LaShawn’s Writing Update October 2014 (Or how to find time writing with a full-time job and life exploding around you)

This has been a year of change. February, my status at work changed to full-time. It’s been ten years since I’ve been full-time at a job. March, my inlaws, who had been living with us for 3-1/2 years, moved to their own place. May, FrenkelFail happened. July, my gall bladder was removed because they found a gallstone.

It is now October, and I can almost say the dust as settled. I know there are a couple of other things that are coming down the pike, but I’ll wait until they appear before I mention it. Right now, I want to write about how my writing life adjusted (and trust me, it was a huge adjustment.)

I did a guest blog over at Sarah Hans’s website (and yeah, it’s been so busy, I’m just now getting around to mentioning it). In it, I mentioned that I started getting up at 5:30am to write. Yeah, that didn’t last long. Turns out, I’m really not a morning person. I was only able to do it for two weeks before deciding I really, really like getting my sleep in the mornings. And when I did try to write, I would write well for about 15 minutes or so, run out of steam, then sit there staring blankly for the rest of the hour or so, writing whenever something came to mind.

Come to think of it, that was how I wrote. Period.

A couple of years ago, I was chatting with Sarah Monette about her writing process. Her method was to leave a story project open on her computer and work on it in bits and pieces throughout the day. At the time, I thought it was a slow process. After all, there are many creatives who say to schedule at least an hour to work on a project. Writing in shorter increments won’t work because it takes you 15 minutes to warm up and get into your stride and then by the time you are all warmed up, stopping kills the flow.

But…as I thought about it…that’s how I was if I was working with a time crunch deadline. When I don’t have that, or if I’m brainstorming, or revising?  It doesn’t take an hour and a half. Before, I would sit at my desk for an hour, slowly going through the text line by line. If I wrote in shorter time chunks, how would that work? How could I arrange things so I could write in shorter bursts? What I needed was more than just adjusting to writing in a shorter time period. I needed to change my entire writing process.

In a sense, it’s like going back to basics with Barbara DeMarco’s book: “Pen on Fire: A Busy Woman’s Guide to Igniting the Writer Within“. In it, she suggested to set aside 15 minutes to work on writing. I can find at least 15 minutes during the day. Can I write during my morning break at work? In 15 minutes, I sure can. What about lunch? 15 minutes there? Afternoon break? 15 minutes At home? another 15 minutes. Hey, that’s an hour right there.

Now that I’m writing now at odd times, I needed something that I could have accessible at any moment, at any time, where I could jot down thoughts and lines and words as they came to me throughout the day. Something so accessible, I could use it even when I didn’t have access to internet. Get ready, because this will blow your mind.
 
 
 
Ordinary pen and paper. Who’d thunk, RIGHT?
 
Having a physical notebook means that I can write anywhere, anytime. Which, if I’m brainstorming or jotting notes or playing with sentences, it’s awesome. I can be thinking about my work, honing it in my head, then jot a few phrases down. Get enough of those, and I got me a working draft.
 
Revisions are a little trickier. It’s easier for me to edit drafts on the computer, therefore I needed a way to do it so I can access those drafts anytime, anywhere. This meant changing the place where I stored my work from my local computer to the cloud. Currently I’m using Dropbox, and it’s nice. I still back up to local though, because backups are good.
 
This also meant I could no longer bounce between three programs: Writer’s Cafe, Word and Scrivener. I had to stick with something that could contain all my work and notes and word processing in one place, that I could access from anywhere. 
 
I loved Writer’s Cafe. I really, really did. I even wrote a blog post comparing the two programs, saying I couldn’t give up Writer’s Cafe even though Scrivener was the better choice. Well, that changed this summer. Scrivener was overwhelmingly better in keeping all my notes, drafts, storyboards, annotations and working drafts in one spot. And as I used Scrivener, I began to discover new ways to keep my writing on track: utilizing the outliner, working with meta-data. You know the best feature I’m loving right now? Color-coding the annotations in my drafts to show what needed to be done in the texts. A sort of to-do list, if you will. Parts I need to brainstorm are in blue, sentence rewrites in white, facts to research in orange–even if I’m not actively writing, I can open Scrivener, choose a color, and work on those in bits and pieces throughout the day. Then, when I’m done, I delete the note. It’s nice to see all those notes and comments vanish as the story firms up.
 
Sorry, Writer’s Cafe, but from now on, I’ll have to go with Scrivener.
 
So that was my summer–figuring out Scrivener and the new writing process. Write in bits and pieces, get them into Scrivener. Expand. Set myself a limit of 500 words. (Oh, yes! Scrivener is awesome for setting daily writing goals). Work on the text in bits and pieces. And, if needed, use a couple of vacation days as writing retreat days, go to a coffee house and write like mad all day.
 
All of this to say, October 1, I finished the first draft of a new 6000 word story. I didn’t think I would have time to do that, and I’m quite pleased with it. I’ve also been working on Willow (because oh gosh, that never ends), and now that I have everything in Scrivener, I find working on it much MUCH easier. 
 
I may have lost time with the expansion of the day job, but nowadays, I’ve been feeling way more productive than the past three 1/2 years. We’ll see how things go.
 
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I don’t suck as a writer…really I don’t (or let’s learn about LaShawn’s Writing Process)

For the past couple of weeks, I’ve been driving myself to finish editing a short story before the next Writers of the Future deadline (3/31/11). I’ve been working on this story for several months, and until Thursday, had worked on it solid for nine days, including weekends.

On Thursday, the day of the deadline, my mind went on strike.

I knew what I wanted to do. I have the outline of how the story went. I knew where it was going. I just…couldn’t…put…it…down. It was like my creative processes said, “That’s it. No more. We’re shutting down and refuse to do anything until we get some sleeeeeeep!”

I looked at the remaining ten pages I had left to edit, and reluctantly conceded that I would not made the deadline. I then spent the next 24 hours in an absolute funk.

I know in my head I did the right thing. Even if I did sit down and forced myself to finish editing those last ten pages, it would have been very sloppy edits. On Wednesday, I looked at one of my scenes and thought, meh I don’t need it. Yesterday morning, while thinking on it more (because my mind refuses to stop thinking about the story, even though it won’t let me work on it anymore), I realized it had been a key scene that sets up the main characters actions for the rest of the story.  If I had left it out, readers wouldn’t understand how she goes from acting one way to acting another. It’s little mistakes like that that makes a difference between an Honorable Mention and a Finalist.

I still felt like a failure, though.

Today I thought why I felt so sucky all weekend and what went wrong. I realized that part of the fail was not realizing where I was in my writing process.  Although I’ve been writing professionally for almost seven years now, I never wrote it down because I was still in the process of figuring out what it was. Well, now’s the time. So here’s how my writing process goes:

1) When I get an idea for a story, I write it out either longhand or in the notebook section of Writer’s Café. I don’t even consider it a first draft. I just want to put the idea down on paper.

2) I write up the first draft in Word. Usually it involves cutting and pasting, but I also flesh out parts that needed. I use the commenting section to make notes.

3) I use Scrapbook in Writer’s Café to look at the story from the outside, figuring out the theme, the characters, everything I can think of. I do a lot of freewriting in this stage. I also identify what research I need to do.

4) I let the story rest while I do research. I give myself about a couple of weeks for it.

5) I look at how my research impacts the story and what, if anything, needs to be changed. I use Storyboard in WC to draw up a second outline.

6) I write another draft incorporating all the research and changes I’ve decided to do. I also flesh in details and make the prose stronger. Out of all the processes, this one takes the longest because I’m thinking about how each word, each line, each paragraph impacts the story; how it fits with how I want the story to go and the characters to act according to the rules I’ve set up. It’s usually here that characters may act differently than the first draft, certain plotlines become stronger while others get weaker, or even get dropped altogether. Strangely enough, this is also my favorite stage, although by the end of it, I am absolutely sick of the story and just ready to send it out.

7) I send the story to beta readers to make sure that what I wrote isn’t crap, which I usually think it is by the end of the previous stage.

8 ) When I receive feedback, I either adjust the story accordingly or leave it as is if I feel it’s important. Mostly, I revise for clarity.

9) I do a final revision which cleans up grammar, spelling, work with few last stubborn sentences that don’t sound right.

10) I submit it.

Looking at this, it all makes sense. I would say that my story is still on Stage 6, which is the longest stage in the process. I should’ve recognized that the story wasn’t nearly ready as it should’ve been, but at the same time, I could see why I pushed myself. It’s usually in this stage that I get impatient to finish the story, and oftentimes I have to force myself to slow down to think things through.  If there are certain events coming up that take away from my writing time, the urge to finish the story gets stronger.

Such as OdysseyCon happening this week. And in two weeks, my 40th birthday. And Easter. And Daniel being on spring break…

That was what made me push so hard to finish the story. And that was why I got so burnt out. I simply do not do well being rushed. Especially during stage 6. If I was in stage 8 or 9, I probably would’ve made the deadline. But I’m not.

So. Deep breath. I have to stop beating myself up over it. I don’t suck. I need to rest my brain. Refill my creative cup. Then start working on the story again tomorrow, but go back to my regular schedule, not the crazy write-every-single-chance-I-get schedule.

Maybe I’ll finish in time for my birthday.