When I was a little kid, I loved playing with paper dolls. I’d cut their outfits out as quickly as possible, all the while thinking about what accent they’d have, what their life was like, what they would say to their friends. I guess that was the beginning of my life as a writer.
I’ve moved on to the adult version of paper dolls. After completing the first draft of my novel, I picked out which actors would play my characters if I had my dream cast. Then I made a note card for each character with their basic information, as well as some notes about their wants, motives, background and how they create tension with the protagonist.
I carry these note cards in my wallet, and whenever I come up with an insight about a particular character or a figure of speech they might use, I write it on the back of the card. Yes, I am stalking my characters.
Here’s a great tip for writers: When working on a scene, I take out the note cards for each of the characters who appear in that scene and place them next to the screen. This really helps me visualize the action, and remember the distinct voices for dialog. And it’s fun!
I was working on a complicated short story and I couldn’t figure out how to sequence the events. I sat at my computer copying and pasting, scrolling up and down the word document, searching for what should go where. Finally I just printed it out, cut up the different segments and laid them all out on the floor. I tried out many different sequences until I found the best one. I also cut up some blank strips of paper and put them in between sections that needed a transition.
It was so helpful to edit my story in this unconventional manner. I spend so much time on the computer, sometimes I forget that writing can happen off the screen. I highly recommend trying this out, but first, here are two tips:
1. Wait a little while before putting it in order. I tried putting it in order right after printing it and I ended up putting it back in the exact same order. I tried it again the next day, and came up with a much better, fresher order.
2. If you have pets, tape it up as soon as you’re done .
Even if this short story goes nowhere, Marla will always love my writing.
- Runaway, by Alice Munro (thevolcanic.com)
- Overcomplicated Simplicity – My article for AHA Authors Helping Authors. (susanpolp.wordpress.com)
- Learning From My Mistakes… (enleewrites.wordpress.com)
When you have a lofty goal it’s crucial to set goals along the way, and then reward yourself for reaching those goals. It could take years to reach my goal of publishing my novel, In the Pride, so why should I wait that long to celebrate my hard work?
Recently I started posting my short-term goals next to my desk, and it’s a great reminder of the steps I need to take to get where I want to go. It’s also fun to keep track of the goals I have completed. Under each goal I write a reward. I’m currently on my third draft, so when I reach 100 pages (which I did this weekend!) I go out for a fancy dinner, for 200 pages I go to a writer’s conference, and for finishing this draft I will visit Idaho where a good chunk of my story takes place.
Another practice that has helped me stay motivated is logging the hours I spend writing. Sometimes it can feel like I’m working so hard with nothing to show for it, but watching the numbers accumulate is a great reminder of my commitment.