Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Don't Let Thinking Get in the Way of Your Writing

Thinking...This short article on Lifehacker reminded me of something I try to instill in all of my writing students.  That you must always be writing to be a writer, and 95% of a writer's success depends on how well they do the simplest thing: Showing up and doing the work.

Thinking about writing and intending to do it is not enough.  You need to do it NOW.  And this is why daily practice is important. Even if you are not working on a specific project, you need to be writing about something. Even if it is about how your new dog, Rosie, is the stupidest dog you've ever owned and makes the 2nd stupidest dog you've ever owned, Sunny, look like a Rhode Scholar in comparison...

The practice is what allows you to enter the "zone" where you don't think when you write, you just do it.

Monday, May 23, 2011

Getting that Writing Project Started

Every writing project is overwhelming. When I finally decide to start a new project, no matter what it is, I have a moment where I feel my stomach flutter and a heaviness in my chest.  The closest feeling I can compare to it is the anxiousness before the first day of school as a child; a mixture of excitement and dread.  The thrill of learning new things, mixed with regret for the loss of freedom.   

There is nothing harder than staring at a blank screen in your word processor wondering to yourself, "What the hell was I going to write about?"  This always gives your Inner Critic a place to slither a few doubts into your head, and start the negative chattering: "Why are you doing this?  Don't you have to steam clean the hall carpet? Wouldn't you rather read the next chapter in The Hunger Games instead? You don't have a clue what you are doing, do you?  The words will never make it what it is in your head... so why bother?"  And on and on.

Any time you take on a new project, whether it is a technical magazine article involving a lot of research and interviews, starting a novel, or even weeding all of the flowerbeds and planting flowers in them, when you face the enormity of the task... your Inner Critic is ALWAYS going to advise you to procrastinate.

Take a deep breath, and take 15 minutes to list of every single task you need to do in order to complete the project.  Items on the list can be as big as conducting an interview with a the premiere expert in the field or as small as going to the post office to buy stamps to send out query letters with SASEs.  Do not stop writing until the 15 minutes are up. If you are running out of ideas for more tasks, look at the existing ones on your list and see if you can break them into even SMALLER tasks.

If you look at it as one huge project, it is daunting. But if you tackle just one of the little tasks on the list, and work on it until you are finished, it is not so bad.  You might even feel inspired to start another. You might become addicted to the feeling of sweet victory when you cross another task off.

Pretty soon you notice that you have a chapter done, then two, then ten, and then you have a first draft completed, then a second, then a final, and the next thing you know, you are shopping around for agents and publishers. 

This is at the heart of what this blog is about: The 15-Minute Writer: How to Achieve Your Creative Writing Dreams in 15 Minutes a Day.  This blog helps you develop the skills necessary to become an excellent writer, teachs you how to break down these huge writing tasks into manageable 15-minute tasks, and shows you how to manage your time to get these tasks done.  

Get a timer, or use a timer app on your iPod, smartphone, or the web, set it for 15 minutes and begin chasing that dream today!

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Spring Cleaning Your Writing

It is hard to believe that May is already here. With all of the rain we've had over the last 6 weeks, the lawn has already gotten away from us and we already are behind on our annual battle with Mother Nature.

Spring around our house always signifies some sort of spring cleaning, where we get rid of the stuff in our lives that isn’t working. 

A few of years ago, I had a lawn mower that was 6 years-old and falling apart. If you could get it started (and each spring, that was a big IF)  it rattled and wheezed… mainly due to several stupid things that I did to it… like when I replaced the blade for the mower and installed the new one on upside-down, causing it to rattle and vibrate considerably, cutting the grass with the dull edge of the blade, and then being too clueless to realize what I had done… at least until all of the bolts on the mower started vibrating right out of their sockets, causing major parts of the mower, such as the gas tank, to simply fall off. 

My friend Matt, after taking a look at the situation and laughing at me for what I had done, thought that the solution would be to buy another used mower, which in his capable hands, worked great... but a week later when I tried to get it started (after about an hour of yanking on the pull cord, wheezing and swearing).  I failed miserably.  I gave up, loaded the two beat-up and barely-functional mowers onto the trailer headed toward the Stoutsville Auction (an annual event which raises money for the local firefighters), and went on down to the locally-owned Toro lawnmower dealer and bought a brand new mower with a 5 year warranty.

And I haven’t had a problem with it since. The saved time and aggravation alone while using this mower has paid for itself 10 times over. Sometimes spending extra money does solve a difficult problem better than buying the cheapest or easiest solution.

So what’s not working in your writing life? What are those little writing obstacles that prevent you from sitting down at the keyboard day after day?

Does your old computer take 30 minutes to boot up?  Are you missing deadlines because of watching the season finales of your favorite TV shows? Are you spending too much time writing email and not enough time writing your novel? Are you still editing that manuscript instead of sending it on to the agent or publisher as you had intended months ago?

Well, May is the perfect month to change all of that.  Inventory the things that inhibit your writing. Are you not writing because your desk chair is uncomfortable? Get a new one. Are you spending too much time playing that addictive little Solitaire game installed on your computer instead of writing?  Delete it. Do you have a mouse that doesn’t quite work right, or a keyboard that makes your wrists numb after 30 minutes of typing? Trash it! Get rid of distracting clutter in your writing space. Throw out magazines that you always had planned on reading, but never have. If you can’t make the time to read them now, you never will. Pitch those pens that don’t work.  File or toss those “important” papers that are piled everywhere. I am as guilty of this as anyone.  If you saw my office right now, you’d know this to be true.

But, sometimes you just need a little fresh air and some encouragement to get rid of the bad habits that have inhibited your writing during the long winter months and start spring with a clean slate. So make that list, get out your broom, and start cleaning!