Writing Through The Holidays

ChristmasWritingPic

You’re busy. Or you’re sad. Or you’re conflicted. Or over scheduled. Or delirious with excitement.

Whatever the holidays mean to you, this time of year can be a killer for your writing productivity.

Depending on what you’re working on, that can be OK. Or perhaps you will need to continue to carve out some serious work time even though the 12 Tribes of HisFamilyAndYours are descending on you, daily.

Here are some encouraging words from me to you, on how to keep your inner writer and your outer productive-member-of-society happy together at the year’s end.

What Do You Need?

We’re used to asking what our characters need, but for once, let’s look at what YOU need, as a writer.

If You’re In The Middle Of A Project

If you have an ongoing project like a long short story, a story you’ve just started or a novel, you really will have to make time every day to write. The good news is you don’t have to do much. Even 250 words a day will keep your head in the project and your characters in your head. The even better news is that getting back to your imaginary world for even this little time every day, will be an incredible mood booster. Sneak off to a spare room for 30 minutes, come out smiling (and get the extended family talking about what on earth you keep in there!).

If You’re Between Projects

If you don’t have an ongoing project, my best advice for you is: don’t worry.

  • Don’t worry about trying to craft stories when you’re temporarily overwhelmed with commitments.
  • Don’t worry about writing stories when you have people you enjoy hanging out with.
  • Do keep a notebook or your smartphone nearby and make notes. Capture moments, turns of phrase, jaw-droppingly inappropriate comments by in-laws (note: you may have to excuse yourself and run to the bathroom so people don’t know you’re writing about them). Use this time of enforced activity and sociability to capture all these things and call them Story Sparks.
  • Don’t worry about what these Story Sparks might or might not turn into, just yet. Write them down. Keep them safe.

Keep Yourself Sane By Journalling

We write because we need to get the voices out of our heads, or because we need to know how we feel about things.

Just because you don’t have time to craft short stories over the holidays, don’t let that drive you insane.

Take a pretty notebook with you (keep it safe) and your favorite pen, and just write. At the start or end of the day, or in any stolen moment, write about your day.

  • Write about what pisses you off.
  • Write about what delights you.
  • Write about what scares you.
  • Let your handwriting reflect your mood. Write tiny letters or huge scrawls or in jagged, stabby motions.
  • Try to write at least one sentence in there that uses some of your writerly skills, but mostly, just let the voices out.

You don’t need ever look at this journal again (though it might be useful to drag it out in July when you are both thinking of writing holiday stories for submission to winter holiday markets and making your own Christmas plans for next year!)

Here’s wishing you a peaceful and fruitful holiday season. I hope you get some rest, and manage to keep your inner writer healthy, wealthy and raring to go in the New Year.

Help! I’m Drowning In Ideas!

Help! I’m suffering an explosion of creativity and I can’t seem to stop myself finding time and ideas for writing!

How It All Began

One recent evening I tucked myself into my armchair, put my feet up, pulled my knitting on to my lap and settled down in the flickering black and white light coming from my television as we fired up a couple of episodes of The Twilight Zone — our nightly non-guilty pleasure.

I love The Twilight Zone. The stories are so imaginative, they’re not afraid to take a dark turn (!); they’re stylish, well-crafted and intellectually stimulating.

I’ve been telling myself that they’re great research for my own story telling efforts.

And in a way they are. They’re all about a character (often a man, aged 36, oddly enough) who needs something, lacks something, wants something. Great stuff for storytellers.

But at the end of every Season 1 episode, I keep seeing this little line of text that makes me uneasy.

The line?

“Based on the short story…”

Short Stories Are Not Screenplays

I follow a lot of working writers’ blogs, but people who are getting paid to write the equivalent of short stories now are often working in TV. The influences they cite are other TV shows and writers. I follow those links and spend hours reading about how those other writers write and find success.

But I’m not writing screenplays. I need to remind myself how to show a scene in words, not images.

So I’ve embarked on another challenge (you know how I love a challenge, right?) and I invite you to come along with me.

Following Ray Bradbury’s prescription for writers (watch it here. It’s worth the time) I’m trying to read a short story every day, especially those from the late 19th and early 20th centuries — stories with some staying-power. I’m also trying to read one essay a day (though accessible, classic essays are proving harder to find than good short stories) and one poem a day (oddly enough, though poems are shorter, I’m finding it harder to rouse myself to do this part of the program).

The Results Are In

I’ve been doing this for just over a week and, as I said, I’ve been ‘suffering’ under an explosion of creativity. I’ve written one, long-for-me, 6,000 word short story and sketched out ideas for more than 50 more (yes, 5-0!) in a few different themes/genres, started my second story and written four blog posts.

And my kids are on vacation!

But I can’t seem to stop myself finding time to read and write.

I’ve rediscovered the joy of both reading and writing. I’m sneaking off, staying up late, ignoring people I love, to read — and little of it is on Facebook or Feedly or Twitter. I’m reading well-crafted fiction and non-fiction that has stood the test of time. And I’m bursting with ideas, references and imagery — I’m so full of ideas that I can’t hold them back. I simply have to write. (This is not always the case with me. I always feel better when I’m writing but I’m quite good at being lazy and grumpy instead).

Want to join me in being more creative, more productive, and more joyful? Start reading and writing today!

Here are some of the books I’m using to find short stories, poetry, essays and other inspiring non-fiction to read.

Let Me Bust Your Writing Excuses

The last two blog posts were all about what to do when you don’t feeeeeeel like writing (wah!)

This time I’m on a mission.

karate boy breaking boards

Post your biggest writing excuses below (‘not enough time’, ‘my inner editor won’t shut up’, ‘my ideas aren’t original’, ‘my kids are eating me alive!’) and I’ll let my inner drill sergeant loose on them.

 

Ready to have your go-to writing excuse busted? Post them now:

 

Does Thinking Count As Writing?

I asked a friend the other day how her writing was going.

“I’m thinking about writing,” she replied. “Does thinking count for anything?”

Thinking of you

Ouch. Sound familiar?

So, you know what I’m going to say, right?

Thinking…well, actually thinking DOES kind of count as writing. (There, did I surprise you? Wait for it…)

But only if you’re doing it in the right way.

(Oo, you knew there was a catch!)

Thinking Kinda Does Count…And It Really Doesn’t

  • Writers need to think — We need copious amounts of thinking time. We need to daydream and imagine and ‘what if’. Happily, we can do this while attending to all those routine brain-free tasks we have to do every day: you know, the ones that keep us clothed and fed and sanitary. (If you’re an adult you know what I mean. If you’re a kid…no, if you’re a kid you won’t even be reading this. You’ll just be writing your first best-seller. Move along.)
  • Beating ourselves up is not productive — unfortunately a lot of writers (especially the ones who aren’t doing any writing) spend a lot of their thinking time fretting about how they’re not writing, not good enough, a lousy person for not doing more actual writing. This is not only unproductive, it is destructive. The best way to stop this kind of thinking in its tracks is to write something — anything. (Keep reading for ideas on what you can write on a day like this)
  • Capturing ideas is useful — sometimes ‘not writing’ means you’re out living. This is a wonderful thing for a writer. You need experience to be able to write anything meaningful. You need to come home and process the stuff that happened to you today, so that it’s there in your brain ready for when you need it. We need to hate people and imagine all the things we should have said to them. We need to love people and freak out when our imaginations show us what life would be like without them. We need to wonder what it would really be like if our plane crashed on a desert island: how would we wash our clothes and what plant fibers could be spun into thread to repair them?
  • Thought vs.  creativity — There will come a time when you need to look at your work with a critical eye, but that time is not during the initial writing phase. In fact, the less you think while you’re writing your first draft the better. Turn off that brain, move your hands and just let the words pour out.

It’s all very well for me to sit here saying this. But how do you actually move from thinking to writing?

You Must Take Action

You have to actually carve out time to sit down and write. Even if you can’t finish a whole chapter. Even if all you can manage is 100 words, 55 words, 140 characters,

DOING something (i.e. writing, crafting a story and characters) is so much better than thinking. Always.

(You may not feel great while you’re doing it, but trust me, afterwards? You’ll feel awesome.)

How To Take Action With Your Writing

It’s easy to get overwhelmed and beat yourself up because you haven’t finished your first novel yet.

Screw that.

  • Set yourself a tiny goal and meet it. Write a twitter fiction story. Write a 55-word story. Write exactly 100 words (no more, no less). Set a deadline. Do the work. Now tell me that didn’t feel good.
  • Use prompts I know it can seem corny but grab a writing prompt and use it for your own purposes. I assigned everyone on my writing course the same prompt one day and you would have been amazed at the radically different stories that came back from 12 different people.
  • Embrace the first draft — Give yourself permission to write something truly dreadful. Tell yourself no-one is going to see it. Picture a baby learning to walk: they fall down, they get up again, they fall down, they get up again, and eventually they are up more than they are down. We learn by doing. We learn by making mistakes. Write something terrible, don’t show it to anyone. Remind yourself the goal is to write something, not to write something good. Not yet.
  • Get an accountability buddy — life comes at us fast. If you’re like me, there’s nobody knocking down your door to hand you a living wage for your fiction yet. It’s easy to let writing slip into the background and — whoosh! — a month has gone by without a single word written. By finding someone to keep you honest, you give yourself the kind of deadlines that you need. You don’t even have to swap writing samples. Just make sure you find someone who will stay on your case and not be too nice to you!
  • So yes, think. Think about your writing. Think about your characters. Think about what you’ll do when you’ve reached your goals.But most of all, keep writing.

    What one thing will you commit to writing this week? How will you make it happen?

    Leave your commitment below, & I will be your accountability buddy for this week (I will personally check up on you on Wed June 22!)

An Accountability Buddy: The Productive Writer’s Secret Weapon

Today’s guest post from Melissa Dinwiddie is a wonderful primer on how to use the StoryADay community to help you become more productive than you ever dreamed. Thanks, Melissa!

Farewell to Polina!

Do you know one of the most effective things you can do to get your writing done?

Make yourself accountable.

I don’t know the statistics, but it’s a well known fact that if you want to reach a goal, speaking your commitment — including your deadline — to someone you know will hold you to it makes you dramatically more likely to actually do it.

Accountability is a powerful tool, and there are a number of ways you can integrate it into your writing practice. One of my own secret weapons is an accountability buddy.

Here’s what I’ve learned about maintaining an effective accountability partnership.

At the start of the year I was in a mastermind group (another great accountability tool), assembled with the express purpose of helping each other accomplish one specific goal in the month of January. When that group dissolved, a couple of us decided to keep checking in with each other.

At first our monthly calls started to get a little chatty — understandable enough, since we liked each other and had come to think of each other as friends.

This is an inherent danger in any accountability relationship. The problem, of course, is that chatting does not make for finished projects and completed goals.

Accountability partners have to be vigilant, and must keep coming back to the purpose for their partnership. If you want to chat, set up another date specifically for that. During your accountability check-ins, stick with the agenda: keeping each other on track.

This is exactly what I did at the end of a particularly chatty call. “Before we hang up,” I asked, “what’s your next step?”

My buddy confessed that she had a novel that had been sitting in a drawer for way too long, and what she really wanted was to get it edited and up for sale as a download on her site.

“Aha,” I responded, kicking into coaching mode, “so what’s stopping you?”

I asked her realistically how long she thought the editing would take, and when she said “about four hours,” I suggested (okay, I practically insisted) that she do it this week. In other words, I held out an expectation that I thought was achievable.

With my kick in the butt, she was ready to take on this project that she’d been putting off, so the next step was to set up a check-in schedule that worked for her. She committed to emailing me a progress report every night before going to bed, and set a goal of a 2-3 chapters per day.

Although it turned out four hours was an underestimation, I’m pleased to report that in less than two weeks my buddy had finished editing her entire manuscript and was ready to tackle the production side of getting her novel made into a downloadable ebook format. She swears she never would have gotten there without my help.

Do you think this kind of partnership might work for you? Give it a try! To keep you on track, I recommend sticking with the same structure every time you meet. The following questions are a good jumping off place:

  • What did you achieve since we last checked in? Did you accomplish your goal?
  • What didn’t work? What are you going to do differently next time?
  • What goal do you commit to between now and the next check-in?
  • What can you use help with?

Remember to reserve your chatting for another time, and let me know how it goes!

Artist, Writer and Inspirationalist Melissa Dinwiddie helps creatives (and “wannabe” creatives) to get unstuck, get unpoor, and just plain play bigger. Find her at her blogs, Living A Creative Life and 365 Days of Genius.



Win! Win! Win!

Leave a comment with your best tips for boosting productivity and/or working with other people and win a copy of Rory’s Story Cubes, a wonderful dice game that doubles as a story-telling tool. Roll the dice and make a story from the extremely cute images on the dice.

 

Today’s winner will be a random draw, so you get extra entries if you post about StoryADay on your blog, Twitter, Facebook or anywhere else (yes, I’ll give credit for blog posts from yesterday). Just leave me a comment saying where you posted.

Special thanks to Rory O’Connor and the lovely folks at Gamewright Games for donating this prize.

First Story Cubes Winner(s)

Ack!

There were so many great comments on yesterday’s post about creativity and productivity for writers that I had a hard time choosing a winner.

And in the end I chose two (and am suffering horrible guilt about leaving out all the other people who wrote great comments).

But don’t fret, because you can all enter again to win another copy of Rory’s Story Cubes on the next post, which is all about how to work with an accountability buddy to make your writing life more productive than you ever dreamed.

This next giveaway  will be a drawing out of a virtual hat (red), and you can get extra entries for posting about StoryADay in other places. See the Accountability / Writing Buddy post for more details.

Highlights from the creativity post comments

Thanks for all your great tips on creativity and productivity.

Brenda said,

1) Go someplace (a mall, a casino, etc.) and people-watch. I try to make up backstory for the people I see.

2) Listen to instrumental music. Classical and Drum music work well, as does the genre aptly called “Trance.”

3) I grab a box of cheap colored pencils and doodle. Sometimes the doodles end up being a creature, or a map of a fantasy land, or a character. I’m not an artist, by any means, but even my second-rate scribbles (lol) can cause a spark that becomes a story.

I think the reason that these 3 usually work for me is that they all have one thing in common: they make writing fun again.

Trina, in confessional-mode, spoke for many of us,

I say I have no time, but if I truly go back and look at how much time I spend on Twitter or surfing the Net, I have plenty of time. Guilty as charged.

MJ gave me a reason to stop feeling guilty for gossiping about strangers,

Myself and my boyfriend stole the idea of sitting in a restaurant and making up stories about the other diners from a movie we watched. It can be a lot of fun and generate a ton of ideas and helps with character development.

Janel had two great points,

I plan on pulling several prompts every night in May.

I’ve just decided that I will write to ease the stress instead of looking at the stress as a writing block.

Dominique’s suggestions were,

I overcome theses moments of writers block by keeping a pen and pencil around to writ down any great thought’s , plot ideas, or character lines. I also Take a trip to the bookstore to look through coffee table books full of images related to the subject I am writing

Steven made me feel a little less schizophrenic,

I was telling a friend about some story ideas I had mulling around in my head, she said that it must be busy “in there”. I told her that at times it seems like a cocktail party,…Once I get at least the outline of a guest’s story to paper, they tend to back off and let me relax.

Brandy is, like many of us, a list-maker and note-taker,

1. Keep paper and a pen/pencil everywhere; in the car, my purse, on tables, on window ledges, etc., because I never know when inspiration will strike and not having materials near me could kill or stall a great idea.

2. Install whiteboards with markers in different areas of the house and several larger ones in your office/studio. I have found that having a place where it is okay to write in an nontrational way helps me free my thoughts. ..Having a wall of white boards in the studio/office allows me to write “on the walls” which is something we have been trained not to do since childhood…

3. Write EVERYTHING down…My grocery lists end up with story ideas, character quotes, and settings along with the bananas and soup…

You can read all the comments in full here.

 

I have decided to award today’s prize to Brenda and Brandy, but thanks to everyone for taking the time to share your tips.

 


8 Ways To Defeat Distraction – And Write!

 
Today I have a great guest post for you from Productivity expert Benny Hsu. Benny shares some tips and some really useful tools for keeping focused on your writing. Thanks, Benny!


 writing in the darkness

You’re sitting at your desk and you’re ready to write. You start writing and then you’re distracted by something on your computer. The next thing you know you’re checking Facebook, email, or Twitter.
 
If it’s not the computer, it’s the noises from your house or you start cleaning to procrastinate from writing. If it’s happened to you before don’t worry because there are ways to eliminate distractions.

Being aware of the distractions, proper preparation, and reducing them will help your focus and productivity.
  
If you’ve had problems in the past staying focused, here are tips to help you out.

Keep your workspace clean

 
Having a messy workspace will keep you fixated on the small things when your eyes wander from the computer screen. A disorganized desk will tempt you to start cleaning just to procrastinate. Keep it very minimal. A clean workspace also just feels more relaxing.

Make sure you’re comfortable

 
Since you’ll be sitting for awhile, having an ergonomically correct chair will be helpful. Also be sure you are in a good working position. You want to keep your attention on your writing and not how uncomfortable your body feels.

Find a quiet time

 
If you’re in a busy house, the most quiet time to write might be before the sun rises or after everyone goes to sleep. If that’s not optimal for you, let people in your house know to not disturb you for the next hour. Close the door. Hang a sign on the door. Put on noise canceling headphones. Turn off your phone. If you let others know in the house to not disturb you, you prevent distractions from occurring.

(Of course, this isn’t foolproof, but you might be surprised how cooperative people can be when they see you’re serious about your writing commitments – Ed.)

Set a Timer

 
Having a set time to write will force you to stay focused on writing. Set it to a comfortable amount of time (30-45 mins), work until the timer goes off, take a short break (5-10 mins), reset the timer again, and do it again.

Use a distraction free writing program

 
There are great writing programs that are full screen and have very few options besides spell checking, word counting and saving. They eliminate everything else on your computer screen but your text.
 
Try

  • q10 (PC),
  • Darkroom (PC),
  • JDarkRoom (PC + Mac),
  • OmmWriter (Mac+PC),
  • Writer (online app),
  • WriteRoom (Mac only)
  • .

    All the programs are free except for WriteRoom and the newer version of OmmWriter.
     
    I’d add IAWriter for the iPad crowd. Very nice app – Ed
     

    Shut everything down

     
    Turn off Twitter. Close your internet browser. Turn off your email notifications. You do not want any popups sending you updates. Not only will it distract you but checking one thing will lead many more.

    If you’re still tempted to check, disable your wi-fi on your laptop. Unplug your internet from your desktop.

    Eliminate or minimize background noise

     
    Having the television on for background noise is a bad idea. Listening to some soft music is acceptable if you want to drown out outside noises. Just make sure you have a playlist created so you’re not constantly searching for the next song to play.

    Try a pair of noise canceling headphones, whether you listen to music or not. Not only will it block out noise but people are less likely to bother you if you’re wearing headphones.
     

    Get out of the house

     
    If the house will be too distracting, go to a coffee shop to write. Even though it will be noisy at the coffee store, it might serve as white noise and help you focus more. Noise canceling headphones are one way to block out the ambient noise.


    Benny Hsu writes at GetBusylivingblog.com where he writes about pursuing your passion, being the person you want to be and living life to the fullest. You can connect with him on his blog, or on Twitter @Benny_Hsu. He’d love for you to say hi.


Delegate Your Way To Writing Success

Part of the Time To Write Series. Interested? Subscribe to the blog


Inside the Box 2289
Do try to make sure the tasks you delegate are age-appropriate!

When my children were tiny I didn’t do a lot of writing. But there would come a day when I simply HAD to write. With a toddler in two, however, it became almost impossible to get through a full sentence without hearing that darling little voice yap,

“Mama? Mama! MAMA!!!”

I got to the stage where it was quite a relief when my boy unexpectedly ditched “Mum” and started calling me by my given name. At least it took a while for that to start to grate on my nerves!

The Delegation Revalation

One fateful afternoon, when my son — previously happily playing with toy cars at my feet — suddenly popped up and asked for a drink. For the third time that hour. I groaned and tore myself away from my half-finished sentence to fetch him a drink.

Then it hit me. My job as a parent was not to raise him to be helpless. My job as a parent was to teach him self-sufficiency. So what if he was only 3?

I started delegating.

That day I moved some plastic tumblers onto a low shelf in an under-the-counter cabinet and made a big deal of at last unlocking the water dispenser on the fridge. Sure, I had to clean up a few spills, but it was a price I was willing to pay to get a few uninterrupted minutes.

We quickly moved on to solo hand-washing, using a stool to get the toothbrush and toothpaste (creating a few precious extra minutes before bedtime). Then I packed away any trousers that didn’t have an elasticated waist and presto! I was freed from having to accompany him to the bathroom!

How Much Can You Give Away?

As the kids have grown, so has my hunger for writing time.

I now delegate all kinds of things.

  • Where I used to be in charge of bath-time and bedtime, my husband and I now share bedtime duty.
  • When I was deep in the crunch of StoryADay last May my seven year old, a-hem, learned how to make peanut-butter and jelly sandwiches.
  • While I toiled on my novel last November, my husband taught the boys how to fold their school clothes and put them away neatly.

I could feel guilty about deserting my family when I feel the need to write. Or I can celebrate my awesomeness as a mother who cares enough about them to teach them the life skills they will need when I eventually kick them out of my house. (Ten more years, Eldest. I’m counting.)

Delegation can be fun!

It’s not always, easy of course. Things go wrong. There is often a learning curve for the people you’re delegating tasks to. There might be occasional tears.

But stick with it. You CAN find ways to nudge the people around you become more independent, while also clawing back some of your precious writing time.

What about you? What one task will you try to offload this week? What poor helpless soul will you set on the road to independence?


Part of the Time To Write Series. Interested? Subscribe to the blog


Are You A Writer Or Just A Wannabe?

Nobody finds time to write. We make time for everything we have to do. Do You Really Want To Write?

Nobody finds time to write.

Few people have spare hours just lying around in the back of the closet, waiting to be discovered (and if you do, you probably have more trouble with motivation than time-management. That’s a different blog post!)

We make time for everything we have to do.

The crucial lesson, however, is that unless someone else has give us a deadline, we only make time for the things we find important; the things we enjoy.

Do You Really Want To Write?

Ask yourself: of all the things you did today, which of them mattered most to you?

  • What did you get out of reading all those tweets?
  • Did you get lost in Wikipedia doing ‘research’ for your novel? Did you really need all that information?
  • Did you need to watch another repeat of The Simpsons tonight, when you can already replay it, at will, from your memory?

Or would it have been more satisfying
to sit down and write something?

Do you even know where all your time went?


Part of the Time To Write Series. Interested? Subscribe to the blog


The Difference Between You and a Published Writer

What IS the difference between you and a published author?

Time.

In one sense, linear time: they were discovered before you were. Bad luck for you, good luck for them.

But in another, more useful sense: they made time to write. Have you?

Who Do You Think Does Stephen King’s Laundry?

Well OK, maybe HE can afford a housekeeper. But it’s just as likely that he still has to schlep down to the basement himself with a load of unmentionables whenever he runs short.

And you can bet your boots that your favourite midlist author doesn’t have a housekeeper. Or a nanny. But they still keep churning out the books year after year.

Things only get worse for your favorite author if they happen to be writing Literary Fiction. They are almost guaranteed to be a commercial failure and have to subsidize their income teaching rich kids at private universities to appreciate the rebellious soul of art. If they’re lucky they might negotiate a semester’s sabbatical in which to write their next book, but only if  they agree to eat nothing but oatmeal, turn off the heating and bust out the fingerless gloves.

And even if your favorite commercially-successful author can afford an assistant to make sure the cat gets fed, they  can’t pay her to write the book, do the revisions, talk to the agents and editors, catch the planes and go on the book tour for them.

When Do Authors Find Time To Write?

Just like us: in the gaps between Real Life’s obligations.

If you’re commercially successful one day (or have no life) you might be able to wedge those gaps open a little wider.

But life is happening to everyone. And somehow, thousands of people finish books every year.

When Will You Make Time To Write?


Part of the Time To Write Series.


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