Friday, July 18, 2014

How to Win at Writing: Create Writing Routines

SHONNA SLAYTON is the author of the YA novel Cinderella's Dress, out June 3, 2014 with Entangled Teen. She finds inspiration in reading vintage diaries written by teens, who despite using different slang, sound a lot like teenagers today. While writing Cinderella’s Dress she reflected on her days as a high-school senior in British Columbia when she convinced her supervisors at a sportswear store to let her design a few windows—it was glorious fun while it lasted. When not writing, Shonna enjoys amaretto lattes and spending time with her husband and children in Arizona. She blogs here: ShonnaSlayton.com and so far, always answers her email.

One of the hardest things for writers is finding the time to write. I know that sounds strange. Writers write, don’t they? Well, writers are also dreamers and sometimes they spend more time thinking about writing, or learning about writing, or (ahem) reading, that by the end of the week they realize, “Oops. I didn’t get any words on the page.”

To make sure you actually write, it’s a good idea to put some routines in place to set yourself up for success.

For example:

Daily goals
Some people like to write every day so the “wheels stay greased.” If you fall into this category, you can try things like:

* Nifty 350. This is novelist and writing teacher James Scott Bell’s trick. Before doing anything else, he writes 350 words…or up to his Furious 500 words, just to get things flowing.

* Daily word count goal. Some people decide they won’t go to bed unless they’ve written a certain amount of words that day. Or before they get their words in they won’t let themselves check email, or play video games, or, eat chocolate (say it isn’t so!) etc.

* Content Goal. Instead of a word goal, how about a content goal: finish one chapter; write one scene; write all the dialogue for a chapter; write all the setting bits for the chapter…

Weekly goal
If you have a weekly goal for yourself, you can be a little more flexible in your schedule. If you meant to write 500 words a day and you ended up going out to a movie with friends instead of writing one day, you can pick up the slack guilt-free during the rest of the week. Or, if you set a goal to finish through Chapter 5 by Friday, you can vary how much you write each day, as long as you keep an eye on completing your chapters by Friday.

Challenges
Writing challenges help with the motivation to write.

* NaNoWriMo. Events like National Novel Writing Month are great to pump out a lot of words in a short amount of time. (NaNoWriMo is a challenge to write 50,000 words during the month of November. There is a teen track here: Young Writer’s Program as well as Camp NaNoWriMo in select other months.)

Think about the brilliance of NaNoWriMo! If you complete this one challenge, you could write a book a year. This is actually how I wrote my debut novel, Cinderella’s Dress. I completely organized my life in November around writing as much as possible and pushing out the first draft. Then the rest of the year you can revise and edit at a less crazy pace. I love NaNoWriMo so much I gathered a bunch of fun videos and comic links on my blog here: NaNoWriMo for Students.

* Twitter word sprints. There are several groups that get together to do word sprints—writing as fast as you can for a designated time period, like thirty minutes. I think this started as a NaNo thing, but continues on throughout the year. Use #wordsprint and someone might race you.

Contests
If you set your sights on entering a contest, you will be more motivated to polish up those chapters. Google writing contest for teens and you’ll find a bunch.

Critique Groups
Both online and IRL, writing pals will help hold you accountable. Together you can decide how often you want to meet. You can exchange your work for critique, or if you are shy and just getting started, it can be an accountability group. Ask each other: Hey, did you write this week?

Tomorrow is a New Day
And like Anne of Green Gables would say, “Isn’t it nice to think that tomorrow is a new day with no missed words in it yet?”…or something like that (!) Don’t beat yourself up if you missed your writing goals. Start over right now and keep writing.


Jill here. Thanks for this wonderful guest post, Shonna! And congrats on your new book. We're giving away a paperback copy of Cinderella's Dress to one lucky winner. Enter on the Rafflecopter form.

And don't forget the coming word war, which is a great way to get some writing done!

77 comments:

  1. Thank you for this post, Mrs. Slayton! It was really helpful. I am trying to get my current WIP (the working title is Worlds Away) done by September. There is a contest that I would like to enter. I hope I can get it done by then! :)

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    1. I just noticed all the "reply" links. LOL. Emily, I replied to you in a big long reply down below :) Same with the next few comments....ooops.

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  2. I use http://writtenkitten.net/ to help get in several hundred words. It's really motivating. :)

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  3. I usually have a daily word count goal (especially during camp/regular nanowrimo), but I think I'd like to try a weekly word count. That way I don't beat myself up/feel guilty if I don't have time to write on a particular goal!

    These are all great suggestions, so I might try others! Thank you :)

    -Jaime

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  4. Wow! I've never even thought of half of these before. I'll admit it, I fall into the dreamer/procrastinator category. I think I might start implementing the weekly word goal. My life is just too crazy for anything else!
    Thanks for the post, and God Bless!

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  5. I use word count goals and netflix. When I reach my goal I can watch an episode of one of my favorite shows.

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    1. Ah, yes. The Reward Method. I like dark chocolate rewards myself.

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  6. Thank you so much for this post! It has helped me a lot! I am going to try those different techniques and see what happens... thanks again!

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    1. Your welcome, Reini! Hope one or more of these help.

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  7. Thanks for the helpful post.
    I love NaNoWriMo because it helps keep me accountable. I try for a daily wordcount goal the rest of the year, but . . . I'm not always so great about keeping it up unless, again, I have someone keeping me accountable.

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    1. I agree--NaNoWriMo helps me with the accountability, too. I love watching the word-count graph go up and up and up.

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  8. Thank you for this post! I definitely want to do NaNoWriMo, but I'll be a senior this fall, so November will be hectic to say the least (college apps!!!!!). I've done two fests this summer and they were so fun because you're sure to get feedback! :D (Granted, some concrit would be helpful too...LOL)
    Can you give advice on finding critique groups? e.g. where to look, what to look for, etc.

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    1. The right critique group can be tough to find. Look for other writers who have similar goals in mind. Some people like to meet to talk about books. Others like to write only now and then. If your goal is publication, look for others who are as serious about it as you are. You can connect at the library, church, online. I just started a new critique group made up of someone I met in a signing line at a bookstore. I think we were in line for Shannon Hale :) So we had similar interests. And the other I met in the audience at a writing session at a comicon. Maybe some of the writers who read this blog are looking for CPs and can comment here :)

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    1. Thanks, Brooke. This is a great blog site isn't it?

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  10. This is a great post, especially since I am doing Camp NaNoWriMo this month! I do word sprints (though I call them word wars) all of the time with a group of friends that I have!

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    1. Woot! Camp NaNoWriMo! Finish strong :)

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  11. Every day this year, I've challenged myself to write a minimum of 200 words. So far, I've met that goal every day save two (one day I was sick and another I wasn't home at all). I think this year, already, my total word count is over 180,000. Ooh! I also love NaNoWriMo! Great month of writing!! :)

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    1. Kiri, you are on a roll! I'm impressed with your discipline. Little by little, those words add up.

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    2. Aw, thanks, Shonna! :) Actually, I must say, I'm really eager to get my hands on your book "Cinderella's Dress." I just wrote my own Cinderella retelling and am hoping to publish it within the next year, so I'm on the lookout right now for all those good, Cinderella retellings to read, review, and compare! Your cover is gorgeous!

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    3. There can never be enough fairy-tale retellings :) And with the Disney movie coming out next March, interest in Cinderella should spike. (Hope that motivates you to finish yours!)

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  12. Oh, what a great cover! Thanks for being here with us, Shonna!

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  13. Wow, so many great ideas! :) By the way, I read the preview of your book on Amazon, and I'm hooked! Love the idea, hope to win your book just so I can finish it ;)

    Anyhow, I have tried contests so I guess I do follow your advice on that :) I go to Teen Author Boot camp, and have been since they first began, I think, in 2011. It's an awesome camp, by the way, and I invite all teens 13-19 to go and get help from real authors. Last year we had Allie Condie and James Dashner as speakers (they also taught classes).
    http://teenauthorbootcamp.com/

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    1. Thank you, Parker. I've never heard of Teen Author Boot camp. *checking it out now* Wah--it says "no adults allowed." But it has online classes, too, for those outside of Utah. Very cool.

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    2. You betcha! Ha ha, I know right? It's so awesome I want to become an author just to teach there. Mrs. Slayton, maybe you could apply to be presenter there! If you did I'd promise to come get your signature :D

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    3. Hmm. I'll check into it--though I might have a conflict this next year. It would be fun :)

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  14. This is so encouraging!
    I use accountability, too. I have my critique partner and other writing buddies. It feels awful to tell them I haven't written anything that day. And my writing buddy challenged me to finish editing the last story I was working on by a certain date. Giving me a deadline helped.
    And yes, word wars! :)

    ~Robyn Hoode

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    1. Robyn, hold your CPs tight. If you've got a good one you can encourage one another and improve so much faster than by yourself.

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  15. I like to set word count goals. "I will write five hundred words, then I can go to bed. Often, one i reach five hundred, I stay up until I write a thousand. Right now, i am saving my ideas for the word war.

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    1. That's the thing about word counts--it gets you writing and then suddenly the ideas are flowing and you keep going.

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  16. I'm doing Camp NaNo right now actually, and it's been really helpful with keeping me accountable. Pretty book cover by the way! I want to read it :)

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    1. Yay! Another Wrimo :) Hope it's going well!

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  17. I also want to maybe try a weekly goal–hopefully that might help me keep up during the school year!

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  18. @Jill and Stephanie--Thanks for having me on Go Teen Writers today! I'm loving this blog :) @Emily: What contest? Maybe some of the others here would like to enter. (Great title btw.) @Julia: Okay, that is a really cute site. I'll have to add it to my list of motivators. @Sarah and Bernie: your welcome! @Jaguar Hero Jaime: never feel guilty--remember the last point on the list! @Emily: it's good you are a dreamer--it means you've got that whole imagination thing down ;)

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    1. It's the Novel Rocket contest- here is the link- http://www.novelrocket.com/p/launch-pad-contest.html. Some of the deadlines have already passed. And thank you!

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    2. Thanks for coming, Shonna! :-)

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  19. Awesome list of writing tip! And may I say, I love the cover of your book!

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  20. 350 words is the perfect amount for me. I used to aim for 500 words, but I would consistently fail (because of schoolwork, etc.) which would really beat at my confidence. I find that 350 can be fit in during lunch, in between classes...And it makes me feel so accomplished:)

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    1. I like how you squeeze in your word counts when you can. It'll prepare you for when you have to write under deadline for a publisher :)

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  21. Really nice list of writings tips :) Your book looks amazing! :D

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  22. I'm definitely a word count girl. I like to do between 800 and 1000 words a day and usually do well with my goal. I'm gearing up to push my word count for the word war on Monday.

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    1. There are several of you about to Word War. Looks like it's shaping up to be an epic battle ;)

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  23. This post is very helpful! :) love NaNoWriMo. I've tried the nifty 350 trick before and ought to do it again. I definitely work best with word count goals in small increments. I love the idea of a weekly goal to allow for flexibility!
    Thanks so much for sharing with us!

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    1. It's good to shake up your routine every so often. Sometimes doing the same thing over and over can lead to boredom.

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  24. My routine is simply to get up early and write first thing after breakfast when my mind is most alert. I've tried setting daily & weekly word count goals but found they seemed to stress/stifle me rather than being a motivator. Instead, my goal is to write for 3 hours each day, Mon-Fri. That seems to work best for me and help me get the most work done. :-)

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    1. There is a stat floating around somewhere about how many hours people optimally sustain their creativity. Anyone know offhand? It might be around three hours :) Or I could be completely making this up...Google isn't helping me here...

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  25. :) I'm a #Writer@Heart & a #TotalBookworm

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  26. Good post! Thanks for visiting. :)

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  27. I've tried word count goals at points in time, and for certain events (like GTW's very own 100-for-100!), but I've yet to get one to stick for good. I definitely have an issue with consistency, especially daily--I feel like I already have too many things that I force myself to cram in daily. Instead I end up with a week where I'm in the groove and writing a chapter a day, then...I miss a day or two...and...nothing. (In the nothing stage right now.) I just rarely sit down and write. I've been more of the if-I-have-an-idea rather than make-myself-write-and-the-idea-will-come. :( Going to have to work on this! Maybe I'll try a weekly goal. That's what I'm trying with violin practice--three days a week! :)

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    1. My writing "schedule" is a lot like yours! I'm in that nothing time too :(

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    2. When I go through a "nothing" phase, I try to at least jot ideas/snatches of dialogue/scenes, etc onto index cards. Feels more productive than completely ignoring the writing.

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  28. As someone who does NaNo every year, is an ML for a local NaNo region, and often does Camp NaNo, I would say I'm a fan of NaNo. ;)
    This was a great article, and I really need to work on actually writing more often.
    Also what a pretty cover! Fairytale retellings are the best! :)

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    1. And I bet you have a NaNoWriMo t-shirt, too. Maybe a mug. Some buttons? LOL. NaNo is the best. It changed my writing life.

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  29. I try to write a scene a day. If I just sit down and write SOMETHING, I do pretty well. It's getting off social media and other things on the computer (like commenting on blog posts and entering contests to win books that sound interesting) that keep me from writing. Oh, and I get caught up reading books too. :)

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    1. HaHa! That's right...off you go and get that scene down. I like the scene-a-day approach, too. It seems less intimidating than an hour count or a word count.

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  30. Thanks for the great article! Sometimes it feels so hard to just sit down and write, and your ideas really helped!

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  31. Awesome article Shonna! Thanks for the ideas. Most recently I was trying to finish the rough draft of my WIP over the summer, and I think your ideas should really help me keep moving. Thanks so much!

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  32. Word sprints/word wars are always so helpful for me. Thanks for all these tips!

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    1. Are you doing the Word War on Monday?!?

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  33. I have a lot of good story ideas, but writing time for me is hard to find. This blog inspires me :)

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    1. Start small, Keturah. You build your writing muscles over time.

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  34. I write at least 500 words a day, six days a week. It's enough to get my writing muscles stretched, but not so much that I loose my mind. When I'm planning a novel, I work on a short story to fill the void.

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  35. Thanks for this post! I try to write for at least five minutes every day. Even though it's not much, it does add up.

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  36. Word wars work well for me for short periods of time. Word count goals can also be helpful (until I don't meet a goal...then all subsequent goals flop too). Deadlines are really my best friend, though.

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  37. Great post! I try to write daily, setting goals anywhere from 10 minutes to 45 depending on the story. Even if I don't get everything done, I try to write for at least a few minutes each day.


    Alexa Skrywer
    alexaskrywer.blogspot.com

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  38. These are some good ideas. I use word wars a lot. I can get up to 1000 words in a 30 minute word war, and varying other amounts on other times. I love using them. I actually discovered word wars by doing the NaNo Word Sprints in my first NaNoWriMo. :)

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  39. I needed to read this! NaNo introduced me to writing and I wrote 20,000 words at...uh...eleven. And I still haven't opened that document of beautiful, hilarious fluff!
    The nifty 350 I think I'll do as soon as I'm done with this comment, and I also love the daily word count goal (now to convince my mom that writing is more important than chores, haha!). But what helps me the most is setting the timer for about ten minutes and writing as many words as possible. This helps me a lot, not to mention it's pretty quick--and I can't procrastinate!

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  40. I like the nifty-350 idea. Thanks for all of the great suggestions!

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