Thursday, November 11, 2010

They're More Like Guidelines Than Actual Rules

And that's the second Pirates of the Caribbean quote I've used for the title of a blog post. *nerd points*

So since we're in the midst of NaNoWriMo, and writers everywhere are trying to lure their weeping muses out from the bathroom with promises of double fudge rocky road and no more sentences ending in prepositions, I thought I'd share some of the techniques that I've learned over the years.

#1. Start strong. The first sentence, to me, is probably the most important sentence you will write in the whole novel, except for maybe the last one. It's the hook, the thing that draws the reader in and invites them to stay awhile. When you pick up a book at the store, chances are you pop it open and read the first sentence or three just to get a taste. 

For me, I like to think of the opening sentence and paragraph as the foundation for everything else that is to come. Get this right, tweak it as much as you need to until you're happy with it, and then move on. The strongest house will falter on a weak foundation, and the same goes with a novel; so make sure that beginning is tight. Once you're confident and content with it, everything else will come much easier. You'll be safe in the knowledge that you have a solid beginning with which to fall back on if you ever stray too far from the story you're trying to tell.

You may lather, rinse, repeat for the beginning of each chapter afterwards. The same idea applies.*

#2. Set the mood. I've mentioned this in a previous blog post, but music, more than anything else, can be a helpful tool in seducing your muse. If you're writing an action scene, why not pick some heavy rock n' roll? The fast tempo will get your heart racing, matching the hectic rhythm of an action sequence. How about a quiet ballad for a scene between two lovers? Lyrics may inspire dialogue. If nothing else, music will help you envision the scene that you're writing. I like to imagine it like a soundtrack and the movie is your novel.

#3. Eliminate distractions. This could also be called 'disconnecting your internet'. The internet, while extremely useful, is also extremely distracting. If you find yourself on Facebook or Twitter after every other word, then maybe it's time for some drastic measures -- such as unhooking your internet cable or turning off the wifi for a little while. I must confess, I'm as guilty of this as anyone, but discipline comes with practice! 

And, besides, the world won't end if you don't check your email every other minute. Well, unless you work for Skynet or something. In which case, you should stop working on that T-600 prototype altogether and pursue your dreams of becoming an author. It'll be better for the whole human race, trust me.

#4. Take a break. If absolutely nothing is working and you've begun contemplating throwing your PC/Mac/Typerwriter out the window, then maybe it's time to take a break and come back to it in a bit. Many people have suggested exercise as a good way to get the creative juices flowing, and I agree. Plus, it's healthy, always a nice bonus! Your body and mind will thank you.

But seeing as I'm rather lazy, I also have an alternative to provide! Watch a movie or read a book, any form of narrative that relates to the genre that you're writing. Writers are fortunate because we can study at the knee of the master any time we'd like -- we just have to crack open a book, or pay attention to the script of a movie. Sometimes it helps to see how another author has managed to get through a fight scene, or weave together several seemingly unrelated subplots. You don't even have to be consciously thinking about all of this. Your brain is awesome and will work through the writer's block by itself, given the time. So don't give up!

There's also the option of sleep. Dreams can be inspiring. And a rested brain works much better than a frazzled, overworked one.

#5. Just write. It might seem obvious, but the best way to get a novel done is to just write it. One word after the other. Push through the self-doubt and the nagging of your inner editor. One of the best ways to do this is to remind yourself of the good writing that you have done, thus far. There's bound to be a sentence somewhere that you're proud of writing. And there will be more, so long as you keep going!

Hopefully some of these tips help you! In the end, different things work for different writers. The only rule in this game is: whatever works, works. And don't forget to have fun along the way!

That being said, I'm rooting for all of you, dear writers! Feel free to share some of the tips and tricks that you've learned to help you on the bumpy road that is writing a novel. =)

* Disclaimer! Don't get hung up on the beginning, however. If you just can't get it the way you want it, and it's dragging you down, sometimes it's better to move on to the meat of your story and come back later. Writing something is better than giving up and writing nothing! Never surrender!