Monday, January 31, 2011

Focus and learn to say, "No."

I did it. I wrote a novel for my thesis. It was not the finished product, but it had a beginning, a middle and an end that I could get excited about. When I submitted it, the publisher said it was an important story that needs to be told, but it needs a lot of work first. It’s two years later. Why haven’t I written, finished, submitted and been published?

A host of family obligations happened to slow me down. I’ve had some false starts. I need to do a few things:

• Make writing a priority so everyone around me will do that, too.

Jessamyn West said, “People just don’t think of writing seriously. If I had been going off to teach all day, it would be different. They wouldn’t interrupt your work if you were employed at a grocery store. That’s considered serious business. It’s because you work at home. People think they can interrupt writing.”

• Learn to mean, “No.”

A writer can be filled with good intentions, armed with a plan of daily goals, like writing for two hours a day or setting a daily word count. But when the phone rings and a family member needs you to babysit, transport them to a doctor’s appointment, or your spouse wants you to spend time with him/her, what happens?

• Don’t procrastinate.

There are easier things than writing. And negative self-talk slows us down. Playing games on the computer, chatting on the Internet with friends around the world, playing at Facebook are all distractions. It’s great to stay in touch with people you know, but a lot of writing time is wasted because we have convinced ourselves that we should wait til tomorrow or we really can’t write that novel.

• Focus on the current work-in-progress (WIP).

Why are you having trouble staying focused? Have you planned the novel? Who are the characters? What is the journey that becomes the plot? Whose story are you telling? Who is narrating the story?

I can see now why an outline is valuable to the novelist. It acts as a map from the beginning, through the middle to the end. It helps to maintain continuity and sequence through the story. Writing at the same time everyday doesn’t just help us keep track of our stories. It helps us establish our writing habits, strengthens resolve to say, “No,” and leads us to achieving goals.

A writer can write a novel, but it takes a storyteller to develop characters. As a writer friend advised me, “Just write a good story.”

Craig Lock (at advises the main novel writing pitfalls are:
1. Focus: too many subplots, characters, issues.
2. Plot weak with boring, trivial details.
3. Weak character development.
4. Telling instead of showing.

I know what I have to do. How about you?

Friday, January 21, 2011


Friends at an online writers group have similar problems to mine: procrastination is easier than writing, focusing on writing is a challenge with family and other obligations, and distractions like housework that eat away at writing time. Someone said she would be glad to moderate a goals group on list and the rest, as they say, is history. We have just completed Week Two. Let me report my success.

Week One felt like a bust. I had so many things on my to-do list. But how realistic was my list? I found that I was doing something I discovered was helpful to me years ago: make a daily list and prioritize the items on the list because there was no way everything was going to get done. Because I was listing, I had more awareness of how I was spending my time. And I didn't come close to achieving everything I wanted to that first week.

Week Two was more realistic. Every time I have thought I needed to check email or play a game at Facebook I thought of my friends at the goals group and what impression I was going to make if I didn't have something positive to report. I am becoming more accountable. And that is making a difference for me.

Yesterday (Thursday) I sat down with my netbook and summarized the 24 chapters of my novel. First, let me say I was surprised to discover that most of the story has been written. To have 70,000 words was encouraging, but I was thinking there was an ending still to write. The story isn't finished, but I have a beginning, a middle and an end to my story. Now I am writing the synopsis and will use it to keep me on track as I edit and revise. I can actually see the end in sight, which I couldn't before.

Accountability. That factor can be a driving force for a writer who is so afraid of failing, she is afraid to succeed.

Thursday, January 13, 2011

Writing time

What began as a novel challenge among some of my writing friends resulted in this, my writing blog. So, it's pretty obvious that this blog should be about, surprise, Novel Writing. Today, I guess it's unclear if this column should be here at my writing blog, or over at my critical blog, Patchwork & Petticoats. I'll let you decide.

My husband periodically says, "You've been working on that novel for 25 years. When are you going to finish it?"

I'm not sure how he can ask a question like that when he comes face to face with a shelf and a half of folders containing writing and research every day when he gets out of bed. He knows about the full filing cabinet at my desk, the boxes of writing projects in my office, under his pool table and in the top of the garage. And he can ask when I'm going to finish the novel I started 25 years ago???

Here's where this whole thing crosses over to Patchwork & Petticoats...My family has been very patriarchal up to my children's generations. Mom always said, "You can do anything you put your mind to," but actions spoke louder than words and held me back.

I think a major clue was the first time Mom muttered, "I sure hope there's a heaven because if there isn't I sure have wasted my life." Now back to the writing blog.

Mom's words about wasting her life are my mainstay for continuing to write when I can snatch fragments of time for penning words.

Yes, I have finished rough drafts.

Yes, I am rewriting stories.

Yes, I am struggling to make writing a priority.

Now, back to Patchwork & Petticoats: It's not easy to prioritize my own interests when I am drawn to whichever grandchild needs or desires my undivided attention. The grandchildren are the future of my family. They need to know what I can give them to hold onto when they can't find something else to get them through the hard times.

Back to the writing blog: Fifteen minutes a day for novel writing isn't enough. If I don't take my writing time, if I don't make it a priority, nobody else will, either.