The vast majority of people want to write a book, but never get it done. Do you want to? If your answer is yes, what are you waiting for? Waiting for inspiration to strike? Don’t know what to write about? If that’s the case, sign up for my mailing list and you will get a copy of my Novel Idea Generator . . . PLUS, I will select three people from the list to get a hard copy of the workbook sometime in the next couple of weeks.
I was cleaning up my home office today (because I always feel the need to purge at the end of the calendar year), and ran across the critiques from my writers’ group on a piece that was the very first inkling of Diamond in the Rough.
Whether or not you’ve read Diamond in the Rough, I thought you might enjoy this peek behind the curtain, to see how my novel was born. Hope you like it.
Rusty is a cowhand at the Domino Ranch, where he’s been for years. He lives in a small house, which he shares with Beau, Joe and a couple of other guys. Thursday nights he spends at a neighboring ranch, playing poker with the guys. He drives an old gray Chevy pickup that has more miles on it than he does.
He was with Beau and Beth the night that Bert’s herd was stolen by rustlers. The mutilated steer affected him deeply. A love of animals is what led him to life on the ranch. Growing up, he was responsible for taking care of the family dog and made money summers taking care of neighborhood pets. That was back when he was known as Russell Warner. He dreamed of living in the country, surrounded by rolling green hills and dogs and cats and horses. Once in high school, he joined 4-H. Other kids made fun of him for his project – he raised rabbits. It was the only project he could do in city limits. The girl he had a crush on – her name was Penny – raised a bottle calf every year. Her brother Mike was the one who had given him the name Bunny Boy. His high school years were a blur of embarrassment. He had been a country boy stuck in the city, a disappointment to his college educated parents and an outcast in the FFA / 4-H circles that he desperately wanted to join.
The day after he graduated high school, he packed his meager belongings into the used maroon Toyota Tercel that his parents had given him as a graduation present and headed west out of St. Louis. He stopped for gas in Kingdom City, picked up a newspaper and went to Denny’s to peruse the want ads while he wolfed down a Grand Slam. The girl who was waiting tables chatted him up, and told him about her cousin who worked at the sale barn just down the outer road and how they always needed extra hands on sale days. She jotted her cousin’s name on the back of his receipt and told him to go on down to the sale barn and introduce himself.
The girl’s cousin showed him around, and Bill, the owner, hired him on the spot. The crusty old man gripped Russell’s hand and give it one firm shake. “Welcome aboard, Rusty.”
And in that moment, Russell the Bunny Boy became a distant memory and Rusty the cowhand was born.
<SIGH> I always feel nostalgic when I come across a piece like this, that grew into an entire novel. If you want to keep up to date with my new releases and other book news, make sure you sign up for my mailing list – and if you’re intrigued by how stories like this kernel of an idea become a full-fledged novel, sign up for my WriteScouts newsletter.
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Have you ever wanted to write a book but never seem to find the time? Have you read writing craft books, but can’t seem to put it all together? Do you work full-time, so you barely have time to brush your teeth, much less write the book you want to write? Have you got notebooks filled with ideas and words that you just can’t string together into a complete book?
I’ve been where you are, and I want to help you fast-forward through the struggles that I went through. Now that I figured out how to get that novel finished, I want to help you do the same thing. I’m working to put together a class to help you write your novel in a matter of weeks (instead of the 10 years I spent on my first manuscript). I’ll be offering a freebie to give you a taste of what’s coming. If you want in on that freebie, and want writing tips and tricks, sign up below for updates. Pssst . . . if you sign up now, you’ll get an extra freebie!
(btw . . . comment below and let me know what you’d like to see covered in upcoming classes.)
Setting is integral to the success of your story, except in the rarest of circumstances. I can’t think of a single book where the setting doesn’t matter. Consider The Life of Pi. It could’ve been set somewhere else, but it would still have to be a secluded location. Look at the Wizard of Oz – any other setting would change the book itself. In my own books, I set Fatal Impulse on an island in Maine to add another layer of insulation to Andi’s life. The water around the island is a symbol of the isolation she feels.
ENHANCE YOUR STORY
When you consider your setting, think about what location would enhance your story. Think in large terms first: which country? Rural or urban? Sophisticated or simple? Even your characters’ interactions with others should be taken into account, because where they live and work will affect them. Your plot will be intimately connected to your setting. Think about how far your character will drive to get from one place to another, or would it make your story better if everything is within walking distance (or shouting distance).
REAL OR MADE-UP?
Some will warn you against using actual locations. I don’t have a problem with it, but if you use a real location, do your research. This doesn’t mean you have to visit the location (though if you can, all the better), but do take the time to watch Youtube videos of the area, google it, read histories, read tourism brochures, watch their local news, read their local newspaper.
I read a book years ago by an author in New England. She set her book in Missouri. I was one of her first readers (we belonged to the same online group) and was stopped short while reading a passage that referenced the main character stepping out onto her hotel balcony in Kansas City, looking south towards the mountains. I sent her a polite note, letting her know that you can’t see mountains from Kansas City, and suggested that she might want to change that if she did a future print run or a second book in that setting. She replied to me, quite curtly, that she had done her research and that Missouri plainly had the Ozark Mountains. I let it go. It wasn’t worth arguing over (and it wasn’t the only error like that). But as a reader, it destroyed my faith in her as a writer and I didn’t recommend her book to others as I normally would.
WRITE A SETTING SKETCH
Once you’ve decided on the type of setting you want to use, write it out. I like going from bit to little here. Describe the setting from your main character’s point of view, then describe it as if you were on the outside looking in (imagine yourself up in the clouds, overlooking the area). After you’ve written a setting sketch, actually sketch your area. You can use real maps, real street views, real floor plans. I usually grab a map off of Google maps that is similar to what I’m looking for (in the mountains, on an island, etc.) and print it on a large piece of paper which I post near where I write. I also print the floor plans of locations that appear in my story. This keeps you from making continuity errors (heading north towards town in one scene, heading south towards town in a later scene).
You’ll want to do a setting sketch for every location that appears in your story, such as your character’s home, workplace, favorite cafe, coffee shop, friend’s house, etc.
Here are some things to get you started on your sketch (do this for each major location in your story):
- Rural or urban?
- Real or imaginary?
- What does it look like from the outside?
- What does it look like inside?
- What does it smell like?
- What does it sound like?
- What memories does your main character associate with it?
- How does your character feel about it?
I hope you’ve found my tips helpful. Feel free to share your own in the comments! (and if you haven’t signed up for my newsletter yet, pop over to the sidebar –> and give me your name and email address. I’ll be giving away tickets to Penned Con soon!)
The hardest part of writing is facing the blank page.
When I was a kid, I wrote all the time. My mom brought me notebooks filled with my longhand scribbles several years ago and I was amazed. As a teenager, I didn’t have trouble getting the stories started. I just put pen to paper and let the words flow. So why was it so hard for me to start writing as an adult?
Adulting is hard. Creativity is fun.
Simple. I’m an adult. I’ve lost that joyful creative streak that lets kids PLAY.
Think about it – when was the last time you let yourself play purely for the sake of playing? When did you truly let your imagination run wild?
You need to find that inner child. Bribe him or her with something fun. Let her play.
And that brings me to NOW. You want to write a book. You have the kernel of an idea. You’ve thought about your characters and your setting. You may even know some of your plot points. But you don’t know how to start. I get it. I remember getting book after book about how to write, but I didn’t “get” it. I couldn’t figure out how to actually start with a blank page and get to at least 50,000 words so I’d have the complete skeleton of a book.
That’s why I’m here. To help you get there.
So . . . how do you start?
First things first – start your routine. Once you get in a routine, you’ll actually be training your brain to write when you are ready to write. Real writers don’t wait for inspiration to write. They treat writing as a job.
Do whatever works for you. It could be where you write, what you write with, lighting a candle, drinking a particular drink, having a particular snack. I used to have a little rock that I drew a face on – I’d take him with me when I went out somewhere to write. Now I have a fairy necklace that I wear, to represent my muse.
You should have a notebook dedicated to this book you are writing. Get it out now. Grab a pen that feels good to you – one that writes smoothly. (are you as obsessed with office supplies as I am?)
Open the first page. Now, pretend you’re writing to me.
- Tell me what your book is about. This should be at least a page long.
- Tell me about your main character. Who is she/he? What does he/she want? What is his/her greatest fear?
- Draw a mindmap. Put your character in the middle. Then think about the individuals and events that would have had an impact on him/her, and how those things are related. Do this for your other characters, too.
- Flip to a fresh page. What is the first thing that will happen in your book? Pretend your talking to me over a cup of coffee.
- Flip to a fresh page. How do you want your book to end?
Okay, so, you’ve done all that?
Open up your laptop and start.
There’s no magic formula. Just start writing. Don’t worry about grammar, don’t worry about structure, just tell your character’s story. Let yourself feel what your character feels, see what your character sees.
Have a goal.
Write 3 pages a day. If you can’t get that much done, write something every day. There are days I have to force myself to sit down and write one sentence. I tell myself that – “You can write one sentence, at least.” I don’t think I’ve ever stopped at one sentence. You’ll likely do the same.
Touch base with your muse periodically.
At least once a week, pull out your notebook and simply noodle ideas. Just like at the beginning, pretend you’re talking to me. Just tell me what’s going on in your story, what is going to happen next, what problems your characters are having, what else you can do to give them a hard time.
If you’re really pressed for time, record your thoughts while you’re driving. I plotted my first book entirely by talking to myself while commuting to and from work. Every day, I would ask myself, what can go wrong on the ranch tonight? What if this happens? What if that happens?
See, you started out with a blank page and now, you’re a writer!
You can do this. I have faith in you.
- Go to www.nanowrimo.org and sign up
- Look for your local region (I happen to be in NaNoWriMo::Missouri::Fulton – and we have a Facebook page (that is woefully outdated at the moment!)
- Check with your local library for a kickoff or informational session. If you’re in central Missouri, check the library calendar here.
- Keep an eye on the regional forums of the NaNo site, check your NaNo mail, and keep an eye on your email so you can stay informed about local events, like write-ins and parties.
And if you decide NOT to participate officially in National Novel Writing Month, no worries. You can still participate in Blank to 50K and learn tips to help you finish your first draft.
If you’ve always wanted to write a novel, but can’t seem to get it done . . . National Novel Writing Month may be for you. But there is a caveat to that. You don’t HAVE to sign up for NaNoWriMo. You don’t HAVE to do it in November. The things that make NaNo work for so many people can be tweaked for your personal situation to help you reach your goals.
Quantity over Quality
Don’t get hung up on this point. The idea is to take one month to get your first draft finished. Your goal is to have a beginning, a middle and an end. If you get too focused on crafting perfect sentences, you’ll never reach those two magical words: The End.
NaNo teaches you to write wherever you’d like: at your desk, at a write-in, or in short little bursts wherever you happen to be. I’ve been known to work through lunch at work . . . but take 15 minutes to send myself an email with a few hundred words for my work in progress.
If you sign up for NaNo, you’ll have overwhelming support from the entire NaNo community – from the Office of Letters and Light, your Municipal Liaison, and your Region. If you don’t sign up for NaNo, you still need to elicit support from friends and family, as well as the writing community. Find a writing group or at least a critique partner.
Take the Time
The biggest hurdle writers face is finding the time to write. Give yourself a deadline, tell others you are writing a novel . . . then DO IT.
If I Can Do It, You Can Do It
Both of my novels were drafting during National Novel Writing Month. Check them out and see what is possible, and support a fellow writer at the same time:
In all seriousness, think about this question and it will help you find your way. There are all sorts of reasons – and you have to identify them in order to make your dreams of writing a reality.
Move past WANTING to write a novel.
Let’s discuss why you want to write.
WHY do YOU want to write a novel?
- To entertain people?
- To inform people?
- To get rich?
- To get famous?
- To get the voices in your head to shut up?
Take twenty minutes and free write your answer. Bonus points if you do it in longhand with an elegant fountain pen in a worn leather journal. Then let me know in the comments what you discovered.
Have you signed up for my mailing list yet? If not, pop over to the box and enter your email. I don’t send many newsletters, but I offer freebies a few times throughout the year.
A frequent question I get is “Where do you get your ideas?”
My answer is simple. Everywhere. Look around you. Listen. Read. I’ve got several novels drafted – here’s how I’ve done it.
Denim & Diamonds is my first novel. The story began to germinate when I worked at a law firm. A client came in, needing an estate plan. She had several horses that she cared about deeply. They were her primary concern. She wanted to know how she could structure her estate so that her little farm would be taken care of. That got me to thinking . . . and the Diamond J was born.
Widow’s Web/Fatal Impulse (my next novel . . . hopefully to be released in 2015) was inspired by a story I heard when I was 10 years old. My family vacationed in Colorado, near Salida. At some point, Mom talked to a local about the mountain roads, the steep drop-offs, the dangers of driving. I remember a woman telling a story about a car that went off Highway 50, somewhere near Monarch Pass. The woman said the woman’s body wasn’t recovered until the next summer because the ravine was so steep and rugged that it was too dangerous for rescue crews to go down. The car was left there, a mangled mass of steel. The idea of someplace being so rugged that a body couldn’t be recovered stuck with me. I thought, what a great way to get rid of a body! (yes, even at 10, I thought that way – is it any wonder that I devoured Stephen King novels in my early teens?)
Alien Threat (still in draft form) was inspired by conspiracy websites that picked up a local news story several years ago when a local research scientist was killed. Apparently there have been a lot of scientists killed in unusual ways. Too much to be coincidence? Not in my novel.
If you’re having trouble coming up with ideas, there are several resources you can mine for inspiration:
- Read the news (especially a couple of pages back in a newspaper)
- Pick up a book and turn to the 3rd page and read a line, then turn to the 30th page and read a line
- Think of a book you like, then imagine that story line in a different genre (what if Harry Potter was written as a romance?)
- Think of two movies you like, and imagine them in a mashup (Harry Potter meets Rocky)
When you come across ideas like that, find a way to record them:
- Keep an idea journal.
- Jot ideas on scraps of paper and drop them in a jar.
- Write the idea on a sticky note and stick it to your wall.
- Write your idea on an index card and keep it in a card file box.
So . . . where do you get your ideas? When you get an idea, how do you remember it?
When I was trying to think of a tag line for my blog (and for my writing), I realized that something that most of my writing includes strong women, often dealing with scandal of one sort or another, and, last but not least, second chances. In Denim & Diamonds, Beth finds herself with a cheating fiance and a dead daddy. In a nice twist, her dead daddy leaves her his horse ranch, with a provision that she has to run it to get her inheritance. She takes the challenge, relieved at the chance to escape the chaos of her life and start over fresh.
Most of my friends know I was married before, but it isn’t something I talk about a lot, largely because it’s not a part of my life I’m particularly fond of. It was flat out hard. My job was demanding and required a lot of travel (Kay & Ann Marie & Kim can back me up on that!). In hindsight, that may be the only reason the marriage lasted as long as it did. We were young when we got married. I was 20, he was 19. After five years of marriage, I came home from a business trip and a neighbor asked who the cute little green sports car belonged to that had been at the house while I was gone. Don’t get me wrong, there were problems before that. Arguments about money. Frustration about house work. He took a couple of late night calls from his employee, Chris. When I found out that Chris was short for Christine, and she drove a little green sports car, I knew. It cut like a knife. I confronted my husband, asked if the marriage was over, did he want a divorce. His reply? We can’t afford to get a divorce. NOT the answer I was looking for. In an odd way, I was relieved. The decision of whether or not to leave was no longer a difficult one. In spite of having a challenging job that I enjoyed, a home that I loved, and neighbors that were good friends, I picked up and moved. In order to make it on my own, I needed the love and support and security that home provided. I didn’t move home with the parents, but to a nearby town.
It was hard. Flat out HARD. Leaving behind the life I’d built was difficult, but the hardest part was admitting failure. My marriage had failed. The how didn’t matter. The first night in my new apartment (in a bad part of town – it was all I could afford), I curled up in the fetal position and cried myself to sleep. I allowed myself that night to mourn the death of my marriage. Then I made a conscious decision to look forward. I felt like I’d wasted five years of my life, and was ready to get on with life.
I reconnected with friends from high school (hi, Denise!). After working as a professional at a college, I found myself working nights at a telemarketing company selling children’s books and encyclopedias. Quite a fall for me. Finally got a job as a receptionist at a law firm, which led me to the career that I love. Met my now-husband. We just celebrated our 20th wedding anniversary (we all look real happy in that pic in the upper left, right?). My life is sooooo much better than it was. I’m so much happier than I was. And I am stronger than I thought I was at the time.
In my writing, I often draw upon those feelings – the fear of being alone, feeling like a failure, the sadness, the anger, the hurt, the betrayal – to make my characters more real. I’m drafting the second novel in the Diamond series, and it features another strong woman as the main character. I hope she turns out as strong as I think she is. I want my readers to experience the fear, anger, and happiness of my characters. And I hope, in some small way, it helps my readers through their own bad times.
Because, dear readers — just like me, just like Beth, you are stronger than you think.