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October 31, 2011
With NaNoWriMo starting tomorrow, I’ve been getting organized and ready. But I know from past experience that all the organizing in the world won’t do any good without the writing habits to back it up.
Did you ever wish you could magically transfer some good habits from one area of your life and apply them to your writing? You probably can!
“But I don’t have self-discipline in anything!” you might say. You may feel that way, but it’s probably not true. Don’t believe me? Think about something you’re especially good at. (Can be anything: running races, keeping a clean house, raising children who like vegetables, keeping your weight stable through the holidays…anything.) Next, write down five or six habits you practice regularly that make you successful in this area.
Analyze Your Best Habits
Perhaps you’re thinking, “Well, I was a good student” or “I learned to play the piano,” but you’re not sure what habits made you successful. If that’s the case, pretend that someone approached you and said, “I’d love to be as self-disciplined as you are with your (fitness, music, housekeeping, whatever). Tell me how you do it!”
Then make a list of what you’d tell them to do. Which of those habits can you transfer over to your writing life and make them work for you?
The habits that help you lose weight or be fit or run a business might include:
- having a support system
- keeping a written record (of food eaten, miles run, income/expenses)
- setting small, sustainable goals
- rewarding yourself for meeting small goals
- journaling through successes and failures
- monitoring self-talk to counter-act negative thoughts and beliefs
Borrow Those Habits for Your Writing Habits
The next time you can’t seem to make yourself write or blog or do market research (or whatever is on your “to do” list for the writing day), think about areas where you are successful. Borrow those habits–they’re habits you already have under your belt in one area–and simply apply them to your writing.
Does having a support group help you lose weight? Then maybe a support/critique group would help you be accountable for your writing. Does keeping written records help you balance your budget? Then maybe keeping records of pages or words written and marketing progress would help your writing. Did setting small daily goals with a reward at the end help you get your closets and garage clean? Then would setting small daily goals with rewards help you get your book written?
Whichever habits work for you and your personality would probably transfer well into good writing habits. For me, I don’t need the accountability of a group. I’m a good self-starter and a hard worker. But I’m also that proverbial donkey with a carrot. I get going much quicker and work with more enthusiasm when I have a reward at the end of the task!
Writing Habits: Build on Your Past Successes
Good habits free up our time and attention so we can focus on more important things than overcoming procrastination. Chances are very good that you have had success in at least one or two other areas of your life. Take time to analyze those habits that work for your particular personality–and try applying them to your writing life.
I intend to make a list today and post it on my computer. I intend to use every trick I know to write through National Novel Writing Month!
October 28, 2011
Here are some great articles to read and consider if you hope to make the dream of a writing life into a reality.
“Are You Living Your Own Life or Someone Else’s?” If we are not careful, we can unconsciously be following someone else’s agenda for our lives. This may be your first step toward achieving the writing life of your dreams.
“Novelists: Stop Trying to Brand Yourselves” is a refreshing and hopeful post for fiction writers. You’ll breathe a sigh of relief with this one.
“The Power of Incremental Change Over Time” Most people underestimate this. They think they have to take massive action to achieve anything significant.
“4 Reasons It’s Easier Than Ever to Be an Author” “When I started writing, it also seemed like everyone else was in control. I prepared a book proposal, then waited for a publisher to offer me a contract. I wrote the manuscript, then waited for booksellers to order the book. I published the book, the waited for the media to book me.” Not anymore, says this author, former publisher, and former editor.
“The Writing Journey: Author Beware” is one agent’s warning about using self-publishers and what to look for in the way of scams and unethical practices. She makes a good case for having an agent, but as you may know, landing an agent isn’t necessarily easy. You could do what I do: make an agreement with an agent to look over your contracts for a flat fee with an eye to marking questionable phrasing and things you could negotiate for.
“Write with Flow Workshop” is added here because I happen to use the Fractal Method of organization and I love it. Whether you sign up for the workshop or not, the article is a good read. Enrollment ends on Oct. 30.
October 26, 2011
Any writing day can feel overwhelming if you’re trying to juggle several projects. Right now, I’m proofing a book due next week, finishing one not due for a while, and plotting a novel to get ready for NaNoWriMo. I blog and Twitter and do Facebook. I have a novel critique to do. EEEEEEEEEEEK!
Bouncing Off the Office Walls
My own writer’s personality prefers working on one project at a time. I like to fully immerse myself in the characters and plot, writing and rewriting, rethinking and editing, polishing and submitting. In the early years, before it was my career, I could do it that way. Everything was written and submitted “on spec,” and no one was waiting for my prose, so I could take my time–and do one thing at a time.
Just thinking about what needed to be done today put my brain in a cramp. I could almost feel the neurons short-circuit.
Is It Possible to Focus?
First, today and every day, I need to accept the fact that (except for the critique), none of the other things will get finished today. I need to make my “to do” list reflect this, and yet move each project closer to completion. (I’ve tried just working on one thing at a time before, but I found I lost mental contact with my fiction characters and had to keep starting over. Working on the books daily helps me “remember” who everyone is and what comes next.)
I’ve discovered that if I make a “to do” list that says I will write for one hour on each project that needs to be moved along, then I will do that. I set my kitchen timer for one hour, get my project papers out and ready to go, put on blinders, start the timer, and then focus on that one project for an hour.
I don’t get up during that time or think about any of the other projects (which are out of sight–very important). I work on the computer that will NOT connect to the Internet, so there is no temptation to check email. I let my answering machine take calls. [NOTE: This is me on a good day like today. The "yesterday" me made the mistake of getting online early in the morning, and it was downhill from there! Will I never learn?]
Just One Hour?
Can you get much accomplished in an hour? An amazing amount! In fact, I am constantly surprised how much just fifteen minutes of concentrated writing time can produce. At the end of a writing day where I’ve focused one hour on each project, they all have moved along significantly toward the finish line.
Do I like writing this way? Not really. But there’s one big plus: I’ve discovered that I can write many more hours in a day when I change projects–six or eight hours, as long as I stretch frequently. Writing on the same novel, I am fairly burned out in three of four hours of writing (four hours total, usually a couple of two-hour sessions.) So productivity is higher when I have to work on multiple projects with multiple deadlines.
Maybe–in the end–I’ll enjoy working this way for that very reason. In the meantime, it’s a good way to get the work done.
Just curious… What is your own preferred way to write? One project at a time? Multiple projects?
October 24, 2011
Over the weekend I spoke with a writer dealing with some worries that are daily robbing her of her hours of creative time. It reminded me of an earlier post on Fighting to Focus.
Where’s Your Focus?
From studies I’ve read, when you’re going through a crisis (yours or someone else’s), there is a single-minded focus that will help you regain your peace. And there’s a (more common) split focus that won’t help you at all. In all likelihood, it will make it worse. If your goal is to keep hold of your creative hours when problems hit, then staying calm is paramount.
Studies were done on people facing severe problems ranging from the terminal illness of a child to divorce (yours or someone else’s). The people under strain who re-gained and maintained their peace and continued to be productive did one thing very differently from those who fought desperately to be peaceful, but failed. This is a truth that can also apply to even the simplest worrisome problems you’re facing–worries that are stealing your writing time.
A Healthy Single Focus
The people who regained their peace and rode out the storm were those who had one focus: regaining their peace of mind. Once they did that, they were able to offer comfort and aid, but without worrying about the outcome of their help. And they could then focus on their own work.
A Split Focus
The people who continued to worry and obsess and eventually get sick had a split focus: they tried to regain their calm mind too, but they also tried to control some aspect of the outcome. They were trying to control another person or an event that was beyond their control. There is nothing quite so crazy-making as trying to control something outside your control.
Regaining Your Focus
The quickest way to stop worrying is to give up trying to control something you have no control over. Instead, pour all that wasted energy into regaining a calm mind. I use a variety of things: prayer, surrender, running, a bike ride, meditation, talking to a trusted friend, and watching uplifting movies. Find what combination works for you, and make that your single focus.
Get calm. Give your aid, if it’s healthy to do so. Then get on with your life.
If you’re consistent with this, you’ll find your emotions coming down out of the rafters and settling in nicely. And then you heave a sigh of relief, rest a moment or two, and head to your writing room.
October 21, 2011
I love routines! It streamlines the daily business of life and lets me get more done. I have some habits (like how I brush teeth or do dishes) that haven’t changed in years–maybe decades. They work efficiently.
Writers have habits too, and I think that’s a good thing. It streamlines daily chores like email, website updating, reading professional journals and blogs, and other writing-related chores.
BUT…routines can become ruts without anyone noticing.
Habits: A Slippery Slope
You may suspect your routines have become ruts if you are more bored than inspired when you sit down to write. When all your writing has the same tired voice, when you continually repeat subjects and themes–it may be a sign that your writing routines have become ruts.
So how do you break out of ruts? Try making changes in some of these areas:
- Writing area: choose another place to write, change the furniture around in your office, move your desk to the window, clean up the clutter, make a traveling writer’s bag for the airplane or car
- Time: even if you’re a morning person, try writing during the lunch hour or in ten-minute segments every hour on the hour; try a Saturday morning
- Length of session: experiment with writing daily for short periods, writing daily for longer periods, writing just on the weekend
- Tools of your trade: experiment with writing longhand, writing on a laptop, using online journals, Internet vs. library research
- Sound: if you’re used to writing in total silence, try background music you love or a white noise machine (mine makes raindrops and ocean wave sounds)
- People: if you always write alone, try writing with a group or joining a critique group (in person or online)
- Body position: try writing at your desk, standing up, lying in bed or a lounge chair, curled up in the porch swing
Mix It Up
If you’ve lost some enthusiasm for your writing, it may be nothing more than you’ve allowed your routines to become boring ruts. Try mixing it up a bit. Choose another time, place, and position to write. Change your environment with new sounds or new people. See what that does to your creativity.
What about you? What writing habits will you always keep–and where do you like to make changes? Let’s share ideas!
October 19, 2011
From the director of National Novel Writing Month:
Have you seen the countdown clock on NaNoWriMo lately? The 2011 noveling extravaganza begins in just 13 days!
In preparation for this wild and wordy festival of writing, we’ve relaunched NaNoWriMo.org (and that very hypnotic clock). The site is now built upon the extra-sleek framework of Ruby on Rails, which means the forums are speedier than ever, and slow page-loads are a distant memory. (Though you can still fondly reminisce on those with me in the NaNoWriMo history.)
Come on over to NaNoWriMo.org today to check out all the shiny newness, including an all-star cast of pep talkers, the 2011 batch of web badges, our revamped forums, and special noveling goodies in the store.
You can also find the local chapter closest to you, and catch up on news and events there in the regional forum!
If nothing else, come by to witness the sheer speed of it all. Heavens to Betsy, the speed!
If you know any kids, teens, or educators who would enjoy this challenge, be sure to send them over to NaNoWriMo’s Young Writers Program! Director Chris Angotti has cooked up the best resources yet for our 50,000-plus young novelists around the world.
We can’t wait to see you in NaNoLand!
Counting down to go-time,
October 17, 2011
Is your writing project bogged down? What happened to your inspiration? Things aren’t “going well”? It may sound too dramatic to call it “writer’s block,” but it is.
When I’m stuck, I tend to think that I’ve tried everything, but nothing has worked. That is always a wrong assumption. There’s always an angle I haven’t yet considered. There is always other (or new) information that I haven’t factored into the equation. A writer’s block is often a mental rut.
What to do then? If the writing task you’re working on right now is going badly or at a standstill, just stop.
Writer’s Block Revisited
Get up and walk away. Do some jumping jacks. Take some deep breaths and stretch. Move to another place in the house to write. Do what is necessary to wake up your brain. And then…think about your writing project again.
BUT instead of starting where you left off, pick up the work in a completely different spot. If you’re stuck in the middle, skip to the end (or vice versa). If you’re bogged down in the middle, go back to your original notes and character sketches and the opening to get re-inspired. Do some background research for your characters. Interview your characters and ask them what they think the problem is! (This actually worked for me to get unstuck.)
Your brain may feel frazzled and dried up, but in reality, you’re using many fewer brain cells at any given time than you have available to you. So dig a bit deeper and engage a few more brain cells. Look at your writing problem from another angle. Come at it from another direction.
Our brains are fascinating things. They will often serve up to us exactly what we expect. If we expect to stay blocked, we will–and quit for the day. If we understand that we just need to look at the problem another way–upside down, reversed order–there’s an answer.
When writer’s block attacks you, don’t grit your teeth and keep pushing ahead like a bull dozer. Stop. Back up. Walk around the problem a few times. Find another port of entry: move to another place on your time line, describe a different character, add more depth to descriptions of places or characters, or brainstorm on paper about the worst thing that could happen in a scene.
Use more brain cells. Think again.
If you need more ideas for dealing with writer’s block, try these places:
And never fear that you’re alone with this writerly disease. There is even a Writer’s Block Festival, which was held this past weekend!
October 14, 2011
As a writer, don’t ever under-estimate the power of self-discipline. Talent, passion, and discipline are needed–but the greatest of these is discipline.
Best-selling author Elizabeth George speaks to this point on the first day she faces her students in her creative writing classes. Study this quote from her book, Write Away–and read through to the zinger at the end.
“You will be published if you possess three qualities–talent, passion, and discipline.
You will probably be published if you possess two of the three qualities in either combination–either talent and discipline, or passion and discipline.
You will likely be published if you possess neither talent nor passion, but still have discipline. Just go the bookstore and pick up a few ‘notable’ titles and you’ll see what I mean.
But if all you possess is talent or passion, if all you possess is talent and passion, you will not be published. The likelihood is you will never be published. And if by some miracle you are published, it will probably never happen again.”
This is great news for all writers, I believe. We worry sometimes that we don’t have enough talent, that we have nothing original to say, that our voices won’t attract today’s readers. But as Ms. George says above–and after writing and teaching for thirty years, I totally agree–discipline is what will make you or break you as a writer.
Why is this good news? Because self-discipline can be mastered, bit by bit, day by day, until it’s a habit. Talent is a gift over which we have no control, and passion comes and goes with our feelings and circumstances. But your necessary ingredient to success–discipline–can belong to anyone.
Do whatever you have to do to develop the writing habit. Let that be your focus, and see if the writing–and publishing–doesn’t take care of itself!
October 12, 2011
“Life is difficult,” wrote M. Scott Peck in his famous book The Road Less Traveled. “This … is a great truth because once we truly see this truth, we transcend it… Once it is accepted, the fact that life is difficult no longer matters.”
I’d like to amend Peck’s quote to say that “the writing life is difficult.” And once that truth is accepted, “the fact that it is difficult no longer matters.”
I imagine we all start out on the writing journey with a fantasy of what the writing life will be like. I know I did thirty years ago–and it’s been a fantasy that I clung to tenaciously for far too many years.
My own fantasy involved uninterrupted hours every day to write (after first journaling and then doing some creative writing exercises to ensure the writing would simply “flow”.) My fantasy included the books selling themselves without my help. I expected to reach a time when I’d never have to write anything without having a (lucrative) contract in hand. I also dreamed of writing by longhand in the fragrant garden of a thatched-roof English cottage. Sad to say, the cottage part was the only thing I recognized as pure fantasy. I figured everything else was just a matter of time.
Fast forward thirty years and forty published books later…
I love my office in Texas, but it’s a far cry from a thatched-roof cottage. And unless you write from Walden’s Pond, I don’t see how anyone manages to have uninterrupted hours every day to write. Juggling my roles as wife, mother, Nana, daughter, sister, friend, writer and ministry leader means fighting for writing time daily. Each role, at one time or another, has meant dealing with loss, conflict, disappointment, and/or illness-big time and energy eaters. And because of the changes within the publishing industry–in large part due to the economy and online social marketing demands–there’s no such thing anymore as an author who doesn’t help market their work.
It No Longer Matters
So where’s the silver lining around this black cloud? Simply this. Clinging to my fantasy life of a writer meant that every time reality intruded, I was disappointed or shocked or disillusioned–and tempted to quit. Lots of angst and wasted energy. As long as I was convinced that the writing life could be simple and require little work, I was irritated with reality. I made silent demands that this imperfect writing life go away!
- Truth #1: The writing life will always be difficult.
- Truth #2: It doesn’t really matter.
- Truth #3: All things worth having (family, good health, writing life) are difficult sometimes.
- Truth #4: We can do difficult things!
Don’t miss the key point of the blog today. This is not a “downer” message. It’s a truth message–which will set you free. For me, it’s like having kids. Raising a family was the most difficult, time-consuming, challenging thing I’ve done in the last thirty-five years. It has also been the most rewarding, most fun, most gratifying thing I’ve ever done. It’s the same with the writing life. It’s been difficult, but I can’t imagine a career more rewarding than this. After many years, it does get easier--but I would never say it’s easy.
It’s okay to give up the fantasy that someday your writing life will be easy and smooth and not require you to grow or struggle anymore. You really don’t need the fantasy to keep you moving forward. “The fact that it is difficult no longer matters.”
That being the case, what fantasy about the writing life do you suspect you need to let go of?
October 10, 2011
Today I want to share something with you that I read about dreams.
“Only dreams give birth to change,” the meditation for writers said. “Gradually, as you become curator of your own contentment, you will learn to embrace the gentle yearnings of your heart.”
Guardian of Writing Dreams
What longings about your writing life do you have tucked away somewhere? I think we all have them. Some get tucked away until that fictional future of “when I have more time.” Others are hidden because we don’t believe that we have the skill or ability to produce the kind of writing we hold dear.
“There are years that ask questions,” said Zora Neale Hurston, “and years that answer.” Right now, with the publishing industry changing so much (in both good and challenging ways) some of your writing dreams may be on hold. But this time shall pass. We are growing and adapting as writers. So don’t let “dreams on hold” become “dreams forgotten.”
Sowing Until You Reap
Don’t stop dreaming. Continue to sow the seeds of your dreams. Water them daily. Be the curator of your writing contentment. Your dreams need guarding and protecting, and you’re the only one who can do that.
Take a moment today and write down your most private writing aspirations. Name two things you can do to protect those dreams. Today, do at least one of them!Newer Posts »