Juggling

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Research.  Plot.  Character.  BIC.  World-building.  Story.  Voice.  Backups.  Theme.  Scene.  Conflict.  Revisions.  Rising action.

The list goes on and on.  The question for today’s post is How do I juggle all of this?

Well, like everything in writing there is no one, simple, easy answer.  We are all unique, and we all deal with the challenges of writing in our own unique way.  However, there are a few things I can suggest that may help you at least get started.

For the supremely disorganized, I suggest a simple checklist.  In fact, I suggest two simple checklists.  The first checklist is for the work as a whole.  This is not necessarily to be done in order but rather to make sure you have included the crucial elements to a successful story.  Here is where you list plot, protagonist, antagonist, world building, theme, etc.  Most of the items on this list should be checked off before you actually start writing the work.  Depending on your writing style, some items such as plot may not get checked off until the very end.  It will alter as you go.  I’ve never had a story finish exactly as I envisioned it, but making sure you have the basics in place will make the exploration of writing a bit easier.

The second list is for your daily writing.  Here is the checklist to handle your actual approach to getting words on the page.  Some authors like to warm up before tackling the actual WIP.  John Steinbeck often used a writing diary in which he would lay down his thoughts about the WIP, the current scene, as well as the mundane events of the day.  Others prefer a simple writing exercise whether it be to describe the scene or character or moment.  Still others warm up using a short story (this has the added benefit of producing a short story when you finish).  If you’re a warm up type, than make that the first item on your checklist.  If you prefer to jump right in, then do so.  The daily writing checklist also includes items after the day’s words are finished such as reminding yourself to backup files, research that seafaring lingo you thought you knew, and plot revisions you’ve made along the way (and you will make them).

For the moderately organized, perhaps some computer software will help.  A few options already have been mentioned in earlier posts, and as I have not used any such software myself, I cannot speak to their effectiveness.  However, even using a simple spreadsheet might help.  The idea is simply to find a secure place to organize your thoughts so that they’re not bouncing around in your head all the time.  You need to get that stuff out in order to make room for the new thoughts.

Finally, for those of you already organized or those of you who really like to fly by the seat of your pants, I return your attention to a suggestion made by David a short while back.  Write some short stories.  Write stories about events your characters have dealt with before those of your WIP.  I tried this method with my current work and discovered it to be of great value.  I learned more about my characters and the world they live in than in any world I had ever created before.  It’s not just the practical side of things either.  Not just the names of flora and fauna or the placement of buildings in the town or the history of one of my characters.  I learned about the textures, the aromas, the tastes of the world I had created.  In writing a few short stories (I wrote three), I was able to take all the research I had been juggling in my head and stir it together in the cauldron of writing.  When I actually began my novel, I had already lived in its world several times.

What works for each of us is, of course, different.  The more you write, the more you go through the process, the easier the juggling act becomes.  Well, all right, not really easier, but rather you’ll develop a method that eventually will work for you.  So what works for you now?

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8 comments to Juggling

  • Interesting post, even more so considering I’m about to start writing a new novel. I never get tired of looking for new ways of going about it since I haven’t found mine yet. I definitely fall in the “pantser” category, I can’t keep to an outline to save my life. I have tried, it just does not work for me.
    On the other hand, I have tried writing some short story to get acquainted with my secondary characters, and I have to say, it works wonders. I come up with ideas an realize things which didn’t occur to me before, understand relationships better, work out plot points I didn’t understand. For all those allergic to outlining and such, I’d definitely recommend trying this way!
    (sorry for any mistake I might have made, I’m italian)

  • As to backups – automate it so you don’t have to remember would be my advice. It’s too easy to forget.

  • Stuart, I love this post and I lovelovelove this subject of how-tos we are doing. From your list, I especially love hearing how people get started each day, because that was a *major* problem for me when I was first a writer. I started out a pen-and-pad kinda gal, and that blank page… It was intimidating.

    Back then there were no sites like this to ask for advice or read what others did. So I started out with a writing exercise. I had never heard of that before, at the time, in all my youthful studying of how writers did things, so I thought I was quite brillient and proud of myself and puffed up.

    I still use that exercise method today. I rewrite whatever I wrote yesterday and the day’s writing continues out of that in a smooth flow as if I never stopped for the night.

    Did I miss in here what *you* do? Is there one of these magical tips that you use now, or have you moved beyond that in your writing?

  • Alessia — When I first started out, I was a “pantser.” Writing outlines somehow killed the creative process for me. I’d have a blast creating the story via the outline, but when it came to writing the prose, I had this idea that I’d already gotten the story out, why would I want to write it again? What changed for me was that too many great details, characters, plot points, etc, would be in my head and then I’d lose them a month later when I need them. So I started writing notes. Notes led to short bits outlining the coming chapter. Short bits led to broad outline of entire novel followed by short bits as I go. You’ve got to find what works for you.

    Simon — automating is great, as long as you always use the same computer. For those who jump between a few (as I have done on occasion), it’s not bad to train yourself to backup.

    Faith — I’ve tried so many different approaches. For a long time, I followed Steinbeck’s method and kept a journal that I wrote in before doing the day’s writing. It worked well but was not a habit I fully developed. My response to Alessia answers some of your question. As for my daily regimen, I write in the morning (which I should be doing right now) and I’m trying something new this time. First, I wrote the first 50-60 pages. Now, I begin each session by revising a few of the early pages and then write the new material. I plan to post on this process in the coming months once I see how it works for me.

  • Great post, Stuart. We offer so much advice on this site, and I can see where some would find it overwhelming. Offering a way to keep track of it all and reduce it to useable information is great. As for starting out each day: One piece of advice my grad school advisor gave me for writing my dissertation was to finish each day in the middle of a sentence. That way, the first thing you write the following morning is the completion of that thought. It primes the pump, in a way and gets things moving. I use this periodically, when I find myself struggling in the mornings. Right now I have so many deadlines that I’m not having too much trouble getting myself going each day.

  • David — I have heard of that one, though I never tried it. Reminded me of a similar idea a writer once told me. He chose to never end a day’s writing with the end of a scene or chapter. He always ended in the middle of the action. When he began writing the next day, he didn’t have to think of how to begin because everything was happening already. Never tried that one either, but it sounds intriguing.

  • Karen

    I absolutely love this theme of “how-to” that has started with the new year. Currently being in the early stages of the development of *my* first novel, the timing couldn’t possibly be better and I’m eagerly looking forward to reading, and learning, more.

    I’m doing what you mention here, Stuart – the whole writing about your characters/places before the WIP starts. I’m not writing it with much structure, however, and I’m forcing myself not to obsess over the prose so that I will just *write*. I learn a lot about my characters this way, where they’re from and how they came to where they are at the beginning of the WIP… Not to mention the places and all the rest to be revisited later in the work.

    So thank you (all of you). Thank you for making us noobs feel like we’re doing a little something right, while also offering new insight. 😉

  • Karen — Glad to hear these posts are so helpful. Best of luck with your WIP.