Night Buddies - Adventures After Lights Out

Why You Need Rituals in Your Writing Life

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“The secret of your future is hidden in your daily routine.” –Mike Murdock

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When I was a younger man, I was against forming routines. I lived spontaneously, I took each day as it came at me with no expectations, and I thought routine would be the end of my creativity. If inspiration hit in the middle of the night, I would write like a maniac from 1 a.m. to sunrise. If I didn’t have anything to write about for days at a time, then I wouldn’t dwell on it.

But then inspiration was coming to me less and less frequently. I was writing once a week, maybe, then once a month, then not at all. I had no pattern to my creative life, and I was becoming weaker as a writer and as a thinker. I didn’t have ideas for stories, I didn’t have the tools to write them down when they did come, and when I embarked on longer projects, they never got finished.

It was about this time that I heard some career-changing advice: you are only as strong as the rituals you establish for yourself.

As I looked into it, I realized that many, if not most, of the biggest names in the literary world had writing rituals. Sarah Dessen writes from 3 p.m. to 5 p.m. every single day, whether inspiration strikes or not. E.B. White always wrote in his brightly lit living room, and refused to listen to music during his writing hours. Haruki Murakami wakes up at 4 a.m. every day, writes for six hours, and then spends the rest of the day exercising and reading to stay sharp and focused for this early mornings. The list goes on and on.

(For a list of 12 writers’ daily routines, look at this blog post by James Clear: http://jamesclear.com/daily-routines-writers)

Forming a ritual allows you to get in the same mindset day after day, and your brain begins to realize that inspiration should hit in these specific settings. It was only when I decided to write consistently every day, at the same time each day, in the same room each day that I was able to write the Night Buddies books to completion. It doesn’t matter if your ritual means snacking on hot cheetos in the nearest coffee shop, if it means waking up before your children and your spouse so they won’t distract you, if it means you only write solidly for one hours every night—having those rituals will help you get words on the page. This is our only, singularly most important goal as writers. We have to get words on the page.

Waiting for inspiration is like waiting for a new puppy to learn to come to you on command. You can hope for it, and maybe accidentally a few times it will happen. But if you don’t train for it to happen consistently every single time when called, then eventually it will never happen at all. Train your brain to be inspired every single day, train your mind to only be able to focus on writing when it is time to write, and you’ll soon see all those stories you’ve been mulling over in your mind become real, tangible, written down stories on the page.

Do you have any writing rituals? Let me know what they are in the comments!

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Tips For Writing Three-Dimensional Characters

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There are two main elements to a story: plot and character. There is debate amongst writers whether one of these aspects is more important than the other, which is why some books are plot-driven while others are character-driven, but the reality is that your book will not succeed if your characters feel inauthentic. This is where one of the most difficult aspects of storytelling comes into play—creating three-dimensional characters.

Luckily, when I started writing the Night Buddies series I had already been creating my main character Crosley for years (by making him the star in my son’s bedtime stories). I had a fully formed character who felt like a real friend in my home, and that led to an entire series being based off of him. But I couldn’t rely on Crosley alone. A book is made up of an entire cast of characters, all who need to feel as real as the others, and I knew I had a lot of work to do in order to make my other characters as three-dimensional as the character I had spent years of my life developing. Along the way, I came up with a few techniques for fleshing out the entire cast. I hope you find them helpful!

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1. Always ask why. It is one thing to decide, “I’m going to write about a red crocodile,” and another to think, “What is it that makes this crocodile red? How is he unique?” You want to think of original, entertaining personality bits, but to make that character come alive, you need to know exactly why he is the way he is. Why is your character afraid of the dark? Why does he have a tattoo on his earlobe? Why does he have an insatiable hunger for pineapple cheesecakes? Knowing the why makes him relatable and easy to understand, both of which help bring him to life.

2. Base the character off someone you know. Next to Crosley, there is a boy named John who stars in the Night Buddies books who is based on my son. When you base a character off of someone you know well, you can pinpoint unique ways that person talks, unique parts of their appearance, and unique stories from their life that will come across on the page the way that person comes across to you in real life.

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3. Create a character sketch. Character sketches are very important to do, but I don’t believe everyone needs to use the same template for making one. For instance, I’ve seen templates that make you consider their mother’s maiden name or their favorite time of day, but sometimes those details are irrelevant to the story. Here’s what I go by: know their backstory, know the relationships that are important to them, and know where they should be emotionally at the beginning of the story and at the end. Any other details you want to know are up to you—it can be fun to spend hours figuring out every detail of your character’s lives, but don’t get so caught up in it that you forget what’s important to your story!

4. Show, don’t tell. Your character won’t feel real if you spend pages telling the reader their likes and dislikes, how they came to be where they are, whether they have allergies in the summertime. If you make a list of things to tell the reader, the character feels like a list, not a person. Instead, show that they’re shy by how they cross their arms when in a public place. Show that they have allergies by how they sneeze when the wind starts to blow. Show that they hate broccoli by how their mouth tenses up when their mother forces them to eat all that is on their plate. What you show the reader will always be ten times more important, and feel ten times more real, than by what you tell them.

Do you tend to prefer character-driven, or plot-driven novels? Maybe a healthy dose of the two? Let me know in the comments below!

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Should Your Book Be Made Into a Series?

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I’ve written one blog post before about making the decision to write a children’s book, (link to that post here) but I didn’t mention that the decision to write a series of children’s books was actually a separate decision. You see, most authors don’t take on writing a series the way J.K. Rowling did with Harry Potter—we don’t plot out seven books, fully detailed from beginning to end, and expect that they will all reach publication. In fact, most series of books become a series due to luck, demand, or by accident.

J.K. Rowling; author of the most popular modern book series, Harry Potter.

J.K. Rowling; author of the most popular modern book series, Harry Potter.

When I first wrote Night Buddies and the Pineapple Cheesecake Scare, I knew that my story was complete. It is a self-contained book, has a firm beginning, middle, and end, and doesn’t require further books to make the story whole. But I also realized that when I was finished writing it, I had more ideas in mind for my characters. My story was done, but their stories could continue through multiple books. I didn’t have a set number in mind, I didn’t have all the stories planned out, and I didn’t want the stories to be interconnected. All I knew, and still know, is that my characters are vibrant enough (in my eyes, at least) to carry out a series of adventures.

And that’s when book number two, Night Buddies and One Far-Out Flying Machine, began to be written.

Maybe you’ve decided to turn your beloved book into a series because you aren’t ready to be done with your characters, or because your readers are begging for the story to continue, or because your publisher thinks they can capitalize on your success by writing a continuation (cheers to you, if that’s the case). My point is, a series can be created out of what you thought was a stand-alone book; it doesn’t always need to start with the intention of writing a series. The only difficulty with creating a series out of a stand-alone book is deciding whether your story is worth continuing.

Deciding to continue your work throughout a series of books comes with the challenge of developing your characters with every new adventure, keeping your same writing tone and voice through each book, and always bringing fresh takes to old ideas. It is difficult to always stay excited about the same characters you’ve been working with for years, but when you are capable of finding that excitement, it’s always worth the struggle. Night Buddies became a series because I knew this was the story I was meant to write, and I hope to continue releasing new Night Buddies books for as long as Crosley and John remain exciting, fresh, and fun characters for me to hang on to. I sometimes feel as though I’m in a long-term relationship with these characters and these stories, and with that comes the hard days or the boring days, but with that also comes immense love, commitment, and happiness.

If you’re deciding whether or not you should begin a series, I’d recommend just writing the first book, getting acquainted with your characters, and treating it like a first date. After you’re finished with that one, decide whether taking on those types of stories and those characters will be worth standing by long-term. And when you find those characters you never want to leave behind, be thankful; they don’t come by often.

What is your favorite book series? Let me know in the comments below!

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There is No “Right” Time to Write

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One of the most common problems among new writers is when they say this: “I can only write when [insert arbitrary rule here].” Sometimes they think they can only write in the early morning, sometimes only when their children are out of the house, sometimes only when they feel inspired—but every single one of these answers is the root cause of a writer’s failure. I’ve found a lot of advice about writing to be insubstantial, but this one piece of advice is what I’ve heard every great writer say, and what has been proven to me throughout my journey as an author . . .

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There is not “right” time to write. Write anyway.

It is always going to be easier to not write than it is to write. Sitting down with no distractions, opening up a blank document unsure of what to fill the page with, staying there for hours, days, and years of your life until you feel like you’ve finally come close to what you wanted to say are just a few of the reasons why you should just close your laptop and give up on the novel you dreamed of writing one day. But those reasons won’t deter the passionate writers. The ones who dream of their stories every time they close their eyes. The ones who see the people walking down the street as characters. The ones who itch to get their words down on napkins, receipts, or the back of their hands when nothing else is available. To them, writing isn’t confined to a certain time of day, or a certain mindset. To them, writing is something that happens always, just because they are alive.

I agree with those who argue that setting aside a certain time of day, every day, will help a writer get their work finished. But relying on that time alone increases the risk of the writing never happening at all. Schedules change every day. Kids get sick and stay home from school, friends ask you to stop by for dinner, partners need someone to talk to after a stressful day. Writing time gets interrupted, and it can be hard to get back when you forget that all day, any day is the perfect time to write.

Louis L’Amour said it best when he wrote, “Start writing, no matter what. The water does not flow until the faucet is turned on.”

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Louis L’Amour

There will always be an excuse to not write; the timing isn’t right, there’s too much on your to-do list, you feel uninspired. Start writing anyway. You’ll be grateful you gave all the time you had to your story when your finished novel is in your hands.

What’s the best writing advice for beginners you’ve heard? Let me know in the comments below!

 

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Questions to Ask Yourself Before You Sit Down to Write Your Children’s Book

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So one day it hits you—that perfect idea, the one you know is your key to becoming a children’s book author. You do a little character developing, you download Scrivener, you’re ready to take that idea and turn it into a children’s book, right?

Wrong. Almost every person believes they have a book inside them, but without taking the time to consider your writing goals, those books never make it to “The End.” Before you sit down at your computer and start typing out that great bestseller you’ve been brewing, I suggest you take some time to sit down and think about these questions.

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Why are you writing this book? Do you desire fame, wealth, or critical acclaim? Do you believe in and love your story? Do you simply want to read the book to your child, family, or friends? I’m not going to say that any motivation for finishing a book is better than another (though I’m not holding my breath to become a millionaire author anytime soon), but I do think that without knowing what’s motivating you, you’ll lose steam around page thirty and your book won’t ever be completed.

What time commitment are you giving to this book? Will you write every day? Should you set a daily word count? Are you planning on writing whenever the mood or inspiration strikes? Giving yourself clear and realistic expectations for the amount of time you will dedicate yourself to this project will keep you from being frustrated if it takes you awhile to finish. Knowing ahead of time that you only plan on writing 100 words a day will allow you to realistically be aware that you’ll be working on this book for over a year or years to come.

How much of your story do you know? You don’t need to be the person that writes an in-depth outline before you start writing chapter one, but you should have an idea of what the beginning, middle, and end of your story will be. If you start writing the book with a strong, developed beginning, no clue as to what will happen in the middle, and a vague idea of the ending, you could get lost and give up the whole project.

Would you want to read this book? This is the most important question to ask yourself—and the one a lot of wannabe authors don’t give enough importance to. If you don’t believe your book is important, if you’re not having fun writing or reading it, and if you don’t care about your book as if it was your own child, you won’t have the energy to fight to get it written and eventually published. Don’t bother to start writing something if you don’t start the project with more passion than you’ve ever felt in your life.

Deciding to write a book is deciding to start one of the longest, craziest, emotional, frustrating, and rewarding journeys you’ve ever been on. If you feel confident in answering all of these questions, you’ll be prepared to see your book through to its end.

Are you a first-time writer? What are some of your answers to these questions? Let me know in the comments below!

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Choosing the Best Setting for Your Book

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When many new writers are first gathering ideas to start writing their books, often one of the last things they think about is where the story is going to take place (unless they are writing fantasy, in which case setting is one of the first things to think about). Sometimes authors forget to give setting any attention at all. But here’s something to remember: where your story takes place might not drastically influence the plot of the book, but the story still has to take place somewhere.

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When I set out to write the Night Buddies books, I originally focused my attention on forming the characters that would be most important to the story. But when I actually got to the point where I was ready to sit down and start writing, I realized something important—I had no idea where these characters lived. Setting cannot, let me repeat, cannot, be ignored. So if you’re where I was when I began writing and haven’t given much thought to the setting in your story, here are three pivotal things to consider to get your story, and your setting, back on track.

What type of settings are you familiar with? If you’ve never lived in a city, writing about city life accurately may be become difficult. Think about the places you know like the back of your hand, places you can picture with your eyes closed, and incorporate aspects of them into your book’s setting. All those details will help make the story come alive. Of course, you can choose to research a setting you aren’t familiar with, but often the best details about a place aren’t something you can look up online—they come from the experience of living there.

Downtown Atlanta skyline at dusk

What type of setting will best fit the tone of your book? If you’re writing a lighthearted children’s book, it’s appropriate to incorporate fun, whimsical locations. In Night Buddies, for example, I set a few scenes in a zoo where there could be more talking animals like Crosley—it added another dimension of fun and silliness to the books, which was important because I wanted kids to have a blast reading them. If you’re writing a horror novel, maybe a place that experiences a lot of rain and cold should be used instead of sunny Southern California. Choose settings that will enhance the tone of your story, and it will become that much more well-rounded.

Does your setting add to the story? I chose to set the Night Buddies books in a city, and part of what went into that decision was that the adventures take place at nighttime. A city has a lot of bright lights, so Crosley and John can get around relatively easily, and are able to see what is going on around them. In a small, country town they would probably be spotted by neighbors, and they would be completely in the dark when trying to get around. Little details like this about your setting should add logic, mystery, and excitement to the story you’re writing.

What do you think about setting? Is it one of the first things you think about when plotting a book? Leave your thoughts in a comment below!

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Writing on Vacation is Hard To Do: Here’s How to Keep Your Story Alive on the Road!

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One of the difficulties that comes with being a writer is that your job is never finished. You don’t get to come home at the end of the day and cut off thinking about your job completely, and you don’t get to take a two-week paid vacation; as writers, our thoughts are always consumed by the story we are writing. For people who like to travel, like me, this difficulty is made even harder. Writing on the road is not an easy task, but here are some pieces of advice I’ve learned and used through the years to make writing and traveling coexist as easily as possible.

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Write at the beginning or end of the day. Chances are, if you’re traveling with others, they won’t want to be up at sunrise ready to start the activities of the day. Or if they do, they won’t be awake late into the night. Choose which time of day you have the opportunity to be alone and use it to write. Bonus: you’ll get to see some beautiful sunrises or the midnight glow of the moon in a place you’ve never been before.

Write during downtime. Every vacation has downtime. Maybe you’re trying to kill time before your next bus or train arrives, maybe there’s an hour wait before your table is ready for dinner, or maybe everyone has decided to take an afternoon nap. When you aren’t actively doing something or spending your time with loved ones, use the time to write. It will put your mind at ease to accomplish something, and you’ll be able to enjoy your next activity that much more.

Think about your story while driving. This piece of advice is mostly relevant to road trips, but it can also be applied if you have a long drive to reach a certain destination from your hotel. When you’re driving, you can’t do much else other than think. Use the time to think about your story—what you want to happen next, if your characters are developed enough, what you think you need to work on, and what you think you’re succeeding in. Brainstorming and analyzing your writing is sometimes just as important as actually getting the words down, and you’ll feel more prepared when you find time to sit down at your computer next.

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Enjoy your travels. Your writing will benefit from you living your life to its fullest. I know, I know. It’s hard to turn off that little voice in your head that tells you you need to be writing. But when you are in a new place, seeing new sights, and spending time with the people you love, it’s important that you dedicate time to fully immersing yourself in the moment. Your story is always there to come back to at the end of the day. By letting yourself truly enjoy your vacation, hopefully you’ll experience a number of things that you can use in your writing later on. A writer’s true job is to live . . . otherwise there would be nothing for them to write about.

Do you try to write when you travel? What advice do you have for staying on track even when you’re away from home? Let me know in the comments!

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