Productive reading: the scope

Published authors give lots of advice to aspiring writers, but universal among that advice is this: You have to read a lot, and you have to read widely. Reading Within Genre My initial response to this advice was…immature at best. I was working on the first draft of my novel, back in high school, when I decided that all the classic literature I had been assigned would fit the bill, and that I would stop reading sci-fi and fantasy altogether so that no one would ever accuse me of stealing my ideas from other genre authors. That meant, in 1999, I gave up Sword of Shannara, from which I had been learning the rules of world-building.  I stopped reading Harry Potter, which had been teaching me which reader expectations could be broken, and which could be reinvented.  I abandoned my beloved Star Trek serial novels and The Wheel of Time, which were teaching me how characters can develop over a

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Self-analysis for characters

I don’t want to give the impression that it’s not OK to shift and grow and change as a writer, both in habit and in personality.  In fact, that is vital to writing, because otherwise you would produce the same story over and over. On change Usually, you don’t need to force a change.  You just grow up, you move around, you learn new things, you experience new opportunities, and you continue to analyze yourself and write what is true to you as you go.  Some of your projects might be small enough that they encapsulate your voice at a moment in time.  Others will fluctuate with you. For instance, this productivity series is very much the encapsulation of two years of concerted work on interrelated projects, and captures my voice post-dissertation while I’m trying out new types of authority. My novel, on the other hand, has spanned about twenty years of my development as a person.  It looked like

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Self-analysis for voice

Let’s say you’ve kept your writing journal for two months now.  You’ve written every day, even if it was just ten words at a time, and aside from growing as a person, you’re starting to wonder if you’re growing as a writer.  If you’re beginning to develop the ever coveted “writer’s voice.” The answer? Of course you are, but you might not know where to look for it.  Here’s the deal… The paradox of voice: extraordinary ordinary “Life is infinitely stranger than anything which the mind of man could invent. We would not dare to conceive the things which are really mere commonplaces of existence. If we could fly out of that window hand in hand, hover over this great city, gently remove the roofs, and peep in at the queer things which are going on, the strange coincidences, the plannings, the cross-purposes, the wonderful chains of events, working through generations, and leading to the most outre results, it would

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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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