Returning and Reevaluating

Hello, blog world – it’s been awhile. I haven’t updated this blog since late August, and I haven’t made a substantive post since early August. I apologize for that. I could blame my radio silence on a lot of things, but ultimately, the truth is that I haven’t been writing. I haven’t written anything during the month of October. I wrote less than 3,000 words in September, and I wrote about 5,500 in August.

What’s going on? I wish I had an answer for that. I think a part of me feels stuck. I have one completed project that’s pending revisions, but I don’t feel like it’s ready to go to a beta reader or an editor. I’ve been trying to get someone close to me to read it, just to give me initial feedback on the pace/idea, but so far, that person hasn’t actually done so. I need to suck it up and stop waiting around for him and just take matters into my own hands. But I don’t have the energy to do it, for whatever reason. I have three projects that are about halfway completed, and I need to sit down and outline the second half of those stories. But, again, I just can’t find the motivation to do it.

New ideas still come to me, and every now and then I’ll get the urge to write. Mostly, though, I feel like whatever fire was burning inside of me for this pursuit has dwindled. I want to get it back. I need to get it back. But I don’t know how.

I need to reevaluate my goals for my writing and for this blog. So, here we go: I want to update this blog at least twice a week. I want to get back to posting monthly recaps. As for my writing? I’m still working on reevaluating those goals. Nano is coming up soon, and I don’t know whether I want to participate. I have plenty of ideas, but do I want to start yet another project when so many remain incomplete?

Readers and fellow writers, help me out. How do I get back the motivation to do what I love? 

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Camp NaNoWriMo: Routine is your friend

We’re on Day 8 of Camp NaNoWriMo. At this point, you’ve probably exhausted the initial “Weeee, this idea is great!” feeling, and you’re starting to get into the weeds of your character development and plot. This is a treacherous time for a story, because if you’re not careful, this is when you fall into bad habits. The worst of these habits is, obviously, not writing. When a story is new and exciting, you want to write as much as you can and as often as you can. But once that initial glow is gone, we start to make excuses about why we can’t write anymore, and the most common excuse is, of course: “I don’t have time to write.”

That is a lie. You know it. I know it.

You think you don’t have time to write. Or you’re not making time to write. But believe me – the time is there. The question is, how do you find it? The key to setting yourself up for success during a writing challenge month is to establish a routine from the beginning. Here are four tips to help you establish your writing routine:

Work at the same time every day:  This is going to largely depend on your personal preference. Do you like to write first thing in the morning? Are you a night owl? Do you go into work in the afternoon, so your morning is free? No matter what you’re doing for work, you have some time somewhere. I’m not good in the mornings, and I’m definitely not good at waking up early, so I know that’s out. I get a lunch break, sometimes, but not always, so that’s out. That leaves me with the evenings. I generally block off 9 pm – 11 pm as writing time. I hit my stride around 10 pm. And as long as I’m home, I write during that time period, no matter what. I plan my whole evening to make sure that I have that time free later in the evening – I’ll do my errands, go to the gym, etc all before 9, so I know I have those two hours free. Sure, sometimes life happens, and I don’t end up actually writing until 9:30 or so, but I always make sure I sit down and do it.

Figure out how much time you need, and then work backward: How much time do you need? Well, again, that depends on you. Look at your writing patterns from the last week. How long does it take you to hit 1,613 (the magic “words per day” number you want to hit if you’re aiming for 50,000)? If I’m incredibly focused, I could hit that in an hour. If I’m zoning in and out, it’s going to be closer to two hours. Maybe you can write that in 30 minutes. Maybe you need three hours. If you find that you need so much time that you can’t block off a chunk of time, split it up! Write for 30 minutes in the morning, 30 minutes on your lunch break, 30 minutes on your train ride home, and so on.

Tell your family and friends what you’re doing: Two hours of writing time is a lot. That’s time that you’re not spending with your friends or family, and some of them might be a little confused about why you don’t want to watch television/go out/etc. Tell people what you’re doing, especially the people living with you, and ask for their support. This is especially important if you don’t have a dedicated writing space, like me. I have a rule with my husband that when my headphones go on, even if I’m in the living room, that’s the Writing Signal, and distractions need to cease. Let your people know what your goals are and how important they are to you.

Make it a pleasant experience: If you’re doing a writing challenge, chances are that you love writing. In other words, writing should be fun. What can you add into your daily routine to make it better? If you’re working in the morning, buy some really good coffee and tell yourself that’s your writing coffee. If you’re writing at night, have a glass of wine or a cup of tea. Find music that you love and make a writing playlist (I’ll talk about this in more detail in a later post). This shouldn’t be torturous – this should be a time for you to follow your passion.

Writers, what other advice would you give on forming a routine? Is routine important to your writing, or do you just write whenever you feel like it? I’d love to hear about your patterns!

Camp NaNoWriMo: It doesn’t have to be good (right now)

It’s Day 3 of Camp NaNoWriMo. I hope that if you’re participating this month, that your projects are going well. This month, I’m going to be writing a series of posts about the NaNoWriMo experience and how to stay motivated.

The biggest criticism I hear about NaNoWriMo, and other writing challenges, is that it produces crap. These critics love to dismiss the work put in during the single month, waving it off as poorly written garbage.

And actually… they’re kind of right.

But that’s okay!

Let me back up. If you’re going to write 50,000 words in a month, it’s not going to be perfect. Finishing an entire story in a month is a daunting task, and it requires a commitment to write nearly every single day. There are some writers out there who can miraculously produce 10,000 words in a day, and sure, those people only need to write for a few days of the month. But for the rest of us, that 50,000 word count gets met by writing consistently. NaNoWriMo doesn’t give you the luxury of reflecting. This isn’t the time to take a couple of days to think about your characters or envision your settings. This is the time to sit down at your computer and just pound out words. Inevitably, some of what you write will be crap.

That’s fine. It’s a first draft. All first drafts have problems. Whether you take one month or six months (or six years) to write your story, your finished product will not be perfect. Even famous, respected authors would have to agree with that. Your story needs to be revised and edited.

But first, it needs to be written.

I don’t like reading criticisms of NaNoWriMo that focus on the quality of writing. I think it’s a bad argument. You can’t write the next great novel in a month, so why bother?  That strikes me as short-sighted. No, you certainly can’t write the next great novel in one month, but maybe you can write the bare bones of it. Maybe you can get the idea onto paper and work from there.

If you’re serious about your writing, you know that the first draft is only the first step of many. There will be time later to fix your grammar and polish your prose. For now, you need to get your idea out there. It doesn’t have to be good right now. It just needs to get done.

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!

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?