Wednesday, November 24, 2010

10 WOW Weds: 7 Ways to Write When You Don't Have Time

As the end of the year approaches and we're in the midst of holidays and end-of-the-year time crunches, it's easy to let our writing slip through the cracks. It's also easy to look at what we haven't accomplished in the past year and judge ourselves.

Stop. That. Right. Now.

While we are being thankful for other things, we need to take time out to consider what we have accomplished as writers. What have we learned this year that we didn't know before? What have we done?  Have we written a few new chapters? Revised a manuscript? Written a new draft? Sent out queries with better responses than previously?

We have to give ourselves some credit, because face it, we're not likely to get much from outside ourselves. Thanksgiving is a time to be proud of our own accomplishments.

Here's a trick. While we're being thankful for everything else, let's write down three things we've done right in our writing lives this year. They can be big or small. And remember, that's three more than all those people who sit around saying they are going to write a novel, someday, if they ever have time.

I've heard from a lot of friends recently that they won't have time to write again until January. First and foremost, that's okay. As long as we're not feeling guilty or pressured about it. For the rest of us, aka the guilty and pressured, here are some things we can do in our heads even when we can't get to the computer:
  1. Fine tune plot elements. Look for holes and question every coincidence to make sure it is substantiated. If it isn't, find a better way for things to happen.
  2. Review character motivation. Ensure that everything every characters does has a reason that jibes with that characters goals and needs. Make this true for minor characters, too.
  3. Deepen characters. Make sure they all have quirks, likes, and dislikes. Do they each have traits to make them stand out from the other characters and make them easily identifiable? Describe every character in a sentence--and see if they sound interesting and unique. Twist them to make them just a little "out there."
  4. Check subplots. Do they all have a resolution? Do they all weave together into the theme or the main plot in some way? Are there enough? Too many?
  5. Assess world-building. Make the setting and world specific. Answer the big questions, but simultaneously shrink it down to details. What small, surprising things can bring the story to life? Think like JK Rowlings with her rich, surprising magical details that underscore that life at Hogwart's is magical, or Stephanie Meyer who shows us what it is to have vampire strength in a game of baseball.
  6. Consider theme. How do plot, subplots, characters, and worldbuilding work together to add meaning to the story?
  7. Shuffle scenes. Rate them. Rank them. Are any weak, lacking in tension, or just plain dull? Stand them on their heads, shake them up, and bring in something new and exciting.
It isn't important to answer all these questions at once, or even finishing answering any of them. But considering one while stuffing the turkey will engage the subconscious and keep the brain puzzling at it long after we're sitting down to eat.

The holidays are full of small, mindless tasks, many of them thankless. Turn them into writing time. Fuel the imagination. Inspiration doesn't come without preparation. We have to kick start it with a question or an observation, something to get it going, but it rewards us by continuing to puzzle at problems long after we've gone on physically to something else.

Happy holiday and happy writing,



  1. Great analysis! I love the fine tuning one. No matter how many times I go over a scene, character development, dialog, I always find some element (even just a sentence) that can be tweaked to be sharper and pack more of a punch.

  2. Really good advice. We should be thankful for whatever we've learned and accomplished. And even if we don't have time to writee as much, we can think about all the issues youu raised so we can be ready to go when we have time to write.

  3. Great post, Martina! Very true about getting in the guilt-rut in December. Love your suggestions about working out the details as we go about our holiday busywork! : )

  4. Great! And LOL - you found a way to use JKR and Meyer all in the same example. Kudos. :D There is so much to be thankful for! Have a wonderful Holiday.

  5. Great list of items to ponder, and something we can do to strengthen our writing while we carve the turkey or mash them spud-tatoes! I'm copying this list into a Word document right now....

  6. Excellent tips. I love the one about subplots. So important.

  7. Great, timely post! There's nothing like a good novel-focused shower.

  8. There are nine and sixty ways of constructing tribal lays,
    And every single one of them is right!

    All of your suggestions are indeed things that have to be done for a book in progress, and they're great--but for me, they're exactly the things that take long uninterrupted blocks of time (I need to hold several possibilities in mind and bump them against each other until one of them wins or they amalgamate). But I find I can always write another sentence in a spare minute, or another para in a spare ten minutes, and by expedients like emailing them to myself from my phone, carrying a steno pad, or sometimes just memorizing, the little delays and time-blips of the day can add up to as much as a thousand words. In fact this is so much more reliable than sitting down to rough draft with nothing else to do (gives me too much time to think of all the things I'd rather do than rough draft, like clean the kitchen or feel sorry for myself) that I find my too-busy times are the ideal ones for rough drafting.

  9. Great ideas, Martina. This time of year I'm thankful that I'm in the research stage of my next book. Research is always more low key and if I have to miss a day, I don't feel like I'm getting out of sync. I hope to wrap up the research phase so that I can begin the first draft in January.


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