Instead of my regularly scheduled Flashes of Perspective blog, today I will continue our discussion of SCRAWLS writing advice with the caveat that September will hold not one but two Flashes of Perspective posts. I want to publish two in September so that I can show you some of the breathtaking photos that I shot while on vacation with my husband in Alaska this month.
In our previous writing lessons we discussed the fact that perseverance is the key to successful writing (and to life in general). Today I think I should give you some valuable tools to help you build your perseverance. Let’s talk about how to cut your giants down to size.
Lesson 3: Breaking up your projects so that you don’t get overwhelmed.
Getting overwhelmed is the fastest way to develop writer’s block. You should look at the big, grand scope of your story only three times: when you first create your story plot outline/summary at the very beginning of the project, when you have finished writing the rough draft’s last sentence, and when you are editing the final draft with an eye for story continuity. At these three points you can look at the big picture. However, do not pay attention to the big picture while you are actually writing. Doing so will leave you feeling daunted by the task, especially in the beginning.
Even if you are extremely disciplined, there will still be times when you feel like you are fighting an indomitable giant. When those feelings overshadow your confidence, just remember that all you have to do to defeat the giant is to knock him off his feet and then hack him into manageable pieces. As the old saying goes, how do you eat an elephant? The answer is one bite at a time. I do this all the time with my writing. Instead of looking at my book as a book, I look at it as a collection of chapters. Then I look at the chapters as a collection of different scenes. Then I look at the scenes as a collection of paragraphs and the paragraphs as a collection of words.
Remember that every fiction story begins with a single idea. If that idea is good enough to sprout when planted in the fertile soil of your imagination, it will grow and branch with other ideas blossoming outward from its stem. The best stories are written records of these idea trees, organized in such a way that other readers besides you can follow the pattern of these ideas and grow to care very deeply about each upcoming idea within the overall woven pattern of the story. Most, but not all, stories are told in a chronological order because time is the easiest pattern for most readers to follow.
When I write, the practice of doing so on a constant daily basis helps to decrease my stress about the particular project that I am trying to chop down to size. I know that I cannot write a single novel in a day. After all, my novel Skinshifer is, in total, about 119,000 words long. This is equivalent to a 430-page Word document when using 12-point Times New Roman font and double-spaced paragraphs. Obviously this is a mammoth project for anyone, even a seasoned writer. To make it manageable, I broke it down into daily word counts and scenes. At the beginning of the project, I wrote down the chapter titles of the book as my outline and sometimes added a sentence or two of summary about what was supposed to happen in each particular chapter. Then I took the first scene began to write it. Sometimes I would write in chronological order from the first part of the book to the last and sometimes I would skip ahead to write a scene that would just pop into my head during a moment of musing.
Over the past eight years, I have found that my best writing happens when I give myself a minimum daily word count (300-500 words) and then challenge myself to finish writing one in-progress scene and start a new one. Most of my scenes are longer than 500 words, so I make the commitment to finish whatever scene I stopped on yesterday and then plough on for about 200 words into the next scene. Doing this usually leaves me in good shape for the next day’s work. When I am having a bad writing day and can barely type 300 words without even finishing a scene, the small word count still gives me a little boost of encouragement. When I am having a good writing day, finishing one scene and starting another makes me feel empowered and ready to take on the world. I have had days in which a two-word sentence as the best that I could accomplish and I have had days when I knocked out 3000-4000 words and still wanted to keep writing. Each of these days is a success because I still managed to write something.
My best advice is to find what works for you. Successful writing takes constant commitment. Starting out, I suggest that you make a small writing pledge that you can easily keep: writing for ten minutes a day, writing 200 words a day, finishing a scene a day, finishing a chapter a day, or whatever. Some writers I know will establish a weekly word count to spur them into writing. However you decide to do it, push yourself to keep your writing commitment every day including weekends. Do this until it becomes as habitual as eating or sleeping to you. Once you truly are committed to your writing, you will find that your writing time will stretch naturally.
I started out with reading, writing, drawing, photography, TV-watching, and gaming as my major hobbies. As time went by though, I discovered that I enjoyed life much more when I was behind the lens or had a story document open on my computer screen. Now it is a rare day that I manage even a dungeon crawl in Minecraft or Skyrim. If you told me even three years ago that most of my time would be spent writing and shooting photography, I probably would have panicked about the loss of my games. Now, however, I find myself much more fulfilled than melancholy. Photography and writing have become so much more enjoyable to me even than gaming. I am so happy when I finish a scene and I practically bounce off the walls when I finish a story. My sense of accomplishment is so much more profound when I finish a piece of writing than when I finish a game because I can keep and possibly publish the finished story at the end of the grind. The story that I just trekked through isn’t someone else’s, it is mine. That sense of ownership is wonderfully freeing.
Writing is how I exercise my imagination. What do you do to exercise yours?
Until our next meeting, may we each rewrite our world for the better.
P.S. – A reminder: I am still performing reorganization maintenance of the main alyciachristine.com website and on my photography website through the end of September.
The Seared Cookie Report: one Artist/Writer’s Labored Soliloquy (SCRAWLS) is brought to you from the desk of Alycia Christine Sears and/or Alycia C. Cooke with love and virtual baked goods for all. Please let me know your thoughts on this particular topic and, as always, if there is any subject you wish me to discuss, contact me. Thanks!