If You Want to Write: Novel Organization

“Consistency is the horror of the world.”

– Brenda Ueland

This chapter ranks as one of my favorites in this book. It’s all about how to write a novel, which as many know is one of the hardest things you’ll ever attempt.

Ueland encourages writers to “write the novel first, and plan it afterward.” When I read this, I immediately thought that she was crazy. How would you keep up with the story, characters, conflict, etc. if you don’t plan it?

Then I thought about my own book and how I work on it. I write chapters at a time and plan to put it all together once it’s done. As I write, I don’t think about where it will fit or the chapter sequence; I just write. Ueland recommends this technique because it allows the writer to write freely without bogging down on the details. She says you must tell the story first.

outline exampleHowever, novel organization depends on the writer and the story. Some writers need everything laid out so they stay focused, while others can just write. My book lends itself to writing freely because there’s no story arch or developing characters, instead it’s mini stories. If your novel has these things, you may want to consider organizing as little or much as you want.

Here are some ways to organize your thoughts:

1. Outline. Do you remember the Roman numerals? Here, you may actually use all those outlining lessons! Start with your topic and work your way down the page. Events you want to include, new characters and conflicts. You can even write an outline for each chapter or major event, and piece them together in the order you want. You do not have to finish all the outlines either. It may feel less overwhelming to start with one or two and write off those at first.

2. Index cards. You can buy a stack of lined index cards and plan anything you want. Group the index cards with paperclips, or you can buy different colors to represent different things. I like to use legal pads or spiral notebooks too because I can’t always work on a computer and may want to jot down the basics.

3. The snowflake method. Until this post, I was unaware of this method, but it seems interesting. You start with a one-sentence main idea, then turn that into a paragraph summary. Then you flesh out characters and start writing the narrative. Check out Randy Ingermanson’s site for the full process.

Of course, Ueland would advise against any of these methods, but some people need guidance and organization in order to produce. I could not sit down with an idea and say, go! I wouldn’t get very far. Also, what works for one may not work for another, so I encourage you to find a method that appeals to you and get to work – even if it’s only 30 minutes a week.

Additional links I found during my research:

http://writersrelief.com/blog/category/organization-techniques-for-writers/

http://wordsharpeners.wordpress.com/2009/09/02/planning-outlining-and-organizing-your-novel-or-not/

And feel free to share your organization tips and processes below. Happy writing!

If You Want to Write: 5 Ways to Clear Your Mind

“Clarity of mind means clarity of passion, too; this is why a great and clear mind loves ardently and sees distinctly what he loves.” – Blaise Pascal

Throughout the book If You Want to Write, Ueland emphasizes the importance of letting your imagination flow freely. However, with work, family, friends, and everyday stress, it’s not always easy to clear your mind to let thoughts run free.

Our minds are restricted by a number of things, like fear and fatigue, so it’s important to find ways to relax and gain clarity in what we do. Once you have clarity, then your mind is free to express your deepest thoughts and produce your best work.

Here are five ways to gain clarity:

1. Meditation. I know, I know. You can’t meditate. You can’t sit still long enough or focus your thoughts. Whatever. My brain runs a million miles a minute all day and night. It runs so fast I trip over my words and say some epically stupid things sometimes. But I can meditate. It may only be for two minutes, but it helps, and the more you practice it, the longer you can focus. You have to train your mind, and I’m living proof it can be done.

2. Avoid procrastination. Many of us love the rush of an impending deadline, but it kills our clarity. We focus on meeting the deadline more than we do the final product. It becomes more about I HAVE to get this done, instead of I’m going to take my time and make this awesome. Starting early gives you more time to think and work, and you’re free to tweak as needed instead of producing something that’s not your best.

3. Break often. If you don’t procrastinate, you can break guilt-free. Take 10 minute breaks and one day off a week. I’ve started taking one night a week when I turn off my phone and do something I want to do. Removing myself from the world (even Facebook) allows me to focus on what I need instead of everyone else. It also helps me deal with stress and emotions that I push down, forcing me to address any concerns or problems.

4. Listen. If you’re lucky, you have a couple of people who give good advice and listen. The advice isn’t always easy to hear, but if it’s honest and pure, you’ll appreciate it. Listen to those who care about you. Oftentimes, they can offer a clearer perspective because they are not so close to the situation. Don’t be dismissive – you know when they’re right and when they’re not. Listen to your gut, heart, and mind, too.

5. Find inspiration. We all get stuck and go through creative ruts. It’s frustrating to want to create something but not “feel” it and risk forcing it. This is where inspiration comes in. If you read or listen to something else, it may distract your thoughts, inspire you, then refocus your attention to your own work. I find inspiration in everyday things such as conversations, movies, music, and people. If you open up, inspiration is all around you.

If you have any tips for clearing your mind, feel free to share them below!

Writer Etiquette: Professional vs. Unprofessional

Once in a job interview I was asked, “What do you think is the most important part of customer service?” My answer: Manners. You’d be amazed how far ‘please’ and ‘thank you’ get you.

Often we talk about writing tones, ideas, styles, and rules, but what about etiquette? A dear friend and co-worker asked me if I had ever posted about my code of conduct, which are the rules I follow when writing for someone, and sometimes, myself.

The idea intrigued me, so here’s my breakdown on the differences between professional and unprofessional writers when given an assignment. These are things I keep in mind every time I’m dealing with anyone in a professional client/employee relationship.

Professional writers:

  • Meet the deadline. Ok, things happen, and everyone knows that, so it’s probably ok to be late every now and then – when things actually happen. A good writer will do their best work and meet the deadline, unless there is a real excuse (death, emergency, crashed computer, etc.).
  • Thank the client for the assignment. When you accept the work, you should thank them for hiring you. It shows you care about receiving work and you don’t just expect it.
  • Go above and beyond (not in word count though). Writers who solve their own problems and deliver a good piece are gold. I exhaust every form of research before I ask for help, and I let them know what I’ve tried, so it saves them time, too. This also applies when receiving feedback and edit requests. We all have to tweak things, and these writers do so quickly and change whatever needed to make the assignment better.
  • Do not procrastinate or over commit. Good writers will decline an assignment before they will accept it and turn it in late. Also, if you start early, you can solve problems quickly.
  • Let someone know there’s a problem. Once the calls are made and the research is done, you may have questions or need someone’s help reaching someone. These writers speak up to make sure they turn in the most accurate work.

Unprofessional writers:

  • Cop an attitude. Keep in mind there are millions of writers out there, and the number keeps growing. You can and probably will be replaced if you are rude in emails or on the phone.
  • Lie/make excuses. Some writers lie and make 100 excuses on why they are late. Editors know if you “have something come up” every assignment – you’re either not on your game or don’t care.
  • Back out at the last minute. This is my biggest pet peeve. I could never accept an assignment and just not do it. It’s inconsiderate, rude, and highly unprofessional.
  • Don’t have initiative or problem-solving skills. You should never ask your client a question that can be answered by a quick search. I believe people can ask stupid questions, and they should expect smart ‘a’ answers in return.
  • Think they’re irreplaceable. Writers who think they are “just awesome” and cannot be replaced entertain me. I’m a writer in my free time, and I know we’re a dime a dozen. A little ego can get you a job; anymore than that can keep you from getting one.

It’s in your best interest to behave admirably and make people want to hire you. We’re all trying to get our stuff out there, therefore acting like a professional may set you apart from others when tone and style just aren’t enough.

Feel free to share your tips and thoughts below!

Writing for Web: Instructions and Processes

Have you ever put an entertainment center together? What about watched a YouTube video of how to do something? Or maybe you like to try new recipes?

If you have done any of the above, you followed instructions. This week’s chapter is about writing instructions and process, and how to do so effectively. Felder explains the dos and don’ts, and this is a longer chapter, so I encourage those who want the full scoop to buy Writing for the Web.

How to Write Instructions and Processes

1. Determine who your audience is and what materials they need.

2. Write an introduction to your project. Felder suggests an overview, summary or anecdote.

3. Use numbers to write a step-by-step process for the task. I find doing the process while writing it helps you avoid missing steps, and you are testing your process. That’s multitasking!

4. Write a conclusion. Felder encourages ending on a positive note with a fun sentence or anecdote.

5. Proofread your instructions. (You knew I would make that a step).

6. Should you add photos, screen shots, or video to explain your process? Visuals are great additions.

7. Pull it all together, and have someone else test it.

8. Revise as needed.

9. Upload and publish.

10. Ta-da! You have successfully written a process.

Process writing is my favorite type of writing, and I have written them for years. I love the feeling when someone goes through the process, takes notes, and uses it as a reference. That is what I get out of writing.

Tips for Writing Instructions and Processes

Now that you know how to write a process, let’s go through the dos and don’ts.

  • Keep it simple. Use simple language and familiar terms tailored to your audience.
  • Don’t preach or lecture. This is important with video and audio, too. Give your instructions some life.
  • Learn the different learning styles. This helps you cater to your readers, and will help you decide what to add.
  • Use commands and be straightforward. Don’t worry about being bossy; you’re there to help.
  • Don’t over or under explain. Your audience doesn’t need every single step, so stick to major steps. During testing, you can adjust the process accordingly.
  • Break up lengthy steps. Don’t put more than one step in a numbered item. A lot of people do not read ahead, so too much information may frustrate them.
  • Have fun! If you have fun writing it, your audience will enjoy reading it.

Felder discusses other tips, but many of these are writing rules in other chapters. Writing instructions and processes are great ways to practice writing, too.

Now it’s your turn. What is your favorite thing to write about? Could you turn it into a process or instructions?