Can you have too much time to write?

Many of you serious writers work a day job and/or have small children or others in your care or are active in social, political, or religious organizations. You’ve learned to make excellent use of the few hours a week you have for practicing your craft. No doubt you’re prone to daydreaming, but even when you’re fully engaged in the present, your subconscious Muse is at work, preparing for your next writing stint. Ideally, when that time comes, you block out the world around you and productively enter your writing zone.

wink_clockI, on the other hand, have very few constraints on my writing time. For the most part, I’m free to do what I wish with my time. And what I wish to do is write. I have little interest in any other pursuit. So, I write. Most days I spend several hours in a fictional world. That’s 24/7. That’s good and bad.

Partly, I feel I’m making up for lost time. After all, I was not one of those amazing writers who produce work despite day job, care-giving, and other obligations. I didn’t pursue writing seriously until I was already fifty-eight years old! I’d written only some stories and poems and finished one novel before then. Maybe I’ve earned these long writing hours—like accrued vacation days or something.

And maybe I have little time left in this incarnation—or in this somewhat sanely functioning mind. Right now, I have three novels in the works and I confess that’s made me wonder if this is my last gasp, so to speak. Yes, that’s morbid. What can I say? I’m a fiction writer; imagination is my game.

Anyway.

Back to the title of this post. When, like me, you have few interests outside of writing and little self-discipline, maybe having an abundance of free time is not such a great thing. In the first place, it’s not like I’m cranking out a mountain of work. I write on the computer. My computer has internet access. I’m easily distracted—Words With Friends, Candy Crush, Facebook links, anyone? (And before you suggest I disconnect the Internet, see the part about lack of self-discipline.)

Secondly, the problem with living inside my head so much is that I talk less. Sometimes, I forget to speak at all. Frequently, my husband lets me know that if I answered his question, I did so only in my mind.

On the occasions I’m in a room with several people conversing and a comment comes to mind, often I stop to analyze it: editing the word choices, considering the implications (how stupid I’ll sound) if I say it, wondering whether anyone will get my sense of humor … and by then the conversation has moved on and I’ve said nothing at all. (Obviously, this is why I fail at social media like Twitter and Facebook and Google+.)

So if you bemoan the lack of writing time, take heart. Know that making good use of the time you have is preferable to being an obsessed, undisciplined, self-indulgent mute like me.

Not that I want to give up any of my “writing” time … not when it could result in scintillating blog posts like this! ;-)

Linda

A Time for Looking Back

I’m big on memories. Sometimes I wonder if that’s a product of my age, but then at our family gatherings of three generations, sooner or later, the reminiscing begins. Memory is our personal history book, skewed of course, but still. I’ve spent some time looking back this week.

lookbackNot too long ago, I mentioned that I was re-watching the X-Files series. Last week, I watched an episode about reincarnation. It stirred up a longing to work on my family history again, but subconsciously it stirred up more.

Two days later, just as I woke from a nap, I thought of the first novel I wrote. I finished the first draft fourteen years ago. I revised it, even modified the genre, but I never finished polishing it. Then, after we moved back to California and my life entered a new era, I set it aside.

I didn’t think about that novel much during the next eight years. Then I wrote another novel. And after that one was published, I thought about revising my first novel. I made a half-hearted attempt to convert it to women’s fiction. But ideas for other novels distracted me.

But last week that X-Files episode reminded me that I’d written a dark novel about two reincarnated lovers who find each other again. I opened the file of Forever (working title) and scrolled through, stopping to read several passages.

As I told a friend, the newbie errors made me laugh and some purple prose embarrassed me, but mostly the quality of the writing pleasantly surprised me. So even though I vowed to lighten up this year, I’m now entertaining this dark tale. If I’m happy writing, the result will be the same.

Sometimes looking back leads you forward.

 

Linda

Sometimes You Already Have the Answer

I wrote some strong, honest words this week. I had a burst of writing on one of my WIPs—it’s the one you see in the sidebar, temporarily titled FISH. I started off writing it at a good pace (for me), but that came to a stop last November at about 14,000 words.

bluechairsI hung up my writer’s hat for the month of December. In January, I went back to work and wrote steadily, but stopped again at 26,000 words because I came to a bridge scene and couldn’t decide how to cross it.

Since I try to write something every day, I switched to working on my other WIP (working title TEA.) After I’d gotten 10,000 words into that one, I distracted myself with trying out Scrivener by setting it up to work on TEA.  As you know from my last post, that was a good experience.

But I wasn’t writing.

I set up all my folders and text files, and even found celebrity photos to attach to my character cards for TEA. Then I decided to set up another Scrivener project for FISH. And, of course, I had to find photos to represent my FISH characters too. And I researched 1970s home interiors, bathing suit styles, and marijuana laws because FISH is set in 1974.

But I wasn’t writing.

I wasn’t “blocked” from working on TEA. I just felt strongly that I needed to return to writing FISH, partly because I’ve lived with it longer, I’m comfortable with it, and partly because it’s another women’s fiction novel, while TEA is more an experiment. But I still hadn’t worked out that particular scene.

I felt guilty about not writing. So I tried to read because that usually sparks my writing (which is why it usually takes me forever to get through a book), but I couldn’t concentrate on reading. I went to sleep every night trying to figure out how best to move into the next section of FISH.

Now we all know a writer writes … right? So I decided that until I figured out the solution to that sticky scene, what I needed to do was open that project’s Scenes-to-Write folder and work on a scene I’d written the bare bones of previously. That was a success, and it led to reworking a few too-short scenes, raising my word count by a couple thousand.

Then I opened and read another skeleton scene—just dialogue with a few “stage directions”—started months ago. I expanded the dialogue and turned those directions into narrative. Four hundred words grew to thirteen hundred and counting. And then it hit me: if I changed the setting, this scene would be the perfect bridge!

I’m continually amazed at the Muse—and by that I mean a writer’s mind. In the background or in this case, in advance, it’s always working. Sometimes the answer we’re looking for is already there. We just need to get out of our own way to find it. BICHOK*

Linda

*For those who don’t know, this stands for Butt in Chair, Hands on Keyboard.

Can a Scatterbrained Writer Get Organized with Scrivener?

In a recent post I mentioned Scrivener, which is a word-processing and project management tool. The Scrivener site calls it a “complete writing studio.” I tried the Windows version when it was in beta testing, but trying to learn how to use new software while in the middle of writing a novel slowed me down. And though I loved the organization part, I felt the word-processing part was lacking.

Guess what I’ve been doing this past week? Yep, I downloaded the current free trial version of Scrivener for Windows, and I’ve been setting up Projects for my two WIPs. I still love the Corkboard and Binder and all the other organizing bits, but in the current version I’m also happy with the word-processor function. And I hear Scrivener easily converts your work to digital files now too!

Screenshot_sm

Click the photo to view in detail.

No more do I have to open ten Word documents and switch back and forth between them. In Scrivener I can still create as many files as I need for each Project, including character sketches, style sheets, editing notes, unfinished scenes or ones I haven’t decided where to fit in yet, and all those web links and bits of info culled during research. But the difference is it’s all in one place and easily accessed from one screen!

I’ve enjoyed adding photos of celebrity stand-ins to my character sheets and index cards, and now I can just click the Corkboard view whenever I need to get newly inspired. I’m also adding photos for the locations where my story takes place and any other photos that I’ve gathered during research.

Some quick and easy editing features are the ability to take a “snapshot” of a scene before you edit it. Those versions are listed on the right-hand side of the screen, accessed with one click, and can be viewed in split screen mode to review changes or copy and paste from, if you decide you like the original better. And if a scene needs to be moved, just drag it into proper order in the Binder.

Please click on my graphic above to view it larger. This is a view of the Project for my WIP with the working title Fish (this is incomplete and first draft state—so cut me some slack.) As you can see, I’ve divided my chapters into scenes to work on individually, but if I want to view the chapter as a whole, I only need click on the “Scrivenings” button at the top and voilà!

If I find I’m distracted by all the goodies on either side of the Editor, which is what Scrivener terms the larger middle section, I can switch to full screen mode to hide everything, but the “paper” I’m typing on—and by everything I mean: both sidebars, menus, status and taskbars. (In full screen mode, a pop-up taskbar appears when you move the pointer to the bottom of the screen.)

And I can change the colors or icons for key chapters or scenes—including the color of the Editor background, so if I get the urge to write a sweet first kiss scene in purple font on a pink background I can do that. One application of the color settings is to see at a glance the structure of your novel. For instance, in this WIP, I’m using two colors to denote which scenes are in which character’s viewpoint. I also use a third color for front matter pages and a fourth for back matter pages.

I could go on and on—there’s the multi-purpose split screen mode, templates (if you want them), compiling for print or export (yes, you can convert to Word documents) and much more, but this post is a whopper already. And besides, others can tell you about it better than a newbie can.

Users who love Scrivener are vocal about it. There are numerous videos, articles, and blog posts showing how to use various functions of the program. One such user is Lucinda Whitney who wrote a terrific article, complete with screen shots, titled “What I Love About Scrivener.” She also maintains a Scrivener Pinterest page with links to many other helpful articles.

I learn something new about Scrivener each day I use it, but I quickly learned all I need to know to get organized and start making better use of my writing time. By the way, there’s a Mac version with even more features than the current Windows version. So why not check out the free trial? At least watch the introductory video to see whether Scrivener might be useful for you.

So YES, to answer the question in the post title, I believe this scatterbrained writer can get organized with Scrivener. My trial period will run out in less than three weeks—it runs for 30 full days, no matter how many times you use it during those days—and this time I’ll be paying to register it. Finally, my brain feels uncluttered, which relaxes me and that’s always good for getting the words to flow.

Linda

Why I Don’t Want to Be a Professional Writer

Earlier this month I blogged that “I need to focus on what I CAN do, who I CAN be, and … that means I must STOP comparing myself to other writers.” Today I’m going to expand on that. For a while now, I’ve wondered why I’ve been so frustrated and discouraged since I published my first novel. I finally realized the reason: I’d lost the enjoyment of writing because I didn’t have a clear picture of myself as a writer.

whoamI.jpgWhen I first started blogging, I found the blogs of several other writers who hoped to be published one day. I followed their links to literary agents’ blogs and learned about querying. I set my sights on getting an agent because I believed that was the only way to get published. Later, I started following bloggers who were self-publishing. And when circumstances in my life changed, I decided to stop querying agents and publish my own book. But I was still reading the blogs of these successful self-publishers who were apparently selling hundreds of books a month, so I became dissatisfied with my trickle of sales and searched for tips on how to rocket my books to the top of the Amazon charts.

I wasn’t long before I realized it took more than writing well to have a book in the top 10—or even the top 100. I tried many things before I accepted I didn’t have the resources (money and influence) necessary to compete as a self-publisher. As for the advice to write, edit, revise, and publish three or more books a year? Why sure. You want me to bring peace to the Middle East too?  Two and a half years of trying to do the impossible left me frustrated, angry, jealous, self-pitying—a whole bucketful of stinking mess.

So last fall I returned to my first plan. I’d have to get an agent, who could sell my books to a big NY publisher who did have all the resources. I set off to write another book with the goal of dazzling an agent and editor. At times, I heard that still, small voice of reason, but I pushed it away.

That voice kept trying to tell me to look at the other side. To pay attention when I stood in Barnes & Noble watching a friend give a presentation at her first book signing and knew I’d faint dead away if I had to do that. To pay attention when I saw writer friends embark on blog tours, doing interviews and guest posts every day for weeks and felt my heart pound at the very idea. To pay attention when I got stressed out just thinking about having to meet, Skype, or even have a phone conversation with an agent or editor. To pay attention when my writer friends worried about meeting deadlines for their 3-book deals and I knew that my “Muse” would shut down under that pressure.

Finally I listened. I gave up the idea of being traditionally published. And then I hit rock bottom. I felt like a failure. I quit writing. For a month.

That’s all I could stand before my fingers itched to get back to the keyboard. I kept hearing lines of dialogue. I kept envisioning scenes. I had characters waiting to finish telling their stories. I started writing again, but I didn’t know why I bothered. Then I came across this post by Anne R. Allen. She defined me as a hobbyist writer. But then I read this response by Jami Gold and I liked her term better—an artist-author. Both women pointed out that being a hobbyist/artist-author rather than a professional author doesn’t mean my writing is necessarily of lesser quality. Jami said:

In fact, what Anne is talking about are the two paths for authors who do care about quality. The major difference instead is whether we have a business mindset …

I work as hard and edit and revise as earnestly as the professional author. I just don’t have a business bone in my body. I’ve stressed myself into illness trying to become something I’m not suited for. Enough of that. Sure I’d like to make more money doing what I love. But if I quit focusing on that goal and spend more time writing, maybe I will. No one knows the future.

But I know who I am now. I’m a woman who loves to write stories and who loves to study the craft of writing so she can write even better stories to share. That’s what I’ll be doing the rest of this year. And then I’ll publish those books and, judging from past experience, some people will buy and read them and some of those will say good things about my writing and I’ll be a happy artist-author. Being an artist-author sounds like a great gig, doesn’t it?

Tell me: Do you see yourself as an artist-author or a professional-author?

Read Anne R. Allen’s definitions.

Read Jami Gold’s definitions.

Why Your Facebook Page Might Not Be Working for You

Way back when having a published book was still a dream, I started a Facebook “fan” Page. I didn’t really know what to do with it, but a few of you LIKED it because I asked you to. Since then, I’ve been sharing my blog posts to my Page and even remembering to write witty and/or informative updates—occasionally. And my number of LIKES has grown, which means I’m interacting with a lot more “fans.” Right? I don’t think so.

After Facebook went public, changes were made to insure more profit for its shareholders. If you had a Page, you noticed that Facebook began showing you the number of people who saw each update in their feed. They also offered you the ability to “boost” your updates so more people would see them. You have to pay for these boosts, of course. So what happens if you don’t boost your updates? Only a small percentage of the people who’ve LIKED your Page will ever see what you share with them.

Think about all the Pages you’ve LIKED on Facebook. Remember how you saw updates from them—for a while? If you regularly visit those pages or interact with their updates, you’ll continue seeing those updates. But if you haven’t visited those Pages recently, you’ve probably forgotten you ever clicked that LIKE button—unless those Pages are “owned” by a company or person who can afford to boost their updates. (And even those boosted updates will reach only a percentage of the Facebook users who wanted to see them.)

In short, if you don’t pay to boost, you’ll become invisible to the majority of the people who wanted to see what you say on Facebook.

For example, 299 people have chosen to LIKE my Facebook Page. How many of them saw my last update? Only 23—and that took three days! In part, I believe, that was because it contained a link to my last blog post. I’ve noticed that when I publish a status update that doesn’t contain a link, the percentage of people who see it in their feed is larger—and they see it faster. My last update without a link appeared in 20 of my followers’ feeds within one hour.

My conclusion: Facebook doesn’t want our Pages to be a successful use of our time and effort unless we pay for that privilege. Great for the Facebook shareholders. Not good for poor writers like me trying to communicate through their Facebook Pages.

So, do yourselves and those you LIKE a favor. Go to your Facebook account today. Click on your Likes and visit the Pages of those you really want to keep up to date on. Better yet, interact by clicking Like or Share on a status update on that Page—and then continue doing that when you see their updates in your feed. That way you’ll never miss out on what’s happening on the Pages you so kindly LIKED.