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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!
December 6, 2010
When friends and family members ask what you want for Christmas this year, have a list ready!
Below are some of the best books for writers that I read (or re-read) recently. Any of them would be a great addition to your Christmas list! (HINT: read to the end of this post for a free e-book.)
Make a Scene by Jordan E. Rosenfeld on how to craft a powerful story/book, one scene at a time.
The Fire in Fiction by agent Donald Maass discusses “passion, purpose and techniques to make your novel great.”
A Writer’s Space by Eric Maisel on how to “make a room to dream, to work, and to write in.”
Write. 10 Days to Overcome Writer’s Block. Period. by Karen E. Peterson (the best book on writer’s block I’ve ever read).
Who Switched Off My Brain? and The Gift in You by Dr. Caroline Leaf, probably the best two nonfiction books I read this year. While not strictly about writing at all, they impacted my writing life a LOT.
Let’s Hear From You
What about you? Can you add a book to my list? In the spirit of Christmas, I’ll give the first five people who leave a comment (with their favorite book title) one of my e-booklets (your choice). Let me know if you prefer 50 Tension Techniques or Writing Mysteries for Young People.
November 5, 2010
Want to know an easy way to think of both ideas for story conflicts and ideas for nonfiction? I read this idea in a newsletter by Angela Booth, and I wanted to pass it along.
People want to learn how to do things, how to solve things, and how to overcome problems.
Challenges in All Sizes
People have small problems and huge problems to overcome. They want to accomplish small things (organize an office), overcome medium challenges (potty train a toddler), and survive huge things (like being laid off from a job).
Do you write for kids? Just scale down the ideas. Children and teens want to organize their bedrooms, paper train a puppy, and survive their dad being laid off. Each “want to do” activity could be an article, a whole series of online articles, or the central plot of a book (either serious or humorous).
Technique to Generate Ideas
“Go to Google.com and enter ‘How do I’ with a VERB into the search query field. With the magic of Google Instant, you’ll get lots of ideas,” says Angela Booth.
For example, I entered “How do I make” (without quotes) and got:
- How do I make clear ice cubes like in a restaurant?
- How do I make my hair grow faster?
- How do I make an electromagnet?
- How do I make a pinewood derby car do faster?
This doesn’t just generate ideas. It generates ideas that thousands of people are interested in! It generates topics for your writing that people want to read about. And many of the topics can be adjusted if you write for children and teens. (Example from above: a child may not care about making clear ice cubes for his dinner party, but it would make a great science fair project. And that science fair project can be a nonfiction article or a plot/subplot in your novel.)
See the possibilities? Try lots of verbs in your search, Googling “how do I build” and “how do I create” and “how do I quit” and so many others!
If you try this technique, give an example in a comment. I bet we could come up with some really unusual ideas this way!
October 13, 2010
(Read Regain the Passion–Part 1 first.)
So…when does passion flourish? Under what conditions?
First, a writer’s passion is generally at its highest point when life is going well. (Big surprise!) When relationships are smooth, health is good, there’s enough money to pay the bills, the writer is following a healthy diet and getting sufficient sleep: these are the optimal conditions.
Whatever is draining your passion needs to be attended to, thoroughly and persistently. Unfortunately, this doesn’t always bring back the passion. It simply sets the stage, giving yourself the optimal environment for your resurrected passion to grow.
Habits of a Passionate Writer
How do you recognize passion for writing? Yes, it’s a feeling, but it’s so much more. Each writer will exhibit certain habits when she is being passionate about her writing. These habits are individual and personal–and present in your life whether you feel passion or not. Take a moment to make a list of habits that (to you) marks a writer as passionate.
To me personally, a passionate writer:
A. writes, almost daily.
B. listens, observes and thinks—alert to her surroundings.
C. carries a notebook everywhere to jot down impressions, descriptions and ideas.
D. journals—daily, if possible.
E. is focused—begins and continues her writing with energy.
F. reads other good children’s books, both current and classics.
G. keeps up with professional reading.
H. shares her enthusiasm at conferences and workshops (but doesn’t over-schedule such events so they don’t interfere with writing).
I. leads a more secluded life than the average person, in order to nurture and explore her talent.
J. is physically, mentally, emotionally, spiritually healthy.
K. is a 24-hour-a-day writer. Even when washing dishes or cutting grass, the passionate writer’s work is close at hand, on the edges of her mind. Everything she does is writing-related and life-related, so that her work and her life are inseparable.
Those are just my own personal ideas. Everyone is different. On Friday we’ll talk about practical ways to get the passion back. Before that, leave me a comment and tell me what a writer’s passion means to you.
October 11, 2010
Has this ever happened to you?
You’re half-way through a short story revision, or the rough draft of your novel, or the research for a biography—and without warning, you lose your desire for the project. The passion evaporates.
You feel lethargic, sad, and brain dead (or least oxygen deprived). You put your writing away for a few days, hoping it’s hormonal or a phase of the moon or post-holiday blues.
However, when you dig it out again, it’s even worse. It doesn’t grab you. You’re sure it won’t grab anyone else either! It’s boring. It goes back in the drawer.
Does Time Heal all Drafts?
Unfortunately, over the next few weeks, the situation worsens. Lethargy turns to apathy. Boredom turns to dislike. You face the fact that, for some reason, you’ve lost your burning desire to write this story—or maybe even write anything at all.
And without the passion, why bother to endure the long hours, the potential rejection of your work, and the low pay? Once it’s lost, how do you recapture your passion for writing?
What is Passion?
The question is summed up well by Hal Zina Bennett in Write from the Heart: “How do authors connect with that passion, bordering on obsession, that drives them to finish even the most ambitious writing projects in spite of seemingly insurmountable handicaps? What is the secret creative energy that the world’s best writers can apparently zap into action the moment their fingers touch their keyboards?”
Some say this passion is tied to how meaningful the writer feels his work is. He feels passion when what he is sharing is deeply meaningful. He may lose his passion when his writing turns into what will sell, what the markets dictate are current trends, and what pays the most money.
Eric Maisel in A Life in the Arts says, “The most salient difference between the regularly blocked artist and the regularly productive artist may not be the greater talent of the latter, but the fact that the productive artist possesses and retains his missionary zeal.”
Most writers would agree that a passion for writing involves enthusiasm, excitement, drive, and a deep love for your work. This passion makes writing a joyous occupation. It makes time fly while “real life” is shoved to the far comers of the mind. It’s being in the flow, enraptured in the present moment. For some, it’s being aware that they’re writers twenty-four hours a day.
Why Does Passion Dissipate?
Passion can spring a leak after too many rejection slips, too many critical comments from spouses or reviewers or critique partners, and too many crises to handle in your personal life.
Passion can also die when you repeat yourself in your work instead of exploring new avenues of writing.
Lack of passion can be caused by chronic fatigue. “Fatigue and the accompanying blockage also come with living the sort of marginal life that artists so often live,” says Eric Maisel. “The effort required to put food on the table, to deal with an illness without benefit of a hospital plan, to pay the rent, to get a toothache treated, to attend to the needs of a spouse or children, can tire out the most passionate and dedicated artist.”
(Parts 2 and 3 will discuss ways to get the passion back!)
August 27, 2010
Judging from some questions and comments I got via email about Wednesday’s post, I think I should have probably explained more.
I believe that many of us–and definitely ME–have a slightly “off” definition of being optimistic. It isn’t about thinking more positively or saying peppy things to yourself to keep going. (I’m good at both of those things.)
The test I scored a zero on measured three things that make up your optimism/pessimism score:
Pessimists come to believe a bad condition is probably permanent (“Diets never work for me.” “You never talk to me.” “Life will always be hard.” “Editors will never want my writing.”)
Conversely, pessimests also believe the good things that happen to them are transcient. (“I tried hard that time.” “My opponent was just tired that day.” “I got lucky that time–it was a fluke.”)
An optimist believes good events came from permanent causes (“I’m smart” and “I’m talented”) and that bad events come from temporary causes (“I was having a bad day” and “she’s just hormonal this week.”)
Pessimists let bad news or events in one area of life spread to other areas. (“I can’t write–I just had a fight with my spouse/teen/best friend.”) Pessimists make blanket judgments. “All editors are unfair.” “Writing books are useless.”)
Conversely, when good things happen, pessimists are very specific. (“I only did well there because I’m smart at math.” “The editor only agreed to look at my book because I was charming at the conference.”)
An optimist can put bad events in a box and not let a failure in one area spread out into all areas of his/her life. Specific events stay separate. (“I’ll deal with my teen later–I’ll write now.” “This writing book is useless.” “The editor asked for my manuscript because my pitch–which I worked on for days–was good!”)
This is when taking responsibility for your part in things (which is good) becomes self-blame (where you take all the responsibility for a problem, whether any or all of it is your fault or not.) You may have been raised with blame or live with someone who makes everything your fault. Either way, when things don’t work out in some area of your life, you automatically assume 100% of the blame. (“I’m just stupid.” “I’m insecure.” “I have no talent.”)
An optimist is realistic about how much responsibility to take for a problem. She doesn’t feel guilty assigning blame to others or events beyond her control when appropriate. She feels responsible for herself, not everyone she knows. [This was my biggest downfall on the test!]
It All Works Together
The test I took scored you on all three aspects. I scored high on some and low on others, which is how I got a zero. Some things–like taking too responsibility for things–turned out to be a bigger issue than I would have guessed. Apparently there’s nothing quite as depressing as trying to control something you have no control over!
More on all this later…but I wanted to clear up some confusion. Have a great weekend!
August 23, 2010
“Enthusiasm, motivation, and dedication are necessary for your success as a writer,” says Kelly L. Stone, author of Living Write: the secret to inviting your craft into your daily life.
But…what if you don’t have all those emotional tools (the enthusiasm, motivation and dedication) at your disposal? “Don’t worry,” says Kelly. “They can be learned as part of the thought-feeling-behavior cycle.”
Same Old Thing? Not!
I’ve heard before that thoughts cause your feelings which cause your actions, and you probably have too. However, Ms. Stone gives a very helpful twist to the “you can change how you feel and act by changing how you think” mantra. And this “plus” makes the idea instantly useful to anyone trying to improve her writing life.
How? By seeing this as a cycle, not a linear set of events. I’d always heard that you had to go in order–1, 2, 3. You change your thoughts first, then your feelings would change, and then your behavior would change. However, this author claims (and I agree after trying it out) that it’s not a straight line, but instead a cycle that runs like a loop.
What does this mean to writers? It means that if you change any one element of the cycle, you will by necessity change the other two parts. You don’t have to start with changing your thoughts if you don’t want to–or if it feels too hard. You can change your writing life by changing whatever is easiest for you.
For example, maybe you’re a Nike-Just-Do-It! kind of writer. You can’t bring your thoughts or emotions into subjection, but you can grit your teeth and sit yourself down at the keyboard right on schedule. If that’s true–if controlling behavior is the easiest part of the cycle for you–then skip worrying about your thoughts and feelings and hit the behavior first.
Maybe it’s easier for you to deal with feelings. I know a perky, sanguine writer whose depressed anxious feelings rebound to optimism just by taking a nap! However, maybe for a variety of publishing and non-publishing reasons, your feelings about writing are sour, and fixing those ricocheting feelings is a losing battle. Then tackle another part of the cycle that is easier for you. (Personally, no matter what I’m going through, I find controlling or changing feelings the hardest part.)
Of the three aspects of the cycle, thoughts are easiest for me to change. It means I have to tell myself the truth, but in a kind way. (See Pitch It to Yourself and In Your Write Mind.) Over the years, for many problems that I faced, I learned the importance of positive affirmations based on truth. I saw that repeating these truths daily for weeks and months could totally reprogram my brain and change my attitude, my feelings, and the resultant actions.
No Right or Wrong Way
The point? Whatever part of the cycle is easiest for you on any given day, do that. You only need to change one element of the cycle in order to affect the other parts. One day you might find it easiest to self-talk your feelings into shape; other days it might just be easier to sit down and write and forget about your depression for a while. Whichever aspect you choose, it will affect your writing.
If you think more positively about your writing, your feelings will improve and you’ll find yourself wanting to sit down and write.
Or you can work on the feelings part: the author suggested saying, “I love to write!” whenever your feelings were negative. Those improved feelings will prompt you to write, and writing for an hour or two will change how you think about yourself.
Or work on the behaviors part–bribe yourself to sit down and write each morning for a set amount of time, and see how that reprograms your thoughts and feelings about yourself as a writer.
It All Adds Up
Changing one aspect of the cycle changes them all. You may have to experiment to find which part changes most easily for you. Instead of succumbing to a downward negative spiral, one change and you boost the cycle upward.
“You can see how thoughts, feelings, and behaviors are directly connected,” says Ms. Stone. “This is why learning to control your thought-feeling-behavior cycle is so important–because it’s cumulative and self-perpetuating.”
Which part of the cycle do you suspect would be the easiest part for you to change ? Leave a comment below!
July 21, 2010
For several years, I’ve had on my book shelf a “book in a box” called The Writer’s Retreat Kit: A Guide for Creative Exploration and Personal Expression by Judy Reeves. I’ve looked longingly at it several times and read some of her ideas of creating writer’s retreats lasting from twenty minutes to several days, depending on the time and money you have available.
This time, though, I’m not going to sigh and put the book box back. I’m going to delve deeper into the retreat idea and try some of the experiences. I have no logical reason to feel as burned out as I do, but when I read the following opening page, I let out a big Ahhhhhh! I bet you will too.
Judy writes: Getting away: the wish and dream and fantasy of every writer I have ever known and, I expect, of nearly every writer I will ever meet, except for those rare and blessed souls who are lucky enough, or determined enough, or rich enough, to already be “away.”
What is “away”? It is someplace else. It is the place that each of us craves, and when we close our eyes, comes to us in all its wooded shadiness or vast, unending blueness. We visualize a mountain cabin; a cottage by the sea; a secret, hidden monastery; a wide-decked, windowed, pillowed, sweet-smelling, abundant, nurturing, solitary place where there are no “musts” or “have tos” or “shoulds.”
No dishes to do or phones to answer or children/mates/partners with whom we must interact. No set time to start or stop, to wake up or go to sleep. No television. No email. No deadlines. No place to drive to. It is simply a place to be.
A writing retreat.
- retreat…to write
A Hidden Retreat
We may have the delight and privilege of going to a real retreat for writers. (I think of those lucky souls at the Chautauqua Writer’s Workshop in New York this week!) But what if you can’t get away like that, for whatever reason (cost, small children, health issues)?
Have you found a way to make your own writer’s retreat? Is it a corner of a room? A back porch swing? A pond in the city park? Hay loft in the barn?
We all need such a place. Could you share with us where you go when you need to retreat?
July 14, 2010
I recently re-read Angela Booth’s “Change Your Life with Your Journal.” I’ve journaled through many down periods in my life, and it’s always been therapeutic. However, her following statement hooked me.
“The key point to note is not the therapeutic effects of writing in a journal but rather the fact that regular journal keeping will influence the way you think or feel about a specific topic.”
And what big change did Angela accomplish in her writing career by using journaling? It’s a change I would give almost anything to also achieve! This is the leap of growth that journaling allowed her to make.
“I could see that unless I changed my reluctance to market my writing, I would be stuck at a level of income I knew I could surpass… Journaling helped me change my mind about marketing my writing. I went from someone who became physically ill at the thought of sending out query letters and making cold calls to market my copywriting, to someone who LOVES marketing.” What a change!
The Proof in the Pudding
I tried her idea. In my journal I wrote about a writing task I had put off for weeks–and it had grown in my mind to mammoth proportions. I wrote about why I didn’t want to do it, what I feared would happen if I failed, all that angst stuff.
Then later I sat down to do that task, wondering if the journaling self-talk had helped. I got the job done–it took only 25 minutes according to my kitchen timer–and minus the angst. I was amazed. Only 25 minutes after procrastinating on the chore for weeks. Sheesh!
Make It a Habit
Give this idea a try with something in your writing life that has you stumped or scared or blocked. Share your experience with journaling toward an attitude change.
Did this idea work for you?
July 9, 2010
Two of my daughters were in Italy this spring, and (knowing I was a fan of the movie “While You Were Sleeping”), they bought me a snow globe from Florence, Italy.
It sits on my writing desk, and when I’m mulling something over, I shake it up and watch it snow all over Florence Cathedral. Little did I know it would become a catalyst to help me settle down and write.
Get in Your Write Mind
I don’t know about you, but sometimes I have trouble settling down at my desk to work. My thoughts resemble corn popping. Should I work on this part of the revision or that? Should I do a bit more research on the setting or just get to the writing? Should I blog or am I just trying to avoid writing?
As Maisel says, “When you shake up a snow globe, first the snow swirls chaotically, then it begins to settle nicely, and then all is quiet again.”
He contends that many of us use those “wrong mind” thoughts to stir ourselves up, the equivalent of shaking the snow globe. Our wrong negative thoughts create inner chaos and worry. We can’t sit still then and get to work.
He suggested using a snow globe (or just the image of one) to give yourself a visual way to picture the chaos, then the settling, and then the quiet. I tried it while repeating some of my own “write mind” positive comments. As the snow settled, so did my thoughts.
Make the Substitution
When you’re churning your mind (the snow globe shaking stage), you’re telling yourself things like “My mind is so noisy that I can’t think straight” and “I must be ADHD because my mind won’t focus more than thirty seconds” or “I’m a mental wreck, so how can I write?”
Instead, tell yourself that you can quiet your mind. You can focus. You can think just fine. Use the “Write Mind” thoughts in Maisel’s little book (choose from 299 of them!) Or make up your own. (I personally use a lot of Scripture.)
There’s no need to continue to suffer from a chaotic mind. You might be all shook up right now, but sit tight–and watch your mind settle along with the snow. Take charge of your own thinking–it will change your life.
How about you? Do you have any visuals you use to settle down and get to work? I love hearing about other writers’ rituals to get started. Share if you have one that works for you!« Older Posts