I’ve been part of Writing Through Brambles for over five years. I’ve watched members publish their first works and present multiple stories for critiquing and workshopping. I’ve cheered from the sidelines as they’ve done book signings and interviews. On writing group nights, whenever I have questions, they’re always able to give me great ideas to fix problems, and book recommendations to learn more about plot and character progression.
But even in five years, after presenting three stories, finishing one, winning NanoWrimo, and attending a bunch of conferences, I still feel like I know so little about how to be a writer that doesn’t just write when I feel like it, or who sets my work aside when life happens.
Thankfully, books, conferences, and plain old trial-and-error are great resources for learning what I need to know to take the next step in my writing career. Here are some things I’m currently studying:
How to Generate Ideas
A thought that often hangs me up when I’m writing is, “What if you can’t think of anything else to write when you’re done with this book?” It halts my progress, convincing me that even if I never finish my current work in progress, I’ll at least always have a familiar story to work with.
I’ve also noticed that all the stories I’ve thought of so far have a similar theme to them, if you strip them down to the bare bones, so in spite of having different character arcs and plot points, part of me thinks I’ve only ever had one idea in my life.
I’m fighting these problems with suggestions from a class Jennifer Nielsen taught at Storymakers called “The Magical Muse.” In it, Nielsen taught that we can’t wait around for our muse to kick into action, which I knew. Nielsen also said that creativity needs to be exercised like any other muscle, which is something I think I knew, but definitely keep forgetting.
There are lots of ways to brainstorm, but she introduced a game to us that I hadn’t thought to use before. In this game, she had people hold up an object from their bag, and she picked someone holding a handkerchief. Nielsen then asked questions about that handkerchief that everyone could make up answers to. The class decided that this handkerchief was given to the person by their grandmother, but it was cursed to kill bad husbands. It was a hilariously random train of thought, but what an incredible story that could make, and all from thinking about a nondescript object for a few minutes. Try this game out, and let us know in the comments what sort of ideas you came up with! Or, if you want to try a different way of brainstorming, read this article.
Becoming “Career Writer” Productive
At this point, the words “career writer” mean something different to me than it might mean to you. For me, it means finding time to write every day, even if it’s only a few sentences. I’m not good at this, and it’s been holding me up for a long time. Storymakers taught me a few ways to combat this problem, too, one of which was taught by Jared Garrett. He taught us six ways to get ourselves writing: Solo Sprints (10-30 minutes of you writing by yourself as quickly as you can), Co-op Sprints (same thing, but with other people), Rituals (a short routine that leads your brain to be ready to write), Mini-Goals (splitting a long-term goal into attainable chunks), Real Rewards (earning something you can only justify if you work for it), and Aim Lower (stop aiming at goals you can’t hit!).
I’m looking back to this post, too, and I’m thinking getting my body moving if I feel sluggish might be a really good option to add to this list.
The Brambles Girls have already started utilizing sprints as a group, but they’re best used when you do them more than once and compare your word counts with YOURSELF, not everyone else you’re sprinting with. I also got some biscotti from my editor that I’m using as my Real Rewards. Mmm...biscotti.
Have you tried any of these tools to boost your productivity? What works/doesn’t work for you?
Finding the Way I Like to Write
I’m still in the middle of experimenting with a new way of drafting. Hopefully, with the tools I’ve gained from writing conferences, I’ll be able to work much faster now. But at the moment, this is the process that has been working for me:
First, I wrote out the scenes I needed on Scrivener note cards, giving them names that would remind me what needed to happen within them. Then I went back through those scene cards and wrote out the basic intent for the scenes. Kind of sounds like obsessive outlining so far, doesn’t it? But now I’m going through the cards AGAIN to flesh out character motivation, feelings, even blocking and bits of the setting my characters might notice with different senses. Everything I could think of but the prose, which is what slows me down most in any draft. My hope is that once I have literally everything written down that I could ever want in Skin Deep, and I can see that it all flows together without plot holes or extraneous scenes, I can allow myself to be picky about the way a sentence is structured, or that I didn’t use the perfect word to describe something.
Let us know how you keep yourself from focusing on what your finished story should look like in the drafting process!
You may feel, like me, that you’re still at the beginning stages of learning how to be an author, but be sure to stop and appreciate how far you’ve already come. Whether you’re a beginner or a best-selling author, there will always be more to master.
Rachel V. White has lived in Utah all her life, and has been writing fiction nearly as long. “Starsworn” is her debut published work, but as long as her husband, three children, and over-anxious dog cooperate, there will certainly be more to come. Be sure to watch for "Shattered Snow," her first audiobook narration project, coming soon!
We're all writers, we're all moms, writing our way through the "brambles" of life and our stories.