Archive for writing schedule

Broken Tail

Posted in All posts, Life with tags , , , , , on March 14, 2010 by Trina

I’m back after a year of learning how to balance writing while working a high-energy day job –sometimes succeeding and sometimes not. When I am most proud of my work, when I feel the writing is sharp, the characters interesting and the plot flowing, something is always sacrificed: working out, time with my husband, chores around the house–who needs clean clothes anyway, or energy for the day job. After trying various schedules and even abstinence from writing for awhile, I decided to start up this blog again with a different focus: how to juggle it all. But most importantly, how to be happy with the consequences. Can I live with an extra pound or two if I give up my work out to finish a challenging chapter? I have learned to say yes, but not every day. I will admit that I’ve given up too many workouts recently, so I’ll be posting about my weight loss challenge.

I hope that what I have learned about finding balance in the writing life will help other writers. This blog should also help to keep me honest. I have learned that I need the structure and goals that blogging gives me. I think I was most productive as a fiction writer when I knew I would have to be accountable to myself and my readers by writing about my progress on a regular basis.

broken tail

A broken tail-only a Labrador can do it well!

It was a timely weekend to begin this blog because yesterday afternoon Alex (our black lab) broke his tail, poor guy. Harry and I spent the afternoon at the emergency vet in Raleigh. The vet had to give him a shot of pain killer just to be able to examine him. It must be very painful. We learned that there is no treatment for a broken tail. The vet can’t splint it because dogs wag their tails so much. So Alex is taking pain medication and an anti-inflammatory. He’s pretty listless.

BTW, the emergency vet is on Vick St. in Raleigh. That address seemed like bad karma.

Because we lost the afternoon, Harry and I both decided to take some time yesterday evening to write–instead of watching TV. I managed to get 900 words of a new story written and 3 submissions out. I was happy with my progress. That’s where the balance– which is really a euphemism for sacrifice– comes in. I had planned to take a long walk with Alex, but the walk didn’t happen. The writing did. And so it goes.

Write. Edit. Polish—Submit

Posted in All posts, On writing with tags , , , , , , , , on January 5, 2008 by Trina

My young adult novel, THE MAGIC QUILT, is still in progress. The end. I have not yet written those two little words that would see her finished. Regardless, I am happy with my recent writing progress. Except for Christmas and New Year’s Day, I wrote for several hours on each of the twelve days that I was off from my day job (December 21 – January 2). I polished my way through chapter 13, of the 24 chapters in THE MAGIC QUILT. Because of the trickle down effect from the later chapters, the first half of the book needed a lot of rewriting. Fixing minor plot flaws, correcting some point of view issues and deciding which minor characters need bigger and smaller roles took up most of my editing time. The ending chapters will not need as much work.

In the original version of THE MAGIC QUILT, Katharine traveled to several places and time periods, both in the past and future. Minor characters from those places, including Jamestown, Virginia, visited Katharine in the present. As a result, Pocahontas was in several scenes. I had decided to remove her character from the novel, including a middle chapter where she had a central role. I thought the chapter slowed down the plot and didn’t add anything. The women in my writing critique group felt differently, that the chapter is needed to both lighten the novel and show another side of Katharine’s character.

So, I decided to let my thoughts on the novel percolate in the background for awhile, and I did some organizing. Looking though my computer files, I was shocked to discover that I have written 19 stories, of which only 3 are published! Yikes. I had neglected these stories, some for several years. Why? Short attention span. I hate editing, polishing and submitting. I love the thrill of first draft writing: getting to know the characters, discovering where the story goes. After that the story and the characters get cold to me. This is why my YA novel is not finished.

Looking back over my older writing, I discovered something else. I have really grown as a writer. I recognize some novice mistakes in my older work, like POV issues–I couldn’t seem to find the MC’s voice, plot holes and leaps, telling instead of showing, needless description, repetition, dialogue tag problems, and tense changes. In fact, some of my older stories are real stinkers. Back when I wrote them, thinking they were awesome works of art, I sent each to friends and family. I apologize for that—I should have sent a clothespin with each story. I even submitted some of these stinkers for publication. Many stunk as much as the bad story JA Konrath wrote to illustrate newbie mistakes. Not surprisingly, I accumulated many rejections

So, over my 12 days of Christmas, I polished three stories, submitted two to a contest and one to a periodical. In so doing, I cut 1,450 unnecessary words from Stand-in Santa, a whopping 40% reduction in the story. Eh gads. Similarly, I cut almost 400 words from Project Golem, a futuristic story about WWIV. I apologize to anyone who read the earlier versions of these stories.

I’ve got a lot more work to do. My new edict for 2008 is: Write. Edit. Polish—Submit. With this in mind, here are my New Year’s Resolutions.

1. I will finish THE MAGIC QUILT
2. I will choose my next book length project and begin working on it
3. I will research the market and agencies representing YA historical fiction/fantasy and search for an agent
4. I will always have at least three stories—YA or adult—(and one article idea) on submission, while working on a fourth
5. I will finish every story I start
6. I will submit every story I finish
7. I will subscribe to the magazines I submit to and read them
8. I will read the Newberry winners and finalists from the last two years to grow in my YA writing
9. I will continue to blog – the process improves my writing
10. I will update my website after reviewing other YA writer sites
11. I will attend at least one writer’s conference, and introduce myself to agents, editors, and other writers
12. I will refuse to get discouraged, even in the face of daunting odds. I love to write and my imagination contains stories that only I can tell. For now, that is my reward. I will not dwell on the fact that I have written drafts of three novels – not finished any, penned over 175,000 words. Although I have earned 135 rejections, I have sold only one story and one essay. I received nada in the way of monitary compensation for the rest of my publications.

I am a better writer than I was when I received all those rejections. To illustrate the point, here is the original opening from “Her Sister’s Ghost,” written in 2002:

Ashleigh Richards stepped into the rear of a small commuter plane and walked past an attractive man, with long, wavy, black hair and sunglasses, who was seated in the last row of the plane. She glanced at him as she passed him; an intense look indicating her attraction for him, which she noticed was reciprocated. She immediately cleared him from her thoughts as she walked toward the front of the plane. She was relieved that seat 4D was a window seat; she would be able to look out the window and think. She stowed her black cashmere coat and carry on bag in the overhead compartment. Ashleigh had her driver’s license and $200 cash in her jeans pocket. Her Gateway, Solo 1200 notebook Ashleigh kept with her. The laptop computer barely fit under the seat in front of her and Ashleigh didn’t have room for her feet with the computer there. One of the drawbacks of being tall is there is never enough legroom. Ashleigh knew that even a shorter person would have trouble compacting themselves into the small seating area of the Express Jet.

I am embarrassed to admit that I submitted this story for publication. The one long opening paragraph screams novice: telling instead of showing, needless description, repetition … Who would want to read more?

The new opening, while still not pefect, is much stronger:

The police would find him, dead in her house. It didn’t matter that he had deserved to die.

Ashleigh Adams shoved her crutches into the back seat of her Cavalier, wincing in pain as she lowered herself carefully into the driver’s seat. She accelerated down the long driveway, tires spitting gravel. As she entered the onramp to the highway, she was already traveling at over eighty miles per hour, speeding to get away from the fear that caused her hands to tremble on the steering wheel.

“Ashleigh, I had to kill him. He gave me no choice,” Erica said.

Sighing, Ashleigh turned toward her sister.

Erica was gone. The passenger seat empty. Ashleigh was left only with the image of Erica standing over her husband, holding the .45 with two steady hands. A bullet hole between his sightless eyes.

Write. Write. Write.

Posted in All posts, Life, On writing with tags , , , , , , , , on December 9, 2007 by Trina

I blogged that I would finish my young adult novel in progress, THE MAGIC QUILT, by December 31st, 2007. Argh. That was before the month of November hit me hard — scroll through the posts here in the “life coming at me fast” category to learn more. I will make an honest effort to get ‘er done, as they say in here in North Carolina. Wish me well as I travel back in time to the colonial world of spying, espionage, and rebellion this holiday season.

This said, I’m cutting myself off from blogging temporarily, until Jan 1st or when I finish THE MAGIC QUILT, whichever comes first, heavy sigh. I estimate I have about 40 hours of editing to go (based on the amount of time I’ve spent on each chapter so far). It is increasingly difficult to get myself started editing THE MAGIC QUILT. I find myself doing anything else: reading my e-mail, surfing writing discussion boards, blogging (like I’m doing now), creating new short stories, revising stories based on my critique group’s edits, and looking for markets for my stories.

So, I’m making a hard editing schedule for myself based on Greg Martin’s writing workshop focused on revision. He suggests that students should keep a daily journal of their writing schedule and goals as follows.

Each day you make seven entries:
1. The date and the time
2. How long you plan to work.
3. What you plan to work on for this day.
4. Time when you stop writing and total amount of time writing.
5. Answer the questions: What did you actually end up doing? How well did it go?
6. What you plan to work on tomorrow
7. When you plan to work tomorrow and for how long.

Sample Entry
1. Sept 15, 2005 8:30 am
2. Work until noon
3. Focus on rising action in Macular Degeneration
4. 12:15 Almost four hours
5. Sluggish until coffee kicked in, then pretty good characterization of Oscar. Didn’t get to turning point.
6. More rising action tomorrow. Must write turning point–as scene, not just a lame sketch.
7. Tomorrow: 5:30 to 9.

• You can’t take three days off in a row.
• If you take two days off in a row, you ought to feel bad, not just about your habits and your lack of discipline, but about yourself as a person.
• You must log 18 hours of writing time a week. This is an average of 3 hours a day six days a week. (You can write more.) Take a day off each week, if you must, but I don’t recommend it. Why would you?.

Hmm — day job, Christmas preparations, husband, dog, friends, family, shopping for food, washing clothes.

You’re supposed to love it. You’ll love it more, the more you do it. Wynton Marsalis didn’t take a day off practicing the trumpet for two years. That’s why he’s Wynton Marsalis.
• Unplug the phone. (Turn off cell, if you feel you must have one of those)
• No email.
• No diary-type notes. Nothing about your cat’s urinary tract infection.

So, I have 22 days. If I write 3 hours a day, the math totals to 66 hours of writing. I could finish even if I take a day or two off. I’m going to give ‘er the old college try. Wish me luck.

Motivating the cognitive miser

Posted in All posts, On writing with tags , , , , on August 9, 2007 by Trina

It has been a busy summer so far. I’ve spent a week in Key West, then a week in Atlanta on business and finally had a wonderful visit with my daughter and grandson here in Raleigh. I allowed myself to break my writing schedule during these activities, but now I’m more determined than ever to make the final edits to my young adult novel.

I’ve found a writing schedule that works for me, after several unsuccessful tries (over the course of a year) to fit writing into my busy life. Back in December I thought I had solved my scheduling problem. I made time to write. I pieced together hours in the evenings and on weekends. I even wrote an entry titled “Finding time.” But I wasn’t productive. I would walk away from the computer disappointed, having accomplished little. And when my husband asked, as he frequently does, “When will your novel be finished?” I had to admit to myself, maybe never. And then I chastised myself. I’ve read about other writers who wrote their first novels while working full time. Why can’t I?

Then one afternoon at work, I was reviewing at test question about the conservation of energy and the solution hit me like a bolt of lightning. My internal Scrooge had been conserving my mental energy. It isn’t finding time to write that is the problem at all. It is finding the energy.

If humans are cognitive misers, and I know that I am, then we expend the least amount of amount of mental effort and attention possible, and that includes channeling our mental effort into spinning a yarn or two. We run out of steam to do what is important to us: write. When I expend my mental energy throughout the day on errands, and even the day job that pays my bills, Scrooge comes in and shakes his mental finger. He says you will not plot, build characters, build scenes or think creatively. I won’t let you. It takes a great deal of mental effort to write that tough scene or rewrite the paragraph that just isn’t working.

And then I ran across this E-book: Tame the Day Job Monster! Find the Energy to Write and Work. While I didn’t download the book, I enjoyed reading the first chapter for free. Tame the Day Job Monster is all about finding enough energy to write – while you also work for a living. If you’re just too tired to think about writing anymore, it’s time to get the day job under control.

While I find my day job rewarding, and am happy developing tests, I think when I reached an energy balance between work and my writing I began to be more successful and happier. I’ve modified my writing schedule so that I’m writing in the morning before work two or three days a week. That works for me. I am a morning person, so my cognitive miser is a little more willing to allow me the energy to think creatively first thing in the morning.

I am optimistic that I’ll actually finish my young adult novel in this lifetime. And I’ve accumulated so many ideas for stories during my writing hiatus: the car that my coworker told me about with the speedometer that only works if the lights are on, but you can’t tune the radio unless the lights are off. That would make a spooky story. Or the man sitting across from Harry and I at Abbondanza Italian Restaurant in Key West, too drunk to eat. His story would be interesting to tell.