A Writer’s Net for Catching Ideas: Keeping a Writer’s Journal (What, How, and Why)

Today I’m here to talk about keeping a writer’s journal: what it is, why I do, and why — if you’re a writer — you should too. πŸ˜‰

Nearly nine years ago, on November 17, 2008, I pulled out one of my many hoarded empty journals, and started my first volume of what I called “A Forest of Thought: An Author’s Journal”.

I call it my writer’s notebook/journal these days, but each year since finishing that first journal on December 31, 2010, I’ve started a new Writer’s Journal on January 1st of each year, which means I’m currently on my 8th volume. (I may actually stick with this current one for another year since it has room, but we’ll see.)

So, your question: what is a writer’s journal, and why have one?

Firstly, it is not what I call my writing log (which is where I keep a list of all the writing I do each week, throughout the year) and it’s not a place for journaling in diary-form about what it’s like to be a writer (though occasionally such thoughts will creep in).

For me, at least, it’s my catch-all go-to place for keeping writerly notes.

  • New story idea? Goes in the journal.
  • Cool name I want to save for later? In the journal.
  • Pages of frustration about how I’m stuck in my writing? Journal.
  • Snatches of dialog at 2 a.m. because my characters were talking in my head when I wanted to be asleep? Ditto.(Though these I often type in on my phone and transfer them to my journal in the morning.)
  • Random fact or cool thing I saw that day, or description I jotted down about a building I went by, or an overheard conversation? That goes in the journal too.
  • Writerly to-do lists? Yep, that too.
  • Lists and lists and lists of WIPs? Lots of those.
  • Snatches of poetry? In it goes.
  • Hit an exciting place in my writing (like finishing a story)? That goes in there too.
  • Interesting dreams? Jot ’em down. (Never underestimate the power of dreams for ideas.)
  • And, probably the most common one (besides random ideas), are new plot point flashes of inspiration for any of my dozen or so WIPs. So many breakthroughs.

Basically, this is where I write down all those things that I think “Oh! That’s cool! So cool that I’ll remember it.” Because… I don’t. How many awesome ideas have I had, only to lose them to the mists of mysterious brain fog of forgetfulness, and kicked myself over losing… I’ll tell you, it’s been a LOT.

Which is why I decided to start keeping one journal, specifically for all my writerly thoughts. I’ve had lots of other journals, for writerly or non-writerly purposes, and I still sometimes use other ones for writing-related stuff, but mostly, I stick with these, which makes it handy and easy for me to know where to find my ideas.

The first page of my first Forest of Thought journal. (Please excuse the dubious punctuation. *cough* Also, disclaimer: my handwriting is rarely this neat because I’m usually in a hurry. XD)

Because let me tell you, these journals are a gold mine of ideas. You may not know what to do with an idea when you first have it, but believe me, when you’re about to start a random novel the next day for NaNoWriMo and you’ve never done it before, these notes scribbled down over time are going to be a lifesaver.

I give this example because it’s what I did my first NaNo — I spur-of-the-moment decided to write a book the next month, and I had a vague idea, but flipping through my very first Forest of Thought notebook was when I gathered all the ideas I needed to turn it into more of a book.

The final lines of The Owl of Kedran’s Wood were originally more or less a random snippet I wrote in there one day and had no idea who said it — imagine my surprise when it found its way into the lives of Tare and the Chess Club and formed the perfect ending to book one.

The snatch of song that became so central to my novella The Rose and the Raven was originally jotted down much earlier at random.

The idea for countless of my WIPs began with a few hastily scribbled lines in my Forest of Thought journals.

So many characters have gotten names at the right moment when I needed them because I flipped back through and found the right one I had saved.

If I’m stuck or discouraged, I go to the pages of my notebook and scribble down my thoughts and usually find my way out of the woods, or at least I know what my problem is and feel better.

And there’s no greater way to get re-inspired to go back to working on a project than to be perusing my old notes and find how excited I was about a plot-twist I had scribbled down and semi-forgotten.

But even aside from all the usefulness, it’s just a wonderfully secure feeling to know that even if you don’t actually USE your idea, or won’t for years, that at least you didn’t lose it forever, like if you said you’d remember it and then the next morning — gone. Having that security and peace of mind is fantastic.

It’s also a handy way to keep an eye on the chronicles of your writing career, as for-fun or serious as you want it to be. Each volume of my Forest of Thought journals (I call them FT: Volume 1, Vol 2, etc. and am currently on FT8) has a different flavor, both because they’re all different shapes/sizes/”feels”/looks, and because I go through different books I’m working on or focusing on, and I remember that and associate the different years with those books.

Sometimes if I’m trying to remember when I started a story, I can say “Oh, well I wrote about it in my green journal, which was in 2013, so that must be when I started”. It’s chronicling my journey as a writer, and all while saving great ideas that I periodically go back and glean from the many pages I’ve filled.

The hardest thing? Getting into the habit of writing in your writer’s journal.

It took me years to find the balance and get so that when I had an idea I would be sure to write it down.

2008 and 2009, I hardly did any writing in my journal — just every few months, if I had a really interesting idea and remembered to write it down, I would sometimes remember. Later in 2010 was when I got more active with it, and by the end of the year I was chronicling my NaNo adventures most days, and managed to fill the last page on December 31st. The opportunity to start a new journal on January 1 was too much to resist, and I’ve done it every year since. I often fill the whole journal and write on the last page on the last day of the year, but sometimes I don’t fill it and end up leaving the final pages blank so I can start a new one, but it’s a tradition of mine that I look forward to the most about the new year: starting my new writing journal the first day of the year. πŸ™‚

It’s hard to turn it into a habit to remember to write in your journal all the time, especially without thinking you need to write something even when you have nothing to scribble, but I think I finally have it down. So far this year and last year, I’ve written something (even if it’s just a single note/jot/name) in my writing notebooks every week except one. (Yes, I keep track of my writing each week in a writing log on my computer, and I noticed this trend and have kept it up.) It hasn’t really been on purpose, but even if it’s just a note to say that I’m stuck on something, it really has become a habit to dip into my journal at least once a week with whatever writerly ideas are on my mind.

But remember, I started this process nearly a decade ago, and it’s only in the last year or two that I’ve gotten better about remembering most of the time — and I still sometimes think of something and don’t jot it down, so the process isn’t perfect. πŸ˜‰ So if you’d like to do something like this, don’t feel discouraged if it doesn’t work out for awhile. Just keep at it and save those ideas!

If you’re not an oldschool journal hoarder like me, try keeping your notes on your phone or in a file on your computer — sometimes I wish I did that because they’d be searchable. XD And at times I do opt for typing my ideas when I have a LOT of them, and so they don’t go into the journal because it’s more efficient. But I do enjoy having a physical place to keep notes with a physical pen — it’s soothing for me, and also handy if I don’t have my laptop with me. But if it’s likely to make you procrastinate keeping notes, then don’t let the idea that it has to be a physical notebook keep you from doing something like this–just do it on your computer, like I said! Just try to make it a habit to keep those ideas, somewhere you can go to save your thoughts.

Later this week, on Friday, I’ll be celebrating 9 years of A Forest of Thought: An Author/Writer’s Journal, and starting (hopefully) on my tenth year keeping a writing journal. My FT volumes have been some of my best friends through my writing years, something in which I can confide my story ideas and struggles. (They of course can’t outdo real, actual writer friends, who are the absolute BEST. ;))

I’m very glad I started back in 2008, and I look forward to much more scribbling. πŸ™‚ I know I wouldn’t be the same writer without them.

I will leave you with the last words from my first volume, penned December 31, 2010:

Onward to new horizons! Horizons never seen, horizons merely dreamt of, horizons that have but been glimpsed — onward!

How about you? How do you save all those little ideas/tidbits/plotbunnies? Thanks for reading! ^_^

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My (Not-So-)Secret Weapons For Surviving NaNoWriMo

So, confession time. It’s Monday, which means I post here (usually). I had an idea for a grand POST TO END ALL POSTS about NaNo and surviving and EVERYTHING YOU NEED TO KNOW, IN ONE HANDY POST. Unfortunately, I’ve neither written it, nor have I taken my own advice and gotten prepared for NaNo yet, PLUS I realized that most of my tips are… well… in previous posts?

Therefore! I will mention a handful of new things I’ve discovered that help, and then leave you to peruse my previous NaNo posts (linked at end) for further tips, if you’re so interested.

Because we’re a half a month away from NaNo (WHAAT???) and I’ll be honest: I’m not ready.

I’m so, so not ready.

I need to go spend my time prepping for NaNo, plotting my novel, and trying to conquer my several-miles-long to-do-list. IN TWO WEEKS, MIGHT I ADD. *tries not to collapse and curl up and hide behind a tapestry* Rehashing all the stuff I’ve said about NaNo in previous posts is, sadly, not going to help with that. XD

ANYWAY! Behold, a few of my recently discovered (since my previous posts) not-so-secret weapons for conquering NaNo!

Tools in My NaNo Toolkit

Time

(pinterest)

Time is your enemy during NaNo (TICKING DOWN TO THE END NOOOO) but it can also be your friend.

How?

Well, I’m a long-time advocate of wordwarring (with friends, and with oneself on a timer), but also: during this last Camp NaNo, I discovered the magic of setting a timer for an hour and focusing on writing just for that time. Can take a break afterward, but focusing NOW. Just for an hour.

I can usually write 1K in an hour, which means (theoretically; hear my story laughing at me. XD) it should be a couple of hours per day, yes? *cough*Leavemetomydelusions.*cough*

Make time your ally: use it with timers and word-sprints and chunks of writing time for focusing.

Make it work FOR you.

Scrivener

Screenshots for this year (below, top) and last year’s NaNo (below, bottom)

SCRIVENER IS MAGIC, OKAY. I used it last year and it. was. amazing. I hate buying software and stuff because I’m cheap and like free things, but I tried it free for a month during NaNo last year and loved it so much I got it (half-off with a NaNo coupon).

The plotting and organizing features give me life, and having a word-count goal set on each individual chapter/section/day was SO helpful — and the fluidity of being able to merge or separate them at will was amazing. I also utilized the full-screen writing mode to lessen distractions, and loved to make it a slightly-smaller window to write in, with a small window of my browser open in another part of the screen, showing the counting-down wordsprint tool on the NaNo site. πŸ˜€ SO motivational!

All the planning

This one is both old and new. I’m keeping notes in a dedicated-journal just for this project, which is helpful/inspiring. The journal and the scrivener are the new things, but planning is SUPER IMPORTANT. Unless you’re a pantser, in which case I salute your bravery. I reeeally need to do a braindump scribbling-down of all my ideas (so many scenes and things in my head!) and then organize those and make an outline… But anyhow. Plot plot plot!

Bullet Journal to stay organized

Please note, I keep an “ugly” bullet-journal, which is to say, I don’t make mine a work of art and I don’t actually “journal” much (like talk about what I did; I just mark stuff off).

It’s like a daily/weekly/monthly/planner thing which I use with bullet-points of to-do-lists and things going on, and I usually plan it out a week or a month in advance.

I’ve done stuff like this before, but this is the first time I’ve had an actual bjournal (my abbreviation) to do it with.

I have a page or two of to-do lists for October, and will have one for November. I have a page for a to-do list for each week. And I have a page for every day, with info at the top about stuff going on, and a to-do list. Also daily trackers in a list on one page for keeping track of stuff I should do every day and don’t want to rewrite over and over, and a calendar list so I can keep track of what’s going on.

It doesn’t have to be fancy (in fact, please don’t try!) but both for pre-NaNo-prep, and for NaNo itself, it’s very handy to keep track of stuff!

NaNo runs at an insane pace, and I’m seriously going to need this in order to keep life/writing/ML-ing straight. Not to mention daily wordcount goals listed each day… πŸ˜‰

Draft Zero

Last but not least: Draft Zero.

I SERIOUSLY need to do a post about this, but it’s basically getting the story down in its most basic form. It’s a mix of extreme plotting (but super vague too? It’s hard to explain) and very rough first-draft. It kind of bridges drafting and outlining so that I can Howl* myself into writing without actually writing, and then it’s easy to expand into a real first-draft.

I have so far only done this in segments — like a scene or chapter at a time (often out of order) and then expand it. I used it especially for the ending of my short story Darkling Reflections (actually the last third of it) and my novella The Rose and the Raven. Super helpful.

I WILL post about it someday, but basically don’t worry about spelling/punctuation/sentences; just write down what happens in brief bullet-point order (dialog included!) and throw in descriptions/whatever, whenever you feel like it. Basically give yourself permission to make a mess on the page.

I may try to do this for NaNo, or I may just do it each day as my outline-plotting before turning each chapter into a first-draft chapter day by day. Not sure yet. Either way, it’s my biggest secret weapon, and with it in my toolkit, NaNo-doubt doesn’t have a chance. πŸ˜‰

*Apologies for those who don’t understand this Howl’s Moving Castle reference. It derives from a quote Howl said about being a coward — and the only way he can trick himself into doing things is pretending he’s NOT doing them. I’m very Howl-ish and am a slitherer-outer. XD

***

And there you have my 5 new tips. Thank goodness I only did five because otherwise this post would be enormous. XD

I hope these tips (and the ones below) help you. But you know what? Even if you don’t have tools or secret weapons, even if you’re not prepared for NaNo… you can still do this. If you have a story you want to tell, then that is all you need.

All you REALLY need is to show up each day in November at the screen (or pen/paper) and look in your heart and write.

You’ve got this, writer! I believe in you! Now get out there and conquer this NaNo. πŸ™‚

Check out more tips below. ^_^ THANKS FOR READING, AND GOOD LUCK! ❀

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12 Tips for Depressed Writers

Dear writers who feel depressed,

I know you’re out there. I know because you’re in here, too — in me, sometimes.

Listen, because I have something to say.

Maybe sometimes you don’t feel like a writer. Maybe sometimes you feel like a depressed wannabe-writer who doesn’t-actually-want-to because you feel so down. Maybe you feel depressed that you haven’t finished that first draft, haven’t written in six months (or longer), don’t know how to start, or haven’t perfected your editing skills yet.

Dear writers, I have been there. We have all been depressed writers from time to time. And it’s sad. It should not define us, but sometimes it’s hard to see past it. I understand, but I also believe in hope.

Here are some tips I have for helping you shake off that heavy mantle of depression that’s tripping you up on the road up your mountain of writing.

(pixabay)

I’m hardly ever this serious about things on my blog, but it’s a serious topic and my heart bleeds for each of you who is struggling. Because I’ve felt it. So I decided to put my heart out there and say something, for once. Even if nobody wants my heart, at least I’ve tried to give it, right? πŸ™‚

I’m not saying I have all the answers. I definitely don’t. But if even one of these touches your heart and helps you lift your head and move forward a little stronger, to write and do great things, then I will be so very happy. πŸ™‚ Some may seem very simple and obvious, but maybe give them a try anyway.

These are things I’ve been learning help me to shake off depressed-writer moments, and are largely to remind myself of them. Most of them can apply to life-in-general as well, but I’m applying them to writing today, because I’m a writer. πŸ˜‰

They’ve helped me from time to time. I hope they will help you as well.

(And if you don’t have time to read this whole post, skip to the end and read the ending. :))


Take care of your health.

Yes, this does matter. I say it as one who neglects my own health far too often. Get enough sleep, remember to eat halfway nutritious meals, and be sure to drink enough water. (I could have made this into three separate points, but I’m generalizing and putting these together. Sleep. Food. Water. Most important after air, yes? πŸ˜‰ Sounds simple, I know, but sometimes I at least don’t take them seriously enough!) Living on caffeine and adrenaline can work for short time periods, but if you do it too much you’re going to burn out, get tired, and not feel the motivation to write. I started drinking ten glasses of water every day, and I’ve felt so much better since then (I used to get headaches a lot, and now I have them much less. And I can’t write with a headache. :P). I know it’s easy to neglect one’s health, because I do it ALL. THE. TIME. Do not be me. Let’s all try to do better about it, okay? Because we’re doing this living-on-this-Earth thing and that seems to require taking care of ourselves… much as I’d like to just read or write 24/7. XD


Move around.

Yes, this can definitely include going on inspirational walks. Always, always. So much inspiration out there! But it’s more than that, too. We writers, and anyone whose job is sitting at a computer most of the day, do not move around enough. It’s a proven fact that most people nowadays in this digital age do not move enough out of our repeated, unvaried motions, and it’s taken a toll on our musculoskeletal alignment. (Like that word? :P) Have you noticed that your neck and head lean forward most of the time, even when you’re standing? No wonder we’re depressed writers! We’re constantly in postures of dejected sadness, and that DOES send a message to our body to be sad. Try walking around with your head up for a bit and see what happens. I betcha you’ll feel happier. Until relaxing back into our habitual slump. Because unfortunately we can’t just fix this by trying to have better posture; it has to go deeper than that, which is where moving comes in. I’ve only gotten over this at times by doing enough varied stretches, which I learned about after messing my back up in a major way. I managed to escape the pain and fix my back by doing exercises from this book: Pain Free by Pete Egoscue. (Or this one: Pain Free at Your PC.) I recommend it for anyone who uses computers. πŸ™‚ Or… really anyone. I admit I’m not the best about doing it every day, but it makes me feel great, inspires me to move, and that in turn gets me more writing inspiration.


Let go of the past and your guilt and forgive yourself.

If you’re anything like me, you’ve had long stretches of time where you haven’t written, and you’ve felt guilty about it. Well, the past is the past, our past failures are OVER, and while of course there will be future failures because we’re all human, they don’t have to be the same ones, and they don’t have to be taken for granted and expected and feared. Any time I think “Well, I haven’t succeeded in finishing a novel in so many years that I guess I won’t be able to do so ever again”, I need to stop and say NO. Our past mistakes and failures do not define us, and we have stepped to the present, toward a future where we don’t have to live in our failures. We can try again, and again, and again, as many times as necessary, but we can’t try if we don’t believe there’s even a chance of succeeding; if we let our pasts define us. FORGIVE YOURSELF. Start over. Writing should be a joy; LIVING should be a joy. No matter the hardships, don’t let your mistakes or struggles define you. This is true of many things, not just writing. Let yourself be more than your past failures.


Just start.

Starting is the hardest. I know this, because most of the time that I don’t write, I don’t write because I don’t know how to start. As long as you realize this is one of the hardest things, then you can fight it, and at least TRY. Set a timer or something to trick yourself into starting. Tell yourself it doesn’t have to be perfect (because it doesn’t). Just start.


Keep going and don’t you dare ever ever give up.

Remember I said starting is the hardest? Well, keeping going is possibly in that top spot as well. (Shush, they can share and be twins.) I’m not saying you can’t take breaks (because you definitely should), and I’m definitely not saying that if you don’t write for awhile, you should feel guilty. NOT AT ALL. But don’t give up the dream. Keep showing up to write, even if it’s only once a month, even if you find you can’t write for months together because of college or work or family or that amazing multi-volume series you’re reading. But come back. Don’t give up. Don’t say “I don’t think I’m a writer so I shouldn’t try.” That’s rubbish. It may feel like it sometimes — oh, so many times; I know; I’ve been there — but don’t give in to that. Take a break, or accept that in this season of your life, you can’t write at the moment; but do come back. And just keep writing. After starting, continuing is the next-hardest. But do NOT believe that you are a no-good writer who shouldn’t even try anymore, because that is so far from true, and if even a tiny part of you wants to be a writer, then you ARE one. Don’t give in to the doubts. Don’t give up. Keep showing up to write, even if you can’t do it every day (and let’s face it, not many of us can. But we can keep going all the same).


Don’t be afraid.

Another reason, besides the starting issue, that I don’t write much, is that I’m afraid. Of so many things. That I won’t get it right, that I won’t know how to start, that I’ll mess it up somehow, that I won’t know what to say, that I’m neglecting all the potentiality of the story, that someone will interrupt me, etc. etc. etc. So much fear. So don’t be. What’s the worst that happens? So it’s not as good as it could have been? Then keep trying, and it will get better, with time and patience and practice and courage. We writers can be a courageous bunch if we try, braving tired fingers, late nights, harrowing quests, mind-numbing plot-hole construction, battering against writers’ block, wrangling unruly characters, letting others read our hearts on paper, putting one word after another…

WRITER, YOU ARE BRAVE. I believe this, as I believe few other things. So be brave, and do not fear. The darkness cannot have you, because you are shining a light of story in defiance against it.


Get some sunlight.

This might be controversial but just stick with me briefly. Getting a bit of sunshine and Vitamin D is SO IMPORTANT. People who live in cold, northerly places don’t get enough sun in the winter and can get super depressed, so if you’re a writer who spends a lot of time indoors, you are probably not getting enough sun. (*raises hand* Guilty.) Believe it or not, this insufficiency really affects our emotions and can leave us feeling super depressed, which in turn can affect the rest of our lives, including our writing. The sun does NOT actually kill you, I promise. I don’t go outside enough and I know I get depressed when I haven’t had enough sun, which does not help my writing. -_- We were not built to live in caves with no sun; like plants, we need it, people. I don’t believe in sun lotion etc. because I’m a very natural person and I don’t want all sorts of ingredients on my skin because who knows where they’ve been. But if you’re afraid of sunburns, believe me, so am I; I sunburn REALLY bad, but I use coconut oil on my skin and it burns less, and I also use it afterward if I do happen to get a burn, and it really helps. (Coconut oil is amazing. <3) And I get all that lovely sun, which makes me feel so much better. πŸ™‚ And I’m way less likely to want to write if I’m feeling depressed. πŸ˜› (I know I sound like a health-and-outdoors commercial in some of this post, which is hilarious and/or ironic because usually I don’t take care of myself or leave my little writer lair, but I know that I SHOULD, and when I do, it tends to help. πŸ˜› Remember, this post is to tell me things, too!)


Get some metaphorical sunlight too.

And by metaphorical sunlight, I mean some happiness and joy. I know books thrive on the scary and the darkness and all the problems for the protagonists. I know many readers enjoy dark tales, and many writers delight in penning those darkest nights in their stories. But don’t forget the dawn. Don’t forget about metaphorical light. Don’t forget that sometimes we need happy endings. Happy endings — and, well, happiness in general — have gone out of fashion in the world of late. (Though that’s, perhaps, a topic for another time.) But if we focus always on the bad, the dark, the depressing — no wonder everyone’s depressed! So don’t always think only about the darkness — remember that there is light, too, and joy and love and goodness. Read a lighthearted book, or throw in some jokes or an unexpected happy moment for your protagonist, or just think about good things from time to time. It helps. If all you think about is the fact that you’re a depressed writer, you won’t know how to be anything else. So find that sunlight!

β€œThere goes Mig with her happy endings again,” Chris said. But I don’t care. I like happy endings. And I asked Chris why something should be truer just because it’s unhappy. He couldn’t answer.


Pray.

I’ll briefly touch on this one. For Christian writers, who are depressed about writing etc., try asking God to help you with it. It does make a difference, I promise. πŸ™‚ Pray that you’ll know what to write, that you’ll not feel as down or worried. This is something I neglect often, I’m afraid, but it’s super important. If you’re not the praying type, at least try thinking positively about your writing, okay? It can make a huge difference. πŸ™‚


Take a break.

This may seem counter-intuitive. And sometimes, for me at least, I’m pretty depressed about my writing because I’ve taken too long of an (accidental) break and haven’t written in too long. Writing makes me happy, and I get pretty down if I haven’t in awhile. But sometimes, especially when we’re stuck or not feeling it… take a PURPOSEFUL break. Decide you are not going to write for this week, or this month, or whatever; set that time, and relax and notwrite GUILT-FREE. Just don’t allow yourself to write, and usually (at least for me), we will end up inspired and re-energized and itching to write again once that time is up. Even if it doesn’t happen quite that way, it’s still important to take time where you don’t write and where it’s okay. Recharging is a good thing. So rest sometimes. And don’t worry about it. Come back to writing when you’re done, but do rest.


Know that your story matters.

You matter, and your story matters, and nobody can tell your story like you can. It’s not just your little unimportant scribbling. Subcreating and telling stories and being poets is IMPORTANT. Stories have been around as long as there have been words to tell them with, and something seemingly “frivolous” and “unimportant” as that would. not. be. around. still. if they were not extremely important. I know sometimes our little tales just don’t seem like they matter, but they DO. So do not give in to doubts. Know that writing matters and whether it’s for just yourself, or your family and friends, or the whole world, no matter how big or how small, it’s important, and it’s important to keep telling good stories. I know it’s easy to sink into the trap of thinking that nobody will care, that if we just quietly fade away and don’t write, that it’s okay. But if you have a passion for telling stories, it’s far more important than you believe. So just do your best, and don’t believe in your niggling worries that none of it matters, because it DOES. You are the only you there is out there. Just remember that. πŸ™‚


Don’t try to do it alone.

I forget about this one all too often, but it’s so important. Especially if you’re feeling depressed about your writing (or anything else for that matter), find some good writer friends, or a sister, or somebody, who will be there for you and listen and encourage you. If you don’t think you have anybody, you might be surprised — I know I have. In my darkest, loneliest times as a writer, is when I feel the most alone, but that’s when I discover that I’m not alone after all. When I turn elsewhere for help, that’s when I find it — but you have to look for it — you have to ask. I’m very bad at that, and I’m very much a loner (Tare and I have that in common. *cough*), so if I’m stressed about my writing, I don’t always remember that I have beautiful, kind friends who will listen and encourage me and tell me it’s going to be okay. I don’t usually post about such problems on my blog, but when I have, I’ve been overwhelmed by the kindness, love, and support I’ve received from so many of you, and I can’t thank you enough. ❀ Don’t do this writer thing alone — find somebody who will exchange emails with you about your writing, or talk over a coffee about it, or respond to a snippet you’ve written, or just tell you to keep going. Writing can be a solitary business, but it doesn’t have to be a lonely one. So don’t try to do it on your own. Find someone, or several someones, who will walk that path with you, and lift you up when you fall. πŸ™‚


Fin

That’s all I have to say today. Thank you so much for reading.

Dear writers who feel depressed:

I love you. Be loved. Know that you are loved.

And write. Tell stories. Live. Be brave.

Look for the light, because it’s out there. πŸ™‚

Writer Ups & Downs

It’s a funny thing: it seems the writers’ life consists mostly of ups and downs.

I mean, there’s all these times when we’re either SUPER EXCITED about writing and just so energized, and other times when we’re super down about it and think our writing is worthless etc. etc.

One moment we are all:

O frabjous day! Callooh! Callay!

And the next:

Quoth the raven: Nevermore.

Our writer lives are a series of mountains and valleys. It was the best of times, it was the worst of times.

It seems that there’s not an even road, where we are just quietly content in where we are in our writing, things going smoothly but not exciting (because if it’s going smoothly, that IS exciting), or just generally “meh, it’s okay” (because thinking that rockets one quickly to: “there must be something wrong with it if I’m feeling that way about it!” which turns to super down), and it’s all extremes.

(I’m generalizing, and if you’re not this way, then just ignore everything I said. XD)

But I suppose it makes sense, since writers are primarily storytellers, and in a story, things mostly ARE extremes. It’s either enormously happy for our heroes or super-super-enormously, extravagantly bad for our heroes. (Usually the latter; being a book character is a poor career choice, let me tell you. XD) Because in a story, if it was just meandering along a flat place where things were okay or all right, then… there wouldn’t be much of a story.

Perhaps we writers are attuned to that (and are also dramatic souls *cough* *guilty*) and tend to take it in extreme emotions one way or the other.

I’m not saying this is good or bad. XD I’ve just been thinking about it. πŸ™‚ (Again, if you’re not this way, forgive my ramblings and let me know otherwise. :P)

I’ve been going through some writer ups and downs this year myself.

I’ve been writing short stories, which means I’ve been finishing things! But that also means I haven’t been making progress on novels.

I’ve been writing in small dashes of this-and-that, not focusing on any one thing, which means I haven’t made any serious progress on ANYTHING. But I HAVE somehow amassed about 20,000 words of writing this year!

I’ve had some great “clicking” moments that have resulted in excitement over various stories! But I’ve also not been excited enough about one thing to focus on it.

I’ve been writing in snippets, so I haven’t made consistent progress. But I’ve been using Scrivener and that has helped with my snippet tendencies and I’m getting fun inspired scenes down!

I’ve (hopefully) decided what to write for NaNo and gotten super excited about it! But NaNo is 4 months away. (That’s both good and bad. XD)

I’ve written three short stories this year, which total 14,700 words (Wintertale, A Tale of Two Boxes, and a Kedran’s Wood “fanfiction” that will never see publication but was fun to get me back into the series). I’m 2000 words into another short story, Invisible Beauty, and almost finished. I’ve written at least a thousand words of The Secret of Kedran’s Wood a.k.a. KW2 (I haven’t been keeping very good track, just trying to get further since I’ve been stuck) and a snatch of KW3. I’ve written 1700 words of snippets of The Other Half of Everything. And a couple lines of random other things. Plus various plotting I’ve done.

In a way, it’s not very much for six months. In another way, it’s far better than I was doing this time last year during my huge burnout!

Plus, I’ve been doing a LOT of reading and reviewing, getting my story-and-writing-fix that way.

I’m at the point where I have decisions to make of which paths to take as I wander these mountains and valleys of my writing… and these decisions, too, are huge opposite decisions, in keeping with the ups-and-downs-extremes theme of this post. XD

I either need to get seriously back into writing soon, OR take a serious break in order to recharge.

I either need to buckle down and decide that I will focus on one specific story and pick it and stick to it, OR embrace my work-on-multiple-things-at-once thing I’ve been doing slightly and make it work for me.

I either need to start writing in order again and focus on getting things done that way, OR I need to embrace my scribble-snippets-out-of-order-all-over-the-place thing I’ve been doing and make that work for me too. (Scrivener might help. But it’s hard to sew the quilt-pieces together once I’ve made them, so… I don’t know.)

I also need to remember tips that I’ve learned in the past that I don’t always remember to put into practice, such as:

  • Draft zero. This is a huge friend of mine, or at least has been in the past, and it could really help me if I’d remember to use it.
  • Timers and wordsprints. Especially the awesome wordsprint timer on the NaNo site. This is also super helpful for if I want to write something and just don’t have the motivation. I’ve only used it for NaNo and Camp so far, but the amount of progress that can happen in 15-or-20 minutes with this thing is astounding, so I should probably go for it again sometime.
  • Music. I know music can be super inspiring and get me in the grove, but I just don’t remember to listen to it much. (It doesn’t help that the speakers on my laptop are shot, so I have to remember to use earbuds, and I just don’t.)
  • A time to focus. I don’t write when I can’t focus, which means I just don’t have a time for it in my life right now. I need to set aside a time every day, or at least occasionally, to block out distractions and just open my Scrivener documents and at least TRY. Normally those times come at night and I’m either too tired, or I decide to read or write a review instead. Problems. πŸ˜›

Anyway. There’s a bit of a ramble on what’s up with my writing life of late, and its ups and downs, and partially just to remind myself of some things I should know. (Does that ever happen to you?) Writing is how I understand things in my life, so writing this out helped show me where I am, which is helpful. πŸ˜‰

I’m going to leave you with a scribble of poetry that was meandering around my head at 2 a.m. when I was trying to sleep but instead thinking about all these things.

Writer ups and writer downs
We will don our paper crowns
Take up our most loyal pens
Find out where the story ends

Thanks for reading! ^_^

Checklist: 30 Things To Do For NaNo Prep

nanochecklist

The NaNo site has wiped and is fresh for a new year, so this means . . .

NaNo season is upon us!

*cue excited/panicked flailing*

Here’s a checklist for things to do to prepare for NaNoWriMo… This is actually mostly for ME as a reminder of what I should be doing during NANOPREPMONTH (er… I mean October), and sort of in the form of notes-to-self, but I thought you might enjoy it too, so here it is!

It’s a mixture of my ideal to-do list and things I think others might find helpful to do or know or think about. Whether you’re a beginner first tentatively dipping your toes into the NaNo waters, a seasoned writer of a year or three, or a veteran of a dozen years, I hope it’ll have something in it for all of you.

Hope you enjoy! πŸ™‚

The Checklist

(with longwinded explanations and miscellaneous gifs and NaNo-ish pics)

1. Decide what you’re writing

This is harder than you might think. I usually take months to decide… But be it an old plot idea you’ve been planning for years or a newborn baby plotbunny from last night, you’ve still got to decide. Be excited about it!

2. Give your shiny novel idea a title (if it doesn’t have one yet)

This helps. Honest. (And yes, you’re allowed to call it The Epic Novel #293857987 if that’s what you can come up with. But you should at least have a working title!)

3. Write a “blurb” for it

This will help you with knowing what you’re writing, and you’ll also have something for the novel info page on the NaNo site, which is very motivating. I find that I have a hard time writing a story these days unless I’ve defined it in some way and summarized it in a paragraph or three. It’s very helpful.

4. Make a “cover”

Don’t underestimate the inspirational value of a mock cover for your story. It’s like a banner to lead you into battle.

5. Create your novel page on NaNo

(I’m going to assume that you’ve signed up for the NaNo site already… if you haven’t, then do so at once! Seriously, you will not regret it.) This really makes the project “real” to me. It’s an important step. *nod nod*

6. Show off a NaNo participant badge to declare your intention of epically novelling during November

NaNo-2015-Participant-Badge-Large-SquareShiiiiiny.

7. Make a folder on your computer to keep all your nano stuff in

Or a physical one ifΒ  you’re a real paper sort of person. Organization is key!

8. Name your novel inhabitants

Names are important. And if you name them MC, Character1, or Bob, they’ll probably stick like that. Believe me. I know it’s a pain, but you’ll thank me later. If you can’t come up with any, there are sites like Behind the Name, and also this name generator site which has specific genres for generating, like Steampunk, Fantasy, Mermaids, Time Lords, Supervillains…

9. Figure out your novel inhabitants

Whether it’s just the main character, or the important ones, or all the minor ones as well, make sure you do some thinking about them. Anything from a word that describes them to full bios… whatever you like.

10. Plan out and roughly summarize your plot — beginning, middle, and end

You can go as detailed or not as you want. It’s up to you and your preferences. I like to be very plotted so that I feel like I know what I’m doing and have some chance of having something to write for 30 days without chronic writer’s block.

I’m also throwing in “setting” and “worldbuilding” collectively into this point because to me at least they’re so intertwined with plot.

  • Note: If you’re a pantser, feel free to disregard the two previous points.

11. Research if you want

If you’re writing a historical or a sci-fi or a fantasy or a contemporary, you may want to look up facts and figures and swords and time-zones. Or even if you think you don’t want/need to research, you may have something to do still… For instance, I’m “researching” by reading different versions of the fairytale The Twelve Dancing Princesses and rereading books that contain characters I like of certain character types which I hope to understand enough to write similar types for myself. Basically whatever you need to feel prepared!

12. Find inspirational pictures

This can be for character faces, clothing, weapons, settings, etc. Pinterest is your best friend if you want to do this. (…It is also the biggest time drain in the history of ever, so exercise caution if you don’t want to emerge decades/centuries later like Rip Van Winkle, wondering how you managed to miss NaNo… and several dozens of NaNos since.) It can be SO inspirational though! πŸ™‚

Whoa, hey, take it EASY! O_O It’s for inspirational purposes, honest!

13. Find good noveling music

Whatever inspires you. Instrumental music is good unless words don’t distract you. Fast music is ideal — those fingers will type faster if the music is exceeding the speed-limit. Epic movie soundtracks can inspire. Make a playlist on your computer/phone/ipod/youtube… I also recommend Pandora and I’ve heard some people like Spotify as well.

14. Make a schedule for NaNo

Both a daily one, and one for your overall month. It may not work out, but having something to shoot for is ideal. (Aim for moon, land in stars, am I right? Naturally. So pay attention. XD ) Whether this is a particular time of day you hope to write, or segments with a projected wordcount, or, for the month, blacked out days when you know you won’t be able to write, and highlighted days when you’ll have extra time for catching up… Whatever works for you, go for it!

15. Fill your calendar with NaNo goodness

Wordcount goals, local NaNo events, NaNo dates (like these). Or be nuts and overboard like me and have a whole spiral notebook with a page for each NaNo day and put all the relevant info for that day, the expected NaNo wordcount goal, my personal wordcount goal for the day, along with a daily schedule/to-do list and all other life events/importantness/reminders to remember in the midst of hectic noveling.

16. Download an awesome wordcount tracking spreadsheet

This amazing person has splendid spreadsheets for free download that are fabulous for tracking your words and other stuff about your NaNo novel. There’s others out there you could find, but these are my favorites. You can also track your daily wordcount on the NaNo site, which is fabulous too (watching the graph climb is one of the great joys in life), but I’m not always on the internet and it’s nice to have it right there.

17. Brainstorm more about your story and characters

You may think your story is ready. But it’s not. There’s no such thing as too much brainstorming. Give your characters new quirks! Add a devious plot twist! More villains!Β A letter from an unknown sender! Donkeys! Red umbrellas! A suspicious strudel that’s been in the pantry for seventy-three days and has malicious intent! Believe me, there are still more ideas and you’re not going to want to stop planning your NaNo novel just because you think it’s ready…

18. Fangirl* over your novel-to-be

Because it is awesome and you know it and you love your darlings and OH MY WORD THIS STORY IS GOING TO BE EPIC ALDKFJSLKFDLKJLKJSD

*I’m assuming most people reading this are female. I apologize if you’re not. Fanboy if you will, or find a more acceptable verb if you would rather. And please inform me of what it is because I’m curious!

19. Get excited

Because NaNo!

20. Post in the NaNo forums

Because there is so much awesomeness and community at the NaNoWriMo Forums.

21. Find noveling buddies so you can support/cheer/commiserate with each other

Noveling is lonely work but the camaraderie during NaNo is one of the great reasons for writing during November even when you feel too busy for it.

22. Catch up on everything you wanted to do recently, everything you might want to do soon, and everything you might want to do during November

Okay, tall order. But you’re seriously going to want to have your plate cleared.

If there’s something you think you’re going to have time for during NaNo…?

You’re not. Better do it now. πŸ˜‰

23. Gather your writing fuel (i.e. food, chocolate, and caffeine)

Plan your meals, buy snacks and coffee/tea/beverage of choice. Because food and drink is almost as necessary as chocolate. Also, caffeine is your friend, unless you think you can get enough sleep during the month… Haha.

24. Organize yourself and make your writing den pleasant/liveable

Wash enough laundry for the next month, clean your desk…

25. Manage the fearsome hordes of internet obligation and distraction

Catch up on your emails now instead of later, and plan to turn off the shiny distractions during NaNo (Goodreads, Facebook, Twitter, Tumblr, Pinterest, Instagram, Blogs…) unless they are a) writing related, b) inspirational for your writing, c) rewards for having written, or, d) breaks to keep you sane. (Though really, insanity is much better embraced during NaNo. It makes the noveling process far easier to handle. I now want a t-shirt that encourages throwing the inner editor and sanity out the window together so they won’t be lonely.)

26. Make sure you have a timer and plan to engage in lots of wordwars

Also called word sprints. But I prefer word war. (Alliteration! More exciting! Even if the only person I’m warring against is my inner procrastinator/perfectionist!) Have wordwars with yourself, wordwars with others online, with your NaNo buddies, with people on the NaNo forums, with people at your local write-ins, with @NaNoWordSprints on Twitter, wordwars with your timer, your dishwasher, wordwars with your cat… (assuming dear Fluffy is willing to type). Wordwars pay off. They do. (I personally particularly like wordwarring against myself with a timer. That way I don’t get distracted between wars by talking with people online… But sometimes the companionship is awesome, so.)

27. Join your local NaNo region!

Find your local region from the list here, home to it, and join in the fun on the forum!

28. Go to the local kickoff/events in your region if you can

These events are organized by NaNoWriMo Municipal Liaisons (MLs), who are local volunteers and are awesome (I should know, as I am one. πŸ˜‰ ). We work hard to support and keep our local regions together, and we love when Wrimos (that’s you, the writer participating in NaNoWriMo) come to events and have fun in the wonderful community of writers during November! Honestly, write-ins and other NaNo get-togethers are so much fun. The local, in-person support. The camaraderie. Meeting other writers. The clacking of typing. (There may even be stickers.)

29. Anticipate November 1st and die a little inside both from excitement and a feeling of woeful unpreparedness

You’re ready now, aren’t you???

…No?

It’s okay. None of us are actually ready, even if we’ve checked off everything on this list and all the lists out there. Just let the whirlwind of noveling take you where it will.

30. When NaNo hits… Write.

Seven is a favorite number of mine, so here are 7 essential tips for when NaNo arrives:

  1. Have fun
  2. Write
  3. Keep writing
  4. Don’t stop writing
  5. Don’t worry about it being perfect
  6. Don’t give up
  7. Have fun

(Oh, did I repeat myself? Well that’s because it’s important.)

Recipe for a successful NaNo: Write with abandon and have fun with it.

Did I miss anything? Are you doing NaNo? How do you prepare?

Was this a helpful checklist? (Or do you know it all already, you veterans, you? ;))nanoprepchecklistgraphic