… a guest post by Martha Miller, the hardest working writer I know.
But first, a few words from your host.
This just in… Procrastinating Writers has just posted the “43 Most Inspiring Writing Advice Posts 0f 2009.” And guess what… 15 of them were from Storyfix.com. Huge thanks to Jennifer, I’m so very honored by this.
And now for today’s post…
It’s quiet out there. Tens of thousands of novelists are catching their breath, licking their wounds and getting massages. A few are looking at a file on their computer and, with a trembling finger poised above the Delete key, wondering what to do now.
My friend Martha has the answer.
If an idea emerged from your month of writing the beginnings of a novel, hopefully one worthy of any further investment of time, including profuse bleeding from your forehead– irrespective of how much time you’ve put into it thus far, that isn’t remotely the highest criteria for moving ahead — then you need to take a breather, get that massage and then get back in the game.
Because by now, you should have a notion as to what challenged you as you plodded along. And thus, what needs a little literary C.P.R. as the next step in saving the patient.
You may not have realized it yet, but the fix might be one of process as well as product.
The first question you need to ask, and answer: do you know how your story will end?
If you don’t, then I strongly advise you to come up with a killer ending before you return to the manuscript. I am certain that when you do, everything about the writing experience will be different. It may even send you back to page one.
And if you’re a die-hard panster, the gig is up: you’ve had your random fun wandering among the possibilities, now it’s time to focus. You had to face that ending sooner or later… it’s time.
And guess what — you don’t need a bunch of subsequent drafts to get there. If you do it right, one more will do the trick.
Next question: do you know what your major story points are?
And where to put them? Do you believe you can just stick them in there any darn place you please?
If the answer to the latter is in the affirmative, then spend some time wit my story structure series (or my ebook), because you’re trying to reinvent a wheel that doesn’t want or need reinvention. In fact, you’re swimming upstream… toward a hydroelectic dam that is waiting to grind you into fish food.
If you do know those story points, and your ending… and if your basic premise is strong enough to turn the head of the most cynical, hungover agent… then what remains is to create scenes that arc between those milestones. Having written tens of thousands of words by now, you should have a idea as to what that flow might look like, especially in context to these milestones.
If this is a fresh and exciting notion for you, then welcome to a whole new world of storytelling. You may have needed the head-banging experiencing of trying to write a story from the seat of your pants without the empowering knowledge of either, a) where your story is going, and/or b) what that architectural paradigm even looks like, but it’s time to get real about how this is done.
Once you know, the skies part, the future beckons, and the angels weep.
Here’s how the busiest and most sincere writer I know approaches the craft of storytelling, in context to all of the above. Her name is Martha Miller, and not only is she a very talented writer and storyteller, she’s a selfless writer’s advocate.
She’s also addicted. And, truth be told, I’m her dealer. Her pusher. And she’s hooked for life.
Confessions of an Addict
(Or, as I like to call it, “Two Women and a Corkboard.” L.B.)
by Martha Miller
Okay, I confess.
I’m addicted. I can’t survive without Larry’s structural paradigm. I am hooked on developing my story outline in advance of the actual writing, figuring out plot points, pinch points and the midpoint. Watching movies, I nod my head at the quarter mark and whisper to myself, “Bingo. Plot Point One, right on schedule”. And I love the rush that comes when I recognize the Midpoint.
Is intervention for this addiction required? Not since I developed my 5-Step Program for managing it.
Step 1: Admit my addiction. Learn to live with it, and recognize it as a positive thing that has improved my quality of life.
Step 2: Tell others about my experience so they too can benefit from its positive aspects.
Step 3. Find a way to keep track of the beat sheet scenes.
I tried a hard-copy list, but never had it when Ieeded it. Keeping the list on my computer was hard to manage. What about index cards? I was forever spilling them, then lost valuable writing time putting them back in order, all the time muttering under my breath.
Step 4. Find a buddy you can depend on.
Jan Bear heard me confess my problem one night at a meeting. She had the same problem, so she empathized. She took me aside and told me about this $40 downloadable writing software (available only at this time for Mac users) called Scrivener. I experienced true euphoria. Among its many tools for writers, Scrivener has a corkboard feature, which allows you to write each scene of a novel on a virtual index card. These cards are all tacked to a corkboard onscreen, in whatever order you like. They can be moved around at will. Once you begin to write scenes, and with Scrivener running in the background, you can check your ‘cards’ to see what comes next. Result? More euphoria. Less stress.
Step 5. No more excuses. Get busy and write like hell.
Martha Miller is a Big Cheese (my title, not hers) with the Oregon Writers Colony, helping to organize writing workshops and events that help move writers toward their goals within a community of support and accountability. Her novels — I’ve read ’em — are all courageous in that they challenge big ideas in big ways.
Also… thanks, Ruth, for this idea.