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We write against the void…

wewriteagainst the void

Graze vs. Devour – What’s Your Writing Style?

Grazing

Over at Writer Unboxed, Carleen Brice wrote a post today about grazing.  Here is an excerpt:

I too am back at work full-time and find that I don’t have large blocks of time (when I’m not exhausted) to write or exercise or garden or read. However, I am figuring out I do have many small bits of time that I can use. As I written here before I lost weight over a year ago and in my efforts to keep it off, I am packing my lunch and grazing on it over a few hours rather than eating it all at once. It’s working.

I usually bus in and get off a few stops early so I can get in a 10-minute walk before work. Then I take a 10- or 20-minute walk (or yoga break) at lunch and a 10- or 20-minute walk on the way home and voila! Exercise is done.

Just this week, I started doing the same with writing. I’ve always been someone who thought I needed several hours at once to get any writing done, but now I’m finding that I can apply the same grazing philosophy (10 or 20 minutes in the morning and at lunch, etc.) and I can slowly but surely get some work done.

After reading this, I was jealous and frustrated.  In my head, I’m not a grazer.  I long for those large blocks of time during which I can delve into a project and really concentrate.  But I rarely get them, and then I find myself having produced nothing because my number one writer’s excuse is, “I don’t have time to write. I need languorous afternoons filled with undisturbed time.”  My husband is always telling me, “You are rarely going to have hours to yourself to write.  Why not use those 20 minutes here and there to work?”

There have never been truer words.  Next year, my youngest goes to first grade.  In theory, I will have seven hours every weekday while both kids are in school.  In reality, these hours will be filled with meetings, other work related tasks, errands, and life. In an effort to be prepared and hit the ground running in August, I’ve been analyzing my calendar.  It appears that dear husband is right. I will rarely have large blocks of time.

Efficiency experts tell you it’s about working smarter, not harder.  Working smarter for me means having a grasp on which tasks are grazing tasks and which tasks require devouring.  Here’s what I’ve found:

Grazing Tasks—For which I tap into my inner sheep and chomp away little by little

  • If I’m halfway through a scene and I’m loving it, (For a first draft “loving” is a relative term.  It might mean that I have one or two lines I think are decent and the action is moving in the right direction.) I can usually graze through the middle section.  I know the characters, I know the voice, I know the plan for the scene.  I can write the remainder in small chunks of 15 minutes here and 20 minutes there.
  • If I’m writing non-fiction, I can graze through the middle of a short article.  Openings and conclusions are too brain-intensive to be grazing tasks.
  • Outlining, research, planning are all grazing tasks.
  • Editing is a great grazing task.  Especially line editing for punctuation, grammar and spelling.  Word-by-word editing also fits the bill.  It’s exhausting to spend extended periods of time re-working sentence after sentence for stronger verbs and more precise description.  I usually take a few sentences for the road and mull them over while driving or exercising.

Devouring TasksFor which I tap into my inner wolf and sit down to devour a full carcass at once

  • Beginnings and endings.  Whether it is the beginning of an entire novel, the first sentence of a new scene or the opening paragraph of an article, openings and closings require more dedicated brain power. I find that I often have to ramble my way into an opening.  The first 3-4 paragraphs of new work (fiction or non-fiction) are usually thick and muddled (and end up in the outtakes file) but serve as a bridge to get me to the “true” opening.
  • Action scenes.  Drafting an action scene requires undivided attention for me.  I’m a wordy writer and an even wordier drafter.  Skimming the fat to produce a tight action scene is challenging for me.  For this reason, these scenes need devouring time – no grazing allowed.
  • Fleshing out a scene which stems from one great line.  I often have lines (particularly of dialogue) and images that come to me at inopportune times.  Doing dishes is a prime time for this.  I jot them in my notebook, transfer them to my “Must Have Lines” page in Microsoft OneNote, and let them simmer.  These lines are usually something around which I can build a scene.  But then I get performance anxiety.  I love the line or the dialogue exchange.  I don’t want to write a crappy scene that doesn’t do justice to the dishwashing gem.  This is when I need long blocks of time to dig and devour the scene instead of grazing through filler.

I will still always dream of a cabin in the woods with an endless supply of coffee, firewood and peaceful time to write.  But I’m a mom, a wife, and a writernot a hermit. The list above certainly isn’t going to solve the not-enough-hours-in-the-day dilemma, but it might help me use those hours more effectively.  And who knows, maybe I’m really a sheep in wolf’s clothing and can successfully graze my way through a manuscript after all.

What about you?  Are you a successful grazer?  What tasks work the best for you as grazing tasks?  Or do you need space to devour your writing?

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Have you been writing? I have.

Wow!  A break of 20 days feels like an eternity.  I should have warned you ahead of time, but it didn’t start out as an intentional break.  It started out as a long weekend in the mountains which led to several weeks filled with deadline sensitive work and then led to several days of complacency.  Writing is like anything else you do regularly – it takes discipline.  And once you’re out of the habit, it’s harder and harder to bring yourself back to it.

The good news is that I’ve been writing – a lot.  The writing has mostly been journalistic endeavors and non-fiction pieces, but that’s what pays the bills.  And I do love my bread-and-butter writing projects.  They are comfortable and easy and keep my fingers limber and my mind active.  I’ve also been plugging away on a business plan for a nonprofit organization in our area.  Business plans go hand in hand with the strategic planning arm of my consulting business, but I’ve never actually penned one start-to-finish.  What an in-depth project!  And time consuming.  It’s always exciting to watch a young organization transform from a small mom-and-pop organization to a fully staffed and sustainable nonprofit – at least on paper.  Once that part is finished, the work is in the hands of the capable volunteers (soon to be staff) of the organization.  I couldn’t be happier for them.

I’ve also taken a stab at reorganizing my schedule to include more time for fiction writing.  At the end of February, much to my chagrin, I realized that I was spending more time writing about fiction writing than actually writing fiction.  That needed to change.  So I got back to my fiction writing with a vengeance.  I’m attending a writer’s conference at the end of April, and knew that I needed to have some serious wordcount under my belt in order to feel legitimate in the fiction workshops.  I’m pleased to say the ideas have been flying onto the page.  The “map” has been a wonderful tool – and as it always goes with fiction writing, my characters have taken on personalities of their own and are leading me to places that aren’t even on the map.  Those magical places surfacing from the crevices of my subconscious are the best gifts you can receive as a fiction writer.  In spite of the fact that I feel fidgety when my characters veer from the safety of the map, I know that these adventures are the ones into which I need to dive the most deeply.

How have you all been? How’s the writing going?

Using Scrivener to Write a Novel

** I’m hosting a Scrivener giveaway.  You might want to check out the giveaway post and enter to win your own copy of Scrivener. The contest closes on Wednesday, February 22 at 8 PM MST. **

When I’m drafting my fiction or my long non-fiction projects, my go-to software is Scrivener*.  Let me preface this discussion by saying that I’m not perked in any way and I don’t receive any freebies from the people over at Literature and Latte, the company that created Scrivener.  I plunked down my own $40US (very reasonable in my opinion) to buy my own version of the program just like the rest of the world.  So no freebies – I just love the program, because it has brought a new level of organization to my writing life.

For a long time Scrivener was only available for Macs, and believe me I didn’t need yet another excuse to buy a Mac.  However, I use a PC and in early 2012, Literature and Latte finally released a full-version of the program for PCs.  You can bet I jumped on board.  Here are the top five reasons why:

1.  Brainstorming with the Corkboard: When I’m brainstorming for a novel, I have a million ideas jotted down on napkins, notebook, iPhone notes, etc.  Scrivener gives me one place to store all of them.  We’ve already established that I’m a visual person (I love Pinterest).  Scrivener’s corkboard gives me a visual way to see and rearrange my scenes and ideas.  I can include notecards, photos and sound clips, and rearrange them to my liking.

2.   Writing Templates: Scrivener comes with writing templates built in.  When I start a new project, I can easily pull up a template for a novel, short story, research proposal or screenplay, and be ready to roll in minutes.  You can even create a file of your recipes using Scrivener’s templates.

My favorite part is the ability to customize my own template.  Yesterday we talked about the 4-part structure which many people use when drafting a novel.  I’ve created my own 4-part Template complete with notes by famous writing craft-gods (like Larry Brooks and Anne Greenwood Brown) to give me reminders of things to think about when I’m drafting my scenes.  I also included templates for characters sketches, sheets on which I can trace my character’s arcs, and even a place for setting descriptions.

3.   Scene Ideas and Keywords: Do you ever have a brilliant idea for a scene, but you don’t know where it will fit in your story? In the Novel Template I created, I have a folder for Scene Ideas.  The folder has two sections: “Ideas to Be Placed” and “Ideas Not Placed.”  The Ideas to Be Placed are scenes that I know will appear in the story at some point.  I just don’t know when and where when I come up with the idea.  The Ideas Not Placed is the folder where I dump all of the other scene brainstorming that doesn’t make the final cut of the novel.  These scenes are sometimes useful during rewrites, might make their way into another book, or might never see the light of day beyond the “Ideas Not Placed” folder.  I can code the cards with keywords (which appear as color bars on the side of the notecards) so that when I’m searching for that perfect scene I dreamt about three weeks ago which applies to the romantic sub-plot, I can sort by keyword and instantly find the notes.

4.  Scene Manipulation: Let’s take the organizational function a step further.  Let’s say your scene ideas are fully fleshed out.  You’ve been hopping around, writing scenes that appeal to you when inspiration strikes – rather than writing in order.  It’s time to place one of your “homeless” scenes.  Open your Scene Ideas folder and drag the appropriate card to the right Chapter folder.  Rearrange your Chapter cards until the scene is in just the right place.  The brilliant part?  Scrivener reorders your manuscript for you.  If you were to print the manuscript, the new scene would appear right where you put it.  No cutting and pasting.  No copying and then hunting for the right spot in your 200-page manuscript to insert the new scene.  Drag and drop the card and the entire scene appears in the right spot.

5.  Research: I love Evernote and Pinterest and my Internet Explorer Favorites folder, but it’s tough to toggle back and forth between five things to find just the right fact or figure.  That’s where the Scrivener Research folder is helpful.  I can save images, PDF files, movies, web pages, sound files—right inside Scrivener.  The split screen option allows me to look at one file while typing in my manuscript simultaneously.  This was hugely helpful when I transcribed hours of interviews for my non-fiction book last summer.

I even have a Scrivener Project file for my Writing Project ideas.  It contains folders for Long Fiction, Short Fiction, Theatre, Children’s Fiction, Articles and Non-Fiction.  This is where I store all of my notes and ideas when I’m in the thick of a project.  Never fail, you’re hard at work on Draft #2 of a magazine article, and an idea for a new novel pops into your head.  I open the Long Fiction folder and start a new file for the novel idea.  I can spend 15 minutes jotting down notes and saving some research links, and I know it will all be waiting for me when my work in progress is complete.

If you haven’t tried Scrivener, Literature and Latte has a free 30-day trial.  Feel free to download my 4-Part Novel Template.  It might just give you the push you need to finish that novel you’ve been dreaming about or reignite your enthusiasm for a floundering project.

FYI – There are a few other free templates (here and here) out there for Scrivener.  One even uses the 4-part structure. Mine is a little different because it includes lots of writing tips from professional writers who are also craft gurus.  It also includes different scene cards, notes on scene development, etc.  Pick and choose the one that works best for you.  Or better yet, create your own to fit your writing style and brainstorming needs.

Click here to download the Scrivener Template zip file. You’ll be prompted to save the file.  Save the Zip file to your desktop or another convenient spot.  Unzip the file and copy the entire folder to the same location.  You must own a copy of Scrivener or have the free trial version to use the template file.

Open Scrivener –> File –> Open –> Open the Folder “Novel STM 4-Part Template.scriv” –> Open “project”.

Once the project is open, you can save it as a reusable template.

File –> Save as Template –> Name the file “Novel STM 4-Part” –> Select Category “Fiction” –> Click OK.

The next time you start a New Project, the template will appear on your list of template choices. Be sure to spend some time playing around in the template.  Expand all of the folders to see the built in options I’ve created (scenes, character sheets, plot point cards, writing tips, etc.)

Hopefully Scrivener will bring you as much joy and organization as it has for me.  Happy writing!

*Some images in this post are from the Literature and Latte website to illustrate the features of Scrivener.

Grammar Giggles – Oxford Comma

Today was a hectic day.  Instead of a full post, I’ll leave you with some grammar giggles.  Gotta love a well-used oxford comma.  Tune in tomorrow for a look at why writing that first scene can be as horrifying and exhilarating as a first date.

What’s the Word? – One Little Word Project

Ali Edwards is a mother, photographer and documenter of life.  I’ve followed her blog for some time. Her digital scrapbook layouts are inspiring without being cheesy, and I could only dream of finding the time or inclination to document my own world quite so beautifully. In 2006, Ali began the One Little Word project – choosing one word for herself each January.

a word that I can focus on, mediate on, and reflect upon as I go about my daily life. I invite it into my life. I live with it. I let it speak to me. I might even follow where it leads.

Ali says, “Choosing a word each year came about as an alternative to a list of resolutions. I wanted something I could hold close and actually develop a relationship with over the course of the year.

Some years my word has made a major difference, and other years it’s been a more silent companion through the challenges and celebrations in my life.

The action of choosing a word (or having a word find you) is full of potential and possibility. And here’s one thing that’s totally interesting: sometimes a word pops into your brain and it doesn’t make any sense right now. Give it some time. Let it percolate a bit. I have often found that our hearts speak to us in very unique ways. Maybe it’s a word you need to hear, but you just aren’t ready for it yet. Again, be open to the possibilities.

Your word can be tangible or intangible. It can be a thought or a feeling or an emotion. It can be singular or plural. It might be silly or serious. It might be something you want to bring to your life. It might be something you want or need to change.”

A single word can be a powerful thing. It can be the ripple in the pond that changes everything. It can be sharp and biting, or rich and soft and slow. The key is to find something that has personal meaning for you. This is not your mother’s word, or your spouse’s word, or your child’s word – this is YOUR word.

I thought I’d choose my own word this year.  Something simple to carry with me and reflect upon.  I chose:

INTENTIONAL

in·ten·tion·al/inˈtenCHənl/

Adjective:  Done on purpose, deliberate

Synonyms:  Deliberate, wilful, willful, purposeful, intended

There are days when I feel like I’m floating through life – sucked up by the immediate needs of others (my kids, the school, my husband, the dog, the house) or the hedonistic needs of my psyche (sleep 30 more minutes, eat one more cookie, it’s too cold to go for a run.)

In 2012 I want to live with intention.  I want to write with intention, parent with intention, take care of myself with intention and take care of others with intention.

I want to get haircuts with intention so that I don’t look like Mr. American Apparel.  I don’t have a problem with emo-chic.  But seriously, have you seen my photo?  I can’t pull off that haircut.

What’s your word for 2012?

The Most Important Question a Writer Can Ask

I’m an introvert.  I think that many writers are.  I sit back and watch the world, process what’s happening around me and spit it back out through the written word.  I write much better than I speak.  Cocktail parties are my nightmare because I don’t do small talk well.  But even my best friends will disagree with that statement.  The reason?  Although I’m naturally shy, I can carry on a conversation with a wall.  How? I’m an excellent questioner.

My motto has always been, “Live Curious.”  This motto manifests itself in my constant need to learn far-fetched facts about our world.  It also surfaces in my constant need to know more about people.  I’ve always been a natural interviewer. I just have a knack for getting people to talk… sometimes about things they don’t even want to talk about.

After years of “interviewing” people in order to learn more about them and deflect attention away from having to talk about myself, I finally got my big break.  I was offered the opportunity to start writing newspaper and magazine articles professionally.  No problem.  I’m a natural interviewer. Right? WRONG!  My first story was about a German Shepherd named Hercules who was discovered locked in a basement closet of an abandoned house.  I was scheduled to talk to the realtor who discovered Hercules and the veterinary assistant who cared for him in the first twelve hours after his rescue.  I was also assigned four other interviews to round out the story – local law enforcement, the veterinarian who ran the clinic, the lawyer who prosecuted the individual who abandoned the dog and Hercules’ new owner – the woman who adopted him after his intense rehabilitation.

I jumped in with both feet and spent no less than twelve hours on the phone with my six sources.  As is my natural tendency, I asked A LOT of questions – too many questions.  When it was over I found myself with pages of notes and the impossible task of organizing the information into a 1,000-word article.  The editor loved the final article, but my sources were less than thrilled that I’d spent two hours on the phone with each of them and their contributions boiled down to few lines each in the story.

After years of interviews and articles, I’ve learned that it is imperative to guide an interview so that the source’s time invested is equal to the coverage on the page.  This takes practice.  People love to talk about themselves, and too many open ended questions will leave you with cramped fingers.  Three hours later, you’ll still be  typing frantically in a desperate attempt to keep up with this source’s life story.  My advice is this:

  1. Do your research: Knowing your article topic inside and out will allow you to pose carefully crafted questions.  Flailing about with generality-filled questions won’t get you to the heart of your article’s topic.
  2. Plan your questions:  See above.  Approach every interview with a plan.  What do you need to know from this person and what is the most efficient way to glean that information?
  3. Guide the conversation: People love to talk about themselves.  Be two steps ahead of your interviewee. As they are pontificating about the joys of offshore gambling boats, be prepared with the next question which can guide them back to the topic – the cruise ships’ effects on coral colonies in the area.
  4. Keep your ears open for other storylines: Just because you need to keep your interviewee focused doesn’t mean you can’t be open to tangential story ideas.  My ears perk up when Bob starts talking about the mafia contingent woven through the underbelly of the offshore gambling boat industry.  But my editor expects me to write about the dying coral colonies.  I quickly tell Bob that I would love to table this discussion and ask if he would be open to discussing it at another time.  If his answer is yes, I refocus him on the plight of Caribbean coral polyps and finish the interview.  As soon as I hang up, I save my aquatic sealife interview, do my research, write my next article proposal “Al Capone Isn’t Dead! Just Hiding in the Bowels of an Offshore Gambling Boat,” and schedule a second interview with Bob.
  5. Ask the ever important Last Question: The final question I ask in every interview is “Is there anything I haven’t asked you about that I need to know?”  I know I just scolded you for open-ended questions, but this particular open-ended gem is magical. Often sources will sit quietly for a beat and then launch into the perfectly crafted conclusion to my article.  The source’s brain will subconsciously summarize the “heart of the matter” and spit it back out back out in a well-crafted sound bite.  If I worked in radio, the interviewee’s answer to the Last Question would be the final quotation that puts a shiny red bow around the end of my story.  However, be forewarned.  You, as the writer, still need to do the work because sometimes… there’s no shiny bow.  Upon hearing the Last Question, Bob might launch right back into his story about a stellar round of Texas Hold ‘Em on seas with 16-foot waves.  If that’s the case see Step 3, and think twice about that Al Capone story.  Maybe another three hours on the phone with Bob just isn’t worth it!

Happy questioning and writing!

Setting Your Writing Goals for 2012

I mentioned last week that I spent an afternoon in late December setting a few writing goals for my 2012 writing career. As I looked back over the list, it turned out to be more than a few goals. I’ve seemingly created a complete strategic plan for the next 1-3 years of my writing life. Stick around for a while and you’ll find that this is my modus operandi. I dream big and bite off a lot more than I can chew. The dark side of this is that I’m constantly busy …juggling 8 million more things than are humanly possible. The silver lining is that I’m a prolific worker. Even if I don’t accomplish all 900 things on the list, I get a heck of a lot more accomplished than I ever thought possible.

So without further ado, the next 1-3 years of my writing life.  I’ve divided this up by focus area to keep it a little more organized:

NON-FICTION

  1. Plan editorial calendar for newspaper columns. (The worst feeling in the world for a columnist is to feel like you’re phoning it in and generating sub-par articles because you didn’t plan ahead. I always try to start off the year proactively. 2012 is looking good with articles planned consistently through the end of May. There are a few holes to fill, but those last-minute stories are always easier when I feel on top of my game with the rest of the articles.)
  2. Finish articles on Thursdays.  (My newspaper articles are technically due on Sunday evenings.  Sometimes I even push this deadline to Monday mornings.  In spite of all my planning in life, I’m a consummate procrastinator when it comes to deadlines.  I usually spend every weekend stressing about finishing [or starting and finishing] my article(s) for the week.  This makes family time less than fun.  A stressed mommy is an inattentive mommy.  In 2012, I’m committing to finishing my articles on Thursday.  I can submit on Friday mornings and have the weekends be dedicated family time.)
  3. Expand client base and publication list for non-fiction writing.  Including my regular newspaper gig, I have five clients for which I consistently write.  I’d like to expand this list to include at least two new outlets or clients this year.  How? See numbers 4-6.
  4. Focus expertise areas (My current areas of focus include performing arts, visual arts, mental health/suicide prevention, dogs and cats [scientific and human interest], Colorado history and architecture/engineering.  Pretty broad, eh?  I told you I’ve had quite the writing journey.  Jack of all trades and master of a few.  In 2012 I’d like to focus more closely on a few of these areas and expand my client base within my established markets.
  5. Research and pinpoint at least five targets for the three areas in which I’d like to focus my efforts.
  6. Query at least 10 publications/clients in each of these three markets
  7. Write proposal for next non-fiction book.  (I’ve been mulling over ideas for two non-fiction books.  There’s one in particular which seems realistic and in line with my goals of finding that balance between the writing life and the family life.)
  8. As part of the proposal, create a marketing plan for the book including a list of comparable/competitive books

BLOG AND SOCIAL MARKETING

  1. Blog 5 times/week for 50 weeks.  I started off strong on this blog and then faltered when the going got busy.  You can trust in the fact that posts are planned, and I’ll be cranking out the content and keeping you updated on the writing life more consistently in 2012.
  2. Continue to discover new writing blogs and let you, the reader, know about them.  Two months ago I started WWW(W) – Writing on the Web this Week about Writing.  I’d like this to become a weekly feature on Fridays.  Not only does it give you a great place to find out about people and places in the writing world, but it keeps me inspired and makes the writing world a little more like a community one week at time.
  3. Figure out my place on Twitter and Facebook.  I’ve experimented with Twitter and my Facebook fanpage, but I’d like to feel like those social outlets are useful to me rather than time sucks.

FICTION

  1. Write 1000 words/day on fiction manuscripts (This is always the daily word goal, but things falter over the holidays and when non-fiction work gets busy.)
  2. Finish SBU* Draft #1 by March 15. (SBU = The Spaces Between Us, the working title for my “failed” NaNoWriMo project. Failed, but certainly not forgotten. Ivy and her post-WWII family are too interesting to abandon now.)
  3. Edit and revise SBU Draft #1 by June 30. (This also includes time for my first readers to take a look and deliver initial feedback.  If this sounds fast to some of you, you can trust that I’ll be editing for months after, too.)
  4. Query at least 30 agents regarding SBU finished manuscript. (The second half of 2012 will be spent sending the manuscript out into the great big publishing world to see how it stands on its own two feet.)
  5. Finish revisions on Sliver of Souls* (This is the working title for my completed novel banished to the dark corners of my virtual drawer. The reason for resuscitating this previously abandoned project deserves a separate post of its own. For now, let’s just say that NaNoWriMo 2011 made me realize a few things about my first long fiction darling. More on this later in the week.)
  6. Start outlines, notes and binder for Book #3.  No working title for this book yet, but the story has been kicking around in my head for about a year.  Once the smoke clears on my writing and revising frenzy, I’d like to spend November/December throwing together the first round of notes for this book.
  7. I know that I said that the musical would be finished in 2012, but I never intended for Sliver of Souls to come back to life.  Given this development, the musical is getting pushed to 2013. November/December will be a great time to revamp the scene outline and get organized for completion in 2013.

CAREER DEVELOPMENT

  1. Attend 2 writing conferences.  Already signed up for the Pikes Peak Writers Conference in Colorado Springs in April.  Now I need to find another one that fits my budget and my family scheduling.  Any suggestions?
  2. Start writers group.  My “writers group” is a virtual group scattered across the country.  Much as I love the intermittent camaraderie that this far-flung group provides, I’ve been feeling the need for a local group that will challenge me and hold me accountable in the fiction world.  I’m reaching out to my local contacts to see if I can find the “right” group that will gel and have common goals.
  3. Re-print business cards.  Sounds simple, but there is so much thought that goes into the design and printing of business cards.  I’ve been putting it off because I suffer from analysis paralysis when it comes to designing my cards.  (What’s the right color?  What’s the right paper? You get the gist…)
  4. Compile print/digital clips.  My portfolio is very alive and very disorganized.  I’ve spent the last few years writing, but not collecting and compiling in a user-friendly portfolio that represents my best work.  With the above non-fiction goals, it’s time to get this marketing tool organized.

Let’s talk about you.  Have you set any writing goals for 2012?  Any great writers’ conferences you can recommend?  How do you juggle family time, writing time and “other” time?  Have you found Twitter and Facebook beneficial to your writing life?

Happy 2012!

Happy 2012!  I bet many of you thought I disappeared after a brief stint in the blog world.  Not the case.  Let’s recap the last six weeks.  In addition to the holiday craziness, I was busy with deadline craziness.

I completed and submitted an executive summary for my non-fiction book, and finished up the table of contents and index.  These are all of the little things that no one tells you about when you sign that book contract.  In the case of this book, the project was grant funded.  Consequently, there wasn’t a team of people to tie up administrative loose ends like indices and searchable table of contents.  I was the whole team – pitcher, catcher and coach, baby.  Although slogging back through a book that’s been completed for six months can be incredibly rewarding, it’s also a little bit scary.  You find all the things you wish you could change but can’t because you’ve already hit “send.”  Thankfully, most of the little things weren’t glaring errors, just style bugs that creep under my skin and bother me when I’m trying to fall asleep at night.  Those are the times, as a writer, that I force myself to focus on the work in progress instead of the the work in print.  If I obsess over my published babies long enough,  I could rewrite myself into the loony bin.  Write it the best you can, revise and edit it better than you ever thought possible and then send it out into the great big world.  Chances are that by then the manuscript is like a supermodel – prepped, primped and ready – a few pimples aren’t even going to show during that “fierce” walk down the runway.

Speaking of supermodels, let’s talk about the out of shape, slightly less charismatic sister manuscript – NaNoWriMo.  My blog kicked off just in time to join the NaNoWriMo fun, and I wasn’t faithful in posting updates on the progress.  You deserve some news.  I didn’t win the coveted digital certificate this year.  I clocked in at 11,436 words.  In most worlds, this experiment would register as an epic fail.  However, when you add up November’s paid word count that accompanied the unpaid NaNoWriMo, I well exceeded the 50,000 word goal.  For me, that falls into the success column.

What made it an even greater success was letting Ivy (my main character) out of my brain and giving her a chance to stretch her legs after seven years in cramped quarters.  Per usual, the frenetic freedom of excessive word counts led to some quality work by the muse.  That’s what I love about NaNoWriMo – those moments when you discover the details that have been brewing just under the surface while you’ve been busy stewing about the bigger picture of your plot.  In a nutshell, NaNoWriMo gave birth to Ivy (and Delilah and Tom) a dysfunctional trio from 1949 desperately clinging to the idea of family because their own family reality has been smashed to pieces.  Although I can’t rightfully buy the NaNoWriMo t-shirt and hang that PDF winner’s certificate in my office, I still consider NaNoWriMo 2011 a success. You’ll definitely be hearing more about Ivy and her cohorts in the coming months.

And finally, I spent a few weeks with the supermodel’s distant cousin – the strategic plan.  Along with my freelance writing business, I facilitate strategic planning sessions for non profit organizations.  November and December were spent working with a Board of Directors to verbally deconstruct and reconstruct a 10 year old 501(c)3.  The result was a 50-page action plan for this organization’s next five years of operation.  Not exactly light bedtime reading, but projects like this always result in meeting some incredibly fascinating and passionate people and provide much needed perspective on the importance of setting goals for my own career.

After the hectic delight of the holidays settled down, I spent an afternoon creating my own strategic plan.  Call it resolutions, call it action items, call it crazy, but I’ve put together my own strategic plan for my writing career in 2012.  Tune in tomorrow for the details.  Meanwhile, take a look at this and this.  The first is a few words of wisdom by which everyone should live.  The second is a tell-it-like-it-is list of things every writer should think about. Both might help you set some goals or resolutions of your own.

Happy writing and happy 2012!

Combating Procrastination

Some days it’s hard to sit down and write.  Call it fear.  Call it laziness.  Call it whatever you want, but inspiration can’t strike if you aren’t working.  That’s easy to say, but some days it’s seemingly impossible to get your butt in the chair and actually start writing.

First, let’s look at the procrastination side of things.  Here’s the list of the top five things I would rather do some days than sit down and write:

  1. Reality television – I will never understand why Storage Wars (or looking at other people’s tossed off crap) is more fascinating than writing.
  2. Reading to my kids – I love reading even more than I love writing.  If someone would pay me to sit around and read all day, I’d probably chuck this writing gig and camp out in a hammock filled with books for the rest of my days.  I especially love reading to my kids. The joy that they experience in learning about a vulture’s wingspan or Jack and Annie’s escapades in the Magic Treehouse is priceless.  Given that I’m instilling a lifelong love of the written word in my kids, I wouldn’t call this item procrastination.  At the end of the day, though, I’m still not any closer to my own word count.
  3. Grocery shopping – especially if it’s at SuperTarget because then I can sneak over to look at t-shirts with sarcastic sayings on them or baskets made from wicker or reeds or wood.  I am a firm beliver that you can never have too many baskets or too many tote bags for that matter.
  4. Sleep – No matter how many times I set the alarm for 5 a.m. to beat my kids and husband out of bed and get a few hundred words under my belt, the cool sheets and my warm Snuggie convince me to hit the snooze button about twelve times.  Yes, I own an as-seen-on-TV Snuggie and I’m not afraid to say it. A friend bought me a leopard-print one a few years ago. It makes me feel like Mrs. Howell on Gilligan’s Island when I wear it.  Yet another thing you can never have too many of – fleece blankets.
  5. Internet – Who invented Pinterest and why is it so addictive?  It’s so much easier some days to create a virtual life on Pinterest than it is to sit down and face the real one which involves writing.

Now for the top five ways I have discovered to combat my urge to curl up with my baskets, blankets and tote bags, create pin boards on Pinterest which include beautiful baskets, blankets and tote bags, and watch Storage Wars in which I often get to see other people’s old baskets, blankets and tote bags.

  1. Deadlines:  Real deadlines.  My article is due at 10 a.m. deadlines.  The first draft of my book is due on July 31st deadlines.  We’ve already proven that I’m a planner who loves calendars and timelines.  However, I don’t always answer to myself very well. I come out of the gate strong with self-imposed deadlines and fizzle out quickly.  Deadlines imposed by other people (preferably with checkbooks to pay me) are another story.  Give me a deadline from one of my editors, and I hop out of bed when the alarm goes off at 5 a.m. to edit (or finish) my story.
  2. Writer’s conferences:  Once I have a writer’s conference on my schedule, I crank out the word count. Register for the conference; put it on your calendar and work backward to create a realistic writing schedule to ensure that your synopsis, book proposal or manuscript are ready.  You only get limited chances for face-to-face agent pitches.  Don’t pass up those opportunities because you wasted your days watching Gilligan’s Island re-runs.
  3. Critique groups: When someone else is counting on me, I always come through.  No one is going to fire me or disown me if I don’t get that chapter finished for my next critique group meeting.  But, the fear of being the only one to show up at the weekly meeting without a completed chapter provides the motivation that I need.
  4. Freewriting sprint: Sometimes writing is just like working out.  Getting started is the hard part.  Once you start, you usually want to keep going.  On days when I don’t have looming deadlines, it’s more difficult to find the motivation to write.  I set a timer and force myself to freewrite on my current project for ten minutes.  I type as fast as I can and let the ugly words flow.  When the egg timer starts ringing, I’m usually lost in the scene.  It’s too late.  I’ve been sucked in by my own words, and I know that I’ll finish my word count for the day.
  5. Word count goals:  Breaking a project down into realistic goals makes it less scary and more doable.  On a non-deadline day, I usually aim for 1,000 words.  Two 500-word sessions are very realistic for my schedule.  If I’m throwing together a first draft, I can dash off 500 words in 30 minutes.  One hour of writing per day puts me 1,000 words closer to a finished draft. I should specify that deadline days (work days dedicated to a project with an upcoming deadline) are structured much differently for me. Those are the days when I don’t need to search for motivation.  Deadline days are when the professional writer in me takes over.  I stop sitting around waiting for inspiration to strike, I shut off Storage Wars (or at least mute the television) and write.

What are the crazy ways you waste time when you should be writing? What are your best techniques for combatting procrastination?

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