Category Archives: Writing
Writing is more than just putting words on the page, or the screen.
Often, before that happens, there is a whole lot of mental and emotional preparation to get in ‘the zone’, or to get that writing mojo flowing.
Sometimes it flows, sometimes it doesn’t.
Sometimes we have to make ourselves write to get it flowing, but one key to help the writing flow time and time again, is passion. For writing itself, for your story, and for the big picture of ‘why’ you write. If you’re lacking in passion and enthusiasm for any of these, your writing can suffer.
You can be enthusiastic and passionate about writing, but have trouble getting words written because your story doesn’t feel alive or fresh enough to you… you can be passionate about your story but find writing challenging and difficult, or you can love writing and your story but get sidetracked and distracted because you don’t have a clear vision or passion for the big picture of what you want to achieve. Making sure these elements all work together is vital to boosting your mojo.
If you’ve lost some passion for writing itself, one of the best ways to get it back is to read. Read something for the enjoyment of it, and remember how powerful writing can be. You can also try writing for the sake of writing, without pressure or judgement, just write something without censoring yourself and watch how much lighter you start to feel when thoughts and emotions become words and are released from your mind.
If your story isn’t making you excited to get at the computer each day, then you need to boost your story mojo by clarifying your story hook (a succinct summary of main premise and plot) and making sure it stands out enough and is as unique as can be, deepen your characters’ goals, motivations, and conflicts, and get into the ‘feeling’ of the story and discover why it will be enjoyable and satisfying for a reader to read. A few tweaks and improvements can get you more excited about your book which makes the writing process a whole lot easier. Or, start a new story.
And do you actually know why you write? For many, it’s mainly a case of: “I can’t NOT write”. It can be like part of our DNA, something we feel born to do. Yet this doesn’t always compel us to write and to enjoy the process. Go deeper, think about how you feel when you write or after you have written… what does it bring to you and to others? Hold onto that joy, that bliss, that meaning and purpose, and bring it onto your day to day writing life. Keep reminders of your ‘why’ in the form of post-it note messages or affirmations to yourself, a collage of inspiring images, a picture resembling a goal stuck on your fridge, or simply a feeling in your mind. Remembering the big picture can help to keep the writing mojo going. You can also create a mission statement for your writing or career, for example, mine is: “Entertaining and inspiring myself and others through stories, art, and self empowerment.” I have this stuck on my whiteboard above where my laptop charges. If I get caught up with deadlines, overwork, or disappointments like bad reviews or less than expected sales, this helps bring me back to the big picture, to my “why”, to my passion for what I do.
The new year is a perfect time to think about what you want to achieve for the year ahead, and to get off to a great start with enthusiasm and passion… which is why I’ve created a fun and interactive online course called WRITING MOJO, to help you do just that! And even though I’m the teacher, I’ll be doing the lessons too, along with you, in the private group for course participants.
The course will start in January 2017 and contain 7 detailed lessons over approximately 2 weeks, but can be started at any time and done at your own pace. A downloadable version will also be made available. It is for all types of writers, beginners to advanced, and doesn’t matter if you write (or want to write) fiction, non-fiction, memoir, self help, health & fitness, or ‘how to’ books… it’s all about getting yourself ready for a year of success, creating and achieving your goals, and enjoying your writing life. And I’ll be there to help you along the way.
During December, pre-bookings for the course are $50 off the full price, and I’m also giving a free chapter critique to the first few students, so to secure your spot head over to the COURSES page where you can book easily online.
Hope to see you there, and I wish you a magical year of motivation, magnificence, and mojo! 🙂
“You’re a machine,” people have told me. “How do you write so fast?” I’ve been asked. Well, today I’m going to tell you how.
Let me start by saying that what I do may not suit everyone, it is just the way I work. If you can take something helpful away from my process to help your own writing, then that’s great. If not, then that’s perfectly okay.
First, a bit of background info…
I’ve been writing seriously since late 2009, so in a few months time that will make it five years. I’ve written six novels, three novellas, two partials/proposals (synopsis and three chapters), and a few short stories. Three of my novels are published, one is contracted (and another but it isn’t written yet), the other two novels are on submission. Two of my novellas are published, the third one is contracted. I self-published one of my short stories, two others are provided free on my website and the others are hiding away on my computer till I figure out what to do with them!
The first novel I wrote took me about a year. I’d heard that was an average time frame. But I want to write faster, I thought. My second novel took me nine months (ironically, the storyline touched on pregnancy), and my third novel but first to be published (Fast Forward) took me four months.
Hmmm, if I could decrease the length of time it took each time, how fast could I go?
Obviously, you can’t whip up a novel in a couple of days and nor would I want to. But my fourth novel took twenty days to write. Not consecutive days, but twenty days of actual writing over about two and a half months. The book was only 52,000 words, maybe it was a fluke? Nope, my fifth book which was 84,000 words took twenty-seven days and my sixth book which was 70,000 words took twenty days. Again, these weren’t consecutive days – I didn’t write for twenty days straight, and nor did I write all day, but I started this sixth book on 20th Jan and finished on 28th Feb, so just over a month.
To show you how I did this and how I write fast in general, I’m going to share some details on my writing process. One of my critique partners calls it the Pressure Cooker Method. Quite appropriate, since I love the pressure cooker in my kitchen 😉
To sum it up, my process is divided into three parts:
Sometimes, the steps might overlap as I go back and forth with new plot ideas or if I feel like I really need to edit and perfect chapter five before writing chapter six.
The most important part for me is the planning.
Yes, my name is Juliet and I am a plotter.
If you’re a pantser and rolling your eyes right now thinking, ‘Oh, she’s one of them, this article is obviously not for me’, hang in there a moment. I didn’t always plot a lot. And sometimes, I even pantse myself, but I’ve learned that for me, plotting reduces how much editing and revising I have to do. This is good for me, because out of all the steps involved in writing it’s doing the actual writing that I enjoy the most. Some people say they like ‘having written’ but not the actual writing. I like having written too, but I love the writing itself – fingers typing away madly on the keyboard as ideas and thoughts scramble over themselves in an effort to be born onto the page. That makes me feel alive and powerful, gives me a natural high.
Did I jot down a plan for this blog post? You betcha. Just a few notes in point form, but I know what I’m going to write and what comes next, yet still I can pantse and type whatever comes into my head. A plan for me is not a strict guide to follow or else, but provides a framework to keep me on track.
- I usually start by visualizing the story in my mind. Much of the work is done before I put pen to paper (or fingers to keyboard). I have to feel the story before I can write it. Luckily, I was always good at daydreaming, so this is like having a 3D high-definition movie playing in my head, minus the costly ticket prices, popcorn, and tall person in front blocking my view.
- I also like to start with a title and a one sentence or one paragraph pitch or blurb so I know what the main premise of the story is. If you can get the story down to a paragraph, it helps you stay focused as you write and not waste time writing scenes that don’t move the story forward.
- Then I write down as many things as I can about the story in what my critique partner and I like to call a Vomit Outline. Just blurt it all out, don’t worry about typos or chunky bits or weird bits, and don’t worry if it’s not in order, just do an info dump or word vomit. Sometimes I type this up and sometimes I handwrite it. No one needs to see this, so don’t hold back. You are allowed to write strange things like:
John and Jane bump into each other at a café (not literally) and swap phone numbers, they see each other again the following week (what will they do? Where will they go?), sometime later in novel they will talk about this day and reminisce, but before then some interesting stuff needs to happen (like what? What the hell is this story about?), and maybe they will be witness to a crime and then have to go on the run, some exciting stuff happens when they are on the run, and some romance, and they call a friend for help…but how will they charge their phones when they are on the run? Mental note: make it so the characters can at least grab their bags and phones and chargers before they go on the run… etc etc.
This is just a silly example but hopefully you get the drift. Sometimes this is one page, sometimes it’s eight – whatever works. This aint’ no synopsis, this is when you can let loose and spill it all onto the page; big things and little things, plot twists and even what the character ate for breakfast if you like (this is a vomit outline after all).
- When I have a good grasp of the story and its main plot events and character arc (you don’t have to know everything about your story, you can come back to the outline later to add more), I make a timeline. I decide what timeframe the story takes place over and then make a word document with a table inserted, creating a sort of Story Itinerary or schedule. Don’t freak out, it’s nothing like Sheldon Cooper from The Big Bang Theory or Monica from Friends would do. 😉
- For the 70k story I wrote in 20 days (Haunted Ever After), the timeline was easier to plan as the story was only set over five days. In the table, there are two columns and one row for each day. If your story is set over a year, you could have one row for each month. In the first column of each row I list the day/date and I leave the second column blank. I make sure I’ve allowed enough room for each day and then I print out the table.
- Look at your vomit outline, however gross and messy it may be, and take the key points/plot events and write them into bullet points in the appropriate day/month of your timeline. In pencil is best as you might rearrange them later. (It’s just struck me now that some writers use Scrivener, a writing program, which probably does similar things to this. Again, whatever works for you. This is what works for me). By the end you should have a list of general bullet points for every day/week/month when something takes place in your story. Eg: John has dinner at Jane’s house, John and Jane witness a crime…etc.
Now you have a schedule to follow when you write so you are not left wondering ‘what am I going to write about in this scene?’ Your story is mapped out and you are ready to write.
*Note: I usually write chronologically, but with this method you can take any scene from your timeline and write it when you wish. If you want to write the end first, go for it. If you want to start from the beginning, go for it.
- I decide how much time I have available for writing (eg: 30 mins, 2 hours), and get comfy. I have my writing instrument of choice (see below), my timeline, pen, and post-it notes on hand, as well as a timer. I decide what scene to write from my timeline and pick one of the bullet points. Then I break this down into more bullet points! This doesn’t take long, and I only do it just before a writing session. I put these new bullet points onto a post-it note and stick it beside my screen. Each point is one ‘thing’ that happens, even if only small.
Eg: for ‘John has dinner at Jane’s house’, I could break this down to:
- Jane opens the door and John gives her flowers, Jane sneezes.
- Jane serves dinner and realizes she forgot that John is vegetarian.
- Jane and John share awkward conversation.
- They hear yelling outside and go to the window to look.
Or, here’s a real life example of one of my scene post-its:
- Now that I know what’s going to happen I can type madly, turning the events into a cohesive scene. But first, SET A TIMER. This is what helps me write extra fast! Even if I have two hours available to write, I’ll only set the timer for 30 or 60 minutes. Then I’ll reset it. I’ve found that a shorter time limit makes me write more words.
- While the timer is running, the only thing I do is write. I don’t worry about what I’m writing, I have my plot points on the post-it next to me so I know what needs to happen, and the writing itself can be fixed up in edits later on. No checking emails or social media, no answering the phone. YOU ARE WORKING! You are currently unavailable and in an appointment. That is how I view my writing sessions. If you were serving a customer in a shop would you stop halfway through their purchase and say ‘hang on, I just want to check this Facebook notification’? No. Treat writing like any other job. You can check your messages when the timer is up.
Following this method, I can usually write between 1200-1500 words an hour, sometimes up to 1800. So if my word goal is 3000 words a day, this would only take two hours.
- After I’ve written for the day, I usually jot down the date and how many words I wrote that day on a scrap of paper stuck to my wall with blue-tak. When I finish my book I can see how many productive days I had and how long it took to write the book, which makes it easier to plan for upcoming deadlines. When first starting with this, you can also choose to note down how many hours you wrote for each day so you can work out your average words-per-hour. If you have a competitive streak like me, you’ll want to up your game and beat your personal best. 😉
*Note: Here’s a little secret that has had a BIG impact on how fast I write: I don’t always write on a computer! I share my writing between my Macbook Air, and a nifty little device called an Alphasmart NEO2, or NEO for short.
It’s a lightweight portable word processor that runs on AA batteries (which means no charging or running out of battery while out and about – it took over two years before I had to change my NEO’s batteries!).
Apart from the battery life, the other benefits are that it has a small screen that only shows a few lines of text so you have less temptation to re-read what you’ve written while writing, the screen isn’t backlit so you don’t get sore eyes (it’s that old fashioned black text on a greyish-green screen), and there is no internet! On this machine, you JUST WRITE. Also, it saves automatically as you type (even if you turn it off, you can turn it back on and resume where you were without losing anything), it turns on in an instant so there’s no waiting for things to load, and when you’re done you plug it into a computer via USB and can import directly to a word document (the words will gradually appear while it transfers) or save it as a text file and copy/paste into a word document. I LOVE IT. I also find the small layout really easy on my hands for typing and to get comfy with it on your lap. And it doesn’t get all hot like a laptop. Plus, if you accidentally leave it in your car no one will steal it because they probably won’t know what it is and think it’s an old, outdated piece of junk!
Sadly, the supplier I bought my NEO from has said that they are not making them anymore due to everyone using iPads and whatnot. I would still prefer writing on my NEO to an iPad. I wrote my last novella on my laptop and found that I was nowhere near as fast as on the NEO. You should still be able to buy them from eBay or Amazon though (might be second hand), so if it sounds like something that could help you then do a search online and see what you can find.
*Another note: I usually write while lying down (except when I write at cafes!). Bit hard if you’re using a desktop computer but if you write with a laptop or NEO, try it! Don’t know if it makes a difference, but it sure helps me get comfortable and makes sure I don’t get up and do anything else when I should be writing! Maybe it’s a blood flow thing too, who knows?
- If I have time, either right after a writing session or at the end of every day or two, I’ll do a quick read-through and tweak of the chapter/s I’ve just done. If I’m writing a novella I’ll usually just leave it all until it’s finished, but I find with a novel, doing this helps remind me of certain plot points and characteristics to help me stay focused and write the later scenes. And it’s good for picking up when you’ve accidentally changed someone’s name or hair colour.
- By doing the above, and by doing the detailed planning and plotting before writing, I’ve found there isn’t usually a lot to be done with editing. This wasn’t true for my first and second books when I was just learning the ropes, they required A LOT of revisions (and I’m still going back and forth revising that first book each time I get new feedback).
- When the manuscript is finished, I can usually do the edits in a few days. First, I go to my trusty list of overused and passive words and search for each in my manuscript, deleting them or changing them to something better. As I do this, I often find little things to adjust or improve in the narrative or dialogue, and doing little tweaks out of order can be helpful because you are not involved in reading the story at this point.
- When I’ve cut or changed as many of the passive words as possible, I do a mental checklist on the story and characters, making sure I haven’t forgotten any important details and seeing if there are ways I can enhance their characterization in subtle ways through their appearance, word choices, and behavior and body language.
- Then I read through the manuscript from beginning to end and tweak anything else that’s needed as I go. I try to set aside a good chunk of time to do this so I can read the whole book in a day or two, which makes it easier to pick up on inconsistencies and repetition.
- Done! I send to my critique partners if there’s time then do another edit with their feedback, or I send to my publisher and await the final verdict.
>> For my 70k in 20 days manuscript, Haunted Ever After, I kept track of when I wrote and how many words I wrote. I started on 20th January and finished on 28th February, and wrote on twenty days during that time. My word counts ranged from 1300 a day to 5000 or 6000 a day (but most were around the 2000-3000 mark), reaching a grand total of 70 227 words, and getting it sent to my publisher on deadline day.
>> My 84k in 27 days manuscript was written in a similar way, starting on 1st July and finishing on 7th September.
Does writing fast lead to a reduction in quality? I’ll let you be the judge! My 84k book February or Forever was published last February and you can check it out here.
If you don’t know me well you might be wondering if I have a lot of time on my hands to churn books out. No, I’m a busy single mother with a son with special needs. For the last four years I played teacher and helped him through high school via distance education, while also running an online business and writing my books.
We’re all busy these days, but if you’re passionate about being a writer, you will make time to write. Life gets in the way for sure, and I certainly don’t write every day because some days it is just not possible, but I try to not let too many days get away from me.
I also try to remember my priorities. If something can wait for another day, I let it wait. My priorities lie with the wellbeing of myself and my family and close friends, my responsibilities to my publisher, and then with others. Don’t let little things waste your time, and be kind to yourself. Allocate time to write when you will refuse to get sucked into demands from others (unless you have a young baby or child or other urgent reasons, then you have to be creative with your time!). Make writing a priority and don’t be hard on yourself when you get to the end of a hard day and haven’t done any. Go to sleep, start again tomorrow.
Another thing that helps me write fast is that I have a lot of determination to succeed in this industry. It’s my passion, it’s what I want to do with my life, so I treat it with the importance that it deserves. Having dreams and clear goals can help you get your books written faster, especially when you have lots of other ideas you want to write about! Knowing that when I finish one book I can start on another I’ve been dying to write keeps me going!
…So think about what you want to achieve with your writing. If you want to write at a leisurely pace at the end of the day for your own enjoyment, whether or not you get published, then writing fast may not be a concern for you. If you want to be a prolific author with multiple books published and make a full time career out of it, then learning to increase your writing speed will help you greatly. This doesn’t mean you should rush, just be efficient. Try some of my tips if you like, see how they go, and remember that it is okay to do things your own way. What I do may not work for everyone, but I hope that it will help at least one of you out there to maximize your writing time and get more joy and satisfaction from bringing your ideas to life.
P.S – Now that I’ve written a long blog post on how to write fast, I’m off to search for a blog post on how to write shorter blog posts… 😉
*P.P.S – UPDATE for 2016! – Since this blog post was published, I’ve continued my rapid writing to have 15 books published, and 18 written. I’ve increased my highest word count PB to 2000 words per hour. I still set a timer, and I still use post-its, however I sometimes write on my Macbook Air laptop instead of the NEO because it is light and has great battery life, and when I was writing my 5 book YA series I found I needed my series files open while I wrote to better handle the overarching plot as I had to keep referring to things that had happened. So it’s a mater of what works for you with each particular book. I still find the NEO the fastest way to write.
>>>As a lot of writers struggle with productivity, procrastination, and being prolific, I am now offering coaching for writers to help break through any blocks to your writing success, and/or to help answer your writing and publishing related questions or anything to do with your manuscript or WIP and how to make it shine. I’m also offering a limited number of partial critiques. For more info visit the COACHING & CRITIQUING page. And stay tuned because I will also be running an online course in the near future on becoming more prolific. Write on! 🙂
I always like to take a look back at the past year and see how far I’ve come, and plan for the year ahead to give myself something to aim for. Though I think it’s important to be flexible and allow for plans to change as life unfolds, it’s good to have a basic guide to propel you forward.
So first of all, let’s look back on 2013, a huge year for me as it was my first year as a published author…
There were many firsts: seeing my first cover (I can’t tell you how exciting and surreal that was!), taking part in my first book club as author guest, seeing my book advertised on websites and in catalogues, getting reviews for my book, getting my First Sale ribbon at the RWA conference (and dancing like a lunatic at the awards dinner). Overall it was a great year, though there were some challenges and sadness too: my amazing Nanna passed away at age 94, and we lost our old home that my son grew up in, in the Blue Mountains bushfires (my parents had only just sold the place and moved out). Life is a rollercoaster, as they say.
Here are my writing and publishing achievements for last year:
Overall I wrote 3 complete manuscripts, did 1 intensive revision, wrote 2 partials, and 4 outlines.
Here is the breakdown:
- Wrote I Dream of Johnny – 15k words
- Wrote The Delta Girls book #1: SIGHT – 52k words
- Wrote February or Forever (Tarrin’s Bay book #2) – 84k words
- Wrote partial (3 chapters & synopsis) of secret NA/YA project set in Salem
- Wrote partial (3 chapters & synopsis) of You Know You Want To
- Revised existing outline for The Bucket List Club
- Wrote brief outline for Christmas novella
- Wrote brief outline for Lovestruck in London
- Wrote brief outline for a New Adult dance-themed novella
- Revised The Life Makeover Club intensively (twice).
- The January Wish was contracted (didn’t release till recently, 1st Jan 2014)
- Debut novel Fast Forward was released in Feb.
- I Dream of Johnny was contracted and released in Sept.
- Starstruck in Seattle was contracted and released in Oct.
- February or Forever was contracted.
- Signing with a literary agent after querying The Life Makeover Club to 70 agents.
2013 BLOG HIGHLIGHTS:
- Views: 13,000 views in 2013 (over 5000 more than last year!)
- Top 3 posts for 2013:
1. How To Choose A Pen Name (same top post as last year)
- Top / interesting / funny search terms:
1. Most popular search term that brought people to my blog: ‘How to come up with a pen name”
2. Other popular search terms were: romantic comedies 2013, contemporary women’s fiction, pen name generator, setting the scene in a story.
3. The interesting, funny, and bizarre: Cooking novels, Johnny Castle, tango, covered in spit (I actually did have a blog post with a similar title so I’m not that surprised, but why would someone search for it?), Mexican table decorations, me affair with Trisha, birthday cake too many candles, spiritual experience post 9/11, great halls in medieval castles, Help I‘m haunted, Miss chatterbox, raunchy birthday for woman, the neverending sentence, Eat Pray Love dinner party (that’s actually a cool idea!), Juliet is spit on by stranger full length (???), hopjulikit (????),what happened at the end of the fast forward by juliet madison (um, read it & find out!), please don’t disturb.
- Top 3 commentors:
2. Iris B
3. Mary Preston
- Top visitors from:
2. United States
3. United Kingdom
- Top referrers to my blog:
1. Search engines
So yes, it was a big year! What’s in store for 2014? Hopefully more contracts and books out!
Here are my goals for this year:
Overall I aim to write 4 complete manuscripts, of varying lengths:
- Write Haunted Housewives, a romagic comedy novel.
- Write a romagic novella, haven’t decided which one yet out of a choice of three.
- Write Miracle in March, the third book in my Tarrin’s Bay series.
- Write The Delta Girls book #2: SOUND, the next in my YA supernatural series.
- Write a partial of The Bucket List Club (and as much more of it as possible!).
- Read more books! (See my TBR list here). I won’t try to read a certain amount as I want reading to be relaxing and fun, not another deadline. But I will aim to make reading more of a priority and read at other times during the week, not just at bedtime.
What are your goals for the year ahead?
I read an interesting article recently that said goals can simply be things like: write for one hour a day, five days a week, rather than: I’ll complete a book by June. Sometimes people do better when their goal is more of a system to follow than a defined outcome. In my case though, I know I need to have certain books finished by certain times, so personally I need the specific outcome as a goal. Then I break it down to figure out how much time I need to devote to achieving it.
Hope you have a happy and successful 2014 everyone! 🙂
I promised when I got to 50 reviews on Amazon for FAST FORWARD I would share the first scene of the sequel (or spin-off, whatever you like to call it), so now that there are 50 reviews that’s exactly what I’m going to do! I figured 50 was an appropriate number considering the book is about 25 year old Kelli waking up as a 50 year old with no recollection of the last 25 years.
Before I do though, I want to say a HUGE thank you to everyone who has downloaded the book, and especially those who have left a review on either Goodreads or Amazon. I’m thrilled that the majority of readers have loved the book and left 4 and 5 star ratings. Thank you! You can read some of the reviews here.
Now, onto this sequel business.
Let me say first that although I am about to share the first scene, this is all I’ve written so far!! So I’m sorry to say there is no sequel about to be published just yet, but it is something I definitely want to keep writing, though I am working on some other things at the moment. But I’m a fast writer so I’ll do my best to not take too long!
The sequel is titled DIORA’S DAY OFF, and if you’ve read the book you’ll know who Diora is. So for this book, the story will be from Diora’s point of view, not Kelli’s. But Kelli WILL be in the book (and hehe, did you notice that pun I just did? No? Read it again… got it?). Oh alright, I’ll spell it out for you. The character ‘Will’ will also be in the book! Yep, Will and Kelli McSnelly will be gracing the pages, but Kelli will be 55 years old! The story is set 5 years after the events of Fast Forward (that is to say, 30 years in the future). All your favourite gadgets and technology will be back (and some new ones), as well as the cast of quirky secondary characters.
Without giving too much away, the story is a cross between Ferris Bueller’s Day Off and Parenthood (probably both the movie and the TV series). And yes, there will be something magical happening in the storyline. For Kelli in Fast Forward it was time travel, for Diora it will be something different… hmm, I might keep it a secret for now! Any guesses? It’s a tricky concept but I hope I can pull it off and not end up saying to myself: “What in the name of Dior was I thinking?”
Right, well I better stop babbling on and share this scene. If you’ve read this far, well done. But wait – there’s more!
DIORA’S DAY OFF – excerpt from work-in-progress:
Having big boobs is overrated. I’m serious. Who in their right minds would want the bloody things? They get in the way, get bumped and grazed by random strangers brushing past you in public, and wobble like there’s no tomorrow during everyday tasks like cleaning the kitchen benchtops. If I was ever lucky enough to have the luxury of a professional back massage, I’d need two extra holes in the massage table as well as the one for my face. And in hot weather, or even mildly warm weather, the girls need their own anti-perspirant. But nobody makes one for boobs, do they? Can underarm deodorant be used in your cleavage?
I rolled a tube of Lady Fresh down the front of my chest and under the weighty appendages, then fed my arms through the straps of the first non-nursing bra I’d worn in five years, having just finished weaning my youngest child a week ago. It looked like it could pass for an inflatable pool toy if you folded it in half, sewed it together, and blew air into the curved chambers through a straw. Maybe I needn’t have bought those expensive floaties for Sophie after all, I could just strap a couple of these babies onto her arms and she’d be good to go.
I put on my shirt and bent down to get my shoes from under the bed.
What was that?
I straightened up, then bent down again.
I’m only twenty-eight, surely that can’t be my joints? Or has having four kids under the age of six finally caught up with me and soon I’ll be getting heartburn and indigestion along with my arthritic joints? I walked to the bathroom to do my hair, my arms swinging gently by my side.
Creak, creak, creak!
It’s not my joints. It’s my freaking bra! I swung my arms with the enthusiasm of a marching soldier, then rotated them like an Olympic backstroker. Yep. The bra. Why is it creaking? I twisted my head to the side and peered over my shoulder, sliding my hand under my shirt and feeling the metal clasps holding the straps in place. It hadn’t creaked when I tried it on at the department store yesterday. Then again I’d only put in on briefly to check if it fitted, then ripped it off. Was it like a new pair of shoes that you had to wear in? Or did I give my bra arthritis from the cumbersome load I’d destined it to endure? Oh well, there was no time to change back into one of my worn out maternity bras, I had to get Lucas, Sophie, and Sebastian ready so we could get to Aurora’s school concert in time.
‘What’s taking you so long?’ my husband, Jason, asked as he peered into the bathroom.
‘My bra is creaking, and I haven’t done my hair yet.’ I ruffled my black tresses then smoothed them back into a tight ponytail. Creak, creak, creak. ‘See, can you hear that?’
‘Hear what? All I can hear is the ticking of the clock.’
I watched his reflection in the mirror as he lifted his wrist to his ear. ‘Clocks don’t tick these days, Jase. Unless you’ve switched your e-pad to one of those vintage pieces that are coming into fashion?’ I closed my eyes and finished my hair with a spray of Lady Sculpt, then turned to my husband with my hands on my hips and chest raised in a flirty pose. ‘How do I look?’
He coughed at the hairspray and barely looked at me. ‘Fine, now let’s go.’
Yep, to top it all off, even these whoppers failed to attract the red blooded male who promised to love me till death do us part. Not just today, but he’d barely cast a second glance at me since … um … how long had it been? Did we even have sex to conceive Lucas? Maybe I fell asleep during it and forgot about the whole thing, until a year ago of course when Lucas dashed, skidded, and tumbled out of my birth canal. It was no immaculate birth let alone conception. Hmm, it had been a long time. And Jason seemed … distracted, and disinterested. Something was definitely wrong.
* * *
There you have it. First scene laid bare for all to see. I’m kind of nervous now. 😉
As this book is yet to be written, I’m open to suggestions for what you would like to see, what things/characters you liked about Fast Forward that you would like me to revisit or expand on (SlimFX Magic Suit Version 3.0 anyone??).
I’d be happy to hear your thoughts in the comments below! Thanks for reading 🙂
And check the blog again on Wednesday for another excerpt, this time from my upcoming release, THE JANUARY WISH…
1. Create a High Concept Hook
Can you summarise the premise of your story in a short sentence? Does this sentence clearly state what the book is about? If not, you might need to work on either clarifying what the heart and soul of your premise actually is, or reworking your idea to be more ‘high concept’ and unique.
Try to incorporate character, goal, and conflict. Who is your character, what do they want, and what’s going to make it difficult for them to get it?
The main thing to remember is to be specific, not vague, and make it memorable.
For example, here’s the one sentence pitch I used for my novel, Fast Forward:
Aspiring supermodel, Kelli Crawford seems destined to marry her hotshot boyfriend, but on her twenty-fifth birthday she wakes in the future as a fifty-year-old suburban housewife married to the now middle-aged high school nerd.
From this we can tell who the character is (Kelli, a model), what she wants (her boyfriend to propose), and what her conflict is (she wakes up 50 and married to someone else).
A less memorable way of writing this could have been:
A young woman wakes up on her birthday to find that she’s middle-aged and married to someone else.
It still has some merit, but it’s not specific enough. To turn it into the high concept premise mentioned earlier, instead of just saying ‘young woman’ we point out her name, her occupation, and her age. Instead of saying ‘middle-aged’ we say fifty years old, in the future, and a housewife. And instead of saying she ‘married someone else’ we make it known that her husband is the nerd from high school who is now middle-aged. See how being specific makes a huge difference?
>>What can you do to your premise/hook to make it more specific and interesting?
2. Start Your Story at the Inciting Incident
Your story could start in several different ways, so make sure you choose the way that best showcases your story’s premise and kick-starts the plot. By the end of the first chapter your high concept hook/one line pitch should make sense, and the reader should be motivated to read on and see what happens. Don’t start with backstory and then only begin the real story in chapter three, start the story where the story starts.
Have a think about what sets off your story, what is the key action that puts your character into the situation that propels the story forward, and start there. Action and dialogue are key to starting the story with a bang. Avoid excessive narration and description.
For example, in Fast Forward, the story starts with the main character, Kelli, on the eve of her twenty-fifth birthday. We first see her enjoying everything that’s great about her life, and then she gets a rude shock when she wakes up in the future and finds that she’s doubled in age. By the end of chapter one, the story premise has begun and the conflict is unfolding.
>>What is the best, most interesting place to start your story? What action is needed to kick-start the plot?
3. Have a Punchy First Line
Not only do you need to start your story off right, you need to start with a line that shows something about the character, the goal, or the conflict. Or something that immediately sets the tone or voice of the story, catapults the character into the action, or poses a question that the reader will want to have answered.
Using the example of Fast Forward again for the sake of consistency, the first line is:
I can’t help that I’m beautiful. There, I’ve said it.
Immediately we know that Kelli is beautiful and she knows it, and is probably a bit conceited, though she sees it as just being honest. Of course, this type of character may turn some people off (and I was totally prepared for that!), but the idea is that it will be more fun when we see her get her comeuppance in the future when she’s no longer young and beautiful, and we can have a bit of a laugh at her expense. I also wanted it to contrast with the last line in the book (which I won’t reveal but has to do with beauty) to show how far she has grown as a person by the end of the story and what she has learned about what’s really important in life.
>>Write down some possible first lines for your story… how can you first introduce the character, goal, or conflict? Also, try to end the chapter with a punchy line as well so the reader wants to read on to find out what happens next. Take a look at some first lines from your book collection to get some ideas.
4. Minimise Backstory
You might feel that you have to tell the reader a whole heap of stuff about your characters and their past so they can ‘get to know them’, but you don’t. Character is mostly shown through action, behaviour, and dialogue. Backstory can be filtered in here and there in a subtle way that adds to the story rather than dragging it down.
Going overboard with backstory will slow the pace and become boring. The best thing to do is immerse your reader into the action of the story first (and by action I don’t mean shoot-outs and car chases, unless that is the type of story you are writing!). The type of action can vary depending on genre. It can be a heated conversation, a meeting between two people, an unfolding dilemma, or a funny or embarrassing situation the character finds themselves in. Focusing on some sort of action will reduce the need for backstory.
This doesn’t mean you can’t include any backstory in the beginning, just be subtle and don’t lump it in all in one go. Fast Forward begins with an argument between Kelli and her sister on the eve of her birthday. I included a small amount of backstory in the fourth paragraph to add context to their argument, but then the action resumes quickly. If you include backstory, make sure it serves a purpose that enhances the scene, and not just as a way to ‘tell’ the reader something.
>>To reduce backstory in the beginning, have a think about the absolute minimum amount and type of information needed to make the scene work. Anything extra – get rid of it, and filter in gradually as the story progresses.
5. Show Don’t Tell
Showing means using character behaviour, dialogue, and action to tell the story, as opposed to narration and description.
This doesn’t mean there can’t be any ‘telling’ in your story, some is needed here and there to balance things out and get vital information across, but showing should predominate. Showing helps the reader visualise the scene more clearly and have a more immersive experience alongside the character.
You can improve your showing versus telling by thinking visually, and also by searching for unnecessary words in your manuscript including: starting, started to, began, was, were, almost, saw, heard, and felt. These are filter words, they filter your reader’s experience rather than immersing them in it. They can still be used, but sparingly, and only when necessary.
Here is an example of telling:
I stood in front of the mirror and couldn’t believe what I saw. My belly was loose and flabby, and my breasts were droopy.
And here’s how it can be changed to better ‘show’ what’s happening (from a scene in Fast Forward):
I finally stood again at the mirror, my mouth gaping. I lowered my hands to my abdomen, lifting and prodding clumps of loose skin that felt like a bag of jelly.
What in the name of Dior happened to my flat stomach? Not only did I have a freaking jelly belly, my breasts drooped so far south they were practically residents of Antarctica.
Instead of telling the reader that the character ‘couldn’t believe it’, show them, eg: ‘my mouth gaping.’ And instead of telling the reader that her belly was loose and flabby, put some action into it, eg: ‘lifting and prodding loose clumps of skin’.
Keep these filter words handy and catch yourself out when you use them to see if there’s a better way of writing the scene. Until you get used to minimising these words, you can also just leave it until the editing process and then change them, by using the ‘find’ function on your word document.
Keep these 5 tips in mind and you’ll be well on your way to starting your story with a bang! Good luck to those doing NaNoWriMo 🙂
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Writing Tips for #NaNoWriMo from author @Juliet_Madison http://bit.ly/Hd7ASB
Examples in this article taken from the book, FAST FORWARD, available from all online ebook retailers.
When I’m editing, and before I do a final read through and tweaking of my manuscript, I use Microsoft Word’s ‘find’ feature to search for the following ten words. These words can usually be deleted in order to tighten up the writing and focus on ‘showing vs telling’.
Sometimes ‘almost’ can work but often it’s not needed. Eg: With his sunken eyes and pallor he
almost looked like a ghost. An example where it may work could be: She almost slammed the door in his face. Or instead of that, it could be changed to: She resisted the urge to slam the door in his face.
Usually there is a stronger word available to replace the need for ‘very’, or the phrase can be changed completely to something else. Eg: ‘very sad’ could become ‘despondent’. Eg: It was very sunny. Better: It was sunny. Even better: She squinted as the sun’s glare rebounded off the pavement and hit her eyes.
When this is used alongside ‘to’, as in ‘started to’, it’s probably not needed. Eg: She started to get dressed. Better: She got dressed. Even better: She zipped her jeans and put on a t-shirt.
This is similar to ‘started’. Eg: It began to rain. Better: Droplets of rain dampened her hair, or: He flicked on the windscreen wipers as rain blurred the road ahead.
5. stood up
Remove the word ‘up’. If someone stood, it’s obviously up.
6. sat down
Remove the word ‘down’. If someone is going from a standing position to a sitting position it is obviously ‘down’. Except if the person is lying down and then changes to a sitting position.
Removing ‘heard’ or ‘hear’ gives the reader a more vivid experience. Eg: She heard someone call her name. Better: A voice called her name. Eg: I could hear the rain pelting against the window. Better: rain pelted against the window.
Same as with ‘heard’. Eg: She saw his face through the window. Better: His eyes glared at her through the window. Eg: I could see him coming towards me. Better: He came towards me.
Telling a reader what a character felt is not as powerful as showing them. Eg: She felt relaxed and happy. Better: She leaned back in the chair and a smile eased onto her face.
Eg: If she could
just find a way to get through to him, he might understand. Eg: “The shop is just around the corner.”
There are more suggestions of words to search for at this very useful site.
Have a search of your manuscript and see how many of these words you can find and change to improve your book.
Are there words that you often overuse in your writing?
I’m over at the Life In A Pink Fibro blog today talking about how to write a romance novel and the ten things I’ve learned on my journey to publication. It was interesting to look back on where I was a few years ago to where I am now. I hope you’ll get a lot out of this post!
And if you haven’t visited my blog for a while, here are some other recent posts you might like to check out:
– I took the plunge like Jenn J McLeod did and interviewed myself! Past Present Future with…me!
– Annie Seaton shares her Promotional Tips for Authors.
– Sandra Antonelli and I discuss the issue of ‘older’ women in fiction at the Escape Blog.
I’m also thrilled to have received some great reviews for Fast Forward recently, over at Novel Escapes, YA Novelties, and Chick Lit Club! A BIG thank you to the reviewers for taking time to read the book and write the reviews. 🙂
Coming up soon on the blog, an interview with Natalie Charles, a guest post by Ros Baxter, and a post on Twitter Basics for Authors. Stay tuned!
Every now and again I get the urge to write a short story. Especially if there’s a competition (Aries competitive nature). Earlier this year Country Style magazine held a short story competition with the theme ‘Cooking from the heart.’ The $5000 prize was a big motivator to enter, but even though I didn’t win I enjoyed writing my story and am proud of the result.
When I heard what the theme was, it was the perfect theme to match to a story idea I’d had for a while, so with enthusiasm I sat down and wrote the story all in one go till the early hours of the morning.
2000 words doesn’t seem like a lot, but with short stories you have to plan the plot and create characters just like in a novel, in fact, sometimes short stories are more challenging because of the restriction in length. You have to focus on a moment in time with only a couple or a few characters and have a satisfying emotional ending to the story. Sometimes the ending is not an ending but the start of something new, but the event that takes place in the story is the driver for that new beginning.
My ‘cooking from the heart’-themed short story, SISTERS AT HEART, is now published on Smashwords. It’s set in the fictional town of Tarrin’s Bay where I am setting a series of novels, the first being THE JANUARY WISH which is completed and the second being FEBRUARY OR FOREVER which is a work in progress. SISTERS AT HEART is women’s fiction with a twist; there’s a little surprise at the end that some people may guess and others may not.
Here’s the blurb…
Grieving the loss of her sister and breakdown of her marriage, Carrie moves to the small seaside town of Tarrin’s Bay for a fresh start with her young son. When she volunteers for the school cake stall, a remarkable coincidence has her realising the incredible power of the human heart.
You can read the first page here, and if you like the sound of it and want to see what the twist is, the full story is only 99 cents 😉
I’d love to hear what you think about it! I might write more ‘Tarrin’s Bay’ short stories.
Do you have any short stories published? If so, let me know in the comments 🙂