Sticky Note Solutions

November—already, can you believe it? Some of you are probably happily bogged down with Nanowrimo this month. It’s early in, the inspiration is thick and humid, the words and ideas are growing like crazy, but despite your amazing work ethic and exciting word counts thus far, you’re ever cognisant of the reality that you need to log 1666.66 words per day (better round that up to 1667!) to nail this bad boy.

Others of you, like me, decided to forgo the 50 000 word extravaganza this month, because you have other writing priorities yelling loudly in your head that you don’t want to ignore.

Whatever camp you fall in, I suspect that because you have spectacularly lofty goals this month, life will throw a lot of unexpected distractions at you this month, including but not limited to things like: surprise visits from old friends, birthday bashes, baby showers, or other celebratory not to be missed events, extra work hours, a small family crisis or two, etc . . .

Wait? Am I talking about November particularly or the writing life in general? Rats, you caught me. Nano or no Nano, my writing life, despite my best laid plans, always gets interrupted. I still manage to get quite a lot done most months, however, and one of the easiest ways I’ve learned to motivate and focus myself (not to mention remind myself of what I actually want to accomplish) is to use sticky notes. And not the sticky note app—the actual, messy little pieces of paper that one scrawls notes on and sticks up all over the place.

The idea is not uniquely mine, of course. After all, sticky notes were invented to leave memos for yourself. And I took a class with author Kerri Nelson, called “The Book Factory—Produce Multiple Novels in a Year” that I raved about before in “Take 15 . . .

Kerri advocated constructing a brief list of things you need to get done in a day or in a chunk of writing time, keeping it in a highly visible place, then before you got to bed that evening making sure you’ve accomplished each one.

There’s something powerful in the act of prioritizing (only so many goals fit on a sticky note) and then crossing each accomplishment with swift stroke of ink. The more specific the goals, the better.

When I jot down “Blog post,” it’s a little tougher to get down to, than if I write “Blog post + TITLE,” because just writing a title is consideration of an idea—and idea that stirs about in the muck and mire of my brain, and is then more than ready to muddy up the page once I sit down to it.

When I write “Edit TITLE,” it’s not as effective as when I write, “Edit three chapters of TITLE.”

“Write a chapter” is not as forward-driving as “Write scene where blah-blah-blah.” (Of “blah blah blah” is actually spelled out on the note—even if so cryptically that only I know at a glance what on earth I’m talking about.)

I also write mundane, non-writing tasks on my sticky notes (“Toyota Payment, “Park Optometry,” etc.), not because I consider them writing-related per se, but because my brain sometimes uses menial chores and other trivial “must-do’s” as a way to avoid writing. “You shouldn’t write right now. You should insert-silly-but-practical-distraction.” Once those chores make it to the sticky note, I can make my procrastinator shut-up. (It’s on the sticky note, it’ll get done. Now be quiet, I have work to do!)

I don’t know if sticky notes will revolutionize your writing days or the short sessions you try to sneak in around the other demands of life, but I know that when I’m using my sticky note system, I’m always a little blown away, by how I manage to get things done when I have no time.

I wish you crazy productivity this month—especially if you’re Nanowrimoing! And if you have special methods or tips for breaking down your big goals into smaller, manageable ones, please share.:)

Writing time never magically appears

My children are back in school, my husband has settled back into his regular routine at work, and I run my own Writing Services business from home. I should have hours and hours to write uninterrupted, right? Uh huh.

Some days it’s a struggle just to fit in all my clients’ work and take care of the phone calls and e-mails that are involved in the kind of work I do. Balancing work, my family’s wants and needs (and mine–I don’t want to sacrifice the most important things in my life!), the volunteer things I do, the alone time I need, and my personal reading and writing feels like a tight rope walking adventure. But I like the dizzying rush. I’m not scared to look down. I’d be more worried if I never climbed up and started to inch foot over foot . . .

People often tell me they’d like to write someday. That they’re going to write one day. That they’d write now, but they don’t have time. I have a standard reply: It really is never too late to start, but time doesn’t carve itself. We won’t wake up one day and find that our work calendar has magically cleared, our bank accounts have filled themselves, and our family and friends no longer have emergencies or just want to visit (or I hope the latter doesn’t happen!). We have to make time now. We might even have to forgo something that brings pleasure.

My aunt is up visiting right now and it’s wonderful. We’re good friends and close. I would love nothing better than to just hang out and gab all day, so it was hard to tell her that despite how glad I am to have her, I have to work. But tell her I did, and she’s been great about it. “Oh, Ev, you’re so good. So disciplined.” Uh . . . not really. Not at all, in fact. I just know what I want to do, and I know that next week, next month, next year won’t be any freer time-wise, so I write now.

You can’t try to do things; you simply must do them. ~ Ray Bradbury

The Waiting Game

Is there anything more onerous to a writer than the waiting game? Most people tackle a project and then, well, they’re done. Not fiction writers, oh no. They “finish” their work (which could take months, a year, or even years) and send it away, only to have the really time consuming part of the job start: the waiting.

Lurking dangers surround all that waiting. Self-doubt has lots of time to imagine unkind things being said to your story’s face (and to do its own unkind muttering in your head). The desire for regular coffee money might trick you into some cave of a job where you’re paid by the hour. Writer’s block (if you subscribe to that kind of notion) is more prone to leap upon you and starting chewing on your throat—especially if what you want to write next might depend (foolishly!) on whether the circulating work sells (my advice: write like it sells, or don’t and start something entirely new—just write!).

It’s not all bad though. If you let it, waiting to hear back can be kind of like counting down to a vacation. Each passing day is one closer to at least some sort of a response, the wait gets sweeter, the anticipation builds. I’ve learned to use the hope that just won’t die (I’m bandaging my throat here as you read!) as motivation to write the next thing. While your words sit on someone’s desk, there is the endless opportunity that said words might find a home—someone might like that story, poem, article, or what-have-you. Nothing is more inspiring than the idea that someone might relate to your offerings and even (gleep!) want more of them. Exciting stuff.

I try to take full advantage of this wait/hope phenomenon by keeping 6 – 8 things “out there” all the time. That way, rejection doesn’t hurt as much (hope sprints over to another project to rest on) and my inner-creep can’t do as much of a job on my self-esteem.

Hmmmm . . . Is there a point to this post? Yes (lectures self), get your stuff out there and keep it out there until it finds a home. And in the meantime, the waiting time, get busy on the next idea.

Happy writing,
☺ Ev

Get the words out.

The hardest thing about writing, for me, is actually getting down to it and doing it. My favourite ways to procrastinate are devious, because they often look so industrious, so productive, so thoroughly worthwhile, that it barely occurs to me to crack the whip. My variety of stalling—working on assignments, paying bills, doing lesson prep, “improving” my craft via Internet forums, etc—is the very worst type, because I feel so justified and righteous while not doing what I know I should (and worse, what I really want) to be doing.

Well, now—at least for while I’m in the first blush of New Year’s resolutions—I may have found a way to foil my do-anything-but ways. Each week, I’m creating a weekly work calendar (time-slotted, guys. Yikes!). And more importantly, I’m adhering to it. I’ve even assigned specific e-mail, blog, and forum time. Wah. So yes, right now, I’m not actually playing hooky…. I’m using scheduled time. (Yes, I am fully aware of how pathetic that is.)

The irony of my renewed commitment? My own writing-avoidance methods are partially to thank for it. As I was putting off getting down to something, I was reading from Eliza Clark’s Writer’s Gym (a book of exercises and training tips for writers) and came upon an interview with Val McDermid. At one point she was asked, “If the writing life is a pie, how would you slice it up and what size would the pieces be?”

She answered, “35% talent, 40% hard work, 25% luck.”

I assumed she was speaking to the having books published aspect of the writing life, and found her words inspiring. She acknowledges luck and talent, but feels work has the most weight. And really, talent-shmalent…. I think you get born with some, yes, but it’s amazing how working hard at something will make it seem like you just have a “gift” for it. And luck? Again I have a sneaking suspicion that those who get lucky in the story-telling business sat their butts down at their desks and wrote a lot of words before luck magically befell them.

And on that note, I have to go. My allotted blogging time is up. 😉

Happy writing!

~Ev

Short Story Tips

To help in our quest to write ever better, I’m going to list some of the things that are considered in the TWG Fiction Contest’s judging. I suspect other contests look at similar elements.

1. Opening ~ Is there something in your first line, first paragraph, or first page that hooks the reader and makes him/her want to read on?

2. Characters ~ Do your characters live off the page; do they seem like they must be real, living breathing people somewhere?

3. Dialogue ~ Do the things your characters say “ring true”? And does your dialogue move the story forward and add to characterization?

4. Plot ~ What does your character want and what’s getting in the way of his achieving that goal? Make sure it’s clear!

5. Theme ~ Does your story have some sort of lasting power? Does it give the reader something to think about after the last page is read? Is it about more than just the actions and events that take place between its pages?

6. Involvement ~ Does your reader get so caught up in the story that they forget they’re reading? Watch out for “telling” and explaining everything.

7. Language ~ Do you show a masterful command of language—maybe even flashes of brilliance? Find and destroy language/usage/grammar problems!

8. Pace ~ Page by page, do you create a “must keep reading” feeling?

9. Ending ~ Does your ending give your reader that “ahhh” feeling (happy or sad); does it add to the story as a whole?

That little extra ~ There are many other qualities that make a story jump off the page and into a reader’s head, so pay attention to the above, but don’t treat it like a check-list. Have fun with your stories; run with your inspirations. Concentrate on showing the story that you’re burning to tell, and regardless of contest or market response, don’t get discouraged. Keep getting the words out on paper!

Happy writing to us all,

Ev