How to Fit Writing Into Your Summer Schedule

How to Fit Writing into a Busy Schedule

When summer hits, writing often takes a backseat to vacations, playing with your kids, and keeping up with all the summer fun. Even if it’s hard to find time to write, you can still nurture your craft by gathering inspiration for your writing. And guess what? This counts as writing because you can't write if you have no ideas and no material.

Writing, contrary to popular opinion, doesn't happen by materializing words from your mind onto a blank page. It happens as you live your life, make observations, feel all the feelings, and pay attention to the stories around you.  Sitting down and putting it on paper is sort of the last step in the writing process actually.

This act of gathering (as I like to call it) can happen anywhere, at any time: chasing your toddler on the playground, folding laundry, visiting with your in-laws. The only thing that makes it gathering and not just regular life is you. What are you paying attention to? Are you looking for some kind of specific inspiration? Are you looking for ideas related to one story or just general ideas and inspiration?

Here are a few tips to make your gathering most effective:

1. In a small notebook, write down one plot hole, problem, character, etc... from your current WIP that you want to mull over. Then keep the notebook with you throughout your day and pay attention to opportunities to look for ideas or solutions to your problem.

2. Focus on gathering inspiration for specific things. Are you looking to write more natural dialogue? Listen to conversations in the park. Are you wanting to get better at descriptions? Practice describing things that you see as you drive or even as you do chores around your house.

3. At some point using the week, jot down your ideas and inspirations. It doesn't have to be long or fancy, just a few sentences about what your inspirations and ideas of the day or week were.  This will keep you focused on what you are gathering and help you remember those simple moments of inspiration you had.

Here are some other great ways to incorporate writing into a busy summer schedule:

- Write with your kids. Check out the post "How to Write a Story With Your Kid"for inspiration. You can also make maps of imaginary worlds (or real ones) with your kids. Use this time to have fun with your kids while getting in some of your own world building. See this postfor ideas.

- Take an intentional break from writing. Not writing isn't always a bad thing. Turning off the laptop, the guilt, and the spinning writing to do list in your head can actually help make you more productive during the writing session you manage to squeeze in. So set aside a few days or so to not write on purpose.

- Go on a writing retreat. Summer isn't just a break for the kids. It can also be a break for you. Schedule an in-town writing retreat for yourself at least once this summer. It can be as simple as spending a full day at your favorite coffee shop or as elaborate as a quiet hotel room all to yourself to write. Read this post, this post, and this post for inspiration.

XXXX

Struggle to fit writing into your schedule even when it isn't summer? I feel ya. That's why I created the Build Your Writing Life Course. It runs August 1st, 2018-August 31st, 2018. For more info, click here.

 

Why {And How} You Should Use Structure in Your Writing

Why and How You Should Use Structure in Your Writing

Pantsers, you should probably cover your ears and close your eyes and step away from the computer. Everyone else, lean in a little bit. I want to tell you a secret I learned in the last year: structure is your friend. Please don't confuse structure with formula. I don't expect you to use plot or nonfiction "formulas" in your writing. But you do need to give structure some thought if you want a finished project that can hold water.

One of my favorite writing quotes is from editor-turned-literary-agent Susan Rabiner. As an agent, she found that the biggest issue with submissions she received often wasn't writing quality, but conceptualization, which she defined as "the value added by the author to what is essentially a set of facts, stories, and commentary in search of a larger meaning. To conceptualize is to link these facts, stories, and commentary to a compelling point." In other words, they lacked structure.

“Part of the problem'" she writes, "is that we have all been trained to think about crafting books in terms of writing. Conceptualization is about thinking.”

With that in mind, take some time to collect resources and inspiration for structuring your project (see the tools section below for some links!). If you are writing a nonfiction essay, it might be organized based on a logical writing structure. If you are writing fiction, it might be a planning method such as Story Grid, Story Genius, or  Robert McKee's Principles of Story (if you haven’t picked one yet, do Story Genius--it’s my fave). If you’re writing a memoir, you might use the Hero's Journey outline.

Or you might chuck it all out the window and create your own unique structure (which is completely fine by the way).

The point is, make a map for your story. Otherwise it’s way too easy to get lost.

Activity

1. Get out butcher paper and markers.

2. Put on some music, pour yourself a drink, and pull out all your story notes.

3. Draw out the structure of your story. Use words, lines, pictures. Base it on an image (this is my story ladder, my story is shaped like a pie, my story is like a braid with three parts, etc...) or just map it out like an old-fashioned timeline.

4. As you draw/write/list/etc... add in details from BOTH your plot (what happens externally) and your character (what happens internally).

5. Reflect. How does it look? Is it messier than you thought? Is there a clear structure and order? Can you label anything about your structure? Is it chronological? Cause and effect? Where does your structure start to get muddy and lose shape? Can you identify why that happens?

Want some tools to help you figure this structure thing out? Gotcha covered.

- Tools for structuring nonfiction: This post on visualizing the personal essay and this one on using structure in memoir.

- Tools for structuring fiction: This post about using simple question to move your plot forward (and to make sure that everything happens for a reason), this post about using character backstory, this post about how to find a structure for your novel.

- You should also check out these seven tips for structuring your book and this post about how to structure your novel in five minutes (a bit proscriptive, but still really helpful especially if you have a floppy plot).

XXXX

Want more awesome tips like this delivered straight to your inbox every month? Click here to join the Inklings -- and get access to the Inkling Secret Library complete with resources created just for you by yours truly (stuff you won't find anywhere else on the internet, I shwears).
 

Dear Doubt, I Know Your Secret

Letter to Doubt From a Writer

Dear Doubt,

As I sit down to write this letter, you are already trying to take over. You want to sit and type up a matter-of-fact document that clearly delineates why I can’t and shan’t be a writer, like a pessimistic version of Oh the Places You’ll Go.

Your story is cliché.

You will never actually finish it, so don’t even bother getting your hopes up about publication.

You don’t know what you are doing.

No one cares about what you write.

This is what you are telling me, with gusto, all while I’m sitting here trying to write YOU a letter. It’s quite rude actually, and really distracting.

Doubt, you get the floor a lot. You belly up to the microphone and share how you see me and what you think of me and what failures you see happening in my future.

But it’s my turn now and I’m going to tell you how I see you. I see you for what you really are. I see you rustling up some bravado, some cruelty and certainty, and I know that it’s all a front. You are critical and harsh and determined because you actually care about me. 

Doubt, I think you love me. 

You want to protect me from the harshness of the world, so you try hard to get there first. You want to make sure I succeed, so you kick down any idea that might cause me to fail.

You don’t mean to tear down my confidence, stifle my dreams, and bring me to tears. 

You mean to keep me safe.

So I guess, to my infinite surprise, this is a thank you letter. Thank you for looking out for me. Thank you for trying so hard to protect me and showering me with tough (I mean, really, really tough) love. Thank you for constantly grabbing me back when you thought I was inches from DEATH and DOOM and DISAPPROVAL (heaven forbid).

But you don’t need to do that anymore. Here, take a seat. Hold my hand. I’m serious, Doubt. You can take a breath. I know you will be with me always and it helps to know that you bring the crazy from a kind heart. But I’m fine. I’m going to be okay. I can take the disapproval, the failure, and the disappointment. 

I can handle it far better than I can handle inaction, shriveling dreams, and a life unlived.

So have a cup of tea and look at these vacation brochures. I’m going to keep writing and keep helping other writers tell the best story they can.

Is it all going to be okay? Sure. Absolutely. 

And even if it isn’t, I’m okay with that too. I promise.

With love,

Ashly

XXXX

Want to finally face your doubt? Sign up for the Build Your Writing Life Course  where we will have a nice little sit down chat with your doubt and get you on your way to creating a writing routine that lasts. You can join the interest list here. (Course launches August 1st!)

Letter to Doubt, From a Writer -- Writing Quote

Build Your Writing Life Course

Create a Writing Habit that Lasts

NEWS FLASH! I'm launching a course called Build Your Writing Life: Creating a Sustainable Writing Habit. This course is for you if you are tired of--

 

- Always saying you want to write, but never actually writing

- Unsure how to fit writing in with kids, a full time job, being an adult, and having a life

- Exhausted from the ongoing battle you fight with your inner critic every time you write anything

Sound like you? I've been there friend! This course will help you: 

- Find time in your schedule to actually write (without making yourself miserable by waking up at 5 in the morning and giving up TV)

- Overcome the inner critic that degrades and demoralizes you every time you write

- Create a writing habit that is about more than just sitting down and plugging out words until you hit a certain word count

Want to build your writing life with me? Get on the interest list here. (Pricing and official release date to be announced shortly!) 

 

Four Things You MUST Include in Your First Draft

Four Things You MUST Include in Your First Draft

The idea is spinning through your brain, itching to spill out of your fingers. You are all ready to begin plugging away at your first draft, getting that story on paper and making it come alive. You just want to write! (Like that one guy in Monty Python and the Holy Grail who just wanted to SINGGGGG!)

But, as I mentioned in an earlier post, sometimes we get a little lost when writing a first draft and waste time fixing minor plot holes and adding in lovely descriptions, when the truth is these aren’t really important at this stage in the writing process.

So what is important in your first draft? If imagery, details, and pretty prose don’t matter, what does?  

I’m so glad you asked. These are the four most important elements to nail in your first draft if you possibly can.

Character Development

Your characters must live and breathe on the page. However you decide to give your character’s depth (as you write or through extensive planning) you must know what your characters want, what makes them tick, and what tainted views of the world they carry (see my post about character here).

Another important aspect of character development is how they change over the course of the story and how that big pivotal moment at the end of the story reveals that change. There are a ton of great resources available to help you plan your character and dig into their past--just make sure you avoid the ones that ask you lots of random questions and focus on the ones that ask you to delve into your characters flaws, misbeliefs, past wounds, and present world view (Lisa Cron has great resources for doing this).

Cause and Effect Chain Within Your Plot

While it’s great to use the first draft to figure out what happens, this can leave the draft very flat. Instead of writing tons of words leading up to a finale you didn’t know was coming (and so couldn’t properly build toward), sketch out the trajectory of your plot before hand and make sure that one event leads to another. This will prevent the many (many) detours that inevitably try to happen as you write the first draft. It will also actually help give you inspiration as you start to see how events dovetail off each other to create other events and so drive your story on with a great force and purpose.

Context

It sounds simple, but especially in the early pages of your draft, you want to make sure you are grounding your scenes (and therefore your reader) in space and time. Where and when is your story taking place? Earth? 1215? 3201? Texas? Maine? You don’t need to do this overtly (Once upon a time, on planet earth, in the year 3202…) but you can do it through setting and other “context clues” (remember that word from sixth grade?!). Even if it's a little awkward and clunky (it IS a first draft here), it's important to get it in the draft from the beginning.

A Story Point

Last but not least, you want to make sure that your first draft includes a strong story point --one point that all of your story builds toward. With a strong story point, your plot, character, and theme all work toward developing this one point, giving the reader a strong and satisfying climax and resolution.

What is a story point? It is like theme but bigger. It ties together elements from character, plot, and theme, like lines stretching toward the same point on the horizon. It is the inevitable plot point that your story has been building toward from the beginning (Harry facing Voldemort for the last time, Frodo at Mount Doom, or Darcy proposing to Elizabeth for the second time), the moment where the changes your character has experienced are fully tested (Has Harry learned enough to defeat Voldemort? Will Frodo be able to let the ring go? Has Elizabeth learned the faults in her own heart?), and the concluding nail in the coffin of your theme, all leaving the reader with the feeling of a conclusive, decisive point that story has been working toward.

While it’s unlikely that your first draft will have all of these elements perfectly layered in right away, it’s important to at least have this goal on the horizon so when you sit down to revise, you are fine tuning your story point instead of trying to add it in.

In summary, there are plenty of minor details that you can completely ignore while writing your first draft, but these four are where you want to spend your energy for that first draft. If you get these down on paper even moderately well, your revisions will be infinitely easier and your draft inevitably stronger, no matter how many typos, awkward transitions, or rough conversations you have in your draft.

XXXX

Want more helpful resources? Sign up to join the tribe (and become an official inkling)! You will get a monthly toolkit, instant access to the Inkling Secret Library, and first access to courses and other offerings. 

 

Three Things You Don't Need to Worry About While Writing Your First Draft

Three tings you don't need to worry about while writing your first draft

Drafting is difficult. (Even drafting blog posts. I've written and rewritten this sentence like five times already. Grrrr.) Unfortunately, drafting is made even more difficult by the extra expectations we put upon ourselves (like getting it all right on our first try --- wuttt?)

I know both sides of this stress. I've been on the side of writing the draft and on the side of editing the draft. So it is with a kind, compassionate desire to make your drafting load lighter that I present to you three things you absolutely DO NOT need to worry about while writing your first draft.

#1: Don't worry about spelling, grammar, and typos.

This might sound so obvious, but many writers (and their extra-helpful beta readers, friends, and family members) forget this and want to start nitpicking these minor things right away. The reality is that a first draft is only about figuring out the big story parts: plot, character, conflict, world building, POV. It doesn't matter if you're typing like a parrot and yer words cokm out like this. As long as the big parts are falling together, you are on the right track.

So, turn off your micro editor for good while you write your first draft. And if you are asking people to read your work, make sure you tell them that you aren't looking for that kind of feedback. Otherwise, you will get lots of feedback that literally gets deleted because when you go to revise your draft, you are pulling out sentences and paragraphs and even chapters like weeds. So that one typo on page three doesn't matter. At all.

#2: Don't worry about making your writing beautiful.

Don't pay attention to your tone, your imagery, your sentence fluency. (Whaaatttt??? Did she just say that???) Yes, I did. It matters so very little at this stage how your words sound because all the most beautiful sounding words in the world can't tell a good story if they don't have a good story skeleton to build on.

Let's run with that metaphor in fact, because I think it's a good one to keep in mind. A first draft is all about the story bones. But often writers throw a few skeleton pieces in there and then start layering on muscles, nerves, and skin, only to have the story collapse in a bloody heap. (Sorry, that got gross.)

But you see my point: A first draft is about building out a strong foundation for your story. It's not about the other things that make your story worth reading, like lovely prose and captivating imagery. All that comes later. For now, build that skeleton out as strong and intricately woven together as you can make it. You will add in the rest during later revisions.

#3: Transitions between scenes and chapters.

While it might be lovely to describe a spring day in the opening scene of chapter three, you don't need to include that in your first draft. Why? For all the same reasons mentioned above: 1. It doesn't contribute to the story bones. 2. You might change the time of year during one of your revisions and end up deleting it. 3. You might get lost in a lengthy description and waste time writing fluff that gets cut out later.

Basically, it's nice to sit down and write whatever comes into your head, but unless you want that story road kill we discussed earlier, save yourself the time and skip straight to the part where you write about the characters, the conflict, and the action of the story.

****

Hopefully knowing that you don't have to worry about these things will free you up to focus on what really matters as you write your first draft. And if you are wondering what exactly SHOULD be in your draft, you are in luck because I am writing about that next week!

In the meantime, if you want more helpful tips (and free printable worksheets), you can join the tribe here and get access to the Inkling Secret Library.

Three things you don't need to worry about while writing your first draft