Organizing Tactics

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Hello everyone,

Just wanted to write a quick post about how my organization has improved, and how those of you who are architects versus gardeners might be able to improve your writing.

So, for those of you who are uncertain what I mean by architects versus gardeners, I mean that there is a spectrum for how much writers plan their stories. Architects like to plan every detail whereas Gardeners write from ideas in their head and let it grow organically. There is no correct way to write, but either way works better for some people. And, as is usual with false binary systems, people are usually a mix of both.

So, someone who plans and outlines less is more of a Gardener, and someone who tends to plan more and outline lots is more of an Architect.

Personally, I tend to be more of an Architect, and the better I become at organization, the more I lean towards planning everything out. I am more of a chaotic person, so organization is certainly not my strong suit, but I learned how to be more organized.

So, what kinds of methods have I picked up?

Some people work well with a digital outline or something similar. I’ve used a few different programs which help with that such as Trello and Scrivener. But I find that for someone like me, I tend to need to do something physically for it to make sense. So, what is my solution?

Coloured cue-cards.

It’s simple, just add different scenes onto your cue cards and arrange them in whatever order you think they should appear. Sometimes you can colour code them, too, for different themes and secondary storylines. If something weird happens when you’re actually writing, which does sometimes occur (those pesky characters developing minds of their own!) then you can move your cue card to a different location OR take it out of your deck. 

Usually, I still save research and ideas even if I don’t use them, because they could end up in a different project.

That means that as you write, you can move your ideas around just in case something changes. It works wonders for my projects, let me tell you.

Anyone have tips on how organization works? Comment below!

Writing exercises

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I don’t do these as much as I should, but my sister gave me a writing workshop book for Christmas, so I’m going to try some of them. It’s a book that gives lots of writing advice, and, as I said, writing exercises. So, here we go.

There’s a page dedicated just to describing things. To be honest, I often forget to do detailed descriptions of things, as I’m a more action-oriented writer. I used to be quite good at descriptions, but I’ve neglected practicing for a bit.

So, here goes the exercises.

Describe a circle:

A curved thing, a dark line that goes all the way around until it meets again. It is even, and if one were to draw a line through the center, the halves would match, no matter where you draw it. It’s clock faces, and the rims of glasses, and the ponderous brushstroke of an avante-garde artist. It’s a never ending time wheel, starting over and over. It’s a divine comedy, rising and falling, like a giant breathing.

It’s the sun waiting to go supernova, suspended in space.

Describe a spiral staircase:

The stairs were made of bright polished wood, and it wound its way up and around, ascending into the house’s interior. They were dimly lit with old lighting fixtures, unchanged for decades. The stair was enclosed by walls, like a castle turret, and it went up and up, past numerous bedroom doors, all open to air them out.

I slipped on them in my stocking feet and arrived at the bottom on the seat of my pants.

Describe the colour red:

It’s the colour that you keep bottled up inside you, until it explodes and drenches everything around you in it. It’s a nosebleed, hot liquid unexpectedly dripping down your face. It’s the type of colour ready to leap into action, violent emotion, passionate and unchecked. It’s your heart throbbing painfully with some thought or feeling of anguish.

It’s your mind spinning, round and round, until it’s all that you can see.

I’m only going to do three of them for now. I think I could have don better, but like many things in life, it’s all about getting back into the swing of things. If I keep up the exercises, eventually I’ll get back to where I want to be with describing things. This is also my mentality about going to the gym, but hopefully I won’t skip writing exercises as often as I skip actual exercises.

Feel free to leave your own descriptions of a circle, a spiral staircase, or the colour red in the comments.

Bothersome Background Noises

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When I’m writing, what noises are around me really affect my writing. I find that having just the right sort of noises can be very productive and get me into the writing zone, whereas others can completely ruin my concentration altogether.

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One thing I can’t stand at all is having the television going in the same room as I’m trying to work. Now that I live on my own, it’s not as much of a problem, but when I had roommates, it could be a huge issue. Sometimes, if I’m staying somewhere for a holiday, it can be a problem. It’s far too distracting, and half the time I’ll end up watching whatever show is on rather than writing.

Music is very helpful for a lot of people. I usually do very well with instrumentals or soundtrack music or theme music from video games. One of my favourites is listening to music from the Final Fantasy series, because a lot of video game music is mood-setting music. It helps set the tone of my writing to listen to it. I don’t usually listen to music with words, once again, because I get distracted – can you tell that I’m easily distracted?

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A couple of my favourite Final Fantasy XII themes – The Golmore Jungle and the Paramina Rift. I have to admit I have a whole Youtube list, but I won’t subject anyone to the entire thing.

Background noises can also be very helpful, both real life background noises and synthetic. I particularly like the background noise in cafes because of the low murmur of people’s voices which are usually low enough not to be intrusive. I’m sure there are many background noise synthesizers out there meant for writers, but one of my favourites is Noisli. It has a few different noises, such as rain, running water, wind, crackling fire, a cafe, and a train going over traintracks – no engine whistles, thankfully.

Strangely enough, I can’t stand silence. Silence is somehow just not stimulating to the mind.

What helps you concentrate on working? There are tons of methods out there that can get you in just the right kind of mood to be productive.

On Not Giving Up

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Okay, so your submission to a publisher came back with a rejection. Not only does it happen to the best of us, it happens to all of us. The vast majority of writers have publishers reject one of their works at some point or another.

It doesn’t mean that you’re a bad writer, necessarily. There are many reasons for a publisher to reject work.

One of them is that the work that you’ve submitted isn’t exactly what that publisher is looking for right at that instant. Sometimes it’s harder to figure out what a publisher is looking for when they have a general call out. Try again. Just because that publisher rejected it, it doesn’t mean every publisher will.

It could be that the publisher has limited space, and that they can’t publish everything that comes their way, even if it is good. It might be just that they’ve decided to go with authors that they are already familiar with, or that your work is similar to another author’s, so they went with the other one. It happens.

And I know you dread to hear it, but sometimes it is because of the writing.

So, I have a couple of questions for you, if you suspect that this is the case.

How long have you been a writer, and how much are you practicing? I’ve been a writer since I actually could write, and I get feedback from fellow writers at regular intervals. Are you taking any writing courses or following any writing blogs? Getting advice from others who can give you critical feedback?

The only way to get better at writing is actually writing. I’ve looked at some of my old work, and it’s just horrendous. But that’s looking at it from now. You can only get better with practice. That, and reading. Please read as much as you possibly can, because that’s how you can tell if you’re improving.

Don’t give up on writing because you got one rejection letter.

Other questions to ask yourself:

  • is my story predictable or typical? What can I do to change it up a bit, to make it different from all the other stories?
  • did I revise my story? How is the pacing, are there unnecessary scenes, or did you leave any out?
  • how’s your opening chapter? Do you have a good hook? What kind of scene do you open with? A lot of editors judge a book by its first chapter, and if that doesn’t impress them, they won’t read any further.
  • did you edit properly? Remember when I said editors can tell if you didn’t edit it? Yeah, they really really can, and dislike it immensely.

Any way you look at it, you shouldn’t take a rejection letter as a cue to throw in the towel. It is not a sign of failure unless you give up afterward.

Never think that writers are born. Writers create themselves.

Outlining

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I don’t know about any of you, but one of the things that I’m most terrible at is organization. I can’t organize things in my head to save my life, and I have to write it down somewhere to get it all in order. Some of my more complicated plots require a very dedicated and colour-coded outline so that I can keep track of what’s supposed to be happening. I tend to accidentally forget subplot points and leave them out.

One thing that sometimes helps with that is Trello, which I made a post about here.

I need an outline. Some lucky people don’t need one, because they’re just that clever. I am not one of those people, so that’s why I’m talking about it in this post.

I tend to colour code things like plot, sub-plots, and character arcs. There’s always an over-arching plot of things that are happening, some of which the characters might not even be aware of. Then I tie in sub-plots to the main plot, because sub-plots that don’t support your main theme aren’t very strong sub-plots. Then I add in character arcs, so that I can tell when a character needs to do something in order for the story to progress.

For me, plot is usually the hardest thing to actually do, because it needs to incorporate everything you want to include in the story. This is more from an organization point of view, because I usually know what needs to happen, it’s just a question of when.

Once the plot is laid down, then I can overlay it with the sub-plot and character arcs.

I find it a very tiring process, to be honest, and it’s usually what takes me the most time. Even research doesn’t take as long as that. Also, I tend to enjoy researching, which makes it less tedious than forcing myself to sit down and make charts and such.

Some people can just sit down and write. One of my teachers calls it the “gardening vs architecture” style of writing. “Gardening” is supposed to be just letting things grow in your head, whereas “architecture” is my style, in which the writer makes a plan. My professor also told us that there was no set way of writing, and that either style could work just fine, depending on the writer.

I suppose, for those of us that have a very chaotic way of organizing things, an outline works best.

Happy writing!