Production Schedules (Oh the Horror!)

Confession: I am absolutely terrible at time management. (Ok, maybe that’s not fair. I’m actually excellent at making plans and schedules, I just don’t follow them. 😉 ) But with a hefty helping of To-Do List on my plate, I realized it’s become essential that I learn how to manage my time more effectively. So maybe it was synchronicity that conveniently filled my inbox with blog posts about productivity and schedules last week. (Did I miss a memo about the approved topic of the week or something? Seriously, everyone was talking about it!) And since I’m not one to let a trend pass me by, I figured why not jump on the bandwagon. Even if I am a week late.

Below is a sampling of posts from that influx. I recommend you read them, since those people are much more adept at time management than I. But if you prefer to flail around with someone as clueless as yourself, you’re in the right place. Obviously, I’m the first to admit my short-comings in the scheduling department, and if you spend any time lurking around the literary blogosphere, then you know as well as I do that success in publishing goes hand-in-hand with being prolific. The problem is, it’s hard to be prolific when you don’t have time to write, isn’t it?

Enter the experts.

Every post I’ve ever read on productivity, time management or production schedules says the same things. Identify your writing time, whether that be early in the morning or late at night, on a commute to work or in short bursts throughout the day. Set a goal, typically suggested to be word count, but you’ll also see page count, or even scene. Put your butt in the chair and work. Seems so simple, doesn’t it? Thank you, Captain Obvious. Which is why I’ve generally lumped this advice into the same category as that touting weight loss results– eat less, exercise more and you too can look like Kim Kardashian! (Yeah, right. Like anyone believes that crock of poo.) But both these strategies can actually be true. (Except for maybe the Kardashian part. I’ve tried those Raspberry Ketones, and my butt still doesn’t fit into size zero jeans. You lie Ms. Kardashian, you lie!) The reason we doubt and whine and fight against it, saying that it can’t possibly be that easy, is because for many of us, it requires sacrifice. And we’re just not ready to commit to that yet.

I’m no different. I say I want to lose weight; that I want to write more. But the truth is, doing either requires giving up things I just don’t want to, like sleep, food or (God forbid!) TV. And since I’m not willing to sacrifice those things, guess what? I still haven’t finished even one novel, let alone the hundreds of others waiting for attention. I still haven’t lost any weight. And I still feel frustrated by my lack of progress. Sound familiar?

The post below by Dean Wesley Smith offers some particularly brutal truths, like how I actually fit into the category of “wanna-be writer” at the moment. Ouch. I don’t see myself that way, but against his measurements of success, I suppose he’s right. And that’s unacceptable. I refuse to be a wanna-be! There’s nothing I loathe more than being told I’m not good enough to do something. So thanks for the kick in the derrière, Mr. Smith. I accept your challenge. And I will prove you wrong. Who’s with me?

Over the next week, let’s take the advice listed in the blogs below. Let’s follow these simple steps, (even if they are a bitter pill to swallow), and let’s learn effective time management/production schedules together.

To being prolific! **Raises imaginary glass**

The Infamous Steps:

     

  1. Identify any spare time you can devote to writing and writing only. (If you’re math savvy, Mr. Smith’s post has an excellent formula that seems like it would work. Not being math savvy myself, it just made my head hurt. I already knew where my potential writing time was though, so I still did my homework. 😉 )
  2. Commit to becoming prolific. Meaning, take your writing seriously. If you start treating it like a profession instead of a hobby, eventually it will be. (This may mean the dreaded step of sacrificing something else you hold dear. In my case, sleep.)
  3. Set attainable goals. Decide what you work best with, be it word counts, page counts or finishing scenes/chapters per session. The trick is to set a goal that is actually attainable. I learned a tenet in the martial arts that I tend to apply (or try to, at least) to everything in life. “Do not be overly ambitious.” This is the perfect application of that. It’s easy to feel all gung-ho at the start of something, but we’re trying to establish a routine that will translate into long-lasting success. So start small. Set your goal within easy reach. You can always increase it later. (My goal is to start getting up at the dreaded 5 AM one day a week. That will give me two hours of dedicated writing time I didn’t have before, but isn’t quite as scary as committing to being awake before the sun on a daily basis.)
  4. Show up and do the work. Whatever schedule you’ve chosen will only be effective if you actually use it. So set aside any fears or doubts that you won’t be able to constrain your muse to a rigid schedule (honestly, I have quite a lot of reservations to that affect), unplug the internet so you won’t be tempted to waste your precious writing time on Facebook, Pinterest or Email, and write. Some days you might exceed your goal ten-fold; other days you might only get a few words out. But every step brings you closer to the ultimate finish line of being a successful, prolific writer. (And proving Mr. Smith wrong.)

Link Round-Up:

 
5 Quick Tips to Writing More by Kathy Steffen of The How to Write Shop

Productivity by Zoe Winters

Being Prolific by David Farland of David Farland’s Kick in the Pants

How to Write More and Create a Daily Writing Habit by Joanna Penn of The Creative Penn

The New World of Publishing: How to Keep Production Going All Year by Dean Wesley Smith

Two Steps Closer Giveaway

If you’ve ever considered self-publishing, then you know the two most expensive things you should invest in, (according to all the self-publishing gurus out there), are editing and cover design. But what if you don’t have the funds?

Or maybe you’re thinking of pursuing traditional publication, and would like to have an editor’s opinion on whether or not your manuscript’s ready. Do you really want to pay a freelance editor’s wage for that?

Maybe you’ve already had your book torn apart and pieced back together by a professional and you’re just missing the cover to complete the package.

Whatever your circumstance, listen up.

The folks over at REUTS Publications are generously donating their time to two lucky winners. One will win a full-scale editorial critique from Editor Kisa Whipkey. (Hey look! It’s me! :P) The other will win a custom, print-ready cover design by Creative Director Ashley Ruggirello. And the best part is, there are no strings attached. You get professional-grade services without the contract.

All you need to enter is a Facebook account and a finished manuscript. Sounds like a fantastic opportunity, no? For more information on how to enter, click here.

The giveaway runs until midnight on March 25th, 2013. Don’t miss out! Let the REUTS team help you get “Two Steps Closer” to publication.

Designed by REUTS Creative Director Ashley Ruggirello, 2013

Designed by REUTS Creative Director Ashley Ruggirello, 2013

Motivation (Or the Lack Thereof)

Writing requires two things to flow smoothly– inspiration and motivation. I’ve already ranted about the fickle nature of inspiration here, so today, it’s motivation’s turn.

We’ve all had those weeks where it feels like we’re carrying around 500 pounds of iron. Where even breathing is too much work, and the lure of creativity pales to that of our bed or TV. But life can’t just stop, can it? No matter how much we don’t want to deal with anything, wishing to bury our heads in the proverbial sand, we have to suck it up and carry on. And while that attitude can get you through the dreary act of day-to-day chores, (barely), it’s as good as cyanide to your muse.

Muses are easily chased away by anything from stress, to illness, to exhaustion. That perfect combination of inspiration and motivation? It only strikes like a lightning bolt in a blue moon. If you wait for it, you might get a whopping 3 days a year to write, and they’ll land on days when you don’t have more than two seconds to yourself. Guaranteed. So what do you do instead? What do you do when motivation leaves your sails deflated and your muse MIA?

Just like inspiration can be tricked into making a reappearance, you can kick-start motivation. Everyone has their own methods, but here are some of mine. Feel free to give them a try if you’re suffering a bout of motivation-less blahs like I am.

  • Read:  I find reading relaxing, so whenever my muse decides to take a vacation without me, I turn to books. Reading puts me back in the literary frame of mind, and nothing is more inspiring than reading someone else’s brilliance. You never know, maybe some of that brilliance will rub off on you like the dust from a butterfly’s wings.
  • Listen to music: Music is such an integral part of my storytelling process that it’s no surprise this is on the list. Since it’s the root of all my inspiration, spending some quality time surrounded by the songs tied to my works-in-progress can jump-start my inner projector and get things back on track. So if you don’t already use music as the excellent source of motivation it is, try creating a playlist of songs that evoke your story in some way, either the emotional content, the visuals, or the overall tone, and see if your muse will decide to come dance in the melodic rain for you.
  • Watch TV/Go to the movies: Storytelling is storytelling, and sometimes just being immersed in it can be enough to rekindle the sparks of motivation. (Yep, I just gave you license to be a couch-potato. You’re welcome. 😉 )
  • Chat with your critique partner: No matter how lame I’m feeling, a critique buddy can instantly get me fired back up. Plus, I really hate to let people down, so my sense of guilt for being a slacker can sometimes be enough to spur me back into action. If you have a critique partner, you already know there’s nothing better for motivation than commiserating with a fellow writer. If you don’t have a critique partner, find one. It’s amazing what having a little accountability can do.
  • Work on something easier: I find blogging to be exceedingly easy compared to fiction. (Although this week has been like pulling teeth, so maybe this theory is a bust.) Anything that uses what I call “Essay Voice” doesn’t require as much thought for me. So I use it to get the words flowing. If fiction has come to a grinding halt for you, try working on something else. Either something that has fewer expectations of greatness because you’re less invested in it, or something that uses a less formal voice. Even Tweets and Facebook can count. Sometimes. Just don’t let your social-media addiction derail any motivational value you might get from them.
  • Deal with the To-Do list: I’ve found that I can’t write a darned thing when my To-Do list is as high as Mount Everest. So when my internal stress alerts start to sound like a bomb about to explode,  I take a deep breath, set aside any thoughts of writing and tackle that list one step at a time. Eventually, I get to the end and am able to write burden free.Distraction is a writer’s worst enemy, so whether you’re worried about finances, your house needs a thorough bath or your DVR is about to overflow and erase all your favorite shows, (No? That last one’s just me? Awesome), face the demon. Take the time you need to deal with that particular set of worries. Balance your checkbook; figure out where all your money is going and how to stop bleeding green. Clean your house. Watch those shows. (I really want you to be a couch potato, don’t I?) Do whatever you have to in order to clear your head. Then, get back to writing when motivation isn’t being buried beneath six feet of stress.
  • Take a nap/bath/shower: Creativity is akin to dreaming in many ways, so doing things that promote that state of mind always helps. For me, those activities are sleep (which is also beneficial if you’re a walking zombie and can’t even function, let alone write), or anything related to the shower. Don’t ask me why the combination of hot water and bubbles cues up the movies in my head, but I swear, the shower is the best place for me to write. If only they made waterproof laptops I could install in the tile wall. Point is, whatever location is most conducive to your imagination, go there. Maybe it will trigger something.
  • Force it: This rarely works for me, as evidenced by the somewhat lackluster drivel of this post, but for some people, it’s the only answer. If I try to force it, kicking and screaming like a kid about to go to the doctor for a shot, I spend the whole day staring at a blinking cursor and end up with four sentences I delete later anyway. So this is a last resort kind of thing for me. But maybe you’re the kind of person that can grit your teeth and force your muse to play like a bully forcing an unlucky victim into a locker. If you can, then more power to you. My muse is too fragile for that kind of brutality. It would leave me forever if I tried that approach.
  • Give up and wait for the blahs to pass: Sometimes you really just need a day off. I’m an admitted workaholic, so I take a true day off once every 3-4 months. (A “true day off ” meaning that I plunk my butt on the couch and watch as much TV as I can in a single day.  See?  You wouldn’t be alone in couch potato-land. Come join me; it’s fun!) And I immediately feel guilty for it. But sometimes you really just need to recharge the batteries. Our beloved phones can’t run on empty, so why should we? Remind yourself it’s OK to be a slacker every now and then and give yourself a break. The blahs will pass once your battery hits full and motivation will return with a vengeance.

Now, it’s your turn. What are your strategies for jump-starting motivation? Maybe you have some nifty tricks up your sleeve that I haven’t tried yet. And I could really use an ace right about now. So feel free to share in the comments below. Help a brotha out, or something like that. I guess technically it’d be sista, but whatever, you know what I mean. 😉

Divorce Your Words; Save Your Story

Revision. For many writers, I may as well have said Root Canal. They dread it like they do a jury duty summons. They know it’s necessary but hate every second of it.

I’m not one of those writers. Revision is actually my favorite part. There’s something so satisfying in tearing apart a story to reassemble it in a better version, polishing and cutting and rearranging it like pieces in a puzzle until everything finally clicks. I don’t fear the delete button, I wield it proudly. That 6 page scene I slaved over for three weeks still isn’t working? Buh-bye! Two-thirds of my story is riddled with plot-holes, superficial characters and overall stinkage? Adiós! The word count is too high for the magazine I want to submit to? No problem, let me grab my scalpel.

How am I able to freely chop my manuscripts into little mutilated bits? I don’t marry my words. Maybe that’s a perk of writing like a film director. I don’t see words on a page, I see the scenes themselves. The words are just a way for me to communicate those scenes to my audience. They’re my camera. So when what I’m trying to convey gets lost in translation, I have no problem chucking them and trying again.

I know, I’m extreme. Cutting an entire section is most writer’s worst nightmare. But sometimes, that’s exactly what needs to happen in order to save your story. Sometimes, you have to strip it down to it’s bare bones before you can build it back up. Sometimes, you have to hit delete.

Similar to “kill your darlings,” which tells us our favorite phrases are also the cancer of our manuscript and should be instantly removed, you have to divorce your words before you can successfully revise. Easier said than done, right? I know how hard it is for some of you to disconnect from those precious patterns of words and beautiful phrases, to see past the letters to the plot itself. Which is why I decided to write this post. I’m going to teach you my method of revision in the hopes that it helps some of you become less afraid of the process. :)

Step 1: Remove the Rose-Colored Glasses of Creation

Let’s face it, when we’re wrapped up in a love affair with our muse, we think everything we write is brilliant. There are days when we know it isn’t, because we’re having a lover’s spat with the fickle biatch, but deep down, we still think our manuscript can do no wrong. Everything is tinged with the rosy glow of creation.

You’ve heard of the runner’s high, yes? The rush of endorphins that provides runners with a euphoric moment in paradise? Well, I believe creative people feel a similar burst of euphoric pride, a creator’s high if you will, that prevents us from seeing our work the way the rest of the world will. So the first step in my revision process is to disconnect from the piece. Set whatever you’re working on aside and wait for the creator’s high to wear off. This can take anywhere from a day, to a couple weeks. But once you’re no longer creatively invested in the piece, you’ll be able to see it through the harsh lens of reality and objectively assess it.

Step 2: Strip to the Bare-Bones

Once our judgement is no longer clouded, we can easily spot flaws, the scenes that just aren’t quite right, the wonky phrasing, the plot holes. Don’t get discouraged though, that’s exactly what we want. Because now you’re in editing mode. One of an editor’s jobs is to see past the words to the skeleton beneath. So that’s exactly what step 2 is about.

Read your manuscript again, ignoring the small things, the weird word choices, the rocky sentences, the missing punctuation, and focus on the scenes themselves, the flow of the story. (Click here if you need an explanation on what I consider “flow.”) Channel your inner film director and watch your story unfold in your mind. Kind of like one of those computer generated posters that contained a 3-D image if you crossed your eyes and stared long enough, (Yep, fads from the ’90′s for the win!), the words should fall away and you should be left with just the visuals they contained.

Those visuals are what I consider the skeleton of a piece, the bare bones. Once you have stripped away all the clothing, fat and useless fluff that masks the underlying architecture, you can analyze that skeleton, looking for cracks and weaknesses and in some extreme places, breaks. Much like a doctor examines x-rays, devising a strategy to repair the damage, an editor uses the bare bones of a story to identify and repair problems with the overall flow and structure. Which brings us to step 3.

Step 3: Divorce Your Words

This is where a lot of you are likely to rebel, because it’s where you’ll move from simply identifying the issues to becoming the surgeon that fixes them. And that’s a transition a lot of you might not like. (Warning, it involves heavy use of the delete button.)

Keeping the visuals from step 2 in mind, read your manuscript again. This time, compare what you’re reading to what’s in your head. Do they match? Do the words accurately convey the emotional content, the action, the details of the scene? If not, can it be fixed with a few minor tweaks or smoothing? (Not all editing has to be dramatic, after all.) Sometimes it just takes a minute shift of a single word or phrase to make everything perfect. But if the gap between the scene as you imagine it and what’s on the page is as large as the grand canyon, then you’ll have to do something more drastic– rewrite.

This is what it means to divorce your words. Highlight the trouble passage and say, “sayonara!” No alimony, no visitation, just rip it off like a band-aid and hit delete. (If that terrifies you, you can cheat slightly and copy/paste the original passage into a different file. That way you still have it if you don’t like the new version. But trust me, you’ll never need that safety net.)

Now that you have a blank slate, picture the scene as clearly as you can and try to recapture it. You’ll be surprised how often the second, (or third, or fourty-fifth), attempt is dramatically improved over the original. My theory is that the original acts as a dry-run. In film, they’d call it blocking in the scene. It’s essentially a rough draft placeholder meant to provide guidance for the real thing in terms of lighting, mood, choreography, etc. It helps the director organize their thoughts so that when the time comes to film it for real, it’s smooth sailing. Plus it’s cheaper to work out the kinks without the actual actors.

A similar thing happens when you rewrite. Rather than try and force the original to behave, you are free to start over. But because you’ve already practiced, it’s easier to write this time, and the result is a closer translation of the scene in your head.

That’s really all there is to it. Three simple steps that can take you from laboriously beating a broken carcass of letters into a semblance of what you hoped for to a liberating experience that gets you closer to your original goal. This method might not be for everyone, and that’s quite OK. But if you find yourself dreading the revision process like you would going to the dentist for that root canal, give it a try. Kick your words to the curb and you might just save your sanity as well as your story.