Writing & Publishing Articles, Writing Craft & Tips

Writing Fears: The Manuscript Monsters

Every writer is closely acquainted with the blank page. You know the one: that ghostly white computer screen with the mocking black cursor, or that sickly pale paper one with the dizzying horizontal lines. When we, as writers, are confronted with that blank page, we face the beautiful and mysterious possibilities that our ideas hold. Will our words weave themselves into lyrical masterpieces? Only time will tell!

In equal measure to this euphoric hope and optimism is the overwhelming negativity and fear. The blank page is not only a welcome friend; it is also a threatening foe. Will our words wrestle against our authority? Like stubborn teenagers, will they curse and stay out past curfew and laugh at our attempts to corral them? Or will they become something worse?

Will our manuscripts turn into monsters?

ghostThe Ghost

The Ghost is perhaps the most terrifying manuscript. It is the idea that we fell in love with too hard and too fast. The one that we raced to the keyboard to type, only to sit down with a look of bewilderment, like someone awakening from a daydream. We abandon our beloved, leaving the page empty, white. The Ghost is the blank page manuscript, the one we never birthed. It proves to us that we are commitment-fearing, lazy, unambitious fools. It haunts us.

The Mummy

The Mummy is the manuscript that we (want to) believe is perfect. We treat it like a fallen Pharaoh. We wrap it in bandages to keep it together. Then, we wrap it in the most beautiful prose we can muster — each adjective becomes a ruby, each verb a sapphire, each word of dialogue a diamond. We encase it in a golden cover, our beloved Pharaoh, hidden away in its sarcophagus of jewels and gold. We go so far as to build a pyramid in its honor — each Tweet, each Facebook post, each proud remark to friends and family becomes a brick in the impressive structure that will hold our manuscript. Others come from miles around to admire it. But when they crawl inside the pyramid, pry open the sarcophagus, and peel back the bandages, all they find is a rotting corpse. The Mummy is the manuscript that we desperately try to make perfect and imposing, but that is still horrid. It shames us.

demonThe Demon

The Demon is the manuscript from Hell. It is the big idea, the one that has been simmering down in our subconscious, the one we know we can’t handle, but we summon anyway. We lure it out to the crossroads and try to seduce it into doing our bidding. The Demon pretends to agree, and it behaves, for a while. But then, halfway through, we realize that we were never in control. The ideas are beyond our grasp, every word burns our  fingertips, and it feels like we are not the one writing. And we aren’t. The Demon is the manuscript that we attempted too early, too hastily, too thoughtlessly. The Demon is the manuscript with a mind of its own. It possesses us.

The Vampire

The Vampire is the manuscript that drains us. It is the one for which sit down in front of our notebook, open the proverbial vein, and  bleed onto the page. We pour ourselves, the very essence of our humanity into it, and instead of fulfilling us, it makes us woozy and pale. The Vampire is the tiresome, long-winded, overemotional manuscript. It sucks us dry.

Frankenstein’s Monster

Because, as writers, we know that the Monster has no name, and Dr. Frankenstein is Frankenstein.

frankensteinThe Monster is the manuscript that makes us feel like Gods. When we write the Monster, we feel powerful and omniscient. We manipulate our characters with ease, building them from pieces of forgotten friends, stitching them into our ideals of perfection and imperfection. We create a world of our design. We tell a story for the world. And then, before we know it, the manuscript takes on a life of its own. It runs away from us, lashes out against us. And when we finally glimpse it in the moonlight, we see that it is not the manuscript we created. It has become vile, uncontrollable, grotesque. It is nothing like we planned. It is Our Monster.

At the beginning of the writing process, we all fear our manuscripts will be monsters. We want so badly for our words to morph into a respectable book instead of some Halloween creature. As much as we try to prevent it, at some point in the writing process, our manuscripts will likely become monsters. In fact, if you feel like your first draft is turning into a monster, it probably is. But that’s okay. Keep writing and finish crafting that hideous beast. Then, when it thinks it has won, give it a good revision to whip it into shape. The worst thing you can do is let your manuscript stay a monster.

No matter what, don’t let your fear of bad writing stop you from writing. Now, right now, grab that demon by the horns and get to work.

Writing & Publishing Articles, Writing Craft & Tips

NaNoWriMo Prep: My Strategy for November 2014

In case you missed it, here is my original post detailing my NaNoWriMo prep strategy. It is fully updated with links to all of my NaNo Prep posts, so if you missed any of those, they are all here! I’ll be back tomorrow with fresh content — a Halloween special!

Kate M. Colby

In my everyday life, I am a planner, 100%. My ardent love for lists is legendary among my family and friends, and my occasional

Credit to NaNoWriMo Prep page. Image from the NaNoWriMo Prep page.

(okay, frequent) tendency to color-code those lists is a lesser-known, but still unsurprising, habit. I am not one of those people who can skate through life willy-nilly. I know where I’m going, and I know how to get there. And if, for some reason, I launch into an aimless existential crisis, you can be damn sure I make a list and get a plan. Fast.

When it comes to my creative life, however, I relax the reins.

If you are anywhere remotely near the writing community, you’ll know that there are two types of writers: planners and pantsers. Planners meticulously organize their works before writing. They know the whole plot, every corner of their worlds, and each freckle on…

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Writing & Publishing Articles, Writing Craft & Tips

10 Tips for Creating a Healthy and Productive Writing Space

With NaNoWriMo just around the corner, hundreds of thousands of writers will be gluing themselves to the keyboard (or even the pen and paper) to write 50,000 words in 30 days. Not only does this task require dedication, motivation, and inspiration, more practically, it also requires writing tools and space.

As many NaNoWriMo participants are not career writers (as of yet, anyway), creating a healthy and productive writing space may be a new or entirely unconsidered concept. Even career writers, who spend the majority of their days, every day, writing, may not have thought about how to best utilize their writing tools and space for their own productivity, or especially, their health.

Whether you are a casual writer or a professional one, creating a writing space that facilitates productivity and does not harm your health is vitally important. While I am not a health professional or productivity coach, I have been compiling and brainstorming tips to best arrange my writing space. Here are 10 ideas for you to help you make your work space a center of progress and wellness.

clean space1. Clear Your Space

In her book, Wellness on a Shoestring: Seven Habits for a Healthy LifeMichelle Robin discusses the benefits of de-cluttering your space. She describes how, when you de-clutter your physical space, it helps to de-clutter your mind. By having an organized and clean work space, you won’t be distracted by a tornado-like mess, and you can focus on the task at hand: writing.

2. Clear Your Space of Distractions

Wherever you decide to write, make sure that only essential writing tools and essential nutrients are within arm’s reach. Obviously, you need your computer or pen and paper and research notes on hand, and maybe even a beverage or snack. But if you have anything else around, be it a fun distraction like your cell phone, or a practical one like your laundry, or even one for fidgeting like your car keys, chances are, your productivity will decline.

3. Drink Water 

As I tell my husband every time he grabs his morning coffee, your dependency on caffeine makes you weak. I don’t know why writers have a romance with coffee (Although, I feel like Hemingway is somehow to blame — or was that just booze?). Seriously, though, water is the best resource for hydration and, believe it or not, long-term energy. If you need to drink a few cups of java to get you started, fine. But don’t forget to flush it out with your eight, eight ounce cups of water.

healthy food4. Eat Healthy Snacks

According to many NaNoWriMo posts, chocolate is the writer’s snack of choice. Trust me, I cannot throw any stones here. I love chocolate. It’s my biggest weakness. However, I know it is not the best snack to be mindlessly eating while writing. Instead, if you must chomp away while you write, try carrots or celery or an apple. Save chocolate and all the other tasty junk food for your reward when you finally reach your 1,667 for the day.

5. Get Up and Move

It’s been proven that exercise helps increase creativity. That alone should encourage writers to get regular exercise. However, even if a 30 minute walk isn’t your thing, you should at least attempt to stand up and stretch every 45 minutes. Even simple movements increase blood flow and reduce the risk of blood clots and other risky conditions. One tactic for this may be writing with the Pomodoro Technique, in which you work for 25 minutes and then take a three to five minute break.

exercise ball desk chair6. Consider Your Chair

Having a comfortable and supportive chair not only helps keep your back and bum healthy, it also allows you to concentrate on your writing instead of your aching joints. If you are looking for bonus points, you might even consider using an exercise ball for your chair. Sitting on an exercise ball requires balance, and as your body tries to stay upright, it works your abs and strengthens your spine. Bouncing may also help to jiggle those genius ideas out of their hiding places!

7. Support Your Wrists

Your wrists carry a large burden when writing, especially when typing. They are arched up and responsible for coordinating the movements between your arms and fingers. Health experts advise having a resting pad or other device to place your wrists on when you write and type. However, even if you don’t have that, make sure to give your wrists a gentle massage and light stretching before and after writing. After all — they’re doing most of the work for you!

classical music8. Listen to Music

Picking the right mood music can boost your productivity. Studies show that classical music is great for putting your brainwaves in a creative mode and increasing concentration. Of course, even if you don’t like classical music, listening to any music can help make writing more enjoyable. I strongly suggest listening to music that inspires you or that conveys the mood of the work you are writing. However, know your limits. If the music becomes distracting, turn it off!

9. Make Your Space Sacred

While husbands and parents and friends and pets are wonderful and we love them, they can also be really distracting. Ask your loved ones to respect your writing space. When you are writing, you need to be focused to be productive. If you make your writing space sacred, you will be given the distraction-free zone you need, and your loved ones will learn to treat your writing seriously (even if it is not yet a full-time career). As a reward to them and yourself, you can always invite them into your space later, when your word count goals have been met.

no internet10. Disconnect from the Internet

While this may seem pretty self-intuitive, it is possibly the  hardest tip to follow. Let’s face it: nowadays, we are addicted to the internet. What’s worse is the internet is an easy distraction to justify. I mean, it’s the easiest way to research your novel, right? So you can just search that one little question, and then you can stop. Well, 10 seconds on Facebook can’t hurt…oh, and someone posted a cute picture on Instagram…and there’s a link to something on Twitter…and Pinterest…and…you’re screwed. Do your research and your socializing before and/or after writing. If you have a question while writing, put a note in your manuscript and come back to it after you meet your word count goal.

You are your best ally in making your writing space productive and healthy for you. Know your limits: if you can resist playing with the Slinky on your desk, it can stay there. If not, hide it away. Listen to your body: if your neck or shoulders or back start to hurt, reconsider your chair, desk, and computer screen angle. You know yourself and your body better than anyone. Look out for yourself while you write, and you will come away from your desk healthy, happy, and ready for more.

How do you organize your writing space to increase productivity? What ways are you looking out for your health when you write? Share your tips below!

Writing & Publishing Articles, Writing Craft & Tips

NaNoWriMo Prep: Gathering Inspiration

Once I have a basic idea for a novel, I like to start gathering inspiration and references. As I’ve described before, for me, the theme and message of my novel tend to be the first aspects to emerge, with plot following shortly after. However, even before I flesh out the story line, I like to have a solid idea of what my characters and their world are like. I realize this may seem a bit counterintuitive to some writers. However, I prefer to do world building before plot mapping for the following reasons:

Setting inspiration for NaNoWriMo
Setting inspiration for NaNoWriMo

Setting and characters define mood and morality. Because theme and message are the most important aspects of a novel to me, I want the world and its people to be built to best convey these elements.

Setting influences plot. Most writers dream up their plot and then shape their world to best facilitate the action. While I do this, too, I like to start with a rough map of where my action takes place. After all, the novel’s world and its people will determine the reality of the novel, the parameters of the fictional world, which give a writer guidelines on what the plot can and cannot do within this world.

Characters influence plot. If I know my characters fairly well before I begin plotting, I have a good idea about what they will and will not do. This prevents me from taking the plot in a direction that does not seem authentic to my characters.

Now, while all this sounds hunky-dory, sometimes it is difficult to find inspiration. Or, even if you breathe inspiration with every air particle, it is sometimes difficult to find the right inspirational references for your particular setting and characters — especially if your idea is in a genre or part of a theme you haven’t worked with before. The latter has been my case for this year’s NaNoWriMo preparation. I have lots of ideas, but the setting and characters I have chosen to execute my plot are unlike anything or anyone I’ve crafted before. Therefore, I couldn’t rely on past knowledge. I had to actively go out and seek inspiration. In case you are in the same boat, here are some time-tested ways to gather inspiration and references:

Character inspiration for NaNoWriMo
Character inspiration for NaNoWriMo

Research, research, research. No matter how familiar you are with your writing material, even if you have chosen to “write what you know,” there is always more to learn. Scan some Wikipedia pages, search Google images, go to the library, visit a location or group of people, if you can. Just get knowledgeable. This Wikipedia page was a good starting place for me.

Read books and watch movies. Absorb other media in which a similar setting or character types can be found. By seeing what others have done, you will know the hallmarks of your chosen world and people. This is good, because it allows you to align yourself with certain genres and themes and make your book more marketable. On the other hand, it also allows you to see what’s already been done, so you don’t repeat history.

Write what you know (almost). I have an intense love-hate relationship with this advice. On one hand, it’s true — writing about what you know makes writing easier, as you have less research to do and more confidence in your material. It can also be really boring. Therefore, if you decide to place your novel in a familiar setting or base your characters on familiar people, make sure to mix it up for yourself. Give your hometown a mysterious abandoned warehouse or beautiful sunflower field, give your well-known characters an unknown disease or occupation. There’s lots of ways to take a familiar home base and turn it into exciting new territory.

Get on PinterestPinterest (and other image websites) are full of visual inspiration. You can start with one search, which will yield hundreds of images, and then take suggestions and follow them down new rabbit holes. Also, you can keep all of your references in one place and see how different elements work together. For an example, you can check out my NaNoWriMo 2014 Pinterest board and the board for another project idea.

20141019_195816Keep a journal. You never know when inspiration will strike. Keep an electronic or paper journal handy and photograph or write down every little thing that catches your fancy. (After all, we can’t spend all day on Pinterest and Instagram.) At first, these random snapshots will seem relatively insignificant. Over time, you’ll have an overflowing well of inspiration. The journals on the right are mine – gray for fiction and red for nonfiction.

Okay, so now you’ve researched your ideas and gathered your inspirational references. You know what settings like yours look like and what characters like yours look and act like. You have used what you know as a gateway into a larger fiction world. You have spent time applying your knowledge to find visual representations of your setting and characters and continued mapping daily inspirations for the future. Now what?

Well, of course, you’re the inspired one! You know what to do — get writing!

However, if you want some more Kate advice, tune in tomorrow for my biggest rule on putting inspiration into action: The Puffin Rule.

And as always, NaNoWriMo participants can check me out and add me as a writing buddy here.

How do you compile inspirational references? How important is seeking out inspiration for your writing process? Let me know!