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5 Steps on the Journey to the First Draft — Author Tool Box

What can I share for this month’s Toolbox? What can I write about that could be even slightly helpful to other writers?

I’ve been trying to answer this question for a few weeks in preparation for this post, but I still didn’t have an answer until recently. Someone suggested I write a brainstorm about zombies… Well, zombies aren’t on the agenda this time; however, brainstorming was a great idea!

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This month’s toolbox will be dedicated to brainstorming, plotting, outlining, and all the little details that go into planning for a first draft — that is… if you’re not a pantser (someone who dives into the first draft without prior planning).

I’ll walk you through the planning process I took with my (yet to be published) first novel. Planning, like the writing process, is recursive — the appearance of linear steps doesn’t necessarily equal a fluid process, but a few steps do help…

1. Start with an idea.

No matter what your next step is, the first step is to have an idea. This idea can come from anywhere. You may have seen a cow while driving down the road or heard lyrics that spoke directly to your imagination. Maybe you were talking to your best friend during lunch and something at that moment stuck out to you.

Grab it! Take hold of that idea. See where it leads. My idea came from a poem by Samuel Taylor Coleridge, a poem asking a question.

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2. Take that idea and see what shape it takes…

That would make a great novel! I have an amazing story idea!

How many times have those words come out of your mouth? How many times have you remembered your idea over the next few days before it faded into the everyday world that is life, into the abyss?

Don’t waste any time! Write it down! Take that wonderful idea to your writer’s notebook, and see what you’ve got. Free-write as much as you can about all the possibilities swirling around in your mind at that moment. It doesn’t matter how ridiculous they sound — write them down.

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That is just what I did. On October 12, 2014, I wrote down the story idea that was zig-zagging its way around my brain.

Would I use everything I wrote on this page? No. I have no idea who “Darren” is anymore since he’s not part of the current round of revisions I’m on, but he was important at one time, which is all that matters. The idea is written.

3. Choose a direction… a path…

Now what?

Do you get stuck on this step? I did. I had never written a novel-length draft before, which meant that I had definitely not planned for one, either. How in the world was I supposed to do that? What was I supposed to do next?

Research.

There. I said it. This isn’t the kind of research you’d expect, though. It’s research into different planning processes for building up to your first draft. If you don’t know how to get there, the best thing to do is see how someone else did it. Right?

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So I did. There are so many different ways to plan a novel. Did you know that? Out of the numerous ways I found, I decided to choose Randy Ingermanson’s Snowflake Method because it seemed the most straight-forward for a novice (and it was free…).

It took me quite a few tries with his first step, a one-sentence summary, because I couldn’t decide how old my MC (main character) was going to be.

More research.

Have I mentioned before how much I actually enjoy research? I really do! (Is that weird?)

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Around the time I was starting to plan, I’d read a new YA (young adult) dystopian novel, Rite of Rejection by Sarah Negovetich.  Because of this novel, I thought about my MC… Maybe she should be a young adult… Maybe she should live in a dystopian world… Maybe…

After my research, I decided Macy should be a teenager, but she wouldn’t live in a dystopian world. Instead, she would be the star of an epistolary novel, an idea that came to me during another free-write for ideas (see that recursive writing thing?).

I finally had “step one” of the Snowflake Method.

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4. Start outlining… possibly scene-by-scene…

The snowflake method will eventually lead you through meeting your characters, discovering their motives and end goals, and figuring out why each of them is important to your story.

I didn’t know most of this before I started plotting scenes, however.

Don’t tell, but that means that I didn’t follow this method to the letter. You should know, if you don’t already, that you are not obligated to follow anyone’s method verbatim. You are a writer, different from other writers, which makes your process unique to you. Keep that in mind as you continue.

I did keep a small chart of characters handy, though…

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Anyway, back on track… I did like the scene-by-scene outline. Randy suggested using a spreadsheet, which I love because it allows you to move things around in the future, but I didn’t. This particular time, I used my notebook.

And I started over several times when the story changed somewhere in the middle… See why the spreadsheet would’ve been helpful?

See how many times it changed in such a short amount of time? I even started color-coding after awhile for POV (point-of-view).

I have encountered writers who don’t like the scene-by-scene outline (or chapter-by-chapter as I’ve seen some others do) because they feel it inhibits creativity. I am of the opposite mindset. The scene detail only states what will happen. It doesn’t state the why or how of the situation.

The only downfall to this outline is when characters start changing your story (trust me, they will) — then you’ll find out just how important an editable outline truly is. But don’t worry about that now… This is only the planning stage.

5. Leave a little room for whatever comes along.

Even if you plan, the whole basis of the story could change if one ornery character decides he doesn’t like the backstory you gave him. Or, in my case, he doesn’t want to reveal his backstory to you until you are well into the first draft.

As stated above, characters will change your story for you. They will let you know when something is working or not as you’re drafting, so keep an open mind while you’re planning. Try not to get too specific.

Write down your thoughts as you come to them to see if they get answered during your first draft….

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A great help may even be to write down a list of all the questions you have about your idea: the characters, the main and sub-plots, the action, etc. Keep a running list of things that are important and things that could change.

Sometimes you can even take a break from planning and learn some new words that relate to your idea: MC’s job lingo, vocabulary related to setting, etc. Since my idea revolves around nightmares, I dove into a couple terms related to that, which may end up having nothing to do with my novel in the end, but they’re good to have anyway.

What if I get stuck?

Don’t worry! Is it writer’s block that has you worried? Or do you simply need some ideas to push you toward the next step? I don’t have all the answers, but I can offer you a few methods that could help:

  • make lots of lists: characters, plot bunnies, settings, conflicts, etc.
  • draw a plot diagram: where do you imagine the story going, where is one particular character’s story going, etc.
  • free-write: whatever comes to mind, a scene you’re eager to see on paper, a letter from your character to you, etc.

What about you? What do you do when you get stuck? How do you plan for a first draft? I’d love to see what your strategies are in the comments below!

Author Toolbox

This post is part of the #AuthorToolboxBlogHop, which is dedicated to helping writers become stronger and more confident in their craft. Click here for more information, to continue hopping through other posts, or to join in!

Nano Blog and Social Media Hop2

Resources:

Snowflake Method by Randy Ingermanson

“The 8 Habits of Highly Successful YA Fiction Authors” by Noal Feeny

Parental archetypes in YA fiction

Camp NaNoWriMo

I’ve been nominated for the Liebster Award!

I’ve been nominated! Woohoo!! I’ve been nominated for the Liebster Award! I’ve been nominated for the — wait a second…

What exactly is the Liebster Award?

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The Liebster Award

Questions. I was nominated for the Liebster Award by Dianna Gunn, but I was left with questions. What is this award? Who’s it for? Why pick me? These were some of the questions in my head.

Dianna answered a few of them on her blog post, which also listed the rules. Yes, rules. Rules the nominee has to abide by should he/she choose to accept this award.

I wanted to know more.

From what I can gather, this award originated sometime around 2010. It’s an online award intended to encourage new bloggers as they settle into the life of blogging and build their readership.

We definitely need encouragement. That’s for sure!

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Rule 1: Thanks!

Thank you Dianna Gunn for thinking of me and for nominating me with this award!

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Rule 2: Display the award.

I did this up there! ^^^

Rule 3: Answer the questions.

Dianna asked 11 questions, so I will answer them here!

  1. What is your favorite color?
    • Tie-Dye! I’m not kidding. Josh and I even had a tie-dye wedding cake!img_5954
  2. If you won the lottery, what’s the first thing you would do?
    • I would like to say pay off debt or set aside enough for a college fund for our kiddos, but who am I kidding? I’m more likely to upgrade my phone and buy a laptop.
  3. Cats or dogs?
    • So… I used to be a cat person, but I am slowly becoming a dog person.
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      Athena: our almost 4-year-old terrier mix (Staffordshire Bull Terrier mixed with Fox Terrier)
  4. Cake or pie?
    • Cake… Sometimes pie, but mostly cake.
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      Josh’s groom’s cake at our wedding!
  5. What’s your favorite genre?
    • Historical fiction. This is my favorite book in that genre:Image result for the guernsey literary and potato peel society
  6. What’s your favorite series?
    • A tough question to answer…Image result for a modern witch series
  7. Favorite book to screen adaptation?
    • Books are almost always better than their movie counterparts. However, the movie was better this time. (Given, it could be because this one was based on a short story and not a full-length novel, but still…)Image result for shawshank redemption
  8. If you could be any character from a book or movie, who would it be?
    • I think I’d be Hermione Granger. Not only does she get to use magic, but she gets to ride a dragon, too!
  9. Do you read one book at a time or many?
    • Many
  10. What are you reading RIGHT NOW?
    • I’m about to start a Middle Grade fantasy. I checked out four from the library.
  11. What’s the one big thing you really want to accomplish before 2017 ends?
    • I want to have the third draft (yes… I said third) of my novel written by the end of this year.

Rule 4: Random Facts…

Random facts? What in the world do you want to know about me? I’ll try to think of 11…

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  1. I’m semi-ambidextrous. I write with my right hand, but I do most everything else left-handed: bowling, tennis, playing pool, etc.
  2. I’m the oldest of four children.
  3. Only my little brother and I were born in the same state — my parents, sister, and baby brother were all born in different states.
  4. Oddly, only my youngest son and I were born in the same state — hubby and oldest son were born in different states.
  5. I love Judy Blume books, but I haven’t read any in quite some time.
  6. I am one of those weird teachers who can’t wait for school to start again!
  7. I hate having my hair up, but I hate having it in my face, too…
  8. I played French horn in band, and before that I played the trumpet.
  9. I can solve a Rubik’s Cube (I still have to look up the patterns online for the yellow part, though).
  10. I don’t believe in ghosts… sort of…
  11. I can’t play video games with the music on.

Rule 5: Nominations!

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  1. Elizabeth (Lizzie) Dunlap — Lizzie launched a new book last month (second in the series), and she’s working on reaching her readers.
  2. G.R. McNeese — George not only shares his stories with his readers, but he also shares his struggles.
  3. Cori Miller — Cori writes about family, parenting, and the trials and blessings of motherhood.
  4. Remus — Remus writes about writing and how to get a little better at it.
  5. Leigh M. Lorien — Leigh encourages writers with helpful tips on writing and self-care.

Rule 6: Your questions… And some non-question type questions…

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  1. If you could meet any author (alive or from the past), who would you meet and why?
  2. Describe your first happy memory.
  3. What is your favorite scent, and has it ever appeared in your writing?
  4. Describe your favorite place in the whole world.
  5. If you could only listen to music from one decade in history for the rest of your life, which decade would you choose and why?
  6. Describe how it looks outside right now.
  7. What do you remember about your favorite teacher?
  8. Describe your ideal vacation.
  9. If you could live in one fictional world (that you didn’t create), which one would you live in and why?
  10. Describe a time when you wish you had a camera, but didn’t.
  11. What would you do with a million dollars?

Rule 7: List the rules.

Already done, too! ^^^

Rule 8: Inform your nominees!

I linked them in, but I’ll let them know, too!

What now?

That was fun! I hope you enjoyed learning a little bit about me, and I can’t wait to hear more about you!

What now? I’d like to hear a few random facts about you. So, feel free to share a couple or answer a few of my questions above about yourself in the comments section below!

Dianna, thank you again for this nomination!

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3 Steps for Writing a Poem

Poetry: a mellifluous word all by itself. Does it sound so beautiful the first time it’s written down, though? Or is there a process for writing poetry? That’s a hard question to answer. Some poets will say no. Others will say yes. The answer, however, depends on you and the purpose of your poem.

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For me, poetry is a process. I have to have somewhere to start and somewhere to end. I can write a micropoem on Twitter, but it’s not always a quick process. It takes a few drafts before I can make it sound right or fit into the 140-character limit.

How does that transfer to longer poems or poems that follow a specific format? Is the writing process necessary for poetry? For me, the answer is yes. Let’s take a peek into what that process looks like for me with three different poems…

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1. I need to research.

The type of research varies depending on the poem I want to write.

Example 1: A poem that doesn’t follow a format

My friend Veronica asked me if I could write her a poem because her current life circumstances were making her feel helpless. I asked her one question: What is your favorite animal?

A hippopotamus. I didn’t know much about hippos, so I searched for information about them through National Geographic. I now had details I could use in my poem.

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Example 2: A poem that does follow a format

I like the challenge of learning new poetic formats, so I’ll often learn about different ones. I don’t know how many poetic formats are out there, but there’s such a variety that poets will never lack for challenges.

Two such formats I’ve tried were the Pleiades format and Huitain format. I started by researching how each of these formats worked.

2. I write a rough draft (or two); then, I revised and edit it.

I know this step actually combines several steps of the writing process, but I didn’t think you’d want to see each individual step. I also don’t have pictures for each step, either, so it’s okay. Poetry is shorter, which means you can fix a bit more of it in one step anyway.

The most important thing, though, is getting your idea on paper before adding imagery, figurative language, and other poetic techniques. If you keep a writer’s notebook, then you’ll have a plethora of ideas at your disposal.

Example 1: The hippo poem was a bit easier to start since I already had a topic. However, it took the most drafts. I had to decide which parts of the research to include, what the theme would be, and if I wanted it to rhyme or have a rhythm.

Example 2: Topics for the formatted poems weren’t as easy to discover. The trick with poetry, if you’re interested, is similar to the Robert Frost quote above: use your emotions.

The Pleiades poem was inspired by the emotion I felt for a close family member, one who suffers from mental illness. I chose the letter ‘A’ to use with the format because it worked with the title, which I had first.

Family seems to always play on my emotions because the Huitain poem was inspired by a different member of my family, one who had recently went back to an abusive relationship.

With both of these poems, you can see that the idea, or rough draft, is written before I start changing the rhythm to match the pattern of the format. It’s incredibly hard to count out syllables while you’re writing, so my suggestion is to always write out your idea first — then fix it up how you like.

3. I write the final copy.

This last step can include publishing, too.

Example 1: Since Veronica, who goes by Roni, was going through a hard time, I decided to illustrate her poem. I am not the greatest at drawing, but I can do a decent job if I take my time. After I finished up her poem and drawing, I sent her a copy: published.

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Example 2: I chose not to illustrate my other poems. (It truly takes a long time for me, and I almost always have to have a point of reference.) I think it’s important to have a legible final copy for whatever you choose to do with it next (blog post anyone?).

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That’s it.

That’s my process when writing a poem, but it’s not everybody’s process. How do you write a poem? Do you plan it out? Do you research? Do you go through a process? Feel free to share with me in the comments.

Resources:

What is micropoetry?

List of poetic formats I use for my students

List of more advanced poetic formats

 

4 Essentials for a Writer’s Toolbox

My dad was a mechanic. He had several giant red toolboxes in his shop, another giant one at home, and a medium-sized one in his car. Each one was filled with a variety of tools he could use to fix any kind of vehicle.

Weather Guard Tool Boxes Craftsman Mechanics Tool Storage Dewalt Modular Tool Box
Image from here.
Some of those tools I had never even heard of until he taught me how to use them. The crescent wrench especially came in handy when I learned bicycle repair and experienced flat tires that I had to fix. (Isaac, if you’re reading this, I’ve specifically used an anecdote to show you how one can be used.)

Writers need the same thing: a toolbox. We don’t need hammers or wrenches, though, but we can supply our toolbox with necessary tools for our success similar to a mechanic. What tools do we need? How do we build this Writer’s Toolbox?

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1. You need a place to write.

What? Mechanics can’t fit their shops into a toolbox, so how does this relate?

You’re right, they can’t fit the place they work inside a toolbox, but they need a place to store that massive collection of tools. Don’t they? We need a place to store our tools, too.

The first thing a writer needs is somewhere to make the magic happen. This could be at a desk, at the kitchen table, or even on the couch. You choose where you are most comfortable, and set it up however you desire.

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My writing space: the couch
As you can see, I’ve chosen the couch as my place to write. It comes complete with things that are important to me:

  • a place to set my drink
  • a beautiful little clay pot my oldest son made me that I use for my chapstick
  • a lamp for when the blinds behind me aren’t letting in enough light
  • a couple blankets for when I get cold, one of which I crocheted specifically for my area
  • a lap desk
  • a place to set my box of pens and pencils
  • a pillow for my back

Choosing what you’re surrounded by is the best thing about choosing your own writing space. You decide what should go there and what you’ll need.

2. You need your weapon… I mean sword… I mean pen. Oh, and paper…

Pen and paper? Are we back at school?

Don’t worry, this can translate to laptop if that’s what you prefer. You simply need some way to write down the ideas that are swimming in your head.

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When I’m working with new ideas, I like to start with a pen and my writer’s notebook. This gives me a place to store my thoughts until I want to revisit them. I generally save typing things up for my first draft.

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Writer’s notebooks are not a necessity, but they are incredibly valuable tools. (Find out more about writer’s notebooks here.) Whatever you choose to write with or write on is your choice, but make sure you have the tools ready for you when you want to write.

3. You need support.

Do you really need support?

Long answer, yes. Short answer, yes. Surrounding yourself with the support of others, including other writers, will help you become a better writer. It will also keep you motivated when you don’t think you can write anymore.

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Not only will the help of others help us in our writing, but it will help us become more supportive of others. This cooperative environment enriches both sides, and everyone experiences the results.

Two major places to find this support:

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My “at home” support system encourages me, and I make sure to encourage them, too.
4. You need resources.

What do you mean exactly?

At the end of each of my blog posts, I supply a list of resources that have helped me with that particular topic. I couldn’t do that if I wasn’t collecting them over time and adding them to my writing toolbox.

Your list depends on what you need. You should constantly be adding to your list since you never know when you might need that tool again.

Three main ones I use:

  • Dictionary and Thesaurus (someone even mentioned an Emotion Thesaurus the other day in one of my Facebook groups)
  • Writer’s Digest – a variety of articles related to all aspects of the writing process
  • Craft books – there are so many out there to choose from
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    Two craft books I use quite often.
    If you find a community of writers as mentioned above, then you will likely add new resources to your toolbox quite often.

What else can I stuff in my toolbox?

Anything!

You are the writer, so choose what tools you need to be successful. I’ve also added other blogs to my toolbox because it’s interesting to see what other writers say.

You may even want to add different tools to help you throughout your journey in the the writing process or tools to help you avoid or overcome writer’s block.

You can stock up on books you love to show you what you aspire to achieve or books you dislike to show you what to avoid. You can even add books about specific career fields in order to help you build characters.

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You can “collect” new words to add to your toolbox, too.
What do you store in your toolbox? Share with me in the comments below!

Resources:

I’ve already listed several in this post for you, but here are a few more:

The Purdue OWL is helpful in several different types of writing formats.

Grammarist helps you when you’re not quite sure how to use specific grammar rules.

Corbett Harrison supplies excellent strategies for teaching writing in the classroom.

Book Review: A Modern Witch

Quite a few years ago I came across a wonderful book series with fascinating characters and plot elements, both of which gave readers a new way to look at the world of witches. This is my review of the first novel in the series, which I highly recommend!

Review

In her series premiere of A Modern Witch, Debora Geary captivates her readers in the light, fantastical journey of Lauren, a successful real-estate agent who didn’t know she was a witch until she was almost 30 years old.

Through Lauren’s encounters of a world filled with gregarious witches, heart-melting witchlings, and life-changing decisions, Geary leads you on a path of true friendship, caring family, difficult choices, and powerful magic.

From the very beginning, you’re literally (yes, I mean literally… okay, I mean literally for Lauren…) sucked into the lives of the Sullivans, who Lauren accidentally links with during one extremely strange online shopping trip – after all, she only wanted a little ice-cream.

“This is one weird February.” –A Modern Witch

After the odd online meeting, Lauren is surprised a second time when a handsome Sullivan shows up on her doorstep in Chicago, Illinois from Berkeley, California to explain to her that she really is a witch — and not just any witch, she’s a mind witch. Then, after a few convincing magic tricks, Lauren and her best friend Natalie head to “Witch Central,” where Lauren is faced with life’s next big decision — what do you do when you find out you’re a witch?

What do you do when you find out you’re a witch?

Love and support overflow in Geary’s “Witch Central,” which allows you to feel like a part of the family while reading. Anyone who came from such a loving family can easily relate to the hearts of Lauren’s new friends.

On the other hand, those who came from the opposite end of the familial spectrum find themselves easily wrapped in the arms of this group and wishing for more when they read the last page. For readers who enjoy a variety of emotions and deep character connections, Geary captures you under her spell and leaves you eager for the next adventure!

Geary’s series is available in paperback (I’m not sure why they’re not available on Kindle anymore). Be sure to add these to your “to be read” list because they are sure to inch their way into your heart starting on page one!


Resources:

Visit Debora Geary’s website for a complete list of books in this series and her spin-offs.

A Modern Witch on Amazon