Planning your writing day: the thematic

Set a central question Your work will likely have a big picture idea you’re thinking about as you go.  You might not know exactly what this is immediately, but you must have some idea, or you wouldn’t be writing.  Write down whatever you’ve got—a fully formed idea or a general concept—and then translate it into a question. For example, I spent a couple months scribbling down ideas for my dissertation, and then formed my central research question after I realized what united them all—“What does this have to do with normative masculinity?” The purpose of this question is two-fold. First, it needs to fit on a post-it, short and pithy, so it sharply focuses your thoughts as soon as you see it.  I recommend posting it at your desk so you can refer to it at the start of your writing session or if your focus strays. Second, it needs to relate to every chapter, scene, or conversation you produce,

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Planning your writing day: the practical

Decide on your tracking method I’ve already talked about the pros and cons of word count, which you can take or leave.  But if you decide the cons outweigh the pros, here are some other systems of tracking you might try: Hours worked, of course, is a good one.  I essentially tracked this by noting when I started and stopped working, but you can also make rows of boxes to cross out or lines, or whathaveyou.  The problem with this method is that staring at your computer screen for hours doesn’t really count as hours worked—unless you are actively solving problems, but even then you need to write down your solutions and plans—so it occasionally leads you into spending the time at your desk, but not very wisely. If you’re on outliner, you might track your progress by deciding how many bullet points you want to write in a day, or which scenes, and then cross things off your outline

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The system behind productivity: an overview

It is with an exasperated sigh that I begrudgingly site Cal Newport, and his concept of “deep work,” as the basis for my systematic productivity. [I read his book early on in my process of discovery, and I was as taken with its underlying concepts as I was repelled by its tone.  He is at best a product of his environment—a high pressure, promotion-based, publish or perish, tenure-oriented, win-the-capitalist-game-by-hacking-your-life-until-you-can-squeeze-blood-from-a-carrot kind of guy.  He’s also better than us because he doesn’t use Facebook and goes running in the winter.] But, whatever…he has some good ideas that I used to streamline the habits I was already building, and I’ve got to give credit where it’s due.  Most importantly, while he doesn’t use the terms attunement, engagement, and endorsement, the book still provides no-nonsense tips for turning the Aristotelean tripartite balance into reality. Attunement On episode 65 of Write Now, Sarah Werner talks about the artistic version of the writer that we can

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Coping with Delays

Neil Gaiman says that a successful writer must maintain at least two of the following three attributes: they must be good at what they do; they must be a nice person; they must be punctual about deadlines. My original plan was to be good and punctual, so I wouldn’t have to be nice… Then I took part-time work. Granted, I took awesome part-time work.  I receive real, actual dollars in exchange for drinking, selling, and learning about tea.  It’s a writers dream come true. But it’s also retail. And I’m coming off a year of fellowship sabbatical: hermit-like living, where I talked to more trees than people. So, that means that by the end of my shift, especially if the store is busy, I am worn the hell out.  My brain is mush from balancing simultaneous transactions, my feet are sore, and I’ve used up a month’s worth of conversation.  I come home completely incapable of producing further facial expressions,

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Fiction editing: lessons from the dialogue read-aloud

I expected to have additional lessons from the back half of the first edit to share with you, but it turns out that by the time you’re that far into your piece, it’s really about applying everything you’ve already learned and picking up speed. Instead, new lessons come this time from my first forays into the dialogue read-aloud. Yet again, the learning curve has been a bit of a shock.  Yet again, I figured I would be quick about it, soaring through this new form of editing like a trumpeter swan.  After all, I’ve already edited the entire book once for major plot and character overhaul.  How hard could it be to read the thing out loud and fix a little grammar? Hard.  Real Hard.  Like, I-am-less-a-swan-and-more-a-barnyard-chicken hard. So, in the spirit of transparency and education…some further lessons. Lesson thirteen: Fill out character sheets I know.  I know I said in the last set of lessons that you would know

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Fiction editing: lessons from the first half

Halfway done! Halfway done.  …..halfway done…*collapses* And the lessons this time are about trust–of self, of other authors, of characters, of ability. Lesson eight: The iceberg metaphor I think the majority of us have probably heard the iceberg metaphor: maybe because we were emo teens with “complex” emotional lives that vibrated below the surface; maybe because our teachers had a poster up on the wall, desperately trying to drive home how much actual work goes into a project. But if not, it goes like this. For every 5% of material that makes it to the page, there is another 95% of material supporting it silently, unseen, from behind the scenes. In other words, if you don’t know the world you built inside and out, if you don’t where your story is going at all times, or if you don’t know why your characters say the things they do, based on backstory and motivation, your shit is going to get wrecked.

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