Saturday, February 20, 2010

Writing Tips and New Contest

I’m always on the prowl for tips on how to make my writing process easier. One of my favorite things to do is to read author interviews. It brings me comfort to hear about other's process, but occasionally it backfires on me. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve read an interview in which an author shared a tip and I thoughts “I should try that.”

For instance, I picked up a copy of Writer’s Digest which featured an interview with Sue Grafton. She shared that she keeps a journal for each of her novels, which is sometimes longer than the book itself. And of course I thought, I should keep a journal, too.

I am the journal queen. I have an odd habit of having a journal for various areas of my life. I have a prayer journal, a personal journal, a sermon journal and a writing journal. I also have a drawer full of blank journals begging to be used. What’s another journal among friends?

As I considered starting a journal for my current WIP, a thought cross my mind. Did I want to start a journal because it would help my writing process? Or did I want to start one because Sue Grafton keeps a journal for her novels? Honestly, I wanted to start one because of Sue, not because of Terri.

This is a dark side of writing tips from other writers. It is tempting to do something because someone else (especially famous, multi-published authors) does, and not really because we believe it will help. There has to be a balance. Great care should be taken to own your own writing experience and not think of it as a formula. Just because something works for another author doesn’t mean it will work for you. Writing is not magic; it’s a process.

There is an easy way to determine which tips you should try and incorporate into your writing and which ones you shouldn’t. Tips should solve a problem, not create one. If the tip causes you more stress than you already have, it probably isn’t for you. I’ve read interviews about some very detailed writing rituals. Some authors rise at 4am and sit for hours before they write a single word. As a wife and mother of three (two are which are home schooled teenagers), there’s no way I can do that.

On the other hand, sometimes others tips are exactly what you need to hear. For instance, author Kaye Dacus ( selects pictures that she uses as a template for her characters. I found this tip to be very helpful because I’m a visual person. Having a mental picture of my character helped me imagine how other characters would react to her. It also helped me create mannerisms and habits based on their physical appearance to make them more life like.

Your writing process is your own. It is great to hear get tips from other writers when they solve a problem. But be careful. Understand that writing isn’t a formula and you have to discover what works for you. Don’t be afraid to try something new but before you do, make sure it’s actually going to help, not hurt, your writing process.

You do have your own unique writing process. I realized that I didn’t need to start a journal like Sue Grafton because I already do something similar. I keep a spiral bound notebook for all the novels I write. It is a basically my record of my processing of the story. My husband questioned me about it because it isn’t in any discernible order. When I think of something, I write the date on the page and record it in my thoughts. It also helps me keep track of important details or changes I make to the story.

What is your quirky habit? Share it in the comments below before February 28 and win a copy of Novelist’s Essential Guide to Creating Plot by J. Madison Davis.


Kate Dolan said...

Great advice, Terri! If a writing "tool" is hindering your writing, it doesn't work for you (even if it comes with great recommendations and sounds terrific). I don't have any quirky habits that work. The only thing that works for me is a deadline - either editorial or self-imposed and preferably both. When I set a word count for the day, I will usually get busy on it rather than have it hanging over my head all day. I haven't been doing that much lately and my productivity is WAY down. So here's the next question - how do we get ourselves to follow our own advice?....

Dorinda said...

To get myself in the novel writing mode I go to a good movie. For some reason letting myself go with no distractions in a dark theater gets my brain in motion and ideas just flow! Of course with no computer in front of me some of my ideas run away before I get home but I swear it works :)

Key said...

I have never written a novel. But when I write blogs or short stories I keep a mental note, or sometimes I'll write a note to myself in my blackberry, of a key phrase or idea that I want to discuss. Then I just write; right off the top of my head! I have no set "structure" when I write, so I have to proofread and re-write A LOT! So the first story, the rough-draft, is sort of like an outline. Sometimes the final draft is a little different from what I first intended to write. But for me, that is just part of the process to the final work.