We’re only 3 days into this thing and look at what is happening (real emails from subscribers in my inbox today):
“I did the exercise and it did help a ton… Felt great just to put thoughts on paper, not worrying about how good they were. Going to keep this meditative tool with me.”
“These emails are helping so much. It’s taking me to a place where raw emotion is King. I truly look at writing as therapy as well and to be honest I lost track of that for a while and focused on structure. Writing is more than putting words on paper, it’s cathartic.”
“It’s super motivating and helpful to know that we’re all working through these challenges together. I’m committed to doing 2,000 words each of these 90 days. Had a busy day at my day job and almost let myself give-up, but eventually made it through the mental wall. I forced myself to do the 2,000 words and felt SO good/accomplished at the end of it. Now 4,000 words into the Novella (2 chapters) and really proud of the momentum so far. Hope yours is going well too!
I think what you said about the writing as a meditative act is really true! It’s easy to let your brain trick you into thinking that writing is a challenge, but when it’s done right it’s so relaxing and fun.”
I’m loving that people are taking immediate action and DOING stuff about the emails that are ending up in their inbox.
Here’s the deal:
I will never sell you anything.
I might write some non-fiction “how to write” Kindle eBooks (probably not), but you’ll get them for free through KU Select free days.
I have no intention of “monetizing” this list. Ever.
So, if you’re on this list, it would do my heart good to know that my efforts in emailing aren’t wasted. That you are actually DOING something about the information that you are receiving.
The whole point of this is to help you (and to help me document my process in real time so I can analyze my own systems at a later date).
So, do something about this. Anything. Write more. Read more. Think more. Whatever.
Just promise that you won’t do nothing.
What I Did Today
You guys, I am SO tired.
Last night, I stayed up until 4 am for SUCCESS writing some stuff, then I woke up for a 8:30 am meeting, and then I put in a good 10 hours today with them.
Still have about 3 more hours to go working on their stuff today.
I am SO tired.
I am also SO excited right now because I’m 50% through Nowhere To Run by CJ Box.
I’ve been taking notes, asking myself “What do I like about this and WHY?”. I have pages and pages of foolscap marked from top to bottom.
This is one of my favorite parts about starting a new book.
Analyzing other work revs my subconscious creative mind into full overdrive.
I’m not doing anything other than deeply reading a popular book in my genre and taking notes, and…
… this simple process is practically writing the book for me.
I’m probably 80% finished with my outline right now.
I don’t want to commit to a final outline until I’ve done this same thing with 3 – 4 more books from 3 – 4 different writers. If for no other reason than to make my story even DEEPER than if I just relied on the inspiration of one writer.
Here’s My Process For Outlining While Reading
First off, I ONLY do this when I enter a genre for the first time.
After that, I typically don’t outline while I read.
When I am outlining a story while reading another, I’m simply following through on the thought process we talked about yesterday.
In other words, when I am actively outlining while reading, I’ll ask myself, “What did the author do here that I liked? And WHY?”
But then, I’ll ask, “How could I pull off that same move?”
In the first chapter of Nowhere To Run, CJ Box masterfully paints the Sierra Madre mountains. The MC Joe Pickett is riding his horse on one final investigation.
The mood is ominous.
The horses keep getting spooked. Joe keeps remembering that a runner went missing some time ago in exactly the area he is riding in.
Then, all of a sudden, Joe sees off in the distance a grungy looking man fishing off in the distance. Something looks strange about the man.
Joe feels the dread of knowing he has to go talk to that man, but also fearing who he might be.
Ok. That’s what CJ did. I loved it. The whole set up.
Because of the way that CJ Box wrote Joe in the mountains and used the horses to communicate to the reader that something was about to happen. I also really liked how the cliffhanger chapter ending was the visual of Joe on the ridge looking down at the grungy man fishing, and that feeling of dread.
But I can’t copy that. I don’t want to.
Instead, I need to dig deeper to be able to use this for my own story.
Here’s an example of what I came up with:
1st) It isn’t the horses response that I care about. It’s the idea of the detective in tune with his natural surroundings and taking cues from that to inform his next move.
What if my detective walks into a chicken house that’s tucked back behind an aluminum trailer/mobile home that’s been shot to bits by shotgun (probably young, bored teens)? Maybe this trailer is out in the middle of nowhere (edge of the Indian Reservation where law enforcement responsibilities are gray/unclear?).
Ok, so the detective walks around the trailer and all of a sudden the chickens go wild. Then silent.
Detective knows that he has to investigate because it’s so unusual. The mobile home appeared to be abandoned, but something obviously spooked the chickens. Also, why are there chickens (sounds like a lot of them) locked up in a hen house on an abandoned lot?
As you can see, I’ve taken the idea of “Nature as indicator/catalyst for action/detection” and put my own spin on it. I changed the natural environment from mountains to a mobile home in a deserted part of town, and horse responses to that of chickens.
Let’s keep going…
2nd) It isn’t the man standing in the river fishing that I like. It’s Joe’s reaction and the idea of finding a human where you would least expect/hope that you wouldn’t find them. That’s what I liked.
So, for my story, what if my detective makes it over to the chicken coop, opens the door, a bunch of the chickens fly out (thin looking birds, obviously malnourished) and inside he finds a young kid? Maybe a 4-year-old boy.
Cliffhanger chapter ending.
How To Avoid Plagiarizing
I want to be VERY clear that you should never, ever, never, ever steal, or even loosely copy work.
What you have read above are NOTES that I’ve made WHILE reading and analyzing CJ Box’s Nowhere To Run.
Those notes are the BEGINNING of my outline process.
What happens next is that I keep doing that EXACT process for 3 – 4 more books (when I’m new to a genre).
Except, I layer the notes each time like this:
Let’s say that I open up Cold Dish by Craig Johnson (haven’t read it yet) and that opening chapter is written from the perspective of the murderer actually committing the murder (like a lot of James Patterson novels start).
Well, what if I used that technique, and instead of the detective being the POV character, I change it to the killer. I add a victim (not the child) who the killer murders in the abandoned mobile home.
He hears the chickens in the coop, then the silence. He thought the place was abandoned which is why he did the killing there.
He goes to explore; it’s the kid.
Then I read another book, find out WHY I liked what the author did, then I layer in ANOTHER element or technique. Over and over again.
Do this and eventually; people are calling you the most original writer they’ve ever read.
And you are because you’ve created something entirely new…
… using the already successful building blocks that other writers have set up for you.
Before You Call Me A Fraud
Some of you are going to hate me for what I’ve just written.
I’m ok with that.
But before you draw any conclusions, I highly recommend that you find 45 minutes to watch this documentary on creativity:
Watch it. Go outside for a minute, cry into a pillow, drink heavily. Whatever you have to do to get over the shock.
Because in that video you’ll discover what real, working, successful creatives do to create.
And it isn’t staring out their open window waiting for their muse. It’s much uglier and looks a lot like work.
We’ll talk a lot more about outlining, coming up with ideas, validating those ideas so that you don’t spend 4 – 6 weeks on a story that won’t sell, story structure, and more…
The cool thing is that we have 85+ days still to cover it all. We have plenty of time.
Until then, get writing.
Above all, writing is the secret to becoming a great writer.
Mike “The Layered Notes Guy” Shreeve