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Friday, June 30

Prep Work: Ways to be a More Productive Writer, Part 2

By Janice Hardy, @Janice_Hardy

I've never met a writer who wished they wrote less, but finding the time, tricks, and tenacity to improve your word count can be frustrating. We're all looking for ways to help boost or productivity and write more during the time we have.

The first article in this six-part series is on finding the right time and place to write. Today in it's all about preparation. This series continues with more on stopping in the middle, not re-reading too much of the previous session, and leaving yourself notes.

Tip number two on being a more productive writer:

Prep for your writing session.

Over the years, whenever I got stuck staring at a blank page and unsure what to write for that day, I'd shift over and write a summary paragraph or two describing how the scene was going to go. It only took five or ten minutes and allowed me to think through the scene and figure out where to start and what to cover.

It wasn't long before I realized on the days I did this, I wrote a lot more, and those scenes needed less revising later.

Whether you're a pantser or a plotter, those few minutes at the start can jump start your brain and make the writing easier. You get your ideas down without having to worry about "the writing," because it's just a summary, it's not the actual text.

How you prep your scene is up to you. I like the summary paragraph method, but you might prefer outlines or bullet points on the key elements. Do whatever works for your process, but don't be afraid to try a few different styles and see which helps the most.

You can also prep the entire chapter, or prep on a scene by scene basis. If you write short scenes, you might only need a few minutes of prep per scene.

The goal of this prep time is to provide enough fuel to write the scene quickly without those annoying pauses where you stare at the page because you don't know what happens next. You figure all that out beforehand when you're not also trying to craft a readable sentence. This lets you use your creative energy to write, not to plan what you're going to write.

Things to think about:

What's the point of this scene?

  • What do you as the author want to accomplish in this scene?
  • What do the characters want?
  • What plot events need to happen?

What's going to cause trouble in this scene?
  • Who/What is getting in the protagonist's way?
  • What choices will have to be made?
  • What sacrifices will have to be made?
  • What doesn't the protagonist want to do?
  • What mistakes will be made?
  • What's going to go wrong?

What are the risks of this scene?
  • Who can be hurt?
  • Who can hurt someone else?
  • What do the characters want to avoid?
  • How are things made worse?

How does the scene open?
  • Where are the characters?
  • What are they doing?
  • Who's in the scene?

How does the scene end?
  • Where do the characters need to be?
  • What has changed for them?
  • What needs to be done?
  • What might cause problems later?

These questions help you pinpoint the classic goal-conflict-stakes structure of a scene. Understanding what your protagonist wants, what they're going to do to get that, and what's in their way of succeeding. It also helps with the transitions of the scene, with how it starts and how it ends.

You won't need to answer every question (though some might find it a useful template for plotting), but they're all good things to keep in mind to ensure your scene is moving the story forward. It's about what your protagonist is doing (so they stay proactive and give you things to write about), what challenges they will face (providing the conflicts which will raise the tension), and what can or will go wrong (showing the stakes and making readers care what happens).

This tip's challenge: 

Plan out your writing session before you sit down to write. Take five or ten minutes and quickly block out the next scene.

As for last week's challenge... 

Who found their writing time and place? Did you see an increase in productivity? Do you feel better about your writing sessions?

Looking for tips on planning, writing, or revising your novel? Check out one of my books on writing: 

In-depth studies in my Skill Builders series include Understanding Conflict (And What It Really Means), and Understanding Show Don't Tell (And Really Getting It). My Foundations of Fiction series includes Planning Your Novel: Ideas and Structure, a self-guided workshop for planning or revising a novel, the companion Planning Your Novel Workbook, Revising Your Novel: First Draft to Finished Draft, your step-by-step guide to revising a novel. 

A long-time fantasy reader, Janice Hardy always wondered about the darker side of healing. For her fantasy trilogy The Healing Wars, she tapped into her own dark side to create a world where healing was dangerous, and those with the best intentions often made the worst choices. Her novels include The Shifter, Blue Fire, and Darkfall from Balzer+Bray/Harper Collins. The Shifter, was chosen for the 2014 list of "Ten Books All Young Georgians Should Read" from the Georgia Center for the Book. It was also shortlisted for the Waterstones Children's Book Prize, and The Truman Award in 2011.

Janice is also the founder of Fiction University, a site dedicated to helping writers improve their craft. Her popular Foundations of Fiction series includes Planning Your Novel: Ideas and Structure, a self-guided workshop for planning or revising a novel, the companion Planning Your Novel Workbook, Revising Your Novel: First Draft to Finished Draft, your step-by-step guide to revising a novel, and her Skill Builders Series, Understanding Show Don't Tell (And Really Getting It), and Understanding Conflict (And What It Really Means).   
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