When You’ve Lost the Thread

It’s been a while since I’ve written about writing, mostly because I’ve found a system for fast-draft writing that has worked with my ADHD. I used my system for seven novels and I’ve been comfortable with the results. I have never been a detailed outliner. I work from a scene list and character goal-motivation and conflict sheets and let my story evolve organically within that framework. I typically draft a 60-65K novel in four to six weeks and then spend three to four weeks revising and editing my draft before submitting it.
Trusting in my system, I used it with my current project, a novella-length paranormal romance with dual points of view. With this project, because I needed to attend to two character’s points of view, along with paranormal conventions, I’ve been feeling my way along the story, and it was going well, slowly, but well.
And then I needed to take some time after my brother-in-law’s death. I set my story aside for three weeks, and when I started working on my novella again, I was lost. I couldn’t remember what I had written, or where I was going in the story.
Because my way of working falls somewhere between a painter and a plotter I used a technique that is a routine part of my revision process, I printed out what I had written and reverse outlined the story as a way of figuring out what I needed to do to complete my draft.
After reviewing my outline I know I need to write six more scenes to finish my first draft and have about 13K words to complete those scenes and stay within my word count limit.
What is a reverse outline? It involves reading what you’ve written and then creating an outline from that document. It can be detailed or brief as it fits your style. For me, it’s a one-sentence description of what happens in each scene.
I don’t stop to edit my work. I merely outline my story as it stands. After I have completed the outline I read over it to assess if my scenes flow as they should, that my story beats are where they should be, and in this case that I’ve given equal time to each character’s point of view. I use highlighters to tag types of scenes and transitions.
It is the simplest way I’ve found to check structure and beats, and if you have lost your way, it is a road map back to your central story and ensures that critical elements of your novel are not missing. If you struggle with plotting and structure, try adding a reverse outline to your routine revision process.
This time a reverse outline was a way of finding my way back to writing after a family tragedy, and another step toward preventing my grief from keeping my words bottled up.
Will a reverse outline work for everyone? Nope. If you are detailed outliner and are able to stick to your outline religiously, it might be redundant, as a plotser (panter+plotter) it is essential for me. Try it the next time you’re stuck and take advantage of a simple way to assess your story structure.

Brenda Murphy writes short fiction and novels. She loves tattoos and sideshows and yes, those are her monkeys.  When she is not loitering at her local tea shop and writing, she wrangles two kids, one dog, and an unrepentant parrot.  She reviews books, blogs about life as a writer with ADHD and publishes photographs on her blog Writing While Distracted. You can find her on Facebook by clicking here.  Sign Up for her email list here  www.brendalmurphy.com

Books available at

Amazon 

NineStar Press

Knotted Legacy

Both Ends of the Whip

ONE  

Sum of the Whole 

Dominique and Other Stories 

 

Rebalancing Act

IMG_2018

Rebalancing. The act of trying to stay on top of your commitments to yourself and others when your schedule changes. I have written before about why it is so hard for ADD/ADHD individuals to change their routines here. As a parent with ADD/ADHD it is hard enough keeping my own schedule together, let alone the little people in my house. We started using checklists for the kids so that they can help getting us out the door in the morning and into bed at a reasonable time at night. The checklists are working well for them, and after finding myself spinning like the Ferris wheel above trying to get myself out the door one morning I think I need a checklist for me. 

 Balance is really about rebalancing, letting go of what does not work and holding on to what does work. If I don’t take time to examine my schedule and change what is not working, I end up frustrated, and crazed, and not getting anything accomplished. I started out this Fall thinking that I would be able to drop the kids off and head to the pool for a swim workout. I neglected to factor in that there are two aquatic exercise classes for older people scheduled when I planned on swimming, that it resulted in a very crowded locker room, and fewer lanes for lap swimming.

I got so frustrated that I skipped my swimming exercise. After two weeks of blowing off swimming I realized that I just needed to adjust my time. Every exercise recommendation you ever see says to do your exercise first thing in the morning so that you don’t skip it, but for me, the morning is my most creative time, and the pool is too crowded. Instead of just giving up, I tried going after lunch and before I pick up the kids.  It worked, I get my swim time in, I have the locker room to myself, and I am in a better state of mind to deal with after-school-crazy time with my kids.

The willingness to try different ways to accomplish different tasks is key to success for people with ADD/ADHD. Let go of recommendations that do not work for you, and hold on to what works. Exercise really helps me with my focus, but I need to do it when it fits my schedule, not when everyone says you should do it.

This applies to every other task that people have opinions about when and how you should do it. For example almost every book of writing advice ever written advises that you write everyday.  Would that work for me? Nope, after a long shift at my day job I am too burnt out and tired. Write before my shift to get my writing in? Nope, not getting up at four in the morning to put words on paper, although I have stayed up to four in the morning writing when in a groove. What do I do instead of beating myself up about not writing everyday?  I make it count when I do write.  I set goals for word counts. I stick with what works for me.

Two years ago I participated in the madness that is NANOWRIMO (see my post here if you don’t know what NANOWRIMO is) I only had weekdays to write, and only for two hours and forty-five minutes. So I sat down and figured out how many words I had to write each day in that two hours and forty-five minutes to finish.  Did I write everyday? Nope, but I still managed to get fifty thousand words written in twenty days. Find what works and hold on to it, and let go of any advice that does not work for you. Listen to yourself, research, experiment, read and re-balance to find your center.

Be kind to yourself, don’t quit, find what works for you and do it.

IMG_1973

For Your Consideration:Ten Tips for Submitting Creative Work

IMG_1520_2

While most often associated with gambling, the phrase ” if you don’t play you can’t win” is what I say to myself every time I send off a submission for review, not because it is a gamble but because of the truth of the statement. If you are one of the many who dream of having your work traditionally published, displayed in a gallery, or publicly recognized, you have to submit it for consideration by other people.
Is is easy? Yes, it is easy to hit send, but it can be incredibly stressful to assemble a submission package, book proposal, portfolio, manuscript, short story, or any other creative project. Some people get so overwhelmed they never submit anything. It is an act of confidence for any creative person to submit their work for review. As Erykah Badu says ” I’m an artist and I’m sensitive about my sh*t…” and Ms. Badu is so right. I have yet to meet a creative person who is not personally invested in their work.

Just reading submission guidelines can be overwhelming and knowing that making a mistake can get your submission rejected before it is ever reviewed can create so much stress that many individuals give up. A large percentage of creative people have attention issues and struggle with details. Here are ten organizational tips to make the submission process less stressful.

1. Read the submission guidelines. Read them again. Print them out, underline, and highlight the requirements for the submission.
2. Enter all deadlines on your calendar. What no calendar? Read my post on keeping track of multiple deadlines and projects here.
3. Start a computer folder, a flat file or file box and keep everything related to the project in one location.This keeps key information and work together.

4. Date all drafts, or versions of your project. This prevents you from sending the wrong version of the file when it is time to send in the final version.5. Set reminders for key dates, these can be written reminders or electronic reminders.

6. Have another person, preferably someone who is detail oriented review your submission before you send it. Give them the guidelines and ask them to review your submission to see if you have everything required. Buy this person a beverage of their choice for helping you.

7. Be realistic and take your time. This is very difficult for many creative people, and particularly difficult for people with ADD/ADHD. Creating is fun, paying attention to details not so much, but if your brilliant work is never reviewed because you did not follow the submission guidelines you are defeating yourself.

8. Remember that as hard as it is to hit “send” or mail that package, it is the only way it is going to get reviewed: If you don’t play you can’t win.

9. Expect to have some anxiety after you submit your work. See Ms. Badu’s quote above, then get to work on your next project.

10. Celebrate. You have done something that many people dream of and never ever do. Celebrate your determination, celebrate your work, celebrate no matter what.

So hit the send button, drop off the portfolio, submit your creative work, jump in with both feet.

Keeping Track: Tips for Managing Multiple Writing Projects

It is not uncommon for me to have at four or five writing projects in progress. The gift of ADHD means that I always have projects. Some are large, long term projects such as developing my editorial calendar, manuscript drafts and edits, others are short such as website content and blog posts, and some fall in between, think short stories and journal articles. Although I love the reminder feature on my Google calendar, as a visual person I have difficulty conceptualizing time when it is represented by little boxes on a computer screen limited to a one month view.

 

Click here for my post on Creative Acts and Self Care

I need to see it all. My solution is a twelve month wall calendar. I like a Write on/ Wipe off type, ever so helpful if deadlines, or project details change.
I know some people are able to just work on one thing, and then move on to their next project, but my mind does not work that way. I need to be able to move to a different project when I get bored with what I am working on, and want to start something new (because new always feels good), going back to another project gives me the same feeling of doing something different, and yet it propels me forward in that task so in the end it all gets done.

Click here for my post on using flat files to keep my big projects organized

I also make notes in each file, listing the next steps to complete the project. For example, word count goals, scenes left to write or rewrite, necessary research, lists of of photographs/ images needed, correspond with a co-author, conduct an interview, follow up on an email, etc. I make these notes at the end of the manuscript and/or on the outline.  What, no outline? Read my post about outlines here. Outlines really are helpful.
I started keeping my Next Steps List when I was working on my master’s thesis. It kept me on track so I could finish my thesis on time, using every second of time I had to work effectively.
A Next Steps List helps in three ways:
1. You know what you need to do next to move toward completing your project and can get right back to work after a break in writing, invaluable with limited writing time.
2. A Next Steps List clears your brain so you can move on and work on other projects without the distraction and worry that you are forgetting something.
3. Crossing out tasks as you finish them is a visual reminder that you are making progress. A visual reminder of your progress helps maintain motivation on long projects.

In addition to my other writing projects, I write this blog and am starting another in February. (Stay tuned for details).  If you are a blogger, or want to be one, the best thing you can do for yourself is to create an editorial calendar. An editorial calendar is simply a calendar that you use to plan posts that you want to write, give them publishing dates and plan your posts. Keep it loose, give yourself permission to change what your post is about if you don’t want to write about that topic that week. Your editorial calendar allows you to plan in advance, gives you a place to park all your ideas for posts, and keeps you focused on your goals for the blog.

Most writers deal with deadlines, family obligations, work, holidays, and travel. Having a long term plan will help you stick to your writing schedule, turn projects in on time, and increase your productivity.  Make a plan. Hatch your dreams. Keep writing.