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October 29, 2010
It struck me that getting fit and getting published have a lot in common. The problems that derail us and the solutions proposed by the “experts” can almost be interchanged!
- For example, if you want to lose weight and get in shape, fitnss experts say that a support system of some kind is necessary. (Writers need it too.)
- Interval training is recommended for fitness–short bursts of focused work, then lighter periods for recovery. (This works best for my writing schedule as well.)
- Fitness experts recommend keeping track of your calories consumed and miles run. (Writers recommend keeping track of words and pages written.)
- Certainly to succeed in both areas, you need daily disciplines (consistency).
- And in both arenas, “slow and steady wins the race,” rather than days of self-torture followed by taking several weeks off.
- Both fitness experts and published writers recommend journaling, both for dealing with emotional issues that can throw you off your goals, as well as “before-during-after” journals for dealing with special blocks and temptations.
- Fitness gurus tell you how to deal with those loved ones who (perhaps unconsciously) try to sabotage your weight-loss progress. I’ve written about that issue myself, pertaining to writing.
- Fitness experts talk about the changes you need to make daily, and how you must think of them as “lifestyle changes” if you want to be successful. (Writers, also, must make changes in lifestyle that need to be permanent instead of lasting only until a deadline is met.)
- Diet instructors caution against using your calories on junk food and feeding the body little nutritional value. (As a writer, I have to force myself to lay aside my junk food mysteries sometimes in order to feed my mind something more literary and challenging.)
- To be successful in either endeavor, you need to stop those negative, defeatist thoughts and be optimistic.
- There are also times to deal with where you do everything right but get disappointing results (follow your food plan and exercise daily, yet gain a pound–OR write daily and submit, yet get rejected.)
Where’s My Motivation?
I realized that if I can master these general habits and mindsets, I can conquer all my fitness issues AND my writing issues! I just need to find the motivation.
In case you think your own motivation is lost, enjoy “Where Does Your Motivation Go When You Lose It?” The suggestions work equally well for developing fitness OR writing habits.
And if you have time, please leave a short comment sharing a way that YOU fire up your smoldering motivation. We’re all in this together!
October 27, 2010
Ever stumped for new ideas? When I started my last new book, I noticed during the plotting process that I was short on fresh ideas. I had used up many of the ideas collected over the years and stashed in my “Idea Notebook.”
While one interesting idea might be enough for a very short story, books take LOTS of intriguing ideas. You need ideas for quirky characters, ideas for many unusual plot twists, ideas for great secondary characters, and unusual places for settings (even when that setting is your home town).
It’s good to write down the ideas that come to you out of the blue (in the shower, when you first awake, on a walk, etc.) But sometimes you need good ideas faster than that. You need LOTS of ideas, and you need them soon. Where are some good places to find them?
1) Get a stack of old magazines, either your own or the stacks given away or traded at most public libraries. Flip through each magazine very quickly. If something catches your eye (unusual photo, funny advertisement, interesting headline, local event), tear out that page. Skim articles–don’t read in depth at this point. That can come later when you put your ideas together.
2) Because many of us spend a lot of time online, also keep a computer version of an Idea File. You can have sub-files labeled “characters” or “themes” or “events,” if you like. But when you are reading the news online or you click on one of those weird-sounding Google ads and come across something odd or funny or quirky, copy and paste the story into your computer Idea File. Also store the URL (the web address where you found the idea.) Remember that URLs can disappear, so copy and paste the pertinent details. Just make it a habit to have your Idea File open when you’re surfing the web, then drop the interesting tidbits you find into the file, and watch it grow!
3) Lie down and try taking a ten-minute nap. Just close your eyes and relax. You might actually fall asleep, but I never do. The minute I try to relax and take a short power nap, my busy mind kicks into gear. All kinds of ideas surface, the kinds that make you get up and write them down before you forget them.
4) This won’t sound like a pleasant way to spend time, but a good idea generator is to make a list of “The things I hate…” List the most annoying people, annoying habits or annoying anythings in your life. Annoying people make great antagonists, annoying habits add character depth to all your characters (including your hero), and annoying events give you plots to write about (and things for your hero to overcome.) The added “plus” in writing about things that annoy or disturb you is that you’ll write with passion. It will help you stick to your writing schedule, and the passion will come through in a more powerful story.
Try to get into the habit of always having your antennae up and alert for ideas. They’re everywhere. Then go one step further and capture the ideas for later writing. Oh, you’ll be glad you did!
What other places and ways have YOU found to be helpful in finding ideas?
October 25, 2010
Because I have company this week (my daughter home from Iraq), I’m going to re-post a previous article. Because waiting is on my mind this week (my youngest daughter’s first baby is overdue), I chose this article on waiting.
Writers need to write daily–but we also wait daily. And we need to learn the art of waiting well.
Waiting! Waiting! Waiting!
For a writer, which activity lasts longest?
A. Submitting a manuscript, proposal, or query.
B. Waiting for a reply.
C. Opening your acceptance letter. Dumb question, right?
Anyone who’s been a writer for more than six months knows that the majority of a writer’s time–perhaps as much as 80-90%–is spent waiting on the fate of a manuscript or proposal or query. Submitting requires a trip to the post office or sending an e-mail attachment. Accepting requires a trip to your mailbox or e-mail Inbox.
It’s all that waiting in the middle that separates the men from the boys, the wannabes from the real writers. It stands to reason, then, that if you’re going to enjoy the writer’s life, you’d better learn how to enjoy waiting.
Over and over, seasoned writers tell us that we must learn to enjoy the writing process, the day-to-day putting words on paper that is the essence of a real writer’s life. That makes sense, and once we make up our minds to it, learning to enjoy the writing process is a fairly simple matter.
But enjoy the waiting process? How? It takes more than just knowing the reasons. Understanding intellectually why we wait so long for a reply (down-sized publishing staff, floods of submissions, holiday vacations) doesn’t make waiting any easier.
Ways We Wait
There are at least three different ways we wait, and not all of them are productive.
(1) We wait in a state of high anxiety.
When we’re anxious about a manuscript or query that we’ve submitted, we wait on pins and needles. We know the market guide said “replies within two months,” so we give the editor an extra week beyond that. Then our waiting wears thin. Nothing is happening! We decide to help the editor along by taking things into our own hands.
We call the editor. We e-mail the editor. We send an urgent reminder note on neon-pink paper. We aggravate our ulcer and irritate our writing group with our agonizing. Then we have to live with the consequences of what (in haste) we decided to do.
In a calmer, dreadful moment, we realize our strident questions angered the editor when we phoned. In retrospect we realize our pink stationery looked amateurish. Our anticipated check is already being spent on antacids, and our writer friends are ignoring our ranting e-mails.
(2) We grit our teeth and hang on.
Others of us wait by clenching our jaws and furrowing our brows. While this is better than making an irate phone call to an editor, it still isn’t an enjoyable way to live. For one thing, it tarnishes the daily joy of working on our current writing project. It can also lead to depression, a “what’s the use?” feeling about writing. As time goes by, we write less and less. Our enthusiasm wanes.
This is the time when negative things start coming out of our mouths about insensitive editors and the stupid snail mail and malfunctioning email and what rotten writers we really are. Jealousy of others’ success can rear its ugly head now, too. Waiting in this fashion will bring out the worst in you.
(3) We wait with hope.
The writer who accepts that waiting is simply part of the writing game appreciates every small encouragement that comes her way. Perhaps it’s a scribbled note from an editor on a rejection slip. Perhaps it’s a comment from a critique group member that makes her realize how well she writes from the heart and touches others. Maybe it’s just an article in a writers’ magazine that, out of the blue, gives her a brand new market to try that looks just perfect!
Even if this writer doesn’t publish any more stories or books than the writer who waits with gritted teeth, she’ll be a lot more fun to be around! This kind of writer also tends to be more open to constructive criticism, which will provide opportunities for improvement (and thus more sales).
Learn to Wait Well!
As writers, we’ll wait no matter what we do. Our attitude and actions during the wait will determine whether we enjoy the trip. In many cases, they’ll also determine the length of the wait. Harass an overworked editor, and even if your manuscript was near the top of the pile, don’t be surprised if it gets “lost” for a while.
Stay on an even keel. Riding an anxious emotional roller coaster only destroys the time you should be productively writing and studying and improving your craft. Let someone else attend the pity parties. You stay home and write.
Feeling sorry for ourselves will only sap our energy, energy needed for the current manuscript, the one that’s even better than the one we submitted months ago. Self-pity leads to jealousy of others’ good fortune, and we conveniently forget how long they waited for their good news.
Patience Produces Enjoyment
Remember: no one is making us write. We’ve chosen this business. And just as getting thrown from a bucking bronco comes with the rodeo lifestyle, waiting comes with the writing lifestyle. Any time we’re dealing with other people, as when we submit manuscripts and queries to publishers, we multiply the opportunities for delays. Expect them. Even more importantly, plan for them.
Develop patience. Without it, you won’t be able to enjoy the writing life you’ve created. Fully developed patience will help you get where you want to go!
Share a technique below that helps YOU in the waiting process. We can use all the help we can get!
October 22, 2010
There is one aspect of a writer’s life that will always be with us: change.
Just about the time you get a workable writing schedule (write during baby’s naptime, write on lunch hour at work), something changes. The toddler refuses to nap; the quiet lunchroom gets taken over by the wellness aerobics class. Your writing schedule has to go back to the drawing board.
Don’t Re-Invent the Wheel
I’m heading into a season of some big changes myself now, and it will definitely impact my writing schedule. But I know that thousands of writers have gone before me, and hundreds have shared their time management ideas in books and magazines and on websites.
Here are some good links for you to check out! Even if you’re managing your time just fine now, I’d suggest bookmarking these sites for later. At some point, life will change. You’ll move into a new season–and need additional strategies then.
- More than twenty articles on time management
- Ten strategies for better time management
- A personal time management guide–many links to more articles
- Dozens of time management articles and strategies
- Personal time management articles
- Twenty articles of time management tips
Maybe you prefer reading books, like I do. A list of my favorite books on time management is posted here.
October 20, 2010
This is one of the best book trailers I've seen. I couldn't agree more with sentiments this author expresses. I hope you give this book to every young child you know for Christmas. I plan to.
October 18, 2010
Learning how to be content with what you have brings great peace. I’ve done several studies on contentment, and it’s a state I try to live in.
That said, I also believe there is such a thing as divine discontent. It’s akin to the stirring of the nest when it’s time for baby birds to leave their comfort zone and fly.
That “I want something more” feeling is what prompted me to take the ICL writing course thirty years ago, the only writer’s “training” I’ve ever had.
Spinning Your Wheels
This divine discontent is a longing for something different. You may feel stuck in a job that saps so much energy that you don’t have any left over for your writing. You may have climbed to the top of the corporate ladder and found it less satisfying than you’d expected. Your kids may finally be in school all day, but your days are crammed with things that don’t fulfill you.
This restless discontent can be a sign that you’re being called to something else. If you’re reading this blog, perhaps it’s a career in writing.
Signposts Along the Way
According to The Practical Dreamer’s Handbook: Finding the Time, Money, and Energy to Live Your Dreams by Paul and Sarah Edwards, there are sixteen signs to look for that might mean something is missing in your life–and something new is waiting to be born. The signs include:
- Not wanting to get out of bed
- Feeling mildly depressed for days on end
- Difficulty motivating yourself to do routine tasks
- Overeating, using alcohol, drugs, or TV to feel better or escape
- Losing interest in things that once engaged you
- Feeling chronically tired, de-energized, and listless
- Nagging doubts about yourself and the course of your life
- Losing a sense of enthusiasm
- Worrying about how you’ll keep things together
- Getting frequent headaches, stomach upset, and other aches and pains
- Feeling bored and restless
- Sleeping too much or too little
- Wishing you were someone else
- Nagging and complaining
- Having frequently bad dreams or nightmares
- Feeling constantly overwhelmed and irritable
What if you identify with these signs of discontent with your life? Could this restless sense of “I need something more” be a calling to do something else? Something besides what “everyone” thinks you should do?
Behind the Stories: Christian Novelists Reveal the Heart in the Art of Their Writing (by Diane Eble) is forty stories by novelists telling how they found their way to writing–and the winding paths they sometimes traveled before they could write full-time.
One novelist, Alton Gansky, summed up “divine discontent” well: “Perhaps this is the hallmark of a calling: this sense that you are meant to do something, the restlessness that comes when you don’t do it, the deep satisfaction you feel when you do it–whatever “it” is.
How do you find “it”? Ask yourself, “What is it I have loved doing, what has given me that sense of satisfaction? What would I do if I had two days to do whatever I wanted? What do I tend to gravitate toward and make time for? What do I feel passionate about? What have I always dreamed of doing?” These questions may begin to uncover that thing you do, or would like to do, that is your gift and perhaps your calling.
How about you? Does any of this resonate with you at this point of your life? Do you sense a need for change of direction (either major or minor)? I know that’s a really personal question, but do share a comment if you can!
October 15, 2010
How to Regain Lost Passion
If you were passionate about your writing in the past, but haven’t felt that way for a long time, there is a definite sadness mixed in with the lethargy. It feels like falling out of love, and in a very real sense, it is.
Can you stir up the fires of passion for your writing? Can you fall in love with writing and your work again, when all seems dry as dust and just as tasteless?
Years ago, I struggled with this question, slowly becoming afraid that the boredom and apathy were permanent. I tried to muster some enthusiasm for my book-in-progress, whose deadline was fast approaching, but to no avail. It wasn’t the book manuscript itself. I knew it was finely plotted, with well placed clues and plenty of tension. The problem wasn’t in the manuscript—it was in me.
I found the answer to the problem one cold, snowy morning, and it came from the most unlikely source: my dog. We’d had freezing conditions for several days, cutting short my walks with Rhett (my black Lab.) I chained him outside for the day, then hurried back indoors. Playtime was cut short—it was just too cold and windy for me.
I paid little attention to Rhett during that week, although I’d loved him passionately since bringing him home from the pound ten months earlier. As the frigid week wore on, and the weather stayed miserable, I began to resent having a dog. I hated going out in the weather to his snug dog house, carrying water often because his dish froze over. I became apathetic about Rhett—he was getting to be more trouble than he was worth.
Then one day the sun came out, melted the snow, and temperatures soared. I put Rhett on his leash and took an hour-long walk, complete with Puppy Biscuit rewards for correct sitting, heeling and staying.
When we got home, I chained him outside near his food and water, then stayed to play. I petted, I stroked, I laughed, I cooed. (If you’ve never been a dog owner, you may need to gag here.) Anyone watching me that morning could see I had regained my passion for owning a dog.
I’m sure you see the parallels. Regaining passion for your work-in-progress can be accomplished the same way:
A. Pay attention to your work. Think about it when you’re not at your desk. Mull over your theme. Ponder plot points. Have mental conversations with your characters.
B. Take care of your work. Feed it with quotes and good resource books. Do in-depth research and interviews. Immerse yourself in your subject matter.
C. Spend time with your work. Daily, if possible. If you want passion to ignite in anything (a relationship, your work, a hobby) you must spend consistent—and sufficient—time with it. We understand this principle in romantic relationships, but it’s just as true with your writing.
Part of the enjoyment of being a writer is the pure passion and pleasure of setting words on paper. Don’t settle for ho-hum, apathetic work. Instead take the necessary steps to revive your passion for writing. Do it as often as necessary to keep that spark of joy alive!
Right now–this weekend–put a plan in writing for how to regain the passion for your writing gift. If you have any ideas to share–your own or a book you’ve read–please share!
October 13, 2010
(Read Regain the Passion–Part 1 first.)
So…when does passion flourish? Under what conditions?
First, a writer’s passion is generally at its highest point when life is going well. (Big surprise!) When relationships are smooth, health is good, there’s enough money to pay the bills, the writer is following a healthy diet and getting sufficient sleep: these are the optimal conditions.
Whatever is draining your passion needs to be attended to, thoroughly and persistently. Unfortunately, this doesn’t always bring back the passion. It simply sets the stage, giving yourself the optimal environment for your resurrected passion to grow.
Habits of a Passionate Writer
How do you recognize passion for writing? Yes, it’s a feeling, but it’s so much more. Each writer will exhibit certain habits when she is being passionate about her writing. These habits are individual and personal–and present in your life whether you feel passion or not. Take a moment to make a list of habits that (to you) marks a writer as passionate.
To me personally, a passionate writer:
A. writes, almost daily.
B. listens, observes and thinks—alert to her surroundings.
C. carries a notebook everywhere to jot down impressions, descriptions and ideas.
D. journals—daily, if possible.
E. is focused—begins and continues her writing with energy.
F. reads other good children’s books, both current and classics.
G. keeps up with professional reading.
H. shares her enthusiasm at conferences and workshops (but doesn’t over-schedule such events so they don’t interfere with writing).
I. leads a more secluded life than the average person, in order to nurture and explore her talent.
J. is physically, mentally, emotionally, spiritually healthy.
K. is a 24-hour-a-day writer. Even when washing dishes or cutting grass, the passionate writer’s work is close at hand, on the edges of her mind. Everything she does is writing-related and life-related, so that her work and her life are inseparable.
Those are just my own personal ideas. Everyone is different. On Friday we’ll talk about practical ways to get the passion back. Before that, leave me a comment and tell me what a writer’s passion means to you.
October 11, 2010
Has this ever happened to you?
You’re half-way through a short story revision, or the rough draft of your novel, or the research for a biography—and without warning, you lose your desire for the project. The passion evaporates.
You feel lethargic, sad, and brain dead (or least oxygen deprived). You put your writing away for a few days, hoping it’s hormonal or a phase of the moon or post-holiday blues.
However, when you dig it out again, it’s even worse. It doesn’t grab you. You’re sure it won’t grab anyone else either! It’s boring. It goes back in the drawer.
Does Time Heal all Drafts?
Unfortunately, over the next few weeks, the situation worsens. Lethargy turns to apathy. Boredom turns to dislike. You face the fact that, for some reason, you’ve lost your burning desire to write this story—or maybe even write anything at all.
And without the passion, why bother to endure the long hours, the potential rejection of your work, and the low pay? Once it’s lost, how do you recapture your passion for writing?
What is Passion?
The question is summed up well by Hal Zina Bennett in Write from the Heart: “How do authors connect with that passion, bordering on obsession, that drives them to finish even the most ambitious writing projects in spite of seemingly insurmountable handicaps? What is the secret creative energy that the world’s best writers can apparently zap into action the moment their fingers touch their keyboards?”
Some say this passion is tied to how meaningful the writer feels his work is. He feels passion when what he is sharing is deeply meaningful. He may lose his passion when his writing turns into what will sell, what the markets dictate are current trends, and what pays the most money.
Eric Maisel in A Life in the Arts says, “The most salient difference between the regularly blocked artist and the regularly productive artist may not be the greater talent of the latter, but the fact that the productive artist possesses and retains his missionary zeal.”
Most writers would agree that a passion for writing involves enthusiasm, excitement, drive, and a deep love for your work. This passion makes writing a joyous occupation. It makes time fly while “real life” is shoved to the far comers of the mind. It’s being in the flow, enraptured in the present moment. For some, it’s being aware that they’re writers twenty-four hours a day.
Why Does Passion Dissipate?
Passion can spring a leak after too many rejection slips, too many critical comments from spouses or reviewers or critique partners, and too many crises to handle in your personal life.
Passion can also die when you repeat yourself in your work instead of exploring new avenues of writing.
Lack of passion can be caused by chronic fatigue. “Fatigue and the accompanying blockage also come with living the sort of marginal life that artists so often live,” says Eric Maisel. “The effort required to put food on the table, to deal with an illness without benefit of a hospital plan, to pay the rent, to get a toothache treated, to attend to the needs of a spouse or children, can tire out the most passionate and dedicated artist.”
(Parts 2 and 3 will discuss ways to get the passion back!)
October 8, 2010
One of Angela’s techniques which we’re supposed to do daily (along with the challenge) is to write everything down. We’re to “think on paper,” capturing our ideas, our questions, our concerns about writing.
To be honest, my first reaction was: “I don’t have time for this–and I’ll just end up with a bunch of drivel.” But my accountability writing partner and I are doing the challenge together, so I decided to comply.
I’m so glad I did.
Do It Anyway!
Just as Angela predicted, on the days I “wrote everything down,” my brain coughed up several very easy and workable ideas for a project I’m doing and for an e-book I want to write. I also discovered a big problem with something I had planned–something that would have caused trouble later if I hadn’t spotted it while writing about it.
Why does it work? It probably has to do with the following: “Writing is thinking – but you’re not just thinking in your head, you’re writing things down,” Angela says. “For most people, head-thinking is a mistake, because you’re thinking from your own perspective, what you know. Head-thinking turns into worry, which burns your motivation…You need to get beyond that, so that you can access your creativity. That happens when you write things down.”
Try It–You Might Like It!
So with that in mind, I’ll refer you to Angela’s article “Writing is Writing: Just Write Things Down.” I challenge you to try it daily. I keep a Word document open on my laptop for this so it’s easy to do. If your thoughts are more personal, use journaling software or a spiral notebook you can hide.
All of you “100-Day Challenge” people–are you using this technique? If so, leave a comment about how it’s working for you.Newer Posts »