Why You Should Never Hit Delete

As writers, we tend to flit from one idea to the next. We fill notebook after notebook with all these wonderful ideas that hit us like a lightning bolt, but unless we live to be a hundred, rarely are all those ideas ever brought to life. Then, we start to second guess ourselves. We look back and see nothing but garbage, so we get rid of it. But I’m going to tell you something, and I want you to listen very closely when I do.

WRITERS SHOULD NEVER HIT DELETE!

Last week, I was flipping through old files and notebooks that I haven’t even thought about since I was a freshman in high school. They were filled with opening lines of dozens of different novels that I started randomly whenever an idea occurred to me. You see, when I was in school, I didn’t know how to focus on one project. I would work on two or three novels at a time and write in whichever one I was inspired to at the time. I carried multiple composition notebooks in my backpack at all times, and I would flit back and forth between novels constantly.

Now, do you have any idea how many of those notebooks contained full novels? Three. Yes, three out of more than ten composition notebooks held an actual novel. Those three included the first draft of my now published novel, Broken Halo, the first novel I ever wrote, titled An Unexpected Romance, and the first mystery thriller I ever attempted to write, called Love and Lies. The other notebooks ranged in length, from a few pages to a few sentences, and as I flipped through them, all of those ideas I had came flooding back to me.

That is what I want to teach you today: why you should never hit delete. It sounds trivial, and some of you may already abide by this, but it hit me that sometimes we overlook the treasure trove that rests in the past.

I will be the first to tell you that my first manuscript was utterly atrocious. Seriously, I won’t even let anyone read it anymore. Now, at the time that I wrote it, I thought it was phenomenal. I was so proud of it, and I would shove it at anyone who would take long enough to read through it. Luckily for me, no one told me it was terrible and discouraged me from pursuing my writing further; instead, they gave me feedback and helped me develop my skill. Now, when I read that first manuscript, I want to vomit, but that is only because I have improved in the near decade it has been since I wrote that novel. But that near decade has also given me more insight into the ideas I had back then.

Last week, while I was cleaning out my closet, I found my own treasure trove of ideas.

Now, you may be skeptical, wondering what on earth those terrible ideas could possibly offer to you now. But the human brain works in fascinating ways. When you put creative stimuli in front of it, like say, old unfinished plotlines you haven’t thought about in a decade, it starts cranking out ideas. As I sat there reading through the cringeworthy writing of a twelve-year-old Sheridan, I couldn’t stop coming up with ideas. I was back in those worlds I’d created in my adolescence, back with the friends I had forgotten about, and I was itching to pen their stories.

So, what’s next? If you keep all of your ideas, how on earth do you keep focused on one project at a time? Trust me, it is going to be tricky. (This is not to discount the method of working on multiple projects. If you can effectively do that, go for it and know that I bow to you, because your brain clearly functions much better than mine!) You are going to want to go back to those other ideas. So how do you stop yourself from doing that?

First, you must choose wisely. You need to take a minute and ask yourself which project you are most excited to pursue. You will stifle your creativity if you force yourself to work on another project. Then, remind yourself that it is okay to have multiple ideas at a time.

Buy yourself a notebook!! This is serious, guys, and again, some of you might already have one, but a notebook for ideas is a necessity. Jot down any idea that comes your way, along with as many details as you can, so that when you are ready to pursue that idea, you have plenty to go off of to get your juices flowing again. Buy multiple notebooks, if you would like, so that no matter where you are, you have somewhere to write down your ideas.

Finally, don’t ever get rid of those old manuscripts or notebooks. They may seem terrible now, but if you put enough work into them, you could make them phenomenal! If you’re a techie, organize them into a file on your desktop. If you’re old-school, buy a box to put them in and keep them somewhere easily accessible. Allow yourself to go back to them every once in awhile to find your creativity again and remind yourself that you are talented! Besides, you never know when an old idea might be exactly what you need for your current project. Take it from me, it tends to happen when you least expect it. Hitting delete could be terminal one day, so avoid it while you can and reap the rewards of decades-old ideas you gave up on. Sometimes, they age like fine wine.

8 Tips For the Unpaid Writer

I have a confession to make. I know you’re probably tired of hearing me say that, but this one is important: I haven’t been writing.

I feel like I need a shower after that…

It is true. Outside of the columns I have written for you lovely people, I haven’t written a word. I haven’t made any progress on my next e-book. It hit me the other day, and I almost wanted to cry, because I finally realized why I have been so unhappy lately. Because I haven’t been writing.

In my defense, it was not my first choice. Between working a full-time job, setting up this blog, going to school full-time, and still sleeping at some point, something was bound to fall through the cracks. Unfortunately, that something turned out to be what I love the most.

But these things happen, right? Tell me I am not the only one out in the universe who has fallen into a rut like this, because I can’t be. There is an end, though.

I have recommitted to this love of mine, and I won’t step out on him again. That I can promise you.

So, I am here to give you a few tips to work writing into your schedule before it gives you the ability to quit your day job.

  1. Buy a planner. Trust me on this, you will not regret it! I used to live for planners when I was in high school to keep track of assignments, but I stopped using them after graduation. Now that I am juggling so many different things at once, they are a necessity for me. In fact, I have two. One is a monthly planner that I use to plan my days. The other is a desktop pad that has weekly pages. I use that one for my to-do lists. They will help you stay on track and make sure you can get everything done that you need to in a day.
  2. Prioritize. What is more important to you: watching Netflix or writing a page or two in your novel? There will be sacrifices to make, but that does not mean that you can’t have your cake and eat it, too. If entertainment such as Netflix or satellite television is a major distraction for you, use it as a reward. Don’t allow yourself TV time until you have written X amount. You have to find a window that works for you. For me, that means getting up at 5 A.M. to write before work.
  3. Carry a notebook with you. If you hate notebooks, get a note app on your phone. Just make sure that you always have a way to record any inspiration that comes your way. On the bus, on your lunch break, grab as many minutes as you can throughout your day. By the time you get to your window, your creative juices are already flowing, and you’ll be ready to go when you sit down at your computer.
  4. Allow yourself time to get reacquainted with your world. Depending on how long it has been since you penned something, you may need some time just to review what you were working on. (This is also where step 3 comes in. If you are early on in the process, all you have to review is notes, but if you don’t have them recorded somewhere, how are you supposed to review. (Just imagine for a second if J.K. Rowling never had that first napkin. I don’t want to imagine a world without Harry Potter, do you?) Don’t beat yourself up if you have to. That gem is still in your mind somewhere; it just may take some digging to find.
  5. Find somewhere where you won’t be distracted. This is crucial. You have done the work up until this point, you have forced yourself out of bed at some awful hour, but if you are not somewhere secluded and private, you will not be as productive as you could be. Find a corner in your house or go to the local coffee shop, whatever helps you focus on your work like a laser.
  6. Don’t be afraid to steamroll right through it. Your first priority is to get the story on paper. Don’t worry about perfect spelling or grammar. Just plow right through your first draft. You can always go back and flesh it out later.
  7. Build yourself a network. Creative people are often lonely, but it doesn’t have to be the case. Find people who love to write just as much as you do, people who can act as your sounding board and give you feedback, people who will encourage you to keep doing what you love.
  8. Finally, the most important step. STOP BEATING YOURSELF UP, AND JUST DO IT! I wrote that it in capital letters because it is that important. You have to stop beating yourself up because you didn’t write one day. You are human, you are going to mess up. Accept that now, and when you do, you will be able to just let it go and move on. So what if you didn’t write one day? Sit down and make up for it the next day. Life is going to get in the way at times, but you can’t let it get in the way all the time. Make the choice, make it happen, because I promise you that once you put your mind to, nothing in heaven or earth could stop you from doing what you set out to do.

© SEPTEMBER  2018 ALL IMAGES MADE USING CANVA DESIGN

3 Plotting Methods For the Pantser In You

Plotting is tricky. Especially if you’re a pantser, like me. When I started writing, I would just sit at the computer and type whatever came to my mind. Of course, this resulted in an awful, disjointed first draft that still repulses me to this day. In my defense, I was only twelve and trying to write a romance novel, when I knew nothing about romance. There is nothing wrong with this method. I’m still guilty of using it on occasion, but there are some genres that require just a bit more planning.

I’ve spent the better part of a decade trying to figure out the best way to plot when I needed to. I’ve tried a few different methods I’ll lay out for you here. I may have found the perfect method for me, but you never know which one works best for you.

After I finished writing An Unexpected Romance, my first romance novel, I turned my attention to another genre: mystery/thriller. In a few months’ time, I cranked out a novel I called Love Lost. It was the story of two cops who fall in love while undercover as husband and wife assassins for the Russian Mob. Yes, it was terrible, but again, I was only twelve. However, with that book, I did discover my love for mysteries. I had always loved reading them, but I’d never really thought about writing them.

A few books later, I began work on a trilogy. I wanted to write a story about the dynamics of a partnership when they’re affected by a kidnapping. Basically, the initial story was about a woman who is held hostage for months. When she is released, she discovers that her old partner, the man she loved, hadn’t even been looking for her. He didn’t even realize she’d been missing. So, she comes back with a huge chip on her shoulder, but she must put it aside because they have to catch a bad guy. I called it Fatal Attraction. I am still working on it today. It no longer has anything do with the original storyline I came up with; it is no longer called Fatal Attraction. Now, it is about a woman investigating her father’s murder. Her father, the director of the CIA, left her a package with the instructions to give it to a man named Jack Logan, but when she discovers that Jack Logan died a week after her father, she teams up with his son, Jack, Jr., to investigate. Amid all of this, there is a frame-up, fake deaths, and many other twists that I will not give away because I would like you guys to read it at some point. As you can see, this sort of plotline requires a little more plotting than your average romance novel.

I began investigating. I knew I needed some sort of plan; at the very least, I needed to know the layout of the case my characters were investigating. I needed to know what clues they would find, and when and where they would find them.

The first method I tried was a simple bullet list. I pulled up a document on my computer, or sometimes used a notebook, and just started listing. The section was headed by the chapter number, and the main bullet points were the major points that were going to happen in that chapter. Any sub-bullets were the clues they found, awesome lines that popped into my head, etc.

This method worked great for a while, but I would always, inevitably, give up and just start writing. I’d type up a few chapters, until I hit a roadblock, and then I would go back to my bullet list. It was an endless cycle that just wasn’t accomplishing what I needed it to. So, I went back to the drawing board.

The next one I found was on Pinterest. It is called a plot board, and it was shared by Shaunta Grimes at A Novel Idea. For her blog post, click here. Here is the gist of it. I took a trifold cardboard display board and divided it into three acts. The first flap was act one. The middle of the board was act two. The last flap was act three. Then I wrote scene ideas on post-it notes and stuck them where I wanted them. What I loved about this method is how easy it is to change when you change your mind. All you have to do is move the post-it notes! However, I never really understood how to divide my story into acts. I worked much better with chapters. This would be a great tool for screen plays or theater, though. For me, it just didn’t work.

And now, the winner. The last idea I had came from my own mind. I was frustrated because I’d been working on this trilogy for so long, and I still had no idea what I wanted to happen in the story. I knew from the other methods I used that I wanted something visual because that is how I have always learned. I also wanted something simpler than a post-it note cardboard but also something I could still easily change when my ideas changed. So, I came up with my own version of a plot board.

I bought a large whiteboard on wheels that measures, I think, six-by-eight feet. It is also double-sided, so there is plenty of room to plan a whole series. Once I bought the board, it was as simple as creating a timeline. I just drew a line across the board and use tick marks for my scenes. I have different colored markers for various parts: blue for the flashbacks, green for time changes in present day (because what murder mystery is solved in one day?), and red for any edits I make to that specific timeline after everything is said and done. What I love about this is that it sits next to my desk, and I can see it every second I am writing. I don’t have to flip through notebook pages or set up a trifold, but it is still so easy to change and rearrange. Honestly, though I have never done this, if you wanted to make it even easier you could still use post-it notes. Another advantage is how much room it gives me. I don’t just have my plot lines on this board. This is also where I brainstorm names, places, titles, etc. I also keep notes on it, so I can keep track of the smaller details (like the identity of the killer and the evidence against them).

Every one of these methods is very helpful, but it took me a long time to figure out what worked for me. That, I believe, is the trick. There must be some trial and error on your part. Use your imagination. What works for you does not have to be traditional nor does it have to make sense to someone else. It just has to make sense to you. Then again, isn’t that why we’re all writers?

Until next time, I hope this helps!

© May 2018 ALL IMAGES EDITED USING CANVA DESIGN AND PHOTOSHOP