Tuesday, September 20, 2011

The Baby Steps of Writing #1: Starting Smart, Starting Centered

Photo Credit
This post is for anyone who is thinking of starting a novel.
This post is for writers who are setting those first exciting words to page.
This post is for those who are ready to write a second, third, or fourth book.
This post is for anyone who wishes they could minimize the amount of rewriting they have to do on their novels.
This post is for people who prefer to tackle huge projects with baby steps.
In other words, this post is for everyone. (Provided they are open to my opinion I'm giving here.)

Fiction writing is hard yet rewarding emotionally. Most of my “writing block” comes from, “What do I do next?” Because of this, sometimes I balk at it being the only discipline I know of that does not need a blueprint, a formula, a recipe, a protocol, or a sketch to begin. Sure, I’m a huge outliner, but often my outlines are haphazard and unfocused. This can work—and there is no one right way—but you have to be willing to accept that the less you plan up front, the more time you will spend rewriting. At least in my experience, it’s been that way.

After experimenting with different methods of plotting (and reading several writing books), I’m going to share with you what works the best for me in the next few blog posts. (All in portioned out baby steps.) My hope is that it might help some of you out there who have asked for my advice:

Baby Step #1
First, we start with an IDEA.
The idea is a lovely place to be. It’s so shiny and exciting—perfect in its very untainted form. For J. K. Rowling, the idea was the character Harry Potter, fully formed in her head on a delayed train. For Neil Gaiman, an image set a book in motion (I think maybe he said this about either Coraline or The Graveyard Book?). For Stephanie Meyer, it was a picnic scene she had had in a dream. For some people it’s a title with a dim idea as to why it should be titled so. In whatever form the idea comes to you, write it down. That’s the first step and one most of us writers can’t bear to not do. Write all you know about it, especially what excites you about it. It could come out as dialogue, narrative, a list, or whatever. Maybe all the above. It doesn’t matter; just write it down however the words come. Go ahead—get it out of your system. You deserve to not have it buzz around in your head forever. Be aware, though, that much of what you are going to write here won’t make it into your final draft.

Now reread your idea. Underline what is your favorite part about this idea. You will use that to make your IDEA BANNER. This banner is going to wave above everything else you do with this book. This is going to hold you firm to what the story is supposed to be about. Your Idea Banner isn’t the hook, the log-line, the concept, premise, or anything else. It’s the essence of idea and the pure passion you have for it. And it’s meant only for you.

If you are ahead of me (as in already writing the book) and don’t see the point in this first exercise, I urge you try it anyway. It will ground your novel. Think of this as the center stake in the huge circus tent you are erecting. You can lean on this banner as the ideas flow into your work. It will help you keep perspective on what really mattered to you about the story. Go ahead and try it, I challenge you. :o)

 So there you have it: Baby Step 1. Write the initial shiny stuff. Then sift through the shinies until you find its essence, what you love most about it. Make that the flag under which you march AND set up camp. Good luck! (And please let me know how it goes for you, if you decide to take the baby step challenge.)


Thursday, September 15, 2011


I am really good at over-complicating things. (Don’t ask me how to run my own Blu-ray player even—I have to know what every button on the remote is for or I won’t use it. And I don’t. Because I lost the manual and there are too many options.)

But when life is simple—or rather when I take time to rejoice in simple things—I forget why I usually over-complicate my life. Dieter Uchtdorf, a man I admire, said, “There is beauty and clarity that comes from simplicity that we sometimes do not appreciate in our thirst for intricate solutions.”

Creative people love beauty but can get lost when they weave too many strands into a masterpiece. The beauty of simplicity is lost. I’ve found this out the hard way lately when deeply searching if a plot to a book is over-complicated. Pretty soon I see where I’ve dropped other threads because I was too busy weaving in another and things have become muddled, the colors unblended. (This is why I’m such an outliner usually. I don’t like to find these sections in my writing after I’ve written it so I combat it with plotting.) Now to blend the colors I’m doing a lot of frustrating rewriting. On the bright side, I’m learning a lot. They are such good lessons that perhaps some of them I’ll share on future posts. Perhaps….

But there are many simple things I’ve been able to rejoice in lately. I have also had a wonderful few months:
  • Planting a seed and watching it grow into a beautiful plant.
  • Watching thin, spindly growth sprout from a tree cutting, soon on its way to becoming taller than my house. (Imagine—something so fragile and small to something so huge!)
  • Watching how a simple loaf of bread can bring a smile to a friend’s face.
  • Discovering people I know helping other people with a humble meal when they hadn’t the physical means to feed their family that day.
  • Canning an over-abundance of produce to store for another day. (A new skill for Steve and me!)
  • Learning new skills.
  • Sharing a book I love with a friend I love.
  • Writing a new story.
  • Listening to my kids play uninterrupted.
  • Basking in the presence of women (like my mother) who know so much more than me.

And just to add another beautiful thought, I’ll include a piece that’s usually included in the Navajo (Dineh) Blessingway ceremony. (I found it researching for a novel. I love beauty of new research too!)

With beauty may I walk.
With beauty before me, may I walk.
With beauty behind me, may I walk.
With beauty above me, may I walk.
With beauty below me, may I walk.
With beauty all around me, may I walk.

What an awesome prayer. I wish this for all of you!

Q4U: What simple things bring beauty to your life?

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

What Blogging Has Given Me

Blogging has given me...
  • An outlet to discover my writing voice.
  • Friends to meet, some to treasure forever (click on the sidebar links under betas, you’ll be glad you did).
  • A place to soul search. (Between this and my private, family blog, this will be my 424th post.)
  • A professional connection arena, since those are limited in my small town.
  • Courage to declare myself a writer (and to show what it is I write).
  • A world outside of raising young children when needed.
  • A vast amount of people who motivate me to be more, to do more, learn more.
  • Greater knowledge about many topics, but especially on writing craft.
  • People I wouldn’t normally get to interact with, but a place where geographic boundaries no longer matter.
  • A greater understanding of myself and my passions.
  • Empty space to brag about my kids.
  • Better editing skills… okay, maybe not that….

From this list you can see blogging has been about building relationships for me. After a summer of deep evalution on if I want to conintue blogging or not, I’m here to stay. I love the relationships I’ve gained here and have missed posting and visiting. No more once a month jaunts. I’m back, baby!

Q4U: What has blogging given you?