Nancy: The Over-Planner’s Approach to Cold Starts

When all else fails, you could try warming up the process with ‘a wee dram’.

Creativity is fleeting. Stories are ornery. Words are elusive. Writing is just damn hard.

Or so it seems on those days when the writing mojo is nowhere to be found. Diana Gabaldon refers to her approach to combatting this common writing problem as her cold start process, which she discusses in this clip. This week, we ladies are discussing our own cold start processes. So here’s Nancy’s guide to unsticking when stuck, in 4 simple steps.

Avoidance. When it comes to  bad writing days, I’m a firm believer in an ounce of prevention being worth a pound of cure. In other, words, I try to avoid them. At least, I do my best to avoid one of the leading causes of these creativity blocks: not knowing where to go next.

One of the things I found fascinating about the Gabaldon clip is that at the end, she announces that she realizes where her character is physically for the next scene. If I didn’t know where my characters were going to be for each scene of the next act, let alone the very next scene, I would spend most writing days crying in a corner. The joy that some creators find in writing in the dark and tunneling their way to their story would break my brain. It simply Is. Not. My. Process. Continue reading

Nancy: When Your Book Is a Moody Teenager

You’ve probably heard some writers say their books are like children. If that’s the case, my current WIP is definitely in the cranky teenager stage.

In it’s nascent stage, I was content to nest and let the story incubate, finally letting it hatch when I knew the idea was ready to come out of my head and onto the page. Then there were the heady, frenetic days of discovery, of getting to know this baby story, of giving it guide rails and parameters as it grew from a blob of words to a someday-could-be-a-readable book, in the form of a weirdly gawky and awkward (I will not use the word ugly!) first draft. Then I assessed and worked and sculpted some more, until I had a reasonably stable story world and through line. In that process, I’d weeded out some unnecessary subplots and exposed some minor plot holes. (And had begun to mix my child metaphor with a gardening one, but stick with me!)

So now my book is on the brink of adulthood. The story is pretty well-formed. It’s easy to see what it will be when it’s finished and where it will find its niche in the world. But there’s stuff still to be done. This is akin to the stage of parenting where we have to nurse broken hearts and teach safe driving and prepare our almost fully-grown progeny for life in the real world. But we’re so close. Easy peasy!

Said no parent of teens or writer of books EVER. Continue reading

Jeanne: December Progress Report

My overarching goal, if you may remember, is to release a trilogy of paranormal romances in the fall of 2018.

At the end of last month, I was optimistic. I knew that to reach that goal, I needed to finish an editor-ready draft of the second book, The Demon’s in the Details, and be ready to start on the third book, a Faust story about a writer who sells her soul to the devil to make the New York Times bestseller list, in January.

I was feeling pretty good about meeting that goal.

Unfortunately, December proved to be one of those months that afflicts both men and mice–my plans went agley,.
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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