Assassins of Ghadid, helpful tips, TIC, writing

How to cut 20,000 Words

First – and this is the most important step – write a novel that is 35,000 words too long.

Be told by several people that you really ought to cut some of that. Agonize over every word for a month and manage to cut 15,000 words. Rejoice!

Realize that the novel is still 20,000 words too long. Decide it will be a problem for future you.

Let the novel sit for two years.

Revisit, because finally you really need to trim that beast down. You ask your betas to point out places that should be cut, places where the plot dragged or they got bored. Your editor highlights entire chapters. Realize that those two years actually made it easier for you to see what you can cut. Notice a few patterns:

– You over describe everything.
– You over describe everything.
– You really like to talk about sand.
– You over describe everything.

Begin cutting a word here and there. Then a paragraph. Now, drunk on power, start cutting entire pages. Cackle maniacally. Stay up too late. Drink too much coffee.

Convinced you’ve cut at least 10,000 words, doublecheck your word count.

You’ve only cut 300 words.

Yell into the void that is Twitter. Pour another cup of tea. Start again with a word here, a word there. Repeat.

Repeat.

Repeat.

Congrats! You’ve cut 10,000 words. You still need to trim another 5-10k. You wonder if your editor will notice. You know she will.

Decide it will be a problem for future you.

Assassins of Ghadid, Book One, goals, helpful tips, WIP, writing

Accountability and Stars

The way I’ve held myself accountable over the years has shifted a bit. In the very beginning, there was NaNoWriMo and its daily word count goals coupled with an awesome little graph that rose slowly, encouragingly, over the course of a month. Outside of November, I tried to replicate that beautiful graph by plunking my words into a spreadsheet and that worked for a while.

And then, almost overnight, it stopped working. I couldn’t keep up with the minimal effort it took to use the spreadsheet. And when days (or weeks) of not writing struck, it became too easy to just… not. I tried starting a new spreadsheet, but inevitably I started too many new spreadsheets and progress stalled and I stopped completely.

After that I floundered a bit. Wrote a little here, a little there. But without accountability, it was difficult to hit my self-imposed deadlines.

Then I discovered calendars. They were perfect – something I could mark at the end of the day if I’d met my goal, and each month was a built-in fresh start. Plus, they served the purpose of, well, telling you what day it was, so I always had one around anyway.

I started by just crossing off days that I’d met my goal. Then I tried writing word count goals on the days and crossing them off as I hit them. This was great for days I inevitably fell behind and also days that I got ahead. And no matter how far behind or ahead I got, I’d recalculate my goals at the start of the next month and better manage my expectations.

Of course, with editing, word count isn’t always a reliable indicator of progress. Sometimes you rewrite an entire chapter, sometimes you add in a few paragraphs, and sometimes you just edit heavily. New words written doesn’t tell you much, but chapters edited does.

So for this round of editing, I decided to mark off whenever I finished a chapter. And I decided to celebrate that with a gold star sticker. Because of course I have gold stars. Doesn’t everyone?

I also tried to project out my goals, but even adjusting for May I’m still wildly off. But that’s okay because lookit all those stars! (The other colors are for exercise-related endeavors. Those are a little… less exciting.)

And here’s the complete month of April, for comparison:

Note that I started editing this draft on April 1st, so this shows my whole editing process so far. And no, I honestly don’t remember what happened on the 8th, but it must have been pretty exciting for all those stars.

Not every writer needs daily accountability, but as someone in the slow-but-steady camp of writing, it really has helped me keep up momentum and avoid some panicking. Note – “some,” not all, panicking.

As far as the actual editing goes, I have reached that point where I kind of want my betas to read it, instead of simply dreading them reading it. I’m still in the Not Sure If This Is One Hot Mess Or Not stage (which includes such great hits as My Editor Will Regret Me and Oh God Everyone’s Made a Big Mistake and How Did I Con Anyone Into Thinking I Could Write??) and likely will stay there until I can finally take a step back and look at the proverbial forest.

Without further ado, here’s current progress on Book One, working title Redacted, the story of a historian turned assassin turned detective who’s more than just a little tired of this shit. Now with more! thunderbolts and lightning (very very frightening [me]), family feuds, and questionable intents.

Chapters: 27 chapters out of 32 (or 33) edited

Current word count: 72,075 out of 90,000

Coffee’d netbooks: One ūüė¶

Average Hours of Sleep a Night 5-6

helpful tips, querying, writing

My Not-So-Meandering Path Towards Publication

It’s clich√©, but I’ve always wanted to be an author. I tried to find another, better paying career path –¬†I did, really –¬†but nothing held my attention like writing. My eclectic employment situations over the past ten years holds the truth of that. I bounced from¬†retail to foreclosure to secretary to data entry to property assessment to web training development. The only consistency over the years is that at every job I wrote on my lunch and breaks. Daily.

Persistence. It’s another tired but true clich√© that stubborn, consistent persistence is how you break into the publishing industry. That, and a little bit of luck.¬†My wife will the be first to tell you I am stubborn af*. And I’ll be the second.

Since graduating college, I’ve averaged writing a book every 1.5 years. Of course, some of those were rewrites – and re-rewrites – of old stories. And after a few years, I started querying. At first, it was more just to see what would happen. I made all of the beginner’s mistakes and received only form rejections.

Then I had a mini mid-life crisis. I was years out of college with nothing to show for it. It was not too late to go back to school, it was not too late to find a Real Career Path(TM)**. But if I did, if I committed to extra education and a Job That Mattered, I wouldn’t have the time or the mental energy leftover to write. I had to decide.

It was a surprisingly hard choice. I love writing, but every successive year that I had nothing to show for all the hours I put into it I felt like more of a failure. Where would I be if it never went anywhere? What would I tell people when they asked me what I did? Who was I to think that out of the thousands, millions of aspiring authors, I could be one of the few made it?

But then again, if I didn’t try, if I didn’t throw everything I had at it – I would never know.

I chose to put writing at the center of my life and treat it like a profession – because it was. I made plans and set deadlines and from there devised daily word count goals to meet those deadlines. I frequently sailed right past my personal deadlines, of course, but I was rarely more than a month off.

I set up a system of writing, rewriting, editing, beta-ing, and querying, each stage with its own expected timeframe and deadline. I returned to the metaphorical drawing¬†board for querying, researched¬†the heck out of it, read¬†Query Shark’s¬†entire archive (twice [thrice])¬†and revamped my approach.

My queries improved and I got a few personal rejections. I kept writing. I kept querying. And then I took everything I had learned, wrote TIC, and queried again. After two months and many rejections, quite literally one week after I had decided to let TIC go and write something new, I received an offer of representation from my now Awesome Possum agent.

I’m writing all this not to say, hey lookit what I got, but hey lookit what I did. The clich√© is tired because it’s true: persistence is key***. It’s important. So is trying new things and continually (constantly) learning. Write. Rewrite. Query. And then look critically at what you wrote and move on to the next project.¬†No word or sentence or paragraph or novel written is ever wasted, because you are constantly learning from what you’ve done.

Some writers sell their first book. Most don’t. I sold my third****. Others sell their fifth or eighth or nth. Keep going. Practice. Read. Write. Repeat.

 

* AF = as foretold, or at least that’s what the Kids These Days(TM) tell me.

** I.E. Microbiology, like my wife, or accounting – which I might have (definitely) considered.

*** Necessary caveat is necessary: the privilege & luck of having the time to write is equally important.

**** Third distinct and separate novel that I wrote as an adult and consider Whole and Complete.

 

helpful tips, writing

Missing Limbs: Writing While Pregnant

I’ve been pretty quiet about writing around here.

And that’s mostly because I learned as a kid that if you got nothing good to say, you’d better say nothing.

So I’ve said nothing, because I was also afraid of what was going on. Only now, on the other side of what I can now confidently call my longest bout of real, honest-to-God, writer’s block, I feel comfortable enough to admit I didn’t – couldn’t – write while I was pregnant. Quite literally from week 3 until week 40.

And it was terrible.

Not that I didn’t try. Oh, how I tried. The number of hours I spent forcibly typing word after word, only to realize I had written maybe 50 words in two hours and none of them felt right. The number of times I put on music and went for a run, but instead of dreaming up more plot, I dreamed up… well nothing. The daydreaming had stopped. I could only think about my present reality.

There was certainly enough to think about. The exhaustion, the food aversions, the nausea, the fear that something could go wrong, and on top of that my wife was applying for and interviewing for and – finally – getting a job in another state, which then necessitated that we find a new home and arrange a cross-country move, all while projects came due at work and we had family to visit and a wedding to attend –

Oof. Just typing it all out makes me tired.

But the thing is, I’ve had busy and hectic points in my life before, and I was still able to carve out time to write. Yet here I was, overwhelmed even further by the undeniable fact that every time I tried to write, nothing happened.

It was as if someone had chopped off my imagination. A phantom limb that I could still feel, that I could swear was working, uncurling my fingers and reaching out to grasp a cup – only to touch nothing. That cup stubbornly refused to move and the words stubbornly refused to come.

I’ve always, perhaps naively, believed that writer’s block was something one could force their way through. I now humbly accept otherwise. I tried every trick in the book and yet, nothing.

Then I despaired. What if it lasted forever? What if this was the end of writing for me? I had completely lost the urge to write, the ability to dream. For once, I knew what it must be like for the majority of people without that driving need to create, to expand, to explore. And I thought, this isn’t so bad.

Just shy of three weeks from my due date, I finally accepted the loss.

One week after Baby Doore arrived, I was writing again.

I can’t even begin to describe the relief.

Nor the realization of how much shame I had carried with me for those ten months. I swore I would never use pregnancy as an excuse to be anything less than 100%, but that’s impossible. And I hope that by sharing this now, I might help someone else wondering if they will ever be creative again. Not every pregnant person will experience the same thing – I’ve read that some lucky few experience a boost in their creativity – but for those who do, there is a light at the end of the proverbial tunnel.

Take the advice I should have taken: be kind to yourself. ‚̧

helpful tips, ITSW, writing

On Wordcounts and Madness

You know those little aha! moments when a problem you’ve been struggling with suddenly becomes clear? And then you can’t understand why it was such a problem originally?

I received a passing comment on my writing while I was querying TIC that at first frustrated me. I’d mentioned my word count to another writing friend – 130k – and she’d responded with concern.

Isn’t that a bit… high?

What? No – if anything it could be longer. But her comment wiggled in my mind, refusing to leave. I had done my due-diligence and researched word count ranges… once or twice. Back in the day. I recalled that 130k was acceptable. Just look that those fantasy tomes bricking the shelves. Besides, my novel couldn’t be too long. My writing style was to add layers and layers upon the thin skeleton of a first draft – rewriting, tweaking, fleshing out, never concerned about too much.

I googled what the acceptable ranges were not so much to prove her wrong, but to make myself feel better (never a good sign). The results were consistent: again and again and again, 120k was quoted at the limit, and 130k was right out.

There are exceptions, of course. Life wouldn’t be interesting without exceptions. Did I consider TIC an exception? …for a while, yes. (Palm, meet forehead.)

Then another passing comment popped my bubble. My writing was overburdened, said the email. I failed to parse this, handed my first ten pages to my wife, and said: can you show me how this is overburdened?

And my wife, with her phd and her years of tight, frivolous scientific writing honed by the unmerciful hand of her PI, easily removed 200 words. When I reread those pages, nothing was missing. I understood.

We writers get caught up in our words and our worlds. We can see the room our MC is standing in and we’re convinced that the reader must also see it as we do – down to the color of the curtains. Fantasy writers especially are prone to over description. But are those curtains important? Unless the MC’s planning to rip them off the rod and make a dress out of them, no.

I had a moment of complete and absolute DUH. And then I got to work.

Everywhere I saw a word or a phrase or a sentence that wasn’t absolutely necessary. It might help set the mood – but so did the sentence before it. Or it might explain more about the world – but was that necessary to the plot? I asked each word if it served the story and if it didn’t – chop, chop.

From cutting mostly words and phrases (and rephrasing so it’s tighter), I’m down 7k. I didn’t think it would be possible. Now, it’s a game. How much can I cut on this page?

5k words to go!

helpful tips, ITSW, whimsical

On Wearing Black in the Desert

One of my beta readers recently asked about the black tents one of the cultures in The Impossible Contract use in the middle of a Sahara-like desert. The question reminded me about the wholly counterintuitive use of black fabric in extreme heat and how, paradoxically, black fabric is actually superior to white in a handful of small, but incredibly important, ways.

Yes, the color black absorbs more heat than white, and white reflects more heat than black. But according to a study done in 1980, Why Do Bedouins Wear Black Robes in Hot Deserts?, there is a lot more going on than that. One very brave volunteer donned both a full white robe and an equivalent black one and stood for 30 minutes facing the sun at midday in the desert. The temperature ranged from a moderate 95F to a more intense 115F. Talk about dedication!

The results were surprising: according to the article, “the amount of heat gained by a Bedouin exposed to the hot desert is the same whether he wears a black or a white robe. The additional heat absorbed by the black robe was lost before it reached the skin.”

But why is that? Another scientific study done prior to the let’s-make-an-undergrad-stand-for-an-extended-period-of-time-in-the-desert experiment measured how various colors and types of bird plumage released or trapped heat. In 1978, Walsberg, Campbell, & King examined what happened when black¬†or white plumage was fluffed up or flattened down when introduced to heat. To make¬†their study¬†even more interesting, they also¬†varied the wind speed.

What they found was that while fluffed, white plumage let the most heat escape when there was no wind, when there was any sort of modest wind, black fluffed plumage fared much better.

The reason for this somewhat surprising discovery is actually at the beginning of this post: white reflects heat the best. That means from the sun, yes, but also from your own body. So all that heat you’re putting off just gets reflected back at you when you wear white. Black absorbs the heat from both the sun and your body, and as long as the fabric is loose enough for wind to get through, that heat radiates outwards instead of inwards and gets swept away.

Convection only sweetens the deal: in drawing heat away from the body, black fabric encourages more air flow. This works equally well for tents. The black then absorbs any heat from the bodies beneath it while creating a nice, gentle breeze. Ideally.

While you might not notice a difference in most of the United States, maybe next time you take a sojourn through the Sahara or Death Valley, you should try wearing black.

helpful tips, querying

#Pitmad Coming Up on June 4th!

Although I have been around the internet since modems made that awful dialing noise while they connected – or rather, tried to connect – and I have been on Facebook and Livejournal and now WordPress since forever, I have had a hard time with Twitter. It’s such a fleeting, ephemeral platform, where there is no past and everything must be condensed into a 140 character soundbite.

Not for want of trying, of course. But my relationship with Twitter has been like a reverse Brokeback Mountain – I can’t stop quitting you. Now that I have a Smart Phone, though, it’s become a tad bit easier. It still seems like the shallowest of the social media forms, but maybe that’s to be embraced instead of rejected.

Plus, there are a ton of writer resources on Twitter that just can’t be found elsewhere. Agents posting their wishlists (#MSWL). Genre-related chats. Industry-related topics (#publishing). Writerly camaraderie and community (#amwriting).

But the resources I am currently the most excited about are the contests. Specifically, the pitch contests. More specifically, #PitMad.

If you are like me and have had your head under a rock for the past few years, then you should know that #PitMad is a quarterly pitch contest on Twitter wherein writers tweet their appropriately-tagged novel pitches into the ether and real live agents read and sort and favorite them. It’s one way to get ahead of the slush pile and/or seize the attention of agents not currently open to unsolicited queries.

The next #PitMad event is just next week: June 4, 2015. That is more than enough time to come up with two-three different pitches, each perfect in their own way and yet also able to build on each other.

So if you’re a writer with a completed and ready-to-query manuscript – come join me in this pitch event! You can follow me on Twitter @KA_Doore.

helpful tips

27 Things I Learned While 27

(Pictured: Making Tiramisu, one of my birthday traditions.)

This past weekend I leveled up in life. All the experience I’ve gathered by wading towards the future over the past year, one second at a time, has entitled me to cast away my age of 27 and emerge victorious at 28. Although I’m not yet certain what 28 will unlock versus 27, I’m sure there will be some epic new gear to equip as well as some new attacks.

So much happened while I was 27! So much expected. So much unexpected. My brother got married. I got married (again). We acquired chickens (technically I was 26, but shh). I queried, finished a rewrite, and finished a draft zero. I made cakes and I avoided making cakes. I (finally!) saw the Grand Canyon. I cried. I laughed. I lived.

And I learned a lot. Which should be expected. If there is ever a year that I look back and don’t think “wow, I sure learned,” then I need to start school all over again. Stat.

This is what I learned:

1) Coffee, contradictorily, makes me more tired. Maybe not right away, but I always get an afternoon slump when I’ve started my day with coffee versus tea.

2) The Grand Canyon needs to be experienced in person to fully appreciate just how freaking grand it is.

3) Hiking across the relatively flat land of England is not equivalent to hiking straight down, then straight back up and out of the Grand Canyon. One is noticeably more difficult than the other.

4) Left to my own devices, I will not run regularly on my own.

5) But! I will actually stick to a weightlifting regime on my own.

6) I can trust myself. If everybody and everything says one thing, but I know in my heart that the opposite is true, I can trust myself to be right. This, of course, only applies to my body and personal life and not, say, science.

7) Dr. Google is an ignorant asshole.

8) There is nothing a long hike cannot solve.

9) If I really, really want something, I have to make the time and effort to achieve it.

10) That said, the required time and effort will, more often than not, be four times as much as I originally planned for. But that doesn’t mean I’m not making progress.

11) Best friends are for high school. Real friends, life friends, will fit into my life in their own ways, and I mustn’t force one friend to fit like another.

12) Getting pregnant is hard. TTC is emotionally draining. Finding a group of people in the same/similar circumstances is necessary to maintain perspective and levity.

13) Diet can only do so much, but what it can do is extraordinary. Also puzzling. Looking at you, chocolate.

14) In that vein, I am sensitive to nightshades, chicken eggs, and chocolate. WTF. No, seriously, wtf?

15) My brother and I will likely never be “friends.” We simply look at the world in completely different, irreconcilable ways. And that’s okay! We can still work together if we need to. And I can try to forge a friendship with his wife instead.

16) Biking to work is very, very satisfying and way less stressful than driving.

17) I’m a summer child at heart. As much as I want to love winter and snow and crisp, biting winds, I’m most at ease baking under an oppressive sun. I love the early sunrises and the late sunsets, I love the pillowy clouds and the vibrant, violent storms, I love the buzz of cicadas and the croak of frogs, I love to splash in puddles and smell the approaching rain on the wind, I love the absence of jackets and the warm, comforting air, I love the clear night sky and the peppering of stars, I love the iced drinks and the flavorful berries. Autumn might make my heart sing, but summer is where I live.

18) Chickens do not go “cluck.” Chickens go “errrr er er er.”

19) Don’t believe those pretty photos of ladies in long skirts cycling majestically through the city! Skirts are actually very difficult to bike in, although this may have something to do with the high bar on my bike.

20) My life doesn’t look like my coworkers’, my friends’, my acquaintances, or even my family’s, but that doesn’t make it any less valid. Everybody is in a different place in their journey and the outer shell of their life does not accurately reflect how far they’ve come or how far they have to go. Stop comparing.

21) It is okay to want a child. It is okay to want stability. It is okay to want a fixed home and community. It is okay to want all these “adult” things you shunned only a few years ago. I grew up. I am still growing. I am a different person now, and that person wants different things.

22) Don’t go back and rewatch my favorite television shows and movies of my childhood. They have not withstood the test of time.

23) Except for Sailor Moon. If anything, that show is more nuanced and amazing than I remembered.

24) The things I like might be problematic in some way – sexist, homophobic, racist, or just downright ignorant – but that doesn’t mean they can’t still have some value.

25) My parents have likely lived through a similar rough patch. Share what I’m going through with them. Talk to them. Be open.

26) Always seize the opportunity to go to a concert / attend a live show of a group I love/enjoy. Even if it means staying up well past my bedtime.

27) I still have a lot left to learn.

<3!

helpful tips, WIP, writing

My At-Home Writing Retreat

With my wife away at a conference all last week, I decided to put that time to good use and do an at-home writing retreat. I detailed my prep in that post, then went silent for a week. Now that’s it officially over, I have both wins and fails to share.

First, the wins. Cleaning the apartment and getting a bunch of small but niggling projects out of the way was extremely helpful in keeping me on task later in the week. I was never tempted to scrub the bathroom, vacuum the floor, do the laundry, or put away clutter in lieu of writing because it was already done. This gave me both peace of mind and a lovely, clean house in which to lounge about and write, or invite friends over and write, or simply read on the floor.

It also left my HabitRPG wonderfully free of to-do’s, so when I¬†checked in¬†every day to log my dailies and writing, I wasn’t bogged down by a list of other things I should be – or felt I should be –¬†doing.

Writing with friends wasn’t something I’d originally planned for, but it happened often and was wholly¬†refreshing,¬†especially after a long day by myself. Looking back, I’m glad I had all those social writing sessions, even if they weren’t the most productive blocks of time. They helped alleviate the overall loneliness that settles in when my wife is away. I also had a few late nights where we didn’t write, but did talk craft, which for writers is like crack.

With the intention to write as much as possible or read when I didn’t feel like writing firmly in the forefront of my mind, it was much easier to turn away from the internet once I had checked my email and researched a few things via google. It was much easier to come home, change out of my work clothes, and settle onto the couch with a book. My job was to write that week, and write I did.

As for the fails…

There weren’t any large ones, just small things that could be adjusted or outright fixed for next time. Because there will be a next¬†time.

The major fail? Not planning well for meals. I made enough for my breakfasts and lunches for the week, but my dinners were kind of on the fly and less than optimal. I may have had cheese and crackers on more than a handful of occasions. Next time I would prepare more food, especially a few treats, like maybe a pizza (with pumpkin sauce), or large and fantastic salads. Not having fulfilling and tasty things immediately on hand to eat led to countless minutes whining about food to the cats while staring into the fridge.

The other fail I had foreseen in advance and might partially couch as a win. My intention had been to avoid internet altogether outside of work, but in practice I did check my email, update HabitRPG, and occasionally get lost on twitter. If this were a pass/fail, I’d definitely have failed. But I think I deserve a C+ for effort. I limited my normal interneting by a great amount and, although I caved and checked my email, I still turned it off after a reasonable amount of time and got back to work.

All in all, though, the numbers don’t lie. I should have written down my starting wordcount, but at least from last Monday and over the course of the following week, I wrote a total of 15,000 words. To put that in context, on an average day I write about 1,000 words, so overall that amount reflects more than¬†double my usual output. I’d say pretty good, considering¬†I was still working full time. And on the days off from work – Friday and Saturday –¬†I wrote more than 3,000 words a day.

What I took from the experience is mostly a greater understanding of my own limitations. As far as writers go, I’ve always known I’m not one of the more prolific ones, but it was something else to have a full day in which to write and only be able to churn out 3k. Granted, this is a first draft and a lot of planning and plotting are still going on, but it was still humbling. Just because I want to write 10k in a weekend, doesn’t mean it’s either feasible or plausible – at least for me.

I’d definitely do an at-home writing retreat again, taking into account my above fails. I would love to actually unplug my home¬†internet for a whole day and see how that affects my productivity. In fact, I’m already looking at my calendar and trying to carve out another week or long weekend in the future. What with my self-imposed deadline of September for this WIP, I’ll¬†take anything I can get.

What about you Рwould you be interested in doing an at-home retreat of your own?

helpful tips, WIP, writing

Planning an At-Home Writing Retreat

tea & cookies

 

My wife will be at a conference in another state for the next week, so instead of moping about, cuddling cats, and spending entirely too much time on youtube, I thought I might try something different. A friend had brought up the possibility of renting a cabin for a writing retreat over the 4th of July weekend, but that fell through and I was left unexpectedly disappointed. Then I thought – I’m going to have all this time to myself, why not make the retreat for myself? At home?

I can’t exactly take a week off from my day job, but I can turn all the time outside of work into prime retreat fodder. The ideal is alluring: sitting at the table in the morning with a pot of tea and my netbook, dreaming up words. Same scene in the evening, but with a candle and a scone. It’s not quite quiet: I have Cofftivity hooked up to my speakers. When I’m plum out of writing steam, I’ll read books relevant to my current work in progress (WIP). Then on my days off work, I’ll plan and schedule a whole day on the floor, in pajamas, with my netbook and my story.

In reality, I’d have to move mountains to squeeze that kind of focus out of my easily distracted brain. But knowing where I’m most likely to hit snags is the first step towards having an at-home writing retreat. Unlike a “real” retreat out in the woods somewhere or at a hotel with a dozen or so other writers, all your usual comforts and distractions are still within grabbing distance. Cats will still do cute things and/or try to sit on your computer while you type. The internet will still be there, trying to seduce you away. The chores and errands and messes will all be right in front of you, telling you to stop for just a moment and attend them.

So anticipating all those things, here is what I can do to make this next week the best possible environment for an at-home retreat:

 

1) Anticipate distractions.

The internet Рas vast and wondrous as it is Рis my biggest distraction and time-suck. I know myself better than anyone else, and I know for a fact that if my computer connects to the internet, I will be checking tumblr and facebook within a heartbeat. As with sugar, I have little to no self control when it comes to the internet. I could use this time to strengthen that self-control. Or I could simply take the easy route and turn off the internet.

Since I know what my biggest distraction will be, I can plan on how to deter it. Namely, having an absolute internet time out while I’m home. I can cheat and check my email all I want while at work or in¬† a caf√©, but once I’m home that’s it. This will be most difficult on days where I’m not at work for 8 hours, but I think it will also be most rewarding on those days.

 

2) Have a goal in mind.

Aimlessness rarely does anyone any good, especially me. So, for this week I’ll have an overall goal and a daily goal. My daily goal will be hitting at least 1,000 words, but preferably 2-3,000 words. My week-long goal, what I most want to get out of this endeavor, is both a substantial amount of words and an overall better understanding of where this story is going. I would also love to be able to just spend a few hours at a time at work, sans distractions and expectations. I want to see what I can really do when I set aside the time for something like this.

 

3) Acknowledge that it is impossible to write constantly.

I’m not going to write every single free minute I have in the coming week. For one, I know I don’t work that way. For another, that would be kind of insane and definitely counter-productive. So I need to plan for the times I won’t be writing. What could I do that would still be in the spirit of a retreat?

Read, for one. When they took away our only bus route, that cut out a good 40 minutes that I had just for reading each day. I am now sorely behind in the books I want to read and it’s been itching at me. So whenever I truly don’t want to write, I’ll read one of four books I picked up from the library for just such an occasion. Not just any books, mind you – they all tie into the research I’m doing for my new WIP, as well as comp search for the just-finished final draft. If I hadn’t already read most of them, I would have picked up a handful of books on writing itself.

For another, move about. That includes walking, running, biking, swimming, hiking… whatever gets me out of the house and moving. For me, my most creative times are when I’m running, so it’s only natural that this week I’ll set aside extra running time.

 

4) Plan fun activities.

Reading is fun, but there are other activities that can be equally beneficial that I don’t typically find the time for. I aim to add a bit of meditation to my daily ritual, as well as journaling. But really fun activities are one of a kind. I already have a writing workshop lined up for Monday evening, but I also will have a writing night planned with friends and a bottle of wine, and an evening just for me with popcorn and a writing-related movie.

 

5) Pretend I’m going out of town.

It’s not really a retreat if you have a bunch of non-writing obligations on your calendar. Schedule yourself free and tell everyone what you’re up to. That way they’ll (hopefully) only call if they want to join in on your writing night.

Additionally, I always thoroughly clean my home and clear out the fridge before going anywhere for more than a day or two. I’ve found it’s wonderful to come home after a trip to a clean house, but in this case it’s a good way to have everything uncluttered and in order before your retreat, so you won’t be tempted to finally clean the bathroom now that you have a little extra time. Like every other writer I know, I will scrub every last inch of the floor before settling down to write.

Pretending that you’re going to be out also forces you to get all your non-negotiable obligations lined up and taken care of, like paying your bills and acquiring sufficient cat food. No errands or chores for me this week. If it has to be done, it can wait until the week is over.

 

6) Stock up on food and beverages.

One of the fun parts of a retreat – so I hear – is the food. So indulge a bit when it comes to stocking your kitchen for the week. Grab a bottle of wine and a box of cookies. Or, if you’re a little stricter of diet, some fizzy water and dried fruit. Anything that would normally be a treat. Make sure you also stock up on easy-to-make meals, like salads and burgers, then pre-prepare whatever you can.

I also plan to be consuming a fairly steady amount of tea, so I’ve made certain I am well-stocked in that regard.

 

7) Make a (flexible) schedule.

Last – but definitely not least – I’ve put together a daily schedule for myself, with different activities for each day as well as different expectations. Since this week will span both days I’m working and days I’m not, what I get done and what I get read will vary greatly on a day to day basis. It’s not at all rigid, but more of an idea of what I’d like to accomplish and what kind of additional things I can do instead. It’s a good way to provide a framework so that you don’t flail about with no idea of what to do, but without boxing yourself into a corner.

 

That’s what I’ve done so far and what I hope will be sufficient in turning what would otherwise be a youtube- and tumblr-filled week into something a wee bit more satisfying and productive. I’ll let you know how it goes.