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

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The problem: How to not be distracted when others are around, distracting you from writing.

The solution: I’m really not that vain to say there are solutions, but just hints of what might help you be less distracted. That being said, here are a few things which come to mind or which I’ve heard at writers conferences or in books or networking in general. But first a few general good writing habits:

1) Have the priority-attitude of actual writing time be important to you.

2) Take up the Book-in-a-Week phrases: BIC, HOK, TAM. (Butt in Chair, Hands on Keyboard, Typing Away Madly)

3) If you have difficulty writing a whole novel in one sitting, do as Anne Lamott suggested in her book on writing, BIRD BY BIRD — break the task into smaller units. You don’t need to (nor can you) write a novel in a day, but you can write a page a day.

4) Have a writing space which you only use for writing — no reading, no emails, just plain ole writing.

5) Take breaks. Do mini exercises for your neck, arms, fingers, legs, backside, etc.

On to suggestions to limit or deal with external distractions of other people:

a. If you have young children, tell them when you have your writing cap on (get an actually cap specifically for this purpose), that you can’t be interrupted except in cases of emergency. I used to define “emergency” to my students as fire, blood or vomit, but you may quote your own definitions.

That lovely first suggesting being said, I need to add here that I have always felt that family ALWAYS comes first. The kids are young only once. In my family book, I mostly only wrote when they napped or watched “Sesame Street” or were at school. But by the time they started school, I went back to a paying career with energy sucking emotions which drained any writing enthusiasm. Still, family comes first.

b. Turn off the phone ringer, and refuse to answer your doorbell. Yep: hide and ignore.

c. One writer friend hired a baby sitter twice a week so she could write undistracted by her children.

d. Set a timer for your writing time — even just 15 minutes! This is for both for you and for your family members. Explain you MAY NOT be disturbed until the bell dings. And it’s probably a good idea to keep the timer near you just in case little hands like to play with time.

e. I want to say “shoot the ice cream man,” but I realize that sounds terribly wicked. You see, we have an ice cream truck which is driven S-L-O-W-L-Y through our neighborhood twice a day. Only a couple measures of a familiar child’s tune is played over and over and over again. Also in this category are the industrial strength leaf blowers and professional lawn care people next door. I think for this grouping, a good pair of headphones or ear plugs are in order. I know some people listen to tapes of white noise to filter out the outside distracting noise, but I could just type next to our air conditioner if I wanted that type of noise.

f. Family comes first. When your spouse wanders in and out, and in and out again, remember, family ALWAYS comes first.

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.

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?

“Easy” March Writing Challenge

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There’s still plenty of snow in our yard, but with temps getting up to 50 later this week, I bet it won’t be too long before a lot of it will magically disappear. Because it still looks wintery outside, I’m not distracted by dreaming of gardening quite yet. (“Gardening” — a nasty little good-weather habit which sucks up chunks of my energy and writing time.) I did, however, find three snowdrops on the southern side of our house today where the snow, warmed by our toasty abode, had melted. There is hope for spring. Oh. No! Write quickly.

So here’s the “Easy” March Writing Challenge:

Write at least 3 complete chapters of your WIP, or 5,000 words, by the end of March.

Ready? Get set? GO!

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.

Whole Book Critiques and Not so Alone in the Ocean

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I’m three days early in adding this post, but simply can’t help myself.

This year my on-line critique group is doing whole-novel critiques. We just finished critiquing and discussing Donna’s book. It has been a wonderful experience, for, as Donna pointed out, we all chose her chapter 2 as the chapter we least liked or saw whole-book purpose to. Yet, she reminded us, when she passed the chapter through our group while we were doing one or two chapters at a time, we all liked the language, chapter arc, etc.

We’ve been learning that we can be great writers, but miss the forward-moving action of a great story. It’s an eye-opening discovery.

It can get very lonely and discouraging, waiting to hear back from editors or agents.  This past Christmas I heard from two long-time writers friends who decided to pour their creative energy into other-than-writing stuff — Aaron is in theater and Meridee now does pottery. They’re both great at what they do. I’m glad they’ve found contentment.

Sometimes I feel like I’m splashing around in an ocean, clinging to a life ring, waiting to be rescued. I feel some hope as I kick together with another writer, also on her life ring, or a group of us (networking, it’s called in the real world). I let the theatre and pottery boats pass me by. I sometimes rest a while on a magazine or web boat. But I aways end up back in the water, kicking and hoping and waiting. Some day I know that agent-editor boat will pass and rescue my weary bones. Sometimes at the crest of the wave, I imagine I see land… but I’m not sure.

Keep on kicking, you faithful writers. Either ship or land is bound to come our way sometime.

Rest of January Writer’s Challenge

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Writer friend Sue told me her critique group was doing a Write-10,000-Words-During-January challenge… but that no one has mentioned anything about it since last year. And here we are a full third of the way through the month already. Tisk-tisk. I told Sue I’d take her up on it. Writers need accountability, after all, even if it’s “only” with each other (v.s. deadline with agent or editor).

Since we are both in revision-mode, we’ve found that our WIP word count is shrinking instead of growing, as is to be expected.

So… here’s our revised challenge:

1) 10,000 RAW words (i.e., newly written) by the end of January; and

2) At least one hour per day of writing in our busy schedules, be that RR or R — raw , revising or rewriting.

Anyone else want to take up the Rest of January Writer’s Challenge? Please feel free to join us.  You may place your word count or hours in the comment area of this blog during the remaining three Mondays in January. Good luck, and keep on writing.

The Writer’s Novel Marathon

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This fall I’ve been catching The Biggest Looser on reruns. It’s the first time I’ve watched the show. I was intrigued when a writer friend told me at our October conference that she faithfully watches the show each week and cheers the contestants on. Until that point, I never had the desire to see the show. Perhaps it was expanding my horizons into some new field. Perhaps it was caring about my friend’s health and to encourage her. I saw about half of the episodes, but enough to know the characters well enough. I got angry at the manipulations. The trainers’ yelling upset me. The personalities of the participants intrigued me.

Last night I saw (again, as a rerun on Hulu) episode 12, where the remaining 4 were sent home for 2 months on their own in the real world, and then were informed they had to run a 26 mile marathon, with no training.

Interestingly, I found that their marathon comments paralleled my book-writing, especially during my first NaNoWriMo, but also for any book I write. “I’m going to quit.” “I can’t jog any more ( but I’ll walk)” “I’ve never felt this much pain before.” (crying, almost delirious, but still jogging)

So what kept them going? What made them finish the race instead of giving up? One was determined to do the entire marathon running or jogging. He’d set his own mental goal — to finish, and how to finish — and succeeded. Two needed lots of encouragement from friends and mentors popping in at various mile points. One remained behind, with her partner throughout the show, to encourage him; for through their time on the ranch, he was the one who had constantly encouraged her; now he was the one who needed it.

There have been many times when I’ve wanted to give up on finishing a book. Either I know it’s awful, or it gets several rejections from editors and agents, or I’m distracted and not motivated in the least to write. I suppose part of the reason I tell people I’m a writer (even without book publication) is to hold myself accountable to write, to have people say to me, “So… how’s the book coming?”

I blog this now v.s. working on my NaNo novel, a book I actually like a whole lot, with characters I find very interesting. I’m spending too much time at this here “watering station.” I need to move on keep in the writing marathon.

And, thanks, my friends, for all your encouragements along the way.