The Writers Circle: Writing When Busy

One of our goals here at Today’s Author is to help all of the writers among us to do what we love to do: write. One of the best ways to accomplish this is by talking to each other and learning from each other.  Our Writers Circle series is designed to do just that – provide a chance for us to discuss writing, editing and publishing questions.

This week’s topic is:

NaNoWriMo asks participants to write with a reckless abandon for the month, squeezing in time for 1667 words per day for 30 days. Similarly, when on a deadline, we often are asked to churn out books and stories in a shorter amount of time than we’d like. Usually these stretches of time seem to hit when there are a lot of other things going on in life, too.  How do you squeeze in extra time for writing during NaNoWriMo or during any deadline-driven period without neglecting the family, the day job or your own eating, bathing and sleeping needs?

Let’s discuss this in the comments or on the forums and see what our community thinks.


The Fear Chronicles: Why I’m not Scared In November

One of the things I said I would write about for Today’s Author was fear in relation to writing. I mentioned in my introductory post that when it comes to having deadlines, fear takes a backseat. And when it comes to NaNoWriMo, fear may as well be in the trunk. There is something comforting about giving myself a challenge, and leaving no room, none whatsoever, for failure. And yes, I would view it as a failure if I didn’t complete my 50,000 words.

So, to avoid this failure, here are some things I’ve done to help me finish my “novels” in NaNoWriMos past and some things I recommend:

  • Turn off the self-editor, and view this month as an extended exercise in freewriting. Freewriting is something I teach to my students in basic writing classes as a trick to just get over themselves. Freewriting lets them initially scrap the things that will matter later: structure, grammar, punctuation, paragraph breaks, an introduction and conclusion, and yes, even content. Just write. Get it out, though it might be crap (it will be crap). Ignore your self-criticizing, self-editing, self-questioning side. Crawl out from under your many neuroses, and let the subconscious take the driver’s seat (ah, the car metaphors are revving up . . . see what I did there?)
  • Remember that production is the essence of NaNoWriMo, its raison d’etre. And community. Embrace those two truths. If you’re not a particularly prolific writer (and I am not), then allow (read: force) yourself to be prolific this one month. If you’re not a particularly communal writer, then force yourself out into your community—meet up with fellow writers at coffee shops and bars, and take some comfort in staring at each other over your laptop screens, faces crinkled in consternation and lit with hellish screen-glows. Make your personal suffering a shared suffering. It makes all that sighing and hair pulling and sudden chair overturning all the more meaningful. No more must you be the crazed first wife of Edward Rochester, thrashing about in the attic of Thornfield Hall, alone and ignored—you can have friends to share in your mania.
  • Check the stats often. One of the coolest things about NaNoWriMo is seeing how your city matches up to other cities around the world. You can see if your city is falling behind Rio de Janeiro, or Paris, or the entire city state of Monaco. If you’re competitive, this should get you going.
  • Post on Facebook that you’re doing NaNoWriMo. Make others hold you accountable. And post your word count every day, even if it seems annoyingly self-congratulatory. Get those thumbs up and words of praise!
  • View the writing you do in November as a kind of meditation, because it is. As anyone who has tried meditation (or anything that requires consistency…exercising, for example) knows, it sucks in the beginning. It is often painful and feels pointless. But there is something to be said for persistence, and learning the art of longevity. November 1-8 might feel like a jumbled, jangly mess of terribleness, but hang on. As your mind gets into the groove of consistent writing, it will come to crave that time, and the days that follow will change. Sinking into your writing chair, or standing at your computer (as some of us do) to persist in this particular challenge will feel more and more familiar, expected, and ultimately needed. In essence, you are changing your mental make-up this month; you are changing your routine. And that means you are giving your writing itself a (perhaps) much-needed change in scope, in length, in style, in content.

So, don’t be afraid. No fear in November—that’s the mantra. Enjoy what you produce.


Writing under Duress

It seems that lately I have been so over-scheduled with life that I am always doing things at the last minute – not because I am delaying and stalling, but because I have so many tasks in my life that I can only focus on the one with the shortest, most-immediate deadline.  My job is reactionary (answer the customers’ calls as they come in, etc.), my recreational activities are reactionary (if it doesn’t rain as predicted, go water the garden; if my pitcher isn’t throwing strikes, replace him, etc.), my home activities are reactionary (if the laundry basket is full, wash it; if the cat’s bowl is empty, fill it, etc.).  I don’t know if it has to do with my own inability to say “No” when things come up or if it is simply a factor of where I am in life: fighting to pay bills, chauffeuring one kid or the other to one activity or another, attempting to eat more home-grown veggies. Whatever the cause, I find myself moving from one frantic problem to another, pretty much all the time.

This is, as you can imagine, having an impact on my writing.  It is impacting my ability to write because I can’t calm my mind down enough to focus in on the story before me.  It’s impacting the quality of my writing because I don’t spend as much time editing as I should and after not spending as much time with the initial writing of the story as I should, the story already has two strikes against it.  It’s impacting my will to write because realistically I need to focus on paying the bills before focusing on hobbies I hope will some day pay a few of the bills.

But as I sit here and attempt to write this post, once again under a state of duress due to a scheduling snafu of my own making, I can see this situation as not entirely bad.  Sometimes, having a tight deadline is the kick-in-the-butt I need in order to get the job done.  Deadlines, for all their many, many negative qualities, have a way of positively focusing my energy onto the task at hand, making me better able to get the job done more quickly and with more quality sometimes than I might do with looser timeframes.  I have actually done some of my best -quality writing on a deadline (read: the night before or the morning of the deadline). In some ways it’s because the extra fluff I tend to include in my first drafts gets skipped because I just don’t have time to put it in.  On the other hand, these pieces tend to be my least favorite, either because of how stressed out I felt when writing them or because they are lacking the aforementioned fluff.

Having written several pieces under this type of scenario in the past few months, I’m left wondering:  how long can one keep living from one deadline to the next?

I’ve often mentioned my lack of planning when it comes to the actual content of my writing.  I wouldn’t want to write any other way.  However, all of the rest of my life is scripted and structured to the point that everything is, has and requires a deadline:

  • I have several calendars for different aspects of life (work, childrens’ schedules, general household appointments).  If it isn’t on one of the calendars, it likely isn’t going to get done.
  • Plants need to get into the garden at specific times, with little flexibility if I want to have a reasonable harvest.
  • Baseball practices or games, band competitions, dance rehearsals, school activities… these all have set dates and times which have no flexibility to them.
  • Television… well, as much as I don’t want to acknowledge it, I do somewhat pay attention to the first-run times for shows I like.  Though lately between On-Demand and the DVR, the TV Schedule is not really dictating my life all that much.

The point is that as I attempt to figure out how to have writing bubble up to the top of the to-do list more often and more easily, I am coming to realize that I may have to actually force the issue and put writing on the calendar.  I have Big Ideas for things I’d like to write, projects that will take more than a random half hour here or there if I want to complete them. Planning anything around or about writing is new to me… I’ve never done it. Now as I attempt to plan writing into my days and weeks, and as I attempt to set date-driven goals and deadlines for myself, I’m finding it difficult to do. I have attempted to treat it as I would treat a project at work, though I am steadfastly refusing to open up Microsoft Project to set my targets and milestones (at least so far).  I have tried toning it back and just putting 30 minutes into the calendar – blocking out a half hour every day so that the phone, internet, email and everything else are off.  I’ve tried withholding coffee until I have written for a half hour such that the coffee is my reward (this is actually the strategy that has worked the best so far, though it doesn’t feel sustainable).

While I figure this out, I’m forcing myself to write a little bit every day.  But I’m curious how others manage their writing projects, both short term and long term.  Do you schedule writing times? Do you make big plans and targets for projects and then just work toward them little by little as you can?  Do you have any particular tools which help keep you on task and help you avoid having to write while feeling like you are held captive by a deadline?  What I’m doing now in terms of my Pavlovian conditioning with the risk/reward of coffee as a reward for writing is helping, but I’m sure I can do better.  I look forward to your ideas.

Dastardly Deadlines

 Manuscript Targets

One of the toughest things for me to deal with is self-motivation and deadlines. Even when I’m dealing with a fantastically set-in-stone deadline like NaNoWriMo (finish (win!) by November 30, or I wear my failure on my profile for an entire year) I procrastinate. I’m not good at Butt In Chair mechanics.

So when a good friend I’m beta-reading for threatened to withhold further story until I promised to actually finish a novel and get it transcribed, I had a choice. I could roll my eyes and say “whatever”, and thus deny myself tasty, free fiction. I could fake it and lie to her and get it anyway. Or I could use this as actual motivation to keep myself moving forward, and really grow as a writer.

The first wasn’t even a consideration. I like her story, and to give up on it now would crush me. Plus, I’d have to wait potentially years for it to come out, as she wants to traditionally publish it, and waiting for that long would suck.

The second option was tempting, but let’s be honest: what would be the point of lying? It would be like cheating at solitaire.

So. I set up a schedule. A deadline. And actually decided to do this thing.

March 25th, 2013. An estimated 80,000 words of handwritten fiction. If I can get past my own chicken scratch, I will have something I have not had in years:  A completed first draft of a novel which, in my humble opinion, is good enough to seek publication.

So, I’ve set up a spreadsheet with which to track my progress. I’ve been terrible the last couple of weeks, but with some dedication, I can still make my deadline.

Man, how I hate deadlines. But they work.

I love handwriting my novels; it makes it easier to be distraction free, and I can do it literally anywhere, regardless of the presence of wireless networks, chargers, or power sources. Heck, as long as I have light, I don’t need no stinkin’ power! It just means that I have to transcribe it, and that takes time — time away from my fun pursuits like Bejeweled Blitz and reading Facebook memes. But now I’m developing some actual discipline to get this stuff out of its spidery handwritten journal to a real, editable, Scrivener-based computer document. And though I still have a long way to go, it feels good.

So here I go, off to defeat a deadline. Think I can make it? What deadlines have you set for yourself?