On Creating a Regular Writing Habit- Part Two

Welcome Back! This post continues my tips for creating a regular writing habit– such as writing every day. For part one, click here. Part two begins now!

Tip #4- Eliminate Time Wasters– One of the biggest challenges when it comes to writing every day is simply finding the time. And it’s not that surprising. Between the regular responsibilities of juggling family, friends, a career, and something resembling a full nights sleep, the idea of carving out  time for daily writing may seem impossible. Fortunately it isn’t. You just need to be honest to yourself about what’s really a worthwhile use of your attention, and what’s just wasting that precious time.

To me, time wasters include spending a lot of time on social media, mindless shopping (online and in real life), or marathoning TV shows or movies. While participating in these activities may be beneficial to a certain extent (social media allows us to connect with friends, shopping allows us to take care of necessary purchases, and I’m the last person to look down on someone for having a favorite TV show!), people have a habit of taking things too far, which ends up eating into precious writing time. For me, my biggest time waster is youtube. I’ll start off with one news show, and before I know it I’ve fallen into a black hole of movie trailer reactions, and haul videos. And while watching a video or two can be a nice way to unwind, I know that I push things too far, eating into time that could be better spent elsewhere.

Recognizing what these time wasters are requires us to pay serious attention to how we spend our time. Be honest with yourself. Do you spend more than an hour a day on social media. How many weekends have been lost to maratoning the latest Netflix series? If you’re really going to make writing a priority, that means taking these time wasters, and minimizing them.

Tip #5- Create A Visual Representation of Progress (or your lack thereof)– This one is super simple. I have a calendar, and each day I write down how much I’ve written (either in time, or how many words). This visual representation allows for an extra layer of accountability. If I miss a day, I put in a big X instead, and seeing too many X’s when I’m not dealing with a planned break (more on that later) really shows me where I’ve fallen short. On the other hand, seeing several days all lined up in a row where I managed to get in an hour or more of writing is a real motivator. My old fashioned method may not work for you, so there’s always the spreadsheet option. And there are great aps like “Don’t Break the Chain.” The actual method is up to you. It just really helps to have something to keep track of your progress.

Tip #6- Be Aware of Your Own Strengths and Weaknesses- This one is going to be the most personalized one of all of my tips, because when it comes down to it, we all have our own unique strengths and weaknesses when it comes to writing. For example, I am an extreme creature of habit, in love with my precious, precious routine. An example of this is when I was in grad school, I spent most of my waking hours in the library. There were several glassed in doors at the front of the building, and I would always enter using the same one. After a while, one door stopped functioning property. They locked it, and posted a sign asking people to use another one. The first day I came across this, I, being a creature of habit, ignored the sign, went right to the locked door, and walked right into it. And then I did that the next day. And the next. And the next.

Fortunately, what makes me a horrible person at opening doors, makes me a great person for creating a writing habit. I just need to to write at the same time every day long enough, and eventually the habit will stick. Of course, it something occurs to break my beloved routine (say, ahem string of snow days mid-February), I often find its not so easy keep up my habits, and need to take serious effort to refocus.

Another thing I struggle is with is finishing. Once I come to the end of something, I have a habit of mentally checking out before I’ve actually reached the finish line. As a result, when I get to the end of something, I need to really push myself to get through those last few pages. To get it done, and get it done well.

Finding your own strengths and weaknesses is something that will happen over time as you spend more time writing. For example, you might discover that you struggle to get over the hurdle of that first blank page, but once you get going, everything falls into place. You might discover that you do really well at write-ins, and that writing with other people is a great way to keep you motivated. Or you might discover that you’re like me and need to do all of your writing solitary, in silence, oftentimes with the lights off like a creepy vampire hermit. Picking up on these quirks is something that will take time, but try to be aware of them so you can know when your writing will be the smoothest, and when you will need to push through a rough patch..

Tip #7- Work Towards Planned Breaks to Keep You Refreshed, and Focused- Writing every day has so many benefits. It makes makes my writing flow much better, and helps me when it comes to keeping all of my plot lines and character arcs straight. And it makes it a hell of a lot easier to finish things! But the idea of doing something every day for the rest of my life can be daunting. And like everyone else, I feel the urge to skip a day every now and then. Only, once I’ve skipped one day and the habit is broken, it becomes very easy to skip two days. Or three. And then, before I know it, the habit is broken and I’m back at square one again.

That’s why I’ve really come around to the idea of taking a planned break. Here’s how it works for me. I separate my writing into chunks- with an ideal chunking lasting about a month. Then I take a week off to do something fun, and come back at the end, refreshed and refocused.

 

Those were my tips on how to create a writing habit. I hope that they’re helpful to someone! Writing on a regular basis has helped me so much, not just as a writer, but just in general. I find I’m overall a happier person when I’m writing on a regular basis, which I’m sure makes life a of easier for my loved ones as well.

I would love to hear if anyone has any other tips for writing every day/creating a regular writing habit. As mentioned previously, these may be what works for me, but everyone is unique. Finding what works for you can be a hell of a challenge, but there’s no denying that rewarding feeling that comes with finishing something good. Creating a regular writing habit is completely worth your effort!

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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!

On New Years Resolutions, and Writing Goals

I’m a sucker for new years resolutions. I usually make too many, and don’t always stick to them as well as I should, but I’ve always liked the fresh new start that comes with a new year. The idea that bad habits can be left behind, and better ones can be forged. And sure, I get the argument that New Years Resolutions can be viewed as useless, especially when you look at people who sign up for gym memberships, but never show up, but I think there’s a lot of value in setting goals, and taking time to refocus. You’re going to fall off the horse every now and then, but if you continue to make time to think about what you want, and plan how that can be achieved, you’re in a helluva better place then you were if you never paused to make the resolutions in the first place.

For example, if I had never sat down and said, “I’m going to make writing a daily habit” I probably wouldn’t have written anything at all. And instead, I’ve written and revised three whole novels that have taught me a lot about writing (even though they will never be published). And now, I find myself working on new projects, and new ideas that I hope to make strides on in 2017.

So, without further ado, here are my writing projects and resolutions for 2017!

Project #1- Red and Black
Red and Black is a superhero novel (the first in a planned series) that I put MANY hours into over the past year and a half. I’ve brought the book from a broken, partial rough draft (the result of a very strange, often disappointing/frustrating NaNoWriMo in 2014) to a full manuscript, workshopped it with my wonderful writing group, brought it through multiple rounds of revisions, and have now sent it off to no less than a half dozens first readers (two of whom have already gotten back to me with encouraging comments and helpful suggestions!). This year, I hope to bring Red and Black through its final revisions and begin sending it out to agents during the spring. From that point, its future will bet out of my hands, so I try not to stress about it too much (of course, I don’t always succeed).

Project #2- Black and Blue
Black and Blue is the sequel to Red and Black. I wrote it during a very successful NaNoWriMo this past November (not only did I manage to “win” NaNoWriMo, but I also finished the damn book before the month was up!). Since the beginning of the New Year, I’ve been working on my first round of revisions. And I must admit… it’s going surprisingly well. Normally this part of the revising process is hugely painful. Like, “Dear God! I’ve managed to regress as a writer without realizing it! Time to throw in the towel! Abort! Abort!” Of course, the book has flaws- in abundance- but I’ve been able to figure out how to fix most of them. Thinking back on the rough draft, I have a pretty good idea where this smooth sailing will start to get choppy, but I’m going to enjoy the ride while it lasts. I hope to spend most of my writing time in 2017 revising Black and Blue, then workshopping it with my oh-so-helpful writing group.

And if you’re thinking “gee, Nancy, isn’t working on a sequel to a book before it’s technically done, like, a really bad idea?” The answer is… probably, but right now this is the project I’m the most excited about, so I’m just going to embrace that. My books go through a lot of changes in my revision process. Maybe I’ll just have to make a few more then planned as a result of Red and Black’s final revisions.

I plan on accomplishing these goals through daily writing. I try to go for at least an hour every day, and that’s been going well so far. Some days, time gets away from me and I just can’t get that full hour, but I can get in a half hour, and make up the lost time down the line. To prevent burning out, I will be working on my writing in chunks of about 30k. Once I reach the end of a chunk, I’ll take a little time off from writing (maybe a few days, maybe a full week. It depends on how I’m feeling, and my other responsibilities). I’ve become a big believer in taking planned breaks (with set end dates, rather than just skipping days here and there) from writing, In fact, I’m thinking about writing a blog entry on it.

As for other writing-related goals, I do hope to get back to updating this much neglected blog more often, as well as continuing to contribute regularly to Speculative Chic. As a result, I’m going to try to update here about once a week. At Speculative Chic, I have my big monthly entry, but I also contribute to group posts. It may be tricky to find a balance between my writing, SpecChic, and this blog, but I suspect I’ll be able to figure it out with some trial and error.

Does anyone else have any writing-related resolutions? Are you a fan of New Year’s Resolutions too, or consider them to be a waste of time?

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.

Spring Forward! (into writing)

It’s been a rough six months, writing wise.

Call it pure writing ADD. Months and months of jumping from project to project, leaving everything half written and 100% incomplete. This includes multiple short stories and THREE novels. I’m pretty sure if you added up all of those words, I would have over 80k, a novel in itself (albeit a pretty nonsensical one). I don’t know what was wrong with me but I kept on writing myself into corners, getting frustrated, and giving up. And even more frustrating is that this unfocused antsy attitude seemed to bleed into other areas of my life as well.

I was beginning to wonder what the point was. After all, the phrase was “three strikes and you’re out” right? I had failed with three books, so wasn’t I already out? Then I had a frustrating, albeit completely different situation at one of my jobs related to some accounting issues. You see, I’m not good at the maths, and at that moment it was really becoming obvious to me. I found myself exclaiming aloud that I wasn’t a numbers person. It’s why I work in a library, after all. And then a volunteer/friend said something that really stuck with me. How if I wasn’t a numbers person, nothing I did, no matter how hard I tried was ever going to change that. It wasn’t going to work.

And it struck me as some of the worst advice I had ever received.

She probably didn’t mean it this way. She was probably just trying to be sympathetic. But to me, those words meant one very simple thing: if things get hard, give up, because it’s never going to get easier. And that’s not something I ever want to believe. Not with work, and not with writing, two areas in which I have (not to pat myself on the back) overcome some tricky challenges.

We’re in March now, meaning that Spring is on its way (although living in Maine has taught me to expect that April fools day storm). And what better time for changing your habits then a season of change? I’m currently halfway through writing a first draft of a new novel (manged to get 40k out during the month of February, and all thanks to Rachel Aaron’s 2k to 10k ebook, something I hope to blog about soon). So now that I have an idea that I’m excited about, the key is to get disciplined. I used to be great at finding time to write every day, even when my jobs kept me out of the house from 9AM to 9PM. There’s no reason why I can’t make it work now.

In order to help me with this, I’m going back to a method that used to help me out during NaNoWriMo. I’ve printed out a calendar. It’s a standard one, with blocks for each date. Starting today, in each one of those blocks I’m going to write down how long I’ve written that day, and my total word count. My goal is to write for an hour every day, first thing in the morning, until the draft is done. But even on the days when I can’t get in that full hour, I need to make sure I get in thirty minutes. After all, this particular goal is just as much about creating positive habits as it is about finishing this draft. And if I want to write every day, I need to write every day.

I was a lot happier when I was writing every day, because even when life was frustrating, I had one accomplishment. I was a writer. I’m hoping that becoming more efficient with my writing will help me with my overall productivity. I’d like to go back to blogging more, for example. But for this week, let’s focus on the important thing, the writing, on not giving up even if it’s hard. Because I really do like this new novel I’m working on and I feel like I can make worth my efforts if I’m willing to spend the time on it.

Wish me luck.

NaNoWriMo Update #2- Breaking the Rules in Week 2

Today is Day 14 of NaNoWriMo!
By the end it, you should have written at least 23,333 words
What’s your word count?

Seeing as I have a big fancy to-do to attend tonight (for Tanner’s work. Even bought a dress for it), I know that having any post-work time to write is an impossibility. So my final word count today is 25,650. It’s a good place to be. I’m still ahead of the game, and I’ve made great progress this week. It is, one might notice, significantly less than last week’s word count (where I wrote 15,011 words, meaning I only wrote 10,639 this week alone). And that’s 100% due to the fact that I have been breaking the rules by rewriting.

Experienced NaNo-ers are probably shaking their head over this. After all, isn’t the point of NaNoWriMo to allow yourself to suck? To write without abandon, to not go back and revise, as that way leads to madness?

In many ways, that’s true. The trap of never really progressing, to only rewrite the same things over and over again is a dangerous one. You really do need to accept the fact that first drafts are not only imperfect, but highly flawed and, sometimes, actually pretty bad. That’s what revisions are for.

For me, it was the fact that I couldn’t see myself moving forward until I went back. As I’ve mentioned before, in this novel I have four central characters whose perspective I shift between. I was having a hard time getting the feel for them all down, so I knew that before I could move these characters to the next level, I needed to get a better feeling for who they were in the beginning. And I’m really glad that I did.

This has made me think a lot about revising/rewriting during NaNo. I actually think it can work, but would recommend the following if you still want to hit 50k by the 30th.
1. Don’t do it until you’re ahead. Like, more than a few hundred words ahead. Behind ahead by a few thousand words last week gave me lots of room to play with. As a result, even though I’ve made some cuts, I’ve never fallen under par for my daily word count.
2. You still need to be adding to the overall word count of you manuscript. Whether this be in the form of fleshing out existing scenes, or adding in new material all together, your story still needs to be growing and progressing. I did both this week. Notice I did not say “write endless description that you know you’re going to cut out later” or other tricks I’ve seen people do to artificially inflate their word counts (like removing all of the contractions, which only results in your dialogue sound unnatural). Seriously, you’re just making more work for yourself during revisions. Still, make sure your novel continues to grow and progress each day, or this is where you fall into the trap of revising the same shit over and over again and not getting anywhere.
3. You need to set aside more daily writing time than you’d initially planned on for NaNoWriMo. Because revisions take time.
4. No wordsmithing. This is not the place for it. As mentioned above, rough drafts don’t need to be perfect.

Hope everyone is doing well. If not, well it’s only the halfway mark. Plenty of time to double down and catch up!

NaNoWriMo Check in- Week #1

Today is Day 7 of NaNoWriMo!
By the end it, you should have written at least 11,669 words
What’s your word count?

So it’s been an interesting week one for me on this year’s NaNoWriMo. I’m not quite as on fire as I was last year, but while there have been days when the going’s been tough, there have also been days when my novel (working title The Twin Kingdoms) has been so much fun to write. So I’m feeling mostly positive as I go into week two. My word count is a healthy 15,011, which is more than I expected it to be. You see, I’ve had a very busy week, often with only just enough time to squeeze in writing. Then yesterday, I blessedly found myself with a whole extra hour and a half on my hands, and I used it to jump ahead. I don’t foresee myself having this opportunity again until Tuesday, when I have a vacation day from work.

Beyond lack of time, I’ve faced other challenges with this novel. For the past few years, the novels I’ve been working on were all been YA with a third person limited perspective. This is an adult fantasy work, with four central characters. Juggling the multiple perspectives has been tricky. Also, all of three YA books had taken places in the same universe, and featured the same MC. Developing a new universe is incredibly fun, but also challenging. The big hurdle I’ve had this time is mostly related to revealing information. What’s the best way to reveal background information that doesn’t feel info dumpy? How much should I tell the audience about my characters now, and how much should I save to keep up the sake of mystery? Most of this will get ironed out in the next draft. I’ve made a bunch of mistakes already!

Hopefully, things will go smoothly in week two!