Posted in books, characters, creative writing, reading, writing, writing advice, writing thoughts, writing tips

Writing and tortillas and putting in the work

I love to cook and bake, but I’m not the greatest at following recipes. I was in the kitchen with my mom from an early age, and most of the time I really don’t think I need to read the entire recipe (especially if it’s in a blog post that gives the entire history of a dish before getting to the actual recipe). I’m also not very good at planning ahead, so I often have to make substitutions and rush recipes (like not letting things rise for the full amount of time).

2020-03-22 18.05.01

With New Mexico being under a stay-at-home order, I’ve been working from home and have had more time to prepare meals most days. So, I’ve been making an extra effort to plan ahead and follow the recipe more closely.

I’ve made tortillas a few times, usually from a mix, but with the shortages at the grocery stores right now, I ended up making some from scratch. I followed the recipe to the letter, including kneading it for the full amount of time (which I almost never do). They were the best tortillas I’ve ever made!

2020-03-22 19.06.28

What does this have to do with writing?

Writers often feel pressured to get the next book out as as soon as possible to keep readers attention. Some say that writers need to release something every 90 days. This can lead to lower quality writing due to rushing, skipping steps, or not preparing well enough.

A recent book club I led for work featured a contemporary romance from a fairly well-known author with a big backlist and a lot of followers. The group was pretty much unanimous at the end of the reading session that this book suffered from the three problems I just mentioned. The characters were often flat and unrealistic. The story never really seemed to go anywhere because there was a lack of real conflict, and many of the scenes felt like filler used to make the target length.

While it is important to produce consistently, quality is more important. Whether in baking or writing, prepare, don’t rush, and don’t skip the steps it will take to make a project a success.

  • Characters need fleshed out backstories and motivations
  • Every chapter needs conflict
  • Conflict should build to the climax and mean something to the reader
  • Outline or storyboard to make sure you have enough content for the word count or end it when the story dictates
  • A storyline should compel readers by making important promises to the reader at the beginning and fulfilling those promises by the end
  • Don’t rely on readers  “buying anything you write” just because they’re fans

Putting in the work for a story is just as important as it is for a meal if you want to produce something people will love. The tortillas, paired with the fish my husband made, were definitely a success!

2020-03-22 19.17.14

 

Posted in books, writing, writing tips

Improving organization and productivity for writers

Staying organized as a freelance writer can be very challenging! Here are a few tips for improving organizational skills, as well as some apps you might find useful for keeping your writing life on track.

Death_to_stock_photography_Wake_Up_9

  1. Remove distractions. A writer may have all the talent in the world, but if they can’t stay focused and meet deadlines and actually complete projects, it skill won’t matter. Silence your phone, put your computer in airplane mode to limit trips to Facebook and other distracting sites, makes notes about what you may need to look up or attend to later.
  2. Plan your day according to priority and physical needs (and BE REALISTIC). Deadlines come first, but how you reach them can make a big difference in your productivity and stress levels. Make a list of the task (writing and life) you need to complete that day, order them according to priority, and set realistic goals. Be realistic with your schedule and don’t overbook yourself. Then, consider when you work best and will have the least amount of distractions or interruptions. Create a schedule and make others aware of your schedule. Working from home doesn’t mean you’re not “at work.”
  3. Prepare ahead of time. Before you sit down to your scheduled writing time, make sure you have everything you need. If a story element needed to be researched, that should be taken care of in its own time slot prior to writing time. If Laundry needs to be started because you have to attend an event that evening, take care of it and schedule breaks to switch loads as needed. Reading assignments (with notes) should be scheduled during downtime when it doesn’t interfere or disrupt writing time. If something comes up during writing time that should have been done beforehand, make a note to schedule it for later and don’t switch tasks unless absolutely necessary.
  4. Wait to edit. Writing time and editing time need to be kept separate. Editing while writing slows down the process and keeps the focus on small details rather than character or story development. Make a note if you need to come back to something, but keep writing in the moment/
  5. Keep notes and refer back to them. Instead of breaking from a task because you remembered something or had a new idea, keep a notebook or note app on hand and make a note about new tasks or ideas. Review them at the end of your work day or writing session and add the new items to the schedule for the next day or week ahead.
  6. Keep a consistent schedule. Research has shown that we can train our minds to better focus on specific tasks if we do them at consistent times. Life happens, of course, but the more you can routinize your writing schedule, the easier it will be to get into “writing mode” and the more productive you’ll be.
  7. Schedule breaks. Don’t forget to give yourself time to clear your mind and breathe. Even if it’s just ten minutes to refresh your coffee or walk to the mailbox and get some fresh air, you need to give your mind and body an occasional rest. The longer your mind focuses on one task without a break, the more tired it gets. The longer your body stays stationary, the more it affects your physical, mental, and emotional well-being. Research recommends at least a 10 minutes break every two hours, with longer meal breaks.

DeathtoStock_Desk8

Apps to try

  • MindNode (iOS) $10: visually map out thoughts/storylines
  • The Brainstormer (iOS) $2: exercises to help with writer’s block
  • Pomodoro Timer (iOS and Android): time management for writers to boost productivity
  • Evernote (iOS and Android) Free with premium features: note keeping app with text, audio, photo, handwriting notes and reminders
  • Lists for Writers (iOS and Android) $3: Inspiration for a variety of writing related sticking points (names, settings, jobs, grammar, etc.)
  • WordOne (iOS) $2.99 or Writer Tools (Android) Free: track daily writing progress and plan stories