Underwriting: How Do I Write More?

Aaaand we’re back to our regularly-scheduled writing posts! A couple weeks ago, I introduced the topic of word count, underwriting, and overwriting. And I admitted that I am a chronic underwriter. But what I didn’t get into was how I deal with that to get my manuscripts closer to their expected word counts.

Which brings us to today.

There are actually several ways you can bulk up your manuscript, and you’ll find next week that they are similar (if opposite) to the fixes for overwriting!

Now, first a note: word count isn’t something you HAVE to worry about during your first draft. But it is something you should consider before you try to query anyone. During my personal writing process, I write the book with a target word count in mind, plotting the major story beats at certain word counts to keep myself on track. But I usually end up finishing before I hit the final target count. And when I rewrite, I can meet or surpass that goal.

Here’s how.

Look at subplots

One of the things that can affect your word count is the number of subplots you use. Obviously, a story meant to be shorter needs to have only a few subplots, otherwise there just isn’t enough space to address everything.

But if you’re writing an epic novel or anything with more length, there is so, so much you can do. Think of personal, internal struggles. Relationships between characters. A shady past that’s catching up with someone. A mystery that’s plaguing your MC.

You have so many options to add to the story. And these can even relate to your main plot. Just remember that a subplot needs to add value to the story, so avoid adding things just for the sake of adding them. Use them to strengthen relationships or build characters or develop the world.

Think about your characters

Another possibility is to add a character or give one of your side characters scenes from their perspective. But this has the same caveat as adding subplots: make sure it’s adding value to the story. Don’t add in a useless character (I had several useless characters in the first draft of This Cursed Flame…they’re gone now!). And make sure those perspective scenes are meaningful to the plot or subplots.

Add scenes

Look critically at your manuscript. Are there places you didn’t explain enough? Are there scenes you skipped that might actually be fun to show (as long as they – you guessed it! – add value)? These spots can add words to your manuscript in fun and exciting ways.

Show, don’t tell

If you’ve been writing for any amount of time, you’ve probably heard this advice. And honestly, I can be really guilty of this one. I tend to do a lot of explaining, especially in early drafts, because I am fleshing out my world and characters for myself.

Stop it.

Your reader doesn’t need all of that explanation. Sure, a little is fine. But too much is boring. And not much of this should survive editing.

Plus, when you cut the telling and start showing (by adding scenes, inserting more natural inclusions of information, adding dialogue, etc.), you will naturally increase your word count.

Talk to your betas

The last, and sometimes easiest, way to bulk up your word count is to send it to beta readers to get opinions. Then you can see where things may actually be incomplete or confusing, places you may need extra scenes, or subplots you may have left incomplete. In your next draft, you can address these concerns by adding whatever they felt was lacking (if you agree with them…beta readers can be tricky, but that’s a topic for another day).

Final Thoughts

These are some of the simplest ways I’ve found to naturally increase your word count while adding to a story…and trust me, I’ve had to deal with this a lot! But the thing to remember is that you will find ways that work for you, and your ability to hit your target count will likely improve with every book you write, as long as you make a conscious effort to aim for that.

But until next week, when we discuss overwriting and trimming the fat from your manuscript, does anyone else have suggestions for bulking up a word count? What has worked for you? Do you ever worry about this?

Talk to me in the comments!

My Four Favorite Writing Tools

As writers write more, they eventually start to settle into patterns. This may include how they research, how (or if) they outline, what kind of background work they do before starting, and what order they write in. But one other thing that writers tend to develop as they go is their arsenal of writing tools. Note: I do not mean resources, like websites; that will be a different post.

Today, I wanted to share some of my favorite tools of the trade. These are things I use specifically for each of my projects (some more than others), and do not include reference materials.

Let’s dive right in!

  1. Writeometer: This is an app I keep on my phone that lets you record all your word counts. It’s been incredibly helpful to me during slumps to keep me going, adding motivation and a reward-based system for hitting your goals. Another part that’s super helpful is the ability to track how long it will take to finish a project… and compare it to a deadline, either self-imposed or given to you. Highly recommend!

    Image result for writeometer
    The nifty little logo for Writeometer.
  2. Google Docs: So, it used to be that I used Word for all my writing. Then I tried Scrivener, but I couldn’t quite get the hang of it. Now that I travel back and forth between computers all the time, I’ve found that Google Docs is my favorite place for drafting new stories. They’re easy to share with critique partners and betas, and it has all the functionality I really need. Once I’m ready to put the submission manuscript together, I’ll migrate it to Word, but until then, Docs is perfect.
  3. Pen and Paper: Yup, this one is easy. More specifically, notebooks! I tend to do a lot of research for my stories, and so I need an organized place to take my notes. For every project (as I’ve mentioned before), I pick up a new notebook, one that I love, that I would want to carry around, and that inspires me. Pro tip: I picked this idea up from Alexandra Bracken’s newsletter… if you don’t get that, she’s amazing and shares her own writing tips and progress there. She’s also super nice and down-to-earth. You should sign up!
  4. Pinterest: Finally, one of my first go-tos is a new, fresh, clean Pinterest board for all my projects. I love creating a place with visual inspiration for what I’m working on; it definitely gives me an aesthetic and a mood (like an actual mood board, but digital) for when I need a boost to jump into the world. It’s also a pretty great place to save information and ideas I find online. I’ll share some of my personal boards with you, so you can get an idea of the kinds of things I save.

Pinterest boards for stories:

Pinterest boards for things I might write one day:

Finally, Pinterest boards with writing resources:

  • Things for Writers, or resources the help writers with blogging, general writing, useful websites, etc.
  • Writing Reference, or guides that might come in handy for creating worlds and stories

5. Coffee: …just kidding. But I do love coffee!

So there you have it: my four favorite writing tools. One of these days, I’ll finish compiling my list of favorite writing resources and share it with you. But until then, enjoy these boards and ideas. And share your favorite writing tools with me in the comments!

From Spark to Story: My Writing Process

One thing I’ve always found interesting is how the development of a story can vary from author to author. Everyone eventually finds techniques and patterns that work for them, helping them to cultivate their initial idea into a finished product. Personally, my process has developed through a great deal of trial and error of different methods until I arrived at the way I approach stories now. Today, I want to share what my process looks like.

The Idea

Yes, the elusive spark to a greater story.

Like many authors, I can’t really tell you where all my ideas come from; a lot of us honestly don’t know. But there are a number of things that can spark those thoughts. For me, my initial ideas have come from things like dreams, other people’s works (books, movies, magazine articles, etc.), things I’ve learned in school or through my own research, or even something as simple as a photograph, as happened with my most recent idea. But that’s all it takes: one simple moment of “that could be an interesting story.”

The Slow Simmer

After I get that idea, it simmers on the burner for a while, building up some flavor. Okay, metaphors aside, after I have an idea, I sit with it and simply think about it. This simmering phase can be anywhere from days to weeks to months long before I’m ready to move on to the next phase. I let the idea build until I know where I want to start.

The Exploration

Once I have an idea and I’ve given it some thought, I pick a fresh, brand-new notebook. I have a separate notebook for every project, one that I love to pick up and open. Sometimes I’ll even match the look of the notebook to the aesthetic I see in my head. And I also keep a small library of blank notebooks for the sudden idea I MUST write down immediately. Those can be unpredictable, and I need to be ready!

Then, the research begins. I start my notebook with research on what exists in our world that relates to the story. To keep with the theme of my most recent idea (which is currently in this phase and the next two phases), this was when I sat down and researched the picture that sparked it all, a photograph in a unique setting. So I looked up information about that setting, its geology, its geography, the earth science behind it, the flora and fauna associated with it. I learned everything I could and let that build on the ideas I already had.

In this phase, I also tend to make a board on Pinterest to help me envision what is to come, the Build. I save pictures for anything that could relate to the story, real or fantasy, any character inspirations, setting inspirations, or aesthetics to help me feel how the world feels, to achieve the emotion I want to achieve, to visualize the things I need to create.

Then I take it further.

The Build

I move past the real and into my own creation. I begin the worldbuilding stage. I get to know what my world looks like from the layout of the country to the ecosystems to the culture. I write down everything I can think of to build the setting for the story. This naturally leads to filling in other details, such as characters. In this stage I complete (or set up a solid foundation for) the setting and the major characters I need to start the story, any details I want to include, what makes it unique. And I fill all this information into my notebook.

Note: sometimes the characters come first. Some of my story sparks are a character, and I build out from there. Every story is different. But the general process remains the same, even if the specific parts change and rotate.

The Simmer, Part II

Then I let the story simmer again. This phase could last anywhere from minutes to weeks to months, depending on how the previous phases went. This is where I need to take the build I created and turn it into a story. What is going on in the world that could create an interesting tale? What are the characters facing? Where is the story in the place I found? With these people I met? I ask myself these questions, write down the possibilities, and let them sit in my brain as more ideas.

The Plotting

After I brainstorm the direction I want to go (which can happen all at once or in stages), I generally sit down and write a basic outline for the story. (Side note: I tried to pants one of my books…write it without an outline or any clear direction…and have decided to never put myself through that again! The editing has been a monster.) This helps me find my story beats, lay out the map for the story, and understand where everything is going before I begin. Sometimes, after that basic outline, I will fill in more detail, such as chapter by chapter, but this doesn’t always happen.

The Writing

Finally, I’m ready to draft. And this is my favorite part! I tell the story.

I typically write in a dedicated word processor. Previously, I used Word, and I tried Scrivener, but it didn’t benefit me much. Now, I do most of my drafting on Google Docs so I can open it anywhere and on any of my devices. I wait to convert to Word until I’m ready to share it. This may change in the future as my circumstances change, but I doubt it would deviate much from this basic setup. I prefer to type my stories directly in manuscript submission formatting.

The Revising

After I complete my first draft, which has historically taken me anywhere from a few months to years to complete (depending on how dedicated I was at the time of the writing, how motivated I was, or my health and life circumstances), I am ready to fix the problems.

First I let it sit for at least a month before touching it again. I want to forget what I wrote so I can look at it with fresh eyes.

Then, I read through the entire thing, changing nothing and keeping minimal notes, just to get a feel for how the story flows, feels, and accomplishes what I want it to accomplish.

Then, I do the first rewrite. A brand new, fresh document, where I write the story over again. I use some of the first draft, but the story typically morphs and changes along the way, so many of the scenes, especially early, also change.

Then comes more of the cycle of revisions, allowing others to read and critique my work, and revising again. This process never really ends, so at some point I say I’m done changing it (until I decide to revise again).

The Sharing

This is the end of my work on it. At this point, either it gets shoved into a word processor deep down on my hard drive or it moves to the next step in publishing. This could be anything from sharing it online, such as with Wattpad, to beginning the query process.

And then it is out of my hands.

 

Now that I’ve shared my process, I’m curious to know yours. Do you do any of these things the same way? Do you keep a dedicated project notebook or Word file for every new story? Tell me about your process in the comments. Let’s talk writing!