I’ve been silent on Functionally Fictional, on my blog, and here on Coffee House Writers. I want to explain what happened and what I have learned from those experiences.
Everything started in December 2018 on my trip to see my family in Ohio. The symptoms of my mental illness, schizoaffective disorder, got worse starting near the end of May.
By the end of May, I was talking with my hallucinations all day and couldn’t pull myself into reality. I wasn’t writing. I didn’t keep up with any of my responsibilities. I was in survival mode. For a month I didn’t feel like doing anything but sleeping and interacting with my voices.
The voices told me lots of stories I believed to be real. The more I interacted with them, the more I believed they were real people.
Eventually, I scheduled an appointment with a psychiatrist and got my medicine adjusted so I could pull myself out of the rut I was in and function again.
The medicine wasn’t the only thing that helped me pull out of the funk. Writing and crocheting again, getting out into the sunshine, and using coping skills like staying busy so I wouldn’t converse with the voices all helped bring me back to reality.
I realized the connection between creativity and healing. I still must relearn it repeatedly. If I don’t get my creative energy out through writing or other outlets, the energy manifests itself as the voices getting stronger; drawing me into conversations, telling me many stories and lies.
To keep the voices from misdirecting my creativity, I must… [Read More]
Editing can be the bane of a writer’s existence. It doesn’t matter if your writing style is structured or unstructured or if your strength is content or copy editing. Knowing which editing approach works best with your writing style and strength lessens the inevitable pain of editing your work.
Want to further improve your impact? Walk away. Give yourself time and space away from your work. This improves your objectivity.
Your strengths also dictate what you do. If you have an eye for content editing concerns, then you could start editing your draft by yourself and know what it needs. If copy edits are more your area of expertize, send it to some friends you trust with an eye for content or join a critique group to learn what your manuscript could use some work on.
You can edit as you go, reading through what you wrote the day before and perfecting it, or you can edit once you have the entire rough draft written.
As an unstructured writer, your needs are different from a structured writer. Let’s compare your needs and editing strengths to improve your revision process.
Lack of Structure and Copy Editing Strength
Editing requires structure. Read your draft from beginning to the end, taking notes of anything you could improve upon, like description, setting, character development, relationship development, plot, etc. While listing your desired changes, also document your timeline for each scene. An outline helps you feel less overwhelmed.
The outline could be on Post-its, index cards, a word document, in a notebook, or a storyboard. The best method is the one that allows you to see the bigger picture and make changes easily.
Once you have a rough outline, look through your novel again. Look for plot holes, structure, grammar, issues, and other story killers. Part of being a writer is killing your darlings. Keep a file of scenes you have cut for possible reuse elsewhere.
Go through each scene and figure out what your character’s goal is. Are the goal, motivation, and conflict clear in each scene? If not, make it clearer.
If you truly have no idea what to fix, join a critique group with other writers. Ask them to help you or hire a content editor to help tame your manuscript. Have friends or family beta read and give you feedback.
Fix the outline first, then the manuscript. Once you are… [Read More]
There are four main types of editors: content editors, also known as developmental editors; line or copy editors, formatters and proofreaders. Each type of editor focuses on a different aspect of your work and fixes problems within their area of expertise.
Content or Developmental Editors
Content editors focus on the big picture ideas of your work. Things like structure, scene order, plot and character development, emotional arcs, and infusing the theme into every scene. If you are just starting out with writing, it’s worth the investment to hire one of these if you are able. They can work with you during any part of the process, from developing the idea and premise for your book to editing the finished drafts. Expect to do a lot of rewriting and rearranging, adding and deleting scenes when you do these types of revisions and edits.
So far, we have talked about things you can do before you write. We have talked about planning your story, whether that’s outlining or pantsing, controlling the surrounding environment when you write, and rituals you can do to kick start your brain into writing mode. But what about the actual drafting process?
There are several ways you can approach the first draft. These range from how you write sentences, how fast you write the draft, and whether you revise before you finish writing the draft.
Mind Barf vs. Careful Construction: Writing Sentences
If you write more lyrical prose or your training is in poetry, chances are you think about every word before you write it. You craft the perfect sentence, or at least a deliberate one, before moving on to the next.
Other writers type or scribble whatever comes to mind as fast as it enters their brain. I like to call this mind barfing onto the page. The only limitation here is how fast your fingers move.
You may be somewhere in between these two, depending on what you are writing, how fast your brain works, and how many times you edit the words in your head before you write them down. Some writers outline only the major plot points, while others only outline the characters. This is a good way to get the major events in a story without always having to rewrite a detailed outline over and over. For more information on these types of outlining, check out the first article in this series: Outlining Vs Pantsing.
Turtle Writers vs. Rabbit Writers: How Fast Do You Write?
If you fall into the careful construction of each sentence category, you are probably a turtle writer. This means you may bang out a couple of hundred words of your project daily and call it a day. You take a lot longer to finish the first draft, but it’s more polished than those who mind barf every thought. You may produce more words than a couple hundred when you write, but you take a lot more time to get the same amount of words as your mind-barfing counterparts.
If you are in the mind-barf camp, chances are you can bang out a couple thousand, if not tens of thousand words a day in a relatively short amount of time. Your fingers fly over the keyboard or your handwriting is on the messy side because of how fast you scribble just to get everything on the page.
Old School vs. Tech: How Do You Write?
Some writers enjoy using pen and paper for their first drafts. It feels great to write this way. Plus, when you type everything up into your computer, you automatically have a more polished draft because you edit as you go. The feeling of crossing things out, drawing circles and arrows, and other such revision processes are satisfying. A lot of turtle writers and construction writers like to write by hand.
The downsides to writing by hand is that you have to count your words manually. You could lose a notebook and all of that work is just gone, without a backup. Handwriting is usually slower than typing up your work. This method also hurts your hand if you’re not used to it.
Others like the feeling of typing because you can get your words out quickly and save it in several places so you’ll always have a backup of your work. Also, you can copy, paste, cut, delete, and move things around more easily without crossing things out. It’s much cleaner than writing by hand. It’s also easier to change the formatting to meet publisher requirements and you don’t have to take that extra step to type it all up. Mind-barfers tend to end up in this camp.
Downsides to typing include eye strain, the expense of having to print things out, and losing things if you don’t save regularly or have auto-save set up.
Goal Setters vs. Go-With-the-Flow People: Do You Set Deadlines?
Setting deadlines, such as finishing your book by a certain date, writing a certain number of words each day, or … [Read More]
Sometimes it’s hard to get into the right mindset to write. That’s where rituals come in.
How Will a Ritual Help?
For anyone who has taken a Psych 101 course, you may have heard of classical conditioning. That is, associating one unrelated stimulus with something else. But what does this have to do with writing or rituals?
If you do the same thing over and over before you write, you can trick your brain into the right mindset. Doing the same ritual and teaches your brain to associate it with writing. Ritual will make it easier to snap into writing mode and allow you to get into a flow more easily.
Kinds of Rituals
There are lots of kinds of rituals you can try. They can be certain smells, certain foods, putting on a particular genre of music or a certain piece of clothing, or a variety of other rituals. The trick here is to only use these when you are about to write, and not at other times.
Tastes and Smells
These are some of the strongest senses and will be the most effective in getting you into the writing mindset quickly.
Always have the same beverage before you write. Light a certain scented candle. Eat the same food, like a candy bar or other type of snack. Put on the same perfume before you write. Use a specific scent in an essential oil diffuser, but be careful if you have pets. Certain essential oils can be toxic to our furry friends.
Play a certain genre of music when you write. Do you have a… [Read More]
This is the second article in the Writing Methods series. You can find the first article, about different outlining or pantsing methods, here.
Creativity can change. Things that worked for a long time might stop working. There are several things you can do to try and prevent this from happening, including controlling the environment you write in. It’s all about training your brain and finding out what works best for you.
Some writers work best with background noise, such as music or ambient noise. Others work best in complete quiet. If you are one of the former, experiment with listening to music while you write. Classical or instrumental might be a good place to start if you have never done this before. If you want to try something a little tougher, put on a playlist of familiar music with lyrics. The key here is it has to be familiar because anything new will draw your attention away from your writing.
If you don’t feel comfortable writing with music, you can go to a coffee shop, library, park, or other public place to work, depending on the level of ambient noise you prefer. Experiment with different places and times to see what level of ambient noise works best for you.
You can also experiment with ambient noise through headphones such as binaural beats (check out Brain.fm), nature sounds, or other ambient noise for creativity or studying from YouTube or websites like coffitivity.com, where they record ambient noise and play it back on an endless loop. You could also put on the radio or TV in the background, but this might be more distracting than helpful.
If you are a writer that likes silence, invest in a pair of noise-cancelling headphones or earplugs. Writing from home or in a familiar place where you aren’t likely to be interrupted is key for your writing methods.
Some writers feel most comfortable at home, with fewer distractions. Others like being around people in public places so they can people-watch or eavesdrop to get story material.
If you feel most comfortable at home, you have several options. You can…[Read More]
This is part one of a series about different writing methods. I will share different approaches you can try to unlock your creativity. This week I will talk about outlining versus pantsing.
Creativity is a fickle thing. What works for one person doesn’t work for another. Many times, each project uses a different method. Experimenting is the best way to figure out what will work best for you and each of your projects.
This is the best-known writing method. When most people think of outlines they remember the detailed, paragraph-by-paragraph plan we had to turn in for research papers in school. The truth is, outlining can be as comprehensive or as sparse as you want it to be.
Some writers describe every scene in detail from the beginning through the end in a scene list. Others put these scene descriptions into a table that tracks the point of view, characters, timeline, and word count for each scene. Still, others fill out all the major plot points in a beat sheet, while some know only the beginning and end before they start writing.
For an example of a beat sheet, read Save the Cat or Save the Cat Writes a Novel. You can also use any number of beat sheets available online. A beat is a plot point. There are various methods and numbers of beats you could choose to plan. Some beat sheets calculate the approximate page number where something should happen depending on the target word count of the project.
Shop around and see if you can find a beat sheet or outlining method that might work for you.
So far, I have mentioned outlining methods that focus on planning out the plot. Some writers sketch out their characters in addition to, or instead of outlining plots. There are many techniques for building characters.
Have you ever written something that you never planned on publishing? I start most of my articles this way. Sometimes I even start a novel that I have no intention of publishing because the real-life events I wrote about are too recognizable. I worry the people involved might realize I was writing about them.
Why would anyone write something with no intention of publishing it?
For one, it takes the pressure off and allows creativity to flow. Think about journaling. People write down their thoughts and feelings and lock them up, hoping no one ever reads them without permission. It’s a record for us to revisit all our painful and joyous times whenever we want.
Yes, most of my fiction has elements of truth, some more than others. Still, there is a reason I don’t journal as much as I write fiction. When I am journaling, there isn’t enough distance between me and myself.
What do I mean by “not enough distance between me and myself”?
This article is an update on events in my life right now, regarding to the theme of change.
Change is hard. It’s a huge part of my life right now and the uncertainty is driving me crazy.
For one thing, one of my favorite Facebook groups for writers closed down. The admins had too much on their plates and couldn’t keep up with it. My heart hurt to see it close, so I decided that I would take over as sole moderator. It’s a small group, only twenty-seven people, but it’s a huge responsibility since I have to respond and interact with everyone on a daily basis.
Another change in my life is getting displaced out of my room because I have to get the ceilings fixed from Hurricane Irma. I need to pack up all of my things and move them somewhere else out of the way and private but still accessible. I hate having my “nest” disturbed.
Getting the ceilings fixed sets into motion the process of…[Read More]
Both of them were written in anger after a harrowing argument with my mom. I harbored a lot of resentment and anger toward her, and I wrote those articles as a response. It was wrong of me to make those public, and for this I apologize. I’m talking to you, Mom.
I have a habit of thinking in extremes, black and whites, and vilifying or making heroes out of people. I was further encouraged in this way of thinking by my grandma, who has the same habits, especially in regard to how she thinks about others.
I want to give reasons I was in the wrong during those arguments. I also want to explain why my mom is awesome.
One of the main ways I was wrong is for publishing something written in the heat of the moment. It was also wrong of me to vilify her. I simply had expectations of her she couldn’t fill. We’re still struggling to figure out how to navigate the stages between the parent-child and the parent-adult relationships, as most mothers and daughters do around my age. I still have an idealistic view of the world and what my parents can and cannot do. I’m learning to see them as human and accept their limitations without faulting them for it.
Do you struggle to stay organized? Do to-do Lists just feel too plain and don’t motivate you enough? A kanban board might help you stay organized and get all of your responsibilities and goals done.
What is a kanban board?
This begs the question; what is a kanban board? It’s an organization system that helps you see at a glance what you need to focus on during the week and see what you’ve accomplished. There are three sections of the board: Goals, This Week (Do it Now), and Accomplished.
The goals section should take up half of your board. This is where every task goes at the beginning. You can color-code the Post-its to match the goals. On my board (above), purple is my writing goals, hot pink is schoolwork, orange is my internships, yellow is my critique group, blue is a newsletter, and pastel pink is miscellaneous things. You can do the same thing based on your goals.
This Week (Do it Now)
Move the Post-its here when you need to focus on them during the coming week. It should be the middle quarter of your board. It helps you to know exactly what you must do. You can move them around as needed. My “week” is fluid, and often these tasks are completed as needed because I have flexibility. If you crave more rigidity, then put the deadline in the corner of the Post-it and get the task done before it’s due.
Congratulations! You finished a task. Now you can move the Post-it to the accomplished section on the bottom quarter of your board. Not only does this give you a rush of dopamine, but also it’s incredibly motivating to see everything you’ve accomplished stack up.
Refreshing the Board
The board goes through cycles of being…[Read More]
A lot of people in the writing-focused Facebook groups I am in have mentioned they’re depressed and don’t feel like writing. One of the most common questions asked is, “How can I get my creativity back on track?”
What I have found is the advice one person gives doesn’t always work for someone else. You must try many different things to find what works for you.
Here is a list of different tactics you can try to get your creativity back on track:
Take a walk, exercise, go outdoors, or run errands. Movement can help spark your creativity.
Photo by StockSnap via Pixabay
Take a hiatus. Take as long as you need. A hiatus can last from a few hours to years. I took one for four years, from 2013 until 2017. The four-year break gave me fire and passion to not give up on my writing. I was so tired of not writing that I needed to write.
Work on another creative task: baking, cake decorating, sewing, cross stitching, knitting, crocheting, drawing, sketching, playing an instrument, singing, redesigning a website, using Photoshop or graphic design software, or whatever you feel like doing. Often, doing another activity can kick-start your creativity somewhere else.
Set an amount of time you will allow yourself to feel blocked, then force yourself to get out of the slump. Don’t let it control you, but… [Read More]
It’s the third week of National Novel Writing Month. Writers around the world are thousands of words behind on reaching their goal of writing 50,000 words in 30 days. Muses everywhere have gone on vacation and left no notice of when they will return. The NaNoWriMo slump is here.
How do we survive the slump week of NaNo? Here are some tips to get writing again.
Make a Catch-Up Plan
If you are thousands of words behind, it doesn’t help to try and catch up in one day. That’s an easy way to feel overwhelmed and discouraged. Instead, pull out those calculators and figure out how many extra words you need to write per day to catch up by November 30th. Aim for that new goal every day.
Write Out of Order
Did your manuscript hit a wall? Do you not know what to write next? Did you write yourself into a corner? The easiest solution is to write out of order. Write the scene that happens later in the book. You know, the one you’ve been dying to write. Work your way backward from there. Or, rewrite the novel starting from the scene where you last felt inspired and create a new sequence of events. If you don’t know what to write next, spend some time reading through what you have, but don’t edit. This may help you figure out where to go next.
Be a Rebel
You can count anything towards the 50,000-word goal. I have counted journal entries, notes I’ve taken from articles or videos on writing craft, and this article. You can count grocery lists, homework, or social media posts if you want. It’s up to you. Make sure to type these up in a word document so you can verify your word count. You could also work on several different projects if writing out of order doesn’t help bring your muse back from his or her sudden vacation.
A girl quietly pads over to her window in the dark of night. She separates the curtain with a quiet swoosh and perches on the wide windowsill. She looks up at the lighthouse on the far shore. Its beam of light illuminates her room and face every other minute. The harbor is silent as she starts to think.
What is she doing here, all alone on a Friday night? She has no friends; people say she is too deep a thinker for them to understand. Or maybe she is just weird, for liking school as an escape from her home. She’s not one to stand out from a crowd, but nor is she one who blends in. Instead she is a part of a different crowd, one she has yet to meet.
She sits alone, hoping that one day she will find someone like her, maybe someone nearby, who sees her in all her beauty. Looking over the harbor she scans the water for any sign that she will find that one person.
As she sits in silent solitude, she hears a footstep followed by another and another. Her breath catches in her throat, as she sits silently, waiting for the steps to subside, hoping against hope that they would not reach the stairs before she could close the curtain, get into bed, and regulate her breathing.
Unfortunately, that does not happen. The steps go quickly up the stairs, thump, thump, thump. She struggles with the curtains. One sticks. As the curtain finally moves, she starts to hop into bed, but too late. The sliver of light that falls over her face makes her freeze. She is frozen when she hears her father’s voice.
“My daughter…what are you doing up so late?” He is genuinely concerned, but she hates these nights. The concern is suffocating, every question of worry pushing the pillow harder over her face, the air becoming thin and scarce. Every question of why she has no friends, why she is always alone and prefers it that way.
But that was the problem. She didn’t prefer to be alone; she was just searching for someone like her, and as of yet, she had found not one person she had even a remote interest in.
“I am just looking over the harbor, father.”
“Nothing more? No thinking, sulking, or in any way hurting yourself?
To each question, she shook her head and looked him in the eye. She never understood why he had to ask such things. She had never hurt herself, and though she had sulked she didn’t do it often. And she never saw why thinking was so bad. She was a morbid thinker sure, but she wasn’t annoying anyone else, so what was the big deal?
“Okay…well, good night.” He reluctantly walked out the door and looked back with every step until the door was closed. The girl waited until the footsteps faded and then crouched by the vent. She always listened to her parents’ conversations and she learned a great deal about what they thought of her, without all of the questions posed toward her.
“I’m really worried about her Ellen. What are we going to… [Read More]
When people think of cults the Jim Jones incident of the 70s comes to mind. He laced Kool-Aid with cyanide and convinced his followers to commit a mass-suicide. But cults are a lot more common than that.
Cults usually have several defining characteristics. These are:
Members display zealous and unquestioning loyalty to a central leader, whether alive or dead, and follow his beliefs and ideas religiously.
Questioning, doubt, and other forms of dissent are discouraged and sometimes punished.
Meditation, speaking in tongues, and other mind-altering practices are used to expel doubts about the group and its leaders.
The leaders determine how members should think, act, and feel. This could be controlling which jobs or schools members should go to, who people should marry, and other personal life practices.
The group is elitist.
The group has an “us versus them” mentality and message.
The leader isn’t accountable to authorities in society today.
The group has a mentality of “the ends justify the means” that often results in lying to family members or collecting money for bogus charities and other ethically questionable behavior.
Peer pressure and other methods are used to control members with feelings of shame or guilt.
Members are often encouraged to cut ties with family or friends to make them dependent on the group for all of their social needs.
Recruitment of new members is a top priority.
Making money is also a top priority.
Members are expected to focus the majority of their time on the activities the group holds, regardless of previous obligations.
The most zealous members are completely dependent on the group and can’t imagine a life without it.
One of my friends, Ripley, allowed me to interview her about a religious cult she grew up in.
What was it like growing up in a cult? Specifically, before you noticed something was amiss?
It was nothing odd because it was all I knew. All my friends and their families did it so it was normal for me. I went to a small school within the church. All of my friends were a part of it. When I was young, I had church once every week. Then, in middle school, I had events several times per week. It was normal for me because of what I’d seen with others. It was really apparent something was off once I started opening my eyes, though.
When did you start to notice something was wrong? Was there a certain moment you realized?
Probably in the fourth grade. We were in Bible class at school and I started asking questions. The teacher shamed me, basically giving the impression to me and the other kids that asking questions wasn’t okay.
Another time, in middle school, my mother was struggling to pay tuition to keep me in the church’s private school. I almost had to go to public school, which I had been excited about. All of a sudden the money appeared. It turns out everyone had offered to help pay so I could stay. That struck me as odd.
Then, in high school, I had to go to public school. I was able to evangelize to my classmates at that point. They moved me from a middle school bible study group to a high school group early. It was almost like training me. In high school, we had even more meetings for the church. We had meetings three or four times per week.
What kinds of things did you notice were wrong with their teachings or attitudes?
It wasn’t very loving. It was very instructional. Religion shouldn’t be taught as if it has a handbook. It was like, “Here’s how to share your faith. Here’s how to share how God changed your life.”
They sent us to a retreat in the 8th grade to groom us on these things. They made us [Read More]
“Frat Girl” by Kiley Roache is a chick-lit book about a rebel. Cassie Miller is a girl who has aspirations to go off to her dream college in California. In order to do that, she needs to get a scholarship. The one she’s applied for needs her to propose a research project that relates to her major.
She’s a women’s gender studies major, so she proposes a project to join her father’s frat as a legacy. The frat has been in trouble for misogynist posters during a party. She proposes to expose the frat for its terrible behavior and disband the frat once and for all.
At first, things are going as planned. She wins the scholarship, rushes the fraternity, and survives all of the pledge tasks. She writes journal entries detailing their despicable behavior. But then things start to change.