Role Play for Fiction Writers

role-play·ing
ˈrōlˌplāiNG/
noun
noun: roleplay
1. PSYCHOLOGY -- the acting out or performance of a particular role, either consciously (as a technique in psychotherapy or training) or unconsciously, in accordance with the perceived expectations of society with regard to a person's behavior in a particular context.


Adult role play comes in many forms. Sometimes it’s therapeutic, sometimes it’s entertainment, and sometimes it’s both. It can even be used as a training tool to prepare someone for a future performance and to improve abilities within a role, like aircraft flight simulation and war games for the military.

I decided to blog about role play (RP) because it’s not a subject I’ve encountered in the writing blogs I follow, yet fiction is at the heart of all RP. It involves imagination and creativity, and quite a bit of make-believe; the very stuff of fiction.

Star Trek_001
Star Trek RP

Remember when you were a kid and you’d get together with your friends to pretend you were a character from a cartoon, or a super hero, or you parceled out roles for a make-believe family? Or maybe you played doctor, or cops and robbers. RP is just like that, only for adults.

Role play can be done in a number of formats, like board games, card games, email, online forums, and virtual worlds like Second Life. I’ve never role-played myself, but a lot of my clients do in the virtual reality game-world where I run a business. I create 3D designs for computer gaming, and the Second Life computer game is a premiere playground for the RP community.

History of RP. Any theatrical performance can be considered a form of RP, which dates back to ancient Rome, Greece and medieval Europe. However, today’s RP is spontaneous, not rehearsed. There’s always some kind of backstory agreed upon by all players involved, but the play itself is improvised.

Insilico_001
The futuristic city of Insilico

Genres of Role Play. RP can be based on popular novels, movies or television shows, where players take on roles of existing characters or make up new characters to parallel the storyline they’ve created. It’s typically a collaborative effort between all players who work together to create a narrative using what they know of the model story-world on which they base their RP. You might compare it to fan fiction.

Or role players can make something up totally from scratch. Create a planet and become an alien race, make up a village of dwarves and goblins and elves, produce a noir detective motif set in the forties, design your own zombie apocalypse, develop a historical community based in fact. The possibilities are endless.

Virtual Pregnancy

It’s important to know that RP doesn’t have to be fantasy. There’s military, law enforcement, and even family to name a few reality-based RPs. In fact, in Second Life it’s not uncommon for players to gather in family units and name its members mom, dad, sister, brother, son and daughter. There are child characters played by adults, usually because they’re recreating childhoods that may not have been so happy in real life, or reliving childhoods that were. Women who can’t get pregnant in real life have their avatars go through virtual pregnancies that include doctor visits, maternity clothes, baby showers, followed by simulated deliveries in virtual hospitals. RP can allow people to work through emotional and personal issues while buffeted by the support of helpful players who are sympathetic to their situations.

Snapshot_004
A version of Venice run by vampires.

RP as a writing tool. Similar to brainstorming, you can invite others to play characters from your story and work out plots together in real time. You may not know it, but you’ve already participated in RP when you did the character interviews for your story, or wrote letters in you character’s voice, or blogged about your characters from their points of view. The very act of writing your story is playing all the character roles yourself. However, traditional RP is a social game, not a solitary one.

I don’t role play, but I have dressed my Second Life avatar like my character and visited Second Life locations that are similar to my story’s settings, then parked my avatar there for inspiration as I write. I’ve found it to be very helpful.

Have you ever participated in role play?

Here's a link to some top RP sites: http://www.toprpsites.com/

If you're interested in Second Life, visit http://www.secondlife.com

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Karen DuvallKaren Duvall is an award-winning author with 5 published novels and 2 novellas. Harlequin Luna published her Knight’s Curse series in 2011 and 2012, and her post apocalyptic novella, Sun Storm, was released in Luna’s ‘Til The World Ends anthology in January 2013.

Karen lives in the Pacific Northwest with her husband and four incredibly spoiled pets. Writing under the pen name Cory Dale, she released the first book in a new urban fantasy series, Demon Fare, in December 2014.

http://www.karenduvallauthor.com/
http://www.karenduvall.blogspot.com
https://twitter.com/KarenDuvall
https://www.goodreads.com/author/show/405199.Karen_Duvall
http://www.facebook.com/Karen.Duvall.Author

What is Inspiration?

By Jeanne C. Stein

One of the first questions every writer gets is: What inspires you as a writer? My very first response was: everything. But then I realized I was confusing inspiration with the process of taking an idea and developing it into a story.

Two different things.

The muse that sparks an idea can be anything. I get ideas from newspapers, television shows, eavesdropping on strangers’ conversations, other books. Ideas float on the air like dandelion snow. You only have to hold out your hand to grab one.

Inspiration is something else. Inspiration is what makes me sit down at the computer every day. It’s what helps me through the dark days when it seems I’m fighting a losing battle against the indifference of critics and sometimes even my agent and editor. It’s fighting the urge to give up when a brand new writer comes out of nowhere and wins that huge contract complete with movie and TV rights and a six-figure advance.

And then reading the book and realizing, it is that good.

Inspiration is that voice inside you that says keep going. It’s the message of my female characters Anna Strong and Emma Monroe that I want women to hear. It’s the voice that says women are strong and clever and capable of great bravery—with or without super powers.

So the short answer is a writer needs to be her own inspiration. She needs to have faith in her abilities and the determination to persevere. She can take strength from those around her, but ultimately, she is responsible for herself.

We are all our own inspiration.

The Perils of Social Media

Under Contract by Jeffe KennedyBy Jeffe Kennedy

My newest sexy romance comes out July 13th! More information and preorder links here.

It's a funny thing, being an author and doing the whole social media thing to promote books. This counts - doing my monthly posts here at RMFW - talking about thoughts and my life. Occasionally mentioning a book release, as above.

But there's a pitfall to social media I never anticipated.

No, not the time-suck. Not the trolls or the haters. Though those are all real things. It's how doing this has affected my friendships.

The plus side is that I have a whole bunch of online relationships who seriously light up my life. Some of them I know in person, some I've met in person after meeting online. Others I've never met in real life (IRL). Then there's another set of people, IRL friends, some I've known for years - like my high school boyfriend - who I rarely see or talk to. But they keep up with me online.

This came to kind of a head for me over the weekend, when my old boyfriend made a snarky comment on Facebook about how I had been in Denver and it would have been nice if I'd mentioned to old friends who would've liked to see me. The thing was, I nearly had mentioned to him - my husband even suggested it - but I was feeling miffed. We'd had an email exchange, which I initiated, where I asked how he was because I hadn't heard from him in so long. I felt like he was terse with me, and then he didn't ask how I was.

So I was kind of hurt and didn't tell him I was in town.

When he made this snarky comment, I emailed again and explained - and we sorted it out. But he also said this to me:

I do care about you and what's going on in your life, but I feel like have a pretty good window into that, following all of your online breadcrumb trails.

Which, I can understand. Except I don't know about it! I suspect this happens with a quite a few of my old IRL friends. It's easy to find me online. When I do see them, I'm often surprised at how much they know about what I've been doing. Of course they do! And it's lovely that they keep tabs on me. It can be lonely-making for me, however, because I can't feel that they're out there.

Also, while I'm pretty forthcoming about myself online - after all, I started out as a writer of personal essays - I'm also pretty aware of my author brand. That is, I do present a particular face of myself on social media. It's an authentic face, but I don't share EVERYTHING. I don't think people should. The upshot is, if my friends follow my life online, they'll think that I'm happily rolling along. For the most part, that's true.

But, if I'm not, if something isn't going well in my life, I'm very unlikely to say so online.

I suppose the solution is to do what I did with my old boyfriend and be sure to reach out. Definitely more productive than sulking!

We'll be having brunch in a couple of weeks, when I pass through Denver again.

Rocky Mountain Writer Podcast–Episode #8

Rocky Mountain Writer Podcast – Episode #8

Chris Mandeville - Author of Seeds: a post-apocalyptic adventure

In this episode, we talk with speculative fiction writer Chris Mandeville. In addition to recently publishing her first novel, Seeds: a post-apocalyptic adventure, Chris will teach a four-hour master class at the Colorado Gold conference in September. The class is "Everything You Need to Know to Write a Novel." Chris talks about her writing process, her inspirations and what she'll cover in the class.

Show Notes:

Chris Mandeville: www.chrismandeville.com

Neil Gaiman: www.neilgaiman.com

John Hart: www.johnhartfiction.com/?page id=18

Lucia St. Clair Robson: www.luciastclairrobson.com

Jeffery Deaver: www.jefferydeaver.com

Debra Dixon--Goal, Motivation, Conflict: www.debradixon.com

Intro music courtesy of Moby Gratis
Outro music courtesy of Dan-o-Songs

For suggestions about content or to comment on the show, email Mark Stevens. Also feel free to leave a comment about the podcast on iTunes or your favorite podcast provider.

Host Mark Stevens: http://www.writermarkstevens.com

Nobody Writes Like You

By Mark Stevens

Can you write like your favorite writer?

I know I can’t.

You might have Ursula Le Guin or Patricia Highsmith or Ernest Hemingway in mind when you write something, but somehow it comes out on the page as, well, you.

Somewhere in all those choices of words, sentences, characters, images, plots, moods, dialogue, action sequences, big finishes, prologues and epilogues—no matter how much you might try to emulate another writer—you show up.

I was thinking about this recently when The New Yorker featured a podcast reading of “The Trouble With Mrs. Blynn, The Trouble With the World.” That’s a story by Patricia Highsmith (who happens to be one of my all-time favorite writers) and it was read by Yiyun Li.

The story is so simple—in a way. It’s about “Mrs. Palmer,” who is dying of leukemia in a seaside cottage in England. She is being tended to by a few people including a “Mrs. Blynn,” a nurse, who has a grating presence and inflicts various petty cruelties on her patient.

Not much happens. It’s true.

But yet—so much happens. Listen to the discussion between Yiyun Li and The New Yorker's fiction editor, Deborah Treisman, and you realize how much subtext was going on around this cottage, where all the so-called “action” takes place. Instructive? To say the least.

It’s typical Highsmith. This was stuff she cared about, the needling insults and jagged edges between somewhat ordinary people. Her protagonists (Thomas Ripley, hello) are extremely flawed human beings. She crafted 20-plus novels and many dozens of short stories out of her fascination with warped humanity.

Plotting and Writing - HighsmithEarlier last week, I read a terrific story in The Guardian by Sam Jordison—“Creative Writing Lessons from Patricia Highsmith”—in which he looked at her guide, Plotting and Writing Suspense Fiction. One of Jordison’s many keen insights is this: that the guide itself proves it’s “impossible to walk in Highsmith’s shoes.”

Yes, I dig Patricia Highsmith—but I couldn’t write like her even if the Valyrian greatsword Ice was making its way toward my tender little neck.

I ask: what’s up with that?

Put a hundred writers in a room, give them 40 specific plot points for a novel, the setting, eight major characters and ask them all to write in the style of a noir thriller.

What will you get?

You will get precisely 100 different novels in return.

The best writers, in my mind, have their own fingerprints on the page, a dab of their own soul—sometimes a whole lot more. But unless you are outright stealing a style or lifting ideas wholesale, you will leave your mark on the page. It's part of the process. It's why we write.

What’s my point?

As a writer, I like to remind myself—nobody can tell the story the way I’m going to tell the story.

Nobody can.

Nobody will.

It’s not even possible.

And to do a decent job telling it, I better have a good idea of what’s driving me to tell it.

Patricia Highsmith (from Plotting and Writing Suspense Fiction): “There is no secret of success in writing except individuality, or call it personality. And since every person is different, it is only for the individual to express his difference from the next fellow. This is what I call the opening of the spirit. But it isn’t mystic. It is merely a kind of freedom—freedom organized. Plotting and Writing will not make anybody work harder. But it will, I hope, make people who want to write realize what is already within them.”

What if You Want to Quit Writing?

By Patricia Stoltey

Recently I've read quite a few blog posts by discouraged writers, Yahoo! Group posts from writers who are tired of the struggle, social media updates that read like the last whimper from someone who's given up.

Back in the old days, when we took on a job, we were expected to stick with that employer/career for a lifetime  (assuming the job was a good one and there were opportunities for advancement, of course). In an odd way, that decision has also applied to those in creative fields--painters must paint forever, writers must churn out more words--even when a day job is necessary to put food on the table and maintain shelter.

But times have changed. Job hopping is normal. Changing careers in the middle of the stream is a growing trend. Our work lives are more like this: Try something new, master it or not, decide it's not the ideal life you thought it would be, and move on.

I'm hearing a lot less of "I write because I have to write," and a lot more of "This is a monumental waste of my time."

There was an article in the Los Angeles Times by Carolyn Kellogg last year about Philip Roth ("Philip Roth has quit writing fiction. He means it. Really.") that should make all of us think about what our writing means to us and why we keep flailing away when the process is not going well.

"What does Roth do instead of write? 'I swim, I follow baseball, look at the scenery, watch a few movies, listen to music, eat well and see friends. In the country I am keen on nature,' he says. He added, 'Barely time left for a continuing preoccupation with aging, writing, sex and death. By the end of the day I am too fatigued.'

Of course, Roth is over 80, has published more than 25 books, won awards, and has earned a joyful retirement. He retired and he doesn't miss writing fiction, just as many of us retire from real world jobs and don't miss them at all. Roth stuck to his writing until he had accomplished great things and could enjoy his remaining years.

What if you haven't achieved as much as you'd hoped, or worse, you're just beginning and are feeling overwhelmed and suicidal?

Back in 2012 Chuck Wendig at his Terrible Minds blog posted 25 Reasons You Should Quit Writing. The whole writer angst thing is part of the writing process, part of the of the writing life. But Wendig's #24 reason to quit writing is:

"I don’t think you like writing very much. Mostly you just complain. Boo-hoo pee-pee-pants sobby-face wah-wah existential turmoil. Writing is hard, publishing is mean, my characters won’t listen to me, blah blah blah. I don’t get the sense you really enjoy this thing, so why don’t you take a load off?"

Rocky Mountain Fiction Writers is an organization of writers at every stage of the craft from beginner to published to winning awards. It will be the rare member who doesn't periodically cycle through stages of whining, feeling rejected, dumping projects, and wanting to quit. Most of us will cycle back into productivity and optimism.

And some will quit. There lies the truth behind today's blog post. Some will quit. Maybe at 25 after two years and no writing success. Or at 80 after a successful award-winning career. It's not the end of the world if you quit writing and do something else. It's not the end of the world if you take a five-year break and write more when you're older.

I played at writing during my real world working years but didn't get serious (if you can call the way I do it "serious") about it until almost five years after retirement. I think about quitting almost every week. Sometimes twice in one day.

So how long have you been writing? How often do you feel like quitting?

The Importance of Passion

By Mary Gillgannon

One of the mysteries of life is what makes a bestseller. A lot of the list is made up of books by writers who’ve been writing for years and have finally garnered a big enough following to reach that pinnacle. But there are also books written by unknown, and some cases, previously unpublished authors, books that suddenly grab the public’s interest and become wildly popular. Their success is completely unpredictable. They are often not the most well-written books, although they may offer an original twist on a well-known and popular plot. I would also argue that in most instances, they are books the author felt passionately about.

A case in point would be Fifty Shades of Grey. No matter what you may think about the book, no one can argue with the fact that this was a book of the heart. E.L. James didn’t write it with the intention of writing a bestseller, or even with the goal of getting it published. She wrote it because she had become obsessed with the book Twilight and found herself reading it over and over. So she decided to write her own story and began posting it on fan fiction sites. Other Twilight fans read her chapters and encouraged and critiqued and became invested in her story. She did the opposite of what most authors do and developed a fan base before she ever approached a publisher.

There is no doubt her fan base helped catapult this book to its phenomenal success. But I personally think that’s not the only key to its amazing sales history. I think that Ms. James’s passion for her story comes through to readers and that’s why the book has affected so many people, who in turn, have recommended it to other readers and so on.

Part of my reasoning has to do with another runaway bestseller. At the time my first books were coming out, the publishing phenomenon was The Bridges of Madison County. It was the book everyone was talking about. The book that defied the critics and industry prognosticators (and like Fifty Shades of Grey, made a lot of authors absolutely crazy). I remember reading The Bridges of Madison County and thinking, “What’s the big deal?” I discussed the book with my then editor, and when I started to criticize the story and (gnash my teeth over the writing) she said, “I think the book has a lot of passion and readers respond to that.”

That concept was driven home to me a few months later when I went back to my class reunion in Iowa and set up a booksigning in the closest town that had a bookstore. Despite my efforts to promote myself as “a hometown girl makes good”, my booksigning was only a moderate success. The book store manager, perhaps sensing my discouragement, told me that I was actually doing pretty well. She recalled a booksigning with Robert James Waller, years before he wrote The Bridges of Madison County. He had published a book of essays and had a signing at this store. And he sat there all day and didn’t sell a single book. “Look at him now,” she said. “He’s a best-selling author. Maybe that will happen to you.”

Obviously, it didn’t. But I’ve never forgotten the picture the book store manager painted, of an author who endured years of rejection and yet never lost faith in his vision. An author who felt passionately about his story. An author who wrote a book that most critics hated but that millions of readers found compelling.

I know what you’re thinking. You’ve written a book (or books) that you believe in passionately and (pick one): it’s not a bestseller, it sells modestly, it has gone nowhere, no one would even publish it. I have written a several true books of the heart.  The first one (and my first book) did get me my first publishing contract, but none of the others have come anywhere close to turning my passion to gold.

Writing a book you feel passionately about is not a sure pathway to best seller status. But in many cases, it is a key ingredient. Readers can tell. They can feel what you’ve invested in a story. They may not love your book and recommend it to their friends, because the magic doesn’t always happen. In fact, it practically never does. But if your book lacks passion, then I believe it has very little chance of rising to the top.

TAKING CRITICISM

By Kevin Paul Tracy

Some of the most respected classical writers throughout history did literary criticism as either a sideline or as a career before they sold their own novels. From Edgar Allen Poe to Oscar Wilde, then great writers would often decimate their peers in papers and writing journals, eviscerating them in public treatments. Today, when two or more people get into heated, venom-laden, often imaginative insult wars in emails loops or chat rooms, we refer to it as a "flame war," but this sort of thing is not new to the journalistic world. Often quite famous writers would go back and forth in periodicals, attacking and counter-attacking each other's works in the most colorful and often personal ways. The public loved it, so it sold a lot of papers, so the editors loved it. Back then, there was a certain poetry to the insults exchanged. Poe once wrote of Ralph Waldo Emerson that he "...belongs to a class of gentlemen with whom we have no patience whatever — the mystics for mysticism’s sake." Because profanity was much more taboo than it is now, writers had to really challenge themselves to come up with original and imaginative ways to dress each other down that would both make their point and entertain the reader at the same time.

One could make a very convincing point about the lack of efficacy of such frontal assaults, popular as they were to the readers. It stands to reason than our best efforts in any endeavor are going to become intimately intertwined with our ego and self-esteem. This is our attempt to accomplish something intended for public consumption. We are expending effort and strain in its creation, and we want to do it correctly and in good form. We want others to not only read, but to enjoy it. No one sets out to fail, not on purpose. The man who does not care about whether others appreciate his attempts to create is a man better off dead - he is not truly contributing anything to the human condition, but stroking his own ego, little more than public masturbation. We are better off without him. Frankly I submit such men do not exist, or if they do, they are too rare to care about. So understandably we are going to feel attacked on a personal level whenever something we have created is attacked, and when that happens, any truth or lessons to learn from the criticism, however deeply buried under hyperbole and colorful language, is bound to be lost on us. We don't learn much from such criticism.

On the other hand, couching criticism in too much pillowy language to soften the blow often risks obscuring the points one wishes to make, or to blunt their importance so much that a very critical point may be ignored as less important. Saying, for example, "I love your writing. Just one small thing, for what it's worth, when you have a one-page character like the patrolman, who is very colorfully written by the way, discover the blood on the baseboard, no offense but you are not utilizing your protagonist, my favortie character in your book, in the most proactive manner," the point is so well couched in diplomatic rhetoric it could be lost. Ego and self-esteem of the writer aside, the best way to make a point is still the most direct, pointed, even blunt way: "You waste an opportunity to show your protagonist's sleuthing genius by having a minor cut-out character find crucial clues instead. And you do it repeatedly through the book." There can be no mistaking the point being made, and also the importance the critic places on that point.

Crying at The ComputerIn receiving a critique, I prefer the blunt approach to being coddled and swaddled and fed treacle. And still, other writers can get their hackles up and throw a glass of wine in your face for saying it.

There are those whose opinion, no matter how qualified, we as individuals do not respect, for whatever reason. I submit that the level of umbrage we take from a criticism increases exponentially in reverse proportion to the amount of respect we bear the critic: the less we esteem his opinion the greater offense we take at it. For this I'm afraid there is no remedy. As writers, we must merely bite the bullet and take it.

I further submit that to engage a critic on any level is folly. It doesn't matter that you can explain away his point, that you have a greater knowledge of writing craft than he, or that you are right and he is wrong. Engaging him can only make you look bad on a multitude of levels. One, you come off as insecure about your own writing. No matter how well reasoned or skillfully worded your retort, any retort at all smacks of defensiveness and lack of confidence, like you feel you have something to defend. Second, you can come off as petty, especially if anything you say can be interpreted as a personal attack on the critic. Reacting to a critique can sound like you are only reacting to the critique, and any personal opinions you express about the critic were only formed as a result of his critique, not based on any other independent knowledge or observation. Thirdly, you can appear quite arrogant in a retort, as if you consider yourself above any criticism at all, and not just this one critic or critique.

A lot of criticism, especially on the Internet, isn't worthy of response. It is in vogue these days on the Internet to launch attacks on someone who has put themselves forth in the public eye if only because it is so easy to do so. Fifty Shades of Grey author E. L. James recently underwent just such an ordeal, setting aside time to answer questions from fans on Twitter, only to be attacked by a collection of online thugs who found it funnier to lance and humiliate her publicly than to permit any serious dialog about her books. The only way to protect oneself from such a basting is to maintain some control over those permitted to participate - charge a nominal fee or issue invitations to the event without which one cannot participate. At any rate, the kinds of flaming criticisms to which she was submitted has been quite aptly described by many as appalling and uncalled for. These sorts of attacks aren't even worth a response, they are just ignorant and mean-spirited.

The only effective response to criticism is no response at all. Utter and complete radio science. It can be very difficult, but as I've already said, there is no way to indulge in the alternative with any sort of success at all. It is simply professional suicide to try.

There is a mind set to taking criticism gracefully, and while it isn't easily adopted, with practice it can make hearing harsh criticism much less sharp and damaging to our ego. First, always remind yourself that this person, whatever else they may be, is a reader, just like every other reader out there in the world that you wish to reach. In the end, his reaction is the reaction of a reader, which means out of the millions who potentially might read your book (and let's face it, none of us dream of a small audience) there are those out there who will have the same reactions, thoughts, and objections as him/her. You must decide whether you believe that number to be great or small, but in the end you are not going to be there, reading over their shoulders, ready to defend yourself against their reaction to your novel. So to the degree that they are honest, his criticisms are valid, not matter how they are worded, merely due to the fact that he is first and foremost a reader, your audience.

Second, if the critic is a colleague or fellow writer, be grateful that this particular reader, the critic, has himself writing chops, the skills himself to recognize flaws in prose and story craft, and the language to describe it in such a way that makes it very clear to you where you have gone wrong. Thirdly, especially if the criticism is badly worded, or deliberately worded to be insulting or to get a rise out of you, keep in mind that such personal attacks say much more about the person leveling them than they do the person at whom they are leveled. In such a case, leaving such caustic criticism unanswered tends to bring out in even greater relief and clarity the pettiness and arrogance with which the criticism was written/given.

And lastly, always remember that no matter the criticism, in the end you choose to accept it or not. If the project is still in development, you still get to decide whether to take the criticism and make the requisite changes to your work or to ignore it and leave it as it is. If already published, then you are limited as to what you can do anyway, and so it accomplishes nothing to take such things to heart. Even as you take the criticism of those whom you respect and admire, retain your faith in your own talent and skill. In the end it is your project, ultimately your offering to the world, and it must feel right to you, or you are not being true to yourself.


Don't miss Kevin’s latest releases: the startling and engrossing series of gothic thrillers featuring vampire private detective Kathryn Desmarias, including Bloodflow, and Bloodtrail, the bestselling sequel to Bloodflow; also the wonderfully entertaining espionage thriller, Rogue Agenda.

Follow Kevin at:
Kevin's Amazon Kevin's Blog

Are You Pantsing Through Your Writing Life? … by Corinne O’Flynn

Author OFlynn HEADSHOTWhat does your plan for your writing year look like? Are you a schedule plotter (step-by-step) or a calendar pantser (by the seat of your pants)? Do you find yourself struggling to maintain writing goals and deadlines? Are you overwhelmed by the idea of finishing your first novel, or making time to write your next book while juggling your author business and your life? Are you often stressed about how much writing you’ve got to get done in what feels like very little time?

By now I’m sure we’ve all been asked if we’re a plotter or a pantser when it comes to our writing. As far as that goes, I think you should do what works for you. But when it comes to managing your writing time and how it fits into your writing life, I’d like to make a case for plotting your time on paper.

Last year, I attended a goal-setting class that spoke about scheduling yourself a year ahead. My first reaction was, “A year ahead!? I barely know what’s going on next week!” But after giving it a go, and now living it for almost a year myself, I can tell you that it’s worth trying.

OFlynn calendarTo get started, you need a year-at-a-glance calendar. You can Google sites that have free printables. Calendarlabs.com has many to get you started. I use a spreadsheet set up so that each quarter fills a single printed page.

Getting Started

The first thing you need to do is load your calendar up with all the “off time” things like trips, events, conferences, vacations, kids’ school breaks, and other time-heavy things that will take place over the year that will interfere with your writing time. Then, fill in the deadlines you’ve got for your writing or writing business.

Work Backward to Break Up Your Work

Once you’ve got your “off time” noted and your writing deadlines in place, work backward to break the writing goals down into smaller chunks. Let’s say you’re drafting a novel, and you plan to send it to your editor on December 1st. You’ve got to build time in for your writing, deadlines to send to your critique partners, reading time for beta readers, and your own revision time between each of these stages. All of this so you’re ready by your main December 1st deadline.

The value of the year-at-a-glance calendar is that you’ll know well ahead of time that you’ve got family in town for one week and you’ll be traveling over a long weekend right in the middle of your working window. Instead of feeling overwhelmed by these events when they creep up on you, you can plan ahead and adjust your writing time accordingly so you can meet your deadlines and enjoy your off time.

OFlynn_Expatriates_CVR_LRGLIGHTThis Technique Works For Anything

The same holds true if you’re launching a book, scheduling release parties, promotional events, online blog tours, cover reveals, etc. It even works for non-writing goals. I’m using this process to schedule the re-org of my house! There’s no need to panic when you’ve plotted out your time.

Don’t Be Afraid to Get Granular

Once you have your year plotted, break it down by quarter, then by month, week, and day. Allow yourself to get as detailed as you need in order to really see what your daily and weekly goals must be in order to hit your big-picture deadlines. You might be surprised to see how manageable your writing goals become when you break them down like this. Alternatively, unrealistic goals stand out when you do this, allowing you to adjust your time so you can be successful.

Allow Yourself Adjustments

Granted, nothing is ever 100% perfect. But I can attest to the value of seeing the year ahead when it comes time to make the inevitable changes and shifts. Life happens and things get in the way. Being a life plotter, at whatever level of detail, can go a long way toward keeping you on the path toward achieving your goals in your writing and your life.

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Corinne O'Flynn is a native New Yorker who now lives in Colorado and wouldn't trade life in the Rockies for anything. She loves writing flash and experimenting with short fiction. Her novel, THE EXPATRIATES (Oct. 2014) is the first in a fantasy adventure series with magic and creatures and lots of creepy stuff. She is a scone aficionado, has an entire section of her kitchen devoted to tea, and is always on the lookout for the elusive Peanut Chews candy. When she isn’t writing or spending time with her family, Corinne works as the executive director of a local nonprofit.

Learn more about Corinne and her writing at her website. She can also be found on Facebook, Twitter, and Pinterest.

Rocky Mountain Writer Podcast–Episode #7

Rocky Mountain Writer Podcast – Episode #7

Jack Marshall Maness - 2015 Colorado Book Award Winner

In this episode, we talk with Jack Marshall Maness, whose first novel, Song of the Jayhawk, the first in a trilogy, just won the 2015 Colorado Book Award in historical fiction. Jack talks about his writing and research process and about the writer's collective that supports his writing and publication efforts. He also reads the opening passage from his novel.

2015 Colorado Book Award Winners:  www.coloradohumanities.org/content/colorado-book-awards-winners-announced

More about Jack Marshall Maness:  jackmarshallmaness.com

Intro music courtesy of Moby Gratis
Outro music courtesy of Dan-o-Songs

For suggestions about content or to comment on the show, email Mark Stevens. Also feel free to leave a comment about the podcast on iTunes or your favorite podcast provider.

Host Mark Stevens: http://www.writermarkstevens.com