Fall writing reflections

Fall writing reflections

Gwynn Scheltema

Fall. I love fall for the harvest, for the colour, for the diffused light and a sky that’s a different blue. I’ve harvested my veggies, and put away the summer furniture, put up pickles and raked leaves. Fall is a time to reap what you’ve sown, to reflect, to clean up and set up stores for the winter. I think writing has a “fall” period too.

Reap what you sow

What good is writing a wonderful poem, a brilliant short story, an entire novel manuscript, only to leave them forgotten in the digital drawer? A big part of being a writer is submitting your work. Agreed, not everything you write should see the light of day, but you know in your heart which pieces should be sent out into the world. It’s hard, yes. It takes courage to expose yourself to possible rejection, but you can only enjoy success if you take this important step. So, this fall, dig out those finished pieces, brush them off, pretty them up and decide where they can find a home. Then—the important bit—actually send them out!

Reflect

As we near the end of the year, reflect on what you achieved in your writing life. Was it more or less than you hoped for? If, like me, you didn’t get as much done as you planned, don’t beat yourself up about it. Take action instead.

Reflect on what stopped you or got in your way: Did you give your writing what it needs to grow? Enough time? Enough discipline? Enough freedom from the internal editor? Permission to write a shitty draft?

Reflect on what you are writing. Does it excite you? Are you afraid to finish it? Should you be writing something else? Are you afraid to try something new? Do you need help from a workshop or mentor?

Clean up

I am terrible for starting projects and not finishing them. Are you? Is there even one project you could finish up and clean off your list before the end of the year? What about your writing space and daily habits? Are they “cleaned up” enough for you to feel creative, to have the time you need? Should you be throwing some habits out and replacing them with new?

 

Set up stores for the winter

Now is the time to plan a winter schedule for your writing. What project/s do you want to tackle? Are there courses you need to sign up for in 2019? Conferences or retreats you want to attend next year that you must register for or save for now. A writing residency? A grant application? A submission schedule?

 

As winter approaches, take advantage of fall. Curl up in front of the fire with a hot beverage and make those plans. Be specific; make them attainable. Plan on a reward for when you reach your goal.

GPS for the subconscious

GPS for the subconscious

Gwynn Scheltema

I call it mind mapping. You might call it clustering or brainstorming. It doesn’t matter. What does matter is that this visual technique works to generate ideas and get subconscious thoughts down on paper before you lose them.

What is mind mapping?

Mind mapping is a my non-linear way to organizing thoughts without my internal critic getting in the way. At the same time it allows me to link and organize those ideas, so that the finished exercise is something I can work with.

Sound contradictory?

Perhaps, but it is based on some interesting studies on the way we think. Ralph Haber’s study of memory, found that we have nearly 90% success rate recalling images rather than words. Tony Buzan’s research found that those who took notes using key words learned more effectively. Mind mapping combines keywords and visual representation.

Mind map mind set

Start with an open mind and playful attitude. Mind mapping is a “brain dump.” Expect that many of the ideas you produce will not be useful. That’s not important. You can harvest the valuable nuggets later.

Your brain works best in short, intensive bursts (5 minutes or so), so once you begin, work fast and write down only key words, symbols, images, phrases … not sentences. Strive for an explosion of ideas.

Write with a pencil, your favourite pen, coloured markers, crayons or whatever helps to make you feel creative. Same goes for the paper you choose: with or without lines, coloured, big or small.

Where do you start?

Begin with one central keyword or concept in the centre of the page. Starting in the middle of the page gives the creative right brain a head start, as our non-creative left brain is used to starting in the upper left-hand corner.

You can put the keyword in a circle or a cloud shape or not enclose it at all (this is a creative process, so there are no “rules.”)

You can use an idea you want to work with or a random word picked from a book or given to you by someone else.

Then what?

I started with the word GERANIUM.

Write down/draw anything that keyword suggests to you, and then a word or symbol associated with that new thought, and so on, until you have a chain of linked ideas moving out from the central theme. Do not judge your ideas at this stage; simply write them down.

Put an idea down even if it seems unrelated – your subconscious probably knows more than you do.  DOCTORS OFFICE showed up on one of the branches. What does that have to do with geraniums? Seemingly nothing now, but when I organized the ideas afterwards, the link became clear. (I’ll explain later).

Keep your hand moving. If ideas slow down, take your hand back to the central concept and begin a new branch. Draw empty lines, and your brain will move to fill them automatically; or inject more energy with a different colour pen.

Eventually you’ll have several trains of thought, all different from each other and yet linked by the central concept. You can now organize them to fit your purposes.

Organizing and using your mind map ideas

Ways to use the ideas you’ve generated can be as varied as the ideas themselves.

Say I’m looking for an idea for a non-fiction article. Perhaps my first instinct around the word GERANIUM is to do an article on container gardening, I take a highlighter and highlight all the ideas that fit in any way with that slant. In the example, I’d highlight: POTS, RED, HANGING, TRAILING, VERANDAH, PATIO, SUMMER, SCENT. Hmmm….. boring!

But in the process, the word SCENT reminded me that geranium leaves can be used to scent and colour sugar. The mind trail on HERBS, TEAS, SPA suddenly becomes more interesting. A non-fiction article on “Using Flowers for Special Teas” now has possibilities. I might do another mind map now with the word TEA in the centre.

Use a mind map over and over

But don’t stop there. The same mind map can be used several times, at different times for different styles of writing.

The phrase DOCTORS OFFICE has me curious. I follow the branch back towards the centre, trying to work out what PINK and SUGAR have to do with it. Then it hits me… when I was a child, our doctor used to hand out tiny cylindrical candies that smelled like scented geraniums. I realize that I haven’t seen them in decades. What other sweeties from that era are no longer around? Hmmm….. Another article? A scene for my novel? A short story? Things are brewing now.

Later, it strikes me as interesting that I have two trails that contain the word VERANDAH, and I’m drawn to the references to LATIN WORD; SECRETS; SCHOOL FRIENDS; IVY; OLD BUILDINGS; ENGLAND. I think I feel a poem emerging…..

Even the trail that started out with the boring POTS; RED, ended with SQUIRREL; CRINOLINE: HIBISCUS. Now I realize, that’s a story my subconscious has unearthed about a little critter that came to my garden last year. He loved hibiscus shoots, and …

When should I do a mind map?

Use a mind map whenever you want to generate new ideas. Use it to focus in on a particular problem area. Use it to expand something you are already working on. Use it to reveal hidden subconscious perspectives on a seemingly boring topic. Or just do it for fun and see where it takes you. Quick. Easy. Worth it!

DID YOU KNOW

The perfect spot to be creative – and mind map to your heart’s content – is at Spring Thaw 2018 on beautiful Rice Lake in Keene, Ontario. Come for 3 or 5 days and escape to write with Writescape.Tailor your weekend to suit your needs.There is an agenda and formal programming, but you choose what sessions and activities will work for you.

The Truth about Finding Time to Write

The Truth about Finding Time to Write

Gwynn and Ruth are on vacation for the next couple of 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. This week is Gwynn’s January 2016 post on writers’ procrastination. Come on. Admit it. Who hasn’t delayed getting BIC (Butt In Chair)?

Gwynn Scheltema

When people ask me, “What’s the biggest barrier to finishing your novel?”, I tell them, “Lack of writing time.”

And indeed, the demands of life often—in fact, usually—trump the ability to set aside writing time. Yet when I look back at my life and the things I’ve accomplished, I realize that somehow I’ve always “made” time for the things I really wanted to do.

At various times I’ve wanted something badly enough that I’ve worked three jobs at once as well as studying part-time by correspondence; I’ve negotiated deals to allow me to fast track programs over three years rather than five; I’ve run several businesses at once, often going months without a day off, working till 2 a.m., or driving three hours one-way for a one-hour speaking opportunity.

So what does that say about my writing? If I can’t find the time to write, does it mean that I don’t want to write?

If I’m honest with myself, the answer is probably “yes”.

Yikes! How can that be? I love words and language. I love books. I love stories. And I have a story to tell, one that occupies my mind constantly, one that I think is important enough to be told. So how can the answer be yes?

It’s yes, because I’m afraid. It’s yes because the pressure I put on myself to write something meaningful is so great, that it is safer to not write anything at all. When I plan and dream and “write in my head”, I’m not opening myself up to judgement, to failure, to rejection, to mediocrity, or even to the pressure of success. I don’t have to risk anything.

Time is not the problem

So it’s not time that is my barrier; it’s the inability to risk, the fear of taking that step into the unknown, the unwillingness to “do it anyway”. It’s a hard thing to admit. It’s an even harder thing to overcome.

My logical mind knows this and has all kinds of practical things to do to combat procrastination, but the answer ultimately lies in my emotional mind. Until I am emotionally ready to write, there will never be enough time.

Name it to turn it

So what can I do? Tackle the real problem. Tackle my emotional fear.

In any recovery program, recognizing the problem is always the first step. In this case, I need to recognise that time is not the problem, but not writing is. Time is not the problem, but not allowing myself to write badly and thinking negatively about what I write is.

The first step

So, I will re-name my fears as affirmations and post them where I can read them often. This will help train my emotional self to think differently.

Photo credit: Epos.de
Photo credit: Epos.de

So:

  • I can find time to write.
  • It doesn’t matter what I write, as long as I write often
  • I can always re-write, but just getting it down in first draft is the most important thing.

It’s a small first step, but an important one. I’m glad I’ve taken that small step. Wish me luck.

I’m sure I’m not the only one out there procrastinating and blaming it on lack of time. Anyone else have this problem? Post your experience and advice in the comments below.

 

Writing Plan Meets Real Life

Writing Plan Meets Real Life

Just a few short days ago, at Spring Thaw 2017, a group of writers tucked themselves away in cozy cottages on the shores of Rice Lake. It’s what Writescape loves about our retreats: the creative energy that comes to writers when the natural world helps them dive deep into their words.

We also know that keeping that energy alive becomes a challenge when bags are packed and the road home is inevitable. So our retreats include built-in tools to help with the transition back to reality. A themed companion workbook offers pages of prompts and inspiration during the retreat and continues that role as needed. A wrap-up session is designed to ease the goodbyes and help with ideas, commitments and plans to “keep the words coming.”

About those plans. They can be general intentions or itemized lists and firmly set timelines. But then reality rears its own set of lists and timelines. Writescape retreat alumnus April Hoeller left Spring Thaw with firm plans that came to a halt the day after returning home. She shared what happened on her blog “What I’m thinking today,” and how she took a roadblock and turned it into a bridge back to her writing. With her permission, we reprint it here:

Guest blogger: April Hoeller
Monday Moanings – May 1, 2017

It’s raining.
It’s pouring.
This old scribe is…

Well, what is she up to on this first day of May?

Get out your smallest violins because I’ve got on a pair of whiney pants for this Monday Moaning.

What, pray tell, is the point of having a plan, a specific, measurable, achievable, realistic, time-based strategy for getting things done, when something as simple as a telephone call can render it so irrelevant so quickly?  Let me be clear – nobody died or was diagnosed with cancer, or lost a job. World War III has not broken out, though that has been a haunting concern of mine for a few weeks now (a whole other blog!). There is nothing tragically wrong. My world is still turning at a great clip but it’s just not doing so according to my plan.

I arrived home last Tuesday afternoon from an amazing writing retreat.

The most productive retreat ever

I found the doorway into a section of the memoir that I’ve been struggling to get a grip on for months. I not only plotted out my way through it, I also committed some 5000 words to paper, half of the chapters. Woot! Woot!

I am indebted to Ruth Walker and Gwynn Scheltema, the dynamic duo of Writescape, for their encouragement, companionship, and occasional goading.

… and a good sense of fun too!

Indispensable to the retreat is the energy and inspiration that blossoms when a group of writers gets together for a weekend. Good conversations, suggestions, laughter and affirmations abound. A big thank you to all of you!

 

 

Homecoming

I arrived home all fired up, ready to move forward at good pace. I had a plan too – always an important part of a retreat. So there I sat Wednesday at the harvest table in my kitchen with pens, paper, and mind ready, at 1 pm – right on schedule. And then the phone rang.

I ignored it, letting my guy answer it, while I put pen to paper. A whole sentence emerged. With great satisfaction, I tapped a period at the end. The next sentence was spoken by my husband.

“They want to start work on the solarium next week.”

I capped my pen and closed the book. No words have been written since. The solarium construction was not scheduled to begin until the end of June. Nowhere in my plans for the coming week, or even the coming month was there any reference to “The Solarium.” But the contractor had a cancellation and our name rose to the top.  We have been able to put them off for two weeks – because we’ve got prep work to do, none of which was on our radar – until last Wednesday.

 

What’s a writer to do?

This is not a derailment. It’s just a layby in a siding to let a construction train through.

So, throw off those whiney pants.

Make another plan to write my way between, around, over, through the interruptions.

Just think, in a few weeks I’ll have another writing space!

Cheers!

Did You Know?

You can read more of April Hoeller’s words on writing, travel and life at What I’m thinking today, her online blog.

Thanks, April, for reminding all of us that while life may happen (and it always does) we can find ways to keep close our writing goals. A writer needs to be ready to return to the page. Writing time is precious. Don’t waste it.

Writescape retreats are held spring, summer and fall, and deliver inspiration and support for writers.

 

 

Writing Positively and Successfully in 2017

Writing Positively and Successfully in 2017

Gwynn Scheltema

We are all familiar with setting New Year’s resolutions, or resetting the same goals we set last year and didn’t achieve. So what other positive things can we do to motivate ourselves to move forward?

Switch to a positive perspective

Never underestimate the power of positive thought. Someone once said that if you think your glass is always half full, then pour it into a smaller glass and quit whining. What they mean is: stop complaining; learn to see things from a new, more positive perspective. Don’t focus on what you haven’t achieved, but celebrate what you’ve accomplished. Don’t bemoan what you can’t do, but feel proud of what you have learned and mastered already. Self-confidence is half the battle.

Document progress and small successes

Pat yourself on the back often. My good friend, Ingrid Ruthig, introduced me to the habit of keeping a document file on my computer desktop called “Things I’ve Done in 201_” (add your own year). In it, I record every small accomplishment as it happens.

I include a record of submissions that I send out —whether they come to fruition or not— because even the act of submitting is a positive and motivating step for any writer. I list writing events I attend. I list open mic opportunities, readings, interviews or panels I participate in. I paste copy from encouraging emails about my work. I record the completion or start of writing projects, or even segments within writing projects— “finished Chapter 3!”. I record workshops attended or given, and retreats and writer’s breakfasts. I fill in the dots on the calendar for every B.I.C session I complete.

As the list grows I get a satisfying sense of what I’m doing to further my writing journey or project—or a self-kick-in-the-pants if there haven’t been any recent entries.

At the end of the year I have a real record of accomplishments and areas that need focus. I also have a decent record to refer to when completing my tax returns or updating my writing resume— but that’s another blog.

Have elastic expectations

Seeing where you were a year ago and where you are today can be revealing. Priorities and goals can change over the course of the year. Projects can fizzle or get sidelined by new projects (and life) unimagined at the start of the year, and that is not necessarily a bad thing. Just because something on your goal list doesn’t get completed doesn’t mean you’ve failed. Reflect on what you’ve learned. Adjust and move on. Go with the flow.

If you like to set goals, perhaps plan to start with short-term (monthly, quarterly) goals. Make some targets easy to complete to keep you motivated. Display them somewhere to nudge yourself and stay on track.

Also balance that with longer-term (2-year, 5-year, lifetime) goals where you reach for the stars so you have something to aspire to and something for your subconscious to envision. They say that the first step to actualization is visualization.

Strive for balance

Achieving writing goals is all very well, but if they are achieved at the expense of your health or your family relationships and other important aspects of life, then perhaps you need to reconsider your life balance.  As Ruth said in her blog, make time to not write. Take time to live. Take time to indulge in growth through retreats, conferences, workshops or just hanging out with writerly friends. Take time to notice. Take time to read. Take time to exercise. Take time to love.

Above all, be kind to yourself. Look for the good in everything. Enjoy the writing journey you’ve chosen for yourself. Enjoy life. Be positive and you’ll get there.

Here’s to your positive and successful 2017.

NaNoWriMo 101

NaNoWriMo 101

Gwynn Scheltema

What is NaNoWriMo

nano-logoNational Novel Writing Month is an Internet-based challenge to write 50,000 words of a new novel in one month. It started in 1999 with only 21 participants. By 2012, there were over 340,000 who collectively wrote over 3.2 billion words.

To win, participants must write an average of just over 1,667 words per day. Organizers of the Nano event say that the aim is simply to get people to start writing, using the deadline as an incentive to get the story going and to put words to paper. There is no fee to participate and anyone who reaches the 50,000 word mark is declared a winner.

Writing in Community

timeChurning out over 1600 words will keep you busy–and alone–most days, but you can also connect with fellow participants and participate in daily challenges, pre-Nano prep sessions and post-Nano activities. You can connect through Twitter [@nanowrimo], on Facebook  or follow their blog.sudbury-nano

Many people run their own groups locally and regionally to support one another through the month. Tips, printable schedules, and advice is all over the Internet.

NaNoWriMo programs

Nano has spilled out into communities around the world. Writescape got in on the fun when we led weekly prompts and writing sessions in partnership with the Whitby Public Library a couple of years ago.

There are three formal programs listed on the Nano website:

  • The Young Writers Program promotes writing fluency, creative education, and the sheer joy of novel-writing in K-12 classrooms. We provide free classroom kits, writing workbooks, Common Core-aligned curricula, and virtual class management tools to more than 2,000 educators from Dubai to Boston.
  • The Come Write In program provides free resources to libraries, community centres, and local bookstores to build writing havens in your neighbourhood.
  • Camp NaNoWriMo is a virtual writing retreat, designed to provide the community, resources, and tools needed to complete any writing project, novel or not.
Does it work?

nano-cartoonIt sure does. Even if participants don’t complete the 50,000 words, they get words written, lots of words. And anything that helps you write is worth trying. Sometimes just the tension of knowing you have a deadline combined with being part of a larger global event can bring inspiration and focus to the creative process.

But don’t take our word for it. Consider this: there are bestsellers that were born through NaNoWriMo.

The NaNoWriMo website says that more than 250 NaNoWriMo novels have been traditionally published. They include Sara Gruen’s Water for Elephants, Erin Morgenstern’s The Night Circus, Hugh Howey’s Wool, Rainbow Rowell’s Fangirl, Jason Hough’s The Darwin Elevator, and Marissa Meyer’s Cinder. See a full list of published authors.

Maybe NaNoWriMo is “write” for you.

Let us know if you’ve participated in NaNoWriMo and what it did for your writing.

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.

To edit or not to edit…

To edit or not to edit…

Gwynn Scheltema

You write Chapter 1. It flows like paddling a canoe in a strong current, a few J strokes and you are heading forward fast. Yes!

Chapter 2 starts out that way too, still moving well, still splashes of enthusiasm and creativity, but the current flows a little slower now. You think back to Chapter 1. Did you start in the right place? Perhaps you should go back to the beginning and make sure?

So you retrace your steps back to the start and paddlecanoe-1082130_640 through Chapter 1 again. For the moment you are convinced that, yes, you started in the right spot. But you find a short cut on an upper stretch that improves the trip, so you make it. Chapter 1 feels really good now.

Back on the route of Chapter 2, you look for similar shortcuts, note the beautiful spots you don’t have time to explore, make notes about bad spots you’ll avoid if you come this way again.

In Chapter 3, your writing river opens into a lake. You’re not sure exactly which way to point the canoe, so you figure you’ll go back to Chapter 2 and explore those beautiful spots before you continue.

And while you are in Chapter 2, you figure you probably missed a couple of beautiful spots in Chapter 1, so you go back to Chapter 1 and….

Sound familiar?

The internal editor

It’s certainly the story of my writing life. But I know I’m not alone. The urge to rewrite before you’ve finished the story is powerful. Many discarded, unfinished manuscripts have polished first chapters that would keep readers reading…if there was more to read.

It’s all the fault of that dastardly writers’ internal editor. The one that tells us that our writing is “crap”; that we are disillusioned at best and arrogant at worst to think anyone would want to read what we write. The one that tells us we need to be perfect.

man-286477_640And the truth is, most first drafts are not publishable. As Hemingway so succinctly said, “All first drafts are shit.” First drafts will have strong parts and weaker bits, and bits that should be axed and areas where more needs to be written. That’s NORMAL. That’s what the editing process is for.

But if you heed your rational, analytical, internal editor, and constantly loop back out of the writing process and into editing, you will run out of creative energy. And you will push the unconscious creative writer in you further and further away.

In her book on writing, Bird by Bird, Anne Lamott wrote:bird by bird

The only way I can get anything written at all is to write really, really shitty first drafts.The first draft is the child’s draft, where you let it all pour out and then let it romp all over the place, knowing that no one is going to see it and that you can shape it later. You just let this childlike part of you channel whatever voices and visions come through and onto the page… Just get it all down on paper because there may be something great in those six crazy pages that you would never have gotten to by more rational, grown-up means.

No editing on a first draft?

 So does that mean that you should never edit as you go. Of course not.

I get momentum for a new chapter by going into the previous chapter—not back to the beginning of the novel— to read it and often edit it. That’s productive. You get into the voice of your characters again, you renew your sense of place in the story. And the time invested is not huge. More importantly, you do it as a way to move forward, not as an excuse to not move forward.

Perhaps like me, part way through your manuscript, you feel that the wrong character is telling the story, or that the POV should be first person instead of third person. I think it makes sense at this point to go back to a previous chapter or two—again, not necessarily the beginning—and rewrite and decide. But make that decision and move on.

girl-1563986_640Time and circumstance play a role too. If all I have is the forty minutes on a noisy train, likely editing is a better use of my time.But maybe not. Maybe just thinking through a plot hole or a character’s reaction in an upcoming scene would be better for keeping the novel moving forward.

It’s definitely tempting to go back to edit when you can’t think of  what to write next. I do it all the time. But I’ve found some effective ways to overcome that urge:

  • Go for a walk and think my way through the plot or character problem and then write forward again.
  • Use targeted writing prompts
  • Freefall write
  • Write a brief summary of the scene I’m stuck on, and go on to the next scene.
  • Persuade myself to write just one sentence…then one more…then…

It all comes down to how much your editing loops are preventing you from writing new material. We all create and work differently. If a bit of editing gets the creative juices flowing, go right ahead. But if it’s a procrastination tactic, fight the urge. The main goal of your first draft is to get the whole story down.

How do you stop yourself from using editing as procrastination? Share your tactics in the comments below.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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?

 

What’s in your writing drawer?

What’s in your writing drawer?

Gwynn Scheltema

There’s plenty of advice out there on how to prepare your work for submitting, but what if, like me, your problem with submitting—is you!

Do any of these statements apply to you?

  • ·         You have completed work ready to send out that hasn’t been submitted ever.
  • ·         Many of your completed pieces have been waiting to go out for years.
  • ·         You have several projects that are “almost ready” to send out.
  • ·         You have pieces that you sent out once, had rejected and never submitted again.

head shot of isaac Asimov

 

“You must keep sending work out; you must never let a manuscript do nothing but eat its head off in a drawer. You send that work out again and again, while you’re working on another one. If you have talent, you will receive some measure of success – but only if you persist.”

  Isaac Asimov

Facing fear

You likely already know that the prime reason for not sending your stuff out is fear:

  • ·         of rejection (I‘m not as good a writer as I thought I was)
  • ·         of success (now I’ll have to do it again)
  • ·         of someone stealing my ideas (lack of trust of new people or situations)
  • ·         of facing the reaction of readers (don’t like to be judged)
  • .         of rewrites and edits (what if I can’t do what they want)

book cover Art & Fear

What separates artists from ex-artists is that those who challenge their fears, continue; those who don’t, quit. Each step in the artmaking process puts that issue to the test.
― David BaylesArt and Fear

 

Like eating well and exercising, you know what to do and why you should do it, but you can’t bring yourself to do so. So here are a few ideas to help you over that hump:

1. Join the clubwoman afraid

We can’t control fears and feelings. Likely they are deep-rooted in our psyche. But we can find ways to move forward despite the fear.

Accept that pretty much every writer has these fears at one time or another. The trick is to accept it as part of the writing process. Embrace it and face it.

You will get rejected. It’s a given. But you will survive. You will live to write another day.

2. Let go

Ironically, the greatest feelings of self-doubt seem to come at the moment when the task is almost done. You want it to be perfect; the pressure to finish increases, and the knowledge that you will have to put it out there sits menacingly on your shoulder. But there comes a time when you must fight self-doubt and have faith in what you’ve created. You must let go.

If you don’t? What happens? Nothing. Your writing stays in the drawer. You beat yourself up for not moving forward. Nothing gets resolved.

3. Trust the Processtrust yourself

Fear focuses on unknown results of possible action. You can’t control unknown and possible. You can control process—and action. So start on the process of submitting; create a forward motion as a way to outwit, outrun, outsmart fear.

It’s hard, sure, but it’s the writing life. You can either face it or not. You can trust the process or live in fear. Your choice. The solution in your hands.

4. Get started!
  • ·         Set yourself a target date to have just ONE piece sent out.

Writers live by deadlines, so harness that attitude to help you submit. Make yourself publicly accountable—tell your writing buddy, your critique group, anyone who will call you on it.

  • ·         Break the process down into actionable tasks.

Submitting your work can feel overwhelming. But like any process, breaking things down into bite-size actionable pieces helps you to get started so that once begun, the task takes on a momentum of its own.

Try making a list for each stage of the process (which you can use again and again), and then tackle just one item on the list at a time. Tell yourself you only have to do one thing on the list. Chances are, once you get started, you’ll do a lot more. And each action you take will build your confidence. Focus on the idea that each small item is doable.leap of faith

5. Don’t Stop!

By the sheer law of averages, the more submissions you make, the more publishing success you will likely have. Think of rejections as “acknowledgments” that you are doing what real writers do. You are submitting!

A good place to start is writing contests. Join Ruth E. Walker and Dorothea Helms in May for their popular workshop Write to Win.

If you want to start the process now, make a public commitment in the comments below to a date to have ONE submission completed. We’ll follow up and see how you did.