Category Archives: Making Progress as a Writer

What Does It Take To Perform Under Fire?

I’ve been involved in the Martial Arts for over ten years. I have a black belt, and if I hadn’t become a writer on top of my day job I would be a second degree. But I got distracted by writing, and that’s that.

Belt tests are some of my least favorite parts of the martial arts. I love class. I love my lessons. I love punching and kicking and knife techniques and sparring and sometimes I pretend to love forms. But belt tests are a different animal.

In short, the instructors—who are usually cool people—turn into demons that are there to push you until you’re teetering on the edge of your endurance and sanity. I can do techniques all day long, but make me run around the building or scale a wall and I go to pieces. Other people lose it if they have to do defense techniques quickly, or spar more than one person. (Most people don’t do well with that, by the way.) Whatever it is, the instructors will find it. And then, once you’re barely standing and thinking about quitting, they ask you to do a form. Or spar. Or defend yourself from them.

On some level it’s awesome. Especially after you’re at the end looking back. There’s nothing like knowing that you did every single Defense Maneuver you have flawlessly against guys taller and stronger than you. Or that you didn’t get stabbed when they brought the fake knives out.

But in the middle of it, there isn’t time to think, and if you do think, it’s usually about how much some part of your body hurts. Sometimes that includes your brain.

I’m short and round and don’t look much like a black belt, but when I’m in practice, I’m pretty darn good.

And that’s the key to passing a test. Being in practice. Because if you’re in practice, then when a fist is coming straight for your face, no matter how tired you are, you will do something. It might even be the right thing. Either way, you won’t get hit, and the next moment the other guy will be on the ground and you’ll think, “Hey, that really works. Oh crap, there’s another guy coming.”

I feel like this relates to writing. Lately I’ve been extremely busy, and my writing has been suffering. It’s only been in the last few weeks that I’ve thought about the fact that I’m out of practice. I work part time and write part time, but I haven’t been consistently writing. I work on marketing or editing or blogging or putting together a newsletter or a giveaway. I pour words onto the page when there is a deadline looming, but not every day. I’m out of practice. Which is silly, because I know how important it is to write each day, and yet I’m not doing it.

So that’s my suggestion. Write each day, even if it is just 200 or 500 words. Write something. Stay in practice. Get a list of writing prompts off the web if you don’t have any ideas on what to write about or you don’t want to work on your current work in process. That way, when the pressure comes, and it will come, you can crack your knuckles and go for it.

The Secret Lessons of NaNoWriMo

All this month the Fictorians have been talking about one of my favorite times of year: Nanowrimo! As I’ve discussed in the past, Nanowrimo was instrumental in my transitioning from desiring to write to actually producing work I was really happy about. What I’d like to cover in my post this month are the ‘other’ lessons Nanowrimo can teach you.

First, let’s cross off the two well-discussed one’s: ‘writing every day’ and ‘turning off the internal editor.’ Several of the Fictorians have covered these this month and there’s a ton of discussion out there about them, so I won’t belabor the point.

I’ll just add that I agree that you don’t *have* to write everyday to be a writer and that word count goals are at best a double-edge sword. For me, Nanowrimo was huge and I personally try to write every day. What works for you is for you to find, of course.

Beyond these two though, I’d like to introduce what I feel are the secret lessons of Nanowrimo. Four years after my first Nano ‘win’, these are the instructions I learned that first November that still stay with me and keep me productive:

GOALS HAVE VALUE

Moving away from a goal of writing x words in y time, any kind of goal is a fantastic motivator. Over time I’ve come to move away from word count goals and into scene goals. Each day I lay out the scenes I want to accomplish with that day’s work and then I don’t stop until I get them done. Chasing that carrot keeps me going, even through sleepy afternoons and days when the screen wants to stay blank. I need to get that goal, so keys get hit and words start to happen. Without a goal oriented approach, I’m doubtful I would get as much done.

WRITING IS AN ENDLESS EXERCISE

When I completed my first Nanowrimo, I had written 50,000 words. I wasn’t done though, there was much more novel to write. I added another 80,000 words and the story was finally complete. But I wasn’t finished, it was a first draft and a lousy one at that. I revised it several times, but I still wasn’t finished, because I needed to get some beta reads on it. After the beta reads came more revisions, and on and on. In truth, it’s never finished. At some point you decide the project it done, that additional work is not going to push the needle much farther.

Then you start the next one.

KNOW WHO YOU ARE AS A WRITER

Before Nanowrimo I didn’t know how important outlines were to me. I didn’t know if I could write 1,000 words a day, or 2,000 or 5,000. I didn’t know if I could write in public, or if I was a better writer in the morning or the evening. Writing every day really answers all those questions for you. After that first Nano, I knew that outlines would be critical to my success. I knew that on a good day I could write 4,000 words, but that I’m unlikely to be a coffee shop writer.

One of the things I love most about writing is that there is no one way to do it. Each of us can learn from other writers, we can read books about writing, we can attend classes and participate in national writing-based exercises. Yet in the end, we each have to find our own method that is uniquely ours. Nanowrimo is a fantastic opportunity to learn what process works for you and start yourself on the path to being a more productive writer.

See you next month!

Write Like It’s Your Job

For many of us, writing isn’t our primary job. We have day jobs, night jobs, side jobs, odd jobs, freelance jobs, and job jobs. While we’re working toward writing becoming our full-time job, we just do not have the luxury of having it yet. In the meantime, we seize our free hours and moments, developing stories and getting better at our craft.

But this month? No. This month, writing is your job. Priority uno.

The truth about NaNoWriMo is that while 1,667 words a day for a month seems perfectly manageable, it’s realistic that you will not get to write every day. You might miss one day a week, and then you have some extra words to make up. You might miss a few days in two weeks, and your word count will continually snowball from there. It can become overwhelming very quickly.

I’ve only done NaNoWriMo twice, but I have some tips for success so that you won’t feel overwhelmed during November.

  1. 1. Sit down with your loved ones. Tell them you will be writing every day, and it will take at least an hour. That hour is yours. That hour is damn-near holy. Tell them they cannot disturb you during your writing session. Assure them they will survive your absence for that hour.
  2. Write more than 1,667 words per day. When you’re in the zone and you’ve reached your 1,667-word goal, keep going. Go until your brain starts to get tired and fuzzy. Keep going until your alarm goes off or your kid storms in and demands you change his diaper.
  3. Treat yo self on days you’d rather be doing anything but writing. Promise yourself a cookie when you finish your word count. Get a drink at the bar after writing. Ignore the rest of your to-do list and take a magical bubble bath and listen to your favorite podcast.
  4. Go to the library or coffeeshop to write. If you live in the middle of no where, go outside and write. Sometimes, staying in the same place to write can be distracting. Being in our house, apartment, or space can be distracting. There are a hundred other things you could do in your space instead of write. Don’t let yourself become tempted to do something else.
  5. Close all tabs in your internet browser. You can now only use the internet to Google a fact or for research during your writing sessions.
  6. Turn off your phone, or at least silence that mofo.
  7. Commiserate with writing buddies. Don’t have any writing buddies? Sign up on the NaNoWriMo website and find your local chapter. Research a Facebook group or a forum dedicated to NaNoWriMo.
  8. Plan a big reward at the end of November. A small trip, a vacation, a tub of your favorite ice cream, tickets to see your favorite band, a camping trip. Whatever it is, make sure it’s a big deal to you, and make sure you don’t buy your tickets until you have officially written 50,000 words in November.

Got more tips or tricks for staying focused during NaNoWriMo? Write them in the comments below!

 

 

Game on! Making writing fun 

It’s NaNoWriMo time.

As I said last month, I’m not really a NaNoWriMo participant. I do watch from the sidelines though. It’s interesting to watch writers push themselves to achieve word count goals. I do believe that the hardest part of writing is finishing a story, and anything that gets people to complete a project is probably a good thing.

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But I do worry about people putting ridiculous amounts of pressure on themselves to complete a project. Creating an artificial pressure-packed environment can make writing a chore, and that can give writers a bad taste in their mouths which can lead to less motivation, not more.

So how do you keep writing fun when the pressure is on?

Honestly, that’s a very hard question to answer. Sometimes writing really can be a chore. And if you’re trying to make a living at it, then it’s a chore that you have to do, just as much as if you were a pastry chef getting up at 4am for the umpteenth time and dragging yourself into work.

Here are a few things that might take the drudgery out of your writing as you try to maintain that 1,500 words per day goal that will get you close to a NaNoWriMo success.

  • Remove a significant character, and replace them with a completely different one. You don’t have to go all George R. R. Martin here, you don’t have to kill them. Maybe they just had to move away. Maybe your protagonist got into an argument with them, and they decided it was time to move on. Whatever the cause, this will force you to think about your characters’ personalities and give you a chance to explore how your protagonist deals with adversity.
  • Introduce some weather into your narrative. I can’t even think of the number of books I’ve read where it apparently never even rains, much less storms. Let nature become an obstacle to your characters’ goals. This is a great opportunity to paint a memorable scene.
  • It is apparently very difficult in a novel to get sick. Nobody ever seems to. I’ve read eight book series and the main characters never even get the sniffles. Your macho he-man hero type may be able to stare down a raging fire-breathing dragon, but how well does he handle a migraine?
  • Throw a party. In real life people go to parties all the time. Unless a party is part of the plot, characters in novels never seem to be invited to do anything. I’m writing this the day after Halloween. Maybe your main characters get invited to a costume party. What would they dress as? What would that reveal about their personalities that might not come out otherwise?

These are all things that can reveal new and interesting things about your character, while giving you something interesting and new to write. That’s when your mind is open to new ideas, and when your story can take interesting twists and turns that you didn’t anticipate. And if you didn’t anticipate them, it’s a good bet that your readers won’t either.