~by Amanda Smith
My kids’ Summer break started last week. As most moms I am relieved. Relieved to be done with the crazy schedules and the school projects and “Do your homework.” Like most moms I look forward to slow mornings, relaxed afternoons, time for creativity, puttering in the garden, long-legged boys snuggling in my lap, fun day trips, lawn games, evening barbecues and all the other things that come with lazy summer days.
But as a writer, I am experiencing heart palpitations. Because come summertime, my writing skids to a screeching halt; or happens in rushed, frustrated intervals, filled with equal parts resentment and guilt.
At the start of these glorious three months filled with sticky kids and popsicles, I am more than three quarters through the rewrite of my novel. Having worked on it every week day since March, I have the momentum of a rhino on roller skates. I am motivated. I am in the GROOVE, baby. And I am stressed.
However, thanks to my 24 Carrot Writing colleagues and our commitment to goal setting, I have a plan. I boiled and seasoned my goal brew until I had it neatly reduced down to a robust, concentrated, doable list of summer goals.
Here are a few tips to help you come up with your own sturdy summer writing plan:
· Have a designated writing time. I plan to get up early and write before the kids crawl out of bed.
· Shorten your writing time. You will most likely not be able to write for multiple hours each day. Aim for 20 minute miracles.
· Fly by the seat of your pants. Grab those quiet moments. If your kids are contently playing or reading, seize 20 minutes. These are bonus moments, though, on top of your designated time and no resentment is allowed if you are interrupted.
· Do shorter projects, like picture books, or work on the behind the scenes stuff, like character maps or world building.
· Work on organizational tasks, like
o Filing those conference notes
o Marking submission dates for editors and agents on a calendar
o Researching agents
o Organizing your work space
o Planning a submission schedule
o Rethinking your yearly goals
· Work on query letters and pitches. HINT: Do not send any queries out with children underfoot. Tragic mistakes are made this way. Save all send-button clicking for your designated (quiet!) writing time
· Read for research. Summer is quintessential reading time. Dive into possible mentor texts; submerge yourself in your genre; treasure-hunt for comp. titles.
And give yourself permission to relax. To hug little ones close. To play. Because we are, after all, kid people.
How will you modify your goals to leave room for Summer fun?
by Amanda Smith
Let’s face it: Sometimes it is hard to actually sit down and write. Even if it is what you really want to do. Even if you have blocked off time just for your writing. Even if writing is the thing that fills your cup.
Sitting down and actually WRITING can be pretty darn hard. There are just too many distractions. That is why giving an account is essential to my writing process. And progress. Here are a few practical suggestions for finding accountability partners:
A Writer’s Group:
Recently Annie wrote about the importance of integrating in the writers’ community (http://www.24carrotwriting.com/-blog/the-importance-of-a-writing-community-conferencestwittercritique-groupsoh-my). More than support, our writers’ group offers me accountability. Here is how it works. Every month we say, “Last month I did _____” and then we offer praise and support (and always some awesome jokes) and then we say, “This coming month I plan to do _______.”
The sheer thought of having to look these three women in the eye and say, “This month I wrote nothing. Nada. Zilch. I was out chasing squirrels.” makes me quiver in my boots. Of course, if that were the case, they would be completely understanding and supportive, but I would feel like I didn't keep my end of the deal.
Your accountability partner does not have to be a fellow writer, though. On a particularly unproductive morning, a dear friend sent me a quick message. As I lamented my lack of productivity to her, she challenged me by saying: “I’m setting my timer for 20 minutes. You do the same and see how much you can get done and then we’ll check in with each other.”
I got to work like a squirrel in fall. Because I did not want to tell her in 20 minutes’ time that I am still browsing the internet. And then I got so involved in what I was doing, I didn't check in until an hour and a half later. Now, she wasn't writing. She spent her 20 minutes cleaning her kitchen counter and her dining room table. But knowing I had to check in with her got me writing. And it felt wonderfully productive.
Yip, the old timer can also be your accountability partner. You can do 20 minute miracles like Francine (http://www.24carrotwriting.com/-blog/20-minute-miracles). I like the hour bucket principle. You write for 45 minutes and take a 15 minute break. Honestly, though, sometimes I ignore that timer after 45 minutes and work until I get to a natural break in my work. But the timer certainly helps me to START.
Writing challenges can also be wonderful accountability partners. And November most definitely is writing challenge month!
For the novel writers out there, the challenge is writing a 50,000 word novel during the month of November. Even though I have not participated in this challenge, setting a word goal and tracking your words are great ways to provide motivation and accountability.
The premise is simple. You write down at least one picture book idea for each day of November. This is about as low key a writing challenge as you can get. You don’t have to develop those ideas, they don’t even have to be complete ideas. They just have to be. But this is one of my favorite challenges, because I find myself LOOKING for stories in everything. This challenge has taught me to think creatively, to always look and listen for stories (and to write those ideas DOWN before they disappear into the land of lost stories). It keeps me in “writing mode” every day. Few things feel better than having those 30+ ideas at the end of November! Hurry, you can still register for PiBoIdMo 2014!
12x12 flowed out of PiBoIdMo for those who wanted to develop their ideas. The concept is to write one picture book draft a month. The end of each month brings a check in and one can earn cute little badges on one’s profile for each draft. I covet those badges. I work for those badges. Those badges keep me accountable. I have 10 colorful draft badges under my name. That is 10 picture book drafts that I did not have in January!!! Because 12x12 kept me accountable. Sign up for 12x12 is in January.
Our critique group submits picture book manuscripts to one another once a month. We have a week to critique and return the stories. Knowing I have to submit something “share-able” to my critique partners each month keeps me writing and revising.
A rose by any other name…
Not so much, Shakespeare. I am a writer. That, right there. That is my biggest accountability partner. Because when I say those words, the inevitable follow up question is, “So, what do you write?” I want to have a timely answer to that question. Not what I wrote last month, or even last week, but what I am working on right now. Because I don’t say those words lightly.
Who keeps you accountable as you pursue writing? Tell us in the comments section if you have found some particularly motivating accountability partners.
by Francine Puckly
Two years ago, I was struggling to find my voice as a writer amidst the demands and joys of having my two children home for the summer. I entered my July checkpoint meeting with my 24 Carrot Writing buddies having let nearly five weeks pass without a written word. Progress on my novel had come to a halt, the creative well was bone dry, and I was depressed, angry and frustrated. Depressed because I had shut out something I loved, angry I had put my desires and needs on the back burner—lest I be selfish, and frustrated I hadn’t yet kicked myself in the butt and righted the course of action.
When it was my turn to state my monthly writing goals for August, I declined comment. I could think of nothing to say. No inspiration. No goals to set and achieve. I could imagine no scenario where I would achieve any goal I set for myself—that’s how little faith I had left in my writing. The others took turns stating their goals and when we got to Annie, she said simply, “I’m going to write for 20 minutes a day.”
With that one little sentence she snapped me back to reality and snapped me back to being a writer. I decided I could write for 20 minutes a day. Because if I couldn’t give myself 20 measly minutes, what could I give myself?
That became August’s goal.
I undertook this challenge with unwavering devotion. No matter what, no matter what hour, I set the timer for 20 minutes and attacked the page with my pen. With a timer ticking along in the background, there was no time for hesitation. And day after day, scene after scene, words poured out of me.
Twenty minutes might not seem like much, but that summer I had 10 hours of writing at the end of August that I hadn’t had in July. I continued into September, then into October. Weekends, Thanksgiving, Christmas. I wrote through them all, because it was a gift to myself to sustain that flow of writing.
In all honesty, some writing days are easy and some days are more challenging. But I write anyway. If I’m drained when I write (like on those nights I pick up the pen at 11:30 p.m. because I didn’t “get to it” earlier), I tend to use prompts or pose question after question about my characters and plot and setting. Often those questions are answered in the writing sessions over the next couple of days. The thread of writing every day deepens my craft and brings a level of complexity and honesty that hadn’t existed before. And it feeds the hungry writer’s soul inside.
As I pointed out in Monday’s blog, November is the perfect month to stretch your creativity. Even if you can’t commit to NaNoWriMo or PiBoIdMo, dust off your timer (or find the one on your smart phone) and give yourself 20 minutes a day to devote to your craft. Try it for a month, and watch the miracles unfold.
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