Portrait of a Procrastinating Morning (And How You Can Avoid One)

object_graphic_design_261471_lJust about every morning, I wake (naturally–it’s just when my body is ready to get up) around 5:30, stumble downstairs, drink some water, then grab my coffee and head to my computer, after being careful not to trip over the cat in the predawn darkness.  And then I get right to work and don’t move until I’ve finished my daily word count look at email, maybe check on what happened in the world (though less so lately as its too painful).

Finally, I get to work.  I plug in brain.fm, which helps me ignore the cats and husbands wandering around the house,, and go to it.  And I’m pretty good at sticking with it (with lots of breaks for more coffee and water) until I’ve reached my word count.  Which, over the past month, since I did Nanowrimo, was 2,000 words a day. (And yes, I did finish! I hit 50,047 words on November 30.)

But, yeah, that’s the perfect world. Which doesn’t always happen, alas. Here’s what happened one morning last week: I woke earlier than normal because of a stomach ache, and went back to doze on the couch for a few minutes.  Then I smelled coffee, went and grabbed some, and stumbled to the computer.  Which, when I woke it up, was open to a page I really wanted to read.  So I did. Despite knowing better.  Which set the tone for reading even more when I went over to my inboxes. And then one thing led to another..and pretty soon, well you can guess what happened.

Yep, I’d waste my entire morning writing session.  Because I had to read about the fires in Gatlinburg (which are so tragic.  The resort I’ve stayed at there several times burned to the ground.  Scroll down on that link to see photos of the Westgate.)  And check on the latest political news.  And then I decided, smugly, that today just wasn’t a good writing day and what I really should do is make notes for some business visioning I’ve been doing. But by that time, all I ended up doing was confusing myself.  And I gave up and went to eat breakfast.

But, here’s the deal: this bout of procrastination set the tone for the whole day, and I struggled to pull myself back to my focus. Also, I felt like crap (mentally and emotionally).  I felt edgy and out of sorts, and besides that I wasted a lot of energy beating myself up.

And the truth is, I could have avoided the whole mess, just by being aware of my own creative rhythms. Because truth be told, I needed a break.  I had been writing hard all of November and doing a lot of other work, too. (Okay, so planning the next France retreat over wine at Noble Rot is maybe not hazardous duty, but still.)  When I first started my procrastination spiral, I might have been able to figure this out and rather than click through internet stories and ads for sales, I could have done something intentional. Something that would have fed my creativity instead of making me feel bad about myself.  Like taking a walk. Or stepping away from the computer and reading a book.  Or spending some time organizing my office. Or repair to the living room and knit.

But I didn’t.   But next time this happens, I’ll try to catch myself mid-stream and nip the spiral in the bud.  (Let’s see, did I mix enough metaphors there?)

Being conscious and mindful of your creative rhythms can be oh so helpful.  And then allow yourself to do what you need to do to sustain a writing practice over the long haul.  And if that means stepping away from the computer, for the love of God, let yourself do it.

Do you procrastinate? (Is that question akin to asking, do you breathe?) How do you prevent it or deal with it afterwards? Please do share in the comments.

Photo by levi_suz.

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Now That You’ve Finished Nanowrimo: A 10-Step Plan for Rewriting

post-itsSo, you did it. You finished Nanowrimo. Huge congratulations! It is quite a journey, isn’t it? But now what, you might be thinking. And rightfully so.  You’ve just put forth a ton of creative energy over the last month.  Here is my 10-step plan for what to do next.

1.Decide if you’re at the end, really, or have farther to go. This depends on if you set out to complete a novel in 50K words or knew you’d be 50K in but not finished.  I fall into the latter camp. I completed Nanowrimo but figure I have about 15K words to go to finish my draft.  If this is the case with you, also, then finish up before proceeding to step #2.

2. Take a break.  It will do your creative spirit good to step away from your WIP for a bit.  When you do come back to it, you’ll have fresh eyes and new energy to bring to it. So go stare out the window. Take a bath. Get a pedicure. Go for a walk. Knit a pair of mittens for someone you love for Christmas. Go forth and put your novel out of your mind.

3. Resist the urge to consider it done and begin your agent search.  Please, please, please remember that what you’ve written is a draft. It will need to go through at least one and possibly several rewrites before it is ready to go out in the world.  Agents dread December 1st because their inboxes fill up with manuscripts completed during Nanowrimo, though only the authors of said manuscripts would consider them finished.

4. Reread and make notes.  This is the heart of my rewriting method. Which, by the way, I stole learned from Rachael Herron and have adapted for my own purposes. (Shout out to Rachael, who besides being one of my favorite novelists does lots of incredible things for writers, including a podcast of author interviews and essays on the creative process you can access through Patreon.) Anyway. This step has two parts to it, that you will do concurrently as you read:

A. Make an outline of the story.  Rachael says to do a sentence outline of each scene, but if that’s too much for you, figure out a way to do it that will help you to keep track of the story. Because the point here is not only to get the story back into your head, but also to give you a reference point later on.

B. Put any thoughts and ideas on post-it notes.  One idea to a post-it. This is the freaking brilliant heart of the method.  You don’t have to organize them or think deeper thoughts about these ideas, just scrawl on a post-it note and slap that note on a piece of paper. In no particular order. That will come later.

5. Review any rewrite notes you kept during the writing process.  Add these notes to your post-it pages.

6.  Create a page per chapter. Just a blank page with the number of the chapter at the top. I like to put them in a three-ring binder.

7.  Go through post-its and order them. Take your little post-its, put all the ones that go in chapter one on that page, all those that belong to chapter two on the #2 page, and so on. You can refer to your sentence outline to help you remember what happens when.

8.  Review and ponder.  Do your characters need deepening? Does your setting need clarifying? Does your structure need shoring up? Do the necessary work here and add to your post-it note outline.

9.  Celebrate.  A glass of red wine is called for. Because look how far you’ve come!

10.  Have at it! Carry on!  Get this baby rewritten so you can get it out in the world.

That’s all there is to it, friends!

Okay, so if you have any questions, email me at charlotte@charlotterainsdixon.com.  And if you need more help, let me know. You might be a great candidate for my coaching. (Which, I just so happen to be having a sale on until midnight Friday, December 3.)

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Black Friday Sale Extended!

I realized that, if you’re like me (and since you are a writer, you probably are, in some small way at least), it takes you forever awhile to make up your mind about things.  Because, as writers, we must ponder the overall story of every thing that crosses our paths. Am I right?  Also, there was this holiday, at least in the states, called Thanksgiving, which, since it is most often a family affair, can either be a wonderful distraction or a horrible distraction, depending on where you fall down on the idea of family. But either way it’s a distraction. And perhaps, like me, you were out of town with limited wi-fi.

For all these reasons and more, which, since you are a writer you are free to make up yourself, I am extending my Black Friday sale.  So, fanfare please:

How about we get your writing flowing and your stories onto the page with my writing coaching deal!

Buy 4 sessions, get 1 free

Buy 12 sessions, get 2 free

Buy 24 sessions, get 3 free

This deal ends on Friday at midnight Pacific Standard Time, for real this time.  You can find out more information about coaching here.

Oh, and you can buy it for yourself, or a family member, or a friend. And you can use the coaching sessions any time.

Contact me if you have questions or would like to schedule a phone call to discuss coaching.

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Thanksgiving Gratitude and Giveaway

turkey_gobble_dinner_268746_l

On this Thanksgiving day, I’m grateful for so much, including, but not limited to:

My family and the fact most of them live close to me. (Hello, amazing, brilliant, beautiful and perfect grandchildren!)

The rain that is falling outside my window.

The sun that peeks through the clouds every so often.

My cozy house. (Hello, wonderful new bed.)

Happy Hour with good wine to drink, knitting to work on, a fire to sit by.

My wonderful friends.

The fact that I get to journey to France every September. (Hello, Paris, my favorite city in all the world!)

The fact that I’m a writer and I get to spend part of every day throwing words at the page.

You! Yes, you. I’m grateful for every one of you who reads this blog or my bi-weekly love letters to creatives, or who works with me through coaching or workshops.  And to show my gratitude, I’m giving away one copy of my new prompt journal, Just Prompt Me. To enter, leave a comment about what you’re grateful for. I’ll draw the winner’s name on Monday, November 28th.  (U.S. residents only, please.)

Here’s my all-time favorite gratitude song by the glorious Karen Drucker (and never you mind that this clip is from Father’s Day):

 

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Avoid Black Friday Mayhem. The Excuse You’ve Been Secretly Waiting For!

money_cash_coins_261247_lBlack Friday is still a few days away and I don’t know about you, but I’m already being inundated with special offers from the big box and mall stores.  The idea is that you’ll get out early on the day after Thanksgiving and buy, buy, buy!

But I have a better suggestion: stay home and write!  And to aid you in that endeavor, I’m offering my own version of a Black Friday Offer on my coaching packages.

Buy yourself a Christmas gift: the gift of focusing on your writing.  Or buy it for someone else who you know could use a hand to guide their writing career.

Here’s the offer: I’m adding extra sessions to my coaching packages:

Buy a one-month package of four sessions and I’ll add another one.

Buy a three-month package of 12 sessions (paid in advance only) and I’ll add two sessions.

Buy a six-month package of 24 sessions (paid in advance only) and I’ll add three sessions.

Each session includes a review of your writing and a phone call to discuss it, as well as all aspects of your writing life and process.

Plus, anyone who books a package during this limited-time offer will receive a copy of my new prompt journal, Just Prompt Me. It is so new we’ve not even officially launched it yet!

This offer is good from Tuesday, November 22nd until Sunday, November 27th, at midnight PST.

Listen, guys, this is a killer deal. It is too killer–I’ll be raising my rates in 2017.  So get in now while you can! I truly love working with my writers and I would love to add you to my client roster.

You can pay by check, credit card or Paypal.

Email me and we’ll settle all the details.

Oh, and if you want some other ways to not participate in the Black Friday madness, consider these:

Participate in Craft Friday, wherein you stay home and craft! (I’m thinking you could do both crafting and writing.)

Do your shopping through the Little Boxes promotion. I’m not sure if this is a national thing, or just a Portland thing, but it’s a great idea–shop in all the cool little stores that deserve our patronage!

Photo by ctoocheck.

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Nanowrimo Update: Some Core Truths for Maintaining a Writing Practice

Typewriter_Writing_Writer_238822_lI know. This is like, the ten thousandth blog post you’ve read on Nanowrimo.  I wrote one myself (well, okay, it was sort of about the election, too), and there’s another good one here.  

But, here’s the deal. As the headline promised, I’ve been reminded of some helpful core truths about the writing practice as I’ve toiled away on my Nano novel this month.   None of these are new, nor are they earth-shattering.  What follows are just plain, practical tips for getting the freaking words on the page regularly.   Here we go, in no particular order:

Set a word count goal.  When it comes to Nanowrimo, if you’re going to win the damned thing, you need to attempt to write a certain amount of words every day. I choose a goal of 2,000 words, because that gives me some wiggle room for days when I don’t write. (Like this morning, for instance. For some reason Saturdays are not productive for me when it comes to writing.)  And this is helpful even when it’s not November, because it gives you at least a vague idea of how you’re progressing.

Lower your expectations.  Yeah, I know. This sounds contradictory to the above advice.  And it is, sort of.  What I mean here is this: if its 11 PM and you’ve not yet hit your word count, adjust accordingly. Maybe this is a day when you get 500 words in. That’s nothing to sniff at!

Know where you’re going.  This is the single most helpful thing I can tell you. Even if you are a pantser and hate outlining, always have a sense of where you are going next.  Make a few notes about the next scene before you end your writing session for the day. Keep an ongoing scene list. Have a pad of paper handy next to your computer to scribble reminder notes.

You can get unstuck.   If you find yourself stuck, don’t despair. You can pull yourself out of it.  Turn to your journal and do some free writing, either specifically about your WIP or to a random prompt. Or plow ahead in your project–I’m continually amazed at how often the unstuck-ness comes in the actual writing.

You can write more than you think possible.  2,000 words a day sounds like a lot to some people, but you could do it if you tried.  The other day I wrote 6,000 words, participating in 10K for Writers day.  It was exhausting, but exhilarating, too.

Momentum carries the month.  There’s nothing more exciting than knowing you are making steady progress on a WIP.  You wake up every day and chug along. The pages pile up. And life is good, because part of you is living in the lovely fictional world you’re creating every morning.  Momentum carries you through when you miss a day. It leads you back to the page, reminding you that all is not lost, that you can pick up where you left off.  This doesn’t happen when you write only occasionally.

Brain.fm is a revelation.  This is a site that advertises itself as “music for the brain.”  You can listen to tracks for relaxation, sleep, or focus. I plug my ear buds into the computer and choose which kind of focus music I want (chimes and bells, cinematic, rain, forest sounds, and thunder are just some of the options), and off I go. I swear it helps enormously.  You can get 10 free sessions before you commit. I was so taken with it I bought a year’s subscription.

Find your best routine. It works best for me to get up early, take a quick look at email to see what’s going on, and then get to it. If I can (if I have no morning appointments), I write until I reach my word count. This way I feel good all day, knowing I’ve accomplished my most important thing. But I could spout off about writing first thing until I’m blue in the face and if this routine doesn’t work for you (if, say, you are a night owl), then you’re just going to ignore me. With good reason. Because you’ll drive yourself crazy trying to get up at the crack of dawn when you’ve been up late the night before.  Moral of the story: find what works for you. And then do it.

Thanks for reading.  What tips do you have for maintaining a writing practice over the long haul?

PS. You can find my books on my Amazon author page here.

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I Almost Quit Nanowrimo

Last week was rough for me.

I was distracted by the election news and I didn’t get a lot done.  My daily habit is to rise early, get coffee and spend a few minutes checking on what happened over night before getting to the page. This early morning writing is when I wrack up the words on my novel. And since I’m doing Nanowrimo this month, getting the words in is really important.

But last week distraction got the better of me. I’d click around to see what had happened and get lost for an hour or more reading election coverage and trying to find some hope.

And by this past weekend, I was seriously discouraged.  Up until election day, I’d been cruising along on my Nanowrimo project and enjoying it.  My goal was to hit 2,000 words a day, which gave me wiggle room in case I missed a day or so along the way.  But I hadn’t factored in disaster.

And so by Saturday, I decided it was best just to quietly quit.

But then I realized that if I did that I was letting everything that I stand against win.  I let hatred, and anger, and fear win. Because all of those things are the opposite of creativity.  My creativity is the very core of me, and if I quit that, I’ve quit myself.

And so I sat down on Saturday afternoon and forced myself to write 2,000 words.  A few hundred words in I realized I was enjoying myself.  That, while this fast draft is really awful in places, in others it is not half bad.  And then I did what creatives everywhere do: I got up and did it again on Sunday and then again this morning.

I’m not as far behind as I thought. (When I’m discouraged, I tend not to see things realistically.) As of this morning, I’ve got a little over 22,000 words, which puts me about 1K behind.  And I’ve got a secret weapon up my sleeve–Millie Thornton’s 10K day for writers is coming up this week and I’ve signed up to participate this Wednesday. I hope to make up my word count and put some words in the novel-writing bank–because Thanksgiving is coming up next week and that’s another big distraction. (But at least I don’t have to cook this year.)

I may not be able to control politics, but I can control what I can do.  And what I can do is put words on the page one after another after another.

What about you? Are you doing Nanowrimo? How is it going for you?

 

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Organization (Or More to the Point, Lack Thereof) For Writers

I think I’m the most unorganized writer on the planet.

If you could see my office right now, your stomach would hurt from laughing.  I’m way too embarrassed about it to post a photo, but there are stacks of binders atop file boxes, a teetering tower of office supplies, folders from a class I taught last summer recently waiting to be put into some kind of order, yarn for weaving and knitting piled up besides knitting needles and looms. And that’s just my office. The desktop on my computer is covered with icons for folders and files and for the last few days I’ve been searching my cloud storage for a folder I know for certain I’ve saved but can’t find. (Likely because I tend to nest folders within folders in logic that makes sense only in the moment I do it.)

I am ridiculously, painfully unorganized.

This terrible state of affairs is because I put organization at a very low priority.  I try to make a little time for it every day, but if I end up having a little time I would much prefer to do other things. Like read blogs I like to follow. Or knit a few rows on the never-ending scarf I’m working on. When I think about organizing, my mind goes blank and I can’t seem to figure out where to start.

It is not that I don’t notice the mess, like some people I know who may or may not live in this very same house with me. I notice it plenty. And it bugs the hell out of me. I just don’t want to spend any time dealing with it. So I don’t. I love the idea of being organized, not the reality.

I think this is how a lot of people are about writing. They love the idea of it, but have no real desire to sit down and actually do it.  Now, I’ll be the first to admit that sitting down to writing is hard.  It is easier, so much easier to do something else. Like sweep the kitchen floor. Or laundry. Or check the latest election polls. But, unlike organizing, once you get writing, it is actually fun. (At least when the words are flowing.)

Like everyone, I have good days and bad days when writing.  That’s normal. But if I’ve made the commitment to show up regularly, the bad days don’t loom quite so large, because I know that tomorrow will likely be a good day once again.  When you make writing a priority, the good and the bad even out and eventually you’re just writing.

All this by way of excusing myself for being so unorganized. Because, well, I can’t be bothered. I’ve got more important things to do. Like write.

What about you? Are you organized? Or do you write in the midst of chaos, like me?

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The Wordstrumpet Last-Minute Guide to Nanowrimo

nanowrimo-badgeNanowrimo (National Novel Writing Month) starts next Tuesday, November 1st. Are you ready? I did it a few years ago, resulting in an early draft of my novel, Emma Jean’s Bad Behavior.  And I’m planning to do it again this year to knock out a draft of a romance novel I have in mind. I think I have a pretty good plan for completing it, she said, modestly, which I shall share here.

First of all, loosely, here are the rules: you can prep as much as you want before November 1st, but you can’t actually write anything until that date.  Write 50,000 words and you win! Prizes include a button for your website and a certificate (at least that’s what they were last time I checked). You can sign up on the Nanowrimo website to get support and encouragement. If you’re a social type, many cities hold Nanowrimo write-ins that you can participate in.

All this is great, but the most important thing about Nanowrimo is that it encourages you to fling words at the page with abandon. You kinda have to if you’re going to meet that 50,000 word goal.  And please, please, please remember that THERE WILL BE MUCH REVISING NEEDED after November 30 has come and gone.  But you know that, right? (Its surprising how many people don’t.)

But, here’s the deal, guys, you only have a few days to prepare.  Like, three. But its not too late! You can totally get yourself in the right headspace to do this in three days. (Trust me, the right headspace is half the battle.)  And, I do highly recommend it.  Nanowrimo is a lot of fun, it  totally gets you over any fears you have about writing a novel, and it helps you learn how to silence your inner critic.

So here goes, the Wordstrumpet Last-Minute Guide to Nanowrimo:

  1. Come up with an idea. Maybe you already have one? Maybe you’ve had an idea for a novel for forever? This is the time to do it.  Here’s a little secret about writing a novel: you can use any idea you want. Really. Its all about how you put it together on the page. Just remember that all novels that work are based on conflict. Somebody (your main character) wants something, but forces array to prevent him from getting it.
  2. Do some prep work. This doesn’t need to be extensive, but it will help if you know your settings (main character’s home and work place, plus her hang-out at a minimum),and some things about your most important  characters (email me if you need a character dossier for this).
  3. Create a loose outline for your plot. (Quit cringing, pantsers.)  This can be as simple as a list of scenes or you can make it more complicated if your brain works that way. (Mine does not.)
  4. Write notes. Ponder things like theme, motivation, the above-mentioned conflict and write your thoughts down. These will likely change as you progress through the pages, but it is good to have some initial thoughts. I like to create a little binder or use a spiral for this, so I’ve got everything together in one place.
  5. Figure out a schedule.  I like to get up early and write, so that my most important thing is finished first. I set a goal of 2,000 words a day. If I stuck to it exactly, I’d end up with 60,000 words after the 30 days of November. But life does intervene. There’s Thanksgiving, for instance. And that’s a time suck if there ever was one.  With my 2K a day goal, I’m good if I lose a couple days to emergency grandchild watching or whatever.
  6. Monitor your habits. This is a good time to forego that nightly class of wine. (Brahahahaha. Like that’s going to happen.) Make sure you eat well and get enough exercise and sleep.
  7. Write like the wind.  Make freaking forward progress! Your goal is to hit 50K words, not obsess over every word. If you’re going to win this, you’re going to have to write fast.  The time for rewriting is when you are finished
  8. Be aware you might not finish. Winning Nanowrimo means completing 50,000 words on one single novel project in a month. You might choose, from the start, to write more of a novella, or know that you’re not going to be quite finished at 50K. And that’s okay–because you’ll have most of it done.
  9. Have fun. We don’t do this to torture ourselves. Do we?

So, are you going to do it? C’mon, let’s! Leave a comment and let’s chat about it.

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What it Takes to Be a Writer: Part Three

You’ve revved up your brain, planted your butt in the chair, and now you’re ready to write. I sometimes envision this moment as that of a piano player: you place your fingers on the keys, expecting great music to pour forth….and nothing happens.

You freeze. You don’t know what to write. Or the words won’t come. Or you are so damn critical of the words that do come that you shut down the computer and decide to go clean up dog poop in the backyard.  Because dealing with that kind of shit is better than dealing with the crap you’re putting on the page.

Ahem. I have news for you. Writing crap is good.  Writing crap is desirable (at least in a first draft). GETTING ANY WORDS ON THE PAGE AT ALL IS YOUR ONLY GOAL.  So do it. That’s my first bit of advice:

Write Crap

Just write, even if that means reminding yourself how awful you’re doing as you go. My first drafts are full of all caps exhortations about what terrible work I’m doing. Like: THIS DOESN’T MAKE SENSE AND IT’S REALLY STUPID. Once I’ve gotten it out of my system, I can carry on with the rest of it.

Here is an unedited glimpse of what I wrote yesterday as I tried to get going:

Okay I’m just sitting here with the cat, staring at the computer.  What the f#%k. Staring never got the writing done. Just write something. This is where prompts are really handy!   Start with the image.

And I did. I started with the image and the scene flowed from there.  Writing crap, and reminding yourself of it, is incredibly freeing.

Write Crap Often

Like, every day. We already talked about making time and conserving energy for writing in part two.  Do your best to write as often as possible. It makes a huge freaking difference, I’m not kidding.  Doing this, you gain momentum. You have that lovely feeling that half of you is living in your fictional world.  And because of that, you’re in love with the real world you actually do inhabit.  And when you are in love, you want to spend more time with your beloved, correct? So you will be eager to return to writing your novel.  And that, my friends, is the power of writing every day. (Even if it’s crap.)

Plan Ahead

I’ve proven to myself over and over that I procrastinate and get distracted when I don’t know where I’m going.  This is why I like to write a loose outline for the plot of my novel, and why I’m such a huge fan of character dossiers.  The other thing I like to do is write notes to myself. I do a lot of “writing about” the project in my journal, and I just about always write little notes to myself in the manuscript as to where to go next.  Then when I open the file first thing in the morning, I know where I’m going. I often diverge from my plans, but at least I have a way in to get started.

Employ Systems

There’s lots of help out there for writers.  You can download Freedom, which will turn off your access to the internet for a predetermined amount of time.  You can use a Pomodoro timer that allows you to write in spurts (or just use your phone’s timer).  You can use Scrivener.  The point is, there are all kinds of tools out there that will help you in your daily writing. Find the ones that work for you and use them.

So there you have it. What are your favorite tricks to get words on the page?

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