Learning from my Mistakes: What’s Chunking?

Writer’s block.

Editing block.

What do do?

block-ok-comm-smallerSome recommend handwriting out your scene to get it out of your head. Blocking out the future sections with ideas on post-it notes can help if your problem is flow or outline. Printing out what you have, cutting it up, and moving it around can help as well. Bullet point notes on the scene help if you can’t even get to writing whole sentences or you’re dealing with broader issues than basic prose.

I’ve written shorter works by the seat of my pants (with no outline) but for a novel, I’m a big fan of the flexible outline: one or two paragraphs a chapter through the conflict and climax at the very least. It’s okay to change an outline as you get closer to the next set of outline chapters. The author can still move scenes or sets of chapters around in a novel to make it flow better or repair continuity problems along the way.

Most authors write in a linear fashion, and others write major scenes (conflict or turning points) and fill in (write bridging scenes). I’ve had success with both. If you’re blocked, sometimes you can go ahead a few scenes and then return to the problem area. Sometimes you have to “Kill your darlings” as Stephen King says. Keep cut scenes in a word processing file for later use.

Many authors know their ending at the beginning of writing, or at least part way through, but I tend to write the end after the story arc is complete. None of this is wrong, and there are other methods that work, too.

Chunking the big fears

Sometimes all the best plans, outlines, and techniques don’t save an author from being blocked.

I procrastinated several times while writing my novels, particularly when continuity issues muddled me. Procrastination continued during editing, as things wouldn’t work out in the linear fashion I wanted, and I had to think them out. At times, I had too much on my plate in real life or wasn’t well enough to write. These are reasonable times to procrastinate.

But there are blocked times that aren’t typical procrastination. I know I’m not the only author who has the story in their head but can’t get started because it’s almost like a fear of opening a file and typing. Artists have the same problem, and it’s known as “Blank Canvas Syndrome.” I learned a technique for this problem that works in some situations (but not all).

parasol resized for bullet pointsSuzan Lauder’s “Learning from My Mistakes” Lesson #4: When you’re stuck, break the task down into chunks. Write each chunk down on paper and schedule them.

oreo-pop3-okay-comm-smaller

 

First chunk: read the current text. That way, you haven’t said you’re going to get “Wow” written today, just a manageable chunk.

Next chunk: Write down what chunks you’d like to use. Don’t make them too big. Refer to the techniques at the beginning of this post.

Continue in small, achievable chunks, one day at a time, or one sitting at a time.

When the writing chunk comes, aim for a fixed number of words per day—no more than 500 to start. It may be hard to start, but push for that 500, even if you have to start writing in outline form. It may become more!

That’s today’s chunk.

 

Disclaimer: I’m not a writing expert. I’m just a writer who learned some stuff other writers might like to know instead of learning the hard way. My approach is pragmatic, and my posts are not professionally edited!

 

Save

Save

Better Self-Editing is a Good Place to Start Learning from My Mistakes!

laptop-notebook-working-internet-ok-comm-resizedSome authors sit down to write, and the words just flow out of them. They do a brain dump, quickly scan and make a few minor changes, and voila, they have a novel.

It’s not that easy for me. I work hard to be a good writer. My sentences don’t always come out in a logical arrangement, and they often come out with weak words or awkward phrasing. Like a certain percentage of writers out there, I’m unable to just leave it as a colossal mess and keep going. I repair and refine as I go to ensure that I don’t forget the nasty spots in my writing and miss correcting them when I do a better edit later on. That means editing as I write.

Many writing advice columns caution against this “bad habit.” I prefer to call it a “writing style.” Those “experts” probably spew out perfect sentences with clear flow every time. Well, at least coherent sentences in a reasonable order. I do not, and I shudder to think of trying to make sense of what comes off the tips of my fingers if left alone for too long! However, the warning is a sound one. A helpful practice for me could be a vice or a trap for writers who are smoother on their first draft. Editing as you write slows writing progress.

Whether you go full speed ahead when writing or fuss with your words, no one is perfect on the first try. NO ONE. The goal is to make the words enjoyable to read. Remember Lesson 1? “Reader Knows Best!”

Savvy authors read through their completed work several times and make changes as a continuous improvement process. This does not mean bigger words, it means better words and tighter phrasing. It means checking for inconsistencies of many types. It’s hard! And it’s worth every minute spent on self-editing. Full reviews should be performed at the chapter level as well as the full story, once it’s complete.

parasol resized for bullet pointsSuzan Lauder’s “Learning from My Mistakes” Lesson #2: Several full author edits are the preferred norm for ensuring quality writing.

 

Like most authors, I had to learn what to look for, and even after a few years of experience, I’m blind to many of my own habits. After my best self-editing, distracting situations may remain, so I utilize several techniques to catch them. Some find reading aloud helps them find errors. I find that lists are the best tool an author can have.

parasol resized for bullet pointsSuzan Lauder’s “Learning from My Mistakes” Lesson #3: Keep a checklist of your most common errors and use a “Find” function to clean them up during your later editing process.

 

In later posts, I’ll expand on the areas my checklists cover. What will yours cover?checklist-okay-for-comm

 

Disclaimer: I’m not a writing expert. I’m just a writer who learned some stuff other writers might like to know instead of learning the hard way. My approach is pragmatic, and my posts are not professionally edited!

Save

Reader knows best! Suzan Lauder’s new blog series “Learning from my Mistakes”

Suzan Lauder, Exhibit #158 at the Jane Austen Festival of Port Alberni, July 2016

Suzan Lauder, Exhibit #158 at the Jane Austen Festival of Port Alberni, July 2016

A couple of months ago, I thought about all I was learning while editing my latest novel and decided I’d write a few blog posts on the topic to help others learn from my experience. I thought I’d start writing posts straight away, but editing my novel, and my husband’s last minute decision to retire early, and editing, and summer, and editing, and working with the cover artist, and editing, and a Jane Austen Festival, and editing, and my niece’s visit, and editing all stepped in.

I haven’t had a haircut in more than three months, and the end-of-season sales are over and I still haven’t found that elusive perfect pair of low-heeled dressy wedge sandals with no toe post but a full ankle strap for next winter in Mexico. Fussy, right? You would be too if you’d turned your ankle one too many times on steep driveways across the sidewalk.

But the introductory post is now written and in your sweaty little palms. Or so it would be if this were 1979. More on that later.

Now we begin our journey together. We’re here to giggle over this author’s mistakes. Each post will have a few examples of my own revelations as lessons to all writers, perhaps to give you a boost rather than let you learn the hard way. The end result isn’t about my opinions any more than the opinions of writing experts, editors, publishers, or any person other than the reader.

parasol resized for bullet pointsSuzan Lauder’s “Learning from my Mistakes” Lesson #1: As an author, your goal is to provide a reading experience with the greatest level of satisfaction that is within your control.

Some of what I’ve learned as a writer in the last few years is different than in classic novels or “What We Learned in School” (as if the capitals in our voice somehow make it Gospel). Some say these techniques are trends, buzz phrases, “flavour of the month.” Yet, if techniques you think are buzz phrases are guaranteed to give the reader greater satisfaction, what’s stopping you from incorporating them into your story?

Hmmm? What’s that? I can’t hear you.

“The way I do it is was good enough for Hemingway.”

Are you Hemingway? If Hemingway knew ways to make the reader enjoy his novels more, would he have said the way he does it is “good enough?” Perhaps. But he had a gift that 99% of writers do not, so we have to fill the gap by utilizing every tool available to us.

An interesting story Miss Ray, by William Wood, 1806, Met Museum.

An interesting story Miss Ray, by William Wood, 1806, Met Museum.

I struggle to be a good writer where others find it easier. Ease is not a good reason to sit back on your laurels over and over again. You may get a toned butt and quadriceps, but that’s about it. Yeah, I suck at idioms.

Perhaps as an author, you can sell loads of books that are merely “good enough,” but as a reader, don’t you prefer that extra little something? It’s sort of like warming the speculum, chilling the beer mug, smiling at the end of the transaction.

Good writing practice is never “flavour of the month.” If you’re arguing against good writing practice, either you don’t understand the specific application or you’re making excuses to dig in your heels in a world that’s already made the big change. Despite my use of a goofy idiom, it’s no longer 1979, but if you want to stick with the way you’ve always done it, have fun with your typewriter.

Instead, I hope my blog followers enjoy how I describe newer writing concepts to make them easier to understand, and that other authors may be inspired and brave enough to give them a try.

I don’t expect to change the world, just entertain you for a few minutes. Please, have a few laughs at my expense as I bare all my “problems” as a writer!

Disclaimer: I’m not a writing expert. I’m just a writer who learned some stuff other writers might like to know instead of learning the hard way. My approach is pragmatic, and my posts are not professionally edited!

Save

Save