Tired writing – tech and tips to beat writing fatigue

Reading Time: 3 minutes
Tired writing cures
Use these cures for tired writing and let your prose soar like the Angel of the North.  -Which is iron, and fixed to the ground – another reason for me to find better imagery.  Angel, by Antony Gormley.

I am tired. I’m halfway through a Book in 100 Days program from The Write Practice, writing 1000 fresh words every single day, plus editing a large chunk of those for readability in order to share with the 100DB group every Friday. On top of this, I have a regular writing commitment at Short Fiction Break – next story out this Wednesday – plus, you know, my full-time job. So I’m feeling the hit in my turn of phrase. My characters seem to do nothing but nod or blink; my settings are all silvery, my magic is constantly shimmering.  It all feels very ugh. But I have sought out some tools to help me (when I reach the second draft stage) seek out my tired brain’s repetitions, and correct them into fresh, dazzling prose.

Get the data on your words. The first tool I suggest for tired writing is SpookForge, which analyses your pasted text for repetition, number of unique words and average sentence length. Be warned – this is a massive time suck as you pore over the statistics of your work. At surface level, however, it’s great for spotting words you overuse.

Let a robot tell you if your prose is hard to read. Another old favourite is the Hemingway app, which analyses your ability to present crisp, concise prose. It highlights sentences it feels are difficult to read, points out your adverbs and also shows where you’ve used passive voice. Brilliant!

Find a word well and drink from it. Having identified words I overuse, I can then turn to thesaurus.com. I don’t use it to try to find fancy alternatives for perfectly good words. I mostly use this when a word is on the tip of my tongue and I can’t recall it. It’s also good for brainstorming magical names for things. Type in a word that isn’t quite right, and it will suggest a host of related words. Click one of those, and same again. Another rabbit-hole you might end up going down, but word rabbit-holes are rarely wasted.

Not all repetition is bad. Sometimes, repetition is the clearest way. If you are going to use a thesaurus to replace some of your overused words, be cautious, and avoid the pitfall of elegant variation. If it’s a car, it’s a car. You don’t need to refer to it next time as a vehicle, and the next time as a motorised transport device. It will sound as contrived as it is.

Imbibe someone else’s lovely words. By this I mean read. Put down the non-fiction research books you’ve been devouring in order to support your novel, and pick up fiction. I struggle with finding novels I enjoy, so will often turn to old favourites. Lately, however, I’ve found some new authors whose work keeps me interested, while their phrases seep slowly into my consciousness, enriching my vocabulary and gently giving me ideas. Edward Marston’s Elizabethan theatrical murder mysteries are great, and I’ve enjoyed some seafaring Hornblower from CS Forester, plus Belgravia from Julian Fellowes, he of Downton Abbey fame. These various diversions have propped me up, word-wise. I also try to read a  poem a day, for example at poems.com. Here’s some guidance on reading usefully.

Write like the wind. One thing that I struggle with when tired is coming up with fresh imagery. I can draw the characters’ actions but I cannot describe what the situation is like. I need metaphor. Or simile. But nothing as easy as pie: that’s been done.

This is real writer-work. Really, I shouldn’t be attempting it when exhausted. But sketching a rough idea of what I’m trying to convey now, will help me pin it down in second draft. So I try to invent a new way of showing what I mean, whether it is the motion of waves on a beach (pawing at the shore? water dragging away, like a dog on a lead?) – even when I know my words are, as yet imperfect. Sometimes, just the act of forcing myself to invent as something as a something can inject life into writing. Here’s an article on the fine art of creating metaphors and similes. And here are a handy simile generator and a metaphor generator to poke your brain into action. I just got ‘her nose was like a farm‘. OK, I guess that gives me a start.

Review your descriptions. Check out my article on making description work overtime to provide character, tone and plot.

Those are my go-to ways for reviving tired writing. There’s a list of several more here. And why not try some of these online tools?

The Meaning Generator. This uses words and images – click each image to change it – to build a metaphorical statement.

Adverbless. Identifies adverbs in your prose.

And check out ThoughtCo for a ton of great articles on language, grammar and style.

Word Frequency counter.

I have a pet hate of half-hearted words like almost/barely/ nearly/hardly,  but I can’t find an existing resource about what they do to your writing and how to avoid them, so I’ll write one myself and link back to it when I’m done.

What tools and techniques do you use to keep your words fresh? Let me know in the comments!

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Planning backwards with a scene list

Reading Time: 4 minutes
Floating man, Newcastle Upon Tyne
Floating Man, Newcastle. It might seem backwards, sideways or just crazy to write the way I do, but it works for me – write first, scene list later.*

I’m very nearly done with the first draft of the book. Very nearly. I just have a couple of scenes to write near the end, plus some backfill to do at the start. This means it’s time to do what I always do at this stage of a story, and make a scene list. Which might leave you thinking, What? Make a scene list after you’ve written the book? That’s backwards! What?? I can explain.

I plan backwards. In total contrast to those who write out a scene list at the start of their project, I get down all known parts of my story first, and then shuffle them into shape, ready to go through and add backbone where is needed.
Essentially, the whole first draft of any of my stories is the rough outline, the brainstorm, the freewrite. It’s dialogue, action, description, ideas. The difference is that by the end of my outline, rather than a bulleted list of one line scene descriptions, I have 80,000 words.
I’m not totally ad-libbing it as I go. The shape of the story is in my head when I start, key scenes, all my Would Like To Meets. Writing like this lets my brain off the hook, frees it to make connections and throw in clues I have not yet consciously considered.
At the end, or near it, is when I get the scene list together in order to let me do just that – work deliberately on the structure my brain has been creating as it goes along.
What is a scene list? For me, it’s exactly what it says on the tin – a long list of every scene in my book, just a line saying what happened/what the purpose of the scene was. Maybe it’s the scene where aliens arrive; maybe it’s the scene where the hero reflects on his mistakes whilst fleeing a murderous tree.
Sometimes, when I try to describe the scene and it comes out as the bit where my hero dances with his love interest and they discover childhood similarities and get a bit drunk together, I realise that in fact the scene is doing nothing at all except indulging my romantic impulses, and so I ditch it then and there. This makes my scene list shorter.
Losing wordcount is a hazard of writing this way, but generally I’ve got so much by this point that the odd thousand words here and there don’t have a huge impact. And because my writing style tends toward the sparse, I know I’ll be going back in second draft and making it more descriptive and less like a load of dialogue in a bald occasional setting, and that will bring the words back in.
When I write out the scenes, I’m checking a number of things, separately and in this order:
1. Gaps. Has Bob gone from A to B without warning, and does the reader understand the transition? Is another scene needed to clarify or emphasise a key point? Have I referenced Bob’s dog in chapter 20, but failed to mention the mutt in chapter one?
2. Timeline. Do I have the aliens vanishing before the incident which sets free their nemesis? (Yes. This is a problem.) What are the logical consequences of each scene, and does what I’ve got next, make logical (and psychological) sense?
3. A decent shape. Does the story pan out in a way which will keep the reader interested? Are there slack bits which they will skip and if so, can I skip them too? Do the big scenes happen at the right moments, or have I created a three-hour movie where the story is all wrapped up, and then Bond goes off on a seemingly fresh mission for another ninety minutes? I hate movies that do this. If the story you started with is resolved, then stop. Doctor Who has become guilty of this lately, and the Mission Impossible franchise. Boo.
4. Clues. Is everything needed to resolve the story, shown to the reader early on? Agatha Christie-style last minute convenience is not allowed. You cannot have the hero suddenly find a Planet Salve in his pocket just as the world needs a solution for massive nettle rash. For a perfect story, in this respect, see Star Trek Beyond. All you need to know is set up in the opening scenes. Nothing is wasted and nobody pulls any rabbits from space hats.
5. Tone or mood. Glancing through, I check that the mood shape works with the story shape. This is hard to formulate, but basically, I check that I don’t have a happy-go-lucky scene right after a tragic one, unless that makes emotional sense in the story. Do I need to move my comic moments around, or add more? Do I need to hint at darkness sooner in the story?
When I’ve done all this using my scene list, all plot holes should be filled in, and the shape of the story should be pretty reasonable.  I’m then free to write the remaining scenes in the light of the scene list.
And once that’s complete… I’m ready to start on the second draft.
Lots of story methods use scene lists, but they are generally written before you begin. I have tried this, and found that I lasted less than two weeks of writing. By trying to nail down my story shape too early, I stretched my suspension of disbelief and got tangled in theoretical plots and subplots before I even had a clear voice for my heroine. That might mean I was doing plotting wrong, or it might be the way my mind works, but anyway the result was rubbish.
Anyway, for the traditional approach to scene lists, try the first two of these links below. They make perfect sense, even if they don’t work for me personally. And although I’ve yet to read it, the third is on my list to read next and seems to be right up my street.
  1. The Write Practice on scene lists for planning and productivity
  2. The Snowflake Method of novel writing, which uses a scene list as its core
  3. James Scott Bell, Write Your Novel from the Middle

How do you plan your writing? Or do you work in a more backwards way, like me? I’d love to know!

  • For a better picture of Floating Man than I was able to take, see here.
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First Draft Forgiveness – let yourself off these ‘writer sins’

Reading Time: 2 minutes
Fast First Draft Tips
Do not let concerns about plausibility – or style – slow you down in your first draft. Snakes-head exhaust pipe on classic sports car, Liverpool 2014

I’m currently writing a fast and horrible first draft. Fast because I have the attention span of a gnat on Red Bull, and horrible because I need to just rattle out ideas regardless of style or grace. To do this I need to forgive myself a host of writing sins. I’m finding this very useful and rather relaxing. Here are my top 6 things I cast gleefully aside in order to get the words out.

  1. Adverbs. Oh, how the adverbs spill out joyously, easily, triumphantly once you switch off the inner LAZY WRITING alarm. My characters are free to speak firmly, to turn awkwardly, or swoon completely away. It’s bliss, I must say. Strong verbs, take a break. I’ll be back for you later.
  2. Accuracy. Was Hyde Park in existence in 1820, so that my characters can go for a drive in it? Does it take two days to get from London to Hastings, or only one? Or a week? Is my novel in fact set in 1820 – or some other year when there may, or may not have been the Napoleonic Wars still happening? I’ll look it up when I’m done with the plot.*
  3. The exact order of events. Often I’m flying along in Chapter Six when I realise that something ought to have been referenced in Chapter Five, but I forgot to mention it. Quick, go back and between some asterisks, insert the line which will tie it all together. So what if it breaks up the flow of the dialogue? It’s one less thing to remember for the second draft.
  4. Typing and punctuation. Obviously. Unless it makes your writing incomprehensible, leave all the your/you’re stuff for later. Especially if, like me, you’re typing it all on your phone, under the tyranny of the AutoCorrect. Every single ‘the’ autocorrects to ‘Rye.’ All of them. It’s highly irritating, but I’m not changing them now. I haven’t got time.
  5. Repetition. Your hero just flicked his fingers at a servant, and then two paragraphs later, your heroine flicks a crumb from her skirt. Aarrgghh. Never mind, you can thesaurus.com it in the second draft.
  6. Finding the exact right word. Sometimes I can see the scene very clearly but cannot pinpoint the specific thing which will call it perfectly into the reader’s mind. When this happens I just write all around it, hoping that when I return to it, my mess of over-description will prompt me to the phrase I need. The sky was, um,  dull, silvery, grudging, the colour of a dented teapot at a service station. One of those will call up the required mood, and I’ll decide which one on the way back.

Those are the main things I throw out of the window when I need to write fast. Anyone who’s read my recent posts to The Write Practice may have noticed a slight dip in, uh, grace. But I cannot stop for beauty. I must Get This Done. And on that note, I’m off. More next week.

-Sef

*Or I won’t bother, since this is alternate-timeline historical fantasy. Maybe the Napoleonic struggles happened a bit earlier or later. Maybe I’ll just put a massive caveat inside the front cover asking readers not to contact me with all the anachronisms. Maybe I’ll worry about that in November.

 

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My terrifying timeline

Reading Time: 2 minutes
Knole Park, 2016
Fighting through problems, and smashing deadlines.

Do I dare? Do I dare put dates and deadlines to what I’m trying to achieve, and have to acknowledge publicly when I miss or make those targets? Is my book, my weird Young Adult Arthurian Genderfluid Fantasy Coming Of Age novel really going to become accountable?

Yeah, why not? Chris Baty is big on accountability. Also deadlines. He invented Nanowrimo around those core principles in 2000 and that is now a venerable institution.

In Nanowrimo you write a complete 50,000 word novel in 30 days. I’ve participated eleven times, aced it seven times, (one story is now a Sherlock Holmes time travel Dracula fanfiction love story here) and it taught me how to write fast.  So given that writing fast is what my next goals require, this should be a cinch.

  • Middle section – approx 20000 words – by end of July
  • End section – approx 40000 words – by end August
  • First draft generally whipped into shape, to be a novel of perhaps 90 000 words- by end September.
  • Sit back and take a break. -I’m kidding.
  • October – Start the rewrites.  My aim is to have something on the Kindle shelves by the end of the year. This year.

Yes, these are quite distant deadlines, by Self Publishing School standards. SPS founder, Chandler Bolt, reckons you can outline, write and launch a Kindle book in 90 days. I’m sure you can. But I’ve learned a lot about myself these last few years, and I know that the next 90 days are pretty likely to hold a few brick walls from Real Life. Worrying about work deadlines doesn’t help climb over those walls. So there’s leeway here. Maybe too much leeway? What do you think? Am I being soft?

My real issue is that I have other writing projects ongoing as well. Some purely for-fun ones which I nevertheless want to complete (three of them, two nearing the end and one really not…) plus my ongoing involvement with The Write Practice; plus I want to continue to make short stories and submit them to possible markets, just for the practice of the craft.

So OK. I have these deadlines. Are they crazy – crazily lax, crazily tight, or what? I don’t know. Let’s find out.

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