Getting into Writing Balance

Getting into Writing Balance

Gwynn Scheltema

Several years ago, I attended a writing workshop with Caroline Pignat, (a wonderful author and twice a Governor General Literary Award winner!) and she began the session with this simple exercise:

  • On a piece of paper draw a circle that represents the creative talent you think you have.
  • In relationship to that, draw an overlapping circle that represents the writing craft skill level you think you have.
  • And now add another overlapping circle that represents your commitment to actual writing.
 What did it mean?

The middle area where the three circles intersect represents the success you can expect with your writing goals.

My talent and craft circles were about the same size, but my commitment circle was woefully small in comparison. The resulting central shape for success was tellingly small too. According to this diagram, if I upped my level of commitment, my success area should increase. I kind of knew this in my heart of hearts. I can write, but I don’t. I should submit, but I don’t. It was common sense really. And it compelled me to change some things in my life to remedy it.

Your circles may be different: perhaps you write every day and have a natural talent for telling stories, but your level of craft is low — passive writing, bad grammar or a lack of understanding of structure. Or you’ve taken a boatload of workshops and read widely on the craft, and you have a high level of commitment, but your storytelling skills need help and it means you don’t turn out compelling fiction.

Whatever the imbalance, paying attention to it will help you succeed.

Getting back in balance

So as part of your resolution making /goal setting this January, work on getting your circles in balance. There are many ways to do it, but here are a few tips:

Commitment:

  • Schedule writing time like any other appointment and stick to it
  • Find a writing buddy, and support and motivate each other
  • Fight feeling overwhelmed by making small, specific and achievable goals
  • Find a place to write where you feel creative and are not disturbed
  • Tell your family about your goal and ask for their support

 

Talent:

  • Believe in yourself; confidence is the best boost for talent
  • Face fears – submit even though you fear rejection; try a new form or genre – you won’t know what you’re good at until you try
  • Remind yourself why you like to write and rekindle your passion
  • Read, read, and read – your ability will improve by osmosis. Really!
  • Fill your creative well often – try other art forms; visit museums, galleries, parks and natural spaces. Remember observation, mindfulness and curiosity.

Craft:

  • Join a critique group – the critiques you receive are just part of the learning process. Giving critique and listening to critique of others’ work helps you understand all aspects of craft and different genre expectations. You’ll also learn to read critically.
  • Read as a writer – when you are impressed by the way an author handles a scene, analyze what they did to achieve it.
  • Take workshops or attend conferences – choose them wisely depending on what you need to know to improve right now. Random courses are more likely to boost procrastination than skill.
  • Allow yourself to write a “shitty first draft” by knocking the inner critic off your shoulder. Like all skills, writing takes practice.
  • Network with other writers at breakfasts, workshops and writing events. I often learn as much from attendees as I do from facilitators.

I’m happy to say that when I check in with myself this New Year, I know my circles are more in balance – still not equal – but improving. And I’m happy with that.

A few more tips

Some previous Top Drawer posts you might like to revisit that speak to aspects of this post:

 

 

 

 

Benefits of Bravery: Going Public Fear(less)ly

Benefits of Bravery: Going Public Fear(less)ly

In the middle of August, I took a big risk and made a somewhat rash and public pledge on this blog: Finish my novel by September 30 or…

…well, I didn’t say what the “or” might be. Only that you, dear reader, would hold me accountable. And yes, you certainly did.

Just a reminder: I compared my sluggish progress on my novel in progress to how I dropped out of aquafit some years ago (the old “life gets in the way” excuse) but that returning to regular exercise was finally showing some results.

person-947709_640I reasoned the same could happen for my novel, if I only made it a regular habit to write…the novel. (I write almost every day, just not always the novel.) In fact, there have been times I’d slipped so far away from the story that I couldn’t recall important plot elements.

On Friday, September 30, I “finished” The Last Battlewipe. And then spent the next four days making it better.

I’m still not done with the editing but I can happily report that my self-imposed kick in the pants has generated much more than a full draft. I also gained three other important results.

Result Number One:

woman-41201_640Once I made the commitment to get the darn thing done, I had to shift my thinking from write to reach the finish to a much more challenging finish to reach the writing. Accordingly, I became far more focused on the vital pieces of the novel: character arc, story structure, logic/plot glitches and glossovers.

The very act of committing to finishing the work meant I had to think deeply about what I was trying to achieve and ensure that this was foremost as I wrote those final scenes.

Result Number Two:

kisses-1039533_640I’m excited again. Like a teenaged love affair, writing is often all starry eyed and passionate at the start. It’s an adventure following those characters, letting them surprise me, discovering personality quirks and adorable idiosyncrasies.

Until the “adorable” wears off and I realize I’ve let my characters and story run off the rails following a lot of useless material. And I’m bored.

For a lot of writers, it’s at that point that the murky, muddy middle of the book wears you down.

Enter the panic of a public deadline coupled with the realization that I have a lot more novels waiting for me to write. I had to finish this one. And all that panic stuff – it made the writing exciting for me once more. But because of Result Number One, I brought focus to the rekindled love affair. So much better to be a grown up.

Result Number Three:
black-84715_640Last month, I had a fantastic pitch session at North Words Literary Festival. A query letter and the first ten pages resulted in an enthusiastic agent asking to see the rest.

I left that festival on a tremendous high: someone gets me and what I’m trying to do with The Last Battlewipe. So how was it that the first ten pages so intrigued the agent when I was still building the last quarter?

First, to keep working on the ending I had to revisit the beginning. Again. And again. Those ten pages that agent read were shaped and pared and rewritten dozens of times. Every time I set a stone in place at the end of the book, I had to return to the foundation and ensure it could hold that stone.

Second, I believe if I hadn’t got back to the story, I wouldn’t have been clear in my mind about the themes and ideas I am exploring in The Last Battlewipe. And I think my heightened focus and restored passion for my novel is contagious. I was able to carry that focus and passion into the session. It’s no guarantee that my wonderful fifteen minute pitch time will land me that agent but it sure was the 2 a.m. rocket fuel that has kept me focused on perfecting the finish line.

One more thing.

My aquafit regime? Ooops. I’ve let that one slip and my recent BIC woman-1539087_640(bum in chair) has done little to get my physical energy back on track. So I am still “a work in progress” on more than one front. But I guess we all are.

I’ll keep you posted. Meanwhile, back to the edit chair.

Do You Know…what an agent will see when they look at your query letter? Register for our November retreat when a top Canadian literary agent, Hilary McMahon, is Writescape’s special guest and she’s staying for the weekend to share insights, inspiration and a morning workshop.