Tag Archives: planning

Setting new goals

I have a confession: I have a hard time making myself set aside time to write.

I love writing. I love uncovering the story, planning and outlining. But I have a hard time making myself sit down and put it on paper.

I think maybe in part because lately I’ve been using stories to process my life, which makes it less of an escape than I might be looking for.

It may also just be that I’m lazy, and writing is work. But I don’t want to think about that.

This week, I didn’t set aside a lot of time, just some stolen moments. This week my goal is to actually set aside time. At least two days this week, I’m going to sit for at least an hour and just write, see where the story goes.

I’m not doing a lot of planning or outlining. I’m trying the fly by the seat of my pants approach, to see if it taps into my creativity in a different way.

But, despite not getting as far as I wanted, I did make a start last week, and that’s what counts. Beginnings are hard. I always feel pressure to start with something incredible, but that never seems to happen. But I chose to dive right in, and the story is already compelling (to me).

So, here’s to this week and accomplishing goals.

Choosing life, choosing ideas

It’s strange to think it’s only been about two months since I last really engaged in writing. It seems like it’s been so much longer.

While I was trying to use writing as a ladder to climb my way out of some darkness, I really just sort of tumbled deeper in. I’m in a better headspace now, and each week I’m learning and growing more, and I’ve found myself actually wanting to start writing again.

I’ve been plotting out a couple of ideas at week, and I’m excited about both. I need to choose one to start writing, and this time I’m actually going to write until the story is done (a draft, at least. I’m trying to be realistic). I’ve found that I’m still very drawn to the same kinds of things I’ve been wrestling with myself–identity, purpose, feeling stuck and reckless, mental health. Both the ideas I have right now deal with a lot of these topics, but in quite different ways.

Idea no.1 is the story of a woman who essentially lives a double life. On the outside, she’s pretty outgoing and likes to party. But this is a persona she’s created because she thinks it’s who she needs to be to feel accepted. What people don’t see are the various ways she has to cope with the effects of living as someone she isn’t. Somehow, she will have to uncover and accept her true self, regardless of who others want her to be and build the life she wants.

Idea no.2 is almost a fleshing out of one of the short stories I published this summer, but with some significant changes. A young woman is feeling very stuck in her life, and impulsively volunteers to be part of a colonization mission to a nearby planet. Her boyfriend refuses to go with her, so she goes alone and finds that all the same problems–feeling stuck, feeling alone, lacking purpose and dreams–followed her through space. She’s forced to accept that in order to see real change, she has to take charge of her life, make choices and take action instead of letting life happen to her.

The common theme in both these ideas is that these women have to accept who they are and what their lives are in order to take charge and enact change (I’ve been learning a lot about this over the summer). These are stories of self-acceptance, strength, personal growth, and ultimately choosing life over existence.

The problem now is choosing which one to write first. When I get into the story of one, I think it’s surely the one I want to write… right up until I add some notes to the story of the other idea. Then I think surely that’s the one I want to write. So I’ll ask for a bit of input for you, my readers (let’s call it proof that you’re there, ok?): which story would you be most interested in?

Choosing a voice

If you’d asked me five years ago, I would have adamantly said I didn’t like first person stories.

If you asked me now, I’d tell you first person stories require special care. While still not my favorite, I recognize that sometimes that is the best way to tell a story. And sometimes it’s the worst way.

My latest short story is in first person. In the last paragraph, I started to write that first person stories needed a strong reason for being first person. But, I erased that sentence because my reason is that that’s simply how the first lines of the story went, and I ran with it.

It’s a story about a woman who signs up for a one-way trip to a new planet, wanting to escape her life and anxiety, only to find that running away doesn’t solve the problem. In this case, I think it’s easier to express the feelings and emotions, easier to paint a picture of anxiety, by using first person. She can tell the reader exactly what she’s feeling.

One thing I’ve noticed, writing in first person, I’m not quite as obsessive about dialogue. In my first two short stories, I was extremely conscious of how long I was going without dialogue. Dialogue is what keeps most stories moving. But when you’re writing first person, in a way everything is dialogue. The character is speaking to the reader. It makes it easier to move the story along without dialogue. Which is good, because when you use first person dialogue must either be with your character, or take place where they can overhear it. If they aren’t there, you can’t use it.

While I’m still not entirely sold on first person (I’ve read too many books that should have used a different voice), I see that it does make a more intimate story for the writing, too. This story has flowed much faster than the others, even though I haven’t quite finished it yet. Maybe it’s because the whole story is an expression of the things I’ve been dealing with, and an easier description of it. Either way, it’s a little more personal, or maybe differently personal. My characters always contain at least a little piece of myself. But this one is me in a lot more ways. So maybe it flows easier because it is my own story.

Working through the pain

I missed last week’s post because, surprise surprise, I didn’t get a lot of writing done. It’s hard to write when you’ve got family visiting.

But I’ve put myself to it the last few days of this week (it’s cathartic, writing about the things I’m feeling), and I’ve wrapped up my second piece for submission.

With the deadline coming up quickly, April 15, I now have to decide if I want to try for a third piece, along with naming my first two. I definitely need to read over them and check for spelling errors and any changes I want to make, but that’s the easy part. A third piece would mean buckling down this week and really carving out some time to write–not impossible, but difficult for me when I’ve got books and documentaries calling my name.

Not to mention I never fully fleshed out the third idea I had. But, maybe that’s something I could do quickly. And maybe that’s what will decide me.

In the meantime, here’s a little excerpt from my second piece, the main character explaining to a young boy how she ended up being the lighthouse keeper.

“When I was younger, my heart was hurt very badly. So I came here to be alone. I’ve been here ever since.”

“Don’t you get lonely?” he asked. “There aren’t many people around.”

She smiled. “Well, that’s why I came, at first. I was sad and people hurt me. Being alone wasn’t lonely, it’s what I wanted.”

“But now? Do you get lonely now?”

“I suppose I do sometimes,” she said. “But I’ve been here so long, it’s all I know how to do anymore. And no one else steps forward to do it. We can’t let the light go out.”

“Oh,” he said, screwing up his face in thought. “When I’m scared of trying something different, I think of how good it might be, and that helps me feel brave enough to try.”

“That’s a very good thought,” she said. “But I don’t stay because I’m afraid. What about all the people who come for help? Shouldn’t someone be here to take care of them?”

The boy shrugged. “Shouldn’t someone take care of you? My parents love each other lots, but my mom still complains if my dad doesn’t help out and take care of her sometimes,” he explained. “It makes sense to me. When I’m sad or scared, sometimes all I need is a hug from my mom, or a snack. But I never get better if I just stay by myself.”

That’s what I’ve been struggling with lately, isolating myself when I’m hurt. And it doesn’t get better, not truly better, if I just stay by myself. In the end, I have to open up and let someone come along side to help me heal. It’s hard and scary, especially when you’ve been hurt before. But, as Emmalyn is finding out, life is about more than finding a tolerable pain threshold.

One down, two to go

I didn’t get quite as far as I intended this week in my new projects, but I definitely made a dent.

My first piece is done, just needs a read through before submission. And I’ve started the second piece, building up the story to get to where I’m going.

I’ve found that it’s been tricky with these first two ideas, because the main character is fairly isolated in the beginning. This leads to a lot of description, scene setting, and explanation, but little to no dialogue. Which makes me nervous that people will lose interest. But, this also pushes me to write through it and think about new ways to include dialogue, whether through memories, or uncovering new characters to interact with.

I’ve got until the middle of April to get all my submissions ready, so this next week is going to be about focusing on writing this second piece. Then I’ll work on fleshing out the idea for the third.

When you don’t have a map, write one

The further I try to go on in this project, the less I know where it’s going, it seems.

I’ve come to the realization that once I start writing, I don’t like to use “writing” time to think ahead, to plot out where my story is going. I feel like I ought to be writing, instead of just thinking about writing (it doesn’t make a whole lot of sense, since it’s still productive, but, I never said my mind worked clearly).

But this week, in what little time I’ve had, I’ve made myself do some thinking, planning out where my story is going. Because it’s hard to write otherwise, and I’m trying not to fall into the slump where it’s hard to write because I don’t know what to write, but I don’t want to take the time to figure out where I’m going.

The driving force behind this project, the last few weeks, has been my opportunity to wrestle with hopes and dreams and feeling like giving up. Sometimes writing things out, even things you know, helps them sink in in a new way. And sometimes, you have to allow yourself to sink a little bit into the darkness in order to better appreciate the light, to remind you there are things out there worth waiting for.

Everything else about this story has been up in the air. But I’ve got a little bit more clarity now, and I’ll continue to fine tune some of the details as I go along this week. But I think  I’ve ironed out (mostly, anyway) the biggest hitch, which was why there was so much animosity between the two halves of society, and what is the catalyst that prompts any sort of action within the story. I knew that the people who lived outside the cities didn’t like the people who lived wrapped up in technology and virtual reality. But, when the story hinged around these people planning something against their “enemies,” things started to make less sense. I realize that, within humanity, it’s really not so far fetched to hurt someone simply because you don’t like them. But I wanted something deeper, and I found it.

Instead of any one half of society attacking the other, these two girls who have learned the middle ground are interested in exposing the lies everyone has been believing and creating a new, unified society. It will mean breaking down barriers and dismantling stereotypes. It will mean people learning to embrace change and differences. It will mean agreeing to disagree, and not allowing that to be poisonous.

These kinds of big changes are scary, and can be seen as rebellion. So when Aliyah gets in trouble, she has to wrestle with whether it’s worth pursuing. Do you chase after your big dreams, even if the people who benefit don’t deserve it? Do you continue to reach for a better life, even if part of you believes you’ll never get there? When life kicks you down, is it even worth getting back up?

When I first started in on this project, I thought it was a story about a girl who sought refuge in books, who used them to hide from reality. Now, that’s not even worth mentioning, in the grand scheme of the story. Now, it’s largely become about discussing these big questions. If it ever gets finished and published, it’s possible some people might look at it as a critique on government, technology, even environmentalism (at least, that’s what people could think based on what it is now), and while those themes are things that I’m looking at, and may grow to be bigger topics as the story progresses, at it’s core, these big life questions have shown themselves essential. They are the story that’s begging to be told. And I hope the answer will be helpful to some, even if I don’t know what it is yet.

For all I know, they give up and nothing changes. I haven’t finished wrestling yet.

Finding grace in the plot holes

Have you ever read a story and been left with questions, questions about why something happened or why a character did something?

As a writer, uncovering these questions early is bittersweet. I’ve got time to correct them and fill the plot holes, but, sometimes it can hinder the writing process. I’ve run into just that issue very early on in my latest project (only a few hundred words in, in fact).

My story opens with a scavenging team going into an abandoned city. But, seeing as how this team is part of a society that lives off the land and shuns most technology and advancement, it begs the question what they are scavenging for, and why?

I’ve also been mulling over the question of why those who live in virtual reality are so hated by the society that lives off the land. In theory, they would have no contact at all, so why the animosity? Maybe it’s just because they have different views, that would be human enough.

I often allow myself to use these outstanding questions as an excuse not to write. I don’t want to get so far into the story with unresolved issues that will present themselves in significant ways later. It’s something I’m working on, letting go of the idea of immediate perfection. It’s not how things work in life, it’s not how things work in creating, either.

I got used to near-perfect first drafts in college, and I confess it’s been a hard habit to break, letting go of the way I first write things and allowing myself the freedom to make changes. It’s difficult, as well, to allow myself to freedom to admit that there’s room for improvement.

If there’s nothing else I accomplish this year in my writing, this freedom to embrace bad writing and to embrace improvement are the two things, inextricably linked as they are, that I’m anxious to cultivate this year, and not just in writing. I want to reach a point where I’m able to extend grace to myself. Most people don’t expect perfection from me (except when I’m at work, I suppose. I think I must have a quota of mistakes I’m allowed.), so I don’t need to demand it from myself.

There’s no need for shame at not being perfect, or even good, at something the first time. That’s the beauty of growth and the beauty of grace. And even while I work to build my self-discipline to write on a regular basis, I’ll work to build my outflow of grace and not beat myself up over my crappy writing or my lack of energy or inspiration. I’ll challenge myself to write, and be gracious with myself when I’m not able to.

Entering a new world

Lately I’ve been working on doing only one thing at a time. For example, if I’m watching TV, I’m trying not to be on my phone, or checking my phone while reading. And while I’ve only just started writing again, I’m definitely going to carve out specific time for it, without other distractions.

Most of last week was spent working on the beginnings of an outline for my newest project. It’s only partial, and not overly detailed, but it’s enough to start from.

Set in a dystopian world (which, I always thought I didn’t like, but, turns out it’s just specific kinds of dystopian stories I don’t like. Usually the predictable and boring ones.), society is broken into two groups: those who live in the cities, connected to technology through, essentially, virtual reality, and the fringe society who lives outside the cities, living off the land and as much without technology as possible. This fringe society generally believes themselves to be better than the city folk, who spend all their time creating fake worlds and fake identities to live in.

Aliyah (I think I’ve chosen this as her name. It’s what I’ve begun using, anyway) is part of the fringe society, and while she recognizes some truth in what her leaders say, she also finds herself discontent with the way they live, turning their backs on most advancements and help, because it isn’t done with a person’s own two hands.

She’s on the verge of being ostracized because of her love for books, and it’s this same love for books that causes her to cross paths with a city girl during a scavenging mission. This city girl (name unknown, at the moment) is also discontent (surprise!), finding it hard to have meaningful and genuine relationships in a virtual world where a person can recreate themselves at will. It’s impossible to know who anyone truly is. The two determine to find a middle ground, and try to make both halves of society recognize the benefits of the other, while also seeing the flaws in themselves.

 

When I started writing the first chapter, I was surprised at how much I wanted to lose myself in the world and in my writing (though it was hard because other stuff was going on in the background). I only wrote a couple paragraphs, but it was enough to help me remember what it feels like to get lost in creativity.

I know that as the days and weeks go on, it’ll be a challenge to make myself set aside specific time for just writing. It’ll be tempting to turn on the TV and pretend that I can watch something and write at the same time (I can’t, and I’ve always known I can’t. That’s why I used to pretend to study with the TV on during finals, because I felt obligated to study, but I knew I didn’t really need it.). But, as long as I keep making it a priority, even just 15 minutes in a day, I’ll hang on to that feeling of getting lost in this new world of my own creation. And that’s exactly what I’ve been missing lately. I’m glad to have that joy back.

New year, new projects

I’ve never really been one for New Year’s Resolutions, but I can’t deny that the start of a new year makes the perfect time to think about what I want to accomplish in the coming year, and to set some goals, even if I refuse to call them by the same name everyone else does.

Last year felt like I wrote the least I’ve even written in my life. I struggled to get motivated with projects, I skipped NaNo, and even though I did get a short story published, that little burst of motivation and pride lasted only a week or two.

I journaled semi-regularly to try to help quiet my mind and my anxiety before bed, but even that felt like a chore some times.

Overall, last year was just hard. It was full of ups and downs, my husband putting out job applications, waiting, hoping, being let down, and waiting some more. Last year, everything felt draining. I just wanted to lose myself in worlds of someone else’s making whenever I had free time. I watched a lot of tv and I read a lot of books (62, to be exact).

This year, I feel better. I’m getting to a better mental place, slowly, and I’m recognizing my creativity as a necessary part of that process. Last year felt like I wasn’t passionate about anything. But, I’m ready to pursue my passions again. I’m ready to set goals, to have dreams (small ones to start with), and to start achieving things again.

I know that I’m starry-eyed right now, forgetting (ignoring) the fact that writing is hard work, and that I’ll want to quit a lot. But, I’ve got a few ideas I’m excited about. And if I make a point to work just a little bit a few times a week, it’s a starting point.

I’ve already started fleshing out my first idea, and I intend to at least start a detailed outline this week, if not dive right in to the writing. I love seeing the worlds other people create, but I’m ready to start creating my own again.

Several people will be excited to know that I’ve got an idea on how to make my published short story, Hope Unchained, into something longer and more detailed. It’s only in early stages of plotting, but the general idea is there. We’ll see if it can live up to your expectations.

November: A Recap

I completely forgot to write a blog post last week. I think I remembered when I was going to bed on Monday night, and I just never got to it.

November is over (duh), and I’m proud to say I’ve got yet another first draft of a story done. The Thanksgiving week was tough but I pushed through and stayed on target. The hardest part, I think, was the last 5,000 words or so. And that always seems to be a struggle. My stories seem to fall into one of two camps: either I put off writing the end because I don’t think it’s time yet, or I have to drag it out because I didn’t plan quite enough to get my word count where I needed it to be. But that’s ok. This year, I finished. And I wrote just about every day (I missed November 30, I was done with my project and I needed a break.).

My story this year turned out to be very different than what I’d intended. While on the surface it stayed mostly the same, my characters surprised me. I didn’t mean to when I set out, but I wrote several misunderstood characters. But that made the process that much more fun, because I got to enjoy the journey of discovery as I went.

For December, I plan to try to revisit the nameless project I’ve been refining all year. Then perhaps in January I’ll be ready to dig into the hot mess that is my NaNo 2017 novel. But even if all I do this month are some writing exercises from my Writer’s Notebook, that’s ok too. I think I have earned a little break. I’ve worked hard this year.