Home of Ane Ryan Walker, Teller of Tall Tales, Writer of Short Stories

Tag: planning your work (Page 3 of 4)

Learning the Craft

   “Start by doing what’s necessary; then do what’s possible; and suddenly you are doing the impossible.”

― St. Francis of Assisi

In order to write that novel you always talk about, or dream of writing, you must start. I know you may not have the skills required to write the next great American novel. I get that, you know that, we all agree it’s not happening. But where do you start?

You just start.

Don’t stop by the Idea Store and purchase anything. Don’t ask your mother, father, girlfriend, boyfriend, or your best friend what they think. We all know they have opinions. Everyone has an opinion.Your opinion is what counts in the immediate moment.

A seasoned writer usually has developed a method for determining if they have enough idea to sustain a story, and what size of story (word count) the story idea can support. They have a good grasp of what it takes to make a story work, and this is why seasoned writers don’t always discuss their ideas until they’ve determined if the story has legs. Can it stand on its own?

For the beginning writer, there is no valuable advice –especially for a first novel–other than to start writing. That’s correct, just take a page from Nike, just do it.

You could of course, ignore this advice, and attend writing classes, make an outline, fill out character sheets or do character interviews, design a storyboard, ask for advice from other beginning writers and do any number of other things that only delay your writing. That’s correct delay your writing.

The number one reason unpublished authors experience a failure to launch, is basically simple; it’s a failure to write. We each have a certain amount of words we need to write before we can identify our own voice. Some experts say you won’t recognize your voice until you’ve written a million words. Now, I don’t know if it’s true, but I do know you need to start writing.

My first book was a fantasy novel, beautifully written with engaging descriptive backgrounds that made critique partners “see” the landscape of the novel. Yea for me! I’m good a world building. They told me the characters engaged the readers and all were anxious to see what would happen next. Yea for me, great character development. One critique partner described my passages as “liquid poetry”, and I was flattered, and amazed and felt so good about my writing. Except 400 pages into the story, the characters great adventure, no actual plot was found.

That’s right No Plot, BIG Problem.

I didn’t know what my weakness was until I started writing. Based on this experience, I never start a novel, novella, or short story without knowing the full plot. Every pinch point, every turning point, every reversal and big black moment is down on the sheet before the writing begins.

You have to determine what your own shortcomings are, and define your style, before you can learn the craft skills necessary to become successful. Once you have accomplished this, then the life long learning begins and you may have your feet firmly planted on the road to success.

 

 

 

Making Progress

   “ It is important that we forgive ourselves for making mistakes. We need to learn from our errors and move on. ”

― Steve Maraboli

Almost everything I’ve ever learned about writing I learned from making mistakes. Most of the time, the mistakes don’t hurt anyone but me. Often they come from a failure to plan the work. If you’re working from a plan, you can always adjust, backtrack, or take a new direction. You have plenty of leeway to turn and twist, and head off in a new direction. But you always do well to start with a plan.

The focus keeps the task at hand…at hand, so to speak. Early on in writing, but never early enough, a good friend and a prolific author told me “never sit down to write unless you know where you’re going.” This in fact, is the best advice I’ve ever been given.

When I first learned this, I still worked full-time and had a lot of responsibility at home. Since my husband and I owned a business, I had a lot on my plate. The first hour of daily writing was wasted on the guilt trip how I could better spend the time I was “wasting” on writing. Not published at the time, I took time-wasting very seriously. I thought I should be doing things or paperwork that was business related: bookkeeping, ordering, organizing, or selling new accounts.

I wasted about an hour guilt tripping, then procrastinating, and agonized later that neither task was productive. I didn’t get the bookkeeping, selling, organizing or the fiction writing done.

When I learned to end the writing every day (according to the time allotment) I marked the end of the session with a plan for where I would go next with my story. Eureka!

Thus the new guideline became, don’t start writing unless you know where you’re going with the story. In other words, plan just a little bit, such as the next scene, the next chapter, or up to the next pinch point or turning point. Not too far ahead, but just enough to keep you going. Kind of like headlights on the road in the dark. You only need to see so far ahead, not enough to be considered a “plotter” but enough to keep you on a steady course for accomplishing something productive.

This kind of progress keeps you on track without letting you write a hundred pages you’ll need to rewrite later. Of course, we all realize there will be re-writes later. But still, we’re making progress.

 

 

Old Dogs & New Tricks

In 2015 we need to try new things. In terms of our personal lives, and also in terms of the writing career we pursue.

What do we do when what we’re doing now isn’t working? Like most old dogs, we know we need to learn some new tricks. Not always easy, but often necessary.

First, you need to keep an open mind. In order to be more successful, we need to learn from others who have demonstrated success in the past. A proven track record of accomplishing things is what will help you to learn what to do with what comes next. We need to look realistically at our behavior and minimize the things that are broken. After all, isn’t the recipe for insanity doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results? Identify people who have achieved the success you crave, and ask questions.

When you reach out to promote yourself or your work, be confident about the work you do. The confidence comes easiest when you do the work. Analyse what works for others, compare your audience to theirs, refine the statistics, and keep working until you get it right. In other words, do the work.

You need to identify your target audience. Now I am not suggesting you write specifically to a target audience, it’s always important to tell your own story. But knowing your audience is key to success. You must know who they are and what they read in order to tailor your story with enough appeal to create the desire to read your work. This is how you build an audience.

When people–and I do mean other successful authors–tell you what isn’t working, don’t waste your time (and theirs), by telling them they’re wrong when they try to help you. This behavior is a waste of your energy and their expertise and goodwill. Oh, and you’re still wrong at the end of the day.

Police yourself on social media. Please, I am begging you, for the love of god, to please edit what you write every time. Incorrect spelling and poor grammar mark you as a writer who doesn’t care, and doesn’t know enough to care about what you put out there permanently. Now, who wants a big black mark on their permanent record?

I know when we first start out, especially as independent authors, we are always on a budget. Sometimes we need to remember there is no free lunch. Sometimes, it’s important to recognize free is not a good thing. If your free cover looks like it was crafted by a four-year old with a box of broken crayons and took multiple hours away from your precious writing time, it wasn’t really free, now was it?

There is one phrase you don’t want to use in the new year. “That won’t work for me”. It’s easy to dismiss the input from others, but don’t be fooled. People who can see you from outside the box are less likely to be confined by old ideas. Even if you’ve already tried the tool or tactic they’re suggesting, it just might be time to try it again. Different strokes for different folks. Remember timing is everything. You could find success with old ideas that you drug out, fluffed up and reinvented.

Getting Started

Motivation is what gets you started. Habit is what keeps you going.

― Jim Rohn

There is a lot to be said for starting a new year. It’s a time when many of us choose to set goals for ourselves or even…dare I write it?  Make new year resolutions.

Resolutions are one of the most questionable practices human beings engage in on an annual basis. We set the pace by starting off a new year on the road self-improvement, where the largest percentage of us convert our resolutions to intentions, albeit good ones. Once we have a firm grasp on the new year, usually about six weeks into the new calendar, this becomes the road to hell.  Which we have ourselves paved with good intentions.

Be advised, if you didn’t already know this, we do not keep resolutions. Why?

I’m not really sure. What I do know is that it takes time and effort to change your behavior, regardless of what behavior you desire to change.

To establish a habit takes work. Let’s say you resolve to write every day. Good, but a little bit too broad. So state your intention to write x number of words daily.  Perhaps your style is more attuned to page count. Then resolve to write x number of pages. I don’t claim I can or will write every day. I do write every day, but that’s not the point.  The point is that I like to give myself some wiggle room. I resolve to write five days a week. This allows for disasters out of my control, like getting the flu. It also allows me to not feel guilt if I miss a writing day. Sometimes, you just can’t do it.

If you want to be successful and keep the promises you make to yourself (resolutions), you have to work for it.  Working the plan means being realistic and organized. Do not bite off more than you can chew. Writing 10,000 words a day would be great, if you could do it. Not many people can, and god bless those who can accomplish it.

Just a word to the wise, make those goals doable and you will benefit. I commonly exceed my daily goal, in terms of the number of words I like to write, and also my weekly goals because I write six or seven days a week even though I have not committed to more than five in my writing plan.

Habits can be adjusted upward for success.

 

Goal Setting

People with clear, written goals, accomplish far more in a shorter period of time than people without them could ever imagine.

― Brian Tracy

Happy New Year!

Time to make some resolutions, right? Wrong. We generally as a species don’t change things even when we plan to change. We are all, on some level, resistant to change.

It’s that time of the year when we need to reflect, reevaluate and sometimes even reinvent ourselves. So this year instead of wasting time and energy on making promises you are not likely to keep, why not reflect and reevaluate with a goal for the future that you might actually accomplish?

Reflect on your behavior, attitude and experience in 2014.

What did you learn?

Did you take a class? Perhaps you attended a conference? Read a “How To” book? Or maybe the opportunity to learn from life experience presented itself in one of life’s more awkward moments? This year I learned to practice what I preach the hard way. In one of those priceless lessons from the universe I slipped and fell at the gym and couldn’t return to working out or even get around very well for more than a month. This gave me the opportunity to slow down, and reflect.

What did you do?

Did you take a class or achieve an instructors level in a  life long subject you’re passionate about? I have two friends who each accomplished  life long goals of doing things for themselves. These women have spent many year nurturing others and at long last, they each achieved instructor level proficiency in subjects near and dear to their hearts. One became a Yoga teacher and the other a certified Padi diving instructor.

What is your big dream for 2015?

Most of us, at some point or another in our lives assemble a bucket list. The simple list of things we hope do not become a legacy of regret. The way to avoid regret is to spend your valuable time taking your dreams from the dream state into reality by making a plan. Planning your future is always a good thing. Make sure those benchmarks to achieving your dreams are measurable, specific, and realistic.

Well, mostly realistic.  Sometimes you need to go for the moon in order to reach the stars. Plan big.

 

Success

The difference between a successful person and others is not a lack of strength, not a lack of knowledge, but rather a lack in will.

― Vince Lombardi

I think he knows what he’s talking about. I had the will and I found a way, and YES! I succeeded at NANO! Count me in for the Winner’s Circle!

If you think I’m celebrating too early, you would be wrong!  I know it doesn’t end until the drop dead date of November 30th, but since I make my living at writing and I do write every day, I hit the 50,000 word count early.  But no worries, I’m still right here writing with you. The truth is for professional writers, we are never done. If I had three additional lifetimes I would still not have enough time to execute all my story ideas.

There is nothing like success to make you feel good about your self.  The joy of knowing you made a promise to yourself and you kept it.

The most important thing to remember is that choice, not circumstance, is what determines success. If you’ve stayed at it, if you continue to work hard you will finish, if not the book itself, at least then the 50,000 words.  And that’s a heck of a start in anyone’s estimation.

Hard work and determination should see you through this last week of writing.  I know, I know, sometimes you just think none of this makes any sense at all and why are you still here?  Because you made a commitment to yourself, and if you don’t keep the commitments you make to yourself, how in the world can anyone count on you to keep promises made to them?

You can do it! Just keep writing. Focus your full attention on what you want, (getting the novel first draft done) and head straight for the finish line.

I’ll be there waiting for you, with bells on.

Trust

Someone who thinks the world is always cheating him is right. He is missing that wonderful feeling of trust in someone or something.

― Eric Hoffer

Many of us have difficulty when it comes to taking a leap of faith. We inherently need reassurance, especially when we seek to make changes in our lives, such as career or personal choices. I get it. Change is hard. But trust is something we learn in early infancy. When we begin our journey through life we are totally dependent on others for food, shelter, physical protection, and human contact. Infants who are not nurtured fail to thrive, and beyond that typically do not survive into adulthood.

Once we become adults and take on responsibility for our lives, the choices, actions and the consequences of those actions, we have achieved maturity. More or less. This is where it becomes important for us to trust others, especially those who love and support us.

During NANO we chose to commit to daily writing in order to finish the rough draft of a novel we all (hopefully) would like to see in print someday.

That’s correct. At the end of the thirty days/ 50,000 words we are hopeful that the rough material will put us closer to our goal of a finished product. Because I am a realist, I know the editing process will bring major changes to the rough  draft of any novel. In fact, I expect it to happen.

Let’s talk for a minute about the guy who signs up for NANO and doesn’t make the word count on any given day. What happens to him? or Her?

This is where trust comes in. You have to trust yourself to make up the word counts you miss or work ahead if you’re not available to do word counts on any given day. For example, I do realize thanksgiving is a major holiday, with lots of relatives, partying, elaborate meals, and family visiting and travel taking place during the thirty days allotted to NANO. I have been doing this for several years now.

I also do the majority of the food preparation for the huge feast known as Thanksgiving Dinner.

How do I handle these responsibilities along with meeting the word counts I planned? I plan ahead. I organize my time, and sometimes I write in really small increments.

I start dinner early since I can count on things not going the way I planned, this is also known as “life experience”. I do a lot of the prep work ahead of time, on days when the word count came in over schedule or ahead of schedule. I’ve learned how to delegate (get someone else to do a few tasks for me) and to let things go that are not important. Someone could bring a side dish and YES, it won’t be exactly like mine, but they want to helps and I need help so it works out. I have learned to trust others not to disappoint me, and if they do?  Well, then I like to give them a second chance.

I trust myself to keep the promises I’ve made to myself, and so I need to trust others to keep their promises to me. This usually works.

Who we really are

Our job in this life is not to shape ourselves into some ideal we imagine we ought to be, but to find out who we already are and become it.

― Steven Pressfield

Hopefully, as we all prepare for NANO this year, we’ll remember it isn’t our job to be perfect. It’s our job to tell a really great story. The best way to do that is to put your head down and go for it. If you didn’t do any pre-planning or pre-writing, it’s too late now.  The purpose of NANO, National Novel Writing Month is to just get it done. The Goal is 50,000 words in thirty days. Roughly, that works out to 1,666 words per day for thirty days. I don’t like to do it that way, since I’m superstitious. I just can’t get comfortable with 666 especially since I write horror novels. So I write 1,700 or 1,500. However it works out.

Are there rules, you ask? No, but a few guidelines.

Must you write every day? No, you don’t have to, but hopefully  you will want to write consistently, which means every day. I keep the word count on a post it next to the computer, so I’m not tempted to edit yesterdays words before I begin my daily count. Since I do edit the previous days work in my normal life, this temptation is great, but in November, I ignore it completely. Good practice for learning to ignore people who will want to see you fail. I don’t know why they do this, but they do and you can ignore them anyway.

What happens if you don’t meet the 50,000 word goal? You end up with whatever word count you’ve got, and you can always try again next year. Hey, it’s a start.

Is there a prize? Yes, the rough draft of your next novel is your prize. Editing is another matter. So this is where most people realize once the first draft is done, there is still a lot of work. Yeah. Even if it is damn near perfect, it still needs editing.  Never forget that.

Oh, and the reason I chose this quote to start? Because I really don’t want you to forget who you really are, and a good way to find out what kind of writer you are is to just go for it. Get that rough draft done and then go forward from there.

What’s your number?

It is not true that people stop pursuing dreams because they grow old, they grow old because they stop pursuing dreams.

― Gabriel Garcia Marquez

Do you think about your age as just another number?

Have you decided you are too old to pursue your dreams?

Started on that “Bucket List” yet?

The truth is there are a lot of things that you can do to make your dreams come true at any age.  In fact, age is just a number and is irrelevant to many pursuits. The way to achieve a goal is to make a plan and try to stick to it.  Note, I said try to stick to it.  We don’t always achieve the goals we set for ourselves but people who plan are 40% more likely to succeed.

So, how do you go about forgetting your age and pursuing your dreams?

Go public with your intent.  Many times I was told growing up that “the road to hell is paved with good intentions”, but setting your intentions and sharing them with others is more likely to help you stay on track towards your goals.

Some of us let things go not for lack of planning, but because we bite off more than we can chew with setting unrealistic goals or attempting to fix too many flaws at one time. Baby steps when you begin a self-improvement project,  step at a time.

Remember the planners, the one’s I told you were 40% more successful? They stuck with it, beyond the initial excitement of trying something new. They generally approached it one day at a time.

Did they expect to succeed or fail?  Good question. Mostly, I’ll bet they expected to succeed, but they also had realistic goals. In other words, they knew they could not be perfect all the time.  They knew pursuing your dream to the exclusion of all else in your life was a set-up for failure, so they expected a little backsliding.  Mostly, they were human and accepted it.

Since most of the successful people are in it for the long-term, they don’t pursue the goal and when they’re done plan to have success engraved on the tombstone.  They reward themselves along the way, because they’re in it for the journey, not the destination.

They were also successful because they realized early on that things take time, and they gave their dream the time required to make it happen.

But when we come to the end of the day, and we each of us knows this in our heart, mind, and soul; they had a plan. They worked the plan and made it happen, even while they enjoyed the journey.

 

 

 

Success & Happiness

Success is getting what you want. Happiness is wanting what you get.

Dale Carnegie

Successful people know a thing or two about starting over, and doing it again and again. The ability to recognize that it’s time for a change is a hallmark of a successful person.

I’ll be the first to admit that changes are difficult and starting over is often overwhelming, but it is sometimes also necessary. The changes which require us to begin again are painful and confusing, like the move from childhood to adolescence, but they are also necessary.

The worst aspect of starting over is the lack of familiarity with the new event, the very thing that makes it difficult and frightening. But then again, like most of life this is a matter of perspective.  Treated like an adventure which is chosen rather than a change forced upon us is a much better start.

Because fear of failure holds so many of us captive for a large portion of our lives, through simply daily insecurities, we often fail to realize our full potential. Dreams we are quick to nurture in childhood become the regrets adulthood. Most often the creative ability often celebrated and encouraged falls victim to our brand of self-sabotage with lip service paid to mundane excuses such as “the just isn’t time for that”, or “I wanted that when I was young” no longer apply.

We must learn to celebrate our creativity at any age, without fear or restriction as we did during childhood.

The truth of the matter is that we are not too old, or to inept to share and celebrate the creativity which is ever-present in our souls. If you had a dream which fell by the wayside in your youth, it is not likely the dream is dead forever. If that dream was telling your story, or storytelling in general grab a pen and write it down.

Success will take you many places, but happiness will keep you grounded.

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