Friday, February 22, 2013

More, More, More: Why It Pays to Be Busy if You Want to Write More

Do you ever feel that if you just had more time to write, you'd write more? Yeah, I fool myself thinking that too. Only thing is, when I have more time, I don't usually write more. I suppose I could ask myself, "What's up with that, Chipper Muse? If more time won't make you write more, then what will?" Except that I already know the answer, and it's not pretty.

I write more when I'm busier.

Yes. It's true. I actually get more writing done when I've got more on my to-do list than at times when I'm not all that busy. And I'm not the only one suffering this malady. When I asked fellow writers back in November during Nanowrimo about how they find time to write, at least one responder brought up the issue of being less productive when she has more free time. A perfect voice for this problem, Kitty put it like this:

"I think my issue is that I actually don't have anything to really keep me busy. I stay home all day and fritter away my time online...and somehow still don't write as much as I should."

That sounds like me. Somehow, when I have all sorts of glorious free time, I find myself luxuriating in the pleasure of having no obligations, no errands, and no deadlines. And so I, like Kitty, fritter my time away with reading, playing on Twitter, sipping coffee while I watch the clouds go by...literally anything but writing.

And let's face it, sometimes we need that kind of downtime. There's nothing wrong with it. In fact, it can be a good way to recharge your creative batteries. That's one of my secrets, actually. When I need a breather to boost my muse, I take a walk or go outside and enjoy nature. You can't work all the time. It's not healthy.

But I'm also a procrastinator, and that can work against me if I'm not careful. Too much free time isn't good for me, because it makes me less likely to accomplish anything. So I harness the power of positive procrastination. (Check out the linked NY Times article later; it's pretty cool.)

Positive procrastination is an actual scientific concept. (Yes, people study this kind of stuff for a living.) It's the idea that the more you have on your to-do list, especially a few frighteningly big items, the more likely you are to get most of your to-do list done. NOT the frighteningly big items, of course. You'll avoid them. So, the key is to put something you really don't want to do, like taking down the wallpaper, at the top of the list, and then put something less awful, like writing your next chapter, somewhere around the middle of the list. Suddenly, sitting at the computer will be more appealing.

This really works. No lie. When I have too much to do, writing sounds like a wonderful, almost selfish indulgence, and I find time to fit it in. But when I have little to do, writing can seem like work, and so I avoid it. I've determined that for me, being busier actually makes me more productive. It's one reason why I like to keep busy to begin with: it's the only way I know to avoid being lazy.

So, as odd as it may sound, if you are struggling to write, maybe you could try looking at what else you have going on in your life. Because if you're afflicted with procrastination, as I am, you might just find that adding more to the to-do list gets you writing more. It sounds crazy. But it just might work for you.

Now, you share: If you, too, get more done when you're busier, let me know. And yes, I know some of you will feel completely the opposite about this, and that's cool. Tell me about it in the comments. Tell me I'm crazy. I already know I am. But it seriously works for me to have my to-do list full, and then to cross things off it, writing included. It's a psychological trick that works for me. If you have a different trick that works better for you, please share it. I'd love to hear it. It could help one of your fellow writers, and I'm all for that!

Thanks, and happy writing!

Copyright (c) 2013 by M.A. Chiappetta. All rights reserved.

Friday, February 15, 2013

Artistic Do-Si-Do: How Critique Groups Help You Get More Done

As I write this post, I'm about to head out the door to meet with my critique group. For writers, especially those of us who produce fiction, having some accountability helps. Of course, non-fiction writers need accountability too, but deadlines do a fantastic job of that. If you're writing for a magazine, a website, a blog owned by someone else... basically, anything where you have an editor or some other "boss" expecting you to be done on a specific date (and they're probably paying you for that)... then you already have someone to be responsible to. You've got to get that article done and to the editor for review (and payment).

But as I said, if you're a first-time fiction writer or a self-published author who isn't reporting to anyone to meet a deadline, then you can easily find yourself distracted to the point that you don't get work done. We all know about distractions. For many of us, our smartphones and computers do a great job of pulling us away from writing, or giving us an excuse to procrastinate a little longer.

There are plenty of other distractions too, if you're looking for them. When I asked some fellow writers about how they fit writing into their schedules, one writer from my local Nanowrimo group, Maryanne Huber (find her blog here), admitted that she was behind on her word count because of a band competition. I'm assuming that was connected to her family or friends, and let's face it, family and friends need our time! There are all kinds of reasons not to write that are legitimate and important. But we still have to fit in our writing somehow, or it doesn't get done.

So, what can we do?

One answer is to join a critique group. There's plenty to say about critiquing, and I won't get into it all here. At least not today. But suffice it to say, if you can find a good, supportive, honest group, you may find that it helps your productivity. When you have a set of people waiting to hear your next chapter, poem, letter, or whatever you're working on, it inspires you to produce, if only to avoid the disappointed looks when you don't have anything to share. I suppose you could call it peer pressure, but in a good way. If you like your group, you'll want to have something new to share with them whenever you meet. And that will help you keep butt in chair to write.

Critique groups are also useful for helping you improve your skills, and that is time worth spent, as another fellow writer, Guilie Castillo Oriard, noted when I asked him for his thoughts on making time to write: "Critiquing takes up a lot of time...well spent, don't get me wrong. I've learned more from that group than in all my years of writing by my lonesome." And that's the truth. Writing for a group does two things that help you learn to be a better writer: They provide accountability partners that make you write more (and practice is what improves you, make no mistake.) And they give you feedback so you can learn to better assess your writing and spot areas that you need to work on.

Working with a critique group definitely is a dance. You have to learn what advice to take, what to ignore, what to reshape to fit your work. It's a do-si-do. But in the end, don't we all like a good square dance? It's fun and we get good exercise. Writing can be that way for you too. If you don't have a local group that meets in person, remember that you can always start one on Meetup or by leaving fliers at local colleges, bookstores, and libraries. Or you can join a writers group online. There are plenty of them.

I'll try to talk at a later date about how you can make the most out of the critiques you get. But in the meantime, I'll just leave you with the encouragement to connect with some other writers and set regular times (okay, deadlines) to share your latest work with them. The accountability will do wonders for your productivity!

Now, you share: Do you have a critique group? A writing partner? A regular reader of your work who gives you feedback? Do you set yourself deadlines that you can keep? How does accountability help you to write more?

Copyright (c) 2013 by M.A. Chiappetta. All rights reserved.

Friday, February 8, 2013

Elbowing Your Way In: How You Can Make Time to Write

Not too long ago, I was chatting with Derek, a Twitter friend of mine (@wrytersblockDH) who is a busy, busy man with a busy, busy day-job. He's also a writer. As we talked about finding time to write, he said to me:

"It's the mental energy to write after a 12-hour door-to-door day I can't find."

It's hard to argue with a statement like that. After all, Derek is in the same shoes that I'm in, the same shoes that a lot of my other friends are in. We're working day-jobs, some of them hectic. We have lives filled with family, church, school, volunteer work... And after a full day of activities, we often feel tapped out. The energy to write or create anything artistic just doesn't seem to be there.

How do we find and renew our creative energy?

That's the question I'm parsing out on the blog for the next few months. And I think the answer is going to take several steps. It's not a single stop; it's a journey to finding that mental energy. But it begins with a decision to move toward what we want. A goal. In this case, I think the goal is to write more. Maybe to write enough to get good at it. Maybe to get good enough to be published. But setting the goal is step one.

Why? Because the bottom line is this: we have to choose to make time to write. It doesn't fall in our lap. We have to hunt the writing beast down and take it captive. And there must be tools we can use to make the hunt easier for ourselves. I'm on a search for those tools, and you're coming with me. Let's journey together to find ways to keep our creative selves vibrant and productive. We are worth it, don't you think?

The first tool we can use is a simple one, but it may be the most challenging to master. It's self-knowledge. You have to know what makes you tick, so you can fit your writing into your life. This may mean fitting it in. It may mean clearing out some of the obstacles that keep you from writing. It probably means both. But it's in knowing yourself that you can make the kinds of decisions that you can live with and stick with over the long haul.

The people I know elbow their writing into their life in many ways, depending on what works for them as individuals. Some have flat out told me: "I don't read much anymore." Or, "I don't watch TV anymore." It just takes too much time to do those things and write.

Personally, that doesn't work for me. That's not how I tick. I like reading too much to give it up. But I don't read as much as I used to. Many times, I skim books. And I read differently too. I read for technique more than I do for content. It's not often I can lose myself in a book anymore. Knowing that about myself helps me choose what I read and what I dump at the wayside. And that helps me have energy and time to write.

Fantasy author Peter V. Brett has shared publicly that he, too, had to struggle to make time to write, just like those of us who are writing but aren't published yet. Brett had a full-time job, a family, and friends, and he didn't have a lot of time to write. But he did spend one and a half to two hours commuting each day. So, he wrote during his commute.

He's obviously the kind of guy who can put in his earbuds and concentrate on writing in a crowded space, and he knew that about himself. That's why his decision worked for him. (Listen to him talk about it on the Speculate podcast here, starting around minute 10:00.) I don't have the same opportunity he had, because I drive to work. There are no trains here. But I can be at work early or stay late to write, and sometimes I do that, because I know that works for me.

Another friend of mine, Renee, has created a mobile writing style because as a grandmother helping out with the grandchildren, she loses writing time to driving the kids long distances to and from school. Rather than going home after dropping the kids at school, she stays nearby. Renee says: "I take my grandchildren to school, then set myself up at the park, typing in the car or at a table. (I now carry a table and chair int he care, so I can set up anywhere.)" Talk about being ready! She also uses a battery backup for her laptop, which helps her be mobile.

I don't have the free time in the middle of the day that Renee has. But I try to keep a notebook handy when I go out, so if I suddenly find myself with free time, I can write at the drop of a hat. Being mobile definitely works for me. In fact, it's often easier for me to write outside of the house, because when I'm at home, I get distracted. So I trick myself into productivity by going to a local bookstore or coffee shop with my laptop.

Obviously, the key here is to make the most of what you have to work with. This doesn't completely answer Derek's question about maintaining the energy to write. I'm moving toward that issue over the upcoming series of posts. But the first step to reclaiming the mental energy to write is knowing what works for you as a writer and, frankly, as a person. Not everyone likes mobile writing. Not everyone can concentrate during a commute. Not everyone can give up TV cold turkey. But there's something you can do, and you have to figure out what that is and do it. Only then can you make that first step toward freeing up your time, protecting your creative juices, and get some writing done.

Now, you share: What do you do to make time to write? How do you protect or revive your mental energy for creative activities? Have you ever given anything up to make room for your art? Share about it in the comments, and be sure to mention the tips you have, the things that work for you. And if you're doing the #writinghabit challenge, in which you write every day (even if it's just a word or two), tell me how that's going for you. I want to hear about it!

Copyright (c) 2013 by M.A. Chiappetta. All rights reserved.

Wednesday, February 6, 2013

The Next Big Thing

Welcome to the NEXT BIG THING Blog Hop.

What is a blog hop? Basically, it’s a way for readers to discover authors new to them. On this stop on the blog hop, you'll find a bit of information on me and one of my books and links to five other authors you can explore!

My gratitude to fellow author, J. L. Mbewe, for inviting me to participate in this event.
You can click here to learn more about Jennette and her books.

In this blog hop, my fellow authors and I, in our respective blogs, have answered ten questions about our current book or work-in-progress (giving you a sneak peek). We've also included some behind-the-scenes information about how and why we write what we write...the characters, inspirations, plotting and other choices we make. Please feel free to comment and share your thoughts and questions. Here is my Next Big Thing!
What is the working title of your book?
My working title is Shae Blessing's Tale, and it's a planned trilogy. I have specific names for all three books in the series, but I'm not ready to share them yet. (Secretive writer, you know. LOL.)

Where did the idea come from for the book?
Ooh, great question! This is a great story... While visiting my brother in the hills of West Virginia (where he moved to be near his wife's family and which is very different from Connecticut where I grew up), we were driving along some back roads at night. We passed a tiny set of buildings in the middle of nowhere, barely worthy of being called a strip mall. There was a comic book shop there with a green-faced alien on its signage, faded and worn-down, forlorn and creepy. Being on that curving, dark, lonely, forest-lined road was eerie. And I'm a writer. So naturally I thought, great setting for a horror story or dark fantasy story. I linked the setting's feel with a character and scene I'd invented for a writers group round-robin story that I participated in. That character eventually morphed into Connal Blessing, Shae's father. And Shae has become the protagonist. The book also has a tie-in to Celtic and Arthurian mythology, and this is probably because I used to read a lot of King Arthur books when I was younger. I've always wanted to write a King Arthur book myself, but there are so many historically-based books out there that I didn't want to take that tack. It's been done to death. So I made my setting suburban and American instead of centuries ago and English. It's going to be a great mashup.

What genre does your book come under?
I'd have to call it young adult urban fantasy. Though, really, it's in a suburban setting. As usual, I don't quite fit the mold.

Which actors would you choose to play your characters in a movie rendition?
Hmm. Tough one. I'm a fan of Hailee Steinfeld, who starred in the
True Grit remake. She came across as tough and able to hold her own against the men in her life, and she's still a teenager. So she'd be a good fit for Shae. 

What is the one-sentence synopsis of your book?
When a centuries-old family curse begins to wreak deadly havoc in her life, 16-year-old Shae Blessing must learn to wield her insane father's sword and her missing mother's fae magic before an undying prince uses his black magic to kill her.

Is your book self-published, published by an independent publisher, or represented by an agency?
This book is still in the works. Actually, I've nearly finished writing it and it's about to go to beta readers for the next round of feedback. I'll be shopping the book to agents and small publishers in June, if all goes as planned.

How long did it take you to write the first draft of your manuscript?
I started this draft about three years ago. But I've really hit momentum in the last 9 months. I guess I've been pregnant with it!

What other books would you compare this story to within your genre?
I don't know of a specific book quite like mine. BUT... I'm a big fan of Jim Butcher's
Harry Dresden series. I think of Shae Blessing as a female, teenaged version of who Harry Dresden would be if he were a female teenager instead of a 30-something male wizard.

Who or what inspired you to write this book?
I've always wanted to write novels. Some of my influences are JRR Tolkien (surprise), CS Lewis, and Anne McCaffrey, among others. I'm dedicating this particular story to my brother, because he asked me to. So he's an inspiration too.

What else about your book might pique the reader’s interest?
I have a sharp sense of humor. I like smart characters, and odd characters too. So this book is filled with wit, danger, clown-faced goths, a purple-haired fae boy (think elf, only quirkier) with a knack for misunderstanding human cliches, the Lady of the Lake from Arthurian legend, and a demigod named Raven who is the ultimate sexy, dangerous bad boy. Plus, magic swords, prophetic dreams, a little pyromancy, black magic...and of course, Shae Blessing, a teenager with a distinct attitude. People who have already read parts of this book have consistently begged to see what happens next. Apparently, they like it. A LOT! I think other readers will too. I can't wait to get it into print this year.

Below you will find authors who will be joining me virtually, via blog, 
next Wednesday. Please be sure to bookmark their sites, and add them to your calendars for updates on their upcoming books. Happy writing and reading! And feel free to share a little about your current writing project in the comments below!

Copyright (c) 2013 by M.A. Chiappetta. All rights reserved.

Friday, February 1, 2013

Write Your Goals: How Putting Your Target into Words Can Lead to Writing Success

Do you ever write down goals for yourself? I don't mean your to-do list. I mean shaping your long-term and short-term life goals into actual words that you put down on paper so you can read them and move toward them.

Blurry. But still in print!
It may seem a little late to talk about setting goals for 2013, since it's not January anymore. On the other hand, most people who get excited about goal-setting and making resolutions on January 1 have quit by February 1, so maybe we're right on track for those of us who are serious about achieving something new this year. At the very least, all the glamour of New Year's Day has worn off, and now we're at the part of the year where reality sets in, and we can truly think about what we want to see happen in our lives this year.

One of my own goals this year is to write consistently and to finish drafts for the two novels I have been working on over the course of the past two years. At least one will be ready to be submitted by the middle of the year, and ideally, the second will be submission-ready by December. Those are my targets. And as you can see, I've put them down in print, so I can't deny them later.

There's just something about quantifying our goals, painting them into a visible target with our words, and then keeping that piece of paper in front of us so we use it to gauge how well we are doing on our journey toward our destination. It may be hard to believe that this works. But studies show that people who write down their goals are much more likely to actually achieve their goals than people who don't. In fact, one study shows you'll be 33% more likely to succeed if you write your goals down and share them with others. (Here are the details if you want to know more.)

Michael Hyatt wrote a terrific article about how he uses written goals to achieve the success he wants. And he gives five reasons why this technique works. Basically, it boils down to this:

  1. Writing gives you a clear picture of what you actually want. It's specific, not general. Specific places are places we can more easily arrive at.
  2. Writing is an action. It's the first step along the road, and once you've taken a step, it's easier to take the next step.
  3. Written goals help you figure out what doesn't fit with your life plan, as well as what does fit. So, you can avoid rabbit trails.
  4. Written goals help you encourage yourself when you're tempted to give up because things are hard.
  5. When you reach your goal, you can clearly see in writing where you started from. That is, you started with an idea. Then you lived it out. And being able to look back on your progress is very satisfying.
Writing goals down on paper works. Here's a real-life example:

The famous, goal-making
book that worked for
my friend.
I have a friend who landed a book contract last year with a Christian publisher. She has been a fan of the book Write It Down, Make It Happen for years, which talks about writing goals down as a way to achieving them. Years ago, this friend of mine wrote down a goal: to be a highly sought-after author and speaker. In fact, she specifically wanted and wrote down that people would come to her, because she didn't want to run around trying to chase down opportunities. She wanted the opportunities to show up at her door.

And sure enough, that's what she got. She met someone who worked for the publisher in question. The person liked my friend, thought she had a great message to share, pitched a book idea to the publishing company, got approval, and then returned to my friend to say: "Hey, you've got a book deal if you want it." My friend is in the process of getting that book out now. How cool is that? And it's precisely what she wrote down as her goal.

I've already put my 2013 writing goals into print in this post. But what about your goals? What would you like to achieve this year? Be specific, and write it down. I'd love you to share them here. But I also suggest you write them in your journal or on post-it notes that you hang in your bathroom, or something similar, so you can go back and read them often. When you achieve those goals (and you will), let me know. Share the good news here, so we can all celebrate with you! I'll do the same.

And don't forget, we're working toward writing consistency this year too. Jump in on the discussion and the mutual encouragement with our hashtag on Twitter: #writinghabit. See you there!

Copyright (c) 2013 by M.A. Chiappetta. All rights reserved.