Thursday, May 30, 2013

Lost and found.

Sometimes I have a little problem of thinking too far ahead and worrying about things long before they're ever relevant.  Something that was weighing on my mind lately was, I know how the Emerson series ends, but I don't know how to actually facilitate that happening.

By that I mean, I know Emerson's fate at the end of the series.  I've known for a long time, and I haven't wavered on that.  I'm completely happy with the ending and feel that it's a fitting end to the series.  But I didn't know how to get her to that point.  I knew some things that had to happen to get her to where I need her to be at the end of the series, but how could I do those things in a believable, non-contrived sort of way?

Today I found that answer.  No joke, I watched like 15 minutes of one of my muses doing some interviews--that's been a ritual of mine lately because simply hearing the voices of various muses seems to help activate the creative part of my brain and amplify what comes out of it.  I then opened up Emerson book 1 and started typing words for the next chapter, and that's when it hit me.  The big brainstorm.  The way to get from A to Z.  The "holy shit" moment of story-planning.

Now I know exactly how to make it all happen.  I've found a plausible way to facilitate this ending, and what's awesome is that it stays really true to the heart of Emerson and the heart of the story.  It feels natural.  It feels right.  It also feels like, duh, why didn't you think of this before?

Gotta love trying to write the last third of Book 1 and instead coming up with just the right ending for Book 7.  But hey, I won't complain--I'm beyond stoked about my latest brainstorm.  ;)

Tuesday, May 28, 2013

Taking it easier on myself.

So I’ve been reading this book, The 7 Secrets of the Prolific: The Definitive Guide to Overcoming Procrastination, Perfectionism, and Writer's Block, by Hillary Rettig, about writer productivity. Much of the first part of it deals with perfectionism. Now, I’ve always known I was somewhat of a perfectionist, but I never knew how much until reading this book.

I mean, holy CRAP, I’m a perfectionist. Wow. All the self-destructive behaviors the author mentions and chalks up to perfectionism? Yeah, I recognize those. But I didn’t know just how much they were holding me back until I read the book, nor did I know how much procrastination is linked to perfectionism. All the little tricks I was doing that were, I thought, making me more productive…were actually doing the exact opposite. Things like:

• Giving myself daily or weekly word counts to meet (and then mentally berating myself if I didn’t meet them)

• Taking full days off with the expectation that I would write TONS OF PAGES during that time (forgetting, of course, that since I work a day job I do need legitimate time off, and that plowing through writing does not give me the mental/physical vacation I need)

• Being absolutely nuts about what I could do in a given time period (“you can totally write 10,000 words in a day!”)

I was doing all of those things (and more), and they were doing nothing good for me. They were setting me up for failure, and the failure was discouraging me from writing. My actions were completely counterproductive—I just didn’t know it at the time. They were actually blocking me from doing the kind of writing I need to be doing—hell, many days, they were blocking me from doing any writing at all.

The author suggested that blocked writers start small. She suggested what amounts to interval training for writing—take a timer, set it for something small (like 5, 8, or 10 minutes), and write for that amount of time. If you can’t write your story, then write notes, outline, etc—just physically write SOMETHING that can push your story forward. I was skeptical (“Really, how much decent stuff can I write in 10 minutes?”), but I tried it. About 6 minutes into writing, my brain was like, “Hey Nikki, go check out your awesome new website again. Or go work on your Goodreads page. Or check Facebook. Or, or, or…” I didn’t listen to that voice. I knew I could do all of those things later, and that right now, all I had to do was write.

So I wrote. 10 minutes turned into 40 minutes of solid, un-distracted writing time. And at the end of it, I had 991 words.

I didn’t ask myself to write that much, or for that long. I just asked myself to write for 10 minutes and do whatever I could do in that time. I didn’t put pressure on myself to do more. And when I didn’t have that pressure, I actually became productive. When I got on a roll, I just kept going. You know when you’ve hit your stride, and there’s no reason to stop just because the 10 minutes you allotted yourself have run out. Go, baby, go! And go, I did.

Who knew that taking the anti-pressure, anti-perfectionist route would end up making me have my most productive writing morning in weeks? I’m gonna try it again tomorrow. Just 10 minutes. I’m excited to see what comes of it.

In the meantime, I’m going to read more of The 7 Secrets of the Prolific: The Definitive Guide to Overcoming Procrastination, Perfectionism, and Writer's Block. I’m only on chapter 3, but already this is proving to be a very helpful read. I’ll already recommend it to any other writers struggling with productivity and/or perfection—even if you read nothing but the first two chapters, it’ll still be a valuable resource for you.

Friday, May 24, 2013

A case of the writing life blues.

There are days when being creative is a blessing.  Other days, it’s a curse.

Sometimes your muses play nice.  Sometimes you want to drop-kick them.  Hard.

Sometimes the ajita and twitchiness is just enough to write something good.  Other times, it’s way more than you need, and you’re left hoping for a spontaneous lobotomy.

Some days, you have the focus to narrow in on one idea and write the hell out of it.  And yet other days, the various stories and characters in your head sound like what would happen if you set a cat loose in the dog park—a lot of frantic, excited noise all at once, and none of it seems to be in your language.

Many days, you want to go back to bed and sleep it off.  But nope—you’re expected to get up, go out, and do Normal People Things, like go to work, be pleasant to others, and run errands.  Some days it’s easy for a Writer Person to act like a Normal Person.  Some days, the effort is excruciating.

Days like today, all I can do is try to calm my brain down, pluck the good fragments out of all the panicked static, and write them down, knowing that they’ll eventually show up in a compelling story. 

Days like today, when I find myself in an unproductive mindset, I ask myself, “What would Emerson do?” because my character is better at staying calm and focused.  Clear your head.  Think like Emerson, I urge myself.

You know being a writer is hard when you have to talk yourself into thinking like your favorite fictional assassin because that character’s the one who seems more focused.

Tuesday, May 21, 2013

Barriers to writing.

This week I'm reading a book that's teaching me some strategies to overcome my barriers to writing.  Because even when I'm having a good writing day, or week, there are barriers occurring.  I could be doing better.  I could always be doing better, and doing more.  So let's take a look at why I'm not, and what I can do to change these things.

Barrier: I'm drained from my day job.
There's no changing the fact that I have a day job.  But I can change how it affects me.  I can let things get to me less, I can leave more on time at the end of the day, and I can keep my spirits up by remembering that first thing in the AM and when I get home at night, I work for me, and that's the work I love best--the work of being a writer.

Barrier: No private writing space.
Can't entirely change this one yet, either.  Right now my desk is in a corner of the living room.  I hate being in the middle of everything (I write better when I am or feel completely alone), but there's no better place for the desk to go.  It hurts my back and neck to sit on my bed and write on the laptop, so that's out, too.  What I can do is try to devote the time that I have the apartment to myself to writing and writing only, and use the time where I'm not here by myself to do other writerly things (website, social media, reading/writing blog posts, etc).

Barrier: I'm a neat/clean freak.
I can't write unless the place is reasonably neat and clean.  And sometimes this place is messier than I'd like.  I can't write if, for example, there are dishes everywhere in the kitchen.  But what I can start doing is asking for more help.  I don't have to do it all myself.

Barrier: So many things I need to do.
Emails to friends, painting my nails, writing articles about makeup or gluten-free food, cooking new recipes, reading books for inspiration or pleasure, doing laundry, random TJ Maxx visits, to-do lists every day are massive.  And sometimes I don't attempt writing until all that crap is done.  That's a bad tactic to take--writing needs to come first.  So perhaps the to-do list needs to be restructured into tiers of priorities.  Do tier 1 first, and writing should always be a part of that tier.  Then  move on to tier 2 if I have the time/energy.  Most of the things I mentioned can wait a day or two.  But writing can't--and shouldn't--wait.

Barrier: Author platform!
I'm currently working on my website, social media plan, and more.  But what I really need to do is set aside some specific time periods earmarked for this stuff.  It's eating up my designated writing time.  The way to overcome this barrier is to create designated periods of writing time and platform time, and stick to them.  The good thing about platform time?  I can be in an environment with noise, distractions, etc and still accomplish platform work, unlike writing time, where I need to have quiet and solitude to do quality work.

Barrier: Not enough good sleep.
I'm trying to get to bed at 10:30 every night so I can wake up at 5:30 every morning.  But sometimes this doesn't happen.  Like last night, I ate something that didn't agree with me, and I was sick.  I had fragmented sleep until my boyfriend came to bed at 12:45, at which point I was aware of him coming to bed and was awakened again.  And then I became so paranoid about not getting good sleep and potentially sleeping through my alarm clock that I kept waking up and looking at the clock to make sure I hadn't overslept.  Sigh.  This is another thing I can't do alone.  Boyfriend has made some awesome progress with helping me with this, but some nights are still just not great.  Since getting to bed earlier is one of his goals too, I need to keep reminding him to be more cognizant of this, because it helps us both.

Barrier: Sometimes I just need a break, OK?
Between the day job and side projects and doing chores/housework/errands and trying to maintain good contact with friends/family, I often get exhausted.  Sometimes I just want to read, watch a baseball game, or watch cat videos on the internet.  This is totally OK, and I shouldn't feel guilty about it as long as I'm approaching it in a reasonable way.  I need to begin setting break periods for myself, and once those periods are over, I need to get back on the horse.

Barrier: I'm overwhelmed.
The Emerson books are, hands down, the best story idea I've ever had.  And I want to write them right.  But there's so much plot going on.  I've never written anything with this much plot before.  When I start feeling like this, I need to just take it one step at a time.  Baby steps.  One chapter at a time.  

Barrier: Knowing there's still so much I need to know.
I need to remember that this is OK.  Nobody expects me to have a perfect first draft--far from it.  It's a continually evolving process, one that involves rewrites and more research and so much else.  But that's OK.  Every writer goes through this.  It doesn't mean I'm doing anything wrong--it actually means I'm doing stuff right.

Tuesday, May 7, 2013

1 body, 3 writers.

I love my various writing projects, but there are days when they make me exhausted.  More accurately, it's the personalities behind the projects that exhaust me.

There's the Nikki who diligently writes her novel every morning before work.  Perpetually inspired, eccentric, twisted, bursting with ideas, dreaming up new ways to introduce conflict into the story, hyper-observant, and very much "on" creatively.

There's the Nikki who shows up at work a few hours after writing and tries to keep the weird under wraps while working on writing projects that are not novels.  Sometimes it works.  Sometimes, not so much.  Plus it's hard to deal with people there.  It's not that there's anything wrong with them.  It's just that the characters in the story I'm writing are soooooo much fun.

And then there's Pseudonym, who I won't name here because not a soul in the world is aware of the name.  I do my free-range writing project under a pseudonym.  And the pseudonym's personality is a little edgier...

Every day I live, think like, and write as these personalities.  It's like there are three people in one body.  It can make a girl feel very weary.

I live three lives every day.  I am three people every day.  And yet I don't even get enough freakin' sleep for one person.

Monday, May 6, 2013

For all the writers who, like me, have trouble doing what they're supposed to be doing...

One thing I've learned about being a writer is that writers are really great at doing shit they shouldn't be doing during times when they should be writing.  (In those moments, anything that isn't writing qualifies as "shit the writer shouldn't be doing.")

I've come up with a strategy to combat this phenomenon.  And so far, it's working brilliantly.  I'll share it with you:

1. Brainstorm more than one writing project.  Make these projects all things you're really, really interested in.  (Mine are my novel, my "free-range project," and short stories to submit to various writing competitions.)

2. Create designated writing time, where you swear on your Cole Hamels autographed hat (or some other tangible item that you love) that during that time, you'll do writing, and nothing else.

3. Set an expectation for how you're going to use that time--pick a project to focus on.

4. Inevitably, when writing time rolls around, you won't focus on the project you said you'd focus on.  Instead, you pick one of the other projects, because--based on the fact that they are not the one project you'd expected to work on--those projects have become a sort of thing you didn't plan to do, which makes them irresistible to an easily-distracted, misbehaving, can't-follow-orders writer.

5. But you still win, because ONE of your writing projects gets worked on--even if it's not the one you expected to work on.'ve made progress!

I think this has happened to me 11 days during the past 2 weeks.  But since I'm writing--and writing stuff I'm actually happy with--I'm not complaining.  :)

Thursday, May 2, 2013

Early to bed, early to rise.

For reasons I won't get into here, writing at night--which I used to be awesome at, since I'm the definition of a night owl--was becoming problematic.  I was tired, inefficient, and unenthusiastic.  Not unenthusiastic about writing exactly, but really just unenthusiastic about anything that had to do with putting forth any sort of effort.  The days would exhaust me and the exhaustion, both mental and physical, would carry over into my evenings.

So I rethought my schedule.  I know I can't be a writer if I'm not writing, and there's nothing I want more than to be a writer--one who writes good stuff that gets published.  In order to move forward with that very important goal, I knew something had to change.  That something ended up being my wake-up time...and my bedtime, too.

I need time to embrace my weird.  I can't do it very effectively when other people are around, whether they're talking to me or just simply being present in the room.  I can, however, embrace my weird if I'm the only one awake.  So now I get up at 5:30 AM and go out to the living room to start writing while it's still dark out.  This sense of aloneness combined with the darkness allows me to properly embrace my weird and use it to my writing advantage.  Because of this, I've made significant strides not just with Emerson, but with other writing projects, too.  And now I use my nights for reading writing articles/blogs, doing story research, and other relevant stuff that I don't have to concentrate as hard to do.

I am not a morning person.  This shit's not easy.  But when I have a really good reason for dragging my butt out of bed in the morning, I've proven I can do it--I've been doing it for 2 weeks now.  And I don't plan on stopping anytime soon.