Wednesday, June 12, 2013

What is today's bird?

by Stephanie Morrill

Stephanie writes young adult contemporary novels and is the creator of GoTeenWriters.com. Her novels include The Reinvention of Skylar Hoyt series (Revell) and the newly released The Revised Life of Ellie Sweet (Playlist). You can connect with her on Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, and check out samples of her work on her author website.






I spent the bulk of last week camping in and hiking around Bryce Canyon National Park with my husband and favorite tiny people.

McKenna and Connor chilling our first night in the hotel.

While camping and I are still on iffy terms with each other, I've come to really love hiking and all the cool stuff it allows you to see. Hiking can be a great adventure, but hiking with kids...well, there are times when I feel each step I've taken, and when each future step seems so daunting that I just want to sit down and call for the rescue helicopter to come put me out of my misery.

And isn't it the same our stories?


One day you feel swept away into the story, caught up in the beauty of it all, and another you're looking at your manuscript thinking, "Who thought this was a good idea? How many words do I have to write before I can let myself be done for the day?"

The first time I read Bird by Bird by Anne Lamott, I was a senior in high school (it was assigned reading for my English class) and I was in the process of teaching myself how to write Real Novels. Like, ones that were longer than 10,000 words. It was daunting.

In the first chapter of the book, she talks about a report her brother had to write for school about birds, which he had put off until the night before it was due, and he was freaking out about how he was going to get it all done in time. Anne's father said to her brother, "Bird by bird, buddy. Just take it bird by bird."

Anne applies this to writing with the concept of giving yourself "short assignments." She says:
Say to yourself in the kindest possible way, Look, honey, all we're going to do for now is to write a description of the river at sunset...that's all we're going to do for now. We are just going to take this bird by bird. But we are going to finish this one short assignment.
I think this is some of the best writing advice I've ever been given. It's talked me out of moments of despair where I'm thinking, "I have this huge mess of a story that needs to be edited within a month! How am I going to get this all done?!"

Usually it takes another cup of coffee, some deep breathing, and a reminder that I just need to focus on one task at a time. Same as hiking up a canyon with my kids. I just have to coax their little feet one step at a time until we reach the rim.

I left for vacation last week feeling overwhelmed by what would be waiting for me when I came home. I'm trying to get The Unlikely Debut of Ellie Sweet edited and turned in, I'm teaching classes next week that I desperately want to go well, and it's birthday season in my family - four next week, including my husband's and my mother's.

Cue the deep breath and me reaching for the coffee pot.

Today, I need the reminder that I don't have to edit my entire book right this moment. Instead I just need to edit page 44. And when I've done page 44, then I can worry about page 45. Page by page. Bird by bird.

What about you? What's your "bird" for today? Consider posting it below, then coming back later and letting us know how it went.

80 comments:

  1. Aww, your kids are so cute! I live how you're already driving the book love in deep ;) I hated reading until I was 11 -- I don't know what on earth was wrong with me! You'd never believe that if you saw my room now...

    As for my "bird", I'm taking your advice on editing and am currently in my 6 week break. I need to type up the short story I'm working on though. I guess that's my goal for today! :)

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    1. Thank you, Hannah J! McKenna has always loved to read, but Connor was way too busy for it until he hit about 18 months old. Now I often find him in the other room flipping through a book. Especially if it has construction equipment or Lightning McQueen :)

      So proud of you for taking the 6 week break! I wanted to follow my own advice this time around, but my deadline was too short to rest for a full six weeks :(

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    2. I understand now -- the six week break is soooo painful! I'm itching to open it... But must... Not... Touch... Manuscript...

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  2. GTG is amazing! I discovered it last week and I love how you always put up your posts early for us!

    -Marilla

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    1. I'm so glad you found us, Marilla!

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    2. Ooh, Marilla (Anne of green gables?) -- I just remembered. Regarding yesterday, a great romance-free read which is on the ya/mg borderline is Joy Preble's The Sweet Dead Life. It's a paranormal mystery about a girl called Jenna (14) who discovers she's being poisoned, and her 16 year old brother Casey is her guardian angel. It's really funny :) you can find it on amazon. Joy Preble is one of my fave authors ever, but her Dreaming Anastasia trilogy does have some romance, so I think you'd prefer The Sweet Dead Life. You just missed the giveaway on my blog! :( but if you want to read my really informal review-thingy, you can google "Perfect Companions Have Pages and Prose" and it's a couple posts in. I've neglected my blog recently but I'm getting back on it this week for sure!

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    3. Thanks!

      -Marilla

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  3. My bird is just writing after I do my chores and Bible study. I write from a little after 7 AM to 8, when I start school. Other than that, it's really just the next word. :D

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    1. Sounds like you have a great schedule, Tiffanie!

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  4. How beautiful is that photo?!? <3 I love it! Your kids are extremely cute and beautiful! :) Give them a hug for me!

    Well, it's nighttime here in Australia, but my writing goal for tomorrow is to write out another chapter of my novel. It's been going a little slow, so I'm hoping to get it going again!

    Thanks for another awesome (and timely!) post!!! God bless! :-)

    -Koren
    A writer for Him. <3

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    1. Thank you, Koren! They were awesome travellers.

      Hope you slept well and that your chapter goes great!

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    2. You live in Australia, Koren? Wow!

      -Patience

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    3. Thanks Stephanie! I didn't end up writing another chapter unfortunately... :( But I did edit a whole different one, so that was good(ish). :)

      Yes, my whole life! :) It's beautiful.....and (at the moment!) cold. ;)

      -Koren

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  5. My bird. Hmmmm. Well, where writing is concerned: start editing my poor story. I'm so scared of editing. But I need to start somewhere...I guess I'll say it's writing one of the missing scenes. One scene. COME ON I CAN DO THIS :D

    Otherwise? Surviving a virtual surprise party starting in half an hour :P

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  6. This is the first time in my writing that I have had sort of a deadline. I am attending a writers' conference in the summer and need my manuscript, proposal, and all the other junk I have to write about it : p (once you write the book, why is it that you have to write tons of other things about what you already wrote) Anyway, I just finished it and I'm on editing now. It's daunting and I still have another 4k to write. So I will have to take this page by page. And in a couple weeks I start work at a camp and will loose all my time on week days.

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    1. Good luck with your editing!

      -Abby :)

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    2. Yes! You can do it Alyson! :)

      ~Koren
      A writer for Him. <3

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    3. GOOD LUCK! Make sure you tell us all when it's published so we can all buy it and read how awesome you're writing is :)

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    4. Oh, You guys are so awesome!!! Thanks for the encouragement!

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    5. Oh, that stuff is the worst, Alyson! It really does get easier the more you do it, but I hate doing all the write-up/pitch stuff.

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    6. Yes, definitely tell us all when it's published. :)

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  7. My bird for the day is to write at least five pages in my WIP and figure out whether or not I'm starting another story.

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  8. My bird is getting the first chapter of my new WIP done. It's a little different from my usual writing, so it's posing a bit of a challenge...

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  9. Thanks for this post! I'm so close to the end of my WIP, but I've been feeling a bit overwhelmed. Now I'm going to make myself take it bird by bird. :)

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    1. It's a great approach to overwhelming tasks!

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  10. Hmm... I've been trying to outline my WIP this week, so I guess that my 'bird' for today would be to outline the next chapter. :)

    -Abby

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    1. You WILL meet your goal this week, Abby! You can do it!!! :)

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  11. That's how I tackle cutting, which is my current task. I only have to cut 30 words a page. That's all. =)

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    1. That sounds so manageable when you put it like that!

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  12. My bird for today is to finish my slides for my Storyworld Building workshop and my Storyboarding workshop. Then I'll be ready for next week!

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    1. I can't wait to meet your kids, by the way! :-)

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    2. McKenna is especially excited to meet you! Which is great, because then she'll help me clean up our guest room :)

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  13. Great post! I don't know why I liked this one more than the others, but I did. I guess my bird for today is... just having twenty solid minutes of writing. And hopefully, you know, advancing the plot.
    This kind of reminds me of my sister, who was in 100x100. She felt that she was just writing a hundred words of filler, and she realized that she should be making goals like "finish this scene."

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    1. That's a great bird, Lydia! And I'm glad your sister revised her goals - that's great!

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  14. My bird is to finish chapter 23 today. I just need to get through it.

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  15. Awesome post, Stephanie! I really needed to hear that. :-) And your kids are really cute! Great picture.

    My bird for the day is reading seven to eight chapters of one of my novels (I've edited it, so I'm re-reading it all over again to make sure everything flows).

    But I really wanted to tell you and Jill that I got the Go Teen Writers book! You guys did a WONDERFUL job with it, and I think its causing a revolution in my writing. :-) There is so much valuable information in it, and thank you guys so much for writing this! I definitely needed it, even though I now see that my writing needs a lot of work before I can get published. I love you guys' style of writing in there, and how you both explain everything in a way that is easy to understand, and fun at the same time. Thank you SO much! I will definitely recommend your book to others! I'm in chapter 14 right now, but I'm already using the Scene Plotting Chart for a couple of my novels. :-)

    Again, thank you! And Stephanie, I write in first person, too. :-) Jill, I loved your chapter "Fresh Writing". I will definitely work on trying to keep my paragraphs no longer than six lines, and do a lot of sentence variety. :-)

    Thanks!
    -Patience

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    1. I'm so glad you're enjoying the book, Patience! Thanks for letting us know. That Scene Plotting Chart is great, isn't it? Leave it to Jill.

      First person rocks!

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    2. Eeek Patience! :-) I just bought it the other day!!! :D Although I'm not very far into it yet. BUT IT IS SOOO GOOD!!!!!!!!!!! Thanks Stephanie and Jill! :-) I love it!!!!!! It is helping my writing sooo much!!!!

      -Koren
      A writer for Him.

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    3. Wow, that's awesome, Koren! Funny how we got it around the same time! It's good to hear from you again!

      Yes, first person rocks, Stephanie! :-) And thank you so much, Jill, for The Scene Plotting Chart! Awesome job. :-)

      Wielding the dedicated pen,
      Patience

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    4. Koren, I'm so glad you're liking it too!

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  16. I'm trying to write a detailed outline for the middle of my novel, but I have a totally different plot now because my last one was boring, so it's kind of a mess.
    And after outlining I'm going to write for at least two hours to get caught up. (I'm really strict about the goals I make for myself, despite the fact that no one else knows about them. :-)

    Thanks for the post! I'll have to keep this in mind.
    And your kids are very cute, as always.

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    1. Thank you, Katia :) And I think it's good to be strict with the goals you make for yourself. If you blow them off, they don't do you much good!

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  17. My bird for the day is copying out some of my novel from the computer back into its journal-like form. I can't wait till I'm done doing that. . . .

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    1. DEFINITELY a task where you need bird-by-bird mentality. So tedious, yet necessary.

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  18. My bird is getting back into things after a break, I'm also debating whether I should go right into editing my WIP or sped some time writing short stories. Decisions, decisions.

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    1. Did you enjoy your time off, Tonya?

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    2. I did! I put too much pressure on myself. I have to find how to make it fun again :)

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  19. Well, guys, I got page 44 edited. Probably the best I can hope for this week since I'm low on work time, and I don't really want to just "wing it" during my classes next week...

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    1. Congrats! Good luck getting everything done! By the way, I just bought the Revised Life, so hopefully I can start that on my vacation next week!

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    2. Oh, I hope you enjoy it, Kaitlin! Thank you!

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  20. I've been working all morning and I have work in half an hour too, and this is how my days have been going lately. Got to save up for college! Soo my bird is to use my free time now and before bed to finish this chapter that's giving me trouble. I really liked this post and I also really liked Bird by Bird, which I read last year. Thanks Stephanie!

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    1. Good for you, working on your chapter when you have such limited free time. Proud of you, Kaitlin!

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  21. My bird today is working one chapter from my old first draft into my new one (I realised that it was easiest for me to start again on my first draft to get the plot back on track).
    It seems rather overwhelming at the moment, since I'm trying to get this done by Camp NaNo next month. This post was just what I needed. Thank you!

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  22. What a motivating post! I've been feeling this way lately while working on edits and the second draft of my First completed W.I.P. The problem is, I have this goal to selfpublish before 2014 and thats just the beginning because it's a trilogy and I am sooo anxious to get it out there. To add to that, my sister has been asking to read it and I finally agreed but I've been putting it off because suddenly, I hate every chapter and I'm terified its not as good as I thought. Anyways, bird by bird. :) I know I'll just take it one step at a time, breath, and see where I go from here.

    ~Kim
    http://escapingnormal.blogspot.com/

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    1. The great thing about self publishing is the flexibility it offers. Deadlines can be wonderful motivators, but it's more important to get the book written RIGHT. Keep up the good work, Kim!

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  23. I just have to say I read that book a couple weeks ago and I LOVED it!! It gave so much helpful advice, but have to agree that the short assignments was by far the most helpful. Before I read that book i was always focused on writing a whole book in one go, though I knew it wasn't logical. I also felt like i had to write all of it at one time, even with chapters. I felt as if that to achieve something i had to write a lot. But this book turned me around it said "only write what you can see through a 1 inch by 1 inch picture frame" and i did exactly that. I started out with the first time you met a certain character and so on. Just that simple advice moved me so fat=r ahead.

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    1. Isn't it great? Definitely one of my favorites, and not just for sentimental reasons.

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  24. I need to finish my second chapter today. I'm halfway done, though, so I'm not owrried.

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  25. Well, I'd have to say, my bird would be to actually finish a story. I doubt that would happen today, but maybe throughout the summer. : )
    For now it would be just to work on character development so I can figure out where my stories are going. I have huge writer's block on a lot of them.

    By the way I'm glad I found this blog, it's helping me so much and preparing me for what's in store for an aspiring writer. It's great that so many people can connect through stories and writing. : D

    (MJ)

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    1. So happy to be a part. : D

      Hey are there any writing contests going on?

      (MJ)

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    2. We're having a big word war next week, but we won't have any judged contests in July due to Jill's and my travel/teaching schedules these next couple weeks.

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    3. I posted this before I read your latest post and found out about it, so thank you!

      (MJ)

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  26. My bird is needing to just write, without everything in place all the time. Just write. It'll all work out.

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  27. Bird by bird. Thankyou.
    And our birthday season is in December. I know how insane it gets! By the end, you don't even want birthday cake.

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  28. Just two thousand words. Everyday. That's my bird.

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  29. Thanks for this post - it was just what I needed. I'm at the point where I can't figure out WHAT my bird is for the day. So maybe my bird today will be figuring out my next bird! :P

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  31. Good post. Thank you. :) My word count bird is usually 1,000, but now I have to figure out my one for rewriting ... :P

    Stori Tori's Blog

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  32. Thanks so much for the post, Stephanie. I just read it now, and it was just the right time! I have a huge editing project in front of me, and it's very daunting! This was just what I needed, to be reminded to take it "bird by bird". Thanks!

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