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September 30, 2011
A couple weeks ago I encouraged you to get ready for NaNoWriMo–the writing group that produces a book in November. I hope you have an idea for it now.
I also encouraged you to spend October getting organized so that you have the best chance of succeeding. To me, success includes having a really good rough draft done at the end of November (as opposed to 50,000 words which you throw out later.)
I Hate to Outline!
If you hate outlines, maybe you don’t understand the various kinds–and their purposes. If so, read these two articles and you may well change your mind:
“The #1 Reason You Haven’t Written the Book You Want to Write” talks about misconceptions around outlining a book–plus all the benefits. (I never sold the two books I wrote without an outline. I’ve sold 95% of the books I wrote where I used an outline, even if it wasn’t very detailed.)
“Outlining a Novel Step-by-Step” is a practical guide to this process. It can feel overwhelming when you start.
I Have No Time!
If you need help organizing your hectic life so that you can write, here’s another good article with practical advice for very busy people: “Organizing Schedules So You Can Find More Time to Write.” Although my kids are grown and married, I coordinate around babysitting grandbabies, going to a grandson’s soccer games, overnights, and my husband’s changing work schedule. Every season brings different changes, and we writers need to go with this flow as well if we expect to write through all the seasons of our lives.
I hope you have time this weekend to read those articles. Whether you are getting ready for NaNoWriMo or not, they’re full of valuable information. Make it a terrific weekend, everyone!
September 28, 2011
“Enthusiasm is one of the most powerful engines of success. When you do a thing, do it with all your might. Put your whole soul into it. Stamp it with your own personality…Nothing great was ever achieved without enthusiasm.”
~~Ralph Waldo Emersonson
Where do you get this enthusiasm? It comes from having passion for your writing.
How does a writer act who is passionate about his writing? He can’t wait to get up in the morning and get started. He is eager and energetic. This comes from loving what you do, and doing what you were born to do or feel called to do. Feeling this passion for your writing keeps you going. Quitting is no longer an option. When you’re passionate about your writing, perseverance is a given.
This brings us to two main questions:
- How do you develop passion for the most important areas of your life?
- How do you maintain that passion during the inevitable tough times?
First: Find It
Are you doing what you really want to do in your writing career? Are you doing it at least part of the time? (I know that for most of my writing life, it was half and half. Half the time I was writing what I really wanted to write–fiction usually–whether it sold or not. The other half of my writing time went to work-for-hire projects, teaching, speaking or whatever brought guaranteed income.) Ask yourself: Am I truly doing what I want to do?
If you’re not skilled enough to do the work you’d love to do, make time to educate yourself so you are. While maintaining your current job (either outside the home and/or raising children), do whatever it takes to prepare for your dream writing jobs. It’s very difficult to create passion for doing something you don’t want to do or a job you are “settling for” because you don’t feel skilled enough to do what you’d really love to do.
Do whatever you need to do to overcome those lying voices in your head that say you’ll never be good enough, you’re not smart enough, you’re not whatever enough. Read inspirational books, read author biographies about how they got started and grew as writers, and say “no” to whatever is eating the time you need to study and read and write.
Second: Maintain It
Passion for your writing makes your days fly by (in a good way!). It helps you get more done in less time. That being true, it deserves whatever time you need to keep your writing passion alive. If your passion for writing dies, then writing just becomes another drudge job.
So how can you maintain passion and enthusiasm every day? First–and maybe most obvious–is to spend more time actually doing what you love to do. What is your pet writing project, the one that may never sell but you love it? Spend more time each day working on it. Even if it’s only an extra fifteen minutes or half an hour, it will remind you why you love to write.
Another key to maintaining passion for all your work is to reconnect with the purpose underlying everything you do. For example, I don’t enjoy running until it’s over and I’m in the shower. But I run my miles in the morning because the weight-bearing exercise is critical to staying “recovered” from my osteoporosis, which means my bones stay strong, which means I can still upright at the computer (hopefully) for decades to come and still have energy at the end of the day for my grandkids.
The same goes for giving up sugar finally four months ago. For a gal whose blood type is Hershey’s, that was a big deal for me. But more and more, sugar was making me sick and sluggish and sleepy. It was affecting my work–both the output and how I felt during work time. I don’t miss the sweets now, but during the first thirty days I might have mugged you for your candy bar.
What does that have to do with writing? It’s about maintaining passion. I don’t feel passionate about anything–including writing–if I don’t feel well. And by getting in touch with the “why” underlying the things I don’t like to do, it is a lot easier to get enthusiastic about it.
Tricks of the Trade
I know I’m not alone in trying to find and maintain passion for my writing. Please share some tips for how YOU maintain your writing enthusiasm in these fluctuating times!
September 26, 2011
I was wrong–again.
For twenty years, I’ve told students and wannabe writers that you have to put the writing first! Do it before other things take over your day.
Fight the impulse to clean your kitchen first, or straighten your office, or clean up the mess the kids made before leaving for school.
“But I can’t work in chaos,” writers protest.
You know what? Neither can I anymore–at least not well! And when I force myself to, the work is doubly tiring. Doubly stressful. Much less satisfying.
Energy Drains in Disguise
Something I read today made me realize my advice might be a tad off. Not wrong altogether, since if we don’t make writing some sort of priority, we won’t do it. However, to eliminate energy drains in your life, you need to look at the whole picture. Certainly all the things you do in a given day take your energy. Every action you take on your lengthy “to do” list uses energy.
What you may not realize is that actions you don’t take use energy as well. Your disorganized office, the piles of laundry on the bedroom floor, the stack of bills to pay, the two birthday gifts to buy, the clothing needing repair–all this drains your energy reserves as well. It happens whether you are looking at the unfinished business or just thinking about it.
It siphons off energy that could be used in a much more positive way. “These items on your mental ‘to do’ list, the ones you’ve been procrastinating about, distract you or make you feel guilty and drain the very energy you need to accomplish your goals.” (So says Cheryl Richardson in Take Time for Your Life.)
NOT an Excuse to Procrastinate
Taking care of the unfinished business that nags at your mind–and keeps you from feeling like you can settle down to write–may be necessary before you can tackle your writing assignment. Don’t go overboard though, or you’re just procrastinating. Washing the dirty dishes is one thing–taking time to replace the shelf paper in your pantry is something else.
Figure out the things that you MUST have done to feel at peace in your environment, and do those things ONLY. (It helps to do as many of them as you can the night before too.)
Eliminate the chaos in your environment, and you’ll eliminate a LOT of the chaos that blocks your writer’s mind. Now…off to clean my office.
September 23, 2011
I admit it. I don’t enjoy changes outside my control.
I can change, and I seem to be adapting to some kind of personal or professional change on a weekly basis. [I'm going to ask you for a favor at the end of this post concerning one such change.]
As Jack Canfield says in The Success Principles, “When change happens, you can either cooperate with it and learn how to benefit from it or you can resist it and eventually get run over by it. It’s your choice.”
Old Dog, New Tricks
He points out that there are cyclical changes (like the seasons) and structural changes (where there is no going back to doing things the way they were before)–neither of which you can control. The last few years have shown structural changes in publishing.
Frankly, I had hoped the changes in publishing were just a cycle–I’d seen recessions in publishing before that “righted” themselves. But with the whole social networking phenomenon–and the ability of writers now to do a lot of marketing online from home–it’s a whole new ballgame.
“Structural changes are the kinds of changes that can sweep you away if you resist them,” says Canfield. “Will you embrace these structural changes and work to improve your life–or will you resist them?”
Recently the marketing manager at one of my publishers asked me to set up a Facebook Fan Page to replace my current Facebook page where I have my “friends.” There are different rules and you use different apps on fan pages–and I’m slowing learning the new system.
Before long, I will shut down the “friends” page where many of you connect with me. After that, we will connect on the fan page, where you can still leave comments like before. IF…
If you do me this one small favor…I’d really appreciate it. Could you click on the Facebook “like” button on the left of your screen, underneath the book jacket of More Writer’s First Aid? It will add you to my Facebook Fan Page called KristiHollBooks. [This truly sounds absurd to me. I feel like a wallflower at a junior high sock hop asking someone to please "like" me and ask me to dance.]
If the button doesn’t work for you, click the Fan Page link, and you will see a “Like” button at the top of the page. Please click it to add your name to my page of friends. [You will probably have to sign into your Facebook account also.]
Like many changes that I have made (mentally kicking and screaming), this new Facebook change will probably work better for me. It will be a place where I can consolidate news about all my writing and updates from my three websites and two blogs. I think it will simplify and streamline my marketing efforts once it all gets under this one “umbrella.”
Thank you for helping me out–and when you set up your own writing fan pages, let me know. I already like you–but I’ll be glad to make it official!
September 21, 2011
Research indicates that the average person talks to himself or herself about 50,000 times a day. (I bet writers do it even more!) Most of that self-talk is about yourself, and according to the psychological researchers, it is 80% negative.
While much of the negativity comes from criticizing ourselves (I don’t like my new jeans… They don’t like me… I can’t ever seem to get organized…), a lot of the negativity we sensitive creatives feel is picked up from other people. We tend to take on the emotional states of other people–and if they’re negative, it impacts us.
Kinds of Conversations
I found three great articles on the types of conversations we have (with others and with ourselves) and the impact on us as creative people. There’s even one strictly for introverts!
“Are Invisible Conversations Preventing Your Success?” tells us about the invisible conversations we’re often in without knowing it, especially the kind where we’ve picked up on someone else’s bad mood. This type of invisible conversation is called “emotional contagion.” It can be especially detrimental to creative people.
“You Become the Network You Hang With” had this to say: “When my first book was published they told me they [my friends] could also publish a book if they had time. When I suggested they would have time if they quit going to the pub and watching so much TV, it was made clear they did not tolerate such talk…I started to see real progress when I made a new network. When I sought out people who were a positive, nurturing influence. People who would help me up rather than find ways to knock me down.” [This is called "crab mentality."] ”Rather than hold me back my new network expanded my horizons, expanded my opportunities, and expanded my reach.”
“The Introvert’s Guide to Making Great Connections” had this to say before giving his “guide” recommendations: “People will tell you that meeting and mixing with others – networking, hanging out, socializing, tribe-building, whatever you want to call it – is a vital part of the path to… something. Greatness, maybe, or creativity. Perhaps just contentedness…Honestly, I haven’t found that to be so. In fact, I find most of the connect-y, conference-circuit-y, business-socializing stuff to be vacuous, painfully false and a waste of time.” He goes on to say what kind of conversations work for introverts–and what happens between conversations.
Do you identify with any of these writers? Do you find your creativity is impacted (positively or negatively) by the kinds of people in your life? If so, share with us. And if you have a tip for dealing with it, share that too!
September 16, 2011
Today’s post is a two-part blog. First, I’m calling all NaNoWriMo fans! It’s almost that time again: National Novel Writing Month. Second, I’ll give you links for articles on writer burn-out, boundaries for writers, writing every day for a year, and ten skills every writer needs.
First Things First
I wanted to remind you that November will be here sooner than you think. According to their website, “National Novel Writing Month is a fun, seat-of-your-pants approach to novel writing. Participants begin writing November 1. The goal is to write a 175-page (50,000-word) novel by midnight, November 30. Want to try? Or just curious exactly how it works? Then read “How NaNoWriMo Works in Ten Easy Steps.”
I’ve participated three times in NaNoWriMo, and each year was better. If you’re an organized writer who uses an outline–even a brief one–NOW is the time to be planning your November novel (or two novels, if yours will be in the 25,000-word range.)
The first year I did no planning, and I quit after a week or so. The second year I had an idea, and I made it through the month successfully, but most of that novel got thrown away because it had no real structure. My third year was the most successful because I had the books more planned out before I started. (If you’re not a planning kind of writer, then this advice won’t apply to you.)
However, if you’re like me and don’t like to waste writing time (or just don’t have time to waste), then get going now. Give yourself a couple weeks now to work out an idea–or rework an idea you’ve been toying with already. Then take October to do your pre-writing: character sketches, plot ideas, setting research, and a rough outline. Then, on November 1, you’ll be ready to hit the keyboard!
Secondly, for your weekend reading pleasure…
- We’ve talked often of being able to set boundaries so that we have time to write. Here’s an article that tells you how–including actual “scripts” for various situations. It’s called “Setting Boundaries & Saying No…Nicely.”
- “Writing for 365 Days in a Row” is one writer’s way of finding accountability for getting the writing done. For his explanation of why he’s doing this, see his “Day 1″ post. This is something you could do alone or with a friend, I would think.
- “The Art of Avoiding Burn Out” is full of good reminders about taking care of yourself so you survive the writing life in the long haul. There’s a lot of wisdom packed into her lengthy list of suggestions.
- “Ten Skills Every Writer Needs” has to do with surviving and thriving in the writing life. I imagine there are more than ten skills needed, but this is an excellent beginning!
Read and enjoy! And then start planning for NaNoWriMo!
September 14, 2011
I sat down to write four times this morning, but my mind simply wouldn’t stop jumping the tracks.
One second I’d be thinking, “This backstory paragraph slows down the opening and should be moved.” The next minute, with a catch in my throat, I was thinking about Laurie again.
Get a Grip!
My daughter is on her fourth deployment (Afghanistan this time). Being her fourth tour, you’d think I’d have a better system for mind control, but not today, for some reason.
I pray a lot, email her, try to write, and it lasts for just a few minutes. So, like all writers who can’t focus, I check email. I love Thomas Kinkade paintings, and someone had emailed me the above picture. I just sat and stared at it for a moment, feeling the peace steal over me.
Peace Like a River
While I don’t often have time to steal away and sit by a stream–something always so calming–I plan to “sit” by my Thomas Kinkade stream several times today. I made it the photo on my desktop, so all I have to do is minimize what I’m working on, and there it is!
Without leaving my computer, I can walk along that little footpath, sit on a rock by the stream, and watch the water flow by. What a great use of technology and our imaginations. When my worries have floated away, I can go back to work.
Writing is a mental activity, so emotional issues interrupt that activity. During stressful times, find things that work to calm you…and then pick up your pen again. [NOTE: if you have a simple idea like this one that works for you, please share it!]
September 12, 2011
Writers are opinionated people.
Our brains never seem to stop. We criticize because we “know” how things and people should be. This “critical editor component” of our personality is absolutely invaluable to the editing and revision process. If you can’t spot what’s wrong with a manuscript, you can’t fix it.
However, this same critical ability can cause writers to actually lose focus, allowing their writing hours to slip away with little or no work done.
Think About It
Many of us go through our daily lives with our internal critic or editor in charge. We don’t see the person right in front of us as he or she is (which may be perfectly fine.) Instead, that person reminds us of an ex-spouse, and we “see” characteristics that aren’t there. Stress!
Conversely, we think the person in front of us is “supposed” to be kind and supportive (our inner definition of parent/spouse/child/sibling). And yet many such relationships are anything but, leaving us hurt and upset because they should be supportive. More stress! Life rarely satisfies a person who lets the “shoulds” run his life.
Do we spend our time “shoulding”? We don’t see a child who is happily singing at the top of her voice. (That child should be more quiet in the store!) We don’t see an interesting shade of purple hair. (That teenager should resemble a miniature adult instead.) We don’t see the predator or user sometimes either–because trusted family members shouldn’t be such things. Our “shoulds” and “shouldn’ts” color everything we observe.
Change Your Perspective
Our inner editor sometimes keeps us from seeing what’s in front of us. We are constantly “revising” the facts. So what’s the problem with that? You can’t accept–and get peace about–what you can’t honestly see or face. You stay stirred up–a condition rarely suited to being creative. Sometimes the simplest solutions evade us because we’re all riled up inside.
It reminds me of a story (you may also be familiar with) about “The River and the Lion: After the great rains, the lion was faced with crossing the river that had encircled him. Swimming was not in his nature, but it was either cross or die. The lion roared and charged at the river, almost drowning before he retreated. Many more times he attacked the water, and each time he failed to cross. Exhausted, the lion lay down, and in his quietness he heard the river say, “Never fight what isn’t here.”
Cautiously, the lion looked up and asked, “What isn’t here?”
“Your enemy isn’t here,” answered the river. “Just as you are a lion, I am merely a river.”
Now the lion sat very still and studied the ways of the river. After a while, he walked to where a certain current brushed against the shore, and stepping in, floated to the other side.
Control What You Can: Yourself
We also can’t gain peace of mind and the ability to focus unless we’re willing to give up trying to control everyone and everything in our environment. We spend entire days fuming and fretting over situations or people we can’t change or control, wasting precious writing and study time.
We need to save our judging skills for revision time and critiquing. We need to save our control freak behaviors for finagling with our characters’ actions. And you may as well give up having to convince people you’re right, while you’re at it. Letting go of those three things (judging, controlling, being right) will give you more inner peace faster than hours of yoga and meditation and mind-altering substances.
Start Right Here, Right Now
Think about something that is currently keeping your mind in knots to the point that you can barely write. I will bet that you are judging someone’s behavior, or trying to figure out how to control a situation, or having mental conversations in which you prove to that stubborn person how right you are. (I know this from personal experience in case you think I’ve been reading your mail.)
Letting go of criticism and control is freedom. For the writer, it means hours and hours are freed up for reading and writing. Just for today, let grown people and situations be what they are. Let them work on solutions for their own problems–or not. Turn all that “should” energy on your own work.
At the end of day, you’ll have something great to show for it!
September 9, 2011
We writers all want to know what editors REALLY think about our submissions. Especially with rejections, we wish we could know what is wrong with the story.
If you want some terrific insights into this question, I’d recommend Second Sight by Cheryl B. Klein. (The full title tells it all: Second Sight: an Editor’s Talks on Writing, Revising & Publishing Books for Children and Young Adults.) It’s a collection of speeches given to writers, plus a few blog posts from her website.
Defining Good Writing
One chapter that might give you a clue about your rejections was on defining good writing. Klein wrote about five qualities she thinks about a lot when considering whether she wants to acquire a manuscript:
- Good prose: the quality of the writing. Smooth? Clean? Lyrical? Good pacing?
- Character richness: interesting people with dimension. Do they grow and change? Do I care about them?
- Plot construction: things must happen. Logical? Unpredictable? What’s at stake?
- Thematic depth: the story says something about the world.
- Emotion: being caught up in the emotions felt by the main character (and those emotions may vary widely)
What About You?
Cheryl Klein says to be “a literary success, a finished book has to be really strong in at least four of those categories,” most importantly (to her) #2 and #5.
How about you? When you read a good book, what is most important to you? What is the one (or maybe two) qualities it must have for you to pass the book along to your best friend as a “must-read”? [For me, it's character richness. I don't care how great the writing or the plot is until the author has made me care about the character.]
September 7, 2011
My good writing friend, Sherryl, and I were Skyping about a seriously time-consuming writing project we’d like to take on together. Since we both spend our lives constantly trying to squeeze out five more spare minutes, we realized that something in our schedules would have to give.
“Where’s the dead wood in your life?” we asked each other. “What can be cut?”
Take a Closer Look
I thought about it a lot last night and couldn’t come up with much of anything. I have a couple of writing jobs, I hold offices in a couple organizations, and I lead a couple of church groups. Some are new responsibilities this year, and some I’ve helped with for years. I was clueless about what to cut.
Then I heard someone on the radio this morning say:
“If the horse has been dead ten years, it’s time to dismount.”
Put It Out to Pasture
I made a list of my paid and unpaid jobs then. Which lifeless “horse” was I still trying to make gallop? Which job or position that once was fun and satisfying and productive was now just an unproductive time drain? Which things had run their course? Where should I “dismount”?
Some of our time drains are just habits we’ve had for years. Or they’re community or school obligations we took on, and somehow we feel they’re life-time commitments.
Take a close look at your stable of horses. I hope this month to dismount a couple of dead horses so that I have time to ride a new one!
This is a re-posted blog–and here’s the follow-up. I did resign from two of my long-term volunteer activities. In both cases, people who were on the sidelines stepped forward to take the positions. I stopped doing free book critiques too.
The changes took nearly a year, but I now have five hours per day to work on my writing, compared to the one hour I had when I first wrote this blog post. It was hard saying “I can’t” and “no, thanks” many, many times. But I love the outcome! I love looking forward to my work days now. Our lives are all different, but I bet you could get rid of some dead horses too.
Can you name ONE that could be eliminated from your over-crowded life?Newer Posts »