Tag Archives: writing tips

Closing Out Write by Midnight: How We Fared

Congratulations on finishing Write by Midnight 2021! We hope you established some solid routines that will carry your daily writing habit well into the rest of the year and beyond. We’d love to hear from you about how you did. Did you accomplish everything you set out to do? What practices or techniques helped you meet your goals? What distracted you from reaching them and how did you alter your routine to help you overcome those challenges? It always inspires us to hear how other writers work. In that same spirit, here’s how each of us fared during this year’s write-a-thon.

How Laura Fared

Laura Ayo

Yesterday, I read a tweet encouraging writers not to have high expectations for themselves when it came to setting goals for daily output. Why set the bar high and fail to get over it when you can aim low and surely succeed? I feel certain there are people who agree with the author’s reasoning, but I’m not one of them. To me, the point of setting goals is to push yourself to see what you’re capable of achieving if you work hard and remain open to learning. For this year’s Write by Midnight, I set big goals, vowing to write daily for more time than I usually do with the intention of revising eight chapters of my work-in-progress. I’m pleased to report that I wrote for my designated 90 minutes all but three of those days and logged more than 10,000 brand new words. While I only revised five of the eight chapters I challenged myself to revise in 28 days, the ones I finished are better now than when I started with them. I wrote entire scenes only to delete them later because I found more compelling ones waiting to be written. Most important, I’m discovering my voice as a writer through the process. Moving forward, I’ll keep sitting down each morning to write and I’ll keep revising scenes and writing new ones. Publishing my first novel is a big goal I have for myself, and I’m fired up to crush it.

How Stacey Fared

Stacey Kite

In November and December I made steady progress revising my manuscript and felt really good about my writing. Though I lost momentum in January, I figured I could turn things around during Write by Midnight if I pushed a little harder.

For the first two weeks of February, though, my writing stalled. I could not move past one scene. Every morning I would write and delete, write and delete for two hours or so, always feeling like I was just on the cusp of getting it right, but then didn’t. Usually, when my writing sputters to a halt like that, I can look back over the chapter I’ve been working on and, after some critical study, point my finger at a culprit—a plot flaw or character inconsistency that’s giving my subconscious fits, or a segue that turns the narrative down a dead end. But this time, I couldn’t spot the problem with the story and decided the problem might be with me. Maybe, my brain just needed a little writing vacation.

So, instead of beating my head on my keyboard, I decided to take the third week of February off and indulge in some non-writing activities in the hopes of recharging my creative well. I spent days drooling over plant catalogs, thinking about raised garden beds—clearly, I have a terrible case of spring fever—and making preliminary sketches for new paintings and sculptures.

Though I’d originally planned to dive back into my manuscript for the last week of WBM and try to finish the write-a-thon strong, the universe threw me a curve ball when someone stole our car. At that point, I just gave up on February.

But yesterday was a beautiful day. The sun was shining, the temperature was balmy, twenty six of the thirty echinacea seeds I’d planted sprouted, the dog had a great time on the beach and I booked my husband’s first COVID-19 vaccination.

I see a light at the end of the tunnel, and that makes me think that, despite all the crazy in the world right now, March may be a better writing month.

How Megan Fared

Megan Norris Jones

The month of February did not go exactly as planned for me. I made excellent progress during the first half of the month and even worked through a significant world building concept that made my entire outline much stronger. However, the middle of February brought with it such snow and ice as my part of the country rarely sees. Since we don’t have the equipment or infrastructure to deal with that kind of winter weather, everything just shut down—including schools—and I spent a full week of Write by Midnight stuck at home with my restless family. I know the pandemic has marooned many of you in that same situation for a year now. I salute you, my fellow writers, because writing with children underfoot is hard. My situation was temporary, so I just bailed. No writing at all for the week of snow and little for the week of recovery that has followed. It was not a stellar showing for me. However, March is looking up. I think. Surely we won’t have another snowstorm. Or flood. Tornadoes? There’s still that pesky pandemic … Nope. I definitely have to get writing. The world won’t survive without a little fiction to escape into.  

Be sure to check back in with us for our monthly Write by Midnight Pep Talks. Together, we can help each other achieve our writing dreams.

Revising at a Sloth’s Pace to Discover Joy in the Details

Laura Ayo

I’m no stranger to revision. During my years as a daily newspaper reporter, I edited and revised on deadline. Every day. Often, for multiple articles, each written in a matter of minutes, not hours, and certainly not days. Even as a freelance journalist, I regularly revise and edit articles, press releases, web content, blogs, social media posts and whatever else a client might send my way. But revising a middle grade historical fiction novel is nothing like I’ve ever experienced before. This past week, I’ve been really taking the words of poet and novelist Vikram Seth to heart:

“Revision has its own peculiar pleasures and its own peculiar frustrations. The ground rules are already established; the characters already exist. You don’t have to bring the characters to life, but you do have to make them more convincing.”

In the spirit of Seth’s words and to mark the start of the second week of Write by Midnight, I thought I would share some of the pleasures and frustrations I felt while striving to make my characters more convincing.

First, the frustrations.

Revision. Takes. For. Ever.

My Write by Midnight goal was to revise two chapters a week. And even though I wrote more than my planned 90 minutes on five days and met my time limit on the other two days, I only revised one chapter and barely made a dent in the second. Last night, as I prepared to write this progress report, I reflected on why, even with more dedicated writing time, I struggled to reach my goal. There are many answers, but I can sum them up by saying I want to write with historical accuracy and emotional authenticity in a way that middle grade readers want to keep turning the pages.

This. Takes. Time.

When I wrote the first draft, I didn’t worry about researching how people in the 18th century would have treated pneumonia. I made notes to go back during revision to discover what the hold of an 18th century sloop would look like and how the crew would repair storm damage to the ship at sea. I just wrote past those – and many other – period-specific details during the drafting stage.

But now I’m revising and I need those details. They’re vital for my readers to feel the fear, worry and helplessness that my protagonist experiences as she’s trying to care for her sick mother during a storm in the hold of an 18th century ship that is carrying them away from their homeland to an unknown destination. Finding those details takes time. Paring them down to the ones that evoke the emotions I want the reader to experience takes time. Making sure they’re the sights, sounds and smells an 8-year-old girl would notice takes time. Discovering the words she would use to describe her thoughts and feelings takes time. Making sure all of these details are age appropriate, readable and interesting takes time.

Revision is the stage of writing where writers need to invest the time.

Doing so leads to the pleasures Seth referenced. My research unearthed the details I needed to not only add layered depth to my characters, but also illustrate the themes I want to get across in my writing. The discovery process is thrilling, especially when it leads to writing you never thought yourself capable of. So, I’m not beating myself up for not writing two chapters by the end of the first week of Write by Midnight. The words I did get on the page are good ones. They say what I want them to say. My story is better because of the time I invested.

As I move onto the second week of our write-a-thon, I’ll keep letting the peculiar pleasures outweigh the peculiar frustrations. I’ll move forward with my revision process, slow and detailed as it may be, and wish you all the best in discovering what works best for you and the stories you strive to tell.

How writers benefit from reading aloud

Today is #WorldReadAloudDay, so take time to read aloud what you’ve written so far for the Write by Midnight challenge. It’s best to have someone read your work back to you. The experience is invaluable because it allows you to hear repetitiveness or wordiness, judge the pacing and figure out where the reader stumbles. If you’re uncomfortable with that, record your voice and play it back to yourself or upload your manuscript to an app or program that will read it aloud to you. If you’re brave enough to read to someone, you have the added benefit of observing where they’re confused or if they stop to ask questions. However you choose to celebrate #WorldReadAloudDay, share with us how the experience helped you as a writer.

Write by Midnight Pep Talk 1-25-21

It’s hard to believe 2021 marks our 5th year of hosting the Write by Midnight daily writing challenge. This year’s write-a-thon starts a week from today! For those of you new to our blog, we challenge ourselves and our readers to commit to writing every day – by midnight – in the month of February. Are you up to the task? Spend this week preparing so you’re ready to hit the ground writing on Feb. 1. Links to past blog posts, writing prompts, tips, a goal-tracking log and inspiration can be found on our Write by Midnight page. 2020 wasn’t the year we expected it to be, but now that we’ve adapted, let Write by Midnight be the springboard you need to get back into the habit of writing every day.

Write by Midnight Pep Talk 10-26-20

At the beginning of the COVID-19 lockdown, the WriteOwls agreed to write at the same time during the week so that we didn’t feel so isolated. We kept one another motivated and accountable by texting at the beginning and end of each session. We were surprised how productive we were during that time. So this month, we recommend you try a similar strategy. After you come up with your writing schedule for November, find a partner or group to help you stay accountable. Share your schedules so that each person knows when the other is supposed to be writing. Then, message each other with a reminder that it’s time to get to work. After the writing session is over, let each other know how you did. If you’re really ambitious, agree to exchange your work at the end of each week. Let us know if this strategy helped you meet your writing goals for the month.

Practical Prompt 10-19-20

Consider using imagery to convey the tone of a scene. It’s fine to select a universal image, such as fluffy white clouds or birds chirping to set a happy mood. But you can elevate the scene by picking an image that connects in a specific way to your story or reinforces one of your character’s traits. Then, examine how you can use that same image to depict a change in tone by the ending. For example, if that happy scene ends on a sad note, transform those fluffy white clouds into dark thunderclouds, or have those chirping birds fall silent. Using thoughtful imagery not only reinforces the emotional impact you want your story to have, but also broadens your reader’s experience of the world you’ve created.

Writing With Soap, Tea, and Sequins

I have a bar of soap on my desk. It’s not for washing my hands. It’s not there by mistake. I bought it a couple of years ago at a quirky little handmade soap shop with a half-dozen other bars, intending to give them out as little gifts whenever a little-gift occasion came up. I did give the rest of them away, but not this one. I loved the scent, fresh and clean, but also like the ocean and crushed mint. And then I realized that the quirky soap shop owners had decided to call this particular scent ‘hangover,’ and I’d just never found anyone I felt good about giving it to. So I kept it, and it gravitated to my desk because its scent made me happy. Soon it didn’t just make me happy, it helped me kickstart my brain. Whenever I’m pondering a scene, I just reach over, grab the soap bar and inhale its ocean-mint scent, and changing one sensory input gives my brain a little jolt and helps me approach my writing with a fresh perspective.

I also have a blackberry sage tea canister that serves a similar purpose. The scent of the tea—leafy, fruity and bitter—lingers in the tin long after I’ve steeped the last bag, and its aroma has the ability to shift my mental focus and give me the nudge I need to think about my writing in a different way.

I like to keep something tactile nearby to work with my fingers while I think. It used to be one of those desk magnet things—until my children carried the little pieces away. Now it’s a slap bracelet with reversible sequins which one of those same children abandoned on my desk. Sequins aren’t really my style aesthetically; I’m more of a natural fibers kind of girl, but if I see reversible sequins, I must touch them, run my hands up and then down. Every. Single. Time. Addiction, y’all. But also a physical prompt to shift my perspective and renew my mind.

There are plenty of ways to shake up your environment in order to shake up your mind and your story. You just have to find the one that works for you. Change the lighting in you room. If you usually stick with a bright overhead light, try softer lamplight or natural light. Open a window. Light a candle. The oppressive heat of summer here has just been replaced by the invigorating chill of fall mornings, so I’ve moved my writing outside today. All the birdsong and fresh air has kept me going for a solid hour already. 

What props or techniques do you use to renew your mind while you write? 

Write by Midnight 9-30-20

We have long been proponents of setting positive incentives for reaching your writing goals. Finish revising that scene? Reward yourself with a piece of chocolate. Write for an hour? Treat yourself to a night out with your significant other or a friend. But sometimes negative incentives are just as motivating. To continue making progress on your writing project, consider finding ways to help you meet your deadlines and goals by promising to do something you don’t like if you miss the mark. Didn’t write 1,000 words today like you planned to? Succumb for a week to the one household chore no one wants to claim. Fail to write a new scene today? Ban yourself from something you love doing for the next day. Hopefully, when you check in with us at the end of October, you won’t have to admit how low you had to stoop to meet your goals for the month.

Write By Midnight Pep Talk 07-27-20

What is your ideal writing schedule and environment? What do you think would really help you get your writing done? Now look at the real world. What are some steps you could take to get your real world writing life closer to your ideal writing life? Instead of focusing on what you can’t do, think about what you can do.

A Number of Things

Naomi Hawkins-Rowe

As Megan pointed out in June, the world has changed a lot since March. Some days feel a little less disheartening, others stranger than fiction.  For those of  us with children,  when schools closed (for Knoxville, the rest of the school year), we were thrust into the role of a cross between Principle/Teacher/Parent/all-powerful crisis maven while watching our hair gray at an abnormal rate (I’m letting my crown reign, call it performance art).  I know personally, some days I feel effective, most I do not.

On top of a shift in how we move about our communities and job situations, as writers, we’ve had to change the when and where our writing happens. Some days I feel good, even excited about what I’m writing. And then some days I feel it’s unimportant in light of “the sickness”, as my youngest calls it, or Black Lives Matter, or Standing Rock (which as I write this has finally seen a great victory), or the people in my live fighting cancer or other ailments. On those days, when I can’t let go of my grief, that is when the writing is hard and feels like a frivolous luxury. But it’s also when I’m not writing, that I feel the saddest, because while I don’t see writing as a form of therapy, I do see it as a form of caring for myself and my ideas. Writing is the clearest way for me to navigate through this crazy world.

Sometimes it’s hard to know where to start. Continue reading