Monthly Archives: January 2018

What About the Symphony?

I wasn’t going to post today, but I ran across an idea in my morning reading (quoted in Thrive by Arianna Huffington) that made me think–and that I thought might be helpful for others, as well.

“No one imagines that a symphony is supposed to improve in quality as it goes along or that the whole point of it is to reach the finale. The point of music is discovered in every moment of playing and listening to it. It is the same, I feel, with the greater part of our lives, and if we are unduly absorbed in improving them we may forget altogether to live them.”

-Alan Watts

Quite the idea to process while I was going over my plans for the day, setting my goals, and generally trying to take steps to improve my life. Does this mean we should let go with the idea of improving ourselves, our circumstances, our productivity (*cough*), or our lives?

I don’t think so. But it’s a great reminder to look at why I’m setting the goals I am, why I’m creating new habits, and why I’m putting so much damned work into making my days work for me instead of letting them slip away.

Because, as with so much of life, it’s about balance.

I don’t have a boss. Nobody’s going to fire me if I’m unproductive in the short term. Maybe that’s why it’s easy for me to let a day go by and feel like I’ve wasted it (especially if I’m in a bad place with social media or other things that seem enjoyable, but really add nothing to my life). That’s why I need a to do list, why I set my top three priorities for the day, why I get my work done before I play.

On the other hand, it’s also far too easy to buy into the self-improvement hype that says you can do anything and everything if only you believe in yourself… which really means you’re falling short if you’re not doing, having, and being it all (and posting it on Instagram, obviously). To focus so much on what we should be doing to better our lives that we never actually stop to reflect on how far we’ve come or to enjoy the benefits of all this improvement.

I mean, so many things that I do don’t seem like parts of a symphony. I meditate, but I often find the process uncomfortable. I work so hard on my writing that the fun bit where I’m making up stories for my own enjoyment is dwarfed by the analysis, the problem solving, the revisions, the editing, the learning about writing craft–things that can be rewarding in the end, but are often stressful in the moment (and don’t even get me started on marketing, bookkeeping, or taxes). I don’t enjoy telling my kids to get off their tablets and enduring their grumbling, and I don’t enjoy getting them to clean up after themselves when it would really be easier and less stressful to do it myself. I don’t enjoy cooking or cleaning at all. And playing with my schedule and tracking results was rather tedious.

Why not let it go?

Because though I don’t always enjoy this stuff in the moment, it improves my quality of life in general.

Meditation is helping me stay in the moment and is helping me distance myself from emotions and physical pain that might otherwise consume me. Improving my writing means a better experience for my readers, and it offers me immense satisfaction in knowing that I’m learning and growing (and all that other crap makes it possible for me to keep writing, because income to cover editing costs is rather essential). The effort I put into making my kids do things they don’t like is helping them establish habits that will help them (and me) in the long run. Cooking puts food on the table, and while I don’t like cleaning, I do like a clean house.

And as for improving my productivity, I’m happier when I’m getting stuff done, and everyone in this house is happier when I’m not stressed about deadlines that crept up while I was procrastinating. I like knowing that I’m doing my best.

…And none of that is me disagreeing with the quote. It’s why this idea is so important.

Because I do get caught up in it. I feel at times like every minute has to be well spent on working toward a goal or doing something productive. I tend to become unduly absorbed in improving my life.

At times I need to be reminded to stop and smell the damn roses. To appreciate the “fog happiness” that my work offers if only I take time to step away from the stresses and appreciate it.

To actually live the life I’m working so hard at.

Who I am and what I’m doing right now are important and worth enjoying all on their own. This moment and this day aren’t just steps toward some end goal, and what I’ve got now is pretty damned amazing.

Not every day has to be perfect. Blah days and down days and unproductive days are normal and fine. But taken as a whole, there’s a whole lot to appreciate, even in darker times.

I’m proud of the work I’ve done to get to where I am, and my life is immensely more satisfying than it was five years ago. I’ll keep working on improving what I can as needs arise.

But this morning, I added that quote to my bullet journal. I put it on the January “memories” page, on the back of my habit tracker and directly opposite the spot where I note my accomplishments for the month.

Because it’s easy to note the good stuff without really stopping to go, “Yes, I did a thing that improved my life. I did a favour for Future Me, and she’s going to be thrilled about it. I helped make someone else’s life better. I did something I couldn’t have imagined doing a year ago. I improved a relationship even though it felt awkward in the moment. I changed my world in some way.”

It’s easy for me to just jump into the next goal, to not stop to listen and enjoy the symphony as it plays, and to become unduly absorbed in the improvements as though there’s some end goal I’m racing for.

This moment, right now, even with all of its stresses and problems, is what I dreamed of just a few years ago. There’s no guarantee anything will last forever. Every symphony ends. I’m glad to have been reminded to appreciate mine while it lasts.

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Writing Process Evolution

Screenshot 2018-01-12 13.36.34

If you’ve been following posts on this blog for a while, you know I like to change things up. Experiment. See how I can tweak things to make my life easier.

I’m trying something new in my writing process that’s working pretty well so far, so I thought I’d write a quick post in case the idea is helpful to anyone else.

Why? Because I’m procrastinating. It’s Friday afternoon, I reached the end of a stage in this writing process yesterday, and the next step (outlining the rest of the series so I know this book is heading in the right direction) is looking rather daunting.

So here we go.

I’m a plotter/planner/outliner. I like to know my characters fairly well before I write, and I like to know where the story is going before I start. That doesn’t mean things can’t change a lot as I write, but it does mean I struggle less with figuring out what comes next, or with later having to cut or rewrite massive sections to achieve good story structure, tension, etc. It doesn’t work for everyone, but it does work for me.* If you’re a pantser who likes to dive into an idea and start writing without a map, this probably won’t apply to you… or maybe it will, come to think of it. Read on.

I usually start with a solid outline. At the very least I’ll have my story structure beats pencilled in based on Save the Cat (Blake Snyder) and Story Engineering (Larry Brooks)–both books I’d recommend, though the former is definitely a faster and more fun read than the latter. For larger books I’m taking more time with, I’ll also dig into theme, character webs, and other helpful stuff with the help of The Anatomy of Story (John Truby). Then I’ll do my scene outlines on index cards, sketching out very quickly what will happen in the scene, and then I’ll start my first full draft.

What I’m doing this time is inspired partly by the Snowflake Method and partly by Monica Leonelle’s methods in Write Better, Faster (which I’m in the middle of right now).

In any case, what I’m doing is a step between the index cards and the first draft. I’m expanding on the notecards, writing out the full scene as I imagine it flowing in my mind, but it’s not first draft quality. It’s just me narrating what’s happening in the scene, throwing in dialogue, action beats, and anything else that comes clearly to mind that I might want to use later. Full sentences, full paragraphs, writing out full scenes and chapters for the full book, but it’s super quick.

The quick draft I just finished is about 26,000 words for a book that will likely come out between 80K and 90K words in its finished form.

Now, that’s still a lot of words. If this step was unnecessary, it would be a complete waste of time. Here’s why I did it:

By writing out the story quickly, I built momentum that kept me writing quickly–and thanks to the notes I’d already made and the planning I’d done, it was efficient, too. Not a whole lot of having to stop and think about what comes next or slowing down to make sure I was phrasing things correctly. I had a 6800 word day on Wednesday (writing for 4 hours), which is unheard of for me. I was writing six scenes a day instead of one.

And now that I have this not-quite-a-draft, I can look it over and see issues that weren’t visible at all in the index card stage, but that I would otherwise have needed to correct after the first draft–after I’d already invested a lot more time and word count into scenes that would need to be rewritten. Or they’d be the issues that stopped me in my tracks during that first draft, slowing me down and discouraging me when that’s the last thing I need.

My hope is that this extra step will ultimately save me time. My first full draft will actually be a revision draft, with the major bumps (mostly related to character motivation) ironed out for me, so this could save me a lot of revisions after the first draft/before my crit readers see the book. And actually writing the draft should go quickly, too, because I’ll have my scenes laid out already. I’ll be able to enjoy exploring the dialogue, descriptions, and all the other fun stuff without having to stop and bang my head against the wall because I’m running into plot and character issues I didn’t see coming.

And as an added, unanticipated bonus, this quick draft has got me REALLY excited about writing these scenes in full and seeing how the notes I’ve made play out when my amazing characters step into the driver’s seat. I’m able to make sure that I’m excited about all of them, which means (ideally) that they’ll also be scenes readers will be excited to read. I can see whether there are laggy bits and correct them now, before I’m invested in them or feeling too lazy to want to change things up.

So there you go. This is the first book I’m using this expanded outlining method on, but I’ve got high hopes for it and plan to use it again in the future. I already wish I’d thought of it for the project currently with my editor. It could have saved me a full rewrite… live and learn, right?

Have any tips of your own that help you save time and frustration in the writing process? Please leave them in the comments!

——

*I was a pantser, once upon a time. I’d like to just dive into a story to see where it goes again some day, but I find that for me planning a story is far more efficient, and I’m slow enough as it is. 🙂


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