I’ve been talking about making this series for about two months now, and I finally got around to making the first episode. Welcoming to Behind The Novel, the series where I’ll share my novel writing process every step of the way.
Originally I was going to just jump into showing you the writing process, but after a little consideration, I thought it best to start with the most prominent tool I use: Scrivener.
So this first episode is a brief introduction to Scrivener. You’ll learn why I like it, what benefits it provides, as well as be reminded that masterpieces are written using everything from Microsoft Word to typewriters to pen and paper.
So if you can’t afford Scrivener, never fear. In this case you’ll be in good company. I don’t think Dante used Scrivener either when he wrote The Devine Comedy.
Anyway, I hope you enjoy the video. There are more on the way.
You’ve come up with the perfect idea for a novel. Now it’s time to sit down and write. You open your word processor, type in your working title and name (can’t start without that), go to page one and…. freeze. What now? Do I just write? Where do I start? How do I know where I’m going? I’m using Word, do other writers use Word? And…. and… and…
Who knows, maybe when you started your first novel it was a breeze. You just started typing and it felt right. But if you’re anything like many new writers out there, you might not be aware of the many ways novels get written. And even if you do know, you probably don’t know what works best for you until you discover them and give each a shot.
Over the last fifteen years, I’ve given several writing methodologies a shot. My process is ever evolving as I try to find the balance of several aspects, which we’re about to dive into.
In this blog post we’ll answer the following questions
How can I plan my novel without getting too bogged down in the details?
How can I plan it and still maintain the freedom of free-writing?
How can I create a basic elevator pitch before I’ve even started writing?
How can I plot my novel and ensure my characters have a compelling arc?
How do I make sure each scene feels complete?
What word processor should I use to organize all of this?
This is a medium-depth overview. I’ll expand on each point in future blog posts, but for now this’ll be a great jumping off point if you’re wanting a crash corse in novel-writing.
Last note before we get started: this is my method, and my method is constantly changing as I hone it to suite my needs. Your method may turn out quite different from this. Use this as a jumping off point, and then change it to match your style.
Planning your novel
Gasp! I said ‘plan’. If you’re among those who fear or despise this word, worry not! Read on and you’ll find a most satisfactory compromise. You see, I used to hate planning as much as anyone, I still don’t love it. But I’ve discovered a hybrid method that will work for even the most hardened hater.
Planning vs. Pantsing
For those of you who said, “huh?” to the paragraph above, let’s touch on case of plan v pants for a second.
Planning refers to preparation before writing, often in the form of an outline, sometimes in the form of lore or backstory, etc. You might also see it called plotting or outlining.
Pantsing refers to “writing from the seat of your pants”. It’s also called discovery writing — but really, who uses two words when they could use one. In essence, it’s writing without preparation H… I mean a preparation stage (stupid autocorrect ).
I’m not going to spend too much time exploring planning vs pantsing since it’s already been discussed ad nauseam on every writers blog on the planet. And, frankly, it doesn’t interest me. If you want more a more in-depth study on the subject, google it.
What is interesting to me is why, after years of being a staunch pantser, I’ve become something of a hybrid. So let’s talk about that.
The early years, or writing without a plan
The first three novels I wrote were 100% done without preparation — 2 unpublished, the other is Discovering Aberration which you can get for free in the doobly doo below. It felt great. When others talked about planning, I scoffed. I couldn’t understand how anyone could cage themselves with an outline.
Then came revisions… I found my plots meandered. It lingered on some plot threads long past there due, lacked proper foreshadowing, and the pacing was all over the place. In the end I was forced to do several major rewrites. I mean major. It was a bummer and added at least six months to the writing process.
Attempting to outline
Eventually I attempted a full outline for another project, The Gin Thief, but as I wrote the mid to late sections, everything felt like a guess. It’s hard to account for character reactions before your characters are even written.
When it came to drafting, I found I deviated far from my plan and all that work planning seemed wasted. Furthermore, I felt confined by my own preparation. Turns out, plot ideas may sound great in the outline phase but in practice feel forced. There’s too many unaccounted for variables early on.
So I abandoned the hardline planning approach, and today follow a hybrid method that’s working extremely well for me.
The hybrid approach to planning
Today I’m somewhere in the middle. I plan just enough to give me direction, but not enough to box me in. Let’s dive in to what this process looks like.
Acts in bullet point form
First, I break down my novel into three simple lists of arcs organized by Act. Three’s just a number, you can do five or seven or whatever the hell you want. The three act structure is common and it’s what I find myself gravitating to recently, but Shakespeare wrote in five acts and he’s pretty good.
Below is an example. It’s the three acts of my novel Grim Curio, which I’ve nearly completed writing. Spoilers below, but it wont ruin the book even if you know the vague details.
James and Simon save a village from a strange, alien disease which came from another reality. It doesn’t go well.
Nat joins nihilist cult.
Scientists experiment with the nature of reality.
James and Simon struggle to return home. When they arrive their home is drastically changed.
Scientists open a hole in reality.
Cult attacks scientists.
Revolution has broken out. Simon is caught up in it.
Reality is torn, leaking. James tries to fix it.
All hell breaks loose.
Notice how simple it all is. Just the major beats of the story in a loose arrangement. Best of all, before I’ve even written my novel I can give an elevator pitch. It’s not as refined as it will be later in the process, but having these bullet points gives you ammunition when anyone asks you, “so what’s your book about?”
Here’s an elevator pitch built from the bullet point list above: “Grim Curio is about these guys who save a village from an otherworldly disease and get punished for it. When they return home, everything has changed. Reality is torn, and a revolution is on. And that’s not mentioning the nihilist cult in the middle of it all.”
Fleshing out characters
Now we know the basic arc of our novel. You have a lot of options at this point. If you were a hardcore planner, you might start a flowchart of every scene. If you’re a lore geek, you might start nailing down all of the back story. If you’re a pantser at heart, you might just start writing.
As for me, I’m obsessed with character. I believe characters are why we read books. Everything else is just sugar on top, plot included. So my next step is spending some time getting to know them.
A characters beginning and end
First thing I like to do for all major characters is determine their starting and ending state of mind. This doesn’t need to be overly complicated. Could be, “Jill starts out bad, becomes good,” or “Sam hates dogs, learns dogs are man’s best friend”. That kind of thing.
And then there are characters who don’t change, static characters. There’s nothing wrong with a static character, but you should know before hand if your character is going to be unchanging, and why.
In the case of Simon, from Grim Curio, he starts as a man who believes he understands the world but has little affect on it, and ends as a man who realizes he knows nothing but the masses follow him regardless.
As for James, he’s more static. There are changes, but its much more subtle and internal. James is a man who always needs to be working, being stagnant leads him into depression. He begins believing in himself but even as his successes are marred with terrible consequences. Because of this, he stops believing in himself, continues trying anyway, and finally gets things right.
Creating character arc through sign posts
We now have our major characters beginning and ending state of mind. Time to fill in the rest with sign posts. These are plot points you can aim towards while you’re writing your scenes. If you know that Jaclyn is an asshole who becomes a saint, then each of these sign posts are the moments where small amounts of change occur. By the end of the novel, all of these small moments of change will build up to a big revelation.
If you want more information on this, I recommend reading Creating Character Arcs by K.M. Weiland and watching these two Brandon Sanderson lectures. These resources changed my outlook on crafting character, and I consider them required reading/viewing.
Do I really need to do all this work before I start writing?
HELL NO! You don’t need to do anything you don’t feel like. Jack Kerouac famously wrote On The Road in a single drugged out session, and that’s considered a masterpiece. So go do that if you feel like it. Doesn’t matter how you write it as long as it gets written.
There are zero rules to writing other than you need to put words on paper — or e ink. Don’t let anyone push you around with their rules. Your weird unheard of method may result in a best seller or critical darling. I don’t know, and neither does anybody else.
I don’t even always stick to my own rules. They are there to service me, not the other way around. So I deviate when I feel like it. But I’ve found having these methods in mind greatly helps me, even when I don’t follow them.
Post continues below.
The drafting process
If you’re following along, you’ll have bullet pointed your major arcs, you’ll have created you’re major characters with beginnings and endings in mind, and you’ll have some scenes you can aim towards via character sign posts. Now it’s time to actually write.
If you’re brave, you can start by writing scene one all the way through and then move on to scene two. This is the most straight forward approach. But I’ve found simply drafting an entire scene from scratch is fraught with flaws. It takes too long, has too many uncertainties, requires too much mental gymnastics as I attempt to account for later scenes, and is prone to unexpected bouts of writers block.
But I made a brilliant discovery. Write descriptions of scenes before writing the scenes themselves. I’m pretty sure I didn’t come up with this. It’s been a long time since I read Write. Publish. Repeat. by Sean Platt and Johnny B. Truant, but as I recall they have a similar method.
Before we talk about that, let’s take a look at our most potent weapon, the word processor
Sorry. This bit sort of comes out of nowhere, but I want to make sure I include it because it’s such a fundamental part of my process these days. Let’s talk about Scrivener for a sec.
Scrivener is a word processor that’s built with novel-writing in mind. You can organize things by act, scene, character, tag, and so much more. Drag and drop whole chapters at a time. It’s well worth the $45, and is by far my tool of choice.
Above is an older version of Scrivener (I need to upgrade to version 3). What you see is Grim Curio broken up by act, and each act broken up by chapter, and each chapter broken up by scene. This is how I write, and I find it invaluable. You’ll see why next.
Creating scene descriptions
Let’s say today is the first day of drafting for my new project. I have my characters in mind with some sign posts to aim for. What I do now is create a new scene file, but rather than start writing a fully fleshed out scene, I write a very short description of the scene I’ll eventually write. My goal is a rough idea of the scene in a couple of paragraphs.
Here’s a contrived example:
James enters the village, and immediately is struck by their strange customs. Everyone is gathered around a great dead tree that’s scorched black. The people are coated in mud and dirt, and as they work they toss more dirt on their skin. Their homes are burrows in the ground.
As James approaches, they notice him and send someone to intercept/question him. He makes some basic mistakes, but recovers a little. They lead him to talk to the village elders, but their conversation is interrupted by screams.
I’m not trying to write well here. I’m just getting a basic idea of how the scene will progress. When that’s done, I create the next scene file and do it again. I’ll do this as far as I possibly can before it feels like I’m forcing it. Usually this is a few chapters worth of scene descriptions.
As I read through the descriptions, using Scrivener I can rearrange them easily if needed. Later I’ll come back, go back to scene 1, and start fleshing it out.
Writing the scene
From here, it’s pretty straight forward. Go through your description and expand. Don’t worry about writing perfect prose. Just get the scene done and feeling pretty good. Then move on to the next scene description and expand that. Do this over and over until you reach the end of your written scene descriptions.
Now that we have a series of drafted scenes, I go through several passthroughs to improve them.
Phases of rewriting
I tend to go through my scenes at least four times. Each time, I focus on a different element of storytelling.
First passthrough I focus on character. I make sure motivations feel legit, make sure dialog feels real, and generally just try to keep each character inline with their personalities.
Second passthrough I focus on descriptions. The best narration engages the senses, so I try to mimic what I consider the best. That means making sure every scene not only has a look, but a feel, a sound, a scent. If a character touches a wall, I want a line about the texture. If they enter a kitchen, I want a line about the scent.
Third passthrough I focus on prose. That’s the words themselves. I like books with good word economy, meaning never using two words where one will do. This doesn’t necessarily mean using big words all the time, but I also don’t shy away from big words if they feel right.
Forth passthrough I just refine and cut. If there’s anything extra that doesn’t service the characters or the plot, I cut it. Even if it’s really good on its own. Doesn’t matter. Cut mercilessly. After all this work, you’re gonna have paragraphs that you labored over that don’t fit right. Don’t be sentimental. Cut the shit out of them.
Bear in mind that four passthroughs is on the low end for me. That’s a straight forward scene without too many complications. The first and last chapters of Grim Curio both had at least 10-15 passthroughs, as well as some all out rewrites. Keep massaging it til it feels right.
Continue this cycle over an over again for about a year, and you’ll have a damn fine novel. When you’ve written up to the end of your scene descriptions, start writing descriptions again and write towards your sign posts. Then expand and refine. And again and again.
That’s it. That’s my process. If you want me to get more granular on any topic, let me know and I’ll make time to do so. If you like this post and want more like it, then please share through your favorite social network. If you want to support my work, buy a novel using a link to the right, or sign up for my mailing list in the doobly doo above. Until next time, I’ll see you around.
While writing Grim Curio is still in full swing (but nearing its end), I’ve been thinking about future projects a lot lately. I have two other novels in the works, The Gin Thief episodes and an untitled novel I’m co-writing with my wife, Tana.
She’s not much into social networking or blogging, but she’s a voracious reader and you can follow her on Goodreads. Last year she read well over 100 books and this year she’s already on track to surpass that.
I’ve been asking her for a while, “When are you going to write your own novel?” and she shrugs.
She’s the reader, I’m the writer. But I knew there was a story inside her if I could just coax it out. So during an hour long drive, I grilled her. I started with the broad questions. “If you were to write your novel,” I asked, “What genre would it be?”
She was skeptical of my motives, but after a little coaxing she opened up. “My favorite books are mash-ups of Science Fiction with a Fantasy element,” she said. Turns out, she likes the Sci-fi aesthetic, and magic systems from novels like the Mistborntrilogy. Sounds good to me.
“I really like the plot of Treasure Island,” she said. One of my favorite novels. Scored a big point with that one. “I’m interested in a science fiction retelling of Treasure Island with magic and a heist.”
I was taken aback. “That sounds amazing. I’d totally read that. In fact, I’d totally write that.”
We tossed ideas back and forth, getting more and more specific along the way. And what we came up with was this.
It’s a mess. But it’s also a jumping off point.
Let’s say you’re interested in writing your own novel, but don’t know where to start. What can you take away from this?
Find someone to bounce ideas off of
As it turns out, Tana has more interesting ideas than I do. Go figure. She’s read everything under the sun. She’d throw me an idea, and I’d build on it and throw it back. Pretty soon we had the seed of what could be a promising story.
It’s important to remember that there really isn’t such a thing as a bad idea in this stage. It’s ok to say, “That’s been done before,” or “I’d rather see something like…” But don’t shoot the other person’s ideas down. They are doing you a service, and if you want their continued support, be encouraging.
Start broad, then go more and more narrow
You’ll notice that in the beginning there wasn’t a specific idea. But as we explored settings and themes and plot structure, we began to get more and more specific.
Of course this isn’t the only way to go. In fact, this is the first time I’ve ever attempted to create a novel this way. But it seems to have worked well.
Alternative ways to begin a novel include: start with a character, start with the plot, find an idea you want to explore, find an aesthetic, or just find a book you want to emulate. It really doesn’t matter where the spark of the idea comes from. Just find a something you love and run with it.
What you brainstorm here will likely not be your final product. What sounds amazing in the idea generation phase may be terrible once executed. There’s no way to know until you do it.
Embrace change. Pivot once you realize something isn’t working. Don’t hold yourself to your early ideas, because in the end it doesn’t matter how you started, only how you finish.
Realize that this is just the first step
The work is only just beginning. An idea isn’t worth the paper it’s written on unless you follow through with it. Writing a novel is a lot of sustained hard work. Be prepared to follow through for months and months in the trenches, taking fire and shooting back until… you’re novel is written I guess. Not a great analogy, but I’m keeping it.
Writing a novel is a massive undertaking. Even a short one will consume hundreds, if not thousands of hours of your life. So it’s no surprise that so many people look for effective novel-writing strategies. What follows is the first post in my series on novel-writing. Through this series we’ll explore my current novel-writing process from conception to wherever the future takes us.
Writers write because they are inspired, don’t they? In film, writers struggle for that perfect idea, for that flash of inspiration. They struggle over a blank page, cursed with genius yet a lack of inspiration for they’re next novel. If we take movies at their word, no writer would ever write until they discovered the perfect, world shattering idea.
Lucky for us, writing doesn’t actually work that way. Good ideas are important, but they aren’t the crux that every novel depends on. Moreover, while inspiration may simply strike some people, most of us have to fashion habits that will coax ideas out of the back of our minds on a regular basis.
So how important is the inspiration behind your next (or first) novel? How do you create habits that ensure ideas come freely and with relative ease? Read on to dispel some common myths, learn a bit about the nature of inspiration, and build the habits that nurture ideas, generating them on a near daily basis.
The Prefect Concept
Do I need the perfect idea before I start writing?
You’re about to devote months, perhaps years to writing your masterpiece but it all starts with an idea. One bud of a thought can fuel countless hours of your life as you tackle the thankless task of sitting in a room, alone, writing. So you should wait to begin until you have the best idea ever, right?
No. In my experience, aspiring writers place too much importance on the idea behind their story. They seem to believe that if they think and think and think, they’ll come up with the perfect concept, and a book will eventually form. They will often say, “I’ve been working on a story for years.” But when it comes down to it, no words have been written.
What’s the issue with placing too much emphasis on the idea?
Some people will build their ideas for years. They may even change from one concept to another, developing ideas so thoroughly that they may as well have written their novel to completion. People I know and love have developed tons of ideas but have nothing to show for it. What they don’t realize is that an idea is only a fraction of the work involved when writing.
In reality there’s no need to labor over an idea until it’s perfect. Ideas are a dime a dozen. Everyone has them. Even a really solid idea is worthless without the right amount of ass in chair time.
Let’s consider Tim. Tim spent years developing his idea, and it’s damn near perfect. If you could see the visions inside his head, you’d be brought to tears for it brilliance. When Tim finally sat down to write, an awful thing happened. The words didn’t sound right. They felt amateurish and sloppy.
The trouble is, Tim knows what good writing is. He’s read it over and over again. But Tim never practiced the actual craft of writing. He’s read great novels, read amazing books on story structure and character arcs. He knows when writing is good or bad, but he hasn’t spent enough time practicing the craft, so his perfect idea in theory is now a mess in execution.
Had Tim settled on a half-formed idea, wrote it out, and admitted it was bad, he would have had hundreds of hours of experience writing. Maybe his first effort will never get published, but by the time he gets to his second or third novel, his writing will be leaps and bounds better, the ideas will come easier, and his ability to communicate through text will mature.
In other words, don’t put too much emphasis on the idea of your book, especially your first book. Find something that interests you and start writing. The more you do this, the easier the entire process will become.
Fostering Habits to Encourage Constant Inspiration
Now that I’ve spent roughly 1000 words downplaying the spark that incites your novel, I’m going to admit that ideas are kind of important after all. Before you sit down to a blank screen and flashing cursor, you’ll want to start somewhere. So where does the inspiration come from?
Idea’s can come from anywhere, you just need to condition yourself to generate them. I’m a firm believer that anyone can be a good writer, talent be damned. Sure, in every walk of life there are some people who are inherently talented, but there are far more people who simply worked really hard to get what they want. Everything about the writing process will come easier if you put the hours in. That includes finding inspiration.
The three B’s
I once had a professor tell me that inspiration comes from the three B’s: bathroom, bedroom, and bus. What he meant was, there are certain points of the day where you’re doing nothing, and it’s these moments where you’ll find yourself inspired. It doesn’t happen all the time, but when it does, it’s likely while you’re commuting, falling asleep, or doing your bathroom business.
But if you’re a writer, you probably need more than that. You’ll want to create habits that insure you have constant moments to think, explore ideas, and hopefully be inspired.
Make time for contemplation
All of my best ideas come in times of quiet contemplation, which for most people doesn’t just happen. You need to create the times to think, which can unfortunately be quickly overrun by the busy world, much like a gym membership. This in turn forces you to be ever vigilant in protecting you thinking time, deliberately setting aside regular time for it.
Most people only reserve this kind of thinking time for the three B’s — and bathroom has now become the place of the smartphone so maybe the B’s are down to two. To be in a state of constant inspiration, or to at least aspire to that state, you need to consciously develop a habit of turning off distractions (including other people) and just think.
For me, habits are easiest to maintain when they easily fit into my schedule. Let’s be honest here, creating new habits is hard, especially with my busy schedule filled with family, work, writing, reading, Muay Thai, video games, Harmonquest, Rick and Morty, and anime. You likely have things you’re passionate about too, so tailor your novel meditation schedule to work best with everything else you’ve got going on.
Driving – At least a few days per week I spend my 40 minute commute to work listening to this playlist and just thinking. No audiobooks, no podcasts, no damn commercials. Just me and my thoughts for 40 minutes straight. It’s amazing how much will come out of these driving sessions once you make a habit of it.
If you have the privilege of a long commute, this is a viable option for you. It’s time you wont get back anyway, might as well invest is as a thinker rather than a passive talk radio listener. But if you don’t commute, find time where you’re doing constant, mindless things, and inject your mind into the equation. Walking, running, shopping, and for some people maybe while working.
Bed – About twice per week I’ll go to bed an hour early. I know that I can rarely actually fall asleep before 10:30pm, so I go to bed with the goal of mulling over current project. Since I’m already in the middle of writing Grim Curio (sign up for my newsletter so you don’t miss it’s release) I’ll spend that time thinking on character motivations and arcs, plot points, and themes.
When one of the ideas feel particularly good, I’ll find a way of putting it to paper. Later I’ll work it into my book summary so when I get to the applicable point in the novel, I’ll remember exactly what I was thinking.
I feel like this is an easy option for most people. Do what you have to so you’re in a thinking mindset, lay down, close your eyes, and just think.
Writing – To be honest, a lot of great ideas and sparks of inspiration come in the moment during the writing process. Sometimes it relates to the current scene, but just as often what I’m writing will spark an idea for a future scene. These ideas can disappear quickly, so make a note of it right away.
These ideas tend to be on the details and continuity level for me, so their different from what I think of in the previous strategies. Because of this, I would not rely on this time to be your only time to think on your book. At the same time, don’t underestimate the value of simply writing, even if you have no direction at all. Ideas will come to you as you work through all the threads in your mind. So, even when nothing else is working, sit down and write.
With their powers combined
Don’t rely on just one of these times to contemplate your novel. Try a combination or come up with a few of your own. Best results come when taken together.
The personal risks of living in constant pursuit of inspiration
I’m not normal. You probably figured this out already. I’m pretty aloof, I forget a lot of important things, and I have a hard time maintaining relationships with many people outside my family — even inside my family if I’m being honest. For a normal person, this might sound lonely, but for me, it’s what I crave.
This personality flaw, as some might call it, is likely a result of my own pursuit crafting the perfect piece of fiction. I spend so much time thinking about my writing — and other creative projects — that when it comes time for the real world, often I’m a step behind.
For me, that’s ok. I enjoy being alone and spending time simply thinking on things. This is where my inspiration comes from. So be warned, transitioning into a life in constant pursuit of inspiration may come at a cost. Or you might already be an outcast, nerd, or other form of standoffish enthusiast. My people!
Don’t put too much pressure on your ideas
The idea generating phase never ends, so try not to stress about it. The more you allow yourself to think on things, the easier it becomes. Remember, it takes years to become good at anything. Don’t expect the first manuscript you write to be your masterpiece. You could be one of the lucky one’s who writes a classic on their first go, and to you I say fuck off.
It takes most people years to become great at manipulating a thousand ideas into a novel, so just make time for thinking and writing and let everything else go. There’s too much stress in the world already. Don’t make the creative process into a stressful one. Enjoy the struggle, take pride in your mistakes, at least you’re creating something out of nothing! Later on, those early mistakes will be obvious and you’ll find all new weaknesses to strengthen. So it goes.
When your expectations are too high, nothing feels good enough. Accept that not all of your ideas will be perfect. Some may feel average at best but will create a compelling story in execution. Others may feel great and in execution you’ll realize that they weren’t all you thought they were. It’s all ok. Pivot. Come up with new ideas. Think and think on it, massage it, and eventually something good will come.
Recognize that the initial idea will likely get left in the dust
When I wrote Discovering Aberration, my initial idea was inspired by a dream of a mysterious island with some hidden technology submerged under a lake protected by a dragon. The island and the ancient technology made it to the final draft. All the rest got written out. In the end I wrote a story involving gang wars, evil archeologists, a lost civilization, and characters driven to madness. Idea’s change, and that’s ok. Let them take on their own life, coax them along, adjusting when you need to.
Ideas and inspiration don’t strike anyone not actively looking for it. The right mindset, discipline, and practice will cause ideas to flow. If you aspire to being a great writer, then the best advice I can give you is to write and never stop. I hope you found this first post in my novel-writing series useful. If you did, I would very much appreciate it if you would be kind enough to share. I’ll see you next time.
I’ve been building a killer writing playlist on Spotify for a year. I somehow created a 19 hour behemoth of music I can reliably count on whenever I need to get into the writing mood. Shuffle play, and instantly I get pulled into a more contemplative piece of mind.
It’s a mix of chill out, down tempo electronic, psychedelic post-rock, and movie and video game soundtracks. Almost all of the songs have a steady but relaxing beet and trance inducing rhythms. Few have any singing, and those that do feature the kind of vocals that blend with the music rather than drive it.
Below is the playlist. I called it Creativity Juice – A Writers Playlist. Look down further for a sample of some of the artists included. And if that doesn’t float your boat, scroll way down past that where I share some of my playlist creation wizardry tips. So good.
Listen to The Playlist
The artists include:
Want to give this playlist a test drive? Check out some of the artists.
The Album Leaf
Couching Tiger Hidden Dragon
And Many, Many More.
What if you hate my taste in writing music?
Make it yourself! Below are some thing’s I’ve learned building a the perfect writing playlist for me. Feel free to give it a shot and before you know it, you’re going to be rocking your own masterpiece.
Add Songs Liberally
I like to add liberally. I start by picking an artist I like, listen to an album or two and add a song to the playlist every time I’m compelled to. Usually my criteria is to answer “will I ever like to hear this again while writing?” with maybe or greater. This builds your playlist quick, especially in the beginning.
Remove Songs Liberally
Once you’re listening to your playlist, you’ll quickly find that some of the songs that you thought would work just don’t strike the tone you want. Cut it as soon as you notice. Nothing is worse than listening to a playlist and skipping every other track. If you ever feel like skipping, just remove it instead. If you want, you can add it to another track later.
Utilize Recommended Artists
Once you’ve had your fill of any one artist, jump on a few of the related artists. I’ll generally give an artist I’ve never heard before a three song test. If I only skip one out of three songs in a row (adding songs I liked along the way), I’ll pick an album and listen to it from the beginning, otherwise I go back and pick again. Don’t just listen to their most popular tracks. Instead, pick an album and start from the beginning, adding songs you like as you go.
Listen While Your Not Writing
When you’re writing, the last thing you want to do is stop writing to manage a playlist. If a song comes on that you want to skip, if you’re like me you’ll just suffer through it unless it’s really grating. Instead, listen to your writing playlist when you’re not writing and remove the songs that aren’t working.
That’s all I’ve got. It’s not rocket science, but it’s a method that works for me. So what do you think of the playlist? If you listen to it during a drafting session, let me know how it went in the comments. If you’ve created your own writing playlist, feel free to share a link.
When I talk about writing, the most common question I’m asked is, ‘How do you stay motivated enough to finish a novel?’ That’s a tough question, especially when talking to new writers.
Until recently, I never really thought about it, it was just something I did. But over the last month, I’ve been hyper aware of what keeps me going. This blog post is the result.
We create because we are driven to create.
So if you’ve lit the fire inside, if you need to create something great but find your mind drifting to other things, this post is dedicated to you. Hopefully a few of these points will help instill in you the drive to keep going no matter what. Don’t worry, we’ll have some fun along the way 😉
You’ve heard this before, but that’s because it’s true. If you’re not passionate about what you’re creating, how can you stay motivated? There are ways of course, maybe you’re guaranteed a fat paycheck, but for most of us that’s not the case.
The driving force
We create because we are driven to create. So before you dive head first into a project, find a way to check your passion barometer to make sure it’s something you could spend a year or two working on without sticking a fork in your eye.
You’re going to spend a lot of time writing this sucker, you might as well enjoy it.
Measure your passion
For my latest novel, I spent six month doing this. I had three novel ideas:
a science fiction novel about a terminally ill man becoming the first true cyborg and the existential crises that follows
a thriller where an estranged father kidnaps his son and the mother must track him down in the woods of the Pacific Northwest
a post post apocalyptic novel of a man in the last city on earth who researches the unravelling of the universe.
Three very different books, three very different writing experiences, but each seemed equally interesting for me. So I devoted a couple of months to writing the opening to each of these ideas. When six months passed, I mulled over which writing experience I was most passionate about and landed on number 3 (you can read it here).
You don’t need to do this exact exercise for you’re next creative project, but I recommend seriously considering whether you’re idea will remain compelling to you six months, a year, maybe two or three years down the road. You’re going to spend a lot of time writing this sucker, you might as well enjoy it.
Passion is important, but it’ll only get you so far. If you’re like me, then you’re human. As humans, we get easily distracted by shiny things like social events, entertainment, work, video games, chores, this whole internet thing, pick your poison.
Pick a temptation and regulate it so that you only partake during or after you’ve worked on your project.
So we get distracted for a day or two, and that stretches to a week, a month. Suddenly our passion project has become a task because we lost momentum. Our tour de force has become another chore. Time to get some psychology on our side.
Harness your temptations
Creative work can be hard and thankless for long periods of time. When the going get’s tough, you need a way to pull yourself back in. One technique I use is called Temptation Bundling, a trick I learned from the Freakonomics podcast.
The gist of it is: there are things you love to do. Video games, reading, podcasts, food, TV, etc. These hobbies can either overwhelm your creative energy, or empower it. Pick a temptation and regulate it so that you only partake during or after you’ve worked on your project.
For me, I love The Witcher 3. At the end of the day there’s little I’d rather do than dive into The Witcher‘s world and slay some monsters.But I don’t allow myself to do this unless I’ve sat down and spent some time writing.
Let the things you enjoy motivate you
Some days when I don’t feel inspired, I sit in front of the computer, write maybe 100 words, then turn around and dive into my monster killin’. Other days I get sucked into the story I’m crafting and The Witcher remains untouched. Either way, at least I’ve done something.
I don’t know about you, but I thrive on recognition. I have a hard time writing in a vacuum. There are a few reasons for this. First, the feedback I get is invaluable to the quality of my writing.
Even when someone doesn’t know any literary techniques, they can still gauge when you’re story is interesting, when your characters are compelling, or when your writing is stilted or meandering.
Beyond this, just the knowledge of people reading my work is enough for me to get a little extra oomph in my motivation reserve. Harness this social desire to have your work recognized as a factor in your drive to create.
Get eyes on your work
There are lots of ways to get others to read and respond to your writing. Let’s explore a few of these methods to get you started.
This is a community of writers putting their work out there with the express intention of receiving a brutally honest critique. Nothing is as eye opening on the quality of your work as honest feedback from complete strangers. I find learning my weaknesses helps me improve my writing as I go, rather than when the piece is complete. Highly recommended.
If you’re lucky enough to have a friend willing to read over drafts and drafts of your work for a year+, then take advantage of that as much as you can.
This is a tricky relationship to maintain, especially if it’s with someone you see on a regular basis. You don’t want to pressure anyone to read your work, because that can strain a friendship.
Still, accountabilibuddies can offer you motivation by telling you what works, what doesn’t, and by asking about your progress regularly.
For me, I like to spread this relationship around. I’ll share my writing with anyone who shows an interest, and then I’ll lay off and let them read it in their own time. Some people get back to me right away, others may take a month or two. Either way, be patient and understanding that they have a life.
When they do get back to you, gauge their enthusiasm. Try to see if they are holding back for fear of hurting your feelings, or see if their excited for the next part. Either way, you’ll know if you need to make changes, or keep on the path.
Wattpad is a website for writers to share their works. It tends to be serialized pieces and the audience skews pretty young. The pieces you share on Wattpad must start at the beginning and go through the novel in order, not so for the last two options. Finally, on Wattpad readers expect your work to be fairly polished, so this isn’t a good option for the early stages of writing.
Even given all this, Wattpad can be a nice place to get eyes on your work in progress. Readers often comment, and you can glean valuable insights into how your work is affecting them. Of the three ideas I’m sharing here, this is probably the least effective for motivation, but it works and it may build your audience too.
Ooooo. Controversial territory here. I used to drink while I wrote. I’d by a six pack of beer or a bottle of gin and dive in. I found my mind less encumbered, the barrier in my brain that might say, ‘don’t write that, it’s stupid’ would shut off. A sure fire win, right?
Making these things an integral part of your creative process will eventually end with you relying on it.
Unfortunately this led to me drinking whenever I wrote, and during extended writing sessions I’d drink a lot. Sometimes I’d get drunk and have to stop because I could no longer concentrate on the work. And I gained weight. And I’d feel like shit the next day. And soon the law of diminishing returns caught up with me.
The issues with substances as motivation
When drinking or pot or whatever is part of your motivation, dependency happens. Sometimes the substances begin to outweigh the writing, and your ritual devolves from writing with a glass of wine to drinking every night, to alcoholism.
There’s this image of the alcoholic (or drug addicted) writer, singer, artist that is romanticized in our culture. But in the long run, it doesn’t leads to better motivation, better work, or a better life. Don’t let drugs or alcohol become part of your routine as a writer, it won’t be worth it in the long run.
You don’t have to be a prude about it
Don’t get me wrong, I still drink on occasion, and have no issue with someone smoking weed. It’s legal in Washington state after all, and even before then I didn’t give a shit. But making these things an integral part of your creative process will eventually end with you relying on it. That’s bad news bears.
If you spend all your time writing, your writing will suffer.
Here’s the last bit, and maybe you weren’t expecting it. If you want to stay motivated as a writer, then ensure you’re still living. Don’t spend all of your time writing. You’ll burn out. You’ll miss out on the many awesome things life has to offer. You’ll lose the opportunities life provides to instill you with deep inspiration. If you spend all your time writing, your writing will suffer.
Great writers live full lives
Maintaining a balance in your life will not only keep you from burning out as a writer, but it will give you happiness and inspiration to boot.
I’ve heard some writers say that they need to write every single day without a day off. Maybe that works for them, but not for me. Don’t be afraid to take a night off every now and then.
I tend to remove the requirement of writing on the weekends. I may end up writing anyway, but it’s not something I’m setting out to accomplish. Instead I’ll be with my family, go out to Seattle, go mountain biking, exercise, practice Muay Thai, watch anime, read books, swing by coffee shops, take my kid to the park, life stuff.
Ok, so not entirely true. I write all my blog posts on the weekend too. So you caught me, I’m still writing, but the subject material is different.
Make room for inspiration to strike
Maintaining a balance in your life will not only keep you from burning out as a writer, but it will give you happiness and inspiration to boot.
Inspiration rarely strikes in front of the computer. It hits in the quiet moments of solitude when your mind is free to wander on its own. Inspiration sprouts while walking in the park, showering, laying in bed, driving, meditating, or just staring off into space.
Structure your weekends so that these moments are plentiful. Be lazy, enjoy the feeling of grass on your toes, watch the way leaves dance in the wind, or the way shadows fall. When you do this, you’ll find explosions of insight into your work will become an regular occurrence.
Participate in activities you can draw on
Do you know what it feels like to get shot? No? Yeah, me either. But I’ve dropped a knife on my foot (by accident) and I can draw on that experience when describing something different but related.
You can draw on these experiences and add a sense of realism to the things you’ve never gone through.
There are so many safe, fun, and controlled activities you can do that you can later draw on in your writing. Make sure you work these into your life, and while you do, contemplate on your experiences.
I’ve used the feeling of hiking off trail to inspire descriptions of exploring a jungle in my novel Discovering Aberration. I used the experience of playing music at open mic nights to inspire characters in my unpublished novel Everything Else by the Wayside.
Do I know what it feels like to be chased by someone trying to kill me? No, but I do know how it feels to spare with trained fighter, get beat up, smacked around, and still come up on my own two feet.
I know what it feels like to ride jumps on my bike that I’m not sure I can land, and how it feels to unexpectedly crash.
I know what it feels like to be physically strained through strength conditioning classes. You can draw on these experiences and add a sense of realism to the things you’ve never gone through.
Make room for inspiration
Life provides inspiration in countless beautiful ways, from nervousness to love to pride and beyond. How can you write about those things if you haven’t lived them? Find the activities that speak to you, get out there and do cool shit, focus on the experience, and later distill it into words.
I hope you found this piece helpful. The topic of motivation has been on my mind for a while now, and I have more to say on the topic. If you want more, or if you have motivational strategies of your own, please let me know in the comments. And if you found this piece interesting, helpful, or just a little entertaining, please share on your favorite social network. Until next time.