There’s So Much More to Writing Than Just Writing

There’s more to writing than just the writing.

Like, staring off into space.  Taking a nap to refresh your brain after all its hard toil. Going to the kitchen to look for a snack. Deciding what you really need is to take a walk. Or drink a glass of wine.

Okay, maybe those aren’t the best examples, though they are things we all do when the writing gets the better of us. But the topic of this post is all the productive things besides putting words into the actual manuscript that we writers have to do. (Maybe productive isn’t the right word. Because sometimes a glass of wine is just what the writer needs. Right?)

Such as (in no particular order):

–Figure out plot

–Organize word or Scrivener documents

–Rearrange scenes

–Delve into character backstory

–Make notes

–Freewrite about aspects of the story

–The internet research rabbit hole

–Interview people for research

–Freewrite to warm up

–Reread your work

–Ponder how to incorporate comments from readers

(What am I forgetting? I know there is more!)

And that doesn’t even take us into the social media and marketing realm, which is a whole other thing. But my point is this: all these other things are necessary to support your writing. You’ve got to take time for all of them, because otherwise your novel or memoir or story won’t exist. And sometimes it is hard to remember that.  Some of that work can feel like busy work. But it is really not.

I think sometimes I writers skimp on some of the other things for that very reason. Because we don’t feel like we are writing unless we are really writing. Or we are so eager to get to the actual writing that we gloss over the importance of prep work (spoken by a writer who has come to accept her pantsing ways)

It often seems as if the entire online writing community is obsessed with word counts. And if everyone and their uncle is posting theirs, you can get a bit over-eager to get to your writing so that you can post yours as well. But word counts can set up a self-destructive cycle.  A writer I know sometimes pads her sentences just to reach her word count. (Talking about a friend. Really.)

In the class I recently finished, Becca explained that writing to a word count isn’t the best option for most people, especially NFPs, who often work in a, shall we say, circular fashion. (Instead, she recommends tracking hours. Or minutes.)

But however you are tracking it, just remember: all those other things are important, too. Don’t be so eager to get to the writing, peeps.

Do you ever fall into this trap?

Do you want to finish a book? Are you stuck? Maybe you just need to get started. I’ve got space for one more client this summer. Is it you? Email me at charlotte@charlotterainsdixon.com and let’s chat.

Choosing Viewpoint in the Novel

I finished the rewrite on my novel last week and sent it off. And so what does a writer do next? Why, start the next novel, of course. But in my case, I am going back to a novel. 

Here’s the story. I have a full-length novel and a loooong novella languishing on my computer. If you guessed I have issues with completing things, you’d be correct. Because–squirrel! Bright shiny object! Yeah, that’s me.  But I’m determined to change, and to that end I’m taking a class that is helping me to do this.  It is called Write Better, Write Faster, available through the Margie Lawson Writer’s Academy periodically, and I’m loving it. The class helps you boost your productivity through figuring out how your brain works. Not the brains of your writing friends.

Anyway, I decided my next project is going to be tackling the rewrite of the full-length novel. So I bought a three-ring binder, three hole punch copy paper, and printed the thing out. I am now in the process of reading it. Which brings me to today’s topic.

Much to my surprise (its been a couple years since I read this story), the book is written in first person. Turns out I like the voice of the narrator.  But. Yes, here come the buts:

–I’m only a couple chapters into my reading and I’m afraid the narrator may begin to sound self-pitying after a while. After all, she loses her job, and her boyfriend after she tells him she’s pregnant. I’d be self-pitying, too. But readers want strong characters who can rise to the challenges we throw at them, not whiners.

–This is intended to be a romance novel-ish. And the standard convention in romance novels is to write in dual third person, alternating between the male and female love interests. I did this in the novel I just finished and I really liked it. I liked getting to be in the heads of both of them and I think readers like that too.

A dilemma, right?

I think I may have solved it, though I’m going to reserve final judgement until I am finished with the read-through. I think I’m going to go with the dual third-person option.  The thing is, there’s a ton of rewriting to be done anyway. I’m redoing the story in such a way that much of it will be thrown out. So might as well go all the way.

I think. The thought of changing it all makes me a bit faint. But I shall persevere! Or at least let you know my final decision.

Have you ever switched the viewpoint of a character before? How did the process work for you? Leave a comment, or come to the Facebook page and chat about it there.

Creative Tension in the Writing Life

Once I had a writing friend who set her computer screensaver to show the words, “Why aren’t you writing?”

And, indeed, that is the question, isn’t it? It is the question at the heartbeat of a writer’s days. Why aren’t you writing? Why are you watching TV when you could be writing? Why are you mopping the kitchen floor when you could be writing? Why are you playing Spider Solitaire when you could be writing?

That question strikes to the heart of the creative tension that drives a writer. When we’re not writing, we feel we should be. It’s a tension that I’m not sure non-writers (or non-creatives, because I’m sure artists of all stripes feel this way, too) get.

Sometimes I imagine how wonderful it might be just to go through life as a normal person. A person who isn’t constantly thinking and worrying about writing. A person who doesn’t wake up first thing in the morning and start planning when she’ll be able to write. A person who doesn’t start thinking about when he will write tomorrow as soon as his head hits the pillow. To not have this constant pull to create something.

But, truthfully, I’d hate it. Because I don’t honestly know how non-creative people get through. Do you? My writing is my constant companion, the page that receives all my worries and joys and brilliant ideas (along with the duds). It’s where I process life, where I figure things out–and this goes for fiction, non-fiction, and journaling. And I don’t know what I’d do without it.

So if the constant tension to create is the payment for the writing life, I’ll take it. How about you?

Leave a comment!

All the Different Ways to Write (A Post on Process)

I’m sitting at a table on a terrace in Ceret, France, thinking about writing processes. (That’s my view in the photo to the left.) Okay, I’m also thinking about the wine and cheese and bread we’ll have for dinner. And taking a walk through the charming town in a little bit. And the delicious quiche and salad I ate for lunch in said charming town.  Oh, and I’m thinking about my WIP, too. Proof is that I’ve written five chapters since I arrived here on March 3rd.

One of the reasons I’m thinking about process is because I read and enjoyed this post today. I love reading about people’s specific processes. The other reason is that I’m here amidst other writers, all of us trying our best to make great progress on our projects.  And it is fascinating to get a close-up view of how other’s work.

Here are some of the different ways to write:

Planner vs pantser.  Do you plan everything ahead or just go where the writing winds take  you? You’ll find strong and vocal adherents to both way. And, just as many like me who fall somewhere in the middle. I really, really, really need to know where I’m going next or I will wander off and read knitting blogs instead of writing. But I write what I call a loose outline, which is really more of a list, and allow the story and characters to develop as I go.

–Chronological or all over the place. I, with few exceptions, write in strict chronological order. I like to allow my chapters and scenes to build on each other. But I know plenty of people for whom this would be torture. They want to write whatever scene feels the juiciest to them in the moment.

–Write fast or edit as you go. I am of the write-as-fast-as-I-damn-can persuasion. And then I fix things in subsequent drafts. Often, I am convinced that what I am writing is pure crap. And sometimes it is. But just as often, I’m surprised by what I’ve put on the page. It needs work, yes, but it is not as bad as I’ve thought. A couple of writers here on the retreat are pushing to get to the end of first drafts and doing the write fast thing for the first time. It’s a bit uncomfortable for them but they are doing it!

–Marathoner or sprinter. Do you write in bursts and then take breaks? You’re a sprinter. Or do you sit down to write and only hours later stand up, realizing how much time has passed? Marathoner.

–Scrivener or Word. I really, really, really, want to like Scrivener but every time I try it I get so confused I give up. Once it ate my draft, too. And that’s just rude. So we’ve not yet become pals. So I’m a Word girl myself. And I do know that Scrivener has many rabid fans out there. I need one of you to sit down with me, hold my hand, and teach me how to use it.

–All one file or separate ones.  When you’re working on a long project, such as a novel or memoir, do you put it all in one large file, or create a new one for each chapter and compile later? (And yes, I know there’s “easy” ways to deal with this on Scrivener. But you’ll have to come show me.) I’ve done it both ways. I’m having a brain fart, but I’m pretty sure the last novel I wrote was all in one. The new one is in separate files. It’s a pain to go back and check things in previous chapters, but then so is scrolling and scrolling back to find what you’re looking for.

So those are just some of the different processes I’ve thought of as I sit in this lovely French town.  What have I missed? What processes do you follow?

Leave a comment or come join the Facebook group and share.

Begin Writing and The Answer Will Appear

I spent this just-past Thanksgiving weekend at the beach with a rotating cast of family members in attendance.  It was a blast. And, I got some writing done. I woke up early every day and sat at the dining room table and wrote on my laptop. (It helped immeasurably that the house has no wi-fi.)

I’d been struggling with rewriting two chapters, the segments of which needed rearranging.  I had looked at them every which way from Sunday and back again. I would get to a point where I thought I had it all figured out and then I would realize it wouldn’t work.  So I’d go back to making notes and lining each chapter out and again, it would all collapse and go to that place where plots that don’t work go.

Finally I started writing. I went with my latest organizational scheme (because I thought I had it all figured out) and just freaking started writing. Which is when I realized that what I thought would work wouldn’t. Again. However, this time I found the answer in the writing. The arrangement of scenes flowed effortlessly, organically.  No angst or wringing of hands.

While we were at the beach, we spread out a jigsaw puzzle, which turned out to be a very difficult one, so difficult that there was much cheering every time a new piece got fit in. That’s how I felt with my chapters.  I figured out the order. Much cheering.

But here’s the main takeaway: START WRITING. It amazes me over and over again how the answers always lie in the writing itself.  Why I forgot that and need to remind myself so often is a mystery.

How do you find answers to your writing problems?

Freedom, Independence, and Writing ( A Sunday Love Letter)

Tuesday is Independence Day in the states. Yesterday was Canada Day in, um, Canada, which I think has something to do with becoming a country but I couldn’t quite tell from the Wikipedia page. (Forgive me Canadians, and perhaps one of you could enlighten me?)

The idea of independence and freedom is afoot in the world.

It’s something we all want, right? I mean, who wants to live their life in chains, real or imaginary?  For most of us, thank God, the only kind of prisons we will experience will be mental and emotional.  But those prisons can be excruciating and powerful.

And I am here to assert that the feeling of freedom and independence comes from one place only—within. Okay, I’m fresh off a weekend of watching kid movies, Trolls and Moana, so I admit maybe I’ve been a bit unduly affected by their messages.  But this idea that it all comes from within is something I fervently believe in, and forget often.

So here’s a reminder for me and you: freedom comes from within, and the best tool I know to access that is writing. Yes, writing. Whether you’re exploring your emotions on the journaling page, or pouring them into a character in your WIP novel, or shaping them in the memoir you’re writing to make sense of your life, writing is your best path to mental freedom.

Because, you can put the drama on the page, as Julia Cameron says.  And then it does have to go out into the world, where it can damage tender relationships. Freedom.

Because, you can spend time expressing yourself, doing what you feel called to do, rather than plopping down in front of the TV or computer. Freedom.

Because, you can put your stories out into the world, where they will affect others in positive ways, maybe even loosening some of the bonds that bind them.  Freedom.

So, let freedom ring.  Set pen to paper. Let it rip. It is your path to freedom and independence.

And don’t forget–my Freedom and Independence Coaching special runs through July 5th.  Learn more here.

What are you working on this holiday weekend? Do leave a comment and let me know.

(This post originally appeared in my newsletter. If you’d like to have it delivered to your inbox every Sunday, just fill out the form to the right.)

Photo by kplantt.

A Love Letter About Writing and Heat Waves

(I’m experimenting with posting my weekly newsletter here on the blog as well. If you’d like to have it delivered right to your inbox, fill out the form to the right. I will never do anything untoward with your information!)

Yesterday it was 97 here. Today it is forecast to be the same.

Now I know many of my readers may exist in more modern conditions than I, as in, you have air conditioning.  But we live in an old house that doesn’t have it. And, at least historically (not so much anymore), we would only get maybe a few days of extreme heat every summer, and so there really wasn’t much need for it. So when it is hot, I suffer. Oh poor me and all that.

But there is still writing to be done, right?  When you are a writer, there is always writing to be done, no matter what.  The baby cries, the cows need milking, the beloved ancient parent needs tending.  But there’s till writing to be done. And so one needs to find a way to do it, in heat waves and cold snaps alike.  And even if you are cossetted from it, extreme heat is still energy-sapping. (For those of you reading this from the Southwest, I hope your terrible temperatures abate soon.) You still have to get from house to car and from car to work and from work to the grocery store.

A couple of summers ago I got in the habit of taking my computer outside and working at the table on the back deck in the cool early mornings.  When the sun hit the fence beside me, I knew my writing time was over for the day because soon it would be shining on my monitor.  It was a lovely way to get my writing done and set myself up for rest of the day.  Later, when I’d be toiling in my hot office, I’d remember my morning sojourn outside and smile.

I often observe how my cats behave in the heat. Mostly, they stretch their fat selves out as far as possible and sleep.  We should emulate them in the heat, right? Ha! Would that we could. But in some parts of the world, they do such things. The other day I was at my daughter’s and we were trying to get my five-year-old grandson to have thirty minutes of quiet time.  Not even a nap, mind you, just quiet time. So I told him about what happens in the small towns of France (and many other European countries).  How every day from noon to two the stores close and every one goes home for a break. Quiet time.  It is a lovely habit and one that can serve the rest of us well during heat waves.  Just allow yourself to take a break once in a while, for goodness sake.

Doing research for my Do That Thing class, I ran across some information last week that said most people spend a good chunk of their precious time worrying about expectations. They feel they must be perfect parents and perfect on the job. And I know for a fact that writers often feel they need to be perfect the second they throw words on the page. This makes my heart hurt. All these harsh expectations we place on ourselves.

And I think the hot days of summer when you don’t feel like doing much of anything are a good time to start practicing slowing down a little. Give yourself a break from those expectations that control you.  Get your writing done in the cool of the morning. Find an air-conditioned coffee shop and camp out there with your computer.  Go easy on yourself.

Do leave a comment about how you beat the heat!

Okay–are you ready for the big news? I have created a Facebook group for us! People are engaging in all kinds of different ways these days, and Facebook is a biggie, obviously.   The group is called Prolific and Prosperous Writers and it is closed, which means any posts you make won’t appear on your personal timeline–that way you have all the freedom in the world to kvetch about your writing without worry that civilians (those who may not understand) will read it. Join here. Please do, I can’t wait to chat there!

Offerings:

Freedom and Independence Coaching Special:

I’m running a Freedom and Independence Coaching special through the Fourth of July.    For three-month, paid in advance clients, I’m offering two free extra sessions.  That’s 14 sessions instead of 12. And for six-month, paid in advance clients, I’m adding on 4 sessions. Woot! That’s 28 sessions instead of 24.  Just think what you can get done in a few months of one-on-one coaching with me. You could get a huge start on your novel. Or finish the project that’s moldering in the drawer. Or start the process of getting an agent—or get your book self published.

Interested? Email me and we’ll set up a time to talk.

My new How to Get an Agent class is on July 11th.  (I moved the date out because I, um, forgot I was going to be out of town.) It’s a one-session class that will tell you everything you need to know about getting an agent, from query and pitch through what to ask when an agent is interested in your work.  Just in time for summer writing conference season, and the class includes an upgrade option for a critique of your query. Find out all the details and sign up here.

Tuesday Tip: Remember, it’s called a rough draft for a reason

I’m going back through the second draft of my WIP novel, checking for places where I have to drop things in. Most of these are little things, like another mention of a physical object that figures in the plot (in this case, a necklace), or pumping up a description that didn’t get fully mounted on the page.

But in one instance, I have a whole chapter to drop in. (Because, um, it features an important character that I failed to show anywhere in the novel. Duh.)

So this means I am writing rough draft material again for the first time in a couple of months. I’ve been rewriting and editing and getting the draft ready for beta readers. (Soon!)

And this morning I found myself laboring over every word.

WTF! I know better than this.  A rough draft is just that–the draft of a chapter or story or essay that is in its rough stages.  And just because the rest of my novel is almost ready for other eyes, doesn’t mean that this chapter needs to be.

I had to remind myself to just put the words on the page.  Let them rip. Write fast. Don’t worry about how “good” the words are once they land. Just get the damned thing written!

And that is my Tuesday tip for you–let the writing of your rough draft stink. Make it awful. Require it to be. Because once you’ve gotten those words on the page, you’ve got treasure with which to work.  You can rewrite and revise and edit to your heart’s content.  But not yet.

Remember there’s a reason it is called a rough draft and let it be, well…rough.

Five on Friday: Sunshine Through my Window

Fingers crossed for a nice weekend!  Here’s what’s going on:

What I’m Reading: Same books as last week, which I can’t divulge, because I’m reading for a contest.  But I also have occasion to load up my Kindle with Ebooks because I read while baby George naps on my chest.  So I have been perusing You Are a Badass at Making Money.  Because I’m a sucker for self-help books and this series by Jen Sincero is far more entertaining than most.

What I’m Watching: Not much of anything. I’ve been out a lot at night.  Oh crap, I just looked at my calendar and I am out every night through next Wednesday. This is why I end up watching stupid sitcoms.  Because there’s not a lot of evening time for anything more taxing.

What I’m Excited About: The beta launch of my Do That Thing program. Couple of spots left–check it out here.

Where I’m Spending Time: Answering questions on Quora. I’m finding it mildly addictive.  Very fun.

What I Recommend:  One of my favorite blogs is Thekitchensgarden.    I read it first thing in the morning to find out what’s going on down on Cecilia’s farm.  A writer needs to let loose her inner farm girl once in a while.  Though I’d probably collapse in a quivering heap after one hour trailing Cecilia about.

That’s it for the end of this week. What’s going on with you?

Nanowrimo Update: Some Core Truths for Maintaining a Writing Practice

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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