Archive for Writing Wednesday
Welcome back to Writing Wednesday! Today I’m talking about motivation.
I recently read a terrific book on this very subject, called Around the Writer’s Block: Using Brain Science to Fight Writer’s Resistance by Roseanne Bane. In it, she explains why our brains get in our own way, how we can recognize our individual forms of resistance, and offers three simple habits to allow us to push through our blocks and get creative. The book was incredibly fascinating and I highly recommend it.
One of the strategies she mentions in the book is developing a reward system, and she describes how a client of hers used dollar store gold star stickers to give herself an immediate visual reward when she crossed off a bit of writing from her to-do list. Brilliant! As someone who benefits from accountability, but struggles to find ways to actually implement it, I really took to this idea. I picked up a few packs of sparkly stickers and drew a chart in my paper calendar where I could stick them.
But as Ruby recently pointed out, our best laid plans when it comes to organization don’t always come with the requisite follow through. Originally, I wanted to get a piece of poster board where I could hang this chart in my hallway and publicly shame myself into putting up the stickers (or not). I couldn’t find what I wanted at Office Depot, and settled for the calendar/planner method.
Which I used exactly once.
I’m not giving up on the gold star method of motivation. I just need a better way to showcase it so that I actually use it. And then it dawned on me – what better place than a public blog?
In the book, Roseanne Bane describes three habits we should be cultivating each week: Process, Self-Care, and Product Time. For each of these items, every week, we need to set aside and commit to time spent on each activity, and then track our results. She provides a number of handy charts to use, and encourages writers to check in with each other, either through existing critique groups or forming groups with others who use her method.
When I put together my new weekly recap post, I considered adding these elements to it for my weekly check-in. Then I thought maybe I should use Writing Wednesday for those check-ins, but I had envisioned this feature being every other week. I’d like to start tracking the number of words I’m writing, as well as the time I’m spending on my writing, in order to better gauge my progress over time and to help me figure out the amount of time each week that I need in order to move my project(s) forward. Whether this needs to happen weekly or biweekly on the blog is up in the air.
For now, I’ll start conservatively, and leave my check-ins on Writing Wednesday every two weeks. I’ll discuss my progress, map out what I’d like to accomplish in the next two weeks, and record my numbers. If any other writers want to join me, feel free to post your own progress/numbers in the comments or on your own blogs.
Here’s my plan for the next two weeks. I’ll be back on the 17th to let you know how I did!
- 15 minutes per day, 3 days per week
- Morning pages/journaling
- Coloring books
- 30 minutes per day, 5 days per week
- Masters swim
- Bikram yoga
- 15 minutes per day, 3 days per week
- Target tasks
- Outline Hannah plot/beat sheet
- Explore Sexy New Idea
- Write Hannah catalyst scene
Welcome back to Writing Wednesday! Today I’m talking about my first submission to a writing competition.Â
The last four Mondays in October, I took a class on writing sci-fi and fantasy at my favorite local writers’ space, StoryStudio Chicago. Each week we developed a different aspect of our world, both setting and characters, and our final assignment for this past Monday was a 2,000 word short story that incorporated all of our elements.
I’ve never written a short story before. I’m not good with succinct phrasing. My plotting skills could use some work. I panicked about creating a believable arc in only 2,000 words. I must have drafted 15 different story ideas while pounding away on the treadmill last week. But which one to choose?
Eventually, I ran out of time. I had a deadline, and I was up against the wall. I sat down and just started typing. I worked with it for several hours, teasing out certain plot points and randomly steering this crazy ship to some kind of conclusion. When I ran out of words, I tied things up, then went back and edited it down to what I hoped would pass as a first draft.
In class, I got some excellent feedback, and our instructor, Robyn Okrant, pushed us to consider submitting our work to the Writer’s Digest Popular Fiction Awards Competition, which had an extended deadline through 10/31. Today.
Although the class was over, she offered to take another look at anyone’s work before the deadline. Never one to miss an opportunity, I emailed her a draft last night after a round of revisions, and she got back to me right away with comments. All of the feedback from Robyn and my classmates helped me make some important changes to the story that made it stronger. The emotional arc of my protagonist was coming through much clearer and because the competition has a longer word limit, I was able to go back and fill in some areas of the plot.
So after making my final revisions last night, I submitted it to the competition. Even the act of formatting it into something resembling a professional submission made me feel accomplished. After laboring so long with two different novels that keep stalling, this class and short story exercise pushed me to create a full beginning, middle, and end – and to do it quickly. Though my chances are slim, I’m proud that I took the step to even try entering. I feel like I’ve added a notch to my writing belt.
The joy of creating a new world without the pressure of filling hundreds of pages or needing all of the answers was incredibly freeing. In a short story, you don’t have to answer every question. There’s no time. I am struggling to find the words to describe how revived I feel with my writing. I still have a lot to learn, but I plan to write more short fiction and see where it takes me. I’d love to submit some pieces to sci-fi magazines and see if I can get published. If I sell three stories, I can join the Science Fiction & Fantasy Writers of America. Plus, it’ll help me build an audience. Wicked awesome.
In the spirit of freeing my creative subconscious, I’ll also be embarking on NaNoWriMoÂ tomorrow. I think to keep me going, I’ll post funny snippets on this blog so you can see what terribly bad things I come up with during the month. Look for that each Wednesday in November.Â
As for the contest, I won’t know anything until after the end of the year, but I’ll keep you posted. Fingers crossed!
I’m a flighty person by nature. I am easily distracted by internet browsing, bribery involving food or fun, and shiny objects. If there is something interesting happening out in the world that seems better than what I’m doing right now, I switch focus. You can imagine that this does not bode well for my writing projects.
This tendency of mine to quickly bop from one thing to the next means that I am particularly susceptible to the Sexy New Idea. The SNI is a dastardly foe to writers. It distracts us from our current projects, and if not carefully managed, can lead us along a path littered with the unfinished scraps of many a manuscript.
One of the most common solutions to the SNI affliction is to keep a notebook where you can jot down Sexy New Ideas as they come to you. This way you won’t forget them, and you’re free to let them go and get back to the project at hand. Oh, if only that worked for me.
Sexy New Ideas that take root in my brain tend to demand at least a few scenes before I can let them go. I can’t just jot down a few notes and leave it be. I have to spend some time with it, develop it ever so slightly, and construct a couple of characters having a moment. This gives me the best sense of what this story wants to be. Otherwise, I come back to a half-cocked idea scribbled on my bedside notebook and have zero recollection of where I was going with it. I can’t seal an SNI in my memory without putting some real imaginative effort into a scene that will allow me to jump back into its world later on.
So there are Those That Say you shouldn’t pursue those pesky SNIs because of their penchant for encouraging procrastination and unfinished business. But sometimes those SNIs show up to give you a message. Maybe you’re not fully invested in your current project. Maybe it’s not working. There’s no use in struggling to finish something that may not be worth your effort.
My current project is still worth the effort, but I have been struggling mightily with it nonetheless. At first it was gentle resistance, with me passive-aggressively refusing to play well with it. That soon spiraled into outright resentment, however, and I began hating everything from my lead character’s name to its complete inability to turn into something fun.
At that point, I went back to a Sexy New Idea I had put together when I started last November’s NaNoWriMo. Though I failed early on to complete anything close to 50,000 words, I did really like my character and thought her world was loads of fun. So to distract myself, I spent some time editing and re-writing a good chunk of it and sent it off to my writers’ group with the caveat that this was, indeed, a Sexy New Idea.
And they loved it. They still love my work in progress, and feel there’s even room for them both, but they also really encouraged me to consider my SNI as a possible new current project. My SNI may have accidentally usurped my WIP. (Fun with acronyms!)
One of my group members made the point that lots of writers go back-and-forth. Maybe it doesn’t have to be one OR the other. Maybe it can be one AND THEN the other AND THEN the first one again. Given my aforementioned flightiness, I feel this may be the way to go. I’ll work on one WIP until I get bored or frustrated, then turn to the other. Or I’ll work until I get inspiration for one or the other. I think I can handle two simultaneous projects without them bleeding into each other. They are very different.
Do you have to multi-task to succeed? I do this with books as well, and constantly juggle competing reading interests so it shouldn’t surprise me that I do it with writing too. Do you read multiple books or work on multiple projects to stave off boredom? Or for other reasons? Or are you best when focusing on a single thing?