Category Archives: Megan’s Posts

When the Words Won’t Come

Megan Norris Jones

If you write, then you’re a writer. You don’t have to wait for the validation of publication, starred reviews, or the best seller lists. Writers write. But what happens when you get stuck, when you’re not writing? If a person who writes is a writer, then what is a person who stares at a computer screen and then decides that she’d better go do the laundry?

We all have those moments/weeks/seasons when the words won’t come. Don’t panic. There’s no need for an identity crisis. You are still a writer. You just need to use a little bit of your creativity to come up with something that makes you step back and consider the whole story, instead of that one little element you’re stuck on, something that reminds you what makes this story worth writing in the first place.

Here are a few techniques that have helped me:

1. Write the jacket copy. Jacket copy is those two to three paragraphs on the inside flap of a hardback or on the back of a paperback that introduce potential readers to your story and convince them that they have to read it. This exercise will help you home in on the best parts of your story because they’re what’s going to sell your book.  Continue reading

When to Stay the Course and When to Move On

Megan Norris Jones

We’ve all been there. That moment when a new story takes shape, and your mind is alive with all the possibilities of creation. It’s brilliant, so shiny and bright, and you just have to start writing it now. Because, honestly, that story you’ve been slogging through for a couple of years now is looking pretty tired. It’s probably not The One, so it’ll be best all around if you dig into the new story right away.

Maybe yes, maybe no. I’ve made both choices: abandon a manuscript that just doesn’t have what it takes or stay the course till it’s finished. An idea that hasn’t been written down yet will almost always look better in your imagination than the reality of clumsy words on the page that never quite tell the amazing story that lives in your head. Sometimes it’s best to cut your losses and move on to something more promising, but if you don’t learn to finish what you’ve started, you’ll never actually write a book. 

So how do you decide which to do? Here are some points of consideration that have helped me.

1. Is the underlying idea of your story strong enough to carry an entire book?

Sometimes I have an idea that seems really great, but when I sit down to write it, that great idea isn’t really strong enough to undergird an entire novel. The first manuscript I wrote was like that. I wrote a draft, polished it up a bit, and took it to my first writers’ conference. Once there, it was a terrible shock to discover that my little novel was terribly thin. The idea simply wasn’t interesting enough to keep anyone reading. If I were to ever have any hope of publishing it, the spit shine I’d given my first draft wouldn’t do. It required a complete overhaul, down to its premise. I could have kept the characters and story world I’d created, but that was about it. I discovered that I wasn’t so attached to those characters to make the work worthwhile. I let it go. Continue reading

A Good Goal Makes Me a Better Writer

Megan Norris Jones

The beauty of Write by Midnight is that it allows each of us to set our own goals for the month of February. The only requirement is to write every day by midnight. Writing every day this month will be a challenge in itself, since I have some traveling to do, but I wanted to set a more specific goal for this month-long focus. I’m currently revising a manuscript that I’ve been working on for longer than I like to think about, but Scrivener politely reminds me every time I open it by popping up a “Document created on” date. I’m not going to tell you when it was. It’s embarrassing. And it’s time I finished this puppy up.

I was three-quarters of the way through this revision at the end of January, but Act III needed a complete rewrite. I already had about 6,000 words in Act III, but I anticipated needing closer to 20,000 to finish it. That meant I needed to write another 14,000 words to complete this draft. February has 28 days, which meant I needed to write about 500 words a day, 3,500 words a week. That’s doable, but a stretch for me. I usually only get in two to three solid writing sessions a week, with other days just fifteen minutes or so between activities to keep my head in the story. Continue reading

Make Your Deadlines

Megan Norris Jones

My writing background is in journalism, and every good journalist learns how to write under deadline. You have a story due. You report it. You write it. You turn it in. You repeat. Because your editor is counting on you. And because it really is going to be published with your name on it, so it had better be good.

But even though I know how to write on deadline, I have difficulty moving my fiction forward at the same efficient pace of my nonfiction because (1) there is no editor waiting on it, and (2) I have no assurance it will ever be published anyway.

So how can I simulate the efficiency-producing deadlines of journalism in my fiction writing? Through a combination of written deadlines and external accountability. Continue reading

Train Your Brain

Megan Norris Jones

I used to be an A+, top-of-the-class, nothing-less-than-perfect-will-do student. I could study like a machine, get it done, and move on to the next thing. But I’ve realized something lately. I don’t study any more. I’ve graduated from school; there are no tests, and if I want to know something, I just look it up. So my razor-sharp concentration skills that I was so proud of? Yeah, they’ve gotten a little fuzzy, and it’s starting to affect my writing.

There are plenty of contributing factors. I have three children who ask me a question or need something from me approximately every ninety seconds. Ninety seconds is not a long time to develop concentration. And if they don’t need me after ninety seconds has passed? I remember something I’ve been meaning to look up on my phone. Or I check email. Or Twitter (follow me @mnj23!). Or I’m already plugged into a podcast. And then a kid asks a question again. I am essentially training my brain to be distracted. And if I’m distracted when I’m trying to write, my productivity plummets. Continue reading