Obey or Be Destroyed: A Guide to Bending Yourself to Your Will

Last week, I was chatting with some friends and lamenting my lack of progress on my latest edits for Blood and Ebony, my Snow White retelling. I had a self-imposed deadline for it that was coming up fast, but I wasn’t getting much closer to being done. I was frustrated with myself because I’m normally pretty good about making myself keep my own deadlines.

And then it hit me: the reason I wasn’t feeling any motivation on this project. I’d given myself a deadline, but I hadn’t affixed a punishment to it. I hadn’t assigned myself a consequence.

It can be hard sometimes to feel like a professional in this trade, especially if you’re not making a working wage and claiming tax exemptions and putting out a new book every two months. Any given project is less likely to make me a dollar than it is to make me yell at my kids because, oh my giddy aunt, how can they always tell when I’m trying to work and know the perfect way to ruin it? *clears throat* Anyway, if the rest of the world isn’t treating you like a professional, it can be hard to think of yourself that way as well. But that kind of thinking can easily nudge writing a little lower on the pecking order of what gets our time and attention and before you know it, you’ve blown half of your project time and aren’t any closer to your goal.

There are lots of ways to combat this struggle. For me, I respond unfortunately well to looming punishment. I assign myself terrible consequences and—here’s the important part—I follow through on them. I once confidently told my friends that I would have a story to them by a certain date and declared that I would run a mile for each day I was late. Yeah. I was eleven days late. I hauled my non-runner-rear down to the track and ran eleven miles in one go, fueled entirely by determination and high fructose corn syrup. It hurt so badly I worried I’d damaged something, and I was wincing and limping for days. But I haven’t missed a deadline since.

Now I’m not suggesting you immolate yourself in retribution for dropping the ball once in a while. (Seriously. Please don’t damage yourself.) But I am suggesting you find the things that motivate you. By leaning into the things that you love/hate, you can amp up the motivation to do a thing that maybe isn’t quiiiite as high on the to-do list as it should be all by itself.

So if this sounds like something that might help you hit those goals a little harder, here are a few ideas for coming up with your own system of rewards and/or punishments.

What is your goal?We’ve talked about making smart goals here before, but just for a very brief recap, make sure your goal is specific, measurable, attainable, relevant, and time bound (aka- has a deadline). Maybe you want to finish an editing pass, or write a single chapter, or enter a short story in a contest. Knowing exactly what you want to do and how you’re going to do it is the first step. Always have a goal. (And when you attain it, make another one! Onward and upward!)

What do you love? These things make excellent rewards. Pick a thing that you really want, or that you really want to happen, that you won’t just go out and get/do for yourself regardless of whether you hit the goal. Just make sure that it fits the size of your goal. Promising yourself a vacation to the Caribbean every time you draft a new scene isn’t very sustainable.

What do you hate? These things make excellent punishments. Pick a thing you don’t want to happen, and that is an appropriate punishment for the crime, but is still mild enough that you’ll actually go through with it. Maybe do a hard workout, or pledge a small donation to a political party you despise, or go sing on karaoke night, or whatever you wouldn’t normally do. But if you won’t hold yourself to it, don’t assign it. Make yourself miserable, but not so miserable that you flake out.

What is a reasonable deadline? As Goldilocks would surely tell us, you don’t want a deadline that’s so ambitious that you have to stop feeding your dependents to achieve it, or so lame-sauce that you won’t have to worry about actually working on it until it’s time to retire. Instead, pick a deadline that’s juuuust right: challenging, but possible if you put in a balanced amount of work.

Who can help you stick to it? Not everyone needs this part. Some people have all the grit ‘n’ gumption they need to make it happen no matter who is or isn’t watching. But then again, not everybody can just will themselves to follow through with their rewards or punishments. If you’re one of those people, grab a buddy! Writing pals, parents, partners, whoever—let them know of your task, your deadline, and what they’re to pressure you into doing at the end of it all.

Once you answer these questions, bring all the elements together into A Plan. Your plan, and those looming consequences shadowing it, will give you that extra burst of motivation to hit that goal out of the park. I know it works for me every time.

After pinpointing my lack of consequences, and therefore lack of motivation, my friends stepped in to help. In short order, they had assigned me a nightmarish punishment (they will deprive me of my ancestral right to piri piri sauce and high quality olive oil and instead make me watch a musical—a musical, people *shudders*) and then—poof!—just like magic, I suddenly had all the motivation in the world.

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Reblog: 21 Tips for Successful Collaboration

Howdy! I am really really terrifyingly far behind on Camp NaNo this year. Like “not sure I’m gonna be able to pull this off” behind. I have eight days left to write and just under fifty-percent of the ground left to cover. I am scared.

I’ve never tried to do nonfiction like this before and it is hard. Not that fiction is all that easy either, but I seriously miss being able to just make things up as I go. I’m aaaaalmost desperate enough to start counting words from work emails and texts to my mom, because, yes, I typed them, didn’t I? IT COUNTS. (Gosh I hope it doesn’t come to that.)

Next week is the last week that you’ll have to deal with my terror-weeping and then it will all be over, one way or the other. Maybe I’ll hit my stride by then and start making good progress? We’ll see!

Until then, enjoy this break from my whining reblog from The Book Designer’s Helen Sedwick titled “21 Tips for Creating a Successful Writing Collaboration”.

21 Tips for Creating a Successful Writing Collaboration


By Helen Sedwick

When a writing collaboration works, partners inspire and complement one other. The creative process is less lonely. But when collaborations fail, the drama may be as ugly as a Hollywood divorce.

For every successful writing partnership, there are dozens of failed ones despite the best of intentions. Not everyone is a team player, and not every team is a winner.

To improve the odds of a successful writing partnership take the time to put the collaboration agreement in writing. Most people resist this idea. Like a prenuptial agreement, it kills the romance. They don’t realize the process of preparing an agreement may be more valuable than the result. If writers do a good job discussing issues at the start, they are less likely to have misunderstandings later.

Making Decisions

So before you jump into a co-writing project, discuss and write out the following…

Ready to read the rest? Head on over to The Book Designer for the full article!

Reblog: The Beat Sheet

I just spent an hour writing and rewriting this post and, forget it, I’m clearly not ready to talk about it. Suffice it to say that I just had an absolute nightmare of a weekend and it’s a good thing I’m scheduled for a reblog today.

The Beat Sheet was a recent discovery and I’m still figuring out how it fits into my outlining style. I’ve experimented with following it exactly, and not at all, and with a few variances in between. We’ll see what I settle on in the end.

Not sure what the Beat Sheet is? Let’s ask Rob Price of SAGU’s Thought Hub!

Your Screenplay and the Beat Sheet

Blake Snyder’s beat sheet from Save the Cat! The Last Book on Screenwriting You’ll Ever Need is the primary structure or foundation by which we are going to build our story. It’s the skeleton of the screenplay on which we will soon put on flesh. The beat sheet is a lot more than just Act I, Act II and Act III.

Snyder offers 15 different “beats” that writers of a screenplay should be cognizant to include in the storyline. The numbers next to each of these beats represents approximately on which page or page range they should occur (given that each page of a screenplay is typically about one minute of screen time).

By the way, assembling your beat sheet is the fourth stage that Snyder recommends when preparing your screenplay. If you’re interested in reading about the other stages in a screenplay, check out my 8-Step Guide to Writing Great Screenplays.

The Beats of a Screenplay

Opening Image (Page 1): This is the first impression of the movie: tone, mood, colors, type, scope, genre, the frame universe of the story.

Theme Stated (Page 5): Someone poses a question or makes a statement that reveals theme, but make it a passing offhand comment. Should not be “on the nose” or “too obvious.”

Set-up (Pages 1-10): This is the “make or break” section where you must grab audience or else lose them altogether.

Catalyst (Page 12): This beat can also be called the inciting incident or new opportunity. It is the moment that sets the rest of the film into motion.

Debate (Pages 12-25): The debate gives the hero the chance to say “should I really do this?” and shows how the hero could possibly answer the question or solve the problem, which leads to a firm decision to…

Break into Act II (Page 25): In Act II we leave the old world (the thesis) and journey into the upside down new world (antithesis).

Ready to read the rest? Head on over to the Thought Hub for more!

3 Tips to Writing When Motivation Is Gone

Guest post! Our guest this week is Annah Searle, who is releasing a book on finishing goals this November! *toots trumpets*  She is also very kind and wrote up a guest post for me because she’s better at this stuff than me so you should probably grab a copy of her book. Thanks, Annah!

AnnahWith most people prepping their houses with pumpkin scented candles and red and orange leaves, any writer knows what November is really about. It’s a month of discovery, struggle, imagination, and lots of tears. November is Nanowrimo month.

If you haven’t heard of it, Nanowrimo (Nano) is an annual writing project where each member’s goal is to write 50,000 words in 30 days. My first year of Nano, I was a young high schooler who had big hopes and little idea of what was ahead. I poured through the online Nano forums, reading to learn everything there was about writing. My character sheets were long, and I had the perfect plot arch.

November 1st, I hit the ground running. I wrote in class, at home, and anywhere I could. My characters were quirky and fun. The plot was moving along. As the days continued, my word counts progressively shrank. Soon, they halted altogether. What was this mess of a novel I had started? Nothing could be less coherent than these pages. All I saw were plot holes and drab characters.

Anyone who has participated in Nano knows a thing or two about motivation. Without fail, every year we hit the ground running only to sputter to a stop a few days or weeks in, exhausted. No longer are we motivated by exciting new prospects. Now, we trudge toward the finish line, begging for the pain to stop.

Okay, I’m being a bit dramatic here. But, honestly, motivation is a struggle in November. After years of projects, writing and otherwise, I’ve learned the motivation is a fickle thing. It only seems to be with me for a moment before it flits to another exciting venture, leaving me in the dust.

Because I know some of you are gearing up for the longest month of the year, in the next 600 words or so, I’ll give you three tips I use every day in writing and creation that work when I lack the motivation to write.

1. Don’t wait for your muse.

Growing up reading about writing, I find that writers over-fantasize about their muse. Yes, writing when you are in your zone is amazing, but it’s not as if a petite fairy sits on your shoulder whispering words of the soul. Writing is hard work. Inspiration can come, but it’s usually after you have already been working at it for some time.

Too many writers wait for this mythical muse before moving. Don’t wait for it! If you do, you’ll be waiting a long time. Inspiration most often strikes when you are already moving. So, take a step first. Write a sentence, then a paragraph. Keep writing until your trudging becomes a run. Only when you start running will you find inspiration waiting.

2. Break down your book.

When I struggle with motivation to write, typically it’s because I don’t know where I’m going with the plot or characters. My next step is a mystery, so I avoid writing altogether and find something else to do like the dishes or *whispers dramatically* YouTube. Nothing gets done.

Even as I write this article, I’m looking back at the outline I’ve created. Even writing a post this short, I use an outline, so I can write more efficiently. I’m not worrying about where I’m going with this article because I already know the plan. If I’m really struggling, I’ll break it down even further like this:

1. Catchy opening (maybe about Thanksgiving? Or a statistic?)

2. Transitional sentence

3. Personal story (Writing my book? My experience with Nano?)

When I break it down this small, I know exactly where I’m going. This same method works for fictional writing as well. If you hit a block, try breaking your scenes into smaller chunks. What should happen next? What characters are involved?

I personally love free-writing from character and plot development, but if I’m stuck, I outline the next scene or two in detail. Sometimes, writing just an outline of the next page is enough to get you back into the zone. Depending on how stuck I am, more or less detail will go into the outline. I might even go so far as to write their movements like this:

1. Stan walks (struts maybe?) to the table and sits down.

2. He observes the room around him.

3. Jessica enters the room.

Your characters may move like robots, but hey, you wrote something. Nano was never about making your writing sound beautiful. It’s about finishing. While you may cringe away from this outlining technique, using it will allow you to finish. Who cares if it’s a little ugly? Editing is for next month.

3. Defeat perfectionism.

Perfectionism is one of the top things that stops any goal in its tracks. Many a novel has been killed by perfectionism. With Nano’s deadline, though, expectations of perfection get quashed. The inner editor knows there’s no way to write 50,000 words and make it sound good.

In dispelling the inner editor, college worked in a similar way for me. If I had a project due the next day and I hadn’t even started on it, I would have to work as fast as possible. I had to settle for imperfect results to reach the deadline. Mistakes would be made, and while it wasn’t perfect, I got it done because of the pressure of a deadline. And, while these projects could definitely have been better, I’m still proud to have completed them.

Nano’s deadline is December 1. But, that’s a whole 30 days away. It’s easy to procrastinate when the end seems far away. To defeat procrastination and perfectionism, I suggest setting mini deadlines for yourself. Plan a task and deadline for each week. It’s easier to ignore perfectionism when you have such a big task ahead. Rather than making each word perfect, you just write to get words on the page.

Realize your book doesn’t have to be perfect. You don’t have to be perfect. It can be messy. A lot of beauty is found in messes if you know how to look.

I know perfectionism is not easy to defeat. If you work each day toward dispelling its influence, though, you’ll be well on your way to completing your novel.

You’ve got some exciting work ahead of you. By writing without waiting for your muse, breaking down your book into next steps, and defeating perfectionism, you’ll be well on your way to finishing. There will be tears, triumph, and the occasional sleepless night, but stay in it. If you put in the work, you’ll emerge December 1 with a messy and beautiful novel to call your own.

Annah Searle is a writer, dreamer, wife, and lover of life. She is the author of The Art of Finishing and The Art of Finishing Planner as well as the creator of the blog, The Art of Pure Living. She is also a notebook hoarder, bookworm, Netflix binger, and aspiring artist.

Writing Flash Fiction

FlashI’m sure none of you have this problem, but I can get a little wordy sometimes. Little short stories balloon out into novelettes. I get started on standalone novels and, next thing I know, I’ve got a five book series planned out. If brevity is the soul of wit, I’m incurably dull.

But really, I have lots of things that I’m bad at. If it really bothers me, I can often train myself out of it. So I figured, why not practice writing shorter stories with flash fiction? Hahaha, yeah. I thought that.

My first several attempt simply ended up being… not so flashy. But after a few more tries, I started to get better at it. First I kept myself under one thousand words. Then 750. I bottomed out at under 500, despite trying really hard to produce a story at under 250. (The closest I got was 460, soooo… not close at all, haha.)

Skip the Exposition When writing flash fiction, you don’t have the space to build slowly up to your exciting climax. Instead, jump to just before the pudding hits the fan. (Obviously, this won’t work for the kinds of stories that need that buildup, but those aren’t the kind of stories that make good flash.)

Leave Stuff Out Not every element of the story needs to be explained. Backstory, hair color, what route the character used to get to this room- leave all of that out. Readers should be able to get enough from context to build their own world in their minds.

Every Word Counts Okay, maybe not every word. But in such extreme limitations, flash fiction writers have to be pretty choosey about their words. Drafting and editing flash means packing the maximum meaning into the least words. If you can read a sentence and drop a few words without losing any of the sentence’s impact and meaning, drop the few words.

Narrow the Scope If you try to tell too ‘big’ a story, you simply won’t have the room to do it justice. Not all stories can be compressed into flash fiction. When spit balling ideas, choose a very small story and resist the urge to deepen, widen, complicate, etc that one small story.

And do all this while still telling a full story, with a character making choices, and an arc that surprises, and all that jazz. And do it in under X number of words. Whew! Flash fiction is hard. But look, I’m getting better- this post is less than five hundred words, hahaha. All I needed was a little practice.

Happy writing, guys! See you next week!

Resource Roundup: YouTube Edition

So I mentioned last week in Breaking Up with Candy Crush that part of my computerly goofing off occurred on YouTube. I am not, however, breaking up with YouTube. Candy Crush is great for distracting me from doldrums (and my children from squabbles), but really not much more than that. YouTube is actually great for a lot of things.

Beyond sheer entertainment, YouTube is a good resources for many of your writing needs. Here are the ways that I fold YouTube into my writing life. If you have more ideas, I’d love to hear them below!

Research You can look up tons of stuff on YouTube! Want to know about the most poisonous tree in earth? YouTube can tell you about that. Want to know how to replace the engine in your car? YouTube can tell you about that. Want to know about what brains do on adrenaline? YouTube can tell you about that. There are so many videos out there that could fall under this umbrella, depending on what your project is about, but a couple of my favorites generalists are SciShow and TED, or any of their affiliate channels.

Writing Tips Whole channels are devoted to breaking down what makes an excellent story, first chapter, character, etc. You can find writing tips on everything from initial inspiration on down to the specific nitty gritty of word choice, crafting believable side characters, and examples of well done settings. One of my favorite shows for writing tips right now is the On Writing series by Hello Future Me.

Editing Tips Not sure how to clean up that messy draft you’ve plopped out on your keyboard? Never fear! YouTube has videos for that! Whether it’s troubleshooting what’s wrong with your character arc, making sure your opening scene doesn’t fall prey to overused tropes, or plucking out all those troublesome adverbs, YouTube has you covered.

Submission Tips Submitting stuff, and all the snarl of yarn that entails, is hands down the scariest part of writing for me. I’ll gobble up any submission tips I can find. I needs ‘em! One of my favorites right now is the Book Doctors’ channel. Their book was great. So is their channel. (They also cover editing and marketing too. Like many of these channels, they cover a lot of stuff.)

Marketing and Promotion I don’t really do this one, but maybe you’re better at promoting yourself and your work than I am. Lots of literary professionals build up a following on YouTube sharing tips, trends, or even just slice of life segments. Authors post thoughts on the writing journey, book trailers, you name it. All of this builds up hype for their work, which hopefully equates more sales!

Inspiration Yes, you can be ‘working’ while browsing interesting videos! I don’t know how many times I’ve been goofing around YouTube and then an idea suddenly pops in my head for a new element in a story I’m working on, or even a new story altogether. That’s the fun thing about inspiration- you never know what will lead you to it!

If you don’t even know what you’re looking for, but find yourself trawling YouTube for stray thoughts, you can’t go wrong working your way through The Write Life’s click-bait-titled list, 15 of the Best YouTube Channels for Writers. Go give it a glance! (I’m gonna go check out Brandon Sanderson’s BYU lecture series first minute I find.)

All that said, do be cautious. Like all of the internet, YouTube is vast and interesting, and getting sucked down that rabbit hole is a lot easier than we like to admit to ourselves. It helps to have a system in place to keep YouTube from cutting in too much on your writing time. Some people use a timer. Some people only let themselves watch a certain number of videos per day. Personally, I only watch YouTube when my kids are up and about, which is time in which I wouldn’t be able to effectively do any writing anyway. Find what works for you and stick to your guns!

What else do you use YouTube for? Do you have any great resources you’d like to share? Let me know in the comments below! Please and thank you!

(On an unrelated note, happy birthday, Mama! Thanks for keeping me alive and sane-ish all those years!)