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

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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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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.

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