A lovely waterfall in Rocky Mountain National Park. Remember when we could go outside and be with people and nature? Good times. Photo taken by Kate Ota 2011
As the global quarantine continues, I still hear from other writers that they can’t make themselves write. Everyone handles stress differently, and creativity shutting down is a common one. I wrote a post a few weeks ago about writing without inspiration, but if that doesn’t help, I’ve come up with ideas for how to improve your craft without writing. It’s not as good as writing, but it’s better than binging another Netflix show. (Except Nailed It! Love that one.)
1. Read a Craft Book
It could be a book about plotting, like Save The Cat Writes a Novel by Jessica Brody. Or maybe you want a general writing guide, like Elements of Style by Strunk and White. Consider what feedback you’ve gotten from critique partners or alpha and beta readers and find a book to focus on your stories’ weakest aspects. Characterization, showing not telling, deep POV, connecting to readers, finding your unique voice, there’s craft books for every occasion. I recommend buying a physical copy (from your local indie bookstore who may be struggling right now!) so that you can mark it up. Highlighter, flags, notes in the margins, the works. Read, absorb, annotate, learn, and improve your craft without forcing yourself to a keyboard.
2. Listen to Writing Podcasts
There are dozens of writing podcasts to choose from. There are those that focus on craft, like Writing Excuses, The Manuscript Academy, and Lit Service, to name a few of my favorites. These are often run by authors and feature literary agents or editors. Some are run totally by agents like Shipping and Handling, Print Run Podcast, KT Literary Podcast, and Literaticast. These cover the gambit from queries to writing advice to publishing-world news. Not to mention there are thousands of other podcasts and if your novel focuses on or features something you need to research, I guarantee there’s an episode (maybe a whole show!) about it.
If you want to feel more social, there are also book club podcasts, like the one I contribute to: Judging More Than Just the Cover: Book Club. (We took a hiatus but we just recorded a new episode!)
Podcasts are great to listen to around your house as you clean, exercise, or stare at the ceiling wondering if you have COVID-19 or just allergies.
3. Create a Style Sheet
This is something I heard an editor talk about recently on a podcast. (Don’t ask me which one, I’ve listened to way too many.) She said editors make a style sheet that lists rules for the story with the goal of making sure it’s consistent. How names or made up words are spelled, the timeline of the novel (including times, days, seasons, etc.), the physical space the characters travel (and how long it takes to get from place to place), and character voices. The voices were the most intriguing part to me. There are rules for which character gets to say what and how, so their dialogue/internal narration doesn’t all sound like the same person (which it is because it’s the author, but you don’t want the reader to notice.) Writing Excuses Podcast suggested looking at varying character voice by altering the pacing (punctuation), accent (sentence structure and word choice), and attitude (how they feel/deliver the line and word choice again.) With this sheet in place, it will be easier to edit your story for character consistency, spelling consistency, and space/time logic. Your future self, whenever that self gets back to writing, will thank you!
4. Read Your Genre
Ever struggled to come up with comp titles while querying? Now is the time to read books you suspect could be similar to yours, but you haven’t had time to read. If you’re struggling with ideas, ask your writing group, alpha or beta readers, or family what book your writing brings to mind. It could be based on plot elements, style, humor, or a similar audience. Really stuck? People ask for book recommendations on Twitter and get tons of responses, but make sure to be specific (e.g. rather than asking for sci-fi, ask for sci-fi set in a near future dystopia with a female MC.) You can always Google it, but be aware it may result in a lot of inaccurate matches. In normal times I would recommend asking your librarian or book seller. To adapt, maybe use email (if they offer it) or ask by tagging them on social media. Even if you don’t get a proper comp title out of the books you read, you’ll still become even more familiar with your genre, maybe discover a new author you like, or read a great new twist on a trope. It’s a win-win activity.
Have you discovered a way of improving your writing without writing? Or maybe you’ve discovered another way to pass time during the shut-down? Let’s discuss in the comments!