Category Archives: Writing Process

How to Edit and Proof Your Own Writing

I love this post from Michelle Taylor over at Southern Dreaming. It’s amazing how different our work looks from different perspectives – reading aloud, printing out and reading backwards. I always find so many more errors in a hard copy that I never saw on the screen.

Southern Dreaming

Proofing and editing my own writing is a daily practice and necessity for me. I write for a living, but writing also happens to be my personal passion as well. Through trial by fire, and a fair amount of research, I have refined a self-editing and proofing process that will make your content more captivating and error free.

1. Make Proofreading and Editing Two Separate Processes

The first mistake I made when I began this journey in self-editing, was confusing the definitions of ‘proofreading’ and ‘editing’, as most people use these terms almost interchangeably. While editing digs deep into analyzing and improving your content, proofreading is the final stage of polishing and refining the minor details such as punctuation and misspellings.

The way I formerly self-edited looked like this- moving sentence by sentence through my work, revising content, trying out new ideas, and scanning for grammatical errors all in the…

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Creating the Story Landscape

This is the fourth post in the My Novel Writing Process series. Find the others here: Overview || The Story Idea || Creating Characters

So now you have a rough idea of plot, maybe a few key scenes, and the characters are coming to life. The next most important step is setting. This doesn’t have to be a long process but bringing to life the story world is just as vital as fleshing out the characters who live there.

Discovering the Setting

I usually let this happen organically – maybe the setting is the first spark for your story, like it was with my trilogy The Cloud Sisters. When I listen to country music, I imagine rolling hills and wide open spaces. This imagery inspired me to begin writing a series of books on an all-girl Australian country music band.

Or perhaps you’ve visualized the setting from the start and the description of it comes easily for you. It could be somewhere familiar, like your hometown or a city in your state or a favourite holiday destination.

Setting can also become a character all of its own or can be chosen deliberately to portray wider themes. The setting may even be the story, like for example if your character is adrift in the ocean after their boat sunk, or they are incarcerated in prison, or trekking through a blizzard.

You might even be writing about a place that is purely your invention, like in the fantasy and sci-fi genre. There are countless articles, books and blog posts on world-building out there to guide you. The great thing about world-building is the freedom to let your imagination run wild, as I found when I was working on a dystopian novel. (Still in first draft stage but I may get back to it eventually!)

Collecting Details

Many writers (like the Australian author Di Morrissey) undertake research trips where they stay in exotic parts of the world and write about it. This is great if you can afford it, but your setting does not have to be exotic to be interesting. For example, I find city alleyways, abandoned houses and forests intensely beautiful and inspiring. Story ideas immediately spring to mind in these settings. And if the setting is too foreign to my own experience, I find it difficult as a reader to visualize it.

Of course, it’s easiest to evoke the setting if you’ve been to the part of the world you’re writing about – it’s simply a matter of recalling details – but I don’t think it’s necessary.

That’s because we have the internet.

With a bit of online research you can begin to till the soil of your story landscape and maybe even pluck out a few new story threads. Do an online search for the city or area where your story is set, read through statistics, look at Google images, immerse yourself as much as possible.

Look for unique details. What do the roads look like? What does the air smell like? What does the sky look like in that part of the world? Does the sun set in the east or west? Are there special hidden places? What do the locals do for fun?

Keep in mind too that town or city names in your story can be fictional but based on real places you have visited. This is my favourite method – that way, accuracy isn’t as important as describing a place that is innately familiar to most readers (or at least your target audience) and thus easily imagined. Everyone (or at least, most) people have been to small towns and big cities.

Once you have a visual picture of the setting, describe it in one page or use a Prompt Sheet like the one at the end of this post.

Helpful Tools

I’ve mentioned the beauty of Pinterest before in this post on creating characters, but it’s just as useful for settings. I have a board just for setting ideas. Visualizing a setting is imperative to describing it and making it come to life for the reader. Even better to have visual cues in front of you when composing the first draft to place yourself there while you write.

Google Earth is also a fun tool to use. Search for any address in the world and Google Earth will take you right there. Although I don’t use it a lot, it’s surprising to see places at ground level. You can get a better idea of perspective and see things that you may have missed. It’s also a good way to check for accuracy.

I hope these tips have sparked a few ideas. If you’re looking for a formal guide to creating setting, you might find the following Prompt Sheet helpful.

SETTING PROMPT SHEET

Name/Country/Region:

One paragraph description:

Places that will feature in scenes:

Unique attributes of the setting:

Season/Weather/Topographical information:

Sights/Sounds/Smells:

Significance of the setting to the characters:

The role of the setting in the story:

Game Changing Writing Advice: Sentence Starters

Such simple but very effective tips and tricks here! I’m sharing this so that I can remember it always. Thank you blogging community and Amy at Blissful Scribbles.

Blissful Scribbles

A while ago I wrote a post asking you lovely bloggers for advice on how to stop using He, She, Character Name as sentence starters. I am so overwhelmed by the level of guidance and support I received from that post. To check out all the incredibly helpful comments click here

As promised, I’ve collated the information and have put together a brief list of the advice I received. These tips are game changers.

Use Deep POV – Anna Kaling Author

One sure way to avoid using too many pronouns is to write from a deep point of view. Rather than acting as a distant narrator, write as if you are feeling and seeing through the eyes and body of your character. Here is the brilliant example of this used by Anna Kaling in my comments section –

Shallow POV:

Jane listened to Andrew drone on about his day…

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Writing My Way Free

After taking an unintended and unexpected hiatus, I’m in a reflective mood. My goal to finish rewriting my first draft (the week before last, I think) did not happen but only because my personal life took over from my creative life. But it has proven to me again that my creative spirit is the lifeforce that sustains me. It’s my anchor point, the place I can find my way back to and know for sure nothing will have changed.

When I’ve taken a big break in the past, I begin to panic that I’ve forgotten how to do this. That I’ve lost the ability to write or that whatever magic was responsible for churning out words has left me. This is something I need not worry about. All it takes is getting past the internal censor again (who feeds on these little breaks) and just to begin again. To pick up where I left off, wherever that may be.

One of the best writing books I have read is by Julia Cameron, The Artist’s Way: A Course in Discovering and Recovering your Creative Self. I started working through The Artist’s Way at a time in my life when I had lost my own way. I was stunted in all areas of my life: emotionally, spiritually, creatively. I felt stuck in a job far below my career aspirations. I was also clinically depressed.

You could say I wrote my way free. Or rather, through writing I found a gateway back to myself. Inspired by the exercises in The Artist’s Way I rediscovered not just my love of writing but my lust for life itself. Through completing regular Morning Pages and journaling, I learned to express myself again. I also learned to listen. 

Morning Pages is an exercise in purging, in learning to tap into the creative flow by simply plugging in and writing whatever comes to mind for a set amount of pages. It helps to keep the writing pump primed as well as purging oneself of all the mental noise that can block up the creative process and cause writer’s block, artistic deprivation (not allowing yourself to write) and other problems.

There is one exercise that seemingly has nothing to do with writing but is all about recovering the spirit. Scheduling pleasurable activities: actually making a list of things I’d always wanted to do, big or small. Walking barefoot on the beach, visiting bookstores, planning a holiday. 

Depression had shrunk my world and I’d stopped doing anything for pure enjoyment. The list reminded me of what I liked and what brought me joy. It allowed me to be kind to myself, to treat myself. Coincidentally (or maybe not) this activity is also recommended for people with depression. 

Two big things happened: I recovered from depression (also with professional help), and I started writing again. Writing for fun, writing just for me. I fell in love with creating and living all over again. 

I know I will finish my book. The same way I know writing is and always will be my happiness, my cure and my life purpose.

Creating Characters

This is the third post in the My Novel Writing Process series. Find the others here: Overview || The Story Idea

A story could not exist without characters. But a good story contains interesting, well-drawn characters who appear three-dimensional. The trick to creating characters who appear real? You have to believe they are. You have to see them flaws and all, and be willing to pick apart their personality, to hear their voice and to lend them unique characteristics.

All of these details come from observing and interacting with other people. You might also be inspired by characters in books, movies or even songs. The inspiration for creating characters is everywhere; in every conversation you have, in how you view yourself and others around you.

I love to create characters. I love choosing names, hair and eye colour, body type, ulterior motives, weaknesses, conflicts. But it can easily be made a chore by filling out detailed character charts, dissecting everything from the character’s past to what they like to eat for breakfast.

It’s not necessary to know everything about a character before you start writing their story – the magic is in how they slowly reveal themselves to you as you write. They start showing quirky behaviour, they say things you never imagined they would and do things you hadn’t planned. They start running the show and if you listen hard enough and go with the flow, they may even tell you how the story will end.

Free-Write a Character Analysis

Having said that, I think it’s imperative to spend a little time getting to know your characters. Picking their brains rather than inventing characteristics that you think will please the reader. My background is in psychology, so I am naturally curious about how people tick and what happens when things go wrong. Villains and disordered personalities fascinate me as much as beauty queens and heroes. I like to make characters a little unique in some way by going deep into why they do the things they do. What they fear, what makes them sad or angry. What they are fighting for.

I do this by free-writing. Using a Character Prompt Sheet as a guide, I sit down and think about who this character is that I am seeing in my mind. It’s a stream-of-consciousness exercise – letting the character tell me who they are. I write in block paragraphs but not dot points.

In this analysis, we are focusing on how the character feels about, and interacts with, other characters in the novel. We are letting them divulge what their secret motives and desires are. We may touch on their past experiences and their childhood to get an idea about where they have come from, as well as how they’re living their life now – their job, hobbies, what they do with their time. It’s all about being an amateur psychologist, delving into their personality and life philosophy.

The freedom of the Character Prompt Sheet is that all of the questions do not need to be answered by the time the exercise is finished. It’s simply a list of things to begin to ask when creating your characters. Some sections may be more relevant than others.

The Character Prompt Sheet

There are many examples out there, but this is the list I use in my novel writing process. I hope you find it helpful. Use it as a starting point in creating your own list of prompts if you like. I adapted mine from Elizabeth George’s excellent writing reference Write Away. 

PHYSICAL
Name:
Birth date/age:
Star sign & meaning:
Height/weight/build:
Colour hair/eyes:
Physical peculiarities:
Gestures when talking:
Gait:
Voice:

BACKGROUND
Birthplace:
Educational background:
Sexuality/relationships:
Best friend:
Enemies:
Family (mother, father, siblings etc):
Hobbies:
Occupation:

PSYCHOLOGY
Core need:
Pathological manoeuvre:
Ambition in life:
Positive/negative aspects of personality:
Social persona:
Laughs or jeers at:
Philosophy:
What others notice first about him/her:
What character does alone:

PROMPT QUESTIONS: Personal History

What is the most difficult thing my character is struggling with right now? How does that struggle give them one problem they must solve? Who or what will stand in the way of the solution they seek?

Will reader like/dislike character? How will they view this character?

Does he/she change in the story? How:

Significant event that moulded the character & one that illustrates the character’s personality:

One-line characterisation:

Character Casting

If you haven’t been able to see your characters by now, the Prompt Sheet will have helped you. Now that you have more of an idea of who your characters are, it’s time to try to find a visual representation of them.

Who are you imagining as the main characters in your novel? Do they resemble an actor or actress, a public figure, someone you know, or are they simply invented? Scout out pictures to use as a visual aid when writing the first draft.

Good old Dr. Google image search is great if you know the person’s name. Pinterest can give you a more detailed search and throw up some good pics of young women with brown hair, for example. If you still can’t find what or who you’re looking for, free stock photo websites like Pexels and iStock are chock-full of beautiful images for all types of characters.

I have a Pinterest board for The Cloud Sisters and all my characters are there (including many of my hero who I have a little crush on…)

Here’s Heath Howley (the delectable model Christopher Mason):

HeathH

 

And Elodie McAllister (an unknown stock photo model):

Elodie Mc

If you use Scrivener, you can plug these photos into your project using the Corkboard feature. I do this with only a select few images as I still find Pinterest easier.

The most important ingredient in creating believable, intriguing characters? Have fun and enjoy playing with it!

The Final Push

I’m nearing the end of rewriting Enchanting Elodie. Plot-wise, we are in the midst of the crisis or major setback and approaching the climax or final push. It feels a bit like rounding the bend in a marathon and knowing the finish line is over the hill. I can’t see it, but I know it’s there.

This is where things can get sticky.

I’ve never been much of a runner, but nearing the end of something brings about conflicting emotions in me. I’m exhausted, I want to quit, but I know if I keep going I will have the satisfaction of completion. And sometimes there is a final burst of energy when I can push myself a little bit harder.

So I’m going to set myself a deadline of finishing the second draft of this manuscript at the end of this week. This is not going to be a long drawn-out last leg. I’m sick of almost-but-not-quite being done. I probably only have about ten more scenes to write, so if I can do at least one a day, I should be done in a little over a week. Totally do-able.

I totally agree with the theory of writing drafts quickly before the spark winks out. With Enchanting Elodie, I’ve managed to sustain this spark for close to two years. I was well on my way with the first draft when I went on a 2-week overseas holiday, which threw my writing mojo completely. But when I got home I made myself sit down at my desk and I started again. I’m glad I did because the story took on a life of its own. Similarly, when I finished the first draft I was tempted to let it languish and start on a new project. There seemed to be so many problems and issues I didn’t know how to fix. I faced a tough decision: run the race again, or start training for a new one?

Maybe it’s all about perserverance, or resilience, or maybe just commitment, but after going through the process once, I knew what to expect. And I had material to work with. It was like a do-over: this time, I got to tell the story I meant to write. The kinks naturally worked themselves out when the story started to go in different directions, and characters began to act more like themselves and make better decisions that all made the story smoother.

I know I will finish this book, and I know that when I do I will have a finished (albeit unedited) piece of work that I am proud of. I just need to give myself that final push.

The Story Idea

This is the second post in the My Novel Writing Process series. To read the first post go here.

Often I would sit down knowing I wanted to write but not knowing what I wanted to write about. Now I know that the process of novel-writing begins before you turn up to your desk: it begins with the idea. The spark, the situation, or the character that intrigues you, the thing that makes you want to follow the path to see where your characters end up.

I know when I have it by the feeling inside me: my heart will skip a beat, I will feel that creative energy burning in my mind, the butterflies start up in my stomach. An idea must excite you. You will need that energy to burn bright to fuel the long process of drafting and then re-writing a novel. And then you have to take time to develop the idea, tease it out, follow the threads. You keep asking yourself “What will happen next?” because that is what you want the reader to do: to keep turning pages to find out what happens next.

You do this by brainstorming. This concept was popular in class when I was a kid, and the word always made me think of the image of a brain on fire with ideas. All it means is that you keep the story idea alive and cooking by turning your mind to it every now and again. Feed it with conscious thought and your unconscious will go to work. I brainstorm best in the shower and when I’m driving. It’s amazing the way your unconscious will continue to collate ideas and grow the story even when you aren’t aware of it. You will begin to have those a-ha moments when a tangled plotline finally unloops itself. The story will begin to have a life of its own.

The Big Overview

Free-writing is the best way to tap into this unconscious process. After brainstorming, free-write about the story idea. Begin with “The book tells the story of…” Write as if you are a spectator in the present tense ie: he does, she says. This can be as long or as short as you want it to be. Just follow it until you run out of story. List any scene ideas as they come to you, some plot points or turning points, and how you envision the ending. During this process, you may begin to hear the character’s voices and what they say. Include this dialogue.

Expanding the Story Idea

Once you have your big overview of events, grab a fresh sheet of paper or a new file on your computer and plonk yourself right in the middle of the action. Live out the story step-by-step. Try to keep this brief, about 3-5 pages. We are not writing a detailed outline (we’re pantser-plotters, remember?) and we are not going to include every scene. Just write what you see happening, the scenes that may unfold. Sketch it out a little by writing about where we are and which character’s head we are in. You can skip around and brush over unclear parts, but the idea is to get down the main beats or pivotal points of action that keep the story moving.

Start asking yourself about the relationship between the characters and observe their interaction and conflict. Again, include dialogue if it comes to you. If it’s relevant to the story, you can also go back in time to detail past events that may be impacting on, or leading up to, the main events. This is helpful if you have flashbacks or past life threads.

Now read over all your notes and tease out plot threads, then list them in dot points. Write down what you see as being the main plot and sub-plots. For example: the main plot may be about a woman’s search for her missing sister, who she hasn’t seen since childhood. A sub-plot may be the woman’s deteriorating marriage which has compelled her to seek out her sister again. Then you may have a series of flashbacks about the events that happened twenty years ago surrounding the sister’s disappearance.

In the next post, we will begin to flesh out our characters.

My Novel Writing Process: Overview

With the first book of the Cloud Sisters well on the way to completion, I thought I would look back at the process which has brought me here.

Firstly, I’ve always wanted to be a plotter. Being a Virgo, I like to be organised and plan ahead. I don’t do well with spur-of-the-moment things, and yet this hasn’t translated to my writing. I find if I plan too much, it kills my creativity. And yet, that well-ordered outline speaks to my perfectionistic heart. I like the idea of having the steps all laid out, just waiting to be fleshed out with description and dialogue.

The answer, I have found, lies somewhere in between. I’m a hybrid, a pantser-plotter. I outline but only the big picture, the main beats. I leave room for the characters to speak through me, to tell me where the story will go next. Without that freedom, it all feels false and forced.

I once wrote a detailed outline for a novel using the book First Draft in 30 Days. I became obsessed with details. Nothing was left to chance – each character was analysed and each of their actions was carefully thought out. There were no surprises. And so imagine my surprise when I sat down to actually write the book based on the outline and I couldn’t even put down one word. Not. One. Word. It was as if with my obsessive focus on the outline, I’d forgotten how to write. I was no longer a writer, I was an outliner. But unlike what was promised in First Draft in 30 Days, the process did not leave me with a first draft, but rather a very well-researched guide on how to write the book. It’s easier just to write the damn book!

Over the years, I have established my own process. Before I started working on Enchanting Elodie, I wrote this process down step-by-step to make it concrete in my mind and also to ensure I remembered how to do it next time! I share it here in this five-part series in hopes that it might help any fellow pantser-plotters who tend to think they should be firmly in either camp.

Overview of My Process

Step One: The Story Idea 

A story begins with the spark of an idea, a setting, or a character. After that point, it’s just a matter of asking “What will happen next?” and following the story through to its completion. It’s always good to have a vague idea of how the story will end, even if this changes during the course of writing it.

So I find it helpful to begin with free-writing a broad overview ie: what the book will be about. Then as the story develops in your mind, expand on the plot points scene-by-scene (although not every scene will be there yet, just the main beats).

After that, we turn to the characters. Don’t worry pantsers, I don’t advocate completing a detailed analysis for each character (I find it so tedious, although others might enjoy it so do it if you love it!). Once again, it’s all about the free-writing using a Character Prompt Sheet as a guide.

By now, you should be getting an idea of the setting or places that appear in your novel. It’s important to place the reader into the story by painting a picture that they can visualise in their minds. Spend some time creating this world. Once this is done, it’s time to turn back to the plot and conduct any research that would help flesh out the story. It also helps to plug your plot points into a Plot Paradigm to see if the story fits. I will go into further detail about this in another post.

Step Two: First Draft

This would have to be my favourite part of the process and the most creative – letting your muse take over and your imagination carry you wherever it will! The best advice I ever read, and something that freed me from my unceasing internal censor, is to let yourself write a Shitty First Draft. This concept first sunk in when I read Bird By Bird by Anne Lamott and I will cover it in more depth in in this series.

Also – word count! Setting a word count goal for each session will help you get the story down as quick as you can while the idea is still fresh and you still feel that spark that started you writing.

Step Three: Rewriting (Second Draft)

And now we get down to the nitty gritty. You’ve finished your first draft – hooray! What a massive achievement! I bet you can’t wait to read it – but, wait. Let it rest for a while. A few days, a week, however long you can bear. And then print out a hard copy and get ready to pull your baby apart.

I always thought I would truly dislike rewriting (which is why I so longed to be a plotter and have all the kinks worked out beforehand), but I have found when I pushed myself through it that it’s a very rewarding process.

See this post for more details on the wonders of rewriting!

In my pantser-plotting style, I find it too difficult to work out a timeline for events before I’ve actually created the events. Working backwards and creating a timeline after the first draft helped me to see if scenes were in the wrong order or would work better at some place else in the story. More on this in the series.

Step Four: Editing (Third Draft)

My final posts in the series detail the final step in my process – the last chance to make your manuscript shine! This is where you finally get to pull out that red biro in your mind and edit your novel with a fine-tooth comb. 

If you really want to go in-depth, you need to look over each scene individually, checking that it serves a purpose by propelling the story forward and that it has a beginning, middle and end. The characters also get another going over by taking a hard look at their GMC’s (Goal, Motivation, Conflict). Basically, you are making sure that everything makes sense and is as correct as it should be.

The last stage focuses on grammar and punctuation, dialogue, description and sentence structure. All the things that would make your high school English teacher proud! Read your finished product, re-read and continue making changes until you are completely satisfied (or cross-eyed).

Your story may now only loosely resemble that first expanded overview, but that’s ok.

You’ve written a book!!

** Note: I found Elizabeth George’s book Write Away invaluable in formulating my own process.

Life and Scrivener

Life has been a little hectic in our house lately. With Easter school holidays upon us, my writing routine has been thrown out the window as I spend time with my son. But I always find when life gets in the way, I come back to the writing with fresh ideas or am re-energized in some way. I try not to take a total break though (unless I’m letting the draft rest) because it’s just too hard to start all over again. It’s better to dip in now and then and to at least keep the connection alive and think about where the story could be headed next.

With a small child at home, this is so much easier to do now that Scrivener have released their app for iPhone and android. Scrivener is hands down the best software for writers and has allowed my writing more freedom and ease than ever before. I’ve been using it for several years now and while I haven’t even begun to explore all the features on it, it’s enough just to have everything organised and easily accessible when I need it.

When I went away on holiday in March last year, I searched for a way I could take my writing with me. I knew I wouldn’t have time to jump on my laptop but I always have a few minutes here or there to open up my phone. The Scrivener app was released only a few months after we returned. Now I can take my writing anywhere – I especially love working on my novel in the bath!

A few tips I wish I’d known: all of your work is saved to a central Dropbox (you are prompted to download this) but you need to remember to sync your work with the Dropbox after you make any changes on the App. This needs to be done manually with the App but is automatic with Scrivener on your computer, as long as you remember to shut down the file after working on it.

This is the front screen of the Scrivener app. See that blue triangle with the arrow pointing up? That means you need to upload to Dropbox which is done simply by tapping the icon above (circle of arrows). Do this after every time you finish working on your manuscript and you won’t have any problems.

And now, back to the crazy!

Rediscovering the story through rewriting

I’m in the middle of rewriting the first draft of the Cloud Sisters book one, Enchanting Elodie. The experience of writing this book has been the most fun I’ve had writing in a long time. Writing romance is saucy, exciting, fun and above all, really satisfying! I really enjoy the process of “helping” two characters meet and fall in love, and it’s wonderful to see it unfold.

Armed with a loose outline (which I will cover in another post), the story flowed easily as the characters took over. I’ve since learned that they do this even more in the rewriting phase, when the story you meant to tell comes to life.

I’ve finished plenty of first drafts, but have never been committed enough to get through the hard slog of rewriting. I am so glad I did. I’m rediscovering the story all over again. And it’s taught me a few things:

  • That it’s true most of writing is rewriting
  • That the first draft will contain some gems but will mostly be a lot of crap, but that’s ok because the story and the threads are there
  • That rewriting feels awesome!! It’s so amazing to see goodness rise from the ashes, and to see the story you meant to tell come to life
  • Rewritten scenes will be so much cooler and true to the story – so many “gotcha” moments when you finally pin it down
  • It’s exciting to see what the characters come up with next, even more so than the first draft
  • It all happens so quickly, I’m flying through the scenes and it’s even better to know that this will be the final copy
  • Rewriting also lets you slow down and pick through the scene, fleshing it out like never before
  • The delete key becomes your friend – you’ll be happy to say bye bye to stuff you knew wasn’t right in the first place
  • You fall in love with your characters all over again – they are even more alive to you and you can paint them with description
  • You will be amazed what fits where and how you wrote the right thing, just not in the right spot
  • When you have the bones, you have the strength to finish it