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5 Useful Motivations for Daily Writing

August 25, 2015

Write Every Day!Fiction writers do not have it easy. Unless you’re Stephen King or John Grisham who are paid advances at the mere hint of a new novel, you are expected to write “on spec”, or on your own volition with no promise of publication or reward. Writers tend to do this anyway because we have an inherent, instinctual, and obsessive need to get our ideas and stories on some kind of media.

So without the promise of a large publishing advance or even a wink that our novels will ever see the space between book covers, we have to find our own motivation for BICHOK (also known as ‘But In Chair, Hands On Keyboard’). Here are five things that can help you BICHOK more frequently:

MORNING PAGES

One of my favorite motivational gurus is Julia Cameron. For years her famous workbook, The Artist’s Way, has been rousing and inspiring writers and artists to do their best work. One of the core activities, whether a writer or other creative type, is to write down a stream of thought longhand on three pages of paper every day. She calls it Morning Pages, but some of us don’t do the hard-core morning routine and simply call it ‘Daily Pages’.

It is meant to provoke and synchronize the day and task at hand. It helps clear the mind and focus on the next task: writing your novel. Morning Pages doesn’t have to be neat. Just write about whatever’s on your mind.

A website has neatly and conveniently created an online space to do Morning Pages. The site is called 750words.com. The concept is that three handwritten pages is about an average of 750 words. Good typers (and slow writers, like me) can log on and do their morning (or daily) pages at their convenience and even save time doing it.

LEAVE YOURSELF A CLIFFHANGER

The rule of thumb for novel writers is to leave each chapter with a cliffhanger in the action so the reader is eager to move on the next chapter. You can do this trick to yourself with your writing. Before you put down your pencil or close your laptop, leave a scene in the middle of your thought. That way you will find that you are motivated to BICHOK the next day to continue to the scenes exciting conclusion.

WRITER REWARDS

Much like Visa rewards, you can set yourself up with a rewards program that provokes and excites you to BICHOK. A reward can be simple like a sweet treat, or a glass of wine or champagne after completing your daily goal. I like to motivate myself with small purchases for finishing a certain number of daily goals with a new pen, or a shiny new journal.

THE WRITER’S SANCTUARY

I find that a weekend holiday to a beach hotel, or a nice B&B is a great getaway for some focused and concentrated writing. However, we can’t have our holiday retreats every day.

A writer should set up his or her own daily writing sanctuary that is welcoming and comfortable. It can be a separate room in the house, but doesn’t need to be. A kitchen table or nook can work fine for some folks. What is important is having a welcoming space with reasonable lighting, a cozy temperature, and an appropriate comfortable chair. Additional elements might include soft background music (Mozart is renowned for helping concentration and opening channels of creativity), or even a window to a beautiful outside setting.

PARTNER UP

Finally, enlist a writing partner. If you have someone with whom you can check in, and even compare daily word counts, you have a great motivator. A little friendly competition can be a good thing that helps each of you put words down and complete a writing project. If you don’t have close friends who write, find a local writer’s club and recruit someone you can join with.

It is important for authors to get the words out of our heads. Having a space to write, and motivation to BICHOK every day will help make happy and satisfied writers. Do what you need to do so that you write every day. If you have other thoughts on daily writing motivation, I welcome them here in the comments.

Now, go write!

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Do You Write With Verve?

August 13, 2015

Verve

Do you write with ‘verve’? Do your readers devour your books with verve?  Do you even know what the heck is verve? Webster defines verve as:

the spirit and enthusiasm animating artistic composition or performance: VIVACITY

Other definitions include “with vigor and spirit or enthusiasm”. Synonyms include ‘zest’, ‘sparkle’, ‘charisma’, ‘brio’, ‘gusto’…and there’s a lot more but I’m running out of room for my point.

Verve is not just a descriptor of performance, but also for the expression of ideas. When you write, you are writing action, thoughts, dialogue, description, all which have to be interpreted by your reader. A reader should be swept away and immersed in the words he or she reads, as if the story is actually happening right now in their imagination.

Using verve in your writing gives the words on your page/screen more life, more animation, more oomph. Take, for instance, the following short but familiar narrative:

Old Mother Hubbard
Went to the cupboard,
To give the poor dog a bone;
When she came there,
The cupboard was bare,
And so the poor dog had none

Compare to:

The crusty, wiry-haired old dog whined under the rotting wooden table almost sounding like a whimper. Emma, the last of her nine siblings to survive past the age of 90, patted her old friend on the head, pushed herself upright from her chair, wincing with the painful effects of arthritis, and teetered to the lone cupboard in the corner. If there was any food in the modest but dusty little three-room cottage it may be found there. Emma reached up her gnarled hand, pulled the small handle, and creaked open the cupboard door. She raised herself on her tiptoes to see better, but it was no use. Not a scrap of food was left. She nodded in resigned confirmation, walked back to her chair and patted her old friend on the head again.

Does one or the other have more ‘verve’? Do you notice more animation, brio, or gusto with one narrative over the other? With all due respect to our famous nursery rhymes, the first stanza of Old Mother Hubbard tells a succinct and direct story, but it lacks verve.

The animation and life you put into your writing is what keeps a book in a readers’ hands. Don’t fall into the trap of “then this happened, and then that happened”. I found myself getting sucked into that pitfall when trying to steam ahead and write my story as quickly as possible. But in doing so I found my verve lacking considerably. I have once again found my verve and I hope you do too.

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Writing on Company Time

June 15, 2015

DeskJobDo you write on company time? When the boss is out do you pull up the file with your novel and type away the day? Do you use online novel writing apps that you can easily sneak onto during the workday when things are slow? Do you compose your blog entries at your work desk? Am I the only one? No? Good.

It seems using spare company time is a great way to add pages to your work in progress and/or your blog. Some authors have been known to write their novels on commuter buses & trains. But have you finished or written a major portion of your story while actually on the clock at work?

Join the club.

Not all writers can get away with using company time. Most blue collar jobs do not offer the flexibility in front of a computer station. But if you are a writer with the fortune of having a desk job with autonomy, high cubicle walls or even a fully enclosed office (good on ya) you may have ample time to spend on your writing projects.

I can be a sneaky writer. While I don’t have my own office, I share an office with 1-1/2 others (one works part time). My boss is the other inhabitant. When the boss is out, or even off to a meeting, I can easily pull up my word processor and type away (I hereby enter this blog entry as example 1). But even when she is on the other side of the divider concentrating hard on reconciling bank accounts, I can pull up my novel and type quickly and quietly. I’m clocked at 80 wpm so having that skill comes in handy.

If you are also quick on the computer keyboard, use my super-sneaky trick. Open an important-looking Excel spreadsheet up on one window while you type on Word or an internet app. When the boss or someone walks by, simply use the ALT-TAB keystroke to quickly and stealthily switch from your secret project to the important spreadsheet numbers. You avoid the hand-in-the-cookie-jar look of guilt by avoiding the superfast mouse click from one screen to another. And if they glance at your monitor, well, you’ve obviously been working hard at crunching those numbers. Good job, bean counter!

But here’s my disclaimer: if you get caught, don’t tell ‘em I told ya to do it!

All this is to say WRITE WHENEVER! Your novel won’t write itself. Even a few spare moments at work offers an opportunity to add those words. There’s no excuse to use the excuse of <whine>“I just don’t have time to write.”</whine> Get at that keyboard and do what writers do: WRITE AWAY!

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A Procrastinating Writer’s Dialogue

June 12, 2015

<sigh> Ok, time to sit down and write. Now, where’s my laptop? I know I left it on the coffee table by the couch. It’s not there. Alright then, I’ll go grab a cookie while I look for it. Oh look, Oreos! I’ll grab two. Ok, three. Now where did that laptop go? Mmmm… I need a glass of milk now for these cookies.
Should I stop at three Oreos? Yes, I guess I should. Lunch is just an hour away. Now, did the laptop end up on my desk? Nope. Oh, I bet it’s in my backpack. No, not there either. Alright, I’ll just finish these cookies and my glass of milk before I start looking.

Oh look, there’s my laptop on the dining room table. I forgot I left it there. Ok, turn it on and boot up while I finish my Oreos. Maybe just one more Oreo…

Gah, stupid computer. Takes so long to boot up. That does it – I need a new computer. Or better yet, a new tablet with a keyboard. That way I can write anywhere. No excuses. I don’t know how writer’s ever got a book finished being chained to their desktop.

Ok, everything’s up. Open my software. It’s thinking…thinking… well, while it’s thinking I better go to the bathroom before I get way into my novel…

Oh hi kitty! No, I have to write now. You can’t walk across my laptop and demand attention. Ok, a little attention, then I’m nose to the grindstone. There, now go away. Shoo.

Better check email before I get into the novel. Junk. Junk. Spam. Delete. Delete. Delete. What’s happening on Facebook? Oooo, I’m tagged in a photo! Oh yeah. Fun times. Wait..no! I’ve got to focus on the novel.

Aw, hi Buster. Do you need to go for a walk? Yes, ok. Let’s go….

That’s all, Buster. No more ball chase. Gotta work. Oy, it’s lunchtime already. What’s leftover in the fridge…

Ok, lunch complete. Now to get on my novel. Now where did I leave off…wait! I haven’t updated my blog in a while. What will my readers think? I better write a quick post. Now, what to write…<sigh>

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How Writing a Novel is Like Pac-Man

May 18, 2015

Pac-ManSee if this sounds familiar: you’re writing a novel. You have big ideas and really get into the writing process. But your big ideas are really just general plot points and not specific details on how your character gets there. During the process your brain has to come up with thousands of choices about what your protagonist does. At a crossroads do you make him go left or right? Does he take the road less traveled to an exciting and unique adventure, or a safe path toward certain over-done cliché story lines?

I am reminded of one of my favorite video games: PAC-MAN. Pac-Man was MY game as an adolescent. I played it every chance I got. I was hooked I saved, bartered, and even sold every Star Wars action figure just to get quarters so I could play another game of Pac-Man (and am I now terribly regretful I sold of my Star Wars stuff – oy!). I was good. Really good. I won Pac-Man tournaments (which gave me more quarters just to stuff back into the video game), and I could play for hours on just a few quarters. But getting good took practice. I had to learn when to turn left, and turn right at just the right time, and memorize the patterns so I could do it again. Took a lot of trial an error.

When I write it feels like a game of Pac-Man. I have to turn right, or turn left, and see where it takes me. And eventually I make hundreds of decisions that make sense and gets me to completion. The completion, of course, is getting my hero through an impossible maze against terrible obstacles and completing his or her goal.

So get to it. Start writing and making decisions. The first choice may not always be the best, but trial and error will get you through a maze of impossible tasks to finally complete your novel.

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Character Flaws

April 22, 2015

CharacterFlawsI am embarking on my first novel. After wading some 5 figures into the word count I am finding that my main character is a goody-two-shoes. She’s much too perfect and overly talented. She’s nice to everyone. Everyone is nice to her. Sure, she had the average teenage “I wanna get outta here!” angst in her background, but on the whole she was raised in a very caring and nurturing home and was gifted with some amazing artistic talents. So why would anyone want to care about someone so perfect?

The fact is, readers don’t. Readers want to sympathize and empathize with the characters in a story in some way, and they don’t sympathize with a perfect shining example of humanity. They want imperfection, defects, faults, and weakness. They want to root for the underdog and cheer when they succeed. And that’s why I will need to give my hero some flaws.

I have already decided that my character’s mother died at an early age, and the story is centered on her father’s premature death (murder, perhaps?). So she is now an orphan. At age 28 but still…

And she will need to have a character arc that jostles and revamps her sets of values. Instead of being a ruthless actress driven to succeed in the brutal and fierce Hollywood setting, she will discover that valuing the family business and carrying on her father’s legacy in a small tourist town is more important.

It’s good to recognize the defects of your story early. Making adjustments and modifications retroactively is much easier at 10,000 words than it is at 100,000. Remember that conflict is the key to telling a story, so be sure to dust your fiction with plenty of it rather than sugar-coat it with perfection.

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A Bookcase Full of Writing Reference Books

March 18, 2015

BookcaseI have a bookcase. A tall one. I live in the city of the world famous Powell’s Books. So yeah, my shelves are stacked and overflowing with books. One particular genre of books taking up precious space on my bookcase are those from the writing reference section. Dozens upon dozens of books face me each day as I pass by begging me to “Write That Novel”, and exclaiming, “You Can Write Romance!”. I have encouragement from Julia Cameron and her Artist’s Way (and btw, I’m counting today’s blog as part of my morning pages.) And I have all the forensic procedures and poisons I can swallow (sorry, that pun just had to happen.)

Now the big question I’m sure you are begging to ask is, “so have you read all those books?” Of course not! They’re for reference! When I need to know how to pick a poison I have just the guide. If I need a plot structure helper I know where to go. I would say I’ve read close to one-third of them. And many of them I have not even cracked open. So the point is why own so many how-to books if I don’t read them, or even open for a quick reference.

To me it is encouragement. I have succeeded in writing online articles and content, but I am committed to writing a novel. Each time I stop by Powell’s Books I browse the writing reference section to check for another used copy of a handy and helpful writing guide. A novel full of 70,000 – 100,000 words requires a bit more creative thought, planning, outlining and plotting than a simple 300-700 word article. And by a ‘bit’ I mean exponentially harder. My books are my mentor. Stephen King encourages me in his On Writing memoir. Janet Evanovich tells me How I Write and I can model her example.

Could I write without all these books? Sure I could. And so could you. But if writers didn’t need encouragement and support there would be no MFA programs in creative writing. And the Artist’s Way would never have been published. And the Writing Reference section at Powell’s would be boarded over and in its place would probably display blank journals. So I cherish my books, unopened as some of the may be. But I’m confident that when I finish my first novel the investment in my writing reference shelves will have paid off.