Vicki Keire

5 Ways to Fail At Writing by Vicki Keire

1.       Mercilessly compete with other writers

You are an island of genius alone in a sea of sharks. Cooperation? What’s that? Collaboration? For the weak! If someone else is doing “better” than you, with higher word counts or rankings or more adoring fans, you’ll just work harder.

The problem is that, rather than focusing on your own strengths, you’re comparing yourself to others. That’s an uncomfortable way to live, not to mention creatively stifling. So what if Superfast Writer cranks out a novel every month? Perhaps speed isn’t your thing, and you’ll only wind up with tire marks all over the intricate plot lines or snappy dialogue that is the true strength of your writing.

2.       Never, ever ask for help

If you ask for help with Sticky Plot Point #4, then everyone will know. They will know you don’t have all the answers, or that you are farther behind schedule than you would like. Perhaps your ms will somehow let slip the embarrassing fact that you sing off key when proofreading. Nope. Best keep the whole mess under wraps and deal with any hitches on your own.

This is also known as “imposter syndrome.” Everyone hits speed bumps in their writing, if not pot holes and even bottomless pits. This is one of ROW80’s founding principles; we’re here to help each other. We’ve all struggled with “imposter syndrome,” and will happily help kick the bugger in the face. Most of us also eventually find that creativity doesn’t exist in a vacuum. Giving another writer the chance to help can be a real boost to his or her work.

3.       Don’t read

Reading might rob you of precious word count-increasing minutes. Besides, the other writer’s voice or style might somehow creep into your own ms and taint it. You must protect your ideological virtue at all costs.  And there’s certainly nothing worthwhile outside of your own genre.

Faulkner once said, “Read everything.” He really meant everything: trashy romances, newspaper articles, religious tracts, bathroom graffiti. (Okay, I’m not sure about that last bit.) Reading extensively can help show us what a well-built sentence looks like, or how exquisite dialogue leaps, unspoken, from page to tongue. Conversely, the really awful stuff becomes more and more obvious.

4.  Never take a break

The harder you work, the more productive you’ll be. Forget that five minute breather between chapters. Who cares if you’ve been writing for four hours straight? You’re on a roll! And don’t even breathe the word “vacation.” You can squeeze out a chapter or three in a weekend. The leaves turn this color every year. Who cares?

There’s a worse word than “vacation:” burnout. Burning out can leave you half-mad with exhaustion, frustrated, and snapping at loved ones. You may find yourself yanked off your imaginary planet from chapter nine and forced, instead, to converse with mortals who insist they are something called friends. Taking frequent breaks or even longer, overnight ones (I won’t use the “v” word!) can mitigate this. So can noticing the brilliant red maple at the end of the street, or powering the computer down long enough to have tea and chocolate, or sharing your accomplishments with those sketchy beings called friends.

5. Play it safe

Epic novels about Roboraptors are all the rage, burning up the bestseller charts. No problem. You can write that. So what if your heart harbors a prose-poem novel about a guard in a Japanese internment camp who falls in love with the treasured youngest daughter of an imprisoned family? No one buys prose poetry, no matter how romantic and tragic and mad. Best stick to Roboraptors. Besides, think of how much time you have invested in a manuscript you know, on some level, isn’t working. Starting over would mean ditching everything and, well, starting over.

Perhaps your idea is the next big thing. And odds are, with everyone writing about the same thing, the market will be glutted by the time your work is ready for the public anyway. We writers invest an enormous amount of resources into our work. It is not an exaggeration to think of our novels, poems, and stories a part of ourselves. Starting over is literally like cutting off a limb. But if our stories are no longer working, if they have grown stale and gangrenous, then the alternative is much worse. We should carefully consider the risks of staying with a stalled project without losing sight of the rewards of change.

 ~*~

Vicki Keire

Balancing Act by Vicki Keire

Sometimes, even the most dedicated and productive writers among us can have trouble meeting our goals. Simple exhaustion, financial stress, and family responsibilities can seem to conspire to keep us from doing the work that needs to be done. While we can’t do anything about many of these stresses —the rent needs to be paid, and families need attention— we can change the way that we deal with these external pressures and minimize their impact.

Write during times that you are most productive.

Do you write well in the morning, or do you find yourself snoring into your keyboard? Can you work in the evenings after the kids are in bed? Try to schedule those hours for writing. If at all possible, plan your work schedule, errands and chores so that you reserve your creative hours for writing.

Write in a space where you can be productive.

Do you get more done at home, or does getting to work an hour early do the trick? There’s no sense planning to work at home if you wind up watching television every time you try to work at your kitchen table.

  • I can’t say enough wonderful things about my library (plus there’s a coffee shop in the basement.) But lots of people find them too quiet and stuffy.
  • If your work space is at home, try not to make it your bedroom. I never sleep well if my work space and my sleep space are the same room. We all need at least one room where we can escape.
  • If you get “stuck,” try a change of scene. A coffee house, a park, a bookstore, or even a new spot in the house may provide that kick you need.

Figure out how you work best, and try to work that way.

  • Develop “writing” rituals. Lighting a candle, brewing tea, using a special WIP-only pen, and other ritualistic behaviors tell your brain that “it is time to get down to business.”
  • Think about what actually works, not just how you like to work. You may LOVE to blare your favorite band while you write, but if you wind up singing along at the top of your lungs half the time, it may not be working. Plus your neighbors might secretly hate you.
  • The point is, figure out what works and DO THAT. If something keeps you from working, DITCH IT. Once you have the “ritual that works,” do it as often as you can when you write. Repetition reinforces!

Most importantly, don’t let the fact that you have a plan keep you from changing it when needed.

While it’s ideal to plan your days to enable you to spend your most productive work time in your most productive work space working in your most productive method, you can’t always do that. So practice working elsewhere, and at other times. Losing your magic WIP pen is not an excuse not to write! Neither is being on a business trip or vacation, or having to reschedule your regular writing time because you need to go to the dentist. Try to be flexible, and don’t let rituals become excuses.

 ~*~

Vicki Keire

Delayed Gratification–Just Say No!

Delayed gratification and I don’t really get along. Sometimes the finish line is just too far away to motivate me now. I first encountered this in grad school. A two hundred page writing assignment about obscure books and dead people totally blindsided me; I thought studying literature would be about good books of my choice. Hah! Every “get things done” strategy I knew collapsed.

I knew how to organize, and how to break things down into bite sized-chunks. I had short and long-term goals. I had accountability. Teachers and office mates always wanted to know how I was doing. So why couldn’t I get it done already? What was wrong?

My friend Jenn was a grad student in a different department, but she also had epic writing assignments that bored her stupid. She, however, was always bubbly and seemed mystified by the idea of writer’s block. We’d meet for coffee and she’d listen sympathetically before making suggestions:

“Have you broken your long-term goal down week by week?”

Duh. “Yes, Jenn.”

“Do you have a daily word count?”

Grr. “Of course.”

And so on. Over the course of months and enough bad university coffee to fuel a small ulcer, Jenn always had suggestions, including:

Dedicate space just for writing.

Have a ‘writing ritual,’ like lighting a candle.

Go for a walk.

Get up an hour early just to write.

It was sweet of her to keep encouraging me. The problem was, I’d already tried, or was actively trying, all of them. And none of it was working.

And then, one day, I found The List. Jenn and I shared a passion for designer notebooks. She’d just gotten a new one with a cover made of real pressed flowers. As I “oohed” and “aahed,” a folded piece of paper labeled “Weekly Rewards” floated onto my lap. It had things like “two hours of XBox,” “margarita body wash,” “pedicure,” and “the GOOD beer” written on it. Jenn had been using a system called behavioral modification for years.

Put simply, if we associate good things with certain kinds of behavior, we are more likely to repeat that behavior until it becomes a fixed habit. She cautioned me that it was harder than it looked. Yeah, right, I thought. How hard could it be to incorporate little rewards into my life? But Jenn insisted it wasn’t that simple. If I achieved my weekly goals, then I absolutely had to make myself take that weekly reward, no exceptions. If I didn’t make my goals, even partially, then absolutely no reward. Slowly, the brain learns that even the grunt work feels good.

It was surprisingly hard. I don’t think a lot of us are conditioned to reward ourselves on a regular basis. Self-denial and struggle can look like the best way to achievement. I know I still struggle with this. It’s tempting, if I meet my goals, to skip that hour-long candle light bubble bath. It’s Friday night. Isn’t there something on TV instead? I can fold some laundry while I’m at it…

But no! The reward is as much a part of the goal as the word count, or else it doesn’t work. The brain is wily. It will not be half-trained. Also, it gets cranky. I met your stupid word count, human mine. Now where’s my lollipop?

My list of weekly rewards looks something like: read any one book I want, manicure, the GOOD coffee, a new CD, a half hour of aimless driving to really loud music, a nap. The funny thing is, when I finally finished that grad school project, I did celebrate with something big. I just don’t remember what. When I think back it’s the little rewards that stick out: the sugar cookie bodywash; hiking with my family; watching bad movies with Jenn.

What Jenn taught me tricked my brain into thinking I enjoyed the nuts-and-bolts part, too. ROW80 is perfect for this kind of system. It encourages realistic goal setting, accountability, and community. Weekly, or even bi-weekly, rewards slide right in there. So how about it, ROW80? How do you reward yourself? What would you put on your list?

~*~

Vicki Keire