Ch. 3: Your Book Starts Here (Developing a Writing Practice)

We shall not cease from exploration, and the end of all our exploring will be to arrive where we started and know the place for the first time. --T.S. Elliot

We shall not cease from exploration, and the end of all our exploring will be to arrive where we started and know the place for the first time. –T.S. Elliot

To continue reading this post on my new site, click here.

I’ve been traveling a lot and starting a new side business and, well, basically I’ve watched the good writing practice that I did have plummet to the depths of nowhere. Am I still a writer? In my world, stress is a creativity killer and I’ve had way to much of it so I haven’t even had time to stop and think about how I feel these days, much less write!

I don’t just need a new writing practice, I need one. Period.  (Trumpets start, and entering from the wings: Chapter 3 of Your Book Starts Here, Developing a Writing Practice.) Hello, good timing. Welcome. You can have center stage. (In case you missed it, here’s where you can find my posts about chapter 1 and chapter 2.)

So let’s jump in.

Wise Words from Author Mary Carroll Moore

“Few books arrive fully formed,” writes Mary Carroll Moore, and it “takes the same everyday hard work that tennis players put in practicing their volleys, violinists their scale.”

Ah yes. Discipline. Repetition. Those same small steps day in and day out are the ones that lead to huge changes. After all, take your teeth for instance. You spend those 2+ minutes in the morning, and again at night, and 30 or 40 years down the road you’re not paying for fillings and root canals and gum disease treatments. Same with writing. Even 15 minutes a day could produce a book within a year.

The Professional Writer’s Schedule

Professional Writer's Schedule

Professional Writer’s Schedule

One of my absolute favorite books on writing (and a most enjoyable read!) is Stephen King’s On WritingMoore also recommends it and writes that to find the professional writer’s schedule, we need to:

  1. let go of expectations
  2. find the joy
  3. find the practice (the key!)

Experiment

One exercise she gives is to EXPERIMENT with writing times and locations over the course of 1 week and while I think this is a great idea, I’m traveling so much over the next few months and won’t be in one space long enough to figure out if it’s the best writing space for me. I will, however, take note of places I write and the time of day when I catch that creative wave. 🙂 Today, I downloaded the app Jiffy for this very reason. It’s AWESOME and you can read more about it below.

Finding Ritual, Routine, Rhythm, Realism and Record

Side Note from Your Book Starts Here: Some of my favorite articles about productivity for writers are by author Susan Dennard (who wrote the lovely Something Strange and Deadly series). It’s really worth spending some time with these articles if you are 1) looking to be more productive with your writing, and 2) want to develop the habits that will set you up for success. You can find her introduction to the Productivity Pyramid here. From there you can find links to further breakdowns of her pyramid: Ritual, Routine, Rhythm, Realism and Record.

I discovered this pyramid back in January and found Ritual and Routine to be particularly helpful with setting up new habits and perimeters in my writing schedule. I had just moved halfway around the world and finding routines and rituals anchored me in my new home! I went from not being focused at all, to having a daily routine which included: morning contemplation, making coffee and opening the laptop by 7 AM, and excluding ALL connection with the outside world during my two morning writing stints. No emailing, social media or checking-of-thy-computer until lunch time every day. It was weird at first. I didn’t realize that for the last bazillion years I was in the ritual of checking messages on my phone before my second eye opened. But, I started leaving my phone charging downstairs and that helped me break the habit. And I have to tell ya, waiting until lunchtime to check messages is fun! Remember when getting emails was fun? Well, when you don’t check them every minute or two, it is really fun. Anywho, my morning routine became 2 writing sessions of 90 minutes each, with a 30 minute break in between them. I can’t recommend the system enough. It was a life changer! And since I’m traveling so much over the next few months and back to having no ritual and routine these days, I’m going to refresh them myself and see if I can find some good practices in the midst of the chaos!

And if you do find that you want to explore the Productivity Pyramid a little more and learn
about when you’re most creative, check out this amazing app called Jiffy. I just started tracking my productivity today with it. Basically, you can put all of your projects (or anything you spend time on) in the app and each has their own timer. So at the end of the day (or week, month, year, etc.), you can see where your time went. I’m curious to see if I’m meeting my goals on some projects that I’m involved in and learn what times of the day I work on different things.

Finding a Rhythm with 10 Minutes a Day

As Moore says, there are different ways to gauge our practice. Time of day or meeting a certain word count, as Ernest Hemingway did, are a couple of ways. It’s all about finding your own rhythm and we all have different ways of finding it.

As Moore says, “Finding your rhythm and honoring your practice will slowly grow your confidence in your commitment to your craft.”

So, trusting ourselves and the writing practice we’ve committed to = delivering successful results = gaining stamina = momentum. And once the momentum happens, a finished product is within sight!

Moore says to start small. Even 10 minutes a day for the first couple of weeks can build the trust we need in ourselves to establish a good practice.

10 minutes.

Many years ago I heard a nutrition expert speak about the importance of exercising daily, to which I thought, realllllllyyy… everyday??? To which he said oh yes, everyday. BUT the clincher was that you didn’t have to kill yourself everyday with hours of exercise. It’s about developing the habit. He said that even walking a half hour every morning would be nearly 4 hours at the end of the week, which adds up to more than 200 hours of exercise at the end of the year. That is guarenteed to change your life! Much like starting with that 10 minutes of writing a day.

Moore goes on to discuss the common sabotages of a good writing practice and even exercises for discovering them and fixing it. She also gets into the healthy aspect of writing and how we can recognize this transformation in our own characters. Good stuff!

Starting a Writing Practice

My favorite exercise from the book is this: Start a Writing Practice by writing for 10 minutes everyday for the next three weeks. Pick a time and commit to writing for 10 minutes during that time every day. 10 minutes x 3 weeks = 3.5 hours! Yes, I can do this. Here’s the breakdown:

Week 1: freewrites

Week 2: (Day 1: free-write list of possible topics for book) (Day 2-7: pick 1 off the list each day and do a free-write about it)

Week 3: blend weeks 1 and 2 by taking a topic and adding observations on things you felt, saw, experienced over the week

That’s all for now. I’ll be pausing here for the next three weeks (but still posting about other things) as I delve into this new writing practice and I’ll share my thoughts along the way. After, I’ll crack open the book and move on to chapter 4: Listening to the Inner Critic.

Do you have thoughts to share about your writing practice? What sets you up for success? Please share in the comments below! 🙂

In case you missed it, I started a Literary Map of New Orleans that marks key spots when the likes of Hemingway, Faulkner and Tennessee Williams wrote, slept and knocked back a few. Check it out here! And drop me a line if you have something to add to it!

Until next time,

Ellie

Articles, Links, Books and Music for Inspiration:

Kissing in the Rain by Patrick Doyle

Love, love love this one! Two Minutes to Four and Reunited (featuring Lana Del Ray)

Death Bed from Beasts of the Southern Wild soundtrack

Pienso en Ti by Shakira (probably my favorite song ever by Shakira, from the Soundtrack to                Love in the Time of Cholera

Another fav: Jake’s First Flight from Avatar

An old favorite: Goa from the Bourne Supremacy movie

The book I’m following through these posts is Your Book Starts Here.

Book I (still) reading and loving: The Night Circus by Erin Morganstern

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Music Wrap-Up 2 & Big News!

It’s music wrap-up time!

Music Wrap-Up

Music Wrap-Up

I don’t have too many new songs since I’ve been up other things these days. You may have noticed that I’ve changed the look of my site. To tell you the truth, when I made the switch to pay for hosting my old theme wasn’t available. I tried to create something similar, but couldn’t quite get the feel. So the next option was to try something entirely new. And I love it! There’s still much work to do to customize the site, but the color scheme and look fit me these days. I like the brightness and being that I still put pen to paper when I write, the theme suits me. 🙂

Now, onto music.

Here are some of my lastest favorites:

So what’s the BIG NEWS, you ask? I’ve been working away on a new site! It’s not ready just yet, but stay  tuned….

In the meantime, I’d like to add guest posts to my new site. I’m interested in anything related to craft, productivity and organization for writers, and interesting pieces about authors and writing spaces.

Are you published? I’d also love to have pieces about the publishing process.

If you would like to have one of your pieces from your blog posted on my site, please get in touch through the contact page!

This is all for now! Do you have some favorites that you’d like to share? Leave it in the comments section below if you like. Happy writing. 🙂

Until next time,

Ellie

If you’d like to see this article and many more, please visit and bookmark my new site, found here!

Ch. 2 of Your Book Starts Here (Outer Story vs. Inner Story)

Moving on to chapter 2 of Your Book Starts Here: Create, Craft, and Sell Your First Novel, Memoir, or Nonfiction Book, by Mary Carroll Moore, who’s authored books in at least three different genres. And she’s just amazing at explaining all of these principles about the craft of writing. Brings it right down to earth!

Where am I for now? Well, I’m setting down my note cards for a little while. I’ve looked at them, contemplated on them and rearranged as much as I can at this moment in time. I’ve placed them on the “W” storyboard and made a solid, fluid outline (a conclusion I came to at the end of Camp NaNoWriMo) to work with. And for now, as I work through Your Book Starts Here, I’m going to let the outline sit and see where this new process takes me.

If you missed my post on chapter 1, you can find it here. Otherwise, let’s get into this!

artistic-motion-lines-vector-design_mkr-KM

Inner Story vs. Outer Story

Chapter 2: Inner & Outer Story (Doorways into Your Book)

This chapter has been amazing for me and has helped me understand something new and crucial about the outlining process: I must have the Outer Story in place before Inner Story can be revealed. Chapter 2 is all about the Inner Story and Outer Story. All stories have an outer story (what’s happening) and an inner story (how it brings meaning to the characters). The ratio of inner and outer story varies according to genre (memoir, non-fiction, fiction) and Moore breaks that down and has exercises for recognizing it and being able to apply it to your own work.

Outer Story

Outer Story

As Moore says, “Well-crafted outer story lets your book track for a reader like a train smoothly traveling from one city to another.” And that we get to the outer story “by writing specifics.” This largely deals with where, what, who and how.

So outer story is the nuts and bolts, information that CAN be completed during the outlining process.

Take Cinderella: A girl loses her parents and must live with her wicked stepmother and step sisters, who force her to be a servant.

This is outer story of Cinderella and can be outlined.

Inner Story

“Inner Story is born of the discovery process.” -Mary Carroll Moore

For Inner Story, Moore says that it should be a journey of discovery, as characters open up, reveal themselves and bring meaning to the outer story. It answers the why. It’s the “story within the story.” It’s the “un-outlineable” part so to speak. My understanding is that the outer story must be solid or inner story will never come forth. (Side note: this is why Camp NaNoWriMo was so tough; I was attempting to write inner story without a solid outer story. How can a character bring meaning to a world that isn’t there?)

For Cinderella: After the sorrow of losing her parents, Cinderella overcomes her circumstances and finds love and freedom after meeting the Prince.

This is inner story, discovery, and a journey that could only arise from knowing her circumstances. Could there even be a longing to overcome circumstances and find love if we didn’t know she was living captive with her wicked stepmother after the death of her parents?

I think inner story contains the emotional beats of the story, or emotional dominoes, as author Susan Dennard calls them. She writes, “Each new scene will show our character reacting in some way to what happened before.” You can read more of this fabulous article on emotional dominoes here. This largely deals with the of the story, which I think inner story is truly about.

That’s all for now. Next up is chapter 3, which is Developing a Writing Practice.

Do you have thoughts on Inner and Outer story? How do you define the two? Any creative tips you want to share about it? Please share in the comments section below if you like!

Ellie

Articles, Links and Music for Inspiration:

Loving this dark and dreary piano version of Dance of the Knights

Dustin O’Halloran’s We Move Lightly for painting the scene

Nero by Two Steps From Hell (epic goodness!)

The book I’m following through these posts is Your Book Starts Here

Awesome article about Emotional Dominoes can be found here.

To read this post, and many more, hop over to my new site! You can find it here. 🙂

Music Wrap-Up 1

Here’s the first music wrap-up! 

Music Wrap-Up

Music Wrap-Up

As you may have noticed, I often end my posts with songs I’m currently listening to while I research, outline and write my book (I’m particularly fond of scores from film). So I thought that I’d start a Music Wrap-Up series and list all my favorite new finds in a single post every now and then. Since my blog is nearly 2 months old (woohoo!), I think it’s time to start.

So here we go, in no particular order–a list of what’s been keeping my creative spirits alive and pulsing the last couple of months:

And if your looking for variety, 8tracks is one of my favorite, favorite, favorite websites! There are tons of playlists for reading, writing and studying. And you can create and publish your own playlists (mine is here).

I’ve also discovered Coffitivity, a site that has the ambient sounds of a coffee house. If you like the rumble and mumurs of a coffee house (like I sometimes do), you’ll dig it! Some tracks are free and there’s an upgrade option for even more options! My favorite is “University Undertones.”

Well that’s all for now. Have a favorite song or music website you want to share? Leave it in the comments section below!

Ellie

You can read this article and many more on my new site here!

Outlining: the “W” Storyboard

W Storyboard

W Storyboard

The “W” Storyboard… one of my favs. As I’ve mentioned, I first discovered the “W” Storyboard from author Mary Carroll Moore. It set off a lot of lightbulbs and really helped me find the hero’s journey. I discovered through using this storyboard that my MC was “offstage” for part of the story and by the time I finished, he was front row and center! (I’m also working through/blogging my journey through Mary Carroll Moore’s book, Your Book Starts Here, if you’re interested in joining me or reading about it). So here we go…

What is the “W” Storyboard?

The “W” Storyboard is a visual map of your story, with the story being marked along the three act structure. The “W” looks something like this picture, which I found on Pinterest (note: it hasn’t been filled in):

W Storyboard

W Storyboard

Starting where you would if you were writing the letter “W” is the inciting incident (triggering event). This is where your story begins. As you follow the first leg down, the problems are being set and tensions rise. At the bottom of the first leg is the first crisis moment (turning point)  that propels us into act 2 and calls the hero to action.

The second leg of the “W” is traveling upward and it’s during this time that the problem is being resolved. Things may continue to get better. A new character may show up. But at the top of Act 2, another conflict happens (pop moment) and pushes us into the second half of act two (the next leg of the “W”), where things spiral to the lowest point. Problems deepen and at the bottom of that leg, it is the hero’s lowest point.

The final leg of the “W” travels upward. This is act 3, where the problems resolve. Towards the top of act 3, there’s an “epiphany moment,” which is usually when the the hero has an inner resolution of some kind. Maybe they understand something in a new way. At the top of this leg is the resolution (or end).

There are two things I love about the “W”:

  1. The shape of the “W” visually follows the main rise and fall that happens in the story.
  2. You can use the “W” storyboard in many different ways. Yes, it’s great to chart your hero’s journey, but you can also plot another character’s journey along it which is super helpful for finding the holes in your story and making sure events and characters intersect when they’re supposed to.

When  I first plotted my story on one of these, I was shocked/appauled/relieved that my main character was nearly missing from the second half of act 2! (Appauled that I didn’t catch any of this in my first draft, relieved that I found out why my story seemed to go South in act 2.) Somehow a supporting character had found their way into the center of the story and didn’t want to leave the stage!

Nowadays, I revisit the “W” often, as in every few scenes often. I can adapt and make changes through the writing process, but also keep the bird’s eye view.

How to Plot Your Story on the “W” Storyboard

There are a number of ways to add your plot points to the “W” storyboard. As you’ll see in this picture, which I found on Carrot Ranch, post-it notes are a wonderful option:

Post-It Notes on

Post-It Notes on “W” Storyboard

For my “W” I use the entire floor of my living room and place all my notecards on the floor, following the “W” shape. (For my information about how I outline using notecards, go here). By starting with notecards and truly dumping every possible event onto them, then placing them along the “W” storyboard, I was able to quickly elliminate the unneccessary points. It took me a looonnngg time to complete the cards and form the “W,” but it was soooo worth it for getting to the essence of my story. By the time I was finished, my hero was center stage, the whole way through!

If you want to learn more about the “W,” Mary Carroll Moore has a wonderful lecture on the “W” storyboard and you can see it here.

Do you have tips to share about storyboarding? Do you use the “W” or recommend something else? Drop a comment below if you like.

Until next time, happy writing to You,

Ellie

What I’m listening to this week:

Taylor Davis’ violin version of Now We are Free (beautiful!)

Craig Armstrong’s Romeo & Juliet (balcony scene)

Love this piano rendition of Karthik Krish’s Titanic

To read this article and many more, hop over to my new site!

Days 7-13: Camp NaNoWriMo & Staying Creative and Productive

Passion is one great force that unleashes creativity, because if you're passionate about something, then you're more willing to take risks. - Yo-Yo Ma

Passion is one great force that unleashes creativity, because if you’re passionate about something, then you’re more willing to take risks.
– Yo-Yo Ma

Day 13 of NaNoWriMo!
I’m swimming in it over here. Not quite where I’d like to be, but still moving forward. I know I need to revisit my outline since I’ve wandered into some gray territory, but getting “lost” has done wonders for my creativity and story. Usually when I hit stumbling blocks, I want to run as fast as I can back to my outline and check plot points, etc. But committing to this 50,000 word count for Camp NaNoWriMo has forced me to forget about that and just keep writing. This is a good thing, I think?

On Creativity…
One thing I’ve been thinking about lately is the fine balance of staying creative, staying in the flow. In other words, when the words on the page make me want to quit for the day and pick it back up tomorrow, what helps me to push through and stay committed? I toy with this a lot, but for me, I’ve found that sticking to a certain amount of structure and changing things up seem to be a perfect recipe.

Structure
My mom always told me I was at my best when I stuck to a schedule and I couldn’t agree more. I can kill a day doing everything nothing like no one else. Seeing as I can start making a “quick” playlist for a character, then look up 5 hours later to find I’m still looking for one more perfect song, having some sort of structure to my day not only helps me accomplish more, it invigorates me.  And it’s the only way I can consistently get things done.

Some of the structure I’m talking about here is related to actual time, and the other part is related to accomplishments. I’ll explain…

Creating Structure with Time

Part of my day follows time, or a schedule. Every morning I wake up and spend 20 minutes in silence. This could be meditation for some, prayer for others or contemplating on a character or scene that you’re planning to write that day. It’s my time to get centered, acknowledge what I’m grateful for and dream my day so to speak. Next, I make my coffee for the morning. After that, I bring up Scrivener and open my current writing project. I put on my accompanying playlist and write for 90-120 minutes. After I take a short break for breakfast, then go for another 90+ minutes if I’m planning to have a heavy writing day. On a day calendar it would look like this: More

Aside

Day 3-6: NaNoWriMo & Researching Your Story

“TWENTY bridges from Tower to Kew - Wanted to know what the River knew, Twenty Bridges or twenty-two, For they were young, and the Thames was old And this is the tale that River told:” ― Rudyard Kipling

“TWENTY bridges from Tower to Kew –
Wanted to know what the River knew,
Twenty Bridges or twenty-two,
For they were young, and the Thames was old
And this is the tale that River told:”
― Rudyard Kipling

Today is day 6 of Camp NaNoWriMo and because I was out of town for a few days, I’m a little behind on the updates and my writing. Not much, just a little. The most exciting part of my trip this weekend was that finally, after 3 years, I got to visit the library in London that houses all of the original docs and files that my story is based on. It felt like the gift of a lifetime and came at a time when I needed a boost of inspiration. I got it. And then some. Came home and been writing since. If I log 1000 more words today, I’ll be back on track!

My trip to the library got me thinking about all the research tools we have at our fingertips. There were some specific documents I saw this past weekend that were not available to me online, but aside from that, most of what I’ve needed to research my story, I’ve been able to access rather easily. All it takes is a little creativity and persistence. Since I’ve been researching for a story set in the 1800s off and on for a few years now, I thought I’d break down some of the sources I’ve used to squeeze out the most I can from this time period.

To Research, or Not To Research: That is the Question More

Day 2 Camp NaNoWriMo & Music!

“Start writing, no matter what. The water does not flow until the faucet is turned on.” ― Louis L'Amour

“Start writing, no matter what. The water does not flow until the faucet is turned on.”
                      ― Louis L’Amour

Day 2 Camp NaNoWriMo!

Today I wrote less than 300 words (with a goal of 1613 per day since that’s what it takes to reach the 50,000 word mark by the end of the month). Blegh! I had two other projects to complete and both took way longer than I thought they would. I almost just let it slip today, thinking that since I couldn’t really get in there and make some progress, why bother. But, I had 25 minutes to spare so I opened Scrivener and out came 260 words.

I’ll get into Scrivener in a later post, but if you haven’t stepped into the world of Scrivener, you can do so by clicking here:

Buy Scrivener 2 for Mac OS X (Regular Licence)

A couple of things I did differently really helped. First, I didn’t try to go back where I left off yesterday. The reason is that I just needed to go somewhere in my story that felt like it required no thinking or processing, so I jumped a few chapters ahead and started there. It was liberating! And (and, and, and!) the cool part is that those 260 words helped me connect to a subplot I’ve been struggling with. All basically because I let myself do a “free write” in my story! And I’ll definitely use this more often, especially when I need a dose of inspiration or just to enjoy some R&R while I write.

OK, onto music for a minute…

More

Day 1: Camp NaNoWriMo & Wise Words from Anne Rice

“Anybody can be a critic. Writers are priceless.” -Anne Rice

Day 1 of Camp NaNoWriMo is down! I clocked 1615 words and it took me most of the day to do it. I wrote steadily through the morning, took a break around lunchtime, then finished my last 500 words mid-afternoon. What I learned is that I write as slowly as I read. And that is slow. Yikes! But, mission accomplished. You can read about my prep work for Camp NaNo here.

To prep for day 2, I made a playlist at 8tracks. It’s incomplete, but you can check it out here.

Now, moving on to the inspiring bits. Every now and then we all need some inspiration. I find mine in many ways and one of those is to read the wise words and tips from successful authors. The other day I stumbled upon Anne Rice’s tips on writing while doing research for an upcoming post and found these brilliant words by her. I felt so good after reading it that I read it again. And again. And since I have it bookmarked, now I have to share it. Enjoy! More

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