Writing Methods and Progress

As I have been reading YA dystopian trilogies lately, my mind boggles at the amount of work that must have gone into each one of those books. Especially now that I am a writer, I see my experiences devouring works with my speedy reading from the author’s point of view – so much time and effort for a reader to blow through a book in a day.

After each series is finished, I hear thoughts in my head saying, “You’ll never be able to write a book like that.” In the past several months, I have learned better than to listen to those negative thoughts any more. Somewhere in the back of my mind, I have been trying to work out a way of writing a complex story that would work for me.

I tend to be big-picture oriented. Looking at high amounts of detail or data to begin with always confuses and intimidates me. It’s hard for me to get a big handle on lots of little bits. So I thought: Why not start by outlining one big story arc from a character’s point of view? Then, keep layering on character arcs until you have an idea of what characters are together when. Then you can break it down into scenes or chapters. The last steps would be to go in and fill in all the details – the dialog, the descriptions, etc. After I thought of it that way, I felt a heaviness lift in my chest. Yes, I thought, that would work for me.

As I said to a friend today, I have read a lot about time management and getting into some kind of artistic practice. I haven’t found a way to make it work for me until now. The accountability calendar I have been using that allows me to check off that I have written at least one page of journal writing a day, two blog posts a week, and three days of writing for a total of 2,500 words a week really got me going. I must not have understood myself well enough to know that I love to check off a list of things I have completed, that checking off that list makes me feel productive, and that it helps me to stay committed. Now, with my idea about writing big and then working my way into the details, I feel like another thing has clicked into place for me.

What I have learned through my writing practice this year is that each person really does have to find out for themselves what will work. You can read all you want about how other people do it. It helps if you understand what makes you feel upbeat and productive and then work that into your life. That will help you along. But no one else can really tell you what methods will work for you.

It’s just you, your understanding of yourself, and your ability to work with tools that work with you that will let you take that next small step towards your goals.


Managing Depression

Today is 89 days straight in which I have written at least one page of writing every day. The chain remains unbroken.

In the last week, however, I have noticed negative thoughts creeping in. The act of daily writing has largely staved off these thoughts for the past 3 months. The fact that I am doing what I want to do creatively gives my mood an enormous lift.

So why have the old thoughts been creeping in? Thoughts like, “What’s the point of writing? You’ll never be any good. You’ll never make any money from it. You’ll die alone and unknown and no one other than family and friends will ever know you lived. Just give up.” Deep inside, I considered it. I felt my resolve wavering along with the tree outside my window.

I used to want to find the answer. What was the trigger? Why am I feeling this way? Now, I say to myself, Who knows? I try to find ways to keep going. Maybe it was the anticipation of my hitting a milestone (90 days of writing). You can find out the exact reason all you want and, sometimes, it just doesn’t help.  You can’t go back and change the cause. All you’re left with is dealing with your mood and feelings in the present.

All my posts here get redirected to Twitter get redirected to my Facebook page. On that page, a friend suggested I read the memoir, “The Noonday Demon: An Atlas of Depression” by Andrew Solomon. His first chapter, entitled Depression, talks about what it is and, more importantly, how it felt to him.

As I read his descriptions, I felt myself becoming increasingly morose and unhappy. The painful feelings and sense of oppression made me feel as if I had a two-ton weight pressing down onto my shoulders that would not quit until it ground me into the ground. I felt more pain, too, and it made me wonder if all this fibromyalgia pain is depression pain instead.

After running an errand to find seed beads and coffee, I settled into my writing place at Argo Tea on 26th St. and 7th Ave. I opened my memoir file and began writing, but felt like it would be too hard. So I decided to start reading about memoir writing instead.

I found a great article “How to Write a Memoir” by Scott Berkun and ordered it from the library. Reading his article about how hard it is to write a memoir, that it takes a lot of times that only you can invest, and that you have to write for your own reasons – not to make money. I think that was the lift that I needed.

Then I wrote this post a day early. I have been trying to spread out my writing – Blog writing on Mondays and Thursdays; memoir writing on Tuesdays, Wednesdays, and Fridays. But today I knew I needed to write this today. Tomorrow couldn’t wait. This post is beyond blog writing.

Just for today, this post is about getting to writing again.

Writing Progress + Practice

“A writer is someone for whom writing is more difficult than it is for other people.”
Thomas Mann

Got my butt (and the rest of myself, too!) to Starbucks for writing. Mark is working from home today. Intermittent, remote meetings means he can’t necessarily get out of the house. What do I want to do? Get out of the house, of course. So I went with my college-ruled notebook and my aging MacBook Air to Starbucks where I write.

Two days at Starbucks does not a writing habit make, but it’s a start. I have to start somewhere, don’t I? For some reason, I seem to keep going back to the start, to the beginning instead of holding steady and making progress. It’s so frustrating! I started out the year with writing at the forefront of my mind, and then I let it go and refused to pick it up again. That’s how I fail. At some point, I pick myself up and begin again.

I want to get back into writing, all sorts of writing. I can work on a novel, sure. But I have also written poetry and short stories. Working on different styles of writing can cross-pollinate your creative works. I heard about a writing contest for a 1,500 word short story. By Monday. Putting it out here so maybe you can give me a kick in the pants. It’s totally doable. I have a 6K+ word short story that I could totally adapt and make it work, or I could write a new one.

When I worked at the Berklee College of Music, I took some online creative writing courses. I still have the digital and physical materials. I was thinking about going through them again, doing some of the exercises, practicing. I did review some of the work that I did. And I thought: You know, the topic is a bit silly (I wrote about cats in more than one assignment) but the strength of the work itself stood. If you asked me then, I would have been like, Yeah. So? Now, I see that my writing skills were evident. But I need the practice.

Writing Practice is just like any other kind of practice. There is nothing in the world, no activity, that does not require practice. This means doing for the sake of doing. Sure, you’ll get better – over time. And you might be able to look back and point out a specific time where your work changes and you’ve improved.

What you cannot do is look at a single moment and declare it a failure of creativity. I mean, I guess you could. You could decide ahead of time what you wanted, measure your current effort against it, and judge it a failure. I understand that in one context – the car you designed won’t run or has a poor design that causes wind drag and increased gasoline costs.

But in terms of the fine arts, that’s a terrible approach to take. How can you immerse yourself in your work if you’re busy judging and knocking yourself down? I put that question out there as if I don’t do it myself, but I do. I am both perpetrator and victim of my creative failures. I am not calling any particular thing I do a failure. I call my inability to carry forward my dreams with the same commitment that I bring when I employed by someone else.

The great thing about this life is that the earth continues to rotate, the sun comes and goes across the sky, and that I can pick up a pen or open my computer and start putting down words that spring from my consciousness that want to escape into this world for us all to see.

Here’s to continued writing progress!

Weekly Writing Update

Following Chuck Wendig’s 350 words a day writing plan has worked well for me this week. I was able to complete my short story at 6,790 words with 175 words. The remaining 175 words and then some went into my self-help/creative inspiration novel.

Tomorrow I am heading into NYC a couple of hours before my writing critique group so I can get more writing done. I have an outline to rework some in my romance novel that, once I have done, means I can begin to work on my second draft. In 2014, my goal is to edit my romance novel. But I chucked a lot and integrated the rest into the outline. I am excited to begin working on that.

Next week: I hope to start editing my short story and begin writing on my novel. This is an exciting time, and I have never been happier. I have to say that I could not do any of this without the unconditional support that my husband gives to me. Thank you to my lovey!