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June 29, 2011
The last two weeks we’ve talked about the stages of success. I would be remiss if I didn’t mention the one quality that is a “must have”: perseverance.
According to the dictionary, “perseverance” is steady persistence in a course of action, especially in spite of difficulties, obstacles, or discouragement.
This year I worked with a young writer who embodies this quality and has inspired me not to quit when things get difficult.
It started last year when he wrote and asked me to critique his first YA novel of about 60,000 words, the first in a trilogy. I had an opening and told him to send it. He asked if I could print it off on my printer as he was a soldier deployed in Iraq and without a printer. He’d written the book there. (It was a very good and suspenseful story.)
Last month I heard from him again. The second book in the trilogy was finished. Could I look at it? And yes, he was deployed again and was sending the manuscript from Iraq.
I thought about the whining I had done over the years about being tired, the excuses I gave for being too busy to write every day, and the lack of support of a weekly writers’ group. And then…there’s a young soldier with a wife and two little ones back home who is deployed in a war zone–who grabs his spare minutes and writes two lengthy novels! I know he gets little sleep, I know he’s busy, and I’ll bet my bottom dollar he doesn’t have a weekly writing group!
But he writes.
Today I considered skipping my writing stint because my back is really hurting. Then I thought about the obstacles Kevin overcomes to write–and I sat down to write anyway. Time to develop some of his uncommon perseverance. (Enjoy today’s art, also courtesy of this young soldier. Love that frog!)
NOTE: For those of you in the San Antonio, TX, area, I wanted to give a little plug for our fall conference: Southwest Texas SCBWI Fall Conference It’s Saturday, September 17, 2011 from 8:30 AM – 4:30 PM (CT)
The SCBWI event is featuring:
- Andrea Welch – Editor, Beach Lane Press (Simon & Schuster)
- Elena Mechlin- Agent, Pippin Agency (HarperCollins)
- Kristin Daly Rens – Editor, Balzer and Bray
- Author Diane Gonzales Bertrand
- Kim Murray, Online Media Specialist with Piccolo Media
- Richard Johnson, InteractBooks
Check it out!
June 24, 2011
Okay, you prepared (Stage One). You explored your options (Stage Two). You got started (Stage Three). Now you’re ready for Stage Four of “The Five Stages of Success”, where you survive and thrive.
You might have had a very fast start. That would be the writer who published the first thing he submitted, or his first novel was a Newbery Honor Book. These overnight successes are at the extreme end of the bell curve.
The other extreme end of the “survival and growth” stage is where you find the most dedicated, determined writers. They sell articles about “how I made my first sale on my 239th submission” or they sell a book they’ve been working on diligently for twenty years.
Most of us fall somewhere in the middle. This stage is the most challenging, partly because it’s usually the longest. There is a lot to learn about the writing business, and improving one’s writing craft simply takes time. If you know that and truly understand it, you will enjoy this stage of your success so much more.
It shouldn’t be rushed through. Try to resist society’s “instant gratification” message when it comes to your writing. More and more, I’m receiving emails from new writers saying, “I haven’t had a response in two months from a publisher. I shouldn’t have to wait to be published!” And I think, Why not?
Writers for centuries have had to wait and practice and revise before being published. And thank goodness they did! Even writers like Jane Austen didn’t write early drafts that were very good. So don’t get in a rush. All you will accomplish by that attitude is getting material self-published that is way less than your best is going to be. Nearly everyone I hear from who did this regrets it later.
Growth is Fun
So where’s the success in this stage if it takes such a long time?
I believe there are dozens and dozens of mini-successes spread throughout this stage. They include things like:
- finishing your first book
- attending a conference
- making a new writing friend
- small sales and large sales–celebrate each one!
- being asked to speak to kids or librarians
- the years your income taxes reflect “black” instead of “red”
- good reviews
- book signings (whether you sell many books or not)
- autographing books for your friends and family
- and so many more!
During this “surviving and growing” stage it’s easy to get fixated on all the things you can’t do yet. Don’t forget to notice–and celebrate–that you ARE making it! You are growing. You are getting there, step by step.
If I could do one thing over in my writing life and make one change, this would be it: Celebrate everything!
Pat yourself on the back if no one else does. Reward yourself for each little success. We certainly go on and on about our rejections. Let’s go on and on about the successful steps we make!
May 18, 2011
I heard a sermon recently about life being filled with “fillers” and “drainers.” The pastor was talking about people, of course.
Fillers are people who know how to encourage you and build you up. Drainers are in your life because they need encouragement and help; however, they don’t have time for you if you need something in return. (You know the type. They think a “give and take” relationship means, “You give, and I take.”)
A rare person is both a filler and a drainer in your life, and you’re blessed if you have a person or two like that in your family or circle of friends.
If we narrow the “fillers and drainers” idea down to writers, I think you will find the idea holds true there as well. You will meet filler writers who are great encouragers for you, who help keep your self-esteem intact through the tough times of rejection, writer’s block, poor sales and negative reviews.
And you’ll meet drainer writers, those who nail you in the restroom at the writer’s conference and want you to give a free critique, then introduce them to your agent or editor.
Occasionally you will meet a treasure: a writer who is both filler and drainer. When you do, treat this priceless person well, and do all you can to sustain the relationship(s).
It’s Your Choice
What kind of writer are you? You may not know other writers yet, so you might not be sure. But you’ll eventually meet writers at conferences, retreats, local writer gatherings or book store signings and readings. In the writing relationships you enter, strive to be a filler as well as a drainer.
If you’re unpublished or newly published, you might think you have nothing to offer. Not true! You don’t have to be published to be an encourager, an uplifter, or a good listening ear. Publishing advice isn’t the only thing other writers need. In fact, I would guess (from my experience) that it’s not even near the top of the list. (That’s why my blog is focused on the emotional issues of writing rather than how to plot or build characters or write a winning query.)
Do a Self-Check
After you attend your next writing event (large or small) ask yourself: “Was I filler or a drainer today?” Did you make encouraging comments as well as ask for help? Did you give as well as take? If you can find that kind of balance, you’ll be able to build writing relationships that will last a lifetime.
May 9, 2011
All writers are looking for time-saving strategies and tips to increase their productivity. With school getting out in a month, many writers need to streamline both their writing life and personal life. If this is YOU, you’re in luck!
If you have June’s The Writer magazine, read Kelly James-Enger’s article called “10 ways to work more efficiently.” And for some free articles on this subject…
Other Writer articles online filled with tips to improve your efficiency–and give you more time to write–include:
- “5 ways to juggle your writing, your job and family responsibilities” by Shirley Jump
- “A matter of time” by Guy Stewart
- “Setting up a productive work space” by Sharon Miller Cindrich
- “Quiet! Writer in the house” by Connie Heckert (my writer friend from Iowa!)
- “Writing on the Fly” by Sandra Hurtes
Reading these articles should give you several ideas to try. I found a couple I intend to put to work immediately!
April 29, 2011
“Go confidently in the direction of your dreams.” ~~Henry David Thoreau
Have you given yourself permission to really work? To invest the necessary time and energy you know it will take to achieve your writing dream?
Until you can answer “yes” to the following three things, your commitment to writing will always be a struggle. [The list of three things is courtesy of Vinita Hampton Wright's book, The Soul Tells a Story, which I've expanded with my own thoughts.]
You must say “yes” to the work, the process, and the dream.
Are you able to say “yes” to whatever work you feel called to do? It might be writing humor for young moms, writing insurance information so that the common man can understand it, writing fantasy novels, or writing screenplays. (Or all of the above!)
You’re not called to be rich or famous, although that might be nice. You’re just saying “yes” (daily, if possible) to sitting down and doing the work. (As in the B.U.T. technique: Bottom in Chair.) You don’t worry about the eventual outcome or what others think of your idea. You’re not committing to a set number of hours every day–just that you will show up at the page regularly and do the work.
Saying “yes” to the writing process means you will accept the fact that writing gets messy. It’s not a process that goes from A to B to C like a dot-to-dot picture. The process is often murky as bits of ideas appear and then you shift them around. The shifting and changing is constant as you revise and (hopefully) as you continue to learn.
You can rarely see the end clearly from the beginning-even if you’re an outliner like I am. Plots can veer off into parts unknown. Characters want to behave in unexpected ways. The theme you start with doesn’t match the theme you end up writing about-what the story was really about, but you didn’t know it in the beginning.
Accept that the process will be gradual and full of failures or setbacks that will teach you about storytelling. You don’t have to do it all now–and you never have to do it perfectly.
Last, you must say “yes” to the dream. Are you willing to take some risks? Are you willing to shift things around in your life so that the creation of your novel or play is possible? Can you let go of some of your volunteer work or hobbies or even paid writing in order to pursue your dream? Yes, it’s a gamble. Most things in life worth having are.
Are you willing to aim really high–without guarantees that it will all pay off in the end? Are you willing to grow and learn and be stretched? To do so, you must say “yes” to the dream.
The work. The process. The dream.
Think about each separate part of the writing commitment. And when you’re ready, say a whole-hearted, no holds barred, no looking back, unequivocal YES!
February 28, 2011
First of all, thanks for all the terrific book recommendations. I have compiled the list and plan to read through them! To thank you properly, I’m going to recommend one of my favorite books to you.
I realized over the weekend that there was a fourth benefit to being sick for ten days. Since I was too contagious to leave the house the first week, I read through my favorite books on writing. I own a lot of writing books, and I underline heavily, so mostly I re-read my underlined parts.
One book captivated me (again), and I re-read it cover to cover (slowly). Let me quote the first few lines of the introduction, and you’ll see why:
“How to stay limber, how to make the writing not grim, how to enjoy writing. How to make room in real life for a writing life. These are my goals. Are they yours, too?
I want my readers to be able to set up a positive, happy, easy writing life. One that is fun. I believe you can (and fairly quickly) create a writing life where the writing process itself is so enchanting and delicious, you want to write. You go to the desk willingly, stresslessly. In my dream vision for your writing life, you don’t have to make yourself write. It’s not work. It’s not tedious or punishing. It’s what you do.”
Doesn’t that sound like a heavenly writing life? The quote is from a 2005 book by Heather Sellers called Page after Page. It’s food for your writing soul.
December 13, 2010
[Writing goes in cycles. I am tempted to quit every few years! This weekend when I was particularly frustrated with a revision that isn't going well, I went back through my blog and found this. It helped me--and maybe it's worth repeating for you too. This is from several years ago...]
Yesterday I dragged myself to the computer, bone weary, body aching, and tired of my writing project. The last few weeks I’d increased my writing hours a lot to meet my (self-imposed) deadline.
I imagine part of it was not feeling well, but yesterday I looked at the almost complete project and thought, What’s the use? This actually stinks. I bet I’ve wasted the last six months on this.
I couldn’t make myself get to work. So I did what most good writers do when they want to look like they’re working, but they’re not: I checked email.
Rescuing My Writing Day
The life of a freelance writer can be very frustrating at times. There are so many things to do and not enough time to do them all. Or – the writing seems to be going nowhere and you just can’t make yourself sit down and write. You work and work, seemingly to no avail.
So you begin to wonder – What’s the point? Am I really getting anywhere? But know this. If you’re starting to feel frustrated because you think you’ve been working WAY too hard for the few results all this work has produced, you’re on the verge (even though it may feel more like you’re “on the edge”). You’re on the verge of creating some powerful momentum.
Stick with it… So many people give up, just when they are on the verge of great success. Just when they start to feel really frustrated. Just when they feel nothing is going the way they want it to. If that’s how you’re feeling right now – celebrate! You’re on the verge of wonderful, great things! You’re on the verge of creating that powerful momentum that will move your writing career ahead to an entirely NEW and exciting level!
Today, relax and let go of that frustration, knowing you’re on the verge of great things. Try it!
I urge you to sign up today for Suzanne’s daily kick in the writing pants, “The Morning Nudge.” You’ll be glad you did!
November 10, 2010
Life takes over sometimes, unless you live on a remote island somewhere. Even happy events–new babies, company, holidays–can sidetrack you temporarily.
Today I realized that I couldn’t even remember some of the “must do” daily tasks of the 100-Day Challenge. Reviewing the weekly challenge letters turned out to be a great way to pump me up again!
Fall Back and Re-Group!
Here, in a nutshell, are some of the tips, tricks, methods and pointers of the 100-Day Challenge that I’ve found to be most helpful. So instead of giving up the Challenge because I totally missed many of the days, I’m recommitting for the final 50 Days to do the following:
- Set your goal and break that major goal down into small tasks. Do one small task daily. The only trap you can fall into is to make your daily tasks too complex. Please write this down: “A task is something which takes no longer than 10, 20 or 30 minutes.” When you chunk every task down into slivers of time, it stops you procrastinating. If you only have 20 minutes to do a task, you’ll do it. (Use a timer, either a kitchen one or a freeware timer for your computer-Google “Timer Utility” for some free choices.)
- Talk to yourself on paper (or on screen) about your writing. Instead of thinking about writing or thinking about your goals, get that thinking down on paper or screen. Take baby steps, putting one word down after the other. Keep a notebook or file open where you frequently talk to yourself and make notes about anything concerning your writing life. You will stop being intimidated by the art of writing–it will just be something you do. (For more about this see “Write It All Down.”)
- Document everything. Write down your goals and plans. Write down each day what you did toward meeting those goals. Every little bit. Brainstorm about your strengths and weaknesses–and things you can do to overcome obstacles. Angela said, “If you get into the habit of journaling, and talking to yourself about your writing, you’ll be amazed at the breakthroughs in your writing that you’ll achieve.” Based on the days I used her idea, I have to agree!
- Make a comprehensive Master Task List. (This took several days, but I now have a three-page single spaced list of small 20-30 minute tasks. The tasks are organized into six areas that encompass the writing and marketing things I hope to accomplish.) Now when I have a 20-30 minute “window of opportunity,” I don’t have to try to think of something I can finish in that amount of time. I just grab my list, choose one, set the timer and go.
- Keep your goal, or goals, in focus. You may find it helpful to rewrite your primary goal each day. Rewrite it on a sticky note (real paper or on your computer screen) several times a day. This helps you to refocus and remember what’s important to you–and why it’s important.
- Do confidence building activities. Re-read frequently the confidence-building thoughts you’ve worked on. See “Pitch It To Yourself” for ideas, if you haven’t done this yet. I have a tendency to do the work, but then never look at it again. So I found my journal and re-read the pitches I wrote. Saying them out loud daily is even better! Remember: your confidence is destroyed by your own negative thoughts.
- Write down any questions you have about your writing life or work-in-progress. Angela said, “You’ll find that your questions are like pin pricks–they irritate you. Your mind will automatically start offering you answers to your questions. Write down any answers, no matter how way out and whacky they seem.” This one really works!
- Aim for small changes, rather than big ones. Complete your daily tasks. If you can’t complete (or even start) your tasks on a particular day, that’s FINE. Talk to yourself about why you couldn’t–just write 50 words about this. Every word you write is one word closer to being the writer you want to be.
- Use creative visualization every day. Before you start a writing task, visualize yourself completing it successfully, in the time you’ve allotted for it. Also, imagine yourself achieving your major Challenge goal on January 1. Imagine how great it will feel! On a daily basis, before you go to sleep at night, imagine yourself completing your writing tasks the following day.
- Once a week, re-read your writing journal, all that “talking to myself about my writing” stuff. Highlight the goals and fresh insights and ideas that occurred to you. Transfer some of it to your tasks list. If you don’t review the journal entries–and I know this for a fact–all your wonderful insights will be for nothing. Review and pull those golden nuggets out and turn them into action steps.
From Thinking to Action
“Time to dismantle the training wheels, and WRITE,” Angela says this week. “You’ve got all the strategies you need.” To help you focus on writing this week, here are her “Top Ten Writing Tips to Help You Write More.”
For those of you doing the 100-Day Challenge (or TRYING to, like me), what has been the most helpful advice so far? What has been the hardest thing to implement into your writing life? Do group challenges like this help you focus? Leave me your thoughts!
August 20, 2010
If a friend from your critique group told you ”I just can’t get started on my story today,” what would you say? “Get moving, you lazy do-nothing wannabe!” I hope not!
If your writing friend bemoans receiving another rejection, do you say, “Well, what did you expect? Your novel stinks!”?
I would hope not. Most of us are better friends than that…except to ourselves.
Your Own Best Friend
Listen to how you talk to yourself. When you procrastinate, do you beat yourself up? Do you call yourself names? And to paraphrase Dr. Phil, “How’s that working for you?” Does it spur you on to do your best writing–or to give up and eat a pint of ice cream?
When you receive a rejection, do you downgrade your writing? Do you tell yourself that publishing is just a pipe dream, that it’s for others but not for you?
Do you say things to yourself that you would NEVER say to a writer friend?
Time to STOP!
Learn to tell yourself the truth–but with kindness. Be a mirror that reflects back understanding. If you got off course, gently encourage yourself back on the writing path you want to travel.
- You’re so lazy that you’ll never get anything written and published.
- No editor or agent will ever read your novel, much less publish it!
- You only have friends on Facebook because they don’t really know you.
Say this instead:
- You may have trouble getting started because you’re afraid of something. Try journaling to get to the bottom of it.
- You may (or may not) find an editor who loves your novel–but you’ll never know if you don’t keep sending it out. Let’s try one more time.
- Many people in your real life know you and love you. Make a list. Be thankful for each person on the list.
Be That Good Friend
The next time you stall or hit a rough spot in your work, talk to yourself like a true friend would. Be kind, be understanding, give some praise, and encourage yourself to try again.
You can be your own best friend.
August 16, 2010
Are you a pessimist? You might be surprised. Choosing to be an optimist, according to author Randy Ingermanson, can change your writing life. Read his article below, reprinted with permission. It’s long–but worth it!
What’s Holding You Back?
I recently discovered something about myself that surprised me. Something that makes me take a lot longer to get things done than I should. Something that sometimes keeps me from finishing tasks. Something that occasionally even keeps me from trying in the first place.
I’m a pessimist.
This came as quite a surprise. After all, I’m not nearly as pessimistic as “Joe,” a guy I used to work with. Every time I suggested a new idea to “Joe,” the first thing he’d say was, “Now be careful! There’s a lot of things you haven’t thought about yet.” Then he’d shoot the idea down with rocket-powered grenades.
After a while, I learned not to run ideas past “Joe” because apparently, all my ideas were bad.
I haven’t seen “Joe” in years, and I’m pretty sure I’m not as pessimistic as he is. But somewhere along the way, I definitely went over to the Dark Side. I became more like him than I ever imagined possible.
That’s the bad news. The good news is that pessimism is not forever. You can quit being a pessimist and start being an optimist.
But should you? Aren’t those pesky pessimists more in touch with reality than those annoying optimists?
Yes and no.
Yes, pessimists generally do have a better grasp of the hard realities of the situation. “Life sucks” and all that. You can prove in the lab that pessimists are better at recognizing reality.
But no, no, no, because in very real ways, you make your own reality. We all know about self-fulfilling prophecies. Those work both ways. Optimists are
happier, healthier, and get more done. Because they expect to. Pessimists are less happy, less healthy, and get less done. Because they expect to. Again, you can measure that difference in the lab.
If you’re a pessimist and you want to know what’s holding you back in life, just go look in a mirror.
It’s you. But you already knew that, and you were already down on yourself, and now you’re mad at me for blaming you, but realistically, you secretly believe it’s your own darned fault, so you’re really just mad at me for telling you what you already knew.
Sorry about that. I feel your pain. Remember, I’m a pessimist too, and I’m probably a bigger one than you are.
I’m a pessimist, but I’m going to change. Which is actually an optimistic thing to say, and it means the cure is already working.
What is pessimism? And what is optimism? And how do you know which you are?
I’m not the expert on this. Martin Seligman is the expert, and he has been for a long time. Recently, somebody recommended Seligman’s book to me. The title is LEARNED OPTIMISM.
I grabbed a copy off Amazon and began reading. Seligman hooked me right away with his account of how he and a number of other researchers broke the stranglehold on psychology that had been held for decades by the
Behaviorists taught that people were created by their environment. To change a person, you had to condition him to a new behavior. A person couldn’t change himself merely by thinking differently, because thinking didn’t matter. Only conditioning mattered.
What Seligman and others showed was that the behaviorists were wrong. The way you think matters. Thinking optimistically, you could change things for the better. Thinking pessimistically, you could change things for the worse–or at best just wallow in the “life sucks” mud.
There’s a test you can take in LEARNED OPTIMISM that helps you figure out your particular style of thinking. There are three particular aspects to measure:
* Permanence — if things are good (or bad), do you expect them to stay like that for a long time?
* Pervasiveness — if one thing is good (or bad), do you expect everything else to be like that?
* Personalization — if things are good (or bad), who gets the credit (or blame) — you or somebody else?
Optimists think that good things will continue on but that bad things will go away soon. Likewise, they think that good things are pervasive whereas bad things are merely aberrations from the norm. When good things happen, optimists are willing to take a fair share of the credit; when bad things happen, they’re willing to let others take a fair share of the blame.
Pessimists are the opposite on all of these.
I took the test and discovered that I’m somewhat pessimistic in two of these aspects and strongly pessimistic in the other.
That’s not good. But (having now read the book) it’s not permanent. I can change if I want to. Furthermore, that pessimism is in my head, it’s not a pervasive feature of the universe. Most importantly, my pessimism isn’t entirely my fault, because I can see now who taught it to me.
The above paragraph is a model of how to change from pessimism to optimism. Both optimism and pessimism are driven by your beliefs, which are driven by what you tell yourself.
When you change your self-talk, you change your beliefs. When you change your beliefs, you change your behavior. When you change your behavior, you change your life. Chapters 12, 13, and 14 of LEARNED OPTIIMISM
teach you the techniques you need to change your self-talk.
Let’s be clear on one thing. Optimism is not about the alleged “power of positive thinking,” not about making those wretchedly gooey self-affirmations, and not about telling lies to yourself.
Optimism is about looking for alternative plausible explanations that might lead to improving your life.
Pessimism is about looking for alternative plausible explanations that might lead to disimproving your life.
Which of those is likely to make you happier, healthier, and more productive? Bringing this home to the topic of fiction writing, which of those is likely to help you get your novel written, get it read by an agent, and get it published?
Research shows that optimism is an invaluable tool in dealing with criticism and rejection. If you’ve ever shut down for three days after a tough critique, or stopped sending out query letters for three months after getting a rejection from that perfect agent, then you can see the value of learning optimism.
Optimism will keep you going through the hard times as a writer. And you are going to have hard times. That will never change. What can change is how you respond to those hard times.
There is no way I can explain in 500 words exactly how it all works. The best I can do is to point you to Martin Seligman’s book and tell you that I think it’s gold. I expect this book is going to revolutionize my life in the next year. I hope it changes yours too.
Here’s Randy’s Amazon affiliate link to LEARNED OPTIMISM:
Award-winning novelist Randy Ingermanson, “the Snowflake Guy,” publishes the Advanced Fiction Writing E-zine, with more than 21,000 readers, every month. If you want to learn the craft and marketing of fiction, AND make your writing more valuable to editors, AND have FUN doing it, visit http://www.advancedfictionwriting.com/>http://www.AdvancedFictionWriting.com.
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