Ready… Set… WRITE!

running-498257_640If you read Julie’s post, you know it’s National Novel Writing Month again, which means a whole bunch of us are sweating through each day trying to write 50,000-ish words by the end of November.

While I’m not participating this year, I am still trying to keep up my own momentum on my current WIP.

But time has been so very tight for me this fall, and my normal writing routine wasn’t working for me. Instead of getting frustrated, though, I decided to try something new: sprinting.

Here’s how it works for me: I set my timer (generally for 15 minutes, though you can aim for more time if you have it), shut down the Internet, put my document in “focus mode” and start typing. I do not stop until the timer dings.

When I first started sprinting, I would get 250-400 words down each session. But as I got more used to it, I started hitting well over 500. Two fifteen minute sprints a day gets me back to my old goal of 1,000 words a day – all in a lot less time.

Of course, sprinting can be a little scary. I still sometimes have a moment of panic before I start my timer: what if I can’t find the words? But that fear is offset by the freewheeling joy of writing without second-guessing, without going back to edit, without stopping to ponder this word or that one.

There are a couple of different ways to approach sprinting. I like to keep working from where I left off – I find that sprinting forces me to be more focused about where I’m going with each scene. I have to know what’s going to happen each time I sit down to sprint, which means I have had to plot out each scene – and know what its purpose is in the overall story – beforehand.

If that’s too daunting or you’re worried about getting stuck, you can also plan out sprints for specific scenes. Some writers like to sprint through difficult-to-write scenes, knowing that sometimes getting something down is better than getting it down perfectly. Others sprint through character sketches or other important background writing.

I’ve always done my sprints solo, but there is a whole writing subculture devoted to social sprinting. This month, the NaNoWriMo Word Sprint feed (@NaNoWordSprints) will run periodic group sprints, some of which might include prompts or challenges to help you get unstuck.

There are even apps you can download, like WriteOrDie!, which rewards (or punishes!) you for reaching (or not reaching) your goals.

I think my favorite thing about sprinting is that it doesn’t allow me time to go back. I could easily spend half my writing time re-reading and tinkering with the words I’ve already written instead of writing new ones. With sprinting, I’m saving that word-shining for revisions.

I don’t know that I’d want to write an entire novel in sprints. But I’m enjoying the sense of accomplishment I have each day after my sprint is done. And I know that as I race one kid to volleyball practice and my husband shuttles another to soccer while I text instructions to my oldest on how to put the rice on without burning down the house, that even if there’s chaos all around me, my writing is still getting done.

I’d love to hear about your sprinting techniques – please share them in the comments!

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Going Dark: How Do You Tune Out Online “Noise”?

focusAfter being almost completely disconnected for ten days this summer, I found it a bit jarring once I returned to my normal online-heavy life. I’m deep into drafting at the moment, and all that “noise” has been wreaking havoc with my ability to focus. Hearing about others’ progress, chasing the link to yet another craft article or agent’s wishlist, or just keeping up with the daily lives of friends can be distracting. When I’m drafting, I need to keep my head down and my eyes on my own work.

I’m thinking about ways to keep myself wrapped in that vacation quiet by going “dark” (or at least darker!) on social media and the Internet, but I’m not sure how to do that while still maintaining my connections and taking care of business.

So, of course, I turned to my fellow Pennies for their wisdom. Here’s what they said about drafting and the need to go dark on some front:

Sussu: I go deep down in my cave when I draft. I need to retrieve authentic feelings, feelings I have experienced before I can lay them down on the page. At home, we have unplugging periods of time. No one in the house is allowed to plug in any way. No movie, no tweeting, no phone. These periods of complete silence help me go deep down inside myself. That doesn’t mean we are not communicating, because we are, but the communication is different. I also can use these moments to discuss a story and what my family would like to see in my next book. At the end of the day, I’m all fueled up.

Kristi: I don’t go dark on the technological front, but I do on the reading front. Having said that, I do disconnect during the day and “reward” myself with internet connection for a bit after the kids are sorted and in bed. I even try to keep my research down to a minimum and instead create a list of things I want to research so I don’t get too distracted. But I’ve found that reading during my drafting tends to really distract me. If I go dark on social media, I find that I just never catch up.

Rebecca: Like Kristi, I go dark on reading. (Okay, maybe brown out, not pitch black.) I find if I write a lot or a particularly difficult chapter that my brain is literally tired and I don’t want to pick up a book, but just veg in front of the TV or even just “be” to relax. I also feel like I need more blank space to process where I am in the story, and what needs to come next, and what the characters are feeling. I create very long lists of things to research or deepen. I’m 19 chapters into a story right now and still using [nightmare] for a bully I haven’t fully developed and [bg1] for the first bad guy. That way I can concentrate on the two main characters and the plot for the moment, then go back and search and replace once I’m ready to get serious about those characters.

Gita: I find being online incredibly distracting, whether I’m drafting or revising. I really prefer to start a writing day—any day, in fact—without checking my phone or anything else, like I did today. While I’m working, I use an app called Self Control that blocks internet access. I need that quiet to think, reflect: to work from the depths rather from the surface. I personally love to read alongside my writing, but what I read has to be excellent: I only want good words in my head. 🙂 When researching for my (future) Writer’s Desk post, I came across Austin Kleon’s great post on just this topic—he includes Joseph Campbell, Edward Tufte, and Francis Ford Coppola’s take on what Campbell calls “the bliss station.”

Mark: I do stop reading MG books because the voice does tend to get in the way. I like reading adult fiction while I’m writing MG though. There might be some phrase or beautiful passage that helps me sprinkle some new ideas into my project. I’m finding it hard to get going on my next revision, but I’m trying to be patient with myself and use the time to think and reorganizing in my mind. I think it’s actually probably a good thing that I’m forced to think before diving back in. I can reflect on how to approach my fixes this way. Plus I use the opportunity to distract myself with shorter projects and problem solve on those for a time. I liked what Jeff Zentner said in Gabrielle’s interview. That he sits with it for weeks, even months, before writing. I like that idea. Daydreaming about your story is part of the process.

Julie: I’m terrible at this! This winter, I started getting up and drafting for 60-90 minutes BEFORE I was allowed to check Twitter/Facebook/email. This has given me a big productivity boost. And I know some people who are even more rigorous about it–one of my husband’s colleagues, who is a designer, only checks email twice a day at 10 and 2 so that he has three big chunks of creative time during the work day. I may try that in the school year because I spend way too much time stalking email and hanging out with you guys on Twitter/Facebook.

How do you increase your focus and tune out the “noise” of online life — or life in general? Do you need tunnel vision while you draft? We’d love to hear your tips — sound off in the comments!

How I had a Productive Summer

Or as I like to say, how I made the most of interrupted time.

Think back to June. Was this you?

“I have an incredible writing project planned for this summer. I’ll write a first draft. Complete revisions. Write, query, get the book published, and go on a worldwide book tour. All before school starts in September.”

Well, that did sound a bit like me (minus the book tour. Do you think I’m delusional?) I set a deadline of August 30th. to finish revisions on my WIP. The timing was perfect. It had been resting for weeks (per Stephen King), I was dreaming about the characters and plot holes, and I gave myself almost three months to complete them. What could go wrong?

Duh, summer!

Picture this:

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Monday, the second week of June, CBS This Morning just finished. I skipped to my writing desk and opened my laptop. Aaahhh. #amwriting.

Duh, summer!

Son#2 stomped downstairs.

“Good morning,” I said.

“Smshidhgehisld,” he said. I translated it as good morning, and since I was in such a deliriously happy mood, I may have imagined he said I love you. Unfortunately, it was most likely “why is it so bright outside?”

But to be honest, I was too excited to get to work to make sense of it.

I sipped coffee, ignored Teen Titans Go on TV in the family room, and opened chapter one. I reworded the first paragraph.

Duh, summer!

Son#1 shuffled downstairs. He’s not a morning person.

“We have no milk!”

As a kid lit writer, no milk was something my main character would complain about, but duh, summer! I sipped more coffee, took a deep breath, and turned the computer off. There were more important issues to tackle. Really, the thought of cereal without milk, or having to eat waffles for breakfast, was inconceivable. Right?

Between taking care of every day needs, vacations, hanging out with the kids until they remembered I was an adult and therefore boring, and the unexpected houseguests (which came in the form of a copperhead snake that sent my son to the hospital), I realized revisions would not be possible. But that didn’t stop me from trying, getting frustrated, and trying again.

Then sometime toward the end of June, a light bulb went off. I actually saw stars and it was not from being hit in the head sparring. I realized there was writing time during the summer. It was just in five or ten minute intervals.

Instead of saying what the hecks, packing up my writing materials, and being completely unproductive this summer, I learned how to make the most of those cherished minutes I found during the day.

Here are a few activities I did during those times:

  1. Writing exercises. Fifteen minutes, or five. There was no rule. I found writing for even a few minutes energized my creativity and brought out the joy in writing.image
  1. Catching up on writing articles. I read and took notes on the dozens of saved newsletters, links to blog posts (like the amazing ones from The Winged Pen), and Facebook posts about writing.
  1. Making notes for future stories. Just because I was deeply involved in one story didn’t mean ideas for future ones dried up. I wrote them down as fast as they came and expanded on a few when I had extra time.
  1. Research. I scanned the Internet, books, and watched TV. I talked to people about subjects, places, and names. All of which will help me dive deeper into my WIP as well as future stories. How else would I have learned about phillumenists. I had no clue there was a name for a person who collected matchbooks. What a unique character quirk.
  1. Read. Of course that goes without saying.

So this summer, instead of being unproductive, which to me meant cranky, I did a little bit of everything. And all those tips will make the revision of my WIP even better.

I would love to hear what you did this summer and how you found ways to be productive. Please leave them in the comments below.

IMG_2142 - Version 2 A third degree black belt in taekwondo, HALLI GOMEZ teaches martial arts and writes for children and young adults because those voices flow through her brain. She enjoys family, outdoors, reading, and is addicted to superhero movies. You can find her on Twitter.

 

10 Tips to Control Writing Book Fever

Mosaic owl on a pedestal in the Library of Congress.
Mosaic owl on a pedestal in the Library of Congress.
Wise owl in the Library of Congress. Mosaic by Elihu Vedder.

My parents gave me a subscription to THE WRITER magazine when I was a kid. Years later, as an adult, I shyly checked out writing books from the library. You’d think I was checking out something indecent, but laying the books on the check-out counter felt like hubris.

It was hard to meet the librarian’s eyes. I mean, if anyone knows what a writer looks like, it’s a librarian.

The other day, I wondered why there are so few writing magazines published in Germany. There are magazines in every other possible subject. Photography magazines fill a wall at the train station bookshop. But writing magazines are rare to nonexistent. My native German husband said, “In Germany, writing is not for amateurs. People don’t do it as a hobby.”

That stung for a moment because, of course, I am an amateur. On the other hand, I’m not shy about checking out writing books from the library anymore. But I still don’t go up to the bookstore owners and ask where the writing section is.

Bookstore owners probably also know what writers look like.

Ironically, too many craft books can make us doubt ourselves even more. I won’t stop reading them any time soon, because I get insights that help. But when those insights start to feel like a blur, make the internal editor too loud, and keep me from “shipping,” it’s time to take action.

So how do you keep your writing tools in line?

  1. Learn selectively about structure and point of view and character arcs and all kinds of other theories, not all at once. If you get consistent feedback, find tools that might help, study them, and pick one to try. Don’t be a snob about tools you don’t understand. You may need them some day. On the other hand, writing tools that don’t excite you to write should find a new home.
  2. Purge electronic writing tools and writing e-mail newsletter subscriptions. Your to-do list is already long enough. If I list everything the writing newsletters suggest, I feel overwhelmed and come to a creaking stop.
  3. Risk. Pick one contest/tool/assignment that feels risky and try it. Risk is the antidote to the full toolbox’s illusion of readiness. It takes courage and that makes you feel like a writer again.
  4. Ship. Write something you owe and make it public. This is even better if you write something that someone wants: a thank you letter, a birthday card, a promised blog post. Don’t read writing books instead of writing. It will make you feel like a liar.
  5. Choose your mentors carefully. Find work you like and then see how it works. Only take craft advice from people who are after the same things you are. If they don’t write what you want to write, but their advice sounds really, really good, test their theories on work from a writer you admire.
  6. Critique a writing partner’s work. Admire what they do well. Take courage that they are also still learning.
  7. Anarchy. Write something and break a writing rule you know is “true”.
  8. Enjoy. Read something you enjoy and admire in the genre you’re writing in. Reading good writing brings me joy, gives me rest, and inspires me to imitate it.
  9. Read blog posts about publishing minutiae after you reach your writing goal for the day. You’ll enjoy them much more.
  10. Go write. The best cure is to write. It’s no different for any other profession. Read too many gardening books without digging in the dirt and you get imposter syndrome. Linger a little too long in Williams & Sonoma’s fancy kitchen shop and you’ll end up ordering out for pizza. The way of the amateur is to love the writing itself. Get thee to a keyboard.

IMG_4373HighResHeadshotLDLAUREL DECHER writes stories about all things Italian, vegetable, or musical. Beloved pets of the past include “Stretchy the Leech” and a guinea pig that unexpectedly produced twins. She’s famous for a nonexistent sense of direction, but carries maps because people always ask her for directions. When she’s not lost, she can be found on Twitter and on her blog, This Is An Overseas Post, where she writes about life with her family in Germany. She’s still a Vermonter and an epidemiologist at heart. PSA: Eat more kale! 🙂 Her short fiction for adults, UNFORESEEN TIMES, originally appeared in Windhover.

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