Write It Imperfectly, Do It Imperfectly

I was meditating this morning. My legs twitched. I was antsy in my seat. My eyebrow itched and finally I succumbed and scratched it. My back tingled. All these things took my attention away from my mantra–Hum Sah.   And then I started thinking about emails I needed to write and work I had to complete.

I was meditating imperfectly. VERY imperfectly. But, I consoled myself, at least I was doing it. Meditating imperfectly is better than not meditating at all. So, too, with exercise, right? And cooking, and gardening. And–you knew it was coming–writing.

It is important to let yourself write imperfectly. You know this. I know this. But do we remember it when we are writing? Do we let our fingers race across the keyboard, not worrying about how “good” the words are? Or do we stop and obsess about what should come next? What sounds right. What our readers, or agent, or editor will think when they read it?

I do that far too often. Hmm, let me think–maybe I even did it this morning when I convinced myself that one aspect of my character’s backstory had to be figured out in excruciating detail before I could go any farther. When I stepped away from the computer, I realized that wasn’t true at all.  I just needed to write it imperfectly–and then come back and fix it later.

Your job as a writer is to put words on the page. Period. They don’t have to be perfect words. They don’t even have to be good.  The only requirement is that the words come out of your head, through your fingers, and onto the page. Period.

Simple, right? And oh so hard. Just remember–imperfection is your friend. Put it on a post-it next to your computer: IMPERFECTION IS YOUR FRIEND. And remember this in the rest of your life as well.

Let me know how that works out for you, will you? Leave a comment!

On Story Questions and Traveling Home

After a month-long writing retreat in France, I am home! The trip back was even more chaotic than the journey there, but we made it. So here I am at home in Portland, smack in the middle of chaos.  While I was gone, my daughter and her family moved in (that includes two small boys). We are putting on an addition to make room for everyone to live together but until that happens we are all crammed in together. Boxes are piled everywhere. Their dog terrorizes our cats, who spend most of their time down the basement now. My computer sits atop a table covered with paper and markers.

And in the midst of all this, I am pondering story questions. Allow me to elaborate. I’m reading Still Me, the third book in the series about Louisa Clark by Jojo Moyes. I’m not that far in and I’m enjoying it immensely. Louisa is a charming character who does funny things and dresses outlandishly. But I bought the book on the strength of having read the first two, and I don’t know that much about it. Since I hurriedly downloaded it for my Kindle before I left, I haven’t read the front flap or back cover copy. Usually that would give me a clue.

This morning I realized that I have no idea what the book’s story question is, based on my reading so far.  What do I mean when I say story question? I define it as the motor that keeps the reader turning pages, because she wants an answer to that question. She wants to know what will happen.

In a way, it’s the point of a book. In a romance, the story question is, will the woman get her man (or vice-versa)? In a mystery, it is, who is the killer? In a thriller, the story question is, will the protagonist escape/outwit/best the villain?  Of course, in genre fiction, we pretty much know what the answer will be, but the question is always in our mind as we read.

And here’s a real-life explanation. Earlier this week, as I made my way home from France, all kinds of snafus occurred, as mentioned above.  After leaving our small town in the south, Debbie and I planned to spend three nights in Lyon, then take a train early Tuesday morning directly to Charles De Gaulle airport and connect with our noon flight.  But Tuesday happened to be the first day of a planned nation-wide rail strike, and we were advised to take an earlier train. Which meant leaving a day early, finding a hotel to stay at in Paris, and several trips to the train station to see about changing our tickets to Monday.

Turned out exchanging tickets was not so easy.  The bored clerk offered us only the opportunity to spend 273 Euros each for standing room only on a train that might or might not actually depart.  And so, because we had to make that flight, we rented a car and drove to Paris.

If you were writing about this adventure, the story question would be, will they make their flight? Will they ever get back home? Believe me, there were many times this was in doubt. One way to look at it is the simplest construct in all writing. Our goal/desire was to make it to the airport. All the snafus were the obstacles in the way that made the question arise: will they make it?

So back to Still Me. 

The story is about Louisa’s year in New York City, working as a companion for a very wealthy family. The story begins as she arrives in the states from the UK.  The idea is that she’s spreading her wings and trying new things in homage to her late employer/boyfriend, Will Traynor, who we met in the first book.

So at first I thought maybe the story question would center around her employment. But no, at least not entirely. There are some quirks there, but that doesn’t seem to be it. So maybe there’s drama in what she left behind in England? No, her family seems happy and she has a new boyfriend she loves with home she Skypes often. In my reading session last night, a new character was introduced, a man who reminds Louisa of her beloved Will. I suspect he has a lot to do with the story question. Will Louisa develop a relationship with him? Will she then stay in New York or go back to England? What is her true place in life?

Me not knowing the story question has not put me off this particular book. I trust this author and I love the characters she develops. But if I were reading a book by an unknown author not quite as adept at craft, I may have been tempted to set it aside.

Readers these days more and more often won’t have front flap or back cover copy to guide them–only description on a website, a sample from Kindle, or a “look inside the book” preview. So I think it behooves us to be aware of our story questions and make them clear from the beginning.

Of course, that assumes that we know the story question. Which can be difficult! But that is a topic for another time…..

Have you ever read a book where you were confused about the story question? Leave a comment or head on over to the Facebook page to discuss.

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Planes and Trains and Bomb Cyclones

Check out that blue sky

I am in France. In Ceret, a small town in the Languedoc region, to be exact.  I am here on a writing retreat and this morning, I’ve hit my goal of 2,000 words (a little over, actually), wandered around the town, then drove to the seaside village of Collioure to buy Soupe de Poisson. (Fish soup, which is served here with a special aioli, croutons, and grated parmesan.) The Mediterranean was a deep blue in the sunshine and on the way back the mountain nearest to our town was socked in with snow! This is exactly how I wanted this writing retreat to go when we first started talking about doing it: a lot of writing, sinking into the rhythms of the town, visiting a few nearby spots, drinking the excellent local wine each night. But mostly, writing like crazy.

It was a looong journey to get here, however.  We had booked our flight through San Francisco to Paris for Wednesday. But when we arrived at the airport that morning, we were told we had a delay due to weather. A delay that would cause us to miss our connection to Paris.  We could maybe go the next day. But that would cause us to miss our train on Saturday morning in Paris. So we were rerouted on a flight early the next morning that went through Newark.

Yep, Newark. Where a bomb cyclone was about to hit. Which we didn’t find out until we got home from the airport.

My living room for the next month

And, this caused us to forfeit our one night in Paris. But oh well. The point was to get to Ceret and start writing.  Despite dire weather reports, we were loaded onto our Newark plane at an ungodly hour.  Since I had taken the very cheap ($29) upgrade offer on the SF plane, I squawked loudly enough as they rebooked us that I got a window seat in the aisle row. There was nobody in the middle seat–maybe they were scared off by the bomb cyclone–and it was luxurious. I had so much room I felt like I was in first class.

And then the pilot came on the intercom and informed us that the weather in Newark looked bad. Dire, even. Winds higher than what that very lovely aircraft was rated for. So we probably wouldn’t be able to land there.  Maybe we’d go to Cleveland. Maybe we’d go somewhere else. Who knew? He said if we made it as far as Pittsburgh, we’d be going in.

Usually I’m an anxious traveler. I’m not afraid of flying but I get edgy about logistics–making connections and all that. And I am a person who likes to know what is coming my way.  (Which is why meditation is so good for me.) I like to know what we’re having for dinner so I can plan my lunch accordingly. I like to know what is going to happen in my book, at least until my characters start doing unexpected things.

But this time was different. I had my perfect window seat and a view of the mostly snow-covered landscape below. I was happily reading the second Maisie Dobbs book and I was comfortable. And so I reached this wonderful place where I just shrugged my shoulders and quit worrying about what might happen. Cleveland? Pittsburgh? Paris? Who knew?

A few hours in, the pilot came on again and said the winds had subsided enough that they were going to “try” to land. My seatmate and I looked at each other and said, “Try? That doesn’t sound too confident.” The pilot warned us over and over again that the landing would be rough.  He would need to use his automatic brakes and it would be “firm.” Also, we would experience much turbulence as we landed. That we did, though I’ve been in worse. But–the landing was perfect. Firm, indeed, but perfect. Everybody in the plane applauded.

While I’m not an expert, the Newark airport seemed far less busier than usual, probably because more than half the flights were canceled. I kept waiting for a text message from United telling me our flight had suffered the same fate. But no! After several hours, we boarded.  Alas, we then sat on the runway in a driving snowstorm for two hours while we got de-iced (the machines looked like giant lit-up bugs) and also, I learned later, waited for the winds to subside to a level the plane was rated for the plane.

But we took off, eventually, and made it to Paris, albeit several hours late, thus missing our train.  We made it, though, and here I am, happily writing and strolling around the town for breaks. When first we conceived this writing retreat, it felt like a whole month was going to be the most luxurious stretch of time ever. And it is (especially because my family is dealing with the chaos of remodeling at home).  But time is going fast, too! Slipping away. I vow to make the most of every minute.

How about you? Have you ever taken a writing retreat, short or long? Leave a comment or come over to the Facebook group and discuss.

(You can also follow me on Instagram for lots more photos.)

Rewriting: Draft Passes (A Helpful Writing Tip)

The passing lane. Like a draft pass. Right?

Ah, rewriting. So fun! So engaging! So intense! I’m serious, I actually really like it. But it can also be mind-boggling.  Where to begin? How to approach it? What to do?

One concept that may be useful to you is that of draft passes.  I’ve done this myself and recommended it to others, but I’ve never had a tricky name for it until now. And for that, I thank Rachael Herron, who mentions it in her new (and highly recommended) book,  Fast Draft Your Memoir: Write Your Life.  

A draft pass is when you go through your manuscript looking for one specific thing and that thing only.  For instance, you might want to track the throughline of a subplot.  Or check that the description of a character is consistent throughout.  Or look at and vary how you note character movements. (I tend to have all my characters shrug, nod, and blow out long streams of breath, for instance.)

Isolating this one thing makes it easier to track it in the morass of pages that constitute a novel.  Draft passes work best after the bulk of your rewriting is done and you’re finished with the big story questions.  For instance, I just got notes from my agent on the rewrite of my romance novel. One thing I need to do a draft pass on is my two main characters thinking how attractive they each find the other.  There’s way too much of it, and readers need to see it rather than have it told to them. Another draft pass will be devoted to heightening the main character’s motivation for not allowing herself to be swept off her feet by the hero.

I liken the process of draft passes to gently pulling pages of the manuscript apart and dropping a few pithy new words on sentences or even a scene in.   You can use the search feature to help you find what you need, or, hopefully somewhere you have a list of scenes that will guide you.  (If you don’t, I recommend you create one immediately!) And I’m sure those of you who use Scrivener have all kinds of cool ways to track things that I’m not aware of.

Oh, and just in case you were wondering, Janice Hardy had an excellent article on the difference between revision, rewriting, and redrafting on her blog this week. Check it out.

Have you ever done draft passes? Leave a comment or come over to the Facebook page and discuss.

P.S.–this post contains one teeny, tiny affiliate link.

Indecision is the Devil for Writers

Indecision is my downfall.

If I know where I’m going next in my writing, it is no problem to sit down to my computer and get words on the page.  I can wrack up a good word count in no time.

But if I’m not quite sure what to write next, forget about it.  My brain gets fuzzy. I can’t seem to connect with my work. I don’t know what to do next and so more often than not I don’t do anything.

This goes for my to-do list as well.  Sometimes it gets so overwhelming that I just stare at it–and then go look for an interesting knitting blog to read.  Or, better yet, a writing blog, because then I can pretend I am working!

So lately my process with my to-do list has been to make a decision on what needs to happen next.  In today’s case, it was writing this blog post. And then I just focus on that until it is finished and I can move on to the next thing.  Here’s the key: if other things crowd my brain for attention, as they do, I remind my brain what I’ve decided to focus on. Once it is finished, I can look at the other things clamoring away and decide what’s next.

Funnily enough, as I was pondering this post, this post came to my attention. It outlines a very similar process, called the Ivy Lee process for productivity. (It is worth heading over there and taking a look.)

So how does this relate back to writing? For me, it means always knowing where I’m going next so that there’s no time for indecision to take hold. Once I’m rolling on a project, this is usually not a problem.  But sometimes writer’s block does strike–and it’s always, always, always because I’m not sure where to go next.

Things I recommend to prevent indecision from stymying your writing:

  • If you start to feel blocked, even a faint whiff of it, free write. Take the last line of the last scene you wrote and use that as a prompt.  Or just write out the problem as a prompt.
  • Maintain a list of ideas in a dedicated notebook. Anytime you have a moment of indecision, check out the list. It might get you going again.
  • Don’t slavishly adhere to chronology.  If the scene you’re working on isn’t lighting you up, move on to another one.
  • Create a loose outline. Doesn’t have to be anything fancy. Mine is just a list of scenes with notes about each scrawled about each one. But it really helps those moments of indecisiveness.
  • If all else fails, just choose something and go with it.  Not sure if your character should jump off a bridge or ride a merry-go-round? Just commit and write. You’d be amazed how often this works.  And if it doesn’t, you’ll soon figure it out.

How do you deal with indecision that blocks you? Leave a comment!

Or join the Facebook group and come chat there!

Photos from everystockphoto.

Sub-plot, or The Other Thing

The other night, my husband and I watched an episode of Scorpion, which I’d only see bits and pieces of before and ended up thoroughly enjoying.  The show is about a band of misfit computer experts led by Katherine McPhee, who is their interface and explainer of the real world.  In this episode, a helicopter carrying a doctor had crashed into a parking garage in high winds.  The helicopter was stable, as were its passengers, but the doctor had to be extracted immediately because she was the only doctor who could perform a certain kind of surgery and she had a dying patient awaiting her. (Hence why she was being flown in.) So the gang had to figure out how to perform a very risk rescue.

It was all very exciting, but what struck me was how the writers made great use of sub-plots. One involved the meteorological expert’s budding ardor for a chemist who works nearby and also the trials of a couple who were dealing with infertility. (I know, I know, sounds like a lot to pack into one episode, but it worked.) The sub-plots gave what otherwise could have been a routine action show a good dose of human pathos, especially because of the way the writers worked them in around the ongoing drama.

And that made me ponder sub-plots. When I first started writing fiction back when we all lived in caves, I was intimidated by sub-plots.  They sounded complicated and complex to try to fit in.  I mean, it is hard enough to figure out one plot from start to finish, right? And then you’re supposed to add in others? And make them relate to the main plot?

But then I realized that I was over-thinking the whole sub-plot thing.  They can be as simple as a few brief mentions of a minor character’s arc or some silly joke that carries through the plot.

You can think of them as, simply, another thing.  A thing that will take the pressure off your main character and your main story, thus giving it, your readers, and you, some time to breathe.  Often a story feels a little bare until you add in this other thing.

Ways to add in more things

Add another aspect to your main character.

Think, for example, of your own life.  You wear many hats, right? You’re a writer, but you’re also perhaps a parent or an aunt or an uncle, a friend, and likely you work at some kind of job. Then there are your hobbies and activities–maybe you run every day after work, or spend the evening in front of the TV knitting. Or perhaps you bake amazing sweets.  Or raise turtles. Or like to flip houses.

But if you were writing yourself as a character and focused solely on one of those things, the story would soon get a little stale. What if we only saw your character watching TV? Or running? Or tending the turtles?  That would not be a developed picture of you at all.  And that’s one way to add a sub-plot: add another element to the character.  I remember one from a novel that I read long ago in which the main character was constipated the entire novel. At one point, he finally was able to go. I know, I know. But it could be thought of as another thing.

Add a love interest.

Boo-yah.  Done and done.  If you’re writing a mystery or thriller or literary fiction, a love interest adds a human element readers love.

Create a habit for your character.

This can be either one she is trying to acquire or one she is trying to break. As a running line throughout the story, it can add depth and maybe even some humor.

Use a minor character for a sub-plot.

In my novel, Emma Jean’s Bad Behavior, I gave her assistant an arc that became a sub-plot. She started out completely against romance and ended up madly in love.

Give your character something to master.

Maybe your character takes up jewelry-making to find a way to relax from the stress of her job.   Or decides to plant a garden.  Showing a character mastering something new is satisfying for the reader.

Give your character a hobby.

I love to knit. While most of the time I do this at home, I also attend knit nights at local knitting stores and the monthly meeting of my knitting guild.  Something like this gives your character more dimension and also gives you more fodder for the plot.

How to use sub-plots

  • Only add in one or two! Too many will overload your story.
  • Remember that sub-plots will be introduced and completed before the start and finish of your story.  Save the beginning and end for the main plot
  • Sub-plots are very handy for pacing. You can have one sub-plot hanging out there, then introduce another one and meanwhile be moving along the main elements of the plot.  Open plot lines are a great way to keep the reader interested.
  • Keep your sub-plots organic to the story. Does it feel forced? Don’t use it. For instance, it is probably not going to feel natural for a business executive living in Manhattan to start raising chickens.
  • Similar to above, be sure to find a way to connect or relate your sub-plot to the story.

How do you use sub-plots in your stories? Do any of these ideas resonate? Leave a comment–or come over to the Facebook page to share.

 

What’s Your Word Count–and Does it Matter?

I’ve been working with one of my clients, who shall remain nameless (Hi, Mitch!) to trim down his long middle grade fantasy.  Clocking in at over 140,000 words it is, as I said, long.

Meanwhile, I recently set out to write a short story.   Apparently, I have a hard time writing anything short.  The story ended up at almost 15,000 words. Which isn’t terrible, but still on the long side for a short story. (When I was a kid, my Mom subscribed to all the lady’s magazines of the day and back then, they all published fiction, what they called short stories.  I expected short stories to be short, like one page or so.  I was always annoyed at how long short stories were. So it’s ironic that I am now the queen of writing long short stories.)  It gets worse. Last year I set out to write a novella.  It’s just shy of 50,000 words, which is short novel length.

Does word count matter?

So, with all these varying word counts, does it really matter? Should my client and I be struggling to trim scenes to make his novel shorter? Should I turn my novella into a novel by adding a few scenes?

Word count does matter–publishers will balk at anything over 100k. The first novel (women’s fiction) I submitted to my agent came in at over 100k and I was instructed to trim it done.  Publishers don’t like long works because they  will cost more to print, for one thing.  And even if your longer book is self pubbed, many people will balk at reading such a long novel. I know my own reading habits, and I tend not to finish overly long books, so I wouldn’t buy one in the first place.

On the other hand, if something is too short it might seem flimsy.  Trivial.  Not substantial enough to warrant going to the trouble of publishing. Of course, in these days of self publishing, all those rules have gone out the window.  But, still–many’s the review I’ve read on Amazon complaining about the shortness of a book.

So, what’s a writer to do? 

Probably aim for a reasonable word count within industry standards is the best option. What, you ask, are those industry standards? Well, funny thing, they tend to vary a lot according to genre. Or who you ask. Or what way the wind is blowing. Or how the planets are arranged.

But, I’ve  come up with some good guesses estimates. While I’m citing specific sources, I looked around a lot to find credible ones that seemed pretty ballpark. So I think the following are good guidelines:

According to Reedsy, here are standard word counts by genre:

  • Commercial and literary novels: 80,000 – 100,000
  • Science fiction and fantasy: 100,000 – 115,000
  • Young adult: 55,000 – 70,000
  • Middle grade: 20,000 – 55,000
  • Romance: 80,000 – 100,000
  • Mystery: 75,000 – 100,000
  • Thriller: 90,000 – 100,000
  • Memoir: 80,000 – 90,000
  • Western: 45,000 – 75,000

And here, some counts for shorter works (from Christopher Fielden):

 

  • Flash fiction: under 1,000 words
  • Short story: 500 to 17,000 words
  • Novelette: 7,500 to 25,000 words
  • Novella: 10,000 to 70,000 words
  • Novel: 50,000 words or more


Some random things to keep in mind:

 

  • The standard word count per page of double-spaced manuscript is still considered to be 250.
  • The industry relies on word count rather than page count because page size varies according to format, but word count remains the same.
  • Edgar Allen Poe defined a short story as a story that could be read in one sitting.
  • Here’s a fun infographic of the word counts of some famous books.  (593,674 for A Suitable Boy, by Vikram Seth!)
  • According to Amazon, the median length for all books is about 64,000 words.
  • And, finally, the best rule to adhere to is this: write your book as long as it needs to be.

What’s the word count of your current project? Do you worry about it? Leave a comment. Or come on over to the Facebook page to discuss.

***I have room for one client or editing job during my upcoming writing sojourn in France. Email me at charlotte@charlotterainsdixon.com if you’re interested.

On Seeking Writing Community

Writers are introverts, for the most part. We sit in a room by ourselves (except for all the fictional characters crowding our heads) working and we like it. (At my husband’s work Christmas party this year, I had a long drunken conversation with a woman who couldn’t imagine actually wanting to sit down to write. She was amazed I really, truly, liked doing it.)

And yet, because of the very nature of it, the writing life can be lonely.  I am blessed to have fifty gazillion people in my life–husband, kids, grandchildren, friends–but most of them are like the woman at the Christmas party.  They can’t quite figure out why I do what I do.  So  I also count myself blessed to have a group of close writing friends, both local and online, and I treasure them for the relief of being able to be fully myself with them.

But for some reason I have shied away from joining other groups that would offer community.  I belong to several Facebook groups devoted to writing (besides my own, which is selfishly my favorite) and I rarely comment in them.  I’ve belonged to the Women’s Fiction Writer’s Association nearly since its inception, but I’m not terribly active in it.  And I’ve long heard great things about the Romance Writer’s of America, but I’ve never managed to join it.

We’ve got a couple of great local groups here in Portland, too–Willamette Writers and Oregon Writer’s Colony. I was very active in the former, including several stints on the board, back when it was more of a club and I was more of a person interested in writing, and I used to be involved with OWC as well.  But lately? Not so much.

I think this is because when I have extra time, I want to spend it writing, not thinking about writing or talking about it, or planning an event around it. (This excludes all my teaching, locally and in France, which I love.) I got burned out on volunteering around writing groups all those years ago when I was active.

As for Facebook groups–same thing. Who wants to spend tons of time commenting on writing when they should be doing the actual work? Said the woman who runs her own Facebook group devoted to writing. So, yeah, I think it is something that goes a little deeper than the tired old time excuse. I think–wait for it–it has to do with another tired old trope, that of the fear of being seen. 

It’s a weird fear, really. I’m widely published and have been blogging for almost eleven years. I’m active on Instagram and Twitter.  But Facebook for some reason always makes me feel exposed in a way that other media sites doesn’t. Which is how I know what the fear is. And Facebook groups–those lovely small clubs where all members are devoted to the same passion–feel much safer to me.

I should have posted a disclaimer to all my clients and students, current and former, before I wrote all this. Because I am forever harping on them to up their social media game and develop their platforms.   And now that I’ve publicly outed myself for my fear of being seen, I think I can be a bit more sympathetic when they cringe at my talk of platforms.

But I have made progress  lately myself. I joined RWA this week, and re-upped my membership in WFWA.  I joined a new Facebook group that is attached to a Patreon and is still very small–and I’m finding it inspiring. (Okay, okay, its only been one day.)

I guess what’s important to remember–and the actual point of this post–is that finding some kind of community of your writing peers is important.  It can be local, or online, or even global for that matter.  The cool thing about our current society is that there’s an option for everyone, from the totally introverted to the most gregarious extrovert.

Okay, thanks for going along on the journey of this post today, as I figured out what it was really all about.  And please, please, please do tell–how do you find writing community? Leave a comment!

Photos from everystockphoto.com.

Do What You Can (In Writing and Life)

This is an embarrassing confession from a writing coach, but last fall I got blocked on a project.  I was working on the rewrite of a novel for my agent. She and her staff had given me excellent revision suggestions and I was excited about them. But part of it involved giving the protagonist more motivation, digging into her backstory. And to do that, I had to add a couple of chapters. And to do that, I had to figure out to make them flow seamlessly into the book.

Usually I’m pretty good about such things. I wring my hands for a couple of days and then get to it. But this took weeks to get over.  Meanwhile, I wasn’t doing any other writing, either.   And when I get into that state in life, I am a very cranky girl.  Finally, I began writing a short story set in the same world as the novel I was supposed to be rewriting (there will be a whole series of novels set there) and that got me going again.   I turned in the revision to my agent earlier this week.

As I ponder the process I’ve just been through, the song running through my head, is Do What You Can. (Apparently I made the song up, because even though it is playing in my brain on a constant loop now, I can’t find lyrics or a video anywhere.) I wrote that title down on the note pad that is always beside my computer a few days ago to remind myself of its importance.

Because, I don’t know about you, but I tend to get stuck on one thing. I tell myself, I must finish that novel, or I have to write my newsletter, or any one of a million other things. And then if that particular thing doesn’t go well I’m either wringing my hands or farting around on the internet, reading stupid or upsetting stories.

This is at least partially about setting impossible expectations for myself. As in, I’ll sit down to that rewrite and it will flow smoothly from start to finish. Right-o.  Can’t think of when that has ever happened so why do I place such ridiculous ideals upon myself? I think it has to do with an outdated image I carry around in my brain.  I know better than this based on years of experience, but still it pops up. I hear the word romance novelist or English author and there it is my brain immediately: an image of a woman (beautiful, of course and dressed impeccably), devoting every minute of her days to writing her novel.  She sits at a beautiful desk in the country somewhere, stops only for tea, and never gets blocked.

I swear to you, this is a thing I carry around in my head. And the reality for all novelists and authors is quite different. We stop and start.  We wear yoga pants, or, often, jammies and drink coffee by the gallon. And there are plenty of times when the writing ceases (witness my afore-mentioned recent experience). This outdated image I can’t seem to shake is part of the reason I don’t turn my attention to another project when I get blocked.  Because I’m starting to believe that doing whatever I can on my writing is the best way to have a prolific writing practice.

Others reasons I don’t do this might be:

  • I’m afraid I’ll get totally absorbed in the new project and never go back to the old
  • I’m afraid I’ll forget where I am in the old project and lose the thread entirely
  • I’ll do so much switching back and forth that I’ll never finish anything

All valid concerns, and yet also easily dealt with.  Because, ultimately, isn’t getting something done better than nothing? You know the old saying–energy breed energy, I’ve found that to be true.  If I sit for too long I become one with the chair and I feel sluggish and lethargic. But when I’m making an effort to get up and walk around often, I feel much more energetic at the end of the day.

And the same is true of writing–writing breeds writing. If you’re blocked on a long project, write something shorter.  Scribble a blog post or a brilliant missive to a friend.  Start an essay or a short story.  Writing breeds more writing for sure, and somewhere in all of that you’ll find your way home to the thing you got blocked on.

It takes quite a bit of single-mindedness to finish a long writing project like a memoir or a novel. You must continually turn your face back to it despite all the marvelous distractions of life. And I think we end up taking this single-mindedness too seriously sometimes.  But once in awhile, maybe you could unloose the grip and give yourself some rope.

Do you focus all your energy on one writing project at a time or many? Please do share.  Also, if you’re having trouble with any aspect of your writing, I do have some coaching slots open. I’m currently revamping my coaching pages and they are a bit of a mess, so the best thing to do is contact me and we’ll chat!

Going back-to-school time (A love letter)

The Abundant Writer

September 3, 2017

Vol 10. No. 36

Here in the Portland area, it is back-to-school time. (I know in many parts of the country this happened weeks ago.)  And it is one of my favorite times of the year. (There is the fact that I’ll be spending most of the month in France, but I loved this time of year long before I started traveling to Europe annually.)  I love this time of year because the days are getting shorter, the nights are getting cooler, but most of all—

Because its back to school!

What is better than shopping for brand new school supplies?  New notebooks just waiting to be filled with ideas, notes, and reports (I loved writing reports) and pens and pencils to write in them with.  New classes with new teachers and new friends.  New topics to learn and new books to read.

There’s so much promise and possibility in the air.  And if there is one thing I love, it is promise and possibility. I’m a great starter.  I love the moment when a new idea starts rushing in and I begin to gather thoughts together and start planning a project. I’m in heaven at the beginning of things.

But finishing I’m not so good at.  I have to dog myself something fierce to bring projects to fruition.  Which is why my craft closet is filled with half-knitting items. (In the knitting world, these are known as UFOs, for Unfinished Projects.) There’s just always a gorgeous new shawl to start! Last winter, when I completed a mitten, my daughter-in-law said, “What? You actually finished something?” Um, yeah. My reputation for UFOs in sterling.

And yes, I do have some UFOs in my writing, too. Stories that seemed so full of promise that fizzled out somewhere in the middle.   A whole draft of a novel that needs a major rewrite.  Haven’t had the heart to tackle it yet—because I have a different novel and a novella that I’m trying to finish editing.

But for the moment, I’m going to allow myself to revel in the back-to-school feeling of newness.  I’ll be teaching in France throughout September, and in past years abroad I’ve gotten inspired and started a new novel.  I have a bunch of notes on yet another new fiction project and I don’t care, I’m going to allow myself to start it!  While I also work on finishing up the editing of the rewrite.

Oh, and by the way—there are some killer sales on school and office supplies at the moment. I suggest you take advantage of them and stock up. Because if you’re anything like me, next to shopping at a bookstore, time spend at an office supply store is one of the best activities imaginable.

Happy back-to-school days!

Leave a comment on what you like about this time of year!

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