Tag Archives: writer

Finishing the Novel: Daily Task of “Getting it Done”

Celebrating the first days of summer writing at a French café. c. Elissa Field

Celebrating the first days of summer writing at a French café. c. Elissa Field

 

Ah, blissful! After a demanding spring of teaching, summer has arrived — and with it, long days of novel revision. As often as I post about Novel Revision Strategies, one of the biggest strategies is how to manage time to get the most out of time to write.

Today, this had me reflecting on the strategies that help writers work long days on novel writing or revision to successfully reach writing milestones but not burn out or kill energy for the work.

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1)  Purge all those distractions.

If I were only going to write for 30 minutes before going to a day job, this step would be considered a distraction. But, on days when you plan to write or revise all day, there’s only so far you can ignore other tasks (trust me, I’ve pushed it). Here’s a quick cycle I let myself run through to remove distractions before writing:

  • Get refreshed. For me, it’s coffee. For some writers this might be push-ups, a quick run or walking the dog.
  • Keep it clean. Allow a quick 5-15 minutes to make a pass at household tasks. Picking up after the boys, dishes, laundry — whatever handful of things keeps the house going. Generally, this fits in while coffee is brewing. Sometimes I use “count to 10” for this: pick a random number like 10, 20 or 25 — and quickly knock out that many of something. As a parent, this step usually involves cleaning; another writer might need this time to schedule an oil change or other kind of maintenance. Or be so lucky as to be able to skip this one altogether. Jealous.
  • Follow up for 10. We all hear warnings to stay away from email, social media and other distractions. But look, we take time to build important connections – so while I agree it’s important to write first, I give myself 10 minutes to tend the fires I stoked the day before. I don’t tend client projects here; those I schedule other times in the day.
  • Know your plan. Whether you have a written to-do list or a general idea in your head, have a sense of your writing goals for the day, with all materials on hand.

Everyone good? Kids busy with an activity? Somebody fed the cat? Nothing is on fire? Then hunker down.

2)  Write. One hour (or two). Uninterrupted.

For the work I’m doing today, 1 hour works. You might rather 2 hours. Whatever your number, it’s pure writing time.

Somewhere in the fidgeting above, I will already have in my head what the morning’s work should be. This week, the goal is to get as far through a complete read through (and revision) as possible. I’m working from a printed draft, so I will have shot that print job to the printer in 100-page chunks while checking email or some other menial task prior to writing. Yeah: no “I couldn’t write because I spent my hour fixing a printer jam or replacing print cartridges.”

No chat. No email. No phone or text or social media. No pausing for drinks or bathroom. If you’re a clock-watcher, use the timer on your cell phone to remove that distraction. Fall purely into writing for one straight hour.

Ding.

3)  Time for a break.

When I’m draft-writing, I write for hours on end, as long as the ideas are flowing. For revision: blocks of time. In the breaks in between, I might be revisiting some of those same tasks from morning’s distraction purge. Check the kids. Switch the laundry. Walk the dog. Get a snack. Another coffee. A phone call. Short tasks from other areas of my to-do list.

Again, I’m not a proponent of staying away from social media, so I would check Twitter, Facebook or my blog. I might share an accomplishment from the morning — connecting with other writers working on their goals at the same time is a great way to keep yourself going.

But I aim for a break to be 30 minutes, not longer. Sometimes it’s just a stretch, refill coffee and…

4)  Back to it.

Lots of successful writers will say their complete writing goal for a day might be 2 hours’ work. For me, during summers away from teaching, my aim is 4 hours on a short day, but as long as 8-10 hours for a full day of writing or revision. I get there by repeating these 2 hour blocks of work.

Do I have to stick with the clock? Not precisely.

Using time blocks helps structure the day and keep you honest – both in your discipline and the need to stop for breaks. But the day’s goals may dictate more organic work-blocks: retyping chapters one and two might fit neatly into one hour, or might prompt a sidetrack into research over the actual date the TSA was started. Maybe that block will be 1.5 hours, and maybe another block will be just 30 minutes, since it involves an intensive re-evaluation of my character’s inner motivation that requires a breather for reflection afterward.

I don’t stop to a factory bell if I am in the middle of something. Likewise, sometimes a task goes more quickly — or is more draining, so you need a break sooner than expected.

Having minimum or maximum time blocks can help you stay on track. If I planned to write an hour, I’ll push myself to keep going if it’s been less than 45 minutes. If I planned an hour but keep going off on tangents, I might control this by stopping if it goes past 2 hours.

Are you working at home with family? Honoring time blocks also helps to manage that temptation to get lost in writing and forget a promise you made to take kids to the pool or go out to dinner with your partner.

5)  Break up the work

To achieve 8 and even 10 hour days, I’ll keep repeating breaks and time blocks to stay refreshed but productive throughout the day.

Time blocks also help to create natural shifts in the work.

For me, this might mean 4 hours on the novel, then 2 writing for my blog or clients, or to work on submissions. Or I might break it into hours for revision, versus hours for research or drafting new material. Shifts in work help keep you from burning out.  I use a color-coded Outlook calendar to keep a visual of the time needed and available for each, throughout the week.

Benefit of learning to write on the go: my "office" view for the afternoon.

Benefit of learning to write on the go: my “office” view for the afternoon.

You can also shift location. This morning I have certain work (like this post) that has to be done on household wifi. But I’ve packaged afternoon revisions so I can take them with me to the beach, which allows me to honor time with my boys. Flexibility in where you work is a great strategy for buying time to write.

6)  Celebrate an accomplishment.

Keep yourself going by celebrating a milestone. Intrinsic rewards can be something as simple as flipping through all the editing marks you’ve made on a printed manuscript or reviewing your word count for the day. One friend kept tally of her word count on her mousepad at the end of every day.

Make it social by sharing this. Lots of us keep each other going by posting our day’s milestones to Twitter or a goals group with writing friends online. Some share their word counts on NaNoWriMo software during challenges throughout the year. Tell your partner or your kids. Build in a fun reward, like a festive drink or night out with friends.

Or… yes, there are days when the “celebrate” step is replaced with “chastise.” Do reassess goals for the following day if a milestone wasn’t reached or new issues came up.

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What About You?

What time strategies do you use to reach your writing goals? Am I alone in trying to work 8-hour writing/editing days (I doubt that)? How do you keep yourself both refreshed and moving toward your goals?  Or, post a question if you think readers here could help you solve your writing-schedule challenges.

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(c. Elissa Field, no repro w-out written permission)

(c. Elissa Field, no repro w-out written permission)

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Filed under Novel Writing, Time Management for Writers, Writing Life, Writing Mother, Writing Process & Routine

Writing Life: Celebrating My “Irish” by Writing

copyright Elissa Field; repro w written permission only

copyright Elissa Field; repro w written permission only

I was woken this St. Patrick’s Day morning by the most Irish of my sons studying me in my jammies and challenging, “Are you wearing green?”

Slice of Life Challenge - TwoWritingTeachers.com

Slice of Life Challenge – TwoWritingTeachers.com

My family is not fully Irish — one grandfather is Finnish, a grandmother French, another grandfather English. It’s one grandmother alone who feeds my Irish roots. Her family was Irish as they come. I can’t say that without image coming to mind of any of her wiry-haired brothers with his head tipped back to laugh.

Yet I never felt so Irish until my sons were born. I inadvertently tipped their focus toward their Irish roots when I name my oldest son Liam — less in Irish obsession than in the fact I liked the name (it is actually nod to my Finnish grandfather, William).

His younger brother, Blake, however, is the true throwback.  I’ve never met a more Irish person than my youngest son, whose looks and mannerisms perfectly replicate Irish ancestors so long dead he could not be mimicking, and it was Blake (who slept in green shorts) who challenged my commitment to St. Patrick’s Day this morning.

My sons get the double-dose, as my mother-in-law was full Irish, complete with her dark humor. I cracked up over the tweet from Weinstein Books publicity director, Kathleen Schmidt, below, because it so much represents the “catching up” conversations we have with my mother-in-law each visit home:

Not only does my mother-in-law catch you up on family news by cataloguing the latest illnesses and disasters (in the most dramatic stage whisper, as if she were nearly — nearly — too shocked to tell you), but she is an avid lover of murder fiction.

She was never so pleased with a trip to visit us in Florida than the night we ended up trapped on South Beach, in Miami, because the FBI had the island cordoned off while they chased Gianni Versace’s killer. We had given her the perfect mystery-lover’s outing as we walked past the still-stained sidewalk in front of Versace’s house and inadvertently walked through the live taping of America’s Most Wanted, on our way to take her to a salsa-dancing club, where the blue-lit helicopter footage of the chase was being broadcast over the bar.

Blake and the Irish cow. c. Elissa Field, request permission for use

Blake and the Irish cow. c. Elissa Field, request permission for use

Still, my boys’ and my own Irish identity reached its peak after a family trip to the ole sod in 2006.

The trip planted a seed that later grew into a novella and then a novel draft, which is the novel I have been working on the past 2 years and often write about here (click for all posts on Wake or on novel revision).

The picture of my son on the lawn of an Irish country house, at the top, epitomizes a certain essence of the internal motivation in the novel. While early drafts focused on the love story between Carinne and the paramilitary man she met in Ireland, development of her character and the story have made it clear that it is the need of her son to find his father that becomes the inciting incident for her to unravel all the mysteries in the book. Where she has been paralyzed to act on her own motivation, she is made brave enough to do for her son.

What’s interesting to me, as my boys and I celebrate being Irish on St. Patrick’s Day, is the backwards connections we have to Ireland now. For the deeply passionate connection we feel, my own inspiration is often in reverse to our factual roots.

In tracing family roots, we traveled to the south, although the Cooleys are from north of Dublin. My son poses in front of a country house, although our family left behind roots as humble as a mud-floored cottage. In Kerry, where the Irish Troubles didn’t reach, I first felt the dark spark of my paramilitary character, Michael Roonan, on the shadowy, cool bed of a room in the garden wing of a English peerage hunting lodge. As much as the violence of the north was absent, the dark shadows of the surrounding forest seemed to speak of something in hiding, and Roonan was vivid in my mind from one sleepless night as if he leaned against the wall impatiently waiting for me to write.

But writing is like that. And our Irish love of story is like that: craving surprise, darkness, even shock.

I celebrate this St. Patrick’s day by making the most of the week I have off for spring break by writing. My characters have been speaking loudly to me since the first hour I left work on Friday. I’ve written each of the last few days. I’ve copied new material from the last months into the existing draft (I’m well up to a 6th or 8th draft by now).  I’m due for another print-and-read-through, expecting much from early drafts will be deleted now, and there will be big challenges in weaving together the reveal moments of various threads of the internal and external conflicts.  Lots to do.

But I think I’ll start with the promise to my son: I’ll go don green.

Happy St. Patrick’s Day!

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How About You?

What are you working on today?  Are you celebrating your Irish roots?  Or, how does your own ancestry inspire what you write about?

We’d love to hear from you in the comments.

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If you like this blog, be sure to subscribe using WordPress’s +follow option, the Bloglovin’ button or via email.  I love to connect with like-minded readers and writers!

Dublin from World Bar. c Elissa Field.

Dublin from World Bar. c Elissa Field.

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Friday Links for Writers 03.14.14: Quirky Research Sources for Writers

Dublin from World Bar. c Elissa Field.

Dublin from World Bar. c Elissa Field.

Each week in Friday Links for Writers, I share links to resources I’ve found useful in the previous week, related to writing, editing and publishing.  This week’s Friday Links may become a special thread within the ongoing column, as I’ve stumbled across a handful of quirky sources in recent weeks. 

Readers researching a thriller may find a few of these links helpful, while others may like a couple historical resources. Considering the Irish setting of my WIP, the first 2 sources give a cheery nod to St. Patrick’s weekend. Less cheery but also linked to my own research, is the Committee for Protection of Journalists: sober tracking of dangers for journalists around the globe.

As always with Friday Links, let me know which links you find most interesting or ones you’d like to see more of.  Have you stumbled across a quirky info source of your own?  Feel free to add your own links in the comments.  Have a great writing week!

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What Do Ireland’s County Names Mean?

Writer and historian Elizabeth Saunders shared this article with an awesome list and map providing the names and history of Ireland’s counties. Elizabeth always impresses me with her diligent research into genealogy and history about Quakers and Irish descent — check out her blog for more.

Irish Insults Translated into English

Let’s have a contest: how many times do you have to play this vid before you can actually hear clearly the words spoken by the native Irish? It’s an entertaining demonstration of Irish wit and sharp tongues, with the brief English translation onscreen, courtesy of the Irish Journal’s Daily Edge.

A Tour of the British Isles in Accents

Irish, forgive me for shifting from the ole sod to GB, but another great link:  Writing about the British Isles?  No?  You still have to check out this short audio clip from the BBC that takes you on a tour of various regions by accent.  Useful for training your writerly ear, and entertaining to boot.

How Sherlock Changed the World

Write mystery or crime thrillers? As one with a familiarity with forensics and respect for the longstanding traditions in mystery writing, I thought this PBS special was a great perspective on the extent to which Sherlock Holmes both inspired and accurately reflects the true practices of forensic science.

Top 10 Handguns

Admit it. Your character plans to off somebody.  This list is not the end-all (in fact, you’re better off with one of those illustrated encyclopedias of guns frequently on offer in the Barnes & Noble “bargain books” section), but this list is a quick illustrated summary of common handguns in the world. (This link has been disabled.)

How Far Could You Get From New York Back in the Day?

Anyone setting a story in the northeast in a prior era might find this graphic and article by David Yanofsky interesting, as it maps the distance a traveler could cover in a single day in bands from 1800 to 1934.

ChronoZoom

Another intriguing tool for anyone writing in a prior era is this tool created for educators to explore historical events in perspective. Caveat: I haven’t tried this one, but a review of the resource on Edutopia (a respected site for educators) said the program is meant to be an expandable timeline of all of history. If you try it out, let us know how it works for you.

Committee to Protect Journalists

This has been my central resource for tracking journalists killed or missing while covering stories overseas, and is a resource for international dangers to journalists around the globe.

Native Tree Species – Carolinian Region

In the next edition of Quirky Research Sources for Writers, I’ll share links for naming native birds. One thing it’s easy to tune out on in writing setting is the names of local plant or animal life. This is one source I found for names of regional trees. For more details of trees, check out Arbor Day Foundation – Browse Trees.

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What About You?

The links here reveal some of the writing priorities (or at least curiosities) that have come up in my recent writing.  What kinds of research sources do you find yourself using?  Or, what kind of information do you wish were available?  Do you wonder about accurate clothing for a lost era or the sounds of television commercials that would have played in 1978?  Or do you have a great research source to share?

Whatever your writing goals this week, best wishes to you!

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If you like this blog, be sure to subscribe using WordPress’s +follow option, the Bloglovin’ button or via email.  I love to connect with like-minded readers and writers!

Watching for snow - perfect time for a great read. c. Elissa Field

Watching for snow – perfect time for a great read. c. Elissa Field

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Motivation to Write: Setting New Goals to Move Beyond a Success

c. Elissa Field

c. Elissa Field

It’s the 12th day of 2014. I’m sitting on the couch, surrounded in both directions with the binders, books, papers and plans from yesterday’s work: reviewing curriculum for the rest of the spring.

I sat down with my laptop to finish what I was working on — but first ended up re-reading comments from author Gae Polisner in response to an excerpt from my novel draft that I had posted on her Friday Feedback column.  The comments from her and other readers had me re-opening the novel draft for Wake.  I scanned past the excerpt I had shared, getting lost in the voice of a new piece I’d written during the holidays.

There are times in life when you are staring down the barrel of multiple to-do items. And there are times you see your life revealed with remarkable clarity.

Last Year’s January Challenge

One year ago, I was teaching writing part-time. I loved the job and the students, and it gave me time with my two sons, but it perplexes me how I kept them fed (or tuition paid at their school) with how little I was being paid.  On the upside, I would drop the boys at school in the morning, come home and write for 2-3 hours, go teach for the afternoon, pick them up and come home. I finished research for Wake.  I finished the novel draft and made it through first revision rounds.

I reached goals.  Every single day, I faced those free hours by asking myself, “What one (or 5) thing(s) could I do right now that will make my life better tomorrow?” and I tried, every single day, to that first.

What puts my life in perfect clarity right now is that one year ago I hosted the January Challenge here to use just that kind of strategy to tackle competing goals and make real progress.  (Don’t check it out now; I’ll put links at the bottom.)

One of those things that would “make my life better tomorrow” was the writing: get the novel polished enough to query by end of summer.  Some of them were personal, like resolving my divorce and where the boys and I wanted to live.  But one big goal was that wanted to be hired to teach full time.  I love teaching in a way that is similar to my love of writing: I love the in-the-trenches intensity of it, the creativity, the constant demand for solutions, the perspective that working with middle schoolers gives me, the way both professions continually re-examine the world.

It’s interesting that New Year’s hit this year and I felt no temptation to set resolutions, because I really did follow the strategies I wrote about, and made a ton of progress last year. I had kept my novel writing goals and tripled my blog traffic.  I made money off my site.  I expanded my writing about education.  I made progress with the family goals.  And one big fat accomplishment: I was hired as a full time teacher, tripling my income from the previous year and satisfying my hunger to grow into a more challenging professional role.

The “Day Job” Challenge for Writers

I’ve written before (link below) about how most writers balance their time for writing against the demands of a day job, whatever it may be, calling it the “time-money-credit trifecta.”  For anyone new to the term, it’s not a pejorative but recognition of a writer’s job other than writing.  The day job could be literary agent, partner at a law firm, teacher or professor, full-time parent, journalist or night clerk at a hotel.  Even the time published writers spend in lecturing or attending book signings is work that takes time away from writing.

The truth is, no matter the drive to complete a novel, it is important for writers to have an income that allows them to be housed, fed and healthy, and not worried about supporting their families.  I can’t downplay how important it is to my family that I succeeded in teaching this past year, nor the opportunity for growth and “street cred” that teaching has offered my writing.

Success as Hurdle to Motivation

I sat on the cusp of 2014 completely unworried. My goals this year related to continuing in success, not creating it.  Sure, I was short on time and behind my target date of getting the novel done, but I still have the coming summer.  Things were going well.  There were still some family goals to focus on and plenty of demands for me to address in teaching, so why worry about the writing?

Let Hunger be Your Fuel

I wonder if other writers would relate to this same moment: what made me go back to setting goals this morning was the hunger that it awoke in me, to have shared an excerpt of my novel draft with another writer and to read her feedback.

“Keep going,” Gae said at the end of her comments.

She had questioned certain things, praised others and wondered about context.  I went back to the full draft and, reading my own work, heard my characters’ voices and saw things to fix. The hunger was there to get back to it.  I wanted to do just what she said: keep going.

And other goals came alive, too: to follow through with the grad school applications I’d started or registration for workshops/conferences I wanted to attend.  To light the fire that would keep me moving forward, not just continue.

During the school year, I focus 1,000% on my students, my sons and the amazing work being done at the genuinely fabulous school where I teach.  If I stop to write, it’s often new teaching materials or an article on what went well in class.  I like that I teach in a demanding environment, where it feels like competing at the Olympic level.  And yes, I still work on the novel when I can.  What I am experiencing now is the success I worked for last year.  It’s awesome.

But current success was hiding the hunger that had compelled me to grow.  I needed to re-find that hunger.

Do First the 1 Thing That Helps You Grow

The hunger this morning recognized that I have dropped my own rules for continuing to grow.

Yes, I will get back to what I need to do to continue my current success.  But I need to remember not to skip that step beforehand: to do, first, one thing that will continue to move my goals forward.

Both as a teacher and as a writer, I have goals I still need to work toward.  Whether it is spending an hour on the novel or finding the number of the professor I need to call for  a recommendation letter for grad school or… the small steps done each day are what get us closer to reaching our goals.

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Are you looking for motivation or working on writing goals?

Does any of this ring true with you?  Feel free to share your own goals, successes, or blocks in the comments below.  If you wrote about a similar theme, feel free to share a link to your blog post.

I’ll re-share links to the January Challenge, below. It was a popular series, as the strategies shared are particularly helpful to writers, who are often challenged to keep motivated despite competing priorities.

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If you like this blog, be sure to subscribe using WordPress’s +follow option, the Bloglovin’ button or via email.  I love to connect with like-minded readers and writers!

grasp c Elissa Field

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Filed under Inspiration, January Challenge, Motivation to Write, Relentless Wake, Time Management for Writers, Writer's Day Jobs, Writing Life, Writing Mother

Friday Links for Writers 01.03.14

Snow lightly drifts onto a favorite summer reading bench. c. Elissa Field.

Snow lightly drifts onto a favorite summer reading bench. c. Elissa Field.

As this post goes live, my boys and I will be watching snow accumulate outside my parents’ 230 year-old house in Fairfield, Connecticut — or perhaps daring to hit I-95 for the long drive back south to Florida.

Being on holiday and then snowed in has been perfect time to luxuriate in long days for reading and writing, lending some great reads to this week’s edition of Friday Links for Writers.

As always, let me know what resonates for you in these links, what you’d like more of, or share your own favorite reads from the week in the comments. Best wishes for a great writing (and reading) week!

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Opportunities for Writers: January and February 2014

This isn’t the first time I’ve included a link to Aerogramme Writer’s Studio, as I think it is a great site that is generous and comprehensive in sharing resources for writers — including their bimonthly listings of submission opportunities.  In addition to checking out the link, find Aerogramme on Twitter @A_WritersStudio.

The Red Roadmaster

I was looking for inspiration and actually went scrolling through Writer Unboxed’s website specifically looking for essays by Donald Maass. His words cut that cleanly to inspiration. I bypassed his most recent post to find this one, on effective backstory.

Anthony Marra on A Constellation of Vital Phenomena

I came across this article in the New York Times while looking for the award Anthony Marra’s novel was nominated for (A Constellation of Vital Phenomena was longlisted for the National Book Award) while adding it to my 2014 Winter Reading List yesterday. I “met” Marra years back in an online writers’ forum, and have been thrilled to see the successful reception of his first novel.  This article was interesting as it discusses the connection between research (particularly travel in Chechnya) and the resulting novel.

Giving Up

Okay, obsess much?  Kidding, but yes, this one is also by Anthony Marra — another article I found while looking for info on his current novel. But this article, published at The Rumpus in 2011, may be meaningful inspiration for anyone feeling conflicted about a stagnant project, as Marra shares what he learned by giving up despite years invested on a project.

Learning to Measure Time in Love and Loss

Is this one about writing? Not exactly. But this New York Times essay by Chris Huntington is a beautiful reflection on the relative nature of what matters most in life — perfect timing for anyone beating themselves up over goals not met in 2013 or planning what to prioritize in 2014. (It was my favorite read last week.)

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Conference and Workshop Deadlines

Reviewing the January 22nd registration deadline for the AWP Conference at the end of February reminded me that lots of important spring deadlines are approaching.  If you’re considering attending spring or summer conferences, here is my round up from last spring of contact information on many of the great conferences and workshops, including Bread Loaf Writers Conference, Sewanee and more:  2013 Writing Conferences & Workshops

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Admit it: did you think I was lame for claiming to be “snowed in” with the faint dusting in the picture above? That was yesterday. Today we spent the morning shoveling driveways and walks in shifts.  The snow is beautiful and a great treat before we head back south.  Enjoy your winter weekend, wherever you are!

Bundled up and shoveling out to be ready for the drive home.

Bundled up and shoveling out to be ready for the drive home.

Enjoying the snowfall in Fairfield.

Enjoying the snowfall in Fairfield.

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Friday Links for Writers: 09.06.13

At work writing. c Elissa Field

At work writing. c Elissa Field

Writing this week has felt like a covert operation: completely unexpected details of my characters or scenes in reaction to the most unexpected inspiration, in a week I hadn’t planned to have much time to write. You can’t complain about that.

What’s been great about this week’s writing is the way that deepening discovery of inner character details has re-envisioned and empowered a couple moments I hadn’t thought much about. Developing and nuancing character is so much about discovery.

By chance or serendipity, this week’s Friday Links shares a series of articles on approaches for character development, starting with a review of a favorite author’s new release. As always, let me know what resonates for you in these links, what you’d like more of, or share your own favorite reads from the week in the comments. Best wishes for a great writing (and reading) week!

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Someone, by Alice McDermott

What the writer of this review says about Alice McDermott is exactly the reaction I’ve had to McDermott’s strongest work. I was equally stunned by the same short story (nugget to her coming novel) in the New Yorker, in a way that ties to the kind of quality I seek in writing. “Her sentences know themselves so beautifully,” the review says, and touches on the ways McDermott accomplishes deeply nuanced characters.

What’s Next: How Do I Look?

This post by Cate Levin at She Writes begs a question I’m sure she is not alone in asking: how much description is needed of a protagonist? In first person POV, no one wants to force in details like, “while tossing my long strawberry blonde hair…” Cate shares her own thoughts, and invites conversation on what other writers find matters in describing main characters.

Knowing What’s Real

Keeping on the same theme: Cate Levin’s question reminded me of this guest post by Khara House on writer Gerry Wilson’s blog (see the next link for more on Gerry). In asking whether it’s necessary to describe your main character, Cate was really raising the question: what details really reveal the character, more than mirrorlike description? Khara’s take on this is lovely.

Own the Emotion, Then Give It Away

Sharing the post by Khara, I came across another of my favorite posts that builds on this same theme. In this, Gerry Wilson makes a fabulous connection between ballet training and writing in the need to fully occupy and use emotion in developing character.

Indiegogo: Bestseller with Chuck Adams

Okay, so this is an Indiegogo fundraising page for the book Bestseller, currently assembling advice on how talented writers can become bestsellers from editor Chuck Adams. Fundraiser or no, the page includes several short videos with Adams sharing behind the scenes stories of editing, rejection and one of his great acquisitions, Water for Elephants, giving an interesting view into different aspects of the industry.

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More on Writing Character

Are you on a roll and want to read more about writing (or revising) richly developed characters? That’s actually a favorite topic on this site. Here are a few favorites:

Along with a fabulous group of writers, Elissa Field is a Founding Member at Wordsmith StudioFab Writing Community

It wasn’t pure chance that I shared with you writers Khara House and Gerry Wilson. Gerry, Khara and I (and lots of those reading this post) are part of a fabulous writing community called Wordsmith Studio. I hope sharing Friday Links or other posts on my site is useful to other writers and readers, because there is a great bond when writers support one another — and this is exactly the community Wordsmith Studio members have found together. You can find more about our group’s activities by watching the #wschat hashtag on Twitter.

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Friday Links for Writers: 08.30.13

Summer Green Market at Rockefeller Center, 2013. c Elissa Field

Summer Green Market at Rockefeller Center, 2013. c Elissa Field

Heading in to Labor Day is a bittersweet time of year, as end of summer and back to school signals lots of creativity around here at the same time my long writing days of summer come to an end.

Not that writing stops, but it fits into a different time strategy.

What never ends is great reading, and this week revealed some great resources for writers. Here are a few, below. As always, feel free to let me know which links resonated with you and what you’d like more of, or share your own links in the comments.

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But I Digress

In this great post at Beyond the Margins, Nichole Bernier takes on the effective use of flashbacks with a list of questions to ask to determine when digressions are effective and when they impede the narrative.

Freedom and Structure: Matt Bell’s Seminar on Revision and Rewriting

In this post at Grub Street, writer Susi Lovell shares nuanced advice for revision and rewriting that she took away from a Grub Street seminar with Matt Bell. Beginning with the advice, “Don’t try to ‘tackle the whole story’, he said. ‘Take one element at a time,’” she shares the lightbulb moment that came in revising her work.

How Not to Write a Novel: the Quiz

I’m sharing the link to this quiz just for fun — but the concept behind the full book, How Not to Write a Novel, is certainly valid. Howard Mittelmark and Sandra Newman offer a different perspective on writing advice by sharing 200 classic mistakes and how to avoid them.

14 Writers Handwrite Their Writing Advice on Their Hands

Need a boost? Take inspiration from one of these 14 writers and the advice they’d give if distilled only to what fit on the palms of their hands.

Guest Blog Post Strategies for Writers

This post at Galley Cat offers link to Jared Dees’ Book Launch Guide, with 33 solid strategies for authors to let the world know about their book. Get started with the strategies given for pitching and writing guest blog posts.

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Writing Process: Where Do You Write?

writing ct 1-

One of the cheery questions that writers seem to like trading experience about is, “Where do you write?”

There are those who are passionate café writers. There are those who post long reflections on their experience writing at a weeklong or month-long retreat where trees block view of the closest human being. There are those who write on subways. There are those attending conferences this summer who will imagine long hours writing in the Adirondack chairs on a grassy mountainside.  There are those with full fledged home offices or equally meaningful cubbies with small totems that inspire them to write.

One of my most productive places to write, ever, has been sitting in bed in my house, which is that kind of new construction where the master bedroom is huge and airy, on the second floor with a bay window looking over treetops so it feels like sitting in a treehouse. Chi moves so well through that room that I am neither bored nor distracted.

More often, as single mother, I am in the corner of the sectional sofa in the family room in the middle of my sons’ action, so I won’t someday hear them in therapy saying their mother spent their childhood with her nose in a laptop locked away in her room. I’ve written in other busy places: conferences, courthouses, schools, train stations, airports.

I’ve written in spectacularly beautiful places — on a cliffside balcony looking over the Mediterranean in Positano, Italy; in a beautiful hotel room; at famously photogenic beach. Few places are as beautiful as that empty chair in the picture with this post, where I am sitting right now on the sun porch of my mother’s house in Connecticut, looking out over her gardens as she and my son weed.

ard na sidhe blogBeautiful places and busy places have often left me with ideas to write from. My current WIP began with an image from a gorgeous mountain lake in County Kerry, Ireland.

But, ironically, my philosophy about “where to write” is the same as my philosophy on buying notebooks or pens for writing: the best writing places are equivalent to or more boring than the writing you’re doing. If you’ve ever had writer’s block, then never buy some heirloom-gorgeous writing journal because you’ll be too afraid to write a wrong word in it. I’d rather a boring composition notebook, any day.

As beautiful as this seat is in my mom’s sunroom, I’ve spent more time photographing it and writing about it than working through the list of revisions I’m supposed to be making.  As we get ready to drive back south tomorrow, I’m sure I’ll lament leaving this beautiful location many times. But the truth is, it does me well to dip in such beauty and then retreat to the quiet where the words I need to work on are the main attraction.

As a final thought, I think the best writing seats have good chi — air flows readily so your ideas feel free to unravel — yet are not in the main line of that energy. For example, that seat pictured in the window demands the action of looking out onto the world, in the traffic flow of the main door. In reality, these last two weeks, I’ve written better when snugged into the sofa set back in that same room, with a similar view and still in hearing of all the house’s activity, but sheltered behind the main traffic and action.

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What About You?

Is your writing space important to you as you write, or are you portable in your work? Do you have rituals, like favorite quotes or icons on your desk, or other ways your writing space gets you going? What would you change, if you could? What would you recommend writers look for or avoid in a good writing space?

If you’ve posted about your writing space in the past, feel free to leave your link in the comments.

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Friday Links for Writers: 07.26.13

 

Yup, there's a copy of my novel draft in that bag, for revising on the train. At Rock Center with the boys. c Elissa Field

Yup, there’s a copy of my novel draft in that bag, for revising on the train. At Rock Center with the boys. c Elissa Field

I am traveling this week, which has me on sensory overload. Think: 22-hour drive, zipline obstacle course through the treetops, 5th Avenue and climbing rocks in Central Park with my boys…

As much as we talk about avoiding distractions in order to write, traveling has its own kinds of distractions. If you’re facing those during summer’s tempting travel months, check out Motivation to Write: Keep Writing While on Vacation. That said, I’m off to work by the pool with the boys.

Before I go, this week’s Friday Links include 4 great articles for taking writing deeper… followed by Chuck Wendig’s  As always, feel free to let me know which links resonated with you and what you’d like more of, or share your own links in the comments.

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Bent on Books : Openings and First Lines

This post by literary agent Susan Hawk of The Bent Agency offers 5 suggestions for the qualities she finds lead to successful openings and first lines. Thanks to Melanie Martilla for sharing this (and thanks for visiting here frequently, Melanie!).

The Difference Between Idea, Premise & Plot

In Donald Maass’s Writing the Breakout Novel, he observes that many novel drafts fail because the writer had a great idea or premise, but it wasn’t enough to sustain power through the arc of the narrative. This article by Janice Hardy distinguishes between the deepening role of idea, premise and plot in a way that may help a writer better establish a well-fledged concept.

Thought Verbs by Chuck Palahniuk

Trust Chuck Palahniuk as he says, “In the next six seconds, you’ll hate me…” This post on a tumblr collecting Palahniuk quotes shares some brass-knuckled advice: “From this point forward—at least for the next half year—you may not use “thought” verbs. These include: Thinks, Knows, Understands, Realizes, Believes, Wants, Remembers, Imagines, Desires, and a hundred others you love to use.” With these gone, Palahniuk urges writers to un-pack the real meaning intended by those shortcuts. (Thanks to Amanda Byrne, who shared this at Wordsmith Studios.)

Click post link for Maya Eilam's infographic.

Click post link at right for Maya Eilam’s infographic.

The Shapes of Stories: A Kurt Vonnegut Infographic

Eyes tired of words? Check out Maya Eilam’s infographic of Kurt Vonnegut’s theory on the archetypal shapes of stories. (My WIP would be Man Meets Girl While in Hole).

So You Just Had Your Book Published

Worried you won’t get that first novel finished? Or, got it finished and sold and now worry you won’t have any publishing worries left to keep you awake at night? No problem. Novelist Chuck Wendig has you covered with this post at Terrible Minds.

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Friday Links for Writers: 07.19.13

summer beach

I think July 15th marks the official day of summer when time seems to accelerate. Back to School ads have the audacity to infringe on summer’s sacred freedom. Slow down, summer.

At our house, it’s been a mixed urge to get in the relaxation the boys waited all year for, while I continue crunching through this novel revision. If you’re also in revisions, commiserate with me by checking out my recent Novel Revision Strategies series (link list below).

Work and relaxation still left time for some great reading this week, and some of the most interesting links are here. As always, feel free to let me know which links resonated with you and what you’d like more of, or share your own links in the comments.

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10 Tips to Avoid Clichés in Writing

If you liked Rebecca Makkai’s “Stealth Clichés” in last week’s Friday Links, you may be wondering more about clichés and how to avoid them. It got me testing to avoid a particular cliché, during which I found this piece by Peter Selgin at Writers Digest. It holds a few eye-opening points, like an activity to slow down rather than impress: “In trying to interest us, most writers abandon sincerity and, with it, authenticity.”

Why Literary Novels Take So Long to Write

This post by author, editor and ghostwriter Roz Morris resonated with me as my work with revisions the last couple weeks seemed to stretch on forever. When you have this much left to go on a book you’ve been working on for a couple years, it’s hard not to wonder, “Am I doing it wrong?” since other books can be written in less time. I had run into Roz on Twitter before finding her site, and recommend following her as she is an engaging and supportive writer: @NailYourNovel.

Introduction to Scrivener for Novelists

For those who are new to Scrivener or wondering what features it offers, this blog post by Kay Hudson is long, but a great comprehensive introduction. She offers a blend of “how to” and reflection on what has worked well for her. (For the official Scrivener site, visit Literature and Latte . You can download a trial version of Scrivener for free, which lets you use it on 30 separate days before needing to purchase.)

Don’t Let Guilt Keep You From Pursuing Your Passion

In college, I remember telling a professor I worried about trying to be a writer. “Why?” she asked. I answered, “Because great writers never have happy families.” It pulled the prof up short and we took turns listing one great writer after another who was divorced, single, without a family or whose family lamented their absence. Funny, as a mom now, um, a few years since that 20-something conversation, to realize how much of writers’ lives involves balancing their need to disappear into work against the needs of the relationships in their lives. Long lead-in to say this post by Jody Hedlund may resonate with writing parents at any point in their career.

Herculean Feat: MFA Day-Job

This piece by Ali Shapiro at Ploughshares addresses a perennially popular topic here: day jobs for writers. While lots of writers work day jobs in any field, specific questions arise for writers finishing an MFA. “There’s a misconception that the MFA is like any other graduate degree—that it automatically allows a certain next step in a particular career path.” Shapiro considers academia, options outside academia, interviewing, ideal job and more.

Book Files Need 4 Crucial Checks to Succeed at Your Printer

Are you involved in the printing end of publication? This article by Joel Friedlander at The Book Designer gives a pro’s pointers of 4 technical details to address to ensure successful printing. This will appeal to those branching into self-publication, but will also be familiar to those of us who have been involved in producing freelance publications for clients or publishing literary magazines, or to anyone developing a small press.

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Baby pictures. A glimpse into harsh revisions occurring with my poor Wake, last week. (c. Elissa Field, no repro w-out written permission)

Baby pictures. A glimpse into harsh revisions occurring with my poor Wake, last week. (c. Elissa Field, no repro w-out written permission)

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Friday Links for Writers: 07.12.13

Sailboats off Greenwich. c Elissa Field (request permission for use)

Sailboats off Greenwich. c Elissa Field (request permission for use)

I’ll keep this intro short and sweet as nothing tells you more about my week than the fact my boys and I are eager to get out and enjoy the day, after a work-week dense with revision.

Before we head out to enjoy the summer, I’ll share some of the better writing links I’ve come across this week. Two are inspiration for any creative pursuit. Three address my continued focus on editing.

As always, feel free to let me know which links resonated with you and what you’d like more of, or share your own links in the comments.

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How To Be Prolific: Guidelines for Getting It Done from Joss Whedon

It’s just an article, not a magic wand… But this Fast Company piece has been passed around amongst creative types this week, as Joss Whedon shares his best advice for what it takes to get it all done. (If you read my post yesterday, you know this is my current obsession.) Interestingly, he advises to do what I’m about to do with my kids: put fun first.

The Stealth Cliché

A literary agent tweeted in a chat today that 50% of manuscripts submitted to her open with one pattern of cliché, and a different pattern of cliché begins the other 50%. Clearly an exaggeration (or else she receives zero viable submissions) — but it raises a common issue: often writers are not aware they are writing cliché as the wording rings true and inventive in their mind. In this sense, I love this collection of “stealth clichés” gathered by author Rebecca Makkai on Ploughshares’ blog.

Writing Lessons at Ploughshares

This installment of the Writing Lessons feature on the Ploughshares blog touches on 2 things dear to my interests this week (editing and the Aspen Summer Words Writing Retreat) as Graham Oliver shares his experience in a workshop with David Lipsky. Another reason for including this link: for all my friends and readers who are or recently have been an MFA candidate or attended a workshop, check out the submission guidelines for Writing Lessons, here.

7 Reasons Agents Stop Reading Your First Chapter

We get it, you’re editing. Sheesh. Here’s a third editing resource: this article by Chuck Sambuchino was among the shortlist of links I included on my post yesterday to target novel weaknesses: Novel Revision – 6 Things to Edit Now.

Revision checklist-*

Are you busy with revision, too?

Want more?  Click here for my full series underway: Novel Revision Strategies.

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New Agents Don’t Have Cooties

This post by an Ottawa literary agent (on her blog, I Believe in Story) is an interesting discussion of the ins and outs of querying a “new” literary agent, including how to review background in lieu of experience.

The 9/11 Decade: Colum McCann

Each week I try to end with a multimedia piece that served as inspiration for the week. No secret: I have a shameless literary crush on Colum McCann. Perhaps that leaves me biased, but I found this New York Times video inspiring and thought provoking.

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Summer Reading 2013 c Elissa Field

Summer Reading 2013 c Elissa Field

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Novel Revision Strategies: A Day’s Work in Pictures

novel revis 7-9

sols_blueIf you read Monday’s post (Novel Revision Strategies: Printing for Read-Through), you know I am using a printed draft for this stage of novel revisions.

Today’s post is a photo diary of what morning work looked like — as waffles with the boys shared space with ruthless edits on this draft.

“Failure is not an option”?

Successful launch, Kennedy Space Center. c Elissa Field, repro w permission only

Successful launch, Kennedy Space Center. c Elissa Field, repro w permission only

Go “where’s Waldo” to find the NASA slogan on my coffee mug: Failure is not an option.

Even as writing and revising drafts is all about failing over and over again? Yeah, I still love that mug’s inspiration. I bought it on a trip to Cape Canaveral with my rising-7th grader when he was in 4th grade. Ever wondered about the explosive launch sequence pictured on my blog’s masthead? That was taken on the same trip — a re-enactment of the control room for a successful Gemini launch. We’re in that control room when writing, and the mug reminds me to never stop.

Novel writing is launching into the risk of failure, the surging insistence that it will go well. The rocket will launch. Risk embraced.

Or, go with Samuel Beckett as inspiration: “Ever tried. Ever failed. No matter. Try again. Fail again. Fail better.”  Drafting and revising is all about getting something down. Being willing to fail as well as we can, then trying again, even failing again — but failing better. In that sense, the mug would say, Giving up is not an option.

So, here’s where that has gotten me in the past couple days…

These are probably my favorite revision pages:

Done. Done. Chickie approves. cElissa Field, repro w permission only

Done. Done. Chickie approves. cElissa Field, repro w permission only

This is what less happy pages look like:

Messy revision

Ohhh… that looks painful. Chickie is staying out of it. BUT, check-marks show the changes have been made in the new computer draft. Work goes on. c. Elissa Field, repro w writ-permiss

If you read the captions, you see the range of changes going on.

The top picture shows pages from the opening scenes of my WIP, which are ready to go — marked “done.”  I also signal “done” in the computer document by changing that text to blue. Yup, plain text: that leaves you vulnerable to being cut.

The second pictures shows a scene that has been outlined with highlighter to say it will be kept (although not “done”), with corrections marked. Where I still have questions to answer, I wrote them on the blank page above to make sure they won’t get lost.

Apparently I was not mean enough to take a picture of pages with entire scenes X-ed out, but they are there. I do paste deleted text into a “Cuts” document… just in case.

The colored highlighter is an example of what I mentioned in yesterday’s post about using color codes to mark key scenes or characters.

Here’s the color key:

color key

This is the key on the first page — so far I’ve been marking the text that will be kept with a highlighter for the main character it relates to. Being able to visualize this helps, as this edit is all about getting the final structure in place, then seeing what’s missing.

Creating a Style Sheet – or, um, Lengthy To-Do List:

Revision checklist-

Every hour or so of reading, I go back to the computer draft to implement the changes. I’ve been checking corrections off to keep track of what’s been done, and also gathering this chapter-by-chapter task list of questions that need to be resolved. So far, it includes facts to resolve, like names, family names, locations, dates — as well as plot details that have changed between drafts and need to be made consistent.

If you want to read more about creating a “style sheet” to manage your novel, check out this post by literary agent Rachelle Gardner: Create a Style Sheet for Your Manuscript .

A Party so Wild it Needs a Bouncer – Enter the Outline:

Outline as Bouncer
Really, most of this mark-up on the draft took place yesterday. I came back to it this morning knowing I was still swamped in some choices. I had a clear list of scenes in my head, and knew the order I need to shift them into. As clear as it was in my head, with the story changes that took place between drafts, I need to keep track of the order of important reveals and progression of internal and external conflicts.

Enter the Bouncer, tough guy outline watching over the WIP’s shoulder above. Yes, it looks a bit techie — I am used to throwing Word tables together to manage info, so that works for me.

The Bouncer outline works like this: like velvet ropes deciding who will be allowed into an elite club, if a scene is not on this list, it won’t stay in the draft.

As much as writers chat about whether to “pants” or “plan” I believe fully in a hybrid of the two. In order to finish this outline, I had to analyze my understanding of the story. It reminded me of a couple scenes not written yet, and helped me better analyze how to get the right tension and resolution at the end. Mean as he looks, the list makes my job so much easier.

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How About You?

It’s been great to read comments from readers about their own process for revising — share yours as well?

Rather than revising, are you focused on writing new material? It was also great to connect on Twitter today, as Wordsmith Studio writers hosted wordsprints. Check out the hashtag #wschat to find writing activities each week.

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Novel Revision Strategies: Printing for Read-Through

2nd printed draft 2

Cheers! I’m celebrating a little milestone on my end, as I made it far enough through all those chaotic novel revisions over the last 2 weeks (Novel Revisions: Work is Messy, Book May Bite and Novel Revision: Revising a Flat Character) to be able to print a full novel draft again on Friday night.

Little celebratory dance. Cheers. Now time to get back to work.

Printing the draft feels like an accomplishment — so neat and finished-looking in its binder. But it is just a milestone before the next step of revision.

Each day I work on novel revision and engage in conversations with others in the same process, I notice there are specific techniques that writers use to manage the complex work of novel revision.

While we all probably do most of our drafting and revision on the computer, there are specific strategies writers use in revising from a print copy.

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When Do You Print?

The first time I wrote a novel draft, I printed copies all the time — I think I had a 4-foot high stack of at least 12 different drafts. But I’ve come to hate the messiness and waste of paper, so rarely print these days.

With my current WIP, I didn’t bother printing until I had my first complete, holds-together draft. In particular, I was going on a 3-week road trip, so printed to have the draft to take with me when a computer wasn’t available. There is a picture below of the draft I worked with last summer.

Even with changes, I haven’t bothered to print it again over the winter, because so much of what I was doing was outside the manuscript — character and story development, and writing new scenes. If I wasn’t going to work from the printed draft, there was no point in printing (caveat: other than to have a backup).

I knew it was time to print again when the next step of revision was to read through to see how things held together and test for the ordering of scenes in building the story structure. I’d already completed any petty tasks (ran a spell check to catch distracting corrections) and had pasted all pending material into the draft. I was no longer actively writing new material — I thought I’d filled all the “holes” and was ready to read for what worked, what was missing, what needed chopping, what needed moving.

For me, this will be an intermediate read: I expect big moves with this revision. I’ll have to chop scenes of motivation that were replaced by a new backstory. I’ll be merging or chopping duplicates where I’ve written the same scene more than once (not uncommon for me, as I keep “hearing” different perspectives or detail to a scene). And I’ll be making big choices about structure: I’ve written a handful of scenes from different character perspectives, so need to make a choice to structure multiple viewpoints or convert those scenes to something the MC would have known.

Others may print when they are ready for line edits or sharing with beta readers. I may be doing line edits in some places (polishing verb tenses, fixing/adding transitions, perfecting punctuation and word choice), but mostly I assume I’m not there yet. That will be the next print and read-through — which will hopefully be soon.

What is the Process of a Printed Read-Through?

Other writers use a neater process than I do. Ann Hood has said that she writes for 2 hours every day in a relatively linear order and begins the day’s writing by revising her work from the day before. When she has a completed draft, she prints it off and carries it to a local coffee shop where she goes all the way through the draft marking her edits.

Revision checklist-Similarly, young adult writer Alissa Grosso shared her process in this post for Teachers Write! last week, describing how she reads through a printed draft, marking all corrections in red ink.  She said it takes her about 4 days. She then makes the noted corrections on her computer draft.

My process is similar, with the exception that I use more than just pen in marking changes (see strategies, below).  So far, I’ve made it about one-quarter through, in one day.

  • In places where the text is polished (the opening is essentially done), I’m doing a close reading, noting decisions that need to be made (a date, a year, a city name, the name of a background character) and scrutinizing word choice.
  • In nearly-there sections, it’s time to insert any missing quotation marks (I’ve become minimalist in not typing them during initial writing, but they’ll be needed in submitting).
  • If you’ve read any of my quick drafts, I sometimes draft loosely, allowing almost stream of consciousness in details and thought; now, as I decide which scenes are working, I’ll be editing together the sentences that will stick. (That’s a burdensome approach, but it seems to avoid the overwriting that can come about when first getting to know a story.)

I will probably begin implementing changes into the computer draft before getting all the way through the read-through. Other writers finish all reading/notations on the full draft before going back to the computer.

If you’re going to make the changes on the computer anyway, why waste time with a printed draft? Read on to see some of the visualization strategies the printed draft allows.

What about really messy drafts?

Honestly: I printed this copy off completely ready to cut scenes apart and shuffle them like cards if that’s what it took to envision how they best fit in the storyline. We do that with student writers in workshop, sometimes, when their ideas are good, but the writer needs the ability to kinesthetically shuffle their sentences and paragraphs into a more powerful order. In my case, the linear telling of the story needs adjustment to control when the external and internal conflicts converge and reveal, for resolution.

That ability to visualize and physically move text around is a main advantage of printing a draft. On page 72 of her book Real Revision, writer Kate Messner shares Darcy Pattison’s “shrunken manuscript” technique. Kate shrinks font to the smallest size, single-spaces and minimizes margins so an entire novel manuscript can be printed on few enough pages to lay out across the floor of the living room. Shrunken to this scale, it’s possible to see the “big picture” of entire novel in a single view.

What do you look for, when viewing this big picture? Where are characters introduced? Where does the inciting incident occur? When is information revealed? Where do internal and external conflicts converge? Resolve? Where are there holes? Or, are there too many scenes happening to slow the action down? Do reveals happen too early or too late?

Some Technical Strategies for Printing

The shrunken novel approach gets us into interesting territory. We’ve all been taught that finished manuscripts should be submitted in 12 point classic fonts, double-spaced, with a 1″ margin.  A full-length adult novel can take 200 pages to print. But, for revising, forget those requirements: when printing for revision, use strategies that help you see and work with your manuscript.

Condensed drafts left you visualize more per page, in a less cumbersome draft. Over time, I’ve come to prefer working with drafts in 10 or 11 point font (closer to book text), and in 1.5 spacing, rather than double. (Set yours to a comfortable size: yeah, I can relate to having difficulty with small text up close.)  I customize to narrow margins (half-inch at left, top and bottom), but I leave a full inch at the right. On drafts where I planned to write lots of comments, rewrite scenes or plan research, I’ve left a 2-inch right margin; otherwise, I use the blank backsides for comments.

Play with the look of the page. You may notice in the picture above that I printed “2 pages per sheet,” creating a book-like layout. Tech-specs: I used 10 point, Times New Roman font. Spacing is 1.5, with half inch margins. Using landscape layout, I used the Word option to print “2 pages per sheet,” which is equivalent to columns, but without fit issues. This book-like layout has been easy to read, condensed, and with enough room to work with the text.

Display or print in different formats. Similar to the note above, simply printing in a different font (go from TNR to Calibri, or the other way around) can help you see your manuscript with fresh eyes. An extreme version of this comes from the fact I seem to notice typos more once I’ve posted to my blog. Using that, I’ve saved sections of text as a draft post (not published), and viewed it on my blog to spot revisions.

Scrivener or Word? You can print directly from Scrivener (“compile to print”) but I compiled from Scrivener to Word, then tweaked the manuscript in Word before printing. Word allows more control over margins, printing layouts, fonts, etc., and you can preview before printing so you don’t waste paper.

Working with my WIP's first draft, summer 2012. c. Elissa Field

Working with my WIP’s first draft, summer 2012. c. Elissa Field

Pen, pencil, highlighter…or all those fancy flags? If you are visual, go all in. Both as a writer and a teacher, modeling for students how to take control of their reading, I am all for using color and tools that take control of your draft:

  • Back to Kate Messner, with her shrunken manuscript spread on the floor, Kate uses colored Post-Its to mark key moments, characters, props and reveals in the manuscript.
  • With my draft last year (in this picture), I used large, tabbed Post-It flags to mark chapters, with room to write summary of the chapter or list pending questions. Smaller flags marked key scenes. Color helped signal different characters and conflicts.
  • In my current draft, I am reading with different colored highlighters, so I can highlight my favorite wording and key scenes or details. With these highlighted, I can make clearer decisions about the sections I will cut. I can rescue important details from scenes being cut. I can make clearer choices about which wording to use when merging a scene I’ve written more than one way.
  • If you don’t use highlighters during your review, you can use the trick we teach kids in writing workshop: write your corrections in ink, then use highlighter to mark comments once you have implemented them into the next draft. A good way to keep organized and know where you left off in your work.

color keyDon’t take my word for it… Check out this picture-diary of how I use colors and other strategies as I get to work with this manuscript in Tuesday’s Novel Revision Strategies: A Day’s Work in Pictures.

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What About You?

What revision strategies have worked for you?

Do you have specific strategies for print revisions, or do you do most of your revisions on the computer? Or what questions do you wish someone could answer about revision?

I’m debating a post on using Scrivener software — do you have questions (or feedback) about it?

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Friday Links for Writers: 07.05.13

thailandIf I am late in posting this Friday Links for Writers, can we brag a little about having our feet up, kicked back, reading a book or luxuriating in chance to write uninterrupted because it’s summer?

Not just summer, but 4th of July’s long weekend. Savoring…

On Tuesday, I shared some great experiences I’ve had writing this week (Tuesday Writes). Kudos to a number of my writing friends and readers here who shared their writing milestones (and Twitter wordsprints) this week, too.

As always, each week’s writing includes awesome reading, and here are some of the best articles I’ve read this week. Let me know what resonates with you, what you’d like more of, or share your own links in the comments. Enjoy your weekend!

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4 Types of Freelance Clients to Avoid

This article by Lauren Levine at the Daily Muse is fabulous, especially for anyone considering getting into freelance writing or freelancing part time. No matter how tempting it is to take any client who asks for your services, Levine helps target the kinds of clients best avoided.

The Bridge & the Tunnel

Yeah, tease me: I’ve been tooting Donald Maass’s horn repeatedly the last 2 weeks. Last year I was doing the same over Ann Hood (like, in Writing Character: Sometimes the Work is Messy or this How Internal & External Conflict Build Story). Honestly, by the time you’re writing novel-length, it takes a certain quality of advice to really move your writing forward — to engage at the level of deepening conflict and character and story structure — and Hood and Maass do both of these. So, again, yes: another great resource from Maass. This article on Writers Unboxed addresses novel midpoints — key, as this is the part where so many drafts sag. Some fabulous prompts are included.

Work Alone: Hemingway’s 1954 Nobel Prize Acceptance Speech

Twice this week, I wrote about the value of having community support when writing. That said, in the end, it takes time alone to get the work done. Brainpickings is awesome at sharing original texts, and this transcript and recording of Hemingway’s Nobel Prize Acceptance speech is inspiring.

The Coffeeshop You Meet in Heaven

You don’t work in isolation but in a coffee shop, you say? This essay by Rebecca Makkai (author of The Borrower and several stories in Best American Short Stories, with a 2nd novel in the wings) in Ploughshares is worth a read. It’s Rebecca’s perfect coffee shop for writers.

Literary Culture Clash: Jonathan Lee Interviews Nicole Aragi

I could say Nicole Aragi was my favorite literary agent without actually knowing she existed simply because she has signed and promoted so many authors I admire (Nathan Englander, Jonathan Safran Foer, Aleksander Hemon, and being friends with Colum McCann, earns her bonus points). This interview by Jonathan Lee at Guernica is amazing to read, whether she reps your kind of fiction or not, just for offering a different glimpse inside publishing — one that includes love of good writing. (Thanks to agent Jenny Bent of the Bent Agency for sharing this. @jennybent)

Preditors & Editors

This is an old source I’d forgotten about — until a fellow writer was offered representation this week and the question arose: is the publisher legit? This is a great tool for vetting out legit publishers versus scams.

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Friday Links for Writers: 06.28.13

air-show-snow-conesSome weeks have a person singing “TGIF” loudly. My earlier posts this week (on the hard work of revision Monday and revising a flat character Tuesday) have confessed how intense writing and novel revision have been on my end. Yesterday’s challenge was the bleary work of comparing prior drafts, line by line. Still not fun, yet.

On the other hand… the kids and I are out of school for the summer. Today we’re off to the pool. Nights, we’ve been repeating my favorite childhood memory of reading mysteries falling asleep, as we’ve been buddy-reading my 11 year-old’s summer reading, And Then There Were None.

Before heading out to swim, it’s time for Friday Links. When writing is intense, I especially appreciate great reading to escape into, and I’ve stumbled across some great pieces this week. I hope you enjoy them – as always, let me know in the comments which links resonate for you, what you’d want more of, or share links to your own posts or links. Enjoy!

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This is Where the Rubber Meets the Road

I’m sure lots of you will agree that literary agent Rachelle Gardner shares some of the best advice on her blog.  As I said, I’m in the hard part of writing, and this article is just the right pep talk. Rachelle says to tell yourself, “This is where patience comes in. I can do this.” You knew it was going to be hard; tell yourself, so this is what hard feels like. If you don’t need this inspiration, click to follow her anyway, as her blog is always great.

Are Children’s Books Darker Than They Used to Be?

If you read or write YA, this title probably called to you as much as it did to me. My spontaneous answer to the question was, “No” — have you ever read original fairy tales? They’re dark. In her article, writer Julia Eccleshare at the Guardian evaluates the darkness of current kid lit, and also the thematic needs of young readers that compels that darkness. (But a parent/teacher request to YA writers: not too dark folks. Recent experience with cable-channel movies has me aware of how much we’re desensitizing ourselves from violence. Don’t be dark just to get attention.)

Teachers Write!

If you are a teacher or librarian, this is a really high-energy writing “camp” hosted by 4 young adult authors online. I wrote about Teachers Write! on my teaching blog here, and shared response to a morning prompt here — but that’s just the tip of the iceberg. There are daily prompts, advice, Q & A with authors and feedback — plus the positive camaraderie and feedback from participants. Use the link above for official info and sign-up… or see what’s going on at this Facebook page: Teachers Write! Facebook page. One can jump in to participate at any time.

Is the Key to Becoming a Great Writer Having a Day Job?

On the heels of link for teachers who write is this link, on that perpetual debate: the value or conflict of a day job to earn a living while writing a novel. This piece by Mason Currey in Slate won’t give you modern advice but may reassure of the value of day job as he examines several famous writers from throughout history and evaluates the impact of day jobs on their success.

Querying Agents? Check hashtag #MSWL

Want to find agents who would love to read a manuscript just like yours? Search tweets using the hashtag #MSWL which stands for manuscript wish list. Writers, don’t post your wishes — look for agents to list the kind of manuscript they’d love to get.

A Dozen Reasons Books Are Rejected by Agents, Editors (& Readers)

What’s interesting about this post by Mike Wells on his The Green Water blog is that his examples address that gap between writing a good enough query to interest an agent… but then the manuscript doesn’t follow through on the expectations set.

13 Inspirational TED Talks for Writers

Have you discovered TED Talks yet? I used to roll my eyes a little, they came up so often in “let’s rock the world” conversations — and then I got hooked myself. This is a second great link I’m sharing from Aerogramme, with a range of authors talking about creativity and more.

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Want to Join a Book Discussion on Writing Craft?

Donald Maass

Donald Maass

With fellow writers at Wordsmith Studio, I shared my love of novel writing prompts that literary agent Donald Maass used to tweet. I included 23 of those prompts, plus link to Maass’s site, in this post last March:

Want more? As one of our community resources, Wordsmith Studio hosts quarterly discussion groups including books on writing craft. Starting Monday July 1, we’ll be reading Maass’s book Writing the Breakout Novel. My copy arrives today. Find discussions on Twitter on Mondays at 9 pm EST July-September — using the hashtag #wschat (this tag is also used for Tuesday discussions of various aspects of writing).

Links for more info:

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Danger Book May Bite c. Elissa Field

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Novel Revisions: Work is Messy, Book May Bite

Revision is Messy c. Elissa Field

Revision is Messy c. Elissa Field

The titles of two of my previous posts here sum up where I am with novel revisions this week.

As I’ve mentioned in posts before, I come off the end of the teaching year like a kid going full bore on a skateboard flying off a pier. My writing has been cramped into short spurts all through the teaching season, and I crave these full, guiltless days of summer for novel writing.

But novel revisions are the chaingang work of writing, much moreso than those gluttonous days when all I had to do was invent ideas for the story. Days I rode such a rush of thoughts that new scenes (or more textured detail or characterization of existing scenes) ended up scribbled in the margins across pages in whatever book I was reading. Didn’t worry about transitions or sentence formatting or, you know, spelling as I drafted scenes out of order, in documents separate from that pristine, complete WIP I hadn’t opened since November.

Those prior post titles that come to mind like poetry to summarize my work these past two weeks? Writing Character: Sometimes the Work is Messy and Novel Revisions: Danger – Book May Bite.

I came off the end of that metaphorical dock flying weightless through the chaos of tracking down all the books I’d read last winter to find the scenes I’d drafted in the margins, to add them to the neater notebooks and Word “add-on” documents where I’d properly stowed new work. I landed into the grunt work of transcribing all that handwritten material. Apparently I’d broken my hand or taken a prescription-writing course over the winter or been drinking heavily and writing in a cave… because much of my effort has been spent holding a page at arm’s length, turning it right and left until scrawl becomes legible.

Danger Book May Bite c. Elissa Field

Danger Book May Bite c. Elissa Field

It took more than a week to get through all the books with notations. Tedious. I posted that on Facebook and writing friends commiserated: yes, tedious!

I couldn’t help worrying this was the easy part. Drone work, just transcribing.

I posted on Facebook: I’m actually a little scared about opening that Scrivener file of last fall’s WIP. What condition would it be in? It’s been a full, holds-together draft since last summer; it’s been through two revisions since but… you know, what if it stinks? What if I can’t remember what I’d revised and where I’d left off? As I typed into one add-on doc in Word, I couldn’t help knowing there were 2 other docs of additions/revisions and beginning to anticipate how much work it would be, integrating all that new material with the draft.

The better the new material, the harder it would be. Nudge of anxiety: with this much new material, was it essentially a full rewrite? Was I jumping on board a lean motorcycle or getting ready to wrestle a train?

People say novel writing is hard. Not true, exactly. Simply writing out a novel? I’ve typed out 6 stories before that were novel length and held together with complete characters, setting and a full story arc. Simply getting-it-down took about 2 weeks each time. If you have an idea, writing the novel isn’t the hard part. Revision is.

Or, to quote Randy Ingermanson, featured for his snowflake approach to novel writing in last week’s Friday Links for Writers: “Writing a novel is easy. Writing a good novel is hard.”

The novel — my WIP Wake — was written last summer. But the good novel I needed it to be still had issues with its ending, and my understanding of the characters kept shifting. Kept getting better — that part was great — but for pete’s sake folks, every time I understand you better, I’m stuck with another marginalia-scene to transcribe. Another key detail to weave organically through existing scenes. And then there’s that brilliant (<sarcasm) flash of all new backstory for one main character… revising all her “motivation” and the resolution between her and the love interest. Yeah, okay — it fixes other problems, but do you know how much work that will be? (Read about how much work it will be in tomorrow’s post: Novel Revision: Revising a Flat Character.) And it’s not just new material, it’s the tasks I keep giving myself to test out the structure of the novel, evaluate where the conflict rises, where secrets are revealed…

Advice-to-self 1: when the work is hard, just get started. When I finished classes 2 weeks ago, I knew my task list but, if you don’t, then try to break the work into steps, pick one and get started. My first step was transcribing the handwritten work, second step was pulling all the files onto one laptop (I’d been between computers), and then all the add-ins into one document so I could work with one Word doc and the WIP on Scrivener.

Advice-to-self 2: This is better than 1: reread what you have. Mark where it’s good. Move everything else aside. For me, this will help resolve that insecurity about the Scrivener WIP vs. all those other pieces. I won’t cling to the old WIP if the new pieces are that much better. Old scenes will drop readily from the WIP if the newer material is stronger. And I won’t be bogged down with any of the new material that’s not useful.  I’m already starting to see this.

Because… I’m not quite to the part where it stops being messy, but relief is replacing fear when I read what I wrote.

The last revised WIP was good. It wasn’t as raw as I remembered. And I’m really excited to discover that the rewritten parts from winter work. (Sure there’s some garbage, but I can ignore that.) They add the texture I needed in certain scenes, get more closely inside characters’ motivation. That new backstory does create more work, but it adds energy that was missing. And a few adjustments to the order of events may resolve that problem with the ending without needing “more.”

Revisions are hard. My fear is genuine — I know the last 10% of completing a novel is like facing a wall between me and the end of the race. I’ve failed to scale that wall once before — left a good novel draft unrevised. The work is messy and the book does bite — but getting to work is the only solution.

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What About You?

So many of my writing friends (including readers here and those in online forums like my Wordsmith Studio friends) are in this same boat: working to get a novel ready for submission.

Are you somewhere in this process?  What strategies — whether process or motivation — help keep you going?

How do you know when it’s enough — when the work is good enough to send out? I’m not good at that one…

Good luck with your writing, wherever you are in the process!

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More on revising Wake:

Sloans summer c Elissa Field

Sloans summer c Elissa Field

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Friday Links for Writers 02.22.13

Ernest Hemingway house, Key West (credit: user MacG5User at stock.xchng)

Ernest Hemingway house, Key West (credit: user MacG5User at stock.xchng)

What I’d like to take time to write about is how much I learned, reading a favorite author’s novel this week. But it’s time for Friday Links — and this Friday includes a range from old school advice from Hemingway to decoding ISBN’s. 

As always, let me know what you found inspiring in these or what topics you’d like to see more of.

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7 Tips from Ernest Hemingway

Going old school, here. While Hemingway pre-dated most MFA programs and was not from the modern crowd of writers laying down how-to-write advice, this article from Open Culture shares 7 pieces of writing advice curated from his letters and works. Unlike H., I’ve often sworn by processing a story while not actively writing — yet reflected on his point to never think about a story when you’re not working on it, as there have been times I was positive I’d written a scene but it turned out I’d thought it through but never written it down.

3 Ways to Save a Scene You Lack Confidence In

Shifting from Hemingway to fantasy writer L.B. Gale, here is an interesting piece about approaching that writing that came so easily yesterday, yet does not seem so fab in rereading, the next day. Gale is honest that there’s a point for binning, but otherwise offers 3 simple ways to regain the intended effect.

Who Should Read Your Unpublished Work?

Agent Rachelle Gardner is consistently fabulous in her advice to writers seeking publication, facing the first steps in promotion, and managing a growing career. This piece tackles the advice that writers should seek beta readers with the caveat that “not all readers are created equal,” with suggestions in making the most of early readers.

7 Common Questions About ISBNs

One of the keys to marketing a self-published book is making it accessible through distribution channels. In her article at SheWrites, Emily Suess explains the coding and practices behind ISBN, or International Standard Book Numbers. Great information for editing consultants and indie authors.

A Visual History of Literary References on The Simpsons

Just for fun, an old favorite: Jared Keller’s fine compilation in The Atlantic of classic literary references on The Simpsons, like an argument between Jonathan Franzen and Michael Chabon.

What did you find in these links that is useful to you? Let me know if you want more on a particular subject, or share your own best finds.

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Shared by the Library of Congress, this poster is from a Chicago promotion 1936-1941. No known copyright restrictions.This week’s writing has included preparing for a reading challenge I’ll kick off in March. As this vintage poster says: it’s time to “read the books you’ve always meant to read.” 
 
If you have a minute, please click here if you’d like to share the kinds of books on your 2013 Reading List — including any you’ve always meant to read yet never gotten around to.
 
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Notes of scene and personality of my character, scribbled in the margins while reading Ann Hood's Creating Character Emotions.

Notes of scene and personality of my character, scribbled in the margins while reading Ann Hood’s Creating Character Emotions.

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January Challenge Week 4: And Then Plans Changed…

space suit c Elissa Field

Anyone who has followed the January Challenge since the beginning knows that it sets out to support all of us in kicking off 2013 goals by spending one week apiece to focus on:

During Week 2, I posted How the January Challenge Arose from Freelance Writing to address how each of these steps is needed to keep a writing career growing — whether as a full time professional, a novelist with a day job, a busy blogger or someone still dreaming of getting a first draft off the ground.

Writers have accepted a profession that seeks unstructured days to have the freedom to write or explore the world. But, truth told, “freedom to work” sometimes takes more discipline and structure than lives yoked into a traditional job. Writers take on responsibility to stoke their own forward momentum so that free hours don’t escape unused.

Beyond that, writing hours need roll-bar-strong discipline to fend off the interruptions that continually threaten to claim a writer’s attention.

Children. Day job. Editing project. New client. Platform building. Broken dryer. Teaching. Deadline. Travel. Blank page. New inspiration. Friends, family. All these quality things vying for attention. For many writers, these distractions increase with success as new demands arise for speaking engagements or teaching or promotional tours.

In posts like 15 Strategies for Finishing Work, I shared some tricks for setting concrete tasks that help create a clear plan for getting the writing done.

And Then Things Change

My own weeks 3 & 4 of the January Challenge became a prime example of why those “roll-bars” are needed.

For Week 2 (“start something”), I set about the steps necessary to begin production of a literary magazine for my students, as planned. Fate laughed, and in a single day my prior job of teaching 3 writing classes and leading the literary magazine was switched entirely to cover a position vacated by a colleague who leaves our school this week.

Which brings us to…

Week 4: (Re)Evaluate and (Re)Plan

It’s easy to take sudden changes in plans or priorities as the latest “derailing” of the writing we planned to get done. How many times does intended writing get back-burnered because of a genuinely justifiable interruption from work or life?

The key to keeping writing moving forward is expecting those interruptions. Change wasn’t a surprise. New demands on our time aren’t a surprise. We know — it’s not our first rodeo — something always comes up.

Whether ending a project and needing a new client, or running into a production snag, or having a new PR issue to address. Whether a writer setting aside your own revisions while teaching others to write, or an agent pitching novel drafts without time to work on your own, or a parent trying to finish a novel with a sick kid, late sports, holidays or packing for a family trip… There’s always something.

As I said in the post about freelancing, this is why I evolved the “finish, begin, improve, and evaluate/plan” cycle, so you can continually dovetail new work in without stopping work on your original goals.

So we take on Week 4 of the challenge: it’s time to (re)evaluate and (re)plan.

Applying Steps of the Challenge as You Evaluate & Plan 

Evaluating and planning really means creating a new to-do list for the coming months, applying many of the steps set out in prior posts.

  • Evaluate what you accomplished in the prior month (or day or week). Reward yourself with check-marks, log word counts in Scrivener, or hours on your calendar. Blog about it. Celebrate.
  • Evaluate where you stand on existing projects. Create a list of tasks for steps that need to be finished, targeting any obstacles that have kept you from moving forward.
  • Evaluate what is going well. What do you want to do to continue this success, or to replicate it on a different project?
  • Measure these successes against your ultimate goal. In celebrating your 10,000 words written last month, will this get you to a finished draft by March? Set new quotas or adjust the ultimate goal, as fits.
  • Sometimes intermediate successes cause new hurdles. New material I wrote on my novel draft last fall requires new revision steps to reach the final version. Since I don’t want to delay finishing, what will I do to add writing hours to fit these revisions in? (I cancelled an optional conference.)
  • Did success in one project prevent work on another? Evaluate if it’s time to reclaim hours for a project pushed to the back-burner.
  • What will you take off your list? Surprises, successes and changes in plans often leave old to-do items irrelevant. Remove things that no longer matter to you.
  • What will you finish this month (or day or week)? Maybe you have a deadline or mandatory project to finish (I need to hand off my prior classes to the new teacher). Otherwise, like in Week 1, pick one thing you’ll just get done.
  • What new goals arose? Add in new goals or things you want to start. For me, this includes starting my new classes. But also planning for a Reading Challenge on this site in March.
  • What needs improvement? I’ve improved linking around my blog, improved how quickly my sons can get out of the house in the morning, repaired my car, cleaned my office. I want to claim more efficient writing time with a computer upgrade: I’ll schedule a laptop upgrade within the month to make the most of working time during the school year. I’ll plan a website upgrade in June, as I’ll have more free hours for tweaking during the summer.
  • What will you delay? It’s not lame to adjust a timeframe if you are still honoring what is most important to you. Don’t quit the goal; just move it to a better time on the calendar. With revisions, this sometimes includes scheduling a break to allow some distance from a piece of work.
  • In a prior post, I mentioned how writers often balance the time-money-credit trifecta. Evaluating your current balance of those 3 things impacts how to prioritize goals in the coming months. This last month brought me increased income and increased street cred to write in one of my subject areas. That means I’ll evaluate and plan where I will steal time back to work on the novel and stories (or when I’ll write pieces to make use of the street cred). This is key in planning my to-do list. For example, the money allows me to pay for 3 tasks which actually free my time or increase my efficiency to work on the book — and I need to make sure that takes place.
  • What resources do you need? Don’t forget to list supplies or knowledge you need to acquire to achieve immediate goals, or have on hand as you reach later steps. Key in this: what experts or peers could you seek out to expand your potential? Don’t overlook delegating or reaching out to a friend.
  • Don’t forget to plan when you will re-evaluate again. Consider the chunks of time/priorities on your calendar, and see how they form natural times for when you will pause and set priorities. I will be evaluating things with my day-job daily over the next week, as it is the transition time for the new job. I’ll have a breather to evaluate during next week’s 3-day weekend, at which time I’ll plan for the weeks until spring break. I can claim some writing during break, and will also use that to spend time with my sons and plan through the end of year.

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Where Are You in Your January Challenge?

write start badgeHopefully your January Challenge didn’t involve as drastic a change as mine did — unless it was a fabulous success that makes your wish list irrelevent!

A few readers who responded said that they wanted to take on the challenge but weren’t sure if they were doing it in the right order or at the right time. Hopefully the post on freelancing or this post make it clear: there is no right order or time. Our mutual challenge is just to get our 2013 goals off and running by recognizing obstacles that keep us from getting started and breaking projects into steps we can tackle.

It would be great to hear from you in the comments (or share link to your post if you blog about it):

What challenges did you take on, whether to finish, start or improve?

What obstacles are you encountering? What strategies helped you move past them, or what encouragement could you use?

What successes have you had?

If you blog about your January Challenge, please include a link back to one of the January Challenge posts here, and then share a link to your post in the comments below. You are welcome to use the January Challenge badge if you want to be festive. There is no time limit — we are working on goals for the whole year, so you are welcome to participate well past the end of the month!

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Friday Links 01.18.13

Welcome to Friday Links for the third week of January. For me, it has been a week busy with the beginning of a new semester, including getting to work on production of my students’ annual literary magazine. I’ve also been thrilled with some of the work coming out on my novel draft, Wake (shared last Saturday, here).

Writing mornings include reading, and here are some of the links I’ve found worth sharing!

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George Saunders Has Written the Best Book You’ll Read This Year

Deputy Editor of the New York Times Book Review, Joel Lovell, writes a fascinating discussion with George Saunders (“more or less universally regarded as a genius”), which opens with an amazing reflection on the awareness that comes from a recent proximity to death — and wouldn’t it be amazing if we could walk around with that kind of awareness all the time.

Writing About What Haunts Us

Thanks to Gerry Wilson for sharing the link to this New York Times essay by Peter Orner — whose images of confession and truth and ensuing emotion really do haunt. Together with the Saunders interview, these two articles made for a great reading morning.

Breaking Down Story Structure: MORNING GLORY Act One

Thanks go to Sarah Turnbull for sharing this link.  As I drafted Wake, through much of 2012 the posts I shared had to do with developing character. But, at some point, as your novel draft takes shape, what you are looking for is an understanding of the story line, and talk turns to analyzing plot. This link is to Lydia Sharp’s post which demonstrates story structure by breaking the first act of a movie into opening, inciting incident, catalyst, etc. The expression “instinctively preserves her self-concept” perfectly triggered my morning writing, as I closed a gap in understanding of my character’s early motivation.

Creative Writing: A Master Class

Gee, you know what I just did? Subscribed to a series of free masterclasses with Toni Morrison, Nora Ephron, Rita Dove and more, via iTunes! The Creative Writing: A Master Class link takes you to the full list of courses offered via iTunes Academy of Achievement. Each “course” is an audio or video podcast on craft from some of the masters of fiction, poetry and memoir. For me, these are a welcome download for listening in the car or when too tired for reading before sleep, or as a morning warm-up. For a more complete summary: I first read about this in Fordham MFA candidate Josh Jones’ post on Open Culture.

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Going on this month:

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How the January Challenge Arose from Freelance Writing

Day One - BeginI began this month by proposing the January Challenge (finish something, start something, improve something, then evaluate & plan where to go next) not because it was the logical way of doing things but because, for many of us who are writing, each of our goals shares our attention with multiple competing tasks.

If we want to start that novel revision, we first have to finish this project for our day job. If we want to get started with story submissions, we first have to finish revising. As I addressed in 15 Strategies for Finishing Work  last week, much of what we do involves time management of competing priorities.

It just dawned on me to say:  I learned this cycle by freelance writing. 

Considering the interest many of you expressed when I blogged about day jobs, today is a reflection on why the finish-start-improve-plan cycle is so important to making progress as a writer.

Most of my freelance jobs evolve into long-term roles, with enough work and pay to become my sole client. Still, others involve sporadic projects with clients not sure of their own goals, projects too small to be substantial income, or even an occasional client who was slow to pay. For anyone considering freelancing, know that continually stoking the fire for new work is part of the weekly task list.

So it was from freelancing that I learned the overall writing skill: that a productive writing business involves constantly feeding the 4-step cycle of finishing, starting, improving and planning.

It’s illogical: why do I put finish before start, or before plan?

This week I covered a friend’s 4th grade class one morning and, as I presented her lesson on the animal lifecycle with the circular cycle of egg-chick-chicken-egg… I was reminded why I list finish before start.

Yes, on day one — like that “START HERE” space on a board game — you begin with “plan” and “start.”  But there’s only one “start here” space on that gameboard, and most of us are not really on day one of our writing.

Most of us have a half dozen or so projects floating (overlapping writing and family and clients or day job, etc. projects) so taking a valid, productive step forward with our writing involves getting something else finished and out of the way, first.

I can get started with submitting my writing, but maybe I need to finish revision first. I can start with revising my novel, but I need to finish last week’s day job project first. I can start an idea for a novel, but maybe I needed to clear away holiday-vacation emails from clients first. I can start with my big project (the literary magazine) this week, but needed to finish last week’s grading and semester planning first.

The Key: Stoking All 4 Steps of the Cycle

What is most important is this single concept: once these 4 steps rotate into a cycle, notice the overlap of planning your next steps, finishing remaining work, and starting something new.

Before you even finish one project, you should have been evaluating and planning for the next project you will be starting.  My husband was a pharmaceutical rep and, in sales, they referred to this as “pipeline.” You have what you can finish today, but have already planned and seeded what you will do next, with your next project ready in the pipeline.

In freelancing, this meant I had already been marketing for new clients before I approached the end of a project. In fiction, it might mean having short stories submitted to literary magazines then start work on revising that novel while you’re waiting to hear back. It might mean, as you head toward finishing that novel draft, thinking ahead to what will be needed to connect with agents — maybe anticipating summer writing conferences or learning how to write a query.

A Little of Each, Every Day (or Week)

Although I set up the January Challenge to address one step of the cycle for each week of this month, I kept my freelance business going by addressing all 4 steps of the cycle every week, if not every day.

Every week I had a task list of steps needed to complete a current project. I evaluated and planned what was needed for that publication, as well as where the next job would come from. I scheduled steps to get the next project going (if with the same client) or took marketing steps to keep the pipeline fed.  I improved the functioning of my business (sent invoices or reorganized or tweaked my (now offline) website). A little of each, every week, kept the machine constantly fed and moving productively forward.

In truth, particularly when I became a mom, the economy crashed and other personal challenges made life more complicated, it was applying all 4 of these steps that has brought about my most successful moments. On the job or scrambling with kids or working to finish writing — attending to all 4 steps keeps progress moving forward.

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write start badgeThis Week: Begin Something

That said, this week of the January Challenge will focus on Starting Something New (link takes you to next week’s launch).  In the meantime, think of a project you need to get underway to accomplish an important goal in 2013.

What do you have to begin in 2013?

Remember, this is a group challenge and we’d love to hear how it is working for you.  What goals do you need to take on (this week, this month or sometime this year)?  What strategies work for you? What obstacles keep you from getting started?

If you join in, we’d all love to hear how your challenge progresses: write about it on your blog (use the January Challenge badge if you’d like); include link to this original challenge, and be sure to come back here and share your link with us.

Be sure to check out the Week 2: Start Something launch later this week!

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Going on this month:

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Filed under January Challenge, Time Management for Writers, Writing Process & Routine