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Wednesday, April 4, 2012

it's not the way that I want it - it's just the way that I need it day after day

I have a somewhat distinct memory from when I was about seven or eight. I'm sitting in the library at my elementary school, and there's a TV on in front of us with an author talking about writing. I am 98% that the author talking was Gary Paulson, because I remember that we had to read Hatchet and I didn't really care for it, but I think he had another book that I did like.

Anyway, what I remember the most is Gary Paulson talking about his writing process. He mentioned something about outlining and taking notes, to which I went, "Pfft. I'll never outline or take notes. Those only slow me down." He also talked about how much he originally loathed the computer, but how he'd come to love using it and it made his writing and editing so much easier, to which I went, "Pfft. I'll never use computers. Those things are awful."

I actually remember having a conversation with another student about how stupid computers were and how I refused to ever own one. We had Macs in the computer lab in school, and I was required to taking computer classes a couple times a week, but I hated it. With the exception of Carmen Sandiego and Number Munchers.

(Side note: I had Keyboarding from like Kindergarten until sixth grade. I hated it so much. Now I love typing, and I'm grateful for the school for forcing me to do it. Way to be on top of things Blooming Prairie Elementary School).

Back to my main story: I was basically an idiot when I was seven or eight. I was so wrong about things, and Gary Paulson was so right.

I didn't really start outlining and taking notes until I was about nineteen or twenty. I was working on a story, and I didn't think I could write fast enough to come up with all the ideas, so I started outlining out of necessity. It ended up being the second novel I'd ever finished. The first novel was roughly 70-80K words and took me nine months to write. The second novel, the one I outlined, was over 100K words and took me about 6 days. (I'm pretty sure that I wrote that book in some kind of manic episode, but that's a story for another day.)

So from then on, I was hooked on outlining and taking notes. The way I outlined hasn't changed much over time. I've discussed it in a previous post where I showed an example from an unfinished novel that I have no intention of finishing. (You can check that post out: here.)

The way I take notes has changed. The Watersong series is the newest series I'm working on, and the notes on it are so ridiculously intense. I have pages and pages of handwritten notes (I hand write all my notes and outlines). Then I scan them into the computer so I can't lose them. I have physical files full of notebook pages. I had do research for the book, so I even printed off the articles I used from the internet or photocopied pages from the books, so I know exactly where I got my information so I can double check it.

And that's made my life so much easier.

I'm working on something right now, a little fun something, and I want to go back and check notes from a previous project, but unfortunately, my notes weren't always so great. So I'm having troubles trying to figure something out, and that's really impeded what should be a very quick, little project.

So here's a tip: Before you start writing a book, name everything. Every character, every city, every street. Anything you think might possibly come up. Even make up extra names on the off chance you might need a minor character somewhere in the book to say a few lines. Get their first, middle, last name, date of birth, physical appearance, fun facts, etc, and write it all down.

Because nothing sucks worse than being in the middle of groove, the words are flowing and everything's going good, and then you have to stop and go, "Wait. What's their name?" And then you spend the next three hours trying to pick out a name or find a name or an eye color or birth date, and then the whole mood is lost and you just give up and go upstairs to watch reruns of Chopped on the Food Network.

P. S. I'm still working on ideas from yesterday's post. I should have a concrete idea of what I'm going to do and how you can participate by Monday next week. Thanks for all the ideas!

27 comments:

  1. Great advice, Amanda! I still can't believe you wrote that novel in 6 days! Oh, wait. Yes I can :) You rock!

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  2. Yep...I hope a few new writers will listen to you. I try to know almost everything about my characters before I really start writing their stories. Years ago, I knew the people but didn't flesh out the story as well before writing...and it shows. From the first book in a series of 5, you can tell I didn't outline that first one at all...

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  3. I too have discovered the wonders of outlining...but I think I take it a little too far. When I first started, I refused, and what I ended up with was a mucked-up 450,000 word opus that I had to GO BACK AND OUTLINE AFTER IT WAS DONE TO KEEP EVERYTHING CONSISTENT! So I outline everything now--even projects I don't plan on starting for a year or more. And they're HUGE. The one I scribbled for the first book in a new series is 18 handwritten pages, with every chapter detailed and a list of 44 characters. Overkill, I know. Maybe I'm developing OCD in my "old age." HA!

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    1. Wow, that is a lot. But with a book that long, that sounds about right. My outlines are usually 4-5 pages, sometimes longer, but my books are about 70-100K words usually.

      But I don't think there is one set length or one "right" way to outline. Whatever works for you, works for you. ;)

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  4. Great advice - thanks! I know the feeling of not being able to write fast enough to get all the ideas down, so making side notes is definitely a good way to go - I will work on that!

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  5. That's when you write FIND NAME in the middle of your manuscript and keep writing. You'll do the three hour search during edits. :) (And if you're like me, any excuse to get away from doing edits is a totally great thing!)

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    1. I've done that before. I don't remember on what book, but I do remember just putting in a generic "INSERT NAME LATER" or something like that.

      But I'm super OCD, so by the time I'd written "INSERT NAME" for the third time, I couldn't take it anymore, and I HAD to immediately go find a name or I would die.

      (I also can't wear jewelry or wear my hair down when I'm writing. Because of the OCD.)

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  6. Outlining characters does help when writing a long novel or a series. I found it also helps if you imagine who would play that part in a movie of your book. I've done that so often I'd be disappointed if Daniel Day Lewis didn't play the part of Dr. Alexander Noon in my Noon trilogy

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  7. Ha, V.J., I was thinking the same thing - yesterday I was on a roll and wrote LastName over and over again to the point where I started to think LastName sounded like a good last name. :)
    I have used this super intensive character diagram thing that Susan Bischoff has on her site. It's great for working out all those little nuances that you want you characters to have and can never remember.
    Amanda, I think I'll try things your way with my upcoming series - might as well start fresh, my research and such is a mess for the stuff I'm working on now. lol

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    1. Just wanted to say you and Amanda are both on my favorite Author list and I love your Zellie Wells Series. Amanda I've read all of your series! I can't wait to continue to read both of your future literature! Both of you inspire me!

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    2. Stacey Wallace BenefielApril 5, 2012 at 10:47 PM

      Hey, thanks! Readers inspire me and I'm going to go out on a limb here and say that is probably true for Amanda too. :)

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  8. I can write but will my Books get noticed,,i found out im competing with almost a million other authors !

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  9. I made it 3/4 of the way through my current manuscript writing it long hand (because I shared the laptop with the rest of the family). Then a few weeks ago I got my "writing only" laptop and some new software (Scriveners--it is amazing! Has places for research, has an outline function, notecards, character and place templates). I seriously believe that these two things helped me keep my sanity. I will NEVER write a novel longhand again, and never again without good software. Geez. Either I was insane or a martyr! Never. Again!

    Live and learn (and then forget...relearn again...ad nauseam).

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    1. I used to write everything by hand, probably until I was about 12 or 13, and that after that, I would still journal by hand and write notes and outlines by hand. So now I have a giant permanent lump on the side of my middle finger on my right hand. If I'm writing by hand a lot, it gets even bigger and turns red.

      Do you have one of those fancy lump things too?

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    2. I have a spot where the skin got really hard and tough on the side of my finger that I would press the pencil against. I didn't care and pressed on. Then a few months later I started to develop pain in my finger. It got so bad I had to change the way I hold a pencil. :(

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    3. Haha I have one of those lumps too! It totally makes my hand look ladylike and sexy ;)

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    4. I used to think everybody had one of those writing lumps. Then in about 5th grade I started thinking I had a major finger defect. After using the computer for several years the lump has diminished a bit and now about the only thing I actually write out is my signature (which is looking like it needs my finger to work on getting it's lump back!) I love writing things out on paper but I LOVE how the computer can move things around and delete and keep things in order!

      I just now finished reading TORN and can't wait to read the next book! I came here to find out when it will be out and I just LOVE that I found your blog. Thanks for the writing tips. My family has been telling me I should write books my whole life, and I actually started one once, doing an outline much like your example, but I have a hard time letting my imagination run wild and come up with something I think will be fun to read.

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  10. I write outlines for most of my books. Originally, for one of my stories, I refused to write an outline because it was in my mind that it would slow me down. Plus, I already had a fair amount of chapters completed without typing an outline. However, I had gotten stuck and realized that I needed to go back and continue writing outlines (specifically for my chapters) to help me finish the remaining chapters.

    Sometimes, outlines work for some people, while others can work without them. Great post, Amanda! :)

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    1. Oh, no I definitely don't think outlines are for everyone or for every project. Some great writers never outline. I personally know that outlining helps me, but that's just me. ;)

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  11. You have inspired me to attempt to outline my novel...or what remains of it, which is a lot. I have some of it outlined, but I'm basically just coming up with things, plot wise, as I go along. Probably due to this, I have had this huge road block in my plot for quite some time (most likely still do, but I'm pushing my way, word by word, through it). To be honest, I just don't really know where my plot is going to go from here. I have how it started and I have how it ended, but the road going there is a dark void of nothing but partial ideas floating aimlessly about. I have considered ditching the book completely sometimes, but I just can't bring myself to quitting in the middle of what I've already spent two years working on. But I am going to try outlining it and see what happens! Hopefully making it will help me see where I'm going so I'm not fumbling around in the dark like I am now.

    And a novel in six days? O.O My goodness. You rock!

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  12. Your blog is just great! I'm a writer as well, a screenwriter and novelist from France, totally bilingual and able to write in English. You can check my name and works on amazon (especially Charlie's Trips). I've read all your books and I thought that I could translate them well into French. I'd love to do that. Just tell me if you're interested. Thanks for your time, and good luck with your upcoming works!

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    1. Thank you for the offer, but my books have already been sold to a French publisher in Quebec and a French publisher in France, so they're being translated by them. I'm not sure exactly when my books will be out in those countries, though. They're being translated in over 20 languages, and it's hard for me to keep track when they're being released in what country.

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  13. Amanda, Thanks for the info about outlining. I have plot problems because I didn't take the time to outline in enough detail. So now revision is actually 're-writing.'
    I'm now reminding myself that there are probably no shortcuts.

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  14. They didn't offer keyboarding in any of the schools I went too.

    I use the "hunt and peck" method of typing where you have to look at the keyboard and then check your work at the screen a few seconds later. :(

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  15. Amanda I am writer and am writering a book is about about a chineese princess being kidnapped by ninja.And she fall in love with him but i have trouble with the plot i want my readers to know what the kidnapped princess is feeling.Do you have any advice on how to make my book better?

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  16. YES. Outline. Always. You might be one of those truly gifted, superhuman people who don't have to do so, but I definitely find those to be the exception rather than the rule.

    OUTLINE!

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  17. Some form of pre-planning is definitely helpful, absolutely. Thanks for sharing your process!

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