Writing Tip of the Week: Outlines – A Roadmap to “The End”

To outline, or not to outline? It’s an interesting question. Do you just have an idea for a story and then dive in and let your creativity drive you forward? Or, do you take some time outlining where the story is likely to go (at least in its primary iteration)? These are more commonly known as being a panster (someone who writes by the seat of their pants) versus being a planner (obviously, someone who plans ahead).  

Today, we’re going to talk about being a planner, so let’s get to it.

Where Do I Go?

As writers, we’ve all had dozens if not hundreds of ideas. But not all ideas evolve into cohesive and complete stories. One of the reasons many ideas tend to fizzle is that people have the idea, jump into writing it, then have no idea what happens next. While it’s great for the reader or viewer to be in the dark about what’s to come, the writer should have some idea where the story is going.

Having a plan, even a basic idea, of where the story is headed can help you stay on track since you’ll have a rudimentary framework. Even if you change things along the way, knowing you have an endpoint to move toward can help you get the story done.

How should you map things out?

Using Story Structure

In screenwriting structure, a story’s major events are broken down as follows:

• Inciting Incident

• Turning Point One

• Mid-Point

• Turning Point Two

• Climax

• Resolution

These represent the big moments or turning points in the story where big things happen that cause the main character to change course and move in a new direction. Whether you are writing a screenplay, novel, or play, these can be helpful events to write down in sentence form to create a basic outline for your story.

Using Big Moments

Perhaps you’re writing action, sci-fi, or fantasy, and you know several big sequences or events are taking place throughout the story. Take the time to write them down in the order they happen and include what characters are involved.  

These big events will likely coincide with the inciting incident, turning points, or climax mentioned in the previous section. Writing down the big action sequences can also help motivate you to craft a compelling narrative that links these big events.

A Story Problem-Solver

The goal of creating an outline is to help you not lose steam ten, fifteen, or twenty pages into your story. It can also help you see any big story problems before you’re 50,000 words into the story and find you have to cut 10,000 words because one of your plot elements hit a dead end.

Taking the time to outline can help you unravel story problems, fix any confusing elements, and ensure that your story has logic and coherence throughout. Even if you are writing a story meant to keep the reader guessing, you, as the writer, need to know what will happen.

Keep the reader in the dark, not yourself.

Like A Road Trip

Most people wouldn’t go on a road trip without some basic idea of where they’re going, where to get gas and food, and maybe some places to stop along the way. In the old days, people would have a paper map to draw their route from start to finish, perhaps highlighting or starring the points of interest.

Think of a story outline from the same perspective as planning a road trip. You have your starting point, points of interest, and your final destination. Will it go 100% according to plan? Probably not, but you can make the necessary adjustments and changes along the way in both situations.

Both situations take you on a journey that can lead to self-discovery, learning to deal with stressful situations and the satisfaction of getting to the end of the trip.  

Taking Detours

An outline is not an iron-clad document that is immune to change. If you want to take your story in a new direction, go for it. But take the time to map out the basics of where the story is headed with the new changes.  

This also allows you to play “choose your own adventure” repeatedly without having to write thousands of words, only to discover that the direction you chose doesn’t work.

Final Thoughts

A story outline in any form is a helpful and valuable tool for us to use when developing a coherent and solid narrative. By taking the time to map out where your story is headed, you can rest easy knowing that you have a plan to get from “Once upon a time” to “and they lived happily ever after.”  

Whether basic or detailed, story outlines are a must for any writer’s toolbox.

Happy Writing, and I’ll see you next time!

Writing Tip of the Week: Using Profanity, Slang, and Pop Culture in Your Writing

Not to spoil the article from the start, but I believe that profanity, slang, and pop culture references should be used sparingly in your writing. Not that I have anything against these three items, in particular, it’s just that I feel that overuse can lead to distractions from the story, character, and other aspects of one’s writing.

Much like overuse of sex or violence, profanity, slang, and pop culture references can turn into a crutch that writers rely on too much when the creative wells run dry. Instead of working on writing something fresh and original, they can fall back on easy fixes to resolve problems in the story.  

Let’s have a look at each.

Profanity

We all know what it is, and most of us are not afraid to use these four-letter words daily. In real life, they have become a ubiquitous part of our culture, but less is more when it comes to writing and profanity.

It especially has a greater impact and emphasis in your writing if used less frequently and for moments of real drama, excitement, horror, or grief.  

Too much can become boring, redundant, and eye-rolling to the reader. The last thing you want to do is distract the reader from the story to the point that they begin counting the f-bombs and using other profane words instead of focusing on the story.

This also goes for racial epithets and derogatory words for women. If you have a character that uses these words, that’s fine, but don’t let these words consume the character and your story to the point of overuse and distraction.

Impact, not interference.

Slang

Groovy. Awesome. Neat-o. Sus. Ah, the joys of generational slang. Each decade has it’s own style and flair when it comes to words and language the previous generation “just doesn’t get,” but how best to use it in your writing?

Much like profanity, slang should be used sparingly as well. A good rule of thumb is that if the slang has made it into other films, TV shows, and social media, it’s probably already outdated.

For example, if you are writing a novel based in the 50s, 60s, or 70s, don’t use sitcoms from the era as reference material. How did people actually talk back then?  

The great thing about living in the 21st century is accessing archival footage of interviews from those periods. YouTube has a lot of great interviews and other footage of regular people talking from these decades, and you can see that slang is not as commonplace as TV shows of decades past would have us believe.

In fact, I would guess that most TV shows from the 60s, 70s and 80s are satirizing the use of slang more than they are elevating it.

If you want to pull an Amy Heckerling and create your own slang like in Clueless, or like Tina Fey did in Mean Girls, go for it. Original slang is another way to use your creative muscles, and further dimensionalize your fictional world.

Pop Culture References

It’s impossible to escape pop culture in our everyday lives. From TV and movies, shirts, posters, toys, and hundreds of other things, what’s hot and big right now is shoved down our throats until we are screaming for it to go away.

It’s been like that for decades.

The use of pop culture in your writing is a bit trickier than the previous two. You want to ground your contemporary novel in reality, but what’s hot now may not be hot once the book is published. The last thing you want is to either describe the reference like a Wikipedia entry or cause the reader to stop reading to look up the reference.

Obviously, you should use the pop culture references that best fit your story and your characters, but references with a shelf life can help keep the reader focused and into the story.

Batman. Captain America. Disney. Harley Quinn. These are all known entities that people at least have a working knowledge of. Using relevant references is a great way to help connect your characters with the reader.

However, overuse can also seem like name-dropping. If your characters love Marvel movies and talk about them, that’s fine. But like profanity and slang, don’t use the references in place of storytelling. They should be integral to the plot and characters, not an aside and a distraction.

Final Thoughts…

This article is not a lecture about not using profanity, slang, and pop culture references in your writing. I wrote it as a friendly reminder to use them sparingly, ensuring that your real focus is on your originality and creativity and not these easy-to-use crutches. Use them as you see fit, but always make sure you don’t allow the reader to become distracted by their overuse.

Happy Writing, and I’ll see you next time!

Writing Tip of the Week: Resolving Story Hurdles

We’ve all been there at some point. Your story or outline are chugging along, you know where things are headed, and then…BOOM. You get stuck connecting the dots of how you can logically get your character from Point J to Point L without it seeming forced, ridiculous, or taking the reader/viewer out of the story.

Welcome to the Story Hurdle.

A Story Hurdle arises when you can’t quite back the easy leap to how two events in your story can logically connect. There can be several reasons for this, so below I’d like to offer some tips on clearing your Story Hurdle and moving forward with your narrative.

Plot Hole or Story Hurdle?

Essentially, a plot hole is an unresolved Story Hurdle. Maybe the writer accepted the story problem and hoped no one would notice. Perhaps they loved their writing so much that they ignored anyone who pointed out the issue.  

You never want to leave the reader or viewer scratching their head trying to figure out how something happened or how a character could get out of a jam or into one. If there’s an open-ended question to be answered later (like in a mystery or thriller), that’s fine. But make sure if there is a gap in logic that it’s responded to at some point.

Your job as a writer is to sew up these issues and figure out how to jump over these hurdles effectively and entertainingly.  

Ask Why?

You have a story problem. You like both pieces of the story puzzle that happen before and after where the issues seem to be, but you can’t put your finger on what the problem is.

It’s time to ask yourself WHY there’s a problem.  

Is it because what happens doesn’t fit the story? Isn’t something the character would do? Doesn’t fit the genre? Is too extreme a leap? Not strong enough of a leap?  

Taking a step back and asking yourself why the Story Hurdle exists is a good place to start to work to resolve it. Ignoring the issue could cause more issues down the line if the impact of what happens at the unresolved story issue now causes more hurdles to pop up.

Backtracking

You know what comes before and what comes after. You’re having problems moving forward, so why not move in reverse? Take things step by step and backtrack one moment at a time and see if you can reverse engineer your way out of the Story Hurdle.

Sometimes taking this different perspective can be helpful since it gives you – the author – a new way to look at the problem and see the actions and events in reverse.  

What happened before? And before that? And before that? And before that? Can you make your way through the perils of “And before thats?” to get to where you started?

Options, Options, Options

As an author, you are the Creator. What you decide is what happens, so you have the power to write down 10, 20, 50, 100 different ways that this Story Hurdle could be resolved. There are endless options that can be explored, from the boring to the ridiculous. 

You have unlimited ways for things to go to get where you need to go. Once you’ve exhausted all the possibilities, go through and highlight the most interesting and intriguing ones. Then go through and decide which makes the most sense for your character and your story.

Taking the time to work through possibilities will help you create a stronger link between the two story sections.

Making a Change

Sometimes you may have to admit that Point H isn’t working, and that’s why you can’t seem to find the needed actions to get your main character to Point J.  If this is the case, you may have to rewrite the previous story point or the one after the Story Hurdle to resolve the issue.  

Again, you can write out all the possible options and choose the best one. The key is to make sure what you write flows, has logic within your story, and moves the story forward.

Final Thoughts…

Crafting a solid narrative takes time, energy, and creativity. All authors can fall prey to devious Story Hurdles that can affect their momentum and confidence. By working through the problem instead of avoiding it, you can ensure that a stronger and more creative story is written and that plot holes are nonexistent.

Happy Writing, and I’ll see you next time!

Writing Tip of the Week:  Upping the Stakes

Whether it’s a Marvel movie or a Hallmark Channel movie, stakes for your protagonist and what they mean for the story matter. Your main character needs to have a goal, have a plan, and for there to be dire consequences for the main character if the goal isn’t achieved. This is where stakes come into play; making sure your hero – and the reader/viewer – know that what they are about to work toward won’t be a cakewalk.

Let’s talk about stakes!

Stakes in Perspective

What’s at stake in your story? Will the world be destroyed if the main character doesn’t win the day? Will grandpa lose his rose garden to evil developers if $50,000 isn’t raised in a week? It’s crucial to look at what’s at stake in your story to make sure they are realistic and proportional to the world you have created.  

Whatever the level of stakes, they should be a logical extension of the world you have introduced to the audience. If we are in a small town and you plan to tell a story that revolves around the small town, then the stakes should be things that could threaten the stability of someone’s world in a small town.  

If you’re doing a larger-scale story, the stakes for the main character could have statewide, nationwide, or global implications.  

Take the time to examine the stakes in your story and if they fit the overall narrative arc.

What is the Goal or Objective?

The inciting incident of a story rips the main character out of their calm, ordinary existence. It sets them on a new course toward a goal that hopefully will bring peace and a return to a possibly better status quo.  

So, what is that goal or objective for your protagonist? What do they want to accomplish, need to achieve, need to stop, need to conquer?  

What’s the Opposition?

The opposing force to the main character’s goal should be seemingly insurmountable and a definite problem that the hero must face and overcome. There needs to be a reason why the main character can’t just make a quick phone call, drive to a location, get a loan, pay the back taxes, or some other easy-to-solve problem.

Opposition must make the protagonist’s life harder, and ignoring it or running away from it will only make things worse for them or those around them.  

While a Thanos or James Bond-level supervillain may be too big in your story, there are other types of antagonists in real life that can make your character’s life and their desire to achieve their goals harder and more frustrating.

Who or what is the opposing force in your story? Is it strong enough to cause hardship and struggle for your main character?  

Inactions Have Consequences

What does the hero lose if the main character doesn’t take on the needed goal or objective? Do the consequences of their failure have a ripple effect that harms others in their life?  

While most of us avoid conflict and opposition, your main character cannot. The protagonist is an active participant in the story and must act upon their impulses to solve the problem set before them, even reluctantly.

This is where the question of What’s at stake?  comes into play. If Thanos gets all the Infinity Stones and snaps his fingers, half the universe’s population turns to dust. If grandpa loses his rose garden, he’ll be homeless or thrown in jail.  

These possible outcomes motivate and drive the main character forward toward defeating the opposition and achieving their goal.

Life or Death: Literal vs Figurative

The stakes should be big enough that if the main character fails, bad things will happen. This doesn’t have to mean millions will die. This can be a figurative life or death struggle for your main character, resulting in them achieving a goal that others doubted. To them, it’s personal and internal, not external, but the idea of them failing must feel like the end of the world.

If Elle Woods in Legally Blonde doesn’t graduate law school and become a lawyer, the world won’t end; but in her mind, it does. Again, it’s a matter of stakes perspective within the world of your story. Elle has something to prove to herself and those around her. She has a goal; she has opposition. If she doesn’t reach her goal, she will look foolish to herself, to those around her, and she’ll be – as she says in the film – “a joke.”  

On the other side of the stakes spectrum, if Eggsy in Kingsman: The Secret Service doesn’t stop Valentine from activating his free SIM cards in phones worldwide that cause people to violently attack and kill each other, millions could die.  

Both are life and death stakes for their respective main characters, but Elle’s are figurative, while Eggsy’s are quite literal.

What happens to your main character or their world if the stakes aren’t overcome? Will they alone suffer the consequences, or will others as well? Will people literally die, or are the deaths more internal and personal?

Many Roads

We are storytellers. Storytellers have a powerful gift to create and invent worlds, characters, stories, and stakes. Along with that power comes our ability to change things, add, subtract, multiply, and even divide stakes and consequences for our main characters.

As you work on your story, think about other possible stakes and challenges your main character could face. Don’t limit yourself, just see where your imagination and creativity take you. Too often we can become confined in a box of possibilities that can be very limiting when making the best creative choices for our story.

The sky’s the limit here. In the end, you’ll want to then go over the list and find the stakes that a) fit your story, and b) are big enough to seem impossible to achieve, and use those in your story.  

Have fun with this. Whatever the stakes are should be big enough, dire enough, and challenging enough to motivate and drive your protagonist forward in their pursuit of their goal and the defeat of their opposition.

Don’t Make It Easy

Never give the hero an easy out. There must be a clear reason why these stakes must be confronted, and the goal must be achieved. It has to be tough, and there have to be setbacks, doubts, frustrations, and thoughts of giving up.  

But a hero never does.

In the battle against Thanos in Avengers: Endgame, all hope seems lost as Thor, Iron Man, and Captain America are pummeled mercilessly by Thanos. But even with his shield shattered, his face bloodied, and his uniform ripped apart, Captain America tightens his shield around his arm and stands back up to face his seemingly unbeatable foe.

The stakes of not fighting back are too high.

This leads me to my final point…

Make Us Root for the Protagonist

Audiences want to see or read a good story, and they are looking for a strong main character to follow and root for. Most of the time, we know that the main character will win by the end of the story, but we are there for the ride.

The trials and tribulations, wins and losses, ups and downs. We are present and committed to seeing how the protagonist faces the stakes before them.

Our job as writers is to create a main character that the audience will root for throughout the story. This is why it’s important to craft a narrative that isn’t easy for the hero to traverse; the stakes have to feel like they might just be big enough to take down our main character.

Have you ever been in a full movie theater where everyone is so focused on what’s happening on-screen you could hear a pin drop? Or stayed up way too late to finish a book because you had to see what happened next? Substantial stakes lead to these moments. They are an essential tool that writers need to use to create strong, effective stories that suck people in and make them want the hero to succeed.

Final Thoughts…

This week, take some time to look over your story’s outline or your latest draft. What are the stakes for your main character? Are they big enough? Strong enough? What impact will these stakes have on your main character or those around them if they aren’t overcome? Are your main character’s goals and the opposition to their goals clear?

Happy Writing, and I’ll see you next time!

Writing Tip of the Week: Purposeful characters

No matter what type of fiction you’re writing, characters are essential to the story.  They engage the reader, generating empathy, sympathy, and connection.  Your characters must serve a purpose within the framework of your story’s world.

As writers, it takes time to craft, shape, and mold our protagonist, antagonist, and other characters into the overall story arc that we have created.  We shouldn’t be wasting creative energy creating superfluous characters who have no reason to be in the story.  

Here are some tips to help you eliminate aimless and purposeless characters from your story.

Take Inventory

Who’s who, and why are they there?  If you are in the beginning stages of writing your story, take time to establish your main characters, secondary characters, and background characters on a spreadsheet or piece of paper.  Do they serve an essential function in the story?

If you have already written your story, take inventory of your characters as you read through.  Do they all serve a purpose?  Is there anyone that doesn’t belong or isn’t really essential to the story?

By creating a spreadsheet, you can list who the characters are, their role, and how they tie into the story.  If you find characters that serve no critical function or role, you may want to cut them because…

More Characters = More Problems

Taking on an ambitious fiction project can be exciting.  Still, you also have to make sure that everyone you introduce has a reason for existing and serves an essential role in your story.  The more characters you bring into the mix, the harder it can be to keep track and keep things focused.

Limiting the number of characters can help keep the story and its conflict focused, so you don’t get lost in the weeds, which reminds me…

Where’s the Focus?

Your story has a main storyline with a protagonist working toward a goal amidst numerous obstacles.  That should be your primary focus as you write.  Find yourself deviating too much into subplots and side quests with other characters?  It may be time to either rethink the protagonist or move those other characters into their own story.

If the subplots tie directly back to the main character and their story, that’s fine.  But if you do notice that what they’re doing has zero impact on the main narrative, it’s time to cut it.

Superfluous Characters

Are there characters you’ve created that don’t really go anywhere or serve any real purpose within the story?  Maybe you wrote an elaborate backstory for a Starbucks barista that the main character encounters on their journey.  But, if they are in one chapter and never seen or mentioned again, you may want to trim out how they saved their grandma and her cat from a space heater fire in the fifth grade. 

However, if the barista’s backstory serves a key role in the story later on, and the character comes back to help save the day, they serve a purpose.  Just make sure that if you put in the time to provide lots of detail on a specific character, the reader has a reason to be given that information.

Elevate or Eliminate?

If your creative mind has crafted a complex side character who initially has no real purpose in the overall story, you have a few options:  

  • You can cut them out of this story and move them to one where they can play a more significant role.  
  • You can elevate them and combine their character and attributes with a less-than-stellar secondary character who may need some extra life.  
  • Or you can see how this character’s current role can be elevated through further interactions with the protagonist and the main story.

There are ways to make it work, but the character can’t detract or deviate from the main story.

Should My Protagonist Have a Pet?

I’ve seen this brought up before, and it’s an interesting question.  The answer is simple: only if you are willing to have the main character’s dog or cat be a part of the story.  You can’t just introduce the reader to the protagonist’s dog in one chapter and never mention them again.  Once you commit to your main character being a pet owner, you have chosen to keep that pet as a part of the story.

So, if your main character travels the world on quests, it’s probably best to keep the pets out of things. Otherwise, readers may wonder, “Who’s watching Rex?  Is the dog okay?  I know cats are independent, but she’s been gone for three weeks!”  

Read, Read, Read

Skim through novels and see how different authors set up and establish their various characters.  Some will be more detailed than others, but the key to this research is to identify how main characters, secondary characters, and others are described throughout the story.  

Whether you’re writing a short story or short film, a novel or a screenplay, knowing who your characters are and their purpose is essential to keeping the story moving and the reader or viewer engaged.

Happy Writing, and I’ll see you in two weeks!

Writing Tip of the Week: Setting Writing Deadlines

Deadlines.  We have them at work, and our kids have them for school projects, and the government gives us one to pay our taxes.  Having a set, definite date to aim for with something major can be a great motivator for getting things done.

But are you setting deadlines for your writing?

Even if you’re not planning to publish or send your work to contest, giving yourself a deadline can be a great way to get things in gear and get the writing done.  This milestone can be a moment of celebration and excitement; the novel is done, and I can move forward with my next writing project.

Some people may prefer not to have deadlines.  They allow the Muse to decide when they write and when the project is done.  That’s all well and good.  However, if you want to write a lot and get a lot done and off your To-Do List, I recommend creating deadlines for your projects.

Here are some things to consider when setting deadlines.

Be Reasonable

If you are working on your first novel, setting a deadline of one month maybe a little too intense (unless you’re into that sort of high-octane writing thrill).  Creating a reasonable deadline that is manageable but not ridiculous is the key to making the deadline work.

Maybe you plan to have a six-month deadline for your first novel.  Then once you’ve seen what you can do with six months, shave a month off for the next one.  

I’m sure you’ve seen stories and videos of people who wrote a screenplay in 48 hours or a novel in two weeks, and if you want to aim for that as a personal goal, go for it.  But if you have a day job, kids, a family, and other obligations don’t add to your plate writing a 65,000-word novel in a month.

No one wins in that scenario.

Write It Down

It may sound silly, but writing a deadline down in a notebook, a journal, on a calendar, or on a whiteboard where you can see it as a reminder is useful to keep you mindful of the chosen deadline date.

It is better to have it written down than to make a mental note and forget it.  

You can also use this as a way to mark smaller milestones on your way to the big deadline by establishing smaller goals in the larger timeline. If your goal is to write a first draft of your novel in six months, breakdown ideally where you want to be in the process at the end of months 1, 3, and 5. Fragmenting the larger goal can help make it less daunting.

Beat the Clock

Let’s say you set a deadline of three months to write a play.  Can you finish a day early?  A week early?  Giving yourself personal competition can be a great motivator.  It always feels good to get something done before it’s due, and this is one way to see how much faster you can get the project done before your stated deadline.

Reward Yourself

You finished the novel early!  You did it!  Give yourself time for a reward.  It can be going to a movie, buying a book you wanted, or getting dinner out.  This is another great way to incentivize yourself to set and keep your writing deadlines.

In our world of instant gratification, delaying getting what you want by completing a major writing task first can make receiving that reward all the better.

Stay Positive

Life happens.  If your deadline has to change or you miss it by a week or two, it’s okay.  Keep going and still work to get the project done.  The key is the complete the project.  While the deadline is nice to have, if things prevent you from writing, sometimes there’s not much you can do.

Stay persistent and keep writing.

Have Fun

Writing should be fun, and getting a writing project done should also be a fun process.  Remember that you want to get this novel done to move on to the next one.

Give yourself permission to enjoy the process and the creative aspects of the writing.  You’ll be grateful that you did.

Happy Writing, and I’ll see you in two weeks!

Writing Tip of the Week: Facing the Ominous Blank Page

Happy 2022, everyone!  I’m sure by now you’ve planned out your writing goals for the new year, but sometimes the most challenging part of digging into those goals is facing the ominous and foreboding blank page.  Whether on your laptop with a blinking cursor, or a pad of lined paper, the blank page is something all writers face, from newbies to seasoned vets.

So, how do you break through the intimidation factor that can occur when staring into the blank abyss?

Fact: The Blank Page is Inevitable

The blank page will always be an ever-present factor in your writing life.  It can’t hurt you.  It can’t harm you.  It can’t do anything but sit there and quietly taunt you.  

Don’t let it win!

You can’t learn to swim unless you get in the water, and you can’t ride a bike without getting on one.  And you can’t conquer the blank page without adding words and conquering its blankness.

Here are a couple ways to defeat it.

Write Anything

Conquer your fear by jumping into the blank page by writing whatever pops into your head.  It can be relevant to your story, but the trick is to eliminate the blankness by adding words to the canvas.  

Write a poem.  Write a thank-you note.  Write a logline.  Just write something to get the words on the page.

Write Down Questions

Your story has a lot of elements.  If you’re having a hard time diving into the meat and potatoes of the writing, write down questions related to your story, characters, setting, etc.  This will break up the blank page and give you story-specific things to think about as you begin your writing process.

Don’t Start at the Start

At this stage, there’s no need to begin your writing project at the beginning.  What chapter, scene, or sequence gets you excited about the project?  Is there a character’s description that intrigues you most?

Why not start there?

It’s all part of the same project, and if writing that piece gets the words flowing, then that’s the best place to start.

Remember, you can always go back and write the beginning later.

This year, fight the good by dominating and defeating the evil and dastardly blank page.  Your creativity is counting on you!

Happy New Year, and I’ll see you in two weeks!

Writing Tip of the Week: Setting your 2022 Writing Goals – Part Two

Last time, we kicked off the final month of 2021 by exploring ways to set new writing goals in 2022.  Below are a few more ideas to get your head in the game this coming year.

Always Be Thinking

We are surrounded by people, places, and events that have the possibility of inspiring and evolving into stories.  As you go about your day, observe and later write down what you experienced that was noteworthy.  Did something happen to you at work or school that could be the basis of a storyline?  Did your kid say something funny that would work great in a script?

By being aware of the real world around us, we can create stronger and more grounded stories.   

Work To Write Every Day

To write more, write better, and write longer, you need to make it a habitual ritual in your daily routine.  Whether it’s for 30 minutes, an hour, or two hours, work to fit time into your daily schedule to write.  Even if you write about your day, an experience you had, or on your big writing project, you are still working to develop your skills as a writer.

Numerous websites offer hundreds of writing prompts that can help you focus on what to write if you need assistance.  The key is to commit to writing every day and stick to it.  With each daily writing session, you’ll be amazed at how your writing skills grow.

Here’s a link to an article featuring 100 creative writing prompts from Writer’s Digest.

Have Side Projects Just In Case

I always like to have another writing project or two on the side if I hit a brick wall with my current project.  The solution should never be closing the laptop and skimming through YouTube videos on your phone.  A more productive way to deal with this issue is to have another project you can focus on.

I prefer that the second project is in a different genre and even another medium.  For example, if I’m writing a novel that’s action-adventure, I’ll have a play that’s a comedy to work on as well.  This gives your brain a rest and can actually help you subconsciously resolve issues you’re having with the primary project as you work on the secondary one.

Stay Positive

You’re going to have tough writing days. You’re going to get writers’ block of some kind. You’re going to have personal things pop up that distract you.  But when you’re at the desk, the table, or wherever you write, you have to have a positive mindset.  You will get the writing done.  You will get something on the page.  Even if it’s not quality work, it; ’s still work you completed and can fix later.

Don’t get discouraged with the process.  If you have issues with a story, step back and figure out why.  Write down why you think the story or a character isn’t working (that still counts as writing).  

The key is to not allow negative self-talk and other internal forces to win the creative war.  Push yourself through the blocks, the doubt, and the problems, and you will come out the other side with work you can be proud of.

Stay Focused

It’s hard in 2021 – and soon 2022 – to disappear from the world and just focus on your writing.  It can be hard to shut the world out and focus with social media, the news, COVID, family, friends, work, and doom and gloom seemingly lurking around every corner.

I recommend finding a chaos-free zone where you have your phone off, your wi-fi off, and as few external distractions as possible when you sit down to write.  You can fact-check your story later if you need to.

This is your time to escape the real world and live in your fictional universe with your characters and story.  I can guarantee that you will not miss world peace being achieved or a cure for all illnesses being discovered while you’re hunkered down writing.

Give yourself the permission and the time to focus, and you will be glad you did.

Have Fun!

This is the most essential aspect of writing.  You have to have fun with it. You’re not writing 500-word essays for your high school literature class; you’re writing a novel, a screenplay, a play, short stories, poems, or non-fiction.  This is the fun stuff.  Enjoy the creative ride.

I believe that the passion, excitement, and joy you have while writing translates off the page to the reader or viewer.  Creative writing shouldn’t be a torturous affair; it should be fun, invigorating, energizing.  

While there is plenty of hard work involved, it’s work that should be approached from a positive place, not one of dread or resentment.  Go into each writing session open-minded, ready to write, and have a good time.

I hope these tips help you plan out your writing goals for 2022.  I know that I will make a concerted effort to write every day, complete multiple projects, and stay focused on creating fun, positive, creative writing experiences each time I start a new writing session.

Happy New Year, Happy Writing, and I’ll be back with more articles in 2022!

Writing Tip of the Week: Setting your 2022 Writing Goals – Part One

I know. These are usually the articles that pop up in January of 2022. Still, I thought I’d get a head start and allow you to start thinking about your writing goals for the new year.  Whether you have big writing goals or small, having a basic idea of what you want to do can help you achieve your goals over the next 365 days.

To reach those milestones with your writing, here are some tips to get you thinking and headed in the right direction.

Set Reasonable Writing Goals

Having a big goal is great. Write that novel.  Write that screenplay. Finish that play you outlined a couple years ago.  But diving in head-first into a project as big and complex as a novel or a screenplay can be daunting, even for the most seasoned writer.  

You can accomplish any of these major writing projects, but create reasonable goals for yourself to achieve them.  I can’t tell you how many times I’ve told myself I’m going to sit down over a weekend and hammer out the second act of a script, only to be so overwhelmed with the monumental task that I avoid it at all costs.

I suggest that you start small.  A chapter a day.  A scene a day.  If you feel you can do more, then do it.  Just keep the tasks small and manageable, and you will see that as you write, the work will grow into that novel or script you want to write.

Set Reasonable Writing Deadlines

Most of us have 9-to-5 jobs, go to school, have families, or have other obligations that prevent us from writing all day long. It’s important not to add to any stress in your life by stacking the deck against yourself in the creative realm by imposing unrealistic deadlines on your writing projects. 

If you have a big writing project in mind, set your deadline for a rough draft four to six months down the road.  Then work to write every day – using reasonable goals – and work toward completing the draft by that set deadline.

You may find that having a deadline creates a sense of urgency in your brain where you feel the need to get it done.  And, if you have been writing regularly, you should feel a need to meet the deadline out of an obligation to not only the project but also yourself.

There’s something satisfying about getting to the end of a story, even a rough draft.  Even though it is the first of several drafts, you now have a draft to work from and make better.  

Think about your life and what you have going on, then set a reasonable deadline for completing your writing project that best suits your situation.

Word Count vs. Page Count vs. Time Goals

Should you write 1,000 words a day?  Ten pages a day?  Two hours a day? It’s a conundrum that writers and writing books have debated.  What works best and makes you most productive?

I prefer setting Time Goals.  This gives you a set amount of time to sit down and write.  Start the times.  When it dings, you can decide to keep going or stop; your writing obligation has been met for the day.

With a Time Goal, you also aren’t tied down to a specific word count or page count. This can add unneeded stress to your writing day, especially if you’re having a tough time creatively that session.  Your goal was to sit and write for an hour, and you did it.  Whether you squeezed out 500 words or slammed out 10,000, you have met your writing goal for the day.

Which reminds me…

Accept That Some Days Will Be Tougher Than Others

Everyone has bad days, and everyone has distractions.  And not every writing session will feel like you’ve brought your A-game.  But you must make the time and do the work because you can always go back and edit and rewrite later whatever you felt was less than stellar work.  

It’s also essential to know that it’s okay to have bad days.  Out of 365 writing days, at least a handful will be duds.  But you have to shrug it off and keep going each day to reach your writing goals and deadlines. 

Even the greatest Olympian has rough training days. It’s okay for you to have them, too.

Prep Prep Prep

Preparation.  If you’re writing a novel, screenplay, or play, it’s important to go in with a game plan.  Know your story, characters, and the key moments of your story’s beginning, middle, and end.  This prep work will save you time and headaches along the writing journey.  

Prepping can be part of your writing day since you are doing the work needed to get your story off the ground and moving forward.  The last thing you want to do is jump into an idea without any direction and watch it fizzle out by page twenty.

Take the time, do the prep work, and help yourself and your creativity breathe easier.

Start thinking about your writing goals for 2022.  Happy Writing, and I’ll see you in two weeks with the rest of my 2022 Writing Tips!

Book Review Tuesday: Caddyshack – The Making of a Hollywood Cinderella Story by Chris Nashawaty

Easily one of the funniest and most quoted comedies of the 20th century, Caddyshack was a sleeper whose production was plagued with problems from the outset.  This amazingly insightful book, Caddyshack: The Making of a Hollywood Cinderella Story by Chris Nashawaty, gives fans an inside look at what went on before, during, and after the cameras rolled on what is easily the greatest golf comedy ever made.  

Check out my brief review below, then check out the book!

An excellent and insightful read for anyone who’s a fan of Caddyshack, I decided to read this in honor of the film’s 40th anniversary this year (2020). It’s hard to believe that 1980 was the year of Caddyshack, Airplane!, The Blues Brothers, 9 to 5, The Shining, and The Empire Strikes Back. What a year for future classic movies!

I highly recommend this book!

What’s your favorite quote or scene from Caddyshack?  Favorite movie of the 1980s?  Leave a comment and let me know!