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Saturday, June 26, 2010

Writing Workshop, Part I

This blog series is inspired by a message I recently received from a reader/fan/writer, Chris Alexander. He wrote:

Do you think you could make a blog post about how you as a writer every day are focused and motivated to writing a whole novel... Many aspiring writers may want some more advice besides just hearing " just write". I'd really like to hear your personal point of view on how u yourself just are focused and just sit down and write.

I'm all up and down the blogosphere telling aspiring authors to "write! write every day!" But Chris is right. That advice is almost too general to be helpful, and writing consistently is hard--I often believe that disciplining yourself to write every day is, in fact, the hardest part of writing! Besides, I got my Master's in Fine Arts for fiction--and despite the fact that I do not at all think that getting an MFA is necessary to the creative process, obviously I believed that in school there were lessons I could learn, and techniques I could absorb, beyond "just write"!

So I've decided to do a few posts over the next couple of weeks in which I try to give advice that is slightly more concrete...and potentially more helpful to people struggling through their first (or second, or third) novel. Chris, this one's for you.

First and foremost, I want to get something out of the way. Nobody writes novels. People write pages, word counts, chapters. If you sit down and think about writing a whole novel, it's incredibly daunting; however, if you just try to write a page a day, it becomes manageable. It's like running a marathon. You don't think about the whole distance; you just worry about putting one foot in front of the other.

I try to write 1,000 words each day, every day, with very limited exceptions. For younger or beginning writers, I think 500 words is a more reasonable number: you want it to be challenging and do-able.

Then there's the age-old question: But what do I write about? One thing we discussed a lot at my MFA program was the idea of an "inciting incident"; a change, conflict, tension, or circumstance that causes the rest of the story to unfold. This might be as small as an argument, or as dramatic as an alien invasion. But you as a writer--and we as a reader--need to know why the story is beginning now, at this point, on this specific day in the life of such-and-such character.

Brainstorming conflicts and inciting incidents is fun. Look! I'll do it now:

1. A door appears out of nowhere, and the main character chooses to go through it
2. Someone pulls a gun on someone else
3. A girl kisses her best friend's boyfriend
4. A girl kisses her best friend
5. A new boy moves to town

I could go on and on!

Keep a notebook (or an iPhone) on you. When you read or hear or see something interesting, write it down. Then you'll have a running list of story starts/ideas to work from later.

Next workshop: staying motivated, fleshing out story. Or something in that vein. As you can probably tell if you've been following this blog for any length of time, I don't actually really plan my blog posts. :)



DJ's Life in Fiction said...

Thank you so much for this post! I just finished writing my first draft, but my word count is too low for YA, so I need to stay focused and keep revising. I really appreciate you delving deeper into the "just write" advice and I can't wait to read the future workshop posts!

GhostFolk.com said...

Hi, Lauren. This is a wonderful post. Really like the advice to keep a notebook! I think I have a dozen of them all over the place.

Sometimes writing something down in a notebook is a better way for me to remember it than actually referring to the notebook later.


Melissa said...

Thanks for the tips! =)

Meredith said...

I'm so excited for this series of posts! I really need to start taking a notebook with me, even just on trips to the library or the grocery store. There's always something I want to write down. Thanks so much for the advice!

molly. said...

This reminds me of NaNoWriMo. It is the reason I wrote a novel. As a fifteen year old who wrote her first novel because of this site I strongly recommend it. nanowrimo.org

Roh said...

Hi Laure!
I have to told you that I finished "Before I fall" yesterday and I can't stop thinking of the characters, history, dialogue, Kent, Sam, Izzy, Lindsay... This is the best book I've read.
I only can say to you:THANKS YOU!
(Sorry, my english is so bad :) I'm from Spain!)

Ashley said...

Thanks this is something I have been waiting on. After you write a novel or draft how do you get it to be published and put on shelves?

Ashley C.

Daisy Whitney said...

This is great! I taught a few sessions of writing to my son's third grade class last year and choosing that "inciting incident" was a great way to get anyone to think about how to get started!

佳燕 said...


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