Ready, Set, Write

As I blogged yesterday, today marks the start of this year’s December Writing Challenge, so wipe down your computer screens, sharpen your pencils, and ink those fancy fountain pens. It’s time to get to work.

Whether you are just starting out as a writer and find the idea of writing daily overwhelming, or you have a long-established writing habit and would just like a little added encouragement during this busy season, this challenge is for you. The goal, as stated in my previous post, is to write every day, even if just a little bit. Work on that novel you have in progress or start something brand new. Juggle a few things or focus all your attention on one. Yes, revising counts, though you should make sure that revision time includes some writing of new text and not just crossing out things that aren’t working. The goal is to write.

So, a few tips to get you started:

  • Schedule your writing time ahead if at all possible. Make a date with yourself and put it on the calendar. That way you won’t be washing the dinner dishes and bemoaning the fact that you still need to write.
  • Have at least one backup project to work on. That way if you’re truly stuck on your main writing project one day, you can switch over and get some words in on your other idea rather than not write at all that day.
  • If you have a really hectic day, try breaking up your writing time into a couple of smaller sessions.
  • Tell your friends and family what you’re doing, so they understand that there will be a window of time each day when you really can’t be disturbed unless it’s an emergency. Added bonus: this helps train them for the new year, when you have your daily writing habit established.

Now, a brief word on writing every day. No, it’s not necessary to write every day in order to be a writer. Plenty of writers are successful writing less frequently. But a regular writing habit of any sort is like any other exercise — you’re training your muscles (in this case your brain) to perform on demand. So taking this challenge doesn’t mean you have to write every day for the rest of your career. But it will help warm up that creative muscle of yours and keep you moving forward during a month when it’s easy to let your own needs fall by the wayside. And who knows? You may like what you come up with when you write every day.

Good luck, and happy writing!

December Writing Challenge: 2016

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It’s the last day of November, and the last day of NaNoWriMo for those of you participating. But whether you’ve just finished up tackling 50,000 words in 30 days, you’re falling short of the mark, or you think the idea of trying to churn out that many words in a single month is insane, I have a new challenge for you. Or rather an annual challenge. Tomorrow is the first day of December, and with it comes my December Writing Challenge.

For those of you unfamiliar, the December Writing Challenge is designed to help you keep up your good writing habits through what is arguably the busiest month of the year. With all the holidays, the year-end wrap ups at work, and planning for the year ahead, writing efforts often get short changed. This becomes especially problematic for anyone who has resolutions for the new year that have to do with their writing — writing more, better, finishing a project, getting an agent, etc. Bad habits formed in December take a little bit of time to correct in January, and so writers end up starting off the year on the wrong foot.

The December Writing Challenge aims to help you maintain (or even build) good writing momentum now, at the close of the old year, so you can start the new year off with a bang. It helps you keep writing even if you can only steal a little bit of time. Only you can decide if writing is a real priority in your life, and this challenge can also help you determine how much you want this life.

The challenge is simple: Write every day during the month of December.

  • You can be working on a novel, revising something, tinkering with some short stories, writing personal essays for periodicals, putting together a proposal for a new project… whatever. You can work on one thing or many things.
  • You can write for as little as 15 minutes on a really busy day, though I’d ask you to aim for at least 30, even if you have to break it up into chunks.
  • Because I know this time of year is crazy, you can give yourself up to two days off during the month. You choose the days. Maybe Christmas Eve and Christmas Day. Maybe New Year’s Eve. Maybe the day your family all arrives to stay with you. But plan ahead and keep in mind that the goal is to take no more than two days off.

That’s the challenge. No difficult rules to track, no weird stunts to pull. Just write, every day, over the course of the month. Give yourself some quiet time to get those words on paper or pixels on screen. Make writing a priority. Let your family know this is nonnegotiable. Keep your head in the game.

I’ll be posting prompts and pep talks periodically throughout the month to help you keep at it, but ultimately the choice is yours. You can do it. Happy writing!

Writing Goals: The Slide to 2017

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We are rapidly heading into the last third of the year, so today is an excellent time to take a few minutes to assess your writing goals and progress for 2016 and to determine just what you’d like to accomplish in these last four months. Whether September represents autumn to you or heading back to school or something else entirely, there’s no denying that it kicks off a busy time of the year, when everything seems to ramp up and it’s a race to get things done before the holidays hit. Every year I know that, once Labor Day weekend arrives, it feels like just a short hop to New Year’s Eve. So I plan. Ruthlessly.

At some point today or tomorrow, dig out that calendar or spreadsheet or list that you used to set your writing goals for 2016. Is there anything you can check off? Anything that no longer seems pertinent to your big picture plans? What progress have you made on longer term goals? Is there something that’s fallen by the wayside you’d like to revisit? It should only take a few minutes to glance through your goals and figure out where you stand.

Now, please don’t beat yourself up if things aren’t going according to schedule. Goal-making should be motivating and inspirational, not send you into a funk. Be reasonable about your efforts and what life has thrown your way, and be honest about whether or not you’ve done the best you can. If you can step things up a little, great. Set that as one of your goals in the coming months. If you’ve been overwhelmed with responsibilities and life’s curve balls, accept that sometimes things happen that force you to take a longer route to your goals, and cut yourself a little slack. Celebrate your successes, then see how you can refocus in the future.

Also, keep in mind that like most things in life, a writing career is not all forward momentum. There will be weeks when you make great leaps in progress and others when it feels like you’re stagnating or even going backwards. Published writers still receive rejection letters. Prize winning authors still write less-than-brilliant books. Not every idea sparkles on the page.

But if you don’t have any idea where you’d like to go, it’s much harder to get there. So once you’ve figured out where you are, take a look around and set yourself a direction. What would you like to get done before January? What’s realistic? What requires a bit of a stretch? How much of this is in your control? Remember to set yourself goals and then determine what steps you need to take to achieve them. You want measurable, actionable things on your list, so you know what to do when you get up in the morning.

Unless you’re starting absolutely from scratch, it shouldn’t take you much more than an hour or so to review your goals and spruce them up for the next four months. Then go write.

Brain Drain and the Writer

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Pretty much everyone experiences it once in a while. Call it burn out or fatigue or brain drain (my personal favorite), but you stop running long enough to sit in front of your keyboard and get some writing done and your mind just goes blank. No one home. No ideas, no energy, nothing but the sensation of your brain cells possibly liquifying and draining out through your ears — the origin of my preferred moniker for the situation.

Honestly? That’s me right now. My blogging has been a little sparse in recent weeks, and I feel the self-imposed pressure to come up with an informative, thoughtful post for all of you. Something that’s not a list of links or a general announcement or an embedded video of someone else’s ideas or experience. All of those are wonderful blog content, but I always aim to keep a percentage of posts my own original material and, well… not much of that going on at the moment. Because the instant I clicked on Add New Post (a good 40 minutes ago), I realized that my brain was not going to be cooperative this morning.

What causes brain drain? In my case, I’ve been on a reading jag for work — more so than usual — pushing through a lot of submissions and client material, some of which require editorial notes. I attended a conference, taught a webinar, tackled a whole bunch of behind-the-scenes contract/vendor/distribution details on a number of projects. It’s been brutally hot on and off for weeks and I’m sleeping badly as a result. And I won’t even go into the personal end of things. So, business as usual? Busy life as always? Yes, of course, but it does add up, and my brain has apparently decided I’ve hit the point of maximum density. Time to drain everything and start over. In other words, it’s telling me I need a little break.

Now, brain drain is not the same thing as writer’s block, though they certainly can overlap. But where writer’s block often signals that you need to get a better fix on where your story needs to go (or where it has been in those last pages you wrote), brain drain calls for a letting up — taking time away from the chaos and the hectic schedule to breathe and clear your head. Brain drain demands a day off or a long nap with the phone silenced or an honest-to-goodness vacation. It’s tempting to try to squeeze the life out of every moment of your day, especially for writers who often need to fight so hard just to find the time to focus on their current work in progress. But as important as it is to commit to your writing, it’s also important to maintain your health and well being so you can produce your best work. And sometimes that means giving yourself a break.

So the next time you find yourself staring at the blank page, ask when you last did something completely mindless. You may discover you’re overdue for an afternoon playing hooky or a long weekend at the beach.

Webinar Reminder: Conquer the Dreaded Synopsis

This is just a quick reminder for those of you interested in attending my Writer’s Digest webinar: Conquer the Dreaded Synopsis. The course takes place online tomorrow, August 2nd, at 1pm ET. You can sign up right until the class begins and still be eligible for the critique synopsis that’s available to anyone who registers ahead. Full details on the course and information about sign up can be found here. Hope to have some of you in class tomorrow!

Conquering that Dreaded Synopsis

If there is a constant in this career, it’s the sound of authors complaining over the need to write a synopsis of their work. Sadly, this task will remain with you if you continue to write for publication, as there is always another novel to pitch/sell and a strong synopsis is part of your sales kit. So I’m delighted to say I’ll once again be teaching my Writer’s Digest webinar on how to write a synopsis, on Tuesday, August 2nd, 20016, at 1pm ET.

Conquer the Dreaded Synopsis aims to help you break down this often-daunting project and get the job done. Over the course of the 90-minute live webinar, you’ll learn what your synopsis should include, how to coax those details out of your much-longer manuscript, and how to polish them up so you can show off your writing skills even while selling your story. The webinar includes time for Q&A, and after it is over, you’ll have time to apply what you’ve learned, writing or revising a synopsis that you can then send me for critique. Complete details are available at the Writer’s Digest site.

I realize not everyone can make a live webinar in the middle of the day, but keep in mind that attendees receive access to all the materials — audio and visual — for a year after the class date, and only those who register ahead will be able to submit their synopsis for comments. So if you’re struggling with your synopsis and would like some feedback, consider taking the class, even if you won’t be able to join in for the live broadcast. Either way, I hope to see some of you in class!

Goal Check: How’s Your Progress for 2016?

(c) Can Stock Photo/ Elwynn
(c) Can Stock Photo/ Elwynn

The mid-point of the year approaches, with July only ten days away, which makes it an excellent time to assess the goals you made for the year and see how things are coming along. So find your goal list, journal, computer file, or whatever you used at the start of 2016, and see where things stand.

If you’ve been following this blog, you’ve been checking in with your writing ambitions periodically all year, so you should have a pretty good sense of what you would like to achieve, what you have already accomplished, and what might need some tweaking based on life in general. That last one is an important one to remember. Your goals are your own, and only you know which are life-long ambitions set in stone, and which are things that feel more like stepping stones to other goals or perhaps even flights of fancy that struck you as interesting but may no longer work into your big picture. Your goals are malleable. Feel free to alter them if things have changed; add, subtract, change your priorities. Make your goal list work for you.

That doesn’t mean you should let a little frustration or discouragement chase you away from your dreams. Set backs happen, disappointment comes to everyone. Be honest with your assessment. What can you do differently? How can you approach things in a fresh or renewed way that might get you some forward movement with a particularly stubborn goal? Are you putting too much pressure or responsibility on yourself? Remember that sometimes you can only affect your own part of the equation, your efforts. The results might also hinge on someone else’s decisions or needs, so don’t beat yourself up if you’ve been doing your part and not seeing exactly the results you want. Just keep plugging away and have faith that your persistence will eventually get you where you want to go. And don’t forget to celebrate your successes! If you’ve checked off a goal, or made significant progress on something, give yourself a pat on the back in the form of a night out, a day off, a trip to the spa, or whatever will make you happy.

Don’t have a list of goals that you made for 2016? It’s never too late to start. Think about what you’d like to accomplish in the next six months regarding your writing, or any other aspect of your life, and set out some specific targets. Don’t just write down the goal, but add the system you need to put in place in order to achieve it. Want to write daily? Put reminders in your calendar. Have a deadline looming? Breakdown how much you need to write each week and make a point of checking on your progress as you go. It’s not enough to know what you want; you need to know the steps required to get there.

Whatever your goals — writing related, romantic, family-oriented, financial, or anything else — take a few moments to figure out where you are, and what you can do in the next half of 2016 to make your dreams come true. Wishing you luck and success in everything.