Friday, November 23, 2007

The Blank Page Fears Me

Well, I copied Kristen at From Here to There and Back and changed my blog template to be cleaner, like she did. Sure, I'm a copycat, but I'm kind of liking it.

Second, I found a great new accompaniment to writing. Pandora Radio has been around a while and I've always liked it, but they finally added classical to their list of available music. If you haven't checked it out, you'll want to. It's one of those genome projects where you choose a song or an artist that you like and you can create radio stations where they'll select songs that they think you'll also like. Fantastic.

I'm in the middle of reading Then We Came to the End, by Joshua Ferris and one of the characters in this story is an aspiring novelist. He's got a piece of paper with the words, "The Blank Page Fears Me" taped onto the wall of his office. Pretty funny. I like it.

One of the toughest things I’ve had to do in my writing is to prioritize my time. After my last post, where I confessed my current state of mind and my focus on putting the analysis to the side so I could finish a first draft, things have really turned around for me.

I've never made myself write every day. If I had a lot of day job work, some heavy reading to do, if I felt too tired and decided I’d rather read blogs and write posts, I’d let myself.

No more.

I do have some experience with setting unattainable goals, so I decided that shifting gears and committing to a daily writing practice was not going to end well if I gave myself an unrealistic word count.

A lot of people aim for 1,000 words a day, but I decided to set my goal at 500. Most days that means I can exceed my goal. Timothy Hallinan pointed out at his blog that by writing 500 words a day, you can have 25,000 words or roughly 25% of a fair sized novel in less than two months.

I’m pretty lax about how I track my progress. I look at the word count when I start and I know roughly what number I need to meet or exceed and I’m happy. There are a million different ways people track their progress, edits and changes. I just re-save my document with the date that I worked on it every time I do anything and that seems to be working fine.

Working every day does have the benefit of keeping the story right at the forefront of my mind. I always know what my characters were doing when I left them, so I’m always thinking about what they’ll do next and what other horrible things might befall them. It does seem easier to open up a document daily, rather than to let it sit and then have to get back into it several days later.

Since I am still in a writing work shop, I've also found that the writing exercises I get in class have sometimes yielded some pretty OK stuff that I can use in my work in progress. I've got a great book, filled with writing exercises that I've decided to use the first time I sit down to write and I'm having a hard time getting started.

I’m not the most disciplined writer in the world by a long shot and I’ve only been working this way for a very short time. I will say that less than a week ago I was at 16K+ words and today I’m at 21K+.

There’s a very good possibility that some, most, or all of what I’m doing will be cut out later. It’s impossible to say. What I can say is that the story is moving forward and the characters are continuing to develop and for now, that’s exactly what I need.

Have you tried something new in your creative process recently?


Yellow said...

My siter introduced me to Pandora, and it dip in and out, with different parameters, depending on what mood I'm in.
A month ago I started a journal, having read 'Creative Licence - giving yourself permission to be the artist you are' (or something like like). Before, I'd keps sketchbooks, and notebooks. But the p[urpose of the Journal is to use it every day. Without fail. I've drawn, doodled, made notes from books I was reding, packing lists for trips, added quotes, made sketches in pencil, watercolour, inks and biro.... I've already purchased my next one as I'll have filled this in the next few days. You were asking if anyone had tried anything new -well this Journal has shown me that me creativity isn't either drawing, or painting, but extends into all aspects of my life. And I've had many 'lightbulb' moments as a result of keeping it. Hey, theres even a few ideas for some children's books in there too.

Rob in Denver said...


This past summer, my wife and I were with friends at our semi-annual trip to Cedar Point. My buddy Ike decided he didn't want to go on the roller coaster we were in line for.

I gave him a bunch of shit for it, but I then told him, "Don't sweat it. Everybody's afraid of something."

His wife turned to me and asked, "What are you afraid of?"

With zero hesitation I said, "A blank page. But I found the best way to slay it is to put something on it."

Ferris's character turned around?

In any case, you're completely percent correct in seeing that five hundred words a day---two stinking pages---will get a novel written the same way two or three times that will.

For those like ourselves who're trying to tackle long fiction while holding down a day job, there's really no other way to approach this than to chunk it out in manageable pieces.

Stephen King tells the story of when he was unpublished, working a low-paying teaching job, and a father of two young'ns. He said he carried a lot of guilt because he wasn't providing for his family the way he thought he should. "Maybe I should get a part time job," he told his wife, Tabby. "You've already got one," she said as she pushed him back to his makeshift writing space wedged between the washer and dryer.

If you think of "writing my book" as a part time job, it's easier to forgive yourself for not putting in full time hours on it.


reality said...

I have just come back to the office after a marathon meeting and need to give one hour to my WIP before I head out home. It has been tough this past year to keep on writing and making sure that I earn enough for my family. I have thought [being self employed] how much money I would have earned by putting in the same hours in my work.
All I know is that my passion lies elsewhere.
For me its not the word count. Its doing something , anything that helps me forge ahead with my WIP. The best way though is to write; and write as much as I can.
New creative process: is making notes on my characters and wherever I have problems in the story. I guess I haven't invented anything new. I just didn't use notes as much.

steve said...

"Look at the colors you chose!" Now how do we tell whose blog is whose? When I saw your new format I thought of Stan Freberg, "The United States of America" where Washington gives Betsy Ross a hard time for using the same colors as the British on the flag.

Seriously, I suspect you chose Minima for the same reason I did--it's so simple, and it prints well.

Julie said...

Lisa, I feel I'm way down at the kids end of the ball park writing, and my life circumstances are a little unusual at the moment, but the new ideas in my creative process of late are a)starting to excavate roots (background - which in my case is distinctive and different to what goes after;
and b)
divide and conquer - sort out the confusing mix of creative material flowing onto my blog. Simple. I created another four....all the templates I like. Not everyones cup of tea but I'll give it a go; and one of them (closed)is a space to organize and plan. The others are for target practice on different writing styles.

All the best with the WIP.

Sarah Ockler said...

Hi Lisa - I love the new minimalist look. :-)

Good luck on your writing. It sounds like you're off to a great start on being more disciplined and committed (rather than needing to be disciplined and committed...) - and that before New Year's resolution time, besides!

Check out "Writer's Book of Days" - they give a new prompt for each day, along with other quotes and tricks and tips for writing. I always turn to it when I'm stuck, and some of the excercises ended up in my first novel.

I'm using you as inspiration to get more disciplined myself!


moonrat said...

i like the template.

you know what i used to do? this is a little dumb but it's accident forgiveness (a la state farm). i had a 1,000 word a day goal. on days i finished 1,000 words, i would color that day in my desk calendar blue. if i failed, even if i was only at 975 words, i had to leave it white. BUT. if i finished, say, 2,045 words in one day, i got to color THAT day in blue and ANY OTHER DAY of my choice in GREEN.

yeah, i'm a little crazy. but it got a novel written in 2 months. plus my desk calendar was all pretty and mysterious.

Yogamum said...

500 words a day sounds like a very manageable goal. Okay, I'm stealing your idea. I really need to write every day!

Love the new look.

Charles Gramlich said...

I think this is a good plan. It sounds remarkably like the kind of plan I made for myself when I first started writing, and I believe it led directly to my first successes.

Shauna Roberts said...

It's so good to hear that you're back in the saddle and galloping along with a good plan.

Thanks for the alert about Pandora now doing classical. I used to listen to them but just didn't want to listen to that much popular music and got frustrated with how much music it fed me I didn't care for. When I looked at the reasons it chose certain pieces for me, I discovered it classified music in completely different categories than I do. Now that they have classical, I'll try them out again and hope to get results closer to my tastes.

Sustenance Scout said...

You're on a roll, Lisa!! Congrats. I honestly get my most creative ideas when I'm concentrating on something else. Funny how that works but it's got to be coupled by a heavy schedule of writing like you've got going. Seems if a story is really percolating my subconscious will provide an AHA insight while I'm weeding, driving, taking a shower, or just winding down after some exercise. So promise you'll get out of the chair and take Velcro for a walk every once in a while! Exerting your body as well as your brain is good for more than just your heart or (in my case!) sanity. K.

Rebecca Burgess said...

Good on you! With two small ones running most of my time, 500 words is my daily goal as well.

Right now I'm editing A Better Life so I don't always get to 500 for my other projects, but the important thing is to walk away from my desk in the morning with the feeling that I've accomplished something and that I accomplish something everyday.

Even when that something is crap.

I can fix crap, I can't fix nothing.

Carleen Brice said...

Like the new look! 500 words a day is how I wrote Orange Mint and Honey. It's the Graham Greene method. I only go for 1,000 words a day now because my deadline is 14weeks away!

Will you be at the LLL? And if so will you bring "it"?

Ello said...

Darn blogger ate my comment again! I love the white, it looks so much brighter. Maybe I should change too! But I did change my avatar!

Sustenance Scout said...

Ello, Love the pig!!

Lisa and Carleen, check Bella's last email for a new LLL date. Of course now I'm dying to find out what "it" is all about....! K.

Patti said...

i am currently resting from all that pie...but will be back in the process in a week or so.

Larramie said...

Lisa, it's finally time for me to tag you with a meme. Please visit my blog.

liz fenwick said...

So pleased you have found a plan that works :-) love the new look...

Lisa said...

Yellow, apparently a daily commitment works well in all creative endeavors. Glad to hear from you and keep it up!

Rob, I like that -- thinking about writing as a part time job. And hey, thanks for the excellent notes on Monday.

Usman, I've found that when I'm searching for what comes next, I tend to ramble on and write long conversations between characters, knowing that little, if any of it will stay. A gentleman in my work shop noted that no writing is wasted and even that quirk I have helps me to know my characters better -- even if I don't keep any of it.

Steve, I realized there are a few minimalists out here. I'm glad I'm in good company :)

Julie, I have full confidence you'll sort through it in short order. I'm anxious to know what you unearth as you explore your roots. It sounds like you've got an interesting background and a great setting to draw on.

Sarah, I believe I probably do need to be disciplined and committed! And thanks for the recommendation. The Writer's Book of Days should be here -- any day.

Moonrat, the desk calendar is a great idea! I used on for years (because we got them for free at work), but now that I work at home, I haven't used one in a long time. But I'm sure I can find some other similarly intentioned OCD-like activity that will give me the same satisfaction. I'll let you know what I figure out.

Kristi, you're a prolific blogger, so I know you can -- and your writing is so beautiful that you really need to.

Charles, well who could argue with that! I'm surprised at how many people have gone at this pace. I think I heard people talking about writing 1,000 words a day so much that I got the impression that's what everyone was doing and it made me feel inadequate because if I knew I couldn't make time to write that much, I just wouldn't write. This is much better.

Shauna, I agree. Pandora is pretty hit and miss, but I have heard some great things I didn't know about. As it learns what you like, it does improve and with the classical, the "off" choices aren't nearly as jarring as they are with other types of music.

Karen, you're hitting me where I live! Between work and writing, I do tend to stay glued in a chair far too much. I keep telling myself I'll get out and walk every day for a change of scenery and a little exercise, but I've yet to incorporate that habit -- seems like every time I'm walking out the door the phone rings!

Rebecca, another 500 word a day writer -- hooray! More validation. And "you can't fix nothing" has almost become my mantra. It's amazing how freeing that is.

Carleen, yes, yes -- another vote for the efficiency of 500 a day. I am not sure if I'll be able to make it, but I intend to try and I will absolutely bring "it". "It" sounds like something bad, when really it's something fabulous. :)

Ello, love the new avatar! I wonder why blogger does that?

Karen, now that I'm on the list, I bet I've gotten a dozen emails over the last couple of days! I'll let Carleen tell you.

Patti, everybody has to recharge -- especially after all that pie :)

Larramie, loved reading your answers, and the meme is what got me out here tonight...thank you.

Liz, I'm glad too -- and thank you. I've got my fingers crossed for you. And toes.

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Literary Quote

It is worth mentioning, for future reference, that the creative power which bubbles so pleasantly in beginning a new book quiets down after a time, and one goes on more steadily. Doubts creep in. Then one becomes resigned. Determination not to give in, and the sense of an impending shape keep one at it more than anything.

Virginia Woolf