René Penn

Writer. Aspiring author. Blogger. Follow me.


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It’s Just a First Draft, Right?

drew-hays-26241.jpgI know, it’s just a first draft. Just get it out! Just go crazy! Just brain dump! Who cares how many times you just wrote “just?” Or that you used too many exclamation points? Don’t worry about commas or split infinitives or run-on sentences or bad grammar. In some cases, you may not even be able to read what you wrote, but later you’ll know what you meant. It’s okay for now, because it’s just a first draft.

Description is important, but not right now. It will just slow you down. Do people even want to know what pain smells like, what color the weather is, or if perfume has a taste? You could spend 30 minutes thinking of the right way to describe the mildew in your antagonist’s shower. Close the thesaurus.com browser. You’re wasting valuable writing time. You can add your descriptons later. This is just a first draft, right?

Don’t think about whether your scenes are out of order. That can be fixed during your next draft, which you won’t get to until after 300 pages of word-vomit are typed or handwritten, and chunks of it will have to be rewritten anyway, because it won’t make logical sense. But it’ll make sense to you later, because the scenes are in the right order in your head. For now, it’s just a first draft.

Eyes and hearts. You’ll want to avoid them in your next draft. But in this one, you can write about eyes and hearts all you want. Everyone can stare into each other’s eyes, even if you don’t know what color the characters’ eyes are yet. So yes, by all means, let your heroine’s heart burst with happy-ever-after love, and all of the cliche things that come to mind. You can fix that later. It’s just a first draft, right?

It’s okay if you don’t have concise, snappy dialogue. You’ll develop the character’s voices as you go. Let them ramble away for now. It’s better to understand the dynamic. You can cut what doesn’t work later.

Speaking of “cut,” don’t cut anything as you write. Pretend your keyboard doesn’t have the delete or backspace buttons. Your pencil doesn’t have an eraser. Your pen can’t draw a heavy dark line through the written gobbledygook. And don’t analyze how all of the extra words will effect your word count.

Oh yeah, word count. That can be a stickler. But don’t let it be. Just write what you want to write. Tell your story. Don’t worry how long or short your book is going to be. It doesn’t matter if you over-write or under-write. Unless your protagonist is actually an underwriter. And if they are, you can change them to a law-firm partner later.

This is just the first draft. The only one who is going to see—and is only ever meant to see—this crappy, ill-written, mental-mush first draft is you, right?

Right!

Good. I’m glad that’s settled. Now, about that second draft…

 

Photo by Drew Hays on Unsplash


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Why a Creative Outlet Can Make You a Better Writer

I started, stopped and recently re-started making jewelry. I started because I would see a necklace at a store, for instance, and analyze the ways that it could look different.  I thought that I had an eye for accessories, and decided to take a jewelry-making class in 2013, just for the heck of it. After making my first pair of earrings, I was hooked. IMAG0136

Perusing through the bead aisle of local craft stores became my new past-time. I received compliments and a few commission requests, on the jewelry that I made. But more important than that, I noticed that my writing got better. I discovered a new creative outlet that I didn’t even know existed within me. Here’s why I think jewelry-making or any other creative outlet—like painting, drawing, sculpting, gardening, cooking, sewing, photography or music—helps with writing.

  • It’s tangible

As writers, we live in our own heads. A lot. The scenes we conjure up are so clear to us, we can practically see them. But of course, we can’t actually see them. Our true reality is a flat, pen-to-paper or fingers-to-keyboard-to-screen experience, even though our writer imagination is rich with vibrant colors, descriptions and character personalities. Creating something tangible, visual and three-dimensional is a great way to pull oneself out of the imaginary world, awaken the physical senses and dive into something real.

  • It makes you a better creative communicator

When I create jewelry, my brain has a specific visual goal in mind. P1000567I have to figure out how to take that idea from concept to finished project—converting loose beads, wire and spacers into a necklace, for instance. Those skills translate to writing, as well—such as bringing characters together, developing plot lines and moving scenes around.

  • It provides a quick sense of accomplishment

Once the creation is done, I led out a sigh. It’s such a good feeling. I can create a necklace and have something to show for it within 30 – 60 minutes. Unlike a novel, it doesn’t take months and months, or even years, of work and waiting to get to the finish line. It satiates the short-term need to actually complete something creative and consider it done. With that fulfillment, I have more patience to continue my long-term writing projects.

  • It boosts your creative confidence

When I first wore jewelry that I made, it was exciting to receive compliments on my pieces. It increased my creative confidence. As writers, we have a story to tell, but we also want people to like it. But to my point above, when you’re spending months on a WIP, you don’t get input or feedback from a reader. It’s easy to let self-doubt creep in. A creative outlet that evokes immediate positive feedback may give you the boost you need to keep doubts at bay while writing.

  • There is a positive cerebral effect when it comes to working with your hands

I touch on this point, pardon the pun, in a separate article about why I’m writing my manuscript by hand. “Working with your hands can spur and engage your imagination, because it stimulates the part of your brain that’s associated with creativity.”

  • It works your creative muscles while giving your writing muscles a chance to rest

With exercise, your muscles need a break to develop properly and minimize injury. That’s why it’s suggested to work out different parts of your body on different days. I think the same goes with our creative muscles. Sometimes we need a rest from writing, but we still need that jolt we get from creating something. That’s when a creative outlet other than writing can be the perfect solution.

Even with all of these great reasons, I actually stopped making jewelry for a year or so. I was planning my wedding, and jewelry-making fell by the way-side. Now that I have more time during the day, I am going to make a concerted effort to make jewelry-making part of my routine.

What creative hobbies do you have? And have you noticed that they help with your writing process?


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Establishing a Daily Routine to Help My Writing

It’s time that I start working on a writing routine, because yesterday morning I spent about 90 minutes looking at YouTube videos from the Graham Norton Show. By the end of it, I had tears streaming down my face and an ab workout from laughing so much. Then, writer’s guilt slapped me in the face. The time on the clock set me straight, and I dove into my WIP. I managed to write 1,800 words, but it was a bit frazzling. I don’t want to repeat yesterday’s action of going down the Internet rabbit hole, so here’s the daily routine I want to establish for myself. nick-morrison-325805

Morning:

  • Check and engage in social media and blog

Since my instinct in the morning is to pick up my phone and start web-surfing, it may be better not to fight it. Here’s my chance to check my WordPress and Twitter stats, view other people’s posts and spend some time engaging with others. I also spend this time catching up on regular news.

  • Work on blog post

While I was working full-time, I was able to write one blog post per week. Now, I’m going to try to increase it to two, and see how that goes. I don’t want to overcommit myself, because if I don’t do it, writer’s guilt sets in. (I’m noticing a pattern about writer’s guilt. Definitely a future blog post idea.)

  • Spend time creating

I’m convinced that my novel writing is better and more focused when I have another creative outlet. That’s one of the reasons I started making jewelry a few years ago, blogging is, too. Novel writing, for me, has been a slog-through-the-mud experience that may or may not lead to a completed manuscript. When I make jewelry or work on my blog, it satisfies that need for an immediate sense of accomplishment. I don’t do this every day, but I’m aiming for twice a week.

  • Go to the “office”

I can work on my blog at home, no issues there. But when it’s time to push out hundreds and hundreds and hundreds of words, I need to be in a space where I’m less distracted—where no dishes, laundry, TV or nap-friendly couch are calling for my attention. My office is the library. The book stacks are inspiring. And I don’t have to feel obligated to buy a cup of tea, like I would at a cafe, when I really just need to park my bum for 4 hours and write.

  • Write

Yes, blogging is writing, but the bulk of my writing time is spent on my novel-in-progress. My goal is 1,800 words per day. If I can commit to that, I’ll feel like I’ve truly earned my imaginary paycheck that day. How did I come up with the 1,800 word count? If I’m working on an 80,000-word manuscript at a clip of 1,800 words per day between Monday – Friday, then it would take about 2 1/2 months to finish. Give myself a 2-week grace period for any below-average productivity, and that allows for a 3-month timeframe. I think that’s respectable.

Afternoon:

  • Exercise

I know, I know. Exercise isn’t part of the writing process, but it makes me more energetic, which makes me a better writer. When I commit to three days of exercise a week, I’m not as lethargic. Depending on the weather, I alternate between aerobics, yoga, dance (I have fun trying to follow dance-tutorial videos, and I fail, epically), walking, jogging, and biking.

  • Write some more

After lunch is when I usually hit my stride. freestocks-org-229658The morning cobwebs are gone. I’ve spent some time thinking about what I want to write that day, and I’ve gotten my distractions out of the way.

Evening:

  • Read a book and maybe write even more

It’s baseball playoff time, and my hubby is all about MLB on TV right now. Me? Not so much. At first, I wanted the remote-control time back. But now I use that game time to catch up on a book or do more writing or blog-post tweaking.

RELATED ARTICLE: Famous authors and their daily routines

For those of you with day jobs, I know what you’re thinking: This is not doable for my schedule. harry-sandhu-209807You’re right. I wasn’t able to do it that way, either. But there are pieces of it that may be applicable to your daily routine. Here’s what I did while I was working my “8-to-5.”

Mornings for day job routine:

  • Check social media and blog

I rode mass transit to work, so I spent my riding time scrolling through my phone. If you have to drive, then I would spend 15 minutes before leaving home or when you get to the office (shh, we won’t tell anyone).

  • Write

During the ride, I would pull out my laptop or notebook and write for 10 – 15 minutes. Again, if you have to put hands on a steering wheel, then take the time during your lunch break to write.

  • Wake up early

Even better, wake up earlier to spend time writing or engaging on social media before you go to work. I spent a year waking up 30 minutes earlier than normal to write, and that’s how I finished my first full manuscript.

Evenings for day job routine:

  • Cut TV time, write instead

If you have what I call passive TV time—where you’re watching TV, but it’s really watching you—then pull out your laptop or notebook for 15 minutes. You may surprise yourself how far you can go. Just 200 words during Wheel of Fortune will add up over time.

  • Exercise while watching TV

You could do some squats, jumping jacks, and jog-in-place movements for 15 minutes while watching TV, to incorporate exercise and get energized.

Travel for work? You could consider writing in the airport or station, on the plane or train, and during any layovers.

RELATED ARTICLE: 2017 Nobel Prize in Literature winner Kazuo Ishiguro describes his “Crash” routine while writing Remains of the Day

What’s your daily writing routine? Is it working? Or do you prefer not to have one?

 

Photos by Harry Sandhu, freestocks.org and Nick Morrison on Unsplash


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Yikes, I Just Signed Up for NANO

I just signed up for NANO. What have I done? *faints*

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Many writers know why those seemingly harmless initials can cue thoughts of fainting, cold sweats, and uncontrollable facial twitching—and that’s the reaction for those of us who haven’t even participated in NANO before.

If the term NANO is new to you, it’s a tender little nickname for National Novel Writing Month. But there’s nothing tender about it. When you participate, you’re signing up to write 50,000 words of a novel, preferably a new one, between November 1 and November 30. That equals 1,667 words per day, for you MathWriterMeticians out there. On Friday, I wrote about 1,900 words, and my brain felt like cottage cheese afterwards. How can I sustain that kind of output for a month straight?

Luckily, there are no NANO police officers who will ticket us for not exactly adhering to the rules. I was assured that fact by a couple of regional liaisons for NANO, who lead a writer’s group that I attended. I also learned:

  • It’s okay if I continue working on my novel-in-progress during NANO. I just need to have a clean slate for my NANO word count starting November 1. Example scenario: My novel may already be at 50,000 words on Day 1 of NANO. If I get to 52,000 at the end of the day, I should log in that I’ve written 2,000 words for NANO. But no matter what, you can’t include the word count of anything written before November 1. Editing doesn’t count, either.
  • There are resources available through NANO, like online forums and write-ins. A write-in is basically a meet-up where folks get together to work on their NANO projects. Oh, and you’re allowed to talk while you’re there, too.
  • There are cute badges and certifications if you make the 50,000-word goal.
  • Even if you don’t hit 50,000 words, there’s a sense of accomplishment no matter what. The odds are high that you’ve written more by the end of November than you did in October or September, and so on.

So who else has signed up? What pointers do you have for me to survive the month of November?

 

 


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How Do I Update My LinkedIn Profile to Show that I’m Working on a Novel Full-Time?

The last day at my 8-to-5 job was Friday, so yesterday I decided to update my resume on LinkedIn. (Can you tell I’m excited for this new phase in my life?) I clicked on the “Add new position” link, which took me to a drop-down menu. I froze at that point, because I wasn’t sure what title to write. I immediately thought of late-night TV icon Jimmy Fallon, whose self-description on Twitter reads “astrophysicist.” Could I go there with my profile? Uh, no. Funny idea for Jimmy on Twitter, bad idea for me on LinkedIn.

So what exactly is my new position? I’m working on a novel, but I certainly can’t call myself a “Novelist.” I’ve always considered a novelist to be someone who has crossed the publishing threshold. I view the title “Author” the same way. Though I did read a compelling case for why you should call yourself a novelist, regardless.

Needless to say, I typed “Writer” as my new position. After that, it provided autofilled options, like “Freelance Writer” or “Independent Writer.” 20171003_091549Nah, those didn’t seem quite right, either. They imply that I’m a contractor or freelancer, which isn’t the case. The next thing to complete was “Company.” I was at a loss there, too. I decided to go with “Self-Employed.” That could also be slightly misleading, but it was the best fit among the choices offered. Plus, LinkedIn wouldn’t let me save the entry until the “Company” field was completed.

Last but not least was the description. “Writing and blogging” was what I wrote. It looked pretty skimpy compared to my previous 8-to-5 position, which was chock-full of communications-manager goodness. After some noodling, here’s what I decided to go with:

Writer and Blogger

  • Writing a fiction novel, currently a work-in-progress with 42,000 words written
  • Writing weekly blog posts and managing the website, using the WordPress platform, for renepenn.wordpress.com
  • Writing a romantic comedy screenplay, currently a work-in-progress with 45 pages written

I specified word and page counts to make the concept of fiction and screenwriting, which can be somewhat mysterious to non-writers, more tangible with hard-and-fast numbers. The blog and WordPress mentions indicate commitment to a weekly deadline and knowledge of a commonly used, widely respected website platform. I added my blog website for proof—plus, a little plug and cross-promotion never hurts.

Updating my LinkedIn profile was an important step. It shows that I’m no longer treating my writing as a hobby. It’s now a career path that I’m taking as seriously as any of my previous jobs. Any other ideas on how I can jazz up my profile even more? How have you updated your LinkedIn profile to reflect your writing?


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9 Historical-Romance-Inspired Items (Not) to Wear to Your Next Staff Meeting

What would happen if you wore a regency-era accessory or piece of clothing in today’s workplace? It would make things more interesting, wouldn’t it? You would be the talk of your team, department, floor, or heck, maybe even the whole company. You could suddenly be catapulted from “Jill in Accounting” to “Jill in Accounting Who Wore the Cool Vintage Dress.” You’d have more swagger. The day-to-day stress would roll off your satin-puffed shoulders. Here are some regency-era, historical-romance inspired clothing items that you should wear or bring to work “ASAP.”

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Any man who wears a tailcoat and accompanying waistcoat will look like a leader. It’s even better if you stick one hand inside the jacket, Napoleon-style. Very distinguished.

This small circular-shaped piece of glass can be held over the eye, and is ideal for peering at objects–or even people. If someone in the meeting says something that doesn’t make sense, the quizzing glass will aptly convey your need for clarity.

When a lady is bored, she should open a colorful fan, sigh heavily and cool herself. It will also be helpful during any heated discussions and moments of tension at a staff meeting.

  • A lady’s corset, a.k.a. stays

If you’re the type to feign sick, stays will help your strategy. The vice grip around your ribcage will hinder your breathing and possibly change your facial coloring. These symptoms will evoke sympathy from your colleagues and manager, who will quickly advise you to go home.

Wearing gloves will make it harder to type on a keyboard and to handle documents. They also come in handy for germaphobes.

This underskirt has the potential to balloon the lower-half of a lady’s dress to unseemly proportions. That garment, along with an authentic ballgown and the use of grand gestures, would show a commanding presence. A petticoat would also make it difficult to sit in a chair, at which time you could ask the building maintenance crew to bring in your chaise.

Though these are quite fashionable for women nowadays, riding boots on a man would be a standout. Colleagues will ask if you’ve taken up some sort of equestrian sport or bought a horse. You could answer yes to both, since either one would be impressive.

What other items should I add to this list?

 

 


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12 Things to Know About Diana Gabaldon

No one can combine science, suspense, sass and romance like Diana Gabaldon does in her bestselling novels. When I saw her at the National Book Festival in Washington, DC, she repeated a rhyme that she recited as a professor, one she used to get the attention of the sleepy football players taking her science class. Let’s just say that the rhyme had to do with contraception practices from centuries ago: a man would “use a sock to wrap around his…” Well, I’ll let you fill in the rest yourself. And before you get on me about being PG-13, I’ll remind you that Diana said it, not me. *smile*

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Here are some other things that I learned about Diana Gabaldon.

  • About her background: She is a scientist, by education and by trade. She has three science degrees, including one in zoology. Makes sense when one thinks of the technical care that she gives to the medical and botanical topics in her Outlander series.
  • About writing before she was a novelist: She wrote Walt Disney comic books “on the side” for about 18 months.
  • About the concept of not having enough time to write: She wrote a book while raising three children under the age of six. “If you have 10 minutes a day and do that (write) every day, by the end of a year, you’ll have a book.”
  • About her writing process: “I don’t write in a straight line. I write while things are happening.” She jots down scenes that come to her mind as they unfold, even if they’re “out of order.”
  • About writing historical fiction: She researches and writes concurrently. And if she reads an interesting historical fact, she’ll make a side note of it and see about weaving it into her manuscript later.
  • About the hit show Outlander: “They listen to about 90% of what I say.” She is a consultant for the series, which she recognizes is a rare situation for an author. She also noted her appreciation for the fact that they take heed of her opinions. When they don’t take her advice, it’s usually because of logistical reasons.
  • About the character Jamie: She was watching an episode of the TV show Dr. Who one day when “a nice-looking Scotsman” from 1745 “showed up in a kilt.” And that, ladies and gentlemen, was how James Fraser came to be. 20161024_124000
  • About why she finds a man in a kilt so appealing: “It’s the idea that you could be up against the wall in a minute.” Well, well, well—no additional commentary needed.
  • About writers block: “Keep putting words on paper.” Work on something else, other than your main work-in-progress. Eventually, “you’ll get unstuck.” She claims to have worked on 3, 4, 5, 6 projects at a time.
  • About killing off a character: “I don’t plan to kill people; they die.” She specifically mentioned one of her Outlander-series characters who she wouldn’t have imagined dying, until she heard his neck snap. Ouch!
  • About the 9th book: She hinted that it takes place in North Carolina, and it involves beekeeping. Is her character Claire the beekeeper? It’s anyone’s guess, because she gave no more hints than that.
  • About her husband: She met him in the French Horn section of the Arizona Marching Band. They’ve been married 45 years. I personally don’t see how that’s possible, unless she married him in kindergarten.

Do you have any other fun things to share about Diana Gabaldon?

Also while at the National Book Festival, I learned 10 things about David McCullough.