Writing Guide

Establishing a Daily Writing Habit

When people find out I’m a writer, I often have people tell me that they want to write a book too.  A lot of them don’t, but I think it is partially because they are not sure how to set goals that will help them get closer.  Setting small, but achievable goals is a great way to make progress when writing.

In the past, I have made the mistake of setting high daily word count goals, usually something like 3k or more.  The problem with setting a high goal, is if you don’t make that goal, it’s easy to give up.  I’ve found that 500 words a day is something I can achieve, and when I hit that goal, it’s actually easy to keep writing.  This means that I generally write more than 500 words.

I think 500-1000 words is doable for most people.  Many professional writers actually write between 1000-2500 words a day, and consider themselves accomplished for the day.

When my goal was high, if I didn’t make my daily word count, I felt discouraged.

But, here’s the thing.  If you hit your goal every day and your goal is small, it still builds up.  In a month, 500 words a day becomes 15,000 words total.  That’s 180,000 words a year.  It may not be fast, but you also have to consider your time constraints.  A lot writers have many other jobs they fulfill.  I’m a fast typist, so I can usually write 700-1000 words in a single writing sprint.

500 words will usually take anywhere from a half hour to an hour for most people, especially if you quiet your inner editor and just write.  Doing so daily, you will often find you write more than your prescribed word count and that after a few days have passed, you’ve made some real progress on your writing project.

What are your writing goals?  What is your daily writing habit?  Do you often make your goals or do you struggle with them?  I’d love to hear more about it in the comments.

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Writing · Writing Guide

The Resistance

Sadly, I am not referring to the small military force led by General Leia Organa, today.  Instead, I’m talking about a concept outlined by Steven Pressfield in his book “The War of Art.”  

The Resistance is just about any activity, thought process or life event that pulls you away from your art or your “Calling”and stops you from creating it.  

It can be small things, like reading Facebook or deciding to clean our your fridge instead of sitting down and writing that short story.  It can be big things, like taking on a project that does not relate to what you actually want to do.  The Resistance distracts us from the things we want to achieve.  It gives us excuses not to do the things we love and pursue the dreams we want.

The Resistance can also look like a self-created drama.  I tend to know a lot of people who want to be writers, by they have dozens of excuses for why they have not started that blog/written that short story/outlined that novel.  They will hem and haw about how they have no time or how they have no money.  They will go into dramatics about how too many things are just terrible in life and they have no inspiration.

J.K. Rowling was a single mother living on state assistance when she started her famed Harry Potter series.  Stephen King was a High School teacher who wrote in the evenings and on weekends (and subsequently got so many rejections letters for his novel “Carrie” that he started to collect them) before people started to buy his work.

Many people have ideas for stories, but it’s only the people who do not give into the Resistance, who soldier on, that actually finish their work.  Writing and other creative endeavors are often solitary practices, but just like any other worthwhile endeavor, you must show up and do the work.

If you often find yourself avoiding your desk or avoiding chances you have to write, I would recommend Pressfield’s books on the matter.  His no-nonsense approach is a great way to get you to examine what your Resistance is and how you can stop giving in to it.

The War of Art is the best place to start, but my personal favorite is the next book in his series about creating, Turning Pro.

 

Writing · Writing Guide

5 Ways to Stay Creative

  1. Keep a Pinterest board for inspiration

When I see prompts, pictures or other things that spark an idea in my head, I usually save it to one of my pin boards, either for writing ideas or story inspirations.  Pinerest boards are great to look at when you get stuck and want to feel creative again.

2. Schedule time for your creativity

I know it sounds like this goes against the way we typcially picture creative types, but I promise having a routine can really boost your creativity.  If you schedule a time each day to write, paint, create, you will start to find you no longer need to wait for the muse.  You can work without her.  I think you will find that the work you produce when you are not inspired is likely as good as what you created when you thought you were inspired.

3. Be patient

Sometimes, especially for writers, you need to sit and think for awhile before a creative idea can form.  Matt Fraction calls this kind of moment “Catching Butterflies.” This is where you just need to sit, think and make sure your mind is not distracted by facebook, or the laundry.  It may look or feel like you are not doing anything, but the wheels are turning and things are happening as long as you are not distracted.

4.  Don’t force it

If you’ve sat down to catch butterflies for two hours and have nothing to show for it, it is probably time to change tactics and give your brain a break.

My best friend has a thing called a “Meta” list.  On that list she puts all the things she can’t quite process yet, but still needs to think about.  It’s sort of like putting your creative problem on the back burner for a bit, allowing your unconscious mind to work through what your conscious mind isn’t ready to tackle yet.  So switch gears, find another task to work on, and go back to your project after you’ve taken a break and washed a floor or folded that laundry you weren’t thinking about earlier.

5.  Follow people that inspire you.

Social Media can be full of posts that drag you down, but there are lots of tools and places to find posts that lift you up or get you thinking.  If you follow posts that make you feel depressed or like you are not doing enough creatively, unfollow those pages and seek out the kinds of content that make you want to do something new or make more of your art.

 

What are ways you stay creative?  I’d love to hear what you do when your mind/muse just won’t help out.

 

 

Writing · Writing Guide

A Goal is a Dream with a Deadline

I am not great about setting goals.  I mean, I do set them, but I am the kind of person that will easily be distracted from the things I am pursuing.  The thing is, without a goal a dream is just that, something intangible and not achievable.  The goal is the thing that gives you a map to work towards, a way to get to that dream.

I’ve met lots of writers who have said something to the effect of “I could have a story published if only I had all the time you have.” or “I could have a story published if only I didn’t have other obligations.”

I do not have a 9 to 5 job, but I don’t lack for distracting obligations that would love to keep me away from the writing desk.  Writing gets done thanks to dedication and goals, not thanks to a wealth of time (though that may help).  Many hugely successful writers were not able to sit at their desks all day, but they still managed to write and finish their stories.  This is because of dreams, deadlines, and dedication.

If you aren’t sure how to start or what kind of goals a writer should set and how to go about being successful at them, here are some tips for you.

Set a daily word count goal

It doesn’t have to be an ambitious goal like 1000-3000 words a day, it can be something small like 200-500 words a day.  It adds up quickly if you stick to doing it each day.  In a week, 200 words a day will equal 1,400 words.  500 words a day will equal 3,500.  You do not have to set goals that are hard to achieve in order to be successful.  Set a goal that you know you can accomplish and then see if you write more and need to set your bar a bit higher.  There are lots of word trackers out there, but my favorites are from Svenja Gosen, who has several available here.

Treat writing like a job

Don’t get me wrong, writing should still be fun, but if you treat your writing like you are a professional, you will get very different results than your friends that treat it like a hobby.  I still write for fun, but I also have set hours each day during the week that I devote to my “Job.”  I show up on time and I do my work.  For some, this will mean writing for 30 minutes each night, uninterrupted and not distracted.  For others it will mean spending a few hours doing writing sprints each day, working toward their goals.

Give yourself a deadline

Make a deadline and do your best to stick to it.  Tell others about your deadline, so that they can help hold you accountable to it.  Your deadlines may shift, mine almost always do.  If you write shorter fiction, find places to submit that have deadlines that you can’t wiggle around.

Be accountable to someone

This can be a writer’s group, a group of friends, or just someone on the internet.  Just make sure it’s someone who knows what you are working on and will expect you to finish it.  You should do the same for them.  I have a group of women (including my best friend) that I email when I want to do writing/work sprints, most of them are working on their PhDs.  We might be doing different work, but we are excellent at making each other accountable and cheering each other.  Writing can be lonely work, and sometimes a good “Hooray” or a good kick in the pants can be just what you need.

Writing Guide

A Guide to Writing Werewolves based on Real Wolf Packs

For the last few years, I’ve dug into a lot of research on wolves for a werewolf book I want to write.  It’s been both interesting and alarming to see how much actual pack culture is different from the tropes we see in movies and TV about werewolves.

Typically in werewolf media, we see a pack that is led by an all-powerful Alpha Male.  He’s stronger and meaner than the other werewolves and that’s why he’s the go-to leader.  He knows how to get the job done.  Though many people believe by default this is also how wolves act in nature, that is not the reality of the situation at all.  Wolf packs are usually led by an Alpha pair, who are a mated male and female wolf.  In some cases, the female wolf will actually be the more aggressive of the two and the one that tends to keep the pack members in line.  This is not necessarily the female establishing her dominance, it’s more similar to the way your grandmother might keep you and all your cousins in line at a family gathering.  The mated pair that leads the pack more or less serve as the “parental” units of the pack.

A single male alpha as the lead of a pack is just something that has been fabricated over the years, and is likely more of a reflection of human culture, than that of wolves.  I’ve gotten to the point that when I see this trope reinforced over and over again in TV shows and movies, I have a hard time watching them.  This trope also tends to make it easy to exclude or leave out female characters, since male characters tend to be the central focus of the trope.  Female wolves are essential to the pack’s life, and therefore I think it would be good if fiction also reflected that.

Packs also share other similarities with human families, as many smaller packs are just the mated alpha pair and their cubs.  As I mentioned before, packs are often like human families, whether related or adopted, and function in somewhat similar ways.

In the wild, packs will fight for territory sometimes, especially if food becomes scarce in one area or if another pack seems to be dying out.  Packs can die out for a variety of reasons, including harsh winters, fighting with other predators, cubs being eaten by competing predators. These are things you can think about as you craft your werewolf story.

Obviously, fiction does differ from reality, but many of the tropes that surround werewolves are both erroneous and create stories where female viewpoints often get lost or are nearly non-existent.  If you are looking to do more research on wolves in the wild, there are a number of books written about wolf packs, especially those in Yellowstone.  Yellowstone also releases a yearly fact sheet about the packs in their area, that gives an account of how many wolves are in their packs, what sizes they are, what color their coat is, etc.  The Yellowstone wolves tend to be a unique opportunity for humans to closely monitor and learn more about wolves, since they were only recently re-introduced into the park and there is so much activity in Yellowstone.

Writing Guide

Don’t dabble – Tips To Stay Committed To Your Writing

A few weeks ago, one of my favorite authors for self-help, Gabrielle Bernstein, posted a video about staying on course for what you want.  At the bottom of her post, she had the option to tweet about it and the tweet basically said: “Stay committed, don’t dabble.”  This concept is something I’ve talked a lot about with those in my little circle of productivity, the group of women that I email and do writing sprints with.  The truth is, I used to dabble a lot.

This was both in and out of writing.  I’d start a book, or write in online communities and happily proclaim I was a writer, despite the fact that I had no goals with my writing and I rarely finished anything.  I dabbled in writing.  There were no stakes with my writing, I did not take it seriously.  I dabbled in other things too, which took my time and attention away from the writing I did.  Part of this was due to the fact that I struggled to say “No” to people.  If someone wanted my time, attention and help, I would bend over backward and put my own projects aside for months on end.  There are times I still say “Yes” when I should say “No.”

This leads us to what I really wanted to talk about, how to stay committed and avoid dabbling, for writers and artists.

1. Learn when to say “No.”

Successful people know when to say “No.”  They have learned to say it with conviction.  I do my best to think very consciously when people ask me to work on projects with them. I often get asked to proofread things for friends, or to help them with their own projects.  I will say “Yes” only if there is a reciprocal relationship when it comes to helping with these friends, or if I believe editing their project will help me become a better writer.  It sounds harsh, but it also isn’t fair for them to expect me to beta/edit chapters upon chapters without some kind of give/take.  I also will take on a project here or there that I just really have an interest in.  Some of my friends are brilliant writers and I aspire to be more like them, so helping them would also warrant a “Yes.”

2.  Practice makes perfect.  Take your practicing seriously.

If I had a dime for every time someone said, “Oh, I like to write.  I could be a writer just like you if I had all the free time you have.”  Though I may have a flexible schedule that allows me to devote a lot of time to writing, that would mean nothing if I was not devoted to the practice.  I write nearly every day.  I manage my own schedule and I stay committed to the work I want to do.  I read books, I write, I read more books and I work to improve my writing.  Publishing credits are not something a magical fairy bestows on you and leaves under your pillow as you sleep.  You get the by writing often, sharing your work with others for eyed back, learning how to be a better writer, and then sending that work out into the world.  If you have a day job, commit to a word goal or an amount of time you will write each night.  There are writers who got published with small word count goals like 200-500 words a day.  If you write every day, those words add up quickly to short stories and novels.

3. Set goals and deadlines.

Every short story I’ve submitted has a deadline of some sort.   Usually, it’s a date by which you must submit your story.  You can set your own deadlines and I suggest having them somewhere they are easily visible.  I usually post my long-term goals up on my wall and keep daily and weekly goals in my bullet journal.  Deadlines give you something to work towards and they encourage you to finish your projects.

4. Finish what you started.

This does not go for every project and you will get to a point where you can identify when it is time to set a project aside and work on something else.  That being said, you still need to finish things.  I have not been great about finishing some of the novels I’ve worked on, but I’ve finished many short stories and comic scripts, even if they all did not make it to publication.  If a writer has 100 unfinished short stories, they aren’t likely going to be able to find a place to publish them, but if you keep finishing projects you can find a way to get them out to the world, either by finding a traditional publisher or through self-publishing.  If nothing is finished, there’s nothing to publish.
If writing is truly something you want to do, stay committed.  Don’t dabble.  If you keep at it, I am sure you will find a way to get what you want to say out to the world

Writing · Writing Guide

Capturing the Muse – Writing for the uninspired

With the advent of the internet, it’s easier than ever for writers to connect with one another.  Because of this, I have met lots of writers who have very active muses, those that do not wait for the muse, and those that can only write when their lazy muse feels like it.  I consider myself to fall in the second camp, I don’t wait for my muse or for inspiration, to write.  If you’re like me, this can mean tricking yourself to producing.

Okay, tricking sounds simple.  It’s not really a trick, it’s a series of carefully planned habits and practices that help me make sure I show up to write even when my muse doesn’t.  Here are some tips to get you started down that path:

  1.  Create a daily writing habit – Stephen King and several other professionals will give you this advice.  Whether it’s setting a word count goal, or setting aside 20 minutes a day to write, create a goal and stick to it.  Even if you write just 200 words a day, that’s 73,000 words a year.  That’s a small novel.  That’s several short stories.  This writing may not feel inspired at first, but if you show up to do the work, you’ll be surprised how often it starts to feel inspired.
  2. Find a process that works for you – I have several work sheets for story planning.  When I start writing a story, especially short stories. I pull one out and start the very fundamental process of character building on them.  I usually start with 3-4 characters, give them names, 4 personality traits (at least one negative trait).  From there I add a setting if I didn’t already have one in mind and I build from there.  I am the sort of writing that likes plot that stems from character, so that is why I start with characters.  Once I have plot, I work on world building and theme.   The worksheet I use the most is here, which I based off a story workshop I attended taught by comics author Kelly Sue Deconnick.  It gives me a great building block to start with, whether my muse had chosen to show up or not.  Sometimes the traits I choose are literally random ones.  Other times I have an idea of the characters and they come naturally.
  3. Writing prompts – Find a prompt you like, set a timer (15-30 minutes is usually the best) and write.  The scene can be random or with characters you’ve already created, but write and see what happens.

If you want advice beyond what I can recommend in the space of this small blog post, I have a few books to recommend.  They are as much about creating a writing practice as finding inspiration, but they have helped me immensely over the last few years.

Both of Pressfield’s books are relatively quick reads, but they shine a good light on the practices of a “Professional” even when you don’t feel like one yet.  He also just released a another book, Nobody wants to read your Sh*t, which he released for free to start out, so you might still be able to grab a free copy.  I’ll be reading and reviewing that book, in a couple weeks.

  • On Writing – Stephen King

I’m not a fan of horror, but I’m smart enough to know that Mr. King has some amazing advice on writing.  I listened to the audiobook, which he reads, and it’s one I’ve gone back to time and time again.

  • Fantastic Mistakes – Neil Gaiman’s “Make Good Art” Speech

I own the hardcover book, but you can also watch Gaiman give the speech here.  This is something that is great to read or listen to when you feel like you can’t do this.  His voice is kind and encouraging, which makes it seem almost like his advice is coming from a dear friend.