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March 30, 2011
“The healthy creative life is an intentional life, in which the person examines options and opportunities, necessities and desires, and makes his or her choices accordingly.”
~~(Vinita Hampton Wright) in The Soul Tells a Story
If you took time to ponder and write down answers to the questions posed in Monday’s blog, you gained a lot of information about your dreams and gifts. That knowledge is important. But knowledge alone isn’t enough. You must be intentional in using this knowledge to develop your creative life.
A Writing Life on Purpose
The healthy creative life involves practices that help further develop your gifts. If you want to write, you have the responsibility to develop practices that help you grow. (You also need to get rid of habits that hurt your writing–but that’s another post!) You can (and should) set goals, design rituals to help you get started (light candles, make tea, put on music) and form habits that help you both start and continue writing.
Here are some questions for you to answer to examine this part of your life. Even if you’ve been writing for a long time, I’d suggest answering the questions based on where you are now. I found them very helpful myself. Without meaning to, we can get off-track, our life circumstances can get us off course, or we might never have given this sufficient thought to begin with.
Now’s the Time!
Here are some more questions from The Soul Tells a Story. Brainstorm answers in your journal.
- How intentional (using planning or goals) have I been about developing my creativity?
- What opportunities am I looking for–and are these options open to me?
- What qualities do I want to nurture in my personality and lifestyle that will allow me to use my gifts in my writing?
- What rituals or practices always seem to work to help me do my writing?
- What other rituals and practices that I’ve heard about would I like to try?
It’s time to make some intentional choices! We won’t grow as writers unless we intend to grow and choose to grow. What’s a “growth choice” that you might like to make–and implement–very soon?
March 28, 2011
Announcement first, then today’s blog post… For those who wrote and asked when More Writer’s First Aid would be a print book, you can now buy a trade paperback at Amazon.com. Many of you are just like me–and still prefer a non-electronic book to hold. Comments from reviewers and bloggers can be found on my website.
What Am I Called to Write?
Do you have a writing gift? Do you have a knack with words? Do you feel an inner desire to write? Most of you who read this blog said a resounding “yes!” to those questions a long time ago.
And yet, one of the most common email or conference questions I hear is, “How do I know what I’m supposed to write?”
So Many Possibilities!
Sometimes the confusion is about subject matter. Should you write homeschool educational materials? Tips on raising children?Picture books that help preschoolers overcome fears? Humorous books to make teens laugh?
Sometimes the question involves age groups. Should you focus on preschoolers,early childhood, lower or upper elementary, YA, adults? Should you zero in on one age group or be flexible, writing for all ages?
Sometimes we wonder about form. Should we try a verse novel? Rhyming picture books? Series fiction? Nonfiction with photographs? Hardcover stand-alone novels?
Clues to the Answers
The following set of questions from The Soul Tells a Story by Vinita Hampton Wright are some ways you can explore those questions and perhaps find some answers. Take time with each question–each one serves a particular purpose.
- The activity that gives me greatest joy is…
- The good qualities that best describe my life are…
- The help that people often solicit from me is…
- The part of my personality that I would most hate to lose is…
- The work that is most satisfying to me is…
- The activity that I feel drawn to, even when it’s scary, is…
Finding Your Writing Niche
When I began writing thirty years ago, I only knew two things: I loved to read, and I loved my small children. I read the ICL ad and something went off inside of me, like a little burst of fireworks. Me? A writer? Neat!
But what kind of writing?
I assumed, because my children were newborn, two and five, I would write stories for the very young. But by trial and error over two years’ time, while selling fiction and nonfiction for preschool through adult ages, I finally settled on middle-grade fiction as my first love. I occasionally write other things, but always come back to that.
You’ll find your answers in much the same way. Take time to explore. It’s an exciting time of your writing life!
March 25, 2011
“Just as you carve out time in your day for writing, you need to carve out space in your environment to nurture that writing,” says Kelly Stone in Thinking Write.
Why It’s Important
If you have a special place to write–a place where all you DO is write–it will go a long way to helping you establish the writing habit. You will automatically get into “writing mode” when you enter your special space.
Your special writing space can be anything you want it to be. Some writers write in spare rooms or attic rooms. Some writers put plywood across a clawfoot tub and write on their “instant desk.” [Guess what they use for a chair! I'm not kidding either.]
Other writers use closets. The photo above is me thirty years ago, still an ICL student, in my first “office.” It was a tiny walk-in closet I painted orange. No window, and definitely no air conditioning. But I have to admit, over all the years of different offices, that was my favorite. It was special. It was mine. And all I did in that “office” was write.
Famous Writers’ Sacred Spaces
Whenever I read about famous writers or if I’m lucky enough to tour their homes, I always want to see where they wrote their books. A couple of years ago I was able to see the tiny table where Jane Austen wrote her timeless classics. (It was just a corner of the dining room by a window overlooking the lane in front of the house.)
C.S. Lewis, on the other hand, had an office with book shelves and a fireplace–not surprising for an Oxford scholar and professor. But something fancy isn’t at all necessary. With some creativity and innovation, any space at all can be converted into a writing space all your own.
When you have a writing space of your own, no matter how small or cramped, you will automatically jump-start your creative juices just by entering! You won’t have to move the kids’ homework or your husband’s snacks or the dog’s chew toys. You can simply sit down and get to work.
Do you have a writing space? Take a minute and tell us about your current or favorite writing space.
March 23, 2011
(First re-read the post The Thought-Feeling-Behavior Cycle.)
After a couple of busy weekends (writing conferences to speak at) and other events, I was finally able to sit down for a lengthy time yesterday and write. Or so I thought.
I sat down all right, but once I finally had an uninterrupted moment to think, a certain situation that has been bothering me for months came flooding back. I couldn’t concentrate on my novel, and I was up and down. I walked. I ate. I sorted laundry. I worried. I ate some more. Later in the day, I Skyped a friend. But I didn’t write until…
Ah, Yes, I Remember
I picked up a book by Kelly L. Stone, author of Living Write: the secret to inviting your craft into your daily life. I flipped through it and landed on the chapter called “Acting As If.” I knew this was a phrase from my old recovery group days basically meaning “fake it till you make it.”
I reviewed the thoughts-feelings-action cycle. Since my thoughts were unruly, and my feelings were haywire, I figured that “acting like a writer anyway” was my best option. I read her chapter on “Acting As If.” Here are a couple snippets to think about:
- People draw conclusions about themselves through observation of their own behavior just as they draw conclusions about other people based on observation of their behavior.
- Simply act a certain way based on your ideal Writer Self-Image, and over time, you become what you are acting.
Attack that Cycle!
A licensed professional counselor, Stone had many practical suggestions about how to act “as if” you’re a confident writer, act “as if” you’re a self-motivated writer, act “as if” you’re a self-disciplined writer, act “as if” you’re a future-focused writer, and act “as if” you’re a task-oriented writer. [I definitely recommend her book.]
I used one suggestion in the “task-oriented” section, acted “as if,” and got to work. Even though it was later in the day, I had the evening free and ended up with one of the most productive writing days I’d had in a long time. (I’m re-reading that chapter first thing today though!)
Don’t give up. We’re all in this together, and I’m grateful for writers like Kelly Stone who share what works!
[NOTE: Thanks for the inquiries about the release date for the paperback of More Writer's First Aid. I thought it would be yesterday, but it looks like this weekend. I will certainly let you know!]
March 21, 2011
I once had an apartment with one large hall closet. At first it was roomy and organized. Over the two years I lived there, it grew more and more crowded and chaotic as I stuffed more and more junk into it. One day, I realized I couldn’t jam one more thing in there and still close the door.
Something was going to have to come OUT before more would go IN.
Time is Like a Closet
One year I took some online classes plus set up a self-study program to grow in my writing craft. It would require around four hours per day to do everything I wanted to do. Given the fact that I NEVER had four free hours in a day, where was that time going to come from?
One thing I love to do on January 1 is change calendars: wall calendars in kitchen and office, desk calendars (daily and monthly) in my office, and pocket calendars for my purse. The squares of the New Year calendar pages are virtually pristine and pure. An occasional appointment already made dots a square or two, but that’s all.
The calendars I pitch have perhaps one or two clean white squares per month with nothing scheduled. Just looking at them makes me feel tired. I know from experience, though, that the clean calendars will soon look just as jam-packed as the old calendars if I didn’t take steps NOW to prevent it.
Create a “NOT To-Do” List
To make time for some new things I wanted to do, I had to look at the calendar and find the time wasters. Some events are important to me and will stay on my new schedule: our weekly potluck supper with my grown kids and grandkids, teaching Sunday school at the Air Force base to basic trainees, my every-other-week critique group, leading DivorceCare at church, and blogging 3X/week. These activities feed my goals of a strong extended family, volunteer service, and growth as a writer.
However, I noticed a LOT of stuff on my calendar that could easily go. (Well, easily in the sense that I wouldn’t miss it. Difficult in the sense that it would mean saying “no” more often-and people pleasers like me hate that.)
My Personal “Not To-Do” List
I know the Internet eats up a lot of time for me. This year I’ve decided to stay offline until noon by adding the blog the night before so it posts automatically in the morning without me being online. Before I go to bed at night, I remove the laptop (which has the Internet connection) from my office altogether. It’s easier to deal with the temptation this way. Out of sight, out of mind! Reading other people’s blogs, posting on Twitter and Facebook, and answering e-mail can wait till later in the day.
No more “come and buy something” parties. I don’t like parties selling jewelry, home interior decorations, clothing, pots and pans, etc. I am also going to limit how many invitations I accept to showers. At my age, every woman is having grandkids and giving baby showers for friends having new grandkids. I rarely know their children or grandchildren. The shower only appears to take two hours, but by the time you’ve bought and wrapped a gift, gotten yourself ready, and driven to and from in heavy city traffic, it kills about eight hours. A gift card in the mail would be fine most of the time. (Not sure I’ll ever get up the guts to RSVP with, “Hey, I’ve never even met your kid, and I barely even know you, so I won’t be coming or sending a gift.”) Sounds very Scroogey, I know. But ooooh, so tempting.
I will no longer clean the house before the every-other-month visit by the Orkin bug man.
I won’t attend more than one social function per weekend, no matter how much I love the people. Social functions wear me out, keep me up too late to get a good night’s sleep, and because talking aggravates my TMJ, it results in headaches. I was astounded how many things were on the calendar that I didn’t enjoy. (Example: both my husband and I hate football, so why are we going to Super Bowl parties every year?)
I will stop scheduling necessary doctor and dentist appointments in the middle of my work day.
This is just a beginning, but I think you get the idea.
Your task, if you decide to accept it, is to look at your old calendar and make a list of things you no longer want to do. Prune away the events, committees, and jobs that have become time wasters keeping you from fulfilling your own higher priority goals and commitments.
Keep the list near your phone. Practice saying, “Thank you for asking me (or inviting me), but I’m afraid I will have to say NO at this time.” End of discussion.
You can do it! I can do it! Having a “NOT To-Do” list is the only way we’ll be able to have a writer’s “To-Do” list that is effective.
[This is an excerpt from More Writer's First Aid. It will be out in paperback tomorrow, March 22.]
March 18, 2011
I’ll give you my favorite resources below. They include books about the writing life and market guides. I hope you find them helpful!
Help is Here
A practical book on getting your foot in the door of a Christian publisher is The Little Handbook to Perfecting the Art of Christian Writing by Leonard G. Goss & Don M. Aycock.
Sowing Seeds: Writing for the Christian Children’s Market by Kathleen Muldoon is about writing and marketing both short material and books for children.
The best market guide for adult and children’s work is Sally Stuart’s 2011 Christian Writers’ Market Guide.
Books that are inspirational to Christian writers include these (which I own):
Write His Answer: A Bible Study for Christian Writers by Marlene Bagnull
For the Write Reason: Experiences with Christian Publishing plus a Bible study for writers by Marybeth Whalen
Writers in the Spirit by Carol J. Rottman, Ph.D.
One I’ve ordered but haven’t read that has great reviews is The Soul Tells a Story: Engaging Creativity with Spirituality in the Writing Life by Vanita Hampton Wright
Study and Learn
If you’re interested in writing for the Christian markets, I’d encourage you to read and study specifically in this area. It has special requirements–and specific challenges to overcome. But it’s also extremely rewarding writing.
March 17, 2011
I was reading an article this morning in Writing World’s monthly newsletter, and the editor revealed her recent struggles with depression–both its cause and rather surprising symptoms.
Could this be you?
Dawn wrote: It came as a huge surprise to me. I thought I was suffering from Post Viral Fatigue Syndrome, or Chronic Fatigue Syndrome. I did not think I was depressed. I mean, surely I would notice feeling depressed? Surely I would, well, you know, feel sad, weepy or blue? Apparently not. The fact that my body had slowed down, and weakened, that my concentration had been blown to pieces and my ability to think became clouded in a fog are all textbook symptoms of clinical depression. Feeling sad doesn’t really come into it. I had, in layman’s terms, overloaded my system. I had tried to do too much for too long and something has to give.
I applaud Dawn for speaking out on this issue. I see writers (and others) overloading themselves terribly these days. I used to think it was just a “young mom writer” syndrome, but I see it in all ages as writers try to work 40 hours at day jobs, juggle children or grandchildren, do volunteer work, run marathons, social networking, attend conferences, you name it! (And I’m preaching to myself here too!)
This editor/writer went on to describe how she’d slowly over-crowded her schedule (with good things!), and what that had done to her creativity. Since she didn’t exhibit classic signs of depression (sadness, crying), she didn’t realize her nervous system was basically trying to shut down.
If you recognized yourself in her description, do something now before you have a full-blown depression to address. Trust me–it’s easier to deal with your schedule before than to crash and burn after you’ve overdone it for way too long.
One fun site she recommended was MoodGYM, which offers online cognitive behavioral therapy. I plan to check it out. If you do too, please leave a comment below for other readers with your opinion of its helpfulness.
March 14, 2011
I want your opinion today.
Last month most book lovers noted the bankruptcy filing by Borders, one of the nation’s largest book store chains. They closed about 200 stores, or 30% of their locations. We keep hearing that bookstores are heading in the same dismal direction as video rental stores or record stores.
Does It Matter?
Over the weekend I read a thought-provoking article called “The Marketplace of Ideas: Why Bookstores Matter.” It was one man’s answer to the very real possibility that physical bookstores may become a thing of the past with the advent of Amazon, e-readers, and deep discounted books at Wal-Mart.
After quoting several businessmen and business writers on the inevitable demise of the brick-and-mortar bookstores, he talked about why bookstores were critical to him as a reader and a writer–and to our communities.
The whole article is worth reading, but here are a few things he said:
- Being in a bookstore helps me to think. I find that my mind makes connections between authors and books and ideas as I walk along the shelves and look at the tables. When I get a case of writer’s block, I head for a bookstore. The experience of walking among the books is curative.
- Printed books are physical objects that cry out to be handled even before they are read. The physicality of the book is important to the experience of the book itself. The arrangement and order of the words is supreme, but the appearance of the book and the feel of the book in the hand are also part of the reading experience.
- The loss of the bookstore will mean more than lost opportunities to sell books, however. For the last two centuries and more, bookstores and bookstalls have been centers for the dissemination of culture and ideas. Books are about ideas, and bookstores offer a rare context for meeting other people interested in ideas.
Is there a “magic in bookstores” for you? How do you feel about bookstores, both the chains and local book shops that are more intimate? Was there a bookstore somewhere in your past that holds great memories for you?
If physical bookstores disappeared–as many are saying they will–what would that mean to you?
Please leave a comment.
March 11, 2011
I just finished Jordan Rosenfeld’s eight-week online writing class called “Fiction’s Magic Ingredient.” She’s the author of that very helpful book Make A Scene: Crafting a Powerful Story One Scene at a Time.
Here’s the class arrangement: there was material to read each week, then send-in assignments (usually two assignments ranging from 500 to 1000 words long) which Jordan critiqued and returned within a few days. We could write new material or apply the lessons to a work in progress (which I did). [More about the class below.]
When I first read through the exercises Jordan wanted us to do, I tried them out in my head, and they sounded easy. On paper, though, it was a different story!
The Rubber Meets the Road
Heather Sellers (in Chapter After Chapter) remarked on this phenomenon. “A failing we writers have is that we confuse the voices in our heads with writing; we tend to do exercises in our heads because thinking and writing feel so closely related…What’s in your head does not count, not for sculpture, not for book writing. Pencil on paper is what matters.”
The work we all did for Jordan’s class reminded me of such writing exercises. I often read the exercises and think I understand and will be able to whip it off in no time flat. Not so!
Even after revising each assignment several times, Jordan’s insightful critiques came back with more suggestions on how to take the concept further, go deeper, weed out the clichés, and much more. I felt challenged–and grateful that I got my money’s worth. I have gone on to apply the lessons to my novel this week.
I don’t mean to over-emphasize the money issue, but most of us need to get the most bang for our buck that we can. I was comparing the cost of Jordan’s class (I signed up early to get her discount) and was very pleased with what I received.
The material sent each week (5-6 single spaced pages) was new material, not excerpts from Jordan’s excellent Make a Scene book. The new material built on that. The amount of critiquing we received really surprised me. It was much more than you get at a writer’s conference where you pay extra for a faculty critique.
Last year I signed up and paid for (in advance) two writing conferences. The cost of each conference (not including hotel room or food) plus the personal critique (which was extra) was as much or more than Jordan’s online class–and you got much less for it, in my opinion.
The other thing I noticed was related to health and family issues. About the two conferences I signed up for last year: I had a family emergency during the first one and was running a fever the other time–and missed both conferences. (No money was refunded.)
During Jordan’s eight-week online class I was sick ten days, but my fever didn’t endanger any of my classmates. I could still work, bit by bit, on my assignments. I didn’t miss any critiques. I also dealt with and worked around two unexpected family needs. I loved the fact that I didn’t pay for something I had to forfeit in the end.
This experience has made me re-think my coming year and where to spend my time and small amount of conference money. I liked being able to use my novel-in-progress for the writing exercises, for one thing. It was a great way to combine the current novel revision with the class. (With the conference critiques, both manuscripts had to be submitted at least eight weeks before the conference. I’ve done this in past years, and by the time the conference rolled around, I had revised it several more times so the critique wasn’t very helpful.)
I’m sure there are online scam writing classes to watch out for, but if you decide to spend money on further writing study, you can’t go wrong with Jordan’s Fiction’s Magic Ingredient class. She has another class of Fiction Magic starting later in March and a “Revise for Publication” class starting in May.
March 9, 2011
And when the difficulties pour on for days on end, our emotions get on overload, making it difficult to write. Sometimes it’s a chronic issue that disrupts the writing schedule. Sometimes the event comes out of the blue.
It can knock you for a loop.
Back in Balance
If your emotions are doing the roller-coaster thing on you today, and inner turmoil keeps you from writing, I recommend both the Writing for Emotional Balance book and website. The exercises and explanations in the book (by Beth Jacobs) were so helpful to me years ago and several times since then. According to her website: