Exorcising Writing How-to Advice

Last week, I wrote about leaving the writing message boards because my writing was getting polluted by a lot of the nonsense advice being passed around.  But I’d also started pulling back from general writing advice from how-to books even before that (some writers were absolutely horrified at this.  Writing advice is a huge safety net).  I was finding that the advice assumed all writers outline and didn’t provide anything really for someone who might not be doing that.

One of the core problems for me is that a lot of the how-to advice is common sense and seems perfectly reasonable.

Until I apply it to when I’m writing, and it turns the story into a freaking mess.  I could not tell this until I tossed out all the outlining-flavored advice, and once I did, the story simply worked.  Writing the story also went back to being a lot of fun.  Using outlining flavored techniques really sucked a lot of the fun out.

But it’s a constant battle, because I’ve been hearing that advice for decades.  It’s like it’s imprinted on me as a default.

I’m currently at the one-third point in my current book.  It’s a place where I always have trouble in every single book.  The story was going great, and then suddenly it’s ‘what do I do?’

LEFT BRAIN: Ack!  Ack! Story is broken!  Story is broken! Go find the problem and fix it!

I wound up stuck at that point, mainly because I’ve been at war with the Left Brain.  It figures all that writing advice out there is useful and maybe a turning point would help resolve the sticking point.

No, no, and no.

Because that wrests takes all the creativity away from my Right Brain that’s actually trying to do the writing.  What’s happened in the past is that when I let the Left Brain dictate what happens next — story beats were one of those things that seemed really reasonable but were horrifyingly bad —  I ended up trying to make the story fit what I’d come up with.  The story, in turn, became very convoluted and twisted because the creative process of discovery as I wrote was not allowed in.  It distorted the story so badly, in fact, that this is a complete redraft from scratch, and I have not used anything from the original version.

I end up feeling like I have to keep giving Left Brain an NCIS head slap to stay out of the story’s business.

The hardest thing right now is that I am literally doing a scene that I do not have any idea what is going to happen in it.  How-to advice and writing rules all say that’s a bad idea, and it’s what I have to do.

It’s trust the process.

The Horrors of Buying a Planner

I dread this time of the year because I have to get a new planner, or a planner like thing.  I didn’t really use one at all until about 2007 (seriously), because I really didn’t need it.  But I was having surgery and managed to schedule two of the required appointments at the same time.  So it was probably a good idea to have something.

But it’s tough buying them.  I’m not the only one who has trouble.  Plannerisms has people who go from planner to planner each year (my record was seven, by the way), and DIY Planner has ones you can make yourself.  Then there are people who stick with the same one for decades, like Homemakers Daily with the Franklin-Covey Planner.

One of my challenges is that I’m a right-brained, creative type.  I need some color, and it needs to be colors I like.  Often I’m having to choose between color and format, which is why I end up with seven planners in a year.  Most of the planners provide too much stuff, and I prefer a spiral bound one, rather than a loose leaf one.  What’s too much?  I just need a monthly calendar that’s not too big and not an eye chart.

But all the really nice looking calendars have all the stuff in it and are the 5 1/2 by 8 size, and I want the middle size.  So I either get nice planners with stuff I don’t want, or ugly planners with stuff I do want. My second one for 2014 was a breast cancer planner, and it’s a really ugly shade of pink.  That pastel one, and gray and white.  Yuck.

At the moment, Planner #3 is a Mead Tropical Planner.  I got the dark blue cover, and it’s got beach scenes on every page — full color.  But it’s still got those pesky week things in it.  But it’s the beach …  Maybe I could use the week things to do a setting or an idea a day and make the sections useful.

A Right-Brained Experiment with Getting Things Done

In my time management travels, I dabbled a bit with Getting Things Done.  I suppose I had to, because it’s a system that a lot of people talked about.  I’ve been trying to get a handle on my time management because I would like to write full time as a fiction writer, and it’s best to do it now.  I’ve also looked at FlyLady (that was scary!), Julie Morgenstern (who gave me the impression that, “Yes, I know people organize differently, but do it my way”), Autofocus (extremely demoralizing) and a bunch of others that largely said the same thing.

One of the basic problems, I think, is that GTD was written 20 years ago.  The world’s changed a lot.  Email and technology has exploded.  I don’t know about other places, but where I work, having the ease of editing a presentation is NOT a time saver.  People will tweak it to death, all the way up until the last five minutes before it’s given.

There’s also an assumption that the person using the system has a stable schedule.  The culture at my work is the fire hose.  Nearly everything is an emergency because people wait so long to do something that it turns into one.  I try to control what I can, but a lot of is out of my hands.  I cannot schedule more than 2 hours ahead because it is so bad.  Try doing a weekly review on a regular basis with a stream of emergencies.

The third assumption is that everyone is a manager and works on a big project or multiple projects.  This is a source of aggravation for nearly every time management system because they assume everyone’s a manager (hello out there, time management gurus.  You do realize there are employees, right?  We’re the ones you’re telling the the managers to delegate to).

The other area I have trouble with is that it’s not really friendly for really creative right-brained people.  I found this on Asian Efficiency, which fits my reaction to the system:

GTD is not written for you and me. It’s written for “left brained” people who already posses strong level of structure in their lives, and GTD adds them another layer of power and control in their decision making process.

Lists are evil things for most of us creative types.  I don’t even use one to grocery shop, because I invariably don’t get everything on the list, forgot items on the list, and overspend because I’m using the list.  The fastest way I can lose anything important is to put it on a long list.  I don’t even keep my submission records on a spreadsheet because it’s too easy for me to lose track of them.  

Creativity is also a funny animal.  It seems silly to me to put on a list somewhere, “Write Scene 4.”  Maybe my muse wants to write Scene 10 instead.  Maybe it wants to write Scenes 4-8.  I’m a pantser.  I follow the flow of the story.  All I truthfully need to know on the creative side is that this story has a deadline.

The result was that Getting Things Done got a resounding, “Not for me.”

G is for Greenbacks: Taxes and Writers

I recently filed my taxes — always a thrilling experience.  But this time it hit me — when I go indie hopefully later this year, I’ll have to file taxes next year.  H&R Block handily provided me with information on things I would need to do, like get a second checking account, use one credit card for the business side, and keep receipts, even if I’m not sure they’re deductible.

But the thing that has me stumped is how to deal with the receipts.  Most of the filing solutions are tend to have a left-brained slant, so it makes it difficult to find a system that works for me.  In the past, many of those systems have gone by the wayside because they ended up being too complicated, or worse, black holes.  So I’m having to ponder what I need to do to keep me straight.

QUESTION FOR YOU:  Do you have any suggestions of what kind of system I can use?

How to Keep Me Away From Your Blog

I’ve been to two Blogger sites in the last week where the owner had enabled Capchas.  If the name isn’t familiar, it’s those weird letter things that pop up to help screen out spammers.  The text is often extremely distorted, because computers used for spamming can’t read it.

I’ve found it’s hard for me to read it, too.  Especially when letters like m and n run together.  I have to go through at least three or four rounds of capchas to post a comment.  That’s enough to make me go away and not bother, which means fewer comments for the blogger.  Lately, after a capcha rejection, I’ve been adding the following to my comment: “Is the spam that bad that these capchas are required?”  It is that annoying!

What annoys you about common things bloggers do?

I Never Knew I Was Bad With Details

Yup, it’s true.  Right-brained people are big picture thinkers and tend to be horrible with details.  But until I learned that, I actually thought I was detail-oriented, enough that I put it on resumes!

Throughout my life, I’ve been prone to sloppy mistakes — the kind that drive the details people crazy.  This was particularly true in the army, where attention to detail should be the army motto (it’s “This We’ll Defend”).  There’s nothing like missing that a document had the wrong year on it and a boss accusing me of lying about it.

So I overcompensated, to the point where I took a DISC test and was labeled a perfectionist, and I’m not one.  I don’t have trouble letting my work go once it’s done, which is a common perfectionist trait.  Nor do I endlessly revise sentences, trying to make them perfect.  But I would go back over everything as soon as I wrote it and fix the typos and omitted words.  I’d recheck work many times over, and still miss typos that had other people berating me.

Then my job changed.  I’d been running the audio visual support for a senior manager’s conference room.  It required a tremendous amount of attention to detail because if I made a mistake, it would have the scrutiny of an unhappy senior manager.  No one wanted to be around her when she was unhappy.  When it happened, all I could do was nod my head numbly, walk out the room, and search for a way to tighten the control again.

But when that job ended, it was like a tidal wave washed over me and carried away all the debris from efforts to control the details.  Overnight — and it was really overnight –the control was gone, and I couldn’t do it again if I tried.  But with it came an immense relief.

But now I’m having different troubles with details.  I got a critique back on my first two chapters, and a lot of the comments were on elements that are details to me.  It’s not a matter of tracking them — it’s just that I’m very sloppy with them, and I don’t see them as easily as someone who deals better with them.

Does anyone have any suggestions on how to work with details?  I need some help before they drive me crazy!

The Planner Challenged

Ever had nightmares about showing up at the wrong time for a class?  That was me, in college.  I’d dream I’d lost track of one of my classes, and realize I hadn’t attended it the entire semester and was failing!

Time is something I’ve always had difficulty with.  In school, I did the work early so I didn’t have to worry about the deadline.  I’ve also worked a lot with memory because I’ve had trouble making planners work.  They’re made for left brainers.  I like to see my calendar parts in big chunks so I get the bigger picture, but a lot of the planners put the days in a more linear lefty format that hides them from me.  Those that give me the bigger picture are often insanely tiny, assuming that I will write neatly in pencil in very tiny letters.  I’m lucky if I can find a pen in the same color twice in a row, and besides pens are fun!

Most planner advice focuses on being efficient.  Liz Davenport advises, “Write EVERYTHING down, not just “really” important things, not just business things and not just what is convenient. Write down EVERYTHING!”  If I did that, I’d survive a week (maybe), and then I’d put the planner out of my misery.

But I’ve accepted (grudgingly, she admitted) that I have to keep one.  The convincing reason was when I scheduled two doctor appointments on the same day at the same time.  I’m currently using Day Runner’s Poetica.  It’s my fifth planner this year (yes, it’s only February!).  The feel of the cover appealed to the kinesthetic me, and the page design appeased the visual spatial me (which is the more fussy part).  I was very glad their 5 1/2 size left off the numbered appointment slots!

My immediate goal is getting into the habit of looking at it.  I’m only recording things that I will need to have with me (i.e., hotel confirmation number), things that I will forget, appointments, and time spent writing.

What’s your experience with planners?  Do you have any tips for the planner challenged like me?

Ever Feel Like This?

funny pictures - The fine line betweenlazy and dead
see more Lolcats and funny pictures, and check out our Socially Awkward Penguin lolz!

Usually by the time I come home on the last day of the work week, I feel like the kitteh above.  Friday evening all I want to do is lay around in front of the TV set and be happily lazy.

What’s your favorite Friday ritual — watch movies?  Go out to eat to celebrate the end of the week?  Do something quiet and low-key?  Pet the cat tummy?

Being Right-Brained and the Math Horror Zone

The first time I realized I was right-brained was a few years ago.  I’d picked up a book called Organizing for Your Brain Type. As I was reading, I suddenly realized, “OMG!  It’s me!  This is me!”  It was explanation of why all the things that worked so well for everyone else didn’t work for me.

Math was one of those things.  Right-brained people are holistic thinkers and very creative.  It takes a huge mental shift to think sequentially and be logical.  My first experience with this was a 2nd grade math class.  I was called up to the chalkboard to figure out a math problem.  Evidently I was taking too long, and the teacher spanked me in front of the class.  Can I hide now?

I got by in later classes, I think, because I memorized a lot, and I could watch for patterns.  I was still a poor student when it came to any kind of math.  Fractions and division were particular confusing.

But what got me was algebra.  It was required in high school, so I had to take it.  The teacher goes to the chalkboard and scrawls out something like X + 7 = 15, then starts dashing off formulas rapid fire.  I was still stuck on what the heck X meant.  Then the teacher assigned us homework.  I took it home, and it was, “What do I do with this?”

So I asked my father, who is a math guru.  He showed me how to do the formulas.  My brain started to hurt from all of the logic.  It took a long time to get the work done, and was mentally exhausting.  But I checked my answers against the back of the book.  Yay!  I’d gotten all of them right.

The homework came back from the teacher with a big, ugly 0 at the top and slashes through every problem.  I never did better than that.  The teacher couldn’t be bothered to tell me what I was doing wrong, so I got a D for the final grade.  I looked down at that D and wished that it had reflected all the tremendous effort I’d done.  I worked harder than all the other students and yet, had nothing to show for it.  I walked out of that class without learning anything new and hating math.

School days are always a horror for kids, something Buffy the Vampire Slayer took advantage of.  Have you traversed the minefield in school and survived to tell the tale?  Share it, so I can feel like I’m not alone in the Math Horror Zone.

The Most Tedious Part of Research

I don’t always enjoy research, at least not the way people who dive into research do.  I’m never going to be in danger of putting it all in there because, instead, I have to make sure I do enough.  To me, it’s a tool of writing, like proofreading is.  But there are some things I like better than others, and some things I found downright tedious.  The most tedious thing for me is:


I’m a kinesthetic and visual spatial learner, which is a really weird combination.  My learning skills lean more toward hands-on.  It’s very difficult for me to stay involved when I just have to sit and listen to someone drone on, even if it’s a subject I want to be interested in.  I don’t always get good notes from a lecture, and if the speaker isn’t good to start with, I tend to get very little out of it.  It can help me to get notes and other reading material on the topic beforehand, but a lot of speakers won’t do this or wait until the last minute to prepare.

What’s the most tedious part of research for you?