7 Ways to Keep Writing Every Day

7 Ways to Keep Writing Every Day

Gwynn and Ruth are on vacation for a few weeks. So we’re bringing back a couple of our favourite Top Drawer topics to share with new readers and to nudge long-time followers. The last two blogs explored finding time to write and finding inspiration. This week Gwynn’s April 2016 post rounds out the message with tips for writing every day.

Gwynn Scheltema

We’ve all heard the old maxim, “Write every day.” In the bogaiman quoteok Outliers, author Malcolm Gladwell says that it takes roughly ten thousand hours of practice to achieve mastery in a field. Whether you believe in the 10,000 hours concept, or simple BIC [Butt in Chair], there is no denying that being a writer means actually writing—real words—lots of them.

“Write every day” is the number one piece of advice given by successful writers—and they should know. But it’s often easier said than done.

So here are 7 ways to keep you writing every day:

  1. Set aside writing time

paper-606649_960_720If writing is important to you, it needs to be built into your routine in the same way that you build in any other important activity in your life. If you need to schedule writing time like dental appointments, piano lessons, or hockey practice, do it. Think of writing as your “job” and block out set times like you would if you were going to work.

And perhaps once in a while treat yourself to really dedicated time on retreat, like Writescape’s Spring Thaw or Just Write at Glentula.

  1. Get buy in

Talk to your family and friends about how important your writing time is to you. More importantly, talk to yourself about honouring that time. Are you the one who gives up your creative time to do extra chores, or make way for what someone else wants to do? Ask yourself, “Would I take a day off work to do chores?”

  1. Know yourself

The right time to write is different for everyone. You know when you are most creative. If you feel guilty taking “family time”, get up earlier, or reserve after-bedtime time for yourself.

  1. Have a dedicated writing spacewriting-828911_960_720

If you learn to play the piano, you invest in a piano. If you play hockey, you buy skates and sticks and all the rest of the hockey paraphernalia. Yet so many writers believe that perching on the end of the kitchen table and clearing up when someone else needs the space is okay. It’s not. Claim a writing space that is yours. It doesn’t have to be a whole room, but it should be a place where you can be alone when you want to, and where you can leave things in progress.

  1. Get dressed and show up

While it’s comfy to write in your jammies, getting dressed to go to write lends a validity to the activity, like getting dressed to go to work. And as Woody Allen said, “Eighty percent of success is showing up”. If you can physically get your butt in the chair, then writing that first word is that much easier.

  1. Know your writing style

Stephen King says he writes ten pages a day; Hemingway wrote 500 words a day. Some writers set a fixed time—write for 3 hours. It doesn’t matter what writing goal you set for yourself, as long it is achievable, and doesn’t set you up for failure. Start small. Even 3 paragraphs done every day will get you further ahead than a full chapter not even attempted because it is too overwhelming.

  1. Use prompts, timers or ritualsteapot-574025_960_720

To make the transition from the practical world to your creative world, have a ritual: light a candle, play music, or make tea in a special pot. To get the words flowing, make use of writing prompts or timers or idea files. Anything that will get you started. Think of them as warm-up exercises.

From the picture at the top of this post, it looks like that writer channels Star Trek to get started. My writing ritual is to clear my desk, get a coffee and win three hands of solitaire. What’s yours? Share it in the comments below.

Other articles you might like to explore:

Strange Writing Rituals of Famous Authors

Daily Routines of 12 Famous Writers

Sit Down, Shut Up and the Muse will Come.

The Making of a Short Story

The Making of a Short Story

Gwynn Scheltema

I wrote a short story last week that forced me to write outside my real-life comfort zone. My story was for an anthology being put together as part of the many commemorative events to celebrate Canada 150. The submission call was for an “immigrant story”.

I’m an immigrant. I came to Canada in 1982 to escape a country that had been embroiled in a civil war for more than ten years and which had recently gained independence. Unfortunately for my family, the other side won and leaving seemed the best option on many fronts. But this blog is not about that and I didn’t want my immigrant story to be about that.

The story I wanted to tell was how it’s the little details in a new life that are the hardest. Finding jobs and a place to live are huge, seemingly insurmountable problems, but they are expected hardships, things you can brace yourself for and work to overcome. But just when you think it is all going well, that you’re getting ahead, some small detail surfaces and derails you. That’s what I wanted to write about.

I’m a private person, not given to public displays of affection or emotion. I cry in private. But for this story, I wanted to zero in on an emotional moment and portray it without being melodramatic or cliché. But how to do that?

The emotional mirror

Most readers, even though they may not realize it, read to mirror their own lives. Have they felt that way before? What would they do in a similar situation? How is this situation different from their lives? A story about events of that civil war would be different from an average reader’s life, but would it connect with readers on a human, emotional level? The key to making my story work was to focus not the events the reader couldn’t relate to, but on the emotions the reader could relate to. The emotional mirror.

To resonate with the reader, I had to identify the emotion I wanted the story to illustrate and the reader to feel. In this story, I wanted to show the feeling of being out of control, disoriented and emotionally afraid when the logical mind tells you there is nothing to fear. All emotions that everyone has felt at some point in their lives.

Let it unfold…slowly

Peter Selgin, writer and professor at Antioch University’s MFA Creative Writing Program, gives his writing students an exercise: Write two pieces each about 250 words long. Piece One should rivet the reader; Piece Two should bore the reader stiff. Each student reads both pieces out loud.

“In almost every instance the result is the same,” he says, “The ‘riveting’ piece bores, while the ‘boring’ piece holds interest.”

Why? Peter explains that, “In their effort to grip us, beginning writers tend to rush: They equate their own adrenaline with that of the reader. Conversely, when trying to bore, the same writers take their time; they don’t hesitate to lavish 250 words on the subject of a wall of white paint drying. And—to their consternation—the result holds our attention.”

So for this story, I chose a small incident that happened over a short period of time, but I slowed down the telling, letting it unfold moment by moment. By not hurrying, there was room for the emotion to build, for inner thought as well as outer action.

Envision it

As I wrote, I closed my eyes and imagined the scene in my mind. What could I see above, below, to the sides? What people and things were in my periphery? What could I hear, smell, touch, what was the quality of the light, temperature of the air? What emotion was I feeling at each point and what did that emotion look like in gestures, actions and reactions? Show don’t tell.

Match style to purpose

Writers have two roles in every piece they write. One to tell a story; two to craft it well. Having decided on the subject matter and how to let the story unfold, I summoned up craft I’ve learned over time.

To heighten the feeling of disorientation, of not fitting into a new world, of being out of control, I edited to make the sentence structure disjointed in places, short and fragmented in others and even syntactically out of step at times.

I made sure to use smell and texture or touch where I could as these senses tend to be more emotionally charged than sight and sound. I used setting details to echo the atmosphere of the fear that the narrator was feeling.

Whether my story was successful, I won’t know until it’s accepted and published, but I felt good about it when it was finished and that’s always a good sign.

DID YOU KNOW

Among the workshops Writescape has offered is one on writing short fiction, “Does Size Matter?” Gather your group. Pick your topic and your date. And we’ll bring Writescape’s workshops to you. Choose from our Workshop Catalogue, or contact us to provide a custom workshop to fill your needs.

 

Purple Prose

Purple Prose

Gwynn Scheltema

In a course I teach on effective description, I talk about “purple prose” and invariably I’m asked what that means. To me, purple prose is writing that is so excessive, elaborate or flowery that it calls attention to itself and breaks the flow of the story. It’s usually recognizable by the excessive use of sensory detail.

But hang on…isn’t the use of sensory detail a mark of good writing? Absolutely! Using all the senses and painting with words through simile and metaphor makes for rich, engaging narrative. The operative word in my comment “usually recognizable by the excessive use of sensual detail” is the word “excessive”.

So how do you know what is enough and what is excessive?

Let’s find out by looking at this paragraph of purple prose:profile-461076_640

The pretty young girl sat delicately on the lush green grass under the old gnarled oak tree. The starlings sang excitedly above, and the air was filled with the perfume of wildflowers. Overhead the fluffy white clouds drifted gently, and the sun shone brightly in the blue summer sky. She felt happy. She turned coyly to the boy beside her and said hesitantly in her high sing-song voice, “Would you like a bite of this sweet juicy apple?”

At first glance, it seems to follow the guidelines for “good” writing. We have colour and sound and smells and textures. We have emotion and interaction. But for all that, it sounds amateurish. It’s awkward to read.

Here are five tips to recognize and overcome purple prose:

1 + 1 = ½

The first thing to notice is the proliferation of adjectives. When it comes to adjectives, I always say that “one plus one equals a half”. By that I mean that if you use more than one adjective to describe something, you dilute the effectiveness of each adjective. This happens, because the reader must process both adjectives separately with the noun it describes. The mind must process “the girl is pretty” and then “the girl is young”. It’s too much, and slows the reader down. In this paragraph, there are seven instances of this. (Can you find them?)words-1034410_640

Instead use just one adjective and if possible choose a stronger noun to convey the other descriptor. “Pretty young girl” could become “pretty teenager”. “Lush green grass” doesn’t need the word “green”, because “lush” says it all. Likewise, you wouldn’t expect a summer sky to be anything but blue.

Kill “descriptor” adverbs.

Note I said “descriptor” adverbs (my own label, by the way). I don’t condemn all adverbs. Adverbs like daily and often have a role to play in showing, time and frequency etc. by answering the questions of when? and how? It’s the ones that answer the question: in what way? that cause the problem. In our sample paragraph, “sat delicately” is a case in point. It’s much stronger and easier for the reader to process, if you ditch the adverb altogether and strengthen the verb to “perched” or “poised”. The starlings might “chatter” or “chirp” or “chorus” rather than “sing excitedly”. You could use a phrase like “the girl curled her legs under her”.

Swap out cliché.

A cliché is a descriptive phrase that once was a great way to describe something but which has been so over-used that it no longer has any effect on the reader except to draw attention to itself and pull the reader out of the narrative. This sample uses the cliché “fluffy white clouds”.dragonflies-1431304_640

It would be simple to say, “Find another way to describe the clouds,” and that would be valid, but I think it goes deeper than that. I believe that you should swap out cliché with details that are not already supplied automatically by the reader. If you mention a summer day, most people will automatically imagine blue skies, hot sun and fluffy white clouds. Pump up your writing by supplying a detail they may not imagine and therefore will notice, say, “a pair of tangled dragon flies”. Not only does this give a unique detail to the scene, it can also do double duty in mirroring or echoing the story thread of these two young people alone together.

Show Don’t Tell

Yes, I know, you’ve heard it before, but it’s true. This entire paragraph is tell. The reader is being told what everything looks like and what the characters are doing and how they are feeling. We are observers only, not participants in the story. We can only guess at the character’s thoughts and motivations.

This piece would be stronger if we saw at least some of the scene through the eyes and thoughts of one of the characters. That way, we get a feel for how the character feels, and this is heightened by descriptive details that the character would notice in that emotional state. Make the characters real. Give them names and thoughts and gestures.

To recognize “tell” look for places where emotions are named: “She felt happy”. Ask yourself: What does happy look like in this situation? What would she be thinking at this moment? What body language might she use? What sensory details would she notice?

Alice watched two dragonflies flit in a tangled dance near Robbie’s red face—whether from the summer heat or embarrassment, she couldn’t tell.

So what?

No matter how powerful the description, it has to have a purpose. Don’t describe for the sake of it, just to paint a setting. Always have a second purpose. As I said in my post Been There, use brief, targeted description to create atmosphere, to mirror emotion, to illuminate character or advance plot.

So let’s have another crack at the sample paragraph:

apple-1228374_640Alice curled her legs under her and lowered herself to the lush grass as close to Robbie as she could manage without startling him and breathed in the sweet smell of crushed wildflowers. Robbie closed his eyes and settled back against the ancient oak, folding his farmer-tanned arms behind his head. She watched two dragonflies flit in a tangled dance near Robbie’s red face—whether from the summer heat or embarrassment, she couldn’t tell. She hoped it was the latter. What now? Should she say something? But what? Above the chattering starlings seemed to egg her on. She reached into the picnic basket, swallowed hard and said in a voice she barely recognized as her own, “Want a bite of my apple?”

 Better?

Have a go yourself. How else could this paragraph be written? Paste your version in the comments below.

Expert advice

Expert advice

Heather M. O’Connor

When Richard Scrimger came to Turning Leaves a couple of years ago, he told us, “Writers are liars and thieves.”

He meant, of course, that the best stories are partly made up, and partly built on stolen bits of real life. Readers want to believe your lies. You can tell the most outrageous whoppers, from a theme park with cloned dinosaurs to a school for wizards. As long as the stolen bits ring true.

Steal what you know, research what you don’t

Take my novel Betting Game, for instance. It’s the story of an elite soccer player who gets mixed up with illegal gambling.

I could lie and steal with panache about soccer. I play. My kids play. I watch the sport on TV. But illegal gambling? That was a central part of my novel’s plot and characters, and I didn’t know a thing about it. Nada. Zip. How could I make my story believable?

Who ya gonna call?

I needed a subject matter expert. Someone in the biz. But not the gambling biz. A “reliable narrator” if you know what I mean. Someone in law enforcement. It took time to track down an expert, but what he told me was invaluable.

Looking for an expert of your own? Here are the steps to follow.

Go surfing

Begin your search online. I started by studying news stories. Who was quoted on the topic? Who went to court?

Your expert may speak at industry events and conferences. Check continuing education classes and LinkedIn, too.

network of peopleTap your network

Have you asked your friends and family if they know an expert? I was stunned to learn that one of my teammates was once a CSI investigator in New York City. (She now teaches forensic science and invited me to a crime scene class. Coolest writer field trip ever!)

Don’t forget your local librarians—they’re walking encyclopedias.

Do a little diggingman-1483479_1920

Once you locate subject matter experts, don’t waste their time. Pick your own brains before you pick theirs.

Prepare a list of open-ended questions that require more than a yes or no answer. Try to think up a couple of questions they may never have answered.

Email your questions and a short synopsis of your story a day or two before the interview. This gives the person time to mull over answers and think of interesting anecdotes.

Don’t be shy

Relax. Chatting with a subject matter expert is easier than it looks.

People like talking about their jobs. Though they find their work fascinating, their friends and family may not. You provide a rare treat—an enthusiastic audience.

office-336368_1920Take note!

I prefer to interview in person or by phone. People have more to say when they don’t need to write it all down. You also have a chance to ask follow-up questions when you’re talking live. Email interviews are very limiting. They’re best for confirming facts.

I usually record my interviews, as long as there’s no objection. Most smartphones have an app for that. I also take detailed notes.

Say thank you

Remember to thank your expert for taking the time to share their knowledge and expertise. Send a thank you note. If their help was significant, include them in the acknowledgements, and consider sending them a copy of your book.

Been there: Using real-world settings in fiction

Been there: Using real-world settings in fiction

Gwynn Scheltema

I’m always fascinated by the worlds that writers create for fantasy and sci-fi novels. I think I’m fascinated by the sheer complexity of creating an entire culture from its laws and religion to its people, plants and landscape.

But basing our stories in the “real world” we all know (or think we know), can be just as complex.

Keeping facts straight.

krzywy-las-641507_640Using real settings—real towns or cities, real street names, real landmarks— can seem easy because you have everything created already. You don’t have to invent culture, landmarks or names. If you mention the CN Tower or Westminster Abbey, you need only give a few details, and readers can fill in the rest.

Provided you get it right.

You can be sure that if you get it “wrong”, someone’s going to tell you. Or your reader will be aware that you made a mistake once, and be on the alert in case you do it again, so now there is a subconscious element of distrust as they read. At the very least, it will kick them out of the narrative momentarily.building-72225_640

Your Impressions

Sure, you can control facts to a large degree with good research and careful editing, but what you can’t control is readers’ reactions to your perceptions of real places. If, like facts, readers think that you got the impression “wrong”, it will be noticed, and have the same effect as getting facts wrong. If, as a narrator, you describe a particular real neighbourhood as “dangerous”, or “upcoming” or “ugly”, that might be your interpretation, but your reader may not agree. Your perceptions of real places are valid, but so are your readers’impressions of the same place.

So what can you do?

Impressions vs. facts

As you write be aware which setting details are facts and which are opinions. Characters only should express all the impressions or opinions. Characters in this instance include the narrator in a first person story. In sections of exposition, stick to facts. This is a good rule of thumb for any details actually, not just for setting. Essentially, setting opinions expressed through exposition become “author intrusion” and open that door for “getting it wrong”.

Manipulating impressions

The moment you move impressions of real places to the realm of character, you have the opportunity to manipulate setting to support other elements like character development and theme.

By choosing to focus on the details the character notices in a setting and what they think and how they feel about it, says as much about the character as the setting. Characters usually notice the things that align with their emotional state and with their level of understanding. You can set or heighten mood and sneak in details that will be important to plot or speak to theme.

midway-game-983385_640

Think of a child and his mother entering a fairground. The child is likely feeling excited and looking forward to fun, so will notice details that are colourful, fun and energizing: whirling rides, flags and balloons, stalls full of prizes to be won. The mother might be jaded by years of attending fairgrounds, aware of potential danger and cost. She will notice questionable people, machinery that looks or souman-1283576_1280nds dangerous and the crush of crowds that make it hard for her to keep track of her child.

Another manipulation is to purposely describe factual details “wrong” to establish an unreliable character.

Fiction and reality fusion

Perhaps the best way to use real settings is to create a fictional piece within the real one. A fictional town in real Northern Ontario. A fictional bar in Paris. You still get the advantages of the “real world” settings, but not the disadvantages. Your fictional component should be similar enough for believability, but you have the freedom to create your own “impressions”’ of the place. You get to decide if the place is “dangerous”, or “upcoming” or “ugly”, and your readers will believe you.

 

Summer Romance: sweet or sizzling?

Summer Romance: sweet or sizzling?

Gwynn Scheltema. 

Many years ago, as a beginning writer, I decided that the easiest fiction to write was romance. After all, I reasoned, it was shallow and formulaic. It would be easy.

So one summer, I conducted an experiment. I ordered four books in four different imprint series from Harlequin and read them all over July and August. I figured that by the end of summer, I would have that formula down pat!

Dead wrong!

I was wrong. Romance books are not shallow and formulaic. To be sure, they do follow an underlying expectation that the hero and heroine will get together in the end, but that’s where the formula ends.

They span many genres: mystery, suspense, historical; the plots are varied and complicated; the settings global; the characters believable and fascinating. And the writing was, for the most part, good. Some books were stronger than others for me, but I can say that about any genre I read. I realized very quickly that I would have to learn a whole lot more before I ever… if I ever… tackled a romance novel of my own.

Digging Deeper into Romance

red valentine graphicSo where do you go to find out more about the genre? The Romance Writers of America, (RWA) website gives a good overview of the genre as well as information on the romance sub-genres. They describe themselves as “dedicated to advancing the professional interests of career-focused romance writers through networking and advocacy.” There you can also find information of RWA chapters throughout North America including Canada, where you can meet other romance writers and attend workshops and conferences.

Sweet, saucy or sizzling?

One of the things I learned from my experiment was that not all imprints are the same. Some were sweet and innocent, some were downright racy. I wondered if I would ever be able to  write the sex scenes effectively and how to know how much was enough or too much.

Harlequin, the world’s largest publisher of romance, provides clear, detailed guidelines on their website for each of their imprints, from the word count to the level of sexual content. For example, Blaze editors ask for sensuous, highly romantic, innovative stories that are sexy in premise and execution. The tone of the books can run from fun and flirtatious to dark and sensual. Writers can push the boundaries in terms of explicitness…an emphasis on the physical relationship…fully described love scenes along with a high level of fantasy, playfulness and eroticism BUT not erotica. The Blaze line must still uphold the Harlequin promise of one hero and one heroine and an implied committed relationship in the end.

Unagented submissions

Some of Harlequin’s imprints require agent representation, but unagented submissions are welcomed for Harlequin Series. Harlequin Series Books (aka “Series Romance” or “Category Romance”) publishes more than 85 titles each month over a wide range of genres.

Your romance

Want to give writing romance a try?

This infographic from Harlequin’s website will help you decide where your romance fits in their imprint series.

Harlequin infographic



Did you know…

Registration for Turning Leaves 2016 is well underway. Save your spot now!


 

Workshops for Teachers: Creative Writing AND Resumes & Cover Letters

Workshops for Teachers: Creative Writing AND Resumes & Cover Letters

Ruth Walker
Ruth Walker

Ruth E. Walker is offering two Summer Learning Institute workshops at the Durham District School Board. Teachers explore their own creative voice with Own Your Voice: Creative Writing for Teachers on August 17. And on August 18, Careers, Co-op and Guidance teachers dissect the good and bad of preparing resumes and cover letters with Presenting You: Resume Writing and Cover Letters.

Own Your Voice: Creative Writing for Teachers

man writingThis one-day workshop builds on several of the successful exercises and approaches Ruth uses as a visiting artist in the classroom, and at arts camp for Grades 7 – 12 students. Using an experiential approach, teachers will try out forms of freefall writing, and use a series of prompts and activities to tap into their own narrative voice. Handouts and exercises are adaptable for classroom use. Group discussions will include diversity, inclusion and creating a safe space for expression and feedback.

Presenting You: Resume Writing and Cover Letters

business man readingA half-day workshop that has been successfully delivered to Careers classrooms at Sinclair Secondary School. Participants tailor their resume in a step-by-step process and learn how craft compelling cover letters. Prior to becoming a professional writer, Ruth was an HR professional in the private and public sectors. And more recently, she worked in the Marketing Unit, Strategic Communications for the provincial Learning Ministries — Education, and Training, Colleges and Universities. Participants will receive a PowerPoint presentation they can adapt to their own classroom needs.

Registration:

The workshops are being run by the Durham District School Board. Registration is open to the public. For details on fees and registration process, contact: Ramona-Lisa McDonald, 905-666-6927 and Gayle Anniss, 905-666-6929 at the board.

The value of keeping random ideas.

The value of keeping random ideas.


Gwynn Scheltema

Ever write a story that seemed to go nowhere? Ever thought of a brilliant opening line, but never wrote the story? Ever found a line that you thought might make good dialogue, or a line in a poem, or the premise of an entire novel and lost it?

lights-1254298_640Rummaging around in discarded ideas will invariably turn up something unexpected, surprising, fun or usable.
That’s not to say that every word you write is gold – saleable gold – and that none of it should go to waste. But ideas don’t always come at a time when you are ready for them, and if you have no way to revisit them, then even the good ideas will go to waste.

Increase your wheat-to-chaff ratio with an Ideas File and pop them in there. Actually, have several ideas files:

Ideas Files
  • hard costory basketpy file folder: for ideas scribbled on napkins and other scrap bits.
  • computer file for the same. Make sure you develop a way to easily navigate through them. Naming each one “good idea” won’t be too helpful when you have 400 “good ideas.” Make use of “version” and “date” options if you have very similar drafts of an unfinished story:
    • horrornovel_v2_2016
    • babypoetryRev3March
    • trilogy_idea3

 

Personal coding systemcolored-pencils-168392_640

Create a personal coding system to mark up journals or notebooks for easy browsing retrieval. I use coloured highlighters: I underline or asterisk possible poetry ideas with yellow, novel snippets with blue, non-fiction article ideas with green, etc.

Other people’s ideas

Expand the concept to ideas beyond your own writing

  • In another hard copy folder keep cuttings from newspapers and magazines, old letters or theatre tickets or postcards or photos. Expand to new subfolders as ideas begin to consolidate.
  • In computer folders, keep ideas suggested by blog posts, or anything internet related, including email copy. Be sure to include URLs if you want to reference later.
  • Create a Pinterest board. This is especially useful in the early stages of a novel. Pin pictures of faces, buildings, landscapes, objects, or anything that stirs up ideas or cements a visual for you. Here is one I started for my MG novel.

pintrest board

Of course, having all these ideas is pointless if you don’t do something with them.

Here is a creative exercise to try:

Take these twold bicycleo random pictures and write a scene that will somehow link them together.ticket-153937_1280

 

 

 

When pairing ideas, don’t worry if they seemingly have nothing in common when you begin– that is the point of the exercise. The struggle of creating the link is what gets your brain going.

 

Step by Step

Step by Step

Gwynn Scheltema

Concrete steps with the words Step by step painted on themLately, I’ve been trying to increase the number of steps I walk each day. I bought a pedometer to record them. At first I just went about my regular routine to see what I was achieving already. Sad. Very sad. Some days I didn’t even break 500!

Apparently, you need to do a minimum of 6000 a day to maintain good health, and well over that if you want to lose weight or increase fitness levels. After several months, I now consistently do 7000 steps and some days even more. One day last week, I topped 15000. Yay me!

Lately, I’ve also been trying to increase the number of words I write in a week. I made a wall chart to record them. At first I just went about my regular routine to see what I was achieving already. Sad. Very sad. Most days I didn’t even break 500!

The difference is, after several months, I’m better but still not averaging a decent word count. I don’t expect to do 7000 a day, but I definitely need to average more if I want to finish my novel any time soon.

A first draft in one year

abacusAt first glance, if you do the math, an 80,000 first draft written over a year, five days a week, 50 weeks in the year, would only require a measly 320 words a day! A 100,000 word book is only 400 words a day.

But let’s face it. Not every word you write is golden. And there needs to be time in there for research or plotting with sticky notes or just plain thinking. So aiming for a minimum of 500 words a day and will allow you to produce enough “good words” for a first draft.

I prefer to think of that as an average of 2500 good words a week for 35 to 40 weeks of the year. That still leaves plenty of weeks for research or holidays or whatever.

 The problem

The problem is, when I think of 2500 a week, every week, I find that daunting, in the same way that I found the prospect of 6000 steps a day daunting. But I succeeded with the steps. So what did I do to get my steps up that I could apply to my writing?

The solution to increasing my steps:

  1. I wore my pedometer every day as a constant reminder and motivator.keyboard with check mark
  2. I coerced my husband into wearing one too so we could motivate each other.
  3. I didn’t try to do all 6000 at once during the day.
  4. I found times of the day when I could get in a quick 1000.
  5. I discovered that jogging got them done faster.
  6. I realized that every little bit counted towards the whole: walking while on the phone or jogging on the spot while waiting for the kettle to boil.
  7. I “rewarded” myself with a check mark on my chart for every day I achieved the 6000.

Therefore…the possible solution to writing 500 words every day:

  1. B.I.C [Butt in chair] every day. Doesn’t matter what I write, as long as I write, or actively work on the draft in some way.woman's face with pen writing on glass - just words
  2. Find a writing buddy so we can motivate each other.
  3. Write in several blocks of time if it’s hard to do them all at once.
  4. Identify quick items that move the project forward to do in limited time slots: look up a missing fact, decide on a character name, weigh up plot options.
  5. Use freefall to write quickly and get ahead of the internal editor.
  6. Realize that every little bit counts towards the whole – keep a notebook handy and use it: on the train to work, while waiting in the car….
  7. “Reward” myself every week I achieve the 2500. Chocolate? Solitaire? A new book?

pile of books and glasses

 

What do you do to keep your word count clocking up week after week?

 

First Impressions Matter

First Impressions Matter

Ruth E. Walker. I’m on LinkedIn which, in short, is a business-oriented networking site, a bit like Facebook for affirmations-441457_640professionals. You post your resume, awards and announcements. And people you are connected with (think “friends”) can endorse you on a wide range of skills and expertise. A while ago, I got endorsed for: creative writing, proofreading, writing, blogging and editing.

Yes. I do all those things. And I think that I do them pretty well. So what is the problem with being endorsed for them?

I don’t know the writer who endorsed me. I’ve never done any work for him. Not one edit. Not one single instance of proofreading. He’s not been to any workshop I’ve offered. Nor is he a member of any writing organization to which I belong.

So, I have to ask. What value are all those endorsements on my LinkedIn site if random new connections can merrily come along and endorse me? And even more important, what do I think about a total stranger giving me his unwarranted endorsements? I was not impressed. Not one bit.

horse-1006579_640Stop looking a gift horse in the mouth, you say? I say, that’s a real cliché. That’s the editor in me. Avoid cliché like the plague. And avoid giving electronic high-fives if you have no idea if the high-fives are warranted.

On the other hand, if I have endorsements from professional writers and editors, that sends a strong message to anyone visiting my LinkedIn site. And fortunately, I do have those great endorsements.

abstract-1233873_640Stop looking at social media as a true representation of who you are, you say? I say, I have standards. That’s the professional writer in me. By its fluid and ever-evolving nature, social media is not meant to be “the complete me.”  It’s more like a snapshot here and a glimpse of something interesting over there.

I don’t believe everything I read in social media. I bet you don’t either. But I can confirm that when I am posting things on social media, I don’t make things up unless I’m writing fiction.

LinkedIn is a networking vehicle and sometimes people find interesting ways to connect, you say? I say there are other ways to network in the industry that don’t involve making things up. If you want to connect with other writers, don’t post things on their site hoping they’ll notice. Join a writer’s group. Take workshops in the field. Read Heather O’Connor’s post on How to attend a book convention. Other than a workshop with a creative writing exercise or two, none of these options involve making things up. Nor should it.

The thing about being professional is that it is more than just saying “I’m a professional.” It shows in your behaviour. It is modelled for others through your choices. And it invites others to be professional with you.

handshake-733239_640I was professional in how I followed up with the stranger who endorsed me on LinkedIn. I sent him a private message, thanking him for his positive reinforcement but asking how he knew me and my skills. It turns out I was right. He didn’t know me.

We had a brief exchange where I suggested he should only endorse people with whom he was familiar. He appreciated my comments and I felt better when I understood why he made the mistake in the first place. He was new to writing and new to LinkedIn and wasn’t yet familiar with the process. He thought this was a good way to network with other writers.

Look, I’m not saying don’t get out there and use social media to make connections. Quite the opposite — I’ve made some worthwhile and amazing connections via social media. But I am suggesting that you need to think about the impression you are leaving when you do so. Don’t let the computer screen change you into someone you wouldn’t want to associate with. Be yourself but be professional.