Tuesday, October 28, 2014

I'm a last born, which means I have a bit of a rebellious streak. I always like ideas best if I feel they aren't being forced on me by some authority figure. Who wants some bossy person breathing down your neck all the time?

Well, anyone who wants to get things accomplished. Having a rebellious streak not only gets you into scrapes with teachers, directors, managers, or other authorities, it also can keep you stuck in unproductive patterns.

Photo credit: vahiju from morguefile.com
Accountability to another party--not necessarily a bossy person, mind you--can keep you on track far more than going it alone. Why else would NaNoWriMo be such a popular program? Nothing is stopping you from picking any month you like, say January or July, to generate 50,000 words. What NaNo offers is a vast web of accountability, a mob of positive peer pressure to show up and do what you promised to show up and do.

Sadly, NaNo is only a month long. Some writers are able to maintain the relationships they develop then, others, shamed by failing to meet their goals, disengage.

I don't necessarily think we need more rigid programs to help with accountability, but I do believe all of us can benefit from having a someone or some group/team to whom we report about what we're up to.

Here are some ways to build an accountability structure.

Journal your progress

Sometimes you most need some visual reminder that you are showing up to write. When you hit a moment of self-loathing, you have a document you can hold in your hands to that proves you aren't actually a lazy slob. On days when you feel like you're spinning your wheels, you can see how far you've come and draw strength from it.

Roseanne Bane's Around the Writer's Block has some great advice about making commitments with yourself regarding process time (creative play) and product time (working on some aspect of research, drafting, revision, or marketing). As you mark your daily progress and see success with building a habit, she notes, the pleasure chemicals in your brain give you added reinforcement. You want to keep meeting goals and recording it. It feels great to succeed.

Seek social media accountability

I've found it helpful in distracted periods to declare my daily goal on Twitter, then check in again later in the day to report on my progress. Nothing like having your intentions exposed so publicly to make you eager to follow through.

Others use participate in "What's Up Wednesday" on their blogs to be accountable for progressing with projects (and to help them generate blog content and stay connected).


Have an accountability partner

A friend helped me get back into writing after years away by simply asking that I bring her pages each month when we met for coffee. She didn't care what I wrote, so long as I appeared with pages in hand. After a few meetings, I had the beginnings of a novel.

Participate in a writing group

A face-to-face group can be a great place to build accountability, either for you to produce work or to be developing your craft in some way. I participate in a group to which I bring up to two chapters per month for critique. Others in the group prefer to distribute whole drafts outside of meeting times, using meetings to simply report how they are progressing, and offer fellow writers critiques. The group meetings are often boisterous as we get excited about each other's works in progress and toss around creative ideas to overcome plot holes or other snags in the process.

Perhaps a looser group, such a "Write in" session at a local cafe or library might be all you need. Once again, NaNoWriMo has a forum to join or create such a group.


Find a mentor

Mentoring is like a more intimate teacher/student relationship, in which a less experienced person seeks the guidance of a more experience person. No matter where you are in the journey, you can benefit from this sort of relationship either as a mentor or a protege (this is the once widely-used term from someone who is mentored, before consultants invented the goofy word "mentee" that sounds like someone who belongs in an asylum).

A mentor might function more like an accountability partner with some wisdom for you, or more like a teacher/coach who doles out assignments, cheers you on, and gives you constructive feedback about what you're doing well and where you need to improve.

Professional associations like SCBWI for children's writers offer formal mentoring programs. Or you could seek out connections at places like Query Tracker forums, WANA Tribe (the acronym stands for "we are not alone"), Nathan Bransford's forums, or as I mentioned earlier, NaNoWriMo forums.

You might even have some potential mentor material in your own back yard. Connect with a local chapter of your genre's professional association, take a continuing education class, visit book signings. The perfect person to guide you might be closer than you realize.

Do you have accountability in your writing life? What avenues might you try to get it?
Tuesday, October 28, 2014 Laurel Garver
I'm a last born, which means I have a bit of a rebellious streak. I always like ideas best if I feel they aren't being forced on me by some authority figure. Who wants some bossy person breathing down your neck all the time?

Well, anyone who wants to get things accomplished. Having a rebellious streak not only gets you into scrapes with teachers, directors, managers, or other authorities, it also can keep you stuck in unproductive patterns.

Photo credit: vahiju from morguefile.com
Accountability to another party--not necessarily a bossy person, mind you--can keep you on track far more than going it alone. Why else would NaNoWriMo be such a popular program? Nothing is stopping you from picking any month you like, say January or July, to generate 50,000 words. What NaNo offers is a vast web of accountability, a mob of positive peer pressure to show up and do what you promised to show up and do.

Sadly, NaNo is only a month long. Some writers are able to maintain the relationships they develop then, others, shamed by failing to meet their goals, disengage.

I don't necessarily think we need more rigid programs to help with accountability, but I do believe all of us can benefit from having a someone or some group/team to whom we report about what we're up to.

Here are some ways to build an accountability structure.

Journal your progress

Sometimes you most need some visual reminder that you are showing up to write. When you hit a moment of self-loathing, you have a document you can hold in your hands to that proves you aren't actually a lazy slob. On days when you feel like you're spinning your wheels, you can see how far you've come and draw strength from it.

Roseanne Bane's Around the Writer's Block has some great advice about making commitments with yourself regarding process time (creative play) and product time (working on some aspect of research, drafting, revision, or marketing). As you mark your daily progress and see success with building a habit, she notes, the pleasure chemicals in your brain give you added reinforcement. You want to keep meeting goals and recording it. It feels great to succeed.

Seek social media accountability

I've found it helpful in distracted periods to declare my daily goal on Twitter, then check in again later in the day to report on my progress. Nothing like having your intentions exposed so publicly to make you eager to follow through.

Others use participate in "What's Up Wednesday" on their blogs to be accountable for progressing with projects (and to help them generate blog content and stay connected).


Have an accountability partner

A friend helped me get back into writing after years away by simply asking that I bring her pages each month when we met for coffee. She didn't care what I wrote, so long as I appeared with pages in hand. After a few meetings, I had the beginnings of a novel.

Participate in a writing group

A face-to-face group can be a great place to build accountability, either for you to produce work or to be developing your craft in some way. I participate in a group to which I bring up to two chapters per month for critique. Others in the group prefer to distribute whole drafts outside of meeting times, using meetings to simply report how they are progressing, and offer fellow writers critiques. The group meetings are often boisterous as we get excited about each other's works in progress and toss around creative ideas to overcome plot holes or other snags in the process.

Perhaps a looser group, such a "Write in" session at a local cafe or library might be all you need. Once again, NaNoWriMo has a forum to join or create such a group.


Find a mentor

Mentoring is like a more intimate teacher/student relationship, in which a less experienced person seeks the guidance of a more experience person. No matter where you are in the journey, you can benefit from this sort of relationship either as a mentor or a protege (this is the once widely-used term from someone who is mentored, before consultants invented the goofy word "mentee" that sounds like someone who belongs in an asylum).

A mentor might function more like an accountability partner with some wisdom for you, or more like a teacher/coach who doles out assignments, cheers you on, and gives you constructive feedback about what you're doing well and where you need to improve.

Professional associations like SCBWI for children's writers offer formal mentoring programs. Or you could seek out connections at places like Query Tracker forums, WANA Tribe (the acronym stands for "we are not alone"), Nathan Bransford's forums, or as I mentioned earlier, NaNoWriMo forums.

You might even have some potential mentor material in your own back yard. Connect with a local chapter of your genre's professional association, take a continuing education class, visit book signings. The perfect person to guide you might be closer than you realize.

Do you have accountability in your writing life? What avenues might you try to get it?

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Photo credit: infinitetrix from morguefile.com 
In a previous post, I shared some of my favorite resources for copy editing (line editing, sentence-level revision, call it what you will). Today I'd like to share two favorite resources for revision--the big-picture changes one makes once you have some material drafted.

Despite the order in which I'm talking about resources, revision should happen before copy editing, otherwise you'll waste a lot of effort on material you don't ultimately keep. Most of you are pretty savvy in these matters, but for any beginners, some clarity on that point seemed necessary.

Revision is what truly separates the amateurs from the pros. Even a middle schooler can do a quick edit and correct the grammar, spelling, and punctuation. But it takes tremendous skill and indeed wisdom to evaluate what isn't working in a scene, chapter, section or character arc, then actually fix it. Here are two books that offer some great training.

Fiction First Aid


Raymond Obstfeld's gem Fiction First Aid is one I first discovered in my local library and quickly realized I needed to own. Using medical metaphors of  symptoms, ailments and treatments, he examines typical writing problems and their causes, then suggests a number of approaches to revise the problem away. Most sections have an application exercise he calls "physical therapy."

The first two chapters, on plot and characterization, take up nearly half the book. He covers everything from developing great plot structure and suspense to remedying predictable, cardboard, and unlikable characters. His examples are drawn from both books and film across many genres, which I found particularly helpful.

The middle chapters on setting and style can help you build a more compelling fictional world from the outside in. He helps you determine how much setting detail you need and how to better ground scenes without bogging down the story. The style section has great advice on finding a balance between bland or monotonous writing and overwritten purple prose.

I found  the theme chapter especially useful. Because so many English teachers theme us to death in high school, it can be tempting to tell yourself that theme is for dull classics of yesteryear. Obstfeld argues quite convincingly that ignoring theme can lead to pale, thin stories that don't stick with readers. To have a theme is to write a story that means something, that puts forward a sort of emotional and intellectual thesis, then proves it. His case study of the film Groundhog Day illustrates well what a theme is and how one operates in fiction.

Manuscript Makeover


Elizabeth Lyon's Manuscript Makeover is a book I turn to again and again. Her approach is a rare mix of methodical and somewhat freewheeling creative. Every section ends with a checklist for revision that alone is totally worth the price of the book, it's so well organized and thorough.


Lyon opens with giant-picture items--the overall style and presentation of your story. How do feel when you read aloud? Is it captivating? Is it full of your deeper truth? She suggests a number of really helpful exercises to write more deeply in revision. Her concept of "riff writing" is revolutionary, because it challenges you to go broader and deeper, not simply cut, cut, cut when you revise.

Rather than simply clumping together disparate plot concerns, she divides plot issues over several chapters: whole-book structure (2 chapters), Movement and Suspense, and Time and Pace. Her concept of developing "mattering moments" is incredibly helpful for building well-paced plots.

Roughly a third of the book covers characterization concerns: Viewpoint, Character Dimension and Theme, Character-Driven Beginnings, Character-Driven Scenes and Suspense, and finally Character Personality and Voice. I found her information on voice--especially how to make characters sound unique from one another--quite revolutionary and paradigm-shifting.

The book wraps up with chapters on copy editing and querying manuscripts, with those fabulously helpful checklists I mentioned earlier.

Do you enjoy revision or dread it? Why?
Tuesday, October 21, 2014 Laurel Garver
Photo credit: infinitetrix from morguefile.com 
In a previous post, I shared some of my favorite resources for copy editing (line editing, sentence-level revision, call it what you will). Today I'd like to share two favorite resources for revision--the big-picture changes one makes once you have some material drafted.

Despite the order in which I'm talking about resources, revision should happen before copy editing, otherwise you'll waste a lot of effort on material you don't ultimately keep. Most of you are pretty savvy in these matters, but for any beginners, some clarity on that point seemed necessary.

Revision is what truly separates the amateurs from the pros. Even a middle schooler can do a quick edit and correct the grammar, spelling, and punctuation. But it takes tremendous skill and indeed wisdom to evaluate what isn't working in a scene, chapter, section or character arc, then actually fix it. Here are two books that offer some great training.

Fiction First Aid


Raymond Obstfeld's gem Fiction First Aid is one I first discovered in my local library and quickly realized I needed to own. Using medical metaphors of  symptoms, ailments and treatments, he examines typical writing problems and their causes, then suggests a number of approaches to revise the problem away. Most sections have an application exercise he calls "physical therapy."

The first two chapters, on plot and characterization, take up nearly half the book. He covers everything from developing great plot structure and suspense to remedying predictable, cardboard, and unlikable characters. His examples are drawn from both books and film across many genres, which I found particularly helpful.

The middle chapters on setting and style can help you build a more compelling fictional world from the outside in. He helps you determine how much setting detail you need and how to better ground scenes without bogging down the story. The style section has great advice on finding a balance between bland or monotonous writing and overwritten purple prose.

I found  the theme chapter especially useful. Because so many English teachers theme us to death in high school, it can be tempting to tell yourself that theme is for dull classics of yesteryear. Obstfeld argues quite convincingly that ignoring theme can lead to pale, thin stories that don't stick with readers. To have a theme is to write a story that means something, that puts forward a sort of emotional and intellectual thesis, then proves it. His case study of the film Groundhog Day illustrates well what a theme is and how one operates in fiction.

Manuscript Makeover


Elizabeth Lyon's Manuscript Makeover is a book I turn to again and again. Her approach is a rare mix of methodical and somewhat freewheeling creative. Every section ends with a checklist for revision that alone is totally worth the price of the book, it's so well organized and thorough.


Lyon opens with giant-picture items--the overall style and presentation of your story. How do feel when you read aloud? Is it captivating? Is it full of your deeper truth? She suggests a number of really helpful exercises to write more deeply in revision. Her concept of "riff writing" is revolutionary, because it challenges you to go broader and deeper, not simply cut, cut, cut when you revise.

Rather than simply clumping together disparate plot concerns, she divides plot issues over several chapters: whole-book structure (2 chapters), Movement and Suspense, and Time and Pace. Her concept of developing "mattering moments" is incredibly helpful for building well-paced plots.

Roughly a third of the book covers characterization concerns: Viewpoint, Character Dimension and Theme, Character-Driven Beginnings, Character-Driven Scenes and Suspense, and finally Character Personality and Voice. I found her information on voice--especially how to make characters sound unique from one another--quite revolutionary and paradigm-shifting.

The book wraps up with chapters on copy editing and querying manuscripts, with those fabulously helpful checklists I mentioned earlier.

Do you enjoy revision or dread it? Why?

Tuesday, October 07, 2014

I've read far more books and blog posts about how to be productive than I can accurately count. So much of the advice sounds exactly the same: have a routine, commit to it, don't stop until you meet your goal, treat it like a job. These little tidbits sound great for just about anything other than creative work. Some people can approach writing like it's laundry or at worst, doing your taxes. It might be a bit tough at times, but any momentary qualms can be powered through.

Well, that's not how I'm wired. I set aside time to write, commit to it and...freeze at the keyboard. Or think of twenty other things I'd rather be doing. Or simply beat myself up for not being Shakespeare yesterday. And trying to dedicate more time? Well, it often only makes me more anxious.

Steven Pressfield came along and gave my affliction a label. He called it "resistance," and made it seem pretty normal. Anything you care about, he argues, will bring with it a certain level of fear. His book The War of Art goes into great detail about what resistance feels like and what causes it. His solutions to it, however, haven't borne much fruit for me. Yes, routine can help; silly rituals can help; taking yourself seriously as an artist can help.

But none of these things remove the anxiety factor for me. So when I stumbled across Around the Writer's Block: Using Brain Science to Solve Writer's Resistance, I had to take a look. The author Rosanne Bane goes into a lot of detail about the brain science behind how anxiety derails creative control. To summarize, what writers need most is to develop habits that create a state of mental relaxation so that the fight-or-flight instinct doesn't make you want to leave your desk before you even type one word. And because of neuroplasticity (the brain's inherent capacity for change), new habits can actually cause lasting brain changes.

Photo credit: Maena from morguefile.com
The most powerfully different habit she advocates to be a productive writer?

Play.

You're probably thinking, "Whoa, what? If I want to be more productive, I need to play more? What is this, Opposite Day?"

Bane says writers need to build in a habit of doing something fun and nonproductive 3-5 days a week for any period you can easily commit to. Ten, fifteen or twenty minutes is fine. The point of this play commitment (what she calls "process time") is to retrain your brain toward a relaxed state. The neural pathways you are building will become stronger than the ones that link creative work with fear.

Frankly, I'm tired enough of tangling with my inner resistance to give it a try. Bane recommended coming up with a list for yourself of things you find relaxing and writing down what you are committing to.

My brain balked at this at first. It was surprisingly hard to actually remember what activities I once did for fun, years ago before I started focusing on novel-length writing. Digging through some boxes in storage refreshed my memory about the many hobbies and enthusiasms I once regularly enjoyed.

Here's my list:
play with my cats
play tin whistle
improvise on the piano
sing
do calligraphy
sketch
bake
scrapbook
do scherenschnitte, quilling, and other paper crafts
garden
take photos
make collages
play with magnetic poetry
play Wii

I've committed to fifteen minutes three times a week. Today I unearthed my Irish tin whistle and played a handful of tunes by ear, then worked in the garden. I can attest that my mood improved.

As I think back to the days when I wrote most prolifically (middle and high school), I also made space in my life for hobbies. Maybe hobbies are what enabled me to be on honor roll, work part time and be in band, choir, art club, and school newspaper while writing lots.

It's a theory worth experimenting with. Hey, at least I'll be having fun regularly.

Do you include play in your routine? What favorite activities might you give 45 minutes a week?

Tuesday, October 07, 2014 Laurel Garver
I've read far more books and blog posts about how to be productive than I can accurately count. So much of the advice sounds exactly the same: have a routine, commit to it, don't stop until you meet your goal, treat it like a job. These little tidbits sound great for just about anything other than creative work. Some people can approach writing like it's laundry or at worst, doing your taxes. It might be a bit tough at times, but any momentary qualms can be powered through.

Well, that's not how I'm wired. I set aside time to write, commit to it and...freeze at the keyboard. Or think of twenty other things I'd rather be doing. Or simply beat myself up for not being Shakespeare yesterday. And trying to dedicate more time? Well, it often only makes me more anxious.

Steven Pressfield came along and gave my affliction a label. He called it "resistance," and made it seem pretty normal. Anything you care about, he argues, will bring with it a certain level of fear. His book The War of Art goes into great detail about what resistance feels like and what causes it. His solutions to it, however, haven't borne much fruit for me. Yes, routine can help; silly rituals can help; taking yourself seriously as an artist can help.

But none of these things remove the anxiety factor for me. So when I stumbled across Around the Writer's Block: Using Brain Science to Solve Writer's Resistance, I had to take a look. The author Rosanne Bane goes into a lot of detail about the brain science behind how anxiety derails creative control. To summarize, what writers need most is to develop habits that create a state of mental relaxation so that the fight-or-flight instinct doesn't make you want to leave your desk before you even type one word. And because of neuroplasticity (the brain's inherent capacity for change), new habits can actually cause lasting brain changes.

Photo credit: Maena from morguefile.com
The most powerfully different habit she advocates to be a productive writer?

Play.

You're probably thinking, "Whoa, what? If I want to be more productive, I need to play more? What is this, Opposite Day?"

Bane says writers need to build in a habit of doing something fun and nonproductive 3-5 days a week for any period you can easily commit to. Ten, fifteen or twenty minutes is fine. The point of this play commitment (what she calls "process time") is to retrain your brain toward a relaxed state. The neural pathways you are building will become stronger than the ones that link creative work with fear.

Frankly, I'm tired enough of tangling with my inner resistance to give it a try. Bane recommended coming up with a list for yourself of things you find relaxing and writing down what you are committing to.

My brain balked at this at first. It was surprisingly hard to actually remember what activities I once did for fun, years ago before I started focusing on novel-length writing. Digging through some boxes in storage refreshed my memory about the many hobbies and enthusiasms I once regularly enjoyed.

Here's my list:
play with my cats
play tin whistle
improvise on the piano
sing
do calligraphy
sketch
bake
scrapbook
do scherenschnitte, quilling, and other paper crafts
garden
take photos
make collages
play with magnetic poetry
play Wii

I've committed to fifteen minutes three times a week. Today I unearthed my Irish tin whistle and played a handful of tunes by ear, then worked in the garden. I can attest that my mood improved.

As I think back to the days when I wrote most prolifically (middle and high school), I also made space in my life for hobbies. Maybe hobbies are what enabled me to be on honor roll, work part time and be in band, choir, art club, and school newspaper while writing lots.

It's a theory worth experimenting with. Hey, at least I'll be having fun regularly.

Do you include play in your routine? What favorite activities might you give 45 minutes a week?