If like me and you have looked up various ways on how to better your writing routine, you may have come across the Pomodoro Technique. The Pomodoro Technique is a method supposedly to help you focus and manage your time better. Don’t be fooled by its unusual name (based off of the tomato shaped Pomodoro kitchen timer), it’s a simple seven step program that has been adopted by many apps, industries and professionals.
If you haven’t heard of this method before, here it is in it’s simplest form:
- Choose a task
- Set a timer, the default being 25 minutes
- Work for 25 minutes (or time specified)
- Stop working when time is up, mentally or on a piece of paper checking off a session
- Take a short break (traditionally 5 minutes)
- Set the timer again
- After four Pomodoros take a longer break (around 30 minutes)
The technique is popular because it is highly customisable. If you are someone who works better with longer sprints increase your work time from 25 minutes to 45. If you prefer longer breaks that are more rewarding, change your break time from 5 minutes to 20, increasing your bigger break to an hour.
Setting the Timer
As a major procrastinator I was relieved to find such a technique focusing on resting as it was on working. Although those breaks would be short, I hoped that it would help me focus more by dividing up my writing sessions. So I downloaded an app and off I went following the steps as they were originally designed.
My task: Write 2000 words
Work time: 25 minutes
Short break time: 5 minutes
Long break time: 30 minutes
It worked… Then it didn’t.
For my first Pomodoros it worked. I set my task, I followed the steps, I completed my tasks adding to my word count and feeling happy with my progress. I even adapted the technique for cleaning (I never did understand those who like dusting around the house). However, as the novelty wore off so did my work ethic.
I faced the truth that my biggest issue isn’t finishing a sprint. It’s starting one. The phrase ‘starting is the hardest part’ has never been truer than when it is directed at me. When I’m on a sprint I could go for hours, but to start has to see me make several reasons why I shouldn’t.
“I should eat first.”
“It’s 10:42, I’ll start at 11:00.”
“I can catch up on words tomorrow.”
“It’s 11:02, I’ll start at 12:00.”
I knew the excuses were just that, excuses. Yet it stopped me from completing the goals I set up and the technique isn’t so effective if you don’t start the timer.
Although the Pomodoro Technique may not have worked as well as expected it did teach me a lot about what works for me. In fact I have adapted the Pomodoro Technique in my own workings in a way. I still struggle with starting especially after a long day at work but I know when I do I can sit comfortably for a least two hours and write.
I can write around 1,000 words per the hour. If I plan for more than 2,000 words in a day, I work for two hours and then take a break for an hour, ready to come back and work again. Sometimes it doesn’t always work that way as I have to force myself to start again, but the technique is adaptable. Plus I still use it for cleaning.
Do. Not. Procrastinate.
According to the Chinese zodiac, my animal is the rat. Now I’m not superstitious (and the idea of being a rodent who climbs through sewers isn’t the most appealing) but the key characteristic of the rat is that they don’t like to spend money and I must be one of the cheapest people on the planet. This intrigued me. If it knew that, what else did it know? So, I read up on what my animal meant for me within the Chinese zodiac this year. I couldn’t say I was suddenly swung to believe every astrology premonition but, I was hopeful. And a little scared.
“The Rat will have the chance to seize rare opportunities in 2019. The only challenge is not to procrastinate as once the opportunity is passed it rarely shows again.”
There it is. Procrastination. My ultimate enemy. Yes, this statement spoke to me on a personal level because procrastination, ladies and gentlemen, is my downfall. It was my downfall in November during NaNoWriMo and has been my downfall pretty much my entire life. I started the first draft of my WIP last July and planned to have it finished by the end of last year. (NaNoWriMo being the push I needed to get me there). Yet here we are, nearly a year later and the first draft is only half done.
I mean is it really all my fault. Like now. Right now, a brown pigeon just landed in front of my window. Brown. How many times do you witness a brown pigeon? Huh? What’s that? Right my WIP.
Finish my Novel.
Yes, so my big goal for this year is to finish. Finish the first draft of my novel. Start the second draft. I know to some (okay, a lot) that doesn’t seem too much. But alas, with my attention span of a goldfish (which actually, I think is a rather rude analogy because my goldfish were quite intelligent and when you shook their food at the side of their tank they would follow you for… well more than two seconds. Huh? What’s that? Right my WIP.)
To finish my WIP, while still being reasonable, I’ve chosen to write 1,500 words on the weekdays (as I’m still at a full-time job), 3000 words on Saturdays and on Sunday she rested. I’m also trying out a new technique. Well new to me. The pomodoro technique. Write for 25 minutes, rest for 5, after 4 25 minutes, rest for 30. Hopefully this will help with my attention span. I’ll keep you posted.
I’m also entering my very first Camp NaNo. Fingers crossed this will go better than my first NaNoWriMo last November and I’ll be able to stay on track. I’m being more realistic than my last attempt and because Camp NaNo lets you choose your target, I plan to focus on time rather than words. For the month of July, I plan to spend 31 hours on my WIP. That’s just 1 hour a day. Well 1 hour on the weekdays, 2 on Saturdays and on Sunday she rested. I know it seems low, but like I said I’m trying to be realistic. I work a full-time job so I don’t have much time on the weekdays. Plus, I get sleepy. Plus, plus I don’t want to let my camp mates down…
Edit my Novel.
Another way I’m planning on completing my first draft is to not look back. That’s right no (or very little) editing. By continuing with the story instead of going back to edit means I can continue with my story. I know. I’m a genius. Instead of changing things I know need changing right away, I am leaving comments and creating notes for my next draft. Due to this, I’ve substituted the phrase ‘first draft’ for ‘full outline’. So, my first draft will be my full outline. My second draft will be my first draft and so on.
I know doing this approach means I’ll have a big editing job in the future. There are already many scenes that need to be completely changed. However, I think (I hope) this will be easier than writing fresh. I have already started to organise the first part of my novel in Scrivener and plan to comb through my WIP scene by scene. I’ll keep you posted.
It sounds long and tedious and it will be, but I’ve always been better at editing. At this stage I should have a clearer vision on what I want to achieve. I’m actually looking forward to it.
For now, wish me luck and happy writing.
There’s one ability I wish I had from a small age: to draw. My drawings are incomprehensible and although some may call that art it’s hard to sketch something that you need to be precise. So if you’re like me and have the artistic skill of a gnat don’t be discouraged as I’ve soon learnt that there are workarounds for everything. This post will show you the workaround I found for map creating. Whether (like me) you need a map for a novel you’re writing or if it’s something else like a world for your latest DnD game, here’s how you can create a realistic map in six simple steps.
Step One – Collect maps
The first step is to collect some maps. Either for inspiration or to shape the image you already have in your head. Go to the site Roll For Fantasy Map Creator this is a really awesome tool that’s going to help with the basis of our map.
Scroll right to the bottom where it says ‘Change Map Size’. Depending on if you want a whole world or just an island will determine how you enter the following numbers. If you want a world, type in width: 20, Length: 15. If you want an island, flip those number: width: 15, length: 20. I’ll be creating an island in this tutorial. Now, of course, you can create a bigger or small world if you wish but I would advise against going any bigger. The reason why will be explained in the next steps.
Okay once you’ve entered your numbers, click just above that section on the button ‘Random Map’. A map should have been randomly generated on the board. Find a map you like the look of and scroll right to the bottom. There you should see a button that says ‘turn to image’. Click it. Your map should have been generated into an image (don’t worry if some squares are missing, these will not be our final maps). Right click the image and select ‘save as’. Save it somewhere you remember.
Repeat this process of randomly generating maps and saving the ones you like.
Out of the ones you’ve saved select around four that you really like. It doesn’t have to be the main island that you like the look of. There could be an interesting edge or island that looks cool. Keep it, save it, carry on. Here’s my four below.
Step Two – Cut them up, put them together
Let’s get creative! Out of those four islands that you loved, start destroying them. I mean just cut around them. It doesn’t have to be neat and do you remember how I said to keep a map if you just like a tiny isle? Well cut it out and put it near the main island you do. You may want to start looking at your maps from different angels as well, who knows a map upside down might actually be the right side up. Once you have all the pieces you liked out of your maps start arranging them together. You don’t have to use every map, out of the four I selected I used only three. Map 1 and 3 will create my main island and I cut up some interesting edges from the 2nd map to make my isles.
This step is optional but I would recommend you do it for a cleaner looking map. With your new map either scan it to your computer or take a picture and send it to yourself so you can print it off again. It’ll make sense why in the next step.
Step Three – Outline
Sharpen your pencils folks here’s the delicate part. This is the reason why I said you don’t want too big a map and why you may want to scan and print your map off again. You’re going to have to trace around your map, all those edges and crooks but don’t worry it really doesn’t take long. It doesn’t even have to take a steady hand because you know, map edges are rough. The easiest way to trace is to stick your map to a window (on a bright day) and stick a plain piece of paper on top as pictured below. The map behind is clear as day leaving you to trace easily.
Step Four – Scan, adjust and print
Phew. Halfway done. Yeah I know you have a big smile on your face now, congrats you have a map and hell yeah it looks awesome. Let’s make it even more so. Scan in / take a photo of your picture and send it to your computer. You may find that there are some things you want to change. To paint! That’s right the paint you used to mess about with when younger is here to save the day. It’s freeform crop feature will allow you to cut out pieces you’re not sure about and adjust them.
Here’s my map after my trace:
And here’s my map after I went into paint. As you can see I just rotated my main island and brought the smaller islands a bit closer. I’m not sure about you but this map screams fights of political power oncoming.
Step Four ½ (optional) – Re-outline
An optional step. Depending on what your map is for and how happy with the quality of your first traced map you may want to retrace after you’ve made some adjustments. (If you needed to make them in the first place). All I did was follow step two again and here’s my new map in all it’s glory. Almost.
Step Five – Add mountains and rivers
I’m not sure about you but I’m thinking my map is looking a little plain. Time for nature to take effect. Here’s the super easy way to add mountains and rivers that make sense which I learnt from Janloos over at Online Tabletop. If you want a scientific description about the earth and its layers go check the description over there. But I’m just going to show you the how rather than touch on the why.
The first thing you want to do is create some lines through your map. Now I know what you’re thinking. I really don’t want to trace this again (one reason to have a version on your computer to print). No worries, that version you still have on your computer? Open it up on you guessed it paint. Well, I actually used draw from Microsoft but it will do the same thing… allow you to draw lines.
Draw a couple of lines on your map like you see I did below. These will be your tectonic plates. Again if you want to know what those are check out the article linked above. The lines are where your plates meet.
Next step is to draw arrows. The arrows will signal which way your plates are moving.
Where your arrows meet are the plates colliding. Here is where the earth would create mountains. Where your arrows move away from each other is where rivers would form. Use a different colour for where your arrows are meeting and facing away. I chose red for my mountains and blue for the rivers.
Now go back to your map and start drawing in your newly formed rivers and mountains. With rivers, I just rubbed out some spots drew in some gaps. With mountains, I added some unclosed triangles. I also added some trees, which is where my forests would be. Ah, so much more interesting. Rivers, mountains and forests are a great way to divide areas, which leads us on to our next step.
Step Six – Add names
Names. The fun part. You may have had your names for your territories before you started your map. If not, don’t panic, there’s a lot of places where you can find inspiration. Take the names I have below for instance. Thraint right at the top, that’s just throne and paint blended together. You can also merge existing place names. Amerdia in the middle of the map is America and India. Or just use two random words together: Wizards Crook, Crystal Dream, now don’t they sound magical.
You could also use different languages. Take my island on the left. In Latin, primis tenerbris means dusk and aurora means dawn. Remember that rivers, forests and mountains have names too. At the bottom, you see ‘Fox River’ (yes, I’ve been watching too much prison break). Now I’m not saying you should name every river, mountain and forest but if there’s a river of significance, why not? And if you’ve run out of ideas bring out a compass. You see the mountains at the top of my map, you know what that’s called? North Thraint. It’s simple but it works.
A Realistic Map
And there you have it, our fully fledged map. Congrats. Remember you should never feel trapped by your own creativity. This map is not set in stone if you don’t like something change it. Yeah, you’re going to have to repeat some steps but it’ll be worth it. What you really need to think about is why you need the map in the first place. For me, I am writing a book about a quest that takes my characters throughout the map. I needed it to know their journey, the distance between locations, and if it was plausible in terms of the transport they have at their disposal.
Yet, if you look in a lot of fantasy books at their maps you will find that they zoom in only focusing on one area. For instance, your story may take place at the bottom of the map. What’s in Crystal Dream forest that a prince in Hanane and a thief in Tancridt wants? Or what about the island of Tenebris and Aurora? Have the treaties of dusk and dawn finally fizzled out? Or take Cauland. I wonder what happens over there on that tiny island. Once you know where your story takes place it’ll help you focus on what’s important.
If you are creating a map for a book, remember that it’s more than likely that if you get published it will be redone by a professional. So don’t stress about it too much, it should be used as a reference more than anything.
Warning! This content may contain scenes of violence, strong language and religious connotations.
“Always so punctual”, cooed Samael to the young girl that was leaning against the wall near the T.V. Of course, she wasn’t really a girl that looked no older than fifteen, the strawberry blonde hair and deep blue eyes were a lie. An image to help the humans transcend to their next destination with as much ease as possible. Even if the humans were as corrupt as Johnny Bianchi. She was a reaper. Tasked with delivering souls to the great heavens, to the fiery depths of hell or if they’ve had a very fun life they’re plonked in the middle, which ironically is questionably the cruellest place.
Purgatory was a place not even an angel could enter. Where humans who have not been as honest as they should be but not as evil either. There were stories, there always were. Lawless they said, humans still within their flesh forms fighting it out with each other. Lust, gluttony, greed, sloth, wrath, envy, pride all still playing their part. Humans still being tested. Samael would have loved to see it. He couldn’t though, not because he was an angel. Well, not just because he was an angel, but because he couldn’t go anywhere. Not heaven, not hell, stuck on the earth with the beings he despised. Punishment for disobeying dad.
The truth was the humans didn’t bother him as much as they did. Not entirely. It was more the unchanging days, he needed days like these, new humans to aggravate, new places to call home. Just for that small momentary feeling of winning, of change.
“I’m early actually”, said the reaper pushing herself off the wall. “He was supposed to die by alcohol poisoning.” Samael was sure that the saying ‘if looks could kill’ descended from the reapers. Control freaks, that’s what they were, if a piece of dust was off from the way a human was ‘supposed’ to die they would lose their mind.
“I thought you’d be happy”, smiled Samael, “I helped, you’re welcome”. The reaper paid him no attention as she stalked her way towards the dead man’s body slumped against the kitchen island. A trail of blood dripping down from where his head had collided with the corner.
She knelt beside him and studied his injury, her hand floating around his face but never touching. “I don’t kill, I just collect”, she said finally standing back up to face the grinning angel.
Samael sat on the back of the curved sofa, meeting the reapers glare, “Ditto”. It was true, angels couldn’t kill without the expressed permission of the Almighty, but Samael knew there were loopholes to every deal.
“Yes, it’s obvious that you had no involvement with this man’s death”, said the reaper her voice laced with sarcasm.
Samael raised his hands up in mock surrender, “All I did was talk to the guy officer, he then slipped on some grapes that for some reason were on the floor, by his feet.” Samael dropped his hands, his eyes drifting to the blood-soaked towel next to the fifty-three-year-old naked guy it belonged to. “Kind of feel sorry him. Johnny Bianchi, a man who fought his way to the top by lying, stealing and killing, trips on a bunch of grapes.” Samael chuckled, “There’s got to be better ways to go.”
“There is”, snapped the reaper, “alcohol poisoning”.
Samael scoffed, “yeah so much better”
“It was how he was supposed to go” sighed the reaper.
“I gave him something to be remembered by. No-one ever remembers the guy who died by alcohol poisoning”, he pulled a disgusted face, “Now the guy that died by falling on grapes, who will forget?”
“I doubt he’ll care where he’s going”, she said staring at the body, “Why are you always with the bad ones?” She wasn’t wanting a reply.
Samael gave one anyway, “They have nicer places.”
The reaper ignored him and stood back placing herself in front of the body sprawled on the ground. Samael knew what came next, he stood up from the couch and walked over to the window giving the reaper space but wanting to watch the show. She placed her hand in front of her, palm up, and curled in her fingers creating a fist. Johnny’s body started to brighten, a blinding display of light resonating from the limp being. If any human were to walk in all they’d see was Samael staring at the body of an overweight, fifty-three-year-old naked guy drenched in blood. They always did miss the big picture.
The light started to contract into an orb that floated across the reaper’s knuckles and then in between her and Samael. It hovered a foot above the height of the reaper and then light spilt out, a big gasp of breath breaking the silence in the room. They didn’t need to breath, it was instinct, a part of their brain trying to cling on to life. Johnny stood there, eyes wide, mouth agape, slightly transparent in the form of his soul that glittered like the gold he wore around his neck.
“Johnny Bianchi?” the reaper asked, her voice soft. To Johnny it must have sounded soothing, to Samael she sounded bored.
Johnny turned to her his eyes looking like they were going to pop out of their sockets, “who are you?” he spat.
“Johnny you died”, she responded, gesturing with her hand to his blood-soaked body on the ground. Johnny gasped as he saw himself and stepped back. “I’m here to take your soul.”
“Can you sound any creepier?”, said Samael, the ghost of a smile at his lips. Johnny snapped his head towards Samael, his confusion turning to anger.
“You”, he snarled a fat finger pointed in the angel’s direction. “You killed me.” He clenched his fists as his face fell into a scowl.
“I did not”, said Samael, placing his palm to his heart as if wounded. “I can’t kill anyone, dad won’t allow it. But, while we are on the subject of your death, would you rather die by alcohol poisoning or by slipping on grapes?”
Johnny fists slacked, “slipping on grapes?” His brow furrowed as he turned to see the smashed grapes near his feet, the juices mixing in with his blood.
“See”, said Samael to the unimpressed Reaper “slipping on grapes much funnier death.”
The reaper scoffed, “it doesn’t matter now, we need to go.” She went to grab at the human still gawping at the feet of his once flesh body, he pulled away before she could touch him.
“Where are you taking me?” he demanded stepping away as the reaper stepped forwards.
“Oh, nowhere good Johnny boy”, said Samael pointing towards the floor.
“Down?” he asked and Samael nodded solemnly, “I was a good Catholic. I believe in God, I prayed to him. He is our Lord, our Saviour. I was a good Catholic.” He stared between Samael stationary by the window and the young girl that was still approaching him. He made it around the kitchen island and grabbed for a knife his hand falling through the handle. He frantically tried, again and again, each time his hand going through the object.
The reaper soundlessly came up behind him, his hysteria opportunity to touch him and she did. The glittering gold of his soul became gold mist a raging typhoon where Johnny was once standing, it wavered and then shot up but before it could reach the ceiling it stopped. Stretched out as a glittering gold line it was pulled back down, lassoed under the floorboards until every spec was gone.
“I also assume you will clean the flesh suit too?” said Samael his eyebrows raised.
“You assume incorrectly”, said the reaper making her way around the kitchen island and standing near the body once again. “Stay out of trouble Samael.”
“You know I can’t do that, Loe” he grinned, dipping his chin as a goodbye.
Loe’s mouth twitched. Such charmers the angels were. “Your brother is down by the way. Just as a warning, not that you deserve one.”
Samael’s smile stayed but his eyes narrowed, “Which one?” he asked coolly even though he knew the answer. If any of his siblings were down it was because dad had sent them to do something specific and once it was done they’d go again, no more reason to stay. Only one would stick around long enough for other celestial beings to take notice. Only sent for the tough jobs. For trouble.
“Michael”, confirmed Loe, “he didn’t look happy”
“When does he?” replied Samael. Loe dipped her chin as Samael did to her and then was gone, no trace the reaper had been in the room at all. Samael turned back to the city below, the window allowing him to take as much as it in as possible. He could see them down there, hear them. Scurrying around like ants. Centuries had passed and although he saw the fun that humans brought, he could not see how they could ever be as pronounced as him.
He was focused on a man stealing the purse of a teen when his vision blurred. He leaned back to see the window fogging up, not the whole pane just the part that was in front of his face. He sighed staring into it as letters appeared. ‘Meet me at the Fall Blume Café, five pm, Michael’ the message read. Samael rolled his eyes and wiped away the condensation. Then watched as the thief tripped over a wooden box that mysteriously shot out from one of the stalls. The contents of his coat spilt to the floor as the teen looked around to the commotion finding her purse.
What I’m anxious about NaNoWriMo the most is time. There’s not enough of it. I work full time and get home later than I’d like so secretly writing at my desk on the slow days and pumping my body full of caffeine at nights seems to be the way to go. I have planned the amount I will write each day in the calendar you see at the top (there’s a link to print the calendar off for yourself at the bottom). There can be no excuses for going under but I will never stop myself from going over! I’ve always found that when I’m in a scene writing comes naturally, it’s the beginning that is the hardest part. I wrote about this in my previous post. Stopping in the middle of action instead of at the end usually helps me to re-enter the world quicker, so that is how I plan to finish each day.
I won’t be starting from scratch like a lot of NaNoWriMo writes, instead I will be starting at around 20,000 words. At the end of November, I hope to be at 70,000 words or more with another 15,000 words to go to reach my 85,000-word goal. phew. I’m hoping that the month of November can get me into a routine. For December is a crazy month, I’ll be going home for Christmas and there’s a lot of distraction there. If I can keep the same pace I will (hopefully) have for November however, I should be able to reach my goal (and finish my first draft) by the middle of the month. In time to step back, bask in the Christmas break and then come back and really chop my WIP up.
Although haunted by my anxious demons, I have some excited puppies nipping at their heels. The truth is, I’m in love with this story. I really need to write this book. Ideas about the world, the politics, my lovable main character, her silly sidekicks form in my mind daily. I need to share them with people. I already have the tweets in my head that I can share when it’s published, isn’t that the most important reason for it to get written. Think of the tweets! As well as the fact that I’m already thinking of the second book.
Adding to my word count daily on NaNoWriMo, sending it to my team lead on #revpit, seeing the progress bar fill up at the top of this website. That will be a great accomplishment at the end of every day/week. Also, I’m excited to participate in the community even when they do struggle and curse the gods of writer’s block. We can do that together.
I’m Ready to Go
✔ My calendar is all ready
✔ Don’t look back at what you’ve written just head forwards
✔ Stop in the middle of the action to help with writer’s block
My outline is done, the beginning is already written, I have tips on what I know work and what doesn’t. I’m ready to go. I’ve scribbled and pondered about this story for so long that I can’t wait to see it written on the page. This will also be my first time participating in any writing event. I’ve got your backs, fellow writers. Let’s do this.
Psst if you want the calendar you see at the top, click here.
Do not, I repeat do not query your novel before you’ve written it. That is a huge no-no, why? Because agents and publishers need to see your work before they sign you, they don’t have time to just take your word that you’re writing the best thing to ever hit shelves. (Even if I totally believe you). I talked in my previous post about finding the #amquerying tag on Twitter before sitting down and beginning to write. I thought I’d share why I’m glad I found the trenches of querying before the adventures of writing and why I’d encourage you to do the same.
You already know the first step of publishing a book: getting it written, unfortunately, that is only the first step. Depending on how you want to publish your book there’s going to be a lot of other factors in-between writing and seeing your book in stores. If you’re heading in the traditional publishing route, you need to decide whether you want to bag yourself an agent or you’re going to pitch straight to publishers. For me, I plan to go the agent route. No matter who you choose there’s a couple of things that need to be thought about before, such as who.
There are plenty of agents out there all repping different genres, all looking for different things. I’m not saying to start a conversation with them now, “Hey agent, you know you’re looking for a middle-grade fantasy? Yeah, I have one that’s perfect for you… can you wait a year?” Probably not the best idea, but that doesn’t mean that while you’re scrolling through Twitter and you see an agent that is looking for a genre you’re writing or is promoting a book that is close to yours you can’t follow them. Create a list of the agents who look pleasant to you, so when the time comes you already know who you’d prefer in your corner.
The Querying Process
The other thing you can be thinking about is what you will send them. I know, I know, you send them your MS (manuscript). Actually, you only send part of your MS most likely the first ten pages or one chapter (it differs from agent to agent). What an agent will first see is a query letter or synopsis or both. A query letter is an explanation of the plot of your book but without giving away the ending. Kind of like a longer version of a blurb you see on the back of a cover. I would check out Query Shark if you want to know more about queries. A synopsis, however, encompasses everything including the ending.
Whether you’re pitching to an agent or a publishing house they’re going to want to look at either one of these before deciding to even take a look at your MS. Again, I repeat you don’t have to write these now. It would be rather difficult to write about the entire plot of your book without actually have written it. My point is the more you know about the querying process now, the less of a shock it will be when it’s time.
You know the great thing about mistakes? You learn from them. You know the great things about other people making mistakes? You don’t have to make them. Now that’s unfair, there are no ill wishes against my co-writers or authors. But… when an agent tweets tips that talk about authors using too many adverbs, or not pacing the plot properly, I’m gonna listen. There’s a big writing community on Twitter and that includes agents. Just because you’re still in the writing phase does not mean you shouldn’t congregate around #askagent #agenttip #querytip etc. When you know the problem you tend to look out for it, meaning less clean up when editing.
The reality is reality sucks. When looking through querying you’re going to find the good and the bad… a lot of bad. Not everyone is going to love your work. Thinking about this before writing may seem counterproductive but the more you write, the more you fall in love with your characters, settings, the story it hopefully won’t be too much of a blow when querying comes.
Try to understand the real reason that you’re writing. If it’s for fame and money then you may want to pick a different career. Not everyone makes it and the pay can be low. I’m not saying don’t be ambitious, I’ve already planned for Jude Law to be narrating the audiobook and can see the series of movies playing in my mind. Yet the thing I’m most excited about is people just reading my work. For my story to bring a smile to someone’s face. And if that’s all, if just one person reads my work and smiles, well I’m okay with that reality.
Warning! This content may contain scenes of violence, strong language and religious connotations.
Johnny stepped out of the shower and grabbed for a towel hanging over the rack. He wiped the water from his eyes then rubbed his hair, draping it around his neck when finished, he wrapped another around his waist, his gut helping to keep it in place as he tucked the towel underneath. He bypassed the mirror and stepped into his bedroom, warm light engulfing him as the floor-to-ceiling window showed the city’s skyline reflecting light from one building to another below. The activity never stopped down there, the 12am crowd simply replaced the 12pm crowd in a coordinated overtake of bodies throughout the day.
He looked over to the clock near his bed 1:54pm, early enough he thought. Throwing the towel that still hung from his neck on the bed he went over to the cabinet across the room. He picked up the half-empty bottle of scotch and poured some into the small glass sitting next to it, downing the glass in one mouthful, he picked up the bottle again and was about to pour another when he heard women laughing. Women laughing in his apartment. In his apartment where he lived alone.
He settled the bottle down and moved towards the door that lead out to the living room. He tried to steady his breathing as he turned the handle, opening it a sliver. The corridor appeared empty, but the voices grew louder. “She’s lying, she’s such a liar, I just hope the other girls can see it before it’s too late. Look out for snaaake.” Johnny closed the door as up-tempo music started playing and a different woman’s voice replaced the first, discussing a party she planned to throw that night. He scurried to his bedside table and pulled out a gun, the weapon shimmering as it was welcomed into the light and went over to the door, opening it enough so he could squeeze through. He slowly stepped out into the corridor, stilling whenever the floor made a groan or the drips from his still wet body met the ground.
Reaching the end of the corridor, he peered around the corner. “I just – just don’t know why you’d do that to me. Why would you do that? Why? Why?” said a distraught woman on screen of the TV to a man who looked like he had used an entire bottle of gel on his thick blonde hair. The light of the screen illuminated the man watching it. He was sprawled over the large sofa that followed the curve of the coffee table in front where his feet were resting. One of his arms ran down the head of the sofa while the other fumbled with the volume button on the remote.
Johnny stepped back and rested his head against the wall. Who was he sent by Luca? Rizzo? Ricci? Johnny couldn’t imagine any of Ricci’s men lounging about on the job, Rizzo’s boys were too stupid to find their way on the forty-second floor of an apartment building and that’s without the security that was stationed in the lobby. One of Luca’s? He peered around the corner, the man looked young, not a boy but couldn’t be more than thirty, he was muscular, but his dirty blonde hair wasn’t the profile of Luca’s crew. Luca’s crew was made up of the Capurso family and rugged noses and jet-black hair was present in every one them.
Hitman, maybe? Must be a cheap hitman, there were plenty of opportunities to kill him. Whoever he was, he was an idiot, one for entering the home of Johnny Bianchi and two for not killing him when he was in the shower, he would put up a hell of a fight now and Johnny Bianchi never lost. He pushed himself off the wall, raised his gun and turned the corner.
The couch was empty. The TV continued to blare but it was no longer being watched. Johnny spun expecting a weapon to be aimed at him from behind, instead, he found the man hunched over the kitchen island from across the room, picking at a handful of grapes. The man tossed one in his mouth, his eyes trained at Johnny, intrigue spread across his face. Johnny re-aimed his weapon, but the man did nothing but pop another grape in his mouth. “Nice towel”, he said in a voice as smooth as the fruit he was eating. Johnny sneered but said nothing, the silence an opportunity to assess his opponent. He didn’t look familiar, yet there was an easiness about him that made Johnny less cautious than he should be about someone who had just broken into his home.
His gun still aimed in the intruder’s direction, he asked, “who sent you? Was it Luca? You know he lost half of the family’s money on the tables, I’m sure I can double his investment.” Johnny’s brow furrowed, but he corrected it before confusion could settle on his face. Why was he bargaining with this guy? He was the one with the power, it’d be so easy just to shoot, but his finger made no move to the trigger.
“No, no Luca”, said the man, a smile crawling across his face as if he could hear Johnny’s internal struggle.
“Then who are you? Why you here?”
“Right, sorry, where are my manners”, the man stood straight and threw the grapes over to him, supposedly to catch but as Johnny was reluctant to drop his gun, he let them bounce off his chest and to his feet. The man continued as if nothing happened, “I’m Samael”, he said placing a palm to his chest, “and this”, he outstretched his hand and ran it across the open space between the living room and kitchen “is my new home”. Irritation throttled the confusion that was playing in Johnny’s mind, he scoffed, his finger finally reaching the trigger, which seemed to only add a gleam to Samael’s eye. “Yeah, you know I was surprised too, I had a penthouse a few years back”, he puffed out a breath audibly, “coming up to twelve years now. I’ve been living in one of those houses in the suburbs. You know the ones, big, more bedrooms than you need, a mile-long garden, friendly neighbours”, said Samael, a knowing smile at his lips. He walked towards one of the windows, “But you can’t beat that view, huh?” he sounded far away by the end as if he could see each individual person down there.
Johnny shook his head slightly, he knew the guy had just told him he was going to kill him and take his home, but his voice dripped with something else. Something that stopped Johnny raising his gun and shooting him square in the head. His voice dripped promise. Johnny placed his gun on the counter with a thud that made Samael’s eyes travel to it and patted it, letting his hand rest on top, “How about we make a deal? You tell me who you’re working for, you then change allegiances and I don’t shoot you between the eyes and throw you from that view you love so much.”
Samael’s mouth twitched, he started to speak but then looked over to near the TV. Johnny turned his head slightly in the same direction but saw nothing than the cartoon now playing on the screen. Samael tutted, “Ah, now as much as I love making deals, Johnny boy, especially when at least one participant is naked I must decline. Looks like your ride’s here.”
Johnny ground his teeth, he was done with riddles, this guy may know something but he wasn’t going to tell him and that made him a liability. “Then we’re through here”, he sneered and grabbed for his gun, his finger coiled around the trigger as he took one step forward and fell. His foot covered by the juice of the grapes that once laid at his feet, he could do nothing but stare at the sharp granite edge of the kitchen counter he was now tumbling towards. His head hit the side with a smack that echoed around the room.
“Poor, poor Johnny boy”, he heard the promising voice titter, as he felt himself slide to the floor, a trail of red following and then nothing.
Starting is the hardest part
I have started my book a total of six times. Sometimes I tweak a detail or two, other times they are complete re-writes. Even after I did a brief outline and was so excited that I could see the main plot points, the beginning was still so hard to write. Now I have my beginning, I don’t know what took me so long. Words spewed onto the page, I really understood those people who said: “I let my characters steer the scene”. A lot of the scenes that led from that beginning weren’t in my outline but added so much depth to my main character. Happy with the progress I made, I stopped writing for the day, but when I tried to begin again, I struggled.
The momentum I felt before had gone, I re-read what I wrote and waited for my characters to speak. After a while of looking back and forth between my writing and my outline, ideas sparked. I then realised that it wasn’t starting a book that was hard, it was starting in general. I try and force ideas when really only my best emerge as I immerse myself into a scene and because I don’t have a lot of time during the day to write, this can be difficult. To try and conquer this I’ve tried to stop writing in the middle of an idea when the action is still happening. This way when I come back to write it gets me back into the scene quicker. It’s not 100% guaranteed, but it definitely works better than the ‘stop and start’ technique.
Don’t look back
When it comes to first drafts you kind of have to accept that it’s not going to be perfect. So don’t make it perfect. When I started, I used to study each paragraph, again and again, it slowed me down tremendously. I am planning to do NaNoWriMo this November, an event where you’re tasked with writing 50,000 words in a month. When you have that many words to write, with so little time, you just have to continue forward. You may hate what you’ve written, don’t think it works but this draft isn’t the place to re-work. Your first draft should just be the basis of your story. You have the second, third, fourth, fifth draft to make it perfect.
Be open to change
Now, this point is a bit more personal. If you’re a hard-core plotter who needs to stick to an outline you may not relate, but as the other points suggest I’m not. Your story is going to take you in a million directions, let it. Again the first draft isn’t to be perfect. If your story opens up an avenue that you didn’t think of before don’t be afraid to explore possibilities. My current work-in-progress is miles away from what I thought it was going to be and I don’t love it any less. Things may not plan out the way you want them to, you may have to cut some of your favourite scenes to fit the narrative but don’t see this as a negative. Everything you’re doing is strengthening your work in a way you couldn’t have possibly of planned for.
a boy saw a butterfly as it flew past his face,
“Hello Mr. Butterfly,” he said, “Did you want to show me something?”,
but the butterfly had already gone and the boy had to hurry to catch up,
the butterfly landed on a yellow flower,
“Is this what you wanted to show me Mr. Butterfly?” said the boy, “It’s very pretty”,
but the butterfly flew off when the boy got close and settled on the trunk of a tree,
“Is this what you wanted to show me Mr. Butterfly?” said the boy, “It’s very tall”,
but the butterfly flew off when the boy got close and settled on a reed near a lake,
“Is this what you wanted to show me Mr. Butterfly?” said the boy, “It’s very wide”,
but the butterfly flew off when the boy got close and settled on the lid of a bin,
“Is this what you wanted to show me Mr. Butterfly?” said the boy, “It’s very smelly”,
but the butterfly flew off when the boy got close and settled on a yellow flower,
“You’ve already shown me this Mr. Butterfly,” said the boy and went to follow the moth
Plotter vs Pantser
If you ever stalk around the #amwriting tag on Twitter you may have seen a lot of acronyms used by the writing community that see you migrate into your inner Sherlock as you desperately try to figure out what is being discussed. I’m still convinced that PNR stands for pick nose right.
But there are some terms that are easier to understand (or should I say easier to look up). You may have seen some writers refer to themselves as either a plotter or a pantser and it’s super easy to identify which bracket you fall into.
Do you have to outline a story before you write?
Do you know exactly what will happen to each of your characters?
Do you write each scene in sequence?
If you answered yes to all of the above, then you’re most likely a plotter. Plotters plan out their entire story beforehand while pantsers, just pick up their pen or run to their keyboard and write whatever they’re feeling. If you want to learn more about these terms I would check out ‘The Pros and Cons of Plotters and Pantsers‘.
Becoming a Plantser
So I thought I was a pantser when I got my first super-duper idea I thought there was no stopping me, and for a while, there wasn’t. Until every writers’ nightmare: writer’s block. Not only did I not know how my scene was going to end, but I also didn’t know where I was heading towards. I knew how I wanted my book to end, and how I wanted to start but thought nothing of the middle. It was like having two slices of bread, good bread, freshly baked out of the oven bread, but there was no filling, I couldn’t even find a piece of cheese.
So I stepped back and stopped thinking about my WIP (work-in-progress) for a while. I was surfing the internet when I came across MasterClass. MasterClass is a hub where subjects are taught by the most successful people in their profession. I watched the trailer for all the ‘learn how to write’ classes and there were quite a few. James Patterson, Judy Blume, Margaret Atwood. (I also deviated and watched some others, I mean Steve Martin teaches comedy, yeah I’m watching). But again I just watched the trailers and yet every author talked about an outline. So, from a brief lesson from the greats, I started one myself. Creating an outline isn’t easy (for me anyway) but I learnt that I’m not a pantser at all, I’m a plantser. A combination of a pantser and a plotter.
So What Does a Plantser Outline Look Like?
I created my outline but it wasn’t incredibly detailed, just the scenes that connected a to b to c to d etc. It meant that if something came up, or one of my characters opened up a new scene I wasn’t trapped by it, instead it acted as my map. I could deviate away from the path but also easily find a new route back to where I needed to be. I did this with my current WIP and I will do it for my series Samael which I plan to post on the blog. Let me explain my steps:
Write down your scenes
If you were like me, you would already have certain scenes that you knew had to be in the story. Write them down. If you were like me, you had horrible ideas that definitely shouldn’t be in the story. Write them down. This isn’t the time to be picky, that comes later. For now, you just want to get your ideas on paper. When you feel like you can’t write any more, congrats you’re a fourth of the way to creating an outline. Here are some scenes of one girl trying to stop a robbery.
Put them in order
Okay, now be picky. Go through all your scenes and decide what you want to keep and what just isn’t working. (I would advise you to keep the ideas you think are terrible. You may think of an idea that sees a scene you thought as awful become one of your best, or once your a bestselling author you can dig them out and laugh at yourself). Once you’ve collected your scenes of gold, organise them in the right order. You’re creating a timeline. The way you organise depends on the person you are. Some like writing each scene on its own card, others bullet point in a notebook while I just used a good old excel spreadsheet. Each line is a new scene.
Fill in the gaps
Using Excel was great because it allowed me to move scenes around, and insert new ones, which is crucial for this part. Filling in the gaps. Unless you’ve been so thorough with part 1, it’s likely you have big jumps between scenes. I’m not going to lie, this part is tough. This was the hardest part for me. You’re going to have to think of more scenes and bridge the gaps. If it seems impossible, it isn’t, just step back for a day or two and clear your head. It’ll come.
Determine how you divide them
You now should have an outline. It may not be super detailed. It may not be perfect. I’m sure a plotter would look at my outlines in disgust but remember for a plantser, your outline is just a guide. You can follow it scene by scene but that doesn’t mean you can’t deviate when then mood strikes. I am nearly 11,000 words into my WIP and 90% are scenes I didn’t plan but they’re still heading in the same direction and they offer my book so much.
Another way to keep yourself going in the right direction is to divide your book. I didn’t use chapters. They stressed me out. I looked at all the numbers, “85,000 words for a ya fantasy, 4,500 words is an average chapter, so I need around 20 chapters, do I have enough scenes? What scene should go in what chapter? Maybe I should split this scene? Will there be enough to say if I split?” It. Stressed. Me. Out. Now that may seem so irrational to you but I felt that chapters were just too planny. So instead I broke my scenes into parts. It was great for allowing me to know the main plot point of each section.
For my current WIP, I ended up with 100+ scenes with only around 6 parts.
Don’t Listen to My Advice
So I’m a plantser, I need an outline but something that doesn’t cage me. You may be completely different. After reading my planning process you may think of it like hell, or you see parts you like and some you don’t. It’s ok. The best thing I did was find my own process, what other people were doing didn’t work for me, only when I got into my own flow did everything knit together. Everyone works differently, don’t get disheartened if you try a process that everyone swears by and it doesn’t work for you. So try the plantser method, try the plotter method, try the pantser method, create your own method. Although, if you do create your own, please make sure it begins with a p, we’re not savages.