Do your best to present yourself to God as one approved, a workman who does not need to be ashamed . ~ 2 Timothy 2:15

Thursday, September 23, 2010

How to become a more productive writer

I wasn't going to take the late night workshop. Two full days into the American Christian Fiction Writers Conference, my brimming brain and tired body wanted only a comfy bed. I looked at the workshop title, "Top 10 Strategies for Becoming a More Productive Writer." I thought of all the time I wasted on Facebook and checking my email every few minutes.

"It's only and hour," I muttered, So I postponed jammies and a cup of "Sweet Dreams" tea and headed for the elevators. I was glad I went.

Presenter Joseph Bentz, author of seven books--three novels and four nonfiction--and full time professor, took away all my excuses for not doing what I sit at the computer to do: write.

Here are his tips, fresh from my notebook:

1. Make yourself sit at the computer even if nothing is happening. He called this "Winning the Battle of the First 20 Minutes." Setting rules for this time is crucial:
  • No email
  • No Internet
  • No Facebook 
  • No phone
  • No getting up
2. Let yourself play with ideas before you begin the formal writing.

3.  Start writing at the point in the project where you have the best ideas and feel the most confident.

4. Set reasonable goals and stick to them.  Determine a number of pages per day or hours per day that you will write. Make it a low number at first.

5. Write to discover your ideas.  Don't wait until you already know what you want to say to start writing. In this way, you can write your way through difficult areas.

6. Write youself a note at the end of you writing to indicate what you would have done next if you had continued.

7. Read as much as you can.  It will improve your writing.

8. Write down ideas as soon as they come to you.

9. Ignore the market.

10. Pay attention to the market.  The idea behind this apparent contradiction is that we writers, especially those of us still waiting for our first book contract, can get discouraged by the current market conditions and say, "Why bother?" But the stories within us beg to be told, and we are slave to the story that's wiggling, squirming, screaming to get out. At the same time, we must be aware of what's selling and shape our proposals and projects to fit the market's needs. Respond to the market, but don't let it control creativity. That was my interpretation, anyway.

OK, he gave more than 10:

11. Cultivate an "obsession" with your work-in-progress. Be with it everyday or it will start to fade, die, lose its edge. You'll lose the story world. Like a carbonated beverage that's been left open too long, it'll lose its fizz.

12. Let God do in you what each book is supposed to do.

13. Don't follow false deadlines. What are "false deadlines"? Those other authors set for themselves that don't fit you.

14. Don't waste time on envy of other writers.

Thank you, Professor Joseph Bentz, for your timely and practical tips. I enjoyed your workshop immensely. 

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Life happenings

In case you've been wondering why I haven't posted a new blog for a couple of weeks . . .

It appears I've been called out of Midian (see my blog "In Midian").

In the middle of August, the administrator of the local Christian school approached me at church. The high school English teacher had resigned. Would I fill in temporarily until a teacher could be found? The school is near and dear to my heart. I was on the board that established the school in 1997, then taught for five years before I resigned to write full time. Two of my grandchildren now attend. How could I say no?

So now I get up a 5 a.m., have a half-hour workout (I'm trying, as always, to lose weight), then get ready for work. I teach Bible (grades 9 & 10, combined), a college prep class for the three seniors, English 7/8, 9/10, and 11/12, as well as keyboarding to grades 7, 8, and 9.

My after-school hours are for my freelance work, which includes producing five radio programs a week, writing a weekly newspaper column, maintaining two blogs, planning and preparing for a local Christian women's conference (at which I'm speaking), reviewing my Christian Writers Guild students' lessons, and working on my novel.

Hubby has learned to can (see my blog post "Canning Partner"). In fact, he'll be canning tomato sauce while I'm in Indianapolis this weekend for the American Christian Fiction Writers Conference.

I've been focusing on getting ready for the conference, as I have two novels written and ideas for seven more. Editors will abound. I think I'm almost ready. Just have to  send this week's column; get the laundry off the line, out of the dryer, out of the washer into the dryer; take my shower; and pack the last minute stuff. In an hour.

So I'd better get moving. I do plan to get back to my planned blog schedule soon.

Until next time, when I'll report on the ACFW conference, hasta luego!

Thursday, September 2, 2010

What's your game plan?

      From my viewpoint as a spectator who knows little about soccer, the players are all over the field, haphazardly chasing a ball, trying to kick it into a net.
      But there’s more to soccer than meets the untrained eye. Pre-designed plays, defensive and offensive maneuvers, skill, and an understanding of the opponent all factor into this grueling sport, as does endurance and training—and a strategic game plan.
      Writers need a game plan, too, else we’re like the clueless soccer player, running randomly around the field, kicking at an elusive object, hoping somehow we’ll connect and make a sale.
      Perhaps the most important part of the writer’s game plan is developing writing goals—daily, weekly, monthly, and yearly.

What’s a Goal, Anyway?

    This seems elementary, but unless you understand exactly what a goal is, you’ll be like the clueless soccer player who’s better left on the sidelines.
    A goal is the specific end result for which you work. It is measurable and is something over which you have control.
      My overall goal as a writer is to be published. While that goal is measurable (publication), it’s also vague and not one over which I have control.
      How do you write goals that are specific, measurable, and controllable?
      Take, for example, this article. My goal is to write a well-written article of no more than 650 words on setting writing goals and submit it this week to The Christian Communicator.
It’s Specific
    Nothing fuzzy about that. It’s specific in that I’ve stated the topic, the length, the market, and a definite time I’ll submit the manuscript. Think 5 W’s:
  • Who? “I”
  • What? A 650-word article about setting writing goals
  • When? This week
  • Where? The Christian Communicator
  • How? Well-written
  • Why? To give writers an understanding of both the importance of goal-setting and how to do it

It’s Measurable
    The goal has standards that can be measured: Is the article within the suggested word count? Am I staying on topic? Am I following the editor’s guidelines? Am I on target as far as the deadline?
It’s Something I Can Control
      Although I’ll take great pains to submit my best work, I have no control over whether or not manuscript is accepted for publication. So I state the goal in terms of what I can control:
  • Quality: (“Well-written”) Submit only my best work. Have someone read and critique the manuscript before I submit it. Stay on topic and deliver what I promised, following the publication’s writers’ guidelines, including word count.
  • Punctuality: (“This week”) Send the manuscript by the deadline—before, if possible.
  • Professionalism: All of the above. Remember the skilled soccer player? He trains to become the best he can be, so he can build up endurance and persevere. Good writers plan their work and work their plan as they formulate daily, weekly, monthly, and yearly goals, then follow through. They are also flexible, adapting and reformulating those goals to fit changing scenarios. They develop a good offense in terms of a submission plan and meet disappointment and rejection (defense) with persistence. They understand—and seek to understand better—the world of publishing as a whole, and the specific publication to which they want to submit their work. And always, always, they strive to learn technique and hone their skills.

Share Your Goals
      I send my weekly goals to my online writing critique group, as well as a brief recap of what I accomplished the previous week. It helps me not only to be accountable, but also to recognize my tendency to over-schedule.
      Like soccer, freelance writing can be grueling, with goals just as elusive as kicking that ball in the net. But having a game plan in place helps you—in training, enduring, and reaching those goals.

Examples of daily, weekly, monthly, and yearly goals

Daily goals:
  1. Write first draft of goal-setting article
  2. Edit article for client
  3. Do bookwork; send invoices
  4. Blog 

Weekly goals:
  1. Produce radio program CD and mail
  2. Write column on Thursday
  3. Keep up with editing and mentoring
  4. Write two chapters of novel-in-progress
  5. Clean office; organize and file
  6. Blog twice

Monthly goals:
  1. Write 10 chapters of novel-in-progress
  2. Submit weekly column on time; work a week ahead
  3. Do bookwork on the first of the month
  4. Keep up with blog
Yearly goals:
  1. Complete first draft of novel
  2. Submit weekly column on time
  3. Keep up with editing and mentoring in a timely manner
  4. Do bookwork once a month
  6. Set up a work schedule and stick to it
  7. Research markets for devotionals and submit to them
  8. Submit one article/devotional a week to a paying market
  9. Put money aside monthly to attend writers’ conferences