How to draft quickly

It’s the start of a new November, which means thousands of people are participating in National Novel Writing Month, or NaNoWriMo. I adore NaNoWriMo so much, and I credit it with helping me learn to draft quickly. To date, my highest word count achievement was writing 4200 words in a single hour, but in general, I average about 3000 words an hour when writing. This is usually one chapter, although I often have shorter or longer chapters.

When I’m drafting a new novel, I sit down and tackle it one chapter at a time. I aim for writing one chapter per day, so my books are usually finished in a month since I outline using a 25-30 chapter outline.

In celebration of November 1st, I thought I’d share some of my quick drafting tips with you!

  • Use an Alphasmart. I’ve blogged at length about this, but I’m serious. This thing is probably 90% of the reason why I draft so quickly. You can’t get distracted by the internet or your computer when you’re typing on a machine like this. They are currently $35 on eBay and they run a little higher on Amazon. I recommend the Alphasmart Neo 2.0. You will NOT regret it.
  • If you don’t have mobility concerns, consider writing on a stationary bike desk or treadmill desk. I use a bike desk, and when I’m locked onto that thing, I find it so much easier to write and pedal. You don’t feel compelled to get up or move around and do something else. Focus, and butt-in-chair is how you get stuff written!
  • Turn off the Wi-Fi. This should be the first thing you do!
  • Save your research.
    • Not for the big things, of course, but for little things. If you’re writing a chapter and you need a name for a new side character, or a type of car, or you need to know the #1 hit song from 1983, DON’T stop and look it up! Nothing derails a writing sprint like Google. I use an asterisk to mark the place and then I keep going. For example, if I need a type of car, I’d put “Sally’s mom drove a *CarType that everyone in town envied.” Then, later during revisions, you can search your manuscript for all of the *’s and then fill in the missing info.
  • Outline.
    • I’m a big advocate of outlining. While there’s nothing wrong with making up your story as you go, and some people prefer that, if you want to draft quickly, an outline is the way to go. You don’t get writer’s block when you already know what’s happening in the next chapter. I tend to spend a week or so outlining a novel down to the scenes and the chapters, and then when it’s time to write it, it’s so much easier to get words on the page.
  • Don’t stress over the small stuff.
    • Tell, don’t show. Let those cliche’s fly! In fact, make ’em extra cliche-y. When I’m drafting, I know I want to describe the setting, or a character’s clothing, or eyes. But if I stop to think of a unique way to say something, it usually drags me out of the storyline and I’ll get stuck and waste too much time. Save it all for editing. If something great comes to me in the moment, I’ll write it, but if not, I allow myself to write the trite boring stuff in the moment, because I can easily go back and fix them later. I leave in the sighs, and smiles, and shrugs, and the overused phrases during the drafting stage because it keeps me writing faster. I actually prefer revisions, so I’ll go back and spruce up the droll language during edits. After all, it’s much easier to edit a completed draft than to edit a blank page.
  • Allow yourself the time to write.
    • This means close yourself up in a room. Tell the family to leave you alone. Turn off your cell phone. If you only have ten minutes or an hour, dedicate that time to you and your writing. Don’t let the world interfere with your writing time. Time is a precious commodity, and when you get some, make it count.

 

Bonus, untried tip:

  • Consider dictating
    • This isn’t something I do, but my husband and many of my writer friends swear by it. Dragon Naturally Speaking, or something similiar, is a software that types what you say out loud. I’ve heard it takes a learning curve to get it to work perfectly, but that it’s very rewarding once it does. I have a friend who writes 6000 words an hour by dictation. It’s definitely something to look into, and one of these days I might consider it myself.

How to write with an Alphasmart.

Every time I post a picture of my Alphasmart online, people always ask about it. So today I made a video showing what exactly this bad boy can do. The Alphasmart is basically a keyboard that stores typed text until you can transfer it to a computer. THAT’S ALL IT DOES. That’s why it’s so beautiful!

Check out my first ever YouTube video below:

 

Why do you want an Alphasmart?

  • Write on the go with no worries of batteries dying.
  • Write FASTER. When you’re not on the real computer, you can’t get distracted with email, social media, etc.
  • Write simpler. Don’t worry about editing, don’t worry about grammar. Just write that first draft and edit it later.

How to use an Alphasmart Neo 2:

  • Choose a file (I use File 1) from the keys along the top row.
  • Write your chapter, scene, or whatever you’re writing up to 10,000 words.
  • Connect Alphasmart to your computer via USB cable (included).
  • Open your Word processor and put the cursor where you want it to be.
  • Press “Send” to on your Alphasmart and it will transfer your words onto the computer.
  • When it’s finished, disconnect the Alphasmart and edit your work on the computer.

 

So there you have it! Find your own Alphasmart on Ebay, (They’re going for $25-30 right now with free shipping!) and then let me know how it’s transformed your writing life!

Why I write books in 30 days or less

When I started writing my “first official novel”, I had a full time job that took up most of my day. I spent more time daydreaming about this novel than I actually spent writing it, and when I did write it, it was for thirty minutes here and there before I went to bed. It took me nine months to complete that first draft and the inconsistencies were hilarious. My main character’s mom had three different names and eye colors seemingly changed quicker than the Horse of a Different Color.*

And those were the easy fixes.

Now that I have a few dozen manuscripts written, I go about things much differently. I write fast. I use an outline and I write at least 5000 words a day, always finishing the first draft within 30 days. You might think the manuscript would suffer in quality from being written quickly, but it’s actually quite the opposite.

Something magical happens when you spend 3-4 hours a day–every single day–in your fictional world. You never leave the story. Your mind stays with the characters in such a way that they seem to pause when you stop writing for the day, and when you come back to it the next day, you still remember what you were writing. You can put your fingers to the keyboard and the characters hit play in your imagination, and start living the story again.

You’re still in your setting, still in the mood, still feeling the tone of the story. Your character’s motivations and emotions are still churning in your mind and you can keep up the same vibe for each chapter.

Nuances stick with you that you would otherwise forget. That side character has a smudge of motor oil on his shirt, and you’ll remember to have someone comment on it it when he speaks next. Your MC is starting to get a headache and in the next chapter, you’ll be able to note that it’s only getting worse.  Little things in your story’s surroundings will come out naturally as you write because they’re still fresh. These things aren’t in your outline, but they give the story a pulse.

Writing fast means you never have to go back over what you’ve already written to reorient yourself with the story. When I used to write slowly, it would take me at least 45 minutes of reading back over my MS to remember what exactly was going on. Total waste of time. If you step away from your story for a week or so it’s even worse when you go back to it. You’ve forgotten everything, and it’ll show in your writing.

There is certainly no perfect writing formula for everyone, and I always encourage writers to do what works for them. But I also encourage you to try something new. So if you’re a slow writer, try writing fast. Don’t overthink it. Just do it.

 

*Do ya’ll know what that is, or am I dating myself?

Level up your writing (by reading books)

 

I’ve got a great analogy for you guys.

When I was young and in shape and totally not dorky or weird at all, I rode dirt bikes every day. My dad would pick up my sister and me from school, bikes in the back of the truck, and we would head out to the dirt bike track and ride around until it got dark. It was the BEST! But then eventually I made some friends and started realizing my fun putting around didn’t really match up. I was slow, and they were fast.

I wanted to be faster.

I wanted to race and not be the last bike over the finish line.

So what did I do? I got on the bike and rode around and around and around, all by myself, trying to make myself faster. It worked, a little. But then my friend (a racer for over a decade with several motocross championship titles to his name) would get on the track too and just blow me away. I’d grit my teeth and seethe in his dusty wake, hating how I was so much slower.

I’d say, “How do I get faster?”

And he’d say, “Follow me.”

And I’d say, “Uh no. Screw you. You’re way too fast. You make me feel slow and stupid.”

And he’d say, “Just follow me.”

And so I did. My dear friend took pity on me and would ride juuuust fast enough to stay ahead of me without completely zooming away, which he was totally capable of doing. I wanted to stay behind him so badly that I’d push myself harder with each lap, pulling the throttle back more than I ever did, soaring over jumps faster and higher than ever before. Within days, I was faster. Within weeks, I was unrecognizable on the track. I actually looked like someone who knew what I was doing.

My friend was practically born on a dirt bike track and he knew exactly what he was doing. By making me follow him, I was pushed out of my comfort zone. I made myself go faster, work harder, and get better. I would have never gained this skill just riding around the track by myself, because when you’re alone, you’re only as fast as you want to be. There’s no marker. No level to reach, no way of striving for more.

That, my friends, is the same way you can level up as a writer. Several people have told me they enjoy writing books but they never read other books because it makes them feel stupid when the writing is so much better than theirs. Friends, this is NOT the way to live your life!

Read widely. Read the good authors. Read the outstanding authors. Read the best sellers and the popular books. Do it as much as you can, and definitely do it more than you write. By following in the wake of an excellent writer, you too will gain better writing skills. Their awesomeness will seep into your brain, subliminally teaching you how to pace, plot, write, and tell stories. Use their talent to motivate you, not discourage you.

Before you know it, you won’t be the last bike on the track. You’ll be crossing the finish line at the same time as the writers you admire.

Now, go pick up a book.

Using Instagram as a Writer

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If you’ve been following me for more than five minutes, you’ll know I’m a huge believer in being a person online. I absolutely can’t stand the mindset of an author marketing themselves in the form of spam on every social media outlet. If someone wants to buy your book, they will. Asking them 10 times a day in the form of a Tweet or post will not make them buy your book. The best way to connect with readers and other writers is simple: be a person. Just a living, breathing, book loving, book writing, person.

The old adage to “just be yourself” works perfectly here. The thing is, your books aren’t you. They’re a product you create and they should be advertised separately. YOU are an author. You have quirks and hobbies and unique skills. You might even have photogenic cats, which is always a plus. You bring a new perspective to everything around you. Let that reflect in your social media account.

Facebook is out. Twitter is becoming a political trash talking message board. Instagram is where the book people are. I’ve talked with a few writer friends and we all agree that Instagram is the most fun you can have in the online book community.

So how do you get the best out of Instagram as a writer?

  • Let your readers see behind-the-scenes. Nothing makes me fangirl more than when my favorite authors post details of their writing lives, snippets of their WIPs, or cute cat photos. Where do you write? What’s your desk look like? Did last night’s casserole inspire a scene in your WIP? Let’s see it.
  • Post Tips and tricks. I’m not the only writer who adopted Victoria Schwab’s using a star-sticker-on-the-calendar-page to mark your writing progress trick. If you have a unique way of laying out your index card plot, post a photo of it. Have a book shelf organizer that’s unique? Post it! Did you finally figure out how to make Word stop correcting already correct grammar? Let us see.
  • Exclusive book stuff. Readers love photos of your first set of ARCs, your cover reveal, the hardback sighting on a bookstore shelf. Anything new about your books should always go up on Instagram first. It gets readers excited and they can spread the word of your new book/deal/cover/etc faster than you can alone.
  • Be a person. This is my favorite one. Post fun and interesting photos of your normal life outside being a writer. This is where your cat photos are necessary. From lattes to silly socks to a rock you found that’s shaped like a heart. These are the posts that separate you from the spam author who only wants to sell books. Trust me, you will sell more books in the long run by making a personal connection with people and from being yourself.
  • Make friends! Interact with other users, both writers and readers. Book bloggers are on Instagram and they’re some of the hardest working most book loving people you’ll ever meet. Comment and like posts and follow people who share your same interests. You’ll make friends in no time.
    • Note: Don’t forget to thank people who post about your book!
  • Share the book love. #Bookstagram is a very big thing right now. It’s the art of arranging books and decorations into taking beautiful, artistic photos. And although I am NOT the least bit talented with photography (sad face), so many book bloggers and readers are! Use Instagram to post photos of your favorite books, your bookshelves, your TBR list. Tag the authors in the pictures you post so they can repost it if they want. Get creative! Nothing makes my day more than seeing a beautiful photo of one of my books on Instagram.
    • Post Reviews. #Bookstagram is a PERFECT way to leave book reviews as well! Since Instagram lets you leave a very long caption for your photos, you can write a review (or copy/paste it from the one you wrote on Goodreads since cell phone typing is annoying) and tag the author. This is a great way to spread the #booklove to your followers.
  • Utilize hashtags! I get about 200% more likes and comments when I use the appropriate hashtags for my book photos. Be sure to click on your favorite ones every so often and like other users’ posts.
    • For authors: #writersofinstagram #authorsofinstagram #WIP #amwriting #amediting #wordcount #writerslife #NaNoWriMo #WritingTip #TeaserTues

    • For sales & book promo: #FreeBooks #ebooks #kindle #Nook (or any other ebook retailer) #KindleUnlimited #NewRelease #CoverReveal #KindleBargains #KindleBargain #BookGiveaway
    • For Young Adult specific: #yalit #IReadYA #YoungAdult #YAbooks #YALitChat #YA
    • For general books or reader posts: #bookgram #bookishfeatures #book #books #bookstagram
      #booknerdigans #bookworm #bookaddict #booknerd #booklover #bookstagramfeatures #booklove #booklovers #bookish #bookswag #bookboyfriend #Bookshelves #Bookshelf #BookPhotography #BookChat #Goodreads #WhatToRead #EpicReads #bibliophile #instabook #instabooksm#igreads #igbooks #reader #amreading #TBR
    • Have your own hashtags! Your author name: #CheyanneYoung, and your books should have one too: #TheBreakupSupportGroup

There you have it. A guide to using Instagram as a writer, and doing it in a way that won’t make you annoying. 🙂 I’d love to hear any more tips and tricks you have in the comments! Until then, if you need me, I’ll be hanging out on Instagram.

How to Wait

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I once read an article that estimated that humans spend one third of their lives waiting. Waiting in line, waiting in traffic, waiting for service, etc. If you’re a writer, you wait longer than that. You wait in the query trenches, you wait in the submission trenches, you wait for your book to be published. You wait for ideas to come to you and you wait for plot holes to work themselves out.

So how do you get through the waiting without letting it drive you crazy? I’ve made a handy list.

How to Wait

  • Know before you go into the thing (writing, querying, submissions) that you’ll be waiting. Be prepared.
  • (Being prepared doesn’t help, btw. It’s just something people say to make you feel better.)
  • ALWAYS always be working on something else. When you’ve finished a book and are waiting for it to move along in the publishing process, start your new book. DON’T sit around waiting for that first book to get some traction. Get to work on your next project. This is not a drill. DO IT.
  • Stay busy. Clean the house. Wash your car. Organize your bookshelves. Busy minds can’t stress over waiting.
  • (Just kidding! Your mind totally can and will stress no matter what you’re doing!)
  • Take a hot shower. Daydream about your newest book.
  • Take a walk. Think weird things about the stuff your neighbors keep in their yards.
  • Read. ABR. Always be reading. This is my advice for every thing ever. Reading enriches your mind, fills your free time, and supports other authors. When in doubt, read.
  • Coffee break with a fellow writer. Meet up with writer friends and share horror stories over how long you’ve each been waiting. Drink lots of coffee. Laugh, talk about books, commiserate, have fun.
  • Go to bed early. You can’t constantly check your email when you’re sleeping.
  • Sleep in. You can’t constantly check your email when you’re sleeping.
  • Life your life. Don’t pass up opportunities to spend time with family and friends just because you’re waiting on book stuff. Go to the zoo, go see a movie. Have fun. You’re alive, so enjoy it. There will always be more time for waiting.
  • Write a blog post about waiting! I know from experience that it kills about fifteen minutes of time when you would otherwise be checking your email, hoping for book news.

 

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How I outline a novel

Admittedly, I started out as a pantser, (one who writes by the seat of their pants, with no regards to outline or planning) but that was many years ago, and I am now firmly an outliner. Some authors argue that outlining a novel strips creativity away and leaves no room for making up some magic along the way. To that I say: writing a book is really freaking hard even if you’ve previously decided what happens in each chapter and trust me, there’s 70+ thousands of words for you to add some magic during the process.

Okay, let’s begin.

I follow the 7 Point Story Structure when I outline a book. I’m not going to explain that in detail here (since you can Google it and find really articulate definitions/examples). I also know that I want my books to be around 70k words, roughly. Since my chapters are anywhere from 1500 to 3000 words, that’s (roughly) 30 chapters for me. Yours may be different, and every book IS different, so the great thing about this template is you can change it up as needed.

When I first start brainstorming a book idea, I grab a stack of index cards (or sometimes Post-its) and write out every thing I think of. From scenes, to dialogue, to things I want to happen, to those juicy dramatic parts that I’ve been daydreaming about for days. I write down any and everything I see happening in the book. Then I put them in chronological order, adding or throwing out some as needed. It’s fine if you don’t have the whole book yet. You just needed to get out those awesome ideas in your head. Now set them aside and open up a Word document.

You’re going to type up your index cards into separate chapters, sometimes grouping a few together into one chapter, sometimes using one index card as a whole chapter. You probably won’t have every chapter or even every plot point decided at this point. Just skip. For example, if I know the story starts with A and then some stuff happens and then B happens, I’ll put the contents of A in chapter one, skip one or two chapters, then fill in B on the next one. Once you’ve transferred all your index card ideas, go back and read over it, adding more for each chapter. You’ll eventually get them all filled in. This usually takes me 2-3 days or sometimes FOREVER.

For starters, I pick 30 chapters and fill them in, adding or subtracting along the way as I figure out my story. Some of my favorite books have 80 or more chapters, and this can totally work for those, too, you just add more columns to the table. (Word’s table function makes this nice and pretty!) But I know myself and my book and this is a good guideline for how I’ll write it.

outline

BOOM! You’re done! All that’s left is hundreds of hours of creative writing agony as you bang out the ideas in your head, transforming them into a terrible first draft that will require months of editing to even slightly resemble a book!

WASN’T THAT EASY?

Ahem.

So, if you’re anything like me, you can’t remember all of your character’s details. That’s where the character sheet comes in handy. I fill out each character’s name, age, physical description, personality description, and special traits. I print these out and use them as I’m writing because I can guarantee I won’t remember anyone’s eye color, and probably not hair color, and definitely not their dog’s name because I have autoimmune problems and the brain fog is real. This character sheet will be your lifesaver.

charactersheet

At the top of the whole document I write a summary (or a query when I was unagented) that isn’t perfect or even worthy to show anyone yet, but it’s a good reference to remind you what you wanted the story to be about when you first thought of it.

I print out each outline and put them in those clear plastic page protector things inside one of those plastic folders for reports, and then I carry them around with me when I write. After each chapter is written, I put a shiny star sticker over it and move on to the next one.

Since I write full time, my goal is 1 chapter a day, which means I usually finish a first draft in about a month. I prefer quick drafting, because as they say, you can’t edit nothing. I like to get that draft out there and ready for me to tear it to shreds in editing.

But that’s a post for another day.

If you’d like to try out my method of outlining, I’m including a download to a Word file of my template. Click here and it’s all yours: blank-outline-template

Happy novel writing!

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