Wednesday, March 5, 2014

The Problem with Short Stories (and me)

Last night I went to a launch party for Shannon Messenger's LET THE STORM BREAK. There were great conversations about writing between the three authors in attendance (Kiersten White and Kasie West joined her for the event). But there was one moment that stuck out to me. Shannon spoke about her Keeper series and how it began with a short story-- and  now she has three 100,000+ word novels because of one little exercise.

And that's what is going on with me right now.

My NaNoWriMo project, DEATH NOTICE, started out with one character with a bigger story than I imagined. My Stone Circle critique partner told me there were two many open questions for a short story. I was developing another world. And he was right. I had two main characters with so much complexity, plus a side character full of mystery, how did I not see it?

That's when I knew there was too much. Now I have a novel written from both perspectives (that's in desperate need of repair).

Flash forward a few months. I promised my husband the story of a prominent character in KIN. Again, I sent a snippet to my Stone Circle group. After they read a page and a half, I asked them, "Seriously, how do I write a short story?" I knew, again, that there was too much going on. And they both told me you need a single, simple focus when writing on a shorter scale.

This is not how my brain works (and thank goodness for their divine wisdom).

After doing research, and thinking long and hard, I now have enough ideas for TWO novels in the same universe as my dear KIN. My lovely and clever husband, I believe, tricked me.

This is not what I expected from myself this year. I want to write a witch story. To revise the novels on the back burner. Now, I have two more novels with their gnarled fingers clutched around my heart.

They won't let go. Inspiration is around me and my brain is bursting.

And is this a reason to complain? Maybe a smidgen? What I do know is if I need a novel idea, writing a short story first might be the way to go. Sometimes, detours are part of a journey.


Monday, March 3, 2014

Productivity Review

I've discovered something new to figure out this year with my writing: increasing productivity. In my previous post, I spoke about how I recognized how things needed to change. I've always prided myself on getting a lot done and people seem impressed by what I do. However, I feel like I squint back at them like they're seeing something I'm not.

The first thing I did in January was put myself on a social media retreat after I saw two Twitter friends doing one together to boost their writing. During that time, it really helped me not rely so much on social media and focus on my to-do list.

The retreat also made me realize that I needed to work on my social media habits. I started using an extension in Chrome called StayFocused where I could set a limited amount of time for social media websites on my computer during the day. I can also shut everything down for an hour if I really need to focus. (They do have a list of "allowed websites" if you want to listen to your music or have the thesaurus open.)

WriteOrDie is also a savior when it comes to making myself sit down and work. Coupling it with StayFocused really pushes me when I need it most. It gives you warnings if you're going too slow. I rewards you with cat pictures if you reach your goal. I've found that writing sprints, or being timed, is a great way for me to dive into my work.

Lists are also great for me. I went back to using my whiteboard above my desk. The way I have a visual of everything I've done over the past week and it makes me sit down to get the bigger picture (more on that in the previous blog post).

On days where I need to keep an eye on how long I work on other things, the Pomodoro technique really comes in handy since it allows me to split up my time in chunks. There's an app on my phone that I use for it on my Android phone. I also have a bad back so it reminds me to get up to stretch, as well as rest my eyes. You get a longer break after two hours so I then go out for a walk. I allow myself to take my time since it's an easy way for me to get in my daily exercise. 

And, lastly, the Sticker Method that I've written before. Here are my stickers from January and February. Not too bad! They're not all for writing, but what little writing related goals I set out. For example, doing so many chapters in an outline.

Nothing is more fun than picking out that sticker I've earned at the end of the day. At the end of the month, sitting back in my desk chair, I can really see what I've done for my work and for myself.

And I love this calendar of fantasy authors. There's something about having their eyes fixed on me while I work or place the stickers in the little square that helps keep me moving along.

I think I've finally found some ways to really help me keep on top of my work and feel proud of myself, and not as full of dread. It's wonderful to have people cheer me on or say wonderful things about how I'm doing. However, I really needed to feel it more within myself. There is probably some more tinkering in the future in how I manage my time and writing, but this is a great start.

One of the last things I need to work on a bit is flexibility. Does it really matter what order I do things? Guilt has a way of finding its way through the cracks, and this is where learning to breathe (or meditate) might come in handy. Life is always in flux and I can't beat myself over things I can't control. 

If you're interested in more tips on increasing productivity, I definitely recommend checking out this article by Susan Dennard over at Publishing Crawl. The author also has some wonderful resources if you want to read more, as well.

Lifehacker is another great resource that I love to follow on social media. Their articles are sometimes just what I need on a bad day.

What methods do you like to use to increase productivity?


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