Monday, January 2, 2012

Best Writing Advice of 2011

I'm feeling a bit like a bear just waking up from a long winter's nap. *Stretch.*

Okay, maybe I have no idea what a bear feels like, but I do feel a weird combination of rested and groggy. And a tad hungry.

Did everyone enjoy their holidays? I dove deeper into my work in progress (WIP) and devoured Waterfall and Cascade by Lisa T. Bergen. I even spent some time with these guys:




And my husband, parents, grandmother, and in-laws were utterly ridiculous (but in the best kind of way!) because this beautiful girl was waiting under the tree for me:
Gorgeous. Last year I was remodeling my office, so I was unwrapping things like a gallon of paint and a huge roll of cork. My family seemed to enjoy this gift much more.

Because it's January, and it's only natural to both reflect and cast a vision, let's do some of both!

If you're game, leave a comment answering one or both of these questions:

What's the best piece of writing-related knowledge you gained in 2011 that you're bringing with you into the new year?

and

And what goal(s) have you set for yourself this year?


What I learned in 2011...


I don't work well with an uber-detailed outline (already knew that part!) but what does help me is having an outline of the basics. From reading James Scott Bell's Plot and Structure, I decided to try plotting the basics. I don't want to post the ones I did for my work in progress (WIP) but I did a quick right up for Me, Just Different:

My character's ordinary world: She's wealthy, popular, and a partier
The disturbance: Narrowly escaping a date rape
The doorway into act two: Choosing to go to youth group
The middle: Skylar tries her hardest to be good on her own, but her parents are warring, her little sister is secretly pregnant, and she's trapped in a relationship she doesn't want with the guy who saved her from getting raped. Oh, and she's way more interested in the new guy at school than she wants to be. Especially because he's dating her best friend.
The doorway into act three: Skylar telling her friends she's making a lifestyle change and choosing to go to a youth coach's house.
Ending: It has one, but I won't spoil it here in case you still haven't read Me, Just Different (which is super cheap on Amazon - $5.20. And, yes, being a better marketer is on my 2012 goals list - why do you ask?)

I can combine the above plot points (Bell refers to them as "a disturbance and two doorways" which I like much better) with a couple key questions:

What goal is driving my character through the novel, and what are her obstacles?
What lie does my character believe?

When I'm done answering those questions, I've written under 200 words of an outline, and I'm itching to write. I've found this provides just enough structure to keep me on course, but I still have a ton of room creatively since I'm just using 200 words to define a 60 to 75k novel.

A goal I've set for myself this year is...

To have a better balance in my marketing/writing life. Before I was published, writing was the priority. Now that I have books on the shelves, and since I would someday like for there to be more Stephanie Morrill books on the shelves, that means I have to prioritize marketing.

But because marketing is one of those things that you never get to check off your to-do list, because there's always something else you could be doing, I have a tendency to push writing to the back burner much more often than I'd like to. Which makes me cranky. And which is bad in the long run, because if I'm not writing books, I'll have nothing that needs marketing.

I'm currently in the first draft stage of a manuscript, so my goal is to write 5,000 words a week. (When I'm in the editing stages, it gets trickier to pick a word count.) I would love to have a daily goal of 2,500 or something like that, but with little kids in the house ... yeah, it's just too unpredictable. So. 5,000 a week. If I can do more, great. If not, 5,000 will at least keep me from being crabby.

What about you?

49 comments:

  1. The one thing I've learned this year is that I do work really well with an outline. But I have learned that it has to be an outline on paper, in pencil, and right next to my laptop. The biggest thing I have learned is that I can write.

    Alyson

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  2. My goal this year is to get back and start writing on my novel hopeful. I quit because I pretty much started what I wanted to start, so now after a few ideas have been playing in my mind I want to continue writing it.

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  3. my goal is finish a novel...I've tried outlines and they work, (I think) but I never get to the middle of a novel. I barely get past chapter 2.
    I'm also going to figure out why I can't get finish one...

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  4. What's the best piece of writing-related knowledge you gained in 2011 that you're bringing with you into the new year?
    ... That would have to be: don't beat yourself up and outlines are life savers. Somebody told me that you really are your meanest critique, and I've been feeling it. Sometimes I just think everything is JUNK. So I've learned to listen to others and take on their perspective, a fresh perspective. I get other peoples thoughts before I decide whether or not to delete a string of words. I've learned that frustration + editing = a lot of deletion. So I've learned to just cool it and edit when I'm happy xD The other thing is about the outlines. I don't suffer from writers block, but writers explosion. I have a terrible terrible habit of going off course. One day I sat down and forced myself to write down where I wanted the book to go and what I wanted to happen in each chapter and it SAVED MY MANUSCRIPTS LIFE! I gave myself room to walk next to the path (pick flowers, chase a squirrel...ect.) but I made sure I didn't veer to far away from it.

    And what goal(s) have you set for yourself this year?
    ... to finish my projects! :) I would very much love to just write THE END and it really be THE END. Not THE END?

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  5. Alyson, isn't it so funny how specifics like that (an outline on paper versus one on your computer) make a difference?

    Alana, that's a great goal!

    Tessa, because it's HARD to finish :) But I think once you finish the first one, it gets a lot easier to write full manuscripts rather than bits and pieces.

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  6. Random Thinker - It is indeed a challenge to love your story enough to write the whole thing ... yet have the ability to critique the heck out of it ... yet also be able to step back and say, "This is good. It's ready." Sounds like you learned some great stuff last year and please share with us when you get to type THE END. It's a wonderful feeling!

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  7. Something I learned: There is no better proof-reader than a 12 year old brother. They are brutally honest, and very encouraging, because they know you and love you. On top of that, their imaginations can add a bang to the story line :)

    Goals: Write my curriculum and finish my WIP "Renegade."

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  8. Those are great goals, Stephanie! (Also a great laptop :D)

    I think the most important thing I learned about writing this year is that a writer should use description as it relates to the story. Like if my character has gone to live with her creepy uncle in his mansion and I'm describing the mansion, I shouldn't go into great lengths about the sunny windows...I just describe something about the house that reflects my characters mood.

    This year, I just want to finish the second draft of my WIP. Even more, if possible.

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  9. Jordanna, that's wonderful! I love that your brother is so helpful.

    Ellyn, isn't she pretty? :) And I really like your insights about description. Very nice.

    Lots of people wanting to finish manuscripts in 2012 - love it!

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  10. My goal for the year--to meet deadlines! I'm working under them for the first time, so . . .

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  11. Something I learned? Where do I start? Reading this blog and talking to all the awesome people here has helped me stay on track. Since the GTW Facebook page, I have rarely had a moment of writer's block, so in this, I learned that you need a 'support group' of sorts. I also learned that using your senses can be fun, and not boring.

    My writing goal? To have my trilogy completely done by the end of January. Not only the first drafts, but second, third, and fourth drafts (because I believe in being thorough), as well.

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  12. Stephanie, does 'She' have a name? :) 'Cause I totally think you should name her. :D

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  13. The best piece of writing knowledge I gained from 2011 was to know that there isn't just ONE way to write a book. I'd been struggling with this for awhile because for the most part I'd hear people say just to write your first draft without trying to fix much. Write what you've got, then go back and try to fix it. But I can't work that way. I've tried. I'm constantly trying to edit my work even though I still have half my manuscript to finish. I learned that that's okay. Oh, and that research is not my thing... :P

    That's my writing goal: to get better at researching for my WIP. And to actually finish it. :)

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  14. Ro, I think you're gonna be just fine :)

    Becki, that's hilarious. She does totally deserve a name. I opened her at my parents' house and my father called her Chocolate Thunder when we pulled her out of the box. Now I can't get that out of my head, though she's so sleek and lovely she deserves some sort of exotic name like Evangelina or something.

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  15. Oh,and by the way, that laptop is gorgeous! What an awesome gift from your family! :)

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  16. Clarebear, congratulations on granting yourself the freedom to experiment and discover YOUR novel writing process. That's huge! And UGH, I hate research. Drives me crazy when I have to pause writing to research stuff. (I am obviously NOT a historical writer.)

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  17. I don't mind research as long as it's not hard to find. If I've gone through the whole 110,000 suggestions Google has and it's still not what I'm looking for then I start to get annoyed.

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  18. Ah, research. I am so not good at it. Which kind of stinks, because I hope to write historical fiction and biographies :p
    Stephanie, that might be a good topic to cover in a post: research tips/ resources?
    Becki, more like 110,000,000! ;)

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  19. One of the things I learned is that it takes a lot of work to write a novel. I also think I write better about things that I've experienced myself.

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  20. This year, I've learned a lot about fleshing out my secondary characters so they come across as people, not props.

    My primary goal for 2012 is to revise the heck out of the first draft of my novel. I'd also like to try my hand at short stories.

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  21. What's the best piece of writing-related knowledge you gained in 2011 that you're bringing with you into the new year?
    Firstly, I can write, and people like my writing! GTW was a big part of that for sure, as was being hired to teach a group of homeschoolers creative writing. I also learned that detailed outlining really helps my writing.

    Jordan

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  22. Jordanna, hahahahahahahahahaha!!!! I know, right!

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  23. Jordanna, hopefully these old posts help:

    NY Times Bestseller Erica Vetsch wrote about writing historicals and the research involved: http://goteenwriters.blogspot.com/2011/09/erica-vetsch-on-writing-historicals.html

    I attempted to answer a question about how important this research nonsense really is: http://goteenwriters.blogspot.com/2010/03/how-important-is-research.html

    And these are some additional tips abot research: http://goteenwriters.blogspot.com/2011/03/some-final-thoughts-on-research.html

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  24. Chanelle, I think I relearn that lesson every year :)

    Sapphire - YES. Crafting excellent secondary characters is a lost art. Good for you.

    Jordan, it's SO important to figure out what works for YOU. And you're an amazing writer. Could have told you that last January :)

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  25. wow...reading through the comments of what people have learned/goals is inspiring!! makes me want to just sit down and pull up that half finished novel... :D
    another goal...I have trouble with editing, maybe that's why I only get to chapter two, so I'm going to work on that

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  26. My goal this year is to finish editing (1st edit) my NaNo 2010 novel by March. Hopefully after that, I can look into publishing it (after having a few other people look at it of course).

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  27. Tessa, makes me want to write instead of my current activity of folding laundry :)What is it about editing that trips you up? Do you just not enjoy it, do you not know where to start...?

    Carrie, excellent! Those seem like very reasonable goals.

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  28. Oh cool! I did NaNoWriMo this year for the first time and it was a blast. I wish to finish that sucker too.

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  29. I enjoy editing, but I never know when to stop. I just keep editing.

    Alyson

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  30. Ohmigosh! ME TOO, Princess. My writing partner gets very frustrated with me. I'm constantly wanting to fix something and she says, "Need I remind you this is our 29th draft?!" ...no joke.

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  31. Haha Happy 2012! The photos are adorable and I'm super jealous of your laptop, the best gift I got was a huge stash of J Crew sweaters and a new black skirt.



    What's the best piece of writing-related knowledge you gained in 2011 that you're bringing with you into the new year?

    It actually was a quote from Gayle Forman,"I've come to understand that even the misfires are all part of the process-that they've honed my craft or led me to the book I was supposed to be writing." It helped me get over an idea that was a 'misfire' and understand that it wasn't a total waste of my time, because I've gained more knowledge about writing and I have a novel I love now.


    And what goal(s) have you set for yourself this year?

    To finish writing my very first 'good' manuscript by 2013, originally it was by my 14th birthday, but seeing as that's only a few months and 64K away, I've altered it a bit. MY second one is to write every single day and NOT during Spanish class (sometimes I'll find myself typing in Spanish instead of english).


    What I learned in 2011...

    Oh goodness, I've learned so much about writing! Last year I discovered Go Teen Writers, character charts, plotting, not using -ly adverbs, good beginnings (that used to be the hardest part for me, but now it seems like everything else is), how to look past my ego in writing and think like a reader, literary agents, query letters, publishing, Yahoo Answers books and authors section (which I spend more time on than I'd like to admit), and how to write a novel as a teen writer!

    But trust me, there's a lot more to learn in 2012.

    :D Have a nice break everyone, I go back to school tomorrow, ugh.

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  32. Caroline, that advice resonates with me as well. It's so frustrating when I have to scrap a scene or plotline, and it can easily feel wasted. But it's a necessary part of the learning process. Thanks for sharing that!

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  33. Lol, Caroline, I think I have accidentally typed in the wrong language before too! I teach both writing and Spanish with just a short break in between, which makes for interesting incidents occasionally...

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  34. The biggest thing I learnt this year is that I want to write. Doing NaNoWriMo for the first time, I realised that I really do love to write. Which leads onto my goal for this year. I want to write consistently, finishing things more often, and continue learning the craft. The biggest thing for me would be to work out which genre I want to write in. Then I could really start to work.

    In more defined goals, I want to start editing and revising my two NaNoWriMo novels from last year (gosh that feel weird to write). I want to finish my current project and edit and revise that too. And I want to start at least one other project.

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  35. Imogen, prioritizing your writing and being consistent can make a HUGE difference in a writing career. Great goals.

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  36. The biggest thing I learned...well, I learned a lot, so that's a tough one. #1 is probably that I am indeed capable of finishing a novel. (I did NaNoWrMo.) #2 would likely be the usefulness of character journals. (A very recent discovery!) I never realized how important it is to know my characters. It helps to answer a lot of important questions I have about my own stories.

    My main goal is to complete, revise and edit another novel, as well as complete a bunch of short stories that have been jumbling around in my head. I'd also like to rewrite/edit my NaNo Novel. :)

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  37. The biggest thing I learned this year is the importance of writing a yucky first draft.I'm a little late to that party. I've always wanted my first to be perfect and it'd make me obssess. Learning to let to, i get more written.
    Then when I edit I'm always surprised what came out. Sometimes it's surprising like "wow! This is good. Who knew I wrote it?!" and a lot of of times it's like "this stinks"

    My goal this year is to finsih mt first full length MS,learn as much as I can, and hopefully go to my first conference! Oh and stop being so over-critical of my writing, that's a big issue

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  38. to answer your question Stephanie, it's that I like editing, but when I'm working on the first draft, I can't STOP editing...I always think of ways that it could be better, and other stuff like that...which usually leads to me deleting the document

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  39. One of the things I learnt last year which I'm taking into this year would be to make sure that my character always has a problem to solve.

    Goal's... a polished version of the book I'm working on, that would be beautiful. But there's only one way that's gonna happen, and that would be to... get offline!;)

    I read On Writing, by Stephen King. But one thing I've come to realize is that everything's already over here -- you bring everything together, Steph, with a whole lot of other perspective's and it's amazing!

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  40. Oh, my goodness! I love those pictures of your sweetlings. That hat... *swoon*

    And I'm DYING to know what you thought of The River of Time? Did you find the water great or what? (No, the word "devouring" was not enough of a review!) :) :) :)

    Congratulations on that beautiful girl! Evangelina... :) My laptop's name is Griselda. I like to think of her as a fairy godmother and that sounded like a fairy godmother's name. :)

    Okay, this year I've learned that I can write with an outline AND without it. In other words, I wrote one with and one without. I'm not sure if I'll keep up with that or not, but, hey, it worked this year and I so loved every minute of it! :) Two books in one year! Yahoo! With both, though, I had five super-short Acts that kept me in sight of my goal of The End.

    Clare, that's my goal, too. Research. :)

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  41. Jessica, I was shocked when I saw how much character journals helped me. I've found that most of the time when I'm stuck, it's because I haven't taken the time to get to know my secondary characters. And character journals are about the only character building activity that can hold my interest. I used to make myself fill out those interview form things ... I always got bored about halfway through :)

    Tonya, letting go of that desire to write perfectly is a tough one. And I experience the same thing during my second drafts - I'm often surprised by little gems or bits of character development. But, unfortunately, there are some real stinkers in there too :) And if you go to ACFW, I might see you there!

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  42. Tessa, have you tried breaking up the work? I have a tendency to want to make everything perfect all at once, but I've learned to break up the process a bit, to focus on the big stuff first before working on the details.

    I talked about it when we were doing the Steps for Writing a Novel series (there's a tabby thing up at the top). There are several posts about the editing process, but this was the first one: http://goteenwriters.blogspot.com/2011/06/time-for-forest.html

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  43. Emii, you're so sweet :) On Writing is one of the first writing books I ever read. And Bird by Bird (in which I think the language is even worse, if you can believe it.) But both are excellent books that I still love to reread.

    And sometimes I still forget that my characters need goals. It makes that whole plot thing soooo much easier to conquer, though.

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  44. Rachelle, Griselda? I love it.

    I think it's really important to try new techniques (to try outlining, to try using notecards for scenes, whatever.) Every story is different, you know?

    And isn't Connor's hat AWESOME? Totally made his Christmas outfit.

    I will be emailing you my official review of the first two books :) Not far enough into the third yet.

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  45. Stephanie, I checked them out and I love how it seemed to make the story go together easily...i'm usually figuring out characters when they pop up in the story, if that makes sense,
    I think writing the first novel is the hardest. I've written other plot-less things...
    but I'm excited :D

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  46. This year I've learned not to go so hard on myslef. My interior editor Philianthrium gives me free advice (XD get it philanthropist, Philianthrium?! No, ok whatever)But is VERY VERY VERY mean to me! He always tells me I'm a horrible author and that I need to edit edit edit. I've managed to only freak out at him and tackle him a few times :) But friends are always nice to me when Philianthrium is being evil :/
    My goal for next/this year is to experiment in different genres since I've been stuck in my fantasy/adventure box my whole life.

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  47. Oh, Morgan, that totally cracked me up. Yes - tackle that guy. And put duck tape on his mouth. Preferably that cute colored duck tape they've been showing on TV.

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  48. Your kids are such cuties!!!!!!!!!!! Those hats are just so cool on them too :) I have Waterfall... I've been meaning to read it(Ack to many books....Not really, but I'm happy with being flooded.) One of the ones I'm looking forward to reading is the new Elizabeth Camden book. Wow! That is a gorgeous laptop :)I would like to set a goal of a certain amount of words a week. And just write...and then come back and edit. I have learned a lot...just little tidbits. I've learned that making charts definitely helps me get my thoughts out and that I can feel satisfied with my writing (even if it takes a few tries to get it right). Sierra
    Keep Growing Beautiful♥ (Cause You Are!)

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  49. My goal for this year I think is too finish a couple of books, and work on my plotting and writing work overall. :) And be more dedicated to it and actually get some work done which I have yet to do!

    (Yikes! Already 6 days into 2012!)

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