Archives for August 2015

Nerdy Writing Info For Nerdy Writing Enthusiasts

For the last couple of years I’ve been trying to pay attention to how other people write. And I’m not talking about their writing style; I’m talking about their writing process. I had never really thought much about it until I started my second book, probably because I was so overwhelmed when I wrote the first book that any sort of “system” was out of the question. I had a chapter outline from my book proposal, and that was great, but the adjustment from writing blog posts to writing chapters was significant enough that all I could do was focus on trying to get the words out of my head and into the computer.

So with the second book, I felt a little more confident in my ability to write chapters, and I started to wonder if there was a way to be more organized with how to tackle the book. I still had a chapter outline (which is mainly for a publisher…it’s just a list of chapter titles, and each title is followed by a paragraph that briefly explains the content), but I never could settle on a way to break down those individual chapters or “road map” them before I actually started writing. All of you super-organized people will find this absolutely horrifying, but when it was time to start a new chapter, I would just sit down and start the chapter. I didn’t plan it ahead of time other than knowing the general topic, though I did have certain stories I wanted to tell (well, for the most part). My saving grace with that approach was that I am a compulsive editor, so after I’d get 3500 or 4000 initial words for a chapter, I’d go back through those all of those words 10 or 15 times and edit like crazy before I would ever send the chapter to my editor.

Is this super boring? I am so sorry. This is the kind of stuff I can talk about for a lot of hours before I realize NOBODY CARES, so I’ll try to pep it up a little bit.

Anyway, I actually enjoy the compulsive editing approach, but it is super time-consuming, and since writer’s block seemed to hit more frequently with the second book, I felt like I wasted a lot of time. When I’d stare at the computer screen and wait for some words to show up, I’d think a lot about how maybe it would be easier if I took the time to break down the chapters, but then I’d remember that I didn’t know how to do that in a loose enough way for my ramble-y writing style (I don’t like the feeling of being hemmed in by a bunch of rigid structure, and the fact that I even typed that out just now means that I’m going to have to finish this post in a hurry so that I can go sit in front of a mirror and make fun of myself).

(GAH.)

(NERD MUCH?)

So. I started wondering what other people do when they’re writing books, and I felt like if I read and listened enough, I might pick up some good tips. (And that reminds me: recently I listened to Annie’s podcast with Shauna Niequist, and that is a fascinating 40 minutes of writing and publishing talk. Just an FYI if you’re into that sort of thing, which, by the way, I TOTALLY AM.)

Well.

I did a chapter outline for the third book, too, but after I wrote the intro, I decided I was going to try to add a tiny bit more structure to writing the chapters. This was mainly because I’ve never written an exegetical analysis of the book of Job, and I felt like I needed to be really organized before I got started.

See? I am a joker who likes to joke.

And in all seriousness, this new book really is a little different even though Job is nowhere to be found. It still has a lot of stories, but then it has another layer of stuff going on (I know that is vague, but vague is about the best I can do right now). I want the two layers to feel balanced and clear and whathaveyou, so one afternoon I pulled out a small sheet of poster board and a stack of post-it notes – and then I made myself sit and think through the first chapter until I’d figured out somewhere between 12 and 15 big ideas / stories I wanted to make sure to cover. I didn’t know if it would really and truly help when I started writing the chapter or not, but I told myself it couldn’t hurt to try.

So I wrote the first chapter – and between my chapter outline and my post-it notes, the writing was so much more fun. Oh my goodness. Those post-its gave me somewhere to go when I’d start to feel stuck, and while I still edited the fire out of the stuff that I wrote, it was so much easier to get through that initial first draft.

I know that other people use some variation of this post-it note system; it’s almost like coming up with plot points (except that I’m not writing fiction, but you know what I mean). But as someone who has struggled a lot with “start and stop” writing – I write for a little while, then don’t know where to go, then stop for a while, then fight with the paragraph a little longer, then stop again, etc. – the post-it map keeps me moving. I also feel like my first drafts are a little better, but I guess my editor will ultimately be the judge of that.

Here’s what the post-it map for chapter 3 looks like.

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I know it’s hard to see – you can blame yours truly for the sub-par picture quality – but it’s for a chapter called “I Do Not Understand You & Your Tricky Side Buns.” It took me most of an afternoon to get this figured out (and there may be parts that I don’t use in the end or that I move to other chapters – or I may change my mind about something as I write), but it’s totally worth it (I’m sure that many of you are thinking, “Um, YEAH,” but I am a slow learner when it comes to these things). The writing has been so much less frustrating and angst-y because I’m not forever thinking, “Okay. What next? WHAAAAAAAT NEXXXXXXXXXT?” To be so simple, the post-it map makes a world of difference.

So there you have it. Congratulations if you’ve made it this far in the post; I should probably send out prizes for the folks who made it to the end. But since I’m not super methodical and this particular method is working for me, I thought it might be helpful for a few of y’all who love to write but struggle (like I do) when it comes to making the most of your writing time. Plus, I start back to work soon, so I’m really excited about having something tangible to look at and say, “Okay. Where was I?” when I’m trying to get back into writing mode on the weekends. I am organizationally challenged in every single area of my life, so it’s delightful to not feel quite so scattered with the book stuff. I’m just as tickled as I can be.

Nerd it up, my friends. NERD IT UP.

Love,
Me

Welcome To All The Excitement

I actually thought that there would be a podcast post up right about now, but Melanie and I attempted to record a podcast this past Saturday, and y’all, it was the most boring thing you ever did hear. And I know some of y’all are probably thinking, No, I get it – because I listened that time y’all talked about under-eye concealer – but our problem this past Saturday was that we were both super low-energy. Melanie was tired from a quick trip to Houston, I was on the back end of a headache, and neither one of us could muster much enthusiasm about anything (Melanie, God love her, gave it her best, but my reaction to everything was somewhere between “Eh” and “Maybe?”).

All that to say: about 40 minutes in, we decided that we’ll try again later this week. Maybe something will happen by then. Or maybe Melanie won’t have to try to fill my silence by elaborating on why sunshine can be good for us (true story). Thankfully the anvil that was lodged behind my right eye for a couple of days is now completely gone, so I have high hopes for being a productive podcast partner in the very near future.

As for the rest of our weekend, I’m a little sad to say that the headache was probably the biggest part of it (for me, at least). I spent most of Friday afternoon camped out on the couch in my office – which is the darkest and coldest room in the house – and when my head finally started to cooperate with the rest and the essential oil blend and the Advil, I finished the last little bit of my newsletter and clicked a few buttons to send it out. Then David took me to dinner and I ate some soup.

In other words, it was a very exciting evening here at the retirement home.

On Saturday I ran a few errands, fought off round 2 of the headache, then recorded the aforementioned podcast attempt. I tried to get some writing done, but after I tried to write the same sentence about 11 different ways, I gave up and surrendered to the Netflix. Sometimes that is all you can do.

But yesterday, after church and Chuy’s, I sequestered myself in a corner of my beloved Panera, and the change of scenery did me a world of good.

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I don’t think the bottomless caffeine source hurt, either.

I wrote for about four hours, which is about as good as an afternoon-o-writing gets for me, and then I decided to run by Target to pick up some groceries on the way home. I have no idea what the temperature actually was when I stepped outside Panera, but I immediately wondered if the parking lot had caught on fire and I had failed to notice. My car had just barely started to cool down by the time I made it to Target, so once I stepped onto the blazing hot pavement and started making my way into the store, I felt a little bit like this.

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It took me a little while to round up everything I needed inside the store because MOVING SO SLOWLY, and after I paid for my groceries, crossed the desert-o-asphalt, put the groceries in the trunk, and sat down in my car, I had my first official August Moment.

August is the cruelest of the months, you know. Because HOT.

I should really be ashamed to complain; David worked outside with the pressure-washer most of yesterday afternoon, and Alex starts football practice tonight. Something tells me that my frustration with, you know, WALKING ACROSS A PARKING LOT will probably pale in comparison to whatever Alex endures when he’s running sprints and trying to take down a tackling dummy.

Be near, Lord.

And stay cool, y’all.