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How to Bribe, Borrow and Steal The Most From Your Writing

I’ve got half a dozen boxes of Girl Scout Cookies, an upcoming convention and some unused PTO. I’m using all of these things with one goal in mind: getting the most out of my writing.

I haven’t exactly been enjoying the revision process of my new novel. If anything, I’ve been tempted to jump ship, and while I’ve decided that I’m going to start a new project sooner rather than later, I also feel I need to follow through with this stage of revision. Even if it is like pulling teeth.So with that in mind, I’m using the one thing left in my writer’s toolbox.

Bribery. Pure, unadulterated bribery.

Taking a page out of Brandon Sanderson’s playbook, I’m bribing myself to revise more. For every ten chapters revised, I’m dipping into those Girl Scout Cookies. If I get halfway through my revisions by the time I’m go to my con, I’m definitely going to come back with something awesome (and most likely Deadpool-shaped). And lastly, I’m going to take a staycation after I’m done with the revisions because, gosh-darned, I’ve earned it!

Even with those incentives, I’m still trying to stay realistic in the revision process. I’ve come to terms with the realization that a large portion of this manuscript will probably have to rewritten. And the best way to approach this rewriting is to get enough distance away from the manuscript to come back with fresh eyes. I tempted to use this as an excuse to run far, far away from this project – but I know the novel needs a revision before it needs a rewriting. Having some incentives in place keeps me anchored towards this end.

Ultimately, every writer has to do something they are not crazy about, whether its revisions, marketing or just plain monotony. It’s part of the struggle of being a productive writer. Whenever you arrive at this point, the only way around is through – even if it means beg, borrowing or stealing from your own temptations to achieve your goals.

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Testing Grounds: How Fan Fiction Can Improve Your Writing

Full disclosure: I don’t write much fan fiction. I have a “Legend of Zelda” fanfic I wrote in high school that’s probably sitting on a forum somewhere. I have a “Centurions” story scrawled out in one of my notebooks. Beyond that, I don’t actually publish any fan fictions (though I know several writers who do). But I do use it – in my own way – to benefit my writing process.

The pros and cons of fan fiction are pretty obvious. I think fan fiction makes for excellent practice – you already have the setting, characters and rules of your world, and many times you have passionate communities willing to give you feedback. There’s even limited opportunities for publishing, like Amazon’s Kindle Worlds. On the other hand, some authors don’t take kindly to fan fiction, especially when the line between fan creation and plagiarism is blurred (like when it’s published). Most importantly, you could just as easily be developing your own project instead of unofficially writing in another author’s world.

When I say I don’t write fan fiction, what I mean is I don’t write it down physically. But I do think about it a lot. For as long as I can remember, I’ve loved to tell myself stories. So that’s just what I do. I think about stories I’m probably never going to tell anyone. If I’ve feeling particularly inspired, I might write some of them down in a notebook, but that’s rare. Not writing these stories down leaves me free to mash up to the characters, rules and conventions of the world as much as I want. “The Incredibles” meets “Arkham Knight”? Done. “Sailor Moon” meets “The Clone Wars”? Go.

Some of these stories I muse about for a day or two and move on to something else. But there are some stories I keep coming back to, and those are the stories I find myself analyzing the most. I look at what’s working in that story in particular, and then I boil it down until I find the bones of the story. A story’s bones represent the narrative in its most basic form, one which transcends genre and convention.

Ultimately, my mental fan fiction represents a testing ground for my ideas. Once I’ve found the ideas in their most basic form, everything else is window dressing. After the idea is isolated, I can start weaving it until a more original narrative. For me, fan fiction isn’t a shortcut to a less original end – instead it’s a means to an end in a search for quality ideas in fiction.

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Staying the Course, Part II

Despite my best intentions, I didn’t do well with either my winter walking or my writing last week. A cold kept me off my feet for most of last week, and even today, some freshly-fallen snow is making pretty hard to do much walking without slipping. Even so, I’ve decided the best course of action is to keep trying – day-by-day – even if the process feels discouraging in the present. Conveniently, that’s how my writing is going as well.

As I wrote a couple weeks ago, one of my goals is spend the year revising my latest project. However, I recently started making progress on another long-gestating project I’ve been thinking about for a while. My first instinct was to jettison my revisions and start writing. And I have to be honest – I came really really close to doing so. Fortunately, after listening to some old Writing Excuses episodes about revision, I decided to keep going on my revisions.

I did decide, however, to follow my own advice and be realistic about my goals. I’m not going to wait a year to be creatively fulfilled while slugging away at revisions. I wrote my current project while taking David Farland’s excellent online writing courses. I learned a lot about employing new writing strategies, such as try/fail cycles, hooks and effective settings. However, this required experimenting with my narrative, and I don’t believe all of the experiments were successful in the narrative as a whole. As a result, my project requires quite a lot of revisions – and possibly – rewriting.

So here’s what I’ve decided – I’m going to keep on revising my project. Fortunately, my writing group has given me no shortage of revisions to keep me busy as a while. But when it comes to rewriting, I am going to set this project aside for at least a year before coming back. It beats the alternative: slogging through rewrites with very little passion for my project. Plus, it gives me the opportunity to start fresh and apply what I’ve learned my own way. I am going to run my current project by my alpha readers to get a sense of what’s working in the current narrative.

Revisions are part of the writing process, but they don’t just apply to what I’m writing – they also apply to my goals. Ultimately, it’s a balance between what I want to accomplish as a writer and what I want to learn as a writer. This new strategy should give me plenty of practice with deep editing without disregarding the possibility of new projects for the year. We’ll see how it goes, but just like walking, it’s best viewed one step at a time.

 

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How to Stay the Course

I hate the phrase “No excuses!” because it often doesn’t do justice to the reality at hand. For example, I’m doing an Arctic 500 Challenge at work with a goal to walk five hundred minutes during the month of February. It shouldn’t be a problem. I like to walk, and the cold doesn’t bother me. Except that it snowed last night and there’s just enough ice on the roads and sidewalks to make walking more than one mile an hour a hazard to my health.

I’m finding a similar frustration with my writing. I have a long road of revisions ahead of me, and my first instinct is to jump to another long-awaited project I’ve been planning to write. I might because I’m pessimistic my current project, and I feel starting fresh is the best way to learn from my mistakes. Except that I know, deep down, when I jump ship, I’ll be right back where I started in a year when revisions come up again.

So how do I plan to stay on course, whether it’s walking or writing? The answers aren’t so different.

Set a Minimum. For walking, it’s at least eighteen to twenty-five minutes a day. For revising, it’s four chapters a day. Both are sufficient for me to finish the project within a month (although that’s just the tip of the iceberg as for as revisions go). Regardless, setting the bare minimum serves two purposes. First, it gives me a way an easy way to accomplish my goal when everything else is getting in the way (more on that later) and second, setting a small goal gives me plenty of incentive to earn bonus point by blowing it out of the water when things are actually going my way.

Expect Delays, Frustrations and Road Blocks. Even with a minimum in mind, there will be days I don’t come close to meeting your goals. Case in point, there’s a winter storm expected tomorrow, spitting snow and freezing rain all over the area. So much for my walk. Again, this is why I hate the phrase “No excuses”, because it implies a need to power through even when it is inadvisable (or darn near impossible). I prefer a more realistic approach: stuff is going to get my way and I will be knocked out of my routine no matter how good my intentions are. The trick isn’t staying on – it’s getting back in the saddle and starting again. It’s a frustrating part of the process to be sure, but you have a better chance to getting back up if you know it’s coming.

Don’t Forget the Big Picture. While I’m committed to both projects, I have to remember they are both a means to an end – one to get healthy, and one to further my writing career. So the Arctic 500 is not my only chance to get active – I also do T25 on my lunch break. Similarly, I also look for writing opportunities which don’t conflict with my current project – like short stories and flash fiction. I also have a notebook to jot down ideas, even if I recognized it might be a while before I start on the next project.

Reaching a goal is never easy, when it takes a month, a year or even longer. Just like putting a project aside, having to stay on course is a frustrating inevitability. Ultimately, both moving from and staying on course require a good degree of realism and humility in order to see what really lies ahead – and to stay objectively positive in the process.