Puzzling Out Your Revisions

I did it! I finished my draft! And now . . . ohhh boy, is it a mess.

I’m not talking about awkward sentences and sparse details—though there’s certainly plenty of that. I’m talking about huge plot and character shifts part way through, characters I introduced, then ghosted on, a beloved pet dog that appears in the first chapter only—that kind of a mess.

I have chapters I wrote, then moved, that now need to be rewritten so they’ll make sense within their new context. I have location shifts, missing parents, siblings that I may or may not add in. . . .

Basically, I have a TON of work ahead of me. When I look at everything that needs to be done, it’s overwhelming.

As writers, one of the most prevalent pieces of advice we’re given is to get the words down. Just get them down, finish that draft, worry about the mess later. We can’t revise what isn’t there, right? This is great advice; however, once we’ve followed it . . . what do we do next?

Puzzling

First, take a deep breath.

Then another.

Ok, just one more.

Now that you’ve calmed down a bit, open your document back up.

You might even want to go so far as to print it out so you can physically go at it with a red pen. Or, if you prefer, you can use the comments option in your word processing software program of choice. Do whichever feels easier for you when it comes to wrapping your head around the monumental task ahead.

First, read your manuscript and take notes—any and all thoughts that come to mind—but resist making any changes at this time. (I know, it’s hard.) If you make changes as you go though, you might find later that the changes you made at the beginning still aren’t going to work with the changes you end up needing to make at the end. Think of this as the Intel-Gathering phase. Right now, you’re a detective figuring out what best needs to be done to your story and how best to do it—how to fit the pieces of this messed up puzzle together in a way that makes the most sense.

Ok, so you’ve done that, and . . . you’re still feeling super intimidated, aren’t you? Maybe you should take a few more deep breaths.

Better? Good.

The next thing you need to do is categorize your notes. Just like separating out puzzle pieces into groups—grass pieces over here, sky pieces there, what looks like maybe the hull of a wooden boat? Maybe it’s a house . . . over there. I find organizing and separating the different types of fixes that need to be made in my draft, helps me break things down into more manageable tasks that make the entire process feel less daunting. Rather than go through the manuscript one time, tackling each note one by one, I’ll make multiple passes focusing on one problem at a time.

Big stuff comes first. (It’s ok to take another deep breath here if you need to. Ready? In . . . out . . . good.)

What is it about your draft that needs the most work? For me, it’s usually characterization. For you, it could be setting, or filling in plot holes, or smoothing transitions. Take the biggest task and go through only focusing on that. Trust me, you’ll feel so much better once you get that bit out of the way. Next, move on to the second biggest issue.

And keep on moving down the list this way. I haven’t finished taking notes on my current draft, but I’m guessing my big focus areas for example, in order from messiest to least messy, will end up being characters, setting, plot holes, transitions, dialogue.

Once you’ve finished these big picture tasks, move on to the nitty-gritty things, like grammar, punctuation, varying your sentence structures, and finally, removing unnecessary filler words (like, very, really, that, etc.) and adverbs.

And that’s it! Keep in mind, you might need to go back and adjust areas you’ve previously focused on after you’ve made some later changes, but it should be much easier now. And then, of course, you’ll absolutely need to go through the entire process again once you’ve let your critique partners and/or beta reads get a hold of it. But the hardest part should be over. Congratulations! You’ve now turned your huge, jumbled up, intimidating mess into something you’re actually willing to let people read! The puzzle is now complete.

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File Jan 15, 5 15 03 PM.jpegWhen she’s not writing, revising, or banging her head on the keyboard (it’s all the same, right?), Megan Paasch can be found playing her ukulele (badly), knitting (rarely anymore, unfortunately), or herding two amazing, but rowdy little boys (pretty much constantly) with her husband. A native to the Pacific Northwest, Megan earned her B.A. in History from the University of Washington. (Go Huskies!) Her favorite history subjects were, and still are, Women in History, the Tudors, and the Celts. You can read more about her here.

Stages of Writing

This writing business is not an easy one. At any given moment, you will find folks in the writing community who are celebrating great successes, others wondering if they should quit for good, and all of the iterations in between. As a writer, I sometimes feel like I boarded a tiny boat on a big ocean, trying to navigate somewhere while constantly being tossed by waves that alternatively represent swells and crashes — or swells and bigger swells followed by crashes and bigger crashes.

This weekend, my computer’s hard drive failed, and I received the diagnosis that my MacBook Pro had suffered a failed motherboard. After I made the final decision to lay my beloved MacBook Pro to rest, I spent some time reflecting on all we had gone through together. Yes, I know that it’s  just a computer and that their motherboards and hard drives have a lifetime, but I had written 3.5 books on this particular laptop (and I’m sentimental, okay?). In my tumult of emotions, I also thought about my writing community and the times while writing those 3.5 books when I’d both needed support and lent support to others, talked about and shared hopes and fears, advice, and inspiration, and I realized not for the first time that (1) I’m not on this tiny boat all by myself after all and (2) what an up-and-down kind of journey it really is.

In a tribute to this journey (and indirectly to Ms. MacBook Pro), here’s my representation of the many stages of writing, showing some of the things that I and others have experienced. This is not to minimize any of these feelings, but to inform you that these are perfectly natural and totally reasonable reactions to the various stages of writing (shown via Bitmojis, naturally):

I wrote more today than I ever have! I’m in the flow! I can do this!

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Am I a fraud? Do I even know what I’m doing?

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Word count today: 0… the same as for the past month…I mean forever. What if I can never write another word again?

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I typed “THE END” on this draft!!!! This is the greatest feeling ever!

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*sends to beta readers*/*sends queries*/*goes on submission*  *refreshes e-mail every three seconds*FullSizeRender(28)

I don’t know what to write now. What if I don’t have another story in me? EVER?

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Do I save these rejections or delete them? *sets them all on fire and eats all of the ice cream and chocolate in the house* *buys some more for next time*

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Someone wants/requested/read/liked my manuscript!!!!!

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Revisions. And more revisions. And edits. And copyedits. And more of all of the above. Will this ever end? It has to end sometime, right?

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BOOK RELEASE DAY!!!!! THIS IS THE MOST EXCITING DAY EVER! I HAVE LIVED FOR THIS DAY!

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I’m just going to check my Amazon/Goodreads ratings one more time, but then that’s it. *five minutes later* Okay, just one more time. And one… More… Time…. FullSizeRender(7)

My book made a list! (Wait, is that category even applicable to my story? I don’t know. But who cares?) A list!

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Someone left me a 1-star review. They didn’t get it. They hated it. More people hate it now. What if my career is over?

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I’m deleting all of my social media and going into hiding.

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I just got the best story idea! It’s fresh and I already love the characters, and it’s almost like it’s plotting itself! FullSizeRender(25)

I’m writing again! I almost forgot how great this feels! It’s the best!

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Huh. I thought writing this next one would be a little easier. A tiny bit easier? Not a whole lot harder. It’s like I forgot everything I ever knew….

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So many plot holes. So many loose threads. What does this revision note to myself mean? What am I even doing?

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I feel so inspired! That writing conference/pep talk/book by *insert super inspiring writer or favorite author* was exactly what I needed! I’m rejuvenated and ready to hit it hard!

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I’ve been writing every night. And getting up early to write. And writing during the day between all the things. Because deadlines and expectations but also exhaustion and no time.

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I just hit 70K… but I’m really not feeling this story anymore, and my early test readers are bored. Maybe I should…*gulp* scrap this version and start over.

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I love this story again! I just needed to do “V, W, X, Y, and Z” to fix it, and it’s awesome again!

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Deadline is approaching…. I’m not sure I can meet my deadline…. Deadline is past.

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I finished the draft! I did it! I DID IT! (I knew I could do it.)

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Wait. All if this. All of this is my writing/publishing life? Can I really sustain this in the long term?

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I love writing! Ultimately I write for me, and I can’t imagine not doing it.

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I AM A WRITER, AND ON MOST DAYS, I LOVE IT.

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HelenHelen Boswell loved to get lost in the pages of a story from the time she could sound out the words. She credits her dad, an avid fiction reader, with encouraging her to read ALL OF THE BOOKS on his shelves from the time she was a teenager. An author of both paranormal and contemporary romance, she loves to read and write characters that come to life with their beauty, flaws, and all. She is the author of the Mythology trilogy (MYTHOLOGY, THE WICKED, THE ETERNAL), and contemporary romance-suspense LOSING ENOUGH. She’s working on a couple of new stories right now, and you can find out more about her writing life at www.helenboswell.com.

Imagination vs Observation

“It doesn’t really matter who said it, it’s so obviously true. Before you can write anything, you have to notice something.” — JOHN IRVING

“Write from what you know into what you don’t know.” — GRACE PALEY

As a person who has taught more university writing courses than I care to mention, I regularly hear some version of the following: “Creative writing? Isn’t all writing creative?” That question used to really get my goat, but I’m starting to feel like it’s actually a pretty important one, especially when it triggers thinking about whether the writing is supposed to be about something that happened or if the writing is supposed to be about something that did not.

I am a firm believer in the notion that there is no ex nihilo creation. It’s a very Law of Conservation of Mass kind of perspective, but I don’t think the imagination runs without some kind of fuel, and I think that fuel is experiences. In my life even events that feel a lot like inspiration are more about the miraculous connection of disparate ideas than they are about an idea coming to me out of nowhere.

Imagination is described as the ability to form new ideas, images, or concepts that aren’t present to the senses. Observation is process of perceiving something or someone carefully or in order to gain information or understanding. So, in a lot of ways these are opposite activities. Imagination traffics in what’s not there, while observation deals with what is.

So, to my thinking, writers have to start with an observation, with some kind of phenomena that has been either observed or taken in. Words are always referential, and even though I have experienced the sorcery of having ideas emerge from the act of writing, I have found it impossible to go from zero to words, or to have the words precipitate out of nothing. And still, even though writing begins with an observation in the world, the act of observing things in the world changes them.

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This concept is common in the scientific world. The physicist Neils Bohr has a marvelous little book from 1934 entitled Atomic Theory and the Description of Nature. In his introduction, Bohr discusses the similarities between problems found in the theory of relativity and those found in quantum theory, arguing that in “both cases we are concerned with the recognition of physical laws which lie outside the domain of our ordinary experience and which present difficulties to our accustomed forms of perception.” According to Bohr, these difficulties of perception can be challenging but we can “by no means dispense with those forms of perception which color our whole language and in terms of which all experience must ultimately be expressed.” (5)

Basically we have trouble with perceiving things outside our normal experience and yet we can’t just write off the problems because our language as well as our ability to express anything are affected by perception. In a film class in college I heard this another way. John Greirson, the man who started the National Film Board of Canada once said, “Art isn’t a mirror, it’s a hammer.”

Quantum theory suggests all kinds of problems with observation. We know that observation changes the thing observed. This is a matter for physicists and psychologists. It’s also what made scientific understanding of exactly how a cat purrs to understand. The minute you hook sensors up to cat, it’s done purring. To make matters more complicated, Einstein has famously said “Imagination is more important than knowledge.” It’s difficult to divide out which matter more to the writer, the observation that must come first, or the imagination that shapes and forms the observation.

I’d like to argue that writers often blend imagination and observation together. I’ve noticed that my writing loops back and forth between imagination and observation. I start with some idea for a scene, chapter, or moment in my fiction, and I do my best to imagine it. Even when I feel like I’m making something up from scratch, I’m not. There are always ingredients, and they are always being changed and shaped by what I’m planning to do with them. Nothing is ever neutral.

The process is never linear, and now that I’m this far into my writing life, I can’t recall that distant first observation. In my memory, it has blended to become one thing.

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Works Cited

Bohr, Niels. Atomic Theory and the Description of Nature: Four Essays with an Introductory Survey. Cambridge UP (1934).

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Todd Robert Petersen is the author of LONG AFTER DARK  and RIFT. Originally a YMCA camp counselor from Portland, Oregon, Todd now directs Southern Utah University’s project-based learning program. You can find him online at toddpetersen.org and @toddpetersen for tweets and Instagrams.

Permission to Let Go: Lessons from The Concorde Fallacy

About two *cough* decades ago, I conducted my Ph.D research on parental behavior, using a bird species as my model system. In the biological sciences, it’s common practice to use research models to ask questions that then might be applicable to other species — perhaps even applicable to… people *gasp*. Through my background research, I discovered that there are actually a lot of social parallels between people and birds. Birds are socially monogamous and they are largely biparental, meaning that in most species, both father and mother provide parental care to the offspring (not necessarily equally or through the same tasks, but for most bird species where offspring are born helpless, fathers and mothers collaborate to care for these youngsters). In my studies, I also learned about this relatively straightforward seeming concept called the Concorde Fallacy. Named after the very expensive supersonic jet, the Concorde Fallacy refers to the error in reasoning of the British and French governments’ continued investment into the aircraft program because they already had invested in it, despite the impracticality and lack of economic need of this luxury transport. The Concorde Fallacy serves as a warning against the common argument that “we have come this far and now we should continue.” The argument is not that you shouldn’t ever use past investment as a justification for continuing: just as all businesses require a start-up period with initial investment, all writing takes time, effort, and sacrifice before you can finish a project or publish a book.

How often do writers commit The Concorde Fallacy with their own work? How many times have we persisted with a project because we’ve come this far and can’t quit now? How could we let go of a project if we’ve put years and years of our time and energy and effort into it? How do we avoid feeling like the planet’s biggest failure if we do walk away?

concorde

In working on my Ph.D so long ago, I remember grappling with the question of whether I could apply some of these principles to my own life. According to my advisor, I wasn’t supposed to think of my own research concepts in the context of my own life. After discussing-arguing this point with him for the twentieth time, he gritted his teeth (or maybe he was smiling) and said that I had the mind of a sociologist and not a biologist. To this day, I love teaching biology and asking scientific questions. While I occasionally use my scientific background in my fiction writing, I more or less gave up on trying to apply those long-ago research concepts to my own life — until recently.

Last weekend I attended the Storymakers Conference for the very first time, and everything about this conference spoke to me: the classes, the intensives, the energy, and meeting old friends and new. But one of the things that struck me most of all came during one of the keynote speeches, delivered by the brilliant and talented, and kind and humble, author Ally Condie. As just one example of the many inspiring messages, Ally told us about two back-burner projects that she wrote. These began as projects that were not what her publisher requested. Despite this, she felt compelled to write them, and so she did. As I sat in the ballroom listening to Ally’s speech, I felt like someone had punched me in the chest (and no, it wasn’t Ally because she is too kind). But it was her message on giving yourself permission to be daring, to start something new and something that you’re excited about, to write something that you want to write, not necessarily something that you’re supposed to write. She made the important point that while some of these projects will never see the light of day, others will. In Ally’s case, the two back-burner projects she mentioned were ones you may have heard of: MATCHED and SUMMERLOST.

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Some amount of fangirling may have happened at Storymakers!

So, I have been working on a manuscript since the summer of 2014. It started as a challenge from one of my critique partners. For much of the first three months of writing this, what I will here refer to as the “scarred story” didn’t feel quite right. At the three month mark, I was forced to put it aside to finish the third book in my YA trilogy, which was on a deadline (while the scarred story was not). Book three of my trilogy was finished the following spring, and at that time, I went back to working on my scarred story. That was over two years ago, I have rewritten it many many MANY times. I am still unhappy with the beginning, parts of the middle, and I have never gotten to the ending. I know my characters well, but they don’t speak to me very openly anymore. But for over two years, I told myself I had to keep at it because I owed it to those characters to finish their story. Because I am not a quitter. Because I don’t want to fail. Because I have already come this far so how could I ever … oh. OH! Oh.

The morning after Ally Condie’s keynote speech, I closed all of my files that held my scarred story, the story that was so familiar to me yet so distant. I took my little AlphaSmart word processor down to the hotel lobby and opened up a brand new file. I started to write a new story, a back-burner project that has been rattling around in my head for some time now, and as I tapped on my keyboard, those ideas jumped out and started to play out in my mind like they were celebrating. I’m not kidding — I seriously felt like crying, in part because it felt so good to start working on this new project, but also because I had finally given myself permission to let go of the scarred one.

I haven’t shelved my scarred story forever. I know will come back to it, and I know will do it justice, but I will do it when I’m ready. And it’s okay to let it go for now (and yes, even if it is forever) because writing is about heart. If our hearts are not in our work, then there is really no purpose.

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At Storymakers, I got to play with the other authors at the mass book signing ❤

Helen Boswell loved to get lost in the pages of a story from the time she could sound out the words. She credits her dad, an avid fiction reader, with encouraging her to read ALL OF THE BOOKS on his shelves from the time she was a teenager. An author of both urban fantasy and contemporary romance, she loves to read and write characters that come to life with their beauty, flaws, and all. She is the author of the upper YA MYTHOLOGY trilogy and new adult contemporary romances. You can find out more about her books at www.helenboswell.com.

Talk it Out

Apparently the first rule of Write Club is “don’t talk about your writing.” Over the years I’ve heard this message from so many people in so many different ways that I’ve come to accept it as a cultural norm in writing communities, and it’s most common in writing workshops.

This injunction can come as a simple charge, like this one from Ray Bradbury.

It can be a more complicated personal narrative about the power of a secret.

Or it can be broad all-inclusive “truthy” assertion like this one from Mark Slouka:

“If writers agree on anything — which is unlikely — it’s that nothing can damage a novel in embryo as quickly and effectively as trying to describe it before it’s ready.” Mark Slouka

My problem is that I don’t agree with any of the above. I am sure there are plenty of people who would rather I don’t talk to them about my writing, but conversation is one of my primary heuristics.

Before I get too far into this line of thinking, let me say that the writing—and by this I mean the actual composing part of it—is something I have to do in solitude; however, I do prefer to work on concepts and planning in my fiction through conversations. I love to riff, argue, spitball, test ideas, hear how they sound, throw ideas against the wall and see what sticks.

I’m sure some of this comes from my background in theater (that was eons ago in high school) and from my improvisation time as a musician gigging in grody Oklahoma college bars. The interplay of ideas that comes from collaboration and impromptu “jamming” turbo-charges my creative process.

The idea that writers only work alone in seclusion never struck a chord with me, and it never really worked when I tried it, even though my graduate creative writing workshops indoctrinated me to the idea that at best it was in bad form to talk about a work in process, and at worst doing this thing would cast a hex upon your work.

I’ve heard all kinds of rationales about the taboo. Some said you can’t talk about a story, it’ll drain your energy. Others said it’ll make it so you no longer have the drive to tell it. Then, it’ll kill the mystery. The magic has to go into the page. Yadda-yadda. All of this fretting made me feel like Ralpie from A Christmas Story having everyone tell him he was going to shoot his eye out.

I was swiftly, deeply, and thoroughly indoctrinated into this world view and went through years of thinking that the way I wanted to do things (talking) was doing it wrong. I was a film major as an undergraduate, so I thought maybe I just didn’t know any better. Associating with them would allow me to learn their mysterious ways.

This isn’t to say that we didn’t talk to each other in graduate school, quite the contrary. You could gossip, kvetch, chew the fat, ruminate, complain, fantasize, chatter, chinwag, yammer, and shoot the breeze, but don’t talk about what you’re writing. You were supposed to just bring it to workshop, the way a cat brings a bird to its people: walk in, open your mouth, drop the thing on the ground, walk away.

Once I was out of school and began to get clear of my programming, I started talking over my projects with my wife. She’s an art teacher and a voracious consumer of audio books. I found that she was the best spitballer in the history of the world. Her literary sensibilities are a sharp two-edged sword for the dividing asunder of the crap ideas from the good ones. She has no dog in the writing hunt, so there was no risk of professional envy or gatekeeping. I could pitch ideas, and she would say, “I like it,” or more often than not just tell me (with no sugar coating), “You can’t do that, everyone will hate it.”

For a long time writing conversations were my secret. I didn’t want other writers to know that I worked this way, until I discovered that George Lucas, Lawrence Kasdan, and Steven Spielberg recorded a spitballing session as they roughed out the script for Raiders of the Lost Ark. Learning about this and reading through the transcript was absolutely freeing. I was, like, “These guys did made this amazing thing and they did not shoot their eye out!”

I know this is how movies and television get made (I’m a film major, remember), but the myth of the lone novelist was a hard one for me to overcome. It was good for me to learn about this Raiders business, but more importantly, I feel like allowing myself to work collaboratively helped me immensely when I started working with an agent who was sending me notes and working with me select my next next project. I’ve got to think that for many solitary, non-verbal, non-sharing writers that transition to working with others can be jarring.

I understand that writing a novel is not like playing on a basketball team or jamming out with a band. It is also not like living in exile on a water planet in some forgotten corner of the galaxy.

Writing is an act of communication, and it’s good to make sure you’re always thinking about how your ideas, sentences, and words are going to hit people. This is a hard thing to achieve if you’re always interacting some imagined, idealized reader. Human interactions can tell you so much more and can get you further faster. Conversations can ease writers out of the solipsism that overshadows so much of the work. I know this blog is called Thinking Through Our Fingers, but for the record, I want to say that I actually do a lot of my thinking with my mouth.

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Todd Robert Petersen is the author of LONG AFTER DARK  and RIFT. Originally a YMCA camp counselor from Portland, Oregon, Todd now directs Southern Utah University’s project-based learning program. You can find him online at toddpetersen.org and @toddpetersen for tweets and Instagrams.

The Gamification of Writing

Gamification is one of the biggest buzzwords in business today. As defined by the Financial Times:

Gamification is an emerging business practice that refers to the use of digital game design techniques and video game elements to solve non-game problems, such as business and social impact challenges. It is applicable to a number of business areas including human resources, sustainability, innovation and marketing.

To those who are paying attention, it seems like practically everything is being gamified today. Any process that can be tracked and measured, the results ranked and made public, is certain to get this treatment.

A few months ago, my company’s technical support group got gamified. The manager divided the techs into teams and assigned point values to certain types of tickets. The two-week competition got pretty heated as the guys ended up gaming the gamification—trying to win at all costs. In the meantime, they managed to clear out a backlog of lingering support issues. Gamification FTW.

Not everybody likes having their jobs (or their lives) gamified, though. For a good illustration of this, check out the top definition of the term on UrbanDictionary.com:

A cynical practice by corporate douches where workers are supposedly motivated to work even harder on menial, pointless tasks by rewarding them with lame titles, meaningless rankings, coupons or a variety of other real-life trash loot.

I don’t know about you, but I’m guessing someone couldn’t quite make it to the top of his call center’s leaderboard.

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Badges? We need some stinkin’ badges!

Regardless of what the critics say, turning an essentially non-competitive activity into a competition can be highly motivating. When I bought my wearable fitness tracker last year, Garmin immediately started awarding me “badges” just for walking around. I got a “5,000 Total Steps” badge on the first day I wore my tracker. They had gamified the very act of walking! Thus encouraged, I found myself ducking out a couple of times each day for a quick jaunt around the block, just to get the extra steps in. Thanks to Garmin’s behavioral conditioning, it only took me until October to get “2 Million Total Steps.” Woo-hoo!

Back on February 25 of this year, I earned Garmin’s “Quadruple Goal” badge for racking up 53,545 steps in a single day. When I bragged a little about that little achievement on social media (with gamification, bragging is practically compulsory) one of my Facebook “friends” actually accused me of cheating. “What did you do, attach your FitBit to a ceiling fan and let it run all day?”

In reply, I posted screenshots from MapMyRun, another gamification app:

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The app measured and showed exactly what I’d done: back-to-back half marathons … like a boss. It was all there in the stats: distance, time, pace, calories burned. My friend’s response to this was, “Oh.”

If you’ve ever participated in NaNoWriMo, you’ve had your writing gamified. I’ve done and won NaNo five years in a row now, and I freely admit I’m addicted to racking up the word counts. There’s nothing like a daily bar graph to encourage you to stay above the trend line. If you have a day when you don’t write as much (or at all), you see the disappointing flat bars. If you have a particularly productive day, the bars soar up. Sure, the motivation might be a little artificial, but it can also be very compelling:

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I worked my tail off last year to hit 75,000 words—my best November ever. Were they all good words? Of course not. But you can’t edit something that’s not drafted, and you can’t trim words that haven’t been written.

As great as NaNoWriMo is, I wish the system provided even more in terms of stats and tracking. I love the fact that I can look at a running log on MapMyRun and see how elevation and fatigue affected my pace. I enjoy challenging myself to go faster on the uphill stretches or to finish strong after a long race—and then seeing my results in the workout log afterward. But NaNoWriMo’s “daily stats” only tracks a project’s progressing word count. I want more gamification, dangit!

This month, since I’m participating in Camp NaNoWriMo while also preparing for a marathon, I thought I might start tracking my writing sessions in a little more detail. Just as MapMyRun records the pacing of each mile, I’m using a spreadsheet to log each of my writing sessions, tracking my start and stop times and my beginning and ending word counts. The sheet calculates the total time, the total words, and the combined words per minute and words per hour.

Camp-NaNoWriMo-Session-Log

Since I generally go somewhere else to write, I’m also making note of where I spent each writing session. I want to know, when the month is over, whether certain locations might be more productive for me. As one of my marketing mentors used to say, “You can’t manage what you don’t measure.” And yet, all these years I’ve never really done much measuring when it comes to the creative process.

So far, what I’m finding is that I’m much more motivated to crank out words when I know the clock is ticking. In other words, the very fact that I’m tracking time and word counts impacts my behavior. (In physics, this is known as the “observer effect,” a phenomenon that’s also observed in quantum mechanics.) I’m also seeing that my level of preparation—essentially, how much I’ve thought about and planned out the day’s chapter(s)—affects my total production as well as my production rate (words per hour). It’s hard to know how to measure that, though.

I know there are those who might shy away from such an overtly nuts-and-bolts approach to the act of creation. To me, though, drafting prose is not about creating art. It’s about generating the raw materials for something that I hope will be compelling, inspiring and artistic. The first draft is the block of marble. The fifth or seventh or twentieth draft is the finished sculpture.

It might sound a little weird, but I figure if there’s anything I can do to streamline the process of pounding out that first draft, I’m willing to to try it. And that includes a little over-the-top gamification.

TTOF---gamify--featured

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David-Profile-PicDavid Baker is an author, playwright, marketing professional, blogger and freelance editor. He has ghost-written several books and authored dozens of published articles on such topics as business technology, the insurance industry, marketing and data security. He writes both YA and “grown-up” fiction and is actively querying several projects. He also edits the monthly journal of a national trade organization. In his spare time, he runs marathons, volunteers with young people, cooks curries, paints shoes and builds things. He has an A.A. in theater, a B.A. in English and an M.A. in linguistics.

Born in Arizona, raised in Hawaii, currently living in Utah, David is actively involved in theater. His stage play, Inside Al, won the Henry Fonda Young Playwright Award and premiered at the Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts in Washington, DC. The play was subsequently published by Samuel French and has been in near-continuous production for more than two decades, with hundreds of performances across the US and Canada. You can find his personal blog at blog.bakerdavid.com.

The Truth About Writer’s Block

I’ve heard people say that claiming you have writer’s block is akin to a plumber saying he’s got plumber’s block. To me, that comparison is ridiculous.

Plumber's Block - 2
A plumber has the exact same wrenches and other tools he uses every day on the job. He has a clear-cut list of skills he needs and issues he’ll face, and he’ll use the same tools to fix them. Chances are he’d better make use the same fitting he did on a similar job yesterday, or the connection will leak.  Continue reading