Ksenia Anske – Writing Quote Wednesday

(Credit: Writing Quote created by Paul Jenny using Morguefile.com photo by kakisky)

(Credit: Writing Quote created by Paul Jenny using Morguefile.com photo by kakisky)

One of my favorite writers who engages regularly in an enchanting way on Twitter is Ksenia Anske.

Anske communicates freely and honestly through her Twitter feed and blog and I really appreciate the way she approaches writing and life. Her personal story is as fascinating as the books she writes and she gives away her books for free. She asks her readers to buy or donate to keep her writing, and they do.

As some of you know, in addition to publishing this blog and finishing the short story for the anthology, I’m currently working as an actor in the Scottish play (Shakespeare’s Macbeth) and prepping for NaNoWriMo 2014. I got home from rehearsal quite late, looked at the calendar, and realized that it was time for Writing Quote Wednesday! I hopped online immediately.

The first thing I saw waiting in my browser was this great post by Ksenia called How to Write Your First Draft in 20 Days. It’s filled with great advice about writing, not just for people who are doing WriMo, but for anyone who wants to get a first draft done with as little stress as possible.

I urge you to read her post and subscribe to her blog, then hop on Twitter and follow her. If you do, she might even send you a finger monkey like this one.

A Finger Monkey

A Finger Monkey

6 Things You Need to Thrive During NaNoWriMo 2014

It’s coming…

NaNoWriMo 2014 – that month-long frenzy of key-bashing goodness that can bring me to my knees in tears, make me mumble to myself while walking in circles, take extra-long showers, cause excited jumping around the room and then leave me with a messy pile of 50,000 words that needs a lot of revision to make any sense.

As a past winner, I’ve learned there are a few essentials you need to get through the month with as few bumps and bruises as possible. Here is my list and why I’m stocking my WriMo closet now.

6 Things You Need to Thrive During NaNoWriMo 2014

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(Credit: Image from Wikimedia Commons user Sandstein)

Chocolate and Coffee

If you’re feeling anxious about meeting your word counts, have a bar of dark chocolate on hand to calm those nerves. In a study done at an Australian university, they found that the polyphenols in chocolate can calm people and make them feel less anxious because they attach themselves to brain receptors associated with anxiety. Matthew Pase, one of the authors of the study said, “This clinical trial is perhaps the first to scientifically demonstrate the positive effects of cocoa polyphenols on mood.”

If you want those words to flow during Wrimo you might want to grab a bar or two of dark chocolate (the darker the chocolate, the more polyphenols it has). Since the cocoa polyphenols in dark chocolate stem anxiety, and anxiety turns on that internal editor and keeps your ideas from flowing, you could infer that eating dark chocolate can help keep your word counts up because your ideas will be flowing faster!

Coffee is a given for me for Wrimo, but I have to be careful that I don’t drink too much throughout my writing session or I’ll get all jittery and crash.

It’s said that Balzac drank up to 50 cups a day. He describes what he calls a “horrible, rather brutal method” of preparing coffee using “finely pulverized, dense coffee, cold and anhydrous, consumed on an empty stomach.” In The Pleasures and Pains of Coffee Balzac describes the effect drinking this concoction will have on you.

“From that moment on, everything becomes agitated. Ideas quick-march into motion like battalions of a grand army to its legendary fighting ground, and the battle rages. Memories charge in, bright flags on high; the cavalry of metaphor deploys with a magnificent gallop; the artillery of logic rushes up with clattering wagons and cartridges; on imagination’s orders, sharpshooters sight and fire; forms and shapes and characters rear up; the paper is spread with ink – for the nightly labor begins and ends with torrents of this black water, as a battle opens and concludes with black powder.”

If you continue to drink too much coffee, though, even Balzac knew that it would cause you to “fall into horrible sweats, suffer feebleness of the nerves, and undergo episodes of severe drowsiness.” So be careful with your intake of this useful medicine.

If you need some creative ways to serve up your favorite caffeinated beverage, check out this great article on Lifehack.org about other ways to prepare coffee.

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A Writing Totem

A writing totem is an object that can help keep you inspired or in a writing-state-of-mind. Some people use articles of clothing like the WriMo t-shirts and Viking helmets. Other WriMos like to have an object like a stuffed-animal, a small figurine, or a special pen that they keep close by.

By placing the totem near your writing space, it gives you the power to keep going. It reminds you of what you are trying to accomplish during WriMo.

Totems can also let others know that you aren’t just surfing the internet, but are in full-on WriMo mode, dwelling in what NaNoWriMo founder Chris Baty calls the “shadowy realm of the novel.” They’ll look at you and say, “Uh-oh, the Viking hat is on. Better stay clear.”

Since I’m an actor as well as a writer, I find that dressing up in some way can definitely put me in a different mood and allows new ideas to flow. Dress rehearsal always adds a new element to any performance and the clothing you wear gives you a sense of who you are and how you move in the created world of the play. I have certain hats I like to wear when writing. (I also like having a framed inspirational quote from Writing Quote Wednesday nearby.)

Please leave a comment to let us know what kind of writing totems you use for NaNoWriMo.

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(Credit: Morguefile.com photo by xololounge)

Your Writing Plan

Start now on figuring out what kind of book you want to write. Antoine de Saint-Exupéry, author of The Little Prince, is often credited with saying, “A goal without a plan is just a wish.”

I highly recommend that you start figuring out the basics of the novel you want to work on during WriMo. Starting on the first day with no planning is possible. I did it and won. But the resulting messy pile of words is going to be really tough to revise.

In the article I wrote about 8 Best-Selling Novels Written During NaNoWriMo, most of the authors said they had more success in the years when they did some pre-planning before WriMo began.

At the very least decide what kind of book you want to write. Then start thinking about characters and what they want from each other. The more specific you can be about your characters, the more details you can write about them. Sometimes I cast the characters with photos of actors (or random people online) to get a sense of the type of person they are.

It really helps to know your ending because you can drive your word count to that ending. Think about it. If I told you to come and visit me but didn’t give you my address, you could be driving for years before you find out where I am. By knowing where you’re going, you can plan on how to get there. You can take lots of side trips to look at interesting things, but knowing where you’ll stop gives you a direction and a plan to get there.

When I figure out where my characters are going, I start to think about what kind of fun situations I can put the characters in. I like to come up with short summaries of each chapter with ideas for scenes within those chapters. These are often called “beats.”

I have nothing against pantsing – writing a novel with no plan by the seat of your pants – but if you want to write faster, having a plan really helps. You’re always free to change the plan as you go. I often find that I thought the story was going one way and the characters decided to take it another. Most people find that they combine pansting and plotting throughout their writing process.

Joy

Writing is difficult, and frustrating, but if you can’t find joy in some aspect of it, something is wrong. When this happens, you might be writing the story you feel you SHOULD write and not the story you WANT to write.

Why?

Take some time before WriMo starts and think about what brings you JOY.

Ask yourself, “What would I do even if I wasn’t being paid to do it?”

There might be something in what brings you joy that can become a focus for your book. It might be something a main character does. It might be a theme you’ve wanted to explore. By thinking about the joy, you can write about the struggles your main character goes through when the joy isn’t there.

Another way to look at this is to figure out what you LOSE YOURSELF in.

What is the thing you do that you start at a certain time and when you stop and look at the clock you realize several hours have passed and it feels like minutes? How can writing be like that for you if it isn’t right now?

As you’re prepping for WriMo, what figure out what EXCITES you about the characters, scenes, the novel itself? If it’s not exciting to you, WHY?

You want to turn off that internal editor while you’re writing in November and let the ideas flow. You want to get the first draft on the page. To do this more powerfully, look for the JOY. Be a “listening” for what is joyful about the process. If you are a listening for something, you’ll be amazed at how it shows up in your life.

People who are a listening for what can go wrong often find themselves in situations where things go horribly wrong. People who are a listening for what they can learn from a situation end up learning something. People who are a listening for joy often find it in the tiniest of accomplishments.

You made your word count for the day. JOY! (Why? You set a goal and kept it.)

You didn’t make your word count for the day. JOY! (Why? It gives you a chance to be a hero tomorrow. Plus, it probably means you need to do more thinking about your story.)

You went way over your word count and discovered something new about a character. JOY! (Why? Because that is really cool and you are AWESOME.)

Read: Connect with Joy Instead of Searching for Joy by TIny Buddha

(Credit: Morguefile.com photo by pippalou)

(Credit: Morguefile.com photo by pippalou)

Time

This is a big one. I know. I think about it a lot. How do we reserve the time to get the writing done?

I think joy and planning (and chocolate and coffee) help us find the time.

What activity are you doing every day that you can do less of during WriMo?

Bingeing on Netflix? Remember, Netflix will be there at the end of November. (How to Overcome a Binge-watching Addiction from the Wall Street Journal)

Like to sleep in? Is it possible to get up a little earlier? How about going to bed a little later? (How to Wake Up Early by Jeff Goins)

Kids keeping you distracted? NOW is the time to introduce them to the wonders of reading a book quietly. (How to Get Work Done With Kids at Home)

What about your friends and significant others? Some people find that telling them you are working on WriMo and that it’s important is a good step and others like to keep WriMo a secret.

If you have an app like Evernote on your phone or tablet, you can feed the word count beast on your lunch break and then dump the words into the manuscript when you have the time.

The main thing to do is to start writing. As the prolific author Louis L’Amour says, “Start writing, no matter what. The water does not flow until the faucet is turned on.”

Please comment on your favorite ways of finding the time to get your words down.

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Keep an eye out for more NaNoWriMo posts coming out soon! During WriMo I’m planning on writing a novel based on my steampunk fantasy short story, My Strength Will Ease Your Sorrow. It’s set in the world of The Dream Engine written by the guys over at Sterling and Stone. See you in the Winner’s Circle!

Letting Go to Get Ahead

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What beliefs do you hold about how you think your life SHOULD be going?

Those “shoulds” are often what keep us from taking action.

“I should’ve gotten up at 4 am to write.”

“I should’ve written 3000 words today.”

“I should be more prolific”

“I should be a better writer.”

“I should be higher up on Amazon rankings.”

“This should be easier.”

When we step in a pile of should, we can get overwhelmed and give up taking any action at all. Why keep working when we’re not living the life we had planned?

But what if we were able to give up the life we planned with SHOULDS so we could get to the life that is waiting for us NOW?

I’m a big fan of Joseph Campbell’s The Hero With A Thousand Faces and Christopher Vogler’s The Writer’s Journey, which is based on Campbell’s ideas of the monomyth. They have both helped me greatly in my writing, especially when working on the middle grades paranormal adventure series I’m in the throes of. (I “should” be farther along with my pages than I am, but I am further into the story than I thought I would be.)

I’m also a big fan of letting go of the past to get ahead and this quote reminded me of that today.

As a writer who also has several other jobs to pay the bills, I have to remind myself of this quote all the time.

You see, the life I often have planned is the one where I wake up at 4 am to start writing and get 10,000 words done that day and feel amazing and like the super writer I know I secretly am. I can picture myself at the keyboard, coffee steaming on my desk, listening to the early morning buzz and hum of appliances and no other sounds but my fingers clicking across the keys.

But more often than not, life gets in the way. I’m already up until four catching up on work I didn’t get done during the day. My four-year old will wake up before me no matter how early I decide to set my alarm and he’ll demand my attention for the rest of the morning. My wife decides to get us involved in a project with our production company that she desperately needs my help with. I get a cold because my four-year old sneezed directly into my mouth. (Ew!) My teaching responsibilities become overwhelming and I have to use that time I wanted to use for writing to catch up on grades or re-do a lesson plan or correct papers.

The life I planned doesn’t happen. The temptation is to say, “Well, that didn’t work out. It will never work out. I might as well give up.” I have many times.

But when I see this quote and think about the idea of the writer’s journey, it reminds me that I have to let go of those plans sometimes to live the life I am currently living. By doing this, I accept the life I have, state my gratefulness for that life, and find the time to write when I can, no matter how little or how much that is. By making even a small amount of progress on my book, I am still making progress toward the life that is waiting for me. The quicker I get at letting go of the SHOULDS the quicker I get back to the LIFE that is waiting for me.

When I hold on to the life I had planned, I feel regret and sadness and beat myself up when I look in the mirror.

“You’ll never finish this book. You should take up bowling.”

“You’ve failed in the past, you’ll probably fail again. You should work at a bowling alley.”

“Why do you kid yourself? You should give up. Bowling seems like fun.”

“You look terrible and should feel terrible and should never write another word again. It should be easier. Why don’t you listen to me and take up bowling?”

Mr. Should, my inner critic, is so mean to me all the time and his recommendations don’t make any sense. I’m a terrible bowler.

The only way to shut him up is to take action.

No, not by bowling.

What I do is walk over to the laptop, open up Scrivener, and keep writing. Word by word, bird by bird, I get the project done. Some days I do get to wake up early and get those thousands of words in and some days it is a struggle to finish a sentence or two. On those days I surrender and let go as quickly as I can. But with each actual written word, I get closer to the life that is waiting for me at the end of the story, whatever that may be. If I’m lucky, I’ll get to do it all over again as I rewrite and again as I start the next book.

Creation of something from nothing is not an easy thing to do no matter what Mr. Should says.

Be kind to yourself. Let go of the life you planned and start living the life that is waiting for you.