Tag Archives | writing practices

Because I Know You Love Them: September Writing Prompts #4

And here you have them: the last set of writing prompts for September.  Hope you’ve enjoyed them, and stay tuned for news of the release of a writing journal of prompts soon!

–Not in this lifetime.

–If ever I should leave you….

–What are the parameters of your main character’s world? Is he an international traveler, or someone who has always stayed close to home?

–Whatever. Just don’t expect any help from me.

–When was the last time you got to say, I told you so?

–They ate pie for breakfast, brownies for lunch and cake for dinner.

–I love staying in hotels so much that I think I was raised in one in a previous life. How about you? Do you have any feelings about how you lived in a previous life?

Enjoy!

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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!

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How To Get Your Writing Done

numbers_text_texture_225115_l (1)So, you have a book…or an article…or a story that you’d like to write. (Right? Because otherwise you wouldn’t be reading this.)  And you need to get that book finished, that story done.  How to accomplish such a thing?  How to make room in your schedule to get it written?

To my mind, there are two ways to get your writing done, and writers fall naturally into either group, because of need or temperament.  I have strong opinions on which works best. But if there’s anything I’ve learned in fifteen years of teaching writing and nine years of blogging, it’s that there’s not one way that works for every writer. The best I can do is offer options and opinions and let you figure it out for yourself.

The first group, and I count myself among them, are those writers who prefer to write every day, or as close to it as possible. The second group write in great chunks of time as their schedule allows. Let’s look at the benefits and drawbacks of each.

Daily Writing

If you’re at all like me, you prefer this schedule.  Aiming for writing every day means you’ll hit at least five days of the week, right?  This is the standard advice that most of us preach, I think with good reason.  Such as:

Benefits

–This schedule is the best way to get and maintain momentum on a project. If you’re writing every day, you watch your word count grow regularly, which is hugely encouraging.

–Your story stays in your head.  I don’t know about you, but my brain is so full of random bits I’ve picked up lord knows where that I lose the train of story very easily. If I’m writing every day, I don’t have to reinvent the wheel every time I sit down to write. This story is right there, waiting for me.

–You don’t even have to write a lot to pile up the pages.  If you manage to eke out three pages a day, that’s 90 pages—a third of a novel—at the end of a month.

–Your writing will become more facile. The more you write, the easier it is. Writing is like anything else: the more you do it, the more adept you become at it. And if you’re writing every day, you’ll hone your skills quickly.

–You will learn more about writing more quickly. As above, the more you write the more you realize how much you don’t know—and what you need to learn. Writing every day helps you learn it.

–There’s magic in making a daily commitment. There just is.  You begin to take yourself, and your writing, much more seriously.

Detriments

 –You may be tempted to write a lot of crap just to meet your word count. Though there are benefits to writing fast (like getting the damn draft done already) I’ve written drafts that are so terrible I’m not quite sure what to do with them.

 –It can be difficult to fit daily writing sessions into your schedule.  I’m with you on this one.  I find that if I don’t write first thing in the morning, doing the most important thing first, it often simply doesn’t get done.

–If you miss a day or two, you might get discouraged.  And discouragement can so very easily lead to not writing.  And then you feel like a failure.

Chunk Writing

You’re a busy CEO and Mom of five. In your spare time you run marathons. But, you’ve got a story inside you that you’re developing into a novel.  So once a month you find a babysitter and spend the day writing.  With luck, you’ll bang out a chapter or two.

Benefits

–This kind of writing schedule can be easier to fit into your schedule.  Those who simply don’t have minutes to spare in their day often have more luck taking an afternoon off, or trading babysitting with a friend in order to nab some writing time.

–The breaks between writing times can clear your brain.  I do find that sometimes my brain gets overloaded when I’m on a writing-every-day schedule, and then it shuts down.  Giving yourself regular breaks can keep your writing brain refreshed.

–Writing less often takes less mental energy. And after a busy day at work, or chasing two-year-olds, mental energy can be in short supply.

–You don’t have to get up early (or stay up late) to fit your writing in.  No regular time sacrifices are needed!

–You may enjoy it more.  If you write for the sheer love of it, forcing yourself to a rigid daily schedule may make you start to hate it.

Drawbacks

–It is really easy to get off track.  If you haven’t worked on the story for a while, you may lose your enthusiasm for it and then it is really easy to find excuses not to spend Saturday writing after all.

–It is much harder to keep track of the story.  Your brain is full of the soccer games and swimming lessons of your twenty children—how are you going to maintain its attention to story as wait a month (or a week or whatever) between writing sessions?

–You’ll waste time getting up to speed.  You’ll likely have to reread your story to remember exactly where you left off at your last writing session.  And that is going to take a chunk of your precious time.

–It is easier to get discouraged.  Hit a writing snag when you’re writing every day and it is not such a big deal.  But if you reach a roadblock—what scene should come next?—while writing in chunks you may waste your entire session trying to figure it out.

So those are my thoughts on the topic.  But here’s the bottom line: figure out what works for you and then do it. If you fancy yourself a daily writer but you’re not doing it, experiment with chunk writing. And vice versa.

What’s your writing schedule? Come on over to the blog and share in the comments.

Photo by maio5.

 

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Otherwhere: Good Stuff

I’ve been collecting goodies for you, a lot of which came in the last couple of days.  Also, please note my non-link related question at the end.

Here goes:

Writing

Analyze your novel as if it were a dream.

I could not live without the TK.

On beating not-writing.

How to organize your day.

It isn’t conflict that drives the story after all. (READ THIS ONE.)

Best and worst.

Women Fiction Writers (Amy Sue Nathan’s blog)

A new platform for serialized work.

The importance of words.

Structuring story with Robert McKee.

Marketing, Etc.

Be shameless about sales.

Be your own publicist.

Other Creative Stuff

You knitters out there will appreciate this.

I can’t help it, I love nutty Russians.

My buddy Roy has a great story to tell about a long-lost penpal.

I read this blog every morning.

Okay, basta!  Here’s my very important question: if I were to start a Facebook group (that might or might not be closed, I’m not sure), would you be interested in joining it? I’ve long been pondering a way for my loyal commenters and others to have an easier way to talk to each other. Thoughts? What are your positive/negative experiences with such groups? And while we’re at it, what is the secret to life? (Kidding about that last one–unless you have the answer.)

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7 Productivity Hacks For Your Writing + A Last-Minute Bonus One

yellow-dailyshoot-8257834-lDid I just use the word “hack” in the title? I did. Those of us who have been around for a long time remember when “hack” was a word thrown at writers who had sold out, who wrote crap for money.  But now it is more often used (some would say overused) as a synonym for tip, or hint, as in household hints. Trust me, these used to be very popular, things like “cleaning hints for pennies,” or “how to remove photos from an album with a sticky backing.”  I took these from the Hints for Heloise site.

Today I do not have any household hints because I’m a bad housewife.  (If you could see the cobwebs on the window in my family room, you’d agree.) But I have hacks—and not the bad writer kind, the good productivity kind.  The you’ll-get-tons-more-writing-done kind.   Because I don’t know about you, but my writing life is often more about making sure my butt gets in the writing chair and stays there than anything else.  So here goes.

  1. Accept your creative process as it is. Your process involves frequent breaks for scouring the web? Or knitting? Or wandering down the block to chat with the neighbors? So be it.  If you’re getting the work done (and that’s the most important part of this equation) then accept your nuttiness.  I love this post  by Danielle LaPorte.  She says it much more lyrically than me.  Also, if you’re not getting the work done, then keep reading.
  1. Get your lazy ass up and walk around once in a while. Oh, sorry, that’s what I tell myself all the time. Didn’t mean to be quite so indelicate with you.  But maybe that’s what you need to hear, because I know it’s what I have to remind myself.  You will be more productive and feel much better at the end of the day if you get up often. I know the stereotype of the writer is the opposite: there we sit, so absorbed in our work we forget to eat, forget to get up to use the bathroom, forget everything but the work.  Even if you should be so lucky that you experience that transcendent state regularly, it is not good for you.  Sitting is killing us.  You must get up regularly.
  2.  Pomodoro yourself. The Pomodoro method is a whole thing, but you don’t need to take their classes or buy their product. You just time yourself—25 minutes working, 5 minutes off.  I use this online timer  and when it goes off tell my lazy ass to get up (see #2) and walk around the house. Works like a charm, especially if you…
  1. Stay hydrated. This is my secret weapon for productivity. Because, number one, drinking tons of water makes you feel better.  But also it makes you have to pee like a mo-fo.  And that requires getting up a lot. (Again, see #2.) I also trick myself by leaving my water in the kitchen, so that I have to go on walkabout to get to it.  Oh, the mental gymnastics we do to keep going.
  1. Keep scratch paper by your computer. This way you have a place on which to write all those brilliant notes about your novel that occur to you while you’re writing a blog post. So as to prevent yourself from switching from said blog post to novel mid-work session, make a note of it.
  1. Have a way to file those brilliant ideas. If you’re smart and organized, you’ll figure out one system and stick with it.  If you’re like me, you’ll constantly search for a new and better technique (just as I search for a new and better calendar).  I love One Note  and I know others like Evernote, too.  But I also love paper. I’ve tried index cards and putting them in a small file box, and I’ve tried notebooks.  I just made myself a to-do book that is supposed to contain all my things to do and ideas, too.  So far, it’s not working so well.  And that would be because, um, I forget to look in it.
  1. Schedule a few minutes for it. Say you’re busy closing the deal of the century and you are working on a novel at the same time.  When the deal heats up, the novel will suffer.  But one thing you can do to maintain your productivity is work on your project a few minutes a day.  C’mon, you’ve got five extra minutes.  Or even 15.  Because, as the wonderful Rachael Herron says, “If you gave fifteen minutes a day to moving toward a goal, you’d spend ninety-one hours on your project this year!” Huzzah.  Go write for fifteen minutes.
  1. Last minute bonus hack! Literally as I was finishing this article, an email came in advertising that the Freewrite  is now available for purchase. Go check it out—it’s like a typewriter for this millennium, with the bonus of no internet access.

So, those are some ideas that I hope will help you.  Got any writing hacks yourself? Please leave a comment and tell more!

 

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Why Resistance to Your Writing is Sometimes Good

Burning Writing Of An Dark-Illuminated Paper Sheet

Here is one thing I have learned for certain in the gazillion years I’ve been writing: that resistance always has meaning.

Always, always, always.

It is up to you to figure out what that meaning might be.  But here’s the deal: once you do figure it out, then you can explore it.  And get over it.  You’ll understand more about how you approach your writing, and also your current writing project.  As far as I’m concerned, that covers pretty much everything.  So let’s look at both these categories.

How You Approach Your Writing

Your very own wonderful little self longs for expression.  And I’d venture a guess that for just about anybody reading this newsletter, that wonderful little self longs for expression through writing.  But sometimes that same wonderful self does things that are counter to that longing of expression.  Like procrastination, for example.  Or being a perfectionist.  Or being harshly self-critical. Or being all loosey-goosey and not discerning enough. (Sending out a first draft, anyone?)

You know which one is your own personal favorite form of resistance.  Mine is procrastination, and I’m very good at it.  I can even convince myself that what I’m doing when I’m not writing is critical to my well-being.  I can surf the internet and the whole time convince myself it is crucial to research for my novel. I can scroll through my phone and convince myself I’m doing social media (when really I’m looking at cool photos on Instagram).  And so on.  Insert your favorite distractions above.

But because I know this is my form of resistance, that this is likely how I’m going to approach my writing when things get tough, I also can call myself on it.  And the funny thing is, because I understand how I resist writing, I can also see how I resist other things in my life.  Like exercise.  Or gardening. Or cleaning the house.

It is important to not get all judgy on yourself.  At first, just observe.  Watch what you do and how you react and think of how interesting it all is, how clever a brain you have atop your body.  Next time, realize you’re doing it again.  And carry on.  After this happens enough, the observation of it will stop you—because you’ll grow weary of observing this pattern over and over again.  Trust me, watching oneself sputter and flail about does get boring pretty quickly.

 Your Writing Project

 The other aspect to resistance is your WIP (work in progress).   You may hit upon a scene or a chapter or a segment of it that you start to avoid.  You can be writing merrily along and suddenly something just isn’t working.   You marshal your forces.  You attempt to carry on as usual.  You forge ahead.

But nothing works.  The words fall flat on the page, the dialogue sounds wooden, the scene just won’t come together.

Okay, remember: resistance always has meaning.    writing-1560276

And in this case, something is wrong.  Here’s a handy checklist to divine what it might be:

Your setting.  Most often, this is it for me.  Maybe the scene is currently set inside and needs to be outside, or vice-versa.  Maybe you’ve set too many scenes in the same place.   I can’t tell you how many times I’ve changes the location of the scene and suddenly it comes alive.

 Your characters.  Are the correct ones in the scene?  Does your character need to confide in her best friend or her mother? Or maybe an old woman sitting on the park bench? Play around with the characters in the scene to see if you can’t get it going again.

Their motivation or backstory.  Perhaps you think your heroine is motivated by greed—but when you take the time to dig deeper you realize it’s the opposite.  Maybe you think your antagonist is a cranky jerk because his father died when he was young, but really, it was his mother who passed.  Etc.

The placement.  Maybe there’s nothing wrong with the scene, but where you’ve got it set in the plot isn’t working.  This is harder to figure out until you’ve finished a full draft, but worth considering.

These are just a few suggestions—I recommend looking at every aspect of the story until you figure out what’s going on.  And for my money, the best way to figure things out is to write about it.  I like to call this writing around, and I probably write about three to five times as many pages in writing around as I do in my current WIP.  It is how I figure out everything.

So, there you have it—proof that your resistance is a good thing.  The catch is, you have to deal with it.  But that’s much better than giving up writing for a week or a month or a year.

What are your favorite strategies for dealing with resistance? Please comment below.

Photos from freeimages.

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What Your Inner Critic Wants You to Know

Gnome_tedsblog_creepy_584432_hI wrote a guest post for Jessica Baverstock at Creativity's Workshop  on the writer's Inner GPS, our internal guidance system that is never wrong and can help us greatly with our writing.  (You can go read it now, I'll wait.)

And because of that, I started thinking a lot about the Inner Critic, which is the antithesis of the Inner GPS.  And because I was thinking about the Inner Critic, mine (a gnome-like imp named Patrick who is dressed all in green), popped up with a few things to say.  Inner Critics are vocal that way.

Here is what Patrick had to say about what your inner critic wants you to know:

1.  We love to make a lot of noise.  We can't help it, making noise is our nature.  And most often you'd probably think of it as discordant noise.  That's because we're the aggregation of years of the negative messages you've received–the teacher who made red marks all over your paper, your cranky grandma, your alcoholic father who raged at you, your bitter aunt. 

2.  We also like to lie.  We tell you that what you're writing is a stinky, steaming pile of crap when really its a deep lyrical essay.  We say that your house is a mess and your family hates you for it when really they are so, so happy that you are at your desk writing.  We tell you that you are stupid, fat, ugly, no good down to your very soul, when really you are a beautiful, spirited child of the universe.

3.  We can be tamed.  It takes consistent effort, but we can be trained to be quiet.  We don't like it (see #1), but it's the truth.  We can be tamed with this process: acknowledge the negative thought we offer, release it, and replace it with a positive thought.  The thing we actually love about this process is that you really have to do it over and over again and many of you get bored and quit. And then we can run wild and free again.

4.  We accept negotiations.  Maybe you can give us something to do while you're busy writing the first draft and then call us in for the editing rounds?  Perhaps you can send us off to practice yelling and screaming elsewhere until you're ready to do a grammar and spell check?  Think about what how we could help you and then pitch us a deal.  We might just agree.

5.  We are not the boss of you.  We like to make you think we are.  It's so very easy to convince you that such is the case.  A snide comment here, a negative remark there, and before you know it, you've slunk away from your desk before you've even written word one.  The other Inner Critics will probably hate me for this, but here's a little tip: when all else fails, we respond well to war being waged on us.   Stop slinking away, turn and face us and yell, "Shut the f@#$ up, you measly, slimy son of an old shoe!"  And then we'll do exactly that.

What does your Inner Critic want you to know?

Photo by TedsBlog.

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What Holds You Up?

What Holds You Up?
Statue_internet_abstract_232564_l

I got the best horoscope ever this morning.  Here it is:

Become independent from the things that are holding you back, without abandoning the reliable things that  hold you up.

This seems more like advice for living than a horoscope, and it starting me thinking.  First, what are the things that hold me back?  Here are a few:

1.  Fear.  Isn't this the bottom line of what holds us all back?

2.  Time.  Or my perception that I don't have enough.

3.  Doubt.  All those times I lose my nerve….

4.  Guilt.  A useless emotion.

5.  Hesitancy.  Sometimes I dither when I should just do something.

As for those reliable things that prop me up, let's consider:

1.  People I love.  Ah, friends and family.  Love them even when they are pulling me away from my work.

2.  Writing.  Plain and simple.

3. Time to myself first thing in the morning.  I hate, hate, hate when I don't have time to write in my journal, ponder life, think how I want my day to go. 

4.  Creative hobbies.  Like painting, knitting, and quilting.  (Okay, I haven't yet actually done that last one, but a friend has promised to teach me.)

5.  Walking.  I've been walking for years and it is still one of the best ways to spend time I know.

6.  Being non-judgmental.  I work on this every damn day because I'm not good at it.  But I love when I can effect a curious, open attitude instead of snapping to judgment.

I'm sure I've forgotten things from both lists, so I might add to them as I go.  What about you?  What holds you back?  What props you up?

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Back to the Basics, Or Not

Book_research_information_237974_l Writers can always benefit by going back to the basics, right?  Or not?  And more to the point, if you've been writing for awhile, have you tried going back to the basics recently?  It is not that easy.

Going back to the basics seems like a good idea.  You get the desire to strip it down, make things simple, relearn from the beginning again.  Except you are no longer the person that you were when you started out so very long ago.  And it is hard to fit your expanded self into that smaller box.

What is called for is a framework.

I went to high school during the heyday of the Open Classroom movement.  Education wasn't working and a new approach was needed.  So, no, it wasn't back to the basics, it was the opposite–a very free and easy approach where students directed their learning to a large extent.

Consequently, I became quite the free thinker.  But to this day, I have huge gaps in my education, particularly when it comes to reading the classics.  (Ironic, no? Considering as how I am a writer.)  Oh, I read some of them on my own, but when it comes to classics, reading in an educational setting is much better.  I needed a framework.  And finally I found it when I started working toward my MFA.  (I won't call it studying, because it was so much fun.  Two years devoted mostly to writing and reading.  Heaven.)

Once I had the framework of writing an essay about my reading, with mentors responding to those essays, I could dip back into some of the classics that I had missed.

What got me thinking about all of this is knitting.  I'm an off and on knitter and a terrible finisher.  I love starting a new knitting project more than anything–choosing the yarn, casting on, seeing the work start to grow!  But then I get bored and set it aside.

Lately, though, I've realized that perhaps I get bored because I don't know enough about what I'm doing.  Despite the fact I've been knitting since I was a wee child, there's lots I don't know about it.  I was taught by the odd 4H leader here, my aunt there.  Much like my high school education, there was never a consistent framework for it.

This weekend I found the framework, a book called Fearless Knitting, written by a technical writer, bless her heart, who knows how to translate confusing information into plain English.  The author, Jennifer Seiffert, had the bright idea to take a line of traditional knitting instruction, then not only explain what it means, but why you are supposed to do that.  Brilliant.  Each explanation illustrates a larger technique and you make a square to well and truly learn how to do it.

Wouldn't it be wonderful if there could be such a framework for writing?  An explanation of not only the how, but the why?  Alas, I don't think it is possible, because the craft of writing is much more amorphous than the craft of knitting.  Many of the why explanations would be something along the lines of, because you want to entertain the reader.  Or, because you want to create an emotional response in the reader.

Or am I wrong?  Can you think of any aspects of writing that could be explained in a succinct why explanation?  What does going back to the basics in writing mean to you?  Practicing writing exercises?  Reading or re-reading books about writing?  Are there any basics you'd like explanations of?  Comment away.

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Friday Question

Friday is often a busy day for me.  For whatever reason, lately my entire afternoon has been taken up withDesi-question-mark-817928-l appointments.  And I just about always go out to dinner with family and friends on Friday night, because, I'll be honest, by Friday I really want a glass of wine.

And, for whatever reason again, I have committed to writing a blog post every weekday, Monday through Friday.  Most days it is not a problem.  But often I get to Friday and feel rushed and end up wanting to post something short-ish but not knowing exactly what to write.

And then it occurred to me that others have solved this problem already.  Some do a Friday quote.  Others do a guest post on Fridays.  Or post a funny picture.  Or something…

So here's the deal.  I'm asking you, my wonderful readers, for ideas of something short yet useful to you, that I could post on Fridays.  A photo?  A quote? (I've got tons of those saved up in random places.) A question pertaining to writing or creativity?  A prompt? A guest post? Favorite link of the week?  An idea for a creative project?

Gee, I have more ideas for this than I thought–that's what happens when you start writing stuff down.  But I want to know what would be useful to you, so have it and comment away.  Give me a new idea or vote for one of the ones I already mentioned.

Photo by desi.Italy, used under Creative Commons 2.5 license. 

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