A Novelist’s Guide to Goals

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Don’t get tangled up like these crazy succulent vine things. You might have to hack your way out with a machete.

Setting personal goals is all about knowing what you can do and then pushing your limits. You don’t want to push yourself so far that you flop over in defeat, but just enough that you learn more about yourself and about your craft.

Years ago I would set arbitrary deadlines: “I will write 50k by June!” I always failed, but I always learned. I’d write 10 or 20k and be satisfied that I had pushed myself as far as I could. Now I know what prep must happen before I set the goal. 50k doesn’t just appear out of thin air. I’m a planner, so without an outline or clear story goals, I’ll never make it.

Today I’m setting a deadline for draft three of BLOODSTONE, which includes 3 weeks of prep and 18 weeks of editing 2 chapters per week. Some weeks will be easy and some will be grueling, especially considering how busy my summer is going to be.

I’d like to encourage you to set goals for yourself. Measure how much you can accomplish and stretch yourself just a little further. You might need to start with arbitrary goals like I did, but you can also analyze your process a little and see where you’re weak: outlining, character growth, plot formation, simple butt-in-chair time. Writer’s block doesn’t appear out of thin air. It has a source, and your job is to locate the root and rip it out.

3 Types of Motivation and 1 Type of Irony

20150616_071256Life with a Little is the busiest I have ever experienced. College got pretty busy, but my homework didn’t wake me up at night unless I had a high-pressure exam the next day. So now that I’m sleeping much less than I would like (thank you, Little’s lower central incisors) I have set some pretty high goals for myself: finish the second draft of my novel. Soon. If I’m going to succeed, I need as much motivation as I can get. Thankfully, I have three types:

Now or Never

One good thing about being so busy is that my mindset is always “work now, or else you’ll never get to it.” There is no room for procrastination. It’s ironic, but I just might get more written now that I don’t have free time.

My goal is to finish editing my first act by New Years (or by Christmas if at all possible) and the next two acts by March. If I don’t work on it every day, I will fall behind. So I can at least take some time during Little’s naps or while he plays happily in the morning. There is time, I just need to find it and steal it away from other tasks like dishes and laundry.

Competition

These goals are also part of a competition. Even though ‘now or never’ gets me going pretty well, my internal motivation isn’t strong enough to withstand sleep deprivation. To battle this, I am competing with a writing group friend. We both set the same two due dates and we’ll trade our works by the end.

Expectant Readers

As if this wasn’t enough, another friend demanded that I let her read the novel at the end. If I didn’t trust her to handle my novel well I wouldn’t even consider sending it to her, but she is a conscientious person who I’m sure will be able to give a thoughtful critique. This also gives me a good excuse to print off the whole manuscript, which is always satisfying. Having few readers will help me meet my deadlines, and their notes will give me clearer direction for draft three.

Though each form of motivation helps keep me going, I still have some serious time restrictions no matter how determined I am to write. So wish me luck! I’m going to need it.

Multi-Disciplinary Creativity at its Core

Coming-Soon-Image2The process of creativity has always fascinated me. It’s not centered around one approach or one medium; creativity is a conglomerate of experiences that form how you process raw information and how those thoughts catch your imagination.

Last fall my analysis of creativity took the form of an outline, and, after months of planning, formatting, and editing with my team, the book is nearly finished. Since the content is multi-disciplinary at heart, Allison Oh paired beautiful photography with each chapter.

Throughout FireStarters you’ll dig to the core of creativity, free from confining rules or expectations, and explore your unique process. You’ll delve into your internal understanding and explore the ever inspiring world beyond. Learn more about the FireStarters Ebook here, and preorder for a 15% discount.

Recap: Your Complete Editing Strategy

magnifying glass on bookWhen I first started writing, I was a slave to perfectionism. Imagine a 15 year-old Sarah, scribbling all over her ten-page manuscript and perfecting each word before moving the plot forward. I don’t advise that method, but I can say that my fascination with editing started there. In the years since, I’ve enjoyed analyzing when to start self-critique and how to progress efficiently.

With this analysis at hand, I had the privilege of discussing editing with StoryForge Productions. The articles below offer a big-picture view of editing; it’s the best place to start if you want to make it to the end sans mental breakdown. That may be overly dramatic, but editing is a very difficult experience–which is why I also discuss when you should consider hiring an editor (see last article). Take a deep breath and explore the editing process.

3 Steps to a Sustainable and Streamlined Editing Process: “Editing a book is a monstrous process. Many dreamy eyed romantics start their novel with gusto and struggle to the finis, only to realize just how much work it’ll take to make a 50,000 to 90,000-word manuscript readable and enjoyable…”

Strategic Breakdown: The Developmental Edit“Before you get into each detail, you’ve got to step back and grasp the big picture. This is the first step of the editing process: understand your manuscript’s strengths and weaknesses from start to finish. And I’m not thinking about grammar or even prose. I’m thinking big. Plot arc big…”

Strategic Breakdown: The Line Edit“Though the line edit is more detail-oriented than the developmental, it can be just as intense. The next step down from big-picture work is surprisingly steep. You’ll find yourself surrounded by individual scenes, but you can’t forget the overall flow yet. Seemingly small details are more important than you think…”

Strategic Breakdown: The Copy Edit“With developmental edits and line edits taken care of, you’re finally to the point where you don’t have to worry about big-picture plot arcs. All that’s left is detailed prose and grammar work. You’re still not to proofreading level, but considering the toil that you’ve gone through so far, the copy edit is minor. You simply need to clean up the rubble after renovation…”

When is it Time for an Editor?“Every writer comes to a point when he or she grows too close to a story to see its flaws. I remember coming to that point with a few undergrad essays—after many tired stabs at revision, I would print it off and hand it to a sympathetic housemate. And that was only for a ten-pager…”

Crafting a Practicable Plan for the Editing Process

Editing is eternally fascinating. When you approach the second draft of your novel, you’re a lioness crouching in the grass, watching her prey, biding her time, and planning the kill. For a successful hunt, you must analyze the situation thoroughly.

In “3 Steps to a Sustainable and Streamlined Editing Process,” I help you start the process of crafting a practicable plan. And to my nerdy glee, I get to dig into three main editing stages over the next two weeks. The editing process is complex, messy, and exhausting–but completely worthwhile.

Stay tuned, and visit StoryForge Productions to keep up!

Writing What you Know? …Please

I’ve disliked this phrase for a long time. But instead of tossing it away with the rubbish, this week I explored deeper. I delved into its meaning, finding its benefits but also finding precisely what it lacks:

 

“Creative Foundations: The Controversy of Writing What You Know”

‘Write what you know’ is a hackneyed maxim. When people learn that I’m a writer, they grasp onto the one thing they know about writing. They ask, ‘write what you know’—that’s a thing, right? And I tell them yes. Kind of….READ MORE

“Creative Foundations: Multi-Media Inspiration”

Writers don’t need to go into the world to tell their stories, do they? Just as artists are stereotyped as mentally imbalanced—Van Gogh’s ear comes up in that conversation a lot—writers are stereotyped as recluses. We type away at our desks…..READ MORE

 

What has your experience been with this overused advice? Has it helped you or limited you? 

How to Overcome Self Doubt: Writing Tip of the Day

Have you ever looked in the mirror so long that you started loathing your own reflection? You notice each flaw. Your nose isn’t shaped the way you’d like. Your skin tone is less than perfect. Those pimples just keep popping up again, no matter what you do. 

I do this all the time with my writing. I examine it so closely that it seems deformed. The sentences are awkward and stunted. Word choice is less than ideal. I’m not even sure if it makes sense anymore. 

How do you fix this loathsome level of self-doubt? Here are my tactics for regaining confidence:

  • Pick up some light fiction to free your imagination from typo hunting and word gathering. Stop over analyzing and relax. Remember why you enjoy writing in the first place!
  • Set your story aside for a little while and engage in someone else’s imaginative vision. They can help rejuvenate your own muse. A day or even a week away from your story can help give fresh perspective.
  • Come back ready to be entertained. When you read through your work again, come with the mindset that you brought to the light fiction. Remember those horrible sentences that you loathed a little while ago? Now you can either appreciate them more, or understand how to improve them. 
  • Resist the desire to edit immediately. Sure, make a few notes in the margins, but don’t rip it up right off the bat. Give your muse time to breathe and engage in the story. Your story. That fascinating product of your own imagination. 

If you stare in the mirror and just focus on your nose, of course it’s going to look funny! But look around. Shocker: everyone else has noses. If you just stared and analyzed theirs, they would look funny too. 

There are times to analyze, but if you get stuck on that side of the pendulum, you’ll find yourself doubting your own muse. Back away from your story and enjoy it once in a while. It’ll give you the perspective and encouragement you need to move forward. 

Do these tactics work for you? How do you overcome self doubt?

Listen up, Writers!

Even though you’ve probably read articles, blog posts, and even books on the art of writing, I’d like to add one more tip. Every writer needs this skill to set his or her writerly dreams into action. It floods the imagination with fresh inspiration, and opens new worlds for exploration. And what is it? 

The ability to listen. 

For a solid sub-point I should add, asking good questions.

People are very willing to talk about themselves, their lives, their experiences, their grandchildren—you get the point. They’re also excited to talk about their work or studies. Listen to your movies-obsessed friend long enough, and you can get the highlight reel from her film undergrad. You’re bound to hear lots of stories, whether they originate from a classroom of restless freshmen, or from the lore of Hollywood glamour. 

Any good journalist knows this right off the bat. But novelists are a different breed. Less outgoing, more introspective. So to those of you who are waiting for inspiration to strike: get out of your house, away from your desk, and talk to people. The post office lady. The random couple that you see at Starbucks every week. The list goes on and on.

Always remember to listen. 

Writing Exercise: Close Your Eyes and Imagine…

I get distracted by visuals. The room around me screams for attention. Watermarks on the kitchen table, the half emptied dishwasher. Even the computer screen distracts me when I’m trying to write. Double spaced or single. How does that sentence look? Does it spill onto the next line? The next page? Punctuation needs to be perfect, so of course I have to go back and fix that mistake. Pretty soon, I’m no longer writing a story. All that’s coming out is proper grammar and punctuation, all the little scribbles that look nice on the page. My imagination has been invaded by visual stimulus.

Stop. 

Just stop.

Does this happen to you too? 

Close your eyes and ignore the space around you. Imagine the scene that you’re writing and the space your characters are in. What color are the walls? Are there watermarks on their table? What is the mood? 

Lift you hands to the keyboard and type with your eyes still closed. Don’t go back for misspelled words—as long as they’re recognizable, they’ll be fine. Plus, muscle memory will seriously kick in. Punctuation? Don’t worry about it. Free your imagination from all distractions and go. Just go. 

This is a good way to beat writer’s block, and to focus on your work when life is pulling you in a million directions. Try it out.

Does it work for you? How’s that scene coming?

Discipline: Essential and Elusive (Part 2)

Soooo… I wrote last week! I plunked myself down and forced myself to have “butt in chair” writing time. None of my usual flitting about organize this or clean that (I can’t stand having a messy house).

It was great! I skimmed through the first chapter again, because I’m planning on sending it off with a grad school application. And then I moved on to the second chapter, which is closer than ever to being finished. I’ll sum it up this week, and then start on number three. 

Tea of the week: Milk tea. Infused with either rose, or star anise. I just learned how to make it, and it’s amazing. (So wonderfully amazingly amazing. And easy to make.)

How’s your writing coming? Anything exciting?