Month, Week, Day

As a free-lance writer I am my own boss, so I’ve developed a system for staying on-track I call Month, Week, Day.

Every month, I list my goals.

Every month, I list my goals.

MONTH

Every month, I list my goals. These include both Big Ticket items, like the two books I’m working on, one a novel and one a piece of non-fiction, and the Smaller Tasks, which include my blogs, radio commentaries, newspaper editorials and work-for-hire. Some of these goals have deadlines. I post here at Live to Write – Write to Live every other Tuesday. I post to Living In Place on Wednesdays, and I submit The Middle Ages column to The Rutland Herald on the third Monday of the Month before posting it to my website the third Wednesday. I make my own deadlines for Vermont Public Radio and pencil in my ideas and due dates for two commentaries a month.

I also take time to list the meetings I’m already scheduled to attend as well as the interviews and events I either want to attend or need to schedule to research a commentary, my non-fiction project, or an editorial idea itching at the back of my mind.

By the time I’ve finished, I have a daunting list of goals for the month, so I break it down week by week.

I break the month's goals down week by week.

I break the month’s goals down week by week.

WEEK

Either at the end of work Friday or on Sunday evening, I fill in the following week’s deadlines, appointments, and meetings – all of which I schedule for afternoons. Because I’m one of those writers who thrives on consistency, I fence off my mornings for writing, and I try not to schedule anything else until after noon – and later, if possible.

Because writing is both sedentary and solitary, I also try to schedule exercise and social time for afternoon or evening. I attend local yoga classes that offer me both a good workout and a chance for brief interactions with friends.

But before I leave my desk for the day, I schedule what I have to do the next.

Before I leave my desk for the day, I schedule the next

Before I leave my desk for the day, I schedule the next

DAY

Because I’m not very good at breaking the novel down into small, measurable and achievable tasks, I simply block out the first hours of every morning and work on that first. This is the project closest to my heart at the moment, and because sustaining an entirely fictional reality requires fierce concentration, I work on it until my brain gives up. Then I write essays. I save research and formatting posts for late in the day.

My studio is internet- and telephone- free.

My studio is internet- and telephone- free.

There are two reasons for this. First, my studio is internet- and telephone- free, so I can’t squander my writing time on social media when I’m supposed to be writing; second, these tasks don’t require my morning mind, when I’m most fluent with words and ideas.

Sometimes, I’m distracted by other obligations. When that happens, I consult my list of goals for the month, week and day, which helps me reorient my mind to my desk. At the end of each day, week, and month, I cross off the tasks I’ve completed and the goals I’ve reached; I reassign those that I didn’t.

Thanks to a post Wendy wrote years ago about The Planner Pad, I have a great system for making Month, Week, Day work and for Accounting for Your Writing Time, but there are lots of good systems out there. The important first step is to develop a system and stick with it.

Like everyone else on the planet, I also have other obligations. Most notably, I have my 90-year old dad living nearby and a small farmstead at home, as well as children out in the world and a community in which I serve. Sometimes, it’s hard to know what obligation to tackle first and how I’ll ever get everything done. Well, I can’t always get everything done, so I do what’s most important first: I write.

M. Shafer, Photo

M. Shafer, Photo

Deborah Lee Luskin is the author of Into the Wilderness, a love story between middle-aged characters, set in Vermont in 1964.

Watch me use Scrivener to write a book

Shelf in my office - sigh

Shelf in my office – sigh

I have an idea for a book. It’s a memoir-how-to on decluttering my house. Years ago I wrote a 16 month newspaper series on moving unwanted and unnecessary things out of my house (I ended up removing over 5,000 pounds of stuff – yeah, I know, crazy.) To this day, people still ask me about that series and the number one question always is….

“Were you able to maintain a decluttered house?”

My stock answer to this is “Get real, we have 6 kids, no one could maintain that, but, to be fair, it’s not as cluttered as it used to be.”

Which is a bit of a half-truth, because our house is rapidly entering the pre-hoarding phase. Part of this is due to the kids (college storage, sports, clothes), part is because I work (and work) and the last thing I want to do at night when I finally shut down my computer is go clean the bathrooms or sort through my closet or put away things that I didn’t put there in the first place.

But, after spending the past weekend clearing out the belongings of a deceased relative, I’ve realized that I don’t ever want people to go through my stuff and laugh at me because I have things like framed chicken feathers from Jan Brett’s prized Polish chickens or a pile of rocks from a favorite family vacation or clothes from college (I kid you not) simply because they make me remember a fun time of my life.

Making people change is the most complex learning challenge there is. You have to prove to them that the pain in continuing their old behavior is less than the pain of learning and practicing new behavior. You have to give them a beneficial reason to change.

When we loaded bag, after bag, of items destined for the Goodwill, I finally got that change message loud and clear.

I need to get rid of our extra stuff immediately. It is literally weighing us down. Extra weight = discomfort. I finally get it.

I missed the Scrivener workshop (darn it) and it’s a shame because I really, *really* want to use Scrivener for this new idea. A non-fiction book just screams for that kind of organization.

So, if the mountain won’t come to me, then I must go to the mountain. This week I purchased the “Scrivener for Dummies” book (the author of this book is who presented the workshop – again darn, darn!) and along with watching tutorials, I’m going to try to figure this beast out.

I am going to write my decluttering-memoir book using Scrivener. Just watch me.

And I’ll be reporting back to all on how using this tool to write a book goes.

***

Wendy Thomas is an award winning journalist, columnist, and blogger who believes that taking challenges in life will always lead to goodness. She is the mother of 6 funny and creative kids and it is her goal to teach them through stories and lessons.

Wendy’s current project involves writing about her family’s experiences with chickens (yes, chickens). (www.simplethrift.wordpress.com) She writes about her chickens for GRIT, Backyard Poultry, Chicken Community, and Mother Earth News.

Weekend Edition – Spring Cleaning Makes Writing Easier Plus Good Reads and Writing Tips

How Spring Cleaning Helps You Write

She just wants a place for everything and everything in its place.

She just wants a place for everything and everything in its place.

So, yesterday was the first, official day of spring.

It didn’t much feel like it around here, with temps hovering around freezing and gray skies hiding the solar eclipse from view. Still, according to the calendar and the wheel of the year, the Spring Equinox had finally arrived. Hooray!

I unintentionally spent a good part of this week doing what I guess might pass as a sort of spring cleaning. I didn’t dust any drapes (I don’t have any drapes), defrost the freezer (I’m not even sure how to do that), or air out the linens, but I did make a dent in wrangling the frightening amount of administrative loose ends that had accumulated in my life.

You know the kinds of things I mean – returning calls, following-up on project statuses, figuring out your new insurance premiums, paying your excise tax, finding a new CPA, getting to inbox zero … stuff like that.

As a freelance writer, I am often swept up by the crush and hustle of needing to get the job done. Though I work for myself, in truth I have many bosses (even if I don’t include my cats, which I do). Sometimes, keeping everyone happy means that these small, household-type responsibilities fall to the bottom of the To Do list. Eventually, they pile up and pile up until what used to be a single, simple, five-minute task has mutated into a growing horde of could-become-catastrophic-at-any-moment chores clinging to my back like so many manic monkeys.

Perhaps I exaggerate, but not by much.

At any rate, this week, I shifted some deadlines so that I could focus on clearing out some of the physical and karmic debris caused by my long-term neglect of these clerical obligations. The work was tedious and without acclaim or monetary reward, but I have to tell you that I came away from the effort feeling refreshed and fulfilled and even empowered. There was suddenly more breathing room in my day. I felt lighter, and more optimistic than before.

I have long held that there is an important, if somewhat ineffable, relationship between The Maid and The Muse. My muse is fairly tolerant of disarray, but at a certain point, she takes in the scene, crosses her arms, and looks at me as if to say, “Seriously?” And, I have to admit, she has a point.

On the other hand, my internal maid can’t stand any amount of clutter, and the weight of things left undone is a heavy burden to her, indeed. Because of her slightly OCD nature, she tends to just vacate the premises when things start to spin out of control. It’s a matter of self preservation, kind of like how I’ve learned that if I’m going to make my deadlines, I have to compartmentalize my life a little.

But, eventually, The Maid and The Muse get together and stage an intervention.

I think that The Maid just reaches her breaking point. There is just too much clutter and too many things that should have been done weeks ago still hanging over our heads. She just can’t stand it anymore. The Muse becomes an accomplice out of necessity when the hand-wringing and griping of The Maid make it impossible for anyone to concentrate on creative endeavors.

So, I get to organizing, clearing out, and checking things off lists. Like I did this week.

Whether you realize it or not, having all those little tasks biting at your ankles takes a toll on your creativity. Even if you’re not actively thinking about them, all those worries linger somewhere in your consciousness and distract you from your work. They are like a shadow that you can only see out of the corner of your eye. You’re not exactly sure what it is, but it makes you uneasy.

When you finally confront that shadow, it’s not nearly as scary as you’d imagined. A few hours of focused effort, and – voila! – your head is clear and you’re ready to get down to your real work. I also believe (warning: woo-woo alert) that clearing your plate of physical and virtual clutter opens the way for new opportunities and possibilities. By creating more space, literally and metaphorically, you are free to invite more of what you want into your day and your life.

Ok, I’m stepping off my soapbox, but I do wish you a happy spring and (if the spirit grabs you) happy spring cleaning!

 

What I’m Writing:

nuthatchIt’s been a while since I’ve linked to a piece of my own writing, but in honor of the Spring Equinox, I’d like to share a recent column I wrote in admiration of our feathered friends and the way they help usher in the warmer weather and the new season.

I wrote Spring on the Wing after the phrase “held aloft on hollow bones filled with promises and sky” popped into my head just before I fell asleep. I’d been wanting to write a little something that expressed my love for and enjoyment of the many birds that frequent the feeder just outside my office window; and when I had that little piece of the puzzle, I knew it was time.

I hope you enjoy the piece and would love to hear from anyone who’d like to share his or her own piece on the arrival of spring.

 

What I’m Reading:

book bookmans taleJust  yesterday afternoon I finished Charlie Lovett’s novel, The Bookman’s Tale. I had three girlfriends coming over later and probably should have been running the vacuum or making some other domestic preparations; but I only had a few pages left to read, and I just couldn’t put the book down.

The Bookman’s Tale felt to me like a delightful mash-up of ages and genres. The story weaves in and out of four different time periods (Shakespeare’s day, the late 1800s, the mid-80s, and the mid-90s), and tells the tale of a recently widowed antiquarian bookseller who is drawn into a literary adventure when he discovers a mysterious portrait hidden in a book. There’s a love story, a mystery, and quite a bit of history. There’s a bit of the DaVinci Code’s intrigue and a bit of the gothic flavor of books like The Thirteenth Tale.

And, of course, as a lover of literature and books as works of art, this story held a particular allure. Lovett, a former antiquarian bookseller himself, clearly has a reverence for all aspects of the bookmaking art. Certain passages made me long to hold one of the literary treasures he describes in my own hands – a bit of paper and ink, but also a piece of history.

 

And let’s not forget the blogs. Here are a few of my favorite writerly posts from this week:

Marketing & Other Business-y Topics:

Inspiration:

Craft, Process, and Productivity:

Just for Fun:

Bookish:

 

Finally, a quote for the week:

A twofer this week – to cover both sides of the clean desk debate.

pin tidy deskpin cluttered desk

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Happy spring. Happy writing. Happy reading. 🙂  

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Jamie Lee Wallace Hi. I’m Jamie. I am a content marketer and branding consultant, columnist, sometime feature writer, prolific blogger, and aspiring fiction writer. I’m a mom, a student of equestrian and aerial arts (not at the same time), and a nature lover. I believe in small kindnesses, daily chocolate, and happy endings. Introduce yourself on Facebooktwitter, Instagram, or Pinterest. I don’t bite … usually.
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Housemaid Sketch Photo Credit: april-mo via Compfight cc

Is Multitasking a Way to Be More Productive?

Multitasking – it’s a method of working that easily divides an audience: folks seem to embrace it or run from it.

Do you find multitasking productive? Or a time suck?

I think of multitasking as leap frogging. For instance, you start replying to emails, end up clicking on a link within an email, and then get lost in the endless world known as the Internet. One page leads to another leads to another leads to another and before you know it, an hour has passed and there are still several emails to reply to.

Do you accomplish more when multitasking? Is it the way you find the success that you want? Or do you think multitasking sets you up for failure because you don’t get much accomplished?

Like anything, I don’t think it’s absolutely-multitask-all-the-time or avoid-multitasking-all-together. There can be a balance; it’s a matter of finding what works best.

Confession: As I wrote this post, I kept checking e-mails and managed to get sucked into the Internet through one of those ‘read more’ links like I mentioned above. <grin> So instead of just cranking through this blog post in 30 or so minutes, it took me a couple of hours. Multitasking did not benefit me in this instance!

Multitasking does work at times, though. For instance, when I’m in a waiting room or in a line – I can reply to and clean out old emails, sort and save emails, and schedule activities and events. Similarly, if I’m waiting for something to update online, I can reply to inquiries on Twitter and Facebook.

How about you? Do you find multitasking beneficial in saving time or a way to extend the time taken on tasks?

 

LisaJJackson_2014Lisa J. Jackson is an independent writer and editor who enjoys working with businesses of all sizes. She loves researching topics, interviewing experts, and helping companies tell their stories. You can connect with Lisa on TwitterFacebookGoogle+, and LinkedIn.

It’s a challenge to be your own boss

Being your own boss is thrilling, isn’t it? It’s nice to not have someone to report to every day. You don’t have to deal with someone hassling you if you don’t show up or if you spend all your time chasing dust bunnies, shiny objects, or killing time on Snapchat or Facebook.

Of course you want to impress your clients, but they come and go and care about what you can do for them, not necessarily about your personal success.

There’s a lot of freedom (insert Mel Gibson’s scream from “Braveheart”) in working for yourself. Maybe too much at times.

To be successful and keep your business on track, you need to think like a boss. What do I mean? Here are a few tips.

  • Determine and write down your goals
    • Yearly, quarterly, monthly, weekly, and daily goals will help you achieve the success you want. Written goals keep you focused.
  • Set check-ins and review milestones
    • Schedule time in your calendar, at least quarterly to review your progress on your goals.
  • Set and stick to a schedule
    • When working for someone else, you had to show up at a certain time, it’s just as important t o set a schedule for yourself and show up daily. It doesn’t have to be 8-5 5 days a week, but you should have a regular schedule – consistency and predictability are great for productivity.
  • Track your time
    • Use a timer and track how long  you spend doing different tasks – including those ‘shiny object’ time wasters. Tracking billable hours is imperative to running a successful business.

If you had a boss, you’d be responsible for all of the above – you’d be accountable for achieving certain tasks each day, week, month, quarter, and year. You’d even have once- (or perhaps twice) -a-year reviews. Which brings up another critical requirement for being your own boss: the self-evaluation.

It can be tricky evaluating yourself, so a tip here is to act as though you’re reviewing someone else — it’s important to be honest about your strengths and weaknesses to achieve the success you want. No one else will see the report, but spend time on an honest evaluation, as it can only help you achieve the success you’re after.

So if you start acting like the boss, you can the success that you want in your own business.

Why not start now? You’re the boss – even if you’re the only employee. 

 

LisaJJackson_2014Lisa J. Jackson is an independent writer and editor who enjoys working with businesses of all sizes. She loves researching topics, interviewing experts, and helping companies tell their stories. You can connect with Lisa on TwitterFacebookGoogle+, and LinkedIn.

Weekend Edition – Freedom of Writing Plus Good Reads and Writing Tips

The Importance of Your Freedom to Write

Artist - Lucille Clerc

Artist – Lucille Clerc

On Tuesday evening I was sitting in a cold, dimly lit indoor riding arena, bundled against the biting cold that arrives just after sundown. As I watched my daughter trot and canter her lesson pony around the ring, I started putting together an outline for this week’s post. I was going to write about the difference between writing as marriage and writing as passionate affair. But then Wednesday arrived and with it news of the fatal terrorist attack on the Parisian offices of the satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo.

I rarely talk about politics or religion. They are not my area of expertise and I have learned that almost all such conversations (regardless of good intentions) lead to misunderstandings and strife. In the case of this atrocity, however, politics and religion are so closely interwoven with art that it is difficult for any artist – writer, cartoonist, painter – to hear about this tragedy without experiencing a shiver of fear.

Here, an ocean away from the site of the crime, my fear is not for my physical wellbeing. My creative work is many times removed from the material published by Charlie Hebdo. Still, though we are geographically, philosophically, and creatively worlds apart, I feel I must stand in solidarity with these writers and artists who were killed for no reason other than expressing their thoughts through their art.

Isn’t that what we all, as writers, do – express ourselves through our art?

Author Salman Rushdie, himself a target of Islamic fanaticism, made a statement (originally published on The English Pen), condemning the attack on Charlie Hebdo:

Religion, a mediaeval form of unreason, when combined with modern weaponry becomes a real threat to our freedoms. This religious totalitarianism has caused a deadly mutation in the heart of Islam and we see the tragic consequences in Paris today. I stand with Charlie Hebdo, as we all must, to defend the art of satire, which has always been a force for liberty and against tyranny, dishonesty and stupidity. ‘Respect for religion’ has become a code phrase meaning ‘fear of religion.’ Religions, like all other ideas, deserve criticism, satire, and, yes, our fearless disrespect.

In her Wall Street Journal piece, Salman Rushdie, Meet Charlie Hebdo, Peggy Noonan recounts the day in 1989 when Rushdie was sentenced to death by the Ayatollah Khomeini because the writer’s novel The Satanic Verses criticized Islam. She goes on to write about other religiously offensive artworks that have been exhibited to the horror of, for instance, the Catholic church, but which never inspired anyone to pick up a gun and shoot the artist. There may have been disgust, but it did not lead to murder. PEN American posted a fitting Noam Chomsky quote on their Tumblr page, “If we don’t believe in freedom of expression for people we despise, we don’t believe in it at all.”

I have no plans to create political, religious, or otherwise controversial art. My creative aspirations are not confrontational. But, apart from their sheer brutality, these types of attacks scare me because of their potential to silence the voices of artists. Censorship in any form leads us towards the precipitous edge of a slippery slope that is slick with nuance. Violent censorship gives us an all too terrifying look over that precipice into the dark abyss below.

 

What I’m Writing:

morning pgs 2013Most mornings, I start my day by writing my morning pages. This practice is a habit I formed after reading part of Julia Cameron’s The Artist’s Way (I must admit that I never finished the book). It is one I hold dear. Sitting in the predawn or early morning light, pen in hand, scribbling down whatever comes into my still sleep-addled head has turned out to be a form of cathartic creativity that never fails to deliver insight.

Part of my ritual for welcoming in the New Year is to sit down with the previous year’s morning pages notebooks and look through them for patterns and themes, threads of meaning woven into my entries. As I write in these journals, I put a small star in the margin next to passages that I think I may want to return to. Most days, there are no stars, just random ramblings that help me clear my head at the start of the day. But, sometimes an idea or a phrase will seem worth marking.

A year ago when I looked back through my entries, I found that most of my stars referenced notes about my marketing business. I was working on plans to evolve it in a new direction. This past year – 2014 – my stars led me to passages that were much more focused on my creative work, on my writing. Like an inked constellation, spreading across the pages of these notebooks, my little stars formed a very different picture this year. Although my outer circumstances do not appear to have changed dramatically (business copywriting still generates the lion’s share of my income), an important shift is happening beneath the surface. This makes me happy … and hopeful.

 

What I’m Reading:

book FGPSometimes, after finishing an especially good novel (like The Little Country, which I finished just last week), I find myself unwilling to dive immediately into another long-form story.  I feel like I need to create some space between my literary experiences. It seems somehow irreverent to glide blithely from one world to the next without even taking a moment to savor the story that has gone before.

So, this week, instead of picking up another novel, I read an anthology of personal essays, the first published by Jennifer Niesslen, founder and editor of the blog Full Grown People. Here is the review I posted on Goodreads:

I am rarely inspired to write actual reviews, but my love for this anthology and the blog that inspired it moves me to pen a few quick words of praise and gratitude.

Jennifer Niesslein’s Full Grown People is an ever-growing collection of beautifully written essays about navigating, as she puts it, “that other awkward age.”

I enjoyed many of these essays when they were first published on the blog, but it was a delicious pleasure to experience them again, curled up on the sofa with a real book in my hands. The Internet is convenient and quick, but there will always be something more intimate about a real book. The collection careens wildly across a vast terrain of topics, lifestyles, tragedies, and discoveries. Each voice is unique, but somehow together they create a beautiful harmony that leaves me feeling both more vulnerable and stronger than before.

Although I have been blogging for nigh on a decade now, and writing a biweekly column for the past two years, I have never considered myself either a master or an aficionado of the essay form. I can say, however, that these are quality pieces of work – honest, piercing, and sometimes laugh-out-loud funny. Through their words, these writers give us a glimpse into their world and in doing so reveal the infinite variations that make each life unique and the constant themes that weave all our lives together. At the end, I am reminded that no one is ever alone.

I am grateful to Niesslein for putting this group of writers and collection of stories together. I know I will return to it again and again for solace, inspiration, and perspective.

 

And let’s not forget the blogs. Here are a few of my favorite writerly posts from this week:

Finally, a quote for the week:

pin camus purpose

Here’s to courage and conviction in your creative endeavors. Here’s to saving your little piece of civilization with your stories. 

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Jamie Lee Wallace is a writer who also happens to be a marketer. She helps her Suddenly Marketing clients discover their voice, connect with their audience, and find their marketing groove. She is also a mom, a prolific blogger, and a student of the equestrian arts, voice, and – occasionally –  trapeze (not at the same time). Introduce yourself on facebook or twitter. She doesn’t bite … usually.

Organizing Systems for Files

Papers to be filedTurning the calendar to a new year is always an opportunity to establish new and improved organizing systems of all kinds. Over the years, I’ve developed a few of my own, from celebrating Boxing Day by boxing up the year’s receipts to cleaning up my computer by archiving old files on a thumb drive.

I find the systems I have for December into January are easy compared to the filing that must be done day-to-day during the year. And as anyone who has spent any amount of time hunting through a hard drive looking for a misplaced document knows, not being able to find an earlier draft of an article can be a real time sink. So this is what I do:

First of all, I use folders: For this blog, I have a folder marked NHWN Blog. In it, I have sub-folders, one for each year I’ve been contributing (since 2011!). That’s where I park each post as I write it, creating a sub-sub folder if I write several drafts.

I always write several drafts.

And this is how I tell them apart:

I give each draft a title followed by the date. I use the title both in the header on the document and as a file name. The first draft for this post, for instance, is Organizing Principles NHWN2015_0104.

Placing the title and date in the header is especially helpful when I print a draft to work with hard copy.

When I return to a draft and make changes, I change the date. If it’s still the same day, I add a letter after the date. (The second draft of this piece includes a title change: Organizing Systems NHWN2015_0104A) When I’m sending drafts to an editor or client, I often add a time tag to the date, so we both know which is the most recent draft. With drafts zipping back and forth through cyberspace, date and time tags literally keep us on the same page.

Whenever I make substantial changes to a document, I use the “Save As” function. This way, I have preserved my earlier work, in case I do want to return to something I’ve cut. This system also makes cutting less painful: The deadwood is gone from the current version, but it’s not in the trash, and I can always go back and consult what I’ve written and tossed. (The third draft of this post is the last: Organizing Systems NHWN2015_0104B)

While I often write a couple of drafts of a post, I write countless drafts of my fiction, and keeping each draft is quite helpful during the initial stages of discovery – when I’m learning about my characters and what they have to say. I probably cut out at least as much as I save in the course of a novel, maybe more. In fact, I’m wondering if I cut the wrong sections of Ellen, and I’m comforted to know that I can sift through the outtakes and see if there are gems I need to reinstate when I’m ready to return to that novel.

I make no claims that this is a perfect system, but it’s an organic one I’ve developed over time, and it works for me.

What systems have you developed?

M. Shafer, Photo

M. Shafer, Photo

Deborah Lee Luskin is a writer, educator and speaker who lives in southern Vermont and blogs at Living in Place.

Taking Stock

I have a love/hate relationship with New Year’s and, especially, New Year’s Eve. The expectations involved with getting dressed up, going out, spending too much, drinking even more–those days are behind me. This year I am planning on spending it alone, surrounded by my different journals, prepping for 2015.

I couldn’t be more thrilled.

Life, and the holidays, have been a blur this year. Plus, I find as I get older, I miss the people who aren’t here any more with a more pronounced ache. I am still one of the luckiest people I know, with a wonderful life. But I need to be mindful of thinking about more actively. I blogged about “Finding Joy” on Wicked Cozy Authors, and that is one of my resolutions. The others are the reasons for the various journals. (BTW, Diane and Wendy had great posts on New Years resolutions.)

Notebooks for the new year!

Clockwise–Plot Perfect notebook for Book #2, new Bullet Journal, Clock Journal for book journey, Passion Planner filler

One is my stop gap until my Passion Planner arrives. Since I donated to her Kickstarter, I got a PFG of 2015. I ordered one anyway, but since it is on backorder, I can start sketching out the first six months of the year. I love the visual of the journal, so that I can literally see my day/week.

Second is my new Bullet Journal. AKA a moleskin with a plan. I started using the system this fall, and I love it. All of my notes and to dos go into it, I can keep them for reference, there is an indexing system, etc. The journal goes with my everywhere. I suspect I will add book notes to it for next year.

Third is a larger notebook I plan to use for plotting Book #2. Book #1 (Just Killing Time) was accepted, and is with the copy editor. In the meantime, I have been plotting out Book #2. I need to weave in the subplots, and add another story that will run through to Book #3. Paula Munier’s Plot Perfect: How to Build Unforgettable Stories Scene By Scene was an early Christmas present to myself. I am finishing it tomorrow, and putting it into play over the weekend.

And lastly–I bought a journal so I can keep track of this year, my first as a published author. Notes for the future, moments I want to remember. It has clocks on it–my protagonist is a clock maker. I figured it was a sign.

That’s a lot, I know. BUT, per Wendy’s suggestion, it will help me with achievable goals. For writing, I have found that having scenes plotted, with goals for each scene, helps tremendously. Seeing what my week looks like, and scheduling in writing, and exercise, and sleep, is critical. Plus the visual is really helpful for keeping some balance, And the Bullet Journal really helps me keep my life in one place.

So those are my plans for tonight. Writing, color coding, plotting, planning. And getting ready for 2015.

Happy New Year dear readers! See you on the other side!

Short and Sweet Advice for Writers – Break Your Story Down to Build It Up.

VW bug cutawayWhen we read a finished story, whether a thousand-word piece of flash fiction of a thousand-page novel, we perceive it as whole. It’s similar to the way we see each other. You don’t think of your friend as a collection of distinct elements. You don’t perceive her as a particular combination of skin and hair and eyes, scarf and jeans and shoes. You don’t see the individual bones, muscles, or cells that make up her body. You don’t consciously perceive all the discrete events and experiences that make up her personality and character. You just see Jane.

Stories are like that. We experience a story as the sum total of its parts. And, as with a person, the whole is greater than the sum of its parts. Still, those parts are there. Without them the person or the story would not exist, at least not in the form you perceive.

As a writer, you need to define each part of your story in order to create the whole. You need to break your story down in order to build it up. This will not only help you build a better story, it will make the process of writing even a long-form piece (like a novel) much less overwhelming. In her comment on last Saturday’s weekend edition, Jean Brown shared how studying the structure (the parts) of a particular piece had helped reduce the overwhelm she felt about writing a “A Whole Book:”

One of the major benefits of this exercise for me was imaging how the author had laid out the whole structure ahead of the writing, and how this structure basically chunked the book into 10 page sections. This made the idea of writing “A Whole Book” seem incredibly achievable, whereas before it loomed as nearly impossible in my mind.

I felt a similar sense of relief when I realized that writers I admire put a lot of thought and intention into creating and arranging all the separate elements that make up their stories. When you can think of a novel not as “A Whole Book,” as Jean put it, but as a series of much smaller pieces that all fit together (perfectly) to create that whole, it suddenly feels much more manageable.

Plus, I love a good puzzle and the idea of identifying and arranging all these pieces to create a particular experience is pretty intriguing to me.

I sketched this visual to help illustrate how I think about a story breakdown. I intentionally left off labels so that you can interpret it in the context of your own story. If, for instance, you are working on a novel, the top level would represent the finished book, the next level down might represent “beginning, middle, and end,” the circles might be chapters, the triangles might be scenes within chapters, and the dots might be individual elements within a scene – things like lines of dialog, setting details, reveals of character traits, etc.

story breakdown

As we drill deeper into the elements, breaking things down further and further, the gaps between the individual pieces close, creating that sense of wholeness and story continuity.

There are many different tools for doing story break downs, but so far I’m finding that Scrivener offers some helpful features. I love the cork board view which allows me to look at my whole collection of story elements along with more detailed notes about specific actions, etc. The “binder” in Scrivener allows me to organize different pieces of my story by section, chapter, scene, etc. There are also ways (which I haven’t yet fully explored) to filter my notes and draft so that I can isolate a particular thread (such as a character or a setting or a sub-story). This will allow me to focus on a single story element within the context of the whole.

Whatever tools and process you prefer, I encourage you to think about breaking your story down so that you can get “inside” it – really see how it’s put together. I promise that you will gain greater clarity and even, perhaps, some new inspiration.

Jamie Lee Wallace is a writer who also happens to be a marketer. She helps her Suddenly Marketing clients discover their voice, connect with their audience, and find their marketing groove. She is also a mom, a prolific blogger, and a student of the equestrian arts, voice, and trapeze (not at the same time). Introduce yourself on facebook or twitter. She doesn’t bite … usually.

Photo Credit: roger4336 via Compfight cc

Weekend Edition – NaNoWriNOPE plus Good Reads and Writing Tips

NaNoWriMo – Maybe Next Year

I don't mind adventure on the road, but I like to know where (I think) I'm going.

I don’t mind adventure on the road, but I like to know where (I think) I’m going.

I think 2009 was my first NaNoWriMo – National Novel Writing Month. You know, the month of story-driven insanity where intrepid writers try to get 50,000 words out in thirty days. Today at the stroke of midnight, thousands of people sat down to keyboards, laptops, and notebooks and began to chip away at the word count. It’s an experience that is both exhilarating and exhausting. The camaraderie is contagious. Some might say it’s because misery loves company, but I think it’s more that insanity is better shared.

Whether or not to participate in NaNoWriMo is a decision that plagues many writers this time of year. Despite being up to my eyeballs with copywriting deadlines and already overextended with a (fabulous) writing class at Grub Street, I was still tempted. There is something heroic about joining this crusade against the blank page. There is something comforting about standing shoulder-to-shoulder with all those other literary legions, valiantly marching towards victory, one word at a time.

But, at the end of the day, I passed on NaNoWriMo this year for the same reason that I reluctantly turned my back on the writing frenzy in 2012: Larry Brooks. I explained my justification for bailing on this literary tradition in the post NaNoWriMo #fail – I Blame You, Larry Brooks. The short version is that I found myself unprepared (as in no outline) and unable to stomach the idea of writing 50,000 without a plan. Once upon a time, I might have just forged ahead anyway. I did, actually, in 2009, write 50,000 words with nary a storyline in sight. I embraced the No Plot, No Problem! spirit of the event 150%.

But, as I’ve learned more about story structure, characterization, context, etc., I find that – for better or worse – I only want to tackle a story if I’ve had the time to get a plan in place. Even for a short story, like the assignment I’m working on today for class, I need to have a roadmap. I don’t need to have every nitty-gritty detail lined up like so many tasks on a To Do list, but I do need a strong understanding of my characters, themes, and a general idea of how (I think) the story is going to develop. It’s okay if things evolve in new directions while I’m working, but I need that starting foundation before I can settle in to crafting actual sentences.

Am I just making excuses? I don’t think so, but I can understand why you might ask the question. At some point, the planning has to stop and the writing must commence. I get that. But, I’ve always found that the writing part goes much more smoothly if I’ve taken the time to do the prep work. Whether I’m writing a blog post, a column, a website, or a business ebook, the writing is much easier if I’ve put the effort into developing solid outlines that address everything from my topic to my theme, consider my audience, and even start to lay out creative elements like structure, presentation, etc.

But, maybe that’s just me.

What’s your take? Planner or Panster? NaNoWriMo Forever or NaNoWriNope?

 

What I’m Writing:

practical sandra

Smile, even when things may not go as you’d planned.

Last Tuesday, my fellow students and Grub Street instructor workshopped my “homework submission” for the Fiction I class I’m taking. I was a little nervous. After all, although I knew everyone would be kind, it’s never easy to be on the hot seat, or – as it’s called in class – “in the box.” On the other hand, there is something undeniably thrilling about having someone read your work. You feel naked, but you also feel heard. I knew that all the flaws and faux pas of my writing were there on the page, but it was worth it to have readers join me inside the world of my story.

I spent some more time last week and this working on further developing the idea and outline for the short story I’m hoping to submit for next Tuesday’s class. Once again, I had set a big, juicy block of writing time aside. That mini writing retreat was scheduled to begin a few minutes ago, but after a Norman Rockwell-worthy Halloween with my daughter, I got a bit of a late start on this post. And, I just learned moments ago that my daughter’s dad has decided to pick her up later than expected. A lot later.

So, once again, my writing window has shrunk down to the size of a porthole.

In the past, I would have railed against this development. I would have slid quickly from disappointed to angry to bitter. I would have written a slightly whiny post about how hard I was fighting for my writing life, and the whole world seemed hell bent on stopping me. In short, I would have pouted.

Not any more. It’s a cold, gray day-after-Halloween. I am just about to curl on on the sofa with my daughter and watch Practical Magic – one of my all-time favorite movies with her for the first time. And, you know what? I’m not just good with that. I’m delighted. Sure, it will curtail my writing for the day, but as important as writing is to me, life is more important. Life is, after all, what fuels the writing. Life is what makes the writing worthwhile.

 

What I’m Reading:

miniature booksAs you might imagine, I didn’t have a ton of time for reading this week, but what I did enjoy were a few short stories and essays. I’m beginning to develop quite an affinity for short form fiction. I’m even starting to get an itch to play around with flash fiction a bit.

In addition to reading the workshop submissions from two fellow students in class (submissions which were, by the way, excellent and so much fun!), I also read a wonderful essay by Jamie Passaro on Full Grown People, and a couple of appropriately spooky 19th century tales by Elia W. Peattie from Short Story Thursdays – The Room of Evil Thoughts and A Child of the Rain.

Though these pieces were short, they were fulfilling. They didn’t provide any sense of closure, something I usually like in a story. Instead, they raised questions and curiosity. They made me wonder what else might have happened. They reached into my writer’s mind and spun the wheels about a bit. That’s a good thing.

 

And let’s not forget the blogs. Here are a few of my favorite writerly posts from this week:

 

Finally, a quote for the week:

pin happy let go

Smile and enjoy your day, even if it doesn’t go as you’d planned. Write, read, live. 

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Jamie Lee Wallace is a writer who also happens to be a marketer. She helps her Suddenly Marketing clients discover their voice, connect with their audience, and find their marketing groove. She is also a mom, a prolific blogger, and a student of the equestrian arts, voice, and – occasionally –  trapeze (not at the same time). Introduce yourself on facebook or twitter. She doesn’t bite … usually.

Hourglass Photo Credit: chiaralily via Compfight cc
Country Road Photo Credit: fatboyke (Luc) via Compfight cc
Miniature Books Photo Credit: lamont_cranston via Compfight cc