5 More Things to Do After Finishing Your First Draft

Sometime ago, I shared a list of five things you could do after finishing your first draft and while waiting to get started on revisions. That list was by no means comprehensive, so here are five more things that are necessary to writing but often get left in the background when writing is front and center.

5 More Things to Do After the First Draft

1. Organize Those Writing Files

I can hear the groans already!

Groan all you want, but writing files need to be organized just like other things and there’s no better time to organize files than while a manuscript is cooling off.

Paper Clips - ColorfulOne thing you might consider is creating a scene database for all those random and/or unused scenes. I’ve spent too much time trying to find something I know exists but that is hidden even from keyword searches. So I started a scene database that includes a scene title or description, the story it’s attached to (if any), where it’s filed, and the opening line.

My database is in Excel, but you can use whatever spreadsheet program you prefer. If you happen to have a good database program, go ahead and use that, instead.

2. Research

Research Book in LibrarySomething that bogs down my novel writing is finding out I don’t know enough about something. Be it trains, the Appalachians, or night vision goggles, there inevitably comes a point in every story when I realize I don’t know enough to write about a particular subject with authority.

I’ve learned is to make a note and keep writing. Do the research later.

“Later” may be the time between finishing the first draft and getting started on the second. Whether online, in a library or taking an expert to coffee, there is no better time for research than the down time between manuscript drafts. Having fresh—and accurate—information at your fingertips when you start revisions will help determine where you need to make corrections.

It may also spark new and interesting ideas.

3. Get Better Acquainted With Your Characters

You’ve now spent days, weeks, months (dare I say years?) with your main characters. You’ve given them things to do and decisions to make and they’ve successfully reached the end of the story.

2015-05-06 FriendsBut what do you really know about them?

Now might be the ideal time to get to know them better. Sit down in the location of your choice (or their choice perhaps). Ask them a few questions. Let them ramble or rant or whatever they care to do.

A lot of writers have a list of 100 questions to ask their characters. Others advocate just hanging out with fictional characters. James Scott Bell suggests a character voice journal in his book Revision And Self-Editing (Write Great Fiction).

Whatever method you choose can be a great way to get into a character’s head and learn their voice so clearly it shines in the novel.

And who knows what interesting tidbits might come to light that will help support that sagging middle (your novel’s; not yours!)

4. Introduce Yourself to New Characters

Whether or not you have another story in mind, it never hurts to introduce yourself to new characters.

They can be based on people you know or would like to know.

They can be totally made up.

They might appear in a dream one night (don’t laugh, it happens!).

You don’t have to do the 100 question survey with them, but let them tell you about something interesting that happened to them or about a dream or fear.

If you have an interesting or quirky minor character in your story, give them a little time in the limelight. See what happens. You might be surprised.

5. Timed Writings

2015-03-03 TimeOne of the things I do when I have a little free writing time or when I’m blocked is do a few timed writings. I recommend the free app FocusWriter (read my reveiw).

Timed writings can be about anything or nothing at all. As I write this, I’m in the process of writing daily observations as timed writings, but I’ve also been getting acquainted with characters, writing random scenes, and working on stories.

Or do a little free writing. A favorite topic. A favorite sense. A favorite color. Choose something and write for ten or twenty minutes. No editing allowed. Don’t worry about quality. Just write. So what if most of it will never see the light of day? The goal is to put words on paper and to hone your skills and your mind for revision work.

There are other ways to make use of free writing time. What do you do between the first draft and second?

Things That May Be Blocking Your Writing, Part 2

Sometime ago I wrote about things that may be blocking your writing. I started out intending to list ten things because, well, I’ve had to deal with at least that many writing blocks.

But I got up to number six and hit the thousand-word mark, so I decided to reduce my original list to five and call it good.

But those other things also deserved mention. So here’s my follow up.

Things That May Be Blocking Your Writing, Part 2

6. Too much advice

Let me make it clear that learning from others who are ahead of you in the writing journey is one of the best ways to learn new skills and avoid pitfalls.

You can, of course, do it your own way, but be aware that it will cost you time and effort. Why? Because you’re likely to make a lot of the same mistakes others before you have made.

Seeking—and listening to—the advice of others is quite simply a case of learning by example rather than by experience.

Here’s the secret. You can’t use every method used by every writer and accomplish anything. It simply is not possible.

One writer espouses outlining and another writer blasts it. You can’t have it both ways. Somewhere in the middle, yes. But both ways? No.

Yes, you need to read books that help you write better stories. But you also need to know how to find what works for you and what doesn’t. Then you need to learn how to throw out what doesn’t work.

7. Trying Too Many Things

When you find something that works, stick with it. This has been my big problem over the years. If one type of story planning works, then another type might work better. I’ve fallen into the habit of trying everything I read about. The end result is that I haven’t stuck with anything long enough to find out how well it works—or doesn’t work.

Learn from my mistakes and don’t do that!

8. Too Little Knowledge of Your Writing Self

Do you remember a couple of posts I wrote a month or two ago? I described what to do when you’ve lost your first writing love and followed up with post asking who you’re writing for.

I wrote those posts because I’d forgotten my writing self. Why I was writing. Who I was writing for. The purpose behind all the words.

Part of that equation is knowing when and how you write best. Reams have been written about both subjects, so all I’ll say here is that it’s important to know what part of the day you’re most productive and how you write best—what type of writer you are.

Of course the obvious two categories are pre-planner and pantser, but there are other categories, as well.

It’s important to understand how your mind works because knowing that allows you to sort through all the how-to information and more quickly find the material that works for you. Read what fits your writing personality and discard what doesn’t. It helps you avoid too much advice.

But it also helps you know what methods of process to avoid.

I love planning. I can write pages of summary and characterization, but it blocks the writing of novels because once I’ve written all those pages of summary and whatever else, my mind thinks the story has been told. The net result? The novel comes to a screeching halt.

If you’re a pantser by nature (which I appear to be), don’t fall into the trap of thinking you have to pre-plan just because other writers do.

That works both ways, by the way. The key is to know how you work best. Then you can ignore the things that don’t complement or advance that writing process.

9. Too Many Ideas

The problem here isn’t just the ideas. We all know new ideas are good things. They’re the fertile soil from which new stories sprout and grow.

But if you’re in the middle of a first draft, the last thing you want is a new idea popping up and laying claim to your attention.

You can’t keep that from happening. But to keep those new ideas from taking over the current project, you do need a strategy for dealing with them.

The best strategy for me is to take a little time to summarize the idea. A few words or a few lines to describe the thought either in a digital document or on an index card.

I’m also doing a timed writing challenge this year, so I sometimes use those timed writings to develop a persistent idea a little more fully.

Also setting aside time each week for dedicated idea generation is a good way to nip rampant ideas in the bud.

10. Too Much Life

This was suggested by a reader and she called it displacement. As in having to move and having no place to write.

I know all about that, having moved several states 14 years ago and having endured a two-week cold a couple of weeks ago. In both cases, the only thing to do was take care of the matters at hand.

There is, unfortunately, no solution to this problem. There comes a time in every writer’s life when circumstances take priority and everything else is either tended on a reduced scale or set aside altogether.

The best advice I can give you is to tell you that these circumstances are quite often temporary. Moves are completed. Colds heal. Kids grow up and start families of their own. Don’t stress over the days (weeks, months, or years) you can’t write. Do what you can and prepare for the day when things change and you can write more.

That concludes part two of this no doubt ongoing saga. Which block do you have the most trouble with? What other things would you add to the list?

Software Review – WordGraph SSuite Office

This is the next in my series of reviews on free Microsoft Word replacement programs. This week, I’m reviewing WordGraph SSuite Office.

According to the WordGraph website:

SSuite WordGraph is a free and very useful alternative to Microsoft’s Word, OpenOffice’s Writer, or anything else out there claiming to be the latest and greatest. You don’t even have a need for .NET or even JAVA to be installed. This will save you a lot of hard drive space and precious computer resources.

Use WordGraph for anything from writing a quick letter to producing an entire book with embedded illustrations, tables of contents, indexes, and bibliographies. WordGraph is a complete and powerful software solution for creating, editing and viewing various types of documents. You can create simple or highly structured documents include graphics, tables, charts, and insert spreadsheets you created with Accel.

Indie Plot Twist Software Review SSWordGraph

A Few Basics

WordGraph SSuite is what is known as a standalone word processor. That means that unlike MS Word, OpenOffice, or LibreOffice, it does not include presentation/slide applications, a database, or some of the other applications that make up full office suites.

What it does come with is a very nice word processing application and a basic spread sheet application.

Consequently it’s very small. About 8mg of space. It took less than a minute to download and less than two minutes to install on my laptop, which runs on Windows 8.

Minimum System Requirements

1024 x 600 Display Size
Microsoft Internet Explorer
Windows NT / 2000 / XP / Vista / 7 / 8 / 10 – 32 Bit and 64 Bit – Mac and Linux

Four Basic Questions

Can You Create Microsoft Compatible Documents? Yes. The program default is a rich text file (rft), which can be opened by almost any word processing software.

Can You Open Documents Created in Microsoft Word? I tried opening one of my ongoing files, my writing journal, which is formatted as a .doc file. The document opened, but there was only a few characters of gibberish in it. The file isn’t that large—just over 24,000 words. I tried a couple of other things and it appears that the only way to use a .doc file in this program is to copy the content into a new SSuite window.

Can You Open Documents Created in SSuite with Microsoft Word? Yes. The default format is Rich Text Format (rft), so it can be opened in Microsoft Word, as well as most other office suites, Notepad, WordPad, and other text editors.

How Easy is it is to Learn and Use SSuite? SSuite is fairly easy to use, but figuring out some of the features does take time. I’d give it 2 stars of 5 in ease of learning.

What I Like About SSuite

The neatest thing I found the first time I used this program was the digital clock on the lower right column. Yes. I know. A simple thing. But I like clocks with displays that are easy to read and this clock is easy to read.

The display is easy to read and the toolbars are well organized. If it matters, the design is also quite visually appealing (at least to this artist.)

I especially like the stats in the bottom toolbar.

What I Don’t Like About SSuite

The default document type for SSuite is rich text format (rft). While that’s a good, basic format that can be read by most types of word processing software, it’s not as convenient as defaulting to a .doc file.

I also had a program failure within the first twenty minutes of using the program and again the last time I used it. I don’t know what caused the failures, but the program restarted again without difficulty. I lost a little bit of work because there is no data recovery with SSuite.

I also found no easy way to change styles throughout a document other than highlighting the entire document and manually making whatever changes I wanted. Maybe I’m getting soft, but I’ve found the style sheets on Word, OpenOffice, and LibreOffice to be so convenient and useful that this is the next thing to a deal breaker for me.

The working window is not WYSIWIG. It’s a thumbnail similar to what happens with Notepad or Wordpad. In other words, if I made the window wider, the lines stretched out. That may be why some of the formatting does not show up. It may also be why the page appears to have less than one-inch margins.

Finally, the default paper setting is A4. That’s a European setting. Measurements are also in metric. That’s not a big deal if you’re comfortable with metric settings, but it was an annoyance to me.

My Recommendation

WordGraph SSuite is a handy little program, but isn’t something that will stay on my computer beyond the test period. It isn’t set up to do enough of the “high-detail” formatting that I do for eBooks, art lessons, and other writing.

Problems with sudden program failures were also a consistent problem.

However, if all you want is a straight-forward word processing program that doesn’t cost anything and will let you write, this may be just the software you’re looking for.

Just proceed with caution.

4 Ways to Get to Know Your Characters

Let’s face it; you can’t write about someone you don’t know well.

Or maybe a better way to say it is this:

You can’t write well and with authority about someone you don’t know well.

So how do you get to know your characters?

4 Ways to Get to Know Your Characters

Four Popular Methods

Formal Interview. Interview characters as though they were job applicants. Basic question categories are: Their growing up years; education; profession; family life. I wrote about this process in a series that begins with Well-Rounded Characters-3 Tips for Getting Acquainted.

Informal Interview. If the formal interview is like interviewing a job applicant, the informal interview is more like taking a new acquaintance to lunch.

It’s more of a conversation than an interview. You ask questions, but you also free write and let the character tell you whatever he or she wants to tell you.

Just Start Writing. Sometimes the best way to get to know your characters is to put them in a situation and let them get out of it. As with most free writing exercises, don’t edit yourself, even to correct spelling. Let whatever comes to mind end up on paper. (You can—and probably should—edit later.)

Hearing Voices. Once in a while, a character comes to me through dialogue. After weeks spent planning a story, your lead shows up one day and begins telling his or her story, revealing back story, fears and ambitions one scene at a time.

What Method Do I Use?

The short answer is all of them (and then some). I have a long list of questions that can be used in a formal interview. When I use this, it’s like filling out a dossier on a character. It works for some but not for others. A chatty character, for example, will gladly part with information.

It’s less likely to do well with a more reserved character.

It’s for that reason that I no longer rely on the formal interview as much as I used to.

I do like to ‘meet with a character’ in a place where he or she is comfortable. I ask questions, but also let them do more leading than comes with a formal interview. Locations have included one character’s back deck, another’s favorite restaurant, and another’s hometown.

But the method I’m using most right now is a combination of character journaling through free writing and putting characters into situations and learning about how they think and respond by seeing how they get out of those situations.

You may already have guessed that there’s no right way to learn more about your characters. All of the methods described here work, but you may have a totally different way of getting to know your characters. Great!

If you haven’t found the method that works best for you, give each of these a try. Mix them up and see what happens.