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Offline NorthernLights

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Defeat Your Writing Demons
« on: Fri, Sep 12, 2008, 07:06 PM »
Defeat Your Writing Demons  

Quote
Terescia Harvey
Defeat Your Writing Demons:
turn off your obsession with perfection

For years, I've struggled with the drive for perfection in my writing. What makes it so frustrating is that although I can tame the demon, I can't exorcise it. Just when I think things are going well and I've got everything under control, I slip. When that happens, I lose weeks of writing time as I fight with myself over the acceptability of the
material I've just finished. One word, one sentence, and before I know it, I'm spending hours trying to squeeze out a page of fresh writing. There are ways to cope if you suffer from the same condition. I won't promise all of them will work for you, and I can't tell you you'll never suffer again from the disease (because truly, that's what it feels like).

I can say that any help at all is better than none.

I read an article once, titled "The Key to Success: Write More!" by Lee Tobin McClain. The article had the audacity to state that the key to success in the publishing industry isn't to write better, but to write more. In essence, that quantity is more important than quality.

Surprisingly, the article pulled me out of a cycle of perfectionism and told me something I needed to hear.

Because no matter how much I don't want to admit it, the article was right.

Quantity does matter more than quality.

You can't fix what isn't there. Something is better than nothing. Revision is easier than creation. All these pithy phrases tell a truth that's sometimes hard to believe.

Last week I spent two days writing a scene. After the scene was finished, it didn't feel right to me. I couldn't place my finger on the part that needed work, because it wasn't a grammar issue, or a characterization problem, or anything I could name. But something was wrong with that scene.

The only solution was to rewrite. So I sat down and, starting at the top, I worked my way through the scene, line-by-line, word-by-word, rewriting almost every sentence. And when I was done, I was happy. Whatever the problem had been, rewriting had fixed it.

It took me one hour.

There's my proof, one instance of many, which shows me my truth--revision is easier than creation. Two days to create the scene. One hour to fix it.

It's a reaffirmation that something is better than nothing. And it gives me permission to write anything rather than nothing.

If I follow my own advice and I write a scene that later has to be cut in its entirety, for whatever reason, what have I lost?

I've spent a few hours working on something for my story, rather than watching a few television programs or visiting forums on the internet. I've created something that might need a little work to make it as strong and compelling as it could be. But therein is a thoroughly compelling reason to focus on quantity rather than quality.

If you spend two days writing the perfect scene, it's much harder to let it go when it comes time to cut during the editing and revision stage of your writing. If you've only invested a couple of hours, it's not so hard. And regardless of whether or not the scene is in top shape, you'll know that much sooner if it's right for the story.

Here are the tips I've gathered and used to help me conquer the drive for perfectionism in my writing. (Let me just say that these apply only to the first draft -- or first few drafts, if that's the kind of writer you are. I would never suggest that perfectionism doesn't have its place in the final stages of revision--but that's another article.)

1. Use timed writing.

Timed writing offers you the chance to let the words flow from your subconscious to your fingers, without stopping anywhere in between for fixing-up. I find that timed writing works best if you stay strict with yourself. Don't allow yourself to stop typing for any reason. Use it, force the words out, even if you feel like your story is spinning out of control within the confines of your timed writing session. You'll be surprised at how much of your writing turns out to be fit reading. I was. If it makes you more comfortable, use a temporary file to write in (ctrl+s offers a quick, unobtrusive way of making sure you keep your document saved as your fingers rocket over the keys).

2. Have a mantra.

Don't feel ridiculous if you have to repeat "I'm a brilliant writer" a hundred and thirty-two times while you finish a scene just so you don't drop into a spell of slow writing as you try to make every word as perfect as you can manage.

3. Don't delete anything.

Save your cuts in a folder, or at the end of the document. If it's only a sentence or two, leave them on the page. If you find yourself rewriting a sentence over and over, it's a quick reality check to see the previous versions right there on the computer screen or on the tablet in front of you. When you reach five versions of the same sentence, you'll know you've dropped into a cycle of perfectionism. Take a look at your words. From the first sentence to the last, have you really made the writing that much tighter and leaner, more descriptive, less repetitious, stronger? Is it truly better? I bet you'll find that the third version isn't better than the fifth--only different.

4. Remember that to be perfect, you actually have to be.

Nothing isn't perfect. In fact, nothing doesn't exist. If you're determined to write perfect prose every time you sit down to write, just remember that something has to exist for something to be perfect. You have to write a complete book to have written a book. There are no perfect unfinished books. Unfinished books are imperfect by their very nature.

So, the reality is that quality is a product of quantity, because without quantity, there's nothing to have quality.

5. Write a summary at the beginning of every scene.

When you start a new scene, write a summary of the scene at the beginning, to remind you whenever you slow down of what you need to write into the scene. There's nothing that'll speed writing along better than knowing where you're going and how you're going to get there. If you prefer to write by the seat of your pants (as I do), write this scene summary immediately before you write the scene. Resist the urge to polish by following and remembering the tips I've already given you. Set a timer before you start the scene, talk out loud as you type the words onto the screen or scrawl them on your paper, don't delete anything as you write except blatant typos, and remember, your goal is to make it to the end of the scene fast enough to still hold passion for what you've written.

6. Disgust breeds disaster.

Don't let yourself become disgusted by your imperfect writing. You'll be tempted to delete everything and start fresh. Don't do it. Edit, revise, and keep in mind that even going sentence-by-sentence, paragraph-by-paragraph, will be faster than starting at the beginning with nothing but a blank page to guide you. If, after you've finished the scene, you can't go on without perfecting it, then perfect it. You'll probably find, as I have, that perfecting a finished scene is much simpler and faster than perfecting something unfinished.

I hope these tips can help you. I know the struggle seems never ending, and you may never truly exorcise the demon of perfectionism, but it does get easier. Habits develop and writing that first draft becomes a matter of quantity, not quality-something instead of nothing. Good luck.



Quote
The Key to Success: Write More!  

by Lee Tobin McClain

What's the key to spectacular writing success? Talent? Intelligence? Creative genius?

None of the above. According to Dr. Dean Keith Simonton, who has conducted research on creativity for nearly 25 years, creative success correlates most closely with output: the quantity of work produced. Artistic and scientific achievers from Picasso to Da Vinci didn't succeed more, percentage-wise, than other now-unknown creators of their eras; they simply produced more, and thus had more successes.

As the director of a graduate program in writing, I can vouch for the fact that students who complete more writing projects succeed more frequently than their slower-writing peers, regardless of talent.

If productivity equals success, how can you increase yours? Here are eight ways.

Build an Expectant Audience

Many of us are motivated by the expectations of others. We'll do more to fulfill responsibilities or avoid humiliation than we will to fulfill our own dream.

If that's your blessing -- or your curse -- use it. Create an audience for yourself, whether it's a critique group, an editor, or even online subscribers.

Poet Michael Arnzen developed a system for distributing a poem a week from his web site (http://www.gorelets.com), which delivered poetry directly to readers' Palm Pilots or other handheld computers. He solicited subscribers through e-mail and press releases and once hundreds of people were expecting their weekly poems, Arnzen was committed to delivering. "Knowing my subscribers were always waiting for the next poem in the series drove me to write daily. It was my most productive year as a poet, ever, despite my full time job," Arnzen says. "And the project brought attention to my other writing, too. I sold three chapbooks this past year, including the poetry series itself."

Critique groups can function the same way. If your group sets up a schedule for distributing work, you feel obligated to fulfill your responsibility. The critiques you receive are almost a bonus compared to the regular production such groups enforce.

For magazine writers -- aspiring or published -- there's nothing better than landing a few assignments to build an expectant audience and thus, enhance your productivity. If you're an established writer, play the query-a-day game (see tip number three) until you have several assignments and deadlines to push you into productivity. If you're inexperienced, you may have to work on spec or for free. But knowing that an editor, even the editor of the tiny neighborhood newspaper, is expecting your work will jar you into increased productivity no matter what other demands are made on your time.

Increase Gradually

Don't try to make a rapid jump in your productivity. Take it slow. More importantly, take it steady.

Bestselling novelist Peter Straub compares writing to exercise. "If you spend an hour or two a day writing, fairly soon you will be able to do it for three or four hours each day; and the more you write, the more sheer muscle you develop," he says. Romance and women's fiction writer Susan Mallery suggests that a very gradual increase in daily pages written can lead to a major boost in quality and quantity of work sold. Her strategy is simple: figure out how many pages you write in each writing session now, and then increase by half a page every few weeks.

Why does it work? "A half page is a manageable goal," says Mallery. "It's so small an increase, it's hard to get excited about it. Yet over time, it makes a huge difference. Those half pages add up without adding stress to the writer."

Mallery ought to know. She is the author of 75 published novels.

The hidden benefit behind Mallery's method is consistency. And consistent writing actually increases quality as well as quantity. "When you write a certain number of pages each day, the story stays 'in-place' in the brain," she explains. "That means writing time can be spent on deepening the characterization and enhancing the story rather than trying to remember who these people are and what's happening with the plot."

A Query a Day: Games with Yourself

If you're trying to make it in magazine writing, you need regular, frequent assignments that will keep you writing. But at the beginning of your career, or during a slump, the assignments can be thin or nonexistent. That's the dangerous point when it's easy to clean the garage or see the latest chick flick instead of writing. Soon, you can feel like someone who used to write, or used to want to write, instead of feeling like a writer.

At times like this, you need some kind of game to boost your creativity and your career. My favorite is "A Query A Day." All you have to do is produce and mail out one query letter each day, and then you're off the hook and out the door. Conversely, on busy days when the boss demands the latest report, the spouse threatens to leave, and the teenager wrecks the car, you still have to produce that one query.

Benefits are multiple. You get really fast at writing query letters. You get fast at finding markets at the odd moments of your day; I've been known to keep a copy of Writer's Market in my bathroom.

Best of all, you're planting seeds that will bear fruit for months to come. Inevitably, something hits, and then something else does, and before long you're so busy writing stories that you have to quit the game. Months later, assignments from the game days will still trickle in. And because you produced so many queries, you probably went off in weird directions; now, you have an assignment to write something out of your own norm, and

creativity soars. Variations for other sorts of writers: try "A Short Synopsis Per Day"; "A Contest Entry Per Day"; "A Poem a Day".

Multiple Projects

When you're working on a long book project, reinforcement and rewards are seriously lacking. If you let discouragement set in, your productivity may dip or plunge.

That's when you need the perspective and refreshment of multiple projects. If you're writing a novel, make use of your background research by submitting short magazine pieces on topics related to your novel's theme. If your book project is nonfiction, see if you can work up a short story or poem, either on the same topic or on something completely different.

And make sure to submit the other writing somewhere -- a contest, a tiny literary magazine, or a newspaper. The opportunity for quicker feedback can give you a boost on your main project. Whether or not you publish any of these side pieces, your big project will benefit from the renewal of interest brought about by your moonlighting.

Create a Compelling Future

If you're not producing as much as you want, maybe you're living too much in the present.

Success guru Tony Robbins asserts that you should have enormous goals, the type that will make your palms sweat and your heart race, in order to keep yourself working hard each day. Most people, he maintains, think too small when they think about their future.

Indeed, successful writers often admit they've been visualizing that place on the bestseller list for years. Before my first book was published, I spent a lot of time looking at the paperback rack, letting my eyes blur so that I could imagine that the latest popular romance was my own.

One day, it was.

So go ahead and picture yourself accepting the Bram Stoker award, or the Edgar, or the Nebula. Imagine what you'll say when interviewed about your Pulitzer. If your dream is big enough, you'll be motivated to make big efforts at the keyboard today, to make tomorrow's vision come true.

Pages, Not Hours

Should you make yourself sit at the keyboard for two hours each day, or strive for two pages?

Views differ, but I'm a fan of the page count. It's all too easy to sit and daydream away a stint of writing time and produce nothing. But if you know you aren't allowed to leave until you come up with that query, or those three pages, you'll get it done faster. Sometimes what you create will seem to be no good, but you'll find that when you come back later, it's hard to tell the difference between the pages produced quickly and those crafted more slowly.

In any case, bad pages can be fixed. A blank page can't.

Book-in-a-Week

The "Book-in-a-Week" technique is trendy now in the romance writing community, but dates back to authors like Belgian-born detective writer Georges Simenon. Simenon wrote most of his 500-plus novels in the space of 8-10 days -- sans outline, sans pause, and sans computer.

Today's Book-in-a-Week proponents swear by a similar, if electronically-updated, method: they clear their calendars of as much non-writing-related activity as possible in order to fully focus on writing for one week. During that week they write in every spare moment, whether that means a ten-hour stretch on a Saturday, or writing during commuting time, coffee breaks, the lunch hour, a teenager's soccer game, and a toddler's bath time.

Some really do complete the first draft of an entire book. Others set smaller goals: write an article every day, for example. The point is to push yourself beyond your normal comfort zone, knowing you'll only have to stay there for one week.

The Internet serves as a helpful ally to keep writers motivated for this challenge. "I joined an online book-in-a-week challenge to help me stay the course," explains one participant. "Everyone posted their page totals each evening. Knowing my online friends were doing the same crazy thing, that I'd have to post my totals each night, and that it was only for one week, kept me writing. I wrote an average of twenty pages per day. That's more than I'd ever written before."

This mad rush of writing has several benefits beyond the often admirable number of pages produced. Focusing on writing as much as possible helps to turn off the internal critic. For this week only, you're not judged on quality, only quantity. For perfectionists, that can be liberating.

April Kihlstrom, who has spoken about Book-in-a-Week challenges at national conferences, describes quality benefits gleaned from this quantity-related method. A draft written in a short time, she explains, is far more likely to be consistent, passionate, and strong-voiced.

Book-in-a-Week isn't for everyone, and it can't be done often, but it may provide the jump start you need for increasing your productivity.

Charts, Calendars, and Goals

If you're already a working writer, you know that you have to plan out your work; you have deadlines to meet, and editors who will squawk if you don't do so. But if you're still unpublished, you may be meandering along without a real plan, without charting out your goals for yourself.

Get in practice for your future success by setting your own deadlines. That way, when assignments or contracts come, you'll know how quickly you can write, and you'll have faith in your own ability to meet your deadline and follow through on your promises. Plan to finish the picture book this month, the chapter book by spring, the young adult novel by the end of the year. Then figure out how you'll do it with daily page counts marked on a calendar.

As the platitude says, every journey begins with a step. So decide now to put these productivity tips to use. Make a plan about how you'll succeed. As your output increases, watch your career soar along with it.

The beautiful thing about output is that it's something you can control -- unlike native intelligence or a good ear for words. You have no one to blame but yourself if you aren't making it on a page a week. And when your career takes off due to your increased output, you'll have the satisfaction of knowing that your own hard work made the difference.


Offline evilgrin

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Re: Defeat Your Writing Demons
« Reply #1 on: Fri, Sep 12, 2008, 07:27 PM »
Quote
You can't fix what isn't there.

wonderfully put. WRITE! Anything, it doesn't matter what, just write it. If you really don't know what to write, read something someone else has written and leave feedback. Not short feedback, but make your writing about that. That's writing too. As long as you're writing SOMETHING. Then you can write other things, because the writing muscles are still there.

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4. Remember that to be perfect, you actually have to be.

yep, perfect is overrated. It's indefinable. And it's subjective anyway.

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5. Write a summary at the beginning of every scene.

I do that :)

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In any case, bad pages can be fixed. A blank page can't.

africkenmen!

thanks, NL!
Elaine:)

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It was a rainy night in the big city. A hard rain. Hard enough to wash the scum off the streets. And I'm stuck in it without an umbrella. What a tool.

Offline ayabie

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Re: Defeat Your Writing Demons
« Reply #2 on: Fri, Sep 12, 2008, 07:40 PM »
Quote
6. Disgust breeds disaster. Don't let yourself become disgusted by your imperfect writing.


Note to self, remember that.

Thank ya for postin' this!

Now the real question though is how much is gonna sink into me little sluggy brain!
"Everything I know about insatiable human perversion I've learned from Asian cinema."

Everything I'm about to tell you is a joke. Don't take it seriously.

Offline evilgrin

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Re: Defeat Your Writing Demons
« Reply #3 on: Fri, Sep 12, 2008, 08:10 PM »
we have to tenderize and soften up your head with head bonks first...let me get that for you  :hit2
heehee
Elaine:)

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It was a rainy night in the big city. A hard rain. Hard enough to wash the scum off the streets. And I'm stuck in it without an umbrella. What a tool.

Offline ayabie

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Re: Defeat Your Writing Demons
« Reply #4 on: Fri, Sep 12, 2008, 08:31 PM »
*sniffles!* Just try to better meself and then get whopped for it! Would this be considered 'bie abuse? :D

Still though the whole just write somethin's great advice!
"Everything I know about insatiable human perversion I've learned from Asian cinema."

Everything I'm about to tell you is a joke. Don't take it seriously.

Offline Tiberius

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Re: Defeat Your Writing Demons
« Reply #5 on: Sun, Jan 10, 2010, 08:09 AM »
that's so true!

though perfectionism may seem alluring at first sight (in the meaning when I write perfect I don't have to revise it later), it definetely kills off the writing in the end until you need an hour to write a few sentences ...

Offline blkvixon

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Re: Defeat Your Writing Demons
« Reply #6 on: Wed, Mar 10, 2010, 09:35 AM »
wow. this is really helpful  for a newbie like me... thanks for posting this...

Offline Pamela

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Re: Defeat Your Writing Demons
« Reply #7 on: Mon, Aug 30, 2010, 03:08 PM »
I'd forgotten this was here.
I guess it might be a good thing that I'm not getting notifications.

pamela


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