25 February 2013

The Power of Focus

It’s hard to say who has a shorter attention span, me or Jordan. It’s actually a big point in the first few chapters of my book how distracted he gets, even though sometimes he’s faking it. So you can imagine that he doesn’t exactly provide full-time inspiration. And me? I take forever to get the creative process going. I have to listen to music, then sit in silence (if there aren’t sirens or blaring music from the church across the street or my neighbors aren’t screaming), and then when I finally get a few sentences down, my stomach starts growling. And since I can’t write and eat, I’ll turn on the TV and then get sucked in to watching it for hours and hours and what was I trying to do in the first place? Writing?!

It’s difficult to stay focused, even when I’m desperate to get something done. Sometimes I wish I could get some sort of tunnel vision where all I can see is my laptop and I can’t hear anything from the outside world.

Focus is different from inspiration. Inspiration is what makes you want to write; it’s where you get your ideas from. Sometimes it can be completely out of your control. Focus is what you need after you already have your inspiration. You need to pull from a lot of things in order to have the right focus—inspiration, yes, but also motivation and will power. It’s easy to get distracted by everyday things, but also by the big picture sort of things. If you start worrying about how you’re going to succeed and get your book published before you’ve even finished the first chapter, then you’ve already lost focus. You don’t want to get too ahead of yourself, get too distracted by life and lose that wonderful inspiration that made you start this to begin with.

Just keep your attention on the task at hand. Find out what works for you. You may have a nice, quiet space where you do your writing. If you write better with a notebook or a computer, don’t try to force yourself to do the opposite. I once thought it might be a good idea to go to the beach with a notebook, but since my muse likes to provide digital inspiration, I couldn’t get out a single word. Find a song or two that gets you in the right mood, or reflects whatever scene you’re working on. Or read a passage of a book that inspires you. But once you’re finished honing all this great inspiration, it’s time to focus on your work, your writing. Don’t let the outside world, or even your own doubts, ruin your concentration.

And if you have to shoo the cat away, then so be it. 

22 February 2013

Challenge Results: How I Crashed and Burned

I was going to push this until around midnight, but I since I already feel like going to bed...

I'm not going to make excuses (WORK! IT WAS WORK! Also, it took me all day yesterday to write one scene. Do you know how difficult it is to have your characters flirt while writing a geometric proof?), but obviously, and not surprisingly, I did not even come close to my 20 page goal. The final count: 7 1/2 pages. So not even half.

Which isn't to say that all the effort got me nowhere. I finished two chapter revisions and I have 28 out of the 50 pages I need for the contest entry. I feel good about where these revisions are going and the consistency in the voice. I feel more motivation now than when I was about halfway through the book.

I guess the moral of the story is that it's good to challenge yourself. But also, don't hold yourself to too high of a standard. It's ok once in a while to set a goal that you know you won't reach, just because you'll work so hard and end up getting a lot done in the process. But doing this over and over again can lead to a lot of disappointment, and you may lose your motivation altogether.

So, yes, challenge yourself. But don't be ridiculous.

20 February 2013

Challenge Check-In #2

Ok, I just got off a 10 hour shift, so I'll keep this brief. I'm on the verge of passing out. Plus my boyfriend will NOT stop talking to me.

As of tonight, I'm at 4 1/4 pages. I know, it's abysmal. I spent more time yesterday watching YouTube videos on geometric proofs than I did writing. But hey, you gotta do research.

So it's crunch time! I'm hoping to get at least 10 pages done tomorrow, then finish up on Friday night.

Bring on the coffee!

18 February 2013

Challenge Check-In #1

So, how am I doing with the challenge? I worked a double today (blech!) so here's a quick summary.

The bad news: I only have two and a half pages done out of twenty.

The good news: I have most of the day tomorrow before work to get some writing done.

The better news: I have ALL of Thursday off.

The worse news: I'm working another double on Wednesday. Gotta love school vacation week!

The worst news: Still no title.

The best news: Since the contest entry I'm working on is double spaced and my challenge is single spaced, by finishing the challenge, I'll have the entry done.

The news of impending doom: I have to do laundry tomorrow.

15 February 2013

The Muse-iversary Challenge

I really hope two is my lucky number.

So today marks the two year anniversary of when I first started my work in progress. Two ridiculous, insanity filled years. And I don't have much to show for it besides a whole lot of ideas and several unfinished Word documents. Of course when I started, I didn't realize how much this little idea was going to change everything.

There's also two weeks left until the deadline for the contest I'm hoping to enter. I have eleven pages done out of the fifty I need. Plus I need to outline the entire novel. And come up with a title, which I obviously haven't been able to do for two years.

I've come to realize that while I certainly don't lack passion, I have a problem with motivation. I get distracted easily. I struggle through scenes. But there was a time when it was a lot easier.

I've decided to challenge myself. When I first started this, I busted out a nineteen-page short story in just a week. I haven't had that sort of drive ever since. I’ve worried that I’m chasing a high I’ll never feel again. So I want to recreate it. I want to force myself to write that fast, to turn my passion into motivation, and thus into words on the page. So over the course of the next week, I'm going to keep track of my writing. And I want to beat my first record. By next Friday, I'm hoping to write twenty pages. If I can grasp that drive I once felt, maybe I can hold onto it, then get the fifty pages done, then the entire first draft, and so on...

This may seem like a measly task to some, but on some days I struggle just to get one page done. I think a challenge may be just the sort of kick start I need. Planning and outlining are usually my downfall, but in this case, I'm trying to rekindle what I started two years ago. To be unstoppable.

So I'll be checking in on Monday and Wednesday with my page counts and what has been working or not. Then hopefully, on Friday, I'll be able to say that I was successful.

And happy anniversary to my darling muse. I know you don't care. <3

13 February 2013

The First Line

Every story has a beginning. More specifically, every written story has a first line that sends the reader into the world of that story. Like me, you’ve probably read from dozens of books or blogs that state just how important it is to have a well-crafted first line. While this is certainly true, if you focus too much on making it perfect, especially in a first draft, you could be headed for disaster. Or even a broken heart.

I’m going to say something that I didn’t even realize I believed until I started writing this. The first line isn’t as important as people make it out to be. Think about some of your favorite books. Do you remember the first lines off the top of your head? Probably not. But at the same time, if you look back at those books and read the first lines, they’ll most likely resonate with you. So while it isn’t necessarily going to make or break your whole novel, it is important.

The first line is a fickle creature. You need the perfect balance of vagueness and intrigue. You don’t want to give away the whole novel in the first line, but you do want to give away enough to make the reader curious. It can be simple, but not dull. Sometimes a simpler sentence will be more intriguing than a complicated one. And it will be a jumping off point for the next few paragraphs or pages, where you will have more space to expand your ideas and themes.

Once you have that first line written, keep going with your story, but every so often go back and see if the first line is still a good fit. Even if you think it’s perfect, take another look. Because while writing the first line can be difficult, rewriting it can be even harder. If you leave it alone and move on, you become used to it, and thus attached to it. You won’t see any other way of starting your novel besides that one sentence. So when it comes time to really edit, you’ll be incapable of seeing its flaws. Because to you, it’s already perfect.

Let me explain more about the attachment. I’m in an interesting situation because of a contest I’m looking to enter for novels-in-progress. I’m just over halfway through my work-in-progress, but now I’m forced to go back and edit from the beginning in order to submit the first fifty pages. So it’s kind of like draft 1.5. It doesn’t have to be perfect, but I feel I have time to make it better from what I already have.

So of course, the first thing I looked at was the first line. When I adapted the first chapter from the short story I wrote, I didn’t change the first line. This could have been a huge mistake, except for the fact that I already wasn’t satisfied with it, just didn’t know how to improve it at the time. I’ve had this experience before, where I became so attached to the first line of a novel I rewrote twice, that when I looked back on it, it didn’t seem to make sense anymore. But at the same time, I felt that I couldn’t change it. How could I possibly change it when this had been the only way to open the story for the three years I had been working on it?

This time around I approached it differently. What I focused more on was what the words were saying, and not how they were saying it. The idea behind it was more important than the phrasing. Here is the original first line as I had written it:

            I started failing geometry right around the time that I stopped liking girls.

I knew that these two details were important to the first line. Creating a sort of parallel between them seemed important to start the story off, because by the end of the chapter, my narrator has a crush on his male math tutor, which is the jumping off point for the entire story. So the context was never a problem, but I was never satisfied with the wording. It seemed a bit clumsy and also didn’t provide a proper insight into his character. Here is how I rewrote it:

            I decided to fail geometry around the same time that I stopped going out with girls.

My first goal was the fix the choppy writing that existed in the first draft, which wasn’t all that difficult. But I tweaked a few things not only to make the voice clearer, but to get the reader to keep going. I wanted to make it clear that his failing is a choice from the very beginning, at the same time that he chooses to stop dating girls. Nothing is accidental for him. And hopefully, the reader will be intrigued enough to keep going, to discover why he has made these choices.

Am I done? Probably not. But like any rewriting, it’s a process. You write, then rewrite, then rewrite again. Then when you finally get published the editors may change it, too. I would advise you to constantly rewrite your first line, even if it’s just a word at a time. Or at least keep in mind that it needs to change. You may not have the right perspective until you finish the entire first draft. 

04 February 2013

The Blame Game

I do this a lot, and I’m really sorry. I’ll blog for a while, then stop for a really long time, and then come back saying how I’m gonna do things differently. And I never follow through. There are a lot of reasons and I seem to be trying to explain them to you every few months or so. I know the muse thing is my gimmick (I say this only to keep you from thinking I’m insane, ‘cause, you know, he’s real and everything…). But I also have to take the blame for my lack of writing. It’s easy to blame the fact that you can’t write on your imaginary friend. I'll spare you all my lame excuses or a thorough plan of how I'm going to fix everything. My plan is a bit simpler this time. 

1. Stop trying to plan.

I really, really, do want to blog three times a week. And I have ideas for certain days. And I'm going to try. But if I try to schedule myself, it never works, and I just end up doing nothing. So my goal is to just write. Even if I end up rambling about nonsense for an entire post, then that's ok. 

2. Accept the muse for all his flaws. That's why I love him. 

Do you think it's easy being platonically in love with an impulsive, promiscuous little sociopath? Because it's not. But I did create him so I have to live with him. Writing my book certainly isn't going to happen without him. Imagine if you spent years on your work in progress and then suddenly had to completely change your main character? Sounds heartbreaking, doesn't it? You're probably curling up into the fetal position just thinking about it. I have no intentions of getting rid of him, and probably couldn't even if I tried. 

3. Accept my own flaws. 

Yes, I struggle with getting things done. I get depressed. I hate my job. I have no time. I have next to no self-confidence. But I wouldn't be doing this if there wasn't a reason, if I didn't feel I have a story worth telling. I've never been that good at telling my own story, but creating something out of thin air seems to be worthwhile. I've seen stories unfolding in my head since I was eight years old. I don't really understand how other people don't. 

So that's it. If I blog three times a week, or even once a week, then at least I'll be accomplishing something. And maybe by some miracle I'll get my book done. Or come up with a title. Fingers crossed.