Mondays, Case of the

August 18, 2008 at 3:09 pm (assorted miscellany, motivations, nonfiction) (, , , , , , )

My husband works Monday through Saturday, so traditional weekends aren’t really a thing around here. I do try to keep to a somewhat normal weekday work schedule for myself; there are more freelance job postings on the boards Monday through Friday, and it helps me to set limits. I still write on Saturday and Sunday, but unless there’s a pressing deadline, I just allow myself to work exclusively on fiction.

So that leaves me to come up with a weekday routine. I don’t know about you, but I feel much better about myself if I know I’ve accomplished something each day. I’ve been using Remember the Milk to keep track of tasks, and I recommend it if you’re looking for to-do list software. It uses tags, something that’s familiar to a lot of folks now, and you can create dynamic lists based on a search. For example, I’ve got a Work list, which is great, but I’ve also got a list for high-priority work. This means if I’m having a bad day, I can at least see what absolutely must be done, and focus on that rather than trying to decide where to start.

I read job listings every day, and if I see any that seem like a good fit, I send off an application. I also try to think about articles I could submit to various publications: newspapers, magazines, websites, and the like. Each day I develop one of these ideas more fully, finding an interesting angle for the topic, figuring out who I might interview, and how long the article should be. Sometimes I run with the same topic for a few days in a row, and look at it from different perspectives, which is a lot of fun in and of itself. I love learning new stuff, and researching these ideas is productive play for me.

I also make sure I send at least four queries out per week, and occasionally more. Writers get a lot of rejections; some of them are based on writing skill, but some are just an editor letting you know that your specific idea wasn’t a good fit for their specific readers (or advertisers). If you take each rejection personally, freelance writing might start to feel like a sure path to depression and self-loathing.  Better to be confident of your own voice as a writer, and believe in your work; then you can take the suggestions you find helpful and let the rejection roll off your back.

I actually look forward to Mondays now (believe me, this was not always true). I’ve got a firm routine in place, and I’m proud of the work I get done, even on a bad day. Structure is important to me; it may be important to you, too. It’s a little tricky to figure out where to place priority when you’re just starting out (as I am), but talking to other freelancers and learning about their methods can be a huge help in organizing your schedule.

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Go Go Speedwriter

August 12, 2008 at 1:14 pm (editing, Inspiration, motivations, writing) (, , , , )

Some path in my wanderings around the web led me to an article on writing a novel in 30 days. I could have written the first part of this article; so many of my papers in high school and college were night-before extravaganzas. I guess I’ve always been lucky that what comes out of my head is generally coherent and interesting without much editing, because like Catherynne, I always got As on these. I never met a deadline I didn’t like, and in fact I trained myself to need a deadline; it got to the point where I couldn’t even start writing a paper until twelve hours before it was due. Eventually I learned to create artificial deadlines for myself and to actually believe they were real, which was key. Now I actually have time to revise and reflect, and my writing is better for it. I remember the first professor who actually told me she knew I didn’t revise. I wondered how she figured it out, but now that I know how to go back in and tighten up my writing, I realize it was pretty obvious. Craige Roberts, if you read this, thank you; your comment was the kick in the pants I needed.

I still tend to write the first draft in one huge, linear brain dump, because that’s just how I work. For nonfiction, the order it comes out in is generally pretty good. When I’m writing fiction, though, these plot bunnies just start running on to the scene. Rather than follow them, I usually make a note about them in a separate document and work them in when they fit.

One great thing about actually revising my work is that I don’t edit as much as I go, now. I have a lot more freedom to run with ideas that my inner critic says are silly; if they don’t work, well, I’ll take them out later. But sometimes they do work. I still have to fight with my mind sometimes, though. It still has days of believing the first draft has to be perfect. These are the days when I feel the dread of writers’ block the most. If I get really stuck, though, I visit a forum or a generator to grab a quick story idea — something I don’t register as Real Work — and just let the ideas come out. These are throwaway scribblings, and usually they do just end up in the trash, but they remind me that the first try isn’t the only try, and I can allow myself to stutter and stumble knowing that eventually my voice will again be sure and strong and steady.

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