Every new writer’s fear: Reading to an empty room

I don’t know anyone who loves public speaking. Just thinking about standing in front of a crowd to speak is enough to make my  palms sweat, let alone the thought of reading from my own work!

As a fiction writer, I have daydreamed about the day I get a book published. I have pictured seeing it on store shelves, and  I’ve imagined picking up my book and seeing my name on the cover. What a feeling! It’s every writer’s dream.

With a book deal, of course, comes promotion and promotion usually means readings. That’s right, reading, out loud, in public!

Which leads us to every new writer’s fear: reading to an empty room when no one shows for your event.

mic and audience

I’ve been to several author readings some which have been well attended and some that were, well, not.

At one reading, my friend and I were among four or five people in attendance in the basement of a local bookstore. I remember, not only feeling a little bad for the author but fearing the same thing could happen to me one day.

I recently read an absorbing article in which an author described his experience when no one showed for a reading for his recently published book.

He describes his moment of panic just as the event is supposed to begin, where he considers his options which include drowning himself in the bathroom toilets or fleeing.

The author does neither and instead, reads to the small crowd in the bookstore and even signs a book for one remaining audience member.

 

The truth of it is, this could happen to any of us, writers, speakers, presenters, comedians, performers.

The author of this article admits that he didn’t tell anyone about the reading beforehand: “I’d posted something about it on Facebook, but that was about the equivalent of shouting the date and time of my reading out my open car window on I-95 in a rainstorm.”

Of course, in retrospect, he could have done more to promote the reading. He could have personally invited friends and co-workers since the reading took place in his hometown. He could have made calls, sent emails and even contacted local media.

But there are also a few things he could have done that night. He could have worked the store and introduced himself to the casual book browsers. He could have taken a slightly more assertive approach and put his book in people’s hands and invited them to sit and listen.

So what is a writer/presenter/performer to do when no one shows up for their reading/presentation/show?

Do what the author of this story did – make the most of it.

He read his book anyway. He caught the attention of students in the cafe and employees of the bookstore. This may not have gotten him any more sales, but it did get him one Twitter follower.

You can read his story here.

 

Writers, what would you do if no one showed up for your reading? Has this happened to you? How did you handle it?

 

 

You Have to Jump

I recently saw this motivational video from Steve Harvey about “jumping.”

In it, he says that in order to truly live rather than just exist, at some point, you have to “jump.” We have to make that leap of faith by jumping off the cliff and pursuing the life we’ve always dreamed of. We can spend our whole lives standing on the edge of that cliff and playing it safe but we’ll never know what life has in store for us.

Well, I’m jumping.

Writing has always been my passion – I felt it was high time I did something for a living that I truly excelled at and enjoyed. With that in mind, I’m excited about a new direction I’m taking.

I’m pursuing a full-time career as a freelance writer. After more than five years writing feature stories for magazines and newspapers, I’m expanding my freelance writing endeavors into “commercial” writing. What is commercial writing, you ask? It includes pretty much anything a company would have to create in the course of doing business: blogs, marketing brochures,  newsletters, email campaigns, website content, press releases, case studies, and a lot more.

I’m ready to make a living doing what I love and what I’m good at – meeting people and telling stories, whether that be through feature stories in magazines, company newsletters, marketing brochures or blogs.

Quotefancy-14153-3840x2160

It may not be easy, but I’ll never know until I go for it.

 

Let’s hear from you!  Tell us about a time that you “jumped.” What happened? What obstacles did you overcome along the way? And what advice do you have for other “jumpers,” who are taking that leap?

 

Floor Plans and Visuals in World Building

There are lots of ways I plan and generate ideas when I’m building the world of a story. When I’m working on a novel, I get a notebook where I can jot down everything from outlines and timelines to characters sketches and scene ideas.

I’ve heard of many writers who doodle and draw in their creative process. While I like visual inspiration,  I am no artist, so my brainstorming usually takes written form – journal entries, letters and scribbled questions.

One thing I do like to see a visual of is a layout of my character’s home.

floor plan

When I am building the world of my characters, it often starts with the place where they live. Do they live in a studio apartment, a townhouse, a mansion? How many rooms does it have? Is it spacious or cramped?  How is it decorated?

In the days when Internet was dial-up, I used to look through home and garden magazines and department store catalogs to find images that seemed to reflect my characters’ tastes in bedding, curtains, furniture and gardens. I would clip them and save them in folders that I could revisit when I needed help describing something or setting the scene.

Pinterest has since replaced my magazine clipping and is a fun way to collect ideas and inspiration. (see my post on Pinterest for Writers, Readers and Bloggers)

I found websites that let you design floor plans for free which can be a ton of fun but mostly, I don’t have the patience for all that. All I need is a rough sketch to help me visualize things.

Sketching a floor plan usually comes somewhere in the middle of the creative process for me. I’ll have a vague image of the space in my mind as I’m writing, but eventually I get to a point where I like to see how everything is connected. Once I draw out the floor plan, it helps me to understand where my characters (physically) are as they move through the rooms.

After I have a solid grasp around the layout of the rooms, I can focus on the details like the  arrangement of the furniture and the location of windows and doors.

Then I turn to visuals like Pinterest to think about the decor and how it reflects the character’s personality and tastes.

Slowly, it all starts to come together. I no longer have characters walking around in white-washed rooms, they have a leather couch to collapse on to and a copper tea kettle on the gas stove to make a warm beverage.

Writers, do you create floor plans when you’re world-building? Do you sketch or draw as part of your creative process? What sort of visuals do you use to inspire your stories?

Don’t get it Right, just get it Written

This has been the quote going through my mind all weekend long. Don’t get it right just get it written James Thurber Quote

Already on Day Two of NaNoWriMo, I found myself struggling. The words were coming slow, I was writing in fits and starts. I realized I was too hung up on the sequence of events in the story. I was stuck trying to write the story in order. I started kicking myself for not putting an outline to paper like I had planned. Sure, I had the first several scenes laid out in my mind, but my planning never got much further than that. If only I had done that outline, I thought, I’d be in much better shape.

Then I remembered: “Don’t get it right, get it written.”

This is only a first draft – a shitty first draft. I don’t have to get it right the first time through, I can always go back later and move scenes around or add scenes. It’s okay to write the story out of order. Once I gave myself permission to write whatever scene I wanted rather than trying to stick to a timeline, the words came easier. I finally got into a writing flow mid-afternoon and ended up with 2,436 at the end of the day.

I kept telling myself, “Just get it written,” and surpassed 6,000 words on Day Three. I was able to write over 5,000 words this weekend and am a full day ahead of schedule (I’m thrilled to have even just a little cushion going into the work week!)

The lesson is, sometimes we have to get out of our own way in order to get the words on the page.

I still want to sit down and put together a more detailed outline, but I have given myself permission to write it any order necessary!

What is your NaNoWriMo mantra that’s getting you through? Let’s hear them!

Words Written Today:  2,583
Total Words Written:  6,764
Words Left to Go:  43,236
Percent Complete:  14%

I’ll be sharing my progress throughout November! Subscribe to my blog for NaNo updates and follow me on Twitter @iamJenniferK for helpful hints and inspiring quotes in 140 characters or less!

Falling in Love with Writing

During NaNoWriMo, there aren’t enough hours in a day. Not only are there not enough hours for all the writing there is to be done, but there simply isn’t enough time for all the great NaNo related activities! There are blogs to follow, NaNo Pep Talks and tweets to read, spreadsheets to update… the list goes on.

In the days leading up to November 1st, I still hadn’t finished my character sketches or my outline, I hadn’t yet downloaded a shiny new spreadsheet to track my progress, and my NaNo mail was left unopened. Last night, I began catching up on all of that, in addition to writing. Luckily, we gain an hour this weekend (I think I figured out why National Novel Writing Month is in November!)

As I was catching up on my email, I read the pep talk from Rainbow Rowell, Author of Attachments and Fangirl. Something she said in her pep talk really spoke to me:

Rainbow Rowell Writing Advice

Rainbow Rowell

During NaNoWriMo, I never left the world of the book long enough to lose momentum.

I stayed immersed in the story all month long, and that made everything come so much smoother than usual. I got a much quicker grasp on the main characters and their voices. The plotlines shot forward…

I mean, I still didn’t know whether what I’d written was any good. (I hadn’t even read it all in one piece!) But I was so excited about the novel, I wanted to write every day. And even when I wasn’t writing, my brain was still working on the story.

Reading this, I realized why I love NaNoWriMo: every November, I fall in love with writing all over again. I fall in love with writing every day even when its hard, I fall in love with my characters. I love that feeling of being immersed in the story, as Rowell says, of living with one foot in this world and the other foot inside the world I’m creating. This is why I write.

Good luck, wrimos! Write and fall in love!

You can read the full pep talk from Rainbow Rowell here  (although I bet you already read it, didn’t you!)

Words Written Today: 1,745
Words to Go: 48,255
Percent Complete: 3.5%

I’ll be sharing my progress throughout November! Subscribe to my blog for NaNo updates and follow me on Twitter @iamJenniferK for helpful hints and inspiring quotes in 140 characters or less!

Six Techniques for Getting to Know your Characters

When I get an idea for a story, it almost always starts with a character. My favorite part of the writing process is getting to know my characters. I like to know their background, what makes them tick. I want to know what makes them happy, what they fear, what keeps them up at night and what they carry with them in their pockets.

Whether your story is plot focused or character driven, well-rounded characters are essential for any story.

Characters can bring a story to life. A good character can feel like an old friend by the time we finish a book – they are what keep me coming back to books I love again and again.

Here are a few ways to get to know your characters:

Character Sketch – When a character comes to me, I usually only have a vague sense of them, while the details are fuzzy. Begin with the basics: their age, where they live, hair and eye color.  Describe their features.

Then start thinking about the details of their appearance, their likes and dislikes. Ask yourself questions like:

  • What style of clothing do they wear?
  • What kind of music, books or movies do they like?

Go deeper into thinking about your characters’ personality. Ask:

  • What are their regrets and their dreams?
  • How would other characters in your novel describe them?
  • What sort of first impression they make?

Give your characters’ strengths but don’t forget to give them flaws. Perhaps your protagonist is ambitious but self-involved and critical. No one is perfect, and a too-perfect character will fall flat. We all have vulnerabilities, our characters should have them too.

Pick their Astrological Sign – I’m not a big believer in horoscopes, but I love to assign my characters an astrological sign. Is your character a creative, quiet Pisces or a playful, risk-taking Leo? Years ago, I purchased a book called Your Star Sign Life Coach by Lorna MacKinnon. I use this book to look at each astrological sign’s strengths, weaknesses, likes and dislikes to help flesh out my characters. This book also breaks down parenting styles and relationship behaviors that help me to think about what kind of parent my character would be, or how they are in a romantic relationship. Always stay true to your character when picking their sign, but use these traits to think about them in a more meaningful way.

Freewrite or Journal – Freewriting is an unstructured way to learn about your main characters. Write journal entries from the perspective of your protagonist. You can keep it simple, reflecting on the character’s day or go deeper. Write a letter from your central character to the antagonist. How does your main character feel about him or her? Did something happen between them in the past that will add to the tension in the present narration of your story?

Write a short story – My last NaNo novel actually began as a short story that evolved into a novel-length work. Thinking about your characters or your story on a smaller scale can be more manageable and less overwhelming before trying to write a whole novel about them. Is one of your minor characters still a bit fuzzy for you? Try writing a short story from their perspective. Think about your main character’s history or backstory. Craft a snapshot of your character with a defining moment that shapes him or her. You may end up with some usable material for your novel!

Find their celebrity likeness – In NaNoWriMo’s past, I have found celebrities who resemble my characters and pin their pictures to a Pinterest board dedicated to my NaNo Novel. Selecting a celebrity lookalike for my characters is fun and it helps me to imagine my characters and more accurately describe their features.

Pink Ballet SlippersTake a walk in their shoes – In college, I took a beginner ballet class to get to know my main character, who was – you guessed it, – a ballet dancer. I could have done all the research in the world about ballet, the structure of the classes, the life of a dancer – but I learned more in that semester than I could have in a year of writing and researching.

Get into the psyche of your character by participating in their hobbies and getting to know the things they enjoy. Take advantage of free or inexpensive classes in your area. Is your character a fantastic cook? Take a cooking class and learn techniques for chopping and sauteing. If participating in a class isn’t an option, ask the instructor if you could simply sit-in on and observe a few classes and explain why – it’s worth a shot.

You can do this on a smaller scale, too. Does your character drink herbal tea? Trying drinking a steaming mug of tea while writing from their perspective. Get involved in networking groups in your area or follow blogs about topics your character might find of interest.

Like any relationship, the most important factor for me in getting to know my characters is time. I can’t learn everything there is to know about them overnight, or even in a month. But slowly, as I write about them and as I go about my day and they appear in my thoughts, they reveal themselves. This is, by far, what I love most about writing.

What techniques help you get to know your characters?

Book in a Month – Preparing to Write a Novel in 30 days

Writing a novel in thirty days can seem daunting and overwhelming – it is!

I have participated in NaNoWriMo for the past three years. The first year, I lost. The second year, I won. This past year I lost again. If there is a pattern going here, perhaps this will be my year to hit the 50,000 word goal again. Winning NaNoWriMo is a challenge in  itself, but the real challenge comes afterward, trying to clean up the mess of those frantically written words to make them into a workable novel.November - NaNoWriMo

There are different methods for writing a novel in only a month. Some people are “pantsers” just flying by the seat of their pants, while others are “plotters” planning their NaNo Novel ahead of time.

I typically take a combination method –  I plan as much as I can prior to November,  then go with the flow once I hit a road block or reach the end of my outline.

I don’t want to spend a month writing gibberish, just so I can say I wrote 50,000 words. I’d rather take some time to prepare, with the hopes of turning out something I can work with in the weeks and months that follow NaNoWriMo.

With November 1st approaching and many people participating in the 30 day challenge to write a 50,000 word novel, I thought I’d spend offer a few methods for preparing to write your novel in a month:

Get a Notebook – When I’m working on a novel, I like to keep a notebook where I can write down all my notes and ideas related to that story. This keep me organized so that everything is in one place. I try to keep it with me so that if inspiration strikes, I can scribble down that line of dialogue before it escapes me. These are a few things I keep in my notebook:

  • Outlines
  • Backstory and notes
  • Location and setting details
  • Scene ideas
  • Characters sketches and details
  • Timelines  tracking dates of important events

Find the time of day that works best for you to write. We all have a time of the day we are most productive. For me, it is in the morning but I have found ways to make writing at night work for me too. During NaNoWriMo, finding even ten or fifteen minutes to write can make all the difference in meeting my daily goals.

Get into the habit of Daily Writing (if you aren’t already) Once you have found a place in your schedule where you do your best work, make that your time to write everyday. You can actually train your brain to get creative at a certain time. Get your brain in the habit before November 1st so you can reach those word count goals.

Research – Do your research before you begin writing your novel so that you don’t waste any valuable writing time doing research. Don’t fixate too much on accuracy at this point, you can flesh out details and make corrections later. If you’re writing a book in a month, you don’t have time to waste on the small stuff. Get the big picture for now, and jot down areas that you will need to do more research on later.

Write the jacket copy – We’ve all imagine our book in print and on the shelves. If your novel got published, what would the jacket copy say? This is a fun way to not only get excited about your story, but also to summarize your story and demonstrate who the story is about, what the main problem is, and where the story is headed. If you’ve got these main ideas in place, you’re in good shape to start writing. If this seems too overwhelming at the beginning, start by writing a one sentence summary.

Map out your story idea and summarize the essential scenes – Right now, you’ve got an idea. In order to write a novel, you have to have at least a general idea of where the story is going. Start brainstorming about what might happen to your main character. Write just a single sentence describing ten key scenes that will drive the story forward.

I do believe writing a book in a month is possible with a bit of preparation. It’s all about getting your ideas and the words onto the page in that first thirty days, then spending the next thirty (or sixty or ninety days) rewriting, editing and writing some more.

How do you prepare to write a book in a month?

I’ll be sharing my progress throughout November! Subscribe to my blog for NaNo updates and follow me on Twitter @JenniferK220 for helpful hints and inspiring quotes in 140 characters or less!

Is NaNoWriMo Worth it?

There are naysayers, who claim that writing a novel in just 30 days is a cheap tactic – that the writing that results from National Novel Writing Month is terrible and that it doesn’t encourage good writing.NaNoWriMo

I disagree. Yes, the writing that results from frantically writing 50,000 words in just 30 days can be awful but that is why the next 30 or 60 days that follow NaNoWriMo should be for rewriting, and revising. Once those 50,000 words are finished, the work is not done! That may put you on the right track toward a complete novel, 50,000 words does not a novel make.

For those who don’t agree with NaNo, and for those who have thought about participating but might be on the fence, here’s what makes NaNoWriMo great:

  • It encourages daily writing habits. The naysayers say that REAL writers should be writing every single day no matter what, not just during the month of November, and to a point,
    I agree. I do try to write every day and I believe that A Writer Writes. But many writers know what a difficult goal this can be to attain. NaNoWriMo gives me a goal and a deadline. Does it make me less of a writer to get excited about Nano when I should be writing everyday anyhow? Absolutely not. The excitement of NaNoWriMo reminds me not only why I write but why I need to do it every day.
  • It encourages setting word count goals. 1,677 words a day is not a daily word count goal that typically works for me and my writing routine. In November, I set everything else aside to write as much as possible in order to make that 50,000 word goal. It helps me set my sights higher and learn that I can write 1,700 or even 3,000 words in one day if I really focus and make the time for it.
  • It’s a great method for us writers to get out of our own way and get words onto the page. Writing a novel is an overwhelming, time consuming and – at times – daunting task. With a word count goal and limited time in which to reach it, there isn’t much time to stress over details. Instead, we must plough through and worry about the details later.
  • It allows us to explore an idea or a set of character without taking up too much time. With only 30 days to write a novel, NaNoWriMo is a great time to flesh out that character that has been in the back of your mind for a while or try out that plot you’ve been thinking about but weren’t sure where it would go. Writing quickly allows to explore ideas and see where they take us. When an idea doesn’t work out, I don’t feel too bad at the end of the month for only have spent a few weeks working on it. It feels good to know I tried without wasting months and months of my time. And on the flip side, if you like where the story is going, you have a draft of a novel in the works!
  • It helps us connect with other writers – During November, I know there are a whole lot of other writers out there who are going through the same thing I am and trying to reach the same goals. I love the sense of community NaNo offers, whether it is a virtual community through the NaNo site and social media, or a local community through write-ins.
  • It encourages writing for all one-day novelists NaNoWriMo reinvigorates us writers who are supposedly at this everyday while also invigorating young writers who could be playing video games or perusing Facebook but are instead trying to write 50,000 words in thirty days. Nano encourages people, young and old, to attempt their first novel, regardless of whether it ever gets published. For those who decide to try their hand at writing during National Novel Writing Month, even if they fail or they write 39,543 words of garbage they did something probably few of their friends would even attempt.

What are your thoughts about writing a novel in 30 days? Is it worth it or is it just a cheap tactic for wannabe writers?

If you will be participating in NaNoWriMo, please comment below! I’d love to hear from you and keep up with how you are doing in November!

This Week: What I’m Reading, What I’m Writing/Editing

Inspired by the New Hampshire Writer’s Network Live to Write – Write to Live blog, I’ve decided to start my own regular posts about what I’m currently reading in books, audiobooks and blogs, and what I’m working on in my writing. I hope to make this a regular (weekly or biweekly) feature on the blog.

I hope you’ll share what interesting things you’re reading and writing in the comments, and please feel free to link back to your own blog!

_______________________________________________________________________________
What I’m Reading

TORCH_Front_Cover-330I’m reading Cheryl Strayed’s novel, Torch. I read her memoir Wild last year, about her solo 1,100 mile hike along the Pacific Crest Trail with no training or hiking experience, and I loved it. I was inspired to read more of her work after  listening to her speak at a ceremony for the Art of Fact Award from my alma mater, The College at Brockport, State University of New York this Spring.

Torch is about Teresa Rae Wood who is dying of cancer at the age of 38. Her family is left reeling and must deal with the loss and their grief.

So far, it is heartbreaking.


What I’m Writing

The short story I have been working on was recently read and critiqued by a writer friend of mine, so I am in the process of editing and revising that. Once it is ready, I will be researching literary magazine and possibly some short story contests to submit it to. More on that to come!

I’ve also been doing Morning Pages. Although I have to admit I haven’t been writing consistently every day, I am enjoying getting into the habit of writing (almost) every morning as soon as I wake up.

 

My Favorite Quote of the Week

“A writer, like an athlete, must ‘train’ every day. What did I do today to keep in ‘form’?”
Susan Sontag

 

Blogs and findings around the Interwebs

What Editors Want: A Must-Read for Writers Submitting to Literary Magazines
This is an article that came at the perfect time – I will be referring to it in the very near future! It is thorough and very helpful.

Two Pages a Day
From the Writer Unboxed blog, this post has some great insights on how to take small steps to reach big writing goals.

21 Little Lifestyle Changes That Will Help you be Healthier
I enjoyed this article and its useful tips – thought I would share!

Just for fun, here are 28 Signs you were an English Major
I know the majority of these apply to me!

 

What about you? Did you read anything interesting this week? What are you working on in your writing? I hope you’ll share in the comments, and please feel free to link back to your own blog!

How to make Writing in the Evening Work for You

I posted about the advantages of writing in the morning, now I thought I should give the flip side of the coin equal share.

Writing in the evening can be a challenge, because I find I’m too tired and too distracted by the end of the day. After work there are sometimes errands to run, then there is dinner to prepare, and of course dishes to clean up and after all that, I haven’t got much creative energy left.

But after talking about the advantages of writing at the beginning of the day, I started thinking about the up-side to writing at the end of the day.IMG_0451

Here are some ways to make writing at night work to your advantage:

Use your Commute to Unwind and Brainstorm
I’ve got a thirty minute commute – often longer depending on weather or traffic. This is a great time for me to put on some soft music and unwind from my day. It’s also a great time to mentally visit my current work-in-progress. This way, when I arrive home, I can get started on the ideas I was considering on the ride home.

Note-taking and Planning
At the end of the day, I’m not always my sharpest. Evening writing might be a better time for me to brainstorming ideas, outline and plan. Even if I feel too drained to string sentences together into beautiful prose, I can make notes and get a jump-start on what I will be working on the next day.

Edit
If you can’t stare at a computer screen a moment longer, print a few pages you wrote most recently and edit the good old fashioned way. Your eyes will not only appreciate the break, but you may see things differently than when you’re editing on a computer screen.

Journaling
Writing at night is a great time to reflect on the day. For many people, journaling is a way to get centered- what a better way to end the day? It may even help you fall asleep faster to get the worries and stresses of the day off your mind and onto the page.

Do you write at the end of the day? What do find works best for you when writing at night?