Top 5 Ways to Move Your Writing Forward

     I was so energized by the comments and support in my previous post depicting my struggle with outlining that I compiled a list of various ways writers can propel their work in progress forward.  All of us have battles each day to face.  Mine typically include:  getting out of bed without hitting snooze 1-6 times, eating a healthy breakfast, trying to coach people with 20 years of bad habits under their belts, and getting home and not immediately grabbing a bag of chips and falling asleep on the couch missing the ending of yet another movie, and oh yah…writing consistently.  I never used to live like this.  Yah, right.

So, I started thinking about the different kinds of work writers do.  It’s more complicated than ‘writers write.’  We write different genres, we write fiction or non-fiction.  We build worlds and set construction, we develop characters for readers to fall in love with, and often, if we are successful, we’ve somehow infused real life into our work.  It could be using an image we saw, a place we grew up, a person we knew.  We transform the real world around us into great writing and reading.  The process to do those things differs for every person.  And what kind of Perseverance Expert would I be if I couldn’t help us all find ways to move forward when we’re stuck in one place.

1.  Take a Walk  Sounds too simple, right?  No really.  Try it.  Sometimes we’re too close to our story to think openly about it.  Taking a walk clears our head.  We’re able to focus on new tasks, such as crossing the street safely (I look both ways to left and right, left and right, left and right, I look both ways to left and right before I cross the street).  I was a Safety City Instructor for 2 years!  **crickets**  Ok, back to the point, honestly taking a walk could lead you in a thousand directions!  Duh, Witkins, we’re walking!  No, no, I mean writing directions.  You could overhear a conversation that would spark up your own dialogue and give you insight into your characters.  You could take a camera with you and snap photos of things that interest you along the way.  Maybe an image will help spark a next scene you could jump to or assist you with world building.

2.  Brainstorm/Free Write/Scene Build This was a difficult lesson for me.  Back in November when I did my own version of NaNoWriMo, it killed me to stare at the cursor on my computer screen and think THINK THIIIIIINK what would come next.  It didn’t occur to me I could write non-chronologically and piece the scenes together during editing.  If you’re stuck in one place, or writing a particular scene has become daunting or less than fun, move to another scene you’re excited about and sketch it out.  It keeps you writing your story and should help keep you passionate for it too.

3.  Outline, Character Development If you like structure and that helps you focus, take a time out to list qualities about your characters or plot turning points in your story.  Spend time asking yourself about the mask your protagonist/antagonist wears, what do they fear, what is their strength, motto, what characteristics do they admire in others (supporting characters), do they have a dark side, what is their core need and what will make them their best self?  There’s lots of character development outlines available online, find one that piques your interest and spend time getting to know your characters.

4.  Journal  I had a big aha moment this weekend after reading the Freshly Pressed post by Jamie Lee Wallace.  She wrote about the top 10 ways journaling can make you a better writer.  I highly recommend checking out her post if you haven’t already because all the reasons are great.  My favorite two are:  it gets rid of the crappy writing by allowing you to get your ideas out on page and it makes it clear to you what you’re really struggling with because it’s a way to record your progress, good and bad.  Just start journaling already!  I love it.  You might too, and there are no rules, the more you do it, the more beneficial, but whatever you choose to enter inside it is what’s right for you.

5.  Share  If none of the above seem to be helping, bring in another set of eyes.  I used to think I couldn’t share my work with anyone until it was completely finished, thereby revealing the proverbial masterpiece that came from my mind alone!  Muahahaha!  But frankly, that’s stupid.  It’s ok, I admit it.  I was young and naive, and still am at times, but I’m moving forward and making smarter decisions.  😀  If you read the thank yous published authors write in their books, a lot of them thank the readers who read their work before it was on the shelf.  Also, when I was at the Writers Institute Conference, all the agents said you should absolutely submit your work to a critique group before pitching/publication.  So unless you’re the next Emily Dickinson or John Kennedy Toole, you should let others give you feedback, good and bad, about your work.  Somehow, I don’t think most of us want the hidden papers in a mattress/shoebox approach anyway.

These are the strategies that have been the most helpful to me, because they cover whatever aspect you’re struggling with each day.  If I need more structure, outline.  If I’m feeling lackluster about a certain part, jump to a new one!  Need to set it down for a minute?  Ok, go walk or journal.  And advice from other writers has always been eye opening to me, both in form and story development.

Many of you have been posting recently about the changes you’re making in your writing lives.  Maybe it’s putting your name on your blog!  Woohoo, welcome!  Some have been blogging about their character developing strategies and what inspires them.  And several of my pals are taking writing retreats and attending conferences this weekend.  (Even though I just got back from one, I’m still jealous; they’re just so much fun!)  So chat with me.  What strategies are you focusing on right now with your writing?  What changes or steps have you taken to be more successful?  Do you have a critique group?  How has that input from other writers helped you?  How has blogging helped you?  I know my community here means the world to me!  *bats eyelashes at you all*  Can’t wait to hear from you, and happy writing!

19 responses

  1. I love the advice to outline. A lot of people want to write and have difficulty starting, and I always give the advice to outline, outline, outline.

    1. It’s still not easy for me yet, I’ve been a pantser for so long, but I find it’s helping me now when I’m feeling stuck.

      P.S. Your comments are showing up in spam like you said. Hope the WordPress happiness agents can help fix that for you. 😦

  2. I’ve always been good at sharing. My novel has yet to be published, and…let’s see…5 people have read the whole thing, and a bunch more have seen sections of it. Their feedback has been very helpful, too. You give good advice here. I would add: take a shower. Seriously. Some of the best ideas for my writing have occurred to me in the shower. I have no idea why…

    1. Oh I agree. I do that too. Brainstorm in the shower. Another good one.

      “I’ve always been good at sharing.” lol. I’m picturing a gold star chart on the fridge. I was good at sharing, but not completing my star chart. Apparently I wasn’t a very helpful child around the house.

  3. I’m also a supporter of outlining! It gives me a much better insight into my story and characters, and also the freedom to change it if I see it moving in a better direction. Structure is key for me. ❤

    Great advice overall. =]

    1. Agreed! Thanks for commenting!

  4. Great Post Jess! Excellent advice and I’m a huge fan of outlining. A character outline becomes a guide that can be sculpted off of and a story outline allows us to bounce around as you suggest in #2 and afterwords becomes a guide to re-constitute the chronological whole.

    Look forward to your posts, keep pressing forward 🙂

    1. I wish I was better at outlining, but I’m learning the many ways to do so now. I do appreciate a little structure now and then.

  5. Really great post! I had to laugh when I read “I used to think I couldn’t share my work with anyone until it was completely finished, thereby revealing the proverbial masterpiece that came from my mind alone! Muahahaha! But frankly, that’s stupid.” Only because I am currently in the process of editing a manuscript a friend didn’t tell ANYONE about for the two years it took for him to write it – and boy did he did himself a hole!! If only he had brought in that second set of eyes fifty pages in… instead of three hundred 😦

    1. Oh I don’t know if I feel worse for you, the editor, or the writer. Yikes! Good luck!

  6. Love this! Lots of people say writing ideas come to them in the shower, but I get more walking. Usually because my kids aren’t interrupting me.

    1. Your kids are old enough they could help write stories! I did this with my niece awhile ago, let her tell a story with me asking questions. It was fun. She told me all about a magical creature who lives in the cupboard and eats marshmallows and his best friend is a light bulb who bites. The funny thing was she just rolled along with each question and came up with instant details and plot twists and when we reversed rolls I was so much slower. It took me longer to come up stuff. Sad. My 9 year old niece is more creative than me.

      1. Jess – great idea about asking the kids to help with the writing. I have 12 nieces – all of whom are innately creative. Thanks!

        1. Jess Witkins | Reply

          They’re such powerhouses of creativity! I wish I had half their energy. 🙂

          1. Yeah. Love my cousins. They make me feel like a kid again whenever they’re around. 🙂

  7. I love the free write and the journal. Outline, not so much though I’m sure it’d help me the most.

    1. Jess Witkins | Reply

      I’m with ya! Outlining isn’t the easiest for me, but sometimes it’s a necessity.

  8. Jess, this post is overflowing with helpful advice. But I think its most important message is that nothing works for everyone, and we all have to find the strategies, mindsets, and routines that work for us. The only way to do that is to try and fail, and then try again. Thank you!

    1. Yes, yes we all have to try again, unless you’re Charles and everything you touch turns to gold. 🙂 Please touch my pen and laptop, neither is helping me right now. Time for a walk…

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