Writing Process with Megan Barnhard!
For this week's writing process interview we have something a little different. Not only is Megan a writer, she's a writing coach! Enjoy!
Who Are You?
I’m a writing coach for authors and business owners who want to spend more time in their writing flow and less time wanting to throw their laptops out the window in frustration. I help them discover their unique writing process and utilize simple writing recipes so they trade in writer’s block and procrastination for confidence and productivity. I’m also an author, specializing in books that simplify the writing process and make it more doable—not to mention more fun. I’m at the beginning stages of writing middle grade fiction. I’ve only published one of those so far, and I have a draft of another that I hope to turn into something coherent.
What are three things that you absolutely need in order to write?
Google Docs or 750Words.com
music: Bach is best
my Planning Doc with my outline, book mission statement, and notes
Most writers have many ideas swimming around their heads competing for attention. How do you decide which idea is worth working on?
Since most of my writing is for writers, I tend to decide which ideas to pursue by spending time with other writers. I hang out with them, ask questions, and listen to where they get stuck. I test my ideas on them and then turn those ideas into books. That makes it really motivating to stick with a book idea because I know the material is going to help people. Plus, I find that fast drafting is a great defense against shiny object syndrome. I dive in with all my energy for short sprints—about a month at a time—so I don’t have to stay highly focused for too long. Having a blog and writing Morning Pages also helps a lot! It’s a chance to get out ideas that bubble up without having to interrupt my current WIP.
When you decide on a writing project, how much do you plan upfront?
I create a broad outline, but it might not be deep. In other words, I plan from beginning to end, but I won’t necessarily go into a lot of detail about each part. For writing fiction, I rely a lot on freewriting. I’ll know in my outline that there needs to be a scene where characters get from A to B, or some truth is revealed. When it comes time to write that section, I’ll use freewriting prompts to unlock the underlying character motivation and see what comes up.
One of my favorite outlining strategies is to tell myself the story as if it were a bedtime story. This helps me see all the major points and creates a scaffolding. Then I can play with the details when I sit down to write and get inspired. As long as I’m moving in the right general direction, I don’t worry about making changes to my plan.
All writers experience writer’s block from time to time. What you do to get unstuck?
The first question I always ask when I get blocked (or when I’m procrastinating like it’s going out of style) is: Do I know what needs to happen next?Usually the answer is that I don’t. Once I see that, I’ll leave the section I was trying to write and look in my outline for a place I know I can tackle. For me, drafting time is sacred. I don’t want to use it to brainstorm, outline, or research if I can avoid it. My rule is “Write the next thing you can.” Sometimes, though, I’m just done writing. I try to be good about getting up and doing something else when I know my creativity is spent. But I’m still working on that.
Tell me something about your writing process that is quirky and unique to you.
I cheat! I’m all about tricking myself into doing hard things with mind hacks and misdirects. I’ll tell myself, “Hey, I’m just freewriting. Whatever happens happens!” I open up a new doc, choose a freewrite topic, and dive in. Once I’ve got anywhere from 800 - 1500 words, I read back through it and ask myself where it could go in my draft, based on my outline. I paste it there and get the accomplishment of finishing a scene without the pressure of “Oh, man. I’ve got to write this important scene!” This is especially powerful when I’m just starting a draft and looking at that awful blank screen and that cursor blinking maniacally at me!
When are you most productive? When are you least productive?
I’m most productive when I have a deadline. And in the morning. I’ve written the first drafts of my favorite books in about 30 days, sitting down each morning with my outline and just diving in. I think writing is like exercise: best done first thing in the morning before your brain is awake enough to realize the kind of madness you’re up to.
It’s my birthday and you want to give me a book. Which book do you get me and why?
Well, since you’re an author, I get you a copy of Lisa Cron’s Wired for Story because it the best examination of why stories work that I’ve ever come across. She uses brain science to help writers see—and apply—the rules of great storytelling in a way that makes you really excited to build your story. I also get you a copy of Elizabeth Gilbert’s Big Magicso you can read a few pages here and there when you’re procrastinating from writing. Everyone should have something inspiring to do while procrastinating, and that book makes me laugh out loud while also feeling like I totally got this creativity thing.
Bonus Questions submitted by Christine L. Roland: I’d like to know what is something all of your novels have in common? Is it the characters, themes, settings, or moral ambiguity?
The same theme shows up again and again in my fiction: To be happy, you have to overcome the fear of being wrong. Of being ridiculed or laughed at. I write protagonists whose biggest problem is they're afraid to live in some way. They've got a misconception about who they are in the world that makes them feel small. And when they overcome that, they have these big moments of blooming into who they truly are. That's what I find inspiring. That's something I relate to a lot. I really needed this message as a kid, and since I write for young readers, I want them to hear it loud and clear.
Now, the fun part: What is one question that you want me to ask the next interviewee, not knowing who it is?
What kind of writing / story / book have you always wanted to try your hand at but haven’t—maybe because it’s outside of your normal genre, or maybe because you feel a bit intimidated by it?
What are you working on and where can readers find you?
I’m currently working on Recipe for Revising, the third book in the Write Your Novel series. This book is based on my self-study course Recipe for Revising Your Novel, which helps authors who’ve finished a first draft of a novel and are thinking, “OK, now what???” You can find out more about my books and my other resources for writers at meganbarnhard.com