Tag Archives: time to write

Breaking Into The Next Level Of Craft

MountainWe all know the journey to becoming a professional writer is a long one.  It takes a while to “Break In”, and no two writers ever seem to take the exact same path to get there.  New writers are told to keep working, be persistent, and they’ll get there.

It’s like dropping off an inexperienced climber at the base of a challenging mountain and telling them to just start climbing, and eventually they’ll make it to the top.

But there are trails on a mountain, easier paths marked by those who have gone on before.  True, but someone who knows next to nothing about mountain climbing can still easily get lost.  Same for writers.  There is lots of help available, but sometimes we don’t know enough to know what’s missing when we get stuck.

Climbing a mountain is done in stages, and one thing that comes as a shock to some new writers is that becoming a professional writer is similar.  We don’t Break In just once.  There are levels to craft, plateaus we reach on our journey.  Sometimes we get stuck there, unable to Break In to the next level and resume the climb up toward the ultimate goal.

Throughout the month of September, we are going to explore some of these writing plateaus where we’ve been stuck, and ways we’ve found to pass the barrier and Break In to the next level of craft.

Sometimes we need a mentor, a writing group, or an unusually honest loved one to tell us we can do better.  When I decided to pick up writing several years ago, I pounded out 70 pages in one weekend and thought, “I’m on my way!” My wife read those initial chapters and said, “I don’t like your protagonist.”

She was right.  He didn’t work.  First obstacle.

Thankfully the answer to that one was straight-forward.  Swallow pride, throw away thousands of words of crap for the first (of many) time, and start again.

Sometimes we need a seminar or a conference or a book on writing to illuminate the shadows and show us a couple steps forward down the path.  We might need to arrange our schedule better to find more time to write.

And sometimes we just need to write another hundred thousand words of crap before we get it.

In the end, we all hit multiple plateaus, or ruts that block our forward progress.  But we don’t have to stay there.

This month the shared wisdom and experience of the entire group will help map out some possible routes to reach the next plateau.

Promises To Keep

 I have a commitment issue.

Okay, maybe it’s better to say I have an overcommitment issue.

I describe myself as a mommy, writer, lawyer. Needless to say, each of those things is a full-time job. So, necessarily there are instances when the time required by each of them add up to more than 24 hours in a day. I’m in one of those periods right now.  But I’ll end up waking up at midnight, carving four hour of work out of the night, and then napping for a few hours before I have to get up to feed the horses. In other words, I make it work until I fall down. Not the best strategy but it’s who I am.

There are a number of downsides to this very A-type personality trait. One of which is when other people fail to meet their commitments to me, it is a source of annoyance. But, that’s a different post. Balance is the issue.

Most of us haven’t reached the point in our writing careers when we can give up the day job and write full-time. Those who do write full-time often work on more than one project at a time. Oh, the luxury of only having one thing to work on at a time. But, reality is that life rarely is that simple. We juggle. Animals need to be fed. Kids need to be reminded to shower. They need to be taken to school, or sports, or a friend’s house. We need to meet work deadlines, and get new work.  We need to write, and edit, and market our writing. And somewhere between managing our life, we need to live it.

There’s all sort of advise out there about how to fit writing into the rest of your life. You’ll often be told that we have to write every day. And that’s great. For when you can. I have a post on my blog about inching toward sucess – having low daily writing goals so I feel motivated to start every day. I was recently listening to Get-It-Done Guy’s podcast “How to Juggle Multiple Projects,” and realized his advise, as it often does, applied to many areas of my life.

So, how do I juggle? Sometimes very poorly. I do try to stay on top of my commitments so I can spent time with my family and honor all my other obligations.  The following is what (mostly) works for me:

First, I follow the Get-It-Done Guy’s advise.: prioritize my “to-do” list.

Second, I focus on one task at a time. Have you ever walked around in a circle because your attention is being pulled in too many directions? I have. My kids think it’s funny. My husband knows to get out of my way because a melt-down is coming. We’ve been sold this idea of multi-tasking, but we really can’t work on more than one thing at a time. Multi-tasking is really serial attention focusing. Focus on one item and work on it until done, or until you reach its time allocation, see #3 below.  I turn my e-mail alerts off and my phone to “do not disturb.” Because I’m not starting and stopping tasks, I generally can accomplish my goal for that session. Minimize distractions.

Third, I schedule my tasks by Time. I’ve been a lawyer long enough that I know that most routine matters will take a certain amount of time. If I need to write a memorandum that’s going to take 30 hours, I can break that time commitment up to 3 hours a day for ten business days.  Because I’ve broken down my time allocation, I can start without feeling overwhelmed. It’s only three hours after all. The Get-It-Done Guy takes this one further and suggests putting the time blocks on your calender. For me, this doesn’t work because I see all the working “appointments” and die just a little. The blocks of time on my calendar become a wall I have to overcome and create more stress for me as I run “late” between tasks. But it might work for you.

My writing time is 9 pm to 11 pm. I’ll write when I can steal minutes (the Get-It Done Guy also has a great post on maximizing and using down time), but those two hours a night are my time. I write blog posts, edit, review other people’s stories and write in that window.

Fourth, I try to set realistic goals. My daily word count goal is only 250 words and amounts to about 15 minutes of time. Remember my two hour window? The 250 word goal means that on any day I can write, I’ll met the word-count goal. Because the goal is so easy to reach, I can beat back the need to sleep to get it done. After all, it’s only 15 minutes. The nights I write I average 750 words? What does this mean, it means I generally meet my weekly word goal (1,750 words per week). Writing isn’t a chore for me when I think about it in these terms and get to mark a check in my “goal completed” column. If you are the kind of person who needs the tangible reminder, go ahead and make a chart to show when you’ve met your goals. I use a word-count comment in my WIP so I can see I’ve met that day’s goal.

Fifth, deadlines are your friends, but unlike real friends you should manipulate them. There are some deadlines you must meet, and others that are aspirational. Use aspirational deadlines in advance of any hard one. If I’m writing for a November 1 submission deadline, I’ll have a September 15 completion deadline. Why? I’m very deadline motivated. I will push off matters with later deadlines to get to priority items. The aspirational deadline builds in a “catch-up” window. It also ensures I meet the “real” deadline without pulling an all nighter whenever possible.

Finally, I give myself a break. Not too long ago, I was in trial or other hearings nearly every day. Because my lawyer-ly matters were back-to-back my preparation time spilled out of normal office hours (7 am – 7pm – yea, I know – not so normal working times).  I was at the office trying to get exhibits ready until 2am the morning before a trial. Needless to say, I didn’t write that night or any night that week. I forgave myself for missing and started in fresh with the new week.

For me balancing my family’s, writing’s and day job’s obligations is a constant dance. With some planning, I manage to limit the times I stumble. I hope a look at how I work to keep a balance between the important pieces of my life will help you do the same. For me, it’s time to have dinner with the kids.

Check out my newest release from Musa Publishing: Jack Gorman Got Cut By A Girl. Karma is a bitch, and Jack Gorman is about to find out how much.







Writing Guerilla Warfare Style

This last weekend I spent four days in a large house in the middle of the woods with seven other women.  It was understood from the get-go that this was a writing retreat, so excessive visiting would not be tolerated.  While there, we had a morning snack, lunch, an afternoon snack and dinner (we ate really good), and each of us was responsible for preparing one snack and one meal.  We had to clean up after as well, but that was the only time we really had to take out of our writing time.  We would stand around chatting for a few minutes during snacks and we would all eat together and check on our progress during meals.  This was fun and bonding for all of us.  But mostly, we were writing from when we woke up till we went to sleep.

Our commander-in-chief (and retreat organizer) aka the “Write or Die Nazi” said she would keep us on task. And she did.  We used Dr. Wicked’s Write or Die program ($10) and competed against each (I even did this virtually with a friend who didn’t come).  If you’re not familiar with this program, you set a word goal and a time limit – I use 1000 words in 60 minutes most of the time – and then hit the WRITE button.  It opens a new screen and this is where you start typing.  It shows you how many words you’ve typed and how much time you have left to go.  If you pause for too long, the screen starts turning pink and will go to red while simultaneously a heinous sound of your choosing starts blaring at you, but as soon as you start typing again, it will go away.  Trust me when I say this keeps you motivated.  When done, you can then copy/cut and paste your text into your main document.

Not all of us would participate all the time, but several times a day, our Nazi would call out, “Write or Die” and whoever wanted to join in would get ready and when called, we would all start at the same time.  An hour later, we’d check in and see how we each did.  After the brief cheers, we’d go back to writing.  Some would turn the sound off so as not to bother others (the red screen still keeps you hopping) and do it by themselves in between the group competitions.  We were writing almost all day of every day there.

The energy was supercharged and we all kept each other going longer and more productively than we would have if home alone.  This was exceptionally good for me because I’ve had a hard time writing lately.  I sit there thinking, fingers hovering over the keyboard, waiting for ideas to come.  At the retreat, I did this the afternoon of Day 1 and the first half of Day 2 and I had 800 words to show for it.  I was frustrated.  I had the Write or Die program on my computer but hadn’t used it in a really long time.  So, the next challenge that was called, I participated.  I did more words in that hour than I had in the eighteen hours prior combined.  I used the program and the challenges the rest of the  retreat and ended up getting almost 18,000 words done by the time I went home.  Our highest gal did 24,000 total.  We are romance writers who write in our free time when jobs, husbands, kids and everything else in our lives allows.  Some are better at making that time and being productive, others less so, but no one left from this retreat left with less 15,000 new words.

There are many of you out there that can produce like this or better without breaking a sweat, but for me it was huge.  Having the pressure of the red screen/screeching violins looming kept my brain from sabotaging me.  My inner editor couldn’t keep rereading and fixing the same material or searching for the perfect word.  My doubt couldn’t sneak in and plague me with whether I was going the right direction.  I couldn’t stall by doing research ad nauseam. I had to just write.  And I did.  Sure, I have to go back and edit it and add a lot of details that do take some thought, but it’s easier to do that when you have something to work with.  Surprisingly, it was even good material.  It’d been in my mind, I’d been thinking on it for a long time, but I’d been sabotaging my efforts to get it on the page.  Write or Die was like guerilla warfare blitzing my inner adversary.

If you are one of those who can produce consistently, I applaud you and hope to join your ranks sooner than later.  For those who may need some assistance, Write or Die may help.  I know that even since I’ve been home, if I use the program, I get more done.  I turn to it as a tool when I find my fingers hovering instead of typing.

Have you used it?  Do you use other types of warfare?  The more tools I have, the better.  Let’s hear it, troops.

Goals Part 3: Evaluating

I’ve always been big on goals. But evaluating them can get discouraging, especially as I rarely accomplish my goals. One of my kids asked me once, “Why set goals if you’re not going to accomplish them anyway?” I responded, “So I accomplish something.” There is more to life than destinations. There’s the journey.   Setting goals gives us direction.

Each year, as I evaluate my goals, it’s more than a checklist. It’s a compass reading. How much of my plan did I implement? What can I change so I can do the things required to reach my goal? Why and when did I lose sight of the plan? How can I approach the goal in a better way? How can I enlist support from friends/family? How should I change the goal so I can be more successful next year? If I achieved my goal, what else would I like to work on? This kind of self-evaluation corresponds with our writing goals as well as our personal ones.

We should never set goals for things outside of our control, like landing an agent or publisher, but there is so much within our grasp. When we evaluate our productivity goals– how much time was spent writing, the number of pages, chapters, or stories finished–we have an opportunity to see what worked and what didn’t. We can look at our habits and writing patterns and decide how best to get our BICFOK (Butt in Chair, Fingers on Keyboard) at our optimum writing times. We can evaluate what got in the way, why, and how to change it.

As for that agent/publisher, we can set goals to meet people, to submit our work, and to do anything and everything we are capable of making happen in order to encourage their acceptance of our work. In the end, though, it’s their decision.

Now, I’m coming to the end of the most unproductive month I’ve ever had. There are a few reasons for that: started planning for the holidays later than I should have, overextended myself to family and friends, didn’t take the time to write during the days like I usually would, and spent too much time in the evenings watching TV because I was too tired. In evaluating the way my goal progress tanked, I can make some decisions. I’ll set a date to start the holiday shopping, I’ll set time parameters for holiday projects instead of committing myself to unreasonable time-consuming activities, I’ll reduce the shows I follow and schedule when I’ll watch them instead of staying up late or letting it eat into my writing time.

Will I slip-up or forget some of these goals through the course of the year? Sure. Looking over them on a regular basis will help, but I’ve never yet achieved even half the goals I set for myself. But I usually get a few. There’s no reason to give up on goal-setting just because we fall short. The purpose is to give direction, not perfection.

So, good luck on setting your goals. Remember to keep them specific, attainable, and limit your focus to a few of the things most important to you. And if you don’t reach them all, that’s what assessment is all about; we always have the opportunity to keep trying.  As writers, that should be a concept with which we’re painfully familiar. Happy Writing in 2012!