Monday, January 02, 2012

New Year’s Resolutions/Writing One Day at a Time

I was going to do another post on rewriting today, but WHO AM I KIDDING? No one in the free world has a brain cell left after last week. The powers that be, bless them, decided that we need an extra day of holiday today, which means no one is doing anything whatsoever of use.

So pass me the champagne and chocolate, while I continue my British crime TV binge. I’ve worked my way through – well, I started with THE WALKING DEAD, not British but created by Frank Darabont, brilliant, then moved on to SURVIVORS, SHERLOCK (God, WHY do I always fall for the crazy ones?) and am now catching up on WIRE IN THE BLOOD, with a short detour into Robson Green starring in a younger crazy detective incarnation: TOUCHING EVIL.

Amazingly, I have not had any nightmares, though there have been a few apocalyptic settings in my recent dream life.

Anyway, the New Year. Writing. All that.

One good thing is about writing a blog is that it makes one – well, me, anyway – more inclined to make public resolutions. I’m not actually sure how useful a list ever is. When it comes down to it, we all have kind of the same resolutions every year. Basically. Write more books and be a better person, right?

But this year I wanted to do a list, mostly because 2011 was so hard it’s amazing just that I survived it.

I complain about the abject agony of writing all the time, but this year writing has been lifesaving, just to have one familiar thing to do every day, in the face of what, bluntly, has been a lot of death. My father, a beloved aunt, my cat of 19 years, and the fatal illness of a cherished friend. Not fun. In many ways, maybe in spite of appearances, I’ve been pretty effectively shut down.

But things are getting better. I’m feeling that I could move beyond survival to actually enjoying myself again.

So resolutions make sense, because they imply there IS a future, at least until the world ends next December. JUST KIDDING.

First, the standard ones:

Working out. This is one I don’t have to worry about. Exercise has been periodically too much of an obsession; I’m one who more often needs to say, “You don’t REALLY need to take that two-hour Boot Camp class today.” I know if I don’t work out every day I become a rabid animal within 48 hours; it’s my version of antidepressants. But these days I’m more balanced about it. I take mostly dance classes, which is the way I most like to move and it’s so easy it’s never a big deal to get myself to class to do it. So dance four or five times a week and one killer ab/ass class on top of that, not as much fun as dancing but the results are so immediate and visual, it’s addictive. No, I mean, it’s good.

Eating. Pretty good about this, too. I don’t eat too much, I eat mostly the right things, I know how to combine proteins, and I don’t keep anything like ice cream or Cheetos or macadamia nuts in the house, period. One thing here - I am going to try to eat more Superfoods next year – why not, right? Salmon, blueberries, pomegranates, almonds, yams, dark greens; I love all that stuff anyway.

Getting out more. Well, with my conference schedule this year I don’t have to worry about a social life, even though I have the typical author problem of feast or famine in this department. You live like a hermit while you’re writing, and party till you drop at the conferences. These days I’m mostly paid to go, a big perk of the job. But I am resolved to say yes more than no to social events.

Giving more. I am grateful to be feeling financially stable, and am glad to plug my favorite charities at the beginning of the year: Children of the Night, Kiva, Equality Now, Equality California. And don’t forget Wikipedia – you KNOW you use it.

- Children of the Night - Rescues teenagers from prostitution.
- Kiva You can pledge $25 or more as a microloan to small businesswomen in developing countries, the loan will be paid back and you can loan again to someone else.
- Equality Now Ending violence and discrimination against women and girls around the world.
- Equality California - Advocates for civil and legal rights of gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender Californians.

Writing more? Not possible without brain meltdown.

My problem here is not that I’m not writing enough, but that I have too many concurrent projects. But I had a really productive December and am on track to finish my latest paranormal by my deadline at the end of January, which will make me less frantic about my contractual obligations. And I am closing in on finishing the thriller that I’ve been working on this year, sometimes just a few minutes a day, in between all the death. But five minutes a day for a year equals a book.

Did you catch that? I’ll say it again. Five minutes of writing a day for a year equals a book.

Which is what I really wanted to write about today, because I don’t think it’s said often enough that you CAN write a novel (or a script, or a TV pilot....) in whatever time you have. Even if that’s only five minutes a day. If you have kids, if you have the day job from hell, if you are clinically depressed – whatever is going on in your life, if you have five minutes a day, as long as you write EVERY DAY, to the best of your ability, you can write a novel that way.

I don’t know if I’ve posted this here before, but I wrote my first novel, The Harrowing, by writing just five minutes per day.

My day job was screenwriting, at the time, and yes, it was a writing job, but it had turned into the day job from hell.

But fury is a wonderful motivator and at the end of the day, every day, I was so pissed off at the producers I was working for that I would make myself write five minutes a day on the novel EVERY NIGHT, just out of spite.

Okay, the trick to this is – that if you write five minutes a day, you will write more than five minutes a day, sometimes a whole hell of a lot more than five minutes a day most days. But it’s the first five minutes that are the hardest. And that often ended up happening. Sometimes I was so tired that all I could manage was a sentence, but I would sit down at my desk and write that one sentence. But some days I’d tell myself all I needed to write was a sentence, and I’d end up writing three pages.

It’s just like the first five minutes of exercise, something I learned a long time ago. As long as I can drag myself to class and endure that first five minutes of the workout, and I give myself permission to leave after five minutes if I want to, I will generally take the whole hour and a half class, and usually end up loving it. (There are these wonderful things called endorphins, you see, and they kick in after a certain amount of exposure to pain...)

The trick to writing, and exercise, is – it is STARTING that is hard.

I have been writing professionally for . . . well, never mind how many years. But even after all those many years—every single day, I have to trick myself into writing. I will do anything – scrub toilets, clean the cat box, do my taxes, do my mother’s taxes – rather than sit down to write. It’s absurd. I mean, what’s so hard about writing, besides everything?

But I know this just like I know it about exercise. If you can just start, and commit to just that five minutes, those five minutes will turn into ten, and those ten minutes will turn into pages, and one page a day for a year is a book.

Think about it.

Or better yet, write for five minutes, right now. Then pass the champagne and chocolate.

Happy New Year, everyone!

- Alex


Screenwriting Tricks for Authors and Writing Love, Screenwriting Tricks for Authors, II, are now available in all e formats and as pdf files. Either book, any format, just $2.99.

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- Smashwords (includes online viewing and pdf file)

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- Amazon UK

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Adaddinsane said...

Speaking of British TV (and I'm speaking from the UK): There's "Life on Mars" and the sequel series "Ashes to Ashes" by the brilliant Ashley Pharoah and Matthew Graham. (Obviously I'm not talking about the unfortunate US version of the former.) They are now following up with "Eternal Law" - sort of "Law and Order" with angels and devils.

Angelica R. Jackson said...

I'm wrapping up rewrites today--it's totally possible! And at the risk of sucking up, I'm finding your book, Screewriting Tricks for Authors, a genuine help with tackling those revisions. Thanks and happy new year!

Rula Sinara said...

So sorry to hear about all your loss this year. Your post is very inspiring and I love your 5 minute method! I'll remember it next time I start wiping down kitchen cabinets and shoe-mouldings, LOL.

Mary Curry said...

I'm so sorry to hear what a hard year it's been for you. I hope 2012 is ever so much better.

Thank you for saying how hard it is to start. Sometimes I think that means I'm not really meant to write. I've learned to trick myself into it by promising 100 words per day every day. Like your 5 minutes, those 100 words usually end up being much more than 100, but it's never less.

Happy 2012.

Alexandra Sokoloff said...

No! No! No more British TV! Not listening! Must get back to work!

Alexandra Sokoloff said...

Rula, thanks for the sympathies. It's better, I'm better.

So you're a cleaner, too. My favorite procrastination, actually.

Alexandra Sokoloff said...

Thanks, Mary, and happy 2012 to all of us. 100 words is a great rule, too, same principle.

Are any of us meant to write? I think I'm just too obsessive to stop.

Jenni Legate said...

Wow, thank you for that! I needed to hear the 5 minutes a day idea because I tend to give up on writing since I work full time and have a difficult time finding time to sit down and write. Now I know I can pull out my netbook or my Kindle (which has a notes app I downloaded) or even my phone and write for 5 minutes. This is my new resolution!

I love Walking Dead too, by the way.

Hope 2012 is much better for you. :)

Sarah W said...

Thanks for the small-steps reminder, Alex. I've pledged to work on my non-blog, non-work writing projects every day of 2012, but hadn't settled on a minimum, yet -- five minutes (or 100 words), I can do.

I've become addicted to the British show "Mock the Week" on YouTube. Even shorter clips can reduce me to a sodden, giggling wreck.

(have you see the first ep of the second season of BBC's Sherlock, yet?)

William Mize said...

'allo Poppet! I am delurking here to say one word "Jekyll". It's only six episodes, it's on Netflix streaming and the first 5 minutes of the first episode are some of the best ever written.
Don't believe me? Check it out:

Ann said...

The Just 5 Minutes principle is priceless. And you're spot on about the writer's need to trick oneself into writing. Sometimes I tell myself -- and students or blocked friends -- to make writing like flossing your teeth, a simple daily habit that becomes second nature. A book I recently discovered is Writing your Dissertation in 15 Minutes a Day by Joan Bolker. Geared to academics, this book holds much wisdom and guidance for fiction writers too.
Thanks for this post. A great way to start the new year. I look forward to following your blog.

Shizuka said...

I'm inspired by your post today (as I am most days) especially since I just finished reading THE HARROWING. I loved it and if writing five minutes a day helps me produce anything half as good, this is one resolution worth making and keeping.
Happy New Year, Alex!

Alexandra Sokoloff said...

Jenni, you definitely can and you should. The thing about your creative mind is that it doesn't have normal time restrictions. If you consciously work on your project for five minutes a day, your subconscious will jump right in there and be working overtime for you on its own mysterious schedule, so that the next day those five minutes will be even more powerful, and that becomes exponential, increasing every time you work. It's like magic, really.

Alexandra Sokoloff said...

Yes, more blog from Sarah W!!!

I did see Sherlock last night. Which reduces me to a wreck, sometimes giggling, sometimes, well, something else. I can tell you right now three more episodes are not going to be enough.

Alexandra Sokoloff said...

William, I said NO. No more British TV. NO.

Well, maybe just a quick look...

Alexandra Sokoloff said...

Hi Ann! Yes, exactly, same principle for any kind of writing, and anything else that needs to get done. Thanks for the rec!

Alexandra Sokoloff said...

Thanks, Shizuka, so glad you liked The Harrowing. Yes, five minutes a day, and I actually think the book was better because of my extreme time restrictions. I remember exactly how impatient I was to get to it every day, and how sometimes I would just be amazed at the few sentences that came out of me some nights.

Anonymous said...

Such a small think. ;-) But such a great idea