Archive for March, 2010|Monthly archive page

When Killing is Kind

In Craft, Musings, Writers on Revision on March 31, 2010 at 6:26 pm

I know we writing teachers/editors can be glib with our aphorisms. “Show, don’t tell,” “Cut those adverbs,” and, perhaps most patronizing, “Kill your darlings.”

The last one used to really bother me. If it’s darling to me, it must good right? How dare you tell me that an entire scene, much less chapter, isn’t working.

I’ve had the good fortune to interview a lot of writers, both in my time as a contributing editor for Writer’s Digest magazine, and on my literary radio show Word by Word. And you know what I’ve found? There are writers out there who scrapped ENTIRE BOOKS and wrote them from scratch.

In my own revision I have discovered that those scenes and lines I hold most tightly to are often signs that I am having trouble seeing something else. I’ve said many times that the big, bold vision in my mind often feels like it comes out as a deflated little blot when I start to write. So I hold fast to my beginning impressions. If I only know my character at one layer’s depth, I’m reluctant to cut the scene that readers tell me doesn’t let them in, because it’s my first impression. Or I hold onto that original first chapter because I’m nostalgic for the magical moment in which my character first whispered herself into being in my ear.

And sometimes we have a hard time killing because we’re afraid to go deeper, further, afraid of being out of control.   Every time I have cut a scene, or a chapter, or several, that means that new ones have had to spring up in their place.

But it’s so, so worth it.

How to Make the Most of an Off-Track Week

In Business of Writing, Craft, Writers on Time on March 26, 2010 at 3:19 pm

Today’s guest poster, Marla Beck,  is a dynamic, talented writer and coach of writers. Proof that real, good connections DO come from Twitter. She also has something I (and you) need: Answers on how to deal with that pesky creature, time, and most important, ways to be kind, easy, and generous with yourself so you can have more of the creative time you want!

How to Make the Most of an Off-Track Week  

By Marla Beck

You know that little clock-resetting episode last weekend?  I’m never delighted to lose sleep, but this year’s daylight savings transition was especially unsettling:  
my husband was recouping from a five-hour professional exam,
my daughter’s bedtime routine tanked, and
my lingering cough turned into full-blown bronchitis.
Needless to say, I missed the mark with my writing time. 
We’ve all got our own versions of what-the-heck-happened, weeks-from-hell…weeks when our best-laid writing plans fail. 
You don’t have to let scheduling setbacks derail your writing life, though.  Here’s a user’s guide to making the most of an off-track week.
What to Do When You’re Not Writing
Whether you’re upset that you didn’t log in as many multi-hour writing sessions as you’d planned or annoyed that you didn’t get within a yard of your writing desk, there’s much to learn from your off-track week.  Here are five lessons to get you started.
Lesson #1.  Accept it.  
If you have a day job, live with children, tend to elderly parents, maintain a busy household or freelance-write for a living, you already know that some schedule disruptions are beyond your control. 
During weeks like these, you’ve got a choice.  You can fall into the common trap of slamming yourself for not being a super-hero (we’ve all been there), or you can accept the fact that you’re a writer who’s choosing to pursue your craft in the midst of a thriving, multi-faceted life. 
Creating a consistent writing schedule isn’t necessarily supposed to be “easy.”  Accept it.  Then move on.
Lesson #2.  Focus on your body.
When you’re rushing from task to task, do you ever start feeling as though you’re a walking brain: all head, no body?  When you’re time stressed, it’s easy to lose your connection with your creativity, your silence and your heart. 
There are opportunities to ground yourself during the busiest of weeks.  Try taking five minutes to do yoga before bed.  Breathe deeply at stoplights.  Let yourself take a catnap if you need it.  Restoring your connection to your body relaxes your mind and helps you make decent choices, even in the midst of chaos.
Lesson #3.  Know that crazy weeks won’t last. 
 As a professional coach, I lead busy writers through a step-by-step process to create more time to write.  As my clients share their successes and challenges, I’m reminded again and again of these two truths:
Protecting and making more time to write is an incremental process.
Crazy weeks don’t last.  (Though this can be awfully hard to see in the moment!)
Sometimes we get in our own way by expecting our progress to be linear.  Realize that making more time to write is a gradual, sometimes messy, process. 
One way to do this is to enlarge your focus and look at the past four weeks.  Consider:  “Overall, am I moving toward or away from realizing my writing goals?”  This longer-term perspective helps you acknowledge your gains (if you’re on track), or it reinforces your need to revamp your time management (if you need it).  
Lesson #4.  Review and learn.
 Good managers periodically review their department’s performance data to analyze what’s working and what’s not.  Doing so provides a terrific opportunity to streamline and optimize operations.
You can do the same.  Study your off-track writing week to gather data about your writing life. 
Ask yourself: 
What happened this week? 
What choices did I make? 
What factors created my schedule upheaval, and how did I respond? 
Outline the circumstances that influence your time- and life-management, and decide which factors are within your control and which ones are not. 
As you gather information, you may begin to realize that making a single, specific change would really improve your writing life, such as:

“I need to set better boundaries with my work/job/spouse”
“I need to say no more often”
“I need to clear more unstructured time in my schedule” 
Lesson #5:  Prepare to Change.
 After you’ve analyzed your off-track week, you’re set to make some changes.  Don’t try to go it alone.
Read books on time management for writers, such as Kelly L. Stone’s Time to Write (Adams Media, 2008).  Compare notes with other writers. Take advantage of free resources online, such as my free five-part e-course:  “Making More Time to Write.”  Gather all the tools and support you need to help yourself succeed.
What’s To Gain?
Put these ideas into action and your off-track writing week won’t be wasted.  When your time stress subsides, you’ll return to your writing with more energy and insight.  Best of all, you’ll have started down the path to creating and sustaining a realistic writing schedule: one that really works for you.
Poet and life coach, Marla Beck, MFA, coaches freelancers and writers with day jobs to finish their novels and create more time to write. She blogs at The Relaxed Writer ( “Making More Time to Write,” her five-part time management e-course, is available free of charge at:
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Quick Time Tip

In Craft, Writers on Time on March 23, 2010 at 4:40 pm

I don’t claim to be any mistress of time management, hence why I’m letting OTHER people tell you their strategies, but I have recently discovered a surprising little strategy that works.

I’m always trying to figure out how to work in my fiction writing–especially as I’m sunk into the deepest gunk of a novel revision right now. When I try to carve out an hour each day (of the 4-5 I have childcare), I often find it impossible.

Then it struck me! What if I gave myself one day to ONLY write fiction. No work, no procrastination. One whole day I could sweetly anticipate for much of the week?

Guess what? It worked! Monday, Tues and Weds, I work my hiney off to make sure I can take Thursday to write. I found I was more efficient on those first three days in order to “earn” that day of fiction only writing. It worked so well, I found myself ahead of the game.

If you have the luxury to make such a schedule, I highly recommend it.

Writers’ Series on Time: Becky Levine

In Business of Writing, Craft, General, Interviews, Profiles, Musings, Writers on Time on March 22, 2010 at 2:21 pm

Welcome to my Writers’ Series on Time. At first this was going to be about time “management,” until I realized that managing time is like wrangling crocodiles while strapped with raw beef. The best we can do is manage ourselves. The writers, coaches and other professionals I’m bringing here to talk about the subject, will hopefully help you feel inspired and drive home my main point: Make time to write. Do it, no matter what. Somewhere, somehow.

We start out this fine Spring Monday with Becky Levine, author of The Writing & Critique Group Survival Guide:

What concessions or shifts have you made (or do you make daily/weekly) in order to make time for your writing? How did this come into play when you wrote your book, The Writer’s Critique Group Survival Guide?

 BL: In the past, I was a writer with one story idea and no deadlines. Around the time I got the contract for The Writing & Critique Group Survival Guide, I suddenly had multiple ideas for fiction projects, including one picture book. So, I’m new to the juggling thing, but definitely trying to figure out how to make it work.

 My work “plan” is to put the first hour (at least) of my writing day into my fiction.  I realized that, unless I put the fiction first, it dropped off the bottom of the to-do list, untouched. On the other hand, if I spend that time on writing, all the other things still get taken care of…somehow! I’m not perfect at following this plan; on weeks where I have more available time, I’ll try and chunk by days—a day or two on marketing/ “life” stuff, and the rest of the week in longer hours of fiction. Basically, I try and look at my upcoming week and figure out how it’ll work best. Then I try and stick to that. 🙂

 Do you plan your time in any special way, with a special calendar or notepad or smartphone? Or do you just sort of attack the day?

 BL: I have to have a calendar.  I definitely use it when I start to get overwhelmed. When time starts slipping away and I don’t see myself making progress on my writing, then I get out the calendar and schedule that writing for about a week ahead, trying to get some on every day possible in that week. Then, of course, I have to remember to check the calendar in the morning—not really because I can’t remember what’s on it, but to remind me of this commitment that I’ve made—that I want to stick to.

 I did just get a Blackberry, and I love it for its portability. The only problem with it is that there is no great view of the whole month where you can see all the scheduled events. So, yes, I have a paper back-up that lets me see what’s coming all at once. Not an ideal situation, but it’s working for me right now.

 How good (or not) are you with deadlines? Are you a writer who loves the pressure, or prefers not to be fenced in?

 BL: I have a serious love-hate relationship with deadlines. When I know I need to get something done by a certain date, I do get it done. When I’m close to getting a few scenes written, knowing that I should get them to my critique group by a certain date really motivates me to get writing and put in extra hours. And when I have an “official” deadline, like the ones for The Writing & Critique Group Survival Guide, my focus and organization definitely amp up. I make deadlines.

 In fact, with real deadlines, I’m usually early. This is the “hate” part. I never pulled an all-nighter in college, and I had every essay done a day or two early. I’m still the same way with projects someone is expecting from me. It’s not because I’m so good at this; it’s because I hate the adrenaline rush that comes with a tight deadline. I know people who thrive on this feeling, who almost wait for it to come so they’ve got the energy that comes along with it. Adrenaline just makes me queasy.

 What is your most effective strategy for getting writing done, even if you’re not “in the mood” or inspired?

 BL: If the words aren’t coming, if I’m staring at the page and fiddling around with Twitter or Facebook, I’ll open a new file and  just start throwing down ideas. If I’m writing a fiction scene, I try and really focus on what my characters want—it’s often because I don’t know their goals that I can’t get the scene going. If I’m writing nonfiction, I tend to look at my section heads, to rethink the overall organization of the chapter. I find that unless I have the “right” form or structure set up, I’m going to be in problem.

There’s something a few writers have started on Facebook to kick themselves in gear. Someone will announce that they’re writing for the next hour, or until they get some small piece of a project done, and they’ll invite anyone to join in, to identify themselves in the comments. Then an hour or so later, they’ll check in and report their progress. I’ve done this a couple of times, and it’s a bit like writing together at the coffeehouse—you’ve said out loud that you’re going to write, so…you write.

 So many people who want to write often use that phrase, “I wish I had more time.” What advice can you give these people?

 BL:  Writing takes time, and it takes more time to do well. We get very caught up in word count and page count, and sometimes there’s research and plotting and just thinking time that can’t be quantified. We all want to finish our books, we want to revise them and get them ready for submission, we want them published. Focusing on these goals, especially when we can only do so much about that “published” one, can drive us nuts. I realized at the end of last year that I wasn’t enjoying writing. I have loved writing—the act of writing—since I was twelve years old. If I lose that, well, then what’s the point? So I’m slowing myself down and letting myself relish the flow, or not-flow, of words—the process.

 Then again, if you catch me on a bad day, you’ll probably find me tearing out my hair about the years flying by and “success” being all-elusive! 🙂

 What is your top tip for “making time”?

 Schedule it. When you want to get something done, write it on the calendar. It raises your level of commitment, and takes away that overwhelmed feeling we get when we try to keep all our tasks organized in our brains. It also cuts down on that time we spend at the computer, fiddling or staring or doing online crossword puzzles!


Becky Levine is the author of The Writing & Critique Group Survival Guide (Writer’s Digest, 2010). She has over ten years critiquing manuscripts for other writers, and almost fifteen years experience participating in her own critique group. Becky writes freelance articles about authors and writing, and she reviews books for children and teens. Becky also writes fiction; her current project is an historical young-adult novel set in 1913 Chicago. Learn more about Becky at her blog & website:

Write in the Face of Disaster

In Business of Writing, Classes, Craft, Musings on March 21, 2010 at 7:18 pm

The spate of recent earthquakes rumbling ’round the world has brought out my inner scaredy cat. I do live in California, after all, old hat at the temblor game, and as those History Channel disaster shows all point out: we’re due for The Big One, the one that might crack us off into the sea, at any moment.

And it’s got me to thinking about how you never know what may come. Be it earthquake or some surprise gremlin lurking in a gene, the end is inevitable. Nature runs on a kind of time that us puny humans can’t even fathom. She coughs and entire species are wiped clean. She hiccups, and the human race is but a trace of carbon on her tongue that she can hardly remember.

This is all a preface to point out the fact that time, while elusive and maddening, and one of the resources that always seems to be depleted in a creative person’s life, will not wait for you to become a writer. It hurries along, breaking up continents, evolving species, and changing the shape of the universe.

The time to write is now. Whenever you can. For however long. That’s how you’ll get published, fulfilled, connected and energized. By doing it.

To help us grapple with the many condundrums of time in the next two weeks, I’ll bring you interviews and guest posts from writers and coaches. Monday we’ll see Becky Levine, author of the Writer’s Critique Group Survival Guide, and Friday will bring you Marla Beck, writing coach extraordinaire.

Feel free to add your own thoughts and struggles.

And remember: Revise for Publication starts April 16th. 4 week online class. Details:

Now go to it!


Antidote to Doubt

In Craft, General, Musings on March 10, 2010 at 5:32 pm

This week was supposed to be my series on Time Management. Well time showed me–by being elusive, strangely compressed and very unavailable. So it’s likely the series will come to you next week, when Time comes down off its big ego-high.

In the meantime, I’ve been grappling with something many writers do, the very thing I have great empathy for with my clients: Is it worth all the fuss,  labor, pain, drama and, yes–time–to work at this thing called writing when the end result cannot be guaranteed? Is there any point if you can’t count on publishing?

This leads to a nasty little virus called doubt. Once it gets in, it infects everything. You find yourself doubting not just your writing, but your very character. Doubt is poison to writing.

So thankfully, just as I was feeling doubt’s tickle in my throat this morning I got an antidote: the wonderful e-newsletter from Winslow Elliot that reminded me of something very important, which she got from the author John P. Locke (the living one–which I doubly like because I’m back into Lost):

John writes because it’s FUN.

I had forgotten that feeling. How books used to pour from me, with cheerful abundance, like a fountain. How words were playful, interesting things – not heavy stones to build a tome. Sentences could come and go, like a breeze. Chapters were filled with laughter and (usually) lots of kisses. A story was light as sunshine, and sprang forth like flowers.

Thanks mostly to John Locke, but also thanks to all the other pioneers of this exciting Independent Publishing Movement, I was finally able to let go of a rope I’d clung to for far too long. Since then, I’ve found that I can sit back and watch in wonder as one sentence leads mysteriously to the next, and stories grow of their own accord – because it’s ‘flow’ – because it’s fun.

Switching Seats on the Flying Teacups

In Business of Writing, Interviews, Profiles on March 2, 2010 at 5:08 pm

Wow, where have I been? Oh yeah…Editing your manuscripts. Revising a novel. Teaching classes. Writing the occasional article. Not to mention raising a nearly 21 month old boy. (And dealing with a mainline drain stoppage and hoping these El Nino rains don’t also lead to flooding)!

In other words I feel like I’ve been jumping from seat to seat in that dizzying ride at the carnival–the flying teacups. Some days I feel euphoric, high from the ride. Other days, I feel dazed and like I might just lose my lunch. Such is the life of a freelance editor/writer. Maybe such is the life of anyone in this “new economy” as it is irritatingly being called.

To help, however, I’ll be starting a new Writers’ Interview series then on what I am loosely, and hilariously calling, “Time Management.” I know, it should be more like: Time Wrangling or “The Illusion that I Have Any Control Over Time…”

Look for interviews with bestselling suspense novelist Robert Dugoni; Becky Levine, author of the Writer’s Critique Group Survival Guide; Writing coach Marla Beck…and more.