Posts Tagged With: a habit of writing

Day 1

Well, I have no outline. No scene list. No complete list of main characters. And, there are some serious decisions I still need to make.

BUT, I have 1,760 words towards my goal of 50,000. Yay, me!

I took care of my other responsibilities before I allowed myself to write today. I really want to accomplish this NaNo goal, but I really, really need a job. So, I applied to a job (which took longer than anticipated. I swear those online job applications are designed like weeder courses: they frustrate applications to see who is really serious about applying for the job). I already know which job I wanted to apply for today. Tomorrow will be busy with some other commitments, but I need to find a job, apply to it, go grocery shopping AND find 2.5 hours to pump out my 1,667 words. Think I’ll be able to sustain my productivity throughout July?

I am not wholly sure I understand why I’ve been dragging my feet with this job search thing. Well, part of it is wondering how I am going to ever get anything not job-related done once I have a full-time job: my days pass so quickly and seem so full of obligations rights now. When will I have time to clean? When will I have time to cook? When will I have time to wash clothes? Am I supposed to fit all that into the weekend? I also know part of it is because I am scared of having an 8 to 5 job. I spent the past 10 1/2 years in grad school, which essentially means I set my own schedule. I’m scared of being in the “real” work force. But I also want to be able to buy a house sometime in the near future and be able to start a family. So, I’ve made it a goal this month to write 1,667 words of my novel every day, but before I can do that, I need to apply to at least one job. Every day. Maybe that isn’t enough. Maybe I should be applying to more jobs in a day. But, at least one job app a day is better than one job app a month, which is what I have been averaging. Although, come August, if I still do not have a job, I am going to start freaking out about not having a job. At that point maybe I will start spamming.

Sometimes family members give me advice, but I know that, at the moment at least, it is my own fault I can’t find a job: I’m not really looking very hard. I’ve never had to look that hard for a job before. I’ve been really lucky about things falling in my lap. Well, that and finding teaching assistant gigs followed a regular pattern. I have been really lucky. But, the job market sucks now and I’ve never looked for a “real” job before. I keep telling myself it doesn’t have to be the job I stay in, and if I don’t like what I end up doing I can look for something else. In the meantime, though, I need a salary so I’ll still be able to pay the bills come August. My modus operandi is usually to wait until the last minute and let the deadline stress spur me towards my goal. Well, I keep waiting for that kick in, but it hasn’t yet. I don’t really want to be stressed, but I also would like it to kick in soon.

Okay, enough about my job woes. I have 1,760 words of my story! (Did you notice my bar to the right has some color on it now?)

It has been a long time since I have dedicated myself to writing. Today was kind of cool. I probably spent too much time looking things up (What is that hairstyle called they wore in the 20s and 30s? What kind of animals are indigenous to northern Norway? What are antique hat boxes made of?). Nevertheless, I feel like I had a scene in my mind and the words kept coming. I just need to meet myself at the computer for 2.5 hours everyday and allow/force myself to write. I know this sounds both trite and obvious, but today it really seemed like all I had to do was show up and the rest took care of itself.

Anyway, to all my fellow NaNoWriters, I hope your first day was as satisfying as mine. And here’s to every day in July being even more productive than my first day was.


Categories: Writing | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

July 2013 Camp NaNo

For far too long this blog has deviated from its original intention. That is, to chronicle my journey from blank page to finished manuscript. So, starting today and for every week until the end of July my intention is to record my experience with this summer’s Camp NaNoWriMo.

I graduated in December last year and I still do not have a full time job, which will be the other major objective for this coming month. I have been teaching part-time, but now I am done for the summer. So, what better moment than now to take this writing thing seriously?

During the last week of June, my plan is as follows:

  1. Decide on all my character names and genealogies. I know that having to know the family trees of my major characters isn’t really necessary, but it helps me get to know my characters better.
  2. Get to know my characters and settings. I have a couple of books I am going to be using to help facilitate my process. Schmidt’s Book in a Month has some worksheets that look like they may be a good starting point from which to help me chart my story. Watt’s the 90-day novel also looks like it has some helpful direction. Since I do not have a degree in creative writing and I am a little unsure about how to craft a novel from beginning to end, I feel like having a couple of resources to help me along the way may be a good idea. Otherwise, I may end up with 50,000 words that go nowhere.
  3. Try to define my acts. Nothing too solid – just to try and figure out where I want my story to start and end. And what kinds of scenes I think should come in the middle.

I haven’t been thinking about this story idea for that long. I am not even really sure what is going to happen yet. I just have a vague idea of the town and the mystery that heroine will uncover throughout the story. I really don’t know how to move past that, but I suspect that part of my problem has always been a lack of discipline to just sit down and write the damn thing. I’d rather have 50,000 words of crap than 1,500 perfectly crafted ones. Which, if I am being honest, has always happened in the past. I get a story idea and I am really good about doing the research and crafting the world, but when it comes to populating it, I usually end up spending two writing sessions writing only about 2,000 words. Then, I get discouraged and I quit.

But not this month…At least, that’s the plan. Even if I do not finish 50,000 words, my goal is to spend 2 hours a day writing. I have this next week for the last bits of my planning and whatever doesn’t get planned will have to be decided on the fly as I write.

I don’t even need a cohesive story (although I am going to try) – I just want a complete manuscript with something that resembles a beginning, a middle and an end. I will update at least once a week to track my progress.

I’m putting my plan out there in the hopes of keeping myself accountable. So, here’s to hoping that I don’t have to eat my words.  

Categories: Planning, The Process | Tags: , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Feeling like a fraud

There is something that has been gnawing at the back of my mind for the past couple of days.  I am sure many can relate.  Nevertheless, I fear it may be holding me back.  Here goes: I am afraid that I am a big, fat writing fraud.

First of all, this feeling like a fraud is really nothing new to me.

I went through almost all of grad school this way.  In my experience, it is rare to find graduate students (or professors, for that matter) who are open and honest about who they are and how they feel.  It is all a big charade.  We prance around, spouting off bullshit, pretending like we have everything together.  (I believe this is also an apt description of what we call “life.”)

“Aw man, I didn’t get a chance to read the articles for this week.” 

This statement may or may not be a gross exaggeration, but a proper translation would read,

“I want to know how prepared you are for class, so I know I won’t be the only one bullshitting my way through discussion.”

“Oh, that’s rough,” accompanied by a pitying look. 


“Oh, good, I won’t be the only one bullshitting my way through discussion.  And thank you for saying it first because now no one has to know that I didn’t read any of the articles either.”

Of course, “not reading any articles” usually means just reading the introductions, the conclusions and skimming the rest.  What no one tells you – they let you figure it out all on your own – is, that is reading the articles.  In academia, anyway.  None of us reads the whole article or the whole book, or very rarely.  When, in one week, you have four books and twenty articles to read, along with the 60 papers from your undergrads that you promised you would give back to them in a timely fashion for once, it is nigh near physically impossible to read the whole books or articles.  Unless perhaps you don’t need any sleep, only get hungry once a week, don’t have any hobbies, and have absolutely no social life, but even then I imagine it would be a stretch.

So, when a grad student comments to another grad student,

“Aw man, I didn’t get a chance to read the articles for this week,”

what he really means to say is,

“Am I doing it right?”

To which the response is usually,

“No.  I am doing it better than you.”

But this is only because no one wants to admit that they are stumbling along, just like everyone else.  Successfully convincing other grad students that you are reading all your articles, not writing your papers the night before, and finishing grading in a timely fashion, all while cooking healthy meals, exercising on a daily basis, hanging out with friends twice a week and managing to find time to attend local concerts on a bi-weekly basis, allows you to feel good about yourself.  But it is all bullshit.  No one can manage all that unless she’s Wonder Woman.  There are a couple of Wonder Womans in grad school, but the vast majority of us are just plain Janes pretending we’re Wonder Woman.

It does not matter that I figured this out, I still felt like a fraud most of the time.  Like, I got where I was by pure accident, that someday someone will finally notice and I’ll kicked out of the club.  I am almost done and I still feel like this sometimes.

All that to say, I am familiar with this feeling.

So, when I start to hear myself thinking,

“You can’t do this.  It has been over 20 years since you’ve had a creative writing class,”


“You can’t do this.  All those other people – authors, other people who blog about writing – they write all the time.  You don’t deserve to be called a writer,”


“You can’t do this.  You waited too long.  Any creative juices you had wasted away while you were in grad school,”

I try not to listen.  I know these things do not have to be true.  It doesn’t always work.  Recently I’ve been feeling like a fraud when it comes to writing.

I’ve said this before, but I started this blog to document my journey back to creative writing.  In part, it is my way to stay excited about the prospect.  In part, it is my way to continue fostering the desire while I finish up my dissertation.  (So tired of the dissertation!)  I have also realized that, without knowing it, it is also a way for me to be connected with other writers, which is mostly a source of amazing encouragement.  Just being able to read about other people’s experiences ensures me that I am not alone.

Although, sometimes this makes me feel like I did when I first started grad school: overwhelmed and underqualified.  And in some ways, the journey is like a new beginning.  In some ways it does feel like I am starting something new, because it has been so long.  But instead of being excited about the journey, I just see a long, long road.

I will read about something someone learned in their creative writing class and feel like I have vague memory of learning something similar.  I will start to sweat and think

“Oh, no, I can’t start writing yet.  There are so many things I have to learn and re-learn.”


“I have to be deliberate about how I write.  I can’t just write.”

Sometimes I will read about someone who writes prolifically and I will especially like a fraud then, because, well, I don’t.  I think about writing all the time, but I am not writing all the time.  Sometimes I go for days without writing anything at all.

These feelings tell me that I have no right to have a blog about writing.  I need to feel like a writer before I can write about writing.  Then I remember that I never claimed anywhere that I was an awesome writer who wrote perfectly all the time.  I started this blog so that I could document my journey to becoming a fiction writer.  And these feelings are part of that journey.

I have the sneaking suspicion, though, that these feelings are trying to prevent me from writing.  That’s not cool.

Learning how to construct an engaging, well-written story involves a LOT, and there is no doubt that there is a LOT I need to learn, or re-learn as the case may be.  But I cannot let any of that prevent me from just writing already.  Even if it I think it sounds stupid.  Even if it does not seem to be flowing.  Even if I start to not like my main character.  I will learn all these things, but not if I don’t write.

I was about to say that just writing is especially important for the stage I am at, but this is probably true no matter what stage a person is at.  Also, I will probably have to remind myself of this over and over again.  I hope I don’t end up sounding like a broken record.

I am not a fraud, I am just inexperienced.  That will come with time, as long as I write.  And write.  And keep writing.  Write without looking back.  I’ll pick up my lessons along the way.

Categories: Miscellaneous | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , | 6 Comments

ToMAYto… ToMAHto… Pomodoro

5 minutes a day.  2000 words a day.  3 pages a day.

There are many different philosophies regarding the best way to force yourself to write.  Everyone needs to figure this out for themselves.  What works for one person will not necessarily work for another.  However, whatever technique is used, the object is always the same: to create a habit of writing.  Practice, practice, practice.

I feel like there should be something profound to say about developing a habit of writing, but I really do not think there is.  The ugly truth is that it happens through the sheer force of will.  You have to compel yourself to write sometimes,…many times.  It feels very difficult, but we do it because it is more painful to not give voice to the thoughts and characters running around in our head than it is to force them out.  At least, this is what seems true from my perspective at this particular moment.

There were times during the process of writing my dissertation when I thought I would literally explode if I did not get up from the computer.  I never did, but perhaps this is because in those moments I usually did get up out of my chair.  However, most of the time my writing ranged from awesome flow to bearable drudge, but either way I do not think I could have gotten through it without my tomatoes.  Tomatoes? you ask.  I’ll explain in a moment.

The year and a half that preceded the actual writing of the dissertation was filled with moments when I thought I was working, but at the end of the day, it turned out that I had gotten very little accomplished.  This was not always true, but it certainly felt like I was not making much progress.  When January rolled around, I knew if I did not buckle down and just write the damn thing that I may never finish.

But, how in the world do you take that first step?  You know the one, when it feels like there is something physically preventing you from just writing, for goodness’ sake.  Well, I am not entirely sure, but at some point I came across the Pomodoro Technique, which is a time management system developed in the 1980s.  I honestly do not know much about it, but essentially it involves a timer.

This sounds too simple, but I think the trick comes in the recording of your progress…or maybe it just is that simple.  There are sheets and charts that accompany this technique (see the official website), which I started off using, but in the end I was just using the timer (the version I use can be found here).  (Both the Pomodoro Technique e-book and the online timer are free to download and use, by the way.)  I would write for a “tomato” (or in layman’s terms, 25 minutes), then I would take a 5 minute break, then I would write for another “tomato,” et cetera and so forth.

For some reason, writing in measurements of tomatoes did not feel as overwhelming as in measurements of hours.  Instead of committing to 4 hours of writing I would commit to 8 tomatoes, which always passed more quickly than I would have imagined.  (Counting in tomatoes also helped me compete with myself to see how many tomatoes I could finish in one session.)  I would set a goal for myself – “I will spend 3 tomatoes reading, then 3 more tomatoes writing,” for example.  This helped keep my research (or re-reading as was usually the case) from getting out of hand, and the actual writing part became bearable.

I would write for a tomato and the objective was not necessarily to write something good, but just to make sure that I did not do anything but write while that timer was running.  If I thought of something I absolutely HAD to look up, such as the current skinny on Brangelina’s relationship, I would make a note of it and save it for my break.  As long as that timer was running I had to be sitting down in front of the computer typing.  If it started to get unbearable I would check the time: “Ugh, 8 more minutes?” *sigh* “Okay, 8 more minutes…”  Note: this isn’t exactly the same as free-writing where you MUST be typing every second.  If you need to stop and think, or re-read the last paragraph, that’s cool.  The point is that the 25 minutes of the tomato is to be used solely to get your designated goal accomplished and not for anything superfluous.

The technique also gives you a clear sense of what you can reasonably accomplish in a certain time period.  So, if you create a goal for yourself: 2000 words every hour, but after 3 tomatoes you realize that you are really only writing 500 words for every tomato.  This allows you to adjust your goals to ones that you can actually accomplish and then know that in 2 hours, you will be able to write 2000 words.  This keeps you from getting frustrated by continuously falling short of your goal.

One of the nice things about the “mytomatoes” timer is that the website keeps track of all your tomatoes, so you can visually see how much you’ve accomplished in a day.  You can also “squash” a tomato while it is running, but then you do not get credit for it.

Over time, the particulars of the process became less important for me, but whenever I felt myself slipping or feeling like I was not getting as much accomplished as I wanted to, I would go back to my tomatoes, evaluate my progress and set fresh, realistic goals.  It still amazes me how helpful this was.

I wonder how useful this system would be for creative writing?  Currently, when I do sit down to do some creative writing, it seems like I write a couple of paragraphs, then get up to distract myself and lose steam.  I am hoping that by using the pomodoro system, I may be able to force myself into a habit of writing: by committing to 3 tomatoes a day, for example.  In the beginning my goals for those tomatoes will not really matter.  I will simply write for 3 tomatoes.  After a couple of days a pattern should emerge and I will able to determine how to proceed.

Unfortunately I am still working on the last of my dissertation, which will probably take another two weeks to finish, so I am not ready to commit to a creative writing schedule, but I think when I do, I will start by setting a tomato-goal for myself.

In the meantime, (if you’ve made it all the way through to the end of this post – sorry, it turned out to be much longer than I intended) if you are in a rut and think it could help, check out the pomodoro technique and let me know what you think.

Categories: The Process, Writing | Tags: , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

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