Time, Priorities and Discipline for Writers

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I missed the last day of the WriteOnCon. Out of town. Out of internet availability. I have had nearly a week to catch up. I listened to some of the talks, but now that I have them just sitting there, waiting for me, I have allowed myself to get distracted by other things in my life – big things, like cleaning turtles from our very own river oil spill, to the more mundane, like mowing the lawn, doing laundry, or meal prep. Each of those things are important in their own rights. (Oh, yeah. I forgot to mention making and canning the salsa today before the tomatoes overripe.)

Discipline and priorities involve decisions in our every-day lives. We only have twenty-four hours in a day, and we do need to eat and sleep and get a bit of exercise; besides that, most people need day jobs in order to eat and sleep with a roof overhead.

How serious are you when it comes to writing? Are raw writing (first drek-drafts), or revising, or learning more about the craft and the market, priorities for you? Or do you say you’ll get to it “someday soon, as soon as xx is over”? (In my opinion, the only “xx” excuse to keep yourself from discipline, is family, especially your children. They grow up way too fast to ignore them.) So… be disciplined. Write!

Rejection Before Even Submitting

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     A member of my critique group sent me a message two weeks ago about a small press which seemed perfect for one of my completed MG novels. I checked out their website, and agreed. They would indeed be perfect, IF I cut some words. So.. I’ve been snatching moments of company time — company which can be very distracting to a writer — to revise and cut 2,500 words in order to fit within their press specifications.
     Since this small press only does quarterly reviews, I decided to call to find out when their next review was, so I wouldn’t be waiting two and 3/4 months before they even take a look at it. The result: The guy said they are no longer accepting manuscripts because of the economy.
     The down side of this? I’ve got a story without a home  — yet.
     Double down side? A rejection is a rejection, even when I didn’t submit it. I.e., For a few days I’m sinking into W.R.F. — Writer’s Rejection Funk — until I can poof-up some writer’s courage back into me. (And, yes, I made up that acronym, too. Although, it sounds an awfully lot like a wrestling acronym, which may also be appropriate in this business.)
     BUT… The up side of this adventure? It’s actually a stronger story.

How To Write When There Are Others Around, Part III — Some More Solutions

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One very important thing I failed to mention concerning writing when there are others around, was/is personal discipline.

Besides my husband working in the den of our house for much of his work, we have company at our house now — for about 10 days. I’ll have a 3-day break at the end of next week before we get in a different set of company (family — hurrah!) for two weeks. I’ll have company in our house 24-7 for most of this month. It’s a might distracting for the writer.

It’s now 7 days into the month. How much writing have I gotten done so far this month? Confession: very little. Excuse: entertaining guests and traveling to touristy places. However, I have done some writing, and I’ll share the reflections of my experiences.

How to write when there are others around? Unfortunately, I’m not rude enough to shut myself up behind a closed door. Besides, when I do that, I inevitably get distracted by laughter from the next room — which I’m SURE was some great writing fodder story which I’ve lost out on. So…

1) Sneak away for a five-minute writing break. It feels glorious. You may feel sneaky and somewhat guilty, but glorious all the same. I know this. I am a writer. I need to write each and every day. If I end up not writing, I make Oscar the Grouch look as singing-sweet as Disney’s Sleeping Beauty.

2) When you do get the chance to sneak away, do not — I repeat, DO NOT — spend your glorious writing minutes with checking your email, catching up on FaceBook, LinkedIn, favorite blogs, how far the Gulf Coast tar balls have drifted, etc..

3) Enjoy your company. Relish in visits from family. Love them to pieces. And learn to delegate. (e.g., “Oh, say… how ’bout if you folks clear the table and wash the dishes?” Then go sneak in your cherished writing minutes.)

4) Microize your normal writing goals. (I sure hope I made that word up instead of used some swear word or laser weapon. No time to research it now. Remember? I’ve got company in the next room.) Instead of giving yourself 3 hours to spend in revisions, limit yourself to one chapter a day. Microize your normal writing goals.

5) When company leaves, and there are sheets to wash, floors to mop, toilets to scrub, mountains of laundry to do, etc., don’t forget to work back up to your normal daily writing schedule. W.E.D: Write Every Day.  (Rats! Another made up word.  I sure hope that isn’t some acronym for a porno site. No time to look it up.)

My Writing Rejection Goal for 2010

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I just read a post on Darcy Pattison’s blog about setting a goal of 20 rejections per year. It wasn’t the rejection bit which she stressed, but she was saying that at least 20 times you’d have submitted your “baby” somewhere.

This idea was a twist to my goal of 4 subs per month — making mine 48 possible rejections (or never hearing back from), and I’d like to stress the possible part. Since I’ve been working on mostly revisions for the past couple years, my submission level has somewhat dipped; to be honest, it has very much dipped in the past two years. But my thought on that is that I am getting my story/stories stronger. Each month I feel that I learn new things about the craft of writing. This means I’m (hopefully) becoming a better writer, enough to someday stand out in the eyes of some cautious, but very supportive editor (or agent).

Thanks for the poke, Darcy. But I think I’ll pass on a Writing Rejection Goal, and go back to mere submission goals. I know the rejections (or worse yet, the ignorings) will come. I’m just more the-cup’s-half-full type of person. But 20 subs for 2010 isn’t such a bad goal to shoot for.

Postpartum Depression for Writers

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Last month my critique group did a whole novel critique on my MG historical fiction — a first for me, both writing a historial fiction novel and having a whole book critique from a group. I spent my writing time since then working on the revisions and rewrites.
 
The last week of March, I took an on-line Crash Revisions course, and although I didn’t have editor comments to which to rewrite, I did have my critique group comments. 
 
The result:   Having “finished” my tale, I think I’ve been going through postpartum depression, and now am just letting the baby sleep for a while. I did get one query letter out about it, though, but that may have been premature. Maybe… maybe not.
 
Usually, I let a finished story “set” for a few months, or even years, before I even look at it again with fresh eyes. Even though the story is good, when I do look at it again, obvious errors glare at me.
 
Yeah.  The query letter may have been premature (or not).
Yeah. I think I’m in postpartum depression.
Yeah. I think I’ll go suck on some chocolate.

Whole Novel Critiques– Rewriting and Revision Process

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I have just finished receiving my first group whole novel critique. The five others in my on-line critique group spent the past month reading and critiquing a novel they’d never seen before. This last week we’ve been discussing what everyone wrote about it.

The process: I submitted the whole novel on line, with an author-list of questions in four categories: 1) beginning and ending of book; 2) characters; 3) plot; and 4) theme. After three weeks, I received their responses, then compiled a new set of 7 or so questions stimulated from their comments. Now that I have those second responses back, I need to think how to proceed (in other words, comes the nitty-gritty bit of rewriting and revision).

In my past, I’ve had individuals read whole novels of mine. If editors or agents comment, they usually come back with just a line or two (e.g., “too quiet a story line for me”). Other writers’ comments vary in length, usually 1-2 pages of printed naration. What I found so fascinating about this group process, was that I had five different people in 4 different states and 1 other country, giving their thoughts on how to make it a better story. If one or two of them didn’t like something or was confused by some part or character, I could TOT it (take it or toss it). But if all 5 of them felt some part was needy, I would certainly see it as something needing to revise or rewrite.

One person in our critique group has revised one of her novels 17 times. She says it was a good story in the beginning, but now she really likes it. I don’t keep track of the number of times I rewrite or revise, since I often do it by chapters or scenes. I’d only do whole novel look through right before sending it out to an editor or agent. This time, I hope to do things differently before the professional submission.

I’ve compiled a list of things I need to address (e.g., the relationship between father and son). I plan on taking one of each of the things which need fixin’, and go through the entire story focusing on just that one concern. When I am done with that revision, I’ll move on to the next one and go through the entire story with only that concern in mind, and so on. THEN, I’ll do a whole book look to see how much I’ve messed things up or fixed things up.

Man! When I made up stories for my friends in junior high, it was never this hard.

March Writing Submission Goal

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Today I revisited my March Writing Goals to realize I hadn’t submitted anything for this month yet. Actually, since I’ve been in revision mode, I’ve only subbed 3 ms over the past year. So today I dug out my old flash drive and opened 3 PB stories I knew I had ready to go. I intended merely to print them out and zip those babies out… as in,  getting them in the postal or emaild today. Then I read them, each of them. Did you hear my forehead ka-thunk onto my keyboard? First in embarrassment at such poor writing, then in realization that I had hours to go before any one of them would be submission-ready. I know they are good story ideas, but anyone can come up with good story ideas. The good news in this stinky process is that my writing craft must be improving — right? — if I am able to recognize need of improvement all by my lonesome. Although, there are some days when I wish I had an editor like Hemingway did, and only have to write about 2/3 of any story.

For now, I think I’ll focus on a couple of my other writing goals for this month — like my write three raw/new chapters by the end of the month (got one done), or like my thinking up 10 things I’m thankful for each of 10 days without repeating anything. Then there is my Personal April Challenge to tackle the whole-novel critiques from my critique group and rewrite that little baby, too. Maybe I’ll have things ready by May to get back out there into the slush piles.

Now, wouldn’t you agree that the writing life is never dull?

Warning — Deleting Old Files

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Talk about heart-sink. Warning to other pre-published writers — never, ever, ever delete an entire manuscript from your files early in the morning when you aren’t quite awake. I THOUGHT I was being so clever to consolidate my files, and deleting old mss, leaving room on the jump drive for the most current versions. Funny what one little push of a keyboard key can do to your heart. After about 7 revisions, I’d wiped clean a 55K novel from my jumpdrive, along with several other files relating to it.

Yeah, I know: backups. I do have the old stuff backed up. My intention was to delete the old and keep the new.

Maybe I was just supposed to write it from the beginning, anyway.

One author I heard at a conference several years ago wrote a book from beginning to end. Burned the book. Rewrote the book from beginning to end, without, obviously, looking at the first copy. Burned that second rewrite and wrote the story out a third time. She did this 7-9 times for each story she wrote. She explained that the first time you write out a story, you don’t really know your characters very well. By the fourth rewrite, you know your characters, but then you have to work on story arch.

I think what I have to work on is not making stupid decisions early in the morning. I used to be a morning person. Really I did. I think I’ll crawl back to bed and curl into a fetal position for a while.

My Scheduled Writing Time

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“Would you consider writing on your blog about how you schedule your time? How many hours a day do you devote to writing? Are they set hours? When you revise do you have a specific pattern you follow?” – Sharon Willett, 2-17-10

Sharon, I will answer the first of your “two” questions (“one” was on schedule, the other on revision), but not as an example of what you should do.

Personality tests show I’m unstructured task-oriented, but not too far off from the structured people-oriented point, because I do like being organized, and I like people. But when I discovered this orientation preference for me, guilt slipped off my shoulders and I could stand up tall and say, “Hey! I’m unstructured.” (I’d be a prime candidate for Manana Time or Indian Time.) However, I see unstructured as in the area of time, only, for, like I say, I like things (and me) to be organized.

How this interesting tidbit of personal information translates into my writing schedule is this: I have no writing schedule.

Having given a truthful answer to your question, I could stop this post now, but I don’t think you’d be satisfied, since you also now know I’m also task-oriented, therefore, inclined to get things done (e.g., first drafts and revisions).

So this is how I’ve made my tasks (manuscripts) get done (written and revised):

1) I’m in a critique group which pushes me to write and holds me accountable. (There’s my forced structure.) We also change and evolve as we writers change and evolve.

2) I’m a morning person. By about 1pm my brain starts getting lazy. By 3pm I’m ready for a nap, although I hardly never take one. By 6pm I’m on mundane routine automatic mode. After that, it’s rather downhill working towards total shutdown for the day. This all means, that I am most productive in the morning, so have chosen that/this as my time to think and write.

3) I work best in uninterrupted time chunks – 3-5 hours at a stretch.

4) Now that I’m no longer in the paid work force, there are many times when I decide to write when my husband is at work, i.e., I work while he works, even though I’m not paid (yet). This gets to be a problem when I have meetings and errands and cooking and housework building up like behind a beaver dam which must be torn down.

5) I never write on vacation time, nor when family visits, nor when my husband gets a day off. Family always comes first.

On a sidenote for number 3, lately, I’ve been wondering how these long writing times are affecting me, physically. So, every once in a while (like, once a month or so) I try to play “the writing games.” Like, I’ll set the kitchen timer for an hour. When it goes off, I leave the computer and go toss in a load of laundry while hopping around like a bunny and woggling my head from side to side, go up and down the steps a couple times, grab a glass of water or pop, then get back to writing.

Regarding writers’ writing schedules, I have always been jealous of James Michener’s – go to some exotic place you’ve never been, spend all morning writing or researching and all afternoon exploring the lay of the land and the people, then relaxing in the evening with your spouse. Very nice.

In the end, you must find what works best for you. Hope this helped. I’ll save the revision question for another day.

Rewrites and Quick Revision Mode

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I did NaNoWriMo for the first time last November. I came up with about 37K words.

By the end of December I had 44K, finishing the story line.

Then started my “quick revision mode,” which means slashing and burning all irrelevant stuff, and building bridges to make a story arch.

The first week of January, I was left with 3K. Yep. That would be three thousand words, down more than 10,000. Permission to write dreck during NaNoWriMo left me with a skeleton at the rewrite stage, but a very nice skeleton.

Now, mid-February, I am up to 23K with three chapters to revise/rewrite.

Seems like my MG novel will be short even for a MG. When I’m “done,” after I sit on it for a while, I’ll get back to it again for some more rewrites and revisions. I hope to have this baby ready to be submitted by spring. That would be the shortest amount of time I ever spent on a book — not by hours, of course, but by days. Because I’m not working full time, I can spend a lot more time writing instead of spreading it out over years. Pretty cool.