Sunday, 15 December 2013

Fast Drafting Series, Post #2

This post looks at the fast drafting experience and the aftermath. Post #1 is here.

The whole fast drafting experience

The Good Stuff

Firstly, there's the sheer exhilaration gained from words flowing from my fingertips, words that I had not consciously thought of writing. There's something about having your logical mind focus on the wordcount goal that frees up your imagination and inspiration to create without censure. This was my main motivation in trying the fast drafting, getting away from my inner critic and just letting the magic spill out of me.

Then there's the immense satisfaction of reaching the daily wordcount and of seeing the story progress. It might not work for everyone, but if you're someone who enjoys a challenge and will not back down no matter how difficult the challenge appears to be, then fast drafting could very well work for you.

Then there's the sense of fulfilment that comes from finishing a first draft. Actually finishing it! Until now I've been stuck with the mindset of "Writing is difficult, it takes AGES to achieve something tangible and it's all an uphill battle, blah blah blah", when the fact is that it doesn't have to be that soul-destroying or tedious. It can actually be fun and fulfilling and satisfying as well as yielding results. Until I tried fast drafting, it did not even occur to me that I could actually write a first draft in 2 weeks, or that others had been doing just that since Candace Havens created the method.

Lastly, I have finished the first draft of a WIP that has been 'stuck' since 2004 or so. I cannot express the relief I feel that the thoughts of "You're blocked, the story's going nowhere, it's a bad story, give it up and move on". Those thoughts warred with the belief inside me that the story was worth telling. Worth it to me. I very much wanted to explore the themes that had developed since the first initial writing I did in 2004 and to have fun with the characters who have grown over the years. And I have. <happy sigh>

The not-so- good stuff 

Some days were plain hard to get the writing going. I had to tackle immense resistance within myself to stay sitting down and just write. Those were the days when I hadn't done my warm up exercises (which I wrote about in the first post).

Some nights I fell into bed completely exhausted because I'd started writing late in the evening when I was already tired. And no matter what time I went to bed at, I had to be up the next morning as soon as my little guy woke up and started bouncing around the bedroom. :)

Perhaps the most difficult part of fast drafting is the effect it had on my little guy. There were nights when I didn't make it home from the library in time to say goodnight to him. I wasn't around very much in the afternoon and he was aware of that absence, too. And when children feel unsettled, they act up. The sad thing is, that's the only way they can communicate those unsettled feelings at that age. And it's important to be understanding and gentle with him when his behaviour does not look like it used to. It took him about two weeks after I finished fast drafting to realise that things were back to normal, including the bedtime ritual of me tucking him into bed and sitting with him holding his hand till he falls asleep.

And of course, I didn't get to spend time with my husband either. He'd come in the door from work, I'd have his meal on the table, kiss him goodbye and head out to the library, my head full of my characters and scenes. So not only was he working during the day, he was not getting much down time afterwards. Pretty full on for him! And yet I couldn't have done this without his support and encouragement. So, hon, thank you. Thank you thank you thank you.

The aftermath

I had a few ideas for what I could do to get started on the revisions and re-writing.
  1. Martha Alderson's PlotWriMo in December. She has also produced an ebook, Blockbuster Plots: Before the next draft for anyone who wants to work through the process at their own pace whenever they want (not just in December, I mean);
  2. Rebecca from the Perth:South team in NaNo Land is organising a regional NaNoEdMo in January and it's going to be great to have other writers to work alongside;
  3. Susan Dennard's guide to revisions (Scroll down the page to the section headed Revising Your Novel.) I found this while I was googling for revision-related articles and tips and I've read through the guide. It's thorough. This is definitely one resource I'll be using in January;
  4. Nail Your Novel by Roz Morris. The blurb sounds great - an easy, learn-as-you-write process;
  5. Holly Lisle's How to Revise Your Novel bootcamp. I'm still mulling this one over. If Susan Dennard's guide was thorough, this is major revision surgery. MAJOR! But by golly you'll have a story that's tight by the end of it;
  6. The EDITS lectures by Margie Lawson. I'm also seriously considering adding this resource to my revision toolkit for January. Margie is a psychologist who helps writers to go deep into their stories to make them the best they can be;
  7. Jamie Gold's workshop on Story Planning for Pantsers also included some ideas for how to use the beat sheets for revision. I need to go back and listen to the recording to refamiliarise myself with the procedure.

So, do I recommend fast drafting or not?

Yes. But with caution.
  • If you want the cleanest fast draft you can possibly produce, and you're at the start of your writing career, then fast drafting probably isn't for you.
  • If you do NOT want to cause any upset in your family's routine, then fast drafting probably isn't for you.
  • If you are more interested in being a writer, rather than doing what is necessary to become one, then fast drafting probably is not a sane challenge to undertake.
  • If you like to take your time, mull things over, wait until the perfect word or sentence has been created in your mind before you write, then fast drafting is definitely not for you.
  • If you don't enjoy challenges (insane ones, anyway), then fast drafting is not for you.


BUT
  • If you want to get the WIP written and bypass your rational thinking mind at the same time, fast drafting could be for you.
  • If you want it written quickly so that it causes the least amount of disruption to your family (in terms of how long it takes to knock out that first draft), then fast drafting could be for you.
  • If you're a scanner-writer, fast drafting could very well be for you! (It was for me.)
  • If you have limited time - for example, a holiday or short break from your day job - and you'd like to get that WIP knocked out, then fast drafting could very well work for you.

So, that's been my fast drafting journey. I hope these two posts have been of some use to anyone who's thinking about fast drafting. I would recommend checking out Candace Haven's workshops page to see when she's running the next Fast Drafting workshop because I'm sure she'll have tips and tricks to share. I had to learn what works for me the hard way, and I could still be missing something that would make the process easier.

Anyone else fast drafted? Have you any thoughts to share?


Sunday, 8 December 2013

Fast Drafting Series, Post #1

My completed first draft. Woo hoo!

As promised, I've put together a few posts on my experience with Fast Drafting for NaNoWriMo 2013.

 

Why I decided to Fast Draft

One of the first motivations for trying out fast drafting was reading about Scanners in Barbara Sher's book "Refuse to Choose".

A scanner has a 'fast' brain that knows what it wants and knows when it's got what it wants ( i.e. its  reward). Scanners may appear to flit from one thing to another, but, taking this idea of rewards into account, what is actually happening is that the scanner has found their reward, in however long the time frame was, and they're now ready to move onto the next thing. (There's an excerpt from the introduction of "Refuse to Choose" here: getmotivation.com/articlelib/articles/barbara_sher_scanner.htm)

I could see myself in a lot of Sher's description of a Scanner, so with this in mind, I decided that the best thing I could do was challenge myself to fast drafting 5K words a day. If my brain is 'fast' then it stands to reason that it probably isn't a good idea for me to eke out the writing of a first draft over the course of three months...

(One thing Barbara Sher does advise Scanners to do is choose a project and see it through to the end, no matter how much they might wish to move on to the next thing. This discipline is important for a Scanner. They need to be able to see that they can achieve something - a finished project - and not simply flit from one interest to the next.)

 

How I fast drafted

I'd never fast drafted before I took up the challenge on November 1st. It would have been immensely useful to have taken Candace Havens's online workshop (all about Fast Drafting and Editing in a month) , but it started on November 4th which was too late for NaNo, so I did the next best thing. In the weeks leading up to NaNo, I researched how other writers had tackled the fast drafting process, or even just writing to a deadline. The following resources were the ones I found the most helpful.

 

Rachel Aaron's Triangle of Productivity

I first read this article a year or more ago and the Fast Drafting challenge gave me the opportunity to apply the three essentials of her productivity formula - Time, Knowledge and Enthusiasm - in each fast draft session. I kept these three elements in mind as I went about planning tools and techniques and drawing up spreadsheets to help me fast draft and keep track of my daily productivity.

 

Jami Gold's Story Planning for Pantsers web class

I took this class just in time to start NaNo and I cannot express just how much what I learned helped me through the fast draft process. Jami's Worksheets and Beat Sheets gave me a road map to follow with a list of destinations to reach by a certain wordcount which I could correlate to where I needed to be each day of my 14-day time limit. Not only that, it helped me sort out my different plot, subplot and character arcs!

And the fantastic thing about all this is that I never felt constrained by what was in the Beat Sheet. It was precise enough that I knew what sort of event had to happen at each point, but vague enough that I could still 'discover' the event as I wrote.

These beat sheets and worksheets are now a very important part of my writing process.

 

The Accidental Novelist's Start to Finish series of posts

 - particularly the early ones with the timed writing exercises and start lines. I used the timed writing exercises and start lines at the beginning of each writing session to immerse myself in two of Rachel Aaron's productivity elements, Knowledge and Enthusiasm.

Before I started my fast draft session, I warmed up by using the start line "The next scene that needs to be written is ..." and then free-writing for 5 minutes. Then I picked out a sentence from the middle of the writing, used that as my start line, set my timer for 7 minutes, and free-wrote again. I repeated this process one more time, setting the timer for 10 minutes. The more I free-wrote, the more the scene unfolded in my mind and I could feel myself getting excited about what was to come.

I discovered quite early on into the 14 days that it was difficult to reach the 5K wordcount if I skipped the warm up, thinking I'd utilise the time to just dive into the writing instead and be done all the quicker for the day. Not so. Those days did not leave me feeling satisfied with what I'd written, with how I'd felt while I was writing, or with the length of time it took me to grind out the 5K. Once I realised just how important the warm up was, it became an indispensible part of the process.

Taking the tips and tricks I read about on the web, I put together a Reference Sheet (which you can download from Google Docs) to remind me what to do and what not to do while I fast drafted, plus some inspirational quotes from Natalie Goldberg about Beginner's Mind. I taped this into the folder I kept each daily printout in and referred back to it occasionally if I felt the need.

I hope this has been useful. My next post will look at my experience of fast drafting, what was good about it, what was not so good, and my next steps now that I have a finished first draft to work with.


Thursday, 14 November 2013

Fast Drafting Success!

I did it! As of 11.34pm tonight, I reached 73,047 words, And all in 14 days!! *happy dance*

It was tough. It was very tough at times.

But it was the only way I was going to get this first draft done, once and for all.

I've learned a lot - not just about the techniques to use to fast draft, but also about my story and the plot points and plot elements.

I'm going to write a post about this experience, but not tonight. Tonight I'm going to collapse into bed with a smile on my face.

And tomorrow that smile will still be there, but I'm going to rest, catch up with my housework and spend time with my family.

For all the NaNoers still working on their novels, I wish you all the very, very best. Take good care of yourselves.


Goodnight. *Yawn*
Image courtesy of Jusben at Morguefile.com

And goodnight! *Zzzzzzzzzzzz.........*












Saturday, 2 November 2013

Fast Drafting for NaNo - Day 2

(copy of post over at Shamrocks WriMos)

I'm trying something new (and crazy?) this year. Fast Drafting. Candace Havens is the creator of this writing method, and the goal is to have a 70,000 wordcount draft written in 2 weeks. That's 5,000 words per day.

Day 1 didn't get off to the start I'd hoped it would. Real Life, don't you know? But I did manage, after about three hours work, to handwrite 12 pages of foolscap to notch up a wordcount of around 3,408 words. That made me very happy once I got over the fact that I hadn't reached 5,000 words for the day.

Today I went to a Write-In at the Gosnells Knowledge Centre where I spewed out 4,501 words in under two hours. (The difference between last night's wordcount and today's is due to 1) writing earlier in the day, and 2) typing instead of handwriting.)

Another 500 words this evening after Little Guy is in bed will take me up to the 5K mark. And perhaps I'll do a bit more than 500 to make up for last night's deficit. By around Day 3 or 4 I hope to be on target, wordcount-wise.

There will be a lot of blog silence this year. Real Life and Fast Drafting are about as much as I can manage with any degree of committment. But I will post some tips and tricks once I've finished my first draft and I work out what's helped me the most.
And to all the other NaNoers out there, keep those pens/fingers moving! Onwards!!

Tuesday, 24 September 2013

Making Stress work for you...

This is an excellent TED talk by Kelly McGonigle on how to make stress your friend.


Sunday, 25 August 2013

Rolling along nicely

High Five!
High Five!

Goals from last week:
  • Leave encouraging comments on 5 ROW80 blogs - Done. :)
  • Finish reading and write up reviews for Jodi Henley's Practical Emotional Structure and Elizabeth Greentree's 5 Day Writer's Retreat - I finished the 5 Days Writer's Retreat (excellent resource!!!). I now have to put my notes together to write the review for Smashwords and Amazon. Then I'm going to concentrate on Practical Emotional Structure.
  • Wind down and relax before bed at least four times this week - Done. Woo hoo!
  • Go offline by 10pm at the latest - Er, no. I overdid things this week, and adrenal exhaustion set in which threw my sleep patterns out of whack. And the need for some physical and auditory space meant I stayed up long after my husband and little boy were in bed. I got the space I craved, but at the expense of sleep. I need to do something about this.
  • Go to bed by 11pm - No.
  • Keep a list of all the things I achieve in the week (so I can remember them!) - Yes. And this is an excellent way to feel cheerful about your past week when you look over it on a Sunday morning. :D
  • Write in library for 1 hour three times a week (Mon, Wed and Fri works out really well) - Yes. Monday, Wednesday and Saturday morning.
  • Work through my fear of it and write the rough draft of the first scene - Yes. My rough draft actually consists of bullet points of what I want the scene to achieve and what I want to include. I like bullet points. :)

Other achievements this week:
  • Parenting:
    • I baked a new recipe - Lemon and Chia Seed muffins - for our Little Gardeners group on Tuesday morning, using the lemons from their garden;
    • I brought Little Guy to a new class, Music and Movement, to see if he liked it. He enjoyed the music and movement part, but the free play after morning tea was quite obviously his favourite bit;
  • Writing:
    • Sorted out my female protagonist's inner need/flaw/conflict; 
    • Worked out how the inner needs of both my protagonists make them a good match for one another. (Jodi Henley's podcast - included in my post below - was the impetus for this work.);
    • Rediscovered the value of 'sleeping on it' - this is something touched upon in Elizabeth Greentree's "5 Day Writer's Retreat" - which involves writing from the hypnogogic state, that time between starting to fall asleep and sleeping, or between being asleep and waking up.
    • Researched articles on internal conflict and flaws, beliefs, values.
    • Did some superficial edits (typos etc.) of another four scenes of my gothic novella;
    • Started reading a craft book on "Breathing Life into your Characters" by Rachel Ballon (affiliate link);
    • I am beginning to get a clearer picture of my writing process and this is something I'll write a post on later. Suffice it to say, most of the writing and publishing articles I've read over the past few years have hindered me more than they helped;
    • Revised and edited a few more paragraphs of my non-fiction Celts ebook and double checked that something I'd included in the first edition was definitely in the public domain. I also came up with one more topic to write on and add to this edition;
    • Discovered a new writing exercise to develop a character in Les Edgerton's ebook "Voice". It involves describing a setting you, the writer, are in but from your character's point of view. Like acting. You become your character and describe the location you are currently in using their words and perceptions. Fun!
  • Volunteer Work:
    • I spent about an hour and a half working on a website that I've volunteered to assist with. I updated the content on the Events page and added some appropriate images. I enjoyed the work very much, but having a better knowledge of HTML would be a benefit. There are some great tutorials on w3.schools.com. 
All in all, it's been a very productive week. :)

Check out the other ROW80 blogs here.
Update: I completely forgot to list my goals for the coming week, so here we go:
  • Three one-hour writing sessions in the library;
  • Revise three sections of my Celts wip;
  • Read Jodi Henley's Practical Emotional Structure and write and post the review;
  • Leave comments on 5 ROW80 blogs;
  • Lie semi-supine for 15 minutes before bed at least four times during the week:
  • Go offline by 10pm at the latest;
  • Be in bed by 11pm;
  • Keep a list of all my achievements during the week.

Sunday, 18 August 2013

Pleased with the results

Writing Achievements:
  • Wrote during three one-hour sessions in the library last week. Monday, Wednesday and Saturday morning
  • Using the writing exercises from The Accidental Novelist, I have discovered my opening scene and what exactly my heroine is planning to do - and I'm excited about it. It was a very, very productive week. (If you click on the link, you'll go to the old blog and the exercises are in the sidebar under the heading "Start to Finish - What is it?")
Reading Achievements:
  • Finished Into the Bermuda Triangle: Pursuing the Truth Behind the World's Greatest Mystery by Gian Quasar. It's full of fascinating theories and ideas that sparked off a whole lot of What Ifs in my mind as a result. Plus I learned something about how the age of the world is calculated (Charles Lyell and his support of the principle of Uniformitarianism) and why Uniformitarianism may not lead to completely accurate estimates
  • Started Raven Flight by Juliet Marillier - I absolutely love and adore her books. Her name on the cover is enough for me to buy. Magical realism, interesting characters with real problems to overcome, huge stakes, romance... yeah. Great reading.
Parenting Achievements:
  • Bought a bag of compost with Little Guy so that we can put some wicking containers together for herb and vegetable seeds that we're going to plant
  • Completely forgot about the sheep craft activity until Wednesday night (playgroup is Thursday morning) so I frantically read through some internet resources looking for an activity that wouldn't take me ages to organise and set up the next day. Found a cute finger painting activity using black and white paint on green paper. Easy peasy. Phew!
Here's my example:



And here's Little Guy's work:



Relaxation Achievements:
  • Lay semi-supine on the floor two or three nights this week. Not as many as I'd have liked, so I need to work on that
  • Got to bed by 11pm on a few nights. Need to work on this too.
  • Had a wonderful time at the Community Fire last night. Speaking with others who also struggle with daily grind and how they cope has given me one or two ideas to add to my arsenal so I'll be working on that this week. Getting to talk with other people on a deeper level than the superficial day-to-day exchanges is a breath of fresh air, and I was still on a high when I woke up this morning. :)
How I did with my Goals from last week
  • Check in with 5 other ROWers - done
  • Three one-hour writing sessions in the library and continue to explore my story and my characters with the help of the writing exercises - done! And an opening scene roughly outlined as a result
  • Wind down and relax (meditate) before bed at least four times this week - no, did it only about two or three times. I'll have to keep working on this
  • Tidy up at least four more scenes of the gothic novella to ready it for printing - nope...
  • Prepare some fun alphabet activities for Little Guy and do them on three days this week - yes, and we did the activity every day 'cos he enjoyed it so much
  • Put together a sheep craft activity for the toddlers in our playgrou - yes
  • Keep a list of all the things I achieve in the week so I can focus on those and not feel disappointed about what I don't get done - no, I didn't do this. I meant to, and then forgot. Ho hum. There's probably way more stuff I've done this week, but I just can't remember it...

Goals for next week:
  • Leave encouraging comments on 5 ROW80 blogs
  • Finish reading and write up reviews for Jodi Henley's Practical Emotional Structure and Elizabeth Greentree's 5 Day Writer's Retreat;
  • Wind down and relax before bed at least four times this week;
  • Go offline by 10pm at the latest;
  • Go to bed by 11pm;
  • Keep a list of all the things I achieve in the week (so I can remember them!);
  • Write in library for 1 hour three times a week (Mon, Wed and Fri works out really well);
  • Work through my fear of it and write the rough draft of the first scene;
I've just listened to the latest podcast from Jodi Henley on backstory and internal conflict (and how to find the need in two protagonists which draws them together):

Sunday, 11 August 2013

Listing the little achievements!


Ok. So I could drive myself insane listing everything I didn't manage to get done this week. Instead I'm going to list everything I did get done.



Ahem.






What I achieved this week: (Definitely deserves a large heading!)
  • Made a weather chart for my little guy - that's it above;
  • Wrote in the library twice this week for an hour each time. The writing exercises are helping me to get to know my characters much better and revealing numerous possibilites for conflict;
  • Had a playdate with another mum and her toddler at our place.Very much enjoyed it;
  • Entertained some friends (plus toddler and baby) Sunday afternoon. Again, we all enjoyed ourselves;
  • Read and finished a Lord Peter Wimsey murder mystery, "Strong Poison". Miss Climpson's appearance and detective work was a howl. :)
  • Managed to lie semi-supine on the floor (a la The Alexander Technique) twice this week while listening to Laura Silva's short relaxation meditation;
  • Left comments on at least 5 ROW80 blog;
  • Read up on some homeschooling articles;
  • Tried out a new recipe for a delicious crust on a roast beef; mustard, salt, pepper, dried taragon and some olive oil if you think it needs it. Cook on a high heat (230 degrees celsius) uncovered for about 15 minutes, then turn oven down to about 190 degrees, and cook covered in tin foil until done;
  • Tried a new recipe for Rooibos Chai Tea (delish!);
  • Did simple edits (mostly typos) on four scenes of the gothic novella I wrote back in 2008. I loaded it into Scrivener and I'm getting it ready to print it off so I can go through it properly and start revisions;
  • Read a couple of online articles on how to create ebooks using html so that they'll show up correctly in the vast majority of ereaders
  • Went through my non-fiction writer's resource on the Celts which I'm thinking of self-publishing. There's a great deal of work involved to get it from its original layout (for Holly Lisle's now-defunct 33 Mistakes series) to my current vision for it;
  • Bought and downloaded print and ebook templates from BookDesignTemplates.com for the Celts ebook
  • Read an article (via email subscription) on writing down goals and SMART goals. I went looking for a worksheet (I just LOVE worksheets) to help me and this looks to be a good one. 
Goals for this coming week:
  • Check in with 5 other ROWers;
  • Three one-hour writing sessions in the library and continue to explore my story and my characters with the help of the writing exercises;
  • Wind down and relax (meditate) before bed at least four times this week;
  • Tidy up at least four more scenes of the gothic novella to ready it for printing;
  • Prepare some fun alphabet activities for Little Guy and do them on three days this week;
  • Put together a sheep craft activity for the toddlers in our playgroup;
  • Keep a list of all the things I achieve in the week so I can focus on those and not feel disappointed about what I don't get done.
And that's all I can think of for now. I'm off to check in with my fellow ROWers.



Monday, 5 August 2013

Personality, Work Habits & Change

I've been thinking a lot about WHY it's been so hard to get the writing done. I can write. I have written. I finished and won two Camp NaNos. "So why, in between times, can't I just get the WIP written?" I asked myself.

The answer boiled down to my personality and how I like to write.

Writing for 15 minutes a day is good advice. 15 minutes a day is better than 0 minutes a day.

But 15 minutes a day is just time enough for me to make notes, jot down ideas. It's not long enough for me to do any "proper" writing.

That's because of my personality and the way I like to work. I don't like skimming the surface of things. I like to dive deep, explore, question, and sift through material (mentally and on paper) while I'm writing. One idea will lead to another. One sentence - maybe even only one word - will set me on fire and then my scene gathers momentum and takes off in a direction that my logical mind could NEVER have foreseen or come up with.

I need time to warm up my writing muscles and ready myself for the rockets and fireworks that will follow and I need the time to get it all down on paper.

This week I knew I had two choices. I could either resign myself to the fact that I would only have a few minutes here and there to make notes, or I would have to make some changes in my day that allowed me to have an hour of uninterrupted writing time. I liked Option No 2 better. And then I thought, "Hey, dream BIG! How can I organise things so that I have both options?"

I spoke to my husband and we agreed that having an hour's writing time in the local library was doable. He said Go for it. So I did.

I spent two days last week in the library for one hour doing writing exercises.  It was pure pleasure from start to finish. I discovered some crucial backstory in one session and I discovered the means to foreshadow a very important development in my protagonist and I wrote REAMS!

In case you're interested, the writing exercises I used are the Start to Finish exercises by the Accidental Novelist on her old blog. (If you look about half way down the blue sidebar on the right hand side you'll see the heading Start to Finish and the list of posts beneath). The exercises aim to help screenwriters develop a screenplay in about three months or so - but the exercises can also be used by novelists because they're all about discovering the story you want to tell.

Here's my weekly update:

Writing Goals:

1. Meditate before each writing session - This is next to nigh impossible in the library, so I'm changing this one to meditate daily

2. Work on my novel for at least 15 minutes each day - I'm changing this one to writing for an hour at least three days a week

3. Check in with ROW80 and leave comments on at least 5 other ROW80 blogs - Very doable. And done.

Non-Writing Goals:

4. Create a new habit of getting to bed by 11pm at the latest every night - Tick

5. Find a way to have some down-time each day - Having one hour in the library three tines a week qualifies, so I just need to come up with a plan for the other four days

6. Practice one technique a week from "Just One Thing" by Rick Hanson - I'm still working on the second technique. This week I was a bit more distracted; I feel I need to meditate every day just to that I have the calm and centred awareness to remember to practice the techniques.

I found a really nice (and f*r*e*e*) resource online by Laura Silva. They're meditations to help you relax and to promote healing.


All in all, a good week. Much better than I've been doing for a while. :)


Saturday, 27 July 2013

Character Arc and Revised (Again) Goals

Image courtesy of Gracey at Morguefile.com
I was away last weekend at a workshop so I didn't get a chance to post on my (lack of) progress. Writing progress, I mean. I'm making progress in other areas of my life, though. So... Woo Hoo!!

I used to have no problem writing. Back in 2003, when I began to take writing seriously, I would write every single day, often for two or three hours at a time. I loved it. I got stories written. I started writing something that meant a lot to me and enjoyed what was happening in each session. It was relatively easy.

It's not that easy any more. There are a number of factors that have probably led to this - being a mother (which is the BEST job in the whole wide world even while it's demanding); lack of sleep; not as much down-time as I'd like (or need) - you know, the time to just switch the brain off; something I'm calling highstandardanxietyitis; tying myself in knots with everything I've learned about structure and arcs and plots and plots points; needing to adjust to all the life changes and find a new writing process that works with how my life looks now.

With this in the back of my mind, I read with GREAT interest this post on Jodi Henley's blog. (And if you are looking for information on character arc, then she is your go-to person!)

Like Jodi, I also enjoy character-driven stories (it's my preference, in fact), but it somehow escaped me that it might be a good idea to start my pre-planning with the character arc and not the external plot. I know the ins and outs of the main plot points in the external arc, but after reading the post I can see that the external arc is the means by which the character changes and so it doesn't make sense (in a character-driven story, anyway) to plot the external arc first. Knowing where my character is at the start of the story and, even more importantly, at the end of the story and then filling in the gaps in between with ideas for story events that might cause the character to change is what will help me to put the external plot together. So character arc first, plot arc second. :)

With that in mind I did a bit more research looking for articles on plotting character arcs, the stages of change and anything else that could possibly help me to plot the internal character arc.

These are the most helpful resources I found:
And so, with these resources in my toolbag, I'm going to revise my writing goals (AGAIN!) for the following week.

Ahem.

Writing Goals:
1. Meditate before each writing session
2. Work on my novel for at least 15 minutes each day
- Working through the characters' arcs is my focus for the coming week
3. Check in with ROW80 and leave comments on at least 5 other ROW80 blogs

Non-Writing Goals:
4. Create a new habit of getting to bed by 11pm at the latest every night
(I'm doing pretty well with this one, and it's making a huge difference to my energy levels and mood.)
5. Find a way to have some down-time each day
6. Practice one technique a week from "Just One Thing" by Rick Hanson
(The first technique has been going well, so I'm moving onto a second one as of today.)

In other news, I'm still reading through Jodi's "Practical Emotional Structure" and Buffy Greentree's "Five Day Writer's Retreat" as well as Dara Marks's "Inside Story" and they are ALL helping me stay motivated. Yay.

I wish all my fellow ROWers the very best with their goals for the next week. :)

Sunday, 14 July 2013

A Bug, a Book, 4 Barriers and Mindfulness

Toddler and I have been sick since the middle of last week. Whatever we caught, it didn't want to let go... So no writing done, but lots of learning going on instead which means I still feel like I'm moving forward, even it I can't show something tangible for my efforts.

1. Brandon Sanderson classes on YouTube
I loved watching his first lecture all about writing habits and goals and discovering whether we're the Gardener or Architect type of writer. A pantser's first draft usually has strong characters but a weak ending; a plotter's first draft usually has a fantastic plot but wooden characters. There was a bit of worldbuilding and how to make it interesting... Yeah, lots of insights and things to mull over. GREAT.

2. Craft books
I'm reading Dara Marks's "Inside Story: The Transformational Character Arc" and I'm just blown away by it. Especially by Chapter 5, The Fatal Flaw: Bringing Characters to Life. Let me just quote a couple of the lines I've highlighted that had me putting the book down to ponder the enormity of what I'd just read and how it applied to my own life.

But what truly makes a person independent is not just the acceptance of his or her obligations, but the acceptance of his or her true nature, which is much harder to come by. 


Loneliness, emptiness, despair, anger, rage, and apathy are our nursemaids; they care for our souls and are ever-present when we abandon our true nature to the illusion of an idealized self. Were it not for their vigilant presence in the form of discontentment, depression, and self-destructive behaviour, we might be forever lost. Therefore, if we want to capture the full essence of a character in our stories, it is essential to paint this pain and turmoil into his or her portrait. 

This is a treasure of a book and I'm finding that it's so deep, it requires a thoughtful reading to fully understand the concepts and teachings.

3. What I've learned about plots and subplots
The Plot, of course, is the external story arc. The GOALS the characters are trying to reach. They want to gain something or avoid something.

Then, even in a fairly simple story, there are usually two subplots; Subplot 1 is the protagonist's internal arc and Subplot 2 is the relationships arc (the romance, for instance).

I found a couple of articles on romance arcs, one of which could double as a handy (if sketchy) template:
http://www.netplaces.com/writing-a-romance-novel/basic-structure-of-a-romance-novel/plot-points.htm and http://www.mybooktherapy.com/exploring-the-two-main-story-arcs-in-romance/
And if you're writing a YA novel, then this article describes the teen romance arc very well: http://www.writing-world.com/children/teenromance.shtml

And I came across the most fascinating blog while I was researching subplots and romance arcs. The writer - Ingrid Sundberg - is obsessed with plot structure and has created some amazing posts about every type and variant there is. http://ingridsnotes.wordpress.com/tag/plot-structure/ It's worth checking out just to see the sheer number of story structures that she's researched.

4. The Four Thinking Barriers
I'm not sure how it happened, but I was reminded of something I learned in Holly Lisle's 'How to Think Sideways' course in Lesson 1. In it, she explains the 4 Thinking Barriers to success and how to overcome them. And wouldn't you know, I have all four of them. Bleh. So I'm going to work through her techniques to break them bit by bit. (And that links to point number 5 below.)

5. Becoming Mindful
I came across "Just One Thing" by Rick Hanson a couple of days ago and this has led me to a new goal: To become mindful not just in my writing, but in how I live my life, too.

I've read the first exercise in Hanson's book (Be For Yourself, which means Be Your Own Best Friend) and whenever I catch my mood dipping or thoughts becoming bleak or I find myself struggling with something, I take a moment to pause and say something encouraging or loving to myself. Things like, "You're doing a good job" or "Time to sit down and have a cup of tea" or "How can I make this (task) easier for myself?" What a sense of relief that brings instead of berating or criticising. It really does lighten the load. :) So, I'm practicing each technique for a week before I move onto the next one. It'll be interesting to see where I am a year from now. (There are 52 techniques.)

Ok. Time to check in with my fellow ROWers.


Saturday, 6 July 2013

Revised Goals for Round 3

Things haven't gone according to plan and I've had to revise my goals for this round.

Novel Planning

I came to the conclusion that I haven't sorted out enough behind-the-scenes details to really ground my story in the story world and to people it with characters that jump off the page (or screen). I've been reading various articles by other writers to see what their plotting process looks like. I'm happy with some of the things I've developed for my own writing process (the storyboard and the island brainstorming list, in particular) but despite the preplanning I did for CampNaNo in April, everything feels very dusty and vague. Just ideas rather than strong story elements.

This morning, my husband very kindly took our toddler out for a long drive and I dragged my writing table into the sitting room in front of the gas heater and sat down to put together a writing blueprint-workbook-template thingummy with the aim of creating something that will help me to get a better handle on the three elements that go into creating a story: character, location, and events (events being the plot, the external action).

The Novel Template

Over the years since I decided to take writing seriously, I've read a countless number of books and online articles. And I've found it difficult to keep track of all the approaches; you know, what Successful Writer A suggested, and how Successful Writer B kinda contradicted that with a different suggestion.... (Of course, there are as many different processes as there are writers. I know that NOW...)

But this morning, I put all the craft ideas and techniques that resonated with me into one 16-page template. It means that techniques I've learned and liked won't be forgotten. They'll be right there in the template, waiting for me to read them, get inspired, and capture the results on paper. And as I learn new techniques and approaches, I can incorporate them into the template as well.

Here are a few resources that inspired me when putting together my template:


So, onto my revised goals for this round.

New Goals for Round 3

  1. Put together my own novel planning template - DONE. I did this in small steps over the course of the week, mostly in the evenings, and typed my scribbled notes up in their final form this morning when I had about four uninterrupted hours to myself. Woo hoo!! :)

  2. Get to know my world. What does the landscape look like? How does the magic system work EXACTLY? What EXACTLY happened in the past to cause the political unrest in the country? How does society work in my male protagonist's culture?

  3. Get to grips with my protagonists' character arcs.

  4. Work through my discomfort of where my female protagonist will finish up at the end of the story. This is a biggie as it involves something that is a bit of an 'issue' for me. Issues make the best kind of stories, though, or so they say...

  5. Create some collages of the world and of my characters to help bring these elements to life for me. I'm a visual person, hence my love of storyboarding. It'll be interesting to see if I like making collages. I'm exploring my process with this goal. :)

  6.  Meditate before I settle down to capture my workings on paper. I'm sticking with the idea that quietening the mind will help me be more productive.

  7. Watch Brandon Sanderson's classes each week (starting tomorrow Monday 8th July) and work through the assignment as best I can before the next class session. Even if I can't post it by the deadline for critique, I want to complete the assignment and take a look at what I learned from the class itself and from the writing.

Here's hoping that the first week of Round 3 has gone well for my fellow ROWers. I'm off to check in on some blogs to see how it's going!

UPDATE: I've taken some writing workshops with Jodi Henley in the past and I've always learned so much from her. If you want to know about the character transformational arc or emotional depth or structuring a story (even if you're an organic writer), then she is your lady! There's a tonne of information on her site, which I recommend dipping into, and she's just published Practical Emotional Structure for Kindle. And if you don't have a Kindle, she's said you can get in touch with her via her blog and she'll sort you out. How lovely is that! :)

Monday, 1 July 2013

And we're off! Round 3 ROW80

Image by Jade courtesy of Morguefile.com


Goals for this Round:

1. Meditate for 15 mins (at least) before each writing session

 in order to quieten my thinking and become more heart-centred.  I found an amazing guided meditation the other day (The Mindful Writer Meditation by Madhu B. Wangu) and I've listened to two of the meditations over the past three days. I'm astonished already at the result because after a dream near-drought of 2 1/2 years, I've dreamed nearly every night since!

 

2. Write 25K a month

I think this is an achievable goal. It works out at about 806 words a night. And if I run over, I can treat myself to a night off somewhere during the month. :)

 

 

3. Do my homework each week of Brandon Sanderson's class

That's the plan anyway, but I'll have to see what this means in terms of work. If I can use what I'm writing in first draft, great. If it needs polishing, I'll have to give it a miss.

 

4. Critique two pieces on Wednesday and two more on Friday.

Again, this is for the workshop. We have to critique at least four pieces of our peers' work.

 

5. Check in with ROW80 every Sunday

Checking in Wednesday and Sunday doesn't really fit my time constraints, so Sunday is a better option.

 

6. Work on my novel for at least 15 minutes each day

 whether it be a full writing session, or plotting, or jotting down ideas (worldbuilding, plot, characters, backstory, etc.)


And I'm half thinking of writing a future email to myself to arrive at the end of this Round.That could be fun!

All the best to my fellow ROWers!



Tuesday, 25 June 2013

Getting ready for Round 3

Image courtesy of mrmac04 at morguefile.com
I went missing mid-May in the last round. Life happened. Perhaps it's better to say, "Life showed up with a teaching for me." And it took the best part of six weeks to absorb the lesson.

In the post "Writing Scared" (which I wrote just prior to going MIA), I wrote about the fear of not being able to write. About showing up, but nothing flowing from my pen. Of the fear of not reaching my target of 4 pages per session.

The Heart Centre and the Thinking Centre

Since mid-May, I have learned that we have two centres: our heart centre, and our thinking/reasoning/rational centre. In the western world, we have been taught that our thinking/reasoning centre is the one that is supposed to be our CEO in life. It's supposed to be in the driving seat and it's supposed to take us towards our destiny, towards success, towards [insert whatever goal you'd like here].

We're told, especially in matters of love, "Don't let your heart rule your head!".

And that, apparently, is why we've all fallen off the rails and gotten lost and separated from each other. And not only separated from each other, but separated from ourselves, too.

The CEO and the Admin Assistant

Our hearts are supposed to be the CEO of our lives, and the thinking centre is supposed to be the Admin Assistant. Our hearts guide us, and our reason/thinking mind plots out the steps we need to take to get from where we are to where our hearts are guiding us to go. Our reason does not have the tools required to guide our lives. It is always motivated by fear. It is designed to help us avoid loss or to help us gain something in order to avoid loss. Either way, fear is its motivation.

The reason I went MIA is because of my rational thinking mind. I was scared of not reaching the goals I'd set. I was scared because I couldn't find the folder with all my notes in it for the language I'd created for the story world. I lost my writing mojo. It wasn't sustainable, given the place I was trying to control my writing from (fear).

Strategies

This round, I would like to put some strategies in place to help me write and finish my first draft. (A first draft in three months is a reasonable goal, isn't it?)

So far, this is what I've come up with:

1) Ask the right questions.

When I couldn't find my language notes folder, for instance, my reaction was "I can't go any further till I have those notes sitting in front of me on my desk!"

A better way to have handled that situation was to ask "How can I keep writing this first draft even though I don't have the folder just yet?"

'How' or 'What' questions are open and make our rational minds work for answers.

2) Write in a different location

It's Winter here now in Western Australia and my writing room is cold, so it's not exactly an inviting, cosy nook. The question "Where can I go that's comfortable to write in?" offers solutions such as the local library and the Dome cafe ten minutes away where I can also enjoy an open fire and a chamomile tea as I write.

3) Let my heart centre lead the way

This is a tricky one.

All my life I've been using my rational mind to try to understand the world around me and how it works. I've used my reason to achieve goals and to set high standards, and I know now that I've run myself into the ground health-wise because of it. I really WANT to let my heart lead the way, but - and I almost wrote 'I have to *think* on this some more' (hah!) - yeah. Difficult one this. Meditation could be a good way to start; maybe some guided meditations and visualisations and listening to music...

4) Brandon Sanderson's 2013 writing lectures

I'll be following the weekly lectures starting on July 1st and submitting homework each week for critique, so this is definitely a motivation to write. And I'll be learning as I go along.

Round 3 Goals

Because this is such a huge change from how I normally do things, I've got just one main goal: a heart-centred writing practice.

Other goals I'd like to achieve during Round 3 are writing 25K a month, and doing my homework each week for the writing workshop with Brandon Sanderson. Also a weekly checkin with my fellow ROWers every Sunday. These goals are easy enough to quantify. I either reach them or I don't.

However, in order to identify whether or not I've achieved a heart-centred writing practice by the end of Round 3, I need to break it down in a SMART way. Given my uncertainty about how to do something I haven't really done before, I could do with some help.

A Question for You

Fellow writers and ROWers, have you any advice on what I could try doing in order to put my logical, reasoning, thinking mind on hold during a writing session and allow myself to flow from my Heart Centre instead?

Thank you in advance.

Wednesday, 8 May 2013

ROW80 Mid Week Check In - nearly at 30%

Tonight I actually managed to write 5 1/2 pages of foolscap which took me to 1246 words total. Not bad for a night where I was so tired I just wanted to settle down with a good book, a hot cup of tea, and listen to the storm outside the window. :)

Perhaps what got me through the 'I don't really want to write tonight' mood was thinking about how I could show up and connect with the story in a peaceful and restful way. I sat in a comfortable chair, listened to a meditation to help me unwind, and then wrote for a few minutes in my novel notebook about the story and some things that occured to me. Then a first line popped into my head - my hero asking a question - and it just flowed from there.

So, my goals:

Write at least four pages of foolscap each writing session (800 words approx)
Done. Only missed one night so far this month, and that was for a very good cause. Date Night with the hubster.

Some writing related activity (be it writing, plotting, worldbuilding etc.) - even if for only 5 minutes - every day
This is also taken care of, in addition to the actual writing, because I write down my thoughts in my novel notebook before each session.

A first draft almost complete (no matter how rough) by the end of this Round
I'm moving towards this day by day... And I'm very near to the 30% mark of this month's 25K goal. Woo hoo!

How are you all doing?

Sunday, 5 May 2013

Sunday Check-in: Writing Scared

It happened again yesterday. I put it off as long as I could. I surfed the 'net; I did some housework; I shopped; I looked after hubby and toddler; but always in the back of my mind was the niggling thought "Tonight I have to write four pages of foolscap AT LEAST".

And that scared me.

Image couresy of Wiki Commons
















The fear is always there, but it's particularly strong if I miss a day or two of writing writing (i.e. not worldbuilding, character profiling, or plotting). I'm afraid of sitting down and nothing happening. No words appearing for me to write. I am afraid of not writing, so a part of me thinks if I don't show up to write, then I won't feel the loss and disappointment that the writing didn't come, because I wasn't there for it not to come.

Does that make sense?

Yet, not showing up is a deliberate 'not writing', the very thing I'm afraid of!

I named this blog Stepping Stones for a reason, and the url is not by chance, either: it was all about taking small steps, one step at a time. It was about being calm and relaxed. Not rushing, not putting myself under pressure.

All I have to do is show up. And I need to make a distinction between showing up and the end result. The end result has nothing to do with me (that's Inspiration, or the Divine, or the Muse) but the showing up? That's when the ball is firmly in my court and I can either come onto the court and play the game or walk away. My choice.

Showing up is very easy, really. It's simply sitting down and picking up the pen. It's daydreaming about my characters and their story. I'ts listening to my playlist and letting the music lull me further into the story. It's thinking about the possible twists and turns the story can take. It's about allowing myself to be inspired. Giving myself the opportunity to be inspired, regardless of whether or not the inspiration turns up in the end.

I don't expect the fear will ever go away. But I don't have to let it stop me from sitting down and picking up my pen.

Showing up. That's my job. That's all I have to do.

And let the results take care of themselves.

Gotta remember that. :)

Image courtesy of hotblack at Morguefile.com


Wednesday, 1 May 2013

Midweek Check In - and another 25K goal to reach!

It's 1st May and time to get myself settled down for another 25K wordcount goal.

Image Courtesy of Morguefile.com
Writing - after reaching the 25K mark in April - came to a halt because I started focusing on the romance subplot and wondering how on earth I was going to get my characters together. I mean, how was I going to write a believable romance, given what I know about my characters, and the difficulty they have communicating - they don't speak the same language - and I don't mean in a Mars and Venus way; they LITERALLY don't speak the same language.

It was clearly time to internet surf.

First of all I went looking for some (recent) articles on the 12 Steps of Intimacy. I already knew what they were, but I wondered if anyone out there had actually filled out the bullet point list with details. Here's what I found:



And then I moved on to how to write a believable relationship and this is what I found:

And, as it is so very common to do, while I was looking for material on creating a believable relationship I found some very interesting articles on how to map character relationships with all the other characters and how to create a breakdown of how the characters feel about one another:

All in all, quite a productive surf ... I just need to sit down now and get started. Tonight's session is all about my two main characters and the romance element of the story.

Wish me luck!


Monday, 29 April 2013

Sunday Check In - 28 April 2013

Friday night I passed the 25K mark - woo hoo! And I managed it through small bursts of writing throughout the day, one of which happened while my toddler sat on my knee and pretended to be putting the holes in my foolscap with his fingers. He was happy; I was happy.You just can't ask for more. :)

The wordcount has been validated and so I'm officially a winner of April Camp NaNo. I'm looking forward to the discount for Scrivener because that is going to be my reward for winning. I've been playing with the trial version and I can see the benefits of having Scrivener for the re-writes and for moving scenes around once they're written. There's also a couple of books I wanted to buy as a treat also - Michael Hauge's "Writing Screenplays that Sell" and Noah Lukeman's "The First Five Pages".

I haven't stopped writing - Goal No 3 is to have a finished draft completed (or nearly) by the end of June. Three months for a first draft seems like a reasonable amount of time to accomplish this.

Goal 1: To write at least 4 pages longhand in each writing session
Every writing session bar one I've written at least 4 pages of longhand. And I can't remember from my spreadsheet, but I think there's only three days max when I didn't write at all. And that's where Goal 2 comes into play...

Goal 2: Do some writing-related activity even if for only five minutes a day
This I have done. Even if it's only something as small as writing down some questions I need to answer in the novel, or jot down some islands to write about, or make notes about worldbuilding.

Goal 3: Have a first draft almost complete by the end of this Round
One month over, two more to go!



Wednesday, 24 April 2013

Midweek ROW80 Check In

I didn't get any writing done last night. Another priority was placed ahead of it. So I tried something new today. Small bursts of writing all day long. And I think I reached the highest daily wordcount this month by doing it that way!

The plan was to sit down and write for small bursts - maybe five minutes or so six or seven times a day. That would be the time equivalent of one of my usual writing sessions in the evening after Toddler is in bed.

Only it didn't work out like that. I managed two fairly long bursts of writing instead which, between them, got my "four pages of foolscap" goal reached. And then this evening, after Hubby had gone to bed, I got out another four or five pages. So I've more than made up for last night's non-writing.

As regards my goals, then, I'm on track. Camp NaNo is in its final week and I've already passed the 90% mark so I'm well on my way.

Hope you're all having productive weeks too. :)

Sunday, 21 April 2013

ROW80 Sunday Check In - 21 April 2013

I spent most of today planning learning activities for my toddler, designing and printing planners, surfing the net for teaching ideas, filling in aforementioned planner... I am completely drained after that.

So, it's not a great night tonight in terms of wordcount. 204 words. (I wrote more in my novel notebook than I did on the actual draft.) BUT, on a positive note, those 204 words did give me some ideas about events to come in the novel.

And onto my goals:

Goal 1: To write at least 4 pages longhand in each writing session
Er, no. Not tonight anyway. I'm at 83% in terms of wordcount goal for this month, but this is where my writing streak ends in terms of this particular goal. <sigh>

Goal 2: Do some writing-related activity even if for only five minutes a day
Yes. I mulled over the situation as it stands in the novel right now and wrote up the ideas in my novel notebook, so I can definitely tick this box!

Goal 3: Have a first draft almost complete by the end of this Round
Step by step. That's how I'll achieve this one.


I'm reading an EXCELLENT book right now - For Darkness Shows the Stars by Diana Peterfreund. EXCELLENT. It's YA and it's inspired by Jane Austen's Persuasion. It's set in the distant future in a society where there are two types of people: Luddites and the Reduced. But times are changing and a new class is emerging, the Post-Reductionists, who are beginning to explore the world and challenge the beliefs and traditions of the Luddites. There's a de-railed romance between a Luddite, Elliot (named after her grandfather), and Kai, a Post-Reductionist. It's an Unputdownable book. A keeper. I'm reading a copy from the library, but I'll be ordering one to buy and keep on my bookshelf. It's that good. :)

Hope your week has been going well.