Bare List on Schedules

As we all dust the residue of 2017 off our shoulders and slam into 2018, it’s important to build a schedule for success. I can speak personally to the importance of daily schedules because I’ve been flying by the seat of my pants for weeks, and y’all it is not a good idea. Every December I swear I will abide by my schedule, every December I fail. Mistakes are made. LEARN FROM ME. Do not do this. Set a schedule and keep it.

Scheduling is incredibly important for everyone, but especially in writing. Jobs dependent on creativity and self-accountability require routine scheduling for success. It seems counter-intuitive. I know I have said the words “you can’t schedule creativity”. Now, those words make me cringe because:

  1. You will not get anything done if you allow your creativity to schedule your productivity – If you wait to write until you feel so inspired to put words on the paper that you can’t stand it anymore, you’re not going to be writing half as often as you need to, and it’s going to take years, decades to finish a project. You have to sit down and write it out sometimes. You have to suffer to pull scenes together that aren’t totally working, muster through dialogue you haven’t totally figured out, calculate timelines, etc. It’s not all magical words brought forth by pixie dust. It’s a spark of inspiration ignited into a fire by determination.
  2. You totally can schedule creativity – While you cannot schedule the spark, you can dedicate time to produce. You can designate time in an environment most fitting for you to get down to business and force yourself to create. Make sure you’re making note of all your sparks and bring those with you to the table when it’s time to work. The more you do this, the more you’ll train your brain to open up during these times.
  3. There is a lot more to writing than creating – I talk about this a lot so I know you’re getting sick of hearing it, but there’s more to writing than writing. There is a lot of administrative work including emails, queries, edits, marketing, etc. To be successful, every aspect needs attention.

Like a lot of people, I have a lot going on. I have a family, small business, and writing career. Writing is a grind in its own right, but when you add in the real world in which we are all functioning, it’s almost impossible to survive without an established schedule.

To make your schedule, I suggest starting by dividing work into categories. For myself, I use:

  1. Administrative: Updating writing and marketing calendars, scheduling, emailing, strategy, negotiations
  2. Creative: Brainstorming, new project creation, project overhauls, first round edits
  3. Maintenance: Minor/late edits, tactics implementation, social media

Within those categories, I divide every item into one of two categories: Big/Hard or Small/Easy. Not glamorous titles, I know, but they get the job done. Small/easy projects are what I think of as “check-off” items, i.e. responding to emails, setting up meetings, making a schedule, sending, sending out query ready material, article creation, etc. Big/Hard projects include manuscript production, overhauls, strategizing campaigns, etc. Anything that almost certainly cannot be accomplished in a single day and is sure to be mentally taxing.

Once you have projects organized, assign items to your daily designated times. For myself, I designate Mondays for Administrative and Easy items. I get out my writing calendar and mark priorities for the week as well as adjust for the month, review my monthly focus to make sure everything I’m scheduling is aligned with goal, and knock out easy-off items across the board that I can knock off the list. I choose Monday to do this because I try to look at Monday as the start of my work week (though work often finds its way into my weekend) and I feel mentally more prepared being organized and I get a nice rush of accomplishment marking off small items and I can ride that adrenaline into Tuesday, which is marked for big tasks. My logic is that I get through a lot on Monday so I can afford to focus on mentally draining projects on Tuesday. I break up the big projects with little projects and workouts at designated hours because you need that for big days. Wednesday, my focus is Maintenance. Big or little projects doesn’t matter. I’ve set the goals for the day during my designated time on Monday and I just balance the big and little projects. Thursdays, I’m about Creation. There are really no small projects in creation, so I’ll mix the day up by throwing one or two of those in and Fridays are to double down on my monthly focus. Whatever I’ve decided is my hero for the month shines every Friday. That’s what works for me, when I work it. You can play with it and see what’s the right fit for you.

Now, interruptions to the schedule happen. Life and writing are about adapting and moving forward, but it’s easier to keep your balance with a steady foundation. Even if you lose your way occasionally *raises hand* it’s easier to get back in the swing of things and make forward progress if you have something to go back to. So, I know it’s annoying, and you don’t want to do it. I know the creative pixie in your head is flipping me off and telling me to eff a schedule cause she works at 3 a.m. damn it. I get it. I do, but tell her to get with the dang program because there’s work to be done and she really owes you since she’s living rent-free in your head anyway.

Tips, scheduling advice? I’d love to hear it!

 

 

 

Bare List on New Year’s Resolutions for Writers

Happy 2018! After finishing out 2017 by focusing on friends, family, and finishing projects, I’m back and looking forward to a new year with you. In the spirit of the new year, I wanted to share some resolutions for new and seasoned writers.

These are not a list of lofty goals that equate to broken promises by February 1st, but a list of guiding principles to help make you (and me) a better writer by December 31, 2018.

  1. Pick a monthly focus – Writing is so much more than just writing. There’s creating, revising, researching, editing, querying, community building, meeting, marketing, negotiating, conferencing…the list goes on. To be most effective, all of these must be a priority at certain times, but to prioritize all equally everyday leads to subpar results and burnout. Instead, choose a single priority for every month. Maybe January is editing, February is Community Building, and March is Querying. While you will still be accountable for all of the other responsibilities each month, your focus will be priority one. Not only will it help keep you focused, the change in priority will help keep your routine fresh. Because writing/publishing timelines requires adaptability, I suggest planning in three month intervals. After every quarter, reassess your progress and goals and create the next three focuses accordingly.
  2. Create a writing calendar – Whether it’s online or pen and paper, go ahead and make a calendar for the coming year. In addition to all of your writing dates (deadlines/conferences/seminars/speaking engagements) include any personal dates (vacations/family obligations/recurring extracurricular activities/birthdays/anniversaries/etc.) Being able to see where your time will be limited will help you manage your time the most effectively.
  3. Organize your WIPs – Most of us have a pile of works in progress awaiting love and attention. Take the time to prioritize these works. Separate the “promising for publication” from the “needs a total revamp”. Make sure you have easy access to the stories you truly love and decide what two or three works will be your priority for the year.
  4. Read something outside of your comfort genre – As writers and readers, we tend to find a home in a select few genres. Example, I live for literary fiction, crime thrillers, speculative fiction, and biographical humor. I read it. I write it. I love it. The problem is that reading ourselves into a corner can stunt us. While characters, plot development, language, and even formatting tend to be consistent within a genre, they can vary dramatically across them, and that’s why it’s great to gain experience outside of your literary comfort zone. An autobiography can be improved by the influence and imagery of literary fiction, horror epics could take lessons from the quick and cunning dialogue of the cozy mystery, etc.
  5. Do something outside of your comfort zone – Attend an event with people you barely know, run a race, host an online fundraiser, read an excerpt of your story to a group of strangers, jump out of a plane, hell go to the grocery store on the other side of town. Just do anything, big or small, divergent of your normal operating procedure. It will help expand your outlook and imagination.
  6. Get physical – You don’t need to join a gym, run a marathon, or become a crossfitter, but do something regularly that works your body. Not only will it help relieve your joints and muscles of the toils of hunkering over a computer all day, it will help improve your mood, focus, and creativity.
  7. Call that project done – You know the one I’m talking about. You’ve read it 1,000 times, each time painstakingly scrutinizing every single word, each time changing something ever-so-slightly in the hopes that one day it will be perfection. Here’s the deal: It will never be perfection. At some point, you’ve got to let go of that dream and send your work out into the world. Is it the story you want to tell? Is it edited to a professional standard? Then it’s time to get it out into the world. Give it one more read through, and start querying.
  8. Follow agents – Don’t reach the querying stage and send your work blindly into world hoping someone, anyone, hits. Start researching agents. Lookup the agents of your favorite writers, attend writing conferences, follow them on social media. Get to know the people that you hope to be working with one day. This can prevent you from querying unsavory agencies as well as give you added confidence in your representation.
  9. Write – This may seem like a given, but it can be so easy to get caught up in the administrative aspects of the career that the writing, the very thing that got us all here, gets put on the back burner. Don’t let that happen. Write often. Write on your current projects, write new ones, write words that you never wish to see the light of day. Just keep writing.

Here’s to a 2018 filled with words and purpose!

Bare List on Rejection

“Have you ever been rejected?” asked a friend over dinner a few nights ago. “Yes,” I answered without hesitation. Her eyes widened with shock, not just because she’s an awesome and supportive friend who has always loved my work, but because to many people, books just appear. The outside world doesn’t see the struggle of writing: first drafts riddled with red ink, outlines crumpled in the trash can, rejection emails to fill an inbox.

Maybe my friend was shocked because I admitted my rejection so readily. Wasn’t I embarrassed? No. Rejection is a part of writing. In an objective field, a triangle builder for example (no, I don’t think that’s an actual profession but you see the point) rejection may be avoidable. Does it have three sides? Three angles? Congratulations! You’ve built a triangle. Bonus payout if it’s equilateral. Writing, though, is a subjective field. Criticism and rejection are inherent.

It’s totally understandable that my friend didn’t know this because the outside world and new writers don’t often get the chance to look behind the curtain. We hear stories of how 100 agents passed on Harry Potter, but all we see now is the billion dollar franchise it has become. We look past those “failed” queries because all that’s presented to us is the success. Few writers, myself included, talk about the rejections we receive. We will inundate you with news of our first publication or new release, but we are not posting those rejection emails on a daily basis. Which is why I’m talking about it now. Writing is rejection. Know it, accept it early, and respect it if you’re on the outside of the industry looking in. 

The rejection will begin as soon as you begin the journey to bring your work to the world. You will query agents who will not be interested in your work. Most likely, a lot of them. There is no exact number that you need to query, but most “experts” say at least 80 and I’ve seen up to 120 recommended. That’s a lot of rejections. Can you handle it? Yes, you can, because you’re a writer and that means having courage and resilience.

Even if you are of the lucky .01% that have your first query picked up, you will face rejection as a writer. Someone will hate what you create, and most likely they will be very vocal about their position. In fact, the more people love your work, the louder the voices of the haters will be. 

Rejection is the vehicle through which we improve our craft. Queries getting rejected? Revamp that letter. No one wants more than the five pages? Take a break to make those first five pages pop. Agents keep passing after reading the full manuscript? Take their feedback (there will be feedback if they’ve bothered to read your entire work) and put it to work. Popular critics panning your latest publication? Use their critiques to improve your next work (or ignore them, because, again, it’s a subjective field so you are not obligated to agree with them, especially if there are more critics lauding your words).

Most importantly, don’t take rejection as a sign of failure. Is it deflating? Of course. No one enjoys getting rejected, especially for something that we have given so much of ourselves to, but this is your opportunity to learn and grow. This is the “paying your dues” of the writing world, and honestly, being rejected makes being accepted all the more sweet.

So, writers embarking on a career in this terrifying field, embrace the rejection. Cherish it as a battle wound in a hard fought war, or check on openings as a triangle builder.

Have a rejection story? Share it because I promise, you are not alone. 

 

 

Bare List on Being a Writer

Despite public opinion, being a writer is not sitting in a hip cafe swilling lattes as the words flow from your fingertips, though there is a lot of coffee involved. It’s not sleeping late and working an hour a day as the money rolls in by the bucket load with little to no effort on your part. It’s not lazy or frilly.

Being a writer is pounding away at your computer at three a.m. when the rest of the house sleeps because that’s when inspiration strikes. It’s laboring away, fueled by caffeine and desire to get in those final words before you’ve got to get the kids to karate. Being a writer is working through lunch because the hunger pangs issuing from your stomach cannot drown out the inspiration screaming in your brain. Burning the toast because you’re lost in thought on your current story arc, scrambling to get the kids tucked into bed because you don’t want to miss a minute with them, but you can’t miss this deadline. Sitting with your computer on your lap trying to tune out the television in the background because you want to be able to sit with your significant other, but you also have to get these words on the page. Being a writer is about writing and revising so many times you could recite your novel by heart. It’s about knowing that you can never revise it enough to be perfect and learning to accept that, no matter how much you hate it, because perfection is the enemy of publishing. Being a writer is finding the courage to call it complete and take the chance on someone else loving it as much as you do.

Being a writer is querying, over and over again until your fingertips bleed and being met with rejection almost every time. Sometimes that means being a writer is starting again, rearranging and reediting so many times there can’t possibly be anything else to change, but then finding more you can do anyway, and even that will be rejected by someone. Being a writer is about having the grit to get up from all those rejections, because somewhere deep inside you, you know that this is what you are meant to do and if you just keep writing, you just keep querying, one day you will get past that hurdle and it will all be worth it.

And when that day comes, when your book is finally accepted, then being a writer is about making deadlines. Signing deals, missing dinners because you’ve got a big meeting, building your social media presence so that you can talk to the community of people with whom you want to share your work, yourself. Being a writer is about wondering how you can possibly get all of this done and realizing you can’t and watching the laundry pile up in the corner because you are not Mary Sue and something’s gotta give sometimes. Being a writer is about praying til your knees bleed that the creation you’ve poured yourself into, sacrificed yourself for, will be accepted and hopefully even loved by at least a few souls who wanted, needed your work.

When all of that is done, when you’ve found your people and you’ve given everything you have to this precious work of art, being a writer is about letting it go, giving it to the world and starting all over again with the next work, because now that you’ve tasted the pain, lived through the torment and come out the other side, you have no choice but to do it again. Because being a writer is giving yourself to the agony of writing to be able to experience the joy of having written.

Being a writer is grind. Being a writer is a grueling commitment. Being a writer is work. So, when your friends roll their eyes, when society scorns you for their beliefs of what it means to be a writer, you don’t listen. In fact, you tell them to eff off, because being a writer means occasionally having to tell people that they don’t have a damn clue.

Not sure you can tell them? Let them read about it in your next book because you’re too busy grinding to talk to them anyway.

Bare List of Writing Prompts

NaNoWriMo is upon us. With only two days left until you’re set to begin the greatest novel of our time, you may be feeling overwhelmed at the thought of putting your words, your characters, into action. Here are some prompts to get you started.

Unfamiliar with prompts or afraid of starting with someone else’s words? Check out some great reasons for using them here

  1. Her brown eyes glared back at me with unrelenting fury and I knew I’d said the wrong thing again…
  2. A butterfly danced across the windshield as I put the car in drive…
  3. I’d heard the story a half a hundred times but still I listened as if it was all anew…
  4. Back on Earth, I’d never be able to talk about this stuff. Human beings shut down so quickly at the slightest glimmer of something truly interesting…
  5. A glistening pair of new Jordan’s were all I saw of him from my spot beneath the bleachers…
  6. A dirge played in the distance as I enjoyed a steaming hot coffee at the Downward Cafe…
  7. She could see the cars whizzing by on the main highway, feet away but oblivious to her pain…
  8. Of course we’re here. I knew we would be. It was the only possible place for us to end up…
  9. Lady Gaga again. We Pandora isn’t the even trying anymore. Turn it off and let’s go down to the Sixer…
  10. The absurdity of it all is that if I had to do it over again I probably would because I never learn and the ride was worth the story…

Bare List on Using Writing Prompts

Writing prompts can be a source of contention in the writing community. Some people browse for hours looking for inspiration while other’s look down their nose at the idea of starting their masterpiece with another author’s thoughts. If you’re in the second category, or utterly new to the idea of using prompts, I’m here to defend their worthiness. Nay, I’m here to cheer them on. Writing prompts are excellent tools for professionals and hobbyists, experienced authors and writing rookies. Here’s why:

They release what’s already in you. A great novel is in you, coursing through your veins and gnawing at your brain. You can’t stop thinking about it. Your mind has already written it. You just have to get it down on paper, but when you sit down at the computer, your fingers freeze. The story churns inside you but it’s stuck behind those first words. Then you find it. The perfect prompt. Five, ten little words. You type them out, hesitant but hopeful, and the next thing you know you’re thousands of words into the story you’ve been dying to tell. A prompt is just that: a prompt to open your own floodgates.

They’re fun. My second NaNoWriMo I decided to embark in an adventure. Instead spending a month focusing on kicking off my next project, I would create a work exclusive to that month. It’s own entity based solely on prompts. November 1st, I found a prompt that spoke to me and I wrote. I wrote until the spark of that first great ember was nothing but smoke, over 12,000 words. When the emerging story hit an impasse and my inspiration ran dry, I found a new prompt. A radically different prompt that would change the course of the tale and take my story to exciting new places. Over 30,000 words later the end of the month and close of my experiment were in sight and I found one more prompt to see me the rest of the way through. I finished November with 70,000 words and a novel that I truly enjoy. Will it be my next published masterpiece? Maybe not. But that wasn’t the point. The point was that I took my writing to new places and had a great time doing it.

They’re an excellent exercise. If you were/are a writing major or have been involved with any creative writing class, you’re familiar with prompts as a writing tool. If not, it goes like this: the teacher gives you a prompt (or maybe a small collection of prompts) and you formulate a story around it. The goal is to stretch your mind and adapt your ability to embrace inspiration. For a lot of us though, after school’s out we forget the value of prompts. Maybe you’re sick of forcing a story into a collection of assigned ideas. Maybe you’re so focused on writing your own words, you don’t have room for other people’s. Maybe you’ve just fallen into a writing routine and forgotten the value of exercising. But, like keeping a healthy body, exercise is a necessity to keeping a healthy mind. Use those prompts. Even if you don’t think you have time, browse for anything that piques your interest. Force yourself to write a page, even a paragraph. Throw yourself a few curves to get to the end of the story. You’ll be a better writer for it.

You can always ditch them. Alright, so you’ve written a work of art but you’re hung up on the fact you’ve got someone else’s words stuck in there. Or the end of the story no longer fits the beginning. That’s the glory of the delete button. You can let the floodgates open, see the story to the end, then go back and delete whatever doesn’t fit. You’ll be doing it anyway. No work is ever complete on the first (or fifth) go. Just delete whatever you’re not comfortable with or not proud of during the editing process.

They were created to be used. It’s not plagiarism, it’s a prompt. The creators put it into the world to be utilized. Their sole purpose is to inspire others to travel down this absurd but awesome road of writing. Let them fulfill their destiny. Let those bare lists of words be suggestive to your imaginative and excited mind.

Do you have experience with prompts? Share your story. Have prompts you’re looking to share? Put them in the comments to help others start their journey.

Bare List on Writing When the World is on Fire

There’s been a lot of media coverage regarding the struggle of creatives to write in our time. The linked article call’s it “Trump’s Present”, but I’ve seen it referred to as many things and it’s effecting both sides of the political line. I’ll be the first to admit, we’re in trying times. Social and political divisiveness avalanche our social streams, North Korea is testing bombs every other week, mass shootings, hurricanes. Fear is high, satisfaction is low, and we still don’t know who sits the Iron Throne. Those horrors, and more threats than I even have time to mention, have been cited as stifling the voices of once exuberant writers, and I have to tell you, THAT more than anything else we may be facing saddens my soul.

I understand, I know, that times of chaos and dissension can make it difficult for the seeds of creativity to flower into inspiration and action. I know it’s hard to envision a future when you can barely see tomorrow, but we as writers, as people, as society cannot allow for the dark shadow of despair to block out our light. It is during these times, when the world is divided, when the future is undefined, that literature is needed the most. It is during these times that everyone’s story must be represented. Readers, ourselves included, are looking for hope, purpose, inspiration. More than that, we’re looking for connection, to open a book and find a character who understands us. Who gets us. Who will provide a reprieve from the pain we may be feeling.

“But I’m not trying to write a political manifesto. I’m not famous enough for my voice to count. I don’t have an inspirational tale to show people how to cope.” Your brain may lie to you with these excuses and barbs to keep you from putting pen to paper (or more aptly fingers to keyboard) but none of these things matter. It’s fine that you’re not going to write the next politically charged viral sensation. In fact, it’s awesome. We’ve got enough of them. Scroll through your Facebook feed or Twitter wall right now and I’ll place money that you’ve got a good dozen political rants. We’re covered there. You’re not famous? That’s great. We need new voices. We need more people willing to put themselves out there to give people something to believe in, and really all they need to believe in to feel even an inkling better is a good story. A good character.

You don’t have to write the hero’s tale to be the hero. With such great epic glories of literature flooding our history, it’s easy to forget that sometimes all that is needed to bring people together is a simple story. It doesn’t have to be Harry Potter or Game of Thrones. You don’t have to write a New York Times Best Seller for people to cherish your work. For a small book club to bond over it and coffee. For a lonely high schooler to find solace in the friendship of your characters. For a beat down population to find representation.

People don’t have to come away with a life-changing revelation for your work to be meaningful. They just have to come away changed, however mildly. Maybe you gave them a friend, maybe you gave them a glimpse into another person’s experience they would never encounter in the real world, maybe you just gave them a place to escape to when this one got to be too much. All of it is meaningful. All of it is necessary.

There is a reason that great pain spawns great art. Many may point to the need for change, to the voices inspired to create a new and better tomorrow, but it’s more than that. These times, the times we’ve seen before and we’ll surely see again, create great art because in our soul we know the world needs it. We know that we might not reach the masses, but we can reach one person and that makes all the difference.

So, keep writing. Even if you’re uninspired, keep writing. Even if you can’t see how your one story can make a difference, write it anyway. No matter what it is, no matter what genre or tone you ascribe to, just write it, because right now, people deserve your bare list of words.