Note:  Information on this page is the sole property of April Kihlstrom and may not be reproduced without express permission from April Kihlstrom.

 

Book In A Week

 

I believe that Book In A Week is a gift we give ourselves.  It’s a gift of one week to write as much as we can, as fast as we can without worrying about “rules” and “can” and “can’t”.  It’s about letting ourselves experiment and take chances.  For one week we shove that dreaded inner critic in a closet and padlock the door!  For one week we tell ourselves and everyone around us that writing IS a priority in our lives—that we ARE writers.  We give ourselves the chance to discover—or perhaps remember!—the joy that writing can bring.  It’s wonderful if one ends up with an entire first draft—as I do—but equally wonderful to step back afterwards and realize how much we’ve learned about ourselves as writers.

           

Before you begin--Preparation:

            Warn your family (or don’t warn them if they are saboteurs!). 

            Plan easy meals and maybe make some ahead of time or at least do the shopping.  Mow the lawn or do those fix-it chores ahead of time.  Get the laundry done ahead of time (although I have done some of my best brainstorming while loading the darned washer or dryer!), schedule meetings before or after that week, arrange to let co-workers know you will write during your lunch hour rather than going out with them.

Stock up on healthy snacks and music to listen to as you write or whatever else helps you feel like a writer. 

            Get a sense of what you want to write, your characters, setting, some sense of plot--an outline if you can otherwise at least some notes.  Do whatever works best for you! (See brainstorming exercises at end of this handout.)

            Mentally prepare yourself.  Tell yourself you will keep writing--no matter what!  Tell yourself it’s only one week of your life and if it doesn’t work, if you turn out trash, so what?  It’s only one week of your life!

 

Actual Writing Week:

            Write. 

            Keep writing.  Do not go back and reread what you’ve done!

            Take breaks but then go back to writing.  (I’ve had to deal with doctor’s appointments, school meetings and day-to-day crises during BIAW.  You just go back to where you were and keep writing!!!) 

            Write.  Even if it seems like total nonsense, write.  Give your muse a real chance to shine. 

            If you have an off morning or day, don’t waste time beating yourself up, just get back to writing and keep going!

            If you only have 5 minutes at a time, sit down and write for 5 minutes!

            Ignore any and all attempts to self-censor or edit.  Put in asterisks or whatever symbol you like for things you will need to research later.  Even for names if you don’t know what to call your characters.  Just write!!!  Do not reread what you’ve done!

            If you’re stuck, just jump to the next scene and keep going.  You can go back and fill in later.

            If you’re stuck, start throwing in anything you can think of--up to and including the kitchen sink!  You can always take it out later but you may be surprised how well it works.  Note:  If you are writing non-fiction, there are things you MUST include.  So write them down.  You can fill in later, add on more information, reshuffle the order—but GET THEM DOWN!

            Take a little time at the end of each day to think about what you wrote.  How it ties together.  Where you might go with it tomorrow.  Make notes for yourself.

            Melinda Rose suggests a portable timer to enforce taking breaks and she suggests turning off the phone and/or putting on the answering machine.  Walk around periodically, make sure your desk is set up ergonomically, drink lots of water, eat healthy snacks, and get enough rest. Give yourself a little reward every day for writing. Maybe listen to music or writing tapes.  (For more of Melinda’s tips visit her website at Crossing the Threshold)

 

Afterwards--the Evaluation:

            Are you a fast or slow writer? 

            Which came naturally--character or plot? 

            Did you write lots of description or action? 

            What do you see as your natural strengths? 

            What do you see as your natural weaknesses? 

            What did you love about what you wrote? 

            What still needed work?

            What was the best thing to do when you got stuck?

Who was helpful and who acted as a saboteur?

Where in your day could you fit more time to write or to make notes for your writing?

What time of day did you do your best writing?

What themes or emotions resonated most strongly with you?

What about your characters do you most love and/or hate?

What makes you most want to smile about your work?

What makes you most want to keep writing?

 

Brainstorming Exercises (examples of scenes/chapters you know you will need):


 

Romance:

1) Picture hero/heroine in a fight--what would it be over?

 2) Loving--what would touch the heroine's heart?  The hero's heart?

 3) What would make your characters cry?

 4) What would make your characters work together--no matter how angry they are at each other?  What could make them rise above their fears to do what must be done?

5) What is the hero's deepest secret and how will the heroine find out?  What is hers and how will he find out?

 

Murder/Mystery:

1)      Who dies and how?  Or, if not a murder, WHAT is the focus of the mystery?

2)      How is the body found?   Or, what is found?  How?  Why?  By whom?  Under what circumstances?

3)      What clues will you need to plant and who will find/notice them?  Your detective?  The reader?

4)      Scenes of interrogation.  Who asks the questions?  Who answers--and why or why not?

5)      Scenes of confrontation.  Who fights?  Why?  What motive will this give the person(s)--and who, if anyone, overhears the confrontation?

 

Horror:

1)      What is the focus of the horror and how is it revealed?

2)      Who discovers the horror?  When?  How?

3)      What is the hero/heroine’s greatest fear and how does it tie into the horror?

4)      How does the hero/heroine overcome this fear?  (i.e. What incident allows the character to rise above the fear?)

5)      If more than one character will resolve the dilemma of the horror, what happens so that the characters realize they must work together?

6)      What conflicts might tear the group apart—and how are they revealed?

 

Nonfiction: (Note: Study the sort of book you want to write--it may have an entirely different structure.)

1)      Introduction: Why are you writing this book?

2)      Conclusion or summary of ideas?

3)      What are your key points?  (Never mind how you are going to lay them out—just decide what they are.)

4)      For each key point, what are the most important comments to make? 

5)       Are you going to use anecdotes?  Write them down!


 

 

Note:  Information on this page is the sole property of April Kihlstrom and may not be reproduced without express permission from April Kihlstrom.

 

Tips:  Adapting BIAW to real life

 

Assuming you don’t have the full week to do a Book In A Week, how can you adapt the techniques/philosophy to what you are doing and the time you have?  BIAW is about letting go of the fears, self-doubts, etc. that keep us from writing.  This can be done in any time frame, any situation.  For a classic BIAW, preparation is the key and there are some basic questions to ask yourself before you begin, some obvious preparation exercises to do beforehand.  But many of these questions/suggestions can be adapted to any point in the writing process. 

 

Step 1:  Decide why you would like to do/use BIAW.

a)      Stuck and need to free up imagination or resolve writing question/issue?

b)      Need respite or change of pace?

c)      Want to experiment?

d)      Need to meet a deadline?

 

Step 2: Decide how much time you have/need.

a)      You have a whole week and want to do BIAW.

b)      You have an afternoon or weekend.

c)      You have short, really short blocks of time.

 

Examples:

a)      You have several projects you might want to work on and can’t decide between them. 

Solution:  Take 15-minute blocks of time and write on each project.  Just write.  Keep writing as quickly as you can for 15 minutes, then go on to next project (after short break).

Why?  The project to work on is the one where you forget to stop after 15 minutes and keep going OR the one which, when you reread it, really grabs you.

b)      You have a deadline and you’re stuck on what to do with a plot point or character issue. 

Solution:  Take short block of time—15 to 30 min—and write about this character. Just write.  Have a dialogue between character and someone else—even if that person does not actually appear in the book.  See what comes out.  Or have the person do something totally out of character and see what happens.  (It’s only 15 to 30 minutes so who cares if it doesn’t work?  Who cares if you have to throw it out?  It just might tell you something important about your character and what he/she might or might not  feel or do.)

c)      Pre-writing stage:  no big blocks of time to sit down and plot but you want to get ready to write. 

Solution:  Take short blocks of time—5, 10, 20 minutes—and ask yourself (and answer!) key questions.   You can use a block of time for one question or one character or a couple of questions or plotting one key scene at a time.  Point is, you can break the preparation time down into short blocks.  Ask yourself what you would want to see in a book like this.  Ask yourself why the reader will care about the hero/heroine.  What are your hero/heroine’s secrets--dreams?  Hopes?  Fears?   Under what circumstances would/could they rise above those fears to become heroic?  Look at suggested scenes from BIAW handout.  Plot out one of those during a short block of time.

d)      You have a deadline, but you don’t have an entire week to devote to BIAW.

Solution:  Take any block of time and do BIAW.  All you really need is to hold onto the philosophy that you’ll forget all rules, all self-doubts, lock the inner critic in a closet and padlock the door!  Just write.  Write in every short block of time you’ve got.  And give yourself permission to take risks.  But write.  It is the essential commitment to use every bit of time AND forget the rules that characterizes BIAW.

e)      You think maybe you want to write something entirely different, but you’re not sure if you can. 

Solution:  Ideally, you’d take a week and do BIAW.  But suppose you’ve only got an afternoon or weekend.  Use that time to do a mini-BIAW.  Just give yourself permission to write.  Doesn’t matter if it won’t be workable.  Just write!  This is a chance to find out if you like trying that other genre or length.  This is a way to find out where your strengths and weaknesses will lie—so that you can plan a way to work around/with those weaknesses when you sit down and seriously plan a project in this new area.

 

f)        You’re stuck.  Absolutely stuck.

Solution:  Give yourself 15 or 20 minutes to play.  Give yourself permission to just write anything you want for that length of time, no matter how silly.  Write a scene from the story or book that you are NOT going to use!  Toss in a character who doesn’t exist or an event that couldn’t possibly happen.  There’s no point to it—just play.  Just make a mess, if you want and see what happens. Or write something totally different—unrelated to the project. Why?  The idea is to get past the seriousness/fear.  The first suggested exercise gives your muse a chance to get past whatever it is you’re stuck on, but without any pressure—and by playing you may come up with something you need.  Because often when we are stuck it is because our subconscious is trying to tell us we’re missing something, something is going wrong.   The alternative idea works because sometimes what we need is just a break.  The writing equivalent of getting up and taking a walk or working in the garden—which incidentally can be a good idea, too.

g)      When you are working on a project, always carry a notebook with you to write in or a tape recorder to make notes.  (Why?  This is fundamental to standard BIAW—a reminder to use every spare moment, but also a reminder to your subconscious to keep working on the project.  At any time, the notebook and/or tape recorder can serve as both this kind of reminder and a way to keep consistency in your work.)

h)      Make notes at the end of every writing session!  Standard BIAW—this is so you won’t reread the next day.  But in any situation, it aids consistency the next time you sit down to write and it reduces likelihood you will spend time rereading and rewriting rather than moving forward.

i)        If you get stuck, instead of agonizing, make notes to yourself or highlight a section in colored fonts and move on—note highlighter function on toolbar of both Word and Word Perfect.  That way, when you go back to this point in the manuscript you will be able to quickly and easily find the places where you put reminders to yourself, asked yourself questions, and/or weren’t sure about a given section.  (Works because this lets you move forward knowing you can easily go back to this spot later when you’ve figured out what you need or what you want to do.)

j)        If you have a difficult passage to write but you’ve been putting it off because it feels too scary/daunting/overwhelming, set a block of time—whatever length you feel you can handle.  Structure your situation so that at the end of that block of time you will have a cup of soothing tea or coffee or SOMETHING ready.  Structure it so that you can take a walk in the garden or sit on the porch.  Structure the situation so that you can celebrate the good things in your life so that you FEEL safe enough to write that difficult passage.  In other words, you are not going to let yourself become wrung out.  You are going to nourish your spirit IMMEDIATELY once that block of time is over.

 

k)      Revisions:  Go over the manuscript in a short period of time—two days or less.  Keep a notebook handy and jot down all changes you plan to make (but don’t make them just yet!).  At the end of those two days, you will have an overview of the manuscript and can look through the changes you need to make.  Pick and choose; marking off the changes s you make them.  This method gives you flexibility, greater consistency, and a chance to make the changes in the order that works best for YOU.

l)        Revisions:  After you have your list, choose either little changes (for short periods of time and/or because they are easy) OR start with something major—one that will cause ripple effects backwards and forwards through the manuscript.  That will minimize how many rewrites you have to do.  In other words, you do NOT have to do revisions starting at page 1! 

m)     Revisions:  Cross off changes on the list as you make them and note new changes needed as a result of the ones you are making.

n)      Revisions:  Go back to brainstorming tips if you get stuck on what’s wrong.

o)      Revisions:  If your manuscript is part of a series and you get stuck, go ahead and write the first draft of the next book in the series.  What you write may impact this one and you may discover things you want to put into this draft.  You may also find that writing that next book triggers a greater understanding of what’s going wrong with this one.

 

Rejections:  If you meet all your goals, you’ve set them too low—that’s my personal philosophy.  So...how do you deal with rejections?

 

p)      Rejections:  As soon as you send out the manuscript, make a list of all the reasons the manuscript could be rejected that have nothing to do with quality.  (Line folded, editor has different tastes, too many projects already in hand, etc.)

q)      Rejections:  As soon as you finish the first list, make another list—this time of reasons the manuscript might not sell because of the manuscript and what you could do.  (Research the market some more, revise, check with a critique partner, etc.)  The idea is to remind yourself that even if THIS project does not sell, it does not mean you will never sell a manuscript.

r)       Rejection letter is paralyzing you.  You can’t get past it.

Solution:  Do this on the computer and delete it when you’re done OR (even better) write it on paper and plan to BURN IT afterwards!   Take 15 minutes and write out every horrible feeling you have about the rejection letter.  Give your imagination full rein!  But—at the end of the 15 minutes—DELETE THE FILE or better yet BURN THAT PAPER!!!  This is NOT an exercise in self-sabotage, it is a way to let go of the painful feelings so that you can step back and get on with your work, incorporating any USEFUL information you may have gotten from the rejection letter.

 

Finally and fundamentally, give yourself permission to write crap in your first draft.  Not because you necessarily will, but because fear is paralyzing and because often until that entire first draft is done, it’s hard to tell what works and what doesn’t.  Give yourself permission to take chances.  BIAW is about learning to trust yourself and your muse.  It is about rediscovering the joy in writing.  And we can do that at any time, with any block of time, and with any writing situation!


 

Note:  Information on this page is the sole property of April Kihlstrom and may not be reproduced without express permission from April Kihlstrom.

 

10, 20, 30 Minutes to Write

 

The basic idea is very simple:  Much of what we do as writers can be broken down into pieces that can be worked on in short—10, 20, 30 minute—blocks of time.  And a lot of it does not have to be done in order—even if that’s how we’ve always done it up until now. 

 

Preparation:

5-10 minutes:

1)      Collect notebooks, pens, a folder, etc.

2)      Set up work area—even changing one thing can brighten up work areas and make you feel more like writing.

3)      Pick a character and jot down everything you know about the character—profession, family, hobbies, etc.

4)      Pick a character and list the character’s fears, hopes, dreams

5)      For each—fears, hopes, dreams--ask a key question.  Ex.: Given the hero’s (or heroine’s) fears, what would allow or force the hero to rise above those fears? 

6)      Brainstorm possible themes for your story.

7)      List as many plot points/events as you can think of for your story.

8)      Picture yourself succeeding.  We are all very good at imagining all the things that can go wrong, but taking a few minutes to imagining everything going right can have a powerful impact as well.

 

15-20 minutes:

1)      Write out a conversation between a character and someone else—maybe even another person who does NOT appear in the story.

2)      Look at suggested scenes from BIAW handout.  Plot out one of those.

3)      Jot down a (possible) plot arc for one character.  (Each character will have a plot/growth arc that overlaps with but is different from other characters in the book.)

 

30-45 minutes:

1)      If you are trying to decide between several projects, allow 10 to 15 minutes for each one.  For each block, write as much as you can, as fast as you can on a project.  (The project to work on is the one where you forget to stop after 15 minutes and keep going OR the one which, when you reread it, really grabs you.)  Note:  This can also be done in separate 10-15 minute blocks of time—rather than all at once, one right after the other.

2)      Work on the synopsis/outline.  Quickly jotting down everything you know.  That would be one block of time.  Another 30-45 minute block of time might be used to go over and refine that synopsis.  (Keeping the time short may also make the synopsis seem less intimidating.)

3)      Fill the creative well—read from a book or story that really inspires you.

4)      Do research—but it’s often good to limit the amount of time because it could eat up all your time!

 

Actual Writing:

5-10 minutes:

1)      Just write—you’d be surprised how those short blocks of time can add up.

2)      Jot down notes for what you want to write next.  Or ideas you have for later in the story.  (Note:  This is especially useful at the end of the writing day—particularly during Book In A Week.  Or if you tend to have interruptions so that often it’s a few days before you can get back to the writing.  You don’t have to reread what you wrote in order to get started again—you just work from these notes.)

3)      It’s not a bad idea, each day, if you have a cluttered desk like mine, to take 5 minutes and just get rid of one bunch of paper or change one thing to brighten your writing area.

4)      Picture yourself succeeding—especially if you’re feeling discouraged!

 

15-20 minutes:

1)      Just write—this is a sufficient block of time to write a couple of pages or a significant portion of a scene.

2)      If you get stuck or are having a tough time getting going, maybe write in 15-minute blocks of time.  Set a timer if you want.  Odds are that at some point the words will start to flow.

3)      If you really get stuck—play.  Write something utterly fanciful OR write a scene from your project that you are NOT going to use!  Toss in a character who doesn’t exist or an event that couldn’t possibly happen.  There’s no point to it—just play.  Just make a mess, if you want and see what happens. (Note: The idea is to get past the seriousness/fear.  By playing you may come up with something you need.  Because often when we are stuck it is because our subconscious is trying to tell us we’re missing something or that something is going wrong.   The alternative idea works because sometimes what we need is just a break.  It’s the writing equivalent of getting up and taking a walk or working in the garden—which incidentally can be a good idea, too. )

 

30 minutes:

1)      Just write.  (Do you notice a theme?) 

2)      There is a situation when it is really useful to choose to just write for a short block of time.  That is when you need to write something difficult—however YOU define difficult.  Choose a block of time you feel you can handle.  Set things up so that at the end of that block of time you will have a cup of soothing tea or coffee or SOMETHING ready.  Structure it so that you can take a walk in the garden or sit on the porch.  Structure the situation so that you can celebrate the good things in your life so that you FEEL safe enough to write that difficult passage.  In other words, you are not going to let yourself become wrung out.  You are going to nourish your spirit IMMEDIATELY once that block of time is over.

3)      The philosophy of Book In A Week (see notes at my website) can be adapted to any block of time—no matter how short.  Whether it’s a week, a weekend, a couple of hours or 30 minutes, give yourself that permission to just write—write anything that wants to come out because you can always edit/rewrite later.

 

Afterwards:  Note:  I feel very strongly that an ideal way to do revisions is to read through the manuscript very quickly—two days or less is ideal.  Make notes as to what changes you think you will need to make, but don’t make them now, keep going through the manuscript.  Then....

 

5-10 minutes:

1)      Often there are easy revisions that can be done in 5 to 10 minutes.  Maybe it’s adding eye or hair color for a character, rewriting a clumsy sentence, etc.

2)      Jot down notes for things you want to change—or how you want to change them—when you have more time.

3)      Right after you send out the manuscript but before you get a reply:

a)      List all the reasons the manuscript might be rejected that have nothing to do with quality. (Ex. Editor has too many similar manuscripts, not buying that type manuscript right now, editor doesn’t like your style—but someone else might, etc.)

b)      List all the things you can do to improve the manuscript if it gets rejected this time.  (Ex. Study the market more, send it to a different publisher, get an agent, have someone else critique the manuscript, enter a contest, etc.)

 

15-20 minutes:

1)      If you get a rejection letter:  Take 15 or 20 minutes and write out every horrible feeling you have about that rejection letter.   (Note:  Preferably do this on paper.)  Give your imagination full rein!  But—at the end of the 15/20 minutes—burn the paper and as it goes up in smoke, let go of the feelings.  (If you did it on the computer, delete the file.  This is NOT an exercise in self-sabotage, it is a way to let go of the painful feelings so that you can step back and get on with your work, incorporating any USEFUL information you may have gotten from the rejection letter.)

2)      Revisions—do the somewhat more complicated revisions.  It’s okay to jump around the manuscript.  (Note:  I do advise making the biggest change as early in the revision process as possible because there will always be ripple effects—forward and back through the manuscript—with changes and making the most significant change first tends to minimize how many times you will need to rewrite other passages.)

3)      If you get stuck on revisions, look at the brainstorming exercises from the Book In A Week handout (available at my website).  Do you have all the suggested scenes/emotions?  If not, take a 15-20 minute block of time to work on one and see if that solves the problem.

 

30 minutes or more:

1)      Revisions.  Most significant revision first, if possible.

2)      After you finish the manuscript—celebrate.

3)      After you mail out the manuscript—celebrate.

4)      Any good writing news—celebrate!  (Do you begin to see a theme, here?)

5)      Evaluate your writing experience—what worked, what didn’t, and what you might change in the future.

 

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