that can vastly improve your writing, whether you’re a pro or a beginner.
My Top 5 Takeaways for 2017 are:
1. Have Daily Goals
I’ve said it before, but I cannot stress how important daily goals are. Writing daily not only helps you break that 50,000 word manuscript into smaller, manageable chunks, it also develops connections in your conscious and subconscious mind–connections that will keep your work fresh and help you solve the problems of plotting and planning that naturally come up during the writing process.
Plus, it saves you time in the long run. With your work fresh in your mind, you don’t have to start “cold,” and review every time you sit down to write.
Protip: After a writing session, leave yourself a brief note on where to pick up for the next day.
2. Write Your Back Cover Copy First
To clarify, the back cover copy (BCC) is the blurb on the back of the book that tells you what the book is about in 2-4 short paragraphs. The BCC tells you the Who, What, When, and Why of your story.
Write this first because the BCC is the essence of your story distilled down to its most component parts. Writing it first will clarify the story question and keep you from going off the rails into scenes that don’t forward the plot.
Protip: Keep your BCC close. Print it and post it near your computer. Refer back to it, especially when you get lost or feel unmotivated.
3. Keep Going!
If you’re anything like me, you know how tempting it is to stop at a difficult point in the manuscript. Maybe you have to hurt your main character (MC), and you’re dreading writing that scene. So what do you do? You convince yourself it’s okay to go back to that first chapter and tweak it here and there.
Don’t. This way lies madness, and it’s largely a waste of time. You’ll need to revise those beginning chapters in your next draft anyway.
Keep going! Pushing ahead through difficult scenes will reveal amazing revelations about your characters, your plot, and your story in general.
Protip: If it’s a tough scene, write out a short summary: MC loses the big game, his boyfriend breaks up with him, and it rains on the way home and push on!
4. The “What it Says/What it Does” Outline
Once you have a completed draft, go back through the manuscript. For each chapter, write down two things: 1. What it Says and 2. What it Does.
What it Says is essentially what, exactly, happens in the chapter. For instance, in Chapter One of Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone, you might write:
As an infant, young Harry is dropped off at the Dursleys, a Muggle home where he will be safe. Hagrid expresses concern, but Dumbledore assures Hagrid that Harry will be all right.
Now let’s look at What it Does:
This scene touches on Harry’s mysterious background. It establishes sympathy for Harry, who is an orphan and foreshadows his eventual return to the wizarding world. It introduces the characters of Hagrid and Dumbledore.
Why do this? Because the What it Says establishes the arc of the story, and the What it Does is an excellent place to see where you have repetition–the doom of any story.
Protip: Combine repetitious scenes or eliminate the weaker scene and keep the stronger.
5. Learn From Your Process
Many people track their word count, and that’s great! But truly excellent writers track their process. That is, they look at every element of their writing–their progress, their writing habits, their successes and failures–and they learn from each.
Do you have more success when you write in the morning? Do you have a lot of interruptions? Does it take you three drafts to layer in the external arc? Are you consistently making your goals? Missing them? Is your dialogue well written? Do you have too little white space on the page? Do you have issues with pacing?
Taking a hard look at questions like these, and addressing them, is the best way to improve as a writer.
Protip: Having a critique group at every level of your draft is invaluable to analyzing your process.
And that’s all for now, my pretties! I hope you found these insights helpful.
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