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Finishing the book

The_End_BookIn the last two calendar years I wrote 245,000 words of fiction without completing a single novel.

In fact, until Monday, I hadn’t written “The End”—actually I don’t write that anyway—on a fiction manuscript since I finished the first draft of Blind Fury in December 2011.

Which makes Monday’s finish of the first draft of Blind Justice kind of a big deal!

I was starting to wonder if I still had what it takes to write a book to its full conclusion. I’d done it before, plenty of times—in fact, Blind Fury was my fourth completed manuscript—but just not lately.

It wasn’t writer’s block, more like a lack of clear focus.

Scrivener For Dummies provided a distraction for a good part of 2011, but even after that I was all over the place. I started a follow-up to BF, but then worried that maybe I should write something that wasn’t linked, just in case BF didn’t sell.

Then I got to a certain point and felt like I wasn’t at a place in my writing where I could do that story justice, so I started something completely different.

I was halfway through that second something when I decided I was going to forge my own path and dive into self-publishing.

Instant focus.

The series is king, which meant it was time to return to the Blind Fury follow-up and drop the manuscript I’d put over 30K into. It’s amazing how knowing what you want, and what you need to do to get there, makes all the difference.

So, now I finally have that fifth manuscript under my belt, and a sixth one halfway done.

My advice? If you’ve never finished a book, pick a story, stick with it, and finish it. Don’t be distracted by the plot bunnies. Capture them somewhere—Evernote maybe?—and get back to work.

You don’t have to love the first draft—that’s what revisions and editors are for—you just have to get to the end. It’s a lot easier to write half a story than a whole one. Until you complete one, you’ll never know if you can.

And once you do, you’ll have the confidence that you can do it again.

Oh, and I’d recommend not waiting two years to make it happen. 😉

Image credit: By EWikist at en.wikipedia {Public domain), via Wikimedia Commons

My 2013 hits and misses

512px-Emoticon_Face_Smiley_GE512px-Emoticon_Face_Frown_GEI’m not big on waiting until January to make resolutions. If there’s something I want to start—or stop—I don’t see a need to wait. But I do like using the new year as a time to reflect on my accomplishments and missteps so I can set better goals and determine what I need to work on going forward.

What I noticed this year is that my productivity plummets during the summer, especially in terms of writing. You can see in the charts below that my word counts and writing hours dropped significantly in the middle of the year.

Some of this is due to conferences and personal travel, some due to my kids being home and visitors (good distractions), and some probably due to me getting out of my good habits (bad distractions). I did start to pick up my good habits again in the fall, but I need to be better about this in 2014.

I wrote more words and worked more hours in 2013, and it paid off with a fully edited, ready-to-go manuscript, and half of the second book in the series. My increased hours also reflect that I’m doing more online courses, in-person workshops, and individual training.

2013 Stats

I wrote 164,592 total words, including blog posts (new to this year's stats). 131,486 of those were fiction words, almost 20K more than 2012. Travel, visitors, conferences, and online courses really messed with my summer writing habits.

2013WordsChart

I worked 930 hours, not including reading craft blogs, small snippets of research reading, volunteer hours for my writing chapters, or travel time (I did include blogging and author-related social media for 2013). That works out to about 18 hours/week.

2013HoursChart

 

Hits

– Taught two Scrivener online courses (actually four).
– (Partial hit) I was definitely better about putting off email and social networking until after writing on many days, but still totally failed on others. Need to keep working on it.
– I did better this year confining my work to weekdays between 7am-6pm. I wasn’t 100% successful, but I’d say I managed it about 90% of the time. Weekends are hardest.
– Blogged weekly. Thanks for reading! 🙂
– Completed revisions on BLIND FURY with a professional editor, which means I have the first book in my series ready to go.
– Published PRODUCTIVITY TOOLS FOR WRITERS, which wasn’t on my original goal list, but is a definite “hit” for me. 🙂

Misses

– I did not get 60-90 minutes of writing or editing in every weekday, nor did I always hit 1000 words during writing sessions. But I’m not too disappointed. You can see from my chart that I still wrote a lot of words this year.
– I didn't complete two new manuscripts, but I figured out my real goal (self-published series in 2014), which caused me to stop a book halfway through. As a result, I only wrote half of the second book in the series, and half of another that might be part of another series someday, and spent a lot of time revising book one.

Goals for 2014

– Self-publish a three-book series and novella. (I talked about why here.)
– Teach two Scrivener full-length online courses.
– Create and deliver at least one short, specialty Scrivener course.

Seriously, I think that may be enough to keep me busy night and day. 😉 Throw in my travel for fun, conferences and workshops, and the fact that we’re due for a move this summer, and I think that’s plenty.

How’d you do in 2013? What’s on your list for this year?

Image credits: By Granny Enchanted (Own work) (CC0), via Wikimedia Commons

NaNoWriteMore with Scrivener

2013-Participant-Square-ButtonAnyone else gearing up for National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo)? You know, the craziness of attempting to write 50,000 words in 30 days?

I’ve been playing with some early scenes in my next manuscript to help me flesh out the story and get to know the characters better, and now I’m trying to hammer out more of the plot details.

Although I consider myself a pantser, I’m working on having the major turning points and motivations figured out before I get too far into a story these days. Otherwise, I end up doing a lot of backtracking. Plus, having an outline–even a bad or spotty one–helps a lot during NaNo when you don’t have time to spend figuring out what comes next.

Unless, of course, you work like that. I can, but it’s not pretty.

It’s now a tradition for me to remind you of the fabulous ways in which Scrivener can make NaNoWriMo easier. Here are some of my tips for using it to your best advantage in November.

The key? Don’t stop writing for anything, especially not to edit or do research.

Time-delay the Idea Fairy

Create a couple of text documents somewhere outside of the Draft/Manuscript folder before you start.

1) A document to jot down concepts that come to you for future scenes. When an idea hits, you can make a note of it and get back to work. I call mine “Ideas”. Clever, yes?

2) A change log to keep track of changes you want to make to existing scenes. Don’t go back and make the revisions, just note them in the log and keep writing as if you already did. In another dazzling display of brilliance, mine is named “Change Log”.

Just Keep Writing

Next time you get stuck trying to figure out the witty dialog in a scene, the ideal name for your fictional corporation, or the mating rituals of the Asian long-horned beetle, create an annotation (Format—>Inline Annotation) or a comment (Format—>Comment) to make a note of it and keep writing.

Later you can go back and use Edit—>Find—>Find By Formatting to search for annotations and comments when you’re ready to work on them. AFTER you hit 50K.

Block Distractions

Free yourself from distractions with Full Screen Composition mode. Called Full Screen in Windows and Composition mode on the Mac (to avoid confusion with Mac’s full screen option), this feature blocks out everything but your blank page so you can just write.

Consider adding a custom background color or image to keep you in the right frame of mind.

Add a pair of headphones or earbuds—with or without music—and you’re ready to rock.

Pre-Plot, If You Prefer

If you’re a plotter, consider creating your scene documents beforehand either in the Binder or the Corkboard. If you like to plot using index cards, then select the Draft/Manuscript folder, make sure you’re in Corkboard view (View—>Corkboard if you’re not), then click the circular green Add button on the toolbar to create a new card. Title it, add a brief synopsis of the scene and repeat.

Once you have all of your scene documents created it’s merely a matter of filling them with words starting November 1.

Keep Important Info at Hand

You don’t want to spend your precious writing time searching for a key piece of information. Before November rolls around, import into your project any research documents, images, or references you must have in order to write. Select the desired folder (outside of the Draft/Manuscript folder) and go to File—>Import. For web pages, you might want to use References instead.

Track Your Progress

Your goal is 50,000 words, and Scrivener makes it easy to track your progress with project targets. Go to Project—>Show Project Targets (Mac) or Project–>Project Targets (Windows).

You can set a target for the entire manuscript, as well as one for each writing session. The session target is nice because it lets you track your word count either over the course of a whole day, or in smaller writing “sprints”.

One thing to keep in mind with word count is that the NaNoWriMo site might calculate word count slightly differently than Scrivener. For example, Scrivener counts a hyphenated word as two, while the NaNo counter looks for spaces to identify each new word and only counts hyphenated words as one. So, you might want to shoot a little beyond the 50K finish line just to be on the safe side.

Download the NaNoWriMo Template or Trial Version

Current Scrivener users can download a special NaNoWriMo template that comes loaded with predefined project statistics and compile settings.

For those who are new to Scrivener, Most Wonderful Keith and his crew at Literature & Latte have put together a NaNo version of the Scrivener free trial that gives you extra time to play with the program and includes the template I mentioned above. If you decide you love Scrivener, wait for the NaNoWriMo discount at the end of November before you buy.

Remember the Point

Don’t forget that NaNoWriMo is intended to be fun. It’s supposed to be a challenge that forces you to re-evaluate what you’re capable of. 4000-word writing days? You betcha. Writing for three, four, or eight hours in one day? I know you can do it.

And in the end, even if you don’t reach 50K, you’re still a lot further ahead than you were on November 1st. That makes you a winner no matter what.

Good luck!

Need more help? Sign up for an online class, read more Scrivener articles, or schedule a private training session.

Unmess to destress

This stresses me out!

This stresses me out!

What’s the opposite of a hoarder? I guess a minimalist? A minimalist is what I aspire to be in every aspect of my life.

For me, clutter of any sort adds stress to my life. The low level kind that weighs on you in the background. It’s not only irritating, but distracting. I find myself torn between dealing with the mess and getting my work done.

I’m constantly trying to clean out my closets, discard anything I haven’t used in over a year, and keep shelves, counters, and other flat surfaces from being overrun with junk. Of course, I get lazy, busy, and distracted, so my kitchen table currently sports a burned out light bulb that needs to be properly disposed of, various pieces of mail, and assorted cups and glasses.

Oh, and I’m not the only one who lives here, so I can’t just toss everything en masse, though I’m sometimes tempted.

Even my own writing desk is a bit of a mess right now, which surprises me because my desk at my day job was always spotless. (Evernote will help here as I use it to store images of articles and handouts that I don’t want to lose, and the little notes I’ve jotted down in the notebook next to my bed.)

But still, I’ve been on a quest to declutter, unmess, and destress my life. While a clean house is nice, a neat house is what really makes me happy. Not austere. I still want warmth, coziness, and comfort, but not disorder.

I’m sure this says something about my personality, and many of you will not be surprised. 😉

Kids’ closets and two-car garages aside, there are other forms of clutter that can be even harder to deal with. For example, electronic clutter. I had at least ten emails a day that I habitually deleted without reading. Sometimes 20-30. Then there were others that I read, but later wished I hadn’t let myself get sucked into.

So last week I went on an email cleaning binge, working back through my Trash folder and unsubscribing from every newsletter, marketing campaign, activity notification (Twitter and Facebook, anyone?), and blog subscription that I don’t want to spend my time on.

I can’t tell you the sense of control and relief that comes from purging like that. A clean Inbox is like a breath of fresh air. I can prioritize my emails without wading through a bunch of “other stuff”. And it frees up my brain to work on more important things, like writing and editing!

I even encourage you to unsubscribe from my blog or newsletter if it doesn’t add value to your week. Seriously. I won’t be (too) upset.

So, my next household project: the guest room closet, a.k.a. The Black Hole of But-We-Might-Need-This-Someday Items. Once I enter, I may never emerge. Wish me luck!

Have you attempted to declutter your life in any way? What was the result?

Image credit: By Luca Masters from Chocowinity, NC, USSA (Mess) CC-BY-2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0), via Wikimedia Commons

My big, scary goal

I couldn’t talk blithely about my goals today without stopping to mention the tragedy in Boston yesterday. My heart hurts for all those affected. It also swells at the stories and pictures of those who raced in to help just seconds after the bombs went off. After such devastation, we need a reminder that most people still care about their fellow humans.

♥♥♥

Set a goal so big that you can’t achieve it until you grow into the person who can. ~ Unknown

LadderLast week I talked about being bold and setting big goals. Not just big, but scary goals that represent what you really want out of life in the long term.

Since I’ve been challenging you, I figured it’s only fair that I set my own goals and share them here. Talk about scary. If I put my goals on the Internet for everyone to see and then fail…

Here goes. My overarching goal:

To make enough money from my teaching and writing activities that my husband can quit working when he’s eligible to retire from the Air Force in 2016.

(Excuse me while I go breathe into a paper bag for a minute.)

That’s my big, scary goal. It used to be just a dream, something that would hopefully happen one day after I finally got published. But wishing for something—which often means you think it can’t really happen—does not get help me get things done. Nor does it help me figure out which path to take. Goals, on the other hand, can be broken down into progressively smaller pieces until you get to something you can start today.

I’m already making some money from teaching—and from Scrivener For Dummies—but I really want to generate income from my fiction. With that in mind, I started thinking about the best way to do that.

Keep working toward traditional publication, or self-publish?

Even a year ago, this would have been a no-brainer for me. New York all the way, baby! But times have changed. While I would love to be on bookstore shelves—if there are any left in a few years—and would love the ego stroke that getting a traditional publishing deal would bring, I don’t need either one to consider myself successful. Neither is a guarantee that the money would follow.

So, my plan is to self-publish. I think for all but the best writers among us there’s more money to be made going it alone.

That said, I don’t want to self-publish just because I’m not good enough to get a deal. I’ve seen enough work by authors who should have waited a few years to upload their books to Amazon, and I hope to not be one of them. But the kind of feedback I’ve been getting tells me I’m close. With a little help from an editor, I hope readers will never even notice my book doesn’t come from Avon, Signet, or St. Martin’s.

Am I averse to risk? Oh, yes. But there are different types of risk. While I’m loath to plop down the cash (that I might never earn back) for an editor and book cover designer, I’m even more worried about giving up my rights indefinitely to a publisher.

I also like to be in control. By self-publishing I can choose my covers, titles, release dates, book lengths, and story lines. For better or worse, success or failure is all on me.

(Where'd I put that paper sack again?)

By defining my ultimate goal, and determining that I intend to reach it by self-publishing, something dramatic happened. My daily priorities changed drastically.

I dropped my current WIP cold. It doesn’t fit with my new plan to release a trilogy in the spring of 2014, so it had to be pushed aside so I can work on revisions for the first book in the series and get to work finishing book two.

Without defining my goals so carefully, I would have kept pushing really hard—25,000 words in January, for example—on the wrong thing. Productive, yes. Helpful, no.

I can now make more informed decisions about how to utilize my time.

Sign up for editor/agent pitch appointments at a conference? Nope.

Read a blog post on writing great query letters? Pass.

Take a class on self-publishing? Sign me up.

See? A month ago, the answers to those questions would have been very different. There’s the real value of creating specific goals and plans for achieving them.

There's no guarantee I'll succeed, anymore than there was ever a guarantee I'd get a publishing contract. But at least I know I’ll be heading in the right direction.

Photo credit: By SOIR (Own work) (GFDL (http://www.gnu.org/copyleft/fdl.html) or CC-BY-SA-3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)), via Wikimedia Commons

Fitting it all in

ChecklistLast month I wrote more than 25,000 words.

And—don’t hate me—it was easy.

It’s been a long time since keeping a pace like that was doable. Last year I only had two months that good, and those were when I was writing Scrivener For Dummies under deadline. Not since I first started writing—back when I didn’t belong to any writing chapters, didn’t know any other writers, didn’t blog, tweet, or have a Facebook author page—has writing come so easily.

Part of it is the joy of a new story. But it’s more than that. A couple weeks ago I wrote about how I’m scheduling out my day, holding myself accountable to write every weekday morning before I get sucked into everything else that goes on in my day.

Well, it’s working.

Mainly because I don’t allow excuses; I have to write for 90 minutes. Once I get started, after I’ve read through the previous day’s words, time usually flies. In fact, even though I’m guilt-free for the rest of the day if I don’t write more, I find myself wanting to get back to my story because it’s on my mind. Which means I often add words again in the afternoon.

Productivity is contagious.

I don't know the science behind it, maybe we release endorphins every time we keep our promises to ourselves. I don't really care why it's working for me, I'm just glad it is. Not only is my new schedule now a habit, my new normal, but it feels good to end each day with 1000 shiny new words instead of a day full of busyness without anything meaningful to show for it.

The positive feelings I associate with my workday (or those endorphins, whatever)—and the fact that I can end it at 5pm without guilt or stress—get me out of bed in the morning.

Sure, there’s always more I could be doing. I’m a whiz at finding things to add to my growing list: more research reading, plotting on that other book I never finished, edits for the manuscript I need to resubmit. The list is nearly endless and overwhelming sometimes.

The key is to define each day’s priorities in advance (I usually do it the night before), and then schedule accordingly.

How’s your writing coming? Have you tried a new system to get on track? Have one that already works for you? I’d love to hear about it.

Plotting my day

ScheduleI’m most productive if I get my writing done before the rest of the day starts. Once it gets to nine or nine-thirty, I feel compelled to check and respond to email, comment on and promo my group blogs, and stop by Facebook and Twitter.

If I sleep until eight, eat breakfast, and deal with the dog, then by the time I sit down to write, the precious early hours are gone. I’m a night owl by nature, and while I get up to kiss my teens goodbye before they head to school, it’s hard to resist the call of the warm, cozy bed once they’re out the door.

But the lure of more sleep leaves me frustrated with myself by the end of the day. The word counts don't stack up the way I want, and other “urgent” tasks get in the way. When I let my body rule my day, I work, but don't produce what matters to me on a consistent basis.

I decided I needed a boss to keep me in line, and since I work for myself, I had to step up.

SampleDayPlan

A sample day plan

The answer—at least for me—was simple. I had to go back to the practices I’d used when I worked full time, back when I worshipped time management gurus like Brian Tracy and Franklin Covey. I had to determine my priorities and plot my next day in advance. I had to plan it out the night before so I'd have a reason to get up the next morning.

Once I could see in writing how my day needed to play out, I was motivated to get up to make it happen.

Rather than clutter up my digital calendar with things like “write”, “check email” and “work out”, I’m using a small white board. Easy to see from my chair and easy to modify if my schedule changes.

I’ve fallen into a schedule where I get up to see my kids off to school—or sometimes earlier—and then stay up. I make my oatmeal, feed and let out the dog, and then write for about 90 minutes. I don’t always produce as many words as I’d like, but I’m doing much better than before.

The key is putting in the time.

Once the writing is done, I don’t have to feel guilty about working on all the other stuff that I want/need to do, some of it writing-related, some of it not (I didn’t originally quit my full time job to write, after all). The number one goal is met, and if I write again that day, great. If not, no biggie.

Less stress and guilt, more productivity. That’s a win.

Oh, and here are some numbers to prove it.

Last week, getting up early (for me) to write before doing anything else on the computer, I kicked out 7528 words between Monday and Friday (I’ve been taking weekends off for family time). That’s an average of 1505 words per day. Near NaNoWriMo levels of words without the NaNo—or rather, mega—levels of stress.

Sure, it helps to have a manuscript idea that won’t let me go right now, but if I weren’t producing words, I’d be outlining or editing, and by 9:30 I know that even if I blow the rest of the day, the thing that matters most to me professionally is done.

And productivity is contagious. Now that I schedule my email/social media time, the guilt is gone, but I also have a reason not to get lost in the Internet for hours. I’m on a schedule, dammit. I’m a professional.

I’m putting my needs first. Following through on my promises to myself. It feels good, and that’s addictive. Like the runner’s high, it’ll keep me coming back for more.

I’m plotting to make this my most productive year yet.

What about you? How do you keep yourself on track?

Image credit: By Gentaur (Gentaur) , via Wikimedia Commons