Tag Archives: planning

Learning How to Plan for Your Dreams (Guest Post)

The next guest poster I’d like to welcome to the blog is poet and short story writer Lissa Clouser, whom I met through the 12 x 12 challenge. When I first read her post, I found it really struck a chord with me. She offers some great advice on striving for that writing dream.

Learning How to Plan for your Dreams

As writers we want to be trendsetters, not goal-setters. We want the right-now success while only doing maybe-later work. But there’s been a breakthrough! We have it all backwards.

The truth of it is that we’ve trained ourselves to spend all of our time dreaming. We dream up our characters, their stories, and the worlds in which they live them out. Chances are it’s the dream of the adventurous life of writing that’s led us to be more than journal keepers in the first place.

Somewhere in the middle of all that wistful dreaming however, most of us have forgotten to take the time and effort to make a plan. Plans don’t have to be complicated, but I’ve come to believe they are a necessary foundation for future success.

1)      Start by taking just one step back. Not too far from the dream, but just enough to see the big picture. I did this with my own writing life about 8 months ago. Where am I going? What do I want to accomplish? Why do I want to accomplish it? If you don’t feel like answering all of these questions yet that’s okay. But now that you’ve stepped back, how far are you from your dream?

2)      DON’T GET DISCOURAGED. I know you just stepped back and took a good long look at how far away your dream might be, but whatever you do, discouragement is not allowed! No matter how far away you think you are, it’s still accessible. Believe and plan.

3)      We’ve dreamt. We’ve hyperventilated. Now what do we do? Evaluate. Where are you right now? Right this very minute? This is very important knowledge because if you don’t take the time to evaluate this, how do you know where to go? Don’t be ashamed if you’re just starting. We all start somewhere. Just know where to put the push pin on your mental map of the big-picture journey. You can look back and gawk at how far you’ve come later.

4)      Plot your next step. Do you have a first draft of a novel you love completed? Excellent. Revise. Maybe you’ve polished a picture book manuscript 40 times and you’re confident it shines. Fantastic. Learn how to write a query letter. Learn how to research agents who might be interested in you. Are you at the very beginning, still just grasping at the fluffy clouds of what-if? That’s awesome! The whole world stretches before you. Don’t let a story overwhelm you. Start small with poetry, short stories, or even learning how to free write ideas. Practice will not only teach you what you love about writing, it will teach you what you need to work on, help you find and shape your voice, and lead you to your next step.

5)      If you haven’t already, find your niche. This isn’t prison; you aren’t confined to it by any means, but like it or not we all have one or maybe a few areas in which we shine. I thought I wanted to be a novelist. (And deep down I still do.) But I’m finding that the more I write, the more I realize poetry is probably my strongest point. When I do write short stories I like dark themes. I love to use psychological twists and turns to mess with the reader. But what do you like? Answering this question will help to give you direction and a brand with which to market yourself. Me? I want to be a novelist, but for now I’m a poet.

6)      DON’T GET DISCOURAGED. I feel like repeating this again. Writing is a hard road, filled with lots of rejection for most of us, rejection that comes from ourselves and the big bad world of publishing. Just remember, if you get rejected from an agent, publisher, or contest that means you tried in the first place. I’m already proud of you for that alone. So don’t get discouraged. Seriously.

7)      Create a marketing plan, but don’t be shocked if it changes. It probably will. But having a marketing plan in the first place will steer you in a positive direction. Decide what it is you want to market. Decide where you want to market it. What are the steps to reach that market? Is it something you can already be researching in your down time from writing? My current project is a poetry anthology, and it’s still at least a year from being print-worthy. But when I’m not working on the poetry itself and I’m not blogging, I’m trying to learn my market. What small publishers fit my work? Do I want to try self-publishing? Where and how am I going to market my book? These are all questions going through my mind. As the time for publication gets closer, my marketing plan will get better, tighter. But just like your writing, having a rough draft for marketing can only improve the final concept.

8)      Write! You have it in you. I believe in you. We’re on this journey together!

Your plan for this wild ride is not going to look like mine. It’s not going to look like anyone else’s. But hopefully I’ve given you the confidence to know that planning does not have to be the ball and chain holding down your dreams. Let your plans and your dreams work together and they can take you far.

Lissa Clouser is a poet and occasional short story writer. She is currently working on two poetry anthologies. You can learn more about her and join in on the writing conversation on her blog http://quidforquill.wordpress.com.

The Best Cure for Writer’s Block

I think all writers encounter writer’s block at some point, whether you are in the middle of a novel and you’re not sure how to progress to the next scene, or you don’t know what you want to happen next, or you want to write a short story, but don’t even know what to write about. There are lots of causes for writer’s block, but what is the best cure?

When I did NaNoWriMo for the first time in 2009 I discovered the best cure for writer’s block: Just write! Because during NaNoWriMo I had a goal of writing 50,000 words in one month, I didn’t have time to sit around procrastinating over a scene until the answer came to me – I wanted to reach my daily word goal. So I wrote. Sometimes what I wrote was pure drivel, but I was writing. I could always go back later and edit or cut out. By writing when I thought I was stuck I got past the writer’s block. Once I discovered this, I’ve never been bothered by writer’s block again. Here are some methods I use to write past writer’s block:

1. Write or Die. I loved this free program during my first NaNoWriMo. The idea is to set a goal and a punishment for yourself, then start writing. The punishment occurs if you stop writing for too long and could be as simple as a siren going off or as harsh as erasing what you’ve already written. Because you have to write to stop the punishment occurring, you don’t have time to stop and procrastinate. I used this many times when I got stuck on a scene on my novel. (Remember you can edit later, so don’t worry if what you write even makes sense at this point.) If you don’t want to use Write or Die, set yourself a timer, close down any other distractions on your computer and just write until the timer goes off.

2. The Writing Book by Kate Grenville. There are some great writing prompts and writing exercises in this book. I got assigned this book when I was studying writing at university, and it’s one of the few assigned books I still refer to. Stuck on your character? There’s a chapter on character. Don’t know where to begin? Try the chapter on getting started. Here’s an example of an exercise from the book:

Write for 60 seconds without stopping. Just write exactly what comes into your head, even if it’s only ‘I can’t think of anything to write this is a stupid thing to do.’

3. Plan Ahead. Particularly if you are writing a novel or a longer piece it can help to plan before you write. Obviously this is not for everyone and some people find it too restrictive, but I find it helps me have an idea of where I want my story to go. By knowing where my story is going, and what plot points I want to include, it gives me something to work towards. That way if I get stuck, I just refer to my notes, look at what my next important plot point is, and write towards that scene.

How do you get past writer’s block?

Image: Sura Nualpradid / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

NaNoWriMo – The journey so far

LAST YEAR

Last year I attempted NaNo for the first time. I only got 25k. I managed to finish the novel a few months later and have recently just finished editing.

THIS YEAR

The plan…

This year I had four story ideas I was throwing around, I finally decided on the one I had the most ideas for since I figured it would make it easier to write. I planned it all out, I had an outline, I had character bios, I even knew what I wanted to happen chapter by chapter (I’m a real planner when I write, I like to know what’s going to happen before I start.)

November starts…

I started out slow. Really slow. In the first week I got a total of 3000 words. I had the ideas, I knew what I wanted to happen, I even had the time (since I’m not working at the moment). I just wasn’t feeling motivated. By the end of the week I knew it just wasn’t working and it was a choice between giving up completely or starting something new.

Second attempt…

I thought I might switch to the sequel for my last year’s NaNo, since I already had a few ideas for it and I was already in my characters’ heads from all the editing. I wrote 100 words and realised I needed the month break from that universe I’d promised myself (after all I’d been working on that story non stop for a year already).

Finding the right story…

I thought about the remaining two stories I had on my back up list and decided I didn’t feel the pull for either of them. There was only one thing left I could pursue. What had been my major distraction during that first week? A new book series I’d discovered a few months ago and which I’d just recently finished reading. Every time I didn’t feel motivated on my story I would read fanfic pertaining to this series. I’d written fanfic in the past (as I mentioned in my guest post on Harry Potter for Writers last week), why not try my hand at a new fandom?

Motivation finally…

The first day I started writing my fanfic novel I wrote 7851 words in one day! That’s more than double my word count from the entire week before. I’d found my motivation. The following days I wrote 5k a day. By day 9 I’d surpassed the daily word count goal and kept ahead. I couldn’t believe I was writing so much by the seat of my pants with no real plan and only the vaguest of ideas of where I wanted the story to go. It’s scary in a way, I’ve never written anything this long without a plan before.

Motivation dwindling…

Last week my motivation started dwindling. It was a combination of a couple of reasons. Firstly I hit a spot in my story where I’d written a really climatic scene and found I wasn’t really sure what I wanted to happen next (the downfall of writing with no plan). Secondly morning sickness kicked in. It probably wasn’t the smartest idea planning to get pregnant when NaNo was about to start and I knew morning sickness would kick in sometime in November. I planned to power through. Not so easy when my stomach is churning and I’m feeling tired on top of that and I just want to go to sleep. We’ve also been hit with some really hot days here the past few days, so that’s compounded my lack of motivation. Monday I wrote nothing at all.

Where I am now…

My total word count at the moment is just over 38k, I’m sitting right where I should be for my daily word goal, but have lost the lead I built up earlier. I need to hit 40k by the end of today to keep on track. I’ll have to keep fighting through the morning sickness, fatigue and heat if I want to hit 50k by the end of the week. Wish me luck!

NaNoWriMo this year has been a real rollercoaster ride so far, full of highs and lows. I know in the end I won’t have a publishable novel, since I’m writing a fanfic, but it’s a nice break from the editing I’ve been doing on my original novel. Perhaps I’ll find a fanfic site to post it on.

I hope wherever you are on your NaNo journey you just keep writing. There’s still a week to go, anything could happen! And no matter what our word counts are by the end, whether we get 50k or not, every single word is an accomplishment. Every word makes us better writers (and so will all the editing when we’re finished). Good luck to all my fellow NaNoers as you partake in the final week!