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?

Of Course You Can Do It: September Writing Prompts #3

September is Writing Prompt Month! Actually, I have no idea if that’s true, but it sounds good, doesn’t it? Here are your prompts for the week:

–What a fool he was. Yet still she was in love with him.

–Rise and Shine! Bright, shiny new day!

–Oh God, do I have to?

–They argued all day and all night and then got up the next morning and argued some more. What are they arguing about and why? Figure that out and then write a scene.

–He had the most unlikely business idea. And yet, it was brilliant.

–What is scarier: clowns or mimes?

–And when it is all over, at last I’ll be able to….

Okay, go to it! And have fun.

No Excuses: September Writing Prompts #2

I’m in a prompt kind of mood (or at least I was when I wrote this post, before I left for France) because later on this fall I’ll be coming out, with a wonderful co-author, with a writing prompt journal that you will be able to hold in your very own hands! Exciting, no? But in the meantime, because its Monday and you need to write this week, here’s a week’s worth of prompts for you. Go to it.

–He never knew that his aunt had turned into a hoarder, but now he edged along a narrow path that skirted the huge pile of junk in the living room.

–It will all be over soon.

–I don’t like you, but I love you. Seems like I’m always thinking of you. (With thanks to the Beatles.)

–The pile of notebooks threatened to topple over at any second.

–But, after all….

–You main character’s favorite way to spend her free time.  Drinking wine, pursuing a hobby, watching TV, having sex, hiking, reading, what?

–My neighbors collect gnomes and have them all around their yard. Sometimes they find new ones that friends have left in odd places. What do you collect and why? How about your main character?

Okay, you’ve got your marching orders for the week. Go to it! And if you write something you want to share, put it in the comments!

To Keep You Busy While I’m Gone: September Writing Prompts #1

pencil_notebook_writing_237689_lJust in case you were thinking, while the cat’s away, the mice will play, no such luck.  To give you something to do other than sit around and sob about my absence, I’ve decided to set up writing prompt posts for every Monday in September, with seven posts for you. One for each day.

You know the drill. Set a timer for 10-20 minutes, and write without stopping. Use the prompts as a warm-up tool, or to inspire you, or when you are blocked. Okay? Here goes:

–Pink, yellow, purple, brown. Mary shook her head as she sorted the yarn her mother had chosen.  She’d suspected it for a long time, but now she was certain: her mother had to be color blind.

–The road trip was tedious, especially when they got stuck in traffic for 30 minutes and Kevin started telling her to be patient.

–The small child turned the item over and over in her hands, then looked at the person who had handed it to her. “It’s called a watch. You tell time with it.  People used to wear them all the time.”

–A group of brightly colored hot-air balloons sailed over head. She was so delighted with them, she ran through the fields, chasing them.

–He was a mean, ugly person with a twisted sense of humor. Yet still she loved him.

–Down the rain fell, harder and harder.

–If there was one thing your main character could change about the place she lives, what would it be?

Okay, have fun. Look for a guest post coming up soon. And look for another edition of prompts next Monday, September 12th.  Oh, and here’s a little teaser–there just may be something in the way of a prompts journal coming up later on this fall!

Happy writing!

Five on Friday: Glories of Coffee Edition

Writing OutsideGood morning! Let’s dive in.

What crisis occurred this morning: I woke to the news that the electric coffee pot was not working.   This was not good. This was very, very bad. I pulled out my phone and looked up the hours of the nearest Starbucks (luckily, we’ve got at least three within a very quick five-minute sprint) while hub plugged and unplugged the pot and pressed the on button repeatedly. It didn’t help. Finally, he had the brilliant idea to boil water and pour it through. That worked. I have coffee.  I will not not murder anybody.

What I’m picking off my computer: Fir needles. It hit 85 degrees here yesterday, a record, and I sat outside beneath the fir tree and worked all afternoon. My computer was also covered in pollen when I came in, like absolutely every horizontal surface in this town. Which is why every human who lives here is sneezing, blowing their nose or itching their eyes, like me.

What I’m working on: I have a ghostwriting project that I’m really enjoying. Its an intense subject, but lots of good ultimately came from it.  We had some wonderful new students at our bi-weekly Wednesday Writers group this week, and we now have a good number sitting around the table talking about writing, all of whom are doing wonderful work. And I have several amazing  students and clients (Hi Mitch, Hi Courtney) who are producing regularly and several working quietly behind the scenes.  At least they better be working. (You know who you are–you’re working, right?)

And workshops–I got workshops! There’s the three-day Mapping Your Novel at Sitka Center in June (which is close to half full), France in September, which is one person away from being full, and COMING RIGHT UP is a workshop here in Portland called How to Write a Book. It is April 23, all day Saturday and it’s going to be a ton of fun, so if you live here, join us.

Oh, wait, what, you want to know what personal projects I’m working on? Well, um, er, I haven’t decided yet. I’ve got so many ideas for novels and stories in my head I’ve had a hard time landing on one. But I think I’m getting closer. I totally kind of drive myself crazy in the between-projects stage.  I can tell you another cool project I’m working on, though. It is going to be a series of prompt journals that I’m very excited about.  I’m creating these with my cousin’s wife Nancy, also known as the Sister-From-Another-Mother.  Look for them to be out soon.

What I’m reading: Honestly, a pretty silly romance.  But the reason I’m reading it is that I’ve realized, duh, that women’s fiction grew out of the romance genre,  so I figured it wouldn’t hurt to go to the roots and see how books are constructed. The bare bones of the structure in a romance makes it easy to parse.

And then there’s a book I’m not really reading, but more using as a reference. It is James Scott Bell’s Revision and Self-Editing for Publication.  But really, it is about a whole lot more than revision. What I like about it is that he has short sections on various topics, such as character, setting, etc., with bullet pointed information that makes it easier to process. There are also longer swaths of exposition, but those are easily ignorable if you are so inclined, as I am. I got this book from the library and I’ve renewed it a couple times but I think someone else now has it on hold and it is overdue. So if you’re the one waiting for it, I’m sorry! I’ll get it back soon.

What I’m doing this weekend: Organizing my office. I know! I’ve said this every Friday for the last few weeks. But I’ve made progress, I swear. (Though if you saw the stacks of boxes on the floor of my office, you might not think so.) Last weekend we got the area where the boxes had been stored cleaned up. And there’s just a few odds and ends left over to move down.  Things I rarely use and thus don’t know what to do with.

I will admit that I spend very little time on the organizing during the week, because I’m so busy and important. That’s a joke, by the way.  But it just always seems that the things I’m working on take priority.  If I were a brave woman, I would share photos of my messy office. But I’m not, so I won’t.

That is absolutely all I have today. What’s up with you?

Otherwhere: Unusual Monday Edition

typewriter_machine_write_266203_lIt has been a good week for interesting links around the web, and I have saved several in my travels.  As regular readers know, I usually do this post on Saturday.  But this week on Saturday, I was co-leading a workshop called The Ins and Outs of Publishing, which was held at an awesome bookstore, Another Read Through.  And then yesterday was one of those days when I just didn’t get near the computer much.  Which brings us to Monday.  And a wet and dark Monday it is, at least in Portland. So here are some links to brighten your day:

I really liked this prompt from Janice Hardy.

Typewriters are hip again! (My grandchildren love banging away on the antique typewriter that sits in my living room.  They are going to be waaay ahead of their time.)

The role of hope in writing fiction (this is about the actual writing of fiction, not the hope you have while trying to sell it).

Why can’t our fiction be as strange as real life has gotten?

Hate Twitter? Here’s how to master it in 15 minutes a day.

One way to up your productivity as a writer.

And Jane Friedman’s take on her own level of productivity.

The future of publishing remains bright.

“I’ve been hearing about the demise of publishing since the first day I stepped through the doors of a publisher back in 1978.”

And, finally, look at the good you can do when you become the most bestselling author in all the land!

 

Photo by wax115, found on everystockphoto.com.

Inventive Writing Prompt Round-up #54

Ah summertime….I've been on vacation, I've been slacking…no scratch that last one, I have not been slacking since I got home.  There's much to do to catch up from vacation and get ready to be out of the country for three weeks.  Awk! The thought of it makes my heart pound–in a good way and a bad way. Anyway, all this is by way of saying that this week on my Tumblr blog, I missed a few days.  Blame it on brain overload, but I thought I had a bunch of prompts scheduled to run and then I came home and realized I didn't.  Alas.  But I did publish two prompts on one day to make up for it!  So here you go:

#376  The look on her face said it all.

#377 There was nothing she could do but quit worrying about it.

#378  Write about what happens when your main character travels.  Is she intrepid, an adventurer? Or does he hate leaving home, needing everything to be just as he likes it?

#379  How does your main character want others to see her? How does she see herself? Are the answers to these two questions the same? If not, explore the rich space in between.

#380  What is your very first memory?  What is your main character’s?

 So, yeah, a bit sparser than usual.  But there should be enough to keep you going for a little while. How is your writing proceeding?