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Keep on Keepin' On -- What Works

It can be daunting to face a blank computer screen. No matter how brilliant the novel mapped out in my mind is, it is nothing more than a collection of thoughts until I give it form on paper. Each story I conjure is a wonderful picture show in my head. The trick is putting down the right words in the right order so that it becomes an equally wonderful picture show in the minds of readers. It's not just what I say that matters, but how I say it. That is a huge challenge, and that blank computer screen is a dare to do it.

For me, the first few chapters usually come easily. This is where I establish the setting, introduce the characters, set the plot rolling, and lay the groundwork for the unifying theme of the novel. I write chronologically. I can honestly say I've never written a single scene out of order. But where to start! There are so many places to jump in. I generally just go with the first scene that comes to mind. I create a day in the life and introduce my characters to each other to see how they get along. You'd be surprised how much that tells me about them. Almost immediately, their personalities start to emerge, and that lets me know the direction the plot is going to go.

Yes, I can see the story in my head, but once I start writing, I have to follow my characters, which means the plot direction can change.

I am a plotter. I wasn't always, but I have been for most of my writing career. I work out the storyline of a novel before I actually begin to write the book. (I highly recommend this process.) As a rule, my outline is pretty rudimentary -- not generally longer than 1000 words or so. I may set it out chapter by chapter or merely as a synopsis for the entire novel. The point is the outline provides me with breadcrumbs to follow as I write. Many writers rebel against the idea of outlining because they think it restricts them. I say, "Hogwash!" An outline is merely a guide. If better ideas come along during the writing (and they will), I pursue them. The outline just helps to keep me heading in the right direction.

Some writers like to amass a collection of things -- photos, knick-knacks, clippings, memorabilia, etc -- before beginning to write. This helps them establish a feel for the story, visualize the setting and characters, and keep them in the right frame of mind as they write. This trove of items can also inspire ideas. It's not my style, but If it works, go for it.

Even after the novel is in progress, it can be a struggle to get my head back in the game each day. I use two tricks to help me. Firstly, I put an inspirational wallpaper on my computer screen -- something that pulls me into the story the instant I turn on the computer. This image may change several times over the course of the novel to reflect the point I'm at in the writing. In my current WIP, my protagonist is labouring on a farm in 1910 Saskatchewan, and this image of a rusty wheel helps take me there.

The other thing I do to get my writing juices flowing is reread the previous day's writing. That gets me right back into the thick of things, and reminds me where I'm going.

Writer's block occurs when an author is either unable to produce new work or experiences a creative slowdown. Fortunately I don't suffer from that. However, sometimes I am faced with logistical problems -- how to inject an important piece of information into the story or integrate conflicting plot elements, for instance. When that happens, I do one of two things: I have a long shower or I take a nap. Don't ask my how or why, but both activities help me solve whatever conundrum I'm facing.

Every story must have a plot, but for me the plot is secondary. I use it to reveal important things about my characters and to show them growing and changing. I want my readers to connect with my characters. And because I seldom describe my characters physically and not all readers are able to imagine them without help, AND because I like to draw, I sometimes make sketches of characters and post them on social media. It is intended to arouse interest, provide information, and put pressure on myself to keep writing. Master Garth is part of the set of sketches I did for my historical fantasy novel, Bran. (I love that novel, but it still needs a publisher.)

Another trick I use to keep my writing moving forward is to post my progress on social media. I like to think that if wee excerpts can spark interest in the public, it will spur me on.

In the same vein, I update my website regularly, announcing publication dates, cover reveals, online sightings, and any other tidbits of interest that show I'm making headway. My mother always said, "Self-praise is no recommendation," and I believe that, but writers live primarily in their minds, and along with tons of creativity comes a boatload of self-doubt. Quitting would be so easy. To minimize that possibility, I put myself out on a limb. If I tell others what I'm doing and how wonderful the finished product is going to be, I have no choice but to see it through. (BTW, since I posted this meme on Facebook on March 29th, I've made more headway. I'm now at page 117 and 27,842 words, almost two-thirds complete. I'd like to have Billy-Boy finished by the end of June.)

I'll keep writing if you keep reading.


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