A Creative Focus for 2021

Continuing the tradition I started several years ago, I have again chosen 12 meaningful words to focus on each month of 2021. I decided that this year I wanted every word to be an active verb. My challenge is to see how I can apply these to my writing life. Why have I done this?

Why I Focus on BIG Words

With so many things to write about, why would a writer benefit from selecting a few words to focus on in a blog? Being a writer is a time-consuming occupation. Writing alone takes up much of my day. But I also need to spend time on promotion and marketing. I have blogs like this one to write. Newsletters to get out every month. Emails to answer. Workshops to give. And an active home life too.

When preparing to write my blog posts, having a specific word to focus on helps me draw my attention to that one word. I can look for relevant quotes and images to inspire me. In my journal I can play with associations I have with the word.

When I get ready to write, I can combine the meaning of the word with my writing path and the thoughts I want to share with other writers, and despite the constraint of the one word focus, be more creative.


“We need to first be limited in order to become limitless,” 

Phi Hansen

Limitation Actually Fosters Creativity

Working within limitations actually forces our brains to solve problems more creatively. Despite the common belief that the best ideas develop in an open, free-wheeling atmosphere, Brent David Russo in his dissertation on Creativity and Constraint found that:

“for creative teams in organizational settings, there can be freedom in constraint; it’s knowing what to do with them when they emerge, finding the right constraints in the right balance, and crafting an environment in which they can be perceived as opportunities rather than obstacles. The well overused cliché about creativity is “thinking outside of the box.” While this metaphor assumes an empty box, my
dissertation research demonstrates that there are valuable tools right within the box that can be used to bolster team creativity if the creators know where to look to find them.”
p. 149


This should not be surprising. Engineers and architects use creative problem solving to build incredible structures within all kinds of limitations from material strengths to preset deadlines.

Photo by Hao Zhang

I personally utilize both paths to creativity. When I am fast drafting I let all outside distractions fall away and focus only on the flow of creative ideas. But when I am revising, I draw on the creative solutions that comes from problem solving within limitations. This is the method I recommend in my new book Revise Your Draft and Make It Shine. (FREE for the next 5 days 1/11/21 to 1/15/21)

My 2021 Words

So I am going to take advantage of the creative push working within limits can give me and limit myself focus to the the following words:.

        • January -Habitualize
        • February – Amaze
        • March – Compose
        • April – Harmonize
        • May – Cherish
        • June – Delight
        • July – Discover
        • August – Free
        • September – Fuel
        • October – Invigorate
        • November – Challenge
        • December – Enlighten

Wordart Bird

Do these words inspire you?

I welcome your thoughts and comments.

Fast Draft Your Manuscript: It’s NaNoWri

Are you all set to Fast Draft? This year will be the sixth year I have participated in National Writing Month. Of the five novels I have completed in one month, I have published four.

Not too bad a record.

Over the years I have learned better ways to outline, explored word trackers, got myself more organized, and most importantly learned how to draft fast.

After teaching a number of workshops and mentoring NaNoWri participants, I have finally gathered all my tips and tricks for writing fast into a book.

Fast Draft Your Manuscript and Get It Done Now, written under my professional name, is being published by Short Fuse Publishing. It is available in Kindle and on Kindle Unlimited and is the first in my new Write for Success writing craft series.

About Fast Draft Your Manuscript


Fast Drafting is a proven set of techniques and strategies that can be applied to any piece of writing from blog post to novel. Tested over the author’s decades-long career as an author and educator, the Fast Drafting Method is easy to learn, customizable for your needs, and designed to get results quickly. Fast Draft Your Manuscript: And Get It Done Now.


About the Write for Success series


Don’t just write…write for success! From award-winning author and educator Joan Bouza Koster comes a revolutionary series of guides showing you the steps that helped her writing not just land an agent and book deal but win praise from readers and literary taste makers. Whether you’re writing fiction or nonfiction, romance, thriller, or historical, this series delivers behind-the-scenes tips, inspiration when you need it most, and the flexibility to fit your writing career. Write with confidence and write for success.

Upcoming books in the series

Revise Your Draft and Make It Shine

Power Charge Your Language and Make Your Writing Sing

Research Your Subject and Validate Your Writing


So are you doing NaNo or do you just have a draft to finish? Here are few tips for you from Fast Draft Your Manuscript And Get It Done Now.

Fast Drafting is a time to forget about being perfect. So, type away.

  • Relish being sloppy.
  • Use the first words that pop into your head.
  • Don’t worry about clichés or repeating terms.
  • Forget writing rules or making it sound pretty.
  • If you can’t think of something, or you need a fact to fill in, or you are not sure about what you wrote, use the highlighter tool in your word processor to highlight that area in a color so when you do your first revision you can come back and fix it.



Available from AMAZON


“Start writing, no matter what. The water does not flow until the faucet is turned on.” —-Louis L’Amour

W-Plot Your Way to a Better Scene

~ Plot Your Scene with the W-Plot Method ~

The W-Plot can be used to lay out an entire novel, but it’s true strength is in plotting scenes. I am doing NaNoWr again this year. I love being part of a huge group of writers all excited about writing and encouraging each other every day to do their best. But sometimes when I am writing as fast as I can, I lose track of where a scene is going.

That’s when the W-Plot comes in handy. The W-Plot method can keep a scene from falling flat. It can also get you out of writer’s block when you are fast drafting.

I first learned about the W-Plot from Karen Doctor. (You can get her W-Plot course here)  Simply described, the W-Plot Method lays out the rising and falling tension in the series of events that make up your scene. Here is my version of the W-Plot adapted to writing a scene.

W-Plot Example

 

When I get stuck for an idea while writing a scene, I quickly sketch a W on a sheet of paper and then brainstorm different events that would move the character to and away from his or her goal in the scene. From those, I pick the ones that fit best or are most surprising and then get back to writing.

Want to learn more? Here are some other takes on the W-Plot.

The W-Plot by Heather Dyer

Storyboarding and the W-Plot Chart by Mary Caroll Moore

Happy Writing!


How do you plot your scenes?

Have you ever used the W-Plot Method?

 

Fifteen Minutes Writing – The Book Factory Method

~ Life in Fifteen Minutes ~

Do you know how much time you spend on daily activities like reading e-mail and perusing Facebook? Do you struggle to reach your daily word count? I know that I do.

A while back, I took a workshop with USA best-selling author Kerri Nelson, which she has recently published in book form: The Book Factory Method: Your Guide to Producing Multiple Novels in One Year.

Fifteen Minutes CountThe Book Factory by Kerri Nelson Reviewed by Zara West

Kerri makes the point that in the scheme of things fifteen minutes is not very much of one’s time. In fifteen minutes, we can accomplish tasks like wash the dishes or fold the laundry. Why not spend fifteen minutes writing too?

In The Book Factory Method, Kerri explains how thinking in fifteen-minute time blocks is a sneaky way to find time to write.

Where are Those Fifteen Minutes Hiding?

Finding fifteen minutes is a lot less daunting than finding an hour or three for writing. Kerri suggests analyzing how you spend every fifteen-minute block of your work day and searching out those spaces where you can sit down to write.

Taking her advice, I kept track of how I spent my time over a three-day period (Here’s a 15 incredible minutes you can use to track your day) and discovered she was right.

Sure, I had all my daily tasks—like cleaning, washing, cooking, going to work, working, and so on. But there were also large blocks of time spent lost on Facebook and answering e-mail, time spent straightening my writing zone and getting ready to write, and time spent on rereading what I had already written—time that could be better spent just plain writing. In fact, I actually found three fifteen-minute blocks that could be better spent writing everyday.

Using Those Fifteen Minutes Effectively

Once you have your slots, Kerri suggests you get a timer. Using a timer and shutting down e-mail and the Internet is essential for this to work.

A note on timers: The timer I like the most is Hourglass. But I have also used my phone timer and an old-fashioned cooking timer just as effectively.

Now you are ready

  • Sit down.
  • Set the timer.
  • Start writing.
  • Do not stop till that timer dings.

Give it a Try

If you fast draft, you can actually produce quite a few words on the page in fifteen minutes, and in Kerri’s case, those dedicated fifteen minutes has produced a passel of published books. Will this work for everyone? I have no idea. But it worked for me.

I quickly found that sitting down and fast drafting (Kerri makes a particular point about applying this method only to new writing, not revision or editing) even for as little as fifteen minutes a day put words on the page for me.  Working with the time limit also trained me to be more focused. Knowing I was being times, I learned to ignore distractions. After all, there are very few things you can’t let slide for a few minutes.

In addition to the fifteen-minute writing method, Kerri provides many hints and helps for becoming more productive. She examines goal setting, motivation, and some writerly tricks for plotting (she’s a pantser), writing pitches and queries, and maintaining one’s physical and mental health as a writer. I strongly recommend The Book Factory Method for anyone who wants to become a more productive writer.


What method do you use to find writing time?

I love hearing from my readers!

Plotting a Romance: What Works for Me

~The Path of True Love ~

I truly believe that the best way to learn to be a writer is to be a voracious reader. That said, how-to-writing books definitely have a place in honing one’s skills. I have read many books that I have found helpful. Today I will review one of my favorites and explain how it helped me improve my writing.

Before you can write a romance, you need to plot out your story. When I began writing my first novel, I plotted by the seat of my pants as most beginners do. The feedback I received was that it didn’t fit the romance genre because the love story wasn’t the main focus, and the relationship between the hero and heroine was too antagonistic.

For a while I scratched my head. Then I went back and reread some of my favorite romance writers and tried to figure out what made their book so terrific. This was very time-consuming, and I soon found myself buried in the details (or just enjoying the story all over again) and losing the big picture.

Zara West reviews Romancing the Beat So I was very happy to find this little book. Romancing the Beat by Gwen Hayes. This inexpensive, short book (100 pages) is perfect for the beginning writer or non-romance writer who has a basic understanding of how plot and character work together to build a story, but needs some general direction on crafting a truly awe-inspiring romantic relationship.

Romancing the Beat starts with a discussion of theme and points out that all successful romances share the same overarching theme “love conquers all.” Then she has a delightful way of describing the love arc as going from “hole-hearted to whole-hearted.” Doesn’t that just summarize the whole romance thing in a nutshell?

However, the part I found most useful, and that I will focus on today, is her analysis of the inner journey the lovers must go through to reach their happy ever after

To do this, Gwen Hayes provides a clear, easy-to-understand summary of the required plot elements or what she calls “beats” that show what the lovers need be doing from first kiss to final breakup and where these elements fit on a basic three act plot outline.

She encourages the reader to create their own version and promises that if you outline your story using these beats you will have a coherent love story with some very satisfied lovers (and readers) by the end.

A Perfect Romance Arc

Does it matter when they kiss?

Based on her book, I created my own version of The Beat Sheet and have used it successfully to improve my writing. I find it particularly useful when doing my initial outlining and when revising

If you prefer a pre-made version you can download a printable pdf that can be cut into cards or Scrivener template on her website.

To learn more about the method or about Gwen’s other books visit GwenHayes.com



How do you plot out your romantic love arcs?

I’d love to hear your methods.

I love to read: Why reading during NaNoWri is a bad Idea

I love to read. In fact, I don’t just love it– I am compelled to read. I read everything. If there is a newspaper in the recycle bin, I read it. If there is a cereal box on the table, I read the label. If there is a book left anywhere, I pick it up and read it. And if it is a book I want to read, I not only read it, I become immersed in it. So immersed, I don’t hear people talking to me. I don’t hear the doorbell. I don’t hear the tea kettle whistling. Yep. I love to read.

Now this can be a good thing or a bad thing. When I was growing up, I was forbidden to read in the house. My mother insisted that when I was reading, I tuned her out completely. (Well, she was right about that, though I am not sure the book was totally to blame. It might just have been normal teenage contrariness.) As a result, I just read more and in more creative ways – under the covers, in my lap at school, while pretending to watch TV, and so on.

In elementary school, I set out to read every book in the library. Since the library was small and poorly stocked, that turned out to be quite possible. It was also a wonderful introduction to the wide range of books out there. I read everything – fiction books about chickens that talked, the children’s classics, and non-fiction books about Indian crafts and to make pompoms. (I still can make those pompoms.)

I love to readWith that success under my belt, when I reached high school and could get to the public library on my own, I gave myself the goal of reading every fiction book in the library. I started at the As and actually got as far as the Hs. Robert Heinlein’s works were where I stopped my relentless pursuit because my best friend introduced me to the new acquisition rack and I had a whole new bunch of books to devour.

Now that I am a professional novelist, I still read. Reading is an essential part of writing. I read everything in my genre that I can. I read everything in genres I plan on writing in someday. And I plain just read everything that whets my interest. I read for enjoyment. I read to learn more about writing. I read to support my favorite authors. If you want to see what I read, check out my Goodreads list and my reviews. I read a new book every other day — usually.

However, not during NaNoWri. For one thing, reading consumes too much time. If I am going to get 1500 to 2000 words a day down, I don’t have time for a leisurely read at breakfast or lunch. But that’s not the main reason. The real problem about reading while fast drafting is that it pulls you out of your own story.

When I am fast drafting I am living my story. I am in the flow. I’m inside my character’s heads. I go to bed dreaming the next scene. I wake up ready to capture it. Reading someone else’s words, no matter how wonderful, no matter how enticing, interferes in the process. So as much as I hate it, I am not reading right now. Well, not much. I still read labels. I still read the newspapers my husband drapes over the armrest of the sofa. I still read e-mails and Facebook posts and even peek inside a few novels.

Because I am not perfect. I love to read…

Are you a compulsive reader too?

I’d love to here how you control your reading. Post your thoughts and comments below.

Fast Drafting My Way to The End or What I Learned from NaNoWri

My first novel, written as a respite from working on my dissertation, took me five years to write. My second novel took seven years to write. My third novel took one month.

What made the difference? Fast drafting.

Fast drafting is the writing process in which you throw out everything you’ve learned about good writing and just write whatever crazy, horrible, wonderful thoughts come spilling out of your head. You don’t stop to do research. You don’t stop to reread. You don’t stop to go back and fix something. You just write. But the question is: How do you know what to write and not end up with a mishmash?

What makes fast drafting work? Good planning at the start and great editing at the end.

Planning for Fast Drafting

I don’t think that I would have been as successful in my first NaNoWri if I hadn’t written the two slow pokes first. I learned a lot about writing between them and all the writing courses I took during those years. For one thing I learned how to plot.

My first two novels are what I would call meandering. Since they were historical fiction, I got buried in the research. I got enamored with writing beautiful settings and long sections of internal thought full of metaphors and literary references.  Many chapters existed only to share some of that incredible information I uncovered or to weave in a particular place or quote.  Originally these novels topped out at 170,000 words or there about.

Fast Drafting Plot Planning: Stage One ACTION

Now I know that the action must come first. Forget setting. Forget angst. I write a bare-bones sloppy synopsis or what I call a fairy tale version of my novel. I imagine I am sitting around a campfire and making up a fairy tale to entertain a group of antsy kids in the format of first this happened and then that happened and then this and that until bang there’s a horrible villain and a catastrophe and oops a terrible choice that leads to a heroic deed and then an ending – a happy one, of course. I write romance.

Why does this work? The structure of fairy tales is believed by many researchers to be hardwired into our psyches. At least in my case, I know this is true as I grew up on a steady diet of fairy tales, especially Grimms. For a more professional take on this: the this and that and thens are called plot points and there are a ton of wonderful websites and books explaining them. Check out Larry Brook’s StoryFix website, for helpful examples of plot points and story structure, or take Carol Hughes workshop Deep Story I offered this coming April.

Using Fairy Tales in Fast Drafting

Illustration by Hope Dunlop from The Little Prince

Next I take that synopsis, paste into my NaNoWri draft document, and put line breaks between the sentences and label them ACTION. Here is an example from my NaNo draft

  • CHAPTER Setting The Siren POV Alba
  • ACTION Hanger is missing. Alba goes to The Siren to get help

Fast Drafting Plot Planning: Stage Two GMC

I head each sentence with the word CHAPTER. I identify a possible setting and the POV character. Then the POV character’s goal(s) for that chapter, his or her motivation for achieving that goal, and what’s going to prevent or hinder the character from achieving that goal. Debra Dixon is my resource for this. Here is my GMC from the same chapter:

  • Goal– Find Hanger
  • Motivation – furious/worried/he could be injured or dead
  • Conflict –Alba has gala that night and she must go

Fast Drafting Plot Planning: Stage Three Dilemma

I can’t remember what course I took that made me realize how important the dilemma is in plotting. The dilemma is the hard choice the POV character has to make by the end of the chapter to obtain the goal or at least get closer to it. A dilemma is stated as an either/or choice. It often becomes the hook that leads into the next chapter, especially if the choice is really dangerous or the wrong one. If you have great dilemmas for each chapter, the story will write itself. From the same chapter:

  • D – Go to Gala or go look for Hanger

Fast Drafting Plot Planning: Stage Four: Make it Simple

Now here’s the way to put this all together so you can sit down and fast draft. I happen to use Word so I make the CHAPTER ACTION SETTING POV info a Heading 1, and the GMC + D a Heading 2. Now all I have to do is open the FIND Navigation box and there it is – an outline of my novel. This way I can keep the plot right in front of me as I write. I can see where I have been and where I am going.Fast Draft Header System


Have you ever fast drafted?

What are some tricks you use.

 

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NaNoWri starts Tomorrow and I Can’t Wait.

Ready. Set. Go.

Got my plot. Got my characters. Got my GMC outline. Got my alarm set. Everything appears ready for me to dive in and write my first 2000 words (Technically you need to write 1533 a day, but I aim for 2000 words a day – that way I get ahead a bit for the days I can’t write for some reason or other.)

Problem is I also have a dentist appointment, a sister visiting from Scotland, the last broccoli and chard to harvest from the garden, and pizza night with the whole family. Not to mention constant interruptions from children, husband, and telephones. I don’t want to hear one more political robot, please!

See that’s one of the problems with being a writer. You do everything to get into the flow and then BAM something happens to break the flow and if you haven’t reached your word total, you’re cooked. Or at least I am.

Here are somethings I do to get back into the flow.

  1. Do a 1 mile walk, either outside or inside (I use Walk at Home with Leslie Samsome). As I walk I start to think myself back into the story.
  2. I type some gibberish until the flow starts up. It’s a fast draft. Pleanty will be cut before it’s done.
  3. I reread the last paragraph I wrote (no more than that or I get into edit mode)
  4. I reread my outline – especially the dilemma.
  5. I do a journal entry in the POV character’s voice about what they think should happen next.
  6. I give up and promise to write more words the next day by getting up earlier.

Anyone have any other suggestions on how deal with interruptions while fast drafting?

Leave a comment or two!

 

Why NaNoWri fires me up to write faster

NaNoWri or National Novel Writing Month starts on Tuesday. This will be my third year participating. I don’t know why, but somehow tracking words and trying to attain the 50,000 word challenge in 30 days just gets my blood flowing and the creative juices oozing.  So I am getting set for the race to the finish.

NOTE: If you don’t know what NaNoWriMo is here’s a brief overview. NaNoWriMo stands for National Novel Writing Month. A small group of friends in California got together and challenged each other to write a book in a month and an idea was born. The goal of NaNoWriMo is to write a 50,000 word novel during one of the toughest writing months of the year, November. The thought is–that if you can write a book in November, you can write a book at any time of the year.


Nano is also about a group of people participating in this goal all at the same time! There is so much energy in knowing that people all over the world are typing away, struggling to write their story all at the same time. (Though NaNo has the 50k goal, many people use NaNo as a means to move forward with their writing. Some use it to edit, others use it to write multiple short stories, or finish a story they have been working on.) Check out the website at http://nanowrimo.org

So this is how I’m preparing for this year’s challenge.

  1. I took a course in using journaling to develop characters and used my journal entries to dig into the psyches of my main characters. I have many, many pages of notes and a whole lot of tidbits in my head about the strengths and foibles of my people,. And I do mean people. By this piint they are like a real friends and enemies running around in my head.
  2. I wrote a very sloppy synopsis- kind of like telling the story to a friend. This happens and then that happens and so on.
  3. I pasted the synopsis into my NaNo draft and broke the events/actions into pseudo chapters. I can’t seem to get myself to drop the chapter format. But since I alternate POVs in every chapter it does work out okay. And I don’t number them. I make them HEADERS. That way if the find panel is open you can see the chapter and POV and setting right there.
  4. I write the Goal/Motivation/Conflict and the Dilemma for each “chapter” and make those header 2s. Dilemma is really important. That’s the choice the POV character has to make by the end of the chapter/scene. Like – Will I kiss him or not? Will I hide from the bad guy or attack him? That kind of thing.

And that’s it. On November 1 I will sit down and start hitting the keys as fast as I can. If I go blank or get stuck I stick in 4 XXXXs and move on. Later I can search out those XXXX spots when the thought hits on what to do.

So for now. I am dreaming my story and getting my fingers going by writing this post. I hope you enjoyed it. Let me know by posting a comment.

Are you doing NaNoWri?