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February 5, 2013
As I announced in last Friday’s blog post, the address of the blog has moved.
I don’t want to lose you.
Please join me here for future posts (and get your free writing e-book): http://kristiholl.net/writers-blog/
See you there!
February 1, 2013
Rx for Writers: Managing Your Writing Space and Your Writing Time is short, but it contains solid advice for three of a writer’s biggest problems:
1. following through on our goals
2. organization of our writing space
3. lack of good writing habits
While the e-book is only thirteen pages long, I can guarantee you more success in your writing life if you follow the advice.
Why give away a free e-book now? Because I want to ask you a favor!
The Writer’s First Aid blog has a new home. When you come to visit, you’ll see a familiar face (mine). You’ll find some new pages, plus blog posts from the last two years. [I'm still in the process of moving posts.]
I’ll now be hosting the blog on my own website, so the URL will change. I don’t want to lose any of you in the transition!
After You Download the E-Book…
Here’s the favor. After you download your free e-book, please update the URL (address http://kristiholl.net/writers-blog/) in any location you have the current blog address.
- your RSS feed (wherever you read blogs…I read mine through my Gmail Reader)
- your Favorites folder
- your blog (if you have Writer’s First Aid listed in your links)
- any other places you may have linked to my blog
I still plan to post on Tuesdays and Fridays.
Jan Fields will still give you the “What’s New at Kristi’s” in the Institute newsletter.
Getting Your E-Book
When you go to the new blog site, you’ll find the form to get your e-book on the right-hand side. After you sign up, it will send a confirmation email to your Inbox.
After you confirm, you’ll be taken to where you’ll get Rx for Writers: Managing Your Writing Space and Your Writing Time.
NOTE: I’m not starting a newsletter at this time, nor do I send out sales letters. I won’t abuse your email addresses. Very occasionally, when I post a new report in my Resource area, I will let you know that. And, of course, you’ll be free to unsubscribe at any time.
January 29, 2013
What’s wrong with me? you wonder. Why doesn’t this writing advice work?
A third worrisome thought nibbles at the back of your brain: Maybe I’m not a writer after all.
Not to worry.
I’ve identified three of the most common reasons why writers don’t get their writing done. And I’ve put together an overall solution for you.
Reason #1: No Overall Strategy
You dream of being a novelist. You’ve taken a writing course. You read writing blogs.
And you write. Daily!
But you’re no closer to writing that novel than you were a year ago. Why?
It’s true that you write every day, using exercises and prompts. And you faithfully journal.
But there’s no overall plan or strategy for writing the novel, no measurable goals and sub-goals.
Reason #2: Forcing Square Pegs into Round Holes
Maybe you diligently follow writing advice found in magazines or tips you hear from published writers.
You set your alarm to write at 5 a.m. but fall asleep on your keyboard because you’re a night owl.
You join a weekly critique group, but their need to socialize irritates you because you came there to work.
You set up your laptop to work in a coffee shop with a writing friend. She gets to work and churns out ten pages! You can’t focus, even with ear plugs in.
The problem? You don’t match writing advice to your personality.
Reason #3: Writing Habits That Don’t Help
You have less than two hours of time alone while your child is in preschool. You use that time to do a low-energy job instead of writing on your novel (a high energy job).
You’re on a roll, half way to making your writing quota for the day. Your sister calls. You could let the answering machine or voice mail get it…but you answer instead. When she asks, “Are you busy?” you say, “Not really.”
You have alerts turned on so when you’re on the computer or near your phone, you hear beeps and buzzes every five minutes. New email! A new text! A new “have to see this” YouTube video!
The problem? Sometimes we develop writing habits that are detrimental to our ability to concentrate and thus to our productivity.
Help is Here for Your Writing Life: Free E-Book
As I said above, I’ve put together an e-book dealing with these very issues.
It’s called “Rx for Writers: Managing Your Writing Space and Writing Time.”
I’ll be giving it away this Friday as a kick-off to some changes that are coming.
See you back here on Friday. And if you know any writers with these issues, please pass the word. I’d love to have them check in here on Friday for their free e-book.
January 25, 2013
Is there “stuff” taking up space that you need to dump overboard so you can pick up some speed?
I’ve been struggling with this issue lately, and it reminded me of a period in our country’s history.
Each spring from 1841-1861 Independence, Missouri, was crowded with thousands of emigrants preparing for the 2170-mile trek we now call the Oregon Trail.
Here merchants competed for the opportunity to furnish emigrants with supplies and equipment for their journey west.
A family of four would need over a thousand pounds of food to sustain them on the five-month trip to Oregon.
Loaded Down or Overloaded?
Most emigrants loaded their covered wagons to the brim with food, farm implements, and furniture.
The journey began, but within a few miles most emigrants realized they had overloaded their wagons. Unless their loads were lightened, they would never be able to make the arduous journey across the plains.
Their only choice–if they wanted to go the distance and attain their dream destination–was to start throwing things out.
What’s Hindering You?
Do you identify with these emigrants? Have you overloaded YOUR wagon?
Are there things (activities, hobbies, interests, bad habits) that you need to dump if you’re going to make a successful journey as a writer in 2013?
Remember, those pioneers weren’t throwing out things that didn’t matter. They were giving up precious possessions in order to fulfill their dreams.
What have you given up for your writing? Fulfilling our dreams usually requires sacrifice.
- What have you “tossed overboard” in order to devote some time to your writing?
- What was the easiest to let go of?
- What was hardest?
- What is still hindering you that needs to go?
Take a moment and share!
January 22, 2013
Leave the dishes and your exercise routine and everything else–and just write. Haven’t we all heard that advice a hundred times?
I have–but it’s something I still struggle with after thirty years of writing.
Don’t feel like less of a writer if this describes you too. Just admit it–and find a way to deal with it.
Here’s my own plan…
The First 2013 Challenge
Along with a good number of you, I joined the “31 Minutes for 31 Days: the Challenge” at the beginning of January. So far, I’ve written 19 out of the 21 days. While not a perfect score, it’s much better than I’ve done for months!
Accountability, thy name is Sherryl!
What happens when the 31-Day Challenge is over? I’ll be ready!
My writer friend, Sherryl Clark, will be my accountability person as we encourage each other to pursue our goals. On January 28, we are beginning a 28-day challenge that includes (1) writing first and (2) staying off-line until the day’s writing is done. And we’re supposed to confront (nicely) when our partner isn’t keeping her commitment.
Why the need for such accountability?
At first glance, it wouldn’t seem necessary. We both have detailed written goals, put in lots of work hours, and truly LOVE to write. Even so, we weren’t getting enough writing done on our own projects. (We wrote for others, critiqued, reviewed, taught, and blogged–but by the time we got around to our own books, we were too tired.)
So, we made a deal, Sherryl and I. We have committed to writing first thing each morning on our own projects. [Note later: I just found that Sherryl blogged about it today too! Read her "Goal setting for writers who don’t set goals."]
I’m aiming for a minimum of an hour daily. If I can do more, great, but however much I get written, I’ve promised to spend time on my book writing first.
When we’re done, we’ll email each other to say how long we wrote. It won’t take us long to send that email, but since I’ll know Sherryl is waiting for my report, I bet I get the writing done.
It’s on my schedule first now. And I’m planning ahead for success.
I take time before I quit each day to set up my desk with all the materials I’ll need to get started right away in the morning.
One iron-clad rule I plan to stick to: absolutely NO Internet until the writing is done.
Do YOU write first thing each morning, before you get caught up in the day’s demands? If so, what are the tricks YOU use to make it work?
January 18, 2013
I couldn’t pinpoint a reason. As far as I knew, all my kids were fine. All my grandkids were fine. I was fine.
But goodness. I couldn’t sit still for love nor money.
I don’t think I have ADD–or I didn’t used to. I am beginning to wonder lately. But why?
Then it dawned on me. I had been on the Internet nearly all morning.
It started out for some legitimate research. It expanded into email chatting, Facebook, blog reading, more email, posting comments, seeing if anyone responded to any of my comments, arranging a neighborhood meeting, checking weather for Saturday to see what to plan for my granddaughter’s visit…and much more.
Times Have Changed
Really and truly, I never used to be this way. I was the Queen of Concentration. Even with small children underfoot. Even when sick or in the hospital.
I just can’t concentrate like I used to. And according to research and a recent book, many of us don’t. Why? Either Internet addiction or how our brains have been rewired in recent years through Internet use.
I don’t know about you, but I want my concentration back. NOW.
Internet ADD (Attention Deficit Disorder)
I found a good number of articles on Internet ADD, and most of them recommended abstaining from media for a day or two, or limiting your Internet use in various ways.
If you have trouble concentrating these days, read on…
The Internet Causes A.D.D. (Attention Deficit Disorder) has a good post. Among other things, it says:
With feed readers passing hundreds or thousands of blog posts by us a day, with Twitter and Facebook updates flowing like water, with email screaming for attention every few minutes, we have no more attention to give. We can’t pay attention to anything because we really give our full attention to very little any more.
Whenever I’m having any kind of problem, I assume I’m not the only one. I also assume that someone has written a book about it. They have. It’s by Nicholas Carr and called The Shallows: What the Internet is Doing to Our Brains.
Briefly, interaction with the Web changes how we think, in part by rewiring how we consume information. Attention spans are shorter and tasks like reading a long magazine article or book are harder.
Do You Identify?
Over the past few years I’ve had an uncomfortable sense that someone, or something, has been tinkering with my brain, remapping the neural circuitry, reprogramming the memory. My mind isn’t going—so far as I can tell—but it’s changing. I’m not thinking the way I used to think. I can feel it most strongly when I’m reading. Immersing myself in a book or a lengthy article used to be easy.
Nicholas writes that, based on quantifiable research, “Internet use reroutes people’s neural pathways”—and quickly, too. Hyperlinks within an article are more detrimental than beneficial: “Jumping between digital documents impedes understanding” and “research continues to show that people who read linear text comprehend more, remember more, and learn more than those who read text peppered with links.”
Think of Yourself–and Your Children
Dozens of studies by psychologists, neurobiologists, and educators point to the same conclusion: When we go online, we enter an environment that promotes cursory reading, hurried and distracted thinking, and superficial learning. Even as the Internet grants us easy access to vast amounts of information, it is turning us into shallower thinkers, literally changing the structure of our brain.
The Net is remaking us in its own image. We are becoming very skilled at scanning and skimming, but what we are losing is our capacity for concentration, contemplation, and reflection. As writers, that ought to scare us.
What are you doing–if anything–to monitor or limit the destructive side of the Internet? Please share tips that work for you.
January 15, 2013
“Habits are the little anchors that keep us from straying very far from the lifestyle to which we’ve become accustomed, whether that lifestyle makes us happy or miserable.”
~~from Karen Scalf Linamen’s book Only Nuns Change Habits Overnight.
Habits: Help or Hindrance?
We all have habits that either support or hinder our writing lives. [NOTE: I'm working on a f.r.e.e report right now on organization, time management, and writing habits for you.] Habits are simply the ways we repeatedly do some things.
Positive writing habits include daily writing practice, telling ourselves positive things about our abilities, and keeping current with publishers’ requirements.
Negative writing habits run the gamut from playing computer games and surfing the Internet during our writing time, to not keeping track of submissions and not studying to improve our craft.
Do you see any consistent patterns in your writing life? Which positive habits help you? Which habits detract from your ability to pursue your writing dreams consistently?
Habits from Scratch
If you could redesign your writing life from scratch, which patterns would you reestablish? Which habits would you drop, if you could break them? Can you even identify the habits that are getting in your way? Do you wonder where your time is going, why you can’t seem to get around to working on the project that is so dear to your heart? Try journaling about it.
“Keeping a journal can help you identify hidden habits that are interfering with your life,” says Linamen. “You can embrace the changes you want to embrace–and getting a handle on what’s really going on is a great way to begin!”
The Art of Change
A good writing life–a productive writing life–is built on good writing habits. They keep you anchored to the writing life you want to have, both now and in the future. Building good writing habits may not sound very exciting, but discipline now will give you a lot of freedom later on–and a writing life worth having!
If you have time, share with others one GOOD writing habit you’ve developed (any kind) and one BAD one you’d like to break before the end of the year.
January 11, 2013
I’ve been reading a book on how fear affects writing (and art-making of all kinds). Fear is what holds many (even most) of us back from being the writers we dream of being–and probably could be.
Art & Fear suggests that these fears fall into two main categories: (1) fears about yourself, and (2) fears of how others will receive your work.
The fears about yourself prevent you from doing your best work. Fears about your reception by others prevent you from doing your own work.
The Great Pretender (or fears about self)
When you doubt your own abilities, you feel like a fake, an impostor. You feel like your best work was an accident, a happy fluke that you can’t seem to duplicate. It feels as if you’re going through the motions of being a writer–typing, reading how-to books and magazines, attending conferences–but you suspect that you don’t really know what you’re doing. (And we wrongly assume that all those other writers DO know what they’re doing.)
You also suspect you don’t have any real talent. After all, talented people perform their art with ease. Writers might start out that way, but inevitably you reach a point (if you’re truly working) where it definitely is NOT easy! You take that as a sign that you don’t really have enough talent to be a writer after all. (Truth: talent is a gift, and most people have enough talent. Probably 95% of success is what you do with it–and for writers, that means showing up at the page consistently.)
These fears WILL keep you from doing your best work.
Whose Priorities Count? (or fears about others)
The best writing is not produced by committee. It’s produced when a writer who is passionate about an idea is left alone to create. At these times we aren’t even thinking about others.
Problems arise when we confuse others’ priorities with our own. In our heads, we hear these critical voices. (Some come from our pasts, some from current writing friends, some from what we read in magazines and publishing journals.) Since published writers depend on reviews for sales, what others think has to matter at some point. However, when others’ opinions–how they think we should write–influences you too much and too soon in the process, you stop writing what you truly love and start writing what “they” have said is better or more salable.
Wanting to be understood is a basic need, and writers want others to understand their stories. They don’t want to be booed off the stage for being too different. (We all learned at an early age the dangers of being considered different or weird.) So the inner war continues with writers: can I find the courage to be true to what I need to write, or will I buckle to others’ opinions so I have a better chance of being received well? Buckling to fears of being misunderstood makes you dependent on your readers or audience.
These fears WILL keep you from doing your own work.
This coming week, when you’re out scooping snow or taking a walk, give these two questions some thought:
What fears do you have about yourself that prevent you from doing your BEST work?
What fears about your reception by others prevents you from doing your OWN work?
And if you’re REALLY brave, leave a comment about one (or both). It will give me ideas for future topics!
January 8, 2013
While discussing goals with several writer friends, I found myself becoming depressed. We were analyzing how 2012 had gone. Each person shared their goals for the past year and how they had succeeded or failed.
Until I heard the other reports, I had been happy with most of my year. While I hadn’t yet completed a couple of novels I’d started, I had written a couple of proposals, and one of them got the “nod” from an editor. (Proposals take me a while, with their sample chapters and market plans.) A revision for a book I sold in 2011, which I expected to take about two weeks, took the last three months of 2012 to complete instead.
Check the Numbers
Here’s where the depression part came in. Several friends said something like this: “In 2012 I wrote a six-book series for X Publisher, plus three books in another ongoing series for Publisher Y.”
After hearing that, I didn’t want to share that my completed projects were so meager. And yet, I had put in more writing hours this year than in many years (and I’m not counting the blogging or critique letters for private critiques.) Was I getting slower? Was I burning out? I didn’t feel like it, but I sure wasn’t producing books at the speed these other writers had.
For me—and for many of you—it’s all in the numbers.
Then I remembered something. Several years ago I had what looked like my most productive year. I wrote three books in a series for an educational publisher, then two mysteries for a different educational publisher. A five-book year!
But the whole truth was that the three books were all written in a week and totaled only about 750 words each. The mysteries were early chapter books that were less than 2,000 words each. That’s only about 6,000 words altogether! And it was less than two months’ writing time. Still, I could truthfully say I wrote and sold five books that year.
In 2012, though, I wrote two proposals. One got nixed fairly early, and one got the go-ahead. I’ve been working on that novel, and each revision has changed it substantially. It will still take months to finish it. And the revision I did this fall and just turned in (for the book sold in 2011) grew into a longer book when I added the additional material my editor wanted. (It’s a much better book now.) But the numbers? The “revision” included major changes to the 36,000 words I had written, plus an additional 21,000 words of original material. This 57,000-word revision took me much longer—and was more challenging—than the five books I wrote several years ago.
Am I knocking educational writing or short books? NO! Not in the slightest. The value of the writing is NOT in the length. I’m just suggesting that you ask about the numbers. Before your writer’s ego shrinks any further when someone talks about their multiple book successes, ask them how long the books were. (While there are a few full-time writers who produce long books several times per year, they are few and far between.)
Part of the Writing Life
And if you like to write long books, get used to this. It will happen throughout your career. I generally sell one or two books per year, depending on length. But except for that one year, I don’t write short material other than this blog.
Writers aren’t telling you they wrote and sold six books last year to put you down or make you feel small. They are telling the truth. (It wasn’t until someone commented to me that I must not have seen my family that whole year that I realized the misperception on their part.) But if it makes your writer’s self-esteem take a plunge, ask (nicely) how long the books were. Add up the numbers. (Some middle-grade novels are 50,000 words, but many middle-grade series books are 15,000 words or less.) You may realize that despite appearances, you’ve written much more than that last year. So don’t compare apples and oranges.
Better Yet, Don’t Compare At All
We were each given stories and material to write, either fiction or nonfiction. We each have a unique voice and a unique “take” on the world. No one else can write your stories—or my stories. And if the stories you are given to write are longer or take more thought, your “production” quotas will look lower to others. Find a way to be okay with this, or it will plague you throughout your career.
I hope your 2012 was a successful writing year, but be careful how you measure success.
Just curious: how will you measure success in 2013? I’d love to hear your thoughts.
January 4, 2013
[This article is reprinted by permission. See credits at the end.]
It’s traditional at the beginning of the year to define what you’d like to achieve in the coming twelve months.
That’s a good thing and I highly recommend it. This week I’ll be writing my own annual plan for the coming year.
However, I’d like to point out an area where just about everybody uses fuzzy thinking in their planning.
We don’t control our future entirely.
Some things we can control, of course. But some we just can’t. It’s crucial to know the difference.
If you’re looking for an agent, you have complete control over how many queries you send out. But you can’t force an agent to agree to represent you. All you can do is make yourself an attractive client, send out those pesky queries, and hope that one of the agents sees how brilliant you are.
What we need are two different words, one for goals that we can control, and one for goals that we can’t. As far as I know, we don’t have those words. We could make some up, but I don’t think that’s necessary.
Instead, let’s just define a “Goal” (with a capital letter) to be something we have control over, and let’s define a “Target” to be something we only have partial control over.
- “I will write 10,000 words every week” is a Goal.
- “I will become the best writer in my critique group” is a Target.
- “I will attend one major writing conference this year” is a Goal.
- “I will get two editors at conferences to request manuscripts” is a Target.
- “I will send out 20 queries to agents in March” is a Goal.
- “I will sign with an agent by July” is a Target.
Goals are good. Targets are also good. But they’re not the same thing.
You can make a list of Goals for the year that is 100% achievable. At the end of the year, if you haven’t reached all those Goals, then you have a right to hold yourself accountable.
You can make a list of Targets for the year, but you just can’t assume they’re achievable. It’s OK if they’re a bit of a stretch. It’s OK to aim for a spectacular year and end up with a merely great year. (For some people, the only way to achieve their best is to shoot for the impossible.)
But it’s a mistake to confuse Goals with Targets. That only sets you up for self-flagellation at the end of the year, if you don’t reach all your Targets.
An important point is that Targets usually depend on Goals. So set your Targets first. Then figure out what Goals you must meet in order to make your Targets as likely as possible.
Steps to Make This Work
Let’s see how that works out in practice. Suppose one of your Targets is “I want to sign with a major agent this year.”
If you’re a first-time novelist, then you probably can’t get an agent unless your manuscript is complete and polished. You also can’t get an agent unless you pitch to at least one (and probably several).
So here are five reasonable Goals you can set in support of your Target:
- I will complete my manuscript by the end of March.
- I will hire a professional freelance editor to evaluate my manuscript, with a deadline to get the evaluation back to me by the end of June.
- I will polish my manuscript to the best of my ability by the end of August.
- I will send out a minimum of 10 queries to suitable agents in September.
- I will attend a writing conference in September or October and pitch my work to two suitable agents.
Now if you hit all five of these Goals, there is no guarantee that you’ll sign with an agent. But the odds of signing with an agent are vastly higher if you achieve all five of these Goals than if you achieve none of them.
Targets depend on Goals. But Goals don’t guarantee Targets.
Here is a five-minute exercise that you can do right now to create a reasonable set of Targets and Goals:
What are your Targets for the coming year? A good Target is concrete, objective, and difficult. But it’s not necessarily achievable. There is a part that depends on other people.
For each Target, set one or more Goals that depend on you alone. Goals should be concrete, objective, difficult, and ACHIEVABLE.
Do you have any other Goals for the coming year (besides the ones you need to reach your Targets)?
Write down all your Targets and your Goals and post them above your workspace. Make it clear which Targets depend on which Goals.
Look at your Targets and Goals every day before you start work. If you need to revise your Goals throughout the year, that’s OK. It’s fine to be flexible. If a great opportunity comes up during the year, change your Targets and Goals to include it.
A year from now, review your Goals first and then your Targets:
- Did you hit all of your Goals? If not, then figure out why. You may not have given yourself enough time. Or you may need to improve your work habits. Or it may be that your writing has a lower priority than other things in your life.
- Did you hit any of your Targets? If not, was it because you failed to achieve the required Goals, or was it outside of your control?
Planning your year doesn’t need to be complicated. But it does need to be clear. You control your destiny with your Goals. You don’t completely control it with your Targets.
Knowing that can help you keep your head straight on the long, long road to publication.
This article is reprinted by permission of the author.
Award-winning novelist Randy Ingermanson, “the Snowflake Guy,” publishes the free monthly Advanced Fiction Writing E-zine, with more than 32,000 readers. If you want to learn the craft and marketing of fiction, AND make your writing more valuable to editors, AND have FUN doing it, visit http://www.AdvancedFictionWriting.com.
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