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?

Finding Time to Write

What’s the biggest problem confronting most writers?

Finding time to write

Most of us juggle a full family life, full-time jobs, and other responsibilities. We’re already busy. How can anything else—even writing—be squeezed into an already jam-packed schedule?

Finding Time to Write

I don’t have a solution that will solve the problem for every writer. Lives and schedules are too varied and complex for such a simple solution.

But I would like to suggest that the first step in finding your solution is changing the way you look at the problem.

For me personally, the real question was not how do I find  time to write, but how can I make  time to write. Why is that distinction important?

2015-06-17 Clock fleur de lisI’d always treated writing as something I did when I had large blocks of time available. Thirty minutes were good, but an hour was better. Even back then—before marriage, a major move, and new family obligations—there weren’t very many days when I could block off an hour of writing time unless I got up early or stayed up late. (Legitimate ways to make time to write, by the way.)

I had to stop trying to find large blocks of time and instead look for ways to make time to write.

2015-06-17 ClockMinutes Add Up to Hours

The easiest way to make writing time was to look at my daily routine. How was I already spending my time? What activities could I stop doing to make more time to write? Things like watching TV, for example. If I gave up one program a week, I’d have 30 to 60 minutes to write. That much extra time a week adds up pretty quickly.

But what about odd-and-end minutes throughout the day?

I worked at the local newspaper and usually ate lunch by myself. Sometimes in my car at a local park. It turned out that time was perfect for proofreading printed pages. I started carrying a notebook and red pen and proofreading while eating lunch. If I didn’t have something to proofread, I wrote longhand (this was before the days of laptops).

I also found bonus writing time just by keeping a pen and paper with me at all times. Jotting notes on things I saw or heard, ideas for new stories, or thoughts on the current work-in-progress allowed me to turn any moment into a writing moment.

Optimizing Time

Learn how to optimize even short blocks of time and you’ll find all kinds of room in your day-to-day schedule for short spurts of literary creativity. Here are just a few:

Are there five minutes in your usual morning routine? Maybe between the second and third cup of coffee?

How about lunch? Are there five or ten minutes to spare in that routine at least once or twice a week?

Your turn to cook tonight? Once the ingredients are assembled and you’re in a waiting period for something to simmer, heat, or roast, why not use that time?

Waiting in a doctor’s office? Forget the magazines. Do some writing.

With modern technology, it’s easier than ever to turn spare time into writing time. Dictate notes to your phone. Snap images of interesting locations. You can even record scene ideas or scenes if you wish and transcribe them later.

Make use of those odd moments scattered throughout most days and you’ll be surprised how much you can get done.

5 Things That May Be Blocking Your Writing

Last month, I wrote a couple of posts on losing your first love for writing and my journey to rediscovery. If you haven’t read those posts, take a minute now to do so. They will give you a little background for this post.

It’s been five weeks since I wrote the first of those two articles. I’ve started a new story and it’s making wonderful progress. That’s all I’m going to say about it (see #1 below), but I’m thrilled with the way things are going.

Since writing those two posts, I’ve come to realize that the quenching of my first love for writing didn’t happen overnight and that several things contributed to the process. The sad truth is that I’ve already seen them at work in my writing life. Even sadder; I’ve fallen victim to some of them already!

None of the things I’m about to list are bad in and of themselves. They may work wonders for you. If so, wonderful!

But they can be hindrances for others of us. Hence, this post.

5 Things That May Be Blocking Your Writing

1. Too much talking

talk-talk-talkAs in, too much talking about an idea or a story before it’s written. For me, that energy is best spent hammering out words and pages. Writing the story instead of talking about it.

So what should you do when someone asks what you’re working on?

I’ve started saying, “I’m working on a new story about….” and then I throw out my single-sentence summary if I have one. If I don’t, I stick with the bare bones.

“I’m working on a new mystery” or “I’m working on a new political thriller”. That’s about all most people are really interested in anyway.

2. Too much planning

mapI know. I know. I’ve written dozens of posts on the value of pre-planning. You know what? Pre-planning is great…. For those writers who actually benefit from it.

As much as I love pre-planning, it actually does more harm to my stories than good.

How can that be?

If I spend a week writing a long narrative summary for a story, my mind thinks the story is finished. Zip goes the energy for that idea. I may as well bury that story ’cause my brain is salivating for a new idea.

This was an especially painful realization because I have a dozen or more fully summarized—in long form—stories.

3. Too much journaling

I first started keeping a writing journal in 1999, after reading a book in which Lawrence Block recommended keeping a writing journal. But his idea of what a writing journal is and my version of a writing journal are not the same.

To Lawrence Block, a writing journal is where writers record new ideas, personal experiences that might play a part in a book, and things like that. That’s how my writing journal-life started.

But within a year or two, my writing journal started reading like a personal diary.

Then I started keeping a journal for every story and they started reading like a personal diary. There were still character and plot questions in the journal, but it was more about what was going wrong with a story than with figuring out how to write the story. Big. Difference.

And I’ve discovered in looking back over some of those journals that expressing those doubts, fears, and discouragements on paper didn’t purge them from my system. It nurtured them. Made them grow and multiply.

So keep a writing journal for ideas and experiences.

Everything else needs to be dealt with in some other way.

Like, say, fiction?

That brings me to the next point.

4. Too much navel gazing

The first time I used this phrase with Danielle, she didn’t know what I was talking about. So I suppose I should define what I mean.

The term navel gazing is another way to describe self-analysis. Especially excessive self-analysis. You know. As in sitting around with your chin on your chest, thinking about whatever’s wrong or going wrong or could go wrong.

When it comes to writing, this is one of those things that can completely derail a story or a writer. If you happen to be of a naturally melancholy nature—as I am—it’s especially counterproductive.

There comes a time in every writer’s life when he or she needs to sit down and analyze what’s going right and wrong with a story, but don’t let that process take over your writing life.

Because there also comes a time in every story when you have to throw your self-analysis out the window and write with abandon.

5.Too much time spent considering plot options or story questions

One of the things I’m having to relearn is that it’s okay to make a note in a manuscript if a question arises. If a character does something and I wonder why, it really is okay to ask the question in the manuscript itself.

What isn’t okay—for me at any rate—is shutting down writing to brainstorm all those possibilities. As much as I enjoy brainstorming, there is a time and place for it. For me, that is not  in the middle of the first draft.

So leave a note either as a footnote or insert a comment posing the question or suggesting a follow up scene, then let it go.

I like putting those notes into the manuscript itself so they’re there when it comes time to edit and revise.

So that’s my Top Five list of Writing Obstacles. Which ones resonate with you?