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April 25, 2012
Have you collected quotes and free ebooks and downloads from the Internet? Do you remember to document the source of your information (the URL)? I nearly always forget. Copying and pasting the information and a long URL was a headache.
But I’m getting ahead of myself.
First, the Quote
Below is a quote that I wanted to use for today’s blog, but I wanted to also give credit where it was due. I copied it onto my computer screen some months ago, but I can’t remember the source. (If any of you know, tell me, and I’ll add the credit.)
I remembered the quote when I was looking over several boxes of manuscripts that I had never finished. I didn’t recall why. Then I remembered this quote, and it gave me a solution:
Canvas your half-done creations, whether they are chapters half-written, paintings half-painted, business ideas half-formulated, or programs half-coded. How many of them are stuck at roughly the same spot?
I’ll bet that spot is where you started thinking about how you were going to sell or share that creation.
I’m not saying you can’t sell it – I’m saying you have to create it first. And to create it, you have to create it for yourself. You have to be passionate about it. You have to be interested in it. You have to have your moment to cherish the newborn.
Go back and review those half-baked ideas. Put a sign, physical or otherwise, on them that says “Not For Sale” or “Just For Me.” Give yourself room to play. (Source Unknown) [P.S. LATER: Thanks to several people, I can now give proper credit. It's from an article called "Your Art is For You" by Charlie Gilkey.]
What to Do? Help is Here!
I decided to mark every abandoned manuscript as “not for submission” and give myself room to play and enjoy the writing. It’s made the writing fun again.
I mentioned my aggravation to a friend, who told me (again) that she had solved that issue long ago by using Evernote for online research of all kinds. Using the program’s F*R*E*E version, you can capture whole web pages, movies, audio files, you name it. You then tag your material and file it in a folder you create.
You can download the free version of Evernote to all your computers, phones, and mobile devices so they can synchronize. I downloaded the free version and started using it immediately. (The simple guide to using Evernote takes just a few minutes to read.) There are also Evernote Tutorial videos and an Evernote blog–chockful of great tips!
Whether you write fiction or nonfiction, usually some research is necessary. The Evernote system is a much more organized place for it than your Favorites, and you can actually store the information itself (URL and all). I love being able to collect it, then get off-line to read it at any time.
April 18, 2012
The last couple of weeks we’ve discussed the difference between commitment and motivation.
A true commitment is a heart-felt promise to yourself, from which you will NOT back down, no matter what the circumstances. Hopefully, you have re-committed to your writing in a signifant way!
When you’re committed to something, you accept no excuses, only results. But then what?
The Slippery Slope of Compromise
Unfortunately, what often follows (sometimes after a very short period of time) is a compromise. Little ones at first, but they grow quickly into big ones.
Writers have good intentions and dreams, but only a few are willing to commit to what is necessary to achieve them. Zig Ziglar said,
“It was character that got us out of bed,
commitment that moved us into action,
and discipline that enabled us to follow through.”
So then…what keeps us from following through? Compromise. (I’m not talking about the good kind of compromise, where everyone “gives” a little so we all get our needs met, but the kind of compromise that keeps us from becoming writers of excellence.)
What Happens to the Commitment?
One definition of compromise is “a concession to something detrimental; to reduce the quality or value of something.” In our minds, often without conscious thought, we reduce the value of writing daily (or whatever we committed to.) It becomes less important over time as life’s other demands take precedence.
Unfortunately, compromise is more common than sticking to a commitment. As Bertrand Russell once said,
“Real life, to most men, is a long second-best,
a perpetual compromise
between the ideal and the possible.”
What is the ideal? Whatever goal we committed to. What is the possible? It’s the second-best choice–the compromise–we sigh and accept.
Accepting Second Best
How do committed writers compromise? Let me count the ways:
- I know I said I would write for an hour every day this week before going to work, but I’m too tired today, so I’ll read a writing blog today instead.
- I committed to writing twenty minutes before taking a break, and I mean to do that, but I just have to answering a ringing phone!
- I committed to writing one query every week, but since this week got away from me, I’ll start over next week.
What’s the answer? Pay attention to when you compromise. Is it when you’re overly tired? Then get to bed earlier. Is it after you’ve talked to your super successful friend who leaves you feeling depressed? Then write before you see this friend.
Search out the reasons you compromise and block them! Never under-estimate the power of commitment without compromise.
As Bill Cosby said,
“Anyone can dabble,
but once you’ve made that commitment,
your blood has that particular thing in it,
and it’s very hard for people to stop you.”
And the person who most often tries to stop you? Yourself. Recognize it. Be alert for the temptations to compromise. And just say “No, I’m committed to this.” And go back to writing.
April 11, 2012
Motivation can be fleeting, but real commitment is here to stay.
The WHY Behind Committment
Commitments come in different sizes. I am committed to big things (my marriage, children, and grandchildren) and I’m committed to smaller things (paying the bills on time, and brushing my teeth.)
Other things I do when I’m “motivated” (like spruce up the guest room when company is coming, or buy new shoes for some social event). But I don’t like to decorate or shop, so unless I’m motivated by something outside myself, I don’t do those two things. But I pay bills and babysit grandkids, no matter what else is going on in my life.
Commitments occur when something is truly gut level important to us. Some things I’ve always been committed to (e.g. my family and paying my bills). I would hate to be a bad mother or a deadbeat. Other things started off as “sometimes activities,” based on whether or not I felt motivated (e.g. cutting out junk food and eating vegetables); they only moved to the “committed” category when I encountered various health issues that demanded a change. It was amazing to me how my waffling attitude became committed overnight.
Reasons to Commit
What about our writing? As an ICL student and early writer, I was motivated! I loved the writing, being published, being paid, seeing bylines, you name it. I was excited by it all. During the single parenting years, the writing became a commitment. (Meeting deadlines was non-negotiable; it meant having food on the table.)
But the kids are all adults now, and my writing income isn’t required to keep a roof over our heads. I wonder if that’s why, in recent years, the writing commitment has slipped back into the “I need to feel motivated to write” category. Whatever the reason, I do NOT like it. I am determined to move my writing back to the committed side.
Some commitments come naturally to me (like with God, my family, and my country). Some commitments I make when I really want something (like giving up sugar and caffeine because I wanted my health back). I know that commitment is a choice. Is it just a matter of choosing to be committed? Is it the old Nike slogan, “Just do it!” [I sure hope not. I am sick of that route.]
Check Out the Obstacles
I think part of my problem is the shifting publishing scene. I love some of the new options, but some of it I really don’t. My old writing life, the one I was committed to for years, no longer exists. Publishing has changed that much, especially with all the marketing that has shifted to the writer’s shoulders, even if you’re published by a traditional publisher.
I think part of the problem has been re-defining what writing now means to me—and describing a writing life that I could truly commit to. What would it have to look like? What would the writing experience need to include (and exclude) for me to re-make a whole-hearted commitment to it? Each of us needs to answer that question for ourselves, and it will be different for each writer.
I DO know that I’m tired of the almost constant need to re-motivate myself. It takes a lot of time and writing energy. When I’m finally motivated to write some days, I’ve had a lot of fun. But I’ve used up my writing time. I’ve journaled (or done writing prompts and exercises) so long that there is little time left.
Of course, one sure-fire way of making yourself committed is to take on so many writing projects that the deadlines force you to write. Been there, done that—and I’m tired of writing with a gun to my head. There must be another way.
Steps to Committing
After doing a lot of reading and talking to some very committed writers, I discovered that they had at least four common traits. None of them required constant motivation to write. They were simply committed to it.
So…here are some steps that appear to be requirements if you want to make a commitment to your writing:
1. You must see your writing commitment as important. For some reason, we often find it easier to commit to things for other people. I think that’s why my middle years of writing were easier commitment-wise. I wasn’t just selfishly doing something I wanted to do. I was doing it to feed and clothe the kids. It moved the writing into a category of “things you do, whether you feel like it or not.” The same goes for health changes made in recent years. For some reason, I couldn’t see that taking personal time to get healthy (exercise, sleep enough, eat right) was that important—until I couldn’t keep up with my grandbabies. We’re so good at making commitments to others. It’s time to set necessary boundaries and make a commitment to yourself. You must see your writing as important, whether or not it directly benefits others at this time.
2. You must be careful about what you commit to. You will shoot yourself in the foot if you commit to the wrong things (or too much of the right things). I used to cringe when I received a new student whose goal was publishing his/her first novel with a traditional publisher within months. Equally difficult goals include output goals like writing 4,000 words every day. Few writers can keep that up day after day. You will find it easier to commit to goals like “I will write every day for a minimum of one hour” or “I will query five editors/agents each week until I get a request for my manuscript.” These goals are both more realistic and things under your own control. (And if you manage to do even more on any given day, you feel super successful!) You must choose your commitments carefully.
3. Committed people learn about what they want to do. They don’t just set goals or have wishes, then hope for the best. They take steps to learn all they can, and they apply that knowledge. They learn what they need to do to maximize their chances for success. Athletes learn how to build muscle and endurance, and what foods make the best fuel. Moms continually learn about child development, what makes a healthy diet for kids, and how to educate them. And committed writers are always learning about their craft and their markets, through books, classes, workshops and critique groups. You must outline your own personal learning program.
4. Committed people plan for success. “They plan to work, and they work the plan,” as the saying goes. Success doesn’t just happen, and committed people know this. They are very intentional about what they do. Athletes lay out work clothes the night before and plan nutritious menus. Moms continually incorporate learning activities into daily routines, always looking for those “teachable moments.” And (among other things) committed writers organize their desks and writing materials the night before, get off-line, and then get a decent night’s sleep so they can be alert in the morning. Another old saying is, “A fail to plan is planning to fail.” It’s that important. You must think ahead and design rituals that set you up for writing success.
In summary, committed writers who don’t rely on constant motivational “recharging” appear to follow these “rules”:
- You must see your writing as important, whether or not it directly benefits others at this time.
- You must choose your commitments carefully.
- You must outline your own personal learning program.
- You must think ahead and design rituals that set you up for writing success.
And then, after all this, committed writers “just do it!”
April 6, 2012
I was pleasantly mystified this week when a good number of $7 e-books on Writing Mysteries for Young People were sold.
[That prize money sounded like a good reason for an extra post this week. Next Wednesday we'll continue with our discussion on motivation and commitment.]
Follow the Rules
According to the contest website:
The contest is for a well-constructed fictional mystery that will engage readers 9 to 12, to 900 words. Entries will be judged on structure, appeal for the audience, use of the best elements of the mystery genre, and an interesting protagonist.
Among the possibilities are a scary but age-appropriate story, a puzzle the reader is asked to solve using problem-solving skills, or a mix of mystery with another genre, such as historical, inspirational, or humorous fiction. The judges will look for originality, and publishability.
Entries must be received by April 30, 2012.
Specifics of the Mystery Genre
Hopefully you will be one of the five people who wins a free copy of Writing Mysteries for Young People that Jan is giving away. In case you aren’t, these are the topics covered in the ebook. It can take the mystery out of writing mysteries!
- Introduction: “Once Upon a Mystery”
- Chapter One: “Amateur Sleuths: The Basics”
- Chapter Two: “Amateur Sleuths: Tricky Traits”
- Chapter Three: “Villains: the People You Love to Hate”
- Chapter Four: “The Perfect Victim: Do’s and Don’ts”
- Chapter Five: “Setting: Scene of the Crime”
- Chapter Six: “Choosing Your Crime”
- Chapter Seven: “Pre-Thinking Your Plot”
- Chapter Eight: “Plots and Subplots”
- Chapter Nine: “Avoid Plot Clichés Like the Plague”
- Chapter Ten: “Planting Clues”
- Chapter Eleven: “Climax and Denouement”
- Chapter Twelve: “Finding Ideas for Mysteries”
- Chapter Thirteen: “Killer Openings”
- Chapter Fourteen: “The Magazine Mystery”
- Chapter Fifteen: “Cracking the Case”
- Chapter Sixteen: “The Mystery Notebook”
April 4, 2012
Motivation simply doesn’t last forever. Sometimes it is gone before the morning is out. We writers try hard to stay motivated so we can meet our writing goals.
However, when motivation starts to fizzle out, you need rock solid commitment to keep you moving ahead on your writing goals.
Same or Different?
Sometimes we use the words “motivated” and “committed” interchangeably. We say “I’m motivated to write today” and “I’m committed to write today.” Even so, the words aren’t the same. Being motivated to write today can help you meet your daily quota of words or pages. Being committed to your writing will get the book finished.
Motivation involves getting yourself to do things because you feel like it. Commitment will cause you to do things even when you don’t feel like it. Getting that novel written—developing your writing career—will only happen if you have commitment that keeps you moving through the motivational lapses.
Motivation is Big Business
Motivation happens at writing conferences, writing workshops, and when we start new classes. That’s why we read blogs and writing books about the emotional life of writers. There are motivational websites, and you can hire a motivational writing coach. Don’t get me wrong. All of these can be wonderful. If only the motivation lasted!
Commitment, on the other hand, is about doing what is needed no matter what. (Picture being up with the teething baby in the middle of the night. You don’t feel eagerly motivated to get out of your warm bed, but you’re committed to that little darling.) You need to develop that kind of commitment for your writing. (“But how?” you’re asking. We’ll get to that in a bit.)
Fluctuating Motivation is Normal
Undeniably, a shot of motivation makes the commitment to your writing easier. It’s great to write down dreams and goals. But unless you commit to those goals, your chances aren’t very good that you’ll reach them. You’ll only write when you feel motivated or inspired.
Remember: motivation is always temporary. It will fluctuate, ebb and flow, come and go. Do NOT be alarmed by this. It happens to all writers throughout their writing careers. And there are just too many things that can poke holes in your motivation. Physical aches and pains, emotional upheaval in an important relationship, or mental worries can puncture your motivation like a popped balloon.
Instead, focus on strengthening your commitment, whether you are motivated on any particular day or not.
Defining Our Terms
If we want to have a writing career, if we want to finish a book, we need to find ways to move our writing life from the “motivated to write” side of the ledger to the “committed to write” side. So…how do we do that?
Maybe the answer—or part of it—lies in the definitions. Motivate means to “stimulate toward action or give incentive to.” Things that might stimulate you to write would include having lunch with another writer or reading a published novel that inspires you to do likewise.
Commitment, according to the dictionary, means several things: a pledge, an obligation, a promise; something that restricts one’s freedom of action, and official consignment of a person to a mental hospital. (That last definition is reserved for the worst writing days.) It says that a commitment implies responsibility (something that takes up time or energy), loyalty (devotion or dedication to a cause or relationship), and is a previously planned engagement (a planned arrangement or activity that cannot be avoided.)
I think this definition is a good measuring stick. Using this definition, here are some possible signs of a committed writer:
• Have you made a promise to yourself to write as close to daily as possible?
• Have you placed non-negotiable restrictions on your freedom in order to write? (e.g. less TV, no Internet in the mornings)
• Have you given up time and energy to write? (Do you have a weekly pages or hours quota?)
• Do you make definite writing plans that cannot be changed? (Do you write at your scheduled time despite phone calls, invitations to lunch, or the continual call of the refrigerator?)
A committed writer writes most every day in some form, whether she feels well or feels like writing. A motivated writer writes when she feels excited and inspired. Maybe that’s why contract deadlines work so well for most people. Whether you “feel” like writing or not (motivation), you get the work done (commitment to fulfilling the contract).
The Olden Days
While motivational seminars and books aren’t new, they have become big business in our day. Previous generations seemed to rely more on commitment. My grandparents on both sides were farmers. I can’t imagine any of them hiring a motivational coach for doing their jobs, taking care of their families, or sticking with their spouses. They had hard lives too. Commitment was more of a given in previous generations. I believe we can develop that mind-set for our writing.
The Bible describes three different pictures of commitment:
• A soldier who fights every battle until he has won the war
• An athlete who keeps running till he crosses the finish line and wins the prize
• A farmer who continues to weed, cultivate and water until a crop is ready to harvest
In each case, the individual is rewarded by winning the “prize” or reaching the goal.
Conversely, motivated individuals might look like this:
• A soldier who fights when he feels brave, but not otherwise, and ends up losing
• An athlete who runs until tired, and then quits
• A farmer who stops work in the field, lets weeds take over, and harvests no crop
In each case, there is no real fruit for all the effort made.
[Next time I will finish this article. It was way too long for one blog post. Next time we’ll talk about how to go from being an occasionally motivated writer to a committed writer.]