Recently, I was fortunate enough to have a coffee date with Mysti Berry. Mysti is a screenwriter–novelist–short story writer and all around awesome human being. We talked writing for an hour and she gave me permission to share some details of our conversation.
I told Mysti about my quest to be Jessica Fletcher, ie, a successful mystery writer who also does other things (such as work, raise three small children, etc, etc). I know that Mysti has a full-time job that is not writing fiction, so I asked her about her personal writing routine and her writing goals.
Mysti’s routine includes early morning writing and writing with friends which she says helps her stick with the program. She also takes writing retreats where she disappears into a dark lair (or just a hotel room) for a weekend to power through some writing or editing goals. The idea of writing for a weekend kid-free sounds like heaven to me. I hope my husband is reading this post.
I asked Mysti what she does when she gets stuck. She said she first yells at herself, which she does not recommend as a strategy. Some strategies she does recommend are:
- Look for where the plot went wrong earlier in the story. Sometimes you can eliminate a later problem that way.
- Ask certain questions about the problem: Is it structural? Is it character? Am I taking the story in the wrong direction?
- Talk about the problem with others
- Make a list of ten things to try to fix the problem
I then asked Mysti about her writing goals. She has both aspirational goals, like getting her novel published, and more concrete goals, such as:
- Finish dialogue edits by x date
- Send to agent by x date
- Word count goals (if working on a first draft)
- Hourly goals (spend x amount of time writing)
She also has a writing strategy. Mysti has had her short stories published, so she intends to keep writing and submitting those. She is working on an anthology of short stories as a way to dip her toes into the self-publishing world. And she continues to work on her novel and submit it to agents.
My talk with Mysti inspired me to come up with my own list of strategies to try when I feel stuck in my writing and to work on a long-term strategic plan for my writing goals. In the meantime, I hope I get to drink more coffee with Mysti soon.
It’s almost Nanowrimo time!
Nanowrimo is National Novel Writing Month, AKA November. It’s an opportunity to jump on the nerd bandwagon and produce at least 50,000 words in thirty days, knowing that all over the world, other wacky Wrimos are doing—or attempting to do—the same.
October is a plotting month. While most of you are plotting your Halloween costumes, and some of you are plotting to overthrow the government, the rest of us are plotting and scheming hundreds of terrible things that we plan to inflict on our characters. There are many ways to plan a novel—including not planning at all—but here is my process.
I started with a genre: Mystery. Easy. I love reading mysteries.
I came up with the seed of an idea: A character, in a situation, where stuff happens. After patting myself on the back for coming up with such a brilliant premise, I did the following exercises to flesh out the story and give myself something to work with.
- Character studies: I wrote a page or two in the voice of each of the main characters. I plan on writing the novel in one character’s voice, but I needed to get to know each character, and writing from their point of view was helpful.
- Backstory: I wrote out some scenes that happen before the story starts. These may get incorporated through exposition, memory or even the dreaded flashback, but even if they don’t end up in the story, the experiences can inform my characters.
- Visual plotting: I started plotting the story on notecards (thank you Tish Davidson for the idea). I wrote a few sentences per scene on each card. Then I laid them out on the floor and started to create an order. The great thing about this is that you can change or insert scenes as you create them. The difficult thing is that unless you have an extra plotting room in your house, you probably have to redo the card layout every time you work on your novel. I hear you can do this sort of thing on Scrivener or Excel, but I haven’t tried that yet.
- Chronology planning: My notecards include scenes that will not end up in the novel. For example, while the narrator is dallying with her boyfriend’s first cousin in the rose garden, the murderer is off buying rat poison with which to off said cousin. So those cards go together, even though the narrator will never know that’s what the murderer was doing at that moment. But it’s helpful to me as the writer to keep straight when everything is happening.
- Brainstorming: This is probably the most important thing you can do to prepare to write a novel. Take a situation you want to write about and make a list of 100 different ways to handle it. The first 5-10 will probably be the most clichéd and predictable. The last 25 or so will be the most ridiculous. But somewhere in there you might find an idea that is original and fun and takes your novel out of the depths of predictability and into the heights of creativity.
Which is really what Nanowrimo is all about.
Who is joining me in Nano this year? What’s your process/helpful hints? Let me know!