Monday, October 30, 2017

What I Learned This Last Year about Writing

Saturday was my birthday, and I put together a list of 34 things I've learned in the last year. (Nothing says, "I'm cool," like celebrating your birthday by making a big list and putting it on your blog.)

As I assembled my list, I kept thinking of writing things I'd learned as well. Some made it on my 34 things list, but I thought sharing here would be more suited my audience.



Here are 11 things I've learned about writing this year:

1. The benefits of logging my writing time

I have done this faithfully since NaNoWriMo last year, and I found that I love it. It gives me the same feeling as when I was a Sonic Carhop and had to punch my time card when I arrived or left for the day. When I jot down my "Time In" I feel like I'm reporting for work.



(I originally shared my work long in the Story Workbook tutorial freebie that's available to Go Teen Writers Notes subscribers.)

2. NaNoWriMo is fun! 

Last year is the first time my schedule aligned to let me participate in NaNoWriMo. I'm introverted, and I don't struggle with the discipline required to write a novel, so I was very surprised when I loved the community aspect of NaNo so much. If you're still on the fence about participating this year, I encourage you to give it a shot!

3. Big Magic by Elizabeth Gilbert

(This book is written for an adult audience, and that's reflected in the language and examples given, so I would only recommend it for GTWers in their late teens who aren't sensitive to that kind of thing. It's in the same vein as Bird by Bird by Anne Lamott.) 

I didn't think I was going to like this book because I've never felt guilt or shame over being a creative. But I found Big Magic to be an insightful and inspiring read. Early in the book, she offers this encouragement to those who are young writers, and I thought of you all:
If you are a young person...feel free to start sharing your perspective through creativity, even if you're just a kid. If you are young, you see things differently than I do, and I want to know how you see things. We all want to know. When we look at your work (whatever your work may be), we will want to feel your youth--that fresh sense of your recent arrival here. Be generous with us and let us feel it. After all, for many of us it has been so long since we stood where you now stand.

4. Goals. I should make them.

My perspective about goals, particularly my writing goals, changed big time in the last few months. I've already blogged pretty extensively about that, so I won't repeat it here. (See my post Writing Goals And The Clarity That Comes From Having Them if this is of interest to you.)

5. Productivity is my best marketing tool.

This thought was given to me by James Scott Bell in his book Marketing For Writers Who Hate Marketing. I know some of us (me included) are worried about reaching an audience and how to best market and which social media platform is best. Mr. Bell suggests, and I'm inclined to agree with him, that writing great books and writing more of them is the best thing we can do to grow our platform. And that productivity (learning to write increasingly better books increasingly faster) would be the best marketing tool.

6. The Helping Writers Become Authors podcast.

Even though I've known of K.M. Weiland for years, and I've been on her blog multiple times, I didn't realize she had a podcast until last October when I was getting ready for NaNoWriMo. Then I fell into a lovely rabbit hole of resources that she's created for writers. She's helped me to recognize a few things about story that hadn't quite clicked for me yet, including how character arcs work with story structure, and that I could expect more of my first drafts.

7. Deep Work by Cal Newport

If you have a smart phone, you already know that the temptations for being distracted are great. It can feel nearly impossible to not check a notification that's come in. And I've always been a bit of an email addict.

In this book, Mr. Newport talks about knowledge workers (like writers) and how we need time to work for long hours without distraction. Jill talked about the book last May in her blog post on 10 Ways To Increase Productivity, which prompted my ordering it. Because of reading Deep Work, I've rearranged how I spend my writing time, I've learned to identify what's urgent and what's not, and I've worked on my smart phone habits.

I also missed a call from my editor once because I had my phone set to Do Not Disturb. At first I thought, "Oh, I shouldn't have had my phone on DND! Then I wouldn't have missed Jillian's call!" But you know what? We just chatted a little later, and it didn't mess up my writing groove. It's really okay to not be accessible all the time.

8. Procrastination is a disguise that fear wears.

Elizabeth Gilbert said this in her Magic Lessons podcast, and at first I was like, "Not always..." But the more I think about it, and the more I observe myself when I procrastinate, I think it's truer than I originally thought.

9. "Storytelling and writing are actually two different skill sets. Too often when we try to do them both at once in the first draft, they get in each other's way." - K.M. Weiland

YES. Hearing her say this helped something click for me about the drafting process. When I started planning out my scenes before writing them, the quality of my first drafts went up big time.

10. Story Genius by Lisa Cron

This was another writing book I discovered this year. I don't do everything the way she suggests, but I loved the way that she showed how everything needed to build in a logical way. That sometimes we struggle with our stories reading like, "This happens, then this happens, and then this happens." When, really, it should be, "This happens, and so this happens, and so this happens."

11. That I should fill the corners with wonder.

When listening to a Writing Excuses podcast, Dan Wells said something that has stuck with me. He said one of the unique things about the Harry Potter series is that J.K. Rowling, “took the care to fill even the corners with wonder.” Everywhere you look in that world, there’s unique, interesting stuff happening. So I’m trying to look for places where I’ve skimped on details or been lazy with descriptions.

What about you? What's something you've learned recently about writing?

25 comments:

  1. K. M. Weiland's podcast is the best, yes! Also, wow, what a mindset change on procrastination being a disguise for fear. I've never thought about that before, but sitting here thinking it over, how true it is in my life. I procrastinate because I'm afraid.
    Recently I've learned that if I want others to respect my writing time and realize the importance of my writing, I have to show them that by respecting my writing time as well.

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    1. YES! That was on my list last year, Megan, and it's something I've started saying in classes I teach. Often I have wanted the respect from others before I've been willing to have it for myself.

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  2. I love filling corners with wonder!! It almost has become a bad habit for me...my editor is always saying: "You don't NEED to describe the tacky tourists" but I think "but I WANT to"! :)

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    1. I bet J.K. got the same feedback from her editor too sometimes! I've always been very sparse in description, so I know this is something I need to step up.

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  3. Wonderful list! I think the two that really struck a chord with me are eight and ten. I really am starting to see how "scared" I am about things I put off. All of those worries that push back against me when I even think about starting. "What if I can't?" "What if people don't like it?" "What if I could do it better later?" As for filling corners with wonder - I love that phrase! There's something so enticing and magical about it. And it's something that I need to focus on more, to bring little details to my storyworld.

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    1. Isn't it lovely? I paused the podcast and scrambled to write it down because it is such a great description.

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  4. Happy birthday! I hope your day was filled with fun and family!

    That last point, though! Wow! I never thought of it that way, but I guess it is something I subtly wanted to happen in my stories. I'll strive to incorporate fun, interesting details into my stories!

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  5. Happy Birthday! Mine is the day before yours.

    Last week, I read one of your posts from May 2014. It was on editing in Layers. They were all helpful, but the one about "The Big Picture Scene" has suddenly taken some of the fear out of my procrastinating. The other part of me that is procrastinating isn't doing it out of fear (I think), but because I know my first draft is filled with all the newbie mistakes a writer can make; passive writing, telling not showing, weasel words, etc. So much work and brain power needed. Sigh. I'm off to get working on writing. :)

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    1. Aww, happy birthday to you too!

      Yes, I'm the same way. Sometimes I put off writing/editing because it's just much easier to scroll Instagram/respond to emails/whatever. That's a great point, Alisa.

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  6. I've learned that I can write as many projects at the same time as I want... but if I expect people to read them, it can't be more than two, or I won't be able to get them out fast enough. (That doesn't make sense to everyone writing just novels, does it? Clarification: I'm writing one novel that I'm sharing in a teen writing group, and my other project is short stories for Write the World.) I've also learned that I find it much easier if I write first drafts on paper and then type.
    -novelistinthedark

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    1. Oh, that's interesting! I enjoy brainstorming on paper, and sometimes if I'm stuck in the first draft I switch to paper, but I don't use it routinely.

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  7. Happy birthday!!


    I've heard a bunch about logging your writing time, but I've never tried it. Perhaps next year!

    And NaNo is great....

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  8. I keep a writing log of a sort. Not necessarily the exact details of when I started and finished, but I write down the date, the time spent, what I worked on, and sometimes how many words I wrote.


    Hope your Birthday was lovely! October Birthdays are the best ;)

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  9. These are such great tips, especially 1 and 11! Awesome post!

    Ellie | On the Other Side of Reality

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  10. Happy Birthday Mrs. Morrill!
    What you said really hit me..especially about writing and storytelling. Before I attempt to write, I always outline and get a rough idea, but when I write, my inner editor gets the best of me and I never make it past the first draft. But I joined NaNo for the first time and now I'm determined to just write and write!!

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    1. I hope you enjoy NaNo, Reshme! It's great for helping to tame your inner editor.

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  11. So many neat things to think over! I wrote today for the longest set amount of time ever... 3.5 hours. I must say if felt very good :D And I had over 5k words... which felt nice, too. I read an interesting blog post recently about first draft and beta readers. I'm still processing what I think about it. In the article an author was saying he didn't believe in having beta readers as critiquers. Because... everyone thinks something different, and betas aren't editors. He went on to say that EVERYONE writes differently and you need to learn your style without others dictating it for you. He also said it was a waste of time to work on many drafts. The first draft is your story. After that edits, of course. But you shouldn't need to rewrite it over and over. For my few first stories I definitely needed to rewrite them over and over. One side affect of pantsing is you don't always known what might happen later... but in a later draft you can "artfully" weave in foreshadowing. My first novel I did a good 3-5 drafts. But then my latest novel I only did 2...and most of my short stories any more only get edits. I half agree with him in the rewrites, but I do love betas. I feel like they add so much to my story... and point out things I wouldn't have seen without them. And most of them don't actually try to change my story, but ask helpful questions. That's what I've been thinking about, and figuring out how it applies to my current approach in telling a story.

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    1. That's interesting, Keturah. I've always thought of beta readers and critique partners as interchangeable terms. I wait until I've done a draft or two before I open up to critiques, partly because of what he said. I want to get the story down without the voices of others in my head.

      And I would argue that his advice about everyone writing differently/you need to learn your style would apply to the drafting process too. In my experience, it differs from book to book. Some books take just three drafts and a polish. Others involve multiple rewrites, then edits, and then the polish. I refuse to feel bad about doing what it takes to get the book right, you know?

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    2. I think that's a good mindset to have... do what it takes to create a good story, and not feeling bad if it looks differently for you.

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  12. Well, shucks. I just happened to stumble onto this today. Thanks so much for the kind shout outs. :)

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    1. Absolutely! Thank you for providing the tools that helped me fix my broken book. I'm totally going to mention you in my acknowledgements.

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