Tag Archives: writing advice

My 2020 Writing Goals

Hello everyone!

For me, the end of December/beginning of January means it is time to set new writing goals. I have learned that my productivity for the new year is dependent on my setting achievable goals and creating a plan for achieving those goals.

Yes-No ChecklistMy Rules for Goal Setting

  1. Set three-five writing-related goals for the year.
  2. Make the goals specific so that it’s easy to know when you have achieved them.
  3. Unless there is a deadline, give yourself more time than you think you’ll need to accomplish each goal.

Open BooksMy Writing Goals for 2020

  1. Read 50 books.
  2. Blog consistently (every two weeks).
  3. Have the first three books of my chapter book mystery series, Big Bad Wolf Detective Agency, ready to show to agents and editors by the first week of June.
  4. In late June or early July, begin querying the Big Bad Wolf Detective Agency and short stories.

I hope you have a happy, productive year!

Happy goal setting!

Katie

True Confessions of an Advancing Writer

Hello everyone!

This year has been one of many ups and downs.  Some really great things have happened to me and my family, but we’ve also had some tragedies.  Overall, I’d say that 2019 has been a good year, but I am ready to welcome 2020.

Something that I learned in 2019 is that life can get crazy really quickly, and that it is important to have a backup plan for when that happens.

ProcrastinationWhen I started blogging back in 2016, I tried to pump out blog posts on a weekly basis, but I didn’t know anything about writing a blog, and the content I produced was terrible.  As I learned what makes a good blog post, I realized that putting out a quality post takes time and isn’t something I can commit to doing every week.  That was when I changed my posting schedule to one blog post every two weeks, which, for the most part, I was faithful in doing…until the 2019 craziness hit.

The MuseWhenever it was a blog post week, I would ask myself what was inspiring me or what I wanted to learn about, and then I’d spend several hours researching, writing, and editing.  That method worked until this year.  When the 2019 craziness hit and I got overwhelmed, I didn’t feel inspired to write and I didn’t have the energy to do research.  As a result, I missed several blog posts and was late with others.  I am not proud of my blogging frequency for 2019, so I asked myself, “What am I going to do so that I post consistently in 2020?”  The answer: Pre-planning.  (I know, I should have been pre-planning all along, but I have always been a procrastinator, and it wasn’t until 2018 that I finally decided to start pre-planning and outlining my books.  I hadn’t gotten around to applying that epiphany to my blog.)

I sat down and wrote out the months of the year.  Then, I looked up holidays, seasonal events, and writers’ birthdays.  Using that as inspiration, I came up with two or three themes that I wanted to cover for each month in 2020.  I look forward to returning to posting regularly and am proud that I found a way that will work for me to meet my blogging goals.

One theme that seems to repeat itself in my life is this: You will never get everything right, but if you learn from your mistakes, you can do better next time.

MistakeIf there is an area in your writing, or in any part of your life, that you are not satisfied with, I would encourage you to honestly evaluate that area to find out what you can do to improve it.  Then, make and implement a plan.  The first plan might fail.  That’s okay.  You’re moving in the right direction.  Keep re-evaluating and trying new things until you find what works for you.  You only fail when you stop trying.

Caveat: Unless a plan bombs so badly that you know there is no way it will ever work, give the plan four to eight weeks of a fair try before you discard it for a new one.  New habits take time to form, so give yourself the time you need.

Happy writing!

Katie

Honest Goal Assessment

Hello everyone!

As a writer, and as a person in general, it is important to self-evaluate to see what we are doing well and where we need to improve.  One way I do this is by setting goals and then reviewing them to see how well I met them.

This year, I had three writing related goals:

  1. Complete the re-write of The Four Crystals.
  2. Write at least the first book in my chapter book mystery series.
  3. Stack of BooksRead 50 books.

When I created my goals for 2019, I thought they were achievable.  And, for the most part, they were.

Goal #3: I’ve read or listened to over 70 books.

Goal #2: I got Book 1 of my chapter book mystery series to a polished state and completed a rough draft of Book 2.

Goal #1: Although I made progress, I will not complete the re-write of The Four Crystals this year.

Archery TargetMeeting two out of three goals is not bad, and I have to remind myself of that, but my failure to complete my number one goal bothered me.  When I reflected over why I had failed to achieve what seemed like a perfectly reasonable goal at the beginning of 2019, I came up with the following list of reasons I had not succeeded.

  1. I was in a musical during the summer, and between my day job and rehearsals, I did not have time to write.
  2. Instead of treating the re-write like the creation of a new rough draft, I attempted to create a first draft, which is a little more polished and takes more time to write.  (My definition of a rough draft is the same as Allison K. Williams’ vomit draft, and my first draft is a hybrid between her story and character drafts.  See “Optimal Editing.”)
  3. I am part of two writer’s groups and teach a weekly German class, so some of my free time is devoted to participating in and preparing for those activities.

Once I gave myself that reality check, I had to decide what to do with my discoveries so that I would meet my future goals.

  1. Summer Musical: I enjoy acting.  Theater has been a big part of my life, but at this stage, writing has become more important to me than performing.  I decided that unless a local theater was putting on one of my dream shows, I would take a break from acting until at least autumn 2020.
  2. Binder with Marked-up ManuscriptRough Draft versus First Draft: Although writing a first draft instead of a rough draft would not be time efficient for a new project, it is the right choice for The Four Crystals.  I have a very clear idea of what I want the story to be, and I need to see whether or not my vision for the book is working.  A rough draft would not help me to determine that, but a first draft would.  I need to adjust my timeline for the re-write.
  3. Writer’s Groups and Teaching: Being involved in writer’s groups exposes me to genres I would not choose to read on my own, which benefits me as a writer.  The feedback I get from the groups is beneficial and helps me to hone my craft.  At this point, I think that staying active in both groups is the right choice.  As for teaching, I made a commitment for the 2019-20 school year, but come 2020-21, I need to consider if offering a weekly language class is in the best interest of my writing career.

What I took away from my goal evaluation is that I still have room for improvement when it comes to time management and that I need to be even more selective when committing to different activities.  At least my 2019 goals were more realistic than the ones I set for 2018.  I am learning and improving!

As 2019 comes to a close, I highly encourage you to look over your own goals for 2019 and determined what worked, what didn’t, and why.  Then, apply what you learned when creating your 2020 goals.

Happy writing!

Katie

Do Your Research

Hello everyone!

When I first decided that I wanted to be a fiction writer, I had no idea how much research would be required.  One of the reasons I chose to write fiction instead of non-fiction was so I could avoid doing research; however, I have learned that in order to have a believable story, a certain amount of research is required.

My search history must make me look like a lunatic.  I have researched some really interesting things like cooking over lava, swarms of wasps, and how to sharpen a sword, and some more normal stuff like hay harvesting and hours of operation for pools.  Needless to say, I am extremely grateful for the Internet.

Library aisleOne thing I often struggle with is knowing when to stop researching.  There is always more to learn on a topic than you actually have to include in your story.  In her article, “How To Research Your Novel … And When To Stop,” Joanna Penn offers some tips for different ways to conduct research and how to balance conducting research with writing.  She uses examples from her own novels to demonstrate how to apply both concepts.  In “Top 7 Tips For Researching Your Novel,” Claire Bradshaw offers much of the same advice as Penn and includes advice on how to access research resources.

I hope you also find the articles helpful!

Happy writing!

Katie

Finding the Beats

Hello everyone!

Last year, I decided that I wanted to write a chapter book mystery series.  The problem was I didn’t know how chapter book mysteries were structured.

Magnifying GlassBefore I started writing, I read over 20 books from different mystery series.  Every time I read another book, I paid special attention to how it was similar to other books within the same series, and I also compared it to trends I had found in other mystery chapter book series.  It was a time-consuming process, but it paid off when it came to outlining the first book in my mystery series and editing the rough draft into a polished version.

Below is an exercise I did that I recommend to anyone who wants to get a better grasp on the established beats for books in a specific genre.

  1. Read a book in the genre you want to write.  (I think this exercise works best when done with a book that you have not read before.)
  2. Read chapter one.
    • Write down what you know about the protagonist.
    • Write down what you know about the antagonist.  (The antagonist might not be a person.  It could be an organization, a weather phenomenon, etc.)
    • Write down the information which you think will be important in the rest of the book.
    • Write down the names of characters who were introduced in this chapter and their relationship to the protagonist.
    • Write down what you think the main conflict will be for the book.
    • Write down any major events that occurred in this chapter.
  3. Read chapter two.
    • Write down the same information that you did for chapter one.
    • Write down any additional plot information.
    • Be sure to note if the protagonist attempted something in this chapter along with whether he/she succeeded or failed.
  4. Six Pages of NotesContinue doing this for each chapter. (If you hand write your notes, I recommend having a separate piece of paper for each chapter.)
  5. Once you’ve finished the book, go back and find the beats.
    • In which chapter was the conflict introduced?
    • In which chapter did the climax take place?
    • At what point(s) in the book did the protagonist fail or hit a setback?
  6. Now, read a second book in your writing genre and repeat the exercise you did with the first book.  (Subsequent books can be ones you have read before or books that are new to you.)
  7. Compare the two book outlines.  Which beats were the same and which ones were different?  (If you repeat this process with a third book, you will start to see the pattern for the genre emerge.)
  8. Use this pattern to guide your outline for your own book in this genre.  (I recommend reading no less than five books, 10-20 is better, in the genre you want to write before you start writing your own book.)

Happy writing!

Katie

Developing Believable Protagonists

Hello everyone!

For me, the protagonist is what makes or breaks a story.  If I don’t like or relate to the main character, I won’t get on board with the plot.  I have stopped reading books when this happened.

The two crucial things to do are to make your protagonist relatable and to have him/her grow throughout the story.  Relatable characters are believable.

The Positive Trait Thesaurus and The Negative Trait ThesaurusTwo resources I like for developing believable characters are The Positive Trait Thesaurus and The Negative Trait Thesaurus, both written by Angela Ackerman and Becca Puglisi.  The lists for each trait really help with developing realistic, multifaceted characters.

As a way of ensuring that my protagonist’s thought processes, voice, and reactions feel real, I often endow my main character with part of my personality.  For a more in-depth discussion about this method, which some authors view as problematic, read “Who me? Not I!” by Gail Carson Levine.  She includes suggestions for writing characters that are nothing like you and some writing prompts designed to help you avoid accidentally writing yourself into your protagonist.  My advice is if you choose to write yourself into your main character, make it an intentional choice.

Below are three things that I consider vital when creating a believable protagonist:

  1. Know what’s motivating your protagonist and let that guide his/her actions and responses (“The Wonder of ‘Why?’: Getting to the Heart of the Matter”).
  2. Make sure your protagonist is not perfect (“Character Flaws”).
  3. Show how your protagonist feels through facial expressions and body language (“Writing Books with Emotional Savvy”).

Happy writing!

Katie

Cause and Effect

Hello everyone!

Cause and effect are vital to consider when telling a story.  Events don’t just happen.  Something allows them to happen.  Take a look at history.

What caused World War II?  Well, Hitler coming to power was a big part of it.  But what allowed Hitler to gain power in the first place?  Several things.  One being that he was a good orator, and Germany was weak both politically and economically.  What led to Germany’s predicament?  The Treaty of Versailles was largely to blame – Germany got a debilitating deal after World War I.  Why was the Treaty of Versailles so skewed against Germany’s interests?  You can keep unwinding this thread as far as you want.

Cause and Effect (1)Just as historical events led to World War II, something that happened before the start of your story should account for the state of your character’s world at the beginning of the book.  Equally important is making sure that events that occur earlier in your book lead to later events.  If an event does not force something else to happen, you probably don’t need that event.

An easy way to know whether or not you have good cause and effect in your book is to phrase the events of your story in a continuous run-on sentence.  You should always say, “this happened because of this.”  Never say, “this happened and this happened.”  “Because” means that the action is moving.  “And” is a sign of rambling, and rambling leads to bored readers.  After you’ve created your run-on sentence, rewrite any sections of the book where you found yourself saying “and” instead of “because.”

Keep your story moving, and happy writing!

Katie