Recipe for Productivity

2 Jun

Over the past week or so, I’ve had a number of conversations with friends and critique partners that went something like this: May was a beast. I need to build momentum on my project again—like 30K-by-the-end-of-June levels of momentum. This, basically, was the heart of at least four separate conversations I’ve had recently. (Not just on my end—all of these friends felt the same way.)

It’s amazing, really, what can happen when you admit you need accountability.

After telling said friends my intentions of making June a month of EPIC PRODUCTIVITY (always all-capsed, btw—it makes it feel even more epic-slash-dire than it would otherwise, and thus, I find it all the more motivating), I basically assumed I’d start being productive again, well, on June 1. No pressure this week, I told myself. May threw some unpalatable curveballs—take the last few days of the month off, sit back and rest until it’s time to have EPIC levels of motivation! 

This is not what happened. I woke up last Tuesday feeling energized and determined—FIVE whole days before energy and determination were scheduled to arrive. (I credit my husband for suggesting we go to bed early the night before, and also for giving me an amazing coffee machine for Christmas.) All it took was a little optimism, a good night of sleep, an enticing pot of fresh brewed coffee, and—and this is the big thing for me—the willingness to sit down and write something even though I only had about twenty minutes before my toddler got out of bed for the day.

That twenty minutes kickstarted me for the whole week. The whole month, really.

But it isn’t just about a kickstart: it’s about sustaining that momentum. Therefore, I thought it might be fun and helpful to share my Triple-Whammy Productivity Recipe in case you, too, need an incredible June to make up for a beastly May.

➳FIRST: A DRILL SERGEANT

If you are a person whose life evaporates during times you’ve set aside to work on your project (thank you, Twitter!)—or if you are simply a person who loves timers, bright colors, cute icons, and an app that dings when you’re scheduled to switch tasks—I highly recommend the app 30/30 (available for iProducts)(link here, or in their Twitter bio).

30/30 APP

Liza is only *one* of my productivity genies.

I use it every time I sit down to write. Though I’m a focused person by nature, 30/30 helps me pursue the task at hand with even more vigor than usual. When it tells me to write, I write hard. When it tells me it’s time for a tweet break, time to get some coffee, or time to text one of my accountability partners for a progress check-in—I relax a little and enjoy the break without feeling guilty. When it *dings* at me again, I know it’s time to get back to work. (You can customize the tasks however you want—you set the time length, the task title, and the order in which they circulate. I am very thorough, and include everything I might possibly do while working. See also: Tweet breaks.) In short, 30/30 is a very pretty, very effective little drill sergeant.

➳SECOND: A FANCY CHART

There are many reasons I love my computer-programming husband—one of those many reasons is the website he created in response to my intense love for tracking progress on my various projects. The beta site for myWriteClub—a progress-tracking social media website for writers—has been live since January of this year. I don’t know why it’s so motivating to see my progress bar inch closer to 100%, or to see my graph morph from plateau to Mount Kilimanjaro…but it totally is.

I’m definitely biased, since it was created for me by someone I love, but truly, it is fantastic. Reasons why:

➳You can connect with friends, see their progress, and leave comments to encourage each other. You can elect to receive email updates (or not) as they make progress toward reaching their goals. For people who are energized by other people’s energy, this is a really motivating feature.

You might notice I am not yet at Mount Kilimanjaro levels. This is what June is for.

You might notice I am not yet at Mount Kilimanjaro levels. This is what June is for.

➳You can customize your unit of measure: words written, pages read, percent complete, etc. The versatility makes it easy to use for tracking things like manuscript critiques or lines of poetry written.

➳People can see your progress, if you’re motivated by that, but if you prefer to track your goals without the whole world seeing, you can pick which goals you’d like to keep private.

➳Even when you don’t feel like you’re getting very far, every little bit of progress adds up. The progress bar and graph on myWriteClub are so effective at proving that you are, in fact, getting somewhere.

➳The progress bar turns green when you reach 100%. Maybe it’s just me, but there’s just something so satisfying about that!

If you decide to join myWriteClub (link above) and want to find me, my username is olsonkayla.

➳THIRD: A SUPPORT NETWORK

There is a certain sort of energy that comes from striving alongside other people who are equally dedicated to smashing their goals. When I say support network here, I’m not just talking about all nine gazillion of your Twitter followers. Rather, I’m talking about your 2–5 friends who plan to work diligently and frequently toward their own goals while *also* cheering you on toward yours (and/or challenging you to try when you feel oh so blah). Whenever I sit down to write, I shoot out some messages to those friends to see if they’re working—or, at least, to see if they’d be willing to check in on me in an hour to see what kind of progress I’ve made. I can be productive on my own, for sure, but why not form a support network? It takes a solitary pursuit and gives it a social aspect. That *fun* aspect—combined with people who legitimately do care about you and your progress—makes all the difference on days when your energy levels are trying to convince you to ditch your work session and sit back, eat chocolate, and pet your cat instead.

If you don’t have a support network, or don’t even know where to start, feel free to leave a comment here or say hi on Twitter. (Hi, I’m @olsonkayla, and it makes me unusually happy whenever I successfully manage to introduce people to their new best friends.)

Here’s to an EPICALLY PRODUCTIVE June for us all! *clinks coffee mug*

 

My Writing Process: Blog Tour

1 May

Many thanks to my dear friend and critique partner, Jasmine Warga, for tagging me in this tour!

Jasmine Warga

Her heartbreakingly hopeful debut novel, MY HEART AND OTHER BLACK HOLES, will be published by Balzer + Bray/HarperCollins in 2015—I *loved* so much about this book, and can’t wait for the rest of the world to read it, too! If you’d like to read about Jasmine’s writing process, you can do so here. Also, I highly recommend befriending her on Twitter (@jasminewarga), because she is just the sweetest combination of talented + encouraging + super-humble—and don’t we all need friends like that in our lives?

WHAT AM I WORKING ON?

As I write this post, I am halfway through the first draft of a shiny new YA project. So far, it’s the most challenging thing I’ve ever written—and I say that as someone whose most recent project was a time travel book—which is only *one* of the reasons I find it exhilarating! (Another reason: lots of LOST-ish-ness and beaches and what-the-heck-is-happening?!) I can’t wait to knock out this discovery draft so I can have something solid to chisel and carve during the revision process.

WHY DO I WRITE WHAT I WRITE?

I write what I write because…well…it’s the kind of stuff I like to read. When I get an idea, I’m usually hard at work on another project. I’m pretty monogamous with my projects, for time and focus reasons, so instead of dropping everything to chase the *fun* *shiny* *new* thing, I’ll open up a fresh Scrivener document and write the first page, or the first chapter—whatever comes out most naturally to get the voice going. If the idea sticks with me until I’m between drafts, and if the voice feels fresh and distinct, and if I have a working idea of where the plot and character arcs will go—and if I love it more than anything else I have going—that’s the one I run with.

HOW DOES MY WRITING PROCESS WORK?

Well, I already wrote a little about how I start a project. From there, I do a bit of journaling (by hand, usually in a Moleskine journal) about my big-picture vision for the plot and characters. I’m neither a detailed plotter nor a completely-by-the-seat-of-my-pantser—I’m one of those weird hybrids who maps out only the most major turning points, and then I come up with the rest as I go. This allows me to have decent structure to my plot from the ground up, but also allows for freedom to discover the details along the way.

myWriteClub

I’m actually quite mathematical in my writing process: I write short first drafts (60–65K), since I always end up adding words when I revise, and figure out where(ish) I want those major plot points to fall, numerically. And then I work from there, crafting my story with plot, structure, and character arc goals in mind. I’m highly motivated by seeing progress bars and graphs fill up with data—and by seeing my friends striving hard toward meeting their goals—so my husband created an entire social networking website (www.myWriteClub.com) based on those things.

As for the actual writing involved, I’m not one of those people who can dictate a story into a voice recorder and then transcribe it later. So much of my process is language-oriented—like, the actual words and rhythm and dialogue on the page help propel me from one idea to the next. (This is why it’s helpful to make a plot point road map early on—that way, I’m always working toward something concrete even as I’m figuring out the details.) One rule I consistently follow is if it’s boring to me, it’s probably going to bore the reader. So, if at any point I’m feeling bored with what I’m writing, I know I need to backtrack a bit and make it more exciting/intriguing—tension on every page, and all that.

I’m also a firm believer in inspiration shows up when you do. Meaning: I work when I have time (6–8AM, during my toddler’s afternoon naps from 2–3:30, and on Saturday mornings), even if I don’t feel particularly inspired. Nine times out of ten, I feel inspired by the end of my writing session, and have a good amount of progress to show for it. And for that other time out of the ten—that’s what chocolate is for.

This is my process for the initial discovery draft—revision is a whole different thing altogether. I absolutely love the revision process, and have developed a pretty efficient system for it. (As efficient as revision can be, that is.) That could be its own blog post, though, because I have so many thoughts on it.

:: NEXT ON THE TOUR ::

 

Alison Cherry

ALISON CHERRY

::  my hilarious—and über supportive—friend who’s also represented by (one of) my fabulous agent(s), Holly Root ::

Alison Cherry is the author of RED (2013) and FOR REAL (December 2014). She is also a professional photographer and worked for many years as a lighting designer for theater, dance, and opera productions. She lives in Brooklyn, NY. Visit her at www.alisoncherrybooks.com or on Twitter @alison_cherry.

 

LIZA KANE 

Liza Kane:: my long-time friend and critique partner whose writing process *impressively* involves writing her novels by hand ::

Liza Kane is a coffee addict and an unrepentant nerd who manages a business in her spare time. She writes speculative fiction to find a productive outlet for the random trivia floating around in her head, and to justify her English Literature degree to her parents. You can find her at http://lizakane.me/ or on Twitter @lizakane.

Work Hard, Rest Hard.

8 May

I’m home from DFWCon, which means my whirlwind month-of-AWESOME has come to a close. Between a workshop led by one of my favorite authors, an out-of-state trip to visit family, and a weekend spent hanging out with new and long-loved writer friends…well, I’m a little tired.

Factor in the emotional highs (“They like my project!”) and lows (“My query needs pruning, just like most people’s! Epic sadface! I wanted PERFECTION ON THE FIRST TRY!!!”)—and the fact that I’ve spent every free minute working on my project for longer than I can remember—it’s more accurate to say I’m a lot tired.

I’ve been thinking about one of the tips Corey and I shared in our class on Saturday:

Work hard, rest hard.

It’s not easy.

Here’s what I want to do: get up at 5:30 every morning, like I often do, and work until my baby gets up at 8. Pore over notes from the awesome classes this weekend, read craft books until my eyes bleed. (I could do without the eyes-bleeding part, but you get the picture.) Dive back into my manuscript and—*waves magic wand*—infuse it with BRILLIANCE.

And I will do all of those things.

But not yet.

Here’s what I’m going to do:

STEP ONE: Sleep. Because I must. I’ve fallen asleep at 9pm for two nights in a row, and it has been absolutely glorious. My body, my mind, my heart: they need to be re-set before I go pushing them to their limits again. And, oh, will I push them, because writing a novel takes discipline and dedication.

STEP TWO: I’m going to read—*gasp!*—for fun. I’m a very all-or-nothing reader. Once I get into a book, my writing discipline tends to go out the window. Over time, I’ve learned I have to be purposeful about not starting a book when I’m trying to meet a deadline. It’s been a couple of months since I’ve had a reading week, so this week, I’m chilling with books. Other people’s books. (Specifically: two Sara Zarr books + SERAPHINA + ELEANOR AND PARK.) I am always inspired when I read knock-your-socks-off books, and these come highly recommended.

STEP THREE: Enjoy my family. My husband and I tend to get excited about our projects, so much so that our evenings are, like, brew a pot of coffee and work-work-work. (He’s creating this amazing website for writers—it’s a social media site for writers to track their goals and progress while connecting with others who are doing the same thing.) While I’m sure we’ll still do a bit of work, it’s nice to be more relaxed about it. I’ve been a little too set-the-timer-and-FOCUS militant, lately. Balance is a good thing.

After all of these things, I will (*hopefully*) be well-rested and ready to dive back in to working on my project. A concept I’ve been dwelling on lately, in regards to rest, is this:

Rest to be restored, not to disengage.

Though I’m taking a break from the actual work of shaping words into a complete novel, I’m not disengaging my mind. Quality sleep, enjoying life with friends and family, reading to be inspired—these things are all so, so important when it comes to nurturing our craft. My project-specific ideas will be simmering on a back-burner during all of this. When it’s time to sit back down to work, I’ll be refreshed and restored, ready to FINISH this thing.

And I am excited.

A Whirlwind of Exciting Things

3 May

Life has been a whirlwind lately, and it isn’t slowing down today: in just over two hours, I’ll be sipping a latte as Corey Wright—friend and crit partner extraordinaire—and I head up to the DFW Writers’ Conference. This will be my third year attending, and Corey’s second.

Two years ago, I had barely come out of that first-trimester-of-pregnancy brain fog, and was lucky to be vertical.

#twitterbloc

Last year’s group of #Twitterbloc girls at DFWCon ❤

Last year, I was still living through the sleep-deprived newborn phase of things, and was mostly excited to meet my ten(ish?) close Twitter friends (collectively known as #Twitterbloc) in person.

This year? I’m excited about a lot of things.

I’m excited because my manuscript-reading commitments slowed down last fall, and I’ve been on an insanely productive writing streak ever since. I’m excited about the project I’ll be pitching, which is feeling quite solid, tentatively titled OF STARSHINE AND ASHES (synopsis here, if you’re curious).

Also exciting? I’m fresh off of an incredible workshop experience at The Writing Barn in Austin, Texas, led by the talented and über-amazing Sara Zarr (author of HOW TO SAVE A LIFE and THE LUCY VARIATIONS—which comes out on Tuesday—along with several other books you’ll want to add to your to-read list). If you ever have the opportunity to attend anything at The Writing Barn, I suggest you do it—I’ve attended a lecture and a workshop now, and both have been wonderful. After this whirlwind month settles down, I plan to write a whole post devoted to the Sara Zarr workshop experience. Suffice it to say, for now, I came out of the weekend with my tool kit brimming over with the wisdom and encouragement people kept putting inside it.

Aside from seeing some of my #Twitterbloc girls again—and a long-time in-person friend who’s gotten pretty serious about writing ever since I moved away (WHY DID I MOVE?!)—I’m looking forward to DFWCon because there are lots of classes I think will be useful to me. And—*gulp*—Corey and I are actually going to lead one of them.

If you’re at the conference, our class is called 60 Tips in 60 Minutes, and it’ll be a mix of presentation and participation, covering tips on how to stay organized, motivated, and disciplined while working on your various projects. We’ll also spend time on creative ways to use tools like Scrivener (and good old-fashioned index cards and post-its!) for drafting and revision. If you’re at the conference, our class is at 4:30 on Saturday afternoon, Room 6! We’d love to meet you.

Well. It seems I can’t avoid packing forever, so off I go! Can’t wait to see old friends, meet new ones, and pack even more stuff into my writerly tool kit. Happy writing and reading to you all!

What A Year!

18 Oct

Friends! It’s been a while, no? While it’s been fabulous (and sanity-saving!) to keep up with many of you through Twitter, I figured it was about time I updated my lovely little blog again.

I’ve spent most of my unclaimed-by-baby-or-meal-making time doing one of four things: reading published novels, critiquing unpublished novels, working on my own projects, and investing in friendships with other writers. I highly recommend all of these, especially if you are trying to become a stronger writer—I’ve learned so many things over the past year!

Reading published novels sometimes feels like you’re just relaxing, especially if you’ve created lofty goals and deadlines for yourself. It’s such a valuable use of time, though! For one, there’s bound to be at LEAST one book that totally floors you by its ability to stir your emotions, for the way the writing looks so effortless. (Deceptively so, of course.) That book, for me, was R.J. Palacio’s WONDER. There are also bound to be books you don’t have as strong a connection with; this is also valuable, because it shows just how subjective this industry is. What works well for you doesn’t always work for someone else, and vice versa.

Critiquing unpublished works, for me, is an invaluable experience. It is SO MUCH FUN for me to work my way through projects and take an objective look at what’s on the page. It’s like a puzzle for my brain to figure out what works, what doesn’t, and what would make the story even stronger—even if it’s already super strong. Then, there’s communicating all of that in a tactful, succinct way, all while walking the fine line of my-opinion-is-valid-but-it’s-not-the-only-opinion-out-there. Critiquing the work of others not only helps me come back to my own projects with fresh eyes, but also with the ability to more quickly spot problems of all sorts (and their solutions).

Working on my own projects: my progress has been steady, but slow. Creating something of my own takes a different sort of energy than analyzing something created by someone else—I find it’s sometimes hard to focus in a way that’s conducive to creating when my writing time is limited to 45 or 60 minutes at a time (thanks to Jamesbaby’s not-so-long naps). I’m learning, though. I think the key is to use whatever limited time I have to its fullest, and then to think specifically, when I do. If I try to attack my entire to-do list all at once, it’s daunting and overwhelming. Instead, I bite off exactly what I think I can chew in 45 minutes, chew it, and then pick up in the same way whenever I next get the chance. Nothing too revolutionary in that approach, but it can be surprisingly difficult to implement. As for the projects themselves, two (out of the many in my head) are coming together quite nicely. I’ve updated my PROJECTS page to reflect what they’re about, if you are curious.

Investing in friendships with other writers: oh, man. This is another one that might, on the surface, seem like just a fun thing to do that gets in the way of actual writing. But…no. I’ve found some other writers who are committed to their goals—writers who are consistently working toward those goals—and the energy is contagious. Someone is bound to be feeling super motivated, which comes in handy because someone is also bound to be feeling completely overwhelmed. I’ve learned so much, and have felt abundant motivation and encouragement, from the girls I’ve come to know through Twitter (collectively known as #twitterbloc—it takes up less space in a tweet than tagging everyone).

So! That, in a nutshell, is where I’ve been all year. I haven’t abandoned my writing goals, not even close—it’s just that those things have taken all my creative energy, and all my free time. It’d be nice to start blogging more regularly again, but I’ll probably have to ease back into it since my free time is still pretty limited (and since I’m still doing all the things I mentioned in this post). Thanks for sticking with me, sweet friends! *hugs*

Writing! Whee!

12 Jan

Oh, man. This whole writing-a-novel-while-being-a-full-time-mom thing? Not easy.

But you knew that already.

New Year’s Resolutions work well for me, though, so despite the fact that I have next to no time to myself these days—and the fact that my trusty MacBook’s battery decided up and keel over—I’ve managed to make consistent progress on my draft. I expect, now that my new BFF (read: supershiny MacBook Air) has arrived, I’ll be able to add even more words. Add to those things the encouraging feedback a friend gave me recently, and I’m super-motivated to finish the draft.

So. This is just a quick little post to check in and say YAY I’M WRITING AGAIN AND YAY IT’S GOING WELL AND AHHHHHHHH. Ahem.

How are your New Year’s resolutions holding up so far?

It’s A New Year.

1 Jan

Today.

It’s a new day, a new week, a new month, a new year.

It’s a day I’ve had in mind for months: the day I START FRESH with my writing goals—and blogging. Now that I have a four-month-old (and, subsequently, four entire months of oooooooh-this-is-how-this-motherhood-thing-works under my belt) and have reasonable expectations as far as how writing and motherhood might work together, I am SO EXCITED!

So, what am I doing blogging about it?

Well. Asking you all to keep me accountable, for one, and two? Saying hi. Because I’ve missed you.

Coffee: procured. Awesome sweatshirt + knee-high knitted sock-boot thingies: on my body. Peace and quiet: yes and yes. Motivation: heck yeah.

Here we go.

Crit partners, expect me to be (rather energetically) imposing my LET’S-GO-WE-CAN-DO-THIS-FRESH-START-YAY attitude upon you in the near future. Because I can’t do this without you guys. (Okay, well, I could. But it would take much longer, and wouldn’t be as much fun, and my work would not be its best, because you guys? TOTALLY ROCK.)

Okay. Shutting up now. Fingers to keyboard…and…go.

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