Time to Reflect on the Past Year: Or, Where the heck did 2012 go?!

Now, I don’t know about you, but I swear, someone stole at least a month out from under me in the past year. It seemed like it was just June, and now suddenly we’re saying farewell to another year. Yikes!

However, not to worry. Because looking back at the year that was is a pretty wonderful thing. Oh, I heard that – the rolling of the eyes, the gnashing of the teeth. Seriously: looking back at the year and what you’ve accomplished IS a great thing, because it will help set you on the path for the coming year.

Okay. So, the first thing you need to do is get all the disappointment and fretting out of your system. Get rid of the “but I didn’t …” and “I was supposed to …” and “I still keep [insert bad habit here]” statements. Trust me, they echo pretty loudly in my head too at this time of the year, but they’re just distracting little devils who don’t want you to see the bigger picture – and that’s what you need to focus on.

If it helps, write them down. Keep it quick, no brooding. All you want to do is get it out of your head, and out of the way.

For me, I still remain unpublished, and un-agented. Time is always at a premium, I’m more out of shape than I care to mention, and I never accomplish as much as I think I should.

Okay. Done. Onto the next step. The important step.

What HAVE you accomplished? Remember at the beginning of the year when you dutifully wrote down all your goals and broke them down into manageable portions that could be easily identified as achieved or not?

Actually, I don’t remember that either. Last year, I didn’t really want to set goals, and only did it kind of accidentally since it appears to be stuck in my system. If you were a good boy or girl, and you have your written goals for 2012, go get them and start checking them off – see all you accomplished?

For the rest of us, I’ll have more on goal-setting for us in the next post. But for now, start writing down what you have accomplished. A few items will probably stand out in your head. Some may start out as negative devils again, so work on turning them around. I’ll offer one of my own examples.

– With the help of my CP and my own research, I discovered at least one massive flaw in my writing and particularly plotting. This led to self-doubt, and lots of teeth gnashing.

Okay, see the negativity? Here’s what I gained out of that negative experience this year.

-Finally found a CP worth their salt (possibly two of them!).

-Discovered and fixed a hole in my writing and plotting, improving overall quality.

-Continued to write despite set-backs, and have put into place new methods for productivity measurement, self-encouragement, and affirmation for the low points.

See? Easy. Now it’s your turn. I’ll wait.

Now how’s it looking? Hopefully, pretty positive. I know you accomplished a lot more than you think you have. And if you haven’t accomplished as much as you wanted, well, look at that! There’s a new year on the horizon, ripe with possibility, and it’s yours, if you have the courage to reach out and grab it.

Thanks for reading, and Happy 2013 to you all. See you in the new year!

Strength Training for Writers (post originally posted March 2010)

Hey there! I’m really sorry, but with a Christmas party to host, and gifts to make for the guests still (yikes! am I ever behind!) I don’t have time to write a new post. But, here’s one of my first posts, and still one I really enjoy. Ironically, I think I was writing the first draft of the book I’m currently fighting to rewrite.  Hope it’s informative and helpful to if you haven’t seen it before. Otherwise, hope you’ll forgive me and I’ll have a new post next week. Take care!

Like lifting weights or exercise and accomplishing particular goals, pushing yourself to write and create more and better all the time can make you a stronger writer.

I write fast. There, I’ve said it, and I don’t consider this a bad thing. Just this month, I completed two first drafts, and although the first was started in February, the other was a complete first draft completed, from world-rule establishment and plotting, complete with 100k. Last week, I wrote 37,000 words in five days.

For some writers, this is unheard of. Especially when it comes to that many words in a week, let alone a month, and that’s fine. As with every other aspect of personality, we all have our own timing, preferences, and idiosyncrasies. This was a big deal for me too, but a challenge I wanted to rise to. My goal used to be 1000 words a day (meaning total of 5k a week). Then, sometimes I’d have a great day, and the high of writing that much, exceeding my goals … just like when you’ve been able to run further or faster, or lift a heavier weight, you want to see what else you can do.

Do you want to write 37k words a week? Here’s how.

First, set goals. I started off with 1000 words a day. Then up to 2000. Then 2000 minimum, but trying to reach for 5000. It’s all about increments, and what you think you can reasonably accomplish in the time you have. I know it takes me, on average, an hour and a half to write those 2000 words. Some days, it’s much slower, others, much faster. But if you limit yourself by thinking you can’t write, create, or accomplish it, you can’t. For me, I had a fantastic day of writing 11,000 words in one day, and decided, wait, what if I did this every day? So, I changed my goal to 5000 words a day minimum, always reaching for 10,000. Now, I’m rarely satisfied if I don’t get 10k done a day.

Second, do not expect to accomplish this instantly, either in one setting, or overnight. Be kind to yourself. If you only write, say, 500 words a week now, 10,000 tomorrow may not be realistic, but next month, why not? I also don’t just sit there and pound on the keyboard that long. It’s not healthy, and I don’t have the patience. What works best for me, for body and mind, is to try and work in sessions. If word count doesn’t work, try timing it. Some days when I hate facing the computer screen, I promise myself I have to sit there only an hour for the first session before I get to run off somewhere else. You take a break, do something else, then come back, and it’s back to work. Sometimes it’s easier, sometimes it’s not, but either way, by holding yourself to this, you will accomplish getting pages written, and will get closer to your goals.

Third, be accountable to yourself. There is no one sitting over your shoulder with a whip insisting you be productive and how much you need to do to count as “productive”. The very idea, in fact, makes me kind of nervous. (For those of you who find the whip-master behind you is the best thing ever, hey, whatever works for you). You are the only one who can push yourself as hard as you need to go, whatever that is. Keep track of your productivity. Some writers use a calendar, there are programs out there which demand certain word counts before the program will save, there are probably other applications which I’m not technically savvy enough to know about. I use an old fashioned logbook, where I keep track of how much I wrote, and when, for each of the sessions per day, then with a total word count for each day. Some weeks this will mean you can see you didn’t get what you wanted done, but that’s okay, there’s next week. Other weeks, you can do a happy dance when you have something to look back at and do a happy dance to think wow! This was one week. What could be done in two?

Fourth, find a reason why you want to accomplish this, or need to. For me, I almost always get hit by the negativity gremlins about mid-book. Though all had gone well up until then, I’m getting bored (possibly because of a short attention span), I think everything is terrible, I need to go back to square one, etc, etc. First off, as an artist, you have to push past all that (more on that later). For me, my solution was to write so fast, by the time I hit that point, I was too far into the book, there was no way I was turning back. Fixes will come with rewrites. Best of all, it means I get to start on a fresh, new manuscript sooner! Whatever your reasons, having a reason for your goals makes it easier to keep them (even if it’s an experiment, like for me this month).

Finally, have a reward at the end of the tunnel and your journey. If you’re working so hard, you do deserve a reward. Is this getting to read a new book you’ve been waiting for? Going out with friends? A tasty treat? Whatever it is, use short-term rewards, like getting to do something fun or even time-wasting during breaks between sessions, and a long term reward, like maybe shopping therapy or sitting on your butt and doing nothing. The real reward will be, of course, that you have been productive, you have accomplished something great, and better yet, you can go back and do it all over again, accomplish even more.

May you be productive and happy, and may this article have been inspiration and set into action plans. Happy writing!

Rewriting like a fiend!

So, in an update, my last methods for improving my success rewriting seem to have worked. I beat the wall – actually, I discovered that I just needed to back up, and there was no wall. Therefore, I’m trying to fly through rewrites, and have very little additional time for anything else (there’s also that whole Christmas thing coming up, and since I make most of my gifts, I’m swamped.)

Consequently, a short post today.

I wanted to actually pose a question and share: what makes your rewrites go well? How to you avoid hitting the wall / stalling out, or what do you do when it happens anyway?

For me, this rewrite I’ve done 5 different things:

  1. I have a revision plan (took notes, have a map of the document as it stood, and how it needs to be – mostly chapter by chapter summaries with red-pen scribbled all over them for my planned suggestions).
  2. I’ve found critique partners. Having someone who’s waiting for new chapters all the time helps me keep moving, even (and especially) when I don’t want to.
  3. When I hit the wall, or things stall, I back up and delete what wasn’t working. In most cases, it’s usually a chapter / scene preceding where I ran into trouble that things went wrong, and when I redo that, things loosen up and I can write again.
  4. Have a deadline. Self-imposed or otherwise, this keeps you pushing hard – and will get you onto something else sooner.
  5. Have patience for my method. I understand that like when I’m writing earlier drafts, I often have full steam for the first 1/4, start getting lost around the midpoint, and then gather steam again near the end. My writing and my methods reflect this, so I need to have some acceptance and understanding of this – as well as a plan for how I’ll overcome.

Okay, so speaking of those rewrites? Have to get back to them. What about you? What’s working for you? What’s not?

Thanks for reading. Have a great week, and happy writing.

Stuck in the Middle: Or, singing the rewrite blues

Once upon a time, my rewrites were going GREAT! I mean, things were just ticking along as quickly as they could, and some of the scenes I discovered – even I liked them! I raced towards the midpoint and then …

And then I hit the big ol’ midpoint wall.

I’m not sure what I did wrong (although that is one of my “hunches”), or if I’m just tired, but suddenly, I have no idea what I need to write. I can see the midpoint, I can see the crisis points and the climax … and I can’t quite connect the midpoint to the crisis points. Chapters and … “something wonderful I haven’t figured out” is missing in that section, and it’s driving me insane.

Sigh. Maybe that means it’s time for a break. Pushing really hard as I have been, maybe what’s broken isn’t the WIP exactly, but me.

What do you think? Have you ever hit the rewrite wall when you’re about half-way done? You can see the end … but no possible way to get there? Let me know – I’d love the help!

Take care, and have a great week. Hope your writing is going fabulous!

Revision and Plotting: Do as I say, not as I’ve done (pt 2)

As promised, here are the last 5 tips, or my advice on writing that sometimes, I’ve had a hard time remembering, and other times, has been learned the hard way. (for part 1 of this post, see: Revision and Plotting: Do as I say, not as I’ve done (pt1). Hope it helps!

  1. It’s your story. Protect it. Only you can tell your unique story, and while others will try to help you – and you need to accept some changes – beware of them trying to change the direction of where it’s meant to go. Certainly you can change your mind, but protect the essence, the little nugget and vision you had of it, which is what makes it yours and unique.
  2. Be open to critique. Understand it’s part of the process, and it will make your writing better. Remember point 6 and 7 when considering what critique to accept or reject, but critique is the only way to really gauge the reaction of your reader and what your writer is successfully conveying.
  3. Make yourself a revision road-map, and clear goals. I can’t tell you how much difference this has made to the revision process. It means you’ll hopefully have to go through fewer drafts, it makes clear the weaknesses and strengths, AND it will keep you going when things start to get hard. (For more on this, check out my post on revisions: Light at the end of the Tunnel: Revision Pt. 1 & 2)
  4. Breaks are not evil. You need to rest, or you’ll burn-out and crash. I’m terrible at this one, but I’m getting better. Remember, your brain needs breaks sometimes too, allowing it to refuel. Taking time to nurture yourself will only make you stronger – and doesn’t have to mean lack of productivity. Because …
  5. Just get writing, already! Above all else, worrying about writing, fretting you can’t find the time, it’s not good enough, taking too many courses, allowing in too much input, etc, etc, what you HAVE to do is get writing. Because that’s the point of all this, right? Sometimes all you need to clear your head is to stop worrying about everything else, and just allow the words to flow from you. You can worry about everything else later – and I’ll bet you’ll be less stressed about it after a productive writing session. I know I go kind of batty if I haven’t been doing enough writing. For most of us, it’s a part of who we are, and to deny it is foolish.

So, have I missed any tips / mistakes you make? Want to share so everyone else can avoid them? Come on, giving advice is SO much easier than taking it. 🙂

Thanks for reading, and have a great week.

Revision and Plotting: Do as I say, not as I’ve done, Pt 1

Do you ever have a moment when you pray to whatever you believe in that maybe, just maybe, you’ll start getting smarter? That maybe you’ll stop making the same ridiculous mistakes again and again, ever after making your life more difficult?

I do. Especially when it comes to my writing. As with many things, it’s so much easier to give advice than take it. So, I’m going to suggest ten things I know about writing that you SHOULD do … and which sometimes I’m not smart enough to remember.

  1.  Plot the damned book. No, I don’t mean you have to use a spreadsheet and know every detail of every scene, or remember each day of your fictional character’s life (although if that’s for you, go for it). What I am saying is have some kind of a plan. Maybe it’s just an idea of a direction that you jot notes about. Maybe you opt for the “25 things that have to happen” list, or just the major turning points, but if you give yourself a bit of a road map, you make your life SO much easier, especially when it comes time for revisions. Yes, I have started with no idea where I’ve been going, and I’ve written detailed plot cards; the first is too little for me, the second too much (I get bored). Which leads to my next point …
  2. Plot and write in YOUR way, not the method that works best for Mr. Bestseller or Ms. NewYorkTimes. Certainly, as you grow and learn your craft, your methods will likewise change and evolve. That’s great. They should. And who knows, maybe you will write and plot like other writers … and maybe you won’t. Don’t worry about it so much, and just get on with the writing and discovering your own method. Which means …
  3. Never stop learning. Take courses, read books, talk to other writers. I think it’s dangerous to suddenly reach a point where you feel you have nothing left to learn. Why, are you perfect? How did that happen? And if you are, where are you supposed to go from there? Your books might still be good, but they’ll never get any better, which personally, sounds boring. So, keep learning, keep trying to expand yourself however you can. Sometimes you’ll learn / realize something that will knock you back on your butt, but that’s okay, it’s just a growing pain.
  4. Avoid information overload. Respect your own intuition, too. Okay, so once you’ve read all those books, it can be really easy to think, gee, I’m not doing ANY of those things, and I must be terrible, I have to change how I’m doing this, I better try that … Stop. Consider. Are there areas in your writing (craft, methods, etc), that you know need improvement? Than maybe some change is needed. However, don’t change everything just for the sake of change. Some of what you were doing was probably working for you, and if it’s getting the results you want, don’t toss it needlessly.
  5. Know what input to accept, and what to reject.This is something that takes confidence and belief in yourself, and which changes over time. It applies to critiques, workshops, classes, knowledge in books. Before accepting – or rejecting – anything just because, let it sink in for a bit. Some will stick, and feel right. Others … won’t, so let them float away and disappear. Which leads to …

A break for the week, since this post is growing too long! Next week I’ll have the final 5 things you can do and hopefully avoid my mistakes.

Meanwhile, what mistakes / tips would you share? Come on, it will be cathartic.

Thanks for reading, and have a great week.

Favored Old Friend: “What if”

Halloween is just past, and one of my favorite holidays. I didn’t dress up this year, between dragging the kidlet out (kidlet was a horse), and work and whatnot. And yet, I love dressing up because it allows me to consider my favorite “what if” of all time: what if we could really become who/what we pretend we are.

Yes, you say, this sounds like a familiar kind of quote. And it is. On the philosophical side, we ARE who we pretend to be, since that’s what we show the world. But I’m about is the “what if” of becoming the dragon you dress up as, the princess, the ghost.

No one captured this better, I think, than an episode of “Buffy the Vampire Slayer” by Joss Whedon when one Halloween, the main characters become their costumes. Buffy, for example, is dressed as a 17th century damsel, and she becomes just that. Willow goes as a ghost – and becomes non-corporeal.  Xander is a military commander, and his plastic gun shoots bullets, and he saves everyone’s butt.

What if one day you could do that? Or what if everyday you could do that? Pull on the costume and presto! You have all the knowledge and background to BE that character. Imagine the possibility of seeing the world through so many different eyes and perspectives.

Of course, that’s not why I wanted to become my costume as a kid. Somewhere around the age of ten or twelve, I became obsessed with the 19th century. And maybe I’d read a few too many fantasies where the heroine is whisked back in time because of some magical doll, vortex, whatever. Somehow I started to become convinced that I’d mistakenly been whisked forward in future, and I really belonged back in the 19th century. Naturally my costumes had a historical flavor – not always 19th century, but the “idea” of the princess, the Elizabethan lady, the 19th century lady.

That, I think is the kicker. What we dress up as is the idea we have of some role, some existence. But it isn’t necessarily the reality. Take my 19th century obsession, for instance. I didn’t fully grasp at the time what it would mean for me, as a female, to be thrust back into that period. Just how different life would be. What would be expected of me – in decorum, action, speech, role.

So what would happen if the idea of a role and the reality collided? Hmm … sounds like a very interesting “what if” to me. 🙂

Who would you be if you could dress up and become anyone or anything? Come on, don’t be shy, comment below.

Thanks for reading. Have a great week!

See the Light at the End of the Tunnel: My Method of Revision (part 2)

Hey there! So last week I shared the first 5 steps I used in this latest revision – which is going really well, considering the mess the manuscript was / is in. Here are the final 5 of my steps. Hope they’re helpful! 🙂

  1. Identify the various plot threads. Are your chapters working hard enough for you? Do you touch on more than one plot point per chapter? If not, why not? If so, is it working? Are certain plots getting neglected for long periods of time? For example, I labeled mine as “A,B,C,D”, and then marked the chapter with what plots each chapter touched on; I discovered that I neglected one of the plots for nearly a quarter of the book! This was an easy way to see some pacing issues.
  2. Analyze your protagonist(s) and the degree of change they make from the beginning of the book to the resolution. Is the character arch significant? Is there real change, or have they been cheating?
  3. Generally scribble all over your chapter notes as you make your revision road-map. This is where thoughts, concerns, ideas can be inserted – and also is why I prefer a printed version. Consider circling scenes that are up for elimination, or which may duplicate other ones, making them redundant: reference your impressions notes from your read through of the manuscript.
  4. Get everything into the correct order, and read through chapter notes again. Ensure it’s tighter, stronger, that it’s better delivering your message. This may include the possibility of new scenes – missing scenes – and which need to be strengthened. Once you have everything in neat order, you can put down the pen, although don’t be afraid to pick it up again if something occurs to you.
  5. Clutch your chapter notes – now fully scribbled on – and your impressions from your read through, and get ready to work. Now you can start your revision, using these two new materials to help guide you. Obviously be open to new ideas, to the excitement of creativity, but at least if you lack that some days, you have these guides to help you through.

Well, this process seemed to help me. Maybe it will help you too. Oh, and when you’re done and think it’s ready to submit … here’s a page on that final polish which you might want to consider too (either that, or use it simultaneously with your rewrites.) The Spit Shine.

Do you have other revision methods? Willing to offer suggestions or share what works for you? Please comment below.

Thanks for reading, and have a great week! Good luck with those revisions.