Part-time Creative: My rules for surviving the battle

Cheryl-StrayedCall me a weekend warrior, if by weekend warrior you mean someone who actually stays in and struggles to be creative and productive on the weekends (and weekday nights). I’m certainly going to war, but not with shots of tequila or complicated bongs. My adversaries are mostly my exhaustion, anxiety, self-doubt, and Netflix account. They all distract and prevent me from writing in my spare time, something that many of us with day jobs are forced to do.

There is only an incredibly small percentage of people who are lucky enough to pursue their creative dreams 100%. Most of us have to walk a fine line of full-time employment and part-time creativity in order to follow our dreams, and it’s exhausting.

The most important thing to remember is that different things work for different people. There isn’t just one process for navigating this situation, so figure out what works for you and stick with it until it doesn’t work. YA author Susan Dennard has an incredible series about how to maximize your productivity, and I highly recommend everyone take a look at it. You can follow her plan exactly, or you can bastardize her ideas and make them your own. That’s kind of what I did, and I will share my personal rules with you in the hopes that they will help you too.

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Camp NaNo: A change in plans

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Camp NaNoWriMo is a delightful off-season (if you will) NaNo event that is held in the spring every year. Like November’s NaNo, it is a time to push yourself and connect with other writers, but being Camp, it is also much more relaxed. Your options are cracked wide open, so instead of being restricted to just a novel, you can write a screenplay, short story collection, poems, anything your heart desires. The word count can be set to whatever is most appropriate for your project (as opposed to the traditional 50K), and you can be very specific about which medium and genre you’re writing in. Another awesome element are Cabins. You can fill out a quick questionnaire and be put in a small group of 11 people who are working on like projects. You can go with a random selection or pick a group of people you already know. This is incredible for helping you meet others that enjoy writing what you write.

I can’t tell you how excited I was to participate in this year’s first Camp NaNo. Like NaNoWriMo, I have never tried it before, and it sounded amazing to me. Most especially because I COULD WRITE A SCREENPLAY!! I started planning my plot, loosely outlining, building a brainstorming board on Pinterest, putting together a playlist, and getting really excited. But then I looked at all the projects I still have on my plate.

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My Writing Debate: For me or for publication

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This might be kind of like a manifesto (the first of many, I’m sure).

I have always stretched myself thin. In high school I juggled everything: band (wind ensemble, jazz, marching, and pep), sports (soccer and track), drama club, student council, honor society, music honor society, tutoring, a part-time job, and my school work. College was even worse, adding on three more part-time jobs, a 100% full course load, and a ton of extra curriculars (working on friends’ film sets, writing for campus publications, running writing groups, etc). It hurt me then, dividing my attention and diluting my work. Be involved, sure! But maybe not to the point of nervous break downs and anxiety attacks.

I’m much less busy these days, which upsets me. In a positive light, I’d like to be more involved in community activities, maybe explore some new hobbies (I’m getting really into baking and knitting, at least), and just enrich my life more outside of work. But this is also extending to my writing. I feel like need to write everything and be everywhere. It’s splitting me in all different directions and causing some serious confusion. That’s the negative.

My writing spans multiple media. I write journalistic pieces, blogs, scripts, business documents, essays, and prose. I have the technical ability to write all of them, but if I continue to focus on each I’ll never master any. So a frustrating battle has started to rage inside of me: do I try to get more work published and truly attempt a life as a freelancer (which is nearly impossible today)? Or should I leave that behind and devote all my time to fiction? It’s difficult to suppress my overachiever personality.

I have also always loved getting my work out there and posting articles I’d written to Facebook to prove to people that I was relevant and, in fact, a writer. But in order to commit to a life of self-affirmation via Facebook, you have to leave everything else behind and become a monster. Sounds tiring.

But there’s more to this…

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NaNoWriMo 2013: Week 3

2013-Winner-Facebook-CoverWell, I’m done! I reached my 50,000 words and validated my novel yesterday. It got pretty rough at the end of last week, and the stuff that was coming out of me was not the greatest (both in terms of words and mucus). I think it was a combination of being sick of my story in general and actually running out of story to write. It was the definition of pain. I was writing well over 2,000 words a day, usually hitting 3,000, and then it became difficult for me to get to 1,000. I started focusing on just making the NaNo minimum of 1,667 each day and that helped me to inch forward in this last week. I ended up adding in a few scenes here and there just to make the word count, but I’m not entirely sure they will be scenes that stand the test of time.

I’ll be taking a significant break from the manuscript before starting revisions. I need to rethink my ending, as well as add a few/handful/lot of new scenes. Barely squeaking past 50,000 words of story probably means it could stand to be expanded a pinch. From poking around on various websites and friends’ blogs, I found an incredible revision course or guide or whatever you want to call it on author Susan Dennard‘s website. She has a section with advice specifically for writers, and I’ve found it all very helpful. I enjoy working very methodically and having steps to cross off a list, so her approach to revision is exactly what I need. It looks time-consuming, but thorough. And I usually enjoy revising much more than I do writing the original draft (it’s easier to work from something that already exists), so I’m excited to give her method a try! I won’t be touching my MS for at least a month, however.

Ultimately, this was a great experience. I’m happy I did it, happy I finished, and happy I enjoyed the process. It helped me to write every day and stick with a project through to the end. I encourage anyone who is considering doing NaNo, or is a writer of any sort, to participate next year. Just do it. You’ll learn a lot about yourself and your writing, and writing in general!

NaNoWriMo 2013: Week 2

They aren’t joking when they talk about the week two slumps. I couldn’t even post this blog entry on time last Friday. In my defense, I was busy ravaging the Penguin warehouse sale and watching hours of Sister Wives, so I didn’t really have time for silly matters like blogs. I was hit hard with lazy disinterest last week and started off barely writing at all. But that gave me a challenge to work harder and catch up to where I was. Ultimately, that pushed me farther ahead in my word count than I ever would have expected!

Just living the Principle!

Just living the Principle!

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NaNoWriMo 2013: Week 1

Writing_Marathon_851x315_1It’s a week into NaNo, and I’m feeling pretty good! I’m at 19,173 words, and, despite having a rough day today due to illness and general motivation, I’m pretty comfortable with where I’m at. I’m excited for the writing marathon tomorrow and am aiming to have at least 6,000 words by the end of the day. I’d love 10,000!

I’m truly surprised at what I’ve been learning through this process. I entered into it with the attitude that it would be an exercise for me, but it’s been much more than that already. I’m shocked at how supportive the noveling community is! I’m used to pretentious, condescending writers who love being better than you. I never felt comfortable in the film world, even though I love it more than anything. On set and in discussing screenwriting, I always felt pushed aside. The most fun I have when talking about movies is discussing them with fans and people not in the industry. I’ve only had a handful of people (if that) treat my scripts respectfully when giving me notes, and because of that it’s been really difficult to have confidence or faith in myself.

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NaNoWriMo 2013

2013-Participant-Facebook-CoverI don’t really remember how I learned about NaNo. Maybe I saw some people talking about it on Facebook and decided to give it a Google, but however it came into my sphere of influence, I’m really happy that it did. This year I’m going to attempt my first NaNoWriMo!

For those of you who don’t know, NaNoWriMo is National Novel Writing Month, which is November. The idea is that you push yourself to write a 50,000 word (at least) manuscript by the end of the month. It doesn’t have to be great, in fact it won’t be. It just has to hit that word count. Obviously it’s a first draft so you’d be going back and revising, but the point is that you will have a full first draft of a novel written by you. It’s pretty intense, but when it comes to actually writing I can pump out over 3,000 words a day no problem (suggested daily word count while participating in NaNo is around 1,667 I think). My issue is sitting down and actually doing it.

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