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. 

Tighten Up Your Story: Dealing With Filler

One of the problems with amateur writers is that they tend to overwrite their narratives. Some of the bigger and more obvious examples are involving new characters who are undeveloped and don’t serve much of a purpose, a side arc that is introduced, but never resolved, unnecessary scenes, and purple prose used for mundane scenes. Those are the big problems. The small ones are using words that carry little to no meaning to the overall prose or narration of the story. Certain words can be filler too. In today’s post, we will discuss filler words. Note: this is in regards to the narrative, not dialogue. If your characters speak using the standard sentence structure of 21st Century English, it’s perfectly okay for your character to say, “Next thing I knew, this guy suddenly slaps me in the face!” But I show you how this is boring in the narrative.

Why get rid of filler words when it’s just a word here and there?

Simple. Imagine your reader enjoying one of your action scenes of a pivotal battle between a knight and the renegade king’s guards. You write this:

Suddenly, the knight let out a scream as the guard’s blade struck out, driving deeply. He gritted his teeth as he saw three more men unsheathed steel, joining in the battle. The knight countered and the guard let out a dying scream as the magical sword punched through the man’s armor.

Abruptly, the knight heard the sound of boots thundering down the hall toward him, the battle far from over.

Bad Adverbs of Instant Action

Suddenly, immediately, abruptly, slowly, and quickly are adverbs of instant action. And they are useless. Pathetically, unequivocally useless. In the above example, There is a battle being waged. Of course, everything will move as fast as possible. So the words “suddenly” and “abruptly” are pointless. Get rid of them.

Verb + out = filler

Cry out, let out, screamed out, shouted out, are examples frequently used by amateur writers and even some experienced ones.

“…the knight let out a scream…” Why use this? Why not, “The knight screamed as the guard’s blade struck”

“…the guard let out a dying scream…” Let’s replace with “…the guard howled his death throes as…”

I saw, I heard, I knew, I kicked butt

The words “saw” (and all its variants and synonyms), “heard,” and “knew” are useless words in about 99% of all cases.

“….the knight gritted his teeth as he saw three more men…” Replace with, “…three more men…”

“…the knight heard the sound of boots…” Let’s rewrite it to “The sound of boots thundered down the hall…”

Here are some more examples:

“Jack saw the man draw his gun.” Go with, “The man drew his gun.”

“Margaret heard a moan in the closet.” Go with, “Someone within the closet moaned.”

Let’s clean up our original example, shall we?

The knight screamed as the guard’s blade struck, driving deeply. He gritted his teeth as three more men unsheathed steel, joining in the battle. He countered, the guard howling his death throes as the magical sword punched through the man’s armor.

The sound of boots thundered down the hall toward him, the battle far from over.  

Happy Writing!

How to Critique & Edit Your Own Work

First off, understand that the first draft of what you are going to write is most definitely going to cause you to cringe and want to burn it on sight. I would not recommend this since editing it is fairly easy, and there’s no reason to give your neighbors a heart attack with squealing smoke alarms. You will have times when your writing flows as easily as a beautiful river. You will face times when you have to force the writing out. There will be filler words such as “that,” grammar issues, lack of descriptive imagery, characters so shallow you want to cry.

The first step is to just breathe. Once your first draft is completely finished, set it aside. Lock it away if you have to. Don’t look at it for at least a couple of weeks. Give yourself time to catch up on reading, watching movies, and schedule that spa day. You can work on another project, even if it’s the sequel to the first draft you just finished. Whatever you do, do not look at the first draft until two weeks has passed. That’s fourteen days for those that are stubborn. You know who you are.

The second step is to read your draft as though you were someone else. It should be fairly easy now that you’ve set it aside for the past two weeks. Be brutal. Reading from another perspective gives you the opportunity to find the plot holes more easily, the shallow characters who were never mentioned again, and more. Take your time reading it over.

The third step is the grammar. Make sure there are no run-on sentences (average long sentence length should not exceed 25 words), your homonyms(to/too/two) are correctly used, etc. Grammar is essential to making your story readable and enjoyable to readers.

The fourth step is checking the tense throughout the story. This means the past tense, present tense, future tense. If your wording is off, it will be difficult to read and will give readers different ideas than what you’re portraying.

The fifth step is to read the entire story out loud. This can be tiresome, but if you can’t get through the entire draft in a breeze, neither can your readers. If the sentences feel awkward to say, this means they are awkward to read. Definitely go through this step repeatedly until all of those errors are fixed. Normally it’s something that can be resolved by switching a couple of words around or deleting a word.

The sixth step is to read the entire draft with all of the steps above in mind. Fix any lingering issues you see. Make sure to use the spell checker in whatever program you are using to write in.

Hopefully by this time, you have found and edited everything. A word of warning: just when you think everything is perfect and you hit publish, you’ll find errors you overlooked. Don’t panic, don’t pull the book off the shelves in horror. Calmly document all of the errors, update the document, and upload the updated version. There may be a limitless amount of times you have to do this, so just accept your fate.

In conclusion, that is at least five times you need to read your first draft in order to edit it. If you just exclaimed negatively over that fact, this line of work is not for you. If you don’t want to take the time to read over your own work several times, why would anyone else want to take the time to read it?

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!