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1. How To Mine Your Dreams For Story Gold

We’ve all experienced it…the curtain to consciousness opening, and with it, the realization that the best story idea we’ve ever had is carefully unraveling with each passing second into wakefulness. We grab something–anything–and start writing down a the images, thoughts, character tics, plot snippets and world building details before they can escape.

dreamcatcherAfter a shower, a coffee, and if we’re lucky, some form of breakfast that doesn’t have the word “leftover” in it, we sit down to reread our brilliance. And often, the only word to describe what we see is gobbledegook.

It’s disheartening, because we feel that heart flutter, that sense of knowing that a gemstone resides within the clatter of words. But if our dream catcher fails and the images seem no more than disjointed fragments, how can we turn what we’ve collected into something usable?

I’m turning the blog over to author Anthony Metivier, visiting us from Germany, because he’s pondered this very question and has some great ideas to share. Please read on!

FleuronIt’s well known that if you want to consistently remember your dreams, you need to write them down each and every morning.

This practice used to be a pain back in the day of pen and pencil, especially if you slept with another person.

Today it’s as simple as iPhone and the Plain Text app syncing the words to Dropbox faster than you can thumb them in.

With that problem solved, the question is: how do you get the dream material you’ve recorded into the form of a narrative, a compelling story that people will actually want to read?

A lot depends on exactly how you dream, but it seems to me that irrespective of whether you see narrative shards or full blown scenarios, all dreams serve the same function as Tarot cards spread out on a table before the interpreter’s eye.

As Doktor Freud once taught us, dreams provide the basis for association and the more dreams you have, the more associations to the dream you can make. Recent advances in psychology have worked to demonstrate that dreams probably have no meaning, but that doesn’t suggest that dreams can’t be interpreted and mined for narrative treasure.

Thus, imagine the following scenario:

You wake up and write down everything you can remember from the cinema of your sleep. Because you’ve been practicing “dream writing” for awhile now, the dreams tend to blossom large in your mind and you have no difficulties capturing full portraits of your night time activity.

Instead of looking for a story within the dream itself (which is also a perfectly reasonable and wonderful thing to do if the material is present), look at the dream you’ve written down and its images and let your mind free associate. You might come up with a completely new story or find yourself reflecting on something from your past. It could be something for yesterday, last year or a decade ago.

Using the most prominent association that comes to your mind, examine it for the following characteristics of compelling narrative:

  • Does it involve a driving desire that is in conflict with a critical need (like wanting a home with a white picket fence but needing to be a better parent before that house can have any authentic value and serve as a home)?
  • Does it involve being trapped or imprisoned in a particular social situation (job, family, etc.)?
  • Is there a dilemma in which many options offer themselves as possible solutions without any of them being particularly desirable?
  • Has a crisis forced you or someone in the association to take action?
  • Did the action lead to some kind of confrontation?
  • Did any sense of self-revelation or a better understanding of the self emerge?
  • Was there a resolution?

Although the disconnected fragments of a dream may not contain these elements, the episodes our dreams sunder in our minds for association often will. Exploit these and then combine them with the intense imagery of your dreams to make narrative magic.

To give you a case study, during a recent trip to Athens I dreamed of a pregnant woman with a butterfly tattoo on her cheek getting out of prison. She approached a throbbing wall made of human bones and flesh, behind which a dragon was spouting flames. She gave birth to her child and held it up to the wall, which immediately disintegrated into pieces.

When I woke up, I wrote the dream down and immediately started associating it with whatever came to mind. After a few seconds, I arrived upon the Berlin Wall and started to think about a futuristic alternative world in which people are kept out of East Berlin instead of being trapped in it.

I had also recently seen my girlfriend buy a lottery ticket, something that shocked me because I never would have suspected she was a gambler. For whatever reason this came to mind during the free-association, it gave me the idea of having some kind of lottery involved in how people get into this new version of East Berlin.

The next step was to take the scenario and answer each of the questions given

The result:

A basic sketch for a visually intense novel I drafted over the next two weeks tentatively called Electville. Using nothing more than my dreams, random associations and my iPhone, I crafted the basis for what would become a rich first draft, most of which was also drafted in bed upon awakening.

The sexiest part of this kind of practice is that it builds what you might call a self-interfering feedback loop. What I mean is that you create one novel-sized plot from a dream and then continue dreaming while working on the novel and still writing down your dreams on a daily basis. Although it doesn’t seem to provide more dreams that richen the novel drafting process, it does seem to compound the intensity of the dreams so that the idea-generating aspect get more and more intense and the depth of the outlines and sketches that emerge become a treasure trove for future exploration.

Even if unused (as most of our ideas ultimately must be), these outlines and sketches are like the gold coins in a pile you never spend because you always have enough to sustain yourself from the surface. And yet those coins you do pick from would never be so evident to your fingers and agile in your imagination if it weren’t for the unspent coins supporting them from below.

This I have learned from making dreams the horde of gold that supports of all my fiction.

AnthonyAnthony Metivier is the author of Lucas Park and the Download of Doom, How to Remember Your Dreams and founder of the Magnetic Memory Method, a 21st century approach to the Memory Palace Method that makes memorizing foreign language vocabulary, poetry, and the names of the important people you meet easy, elegant, effective and fun.

The post How To Mine Your Dreams For Story Gold appeared first on WRITERS HELPING WRITERS.

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2. The Mobile Author, Part Seven: Managing Your Writing Life


Today,  I'll end the series with some tips for using your mobile office to help you manage your writing life. These ideas can help you work better so you can achieve your writing goals.

Make It a Habit

One common problem for those of us who try to work writing in with our busy lives is making the time to write. Unfortunately, nobody has made an app yet that adds a couple hours to the day or makes our day jobs go away or extends the kids' nap time. However, there is a class of apps that enforces good habits and helps to break bad habits. These can be used to remind us to write, and to check our progress against our goals.

Apps like HabitBull (Android, free) and Way of Life (iOS, free for three habits, $3.99 for more) let you set goals. These apps can be configured with whatever parameters you want. Use them to cut down your soda intake, or to spend more time doing something you love, like writing. For example, if you want to write three days a week, you can set a habit reminder that asks you every day if you have written. You wouldn't want to disappoint your tablet, right?

 The Habit Editor in HabitBull


In addition to yes/no goals like whether you wrote today, you can set number-based goals. Want to write 1,000 words a day? Set that up as a habit, then set a reminder each night that asks you how many words you wrote. 

Each habit app is a little different, so look for one that will suit your goals. 

Keeping Focused

To meet your goals, you need to stay focused.

One simple use for your tablet or, especially, your phone, whether you're mobile or stuck at the office is a timer. A timer can you keep you focused. Make a goal to write for a solid hour without checking Facebook or email or grabbing another root beer float at your favorite cafe, then set a timer and don't stop writing until it goes off.

There are tons of timer apps, and they all do what a timer does, so really it probably doesn't matter which one you use. Two I like on Android are Timers4Me+ and Timely Alarm Clock. Both support multiple timers, alarms, and include a stopwatch. Again, I'm not sure what to recommend for your iPad or iPhone, but it really doesn't matter much. A timer is a timer. You can make it pretty, give it fancy options, or whatever, but in the end, it keeps track of time and lets you know when time is up.


Track Your Progress

Anybody who has learned about goal-setting has learned that an important part of meeting your objectives is to make your goals measurable. The apps I've mentioned so far will help you do that. But another way to measure your goals is to track your progress.

The Writeometer app for Android helps you meet your goals. It includes a timer and a writing log, and gives you rewards (guavas) if you meet your goals. For every writing project, you can set your total word count goal and your daily writing goal, and you can set a deadline date. Then, you can set reminders to kick you in the pants. By gamifying your goal tracking, Writeometer keeps you more engaged, and helps you feel good when you accomplish what you set out to do.

Writeometer log


If your goals are fairly basic, such as writing 50,000 words in November, you might like an app like NaNoProgress, also for Android. The concept is simple: enter your wordcount for each session and the app displays a bar showing your progress toward 50,000 words.

Those apps are great for Android users, but what about authors who use an iPad or iPhone? They have options as well, such as Word Tracker. I didn't find anything quite as fancy or fun as Writometer, but all you need, really, is a place to enter your goals and measure your progress.

 Keep a Journal

Finally, many Utah writers come from a background where keeping a journal is encouraged. A writing journal (see "The Writer's Journal," a post on this blog from way back in 2009), helps you be accountable to yourself, and helps you vent those natural writing insecurities so they don't build up inside you. You can track your objectives, note ideas and problems that need to be fixed, and remind yourself where your next session is supposed to start. 

Writeometer includes simple journaling functionality, and the app stores include tons of journal apps. You can use one of those, or you can use the note apps or writing apps we've already talked about in this series. You don't need anything fancy. The only thing you need is something you like writing in so you are motivated to keep your journal.

And So...

There you have it, pretty much everything you need for the well-equipped mobile office. By choosing the approach that works best for you at each step of the writing process, you can easily break the chains of a desk and write wherever inspiration hits you best. Or, if you still do most of your writing in your office (I call my home office my Schreibwinkel), you have everything you need if an idea strikes while you are on the road. Your writing comes from your own brilliant mind, so doesn't it just make sense to have your office wherever that mind of yours happens to be? Even if you prefer the routine of writing in the same place every day, sometimes the best cure for writer's block is a simple change of scenery. If your computer screen becomes the intimidating monster that sucks your creative juices, get away from it for a while.

I hope you have enjoyed this series, and that it helps you to be more productive. The key to writing, it is said, is putting your butt in the chair. But nobody says it always has to be the same chair in the same place. It's 2014. You don't have to lash yourself to a desk anymore. Enjoy your freedom and let the words flow wherever they come to you.

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3. Stage 4: Maintaining Long-Term Success

successHAPPY NEW YEAR! 

 

Remember that our “31 Minutes for 31 Days” challenge starts today! Get the new year off to a great start.

*************

And now, Stage 4 for making dynamic changes in your writing life! (First read The Dynamics of Change, Stage 1: Making Up Your Mind, Stage 2: Committing to Change, and Stage 3: Taking Action)

 

You’re well on your way to achieving your major 2013 goals at this point, and you’ve probably begun several new good writing habits to support your future writing career. This is great!

You don’t want to be a quick flash that’s here today and gone tomorrow though. You want the changes to last. You want to continue to grow as a writer and build your career. But…you know yourself. The good writing habits never seem to last.

Until now.

Change and Maintain

In order to keep going and growing as a writer, you need to do two things:

  • Learn to recover from setbacks
  • Get mentally tough for the long haul

First let’s talk about setbacks. They come in all shapes and sizes for writers. They can be mechanical (computer gets fried), emotional (a scathing review of your new book), or mental (burn-out from an accident, divorce, or unexpected big expense). Setbacks do just what they sound like: set you back.

However, too often (without a plan), we allow a simple setback to become a permanent writer’s block or stall. Setbacks are simply lapses in our upward spiral, or small break in our new successful routine, a momentary interruption on the way to our writing goal.

Pre-emptive Strike

Warning: without tools in place to move beyond the setbacks, they can settle in permanently instead. Use setbacks as a signal that you need to get back to basics. Setbacks–or lapses–sometimes occur for no other reason than we’ve dropped our new routines. (We stopped writing before getting online, we stopped taking reward breaks and pushed on to exhaustion, we stopped sending new queries each week…)

Count each day of progress, and don’t be so hard on yourself. I used to make myself “start over” when trying to form a new habit, and it was more discouraging than helpful. For example, if my goal was to journal every morning, I’d count the days. Maybe I managed it five days in a row. Five! I felt successful! But if I missed Day 6 for any reason, I had to start over the next day at Day #1.

Maintaining: A Better Way

I don’t do that anymore. It doesn’t help. Now, if my goal is to develop a new habit, I still keep track, but I keep going after a lapse or setback instead of starting over. So if I were trying to develop a journaling habit, and journaled five days and then missed a day, I would begin again on Day #6.

I would count all successful days in a month, which motivates me to try to reach an even higher total number the next month. This works with words and pages written and other new writing habits you want to start.

Coping Plans

In order to recover from setbacks, think ahead. Ask yourself what types of things might cause you to go off course or lapse in your goal efforts. Prepare ways to cope ahead of time and have your plans in place. (Sometimes that’s as simple as always traveling with a “writing bag” of paper, pens, a chapter to work on, a craft book to read, etc. so that you can always work, no matter what the delays.)

Coping plans have this basic structure (according to Neil Fiore’s Awaken Your Strongest Self):

“When __________ [potential distraction] occurs, I will say ______________ [inner dialogue] and I will do _______________ [corrective action].”

When my best friend calls to talk during my writing time, I will say to myself, I’m working and need to call her back at lunch time and I will let the answering machine pick up.

When company comes for a week, I will say to myself, It’s fine for me to take one hour each day to write, and I will close the door to my office (or bedroom) and write before breakfast for one hour.

Retrain Your Brain

Mental toughness–grit to persevere–is the other ingredient you’ll need if you want to maintain the changes you’ve made in your writing habits. Scientific studies have clearly shown that repeated affirmations and mental rehearsals create new neural pathways in the brain making success easier and eventually permanent.

Speaking daily affirmations aloud has been proven to help you “retrain your brain” into healthier lines of thinking. Make the affirmations to deal specifically with your own writing issues. For example:

  • I am equal to any writing challenge.
  • I love to write, and I never miss a day of writing!
  • I get started with ease and keep going smoothly and fluidly.
  • I take breaks every 90 minutes or so, using the break to refresh.
  • I use visualizations of successful writing times to help build new habits and patterns.
  • I love to study and then apply what I learn to developing my writing gift.
  • My writing gift is unique and the expression of that gift is unique.
  • I don’t need to be like any other writer.
  • I never give up on my dreams.

I encourage you to make your own list of positive affirmations pertaining to any area of your life where you’d like to see change. (And yes, I use them myself, broken down into several categories: spiritual life, health, writing, children/grandchildren, and my marriage.) I guess I have a lot of areas where I want to rewire brain patterns!

Use the affirmations to help you make changes–and then cement those changes in place. It’s time we stopped yo-yoing up and down and created stable, permanent writing habits.

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4. How to Eliminate Distractions – Digital and Otherwise


Focus is at the heart of success. Unfortunately, we do not live in a world that nurtures concentration and single-minded devotion to one’s art. So, how can you minimize those pesky interruptions that keep you from writing?

Digital Distractions
Let’s start with all things online – they are just beckoning for your time and attention. Luckily, there are some tricks to reduce your susceptibility to those online Sirens.
  1. Only check email, social networking and news sites once or twice a day. If absolutely necessary, check every hour but only for five minutes
  2. Turn off email and smart phone notifications of any sort while you are writing
  3. Close your Internet Browser while you’re working – do your research beforehand
  4. If feasible have a dedicated computer or lap top that is strictly for writing – nothing else, not even checking the weather
Activity Distractions
Of course, not all activity distractions are digital. You may be pulled in by your favorite TV show or sidetracked by the need to clean the house from top to bottom. It’s also not unusual that cravings for ice cream or potato chips supersede the writing process (I’m in the potato chips category). Here are some tips to minimize the temptation to self-interrupt:
  1. Create a very calm and nurturing writing environment
  2. Remove TVs from your writing area
  3. If at all, only keep very small amounts of snack food in your writing area
  4. Leave all reading material that is not immediately related to your novel outside your writing space – read for fun in other areas of the house that you can’t see from your desk
People Distractions
While you have quite a bit of control regarding the Internet and activities that pull you away from your novel, people distractions are a little bit more complex. Setting boundaries can be challenging.

First of all, decide on the people who are allowed unlimited access to you – such as small children. Then list the people who are very dear to you but would be fine with you being unavailable at times. In these cases, telling people in advance when you are busy is most helpful – especially when you live in the same house.

People on your periphery are much easier to deal with. A simple, “Sorry but I am really busy right now. Can we do this later?” usually does the trick. In addition,
  1. Turn off your cell phone while you are working – or at least your message notifications
  2. Assign a gate keeper if you are living with somebody - that person can screen phone calls and visitors for you
  3. Protect your writing time with velvet fists
  4. Practice saying no to anything you don’t really want to do
No more distractions – let the words take over!
***

Renate Reimann, PhD (bottom photo) is a co-instructor in the upcoming class, WRITING YOUR NOVEL FROM THE GROUND UP: How to Build Your Story While Building Yourself as a Writer for Long-Term Success–In Two Parts. Part I starts on Tuesday, September 17, 2013. For more information, visit our classroom page.







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5. Goal Setting: Time to Refocus Your Work

Anyone who has been in my office knows that I’m a list maker. Post-It Notes wreath my monitor. Reading lists cover my bulletin board. My first thought is that I do this so that I can focus on my work. Once I write something down, I don’t have to put any energy into remembering it and can just write.

But when my to-do list gets too long, it saps my energy. It always starts out reasonable enough. I have my blog posts for the week, work for the courses I am teaching or taking, and my top two projects for the month.

Then I spot a market listing for a manuscript I haven’t quite finished. Add it to my list. Then I read an article that reveals the fix I need for my novel. There’s another item added. Before I realize what’s going on there’s also a group of essays and a series pitch.

When my list is too long, my productivity lags because I focus on what I’m not getting done. That’s when it’s time to refocus my list and, through it, my work. Use these five steps when you need to do the same:


  1. Review larger goals. I begin with a review of my year-long goals. Maybe you have a five year plan or a list of resolutions for 2014. Whatever form your goals take, look at what you want to accomplish. Do these goals still make sense? If not, take a few moments to revise them.
  2. Assess your to-do list. Once you have committed yourself once again to a list of larger goals, evaluate your to-do list. What items help you meet those goals? Things that don’t may need to go away.
  3. Clean off your list. You don’t have to get rid of everything that won’t lead to your larger goals. For example, I keep my church blog and post on their Facebook page, neither of which helps me complete my dream book. But there important to me so they stay on the list. When numerous items don’t relate to your goals, something must go.
  4. Put other things on hold. You also need to look at what can be accomplished in a month. Anything that can’t, needs to be removed – for now. I jot these items on the bottom corner of my dry erase board or put them on a Post-It on the back page of my calendar. They aren’t priorities, but I won’t forget them either.
  5. Refocus your work area. Once I remove items from my to-do list, all related library books, files and articles need to come off my desk. I take things back to the library and refile a wide variety of material. It’s time to streamline so you can focus on your current projects.


The world is a distracting place. Help yourself focus on what you want to work on right now, and you’ll be surprised by how much you accomplish.

--SueBE

Find out more about author Sue Bradford Edwards and her newly refocused to-do list on her blog, One Writer's Journey.

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6. stories shaped to the visual arts divine proportion


Using divine proportion and its interior spiral to give
shape and focus for a visual work of art 
This is about the shape of a story.  It is not about choosing any specific formulaic approach to creating a fiction story, though there are some genres where the reading fraternity fully anticipates and looks forward to a story which hews close to a traditional formula, i.e., in romance novels.  In such cases the formula has been extensively tested over time in the market place, and is known to give its readers the enjoyment they seek.  Nothing wrong with such structured, formulaic writing, though it may diminish your chances of winning some coveted literary awards.

Screenwriting for a movie is thought to be somewhat formulaic, also.  A friend at a graduate creative writing program did some research into the structure of screenwriting works, to see whether he might uncover some useful techniques for writing young people's literature (Motion Picture Story Structure Techniques in Middle Grade Novels--a thesis, by C. Entwistle, Vermont College, 1999).  Generally, he found a consistent 120-page, three-act structure, with the inciting incident early in act one, the bleakest moment in latter part of act two, and the battle or climax in latter part of act three.  Each act rises to a point of crisis, the main character passes through a series of conflicts, and ultimately overcomes the major conflict.  Not surprising that it is a formula that works for a large global audience--some suspense, frightening moments, victories written both small and large,  and life returns to something worth living.

Now let's move away from the more formulaic ways of shaping a story and toward the more intuitive.  We've discussed in some past issues of this blog some affinities between the aesthetic processes of shaping and writing an interesting story and the shaping and design of an interesting painting, i.e., Hills Like White Elephants and other paintings, Aug. 27, 2009.  Some additional thoughts on the aesthetic and intuitive process involved in the shaping of another form of creative writing is given by the poet, Leslie Ullman, in her essay A Spiral Walk Through the Golden Mean, in The Writer's Chronicle, Oct/Nov 2013.

The Golden Mean, or Golden Rectangle, is also known as Divine Proportion in artist circles.  Divine Proportion involves a ratio of 1:1.618, or approximately 3:5, "said to form the most visually satisfying of all rectangles," and which can be related to "complex designs by Michelangelo, Da Vinci, and the builders of the Parthenon, as well as works by modern masters such as Le Corbusier and Mondrian," as stated by Ullman.

For example, our sketch of a model, above, was scanned into a computer and was slightly cropped from its original 3:5 golden rectangle.   A logarithmic spiral was generated on the computer monitor and was digitally drawn onto the sketch.  The spiral cuts across the corners of square grid lines superimposed on the sketch such that it bisected the adjacent 90-deg. segments of the grid lines at the golden rectangle's 3:5 ratio for the two lengths.  The resulting spiral begins in a broad curve at the outer margin of the sketch, and gradually tightens to a small tight loop just below the model's left breast.  The exercise suggests that the painter's natural focal point for light and dark value contrasts, lost and found edges, and perhaps color highlights, can be most effective when directed toward this area.

The fiction writer's analogy might have the spiral starting off with gradual introduction of characters and defining the conflict, then a gradual tightening of the conflict situation, and ultimately into the focus of dramatic conflict resolution at the end of the spiral.

Does the concept have much utility for getting that powerful literary story written? Can we inherently recognize the most beautiful proportions and path of a powerful work of fiction, effectively simulating the golden rectangle and its interior spiral? Michelangelo and Da Vinci might well have perfected this feel and intuition in their paintings.  Perhaps it is something we can think about, and possibly develop our own feel for the shape and path of beauty in fiction writing.

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7. Margie Lawson Extravaganza (Part 2!)

When I found out the awesome and talented Melinda Collins was headed off to Colorado to attend  Margie Lawson's Immersion Master Class, I absolutely had to convince her to swing by and tell us about the experience afterward. Of course, Writing Superhero Jami Gold had the same idea, so rather than stage an EPIC, lightning-sword-and-killer-unicorn BATTLE TO THE DEATH as to who got Melinda, we decided to share her. Isn't that nice? *beams*

As someone who purchased a Margie Lawson Lesson Packet on Body Language (thanks for the heads up, Stina Lindenblatt!) in the past, I can only imagine the value of a ML Intensive. So please, read on dear Musers. It's a long-ish post, but oh-so-worth it. AND, the talented Margie Lawson is going to award a lucky commenter with a FREE Lecture Packet! Trust me, YOU WANT THIS.


Immersion Master Class with Margie Lawson: The Experience, The Takeaways, The Lessons – Part Two


Thank you, Angela, for inviting me over today to talk about my recent experience in Colorado with the wonderful, talented, writerly genius, Margie Lawson, and her Immersion Master Class!
Because I have so much to share, this is actually a two-part blog post. Which means I’m also over at Jami Gold’s blog today as well with part one! *grin* And, as an added bonus, Margie Lawson will be over at my blog today, Muse, Rant, Rave, sharing even more writing technique goodies! *booty dance* Okay, enough dancin’ and let’s get to learnin’, shall we?

The Experience

Over on Jami’s blog I talked about the kinship and sisterhood that developed in our group. Here I’d like to share with you two additional elements of the class that made this a one-of-a-kind experience.
The first would be location, location, location! We were about two miles above sea level, and being that high meant cell service was practically nonexistent, which in turn meant we got to enjoy the peace and quiet tranquility of the Rocky Mountains. What more inspiration do you need if you look outside the window, or go on a short hike and see this?

The view from our 1st hiking trip

Pretty unreal, right? But this is exactly what every day was like for us. It wasn’t all work and no play. In fact, we went hiking twice during our time on the mountain. The first short hike gave us the beautiful view in the picture above, and the second, longer hike, gave us this gorgeous view:

The view from our 2nd hiking trip

So the experience was deeper than just learning more about yourself and your writing craft. It was about taking the time to enjoy your surroundings and find inspiration in nature.

The view from Margie's writing loft

The second element I wanted to share about the experience is the one on one time each of us got to spend with Margie. Every day, with pages in hand, we walked into a quiet, cozy room and worked one on one with Margie – an experience that will stay with me forever. By sitting down with her, one on one, you gain a certain understanding and perspective of your writing. You learn how to channel the genius editing that is her mind, and you see your writing in a whole new light. Every sentence, every word is purposefully chosen to pack a maximum punch for your reader, and during your one on one time, you learn more about how you choose those words and how you organize your sentences.
I can’t begin to imagine how I was editing before this class because now I feel as though I’m walking away with a particular sense of how to attack edits, how to look for the minor nuances, how to portray action scenes in a new and exciting way for the reader, and how to make my prose sing a beautifully cadenced tune.


The Takeaways

In part one I talk about what I learned about my style and where I want to be a year from now. Here I’d like to talk about group settings: why it’s important to work within a group where each person has the same purpose in their writing, and why it’s important to encourage and help other writers make their writing the best it can possibly be.

It's always important to take a break when editing to hike! ;)

When you’re in a group setting and everyone has the same purpose of making their MS NYT Bestselling-worthy, you’re sitting in a gold mine. This is why it’s so incredibly important to join a writing group where everyone is dedicated and everyone pushes you to strive, work, and think harder. Sure, writing’s a singular experience (unless you’re co-writing), but without that group of writers who share your struggles, your doubts, and your triumphs, you may not get too far. This particular experience brought that fact home for me. When I struggled in making a phrase powerful and pitch-perfect, there were four other writers there tossing ideas back and forth until we got it. I’m sure without them there I might’ve gotten 85% of what I wanted in the phrase, but that’s not enough. I want 100%. I want it to pack a punch. And I want the help of other writers who fill in the gaps of my weaknesses.

This is another reason why it’s important to not only be in a group setting with a common purpose, but also to encourage other writers and their craft. We thrive on the encouragement and the kudos we get from others like us. We hear of another writer who’s just finaled


Individually, we are one drop. Together, we are an ocean.  -- Ryunosuke Satoro

I got the honor of silly-stringing Amanda! Sooo much fun!!! :)

Quick note: While we were there, one of our Immersion Sisters, Amanda, actually did find out that she finaled in a writing contest with three scores of 99 out of 100!!!!! WOO HOO! How AWESOME is that?!? So what did we do to celebrate when we found out? We silly-stringed her of course!!!


The Lessons

Without giving away too much, here’s the back half of the top ten lessons I learned while in Colorado (as I said in the first post, there are many, many, many more):
1. Description: Description shouldn’t be on the page simply just to be there. Description should be on the page as it affects the character. When you’re writing description, think of how it affects your character in terms of their attitude and thoughts. If you had a character pull up to their childhood home, don’t just describe it as having paint-chipped shutters and a bright red door. Attach that description to your character. What does she remember about those shutters and that red door? Does she recall the many summers she spent helping her mother repaint the shutters? Does she recall being caught kissing a boy in front of the bright red door? If so, then why don’t you attach that description to those memories and make it a stronger, more powerful read?


Example from my MS:

I took a breath and walked out to the edge of the street. This house would represent the beginning of the rest of my life. I hadn’t seen the midnight blue, oceanfront home in so long, and it was now my home.

Because a home is a sense of trust, safety and love for my MC, I attached those feelings to the description of a place that is now her home. There’s more description of the house that follows this, but this is the one place where I purposefully showed how arriving to this setting affected my character.

2. Breaking Tension: Margie has an EDITS system that uses different colored highlighters to track story elements. One is tension. When you’re tracking tension and you notice a small – or big – area where you’ve broken the tension, you’d better go back to check the following:

     a. Check to ensure you intended to break the tension.
     b. Check to ensure the break in tension is not only needed, but that it works
     c. Check to ensure it doesn’t entice the reader to skim

I’m willing to bet there may be several areas where you didn’t intend to break the tension, you didn’t intend to invite the reader to skim, you didn’t intend to put a humor hit in the middle of a serious scene that shouldn’t be broken.

So if you break tension, make sure it’s intentional, it works, it flows, and it doesn’t bore the reader in skipping ahead to where the tension picks back up.

3. NO ‘ITs’ or ‘THATs’: I now have yet another new item to add to my editing toolbox/checklist: NO ‘ITs’ or ‘THATs’!! Okay, so obviously I don’t mean you can’t have ‘it’ or ‘that’ in your MS as at all. But what I do mean is don’t end a sentence with ‘it’ or ‘that.’


Example: 

Oh yeah, I’d considered that.

See what I mean? When I take this sentence out of context, you have absolutely no clue what the character meant by ‘that.’


Example without ‘that’:

Oh yeah, I’d considered Nick to be nothing more than an ant.

A-ha! So when I removed ‘that,’ I made the sentence stronger and more powerful! So the lesson here is: do a find for ‘IT’ and ‘THAT’ and restructure/reword each sentence/phrase that just so happens to end with one of those UNLESS having one of those two words 100%, unequivocally works!




4. Throw-Away Words (Tightening): Another important item to add to your editing checklist: throw-away words. This goes beyond the usual crutch words such as saw, felt, was, etc. Once of the techniques Margie teaches is taking a printed copy of your MS and reading through, line by line, and checking each line off to ensure it has a strong cadence. This ensures you don’t have any words in there that might trip the reader or the flow of the passage. As we all know, there are many other types of throw-away words that can tongue-tie the reader – which is another reason why it’s incredibly important that we get used to the sound of our voice, read everything aloud, and tighten, tighten, tighten.


Examples with Throw-Away Words:

After all, it wasn’t my fault their stories weren’t being told anymore.
I looked back at where he stood and touched my cheek.

Did I really need all those words? Nope.


Examples without Throw-Away Words:

It wasn’t my fault their stories weren’t being told anymore.
I touched my cheek.

See? I didn’t need after all and looked. Those were just two sentences! And between the two, I cut a total of nine words! By reading through my MS, line by line by line, and checking each one off once I’ve determined it’s a TEN, I will have a MS that’s tight, tight, tight! *booty dance*

5. Backloading: Ah… this is a fun one! But because there’s so much I could say about it and so little space in today’s post, I’m going to make it short and sweet. Backloading is where you take the most powerful word in a sentence, and you rework the phrase to pack that power at the end of the sentence so it resonates with the reader.


Example before Backloading:

And when we did see him, we never took a moment for granted, but that was before he abandoned us.

The most powerful word in this particular phrase is abandoned. When you hear it, you instantly feel for the character because you may know what it’s like to feel abandoned. So why not make it the last word the reader processes before they move to the next paragraph?


Example after Backloading:

And when we did see him, we never took a moment for granted. But that was before we were abandoned.

Not only did I ensure my power word was there to backload the phrase, I also split that large phrase into one semi-big sentence then followed it up with a shorter, powerful sentence.

Backloading forces you to look at the structure of your sentences and paragraph breaks. By examining each sentence with a finely-tuned, analytical eye, you’ll not only catch the instances where backloading will pack a punch, but you’ll also catch the areas where one larger sentence can be broken into two, shorter, more powerful sentences. Ha! I got two lessons into one on that one! *giggle*

Once again, I really, really, really want to encourage everyone to visit Margie’s site, purchase and read and absorb the lecture packets and/or enroll in an online course. After you’ve done that, I really recommend attending an Immersion Master Class yourself to fully learn not only these techniques/lessons, but waaaaay more! In all her courses, you’ll learn ways to add psychological power to your writing and how to write a page-turner that will keep your readers up until their spouse finally says, “Pleeeease come to bed!”  *giggle*

Before I go, I just want to say thank you again to Angela for having me over today and allowing me to share a small percentage of what I learned!

If this was your first stop, then before you pop over to either Jami’s site for more on the experience, the takeaways and the lessons, or stop by my blog for a quick lesson from Margie, think about the following: Do you have a place you can get away to? One that’s quiet, calm and inspiring? What about a writing group – do you have a group of writers that you can learn from, give kudos to, and share your triumphs with? Do you have areas in your MS that could benefit from tying description to emotion? Or what about areas where you’ve broken the tension unintentionally? Do you run through each of your lines and ensure they work 100% before moving onto the next?

Wow! Thank you Melinda for being so generous and sharing your amazing experience with Margie! I am a life-long learner, and I absolutely love to absorb as much as I can about the writing craft. Margie's lecture packets are packed with great information and I am thrilled to be able to give one away. So, if you would like to win, just comment below and leave some contact information. THEN, visit Jami for another chance to win a lecture packet and Melinda's for a crack at an online course with Margie! This is the BERMUDA TRIANGLE OF WIN, people!

Good luck & happy writing!

66 Comments on Margie Lawson Extravaganza (Part 2!), last added: 9/20/2012
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8. Revise for Focus: Plot and Subplot in the Right Proportions

I recently did a revision of a short novel manuscript, based on editorial Notes. The Notes were not specific, rather quite general. You see stories of 15-page editorial letters, but this was the total opposite. Basically, the story seemed out of focus and the interest lagged at a couple points.

Refocus the Story


Wow. What a vague comment. But immediately I knew what the problem was.
My story has a main plot — Parties– and two subplots, Bugs and Music. In the original draft. Chapter one focused on Parties/Bugs, but chapter two went to Music/Bugs.

What is the main plot? Parties.
But when chapter two went to Music/Bugs, it threw the main plot out of focus. Instead, I moved the Music/Bugs to chapter three and pulled a later Parties chapter up to the chapter two position. Of course, that meant smoothing out transitions and timelines, something easy to do; it was also easy to get wrong, because it was tiny things that indicated the timelines. “Later that day. . .” “. . .from yesterday.” I am very bad at finding all of these small edits and am relying on some critiques to make sure I didn’t miss something.

Besides the position of the subplots, I also realized that one subplot had too many scenes. In the short novel that I’m working on, I didn’t have much room for each subplot, so when Bugs got four pretty major scenes, it threw off the focus again. After evaluating the four scenes, I realized that one was slightly repetitious and I could cut it without affecting the overall story. That strengthened the Bug climax because the two lead-up scenes were enough and it left this remaining scene more fresh and fun.

Finally the Notes suggested that the climax of the main Parties plot was too short. Duh. It was only half a chapter. In the revision, it begins in the next-to-last chapter, and continues through most of the last chapter. Making the climax of the main plot longer, gives it more weight.

Overall, here’s what I did:

  • Cut a Bugs scene.
  • Rearranged the order of Parties plot, Bugs subplot, and Music subplot.
  • Strengthened the Parties main plot by enlarging the final Party scene.
  • Created more tension throughout by tweaking the emotional impacts of events.

All of that because the Notes said the story was out of focus and the final Party scene needed to be longer. It’s what we do: we revise.

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9. The Dynamics of Change

changeAre you thinking about your 2013 writing goals yet?

Did you know that 75% of New Year’s Resolutions (or goals) are abandoned by the end of the first week? There’s a reason for that.

I spend much time on the blog encouraging you to make changes and deal with feelings that are holding you back. So I thought it might help as we head into a new year to do a short series on the dynamics of change–or how to make permanent changes.

How do we make changes that stick? How can you be one of those 25% who keeps on keepin’ on and accomplishes his or her writing goals?

Change in Stages

One mistake we make is thinking that change happens as an act of will only. (e.g. “Starting today, I will write from 9 to 10 a.m.”) If our willpower and determination are strong, we’ll write at 9 a.m. today. If it’s very strong, we’ll make it a week. If you are extraordinarily iron-willed, you might make it the necessary 21-30 days proven to make it a habit.

Most writers won’t be able to do it.

Why? Because accomplishing permanent change–the critical step to meeting any of your writing goals–is more than choosing and acting on willpower. If you want to achieve your goals, you need to understand the dynamics of change. You must understand what changes habits–the rules of the game, so to speak.

Making Change Doable

All of the habits we’ve talked about in the past–dividing goals into very small do-able slices, rewarding yourself frequently, etc.–are important. They are tools in the process of change.

However, we need to understand the process of change, the steps every successful person goes through who makes desired changes. (It applies to relationship changes and health changes as well, but we’ll be concentrating on career/writing changes.) Understanding the stages doesn’t make change easy, but “it makes it predictable, understandable, and doable,” says Neil Fiore, Ph.D., author of the The NOW Habit.

Change takes place in four main stages, according to numerous government and university studies. Skipping any of the four stages lowers your odds drastically of making permanent changes that lead to sucessful meeting of goals.

Here are the four stages of change that I will talk about in the following four blog posts. Understanding–and implementing–these consecutive steps is critical for most people’s success in achieving goals and permanent change.

Stages of Change

  • Stage 1: Making Up Your Mind (the precommitment stage). This stage will involve feeling the pain that prompts you to want to change, evaluating risks and benefits of the goal you have in mind, and evaluating your current ability.
  • Stage 2: Committing to Change. This stage involves planning the necessary steps, building up your motivation, and considering possible distractions and things that might happen to discourage you or cause a setback.
  • Stage 3: Taking Action. This stage includes several big steps. You must decide when, where and how to start; you must show up to start despite fears and self-doubts; then you must focus on each step.
  • Stage 4: Maintaining Long-Term Success. This is your ultimate aim if you want writing to be a career. It will involve learning to recover from setbacks and getting mentally tough for the long haul.

(For a thorough discussion beyond the blog posts, see Chapters 11-14 of Neil Fiore’s Awaken Your Strongest Self.)

The Blueprint

So…that’s the plan for the next few Tuesday blog posts. Do not despair if you’ve struggled with meeting your writing goals in the past. Help–and hope for permanent change–is on the way.

The “Stage 4″ article will be posted on New Year’s Day–just in time for those New Year’s Resolutions!

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10. K.M.Weiland: 10 Lessons From a Completed Novel

I'm honored to have one of my favorite people joining us on the blog today--K.M. Weiland. I think of her as The Queen Of The Outline! She offers her thoughts on all things writing on her blog Word Play and has just released her newest book, Dreamlander. BTW, she's also running the BIGGEST & COOLEST contest I've ever seen, so make sure to check it out. 

~  ~  ~  ~

 An author can have no greater teacher than his own stories. Every book I write teaches me new lessons about both my craft and my life. Just when I think I’ve got it all figured out, I start a new story, and—bam!—I realize I still have so much to learn. My journey with my just-released (yay!) fantasy novel Dreamlander was a twelve-year adventure that taught me more than any book I’ve previously written. Joy, sorrow, excitement, frustration, despair, and confidence—it was all there. Now that I stand at the end of that journey, I can look back and identify some of the most important writing lessons I learned. Here are ten:

1. Prepare. Most of us are going to be eager to skip the prep work and get right down to the fun of writing that first draft. But Dreamlander’s sprawling epic of story (which spans two worlds) drove home to me the importance of planning early on. Every writer’s prep work will look a little different; for me, it looks like a detailed outline, which allows me to chart my course safely through the sometimes choppy storytelling waters.

2. Listen. None of us are experts—even when it comes to our own stories. We lose our objectivity somewhere around the first completed page. Sharing our early drafts with knowledgeable and honest beta readers is vital. But, even more than that, we have to be willing to listen to those readers’ advice. Take a little while to let the sting of criticism wear off, then analyze their comments for the truth they will inevitably offer.

3. Persevere. Stories aren’t written in a day, and they’re not edited in a month. You may not need twelve years to bring your story to fruition, like I did, but it’s my opinion that any book is going to need at least a year or two to brew. To truly perfect a story, we have to grow and gain distance from it. During that time, we’re going to be discouraged. We’re going to believe the book will never shed its gray feathers and transform into a swan. But we just have to keep at it. Perseverance conquers the unconquerable.

4. Research. Writers may dwell in the realm of make-believe. But that doesn’t negate our responsibility to the facts. This goes both for research into topical matters (firearms, linguistics, cultures, etc.) and for research into our chosen genres. Don’t just read your genre—study it. Find its clichés, find its opportunities for originality, and use your knowledge to transform your story.

5. Find the magic. Magic is our stock in trade. But sometimes, as we’re slogging through our fifth revision, it can be difficult to remember why we fell in love with this story in the first place. If you find yourself dreading your story, take a break for a while. Take a bit of time to play with it in your head, just for fun, like you did in the days when you first conceived it.

 6. Find the conflict. We all know it: no conflict, no story. Dig deep and find the conflict that powers your story. What do your characters want most? What’s keeping them from achieving it? That, right there, is going to be the heart of your conflict. Hit it for all your worth and don’t spare your characters.

7. Find the theme. Once you’ve found your conflict, you’ll be able to catch a glimpse of the arc your protagonist will take over the course of your story. Once you’ve found the arc, you’ll be able to identify the demons your character will have to overcome. And once you’ve identified those demons, you will have found your theme.

8. Be patient. Sometimes getting to know characters takes time. Sometimes getting all the plot points right takes tries and retries. Realize that and stave off discouragement. View every word written, every word deleted, and every word revised as one tiny step that’s carrying you closer to your end goal of perfection. You don’t have to get everything right the first time. You just have to get it right the last time.

9. Be humble. Writing is tough on egos. We usually react in one of two ways. We either cave beneath criticism and fall into crippling depression. Or we figure we know it all and brush off all other opinions. Both are wrongheaded approaches. Always stay open to learning about your own shortcomings. Don’t box yourself into the prison of thinking you have it all figured out.

10. Be fearless. By the same token as the above, don’t let your own imperfections get you down. The only writers who succeed are those who dare much. Throw everything you’ve got onto the page. Acknowledge your fears about your level of talent and people’s perception of your work—and then face them fearlessly.

 In the spirit of #9, I’ll tell you right off that these lessons are all WIPs in my own life. I suspect I’ll still be learning some of them after writing my fiftieth book. But, thanks to Dreamlander, and all the books that have gone before, I’ve learned a little more about myself and the writing life—and I’m ready to apply all those lessons to the next adventure!

 K.M. Weiland is the author of the epic fantasy Dreamlander, the historical western A Man Called Outlaw and the medieval epic Behold the Dawn. She enjoys mentoring other authors through her writing tips, her book Outlining Your Novel: Map Your Way to Success, and her instructional CD Conquering Writer’s Block and Summoning Inspiration

Also, if you are looking for a FEEL GOOD Pay-it-forward type event that is easy to do, please check out our OPERATION: HELP THE ELF! Help us spread some Christmas Cheer among writers!

27 Comments on K.M.Weiland: 10 Lessons From a Completed Novel, last added: 12/7/2012
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11. The Focus It Takes to Write

While I’ve thought of myself as a great multi-tasker for years, I recently found that my multi-tasking was preventing me from completing writing.  If I get lucky enough to be home for my… Read More

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12. Stage 1 of Change: Making Up Your Mind

mind(If you haven’t already, read the overview, The Dynamics of Change.)

You want to make changes in your writing life that will last?

Let’s start at the beginning, with Stage 1: Making Up Your Mind. As I said last time, this stage involves several things, including the following:

  • feeling the pain that prompts you to change
  • evaluating the risks and benefits of the goals you have in mind
  • evaluating your current ability

Not Yet!

In this stage, you do not make any changes. Not yet. As tempting as it is, do not jump in and “just do it!” Remember how far your willpower has taken you in the past–and wait.

Resist the temptation to cycle through another try–>fail–>try harder–>fail–>discouragement episode. Instead, lay the necessary groundwork to make permanent changes.

The Pain of Not Changing

Wanting to make a change–but never making it–is exhausting. It hangs over our heads, constantly reminding us of some incompleted task. When you really feel the pain of not changing, you’re on your way to making up your mind. (And if you’re willing to live with the pain of not realizing your writing dreams, that’s your choice as well.)

Actively and colorfully imagine staying the same the next five years. Imagine that it’s 2018. You’re still trying to implement the “write daily” habit, you’re still trying to finish that novel, you’re still too afraid to talk to agents or editors at writer’s conferences, and you’re still unpublished. When writers’ block hits–or simply a normal writer’s frustration–you still reach for doughnuts or a cigarette or settle in for an hour of mindless TV.

It’s 2018, and nothing has changed–except you have gained fifteen pounds, you’re still stuck in a day job you hate, your baby is in kindergarten, (and you never did get to work from home), or your military spouse has moved the family again (and you still don’t have a career that can move with you.)

Write out the “future” scenario in vivid color based on nothing changing. A clear image of future pain strengthens our determination to face our current fears about changing.

Risks and Benefits of the Change

Explore (either on your own or with a friend/counselor) the benefits of making the short- and long-term writing changes you are considering. Follow the changes five years into your future and see the benefits of having written steadily for five years, submitting steadily for five years, getting five years’ worth of critiques, etc.

The risks? Most of them have to do with facing your writing fears. For a week (two is better) observe yourself and your thoughts when you sit down to write (or when you avoid it.) You’re not trying to change here–just observe your reactions when trying to write.

Do you feel anxiety? What do you think? (“Who am I kidding? I can’t do this!”) What do you do? (Write half a paragraph, then reach for chocolate?) The risk is being honest with yourself, which is necessary if you’re going to honestly evaluate your current ability…

Current State of Affairs

After spending a couple of weeks observing your writing habits, you may have uncovered a few issues to address (procrastination, feeling isolated, self-doubt, self-sabotage, fears of failure or success, etc.) Maybe you just lack motivation; whatever the issue(s), this is the time to work on them.

How you deal with them (and a combination of solutions usually works best) will vary from writer to writer. Some ways to motivate yourself and work on various writing fears include:

Remember, all this thinking and journaling and dreaming is still Stage One. You haven’t committed to making any changes yet. You’re still making up your mind. You’re thinking things through thoroughly.

And you’re giving yourself the best possible chance to succeed–permanently.

I’m curious. Do you find this thinking stage comforting? Threatening? Discouraging? Encouraging? Share your thoughts!

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13. Stage 2: Committing to Change

decision(First read The Dynamics of Change and Stage 1: Making Up Your Mind)

Okay, we’re ready for Stage 2: Committing to Change. This is not taking action yet. Instead, this stage involves:

1) Planning the necessary steps
2) Building up your motivation
3) Considering possible distractions and/or discouraging things that might cause a setback

The change you make at this point is to shift from “passively wishing to achieve your goal to actively committing to make it happen.” (Neil Fiore in Awaken Your Strongest Self.) If you did the work in Stage 1 (thinking through the risks and benefits, plus evaluating your personal abilities), you should have fairly realistic expectations of what does–and doesn’t–work for you at your particular stage of life.

Time to Experiment

Before you plan the necessary steps to succeed in making permanent changes as a writer, you’ll want to take time to experiment in small ways. See what you like and don’t like. See what works for you–and what doesn’t.

  • Try writing for 15 minutes upon awakening or right after your morning coffee.
  • Stay offline until 10:00 a.m. for three days.
  • Try writing at the library during two lunch hours this week.
  • Read a writing blog before you get on Facebook or Twitter.

Record your thoughts and feelings when you introduce these writing changes. How do you feel? What works and what doesn’t? You can’t fail at this stage. You are only gathering information.

Some of these changes you’ll love and find so easy! Others you won’t find helpful at all. But as you succeed with certain writing changes (writing 15 minutes each evening while supper cooks, reading 5 pages per day of a writing book), your motivation will rise. You’ll feel more like a writer automatically.

Mental Rehearsals

During this stage you also need to think through strategies for dealing with obstacles, distractions and setbacks. One of the most effective (and fun!) ways to do this is using what athletes call “mental rehearsals.” They imagine how they’ll handle challenges at each step along the way. [NOTE: This is not just wishful thinking. Current books on brain chemistry show incredible studies and brain x-rays, revealing changes made in the brain after "mental rehearsals."]

Envisioning how you will handle writing distractions (toddlers wanting to be entertained, friends calling to chat, school vacations) and setbacks (an editor rejects your novel after two revisions, computer crashes) helps you build stamina or mental toughness.

Use mental movies to confront each setback or distraction. Instead of your usual reaction (chocolate, TV, surfing the ‘Net), clearly envision yourself sitting tight, working methodically through your writing problem, piling up a stack of new pages, and keeping to your deadline with ease.

Not all interruptions and distractions happen to us. Be aware that you often seek out distractions as well. In order to escape writing blocks or manuscripts that just aren’t working well, we often attempt to escape the anxiety or boredom or agitation by looking for distractions.

Are You Ready?

The final part of Stage 2 is actually committing to the change. Take time to think and journal about the strength of your commitment. If you want to succeed–and make the success permanent–it needs to be more than a wish. It needs to be a strong intention.

So, what do you intend to do? What change(s) in your writing life do you intend to make? Now is the time to commit.

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14. Stage 3: Taking Action

First of all, MERRY CHRISTMAS, EVERYONE!

**********

Ready for Stage 3? It’s about taking action.

(First read The Dynamics of Change, Stage 1: Making Up Your Mind, and Stage 2: Committing to Change.)

If you’ve done your homework in Stages 1 and 2, you’re probably more excited about this action phase than you would normally be.

Why? You’re prepared. You’re motivated. You’ve taken obstacles into account already.

You’re primed for success.

Action Steps

As mentioned before, this stage includes several big steps:

  • You must decide when, where and how to start.
  • You must show up to start despite fears and self-doubts.
  • You must focus on each (present) step, rather than focusing on the end (future) goal.

This is the exciting stage because you’re past making excuses and procrastinating and giving in to the fear of change. You’re done rehearsing and experimenting. It’s now time to take action. You take steps on the path that leads to your goal. Note that shift in focus. The daily path is now more important than the end goal. So find ways to make each successful step enjoyable.

Create Action Plans

An action plan is exactly what it sounds like–a written plan to take concrete action steps to perform a behavior that leads to accomplishing your end goal. An action plan involves when you will do something, where you will do it, and how you will do it.

Run this when-where-how scenario through your mind for each step of your action plan. Be detailed. It doesn’t have to take a long time, but this mental rehearsal is immensely helpful. The more detailed the mental rehearsal, the higher the probability that you will actually initiate the behavior.

To help you create action plans, ask yourself these questions:

  • When do you want to start working on your goal? (day and time)
  • Where will you start? (time and place)
  • What specific action step will you take at this time?
  • How will you keep this commitment?

Time to Show Up

Fear and self-doubt can raise their ugly heads when you least expect it. Even when you’re primed and eager to start, fear and anxiety can give you pause.

There are many ways to deal with fears and self-doubts. How you choose to deal with them is probably an individual thing. Here are some of the ways we’ve discussed dealing with fears.

  1. What’s Holding You Back?
  2. Pitch It To Yourself!
  3. Voices of Self-Sabotage

I also keep several books on my shelf such Ralph Keyes’ two books on fear (The Courage to Write and The Writer’s Book of Hope) and The Now Habit by Neil Fiore on conquering procrastination.

Focus on the Present Step

Focusing on your end goal as motivation to get started causes two problems. First, the end goal (e.g. finish a novel) can just look overwhelming. You want to quit before you start!

The solution? “Focus on what you can do rather than what is out of your control,” says Neil Fiore of Awaken Your Strongest Self. “Switch from thoughts about the goal, which is in the future and is usually overwhelming, to thoughts about what you can do in the present.”

Second, the reward is so far in the future that we feel tired just thinking about waiting that long. A reward many months in the future isn’t much motivation to stick with the writing today.

One solution is making sure you have rewards lined up for every 15- or 30-minute block of time you work on your goal. Publishing a book a year from now won’t get me writing today, but a reward of watching a favorite movie today if I write ten new pages is much more likely to get my fingers to the keyboard.

Small Steps

Take small steps. Reward yourself (with something healthy) for every step you take in direction of your goal. Be your own cheerleader. Each small step will get you warmed up and moving, then help you build momentum.

NOTE: Don’t stop here. On New Year’s Day we’ll discuss the final stage–learning to recover from setbacks and maintain momentum.

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15. It’s All in the Numbers

numbersHere you go! Seven ways to help you get the writing done–and sold!

6 Things You Should Know About the Publishing World

7 Deadly Sins of Writing

5 Reasons Why You Need to Get Better at Saying ‘No’

10 Essential Rules of Poetry

7 Things Agents Want to See in a Query, and 9 Things They Don’t

7 Steps to Getting Unstuck and Becoming More Productive

3 Benefits of Building Your Own Platform

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16. Taking Effective Action

actionIn the August edition of Randy Ingermanson’s free (wonderfully  helpful) newsletter, there was a link to a free e-book describing a new time management system Randy is using. (For back issues of Randy’s newsletter, go here.)

 Since “free” is one of my favorite words, and I’m always looking for ways to manage my time better, I downloaded it to skim.

Hooked!

Skimming quickly turned to reading carefully, and soon I’d read the whole 57-page e-book by Jim Stone called Clear Mind, Effective Action. It deals with the subject of “fractal planning.” Fractal has to do with breaking something large into smaller parts. (You can get the free e-book here.)

In some ways fractal planning is unique, and some parts are a combination of the best time management ideas from the past twenty years.

In the free e-book, the author explains how to implement his system on your own (on paper or spreadsheet or Word document), if you don’t want to subscribe to his service. (I’m using a Word doc–for now–to see how it goes. I have to admit that–so far–it has boosted my productivity and ability to focus significantly.) If you’d like to go directly to the Fractal Planner page and check out the features, you can do that here.

If you try the fractal planner or read the e-book, let me know. I’d like to hear about your experiences–plus or minus–if you try it out.

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17. Can You Compartmentalize?

blindersfWhen re-reading Getting It Done by Andrew J. DuBrin, PH.D., I came to a section on dealing with procrastination. One suggestion is something I’d like your feedback on.

He said you can make progress with procrastination if you “compartmentalize spheres of life.” He says that if you have multiple demands on your time that seem overwhelming, “mentally wear the same blinders placed on horses so they can concentrate better on the race and not be distracted.”

Box It Up!

I would love to be able to do that on a regular basis! Are you able to compartmentalize? I agree with the author that procrastination is more tempting when multiple demands are swirling and competing in your mind.

I think that male writers have an advantage here. They seem able to put things in boxes, tape the lids shut, and then deal with one box at a time. (I know this for a fact because I can tell when I am being put in the “wife” box!)

Women, however, mix things up. Our concern for our child’s health or marriage problems or a sibling’s financial crisis “bleeds over” into our writing time. And we tend to feel guilty if we’re happily typing away while a member of our family is in trouble or needs us.

‘Fess Up

So…please share your wisdom with me. Men, if you can explain how to put things in boxes or make blinders work, please advise. Ladies, if you’ve figured out how to push aside your other concerns while you write, please share.

I bet we could all use some tips!

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18. Inner Critics and Time Wasters

criticWriters 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 liondrowning 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 spen

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19. Drains in Disguise

messI 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.

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20. Finding–and Maintaining–Passion for Your Writing

enthusiasm“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 si

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21. Focus: Avoid Split-Brain Writing

Over the weekend I spoke with a writer dealing with some worries that are daily robbing her of her hours of creative time. It reminded me of an earlier post on Fighting to Focus.

Where’s Your Focus?

From studies I’ve read, when you’re going through a crisis (yours or someone else’s), there is a single-minded focus that will help you regain your peace. And there’s a (more common) split focus that won’t help you at all. In all likelihood, it will make it worse. If your goal is to keep hold of your creative hours when problems hit, then staying calm is paramount.

Studies were done on people facing severe problems ranging from the terminal illness of a child to divorce (yours or someone else’s). The people under strain who re-gained and maintained their peace and continued to be productive did one thing very differently from those who fought desperately to be peaceful, but failed. This is a truth that can also apply to even the simplest worrisome problems you’re facing–worries that are stealing your writing time.

A Healthy Single Focus

The people who regained their peace and rode out the storm were those who had one focus: regaining their peace of mind. Once they did that, they were able to offer comfort and aid, but without worrying about the outcome of their help. And they could then focus on their own work.

A Split Focus

The people who continued to worry and obsess and eventually get sick had a split focus: they tried to regain their calm mind too, but they also tried to control some aspect of the outcome. They were trying to control another person or an event that was beyond their control. There is nothing quite so crazy-making as trying to control something outside your control.

Regaining Your Focus

The quickest way to stop worrying is to give up trying to control something you have no control over. Instead, pour all that wasted energy into regaining a calm mind. I use a variety of things: prayer, surrender, running, a bike ride, meditation, talking to a trusted friend, and watching uplifting movies. Find what combination works for you, and make that your single focus.

Get calm. Give your aid, if it’s healthy to do so. Then get on with your life.

If you’re consistent with this, you’ll find your emotions coming down out of the rafters and settling in nicely. And then you heave a sigh of relief, rest a moment or two, and head to your writing room.

Creativity awaits!

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22. Achieving the Writing Life of Your Dreams

Achieving the writing life of your dreams–is it possible? Are you closer to it than you were a year ago?

Here are some great articles to read and consider if you hope to make the dream of a writing life into a reality.

“Are You Living Your Own Life or Someone Else’s?” If we are not careful, we can unconsciously be following someone else’s agenda for our lives. This may be your first step toward achieving the writing life of your dreams.

“Novelists: Stop Trying to Brand Yourselves” is a refreshing and hopeful post for fiction writers. You’ll breathe a sigh of relief with this one.

“The Power of Incremental Change Over Time” Most people underestimate this. They think they have to take massive action to achieve anything significant.

“4 Reasons It’s Easier Than Ever to Be an Author” “When I started writing, it also seemed like everyone else was in control. I prepared a book proposal, then waited for a publisher to offer me a contract. I wrote the manuscript, then waited for booksellers to order the book. I published the book, the waited for the media to book me.” Not anymore, says this author, former publisher, and former editor.

“The Writing Journey: Author Beware” is one agent’s warning about using self-publishers and what to look for in the way of scams and unethical practices. She makes a good case for having an agent, but as you may know, landing an agent isn’t necessarily easy. You could do what I do: make an agreement with an agent to look over your contracts for a flat fee with an eye to marking questionable phrasing and things you could negotiate for.

“Write with Flow Workshop” is added here because I happen to use the Fractal Method of organization and I love it. Whether you sign up for the workshop or not, the article is a good read. Enrollment ends on Oct. 30.

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23. Do You Need a Social Media Intervention?

It’s drilled into us by the Publishing Powers That Be: platform, platform, platform.

Embrace Social Media. Blog. Get on twitter. Engage. Network. Connect. Start early, think ahead, get a platform in place before the deal.

And because we want to give ourselves the best chance of being noticed, we do it. Blogs, Twitter, Facebook, Google+, Tumblr and more. We participate in blog hops, help promo new books, run contests, join writing list-serves and organizations, post on forums, interact through writing support circles and groups. We host giveaways, we retweet, we #FF & #MM, we review books and we critique. We learn about SEO and back-linking and stress about Klout scores. We Follow. We Like. We+1. After all, this is what we were told to do, right?

For writers, putting time and energy into an online presence is the new norm. Time, hard work and luck all factor in on how successful a platform becomes. And some writers are very successful at building their platform. That's good...right? Yes, absolutely. Well, you know, except for the but.

Hold it...there's a  BUT in this scenario? Yes, and here it is:
  
Sometimes instead driving your platform, your platform drives you.

A great platform is every writer’s end game...but the cold, hard fact is that it comes at a price: TIME. It takes a lot of time to manage a successful online presence.

When it starts to chew up too much, we get hit with a fish-slap of reality: there's no time to read. The research we need to do for our WIP is always on the back burner. Our family rarely sees us without a laptop or wireless device in our hand. And, the death blow? We're spending all our time blogging and networking instead of writing.

Eventually, a writer in this situation will become fed up, especially if they aren't seeing dividends as a result of platform building (an agent's attention, the editor's interest, the deal to celebrate). They begin to resent their blogs, or twitter, or whatever else is murdering their writing time. They also may resent those who preach that writers ‘must have’ a platform. Social Media Fatigue sets in, and as the pressure to keep everything going builds, a writer flirts with the idea of just...walking...away.

Running yourself ragged is not the solution. Quitting a platform you worked so hard to build is not the solution. Change is. So if you are finding all your time is spent trying to gain online visibility instead of writing, you need a SOCIAL MEDIA INTERVENTION.

Consider this your therapy session.

Experiencing Social Media Fatigue? Look at what you’re doing for platform and what is draining your passion and time. What avenues can you cut back on? What can you do more efficiently? Here are some common TIME EATERS and POSSIBLE SOLUTIONS:

SYMPTOM: Blogging Burn Out
Blogging can be a big chore if you aren't into it. Do you struggle to come up with topics? Are you always writing posts? Do you like blogging but it takes up too much of your time?

CURE:
--Blog less. Cut back on your blogging schedule.
--J

60 Comments on Do You Need a Social Media Intervention?, last added: 1/26/2012
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24. Writing Time Outs Really do WORK!

                                     "Writing Time Outs"
                            They Help You Polish Your Picture Book.
                          ( From my "Musings" column on the Purple Crayon )



What is a Writing Time Out?
No, it does not mean dumping your PB (picture book) manuscript on a chair in the corner for fifteen minutes! A writing Time Out means putting aside the PB manuscript you have slaved over: for at least a few weeks.  Let it marinate in a drawer, or in a folder on your hard drive marked,

                                                        "Time Out."


 Forget about it. Clear your brain of all traces of this PB
                                                       and begin writing something new.

Does Your Picture Book Need a Time Out?
It does, if your fellow critiquers offer conflicting advice. Or you tweak, change, and rework it so many times you lose focus. This is when a Time Out can be especially useful. Yes, doing nothing sometimes works wonders!

Or, when you feel there is something not quite right, but you can't put your finger on the problem. You need to view your PB with fresh eyes. So, give the pesky thing a Time Out. When you reread it, in a month or two, you will be amazed by what jumps out at you.

Your First Reread--Yikes, What Was I Thinking?

Problem areas abound. How come you couldn't see them before? You race to the computer, bring up the file, and begin to type. Your husband and kids ask about dinner. You offer a glassy stare while pounding the keys.

What You Found: and how to fix It:
The word nice appeared four times on the one page? There were way too many compound sentences. The main character's name was only mentioned once. And the mom seems more important than the kid character. Tighten! Tighten! Tighten! The Fix: Focus on crafting a great voice for that kid character. Cut back on what Mom says and does. But watch out: you don't want the word count (way less than 1,000) to balloon. Break out your trusty thesaurus. Use it to scrap those overused adjectives and weak verbs. Are four adverbs really necessary, or do most of them prop up weak verbs?

                 &nbs

2 Comments on Writing Time Outs Really do WORK!, last added: 2/28/2012
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25. Pop Culture References Make Minilesson Connections Come Alive

Maggie Beattie Roberts, my section leader for “Tap the Power of Technology and Media to Teach Higher Level Comprehension,” suggested using pop culture references as one way to engage students in minilessons.  (Pop… Read More

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