It’s been a long time since I’ve written any fiction in earnest. I recently mentioned my 60-page, 20,000-word outline for a story I’ve been working on for sometime, and I’ve been wondering why I haven’t just started writing the damn story by now. I think I’ve just been on such a hiatus from fiction writing that I need to get the feeling back, which is why I started another story that’s a less serious effort than that monstrosity.
This time, I’m working with a three-page outline, and the only additional notes are character notes and a couple synopses for the overall story. Added together, this one is only planned out over fourteen pages. I should probably outline some more characters, but I think I’ll work on those when I actually give those characters larger roles.
In the interim period when I wasn’t writing, I was reading a lot, and some of that was about writing. There have been two books that have helped to reaffirm things I already knew, and I’m going to try to sum up the lessons from them that are the most important to me:
In 2k to 10k: Writing Faster, Writing Better, and Writing More of What You Love, Rachel Aaron relates the story of how she trained herself to write 10,000 words a day and published a book twelve days after starting its initial outline. But that’s not the lesson that affected me the most. Maybe one day when I’m a full-time author, I’ll try doing this whole 10k a day thing, but for now it’s far from feasible.
Aaron says in her book that before she would sit down to write, she would summarize everything she was about to write. I did this exact same thing on my third finished novel. My outline for that book was about twenty very short lines long, so it was imperative that I know exactly what I was writing about each time I sat down at the story.
The benefits of this technique which I had stumbled upon by accident are so profound that I feel like I’m exposing the world to a secret weapon just by talking about it. Each day when I sat down, I would look at my “outline” (an overstatement for the scant one-page document) and look at the previous chapter and the notes I’d made about new plot threads that would come up. Then I’d write out no more than a page for what would happen in the chapter I was about to write.
I ended up coming up with a surprising amount of story this way. At times when I thought I didn’t have enough to do in a chapter, I would embellish and add new story elements, sometimes whole new characters, and I’d even occasionally combine the chapter with plans I had for the next chapter to fill things out. Sometimes I’d do the opposite and stop short because I’d found a reasonable stopping point. Maybe I should add that I’d thought of each chapter as its own short story, like the book was a fourteen-episode TV Show, and each episode had to be cohesive unto itself.
To sum up the benefits, this method allowed me to:
- Add story when a chapter seemed thin.
- Plan ahead new story threads.
- Remove pointlessness.
- Take the story in new directions.
- Ensure there was enough conflict.
If I’d done all this without the pre-writing, I’d have ended up dealing with these issues in the midst of writing the prose, rather than before I’d even put words down.
But I left this technique behind when I moved onto my next project, and that might be because I waited five months to start it, so I was out of the writing groove by the time I got back to writing, which leads me to the next important lesson:
Ease Into It
If you’ve never checked out Storybundle, do so now. I got the above book there and right now they have a selection of books for writers, and you can get all eleven of them for $15 (sale ends around June 5). The one I want to talk about is Break Writers Block Now! by Jerrold Mundis.
I know what you’re thinking. The title in itself is a bold claim, and many will agree that writer’s block is an unreal thing that exists only in the writer’s mind. This is probably true, and Mundis makes very clear what the block is, that it’s more of an excuse than a reason for not writing. He puts it better than I can without straight up plagiarizing whole pages of text.
Mundis’s plan for writers who’ve been on a long hiatus is the same as his plan for writers who have been at it too hard and need a little break. He suggests that you cut your writing time by at least 75% then ease back to your full pace over the course of six weeks. For example, he writes four hours a day, and sometimes he needs to cut that down to an hour for a week, then an hour and fifteen minutes or so the next week, and so on.
So, I wrote for only a half-hour today. And I’ll do a half-hour tomorrow. Then next week I’ll bump that up to 45 minutes, and so on.
Mundis stresses that by doing this you’re allowing yourself to only write 25% of your usual amount, rather than forcing yourself to jump right into 100%. I’m sure that some writers disagree – actually, I know the late and venerable William Zinsser disagrees – but this process sounds like exactly what I unconsciously did when I was writing that third novel. I started out only writing about a half-hour at a time or so. A month later I was getting 5,000-word chapters done and the book was finished in another month. Of course, I wasn’t always that prolific and I didn’t have a set schedule, but it didn’t matter. I was in the groove.
He also suggests not writing a blog before writing your daily fiction, which is why I got my fiction out of the way before writing this.
I recommend both of these books as much as I can. As always, your mileage may vary, but it’s helped me, and I would be remiss to not share these ideas with other writers. And just for posterity’s sake, in case you’re reading this after the Storybundle sale ends, here’s the Amazon link for Break Writer’s Block Now!