Writing Wednesday – Getting Back in the Groove

Welcome back to Writing Wednesday! Today I’m following up on an old post about motivation.

In the post, I reviewed the book Around the Writer’s Block: Using Brain Science to Fight Writer’s Resistance, by Roseanne Bane. It describes three habits we should be cultivating each week: Process, Self-Care, and Product Time. It gave a lot of helpful pointers on how to push through self-defeating behaviors and keep writing.  

I wish I could say that I have done a better job keeping up with my writing-related habits. Unfortunately, when I lost my blogging mojo, I also lost my mojo for a number of other things, which included writing. I found myself skipping a lot of my turns in my critique group, and not really feeling the motivation to write. 

In November, Roseanne Bane actually stopped by my blog and emailed me, offering feedback and support. It was such a thoughtful gesture and demonstrated just how much Roseanne loves to work with writers to help them achieve their goals. It was also a nice nudge to get me going again with goal- and habit-setting. 

As I noted in yesterday’s post on my resolutions for 2014, one major commitment I want to honor is finishing my manuscript. I know I can only do that with focus and discipline. So back to regular check-ins!

I don’t want to bore myself (or you) with weekly posts, so I’m going to try the biweekly thing again. Every other Wednesday here on the blog will be Writing Wednesday, focused on goal-setting and checking in on progress. The other Wednesdays will be discussion posts.

Here are my goals for the next two weeks:

Process:

  • Word searches, journaling, or listening to music
    • 10 minutes per day, 5 days per week

Self-care:

  • Exercise
    • 30 minutes per day, 5 days per week

Product Time:

  • Writing or researching
    • 15 minutes per day, 5 days per week
    • Target tasks
      • Belle Epoque research
      • Update names
      • Get to end of Act I

For any of my fellow writers out there, feel free to join me! Post your own goals below or on your blog, and check back in two weeks. I hope to cultivate this as a place of support and encouragement no matter what kind of writing you’re doing. Good luck!

 

 

 

Writing Wednesday – Motivation Check-In

Welcome back to Writing Wednesday! Today I’m following up on my last post about motivation.

In the book Around the Writer’s Block: Using Brain Science to Fight Writer’s Resistance, Roseanne Bane describes three habits we should be cultivating each week: Process, Self-Care, and Product Time. I gave myself goals for these habits, and promised to check back and post my progress.

I was derailed from the start with another nasty cold (my second of the spring), but this past week has been much more productive. 

I went on a writing date at a pub with one of my friends (See?! Photo evidence!!), and I managed to get my beat sheet/outline done. That’s my handwritten outline and my project open in Scrivener, where I managed to jam out 500+ words even after a Bloody Mary! 

The one part that has been difficult for me is the Process time. I haven’t really devoted any time to this creative energy, so that’s something I need to focus on for next time.

For any of my fellow writers out there, how has your process been going? Are you struggling to make time for your writing or other hobbies?

Process:

  • Check-in
    • My goal: 15 minutes per day, 3 days per week
    • Goal met? No. I didn’t do any process work.
  • Commitment (next two weeks)
    • 10 minutes per day, 3 days per week

Self-care:

  • Check-in
    • My goal: 30 minutes per day, 5 days per week
    • Goal met? Not quite. I did get 4 days this week, 3 of which were well over 30 minutes.
  • Commitment (next two weeks)
    • 60 minutes per day, 5 days per week

Product Time:

  • Check-in
    • My goal: 15 minutes per day, 3 days per week
    • Target tasks
      • Outline Hannah plot/beat sheet
      • Explore Sexy New Idea
      • Write Hannah catalyst scene
    • Goal met? Almost. 2 out of 3.
  • Commitment (next two weeks)
    • 15 minutes per day, 3 days per week
  • Target tasks
    • Set Hannah on quest

 

 

 

Writing Wednesday – Gold Star Motivation

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!

Process:

  • Commitment
    • 15 minutes per day, 3 days per week
  • Choices
    • Morning pages/journaling
    • Coloring books
    • Sketching/drawing

Self-care:

  • Commitment
    • 30 minutes per day, 5 days per week
  • Choices
    • Masters swim
    • Running
    • Bikram yoga

Product Time:

  • Commitment
    • 15 minutes per day, 3 days per week
  • Target tasks
    • Outline Hannah plot/beat sheet
    • Explore Sexy New Idea
    • Write Hannah catalyst scene

 

 

 

Writing Wednesday – Short Story Contest

Welcome back to Writing Wednesday! Today I’m talking about my first submission to a writing competition. 

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 NaNoWriMo 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. 

As for the contest, I won’t know anything until after the end of the year, but I’ll keep you posted. Fingers crossed!

 

 

 

Writing Wednesday – Sexy New Idea

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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?

Writing Wednesday – You Need a Notebook

Writing Wednesday 2
Flashes of inspiration are not few and far between for me. I’m constantly inspired by the world around me – things I read, things I see, things I hear. Ideas fly at me from all over the place. I’m an ideas kind of person.

This should be great news, right?

Except.

Except that this flow of information always comes in…and then flits away into the recesses of my brain, never to be heard from again.

I’ll be reading a passage in a book and start analyzing what’s going on and think “WAIT! I have an idea! What if the world is dying, but it’s because of x. And y is the only one who can fight x. And if y does z in this really interesting and unique way…I could make a really interesting story.” Then I’ll nod to myself, acknowledge my genius, and file it away for a more convenient time when I can flesh out the idea, returning my attention to the book or task at hand.

Except.

You know where this is going don’t you? Of course you do. Because unlike me, you are not an idiot. You are a smart, organized, “with it” guy or gal who knows better than to let ideas sink into the deep, dark parts of your (presumably human) brains without jotting a backup note to yourself.

I, however, am an idiot. I let these ideas roam unchecked through my grey matter, and hardly ever never take the time to write them down. I assume that my addled, aging mind will miraculously change course and start remembering more than it forgets, so OF COURSE I will remember every single one of these amazing, fleeting ideas and OF COURSE they will take precedence over the far less important list of Things To Remember like mere work or family engagements.

After struggling for the past two months with crippling writer’s block, on Monday I was hit with an idea not just for a vague project in the future, but for the book I’m working on now. And as much as I wanted to just keep reading my book on the train, I decided that since my purse was right in front of me, I should grab a scrap of paper and a pen and just WRITE IT DOWN.

So I did.

And then I went back to reading.

When I got home, got myself and the dog fed, I whipped out that piece of paper and my laptop, and BOOM. The scenes started flowing. The words poured onto the page. Before I knew what hit me, I had 1,600 words down, and a solid sense of direction for the next few scenes to follow.

An obvious lesson, yes, but an important one nonetheless. When I have these ideas, I need to write them down. Immediately. It doesn’t matter what I’m doing – eating, reading, sleeping, talking on the phone, writing a blog post – just WRITE IT DOWN.

Logan. You need a notebook.

You need to write it down.

Writing Wednesday – This is my year!

Writing Wednesday 2 
I have a feeling that 2012 is going to be a good year for my writing. I’ve gathered up a healthy toolbox of knowledge and I’m ready to get to work. School is behind me, the hubs and I have stable jobs, and I just feel…settled. At ease. Reflective.

Even years seem to be better for me, and odd years not so great. I graduated college, moved to a new city, and got married in even numbered years. I lost my uncle, my grandmother, and my father in odd numbered years. This year I’m taking up the triathlon baton again, and have made a real (this time) commitment to my health and fitness. I’ll have a new niece born this year – the first on my side of the family.

As for my writing life, I have four meetings left in my monthly YA Fiction workshop. This Friday I’m meeting with a new weekly YA writers’ group that includes at least two published authors. And tonight I start my first work/study shift at my local writing studio. If these tools can’t help me get my manuscript into a query-ready place, then I don’t know what will.

I’ve struggled over the last few months with where to take my story. I think I need to give myself the freedom to play a little bit, and trust that with the guidance of this network I’m building I can get there eventually. This year will probably not be the year I get an agent or sell a book, but I think this will definitely be the year that I can get a manuscript finished and ready to start querying.

That’s the goal for this year: finish my book and get it ready to sell – or get as close to this goal as possible. I’d like to be able to start querying within the next 12-18 months. I think that’s a reasonable goal, and maybe if I keep saying it aloud I can make it happen. I no longer want to think about this as a hobby or a pastime, but as a professional goal that inspires me to take my work and myself seriously. I wouldn’t have been asked to join a writers’ group unless I had potential and it’s time to start realizing it.

So you hear that, 2012? You’re mine.

NaNoWriMo, Round 2


November is officially upon us, boys and girls! I can hardly believe it. November is National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo) and this is the second year in a row that I will be participating. Although last year I procrastinated for much of the month and finished in a down-to-the-wire sprint, I’m hoping to be a bit more on top of things this time around.

I highly doubt that I will be posting regularly around here over the next 30 days, but I hope to give updates on my progress as I suffer through this crazy endeavor. I’m going for my first steampunk story, which I’m very excited about (even if I don’t know exactly where the story is going yet). The plan is to try and front load my word count as much as possible so I don’t wind up spending my entire Thanksgiving break holed up in my room glued to my laptop. My goal is 2,000 words a day. Fingers crossed!

Any other NaNo participants out there? Want to be my writing buddy? Or maybe chat with me on the NaNo forums? Then check out my NaNoWriMo profile page! I’ll also be tweeting my misery (@loganturner) and getting in on those excellent @NaNoWordSprints motivational writing sprints.

Basically, don’t worry if you don’t hear much from me this month. It means I’m holed up being creative…or crying in a corner at my failures. Either way, it’s bound to be interesting.

Writing Wednesday – The Struggle to Revise

Writing Wednesday 2 
As mid-October rapidly approaches, I am starting to get inundated with reminders about the upcoming National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo). Message boards are lighting up with new posts, my writing studio is advertising prep classes to generate ideas, and Twitter is full of folks practicing their daily word counts.

I participated in NaNoWriMo for the first time last year and made it – barely. I finished with a pitiful draft of a half-cocked idea and perhaps only a handful of scenes that would actually work. When I faced the prospect of trying to revise this messy, disorganized pile of words, I got so overwhelmed that I simply turned my back on it and started to write something else.

Once again, I got stuck with nowhere to take my plot and only a vague concept of where I wanted this story to go. But never fear! To the rescue is the month of November, swooping in to occupy my mind on a new story, new characters, and no fear of revisions!

It’s an escape tactic, you see. I always struggle with revisions. Despite an entire shelf of helpful writing books and tools, many pages of helpful critique notes, and a laptop loaded with the handy Scrivener program to help me sift through the story without getting lost, I can’t ever manage to get over my fear of revising.

What if I start making changes and the entire thing shifts into something new? What if I start making changes and I hate the whole project? What if I lose the essence of the characters?

The issue is staring me directly in the face. I need to focus on the heart of my story and not drown myself in self-doubt. I often think of the arts as an exercise in false confidence. When I was a theater student, sometimes to get over your fears you had to “fake it ’til you make it” so to speak. If I allowed my doubts to get the best of me, I’d never succeed, and sometimes I just had to take a leap of faith and trust that I had the goods to get it done.

In the fall of my senior year in college, I took on the role of Puck in our production of A Midsummer Night’s Dream. As most people know, Puck closes the show with a monologue delivered to the audience. It’s a beautiful speech, and an endearing moment between the audience and the character. It’s also a very important and powerful moment, which was not lost on me.

Despite months of rehearsals, weeks of performances, and thousands of recitations, every night I turned to my castmate, Zack, and asked him how the speech started. It didn’t matter how many times I’d done the speech myself. I knew Zack knew the speech, and as we huddled in the dark backstage, waiting to go out for the final scene, I could never think of the first few words. “If we shadows have offended,” he’d whisper, and I’d nod and start mumbling under my breath, “if we shadows have offended if we shadows have offended,” right up to the moment I took a step onstage.

It wasn’t that I didn’t know the speech. I did. Backwards and forwards. But as the exhaustion of the production started to set in, and I waited in the wings for my entrance, the weight of the delivery of that speech started to bear down on me. I would get so worked up about the magnitude of the task that I forgot that I actually had the skills to bring it home. Until the moment I stepped on stage and had no choice but to get through it, the speech became greater than me and not the other way around.

This is how I feel when I write. As I’m entrenched in the task of getting the story down on the page, I’m ecstatic. It’s when I have to step back and examine what I’m doing that I go from “let me get this cool idea down on paper” to “OHMIGOD I’m writing A WHOLE BOOK!” In order to try and combat this, I’ve tried just focusing on scenes, but that also doesn’t seem to help. My next step is to try putting together an outline to keep me aware that this is just many small parts that add up to one greater idea, and that it doesn’t all have to be tackled at once.

Anyone else have this kind of revisers’ block? How do you prevent yourself from getting overwhelmed?

Writing Wednesday – Scholar v. Natural

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Grab the button and join in:
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Welcome to Writing Wednesday, my weekly feature where I discuss my works in progress, project ideas, editing struggles, or anything else related to the world of writing. Feel free to grab my button and post your own thoughts on writing! Leave a link to your post in the comments and I’ll stop by.


As I’ve mentioned on here 1,043,972 times, I’m in my last quarter of grad school. You know what that means, right? Thesis writing! (Or in my case, capstone project writing!)

I’ve been in school part-time since January 2009, which means for the last 2.5 years I’ve spent a good portion of my writing life trying to sound very scholarly and proper. I try to avoid terms like “snooty” and “smartypants” but sometimes it all feels very much like in my efforts to write a quality paper I’m really just trying to sound smart.

Don’t get me wrong. My GPA is thanking me for those efforts. My snoot-tastic writing self is really paying off when it comes to school. But how is that translating into my other writing?

It’s hard for me, between school and work, to shut off that professional/business writing self and open up to my creative side sometimes. I sit down to try and write a review here and it feels so stiff and formulaic. Most of the time I want to delete the whole post and just write, “Four stars. Pretty awesome. You should read it. I’m tired.”

The perfectionist control freak side of me (read: all of me) will never let that happen. What’s the point of writing a review if you’re just going to say, “Meh. It was okay.” What would I do with all of these opinions?

The stiff side also struggles to really let go in my fiction. My sluggish, stress-addled brain slumps down against my skull, shakily pours itself a shot of espresso, and starts rambling about research methods and literature reviews and grant applications. I end up staring at the blank word processing document for about 12.3 seconds before clicking open Safari and checking Facebook again.

Le sigh.

I need to find a way to get in the zone and shrug off the business suit mentality. Nobody wants to read boring, scholarly Logan. They want to read fun, casual Logan! And if they don’t, I do, so I vow to try and be more fun in my reviews and in my fiction.

Somewhere in here is a funny, lively, non-Eeyore-sounding person. I promise.