Midweek #ROW80 Check-In

Now we’re getting into things.  Easter’s coming up–if that’s a holiday you celebrate, now’s the time to get in some extra words to make up for any lack you might have because of being tied up with other stuff.

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The Writing Habit by Andrew Couch

Everyone has habits that hamper them. Writers seem especially sensitive to this. We sometimes call it writer’s block or losing the muse (did you check under the seat cushions?). Often it is just the habit of letting life get in the way because writing is hard. My habit that often derails my writing involves mentally picturing the end result and letting this picture of what it should be prevent me from actually putting the work into getting it there.

Planning and having an idea where a story needs to go is a great and essential skill. Even Pansters need to have that vision when they get to editing their story. I wander back and forth between plotting and pantsing. Somewhere along this planning, I have a picture and a feeling of my work in my head. I craft this picture and refine it until it shines in the mental sun. I bask in the glow of the perfect story in my head. Then I look back to the page. The dull page with little black scratches on it. This isn’t the perfect image I have in my head, I say. It somehow feels better to spend time in my head than on the page, so the project stalls.

I have already read the story in my head and enjoyed it, so it feels weird going through it again on the page. Especially when the story on the page doesn’t ever seem as cool or fulfilling than the thing in my head. And then I realize that the thing in my head has morphed to more of a feeling, a sensation of greatness, than an actual picture, an actual story to write. At this point the writing process breaks down even further.

In marches discipline. Discipline to work on the page. To push the words around until they approach the glory I already have enjoyed in my head. There is a commentary by Ira Glass that has made its rounds on the internet about learning art. I like this one with the moving typography. It isn’t very long and definitely worth watching/listening.

I definitely fall into the gap that Ira is talking about. I have the vision in my head of what I want my art to be like and struggle to get it onto the page. To counter this, I am working on discipline to do the work and just practice. Push the words around (even if randomly at times) until I see them begin to line up with the vision.

Hearing Ira talk about this gap makes me feel like it is a common enough problem for creative types and I am not alone in it. That is good because the writing process can feel very much alone sometimes. Recognizing the problem is the first step to combating it. Here are a few things I have tried to help fight this problem of having a mental sensation overshadow the actual story.

1) Write notes with paper and penIn the digital age it seems weird somehow to make notes on paper, but it is totally wonderful. It is freeform. I can sketch little pictures instead of having to force words to things. Words can be related with lines and arrows easily. This all helps me try to put concrete form to the ideas in my head and keep them in the realm of the story.

2) Just WriteWe hear it a lot from plenty of the big name writers. Do the work. Sit and write. Whatever other form of the saying they choose. Actually to sit down and attempt to get the story down seems to help me. I may not always get the exact shining image in my head, but sometimes I get different wonderfulness on the page.

3) Be ok with it – “Perfect is the enemy of done.”
Part of #2 is seeing that although the story I did write isn’t the same as the story in my head, it is still pretty cool sometimes. So part of getting over this for me is being ok with what I did write. This is not the same as skipping editing, but it means not tossing ideas on the page just because they don’t match exactly the ones in the shiny mystical vision in the mind.

Do you have this problem of the vision being greater than the page?Any other tips to combat this?


Andrew Couch

Sunday #ROW80 Check-In

First week down.  Are you off to a good start or did you stall at the starting gate?  Either way is fine.  Just put one foot in front of the other and walk until you can run.

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Final Round 1 Check-In

You technically have until tomorrow for end of round, but I have you trained to look for check ins on Wednesday.  So consider this your 24 hour warning!  Then I expect a ROLL CALL and REPORT IN on how you did on your goals this round!

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Burn Out and Recovery for #ROW80 2014, First Quarter by Dawn Montgomery

Fifteen months, two weeks, and three days.

That was my longest consecutive burnout period. Creatively and with my everyday work load (I was in the military. Lots of deployment, work pressure, highly technical and competitive field, battle stress, and writing pressure on top of it all). During that time, I started many things and finished nothing. I floundered in confidence and my publishers increased pressure (I had no firm deadlines, but I had a solid readership).

Emails came in from readers asking if I would work on a series or create a follow-up to this or that couple. My family didn’t get it. Writing income slumped and it wasn’t like I wasn’t working. I was crying at the computer. Hands on the keyboard. Typing all the mess they tell you to in order to “get the muse working”. Nothing helped. Why couldn’t I speed write like mad and “get over” this slump?

On top of this stress came the nightmares I suffer with when I’m not writing (I’m one of those kinds of people who have to exhaust my mind daily to keep nightmares at a minimum). So my sleep suffered as well. I was convinced this was the wrong field. I needed to quit and walk away.

Then I came across two posts that changed my life. Morgan Hawke talks about burnout and how it relates to success. She focuses on tedium as the number one factor. The other was by comedic writer Gene Perrett (Emmy winning writer of the Bob Hope and Carol Burnett shows). Gene talks about the need to get away from writing in order to rebuild your mind. Read them if you get a chance. I’ll highlight where they helped me if you hang with me a little longer.

As writers we spend a massive amount of time in our own heads. We get into routine, expect to knock out x number of words per writing session, per day. When it doesn’t happen, we get upset with ourselves and keep at it past our normal days, working harder, dragging out word after word. If any.

Each day gets harder and harder, crawling up behind you. You’ve got promotional stuff, deadlines, emails, social media interaction, blog posts, instant messages, work phone calls. All of this is on top of real life.

Then you reach a point in your book where you wonder who these characters are and what they’re doing. Why should you care about what happens to them? You might grind out another chapter (or finish the book), but it’s not your best, and it eats at you.

But you don’t have time to think on it, because the next book is due. Now. Yesterday. Tomorrow. So it’s butt in chair, hands on keyboard for the next book. You might have been excited about the book at the beginning, but the words aren’t coming like you’d hoped.

Stress starts building. You’re not producing the words at the level/speed you’re used to so other things are falling behind.

You run timed writing sessions every day, trying to get the words down, but they are getting harder and harder to drag free? Why?

Boredom/apathy to your characters and the book you’re writing. I read both articles at different times in my writing career, but at the 15 month mark, it all came together in my mind.

Somewhere along the way I stopped emotionally investing in the story/characters and shifted my focus to the numbers every day. I wasn’t giving myself time to unwind from the last emotional upheaval of a book before diving into the next one.

I took a week off away from the computer and writing. In that time I read, watched tv, hung out with my family, and just relaxed. I gave myself permission to not worry about writing. Then, I started playing with characters in my mind. I didn’t think about what book would sell over another or which story would be more likely accepted by my editor. Instead, I went through idea after idea until I found two characters whose story interested me enough to get to know them. And I wrote it.

I also finished it. And took time off after that. I then tapped my mind for the next two (or more) characters who captured my interest. For years I did great, but it’s easy to fall back into old habits.

January and February I hit two burnouts. Each lasted a little over a week. Both were highly stressful and devastating to my ego. We’re into March now and I’m still shaken.

Not because I burned out, but because I saw the signs and ignored them.

November and December were record-breaking in word count numbers. I wanted to top the previous month with even bigger word counts. I ignored my previous schedule. Mondays were admin days. Write from Tuesday to Saturday. Off, completely, on Sunday (I’d schedule my ROW80 post on Saturday). No, according to my new obsession, I needed those days to write more.

I forgot how important it was to enjoy the characters, to invest in their lives. It became a numbers game. I finished a novel in January and immediately jumped into publisher’s edits for a novel that would release at the end of that month. From there, I jumped right back into a new novella.

And then I spent two weeks writing nothing while staring at my computer screen. Hands on the keyboard. Internet shut off. Nothing to distract me. But nothing came.

I took a few days off and dove into paperwork, updated my blog, and tried to touch base with people so I felt like I’d accomplished something.  What I didn’t do, however, was talk to the characters and figure out why their story was so important.

February I forced it. The book was due, I didn’t have a choice. I cried, ranted, ground my teeth together, and suffered, but I pulled 20k in two days. It wasn’t the best rough draft, but I’d done it.

My critique partners slaughtered the book and one of them (who has been with me since the beginning) told me it looked like burnout. “Not as bad as that one time, but…”

Lightbulb moment.

How had I missed the signs?

1. Ambivalence toward the characters (including a lack of backstory)

2. Obsessive focus on the numbers

3. Exhaustion the moment I THINK about writing.

4. Prone to tears of frustration when I write (I hardly ever cry…EVER). This one, btw, is usually the only warning I get before I go into dark writing depression.

5. No memory of what I’d written the day before or why.

The moment I realized where I was headed, I backed off writing and took some creative downtime. I relaxed with the family, read, painted, and didn’t open my writing programs once. If I had writing ideas, I jotted them down and then went back to what I was doing.

One week into it, I could start blogging again.

One and a half weeks, and I could write this post.

At two weeks I saw the first need to write. The first sparks of interest in two characters and their journey. When I thought about writing, it filled me with nervous excitement. This kind of joy is something I’d been missing for a while. I wrote the first chapter with a light heart and a huge amount of relief. I was afraid I’d lost my writing ability, but it looks like it was just tired of being worked to death.

Be kind to yourself. Burnout is a very real thing, and recovery can take a very long time if you don’t catch the signs early.


Dawn Montgomery

Sunday #ROW80 Check-In

Less than a week to go, y’all.  Make these last few days COUNT!

If you’re interested in being a sponsor for Round 2, check out the FAQs and email me at kaitnolanwriter (at) gmail (dot) com.

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Midweek #ROW80 Check-In

ONE WEEK TO GO!   Let’s move, people!  HUSTLE HUSTLE HUSTLE!  This is the last sprint of this round, and then you get a whole TEN DAYS OFF!

Our sponsor roster for Round 2 is filling up.  If you’ve never sponsored before and want to give it a try, don’t be shy!  Check out the FAQs and email me at kaitnolanwriter (at) gmail (dot) com.

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The Tongue of Experience Has The Most Truth by Alberta Ross

What do we dream of as writers, apart from writing the bestseller of the century which will resonate with endless generations that is:)  Most of us here in this group, it seems, long for a pure life of writing, free from distractions and real LIFE, with its irritating habit of slapping our faces with a wet fish.


Ah, to have a den of our own, time at our disposal, and money in the bank to fund it.


There are many impediments to obstruct us; LIFE’S many little trickeries include mortgages, food bills, health issues and family.  Constantly cropping up. Bills and taxes to be paid, cars and computers to be repaired or changed, sickness in the night, paid employment, university courses all joggling each other for our attention. Visitors, family gatherings, holidays to organize. Then there are  pets breaking hearts. So many barriers to ‘our time’ to create our alternative worlds.


This isn’t a post about ‘if you really want to achieve something you will find the time’, or ‘be ruthless and shut yourself away’ or even ‘stop making excuses and just do’, we have all heard these words and we all agree with them and to a certain extent they are true.  No, we know how to respond to them.


This is a post about reality and creativity.


A world which enables a pure uninterrupted life could happen I suppose, a space where we can write constantly and forever – yeah – well – no.


Creativity, in whatever capacity, cannot even be born, let alone thrive and grow in silence, in emptiness, in sterility.  LIFE conceives it ,feeds it, nourishes and loves it. With experience and its memories imagination can do wondrous things, it can change, turn twist and manipulate, embroidering and embellishing with lace and fancies. What imagination cannot do is work with nothing.


What of the Internet and books you might say?

What indeed.

They do certainly help with the exteriors.


We can work hard, carve out impossible deadlines, have the passion, keep faith with our dreams. Because we know dreams are rarely achieved by luck alone, hard work and constancy is needed as well but, sometimes we get so tangled up in the ‘work ethic’ of our Western civilization we mistakenly think this is the only way, the correct way. We are fooled into taking as gospel the code ‘nose to the grindstone’ or even worse ‘hard work never killed anyone’


Yes it does sometimes.


Forgetting the equally valid ‘all work and no play makes Jack a dull boy’.


Keep the machines going. We are not machines and, more importantly for this post, creativity and imagination are not either.


LIFE creates imagination and creativity and, like all life, these evolve over time.  Both  are unpredictable and capricious, neither will be tied or constrained and both need to be fed constantly to grow strong. Creativity needs to be nurtured by the springs of experience and knowledge, as well as work and passion. We constantly hear, in this group, of deadlines missed, goals being moved and the theme is nearly always because of LIFE’S interruptions. And so more tricks  need to be learned


To love the interruptions,

To remember the old saying of every cloud having a silver lining

To be content to wait a while when our plans get changed

To consider a day’s time worthwhile when not a single word has been written

To be content when time spent has been within our heads.

To relax and care for ourselves, our families and our friends

To let every experience and interaction become absorbed into every fibre of us

To accept that our writing will be stronger more powerful when we know what LiFE is all about.


It is difficult to accept that our training into ‘work hard and you will gain the world’ doesn’t always work. All of us here wish to write our tales and entertain and inform, we fear time is racing by and we are not there yet, not there yet, not there. . .We make time our enemy and have the urge to fight it, to race it, defeat and become masters of it.


It is impossible.

It cannot be done.


We do not want to be dead before the tale is written, but somewhere a fine line has to be drawn between stressing ourselves into an early grave, by trying to become super-people attempting impossible feats, and becoming more relaxed and still working towards our dream. LIFEwatching/experiencing/being is as important as health/family/friends as important as dreams/desires/passion/work.


We must learn to love it all.


Alberta Ross