10 Practices For All Authors
I have exciting news; I'm working on a new novel! While I don't want to give too much away, the premise contains an apocalypse, a fractured love story, and one girl's drive to fix everything.
While writing my novel, I realized there are several practices I use to keep my writing process organized. Here are some tips to keep you on track.
1) Always Carry A Notebook
Now, I'm not talking about a marble notebook, but something small enough so it won't be a burden. If something inspiring comes to mind, you need to jot the idea down right away.
During my time as a student, I was always bored in classes (yet I still managed straight As in grad school) so instead of writing notes, I always wrote out scenes for this latest novel.
2) Do Your Research
Even if you're an expert, there may be a piece of information that you miss while writing. This will translate into your work, and if you don't get your facts straight, it will look sloppy. For my first novel Poet Tongue, I spent a year researching Native American culture and wildlife before I started writing! A big thank you to my mom for taking me to the Mashantucket Pequot Museum. That was such an inspiring trip!
During my childhood and teen years, I spent a lot of time with my family on the Great South Bay of Long Island. My dad taught me about the ecosystems and to respect the creatures in the sea. This passion evolved into writing a novel titled Forbidden Tides, a YA mermaid novel. Even with my knowledge in oceanic folklore and biology, I still made sure I researched the tides and the Californian coast.
If you're writing a novel that focuses on royalty, research past dynasties and the intricacies of royal courts from around the world. Bring your book to life with knowledge and insight!
3) Think Quality, Not Quantity
A question I've received from a few young authors is "how long is your novel? I want mine to be X pages." This disrupts the writing process because you are forcing yourself to think of page numbers instead of the plot's quality. I get it: novels within certain genres or targeted audience expect a certain page count, but don't put that energy into your writing process. Focus on content, world building, plot, characterization, and themes before working yourself up into a page count. Plus, if you focus on page numbers, you may add extra unnecessary detail. This brings me to my next tip....
4) Create A Basic Outline, Then Work On A Detailed One
I cannot stress this point enough!!!
Many authors have told me they just wing it. Trust me, don't do this. When I wrote my first manuscript, I "winged it," and it was a hot mess when I tried revising different plot details.
If you're just starting your writing process, begin with a basic plot arc. You may remember this model from grade school:
Once you complete the basic events in your plot diagram (you can also list these events out, too), move onto a chapter-by-chapter outline. I know it's tempting to start your novel. You're probably in the "can I make a krabby patty now?" mode from Spongebob, but I encourage you to take your time with the outline process.
Plus, creating an outline:
- helps you keep track of time within your novel
- If you want to edit certain details, you can refer back to your chapter outline.
- As you're writing, you may see an error in the plot's flow. Before you start the manuscript, you have an opportunity to see how everything will work.
-Going back to point 3, you can get an estimate of your pages and if your novel needs additional detail in certain areas instead of playing fill-in-the-blank.
When you create your outline, make sure to to use Word's heading tool at the top of the home tab. This allows you to click through your chapters using the Navigation menu instead of scrolling through the entire document.
Picture a novel as a thorny forest that has plenty of opportunities to snag you, and an outline is your map. With your outline, you can navigate any pitfalls!
5) Are You Tired? It's Time To Take A Break
Don't force the novel writing process. Some people aim for 500-1,000 words a day and make this a daily process. We all know that stuff happens; people get sick, chores to do around the house, and sometimes your brain is screaming ENOUGH! If you're not enjoying the novel process, it's time to take a break. Crafting a novel should give you a sense of hard work earned as if you performed a magick ritual. If you don't feel your soul coming through with each keystroke, take a step back from the computer. When I need a break from novel writing, I go outside to the turtle pond (yes, I have on in my backyard!), play video games, watch TV, or take a relaxing bath.
6) Even On Your Novel Breaks, Keep Focused
Even on your breaks, I suggest creating a writing playlist that keep you in a zone. My favorites to listen to are Fever Ray, Lindsey Stirling, and Celldweller. I admit it: I'm an EDM junkie :) I also like Wardruna, Sia, and Lorde.
Another fun step in your novel process is creating a Pinterest board. Start with what your characters looks like, the setting, themes, and moods. You can check out some examples from my novels here.
7) What's Your Character's Purpose?
Every character in your novel, including side characters, must have a purpose. Whether they influence your protagonist's beliefs or introduce the love interest, there needs to be a reason for their existence. It sounds cruel, but remember this is your story, so take control of who's involved! One of the best methods to see who's needed or going to the recycling bin is to create a character arc worksheet. You can list them in appearance order, which again ties in with why you need an outline. Under each character, you should have:
- A picture of your envisioned character. This can be a celebrity, family member, friend, or even something from a stock image site like Unsplash. More stock image websites here.
- Using Word's heading tool, write out your character's name.
-Underneath in plain text, include their age, purpose, and their arc, meaning how they progress through the novel. You can also include items such as their relation to other characters, but remember to focus on their arc and purpose. This technique allows you to see if your character adds to the plot or is simply taking up space. Delete!
8) Avoid plot cliches and tropes:
Again, this is why having a solid outline in place helps. You can see if your novel has any of these way-too-common plots or cheesy sayings. Here are some examples (and please don't include them in your plot!):
Cliche's are common sayings in conversation that make you roll your eyes. In academic writing with young students, I see "in conclusion" and "to summarize" all the time.
-Love at first sight
- flew like a bird
Here is a full list.
Trope has a similar meaning to a cliche, which is a common or cheesy saying. In literature or storytelling, it refers to a common plot arc. Imagine if everyone had the same plot diagram. Wouldn't that be boring? Here are some common tropes I've noticed:
- Mermaid royalty: girl or boy finds out they are destined to rule the throne, but don't want to because they have better things to do. I've lost count how many authors wrote this trope, but it's getting old.
-Supernatural academies: Protagonist learns they are a witch, werewolf, vampire (you choose) and go to a supernatural academy. Something bad is happening at said academy, like murders. Enough! Done already.
This is my BIGGEST pet peeve. I've seen this in YA novels, but I'm sure it's in adult or NA works, too.
-A girl is living her normal life. She finds out she's supernatural (again: witch, werewolf, vampire, mermaid) and a huge threat to the entire world rests on her shoulders. She must solve it in a certain amount of time, but all her inner narration is "which guy should I choose?"
Now really, do you want your character to seem stupid? (BTW: I love Ariel. Just using this gif as an example). What kind of message are we sending our readers about priorities, especially the youth? Do. Not. Do. This.
Avoiding tropes and cliches ties back into why you should write an outline. It's another destination on your map that you want to avoid: The Trope Swamp!
9) Expect To Give Your Work Away For Free
When you're a startup indie author, it's difficult to find readers. The best way to spread the word about your work is to create a mailing list (I enjoy using Mailchimp). After you establish your sign-up forms, you can create a final welcome and attach free sample chapters or a short story. Then, post the quick link to your social media groups with a caption like, "Sign up for my newsletter to get updates on _____! Plus, you will receive______!"
Another way to distribute your novel is to do pulse giveaways. Similar to price pulsing, I've found that when you offer a limited amount of copies for free, it has the potential to increase your reader base and mailing list! Jessica Pierce, founder of Young Adult Book Stop, explains the impact of free content.
" The Young Adult Book Stop began as a way of connecting YA authors—mostly indie authors—with dedicated book reviewers. However, we've seen a surge of readers who normally read traditional books, and through our group they've come to love a whole new world of stories. Many authors who offer their books have gained new fans that are eager to purchase the rest in their series, so giving away the first book yields not only much-need reviews, but a hungry readership throughout the sequels as well."
Think about a time when something was offered for free whether at a store or online. I'm sure you didn't say no!
10) Take In Constructive Criticism
I'm a published author who began writing at sixteen, and even today I find this one the most challenging to incorporate. However, as writers, we must understand that taking in constructive feedback is essential to improving our manuscripts. If a beta or ARC reader says, "This is confusing and needs to be explained better," don't take this as a blow to your confidence. Take the reader's comments into consideration, but if something is essential to your final idea, you may need to compromise.
Marcy McKay of Positive Writer explains how a writer's manuscript is like an "ugly baby" that shouldn't be outright insulted, but being frank is important, too.
We are all familiar with the infamous internet trolls whose sole purpose is to wreak havoc and upset people. It's important to also expect those people on Amazon and Goodreads. They may say your book is crap, a copycat, or other horrible things, but stay strong. Trust me, there are people out there who will love your novel!
Whether you're a new indie author or someone established, incorporating these tips into your writing practices will improve your organization skills, help develop your plot, and gain more readers! Which tip did you find most helpful? Comment below!