Posts

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Writing on Days When You Feel Drained

If you feel drained of ideas and motivation, that could be a sign that you need to take a writing break and let yourself entirely off the hook. Spend the day reading a book, catching up on TV, or actually, you know, interacting with people. I find that having conversations with other writers and creators is often the best way to find inspiration again.

But let’s assume for a moment that you can’t take a break and you have to write no matter what (ahem, like when you’re in the middle of NaNoWriMo). What do you do on those days when you have to force yourself to write?

Maintaining a Streak

If you’re writing to maintain a streak and it doesn’t matter what you write, so long as you write, it may be a day to shelve the current work in progress and try something new.

Shift over to your ideas notebook, grab a random prompt from the internet (there are a jillion, so if you don’t have a favorite site bookmarked, Google “creative writing prompts” or “writing prompt generator”), or ask your friends if there’s a story they’d like to be told. I’ve written some fun one-offs about my original characters inspired by things my friends prompted me or scenes they wish they’d read.

If you’re still struggling to get any words on the page, or are generally finding yourself uninspired, it’s time for some free writing. This free writing could eventually evolve into a blog post or story, but it might just be an activity to get you writing again.

Start with a question about what’s bugging you. This could be anything from, “Why am I so tired today?” to “How am I so uninspired?” Once you have that question nailed down, twist it into a question you can analyze and/or give advice about. “Why am I so tired today?” might become “How can you write when you’re tired?” or “What’s the greatest obstacle between a writer and a nap?” or “Why is sleep so important to the creative process?” Once you have a question, and one that is built on a topic that’s currently bugging you, you have something to write about. And turning it into a question that you can either analyze or give advice about lets you turn free writing about your problems into a positive exercise. Too often free writing about problems can turn into negative thoughts and self-immolation, but turning it into a question to be answered lets you think about the same topic in a completely different way and hopefully can inspire you to help yourself!

Writing to a Deadline

If you’re writing for a deadline and you must work on a specific piece, the real problem is that you have to find inspiration in a specific work, so jumping to other pieces isn’t always an option.

But it’s still where I would start.

When feeling totally uninspired on one story, I start by writing on something else. If you have another project in progress, spending some time on that might reinvigorate your motivation for the deadline project. If no other project is available, you can take any of the suggestions above and apply them here—prompts, free writing with a question, etc.

No matter what you’re writing, set a timer to limit how much time you spend working on other activities or projects. I recommend 10–15 minutes for warm-up writing before trying to get back to the project you’re supposed to be working on.

Or, instead of writing something different, you can use prompts that allow you to work with the same characters or the same world, essentially approaching your deadline project from the side instead of head-on. Try posing what-if situations for your characters, alternate scenes/endings, or writing something from the perspective of someone else in your world.

You can use a similar strategy as the suggested free writing activity by answering a question related to the thing you’re stuck on—”How can my character get out of this situation?” or “Who should my character partner with for this mission?” or “How does the world’s society/laws limit my character?” Using the free writing format as an opportunity to organize your thoughts can help you work through the problem in a different way than just thinking about it. (This is why so often solutions might come when we’re talking to someone else, rather than when we’re just thinking to ourselves. Different ways of communication allow us to organize our thoughts differently, so if you don’t have a friend on hand, have a conversation with a blank page!)

If you absolutely must be working on your deadline-driven project and don’t have time for warm-up activities, try reading the last 1-2 pages you’ve written and allow yourself to revise and edit them. One of the best ways for me to get back into a story is by working to flesh out the last thing I wrote. If the last thing I wrote is literally what stumped me—and I had difficulty figuring out where the story goes next—I rewrite from where the story started to derail. Sometimes I might keep all the action and description, but change the dialogue. Sometimes I might move the setting. Sometimes I might scrap the entire idea, or even shift who is in the scene and take the whole thing in a completely different direction! It may not feel like you’re getting anywhere (especially if you end up trashing that version and starting again), but what you’re doing is eliminating the ideas that aren’t working and helping find the idea that does work.

 

No matter what’s going on with you creatively, there are ways to dig deep on those days when you’re feeling drained. And the more often you practice digging deep, the easier it can get. I still sometimes hit days when I’m totally worn out and need a break, and on those days I write my minimum word count using one of the strategies above and call it a day. But because I’ve put in so much effort, it’s easy for me to use one of those strategies and see success. So even if it’s hard now, know that putting in the hard work will help train you as a writer and eventually you’ll be able to sail past those inspiration-less days with no trouble.

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1,000

Tomorrow is my 1,000th consecutive day of writing!

On one hand it is a holy-cannoli moment. Ten years ago, I never would have dreamed of having this kind of regularity in my writing life. Even before I was depressed, I wrote in fits and spurts and when I felt like it, sneaking in a writing life in between work hours, chores, family functions, and everything else. I could commit during NaNoWriMo, or when I had a deadline, but I was wholly unconcerned about when I would write next or what I was building toward. My writing life was an amorphous thing and even though I had goals (get published!) I had no plan. I was basically an underpants gnome where my plan was:

Phase 1: Write

Phase 2: ????

Phase 3: PUBLISH!

I had this idea that I’d like to write every day, but I didn’t understand what it would do for me and I didn’t have the follow-through to make it happen. When I realized I had written every day the first week of 2016, it was a surprise. I haphazardly decided to keep going, but that cavalier decision hardened into resolve and I slowly figured out how to juggle writing and all my other responsibilities. I learned that I had to prioritize writing to make my writing life happen. I learned that I had to tell friends and family things like, “this has been fun, but I have to go write,” even though I felt silly and trivial doing so the first few times. I learned that writing was as important as my job (because I wanted it to be my job), so I had to value it.

All of those little lessons and small goals helped me to get to the other hand of how I feel about this landmark.

On this other hand, this non-holy-cannoli-moment hand, writing 1,000 days seems inevitable. It’s still an achievement, don’t get me wrong, but I see no reason why I won’t write for 1,000 more days. Daily writing is such a part of my life now that I no longer question how I will shuffle my day to include writing. And that’s the real power that comes from building a writing habit. I have confidence that I will write today and from that confidence stems other confidence:

That this won’t be my last great idea.

That I can figure out how to write this scene.

That I can find the right word.

That I can do this.

While I’m proud of having written 1,000 days in a row, I’m most proud of cultivating confidence in my writing life and developing the kind of consistency that makes me certain that, if I want to, I’ll be celebrating 2,000 days of writing in 2021.

 

If you’d like to know more about building a daily writing habit, I’ve written previously on why you should write every day and writing while sick. I’ve also written about apps that can make it easier to build a writing habit. If you’re thinking about or trying to build a writing habit, I’d love to hear how it’s going for you.

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(Not) Writing With Depression

Today I’m a daily writer. Even on sick days or very busy days I make sure to write at least 150 words. This is my third year of this schedule and it’s still working for me. There are days when it’s tough, and days when I write my 150 words and then erase them. There are days when I write in 10-minute bursts throughout the day or have to force myself to sit down and spend time writing something. But every day I write is a day when I don’t forget how to write.

That wasn’t the case for me in 2012.

In September of 2012 I started treatment for situational depression. Over the previous year I had lost the ability to feel emotions, to care for myself, and to pay attention to conversations, but the loss that hurt the most was related to writing.

I tried many times during 2012 and 2013 to sit down and write. Every time was an exercise in self-hate and improving my ability to berate myself. I went from writing 150,000 words in 2011 to 60,000 words in 2012 to 15,000 words in 2013. It was a clear—trackable—symptom of my depression, and one of the most frustrating ones.

Before I was depressed, writing was easy and I took it for granted. I would listen to a song, read an article, have a silly conversation with a friend, and—BAM—there I went, fingers flying across the keyboard, 2,000 words plopped out in an hour or so. There were days when I would write 5,000 or 6,000 words. Words were easy and plentiful. I didn’t understand how someone could be completely blocked. Writer’s block was an easy obstacle for me to overcome. If one idea was giving me trouble, I’d jump to another. Being unable to write? When I wanted to? Not me.

While I was depressed, even if I decided to come to the writing watering hole, I could not get my horse to drink. The times I tried to write, I would sit and stare at a blank page. I might ask a friend for a prompt, mull it over, struggle over 200 words, and then delete all of them. Between January 2013 and October 2013 I wrote on a total of 9 days. In November and December, after I’d decided to apply to an MFA program and was starting to feel better, I kicked into “high-gear” and wrote 10 days out of those two months. I wrote 19 days total in 2013 and now in 2018 I’m currently on a run of having written 942 consecutive days. That’s—obviously—a huge change.

Writing was not something that automatically came back after I started feeling better. I struggled in 2014, even after I started UCF’s MFA program. (Let me tell you, starting a writing intensive program while you’re still recovering from depression? Not recommended.) This time when I forced myself to write, I had a different attitude about it. I shut down the negative thinking and pushed forward, continuing to plunk down words. It wasn’t the best writing—oh boy, adverbs ahoy and the longest dialogue tags you ever did see—but it was writing. And it got easier the more I pushed myself to practice and the more I forced myself to keep what I wrote.

Part of the reason I applied for the MFA program was because I knew it would provide structure that would force me to write. With grades as a motivator, I knew I could propel myself to get past the hump and write something because I couldn’t turn in a blank page. I feared all my writing might be crap. I feared the depression might have stripped away whatever talent I may have started with. I feared I was forever changed. But I knew that an MFA program was going to force me to confront those things and either figure out how to write again or discover I was done.

In the Spring semester, the start of 2015, I felt something come alive again. I revisited some crazy prompts I’d seen in the last year. I wrote about sentient robots in an alternate history World War II and about a house that possesses a girl. I wrote short assignments that explored my divorce and reconnected with characters created pre-depression. I started working on my novel in earnest. By the end of 2015, I had written 83,000 words and I was invested in my stories again.

Do I still love what I wrote then? Not really. But it gave me a foundation for stories and, most importantly, for my confidence. In 2016 when I realized I had written every day the first week of the year, it was an easy decision to continue writing every day until the end of the month, and then the next month, and the next. I made daily writing part of my routine, and that routine has helped me get through grief-related depression and anxiety. Since 2016 I’ve written over a half million words. I’ve come a long way.

In my experience, there was no writing with depression, not really. There was writing while fighting to not be depressed. There was writing for recovery, writing to unload negative feelings and trying to find something positive. There was struggling to write and hating myself and trying not to hate myself. There were moments when I was me again and when I could find joy and when it felt like I might be out of the woods. There was writing after depression.

Writing after depression hasn’t been all happily ever after. There are still days when writing is a struggle, when depression rears its ugly head, when life doles out extra helpings of anxiety and grief. On those days I set a timer for 10 minutes and I peck out 100 words. Then I set another timer and peck out 100 more. I check in with myself and ask, “Are you done? Do you have anything else in you?” Most days I do. Most days I can hit 500 words, but some days I can’t and I have learned to say, “That’s okay. This is enough.”

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Reading Fiction to Write Fiction

One of the ways I prepare to write a novel is by doing a lot of reading. While some of that reading is nonfiction research to help me with the time period, jargon, or specific details surrounding the novel or topic, some of my most potent research comes from reading fiction.

There are a few ways reading fiction can help with the writing process:

1. Familiarization

Getting familiar with your genre allows you to internalize story structures, characters, and tropes within the genre and speak about the genre with authority. You can find inspiration in what other people have written and you can figure out what concepts have been written about extensively or haven’t been covered at all. Also, the more familiar you are with your genre, the easier it will be to determine comp titles, which are used to pitch your book and for agents and editors to determine the marketability of your work.

2. Internalization

Just like how you can internalize tropes of your genre, you can also internalize the descriptive and narrative techniques of your favorite authors. If you start to analyze why a particular device works, you can start to understand how to recreate and use that technique in your own writing.

3. Research

Reading fiction set in the same time period as your work or about the same subject matter can do some of your research heavy lifting by generating a list of what you need to research to establish authenticity or accuracy. You also might be able to pick up some details from those published novels (just make sure you double check that those details are accurate and fit your story).

Now that you’re on board with reading fiction to write fiction, you have to start reading as a writer and not just for enjoyment. It may sound difficult, but with a few tools, a plan, and some practice, you’ll be ready to dissect any novel.

Tools & Organization

The three most helpful tools for reading as a writer are a set of color-coded page flags, a pencil for underlining, and a notebook. If you’re reading eBooks, page flags won’t be so helpful, but most eReaders have highlighting or note-taking options, so familiarize yourself with what you can use in your app to mark your eBooks.

While you could use any page flags, or even just dog-ear your book, I prefer using color-coded flags (or color-coded highlighting on eReaders)—this was especially useful when I was just starting to develop my skill of reading as a writer.

Pink—anything involving character development, which may include dialogue, reactions and descriptions

Blue—setting and physical description

Purple—world-building dealing with history, politics, religion, or other abstract ideas (to differentiate from setting description)

Yellow—compelling language; sentences that have excellent imagery, syntax, and rhythm

If there’s a different area you need to study (dialogue, how plot fits together, etc), you may decide to swap out a label, or get a pack of page flags with more colors. The important thing is to pick what each color represents and be consistent with it.

In addition to organizing your notes, color coding helps create a guideline for what you’re looking for as you read. If you’ve thought about it before you start reading, it’s easier to tune into craft as you read.

Since a flag only identifies what page you want to review, you’ll need to mark exactly what on the page is drawing your attention. There are a few options for doing this, which I’ve divided between those who will brazenly write in books and those who like to keep their books pristine or who are borrowing books.

Write In

  • Underline in pencil or pen
  • Highlight using your flag color coding

No Write In

  • Take a picture of the page
  • Write down the quotes in a notebook

Regardless of your method, document the sentences/paragraphs you want to come back to review. If you are writing them in a notebook, it’s helpful to include a page reference in case you need the full page context later.

Study Plan

Once you’re in the groove of tagging, you need to have a plan for how to go from reading fiction to learning from fiction. This is when your notebook will come into play.

When you’ve finished a few chapters, or are at a comfortable stopping point, go through your flags to study what you’ve marked. Compiling notes every few chapters ensures those chapters are still fresh in your mind and makes analysis a little easier.

The most organized way of studying the highlighted material is to go through your flags by color, grouping your notes by topic of study. By focusing on one topic at a time, you might start to see patterns and make connections about what you’re seeing the author do.

Consider this routine as you start:

  • Copy the quote in your notebook.
  • Underneath, write why you captured the quote.
    • What made you think this was exemplary writing? What about it drew your attention? How does it provide context to the wider narrative?
  • After you’ve organized the quotes for one flag color, start thinking about how you can use these same techniques in your own writing. In short, what can you learn about writing from reading this novel?
  • Summarize what you learned. Include a checklist of strategies and techniques you want to try. You might refer back to the quotes to identify examples for each strategy.

If you don’t copy the quotes in a notebook, I recommend at least capturing what you learned from the book. It’s easier to try writing strategies if you have a list of writing strategies you want to try.

Read & Practice

Practicing is the only way to develop the skill of reading as a writer. A good way to practice is by studying a book you’ve already read. Using a book you already know well, you can start to see how the beginning affects the end, and you might even notice more writerly things because you’re less concerned with knowing what happens since you already know the plot and outcome.

If you find it difficult to keep track of all the things going on in a book, consider focusing on one thing. Personally, I struggle with knowing where to incorporate description, so I might decide to just focus on how characters and locations are described and when those details enter the narrative. Starting by focusing on one area of craft can help you learn how to identify and appreciate individual elements of craft within the wider narrative and can help you build the skill of reading as a writer.

As you continue to develop this skill, you may be able to skip some of the steps, eventually passing on page flags, or just keeping a notebook beside you as you read. However your process evolves, ask yourself two questions when you finish reading a book: What did I learn from this? What can I apply to my own writing?

How Fanfiction Saved My Writing Life

After finishing my bachelor’s degree I was burned out on writing. I had been in a writing pressure cooker for three and a half years, and after assembling and defending an honors thesis my final semester, I was wiped out. When I looked at my post-graduate life, my first thought was that I needed a break from writing. I planned to take a month away to let my brain rest and refuel, but that month stretched into a year because when I tried to get back to writing, I couldn’t do it.

As an undergraduate I was trained to write “literary” fiction, which boiled down to contemporary realistic fiction. I don’t recall if anyone directly told us not to write genre fiction, but I graduated with the perception of what I was “supposed” to be writing, which wasn’t science fiction. It didn’t seem to matter that I didn’t like writing contemporary realistic fiction (and therefore was terrible at writing it); I couldn’t shake this feeling that if I started writing science fiction, I’d be letting down my professors. They taught me how to be a better writer! Didn’t I owe it to them to write what would make them proud?

What I did instead of writing was start watching Stargate: SG-1. The premise of the show (which is contemporary sci-fi), is that there is a portal that takes SG-1 to explore other planets, most of which are based on various ancient Earth cultures. The show has world building every week, great interpersonal relationships between the four-man titular team, and concrete good vs. evil themes that get more complicated and gray as the ten-year series develops. Plus, Daniel Jackson is a linguist-anthropologist who is very pretty.

I quickly moved from watching the show to scoping out fandom online. I picked up friends, and, through them, joined a challenge community where a moderator would post a weekly challenge and participants could respond with art or fanfiction. Fanfiction, I thought, I’ve done this before. I hadn’t written much fanfiction prior to my immersion in literary fiction, but I wasn’t a stranger, so I gave it a shot and wrote my first SG-1 fanfic. The response was mild, but the experience opened my eyes to what I had been missing while writing literary fiction.

Writing fanfiction is an expression of love. Fan writers write because they love something enough to want to add to it. Writing about characters and worlds that I loved was my first step to falling in love with writing again. It was a slow build. My first years writing fanfiction I posted only a few stories, but then I started posting 40,000–60,000 words a year. I started incorporating my own worlds and characters, and once I was doing that much original creation, it was easy for me to find my way back to writing wholly original works.

Writing fanfiction taught me a lot about writing science fiction. I had a better grasp of world building because I had emulated SG-1 encountering new worlds and what obstacles and biases they had met. I learned how to pace a novel because I signed up for a Big Bang challenge to write a 40,000-word story. I learned to love what I was writing, how to balance projects with a day job, how to finish a story, and how to move on to the next thing. These are not easy lessons to learn, but through the process of writing fanfiction—over years—I got a taste for what all of these things meant.

Fanfiction was never my end goal, but I’m grateful for the years I spent wading in the waters of fandom. I learned so much from writing fanfiction (and I actually made several connections that have helped me in my journey to traditionally publish). While fanfiction doesn’t have to be a stop on every writer’s developmental roadmap, for me it was a reminder of why I was writing in the first place. As helpful as an MFA has been toward my development, I wouldn’t be the writer I am today without having written fanfiction.

I Don’t Feel Like It

Even in the middle of a multi-year streak of writing daily, I sometimes hit walls. The walls aren’t as thick as they used to be, and frequently they’ll appear after I’ve written 100 words (so technically I’ve already written for the day), but there they are, blocking my progress. Sometimes those walls come in the form of being unable to fill in a plot hole, or in difficulty articulating a thought, but often all of those walls manifest in the feeling of not feeling like writing. It’s the ultimate avoidance tactic! I don’t have to deal with my writing problem if I just don’t write.

So, how do you deal with not feeling like writing but needing to write?


Write Something Different

I frequently circumvent this wall by stepping away from what I was planning to write and working on something else. That’s how I started this blog post. I had been struggling to draft a chapter (not “feeling” like working on that novel), so I opened up a new document and asked a question: Do you ever not feel like writing? Suddenly I was on my way writing again.

Switching focus can unclog my brain and give myself the mental boost of having written. Generally if I’ve put some easy words into something else, I’ll be past the hurdle of feeling like I wasn’t performing, and then have the confidence to tackle the task that blocked me. (I may not have resolved the block, but I can start working on the problem again.)


Make Some Tea

Getting up and doing something with a time limit can sometimes unblock my brain. Making a cup of tea takes me seven minutes, which means I can devote seven minutes to thinking about what was blocking me, why it was blocking me, and how I can get around that block. Seven minutes isn’t long, but often by the time I have a cup of hot tea, I have a solution for how I can keep writing. (Even if that solution is figuring out a different, unblocked part of the story I can write.)


Give Up

This may sound counter-intuitive as a strategy to start writing again, but sometimes the only solution is to stop fighting. I have many times gotten so frustrated that I marched away from the keyboard, only to suddenly be slapped with the solution. Walking away was key to my discovery. It wasn’t until I had become so frustrated that I was ready to give up that my brain presented the answer so plainly. Sometimes walking away from your writing is a good thing!

 

Feeling like you don’t want to write doesn’t have to stop you from writing. Lean into the feeling a bit, give yourself a break, and once you come back to it, you just may feel like writing again.

The Write Mindset

I recently received a great question* about how I center myself and clear my mind before writing. I think answering this question begins with establishing what “clearing your mind for writing” really means.

For some authors it might mean clearing away distractions to create focus. It might include selecting and molding their physical and mental environments to encourage concentration and creativity. For me it includes knowing what I’m going to write.

I never sit down in front of the computer with a blank page and a blank mind. Today, for example, I came to my writing time with this question in mind, and I had already thought about some things I wanted to say on the subject and how I wanted to organize my response. Tomorrow I will come to my writing time with a draft of this blog post, which I will read before laying fingers on the keyboard. Another day I may seek out a prompt in advance, explore a line of dialogue, or continue a scene on an in-progress story.

All of that thinking and planning and deciding is done before I sit down to write. I do that mental work while I’m in the shower, or eating breakfast, or going to sleep the night before. Basically, I think about writing in my spare minutes, so that when I physically sit down for a ten-minute sprint, I’m ready. This means I spend more of my writing time actually writing, and less of that time staring at a blinking cursor and figuring out what I should be doing.

I still have days when I haven’t adequately planned and I wind up opening and closing several documents, trying to figure out what to work on. Those days of uncertainty and indecision underscore for me how important it is to plan. If I find myself doing that, I stop, get up, and work on something different so I can plan before coming back to the page. (Folding laundry, flossing, and taking a walk are all excellent activities to busy my body while my mind works.)

Planning what I’m going to write doesn’t have to be involved or include outlines, notes, or a chart. The real “plan” comes from eliminating uncertainty. When I come to the page with something in my mind, I can start writing right away and am never stymied by indecision while sitting in front of the keyboard.

Do you have a different strategy for clearing your mind to write? Do you meditate? Use free writing or journaling? What methods work best for you to get yourself into the writing mindset?

 

*This question is actually from a spam bot, but was coherent enough to be useful as inspiration, so you really never know what will inspire you!

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Hesitant to Finish

I am resistant to finishing things.

It sounds ridiculous typed out like that. I mean, the point of starting a project is to have a finish product. In this case, it’s to have a finished story, and having a finished story is an amazing feeling! But even though I know that, I have a lot of trouble motivating myself to finish one pass and move on to the next. For me that hesitation comes down to three anxious questions:

  • What next?
  • Will I have another good idea?
  • But is it really done?


What Next?

This is a question that isn’t just about what project will I work on next, but how will I structure that project? What will my days be like? What is the routine?

I like ruts. I love working in ruts because I know how much work I’ll get done each day, when I’ll start, and roughly what I’ll do while I work. It’s comfortable and consistent and I am super productive once I have a well-worn rut. But getting that rut going is difficult. Figuring out the best way to work on a project takes time and patience, and often means experimenting with new workflows—new ruts—until I find the right one for the project (or for that stage of the project). As a project winds down, so do I, dragging out the last few tasks in anticipation of having to carve a new rut.

I haven’t figured out how to battle this question. The simple solution seems to be to develop a rut for each stage of writing, but every book I’ve worked on has been different, so that means the process isn’t cookie-cutter. For some books I’ve followed a structured outline, and for others I wrote scenes out of order. Perhaps one day I’ll have enough experience with each kind of workflow to immediately know how I’ll attack it, but for now I have to find other methods to banish my worries about what happens next.


Will I Have Another Good Idea?

Well. Will I???

The idea that what I’m writing will be the last thing I ever write is one of the most ridiculous anxious thoughts I could have, but it doesn’t stop me from thinking it nearly every time I near the end of a project. Obviously I’m going to write something else. Even through periods when I wasn’t as creative or productive, I never stopped getting ideas for stories. But this is anxiety talking and anxiety doesn’t have a firm grip on reality, so it throws out fearful doubts like this.

There’s no real defense against an anxious thought, except to not entertain it. I’ve gotten better at ignoring this question over the years, but sometimes it still catches me off guard and slows down my progress, keeping me from crossing the finish line so I can linger in my “last” good idea.


But Is It Really Done?

Of all the anxious questions I have that disrupt my productivity, this is the one that I actually have to answer. Figuring out if a project is actually finished is key to, you know, finishing the project. The problem is when this idea turns from productive checking in with the story to obsessing over commas, prepositions, and if I should start swapping around scenes just to see what it looks like.

I typically use revision checklists to keep myself on track and to eventually identify a stopping point. Sometimes I need to add things to the list—maybe during copyediting I uncover another crutch phrase, so I want to double back to search for that phrase, or I might finally figure out how to condense two scenes—but mostly I stick to the list and when the list is done, I’m done. Having that list as a definitive end point helps stop me from obsessing because I have something tangible to point to that says the story is done.

 

Knowing my weaknesses and having strategies to overcome them certainly helps, but it doesn’t stop me from struggling with finishing projects. Hopefully with continued practice it will get easier as time goes on.

Are there any aspects of finishing writing projects that stymie you? How do you over come those obstacles?

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Writing Sick Days

With my goal to be an every day writer, I can’t really take a sick day. But I also can’t expect a normal writing day while I have a sore throat, runny nose, and major exhaustion. When I’m sick, here’s how I make the adjustments to take care of myself and still be productive:

 

Put aside non-writing activities.

To make sure I have the energy to write, I take a sick day from all non-writing activities. That means I step away from the blog, editing, responding to emails, and anything else that is part of my “work” stack. Doing this lets me focus my time on self-care and on writing, which will not only help keep my writing streak, but hopefully let me get better faster.

 

Rest up, then write.

The moment I’m out of bed and feeling up to sitting at the computer, I go for it! That might be my only writing session for the day, but if I’m prepared for it, 10 minutes will be all that I need.

 

Lower the bar.

Normally my daily writing includes working on my current projects, but on a sick day I’ll let myself chase a stray thought or write something I might not complete.

My daily goal includes writing 400 words per day, but this is where my minimum goal of 150 words per day kicks in. When I’m not feeling well, I’m perfectly fine to stop writing after hitting 150 words. That’s the whole reason I have a minimum goal, so that when I’m really, really not feeling up to it, I have a low bar to clear while still making the effort to write every day.

 

Pick at it.

Sometimes I can’t do the 10-minute stretch, or the 10 minutes weren’t very productive, so instead of working in my usual method, I pick at writing. That may mean writing a few sentences on several different things, or writing one or two sentences at a time on something in progress. I keep the pace slow for my medicine-logged brain and go where my attention seems to prosper.

 

It’s tough to stay productive when I’m not feeling well, but usually my stubbornness is enough to get me to the page and keep me writing. Even though I might crawl back into bed and collapse into a pillow for a long nap, getting something written makes me feel better—at least emotionally.

What do you do to help yourself keep motivated when you’re not feeling well? Do you plan sick days into your schedule, do you let yourself off the hook, or do you push yourself to keep working?

Power Outages

A couple weeks ago a transformer blew at my house, sending me out of the house unexpectedly and in a hurry. (In a hurry from the heat, even in December Florida houses can get hot fairly quickly.) It could have happened at a worse time—my laptop was fully charged and I was showered and dressed—but having changes forced upon my plans is never a good time. Except for when those changes force me out of a rut and push me forward.

On this particular day, I was avoiding certain tasks and generally struggling to even start my to-do list. Having the power off at the house meant I couldn’t bury myself in another Netflix binge. It meant that even reading a book would be uncomfortable in the heat. Being forced out of the house actually made me more productive because I couldn’t avoid my work in the same ways I normally would at home.

Not to mention this whole situation gave me an idea for a blog post in which I could talk about the ways we can trick ourselves into motivation and focus. Which is a topic I’m heavily considering these days.

2017 was a tough year. For me personally it saw the death of two friends and life-threatening health issues for three family members. Not to mention the general anxiety and distraction that was 2017. Staying focused on work with these real life issues going on was difficult, if not impossible some days. My normal drive and ability to motivate was challenged time and again. Other creatives talked about this problem throughout the year (John Scalzi’s post on the topic was quite memorable), but the problem really caught up with me in October. I tried to adapt my routines and dig deeper, tried new ways to motivate myself and keep focus, but the problem seemed to get worse, not better. I don’t have any answers yet, but I think rolling with the changes is part of the puzzle of productivity. I think embracing change—purposefully doing something different—can have long-term results. Or it can at least temporarily shift my focus long enough to edit a chapter or draft a new scene.

Finding motivation in the midst of personal chaos is a struggle, and the trashfire that was 2017 only made it more difficult. But I’m glad I ended the year with a literal power outage that forced me to confront some of the ways I was going about pushing myself. Even though I don’t have answers, I feel like I at least have some perspective. I’m looking forward to embracing 2018 and finding new ways to be productive.