Writing Advice of the Week: Intention Goes A Long Way

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We’re just over halfway through National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo), and if you’re anything like the authors with whom I work, you may be hitting that mid-novel slump.

You know the one.

The muddy middle of the novel has you feeling exhausted, frustrated, uninspired, or any other of the numerous adjectives we may use to describe that point in the novel when there’s a lot going on, all the things need to go somewhere, and we may not be entirely certain (yet) where they need to go. At the end of the day, the middle of NaNoWriMo—like the middle of your novel—is difficult. And avoiding overwhelm to get beyond the slump becomes the primary goal. So, how do you keep writing when the writing is hard?

Lynette Burrows for Writers In The Storm provides Easy Solutions For When Writing Gets Too Darn Difficult. A far cry from the usual planning or outlining advice you may expect, Lynette reminds you to check in with yourself. Are you getting enough oxygen? Water? Are you moving enough? Getting enough sleep? Getting the right nutrition? All of these lifestyle factors affect not only your focus but your body’s ability to stay focused. And getting through the muddy middle requires focus. While adopting healthy lifestyle behaviors is always important, adopting healthy lifestyle behaviors while writing your novel or, really, pursuing any big goal, is critical to success. So treat yourself right so you can treat your book right.

And perhaps you’re doing all the right things but you’ve found it increasingly difficult to remain focused on your novel because of a number of factors: relationship issues, moving, job loss, illness, or a death in the family, something else. Whatever is going on in life, don’t let your writing goals add to an already stressful time. While handling stress is itself an artform (one for which I’m still learning technique, if I’m being honest), there are ways to alleviate some of that writerly stress you may be putting on yourself. Larry J. Leech II for The Write Conversation provides techniques for How To Handle Those Pesky Stressors Every Writer Battles. In the article, Larry shares five de-stressors for writers, and the simplicity of those de-stressors may surprise you. Larry discusses things like realistic goals, adopting a comfortable pace, tapping into your own knowledge, and more.

Now, maybe it’s not the writing itself that has you slumped in the middle of the novel. Perhaps you’re stuck on realism, worried that your future readers won’t be able to picture key scenes in your novel. If you’re noodling over the future reader’s experience, help them visualize your characters and world by creating a balance between action and dialogue. C. S. Lakin for Live Write Thrive wrote a helpful article on How To Show Meaningful Character Action In Dialogue Scenes that is worth the few minutes it takes to read and digest. When you have a scene in which dialogue takes center stage and you need your readers to learn something critical while also keeping the flow of action alive to avoid stagnation, dropping in a few action beats to help your readers along goes a long way. After all, our human conversations don’t happen in a vacuum. We touch our faces, run our fingers through our hair, shift from one foot to the other, grab a fidget object, blow our noses, whatever. And your characters will need to display these human behaviors to come across as believably human. Lakin talks through the how.

But adding details and behaviors to scenes shouldn’t bog down readers either. If you’ve ever read a book that drones on for pages and pages about a random object or building (we all can probably name a title or two), you know how tiring—and often put-down-able—a book like that can be. So if you find yourself wondering how many details are too many, check out One Well-Chosen Detail: Write Juicy Descriptions Without Overwhelming Your Reader by April Davila for Jane Friedman. April gives an example of a character description that allows readers to picture what you intend without going too generic or too overboard and includes a helpful exercise to get you thinking about and writing descriptions in interesting ways.

And if you’re nodding to the advice so far but find yourself wondering how exactly you can go about detecting a scene that needs a little sprucing up in the action beat or description department, Janice Hardy for Fiction University has for you Telling Yourself To Show: How To Identify Flat Scenes. If you’re reading through your draft, no matter how many revisions you’ve done, and something feels off, read Janice’s account about identifying the issue, and look through your draft with her list of questions to ask yourself during the “something is off” moments in your novel.

Some of you are already past the writing and revising stages (look at you go!) and are thinking about or building strategy around future publication. An author bio is one of those must-have items, whether you’re building your website, pitching to agents or editors, or creating your book’s back matter. However, writing an author bio is all about concision and brevity. Check out Crafting The Perfect Author Bio: A Guide For Fiction And Non-Fiction Writers by Laurence O’Bryan for #PublishingReinvented to find key elements for your bio. Then, it’s just about massaging the language.

▼ More of this week’s productivity advice

▼ More of this week’s writing advice

▼ More of this week’s business advice

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Fallon Clark is a Vermont-based manuscript development coach and editor serving fiction and creative non-fiction authors. Her writing has been published in Flash Fiction Magazine. Check out her website, FallonEdits.com, or connect with her on LinkedIn or Substack.

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