How to write good: Use a calendar to map out the action.

This is the year, folks. The year that I tell you all about my process and how I write these chunks of paper that have those characters in it who do things and say stuff. Whether you’re an aspiring writer yourself, or you enjoy hearing about how authors write, or perhaps you mistakenly stumbled onto this site looking for a mortgage loan officer – whoever you are, welcome, and I hope this series of tips is interesting, helpful, and/or a nice distraction from your real estate problems.

This week I’d like to talk about something that helped me out immensely during revisions of Hellhole. The timeline of this book is tight–all of the action takes place in the span of only a few days, and it was important for the events to occur in the right order and at the right pace. There were certain things that couldn’t happen until after other things, certain reveals that had to pop up at just the right time, and let me tell you something–it’s nearly impossible to visualize any of that in your head by just staring at a 300+ page Word document. In fact, gazing dead-eyed at that scrolling mass of black and white is the quickest, most convenient route to insanity that I’ve found yet. Try it sometime! It’ll fry your brain!

So. In order to get around this, I gave myself a bit of the OFFICE SUPPLY FEVER. Office Supply Fever (or OSF, as it’s known in the medical community), is something that takes hold of me with a reckless passion and doesn’t let go until I’ve got paper clips coming out of my ears. I mean, I asked for Staples gift cards for Christmas. And I got them. And I used them the other day, squealing with delight as I tossed package after package of index cards at the hapless cashier.

The point is, if you’re anything like me and need to see concrete, visual representations of the nonsensical words you’ve written, office supplies are your friends. So I printed up a daily planner and proceeded to outline Max’s (the main character’s) daily schedule, right down to the minute. Right away, things became clearer: some time periods were jam packed, while others were wide open. I even found, to my surprise and horror, that I’d lost an entire DAY. There was a whole day in Max’s life–a Tuesday, I believe–that didn’t exist, in that particular draft. He went to sleep on Monday and woke up on Wednesday, and I hurled the planner across the room and yelled things.

Then I picked it up, dusted off the copious amounts of cat and dog fur it had accumulated in the two seconds it spent on the floor, and used it to formulate a new plan. And then another one. AND THEN ANOTHER ONE. There was much scribbling, erasing (I really recommend doing these in pencil), making copies, cutting out pieces with scissors (OSF!) rearranging said pieces, taking photos of the new combinations, and so on and so forth, like so. (Words are blurred out to avoid spoilers, but you get the idea.)

IMG_1754

IMG_1608 IMG_1750

And here’s a tip for keeping track of the different versions: color code. Put a big red dot in the corner of the first version, and orange one on the next, and so on according to ROYGBIV. They’re easier than numbers to find quickly when you’re flailing through piles of papers.

This method obviously won’t work for every manuscript, but depending on your timeline, it can be tweaked and customized to fit your needs–perhaps a monthly setup would work better; or, for your 24 fan fiction, an hourly one. The important thing is to get those scissors flying.

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3 Responses to How to write good: Use a calendar to map out the action.

  1. KatieHal says:

    I love this. And it would be so useful for the novel I need to edit that I feel dumb for not thinking of it before!

  2. Domestocrat says:

    So cool – thanks for sharing!!

  3. Eden says:

    Reblogged this on The Otaku Librarian and commented:
    Yes. Good. Any writerly advice is so helpful!

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