Day 10: Study Session

Today I did more thinking about writing than actual writing, but the story moved forward, and I’m going to take any forward momentum as a win. My first task was to wrestle with Hero again. Today’s scene involved him trying to convince Heroine that the crazy plan they’ve hatched up together is going to work. I was having a hard time writing his argument because if I were in Heroine’s shoes, I’d say “there’s the door, sorry, I can’t work with your idea.” But then that would mean the end of the story at a paltry 12,475 words, then cue sad trombone.

How was I to solve this?

I picked up On Writing, and read up on character. King believes in free-range character development: let them go and see what they do. Well that wasn’t going to quite work because I wrote a schedule for my characters and I wanted them to stick to the schedule, dammit. My Hero and Heroine had places to go and people to see. Free range wasn’t going to cut it. 

Since Janet Evanovich was responsible for said schedule, I took a peek at what she had to say. She handles character development by giving them clear motives and layered personalities. Somehow, this information wasn’t enough to get me over the hump.

Frustrated, I went to study group at the corner coffee shop with with Cee, my writing friend forever, and behaved very maturely: I bitched about Hero behind his back.

“I just don’t know what the problem is,” I said. “He’s a big unknown to me.”

“Have you talked to him?” Cee asked. “Have you taken him out to the bar like you said you would and get to know him? Do you really think he’d go to a bar?”

“Yes, he’d go to a bar,” I said. “And no, he hasn’t told me anything new. I mean, I know what he’s saying makes sense, but I just don’t believe him.”

“Why don’t you believe him?” Cee asked.

“I don’t believe him,” I said, “because Heroine doesn’t believe him.”

And suddenly, the lightbulb clicked on. I don’t believe Hero because he’s not convincing Heroine, and therefore, I don’t trust him. Ever engage in a story (on tv, movies or books), where a character does or says something that seems unbelievable and you think ‘ugh, that would never happen’, and dismiss the rest of the story? That’s what was happening to me.

So Cee and I talked through what would make Hero’s argument valid. Very, very helpful. I went home and wrote them out of their scene, and now those two crazy kids are on their way to an honest-to-goodness-fake-date. I finally got them out of the house! Whew!

What I learned from school today: study groups are an amazing support, and I’m so grateful that Cee helps me with my homework!




Day 7: Breaking the Flow

I may have taken too many days off from writing, as it was hard to get back into the flow today. My day was filled with the tasks of my real job, and when I showed up for class tonight I was tired, distracted, and unable to write in more than 5-10 minute blocks. Took longer than needed to get 1,500 words on the page. Now it’s late and I’m going to call it quits short of my goal. What I need to do is to have a scheduled time to write, rather than to use it as a filler block into the rest of my schedule.

Things I learned from school today:

Characters can sometimes deviate from your prescribed path. My Heroine is supposed to be an uptight list-making, take control kind of gal. But through the King method she’s turning into a shy, nurturing, cooks-too-much-when-she’s nervous kind of gal. I have no idea how she’s going to interact with the Hero now, and I guess he can’t figure it out either because when I left him he seemed pretty confused. Maybe he’ll figure it out by tomorrow after we’ve both had some sleep. Hope he can clue me in!

Stephen King’s Ascent

Over at the blog Study Hacks, Cal Newport has a post about Stephen King, and how he used deliberate practice to increase his skill as a writer.

Deliberate practice is the idea that talent alone doesn’t explain high achievement. In his article Why Talent is Overrated, CNN/Money writer Geoff Colvin explain it like this:

So if specific, inborn talent doesn’t explain high achievement, what does? Researchers have converged on an answer. It’s something they call “deliberate practice,” but watch out – it isn’t what most of us think of as practice, nor does it boil down to a simplistic practice-makes-perfect explanation.

It isn’t just hard work, either. Deliberate practice is a specific and unique kind of activity, neither work nor play. It’s characterized by several elements that together form a powerful whole. The greatest performers have consistently combined these elements, sometimes just by luck.

Read the whole article to find out more about what elements make up deliberate practice, and also check out Cal’s posts on the same to find out more.

I got a big kick out of seeing Cal posting about Stephen King, because after reading both of their work (including Cal’s book So Good They Can’t Ignore You) I came up with the idea of the School of Writing experiment. It’s funny to see how it all connects.

Day 6: Let’s get physical

I now have battle scars. Yesterday I decided to take a break from writing and joined my husband and daughter in the backyard for a friendly soccer scrimmage. I was fighting through a scene and remembered short bursts of physical exercise can make creativity flow.

Soccer was fun until my husband kicked me in the shins while we were fighting for the ball. As I hopped around on one foot I noticed that a blood vessel was starting to swell right under my knee. Drat.

I went inside and iced it down, and after the swelling went away I went back to the office and the abandoned scene.

But now instead of calmly walking up the stairs, the Hero accidentally kicks a concrete planter on his way up some stairs, leading to an injury that gets him closer to the the Heroine. It worked out perfectly.

So I can confirm the rumor is true: you can get your creative flow going by doing physical exercises. But you’ll also, possibly, get an purple egg-shaped bruise in the process.

Things I learned from school today:

It’s harder to write when you’re tired. I am exhausted from a week of work, so I came in to a 1,200 word count instead of the 2000. I need to remember that writing, like any physical activity, requires one to be well-fed and rested. I may just take the weekend off.

Day 4: Bait and switch

Today was rough. Eked out 300 words, and then the well ran dry. This is what I’ve learned over the last four days: writing every day is work. Real work—like a JOB. The kind of work where it doesn’t matter if you don’t feel good, or you had a late night, or you’re not at your best. You’ve got a story finish, young lady, get back to work!

This is a surprise because writing is the fantasy I escaped to when my real job got to be too hectic or uncreative. I wish I were writing, I’d think dreamily. Think of all the fun I could be having just sitting in one place, and letting all my characters come to life on the page. 

I may have been confusing writing with reading. (Which by the way, I’m totally awesome at…is there a job where all I have to do is read? Don’t answer that. I don’t want that fantasy ruined, either.)

Okay: writing daily is a job. If I publish a story, I will expect to get paid for the work I did, right? All makes sense. So now that I’ve shaken the fantasy out of writing, the next step is to feel okay about feeling like the awkward new hire that doesn’t know how to run the copier. It’s going to take some time, and some days I’ll be better at it than others. Some days it will just be about learning the ropes, and that can be harder than anything!

Day 2: Pain produced gain

“I want you to understand that my basic belief about the making of stories that they pretty much make themselves. The job of the writer is to give them a place to grow (and to transcribe them, of course). If you can see things this way (or at least try to), we can work together comfortably. —From On Writing, page 159.

Yesterday was painful because I did two things:

  1. Start my story, and;
  2. write with the King method instead of the Angie method.

Yesterday, the Angie method wanted to dominate. The Angie method is painful. You sit in front of the blank screen, crinkle your brow and try to think of just the perfect words to say. Once you’ve got that figured out, you painstakingly tap each perfect word onto the keyboard, checking all the way to make sure it’s still good. It’s a laborious and inefficient process for a first draft because you’re always second guessing yourself, or stopping to make things better.

The King method—as I have interpreted it—is this:

  1. You say, “What if?”
  2. And then you say, “and then what happened?”
  3. And then you write down what happened.

Much, much easier. With the King method, I’m not worrying about perfection in the first draft, I’m only concerned about getting the story out.

Yesterday morning, my first 500 words were painful because I was doing the Angie method and fighting the King method. By mid afternoon I was getting better at the King method, and by late afternoon I was comfortable with it.

Today, I just relaxed and followed the King method all the way. I got out my next 2,000 words fairly painlessly. Before I knew it, Mr. Muse showed up and he gave me:

  • a great name for the story
  • motive for two of the main character’s actions
  • a sweet backstory

I will sum up today’s writing experiencing with the two words that are scrawled up on a sticky note by my writing space: practice imperfection.

The things I learned from school today:

I can’t write in one big block. It just isn’t possible. I need physical and mental breaks to get my mind off of what’s going on. The best thing I can manage is 20 minute intervals, probably because I use the Pomodoro Technique for a lot of my deep work.

If you have digital ADHD like I do, it’s a great way to get immersed in deep work, while allowing yourself some leeway. Cue video:

Day 1: The first day is always rough.

The first day of a new school and class is always rough, and today was no different. I woke up early, eager and ready to go. Here was my schedule:

7:00 am: Wake up before anyone else in the house. It’s quiet and peaceful! I am really going to write! I walk into the office (my writing space) and firmly close the door.

7:01 am: Fire up the computer and prepare to take over. Purposefully turn off wi-fi connection. That is gonna hurt. But remember: no distractions.

7:05 am: Maybe I should wash my face. My face feels oily. It’s going to be impossible to write if my face feels oily.

7:10 am: Ah, nothing better than a freshly washed face! I’m ready to take on the day!

7:12 am: Back at the computer. Suddenly my stomach growls and I realize that I am starving. And this is terrible. People can’t think or concentrate when they’re starving. What choice do I have? I need to eat!

7:30 am: Back in the office after a quick breakfast snack. Where I encounter my first bully. Every school has one: the person who thinks they know it all, are better than you, and makes fun of the way you look and makes you think. Makes you feel like an insignificant speck in life. My bully’s name is The Blank Page.

7:35 am: I fight and wrestle with the bully. It’s incredibly hard. The words are coming out, but they are stilted and boring. I don’t know my characters. I don’t know what’s going to happen next. I’m just making all this up! 

9:00 am: 535 sweaty, painful words have silenced the bully temporarily. Good grief, that was horrible. The house is still, as the rest of the family is still sleeping in. I am exhausted. I need to rest. I crawl back into bed and take a nap.

midmorning to early afternoon: Long intermission involving thrift shopping and discovering this song:

“Is this seriously about thrift shopping?” I ask my husband as I pop some tags from our haul.

“It seriously is,” he says. “Check the lyrics.”

I check the lyrics. And no for real, despite the language, this song is really about thrift shopping. Awesome.

early afternoon: I wrestle 800 more words onto the page. I thought this would be easier somehow, but it’s not. I’m still making it all up!

mid afternoon: Late lunch. And then surprise, I get sleepy again.

late afternoon: more words make it onto the page. It’s getting a bit easier now, and more ideas are flowing. Stop for dinner.

post dinner: 2,000 words. Hot damn!

The things I learned from school today:

1. Mr. King knows what he’s talking about re word count. I had about 10 pages when I was done.

2. I sincerely appreciated guideline #9: don’t wait for the muse. He’ll find you if you are at the same place every day. This morning I thought he would never, ever come. He showed up late, but he finally did come.

3. I am not yet to guideline #16 : the practice of writing is invaluable and should feel good. I hope with regular exercise, the pain will fade away as I practice more.