Review: Finish Your Book in Three Drafts: How to Write a Book, Revise a Book, and Complete a Book While You Still Love It

Finish Your Book in Three Drafts: How to Write a Book, Revise a Book, and Complete a Book While You Still Love It
Finish Your Book in Three Drafts: How to Write a Book, Revise a Book, and Complete a Book While You Still Love It by Stuart Horwitz

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I’m not gonna lie, when Stuart Horwitz approached me with a request to participate in the editing of his newest book, I may have squealed with unadulterated glee like the little fan-girl I am. I have been through this book a few times now and each time I find a new nugget of wisdom that I want to diligently squirrel away to reference during future projects. I already reference Book Architecture all the time in my work as a freelance editor. Now I’ll be adding Finish Your Book in Three Drafts: How to Write a Book, Revise a Book, and Complete a Book While You Still Love It to my “essentials” shelf.

Stuart’s break down of the process of building your manuscript is empowering; it’s freeing. You’re not bound to creating an outline or to following a linear path when you’re writing anymore. The tools he shares in this book (series grid, theme target, punch list) can help you make sense of the writing you have already done and be intentional about where and how you build and layer the significant moments as you continue to craft your manuscript.

And, bonus, Stuart’s book, Finish Your Book in Three Drafts, shows you how to know when you’re done, how to give yourself permission to put down the pen on a project.

The storytelling element of this particular volume makes it different from other books I’ve read on writing, outlining, and crafting your manuscript. Stuart’s pith and wit made the subject matter all the more enjoyable.

I highly recommend this book (and his other titles) to anyone who wants to develop their writing process, who wants to look at their craft differently, and who wants to finish their manuscript while they still love it.

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Stop pretending art is hard

creativity
This post is inspired by the DIY MFA Street Team Question of the Week

This week, Gabriela from DIY MFA challenged her Street Team members to think about creative myths that keep us from diving in and doing the work of writing. She listed these 5 myths about creativity:

  1. Creativity is an exclusive club, and you can’t be part of it.
  2. Creativity is innate–you either have it or you don’t.
  3. Creativity is driven by chaos, so there’s no way to control it.
  4. Creativity is all about getting that one “Big Idea.”
  5. Creativity is focusing on an idea until it’s perfect.

But I know of another myth, one that encompasses all of these and more, one that we all use when we’re too tired or too scared to do the writing (or painting or playing or dancing or singing or whatever your medium is).

Art is hard

This myth… this is what we’re really thinking when we tell ourselves we don’t have what it takes, when we tell ourselves that we’re not good enough, or that we’re too “left-brained” to be creative. We think that the act of creating, whatever it is, it’s going to hurt. We buy into the idea that if we’re going to create something significant, something worthy, that we have to suffer for it. And if it’s easy or if we enjoy it then it’s not really art.

We’ve been fed this narrative our whole lives. But it’s bigger, older than just our generation. The trope of the starving artist was already popular in Puccini’s day. Why do you think La Boheme was such a hit? The artist must suffer and die for the sake of their art. If not, then what good is it really?

It’s ok to enjoy the creative process

Allow me to release you from the thrall of this myth. Art does not have to be hard… Art can, nay it should be drawn from the deepest seat of your pleasure and joy.

That’s not to say that you won’t be challenged by creating, or that you won’t have to practice parts of your craft to improve. But it never has to be hard. You never have to suffer in order for it to be “good.” You can come to the computer or the canvas or the keyboard or the stage joyfully. If you don’t, you have to ask yourself if what you’re trying to achieve is really worth it.

The key is confidence

Perfection is hard. Not making mistakes is hard. Measuring up to someone else’s standards is hard. But these things are not art. They don’t serve art. And they don’t bring us joy in the practice of them. Instead they make us overly cautious and afraid to try new things.

When we’re tentative and nervous and just looking for acceptance, it’s easy to feel like we’ll never measure up to the standards and expectations of the “creative club” we want to join. But if we can talk ourselves over the fear of rejection and criticism and just enjoy the process of learning as we create… That’s where the magic happens!

Stop pretending art is hard. – Amanda Palmer, The Ukulele Anthem

She’s dead right. We have to stop pretending that we’re not ready yet. Dive in. Have fun!

(Hey! Did you know that Gabriela has a book coming out this summer? Check it out and order your copy here!)

Want to know more about how to up your writing game? Sign up for the Writing Refinery email newsletter. You’ll also receive a free Character Detail Sheet that can help you learn everything you need to know about the main character in your current WIP!

Why I write

Write what you loveI’ve been a reader since very young. At 3 years old, I memorized Peter Rabbit… literally knew which words went with which pages, even though I wasn’t associating words with meanings quite yet. I knew that story so well, backwards and forwards, what happened when… we have a recording of my 3-year-old voice “reading” the story to my aunt, and when I get to the end of it, I just start the whole story over again…

I think that being a reader, falling in love with books and stories, is part of how one becomes a writer. There’s something magic about the way that words unlock the world. They lift you out of your current experience and thrust you into another place and time, be that world fictional or utterly real. We are transported by the words on the page, made to think of something other than ourselves if only for a moment. And once you connect with that magic in such a personal way, who can resist the draw of being able to harness the power yourself?

I wrote my first book when I was in elementary school about dolphins, on construction paper and stapled together, complete with researched and organized chapters and oil pastels illustrations. (If I can find it, I’ll post pictures here.) After that I was hooked. I created stories in my head and in spiral notebooks, about horses and unicorns in elementary and middle school, and about angsty love and rejection when I was a little older. Nothing that was worth publishing, most of which I would never share with anyone, not even my most trusted companions. I stopped writing in college (got distracted), but I picked it up again a few short years later.

Now I write light YA fantasy, crafting strong female characters to speak directly to that angsty, rejected teenager I was all those years ago. I’m planning a self-publishing adventure this summer (follow my progress at http://www.elisabethkauffman.com) and the fulfillment of a promise I made to myself as a teenager to publish something that I wrote.

How we came to this land of writing matters for one very important reason. Your writer’s origin story is what you should fall back on when the going gets tough. If you’re serious about succeeding in this often frustrating and soul-crushing world of publishing, you’re going to have to remind yourself why you started in the first place.

For me, when I get scared of sharing my writing because I’m anticipating the painful process of internalizing feedback (growth HURTS, people, it’s why they call them “growing pains”) and getting better as a writer, I think of that teenage me, shiny-eyed, expressive, and innocent. She wanted these stories to be told because she wanted a story to relate to. When I suffer through the painful parts of this process, I do it for her.

Who do you do it for?

*Just FYI, the fab Gabriela Pereira of DIY MFA is releasing a BOOK in June. Learn more about it here.

How Well Do You Know Your Main Character?

Two Elizabeths

There’s nothing worse than getting a manuscript back from beta readers, or losing stars on Amazon reviews, because your character did something that those readers didn’t believe they would do. How do you write your characters so they stay true to themselves?

Your characters are the most important piece of your story. So knowing them like they are your best friends is the best way to make sure that you tell their story in the most consistent and compelling way. How well do you know your main character?

The two Elizabeths* above are similar in many respects. Both women have the same name, are from similar time periods, and want to find love. But beyond that, these two women are as different as can be. If you don’t know which Elizabeth you’re writing a story for, you might find yourself in trouble.

Check your scenes and your characters’ actions. Will your reader say to herself, “That’s so Elizabeth Bennett,”? Or will she be confused as to why your character acted the way she did?

Sometimes, though, you can get so caught up in carrying out your story’s plot that you force your character to do something that is… out of character. So how can you make sure that your Elizabeth Swann stays true to her character throughout the story?

First, know as much as you can about your character, where she comes from, what motivates her, what she hates and what she loves. You can do this by the simple use of a character questionnaire. Character questionnaires push you to answer all the nitty gritty little questions about your character that make her who she is. When was she born? What is she afraid of? What is the one thing that she would never do in a million years, even if her life depended on it?

Knowing what your character loves, what she absolutely would or would not do, will help you when it comes to those problem moments in your manuscript. It will also help round out your character, making her seem more three-dimensional.

If you’re worried about how your character would act in a given situation in your manuscript and you want to test out her reactions first, you can try writing a “sandbox” scene. This scene won’t go in your manuscript (unless you REALLY like it), so you can feel free to push the boundaries on your character, make her as uncomfortable as possible and see how she responds. And don’t hold back. Don’t go easy on her or you won’t learn anything new.

Don’t forget, if your character absolutely refuses to conform to the scene as you intend it to be written, you’ll have an easier time changing the scene than you will trying to change what makes her who she is. Your story will become much more real and believable if you let her choose the direction she goes, rather than forcing her into patterns of behavior she wouldn’t normally choose for herself.

But you won’t know which direction your character would choose if you don’t know everything about her. So get started answering questions about her. Learn everything you can about her, about what she wants, about why she’s decided to take this adventure. What’s most important to her?

So how well do you know your main character? If the answer is “not very well,” download this questionnaire and get started learning more about her.

*P.S. I realize that both of the above women played the SAME Elizabeth as well, so I hope my example isn’t too confusing. And, if you would like to discuss the merits of the BBC miniseries of Pride and Prejudice versus the movie made with Keira Knightly, I’m here for you. But I will never betray Colin Firth. He is my Darcy now and forever.

Darcy

 

Don’t Let Mental Monsters Stand in the Way of Your Goals

NaNo-2015-Winner-Badge-Large-SquareI ran 70 miles during the month of November. I also wrote 50,000 words of a novel. Both of those numbers are HUGE when you think about the average amount of running and writing I normally do. No, I don’t have super powers suddenly. I didn’t do it all at once. I took it a day at a time, followed a prescribed regimen, and when I wanted to quit I  didn’t allow myself any wiggle room.

November is National Novel Writing Month. I used the momentum and accountability of that group event to propel me through my writing goals. I made sure to meet or exceed expectations every day because I’d made a public commitment that I wanted to uphold. But more than that, I’d committed to myself and to my characters to tell their story and I didn’t want to let myself or my characters down.

Does it always come easily? No! Do I ever have days where I want to just give up and go back to my old habits? Yes!

Old habits die hard

With both my running and my writing, I have days when I wake up and think “Oh god, I just want to stay in bed.” Those are the days when I need the running and the writing the most. The mental monster, the one that’s telling me I’m too tired to run or too boring to have any good ideas to share in my writing, that’s the one that I confront with my schedule, with my commitment, with my determination.

When I let that monster win I feel terrible. My self-esteem and self-talk go down a dark, even abusive path. I hate how I feel when I allow myself to shirk my goals, when I give in to the monster talk and let another day go by without working toward my dreams.

But!! Every day that I get up and refuse to listen to that monster telling me to shut up and stay in bed, I kick that monster’s ass again. It doesn’t get easier over time. Every time I have to fight that mental battle, it sucks and it’s painful and I want to cry before I finally convince myself to do the hard thing, to do what I committed to do.

And yet, the more I choose to fight for what I want for my life, the less often that monster speaks up.

Take that first step

My running is another story but it follows a very similar mental track. Who knows why I decided that November, when I started my most intensive month of writing, was a good time to kick off a half-marathon training program? Maybe the timing wasn’t ideal, but then maybe it was. I have a larger goal with my running. Before I turn 40 I want to run a marathon.

And as with writing, I have to start if I ever want to finish. I know that if I want to reach my goal of 26.2 miles, I have to step out the door. And if I ever want to see my name in print on a novel that I’ve written, I have to write the first words. And then the next words, and the next step, until I get to the finish line.

There are bound to be set-backs along the way, but just because I know I will fail sometime, does that mean I should never start? No! I cling to my dreams and push myself forward, pick myself up when I fall down, and start again.

So why am I telling you all this?

I know I’m not the only one who goes through this daily ritual of talking down the monsters, of putting the fears aside and taking a risk to achieve my dream. And I want you to know that you CAN do this. You’re not crazy. That dream you have of publishing (or of running a marathon), it’s yours. You should cherish it, commit to it, and show up every day to prove how much it means to you.

It helps if you can find your tribe. The encouragement and accountability you get from people with similar goals, or even just people who unquestionably believe in you–that’s solid gold. When you find it, never let it go.

But sometimes you have to go it alone. Sometimes you have to acknowledge that your goals are for you, and that even if no one else understands why you’re doing what you do, you have to commit to them. That’s not an easy place to be, but it’s no excuse to quit. You owe it to yourself to follow your heart, to reach for your dreams and never give up.

So… Show up. Even when it hurts. Even when you’d rather not. Even when it seems like the finish line is so far away. Every step you take, every word you write, brings you closer to achieving your dreams.

3 ways to turn off your inner editor

just writeAh, the inner editor. She’s so helpful when you want to be eloquent. But when you’re drafting she can be the bane of your existence, especially if you ever want to finish a manuscript.

If your inner editor is anything like mine, she’s anxious and picky and painfully overbearing. She insists that everything be perfect, so perfect that she makes it difficult to move on to the next scene, or even the next sentence sometimes!

If you take a step back from your frustrations for a moment, you can see that your inner editor is just trying to be helpful. But she can kill your momentum and your self-esteem, getting in the way of your ability to complete a project.

Here are three ways to turn off your inner editor so you can get some writing done!

  1. Put your editor away – Like, physically put her away. You may want to pick an object, or draw a picture, to represent your inner editor, however you visualize her. Then, once you’ve completed it, thank her for her services and put her in a closet, or a box, or somewhere out of sight where she can’t look over your shoulder and offer criticism. You can pull her back out of the closet when you’ve finished the manuscript. But for now, she needs to shut up and let you do the work.
  2. Break down your writing sessions into manageable pieces – When you think about writing an entire manuscript (all 50,000+ words) your inner editor freaks out. There are too many opportunities to screw things up in that giant project, she says. How can you keep track of it all? Instead, think of each writing session as a separate project. Pick a word count (500, 1000, 1667 words) and focus on that. Don’t worry about the larger picture yet. You and your inner editor can have fun working that out later. For now, your manuscript just needs to get written.
  3. Add a little pressure – Don’t give yourself too long to linger over those 500 (1000, 1667) words. The longer you linger, the easier it is for your inner editor to creep back in and start criticizing what you’ve done and what you haven’t done yet. Set a time limit and push yourself to get to your writing goal before she has a chance to stop you in your tracks!

I use Write Or Die, a fabulous little app to keep my fingers flying over the keys and get me to my daily word count goal as quickly as possible. It’s not very expensive and a great motivational tool. You can try Write or Die out for free here if you’re not convinced yet. Or just set a kitchen timer and get to typing! Whatever you need to do to get the words on the page, do that.

Your inner editor can be a helpful tool when the time is right, so don’t banish her forever. Just remind her that, until you’re done creating, it’s not her turn yet.

3 Ways to Trust Your Readers More

Captain ObviousOne main problem that beginning writers have when drafting their novels is making sure that they get their meaning across to their readers without beating them over the head with it.

It might seem like you can’t leave any room for ambiguity in that one scene– you know the one–because it’s important that your reader knows what’s going on so that they understand what happens later. But never fear! Readers are really good at picking up subtext and connecting the dots.

In fact, you’re more likely to lose your readers’ interest by spelling things out in too much detail because you’ll leave no room for their imagination. Here are three ways to trust your readers more and keep your writing from seeming coarse and redundant.

  1. Use fewer “creative” dialogue tags – It might seem like you’ve used the word “said” a thousand times in your manuscript. And you probably have. But do you know how many times your reader has noticed it? Zero. If you change it up, however, she’s guaranteed to start noticing and possibly getting irritated at having the dialogue explained to her, and that’s going to draw her out of the story. Unless it’s really important to know that a line is whispered or shouted and the context of the dialogue is not going to help the reader get there, you can stick with said and not worry about boring anyone in the slightest.
  2. Try not to spell everything out – Occasionally you might need to clarify what your characters mean, but more often than not you’re wasting words by stating the obvious. And your reader is going to notice. This includes “on-the-nose” dialogue. In real life, people rarely say what they actually mean. Your characters should be no different. Choose your details with care and have your characters keep some of what they mean to themselves.
  3. Resist the urge to reiterate – Repetition has its place in a novel, but there are limits to where you can use it without causing your reader to feel talked down to. You don’t need to remind the reader of major plot points every few pages, or tell her more than once that King Triton is Ariel’s father. She’s going to remember.

The writer-reader relationship takes cultivation, certainly, but remember you don’t have to do all the work. Stop stating the obvious and allow the subtext of your novel to shine through. Your reader will thank you for the opportunity to let her imagination run wild right along with yours.

Four Ways to Choose Your Novel’s Title

lady hitchhiker
Can you come up with a creative title for this story?

The first thing your readers come into contact with as they discover your book will be the title. While the old adage, “Don’t judge a book by its cover,” may still hold, the same is not true of a title. A title gives the reader a tiny snapshot of what is to come within the pages of the book. A title should at the same time encapsulate the themes of the novel and intrigue the reader, drawing him in, making him want to know more.

If your title is too obscure, your potential readers may not be able to relate or understand what you’re trying to tell them your book is about. If you’re too explicit, though, you could end up turning readers off because they feel like there’s no mystery to be found between the pages.

With genre fiction, you have to make sure your potential reader knows what’s coming (Interview with a Vampire or The Rake and the Reformer). Genre readers like to know what they’re getting into, and people who don’t normally read genre need to know what they’re getting into.

Four Ways to Title Your Book

But whether you write genre fiction or not, a good title will capture the essence of your novel. So in order to give a good title to your work, you have to know what the essence of your novel is. Once you figure out the essence of your novel, what makes it tick, you can write your title to describe it. Here are four ways to choose your novel’s title.

  • The Main Character – such as Jane Eyre, Harry Potter [and the…], Carrie, and The Great Gatsby.
  • The Setting – such as The Chronicles of Narnia, Fablehaven, or Howard’s End.
  • A Line of Poetry – such as Of Mice and Men, Tam Lin, or This Raging Light.
  • The Major Theme – such as Pride and Prejudice, Wicked, or Great Expectations.

Your title will likely be what makes people pull your book off the shelf. Whatever you choose, make sure that the title is honest, descriptive, and memorable.

4 Rhetorical Devices to Give Your Prose More Power

Harry PotterRhetorical devices come in handy when you’re trying to emphasize ideas (logos) or evoke specific emotions (pathos) in your reader. Using carefully crafted sentences, you can write in a way that persuades your reader to think or feel a certain way.

We’re mostly concerned with pathos in writing fiction. Your scenes and sentences all work together toward the goal of conveying the emotion of your characters and eliciting emotion from your reader.

You’re probably familiar with these rhetorical devices already, but you may not have known what they were. Using these devices will add emotion and emphasis to your scenes, and help your characters pop off the page.

Four rhetorical devices to give your prose more power

Here are four different rhetorical devices. The examples are from Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows by J.K. Rowling (of course, because I love Harry Potter!).

  1. Asyndeton – omitting conjunctions in a list of three or more.
    ex. “It was stupid, pointless, irritating beyond belief that he still had four days left of being unable to perform magic…”
  2. Alliteration – repeating initial consonant sounds, either adjacently to each other or spread out in a sentence or across several sentences.
    ex. “Harry felt that nothing but action would assuage his feelings of guilt and grief and that he ought to set out on his mission to find and destroy Horcruxes as soon as possible.”
  3. Anaphora – repeating a word or phrase at the beginning of three (or more) successive phrases or sentences.
    ex. “Was the man he sought down there, the man he needed so badly he could think of little else, the man who held the answer, the answer to his problem…?”
  4. Andadiplosis – repeating the last word of one sentence or clause at the beginning of the next sentence or clause.
    ex. “Was the man he sought down there, the man he needed so badly he could think of little else, the man who held the answer, the answer to his problem…?”

These are just four of many different types of rhetorical devices. We’ll go over other types in the coming weeks.

Rhetoric is a natural part of how we communicate our passion and our ideas with others. You may already use some rhetorical devices without even realizing what you’re doing.

Learning to recognize rhetorical devices in other works that you read will help you better analyze and discuss them. And taking the time to identify and then intentionally employ these devices in your writing will help you become a more effective and eloquent writer.

Writing Tips: 3 ways to fight writer’s block

writer's block; writing; how do you write?; Neil Gaiman

Writer’s block. The old foe of creative minds everywhere. Standing in the way of completed manuscripts since… well since people began writing, probably!

If you’ve ever felt writer’s block, you know it’s a horrible experience. There you are, chugging along on your manuscript when suddenly you freeze. You can’t think of what to write next. Maybe you perceive a problem or plot hole and you can’t think of a way around it. Maybe you woke up, sat down to write, and no words came.

I’ve been there. And I still end up there regularly. Usually it’s because I’m afraid of messing up my project, and I want to get it right. Well, newsflash, self. I can’t get it right all the time. And first drafts are supposed to be messy.

Still, just telling yourself to buck up doesn’t always get the words flowing. So what can you do instead?

Three ways to fight writers block

  1. Write something else for a while
    Walk away from the manuscript for a little while. Write a blog post. Or work on a different project for a few hours/days. Give yourself some time away and then come back and see if you have any new perspective or ideas.
  2. Pick a writing prompt
    The other week I had been dealing with the stress and frustration of writer’s block with a current project. So I went to a prompt generator site (two of my favorites are Writer Igniter and Seventh Sanctum) and picked a prompt that would lead me into writing about my characters again. I probably won’t use much from that writing session, but the point is to grease the wheels, to get the fingers flying across the keys again, and to get your brain back into that world and thinking about those characters again.
  3. Do something completely different
    Occasionally it makes sense to put down the pen or walk away from the keyboard altogether for a short time. Try painting, or take a long walk. Give your brain time to be creative in a different way so that whatever problem you’re working through in the manuscript has time to marinate. You’ll come back to the page with a better perspective and more ideas.
No matter what you have to remember to do what works for you. And when it stops working, try something different. Writer’s block is not a “forever disease.” So give yourself time and space to work out the puzzle that has presented itself. You’ll be pleased with the results when you finally get back to it.