You've worked hard writing your story and put the final period down on paper. Then you let it sit for a while to marinate before diving into the revision process. Weeks or months later, you open up your document ready to dive into that amazing story and ... the plot just isn't working. You've read it and re-read it and something isn't right.
Suddenly that story you were so excited about feels like a total miss and ready for the garbage. After all, fixing a story's plot feels overwhelming and sometimes it seems easier just to start over with something new.
But before you deem it a lost cause, I want to encourage you that fixing a story's plotline isn't as daunting as it feels. Here are some things I take a look at when a story's plot is falling flat.
If your plot doesn't feel quite right, don't despair! Most early drafts suffer from these plot mishaps because you're still actively discovering your story and your characters. And that's a good thing! With each subsequent draft, your plot will grow more focused and your characters stronger.
Though it may seem like a big revision, it's easier to tackle plot problems than you think. I find that making a simple outline of my major plot points works the best. It helps me to see more clearly what isn't working or feeling right when it's all laid out in front of me. Once I think I've found the problem, I create a plan of attack and literally write out what I'm hoping to change and accomplish with my next draft. Then I start with a completely new document so I'm not trying to squish my old story draft into a new mold.
Now that you know what to look for, it's time to roll up those sleeves and tackle that story!
When writing novels, it takes a lot of work to get that initial draft done, then edited (and edited and edited) and finally published. So what do you do in the meantime or when you need a break?
It's important to keep your writing muscles in shape, especially when you're not actively working on your novel. It always surprises me how quickly I can get out of the habit of regular writing, so while I search out publishing opportunities for my manuscripts (or take a breather from editing), I give myself mini writing projects.
Though these writing projects are small, I still write with the intention of submitting the final piece for publishing. That way while I slowly progress on my novels, I can still build up my portfolio.
In the past, I've enjoyed writing poetry and short flash fiction pieces. Recently though, I've really liked writing nonfiction articles for online magazines or entering writing contests. Since the topics vary from travel to self-growth, they're a great way for me to take a break from my novel/fiction headspace.
Whatever mini project you give yourself, keep these questions in mind:
What are other ways you keep your writing muscles in shape when on a break from a manuscript?
There are two great pieces of writing advice that I've held onto:
1. Never throw away a piece of writing (no matter how bad or undeveloped it is).
2. You won't ever get published if you don't send out your writing. (A.K.A, you can't win the lottery if you don't buy a ticket.)
Even when my writing goes through dry periods, I always try to have something out in the world. That's when advice #1 comes into play.
Sometimes you won't always be able to write new content, whether life is busy or creativity is low, but if you keep all those old ideas and drafts then there's a piece of writing somewhere that you can edit and clean up.
Maybe it's reworking an old poem, or taking that short story idea and developing it a little more. Maybe it's even taking a piece that was rejected before and tweaking it based on feedback, or for a different audience.
The point is, as long as a piece of writing is submitted somewhere, that's a chance that it could get published. And as soon as you get that acceptance or rejection notice, then it's time to submit another (advice #2).
Now sometimes it's not always the story that's lacking, but where to submit it. Finding the right journal/magazine/publisher can be just as difficult as the writing itself. Here are things I do to keep my submission arsenal just as full as my writing arsenal:
Now, you've polished up your writing and researched places to submit. This is where I'd like to add a third piece of advice: create a submission records document.
Trust me, it can be really easy (especially with how long it can take to hear back on a submission) to lose track of where all your work is. I prefer to use Excel to keep track of my submissions, and have a template you can download in this blog post if you'd like.
But if spreadsheets aren't your thing, just make sure your documentation includes the following pieces of information:
There you have it! Though it may seem like the odds of getting published are sometimes just as unlikely as the odds of winning the lottery, it's not true. If you keep putting your work out there and continue developing your skills, I know you'll find success.
So even when it's hard, keep playing the game and scratching that ticket. You never know, someday you may hit the jackpot!
Ah, springtime, a time of renewal and refreshment. So while you’re hitting those closets hard with spring cleaning, how about shaking up your writing routine?
If your writing routine has gathered dust from disuse, or it’s become drab and dreary from repetition, here are some things I do to refresh my routine and get those new ideas flowing.
Listen to writing podcasts. My favorite writing podcast that I tune into regularly is “Writing Excuses”. It’s only 15 minutes long so it’s easy to fit into your day, and the authors that host it have great ideas and suggestions for almost any writing topic or issue that you’re interested in. Plus, they’re usually pretty entertaining.
Read about writing. There are a lot of great books and blogs out there that can energize your writing muscles. Some recent books that I’ve enjoyed are Medieval Underpants and Other Blunders by Susanne Alleyn and Writing Fiction For Dummies by Peter Economy and Randy Ingermanson. (Yes, I’m serious! It was actually a fun, broad overview of the fiction writing process.) I also enjoyed Jerry Jenkins’ blog post, “8 Steps to Writing a Perfect Scene—Every Time”.
Write differently. This can be trying a new genre that you usually don’t write in, using a different story format (flash fiction, novel, novella, etc.) or even changing the font you usually type in. (I kid you not, I changed my font to Comic Sans when I write my drafts now and it rocked my world. Something about it being silly allows you to write more freely without having to worry about the final product yet.)
I've been working on a couple of novels and recently had them reviewed by amazing copy-editors through Reedsy. (If you're unfamiliar with Reedsy, check out my recent post about my experience.)
Both of the editors I worked with pointed out things in my writing that I didn't even realize I was doing, but once I saw them were completely distracting. If you have an editor or a writing friend who can review your work, ask them to point out those pitfalls when they notice them in your style. You may be blind to them, but those could be the things that are taking away from your story.
I'll sacrifice myself as an example of some common style pitfalls that are easy to correct with a quick CTRL - F, but only if you know they're there.
Do you know what your style pitfalls are? If you don't have a kind editor or friend who's able to point them out to you, start by looking at the usual culprits to see if you can discover a pattern:
It's very cool to see how your writing can change when you dive into the details. Though the larger elements like the plot and character development certainly matter, it's the small things that help tell the story.
If you've been poking around in the freelance editor world, you might have come across a site called Reedsy. If you're a writer, Reedsy helps connect you with freelance editors, designers, and even marketers to help you with your writing projects.
I've used Reedsy twice now to find a editor to review my work before submitting it to a publisher, and it has been an amazing experience! If you're on the fence, here's my experience was with Reedsy.
First of all, you'll need to set up your profile. It's pretty straightforward and you can fill it out with as many details as you'd like about yourself. Next, you'll want to create a project brief that tells a little bit about your story, your deadline, and what you hope to accomplish through the collaboration. When you're ready to find an editor, proofreader, or designer, you can select the "Marketplace" tab and use the drop downs to filter the results.
Each professional has a bio you can read as well as reviews to help you choose the best person for your project. For my novels, I was looking for copy-editing help. You can request a quote from several professionals (I usually requested quotes from 3-4 people) to compare prices.
The services offered through Reedsy aren't cheap (think several hundred up to a thousand) because these are amazing professionals who do this for a living, so know that you'll have to be willing to shell out the cash. But that's why it's nice to get several quotes so you can find one in your price range.
Once you decide on a quote and the professional is willing to work on your project and accepts, then you're ready to go and the fun begins! Everything from start to finish happens through Reedsy which is protection for both you and the professional you're working with. Reedsy will facilitate the payment and you'll use their message center to upload documents and communicate with each other.
After the editor I chose accepted my project and I their quote, we exchanged a welcome message and I uploaded a word document with my manuscript. Then later the editor returned a word document on the due date we discussed with their tracked comments and edits. This was the part that was so wonderful for me. It was great to get feedback on my writing and the insights I received during both of my experiences on Reedsy have changed how I approach my stories. In the end, not only did it make my stories better, but the experiences made me a better writer.
I'm hoping to collaborate with the two awesome editors I worked with again in the future. It's nice to create that relationship too and get feedback from someone who has been in the industry longer than I have. Overall, though it was a bit nerve-wracking the first time, I had nothing to be worried about. It was easy to use the site and the result was completely worth the price in my opinion! Not to mention that the two editors I worked with were completely professional, helpful, and honest with their edits. (Both were kind enough to sprinkle in large doses of encouragement too. I didn't even cry once!)
If you feel stuck with your story, you're looking to self-publish, or you want a leg up when submitting to publishers, Reedsy is a good place to start for that next step.
Has it really been four years since I last posted?! How in the world did time go by that quickly? It feels like only yesterday I was a recent college grad embarking on a new adventure, but apparently I'm older now than I like to think.
Let's face the truth, life got crazy and I'm afraid I've neglected this poor blog for too long. But I'm back!
A couple updates: My husband and I bought our first home in 2018 (as well as a second cat). It's a fixer-upper which has been awesome in the "it's a blank slate" area, but not so awesome in the "tons of free time" area. Though we're happy with how it is going, both of us have sworn off renovating another home again. It seems like when we finally got it to a good spot...COVID hit.
After transitioning to a work-from-home routine for my marketing communications job, we made life even crazier by getting a pandemic puppy! Our Bernese Mountain dog has brought us so much joy. It's crazy to think that she's already two years old now. She gets along well with the cats and keeps us entertained and moving!
Even though I haven't been blogging, it doesn't mean I haven't been writing. In fact, I can't wait to share with you some new pieces I've gotten published and all of the writing tips I've learned over the past couple years.
I know I have some catching up to do, but it's great to be back!
When I was younger, I made up this entire fantasy series about an underground world. There were four "books" (about six pages each) that I would read out loud to my captive audience comprised of my little sister and her two friends. All of them ended up loving the stories and remember them still years down the road. They all said that's when they knew I was going to go on to be a writer.
I still remember that feeling of joy and accomplishment to have created something that entertained and appealed to them. It's been a long, long time since I've interacted with a target audience in such a personal way. I've found myself working in a vacuum, and let me tell you, there is no faster way to lose the motivation to write.
A few days ago, I drove down to see a friend and help her set up her classroom for her first teaching job. As an English teacher, she had books galore that all needed to be tagged and shelved. It was incredibly fun for me to go through all the young adult books and remember what it was like to fall in love with reading at that junior high age. There were so many books that had shaped me during those years, so many authors who touched me through their work. And then it hit me. I can be one of those authors!
Leaving that classroom, with the smell of books still fresh in my nose, prompted me to remember who I write for. I write for that kid who wants to get lost in another world. I write for the teenager who is exploring all the wonderful and not-so-wonderful things that come along with adulthood. I write for that full-time worker who just wants an escape from the daily grind on their lunch break. These are my readers, and if I can bring a little of that joy and wonder I felt as a kid to others, I know that I will feel that same joy in return for having shared (if only for a brief moment) a part of myself with someone else.
When my husband and I were engaged, we attended a Gary Chapman marriage conference through our church. (If you've never heard of Gary Chapman, I would highly recommend his books The 5 Love Languages and Things I Wish I'd Known Before We Got Married.) Among the great marriage advice, one thing he said in particular stuck with us: do some kind of event/activity focused on building your marriage every year.
The idea was that we can be getting along great in our everyday life together, but these marriage conferences, Bible studies, and getaways to focus on our relationship helps us to grow as a couple.
Not only has this been solid advice for us newlyweds, but the same principle holds true for my writing. In fact, I've learned a lot about being a better writer by trying to be a better wife. So today we're going to do some relationship counseling. Your relationship as an author to your writing.
Advice #1: Go to one writing-focused event every year. Like how a marriage event every year gives couples time to reconnect and grow, a writing event can really help you grow as an author. Step out of your routine to get some new perspectives and learn new skills. This may be something like attempting NaNoWriMo or maybe going to a writer's conference. Maybe it's meeting with a writing group or doing a workshop. It might even be signing up for a writing course at a community college. Take the time to make yourself better.
Advice #2: It's ok to spend time apart. This one has been just as hard for me to apply in my marriage as it has with my writing. I love hanging out with my husband, but it's still important for us to spend time apart to be individuals, do our own interests, and hang out with friends. After all, those hobbies and interests are part of what attracted us to each other in the first place. Similarly, I can tend to hold onto my writing with a death grip, refusing to send it out into the world and let it stand on its own. Sitting in a folder on my computer isn't letting my writing reach its full potential. Even if you're not ready to publish, spending some time away from a manuscript can give you a fresh perspective on it.
Advice #3: Quality time. Reversely, it's also important to make time for each other out of your busy schedules. If you want a good relationship, you're going to have to devote some consistent time to it. This is a hard thing to do when it comes to writing. Finding a consistent time every day to sit down and write, even if it's only for 15 minutes, will grow your writing. It may be hard to do some days, but it pays off when you finish your story.
There you have it! Do something today to make yourself a better writer. And on the flip side, tell those who are important to you that you love them and treasure your relationship with them.
I will always encourage writers to never stop reading. In my experience, it's the single best way to hone your craft. This past week or so, my reading has alerted me to a solution for a problem that has plagued my writing for a long time.
Have you ever started writing a scene that started off so purposeful, and then three paragraphs in your main character is still working on getting dressed and eating breakfast? This awesome story has turned into, well, your morning routine. No offense, but that's probably the last thing people want to read about.
I can't tell you how many times I have fallen into the trap of the mundane. And the results are devastating: readers who don't want to read, and even worse, a writer who loses interest in writing. How can you continue writing when you character is just munching away on dinner and you'd really like to go eat dinner yourself? There's not a more effective way to make a story die than to slowly suffocate it with mundane details.
I'm very aware of this tendency in my own writing. I've talked about it with fellow writing friends and tried various revision techniques, but somehow it always sneaks through. While recently reading a book on vacation though, I slowly found my answer. I realized a big difference between my writing and the author's. Her story had purpose; every paragraph and every chapter accomplished something. There was no teeth brushing, meal eating, or changing clothes. And I wasn't distressed that her characters never seemed to do personal hygiene. I didn't even notice! I was too involved in the actual story.
The only time those types of things showed up were if they were important -- the meal the characters were eating with their family was fraught with tension. Or, the usually tidy and put-together character didn't care about changing their rumpled clothes or brushing their hair. The only time the mundane came up was to give insight into the characters or plot. And by the way it was presented, it could hardly be called mundane anymore.
Knowing what I had to do, I took a long look at my current story. It's very hard to cut off the dead weight because sometimes those scenes and descriptions can be close to your heart. But what are they accomplishing? Going forward, I'm going to make every piece of writing work harder for me. It has to either:
If a scene doesn't accomplish at least one of those things, I need to think seriously about cutting it out. And even if it does accomplish one of those things, I need to ask myself if it can work harder. Example: if a piece of writing is just setting the scene, is there a way I can describe the setting so that it also conveys character insight?
This won't be an easy task. In fact, it can be a very arduous one. But in order to create a crisp story that doesn't lag, it needs to be done.
One word of caution: the flow of the story and feeling it creates does still need to stay intact. You don't want scenes to end up disjointed or have a story world that doesn't feel immersive. But pay attention to those mundane sections that creep up. What are they adding?
Hi, I'm Jessica! I'm on a mission to make my writing better in hopes of becoming a published novelist. It's been a crazy journey so far as I learn the twists and turns of the publishing world, but it's been worth it. Though I'm still learning how to be the best writer I can be, I'm excited to share what I learn with you. Happy writing!