Category Archives: Writing

Dealing with School/Work Related Interruptions

School and work are both important, but focusing on one or the other to the exclusion of all else can be dangerous. We’re often told to put these things above all else, which can lead to self-neglect and even self-hatred. Capitalism tells us to focus on what makes us money and ignore that which nourishes the soul. Since these beliefs have been drilled into us since we were kids, they’re difficult to ignore.

Unfortunately work and/or school will probably always be factors in your life. The key is to make sure that they don’t interrupt your writing time more than absolutely necessary. So how do you keep school/work out of your writing time?

1. Don’t take on extra responsibilities. If you don’t have to stay at work late, don’t. If you don’t have to join that after school club, don’t. If it’s not going to help you advance in life, say no. Remember that the writing won’t happen if you’re always exhausted when you get home. Remember that in ten years you’ll be more upset about not having finished that novel than you will be about missing extra hours at work.

Sometimes you’ll want to take extra commitments, and that’s fine too—as long as you still carve out daily writing time, and refuse to take on extra assignments that you’re not passionate about. Think about how you’ll feel in ten years. Will you be sad that you missed that extra workshop? Will you be sad that you didn’t help create the yearbook? Or will you be sad that your novel is still only half finished?

2. Work smarter. Find ways to complete your tasks faster without sacrificing performance. There are always short cuts. Look for the ones that won’t damage your grades or your career and take them. Finish as much as possible while you’re at the office or in the classroom so you can focus on writing when you get home. Often you won’t be able to control how many hours you spend at work or in class, but by working hard during that time you can minimize the amount of work you take home.

Stay focused at work or in class and you’ll get everything done in record time—and you’ll be able to write guilt-free when you get home.

3. Say no to social engagements more often than you say yes. Why is this under the school/work category? Well, odds are that you have some friends at school or in the office. And that those people invite you to dinner or to the bar or to different events. Say no twice for every time you say yes. Say no if you know it will cut into your writing time. Be willing to leave early to write—nobody will look down on you for leaving early, and if they do, they’re not good friends anyway.

Saying no is hard. I struggle all the time with saying no to social commitments, but I’ve gotten better at it over the last couple of years and I’m getting better at it all the time. It’s uncomfortable at first, but then when you see how much progress you’ve made in that time you’d otherwise be spending at the bar, you’ll be happy you made the decision to say no.

On the other hand, maintaining friendships is important, so say yes once in a while. Real friends don’t mind if you’re busy, but they want to be valued too.

Conclusion

You’re probably going to be working or in school for a long time. Everyone has to accept that one of these things will take up five, eight or even twelve hours of their day, five days a week, for a large chunk of their lifetime. What we can do is make sure that we don’t let work and school eat our life to the exclusion of what really matters to us—writing, working towards our dreams and nourishing our souls.

How much does work/school detract from your writing life?

Don’t forget to take a look at the other posts in this series:

Disturbances in Your Writing
Eliminating Guilt
Dealing with Family Interruptions
Dealing with Technological Interruptions

Define Your Success

Success means different things to different people. The media often portrays success as a house, a long-term partner, kids and money. Your family probably has their own definition of success, based on both the media’s definition success and their own feelings. Your friends probably each have their own definition of success too. Even the strange old hermit down the street has her own definition of success. Though success is only one word, it has as many definitions as there are people.

What is true for everyone, though, is that you will never be truly happy if you don’t strive to reach your own definition of success. Too many people go chasing after their parents’ ideas of success, and end up with diplomas and careers they care nothing for. They gain all the trappings associated with success–a well-paying job, a house, a family–but remain miserable because this definition of success isn’t what they really want.

As the year comes to a close, I will be figuring out the steps I need to take to get closer to my definition of success in 2013. The changing of the years is always a good time to think about how you’ve lived over the last year and to find ways to improve upon it next year. And so as I struggle to figure out what the most important things I can do to reach my definition of success, I’d like to help you create your own definition of success and a plan for getting there.

At first it might seem simple, but creating your own definition of success can be difficult. It requires total honesty with yourself, and requires you to abandon everything you’ve been taught about what success is. It requires you to look beyond what society expects you to say and figure out what’s really important to you.

Lucky for you, I have an exercise designed to help you do just that.

First, close your eyes and imagine that everything you know now is gone. The cars have all run out of fuel. The internet and most electricity is gone altogether. Governments are falling apart, one by one.

In this time when the luxuries of the modern era are gone, what is still important to you? Write down everything that comes to mind. These are the things that truly matter to you–the things that would still matter to you even if your circumstances were completely changed.

Now ask yourself what your definition of success is. Feel free to make it as long or as short as you want to. Include everything you can think of. You might want to do this as a free write and time yourself to make sure you aren’t thinking too hard about what you put on the paper.

Once you’ve got a definition written down, look at the list you created earlier. How does each item fit into your definition of success?

If any of the items on your list don’t fit into your definition, that means it isn’t really true to who you are. Now is the time to start editing your definition. Don’t stop until it includes all the things on the list of what is most important to you. A definition that’s missing anything you care deeply about won’t actually make you happy, even if you get there.

Once you’ve got your definition of success, please share it in the comments below. In this case, I’m not just asking this because I want to hear from you–I’m asking you to share your definition of success because sharing it will give the words power. Anyone brave enough to share their definition of success will also get the opportunity to work with me in order to refine it and to create a plan to move towards that success in 2013.

So what is your definition of success?

Under 24 Hours Left!

Today is the last day of November for most Nanoers, though some of our friends “down under” have already run out of time. For those of you lucky enough to have a few hours left of November, today is the last day to make a final push towards 50, 000 words or whatever your final goal for the month happens to be.

Of course, unless you’ve already made arrangements for it to do so, life probably won’t just stand still so you can finish your novel. I myself have a full day of school followed by an evening school trip to dinner and a movie premiere. This means that while I’ll probably be lugging around my laptop all day, I probably won’t get a chance to write until at least 9:30 tonight. Still, I am hoping to write a couple thousand more words before midnight hits.

So today, no matter what your word count is or what you have to do, I challenge you to write with me. In fact, I challenge you to find some time on this final day of November and write at least 1, 667 words. It might not get you to your goal, but at least you will be able to say you tried, that even on the last day you didn’t give up.

And tonight when the clock strikes twelve and November ends, give yourself a pat on the back no matter what your word count is. It is time to celebrate, because the only way to be a loser in Nanowrimo is to give up.

Tonight, I congratulate you, my fellow Nanowrimo novelist. You have survived Nanowrimo 2012 and hopefully come out of it with a novel–or at least most of a novel–and some new experiences and insights. Now, let’s hope the world doesn’t end before you manage to get the darn thing out into the world.

What’s Next?

Usually in the first week of December I write a post discussing what to do when you’ve finished your novel. In the interest of organization and planning ahead, this year I’ve decided to write the post before November ends.

So what should you do after you finish your novel? You can do just about anything, but I have two main suggestions which I hope you’ll take seriously. The first is that you should keep your momentum from November. The second is that whatever you do, you shouldn’t start editing your novel.

Now, before you get all righteous and tell me how your family needs some love and your novel is horrible and needs editing like some people need heart surgery, let me explain what I mean. I don’t mean for you to ignore your family completely for another month. What I mean is that now, when your family’s already used to you taking some writing time out of every day, you should explain to your family that you need to write and create a writing schedule. Of course you can spend less time writing than you did last month, but the important thing is that you write regularly. It’s easy to fall out of the habit of writing regularly and to let your family distract you, but if you maintain a regular writing schedule, you’ll be amazed at how quickly you finish projects–and at how much better you feel.

Now, about editing your novel. The reason I tell you to wait is because to properly assess any piece of writing–or art, or just about anything else–you first need some distance from the work. Since you’ve just spent a month living and breathing your novel, you really won’t have that distance on December first. Instead, put your draft aside for the month and work on something else, preferably something quite different from your novel.

So if you’re not working on editing this novel, what should you be doing this December? Well the first thing is to pick up any other writing projects where you left off. This December I plan to finish my edit of Moonshadow’s Guardian; while there are several other projects waiting for me to get to them, this one is most important to me. Once you’ve finished those projects–or if you’re someone who really needs to have multiple things going so you can switch when you get stuck on one–start the project on your list of possibilities that is most different from the novel you just finished writing. For example, once I finish editing Moonshadow’s Guardian, I will be putting all of my energy into producing a non-fiction ebook with information and exercises for writers. This will distract me from my fiction, ensuring that when I get back into it I’ll have the distance I need.

Long story short, this December you should make a point of working on something new or finishing an old project totally unrelated to your novel, and you should make sure to work on this project every day. You’ll be amazed at how much you can accomplish when you keep even a small amount of that November momentum and work at it every day.

Week Three Pep Talk

Today’s guest is a long time Nanoer and a dear friend, known lovingly by the ToNano community as Tabs. Though she hasn’t actually lived in Toronto for the last many years, she is just as much a part of my Nano family as all the people who do. Please give her a warm welcome.

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It’s ironic that this year has been the hardest year for me with NaNoWriMo and yet here I am, writing a pep talk. But the thing with NaNo is that not every year is going to be your golden year. We’re rounding into the last week, which I always find is my toughest. I get frantic, I get upset, and as I look at my word count goal, I find myself feeling like I’m just not going to make it.

The last week is always tough. That’s why there are two things that you should focus on to get you through.

1) No matter what you finish at, even if it’s not the goal you set, you’ve likely been more productive on one novel in a single month than 90% of writers will be in a full year. That’s a lot to be proud of.

2) If you fall short of your NaNo word count goal, it’s not over. Sure, you’re not going to be pounding out 1667 words a day for the rest of the year, but the project doesn’t have to end on Nov. 30.

This is the point in the month where you need to look back at what you have accomplished and remind yourself of the great work you’ve done. To look at it and realize that you have done fantastic this far, and that, as much as reaching that 50k, 100k or whatever your goal is would be awesome, you’ve already done awesome. The last week isn’t the time to panic. It’s the time to focus your energy on finishing up the story as much as you can. It’s the time to breathe and cheer yourself on, because you have done something awesome. This is the week to make sure that, if you haven’t done so already, you have fun with it. Because really, when it comes down to it, that’s a major part of what NaNoWriMo is about — having fun.

So don’t give up, and certainly don’t give in. Keep on going, and focus on doing what you want to do with that story this week. It might just surprise you how much more you end up writing.

What to do When You Can’t Stand Your Novel Anymore

Whether it be due to your characters rebelling, your story shifting, your muse abandoning you or a dull ache in your wrists, at some point this month you will hate your novel. In fact, you’ve probably already had a moment like that. At some points during the drafting process–both inside and outside of Nanowrimo–you will be unable to look at your novel anymore. The key is to remember that these moments pass, prepare yourself to play catch up and then go off in search of something better to do than look at your novel, because staring at your novel at these times will probably give you the intense urge to delete the whole thing.

Today I’m going to suggest an activity to distract you entirely from the awful draft you’ve been working on all month, one that’s in keeping with my practice of productive procrastination, an activity that will keep you moving towards success as a writer while also distracting you from the less pleasant task at hand.

So what should you do when you can’t stand your novel anymore? Start planning future projects! Do you have any idea what your plans are for December? If not, now’s a good time to start making them. It’s also a great time to start setting your 2013 goals. By starting now you’re actually getting ahead, giving yourself more time to plan the next year than many people do. You’re also staying productive, even though you’re refusing to face your novel.

Of course, depending on whether or not you’ve already given this some thought, you might not want to start making to-do lists for next year right away. Instead, you might want to brainstorm future projects. One way to do this would be by creating a mindmap of potential project ideas. Another would be to create categories that sort ideas in terms of topic, genre or length.

When you’re choosing what projects you’re actually going to put on that list, first consider what you’re actually able to accomplish in a given period of time. Consider the obligations you already know you’ll have–school, work, childcare, that sort of thing–and how much time you’ll have after those. Then consider how much time each kind of project takes you. Once you’ve figured out an average time for each kind of project and you have an idea of the time you’ll have available, create a list of the projects you plan on completing in the time period you’ve chosen.

My advice when you’re creating a plan, whether it be for a month, a year or a day, is to plan for two thirds of the projects you want to complete. Humans are over confident and that over confidence leads to over commitment and a cycle of procrastination and guilt. Life is also impossible to predict or understand completely, so leaving some room for error is always a good idea–this way if a family catastrophe occurs or you come into a new project you never expected, you have some leeway.

In December I’ll be talking a lot more about creating your plans for the next year, but right now, if you can’t stand your novel, the best thing to do is get ahead by planning out your 2013 now. When December comes around you’ll be happy to find yourself already prepared with the beginnings of a plan–or a detailed plan, depending on how much you hate that novel right now.

10K in 4 Hours?

At my best, when I took this challenge, I reached the 10K easily. The first two or three times I did it, I wrote a little over 12K in the four hours I had been assigned.

This Saturday, I devoted four hours as fully to writing as I was able–and I wrote 8.9K. I’d already been feeling slow this year, but this challenge really brought it home for me. I just can’t keep the pace I used to.

So what changed? It’s not that I became a slower writer. I still type just as quickly as I did then. My story is falling from my fingertips as easily as any novel ever has–maybe even more easily at times.

What changed is not my typing speed or my level of inspiration. It was the condition of my wrists. I’ve struggled with tendonitis in my wrists for several years, but this year the amount of pain peaked after March break, when I spent a week in so much pain that I could barely lift a small bottle of Dr. Pepper. In June I could barely write a page by hand without tears forming in my eyes from the pain.

I spent August with my left wrist–where the pain is worst–in a splint all the time, and I have been splinting when I sleep ever since. While the pain is certainly not as severe as it was in June, some nights it takes all my energy just to write a thousand words, and I find myself having to take more breaks. Once upon a time I could easily write for four hours straight, my only breaks being when I got up to refill my glass. Now I find myself having to take several breaks in those four hours, even after taking painkillers.

What does this mean? It means that I’ll probably never be able to write 300, 000 words in a month again. It means that until my wrists recover–and I don’t think they’ll ever fully heal–I’ll be extremely limited in how much I can write on any given day, and some days I will not be able to write at all. It means that when I’ve worked myself too hard, I’ll know because of the blinding pain in my wrists. It means that some days I’ll have to be careful how I open doors, because if I do it wrong I’ll hurt myself.

And why am I telling you all of this? There are a few reasons. One is to show you why it’s important to take care of yourself. If you start doing regular wrist stretches and invest in a heating pad and a cold compress for when you overwork your wrist muscles before you have tendonitis or carpal tunnel, you’ll stop yourself from developing these issues. And if you do have tendonitis or carpal tunnel, remember to care for yourself so it doesn’t get worse.

The other important reason why I’m telling you this–other than that it’s good fodder for blog posts–is because my failure to hit 10K in four hours means I will be trying this challenge again this Saturday. This Saturday from 2-6PM, I will be trying again to write 10K in four hours. I’m determined to stay focused this time and more determined to prove that I have not been completely conquered by tendonitis.

Of course, since I’m doing the challenge again this weekend, you’re all welcome to try with me. Pick your own hours or write with me in spirit, it’s up to you. If you participate, just leave your username and word count achieved in the comments on this post and you’ll be recognized on my blog.

On account of this being more difficult than I remember, I am changing up the list a little bit. It will now be two lists: one list of those who succeeded, and another list for all those who tried. Just like when you attempt Nanowrimo, failing to meet the official goal doesn’t make you a loser–in fact, you’re a winner just for being brave enough to try. So I’ve decided that everyone brave enough to attempt writing 10K in four hours will get a place of honour on my blog. I’m also hoping this will encourage more people to try, because it’s always more fun with a bigger group.

So, do you think you can write 10K in four hours?

The Week Two Writing Challenge

We’re entering the second full week of November, and with any luck, you’re almost halfway through your novel. Of course, not everyone is lucky. If you’re one of the unlucky ones, you might be sitting three, five, even ten thousand words behind. You might not even have started, or you might be considering throwing your novel away and trying for a completely new one. No matter what the case is, don’t despair. Remember that even if you don’t reach 50, 000 words, you’re still a winner for trying and you’ve still written more than you would have otherwise. Also keep in mind that it depends more on your dedication than the number of days you have left–I’ve hit 50, 000 words in three days before and I’ve met people who have done it in one.

No matter what your word count is, you’re probably going to face some difficulties this week. At the beginning, your novel was fresh, new and exciting. By now there’s a good chance you’re sick of your story and either want to give up completely or start over.

Don’t give up. You have no idea what you’re capable of until you do it. Every entrepreneur I’ve ever met has been amazed by what they could accomplish. Success is found by pushing yourself beyond what you think is capable. If you have to, start your story over or start a new one, but don’t give up. Keep your old novel in a back up file in case you need it for some extra word count or if you decide to go back to it. Then forge ahead and create something new.

For all those who are already discouraged, and all those who will get discouraged this week–week two is always a rough time for many Nanoers–I’ve decided to host a challenge this weekend. It’s a challenge which was originally run on the Nanowrimo forums a few years ago and which I have done myself several times and hosted in my local forum and chatroom.

So what’s the challenge? Your goal is to take four hours out of this weekend and dedicate them purely to writing, attempting to write 10K in those four hours. This is challenging both to newbies and to overachievers and forces you to focus on your writing for a solid chunk of time. While it’s a difficult pace for some, anyone who ordinarily types quickly should be able to achieve this goal. And even if you don’t manage to reach 10K before your time is up, you’ll still have written more that day than you would have otherwise and gotten a nice chunk of word count.

To combat my lethargy last week and this weekend, I’ll be doing this challenge Saturday from 12-4. If you’re unable to participate at that time due to other obligations, that’s all right. You can pick any four hour chunk of this weekend to focus on writing. Just leave a comment letting me know who you are and which hours you’ve chosen for your writing spree. If you’re feeling brave and you want to create a new word count goal for yourself, you can leave that information in your comment too.

So what do you get out of this? Well, you get a few thousand–right up to ten thousand–words for your novel and an idea of how much you really can write in just a few hours. Even better, next Wednesday I’ll be writing a post listing all the Nanoers who successfully complete this challenge over the weekend. Simply let me know when you did your 10K, what your final word count was in the four hours, and include your Nanowrimo name and a link to whatever website you have. Then on Wednesday, you’ll get to see your name and link go up on my blog, forever honoring you as an incredibly quick fingered writer.

So, are you in?

Getting into the Writing Zone

Since you’re planning to write a 50, 000 word novel next month–dividing into 1,667 words per day–it’s a good idea to get warmed up by doing some writing exercises over the next few days. A good goal would be to write at least 400-500 words every day until Nanowrimo starts, so you’re already in the writing groove on November first. This warms up your writing muscles without leading to burn out before Nanowrimo begins.

Today I’d like to share three exercises designed to help you do just that. These exercises can be done with your Nanowrimo characters or completely different characters. I usually use them to flesh out the characters and world I’ve already started creating for my novel, because I find that you discover many things while writing that you never will in a thousand brainstorms. Often these are crucial details, such as character names and important moments in their history.

While these exercises are aimed at both warming up the writing muscles and fleshing out your characters and your world, you can find dozens of more basic prompts both here and on many sites across the web. There are even entire books filled with prompts to help you get going, ranging from picture prompts to detailed scenarios for you to throw your character into. These exercises are my attempt at finding a proper middle ground.

Without further ado:

1. Write about a large social gathering in the place where your story is set. This can be from the main character of your novel’s point of view, in third or first person, in the point of view of your villain or whoever you want it to be. The important thing is that you focus on what the occasion is, what people are wearing, how people act and mention any unusual customs. I can’t begin to explain how many times I’ve discovered really important things by writing scenes like this, especially about cultural expectations and traditions. Often the details you need come more easily when you’re just writing, not trying to rip them out of a blank page.

2. Write a scene in which someone dies. You can learn a lot from someone’s death, both in real life and in fiction. In fiction, it can teach you how your characters react to death, what common dangers are in that world and how death is treated in your world. Death scenes can be incredibly powerful, and you can make them as long or as short as you want. For this exercise I’d suggest writing first person in the PoV of one of your Nano characters and making the dying person someone close to them. Of course, you don’t have to do that–the important thing is just to get yourself writing, not what you write.

3. Write something about pets. Everyone loves pets. Nowadays we have micro pigs, cats, all manners of dogs, birds and lizards. In ancient times, pets weren’t usually kept unless they served a purpose, and often weren’t even called pets: dogs for hunting, horses for riding, goats for milk. Where does your world stand on the issue? Are live animals rare and most pets robotic, as in Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? Or are your people so poor they can’t keep useless mouths, restricting them to dogs and horses? Or do they sit somewhere in the middle, where anything can be a pet and everyone has one? You can learn a lot about your world by considering what pets they keep–and more about your characters by how they treat their pets.

Of course, when doing these exercises you don’t have to use your characters and setting for your Nanovel, but if you’re still trying to flesh out your world and your characters, these exercises will add an extra level of depth to your novel. And for those of you who are just chomping at the bit to get started, writing these back story scenes is a great way to get some writing done and give your characters some loving without cheating and starting your novel early.

What is your favourite kind of writing exercise?

One Cannot Be Ready for Everything by Allison Cosgrove

Today’s author is Allison Cosgrove, several time Nanowrimo winner, former word war captain, mother of three, hard worker and recently published author. I’ve already interviewed her here and am currently reading her mystery novel, Sacrifice of Innocence, which I’ll be reviewing sometime in the upcoming months. Today she’s decided to do us all the honour of sharing her realization that none of us are ever truly ready for Nanowrimo.

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One thing I have come to realize, as a long standing WriMo Veteran, is that in preparing for the wonderful thing that is NaNoWriMo is that we are never truly ready for it. I mean there are things we can prepare. We can plot and outline and make notes for just about everything, pre-cook and freeze meals, but in the end we can not be completely ready for everything.

The one and only year I have ever tried to plot out everything it turned out to be all for naught. I honestly had everything set out. I knew EXACTLY where I was going. I was so proud of myself. And then two days before NaNo I was hit by a monster of plot bunny and away I went on a completely different direction and everything I did was pushed to the side until later in the month.

That, to me, is the most amazing part about NaNoWriMo. We plan everything out. We get all of our emergency junk food kits ready. We set our coffee pots to constant brew. We make sure our loved ones know that if they don’t hear from us for a month that everything is alright and that we are just knee deep in a whole other world. Then we set out and put pen to paper, fingers to keypads and the world around us disappears.

We don’t always end up where we expected to and that’s alright. We may eat more junk food, drink gallons more coffee, sleep less and we may even end up smelling like yesterdays socks. We may not finish at the amount we would like and we may not cross the 50,000 word finish line but that too is alright.

Because it is not where we end up that matters most. It is the journey that we take to get there that counts. We will learn and grow so much in 30 days. We will learn to stretch our wings and not worry about where the winds take us. We will take chances and risks we may never have taken with our creativity. We will forge long lasting friendships and find a new place to call our own.

Just remember that as you finish off your plot notes, your character sketches and pack your pre-made food for next month. You may not end up exactly where you think you will when you set out in a few days but enjoy the ride none the less.

It will be all worth it and besides you can always edit later.