Just Hanging On #IWSG


Time again for the Insecure Writer’s Support Group, that monthly opportunity to reach out to other writers and feel just a little less alone. Our awesome co-hosts this month are Sandra Hoover, Mark Koopmans, Doreen McGettigan, Megan Morgan, and Melodie Campbell Thank you!

Last month I reported feeling rather more optimistic than insecure, since a reading of my opening (my first public reading!) had gone pretty well. This month, I’m back on the insecure side. Why? Because since last month I’ve done . . . nothing. Continue reading

Barriers Outside and In #photochallenge #IWSG

BarrierTwo birds with one post: a response to this week’s Daily Post photo challenge: Boundaries, and to the Insecure Writer’s Support Group (hosted this time byTB Markinson, Tamara Narayan,Shannon Lawrence, Stephanie Faris, and Eva E. Solar). I’m an insecure writer trying to understand the boundaries, outside and inside, between me and my writing goals.

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The Lost Lamp: Life Gets in the Way #photochallenge

LampThe post lamp out by our front walk is drowning in plants.I had to take this shot from the second story just so it was visible at all. And you know what? The guiding light that’s been driving my writing is similarly buried in the thriving plants of the rest of my life. Here’s why this is okay for now, and how I plan to get back on the creative path.

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Lessons From the Treadmill

TreadmillWe have a new exercise device at home, joining the stationary bike and a few free weights. I’ve been using the treadmill to walk for 30 minutes a day, five days a week for a couple of months now. And as I push to the end of a first draft at Camp NaNoWriMo, I realize how much overlap there is between the two activities.

They are very different as well, of course. Writing is mostly mental, with little physical activity at all; walking is pretty much all physical. Writing is about connections with other people; walking is (for me, at least), solitary. Writing is work, but also pleasurable (well, mostly–see below); walking (for me, at least) is NO FUN AT ALL.

But I’m going to make it to 50,000 words by the end of the month, winning Camp. I’m going to keep going for a week or two past that point to get the whole draft down (estimated at 60,000-80,000 words). I’ve never before finished such a big project all on my own in such a short time. And yesterday, as I huffed and puffed through my exercise, I realized one thing about how I did it.

I am a planner. I’m such a planner I plan my planning. I know it’s not for everyone, but for me, it works. Before I July 1 I already had a spreadsheet for calculating my daily word count and my cumulative word count, and comparing those numbers with what I needed to meet the goal of 50,000 words by July 31. Each morning I sat down knowing that I needed to write 1,613 words that day. Some days it went fairly smoothly (my highest daily word count was 2,861 words, on July 8 – I told you I’m compulsive about keeping track). Other days it was much more difficult, and I realized there were two different kinds of difficult days.

Some days there was just too much else going on to devote the kind of time I needed to reach my word goal. For example, my lowest day was only 685 words, and that was a day that involved 4 hours of travel and unpacking when we got home. This, I realized, was like those logistically complicated days when I just never got onto the treadmill at all. Some days that happens. You just have to allow for them and keep going. All told, there have been six days so far in July when I missed my goal by more than a few dozen words.

Other days, though, it’s just plain hard. I’m facing a scene that I haven’t fully imagined yet. I struggle to figure out what’s going on. People start out over here,doing this, and suddenly I realize they need to be over there doing that. I type, I erase, I copy text and move it around to new places. I switch dialogue and actions from one person to another, which means it has to be rewritten to fit the new character. I’ve been at it for an hour and I’ve added 78 words to my total. I hate it. The book stinks. What made me think I can do this? I want to stop.

That is exactly what my time on the treadmill is like every single day. I am not the kind of person who enjoys physical activity. If they invent a pill that keeps people healthy without exercise I will never move again. But based on several consistent research studies, I’ve set myself a goal of 30 minutes of fairly brisk walking five days a week, and once I get on the machine I do not stop until my 30 minutes are up. I’m still compulsive about numbers (I’m at 19:30 – that’s 65% done!) and the mantra “I hate this, I hate this” keeps running through my head, but until 30 minutes are up I don’t stop.

So on some of my most painful days, I just keep checking my word count and I just don’t stop. I can break it up, allowing myself to take a breather when I hit 600 words, then again at 1,200 words, and then it’s an “easy” 413 before I can quit. But when I find the litany playing in my head, I just think of the treadmill and just keep going.

And like the old joke about hitting yourself on the head with a hammer–it feels really good when I’m done.

Do you ever have days like that? What do you do to keep yourself motivated and moving forward to your goal, whether it’s word count or something else? Share your experiences.

Writing by the Numbers

Numbers  I do love my numbers.

As we all know by now, I’m kind of a compulsive planner. I like to have things figured out ahead of time; makes me more confident that I know what I’m doing. So when I started sketching out scenes and planning beats for my story, I was looking at a blank file and wondering how to begin. What I did was pick some numbers, and the first number I picked: 20. I decided I would aim for 20 chapters in my novel.

I don’t have any particular reason for aiming at that number. It is a nice round number with a good deal of symmetry, being easily divisible by two, four, five, and ten. And when I started trying to plan my beats and my scenes, it seemed to work well. When I came to chapters that were on the thin side, I was able to find more layers to fill things in. I think this made my story stronger. So, yay, all good.

Now, though, as I do a second pass and tighten things up, I’m finding there are scenes that really are transitions or sequels instead. There’s really no actual conflict. It’s people coming to an important realization or dealing with the ramifications of what just happened. Important things. Things that will smooth out the pacing and bring emotional depth to a story. But they don’t support a whole chapter. So – gasp! – I may be down to just 19 chapters, and counting as I continue working my way through.

I’m surprised by how I feel about this. The number 20 couldn’t have been more arbitrary, so why am I now so attached to it? But I am. A book with 19 chapters feels to me like a V8 engine running on seven cylinders. I mean, 19 is prime, for Pete’s sake! How can I deal with that?

The good news: This might lead me to adding more layers, more complications, more conflict, and therefore more richness to my story. The bad news: I’m not proud to be so hung up on numbers. Oh, well. I keep reciting my Popeye mantra: I am what I am. Or, for a totally fabulous version of this message listen to John Barrowman sing it out. No excuses!


Pothole  Potholes – I ran into a couple recently.

One was the flu. At least, I’m pretty sure it’s the flu, though I didn’t get tested so I could be wrong. Sunday afternoon I started feeling bad and by Sunday night my fever was up to 101, and it stayed up there until last night. I’ve been home from work for four days, which I believe is a personal record for me (and that’s over 27 years on the job). Being home would have given me lots of time for writing, except that the fever and the the usual hit-by-a-bus feeling left me good for nothing but coughing and watching TV with my eyes glazed over. Seriously, I couldn’t even manage reading. I’m doing better today and might even be at work tomorrow. I can’t express how happy that makes me.

The other pothole, the one that was looming before the fever hit and is still waiting there fore me, is a plot hole. My next deadline, which I haven’t missed yet, is to establish the major set pieces and beats in my story. I’ve kind of done that, only not really. I think I know the big ones (the inciting incident, the first plot point (end of Act 1), the midpoint turn, the second plot point (end of Act 2), and the climax. The problem is there are enough glaring holes on both sides of the midpoint that I’m not secure about it. Unless I can convince myself that I know enough about the complications that happen in Act 2, I’m not really ready to drive those stakes into the ground. So that was my focus before I got sick, and is going to be my focus now.

So, I’m off to sip tea with lemon and honey and see how long I can think about plot structure and character arcs before I have to go soak in some TV for a while. Lordy, but it feels good to have some brain cells firing again.

The Flying Leap

Leap  I have a problem with transitions.

I finish writing a scene. It’s good and strong and true. It shows what is happening and how it affects everyone. Then . . . I need to get to the next scene. That’s where gravity takes over.

I describe how everyone got from Point A to Point B. *Yawn*. I tear that out and try just beginning in the middle of Point B. *Huh??* I tear that out and try to write something that zips us through the space between points. I tear it out and try something else. FINALLY, I think I have enough so that the reader has made the jump without either boredom or disorientation.

I sometimes wish I could just skip the transitions entirely. Write a string of asterisks or something, jump into the next scene, and take care of it on the rewrite. I’ve tried the fast first draft idea–skip ahead, blast through the action/dialogue/reactions of the next scene–but it doesn’t work for me. I can’t move ahead until I’ve left behind me something that bears a closer resemblance to what I’m actually trying to write, even though I know it will go through countless revisions before it’s actually done. Occasionally I can go back and insert a marginal comment to plant a hook for something I’m doing right now (like, “emphasize the scar on Evan’s right hand”), but that’s as far as I can get from writing something that feels complete. Maybe I’ll get over this as I get more maturity, but for now I’m stuck here.

So, the good news: this week I wrote about 2,000 words. The bad news: I threw over half of them away. My official word count for the week is just about 900 words, so I didn’t make my goal. I did, however, make my leap and got myself into the next scene. Ah, well. I’ll take it.

Curse You, Sir Isaac Newton!

Newton  No, of course I don’t really mean that. Sir Isaac is one of my big heroes, someone who helped to bring enlightenment and reason into the western world. But right now I have a bone to pick with him – or more specifically, with his first law of motion. You know the one: “A body at rest tends to remain at rest.” That is so totally me, and a big issue I have with working on the blasted book.

No, I don’t mean that either – the book is not blasted. What it is, is stalled. And that’s because I had completely, absolutely valid reasons for not working on it for a few days. We were moving in to the last couple of weeks of classes. I had papers and finals to grade. And, of course, Christmas was coming. Gifts weren’t going to buy themselves, cookies not bake themselves, the tree not decorate itself, the festive meal with family not plan itself. So, I stopped. My goal was just a couple of hundred words a day, after all – not so much I can’t make it up later.

Well, now it’s later. Wwaaaaayyy later. The problem is with Newton’s law. Once I miss one day, it’s easier to miss the next day. Once I miss a few days, it’s harder and harder to get started again.

Christmas is over. New Year’s is coming, but that’s not as big a deal in my household – those family members who are in town get together to play board games, watch movies, and eat junk food until midnight, and then we pack it in. I don’t believe in resolutions – plans, yes, but nothing special for that one day on the calendar.

So here’s my end-of-December resolution: BISHOK (butt in seat, hands on keyboard) at least three days each week, with at least 1200 words each week. that should be doable, surely. I’ll post my weekly total here each Sunday night (or maybe Monday morning, depending on how things work out). I know, you’ve heard this kind of thing from me before, and so have I. We’ll just have to see if I can manage to stick with it this time!

Not My Wri Mo

Drowning  I’m not exactly drowning. But close.

I broke my promise to post at least a few hundred words each week. Why?

First, because I’m really swamped with work and life. You don’t want to hear the story about the course I’m doing over from scratch and how I’m just barely staying ahead of the class. (For instance, today I really have to prepare the lecture/activities/videos/demos for TOMORROW’s class – I hate flying so close to the trees!) I’m behind in the material I’m supposed to maintain on the web site for the singing group I belong to. I’m behind in reading this month’s book for my book club. My husband goes out of town tomorrow for three days while my kids come over for dinner, so I have to get that ready. I’m on the worship committee for my church and we have to get all our Advent plans in place this week. And … and … and ……

I know lots of people have lives that are much more complicated than mine. I know that if I really wanted to, I could carve out the time to get at least some writing done. So why have I not? I really think part of the issue is the spot where I stopped – I have to back up and re-think things, since this scene I’m in the middle of is dragging like a dog that doesn’t want to go to the vet. Every time I think about getting back to it and finding the lever to light that fire (how many metaphors can I cram in here?), I find something else I could/should be doing instead. So, yeah, it’s a matter of will, not time.

Here’s my current plan. I’ll keep thinking, planning, working things through, but I’m not going to sweat the actual writing now. Everyone around me, it seems, is doing NaNoWriMo, but this is not my month. As a teacher, November will never work for me as a novel-writing month! But July, though – that’s a  month I can totally get behind!

So, a new pledge. I will take my time, using all the resources I find on the web or in books, to revise my outline, plan my scenes, and get it all in place, and then write a draft next July. I know i can do that!

In the meantime, I’ll just be posting info about where I am in my planning process. For me, and for anyone else out there who might find it useful.