Writing Through the Holidays

Ugh, sorry I didn’t post Monday. I was clinging to doorposts while my husband tried to drag me to the hospital. (I mean, seriously, who wants to die in a hospital when you can be noisily dying at home under a heap of plague-riddled blankets with fifteen half-drunk canteens of 100% guaranteed health tonic you got from that hippie under the bridge last June? Duh.) But after five days of my life passing before my eyes (rather boring, really), I’m on the mend and able to sit up at my computer without weakly flopping over sideways toward the toilet. Yaaaaay.

So! Maybe next time I’ll post about writing through illness (hahahahahahaha), but today I wanted to talk about writing through the holidays. Here in Americaland, October through January is like one nonstop party, hopscotching from one celebration to the next for pretty much three months. At least here in Alaska, I think we’re just happy at this point that nobody’s frozen to death, and then that oh-thank-heaven, the earth is starting to tilt back toward the sun again. (Seriously. Solstice is the best winter celebration of all.)

But all that partying can make it hard to squeeze writing in. I’m too busy babysitting vinho d’alho and wrapping presents in eco-friendly reusable swaddling clothes to write.

Wrong! I am never too busy to write!

Priotitize

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: your writing will get time according to its ranking in the priority list. So your first step in the plan of attack is to figure out your priorities! The priority list will of course swap around, especially around the holidays, depending on who’s in town, what’s going on, etc. But if you don’t prioritize your writing, it isn’t magically going to happen. This can seem a little cold at times. I mean, yeahhhh, I’ve been known to maybe sneak my laptop into the bathroom with me while family’s over to squeeze in an extra fifteen minutes of writing. (*mom peers anxiously at door, whispering, “Is she sick?”*) But knowing where writing stands in the pecking order is going to keep you from having unrealistic expectations of yourself. As much as we all want to, we can’t do it all. If you know and accept that it’s more important to you go to the Christmas concert with your cousins, then give yourself a pass and go to the concert. But maybe while the rest of the crew is watching that abomination live-action version of How the Grinch Stole Christmas, that’s the time to sneak off with your laptop to the bathroom. It’s your call to make.

Plan

Once you’ve worked out your priority list for the season, then it’s time to plan out how you’re going to make it happen. (I’m assuming at this point that writing made the list…) You can go about the planning phase as casually or commando-y as you like. For those really into writing plans down, feel free to map out your schedule and hunt out all those sneaky little pockets of free time so you can stuff them with writing; ferociously cull down the time you spend on holiday shopping, chitchatting over hors d’oeuvres, or artfully wrapping gifts. Or, if you’re not feeling quite so hardcore, maybe just schedule yourself a half hour of quiet time each night before bed to knock out some words. (That’s what I do anyway.)

While planning, keep those expectations realistic. Nothing harpoons holiday zen like loading too much on your plate, so while you’re maybe normally able to blitz through 3k a day, give yourself a break if work is crazy and you’re on overtime every night until Christmas, of if you just want to spend a little more of that time with Nana. Goals don’t have to be huge or even difficult to be high-five worthy.

Execute

Do it! Stick to your plan, whether that means just quietly holding yourself to it, or roping accountability buddies into the loop. Both of my main writing buddies have end of the year writing goals and you know what? I just decided that I want to hop on that joyride too! So hey guys, I’m gonna finish the Cinderella thing by the end of the year! Watch me work! And I’ll be sure to litter the path to glory with little prizes for all my hard work. Because I am actually a mule and I only work for sugar cubes.

Holidays don’t mean you have to take all your writing and stuff it in the sock drawer until you guiltily pull it out along with some shiny new resolutions come January. With just a little extra prioritizing and planning, you can keep working right through the busiest time of the year. People like to go on and on about how the holidays are a good excuse- to forget your diet, to forget your budget, to drop all kinds of great habits that we spend the rest of the year developing. Hogwash, I say! No excuses! Keep eating healthfully, keep being financially responsible, and keep writing. If it’s important to you the rest of the year, it should be important to you the entire year. So don’t give up your writing just because Cousin Martha is throwing another Ugly Sweater Party. (Why do you still talk to her anyway?) Keep up those good habits!

All season long: happy writing!

Reblog: 5 Ways to Use the Enneagram to Write Better Characters

NaNooooooo! It is upon us once again, and that means reblog time! One of the presentations at the writers conference this fall was a look at using the Enneagram personality system to understand your characters and their actions better. This blog post was mentioned as a good introductory resource to get started.

K.M. Weiland–as you probably already know–has a fantastic blog for writers, so I wasn’t surprised to see her name attached to the article. Without further ado, here is her much-greater-than-mine wisdom!

5 Ways to Use the Enneagram to Write Better Characters

5 Ways to Use the Enneagram to Write Better Characters

The Enneagram. Maybe you’ve heard of it. Maybe you’ve even used the Enneagram to write better characters.

Like Myers-Briggs, Socionics, and the Four Temperaments, the Enneagram is one of many systems within the study of personality theory. These systems are designed to identify the patterns found in the different ways we approach various aspects of life, so we might better study and understand ourselves and others.

In short, the Enneagram is not only a useful life tool, it’s also the perfect character-creation tool.

I’ve always been interested in personality theory. Let’s face it, I just like theories (come to me, story theory, my love). But I don’t see it as any kind of coincidence that my interest in characters and stories dovetailed so conveniently with the ever-deepening rabbit hole of personality theory.

I’m not alone. In fact, my introduction to the Enneagram, many years ago, was on romance author Laurie Campbell’s site, where she offered a brief description of the system’s nine types as, you guessed it, a character tool. Since then, I’ve pursued Myers-Briggs—another personality-typing system—in some depth, but only this year have I finally dived headlong into the Enneagram.

I’m not exaggerating when I say it has changed my life—and my writing.

Ready to read the full article? Get it here! And happy writing!

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.

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.