The Practice of Creativity

Posts Tagged ‘novel writing

Every time you write something valuable will occur.
-Susan Ariel Rainbow Kennedy aka SARK

Hi folks,

We’re four days into November which is also National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo). I’m NaNoWriMoing. Are you? I hope you are! Last weekend, I taught my ‘How to Level Up in Your Writing Life’ workshop for the first time and it went incredibly well. There were twelve people who signed up and one of the participants had already won a NaNoWriMo. I spent some time talking about the benefits about participating in this international creative event. We had a blast brainstorming the ways they could use NaNoWriMo to further their writing projects. Even if you don’t reach the 50,000 word mark at the end of November, you’ll write more than usual just by trying to write 1,667 words a day.

It’s also a great way to push yourself to finish a project.

I reminded folks that it is so easy to let our creative work slip to the bottom of the to-do list.

I shared with them insights about how I won NaNoWriMo in 2014 and the things I did then to keep me on track as well as what I am doing differently now, including using dictation software.

I’ll be updating my word count as we move through the month. I got off to a great start on Nov 1 with 1738 words and then over 1,431 words in the past two days. I’m behind, but I’m not worried yet as I plan to get up early over the next few days and do some writing sprints.

Let me know if you are attempting NaNoWriMo. I’ll cheer you on!

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The literary community has lost a brilliant playwright, poet and visionary–Ntozoke Shange has died. I am quite sad.

I discovered her work in college and was transfixed by it.

Two of my favorite novels of hers include Sassafras, Cypress and Indigo, a novel about three African American women who are sisters and their path of creative self-discovery and Betsey Brown, a historical novel that chronicles what desegregation was like for an African American girl in the 7th grade in St. Louis, Missouri.

Shange wrote poetry, plays, children’s books, and novels, leaving us a rich corpus of work.

I took a workshop with her in my early 20s that was truly transformative and gave me courage and inspiration that I drew on decades later. Her work influenced a whole generation of women of color creatives. She will be missed.

Read more about her here.

In July I created a poll titled, “What Does Leveling Up in Your Writing Life Look Like?” I was prepping for my upcoming workshop and wanted to get a glimpse into what writers are struggling with in their creative lives.

There were 34 responses (thanks to all who participated!). Here are the top three:

#1: Making More Dedicated Time to Write

“Writers do not have a time problem. We have a priority problem. When you sit down in front of the television, you’re subconsciously saying, “I choose to do this instead of write.” Mur Lafferty

Claiming more time for our writing lives is an ongoing issue. Over the course of our writing lives, we will try many new routines and patterns to support our work.

In Saturday’s workshop, I’ll be drawing on some proven techniques from Rachel Aaron and Jake Bible for getting the most out of your writing time when you sit down to write (which will also help to boost your writing output) as well as creating more time to write.

Below are some tried and true ways to find more writing time.

-Schedule it in. Yes, time for your writing needs to be in your calendar.

Getting your writing projects to migrate from the bottom to the top of your to-do list is no easy feat. Ariel Gore makes this point in her witty book, How to Become a Famous Writer Before You’re Dead. She says that most of us believe that making time for creative work is selfish, so we put it at the end of our to-do lists:

“And then we kick ourselves because the novel isn’t written. We look down at our laps and blush when our writing teacher asks us if we got a chance to write this week. Of course we didn’t get a chance to write—it was the last thing on our list. We had a glass of wine with dinner. We got sleepy. I’m going to tell you something, and it’s something I want you to remember: No one ever does the last thing on their to-do list.”

I write every day. For me, writing every day keeps my momentum going. I typically do an hour of academic writing in the morning and an hour of creative work in the evening throughout the week. My academic writing is scheduled in my calendar. My creative work is scheduled in my calendar. It’s what keeps me sane.

If creating everyday doesn’t work for you, find consistent periods of time that do and then schedule them into your calendar. For many people consistency is more important than trying to write daily.

-Develop a better reward system. Over the long journey of creating, producing good work becomes its own reward. However, for those of us just starting to pursue a creative path, may need motivation and encouragement to keep saying yes to our projects. Reward systems can be big or small and can be connected to time and/or output. I keep an active rewards list for meeting writing goals (mostly for academic writing). About every few weeks, I’m checking that list to see what I have earned. The rewards list can keep me going through the really tough periods where writing doesn’t feel like it’s going well.

-Work in smaller blocks of time. Writers often pine for days of uninterrupted time, but as a coach, I’m often in the position of pointing out to clients that what time they have is not always used well. Creativity expert Susan Ariel Rainbow Kennedy (aka SARK) uses the concept of micromovements to break tasks into manageable segments of 5 seconds to 5 minutes. Very effective! She believes that creative people often assign themselves too big of a task. And, then when they don’t meet that often impossible task, their inner critics come leaping out to point out their lack of completion.

#2 Finishing More of My Writing Projects

In my writer’s group last week, we read and discussed Robert Heinlein’s famous writing rules. The second is “Finish what you start.”

I think it is easy to beat ourselves up about not finishing things. Instead, it is helpful to get curious about why you’re not finishing writing projects. There are questions we can ask when we have a big pile of unfinished manuscripts.

-Has the manuscript lost momentum? Am I bored?
-Can I simplify the structure of the story (or creative nonfiction piece)?
-Do I need an accountability buddy?
-Do I need to work more on my craft around middles and endings? (Nancy Kress’s wonderful Beginnings, Middles and Endings really helped me work on my endings.)
-Am I overly worried about rejection (which is interfering with finishing this piece)?
-What would I like to have completed between now and the end of the quarter?

I love using anthology calls and special themed issues as a way to get lingering manuscripts out of the door.

In the workshop I’ll be drawing on the insights of Chuck Wendig and Austin Kleon about how to finish what you start. And, of course we’ll be talking about NaNoWriMo and why it is such as a great catalyst for both starting and finishing a project.

#3-Developing (or improving) My Author Platform (e.g. using social media, blogging, etc.)

I’ve been thinking about this issue a lot. So much so, I have proposed a course in the spring through CCCC, tentatively titled: Savvy Social Media Strategies for Writers.

Creating an online presence and managing social media helps writers build relationships with other authors, fans and industry professionals. It also can generate leads, provide exposure and advance your professional goals and aspirations.

In the workshop we’ll take a deep dive into best practices for building and sustaining an author platform/online presence.

In the meantime, you might like this post about I wrote about growing your author’s platform over the course of your writing career.

Stay tuned for a spring 2019 date and more info!

LAST CALL:

Mary Robinette Kowal recently said that National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo) allows writers to “chase their joy”. I love that expression! My workshop is about helping writers do just that in prep for NaNoWriMo. NaNoWriMo is an ignition starter for your writing, no matter what your goals or what you are writing (i.e. memoir, short stories, etc).

UPCOMING WORKSHOP: Saturday, October 27, 10am-3pm, Central Carolina Community College, Pittsboro

How to Level Up Your Writing Life
Do you want to write faster? Do you want to write better? These goals are not in contradiction with each other! This workshop will teach you some fun ways to “hack” your brain to support increased productivity, outwit pesky inner critics and unleash your inner storyteller.

This workshop will help both discovery writers (also known as “pantsers”) and writers that outline find new ways to approach their work.

How to Level Up is also geared for writers wanting to try National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo). We’ll spend time talking about how to best prepare for NaNoWriMo and how you can produce a 50,000 word draft in a month.

We’ll spend time exploring new ways to combat what stops us from writing including: procrastination, perfectionism, imposter syndrome and feeling overwhelmed with creative ideas. We’ll explore how other successful writers have found ways to write faster and better including Austin Kleon, Chuck Wendig, Jake Bible and Rachel Aaron.
This workshop is about busting through our own self-imposed limiting beliefs about our writing life.

Writers of every level, genre, and background welcome.
And, of course, there will be door prizes!

Register here

 

Hi all,

As many of you know I serve as a Trustee on the Board of the North Carolina Writers’ Network. The North Carolina Writers’ Network connects, promotes, and serves the writers of this state. It supports writers at all stages of development. Recently, I was asked to contribute a short piece to our newsletter. I’m sharing it here as it gives you insight into how I found the Network and why I think that are a great place for writers, the importance of literary community and also about my participation in hosting our second “NaNoWriMo Meet and Greet” as well as a new “Shut Up and Write” session during the conference. So, I get to talk about two favorite things in the newsletter–National Novel Writing Month and the Network!

Not a member yet? Check out all the good stuff here.
Joining the Network really did change the trajectory of my writing life.

Not signed up yet for the amazing fall conference happening, Nov 2-4? You’ve got two weeks to go before pre-registration closes! Check out the fantastic line-up of workshops, classes, events and instructors here.

“North Carolina is known for three things, hogs, tobacco, and writers. Since you’re an aspiring writer, I assume you’ll know which community to connect with.” These words were spoken to me by my therapist at the time and I’m forever grateful for them. More than fifteen years ago, I moved to North Carolina and although I had a professional position I loved, other aspects of my life post-move remained challenging. My partner was having a difficult time finding fulfilling work and my creative writing goals had stagnated.  Despite my therapist’s blunt (and a bit exaggerated take on North Carolina’s reputation), I got the point. In this new place, I needed to take action, find like-minded writing folk and investigate North Carolina’s impressive literary history. An aspiring poet, too, my therapist was the first person that told me about the Network and its two annual conferences.

At that time in my life, I was writing metaphorically in the basement. I read lots of craft books, yes. But, I didn’t know any other writers, wasn’t in a writer’s group and so therefore never received productive feedback. I kept rewriting hundreds of pages over and over and was assailed by devious “inner critics”. I was in a kind of literary quicksand. Like many writers, I thought I could (and should) do it all alone.

It took me a few more years to muster up the confidence to attend a Network conference. If you’ve ever been to a NCWN conference you know how dynamic and exciting it is. What energy! What excitement! I felt welcomed. I felt like I belonged. I felt like I had found people I could discuss the joys and challenges of the writing life. No one is an outsider when attending a NCWN conference.

I wasn’t in the basement anymore.

The years have flown by since that first conference. I kept attending them and deepened my craft knowledge, met terrific writers and made friends.  I got to know my wonderful regional rep for Chatham County—Al Manning and also started to attend local writing events. My world is so different now! I’m a trustee deeply committed to the mission of the organization. I now get to welcome members into this literary community.

Given my past of having to battle long periods of creative self-doubt, I’m really passionate about strategies to circumvent inner critics. One of the most fun ways to do that is to participate in National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo).

You’ve probably heard the buzz about it. November is National Novel Writing Month. Amateur and professional writers sign up to write 50,000 words, a short novel, during the month. That is roughly 1,667 words a day. And, yes the draft’s supposed to be rough, need work, and a beautiful mess that yields something amazing later.

NaNoWriMo is for fresh, wild, and fast writing. And, you don’t have to be an aspiring novelist to participate—writers adapt NaNoWriMo for their own needs. NaNoWriMo gets people writing more words than they normally would in a month.

There are many success stories of writers who carefully revised their NaNoWriMo drafts and have made sales of novels (including the bestselling Water for Elephants by Sara Gruen, The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern, and The Darwin Elevator by Jason Hough), short-story collections, and other kinds of publications.

But publishing is not the overall point of NaNoWriMo. It is about getting started. It’s about getting some words—any words down that then can turn into good words later.

I’m hosting a NaNoWriMo Meet and Greet on Friday night after the plenary. We’ll gather and talk about goals over wine and refreshments. If you’ve ever been curious about NaNoWriMo, come to this event.

Given the pace of the conference and the lively workshops, plenaries and networking opportunities, most of us don’t get a lot of writing done when attending.  In recognition of this fact, we’re trying out a new session during the conference: Shut up and Write. Shut and Write will offer conference participants a quiet space for writing.

I hope I’ll see you at one or both of these events. And, you can tell me your story about how you found the Network.

 

Hi dear readers,

I’m planning a fun event. If you’re local, come hear me and several other speculative fiction authors read on Oct 5! I’d love to see you there. Feel free to share!

Hi Creative Peeps,

I’m so happy to share this wonderful news and hope that you will help me spread the word. I am a Trustee on the Board of the North Carolina Writers Network and I was thrilled to have played a role in getting our newest literary prize, the Jacobs/Jones African-American Literary Prize, off the ground. We are launching a new annual contest to honor the best in short prose by African-American writers in North Carolina!

Historical marker for Harriet Jacobs, one of the amazing writers this award is named after.

This new literary prize will be administered by the Creative Writing Program at UNC-Chapel Hill. Many people helped make this a reality including writing faculty at UNC-Chapel Hill Daniel Wallace and Randall Kenan. North Carolina Poet Laureate, Jacki Shelton Green also played a pivotal role.

North Carolina native, writer and UNC-Chapel Hill alum, Cedric Brown developed this amazing idea, so all credit begins there.

The winner receives $1,000 and possible publication in The Carolina Quarterly. Submissions open November 1.

This link takes you to the announcement and all the important details, including eligibility criteria, information about the name of the prize and the judge. If you fit the criteria, please consider submitting. If not, please help spread the word in your writing communities.

 

Confession time. I have a bad writing habit. Actually, it’s really more of a bad organizing habit that impacts my writing. I tend to write things down in multiple places. Every few months, I start off with a journal of some size and vow to write everything of importance in one place—that journal. After a few weeks of trying, I am back to scribbling ideas on sticky pads, legal pads, index cards, slips of paper, the back of my checks, receipts, etc. I forget to carry my journal, or I discover it’s uncomfortable to carry in my purse. You get the idea. I’m quickly demoralized by the array of unorganized paper that gathers. At times I’ll have so many unrelated sticky pad notes wadded together it will seem as if they wandered off, had some fun, and produced sticky pad offspring. Overall, this lack of having my notes organized creates a lot of wasted time, energy and clutter.

I often listen to author Mur Lafferty’s podcast, I Should Be Writing. Recently, she talked about the value of tackling one bad writing habit at a time. She said it is too hard to fix multiple issues in one’s writing all at the same. Makes sense. And, this insight is applicable to anything that impedes one’s writing.

I’m a fan of digital organizers like Evernote and I do take notes on my phone. But, I am a paper gal through and through. I wanted to find a solution to my inability to keep all my ideas/thoughts/musings in one place.

One of my dear friends has been using and raving about the Bullet Journal, a popular tracking and organizing system, for years. She uses it for everything and continually encourages me to try it. I have resisted. I felt like I would start with the best of intentions and then stop using it in a month b/c I have multiple projects that I like to keep kind of separate (academic and creative). She disagreed with me, but let it go.

In late June, I came across this article from blogger and author, Chrys Fey. She uses the bullet journal to support her writing career. Instead of using it as a main to-do list, Chrys shared:

“For my bullet journal on the other hand, I like to keep track of all the things I do (from my to-do list) for my writing career, from writing and editing to publishing and marketing. I love this because it’s a log I can come back to if I need to know when I completed a specific task. It’s also great proof that writing is my full-time career, if that should ever be questioned, lol. And, it’s nice to see all that I accomplish.”

Her post gave me the idea to use the bullet journal in a similar way—just to support my writing. As writers, we dream about success, but rarely in those dreams do we visualize ourselves working in different ways. It’s a lot less glamorous to envision new organizing systems as part of our success. The reality though is that my writing career is expanding and I need different structures to keep connected to its various components (e.g. submission opportunities, speaking gigs, scheduling readings, upcoming workshops, writing blog posts, author newsletters, fictional works, etc.).

Using the bullet journal just for my writing felt interesting and doable.

As many people do, I decided to adapt the bullet journal system to meet my needs. I took an existing journal (one I can carry around everywhere) and watched this video on the basics on how to set up a bullet journal.

This journal had little writing in it, so it became a perfect candidate for its transformation into a bullet journal.

The result has been fabulous. I feel more organized and my space is less cluttered.

I occasionally write an idea down on sticky pad, but usually in a day or two, the idea is transferred to the journal. I am really enjoying using this system.

The August log

I highly recommend Chrys’s post for more information on how to use a bullet journal for your writing.

What’s a bad writing habit that you’re wanting to change? I’d love to know.

Photo credit (top picture)


Michele Tracy Berger

Michele Tracy Berger

Author, Academic, Creativity Expert I'm an award winning writer.

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