On backsliding and brick walls

A month ago (good Lord, a month?!), I was posting about how I was finding strategies to focus–to single-task and increase my daily word count. It was going great. I was averaging about 3,000 words a day instead of my usual thousand. I was looking forward to my writing sessions each day. My novel took on terrific momentum and almost seemed to be writing itself. Writing was fun, and I felt happy and satisfied at the end of the day.

Then, my momentum slowed down. Not to a crawl–I was still surpassing the thousand words a day that I’d always striven for in the past. But suddenly writing 1,700 or 1,800 words in a day felt like failure. That was silly, and I knew it. Still, I’d raised the bar and I was no longer clearing it. It got harder to start each day.

Sometimes, a slowdown in momentum comes from taking a wrong turn in the plot. It’s like my characters let me know that I’m trying to make them act in ways that they simply wouldn’t. When that happens, it helps to take a step back from the writing, stop orchestrating the story from above (like God or a marionettist), and get down on the ground with the characters. In other words, to forget what I want to have happen now or plan to have happen next and see the story through the eyes of those living it.

So I did that. I let go of any and all word count goals for a couple of days, let the story sit, and then reread the last several scenes, tinkering with those a bit but not making any big changes. During this time, of course, I was conscious of not getting any new writing done. And I’ll admit I let myself slide back into some bad habits, especially going online first thing in the day. But I tried to set such concerns aside for the moment. I know I focus better when I single-task, and that knowledge gives me the power to regain my concentration. Plus I have time before this manuscript is due, and I wanted to focus on the story–not on progress charts or days until deadline or any of that.

Reading over my work, everything seemed solid. I decided to try the strategy of jumping ahead to the next big scene and then going back to connect the dots later. That often works for me. And it seemed like the best way to get back to writing 3,000 words a day was to stop obsessing about how many words I was writing. To just get on with telling the story. After all, daily progress is what builds momentum.

That’s when I hit the brick wall. An acute medical problem sent my husband to the emergency room, and he was admitted to the hospital for the better part of a week. He has multiple medical issues that have gradually stolen his health, and this one has left him weak and exhausted. He’s home now, but he’s still very sick and I’ve become his caregiver. Gladly and with love. I will do whatever I can to take care of him, make him comfortable, and help him recover. And I’m grateful to be able to do that at home, sparing him an extended hospital stay.

I haven’t written in two weeks, since the health crisis started. I took my laptop to the hospital so I could write as he rested, but a combination of worry and the unfamiliar setting kept me from getting much done. Since he’s been home, I’ve spent hours on the Internet looking up his symptoms so I can have an informed conversation with this doctor. And I’m on call 24 hours a day when he needs help.

That’s as it should be right now. It’s important that I understand what’s going on with his health, and it’s important that I take care of him. And to be honest, I’d give up writing entirely if doing so would restore his health to 100%. But the gods aren’t offering me that bargain.

So I need to figure out how to start writing again. I suspect the answer is, “Just do it.” I’m working on the how. I never thought of myself as a creature of routine until my routine was interrupted and my days exploded into a thousand tiny fragments. I used to get up first and have about two hours of writing time in the morning. I can’t count on that now. But two hours–or an hour at the very least–always seemed like how much time I needed to write. I don’t have that luxury right now. I don’t know when I can sit down to write or how much time I’ll have to do it. So I have to learn how to make progress when all have have is 10 or 15 minutes. I have to turn on my laptop at the start of the day and pick it up when I can. I have to be able to jump into a scene without a lot of warm-up.

It seems to me I have two kinds of fear to get past: fear for my husband’s health and fear of losing my writing. The only way to get past these fears is to face them, moment by moment and day by day. To stop worrying about the future, about what might happen, and to do what I can right now, in this moment. I’ll let you know how I do.


Night Owl Reviews makes Darklands a top pick!

I’m a little late discovering this one, but there’s a great review for Darklands at Night Owl Reviews. The verdict: “Overall, another great installment to a very addictive urban fantasy series!”

Thanks to the reviewers at Night Owl Reviews for reading my series!


In pursuit of single-tasking: Update

I’ve been writing here lately about my desire to be less distracted and more focused. This goal is tied to a deeper desire: to write faster and more efficiently. And to derive joy more consistently from the process.

Over the past couple of weekends, I’ve stayed off the Internet on Saturday and Sunday. My goal was to steal back for myself the time I tend to waste on the Web. On both weekends, I was pleased to see that I easily met–and surpassed– my daily word count goals for my writing, and I had lots of time left over for pure pleasure: walks, reading, meeting friends, spending time with my husband.

After a couple of weekends like this, I decided to revisit this advice from author Rachel Aaron about writing faster. I’d posted about her technique before, but I hadn’t made a serious effort to follow it. Now was the time.

Why now? For me, the hardest part of the novel-writing process is what I call the “mushy middle.” I’m maybe 100 or 150 pages into the novel, and it feels like I’m standing knee-deep in a swamp. I have an idea of what the next big scene will be, but I can’t quite see it from here. And I sure as hell can’t see any way to get there.

That’s where I was a week ago. I knew what the next big plot point would be, but I didn’t know how to get there. I was pretending to wait for inspiration, but in reality I was procrastinating, distracting myself, spinning my wheels. Anything BUT solving the problem.

Getting off the Internet for a couple of days reminded me of how it feels to focus. What I liked about Rachel Aaron’s method for writing faster was that it was all about focusing, especially the part where you know what you’re going to write that day before you start writing. It seems obvious, right? But often I would just open a document and hope the scene would get rolling on its own. That I’d write my way into the actual scene. Sometimes it worked; often it didn’t.

So last week, I set two rules for my writing sessions:

1. I’d be offline during my writing time.

2. I’d take 5-10 minutes to sketch out the scene in a paragraph before I started writing.

I won’t say that those two rules wrought magic, but they DID speed up my writing and make it more fun. And they tripled my average daily output.

Somewhere along the way, I picked up the idea that 1,000 words was a reasonable daily goal for writing fiction. And that’s pretty much what I was doing. Some days I’d barely make 800. Others I’d zip past 1,200 and feel like I’d really accomplished something.

Now, I’m writing for fewer hours but averaging 3,000 words a day. My two “rules” are actually two benefits:

1. Less distraction

2. Sharper focus

In addition, I’ve built up momentum that is propelling me forward through the story. I don’t feel like I’m lost in a swamp. Now, it’s more like I’m in a room, describing what goes on there. Then a door opens, and I go into the next room and describe what happens there. Then another door opens . . .

I’m excited. I’m excited about writing faster and with more focus. More importantly, I’m excited about my story again. This week, I’m going to try to increase my average word count still more. I don’t expect this streak to last forever. I know I’ll hit walls and get stuck sometimes. But I feel like I’ve got a way to get through that now, because I’ve remembered how to focus. I’m not just trying single-tasking; I’m loving it!

In pursuit of single-tasking

My Internet vacation last weekend left a lasting impression. It didn’t change my behavior as much as I would’ve liked, but I’m working on that.

During the week, I came across the article Is the Web Driving Us Mad? through a link on Facebook. It’s worthwhile reading. If you read it, I’d love to hear what you think.

For me, the biggest two pitfalls of the Web are (1) procrastination and (2) distraction. As I’ve mentioned before, when starting work seems hard it’s very easy to say “I’ll just take a minute to scan the headlines” and then get sucked into a maze of stories and links and blogs and more links and videos . . . I end up with several windows and tabs open, switching back and forth and never fully absorbing any of it. Before I know it, I’ve spent half an hour reading Postcards from Yo Momma (admittedly hilarious, with the added benefit of making me feel like one of the same moms) or some other site. And my writing time is slipping away.

Writing a novel takes concentration. It takes immersion in the world of my characters, so I feel like I’m there with them, recording what they’re saying and doing. If I’m constantly pulling myself away to finish a blog post or check my email, I break that spell. Besides, it’s rude, like someone who can’t stop texting when you’re trying to have a conversation. 🙂

So I’m going to continue to limit my Internet time in order to improve my focus. Multitasking is great, if you can do it. I can’t. It leaves me feeling scatterbrained and grumpy–qualities that getting older is already supplying me with, thank you very much. So my new motto is “One thing at a time.”

Here’s my plan: On weekdays, I’ll restrict online time to afternoons and evenings. That will let me get my writing done in the morning, which is when I seem to work best. On weekends, I’ll stay off the Internet altogether. I want to try doing this strictly at first, because it’s so easy to slip back into old habits. If things go well, maybe I’ll loosen up eventually–or maybe I’ll prefer the new way. Anyway, if I’m not around in the mornings and on weekends, you’ll know why.

One of the benefits of my Internet hiatus last weekend was that time stretched out before me almost the way it used to when I was a kid. I could actually stop and think, “What do I want to do now?” (As opposed to my usual, “Oh, no! Look how late it’s gotten! And I still have x, y, and z to do!”) I hope to use that time to write, to read, to spend more time with my husband and friends, and to do some creative idling. Sounds good, doesn’t it?


My un-wired weekend

On Friday, I decided to unplug for the weekend. I’d been spending way too much time staring at a computer screen (or, when I wasn’t near a computer, at my smartphone), and although I was meeting my work-related commitments it seemed like my days vanished before they really got started.

I gave up most television-watching years ago to give myself time to write. But recently the Internet has easily won the prize for Biggest Time Suck. I’ll tell myself I’m just going to scan the headlines to see what’s in the news  . . . and the next thing I know two hours have zipped by and I’m on some obscure Wikipedia page looking up something I never even really wanted to know.

What I really wanted was time. And I decided to use the weekend to claim it. I’d take my computer offline, and I would use my phone only as (gasp!) a phone.

Withdrawal wasn’t as bad as I’d expected. On Saturday morning, I realized that getting out of bed meant I wanted two things: (1) coffee and (2) to check my email. I poured myself a generous mug of coffee while I let the idea sink in that I wasn’t going to check my email that day. Or the next. Uh-uh, forget it. Anything in my Inbox could wait until Monday.

I turned on my computer and took a minute to disconnect it from our home network. Now, I’d have to take extra steps, connecting manually, to check my email or see how my Facebook contest was doing. And then I got to work. I wrote for several hours with good concentration. I sailed past my word count goal for the day. And it was only lunchtime.

I ate lunch with my husband instead of at my desk. I took an hourlong walk. I read. I called my daughter on my phone-that’s-just-a-phone. The day grew longer, but in a good way. I had hours at my disposal–time for thinking, relaxing, reading, writing, idling. It was the kind of Saturday I used to enjoy before freelancing turned every day into a workday.

Sunday was even better. I woke up without that urgent need to check my email. Because my last freelance project had pulled me away from my current novel, I reread everything I’d written so far on Deadtown 5 to re-immerse myself in its story. Doing that can be dangerous in a rough first draft, but it gave me momentum, opening doors to new scenes and making me eager to keep writing–which I did.

During the weekend, I went online only twice. My husband, who’s visually impaired, wanted to buy something on Amazon, so I helped him do that. And I needed a recipe that I’d bookmarked but never printed out. I don’t consider those cheating, because I avoided the time suck of opening multiple windows and tabs and following endless links. Plus it didn’t seem fair to say to my husband, “You have to wait two days because I’m staying off the Internet.” (Even so, it was interesting to note that what should have been a quick five minutes of booting up, finding a product, and buying it turned into 20 minutes of sifting through reviews and comparing similar products.)

On Sunday evening, I was hearing the siren call again: “The weekend’s all but over. You surpassed your writing goals. You can just take a quick peek.” I didn’t. I enjoyed a relaxed evening with my husband.

My Internet break was so successful that I think I’m going to try it every weekend for a while. So if I’m not around on Saturday or Sunday, you’ll know I’m writing. Or reading. Or taking a walk. Or hanging out with my hubby. Or just doing whatever . . . in the honest-to-goodness, actual, real world.

Taking the weekend off

After a blog tour and a project that refused to respect normal working hours, I’m taking this weekend OFF. That means staying off the Internet entirely. No news, no blogs, no Facebook, no Twitter, no email.

If you’re looking for me, I’ll be back on Monday.


Guest post by Axel TODAY at Bitten by Books

Today my blog tour continues at Bitten by Books. Axel, the Creature Comforts bartender, muses on life in a monster bar in the New Combat Zone. Axel doesn’t usually talk much, so come and hear what he has to say.

Plus I’m giving away a $25 gift card to either Amazon, B&N, or The Book Depository (winner’s choice). Click the link below to enter.

a Rafflecopter giveaway

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