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Avoiding Tricks and Tomfoolery
For Writing Success in 2009

© 2009 Anna Furtado

We're well on our way out of the harbor, gleefully sailing into 2009. Many of us have packed our bags with good intentions, perhaps with little promises to ourselves to write every day or every week or in whatever time frame we've picked, but beware-your brain may try to fool you into succumbing to a few little tricks, sabotaging these good intentions and self-promises. However, armed with the following insight and information, perhaps you can head off the disruption and have a successful 2009 writing.

Do any of these tricks ring a bell? "I'll just clean up my desk before I get started." Or how about, "I need to research the mating habits of the Bare-eyed Cockatoo before writing this scene"…and you end up at the San Diego Zoo site ogling the ibexes and the rhinos for hours on end as they munch on whatever it is they munch on. Watch those Internet threads-they'll entangle you, taking you away from your goal of writing. If you have to research-and we all do-get in, get the information, and get out-or better still, postpone writing that scene until after your writing session. Jot down a note to yourself regarding the information you need and search for it during your non-writing time.

Writing until there is no more to write
Inspiration strikes and you down the espresso and churn out the first part of the great American novel-for 72 hours without a break. When you write the last words on the page, there are no more words in you. What's the danger here? First of all, sleep deprivation seldom yields works of brilliance. Second of all, when you sit down to write again, what will you write? Instead, stop writing while you still know what will happen next. This can prevent writer's block and keep you motivated to keep writing. Next writing session, you'll know exactly where the story is going.

Meet with writer friends judiciously
Yes, we all need support, especially when we are writing in our solitary little rooms, nose to the computer, fingers to the keyboard. However, are you meeting, chatting, and drinking coffee when you should be producing words on a page? Set your writing time and make it sacred. It doesn't even have to be "I promise to write every day at 7 p.m.," or "I will write every Saturday." If a commitment at that level works for you, great, but for some, it's impractical. Maybe you need to snatch your writing time where you can get it. So when your writer friends invite you out for some fun, before you say yes, just do a little check-in for yourself. How long has it been since you sat down and wrote? If you're doing it on a regular basis, then maybe you do deserve a little cappuccino with side of down time. But if not, perhaps you should reconsider. Instead, go to a drive-through Starbucks, take your coffee home, and write-and tell the buds you'll see them another time.

Writing in a Vacuum
Ah, the solitary life of a writer. It's a double-edged sword. In peace and quiet, there is great potential to be prolific. However, you can also become too narrowly focused, causing your creativity to suffer. How can you branch out? Well, getting together with those writer friends you put off earlier may help. Another way to expand your writing universe is to read the writers you admire in order to emulate them in your own writing. (Just be sure you're emulating, not plagiarizing, please.) Find the qualities in their characters that you most admire and give similar ones to your characters. Study how that mystery writer unravels the whodunit-and learn. Read books on writing techniques. Read the article archives in Just About Write to gain valuable insights in how to make your writing better.

"Oooo, look a convention in East Fibiata. I've always wanted to go there." Conventions are great. You can learn a great deal at conventions. But if you're attending them one-event-after-another-after-another as a substitute for putting seat to chair, hands to keyboard, words to page, know that conventions do not a writer make-writing a writer makes.

Packing your bags for an ego trip
Do you think you've written the great American lesbian novel? Are you overwhelmed by your own creative genius? Then, do one or both of the following: Solicit a seasoned editor for some genuine, no-holds-barred feedback, or give your inner whiz-kid a few days off, then have her re-read what she has written. Chances are there may be some revision in order. Oftentimes, too many words, too little description, an abundance of dialog tags may only be evident after putting some time and space between you and that tome. Perhaps your greatest insights, and therefore, your true literary genius, will blossom during the revision process.

Tale of woe
And then there's the little trick that's totally opposite of the ego trip, the one that makes you beat yourself up-the "woe is me" of the literary world sung to a depressing dirge. "I'm no good. I can't write." Can't or won't? To this message from the brain, bent on sabotage, I say, write something-anything-no matter how "bad" it is. Chances are the more your write, the better your writing will become. This is the best cure for the "I-suck-at-writing syndrome" so pick up that pencil or pound that keyboard-go for it!

Soliciting too much input
You've written a story, short or long. You give it to your partner, your aunt, your mother, your co-worker, your optometrist and your dry cleaner. Half say they like, half are of the opposite opinion. One says make the protagonist stronger, another says she's too pushy and needs to be gentled. Input may be good. Your initial readers may give you good insights and challenges to better your writing, but in the end, you must be your own best critic. If you make the protagonist stronger, will she come off as too pushy and overbearing? If you make her less overbearing, will she be wishy-washy and uninteresting as a character? What all those other people think may or may not be helpful. In the end, it's your work. What do you think? (However, also see "Packing your bags for an ego trip" above-it's a delicate balance, folks.)

Soliciting too little input
This is usually related to the ego trip thing again, so enough said. Good beta readers are hard to find and, once found, are true gems to be kept at whatever cost. Ply them with chocolate and praise-that usually works well. Take everything they tell you about your writing seriously but take the time to evaluate it through your own filters. It's your story in the end. Keep what you know is important and be open to changing anything else if it serves the story better.

Walk the balance beam
In the end, it's all about balance. Avoiding too much or too little of anything in this writing life, as in life in general, seems to be the key. Get up on that balance beam (oh, and don't forget to take your computer with you), find your center of gravity and don't look down (except at the keyboard). Pace yourself, and keep writing.
Anna Furtado is the author of The Heart's Desire—Book One of The Briarcrest Chronicles (a Golden Crown Literary Society Award finalist) and The Heart's Strength—Book Two of the Briarcrest Chronicles. Anna is also a featured columnist at Just About Write and contributes book reviews to JAW, as well as at the L-Word fan site in the literature section.

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