Nancy: “I Really Should Be Writing, But…”

Maybe you’ve said those words yourself. Or maybe you’ve substituted some other creative endeavor for writing, to the same effect. You have a project you want to do, you plan to do, you’re passionate about doing. You’ve carved out a block of time for it, negotiating and juggling other priorities, you’ve showed up at your desk, and…you’ve reached the end of your writing time and you haven’t written a word. Or maybe you’ve written a few words or sentences or paragraphs, but then wandered off to look at something shiny, like a fab cat video on YouTube or the latest hot thing on Netflix.

You must not be a real writer. Better people, other creatives, real writers don’t get distracted this way. They get their shit done, no ifs ands or buts about it. They show up for their writing blocks and they get it done! Or do they?

For the past few weeks, I’ve been sharing some of my aha! moments that have come from my journey through Jen Louden’s Get Your Scary Shit Done course. One of the things Jen’s course teaches is that while we’re all special snowflakes, we’re not special when it comes to having fear, anxiety, or at the very least discomfort around our creative projects (or other ‘scary shit’ we want to do, like training for a triathlon or learning the ukulele). A nearly universal aspect of the human experience is that creativity requires growth and change, and those things rarely happen without pain and resistance.

Lisa Cron of Story Genius fame discusses this in reference to our characters. We’ve all heard we should chase our protagonists up trees and shoot at them. Why would we do such a terrible thing to our characters, whom we tend to love? Because at the heart of our stories, we’re exploring how our characters grow and change. But the force (of inertia) is strong! If we, and by extension our characters, can get by, survive, sometimes even thrive doing the same old same old, that’s what we’re going to do. Not because we’re bad people, lazy SOBs, or fake writers, but because evolution has hard-wired our brains to take the most comfortable, least resistant path to staying alive. Human evolution – the very survival of our species! – has depended upon not only the ability to adapt as quickly and efficiently as possible to change, but also the skill of recognizing a good thing when we have it and coasting on that as long as possible.

Phrased that way, goofing off on YouTube or binge-watching the first four hours of Stranger Things 2 on Netflix (not that anyone here has done that, right?) doesn’t sound so shameful, does it? “I know it looks like I was avoiding the next chapter of my WIP, but I was actually contributing to the survival of our species.”

That’s not to say you should embrace an everlasting state of inertia. Continue reading

Nancy: To Thine Own Process Be True

Write first thing in the morning.

Write last thing at night.

Carve out big chunks of time for writing.

Learn to write in 15-minute increments over lunch.

Learn to write 10,000 words a day.

Don’t end a writing session until you’ve written 1,000 words.

Write every day, every week, every weekend.

Set aside one weekend a month and write in a flaming frenzy.

If you’ve been writing for more than a hot second, you’ve heard some if not all of these words of wisdom. They are all true. Completely, utterly, 100 % true. They are also pure bullshit.

No, I haven’t been drinking. (Well, not enough to cause concern.) The reason all of those statements can exist at the same time without interrupting the space-time continuum is that they each come with a caveat: if it works for you. Continue reading

Nancy: Boom and Bust

Several weeks ago, I found myself in a familiar place. I was coming off a big day-job project, which had included long hours every day for the last couple of weeks to complete it. I hadn’t been able to touch my writing during that time and for weeks before that, because even when I wasn’t working quite as many hours, I was expending all my mental energy on that other job. But now that I and my team had completed that project and submitted it to the customer, I was able to reclaim my life, including my writing time. “All shall be well, and all manner of things shall be well,” right?

Um, no.

When last I’d communed with my writing, I’d been on a hot streak (despite that pesky novella that I’ve struggled to revise). I was writing for long hours and wracking up word counts, knowing all the while it couldn’t last. I’d signed a consulting contract. A company was going to write me a monthly check; it stood to reason at some point they’d want me to do something to earn that money. Then I got a call saying a project that was supposed to start in October was actually starting six weeks early. I went cold turkey on my writing. Turns out, by the time I finally got back to it, it had gone cold turkey on me. I had one novella and one full-length novel in need of revision, and the first act of a second full-length novel all set in the same story world. I also had the first half of my women’s fiction story waiting for completion. But when I sat down at the computer, I couldn’t get back into any of those story worlds. I’m not going to lie – some panic set in. After all, it’s only a matter of time before I get the next call about the next day-job project, and then I’ll have to go cold turkey on writing again. Lather, rinse, repeat. Continue reading

Kay: Spending Your Time—The Sunk Cost Fallacy

The Wreckage of the Black Prince (fragment) by Ivan Constantinovich Aivazovsky, 1854.

Becoming an author requires a lot of work, from the writing to publishing and marketing. It’s easy to get caught up in writing-related activities that don’t yield much, if anything, in results. In the lingo of economists, this phenomenon is called the sunk cost fallacy—really a high-fallutin way of pointing out how you’re wasting your time.

I just read an article about the sunk cost fallacy, and it resonated with me since I’ve so recently fallen victim to it. So, what is it and how does it work?

In economics, a “sunk cost” is a cost that you’ve already paid, says Robert Wood on Standout Books. For writers, this payment can be financial, but usually the resources that you spend are time, energy, and emotional commitment.

Continue reading

Michaeline: The Election and the Future of the U.S. Writing Market

"The future is escapist fantasy." If the shoe fits, wear it. (Image via Wikimedia Commons)

“The future is escapist fantasy.” If the shoe fits, wear it. (Image via Wikimedia Commons)

“It was the best of times, it was the worst of times . . . .”

Think about it. Fifty-nine million people got the lesser of two evils. Fifty-nine million people got the greater of two evils. America is divided about evenly, and there’s a whole spectrum of thought and opinion. So, if you want to write a white hero-guy who kicks poor, brown ass and enjoys his Budweiser, there’s a market for that. If you want to write a diverse cast of characters, fighting The Man like time-travelling hippies and enjoying a little recreational marijuana, there’s a market for that. I predict that escapist fantasy is going to have a heyday. Why? Continue reading

Nancy: The Girl in the Band

From the PBS documentary The Girls in the Band.

From the PBS documentary The Girls in the Band.

These past few months, two separate issues have occupied much of my brain-space: the US election, and the many different ways/formats in which we humans express our art. The former is for obvious reasons, and like most Americans, November 9 cannot come soon enough for me and yet fills me with dread. The latter is for reasons obvious to me, as I shift my writing perspectives and take on new projects in ways that I haven’t approached my stories in the past (more on that in a future post).

Given these preoccupations, it’s not surprising that my mind is primed to process everything creativity-related through a specific lens. It’s also unsurprising that I viewed the PBS documentary The Girls in the Band as the coalescence of these disparate ideas. PBS describes the documentary this way: The Girls in the Band reveals the poignant, untold stories of female jazz and big band instrumentalists and their fascinating, groundbreaking journeys from the late 1930s to the present day. These incredibly talented women endured sexism, racism, and diminished opportunities for decades, yet continued to persevere, inspire, and elevate their talents in a field that seldom welcomed them.”

Imagine living in the world that existed less than 100 years ago and being told you’re not welcome to pursue your artistic passion and expression, you’re not good enough, you’re at best ‘just the girl in the band’, with the explicit understanding that ‘girl’ in this case is a pejorative. Continue reading

Kay: Finishing the Book

Woman_at_workcropIn this year of My Big Slump, I’ve been thinking that for the last several months, when writing could have helped me, I didn’t write very much. And what I did write, I didn’t much like.

Usually I find that any writing is better than no writing. I like to edit, so I’m fine to rework something until I’m happy with it. Nora Roberts has famously said that the key to her success is putting her butt in the chair. And she’s right—if you don’t sit down and write your book, it won’t get written. There’s no substitute for hard work. You have to get in front of your screen and focus—on your scene, your characters, the plot, and what you want to get done in the time you have today, right now. Continue reading