Guest Post: How to Achieve Your Writing Goals

How to Achieve Your Writing Goals
by Kimberly Jamison

“Though this be madness, yet there is method in ’t.”
Hamlet, Act Two, Scene Two – William Shakespeare

I have wanted to be a writer since day one. However, it is only as I approach the age of twenty two (still young, granted) that I have realised there is a method to it.

First of all, and it may sound obvious, work out what you actually want to do.
Do you want to complete NaNoWriMo for the first time? Do you want a finished manuscript or a collection of short stories? Do you want to win a poetry competition and have it featured in an anthology? Have an idea of what you want your end goal to be, it doesn’t need to be crystal clear. I know many writers who set out to write the next big epic but found out their story was more suited to a novella or a collection of stories. Your idea can change; don’t be afraid if it does. Just go with it.

Once you have figured out what you want to do, then comes the planning phase. A good tip I always use is to work backwards. If I am writing a novel draft, I will plan the ending. Then I will plan out the middle, then the beginning. I will have many notes and notebooks full of scribbles and ideas that I will put together in one plan. My plan will end up looking like a timeline of events that is split into chapters and scenes.
This method I also use for writing poetry. I work out what I want my reader to feel when they read my final line, and work back from there. The idea slowly starts to form and becomes more concrete.

Another popular way of planning is using the Snowflake Method. This method focuses more on concretising one idea and expanding it outwards. You work on character profiles, one line descriptions and synopsises. You should try out different methods of planning and find what suits you. If like me you have a very linear style and like to think about your characterisation in your head and only write down events, then the timeline way will probably be better. If you like good visualisation and need help to expand your original idea, then it might be best to go with the Snowflake method.

Once you have your plan and you think you are ready to go, it is time to actually write. A lot of writers ironically struggle with this bit. If you are the type of person who works better with a reward system, then split your time into segments. Maybe write for an hour and then get something nice to eat as a treat. If you are the sort of person who will sit down and write for hours, congratulations, but remember to take short breaks because you will eventually run out of steam. Some writers have trouble getting going. Procrastination is something I used to really struggle with.
I obviously have to clean my entire room before I write my masterpiece…I’ll just check my emails and Facebook first…ooh look something shiny…
It got really bad. I had to have a serious think about what I actually wanted. We come back to my first point, what do you actually want to achieve? I did want my novel written, therefore I had to just sit down and do it. Try to sit and write somewhere with few distractions. Whether this means going to your library or coffee shop or writing facing a wall, you should be able to find somewhere. Listening to some music while wearing headphones is a good trick to block people and distractions out. Also, turn that phone off (or on silent.) Most texts or notifications can wait.

Now we come to the dreaded writer’s block. Being realistic, with any piece of writing of length, you will hit it at least once if not a few times. If you are writing poetry, you may have the perfect idea, the amazing moment or feeling you want to describe but for some reason it just doesn’t come out on paper. Please do not let that discourage you. If anything, it means you are a real writer. Well done. Writer’s block achievement unlocked. My best tip for defeating writer’s block is to simply write something else. It won’t tear you away from your great masterpiece, but it might get you back on track. If you can’t think of any ideas of what to write, try visiting sites like Reddit and check out their subreddit Writing Prompts. There are many ideas there free to use, and many people post their responses to the prompts. Even reading some might spur you on. There are some great books with prompts too such as the Write Brain Workbook by Bonnie Neubauer or the Writer’s Toolbox kit which was made by Jamie Cat Callan. Write something else for a bit then try your work in progress again.

This tip can be a double edged sword at times. Don’t let yourself procrastinate by trying all these different exercises to put off writing your own idea. Use them when you need them, or when you need to practise something in particular.
Then once finished, you get to the final part. Letting people read it. Whether you have written a poem for a competition or you want to get a novel published, people are going to be reading it and critiquing it. It can sometimes be hard to not take it personally, but try not to. Getting family and friends to read your work and suggest improvements is a good way of getting used to it. There are many writing groups and classes where people can review your work. Remember, criticism should be constructive. If they see something that needs improvement, they should offer a solution or an idea. If they don’t, or are unnecessarily rude, just ignore them and go to someone else. Don’t take rejections of your submissions personally either. Every writer gets rejected multiple times. Some of the bestsellers of all time got rejected but they all had one thing in common. They didn’t give up. If you think it is worth it, keep trying. Don’t get discouraged.

Writing is hard. It is a hard industry to get into and even harder to make a mark on it. That is why it is so rewarding when hard work pays off. It is a brilliant, fantastic creative industry and community to be a part of. Hard work will pay off, all you need to do is keep going. Good luck in all your writing adventures and I hope these tips help you start to achieve your writing goals.

Kimberly Jamison is a freelance writer whose work has featured in numerous anthologies, including EnDearing Minds and Parenting (Mother’s Milk Books). To read more from Kimberly, follow her blog, The Book Word.

5 Ways to Avoid Procrastination

With NaNoWriMo starting soon it’s time to prepare ourselves for the worst. Before editing a novel, before proofreading and making sure you’ve got everything just how you want it, you’ve got to actually write it. It’s hard work, and that’s why writers often find themselves procrastinating, trying desperately to avoid writing those bits they’re not too keen on. We all do it, it’s easy enough to do, but it could mean your novel takes an extra year or two to write, or even never gets written. Here’s a few things we do that keeps us focussed on writing and less on Facebook.

Plan, plan, plan!

When planning your novel, plan each scene separately and on separate notecards. You could even use a different colour notecard for each character that is focussed on. These scenes don’t have to be whole chapters, in fact they’re better if they’re not. They should just be little scenes like what you’d see in a TV show or film, that only make up a few pages.

Once you’ve written them all (and numbered them), give them a shuffle then randomly pick one. The one you pick is then the scene you write in that session. I love this method, because it mixes things up and keeps you on your toes, as well as making sure you know your novel inside out. It also makes those slightly less interesting scenes a little more fun to write.

Buy interesting stationery

This is for you more old fashioned writers out there. If you like to write your first draft by hand, there are some really fun notebooks out there that have a variety of designs so that each page you write on is different. They’re usually colourful designs too. For me, it makes me write until the bottom of the page so I get the excitement of a new design to write on. My favourite of these notebooks can be found here, the design done by Julia Rothman.

A page design from Julia Rothman's work

A page design from Julia Rothman’s notebook

Write backwards

Think of each scene as if it has a beginning, a middle and an end. Then, when you come to write it, write the end first, then the middle, then the beginning. This is sometimes hard to do, then other times it can be easier. Especially try this if you want to figure out how to start a scene; knowing the ending can really help.

Try a new medium

If you always write on the computer, try writing by hand instead, and vice versa. Or you could always go really old school and try using a quill and ink. It takes longer to write but it’s a lot more fun, and they can be found at all English Heritage sights and most Tourist Information shops. Every now and then I like to get my typewriter out – it looks neat and encourages me to think before writing so as not to make a mistake.

Go someplace nice

You’ve probably heard that a lot of writers go to coffee shops to work on their WIPs, and whilst I prefer complete silence I understand the appeal. The clattering of crockery and chatter of a coffee shop could prove to be the perfect background noise to get your brain in gear. You could try anything though; pubs, restaurants, trains, whatever gets you writing.

So there’s just a few ideas on how to help prevent writers block and procrastination. Let us know if any of these help you get writing, and if you have any others let us know below.

NaNoWriMo: How to Keep your Story Going Right Until the End

We’ve all read books where the story has dragged in the middle, and for some of us that might have meant putting the book down. As a writer it can be hard to avoid this, but not impossible. The beginning and the end of a story are the exciting bits, but the middle requires most of the hard work. How do you write and edit it to keep it interesting for the reader? Here’s a few tips to get you started.

End every chapter on a cliff hanger

It doesn’t have to be anything big or vital to the plot, just something small that leaves a question waiting to be answered. If the chapter comes to an end all wrapped up in a bow the reader is much more likely to close the book and put it down, perhaps never to be picked up again. If the chapter ends on a cliff hanger though it will make the reader want to keep reading to find out what happens. And of course one chapter ending will lead to another then another until they’ve got to the end of the book.

Make something happen

If you’re getting bored writing it, imagine how bored your reader will get reading it. If there’s nothing of any significance in the chapter, just scrap it. Each chapter needs to either move the story forwards or develop an important character. If it does neither of these then why is it there? What is its purpose? Remember, there’s a reason we don’t know anything about Frodo’s Great Aunt Mathilda.

Don’t make your chapters too long

Believe it or not, readers notice when they haven’t seen a chapter break for a while. I’ve sometimes been reading and found myself thinking I’ve missed the new chapter starting and gone back to search for it. Unless you have a very specific reason that’s vital to the story, I would say don’t make any chapter longer than 20 pages. Imagine your lovely readers, snuggling up for a reading session before bed and telling themselves they’ll just read the one chapter, only to find that the end is one or two hours away. The length of the chapter could even give the impression that the story is dragging, whether it is or not.

If you follow these tips then your story should keep the reader interested right until the end. Doing this could also help you finish writing your story, something that a lot of writers find a challenge.

Have you ever read a book that you just couldn’t put down? Tell us what it is in the comments below.

NaNoWriMo: Getting to Grips with your Novel

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Have you ever been asked what your novel is about and found yourself unable to answer? If you have, it’s most likely that you don’t know your story quite as well as you should. It’s essential that you can summarise your entire book into one or two sentences, because that’s the best way to really get to grips with it yourself. Forget your winding plot lines for a few moments and let’s get down to the basics.

First, answer these questions:

  1. What is your protagonist’s name?
  2. What genre is your novel? (If it’s a mix of many, pick the one or two that are the most prominent).
  3. What is your word count? (You probably won’t have an exact one yet, so instead write down the number of words you’re aiming for).
  4. What is your protagonist trying to achieve in the novel? What is his/her main goal?
  5. What triggers the story?
  6. Who is your antagonist?

If you’re finding that you can’t answer any of these questions for any reason, go back to the drawing board and have another look at your planning. These should all be pretty easy to answer, and shouldn’t take up more than one or two sentences each.

Now you need to combine all of this information into one sentence. That’s right, one sentence with a maximum of 60 words. Sound scary? Here’s one formula for it that works well.

(Book title) is a _____ word (genre) novel about (protagonist), a (occupation/role in story/age/personality trait) who must (main goal) after (trigger).

For example, here would be some answers to the questions above:

  1. Jack Jones
  2. Fantasy
  3. 90 000 words
  4. Needs to find the mystical globe of Oria to set his sister, Emily, free
  5. A goblin from Wath kidnaps his sister
  6. Horfin, the goblin king

Here’s a summary from those answers:

Peartha is a 90 000 word fantasy novel about Jack Jones, a pessimistic lorry driver from Earth who must find the mystical globe of Oria and travel to Wath to rescue his sister, who was kidnapped by the goblin king.

Hopefully you’ll find that completing this exercise helps you to really get to grips with your novel and understand exactly what’s going on in it. Feel free to rearrange the sentence structure to whatever you think fits your novel the best.

Have you managed to get a sentence you’re really happy with? Then enter our competition with it!

Share your sentence in the comments below or on our Facebook page for a chance to win a free edit of your first three chapters.

Competition ends on Friday 16th October.