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!

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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?

Committing to a Project

One of my biggest flaws as a writer is my tendency to be scatter-brained with my ideas. I think this is why I’m such a big fan of NaNoWriMo–the incentive of accomplishing something at the end of 30 days and getting that sticker on the website encourages me to focus on only one project. But when I don’t have that extra motivation, it’s hard for me to stick to one thing.

This mostly comes from the fact that I can’t turn off my brain to other ideas. Ideas for stories, characters, and scenes pop into my head constantly throughout the day. Most of them are worthless, of course, but some stick around. Sometimes, I’ll be on the train or in the middle of a workday, and I’ll think of a great scene in another project–maybe one that I’ve put to the side or one that I haven’t even started.

As counter-intuitive as it sounds, my most effective way to address these ideas is to give into them–sort of. I keep a small notebook with me wherever I go, and when these ideas pop up, I jot them down, but I don’t feed into them any more. I just write down enough information so that when I come back to that idea, whether it’s in one day, one month, or one year, it’ll remind me what the idea was all about. Sometimes, that means I need to write part of a scene. I have dialogue or descriptions in my head that need to get out. But once that idea is written down, I can push it out of my head and focus on the project at hand.

The project I’m currently working on is tentatively called The Hylands. It’s about siblings who are brought together after their eccentric father dies unexpectedly, and since you should know my tastes by now, you know there’s something weird and creepy going on. I think it’ll into the science fiction and horror genres. I love writing these characters–they’re all weird, and they all have secrets. But sometimes, when I’m writing a connecting scene or I’ve been writing from one POV for awhile, I get bored. And boredom means writer’s block. So, I pull out my black notebook, cheat on my new project for just a bit, and get a burst of creativity from something new and exciting. I’ve found that when I do that, I’m able to go back to The Hylands with a fresh pair of eyes and get more accomplished.

What about you, fellow writers? Is it hard for you to stick with one project? What do you do to keep yourself on track?

Tackling writing distractions, part 1 – Other lingering ideas

Well, we are down to less than a week until NaNoWriMo! I think I’m going to stay up on Friday night and churn out some words at soon as the clock hits midnight (I know, I know – nerd alert). I’ve been less than enthusiastic about this upcoming month for a few reasons – delays in the self-publishing of my first book, getting a serious cold/infection that put me out of commission for awhile, etc. So, I’m trying to stay positive. One thing I’m definitely concerned about is handling distractions.

As weird as this might sound, I get easily distracted by other story ideas. I often have a few projects in process, and when I get bored with one, I’ll switch to another. I don’t want to do that during November, because I think it’s important to devote all my time to the NaNoWriMo project. But I already know that my other 4 outstanding projects are going to be lingering in the back of my mind, insisting that I write them.

I also get distracted by new ideas. New ideas pop up everywhere, and I love the process of developing an idea. Sometimes I think I like it better than actually writing, which is why I probably take so long to finish stories.

But not this month, fellow writers! This month, I’m vowing that I won’t let undeveloped, unwritten ideas distract me from completing my project. If an idea won’t go away, I’m going to write it down in my notebook, label it “December,” and put it away. Likewise, if I get an idea for a scene in an existing project, I’ll outline it in a few words and put it away.

What about you? What things distract you from finishing projects? And more importantly, how do we stop that?