Monday, May 28, 2012

Leave Yourself Notes: Ways to be a More Productive Writer, Part 5

By Janice Hardy, @Janice_Hardy

Only a few more tips to go in this series, and today is one of my personal favorites. I noticed that some elements stole the momentum right out of my writing session, especially when I needed to describe a room, setting, or person and I wasn't 100% sure what I wanted to say. Then it hit me that I didn't need to know those things to keep writing.

This first article in this series is on finding the right time and place to write, followed by more on preparation, stopping in the middle, not re-reading too much of the previous session, and leaving yourself notes. The final stop is all about not wasting time. 

Tip number five on being a more productive writer:

Leave yourself notes on things that will halt your writing momentum and come back to them later.

For me, setting descriptions always bogged me down and I'd spend a lot of time trying to think up details and how they fit. So instead of slowing down when the writing is going well, I make a note that says: (describe) and move on.

This made a huge difference. If I had a world building element I still needed to research, one or two words in parentheses kept me from stopping. I once had my characters playing a game, so I said (game piece) when they played instead of trying to figure it all out then and there. I'll also do (food) and (plant).

I've even done this with names. One character was (Oldguy). First instance I used the parentheses, after that he was just Oldguy. Once I figured out his name I went back and did a find and replace.

This also works for a scene that takes a lot of figuring out but the outcome is a given. Like a chase scene. You might have (chase scene) and move on. Be wary of skipping larger scenes of course, as you don't know what might happen there that could affect scenes down the line. But for an action that might be a page or two and is more mechanical (like a chase scene) saving it for later is fairly easy to do and can keep you writing.

Notes are a great way to keep the flow flowing, and they can be about anything you're not yet ready to write. The parentheses are also easily searchable so you can go back and work on them when you have time. Like during those off hours when you're able to write but not for long, or during your non-creative times.

This tip's challenge:
Make a note next time you find yourself stopping or spending a lot of time staring at the screen instead of writing.

As for last tip's challenge... Did you re-read or dive right in? How much more did you get done?

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.

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Janice Hardy is the award-winning author of the teen fantasy trilogy The Healing Wars, including 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.

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

When she's not writing novels, she's teaching other writers how to improve their craft. She's the founder of Fiction University and has written multiple books on writing.
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  1. Great tip, Janice.

    I also do this with words--when I want a word that has a specific meaning, but it's not coming to me right away, I'll just write the closest thing and come back later to research it and replace it.

  2. I do this too, so I'm glad to know I'm not alone :)

  3. Yep, I do this with highlights, so I can spot it as I skimming through. It's worked pretty well for me. Thanks for the post!

  4. Yes, I do this often as long as the outcome is decided. I turn the font another color, so it is easy to find at a glance. It is a good tool to save time when I'm in the groove.


  5. A great post! I would completely freeze if I didn't allow myself a lot of parenthesis, and dashes, and run on sentences. Sometimes I have three or four notes for one description and later I'll pick the best one and tweak it. Many times I'll write all this in a different color so it's easy to find. Just keep writing. Get it down. Whatever it takes. So much of the fun is in revising and filling in all the great details. This post really hit a chord with me. Thanks!

  6. Love this tip! I've been doing this for the past couple of years although I wasn't using it as broadly as you suggest. I tend to get bogged down in setting as well so I'll be taking this idea to the next level (for me). Thanks a bunch, Janice :)

  7. Love the notes idea. I usually color code my paragraphs but this is a much easier way to do what I was aiming for. Thanks!!

  8. I do this all the time. Until I started using this parenthetical note thing, running into something I didn't quite know would stop me cold. Notes are awesome. I also use the yellow highlight function of my word processor so it's really easy to spot those places when I'm scrolling back through the document.

  9. Jenna, nice! I'll do "need better" sometimes for things that feel off.

    Angelaquarles, not at all. Sounds like a lot of us do this.

    Amelia, I used highlights to remind me where I left off in editing ;)

    Glacier, using color really helps it stand out. Good tip.

    Traci, I like giving yourself options and choosing the best later. Neat tip!

    Gene, most welcome, it's a great time saver.

    Janice, color code? Now I'm curious what you do :)

    Gypsyharper, note taking seems to be popular, and I can't blame folks. Notes and color coding make it so much easier no matter what stage you're at.

  10. Thank you for telling me it's OK to do this. I think you've just revolutionised my first-draft-writing process.

  11. Louise, most welcome. It's pretty much okay to do anything you want. There's no "right" way to write. Find a process that works for you and allows you to tell the best story you can :)

  12. Great tips!This is really helpful for me to write notes, most especially when I tend to overlook some minor points and tend to forget about it. Thanks for posting!AML

  13. Haileyhale, most welcome! One thing I like, is that I'll remember/discover something later on in the story, and it's easy to go back and add (lay ground for X)n that chapter as a reminder.

  14. Very helpful article to me as I get bogged down easily!

  15. Sizanne, notes should help with that. I also have a "revision notes" file where I take longer notes that are really too big to put in the actual text. Easy to pop over to that file when an idea hits.

  16. This is a great idea. I use bright parentheses & red font for songs I may want to mention & can't think of the right one at the time (song name here). Also, if I expect a character to refer to something said several chapters ago, I'll mention page &/or chapter, so everything matches (age/eye color/place/etc.). Or if I KNOW the wording's wrong, but that's the best I can think of at the time (need to edit). Nothing like inconsistency.

    1. Ooo I like leaving page numbers. That could be very handy for finding the spit again.