Laura’s New Writing Plan

It’s like Kanye’s plan, but with a lot less crop tops and a lot more word count.

Like I mentioned in last week’s post — I haven’t been writing much lately. I’ve gotten out a few short stories that I feel good about, but what I REALLY need to be doing is editing the 2nd draft of my book. I’ve puttered away at it, but haven’t succeeded at getting down to business.

I know I work better with structure. I need deadlines. But sometimes creating those for yourself… the motivation, it’s lacking.

Last week my friend Jay introduced me to a site called Pacemaker. In a nutshell: you put in your writing goals and deadlines, and Pacemaker spits out a plan. The exact number of words per day you need to write (or edit) in order to hit your goal.

So I thought… what would it look like if I made a goal to finish the 2nd draft by the end of this year?

And you know, it’s not too shabby.

Pacemaker Writing Calendar

About 550 words on the weekdays. A little over 1,000 on the weekends. December looks the same. Totally doable. And I’m doing it.

As you can see, I’ve already missed one day–but that’s ok. Not beating myself up over it. I made it up on the weekend, so we’re still on track.

Breaking it down day by day, word by word, makes the goal look much more reasonable. More attainable. 550 words a day doesn’t seem scary. (On a good day, I can get that done in the morning before leaving for work.) The vision of having that 2nd draft printed up and piled up on my desk — it’s taking shape.

You just have to start. One word at a time.

Intentions

I’ve been thinking a lot about resolutions and intentions. I feel like I let myself down in 2014. I wanted to run 300 miles – I didn’t make half that. I wanted to finish my revisions – yeah, we know how that went. Most of all, I let myself get derailed by day-to-day life. The blinders of the everyday shuffle never came off. I lost sight of my goals.

I want to get back to myself. I want to reconnect with my body and my goals. But importantly – I don’t want to be too hard on myself. I want to push myself, yes. I want to set goals and achieve them. But I want to listen and do what feels right. Give myself permission to forget all the rest.

I’ve been writing again. I’ve been sinking into books. I’ve started running in the mornings, adding in some yoga videos. I’m working on finding balance.

I haven’t figured it out yet. But I will figure it out.

 

Sharing Inspiration, Part 2

After the Ankle Incident, my friend Jenny commented, “Wow, you’ve had kind of a rough month.”

“Have I?” I said.

“Well, you got really sick a few weeks back. And now the ankle.”

“Huh,” I said. “I guess you’re right.”

It hadn’t really struck me like that. November has been an introvert month for me — turning inward, staying indoors, having quiet “me” moments. It’s easier to do when it’s cold outside and dark at 5pm. After Jenny’s comment, though, I realized what’s really been taking up my thoughts this month, if only subconsciously — replenishing the creative reserves. October was a big push creatively, what with the 30/30 Challenge and all. And creativity’s cyclical. I’ve still been tinkering away at the editing, but mostly? I’ve been thinking, pondering, reading, listening, seeking inspiration.

So I thought I’d share — what’s been inspiring me lately?

Wonderbook. One day, Jeff VanderMeer’s book will wind up on my book reviews, but my shameful secret is that it’s taken me a year to read it, and I’m still nowhere near done. It’s not because it’s not good — it’s really good — but it’s big. Like, physically big. Big books don’t fit in my purse, which means they don’t get read on the bus, which means it takes forever to read them.

Wonderbook

Anyway. This book is full of SO MUCH ruminative goodness. Its focus is how to write imaginative fiction, and it goes into more detail than any other writing book I’ve encountered. It’s forced me to examine my work-in-progress in a new light, to question decisions I’ve made, to answer why I’ve made the decisions I’ve made. And the book itself is quite beautiful — another reason I’m slow to get through it. It probably takes me 15 minutes to go through two pages — in the best way possible. It encourages the mind to check out and drift.

30 and Bookless“. I’ve been recommending this article by Rachael Maddux left and right, and I keep going back to it. It’s a great reminder that, despite my college-self’s ambition to have a book published by now… it’s ok that I don’t. It’s probably even best that I don’t, because I wasn’t the same writer back then that I am now. We’re two different people, producing different work.

Fleetwood Mac. Specifically, this song.

You guys, I just CAN’T GET ENOUGH. I listen to it on repeat, I sing along, I sway to it in the bathroom as I’m putting on makeup. The slow start, the bewitching build. It’s definitely set the contemplative mood for the month.

The Habits of Highly Productive Writers“.My college advisor recently shared this article by Rachel Toor. Nothing in it is revelatory (“Highly productive writers nap four hours a day!”), but there are some good tips. The part that really jumped out?

When someone’s doing a lot more than you, you notice it. It brings out your petty jealousy. And if you’re like me (occasionally petty and jealous), it might make you feel crappy about yourself. Which is, let’s face it, ridiculous. No one else’s achievements take anything away from yours, or mine. The fact that another writer is working hard and well should be nothing more than inspiration, or at least a gentle prod.

Sometimes, some days, that reminder is particularly important.

What are you reading, watching, listening to this month?

30/30 Wrap-Up

Well, it’s done.

Image from Don't Break the Chain.
Image from Don’t Break the Chain!

I wrote for 30 minutes for 30 days, each and every day. Through some very generous donations, I raised $110 for Seattle’s Hugo House.

I’m not gonna lie, the past week and a half were tough. We were traveling, there were work events, and then — icing on the cake — Byron and I both caught the cold from hell. Multiple days I thought, “I could just skip today. No one would know.” Except I would know, and I would feel guilty, so I sat down for the 30 minutes anyway. Maybe fever-dream writing will be the pinnacle of my book.

Mostly now, I want a break. I want a nap and a day where I don’t think about writing at all. (It is highly likely this is the residual sickness talking. But it’s still how I feel.)

Still… in the past 30 days, I’ve edited 89 pages of my book (89 single-spaced pages, to boot). That’s a little over 45,000 words. That’s a hell of a lot more than I’ve gotten done in the past several months. All from just sitting down for 30 minutes a day.

I’d like to keep this up. Habits are hard to make and easy to break, so I should keep it up. The lesson learned through this whole thing is that it’s entirely possible to prioritize your writing if you make it a priority.

 

30/30 Check-In

Here we are, day 15 of my 30/30 Writing Challenge — writing for 30 minutes a day for 30 days to raise money for Seattle’s Hugo House. I’m proud to report that so far I haven’t missed a single day, even though some days were like pulling teeth. A brief check-in, then, on lessons learned from the challenge thus far.

(Oh, and a reminder — the whole “point” of this, aside from creating good writing habits, is to raise money for the awesome Hugo House. If you’re so inclined, you can donate here.)

Lesson #1: It is much, much easier than it sounds like to get in 30 minutes of writing a day. I admit to being a little bit daunted by the number, especially considering how my writing schedule had been going recently. But once you commit to it… you guys, there are 30-minute chunks everywhere. In the morning before work, on your lunch break, while dinner’s cooking. I knew it before, but this has just highlighted the fact — the time is there, if you prioritize. (And here’s the usual caveat how I don’t have kids, I’m sure it’s harder with kids, but you know — same general theory still applies.)

Lesson #2: Earlier is better. Again, this is something I already knew (are you seeing a theme here?). Last year, while finishing the first draft of my book, I got up early every morning to get the time in. Now, I find myself returning to that schedule. There have been two days where I skipped the morning, thinking “Oh, I’ll have time to write later.” Both times, it bit me in the ass. Days have a way of spiraling out of control. The earlier you can check off the writing, the better. Plus, then you have the benefit of already having accomplished something with your day, before it’s even really started. (I find this true with running, too.) I love being able to head into work and think, “No matter what else happens today, I already accomplished this.”

Lesson #3: Getting up early sucks. Look, it just does. Maybe not for some people, but every time that damn alarm clock goes off, I want to smash it over the head and go back to sleep. Instead, I turn it off and roll my sorry butt out of bed. (Related tangent: my dad hated his childhood alarm clock so much that he saved it and, as an adult, used it for target practice. Early-morning dislike, it runs in the family.)

Lesson #4: If you work consistently, you get shit done. 30 minutes a day adds up. Prior to this, I had edited 3 chapters of my book. Now I’m up to 7. It took me 15 days to make that leap. Admittedly, the editing is getting easier the further I go (ooph, the beginning of the book was rough, you guys). But this rapid accumulation is an obvious result of sitting down and working.

Lesson #5: It’s about priorities. Lauren at I’m Better in Real Life wrote a great blog post about writing seasons. It’s a reality of life that, over time, priorities shift. You expend more energy in one facet of your life than another. I’m prioritize my writing right now — which means, yes, some other things may drop off a little bit — and that’s ok.

At this point, I’m thinking I may continue the 30 minutes a day, even after the 30/30 Challenge is done. Which, I mean — we’ll see. It’s still early days. I’m halfway there. But really, there’s no downside. Whatever you do, whether it’s writing or coding or creating whatever, consistent work habits are key.

The 30/30 Writing Challenge

So, here’s roughly how this went down.

Last week, a group of coworkers and I journeyed up Capitol Hill to attend the Cheap Bear & Prose night at Hugo House. Hugo House, in their own words, “is for writers.” Seattle is a bookish city, and nonprofit Hugo House is one of its most awesome literary enclaves. Named after local poet Richard Hugo, they provide classes, workshops, free events… essentially a hub and supporter for a zillion and two literary happenings. I only recently started attending their events myself, and was so pleasantly surprised by the amazing environment I found there.

Cheap Bear & Prose night was a ton of fun — good people, good writing. I left the evening feeling excited about the great work I’d just heard… and also disappointed. Disappointed in myself for not taking my writing more seriously, for not pushing myself harder, for not being active in the larger literary community. I resolved to remedy that last bit by attending more events and classes at places like Hugo House.

The next morning, I hopped on Hugo House’s website to check out their class listings. And right there on their homepage was the 30/30 Writing Challenge — a fundraising challenge. The idea is this: people write for 30 minutes each and every day for 30 days and raise money for Hugo House. Simple enough. The next challenge was starting October 1.

“That’s a cool idea,” I thought, and moved on with my day.

I went on with my week, my weekend. On September 30 I got an email reminder about signing up for the challenge. “Oh yeah,” I thought, and ignored the email.

And then yesterday, on October 1, I woke up and — essentially on a whim — signed up for the challenge in about 5 minutes.

That’s how I typically sign up for stuff like this — in a flash, on a whim, because otherwise I might over-think it and back down. It scares me a little to commit to this — it feels a bit like going down the NaNoWriMo hole — but it feels right. In the past several months I’ve grown apathetic towards my writing, and I need a kick in the pants to change that. Plus, I believe in what Hugo House stands for. If I can raise some money for a great organization and ALSO get my writing time in? Win win.

I’ll be keeping track of my progress here on the blog (check the right-hand column), using Jerry Seinfeld’s Chain method. I figure if I make it public, there’s more accountability. And if you’re so inclined…

Donate Now

Ok. 30 minutes down. 29 more days to go.

 

Unfocused

Like any born-and-bred American, road trips are in my DNA. Growing up, they were an integral part of family vacations. We never did any truly epic routes — the longest was Seattle to Santa Monica, with a $20 bribe on the line if my sister and I refrained from asking “Are we there yet?” — but there were numerous shorter trips. Bellingham, Oregon, Idaho. The Pacific Northwest was well-explored from the confines of an ’89 Honda Civic.

My parents were pros: a white plastic bucket sat in the middle seat between my sister and I, filled with entertainment. Most of the goodies were designed to draw our eyes outward, past the car window and to the world beyond. License plate bingo, “I Spy”, plastic-coated maps and dry erase markers so we could mark our progress. Inevitably, though, our eyes left the windows and turned to our laps.

“Stop reading,” Dad would say. “Put your book down and look out the window. You’re missing it.”

A terrible problem to have, a child who reads too much. We raised our eyes back to the world , but after a respectful amount of time — after we thought we could get away with it — it was back to the books.

Of course, the problem was that my sister and I were young, and we still had that capacity only truly understood by the young: boredom. Looking out the window was boring. The trees whipping by all looked the same — or maybe there were different, but it took far too long for them to change. Rocks, grass, dirt — we had all of this back home. Looking out the window, there was nothing to do but get lost in your own thoughts. My brain wanted focus.

In adulthood, there’s more than enough to occupy your thoughts. Boredom becomes a concept rather than an actual practice. Nowhere is this more obvious than on a road trip, when you’re confined to a small space with limited resources for hours on end. If you’re lucky enough to be in a stretch of the country that defies cell phone towers, you’re disconnected from internet, too. I now find myself sitting for hours, doing nothing but look out the window. What once would induce boredom brings on something new and foreign; you become unfocused. Not in the way we’re accustomed to in the digital world — not in the way of emails to be sorted through, of pings and dings to pay attention to, of I swear I was about to do something now what was it? That is frantic — a forced unfocus.

This is gradual, natural, a slow progression after days on the road. The smell of pelicans, the sun burning against an SPFed thigh. The very conscious movement of wind over skin, thick and strong as a wave drawn back to the ocean. The uncomfortable yet comforting thought that this will all be here, after we’re gone — changed, changing, but still here. The sea today will not be the same one we see tomorrow.

Of course this doesn’t appeal to a child, who lives in the present and feels acutely the whole wonder of the world. They have no need to gaze for hours at nothing in order to see everything.

Back off the road now, no more transience, I feel myself coming back into focus — edges sharpening, the line between body and air growing clear. Focus is good — it’s necessary to function in our daily lives. But I close my eyes and see the shimmer of air on skin, feel my mind slip loose and drift. We see clearer for being unfocused. Every once in a while it’s good to wander.

 

Desert Memos: A Mini Travelogue

When you think of Washington state, what do you think of? Coffee, Amazon, Nirvana? Lots of trees and rain? Washington IS all these things… but there’s another side, too.

Columbia River at George, Washington - Buffalo Writes

The eastern half of Washington state? Pretty much all desert. Well, ok. TECHNICALLY not desert. But compared to Seattle’s maritime qualities — yeah, I’m gonna go ahead and call it how I see it.

A collection of yurts in the middle of a desert winery. Glamping at its best. Adirondacks and wine and tawny rabbits nibbling on sage. Twenty feet from your door, the descent to the bottom of a gorge — the river below receded, hexagonal tiles baked into the dried mud. And wouldn’t you know it, down here with the lizards and the snakes and the cactus flowers, sits one beat up desk, gradually becoming the desert. The office-supply life, it follows you everywhere.

At the start and end of summer, a lot of Seattleites hop over the mountains and drink up some of the eastern Washington sunshine — summer starts earlier and ends later over there. In May, my friend Hen and I did just that. We spent only 2 days in and around George, Washington, but it was enough to once again become totally smitten with the landscape. And when I got home, I was temporarily possessed by Barry Lopez.

Everything feels new and familiar and BIG. The vast space opens your brain and invites you to float from one thought to the next until you settle like pink dusk in the night. Record the thoughts acquired during such downtime, such non-thinking. Sift through them later, see what you find. Back to reality, desert memories rest heavy on the brain.

Alright alright, maybe I wasn’t possessed — maybe I just read Desert Notes and was inspired. Either way, I wrote up a little something — an experimental piece, very unlike my usual stuff. I’ll leave the dreamy landscape writing to Mr. Lopez in the future, but it was fun to try my hand on it.

You can check out the full deal over at RAD AND HUNGRY’s blog (or hey, if you’re on Medium, it’s there, too).

Columbia Gorge at George, Washington - Buffalo Writes

Writing Words from Neal Stephenson (Or, Hidden Treasures at the Doctor’s Office)

Last week I had a doctor’s appointment. I was in the waiting room — waiting, as you do — and spied a copy of Seattle Met magazine. The cover touted “52 amazing weekend getaways!”, or some such numbered list that always sucks me in. So I picked it up and started flipping.

Halfway through, I stumbled upon an interview with none other than Neal Stephenson — local speculative-fiction writer who’s penned approximately one zillion books. Byron loves his writing, and I very much enjoyed Snow Crash, so I stopped my page flipping to read the interview.

It was then that I noticed that this particular issue of Seattle Met was from January 2011.

Seattle Met - Interview with Neal Stephenson

January 2011. Can we just take a moment to appreciate that? Doctor’s office, you have officially outdone yourself when the magazine in your waiting room is 3 1/2 years old.

But at the end of the day, the past-due expiration date didn’t particularly matter — I still very much enjoyed Stephenson’s responses, and found them relevant to where I am as a writer.

Seattle_Met_NealStephenson_2

“Fiction is a pop culture medium.” I love this quote so hard — it describes how I currently approach my writing. Yes, fiction CAN be artful and poetic (and so much of it is) — but it doesn’t HAVE to be. There is absolutely nothing wrong with taking pleasure in a page-turner.

Seattle_Met_NealStephenson_3

Writing my first draft, some of the minor characters surprised me — they had relationships I didn’t expect, back stories that were news to me. Now that I’m working on revisions, they’re being given their due — getting fleshed out where appropriate, rearranged so they have more importance to the story. I did have an outline, and it saved me from drowning in first-draft despair — but deviating from it to follow these minor characters makes the story richer.

Seattle_Met_NealStephenson4

“I like to write” — and at the end of the day, shouldn’t that be what it’s about?

If you’d like to read the full interview, you can check it out over yonder. And next time you’re at the doctor’s office, give the old, old magazines a spin. You never know what you might find.

 

Don’t Let It Go

Last week, Lauren at I’m Better in Real Life wrote a blog post reviewing her 2014 goals, taking stock, seeing how she was doing. It’s a great post — well written, introspective, encouraging conversation — but it depressed the hell out of me. Here we are, halfway through 2014 (HOW IS IT JULY, C’MON), and my book is still unedited. I blew past my self-imposed July 1 deadline. The farthest I’ve gotten is chapter 3. It’s just sitting there on the desktop, sad and lonely, judging me in its unrevised state.

So I’ve been in a funk the past week, thinking about the book — how the task at hand feels huge, how I’m not sure I’ll ever be able to get it done, what with working a demanding 9-to-5, keeping up on house projects, and you know, just making sure the general necessities of life get accomplished. (Laundry. Is laundry a necessity? Let’s discuss.)

Last Thursday, I got off work later than usual. Tired, hungry, I went out to the elevator bank. Waiting for an elevator was one of my former creative directors, someone I used to work with a lot, but don’t get the chance to anymore. He, too, was looking a bit ragged. We nodded hello’s, waited for the elevator to arrive.

We’d gone down a floor when he said, “What’s happening with the book?”

I laughed and gave a half-shrug. “Nothing. Not really.”

“Why not? Do you not think it’s good anymore?”

Defense mechanism engaged. “No, it’s not that. I DO think it’s good. I think it could be good — I still need to edit the thing. I just haven’t been working on it, with the new job.”

He nodded. “Yeah, I know how that goes.”

We rode in silence a minute, before he said:

“Don’t let it go.”

I laughed. “Yeah, yeah, I know.”

“No, I’m serious. I’ve stopped working on projects outside of work, and I feel like my soul is corroded.”

The elevator doors dinged — we reached the lobby. As we walked out, I said, “That’s both depressing, and I totally understand.”

That’s where the conversation ended — on a totally low note. But something clicked. I walked to my bus. I got home, broke out the iPad — dinner be damned, cooking can wait — and edited for about 30 minutes.

Because look, he’s right. I’ve mentioned before that “not writing” has this effect on me — I lose my edge, I feel stagnant. And the only thing that’s going to change that is to get my ass in gear and write. Work? Work will always be there. It’ll always be hard and exhausting and challenging and an excuse. There’s never going to be a magical time in my life when all the stars align and say, “Oh hey! It looks like you’ve been needing some energy to write. Here you go!”

Byron asked what he could do to help, and I said, “Honestly? Just tell me to write.” The past couple days, I’ve gotten more editing done than I have in the past month. Granted, it’s all still in chapter 1 — but it’s good progress. I finally feel things coming together. (Largely thanks to the wonderful Wonderbook — but more on that later.)

This is my mid-year kick in the pants. I’ve assessed my 2014 goals, and found the progress lacking. I can remedy that. It’s in my control. Consider this the antithesis to the Disney anthem — no letting go here. I’m sinking in the talons.