#productivewriter – now what?

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Very recently I have been thinking about the experiments in productive writing that we indulged in this summer.  Do I feel more productive, several weeks on?  Has anything changed, or have I gone back to my pre-productive writer habits?  What about you, fellow writers, who may have tried one or more of the #productivewriter techniques that we read about: are you feeling more productive these days?

The promise of Autumn

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The end of summer brings the traditional start of the school year.  I always looked forward to the feeling of new pencils, a clean notebook for class assignments, new subjects to learn and new teachers to learn from.  That heady sense of new unlearned knowledge ahead, before the reality of extra homework, long reading assignments, grades and exams and hurried lecture notes sets in.  It seems this is the perfect time for a check-in on productive writer techniques, and how productive we are feeling as writers.

For myself, I’m pleased to notice that I am having more momentum in my writing than I have in quite a long while.  I am sending out stories for consideration by paying and professional markets in my specialty of writing; while I’ve received several rejections, I have already been garnering a number of personal responses, along the lines of “We like your writing, this story isn’t quite right for us,” which I’ll always take as a compliment!  I’ve also received a few acceptances, which I am grateful for, to know that my work is honored and enjoyed by a professional editor.  Even more recently I received an invitation to rewrite a story that was “very close” to being accepted, which was thrilling (and which I did, of course…).

Not only that, but my work through the blog has made me feel even more connected to other bloggers.  I find writing an isolating process – just you and the screen or the paper and pen.  The kind and thoughtful messages and observations – and encouragement – that are posted in comments on my blog have warmed my heart and have helped me to feel like writing is an important and valued activity.  Thank you!

#productivewriter techniques – are they working?

Sketch by Theresa Barker.

Now, about the #productivewriter techniques – which ones am I still using, and which have fallen by the wayside?  Let’s review.

  • Write every day.  Yes, even if it is only for 15 minutes (or even just for 5 minutes), this helps.
  • Being encouraging to my writing.  Yes.  I still do A-B writer dialogs when I’m feeling uncertain or unconfident about my own writing.
  • Schedule a writing appointment.  Sort of.  (See Pomodoro technique below.)
  • Write a letter to your writing.  Not so much.  This one hasn’t been as useful as some of the others.
  • Write early in the day.  Yes!  I used to put it off, and now I find if I start first thing, use my Pomodoro timing technique, I feel so much more productive than before.  (And sometimes I still write later in the day, too!)
  • Write like a child plays.  Yes!  My sketches, my “throw-away” exercises, attempting poems, writing from prompts … while these seem “unproductive,” I get much more done on long-term projects when I’m indulging my child in these small writing-play activities as well.
  • Bonus:  Pomodoro technique (25-minute timed productivity sessions).  Yes.  When I start by sketching 4 small squares on a slip of paper, labeling them above with “25” and below with “5,” and then writing a list of 2-3 items, “what would  I like to work on today,” I feel energized.  I have discovered I am looking forward to the writing I’ll be doing that day.  It’s taken me a long time to get to this point, and I’m grateful!

Your turn

How about you?  What techniques help you, and which ones are not useful?  Do you have any specific writing goals you’re working toward when you sit down at your desk these days?  Any suggestions for more productivity techniques?

Thanks for visiting!

In which Theresa explains her new blog look

Psst!  You might have noticed a slight – well, more than slight – re-do of my blog look last week.  What happened?

I suppose I could say it was a “shoemaker and the elves” thing.  You know the story from Grimm’s Fairy Tales?  A poor shoemaker, who only has enough leather for one pair of shoes, lays out the pieces overnight.  The next morning the shoemaker discovers elves had came in and made up the pair of shoes during the night, which he sells for enough money to pay for rent and food and to buy more shoe leather, while helping out other needy folks.

Let’s see.  Did elves come in overnight and make my new blog look? No … but it would have been fun if they had!

I’ve been fairly happy with the previous look of my blog; it had featured photos to make it colorful, a one-column layout to give the stories and essays more screen space, and bright website colors to add liveliness.  So, why did I make the change?

I can only say that when I looked at my blog, I suddenly had a vision of a new look.  I felt like it would be lovely to try something more simple.  A picture came to mind – a bit unusual for me –  a clean look, without as much going on.

As many of you know, when you start to dive into changing themes on WordPress.com, it can suck up a lot of time.  The tweaking you have done with widgets, header images, colors, even fonts, all has to be redone in the new theme.  Not only that, but the convenient “Theme Preview” feature in WordPress.com only goes part of the way, as you have probably noticed.  So, when this vision came to me to change my blog look, I was a little trepidatious about the time involved.

And there is the challenge of converting a live site to a new theme.  You make all the changes, and then you may realize … oh, oh, this isn’t going to work after all … but, it’s not easy to go back.  Activating the previous theme drops many of the tweaks you had made in the first place.

Nevertheless.

I probably spent a couple of hours (a record for me!) devising the new look.  And I’m really happy with it!  The font is large enough for readability, I can show off my little sketches to good advantage, and the menu is unobtrusively visible at the top.  I took advantage of a couple of footer widget spaces (scroll down!) to honor my blogging community and to feature recent posts, so that the front page is nicely uncluttered.

Two additional notes:

  • I have temporarily “retired” the nice logo from turtledesk (sorry, yellowfuzzyduck!) .- I may bring it back after a while…!
  • I used a “test blog” site to try out my design before I made the change on my live blog.  (See How-To below.)  I think that’s a great way to avoid oops! surprises in an unfamiliar blog theme.

How about you?

Come Dance With Me, Artist August Asberry, photo by Theresa Barker.

What are your experiences with designing, or re-designing your blog?  What theme do you prefer?  (This theme is Penscratch2, and previously I’ve used Saga, before that Twenty Twelve.)   Do you sometimes get the “itch” to change looks, or do you prefer to stay with a tried-and-true look? I would love to hear your comments!

Encore question:  When you edit posts, do you use the “new” editing interface from WordPress.com? Or do you prefer the former WordPress.com Admin dashboard interface?

How-To:  Using a “test blog” site to re-design your blog before going “live”

Instead of doing your re-design on your live blog, consider trying out the new theme on a “test blog” site first.  You just open a new WordPress.com blog site (you may want to make it private).  Then you export your existing blog content into a file that can be imported into the test site (use Tools->Export and Tools->Import).  Once that’s done, you can do all your tweaks for colors-fonts-menus-widgets-headers on the test site, to gauge how it turns out.  Satisfied?  Now go back to your “live” site and make the theme change and other customizations.  Bravo!

One small tip:  you may want to select just a portion of the Blog Posts for export (there is that option).  I found it took a long time to import the full set of blog posts, and I didn’t need all of them just for testing.  Later, when I wanted to empty the test blog to try a different blog re-design, it was hugely time-consuming.

Girl and Kite

You feel the tug of the wind on the kite string.  At last you have gotten it into the air.  It’s almost bigger than you are, and it’s blue and black and white and pink and it floats and flies and dives.  You wonder what it might be like to be up, up, up, on top of the kite, looking down.  Seeing yourself, your own little figure looking up.  Are you just another bug on the ground, just another black-topped head it sees from beyond?  The wind pulls it, a primordial force, like something beyond all of time.  You laugh.  The tails, the tatters, all too soon the kite will come crashing down, its life depleted.  But for now it hangs, buoyed by the air and the wind, and by the imagination of your mind.

Sketch by Theresa Barker.

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A few months ago I started attempting to sketch.  It was awful at first.  This week I did my 60th sketch:  Girl and Kite.

And a big “Hello!” out there to all my blogging friends who sketch!  Thank you for the encouragement!  (You know who you are!)

Speckle and Toast: a meditation for late summer

Encore post:  For Tami

Toast lay on the cool vinyl floor.  The radio was on again and the day was fresh.  Smells of summer came in through the window, filling the kitchen with heated scents of summer flowers.  It was too warm to move, and the cool floor felt like a bath.  It was a blast getting into Tami’s yarn stash, and she looked so consterned when she discovered it.  Speckle was in the other room reading the paper.  Toast listened to Chopin’s Prelude – “Raindrop” – the drop of the repeated note making him drowsy.  One day cats would take over the world.  For now, they slept.

Sketch by Theresa Barker.

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A few months ago I offered to write a story about Tami’s cats, Toast and Speckle, in a future blog post. Then, when I made this sketch last month, it fit with an end-of-summer story. Tami writes a blog called “Tanglewood Knots,” about crocheting and sometimes baking.

It’s been hot and wildfire-ashy here the past two days, humid as well.  I’m ready for the weather to break.  I think that’s why this post appealed to me so much today.  I feel so much like the cat in the sketch!

And a big “Hello!” out there to all my blogging friends’ feline friends!  (You know who you are!)

“It’s a Local Production”- part 6

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In Part 1 and Part 2 and Part 3 and Part 4 and Part 5, our community theater costumer Margy, is writing a play.  Seetha, the director, has been rehearsing another social justice play, Bronx Zoo, and the rehearsals haven’t been going that well.

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“It’s a Local Production”

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Seetha’s announcement caught everyone by surprise. Everyone except the darkly grim playwright of Bronx Zoo, who was unexpectedly back, standing at the edge of stage, after having been booted out by Stage Manager Molly a few weeks before. Mr. Brooding-Face.

“And so, Malvern’s play has been optioned by an experimental theater in Chicago,” Seeta continued. Malvern was the playwright’s name, Margy remembered.  “It’s a great break for him.”

“What about us?” Giraffe asked.  It was surprising, since he was usually self-conscious.

“Well . . .” Seetha hesitated.  “It looks like our season is over.”

The entire cast groaned.  Malvern looked even more pleased.

If they only had another play.  A social justice play, like the one Margy was writing.  But Margy couldn’t quite get up the nerve to say anything about her own play.  Not in front of everyone.

Back in the costume shop, Giraffe came by to see Margy.  “I love what you did with my head,” he said wistfully.  “I would have been proud to wear the costume in front of an audience.”

“You would have been good,” Margy said.  “You were hitting your stride in those last few rehearsals.”

“Maybe next season,” he said.  “I’ll bring in the costume tomorrow.”  He smiled at Margy ruefully.  “I’ll get my girlfriend to take some photos tonight, so I’ll have something to remember.”

“Fine,” Margy said.

Why couldn’t she go talk to Seetha now?  She’d go and find Seetha, let her know . . . but, what if it wasn’t good enough?  She had never had a play produced, she’d never even finished a professional play before.  How could she know whether it was good enough to be produced?

She sank back on her stool.  It was hot in the room.  She’d work on the play, then maybe next season . . .

“I’ll be needing the costumes shipped to this address,” came a voice.  She looked up.  Malvern stood in the doorway.  He held a slip of paper in his hand.

“These costumes belong to the theater,” she said slowly.  She had made the giraffe’s head herself.  Crow’s costume was on loan from her professional friend.  He couldn’t possibly . . .

“Well, I’ll need them for the production.”  He smiled almost with glee.

“These are my costumes,” Margy said firmly.  “You’ll have to find your own.  In Chicago.”

“I can get Seetha in here,” he said, his tone of voice indicating a threat.

That would be perfect, Margy thought. “Go ahead,” she said.  “I dare you.”

He paled a little.  “The costumes are for the production,” he said.  “You can’t use them.  I might as well -”

“I’m the costumer,” Margy said. In fact, she thought, I’m the entire costume department, but she went on, “Don’t you think I’d know if the costumes were to go elsewhere?”

Molly appeared in the doorway.  “Malvern,” she said.  “Phone call.”

“Oh.”  He turned.

Molly said, “In the office.”

“It’s probably Chicago,” he said.  “I wonder what they want?”

Margy heard his boots clomp-clomping down the backstage hall.

Molly looked at Margy.  “Everything okay?”

In that moment, Margy made up her mind.  “Is Seetha still here?” she asked.

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“Sure.  She’s in the ticket office.  Working out the finances, if we have to give everyone refunds.” Molly gave a wry smile.  “You’ve got a few minutes before Malvern realizes there’s no one on the line.”

(to be continued!)

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Have you ever felt like you couldn’t speak up?  Do you ever question whether your writing is good or not?  How do you know if it is or not?

Thanks for stopping by!  More to come soon!