Time Management: Ways to increase your productivity as a writer

We all know it takes a lot of work to get better at writing, because the only way to truly improve is to keep writing.  I used to not worry so much about time management, but in the last two years as I started working towards a career in writing, it became a bigger focus for me.  Each day I have to direct my own schedule and for the most part, no one is looking over my shoulder making sure I get my work done.

So out of this need for self direction was born a need to productive with my time.

There are lots of ways to do this and I’ll show you some of the strategies that have worked for me, and some that haven’t but might work for you.

Sprinting

This one is probably my most simple tool. I set a time I’m going to work and I work for that time.  Usually it’s 25-35 minutes.  I also have sprinting buddies that I email when I’m ready to go, to see if they want to join in.  At the end of the sprint, we email each other again and report what we got accomplished.  Having a buddy is an awesome way to make yourself accountable…And honestly?  Writing can be a lonely job.  This is the writer’s equivalent of co-workers.

Also, if you’re a little competitive like me and you have friends who are sprinting with you, have them report their word count.  I’m a slow writer so seeing that my friends have twice the word count I do in some of our sprint, spurs me to write more and try to get faster.

The Pomodoro Method

I was originally introduced to this method by my best friend, the queen of time management.  It goes basically like this,

1, You work for 25 minutes and give that work your complete and undivided attention.  I use Chrome as my browser, and you can even get an add-on for it that blocks sites like Facebook and Tumblr while you’re working, so you have less opportunity for distraction.

2. Once your 25 minutes is up, you take a 5 minute break.  Play clash of clans, watch that youtube video your sister sent you, and check facebook.  When the 5 minutes is up, you jump back into your next work session.

3.  Focus on your work for another 25 minutes.  Then take another five minute break.  Once you’ve done this process 4 times (2 hours) take a longer break, usually 15-30 minutes.

I sometimes lose track of time, so you can use the timer on your phone or you can even get a tomato timer from The Pomodoro Technique’s website, you can also find more info about this method there.  I also tend to draw squares with my times on them, so I can keep track of what my work sessions were, like the picture below.

Ways of tracking Pomdoro work sessions
Ways of tracking Pomdoro work sessions

Kanban Tables

I’ll be honest, I haven’t been able to get myself into using these as much, but I have friends who they work really well for.  This is sort of a watered down version of it, I’ve seen people with much more elaborate tables.  Mine table is pretty basic, To Do, Doing, Done.

Where I fail with this method, is that I forget to move things around.  I will have things that were done, and forget to move them over.  So I think I’m more of a list maker and less of a table user.  Which leads us to our next tool!

kanbantables
My KanBan Table. You can also do them on a white board, I’m just a sticky note fanatic.

Goal Setting and Task Lists

Each week, usually on Sunday night, I make a list of what I want to accomplish for the week, then I break that down into daily tasks for each day of the week.  I generally write it on a google doc and put it on a post-it note that I can physically cross tasks off of, which will both be pictured below.  I also tend to write them in my day planner, and sometimes I put them into HabitRPG, which is awesome for productivity and for fun!

The great thing about goal setting, is it really feeds itself.  Each week you make a list of what you want to get done.  The most important thing to do when you make your list, is to make sure that these goals are getting you closer to what you want.  If I want to be a writer who writes fiction, if my goals are learning the trombone, I’m probably not going to be getting much closer to my dreams.

Also, make your goals things you can accomplish and things that are realistic.  For most people, writing the first draft of their first novel in a week isn’t realistic.  There are a few of us out there that can do it, but they are few and far between.  Make sure they push you a little too, we all need a challenge if we want to get better.

POSTGOALS
My Goal Post-its! I cross out as I go along and let that feeling of awesome accomplishment was over me.
Google Doc list of my goals.  This is usually the list I refer back to is all else fails.
Google Doc list of my goals. This is usually the list I refer back to is all else fails.

So those are some of the ways I keep myself on track as I work toward a career in writing.  How about you?  What methods have you found that help you stay on track?

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Well Written Female Characters: A How to Guide, Part 3

Like I mentioned last week, today’s post is going to be about variance and diversity in your female characters personality.  Hopefully at this point you have more than one female character in your story, which is really the first step.

I know I’ve talked to other writers who sometimes feel like their female characters have to fit a certain box to a good role model or to be strong.  I think we get a lot of female characters that seem both similar and disposable, because they end up hitting the same tropes over and over again.

So today I’m going to walk you through an exercise to help you make your female characters more varied, so they have their own voices.

First, make a list of the female characters in your story.

Just the main characters for the purpose of this exercise, but you could later do the minor characters as well.  List them by first and last name.  Hopefully you’ve breezed past the Bechdel test by now, and you have at least 2 main female characters.  My characters in the example are going to have sort of funny names, but surely you will find better names for your characters.  I’m counting on you.

Example:

Hera Badass

Emily Sweetheart

Katie Timid

Second, make a list of their traits.

This is going to give you an idea if there’s the basic needed diversity between your characters. If they look sort of similar on most of the traits, then you may want to make some character revisions.  If they have some things in common, that’s probably not the end of the world.  I would avoid having all your female characters be timid and submissive or defiant and rebellious, unless you have a really good reason plot wise for that.  Just watch out for too much similarity based on traits.

 My mother, sister and I all grew up in similar places with similar cultural and familial backgrounds.  We do have things in common, for sure, but we aren’t copies of each other when it comes to personality traits.  My mom has a gift for honesty and analysis.  My sister is a joyous ball of endless energy who loves all things girly.  I’m sarcastic, overly caring and very sensitive.  I’m using this as an example to show you that even though we’re all from the same place and same culture, we’re all still very different people.

Example of traits list:

Hera – Strong, Persistent, Determined, Loyal, Brutal, Blunt.

Emily – Compassionate, Caring, Sympathetic, Anxious, Unsure, Talkative.

Katie – Shy, Smart, Capable, Enduring, Thoughtful, Quiet.

Third, make a list of what they want and what they fear.

By listing their wants you’ll get your characters goals and their motivations for those goals.  Most of have basic needs that are similar (See: Malsow’s Hierarchy of needs) so hopefully your character motivations go beyond that, but maybe they don’t.  Maybe the world you’ve built is a wasteland and her goal is to survive, but you may also want to go further than that and figure out what she is living for.  What is her motivation to keep going?  You can also use Malsow’s Hierarchy to think of other goals.  Maybe your character is a scientist and she wants respect from her co-workers, since she’s the only woman in the lab.  Maybe she is looking for romance, a companion, while fighting off space lizards from the plant Zoonan.  Figure out what she wants and why she wants it.

Fears are important too, because they tell us a lot about the character and what they want to avoid.  Maybe that character surviving in the wasteland fears the coming of night, because scavengers come out then and they will try to kill her.  Fears can lead to conflict, and all good writing has conflict.

You can and should go into more depth than the example below.

Example: 

Hera – Goals/Motivation/Fears

Goal: To protect her sister, Katie, at all costs.

Motivation: She loves her sister and Katie has the formula to cure a evil virus that is turning everyone into space lizards.

Fear: Her parents both became space lizards, and Hera fears that she will too, and that she will fail both Katie and the human race.

Check and see where your characters look similar and where they look different.  They may have things in common.  That’s okay.  I have things in common with my mother, my sister, my friends and even women I’ve never met, but it’s rare we have everything in common.  Having things in common is different than being the same.  That is a difference that you as the writer want to be aware of as you try to give each of your own characters a background that individual to them and a voice that is unique to them.

So go forth and analyze your female characters!  And don’t forget, don’t only give them diverse personalities.  The world is filled with people from different backgrounds, places and cultures.  Do your research and broaden your horizons.  It’ll be good for you and good for your writing.

In part 4, I’ll touch on the very murky water of tropes and stereotypes.  It’s likely to be sensitive material, so be aware of that as we go into part 4.

Well Written Female Characters: A How to Guide, Part 1

Women tend to be vastly underrepresented in many sides of popular media, including video games (a recent study found that only 10-15% of primary and secondary characters were female) and movies (see: Bechdel test).

So to me it’s really no wonder that some writers find it difficult to write women that either don’t fall into familiar tropes or are more than 2D slightly cartoonish representations of women.  From an early age, girls are taught to identify with their boy counterparts, especially if they like stereo-typically “Boy” things.  Boys are more taught to shy away from “girl” things, and sometimes they are even perceived as weak or lesser for liking such things.

None of this is okay, but at the same time, it’s understandable that some writers feel like it’s hard to write female characters and write them well.  I’m a woman, I grew up and live with a female perspective and there are times even I stumble into bad tropes or poor characterization with my female characters.

I could continue to talk about why the problem exists, but I’d rather focus on how to fix the problem.  Here are some beginning steps that should help you write better female characters, and really, better characters over all (A lot of this advice could be extended to writing all sorts of characters that may have different life experiences than you have).  Because after all, women are just people.  Like everyone else.

1. Look at the women in your own life.  Write down some of their character traits.  Analyze why each woman is different and look at the similarities they share as well.  Sometimes taking traits and mannerisms from real people can help make your characters more real as well.

2.  Watch/read/enjoy media written by women about women.  This is not me saying go watch a bunch of chick flicks.  Find stories written by women in genres you enjoy and see what they come up with.  A lot of times people assume that women only write and want to read romance, but there is so much more out there that women enjoy writing about.  Planes, trains and automobiles.  The awesome thing about the day and age we’re living in, is that more and more women are in different genres and different types of publications.  I’m a huge comics fan, and right now the gettin’ is good.  I’ve got a lot of voices from both men and women to read from.

3. Also talk to the women in your life.  Talk about their experiences, ask them about what it was it was like being a teenage girl if you’re writing a novel about a teenage girl.  There are times that my husband and I talk about our youth, and it’s amazing to see how different our perspectives were, and even how different they continue to be.

4.  Remember that strength isn’t just physical.  At 46 my mother lost my father, her husband, to pancreatic cancer.  Prior to that, they had been married for 23 years, during which my father at times struggled with Bipolar disorder.  Many marriages where one person has Biploar end in divorce (Some stats say about 90%).  Now, she’s a little thing that I stand a good 5 inches taller than, I wouldn’t consider her to be stereo-typically strong (at least, not like Jean-Claude Van Damme Strong).  But that woman has endured and supported the people she loved.  I strongly believe that her strength and support is one of the key reasons my father was able to live a happy and productive life, including completing Medical School and two medical residencies.  Strength isn’t just being able to lift something, or fight someone, and I think with a lot of women that emotional strength shows more often than physical.

So, there are some things to get started.  In Part 2, I plan to talk about some common tropes, especially ones that are seen in comics books and other forms of fiction writing.

photo credit: Davis Sewing Machine Co. via photopin (license)

Weekly Comic Review: Captain Marvel and the Carol Corps 01

Normally I’d like to do this review on Thursdays, so it gives readers a chance to pick up the comic, but it’s been a bit of a crazy week for me, so here it is a day late.

This week the spotlight is on: Captain Marvel and the Carol Corps issue 1 by Kelly Sue DeConnick and Kelly Thompson, with David Lopez on art.

Be ye aware, SPOILERS AHOY!  If you haven’t read the comic yet, wait until after you have to read this review.

Captain Marvel and the Carol Corps is part of the Secret Wars event that Marvel is currently doing, so it’s a departure from the storylines we’ve previously been following with Carol Danvers/Captain Marvel.  That’s not to say there aren’t a few familiar faces.  Helen Cobb is a member of the Banshee Squadron and we also see Carol’s tenacious and adorable side-kick Kit, all grown up as the Thor of Hala Field.

With the multiverse destroyed, all that was left was Battleworld, which is ruled by Victor Von Doom.  Doom is more or less seen as the god of their world and in typical Doom fashion, he’s taking credit for everything.  The sky, the sun, the moon, even Captain Marvel herself is a “Gift from Doom.” From what we see in this issue, both the Thor Corps and the Carol Corps are directed by Doom and his minions.  They are expected to carry out his will unquestioningly.

Also, science is blasphemy.

Which I kind of loved, since we even have people in the real world that believe that sort of thing.

But of course, one of Carol’s companions, Bee, gets her research on anyway.  She questions Doom’s teachings and though all her other squadron mates know about it, Carol only discovers it in this issue.  Carol sees the logic in Bee’s argument that something is amiss, and when they are sent out on their next mission by Baroness Cochran, she decides to investigate further.

Investigating further happens to mean that she ends up diving for a ship as it’s blowing up, as we may have come to expect from Captain Marvel.  That is something I really liked about this issue, that even in this world, it’s very clear that Carol is still Carol.  She’s still going to follow her moral compass, even if it puts her at great risk. She’s always been the self sacrificing sort and that’s no different in this new series.

For a moment, we’re left to question whether or not Carol made it out, but of course she did.  She’s also saved the life of one of the men on the ship her squadron blew up, and based on his look, I’m sort of hoping it’s James “Rhodey” Rhodes.

There were a lot of military tones to this, which is something we know Carol has a background in because of her Air Force days and have seen hints at it before, but here, we see Carol totally in that element.  I thought that was very cool, and you can tell that the authors have a familiarity with the subject matter and how things run for a group like Banshee Squadron aka “The Carol Corps”. DeConnick has done something similar in past issues of Captain Marvel, when Carol time traveled and met the original Banshee Squadron in World War II.  It was awesome to see the past team, but it’s even more awesome to see Carol leading her own team.  I also liked that each Carol Corps member is distinct and has her own sense of style.

I love the art style that Lopez has for this band of ladies.  Sometimes in comics women can look a lot alike, and therefore can be hard to distinguish.  In this comic, each of the characters has a very different look to them, so it’s easy to tell which character is which.

The panels with targeting systems were also very cool, since it gives us a really good indication where Carol as she is flying with her Squadron.  Something I haven’t really seen elsewhere in a comic, recently.  It was a very nice touch.

I also like this because there’s diversity on Carol’s team, just like there are in the real world Carol Corps (Meaning the fans).  My personal favorite from the Corps was “Maggie ‘Mackie’ McMorrow, Call Sign: Big Mack” because I see a bit of myself in her, at least in appearance.  But the fact of the matter is, having several ladies, all who look different and possess different personalities, leaves a lot of room for representation and characters for female readers to identify with.  Not saying dudes can’t identify with ladies, they totally can, but it tends to be lady representation that lacks when it comes to gender.

Over all, I really liked this comic and I’m excited to see where things lead from here.  It’s the first title I’ve read that falls under the Secret Wars hub, and that actually makes me excited to see what other people are doing on other Secret Wars titles.

Capturing the Muse: Writing for the uninspired


When I first started writing, I thought I had to be “in the zone” for my work to be truly good.  The muse had to be talking to me and the words had to flow from my fingers like water in a stream in spring.  Now, don’t get me wrong, when things flow it feels amazing, but if you wait for the muse there is a good chance you could be waiting a while.  My perspective on this didn’t change on its own, but thankfully I found something that helped me realize why waiting for the muse was a bit futile.

I went to a writing workshop and the teacher recommended the book “The War of Art” by Robert Pressfield.  In his book, Pressfield talks about how the professional shows up for work and does their work.  Even though we as writers often think of ourselves as artists or creative minds, we still need to treat writing or creating like a job, if we expect to make money off it.  Don’t get me wrong, I know people who can’t wait to write, who spend their day fully inspired and mill out thousands upon thousands of words a day and make it look very easy.

I am not one of those people.  I have to fight to make myself sit down and do my work.  I have to fight my mind to stay away from all the distractions of the world.  But I’m good at getting organized and keeping to a schedule when I’m committed.

So now, every Monday I make a list of my goals for the week.  I also know what I need to get accomplished by Friday, and I know when I’m going to work.  I’m lucky enough to be able to commit myself full time to writing, but if you’re working another job while you try to build a writing career, it’s still important to set goals and set aside time to get your “work” done.  Even if it’s just a half hour a day, that half hour will get closer each week to where you want to be.

So don’t wait for the muse.  Get to that desk, kitchen table, notebook at the library, and do your writing.  If you do it regularly and show up, you’ll be surprised how often the muse decides to join you.  When you’re regular, she’s more likely to be as well.

And go back and read work you wrote when you weren’t necessarily “in the zone,”  there’s a good chance it’s just as good as when things are flowing.  The zone really is just perception.

So get out there, and keep writing.  Muse be damned.

photo credit: _______ ____ _ via photopin (license)

Denver Comic Con, Part 1: The Panels

I’m home from Denver Comic Con!  And now it’s time to share with you what awesome things happened and what I learned.

Even though this post is about panels, here’s one of the awesome cosplay shots I got from the convention:

Credit to dashboardmessages.blogspot.com for taking this great photo!

So I got brave and I took business cards.  I only handed out three, but hey, it was more than I’ve done in the past so I’m counting it as a win.  I met some of my favorite creators and I cosplayed.  All in all it was just a great experience.

I attended quite a few panels this time:

– WOMEN IN COMICS NOW!

WITH ACTUAL WOMEN!! So this was a flash panel put together in 24hrs, and presented on Monday.  It was done in response to a panel done on Saturday that was called “Women in Comics” and only involved men, none of which were actual comic creators.  I’ve seen a few people go “Well, one of them was a professor and he was recounting comic history which he’s an expert in.” but TRINA ROBBINS was upstairs and literally she is a comics historian who is THE expert on women in comics and a comic creator.  All they had to do was walk upstairs and ask her to appear.

Instead, they apparently did a lot of mansplaining.

But the panel with the actual women was fantastic. It featured Trina, Amanda Conner, Joelle Jones, Marguerite Bennett, Hannah Means-Shannon of Bleeding Cool and two more women who sadly I did not write their names down, but were awesome!   Crystal Skillman put the whole thing together and I am so glad she did.

They talked about how “What’s it like being a woman in comics” is a level 101 question and how they wish people that interview them would dig deeper.  I can’t relate on a creator level, but I can relate to the fact that I am exhausted with being asked why I like geeky things, or treated like I must be new to them.  Nah, I’ve been here.  Even if I hadn’t been, you don’t get to gate keep me.  Marguerite was absolutely inspiring to me more than once.  I’m sort of new to her work, but she talked about how sometimes she writes from a place of revenge, or to give girls a role-model or a hero.

She also mentioned a time when she went to a writing summit and was the only woman among 29 men, and how that felt, and how she didn’t want her nieces and the little girls she knew to have to go through that.  It resonated with me so much, because it is very much in line with what I’ve felt about the work I want to do in this world.

Trina Robbins was amazing.  You could feel her fire and her fury and it was also very inspiring.

Amanda Conner has also convinced me to check out Harley Quinn again, because she spoke about how the new comic is about more than her being just “Joker’s Girlfriend.”  I’m a HUGE Harley fan, but in recent years, I got a bit frustrated about her being defined by the men in her life, and it was nice to hear that it sounds like she has gotten away from that.  I can’t wait to pick up the series.

– Women in the Geek Industry

I felt like though I had heard the message before “Don’t wait for permission.  Just do it.”  They also talked about dealing with hate on the internet and that you just have to put yourself out there, while being authentic and passionate.  They also re-iterated a sentiment I’ve seen from many female creators, which was find your girls and hold onto them.

– Kieron Gillen

I got to listen to Kieron talk about his work, both upcoming and in the past.  It was so great to here him talk about Phonogram, which has a dear place in my heart.  He was also asked about the diversity in his comics, and he talked about how he wanted comics to reflect what he saw in his life.  I thought that was such a good way to communicate how it is simple to include diversity and it shouldn’t just be seen as a checklist.  I also got my books signed by him the day before and he showed me his lunch, which just made me giggle up a storm.  I greatly admire his work and I’m so glad he was so kind.

– En Garde: Writing Action  

This was a very good panel that talked about how fights work, and Jim Butcher broke them down to the simplest formula: Stimuli-> Response.  Stimuli -> Response.  He also said something to the effect of writing an action scene is like lifting the engine block of a car, simple but simple should not be confused with easy.  AND one of the greatest things I got out of this was it’s easier to beef up something you’ve written lean, than it is to take away from something you’ve written thick.

– Indie Comic Creators

This panel was 3 creators that were local to Colorado, and they discussed their process and such.  Mostly I wished I lived closer to Denver to talk face to face with more artists, but they also recommended some places online to network.

– Beyond Bechdel: Queer Femmes and Women in Comics

They talked about the importance of representation and how we’re getting a lot more good representation of in comics of late.  They also talked about how sometimes a character gets coded as queer (like Black Widow) but there really isn’t any good indication that this is for a fact true, or in any way really represented in the comics.  I also liked when they touched on what is and isn’t objectifying and how we “know it when we see it.”

– Developing Systems of Magic

Jim Butcher was supposed to be on this panel, but he didn’t make it.  The other three authors were good, but since I wasn’t familiar with their work and they primarily used it as an example, it was somewhat hard to grasp some of what they were speaking off.  I did like this: “The ability to solve problems with magic should be proportional to the reader’s understanding of magic.”  The Q&A of the session also became “I’m writing a novel and I don’t know how to make this magic work” over and over again, which was a little frustrating, because I don’t feel like you should be asking published writers to do your footwork for you.

All in all, I was really pleased with all the programming I was able to attend.  We cosplayed in the mornings, and I still feel like I got so much out of the stuff I checked out.  I also liked that it had a definite comic and writing focus, which was sort of lacking at Salt Lake Comic Con.  SLCC does have writing panels, but it doesn’t seem like they’ve gone out of their way to get current creators of comics at their show.  I’m hopeful that 2015 might be different, but I’m definitely hoping we can make it out to Denver Comic Con next year.  Who knows, maybe at that point I’ll have enough created to have a table of my own.

Teeth, Nails and Pain

This piece was originally published in the anthology “Strangely Ever After” by the Pacific Review.  It was filled with lovely stories and art about fairy tales that did not quite end happily ever after.


Teeth, Nails and Pain

By Aubrey Lyn Jeppson

I knew he was a wolf when I met him. The hunger in his eyes was evident, the gleam of his sharp teeth should have frightened me, but it did not. It drew me in, and even though I had heard a thousand times that those teeth would tear me to bits, I ignored it.

I wanted the adventure and the danger, and I thought I could teach him how to be a man. If I was kind enough, sweet enough, gentle enough, surely he would not simply want to devour me like he had all the other girls.

At first I thought I had been successful, that I had tamed the wolf. He was sweet, protective, and careful not to cut my delicate flesh with his sharp claws.

When other predators would vie for my attention he would stare them down, a low threatening growl coming from his throat. And they would run. Oh how they would run. I saw this as a testament of the wolf’s love for me, that he would keep me so safe from those that might take me away from him.

His true nature took months to reappear and even then it crept back like a slow crawling vine, starting at my ankles and then twisting upwards, winding around me. I loved him then, a foolish devotion. I tried to love him more, to be more obedient, to bend to his devious ways in a hope that I could again change his nature.

He no longer meant to protect me, but keep me as his territory, his possession. I did not realize that the wolf had succeeded in what he had intended all along, he had captured his prey, and caged me, by convincing me to walk willing into his trap.

I tried to escape, to claw my way free of the bars he had put around me. To slip between those bars and find my way out of them. There were times I nearly found my freedom and then I would hear his whispers. Pleas of love and devotion and dedication. Threats that no one would want a girl who had been caged, no one would want a girl who loved wolves. Words that would twist my insides until I locked myself inside again.

The color seeped from my cheeks, the light in my eyes began to dim. My cloak which had once been the fiercest red was now grey and tattered. At first I did not noticed my own transformation, just the loss of what I had once been. Though the cage he had coaxed me into took my vibrancy, it reminded me of what was left behind it. Teeth, nails and pain.

My teeth had grown sharp, and my nails looked more like claws, and the pain gave me reason to use them both. Though others had likely died in the cage, or lost their way…I had become a wolf. I had become like him, and I knew that was how I would escape this cage.

This time I did not slid between the bars, my escape was not some quiet, meek act. I held the lock of the cage in my hands, and crushed it between my palms. Even if his words swayed me, I could not again be held within that prison. And the words did come.

At first tender, loving words. Promises that we would be together forever, and face the world as wolves at each others side. And then the low growl of anger, of possession. The reminder that no one would love the wolf I had become, no one could care for the thing he had created.

He was mistaken about that. Not that no one could love what he had created, but that his hands hand been the ones to transform me into a wolf. I had been a wolf all along, somewhere deep inside. When I had required the strength, the teeth, the nails, and had the pain to feed that predator within, it was made manifest. Before he could continue his tirade, his pleading, I acted on instinct.

I gobbled him up.

Perhaps little girls should not fear the forest or the wolves at all, for pain can transform them into something just as deadly.


You can find “Strangely Ever After” available for purchase here:

http://www.amazon.com/Strangely-Ever-After-pacificREVIEW-2014/dp/1938537041