From finding your voice to getting published…this week, we answer ten of the most common questions that pop up during your journey as a writer.
- I’m experiencing writer’s block! How should I deal with it?
When your mind feels as blank as your pages or computer screen, you’re most probably having a writer’s block. Don’t panic, you can overcome it. There’s no universal “remedy”, but all authors eventually reach a point where they know exactly how to beat their block.
Clean up and detach
It’s easy to lose direction when you’re surrounded by clutter. Get rid of everything you don’t currently need from your workspace. And distractions – they’re your worst enemy. Switch off your phone and WiFi, disconnect from the outside world for a while.
Change the scene
If you’ve been glued to your workstation all day, that could have caused your block. Take your notebook to a garden or your favourite coffee shop. Or do something altogether different, like painting or cooking. This can give your mind some much needed rejuvenation. If you must stay at your desk, change the ambience with lighting and music; it can make a massive difference.
Doing something physical
Sometimes, getting your blood flowing is all it takes to restore your mental state. Step away from your desk and dance, do yoga, take your pet for a walk, work out, do some house chores…anything that makes you move.
Many authors conquer their blocks by free writing. It’s best to do something physical and then try this. Grab your pen and jot down anything and everything that comes to your mind. Pay no heed to your inner editor. After what seems like senseless scribbling, you’ll find yourself heading in a specific direction. And without realising, you’ve already beat the block!
- Is it really important for writers to write everyday?
The prime rule of writing is to write. Regular writing transforms beginners into professionals. Musicians and painters ace their skills through decades of daily practice. Succeeding as a writer requires the same. Regular writing exercises your creativity; you’ll begin having “aha!” moments during your daily sessions. And you can express your thoughts so much more vivdly. Following a routine also keeps you in rhythm – take a week off writing and you’ll see how hard it is to get back on track! When you write everyday, your stories begin to bloom effortlessly. And the more you write, the more you can write – the quantity of your output grows tremendously. One of the best decisions you’ll make during your career as a writer is to develop the habit of of writing everyday.
- How should I develop a writing routine?
Start by making a commitment to write everyday.
Pick a time and set up a space
Most people write best early in the morning or late at night. As far as your space is concerned, less clutter equals less distration equals better writing. Take your time to experiment and find your sweet spot.
If you don’t know what to write about, write about anything! You don’t have to stick to a topic or theme just yet. What matters is that you pour out your thoughts and emotions. Don’t hold back, just let it flow.
With goals, you’ll begin to associate daily writing with a feeling of achievement. If you’re trying to finish a book, aim for a few pages a day. In time, it all adds up, and you’ll soon be on your way to publishing it.
Carry your notebook everywhere
Inspiration can strike anywhere, and keeping a notebook handy makes sure that you’re able to channelise it. Moreover, on days when you’re unable to stick to your schedule, you can catch up while you’re on a bus or waiting for friends at a coffee shop. That way, you won’t miss a single day.
- How should I find the motivation to keep writing my book?
As a writer, you may often find yourself stuck in the middle of your book, lacking the motivation to go on. If this is because you’re experiencing writer’s block, scroll up to answer one.
Here are some other tips:
Inspiration fuels motivation. It keep writers’ minds alive. Seek and surround yourself with people, places and things that inspire you; you’ll never run out of motivation!
Don’t burden yourself
It’s great to push your limits; it brings you a sense accomplishment. But do it too often, and you’re likely to burn out. When you start to feel exhausted, know that’s time to stop and recharge. When you’re more energetic, motivation comes naturally.
Reward more, criticise less
When writing your book feels like a drill, rewarding yourself in the tiniest of ways can make a huge difference. Every time you make progress, treat yourself to your favourite food, let yourself take the Monday off, indulge in some shopping…do whatever makes you feel good. At the same time, avoid putting yourself down on days when you haven’t done enough; it breeds guilt, and guilt kills motivation. No one does their best everyday – take it easy!
- What does it mean to “find your voice” as a writer?
As a writer, your voice is your personality. It gives your audience the sense that they’re reading something that was written by a human being with a unique set of traits and qualities, as opposed to a robot. While it’s common to mimic the voices of your favourite authors when you begin writing, it’s best to let your own personality shape your writing as you progress. Finding your voice as a writer requires you to leave behind your influences to some extent. It doesn’t involve a dry analysis of how you write; it means to simply write as naturally, lucidly and expressively as you can – straight from the heart, with no control over your style. As you keep doing that, you’ll find consistencies in your tone, choice of words, sentence structure and the figures of speech you use. That’s your style, your voice.
- How can I avoid subconsciously copying the style of other authors?
Firstly, it’s good to know the difference between copying and letting another author’s style influence yours. Copying is not subconscious, it’s a deliberate act that does no good to any writer. Influence, on the other hand, helps you to develop as a writer – that’s why most successful writers advise budding ones to read, read and read. Letting your own personality shine through in your writing is equally essential. So, the key is to strike a balance.
Find your voice
Write from a space of sincerity and honesty. Write exactly how you think. Find your voice, and then commit to it.
Speak through your characters
Ideally, no two characters in your story will ever sound the same. Rather than relying on your own voice to sound authentic, assign distinct voices to your characters and speak through them.
Read a lot, or don’t read at all
Some writers read various kinds of authors so that their style isn’t heavily influenced by one single author; this creates a unique blend of their own voice and that of the authors they read. Other writers abstain from reading their own genre for as long as they’re in the process of writing their book, so as to avoid any external influence at all.
What is the “Snowflake method”?
The Snowflake method, developed by Randy Ingermanson, is a popular ten-step technique fiction authors use. You begin simple with the bare basics. As you proceed, you expand your ideas and make them more intricate, like a snowflake.
Step One: Your story in a sentence
Begin by presenting your entire story in one sentence, preferably less than 15 words long.
Step Two: Your story in a paragraph
Then, take a bird’s eye perspective and expand this sentence to a paragraph, where you elaborate on the plot, the setting, the disasters and the ending.
Step Three: Character summaries
Write one-page summaries with your characters’ names, motivations, goals and conflicts, and include a paragraph about their storylines. At this point, you may want to make changes to your story’s summary. That, according to Ingermanson, is a good thing – it shows that your story is developing.
Step Four: The frame of your story
At this stage, you go back to Step Two. Take each sentence from your summary paragraph and expand it to a detailed paragraph. Elaborate on your ideas and develop the points of conflict. This leaves you with the “skeleton” of your book.
Step Five: Character sketches
Next, write one-page synopses of your major characters and half-page descriptions of all the other important characters. Write the story from each of their points of view. From this stage onwards, you can keep going back to earlier steps and make as many changes as you need to.
Step Six: Your story in four pages
Now, go back to Step Four and expand on each paragraph into a four-page description of your story.
Step Seven: Character charts
Go back to Step Three and turn your character summaries into thorough descriptions that lay out every single detail about each character. Pay great attention to how they transform towards the end.
Step Eight: Scenes in a spreadsheet
On a spreadsheet, make a list of the scenes that arise out of the four-page story outline you made in Step Six. In one column, list the character, and in the next, write about what happens to the character.
Step Nine: Narrative description
Next, expand each line of the spreadsheet to in-depth descriptions of the scenes. Write dialogues and elaborate on the conflict. By the end of this stage, you’ll be ready to pen down your first draft.
Step Ten: Begin your book
Now, you have all the raw material you need – the core concept, the story outline, descriptions of characters and details every scene. You’re ready to begin your first draft!
- I am unable to reach my target word count. How can I make my book longer?
When you’re asked to add in a few more hundred pages to your book, there are ways to do it without simply “filling in” content that your readers may find boring or irrelevant.
Create a secondary character or sub-plot
A secondary character with its own sub-plot can add several more pages to your book. Give the character motivations and stakes that are relevant to your story, and always make sure that the sub-plot blends into your story smoothly.
When there are parts of your story that jump time, write a chapter about incidents, experiences, transformations and conflicts that happen during the gap. When your main characters are in two separate places during a period of time, write detailed descriptions about what happens to them from their distinct points of view, and how these experiences influence them in the course of the story.
One of the best ways of lengthening your book is to add layers of richness to your stories. Paint vivid pictures of the worlds you create in your stories. Write about the surroundings, the people, what they wear, how they walk, the colours, the history, the land forms…Delve into the minds of your characters and describe what they see. Instead of writing about what they did, write about how they did it – use action, gestures, expressions and body language. Take a step further and describe sounds, smells, taste and touch.
- I am 18 years old. Can I still publish a book?
A definite yes!
Age is never a barrier when it comes to writing. There are thousands of young published authors today. Readers are highly appreciative of young talent and publishing platforms are enthusiatic about providing young and budding authors with platforms to share their writing. Besides, you can always self-publish. Remember to be open to constructive criticism – in the long run, it will only make you better. All the best!
- What are the types of publishing I can choose from?
There are three popular ways in which you can publish your book: traditional publishing, self-publishing, and crowdfunded publishing.
Traditionally, you’d approach a publishing house that takes care of the designing, printing, marketing and distributing. Traditional publishers have their own set of professional editors who refine your book. They take into account what readers want while deciding whether or not to accept you book. The scope for creativity is limited here and the process can be long. But on the upside, traditional publishers have access to bookstores and reviewers. They offer you an advance and a certain percentage of the profits, though typically not very high.
Self-publishing has picked up rapidly, thanks to the Internet. In this type of publishing, you approach platforms that let you access sets of buyers. Because there are no editors, you have complete control over what you write and how you do it. The process of self-publishing is quite short and you earn 100% of the profits. But you have to take care of things like editing, PR, packaging, designing and marketing.
Crowdfunding publishers are a hybrid of fundraising platforms and traditional publishers. You share your idea, proposal or unpublished sections of your book with readers and when a certain number of people pre-order your book, the publisher uses the funds to edit, design, print, market and distribute your book. You receive a percentage of the profits as royalty, which is typically higher than that offered by traditional publishers.