My Writing Life

So, as we all know, it is Nanowrimo, with many of us smack in the middle of scratching out 50,000 words this month.  (I'm not doing it because I'm rewriting my novel but I'm cheering on everyone else who is writing!)  The lovely people at Webeducator asked me a few questions about writing–in celebration of Nanowrimo, they are posting interviews with various writers on their website.  So here are my answers:

  • What were your goals when you started writing?  Just to find a way to make writing a regular part of my life.  I love writing–have since I was a little girl.  It is something that I absolutely need to do, I get antsy and anxious when I don't write.  So I really wanted to find a way to make writing my vocation and my avocation.
  • What are your goals now? To write my next novel and for it to be as successful as it possibly can be.  I'm also looking to fill my writing workshop/retreat in France in September of 2015.  And to be the best teacher and coach that I possibly can be.
  • What pays the bills now?  My teaching, coaching, and related activities.
  • Assuming writing doesn't pay the bills, what motivates you to keep writing?  Because I love it so much.  Writing novels and short stories is how I make sense of the world, what gives it meaning to me.  Without it, I'm not sure what I'd do.
  • And optionally, what advice would you give young authors hoping to make a career out of writing? Write because you love it first.  Work at your craft and constantly strive to improve.  If you're open to finding creative ways to make a career out of writing, you can do it!

I think my favorite question of all of these is the last–what advice would you give to young writers? So I will turn it around and ask you, my beloved readers, the same thing.  What advice would you give to young writers?  Tell us in the comments, please.

Nanowrimo Support and Encouragement

Sigh.  Heavy sigh.  Slumped shoulders.  Glazed eyes.

Nanowrimo-plotting-1430933-h

This, according to the photographer, is the "Plot Dog." Hope he helps you, too!

That's me, because I'm not doing Nanowrimo and I miss it.  I miss the flat-out gonzo nuttiness of hurling words at the page and the feeling you get after nailing 1K or 2K or more words.   The last time I wrote like this was the first two weeks of September, when I participating in a class devoted to fast drafting. (You can read more about my experience below.)

But I'm deep into the first rewrite of my novel and I've got a lot of other stuff going on, too.  (Like wonderful clients.  And other novels to promote.  A live workshop in Nashville in February to plan. Next year's France retreat to dream about. Things to knit.  And a ukelele to learn how to play.) And so I thought it best to focus my efforts on revision, even though I keep getting wonderful ideas for the half-finished mystery I did in September.  (Dutifully, I am noting said ideas in the little notebook I keep for that purpose, just as I advise my clients to do.)

I do, however, want to support all of you out there who are chugging along at Nanowrimo.  So rather than regurgitate stuff I've written before, I offer you links that I hope will be of help.  Enjoy!

Here are posts from my blog:

Fast Drafting Fiction (Or Any Kind of Writing)

This Series on Writing Fast Will Blow Your Creative Mind–And Inspire You

Shhh! Here's the Secret to Prolific Writing

How I Wrote (Almost) 10K Words Yesterday

The Magic Formula for Getting Lots of Writing Done

And here are a couple from other sites:

NaNoWriMo Inspiration (from the wonderful Rachael Herron, on whom I have a huge girl crush)

10K Day for Writers  (Milli's site is alas inactive at the moment, but there's tons of good stuff on writing a lot on it, so have a look around)

Nanowrimo Inspiration (A Tumblr blog I just found which seems to be a wonderful mish-mash of ideas and yes, inspiration

Inventive Writing Prompts (My own Tumblr blog with a prompt every day, over 100 now.)

A Pinterest board!

Five Links for Nanowrimo Inspiration (An article on Forbes–yes, Forbes!–from a couple of years ago with good stuff in it.

Okay, I would say that is quite enough reading material for you, especially because you are going to be spending so much time writing over the next month.  Right? And do tell: are you doing Nanowrimo this year?  Is it your first year or are you a seasoned pro?

Plot Dog photo by gothick_matt.

Inventive Writing Post Round-up #14

Here is my weekly collection of prompts from my Tumblr blog.  You can also always find prompts here.

#96 Identify three turning points in your character’s life (or yours).  Look for “road not taken” times.  How did these experiences affect the person your character (or you) are today?

#97  "There are three things that scare me," she said.  "Spiders, clowns, and jack-o-lanterns."

"Why?" he asked.

"Because when I was a little girl…….."

#98  "Pie or cake, which do you prefer?" Mandy asked the dinner table.

"Pie!"

"Cake!"

One by one they went around the table and told which they preferred and why.  The best story was the one told about the time that….

#99 Write about the most recent time your character (or you) saw his mother. Doesn’t matter if it was years ago, or yesterday.  What does she look like? How do you feel about her? What happened during this visit?

#100 Never say never, because as soon as you do, the universe will slap you in the face.  What has your character said she would never do that she later ended up doing?

#101  Write about your best Halloween and your worst Halloween.  Do this for yourself—and your main character.

#102  All Soul’s Day.  Day of the Dead.  A day to honor one’s ancestors.  Who is the most influential of your ancestor?  The most colorful?  The most scandalous? The most fun?  The most famous?  The richest? The poorest? The happiest?

Write a little bit about each one and then select an ancestor to write more about.

 How is your writing going?

The Magic Formula For Getting Tons of Writing Done

Okay, guys, Nanowrimo is on the horizon, swiftly approaching…just four more days!  I know many of you like to torture yourself with the task of writing a 50,000-word novel in a month.  And even those of you not participating this year (I'm sitting it out) still would like to know the magic formula for getting tons of writing done.

Amiright? Crest-bda7b7a6e1b57bb9fb8ce9772b8faafb

I thought so.

I shall share it with you, and bear in mind there is good news and bad news that comes along with it. The good news being that a magic formula exists.  The bad news being that magic formulas don't work unless you use them.

So, here it is: 

Commitment + Consistency + Courage = Creativity

And guess what? Creativity equals words on the page and words on the page result in a finished book. So let's look at each element in turn.

1. Commitment.  For most people, this is likely the hardest part of the formula.  I know it is for me. You tell yourself you're going to get up at 5:30 and get those words written….and then you see something interesting on Facebook (Or CNN if you're a newshound like me). And instead of writing, you're browsing the internet.  If this happens once or twice, give yourself a break, maybe your brain needs a rest.  But if it is a regular occurrence, take a look at yourself.  Where's your integrity? Ouch.  I hate calling you (and myself) on the carpet.  But, sometimes it is necessary.  So, do yourself a big favor. If you say you're going to write, by God, go write.  Integrity feeds on integrity.  And procrastination feeds on procrastination. (As in, I've blown it now, why bother? This is the same sentiment that derails diets.  Don't ask me how I know this, just trust me, okay?)

2. Consistency.  Another difficult one.  If you're anything like me, you get a good momentum going and then rebel against it.  A little rebellion is okay–it allows your ego to thing its in charge.  But only a little! Because consistently showing up at the page, day after day after day is how you get tons of writing done.  I knew a writer who scheduled writing days once a month.  Didn't work, because in the vast distance between writing dates he lost the threads of his project and it took hours to get caught up again.  Last I heard, he wasn't writing any more.  Don't be him!  Write as often as you can!

3. Courage.  You need it.  Period.  You need it for when you dredge up those old dormant emotions in order to inject realism into your characters.  And you need it for when your kids want your attention and you just need to finish a paragraph.  Or for when your spouse tells you he misses you sitting next to him on the couch at night, watching TV.  Or for when your mother makes a snide remark about how much time you're spending on that dumb-novel-that's-not-going-anywhere.  You need it to persevere, to commit and be consistent.

Put those three elements together and you get:

Creativity.  The mad delight of putting words on the page.  The feeling that all is right with the world.  The joy of being so in the moment that you don't even realize time has passed.  The satisfaction of meeting your word count.  Yeah, some days it is hard to convince yourself to get to the page, but oh my goodness, it is worth it!

So dive in!  The words and sentences don't have to be perfect, they just have to be.  Get them out of you and onto the computer, or typewriter, or spiral or whatever you write in.

(By the way, this magic formula is taken from a little Ebook I wrote called Set the Words Free, which I will be releasing soon.) 

Do you have a magic formula for getting your writing done?  Please share in the comments!

I snitched the image from the Nanowrimo website.  I don't think they'll mind too much.

Book Review: Fast Fiction

I was asked to review  this book by the publisher.  I received no money, though I did get a copy of the book.  The opinions offered are mine alone.

Fast Fiction          FastFiction_cvr_hires

by Denise Jaden

When I was offered the chance to review this book, I leapt at it.   I have a lot of story ideas that I'm working on (a novel, several short stories, another novel all lined up and ready to go when I finish the first one) and then there are other things (like making a living) that take up my time.

So, fast fiction?  I'm there.

The full title of this book is Fast Fiction: A Guide to Outlining and Writing a First-Draft Novel in Thirty Days.  The author, Denise Jaden, was inspired by her experiences writing a novel during Nanowrimo, helped along by the fact that the novel she wrote the first time she participated eventually got published. She's such an enthusiast of the process that she offers her own Thirty Day Writing Challenge on her blog.

I'm good with Nanowrimo–I've participated in it and I know a lot of other writers who have, too. But what mostly appealed to me about this book was learning Jaden's techniques for writing fiction fast.

Before I tell you more about the book, let's dispel one notion right off the bat–just because something is done quickly, that doesn't mean it is bad, okay?  I'm not sure how this idea got started, but it is prevalent.  For my money, writing a first draft as fast as you can often means you get your deep true voice on the page better than when you labor over a draft.   Of course, after completing said first draft  you then go on to rewrite, revise and polish it in future drafts–that is a given.

Back to the book.  So many writing books get me enthused at the beginning and then I get bored. But I've actually been working with the ideas in this one.  As those of you have taken my novel-writing class or read many of my posts know, I'm a big believer in doing prep work before you start the writing. (In other words, I am not a pantser, but a proud plotter.)  And this method is essentially Jaden's technique for writing fast.  In Part One: Before the Draft, she takes you through all the prep work pieces that will enable you to write a fast draft.  She includes tons of questions and prompts about character, setting, and plot that will help you lay out ideas for the novel. 

In Jaden's world, after you've done all of the afore-mentioned exercises, you are then ready to create a story plan which you will follow in order to fast draft.  I'm a sucker for anything with the word "plan" in it, so I decided to apply this to a novella I'm writing (it used to be a story but recently grew to a novella).  I had some sketchy notes and a first scene written for this novella.  I applied the 11 steps in Jaden's story plan(they include things like identifying what your main character wants and lining out each scene) to it, et voila, fast drafting is indeed much easier.  (I've said it before and I'll say it again, not only to you, but to myself–writing works ever so much better when you know where you're going.)

Part Two of the book is a day-by-day guide for the actual thirty day drafting process.  It's full of more ideas and prompts, the gist of it being that you refer to each page as you go along.  I'm not doing the thirty day drafting thing, so I'm mining this section of the book for inspiration in a more random way.  And Part Three of the book has some good thoughts on revision.

So, I give this book an enthusiastic thumbs up.  Even if you aren't a believer in fast drafting, or if you are, gasp, a pantser, I think you'll find a lot of value in it.

What's your favorite book on writing?  Do you have one that you go back to over and over or do you find yourself seeking out a new one?

Novel Prep: The Master Timeline

It's two days until Nanowrimo starts!  Are you ready?

You have two more days to write character dossiers, descriptions of locations, and figure out the plot. The rules of Nanowrimo state that you can do as much prep work as you like, so long as you don't begin the actual writing of the novel until November 1.

I highly recommend doing prep work for your novel.  As you might guess from this statement, I'm a plotter, not a pantser.  When I fly without a plan, I go off on tangents and my characters' motivations and actions tend to make no logical sense.  So I like to plan a bit ahead of time.  However, a bit is the operative phrase–I write character dossiers, figure out where they live and work and hang out and get a loose outline of the plot down on paper.  I like to leave room for the magic to happen–for a new character to walk on, or for an existing one to do something unexpected–and this method does that for me.

I've been puzzling over the plot of my WIP.  I'm not officially doing Nanowrimo because I've already gotten some words written, but I'm thinking I'll write along with those of you who are doing it as a way to kick-start this novel.

So I've been working on prepping.

And I've hit on what for me is a brilliant aid to figuring out the plot.

It's the master timeline, which is a timeline that mushes together all the events in all the characters' backstories.  I've made individual timelines for characters lives before, but never done it this way, with them all together.  For some reason, it works brilliantly for me to not only keep track of what happened in the past (when characters married, divorced, bore babies, etc.) but also to generate ideas for plot and character.

I've always had the theory that if you keep an idea book, the ideas in it mate and bear children while you aren't looking and I think the same is true with the master timeline.  The characters on it talk to each other and create activities and ideas when I'm not looking, I swear.

I started the master timeline to get a solid idea of the cast's backstories as I was finding myself confused with what happened when.  Now that I've gotten that all down on paper, I'm realizing I'm going to go even farther with the timeline, plugging into dates and events from the actual plot.

It's brilliant, I tell you, brilliant. 

So try it.  You've got time before Nanowrimo starts.  You can thank me on December 1st.

How do you prep for writing a novel, or any kind of book?  Or are you a pantser who just starts writing?  Leave a comment!

Lower Your Standards

As I've mentioned before on this blog, I am currently doing Nanowrimo in a cheating sort of way.

Cheating because the rules of Nanowrimo say that you can't have written any of your novel before November 1st, and I'd written, oh, 60 pages.  But I wanted to use the energy of the event to galvanize my writing and get back to a regular writing schedule.

So I set a goal for myself to write 2,000 words every day and I met that goal every day in November until Sunday.

When my writing screeched to a halt.

I knew exactly why the flow stopped.  It was because I only had a couple day's worth of work until I didn't know where I was going in the book.  Up until this time, I could let the words roll because I knew what scene happened next.

Now, after a few more sessions, I'd be stuck.

And I let the fear of that moment stop me.

But I really didn't want to lose my momentum.  So I did what any self-respecting writer would do.  I lowered my standards.

First, I told myself that I only had to write 1,000 words a day.  Then I reminded myself that I could write as badly as I wanted.  Not only could, but should, write what Anne Lamott calls a Shitty First Draft. 

Lowering my standards did the trick.  Writing 1,000 bad words a day is at least making progress, and that was the point of participating in Nanowrimo in the first place.

Today my assignment is to figure out what comes next.  I have ideas, they just aren't in any logical order.  And even if I lower my standards to only spending 15 minutes on this project, I'll have met my expectations.

I'm telling you, lowering your standards is amazing.  It will help you get the writing done.  If there's one thing I know for sure, to borrow a phrase from Oprah, it's that we're all way too hard on ourselves anyway.  Lowering your standards is one way to subvert this.

Have you ever successfully lowered your standards around writing?

**By the way, sometimes even lowering your standards doesn't help.  If you're well and truly stuck in your writing, I can help.  Check out my services page for more information.

Time and the Writer

Metal_mechanics_type_221267_lLast week, in at least most of the United States, we set our clocks back one hour in order to return from Daylight Savings time to standard time, which means that it gets darker earlier (I personally love this) in the evening and lighter earlier in the morning (sort of).  It also means, on the day of the switch, that we get to sleep in an extra hour.  Which in my case meant I got to write an extra hour because my body didn't get the message about the time change so I woke up early.

And all this time changing got me thinking about time as it applies to us writers.   Seems like for most of us, time is the enemy, because we never quite have enough of it to do our writing.  Our chosen profession–our passion–takes time, and lots of it, because you can't rush genius.  Right? 

Well, maybe not.

Maybe it's time to rethink time in a more positive way.  Here are some things I've learned about time the hard way:

1.  Good things can happen fast.  Not always, but sometimes.  This is the theory behind Nanowrimo, which so many of us are participating in.  When you're writing 50,000 words in a month, you're not pausing a lot to worry about which word to use next.  You're just writing.  And really great things happen in the writing.  Always.  It's getting to it that is so hard.

2.  There really is enough time.  We just convince ourselves there's not, because it's a matter of how we're choosing to use our time.  I know if you added up all the time I'd spent surfing the internet over the last few years, I could have written at least one novel in the time I wasted.

3.  When you do get time to write, maintain a laser focus.  I've shared this tip a gazillion times and every time I do people write me and thank me, so I'll say it again:  set a timer for 30 minutes and do nothing but write for that time.  When the timer goes off, get up, take a break, then come back and do it again.  This is the most efficient way to use time that I've found.

4.  Take time to stand for yourself.  If I'd had the confidence in myself and my writing that I have now when I was younger, I'd be a world-famous writer by now.  When we don't have confidence in our worth and the worth of our writing, we don't take time to write.  Procrastination is a fear issue, always.

5. Take time to make time.  I have a list a mile long this week, and I'm not certain how I'm going to get it all done.  And yet, this morning I took time to meditate.  It's counter-intutitive, but taking time to meditate, or pray, or walk, or swim, or dance will create more time later because you'll be rested, open and alert.

6.  Quit telling yourself you don't have enough time.  I know, I know.  I just did this in #5.  There's an epidemic in this country of people rushing around telling each other that we don't have enough time.  The more we say it, the more it comes true–if only because we waste so much time saying it.  Turn it around.  Tell yourself you have plenty of time, because you do.

7.  Get up early.  You night owls hate me for this one, I know.  Sorry.  But for me it is absolutely the best way to get to my writing done.  Once I've gotten my quota in, I'm happy all day long because I know I've already accomplished that which is most important to me.

What are your best time tips for writers?

***Struggling to find time no matter how you try?  Perhaps you need some coaching.  Check out my services page for all the options I offer writers.

Photo by clix.

Writing Every Morning

I'm participating in Nanowrimo this year.  Sort of.
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I doing it, but not really doing it.  The Nanowrimo rules state you can do as much prep work as possible up to November 1st, but you can't actually start writing until the first day of the month.  And I'd already written about 60 pages of my next novel, so I can't actually compete.

But I can use the energy of a gazillion people writing novels to boost my own creativity. 

And that is exactly what I'm doing.   I've been clipping along, writing by hand every morning, but my muse warned me I was coming up on the time when I didn't know exactly what happened next in my story.  And I realized that this was a danger zone, a time when my every-morning writing habit might fall apart under the weight of uncertainty.

So I resolved to use Nanowrimo to take me to a new level of seriousness and commitment to this novel.

I committed to writing 2,000 words a day, as I had when I wrote Emma Jean, and  carved out a bit of time on Halloween to get organized for the next push, as in, please God and handsome Muse, (my muse is a hot young male who favors tight jeans and T-shirts that show off his muscles), please help me to figure out where I'm going next.

What became evident immediately as I pawed through the hand-written pages of my notebooks was this:

I didn't know where I was in the story.

And if I didn't know where I was, how could I figure out where I was going?

So my first order of business was to get my hand-written pages onto the computer, 2,000 words at a time.  I had to abandon my hand-writing habit if I was ever going to wrap my brain around the entirety of this novel.

This morning I finished feeding the words in and got to the part where I'm writing new stuff.  I was a bit nervous, because I'd also asked my muse if we could please compose on the computer again.  I'm so, so grateful for the month I sat on a chair in the living room and wrote by hand every morning because it got me going on the novel again.  But it is hard to keep track of story and characters doing it by hand.

Today, the words flowed.  I organized the next few chapters in my mind, and whipped along, typing away.  It actually took me less time to write 2,000 words of original material than it did to feed those hand-written words in.

Phew.

So here are my two take-aways from this experience that might be helpful to you:

1.  Writing every morning is glorious.  It is the best thing ever.  Period.  After I've written my 2,000 words every day, I feel great.  I'm in love with the world, because I've done the most important thing to me first.  And that makes everything flow better.

2.  It's helpful to stay flexible throughout the process.  I'm learning that the process for every novel is different.  You might write the first one in strict chronological order and then find out that doesn't work for the next one.  Like me, you might start our writing on the computer, switch to writing by hand, and then return to the computer.  The point is, it doesn't matter.  Do what gets the words on the page.  Do what works for you in the moment!

 What about you?  What's your writing process?

 Photo from Everystockphoto.

By the way, if you're truly stalled on your writing and can't make any progress, my favorite thing to do besides writing novels and blog posts is coach writers.  Check out my services page for more information.

Writing Beginnings: Nanowrimo, Day One, a Story about Sometimes

The energy of beginning things is so interesting and exciting.  I felt it this morning when I rose at 6 and sat in my writing chair, journal in hand.  Because I knew that all around the world, thousands, if not millions, of other writers were rising with the same intention in mind: to start a new writing project.

So I ended up writing about beginnings instead of working on my novel.  (But never fear, heeding my own oft-repeated advice, I did spend a few minutes free writing about the novel.  Remember, I'm actually cheating on Nanowrimo this year.)

Here's what I was thinking about:

Sometimes, in life, creativity, or writing, we don't even notice a beginning.  It is suddenly just there. When I look back on the genesis of my completed novel, Emma Jean's Bad Behavior, for instance, I cannot point to a specific time when I thought, that's it, that's what I'm going to write about.  The idea just bloomed inside me.  And then it was if it had always been there.

An idea blossoms, and we decide whether to let it grow or not.  Sometimes, we let the idea go but it keeps coming back, so that we know its ours. 

And sometimes, it stays away.  Which means it is somebody else's to grow.

Sometimes, the beginning of a writing project is easy, and you keep it the exact way you wrote it the first time, because you can't make it better.  This happened with my finished novel.  But these sometimes are rare.

Sometimes, way more often, you wrestle with the beginning over and over again.

Prompts and writing exercises sometimes inspire entire novels. 

And sometimes they don't.

Sometimes we start with a bang, and keep right on going.  And sometimes we write in fits and starts.  And sometimes, always, every novel or book you write will proceed in a different way, even though you expect it to go just the way the last one did.

But always–never sometimes–beginnings are good.  Because without beginning, you'll never get to the end.

So happy Nanowrimo, day one!

How is your writing day going so far?  Are you on track with your first day's goal?  How do you feel about writing beginnings?