Category Archives: On Writing

Rock Your Writing Practice Day 6

  1. What’s the first big step you can take to achieve that success? (e.g. finish my first draft, build my daily writing habit, revise that long-shelved work-in-progress…)
    • My ultimate goal is to finish my first draft of December by the end of the year. I’ve pretty much established a daily writing habit and have had really good daily writing habits before, so I know once I get back into it, I’ll be fine. Writing every day isn’t the issue; it’s tackling the book.
  2. How can you quantify that step as an easy daily or weekly goal? (e.g. draft 500 words every writing session, work for twenty minutes every day, complete a comprehensive read-through of my project…)
    • I can pretty easily write 1,000 words in my daily freewrite sessions. If I shoot for 2-3 freewrites a week, I can write 2,000 – 3,000 words a week.
    • Additionally, on the days I don’t freewrite, if I can edit/revise for at least an hour, I can get in three to four hours of editing/revising a week.


Rock Your Writing Practice Day 4

  1. Identify what commonly causes you to procrastinate.
    • I’m incredibly deadline driven (i.e. extrinsically motivated in this regard). Because at this point my writing is entirely for myself, it is very easy to keep pushing it off, especially if I can find myself being productive in other ways (for example, cleaning, doing my taxes, etc). Additionally, because I have a full-time job, I really want to savor what free-time I have and unwind my brain at the end of the day by just binging some mindless television. Of course, writing for a little bit does help my brain slow down, but the reward is much faster with television…
  2. Learn to lessen the resistance you experience.
    • Based on reading all of the great resources at Well-Storied, and thinking through my struggles over the last year getting my work in progress going again, I think my biggest issue is not knowing how to tackle it. I’ve written a lot, but it’s a jumbled mess. I even have a pretty detailed outline, but I feel like I need to throw out a lot of what I had previously written to make everything fit. (I completely rewrote one of the main characters and revised big portions of the first act which has been a huge help, but I need to marry the good parts with the new parts now.) Each time I sit down to seriously work on this, I find it easier to write one little, fun scene that’s a one-off rather than really tackle the meaty stuff. But if I keep doing it this way, it’ll never get done.
    • It’s very easy for me to talk myself into or out of anything. But because my mental reward after a long day at work is to watch a few episodes of television, I think if I delay that by writing for an hour or so after work while I still have some energy, I will feel less lazy. (And if it’s been a truly hellish day where I don’t get home until after 8 p.m., then I can take that night off, if I need to.)
    • I also like the idea of a special reward for hitting a certain goal. I have no tangible clue of where I’m at with this book right now, word count wise or anything, but here are a few possible rewards:
      • Every 1,000 words written/5,000 words edited – 30 minute break to play on phone
      • Every 10,000 words written/edited – ice cream
      • First draft completed – one hour massageDiscover the pressure points that will motivate you to write.
    • OK. I just counted and I’ve written almost 15,000 words! That’s almost half a book. But I certainly don’t feel halfway through… The biggest priority at this point is editing and slotting what I’ve currently written into my outline.


Rock Your Writing Practice Day 3

(If you’re wondering what happened to Day 2, I didn’t publish because it was a wishlist of my writing future and seemed awfully vain to put out there for everyone to see.)

  1. What obligations and hobbies am I willing to sacrifice to make time for writing?
    • I don’t actually spend that much time with my hobbies anymore because I work so much. The bulk of my time is spent working. This year, I’m really trying to regain balance and work less overall (but still am bound to 40 hours/week and some big projects that will take me above and beyond that at times). I think I certainly need to reclaim my time away form work (for multiple reasons).
    • The main “hobby” I can give up is my weekend time when I do occasionally travel to spend time with family and friends. This will also help me save some money, so extra bonus there.
  2. How can I free up more writing time by making my everyday life more efficient?
    • I’ve already been cooking my meals on the weekends so that I have more time in the evenings freed up. I also do most of my house work on the weekends. There shouldn’t be any reason I can’t write 1-2 hours on a normal evening after work and 5-6 hours on a weekend day.
  3. How will I set clear boundaries with friends and family members so I can write without guilt or distraction?
    • I need to stop being embarrassed of the fact that I want to be a writer and tell people how I’m spending my time. Embracing this will help me embrace it overall. Once I get to the point where I’m actually setting clear goals and trying to meet them (other than just write a book), I won’t have feel guilty saying no; I’ll just have FOMO.


Rock Your Writing Practice Day 1

I signed up for Kristen Kieffer’s free email course, Rock Your Writing Practice, and am going to blog through the daily homework here as a way to hold myself accountable.

  1. In what way am I dissatisfied with my current writing practice?
    • I want my writing to be the priority in my life and take precedence. I’ve been working on the draft of my novel going on eight years. The writing process has been haphazard and highly disorganized. I need to develop a better routine to 1) actually complete it; and 2) better envision the plot as I’ve just been writing the scenes I want to write and not actually working through the plot chronologically.
  2. What does my version of an ideal writing life look like?
    • Since I currently have a full-time job (and need to keep it), I would ideally like to spend 1-2 hours an evening after work on writing in some fashion (whether it’s brainstorming, editing, free writing, plotting, etc) and 4-5 hours a day on weekends.
  3. Why do I want to pursue this version of success?
    • I eventually want to write full-time. It’s what I’ve always wanted to do. Storytelling is what makes me happiest. I just need to shift my current life balance in order to prioritize what I’ve always wanted to do.


Update: Writing Incentives

Some of you may remember I previously wrote about establishing a system for writing incentives here.

I started the system right after publishing that post in January. To begin with, I withdrew 20 singles from the bank and set up a plastic bucket with the words “writing bank” on it. Very official, I know.

The final payment system I settled on was this:

  • Post to blog:  .50
  • Daily freewrite for 10 minutes:  .50
  • Misc. work for 1 hour (writing exercises, research publications, reading, etc.):  $1
  • Write for 1 hour:  $1
  • Revise/edit/outline for 1 hour:  $1
  • Submit pitch:  $2.50
  • Submit story to journal/submit article to website/submit piece to contest: $5

I’ve finally reached the end of my initial start-up and here’s how I estimate having earned the $25:

  • 4 blog posts:  $2
  • Submitting a pitch:  $5
  • Submitting a screenplay to a contest:  $5
  • Revise/editing:  $2
  • Freewriting:  $11

Overall, the system has been satisfying mentally and financially. I withdrew the money from my checking and deposited it into my savings after I had “earned” all of it. I realize $25 isn’t much, but that also makes it more feasible to continue the system and to help continue to build up my savings, a personal goal right now as a poor grad student.

Additionally, I learned something I already knew–that my freewriting is most valuable. This is when I tend to generate new ideas or find ways out of sticky situations. Yet I still am so lazy that I dread doing it all the time. Writing for 10 minutes then going to throw .50 in the bucket makes it somehow more satisfying.

Have any of you tried a similar system? How has it worked for you? Let me know in the comments.


My Writing Resolutions

A new year means writing New Year’s resolutions for many of us. I am not one to write these, typically, though I often mentally think of them. However, this year, I did write a variety of lists, both personal and professional, in order to concretely visualize the goals I wanted to accomplish this year. They ranged from getting back on board with my vegetarianism to developing a consistent walking routine to writing every day. Below are my unfiltered writing resolutions from my journal. I haven’t looked at them since January 3.

  • Write every day. No matter what. It has to be a necessity. Like brushing my teeth. (Do that, too.)
    • It doesn’t have to be in a writing notebook. Journaling counts.
    • It doesn’t have to be 5 pages long. 1 sentence counts. 1 sentence can be everything. Ideas are good, too.
  • That said, plan times to write or you will never finish anything. Treat writing like it’s your job if you ever want it to be.
    • Come up with some sort of payment system for writing. Maybe set aside a dollar for every hour of actual work?
  • Submit some sort of something once a month.
    • Look for places to submit to once a week.
    • Use spreadsheet and update it.
  • Get a complete first draft of “December” done by 2016.

I think, overall, my resolutions are pretty doable and reasonable. So far, I have been doing OK with the writing every day, though I’m not quite there. I would say I average 2 or 3 times a week right now. However, I have developed the incentive system (discussed in this post) and it is helping with the daily freewriting and writing in general. I have yet to plan times to write aside from thinking that my free days of Tuesdays and Thursdays are days I should use. And I have yet to submit anything or prepare anything to submit. I plan to check in with these throughout the year, though, as I want to actually stick to them.

Have you developed any New Year’s writing resolutions? How have they worked out for you? Let me know in the comments.


Writing Incentives: Systems for Getting it Done

We’ve all heard the old adage that the hardest part of writing is actually writing. And how true it is. Like every year before, I am determined this year to actually write and to finish many of my started projects, submit more, and allow myself to actually be called a writer. However, I want to actually do it this year!

Since writing is not my full-time job–I attend graduate school for communication studies and teach–it’s easy to come up with excuses to avoid writing, aside from the general excuses for not doing anything that my brain easily produces at any given moment. So I’ve been thinking about developing a system to reward myself for when I actually do write and, thus, encourage myself to write more.

At first, I thought about 1 hour of dedicated writing for 1 hour of Netflix or something like that, but let’s be real, I’ll never deprive myself of Netflix, so it doesn’t really work as a reward. But one of my other goals for the year is to seriously start saving money for my post-post-grad life. So my second plan is to get some kind of jar and for every hour of dedicated actual writing, published blog post, submission, etc., put a dollar in the jar.

The other reasoning for this idea is that writing will feel more like a “real job” to me. In other words, if I have results to show for the work I’ve done, aside from nonsensical words in an insanely commented Word document, the idea of being a writer will feel far more real.

Do any of you have any similar systems? Have you tried something similar before? How did it work out? I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments.


Crossing the Line: Writing About Taboo Subjects

This spring, I took my first “official” Creative Writing class. (Arts Camp doesn’t count, right?) I figured I may as well try to take a class that was actually relevant to what I wanted to do with my life in the last semester of college. As a communication studies major, the workshop format appealed to me in that I am very used to discussing topics and ideas with professors and fellow students–we comm people love to talk. However, I quickly came to feel as though my ideas weren’t valid in the class–not due to anything our instructor did–because of the way they were received by fellow students. I was used to group discussions in my comm classes where no one could ever really be wrong. Conversely, in the workshop environment, I soon learned that writers had very clear opinions about right and wrong, even if they didn’t explicitly state them as such.

Early in the semester, before I learned to keep my mouth shut or suffer a verbal onslaught where virtually everyone in the class disagreed with me for the rest of the hour, we were workshopping a story about rape. It’s important at this point for me to tell you a few things about this story:

  1. It was initially framed as a romantic comedy type story about a couple trying to conceive. (That’s probably not really important. Just a fun fact.)
  2. It quickly veered into nowhereland when the female protagonist was literally kidnapped by a horribly disfigured man in broad daylight. Did anyone see, you ask? No, because she ran at a track with no one in the nearby vicinity except a WHITE VAN and she still willingly helped the man when he asked her to use her phone or something, despite her internal monologue along the lines of, “He looks like bad news. Oh well. I’m sure my intuition is completely wrong.”
  3. The story then flashed forward 5 years in the future. Our heroine had been held captive in the elephant man’s basement and raped on a daily basis. He also sterilized her for laughs. Because he somehow knew she wanted a baby more than anything.
  4. She finally escaped and called her husband (while still in the elephant man’s house) and he married someone else because he thought she was dead. End of story.

The author of the story, who was a woman, basically took all the worst societal tropes and myths about rape and violence against women and put them in one poorly written short story. Which I think is very dangerous.

I raised the point that the rape in it really bothered me. Now, there wasn’t a rape scene in the story–at least, not to my memory–I just thought it seemed senseless. I don’t remember exactly what I said, but my main point was that if you are going to be writing about rape, or something similarly sensitive, it has to be done with a great amount of care and thought, not just because it’s horrifying. You have to think about the audience–potential survivors of rape themselves–who may be reading it and how they would feel. You have to think about what writing about random acts of violence from random people contributes to the culture.

Of course, the people in our workshop staunchly defended the author of the piece, which is fine. I wasn’t attacking her. I wasn’t attacking anything. Except the notion of careless rape scenes, I suppose. To the instructor’s credit, he paused the discussion and asked the class if we thought there were certain subjects that shouldn’t be written about.

And thus, the subject of this post.

This is a highly contentious issue for writers. I think most writers feel like they should be able to write about everything because, well, they’re writers! The human word is their palette! Or something. But, I don’t think it’s quite as clear as that. Because words don’t just exist on the page and make pretty sentences. They have power.

It’s not my job to say what you can’t and can write about. I wouldn’t even go so far as to say there should be a black book of subjects that are forbidden. I simply think with certain topics that are obviously sensitive–sexual violence, child abuse, race, just to name a few–you have to put extra thought into why you are writing about it in the first place and whether your story needs it.

The real kicker is, the author of that story was not a survivor of rape. (Shocker. I know.) She wrote that story because being kidnapped in broad daylight by a horribly disfigured rapist is her worst fear. Sadly, she didn’t understand the logical trap she was caught in. She essentially wrote an episode of Law and Order:  SVU because she’s scared of Law and Order:  SVU. Not to discredit these experiences, of course. We all know the statistics about rape. I’m not here to remind you of that. With shows like Criminal Minds, NCIS, CSI, Law & Order, (and all varieties thereof) and even True Detective which focus overwhelmingly on female victims, the portrayal of violent, sexual crime against women is undoubtedly contributing to the culture at large. It’s a vicious cycle.

I answered our instructor’s question, whether some things should be off limits, with a yes. I said that rape, for example, should be off limits unless you are writing from your personal experience or if you are doing it for a specific reason, which, frankly, I don’t think this story was doing. (This was, of course, met with many grumbles.)

A few months later, near the end of the workshop, we were critiquing a story where the character’s race was suddenly revealed through a random racist joke by another character who implied the protagonist was Black. I actually missed it the first few times I read it. That was the only reference to it in the entire piece. It’s also important to note the author of the story was white.

At this point in the semester, I was pretty well keeping my mouth shut until specifically asked to contribute. So when the instructor asked what I thought, I said, “Is he supposed to be Black?” Everyone shrugged and nodded, nonplussed. I essentially said:

“OK, that’s what I thought. I kind of have an issue with that. I think if you’re going to mention race, especially a race other than your own, you can’t just throw it away. It has to be done with purpose. And I really don’t know if you should even be writing from the perspective of a Black character because you don’t know what it’s like to be Black. I don’t know, I just had a problem with it.”

Some people thought it was “anti-racist” because the character was so cool, which is offensive in and of itself.

But this brings me back to the main theme of this entire post, which is that writing about sensitive subjects, and writing in general, has to be done with purpose, with care, with thought, and with meaning. Or else it’s just drivel.

Furthermore, I signed up for stand-up classes in Tulsa. The first class was this past Sunday and we mostly met the instructor and talked. Much of the discussion revolved around what it’s like to do stand-up, to be a comedy writer, our various opinions on comedy theory, etc. At one point, the instructor looked straight at me and said, “Do you think there are any jokes that are out of bounds?” (It’s as if I were wearing a sign on my forehead.)

I replied immediately and said, “Yeah. Rape jokes.”

He then replied with a weird diatribe about what kind of comedy he finds to be offensive or not offensive. As he was ranting about it, I wasn’t entirely sure why he asked me. He was basically saying he wasn’t the type to make racist jokes or dead baby jokes or rape jokes and didn’t necessarily like them, but he would laugh at anything. Which I thought was an arbitrary line, but I didn’t outright have a problem with. I can’t say I haven’t laughed at racist jokes or rape jokes in my lifetime because I’m sure I have. But I certainly wouldn’t defend them. However, moments when we laugh are also moments we have to check ourselves and ask why we did laugh. Was it just the shock value? Or was it the racist/sexist/homophobe in us laughing?

As he was going on this weird diatribe, another student in the class, an older guy in his fifties asked, “Yeah, but just because you laugh doesn’t mean you support [rape], right?”

The instructor replied, “No!”

Here’s where I kind of disagree, though, I didn’t say anything. I think laughing is implicitly a form of consent. Especially when you’re a comic. If a comic bombs, they know the joke didn’t work and they don’t keep using it. But when people laugh at, say, a rape joke, they think it works and will keep it in their set. Even if you yourself aren’t a rapist, you’re overtly supporting the rape culture by laughing.

That’s my rambly thoughts on it, anyway. I suspect as a freshly minted female “stand-up”, this won’t be the last time I discuss rape jokes with a dude.

And, of course, a few minutes later, when the older gentleman insinuated that I was a prostitute because I was waiting on the street with him before the class started, I wasn’t terribly surprised. Which is kind of the whole point, isn’t it? At least our instructor found that “joke” to be offensive.

I owe a lot to a column in LitReactor by Cath Murphy for my thoughts in this post.