Please welcome guest blogger Kathryn Scannell.
I’ve been reflecting on what “writing each day” means. I see a lot of writers, both published and aspiring, beating themselves up with the need to write something every single day, and feeling like failures at being a professional writer when they don’t.
Of course the concept of being a professional is another whole can of worms – does it mean that you make a living off your writing, that you aspire to make a living off your writing, that you behave in a professional manner regarding your writing, or maybe some other variant I haven’t thought of? As writers we can get very hung up on labels. If you’re spending more energy on worrying about whether you’re approaching your writing as a professional than you are getting writing done, then you really need to rethink that.
But that’s a whole different topic than the one I want to look at today. Today I want to focus on what it means to “write each day”. Is that just adding new words to one or more of your current works in progress? There’s a lot more to writing than just that first draft. That makes it important not to measure your writing activity purely in terms of word count. If you’re editing or revising, how do calculate word count for that? If you’re a plotter, do words written on your outline also count? A pure word count fails almost immediately as a daily measurement.
That doesn’t mean you should throw out your word counts when you are writing new material, or rewriting section of a draft. You’ll want to keep track of that in the bigger picture, perhaps on a weekly or monthly basis, so you don’t lose sight of the need to keep writing new material along with all the other things that go into being a writer.
As a personal goal I aim to do something writing-focused each day. Being a writer is not just about putting words on paper or into a word processor document. Being a writer is more like being a small business owner. You’re responsible for everything – production, marketing, accounting, and a dozen other things.
Whether you’re publishing through a traditional New York publisher, a small specialty press, an electronic press, or publishing yourself, you’re largely responsible for how you interface with the public who will hopefully be your readers. You may get a bit more help from the big publisher, but even they will expect you to take responsibility for doing some marketing and connecting somehow with potential readers.
Assuming your goal is publication, marketing is part of the job. It’s expected. I’ve seen more than one set of submission guidelines where the publisher wanted to see your marketing plans as part of the initial submission package. I doubt that they’d reject an otherwise promising manuscript solely on the grounds that your marketing plan was bad, but they might if your marketing plan was to let them do it all. Thinking about that, and taking the initial steps is part of being a writer.
So is improving your skills. That may mean taking classes, face to face or on-line. It may mean reading books on specific aspects of writing. It may mean being part of a critique group and giving up some of your writing time to critique others. Don’t think of that as time wasted – nothing hones your ability to spot issues in your own work like seeing those same issues in a draft that you don’t have an emotional attachment to. These all take time, but if you don’t do at least some of them, you won’t grow as a writer.
Depending on what you write, you may need to devote time to research as well as writing. That may involve heading for the library or the internet, or going out and taking a hands on class in something. It may involve approaching experts in a topic for advice. Again, it all takes time, but it’s necessary time.
Building a personal network matters too. Social networking is rapidly becoming the glue that connects people. I have friends in the next town over who are so focused on the social network scene that I hear about major milestones in their lives like weddings and adopting a child from their facebook, not from an in-person contact. Whether that’s a good idea deserves its own rant, but it’s a reality we need to work with when it comes to connecting with readers. Maintaining that internet presence chews up time, but if you’re putting yourself out there as a writer, talking to other writers, building a reputation in the community and connecting to your potential readers, that’s part of your writing activity too.
Last, but not least, reading is important. You need to be in touch with what’s being written in the genre(s) you write in. You don’t want to try to copy whatever the latest hot selling trend is, because that dooms you to being forever behind the leaders, but you do want to have a sense of what’s going on in the genre, because that tells you want kinds of things your readers want and expect. If the books are recent, it can also give you a feel for what kinds of material appeal to various editors and publishers, so you can pick your targets appropriately when you have something ready to submit.
If you read with the eye of a writer, and after a while it become difficult not to, you’ll notice technique along with the story. This author does tons of info dumps and gets away with it. How does he manage it? This one head hops, and it works. How does she do it? It all helps you build your own skills.
All this is on top of banging out that first draft, and then polishing it. There are only so many hours in the day. For most of us writing is squeezed in around other things – a day job, a family, children, and so forth. There’s never enough time. The key here is to find a balance. If you spend all your time marketing and networking, you’ll never get anything written. But if you spend all your time focused on the first draft and polishing, then suddenly when it sells you’re playing catch up and trying to get all your marketing and internet presence established while getting edits back from your publisher.
You have to figure out a balance between the various aspects of being a writer. That balance is different for everyone, just as everyone’s writing process is different. It’s a matter of trial and error. The key thing is to be aware of it, and to start figuring it out before you get into a hole in one area.
Kathryn Scannell writes fantasy and erotic romance. She makes her living doing database management, programming, and general IT support for an environmental consulting firm. She has a BA in German, a BS in Computer Science, a minor in English, and a head full of facts about odd things. She lives in southern New Hampshire with her wife Beth and their seven cats.
Her first novel, Embracing the Dragon, released from Torquere Books in April 2011.
Email: Kathryn.scannell @gmail.com
Please welcome guest blogger Kat Duncan.
How can you profit by reading short stories? Let me count the ways. Short stories are the Reader’s Digest condensed version of a story. They have characters, conflict, mood, plot, and setting. All the basic items you need to learn the craft in a bite-sized nugget your can serve yourself anytime of day.
Haven’t got time to read and analyze lots of genre books? Read genre short stories instead. After a dozen or so, you’ll catch onto the basic ideas of what makes a story interesting and suspenseful. You’ll also have a good idea of what turns you off or makes you yawn. Read a few and make a list of what you liked and didn’t like, then try to figure out if there is a general pattern to what worked for you. This is a great way to uncover a general theme or pattern that you could use in your own writing by giving the idea your very own unique twist.
The very best short stories also often have imagery, metaphor, symbolism and theme. Great Literary Scot! No time to take a graduate course in Creative Writing? Look up a few stories such as “The Most Dangerous Game”, “After Twenty Years”, “The Sniper”, or “Young Goodman Brown”. You will learn some very classical ways for handling story structure and suspense.
Every short story has a turning point. A buildup of tension followed by a shift or sudden change in mood, or in the way a character behaves. Some stories have more than one. Study these shifts. Analyze them for clues. What led up to this change? How did the author convey the change to you? How did you feel when you realized the story had shifted? Lots of fodder here to feed your own writing cannon.
Pay attention to POV. Most short stories can only afford one point of view. How does the author use the POV character or narrator to tell what is going on in the heads and hearts of other characters? If POV is not used, how are dialogue and/or body language used to convey what the non-POV characters are thinking and feeling?
Copy the technique for practice. I’m not suggesting you make a pastiche or parody here. I’m suggesting that if you walk a few pages with the classical author’s pen, you may learn something about how that author got so much to happen in such a short time. Read a bunch of stories, then take your favorite and write a fan fiction alternate ending, epilogue, sequel, prequel or spin off. Learn from the masters!
Read modern short stories from contemporary authors. A great (and free!) resource is http://www.shortstoryamerica.com/ where you can find everything from the classics, to many very good contemporary stories to boost your reading and writing EQ (educational quotient).
Eager for more ways to learn the craft of writing? Join me for a year-long novel-writing course at Savvy Authors. You can find me on the web at http://www.katduncan.net.
Kat Duncan obtained her Bachelor’s Degree in Chemistry and German from Regis College in Weston, MA. She is a Fulbright Scholar who spent a year in West Germany before the fall of the Berlin Wall. She recently obtained her Master’s Degree in Special Education from Gordon College in Wenham, MA. She is a full-time tutor to students from elementary through college and beyond in reading, writing and math. An active member of the New England Chapter of RWA, and RWA-PRO, she has written a series of popular newsletter articles on grammar and style. She has presented a grammar and writing workshops for beginning writers both locally and online. She’s an Indie author at Amazon and Smashwords and her romantic suspense novella, titled Fifty-eight Faces, is available from The Wild Rose Press.
Finding the time to read is difficult in our busy life, yet it isn’t as hard as you may think. The most important step is to find the time you can read. Ask yourself these questions:
Can you read every day?
Only during the week?
Only on weekends?
Is it early in the morning?
While you eat a meal?
Before you sleep for the night?
Keep in mind when answering these questions to pinpoint the time you can read at least half an hour with no distraction. If you do this four times a week, two hours are devoted to reading.
Stick with one book a month to start out. If you happen to finish before the month is done, start on the next book. Also, pick out the book you are going to read next while reading a book. So when the time comes to start another one, you can grab the book from your shelf and dive straight in. Or in my case, the next four books are already planned.
Don’t worry if you only manage to read for 10 minutes, or have enough time to read once a week. If reading more than two books isn’t possible then only read two books a month. It isn’t important to read so many books but to spend quality time to read them. Reading, like writing, needs time set aside for you to do. If you don’t set a place and time, you will never finish.
Over the last couple months, my mind has changed on how to approach writing every day. Focus is the key to finish your novel. Since I can’t keep a steady written count on my novel, I wanted another way to keep myself focus on the novel but it still needed to keep me writing every day.
Then I started journaling as part of my SavvyU course at Savvy Authors. After a few days, writing the journal entry on my novel did help to maintain the focus. Sometimes the entry is long and other times it is short but each entry relates to my WIP. I write down little tidbits for my characters and my world. Any changes I need to edit in the future and anything else that comes to mind. It even helped me make a major breakthrough for my plot.
I decided to make this a part of my daily routine. Whether I write on my WIP for the day or not, I make sure to write a journal entry. And to make it more personal, I’m writing the entries by hand. I decided to use a medium size notebook. It’s big enough to write in with ease but small enough to carry around with me when I leave home.
I will always sit down and write on my novel, since my primary focus is to finish it. Journaling will reinforce my focus and also help me during the days I cannot write my WIP. The combination will cover the areas I am strong and weak in. Plus I have no more excuses to avoid work on my novel.
Do you keep a journal for your novel? If you don’t, give it a try and see whether it helps you to write each day.
When I first started writing every day, the magic of it kept me writing for the first week. At the start of the second week, the fatigue set in and I didn’t know what to write anymore. The excuses started on why I couldn’t write for the day. I continued through the rough patch and my motivation returned back.
My daily word count doubled to make up for those lost days. Then the sluggish days returned and this time it infuriated me after those high productive days. Again, the good days appeared but the bad days still followed. I grew tired of the constant back and forward and stopped writing all together. My work-in-progress remained on my computer waiting for me to come and start writing on it again. But the flow of writing I created at the beginning vanished the moment I stopped sitting in front of my computer to write.
I learned a writer cannot keep a constant flow of words each day. But if you stop writing for one day, you risk the chance you will not write the next day or the day after that. The only way to overcome the drought is to sit down and write. It doesn’t matter whether you write 100 or 1000 words. You made the attempt to write.
Writing can mentally drain you but the key is to keep going. The bad days will be forgotten and replaced by that one great day of writing.
As I followed my goal to write every day (near every day), I learned many aspects of myself as a writer.
And the first thing I learned is I’m a pantser and not a plotter. My mind still cannot wrap itself around this knowledge. I plan my days, hate any changes to my plan and keep track of my daily word count. I have three calendars filled out, keep a small notebook to write down my to-do list, and print out a list of important days. Yet I cannot stick to an outline I write in advance.
My outline and novel started out the same and continued down the same path for a while. Then the novel turned away from my beautiful outline completely, and I cannot get back to it. When it happened, I wanted to pull my hair from my lack of control on my storyline. I stopped writing on the novel and started work on another one. Planned another outline, started to write, and it happened again. Since I’m hard headed, I did it a couple more times before it sunk in my mind. I’m truly a pantser and not a plotter.
Since I’m aware plotting my novel does not work for me, there is something else I do have control over. The time I use to write my novel. Instead, I will ‘plot’ my writing time to make sure I finish my novel and let the pantser in me do the rest.
To finish February’s Write Challenge, I set the timer on my cell phone to 20 minutes and made sure I focused on writing. Once I finished the sprint, I allowed myself a break for 5 to 10 minutes and I started another 20 minute sprint. I repeated the cycle for 4 or 5 times at least each day. (Did I mention I’m behind on the Write Challenge?)
Then I realized I found a great way to keep me on track. For every (n) number of minutes I write, I can have a break and relax before I start again. I don’t need to be chained to my desk and force myself to write continuous. I can leave my desk, relax, and come back again to write. By devoting time to write and reward yourself when you do with a break, you are free to focus when you do write.
Again I realized, I know how many words I write in 20 minutes. My average is about 490 words, so even if one session is done I still wrote 490 words. I can create slots during my day to write for 20 minutes. One slot planned in the morning, in the afternoon, and at night. I don’t need to wake up an extra hour but instead 20 minutes. Take half of my lunch time to write and the other half to eat. Go to bed 20 minutes later.
Combine all three writing sessions and I wrote 1,470 words. If I keep to my daily count, in 30 days 44,100 words will be written. A first draft of a novella or half way through a first draft of a novel could be written. Your novella or novel can be finished in a month or in two months is enlightening. The knowledge of when you will be finish is priceless.
Everyone can use the same method to bring about the same freedom and knowledge.
1. Start off and time yourself to write (n) number of minutes. You can do less than 15 minute, but I don’t recommend you do. It can take a few minutes to reach a rhythm where you type non-stop. Or in my case, I start off strong and can work down to a crawl in the last few minutes.
2. Keep track of the number of words written for each session. I set up an Excel spreadsheet to keep track of my word count. You can track by hand or in a Word document.
3. In order to find the right length for the session, you will need to attempt each length you pick at least a couple of times. The length cannot be too long or too short. If it is too long, you may lose focus before the session is done. Too short may sever the rhythm you find. Aim for the middle.
4. Create those session slots in your day to write.
5. Once you know the length of the session best for you and the average word count done, work out the number of words you can write in one day and what it will be in 30 days. Finally, you will know when you will complete your novel.
In 5 steps you can be on your way to start or finish one of your works-in-progress.
I’m going to continue to use this method when I start the next Write Challenge in March. Another 40k in 31 days on any topic you choose. Please join us on the forum if you are interested in joining. The forum is still open to everyone even if you don’t join in the challenge.
Please let me know if this method works for you or if it doesn’t. I can always help you work on another method for writing each day.
Ever start a novel and thought to yourself, can I really do finish this novel? I started a new work-in-progress as part of the February’s Write Challenge and it happen to me. As I wrote on the first day, I didn’t think my idea would work. Then it turned into my writing isn’t good enough.
I told myself to stop and I continued to write my daily count. The next day my fear started again but it grew worse. I started in the wrong place. This sentence isn’t right. The whole paragraph is useless. I can never get this published.
Once those words played in my ear, I stepped away from the computer to cool my mind down. Negative thoughts did not need to make its way into my WIP. Those negative thoughts would only fuel my fear even more. I cooled down; I came back to my WIP.
When I returned to my computer, I reminded myself just to write and forget any perfection. My first drafts will never be perfect because I do not write perfect. I acknowledge and accept my writing is my weakest point. My ideas and setup are my strong points. Now, get yourself in gear and write down those ideas down and worry about the rest later.
Right after that, I wrote a wonderful scene.
It isn’t the best writing, but it does hint my main character’s situation. The scene revealed the world all my characters are a part of. The puzzle came together which I didn’t think would happen before. This moment will happen again as long as I continue down the path.
The only person who will always be on my side was the person who kept me from just writing. I stopped and restarted myself. Some days have been better than others, but it doesn’t matter anymore. I’m writing every day and it takes me hours to finish. Yet, I am happy. No matter how long it takes, one day I will finish the first draft.
Then I will worry about the rest.
We are all on limited time. You may not have time to read everything done in the past two weeks. As a visual person, my planner is written in different colored pens. I created a system with colored pens to help visualize how my day went. I decided to create a system for reading and writing on a larger scale.
The Writer Wall is a product of my imagination. The knowledge of how I spent my day. Was it productive or non-productive? Did I divide my time between the two? Is there any way I can spend more time during my day? Or should I spend less time in one area and more in another?
The wall’s goal is to create an overview of your days. The Writer Wall requires the following materials:
1. Cork Board or a white board.
2. Index Cards.
3. Thumb Tacks or Tape.
4. Three different colored pens or pencils.
5. Anything else you feel you need.
The cork board or the white board should be placed near your work area. The board does not have to be large, but you need to be able to fit more than one day. If you use a smaller board, take a picture and save it on your computer. As you build your picture portfolio, view them in sequence and you will receive the same information as a larger board would give.
The index cards represent each day. I recommend the 3×5 index cards as you will be able to fit more days on the board. Of course, the larger cards can be used as well or you can even cut them in half. Just remember to write the date on the top of the index card in a different color from the daily activity below. The thumb tacks or the tape are used to attach the index cards to the board.
The colored pens or pencils can be any color you want. Each color will represent Productive, Non-Productive, or nothing done. Nothing done is exactly as the name implies. You did not read or write for the day. Write down your day on the index card, and it doesn’t have to be long. A simple read 25 pages on this novel and wrote 500 words on novel. You can write them big or small.
In the end, the Writer Wall represents you as a writer and as an individual. Add your own touch to the wall. Whether it is magazine cut-outs, stickers, drawings or anything else you can add to the index card for the day. You can even have different color index cards. Create an index card design on the board. The choices are endless.
And remember, the longest time spend on the wall is the set up. After the wall is set up, the most you should spend is 10 to 15 minutes of your day writing and posting the card to the board. The wall should not consume an hour each day.
Pictures will be posted of the Writer Wall and more details as well. Clarification on Productive and Non-Productive work is here. If you have any questions, please leave a comment and I will address the question in my next Writer Wall post next week.
Twitter Hashtag: #writechallenge
Word Count Total: 40,000 words
Topic: Your choice.
Total Days: 28
Who’s ready to join in? Leave a comment below with your Twitter name. UPDATE: Join the forum to post your daily updates or chat with one other. The forum can be found here.
Follow me on Twitter @marilynmuniz