Writing Retreat 2017

Sun rising over our last morning

What a fantastic time I had this year at my annual writing retreat. Six nights, five full days of writing bliss. Although I was getting a little silly by the end of it and the strangest things were setting me off – such as continuously nodding characters and inappropriate whispering.

Working with someone with the same goals is also really helpful. My writing buddy and I work pretty well together. We can concentrate and write away, shared tools and tips to keep the writing flowing, double checked spelling and pronunciation. 

We could laugh together over silly or strange character behaviour, interrupting each other when we need to ask a question, or pour each other a glass of wine. Sharing helps, particularly when you know you can continue the work and encourage each other.

We had a tv but chose not to watch it. We had no internet and no phone service, other than a landline family could call in.

Day 1 - ready to write

I won’t go over my hours of writing minute by minute, rather I’ll give you an overview of what some dedicated time away from the distractions of life can do. Well, what it did for me and the lasting effects I hope it has.

Over those days and writing, editing and sharing, I achieved a lot:

· I worked through my next book three times. My aim was to  ensured the story works (hopefully), all the main plot points were where they were meant to be, that the climax was apprortiate, the characters where who I wanted them to be, and the right amount of questions left the reader hanging for the next book.

· I restructured the messy draft that was book 3 in the series (still messy but in the right order and a lot more work to do).

· Drafted a short story for the Raven’s Dawn launch.

· Played with some other short story ideas.

· Preped the paperback template for Raven's Dawn

· Read one and a half novellas; and one novel – not in that order.

​It was a very prodcutive time and I'm really happy with wll that I acheived. I always hope that I can continue the productivity and enthusiasm when I get home again. So far so good.

The only possible drawback from such a retreat is that it reinforced for me how much I want to write; how I could spend my days writing and editing and creating new worlds. And that such a life is still in the distance. At least for one week a year I can be the full time writer I want to be.

2016 Third Quarter Goal Check

2016-third-quarter-checkI recently had a bit of a panic attack about what I was doing with my writing and where it was going. I was stressing about my deadlines. Because I had read or heard in one of my courses, that I should try to produce as much as possible. But I was worried that I was sacrificing quality for quantity and so I took some time to reassess.

Way back at the beginning of the year my writing goals included:

  • Reading every day
  • Continuing with the Legend of Iski Flare novella series with episodes 2, 3 and 4 planned for release this year
  • The Raven Crown series books 1 and 2 planned for release this year. (Book 3 in 2017)
  • The Mark of Oldra (formerly known as Snow) will be released at the beginning of February
  • The Flow of Ink will continue to blog every week and produce a monthly newsletter. I am changing the posting day to Sunday.
  • Improve my marketing skills to boost readership of my books and blog
  • There will be some ideas generating for next year, including expansions on some of the larger works I’m putting out this year and a new series that has started bubbling away.

At my last goal check, at the end of June, things were looking pretty good.

Here is where I am at the three quarter mark of 2016:

 

Reading

I am almost reading every night and trying to work my way through the bedside pile. Kindle is my problem here as I keep seeing and buying and not getting to the physical books on the bedside table.

I joined a review group but find that I’m feeling pressured to read and when my editing is intense I’m not getting the chance. I also wasn’t getting many reviews in return for all the reading I was doing and so I’ve pulled out of the group to focus on my own writing first.

I do still review everything I read because I understand how important those reviews are.

 

The Legend of Iski Flare

I have now published three episodes of Iski’s adventures and I’m really pleased with how he is going. I am currently working on Episode 4 due for release on October 31.

I have reworked these so that they are all formatted the same way and as I go, I am inserting a sample of each episode in the previous one. Episode 5 is brewing away and I will start outlining at the end of the year.

 

The Raven Crown Series

The first in this series is coming together. Partly because I started putting in the work required to get it done. I have a fantastic cover designed.

This is the book that pushed me over the edge. Partly because I hadn’t shared any of it before and the varied responses from beta readers threw me for a spin. Although it was to be expected, I had only given myself a week to rework the manuscript before sending it to the proofreader. So after taking some deep breathes to get the oxygen back to my brain, I rescheduled the proofreader and gave myself some decent time to sort out the issues raised.

I also gave myself some extra time to make sure it was uploaded and ready for print at the same time (or they will be close) before the launch date. I would much rather you had a good story to read than just promising it comes out sooner.

I was working my way through the edit for book two but that is taking a back seat to book 1 at the moment.

 

The Mark of Oldra

I reported last time that The Mark of Oldra was published earlier this year and now I have finally organizing a print version. This is available as print on demand Amazon.com only at this point) and I’m selling off the side of my desk (literally). I’m working on the advertising for the print copy and I’m planning a Goodreads giveaway for October.

Still too scared to shop it around just yet, but I will get there.

 

The Flow of Ink

I am managing to maintain my weekly blog post. And I am somewhat more organized and scheduling ahead of time. I continue to fiddle with little bits of the site, including using a new program to put in lead pages and buttons that connect readers to my newsletter and a free book.

[insert button here]

 

Marketing and Social Media

As I reported last time, I am still learning. I wonder if I will ever learn it all. I struggled with Hootsuite and switched to Tweetdeck. Then I got carried away with scheduling posts only to discover the same ones were appearing on my timeline repeatedly. I’ve eased off a bit and gone back to just tweeting what is happening at the time, whether writing or life or writing life related.

I am working my way through a Facebook Advertising Course for Authors which is really interesting and I’m learning a lot. Although I’ve only run a couple of ads so far (the cost worries me) but the second one did reasonably well. I completed a marketing course for gaining readers and how now signed up for a more comprehensive course with Nick Stephenson.

 

Next Project

Despite all my stress of late, I have played with a few ideas over the last couple of months for writing projects, everything from erotica to memoirs. But I am passionate about my fantasy writing and so I’m sticking with that.

I have an idea forming for another trilogy. It is fantasy but quite different to what I’m currently doing. I’ll let you know more when I have a better idea of what it is. And there are some short stories swimming around in there too.

 

Summary

Overall I am very pleased with how I’m going this year, despite having to rethink my major project’s time lines. I had more than a few moments of doubt this quarter as to whether I could deliver what I wanted to.

And other than lawns and painting and dance exams (and maybe Star Trek on Netflix) I’m actually doing pretty well. So there will be a novel delivered this year, and another Iski Flare adventure.

I won’t deliver what I thought I would at the beginning of the year. At times I forget just how much I have to squeeze into my life: working full time, being a single parent, all the house work, yard work and occasionally sleeping.

I have used this current restructuring to look at next year and what I can seriously deliver, in a reasonable time frame. I’m still looking at a couple of projects at a time but it will be a good year. I will refine this as I get closer to the end of the year and I’ll fill you in around Christmas time, or early next year when I release my goals for 2017. And I hope it doesn’t scare you if I mention I’m thinking about what that will mean for 2018 as well.

Dangers of the Soft Deadline

The Danger of Soft Deadlines

I have recently discovered that I’m not as good at meeting my own deadlines as I previously thought. And it is somewhat disappointing.

I had really hoped that I would be announcing the release of my next book but I’m not quite ready. Part of the reason is that I didn’t think to factor in other work I needed to reach the deadline, such as cover design. I only started discussions with the designer in the last week or so.

I also had a freak out about the story as a whole and sent it out to beta-readers. Thankfully they got back to me in a reasonable time but all of these activities impact on when I will be finished.

I haven’t been as strict with myself as I should have been either. My writing times have slipped and I’m a little distracted with other things, such as Christmas and end of year activities and catch-ups.

My plan for the future is to set a firm deadline with clear milestones and factor in some wiggle room. I have reworked my plans for next year to include some practices earlier in the process, such as cover design so that they are ready long before I need them.

I haven’t reached all my writing goals this year and that is simply down to me not completing work on time, or at all. I want to start treating this as a business, in that I take it seriously but I’m not sure that I’ve been taking myself seriously as a writer.

It is clear that the only thing holding me back is me.

I have changed the way I do some things over the course of the last year. Something that has dropped away is my weekly to do list. First on my list for this week is to create a list; capture everything I need to do and then make a clear plan. Too often in the last few weeks I have just moved items from one day to the next without thinking of the bigger picture.

If I am going to achieve what I plan to next year, I am going to have to make some changes to my thinking.

 

Stay tuned– there will be a new release coming shortly:

The Legend Begins, Episode 1 of The Legend of Iski Flare Series

 

15 Minutes to Meet Your Writing Goals

Clock

I am often asked how I find the time to write. The question is usually followed by a comment about how they would love to write but they don’t have the time.

For most of us there are a plethora of competing factors for our time: family, partners, day jobs, pets, hobbies, sports and study just to name a few.

Finding time to meet your writing goals can seem like an impossible task.

You have set the goal, you want to write. The only way to reach it is to make the time to take action on it. This was something I learnt the hard way. I was never going to reach my goal of becoming a writer if I did not take the time to sit down and write. For writers write, don’t they?

What if you started with a little writing time? Just 15 minutes a day?

But that isn’t long enough to do anything, I hear you whine.

Not true.

And you may find that once you have established your 15 minutes it can grow into more and more time.

 

Find 15 minutes in your day:

Firstly you need to determine how you spend your time and see if you can find just 15 minutes.

This could be as simple as getting up 15 minutes earlier, or staying up 15 minutes later. While you commute to work on the tram/train/bus, during lunch time, while you wait for the washing machine to finish, or the kids’ footy game to get underway.

Could you negotiate some time? Perhaps while the kids are doing their homework, or your partner takes them to the park. What about when the house is quiet, while your husband is at his yoga class or by simply turning off the TV?

Look at how you are spending your time now and find a 15 minute gap in your day.

 

Book that time for writing:

By making an appointment with yourself you are more likely to follow through. I suggest booking the same time every day for the coming week. Write it into your diary or on the fridge. Somewhere you will see it.

 

Plan:

You have planned the time, now plan what you will write in that time. Having a plan makes it easier to start and means that you will better utilise your writing time.

It does not have to be detailed, a line or sentence is a great place to start. It could be a note in your diary next to your writing time, or a couple of dot points on a scrap page or notebook.

 

Create a space to spend your booked writing time in:

Find somewhere comfortable and distraction free for your writing. Surround yourself with inspiration and all you need to write. If you write in a café or at the library then ensure you have all you need with you (book and pen and notes, or laptop or the like).

 

Do it.

On day one at your booked 15 minutes take your plan and sit down and write for the full 15 minutes. It does not have to be perfect. It does not even have to be good. When you reach the end or your writing time, take thirty seconds to make a note about what you would like to write in your 15 minutes tomorrow. Next day you are ready to go.

 

Go out there and try it.

Give it a go every day for a week.

Then review. Think about what you did and how it worked for you.

It wasn’t so hard, was it?

If it didn’t work so well, why not? Did you need a better plan, did you just stress that it wasn’t long enough? Do you need to find a different place to write?

Make your appointment times for the next week – would you make the same time, try another or do you think you could do a little longer.

Experiment to find what works best for you.

I am a strong believer in tracking the time spent writing, the time of day, where etc to help you work out the best writing for you (which I picked up from 2000-10000).

I started by writing when I could. Now I block out periods of my day for writing (around everything else). I have targets but I find I am meeting them quicker than I use to and so I upped the target. Push yourself a little because you might be surprised by just how much you can achieve.

Everyone is different. Progress is better than perfection.

Start with 15 minutes and find out just how much that progresses your writing goals.

Ensuring the flow of ink continues across the page…

The Flow of Ink
The Flow of Ink

I have stressed a little over the last couple of weeks about my drafting processes and the progress of my current work. The stress threatened to halt the writing process altogether but I was determined not to let it.

The key is to focus on the fact that this is drafting and it doesn’t have to be perfect at this point. I just need to get the story down and sort out the problems in the next draft or revision process. The majority of what I have so far is following my outline and I have even drafted (most of) it in chronological order.

But now I am seeing the gaps and losing characters and…stressing.

To prevent the onset of writer’s block and keep the work flowing this is what I am trying:

Write. It doesn’t matter how, or whether the scenes are in order or even if the scene is in my outline. Just getting the story down however it comes to me. Previously I have written out of sequence and so I am allowing myself to write anywhere over the three books when I need to. When I get stuck, I read through the last scene I wrote and then go from there.

Any idea could be a good idea. I am exploring new ideas as they form. Given that this is a first draft they may not survive the next one but a new idea could spark a better, stronger story.

No stressing about where characters are or what they are doing when I’m not writing them directly. They are important and I should spend some time thinking about them, and I do, but not worry during the writing process as to where they were before they walked into the room. If I am relaxed about it, the more likely they are to tell me where they have been. Giving my characters space to tell their story is important. I’ll let them tell me what they think they want and I can rein them in during the next draft if required. Sometimes they surprise me in a great way and I don’t want to lose that.

Using Scrivener to arrange my scenes. I took every scene and put it into a separate document in a Scrivener binder. I have kept all three books together so that I can clearly see what I have got. As I have started writing out of order it is easy to put the scene into the right place. And with each scene listed I can see what is missing, where my gaps are and who’s POV might have slipped a bit.

Reminding myself that this is the first draft (or the Blah draft as a friend calls it). It certainly is not perfect nor should it be. It is to get the story down and test the plot and the characters and learn about them as they develop on the page. It is ok if it is crap. That is what revision is for, to clear out the exposition and better define characters and setting.

 

Focusing on things like the number of words still to go, or the number of hours needed until it is readable just slows the creative process down and, as it did recently, threaten to halt it. I am pleased that the words are still flowing, sometimes fast and furious and sometimes at a snail’s pace but they flow non-the-less.

Are your words flowing?

Writing Retreat Report



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This year’s writing retreat was a dream. I was unsure the best way to share the experience and have attempted a day by day run down (if you find that too much, skip ahead to the summary).

 

1409122109173Day 1 started as a comedy of errors, or at least it did for my writing buddy as she tried to find my house to pick me up. I was packed and ready to go hours before she was due and the waiting became quite difficult. After a couple of phone calls she was only 10 minutes late in the end and the journey began.

And began it did, too eager to get to our destination we didn’t even pause for coffee until we reached the nearest town to our cottage. We parked the car and headed off on a short walk, on which we discovered most of the little shops we had perused the year before had closed and we were so keen to keep moving we didn’t really look at those that were open.

We had coffee and a waffle (disguised as lunch) and then hit the supermarket. At which point my brain froze because the whole cooking thing freaks me out. So we went for simple stuff and lots of snacks knowing there would be some stuff in the house already.

Finally we made it. There was less stuff in the fridge than we imagined and the house was cold but we rectified that quickly and before we knew it rooms were assigned, bags stowed, food put away, computers and notes littered the dining table and we were writing.

I must admit that I was somewhat nervous, despite all my outlining and note making, to actually start this new project but the words flowed quickly and the characters began to take real shape.

The afternoon was amazingly productive.  I am currently making notes on how long I spend on all my writing tasks and outputs.

My target was to reach 50,000 words during the retreat and my first afternoon yielded an average of 1500 words an hour. It was looking like an achievable goal.

 

Day 2 started at 4.30am with the story already screaming to written down. I spent a little time making notes as to what I had done the day before and started on my draft by 5.00am. I wrote reasonably solidly throughout the day but by 3.30pm I was spent.

I had written over 12,000 words and my brain was close to snapping.

The story, at least, seemed to be driving itself and I was just hanging on for the ride. I struggled to find some names for some new characters, but even just marked as Bob they were introducing some new directions. Yet the main characters were more or less following the plan at this point.

There were too many sex scenes written. Why, I’m not sure. They just seemed to appear. But they are a useful tool for getting to know the characters and could be an interesting blog point. Or I need to change my genre. Chances are they will be cut from the next draft without a second thought.

I also created a lot of exposition. Some paragraphs I know will expand out another thousand words or so, but it is a start and it is the blah/blew/vomit draft. So it was more important just to get the story down.

Allowed a little rest time to sooth my mind, including a hot shower, movie time and an early night.

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Day 3 also took off before the sun, waking at 4.10am and super keen, again.

I spent a little time catching up on yesterday’s notes and then straight to it. Nerves threatened and the number of days left seemed both too much and too little. I began to fear a hideous block.

Yet the words flowed, the characters took off and I found myself writing for longer periods of time and churned out 16,000 plus words. Some characters seemed to develop a bigger part than others, but there is far more words needed to fill the first book alone.

I didn’t quite feel the same brain drain at the end of the day and worked until we had to stop for Dr Who.

We also cooked ourselves with the wood heater, my buddy confident in the hot burn, me too scared I would kill it. But we didn’t freeze.

 

Day 4 was the slowest start, rising at a lazy 7am and felt that I had wasted hours before I had left my room. Too much had raced around my head the previous evening and it had taken me a long time to sleep.

I found my writing buddy on the couch as her room had sprung a leak.

Started off a little slower but the end of book one became clearer with some planning time on the floor with a whiteboard. Only 11,000 words written but I took some time to read through much of what I had written looking for gaps and made notes of missing characters and errors and ideas.

Worked much later than I had previously.

 

Day 5 started stiffly at 6.00am. I hadn’t stretched as much as I should have the day before. I spent time planning out the events for book 2 before I started writing, not sure at the time exactly what I could do with the end, but the beginning and middle very clear.

A hugely productive day as I wrote almost 20,000 words and although I struggled with one main character’s story for the second book, another’s has taken off. Some new and interesting characters have come into play, including a few more soldiers but this time all with pure thoughts although one relationship has changed in unexpected ways.

Wrote late, read later.

I had trouble sleeping as the story continued to bounce around my brain and decided to read someone else’s book and sat up until it was nearly time to get up again.

 

1409122108400Day 6 I started at 7am freaked out that it was our last morning and we only had mere hours to go.

Some more words in – if only 2500 and then it was time to pack up and leave our little house.
We were sad to go but keen for next year which we are sure would come around quite quickly. We hadn’t even taken the time to stand at the fence to play with the ponies this year.

I looked back up the little hill I had wanted to walk on, on the first day and voiced my desire to walk more next year. But we laughed, we were there to write and write we did.

Overall this retreat was a huge success

70,000 words in five days.

I started off a little nervous at the number of days I would have to sit and write and I wondered if there were that many words in me. I had also spent a long time planning this series (years in fact, when I retraced my notes back to the original idea).

Yet the words flowed easily, running across the page. Then my ideas changed as the characters took the story where they wanted it to go, others not behaving as I thought they would at all and new ones popping up and interrupting my plans further. But I took that all as a good sign, the story was there and keen to be written.

I knew where I wanted my characters to get to and they seemed to be moving that way just not quite as I thought they would.

I ended up with the main points for the first book, the first half points for the second book and a clearer idea of how it will all come together.

Not all of the words will live through the next draft and there are lots of gaps to fill but very excited about what I did achieve. And so looking forward to next year.

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Try it yourself

All we did was rent a little house for a week. Just me and a trusted writing buddy. We both had a clear idea of what we wanted to achieve and had everything we needed with us to do that.

(and that wasn’t much for me – notes, laptop, charger, whiteboard and pile of pens)

It does not have to be extravagant and it doesn’t have to be too far away from home. It just needs to be somewhere you can relax and concentrate on your writing.

Go on, try it.