Quick Tip: Plotting Plots

A practice which can be best used "before" you start writing your story, but also helps if you've already begun the next great American novel is to plot your plots. Now, before you go googling for downloadable plot spreadsheets, let me tell you a little something. All you need is a piece of paper and a pencil. The other stuff is fine, and you may find a big worksheet that is perfect for how you like to write, but I will caution you to not get caught up in gadgets and gizmos or you may not be able to work as well when they aren't available.

The bare bones version is this: when you plot your plot, write down in order of appearance all of the major twists and turns of your story. Make note of huge revelations, the conflicts, the unexpected events that happen to your main character and what he/she does about it. Get it all on paper, to the best of your ability, exactly what it is that happens in your story and then look for problems. Search for holes in your plot as well as gaps of time in your story where you notice nothing really is happening between page 50 and page 100. Let this be your guide for adding more bulk or removing excess from your story.

Ants and Other Distractions

I sit down to write at my trusty laptop. It’s dark. It’s always dark (to me) in my living room thanks to the tacky 50’s era metal awning which covers over half the window. My solution during the daytime anyway is to open the front door and let the light pour in through the screen door. Light is a good thing until you see a battalion of mini-ants trailing from the corner of the door all the way to your daughter’s chair where she sometimes sits and eats snacks when watching TV.

Quick Tip: Saving Your Work

Never, never, never, never, never forget to save your work when you are doing your rough draft and revision writing on a computer. While you can save to your hard drive, to top that off, please, always, always, always, always, always save a backup copy of your work somewhere on a floppy disk (yep, I just dated myself) or a USB flash drive. I try to update my flash drive weekly, every Wednesday to be specific.

Want a little extra security? When working on a large project, like novel revisions or a collection of stories or articles, be sure to email yourself a copy of your work to an email address you have access to from any computer terminal. While I use a lot of email addresses, I usually send a copy of my big projects to my GMail account. That way, no matter what happens to my beloved laptop or flash drive, I can run to the library and log in to my email and retrieve my documents.

Floods and Dry Spells

A lot of authors will tell you they just sit in the same chair everyday and write for the same amount of time every day and the magic just happens. This isn’t always the way it goes for the rest of us. While I have no doubt that making appointments to write is necessary, helpful, and effective since you can come away from each writing session with a sense of accomplishment, that doesn’t take into account floods and dry spells.

Quick Tip: Timed Writing

If you're having trouble cranking out that masterpiece, one technique I like to use is timed writing exercises. Give yourself 10, 30, even 60 minutes where all you do is write without interruption or distraction. This may mean writing with the door locked, the phone taken off the hook, and your email alert put on mute. Whatever it takes, do it.

Try to make the environment around you disappear so you can focus 100% of your energy to the story, journal entry, chapter, or poem. Keep a piece of scrap paper nearby so when you remember you need to buy onions at the grocery store you can quickly jot it down and throw the thought out of your head, then get back to your writing. Time your writing and see just how nice it is to hone in on your creative juice.

Hunting Words

A while back I told you about getting your butt into the library. Of, course I’m certain you have done so, because I said so. Now that I’ve gotten you into the library and poking around my Dewey decimal buddy 808 (where the writing books live), I want you to step to the right toward 807.

I find it of absolutely no coincidence that just before the writing and literature section are the books along the nature of “Advanced Whitetail Hunting” and “Treasury of Sporting Guns.” Anyone that has been writing and revising for any amount of time should understand what it’s like to hunt for the right word, plot, character, agent, publisher, etc.

This shit is hard and other people (non-writers) just don’t get that.

They may make fun of you for going to library, staying up talking to yourself about your story, journaling about fake people that don’t exist to find out more about them. Ah, but Dewey gets it. Dewey puts the books about hunting down and killing wild animals for sport right next to the books about writing for a reason.

Writing is a painstaking task that requires more than loading a gun and pulling a trigger.

Writing requires waiting it out in the dark of morning, listening for cues that what you’re searching for is coming toward you, and waiting until just the right moment to strike with just the right weapon/words.

You must always remember that writing is an enjoyable challenge, yes challenge (even for the best of us), and if you find yourself breezing through your story without a hitch, then you’re probably missing something.

Kill any good stories lately? Share your tales of hunting words in the comments section below?