Friday, June 30, 2017

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?

The whole series: finding the right time and place to writeall about preparationstopping in the middlenot re-reading too much of the previous sessionleaving yourself notes, and  how to avoid wasting time.

If you're looking for more to improve your craft (or a fun fantasy read), check out one of my writing books or novels:

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 Plotting Your Novel: Ideas and Structure, a self-guided workshop for plotting a novel, and the companion Plotting Your Novel Workbook, and my Revising Your Novel: First Draft to Finished Draft series, with step-by-step guides to revising a novel. 

Janice Hardy is the award-winning author of the teen fantasy trilogy The Healing Wars, including The ShifterBlue 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 (2011), and The Truman Award (2011).

She also writes the Grace Harper urban fantasy series for adults under the name, J.T. Hardy.

She's the founder of Fiction University and has written multiple books on writing, including Understanding Show, Don't Tell (And Really Getting It)Plotting Your Novel: Ideas and Structureand the Revising Your Novel: First Draft to Finished Draft series.
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  1. Hi Jay, Ann here - I was staring at a blank page ready to start a new scene when I decided to check the blogs I read. Is this perfect timing or what. Plan to give this a try as soon as I post this comment. Thanks again for a great too.

  2. It's like you read my mind. I'd say I'm a pantser...but I'm trying to reform somewhat and write at least a rough outline of the story before I sit down to really write. And sometimes I find myself staring at the blank page (screen). With two kids and limited writing time, this can't happen! I'll definitely give this a try. Thanks!

  3. Great suggestions Janice. When I'm stuck, I do thing about what the point of the next scene is and it does help. Thanks for sharing all your great ideas.

  4. Great post and brilliant suggestions! I'm a plotter, a very detailed one, so I absolutely know the value of starting a writing session with a clear plan and some notes as a roadmap.
    Thanks for a wonderful post!

  5. Couldn't agree more - the most effective way to maximise writing time is to do your prep. Some great prompts here. Thank you.

  6. What a brilliant suggestion- I've never tried this before and can't wait to. Thanks again.

  7. Thanks, this was very timely! I was stuck with a scene, followed your tips and promptly became unstuck :)

  8. I actually started a dedicated writing time last November during Nanowrimo which helped me finish the challenge. I've continued it on since then and have seen a steady increase in productivity over the past six months.

    I'm a bit weak on scene prep so today's tips are exactly what I needed to read. I'll be implimenting these into the routine - can't wait to see the next productivity boost.

    Thanks, Janice :)

  9. Hi Janice! I've been reading some of your old posts lately, and I remember you mentioned planning scenes sometimes, and at other times, things didn't work out well, because you hadn't planned the scenes.

    That's a great tip, and one which I think will solve my blank moments. Often when I visualize a scene, I see things very fast, including dialogues and gestures, and if I try to write it carefully, I tend to forget what came in that burst of creativity, or I just end up hitting a wall somewhere.

    As I'm a very anxious person, and I'm still learning my way around writing, that's a situation that I dread. So, thanks a lot for the tip and for all the great posts you have here. Best wishes! :)

  10. I've copied and printed these tips so I can refer to them while I write my series--couldn't be more timely. Excellent tips, thanks Janice.

  11. Ann, how perfect!

    Heather, hope it works out for you. Even a general bullet point list of possible things might help jump start the scene.

    Natalie, "what's the point?" and "why do I care?" are my two go-to questions. If I can't answer those I know I'm in trouble :)

    Vero, yay for plotters! And most welcome ;)

    James, it's the writing equivalent of measure twice cut once :)

    Amy, hope it works for you!

    Celia, awesome!

    Gene, most welcome. One day I will do NaNo. I wish it didn't hit during the busiest time of my year.

    Ceridwen, thanks! I have found that when I don't do what I typically do, I often run into snags. But it's easy to get lazy and think, "Nah, I don't need to plan this scene" or "I know what happens, my outline is good enough" when I get tired of planning and just want to write. And then I regret it, LOL.

    Marcia, most welcome! Good luck with your series.

  12. It's a bit of a different process for me as an organic writer. I look at the last scene I wrote, and really just continue escalating the story from the last scene. The questions indirectly get asked as a logical flow while I'm writing the new scene. But if I tried asking them before I wrote the scene, it would end up directing the scene where it wasn't supposed to go -- and then I would have to toss the scene and do it the right way for me.

  13. Do these post really helpful?

    1. Yes, though different writers will have different processes. You might ask different questions, or think about your scenes differently, but a little planning before you write can be very helpful.