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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July Recap: Not quite there

July was not what I expected. I was so ready to tackle Camp NaNoWriMo. I was ready to finish a project. I was ready to write. Buuuut things didn’t really work out the way that I planned.

Writing: In total, I wrote 24,330 words in July. That’s better than all of my other non-challenge months, but it’s way lower than the last Camp in April. More importantly, it’s less than half of my goal of 50,000. Going forward in August, I need to make some decisions. I need to decide which project(s) I’m going to work on, so I stay focused. I didn’t write yesterday, and I may not tonight. I feel a little lost with my writing at this point. I know that I need to go back and finish a couple projects and edit The Travelers, but I also have an urge to start another new story. I know, I know. It’s a problem.

Reading: I read 10 books in July, and they were all lovely. My favorite was Ready Player One by Ernest Cline. If you’re a child of the 80s and you love nerdy things, you must read this book. It was incredible. I found out that Steven Spielberg is making this into a movie, and it made me so excited. I also read a couple of more books by a horror author I really enjoy, Ania Ahlborn. If you like scary stories, I highly recommend her works.

Watching: I finally finished Daredevil! Liked it, didn’t love it. I also finished the most recent season of Orange is the New Black, and I am almost caught up with Hannibal (RIP, lovely show). I’m still watching True Detective, even though I’m not a huge fan of this season. I’m currently in the middle of another X-Files rewatch, in honor of the upcoming revival. I am very excited. I think this is the fifth time I’ve done a complete rewatch, but I’m not entirely sure. Up next: finish X-Files, rewatch Twin Peaks, watch Heroes (or, at least, season 1).

How did July go for you, readers? Here’s hoping you were able to meet your goals!

A Tale of Two Camp NaNoWriMos: Victory vs. “Failure”

With only three days left to go in July, you know where you are: you’ve either set yourself up for success, and you’re going to meet your word goal, or, you’re like me, and there’s no way that’s going to happen. This post is for both situations.

If victory is in sight…

Congrats! You’re so close to accomplishing your goal. No matter how many more words you have – 1,000, 5,000, 9,000 – you can do it! Now is not the time to give up. Now’s the time to push forward and pump those words out. Write on your lunch break. Write as soon as you get home from school or work. Write for at least an hour tonight, no matter what your plans are. Your goal is within sight – go grab it!

If you’re staring at a very, very small status bar that seems to be taunting you…

It’s okay. Really. You’re not going to meet your word goal. Maybe you’re 15,000 words behind or 30,000 words behind, but it’s not going to happen. And that’s fine. Maybe the well of inspiration ran dry. Maybe you got distracted. Maybe you’re like me, and you had some unusual, time consuming personal matters (both good and bad) pop up unexpectedly. Your writing career doesn’t end on July 31. If it’s been awhile since you’ve written, maybe open up your Scrivener doc tonight and write 500 words. Ease yourself back into it. If your project isn’t working, switch to something new – or old.

I realized about halfway through the month that I wasn’t going to make it this year. Despite my earlier post that insisted that you can always find time to write, things came up that prevented me from following my own advice. Once I got out of the habit of writing every day, my creativity faded, and I found myself with no urge to write. There were times when I wished I could write, but I didn’t have/couldn’t have my computer with me.

But, oh well. August is a new month. The project that I was working on during July isn’t bad, but I think I want to go back and finish one of my older projects. It’ll be tough to get back in a routine, but I’m a big believer in routine. Perhaps I’ll start tonight.

How did you fare during July, fellow writers? Did you hit your word count goals?

The Lasting Legacy of Fiction: How The X-Files Shaped My Life

For writers, it’s sometimes hard to see why we are doing all of this. “What’s the point?” we ask, when we hit writer’s block or some other obstacle. It’s not always obvious why our stories matter. I want to tell you that your stories do matter. They matter a lot, to people you don’t even know.

The X-Files is my favorite show of all time. I have been in love with this series since fall 1996, when I started regularly watching the show during its fourth season. I still remember the first episode I saw (“2Shy” – it was a summer repeat), and I still remember the episode that hooked me (“Unruhe” – so creepy).

But The X-Files was more than just a hobby for me, as an 11 year old. It was an obsession. I became enthralled with stories, with characters, with mythology. The X-Files wasn’t just a show that I watched – it invaded every part of my life. I had every book ever published on this series. Every season recap, every nitpicker’s guide, every biography on the actors – I had them. When we got the internet in 1997, I used every available second of that dial-up to look up X-Files websites and message boards. I got mIRC for the sole purpose of finding X-Files groups, and I soaked up all the fan-fiction I could. To say that it was part of my life is an understatement.

I’m currently in the middle of a rewatch. I think this is the fifth or sixth time that I’ve watched the series the whole way through. I was trying to explain this to my husband, and I realized something: the X-Files wasn’t just my favorite TV show. It changed me.

I was in sixth grade, middle school, when I became obsessed with this show. My fandom solidly pushed me out of any “popular” group in school and pushed me to the weird periphery. I had various taglines written on my Trapper Keeper in White-Out. My fandom was obvious and excessive. And yes, this isolated me. It wasn’t cool to be obsessed with a sci-fi show when I was 11. I had maybe 3 friends (one of whom is still my best friend – thanks, Ashley, for dealing with me!).

But I didn’t back down. I stuck to my show. I stuck to these stories, even when I knew that people thought I was weird or when I was called the dreaded word: a “loser.” That decision – to be the weird kid – has been with me through my whole life. I was never part of a “clique.” I’ve always been more introverted. The choices I made in middle school carried through high school and then into my “real” life. I’m an adult now, obviously, but I think that the way we are in our early stages of life profoundly impacts how we approach life as an adult. I thought, as I spoke to my husband, what if there was no The X-Files? Would I have still been that weird kid? Maybe so, but maybe not as obviously. Maybe I could have passed for one of the cool kids. But what would that have done to my creativity? To my self-sufficiency? Would my love of story-telling be different? Would I still love science fiction as much?

My point is this: as creators of fiction, we have no idea what impact our stories will have. Your story could impact someone for the rest of his or her life. It could set someone on a trajectory that he or she had never anticipated. Sure, most fiction doesn’t impact us in this way. We absorb so many stories, and they slip out of our minds, without any effect. But you never know what story will stick in someone’s heart, or what story will change the way someone looks at the world. Value your work. Value your fiction. To someone out there, right now, it’s changing their course.

Camp NaNoWriMo: Tackling Writer’s Block

So, it turns out that this month has not exactly gone the way I anticipated. I’m behind on my word count, and I’ve missed a lot of writing days. I wish I could chalk this up to some easy excuse–working more than usual, personal stress, etc.–but it’s a combination of stress, exhaustion, and just not wanting to write. I’m beginning to wonder if my idea really has the teeth to make it to 50,000 words. So far, I’ve hit a little over 20,000, and I’m not entirely sure where it’s going. That can be good, but I don’t know here. Also, it’s a horror story, and quite frankly, it’s just not scary enough. I need to amp up the fear factor.

That being said, I wanted to take on a common problem for writers: writer’s block. I know some people will try to convince you that writer’s block isn’t real, but I am not one of those people. Sometimes, the well runs dry. You can look at a blank page and just have no idea what comes next. There’s no way around it: this sucks. But it happens to everyone. The trick is figuring out a method that works for you to combat the block. Here’s a list of things that I have found help me:

1. Write something else. If you have a blog, write a blog post. If you have another work in progress, switch over to that for an hour or so. If the block is specific to your current project, “breaking the ice” on something else can be all that it takes for ideas to flow again.

2. Read something. Basking in the creativity of other people can be a huge help. For me, it helps to read something else in my genre. I get motivated by reading great stories by other people. It makes me want to write an equally great story.

3. Create a Pinterest board for your story. I know, this might sound silly. Hear me out: I like to do this anyway, but if you’re having trouble with inspiration, a little visualization can go a long way. Cast your story. Research the city where it’s set. If it’s a science fiction/fantasy story, and it’s not a real place, search for artwork on Pinterest. Finding pictures that match the tone of your story can help get you back in the mindset you need to write.

4. Create your story’s soundtrack. Go back through what you’ve written so far, and imagine what songs would be playing in the background if this was a movie. Or if your reader wanted a recommendation for what to listen to while reading, what would you suggest? Music is critical to my writing. I have a giant playlist full of instrumental music that I use while writing, and I would encourage you to do the same, if you like listening to music while you write. Another musical option is to pick out your story’s “trailer music” – again, imagine it like a movie and think of what the trailer would look like. What are your key scenes?

5. Work on character development. If you google “character development questionnaires,” you will find a plethora of resources. Fill out one of these for each of your main characters. Even if it doesn’t actually inspire you to go back to the project right away, it’ll give you more information on your characters.

6. Take a walk. The world is full of inspiration, and sometimes, the best thing to do is to get out of your house. This is especially true if you’ve been staring at a computer screen for hours. Take a walk. Get a cup of coffee. Engage in some quality people-watching. Keep your mind as clear as possible, and you might be surprised what ideas jump in.

7. Don’t writeThis may seem counter-intuitive, but if you really can’t break the block, just walk away for awhile. A lot of writers say that you just need to power through it, put some words, any words, on paper, but that’s not always healthy. Sometimes you just stare at the screen. There’s just nothing coming out. The longer you sit at your desk, the worse you’re going to feel about yourself. With every passing moment, you start to doubt and criticize yourself. If you know that you’re not going to be productive, take a step back. The project will be there tomorrow. Take the time to recharge yourself.

This is by no means an exhaustive list. These are simply a few things that I’ve used in the past that help me. Writers, how do you battle writer’s block? 

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.