First Reactions to My First Chapter

Oh man – there’s nothing more awfully exhilarating and nerve-wrecking than waiting for reactions on something you’ve created, right?

Maybe it’s a speech you give in front of an audience or a painting you’ve done, or it can be the first chapter of the manuscript you’re writing for real. Whatever it is, it’s crazy scary to let people see it, hear it, feel it – and comment on it.

But I did just that.

The Secret Word Society

When I came back to Finland from our trip, I was asked to join a writing club called The Secret Word Society. It was a writing friend from the writing forum who, together with six others, had put together the club just a month earlier.

I said yes, of course I want to join! We managed to meet with the group face-to-face once before the pandemic broke out, all the proper meeting places were closed and social distancing was recommended. That one time was so great, the people were so nice and friendly and we had a great time talking about writing, reading and creating. I was really looking forward to meeting these people again.

Luckily, even the pandemic can’t stop us and we’ve continued our meetings twice a month through Zoom since the end of March, and it’s been awesome.

Every month we have a different writing theme one can choose to use if one wants to, everything from a specific genre to everyone writing a story with the same title or getting inspired by a certain number or a word.

It’s been great fun to challenge myself as a writer and lately, I’ve been writing more original stories than fan fiction.

Our theme last time was the big one: the first chapter of a manuscript.

So, I posted the first 1,700 words of Yellow Tails on our Google Drive and tried to relax, waiting for Saturday. I did everything but relax: I was terrified, excited, nervous and somehow exhilarated, everything at the same time.

Finally, Saturday came.

Feedback from Five Readers

In The Secret Word Society meetings, every feedback round starts with the author’s note on the story, how the writing process was and if there’s something specific she’d like to get feedback on. Everyone gets approximately three minutes to give general comments, feelings and notes on the story. After that, we discuss the story as a group for about 15-20 minutes.

With my story, the first chapter of Yellow Tails where the main character wakes up in a random house without any memories of how she got there and then finds a huge, yellow cat in the living room, I was looking forward to hearing how the first pages felt to the readers. Were they eager to read more, how did they feel about the two out of three characters presented in this chapter?

It’s said that the first five pages are some of the most important pages in a book because they hook the reader’s interest. It was this hook I was wondering about, if it existed in the story.

And I think I’ve got it. At least a little. Maybe not a huge fork lifting kind of hook, but more like a little hook that gets caught in your little finger, creating a little jerking movement that pulls you back to the story.

Because: I was happy to see glad, slightly amused reactions to my story when we started talking about it. The five members who were joining the meeting last Saturday liked the characters, their quirky behavior and personality. They were curious about the mystery that was presented and interested to read the second chapter. YAY!

In addition to that, I got some good, more practical feedback on how to develop the chapter a bit further: adding a few questions the protagonist can ask to make her confusion more realistic and giving a tiny hint about the mystery that will get the big story moving in the coming chapters. As a result of the discussion, I also decided to change one of the character’s names that goes better with the Finnish language.

The most exciting thing was to hear how the readers perceived the story: how many of those five got the secret idea of what actually happens in the story, or what the story is about. And get this: two out of five was on the right track, just on the basis of the first chapter! I was so happy to hear this because if 40 percent of the readers get the idea behind the story, it’s a huge win.

So, What’s Next?

The great thing with The Secret Word Society is that it boosts my writing confidence and helps me stay motivated about writing. With and because of them, I write at least one story every month even though everything else would end up in the bin. Their feedback make my stories better and me a better writer.

Last Saturday’s meeting came at the best of moments, because I was having a great deal of doubt regarding Yellow Tails. I was getting closer to my first 10,000 word mark and wondering if the story was worth writing at all. Luckily, the feedback helped me feel better about it and ever since Saturday I’ve felt more motivated to develop and continue the story.

I don’t think I’ll be showing other chapters to the group unless they specifically ask to or something unexpected happens, because I’m already in chapter seven and going back to discuss chapter two few months after writing it feels like stalling the story.

Instead, I’ll keep on writing so that I’ll finish the story and will then reach out to a few test readers so I can send them half or the whole story later this year for reading and commenting.

However, I’m so very happy I decided to show my writing friends the first chapter, despite how terrifying it was. Instead, it was the perfect decision in my state of doubt and The Secret Word Society cheered me on in the best possible way.

So, to sum it up: if you have a chance to join a writing club, with face-to-face meetings or online, join. You won’t regret it, writer.

The Good and Bad With Rewriting

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Since last week, I’ve been working on the rewrite of Yellow Tails. I’m close to reaching my first 10,000 word mark (out of approximately 80,000 words) and thus far it’s been good. It’s been fun, visiting the familiar environment and making the characters more like themselves. I’ve felt confident about my writing.

However, these past few days I’ve also been noticing a feeling of doubt.

More or less, it’s the same kind of doubt I was experiencing last week – the fear of working in vain, the fear of writing a story no one wants to read – but now I feel like I know why I’m feeling that doubt. It’s like a fear that I’m not making the story any better by rewriting it. What if I’m making it worse?

And therefore I thought it would be a topic worth writing about this Thursday: to list the bad things with rewriting an old story – but to also tell you about the good stuff that comes with it.

Feeling Chained To The Old Script

Let’s start with the negative, more challenging aspects.

To Not Follow the Script

First of all, it’s hard not to follow the original script. My aim is to write the story with approximately the same plot line as in the original one but to make it more streamlined and better and the characters stronger.

However, to continually keep glancing at the old not-so-good script makes improving the story difficult.

I’m nervous to take the freedom to write a whole new story with the same idea, the same characters and the same plot line. But at the same time, I keep getting frustrated at the fact that I’m so dependent on the original script that isn’t as good as I would like it to be.

I’m afraid those faults in the original script will slip into this new one without me noticing it.

Feeling Inspired By The Idea

The second challenge with rewriting an old script is that the idea is old: Yellow Tails was written in 2018, two years ago. Back then, writing about the fat yellow Jello cat was inspiring and motivating but now, writing that same story feels more mechanical and less like an adventure. It can turn into a real problem if I don’t feel motivated to write the story.

(But I wonder if editing a story feels the same? Do share in the comments, if so!)

And the trouble is that if I don’t feel energetic and joyful while writing the story, it’ll most likely show in the script. That would be miserable.

Doubting My Former Self

The third, and last, thing might be just me imagining things or it might be real. It’s fear: what if the idea that felt so great in my mind two years ago really isn’t that great? That Yellow Tails got written in that honeymoon phase of the idea when I didn’t see that the story had no depth and wasn’t really worth telling? Am I trying to write a story that isn’t worth rewriting?

This, of course, is Resistance that should not be trusted without proper proof. But I can’t help but doubt my thoughts and ideas from two years ago. Or – maybe the thoughts were deep but I’m not capable of getting that depth on paper again?

Confidence from Knowledge and Experience

And at the same, I’m finding great joy in noticing how I’ve developed as a writer during these two years of active writing. These developments can be seen in the rewritten script when compared to the original one, and that gives me great joy. Therefore, despite the fact that I’m feeling doubt and fear over the rewriting process, I’m also finding positive aspects in rewriting an old script.

Knowing My Style

For the past year, I’ve been curious to find out what my writing style is. Slowly, through writing both fan fiction and original stories, I’ve been figuring out some aspects of my preferences when it comes to style.

I prefer writing in present tense rather than past, for instance, and most often write in third person. I also enjoy the dramatic effect of breaking sentences in the middle –

to continue them on the next line.

Knowing this, and especially knowing the effect the chosen style has on the reader and the reading experience, is valuable when rewriting the script. The original Yellow Tails, for instance, was written in past tense and is therefore changing a great deal because I’m rewriting it in the present tense.

Awareness of the Art of Writing

The other thing that gives me confidence and joy while writing is that I know so much more about writing than I did before. I’m aware of the importance of multiple plot lines and knowing what they are in Yellow Tails. I know more about creating complex characters and how to make them less perfect and more humane to create characters that actually awakens emotion in the reader.

This makes the script richer and I’m feeling more confident of the fact that I’m writing almost-good text already and it won’t need as much editing later as it would otherwise.

**

I really do hope that the feelings of doubt and fear will subside as I get deeper into the story. Hopefully I’ll also be able to forget some of the original script and let the story take the course it wants to take because I believe my imagination is even better than it was two years ago. Because who knows, maybe the new story, although the characters and the main idea stays the same, is much better than what I created two years ago?

It’s Time For A Break

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So, this is the second Thursday in a row I miss my weekly blog post. It really isn’t great, I know. I’m my own biggest disappointment – and I think I need to take a break from blog writing.

I have my reasons. Let me share them with you.

First (and most important) of all, February was a writing disaster. After a prolific January with 26,000+ words, I managed to scrape together 5,000 words during February – and that was mostly from blog posts. On the fiction side of things, nothing much happened.

It probably had to do with the fact that we flew from the other side of the world back to Finland and have after that been living with either my or my partner’s parents (and, being 25 and living on my own since I was 19, this is an… interesting change). I just feel deflated from being a guest all the time and never really finding the right place for writing.

But it also had to do with the fact that writing didn’t give me that happy, energetic feeling it usually does. First, I was just tired.  But then I realized it wasn’t just a lack of physical energy I was feeling – I was feeling unmotivated about writing overall, and still am because lately, writing hasn’t felt meaningful and it hasn’t given me that fun, energetic feeling it usually does.

The second reason is that I’m trying to find a job – and it’s frigging hard.

Most of the places I’ve sent my application to, I have had less than one percent chance of getting the place. There are 120+ applicants for one position – and I’m not the only one who has recently graduated and is looking for a job. I know I have value, I’m quite sure I’m looking for the right kind of jobs, but the competition’s really rough and I wonder how I’ll stand out of the crowd.

In addition to this, actively looking for jobs is quite stressful, whether it’s writing or making a video application. Especially, when you keep waiting for a call or an email but rarely get one – the amount of time and energy invested in looking for a job is a job in itself. And because finding a job is one of my first priorities at the moment, it’s time and energy away from writing.

The third reason why I think it’s time to take a break is that I very recently found out my grandmother has cancer and only has days or weeks left of her life. It’s a lot to handle, especially after last summer when my grandfather and a close relative passed away only one week a part. I’m just kind of tired of dealing with death, and really sad for my grandmother.

The thing is, this blog means a great deal to me, and that is why I want to announce it nice and clean that I’m taking a break from the blog for March.

I am simply letting myself to not write, to not update, to not obsess about Thursdays being the blog post day. By doing this, I hope a break will let my mind rest and my creativity and motivation to find strength again so that when I come back, I can honestly be proud of my content on this blog.

Hopefully, March will be the month when I find a job so that I can get an apartment so that I can stop living with parents. I also hope that during March I will find passion for writing again, that it will get easier to keep working on my current writing projects and that the stress around writing would ease a little bit.

And when April comes, I hope to return to this blog and get back to my traditional posting schedule. I’ll let you know how I’m doing – but so far, I wish you a great March and I’ll see you in April, dear reader!

Writerly Update 3: January 2020

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The first month of the first year was the perfect start for my third year of writing.

I can’t really say what it was that made me feel very motivated and inspired, but nevertheless, I managed to write 1,000+ words on eight consecutive days – something that has most likely never happened before (except during NaNoWriMo but my last one was in 2016 and it’s a writing challenge so it doesn’t really count). 

Towards the end of the month, however, as our plans for the next move were starting to take shape, I got distracted from my writing routines and even had to force myself to get at least some writing done.

So, the month started out well but lost some of its charm towards the end of January.

Maybe this January is a good example of how important routines are for a writer, especially when you are in that active writing phase. There’s a place and time for experiencing as well, as I realized when we were in Australia, but when it comes to writing, routines are a writer’s best friend.

In the beginning of the month, I was really into a good rhythm with routines that made me sit me down almost daily to write. Now, as we’ve been preparing both mentally and, in a way, physically for the next step, my routines haven’t had a chance to exist – and that can be seen in my writing.

It really is a roller coaster journey, this life. And it’s full of contradictions too – it’s good to have routines, but it’s also good to be spontaneous. It’s good to plan for your future, but it’s also good not to dwell too much on the past or what’s coming. Somewhere there, in-between routines and spontaneous decisions, one is supposed to find balance. Phew.

Anyway, let’s get to the statistics, shall we?

The Great Statistics

January 2020

Days journaling: 24 days out of 31
Days writing: 20 days out of 31
Word count in total (excluding journaling): 26,980 words

Texts published: 4 blog posts + one fan fiction one-shot
Comments on other people’s texts: 29

Not a bad month, right? I journaled 77,4% of the month and wrote fact and fiction for 64,5% of January. My lowest word count for the day was 1,000 words and highest 2,500. On average, I wrote 1,349 words per writing day (if dividing for the whole month, it equals 870 words per day).

Surprisingly enough, this month was pretty similar to December when it comes to word count (22,480 to 26,980) and average word count per writing day (1,300 to 1,349). I hadn’t really expected that because I thought I had done much better – but I’m still happy I’ve managed to keep up with my journaling and I had more writing days than in December (17 compared to 20 days), so that’s good.

What I Wrote This Month

I spend most of this month writing my long fan fiction story.  Of those twenty writing days in January, 11 was spent on writing that fan fiction story. It felt really good to get the story half-way (although it’s rather murky now).

One of the most rewarding things with it is to realize how much the story is me – I’m using my own characters (and the main character is a minor one in the fandom so I’ve had the chance to re-invent her past and present which makes her feel mine) and I get to invent new knowledge and information about the magical world in almost every chapter. It’s almost like writing something of my own, an original piece.

In addition to the longer fan fiction story, I wrote a short fan fiction one-shot for a Valentine’s Day challenge on the writing forum I’m active on and finished the original short story I started in December. And a week ago, we went to see the movie 1917 (so frigging good!) where I got an idea for another short story. It’s almost done, two-thirds of the way. To balance out all the fiction, I also wrote and published four blog posts on this blog.

Oh, and some days of January were spent writing job applications and updating my CV (which is a total writing mood killer but necessary).

Summing Up January

In my December Update, my goals for January were 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!).”

Judging from the statistics for this month, I managed to reach almost all my goals for January!

I finished that short story for the competition (and I’m about to open that file for re-reading and editing, yikes!), I wrote 1,000+ words every writing day, kept up with my journaling routines and the longer fan fiction story has now more than 26,000 words in it.

The only thing that didn’t happen was that I let Yellow Tails remain untouched. It was a conscious decision as I realized that balancing between to longer stories would get too messy – I feel it’s better to keep writing one story at a time and focus all energy and attention on that one rather than try dividing your time between two equally interesting projects.

Looking at my January writing accomplishments  is very rewarding and gives me a boost to keep up with the good work in February despite all the things happening in my life at the moment.

As I have no idea what this next month brings with it, I’m a bit hesitant about my writing goals for February. I think I’ll go lightly:

In February, I wish to complete, edit and maybe even send off my two short stories for the writing competition. I also want to keep on journaling on an almost daily basis to keep up with my thoughts and hopefully clear some thinking space for creative writing as well. I aim to publish four blog posts on this blog and keep on writing that longer fan fiction story, maybe coming closer to a total of 40,000 words during February. And hopefully, I’ll be able to write 1,000+ words every writing day.

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How was your writerly January and what are you planning for February? I’d love to hear what other people have been writing and how they feel about the first writing month of the year. Feel encouraged to share in the comments!

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?