Every since Volume 1 of this wonderfully useful series, I have devoured each of the “Writers on Writing” books from Crystal Lake Publishing, each of which focus on different aspects of the writing life. This time around, although I was sad to learn that Volume 4 would be the last of the series, I was thrilled to see that this tome deals with a broad mixture of topics ranging from poetry to networking to description.
Blunt Force Trauma: How to Write Killer Poetry by Stephanie M. Wytovich
Although I don’t write poetry, I am fascinated by the poet’s process and I find that there are always some useful nuggets to be gleaned that may also be applicable to prose. I have been a long-time admirer of Stephanie Wytovich’s poetry, especially her wonderfully devastating and impactful poem in “Gutted,” which you should also read, so I was interested to see her breaking down the notion that poetry is like blunt-force trauma. It is an “assault on the body.” She describes poetry as the “exploration of the wound,” which I thought was a very evocative analogy.
While she describes her early efforts as a tad melodramatic, it taught her to be honest and it gave her permission not to hold back. These are two things I still struggle with as a writer, so it was very liberating for me to read that poetry could be so cathartic. I loved her phrase “the demons that had been following me for years.”
One of the things I admire most of about Stephanie and her work is that she is not apologetic or demure about it. She is bold and brash. I have known many established writers who have tried to put down the work of younger writers or to dismiss the credibility of anything they have to say or any advice they may have to give, which I think is rubbish, but I am glad we have folks like Stephanie out there who give a brave face to younger writers who are maybe not as comfortable in our own skin yet.
Her systematic breakdown of steps to writing killer horror poetry is magnificent in its detail. As she suggests at the very end, “expose the wound, examine the fear, and close the case.”
Happy Little Trees by Michael Knost
In his piece, Michael Knost focuses on imbuing characters with depth, details, and layers to make them jump off the page and be memorable to readers. He makes analogies to forests and trees to illustrate his points, as well as painting and Photoshop, and he very much emphasizes the notion of relational influence. If you’re antsing for more tips on how to do characterization better, be sure to check out his piece.
In Lieu of Patience Bring Diversity by Kenneth W. Cain
Kenneth W. Cain talks about the virtues of patience in a writer and how it encompasses all the areas of a writer’s career from waiting to hear back on a submission to award nominations to gaining a readership. He also discusses considerations of how detailed to get when it comes to descriptions, which I thought was useful especially as he related it to the importance of creating characters that the reader will sympathize with.
Networking is Scary, but Essential by Doug Murano
The style and direct approach of Doug Murano’s entry in the volume, which is all about that scary word–networking–helped to make it seem a little less daunting. He also discussed some of the marketing innovations he came up with while doing PR for the Horror Writers Association, which is very useful for authors to note.
His section on strategies should is excellent and many authors will find it useful.
Are You In The Mood? by Sheldon Higdon
Focusing back on the writer’s craft side of things, Sheldon Higdon’s entry talks about how to establish mood in a story as well as the subtle differences between mood and how it builds into atmosphere. If you struggle with description or you’ve been told you write purple prose, check out Sheldon’s piece.
What if Every Novel is a Horror Novel? by Steve Diamond
Angling more toward a philosophical bent is Steve Diamond’s piece, which seeks to define what horror is, which is no easy task. He encourages readers to stretch their defintions of what constitutes horror and rightly so.
Description: You Can’t Win so Why Play by Patrick Freivald
Patrick Freivald tackles why writers over-write so often, particularly when it comes to description and throwing too much detail at the reader, and how even though writers want the reader to have a very specific vision in mind of what they want people to see, the results sometimes get muddled in translation onto the page. Freivald also addresses incorporating sensory descriptions into prose, so it’s a worthwile piece to check out.
Long Night’s Journey Into…This? A First-Time Novelist’s Odyssey by William Gorman
Being a novelist for the first time is usually not an experience that goes particularly easily for the writers who manage to get there. I cannot believe he had a correspondence with Clive Barker (how fortunate!), who told him to write a novel at one point, which made for a magnificent story. He discusses why the novel-writing process turned out to be so difficult for him. I think the piece is one that established pros as well as hopeful newbies can benefit from.
I Am Setting by J.S. Breukelaar
Getting back more toward the craft side of things, we have a piece devoted to setting and description. This part of the volume was a very useful breakdown of setting as well as what to do with fictional world-making and building.
Finding Your Voice by Lynda E. Rucker
To cap off the volume, we get a piece about that ever-elusive concept of authorial “voice” from Lynda E. Rucker. So often writers are told to develop their voice, that their voice isn’t strong enough, that the voice of the piece is highly derivative or a pastiche, but many writers are left scratching their heads and wondering just what the heck “voice” even means. It’s something that this piece helps to simplify into something more understandable. She also has some wonderful suggestions as to how to find one’s voice, so it’s well worth reading through.
I had a nagging doubt that though I’ve been on a productivity kick for a while, at some point, the words would stop flowing because of my re-entry into school. And that’s exactly what happened. I finished a huge chunk of my current project, but writing has taken a backseat to school.
This isn’t surprising. Any time someone goes through a major upheaval like moving houses, getting married, starting school, etc, writing takes a while to adjust.
Unfortunately, that’s a surface interpretation for why my writing brain has shut down. The deeper reason is that I relied too much on a morning routine that was not sustainable.
The problem with productivity suggestions like the ones outlined in the course I’ve talked about in my past 2 posts is that they reinforce the idea that writers have to meet specific conditions or they won’t be able to write, period.
I’m not going to deny that I got great word count mileage out of following advice such as writing first thing in the morning, listening to binaural beats, wearing the same outfit, and similar guidelines.
The problem is that these productivity suggestions train writers to be able to write only under a specific set of circumstances. Writers can apply these routines later in the day, but when my day has already gotten going, I don’t stop to write. It doesn’t happen that way for me, plain and simple.
One of the best bits of writing advice I read many years ago was something to the effect of: “If you have to wait until you have your favourite scented candle, this brand of coffee, this specific pen, this specific computer, this specific music, etc., before you write, your won’t get your writing done and you’ll use these things as excuses.”
One of the most crucial abilities for writers is to be able to write during less-than-ideal circumstances. Some people write when they’re at the doctor’s office, over their lunch break, while at a sport or activity for their child, waiting for laundry to finish up, and so on. Going forward, my goal is going to be to write in these stolen snippets of time.
Although I thought I had found a new way to write that was working for me, I have to start from scratch again. Some writers work best with rigid rules and schedules, but I have learned that although I’m like that in other areas, I’m not like that when it comes to writing.
The advice about getting up at 5 or 6am to write isn’t new. John Grisham is one example of someone who used to do it when he was still a practicing lawyer. That doesn’t work for me, and that’s okay. There are other ways. I’m skeptical of all the writing websites that repeat the idea that it’s been “scientifically proven” that writing first thing in the morning is the best time. I tried it, I did it, and for me, it just wasn’t sustainable. That’s okay.
I want to focus on the school of thought in the writing community that tells writers to challenge the assumption that we need hours and hours to write anything worthwhile. I’ve had periods of my life when time was not an issue and writing still didn’t get done.
When we know our time to write is limited, we get more done. The course I took uses a great example of this involving an old laptop the instructor used–she knew it only had an hour or so of battery life before the battery would die, so she would write on this device. The result? She still got plenty of writing done.
Other writers use snippets of time here and there, and I know people for whom this works very well. I am not one them, and that’s okay. A few years ago, I read a blog post talking about how one writer admitted she doesn’t write fiction every day—and that’s perfectly valid. Another author, Daniel Jose Older, wrote an impassioned plea to writers to stop beating themselves up about not writing fiction every single day. He makes a valid point.
Many writers chastise others, saying that if we don’t all write fiction every single day of our lives, that we “don’t count” or that we won’t have careers. I get where this advice comes from. And I agree that a regular writing habit is essential for any writer–but it looks different for everyone.
Lucy A. Snyder, one of my favourite horror authors, and a writer with a day job like most of us, tends to write in binges over her weekends, something she talks about in her indispensable writing how-to guide, Shooting Yourself in the Head for Fun and Profit. I’m more of a binge writer myself, so I’m going to give her method a whirl even though I also have a lot going on during the weekends.
What about you? Does anyone out there have any thoughts when it comes to productivity, whether it’s a system that works for them, or other helpful tips and hints? Sound off below!
I’m halfway through my experience of trying out the tips and tricks in the online course Writing Mastery: Productivity for Writers taught by Jessica Brody (read my review of the course for more information). That review was fine and dandy, but it also happened before I tried any of the tips and techniques, so now that I’ve had a chance to enact some of Jessica’s suggestions, have I become a more productive writer?
Yes! But there’s a caveat.
Have I produced more words this past month alone compared to the past year? Yes.
Have I written every single day, seven days a week? No.
Have I followed every single one of the the course instructor’s techniques religiously and with feverish zeal? For about the first five days, yes. Then…I had to modify some of the steps she mentions in the Morning Magic Routine. Out of the multiple steps outlined for this process, here are the ones I continue to do:
- I do wear my “writing only” outfit
- I do write in my Gratitude Journal every writing session
- I do eat a healthy breakfast
- I do listen to dark ambient versus binaural beats and have found my usual soundtrack of dark ambient to be more effective
- I do have a Sacred Writing Ritual, which is to pour myself a cup of coffee or tea and sometimes, to light a small candle.
- I do write 🙂
Has my word count got up? Yes. Exponentially. I’m not exaggerating. The funny thing is that even though I am tracking word count with the fantastic spreadsheet the course instructor provides with the purchase of the course, I feel a sense of satisfaction that I have accomplished something.
This is in stark contrast to the looming sense of dread, fear and shame that I experienced with NanoWrimo last November, where my focus was whether I hit enough words that the program demanded and whether I would fall behind.
So, my word count has, happily, gone up, but I think a big reason for this is because the course helps writers calculate their own average daily word count, and then the rest of the steps are based on you as an individual writer and meeting your own goals as opposed to trying to push yourself to conform to someone else’s required word counts.
The one thing I am struggling with most — and that I wish the course instructor devoted more time to — is the whole getting up early and having enough energy to get through the morning thing. I’ll admit that I still haven’t mastered the art of not relying on a snooze button to get up.
There have been days I have been dead tired for many reasons I won’t get into, and I haven’t been able to get up at 7am despite having moved the time I go to bed earlier than where it was previously (My goal is to get to 6am. Let’s just say I’m still building up to that).
The one thing I completely agree with the instructor 100% about is that a person does their best and most productive writing in the morning. Yes, I know several writers who get their best writing done in the evenings, on their lunch breaks, during their subway rides, and other different times of the day, but for me, switching to mornings has been a gamechanger.
The other amazing thing this course has taught me is that I don’t need uninterrupted marathon 8-hour days to get writing done and to be productive (although that’s perfectly valid and for those writers for whom marathons are a daily reality, more power to you).
Here are some other things I have found helpful:
- I have been very good about turning off notifications on my phone, not turning on my phone until my writing session is done, putting my phone in another room, and generally looking at my phone a lot less.
- I don’t write on a laptop or computer, so I don’t have to worry about turning off distractions on that front.
- In an ideal world, I would like to check Facebook less times a day but one step at a time.
What I had to cut out or move to a different time of the day because it just wasn’t working for me:
The stretching–I’m incredibly sore upon waking up. This is a daily reality for me. This makes it challenging to move around and I don’t like to add to my pain if I can help it.
The five-minute meditation–if you can swing it, great. I felt this step was a bit cumbersome for me to get through as I already do my meditation in the evenings, but to each their own.
The multiple journals—as I mentioned above, I write in my gratitude journal, which I find helpful, but the goal journal was just turning into me writing the same thing every day, which was “Write x amount of words today”, which is a goal I have met every day I have been writing. I accept that goal-setting is something I need to improve, but I had to cut it down to one journal.
Writing tools–so, many of the course instructor’s suggested guidelines are catered to laptop writers, which is fine because most people do this. I have done it in the past. However, as I did during NanoWrimo, I am writing on my Neo AlphaSmart, which is an electric typing device. The other writers I know who have an AlphaSmart (like Adam Cesare, for instance) swear by it and I’m one of them. If extended longhand writing wasn’t so painful for me, I would write do that.
So, Anita, will I become a more productive writer if I make like you and do the course you’ve been talking about? It’s quite possible, but I find the other things that have contributed to my success are grit, determination, and above all, passion for my project. I am writing a possibly Young Adult Gothic novel, and I am loving every minute of it. On those days when I haven’t written, I hate that icky feeling I’ve received because I want to spend as much time in the universe I’ve created.
However, I think one of the good things about limiting my writing sessions to 1 or 1.5 hours at a time is that it keeps my energy and passion for the project going–if I spent 3 or 4 hours a day writing this project, which I could, ostensibly do, I would get sick of it after a while and I wouldn’t have enough energy to carry me through to the next day.
By limiting my spurts of “you only get to work on this book for a finite amount a day, and you’re on a timer, so make the most of it!” I think I am setting myself up for the achievable results I am seeing, with a huge increase in output.
This course has been a godsend for me because I know so many writers who have worked out their own routines and know what works for them and they are generally jiving with their writing processes.
But for the longest time I struggled with not understanding the circumstances that got in the way of me getting writing done, and now that I have figured them and found a solution to get around those obstacles (for the most part), my writing productivity has definitely improved.
I encourage everyone who is struggling with not getting writing done to take a look at this course I am talking about and try it out. See if the outlined methodologies work for you. I know it seems overwhelming or like it’s a lot, but once you get to the stage where you’ve formed a habit, you will want to keep it up. I know I do 🙂