Category Archives: Word Count

The Power of Being (I’m not procrastinating…I’m preparing)

Hello Scribes friends,

PJ Sharon here. Some of you may not know this about me, but I can be a bit lazy. I know—you’re thinking, “No way, PJ. Not you! You’re so motivated and productive!” Um…not really. Looking at the big picture, I do seem to manage to keep a pretty steady schedule, meet my goals on a regular basis, and take care of my daily responsibilities while maintaining a fairly decent attitude, so I guess I’m not a total slacker. However, I’ve come to the conclusion that anything I do accomplish is because I know myself well enough to make my goals achievable and realistic, I accept my limitations as an imperfect human being, and I plan accordingly. Being a natural multi-tasker and somewhat disciplined helps too, but these days, I’m less rigid and a much nicer boss to work for.

With my writing, I try to push new limits, set appropriate deadlines,  and stay challenged–since I know these are what motivate me to stay on task–but it would be foolish and self-defeating to expect more from myself than I want to give. You have to want success…and you have to want it bad! And you need to ask yourself, “What am I willing to give up to achieve it?”

Admittedly, I’ve given up a lot to get where I am. But certain things–like time with my granddaughter and at least one day off a week, are now higher on my priorities list. What I also won’t compromise on is exercise. I commit myself to doing 30 minutes a day, five days a week because I know the payoff is totally worth it! When I’m strong, fit, and happy, I feel like I can handle anything that comes my way. If my schedule gets crazy, I let myself off the hook for a day or two, but then I’m back at it. The same applies to diet and nutrition. I’m not as rigid as I once was, but I try to eat high quality, nutrient dense foods that properly fuel my body. I like chocolate and pie as much as the next girl, but I believe in the 80/20 approach to everything. If I’m doing the right thing 80% of the time, I can slack off 20% of the time and I’ll probably be okay. Yay…pie!

For me, first and foremost, my mental and physical well-being are my priorities, and stressing out about what I’m NOT accomplishing only serves to make me feel overwhelmed and down on myself. It has become clear to me that my to-do list will never be done and that if I want to keep my sanity, I have to focus on just a few daily tasks that keep me moving toward my overall goals. It might take me longer to get there, but it’s not a race for me anymore. I’m in it for the long haul, so pacing myself is key to staying the course.

If goal setting isn’t your strong suit, here’s a great article to help you get on track and stay there.

Could I accomplish way more if I didn’t watch twenty hours of television per week or spend time gazing out the window at the lilac buds sprouting? scent of spring Maybe I could shave ten or fifteen minutes off my overly-lengthy shower time, or possibly I could sleep less. It seems changing even a few of these “recreational” behaviors would lead to a tremendous increase in my productivity. Then, maybe I could write five books in a year or spend another twenty hours a week promoting my butt off. After all, I do understand that the success of my business depends on me and how hard I’m willing to work. But how hard I’m willing to work today may be different from what it was two years ago, and will likely be different again a month from now. We each have to decide what’s important to us.

It comes down to perspective and priorities. In my opinion, none of those “recreational” activities are a total waste of my time. One could even argue that I am more productive because I’m living a balanced lifestyle. A full night’s sleep–when I can get it–is an essential tool for weight management, stress reduction, and overall health. I need at least 6-8 hours a night to remain productive and happy. Staying up late to write that blog that’s due in the morning, or waking at the crack of dawn to sneak in some “quality” writing time may help me check off a few to-do’s, but it’s going to leave me cranky and tired, and increase my susceptibility to illness. That’s not worth the trade for me at this point in life. Maybe some of you can live on five hours of sleep, but I’m betting it catches up with you eventually.

As for the apparent television addiction, I do try to limit my viewing to “must see” shows that give me the most enjoyment. I’m not a total hedonist! I TiVo my favorites and dole them out throughout the week as reward for accomplishing my tasks for the day. Getting lost in my favorite shows not only helps me decompress after a full day of massage work or long hours at the computer, it activates my creative brain. I’m constantly analyzing and deconstructing what I watch. I’m looking at story structure, dialogue, characterization, metaphor, etc. My mind is being entertained, but I’m also in my writer’s brain and learning.

The long hot showers, which some may argue are a luxury and a waste of not only water and resources, but are a self-indulgence. I assure you, they are a necessity for me. There are many challenges in daily life, and few “inexpensive” luxuries for most of us. If spending a half hour in the shower (where I do a stretching routine to treat my arthritic neck and back) relaxes me and reduces my pain, then so be it. I’ll take every little bit of relief I can get. Besides, my shower time is the most creative and productive time of my day as far as I’m concerned. It’s like a cup of tea, a soothing massage, and an opportunity to let my thoughts flow freely without my internal editor alarms ringing, all rolled into one.  My best ideas and snappiest lines of dialogue come to me while standing under a piping hot shower. I’ve also been known to belt out a few tunes while I’m there. Singing elevates my mood, clears my lungs, and centers me. It helps me shift from my right sided “business” brain to my left sided “creative” brain so I can get those 1,000 words on the page. The long hot shower is staying!

So, what about the inordinate amount of time I spend staring out the window, walking around my yard to see what’s coming into bloom, or simply sitting on my front porch with a hot cup of tea, paying attention to my breathing for a few minutes and taking time to be grateful for the multitude of gifts I have in my life? Am I procrastinating?

Maybe, but these moments too, are priceless. When I’m not actually writing, I’m usually preparing to write. I’m processing my next scene or coming up with some brilliant twist to my plot. As a writer, my brain is always processing some bit of information that will ultimately lead me to where I need to be on the page.

What it comes down to for me is that I’m a human being first, and a writer second. I NEED to stay connected to my higher self–the part of me that knows how to live in the moment and appreciates the power of just being.teens prayers5 (2013_02_16 17_00_55 UTC) That’s the part of me that inspired me to write in the first place and continues to be the well from which I draw my best work. Whether it’s called prayer or meditation…or just plain daydreaming, we all need it on some level.

I know that nothing can substitute for diligence, consistency in getting those daily word counts on the page, or putting in the overtime, but these quiet moments of stillness and reflection are essential to my sanity and well-being. I know this to be true about myself. Perhaps it’s just an excuse to be lazy or to procrastinate, but I prefer to think of it as “preparing” the soil. The fertile ground of productivity is only as good as what you feed into it. So next time you start to feel guilty for daydreaming instead of writing, or taking a day off to hit the beach, don’t look at it as “slacking”. Consider it part of the process. Tomorrow is another day and there is always more work to be done. Today, take a moment to reconnect to what nurtures and feeds your soul. You may be slightly less productive on paper, but you’ll be happier and more balanced in the long run.

Namaste!

PJ

What are your best “self-care” indulgences? What fuels your muse? What have you done for you lately?

Redefining Nanowrimo Success by Vivienne Lynge

Hello Everybody!  Vivienne Lynge here!

Today is the last day of Nanowrimo 2013 and I wanted to give you all a little update on my progress.  I have been saying for about two months that I will be finishing the first draft of Sometimes before the end of the year or I won’t be moving into 2014.  November and Nano were to be my big push to get me there.

Well……It’s the end of the month and while I haven’t finished the first draft, I am 14,000 words closer.  Given all of the other things I had going on this month, two kids, two jobs, a busy husband, PTO volunteer responsibilities, and a chaotic household that I’m trying to get under control, I’m calling 14,000 words a success.

This is what I love about Nanowrimo: 50,000 words this month was just not possible for me.  Even 35,000 wasn’t gonna happen.  But I did write 14,000 new words on a story on which I had lost focus.  Frankly, I’ve written about 20,000 words all year and 14k were in the last couple of weeks.  I’ve needed to refocus.  Re-energize.  And Nano helped me do that.

I am still committed to finishing the first draft of Sometimes ASAP.  In fact, I’m going to spend some time on Monday, pulling all the pieces of the book together.  It’s a bit scattered at the moment.  I bet that once I do that, I’ll have a partial manuscript somewhere in the 65,000 word range.  I’ll be only about 25,000 words short.  And I know I can write that in fairly short order.  Plus I have at least 2 really exciting scenes to write that will probably be half that word count.  So December 31st is still a possibility.  Even if I only get another 14,000 words written by then, that makes a January 30th first draft finish a done deal!

Here’s my very favorite secret: You define success for your endeavors.  It is perfectly all right to modify your definition and keep plugging away.

Balance During NaNoWriMo by J Monkeys

Hiddey Ho all!  J Monkeys here.  As you know I’m scribbling away this month with my 6th year of NaNoWrimo.  But as important as focus and forward movement are to me during the month of November, it’s equally important to remember that I have other responsibilities that I can’t ignore. 

Yes the dishes can pile up and I can order pizza for dinner again.  But the house has to be tidy for the dozen people arriving for Thanksgiving and I’m gonna have to feed them something.  A trip to Santasland on November 30 is more important than spending that last day banging out words.  And Parent/Teacher conferences are coming.  And I have a job that pays for important things like gas and groceries.

So, for all of you out there saying I can’t do it!  I can’t write a novel in November with all the other things I have to do – I’m here to say maybe that’s true.  Maybe you can’t write an entire novel.  But you can write a big chunk of one. 

I am absolutely shooting for 50,000 words this month.  But here’s a secret.  If I only hit 35,000 it’s still a success.  I’m 35,000 words further along than I would be if I hadn’t attempted to hit 50k.

Now I’m going back to writing…

 

NaNoWriMo Me by J Monkeys

Hiddey Ho there Scribblers!  J Monkeys here.  So I know there are both fans and pans of Nanowrimo out there.  If you aren’t familiar with Nano, click here for more detail.  Where do you fall?  I’m a fan.  I’ve learned a very important lesson over the last year.  I hate writing first drafts.  It’s my least favorite part of the writing process.  It turns out, I’ll do just about anything to avoid it.  And hey, guess what?  You aren’t a writer if you can’t write a first draft.  You know that beautifully sculpted final product?  It starts with the first draft. 

Nanowrimo is a tool that helps me staple my butt to the chair and get that torturous first draft written.  In fact, I could use two or three Nanowrimo’s a year.

So, since it’s November, I’m keeping the blog posts short and sweet.  If you are a writer, get writing.  If you are a Wrimo – quit goofing off and get back at that word count!

I Need a Knitted Laptop Hood by J Monkeys

Hiddey Ho Scribblers!  J Monkeys here.  November is coming and with it NaNoWrimo.  If you aren’t familiar with National Novel Writing Month, click here.  I will finish the first draft of my WIP this year or else!  Part of a successful Nano month is being prepared and having the right gear to get you through.  Next week, I’ll be cleaning my office and reading the new Julia Quinn book to get the temptation out of the way.  And, I ordered a new battery for my laptop today – I’ve needed one for a VERY long time.

Now my office is cold and I have many distractions from writing, including my twin boys.  I’m thinking of making one of these.

knitted laptop hood

What do you think?

The knitting instruction can be found here.  Maybe….

Writer’s Cave or Fortress of Solitude?

Tuesday’s Scribe PJ Sharon here. I hope you all had an enjoyable holiday weekend, didn’t eat too much “bad” stuff, and remembered to take a moment to relax. For me, the weekend was about two things: Entertaining family and friends, and reaching my goal of 40,000 words on my work in progress. As I write this post on Monday evening, I’m tired, full, and happy to report relative success on both counts. Hi Mom!

That’s my mother-in-law on the left, my youngest son on the right and the happy crew in the back is my best friend and her family. Great food, Good times!Labor day Dinner pic

As for my word count goal, I began the month of August with about 12,000 words written on a book called PIECES OF LOVE. It’s a contemporary YA romance that I had shelved last year to work on the Chronicles of Lily Carmichael trilogy. Since I’m planning to write book three of the trilogy in the coming year, I knew that if I wanted to write Ali’s story, I would have to do it quickly and get back to work finishing the trilogy. I’m pleased to say, that although I didn’t quite reach my goal, I’m pretty darn close at 37,500 words. I suspect I’ll get to the 40k mark tomorrow. So how did I do it, you ask? And even if you didn’t, I’m going to let you in on some secrets—because that’s what we Scribes are all about.

For some writers, 30,000 words in a month is a doable goal. All you have to do is write a thousand words a day. About three pages daily, right? Easy? Um…not really. What happens to having a day off? What if i get stuck on a plot point, need to do some research, or can’t figure out where the story is going? What about when family barges in and expects food and clean clothes for school? Or if you’re like me, you have that thing called a day job that consumes hours a day that you could be writing and by the time you get home, you can barely manage an Amy’s frozen black bean burrito (delicious and nutritious by the way).

If you are a perfectly disciplined writer, then 30k in a month is just about the right pace to finish a first draft in two—maybe two and a half—months. But how many of us are perfectly disciplined writers? I almost want to say that those words are a bit of an oxymoron. Perfectly neurotic—maybe. Perfectly disciplined—not likely. So how does a writer on a deadline do it?

Word count goals are a must, but how rigid do we have to be? Do we really need to lock ourselves away to get the job done? Some people talk about the “writer’s cave.” The place where writers go to hole up, be left alone, and don’t come out until the work is finished. I knew that this would never work for me. Number one, I’m claustrophobic, so even the thought of being forced into a cave makes me want to run screaming into the night. Secondly, it sounds like punishment. I’m picturing Jamie Fraser (for Outlander fans) hiding out in a tiny cave in the hills of Scotland for a year, surviving on rats and roots, in fear for his life and that of his family if he is found out. And then there’s the bats…eeek! No caves for me, thank you.

I’m a big believer in perspective. There is real power in words and thoughts. I think people can say just about anything to anyone if they say it with kindness and positive intention. I also believe that a person can accomplish anything they set their minds to if they are given the right tools and have the right attitude. Call it “spin,” “attitude,” or “perspective.” With the right mindset, a person can accomplish great things. I’ve seen it too many times in my life to discount it as theory.

But when I think about the task of writing an entire book in two months, the magnitude of it seems overwhelming. I know myself well enough to know that if I try to force myself to do anything, it will immediately create resistance within me. Also, giving myself an impossible daily word count that doesn’t allow me flexibility or a day off would make me nuts and constantly reinforce a sense of failure—a sure recipe for burnout and not the way for me to be productive.

I find I do much better with a weekly word count of 7-8,000 words. I might be able to do that in a day if I have uninterrupted time and the story is flowing. Or I might not be able to get any writing done for a full week. I don’t beat myself up for that. Instead, I try to put it in perspective. I look at how far I’ve come, appreciate how hard I work in my everyday life, and cut myself some slack for not meeting a particular goal. I also remind myself how much I love my story. I WANT to write it, to see it completed and in print ASAP. Now that is motivating. It’s why I keep showing up at my computer every day.
One of the best tricks I’ve found for making my writing a happier experience and less of a demand is to re-frame how I think about it and my work space. It’s not my writer’s cave, it is my Fortress of Solitude. It’s not a deadline (which makes me think of a hangman’s noose), it’s a finish line (which for us competitive types invokes visions of ticker tape and a celebration).

I have come to love the Fortress of Solitude metaphor. You know, the place where Superman goes to re-energize, reflect on his journey, and find the courage to take the next step toward his ultimate goal. That feels much more inviting to me than a cave. It also allows me to include others in looking at my writing in a more positive way. My husband is awesomely supportive, but even he has his limits. If he thought I was “hiding” from him, I think he would be less inclined to be so helpful. But knowing that I am on an important mission—something that is meaningful and satisfying to me, and working at a job that has the potential to make us a nice retirement nest egg, he feels like he is part of the process—part of making my dreams come true.

So when your family is driving you crazy and interfering with your writing time or keeping you from meeting a “deadline,” instead of telling them you need to be in your “cave,” put up a sign on your desk that says “Fortress of Solitude”.
When you are there, they need to understand the importance of what it is that you are doing–like Superhero important. Also, let them in now and then to make them feel like they are part of your superhero’s journey. You might find they are much more supportive in helping you meet those word count goals.

So how are you all doing these days with your writing? Are you happy with your progress? Loving your story? Carving out time for family and friends as well as meeting those word count goals? Let’s chat fellow Scribers.

Starting Over

Welcome! It’s another steamy Tuesday in the Berkshires. My garden is well in bloom and loving the sunshine, warmth, and afternoon thundershowers.Garden

PJ here, and I am about to embark on another journey–both on and off the page. I’ll be leaving next week for Atlanta for the National Romance Writer’s Convention. I look forward to filling you all in on the action while I’m away (check out tweets by following me @pjsharon and using hashtag #rwa2013, or catch up with me on Facebook @pjsharonbooks for pics of who’s who and what’s happening). Although I’m looking forward to all the workshops, networking, opportunities, and fun with my writer buds, what I’m most looking forward to is a boost of enthusiasm to dig into my next project, book three in the Chronicles of Lily Carmichael trilogy. Though conferences can be exhausting, I always come home energized and raring to write, so the timing couldn’t be better.

Most writers will agree that the happiest words we write are “THE END.” At the same time, I think many will also agree that the most daunting words we write are “Chapter One.”

It’s hard to believe I’m starting over yet again. I can honestly say it’s still as bitter sweet and anxiety provoking an endeavor as I have ever faced. Sitting in front of a blank page can be the most exciting moment for a writer, or the most terrifying—usually both in equal measure for me. So here I find myself having to put another 80,000 or more words on the page in some semblance of an entertaining tale. Being that this will be the final in a trilogy, I have a lot riding on making this my best story yet. As added pressure, I need to write it and publish it in the next nine months so as not to lose readers who are awaiting the final installment, and to meet the general standards of the publishing industry. It’s tough out there, and to compete in such an overcrowded market, I have to continue to produce quality fiction in a timely manner. That’s the business woman in me speaking—the grown-up.

But when I break down the details of all that needs to go into making that deadline, I immediately want to take another week off and rest up a bit more (my inner teen in total rebellion). “It’s summer vacation,” she whines. “All work and no play…,” she cajoles. I let her have her way for another day and then my inner mom grounds her and takes away her TV until she gets that blog post done and starts outlining her scenes. It’s hard being the grown-up, but somebody’s got to do it.

Since I can ignore the publishing/promo part until about 3-5 months out from deadline, I can focus just on the task of writing the book. Easy-peasy, right? I’ve done this a few times before. A thousand words a day and I’ll have my first draft done in three months. That leaves six months for multiple edits and all that goes into polishing a manuscript before it goes to print. I don’t know about you guys, but each book has been a completely different process for me. Hopefully, my process has evolved enough that this time it will be easier. Of course, this is my first trilogy so that makes it more complicated…a lot more complicated.

I have tons of loose ends to wrap up and have to find ways of weaving bits of backstory in so readers aren’t totally lost if they missed something in WANING MOON or WESTERN DESERT. I have to up the stakes, force my characters to face their demons, and carry them through their arc to completion in this book. They must overcome their fatal flaws, win out over the villain, and find their hopefully ever after, maybe even saving the world while their at it. I could easily stretch this into a series of four books, but since I marketed a trilogy, I’m stuck, LOL. So a lot of what I’ need to do in the planning is narrow my focus to what absolutely has to happen in this book. There will be NO tangential literary diversions!

Luckily, I have a lot of tools to get me started and keep me on track. Casey Wyatt has outlined her method, which appears very straight forward and doable. I am anxious to try her approach, although I’ve learned from so many other great teachers in this business that my process will surely be a hybrid of hers, theirs, and mine. A quick breakdown of my plan looks like this:

1) Summarize the story/create tag line– I totally agree with Casey on this one. It is really helpful to understand the bare bones of what your story is about before jumping in. It saves a lot of writing in circles and editing later.

2) Identification of characters-I know Casey likes a very superficial view at this point, but since I’ve already written two books about these characters,  I’ll use this step to update and add details to my Series Bible (a notebook I developed to keep character traits, appearance, weapons, and world building details straight). I will also take time during this step to begin working on my character grids (outlining each character’s internal and external goal, motivation, and conflict, the inciting incident, fatal flaw of each character–what they must overcome within themselves to find their HEA). By now, I should know my characters well enough that these questions shouldn’t be too hard to answer.

3) Three Act Story structure-Like Casey, I learned the three act play story structure that outlines the beginning, middle, and end of every story, but after taking a Michael Hague workshop several years ago, I had the opportunity to delve a little deeper into how to progress through those three acts. His technique helped me to better understand the structure behind the stories we create. He breaks  it down into stages consisting of SETUP, NEW SITUATION, PROGRESS, COMPLICATIONS & HIGHER STAKES, the FINAL PUSH, and the AFTERMATH. He also taught me that pacing is controlled in part by appropriately placed turning points (a sure cure for the sagging middle). The first turning point, he describes as the OPPORTUNITY (aka: inciting incident), followed by a CHANGE OF PLANS (aka: call to action), POINT OF NO RETURN (about half-way through), MAJOR SETBACK (Dark Moment), and CLIMAX. Working this all out on index cards, a poster board, or in an outline combines Casey’s step four (the meat and potatoes of plotting), and step five (scene development on index cards).

Being a pantser by nature, all of this plotting, planning and prep work requires a bit of self-discipline and a tight rein on my inner rebellious teen, who would like nothing better than to jump in and write willy-nilly in complete denial of the consequences (such as dead ends, tangential diversions, and lots of unnecessary editing later on), but it’s a good thing that grown-up me is in control, right?

Hmmm…maybe I’ll just wait to get started until after I get back from Atlanta. After all…it is summer vacation and all work and no play…well, we all know what that does. I hope to see some of you at the conference!

I’d love to hear your feedback on my plan. Any tips, suggestions, or questions are welcome.