Raven's Pen

Writing, Reading, and Ruminating

Month: March 2017

It’s Almost Time!

*takes a deep breath*


Do you hear the clock ticking? The piano lid closing? The sound of pens cracking? Cottage gates opening?

It’s time, my friends.

NaNoWriMo is here. (Did I mention that I am participating again? Surprise!)

tim burton alice in wonderland cheshire cat

You know what that means, my friends.

It’s time to morn a lack of preparedness, finish the last of the preparations that can be foreseen, and wonder where the plot I thought I was starting to understand went.

Did I mention that I am one of the crazy people who starts at midnight? I attempt to hit the first keystroke exactly as the clock hits twelve. Who needs sleep anyway?

Is anyone prepared for NaNo?

I am definitively not… this will be my forth year of camps, but it is almost as nerve-wracking as it was the first time. Since I doubt that I am not the only one (I hope?) who is entirely unprepared, here is the list of a few things that I often find helpful to getting words on the page. Some of these pertain more closely to waking up in the middle of the night to write, but pajamas are justifiable anytime of the day:

  • Be prepared to take notes. Empty flashcards are lifesavers. Truly. I use them to keep track of characters and scribble down random plot points or pieces of dialogue. They are also the perfect size for miniature paper airplanes.
  • Find your soundtrack. Music is a great tool to help get into a character’s head: what would they listen to? What fits their emotional state? What is the soundtrack of your novel? Of course, some people prefer silence, and that is a soundtrack of its own.
  • Don’t feel like you need to know everything about your story. Whether you are a hardcore plotter or a fire-drill style pantser, it is probable that you do not know everything about your story (if anything at all). Be willing to explore along the way. Sometimes unexpected plots will jump out of you and change your manuscript for the better; let yourself consider every possible option.
  • Have something to drink nearby. Whether it be coffee, tea, hot chocolate, or even spiced cider; just think of the procrastination potential. While something so simple may seem strange, it is sometimes surprising what you can come up with while taking a sip of something delicious. Besides, who has time to get up for a cup of water when pounding at a keyboard?
  • Find a cosy space– or surround yourself with as much coziness as possible. Another clique, but one that I follow every single year. Fuzzy socks? Check. Pajamas? Check. A sweater (or cloak)? Absolutely.

Now… I would stick around, but the minutes are ticking. I’m off to make a cup of tea and negotiate with characters before the clock strikes midnight.

Good luck to everyone rushing into their manuscripts tonight!

Productivity Can be Smaller than You Think

Take #69… no, #74.

I mentioned that I added another rough manuscript to my stack, yes? Finishing a draft usually sends me jumping between projects in a ‘what-do-I-work-on-now’ fog for a few days; it’s like standing in the middle of the sahara at night with your feet sunken in shadow from the lack of a moon. It maybe comfortable for a few hours, but, eventually, anxiety sets in.

Typically, that anxiety is a spiral of unfocused work interspersed with questions about whether or not I am actually getting anything done. It is hard to step back and evaluate our accomplishments. When we do pause and look around, it is often difficult to understand exactly what we are looking at–especially considering the state of the *ahem* world at the moment.

Let’s face it: an extraordinary number of things are happening right now, and a lot of them are processed with intense emotions. I know, I know, how dare I bring politics into this. The point is this: it is easy to be unsettled.

Unsettled-ness can often bring thoughts of ‘oh, what is the point.’ It is difficult to be optimistic when the world is rumbling in our ears; and, often, our perceptions of productivity rely on optimism. Our moods drastically affect the way that we see the world. Which is why the proper side of the bed should be marked in red paint, “put your feet here when you wake.”

(To those who are unsettled, I say: take a breath. Yes, sign your petitions, send your emails- read the news if you must- but, please, do not forget to breathe. No matter what sort of chaos surrounds you, please remember to do something for yourself– even if it is small.

Bake a batch of cookies. Knit the next row of your scarf. Walk around your desk a few times. Now, let the state of the world fade for a moment. Let’s talk about you, and me, and all of the other people out there who are trying to do creative work.)

Productivity is an incredibly important word, but I think it is one that is often skewed. When you are in school, productivity is finishing your homework (perhaps, if you are very organized, you complete it before the due date), but creative work is often not defined by a teacher’s deadlines; it is not something that you do at the last moment because you must. Yes, some people apply the same principles to both, but- unless you have an extremely engaged publisher peeking over your shoulder- creative work is entirely dependent on you.

How do you structure the day? Where are you going to put your attention? You must find your own time and choose how to use it. Time management is an extensive topic that I will attempt to ruminate upon in a separate post but, for now, let’s focus on the aforementioned word.

First of all: How do you define productivity? Currently, I think of it as getting things done. A productive day is one where I have focused on topics that I know will propel me toward the future. It must be noted that that does not necessarily mean that I have accomplished everything on my list, or completely avoided procrastination. Nor is this a perfect definition of productivity, but I think that it is a broad umbrella: we are here to complete the lists sitting in our minds, are we not?

Productivity, I think, must be based off of persistence. Continue on, keep working, no matter how hard it is. Even if you are only able to work in small chunks, you are still moving forward. I urge you to acknowledge the small accomplishments that you make, and warn you not to beat yourself up when your day does not go as planned; especially if the state of the world (let’s shorten it to SOTW in the future, shall we?) is distracting you.

Persistence creates. And so, perhaps, persistence is a much better word than productivity. Let’s be persistent without fear. It is easier said than done… but goblins can be slain and dragons can become best friends.

I believe more posts about persistence are in the future. ‘Till then, a happy late St. Patrick’s day!

Stepping Back (and “Artist Dates”)

How time passes my friends!

And, my oh my, do I have a lot that I want to talk about with you.

I had planned to post about productivity this week (what does it mean, how do we persist etc.), but I am going to interject for a brief moment and hopefully share the planned post within the next few days– it is worth noting that I wrote myself into a bit of a corner and now I must find a way to form a coherent train of thought.

Let’s jump to it, shall we?

First, will you forgive my use of a short complaint as the introduction? Do you remember those spinning teacup/pot rides at carnivals? They feel like a good illustration for the last week, or two, of my life. I have been relatively unproductive; I have a tendency to jump between projects with a few hundred words here and a few more there without entirely focusing. Frankly, it is frustrating.

Regarding many of the conversations that have spread throughout the household since the beginning of the year, I suspect that I am not the only one. Focus is often a hard thing to catch; you lay your tuna-sandwhich traps out and build gingerbread houses, maybe you become desperate enough that you decide to dress up like a saguaro cactus, or hide in the henhouse with a rusted shovel.

In my experience, a lack of focus can create whirlpools of feeling like you will never be able to work again; the small successes that arise can often feel irrelevant or ‘not good enough.’ Of course, that is preposterous, but sometimes it is hard to remind yourself of such things.

It is not easy to pull oneself out of disparaging thoughts, but it is certainly not impossible: yesterday, my parents reminded me of the importance of stepping back and giving yourself a break. I know that it sounds contradictory to success, but everyone needs time to think.

As mentioned by my parents: in The Artist’s Way, Julia Cameron talks about having an “artist date” every week; essentially, it is a block of time that is set aside to meander or do something that will help you to recharge. It could consist of reading for an entire afternoon, going on a walk somewhere that you do not typically visit; maybe you prefer to meander through library shelves, or spend hours testing pens in a small shop tucked against the sidewalk.

Despite its contradictory nature, sometimes stepping back is the way to get more things done. It is easy to become wrapped up in our doubts and fears, but they only lead us deeper. I think there is a common misconception that we must always be busy, that sitting still is often not a viable use of time, but wondering always is. Taking time to review your surroundings and goals is always important.

Stepping back from your work is a way to gain prospective: we become wrapped around certain facets of our lives so closely that we forget what truly matters, and we forget to find ways to inspire ourselves every week. Cars run out of gas, and so do we… Of course, I, at least, will not assume that prospective is an easy thing to discover. We have to chase it; and, sometimes, that means we must let go of our worries about rushing forward.

How long you should step back for is, I think, entirely based off of the way that you function. My amateur advice is this: start with a short duration of time. Let one day slide; do not worry about how much you are accomplishing until you wake the next morning. When the sun rises, begin with some sort of tradition; find something to help you settle: choose a favorite piece of music, make a cup of something hot, or wear your favorite sweater.

Settle down in your chair (or couch, or bed, or tree trunk) and start slowly. Begin with something. Do not worry about your grammar or punctuation. Let yourself babble for a moment; write something that is for your eyes; something that does not need to be perfect or appropriate. Letting yourself run free for a moment can be an excellent way to pull yourself out of the bogs and back into your work.

I am curious to hear about your own experiences: what works for you? What does not?

Until next time, my friends! (And I promise that it will be relatively soon.)

Oh, and Happy Pi Day!

General Electric animation design science ge

Quote of the Month

My, oh my! A new month already! I hope you are faring well! And, without any further ado, let’s drudge up the words of a wonderful writer:

“Don’t tell me the moon is shinning; show me the glint of light on broken glass.” ~ Anton Chekhov

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