Things to do BEFORE You Sit Down to Write the Next World-Changing Novel

I’ve been working on the classes I’ll be teaching at the Storymakers Conference this year, and thought it might be fun to give you a TINY peek into my Mad Drafting Skillz class. (Even with titles, I cannot be serious). Also, this got a little long…

So. A few things to think about doing BEFORE you start your next book. No, I don’t care if you’re a “plotter” or “pantser” though, the longer I write, the more I realize we’re all hybrids of this, we’re just on a different place on the scale.

PLOTTER – – – – – – – – – – – – – JO – – – – – – – – -PANTSER

(Where do you fall? It might even change from project to project. In my mind YAY YOU!! You’re letting the creative part of the process take over. I’m slowly moving more left the longer I write, and the more revising I do…)

SET THE MOOD – No. I’m not kidding.

  • Where do you write best? Write there whenever you can.
  • What are you wearing when you get your best writing done? I wrote Has to be Love almost entirely while wearing (and YES washing between wears) my husband’s Captain America pajama pants. The point is – BE COMFORTABLE. You do not want to interrupt your flow by trying to scratch an itch somewhere between your boots, jeans, and big toe. (Um, is that even possible?)
  • Did you know that if you chew peppermint gum while studying for a test, you should chew that same gum while taking that test? I will stock up on a certain flavor of sparkling water when I’m drafting, and make myself a nice glass before sitting down. Every time. Once I used hot chocolate. My jeans are still too tight… But the point is – our brains will associate the mood of your book, and the information stored about your book WITH THAT SMELL. I don’t know how brains work, but this is a pretty awesome thing to take advantage of.
  • MAKE A PLAYLIST – Even if you don’t write with music, that playlist will help you keep your head in the game when you’re not writing. I just turn the music way down when I write because it helps drown out other noises.

DO SOME PLANNING – Even if you’re a pantser.

  • I WRITE A FEW THOUSAND WORDS BEFORE I COMMIT. The idea or the character just might not flow, in which case, that’s not the project I should be working on right now. On a side note, even though my publisher lets me sell on very few pages and a synopsis, I always have a first draft before I sell. I do not want the pressure of HAVING to write something specific.
  • IF you take my advice and write your few thousand words, YAY YOU! If not, that’s ok, but pretty please do this one: Write your logline, blurb, and a one sentence of what your book is about on a deeper level (ex. Hope, Recovery, Over-coming, Friendship). This is SO helpful, even if the blurb tweaks slightly. It is much easier to tailor the stakes in a novel to a blurb, than to try and decipher the stakes in a novel when you don’t keep them in mind while writing.
  • Even if you’re a pantser, have an idea of the personal growth of the MC, and a few major points.
  • Take a look at things like Blake Snyder’s beat sheet (If you google this, you’ll get loads of good stuff including excuses to watch movies and see if you can spot the beats). Google four-point pacing, which is a great way to figure out WHEN your plot points should happen. 7 point plotting is also a great thing to look up. All are really helpful, even if you don’t want to map the novel out (you pantsers). If you do, then you’re welcome, b/c I’ve just given you ideas on three new (maybe new?) tools that help with planning.
  • I’m big on visuals, so I sometimes pick out pics of my people or the setting.
  • If you have big research to do, I highly suggest doing most of that research first. It’ll give you context for events in your book. Now, I’m a huge advocate of leaving markers in your MS if you don’t remember a bit of research. I use XXX, b/c Command F will find those for me, and I can replace them with the actual bits while watching X-Files 🙂 #WIN

MANAGE YOUR TIME, BRO – (Yes, this is for the girls, too)

  • The best lesson I ever learned about time management was in a class with Laurie Halse Anderson. She said to divide up your writing time between AUTHOR and WRITER. Unless you’re pushing a new release, your WRITER time, should be much bigger than your AUTHOR time. Writer time is anytime you get to have fun and be creative. This CAN be researching, but it’s the FUN part. The drafting in the setting you choose, the time when you shut out the rest of the world and focus on your story. AUTHOR TIME is the stuff we have to do – marketing, emails, online presence… Be mindful of this.
  • TURN OFF THE INTERNET. ‘Nuff said.
  • I know people who leave their kids for four hours to go work at Starbucks or something, and then they’re frustrated when they don’t get a lot done. Do you know why most college and high school classes are about 1-2 hours long? That’s about the limit of our attention span. Now, I can write all day, but I do it in short increments – I set a timer for 40 minutes. I HAVE to write for that 40 minutes. If I’d like to keep going I can, but once I start slowing my typing, I stand up, stretch, (if I’m home I do a chore, if I’m at Starbucks, I just stand and stretch, maybe take a snack/pee break). Set the timer again. WRITE. I promise that about 90% of you will get more writing done in a 5-hour chunk of this, than a 5-hour chunk of solid writing.

Anything else? Stuff you love to do before you sit down and write? Something I forgot? And no, I’m not going to write up my whole class in blog posts… YOU HAVE TO COME.

~ Jo

P.S. This post brought to you by the pandering of Shelly Brown and Michael Bacera.

P.S. FOUR FRIENDS who also happen to be faculty at Storymakers this year, have book releases today. CONGRATS YOU!!!

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4 thoughts on “Things to do BEFORE You Sit Down to Write the Next World-Changing Novel

  1. Love this! I actually just created an interactive BS2 sheet because I couldn’t find one online (that was free, lol).

    I’m going to try some of these for my WIP

  2. I’m sad I won’t be in your class at Storymakers. You’re an awesomely fun teacher.

    My son was telling me about the gum thing. Don’t know if it worked for him or not. Does it have to be peppermint?

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