When Writing Takes a Backseat – Author Toolbox

If your September has been anything like my September, then you have been a busy bee. School started, so my days are filled with teaching, lesson planning, and after-school activities. (Thank you #51Writers for today’s topic of Oxford commas. As you can see, I am definitely on #teamoxfordcomma!)

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Image from here.

The problem…

Okay, so we’re busy. What is the problem exactly?

My novel is suffering! That’s the problem. I don’t know about you, but I haven’t had any quality writing time since July’s Camp NaNo event. I was working on the second round of revisions for my paranormal mystery novel, and I’m still not finished.

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Camp NaNoWriMo

Don’t get me wrong, I’m still writing in order to use mentor pieces in my classroom, but that’s not helping my novel. Which leads me to the big problem… What do we do when our writing takes a back seat?

1. Figure out why you’re not writing.

When faced with several non-writing days in a row, take a few minutes to analyze the reason or reasons. Ask yourself a few questions:

  • Do I have writer’s block(No, I know what I want to write next.)
  • Do I know which step of the writing process I’m on, or what I need to do with this step? (Yes, I’m working on revisions at the moment.)
  • Am I struggling to complete my first draft(No, my first draft is finished… This particular one is, anyway.)
  • Am I unsure where my brainstorming is leading? (No, I’m not working on brainstorming.)
  • Do I have all my writing tools available? (Yes, I have everything I need. I could probably use a bit more time, though.)
  • Am I simply busy with everyday life? (Yes! That’s it!)

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2. Stop feeling guilty for not writing.

That’s it. I give you permission to not feel guilty when you don’t get to write. Many people will tell you to write every day. Well, yes… That is ideal, but it’s not always achievable.

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Think about the goals you’ve set for yourself. Writing every day is beneficial. We all know that. However, if your past few months have been as busy as mine, then writing each day hasn’t happened.

It’s okay. Don’t feel guilty. Instead, feel excited when you do get the chance to write. Build up that momentum to hopefully continue to write the next day or even a few times that week.

If you keep attaching negative feelings to your writing (guilt), then writing will lose the thrill when you do get the chance to sit down again. Attach the positive feelings that made you fall in love with writing to begin with!

3. Write when you can.

My best writing time is in the evening when my kiddos are in bed for the night. As I determined above, my life is simply filled with all sorts of other tasks right now, so writing isn’t a top priority. (I can already see some of your faces…)

What do you mean writing isn’t a top priority?

It’s true. I don’t know about you, but I have a family. I have a day job. I have other tasks taking over my writing time. That doesn’t mean that I don’t write, though. Sometimes, in order to curb the feelings of guilt completely, you simply have to write when you can:

  • Wake up a little early.
  • Write during your break at work.
  • Write during your lunch break at work. (Don’t forget to eat, too.)
  • Write in the evening.
  • Write when the house is silent.
  • Write while you’re sitting in your car before you go into work (leave a little early).
  • Set a timer, and write for only that amount of time.
  • Set aside specific days, and write a few times a week.

The most important thing here is figuring out what works best for you. We all know that in order to become better writers, we have to write. Try a couple different things until something works for you. My big one lately has been the timer. Every ten minutes helps me get a little closer to the end of my novel.

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What is your point, exactly?

It’s okay to have some off days… Even when they all stick together and form off months. The trick is making sure that you are still writing when you can and feeling positive about the progress you do make.

Just be you.

Share with me in the comments: how do you handle writing when it takes a backseat to life? What do you do? How often do you still write?

Author Toolbox

This post is part of the #AuthorToolboxBlogHop, which is dedicated to helping writers become stronger and more confident in their craft. Click here for more information, to continue hopping through other posts, or to join in!

Nano Blog and Social Media Hop2

Resources

Online Timer

Camp NaNoWriMo

NaNoWriMo

Writing Goals for the Classroom

We all know that goals are important in our lives; they give us a purpose. Students need that, too. They need a purpose in the classroom, one they choose.

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I’ve been incorporating writing goals in our class for the last couple years. They have changed significantly from when I started due to student feedback and my growth as an educator.

This year, these writing goals have changed again. This post is dedicated to sharing the beginning of this process, how it’s worked in the past, and how it will change this year.

“A long, long time ago…”

Okay, it wasn’t really a long time ago, but that song popped in my head when I moved on to this section.

What are writing goals? How does they look? Are these questions spinning in your mind right now?

When I first started using writing goals in the classroom, my purpose was to encourage a variety of writing. Students had six different sections on their goal sheet to work through.

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8th Grade student’s goal sheet from the first six weeks of school – 2015 school year

The top four sections (which can be modified for students who need modifications), were “free” in the sense that the teacher doesn’t choose the topics. The “Word Collector” part is based on Corbett Harrison’s Vocabulary Workshop.

The bottom two sections were assignments that students worked on in class, and they changed based on the unit we were in. Both of these sections encouraged the the writing process.

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Problem 1: As the school year progressed, I encountered the problem of students simply trying to fill up space without any cares toward the content or presentation of their writing. Paragraphs that should have had multiple sentences would be written in large print with only one sentence.

Problem 2: I also noticed that many students would wait until the last week of the grading period to complete their goals, which resulted in Problem 1 above.

Solution: In order to encourage students to take their time on pieces and use the entire grading period, I changed the goals again. Drastically.

“Ch-Ch-Ch-Ch-Changes/Turn and face the strange…”

I decided to keep with the musical headings. Music helps me through planning, so it fits, right?

At the end of that school year, I asked for student feedback about the writing goals. I already knew the things I wanted to change, but I wanted their insight, too.

  • “There were too many entries.”
  • “I never felt like I had enough time to finish what I started.”
  • “I didn’t like the limit in how many poems I could write.”
  • “We should get to choose how many entries we want.”

These insights helped show me how to change their goal sheets. Along with many other comments, students showed me the things that worked and didn’t work from their perspective.

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7th grade writing goals for the 4th six weeks — 2016 school year

As you can see, the format of the goal sheet completely changed. The calendar at the top served as not only a visual reminder of writing days, but it also served to help students keep track of their stamina over the grading period.

Each section of this new goal sheet was differentiated per each student’s needs and modifications.

  1. Stamina – dedicated to improving handwriting and writing daily (or semi-daily).
  2. Craft – dedicated to improving grammatical errors, which depends on skills each student needs to work on.
  3. Format – dedicated to improvement using the writing process. (The STAAR writing process I teach excludes the 2nd draft.)

Problem 1: Students wrote fewer stories, essays, and longer pieces.

Problem 2: Some students still waited until the last week to complete their goals.

Problem 3: I did not conduct regular student-teacher conferences to address progress in the craft section.

Solution: I again reached out to students, researched better ways to incorporate goals, and looked back at what did and didn’t work from my end. These wonderful goals have once again changed. I changed the goals a few times during the school year, which changed the goal sheet slightly throughout the year.

“I can see clearly now, the rain is gone/I can see all obstacles in my way…”

Okay, maybe I’m having a bit too much fun with the songs in my head… And I definitely can’t see every obstacle I could encounter, but I do know what I hope will happen.

Student feedback at the end of last school year helped me focus on what needed to be better.

  • “The stamina goal didn’t help me. I felt like I was just writing a sentence sometimes to get my day.”
  • “I didn’t like doing just one skill for the whole six weeks.”
  • “I liked the format goal, but some people chose easier ones than I did.”
  • “The revising and editing on the rubric should be part of the goals.”

I started researching different methods earlier in the year when students first started having issues with their writing goals. During this research, I came across Jeff Goins and his 3-Bucket Writing System.

Each bucket represented a different part of the writing process, and I wanted to see if I could incorporate this into writing goals since students wanted the revising and editing to be a part of their goals.

I added a bucket to his system and created a foldable that will help students identify which step of the writing process they’re on.

front and back

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Writing Ideas list to put under the foldable

As a writing teacher, I know students are constantly making lists or creating idea banks for when they don’t know what to write. The list above helps students take those ideas and write something with them.

I’ve used a version of this list every year, and students find it quite helpful. In Google Classroom, there is a student-created prompt list to help with generating ideas, too.

What can they do with these buckets, and how do they relate to this year’s writing goals?

I’m not sure why they look like different colors, but this document is front and back (I always use the back for the rubric to encourage responsibility). Click here for a Google Doc Copy of Goal Sheet.

On the front, you can see the incorporation of the bucket system. These sections are differentiated per student by allowing students to choose their own goal. Buckets 1 and 2 allow for us to focus on whichever skills we’re currently learning in class as well as the skills students already know.

There are still lines to fill in, which was a problem the first time around. The difference here is that every single line does not need to be filled.

For example: If a student chooses ‘7’ for their Bucket 1 goal, then they only need to complete seven different planning tasks. I would encourage them to leave the other lines there (instead of marking them out) in case they plan a lot more than expected.

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These goals also follow the S.M.A.R.T. Goals format. They are a bit ambiguous when it comes to the ‘what,’ but that is where student choice comes in.

  • Specific – Who: each student; What: differentiated per student, each section tells what is needed; Where: may work on in or out of class; Why: to improve writing skills; Which: minimum is the set goal, and maximum is more.
  • Measurable – Students can visually see when they’ve reached their goals, and there is a rubric with it.
  • Attainable – Each section must be reachable; there is no point setting a goal you’re not ready to reach.
  • Relevant – All skills are needed for class and writing in the real world.
  • Timely – Work on throughout the grading period, and due at the end. Students may need to set short-term weekly goals to complete their long-term six weeks goals.

“In the future when all’s well…”

School starts here next Monday (8/28), and we’ll set up our writer’s notebooks before we talk about goals.

The first few weeks —  During the first few weeks, we’ll work on different assignments in class that will help students complete items for each bucket. They will learn how to add it to their notebook and their goal sheet.

Student-Teacher Conferences —  One of my most successful years of teaching involved one-on-one conferencing. Students have what Corbett Harrison calls Sacred Writing Time. Students will meet with me during that time once or twice every two weeks in order to conference about their writing.

photo from Corbett Harrison’s website

Students should complete pre-conferencing before their day. During pre-conferencing, they will answer a few questions and find examples of each answer in their writer’s notebook.

  1. What are two things I’m doing well?
  2. Where have I worked on my “conference” skill, and how am I progressing with it?
  3. What is one thing that I don’t understand?
  4. Do I have any other questions?

Foreseeable Problems —  Not taking time to do the best work possible or waiting until the last week to complete goals.

Possible prevention for those problems — Since we are working on most of these as class assignments this six weeks, students will hopefully feel the need to do their best from the start. This will also keep them from waiting until the last minute. I’ll walk them through setting short-term goals to see how much they need to accomplish each week, which will also help encourage “timely” completion.

All in all, I’m looking forward to this new format, and I’m hoping that it goes well! I’ll definitely post an update sometime next grading period.

What are your tips and tricks for writing goals and writing in the classroom? Which resources do you use? Share with me in the comments.

Resources

I’ve already added the links above, but I’ll create a comprehensive list here in case you need it.

Corbett Harrison

Jeff Goins

Other Sites

3 Personal Fallacies of Writing a First Draft – Author Toolbox

Too many ideas. A writer’s best friend or worst enemy? We can ask the same thing of a first draft.

Our hearts start racing and our minds start whirring after the first few sentences. We know we’ve got this. When does that feeling end? How many of these first drafts do we have? How many are finished as opposed to the number that are set aside and forgotten?

Why? Why do so many projects remain unfinished? Most of the time the only thing holding us back is the person we see in the mirror. We need to get out of our own way.

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What are the fallacies we tell ourselves that keep us from finishing the first draft? How can we overcome them?

Fallacy 1: I don’t have enough time to write, let alone finish, a draft.

No time. It seems we face this problem no matter what our chosen task. We feel the clock ticking and think there are other, possibly more important, things that we could be doing with our time.

I am part of The Mutual Admiration Society, for Writers (thanks to you awesome writers for your input), a group of mostly #TurtleWriters on Facebook. Turtle Writers (hashtag started by Rosetta Yorke, Meka James, and M L Moos on Twitter) are writers who write slower than “normal,” but we still write. And we still struggle.

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Victoria Shelley said that her biggest struggle with writing a first draft is “sitting down and finishing” it. There it is again: time.

Why is this a fallacy when everyone seems to wrestle with it? Easy. Who set the rules for when you have to finish? Why are you following someone else’s rules? Here are a few ways that you can start setting your own and finding your own way:

  • Set aside a specific amount of time to write
    • K. Grubb says it can be done in just 10 minutes a day!
    • Set a timer if you want to push yourself through it.
  • Set weekly goals
    • You don’t have to write every day – build up to that habit.
    • Start with a small weekly goal – you have to work your way up to difficult goals.
    • If you don’t reach your goal, it’s not the end of the world. Reflect on it, and make a new, more attainable one.
  • Remove the distractions
    • Make a list of everything that distracts you from your writing – then work toward removing yourself from them for a little while.
    • Go to the park or library to write. Find your zone.
    • Maybe waking up early or staying up a little later will work for you.

Find what works for you to finish that first draft. Don’t allow anyone to make you feel guilty for writing, especially when it’s only for a short period of time each day.

Fallacy 2: I ran out of ideas, this plot isn’t working anymore, or I’m not reaching my goals.

We have been alive for years. We have read countless books. We have had a variety of experiences. We have an unlimited bank of ideas bouncing around in our noggin at any given moment.

We truly are our own worst enemies here. Maybe we’re planners, but our characters are no longer working with the plot we created. Maybe we’re pantsers, so we never really knew the direction we would take anyway.

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the original story idea for my current WIP
Writing the first draft of my current WIP was a long process, mostly because I’m a planner. The first thing I did was write down my idea – as much of it as I had in my brain. Then, I started planning.

When I started the first draft, I had one major question: Who is the antagonist? I had no idea. The further I dove into the draft, the more confused I got. How was he doing this?

So, I stopped. I was stuck in this fallacy. I thought I was out of ideas. I couldn’t see how my plot was going to progress. I definitely wasn’t reaching any of my arbitrary goals. What now? How will I ever finish this draft?

  1. I ran out of ideas.
    • Look around you – the world you live in is an idea bank. Make a withdrawal.
    • Make lists: places, people, actions, decisions, crises, etc.
    • “Character development” may be holding you back as it does for Michelle Winkler, so give them some more options – use the lists to help them tell the story. If you still need more, worry about it in revisions.
    • You don’t need to focus on the details right now. Worry about that after you finish this draft. If you want your character to be somewhere, then write it – fix the how and the why in revisions.
    • I even brainstormed possible storylines for my antagonist. If I could figure out who he was, then I could write again. It doesn’t hurt to plan a little more.
  2. This plot isn’t working anymore.
    • Then fix it. The writing process is recursive. If you’re a planner, go back to the plan and adjust it. If you’re a pantser, then this is what you’ve been training for!
    • Make a notation on the draft where things changed, and keep going. The notation will let you know where revising should probably start when the first draft is finished.
    • Maybe you’re having trouble “coming up with an ending,” a problem Willie Handler has had. It’s okay- sometimes the ending hides itself until you write the rest of the story (sneaky endings).
    • Do a freewrite to work through your thoughts. Sometimes spending a little time in your brain can help you fix things.
    • Discuss your plot problems with a sounding board. Working it out alone doesn’t always work, but bouncing ideas off of someone else offers valuable support.
    • Write from a different point of view for a bit. It’s the first draft – who cares if that’s not the POV you’re going to settle with?
      • This ultimately helped me. I wrote from my antagonist’s POV, starting at the climax (which I was nowhere near). He wanted to start there, so I let him.
      • He opened up and told me his story after that.
    • Write out of order – yes, you read that right. As you can see, sometimes you need to jump around in the plot to figure out where it’s going.
  3. I’m not reaching my goals.
    • KristaLyn A Vetovich says she’s often “worrying about word counts… but I love the idea that the first draft is you telling yourself the story so you can revise it to tell others.”
    • If you’re participating in Camp NaNoWriMo this month, then you know all about these worries. However, adjusting your goal is one of the great things about camp. If it’s not working for you, reflect and adjust.
    • Reflection. If you are setting goals for yourself to finish this draft and not meeting them, have you figured out why? There is no use in setting the same goals over and over and not achieving them. All that will do is set you up for failure.
    • My biggest success was making sure my goals were attainable. If you can’t reach them, then they need rewritten.

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Whatever our case, we can overcome this, too. We have the skills to finish writing our first draft, and we have the support if we need it.

Fallacy 3: I’m terrible at this, so there’s no way anyone will ever want to read it.

Another writer, BillyOwensJr, said the biggest struggle with writing the first draft is “being comfortable with yourself” enough to finish writing it. Self-doubt makes this the worst fallacy out there. We let ourselves down by telling that lovely reflection our writing is terrible or that no one in the world will ever read it.

Guess what? It’s a first draft. No one in the world ever should read it!

The number one way we stumble into this fallacy is by editing or revising as we write. We go back and tell ourselves how awful it is. We try to reason with ourselves, but we only end up explaining that if it’s not perfect, we’ll only make more work in the end. To which we tell ourselves that more work means even less of a chance for someone to read it in the future.

“I hate writing words I know I’m going to delete later because it feels like creating more work. But I have to remind myself that writing anything is creating more work, no matter how pretty the words are.” – M L Moos

You can do this. You can write this first draft. You can write this first draft even if it’s the worst thing you’ve ever written because that’s okay. It is allowed to be the worst thing you’ve ever written. No one ever has to read it.

No one ever read my first draft. I wouldn’t even let my husband read it. It was nowhere near perfect when it was done. But it was done. That’s all a first draft has to be. You’ve got this.

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Which fallacies do you struggle with? What holds you back from writing your first draft? Which fallacies have you overcome? Feel free to share with me in the comments!

Author Toolbox

This post is part of the #AuthorToolboxBlogHop, which is dedicated to helping writers become stronger and more confident in their craft. Click here for more information, to continue hopping through other posts, or to join in!

Author Toolbox Blog Hop: A monthly blog hop for authors who want to learn more about being authors. All authors at all stages of their careers are welcome to join. #AuthorToolboxBlogHop #amwriting

Resources

Writer’s Digest Article – Fruitless First Draft Struggles

K.M. Weiland – Reasons to write in and out of order

Craig Jarrow – Jump-starting Your Draft

Snowflake Method for Novel-Writing

About #turtlewriters

On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft by Stephen King

The Complete Handbook of Novel Writing: Everything You Need to Know to Create & Sell Your Work, 3rd Edition from the editors of Writer’s Digest