First Five Pages Checklist

The first five pages of your book are so important. As aspiring authors, we are well aware of their significance. And we place so much time and emphasis on getting them right. While we probably have a fair idea of what to do and not do in our first five pages, here is a quick recap of things to keep in mind when looking at the start of your novel.

Important questions to ask yourself:

Does the first line engage your reader?

Is your main character properly introduced?

Has the POV and narration style been made clear to the reader?

Does your reader get a good feel for the world – i.e. have you set the status quo?

Have you established your main character’s deepest desire?

Is there an inciting incident?

The most important thing to avoid at the beginning of your novel:

The information dump. 

Your reader is only starting to get to know your main character and within these pages, so you don’t want to overwhelm them with backstory or world building information so early on. Remember, you’ve got a minimum of 80,000 words to work with, you can take your time introducing the important background information. 

Balancing Multiple Projects

As writers it is nearly impossible not to have a constant flood of new ideas. But we how do we balance all the new ideas while still working and completing what we’ve got? Some of us might find that working on multiple projects helpful, but we also want to find a balance. 

Tips to balancing different projects:

1) Use Different Notebooks

We all love a good notebook. It’s almost like a writer’s rite of passage to have hundreds of unused notebooks in some desk drawer just waiting to be used. Put some of these notebooks to good use by dedicating them to your projects. Instead of scattering your ideas for all your stories across several different notebooks, just use one notebook per project. I have found it makes a world of different when I can just go to one notebook for everything having to do with Project A instead of rifling through five different notebooks trying to find the note I wrote.  

2) Plot, Plot, Plot

Organization is key to balancing several different writing projects. Writing one book is difficult enough and requires you to be organized, but when you’re juggling two books or more books, organization is essential. Plotting and outlining is a great way to make sense of your different storylines so that they flow cohesively. The last thing you want is your different plots overlapping in your head, which is why creating clear and concise outlines for each will help to keep you on track for each project. 

3) Compartmentalize One Project Per Day

Divide your time evenly amongst your different projects. And when you go to work on a project, work on just that project. For example, if you’ve decided that you have an hour on a Tuesday evening and you want to work on Book A, then just work on Book A. For that hour, pretend that nothing else in the world matters but working on Book A. If you like to spend your Saturday mornings working on multiple outlines, then make sure whatever length of time you take for yourself you evenly distribute for all your outlining projects. I find that if I’m outlining two things at once, I like to set a timer for each. So, if I’ve given myself half an hour each, I’ll set a timer so I stay on track. This also helps to create a sense of urgency to focus my allotted time to the project at hand, rather than wasting time letting my mind wander. Going off this point, dedicate your day to whichever project fits your mood. For example, if you wake up feeling like you’ve got a million different plot points you want to connect, then maybe take that day to focus on the project that is still in its plotting phase. Or, if you wake up thinking of some really good dialogue, then maybe focus on the writing aspect and choose one of your projects that is already in the drafting stage. 

4) Get in Your “Zone”

Before starting work on any project, it’s a good idea to get your head in the game. As writers we all have our different Go to your favorite writing space, play a specific playlist, light a scented candle – do whatever makes you get into that writer frame of mind. This ritual is also helpful when trying to transition between projects that you’re working on. I personally like to use different playlists for each of my projects. The music helps me shift from one story to the next through different themed playlists. But you can do whatever it is that makes you get in your writing zone. 

5) The 10-minute trick

This is great for those writer’s block moments. At some point we will all experience writer’s block on all of our writing projects. But if you don’t want to abandon yet another manuscript then this is a great idea, especially if you’re experiencing writer’s block on the dedicated writing day of one of projects. Rather than letting it roll over to next week or whenever you’ve scheduled yourself to work on it again, try this instead. Sit down at your chosen writing space and set your timer for 10 minutes. And during that time just start working. By the time your alarm goes off, you’ll be so entrenched in the flow you won’t want to stop. 

6) Be Patient and Don’t Give Up

Perhaps the biggest lesson to take away from trying to balance several different writing projects at once is that you need to have patience with yourself. Each project will end up going at its own pace. You might find yourself wanting to constantly write Project A while neglecting Project B or having severe writer’s block on Project C – and that is okay. No one is expecting you to finish all three at once and within an entire year’s timeframe. That is your own internalized pressure. Be patient and just keep going. Everything that you’re writing will eventually get written, you just need to keep working on them. Some of your projects will end up going fast than you expected, others will give you a little bit more resistance. Just keep moving forward and you’ll eventually get there. 

Tips to Stay Motivated

Coming into November there are probably a fair few of us who are giving NaNoWriMo a shot. Whether it’s your first time participating or you’re a seasoned vet, there will always be the problem of motivation that arises at some point throughout the month. It’s a natural part of the writing process to reach a certain point where the words don’t flow as easily and you’re finding yourself grasping at straws. When this happens during NaNoWriMo, it’s easy to throw in the towel and give up. But if you want to try to push through and stay motivated here are some tips to pushing yourself to write when you’re not feeling it – they can even be used outside of the sacred writing month of November as well!

Tip 1: Establish a Routine

Getting into a habit and sticking to it is the best way to combat any feelings of burnout. Whether it’s your home office, an outdoor café, your living room sofa, pick a place you’re most comfortable in and make it a habit. You can allot yourself as little as 20 minutes a day, but make sure you squeeze it in. You’ll find that the simple act of making a routine helps you write something, even if it’s not your best work. The key is just getting it out on paper. The editing comes later. Personally, I’ve also found that trying to fit in your writing in the morning works best because as the day wears on you will end up finding more excuses and distractions to draw you away from your writing. I know that’s not what the night owls want to hear but try giving morning writing a chance. It might surprise you.

Tip 2: Get Rid of Distractions

When I write during the week, I usually have a timer that I set for 20-40 minutes – depending on how early I managed to wake up. However, I always place it on the opposite side of the room, face down and notifications off, so I don’t get distracted. If it’s next to me on the table I’ll fall down the rabbit hole of scrolling through social media. If you know that you can’t write without looking at your phone, leave your phone in another room or on the opposite side of the room. If you get distracted checking work emails on your laptop then forgo the laptop and write using pen and paper. If you get distracted doing research for your story then perhaps try plotting ahead of your writing session that way the research is already done and you can just write. This time, however long or short, should be solely focused on producing words. Everything else can wait. And if you know what your weaknesses are in terms of distractions, try eliminating them ahead of time so you can have a productive writing session. 

Tip 3: Daily Goals

Giving yourself a daily word goal helps to keep you on track. Even if it’s something small like 500 words, it’s still something that can serve as a motivator to keep going. If you’re someone who doesn’t necessarily like thinking word count, then maybe make your goal something like finishing a certain scene you’ve been working on or writing another character’s perspective. So long as you have something that you are striving for on a daily basis you can battle against the distractions and writer’s block.

Hope these tips were helpful and good luck this November!

Things I Wish I Knew

Every writer probably has had the following experience:

You’re at a birthday party or some type of gathering, when you get asked, “what do you do.” With great hesitance, you take a deep breath and reply, “I’m a writer.” And once you’ve dropped your bomb, you wait for the explosion. Normally, one of two things will happen. Either they manage to insult or belittle your passion, or they respond with, “I’ve always wanted to write a book.”

There’s something about that phrase that has set my teeth on edge. And I think I figured out why. It’s because it’s usually said with such nonchalance as though writing isn’t work. Everyone likes to fancy themselves a writer. But in all honestly, very few have the stamina and determination to see it through. Yes, writing is fun. If it wasn’t, why else would I be so determined to make it within such a cold and competitive industry? And while I truly believe that everyone has at least one good story to tell, I don’t believe that raw passion is the only sustenance you need in order to fulfill a dream of writing a book.  

There was once a time, many moons ago, when I would’ve said there is only one thing needed to become a writer and that is a story. But after nearly fifteen years of chasing the dream, I’ve learned a few important lessons.

And here are three things I wish someone had told be about writing:

1) It’s Hard

Being a writer is a difficult process. There is always something new to learn about the writing process. Sometimes, it comes with a lot of dead-ends. That story idea you had at 2 am might seem stupid in the light of day. That first draft you loved so much might become a hated work of fiction by the second draft. You will lose great ideas, start on bad ideas, abandon projects, and pick up on others after several years’ hiatus. There is no straight line when it comes to writing. Heck, even a visual plot map has ups and downs to it – it’s no wonder the act of writing itself also follows the same course. But it is in these ups and downs of life that writers are made. If you can stick it out until the end and complete one story in its entirety, then congratulations my friend, you’re a writer. 

2) It Requires Time

Writing takes time. And I don’t mean it might take you five years to finish writing a book. I mean sometimes your social life might have to take a hit. That is because if you are being serious about finishing a book, you’re going to have to make some sacrifices. With only 24 hours in a day, many of us fill a large portion of those hours with work, school, and familial responsibilities. Whatever time is left over is where the writing gets squeezed in. Of course, that doesn’t mean you have to entirely give up a social life. But it does mean that some weekends will come with the choice between meeting with friends or finishing those last 5,000 words. 

3) You Never Stop Learning

I did my BA in English. I earned my MA in Creative Writing from a world-class institution. I’ve attended various lectures, workshops, and seminars related to writing – and I’m still not done learning. There is always something new to learn. Even if you’ve published a book that still doesn’t mean you’ve crossed some sort of finish line where you know all there is to know about crafting the perfect story. It just means that you made it past the first level, and you’re now onto the next. And that next level comes with its own hurdles and lessons. In fact, the best writers aren’t the ones who are naturally skilled. The best writers are the ones who are constantly aiming to improve themselves. And this doesn’t just apply to writing itself. This can also include the publishing industry as a whole. There is always something to learn about the world of publishing whether it pertains to querying, marketing yourself on social media, self-publishing, etc. Don’t ever think you’re done learning as a writer – you’ll only be setting yourself up for a harsh reality check. 

Preptober as a Pantser

We’re halfway through October, which means we’re also halfway through Preptober! October is the humble month preceding the crème de la crème month in the writing world: November. Or, as most of us know it, NaNoWriMo. October, or Preptober, as we love it call it, is the month in which we get our stories straight (yes, pun intended). 

October is when we build our plots, flesh out our characters, and invest in brand new stationary even though most of us have a whole desk at home of abandoned notebooks and index cards just waiting to be used. In other words, it is the plotters’ busiest time of year. But while the plotters are entrenched in their meticulous outlining, there is another group of writers – the pantsers – just chilling on the sidelines waiting for November to begin. 

You see, the pantsers get their name from the fact that they don’t outline their story, they just begin writing by the seam of their pants. There are no color-coded index cards in their neck of the woods, no meticulously mapped-out storyboards, no character profiles, nada! There is just pure determination and loads of coffee.

 I was once a pantser. I used to laugh in derision at the plotters who spent their whole October hidden away, prepping. But then one fateful NaNoWriMo, when I was in the middle of a writer’s block disappeared down a plot hole, it dawned on me that perhaps the plotters had the right idea all along. Perhaps there was some benefit to having a clear outline of where the story should go. With two weeks to go, and 13K behind in my word count goals, I made the desperate attempt to plot out my story. It wasn’t all that in-depth, but just writing out the idea of what I thought should happen actually worked! I solved my plot hole while also helping to cure my writer’s block. I managed to squeak by with only 2K less than the 50K goal. I might not have won that year, but it was still a NaNoWriMo miracle.

Ever since then, I vowed to always be a plotter during the month of October. And while I think plotting is the proper way of the WriMo, I’m not here to try to convert any of you die-hard pantsers. I’m simply here to offer some alternative plotting aids to help you in your November quest:

1. Music

Whether or not you like lyrics or instrumental, there is no denying that music is useful to many, many writers – plotters and pantsers alike. It is great motivation for setting the writing mood or acting out/imagining certain critical scenes. If you’re a determined pantser you can still get in on the Preptober fun by creating yourself a NaNoWriMo writing playlist. It can be either all the music you enjoy listening to while writing, or it can be specifically picked to compliment the story you’re thinking about writing. Trust me, it can come in handy on those days you’re finding it difficult to scrape together 1,500 words for your target. 

2. Candles

I have found that scented candles are quite popular amongst many fellow writers. Something about lighting up a candle with a particular smell can help to get the creativity flowing. If you’re a scented candle person, stock up now! Make sure you have enough of your favorite candles to get you through all your November writing sessions. Same applies if you’re move of an incense writer. 

3. Sustenance

Whether you drink coffee or tea while writing, make sure you’ve bought plenty of your favorite brand. Nothing is quite as disastrous as a late-night writing session without your favorite beverage to help you feel more connected to your craft. 

4. Goals

Have a little reward system for yourself. This is particularly important for pantsers because, let’s be honest, we’re more likely to encounter the writing roadblocks if we don’t have a mapped-out plot. But, if you can incentivize yourself with a bag of M&Ms or a glass of wine for finishing 1,500 words when you’ve only got 200 and a case of writer’s block, then you are one step closer to that NaNoWriMo win. 

5. Mood Boards

A visually appealing mood board can do wonders for any potential bouts of writer’s block. Even if you don’t know what the plot will be exactly, making a mood board during Preptober can still be fun. All you need is an idea of what kind of story you want to write. For example, if you already know it’s going to be a YA fantasy that takes place in a royal kingdom inspired by the Scottish Highlands then making a mood board with that kind of forlorn and fantastical aesthetic can help you further flesh out the plot once you’re in the thick of writing. Trust me, just having something aesthetically pleasing to look at can help you avert writer’s block. 

6. Index Cards

Hear me out. You don’t need a whole detailed plot, just an idea. All you really need is one index card to write down something as simple as “a princess, a castle, an evil witch” or “The Great Gatsby meets Don Quixote in a Mad Max world.” There, done! You would be surprised what one simple little index card idea stuck to the screen of your laptop can do to make you keep writing when you have no idea where you’re going with it. It might not be a Charlie from It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia level string board, but it’s a rough idea and it can be your north star during those dark NaNoWriMo nights. 

So, my fellow pantsers, have I convinced you of the benefits of Preptober? Happy writing!