By Matthew Schulz
So 2011 wasn’t the year you finished your beloved manuscript. Me neither.
But you can use December to lay the groundwork to make sure 2012 ends up differently.
Frankly, I’d hoped to be further along in my manuscript than I am right now. But life happens, as we all know. We get distracted. We decide to change directions with a story. Maybe we even scrap it and start over again. Then, we get flustered and step away for a while, just not wanting to face the mess that we’ve left behind.
But the fact is that you have to dive back in. Why? Because you’re a writer, and you love writing – even with all the heartache and frustration it can bring.
With that in mind, here are a few steps that you can take this month to help you hit the ground running in 2012 and finish that manuscript once and for all.
Re-read. Maybe you haven’t read what you’d previously written in quite some time. Change that. Give it a close, critical read. Should some of it be thrown out? (Hopefully not all of it.) Does some of it need more fleshing out? Does the point of view still make sense? Is there enough action? Before you dive back into writing, stop and revisit what you’ve already done. It’ll inspire you to get back to work.
Map it out. Not sure where your story’s going or if it makes sense? Plot it out using a story map. They’re easy to find on the Web – I use this one from Writer’s Digest – and they help you organize your story in a sensible way and include all of the various elements of fiction. It’ll help you make sure that your plot is full enough and complex enough to keep the reader turning the page from the hook to the tag. As with a cross country road trip, you don’t have to have a map to get where you’re going, but it’ll likely help you get there faster and in a more sensible way.
Interview your characters: Get to know your characters in a deeper way before you write about them. Write out a list of 20 to 25 questions and do an “interview” with each of your significant characters. (Examples abound the web. Here’s one of my favorites: http://www.writingclasses.com/InformationPages/index.php/PageID/106.) And have them answer honestly. Maybe that linebacker has a soft spot for Lady Gaga. Perhaps that housewife had once played bass in a punk band. Maybe that teenager can speak Arabic because she had lived overseas for years with her military father. Adding this extra depth of knowledge about your characters will help them feel more real to you. And when they feel more real to you, you’ll portray them in a more real way in your story.
Dive into setting: A richly drawn setting can be a character in and of itself. Take the time to visit some of the places that inspired settings in your book. For example, check out that small market where your two main characters first meet. Pay attention to the smells, sounds and sights of the places. That extra time spent will reveal itself in the richer, more detailed and nuanced descriptions you include in your work.
Any of these ideas can help you make the most of the rest of 2011 and tee you up to hit the ground running in 2012. But whatever you do, do something. Don’t be discouraged that you’re yet to finish your work; be energized by the work that you’ve already done and the thought that 2012 will be the year that all of your hard work finally pays off in the form of a finished manuscript.
Matthew Schulz has written for the Dallas Morning News, Houston Chronicle, Associated Press and American Banker. He is currently writing his second novel and aspiring toward his lifelong dream of becoming a published author of fiction. His day job has him working as a Managing Editor at CreditCards.com, where he helps lead an award-winning news team and has even helped coordinate a video town hall with the White House. You can follow him on Twitter @matthewschulz and learn more about him at MattSchulz.com.