Reading Rec: Survival Kit for Writers Who Don’t Write Right

Overall Impression

5/5 – Even though I’m absolutely not the target audience of this book, I still learned a lot.

Summary

You may be familiar with the terms “plotter” and “pantser” floating around the writing community. If not, plotters are writers who prefer to outline their stories before starting a draft, pantsers are writers who prefer to discover their story along the way, and plantsers are somewhere in between. Those of you who have been around this blog long enough might be familiar with my neurotically overcomplicated outlines, and exhaustive editing process, from when I shared blank templates of both documents. So why then, did I read a book dedicated to the improvisation masters in the audience?

I was curious.

In each of those posts, I tried to clarify that this is just my process. I have methods that work, so feel free to try them if you want. People asked; I answered. Big Blinking Disclaimer: Results may vary. Pass go, collect your $200. I have a goldfish brain so I need to write everything down to remember a thing, and I think in loose webs of connections and pictures, so I need everything externalized in order to put it in order before I start anything. This also applies to real-life in case you hadn’t noticed from my habitual list-making. Doing it any other way sounds terrifying, but it works for TONS of people, so there’s got to be some merit here that I’m missing. Who knows, maybe I’ll try writing without an outline for my next short story, and see how it goes?

If you’re one of these mysterious discovery writers, this book is for you. Patricia McLinn discusses how bad-faith, dogmatic writing advice and industry standards constantly made her process feel inadequate, until she met others like her. She provides useful tools, tips, dos, and do nots for learning how to experiment with different models without losing her own course, and how to think critically about your writing habits to continue improving them. Part 4 is full of advice for approaching story-structure, character arcs, themes, and file organization from a top-down view, arranging the pieces in order once you have created them, rather than building from the ground up. She also includes brain-hacks to motivate yourself to write and how to avoid guilt.

As I’m slogging through my Storge and Runaways revision, I could sympathise with many of the struggles she mentioned, looking back at the story and realizing you would need to completely restructure parts of it to work properly. Even the most detailed of outlines can’t save you from developmental edits and many of her tips helped me think about my problems from a different perspective and unlock new solutions. It was fascinating to hear from a discovery writer how hostile the market is to their process, despite her huge success and dozens of published works. I want to try and make my corner of the internet inclusive and a space for discussion and sharing resources, because we all have so much to learn from each other. No matter your writing style, I highly recommend checking out this book.

You can find Patricia McLinn and her other fiction books (mostly mystery and romance genres) on her website. Thanks for reading this review! If you like my blog and want to support my writing projects, please consider donating to my Ko-Fi. Next week I’ll be sharing a recently edited excerpt from Storge. Until then, Happy Writing!

How to Finish What You Start

This video by Thomas Frank inspired this blog post. I highly recommend checking it out if you have the time! It’s generalized to any creative process, but I want to offer resources and exercises for authors to do to help us finish our WIPs! Many of these are tried-and-true methods for beating writer’s block, so let me know if you’ve tried them before, and how they work for you!

The Problem: Paralysis of Choice

Tell me if you can relate: You sit down for a writing session. Worlds are at your fingertips. You’ve snatched an hour of time for yourself. Crack your knuckles and prepare for the most productive word sprint of your life. Open the document. Open another document. Open another document. Scroll through the last two chapters of three different stories. Hem and haw for fifteen minutes over which one to choose. Consult your writing buddies to decide. Flip a coin. Change your mind because you disagree with fate. Check the clock to set your pomodoro time and… realize that you’ve only got 10 minutes left.

Not you? How about this: You know exactly which WIP you want to write. You fire up the laptop, pull up a blank page, and… now what? Do you write in order? Follow an outline or go swinging into the wilderness of the plot jungle? Should you jump ahead to the scene that’s been festering in your brain for weeks or finish the stalled chapter that only needs two more pages? Which character should narrate? What POV works best for this story? Maybe you should rewrite the entire thing in present tense instead of past. Maybe you need to fine-tune the first chapter. Again.

Solution: Create Self-Imposed Limitations

The problem in both situations is the spectacle of options available to you. To take the best advantage of the time you have and make effective progress on the project, you need some boundaries.

Deadlines/Time Pressure: Writing sprints are great for this, just start small, and challenge yourself to beat your word count each time or compete with friends. I’ve seen them used most often during National Novel Writing Month (which is a deadline itself), but you can use them anytime, and I know several youtubers, such as Kate Cavanaugh and Sarah Sutton who sometimes host virtual writing sprint livestreams. This is also the inspiration behind my Monthly Goals: maybe I don’t write every day but by the end of the month, the words are done. If a plain vanilla timer isn’t good enough for you, I recommend the Forest app/browser extension combo which locks you out of the internet, and Write or Die, which will shock the fear of the reaper into your bones.

Scope: If you find yourself frustrated by tinkering away with the same project for yeeearrs on end, the issue might be that your skills are not yet up to par with your tastes, and you need to go back to the basics. Shelve the epic and get some practice finishing smaller-scope projects. Maybe start a new short story that’s a character study set in your protagonist’s backstory. Write a field guide entry about an element of the world, as if it were an in-universe textbook. Scale down. If you struggle with too many active WIPs, choose one that’s easy to finish and mark it off your list before starting any new ones. The satisfaction of finishing a small project and the brain-refresh of doing something different will also give you more motivation to go work on the big one again.

Tools: This one calls me out specifically. It’s similarly related to the above point about scope. Do you really need 8 POVs, 4 subplots, or 7 books to tell your story? Are 3 outlines and 4 edits really necessary? Can you hand it off to 5 betas, instead of 20? Could you trim down the number of nations or religions or magical schools to simplify the world-building? Sometimes the answer is no – you need to go through due process in order to complete a quality project. Other times, you might overcomplicate things for yourself. Take a step back and decide what’s really necessary.

Restrict Your Ability to Undo: This strategy is to get rid of perfectionism. If you don’t like what you’ve wrote in a session, you might find yourself deleting those words and ending with no more than when you started, even if you’ve been sitting at the keyboard for hours. Perpetual editing cycles are evil traps. This may seem counterintuitive, especially if your typing speed is much faster than your writing, your handwriting is messy, or you struggle with writer’s cramp, but shut the computer. Forcing yourself to crack open one of those fancy notebooks and commit ink to paper will get your brain unstuck and moving forward. Write in pen. Do not cross out. Don’t write on scrap-paper or regular school loose-leaf, in case you’re tempted to rip out the page, crumple it into a ball, and pitch it in the wastebin. You might slow down at first, because you have to stop and seriously think about how exactly you want to word that next sentence for maximum impact, but you’ll be more likely to keep it. Slow but steady forward progress is better than deleted progress.

Peer Pressure: I’m adding this one since it wasn’t originally in the video but I think it’s one of the most effective if, like me, you are a people-pleaser who takes promises very seriously. Promise that you WILL have something done by a certain date, and if you don’t deliver, their disappointment will haunt you to your grave, or you owe them a soda, or something. Starting this blog and my mailing list keeps me accountable because no matter what other nonsense is going on in my life, I know people are expecting weekly posts and quarterly new stories and victorious goals reports every month. Writing sprints are 150% more fun when you can compete with a friend, share your work, and receive immediate validation. If you’re limiting scope, or tools, try submitting your short story to a magazine or anthology, which often have a certain prompt or theme. Participate in something like Inktober or MerMay but instead of drawing, post flash-fiction. Bring your fancy journal and pen to a coffee shop and make sure that you look busy for the passer-bys. That last one might be more weaponized-social-anxiety, but it works for me at least haha.

Thank you for reading! I hope you found this a useful reference. What’s a project that you want to finish soon? If you like my blog and want to support my writing projects, please consider donating to my Ko-Fi. Next week I’ll be sharing a book review of Patricia McLinn’s Survival Kit for Writers who Don’t Write Right. Until then, happy writing!

April Goals 2022

So I don’t know about you, but in my corner of the universe, time is hurtling ahead at a truly breakneck pace. Spring is tentatively here, after several late frosts, and getting my work done is less a task of time management, and more an exercise in staying focused long enough to not get lost outdoors. I’ve had quite the busy month, with course registration, housing selection for next school year, a bunch of STEM outreach events through the college, Easter travels, and backyard mad science experiments with my friends. It’s funny to see the giant gaps in my writer tracker that prove just how sporadic my habits actually are. Never let it be said that you have to write every day to be a productive writer! It’s about finding a rhythm that works around your other obligations.

Won by 2 points – 6/8 Goals

Catch up on Tumblr drafts – I took a fast from social media for Lent to reclaim my time and stop scrolling mindlessly and while I found I didn’t miss Instagram at all, all my writing friends are on Tumblr. Every Sunday when I checked in, I would save all the posts someone had tagged me in to my drafts folder, so I could answer them later. I’ve caught up on all the cool writing and games I missed in the last month and I’m happy to be back in our little community.

Decide how to monetize blog – I want to be clear about this goal: I write and maintain this blog because I love it. I love talking about writing, being active in a community of like-minded folks, and accumulating resources that other people might find helpful. This won’t be going anywhere. I debated for a long time whether or not I should monetize this hobby. My financial situation is relatively stable, and I’d be lying if I didn’t admit one of my reasons for pursuing an engineering degree was the salary. I’m not a starving artist (yet).

But I haven’t graduated yet, and as I move forward with the publishing process for Runaways, I realized I need to budget for the self-publishing costs, such as hiring an editor, proofreader, formatter, cover artist, ect. This blog doesn’t cost me a lot of money to maintain, but it is an enormous time investment, and it would be worth it to set up some kind of monetization, however small, sooner rather than later. I don’t like the idea of cluttering up my corner of the internet with ads (though I’ve heard WordPress ads are a joke anyhow), and I don’t have the energy or time to run an exclusive subscription model like Patreon, so I decided the best course of action was a tip-box.

You might have noticed on my last couple posts a link at the bottom to my new Ko-Fi. If you feel so generously inclined, that is now available, and any donations are greatly appreciated. I promise I won’t be annoying or pushy about this beyond the end-post link, but here’s the formal announcement that it is now a thing that does, in fact, exist!

Set up runaways dnd game – In a completely contrived and self-indulgent excuse to have my best friends from home meet my uni friends, I offered to DM a one-shot for all of them. In a completely contrived and self-indulgent excuse to make illustrations for my book and show off my OCs, I set the game in the feywild. I’ve put a bunch of new illustrations on my Gallery page if you’re interested in seeing some of my prep work. This one is my favorite; these are the Semivera Twins, who feature in the most recent story on my mailing list, which you can read when you sign up.

Twin teenaged brothers standing back to back, wearing fighting gear without the helmets. Marco stands in front with an eager expression, holding his sword out. Matteo stands behind, point to ground, looking at a lantern with a worried expression.

Get caught up on reading goal– My reading goal for the year is 50 books, and right now, I’m at 11 (including those which are not counted on Goodreads). This puts me 5 books behind my goal. This summer, I’ll be driving quite a lot for an internship, and I should hopefully be able to put on audiobooks in the lab, so I plan to make up for lost time soon enough.

Website and Instagram schedule – I abstained from posting on Good Friday out of respect for the holy day, but other than that week, I posted every week this month.

Runaways beta check in and timing warning – I will officially start editing this summer! We’re getting closer! I’ve also combined all of my comments into one document and it’s positively plastered in colors.

Edit 25,000 words in Storge for Camp NaNoWriMo – I did 30K! I broke this goal up into two chunks because A) I usually track edits by chapter, not word count, because often editing involves removing words or adding a paragraph of description here or there, rather than rewriting/2nd drafting from scratch, and B) 50,000 words is pretty arbitrary and I have never “won” NaNoWriMo during the school year. This gave me a chance, and that’s 30K more words than I had on April 1st.

50,000 words in Storge for Camp NaNoWriMo – This could have been totally doable if exams hadn’t kicked my butt in the last two weeks. I don’t know what kind of masochist professors want to grade extra midterms less than a week before finals because I certainly don’t want to take them, and yet here we are.

I’ve finished through chapter 9/28. Excluding this upcoming summer for Runaways edits, I’ll have to do roughly 2 chapters a month in order to finish by the time I graduate. Should be doable!

Thanks for reading! What are your favorite spring activities? What are you working on this month? Next week I’ll be back with a writing advice post, but I want this blog to be more than me shouting into the void. If I can use this platform to help boost other creators, I’d love to see your work too. If you want to have your recommendations and/or your own writing featured in a Resource Rec post, or if you want to collaborate with me, you can leave a comment below for both, or contact me on either tumblr or IG! Happy Writing!