Writing At Night, When the Juices Flow (Second Draft Journal #4)

I seem to have a problem…

Nowadays, I only feel comfortable writing at night.

I noticed this habit forming during summer, but didn’t really do anything about it. Now that school has started and the hours available to be to write are significantly limited by unavoidable factors, my own consciousness cutting down on those hours based on some irrational desire to write when it’s dark out is becoming detrimental. And annoying, because I often have time during the afternoons (on light homework days or weekends) when I could be writing, but something holds me back.

Part of the reason is that the afternoon is more social for me. I’m more likely to be spending time with my family in the afternoon, rehashing what happened at school, watching TV, playing cards, or just wasting time together. I cherish the time I spend with my family (even if we’re just enjoying a TV show together). Since writing is a solitary activity that requires a lot of focus (verses some of my homework, which I can have conversations while doing), I won’t pick up my WIP if the rest of my family is socializing.

There is also the unavoidable fact that homework and studying take time. I try to get it out of the way when I get home from school (though I give myself around an hour of relaxation and eating time in between), so that I have the nights to relax or to get ahead, but I don’t always succeed. And sometimes, homework just fills up the entire night, leaving me no time for writing. (I’m a light-weight when it comes to staying up late, and I have to be in bed by 10:30/11 or I’m a zombie the next morning.)

But I think there is something else going on, and I’m wondering if anyone else has experienced this. During the day, I tend to feel self-conscious about my writing, as if someone is looking over my shoulder (even if they really aren’t). At night, especially when the rest of my family is sleeping, that self-consciousness falls away and my writing gets freer.

I also like the way that tired-ness affects my writing; sometimes it helps me “loosen up.” I’m not saying that full-on exhaustion helps me write (I already admitted how horrible I am with sleep-deprivation), but when I’m slightly tired, I worry less about every word I put down on the page and focus more on getting into the rhythm of the story. While this leaves me with some inelegant sentences, I ultimately value making progress in my story over agonizing over writing perfect sentences the first time around.

Getting to the end of the day also clicks my brain out of “school mode” and into a mindset where I feel closer to the story that I’m writing (oh my God that sounds so cheesy). I’m no longer worrying about school–I know all of my homework is done and that I’m ready for the next day–and I can finally relax into thinking about my personal projects. Additionally, because I make a habit of thinking about my WIP when I fall asleep, I think this has over time built up a Pavlov’s dog-type reaction to being tired and wanting to write.


Have any of you dealt with this? Does writing ever make you feel self-conscious? When do you feel comfortable writing?

Do you have a routine that you stick to, or do you just try to fit writing into whatever pockets of time you find (like me)? Do you have any advice for breaking this habit or forming a better one?

P.S. I wrote this blog post at night. It felt apropos. 

4 Ways to Stay Motivated During a Hectic Life (Second Draft Journal #3)

Second Draft Journal is a series of posts in which I randomly discuss things that occur to me during my process of writing my second draft of my WIP. Today I’m tackling how I make sure I stay motivated.

Staying motivated. It’s a broad topic. Everyone has their own tips. Here are some ways that I’m kept myself feeling good about writing and itching to sit down and write, even if my hectic school schedule doesn’t allow me the time.

SDJ staying motivated

1. “High Scores”

So I talked a while back about the spreadsheet I keep in which I track how many words I write per day. The spreadsheet itself is a useful motivation tool–it gives me a kick in the pants when I haven’t written in a while, and it challenges me to sit back down and write more when I realize that I only added 900-ish words in a day.

Recently, I took it a step further and decided to keep track of my “high score”–the most words I’ve written in a day, to date. Right now my high score is 4,071 words. I know that’s pretty low in the grand scheme of things, but if I write that many words (or get close) I’m proud of myself.

What I specifically like about the high score motivation tactic is that it is a pleasing balance of motivating without being a lot of pressure. I know that not every day that I sit down to write will be a high score-setting day, but when I can tell that I’m on a role and the words are flowing well, the high score pushes me to stay in the chair for a little while longer and hit a new “best.”

2. Monthly Word Count Goals

I’ve also set myself a goal of adding at least 10,000 words to my WIP a month. For August, I’ve already achieved this (13,000, like what?!), but I know I’ll still keep writing. I like that the goal is low enough that if I have a rough month, I can still accomplish it, but that I still want to keep writing after I achieve it. The goal of getting higher and higher above that baseline monthly target will keep me motivated.

3. Reading Just Enough Writing Advice to Keep My Head in the Game

I wrote a post a little while ago about the debilitating effect that reading other people’s writing advice can have on my self-confidence. While this can still trip me up, I make sure that I expose myself to writing advice fairly regularly. Whether it is a random pin that comes up in my Pinterest feed or a Chuck Wendig post, I make sure to check out writing advice blog posts when they cross my path. I tend not to spend a lot of time reading them–just glancing at the main headings and skimming the paragraphs. This way, I get a dose of writing advice that keeps me thinking about writing and that points me in the right direction, but I don’t get bogged down in specifics or self-doubt. Other times, when I have more downtime, I’ll go back and really focus on the writing advice that I found, sometimes taking notes or bookmarking especially great pieces.

Reading other people’s writing advice gives me confidence (if I’m already doing what was suggested), makes me think (in a good way), or helps me find my way through a rough patch (like a scene or a relationship that I can’t quite make work). Making sure I read posts like that regularly keeps my head in the writing game.

4. Fall Asleep Thinking About My Story

I find it is much easier to sit down and write a scene that I have already run through in my head a few times. I usually do this while I’m falling asleep, playing out different ways a scene could happen, playing with character reactions and personalities. It gives me something to think about, and distracts me from anything that is stressing me out–my WIP is kind of a happy place for me. Making sure that I think about what is coming up next in my story (or just a part of the plot that I need to develop further) when I’m falling asleep also connects my WIP to my daily life, even if I didn’t write that day. Often, if a writer goes a long time without writing, it is hard to come back to the story; I’ve found that keeping the story close by when I’m not writing makes it easier to come back. 


How do you stay motivated? Have you tried any of these methods?

Balancing Blogging and Writing (Second Draft Journal #2)

I’m starting a series of posts called my Second Draft Journal. It’s nothing fancy, just a collection of posts inspired by and following my progress as I write the second draft of my novel, Devil May Care. I’ll talk about everything from writer’s block to character development, but today I’m focusing on how being a blogger affects me as a fiction writer.

paperwork
ever feel like this?

I love being a blogger. I like that it is an easy outlet for writing and that I get to be a part of a reader/writer community.

However, as I’m working on my second draft of my WIP, I can’t help but notice that when I’m blogging, I’m not writing fiction. If I have a random pocket of time, I am much more likely to sit down and write a blog post (like this one) than commit myself to Devil May Care. Blogging is easier for me, and I can do it while watching TV (I’m rewatching an episode of Psych right now). If I’m writing my WIP, I’m really working hard to make my fiction writing strong. And that takes a lot more focus, energy, and commitment.

Especially during summer, focus, energy, and commitment are not exactly my bywords. Television multitasking is much more my style. So here’s my question: am I blogging too much, sort of using it as an excuse to avoid fiction writing? Where is the balance between blogging and writing?

I like that blogging gives me a break. If I have actually written during a day, blogging is a nice break that keeps my mind thinking about writing but also lets me relax. Blogging has helped me develop a conversational writing tone and pushed me to go outside my comfort zone occasionally. Blogging has an element of instant gratification and real-time feedback, which my WIP (which I keep fairly private) lacks. Blogging and fiction definitely work together positively in my mind, sort of a left/right brain interaction.

If you ask me if in five years, I’d rather be a successful blogger or a published fiction author, I’d say an author 100%. But I also know that I don’t want to stop blogging, and I like that I’ve kept myself committed to three posts a week.

Going forward for the rest of my summer (I only have like six weeks left! *crying*) I am going to try to make sure that however long I spend blogging, I match with fiction writing. Will I be able to do it every day? Probably not, to be honest. But I have to find a balance, and this seems like a good starting point. Does this mean I might have less blog posts, might read a few less books? Yes. But sometime  soon (eventually) I’m going to have to prioritize my fiction writing, and this summer is the right time.

What is the relationship between blogging and writing? To you writers out there, how do you balance your time blogging and your time writing?

Second Draft Journal #1: Now What?

Since December 2014, I’ve been working on the second draft of my work in progress, Devil May Care. It is a YA paranormal romance with a heavy dose of social commentary, based in a world where everyone is born with a devil on their shoulder, signifying them to embody one of thirteen sins.

I’ve written about my WIP in random posts on this blog since then, but now I’m starting a series of posts strictly dedicated to logging my journey to a second (and better) version of this novel. It’s called my Second Draft Journal and it will talk about everything from writers block to character arcs, from social commentary to plot development. Here’s the first installment.

After two months of not touching the word document “Devil May Care take 2” because of school and stress, I finally opened it back up. After I had a mini heart attack while I waited for all of the pages to load (I always feel like pages will randomly go missing), I started in on the arduous process of reacquainting myself with the 50,000 words I’d already written. This involved reading all 148 pages and creating a plot spreadsheet for myself to keep track of everything (something I had been too lazy to do earlier in the year). I’ve talked about using Excel to organize plots before; basically each cell is a scene and each row is a day. I also created a spreadsheet to keep track of my characters, and I brought back the one I was using to keep track of how many words I write a day.

words written
to keep track of words written
to keep track of characters
to keep track of characters

The plot chart is color-coded based on how much I liked each scene. Dark green is the best, dark red is the worst, lighter shades of each represent somewhere in between, and gray is for scenes I just don’t care about. I love that this gives me a visual layout of the areas of the book I need to fix and the areas where I hit a groove and everything works. Eventually I’ll copy the spreadsheet and color-code it by what each scene is about (which subplot it moves along), but right now I’m just trying to keep track of which scenes I like, which ones I hate, and which ones are just whatever.

spreadsheet 1
here are the first few days

Yes, I am a little crazy when it comes to excel. I never learned how to do math with it, but I know how to do this really well.

Then I made the mistake of using the comment feature on Excel to jot myself notes about what was wrong with the scenes I didn’t like. Some of these notes are constructive, reminding me of elements that could be added to certain scenes and reminding me of what needs to be fixed. Others reveal my fraying sanity. I’m basically talking to myself, asking questions that I don’t have the answer to and releasing my frustration:

  • Who the frick knows

  • Well written but is it too long??? GAH

  • maybe I like it maybe its awful — EMOTION SUCKS — ook

  • Is this foreshadowing or just giving it away???

Lots of question marks, not a lot of answers.

It took three days to get through all of what I’ve written. And now I face my real problem:

I have to start writing again.

And the scary thing is that tracking the colors of my spreadsheet, the quality of my writing has been steadily improving, which is what happens when you get into the habit of writing and get comfortable with your piece’s voice and start to gain some confidence. But I got out of that habit. Now I’ve got a blank page and the sick feeling that anything I write at this point will be noticeably shaky compared to what came before. Which is a confidence killer if ever there was one.

So I’m just staring at my computer, thinking, “Now what?”