An Update on Tracking My Writing

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I wrote recently that after an Instagram post by Victoria Schwab I was inspired to track my own writing. My marked off blocks don’t look as impressive as hers, and aside from a few anomalies the page looks mainly like a single column of purple boxes.

But there’s a purple box on every day.

Knowing that I’m marking myself, I make sure to take the time and sit and write, even if it’s in the evening and I’m tired and all I want to do is watch Disney vlog videos on YouTube. I can’t stand the idea of having a blank spot so I sit and I write, and the consequence of that is that I’ve found a momentum in my writing, it’s easier to pour out the words. So, even if it’s only a little bit, my pages are stacking and stacking in a way that makes me feel…good.

I’m also allowing myself to qualify lots of things as writing time. Critiquing, blogging, even querying. These are things that I want, or need, or want-need, to do, in order to feel complete, in order to feel accomplished, in order to feel like I’m working towards any sort of a goal. So I mark off that time. And again, I feel good.

I don’t know how long I’ll keep this up. Maybe a couple weeks, maybe forever. Maybe just until I regain my momentum enough that I don’t need my little boxes to remind me of what I’ve gotten done.

I’m curious about what everyone else does to keep track of their writing, whether you go by time in the chair or simply word count, and how you keep yourselves motivated.

Fitting That Stuff In

I was talking about my time getting my MFA at Lesley University, and I mentioned how in awe I always was of the moms who worked full time and also decided to go to grad school.

“Mom’s just figure out how to fit that stuff in,” my coworker said.

And I realized how bad of a job I’ve been doing of that, of fitting my writing and editing and blogging into my life. Yes, I’m busy, yes, I’m sleepy, yes, I’m way too anxious, but writing is important to me, and I can’t not do it.

I starting by keeping myself accountable, marking off time spent on writing (or writing related tasks) in a notebook, little purple blocks for every 20 minute increment. So far it my log looks mostly like a single column of blocks, as most days I squeeze in a little time while she’s sleeping. But keeping count forces me to not let myself just skip a day, so I don’t have a horrible little blank spot.

I’m also remembering just how much I can get done in a block of time. Twenty minutes, if I’m on a roll, is 2 notebook pages of writing. It is a short blog post. Even when that’s all I do in a day (and right now, that’s usually all I do in a day) it stacks up noticeably.

I was never the best at utilizing my time before I had a kiddo. With her around, I’m forced to go against part of my nature and be organized and motivated. Kind of like when I was working on my MFA, and those deadlines nearly crushed me. There is less spare time, and that can make me feel like I’m getting less done, but maybe those little chunks will, eventually, add up to more.

Keeping Track of Writing (Inspired by Victoria Schwab)

Lately I’ve been having trouble keeping up with my writing. You know, for some some reason. So I keep looking for ways to keep myself motivated, and to force me to get in a little bit of writing every day.

Photo by Bernard Tuck on Unsplash
Photo by Bernard Tuck on Unsplash

One thing I’ve done, ever since I was supposed to keep track of my freewriting in a creative writing class, is I mark on the page of my composition notebook where I’m starting my novel writing for the day. It’s a nice visual so I can see where I last came in, and also gives me a clear goal: “One page from this mark. Two. Three pages…”

On a Instagram post from author Victoria Schwab a few weeks back, she shared a picture of 10 days of writing, with 25 minute intervals marked off on a notebook page in little black squares. This was her writing, editing, freewriting, so on. Some days she has several, some days she has one. But there’s always something. “Books don’t happen all at once,” she writes, “but one increment—one line, one scene, one chapter at a time.” Seeing all of those things she does — that all of us writers do — added up in small, manageable chunks, it all seems so much more doable. And, probably, so very satisfying to see your own little boxes add up over time.

Writing from the Hard Parts (Who my Characters Are)

On a recent episode of The Yarn podcast, Victoria Jamieson (author/illustrator of the middle grade graphic novels Roller Girl and All’s Faire in Middle School) spoke about how hard being that middle school age was for her, and how that informed the way she wrote her books.

I hadn’t planned on writing a middle grade book, it’s kind of naturally what the books have fallen into… When I write my books I try to write about some of the hard parts of being that age because as a kid I liked to know that other kids are going through what I go through.

Jamieson writes about middle schoolers because that age was so hard.

The Yarn Podcast interview with Victoria Jamieson

Ten years ago I would’ve picked the same spot for myself. And I did pick it, with all the longer stories I wrote focusing on 11 year old girls. But, that was right at the beginning of my 20s, my actual hardest age, as I was about to discover. I didn’t know who I was, or what I was going to do with myself. I didn’t know what I was supposed to do with myself.

In my late 20s, and now early 30s, I finally feel more settled with who I am, what I need, what I want. Also finally, after a lifetime and two degrees, I’m getting the hang of writing. So is it any wonder the novel I’m currently querying stars an awkward 20-something? Is it a surprise that the story I’m anxious to brainstorm now is about a woman fresh from adolescence who doesn’t understand what she needs and wants? (I’m also sure there’s a metaphor in their enemies being ghosts and demons, respectively.)

This isn’t to say I won’t attempt middle grade stories still (I have one written and waiting for a readthrough and other ideas stewing) but now that I finally feel settled, I keep pulling from a time of frustration and confusion to write.

Does your writing center around a hard time in your life? Do you pull your characters from somewhere else?

Writing Problems :: Letting Go and Moving On

I have a hard time letting things go.

I get attached to things where I made a start. My worn out Monchhichi I’ve had since a baby still sits on my shelf. Moving out of the condo my husband and I lived it depressed me, even though we’d outgrown it (before miss baby even came along).

Stories are hard to let go of, too.

Read More »

Busy with a Baby :: Writing Page by Page

Surprising news: it’s hard to write with a baby.

She has her bad days, where she cries and whines, and needs to be held and rocked and read to. Even on the good days she holds tight to your arm while PBS (or, let’s be honest, something on Netflix) plays on the TV, she finds today’s favorite book and wants you to read it again (and again and again) or grabs your hands because it’s time to practice walking again.

I’m not complaining (ok, maybe a little bit); I love to hold her and play with her and listen to her laugh. Still, all of this interaction leaves little time for writing during the day. I cram a few paragraphs in while she naps, and try to get some writing done when she’s down for the night, between spending time with my husband and getting some actual rest. While this helps me relax (going to long without writing makes me feel itchy) it always feels like too little. A page or two, a few days a week — how much am I really writing.

A decent amount, it looks like.

Proof of the writing I've done, page by page, word by word

I usually write by hand, a benefit of which is when I feel stalled up in the story, I can take a break from writing and type up the chapters, getting myself back into the story. I’ve hit my second snarl of this write-through, so I began flipping back through my notebook to find where I’d last started up my writing.

And flipping back and flipping back…

I can see by the way I’ve gone through my outline some of the progress I’ve been making as I sit at the desk, hunched over my notebook in the glow of the baby monitor. But seeing this chunk of pages is an actual measurement of what I’ve done, of how far I’ve gotten as I move forward inch by inch.

 


Bonus content: I’ve always had problems fitting in my writing, the baby is just the most recent excuse.

Gone Too Long from Blogging

Well, that was a long hiatus.

I got pregnant, which isn’t much of an excuse because the baby wasn’t here yet, but that’s what happened. I let myself get distracted by new clothes, rearranged rooms, doctor appointments, the complicated, borderline torturous task of finding child care. There were family illnesses, family deaths. The holes were filled with writing, editing, critiquing, all with a constant film of worry over what kind of country I was bringing a kiddo into.

Then, the baby came. She became everything. A whole pink cooing farting world. Caring for her, and sleeping, were my only concerns.

And then they weren’t.

She didn’t become easier (I think she’s harder now) but we’ve grown used to each other. I started reading more, and I wrote my novels.

My blog was still untouched.

Now a year has gone by since everything changed — for the better, though sleeping past 8 is still a fervent dream. Even longer since I hit “post”on something more elaborate than an Instagram picture.

But as everything else eventually settled back into its place, maybe this is coming back to me, too.

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The varying things a toddler loves.

Meeting Authors at Boston Book Fest

Last weekend was Boston Book Fest. Being a free festival, and me having a Saturday with nothing planned, I drove down to amble among booths with a friend and sit on on a couple of panels.

The best one I sat through was a middle grade panel, The Power of Friendship, featuring panelists Jo Knowles, Ali Benjamin, and Paul Griffin. All three of them talked about some great things: where ideas come from, keeping your child character in danger as long as possible, and the pain of childhood. And the kids in the audience asked some dang good questions at the end.

What hit home for me was when Ali Benjamin (The Thing About Jellyfish) brought up the idea that got stuck in her head that there was an “other world” of writers that she could never be a part of. Now she’s written a book, and is even nominated for the National Book Award. She discovered that there is no other world.

Before leaving, I grabbed a copy of Ali Benjamin’s book to have her sign. When she asked me about my interest in children’s literature, I answered: it’s what I’m trying to write. She got very excited and interested then, even when I brought up the struggle of getting my work noticed, and of comparing my progress with others. “I didn’t get my first book published until I was 40,” she said, and Jo Knowles, sitting right next her, chimed in that it had taken her 10 years before anything happened with her work.

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“Trust yourself,” Ali wrote in my copy of her book, right about a quick sketch of a jellyfish. And I will, whether that means genre hopping (I think it’s time to go back to that contemporary story of mine) or tossing out something old to work on something new. I’m going to keep doing what I think is right, and maybe someday it will be.

All Those Selfish Worries

Oof, I haven’t written in a couple of months! But I do have an excuse. My husband and I are expecting our first baby in March, and as we crest the halfway point in the pregnancy, I keep finding things that take up a lot of thinking and researching time: day care, pediatricians, which cribs are actually safe…

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Here’s hoping my baby is this cool.

But while I stress over all these things that are technically for future baby girl, I’m also stressing over things that are a little more selfish. Namely, the things that I’m going to lose, or that I’m worried I’ll lose. Most of these are just me overly panicking, because I have to think about something when heartburn keeps me up at night, but they’re there, all the same.Read More »

Query Problems: Writing That Synopsis

Probably the thing I hate the most about querying (aside from the hours spent researching and emailing agents, only to get very polite but still disheartening rejection letters) is writing the synopsis. Not ever agent I research asks for one. Some will only want the query letter, others a few chapters, a blessed few who just want you to send the whole dang thing along. But many want a synopsis, so they know what the story is about before they decide to ask for more and dive in.

I get it. Agents don’t have a lot of time, and a synopsis is a quick way to figure out what you’re trying to sell them before they invest more of their reading hours on your stuff. But it’s hard to do.

Take a book you have spent years writing, where you’ve changed and reworked and perfected all the twists and turns. Now condense the whole thing into a page. Maybe two.

wp-1472136525235.jpgI have to decide what events are important enough to describe, what plot twists need to be left out because it takes too long to explain. I have to keep the whole thing concise, while also making it perfectly clear what happens, and why.

The issue for me is that the story has swollen to something so big in my head, I feel like I’m taking a mountain and shrinking it down to a vaguely detailed fist-sized rock: you look at it, get the gist of what it is, and can still imagine how impressive the real thing is. That’s not something I do easily (which is why I’m sure I failed miserably at #PitMad last time I tried), so I spend a lot of time staring at my notebook, or my screen, and feeling very frustrated.

It is useful, though. Not just because if I can figure out how to do it, writing a decent synopsis can get my one step (half-step?) closer to getting published. But also, if I learn how to shrink down the description of my story, I feel more confident when I describe my novel to other people: friends, family, maybe by some luck a person in the publishing industry. Other than it being required for some queries, I want to get good at this, so I will keep working at it, tweaking it, and I will force ask very nicely that my friends and writing group mates take a peek and give me their own opinions, and maybe I can figure out how to concisely, and intelligibly, describe what the heck my novel is about.

What do you have trouble with when gathering your query materials? Do you have trouble writing synopses as well?

For useful synopsis advice, I’d check out Jane Friedman’s post on her blog.