Posted in Exercises, General, writing

Mid-NaNo Struggles

Confession time: I haven’t worked on my NaNoWriMo projects for the last three or four days. Despite how excited I was for NaNo this year, a lot of the excitement wore off relatively quickly.

For one, my schedule in real life is packed, and very little of it can be ignored until later. For another, I’ve run into a problem where I have so many new ideas I want to work on and get started during NaNo that I’m struggling to stay focused on any one at a time.

Neither of those are insurmountable by themselves. I’ve noted before that I can write quickly, so I’m in no way concerned about ‘winning’ NaNo even with less time to dedicate to it than I usually have. As for the projects, the hardest part seems to be picking and choosing a project to stay focused on–which is again, where being able to write fast comes in hand. An hour or two might give me enough material that when I lose focus I can re-orientate myself with a quick skim.

That however, is addressing both sides of the struggle by themselves. Combined, it gets a little more complicated. I don’t always have an hour or two to get words down, and when I do, it’s also balancing things like writing a post or putting together an image for a short story. That might mean I only have a few minutes left in any dedicated hour to try and get something written, which might not be enough.

I knew going into this month that I was going to be a Rebel this year. While this should be all-new material, I opted not to work on a singular novel. I’d aimed instead to complete four novellas and perhaps some longer short stories. To that end, I’ve done one novella and two stories under 10k each. Getting started and finding a groove for brand new ideas is difficult.

Which is why for the last couple of days, I’ve been taking a new look at all the ideas I had jotted down to work on this month. Some of them are spin-offs from other short stories, which spun into larger works. Several of them are connected through worldbuilding and setting elements.

Knowing that part of the problem I’m having is based on lack of inspiration because I’m trying to get new ideas down to help flesh them out, tacking the dual problem of ‘not enough time’ and ‘too many new ideas’ means taking out one side of the equation. As I said above, by themselves, they’re not hard to solve. An hour or two’s worth of material adds up (for me) to be around three thousand words.

Which, means on stories that are connected through worldbuilding and character spin-offs, I probably have more than just three thousand.

These are still new ideas, but by choosing to focus on ideas that already have all the groundwork laid out like characters and setting, I’m hoping the last half of the month turns out to be a little more productive.

How are you handling your NaNo struggles?

Posted in blogging, General

On Being Overwhelmed

Normally I like to set one project a month to focus on, for a couple of reasons. One, I’m not as likely to get distracted by a million other projects I want to work on. Two, it makes it easier to break down huge tasks into smaller ones. In a perfect situation, that means I’m not juggling a multide of things to do.

Life being what it is however, that’s not always the case. For this month, I’m not only juggling my main project, but also a new job, and trying to put together some semblance of a plan for what I’m doing with Crimson and Gold. Faced with the first round of edits on my current project, wanting to start NaNoPrep and figuring out what I need to do for a launch, it feels like there’s not enough hours in the day.

When facing a seemingly insurmountable task–or tasks, as the case very well is–often it helps to take a step back. Some of that overwhelming feeling comes from picking up more things and forgetting not everything has to be done right now. Often it helps to figure out which tasks can be done later. In this case, that happens to be my NaNoPrep.

Another part of that is also to break the large tasks down into smaller tasks. For my first round of edits, that means breaking it down into doing a plot overview and an outline so I can fix a couple of larger plotholes. For sorting out Crimson and Gold, that means taking a day or two and coming up with a plan so I can check things off as they get done. After all, I’m at least a few months away from publishing that, which means plenty of time to organize myself so I’m not swamped by huge amounts of work.

What do you do when you’re overwhelmed?

Posted in General, writing

On Shifting Mindset

Not every part of the creative process is enjoyable. It’s certainly a lot more entertaining to daydream about the six-figure deal you’ll get, or the contract for an original show you sign with Netflix than it is to go back through your manuscript for the hundredth time trying to hunt down out of place commas or lurking filler words. While those tasks may not be enjoyable, they are necessary. Thankfully, there’s something to be said about having the right attitude to approach something.

How you think about something can have a vast impact on how you feel about it. Rather than focusing on how much you dislike doing a particular part of editing, think of how easy it is to get done. Alternately, remind yourself how much it’s going to improve your writing and your story. By shifting your thoughts from the negative ‘dislike’ of the task at hand and onto the postive aspects of it, you’re also shifting your feelings. This won’t mean you necessarily enjoy searching for every instance of ‘that’ or sprucing up your descriptions, but it will make it less of a chore.

Another way you help change your view on something is to adjust your enviroment accordingly. These don’t need to be huge changes either. If you can work with music on, try putting on tracks that are upbeat and exciting. Music has been shown to affect your mood, so having something that cheers you up and energizes you can help make a daunting or tedious task go a little easier. If you find sound distracting or need to work on your focus, try a scent such as lavender or lemon to help calm and focus your thoughts. This might make distractions less tempting and help you ward off procrastination.

What are some ways you make difficult tasks easier?

Posted in General, writing

About Focus

The last couple of weeks I’ve been having a ridiculous time focusing on any one project. As much as it irks me, I also know there’s about a dozen different reasons my focus has vanished. Whether it’s stress, the fact the weather is changing, or maybe I just haven’t been eating as well as I should, the fact is my focus is gone. Pondering the reasons why I have zero ability to stick to one project also lead me into wondering why I’d determined I could only work on one at a time.

I am a serial un-finisher. I don’t want to even attempt putting a number on the drafts that are sitting in my writing folder that will probably never hit ‘the end’. I’ve long since learned when working on a novel that if I don’t manage to make it to chapter ten in a fairly short order…that poor novel is probably never going to make it to the end. I’ve done this so many times I can pinpoint the make or break point and it’s usually chapter ten. Anytime I start getting distracted before chapter ten and we run into the secondary problem:

Shiny New Project Syndrome. Oh boy is this one my big one. Because that idea seems so brilliant and I’ve hit a slow spot in the current project anyways, so maybe if I just write a little bit on it–and now I have six chapters of a new project and you guessed it, the original story is still sitting somewhere below chapter ten. I might eventually open up that project again and look at it, which leads me to:

Chronic restarting. I’ve mentioned a couple of times before that I’m a pantser or discovery writer, so I tend to just write and figure I’ll fix it later. The problem is, this leads to some plot holes, which make more sense if Character A is actually married to Person B, and then that sends me down a rabbit hole of wanting to see how that interaction would actually look, never mind putting that note down to work on it during edits. I’ve already long-since learned that trying to edit while I write is a bad idea for me.

All of this, I’ve learned, while not entirely alleviated, helps if I’m focusing on a singular project at a time–be that a high fantasy dripping with magic and honorable young princesses, or a sci-fi with a tech-savvy engineer running from an corrupt corporate overlord. Which is where we run into the problem where my ability to focus has taken a swandive down the drain.

While I’m trying to pinpoint the source of whatever is effectively stopping up my focus, I’m curious: What are the reasons you have for working on one or multiple stories at a time?

Posted in writing

Keeping Focus Strong

It’s no huge secret that focus is a really good tool to completing a work. If it was a secret, it’d be one of the worst kept secrets hands down. Focus is what makes it easy to power through that tough section, or to sit down and happily toss down several hundred words.

While powerful, focus is fragile. It can be broken by distractions, lack of energy and frustration. All of these can add up to one really big focus destroyer: burn out. At some point you’re just so sick of spending time and energy on that one story that you stop working on it. Thankfully, it doesn’t have to happen.

Distractions are probably the easiest and most common focus destroyer. Noise, temperature, comfort, movement and new ideas are all forms of distraction writers encounter. Some of us think better with a certain amount of background distraction such as noise (don’t think just music for this, how many times have you found it easier to write while you have something like a fan going behind you?). When we’re uncomfortable and too hot or too cold however, even those little distractions you normally could ignore can become overwhelming.

To counteract distractions like noise and movement, try looking at what sort of learner you are. Auditory learners might do better with some form of noise, or even by dictating and recording their story. Visual learners may benefit from writing in a room without a lot of movement, or from having their processor on full screen. Tactile learners might do better by having notes they can touch and move around as they progress.

Lack of energy is another such distraction. Writing is a great creative endeavor and like most forms of art is highly subjective. It takes a lot of time to get the words down and sometimes finding that time is harder than we’d like to admit. This of course, takes energy we’d much rather spend actually writing.

If energy is turning out to be your main problem, consider taking frequent but short breaks. Short rest periods can help boost your energy levels and allowing yourself five or ten minutes to go ahead and play that phone game won’t hurt. Just remember to keep these breaks short or you might just find yourself dealing with the third focus destroyer: frustration.

Frustration itself occurs because of many different reasons. Sometimes it just happens that the scene we’re on isn’t working properly, or that we’re not making the amount of progress we’d like. Sometimes it’s also because we see great published works and can’t resist comparing ourselves.

The easiest way to deal with frustration is to remind yourself that you’re only working on a draft and you can fix the problem later, especially if it’s getting in the way of writing that scene or finishing that last chapter. Even if you end up needed to redo it all over again later, it’s better to have something down on the paper than to have nothing. Use placeholders for names if you need to, or even summarize scenes that you know you need but just can’t work out right now. It’s possible the story will give you the clues to them later on.