Fear & Self-Loathing in Las Veg- Er, the Midwest

Fear & Self-Loathing in Las Veg- Er, the Midwest

Week one of keeping a progress journal and, of course, I’m a little late with my entry. But here it is, it exists! PROGRESS.

It’s almost amazing how, the more I want to write, the more difficult it seems to be to find the time, energy, and motivation to actually do it. Yes, they appear to be directly proportional. (I’ve found it’s an often bemoaned reality in the writing community, so at least I’m not alone on this)
So it goes, I get myself all hyped up to work on my book. I’ll set aside time, make a schedule, set some goals and then, when it finally comes time to put pen to paper, I find an excuse to do something else. Anything else. It’s madness.

And yet, I find myself doing the same thing when it comes to practicing on my motorcycle. I’ll tell myself tonight, after work, I’m going on a nice long ride- really push the boundaries on my comfort zone. But then there’s laundry, and dishes, and boy golly the shower could use a scrub, and gosh, look at the time! No motorcycles tonight!

And I know why I’m doing it- I’m still a bit afraid of the bike. I still don’t have a lot of trust in my fledgling abilities- even though I know the only cure for that is, duh, MORE PRACTICE. But fear is a powerful distraction. And so, it’s easy to extrapolate, to assume fear plays a large part in my procrastination with my writing. But it’s more subtle, less sensible. My fear of practicing on the bike makes perfect sense- it’s bloody dangerous! But writing? What exactly am I afraid of? Fear of failure, of confirming my own mediocrity? Something like that.

But the solution is just as straightforward. Get your butt on the bike and ride, dammit! Metaphorically speaking, of course.

I’ve been reading a lot more lately as a compromise for when I can’t bring myself to write, and I’m finding it really helps. The more I read, the more I really, REALLY want to write, and it starts to tip the scales, my excitement beginning to outweigh the fear. My productivity is on the rise!

Now, if only I could find a similar strategy for the bike…

I’mmm baaaaaack! 

I’mmm baaaaaack! 

Ooooh boy- If this was a physical journal, the dust on it would be three inches thick. To be honest, I kind of forgot this thing existed. But I’m trying to get myself reorganized and I want to get back into blogging, if not only to strengthen my writing habits. And I haven’t stopped writing. Progress on my rough draft has been crawling along. It hasn’t come quickly, but at least it hasn’t stalled. 

 I think I’ll try to start penning little weekly updates, just to keep myself accountable as I try to finish my editing. Writing for a blog that no one really reads feels a little like screaming into the void, but even that has its purpose, I think. I’d like to kick my editing into overdrive and get the lion’s share finished before November. That’ll free me up to participate in NaNoWriMo again.

 That’s the plan anyway. I just need to become a little more disciplined.

Tools of the Trade – Apps & Sites to Help You Write

Tools of the Trade – Apps & Sites to Help You Write

Through many years and many attempts at being a dedicated writer, I’ve learned there’s a lot more to completing a novel than simply sitting down and putting pen to page. To write a book takes practice, planning, the formation of solid habits, and the strategic use of tools.

Having finally found my stride as a writer, ( I think!) I wanted to share some of the tools that have made my writing process far more productive and a heck of a lot easier.

Dragon Dictation

Writing a rough draft is arguably the hardest part of the writing process. And everyone has their own style: some prefer a desktop computer in a quiet office, others a laptop at the crowded coffee shop. I like to be alone and I like to be mobile, but above all, I need my rough draft to be hand-written.

I’ve tried a thousand times to type up my rough drafts but I just can’t get used to it. I’m not a bad typist; I grew up with computers and I type all day at work. But something about sitting at a keyboard and trying to conquer the always-intimidating  blank page kills my energy. I need real paper and a nice fountain pen or a crisp new mechanical pencil. I need to be able to write in the margins, to scribble and cross out and draw arrows. I write twice as fast, three times as more, and am infinitely more satisfied with the quality of my rough drafts when they’re handwritten. And, for years, this was one of my biggest roadblocks. How do I convert a messy handwritten draft into a typed piece, ready for edits, without sitting down and committing to the frustrating monotony of transcribing? I despised it and I wouldn’t do it. Anything I’d written would never make it to the computer screen, so writing anything at all seemed almost pointless. Then someone showed me Dragon Dictation.

Dragon Dictation is a free app that converts spoken word to text with surprising accuracy. Now, all I have to do is read my rough draft to my phone. Dragon is able to take fairly large chunks at a time and, once I’m done, I can highlight the block of text, copy, and save it out to my email or my google drive. It’s a simple, effective solution to a problem I’ve been battling for ages.

 

Forest & Ink On

forest1For managing my writing sessions, I use a combination of two apps: Forest & Ink On. Forest assists with productivity by helping me avoid distraction. It also acts as a timer for my session. I select how long I want to write and the app starts growing a fictional little tree. Backing out of the app to access the rest of my phone kills the session and my tree. It helps me cull the urge to pick up my phone and I don’t get sidetracked mid-session. Plus it doesn’t interfere with my music. (I usually listen to Spotify from my phone when I write) When the timer is up, it lets me know with a soft chime. Then I can record my progress in the Ink On app. Ink On lets me set up projects with their own individual goals and tracks my progress. It also gives me a calendar with writing totals for each day. I love it’s simple, clean interface. It’s become indispensable in tracking and managing my progress and goals.

inkon

Hemingway Editor

I love this site and I can’t wait to experiment with it more in my upcoming edits! This site is more than just a simple spelling & grammar check. The Hemingway Editor actually analyzes your writing for common draft problems. It highlights long, hard-to-read sentences,  complicated wording, adverbs, and use of passive voice. It’s a fantastic tool for self-edits; especially for someone like me, who can be a little blind to my own stylistic problems. While the site is free to use, you can also purchase your own personal copy (which includes offline use) for $9.99.

hemingway

Canva

When your project is finally complete, the next step is usually presentation.  Whether it be a full length novel, a short story, or a humble blog post, it’s always nice to have an appealing image complimenting your work. And unless you’re one of those ultra-talented types who’s good at both writing AND art, you may need a little help creating the perfect graphic. If you don’t have the contacts or the budget to get a professional, Canva works in a pinch. I especially like using it for temporary cover art, so I have something to make my works-in-progress stand out. It’s simple, easy to use, and inexpensive. A lot of the stock art is free and most of the fancier images are only a dollar each.

canva

And that’s about it! I hope you find some of these helpful in your own projects! If you have any neat apps or sites to share, please post them in the comments. Happy writing!

 

5 Ways To Make Writing Easier

5 Ways To Make Writing Easier

Some days the writing comes easy- I can’t help but write. I scribble ideas and excerpts in the margins at work, on napkins at coffee shops, on scraps in the parking lot. Other days it’s a real battle. (Let’s be honest, most days are like that) I avoid writing till it’s too late and I’m tired; or I sit down and stare at a blank page, frustrated. In those instances, it’s important to set myself up for success by blocking out the things that might break my focus, and using any means to make writing fun and easy, er, easier.

So if this scenario sounds a bit too familiar, here are my own personal five easy steps to a better writing session. Maybe they’ll help!

1)      Add Some Allure-

pens
I’m addicted to these things.

This is going to seem overly obvious, but when I buy things to make writing more fun, I am more likely to write! (crazy, right?!)  I think I used to avoid or feel guilty about buying the fancy notebook or the nifty pen because I knew it wasn’t necessary- it certainly wasn’t going to improve my writing.  But when you’re going to sink a lot of time and energy into something, you should splurge! Get that leather-bound number with the fancy clasp or the gold-leaf paper and don’t be afraid to fill it with your messy, haphazard first drafts. Get that twenty dollar pen with the luscious purple ink! I even went so far as to drop eighty dollars on a spiffy little Bluetooth keyboard that attaches to my hand-me-down iPad. Now I can edit on the couch without heaving the laptop out of my office, and guess what? I edit more! Take your writing seriously- if you have the money to buy yourself a neat toy, do it! I know I don’t need any of it, but I also know it definitely helps. Make it fun!

2)      Do NOT Edit-

I know I’ve touched on this before, but I can’t stress it enough. When trying to write a first draft, it is imperative that you do not go back and self-edit. I know it’s tempting; it was an incredibly hard habit to break. I, like most writers I’ve met, am a perfectionist. I write something and immediately want to start dissembling it, searching for the perfect word, the ideal phrasing. It absolutely destroys any momentum I’d worked up and progress skids to a halt. I’ve learned that I have to suck it up and push through. Never reread, never look back, no changes or corrections, no matter how small. I have to get that rough draft down and on paper with all its imperfections before I can allow myself to dig in and start pruning and polishing. Editing has to be it’s own separate step or I’ll never finish.

3)      Positive Reinforcement-

Since writing doesn’t pay the bills, my writing sessions naturally occupy the same space as my free time. That means writing is directly competing with my more frivolous, effortless hobbies. (video games, reading, youtube, pointlessly wandering the  internet, etc) This means the only way to ensure writing actually takes place is to do it first. I don’t allow myself to do anything unproductive until I’ve gotten something on paper. And the times I haven’t done this are proof of its effectiveness- If I let myself play before I work, I’m far more likely to see a big fat zero on my daily word count. So I let all my other hobbies become rewards for writing. I draw a lot of my inspiration from what I’m reading and what I’m playing, so these hobbies are actually an important part of the creative process, so long as they don’t encumber that process. Write first, play later.

4)      One Small Step At A Time-

After work, the commute, feed the pets, dinner, clean-up, and whatever else life throws at me, there’s often not a ton of time left in the day. Sometimes I only have ten minutes of writing in me before I feel burnt out and desperately need to enter the wind-down stage of my evening. And I’ve learned to accept that there’s nothing wrong with that. I set a monthly word goal that breaks down into small, bite-sized daily sessions; but some days I can’t even muster up enough creative energy to make those meager goals. So long as something, anything, hits the page each day, I’m happy. And I still sometimes miss days entirely.  Which is less happy. But each and every day is a new start and a new chance, and I can’t carry those failures with me- they’ll only weigh me down. I have to keep moving forward, one little step at time. Which means tiny writing sessions nestled in the nooks and crannies of my daily life.

5)      Stay Focused-

IMG_7264Even when I’ve successfully willed myself to sit down at my desk or hide away with a notebook, distraction still threatens to disrupt my work. Music is a must so I always have a pair of headphones handy. (I talk about my theory for selecting writing music here.) Then there’s the ever-present lure of the internet. When I’m on my laptop, I turn off my wifi. Since I use my phone to listen to music, it’s always near me while I write, tempting me.  To solve that issue, I use the app Forest. I highly recommend it- not only does it lock me out of my apps while not disrupting my music, but it also serves as a handy little timer for my session. (Plus I get to grow a cute little forest of productivity, so bonus)

 

And that’s how I do it! I hope some of this stuff helps. Happy writing and good luck!

Slowly but Surely – Novel Progress & Introduction

Slowly but Surely – Novel Progress & Introduction

Progress!

halfwayI’ve reached the halfway point in my journey to 50k and the completion of my first draft! I might be moving at the blinding pace of an out-of-shape snail but I’m proud to be moving forward all the same. I’ve written for 10 of the past 11 days and don’t intend to miss another day for the rest of the month. Making sure to write before settling in and winding down at night has been critical. It’s incredibly hard (though not impossible) to find the energy and self-discipline if I wait till just before bed. (The train to sleepy time junction don’t stop once it gets a rollin’!)

So this is probably as good a time as any to talk a little about what I’m actually working on. My working title is Shadow & Brimstone and it’s a dark fantasy about a mortal woman among monsters and magic. My main character, Sheriden Krieger, is a hunter of The Order- an assemblage of talented operatives tasked with the protection of Dystoria and the management of supernatural forces and figures therein. I’m trying to combine classic horror elements and beings such as vampires, werewolves, and witches with more fast-paced, adventure-based storytelling. I pull heavy inspiration from the Night Watch series with a touch of Harry Potter, but most of all, Diablo.Diablo-III-l

In fact, the idea began as sort of a Diablo III fanfiction. For all the non-gaming readers who might not be familiar with the Diablo franchise, it’s a dark, medieval, macabre world inhabited by monsters and humans, warriors and wielders of magic, all sandwiched between the warring factions of heaven and hell. I loved loved loved DIII when it came out and I played in excess, primarily as the demon hunter class. I got rather attached to my hunter and used her adventures as inspiration for writing exercises. I sketched out a few characters, scribbled a few scenes and…not much else. I wasn’t heavily committed to writing at the time and let life get in the way of any further development. I’d almost forgotten the idea completely until last November, when I decided to get back into writing by giving NaNoWriMo a try. I stumbled upon it by accident while looking through old notebooks. I built on what was there, planning out a rough skeleton of a plot and departing from Diablo’s world of Sanctuary to create my own unique world, while leaning heavily on the influence.

Of course NaNoWriMo wasn’t exactly the best way to ease back into writing and I failed miserably (I think I might have come up with about 12k of the required 50) but the fire to write was reignited! Now I’m bound and determined to finish this novel, no matter how long it takes. (And…it could be a while. But I’ll keep at it!)

 

 

Getting in the Zone- Tunes to Write To

Getting in the Zone- Tunes to Write To

When I finally sit down to write, headphones are a must; since much like a squirrel or other small woodland creature, I am easily distracted. (I can hear the television from four rooms over and will absolutely hone in on it.) Early on I was tempted to construct elaborate playlists that inspired me, songs with lyrics and tones that fit what I was writing about. And almost immediately I realized how flawed that plan was. Unless I play a single song on repeat that matches the scene I’m currently working on, there is no way my playlist is going to coincide with what I’m doing. And having an upbeat track pumping during a funeral march can be a little detrimental to the whole process when you get right down to it.

Additionally, (and this might be specific to me, personally) I find that writing to music with words can be a little distracting in and of itself. The easy fix was to switch to instrumental music, but I still had the problem of mismatched tones. The solution bled over one of my other major life interests: video games! Video game soundtracks make the perfect work-mode background music in their very design. Most game scores are purposely made not to distract but to actually advocate focus and concentration. I did a little research to find the best candidates and stumbled upon this list IGN put together last year.

I picked a few likely candidates and hopped on Spotify , splicing together the OSTs from Fez, Bastion, Transistor, and voila! The perfect focus playlist!

If you’re looking for some background noise while you work (even if you don’t come from a gaming background) I highly recommend checking some of these soundtracks out!

Happy writing! Or gaming. Or whatever!

Finding Time to Write (And Failing)

Finding Time to Write (And Failing)

Well, February has come and gone and I’ve fallen miserably short of my lofty 20,000 word goal, rounding out the month with a measly 8k. It probably goes without saying but I’m incredibly disappointed with myself.

I know dwelling and stressing won’t help, and with the start of a new month, I have another chance to live up to my own expectations. And I know I’m capable! The problem is frustratingly simple: I don’t write every day. If I did, I would hit my goal with ease.

For example, I’m aiming to hit 15k by the end of March which, when broken down into little bite-sized chunks, means I’m only writing around 500 words a day. Super manageable. Very doable. Until I start missing days. Then those bite-sized chunks turn into choking hazards. I reach the end of a long work day and I don’t feel like writing; I promise myself I’ll do double tomorrow to make up for it. Then tomorrow’s work day is longer and I’m daunted by the larger word count so I avoid it another day. And that’s how I end up with a freakin’ 8k total when it should be 20!

Exasperated, I vented about this toxic cycle to a non-writer friend and they seemed confused. “I thought you loved writing? Why are you always avoiding it?” It’s hard to explain, because it really doesn’t make a whole lot of sense. I do love writing! I’m also terrified of it. There’s nothing scarier than an empty page. I just want what’s in my head to magically appear on the lines before me and I know that’s not how it works. I’m going to write a mountain of crap that will have to be pared, plucked, and polished before it comes even close to resembling what I set out to create. And that’s how it’s supposed to work! But when you’re a perfectionist with a crippling fear of failure (and in my experience, most writers are) some days it feels easier to just flip on the TV, surf the web, or even stare at the wall than face that fear and get that crappy first draft on paper.

The solution? Self-discipline. And let me tell you, I don’t have much. With only personal deadlines to meet and only myself to disappoint, it’s far too easy to blow off a writing session in favor of something more relaxing.

That’s where accountability comes in. I need to rely on my friends and family to get on my case and start checking up on me. If they see me with 3DS in hand, nose in a comic, or hiding behind a laptop (one that’s emitting decidedly non-writing noises) they need to ask me, “Hey! Did you write today?” And the answer better be yes! And, when they’re not watching, I need to start asking myself that question. And answering it, honestly. Otherwise, I’m only bound for more failure.