Thursday, January 9, 2014

New Year Writing Tips for When the Going Gets Tough: What I've Learned at the Loft

So, I was having lunch with a crit partner yesterday, and we were talking about possible workshops or craft chats for the Loft, and she mentioned wanting to do a chat about how to stick with writing a ms long enough to get to the end. I opened my big mouth, and said something like, "I've never understood why people have trouble getting to the end--that's never been a problem of mine." This friend is a multi-published author, and I had never seen her struggle to finish a manuscript. After a moment of her glaring at me, and perhaps mouthing a word that rhymed with itch, I backed up and we talked about it.

What she was saying is that writing is hard. And we all have our hang-ups. I have plenty of those. Plenty of things that get between me and writing "the end." While I do have a drive to always get to the end of a manuscript, I do find that writing is hard. Absolutely.

So, I thought of the tricks that help me write when it gets hard. And I thought I would share them with you.

Pip, the cat, trying to get into the car through the windshield. Talk about the going getting tough. 

1. Show up.

This is actually my goal in all areas of my life--perhaps I suffer from low expectations. :) I don't particularly know how to be an awesome parent, but I do know how to show up. I don't always know how to write the book that is in my head, but I do know how to open up that word doc. And when I open it up, I engage in the words.

2. Pair the dreaded activity (writing) with something awesome.

When the going gets tough, and you don't want to show up, give yourself a prize. I love drinking coke. No, love is not strong enough. I'm obsessed. Feel that it is something both medicinal and magical. So, if I don't want to write, then I crack open a coke once I show up in that word doc. :) (I leave a coke at the Loft, and it gets me out the door and to the office.)

3. Do it with a friend.

I exercise a lot. I'm not bragging here--it's just something I do. I do triathlons, pick up road races and generally am ready to compete at a moment's notice. And yet, right now it's freakin' cold outside. I don't want to go to the Y. Even though I've paired working out with a visit to the sauna, which is my favorite, I still resist this standard-to-my-life activity. It's SO cold outside. But when I receive a text from my friend, I can't not go. She's waiting for me and holding me accountable to show up. And when I show up, I work out. Magically. Medicinally. :) How do you find this for writing? Join Row80. The Blueboards. The Practice Room. NaNo (it doesn't just happen in November anymore). Find a crit group through SCBWI or some other writing community. Come hang with us at the Loft.

4. Still not feeling the desire to get to the end? Give yourself a deadline or a competition.

There are deadlines all over the place. Contests at Miss Snark's First Victim, or Cupid's site. Sign up for a conference, and note the deadline to submit something to be critted by an agent or editor. That's your hard deadline. Or, if you have an agent, you probably have deadlines built in to your schedule. Need help meeting your deadline? Join your friends in #1k1hr. Make showing up a game to be won. Join a crit group that demands pages every. single. week. That's awesome pressure for showing up.

5. Celebrate EVERYTHING.

Be kind to yourself. This is a long tough business. Celebrate things that are in your control. Celebrate showing up. Celebrate finishing a first draft. Celebrate a completed revision. And always celebrate the big stuff--even if it threatens to go by with minimal notice. Fourth book birthday? Have a nice lunch with a friend. That's how this whole blog post got started in the first place. :)

Speaking of celebrating, my oldest turned 14 this week. Look at all those candles!
So, what do you do when the writing going gets tough? How do you trick yourself into finishing a manuscript?


  1. I love the look on his face! I'm thinking he wasn't quite as excited about all those candles as you were, lol! Great tips, showing up is definitely key.

  2. This is why I write 500 word picture books. Because if I get stuck, I can just start a new one and I'm only 500 words away from finishing. Your friend could do that in what, ~14 minutes?

  3. Leandra--Funny you say that--he told us to only use one candle. He suffered through us placing all 14.

    Papafunk--14 is about right. Maybe we need a party game to see how fast she can do 500.

  4. Awesome post, Heather!!! I need any and every tip to get through my fist draft!!!!

    And I love the picture of Jelly! :)

  5. Oh wait, the cat is Pip?! I had her name wrong...

  6. I have taken the better part of last year off, stepping away from my manuscript (after signing with an agent!) because I could not stand the thought of revising the $@%#$ thing One More Time. I knew full well that (a) I was throwing a kicking and screaming tantrum, (b) that it was a completely immature response to the situation, and, most importantly (c) that it wasn't going to last forever.

    Waitaminute -- Cowgirl turned 14? How did that happen?

    -- Tom

  7. Nandini--they are twin cats, so I can see the confusion. But Jelly is the famous one. :)

    Tom--I took about 6 months off as well. Time off is good. :) Cowgirl is safely 8. :) Phew, right?!

  8. I love love this post! Great tips!

    I think I need to start pairing writing with something awesome. It's not always necessary, obviously, because I love to write. But when you come to a tough spot, some extra motivation is nice. I put a manuscript aside for a bit because I hit a wall and dreaded writing it. Maybe I'll try this approach!

  9. Showing up at the loft can be hard for me (long drive) so I pair it with yoga. :)

  10. Great tips, lady. I think #1 is the most important of all. You can't progress if you aren't there.

  11. That's not really my problem either. I'm not saying there aren't i'm not in the mood, but I always show up. It's my job. :) I find tweeting with a friend to report word count helps too.

  12. Yes, showing up means SO much. It's the continuity that does it, I think, and not losing touch with the story.