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I've been thrown off my writing game in the past six weeks.  I'm off track, rusty and stiff.  I've been renovating a house, packing up the house we lived in for twelve years, and moving to the new place.  Writing didn't just take a back seat--it wasn't even in the car with me for a while there.

Now, although I'm still living mostly out of boxes, I'm feeling my writing calling to me again.  Blogging, newsletters, journals, stories.  I need to restart.  It's feeling like a bit much right now, though.  I'm still trying to sort things out after the move, so I hit overwhelm very easily.

So I did what I usually do when I'm overwhelmed.  I made a list.  Here, for anyone else needing to re-enter their writing life, is my list of small steps to help you get going again.

  • Write for two minutes.  Alternately, write two sentences.
  • Read through your current project. Don't make notes, do revisions, anything except read.
  • Make a list of the things you want to work on; pick one to start with then work on it for five minutes.
  • Write a backstory scene for your MC--a dream scene, daydream scene, the MC having dinner alone or with family or friends, anything that is interesting and lets you know your character better.
  • Get all of your stuff together. All of your notes and files and notebooks. All of your files and documents on your computer.  Sort and arrange them and get reacquainted.
  • Start something new.  Sometimes a fresh project with no time invested, no weight behind it yet, can help rev your writing engines.
  • Try an online writing site. My faves: One Minute Writer, Daily Page, 750words.com, Oneword.
  • Meet with a writer friend or friends.  Talk about books and movies. Talk about your writing and what you want to do with it.  Be writers together and inspire each other.

Anything to add to the list?  What do you like to do when your writing needs a reboot?  I'd love to hear your ideas.  Let's add to the list!

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NaNo2015

Are you participating in National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo) this November?

It's a fun time full of writerly companionship, and if you're on the fence I hope I can convince you to jump on in.  I thought I'd share part of a post (with a link to the rest) I wrote for Willamette Writers this summer to help persuade you.

Have you tried NaNoWriMo? You should—it’s a great way to get your words flowing and get your stories out on the page.

Admittedly I’m biased in favor of NaNo. I’ve been signing up for it since 2003 and actively participating since 2006 (turns out you actually have to write something to get to 50K). I’ve taken part as a writer (and a winner seven times). I’ve been the Portland, OR municipal liaison. I’ve attended and hosted local write-ins and events and participated in the online forums. But most importantly, I have written. I have written in November even in years when writing was a struggle. NaNo did that for me.

(Read the rest of the post here.)

I really do love NaNo.  I'm hoping to participate this year even in the middle of a house renovation and move (which may be completely crazy, but I'm still thinking about it).  I hope you'll give it a try and give your writing a jolt of NaNo energy.

Drop me a line, let me know if you're jumping in, let me know how it's going.  I'll cheer you on and see you at the finish!

 

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Ladder

That subject line is a lie.  There *is* no hierarchy.  No genre is better than any other.  Literary fiction isn't better than genre fiction.

I am so fed up with writers feeling like they're second class citizens because they write genre fiction. I'm even MORE fed up with literary fiction writers, along with critics and so many people in the publishing industry, treating genre writes as if they actually are lesser than in some way.  As if writing genre is some sort of flaw. It's not!

Even Stephen King said that he spent years and years feeling ashamed about what he wrote, as if it wasn't quite good enough. Stephen King, for Pete's sake!

Recently I was listening to a writing podcast I normally enjoy.  The host used the phrase "just writing genre fiction." I was angry and appalled, and honestly I lost respect for her.  If she is brushing off large bodies of work because they aren't literary or mainstream fiction I find her less trustworthy.

Let me just state up front that literary fiction is not better than genre fiction or mainstream fiction.  And it has a much higher chance of getting dry and pretentious because the first aim of literary fiction is to do art and make some sort of deliberate statement about society, politics, etc.  When you let yourself wander away from good storytelling, your book will probably suffer.

Does this mean you shouldn't try to write literary fiction? Of course not!  But if you are pulled to write literary fiction, don't do it at the expense of your story. Fiction writers are storytellers first. And that means the story is more important than any moral message you want to get across.

And if you find yourself thinking genre fiction is lower class than mainstream or literary, think again. It's about the storytelling. Every category of fiction has good stories and bad stories.  That's not about the genre, that's about the writing.  Focus on the writing, on the story, on building a world and drawing your readers into it.  Don't get hung up on labels.

There are no categories of writing that are superior simply because of their subject matter.  It's about the story.  Dismissing entire genres as less-than is lazy thinking.  It keeps you from having to judge each story on its own merit.  Don't get hung up in that trap. And most importantly don't put yourself down if you love to read and write genre fiction.  You are just as good as any other writer, and don't let the snobbery convince you otherwise.
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Stories to tell 3

I'm not a writer because I love to write.  I don't always love writing. I avoid it sometimes.  I even wash the dishes sometimes instead of writing.  Some days it not only doesn't come easy, it doesn't come at all, and I have to write "I don't know what to write" over and over in my notebook just to get a few hundred words to finally trickle out.

Some days the writing does come easy.  The words fly onto the page, and I look back and really like what I wrote.  I love the feeling of satisfaction and accomplishment I get from a good writing session. That's still not why I'm a writer.

I am a writer because I have stories to tell.  There are stories inside me all the time, some half-formed, some less clear than that.  But it's constant.  I am flooded with story ideas and fragments and whole stories, all the time.  I need to tell them.

I think this is why most writers write, but I think it can be hard to let this be our reason. There's a lot of talk out there about your passion--living your passion, finding joy in your work (I'm sure there are hundreds of other phrases like this, but you get the idea).  We think we have to be constantly on fire about our writing, in love with it, living for it.

I bought into all these ideas about finding my passion, and when I didn't love writing I thought I was wrong about being a writer.  I thought I had to love writing or else I wasn't really a writer and was doing the wrong thing.

That is not true.  I am a writer.  You are a writer.  We might love writing, we might not; that might change every day.  We are not writers because we love writing. We are writers because we have stories to tell.
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Listen

This is a fantastic episode of Writing Excuses with Peter Beagle about ditching the "aspiring" when talking about being a writer and getting into the mindset of a professional writer.  So much good advice and charming anecdotes--I love this episode.

This is important for all of us, especially if we're in the early stages of our writing careers and aren't published yet.  How you look at your writing, how you think about it, has a great effect on your success and your feelings about your writing life.

Writing Excuses 9.44: Getting in the Writer’s Mindset with Peter Beagle

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Clockwriter

I don't think I've talked to one writer who hasn't said some form of "I don't have enough time for my writing." It's our favorite lament!  It's also the thing we let trip us up and keep us trapped more than anything else.

Why does this happen?  Some of it is a real shortage of time.  You're busy, right? Probably very busy.  Right now in our world "busy" is the new default mode. People used to ask, "How are you?" and the answer would be something like "fine" or "good" or something of that sort.  Now at least half the time I ask the question the answer I get is "busy."

Okay.  Everyone's busy.  Does that mean you can't get your writing done?  Maybe. (Ooh, you thought I was going to say "no" didn't you?)

There are times in life when there really isn't enough time to get everything done. There are times--moving, planning your wedding, having a baby, changing jobs, etc.--when you have to give more attention to one thing while letting other things take a back seat.

If you're in one of those phases then you might not have time for writing just now. And that's okay.  There will be more time for it later. For now, do things to stay connected to your writing life so your well doesn't run dry (I'll write more about that another time) and get back to writing when the balance shifts again.

If you're not in one of these times of life?  You have time to write.  You just think you don't, possibly because you don't know where to look for it or what it looks like.

Mostly what keeps us thinking we don't have enough time to write is a combination of these things:

  • Thinking we have to write for hours a day all in one chunk
  • Thinking we have to write every day
  • Thinking we have to write at the same time every day
  • Thinking writing is hard and time consuming so we couldn't possibly have time for it if we don't rearrange our whole lives for it

None of these is true.  You have time.  You don't need to have big chunks of time, either.  You would be amazed at how much you can write in 15 minutes (go to 750words.com and see how fast you can actually write). And the more you practice writing in smaller chunks and writing fast, the more words you'll be able to get down in a short time.

One other thing that can really make time into a stumbling block--not being ready with something to write.

Do not sit down to write with no idea what you want to write!  The one exception to this is if you're doing a free form writing practice session.  Then it's okay to sit down and just pour out whatever is in your head.  Other than that, have a plan for what your'e going to write.  Then sit down and do it.

Most importantly, just sit down and do it.  For five minutes.  Can you give me five minutes?  Try it.  And then let yourself be proud. Because five minutes of writing is writing.  It counts.  And it adds up.  It makes you a writer.

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Listen

Do you love writing? Do you love stories and storytelling and find pleasure in doing the work, writing your stories, creating your characters?  Sometimes I let it become nothing but work, just another thing on my to-do list. I forget sometimes to reconnect with the pure pleasure and fun of making things up.

This fabulous episode of the even more wonderful Magic Lessons podcast from Elizabeth Gilbert is about the fun of making things just to be doing it.  It's a great reminder and listening to these wonderful women talking about creating for no one but yourself is a beautiful thing.

Listen, then go make something. And have fun!

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2

Willamette Writers Conference Wall of Advice
Wall of Writing Advice

This past weekend I was at the Willamette Writers Conference here in Portland, Oregon (an amazing conference with great teachers and programs--I highly recommend it).

On Sunday I had the pleasure of presenting some programming about NaNoWriMo.  For one of the activities, the attendees wrote down their best writing advice on sticky notes so we could create the Wall of Advice you see above.  I promised to write up a post so everyone could see what was written, so here it is.

The advice:

  • First read, then write. Write every day.
  • The difference between your book and the last book you read that you hated is that they sat down and finished theirs.
  • Don't over-outline. Let your characters develop themselves. ~Stephen King
  • It is pen and paper not a monster howling outside your door splintering the wood as it crashes through to slice you to shreds with fearsome claws.
  • The importance of concepting. Being able to describe your work in a simple phrase so others get it.
  • Trust your voice--and follow it.
  • Allow yourself to write for just 2 minutes and stop if you want. Often, you will want to keep going.
  • When someone tells you writing is a waste of your time, ignore them. They don't know what they're talking about.
  • First, do a good, big vomit. Edit later.
  • Just get it on paper. You can fix it later.

So much great advice, isn't it?  That second one about finishing really hit home for me.

What's your favorite or best piece of writing advice? Leave a note in the comments so we can all gather some wisdom to rev up our writing lives.

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Listen

Technically, since this is a YouTube video, I guess I should say "Watch this."  But you get the idea.

This is Eric Witchey doing a short video on writing practice: Eric Witchey, Five Minutes on Writing.   It's genius.  If you follow this advice and no other you will improve your writing.  You'll be a better writer, a more regular writer.  This is great stuff.

And if you ever get a chance to go to one of his conference presentations/classes or take a workshop with him, do yourself a favor and do it.  He's not just a prolific writer, he spends time analyzing why things work in writing, and he's very good at explaining it to others.

Go watch the video.  Then go write!

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Prompting

Sometimes the writing flows.  Sometimes it needs a kickstart.  For that, I love writing prompts.  I have folders and files of them all over my computer, and I never get tired of finding more.  They're a great way to get your daily writing practice going when you can't quite figure out what to write.

Here are ten of my favorites (plus two bonuses) in no particular order:

  1. Dragon Writing Prompts.  It seems to have stopped updating, but there are loads of good prompts over there.
  2. The One-Minute Writer.  Prompts on a time limit (although you can always take them off the site and write more if things are getting good).
  3. Creative Writing Prompts.  A strange looking page full of numbers, but there are good prompts hiding in there. Hover over each number to see the prompt.
  4. Awesome Writing Prompts. AKA Prompts that Don't Suck.  A whole Tumblr full of fun and quirky prompts to play with.
  5. Writer's Digest Prompts.  Great story starting prompts here. Make sure to check the older posts because they've been doing this for years, so there's a lot to see.
  6. Language is a Virus. This is a prompt generator. When you land on the page, there's a prompt showing.  If you don't like it, you can click the red button and get something new. But don't cheat and keep clicking! Only give yourself one or two do-overs before you start to write.
  7. Toasted Cheese. This is one of my favorite sites. They have a variety of writing prompts and a weekly writing chat.  Plus, I love the sandwich they're named after.
  8. StoryWonk Story Generator.  StoryWonk is my favorite writing site (so many awesome podcasts!). And this generator is fantastic with its crazy mishmash of characters and settings and events. It's great fun!  And if you're interested in trying new processes in your writing life, check out the StoryWonk Frog Box.  It's all about things to try (writing in a closet, for example) to shake the dust off your writing life.
  9. DIY MFA Writer Igniter. This is another fun story generator to play with, and it gives you a photo for the setting to really help get your writing started.
  10. The Writer prompts.  Pages of scenarios to get your stories started.

And those bonuses I mentioned:

These are very short daily prompts that are sent to your email, and they are some of the best prompts I've seen:  Sarah Selecky Daily Prompts

This is a website that gives you a daily prompt and a place to do your writing practice (you can have them emailed to you, too, to make it really easy to get going): Daily Page

This should be plenty to get you writing and keep you going.  Grab a prompt and go write something!

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