A Month of Progress: 4 Writing-Related Things I Learned in January

This month has been big for me, and it’s felt like a lot of progress has been made over the last 31 days. I’ve posted my first story to Wattpad, I’ve sent another story in to a contest in London, I’ve joined a challenge on thewritepractice.com called the 100 Day Book Challenge where I get a coach to help me write a first draft of a novel in 100 days, and, though I wasn’t trying to come up with an idea for a novel, I figured out a premise for a YA Fantasy that I’m going to use as my 100 day challenge.

I’ve also learned a lot this month in the areas of productivity, so I’d like to share 4 of the main things that have been very beneficial for me in January.

Outlining

I know right? Just the word by itself is enough to spark tension and groans. I definitely felt the same way. What changed my mind, however, was that I started listening to a podcast that interviews writers about their processes, and these writers talk about how much more productive they are when they use an outline.

So I did two things: I read a book called “Outlining Your Novel” by K.M. Weiland, and I started using an outlining app called OmniOutliner that can be found in the iOS App Store.

As a therapist, I should have by now realized how much anxiety can be relieved by simply having a plan, but the fact is, I always have resisted writing an outline because my inner self believes that I’m wasting time in doing so. I could say much more about outlining, but to do so would probably require its own separate post. (Note to self: plan to unpack this further in a future post.)

Being a dictator

I read another book this month called “On Being a Dictator” by Kevin J. Anderson and Martin L. Shoemaker, and in it both authors describe how they are able to get through several thousand words per day by dictating their novels and stories using a voice recorder.

I have tried this before with my therapy notes, and though it did help with my productivity, I started resisting it mainly because I don’t like talking to nothing or being precise in my speaking. Not to mention I don’t like the sound of my voice.

However, their testimony about their process encouraged me to give it a try again, so that’s something that I’ll be practicing in the future. This should also be even more effective when combined with an outline. Often I just don’t know what to say, so combining this with the first thing I learned should help.

Writing a Premise

This is another thing that I was very resistant to. A premise is just a short sentence that says what your story is about. I never actually saw the point in doing this because I figured that I should just “know” what my story is about, and taking the time to craft a premise was just a waste. I was very wrong.

In crafting the premise for the story I plan to use in the 100 Day challenge, I found that writing down the sentence solidified that my story was something valid, and it served as a launching point for further idea generation.

Here’s the premise I plan to use for my first novel:

Desperate to know if her father is alive, a young teenage girl traverses through the portal he vanished through two years ago and finds herself alone and defenseless in a deadly underground land.

(The working title I have for this is called Underland. I’ve already started working on the outline.)

Keeping up with my reading

The last and probably most important thing that I learned in January is how to stay on top of that massive reading list. If you’re like me, you buy a lot of books and probably attempt to read them all at the same time.

In the past this has led to massive book burnout where I don’t even want to pick up a book because I’m always thinking about the next book that I should be reading.

But I’m pleased to say that I think I’ve found a method that works for me.

First I read on my Kindle Oasis. I do this for several reasons. 1. I can have the books book that I am reading at my finger tips without hauling them around. 2. I am able to read in short spurts if I get time. 3. I have something very lightweight to hold so that I am rarely uncomfortable. 4. I minimize distractions and keep my eyes from being uncomfortable.

The next thing I do is I take my Kindle with me to the gym and read while I’m on the treadmill or stair-stepper. Writing and reading are sedentary things, so I felt that it was best to start walking while I read so that I get my exercise in (plus I feel a lot better). This has helped so much in getting through my reading, and I think I focus on it more since my body is being active; which means I remember more (more on the psychology on this later).

That’s it! 4 things to increase productivity: Outlining, Dictating, Writing a premise, and ways to keep up with my reading. I hope you find these helpful! Let me know in the comments! Or talk about what productivity habits you have that help you get your writing or reading done!

Happy writing!

D

Hidden Distractions

I struggled to consistently write this week. I had set a goal to write one blog post per week and work up to 1000 words per day toward a story. But I found distractions keeping my focus elsewhere, which I thought was strange because I had made sure that distractions would not affect me as much as they used to, but I realized this week that distractions come in many forms.


The first ones are obvious: those having to do with technology, social media, and obligations. Those are the ones that I had guarded myself against.
For example, in order to write without distractions from my phone or tablet, I bought an Alphasmart Neo (see featured photo), which is kind of like a calculator but for typing. Then for reading, I, again, put my phone down and opted for the e-ink display of a Kindle Oasis.


Suddenly, I was blazing through my reading and even some of my writing! Excited, I thought that I had finally established habits that would keep me writing on a daily basis.


What I had not counted on, were the hidden distractions.


These are the distractions that happen within the writing world itself. The more I press into being an author, the more I realize what all I don’t know.
A good example is self-publishing and marketing myself as an author. I started a new Instagram at the beginning of the year to add to my platform. I thought, “I’ll post at least once per day, use good hashtags, and then people will naturally start following me.” Turns out, I don’t know much about Instagram.


What turned into a simple act of posting each day turned into hours and hours of learning all the features of Instagram, looking for other authors to follow, and scrolling–endless scrolling.


I started obsessing over whether or not people liked my posts and who chose to follow me. Without even realizing it, social media had snuck its way back in, keeping me from writing.


In addition to Instagram, there’s Wattpad. When I first started learning about it, I became hooked on it just like Instagram. I knew that in order to gain followers, I would need to read other writers’ works and leave feedback and comments. Tags were just not enough to get people to check me out. My first story only managed around 40 reads.


The other thing with Wattpad is learning how to design covers for your stories, which, at first, I found to be super cool. I was able to get an idea of what it would look like when I finally had my name on the byline of a novel.


But again, this became a small obsession. I downloaded apps to help with it and learned about photo editing and what photos I’m allowed to use etc. etc. etc.


Again, I wasn’t writing; I was thinking about how to make my writing look cool.


And yet another question to ask when writing my stories…Do I put them all on Wattpad, do I enter and try to win contests, or do I submit to literary magazines? I found several contests online that had reasonable deadlines, and I even started writing a story to send to one. But that would not be a story I shared to Wattpad. So what do I do?


I obsess over it. And the obsession keeps me from writing.


The final distraction is reading–reading about writing, reading about grammar, reading about character arcs, reading about plot, reading about description and conflict, reading fiction, reading nonfiction, reading Wattpad stories, reading reading reading reading.


“All writers are readers”, but at what point do they drop the book and pick up the pen?

The reason I feel compelled to read so much all boils down to one word: insecurity. I’m not confident enough in my abilities to produce good prose, so I think that I need a book to tell me how to do it.


I have to remind myself of a truth that I often try and ignore: getting better requires practice. This is true with all things. In fact, I’ve started to believe that if I’m not deliberate in my practice, then I’m unconsciously practicing things that are not good for me.


This carries so much weight in the therapy room. Good thoughts must be practiced, but how many times do we ruminate on negative thoughts? As much as I hate it, rumination is practicing harmful thoughts, just like not writing is, on some level, practicing procrastination. I may have more to say on this later.


What are your thoughts? Have you struggled with this in the past? Do you continue to struggle with it now? How have you overcome your own battle with distractions? Let me know in the comments!


Until next time! Happy writing!


D

What Sharing My Work Revealed in My Heart

Today was rough. I learned more about myself, which is good, but often the lesson can be brutal. I also learned that sharing your work exposes things in you that you may not have realized. After all, you are revealing a part of yourself and making yourself vulnerable.

Everyone knows that there’s a big difference in having the knowledge of something and feeling/experiencing it. Intellectually, I know that gathering readers takes time and that the most important thing I can do is be consistent with writing. Intellectually, I know that not everyone is a fan of the genre I choose to write in. Intellectually, I know that not everyone is going to care about my writing endeavors. And, intellectually, I know that there is a massive learning curve when it comes to writing, publishing, and marketing yourself.

However…

The heart doesn’t always register what the head is saying. I know that many people experience this. I know that I’ve experienced it. Hell, I’ve even counseled people through it. You’d think that I’d know by now to not rely completely on my feelings.

Nope. Not even close.

Today I published my first short story on Wattpad, and I realized how much I depend on the approval of others. Within a few short MINUTES of posting my story and sharing the links to Facebook and Instagram, my anxiety began to skyrocket because no one was liking or commenting on my posts. No one suddenly wanted to follow me on Wattpad.

Many of my Facebook (and real-life) friends did not choose to follow my author-Instagram, even though they follow my other friends’ accounts. And again, intellectually (I’m starting to hate that word), I know that they probably haven’t really considered it because they have their own lives. But it’s hard to stop the feelings of rejection and disapproval from affecting me.

As a writer, I know that I need to be able to cope with rejection; it’s just part of the lifestyle. Or to quote from The Mandalorian, “This is the way”.

I realized today that I crave the approval of others far more than I crave to write. This is one of the things that has kept me from writing. If I can’t be liked, then I’ve failed. Logically, that makes no sense if my goal is to be a successful author.

I should write because I love it and to give something to my readers; not to gain approval from them. Overall, I’m grateful for what sharing my work has taught me already. Better now than when it really matters. But still, going through it…*sigh*

I’m going to focus on changing this mindset and push through it. My “words” for 2020 are discipline, persistance, and resilience–or, to sum them up in one word, faith.

I’ve included the link to my story on Wattpad. I hope you enjoy it! (I really do, not because I need you to.)

https://embed.wattpad.com/story/210605416

New Year, New Mindset

My biggest hurdle to writing in the past has always been related to overthinking. Is this story good enough? Do I write well enough? Will people like it? Could it be published? Could I make money with it? 

All these questions have kept me from delving into the writing world; they represent my own fear of failure. 

A great part of my life has been operating with a fear of failure. I’ve always believed that I needed to be good at something immediately, and I would get down on myself for not being as good as I “should” be. 

Growing up in a small-town playing clarinet reinforced this idea to me. I didn’t need to practice because I could sight-read all the music. But that changed when I started college and was going to be playing with the wind symphony at Carnegie Hall. I realized that I wasn’t good enough, and, yes, I had to learn to practice, but the hardest thing was making myself do it. 

I learned to fake it a lot of the time because the consequences of failure seemed catastrophic.

And that has been my mindset when it comes to writing as well. I must be good, I must be published, and I must be well thought of as an author. I shouldn’t be writing anything lowbrow; it needs to be sophisticated and representative of my deep personality. 

But that all changed when I decided a couple of months ago to make writing my focus. I knew already that to traditionally publish in this day and age, you need to already have a following. But I was resistant to that idea. I didn’t want to go through the work of marketing myself, and I wanted to make money with my writing right now. After all, anything posted on community sites like Wattpad may only get a few readers and would not generate income. 

But then I started reading a book called The Writer’s Guide to Wattpad by Benjamin Sobieck. I’m not even halfway through it yet, and I’ve already adopted a different mindset. 

Wattpad is all about helping you get readers, which led to the realization that loyal readers are worth way more than a few dollars. I don’t have to be perfect in what I write, because Wattpad is filled with millions of imperfect authors who have hundreds of thousands of followers. 

It’s taken me a while to fully commit to this mindset. In fact, I’ve been putting off posting my story to Wattpad because I’m afraid that it won’t be good enough. But fear is not going to make me a published author, and so I’m resolving to have the story posted by the end of this week. 

I will post a link to it in my next blog post.

So now my mindset for 2020 is to gain readers. Time will tell if this is right path, but the difference now is that I’m willing to make the mistakes I was afraid to make at first. And I welcome any insights or feedback into this area, because I admit that marketing myself and social media is not something that I’m strong in…yet. 

Until next time! Cheers! 

Welcome!

Thank you so much for visiting The Pensive Corner!

As a licensed professional counselor, I believe that there is immense overlap in counseling people and writing fiction. Sometimes they feel like one in the same, though with one you can only influence the story and with the other you are crafting it.

My aim in writing is to capture the brokenness that exists in all of us and display it with a sense of normalcy. There are no superhumans, and, while I understand to drive to conceal oneself, true healing doesn’t happen until you are fully seen.

My main intention for this blog is to chronicle my journey in becoming a professional fiction writer, but more than that, I hope to bring an empathtic perpective to the brokenness that pervades humanity. I will be posting snippets of my current works-in-progress as well my insights into the connections between therapy and creative writing.

Thanks for joining me!

D.R. Walker

“Of course it’s happening inside your head, Harry, but why on earth should that mean that it’s not real?”–Albus Dumbledore

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