Writer…Uninterrupted, Part 5

Inspired to write again by a new story idea, I tread carefully with the choice between plotting and pantsing. I’m traditionally a pantser, but diving into the story with no direction felt risky.  However, the idea of planning my book felt mechanical, academic, boooring.

So, how to deal with this conundrum?

I incorporated both. Here are some tips I learned:

1. Create 3 Acts.  I don’t like the word ‘outline’. It makes me think of dry research papers on dull subjects. 3 Acts, of course, reminds me of theater and that resonates with my creative center. The 3-Act Structure is a simple W-shaped path that can be as little or as heavily plotted as you want. I’m a sightseeing kind of a traveler. I can’t remember route names but I can remember landmarks. That’s how I am with writing. Scenes come to me like snapshots, and I know that they belong in my story but they don’t come to me sequentially or fully developed. When I mark these scenes along my W-shaped path, then I can see the beginning, middle, and end more clearly.

2. Write scenes as they come. Unless you can turn off your muse like a faucet, she/he is going to be sparking with ideas in the middle of your prepping stage. I don’t tell my muse to go away just because I’m not ready. I craft whatever she gives me. Then I put it aside; I don’t incorporate it yet. This satiates my need to spill words but doesn’t interfere with my foundation.

3. Write a hook. A hook helps remind you the two big ideas that need to carry through the story from beginning to end: inner story and outer story. Stick this hook somewhere around your workspace, so that it’s always visible while you’re prepping your book.

4. Research big points. Some research may be needed before you can write the conflicts, turning points, and resolution. If any part of the plot is based on actual facts, then you may need to do some Googling. Try to do just enough to make sure your book can proceed as envisioned and don’t bother with the nitty-gritty. Detailed research can wait until your next draft.

5. Schedule writing time. Once your prep is done and you’re ready to begin your rough draft, plan a schedule to write. Make it easy on yourself. Mark your writing time on a calendar, put a sign on the door of your study, announce your writing time to family, do whatever you can to prevent being interrupted.

6. Word count. How much should you write for your rough draft? Keeping in mind that you’ll have to write another draft, you have two viable options.

A.) Write more, then cut. If you like to work with more material than you need and you have no problem cutting, then overshoot your anticipated word count of your final draft. For example, write 150,000 words for a 120,000-word fantasy knowing you’ll be slicing ‘n’ dicing.

B.)  Write less, then build. If you’re like me and you love to develop with description and literary devices, then save that detail work for your next draft.  Write below your anticipated word count of your final draft. For instance, for an 80,000 commercial fiction book, write about 60,000 words for your rough draft.

7. Make deadlines.  Figure out how many words a day and how many days per week you can reasonably write on a regular basis.  Then multiply to come up with a deadline. For instance, maybe you can write 500 words 5 days a week to equal 2,500 words per week. For a 60,000 word rough draft you’d need approximately 24 weeks.

I like to give myself a grace period of about 5 days to factor in unforeseen Life events. This way I’m not stressing out.  If you overextend yourself you run the risk of burnout and writer’s block. If you don’t challenge yourself however, you can lose your passion for your story.

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Writer…Uninterrupted, Part 2

In the past couple of months I have gone through a change.

No. Not that change, thank you very much.

I introduced my writer self to my human self, and they made friends. That kind of change.

For too long I fought with myself over how to fit writing into my busy life. Even though I had my time to write daily, I felt guilty about taking that time. I should be sleeping or exercising, not writing, not having fun.

Our creative selves (or dreaming selves) are rarely anything like our human selves. To keep them limiting or interfering with each other, we need to bridge them, help them work together.

Image courtesy of coward_lion at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Image courtesy of coward_lion at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

My human self is all about my family, housework, friends, freelance jobs, health. My writer self is all about imagining, creating, writing, reading, social networking.

How can writers be writers among all the other duties, challenges, joys, and sorrows of our human selves? How can we ensure that we don’t lose our dreams to the frenzy of Life?

Acknowledge and accept.

If we’re not willing to call ourselves writers, then it’s easy to lose our writer identities. My son reminded me of that last summer when he told me, “And You’re a Writer.”

Honor boundaries.

Co-existing means to know when to let life take center stage, and when it’s writing’s turn. Don’t overstuff your life so that you can’t write when you want. And don’t write when you should be doing laundry. I used to flit from the mop to my book to the stove to my blog, and by the end of the day not one chore or freelance assignment had been completed.

Now, I try to arrange my days in blocks of time where I accomplish a particular task. For instance, I don’t write and/or blog in the late afternoon when my kids need help with homework or when dinner needs to be made.

I don’t necessarily accomplish many tasks in an average day, but I do see the few tasks I assign myself through to completion. This way I don’t feel guilty, chores get accomplished (even if it is just a handful of chores), and my Muse isn’t feeling pressured to perform in an inappropriate environment.

Just. Do. It.

After a while it’s not enough to believe. You need to put your dreams into action–writer, artist, musician, gardener, baker – don’t just sit there and dream you can do it. Get out there and make it happen. Talk about your dreams to your friends, give them a purpose that is more than a fanciful thought. Start small, start big, it doesn’t matter. But start now.

What are you doing to keep your creative center flourishing?

Writer…Uninterrupted

Recently, I experienced a slump in my writing. The ideas were there, but I couldn’t find the energy or the motivation to write them down. I still might have been a writer without actively writing, but I wasn’t a fulfilled writer. Life interrupted my writing. I was still getting up at my usual godforsaken hour of 4am, yet my mind was clogged from the day before, from tasks I had yet to complete. My overwhelming life seeped into my creative time, debilitating me, like some noxious gas. What do writers do when non-writing responsibilities hijack the muse, or whatever we want to call our creative center?

Get back to the basics.

Make sure you’re writing at the best time of day for you. Sometimes we self-sabotage by picking a time of day where we’re most likely to be interrupted. Also it’s important to know if you need a warm-up session before your muse can be fully operational, and how long of a writing block you need to feel satisfied.

Once you determine the best time of day for your writing, your next step is to reassess other elements of your workspace. Are you working in a space that is centered on writing, or is it cluttered with other factors of life, like bills, grocery lists, school notices? Are you trying to write while you have your emails, Twitter, or your blog open and running? Is all of your equipment in good, working order—sharpened pencils, comfortable chair/desk, good lighting?

Courtesy of Microsoft Clip Art

Stress-free writing starts with a stress-free setting. It might take some maneuvering, but we all have a block of time in our schedules where we can write uninterrupted.

Free your mind.

Freewrite for about 15-20 minutes before you work on your project. The freewriting helps to unclog your mind of stressors. You don’t necessarily have to write about those particular nuisances. The mere act of writing openly, without boundaries, puts the muse in gear. The creative juices start flowing and flushing out the non-writing thoughts.

I was going straight to my emails at 4am while I was waiting for my coffee to brew. That’s dangerous territory because I can’t resist reading new posts from my blogging buddies or checking to see if I’d heard from a literary agent or publisher. Even though blog posts and querying are related to writing, they are not getting my book written.

I tweaked my habits. I open only Scrivener to my WIP, and I play music. I spend the first 20 minutes freewriting to clear the gobbledygook from my head, inspire the muse, and then spend about an hour and a half working on my project.

You need to sort out your own bad habits, of course. And not everyone needs that much time to write to feel satiated. Once you determine your best strategy, stick to it.

Making a habit.

Word on the street is that it takes 21 days to make or break a habit. It’s one thing to figure out how you work best. It’s another to commit to it. Making a habit of writing regularly will make you want to write regularly.  I believe in the power of writing every day, even if it’s just to scribble a couple of pages from a brainstorm topic. But there will be days when we just can’t write. When that happens, tread carefully. It’s easy to lose your edge if you step away from the writing for too long. Your inner critic (mine’s named Eris) becomes noisier. Excuses pile up. Before you know it, two weeks have gone by and you haven’t touched your WIP.

Figure out a schedule that won’t fall apart at the slightest speed bump. If you know you can’t possibly write every day, then try writing every other day, but do something else with your creative energy on the other days that keep you in tune with your WIP. Draw or sketch a scene in your book. Write a poem about one of your characters. Join blog conversations.

By getting back to the basics, freeing my mind, and re-establishing writing habits, I was able to climb out of my writing rut. I’m back to writing, and what’s more, I’m enjoying it again.

How are you doing with your writing?

Write. Nurture. Repeat?

Apple blossom in bloom, 4am photo files

All books start out as a seed, a breath. Only with nurturing can that seed bloom. Some writers are unable to move on after the initial burst of growth. They put away their stories which are nothing deeper than that first layer of imagination. An onion-skin of creativity. That is how we all begin, with an onion-skin, a transparent membrane too fragile to stand alone.

There aren’t many of us who go back and try again. Quite a large percentage give up. Reasons vary. We can’t take criticism. We can’t keep our minds open. We’re tired, maybe even bored with the story, and we just want it out of our lives. We let friends read it too soon, or we query too soon. Our will power declines, our passion dwindles, our dream fades. Suddenly, writing isn’t as much fun as we thought it would be.

Then there are those of us whose calling it is to be a writer. We square our shoulders and return to our struggling creations. We prune the growth, dig up the root ball and transplant it. Hopefully this second time, we’ll be able to offer more wisdom, more honesty, more vulnerability. We complete it for the second time, but we’re not finished. We likely love it more, but something is not quite right. The ending is rushed. The antagonist is one-dimensional. The setting doesn’t fill the senses. Too many words. One problem or a web of problems, whatever it may be.

Suddenly we have a tough choice to make. We invested a huge chunk of time by this point. And the book won’t soar. You probably know this or maybe you don’t know. Either way, you hold out hope for its success.

I have reached this fork in the road at least half a dozen times with my novel. Do I pack it in? Do I self-publish anyway? Do I roll up my sleeves and dig again?

As much as I may have clawed, scratched, kicked, and screamed—I always rolled up my sleeves and dug around for a stronger story. I revised my years-old manuscript until it hurt, literally.

So, how do I know when I’m done writing and nurturing? How do I know when it is time to send it out? As a writer who isn’t exactly brimming with confidence, I don’t know if I’ll ever see the day where I am 100% satisfied with my work. I can always find a glitch, a hiccup, somewhere. Then there is the public. No way in Hellula can writers please every single agent, publisher, or reader. So, one rejection does not necessarily mean I’ll get 50 rejections. But one rejection could mean I’ll get 50 rejections.

How do we know when our book is ready?

Perhaps the question needs to be, how do we know when we’re ready to let go?

This post by Kourtney Heintz is a friendly warning to writers who have a hard time being objective with their books.

I think writers need to bond with their books in order to write them. However, I think writers need to break that bond in order to sell them.

I think, with practice, letting go gets easier. We begin to see our book in a different light. We happily whittle away words or whole scenes–passages that we once hung onto with desperation. The characters, who used to tread through our minds as we washed dishes or drove a car, visit less frequently, are less demanding. Perhaps other characters, from story ideas that have been waiting anxiously for their turn, are knock-knock-knocking on our imaginations. You go through your final draft with more confidence, satisfaction. You realize that you have written this novel to the best of your ability, you have done the story justice.

Suddenly, it feels okay to let go. You know there are no guarantees. You know it might be rejected. But you’re okay because you’re ready for whatever happens. Even if no one else wants to take a risk on it, then you will figure things out. You’ll be disappointed, but not beaten. You’ll still move forward because in your heart you know you accomplished a mind-blowing goal.

What about you? Have you been able to move on from your book? How did you do it?

Writing Critique Power

Hold me back, don’t let me see.

She walks down Denial and

drops excuses like Gretel’s crumbs

she holds guilt like a flightless bird

On some ivory moons she succumbs

to memories blood-sour, curdled thick

Sloshing around until it numbs.

She holds back, she can’t see.

Her troop of soldiers has gone awol

Left behind a trail overgrown and wrecked

After years of turning away

Lost is the path where birds once pecked

What of life left stiff and bruised

What of hope left mottled and flecked.

…     …     …     …     …

I always get nervous after I hit the ‘send’ button to deliver a manuscript I have critiqued back to the author. Even though I consider myself to be very thorough and careful and unbiased, there is always that nagging doubt that I overlooked something. Or that I got too picky. Or I misunderstood the author’s intention. Or I misread something. Or that I didn’t say enough positive comments.

Suddenly my nervousness becomes anxiety because I know I have just critiqued a piece of someone’s soul.

For me, critiquing writing is just as intimidating as getting my own stuff critiqued. I want to do a good job. No, I want to do an excellent job. Not just because I do this as freelance, but because I respect the entire process.

Too often, writers will give up after they get a discouraging critique. It doesn’t even have to be worded rottenly. If too many things were redlined the idea of scrapping the draft and starting all over can be enough for writers to quit.

I have gotten discouraging feedback before, and in my early days as a writer I was so disheartened that I did quit. For a long time.

I remember those feelings when I take someone else’s manuscript in hand and offer my thoughts. While it does no good to hurt a writer’s feelings, it doesn’t do any good to gloss over the shaky areas and pretend that the whole thing is on its way to publication. It is a fine line but it is a loaded one, too.

As writers, we have a responsibility to each other. There is a huge difference between critiquing someone’s piece based on your own opinion, and critiquing based on whether the elements in question work. Not everyone is going to like every single manuscript they read in a writer’s group or in a beta exchange, but critiquing is not about likeability. It is about effectiveness. If you are reading something that you don’t like or agree with, and you can’t figure out how to be objective, then you need to bow out gracefully.

Whether or not the author handled an element differently than how you might have is not the point. What is important is whether the author’s choice works for the story, if his writing is effective and clear and compelling. The minute you bring your personal feelings into the feedback process is the minute you begin to lose your connection to the author.

How about you? Do you find it difficult to offer objective feedback on someone’s manuscript? Do you employ any tricks to help you be impartial? Do you enjoy critiquing someone else’s manuscript?