Writing Struggles: When Real Life Gets in the Way

I want to apologize in advance, because this post has sort of a negative vibe to it. This was a rough week. There’s no way around that. Some things happened at work that really shook me up. Three people were fired from our office, all in management, and it happened very suddenly. These were people I liked, people who I enjoyed spending time with outside of work. I have to be a little bit vague about all of this, because I don’t know if I could get into trouble at my job for talking about any of the details.

I spent a lot of time this week thinking. I thought about my current job, my work as a writer, and where exactly I’m going with my life. Everything that happened at my job just left me really discouraged. That discouragement spread from my job to my writing, and as a result, I really didn’t write much this week. I couldn’t find the energy. I couldn’t find the interest. Instead of being productive, I just sat on my couch and stared at the wall, wondering what I was going to do about my career.

As much as I would love to be able to quit job and write full-time, that is not going to happen anytime soon, if ever. Most days, I love my job. I love being a lawyer–or rather, I love working in the field that I do. I have an interesting, high-paced job. I don’t think I would be so happy if I worked in a different field of law.

Today, I’ve been beating myself up about my lack of productivity this week (and, instead of working on Repetitions, I’m on here, writing this blog post–ha). I only have essentially a week left in the month, and I’ve only written about 14,000 words. I’m nowhere close to finishing this project, and each day that goes by without writing takes me further from my goal. Add onto that the facts that next weekend will also be a no-work weekend (spending the weekend celebrating a good friend at her bachelorette party) and that a huge case at work is coming up for trial the following week, and I don’t know how I’m going to achieve much these last 8 days. Will I even hit 25,000 for the month?

When I get down on myself about not meeting my goals, I try to remind myself that this is the first year where I have been serious about goals. Last year, I wrote about 114,000 words. In 2013, pretty much the only thing I did was write The Historian (which is maybe 72,000 words). In comparison, I’ve already written over 107,000 this year. That’s pretty good. If I keep up a steady pace, it’s very realistic that I will finish at least two projects by the end of the year, possibly three. That’s amazing for someone who just started writing (meaning: actually sitting down, writing, and finishing things, not just dreaming up ideas and sketching characters) less than two years ago.

So, although a part of me is being very critical, I’m trying to stay positive. I’m trying to focus on how much I’ve already done and how I’m accomplishing other goals as well (reading 100 books in a year is no joke).  And if I don’t finish Repetitions by the end of June – fine. I’ll finish it in July. Or August. Or whenever the project is complete. This is not a George R.R. Martin situation.

How do you stay motivated with your projects when real life gets in the way? Post suggestions in the comments!

June is Looming

You all know by now that I love writing challenges. I love structure, I love logging my word counts, and I love watching the little bars track my progress. So, naturally, when I heard that there is an organized writing challenge for June, or JuNoWriMo, I thought, “Great! I’ll definitely do that!”

Now, I can’t stop wondering if I’m a little bit crazy.

April was productive but exhausting. I know that in the past, when I’ve gone full speed during writing challenge months, the month after tends to be behind in productivity (for instance, December 2013 when I did NOTHING). And thus, the problem: July is Camp NaNoWriMo. If I participate in a June writing challenge, it’s unlikely that I’ll be able to continue that momentum into Camp NaNoWriMo.

Here’s my other concern: I need to wrap up my current story (which has a very, very tentative working title of Repetitions), but I don’t have another 50,000 words in me for that one. I just don’t. I think I’ll have another 25-30ish. So, if I use that project for June, it means likely “failing” in the sense that I won’t hit 50K. Then again, if I start a new project, I need to push off finishing that story again. I started writing this project in April 2014, and then I almost completely neglected it until April 2015. I think I wrote 1,000 in January 2015. It’s been “in progress” for awhile.

My original plan was to spend May and June finishing Repetitions and then dive into something new or return to one of the three serious Works in Progress that I have.

Here are my options as I see them:

  • Continue with original plan. Finish Repetitions by end of June, tackle something else during Camp NaNoWriMo.
  • Work on Repetitions until the end of May, then switch to a new project for JuNoWriMo, and then continue that project or switch again for Camp NaNoWriMo in July. Finish Repetitions in August.
  • Work on Repetitions until the end of May. Participate in JuNoWriMo, but don’t participate in Camp NaNoWriMo. Finish Repetitions in July.

Writers, readers: Thoughts? Suggestions? Alternate plans that I don’t have listed? I know an obvious choice is to just work on two projects, but that’s very hard for me to do. One project always takes over and commands my attention while the other slips into the back of my head.

Good News/Bad News: The Idea Bug

Good news: I had a good idea.
Bad news: Now is not the right time for a good idea.

Ideas–especially good ideas–are mysterious things. When I was in middle school, I started writing down my story ideas. This was way back when, so we’re talking a notebook just filled with the ramblings of a young girl with an overactive imagination. In high school, when I had a computer, I kept a Word document filled with blurbs of ideas. I never actually wrote anything, but I recorded every idea that I had. In college, I did the same, and I updated my idea log to a “fancy” spreadsheet with more information.

In law school, I was so focused on my school work that my creativity dwindled to almost zero. I can think of one, possibly two, ideas that I had in law school that I thought were worth logging.

After law school, my ideas began to churn again, and I restarted my idea log. It was around that time that I got the idea for The Historian. As I’ve gotten older, my ideas have become more developed. Instead of just a flash of a plot (“What if X happens to A character?”), I find my ideas are usually more nuanced character issues or specific scenes.

Anyway – I still log my ideas, but I try not to get overwhelmed by them, especially when I have another project in the works.

I failed at that this weekend.

I was at home, visiting my family, when I got an idea that I just could not shake. It was an odd idea for me, too, because it’s slightly outside my normal genre (I’d call it more paranormal than science fiction). But I couldn’t stop thinking about it. I started writing this story on Sunday night, and I have over 2,000 words already.

The problem? I’m already in the middle of a massive, time-consuming project. My Camp NaNoWriMo project is about to hit 75,000, and the end is near. In fact, I outlined the rest of the novel (!) tonight. I can see how this ends. I can see how we get there.

But in spite of that (or, maybe, because of it), I don’t want to write the rest of that story. I want to write this new story.

I know that I shouldn’t complain about new ideas. Good ones come so infrequently that each one needs to be grabbed immediately and nurtured as much as possible, with the hope that maybe it will turn into a worthwhile story. Still, I don’t need any more distractions keeping me from finishing this story.

Writers, how do you stay on task when other ideas pop into your head? Do you push them aside? Do you indulge them?

Writing Struggles: Why am I doing this?

I hit a wall last night. I made it to 70,000 words on this project, and I just stopped for a moment, staring at my computer.

“Is this any good?”

I think the answer with most rough drafts is, no, but it could be. I try to repeat that to myself often. Rough drafts aren’t about finesse and perfection; they’re about throwing ideas on paper and seeing what sticks. There’s time to take scenes or sentences out in the editing phase.

Rationally, I know all of that. But as I look at my draft now, all I see are my flaws – I’m using the same descriptive words too much, I’m not fleshing out my villain enough, I’m not giving my minor characters enough to do, and my biggest fear, there’s just too much going on.

“Ugh,” I groaned to my husband. “This is just stretching out so much. I’m barely at the halfway point. I can’t imagine writing another 70,000 words.”

“What does it matter?” he asked, shrugging. “It’s not like you have a firm deadline.”

He’s right – there’s no one tracking me to make sure I get this done. I don’t have an agent or a publishing company breathing down my back, demanding that the story is done by a certain date. But I had set a date for myself of June 30th. It’s arbitrary, but that would have given me three full months to work on it, along with the sporadic times I worked on it last year when I started it. As Stephen King taught us, a first draft should be done in three months.

As I thought about my lack of a deadline, my mind leaped to another question: why are you even doing this? I don’t have to. This isn’t my real job. I’m not going to make money off of it. And, as we established above, it’s probably terrible.

So, what answer did I come up with? As you may remember from previous posts, I really struggle with the idea of calling myself a “writer.” I think a lot of self-published authors do. Maybe I’ll never consider myself an “author.” But I am a writer – I can’t imagine not writing (pardon the double negative). I have so many stories in my head, so many characters, so many scenes. I kept all of my ideas tucked away in my mind for years, until I write The Historian. Now that I’ve experienced the catharsis in the process of creating a story, I don’t know how I could ever go back.

Maybe it’s crap. Maybe I won’t sell a single copy. Maybe one of my beta readers will review it and say, “Not your best work.” But I have to keep writing.  I’m not doing because other people are telling me that I should or I have to – I’m doing this for myself.

Writers: Do you struggle with these thoughts? How do you keep yourself motivated to keep working in the face of self-doubt?

A Writer’s Identity, Part 1: What Does a “Real” Writer Look Like?

This is a common experience of mine, especially at my full-time job. Someone will mention The Historian, and people turn to me, a surprised look on their face. “You wrote a book? No way! Why didn’t I know about this sooner?”

The short answer is that even though I have put it on social media, I’m not exactly broadcasting it. I told a few close friends at work about it. They read it, recommended it, and the word just spread.

When someone approaches me about the book, my first reaction is always to minimize it. “Oh, it’s really not that big of a deal.” I go on to explain that I just self-published (I have even uttered the words – “I didn’t get it really published.” I know, I know. I’m sorry). Why do I do this? Why can’t I just smile and say, “Yep, I’m really proud of it. I hope you like it!”

The truth is, as much as I hate to admit this, I don’t see myself as a “real” writer. I’m a lawyer who wrote a book. But I don’t define myself as a writer yet. There is still some part of my brain that believes that I can’t be a “real” writer unless I’m published through a traditional company, or unless I become as successful as other self-published stars like Hugh Howey or A.G. Riddle.

I know that this is complete crap. I know that there are many people out there, including many of you, who are in a similar situation to me, and they consider themselves to be “real” writers.

“But,” I say to myself, “a ‘real’ writer needs a better website. A ‘real’ writer needs to do more marketing. A ‘real’ writer needs an agent.” And on, and on. Every time I start to identify myself as a writer, self-doubt creeps in and reminds me why I’m not really one yet.

I need to stop this vicious cycle. I am a writer. It doesn’t matter what my blog looks like, how many Twitter followers I have, how many reviews are on Amazon or Goodreads – I am a writer because I write. I am a writer because I create stories, characters, and worlds. I am a writer because I take what exists only in my imagination and make it real through words.

That’s what a real writer does. The rest of it is helpful. But it’s not definitive. Even if you don’t have something published, you can still define yourself as a writer. If you spend your free time writing, outlining, brainstorming, or just imagining, you’re a writer! I need to start repeating this mantra to myself. I need to keep telling myself that no matter what’s going on with the business aspect of my writing, I am still a writer.

Have any of you struggled with this issue? What do you think makes a “real” writer? 

“I am a dedicated madman.”

Some words of wisdom from Ray Bradbury from this interview. I highly recommend listening to the whole thing (it’s short), but the last portion deals with writing. The last question Mr. Bradbury is asked is whether he has any formal training in writing. He says no, and goes on to explain:

I am a dedicated madman, and that becomes its own training. If you can’t resist, if the typewriter is like candy to you, you train yourself for a lifetime. Every single day of your life, some wild new thing to be done. You write to please yourself. You write for the joy of writing. Then your public reads you and it begins to gather around your selling a potato peeler in an alley, you know. The enthusiasm, the joy itself draws me. So that means every day of my life I’ve written. When the joy stops, I’ll stop writing.

Camp NaNoWriMo: April 2015 Winner!

Camp-Winner-2015-Web-Banner

Hooray! Look at that fancy Winner banner!

I’m happy to say that I hit my goal of 50,000 words this month. As of today, my word count is 52,540. My total word count for the project is around 65,000. Now that I’ve hit my word count goal, I don’t feel the need to writing like a crazy person every night, so I took it easy yesterday, and I may not write much over the next few days.

So, what’s next? Well, now my goal has shifted from just a word count to actually finishing the project. I still have a significant chunk of story to get through, so I can’t just sit around. In November, that’s exactly what happened. I wrote so much during NaNoWriMo that I basically burned out on the story, and then in December, I was just sick of it. I didn’t know where it was going, and I was tired of the characters invading my mind.

This month feels different. I still love my story and (most of) my characters, and I have a clear idea of where the story is going (not to say that there haven’t been a few surprises along the way). My end date for this project is June 30th. That gives me two months to write what will probably be another 50,000 words or so. That means I only have to write about 800 words per day to make that happen–so I have no excuses.

My other goal, moving forward, is to write a little bit every day. I’m giving myself a little bit of leeway here, because I may step away from the project for a few days, up to a week, just to get some distance and clarity. But once I jump back into it, I want to make sure that I put something on paper–even if it’s just one word–every day. I think this is a good practice in general, but I also think it’s crucial in the middle of a project. If I can finish this by the end of June, perhaps beta reading could take place in July and August, editing after that–who knows? Maybe it could be a polished final project by the end of the year (fingers crossed).

To those of you who are still working on your projects: don’t give up now! The finish line is so close, and even if you don’t meet your word count goals, it’s still worthwhile to keep putting words on paper. Good luck to everyone!

Camp NaNoWriMo: Day 24

The end is near.

It’s hard to believe that we only have 7 days left in the month of April. That means that you (yes, you) only have 7 more days to reach your Camp NaNoWriMo goals!

After an embarrassing lag, I came back strong this week. My word count is now 45,809. I hit two records this week: on Tuesday, I wrote 3,120, and yesterday, I wrote 4,450 words. Part of my spurt is due to wanting to hit 50K, but most of it is due to my story. I’ve just written a crucial turning point (that sparks the entire rest of the story), including a grisly scene where half of my characters are unexpectedly killed. It’s been great knowing you guys, but you need to get out of the story in order for this to properly move along.

My total word count on the project is about 56K at this point. As I keep writing, I think the final word count may be around 110K or 120K – those are absurd numbers to me. I’ve never written anything close to that. But I’m finding this time around that the more I write, the more ideas come into my head. As I’m writing a scene, my mind is finding ways to twist the plot to add more tension, set up more obstacles for my protagonists. I’m sure that this will all get narrowed down when I finally edit the completed version, but for now, it’s write, write, write.

I’ve accomplished a huge goal this month in that I think I’m finally letting go off my fear of writing. Sometimes, I’ll write a scene, and I know it’s not great. I know it probably won’t make the final cut. But I want to write it – I want to get those words out, even if they’re not perfect. Even during my first NaNoWriMo, I found myself editing during the writing process, fixing my verb tenses and taking out words that didn’t quite fit. Nope. Not anymore. A first draft should be an idea, fleshed out and on paper (well, on a Word document). It doesn’t need to be pretty.

How are your months going? Anyone else close to their goal? Anyone just giving up?