writing, writing tips

Micro Goals and Writing

I was recently listening to an episode of my favorite writing podcast, Write Now with Sarah Werner and she was talking about “The Slog”. The slog is a real thing, and 2020 has been the kind of year that brought it to the forefront for a lot of us writers.

Throughout the pandemic I’ve been posting tips and other ways to help writers keep a routine, manage stress, and other ways to help keep a little bit of creative output going. It’s been extremely difficult, especially for those extraverts among us who are “re-fueled” by being out in the world around other people. I even succumb to it towards the end of summer, and had a pretty big gap in posts here for some months. My writing output also suffered during this time.

I’m still deep into editing the final draft of my next novel. I managed to finish the manuscript earlier this year, but then I simply ran out of gas. My writer’s group has kept me accountable to continue reading and critiquing the work of others, which is wonderful. However, even that wasn’t getting me through my own “slog”. It was this recent episode of Sarah’s podcast though, that really let me put a name on what I was going through. It seems like such an entitled, aristocratic problem to be trapped in one’s own writing, but here I am anyway. #SorryNotSorry.

Over the past few weeks I’ve managed to climb my way out of this hole though, and what worked for me was something (admittedly silly) that are referred to as “micro goals”.

Micro Goals and You

So, what is a “micro goal” and how does it work? Do you need a self-help book from Barnes&Noble to use them? No. You don’t. You also don’t need to watch any YouTube videos about them, because I already did that for you. Spoiler: They are all way too “self-help-y”.

Micro goals take advantage of human nature and our natural psychology to form habits. When we’re in a rut, or find something new, our natural inclination is to get super excited and do it a lot. Then over time we “plateau”, lose interest because it’s not as shiny, and eventually let other things take priority.

Earlier this year I went whole-hog into finishing my manuscript. It left me creatively drained, and I have been letting writing take a back seat to everything else that isn’t writing. Where the micro goals come in is rather than me saying “edit 10,000 words a day”, I set a goal to “edit 10 words a day”. The goals are so ridiculously small that they cannot fail. I can edit ten words in less than five minutes. I simply have no excuse not to open my MS on my phone and edit for the day. The trick is the consistency.

It’s been weeks now, and some days I’ve edited ten words, but other days when I have time I’ve edited quite a few more. Even a whole chapter one weekend. But the key is I’m back to working on my novel in some capacity every single day. No exceptions.

I’m not claiming they are a cure-all, but using micro goals to set a habit (or get back into one) has been effective for me. It gives you a small feeling of accomplishment each day, which helps alleviate getting down on yourself about not working on your writing, which as we all know can just make you write even less.

If you’re in your own “slog” you may want to give them a shot. Just make sure whatever micro goal you set, it is too small to fail, and ideally takes under five minutes a day to accomplish. Maybe they can work for you too.

Are you in “the slog” on a writing, or other creative, project? Has this crazy year sapped your creativity? Let me and the rest of my community know in the comments if there’s anything that has helped you to stay creative during these strange times.

writing, writing tips

A Writer’s Guide to Coronavirus Quarantine Life – Part 2 (The Reckoning)

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Still Inside…

Years ago, I wrote a story about a group of people stranded in a desert town, dying from unseen radiation poisoning, and trying to figure out where they fit into the plan of the world.

It seems strangely relatable now, minus the radiation and mutants.

It’s been roughly six weeks since I wrote my first post about writing while under the Coronavirus stay-at-home orders, and in that time I’ve mostly managed to keep to my routine. There have been slip ups, and low points, but overall I am managing.

I continue to adhere to the exercise regiment each morning when I wake up to early morning silence. I’m also trying to eat plenty of green vegetables and other healthy food, and take in deep breathes of fresh spring air, weather permitting. New England has had a cold, generally raw spring befitting the situation. No Murder Hornets though. Not yet anyway.

What I’ve Learned

  • Creativity is fickle – No matter what kind of routines you adhere to, this bizarre scenario is just mentally & creatively exhausting. With all the new roles roles people have begun taking on as caregivers, teachers, and remote-employees, plus the economic stresses, it all compounds to take a toll. If you’re a writer, go easy on yourself. I beat myself up a bit over an “empty tank” a few weeks ago, but after some conversations with peers realized many creative people are stifled right now. Even my WordPress Reader feed is a bit sparse these days!
  • Creativity is important – Writing is a mental health exercise for many people. Losing the glow of that creative spark can be distressing, even if it is temporary. That’s why I say it is OK to be upset about writer’s block, or whatever creative endeavors fuel you, even if they seem “trivial” compared to what’s happening in the world right now. If it’s important to you and helps you stay sane and healthy, then it is important. Don’t let anyone minimize lack of creativity as insignificant.
  • Creativity comes back – Don’t think that once it is gone it’ll never return. It will. I’ve found that on better days I will get a quick burst of inspiration. Sometimes it gets triggered by the aroma of a new coffee (I have so many flavors to buy and try) or intense sunshine on a clear morning. Whatever it is, I capitalize as much as I can. One week it was a single sentence, another it was 5000 words in a day. I just go with it when it shows up. The only thing that remains consistent is that inspiration strikes at the most inconvenient times, just like it did in the “before times”.

If you’re out there reading this I hope you are safe, well, and making the best of your particular situation. This will all end eventually, and when it does I look forward to drinking coffee in book stores and going to author events again.

-BLD

article, writing tips

A Writer’s Guide to Coronavirus Quarantine Life

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Life, Disrupted

By now we realize that Coronavirus has disrupted nearly everyone’s daily lives.

Whether you are self-quarantined, or just social distancing, it can be very tough to keep your creativity and writing output up. It seems counter-intuitive. Writers all over the globe are exactly where we should be right? In front of our keyboards. But any combination of health & financial stress, working from home, caring for children, and home schooling is absolutely disruptive and exhausting. It can make you just want to curl up into a ball and not write or do ANYTHING creative at all.

I’ve been home for about two weeks now. When I received my work from home announcement, I thought whoa, so much writing opportunity! and I was completely wrong. I wasn’t even able to utilize my usual lunch breaks to get words in anymore. This combined with feelings of anxiety and even mild depression from isolation (I’m one of those weird extrovert writers) tanked my output. This past week however, I carefully managed a routine, and it has helped quite a bit. My word count is up, and most importantly, so are my spirits. Here’s what I’ve been doing. Everyone’s situation is different right now, so these may not work for you, but I hope they might help some of my readership out.

Continue reading “A Writer’s Guide to Coronavirus Quarantine Life”

writing, writing tips

Ways to Keep Your Readers Engaged

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One of the most difficult parts of writing isn’t the big, exciting, flashy parts of your story, but the quiet moments in-between them. Let’s call them “mundane moments” to be honest but not overly cruel.

This article by the great Chuck Palahniuk over on LitHub  emphasizes the importance of not boring your readers.

Of course you can move along in one unbroken moment-to-moment description, but that’s so slow. Maybe too slow for the modern audience. And while people will argue that today’s audience has been dumbed down by music videos and whatnot, I’d argue that today’s audience is the most sophisticated that’s ever existed. We’ve been exposed to more stories and more forms of storytelling than any people in history.

Chuck identifies that authors shouldn’t be afraid of using different tools and methods of filling that “in-between” space with things other than rote lists of boring activities. I’m very guilty of this in 1st drafts. Characters milling around, picking things up and putting them down. Looking at one another. BORING!

Some of the things he identifies as alternatives are

  • Montages
  • Interesting “coded” dialogue that helps flesh out character groups
  • Short chapters that describe/show locations as characters travel

I am certainly a writer from the school of “making it like a film”. When I wrote DETROIT 2020 one of the primary goals of the book was to make it a book for readers who would rather be watching an action movie. Even my internal author “camera” sees scenes played out like little movies in my brain as I’m writing.

Pacing scenes like films in your head can really resonate with audiences who are savvy and used to processing information quickly. It’s also another reason that the old adage of “Show versus Tell” is so important. You want to build the image in your reader’s minds so their processing of that vision is efficient and seamless. Being “told” takes more energy on their part and risks a disconnect.

There are also a number of things that can make your prose cleaner and more efficient when you are self-editing your initial story drafts.

The main takeaway here is if you or your beta readers find some yawning moments where your story lags, then your readership certainly will too. Bored readers are no readers at all.

Hopefully these posts will spark some unique ideas to fill those mundane moments in your stories. If you have additional suggestions on how you work with those spaces share it with your fellow writers down in the comments!

re-blog, writing tips

Maintaining A Creative Output During The Holidays

The holidays are a great time to relax with family and friends, and catch up on all those new horror movies you missed back in October (maybe that last one is just me?). But they are busy, and it can be hard to get your writing done. Luckily this great post from K.M. Allan has some useful tips to keep your output going through the end of the year.

K.M. Allan

The holidays are a time for relaxing and taking a break, even Stephen King doesn’t write on Christmas day!

But writers like to make ourselves feel guilty if we aren’t penning down words, even when it’s time for a well-earned break, so here are some tips for maintaining a creative output during the holidays.

Make A To-Do List

Even Santa makes a list at Christmas. You don’t need to check yours twice, but at least have something to look at that’ll keep you on track.

There are a million things to think of and do this time of year, so list writing tasks and non-writing tasks, work out a plan for getting them all achieved, and then tick off each task. It’ll keep you motivated, organized, and get things done. That might sound like a lot for one little list to do, but hey, it’s Christmas, the season…

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