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writing rules

I have a confession to make.  I’ve thrown a few of the writing rules out the window.  Which ones?  Well, let’s go down the list.


1. Turn off everything to focus on your writing.  Yeah, tried that.  Spun in my chair. Took two hours to write 250 words.   Even what I wrote looked bored.  Eventually I gave up on that tactic all together.  Partly because there’s too much to read and do that I’ve not quite given up on yet.  Tumblr, I’m looking at you.  Also because I work nights and therefore sleep days, so if I want to talk to friends and game with them online, I have to dedicate half my waking time to that.  Leaves fewer hours for chores and bill paying and dog playing. 


So while I’m chatting and scrolling through Twitter and Tumblr and reading articles, I also have Scrivener open and either the TV on or Netflix streaming and a couple instant message windows open.  And I get my words done quicker.  It’s weird. I know.   Sometimes it’s because I have the last thirty minutes of my evening before going to work to get my words done, but they get done. 

See also: turn off the internet, or use a computer that’s not connected to the internet.


2. Work on one project at a time. As you can see from above, I’m quite used to multitasking.   I’m more used to letting a project bubble in the back of my head like the Witch’s cauldron in Brave until that perfect cake comes out of it for my plot/character/issue.


3.  This rule depends on whether you’ve read “Around the Writer’s Block” or not.  Have separate times for self care, play, and working time.  I… tend to do it all at the same time.  Take that whole list above and add in knitting and/or playing games.  Yes, I’ve knitted while playing World of Warcraft.  It takes a long time to fly from point to point!  I’ve also put the needles down to flip screens and add a couple sentences then flip back to keep from getting ganked on arrival. 


4.  Don’t read while you work.  Norman Mailer is quoted as only reading the New York Times while he works.  I don’t have time for that.  In addition to all the above, I have podcasts to listen to at work, and audio books.  I also read in the tub or on the web when Twitter and Tumblr don’t have enough to amuse me.  The only variation on this rule that I have is that I don’t read during the times I have Scrivener open.  Those words are mine and I can’t concentrate on someone else’s work then. 


What I don’t go against:


1. Write every day.  This I do.  The Magic Spreadsheet community keeps me going, and I’ve friended a few other users to share encouragement.  I’ve got an 80 day chain now. I’ve leveled up to where I now have a 350 words a day, but I still get them done.  Since it’s so close, I often push to get 500.  In the same amount of time that I got 250 done in.


2.  Edit while I write.  I don’t do this, or I’d still be working on chapter one instead of chapter 21.  I told myself to write crap and second draft will fix that.  Future me might hate me greatly for that crap, but.. she’ll just have to deal with it.


3.  Apply butt to chair and do not release until day’s wordage has been done.  Despite my multitasking and online life, I have been known to shut it all off in that desperate 30 minutes to get it done.  I try to do it earlier, but I don’t yell at myself unless I don’t do it.  Then I write at work on breaks and lunch.  But I get the words done.


Maybe some day I’ll be able to wean myself off all the distraction and put out a bigger word count, but right now, this is what works.  I’m not saying that it’s ok to dump all the hard stuff just so you can goof off.  If you don’t get the words done because you’re goofing off, then you need more discipline.  All I’m saying is, sometimes you need to distract your anxiety and your hyper critical self to get the words done.  And if you work better with distraction, that’s okay too.  What counts is the work getting done.


More on writing, inspiration, determination, and accountability.

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Once upon a time, during a wild crazy summer, I managed to kick out over 200,000 words in just a few months.  I remember the high and the thrill of the story just running through me like a bad relationship.  You know the kind, where you know the person is bad for you but the thrill of running on the edge of the cliff is too intoxicating to stop; until you slip and crash and end up with half your stuff busted and the other half stolen.  Sometimes writing is like that too.

This summer was exactly that, because my writing was based off roleplay with a friend.  She got tired of it long before I did and stepped away.  And suddenly I felt myself in freefall.  It’s more complicated than that, but excuse me for trying not to embarrass myself again, kay?

That was nearly 8 years ago, and I’ve had a complex about writing ever since. 

I changed my focus.  Stepped way from roleplay and fan fiction.  Started focusing on my own stories again.  Took writing courses in college as a side interest to my major.  Graduated with a bachelors, history major with creative writing minor. 

Still couldn’t get my butt in the chair to get the words done.  So I started reading again.  [I mentioned “Around the Writer’s Block” in a previous post, btw.] Tried to find a job, couldn’t.  Sidestepped my position at my current job, then slipped out of the job.

So here I am, working a temp job to keep the bills paid.  But I’ve written at least 250 words a day for the past 30 days.  Why?  Mur Lafferty’s podcast “I Should Be Writing” and her mention of the Magic Spreadsheet.  I looked into it.  Then I said hell yeah and jumped in feet first.

The main point about the Spreadsheet is the accountability.  I see the empty lines on the sheet and cringe, then I open up my current story and make sure I don’t become one of those.  Seeing others updating their lines gives me a community feeling that I haven’t had since the roleplay group I mentioned at the beginning of the post.   We posted our stories for each other to read and the immediate feedback was addicting.

 With the Spreadsheet, there isn’t any feedback, but the encouragement of seeing everyone else meet their goals for the day is a form of solidarity.  We’re all doing it together. And even I don’t know these people, I still support them, and I know they support me, even though we don’t speak. It’s just the act of updating for each other to see that supplies the support.

Addenum: there is a Facebook page for the Magic Spreadsheet, plus a Google + group. So you do have some conversation, if you prefer. 

But maan… breaking this block has been amazing.  And the story I started with this experiment has just run away with me and I think I might actually be able to finish it.  I still have words to write on it today, as well as this post.  But they both count towards my totals and add to my pleasure of words happening.

Thank you Mur, Tony Pisculli, and Derek Chamberlain and everyone connected with the Spreadsheet.

Happily plugging:  Lafferty just released “The Shambling Guide to New York” and it’s sequel was written with the support of the Magic Spreadsheet.  It’s a great rollicking romp and worth the read.

Work Sucks

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The past month for me has been a month of adjustments.  Went from being under-employed with tons of free time for writing to being over-employed and my schedule thrown on it’s ear.  While it’s great for my bank account (hello savings!), not so great for my production.  Working on adjusting to the new schedule instead of trying to force the schedule to work for me.   Like most people I can’t come home from work and go straight to bed, I need an hour or two to wind down. (my work schedule is 10 pm to 7 am. Hoot Hoot) So now.. I’m giving in and making that my writing time.

One nice thing about the job though, is they actively encourage ipods and other things to listen to.  So I’m checking out various podcasts.  Freakonomics I mentioned in the last post, but I’m also looking into writing podcasts.  I figure, I listen to one or two in my last hour at work, that’ll help prime the pump when I get home to write.  One of the two I’ve settled on so far is Inside Creative Writing with Brad Reed. He’s got a great voice and a sense of humor. I laugh.   The other one is the Odyssey podcasts from the yearly writing workshop they host. (and that I hope to apply to next year.)   I like them both, and bonus points is that I get to listen in to workshops attended by friends years ago. Time travel IS possible!

Anyone have podcasts they’d like to recommend?  I like to learn and think about things, and humor is a plus. Haters and jerks need not apply.

Freakonomics, the Herd Mentality, and the answer to American idiot culture

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So at the first of the month, I landed a new job.  It’s grunt work, a lot of hand eye coordination but not much brainage happening.  We’re allowed to listen to stuff and so, I loaded my tablet with audio books, music, a couple movies, then ventured into the world of podcasts.  The first one I looked for was Freakonomics.

Three years ago the book of the same name was required reading for a microeconomics class I took in college.  I devoured the book.  It was funny. It made me think and look at things differently.  A lot of the mind shifting I’ve done lately has Freakonomics at the bottom of the shift.

So there I was, listening to old podcasts and giggling to myself as my eyes and hands did their thing. Then the presentation they named “Riding the Herd Mentality” queued up to play.  They talked about how shaming sometimes works in changing people’s perceptions of things, like traffic in Bogota Columbia. How the wordage on signs either encouraged people to do things they shouldn’t, or discouraged people from other things they shouldn’t, simply on how the statement was presented.  And why keeping up with the Joneses only works to a certain point.

Quite honestly, I think this may be one of the more important things to read or listen to when you think of a society as a whole and the sociology behind it.  It explains why the way we word things hasn’t stopped the behaviors we’re trying to educate about. And suggests we might be supporting the behavior to continue. Such as rape culture, the patriarchal backbone of so much of our society, and the silencing of those outside the norm.
You can get the podcast on iTunes or through your favorite podcast app. The ‘cast mentions Stitcher as their sponsor, but it’s available anywhere you can get NPR programs.  Also, on the website they have the full transcript if you’d rather read than listen:

If you have the time, I can’t recommend it enough.

The Fragile Ego

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The writer’s ego is an interesting thing.  We are literally gods to do as we please to our world and our characters [see: The episode of Friends where Joey was dropped down an elevator shaft for disgruntling a Writer.], and we can write you out as fast as we wrote you in, no matter how much our readers may love you.

But the writer’s ego is a fragile thing too. It’s a bubble that’s made of sugar glass and the least bit of pressure it pops and sends us into a spiral.  It takes time to trust in that spun gossamer webbing that surrounds us.  For me, it’s taken a lifetime.

This past week I’ve stumbled onto one of my ego poppers, and now I’m having to learn to ignore it.   Write this into the column of what NOT to say to a writer, new or experienced. “You’re so lucky you can write.”  “I wish I could write too.”  “I’ve given up on being able to do that too.”

Those three sentences, and other variations on that theme, are manipulators.  You may very well be jealous of someone who’s able to push out the wordage.  God knows I am, and I’ve been guilty of saying such things to other writer friends. [I hereby apologize. Sincerely.]  But those type of phrases are guilt makers, at least to me.  Deep down inside, I’m a facilitator.  I want you to be able to do what you love too and if I can help, I will.  But these phrases make me feel guilty that I’m doing something you can’t.  These phrases serve to put me back into the closet of writer’s block, out of fear I will hurt your ego by expressing mine.  The roots of this tendency of mine extend way back into childhood and others trying to be helpful in encouraging things I could do, away from things they didn’t believe I could manage.  I’m learning to shake free of those shackles, but phrases like this, gentle reader, make me cringe.

So jealous though you may be of someone stretching out their wings and crowing over writing being done, encourage, and let their success be encouragement to you too.  Writing is 90% determination, 10% talent.  Cliche, because it’s true. Harness your determination and then we’ll be jealous of you.


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Watching Jules & Julia again and it reminded me I had started a blog *cough* weeks ago and haven’t updated since.

Other than making me hungry and reminding myself that I’m a horrible cook, I love this movie because I consider it a writing movie.  The character Jules has to face some of her own personal demons as she writes her blog and that is something I’m all too familiar with, writing demons.

Recently I found me a shield to protect myself from those demons, in the form of a book.  I picked up “Around the Writer’s Block” by Rosanne Bane as an impulse buy at my favorite bookstore.  Then when my free time exploded due to lack of work a month or so later, I picked it back up to read again.  Like most writers, I have a round dozen books on writing [ Jason Ridler is not a normal writer, therefore he has several dozens], but this one resonated with me because she used cognitive research and therapy techniques in her advice on how to deal with your own personal block.

A lot of mine centers around this one little thought:  My friends don’t even want to read my stuff, so why bother?

That right there froze five years of writing potential out of me.  Five years I’ll never get back.

I had gotten used to instant feedback from the fanfic community.  You posted it, they didn’t care if it wasn’t exactly publishable or that it had plot holes and more typos than a third grade essay, it was something about characters they already loved and they also loved to tell you about it.  When I switched to writing my own fiction, all those comments dried up.

So now my intent is to rely on just my First Reader.  She’s already read the first chapter of my new novel and has given her approval to keep going.  And she likes my title!  [Titles are harder than endings for me, I swear.]  And here’s the kicker: No one else is allowed to read it until I finish.   And damned if I’m not just, well if not flying along, I’m faster than not writing at all!

Not every writer has the same process, and not everything that works for me will work for you. That’s why there’s so many writing books out there, and why people keep writing more.  What works for you is what works for you, and may work for someone else. But if you really want to write, and you can’t stop thinking of stories to write, you WILL find a way.  Never stop trying, never give up.

Tray’s here!

I’m always horrible at coming up with titles.  So this time, I went with the name of one of my favorite characters I ever created. Okay yeah, she was a bit of a Mary Sue, but I adored her.  And she taught me a lot about how a character can develop their own personality. So I’ll just carry her along, shall we?

Yup, this is your average struggling writer blog.  My name’s Brenda Cobbs.  I have been published, but over a decade ago, so perhaps it’s good to start fresh.  I cut my teeth on the Dragonriders of Pern and NASA, thanks to the spacebug I call Mom.  I also learned my love of history and reading from her as well.  Just about every trip we took included a museum or historical spot, and I continue that tradition today.

I do have one other blog that’s semi-regularly updated, detailing the fun things the wind leaves on my doorstep:  . It’s partially amusement that I post there, partially environmental awareness.  But mostly because if I don’t make fun of it, I’ll get frustrated and angry at the Oklahoman wind, and no one stops that.