Thursday, May 21, 2009

Muse Management Part 1

Another one of the workshops I attended at the American Christian Fiction Writers conference last fall was one put on by fiction and non-fiction author and public speaker, Allie Pleiter. A stay-at-home mom with 2 kids, Allie has learned how to manage her muse to her benefit.

She said the time to learn this skill is before you’re published because you need the habits to be in place before you jump on the published roller coaster ride. The reason it’s so important is because your projected deadline will be one of the first things your publisher asks you. If you’ve already finished the manuscript, she’ll ask when you expect the revisions will be done.

You need to be able to plan around life events and be prepared for any life emergencies that come up unexpectedly. Allie spoke about her first manuscript and the tragedy she faced when her mother died 2 weeks before the deadline. Editors expect you to follow through regardless.

She said when many people get time to write, they sit and wait for their muse, not realizing it can be managed. She believes creativity can be managed, and she’s found the method that will corral your muse:

The key to getting it done is the Chunky method. Your life can be broken up and handled in chunks. A chunk is ‘how much writing can be effectively done in a single sitting without interruptions before the creativity dries up.’

How do identify your chunk? You take 5 sessions of your writing, add up the word count, and divide by 5. So, if your last 5 sessions had word counts of: 540, 635, 590 , 650 and 550 words and you add them up and divide by 5, you’d get an average chunk of 593 words. Let’s round it off to 600. You now know you can consistently write a 600 word chunk at one sitting. Knowing your chunk size is the first step in managing your muse.

But what does that mean?

Allie said this is where it gets interesting. There are different types of Chunky people: big chunk and little chunk. For the most part, not counting full fledged big-time writers, big chunk people are over 1000 words and little chunk under 1000 words at a single sitting.

Big chunk people:

- need a dedicated space in which to write. They are environment driven which means they need certain things around them; certain music playing, kids out of the house, etc.

- tend to write less often and usually need to go away to write (the cabin in the woods)

- need to pay extra special attention to ergonomics. They’re the people whose backs are going to start hurting. They need flat screen monitors vs the CRT with the big back. They need anti-glare coating on their glasses.

Little chunk people:

- are the majority

- have character and personality traits that can help manage your muse

- can write in Starbucks and McDonalds because they can write anywhere and anytime

- can generally tune out distractions and write in noise

- tend to write more often and may write more than once a day

- generally write everyday

Allie talked about a site where the goal was to write 100 words for 100 days straight. You wrote every day, on any subject, but you weren’t allowed to go over 100 words. She said she wondered if she’d be able to stop. But at the end of 100 days, they had 10,000 words.

Little chunk people can use all kinds on technology. A PDA with a fully detachable keyboard which you can pop in your purse or briefcase and take anywhere is a space-age help.

Or, invest in oversize (5x7) index cards which, depending on your handwriting, hold 100-200 words. She said she thought filling out one index card a day sounds a lot more doable than knocking out a thousand words.

She said the guy who did the productivity workshop earlier that afternoon said we tend to think if we can’t do a big chunk, then it’s not worth doing at all.

Allie mentioned a woman who said the most valuable thing she ever learned was to be able to write on a legal pad because she could do it anywhere and any time.

But, there are also Combo chunk people. These are people who employ both big and little chunks:

- Teachers are Combo chunk people because they are little chunk people during the school year and big chunk people during the summer

- Parents are Combo chunk people because they are little chunk people while the kids are running underfoot and big chunk people after the kids are in bed. Allie said her first 2 books were written in McDonalds with her kids running around the ball pit because that was the only way she could do it.

- Some full time working people write in little chunks throughout the week and big chunks on the weekend.

She said parents don’t think in terms of combo chunks. Instead, they have a tendency to think “I can’t get my big chunk therefore I can’t write’.

There are options to both methods. And neither method is more saleable nor more talented.

She said we tend to think of big chunk people as deeper thinkers who write literary fiction while the rest of us write romance novels. But both types can get the work done… it’s just how they go about it.

I think one of the most important things she said was not to feel guilty if you're a small chunk person. Knowing that you are allows you to work it to your advantage.

Next Thurs, I'll tell you what Allie said about harnessing your muse so that you're able to write as soon as you sit down. Plus, more on how Allie teaches writers to come up with a well-thought out method of figuring their deadline using their chunk so they're not just picking a date out of the air when faced with that editorial question: ‘So, when do you think you’ll have it done?”

Are you a Big Chunk, Little Chunk or Combo Chunk person? Do you know your chunk word count? If you're a Big Chunk person, where do you like to get away? Have you tried the 100 words in 100 days challenge?


Captain Hook said...

This post has such perfect timing! As most people know, I'm trying to get back in the habit of writing every day.

Before all this stuff happened in my personal life, I was doing 2,000-3,000 words a day and feeling oh-so-productive. Since then, when people ask, I tell them I haven't written anything.

Not true when I look at it. I've written everyday, the amounts are just so miniscule (comparatively) and they aren't on any of my WIPs, so I didn't count them.

So I guess I was a big chunk writer (but I had the small chunk mentality and could write anywhere) that, by necessity, has turned into a small chunk writer. But I am still a writer.

Nayuleska said...

Brilliant topic. I'm definitely a combo chunk (more on the big chunk side of things). I write when I can, and can put in 1k at a push in an hour (draft only. Editing = 1 hour for one paragraph some days).

It's all about variety :)

Ban said...

if i had to give an answer i'd say i was a small chunk writer - having a two year old has pretty much insured that but honestly, when i'm upstate at my parents lake house in the adirondacks ... i could sit down and write for hours and not even realize how much time had passed.
i've NEVER done a word count - i think part of me is afraid to. if i did that i'd be confronted with how little i get done in a day and probably think 'why bother' and give up.

Silver James said...

Nice topic today. I'm...a combo. I can scribble in a notebook, on a legal pad, on my laptop or desktop at any time of the day or night. I carry a journal with me always to jot down flashes of inspiration. But I also write in huge chunks.

I've done National Novel Writing Month three years now. And I did a Script Frenzy in there one year, too. The approximately 1700 words a day was doable for me. If life intervened, I could churn out more words on another day to make up for it.

That said, I'm lucky. I no longer have a "second" job. My Only is in college. Fuzzy critters, household chores and errands are the only competition for my time during the day. And it's easier now that the first sale is under my belt. I can inform the family that I have a deadline and go far away and leave Mom alone. (Well...the dogs don't believe I'm serious but...)

The problem with my Muse is keeping her focused on the task at hand. She wants to run off on tangents that have nothing to do with the WIP.

*koffkoff* Ahem. Why are you blogging? You have work to do. REVISIONS! I have ideas. I have inspiration but you've told me to shut up until the revisions are done. Get crackin'! I want to play. *pout*So..uhm...yeah. Back to work!

Jana Richards said...

Hi Anita,
I think I'm a combo writer, leaning towards being a big chunk writer. I definitely cannot sit for too long without my back getting sore and it really makes a difference which chair I'm using. I love to get away on retreat to write which is why I'm so looking forward to our group's spring retreat at the end of the month. Last year I went away with my husband when he went on a business trip. He reported in to work while I stayed in the hotel room and wrote. The only time I was disturbed was when housekeeping came to clean the room. If only they'd come to my house!

That said, I'm getting a little better at writing in small chunks when I have to. I have to push aside the notion that says if I can't write in a large block of time, I shouldn't write at all. You can definitely get things done in small chunks.


Anita Mae Draper said...

Excellent, Capt, you have absorbed the essence of my post.

Life happens, but we will always be writers. We just need to adapt our chunks to our life at the moment.

It's great seeing you here.

Anita Mae Draper said...

Hey Yuna, me too.

I'm a big chunk person because I need my chair, my desk, my laptop, my space. No sound, no interruptions. During the summer, I hide out in the RV for hours at a time.

And yet, I've written using my digital voice recorder while driving down the highway, on paper napkins while in cafes, and now with my mini in the car while my dd is at her music lesson.

Yup, we're combo chunks. :)

Anita Mae Draper said...

Hey ban, you sound like a combo chunk person, but if you like to think of yourself as a little chunk person, that's fine with me. :)

Little chunks are nothing to sneeze at.

Think of the tortoise and the hare story:
Little chunk people are like the tortoise, plodding along a little bit at a time.
Big chunk people are like the hare, going full out so fast they have to stop and renew.
Remember who won the race, eh.

Ban, I admire you for any writing you do with a 2 yr old running around because when I was at that stage, I put my writing aside and it stayed there for 20 yrs.

You are someone to hold in high regard. Good for you!

Anita Mae Draper said...

Ah, Silver - then you're going to want to read what Allie says next week. She has some great ideas for harnessing your muse to work when it's supposed to.

It's not so much about training your brain, as it is understanding how your brain works.

Thanks for visiting and sharing about your writing 'habits'. :)

Anita Mae Draper said...

Yes, Jana, you do sound like a combo chunk person. That was your Texas trip, right?

I really want to go on the retreat but am still waiting on the contest results. I'm sorry but with a choice between RWA in DC and SRW in Muenster, well...

'I have to push aside the notion that says if I can't write in a large block of time, I shouldn't write at all. You can definitely get things done in small chunks.Yes, that was Allie's point and you're not alone in this thinking. Again, it's one of those brain things.

Thanks for your input, Jana. And here I thought you were lying on the Texas beach soaking up the sun...

Allie Pleiter said...

Wow-you did a great job condensing my workshop. Would you like to write my next synopsis? :) I love the comment about it not being true that you haven't written anything. How we generalize! I can't wait to see what comes out of next week.

Anita Mae Draper said...


Ah...hi Allie... :)

I love the way you teach and I would've asked you to come yourself but with 4 books on the go at different stages continuously - wow!

Just let us know if you ever have time to guest blog, okay?

Meanwhile, I appreciate you taking taking time out of your busy schedule to visit us. :)

Janet said...

Great post, Anita. Are you pointing fingers at me? I know that I should be writing. I know that I use real life as an excuse for not writing. Did you know that moving is the third highest stressor after death and divorce?

I'm a combo chunk kind of person. I can scribble notes and dialogue in notebooks I have stashed everywhere. And I can sit down and pound out thousands of words in one sitting. In a perfect world - writing every night keeps the flow going without having to take moments to re-read or figure out where I left off.

Looking forward to part 2 ;)

Molli said...

Hi Anita. Good comments on what is a universal topic with writers. I'm a combo: like Ban, when I'm into it hours can pass without me having a clue, and like Jana, when that happens it can hurt, physically; like Silver, I carry paper of some kind with me everywhere (and am amazed at how Janet can do it even with that teeny pocket-sized bag she uses)--I can, and do, scribble anywhwere. But I hadn't thought of it in terms of understanding my usual "modus operandi", as it were, so you've given me something to think about there.

Something I heard at a workshop years ago that has relevance to the idea that it's okay to do anything in small chunks was the phrase "I can eat an elephant -- one bite at a time". I can write a story, long, short, or in between, the same way as long as I remember that bites, like chunks, can be different sizes.

Anita Mae Draper said...

Hey Janet - I've moved 6 times in the 32 yrs I've been married - tell me about the stress!! And yeah, I'm getting itchy feet too but hubby doesn't want to budge, thank goodness. :)

You're right about the writing every night. Even though I keep thinking I need hours to work because the first 15 mins is spent re-reading and getting back into it, the truth is I remember what's going on and what I wanted to write if I get back to it within a 24 hr period.

Thanks for your insight, Janet - now go get some packing done... no - writing... packing... writing...

Anita Mae Draper said...

Hey Molli - good analogy.

That's right, isn't it. One chunk at a time. Now, that would've been a good title for my post, as well.

Thanks, Molli.