The Deadline Experiment: A Progress Report

I’m in the midst of what I am now calling the Deadline Experiment – wherein I gave myself a deadline to get this draft of Never finished.

I set myself a goal of 10k words a week, which gave me six weeks from the beginning of the experiment to reach the anticipated end of this draft.  Right now, I am a few weeks out from my deadline, and I thought I would take a few minutes to blog about how it’s been going.

First of all, I’m not certain if I’m going to make the deadline, because I don’t really know how long this draft is going to be.  I have just hit 90k on the manuscript, and I’d ideally like it to be no longer than 110k.  We’ll see what happens.  The problem here is that I’m rewriting the entire last third of the book, and it is difficult to know how long it’s actually going to be.

However!  I have been meeting my goal of 10k words per week.  And I know that there are several experiments making their way around the net where people write 10k a day successfully.  This is a starting point for me, coming back from several years of little and slow writing, and I hope to be able to train myself to write more in the future.

The things that have been helping me write 10k a week:

Outlining

Yes, it was a dirty word for me for a long time.  I always loved the feeling of just exploring a story, digging down below the page to see what I find there.  And maybe, one day I’ll be able to return to that, when I’ve levelled up as a writer more and have internalised a lot of the outlining and story structure stuff.  For now, though, the outline is key.  I know where I’m going every day when I sit down.

Turning off the internet

I’ve been kind of failing at this a little.  I downloaded Freedom, which worked a treat, but I’ve also realised that I love talking to one of my writer friends while we’re both working.   And I love using Spotify.   I will probably spend some time investigating ways to turn off just the damn browser while I’m working.  Or, yanno, just turn off the damn browser.

Not neglecting my health

Most of you should know by now that I live with a couple of chronic illnesses, which means that I don’t get the luxury of abusing my health too much.  But I think this is just as important for anyone who doesn’t suffer from any illnesses.  I eat well, I make sure I get my sleep, I get fresh air every day and I exercise six days a week.  These things cannot and will not change.  There’s no point pushing myself to a point where I collapse for a month or two after finishing a draft.

I still have fun

I’m still reading (though at a slightly slower pace), I’ve been playing Guild Wars 2 some evenings, I’ve been watching TV.  This is good, because I know if I ever have to face a really tight deadline, these things can be temporarily pushed aside for more time.

Some things do get neglected

But not my kid 🙂  And I have to add here that the only reason I get writing done at all is because I have help looking after him for a handful of hours each days.  That, and he still naps for 1-2 hours during the day.

I consider myself as working two jobs: as a writer and as the person who runs the household while my husband works full time.  This means (to me) that the house needs to be at least passably clean, we have enough food and necessities in the house, errands are run, the kidlet is looked after and we have dinner on the table every night.  These things are not neglected.

You will notice the passably clean part up there.  I don’t keep up with the garden the way I should (though nor is it totally overgrown with weeds), and there does tend to be some clutter around, especially in my working spaces.  I’m dealing with this by making a list of the things I want/need to do after I finish this draft, and I’ll deal with them in a big spring clean afterwards.

You will also notice a lack of blogging in general.  At this point, there’s not much to say apart from “Oh, hey, I made word count today.”, and so I don’t bother overmuch.  I’m sure I’ll get back into the swing of it all once the draft is done.

Refilling the well

This is key for me.  I need to find the things that refill my creative well and keep on doing them while I’m writing.  One of the major things, for me, is reading well-crafted fiction, as well as reading non-fiction that inspires me.  I also take some time every day to read some humour websites, just to give my brain a break.

Planning time off

I actually know what I’m going to be working on after this – tacking the outline of The White Raven, which I intend on taking apart piece by piece and seeing if I can make it into something better.  I did have a couple of short story anthologies I wanted to submit to, but I think I’m going to miss those deadlines.  However, I do have a story half-written for one of them, so I might also work on that for a while.

I do plan on taking at least a week or two away from writing after finishing this draft, just to give my brain a rest.  At that time, I hope to enlist a few beta readers to have a look at the whole manuscript before I look at it again (which won’t be for a month or two, maybe longer), and I will be tackling things like that spring cleaning.

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So, overall, this is going well.  I really want to get myself used to writing to deadlines, because in the real world, you kind of can’t avoid them.  And I’d like to experiment with writing faster next time, especially when writing a first draft, and in being more productive in general.  It’ll happen.

Productivity (and a winner!)

First: I picked a random winner for my sneaky giveaway tucked at the end of my post about the Night Circus – the winner of the paperback copy is bookgirlwa over at Livejournal!  Lob me an email with your address (stephanie.r.gunn AT gmail.com) and I’ll get it out into the mail!

And I just had a writing session using Mac Freedom for 75 minutes.  And, to be fair, I did chat on gchat a bit on my phone during said session (which I think I’ll continue to do, because the only two people I talk to during the day are used to me being silent on chat for ages while I work), and I did wander away from the computer a couple of times just to get a break.

But in that 75 minutes I managed almost 2,400 words.  And they’re words I’m fairly happy with, and can move on.  So, a success I think.

I’m going to squeeze in another writing session today, I think, assuming the brain will comply.  Is it possible to actually train your brain to concentrate for longer?  Must research, I think.

Dear internet, I have a problem

 

I hate the book that I’m writing.

No, scratch that.  I don’t hate this book per se.  I hate the fact that I am still writing the damn thing.  I am hating the fact that my process is so slow, and that it takes me forever to churn out a draft.

There are some limitations that I cannot change: I have a small child, for one, and he always takes precedent over everything else.  But said small child is getting older and more independent (and would it be awful to admit that part of me is hanging out for when he goes to kindergarten just so I get those writing hours?), and I do have help with my mother coming and watching him for one or two hours, plus he does reliably nap for at least an hour every day.

You’d think that would be plenty of time.  But I’m still not getting enough done.  And it’s driving me crazy.

There are many issues here at work.  The first being the internet.  I am a distractable person at the best of times, and the internet is just too much of a damn siren call to me.  Today, I think, I shall be downloading Mac Freedom and using the damn thing for my writing time.

At the moment, I manage one writing session in a day, usually from 11am until somewhere around 1-2pm.  At that time, I usually switch to reading, reviewing or slushing.  All things I don’t want to cut back on, since they, in turn, feed the writing.  The kid usually wakes up somewhere around there, and I spend time with him, and get some exercise in (which usually involves me dropping him off with my mother again so I can walk/run/do weights/whatever).  Exercise is a necessary thing for me, since it is the primary method I have of managing fibromyalgia pain.

What I would like to do, given the constraints I have, is to carve out some more writing/editing time in the day, maybe in the evening.  I also need to be way, way more productive in the writing time I do have.

In order to do this, I am going to make myself accountable here.  Right now, I average about 1500 words a day while I’m editing – which for me, involves retyping the whole manuscript.  It’s just how I work, and word count works as well as anything else as a measurement of this.

Let’s see how much I can push this.

If anyone has any advice on how they manage to be more productive, feel free to share?

 

And so my writing week is done

It always feels kind of strange to sit here at 1:30pm on a Friday and declare that my writing week is done.  Technically, it is and it isn’t.  I’ve finished the part of the week where I sit with Scrivener open and work on Never, but I have a lot of other work left.

As an aside – I still kind of love that reading is pretty much work to me.  It means that I do end up reading some things that I wouldn’t always (I like to keep up with what’s popular, for one thing, just to try to figure out why, even when the book or series isn’t something that I’ll actually enjoy completely.  Hence the recent reading of the 50 Shades of Grey books, which you’ll have seen if you follow me on Goodreads.  There will be a post on them coming up soon, once I organise my thoughts).

And that was a long aside.  Heh.

I’m working slower on these Never rewrites than I’d like, to be honest.  I’ve crested 10k on this draft, but I feel like I should be about double that.  I do rewrite in a time-consuming manner though, by retyping the whole draft (am I the only weirdo who does that?) and I am making a good deal of changes to the beginning of this book.  I’ve been pushing my daily wordcount from 1k to 1.5k consistently, which is awesome.  I’m aiming to get that up to 2-3k if I can.

I also caved and joined the Online Writing Workshop, which I’ve been toying with for far too long.  I have one awesome beta reader reading along with me as I write Never, but I kind of wanted some new eyes on it.  Plus working on my own reviewing skills is also a good thing.  I’ve posted the first chapter of Never and gotten one really lovely review.  Just need to review a bunch of stuff so I can post more now 🙂

Lessons from the slush pile

I’ve been reading slush for Andromeda Spaceways Inflight Magazine for a while now.  As an aside – I highly recommend slush reading for anyone who’s learning their craft.  It gives back to your community, and you get to learn a lot about writing in general.

We’re pretty lucky in general with the quality of submissions that ASIM gets.  I rarely see anything that is truly dreadful – mostly people are good about checking their spelling, getting formatting right etc.  It’s pretty heartening, actually.

However, in my experience, while I’ve rarely seen anything absolutely awful, it’s also pretty rare to see something that is truly amazing.

And as an aside, you may be reading this and thinking that you want to take this post with a grain of salt.  Go ahead.  I’m still learning the craft of short fiction writing myself, and though I have a handful of short stories published – some of which I am pretty darn proud of – and I’m willing to admit that I have a lot to learn.  See my first paragraph about learning from slush reading.

I’m thinking that I want to make this a bit of an ongoing thing.  I’m not referring to any specific story, by the way, in case anyone is worried about that.  These are just going to be things that I’ve noticed again and again.

How to make it through the slush pile, in three parts:

  1. If your first line is poorly crafted or downright boring, I will not be compelled to read on.  I will read on, because that’s the way I slush, but unless I am interested by at least the end of the first paragraph, the story is not going to be a win for me.
  2. Rewriting Biblical stories, especially Adam and Eve (even if they are in space) has been Done.  I don’t know if anyone can make this work any more, even the best short story writers (and please, if you know someone who has, let me know!).  I have no problem with allegory, but when your story literally ends with “and they were Adam and Eve all along!”, you’re going to want to rethink it.
  3. Ditto for most of the myths and stories that everyone knows – if you think you can do it well, go ahead.  Just be aware that many of them have been done to death.  And again, allegory can be fine, just make it original.

To be continued and added to…

In which I get annoyed at writing advice

I was reading through my rss feeds last night, as I am wont to do, and came across a piece of writing advice that I’ve seen many times:

“Don’t have time to write?  Get up an hour earlier – or better, two hours earlier – and write!”

I do know that this works for some people, but it’s just struck me this morning how damn ableist this kind of advice is.

For example, you have someone like me.  I deal with chronic illness on a daily basis, and to manage the worst of the illness, I need to move, I need to eat vaguely decently, I need to rest.

If I forced myself to get up an hour or two earlier to write, I would be a wreck.  I hate that I need more sleep than most people.  Ideally, I need about nine or ten hours a night.  Most nights I get about eight.  I can coast on one night of six or seven, but it hurts.  Anything less than that, and I am not functional.

I know it’s a pretty obvious thing to complain about, but I am complaining anyway.  I always feel like people who dole out this kind of advice are implying that if you can’t sacrifice sleep to write, then you’re just not determined enough to be a writer, dammit.  It’s a great idea if you can manage it without sacrificing your health (and that goes for people without chronic illness as well), but it’s not the only way.

Writing is a priority for me, but so is my family and my health.  There has to be a balance.

And so it begins again…

and so it begins again

And so I print out my outline (all 28 pages!), open a new project in Scrivener, get my music playlist sorted out, and begin the next draft of Never.

Those paying attention will also notice two new Pia Ravenari totem pictures in that photo.  The one half hidden is Magpie as Totem, which I commissioned, and the other one is Australian White Ibis as Totem, which was my birthday present.  I still cannot believe that the universe is so amazing as to let me know someone as talented as P, let alone get to call her my friend.

Today is a public holiday here (which I refuse to call W.A. Day.  It’s Foundation Day!), and according to my own schedule and ethics, I could be taking the day off.  The kidlet is off visiting with his grandparents, the husband is tinkering with the computers and the house is quiet.  And yet I am here at the laptop, beginning the draft.  Mostly because it doesn’t feel like work.  I guess I’ve levelled as a writer or something?

Friday

From where I sit writing (where I am now), I can see the shelf holding books in which I have been published.  A shelf to which my copy of Epilogue was added this morning.  It’s a small shelf, but it’s growing.

I wish I wrote more short stories.  I wish I was more of a natural short story writer, I should say.  I think I am learning to write better ones, but I think the novel length is always going to come easier for me.  And I’m still learning there, too.

Still working on my outline for Never.  I think next week may be spent outlining as well – it’s taking longer that I’d hoped, but I want to get it done properly.  I’m having a lot of fun inserting little bit and pieces, adding layers and foreshadowing.  I have a very slow and drawn-out process, but it’s my process.  I’m feeling really confident about Never, and I am looking forward to the point at which I can start sending it out.

Huge storm last night – serious downpour of rain, which led to a lovely leaking kitchen roof, with a bunch of thunder and lightning as well.  The kidlet was pretty amazing and didn’t let it phase him, but the poor kitty was freaked out.  Today has been overcast and foggy, but no rain to speak of.  The human suit is protesting both variants of weather vigorously (made worse by the fact that I didn’t get any exercise yesterday due to the aforementioned rain), and I am looking forward to getting out for a walk later on today, all being well.

And it is somehow almost the weekend again.  Long weekend, too, which is nice.  Writing group to look forward to, and massage and hopefully a swim.

What kind of creature shall I be?

So, yesterday Spotify launched in Australia.  I pounced joined up and am now happily enjoying streaming music.  Not sure as of yet if it’s going to be worth paying for a subscription.  I don’t mind ads.  We’ll see.

Another glorious day in Perth today: clear blue skies, though it’s cold this morning (where cold is a value of less than 10C for us, which is probably warm for some of you reading this.  Remember, it gets to 40C here in summer, we don’t do cold that well!).  There’s some frost on the lawn this morning, too, which always looks gorgeous.

I am meandering my way towards the end of this draft of Never and am reminded, as always, by how much I hate writing endings.  I am sorely tempted to just outline these last few scenes and go back and start editing.  I’ve written this in an odd way – I’m working from an outline, but I’m doing a fair bit of pantsing in between my outline points.  It means that I have a few subplots to go and put in and stuff to clarify.  Plus, I need to do some scene rearranging.  Luckily I love editing 😉

How to focus in an age of distraction

How to focus in an age of distraction. Image from learningfundamentals.com.au

 

I came across this infographic on Tumblr the other day, and just really liked it.  I think it’s very easy to feel overwhelmed by life, especially if you’re working online, and sometimes it’s important to take a step back and assess everything.

There are things on here that I should do – like turning off the internet when I’m writing.  I’ve found using the Pomodoro Technique helpful with that, though – I simply don’t switch out of my writing program for the 25 minutes that I’m writing, and that’s that.  I’m always thankful that I work relatively fast, so even on a bad day when I only get that 25 minutes of focused time, I usually manage somewhere around 1000 words.

Email checking I’m bad on, since my phone alerts me, and if it’s near me, I tend to pick it up and check my inbox.  Twitter and Facebook I only check at the beginning and end of the day (and sometimes not then).

I’m sure I can do things better.  Then, of course, I have a toddler in the house, which means that all plans can go awry in a heartbeat.  I’m just thankful that he’s generally well behaved, non destructive, and that I have family who help me get writing time.

And that said, I’m going to get away from the computer for the morning and the husband and I will take the kid swimming.