Sunday, November 30, 2008
Friday, November 28, 2008
Q and A Day - Story Ideas from Thanksgiving???Today is Q and A Day, the day you can ask us ANYTHING, anything about writing, that is. No way am I telling about......nevermind.
Anyway...We've been talking about writing challenges this month and, to me, coming up with new ideas is always a challenge. It shouldn't be, because story ideas are EVERYWHERE.
So my question to you is, what sort of story idea can you come up with based on your Thanksgiving holiday experience? Not what really happened but some twist based on the experience.
Like a story about a couple who get into an argument before leaving the house to drive to the Thanksgiving Dinner. Husband (as they are leaving): "What were you doing? I wanted to leave two hours ago." Wife: "Two hours ago! Now you tell me..."
Oh. Wait. I said not the REAL experience.
Anyway, you get the idea. What snippet of a story idea did you get from your Thanksgiving? Or what story problem were you secretly stewing about during your Thanksgiving dinner?
And for fun, visit Risky Regencies Scroll down to our Thanksgiving Blog called LOL Regencies (like LOLCats...).
Thursday, November 27, 2008
By Langston Hughes
When the night winds whistle through the trees and blow the crisp brown leaves a-crackling down,
Wednesday, November 26, 2008
Phoebe on Writing Fast and FuriousA friend of mine, Paul Bigler, who writes as Phoebe, wrote over 50,000 words in 14 days, completing his NaNoWriMo project long before the rest of us. He posted all this helpful advice, which I thought might be of some use to the rest of us. I'm hoping he'll be able to stop by and answer questions later today. Here's how he says he did it:
Here is what I did differently this year, that may not have made it faster, but it seemed to make it go on with less pain and less fear at being stuck. I did get stuck one time and I will tell you how I overcame it.
But first, I wrote down my daily word count, by hand at the top of a sheet of clean paper and kept it near by. As I wrote I checked the word count and kept knocking down the count to go; it seemed to help. I also thought of mini goals and going to 500 several times a day. That was a big help.
I made sure that I hit at least 5000 on a weekend. This way I could put some of the extra words into a word bank I could have available on the short days if I had some, and I had a couple of them when life just seemed to get in the way.
At the bottom of the document (which is well over 100 pages, single spaced) I wrote the synopsis. (This story is about..)
So if you write such a "synopsis" for your story and project, put it at the bottom of your document. Type above it so that it keeps moving down into the next page, and in this way you will (emotionally) always be moving down toward the goal and what your story is about. You will we be writing TO YOUR STORY, trying to catch up to it.
I then write to the synopsis. If I had put this at the top of the document, then I would be writing away from it and into who knows where? This way I write to the synopsis and it gives me a compass point.
Another change I did was to go to the store and get a composition book just for nanowrimo. I have used the comp book for a 'project notebook' into which I put all the notes and ideas: everything I have for this novel.
I would make an outline of where I wanted to go for the day I was working on so I could keep on track. I paid attention to hooks and seeds that need to be responded to later. I usually followed this but I did not keep it 100%-writing has a way of going places where I never anticipate.
At the end of the day, I would again outline what I had written as a memo to myself so I knew where I was going to begin next time. I also wrote out the outline as well, and a short sentence of two about what I wanted to try to make happen in the next scene or two. Some days when I got ready for the next day, I would write a page out longhand and let it sit for the night while I slept on it. The next day I would write from that longhand page and in doing so, add to it which greatly increased the word count.
Don't be afraid to write by hand and then write again on the keyboard. Remember to keep your hand moving. That is the trick. Like the other things where that works. Keep the hands moving.
At one point I got stuck. So I did what I had planned to do for this (I made a list of ideas to use just for stuck places) and I wrote a page, by hand, from the novel to the author. Yes, the novel is a character and if you let it, it will tell you what it wants. If you are not sure about it, remember, this is a style of literature that Henry Fielding used when he wrote Tom Jones. It was also used in the movie version. Something like having a dialogue with the narrator. Try it.
I opened up a sub-story behind the main one and then tied it all together. Introducing a new character helps.
I went for a walk to talk to the cats under the bushes on the street and asked if they had any idea. My secret!
Also, if you get stuck, another thing you can do is to draw some pictures of the story so far. Lots of times I do a little doodle of a scene and then let it tell me what I have to write. That may be like using a story board, but in pictures. Making pictures uses a different place in the brain and it will help the novel. Don't think of this as wasting time. It is the brain working at the level where it unlocks the story for you.
To sum this up: Plan your work and work your plan. Maybe you have heard that somewhere; it seems to be true for me and 50K in 14 days.
Tuesday, November 25, 2008
Writing while on the roadSince my first book came out in September, I've spent a lot of time on the road for promotional trips or for my duties as a regional director on RWA's board of directors. Trips can wreck havoc on our writing schedules if we let them, but it's also possible to stay productive while on the road.
If you're driving, use the driving time to brainstorm what comes next in the book you're currently writing or to develop new story ideas.
If you're traveling by plane, bus or train, bring your laptop and/or notebook and pen. Write new scenes while you're waiting for your mode of conveyance to arrive or while you're in transit. Last week, I took the train from Virginia to New York, then from New York back to Washington, D.C. During the Virginia to NYC stretch, I caught up on reading my Romance Writers' Report, our professional journal. From NYC to D.C., I (along with probably 90% of the rest of the train car I was in) plugged in my laptop and worked for three hours. You could tell it was a popular route for professionals since all the seats had power outlets next to them. Everyone was making the most of that three hours of travel time so it wasn't wasted.
I also have WiFi on my laptop so that I can keep up with e-mail while I'm away. I read and delete at every opportunity while I'm traveling so that I'm not overwhelmed with e-mail when I get back home. This can even be accomplished in small time chunks when you return to your hotel room after a day full of meetings.
Even if you don't have a laptop or other keep-in-touch gadgets, the ol' pen and paper fallback is all you need to write up scenes, brainstorm title ideas, capture story concepts you might otherwise forget. I had an out-of-the-blue story idea while in my hotel a couple of night's ago, so the Marriott notepad in the room came in handy. It was exciting enough to make me go online and request a research book from my local library so that it'll be there waiting for me when I arrive home. Often, the sites to which you travel trigger new ideas you might not have thought about without the trip.
So, days spent traveling don't have to be lost days as far as story production goes. You just have to commit to maintaining your a semblance of your normal writing schedule and not writing off those days.
If you're traveling for the Thanksgiving holiday, stay safe. And stay productive! :)
Monday, November 24, 2008
It's Time to Brainstorm!Last Thursday Shirley Karr blogged about Plotting Retreats. Shirley and her friends get together for a weekend and talk about their new books, asking “what if” questions and planning out their GMC and HEA. When I brainstorm with my writer friend, Caroline Fyffe, we quickly explain what our newest book is about. Usually we already have the first few scenes figured out but then we ask one another, “What comes next?” For instance the book she is working on is a western historical so we brainstormed all the things that could go wrong on the trail to their destination: Meet with Indians, Snake bites, Lose all their water, They get lost, Someone gets sick, Bad guys come, etc.
See! It’s easy. Anything goes. Nothing’s too crazy. Who wants to give it a try? Give me a paragraph setting up your book. Tell us where you’re at and where you want to go and we can all throw out Next Scene Ideas. There’s nothing better than having a long list of possibilities!
I will start. I’m thinking about writing a YA and the new girl at school is a freshman in high school. What special power does she have? What family problems does she have? What boy will she hook up with? Okay, throw out some ideas! Help Me or give me one of your own!
Come on, let’s brainstorm!
Sunday, November 23, 2008
This Week on the Wet Noodle Posse
Friday, November 21, 2008
Thursday, November 20, 2008
Introducing Shirley KarrNoodlers and Noodle Followers, please let me introduce my long time friend Shirley Karr. Shirley is a member of Rose City Romance Writers and the Beau Monde, a Golden Heart winner, and the author of three published historical romances. More years ago than we care to tell you, Shirley and I worked together designing the original Golden Rose contest. You can find out more about her at her website, www.ShirleyKarr.com
Plotting as a team sport
By Shirley Karr
At least once a year, my critique partners and I go on a retreat. Sometimes we work on existing projects but usually we time our retreats for when we need to plot a new book or series. We'll plot at least four books in one weekend.
At our most recent retreat we set a new record -- in-depth plotting for one book and big-picture plotting for two trilogies and three five-book series. Twenty-two books planned in four days. And we're all still friends after such intense work sessions.
We head to the beach or mountains or a friend's high desert getaway, anywhere away from our Regular Lives. A favorite destination is a suite at the beach with a kitchen, pool, and hot tub. Split the cost four ways or more, it's easy on the pocketbook. We maroon ourselves – no radio, TV, internet or other distractions. Outgoing calls to check on loved ones are allowed during breaks. Any incoming call had better involve flames, flood or blood. We bring writing tools, snacks, books on writing, and more snacks. Did I mention snacks? Chocolate plays a crucial role. Vitamin C, as Delle calls it.
After much trial and error – our group has been together 12 years – we've developed a routine that allows us to be creative and productive and not overwhelmed.
We head out Thursday morning. Yes, this may require taking vacation days. We're serious about this. And doing this in just a three-day weekend made our brains bleed. The drive out is the time to catch up and kvetch, get all the non-writing chatter out of the way. Once there, we go for a walk, settle in and set goals for the weekend and discuss how to accomplish them. We determine the order for our sessions and their length. Currently we favor 80 minutes of work then ten minutes for bio breaks and refilling the bowl of M&Ms. An hour is too short but 90 was too long. Longer breaks are also scheduled for meals, soaks in the hot tub, walks on the beach (those negative ions are a good thing), and private writing time.
We've retreated with as few as three and as many as six participants; I wouldn't go any higher. A mix of backgrounds is good – you don't all have to be writing the same sub-genre. Make sure the personalities are fairly equal, though. You don't want a dominant person steamrolling over someone who's just coming out of their shell. And make sure you're all on good terms to start since any fragile relationships may shatter under the pressure. For the most part these sessions are fun but you *will* want to scream at one or all of the others at least once during the weekend. Trust me.
During your session, you present what you have, what you know about the book or series, and what help you want from us. We toss ideas, play "what if?" and poke holes in the plot, reactions and motivations until we have an airtight GMC, BM, and HEA.
Get comfortable. Sweats and ponytails are good. Sprawl on the sofa, lounge on cushions on the floor. You can sit on wooden chairs around a table but you'll soon be wishing for some cushions. Lap blankets, fuzzy slippers, and mugs of cocoa or tea are good if your location is chilly. We love to crack open the patio door to let in the fresh sea air as well as the sound of the pounding surf, and since it's cold we turn on the gas fireplace. Share the snacks. Just make sure to include some protein with all those carbs or you'll be nodding off.
Having a task to do helps keep everyone engaged during the sessions. We found it works best if one person takes notes on the sessionee's laptop or AlphaSmart, another makes notes on a white board for those of us who are visual, and another is the timekeeper and tracks the tempers if the session gets too intense. We often disagree -- that's a risk you take when such disparate minds come together on one project. You may have to stand up for yourself and not let the group get carried away plotting a perfectly lovely story which you have no interest in writing.
You could go out or order room service, but we bring potluck to keep it cheap. Pizza, hearty soups, salads – stuff that can be quickly heated up or thrown together. Meals are a great time to continue discussions and learn more about your plotting partners.
Everyone should get at least two sessions, preferably a day apart. You need time for ideas to ferment and for gaps in logic or other problems to present themselves so you can solve them in the group, before you get home with a story that won't work.
Sunday when you're packed and almost ready to head home, have a wrap-up session. Did you meet your goals? What went right, what went wrong, what will you do the same/differently next time?
Everyone works a little differently. The above is a starting point so you don't have to make some of the rookie mistakes we did our first few retreats. You have to learn from other people's mistakes because you'll never live long enough to make them all yourself.
Wednesday, November 19, 2008
Introducing April KihlstromToday's post on Book In A Week comes from April Kihlstrom, who has done amazing work in developing this concept. April is the author of dozens of Regency Romances and other books, and is quite an adventurer-- a risk taker whose creativity blossoms in many parts of her life.
Book In A Week- The Power of FunThe Power of FUN
Do you remember playing make believe as a child? Wasn't it fun? Wasn't it amazing? There were no rules. Anything you could imagine could happen. Can you remember without smiling? I can't.
We all grew up and supposedly grew out of such childish games. Only...only...the longer I've been a writer the more I've come to realize the power in having FUN. And that's the philosophy behind Book in a Week. It's about, for one week, recapturing that magic. It's about, for one week, letting go of all the rules and shoulds and musts and market info and just writing. Writing from the depths of our hearts—without constantly second guessing ourselves.
It's binding and gagging and shoving that inner critic into the closet and padlocking the door. For just one week.
It's saying to ourselves—and to those around us: I AM a writer and writing matters!
It's about discovering what we would let ourselves write if we could recapture the magic of childhood make believe. And the fascinating thing is that often we find ourselves writing not only faster but better than we ever have before. Just recently I've heard from two people who did BIAW with me and their work is now under contract. I can't tell you how happy that makes me feel!
The tag line Book in a Week is catchy. But really, the philosophy can be adapted to any block of time—however short—where you are going to let yourself go and truly write from the heart and not censor yourself. It could be a few hours, an afternoon, a weekend—or a week. All it requires is that you don't second guess or reread what you wrote—for that chosen block of time. (Very few of us can reread without itching to fix things—and that's a deadly trap because often our muse knows things about the story it hasn't told our rational minds and the very things we change or take out may turn out to be what would have been the best parts of our story had we risked keeping them.)
For the basics of how to set up a BIAW, I've got a couple of handouts up on my website: www.aprilkihlstrom.com Essentially, you clear the decks, so to speak, get your planning done ahead of time, then gather a few people who will post to and support each other, then write for one week. Write every chance you get, as fast as you can, no second guessing or rereading or rewriting what you wrote during that week. In part, the idea is to discover where and when and what and how you write best.
If you doubt the power of writing this way, let me just mention that recently I've heard from two different people who took my online BIAW class over the spring or summer. Both now have their work under contract.
So....what if you decided today, this afternoon, this week, you're going to write the story the way YOU really want to write it without whispering to yourself—I can't put THAT in THIS kind of book—and then did it? What if you let out the mischievous imps of childhood imagination and risked doing the things you aren't supposed to be able to do? What kind of marvelous story might you create—and what if you could have FUN creating it?
Tuesday, November 18, 2008
Feedback: Five Steps to Separate the Wheat from the Chaff
Take a Little Time
First and foremost, you must distance yourself from the feedback. Don’t do anything to your manuscript until you feel you can read the feedback objectively. For some people, that’s a week, for others it’s twenty-four hours, for some it’s a whole month.
Easy Does It
Start with the easy stuff—grammar and mechanics or making your opening hook more powerful. If someone providing feedback about your work has marked errors or has made suggestions that make you nod your head in agreement, it would behoove you to fix them. Before doing so, however, make sure those mechanics corrections are in fact correct. Every writer should have a dictionary and handbook that provide basic instruction on grammar and mechanics. If you haven’t saved your handbook from Freshman English, Strunk and White’s Elements of Style or Browne and King’s Self-Editing for Fiction Writers are good choices. Get in the habit of checking for these sorts of mistakes prior to mailing out queries or contest entries. Make your own personal check list. For example, if you have a tendency to use fragments indiscriminately, you should review the section on writing complete sentences and check your sentences for subjects and verbs. If you have used a fragment for stylistic purposes, does it fulfill the guidelines for appropriate use? Have you used it to add emphasis, speed up the rhythm or create realistic dialogue? If your openings tend to be lukewarm, spend some time reading openings that are engaging, then try to apply what you’ve gleaned to your opening hook.
Ignore the Snide
Some people will tell you to sift through rude comments. I’m not one of those people. Maybe that comes from living in the south for much of my life, or maybe I’ve reached an age where I don’t want to waste my time on negativity. Besides striking a blow against your self-esteem, rude comments can sometimes steer you in the wrong direction. If someone cannot be professional while providing feedback, then he or she has a problem. That problem hinders his or her ability to see your work objectively. I’m not talking about a tough critique where someone explains why they weren’t able to connect to your heroine; I’m talking about a snarky one where the person critiquing your work tells you your heroine is stupid and implies that you are, too.
Isolate Patterns in the Comments and Focus on Them When Revising
If one person claims that you have a plotting problem, yet four others praise your plotting ability, you most likely do not have a problem with your plot. If half of all the people reading your romance novel tell you that they’re having difficulty sympathizing with your heroine, that’s a pattern you can and should address. If several people tell you your chapter hook needs a little more oomph, add some.
Weigh the Credentials of your Critiquers
Everyone who reads your work (other than the snide one) has the potential to provide valuable feedback. A reader who is not a writer or editor or agent can tell you whether your characters are likeable, whether the pace is too slow, and whether or not the story makes sense. This person, however, may not be as reliable when it comes to suggesting how to fix something that isn’t working. Experienced writers, agents, and editors have their pitfalls, too. Their comments are most likely valid, but these professionals may see your work through the filter of their own writing, what is currently selling, or what they tend to buy for their publishing house. So ask yourself, did you intend to create a story that would sell to this house or make this agent want to represent you? If the answer is yes, then you should listen. If the answer is no, then you need to ask yourself if the suggestions ring true to your voice and vision of the story. If yes, then fix. If no, then submit to other agents or houses or contests.
What are your thoughts about dealing with feedback? What are some other steps we can add to the list?
One of the most popular writing challenges writers get excited about is Book in a Week. Tomorrow April Kihlstrom will be joining us to blog about BIAW and the Power of Fun. Don’t miss it!
When Maureen Hardegree isn’t blogging for the WNP, you can usually find her working on her latest work-in-progress, sewing, or writing the occasional press release for the Northeast Atlanta Ballet. Her humorous stories with a southern accent are included in the BelleBooks’ Sweet Tea collections and Mossy Creek series. http://www.maureenhardegree.com/
Monday, November 17, 2008
Writing Past Speed Bumps by Dianna Love
What’s a speed bump? That moment when you run into something you can’t figure out and stop writing. When you spend more time fingering your keyboard than actually typing until you finally get up and walk away to…make a mad dash into the kitchen to load those three dirty cups into the dishwasher or decide you really have to go retrieve today’s mail this minute or you’re sure a really important email has just popped up in your inbox.
In other words, it’s whatever causes you to lose momentum and stumble on your story. We all stumble on stories, but it’s what you do next that will determine if it is just a speed bump or an all out road block. I’m a plotter by nature, or probably more of a hybrid since I don’t clear a wall in my home to create a flowchart and tend to start typing on a story the minute it begins to flow while I’m plotting. I do like to have an idea where the story is going when I start just to keep me from stalling out when my creative juices are flowing. But even with a plot developed, the process of writing is a creative and changing one.
You can be a plotter or pantser and still hit that point where “something doesn’t feel right” or you’re all of a sudden “not happy with what how characters are behaving.” Even if you know where your story is going surprises jump out of nowhere as wonderful gifts that enrich your story, but they can also cause a kink down the road.
Try a couple simple exercises. The easiest way to continue being productive is to jump ahead to the next scene you know and continue writing, but I realize this really plays havoc on linear writers who can only continue writing in an orderly way. Even so, we normally know one or more scenes further into the book that will need writing at some point. Open a new file – away from all that orderly writing – and just type the scene. One thing that will probably happen is new ideas will pop into your mind as you’re typing that may break your mental log jam on an earlier scene. If not, when you finish the scene, think backwards on what would be the set up for that scene and consider more than one way to get to that point.
If something just doesn’t feel right or if you’ve hit a current scene that is starting feel like “filler” look at the three prior scenes and ask these questions of each one:
~ What is the purpose of this scene (the answer should be something significant that affects the character and/or the plot)?
~ What changes in each scene from the opening line to the last paragraph?
If you have a hard time answering that about any of these three scenes this is likely the point when your story started to jump track. Consider pulling that scene out of sequence, going back to the last one that “worked for you” and write down three possible ways you could move ahead to reach the next unwritten scene you have in mind. Consider using a different setting that would create more problems or conflict for the characters, or throws at least one character out of his/her comfort zone.
If your character is not being active or not getting the job done in the story, try the quickest fix of switching POVs (if it is in third person). You’d be surprised at how many times that solved scene problems for me.
If there are more than three characters in a scene, try writing it without one of them. If there are only two, try bringing in another character – especially an unexpected one – that will up the conflict, because “lack of conflict” is at the center of most scene and story issues. One common "type of scene" that loses story momentum – which leads to speed bumps – is when two people are driving somewhere to basically put them together for a bit to talk (and dump information), but with no real purpose beyond the dialogue. If this is the case, cut it and make the drive “off stage” then find a better place to weave in that information in a more active way. Or sometimes it’s a meal where the only obvious purpose is to bring people together in one spot, but again – no real conflict or point to the scene.
Keying in quickly on the problem you’ve run into gives you the power to fix it and move on. The idea to being productive at writing is to continually “brainstorm” as you write. A speed bump is a sign you are not allowing your creative side freedom. You can fix a problem if you can identify it, because you ARE a writer. All you have to do is allow yourself the leeway to recreate something that truly is not set in stone unless you let it be.
Speed bumps are when we get in our own way. When we are so focused on everything unfolding only one way in the story that we prevent our creative lobe to function at optimum level.
So give yourself a writing challenge for at least a week to just burn through some pages and you’ll probably be surprised at how much you can do when you open the valve to those creative juices. And when you do push through the tough times, don’t forget to do something really nice for yourself…because you deserve it!
In the meantime, what do you find helps you stay on track the best and do you reward yourself for writing past those speed bumps? If so, what is your reward? :)
Don’t miss Maureen Hardegree's “Feedback: Five Steps to Separate the Wheat from the Chaff”on Tuesday, November 18th.
NYT Best Seller Dianna Love writes romantic thrillers and urban fantasy.
Her next release is an urban fantasy novella - MIDNIGHT KISS GOODBYE - in the Dead After Dark Anthology (December 2, 2008). Dianna's upcoming thriller is WHISPERED LIES (Pocket/May 2009). And watch for the nonfiction book she and Mary Buckham have coming out June 2009 - Break Into Fiction®: Power Plot Your Novel.
For more on Dianna visit www.AuthorDiannaLove.com
Sunday, November 16, 2008
This Week on the Wet Noodle Posse
Friday, November 14, 2008
Labels: writing during the holidays
Thursday, November 13, 2008
100 Words for 100 DaysOn Tuesday Trish had some great suggestions for mini-challenges, such as setting a timer for a fifteen-minute writing session or engaging a friend in a writing duel.
The only rule is to do what works, so I’m going to tell you about a recent challenge that worked for me.
It’s called the 100 Words for 100 Days Challenge and it was introduced to my RWA Chapter, Central Florida Romance Writers, last February by our fantastic program chairman. The idea of the challenge was to write at least 100 words each day for a period of 100 days. That’s it.
The purpose of the challenge is two-fold. First is to move your manuscript forward by adding a minimum of 10,000 words during the period of the challenge. The second is to aid the writer in building the habit of writing every day.
The jury is still out on the need for a writer to write every day. I think it’s important to do something toward the completion of your manuscript each day, whether it is actual writing, plot doctoring, character building or simply visualizing how wonderful it will be to type the end. It’s the not thinking about it at all that’s deadly. BUT, if you’re writing every day you can’t help thinking about your story and that is what moves your project forward. If you’re writing at least 100 words a day your story can’t help but move forward.
To say I loved the 100 Words challenge is putting it mildly. There was a day I wrote only 102 words and there was a day I wrote over 3,000 words, but I wrote every day. Not only did I write 100 days; at the end of the challenge I continued to write, stopping only when I was felled by an attack of seasonal allergies on day 185. I finished the rough draft of my WIP by adding 30,220 words, then went on to another story I had plotted several months before and wrote 21,144 more.
So, what’s not to like?
Because I used to be a Girl Scout and I think I should throw a disclaimer in here. 100 Words is a deceptively simple challenge. Write 100 words. Easy-peasy. Anyone can write 100 words.
If you know where your story is going you can write 100 words in five minutes—you can knock them out in less time than it takes your computer to boot up and then power down again, and therein lies the deceptive part. If you don’t know where your story is going, some time, some where in those 100 days, you’re going to get bogged down in deep, dare I say it, doo-doo.
That’s where planning comes in. Again, if you know where your story is going you can’t help moving forward. If you’re like me, most of your stories spring full-blown into your head anyway, so the actual writing is like filling in the blank spots. If you run into a block, jump over it and write what comes next. Just keep writing. It’s a rush you’ll want to experience over and over again, or at least every day for 100 days.
So, what do you think? 100 Words for 100 Days. Where could your story be at the end of it?
Wednesday, November 12, 2008
Why Can't We Stop Procrastinating?
I was going to write this blog last night. But I had to finish off some other things I hadn't done. I had a book I've been meaning to read on the subject, called "BREAK the Procrastination Habit... NOW!" by Dr. William J. Knaus. It's been sitting on the shelf for about a year. It's the kind of book people buy because they ought to get it, then are always going to get around to reading it... Someday...
(That's a Delle Doodle, by the way.)
My dad used to have a large wooden coin-like thing called a Tuit. He said it was a Round Tuit. He gave it to me whenever I said I'd get around to it... I should have flipped it into the trash, except that he got such fun out of the joke. Besides, it gave the teenage me yet another chance to roll my eyes.
I actually did read part of that book and it seems to be full of great ideas, but somehow it didn't quite seem to be getting at Writers' Procrastination. After thinking about it for awhile, I began to realize we writers may be mis-labeling what we do to put off writing. If we're really the kind of procrastinators who put off anything in our lives that is unpleasant, uncomfortable, causes frustration, etc, and it is causing really serious problems in our lives, then yes, we need to get help. That kind of procrastination is crippling, and we can't live full lives until we get a handle on it.
But writers have our own variety of procrastination, I think. We have a tendency to get everything (or most everything) else in our lives done, and only procrastnate on the writing part. Writers actually tend to be more of the Delayed Gratification type, or we wouldn't put up with writing as a profession in the first place. We write whole books on speculation, then send them out to the publishing world, which if we're lucky, buys them, then wants revisions-- all that before we get paid, months down the line. People who just want to play around don't do that kind of thing.
Most of us also have other duties like housework, raising kids, noticing hubbies, other jobs, runnng errands, shopping, and so on. We have to do those, and just take it for granted they will get done. And we do them. It's writing that doesn't make the cut.
Writing gets the same kind of place in our lives, but not. We often don't actually allot enough time to squeeze it in effectively, and it's possible thtere really isn't enough time left after everything else, but we hate admitting that. Writing usually can't have the top priority, yet we are often told we must make it our top priority. So when we're not getting it done, we feel guilty and blame ourselves, as if somehow we could make extra hours in the day. And because we can always remember some time in every day in which we just totally goofed off, we feel justifed in saying we could have done it if we'd just put our minds to doing it. We usually fail to realize we needed to take those goof-off breaks, and they probably weren't long enough to have accomplished the amount of time we would have needed anyway.
Writers also remember their initial euphoria-filled writing exerience and always want to re-capture that wonderful joy. For me, that was the greatest high I've ever experienced in my life. But if it's a true high, the kind that releases certain chemicals in the brain and re-connects the brain's synapses in a different way, then chances are the brain also gets inured to this experience. Like a true addict, we have to get more and more to satisfy that craving for the high, until the brain does a sort of short circuit, and we can never get there again, but can't stop searching for it.
Likely if we've lost the thrill of the high, we won't ever get all the way back to that point. That's the way the brain works. It's a lot like being in love then getting married. The relationship changes over time, and it's not the same. We can't go back in time and stay there because it's not supposed to be that way. the same is true with being an author.
Back then, when our experience with writing was new, we could just write and love the exhiliaration of the creative experience. Unfortunately that writing probably needed a lot of work, and we didn't really know it then. Once we discovered all the work we had to do to turn our creative work into really good work, our writing became more of a real job. Not quite as thrilling, but still creative in some ways. Most of the time, we can't really make that journey back to the purely creative phase because we now have too many rules, too much knowledge, that also have to be met. Even as we create, we're looking for how to improve it. We're now at a different stage. We can't go back.
So it's possible we're striving for something that isn't really attainable. This doesn't mean we should give writing up. But it may mean we need to look at it more for what it is. Most of the time, it's a difficult job. Yet we're beating heads against the wall wondering why it doesn't come easy anymore. It's not supposed to. If it's easy, then chances are it's something anyone could write. We need to be searching for the story not anyone else could write, and that's a hard story to find.
There's another bad habit that often gets mistaken for procrastination: Disorganization. Most people realize computers have changed the way we think. But they may not realize for some people they also mess with our organizational skills. I have discovered the computer is not a good place for me to keep my daily schedule or deadlines, task lists, Christmas lists, etc. Why? I'm an out-of-sight-out-of-mind person. When I was working a day job, I kept myself on task by having a running list of every task I needed to do and checking it frequently. My calendar was a monthly one, always in sight. I knew which court reports needed to be done when, and I never missed a deadline. But a computer calendar can disappear too easily for me. I've had to revert to paper calendars and notepads for lists. If I don't, something always slips by.
Any time I'm losing my organization, I blame myself for it-- that's logical. But then I tell myself I was procrastinating on the jobs that didn't get done. Not really likely. I know sometimes there's just too much to do, and I know how to break the enervating feeling of being overwhelmed-- just pick a task, any task, and do it. Then pick another. The feeling of accomplishment can give me the surge to keep on going instead of giving up. If I can be more realistic about how I schedule things, I can usually be happier with myself.
So first of all, if we're not getting our writing done, we need to look at why, and really be honest with ourselves. If we really couldn't get to it because of our daily lives, then let's say so. Let's be fair about our limits. If writing is one of two major jobs we have in our lives, we need to be fair and let ourselves understand that doing two job is extremely difficult. Our failing may be in our disappointment at not being able to squeeze in more things in our short days, but it's not laziness or procrastination.
If we're pushing at writing and not getting it done, staring at blank screens, flipping back to the news or email, then we need to analyze what's wrong. Maybe we've actually hit a tough spot that will prove to be one of those wonderful pieces of creativity that make our work unique. Instead of brow-beating ourselves about our lack of creativity, how about recognizing that we're at a point of a major break-through? That we're about to find something really special that most people wouldn't find?
Another reason for the blank screen is simply that the brain is telling the writer there's nothing there because that's the wrong path. What the writer wants to do is perhaps too ordinary, not realistic, not what the character would do, or in some other way isn't working. (Or, for me, it could be a sex scene and I don't want to slog through it, but then, that really is procrastination.)
How can we work harder to find this missing piece instead of temporarily giving up and doing something easier? For me, it's often been hand-journaling, beginning with a sentence like, "Okay what's wrong here? Why doesn't Joe want to climb this mountain? I've started by saying...."
Another trick is the daily journal kept handy to jot down those wonderful phrases that pop into the mind at odd points in the day, and in middle of the night revelations. I tried keepng them on the computer. They get filed in LaLa Land and never seen again. I need a journal for each book. Paper.
A third thing to do for stuck points is XXXXX. Whether it's a word that won't come to mind, a whole description or scene, XXXXX is the answer. And then go on. Five X's. When I do the next draft, I do a search for XXXXX. Eventually the answer comes.
The blank screen is not procrastination. Giving up on it is. Frustration is a part of our jobs. Our work is expected to be difficult. If we're truly too tired to think clearly, we need to look at being too tired, and what or if there's anything we can do about that.
What we shouldn't do is use guilt to motivate us because guilt is too often a cover-up. Once we accept the guilt, we secretly feel better because it feels like we cold have done better, but chose not to. Job done. We accepted responsibility and duly punished ourselves.
There's one other thing to look at, here. Maybe we took those breaks because we really needed them. There are times, and these times should if possible occur every day, when we should give ourselves time to separate from our pressing duties and do something completely different. We need time to re-assess ourselves, recreate. We need to legitimize our fun time. We need to do it just for us. It gives us perspective. It might be good to not cross over fun time with writing time, especially when writing is not so much fun.
Writing needs to be given the professional status it deserves. Sure, it's fine if it's also enjoyable. But it's also frustrating at times, like any other job. It still needs to be done. It's just harder then.
So, now it's your turn. Are there things you're doing that you call procrastination but really aren't? Are you trying to crowd too much into a day, then blame yourself for not making it work? Are your expectations of writing or of yourself unrealistic? If so, what is behind that? How can you change that or make it work for you instead of against you?
Tuesday, November 11, 2008
Mini challengesSo, you're ready for a writing challenge, but for whatever reason Book in a Week or NaNo is too overwhelming. Does this mean you have to give up the idea of writing challenges? No!
I'm a fan of the mini-challenge, just like I'm a fan of breaking up big projects into small, manageable chunks. If you have limited time, a short attention span or just want to dip your toe into the world of writing challenges, try some of these ideas on for size.
1. Get a kitchen timer, and set it for 15 minutes. Then write as much as you can (without stopping to edit) before the timer goes off. You can do this for bigger chunks of time too -- 30 minutes, an hour.
2. Call or e-mail a writing friend and challenge her to a writing duel. Set a start time and say you'll write for 30 minutes, an hour, whatever. Then you check back in with each other to see who got the most pages. You might even want to involve a friendly wager, like the one with fewer pages/words has to send the winner a box of her favorite cookies or chocolate.
3. Challenge yourself to write only one page per hour on a day when you're home all day. Once you've written that one page, you can do anything else you want until the beginning of the next hour. If you write fast, you can get in a page and an episode of your favorite show each hour! :) At the end of a normal, eight-hour work day, you'll have eight new pages. And you might have cleared off your TiVo and cleaned the house too.
4. Ever wonder how much you could write in a day if you had nothing else to do and you really put your nose to the grindstone? Why not find out? Clear your schedule for one full 24-hour period. Send the hubby and kids off to spend the day/night with Grandma and Grandpa. Check into a hotel room for a day. Whatever you have to do to be truly alone. Then literally sit at the computer and do nothing but write. No e-mail, no YouTube vids, no reading the Internet at all. Have your day be all about writing except for hourly breaks to go to the bathroom, stretch, eat, get some water to drink. We don't want anyone getting a bloodclot in her leg from sitting too long, but it's an interesting challenge to see how much you can really do if you clear everything else away.
You might be surprised how much you can write using these and other self-challenging methods. Most people love to rise to a challenge and win, even if the challenge comes from within.
So, anyone try these methods before? What were the results? Have any other ideas for mini challenges?
Labels: writing challenges
Monday, November 10, 2008
Setting Personal Goals/ChallengesHappy Monday! Actually, I'm thinking of it kinda like a mini Friday, since we're celebrating Veteran's Day tomorrow (thanks and prayers to all our vets!!) with a day off of work and school!
That means I can stay up later than usual writing and not have to worry about being a zombie at work tomorrow! YAHOO!
This month is all about challenges. Many folks are doing the novel in a month challenge, others have their own goals/challenges going on. With me, I'm always busy, always running someone somewhere, or racing to catch up or get somewhere I'm supposed to already be. Did I confuse you? Many days it's my natural state of being.
In order for me to get things done (writing, housework, errands, job obligations), I have to write it down. I have to set mini goals or steps so that I feel productive.
Focusing on writing, here's what I've found works for me:
Setting a page goal for each day I write. I have to be honest, I'm not a 7 days a week writer. My life just doesn't afford me that luxury. Yet. We're two kids away from an empty next, and then, we'll see how much time I can turn into writing time once my everyday mom duties have cut back.
Perhaps I'm trying to finish a manuscript by a certain date. I look at what the expected page count should be, then break that big number down into smaller numbers that I can manage.
If I get more done, it's gravy. But if I don't meet my goal, then it piles onto the next day. Not a good thing.
If my pages are done, then I can have time to play. Or keep writing. Or read a book. Whatever makes me happy. But reaching my personal goal is a must if want to succeed.
Being unpublished, I don't have publisher deadlines, so I have to set my own. And then stick to them. You can try posting your deadline near your computer. Write it on your bathroom mirror. Circle the date in your calendar. Tell your spouse and kids. Your neighbor or your exercise/walking buddy. Someone who will ask you how it's going. Someone you won't kill when you're having a not-so-good writing day and don't want to be asked about it. :-)
Bottom line, some visual that will keep you plugging away.
It's important to have small personal goals. They keep me motivated and feeling good about myself. This can be a lonely business. Just me and my computer. But when I can check off the day on my calendar, mark it as completed, I feel a sense of validation. I'm working towards my goal. Every day is a step closer.
How about you guys? What mini or personal goals work for you? How do you challenge yourself to meet your goals?
I'm always looking for new ideas. If you have some, please share!!
This Week on the Wet Noodle Posse
Friday, November 07, 2008
Thursday, November 06, 2008
Unleash Your Story Challenge - Writing for Charity by Diane Gaston
Nanowrimo is a huge writing challenge in November, but not all writing challenges are as big. In September I needed a push to write a novella that was due October 1 and along came Unleash Your Story. Unleash Your Story was sponsored by the authors of Romance Unleashed to raise money for Cystic Fibrosis. The fact that Noodler Colleen Gleason has a son with CF made it even more appealing to join the challenge.
In Unleash Your Story, each participant set a personal goal. I set my goal for 20,000 words, the number of words I needed to finish my novella. They also had a pacesetter author, Debbie Macomber, who pledged 30,000 words, so you could aim to beat her if you chose to. We also pledged a dollar amount of money we planned to raise.
What's more, you could join a team, banding together with others both in the raising money and the fund-raising. Ours was the Wet Noodle Posse team, naturally. This meant that you were also somewhat accountable to your friends. I couldn't slack off or I'd let down my friends.
Another part of the challenge was the opportunity to win prizes, all levels of prizes for individuals and for the teams.
Each week of the month we reported the number of words we wrote.
The winners have not yet been announced, but the WNP did very well. We didn't quite make our goal of $3000, but we got very close ($2823). We raised more money than any other team.
And I finished my novella in time, meeting my word count goal.
This challenge worked for me perfectly because:
1. I was writing for more than just myself
2. I was accountable to my friends
3. It had a higher purpose.
You could design your own challenge with your writing friends. Set goals. Report in. Have a reward. Your reward could be charitable or it could just be loser pays for lunch.
Even if you don't want to do this with friends, you can still set a goal, make regular accounting, and reward yourself at the end.
See? There's no excuse. Start writing!!!
Visit Diane's website and enter her contest. Diane's Scandalizing the Ton is still available online.
Wednesday, November 05, 2008
Making Non-Writing Time Work for You
A couple of years ago, I made a commitment to exercise five times a week to improve my health and keep the width of my butt from expanding exponentially, which it would do if left on its own. While I walk, if I’m not socializing with the other ladies (yes, I do that on occasion), I’m working out the next scene in my WIP, contemplating why my plot hit a brick wall, or I’m storing sensory details for future use. Some writers who exercise even attach their laptops to their treadmills and write while burning calories. It can be done.
If you do nothing else while you exercise, take in the details around you in the gym or on the walking path at your local park. What do the runners sound like as they lap you yet again? Do they huff and puff up the hill, but their stride and breathing evens out on the flat stretches? What are the bird and insect sounds you hear? They’ll be different depending on the time of year due to bird migrations and insect life cycles. In Georgia, this morning, the temperature hit the low fifties, the sun was bright in a deep blue sky, and I heard crickets in the tall grass. This summer, when I was sweltering in the heat and humidity, I heard cicadas in the trees. What about the squirrels scrambling up tree trunks? One had a scraggly tail. Was that the scree-ee of a hawk? Brown leaves crunch and crackle underfoot, but the bright yellow ones, newly blown off a nearby tulip poplar crush with barely a sound. While walking, you can use a digital recorder so you won’t forget the details you might want to use at some point in some book. Don’t worry about people thinking you’re weird as you speak into your recorder. I cannot tell you how many people I see with Blue Tooth gear in their ears looking like they’re talking to themselves while walking, shopping, or driving. No one thinks they’re insane.
One advantage to thinking through the scenes I plan to write while I’m walking is that when I get home to my office, I’m ready to make the most of the time I do have to type uninterrupted.
Ahh, the joys of picking a child up from middle school and having to arrive forty minutes prior to the bell, so as to be near the front of the line. Achieving a spot at the front not only ensures that I get dancer daughter to ballet on time, but it also gives me a block of minutes that I can use in a writing related activity. Often, I print out a scene or chapter that I need to revise. Revising hard copy is great in the car. If I don’t have hard copy to work on, I take out my spiral notebook and work on the next scene in my WIP. Other writing moms I know use alpha smarts or laptops to do the same thing. Do turn off the cell phone, though! Make the most of this windfall.
Most of us go through some sort of ritual before hitting the sack. Why not add in writing one more page or one more paragraph to your WIP, after flossing your teeth and moisturizing your face? I have to credit writer Stephanie Bond for this suggestion. She mentioned it in one of the workshops she gave at the Moonlight and Magnolias Conference, and it made sense to me. Plus, it helps eliminate the guilt you might be experiencing if you have a day where you had to be away from the computer. You can console yourself with writing a little something before going to sleep.
How about you? Are there places in your day where you can eek out more writing time? What are they? Any tips you’d like to share?
Tuesday, November 04, 2008
NaNoWriMoIt’s November and I’m excited. Why?
National Novel Writing Month (http://www.nanowrimo.org/). This is my third year to participate and each year I’ve completed a bare bones novel, the second of which I will finish revising in December.
Why do I like National Novel Writing Month?
It’s an excuse to write something new, a story idea I’ve been excited about for a bit, or maybe a story that’s a departure. The first year I wrote what was supposed to be more action adventure, less romance, but it turned out to be the most romantic of all the books I’ve written. This year, after plotting a romantic suspense, I changed my mind. Now I’m writing my first historical. If I write it in a month and decide I don’t like it, what’s been lost? 30 days.
It’s an excuse to put writing first. Granted, November isn’t the best time for this, with the holidays around the corner, and you emerge in December in a kind of “What day is this?” fog, but you commit to the story, to the challenge, and everyone sees how important this is to you.
It feeds your competitive soul. You can add friends to your page on the NaNo website and track your progress against theirs. My friend Natalie kicks my butt every time, but I hold my own.
How do you survive NaNoWriMo?
1) Clear the decks. Reduce your outside commitments as much as possible. However, the first time I did NaNo, my dad and stepmom came for five days at Thanksgiving. I managed to win that one early, and that was stopping to clean house and entertain. I told them what I was doing and I got up early to do it, so I would still have time to visit. This year I think I have 2 night activities, not including my local chapter meeting.
2) Find your prime writing time. Mine is around 5 AM. No one’s up wanting the computer, no one’s emailing, no one’s calling. I write for an hour, sometimes two before work.
3) Plan it out. The only way I got through NaNo last year was that I’d plotted the story out at plotting bootcamp. Otherwise, I’d still be hung up on that book.
4) Break it down. 1,667 words a day is all you need. I find it so much easier to go by word count than page count, because every word is progress. Every word counts.
5) Remember this is a fast draft. Get it down. Perfect it later.
6) Join the community. Different regions have community gatherings, where local Nano-ers meet face to face. My community activity has all been online, but I enjoy setting up my page and adding friends and checking on their progress. I also download the WriMo Radio podcasts and listen to them on the way to work.
What do you say? Want to NaNo with me?
Monday, November 03, 2008
Writing Challenges(I now know the German word for "sign in" is "anmelden". I have no idea why Google and Blogger keep thinking I'm German or Spanish. Maybe I should just give up and re-learn the languages.)
My horoscope this morning says "The path you are following may be futile." Oh joy. Isn't that just the perfect thing to hear right before beginning one's work for the day?
I don't believe in horoscopes, but my eye just naturally fall on Aquarius every morning out of pure habit. It's sort of like reading fortune cookies just to see if they have anything to say worth seeing. Sometimes they're uplifting thoughts, and I can usually make use of those. But negativity has a way of influencing a person too, especially thoughts like this that tend to re-affirm our own doubts. We don't need that. Writers struggle enough with self-doubt.
That's what this month's topic is about-- combating the self-doubt, energizing ourselves and getting the writing job done.
On Nov 1 I started NaNoWriMo. That stands for National Novel Writing Month, and it's in its 10th year. MJ will tell us more about it tomorrow, but I'll just say now this is my second year to do it. I had a great, distressing, stressing, exhilirating time last year, and although I broke the rules by working on a story I had already started, nobody beat me senseless or kicked me off. And I did get a little over 50,000 words writen in one month. Although I have done that before, it hasn't been very often.
Book in a Week is something I've done a number of times, and April Kihlstrom will be with us later in the month to talk about that. I used to take a long week off work, usually one attached to holidays, and pour all my enegy into writing. I never did a complete book, but then most people don't. And I often did around 150 pages, sometimes more. One book that was largely written in a BIAW is APHRODITE'S BREW, which will come out in print in January.
Writers have dreamed up a lot of methods to keep going or inspire themselves to start. I've done plotting weekends, plot-storming days, writing retreats, and now I'm doing a weekly Starbucks session with my CP, where all we do is sit and write. We'll talk about some of those this month.
But we're going to talk about other things too, like:
Overcoming career downturns
Finding your way in the maze of your plot
Getting past the sagging middle
Screaming to the finish line when you think you can't stand this story one more minute
Building the writing habit
Self-discipline vs distraction
Using goals for inspiration
This is a good time to tell us what you'd like to overcome, because the chances are good we have experience with it, or know someone else who does. How about telling us what you'd like to discuss, what you need help with, or how you overcome obstacles?
Sunday, November 02, 2008
This Week on the Wet Noodle Posse
Tuesday, November 4th: "Why I Love Nano" MJ Fredrick
Wednesday, November 5th: "Making Non-Writing Time Work for You" Maureen Hardegree
Thursday, November 6th: "Unleash Your Story Challenge" Diane Gaston
Friday, November 7th: Noodler New Releases
Have a productive writing week!