Monday, January 5, 2009

Get Writing!


Yes, I know I'm a few days late. But today is the day the kids went back to school, and so is the beginning of the new year for me.

I don't know anyone who doesn't start of the New Year with a few resolutions. Some people may keep them to themselves - out of fear of failure or some strange superstition that sharing the secret breaks the spell, but deep down somewhere, we all have them.

Along with exercise, eating better and keeping up with the laundry (all doomed to failure right out of the gate!), my plan is to move my writing back up to the top of my priority list and keep it there! Easy to say, possibly more difficult to stick with. As inspiration, I'm turning to my friend and author Vicki Pettersson for inspiration. For the past two years, Vicki's presentation "Get Over Yourself and Get Writing" at the Surrey International Writers' Conference has been an inspiration to a number of authors I know.

I originally included a summary of Vicki's talk in my Surrey notes, but in order to start my year off right, I'm going to go into more detail here, and get myself organized and inspired in the process.

If there was one message from Vicki's talk, it was this: "Be a mule. Do not quit. Do not stop. Do not ever give up." Her method: "How to work everyday." The outcome: "Finish the book."

First, she suggests identifying those pressures that make writing and finishing a book difficult. These come in two flavors - external and internal. For me, the list goes like this:

External Pressures:

  1. Demands of home and family.
  2. Volunteer commitments - Girl Scouts and Lego Robotics Team
  3. Demands of contract work - it's only 10 or less hours a week, and provides a predictable paycheck, but it seems to take a chunk of time anyway.
  4. Time commitment of web design business - I love doing this, but again, it seems to take a chunk of time.
  5. Commitments to Compuserve Books and Writers' Forum - I love sharing what I've learned with others in the Writer's Exercises section, but Vicki would describe this as a "pseudo writing" activity. It doesn't really progress my own book.
  6. Commitments to my critique group - on this front I have fallen sadly behind, but aim to get caught up and stay caught up. While this may be "pseudo writing" as well, it'll pay off in the feedback I'll get from my lovely partners in writing.

Internal Pressures:

  1. That nagging feeling that most writers (even published) all seem to share - the feeling that I'm not really all that good. It's that internal editor sitting in my head blabbing away.
  2. I'm unqualified to write on my subject area - can I really write about another culture in another time and do it reasonably accurately? Do I have the right to try and represent a people I don't belong to?
  3. I enjoy writing, the process of writing, learning about writing and certainly the friends I've made. If I don't succeed, will I have wasted my time? What will people think about me?

If you're playing along, create your own list of internal and external pressures and put these aside for a moment.

Vicki's talk is full of quotables, like the following:

  • Agents and editors are your allies.
  • The work doesn't stop. Do the work. Take joy in it.
  • 99% of the time you get in your own way.
  • Doing it (writing) changes you
  • Successful people do not let their failures define them
  • Do something difficult while writing - it'll make the writing look easy

So, how do you commit yourself to getting this done? First, Vicki says you need hard number to keep yourself from lying to yourself. Set a goal. A NUMERIC GOAL. Time goals (e.g., write one hour a day) are a way to lie to yourself, and can be filled with pseudo writing activities (like reading blogs!). Make your goal something hard and fast.

  • If you're writing - your goal should be a word count, or a page count
  • If you're editing - your goal should be a page count goal
  • If you're submitting - set goals for the number of submissions packets sent

And to help keep yourself honest, write it down. Vicki uses an Accountants Notebook. So that I can't procrastinate today by running out to the office supply store, I bought my book several months ago -right after Surrey. I blew the dust off today!

Vicki sets up several columns: Days of the month, Goal, Accomplished, Notes. You could use any sort of notebook, spreadsheet or charting system that works for you. The important things are this:

  • Create a tangible way for charting progress
  • Keep track of distractions and interruptions that keep you from meeting your goals - are there patterns? How can you remove these for the future?
  • Be aware of pseudo writing activities. If you're not writing (on your wip), you're not writing.
  • Look back over your notebook periodically. Revel in your successes. Analyze your failures for opportunites to do better in the future.

So, how do you meet your writing goals? Here's Vicki's words of advice:

  • Be obsessive about creating and protecting time to write.
  • Keep the promises you make to yourself. You wouldn't break promises and commitments made to coworkers. Give yourself the same respect.
  • Use all the tools at your disposal.
  • Be careful how you define yourself ("this is the way I write"). Be flexible.
  • Start a journal. At the beginning of every writing session, write 3 pages in your own voice. This may lead into something for your WIP, but this isn't the point.
  • Find writing methods and exercise that jump-start your creative juices. Vicki finds flow charts and mind mapping (sort of free-form brainstorming) helpful
  • Study the methods of your favorite authors - google them, read interviews, discover everything you can about their writing process. Take what you think might work and try it for a month.
  • Find accountability partners - this may be critique partners, writing friends, or writing mentors.
  • Write everyday. E-V-E-R-Y-D-A-Y!
  • Cut back on psuedo-writing activities (e.g., internet, blogs, forums)
  • Take care of yourself- meditate, exercise, eat right

Although difficult to read, here is my entry into my writing journal. Day 1 (January 5), finish revisions to Chapter One and send to my critique group. (For those not aware, I spent a lot of time the last year - amid distractins - replotting my novel. For current purposes, I'm starting afresh!)

Oh, and remember that list of external and internal pressures from above? These are excuses. They don't have anything to do with the writing. Write them down, acknowledge them, then put them aside. Now, go write!


Tara Parker said...

Thanks, Jenny for bringing this back to the front of my mind. I've been struggling lately.

I think I've been feeling very disorganized and this is getting in my way.

Have to clean the house, the dog, the boy, THEN I'll write. Well, I have no doubt you know how THAT goes. (g)

Jenny Graman Meyer said...

Well, I know you work full-time too, which adds an extra layer of time already claimed. The "write everyday" thing always comes up, but if you can't do that, carve out a regular time once or twice a week that's unnegotiable - Tuesday nights, or Saturday mornings. Work for 90 minutes (if you can). Just giving your muse a little time to play on a regular basis will keep the creative juices flowing, and leave you feeling ready when you do sit down to write! (See, I'm hoping to read something soon!)

Tara Parker said...

I talked to the husband about this last night:

Him: Why don't you write when Devin goes to bed?

Me: Because _I_ want to go to bed!

Him: That's lazy. Get writing so I can quit my job.

He's a little deluded that THAT will ever happen, but he's right.

I did sit down briefly last night and read over what I have so far. It sucked, but I'm pressing on. I came up with some questions I need to answer and some answers to questions the husband had.

Jenny Graman Meyer said...

That's a start! Some people write over their lunch hours. I find that when I'm actively doing something on my book, my muse keeps throwing out ideas and solutions to problems. When I don't sit down, after a week or so my muse goes back to sleep (even if I'm thinking about writing, if I'm not actively doing something, ideas just fade). Keep a notebook by your desk at work and jot down ideas while programs are running or you're sitting on hold ~g~.

DA said...

Thanks Jenny for posting this timely reminder. Vic's told me this. I know this. And still I allow myself to be swallowed up by external and internal pressures.

I'm using this weekend to get back in touch with the things that make me happy (I've spent the last few years wrapped up in making other people happy). Time to focus some of that supportive energy inward.

Take care and stay focused,


Jenny Graman Meyer said...

I just checked out your blog! Good luck on accomplishing your goals. The life coach thing sounds really interesting!