1, 2, 4, 6: A System for Writing Success

Writers: Experiment with 1, 2, 4, 6, and Increase Productivity

This article is inspired by Scott Meyer’s blog post about writing success for screenwriters. In it he advocates “1, 2, 7, 14,” as a structure for becoming a more productive writer. Under his plan you would read one screenplay per week, watch two movies per week, write seven pages per week, and work fourteen hours per week preparing story ideas for new projects. The payoff is that in a year’s time you would have read fifty-two screenplays, viewed 104 movies, and written two feature-length screenplays.

Mad Scientist
Writers: experiment on yourselves for maximum productivity and creativity.

How do you measure writing success. Publication may be difficult but there are many ways to measure progress in writing craft. Here’s my twist on Meyer’s productivity experiment for fiction writers: 1, 2, 4, 6. Make it a routine to:

 

1: Read one novel or collection of short stories per week

If you are spending less time reading than fooling around on social media and watching TV, writing might not be your calling. Reading a book per week should be the easiest item on the list.

 

2: Read an average of two book reviews or writing craft articles per week

Scan book reviews to inspire future reading and keep up with the zeitgeist, and study craft articles to explore new techniques and forms you haven’t tried. Personally, I find reading writing craft books addictive. The challenge is to prevent writing advice from becoming a distraction in itself. Publishing trade magazines and websites provide marketing information and inspiration in article-sized bites.

 

4: Write four pages per day (1200 words)

Many authors average from 1500 to 5000 words per day, although figures vary wildly. That means it should be easy to write an average of 1200 words a day, even taking off two days a week. If this goal is too high to meet regularly, set your goal at two pages. An easier goal that can be made consistently helps build a steady writing habit. Binge writing has its rewards but can’t compete with a steady, regular writing habit for productivity.

 

6: Edit six pages per day (1800 words)

Many writers are perfectionists with drawer novels, abandoned short stories, and ideas for articles and editorial pieces they never get around to revising. By giving yourself an editing quota, you will be forced to look at your best abandoned pieces and decide what to revise and send out.

 

That sounded very authoritative, didn’t it? But my writing buddies will recognize this as advice directed squarely at myself. I have a filing cabinet stuffed with abandoned stories, and there are at least five drawer novels with my name on them. Are any of them salvageable? Perhaps. My skills have improved over the years. If I can force myself to look at abandoned pieces, instead of always chasing the next new idea, maybe some of those discarded premises will prove worth developing …

 

The Payoff: Writing Success

Writing success is reading, writing and studying the works of others.
Imagine how many books, articles and short stories you could write in a year. Publication isn’t guaranteed but I measure writing success by output and improvement

If you follow this system, at the end of the year you will have:

  • read fifty-two novels
  • read a combination of 104 book reviews and writing craft articles
  • written 1460 pages (438 000 words) of rough draft – a number which could represent 3-7 novels, 88-400 short stories, or 10 novellas, or some combination thereof
  • you will have edited those pages and made them ready for submission to editors

 

Will anybody run this creative experiment? I hope so. When I am writing well, the routine is to get up at 5:00 a.m., shower and dress, then write while I eat breakfast until 7:30 when I leave for work. Maintaining that pace, I have written a novel in a month more than once. Naturally, not everything written so quickly is going to be good, unless you put the time into thoroughly developing the ideas, plot, themes, characters and setting first.

A large part of Scott Meyer’s proposition is weekly idea development. For me, when an idea takes hold, I don’t need to schedule thinking about it. Researching, developing characters and setting, and then planning story beats are things I prefer to do in big blocks of time. All other writing comes to a stop as I mull over ideas, think about plot points, and anticipate creating dramatic scenes. I can’t imagine making the conceptualization stage into something methodical that could be divided into bite-sized chunks, but Myers asserts working on multiple projects simultaneously is necessary for working screenwriters.

If you are a screenwriter, or you are interested in reading the original article, find Scott Meyer’s brilliant advice here, on the Go into the Story blog.

Happy reading and here’s to your writing success….

 

Loon Lake Reading Club
Loon Lake Reading Club

Exclusive Report for Loon Lake Readers

The latest edition of the Loon Lake Reading Club newsletter is out. Access is for members only. This time content includes personal perspectives on travelling in Peru, photos, a recipe for Valentine’s Day, Feeding Frenzy novel updates and more. Don’t miss out. Sign up below….

 

Feeding Frenzy Featured on Wattpad

Feeding Frenzy named a 'featured story,' on Wattpad.
Feeding Frenzy named a ‘featured story,’ on Wattpad.

 

#11 in Mystery/Thriller Sept. 7, 2015 with 25 000 reads on Wattpad

Feeding Frenzy is a paranormal thriller about our obsession with food. It was inspired by the madcap pacing of Jan Evanovitch’s Stephanie Plum mysteries and the over-the-top imagination of Christopher Moore’s comic fantasy novels.

— Maaja

Featured on Wattpad

Wattpad has officially chosen Feeding Frenzy as a ‘featured story.’ You can read it on Wattpad for free anytime. Wattpad members access an almost unlimited supply of stories, in many popular genres. Wattpad is a social network as much as a reading site, and half the fun is connecting with people all over the world.

Those who do not wish to join Wattpad can wait for the definitive paper and ebook versions of Feeding Frenzy, slated for publication late fall/ early winter. The release date will depend on the availability of editors. It’s too soon to name names but I am very excited about the industry professionals I have spoken to so far.

At the moment, the story is in the hands of an award-winning author with a fantastic sense of humour. His notes will help me do a rewrite which I will then hand over to an experienced editor for further feedback. Readers deserve nothing less than professional work.

After Feeding Frenzy is fully edited and covers are made, the book will be ready to launch. Join the Loon Lake reading club to receive notification of publication, pre-order deals, and time-sensitive discounts.

Blasted Bloomers: a new story in the works!

Discover Helene's mysterious past in this Feeding Frenzy prequel.
Discover Helene’s mysterious past in this Feeding Frenzy prequel.

In Feeding Frenzy, Tonya must pay the price for her Aunt Helene’s past mistakes among the magical families of Loon Lake.

Young Helene is an ambitious teen who charms animals and people without trying. In Blasted Bloomers, she tries to ‘be good’ until she meets Jack Waldock, the devilish rebel who tempts her with a seemingly unlimited source of power.

This prequel to Feeding Frenzy will be free for members of the Loon Lake reading club when it’s completed. Join today and be first to receive your Blasted Bloomers ebook.

08/20/2015 Note: I am currently editing Feeding Frenzy with professional input. Blasted Bloomers is a new project which will not be finished until edits on Feeding Frenzy are complete.

Cliffhanger Castle – Contest Launch!

cliffhanger Secret Special Project 2_edited-3
Secret Special Project: Cliffhanger Castle

This is a writing experiment with its heart in community. Expect chills, thrills, and breathtaking plot twists…

Do you love chapters that end on a cliffhanger? One part contest, one part serial anthology, one part battle of writerly of wits; talented writers compete for the chance to captivate your attention. This story is inspired by a real abandoned hotel and artist’s colony, overlooking lakeside cliffs.

 

Set around modern day Lake Ontario, Austen and Tiffany are two teens thrown into a nail-biting search for Austen's little sister, Rhea, and her pet dog Ciggaro. The trail leadsto a condemned hotel in the beautiful but perilous grounds of Cliff Park, an old estate with a chequered past and it's fair share of ghost stories.

-- Joanne Weaver

 

Chapters are are posted as they are accepted on Wattpad. If you aren’t yet on Wattpad, you can read Chapter One here. You can also follow the project for email updates, and to enter the contest.

I’m editing this project, but even I don’t know what will happen next. Maybe the next chapter will be yours…

*** Update: Cliffhanger Castle is on hold until after the publication of Feeding Frenzy *** 

For updates, sign up for the newsletter: [wysija_form id=”3″]

 

Dragon Dictation: for Creative Writing

Should you use Dragon Dictation for your Creative Writing?

Many people say that the main benefit of Dragon Dictation for creative writing is speed. While it’s true that dictation fans rave about the increased productivity using dictation software, I have a much more serious reason to prefer dictating my stories and novels.

Typing at a laptop is worse than Dragon Dictation for repetitive strain injuries.
Laptops hurt me but Dragon Dictation helps my wrists heal.

Typing can cause wrist pain and repetitive strain injuries

This blog has slowed down for a while, partly because I have been putting my efforts into writing a serial novel on Wattpad, but also because I have been resting my overworked wrists. Since April 2014, I have drafted two novels from scratch, written short stories and a grant application, critiqued chapters for my writing partners, and blogged. Since Halloween, I have also edited and posted weekly chapters of Feeding FrenzyOf these, drafting a novel in the month of November (for NaNoWriMo) was probably hardest on my wrists. This alone might be enough to convince me to use Dragon Dictate for my creative writing, but that isn’t all the typing I do.

At school, I do a lot of keyboarding as a teacher librarian, in addition to demonstrating various applications to students using a digital projector. Some of this work involves typing standing up. If you have ever done any significant writing in a short period of time, such as participating in writing marathons, you may feel my pain. Years ago, when I got my first librarian job, it was up to me and a a few volunteers to automate an entire school library. This was data entry pure and simple, and by the end my wrists burned and ached. With the rest, the problem resolved itself, but these days I want to write more with less pain.

Dragon Dictation to reduce wrist pain

Have you heard of Dragon 13? This software allows you to dictate your writing instead of typing it. I purchased an earlier version years ago and realized the time necessary to train it to recognize speech in a Canadian accent, wasn’t worth the bother. This new version of Dragon works straight out of the box. Users can choose between British, American, Canadian, and specific regional accents. I am dictating this blog post without touching the keyboard to do more than make corrections.

The program is not cheap, and there are limitations. For example, I was not allowed to install the software on a laptop as well as my desktop computer, and my Surface Pro didn’t have enough memory to run it. On the upside, the premium edition transcribes recordings, so I could take a digital recorder with me on a walk, and let Dragon transcribe notes for me later. Maybe I’ll use it on the stationary bike.

Dragon 13 should suit those who don’t type, or who need to reduce their typing. Although I still find myself using the keyboard for unusual words, or to correct punctuation, it is possible to train the program to recognize just about any word. For most people dictating, even with the inevitable corrections that must still be made with the keyboard, is still quicker than typing. The training which launches with the program encourages users to choose the mouse and keyboard over the microphone where this saves time.

Compatibility with Dragon Dictation

Dragon works with many programs, including Gmail, although I wish it worked with the PC version of Scrivener. When Dragon encounters an incompatible program, it automatically opens a text box. Once you’re satisfied with what you have typed, you insert the dictated text with one click.

Another excellent Dragon feature allows you to highlight text and let the program read it back to you. When editing a piece, reading it aloud is one of the best ways to perceive errors. Having a program read it back saves your voice, and prevents you from skimming over extra words, or missed words. On Wattpad, where I am posting chapters no other person has proofread, I like to use every tool available. Reading aloud, spell check, and having Dragon read aloud, is a helpful combination.

Perhaps the biggest drawback, is that working with Dragon feels so easy and conversational, it could lead to chatty blog posts that go on too long.

 

Ideamancy – Ideas for Back-To-School Magic

A running start to Fall.
A running start to Fall.

The first week of school is over. Routines are starting to gel, kids are on their best behaviour and starting to make friends. Teachers are breathing a sigh of relief. It’s the honeymoon period for elementary teachers. This glistening doorway of opportunity, lit by September magic, will not stay open long.

Invite all the kids in, before that dull ‘day-to-day feeling’ arrives. Hook them with creativity. Kids love to be stimulated and challenged to imagine. They want your teaching to take them places they could never go on their own. Surprise them and help them stretch their minds, and they will know you are on their side when things get harder.

With this goal in mind, here are a few book suggestions for September:

Steal Like an Artist. Long books on creativity can be counterproductive. This short book by Austen Kleon is full of art, poetry ideas and inspiration for teacher-artists, or anyone who wants to live more creatively. I recently reread it and find it excellent for visual, material, dramatic and literary artists.

Kleon suggests that you take whatever artistic thing you do to procrastinate and do more of it. He gives practical advice for artists like ‘learn about money,’ and describes ethical ways to draw inspiration from the work of others. One of his big projects is Newspaper Blackout, a website which begat a bestselling poetry book.

You could have a lot of fun doing newspaper blackout poetry with your students. How? Students take fat markers and strike out words on a newspaper page, until the remaining words form a poem. The result might be a simple message like “Eat your vegetables!” More sophisticated students could juxtapose the title of the original article against their ‘secret’ message. For example, they could take an article about war and block out words to reveal “give peace a chance,” or “support our troops.”

 

Shel Silverstein’s Where the Sidewalk Ends appeals to boys and girls. It’s not new material but his poem, “Sarah Cynthia Sylvia Stout Would Not Take the Garbage Out,” is a guaranteed giggle. I introduce it by telling kids how my Dad used to recite it to me when I was little. “Sylvia Stout,” is a good model for student ‘chore’ poems or poems about garbage. With Green Philosophy paramount in modern schools, it’s time for young Silversteins-in-the-making to write recycling poems. If you like his style, there are videos of many of his poems and songs available on YouTube. “I’m Being Eaten by a Boa Constrictor,” is fun to sing with young children. Just be careful, not all Silverstein material is safe for school. Ever heard “Never Bite a Married Woman on the Thigh?”

 

Make your own crazy character mix and match flip book. Have you ever played this game? Fold over a small stack of paper and staple to make a booklet. Make two scissor cuts to divide the book in three, top-to-bottom. Students draw the head of a character or creature in the top box, the body in the middle and the feet at the bottom. Students open the booklet to the next page and pass it to the next student. This student continues by drawing another monster, athlete, animal or character, aligning the head, body and legs in the correct box. This process continues until all pages are filled and the books are returned for sharing, flipping and discussing. This little art and creativity project can be a jumping off point for writing “What if” stories or just a fun get-to-know you activity. Enjoy!

 

‘What if’ story starters:

  • What if you woke up with the legs of an Olympic runner?
  • What if you had the chest of a fish and could breathe under water?
  • What if you had the body of a bird and could fly?
  • What if your head was an octopus, legs and all?
  • What if you woke up with a hairy gorilla body?
  • What if you woke up with the pitching arm of a pro baseball player?

 

Here are some examples of different flip books:

http://www.firstpalette.com/Craft_themes/People/Body_Flip_Book/Body_Flipbook.html

http://sketchbookchallenge.blogspot.ca/2011/11/flip-book-animals.html

 

This one is just for writers. As a writing book junkie, I procrastinate by reading about writing. What better way to goof off and still feel productive? In my home office, I have a bookshelf of reference and writing advice books. Other titles I’ve purchased as ebooks or borrowed from the library. I’m not proud of my addiction, but it puts this next statement in context.

Elizabeth Lyon’s Manuscript Makeover: Revision Techniques No Fiction Writer Can Afford to Ignore, is the best book on fiction editing I have ever read. Reading it feels like having an editor at my side, pointing out potential flaws and providing techniques for reworking and deepening the second draft of my novel-in-progress. The chapters on polish and proofreading are short compared to those on style, craft and characterization. This is no grammar book for beginners.

If you want to do more substantive editing before you submit your work to a professional, this book is an excellent reference to read, and reread. The checklists at the end of each chapter help diagnose weak points and prioritize the complex processes of rewriting: adding, subtracting and re-imagining to enrich voice, style and emotion.

Ark of the Convenient: A new novel inspired by Douglas Adams, Red Dwarf and Doctor Who

Progress Update 7/27/2012

34180 / 80000 (42.73%)

I reached page 90 today. It’s take stock time and, although I can see myself making progress, I am simultaneously discouraged. My writing will never be brilliantly scientific and philosophical in the way that Douglas Adams’ novels are.

Instead of getting blocked, I spent a few hours on Mars research, which helped the flow of ideas. Reading Princess of Mars at the same time as researching Martian Rover missions and theories of terraforming yields strange combinations of ideas…

Progress Update 7/26/2012

32000 / 80000 (40.00%)

Progress today brings me to page 83 of my manuscript-in-progress “Ark of the Convenient.”

Progress Update 7/24/2012

29000 / 80000 (36.25%)

This progress bar represents 75 pages of my new manuscript-in-progress “Ark of the Convenient.”


Yesterday I also took the current draft of “Marmalade Cat Detective,” and created a new outline for rewriting it using cards. I’m taking it in a slightly different direction, closer to my original vision for this piece which was always intended to be satirical and written for adults. It’s an experiment…

Progress Update 7/18/2012

18408 / 80000 (23.01%)

Progress Update 7/16/2012

I took some time to put my outline onto cards and I’ve written a little more.

15162 / 80000 (18.95%)

Progress Update 7/12/2012

11229 / 80000 (14.04%)

Are you a compulsive writer? I’m one of those people who always believe their newest project is their best. On summer mornings, whether or not I have guests, I like to get up early and do some free writing. The result this July is the first chapter and outline for a brand new novel called “Ark of the Convenient.” You could accuse me of procrastination. I already have Marmalade Cat Detective to edit for submissions and I did write the 50 000 word draft of a novel tentatively called “Wild Caving,” which got positive feedback at an agent pitch session at the Ontario Writers’ Conference. Both are worthy projects, but they can’t compete with writing something new and funny over the summer.

One reason I’m dropping everything else to write “Ark of the Convenient” is I miss Douglas Adams. I miss reading new things from the author of Last Chance to See, The Long Dark Teatime of the Soul and, of course, The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy books. It’s such a shame that Douglas Adams is no longer with us. I yearn for the zany fun of his humour, as well as his satirical views on environmental issues.

Inspired by my love of Douglas Adams, Monty Python, Red Dwarf and Doctor Who, my story is about a failed grant writer, embroiled in civil war between humans, cyborgs and Martian Rovers ‘gone wild.’

Rob Nohap is shanghaied aboard a colony ship where he is expected to promote Mars via social marketing campaigns. This Science Fiction romp involves a pet psychologist with fossil Martian DNA, a ship’s computer who thinks she is Pipi Longstocking and the Wyms, an ancient dragon-like race who control wormholes through space. Can Rob can save an Ark of kidnapped humans and survive to impress the woman who was his high school obsession? I’m writing to find out…

Follow me for updates on my newest project. I still intend to podcast “Marmalade Cat Detective,” but not until I have this hot new idea down as a first draft.

Cat Detective Novel Critique

Encouraging Feedback
I recently attended the Ontario Writer’s Conference and received some encouraging feedback for my mystery-in-progress. An editor with big publishing house credentials called my story good, saleable and said it should go to an American publisher. She liked the style and compared it to Alexander McCall Smith. She also told me I have a timely concept and I should submit it soon. Work is too busy right now with end-of-the-year deadlines and an upcoming change of position to do much editing before the end of June. You can guess how I’ll be spending July.