How I Learned to Write (Pretty Much) Every Day- On Creating Regular Writing Habits- Part One

One of the biggest tips that you hear from people when it comes to writing is the advice to “write every day.” This makes a lot of sense. I find that the quality of my writing goes up when I’m writing on a regular basis. Also, it just makes it a lot easier to accomplish something when you’re committing time to it every day.

I’ve gotten pretty good at creating a steady writing habit over the past few years, even if I fall short of writing every day. Since I know it’s something that a lot of people struggle with, I thought I’d share what works for me. The key words there being “what works for me.” Everyone approaches their writing differently. I don’t claim this to be a full proof method. All I can claim as that’s it’s made me a hell of a lot more efficient as a writer. And it mostly breaks down to being prepared, being specific, and being realistic.

Tip #1- Decide that You’re Going to Make Writing A Priority- This one may sound unnecessary. If you’ve decided that you want to write every day (or at least on a regular schedule), haven’t you already done that? To me, there’s a very big difference between saying “I’m going to write more” and “I’m going to make writing a priority” and the key word there is “a priority.” By mentally preparing myself in advance by setting up this specific goal, it ends up being a great way of dealing with distractions. Say I feel the urge to spend time clicking around on the internet during writing time. The second I pull up my browser, I hear a little voice saying “but Nancy, writing is supposed to be a priority.” Maybe there’s a book I really want to read, or TV show I want to watch? “No, writing is a priority.” But I want more sleep! “Nope. Priority.”

Of course, there are things in your life that are going to take priority even over writing (or at least should). You probably shouldn’t neglect your kids for example. And while it’s one thing to fight the urge to sleep in, neglecting your need for sleep for an extended period of time just doesn’t work. But creating this goal has really helped me stay focused in times when I would otherwise be distracted. We’ll get more into dealing with distractions in Part Two!

Tip #2- Pick a Project That You’re Excited About, and Prepared to Dive Into- This was something a concept introduced to me in Rachel Aaron’s 2k to 10k (a great book about writing), and one that’s worked well for me. Each year, I do NaNoWriMo. The years that I enter NaNoWriMo with a project that I’m really excited about, and well prepared for, are years that I’m a lot more productive. And by “prepared,” I don’t necessarily mean having a detailed outline written out in advance (although that may work for you!). Instead, I make sure that I when I sit down at my computer, I know what I want to write that day. Beyond that, I have a really solid idea of what I want to do for the next few chapters, and a vague idea of what I want to do for the rest of the book. This allows me to stay true to my discovery writer roots, without having to worry about my flow getting derailed by simply not knowing what to do next.

As far as excitement goes, I think it’s natural to become frustrated with a project during certain points of the writing project. But for me, the better prepared I am, I’m less likely to find myself dissatisfied on a regular basis. So that’s another example where a certain level of preparation can help.

This process works a little differently while editing (which is what I’m working on now), but I find that it still helps to go into the day excited about your project, and with a really solid idea of what you’re going to do next.

Tip #3- Pick and Time to Write, And Stick to It- One of the biggest tips I see when talking about setting up New Year’s Resolutions, or any kind of goals, is to make sure that they are specific and within your control. So, instead of saying “I’m going to lose weight this year!” you say “I am going to work out for at least a half hour, five times a week.” The second goal is focused around daily tasks that you can do, rather than some general goal you want to do sometime during the next year. Another benefit that comes when setting goals like this is it helps to break down something large, into smaller, more manageable parts. It’s why during NaNoWriMo, you’re more likely to succeed if you think “I need to write 1667 words today” not “holy hell, I only have a month to write a whole book!”

When it comes to writing on a regular basis, I find it’s best to set aside a specific time that you can write every day. Ideally, this will be the same time every day. For me, that’s an hour before I go to work every day. As my work schedule fluctuates from day to day (but is pretty stagnant week to week), this means I have to be a little flexible. Still, for the most part, my mornings go like this- wake up, eat breakfast, get ready for the day, write.

Of course, my path isn’t going to work for everyone. Maybe you’re a baker, and have to be at work at some ungodly hour in the morning. Maybe your work schedule fluctuates from week to week. It’s why, before actually sitting down to write, I recommend taking a good look at the limitations of your actual schedule. This may mean that you don’t find time to write every day. Maybe your weekends are just too full. Maybe your weekdays are too full, but you can find a nice chunk of time on Saturday and Sunday. The point with these tips isn’t to find an ideal situation, but to find something sustainable.

Cause that’s the point, isn’t it? To create a pattern. To make your way steadily toward a goal, step by step, through creating daily habits that you can stick with.

And speaking of step by step, this is turning out a lot longer then I suspected it to be. So as a result, I’m breaking this post into two parts. This is the end of Part One. Please check back for next week’s post for Part Two!

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Fallen to Earth: The Trials and Tribulations of The New 52’s Supergirl — Speculative Chic

Hey there! I have a new entry up on Speculative Chic! This one’s all about Supergirl, and adventures during The New 52. I break down both the good and bad (and trust me, there are both!)

Back when Greg Berlanti first announced that he was making a Supergirl TV show, I realized something very important. I knew embarrassingly little about Supergirl herself. Sure, I knew that she was a Kryptonian, and Clark Kent’s cousin, but beyond that? Yeah… not so much. To rectify this, I found myself hitting up my library,…

via Fallen to Earth: The Trials and Tribulations of The New 52’s Supergirl — Speculative Chic

Meet Squirrel Girl: Your New Favorite Superhero, Role Model, and Best Friend — Speculative Chic

I used to think that Squirrel Girl was just a joke. In my defense, that was usually how she was brought up, in a laughable, dismissive way. I distinctly remember some form of the phrase “Even Squirrel Girl will have her own Marvel movie before DC figures out how put popular character X on film”…

via Meet Squirrel Girl: Your New Favorite Superhero, Role Model, and Best Friend — Speculative Chic

Hey! My first post on Speculative Chic just went live! Are you a Squirrel Girl fan? Then you’ll love this post. Not a Squirrel Girl fan? Then maybe you will be after reading this post 🙂

Make Your Own Avengers Team!

I was going to write this big post about dealing with self doubt, and how difficult it is to tell the difference between genuine needs of improvement in one’s writing vs. the falsehoods based on personal insecurities. Buuuuut then I found myself in the middle of a pretty busy week, and that just sounded way too serious/depressing. So I’d thought I’d reference a conversation I had with my husband a few days back about the Avengers.

Here we go! Thanos assembles the infinity gauntlet in Avengers: Infinity War (now presented without parts!). He snaps his fingers and all of the Avengers (BOTH teams, the one from the original Avengers movie, and Cap’s team at the end of Age of Ultron), vanish without a trace. It’s up to you to form a new Avengers team of SIX people. You can choose from anyone who has appeared in an MCU movie, an MCU television show, or is contracted to appear in either. So Captain Marvel is fine, as she has her own movie coming out. And Iron Fist and Ghost Rider are fair game since they will be showing up in the shows. Basically, you just can’t pick anyone that hasn’t already been an official avenger. Any other MCU character is on the table.

Here’s what I chose for my roster:

Avenger #1- Loki
This is the choice that gave my husband the most pause. Technically, he’s not a hero, but a villain. Also, to my knowledge he has never been an Avenger in the comics. BUT! look at the previous films, and his role actually makes a lot of sense. After failing with the Chitauri at the end of the first Avengers movie, Loki is already on Thanos’s shit list. So with the Mad Titan on his heels, Loki might be forced to make some… interesting alliances. The values of having Loki on the team are pretty high. Although he’s not the fighter that Thor is, as an Asgardian, he’s certainly no slouch. Also, he has previous experience with an Infinity Stone (the aether, from Thor: The Dark World). Loki is also a trickster, which might allow him to turn the tables on Thanos. Thematically, Loki’s tricky nature and moral flexibility would bring in a an element that we haven’t really seen with an Avenger (Tony may have made Ultron, but that came from a place of good). This would result in interesting interactions with our more lawful good team members (more on them later).

Avenger #2- Black Panther
The loss of Captain America is a heavy one. The former solider is one of the team’s strongest fighters, an impressive tactician, and a leader that people can stand behind. Would could possibly come close to replacing that? Enter Black Panther. Civil War has proven to us that he’s a beast when it comes to combat abilities. Not only that, but his decisions at the end of Civil War show a real emotional maturity that I believe is necessary when it comes to being a leader. That and the whole being a monarch of a country thing. Also, without Tony, you’ve lost your cash cow, a role that the wealthy Wakandan could fill quite nicely.

Avenger #3- Gamora
No offense to Star Lord but as the “daughter” of Thanos, I couldn’t think of a Guardian who’d be better suited for a fight against Thanos. This works both logistically (she’ll be the only Avenger that KNOWS that guy after all) and thematically. Going up against the man who killed your family then forced you to work as his personal assassin for years? That’s powerful stuff. Also, I would love to see see her interact with other Avengers, who are unlikely to know what to do with a truly alien presence. And as someone who prides herself as living with honor, I could see a real strong friendship forming with Black Panther. On top of that, she ALSO has previous experience with an infinity stone (the power stone). That and we need someone green on the team.

Avenger #4- Captain Marvel
This one is a little tricky. Unlike the other members of the team, who we have seen on screen to some effect, how Captain Marvel will be portrayed is a bit of a mystery. Will they emphasize her military roots? Those are skills that could be useful to the team after the loss of both Cap and Rhody. Or will they chose to make her a cosmic hero, emphasizing her connection to the Kree? Having another Avenger with knowledge of the alien side of the MCU is not a bad choice. Regardless of her backstory, if there’s one thing that’s consistent about Carol Danvers, it’s the fact that she’s a powerhouse. And without Thor or Hulk running around, we are going to need someone who will play the role of “big gun.” I couldn’t think of anyone better suited to that then Captain Marvel.

Avenger #5- Doctor Strange
He’s another tricky choice, as we’ve only seen Stephen Strange exchange a few lines in a couple of trailers. But one line in particular has stood out to me. When Strange comments to the ancient one that “this (magic) doesn’t make sense,” she replies, “not everything has to.” What better way to take out an all powerful being then someone who doesn’t have to play by the rules? Someone who has inter-dimensional powers. Also, if the rumors are true about an infinity stone appearing in Doctor Strange, he will ALSO have experience with a Stone. That and with Tony gone, we’ll need a new beardo on the team.

Avenger #6- Spiderman
This one is tricky, because I knew I wanted to put a more street level person on the team. While my heart may be with Jessica Jones and Luke Cage, I know that, tone wise, what we really need is a wise cracker to break the tension created by the super-serious team members already assembled. Also, it would be really interesting to see the perspective of a shiny new hero. Peter Parker is a teenager, not a thousand year old Asgardian, or an alien assassin. He doesn’t have military training, nor has he studied the mystic arts. He’s just a kid trying to keep his neighborhood safe. And that, more human perspective, when combined with his tendency to crack jokes to break tension, is surely one that viewers will find themselves drawn to the most.

So there you go, Kevin Feige! I made your next Avengers team. I’ll be waiting patiently for my paycheck.

What does your roster look like? And yes, I am aware that this is a VERY BIG question, so it might take you a minute to think it through 🙂

Let’s Collaborate! On Writing Groups and Fanzines

As a lifelong introvert, I’ve never been big on group activities. I didn’t do much partying in college, and I’ve always been the type of person that does better with a small group of close friend then a large gathering of many acquaintances. But in this world of networking and social media, being the loner nerd who likes to stay home and read doesn’t always fly. So I do my best to tackle the world of socializing like any slightly awkward woman in her 30s. In doing so, I’ve learned a very important lesson.

Collaboration can be a powerful thing.

And while I’ll always be that loner nerd-and there are certain projects I can never see myself collaborating on-in the past few months I’ve found a few methods that suit me just fine.

First off, I’ve joined a writing group! There’s four of us total, and we’re all working on speculative works. Mine- Red and Black- is a superhero novel. Another member has a sci-fi story taking place on a generation ship. A third has this unique gothic tale taking place in a small town in Maine. The final member is working on a choose your own adventure style traditional fantasy story. So lots of fun stuff to be had there! Although I’ve always had first readers, it’s been a great help to have this extra level of involvement with my novel. It’s made me realize the vital importance of having as many people read your novel as possible before you try to shop it around. I mean, no one likes having their flaws pointed out to them, but it’s much better to have all of the rough edges smoothed off before you try to publish. Because eventually, someone is going to see those flaws. And as much as we writers might like to think we really know a story, sometimes you’re just too close to a project to see them all.

My writing group will be meeting on Sunday. One of the things we will be discussing is the second third of Red and Black. I am quite eager to hear what people think!

Another example of collaboration is a fanzine that I’ve been invited to be a part of. And lo and behold, it just launched today! This group blog is called Speculative Chic, and you can read the intro post here. Starting next week, the blog will feature regular posts all about geek culture and speculative fiction. And there are A LOT of contributors who are going to talk about everything from the latest big movie release, to a big discussion of the nominees for the Hugo awards. I have two tasks. One is assembling a weekly column called “My Favorite Things.” I like this column because it’s all about geeking out about your current favorite media, which I love to do anyway. There are already several posts up for discussion for anyone curious. And later on, I will be posting my own column, which will be all about comics. I decided to start things out by talking about one of my favorite superheroes, the Unbeatable Squirrel Girl! Please keep an eye on the blog, as that will be posting in the second half of August.

So collaboration may seem like a scary thing, especially to us writers who envision their dream job as sitting alone with their laptop in a dark room. But even if you are an introvert, there are so many benefits to working with others towards a common goal. It can result in you becoming a better writer, for one thing. Also, sometimes when you try new things, you can inadvertently end up finding something that you love. So when these opportunities for collaboration come by, don’t reject them outright. Take a serious look at things. For all you know, it could result in something awesome.

Guess Who’s Back?

::Brushes off the dust::

Whoo boy. It’s been a while! To think I used to update this thing so regularly, and now it’s been over a year. And what a mixed year it’s been on the writing front. For a while, things were going pretty badly. I had to come to terms with the fact that the YA fantasy trilogy I had written just wasn’t going to go anywhere publishing wise. And the more I wrote, the more I was able to see why. The first book in the trilogy… well, it wasn’t very good. And the second book, while better, still had a lot of issues. By book three, I had finally written something that looked really good. Unfortunately, it was very much a series book, and could not be re-written as stand alone. Coming to the realization that this trilogy was never going to go anywhere was pretty painful.

Since then, things have gotten better. I’m hard at work revising a new, very different project (working title: Red and Black). I’ve joined a writing group that meets every month or two. And I’m feeling all together much better creatively. Now, it hasn’t been a straight shot to positivity. There are still some days when I look at what I’ve written and think about what a fraud I must be, thinking that anyone would want to read this. But my writing group has been all together very helpful/supportive, which has encouraged me to push forward.

Another exciting project I’m working on is in the form of a group blog. I’ll give more details about it when it officially launches next month, but the long in the short of it is I’ve been given the opportunity to work with a bunch of awesome geeky ladies, and I can’t wait to see the results. I’m compiling a group column every week, and writing a column of my own once a month.

In working on this group blog, it’s gotten me thinking about this old blog. On the off chance that someone likes one of my columns and wants to read more of my stuff, it wouldn’t look too good if they came here and saw the latest entry was over a year ago. As a result, I’ve decided to open up the blog again. I’m not sure how often I’ll be updating, but for the moment I’ll aim for updates once a week. Unlike the group blog, where my column will involve a little more thought/preparation, the updates here will be more causal thoughts on my writing, my reading, and what else happens to be on my mind.

The last year may have been a bit of a mess creatively, but as I enter my 31st year (my birthday is on July 31st!) with these exciting projects and collaborations on the horizon, I can’t help but hope that the next year will have more ups than downs.

Thought on Nominating for the Hugo Awards

Hugo award nominees are due Tuesday, March 10th! So if you have a membership to one of the participating WorldCons, don’t forget to vote!

The Hugo Awards are given out once a year to honor great works (mostly literary, although not 100%) in the sci-fi/fantasy field. In order to be eligible to nominate and vote on these award you have to be a WorldCon member. This does cost money, although there is a special lower cost category for people who just want to vote and won’t actually be attending the con. This is my second year participating in the awards, and I found it to be a lot easier than the first time around. A lot of this has to do with the fact that I knew well in advance that I was going to be voting this year, while last year I waffled back and forth for a while before committing (guess I’m a fickle gal!). This allowed me to keep an eye out for really promising books that would likely be worth my attention come voting time.

Because I recently filled out my ballot (a more time intensive process then you might think!), I decided to share a few of my nominees. I’m not going to go into the whole slate because that would be waaay too long and I’m pretty sure no one would actually want to read that (myself included). Instead, I’ll share the ones I’m the most excited about.

The Goblin Emperor by Katherine Addison for Best Novel– Now, if you told me last year that one of my favorite novels from 2014 was a book about elves who are in the habit of speaking in first person plural, I would have looked at you like you were a crazy person. But there’s something about this book that just works. I was swept up into Maia’s world on page one, and I couldn’t help but route for this unlikely goblin Emperor until the very end. This is one I’m pretty sure is going to make the official ballot, given that it is a Nebula nominee and has a lot of positive buzz online.

The Ninety-Ninth Bride by Catherine K King for Best Novelette– On the other hand, I would be shocked to see this one actually make the official ballot. But I loved it, and I think it deserve accolades, so I’m putting it on there. The Ninety-Ninth Bride was published by The Book Smugglers, who did a whole series on subversive fairy tale retellings last year. The Ninety-Ninth Bride retold one of my favorites, Arabian Nights, and the author did such a good job putting her own personal stamp on this beloved tale. I loved the characters and was sad when it was over. I’d recommend reading it, even if it doesn’t get nominated.

Rocket Talk, hosted by Justin Landon for Best Related Work– This is one of my favorite podcasts (the other being Writing Excuses, which I also nominated). The focus here is issues facing the book-loving sci-fi/fantasy community, making it perfect for the Hugos. The host, Justin Landon, does a fantastic job of picking guests. He also has a great talent for knowing when to steer the conversation, or when to just let the guest go off. Last year, Rocket Talk was filled with episodes that were both insightful and entertaining, which is what I really need to keep me awake on my 45 minute commute.

Ms. Marvel, vol 1: No Normal by G Willow Wilson for Best Graphic Story– Holy crap was this category difficult to narrow down! There were so many great comics last year. One of the ones I really hope to see on the ballot is the new Ms. Marvel comic, which introduces Kamala Khan, a Pakistan-American teenager who discovers that she has superpowers. In addition to being really fun, I think this comic is very easy for new readers to pick up which, for whatever reason, isn’t always the case with first volumes!

The Legend of Korra: Season 4 for Best Dramatic Presentation: Long Form– Regardless of it’s shaky second season, The Legend of Korra has always succeeded in bringing a level of sophistication and quality that you’re not used to seeing in children’s television. It’s also a show that it perfectly willing to take risks, which Season Four did again and again. This begins with the decision to jump ahead a few years, bringing our teenage characters into young adulthood, and ends with a final scene that establishes our heroine Korra as a bisexual protagonist. How often do you find that in regular television shows, never mind a kids cartoon? This show has been denied any Hugo love over the past few years. I hope to see that rectified this year, either in the Long Form, or Short form categories (where I nominated the two part finale).

Captain America: Winter Solider for Best Dramatic Presentation: Long Form– Boy was 2014 a great year for superhero movies not made by Sony! But where Guardians of the Galaxy (which I also nominated) is clearly the most popular, I find The Winter Solder to be the best of the best. Captain America was just a perfect blend of bombastic action sequences, lovable characters, and real life issues. Also, wasn’t it satisfying to see the bad guys getting taken down by a team of primarily women and POCs? Marvel has set the bar awfully high for Age of Ultron.

SL Huang for the Campbell Award (Not-a-Hugo)– Sometimes you’re drawn to a writer for the quality of their writing, or the strength of their characterizations. Other times, they just have really neat-o ideas and execute them extremely well. And while Huang doesn’t fail or anything in the first two categories, it’s the third where she knocks it out of the park. I highly recommend picking up her debut, Zero Sum Game, which is about a superheroine who gets her powers from being really good at math. Her stand alone short story, Hunting Monsters, is also really cool. Huang is also self published, so it would be nice to see some indie love on the ballot.

Those were some of my nominees! Who do you hope to see on the official ballot?