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?

 

How to Pack for a Writers’ Retreat

How to Pack for a Writers’ Retreat

Ruth E. Walker. Every time we organize a Writescape retreat, we email participants a “Useful Information & What to Pack” list. It’s full of practical advice. We remind them to bring comfortable clothes and outdoor wear for spring or fall. After all, Ontario weather can be as unpredictable as a newly discovered character for your novel. We suggest that they can bring munchies but not too many as we provide regular snacks and our 24/7 beverage stations are always ready to serve.

compass & mapWe provide maps and directions to the resort. And we remind writers to pack anything they need for writing.  Most importantly, we suggest they remember to bring their work in progress or ideas they want to develop. But if they forget those, Writescape retreats offer creativity sessions and other inspiration opportunities. We even have a companion workbook and an on-site inspiration station for those 3:00 a.m. inspiration needs.

Gwynn, Heather and I sometimes joke that anyone coming on a Writescape retreat just needs a change of underwear, their toothbrush and jammies.

But there are some other, more subtle things that don’t fit into a suitcase but that a writer should remember to bring on retreat. And these important items are needed no matter where you are heading:

An Open Mind
I’m not talking about how you see the world, your politics or your ethics. I’m talking about some internal housekeeping — owoman-readingpening your mind to possibilities. It’s a form of mindfulness. It’s you, paying attention to what your muse is suggesting. You, being open to the five senses — taste, touch, sight, smell, sound. You, bringing those senses into your writing. When your writing includes a range of sensory elements, your readers’ memories are tickled. And that results in writing with physical and emotional resonance.

A Plan
man writingHaving a plan may sound contradictory to what I just said about mindfulness but the two are companions on any successful retreat. Gwynn reminds us in every opening session to be S.M.A.R.T. in our retreat objectives: set plans for the weekend that are Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Realistic, and that can be Timed. In short, if you don’t have a plan, how will you know what you have managed to accomplish?

Coming on retreat to “write something beautiful” is not as powerful as coming on retreat to “finish three vital scenes for the climax.” By the same token, planning to “write a complete novel” is not realistic unless you are on a 30-day NaNoWriMo retreat. Be reasonable. There’s nothing unrealistic about a plan that includes “relaxing with a daily lakeside walk and writing in my pajamas for two hours every day.”

Permission

Giving yourself permission — permission to experiment and explore, even permission to fail — offers you a delicious freedom from your inner critic. Most of us struggle with that quiet voice whispering in the background, telling us we’re not real writers. At one of our retreats, a participant told me she didn’t think she really was a writer, that her work “wasn’t good enough.” We talked about what makes “a writer” and how we all are on a continuous journey with the writing process. When she finally was able to read her work in one of the sharing opportunities, she was thrilled by the response. She got past her inner critic, gave herself permission to risk sharing her words and discovered validation when other writers responded to her work. And she’s grown so much since as a writer, seeing her work published in anthologies, winning writing contests and submitting her novel manuscript to agents and publishers. And all that happened because she gave herself “permission” at her first writing retreat.

Lisa and Andrea web largeOn April 22, a group of writers will be heading to Elmhirst’s Resort on Rice Lake. They will bring casual clothes, walking shoes, bathing suits for the indoor pool, and rain gear, just in case. They will also bring their works in progress or ideas folder, laptops or notebooks, and their pens or pencils. They will have packed a writer’s suitcase full of optimism, plans, outlines, rough drafts, objectives, hopes and dreams for their annual Spring Thaw retreat.

And Gwynn and I will do everything we can to help them achieve their plans and their dreams. Because, after all, that is exactly what they will expect of us.

Let’s Get Practical:  Packing your suitcase can be a real challenge, especially when you want to lug along your laptop and flash drives and chargers cords. Rolling clothes suitcase overflowinstead of folding can get you more space. But what about keeping it all organized and quick to pack and unpack?

Here are some amazing “packing hacks” In a YouTube video from “Dave Hax”. You’ll gain some space for those extras and keep your clothes neat and tidy. Do you have any packing tips?

The Guilt of Reading

The Guilt of Reading

On the radio the other day, someone was talking about getting “unplugged” to read paper books. As a writer, and a reader, my ears pricked up.

The person on the radio explained that she usually reads on her phone, but when she does, she is also plugged in to message alerts and Facebook notifications etc. and doesn’t really give the reading her full attention. But what stops her from reading paper books, she said, was dealing with the guilt of being unplugged.

eye glasses on open bookFeeling Guilty?

I wonder what’s happened to our priorities when it feels wrong to be unplugged from the digitally connected world. For pleasure or to grow our minds, what is the problem with reading a book?

Writers need to read. No question. And they need to read widely. Yet her statement about guilt had a certain ring to it.

I’m not constantly plugged in digitally (to which frustrated friends and associates who labour to get hold of me will attest). So I don’t feel any guilt about being unplugged.

But, I have to admit, I do feel guilty about taking time to read.

When I plan my day, reading is seldom, if ever, on the list as an option. I do read. Usually around one fiction book every three weeks and non-fiction in between, but that reading is reserved for before bed or with my morning coffee — a luxury or a reward for an otherwise productive day.

Admittedly, if I get to the point in a novel when the book won’t allow itself to be put down, then I might spend the morning, or stay up late and finish it. And occasionally, I will “allow” myself the luxury of a day with a book. But I do feel guilty when I do that. I feel guilty about all the things I should have done with that time in the same way as I would admonish myself for playing computer solitaire.

do what you loveReading is not a luxury

It’s time, I believe, for giving my head a good shake. Reading, especially for a writer, is not a luxury. It is as necessary as writing or editing.

And I’m not just talking reading as research. Reading other writers is hugely important. It’s important to see what my contemporaries are doing. What’s winning prizes. It’s important to read as a writer. I have a notebook next to my bed where I make notes about things I want to remember or revisit. I list every book I read and the author and date. I keep notes like: Page 57 – good child’s perspective on death.

So if reading is so necessary a part of my writing life, why the guilt?

My brain seems to find it acceptable to read a book on plot or the latest copy of Quill and Quire to stay abreast of what’s happening in the writing world. It’s reading for pure pleasure that seems somehow different.  Hmmmm…

For me, I think it’s time to move all reading into the “acceptable past-time category”. It’s time to ditch the guilt. It’s time to head over to Goodreads and pick my next book!