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7 Thoughts it’s Ok to Have When Finishing Your Draft

It’s been a November of fits and starts as I close in on the end of the draft of the novel and I’ve been keeping track of all the crazy thoughts that come to mind when working on a book. It’s a threat to your status quo to write something. As I often discuss with clients, it’s really a crazy thing to do, writing a book. We spend years and years working on a story that a reader will consume in a matter of days or even hours before unleashing their opinions of how it could be different or better.

So why do we do it?

I believe, even with all the wild things that are running through my head now, that the process of writing a book is every bit as valuable to us and transformative as the change in status we feel from having written a book and being labeled “an author.” For this reason, it is perfectly ok to have the following thoughts and to continue forward, undaunted (or perhaps only slightly daunted) on toward your goal of finishing your book:

7 Thoughts it’s ok to Have When Finishing Your Draft.

Keep Going!

1. This really isn’t any good, is it? At some point during your draft this will come up. It is pretty much guaranteed. So when it appears, give yourself a high five that you are now officially in the writer club.

2. You don’t know what you’re doing. You should really stick to nonfiction / fiction / articles / short stories / journaling /email. Take your pick. The critic will tell you that you’re not cut out to write what you’re actually writing. What you’ve written in the past was a fluke and you’re not going to succeed at this one. This one simply means you’re writing something that your critic is afraid will have an impact. Again- good news! The critic doesn’t appear when we write grocery lists, so if this one shows up, you’re definitely on to something.

3. You’re writing the wrong story. {Insert shiny new idea here} would be so much better. Why not drop that one and try this new one? I fell for this one for YEARS. I switched book ideas so many times that I eventually had about five partially written novels. This is a really seductive premise. But guess what? This just means you don’t have to worry about running out of ideas. You already know what your next book will be- congratulations! All the better motivation to finish the current one so you can start the next. Again, distraction tends to appear when you’re onto something good with your current project.

4. Ugh. My character doesn’t feel believable here. I need to re-write this scene/this chapter/the entire first half of the book. I can absolutely raise my hand as being guilty of this one, and am as we speak in the middle of a section of the book I have written at least three times. Guess what? If you have a strong sense of who your character is, keep going with that new sense and then adjust in revision. Make notes on the changes that you want to make by going backward and then keep writing forward. This new insight into your character is great. Let it inform you in the next draft. Don’t let your inner perfectionist slow you down.

5. This draft doesn’t feel complete. I need more sensory detail/character descriptions/dialogue. It’s ok not to include every single thing in this draft. There will be things you want to add, change or cut the next time around and that is ok. Focus on what you can focus on now, and remember that no one is going to sneak into your computer and publish the book before you are ready. Go slow, and tackle what you can tackle in each draft.

6. Oh no! My draft is waaaaay too long. I’m out of control! If you are the sort of writer who feels like you just keep writing and writing and writing while the story balloons beyond the size of book you thought you wanted, don’t reign yourself in too much. This extra writing will give you insight into the story and character in this draft. You can always cut parts out if they feel unnecessary later. Plus, there is no reason to make a book shorter if it’s meant to be a long book. Diana Gabaldon doesn’t worry about how long an installment of Outlander is. Erin Morgenstern had 8 years between The Night Circus and The Starless Sea and the new one is a whopping 494 pages. Am I sorry to have a big book in my hands? Not at all.

7. I’m never going to get to the end, am I? Of all the beliefs, this is the one that has the potential to wear you out, which is why it is so important to keep writing forward, even when the quicksand of the beliefs above strikes. Don’t let these beliefs about how your book is supposed to be drag you down into endlessly reworking scenes and plot and ideas. Much of writing the first draft of a book is simply pressing forward and not letting anyone hold you back.

There will be other beliefs that threaten to trap you. Don’t listen to them. Just keep writing. If it’s been a long time since the first excitement of the idea for your book hit you, trust that the sparkle will be strong at the finish. If nothing else, picture typing a theatrical THE END on your manuscript and doing a celebratory dance.

If you keep writing forward, every word is getting you closer to this point.

You’ve got this. Keep up the great work!

If you’ve got other beliefs that have gotten their mitts on you, please do share them in the comments below. Let’s cheer each other through the much and mire to the finish line.

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    Writing retreats that won’t break the bank

    I recently returned from a writing retreat adventure on The Scilly Isle off the coast of Cornwall in the UK. When I was little, my dad and I used to play a game where we rearranged the cushions of the sofa into a boat and a car and a plane and a train. Getting to Scilly is the only time in my life I have done all four in one day.

    While this is a rare opportunity, I had a very different writing retreat last week, once that didn’t require nearly as much planning, and cost almost nothing.

    I spent a week in London writing for the cost of groceries.

    Yes, you read that correctly. I paid nothing to stay there, nothing to fly there and all I had to do was buy myself food when I arrived. How did I do this?

    • Trick 1: I am fortunate enough to have a friend who lives in London who happened to be traveling for a week and was looking for someone to watch her beloved cat. I have three cats and a dog, so I know well that petsitting is expensive. It was a better deal for her to give me the house to stay in than to hire a sitter. A better deal for the cat, too, who got a friend in the house while she was gone.
    • Trick 2: I have a credit card that gives points for travel. I’ve had it for years and we put every expense on it we can, and then pay it straight off. As a result, I can book short hop flights to London from Berlin for nothing and without depleting my points completely.

    So… how can this work for you? Yes, you may not live as close to London as I do, but I am sure you live close to a city that is different than the one you call home. And, if you’re serious about a writing retreat, you’re not going to leave the house much so it doesn’t matter very much which city you go to, as long as it is far enough from where you live that you won’t have to deal with your day-to-day responsibilities and can focus on writing.

    And, if you start now, you’ll likely have enough points before long – especially if you put this into practice before the holiday season- that you can make a writing escape trip for nothing.

    While here, I did zero tourist things. I set a writing goal of about 2,000 words a day, which I hit 90% of the days I was here, before switching to reading and research mode. My big treats were having dinner with a few friends in town and outings to my two favorite bookstores. (Foyle’s and Hatchard’s) If I hadn’t made those trips, my retreat would have been even cheaper!

    If you need time and space to write, it’s possible to have it.

    Send an email to all your friends, especially those with pets or.a lot of plants. Let them know you’d be happy to talk about staying to petsit while they travel, if scheduling works out. The fun truth? If you’re in the same country, you’ll have the same federal holidays off work, and could make a 3 or 4 day weekend into an escape for both of you. Just make sure your points don’t have blackout days that prevent you from getting that free flight.

    Even though I’ve been looking forward to the novelty of writing in an inn off the coast of Cornwall for months, it may be this DIY retreat that got the most word count in for me… we’ll see how the numbers add up once I’m back home. The point is, don’t dream about having a writing retreat and then sigh, “must be nice” and give up ever having one.

    You deserve time to rest, read, replenish, and write.

    The world is not good about giving this time to anyone, especially in today’s constantly connected world where we never stop staring at a screen or piling items on the to-do list.

    You probably need a break more than you know. It doesn’t have to be 4-star hotel to feel like a truly delicious escape.

    Don’t leave your writing dreams for someday. Think of five friends who might need someone to watch their home in the next year and email them. Bonus points if they are friends you haven’t seen in ages- go a day before they leave and stay a day after they come home to catch up.

    I hope this gets you thinking and planning and, most of all, closer to some solid time to write. Having that space has made a huge difference to me these last few months as I hurtle toward the finish line of this draft.

    You’ve got this. Just. Keep. Writing.

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      Finding your ideal writing spot

      carolinedonahue.com |

       

      Has this ever happened to you?

      You’ve scheduled in a block of time to write, explained to your family that you’ll be unavailable for the next several hours, made deals and swapped responsibilities to get this precious time with your book only to sit down in your writing spot and realize you can’t concentrate. At all.

      Where you write is just as important as making the time.

      One of the essentials I work on with clients when we begin our process together is figuring out where they can get the most writing done. Finding a good writing spot is necessary before you can make progress on your project.

      Setting aside time to write is a waste if you don’t have the right place to work.

      Even trickier? Not everyone has the same needs when it comes to writing. So let’s go through the process together to ensure that when you take those hours (or minutes) to yourself, you’re certain that it will be time well spent.

      Step 1: Write a job description for your writing spot.

      This may sound a bit odd, but it’s an assignment I give nearly all my new clients. Imagine you are hiring the ideal place to write in, and you’re placing a classified ad. What qualities and amenities are you looking for in a writing spot? If you’re not sure, consider the following questions:

      • Does background noise soothe you or make you crazy?
      • Do you like to stare out a window at a nice view or does that slow you down?
      • Do you like other people around you, or do you prefer to be entirely alone?
      • Is food (or a particular beverage, say coffee?) a part of your ritual, or do you set these things aside when writing?
      • Can you unplug completely or do you need to be accessible to your partner, children or work?
      • How close does this place need to be from your home or work?
      • Do you need several hours to write, or are you better while snatching scraps of time here and there?

      Take a little time to journal on these points. Many people don’t think about these things directly when deciding where to write and end up wasting precious minutes in spots that don’t suit them. Someone who needs others around them and the num of background noise will suffer in a library, whereas someone who needs total silence is never going to get anything done on the train or in a cafe.

      Step 2: Create a list of places that you can interview as writing spots and interview them.

      You don’t have to hire the first writing spot you interview. Just like if you were choosing a new employee, make sure you have a decent pool of candidates. Come up with a list of at least five options if you can, and begin trying them out for your writing sessions. If you haven’t started one already, keep a writing process journal and make notes about where you wrote, for how long, and how productive the session was. If it didn’t work out as expected, note down why and adjust your job description and list of other candidates as needed.

      Love everything about the place, except it was too busy and impossible to get a seat? Modify your description to look for places that are less hip and trendy.

      Did you realize that making yourself accessible by phone meant you were interrupted so much you didn’t write a word? Try going offline for longer and longer increments to get comfortable being away. Let those who need to find you in an emergency where you are and what you’re up to.

      Keep interviewing your writing spot candidates until you have a solid list.

      Make sure to note the type of work you did in each one and how it went- different spots may be better for different tasks. For example, when drafting new scenes or material I prefer to be in a dead silent library where I feel silly doing anything but writing. When editing or revising, I prefer to be in a cafe, and often buy myself a treat I’m only allowed to ask for if I reach my writing goal.

      Step 3: Going forward, consider where you will write as much as when.

      When you schedule time to write in your calendar, consider your list of writing spot candidates and the type of writing you plan to do in that session before planning where you’ll write. With your new tailored writing spots, the word count will soon be adding up like crazy.

      What spots work best for you for writing? I’ve seen everything from cafes to libraries to sneaking time on a phone before work to a gorgeous writing shed in the garden work for me and my clients. I’d love to know where you are writing – share your favorite spots in the comments below!

      Leaving Los Angeles.

      I’m writing this in the corner of our office in the house we’ve lived in the past three and a half years. My husband and I have begun taking this house apart, because we’ve decided that it’s time to stop saying “someday” about our dream to live in Berlin. We’d run out of reasons not to go, and so the transition begins.

      We told our families and friends, I’ve given notice at my job here in LA, but I’m lucky that the podcast, my clients, and my writing world all come with me. This is a move that will make more space for the creative work we both want to do.

      As we’ve been shedding the astonishing amount of stuff that has accumulated over the past twelve years in LA (in my case) and the past 20 years here (in his), we’ve been struck by how easy it has been to let it all go. The stuff, that is. The hundreds and hundreds of books we thought defined who we were and the weird clothes I haven’t touched or remembered were there in the back of the closet. It’s been like shedding a skin.

      What has been much harder is spending time with all the amazing people we love in this city, knowing it won’t be so easy to see them in person going forward. We’ll always come back to LA – we both have family here as well as friends that have become like family. But they won’t be able to grab a dinner last minute. This is the price we pay for this change.

      I have noticed that something happens to me about every ten years, where I get itchy. To go into the woo-woo, I’m year of the snake and I think I need to do a big shed every decade or so. Turning 40 has meant taking a hard look at what I really want to accomplish in my life with the time that I have. I’m not old, but I’m aware that life doesn’t last forever.

      I’ve been working on some book or other since I was 25 and life has always been making other plans that are just a little bit more urgent than finishing the book in question. I spent most of my 20s in San Francisco, a city even more financially unforgiving than the Los Angeles of my 30s, and before that I was still in School. It goes so fast.

      The podcast has been such an incredible gift to me over the past two years, providing a reason to talk to so many incredible writers about how they got their books done. After over 100 conversations, I think I can boil down the one piece of advice that will help anyone finish a book:

      [Tweet “If you want to write a book, you cannot allow anything else to be more important than writing.”]

      I can hear the objections building already, because they’ve been screaming in my head for decades now:

      But I need to make money. But I’m in a relationship. But I have kids.

      Yes, and. It’s impossible to write 24 hours a day. Maybe someone does it, but I don’t advise it. What I have learned is necessary is to plan for your writing first.

      Need to make money? Of course – we all do. If we’re fortunate enough to have jobs that aren’t 12 hour shifts, then allocate the leftover time you will give writing first.

      Same with your kids. Every parent I know who is also a writer has a deal they’ve worked out with their partner, or their sleep if they don’t have a partner helping them raise their family: writing gets scheduled first in the time that is there.

      I haven’t been taking this advice for myself. Los Angeles has become a place that doesn’t allow for the windows needed to write. The time in the car, the amount of hours we need to work, and the fact that I am less and less able to tolerate the heat of the summers has pushed writing further down the list.

      And I haven’t been ok with that happening.

      I can’t in good conscience lead groups and clients through structures to help them write their books if I’m not allowing the space to finish my own.

      As we sell and donate so many of our things, and place our favorites in good homes to be babysat, I feel both terrified and so much lighter.

      Because I have realized what I have been doing for years: I’ve been buying stuff to console myself for not writing. And all this stuff in the garage and the closet and the cabinets is evidence that I needed a pick-me-up in order to tolerate another day not putting writing first.

      I don’t think it’s necessary to move over 5,000 miles away to reach these conclusions, but it is a good catalyst if you’re up for it. Don’t make this mistake. If you’re called to write, please write. Not just for the rest of us who will benefit from what you share, but for yourself and the way it will change your life as you are writing.

      Writing makes me a better person, without question. And for all the times I’ve felt it’s selfish to take time away from other pursuits to be alone and write, I’ve realized that it’s actually even more selfish not to.

      Sometimes you have to let go of much that is familiar to remember what you must accomplish in life.

      In yoga the other day, my teacher shared the following thought as we were all in savasana at the end:

      “Our time is limited, so don’t waste it living someone else’s life.”

      I pass it on to you. Don’t wait to write. The someday you are waiting for to start is today.

       

      I Wrote it Anyway

      Have a story about overcoming obstacles to write? Submit it to a new anthology: I Wrote It Anyway

      Sometimes the hardest part about writing is getting started.

      Dal Kular and I are on a mission: support writers in overcoming the obstacles that keep them from telling their stories. Whether these obstacles were imposed externally, or came up inside you as the critic, we want to band together to break through as writers.

      We are currently accepting entries into an anthology we are assembling to showcase tales of anyone who felt the fear and wrote it anyway. Told by a teacher you’d never write? Tell us your story. Crippled by doubt and perfectionism despite support from those around you? We want that story too. Circumstances conspiring to prevent you ever having the time to write? Hell yes we want that story told.


      Here’s how to submit to I Wrote it Anyway:

        • *We are accepting submissions of up to 2,500 words
        • *Please listen to the Secret Library Podcast Episode #88 to hear our discussion of the anthology’s mission
        • *Submissions must be sent in by March 15, 2018 at midnight Pacific Time
        • *Email your submission as an attachment to: iwroteitanyway@gmail.com
        • *Share this post on Social Media with the hashtag #iwroteitanyway
        • *We will announce the essays we select for the final collection on April 30, 2018

      Good luck! We look forward to reading all your stories. As Dal says in this episode, writing is a revolutionary act. We all benefit when more stories are told. Let’s share what helped us write.

      All proceeds will be split equally to benefit 826 LA and Arts Emergency

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