Day Seven: Keep a Writer’s Notebook

(Day Seven) Keep a Writer's Notebook

I mentioned a writer’s notebook yesterday. I thought today I’d back track a little and go a little deeper into the concept.

Really, a writer’s notebook is just a notebook that belongs to a writer. Simple and non-scary, right?

I’m not big on being overly organized with mine. I basically just keep a notebook in my purse and write in it. I make notes about observations, like I mentioned yesterday. (That always makes me feel like Harriet the Spy.) I also make notes on new ideas so that they don’t slip away before I can get to them. I write down snippets of dialogue. Sometimes I write on my work-in-progress by hand if I find myself with some time and no computer.

I love bullet journaling, and I usually just use a composition book with grid paper. I start at the front of the notebook and just write through it, without worrying about keeping types of notes together. I number the pages and keep an index on the first page. Easy peasy.

A bullet journal makes a perfect writer’s notebook, in my opinion, but seriously any old notebook will do. Get fancy, tear out the used pages from one of your kid’s half-used spiral bound notebooks from last school year. Whatever! Just get one and get used to carrying it with you. A pocket sized notebook is fine, if you don’t happen to carry a giant bag with you everywhere like I do.

ASSIGNMENT EIGHT

Today’s assignment is easy. Start carrying a notebook with you. All the time.  If you want to get really ambitious today, actually write in it. Share a picture on Facebook!

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Day Six: Be Observant

(Day Six) Be Observant

A writer’s job is to tell a story, of course.

We’re storytellers, after all.

But also, it’s a writer’s job to be aware of the world, so we can tell its stories.

Being a Ninja Writer means being observant.

Pay attention to the people around you. Listen to them speak, watch their body language.

I know that might sound creepy. I’m not advocating being a stalker here. I’m just saying–start to train yourself to be aware of the stuff that fades into the background for most people.

The way a perfectly worn in arm chair feels at the end of a long day.

The way that one bite that puts you over to too-full feels.

The smell of your daughter’s hair when she gives you a hug after her soccer game.

The way you feel when you stand in a room full of people you don’t know.

Keep a notebook–a writer’s notebook–where you can note your observations. I love doing this, because it’s a great opportunity to use language and stretch my creativity, without worrying about anyone reading it.

ASSIGNMENT SIX

Keep your notebook with you today. Make a conscious effort to be observant. Write down at least three things you notice. Use your senses. Use great language. Have fun! Come on over to Facebook and share your favorite observation of the day.

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Day Five: The One Rule

(Day 5) The One Rule (2)

I’m not big on rules. I like things to be easy going and flexible. But I do have one.

No editing until the first draft is done.

That’s a tough rule, because I have this lady who lives in my head. She’s my inner editor and she’s got serious control problems.

Her name is Blythe.

Blythe

Blythe and my brain are in cahoots. Just as I get to the second Act of whatever I’m writing at any given time, my writer’s brain starts throwing up any excuse it can think of to get me out of the hard work of writing.

And then Blythe pipes up and insists that editing is writing.

In fact, editing is more important than writing.

It makes perfect sense to spend all my writing time making the paragraph I wrote yesterday as perfect as possible.

When really, really, really the only thing that counts when we’re drafting, Ninja Writer, is writing. That means moving the story forward. And that means no editing until the first draft is done.

So, here’s what you have to do. Visualize your very own Blythe, and when she butts in and tries to bully you into starting to edit before your first draft is done, visualize her right into some kind of cave. Or hole. Or locked box.

Or, like me, put her in a bird cage. A fancy, old-fashioned one, with a velvet cover.

Let her back out when you actually need to edit. After the first draft is done.

ASSIGNMENT FIVE:

Get out your notebook and write out your visualization about your inner editor. Describe her (or him. Or it.) Describe the cage or cave or pit you’re going to lock her up in. I know it sounds weird, but I swear it works.

Come on over to Facebook and introduce us to your Blythe.

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Day Four: Keep a Writing Log

(Day Four) Keep a Writing Log

Now that you have your FRED all printed out and ready to go, you can start using the other half of it.

There are a lot of things I love about keeping a writing log. It feels professional. It reminds me that I’m the boss of this little professional-writer business. It is a visual reminder of how a daily writing habit adds up to significant amounts of progress.

This isn’t creative writing.

After you give yourself a gold star for meeting your goal, jot down how you spent your writing time. If you want to, you can keep a reading log as well. If you know an elementary school student, chances are they can show you an example. Just the title of the book and how many pages you read.

Here’s an example from my own log:

Worked 30 minutes on The Undergrounders revision to omniscient. TPW assignment 9, Milk. A Separate Peace, 37 pages.

No critique or judgement. Just a running log of writing everyday and reading intensely.

ASSIGNMENT FIVE:

Pull out your FRED and start logging your writing and reading. Keep it up everyday in October. This shouldn’t take more than 30 seconds a day.

Come check in with Facebook today and let us know that you’re doing your daily writing. How’s that going for you?

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Day Three: Tiny Goals

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If you’ve followed Ninja Writers for any length of time, you know, but I’m going to say it again anyway.

Tiny goals are my jam.

It’s a psychological thing. Make a goal so small that it’s harder on your brain to skip it than it is to just get it done and over with. When it comes to writing, the main thing is to get over the hump between wanting to write and actually writing.

That means sitting at your desk, turning on your computer, opening your file, putting your fingers on the keys, and starting to write.

So the tiny goal, then, isn’t actually about setting a timer and making yourself stop when it goes off. It’s about getting started. Some days, you might barely get through your ten minutes. But others, you’ll look up and see that twenty or thirty minutes have passed. Or an hour. Or half a day.

The truth is, you can write a double-spaced page in ten minutes. You really can. And if you do that 365 times?

If you do that 365 times, you’ll have the first draft of a book.

Assignment 3

Download FRED–the Folder for Reaching the End of your Draft. Print it out. Start giving yourself a gold star for every day that you keep your tiny goal. Since this is day three and you’ve been writing for at least ten minutes a day, you start out with two stars! How cool is that?

After you’ve downloaded FRED and got him all set up, why not come by and share a picture on Facebook? Let’s see those shiny stars!

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Day Two: Read Intensely

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One of my favorite writing quotes comes from Ray Bradbury:

“Just write everyday of your life. Read intensely. Then see what happens.”

Perfect advice from a master.

Yesterday we talked about writing everyday.

Today I want to talk about reading intensely.

To me, reading intensely means reading like a writer. Looking at what works and what doesn’t, and figuring out why. Paying attention to things like tense and point of view and style and voice and pacing.

If a book pulls you through so that you don’t even really have a choice about staying up until three in the morning reading it, ask yourself why. What makes it a comfortable read? Is there a lot of white space? Beautiful language? A character you strongly identify with? Is the book so well paced that you never reach a good stopping point?

If you find yourself reading a book a paragraph at a time because you just can’t even though you want to, ask yourself why. Is the writing lovely, but dense? Is the plot weak? How about character development?

Pay attention to things like the way an author can make you feel like you’ve been to a place with their descriptive narrative, or the way you sometimes feel like you know a character.

If you put a book down fifty pages in, pay attention to that, too.

Stephen King says that if you don’t have the time to read, you don’t have the time or tools to write. He also says that we have to learn to read in sips as well as long swallows, so this month let’s start a habit of reading intensely for at least a few minutes every single day.

Assignment Two

Pick a book to read like a writer this month. Open your notebook and label a page with the book’s title. As you read, write down quotes that strike you. Make notes as you read about the technical aspects of the book (point of view, tense, etc.) and the way it makes you feel as you’re reading it.

Make a commitment to read for at least ten minutes a day through the rest of October.

Come over to Facebook and let us know which book you’re going to read!

Also, don’t forget to write for at least 10 minutes today.

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Day One: Write Everyday

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We’re going to start this party with the thing that is the most important.

If you do this one thing, you’ll write a book. You’ll build a body of work. You’ll build a career, if that’s what you want.

Sure, it’s important to learn the mechanics of good writing. That’s easier to do if you are implementing what you are learning with a daily writing habit.

So, your first act of business as a Ninja Writer is simple.

Write everyday. Commit to spending at least 10 minutes a day working on a single project through the month of October.

The single project bit is there because I want you to see how much work you can get done in even small amounts of time over the course of a month.

And the goal is so small, only ten minutes, because I want you to know you can do this no matter how busy you are. And also, I want you to notice how clear it becomes that your biggest hurdle is getting started. I’m willing to bet that there will be very few days this month where you actually stop at ten minutes.

Assignment One

Write for ten minutes today, and everyday for the next 31 days. Your writing should be on a single project throughout the month. It can be something new or a work-in-progress.

Come on over to Facebook and let us know where you’re carving ten minutes out of your day for writing. What you stay out loud, you’re more likely to do.

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31 Days of Being a Ninja Writer

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I’m so excited for 31 Days of Being a Ninja Writer to start tomorrow!

As Anne Shirley (of Green Gables fame) says, “I’m so glad I live in a world where there are Octobers.” Not only is it the beautiful start of fall and the beginning of the holiday season, October has Halloween. And my birthday.

And this month it has this awesome challenge that I really, really hope you’ll take with me.

For the next 31 days, I’ll post a tip or a challenge–something actionable that you can do in a few minutes that will help us all build writing lives. This challenge is the essence of what it means to be a Ninja Writer.

Before we get started tomorrow, there are a couple of preliminary things that you can do today.

  1. Join us on Facebook. The Ninja Writers Facebook group is the most engaged, incredible, active writing community I’ve ever been involved with. I hope you’ll be a part of it. I’ll share my responses to the posts there, so I hope you’ll come by and say hey to the Ninja Writers!
  2. Get a brand new notebook. You’re going to need one for this challenge. It can be something simple–just a spiral bound notebook or composition book. Or you can get all fancy. It’s up to you. I like simple, because fancy sometimes makes me worry about messing up.
  3. If you haven’t signed up to get the challenge posts in your inbox, do that now. You don’t want to miss anything. You can sign up here.
  4. Commit to spending 10 minutes reading and 10 minutes writing every day in October. Stephen King says that writers need to read and write every day. Who are we to argue? Break it up if you have to. You can do this!
  5. Commit to spending 10 minutes a day being a Ninja Writer in October. That’s all you’ll need for assignments outside of reading and writing. And lots of the assignments count as one or the other. This is a 20 to 30 minute a day challenge. I promise.
  6. If you have writer friends, share the link to this post. The more the merrier!

That’s it, Ninja Writer. See you tomorrow with assignment number one!

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