Writing Tips for "New" Writers
(In 12 Easy Steps. Ha!)
Whether you've been writing for years or just getting started, we can all use a little help. Though I have sold several short stories and finally published a novel, I can't give you the same kind of tips as a pro. I won't even try! For that, I think one of the best books I've read is Stephen King's "On Writing". It’s a weird mash of autobiographical information with a heaping dose of practical advice toward the end. If you haven't read it, read it. If you haven't bought it, buy it. It's worth it.
Ok, now for advice from a newbie published author.
I tried it all I think. Outlines, freeform writing, story boarding, classes, articles, books, writing while upside down chanting yoga like prayers…Ok, maybe not that last part. But I may just have to try it the next time I'm staring at the screen with a "deer in the headlight" expression. Everyone works differently. But I really hate when an "advice" piece says something like that, or "just try it until you find something that works for you". You can. But, sometimes you want to say "Just tell me already!".
So, here goes.
Step 1) Type up a character sheet on each character. Its ok if they change as you go. But at least have the basics such as full name, age, hair and eye color, etc. Do this for every character.
Step 2) Find a wall, a board, it doesn't matter. Just find a place where you can put up your character profiles and a bunch of 3 x 5 cards and they can stay. For months if need be. (I used my dinning room for awhile and then my bedroom wall). My suggestion is to use paint safe tape or thumb tacks (because both can be pulled off and reused numerous times – although the tape leaves no marks). This wall should really be close to where you write, maybe across the room so you have to get up and stretch your legs and rest your eyes. But not too far away.
Step 3) Write. Write until you finish your story or novel or opus magnum. Don't stop, don't rethink. Write. With ONE exception. When you've finished that paragraph, chapter, or even just your 7 words for the day, grab a 3 x 5 card, a pen, and highlighter(s) and write down the relevant pieces of information (by chapter or scene) that occurred. For me this was the major points in the each chapter of Phantom Dreams such as who lead what scene, any deaths that occurred, how, and who died. (You'd be surprised how quickly your dead bodies get mixed up!). You can use the highlighter to highlight things like when a major turning point occurred. In my case, I used red to highlight each killing and Kathy's escalating dreams.
NUMBER the cards sequentially. Either by chapter or scene and try not to put too much information on these. These note cards and character profiles are going to do a couple of things for you later on.
Step 4) Use the cards as reference points to keep you on track and remembering things like what your character looks like and how old they are. (Kathy changed age in my first draft 5 times! Obviously I didn't start out with Step 1. :/ )
Step 5) You've finished your first draft! Have a glass of wine, beer, or whatever. Put your manuscript and your cards up. Celebrate. And then ignore that manuscript for at least a month. Two months is better. And find another project. Try something new to help refill your creative well. You're going to need it…
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