Different Methods For Writing

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The past couple of weeks have been good writing weeks for me. I have found the flow, the groove of writing. I believe it is a result of me reflecting on my writing process and me as a writer. It has had to do with how I write.

The thing is, a writer can write 100 or 100,000 words and not develop if one does not reflect. It is like a constant self-check, skimming through thoughts that go through one’s head, catching those flimmering emotions that one feels in the pit of their stomach (dread) or chest (everything from joy to fear to anger).

Quite often that feeling of dread, fear, disappointment or even anger can come from the fact that you, the writer, haven’t been able to put down the words. You might have a daily, weekly or monthly word goal and every day you don’t work towards that goal makes you lag behind. 

It’s not a nice feeling, for sure. It certainly does not help you get back on the saddle the next day. But I have some suggestions for you – some ideas that might help you get to your word goals regardless of how you feel. Interested?

A Writer’s Heureka

When I got back to writing in February 2018, I had a simple goal of writing 30 minutes per day. It was usually in the morning before heading to the University. I wrote what I wanted, self-reflections or short-story ideas. In a week or two, the idea of Yellow Tails started to find its way to the pages.

During that time in my life, studies at university and working for radio, 30 minutes per day was enough for me. I felt satisfied for whatever words I put down. It was enough that I was writing.

But then I quit my job and had suddenly days upon days of nothing planned and I could write. I changed my daily writing goal from 30 minutes per day to 1,000 words a day. It took me longer, maybe an hour, to get to my goal. After that, I was usually exhausted, done for the day. 

All the way until the last pages of Yellow Tails in December 2018, I wrote 1,000 words per day.

After that, in 2019, my writing got less foreseeable with the fan fiction and all the short stories. It wasn’t any more about a certain amount of time or a certain amount of words – it was more of writing until the story was done, going by feeling. Sometimes it took days, sometimes only one.

But now, since December, I have been wondering again, how many words per day should I write? What would be enough? I kept thinking about something between 1,000 or 2,000 – but it was supposed to be fixed. You know, 1,500 and no less or precisely 2,000 because that’s the way I am. 

And I kept thinking about this back and forth while definitely not managing to reach this daily fixed goal which led to confusion and disappointment. But then I realized that I can change up my writing routine every single day if I wanted to. Who cares how I write those words as long as I find pleasure in writing?

So I started trying out different things: word crawls, a 20-minute writing session, a 100-words-at-a-time approach – and suddenly I was having both fun with my writing and I was reaching good word amounts every day! Gone were the days of personal frustration for not getting enough writing done or doing it with a grumpy face.

And that’s the thing I will tell you about right now: how to have fun and write.

Finding the Method

I know, it’s not groundbreaking in any way. It’s pretty simple, really. But I believe we writers tend to get held up by our beliefs and self-made rules that a good writer writes 2,000 words per day like Stephen King. 

That’s not the deal here, folks. 

You don’t need to write 2,000 words to be a good writer. You need to write XX amount of words to feel good about your writing and that can be different from one day to another. It is also key to have fun while writing. So, how do you do it?

The best way for you to get your words down today so that you’ll feel satisfied with the work of the day is to reflect on how you feel that day when you sit down at your writing desk. And to do that, there are a few different things to figure out. 

(But before you go on, just let me say this: if you feel motivated about your WIP, go for it, write already! But if you don’t, then keep on reading.)

What are working on today?

Are you writing flash-fiction? A short story, a one-shot? A novel, perhaps? It’s important to know since different stories and story formats have different needs. So, with that in mind, the next question, then.

In what phase of the work are you?

Do you know where to continue from last time? Or is there a troublesome, grubbly, muddy mid-section plot catastrophe waiting for you? 

You got the answers? Good, go on to the next section.

Depending on your work in progress and if you know what’s coming next, there are a few different methods to get going with your writing and getting those words down.

Method 1: Writing for a certain amount of time.

For short stories and novels. This method is for you who knows what scene comes next but finds it gruesome to get going.

Try putting on a timer, either on your phone or online. You can start by 10 minutes, or even just five if that feels like a good start. When those minutes are up, take a break, put on a new timer and start working again.

And if this doesn’t feel motivating or get your fingers running on that keyboard, try instead giving yourself a time limit. Decide for, say, 15 minutes and if you still feel unmotivated – maybe today isn’t your day? Rachael Stephen talks about meeting your muse at a bus stop: the method is to try writing for 20 minutes and if you muse hasn’t met you by then, you can close your computer for the day and be happy that at least you wrote for 20 minutes time.

Method 2: Writing a certain amount of words.

For flash fiction, short stories and novels. This method is for you who is uncertain of what scene comes next.

Instead of working against time, give yourself a word goal you try to reach. This way you don’t end up only thinking about the next scene for ten minutes without ever writing a word. 

If you’re feeling extremely unmotivated, start with 100 words. Anyone can put together that scrawny little amount! Then try another 100. Or 250. And take a break. Always, remember to stand up, stretch, drink some water and/or go to the toilet before getting back to work. Taking a break might even help you figure out what the next step in your story is.

Method 3: Writing a certain amount of words during a certain amount of time.

For short stories and novels. Also known as a word sprint. If you know what’s next and want to challenge yourself, try writing either as many words in a certain amount of time or, for instance, 500 words in 15 minutes or 1,000 words in 45 minutes or 400 in ten minutes. After a session, take a break.

Method 4: Take a wild card.

Are you feeling undecided about how many words or how long you should write? Would you like to give your faith to the hands of chance? I have a few options for you: check the clock and take the last three digits of it as your word count for the next session (right now, I would have to write 914 words). Alternatively, you can take the three last digits of your current word count and write as many words as it says. Or roll a die and multiply the number by a hundred. Or simply write to nearest thousand.

And without you even noticing it, the words are starting to fill the pages. Don’t be afraid to switch things up – you might end up having more fun trying out a different writing method. Start out with a five minute timer, then roll a die, try to write 450 words in fifteen minutes and lastly, round up to the next thousand. Believe me, it’s going to be fun! Because that’s what writing is supposed to be, FUN!

Again, this is nothing groundbreaking, right? But I think we all sometimes need a reminder that it’s more than okay to switch things up and try a different way of writing that might suddenly result in 500; 1,000 or 2,000 words more than you expected.

So, what will your method be?

Writerly Update 2: December 2019

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As a new month (and a new year!) begins, another month ends. That means it’s time to reflect on what I wrote last month and do the official second ‘Writerly Update’ – this new series of mine where I can show and share with you what I write and how I feel about writing. 

Before getting into my December writings, I want to say that this new series helps me, in a way, to feel more motivated about writing. It makes me reflect more on what I write and how I feel about it and I believe it will help me along the way. So, if you read these posts and like them, thank you – it’s nice that you are here, or actually there on the other side of the screen. It makes me happy to be able to share these things with you!

So, let’s begin! These were the goals I decided to aim for in December:

“-– to keep on with the good work and aim for writing five to six days a week. I won’t get all too excited and start dictating a daily word count quite yet, but we’ll see what and how much I write when I try to get back to almost-daily writing. My goal is also to publish the 24-part hurt/comfort online and get back to writing my longer fan fiction story.”

And so the great question is –  how did I do? 

The Great Statistics

Compared to November, December was so much calmer. We didn’t change locations but stayed put instead, which gave me a great opportunity to keep up with my writing routines. However, I did face a discouraging writer’s block right in the beginning of the month (the irony of having put down just a few days before my writing goals…) which slowed me down somewhat, and then of course the Christmas holidays and New Year had me take a break from writing for a few days.

But, despite the block and holidays, December was still a good month of writing. You can see it for yourself:

December 2019

Days journaling: 23 days out of 31
Days writing: 17 days out of 31
Word count in total (excluding journaling): 22,480 words

Texts published: 4 blog posts + one fan fiction one-shot + a four-part fan fiction story
Comments on other people’s texts: 25

In total, I journaled 74% of the month and wrote fiction for 55% of December. My lowest word count for a day during the month was 600 and my highest 3000 (!). When dividing my total word count on the days I wrote fiction, I wrote 1,300 words on those seventeen days (and if dividing for the whole month, I wrote 725 words per day).

Compared to last month, when I wrote 12,960 words during 13 days, i.e. 996 words per writing day, I’d say December was a huge improvement.

And that makes me incredibly happy!

What I Wrote This Month

December was both a scary and an exciting month of writing. I continued to work on my fan fiction projects but I also tried something I haven’t done in a long time: writing original short stories.

There are a few interesting writing competitions going on in Finland I thought I would like to participate in. The other is in prose and the other in science fiction and fantasy. After almost a year of publishing my fan fiction online, I think participating in a real writing competition would be a good next step on my writing career. It’s scary as hell to give your story for someone to read and judge – and because of that fear I worked on a short story during December.

First, I began writing one but it just got too long and too complicated to be a short story of only 15 pages. I decided to leave that idea to rest and instead give a go at another idea that came to me a year ago. This one is now almost done and I only have about 1,000 words left, and it has been fun but at the same time scary to work on it.

There’s something about writing an original short story you wish to publish. Compared to a full-length novel, in a short story every word and every piece of dialogue seems to matter more – there’s no room for wish-washing and jibbering. That makes writing an original short story somewhat daunting. But I’m getting there!

In addition to the short story, I worked on the longer hurt/comfort fan fiction story I told about last month, finished it and even published the whole thing! Every time the right day with the right mood came, I got writing and managed to write up to 2000 words during one of those days. I ended up being really happy with the whole story. I also published the last part to another fan fiction story I worked on in November and wrote and published a shorter Christmas one-shot (about 1,250 words).

At the end of December, I finally even got going with my long fan fiction story after a long break and got to 10k just yesterday!

Summing Up December

When I look back at the goals I put down for December, I’m really happy with myself. I managed to write more, published a longer short story along with some other fan fiction as well and even got back to my longer fan fiction story. I also made a personal score in commenting on other people’s stories, which gave me joy. What a great month! 

However, I still struggled to write five to six days a week and wrote more like 3-4 days, and that is something I hope to improve on. Writing this month was a rollercoaster ride, as some days everything was just so easy and fun while other days were sticky as walking in deep mud. Not everything was perfect but some days I managed to write some really great stuff.

I know the longer fan fiction story will need a good deal of editing, but for the moment, it’s just about getting the story on the paper no matter the quality. The time for editing will come later.

The goals for January are following: I wish to complete the short story I’m working on for the writing competition and let it rest until February (the deadline is in March). I also hope to write at least as much as I did in November, hopefully even more, aiming for 1,000+ words every day that I write. My journaling routine is good at the moment, and I hope to continue like that. In addition to the short story, I aim to keep writing my fan fiction long story, hopefully getting to 20k this month, and if possible, I’d like to get back to writing Yellow Tails again (Remember that? It’s still in the works!).

My goals for January feel ambitious, for sure. However, the month is looking quite calm at the moment and hopefully that means good writing days for me! We’ll see how it went at the end of this month 😉

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Do you believe in making monthly writing goals or do you go by day, week or year?

 

Writing Lessons From Reading

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It is good to read books. 

They broaden your perspective by showing how different but still similar the people living on this Earth are. It broadens your perspective. Reading also improves your vocabulary, fantasy and helps you feel empathy towards other people. Books test your attention span, your patience and analytical skills. You learn new things, even new skills by reading books.

But for a writer, books are even more helpful than that. Reading books can help you find your own voice and learn what you like and don’t like in books. Last year, I wrote about the importance of reading and how I had trouble finding good books. Now, I have changed my perspective a little and I’m reading books even if they weren’t that good

It seems like there’s much to learn from less appealing literature as well. One can even see it as a mood-booster – reading a book you don’t like and thinking to yourself I certainly wouldn’t describe my character like that. This, of course, should be balanced with very good writing to have something to aim for to keep on developing your writing skills.

So today, referencing to my book list from 2019 I published last week, I will tell you what I’ve learned this year about my preferences in writing… by reading.

Creating Good Characters

Some of the books I read last year had many characters in them. One of them was Donna Tartt’s The Goldfinch, another was Victor Dixen’s Ascension. But how the characters were presented and when made the books very different experiences.

I like books that have only a few characters in them or where the many characters are presented slowly, one by one, instead of presenting them all in the process of 15 to 20 pages.

In The Goldfinch, the characters come along very slowly (partly because of the length of the book) as the main characters life takes him to new places and to new people. For me, it felt like I got to know one character before being introduced to another and it helped me create an understanding for them.

In Ascension, however, there are more than ten characters presented almost at once. It’s when the six girls and boys are starting their journey into space and are supposed to start speed-dating. Although I really enjoyed the book, I had so much trouble getting to know the characters – only the main character we get to meet alone during the first few chapters becomes a bit more important compared to the others who I don’t really care about. When presenting characters like this, all in one, for me they lose their value. I barely care about what happens to them – and that’s a bad thing for the book.

In addition to this, for me, characters become good when they get some depth. This doesn’t happen when the character’s looks are described to me in detail from hair color to weird toe nails (especially if they don’t have an effect on the plot) – it happens when I’m allowed to follow along the character’s thought processes and opinions, when I learn to know his or her personality and how the character interacts with other people. I’m looking for the depth, to really get to know the person. This, I believe, happens in Ayn Rand’s The Fountainhead and in a way, also in Ready Player One

Action Heavy? Too Heavy.

The other thing I have learned from reading books this year is that an action heavy plot gives very little to the reader. I refer to my experiences with The Maze Runner trilogy by James Dashner which is three books of almost only action.

When watching an action movie or even something like The Lord of the Rings, there is a balance between action scenes and calmer scenes. By balancing the tempo, the viewer or reader gets to pause for a moment, breath out and relax all the nerves that have been tingling and excited for the past few pages or minutes. After some calm it’s easier to get excited for the action again.

However, if the whole movie is only action from beginning to end, we never have the time to reflect on what’s happening – and neither do the characters.

In Maze Runner, the page-after-page action, that kept on going from halfway of the first book until the epilogue in the third, didn’t leave any room for character development. This way, one never learnt to feel anything for the characters who died along the way. Sure, there were scenes where the main character was wondering about his past or his motivations but if I haven’t learnt to know the character, why should I care? 

Action scenes are a good way to keep up the tempo and make things happen plotwise but if that’s the only thing that happens in the book, it kind of turns against itself. Is action still action if that’s the only thing that ever happens in the book? I definitely enjoy good action scenes and understand their value, but I don’t think they are an absolutely necessary part of a novel.

One other thing when it comes to plot is that I’m okay with not-so-happy-endings. Sure, I don’t like miserable, gritty endings but I don’t like overly happy-happy-joy-joy kind of endings either. There is a silver lining to every cloud but that’s it: there’s the silver lining and there’s the cloud. The Fountainhead like The Goldfinch were excellent examples of this kind of endings while Eleanor Oliphant was too happy for me – and in that way, unrealistic.

Some Personal Preferences

The last thing I’ll get into detail about in this post is the other stuff that comes with writing a novel. Things like the length of chapters, third-person or first-person point-of-view and present versus past tense. These things might not make a difference if the book is good and the style goes well with the author’s choices but they are still things to consider.

This year, I read books that had either very short chapters or very long chapters. The Fountainhead and The Goldfinch had probably the longest chapters while Ascension, Maze Runner Trilogy and One of Us Is Lying had very short chapters. You can find the pattern: YA books tend to have shorter chapters while books for adults seem to be able to take the time and space for theirs. And who knows, maybe it’s even a question about attention spans?

Short chapters are good page-turners. They make reading the next chapter very easy – I mean, it’s just a couple of pages more. Or like in One of Us Is Lying, the chapters were ten pages or so but the point of view changed twice in every chapter. These are good things, especially if the reader gets bored easily or has trouble finding reading routines – but in the long run, I think this can turn against the novel. Too short chapters make the reading experience more… halting instead of creating long, beautiful waves of scenes. You never seem to get into the events before the chapter is already over – if you know what I mean?

Then again very long chapters can become too long and exhausting to take on. I for instance, am a reader who doesn’t like to leave a chapter halfway. But if the chapter is over 30 pages long, I might opt to not read another chapter before I have the time to get through a long chapter like that. That’s not optimal either.

Looking at things this way, I think I prefer best long chapters that are divided into parts. At the moment, I’m reading Stephen King’s It, a book that has very long chapters – but they are divided into 3-12 scenes depending on the length of the chapter. That way, we get to those long chapters with depth, character development and even some action but it doesn’t become exhausting to read them because you can always pause before the next scene begins.

When it comes to writing in past or present tense or in first person or third person, I really have no preference when it comes to reading. I like them all if they are done well. However, I do find that I personally like to write in present tense rather than past and in third person if it feels natural, more “right”. It’s just something I’ve noticed when writing: how I feel like I’m more in the moment, in the midst of action, when writing in present tense.

These are things that come from experience, both in reading and writing and is up to oneself to reflect upon.

Read and Learn Even More

This year, this is what I learnt from the books I read. Much about characters and character development, about the value of action scenes and the pros and cons about long versus short chapters. What I will learn from the books I read in 2020, I’m eager to find out. Maybe in a year from now, I’ll tell you what I learnt this upcoming year?

As I wrote last week, in 2020 I aim to read more of all sorts of books. Different genres, different authors, different settings. I’ll try to read through books that don’t please me as much as I’d like and try my best to learn from them. However, to balance those books I’ll also read some good books just to keep myself developing and strengthening my writerly skills. We’ll see where I end up in twelve months!

Until next post, I wish that you, dear reader, have had a relaxing Christmas and have a Happy New Year!

Finding A Way Out From Writer’s Block

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Last week, the only thing I managed to write was the blog post that came out last Thursday. It was the only time I came far enough to sit down and write for an hour or two and even then the quality wasn’t what I had been hoping for.

Bad writing days. The awful days of not putting pen to paper and eventually feeling dread or fear that you’ll never get that writing flow back.

Ugh.

If we forget the past four months of travel and what effect it had on my writing, I can’t even remember the last time I had a writer’s block like this.

But after several days of reflecting and journaling, I managed to find my way out from that awful gravel pit of not-writing. You know: that pit, the one that keeps you occupied with everything else than writing. But this week, I climbed up from there with a self-made ladder – and came up from there wiser than I was before.

The Awful Block

It’s a weird feeling, not being ”able” to write. I mean, I’m in the same room with my computer where all the necessary Word-files are open. Even the battery on my computer is fully charged – but I can’t seem to get myself there, make my fingers work that keyboard, produce the words my mind can’t even consciously put together before they’re already in front of my eyes, black on white, the small writing cursor waiting for the next letter. 

I even know what to write. I have an idea for the first sentence (something that helps me immensely when I start the writing process of the day), but something in my body or mind or both pulls on all the breaks and I just avoid the whole writing thing. Turn my thoughts to something else. Read a book, do the laundry, obsess about the grocery list.

Ugh. 

I did, however, manage to write diary on six of those seven days (which turned out to be the key to the whole thing. But I’ll get to it later).

Every day, I started out hopeful. Maybe today I’ll be able to get back to my writing. But at the end of the day, no words were written. 

On day three, I really started to panic. My to do-list did not allow this kind of non-writing to happen. I love ticking of those boxes but day after day there were more boxes to be ticked rather than the other way around. Talk about the nightmare of an organized person.

On day seven, my panic had turned into this gray thick fog that is in your mind, clogging everything, but does not hit you in the head with the hammer. One only feels it, like a heavy theatre curtain that has just been lowered on your shoulders. 

But I don’t believe in writer’s block, not really. It feels more like a shortcut to say that you haven’t been writing because you have The Block – but it isn’t some kind of illness that keeps you from putting words down. It’s resistance or fear of something, it’s an effect of something else

And because of that doubt, and especially because I rarely experience consecutive non-writerly days like those last week, I was very determined to understand why this was happening.

Finding An Explanation for It

For the last few weeks, we’ve been staying put in Christchurch, New Zeeland. That has been helpful for my writing routines, to getting back on track.

As we are sharing a family house with one person who is roughly the same age as we are and who works during the days which means we have the house to ourselves most of the week. There’s a space with a desk and a chair for journaling and fiction writing. We are close to shops so everything is near, and there is a good supply of tea and coffee in the kitchen. Even brownies and cookies for occasional sugar boosts.

So why, even though I had a sound basis to get started, did I have such trouble investing myself in my writing?

I pondered and pondered, wondering if there was something wrong with the writing space or the chair I was sitting in. Maybe I should get out of the house or try getting to my writing earlier? Was it the other person’s, the house owner’s morning routines that threw me off? Or maybe it was my partner’s moody days that disturbed my writing flow?

After listing out possible reasons for my writer’s block in my journal for five days, I finally realized to turn my thoughts inward and try to find a reason from there. And I found one. It is too personal to get into it here, but just know that the real reason for my not-writing could be found in me – not around me.

The thing about being a writer, at least for me, is that I’m quite sensitive to and observant of the things happening around me. There is so much data to take in especially when you live with two other people and the toilet is clogged for the fourth day in a row (yes, that happened last week and is, actually, still happening) – and when you take that data inside you, analyze it and let it affect you, like I do, it has an effect on your writing.

I would like to live in a neutral, balanced environment with only a few or no conflicts so that I can channel all my energy into my writing – but unfortunately it’s more or less impossible to create that kind of environment, now and in the future. I wonder if it’s even possible. 

(Unless you’ll be able to isolate yourself in a hotel with full hospitality.)

I’ve written previously about my deep-analysis habits and how they can, if not controlled, lead to a momentary burn-out. My analyses of situations give me food for thought and ideas for writing but when channelled wrong they can turn against me. This leads to not-writing that leads to panic about not writing which definitely does not help me to get back to my writing.

And I believe that was what happened last week.

Showing Some Mercy

So, coming out from last week a bit wiser, this week I decided to take a new start. To forget that I reached none of my writing goals last week and start fresh.

I wrote my to do -list for the new week on Sunday night, keeping my writing goals simple. Only one project for one day, options for what project to work on and how many minutes or how many words. And on Monday, I started with an optimistic mind-set and managed to complete the first writing task for the week with 1,900 words.

I took the step ladder rather than the shovel and beat that gravel pit I had ended up in.

What I learned from last week is that there are a few key things that can help get out of the not-writing pit. The first one is to deep-dive into yourself and figure out the real reason why you have trouble writing. To be honest with yourself and ask those awfully straightforward questions: what is bothering me and why? What can I do about it?

The other thing is to show yourself a little mercy. Forgive yourself for the poor results and give yourself a fresh start when the new day or week begins. Don’t start too heavy or keep beating yourself up for missing all those writing days the past week.

Funny enough, as awful as staying in that writer’s pit was last week, I think I learned surprisingly lot. About myself and how my surroundings affect me which in turn has an effect on my writing. But I also learned how I can try to work around those surrounding events, moods and conflicts around me without letting them have an effect on my writing.

It’s a slow process but I believe journaling about it will help me figure out enough answers to it.

How do you beat your way out from the deep gravel pit?

Is Fan Fiction Only A Distraction From Writing Real Stories?

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While I was thinking about and trying to become a plotter, I also started to question if writing fan fiction was getting too much of my attention. After all, during the year of 2019 I haven’t actually been writing anything original apart from my thesis and these blog posts. The second edition of Yellow Tails has 8,000 words in it, written during the summer, but that’s about it. Instead, I’ve written more than 30,000 words of fan fiction, resulting in 12 different short-stories.

So – was it any wonder I began questioning my writing habits?

(You might see that those few weeks were the Huge Weeks Of Doubt for me – it seems like I was questioning my current writing habits from almost every angle.)

In May, I wrote a blog post about the benefits of writing fan fiction. While writing this post, it was fun to go back in time and see what thoughts I had more than six months ago and review it, to see if I still agreed with myself about the benefits. And I do!

I still think writing fan fiction helps you develop as a writer because it allows you to focus on creating an intriguing plot, do a proper character and world study and try to re-create that in your stories when you don’t have to come up everything by yourself.

But has it actually been worth all that time and effort to write fan fiction rather than original stories?

As I’ve gained more experience on the writing forum and have been writing fan fiction actively for the past eight months, I think it’s time to think about fan fiction writing again – this time from a different perspective.

Support, Encouragement, Development

Let’s start with the good things.

First of all, the writing community on the forum I’ve been active on, is just wonderful. 

Although it’s not nearly as active as it was ten years ago, there’s still some great conversations going on about writing, reading and everything else. These conversations are a good reminder of the struggles and challenges all writers face and you might learn something new from reading about the experiences of others. 

The community is supportive, too: advice, tips and consultation is given when needed. Once, for instance, I was feeling overwhelmed with my story and unsure if it was coherent. I reached out to a certain topic, asking for help, and quickly got two volunteers to read through my story and give feedback on it.

It also feels relatively easy to make writing friends there – you just have to be active and not only a silent viewer.

These are some of the absolute benefits of getting into the fan fiction sphere. And the forum isn’t only about fan fiction – the original stories are almost if not as popular! This means the same support and helping applies to writing original stories as well.

The third aspect I’ve noticed is how encouraging and incredibly nice it is to get comments and feedback on the stories I’ve written. It doesn’t only motivate me but it also helps me figure out what scenes or events the readers focus on, what details they react to, what they think works well and what does not.

In the same way, I believe commenting on other’s stories does the same: it makes me more reflective on what I’m reading.

The Cozy Comfort Zone

So many good things – but there is a downside to writing fan fiction. However, it’s only a downside if – note, if – you don’t pay attention to it and hop off the wagon before it’s too late (if ‘too late’ even exists, but it will, nevertheless, slow you down).

The challenge with fan fiction is that it’s almost too comfortable. It’s so easy to just keep on writing about the characters and the world you already know, take inspiration from the original plot and give it a new twist or see it from a different perspective. And there are always new challenges that help you come up with the next idea, keeping you in the fan fiction challenge loop for as long as possible. 

Also, it’s extremely comfortable to just keep on publishing on a forum where the community is nice, friendly and accepting. 

However, in the long run, becoming too comfortable on the fan fiction side of writing creates a fear for creating something original. That’s what has been happening to me, at least. I’ve been doing great in the world of fan fiction – but what if that’s all I’m good for? What if my original characters are too weak when they in my fan fiction are so strong, what if the original world is flat and boring when in the other it’s magical?

What my doubt a few weeks back showed me was that I was and am clearly getting too comfortable in the world of fan fiction. I won’t say it has become easy to write a successful, entertaining and thought-provoking fanfic, but it feels like I’ve gotten the idea.

It makes me think that it’s time to try something else.

It’s time to push myself back to my discomfort zone – to the world of original stories. I’ve been putting down thoughts, hopes and ideas for the writing year of 2020 and that mind map doesn’t have too many fan fiction stories in it.

In a way, it’s a pity because I love being active on the forum – but it feels like this is better in the long run.

Lessons To Be Learned

I would like to point out that this year of writing has not been wasted in any way – I’ve developed my writing skills, learned a little bit more about my style as a writer and much more. I have also gained more confidence on certain aspects of my writing and definitely feel more aware of my own writing.

And the best thing is that I do feel somewhat more confident about publishing my original stories on the forum as well – I already know some of my readers and they know me, so maybe I will be able to get some feedback on the original content as well?

So, to sum it up: yes, fan fiction can be a distraction from original writing if you let it happen. I could go on writing fan fiction for years and years and always use them as an excuse to not write any of my own stories. But in the same way I could distract myself from writing by doing sudokus or puzzles, as well.

Therefore, if you learn to pick the best parts of writing fan fiction to benefit from them in your original writing, I don’t see any reason to quit. I, at least, will not.

 

Writerly Update 1: November 2019

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When we were on our roadtrip, I noticed myself feeling guilty for not writing – or not writing ’enough’. I had the growing sensation of degradation, how my writing muscles got weaker by each day and I lost ‘the touch’. 

However, when I started counting together the words I had written during our four months of travel, I was surprised by how much I had managed to write.

This made me think of how unnecessary it was for me to feel guilty about ‘not writing’ – and how I could counteract that guilt. 

The Cure For Writer’s Guilt

Our brains play tricks on us. Sometimes it makes us think we did something that we did not – from sending text messages or saying thank you to the bus driver to thinking we ate healthy this week although we went out for burgers or pizza at least three times that week. 

And sometimes our brains make us think we haven’t done anything, although we have: we forget that walking from place to place is actually exercise, or that just because we don’t tick everything from our to do -list doesn’t mean we didn’t accomplish anything that day. 

The latter describes the tricks my brain does to me.

But I’m cleverer than that – and therefore, half-way October, I started tracking my writing. The tracker has been a very basic, pen-on-paper kind of tracker where I’ve written down the date, what I wrote and how many words. Now, I would like to share my writing progress with you.

‘The Writerly Update’ will become a monthly series on this blog where I can show and share with you what I write and how I feel about writing – you could even think of it as a writer’s diary. But most importantly, in addition to sharing my writing with you I’m also sharing it with myself. This way, I’ll keep myself updated on my own writing and can also reflect on my projects.

So, I present to you: The Writerly Update for November 2019!

The Great Statistics

For November, the goal was simply to get back to my writing routines, to my almost-daily writing. I decided upon this goal because my writing routines have practically been non-existent during our travels, and I was quite certain it would take getting used to active writing routines again.

My writing routines back home were more or less daily the following: in the morning, before breakfast, I would journal for two pages. After breakfast, with my morning coffee, I would start writing. Most often, I aimed for 1,000 words per day – sometimes I wrote more, rarely less.

However, November wasn’t maybe the optimal month for trying to get back to the routines mentioned above. During this month, I’ve still been on the road, I’ve sold a car, travelled to another country, figured out a bus card, bank account and tax number for myself – in addition to working at a farm five hours a day for a week. 

But I’ve still managed to write something because it was a promise I made for myself (and for this blog). So, let’s see some statistics:

November 2019

Days writing and/or journaling: 17 days out of 30
Word count in total (excluding journaling): 12,960 words

Texts published: one fictional + four blog posts
Comments on other people’s texts: 15

In other words, 56% of the month was spent writing and, even though my word count isn’t anywhere near the brave Nanowrimo-writers’, I’m happy for my 12,960 words. My lowest word count for the day was 200 words and the highest 2,500.

What I Wrote This Month

The projects I worked on this month were mainly fan fiction. 

I planned and wrote a story of 5,000 words in total, divided into three parts. Two of the parts are already live on the writing forum and the third part will be published next week’s Thursday. This piece was a challenge because the narrator was first-person rather than third which I’m more used to. The story was also written from the perspective of a rather wicked male character – my characters tend to be female and, well, nice.

However, after trying out different narrators, it really felt like first-person worked better than third-person – I believe it gave this specific main character more depth and showed his personality better than a third-person description would have. Nevertheless, it required some effort to finish the story and some courage to actually publish it.

I’m still fairly uncertain why I wrote the story but at least I got some good exercise out of it. Maybe next time I’ll feel more comfortable switching to first-person narrative and don’t find it as challenging to write more evil characters.

The other story I’ve been working on is a story with 24 parts, all of them flash fiction with a word count between 100 and 300 words per part. With this story, it’s not the characters or the narrative that are challenging (the characters are familiar to me from my previous works and I’m going for third-person narrative written in present tense, my favorite), but rather the theme and genre of the story.

It’s a genre called hurt/comfort and is defined as following on Wikipedia: “A story in which a character is put through a traumatizing experience in order to be comforted. The ultimate goal of these stories is often to allow for close examination of two characters’ bond with one another – –”.

And even though for me, the hurt-part of the story is clear and even the comfort of it, I feel like I’m struggling with the words to create the right kind of mood for the story. It’s hard to say if I’m doing it wrong or right or something in-between but I intend to publish it during December so we’ll see how the readers will find it!

Summing Up November

Considering that November was the first month of getting back on track with my writing, I’d say I did fairly well. Life got in the way on many days but still, I managed to write at least every other day of the month, resulting in a good total of 12,960 words. I also commented on 15 short stories/chapters to novels I’ve read online, which I consider as a good total for the month.

The projects I’ve worked on have had their challenges but at the same time, I’ve learned something new from them and tried writing something different than what I’m used to. It’s easy to write about what you know and therefore I’m happy I’m putting myself on the discomfort zone – and still having the courage to publish my texts!

The goal for December is to keep on with the good work and aim for writing five to six days a week. I won’t get all too excited and start dictating a daily word count quite yet, but we’ll see what and how much I write when I try to get back to almost-daily writing. My goal is also to publish the 24-part hurt/comfort online and get back to writing my longer fan fiction story.

And that was it! The next Writerly Update will be in the end of December/early January so we’ll see how I managed my goals for the last month of the year (!).

What have you been working on? Do you keep track of your writing?

 

My Brief Career As A Plotter

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A few months ago at a hostel in Malaysia, I got an idea for a fan fiction story. A longer story with action, adventure and a hint of mystery, starring the characters I had been writing about for a while now.

Because the idea was for a longer story (more than 20,000 words) than the ones that I’ve previously written (around 5,000), I decided it was time to write down a basic plot line following the hero’s journey.

Earlier this year, I read a book from Beth Ravis called Paper Hearts that goes through the basics of writing a book. There, Ravis shows her method for plotting called ‘chart structure’ that has four acts, all divided into four parts. As this was the structure I felt comfortable with, I planned my plot line following the chart.

This was a new thing for me as I had never planned this carefully before starting the actual writing process. And I loved writing down the plot – it was fun to know what was going to happen and have a feeling of coherence. This, I thought, was the way to get rid of those plot holes and inconsistencies!

Following the chart method was really almost like writing a very short story, and I really liked the ideas I had. I believed I had a good plot on the way.

The False Cure

When I started writing the story, at first everything went pretty well. I let the words come and wrote them down, writing the first four chapters. However, every night when I was thinking about the text, I realized some small inconsistencies or things that needed to be added in as foreshadowing for future events.

Slowly, as I wrote, the inconsistencies started adding up, it didn’t feel like I was foreshadowing enough – 

I mean, did I even know how to write an adventurous mystery? 

– and I wondered if I was wasting my time continuing to write the story when it felt like I was just making the editing process more painful with every scene that I wrote.

I realized I needed to plan way better than the chart structure. A better, more detailed plot line, not only for the main plot line but for the side plots, as well. It should and it would help me out, both in writing and editing the story.

So I opened a new Word-file, made a chart with four columns (one for the different acts according to the chart structure and three for the different plot lines) and started writing out the scenes more carefully, tracking the plot lines side by side.

It felt like I was doing the right thing. I was ensuring I was getting to know my story and my characters. Scene by scene, I was minimizing my work load in the editing part of writing.

I deleted the fourth chapter and started writing it from scratch. I edited a big part of the first chapter and was still unsure if it was right. I added some more foreshadowing to the second chapter and wondered if the third chapter was needed at all because maybe there wasn’t enough happening?

While thinking of all these things, what I didn’t realize at first was that I wasn’t writing the story anymore.

I was so focused on thinking about what was right or wrong with the first four chapters and how could I make everything as right as possible in the future, that I totally left the story file stand alone on my desktop. I didn’t touch it, I simply couldn’t, as long as I didn’t have a proper full outline for all my plots.

And I realized that somehow, all that plotting and planning took out all the fun of writing the actual story.

My Two Sides

But why? Isn’t planning and plotting supposed to be the way to a more coherent, intriguing story? Like the writer of a murder mystery writer who knows from the beginning who the murderer is and can therefore create false trails for the reader to follow? Why couldn’t I do it?

The weird thing is, when it comes to writing, I’ve always considered myself as a plantser. I write down a loose idea or a beginning of a plot line that might have an ending and then I start writing. I don’t put down too much time to plan the characters or the world, but let them build themselves while I write.

Then again, when it comes to life outside of writing, I’ve always been a planner. If you’ve read more of my blog posts, you know that I enjoy being organized, managing my time and goals. I love writing lists, having things tidy and structured according to the alphabet or a numerical value.

I thought it would be easy to implement my organizational skills to my writing – but the truth has proven to be almost the opposite.

At first, I was somewhat disappointed in myself because it felt like what I had thought was a definite step on the development path for me as a writer turned out to be a total bust. 

But then, as some quotes happened to change my perspective some weeks ago, a passage in a book helped me see my plantsing in a better light.

What book, you may ask, by whom?

Well, no other than On Writing by Stephen King.

The Return of the Plantser

According to my quick analysis, Stephen King is somewhere in between a pantser and plantser. His stories start with an idea of what if… and from there, after some thinking, he starts writing. He lets the characters do their thing and the story tells itself. King, as a writer, is only there to put pen to paper, like an archeologist is there to uncover a fossil.

This passage in the book (pp. 163-165) woke me up from my decision to become a plotter and made me think of the plantser-plotter dilemma from a different perspective.

If all this time I had had fun writing without really knowing what was going to happen, why was I taking that fun away from myself? And if I have been writing good stories without plotting everything down to a detail, why change?

And after thinking about King’s words for a day or two, I decided to let go of plotting and resume to my plantsing. Some people are planners, some people are not – and the key is to know what kind of writer you are and play your strengths.

I believe I am a hard core plantser.

So, in the future, a basic plot line will do or I’ll only come up with the starting scene and let the story take me anywhere from there. Yes, it might lead to more work on the editing side, at least at first. But maybe I will be learning while I’m writing and for every new draft there will be fewer inconsistencies and enough foreshadowing? 

It is, at least, something to aim for.