Monday, February 20, 2012

Recipe for Success

One of the major principles of Weight Watchers—or really any eating plan in which you want to lose weight—is planning. If you don’t plan to succeed, then you’re planning to fail.

This is never more evident than when you don’t pre-determine what you’ll be eating through out the week, or at least hatch some possible plans to pick from if you don’t like being tied to one thing. The benefit to planning healthy foods to keep you from overeating also keeps you (usually) from overspending. You’re not going out to eat every night, you’re not planning last minute meals that require you to buy everything each night—no, instead you’re taking stock of what you do have, what you are capable of making and what you enjoy, and creating from that.

If you’re not a leftovers person, then you have to figure out what one portion meals are easy to throw together without involving a lot of prep work. I like having pre-cooked chicken or beef and making various things: Italian, Mexican, or Chinese themed that can be adjusted by using different sauces or vegetables. But I also enjoy making a meal—like meatloaf—and figuring it out how to use it to make something new a couple meals later, like Bolognese sauce.

I am pretty good at this because 1.) I’m not adverse against recycling what I already have; 2.) I’ve cooked enough that I can be flexible and creative about it without relying too heavily on following the recipe exactly; and 3.) I plan. Food matters to me. I love food. Some people eat to live, but I’m definitely a live to eat type of gal.

Now think of writing.

If you want to succeed in finishing your novel, you need to plan—or you’ll be planning to fail. Have a goal—you want to write a story where the hero triumphs and love conquers all, great—and decide how you’re going to make that happen.

You don’t want to grow bored while you’re writing, so take some basic ingredients that can carry over into whatever you’re doing. The rakish hero, the intelligent but plain heroine—and think of the ways you usually like to devour these characters when they’re presented by other writers. How can you make this recipe your own? What tricks do you know that can make the story better, funnier, more emotional?

Take a classic story line—like Beauty and the Beast—and figure out how you can make a different twist or story out of it. Is the woman the beast? Does she lose her beauty? How do you take a successful “recipe” for storytelling and create something new? How do you make a fusion of your two favorite writing styles? You play with it. You take a chance. The worst that will happen is that you have to throw it out, but most of the time, it’s still edible…and sometimes you come up with something truly delicious and innovative.

Be daring. I know you’re good at this because I’m sure you’ve all already taken to recycling things from your own writing that you couldn’t use in another story, something too good to bury forever. You’re great writers and you keep improving because you’re always writing or thinking of writing. The only thing left is to plan…plan for your success. Really think about your story and the story questions. What do you wish to achieve with this story? And like nearly all achievements, the best ones are the ones for yourself and not for others. Writing for yourself first is almost always more successful than just picking something you think will sway the marketing trends. The marketing trends are always fickle.

It’d be like if the marketing world’s new trend was BEETS, but I hate beets, I don’t even like to eat them—so how could I possibly cook with them? And usually these sorts of trends only last a year or two, which is the average length it takes a person to get published anyway. Wouldn’t it make more sense to find a food you’re passionate about and write about that? You love chocolate…and beta scholars—then write about them. Maybe some sweet, sensitive hero discovers how to make the world’s best chocolate bar. Wouldn’t we all love to read about that guy? Haven’t we all wanted to thank him?

Write what you love. Make a plan. Realize nothing worth doing is going to happen overnight.

In the meantime, if you want to learn more about planning your novel, I highly, HIGHLY recommend the book: Outlining Your Novel by K.M. Weiland. (Incidentally the Kindle version is only $2.99! What a deal!) I’m reading it now and writing in my notebook as I go along. It’s definitely one of the top five craft books I’ve ever read. Structured enough to keep you progressing, creative enough not to make you feel stymied. This is a woman in favor of a plan.

So it’s Monday…and I’m sure everyone’s not done being hungover yet. But once you get a few cups of coffee in you, let’s talk about planning, cooking, and success. What types of things do you plan in your writing/novels or other things in life? Do you have a favorite recipe that you’ve had to lighten up over the years so you can keep enjoying it? What do you think it takes to be successful?


Nancy said...

Good morning, Hellion. I'm now caffeinated and able to think, more or less, and your points about planning look spot-on to me. I plot a book before I start, just to have a road map. Sometimes I get an idea I love that takes me off the map. When that happens, I give myself permission to re-route. Or to try, as a GPS might announce, "Recalculating."

Sometimes the road map just leads to a swamp. I'm struggling to back out of one and find a less complicated route now. I think I can see the light, maybe have found a path that will work.

MsHellion said...

Good morning, Nancy!! :) I have had my GPS take me directly to a swamp--or quicksand--and leave me there. *LOL* It's hard to avoid them altogether, though Weiland's book has an exercise where you play "what if", which I'm sure we've all done, and it can determine a lot of potential swamps. *LOL* There was a whole--"What do we expect of this hero?" and "What do we not expect this hero to do?" and it did a lot of freestyling questions. I really enjoyed the exercise...and I never say that about exercise.

I think it's interesting how you said you were trying to find a "less complicated route now." I think we writers are always hearing to be MORE MORE MORE, we confuse that with being, well, impossible. *LOL* The MORE that we're actually looking for is EMOTION and not necessarily Razzy-Snazzy Plot-Devices.

TerriOsburn said...

I so needed this blog today. Though I have the plan, my problem is bothering to get back on the road and moving again. I can't start a book without lots of preplanning, but I've never tried outlining. Unless my free writing scene ideas and post-its on the storyboard count. But most of the preplanned post its never make it into the book.

You know I'm no foodie, but there are a few staples I make that I'm finally good at it. Most anything takes me several tries. And I have no skill to "wing it" and alter anything. Maybe someday.

I should take a beginners cooking class some time.

MsHellion said...

Terri, it's not outlining like we remember outlining when we were kids and writing papers. It's different. To me, this is just a lot of pre-writing, almost making a Book Bible of everything about the book so you have really thought about everything and have a good handle on your idea before you just start romping around, hoping to figure it out as you go.

Your free writing scene ideas and storyboarding definitely count.

TerriOsburn said...

I think you told me that before, but I'm so trained to think of outlining as the bullets stuff. LOL! I should think more about the entire story ahead of time, but what does this author say about leaving room for some pantsing?

And I have to go dry my hair or I'll never make my doc appt!

MsHellion said...

Yes, this author is very Relaxed. She definitely allows room for creativity (she doesn't call it pantsing so much, but it's where it would fall into)--but non-pre-planned creativity is certainly encouraged. I think a lot of this outlining is thinking of the Big Questions, Big Themes, Big Plot Points. Things I think the average writer has some idea--however vague--going into the story. You know it will have a happy ending; you know who the main characters are. You know their secrets (for the most part) and what they want most right now. You know what's stopping them.

What I really like about this outlining book is how much more meaning it can imbue in your story. How you can really think about themes and symbolism (even though I don't believe blue curtains mean anything more than the author likes the color blue)--and how to make them more subtle or more meaningful in your writing.

I think it just makes everything MORE. It gives you a fuller, clearer, cleaner first draft.

Janga said...

I just bought the book. My first response was negative. I'm allergic to outlines. I never assigned them to my students because I hated them so when I was a student. I always ended up writing the essay and then outlining it. But your comparison to a Book Bible sold me, Hellie.

Maybe the exercises will motivate me to work on my WIP. I'm so tired of writing by the time I finish the day's work on the freelance stuff that I can't seem to make myself write anything else.

I'm a fair cook, but I'm the strictly by-the-recipe type. I don't trust myself to be creative in the kitchen. I have to think about whether that lack of trust is also true with my writing.

MsHellion said...

Janga, I almost compared my first outlining experience in 6th grade to dislike of outlining in general, but I realized that learning to do that actually taught me a lot about writing "technical" papers. There's a rhythm to it. You always have an introduction; you always have a summary--and in the middle, you usually have 3 big/key points you address.

You usually have at least 3, but four is "uneven" and five can almost be too many. People can remember three points from an article or lecture usually.

But at the time, I just thought all this stuff was TEDIOUS. *LOL* And we didn't really address why 3 was the magic number...or why you do an intro and summary. It was just a formula.

But after doing them that way for a while, I began to see the reasons for the formula. I don't know if it's because I've become conformed or if it's what the creators of the formula meant all along, but I believe it's true.

You have an intro to tell the reader what to look for, to learn; 3 points because that's the magic number for remembering just about anything; and a summary so we don't forget what we just learned.

Now in an intro to any novel, we're introduced to a hero and we know what he wants. Or what he doesn't want. It's center of our minds.

In books, many, many things can happen, much more than 3, but usually horrific things happen in 3's. Funerals, ex-wives, I think even books tend to follow the formal that bad things happen in 3's. Or it takes 3 significant events for the character to realize their path is wrong.

It's that law of 3 in mysteries. Once is a fluke; second time makes you think there might be pattern; third time IS the pattern.

And then in summary, we tie up all the loose ends for that horrible bad third thing that happened and we learn that what the hero wanted in the beginning isn't what they actually wanted--or that they did want to be happy, but having money isn't what would make them happy.

I think learning to outline when we were younger was to teach us the beats of writing. Only that. Like using Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star to teach you how to play the's not to make you hate piano lessons, it's to teach the core things you need to know about writing.

All this aside, I have really enjoyed the exercises. I also have the Victoria Schmidt Book in a Month craft book and while I really liked at the time, it's not as organic as this book is and not as user friendly in my opinion. I think the difference is that Schmidt's version is literally about writing; but Weiland's version really keeps the writer in touch with emotion of your story. It's more than a MadLibs project. It's working to put heart and soul into your story in a methodical way.

Maureen said...

Ah, the big free write book bible/outline. I do this! I think of it as the preview and a maybe the introduction to the book...

Cooking is a whole nother ball game. I agree that a diet will work best with preplanning, or stocking the pantry with the best stuff that helps the weight loss progress and going from there.

In that respect, I don't do bad with stocking my writing pantry. I need adventure, I need my heroine in danger, I need a villain who will attempt to tear them apart. I need inner secrets they aren't aware of...

This book you've got sounds good. I wonder how much is it for other formats...

MsHellion said...

Oh, good, I admit I was a little worried talking about "outlining" and what you'd say. *LOL* But I think almost every writer does some sort of "pre-writing", whether they want to call it that or not.

Stocking the pantry!! Love the term! That's indeed what we need to do--stock the writing pantry with the good stuff so we can really write!

MsHellion said...

It doesn't appear that Sony EReader store has that particular book. Crud. But B&N also has it for the NOOK for $2.99.

Maureen said...

I actually have a I may have to add it! I haven't given up pantsing, but I have acknowledged that some stocking of the pantry helps me end the week with more progress...

MsHellion said...

She's definitely all about doing whatever works for the writer; and you can do as little or as much outlining/prewriting as you want.

She's very cautious about not frightening off would-be writers with MUST's and SHOULD's.

P. Kirby said...

If god wanted me to cook, she would have given me fireproof hands. Hate cooking, ugh.

I always used outlines for technical papers. But I'm a pantser when it comes to fiction. In fact, I think I sucked the joy out of one of my WIPs by trying to plan too much. Your book, recommendation, however, sounds kind of interesting if only because it sounds more free-form, more creative.

Great blog posting...all full of "inspirey" stuff. :)

MsHellion said...

Hi P!--I agree about sucking the life out of too much planning. It's a thin line between the two; and she acknowledges it could happen.

I think she leaves the creativity for the scenes themselves. Like you know you're going to have this scene that is a Turning Point--this needs to happen to make the character change--and you know this is the outcome, but writing the scene itself is the creative fun part. I love creating scenes, but I *hate* second and third guessing myself that I'm writing the "wrong" scene and I'm going to have to back up to a certain point and try again.

I think the pre-planning stage is like stringing your loom and marking out your pattern, but the creativity is the actual weaving which still allows for creativity, mistakes, and greatness. If you don't string your loom right, you're going to have one hell of a messy project! *LOL*

Maureen said...

I can totally understand the loom analogy. We all know how I tangle myself up sometimes and just have to break out the dagger and hack my out!

Though my difficulties might be likened to macrame...or a game of cat's cradle...

MsHellion said...

Cat's Cradle is a skill. I loved that game as a kid, and sometimes I got so tangled that I had to cut up my string. *LOL* But when you got really good at doing the same moves until they were innate, then you got to creative stuff not very many people could do.

You just gotta put up with the repetitive crap at first.

Scapegoat said...

Excellent post and I really need to check out this book - AFTER my self-imposed ban on all things planning, researching, etc. I'm on a "only writing allowed" plan right now. :)

I always just let myself get caught up in the learning and research too much.

As for cooking, I ADORE cooking but I HATE recipes and can't follow one to save my life. Cook with a recipe - sucks. Cook without one and jsut by what I FEE: should go into it, my hubby raves about it.

Which is so incredibly weird that I try so hard to follow writing recipes and guidelines...

Scapegoat said...

ACK - typo city!

That one line should be "and JUST by what I FEEL"

MsHellion said...

*LOL* Maybe you should take a lesson from your cooking and write what you feel rather than what others tell you you should be writing. :) The thing about recipes is that learning from them shows you what works together and what doesn't--and what you need to make something bind together, thicken, or rise...but there are a multitude of ways to make it happen and lots of substitutes. Knowing them makes them yours. It's like knowing the rules so you can break them.

You just know what works for you. Great!!

Yes, I understand the whole research too much thing. Definitely put it on your must read list! It's good!

Scapegoat said...

Such true words! I guess I'm really looking for those strucural basics of the writing recipes and then I want to sprinkle in all my extras.

JulieJustJulie said...

Sorrysorrysorry I’m late. I was cooking.
*sigh* And something writerish. But more on that late-Eeerrrr. I swear, I’m gonna have “ She finally made it out of the Kitchen” carved upon my tombstone. One of my favorite recipes is a beef stroganoff which has about a pound of butter in it and a couple of pints of sour cream. Easy enough to cut back on when your talking about those kinds of amounts of fat. Still. Every now and then …

JulieJustJulie said...

What do I think it takes to be successful? Following through. And following up.
Embrace your creativity.
Be receptive and open to all possibilities.
Remember, a negative situation can be turned around and made into a positive situation as long as you adopt the right attitude.
So, maintain a positive outlook, but be honest. Nourish what you have in progress.
Don't over complicate things. Keep things simple and trust that you will find a way through life's challenges. Because lets face it, chances are if you have a challenge then it isn't just going to go away. SO you have no choice but to to find a way through that challenge.
Have fun.
Make a choice that you deserve to be sucessful.

JulieJustJulie said...

Make the choice that you deserve to be sucessful. But don't just buy your "ticket" to where you want to be. You've got to buy the ticket , then you gotta get on the train. A lot of people embrace the idea, but the thought of taking that trip? Scares the $%@# out of them. so GO!