Fuggetaboudit

Joe’s Post #162

Happy New Year everyone! It's time to clear the deck and start again.

Happy New Year everyone! It’s time to clear the deck and start again.

Shhh. I’ll let you in on a secret.

One of the great things about a new year is that you can put away all the things that you didn’t do last year and just fuggetaboudit. That’s right.

Fuggetaboudit.

Didn’t write enough? Didn’t lose weight? Didn’t succeed at any of your last year’s resolutions? Fuggetaboudit.

I got a fistful of rejections for my novella. Fuggetaboudit. I lost faith and didn’t get it out, again. Fuggetabuoudit.

Hey, it’s a new year. Make resolutions or not. Make plans, or not. Make goals, or not. It’s all ok. You have a fresh start. All of 2015 is in the past. 2016 awaits! The road is open and stretches out before you. Make the most of it.

For me, I think I should have written more, though I wrote more blog posts last year than any other. I should have gotten that novel done, though I did pound out a novella in a month. But that’s all in 2015, remember?

Fuggetaboudit.

It’s a new year.

Can you feel the power of it?

Do you feel freed by the arrival of Jan 1st 2016?

Can you smell what the Rock is cooking here?

It’s a way of letting go of that negativity that sometimes drags me (and maybe others) down. That anchor of regret over things not done, or of goals failed.

So I’m looking at 2016 as a fresh start. And I know just how to begin.

Silk wrote a great post about going listless. I could no more do such a thing than I could birth a book out of my nose. I need lists.

Everyone needs a book of grudges!

Everyone needs a book of grudges!

They are my attempt to stay sane in a disorganized and cruelly chaotic universe. So this year, like last year, I will attempt to remain in marginal control of my life with detailed and often cross-referenced lists.

The only difference this year will be that when the year is done, I won’t beat myself up over what I didn’t accomplish. Lists are simply too important, too vital, to be used for evil. They should help build you up, not tear you down.

So while a useful tool for me being all organized and stuff, once 2016 is past, it’ll be time to once again, fuggetaboudit.

So what will you fuggetaboud from last year?

(And if I didn’t make it clear enough, here’s Johnny Depp explaining the many other meanings of forget about it.)

Listless and without a resolution

2016-beach

Silk’s Post #150 — Okay, I admit it. I’m a list addict. And I’ve also been known to make (and later break) many lists of New Year’s resolutions over the years.

This year will be different. I’m boldly going listless and resolution-free into 2016.

Okay, granted. We do need lists, calendars and the like to manage necessary, everyday chores with some semblance of efficiency. Grocery lists. Appointments. Or even slightly more aspirational, semi-optional tasks like cleaning out that closet. But do wishful items like “be nicer” or “get back to your weight when you were 18” or “write 1,000 words per day, everyday” really belong on a list?

Forget it! My theory is that if a task is, by its nature, fantastical or never-ending then it doesn’t belong on a to-do list. Items on lists are there to be crossed out, not to haunt you forever.

It’s not that I don’t have goals. And my memory (or occasional lack thereof) does demand that I rely on the crutch of a list now and then. But what I’m giving up for 2016 is the type of list that’s really a litany of promises to yourself that you feel guilty about breaking in the past, and are now pledging once again to keep. Oh, sure, you’re determined. This time you’ll succeed.

Or not.

It’s an inexplicably popular way to start the New Year – this annual confession of past sins, and the penance of try-trying-again. It swells the gym population in January, and spikes the sale of diet books and un-yummy health foods like kale and quinoa.

For writers it leads to word count goals, writing space reorganization, and plans for daily work regimens.

Unfortunately, for most of us, most of these good intentions have escaped from the barn, jumped the fence and are long gone by February or March, leaving a galloping guilt hangover. And the problem with guilt – especially for people who expect a lot of themselves and don’t react very well to failure – is that “getting right back on the horse” is often not what happens next. Instead, guilt triggers the self-defeating reaction of avoiding the horse altogether.

Horse? What horse?

And what then? Momentum is lost. The excuses and justifications begin. And the whole issue becomes a sore subject. For a writer, this means hoping that no well-meaning person will ask you how your book is coming along.

There’s got to be a better way. So here’s my plan for 2016: stop setting myself up for failure.

Despite all the conventional wisdom, I think lists and pledges and resolutions are basically sticks masquerading as carrots. Do lists of ambitious promises and rules really inspire people and make them succeed? I have my doubts.

I think what energizes people – what drives them toward a goal – is passion. Pure and simple. And you don’t manufacture passion by writing it down. It has to be felt, in the moment. Passion is a burning fire, not a commandment carved in stone, or some kind of a contract that must be fulfilled.

Neither can creativity be brought to life through a written-down prescription. Writers block does not dissolve in the acid of anxiety caused by your failure to be productive or live up to a pledge. If anything, fear of failure paralyzes rather than empowers.

Lists and resolutions come from the left brain. Creativity and inspiration come from the right brain. And the juice of passion gushes from the limbic brain. See my point? When it comes to getting your writing mojo on in the coming year, a list of New Year’s resolutions may be focusing on exactly the wrong part of your brain.

So how to stimulate and bring forth the impassioned writer inside you, coax out the muse who’s reluctant to show her face?

Here’s something ridiculously simple that I’m going to try: I’ll wake up every morning and – instead of immediately consulting my mental checklist of “things I have to do today” – I will take a few minutes to think about my story first. What happens next in the plot? What problems need to be worked out? What characters need some attention? Where can I take it today?

That’s it.

I will try to keep hooking myself on my story, keep firing up my creativity. Every morning. And then I’ll try to make the time to act on it. As much time as I can devote to it that day. Let my right brain rule. Feed my passion.

And let my left brain, and all its task-oriented priorities, wait their turn for a change.

I think I’ve finally learned, after several years of calling myself a writer, the reason my good intentions have not led to good writing “discipline”. Ironically, I thought that part would be easy, since I built a lot of discipline muscle in my 35-year career as the owner and creative director of a design and ad agency. But since I shifted gears to try my hand as a novelist, I’ve forgotten the obvious. Management discipline runs on logic and strategy. Creative discipline runs on emotion and exploration. Different brain cells. Different rules. And the twain don’t always meet.

If I want to take writing seriously – and I do – it can’t just be chore on my to-do list, though I have committed to finishing my book. It can’t just be a job, though I do accept the hard work required. It can’t be just about getting published, though it is important to me to share my words.

For me, writing has to be a true passion. It has to reward me in the moment of creation, the same way that doing a painting transports an artist, and making music feeds the soul of a musician. It has to be the thing I just can’t wait to do, the thing that makes me feel joyful, the thing that connects my heart to my mind.

When you have a passion, you can feed it – or you can starve it. If you don’t always keep it close to your heart, it withers.

I’ve come to recognize that the discipline, energy and focus it requires for me to write can only be generated by passion, fuelled by my love of storytelling. Simple truth: if I’m not feeling the love, I’m not getting it done. Making more pledges to be more disciplined isn’t going to work for me. What I need to do is renew and cultivate my passion for writing.

That’s why I’m going to take it day by day. Try to start off each morning, in those first moments of waking, thinking about my book. Letting myself be inspired, getting back into the story before all the other demands of the day flood in and replace my passion with … a list of chores.

I admit this is almost the polar opposite of the bootcamp approach, and maybe it sounds a little airy-fairy. Will this regime call my muse out, awaken my creativity and fire up my discipline?

We shall see. Stay tuned.

Happy New Year to all!

5 Reasons why writers are like athletes

Tennis

Paula’s Post #112

A quick check-in from La Quinta California, where I, along with my teammates, are in the last stages of preparation for the USTA Ladies over 55 Southern California Sectional Championships in Santa Barbara California.

So, in the spirit of this week’s competition, I’d like to posit my 5 reasons why I believe, writing is also a sport, and should be approached with a competitive mindset. Caveat, this is just my made up list, but for me, a helpful reminder of the many important ingredients that go into training to be a good writer.

1. Practice – Just like in the world of competitive sports, the world of ‘competitive writing’ requires practice. And don’t think for a minute you aren’t competing (whether against all the other writers out there who want to get published or, more importantly, competing against yourself to constantly improve on your ‘personal best’). On our tennis team, not all of our players are created equal. Some are younger. Some are older. Some are slower. Some are faster. Some have finesse, some have power. Perversely, in tennis, a sport that celebrates agility and quickness and where players are considered ‘over the hill’ when they hit their early 30’s, most of the standout players on my tennis team are older. And baby, don’t forget this is senior tennis, where you can’t even get in the game unless you’re over 55. So I do mean ‘older’ in the nicest possible way. But here’s the thing: my older team mates are generally ‘ better’ because they’ve practiced more. They’ve learned certain ‘skills’. They’ve learned to keep their mind focused and avoid distractions. They’ve learned to pace themselves. They know that ‘the game’ requires both physical and mental agility. They know that by practicing, they can not only stay limber, they can get better. And for me, all these things are true about writing, too. On this note, you may want to check out my 5writer colleague Silk’s post on “Late Bloomers“.

2. The Right Equipment – Okay, even I am laughing a bit at ‘the girls’ making sure their equipment is in tip top shape for Santa Barbara. We’ve broken in new tennis shoes, have had the pro shop staff replace our worn-out grips and we’ve all been warned by our captain and co-captain to make sure that we have a back up racquet ready to go should something unforeseen happen. Just like athletes, we writers must have the right equipment. For most of us, that means a great laptop, access to dictionaries and a good thesaurus and perhaps most importantly of all, WiFi. Sure, there are exceptions, Danielle Steel has apparently written more than 100 books on her Olympia manual typewriter and Joyce Carol Oates prefers to write everything longhand, in 8 hour stretches. But they are the exception, rather than the rule. I don’t know about you, but I’m not going out on the court, carrying an old cat gut strung, wooden racquet in a pair of plimsolls. Not when my opponent is loaded for bear with graphite and ultra-lite carbon fiber. Give yourself an edge, it just makes sense. If you need a new laptop or some other vital piece of equipment for your writers world, get it! Maybe you’ll have to forego a few trips to Starbucks or some other small ‘luxuries’ but good equipment, for a writer, is a necessary as it is for a writer. It gives you that ‘competitive edge’.

3. Teamwork – Writing, as we know, is a solitary undertaking. So is singles tennis, where you alone face an opponent, one-on-one. But I’m a social being, and I play almost exclusively doubles. I like having a ‘team’ to cheer me on and support me. More than that, I like cheering my teammates on and supporting my teammates even more. We’ve said it before and we will say it again: if you do not have a great writing or critique group backing you up, get one. Your writing group helps you keep it in perspective. When you think you’ve written the best thing ever, and they tell you it is, well… ‘shite’, guess what? It’s shite! Your writing group is there to help you. To provide encouragement, cheer you on, help you get up when you’ve fallen down, celebrate your victories and console you in defeat. They are your team.

4. Support Network – This is really a corollary to 3 above, but writers do not exist in a vacuum. We have loved ones who support us. Just as an elite athlete has personal assistants, publicity agents, physiotherapists, personal trainers, nutritionists and sports psychologists, writers need a ‘support group’. If you are unpublished and laboring alone in your ‘writer’s garret’ like us, your support network may consist simply of another family member who volunteers to do the dishes or walk the dog to give you more writing time. It may be a friend who offers to be your ‘beta reader’. It may be fellow writers who provide companionship and collegiality (as we try to do for all our followers, via this blog). Point is, don’t ignore your support group. Don’t take them for granted. Thank them for all they do and for being there for you. And don’t forget to tell them why writing is important to you. If they know they are helping you to do something that is important, if they know they are appreciated, they will help you, gratefully.

5. The Mental Edge – Elite athletes rely on mental sharpness as much as physical sharpness. As an amateur tennis player competing in USTA competitive matches, I know how easy it is to get psyched out. How disastrous it can be to come to the court unprepared. Tennis is a quick game. You can lose a set in about 20 minutes if you are not careful. That’s why it is important to master nerves and keep your confidence up. Now, I admit the dangers of a fragile psyche in writing can be a little bit different, but not that much. We need to get over our stage fright. We need to be ready to share our work with others, and take criticism honestly and with a positive attitude. We writers must, just like elite athletes, become ‘tournament tough’ and ready to roll with the punches life throws our way. When we, as writers, feel we have ‘failed’ because we have didn’t win a contest or have received the latest in a long string of rejection letters, we mustn’t let that setback stop us from writing. We mustn’t stop creating. In writing, just as in tennis or any other competitive sport, we learn as much from our losses as from our wins (maybe more so) and thus must learn to use these setbacks and take all the positives from them that we can. Is your opening weak? What can you do to fix it? Did your muddled middle do you in? Go back to the drawing board and again study the three act structure and review some storytelling basics (like The Hero’s Journey). Your failures will help you get stronger.

Well, that’s my five. I could probably write down a hundred ways wiring is like competing in competitive sports. But five, as we all know, is our favourite number in the 5writers world.

In closing, I just want to share with you my feelings about ‘my other team’. The women with whom I play tennis. These women are remarkable. Most of us started playing tennis again just a few years ago, after a long absence. Most of us were rusty. Some of us were just learning basic strokes of forehand, backhand, volley and over-head. I don’t think I’ve ever laughed so hard as watching us in the first group clinic when we practiced running down lobs for the first time. It was comical.

In our first year in the league our record was 1-7:  we lost 7 games and won the last one of the season.

But then something remarkable happened. We decided to get serious. We signed up for more clinics and lessons. We studied the fundamentals of the game. We focused on sports psychology and nutrition. Our family and friends supported our commitment every step of the way.

And guess what?

We started winning. Consistently. In this, just our second season, we went 7-1. We are the Coachella Valley Champions in our division (a remarkable feat when you consider that ‘the valley’ includes the famed California tennis meccas of Palm Springs, Rancho Mirage and Indian Wells).

Some of our players are over 70. Some of our players haven’t played a competitive sport since high school. But we are going to the USTA Southern California Sectionals this week because of our team work, because of our support network, because our mental edge and because of our commitment to practice, practice, practice.

If I want to succeed in writing, I know I will need to focus on these very same things.

James Scott Bell on 7 Things That Will Doom Your Novel

JSBJoe’s Post #147 (though it shouldn’t count as a Joe’s Post) — Every so often, I take a few moments to read some of my most favourite inspirational writers. My mentors, if you like. Yesterday, I re-read something that really struck me by James Scott Bell (via Writer’s Digest.) Please check out his entire article as he tends not to be all blah-blah-blah preachy, but does what all good writers do. He entertains us. Plus, you can pick up a free download on how to write a novel). So, without further boring-Joe commentary, here’s James Scott Bell’s 7 things not to do, and my thoughts. Enjoy.

7 Things That Will Doom Your Novel (and How to Avoid Them)

By: | June 5, 2012 – Writer’s Digest

inspirationOh, my goodness, this is a hard one for me not to do. I honestly think it’s the difference between pro writers and wannabes. Pros get it done, day in and day out. Like taking fish oil every day. Or eating kale.

Simply put, they make inspiration happen by sheer force of will. Or they will find a way to get inspired. For me, that way is often by reading, but I need to readjust my thinking on the whole ‘waiting for inspiration’ thing.

2. Look over your shoulder.

Bell writes about the inner critic here and that inner critic is born from fear. Of all the things I have to overcome, this one is the most difficult. I love writing, but hate rejection. It’s like a hockey goalie loving to be a goalie but hating to get pucks in the face.

To be a writer these days, we need to be like the old school goalies, like Gump Worsley one_worsley03who never wore a mask and took a lot of pucks in the face for something he loved to do.

Insane? Maybe. But aren’t writers, by definition, insane?

So you know what I’m going to do? I’m going to put up his picture and look at it every time I get all ‘fraidy cat about sending out a query. I mean, he took pucks in the face and his mom had named him Gump.

3. Ignore the craft.

I don’t do this. It’s not one of my issues. I read about it, have a critique group and constantly look at other writers to see what they’re doing and how they’re doing it.

4. Keep a chip on your shoulder.

voodooEver have one of those friends who call you on your bullsh*t? You kinda hate it at the time. You may even get mad at them and threaten to pee on their petunias or make a voodoo doll of them and stick that doll with a million needles, then light it on fire, then toss it in a tub of acid while screaming at it, “I hate you, I hate you.”

Everyone does that, right?

But Bell’s right. I have to let go of the chip on my shoulder. So what if agents don’t get back to me? Why should that stop me from getting another query out? (Hint – the answer is this is really masking fear, again.)

5. Write for the market only

I’ve only done this once. And I did it this year. For an open call from TOR. Otherwise, I’m like an anti-market writer. I don’t write to the latest trend. I’m not even sure what that would be, to be honest. I write what I write.

But Bell also talks about voice and that’s something I’ve worked hard on. But here’s the odd thing. I think I have several voices.

Ok, stop looking at me like that. We all hear different voices in our heads, right? Right?

I love my noir voice that I used for my Lou Rains novel and my WW2 mystery set in the Netherlands. I love my goofy-Joe voice that I use for blogs. I even love my YA voice, but I seem to be the only one who does.

See, for me, voice comes a lot from character and genre. Part of the fun is playing around with voices, seeing what I can do. Like trying on a different style of underwear to see what fits. Bikini briefs, not so much. Boxy boxers, nah. But a nice pair of boxer-briefs, yah, I don’t put those back after trying them on.

But of all of all my voices, the goofy-Joe blog voice may very well be my most authentic.

6. Take as many shortcuts as possible.

This really applies to self-publishing, a route we 5/5/5 may be taking soon. Read up on what Bell says. It’s gold.

7. Quit

never quitAlthough some days, the days I look at my stack of rejections and think, hey, maybe I just don’t have the skill to be a writer, I admit, I do think about quitting.

But I don’t. I’m really not sure why. Overwhelming evidence seems to suggest that I’ll never be able to make a career at this. So why continue?

I write because I need to write. It’s a part of me. Like Gump needed to be a goalie and probably would have been happy to play even if he was never picked up by the NHL. So, if I continue to write, continue to persevere, continue to improve and combat all the how-not-to-succeed things inside my head, maybe one day I’ll make it.

*****

megan foxAnyway, that’s it from me, today. Going to take down that picture of Megan Fox fixing her car and put up Gumpers. Going to finish off my 30 pages for submission to my writing group. Going to get in the headspace of a successful writer and write me some writing.

For anyone interested, here are a few awesome links to writing guru’s you should check out. Other than Mr. Bell.

Donald Maass (on character)

Hallie Ephron (supporting characters)

Nancy Kress (writing flashbacks)

These are all short, fun articles. Easy to digest. But you can also follow-up on those writers a bit more and see what other bits of advice they have to offer.

Also, if anyone would like to post their comments on what JSB had to say, let me know.

Hugs.

 

 

 

Getting back to work

Joe’s Post #143

Getting back from a writing retreat or a workshop, or even a conference, is a lot like coming back from a vacation with a bad case of the runs. It’s not like you don’t want to get on with life, but sh*t just keeps cropping up.

orange is the new blackBack at home, there’s all sorts of distractions, from Orange is the New Black to a regular life full of ball hockey practices, dishes and yelling at the dog for barking at the cat who’s hissing at the frogs, to bills and fights with Canada Revenue Services.

So while it’s easy to find time to write when you’re on a retreat, or at a workshop, it’s hard to keep that momentum going.

In the last week, I wrote 30 pages. Better than most weeks in 2015, that’s for sure, but far below what I should be doing. And that got me thinking.

How do you keep up the momentum?

Thoughts?

For me, it routine is still my best hope, but I can write for 2 hours a day in the morning and produce 2 hours of crap. So that may not be everything.

keyFinding inspiration is the key. I mean, that’s what those other events are for, right?

Can you find it from other writers? Sure. So you need to be part of a group. A fun group that loves to write.

Can you find it from books on writing? Maybe, but it’s just as easy to get bogged down in editorial mode and that could mean you’ll be writing and rewriting and rewriting the same 30 pages over and over.

Can you find it from novels? Ah, that’s the ticket. At least for me. Nothing inspires like a good book.

Can you find it alone? Hmmm. Maybe, but inspiring myself is kind of like trying to cut my own hair. It usually ends in tears and a trip to the doctor to reattach an ear.

So how do you stay motivated?

talents

Routine is a writer’s ally

Karalee’s Post #115

Our 5Writer’s retreat was a much wanted and well deserved coming together for our group, a push to jump start our writing and marketing again. Our passion is definitely there and we set deadlines again for critiquing.

We agree, deadlines will keep us going.

Sometimes I wonder if we need this camaraderie to keep our writing on task. Are we passionate writers? or hobbyists and coffee lovers with a computer at hand? Writers, well, just write, right??

 

Last week’s retreat once again brought us together and showed me that we all have the fire of fiction within us. We all want to get our stories out and reach The End with a sense of great self-satisfaction. We want to share our stories and keep writing more.

To me, that’s the essence of being a writer.

The fact that it’s difficult to sit and get the job done is simply that, a fact of life. It is hard for me to put the time in daily, difficult to say no to other important things in my life. But truth told, if I want to get to The End, I have to sit and write. Often. With a sense of importance.

So, routine has to come into play. Once again WRITING is on my “must do” To Do list. My daughter is getting married in July and I’ve recently started a new business, so I will be realistic and put 2hrs/day as my set amount of time. Note to myself: Don’t veer from it. The dishes/cooking/looking after the family and dogs/part-time work, etc. all have their spots too. BUT don’t bypass the act of writing!

Stick to your routine.

Out of curiosity I looked up the word routine. The Miriam Webster dictionary defines routine as:

: a regular way of doing things in a particular order; a boring state or situation in which things are always done the same way; a series of things (such as movements or jokes) that are repeated as part of a performance

Well, these definitions have me wondering why I would say in my title above that ‘Routine is a writer’s ally’. None of the above definitions really fit. For instance:

  1. a regular way of doing things in a particular order. For me, I don’t write in any particular order. Often I write the first chapter and jump to an intermediate chapter to capture my thoughts and actions that I feel are important. Also, I usually write the last chapter early on to have a place I head towards. That said, the ending is often not in the place I first had in mind. I am flexible and take heed
  2. a boring state or situation in which things are always done the same way. Maybe the fact that I rarely do my writing in the same way day-to-day is a good reason that it is never boring. For me the process is never boring. Challenging, absolutely. The great thing is that I can always “have something happen” in my story to entertain myself at any moment. That’s the magic of fiction!!
  3. a series of things (such as movements or jokes) that are repeated as part of a performance. Well, writing isn’t a repetition of the same thing over and over regarding what is happening in a story. A theme can be repeated by having different character’s life story played out in the same theme, but the actual events happening will be very different. Although writing often feels like a juggling act (who is where when, and to do what), the balls in the air are never the same and they are all dancing to their own arc. But, if my book ever becomes a movie, now that would be a great performance!

Since for me writing isn’t a routine that fits the MW’s definition, then why do I think that routine is my ally in writing?

It comes down to TIME. Time dedicated to the act of writing. Time slotted in my day on a regular basis. Maybe that’s what is defined as being boring and regular.

Regarding the actual writing itself? Thank goodness that is never routine!

___________________________________________

Writing Goals: 2 hrs/day. Submit 30 pages/month to my group. We chose the 5th of every month. Fitting, right?? 🙂

Keep in mind: 

  • 2 hrs/day, one word at a time will soon become a scene, then a chapter, and eventually a completed book. Keep sticking to the Slight Edge philosophy.
  • daily meditation and exercise keeps me centered and healthy.
  • our group is amazing, their support a great motivator!
  • a positive attitude leads to more happiness, and more writing!

Perspective Photos:

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Happy writing!

Do you need to make a resolution to write?

Karalee’s Post #99

Our 5Writer’s group is resetting their compasses to point to the directions each one of us desires to take in 2015. Of course we are all writers, so when I gave my resolutions a quick thought (I’m not one to make resolutions on January 1st just because it is January 1st) one of the first ideas that came to mind was “I will make a resolution to write.”

Last year was an okay year for my writing productivity, but the mere thought that a writer would think about making a resolution to write struck me as odd. Writers write, so either you are a writer or you aren’t. But hey, that’s not reality either. There are as many reasons that can stop a writer from writing as there are writers.

So in fact, that isn’t the statement that is really meant by that resolution. It’s like subtext in writing itself. What is underlying the resolution to write? I think the question should be, “What is stopping me from writing?”

Silk’s last post clarified many of the reasons writers get stalled from following their passion. The post is worth another read.

What helped me last year was setting a daily writing time commitment of 3 hours where I sat in my office without social media interruption and took care of my writing needs. If I didn’t write per se, I was thinking about my story, the characters, the plot, climax, and all the wonderful “what if’s” that spur one’s imagination.

This year I won’t resolve to write since I know that is already happening, but to enhance my skills I commit to do the following activities:

1. Read more.

It’s great to have some fun things on my To Do List! You may want to set a reading commitment with a reading challenge like below.

reading committment

2. Enter more Short Story contests. I like writing short stories and this is a great way to keep developing my skills with characters, plot and settings. Writer’s Digest has many contests throughout the year. You may want to check them out too.

short story committment

3. Journal and complete one exercise daily in the book my wonderful family got for me.

writing book 642 ideas

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

4. Writing is a wonderful privilege and being mindful and grateful will continue to keep it that way.

gratitude

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

What are your writing plans?

Have a great 2015.

Happy writing!

My one-resolution New Year

new-year-2015

Silk’s Post #114 — It’s that time of year again. I’m not talking about the mistletoe … the eggnog … the gift giving … the fond embrace of family and friends … the endless turkey sandwiches … or watching the crystal ball drop in Times Square (does anyone still do that anymore, now that Dick Clark has gone to that great Dance Party in the sky?).

No, I’m referring to that last item on your seasonal “to-do” list: coming up with all the ways you’re going to be a better, fitter, smarter, thinner, more productive, kinder, better organized person next year than you feel you were this year. Statistically, 45% of Americans usually make New Year’s resolutions, while 38% absolutely never make them. Sadly, the percentage of those who actually achieve a resolution declines with age. Apparently, 39% of twenty-somethings report success, while only 14% of people over 50 stick to their their promise. So a lot of us are starting from behind.

Now, I expect you’re staying awake at night thinking up your 2015 New Year’s resolutions. No? Perhaps you’re quite happy with yourself in every single way and can’t think of a thing to improve? Ha ha – that was a good one, wasn’t it? Or maybe you’ve given up the resolution game after making and breaking so many of them over the years?

That’s completely understandable.

I admit to being a resolution avoider myself.

It happened to me gradually over a lifetime, as the very same resolutions came up on my list year after year after year. None of them, frankly, ever got crossed-off for good. Eventually I realized I was renewing my resolve every year to become somebody else altogether: a svelte, athletic, helpful, self-disciplined, wise, cheerful, sweet-tempered, energetic person who finds time to do everything from running a business, to reading a book a week, to cooking gourmet meals, to travelling the world, to writing a bestseller or two every year. Talk about overreach. Of course, this fantasy goddess never materialized and the old me has remained firmly in place.

This year, though, I am going to make a resolution. Just one.

According to the US government (and who knew they were keeping track of such things), the most common New Year’s Resolution is to lose weight. Here are the most popular resolutions according to Uncle Sam:

Uncle Sam’s List of Most Popular New Year’s Resolutions

  1. Lose weight
  2. Volunteer to help others
  3. Quit smoking
  4. Get a better education
  5. Get a better job
  6. Save money
  7. Get fit
  8. Eat healthy food
  9. Manage stress
  10. Manage debt
  11. Take a trip
  12. Reduce, reuse, recycle
  13. Drink less alcohol

My inner skeptic took a look at this list and rolled her eyes. Are these really the most popular resolutions, or are they the ones Uncle Sam hopes people will pursue? Statistic Brain, which is candy store for fact checkers run by eager number geeks, at least cites a source for their top ten resolutions list (research published in the University of Scranton Journal of Clinical Psychology):

Actual Top Ten New Year’s Resolutions in 2014

  1. Lose weight
  2. Getting organized
  3. Spend less, save more
  4. Enjoy life to the fullest
  5. Staying fit and healthy
  6. Learn something exciting
  7. Quit smoking
  8. Help others in their dreams
  9. Fall in love
  10. Spend more time with family

Okay, that sounds more realistic. These two lists only share five items, with “lose weight” as the unsurprising frontrunner (no wonder weight loss is a $60 billion industry). What is surprising here is the resolution to “fall in love”, something I never expected to see on a list with items like “quit smoking” (mind you, the online matchmaking industry is now up to $2 billion and growing passionately).

But what about writers? Our list of New Year’s resolutions won’t look like normal people’s. To be a writer is to struggle with a long list of perennial challenges that test one’s confidence, resolve, stamina, organizational skills, discipline, creativity, time management, relationships, imagination, ability to self-edit … oh, I could go on. And on. And on.

Many lists of New Year’s resolutions for writers have been proffered, all offering useful advice to be sure. Writer Unboxed does a list every year, including Even More New Year’s Resolutions for Writers (December 2014) by Keith Cronin. Jeff Goins offered 13 New Year’s Resolutions for Writers in 2012 on his writing blog. Even About.com published Top 10 Resolutions for Writers by Ginny Wiehardt in its fiction writing career section. And the prize for the longest list – the War and Peace of resolutions, if you will – goes to Word Counter Blog, which last year weighed in with 30 New Year’s Resolutions for Writers by Jennifer Derrick. Culling from them all, here is a solid list to consider:

One Dozen Curated Resolutions for Writers

  1. Stop procrastinating
  2. Read more
  3. Get organized
  4. Do your research
  5. Show up consistently
  6. Write from the heart
  7. Try something new
  8. Have more fun
  9. Stop beating yourself up
  10. Stop comparing yourself to others
  11. Finish what you start
  12. Submit what you finish

Of course, you’ve been hearing (and reading, and thinking about, and trying to follow) all these bits of good advice since the day you sat down at a keyboard. Nothing new here – simply the basics of good writing work habits.

But making glib resolutions is easier than achieving highly disciplined work habits. Each one of these writing goals is a hill to climb. Some of them, depending on your own nature, have mountainous proportions. And they don’t come with road maps or instruction manuals.

Take procrastination, for instance – one of my own deadly sins. Three months back, I blogged Wasting away in Mañanaville, in which I complained about typically meaningless and shallow advice on how to “cure” procrastination:

… the old “boot strap” saw is neither an explanation, nor a very useful prescription. Saying that procrastination can be stopped by having more self-discipline is like saying that rain can be stopped by having less water fall from the sky.

I posted a link to it in the Books and Writers group on LinkedIn. Last time I checked, there were well over 1,000 comments, so it must have hit a pretty deep nerve out there in writer land. If it were simple to acquire excellent writing work habits by simply summoning the will power to follow a few resolutions, there wouldn’t be much to discuss. It would be as simple as telling yourself “just do it”. There. It’s a wrap. Let’s move on.

So … if you’ve stuck with me this far (thanks, by the way), you’re probably wondering what in the hell my one, single New Year’s resolution is going to be. Is it, irony of ironies, “just do it?” Certainly not. That would be a story with a cheap trick for an ending.

My New Year’s resolution this year is about as simple as it gets, but I think it actually covers each and every piece of writing (and living) advice I’ve ever received. More than that, it provides the pathway for how to achieve success.

Sound impossible? Like magic? Well, I think it’s all in your head. And mine.

My resolution is: I will be mindful about everything I do.

I’ll think about how I spend my time, and invest it deliberately in the things I care most about. In my case, that automatically means spending more time writing and reading – and a lot less time on all the other meaningless distractions I allow to lure me into wasting precious hours.

I’ll think about how I feed and care for my body, and give it the respect (and extra help) it needs, and deserves, to stay healthy for as long as I can make it last.

I’ll think about how I nurture my mind and soul, to keep my thinking sharp, hone my curiosity, give oxygen to my creative spark, and deepen my appreciation of life.

I’ll think about how I treat my world and the people in it – the people and other living things that I cherish but too often take for granted.

This resolution is all about being more “present” (as Paula eloquently wrote about last week), more focused, more grateful, and more joyful. It’s not a prescription for what to do or how to do it. It’s more of a reminder to make everything count, to embrace life with purpose and not fritter away the gifts of time, health and relationships.

Simply think about what you’re doing, why you’re doing it, and what will come of it (good or bad), on every occasion you have a choice to make. All the time.   

If, minute by minute, you listen to your head and your heart – your best, mindful self – I believe you’re going to make better choices with less conflict and angst. Progress toward your true goals – goals you have purposefully chosen for yourself rather than assumed out of duty, or picked up randomly like a stray pet – will follow naturally.

Ambitious? Yes.

Idealistic? Undoubtedly.

Happy 2015 to all. I hope your year shines.

 

Managing the middle

Karalee’s Post #98

I’m well into the middle of writing my new murder mystery, and I must say that the muddled middle really doesn’t need to be so muddled.

I’ve written a few books on this journey of mine. It takes dedication and lots of exploring and, well, writing to learn this craft well enough to become a published author of an awesome well-written story.

Until now writing the middle seems to have gone one of two ways for me:

  1. I’ve rushed all my plot points so I get to the climax and head towards the ending without enough substance to hold the book together.
  2. I’ve written myself into a few corners, make my way out, and then circle around a bit until I feel quite lost.

This isn’t all bad by any means, but rather part of the process of learning how to write an entertaining and engaging story. This time though, my writing process feels quite different, and there are a few reasons for this:

  • My knowledge of the craft of writing has improved. I understand my weaknesses more, and writing those hundreds and hundreds of thousands of words do count!
  • I’ve had experience thinking through my plot-lines and characters and have tried different methods of outlining – from a few bullet reminders to full blown scene-by-scene lay-outs.
  • I’ve found a method of outlining and writing that works for me. I can be creative and keep track of what possibly should happen, what is happening, and what possibly still needs to happen. I’m finding that outlining with what possibly can happen leaves enough doors open for my creativity to work its magic without feeling stifled.

What’s working for me is:

  • Routine. Keeping to a writing schedule without interruption from social media in particular has added immensely to my productivity. No surprise here, other than how difficult it is to keep to my routine!
  • Mind mapping. I use separate ones for developing: characters, character relationships, plot lines, and then a combination to build the story. I’m very visually oriented, so this is a fast exercise for me compared to writing my ideas out long hand. I am fortunate to have wall space in my office to pin up my maps and have reference to them. I also print out and post pictures that are a look-alike of my characters to refer to as I write. (My office is an interesting place to visit.)
  • reviewing in the middle: I’m STOPPING myself for a breather before the climax to make sure I’m staying on track. At this point, by reviewing all the scenes I’ve written, I can update my notes in my table outline. Inevitably things will have changed since the initial brainstorming since my characters “talk” to me and do their own thing their own way. I learn more about my characters, settings, and plot as I write, so it only makes sense that my initial ideas/scene table needs to be updated somewhere in the middle of my story writing.  Where you ask? Well, for me it’s when I am confusing myself in the plot line or I’m stalled and not sure where to continue.

If you think about it, there’s nothing better to jump start the creative process when you are stuck in your writing than to take a look at your scenes and make note of: who, what, where, when and why. Does it all make sense? Keep asking ‘what if’ as you review.

Using a table is invaluable to me to keep track of my scenes, their purpose to push the plot forward, what seeds are planted to follow through on, and other relevant notes such as details that creatively appear and need to be remembered. (they can be added to character sketches later, etc.)

table outline

 

 

 

Who knew that the muddled middle could be a panacea of creativity? It really is a matter of one’s point-of-view, right?

lunch Dec 2014

 

Our group managed a face-to-face lunch last week. We are spread out more geographically now than a couple of years ago, and I often feel that the organization to get us together is comparable to outlining a novel. Sometimes it seems easier to get my characters where and when I want them to be than get the 5 of us in one room!

There’s nothing like getting together with writers and talk writer’s talk.

 

Words written in the last 2 weeks:  3,000

Christmas social gatherings attended:  5

Meals cooked:  NONE! Delegating this task so I can fit in writing around the Christmas festivities. Hugs to my family for helping!

Happy writing.

Productivity is habit forming

Karalee’s Post #92

Last week I made commitments to be productive in my writing and to keep a balanced life while doing so. I’m very glad of the list as it has already helped me focus my time and energy and get some writing and outlining done even with life’s priorities shifting temporarily in an unforeseen direction. My husband had emergency eye surgery a few days ago and I’m forever grateful for our medical system here in Canada. He is healing well and I’m settling back to my new routine.

I’ve also committed to giving back to my community this year and I will be volunteering with a teacher friend in her class of refugee students, especially helping them with written and verbal English. I know I will learn as much from them as they will from me.

dick francis proofI will be deconstructing a couple of novels during my 12 Weeks to a First Draft course (so I will be very busy), but for purposes of my own writing I’ve always been drawn into Dick Francis’s novels and will deconstruct Proof as my exercise to learn how his writing hooks me. I’m looking forward to this exercise and am positive it will help pull my writing to a new level.

So, my productivity this week has been:

  • I’m half-done mind-mapping my new story. I find this process very creative and I draw the interconnections of my story on a roll of craft paper and pin it on the wall of my office. I write my characters out too with a picture I find that looks like them. The visual references are invaluable to me as I write.
  • I’ve written my novel’s back cover plus the first chapter and some of the second. Total words: 900
  • Hours in my office: 15
  • Times I journaled my progress: 2

This isn’t writing progress, but is reality:

Pies eaten: half a pumpkin and half a strawberry-cranberry pie. Hey, it was Thanksgiving!

Special dinners cooked: 2. One for my son’s 19th birthday (8 people) and one for Thanksgiving (12 people).

Episodes of Orange is the New Black watched: 2

If anyone out there is using Scrivener, there’s also a quick way to learn the software as well as learning how to format everything for an eBook including the covers.

Happy writing!