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Today we welcome to the blog debut author Latifah Salom, whose novel The Cake House recently released from Vintage. I love how she has twisted Shakespeare's Hamlet into a modern YA set in Los Angeles with a diverse cast! Latifah is bravely here to share her "bad" habits with us. Thank you, Latifah!
“Bad” Writing Habits by Latifah Salom
I wonder what advice I can give on the craft of writing. The truth is I have a lot of bad habits that it might be wiser to do the opposite of what I do.
So many writers, past and present, have written countless words on the subject of the craft of writing, it seems well-trodden ground. A quick search on Google will pop up hundreds of web articles listing many different habits you should avoid when writing or habits you should adopt. There is no shortage of writing advice, anywhere from plot structure to paragraph length. When you should write, what time of day you should write, word choice, write what you know, show not tell, avoid adverbs, and the list goes on.
Most of what’s out there is excellent advice, whether it works for you or not – it worked for someone, and therefore is valuable. I too enjoy reading about my favorite novelist’s writing process. Do they prefer to write in isolation? Or in a café? What is their ritual? Where do they go for inspiration?
When it comes to advice of any kind, let alone writing advice, I’m not a fan of words like “should” or “should not.” This might seem a tad hypocritical since I very much enjoyed taking writing workshops and literature classes that had no shortage of rules and advice. I remember a tense moment in a workshop where, after reading a student’s work, the instructor said one should avoid using first person present tense. I happened to agree that first person present tense should be used sparingly, but this piece of advice was not particularly well received by a good portion of the students in that class. The lesson I learned from that experience was: a person is going to write however they want to write, and that’s okay.
Here are a few of my “bad” habits as a writer:
1. I edit as I write
Almost the first piece of advice on writing I remember hearing was never edit as you write. Write first, get it all out on paper (or in a word document) and then after you’ve finished your draft, you can go back and beginning editing. The point of the advice is to avoid disrupting the creative flow or energy of your work on a first draft. Good advice! And not one I ever follow. Going back and reading and editing what I’ve written often helps clarify where I’m going with the story and how to get there. Especially if I’m blocked on the next part, editing helps me figure out what I need to change to make the story go forward. I have always edited as I write, and the habit is now so deeply ingrained, it is very much a part of my process. In fact, I have been editing this piece as I write.
2. I waste time on the Internet
I waste a lot
of time. Typically, if I sit down to write, I will waste about 2 hours on average before I finally begin writing. Of course, writers are masters at all sorts of delaying tactics. I’ve made it routine, and even call it my “warm up” as if that might make wasting time necessary. And perhaps it is. I’ve come to realize that I need that wind down after a long day before I can inhabit the right headspace for creative writing. I also take many breaks – remaining at the computer but doing something else such as answering email or fooling around on social media. Whatever my mental process, I’ve learned to let it go. If I need to waste hours, so be it. The important part is to actually start writing, however I get there.
3. I use an outline but never stick to it.
I like to call outlines “road maps.” That way when I veer completely off course it seems more like I’m taking a quick detour rather than driving the story in an entirely different direction. Sometimes I can even hear that disembodied GPS voice recalculating the route to my destination. I also edit my outline as I write. And, if I need to change the destination, that’s okay too but that rarely happens. My destination remains the same, but how I get there often goes through several changes. When writing THE CAKE HOUSE, I went off course quite a bit, sometimes drastically. I can usually find myself back to the story. Nothing will shut my writing down faster than attempting to rigidly keep to an outline that may have worked when I began but is no longer where the story wants to go.
Whatever advice you chose to follow or not follow, the key is to keep moving forward. Keep putting words down on paper.
About the Book:
Part mystery, part compelling coming-of-age tale, The Cake House
is a riveting debut novel that re-imagines the classic story of Hamlet amidst the hills of suburban Los Angeles.
Rosaura Douglas's father shot himself when her mother left him... or at least that's the story everyone is telling. Now her mother has remarried and Rosie is trapped in a new home she calls "The Cake House," a garish pink edifice that's a far cry from the cramped apartment where she grew up. It's also the house where her father died—a fact that everyone else who lives there, including her mother, Dahlia, and her mysteriously wealthy stepfather, Claude, want to forget.
Soon, however, her father's ghost begins to appear; first as a momentary reflection in a window, then in the dark of night, and finally, in the lush garden behind the house where Rosie spends most of her days. After he warns her that Claude is not to be trusted, Rosie begins to notice cracks in her new family's carefully constructed facade. Dahlia is clearly uncomfortable in her marriage; her stepbrother, Alex, is friendly one second, distant the next, and haunted by troubles of his own; and Claude's business is drawing questions from the police. And as the ghost becomes increasingly violent--and the secrets of The Cake House and her family’s past come to light--Rosie must finally face the truth behind the losses and lies that have torn her life apart.Amazon
About the Author:
Latifah Salom was born in Hollywood, California to parents of Peruvian and Mexican descent. As a teenager she attended the Los Angeles County High School for the Arts, and she holds degrees from Emerson College, Hunter College, and from the University of Southern California’s Masters of Professional Writing program. The Cake House
is her first novel. She currently lives in Los Angeles.Website
-- posted by Susan Sipal @HP4Writers
I love writing, but I can’t do it for long.
I do it in quick bursts (30 or 40 minutes is usually enough) then I need a break, partly to recover emotionally from the fight or chase or argument I’ve just written, partly to get up from the chair and keyboard to give my body a change of posture, and partly to give my brain time to consider solutions to the questions and problems that particular burst of writing has thrown up.
So on the rare and wonderful days when I have all day to write, I don’t spend all day writing. I do a variety of things to take a break, at least once an hour. And over the years, I’ve discovered things which REALLY don’t work as breaks from writing:
Logging on to my email or twitter or facebook or even lovely blogs like this, because I get involved in conversations then feel rude if I break them off to get back to writing, and anyway it doesn’t give me a break from the screen and keyboard.
Reading a novel, because if the novel is any good, 10 minutes isn’t enough, and I risk getting sucked into that world, forgetting the time, forgetting the book I’m trying to write…
Doing a bit of housework, which usually annoys me more than it relaxes or inspires me, so I do as little housework as possible (this is a life rule, not just a writing day one!)
So this month, I made a new resolution (why make them in January? October can be a new start too) and I’m trying to find other things to give me a quick mental and physical break, then send me back into the story refreshed and possibly even inspired. And so far, these have worked:
Reading poetry, short stories or collections of art and photos. Much less likely to suck me in than a novel, and also a chance to widen my reading. So I’ve started a shelf of books specifically chosen for glancing at for 10 minutes (and yes, that is a book of Joan Lennon’s poetry…)
Stitching or sewing something. I’ve dug out a cushion cover I started to design decades ago, and now I’m working on it in very small sections. Working with wool is so different from working with words, that it seems like the perfect break.
Baking bread or cooking. It’s not housework, but it still makes me feel domestically useful, and kneading bread is particularly satisfying.
Going for a run. This is the best way to clear my head, and to deal with the dangers of a sitting down job. But it only works once a day, and only when I can be bothered!
Sight reading a few of my daughter’s scales / exercises / pieces on the piano. (Not particularly well, but with a bit of verve!)
I’m sure if did all of these (run, bake, sew, play music, read poetry…) in one day, I’d probably not write any words of my own at all. But having all of those options certainly beats hanging socks between chapters…
Lari Donis the award-winning author of 22 books for all ages, including a teen thriller, fantasy novels for 8 – 12s, picture books, retellings of traditional tales and novellas for reluctant readers.
Blog: WOW! Women on Writing Blog (The Muffin)
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flash fiction contest winner
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Jeanne Lyet Gassman
lives with her husband and son in the desert west of Phoenix, Arizona, but she dreams often of snow-covered mountains with pine-scented breezes. She believes in the power and beauty of language and loves helping other writers. When she isn’t writing, she works as a freelance editor and teaches creative writing workshops to writers’ groups and individuals in the Phoenix metro area.
She holds an MFA in Writing from Vermont College of Fine Arts. She writes creative nonfiction, poetry, and fiction, but her first love is fiction. Her work has appeared recently in Switchback, Barrelhouse,
, among others. An excerpt from her unpublished novel, The Blood of A Stone, is forthcoming in Assisi: An Online Journal of Literature and Arts
. Her awards include fellowships from Ragdale and the Arizona Commission on the Arts. She is currently working on a novel about a family of downwinders who were adversely affected by the radioactive fallout from the atomic bomb tests in Nevada in the 1950s and 1960s.
To learn about opportunities for writers, including contests, grants, and calls for submission, please visit Jeanne’s blog, Jeanne’s Writing Desk
. To get to know Jeanne and her work, please visit her website
or connect with her on Twitter
.interview by Marcia PetersonWOW: Congratulations on winning first place in our Fall 2012 writing contest! What inspired you to enter the contest?Jeanne:
I follow WOW! on Facebook and am a great fan of all that you offer for women writers. When I saw the announcement for the 2012 Fall Flash Fiction Contest, I had just finished a draft of "Haboob Season" and thought that it might be a good candidate for the competition, so I revised the story and entered the contest. I'm glad I did!WOW: Can you tell us what encouraged the idea behind your story, "Haboob Season?" It’s a chilling story, despite all the heat.Jeanne:
The story has its origin in several truths: My husband did retire recently, and our children have just graduated from college. A close friend of mine also lost her husband last year. Although his death wasn't unexpected, she suddenly became a very young widow, which changed her lifestyle in dramatic ways. The summer of 2012 was one of the hottest summers in Phoenix on record with weeks of 100+ degree days and numerous large and small dust storms. The press began calling the big dust storms "haboobs." It's such a wonderful word, so much more evocative than "dust storm," and it made me think about what these massive storms could represent in one's personal life, how everything is so transient. Despite our best intentions, one swift change can sweep everything away, much in the same way a "haboob" sweeps through a metropolitan area, leaving devastation in its wake. The final stroke of inspiration came from a casual comment from a friend, who asked me how we coped with the dog days of summer in Phoenix. I put all of these elements--dust storms, sudden loss and change, the misery of summer in Phoenix--together, and "Haboob Season" was born.
For those of you who have never seen a haboob, I've enclosed a link to a video of one passing over Phoenix: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vYnuzoH5oBAWOW: Fascinating video, thanks for sharing! Since you write in several different genres, including fiction, nonfiction and poetry, how do you decide what you’re going to work on at any given time? Do you find one type of writing more challenging than the others? Jeanne:
Well, fiction is my first love. If I have no pressing deadlines from editors or publishers, I spend my time working on my novels or a work of short fiction. I've written some creative nonfiction, which bears many similarities to fiction, but the straight nonfiction I write is usually solicited work. For several years, I wrote a column on the craft and business of writing, "Jeanne's Writing Desk," for an e-newsletter called Mike's Writing Newsletter
. The column had fixed deadlines, so I had to write my nonfiction on a schedule. If someone contacts me and asks me to write a blog post or nonfiction piece, I discuss their needs and adjust my writing projects accordingly.
I'm currently finishing the edits on my first novel, The Blood of A Stone
, for a publisher. Since I have a deadline to turn in the edits, that is my top priority at the moment. Once those edits are complete, I plan to return to the work on my second novel, The Double Sun
, a more contemporary story about a family of downwinders, people who suffered adverse effects from radioactive fallout from the atomic bomb tests in Nevada. I don't have a publisher for that book, but I do have an internal deadline/goal for the first draft. In general, I work well with deadlines, and if I don't have real ones, I like to create personal deadlines.
Poetry is definitely the most challenging genre for me. It requires not only precision of language but a strong sense of rhythm and motion. I adore good poetry and wish I were a better poet, but I would be the first to admit that writing poetry is not my strength.WOW: Describe a typical day spent writing. Do you have any unusual writing habits?Jeanne:
I start every day by filling out my day planner. I use this time to prioritize my writing goals and organize my schedule. Then I walk the dog. Good writing takes place in the mind as much as it does on paper or the computer screen, and during our walks, I think about scenes, snippets of dialogue, resolve plot issues, etc. Once we return home, I sit down at my desk and begin work on my writing project of the day.
As I mentioned earlier, I tend to be very goal and project oriented. Rather than focus on a minimum daily word count or a minimum number of hours at the keyboard, I find I'm most productive when I concentrate on reaching specific milestones by specific dates. For example, if I'm working on my novel, I may set a goal on Monday to complete the next two chapters by Friday. This allows me to break my daily goals into smaller units, writing sections of those two chapters every day. If I'm planning to enter a writing contest or have a deadline for submitting a story to a literary magazine, I set a deadline for the first draft and a deadline for the revisions of that draft. Of course, if an editor has asked me to write a nonfiction piece, I usually have a fixed deadline and have to work toward that. I write five to six days a week for approximately 3-4 hours a day. This may not seem like a lot, but the steady effort makes it possible to accumulate a fair amount of material over time.
My daughter said I should also mention that my home office has a residential cat who contributes his editing advice. Our cat eats on the corner of my desk, sleeps in a special chair behind me, and reminds me that petting a kitty is the best solution to writer's block.WOW: We talk a lot here on the blog about walking as a great tool for writing inspiration. I like how you focus on specific milestones by specific dates too. That seems like a great strategy! You mentioned that you’re currently working on a novel. How is that project going
Actually, I'm working on two novels right now. I'm editing my first novel, The Blood of A Stone
, a historical story set in first century A.D. Palestine, and I'm finishing the first draft of my second novel, The Double Sun
, the story about a family of downwinders. Both projects are coming along nicely. I will be turning in my final edits to the publisher for the first book at the end of March and hope to be able to announce a publication date shortly thereafter. I have 4-5 chapters left to write before I have a complete draft of the second book. My goal (that word again!) for the second book is to have the first draft completed by the end of this summer.
One tool I've found particularly useful for writing novels is the story board. In fact, I have a story board for the second book, since it's still a work in process, and a revision board for the book I'm currently editing. I use a large bulletin board, but some people pin notes to a wall or even write on the wall. I've enclosed a picture of my story board for The Double Sun
to give people a visual representation of how this works. This photo was taken earlier in the process of writing the book, so I now have more scene cards than what you see here. Since The Double Sun
spans over 30 years, you will notice there are dates for each section. Beneath those dates are chapter titles. Under each chapter title I've posted an index card with a one-sentence description of each major scene in that chapter. On the right-hand side of the bulletin board I've posted photos of locations, events, and inspiring articles. This story board, or inspiration board as I like to think of it, provides me with a wonderful big-picture view of the novel-in-progress. By studying this board, I can easily see where I may need an additional scene, where there are too many similar scenes, where I need to cut the flab, etc. Interestingly enough, I've been writing the chapters in this book out of order, drafting specific chapters as they come to me rather than plodding along from the beginning to the end. The story board makes that possible.WOW: Thanks for sharing a visual of your storyboard process, and for chatting with us today, Jeanne! Before you go, do you have any advice for beginning flash fiction writers?Jeanne:
I'm flattered that you'd like my advice on writing flash, as I consider myself a novice in this genre! However, the best advice I can give is to read flash fiction--lots of it. Study why the author leaves something out, how the author uses dialogue, how description moves the story forward, etc. I like to think of flash fiction as building a doll-size version of a real house on a small patch of real estate. Just like a full-size house, you have all the necessities: bathrooms, living space, bedrooms, etc., but they're smaller and limited in scope. Every single word must count. There's no room in flash for meandering or tangents. This means that the words you select carry a lot of weight; they need to develop character, set the scene, move the plot forward, or do several of these things at the same time. It also helps to have a destination in mind. If you know where you want your story to end, you can push toward that ending. My final piece of advice is to target your markets and submit your work. You'll never get your writing published if you don't send it out.
Thank you so much for inviting me to share my thoughts on the writing life. It has been such a pleasure to work with WOW!
***The Spring 2013 Flash Fiction Contest is OPEN!
Find out more: http://wow-womenonwriting.com/contest.php
The 30-day Writing Challenge
claims to help readers begin or enhance their daily writing habit. Whether you are a writer, blogger, or journaler this book is for you! Author Sara Crawford encourages and inspires writers of all skill levels by challenging us to ‘stretch our writing muscles’ and create a daily writing habit. The daily writing exercises and prompts focus on technique, inspiration and craft while covering the different genres of writing.
Crawford does an excellent job being real with readers. I fell in love with her book after reading the following paragraph:
I would like to acknowledge that in my own writing, I constantly do the things that I say
you shouldn’t do. I am far from perfect. Every writer has room to grow and improve, and I
include myself in that. However, I strive to be a better writer each and every day, and I live by
these rules, principles, and ideas in my own creative life.
I really admire someone who can be themselves and I felt encouraged instead of judged after reading this small tidbit. It made it much easier to move forward with the exercises and I felt like Crawford understood me. I missed a day here or there but feel this is the type of book I can pick up again and again. This isn’t something you do once and forget about.
In many ways The 30-day Writing Challenge
reminds me of a diet. Sure, I can lose weight quickly, but if I don’t continue with good eating habits, the weight is going to creep back on. If I want to be successful, I need to stick with it, even after the initial success. Similarly, if I use The 30 Day Writing Challenge to get on track and then set it aside instead of faithfully writing and practicing my craft, I am going to falter.
Thank you Sara Crawford for providing a fun and encouraging book to help build successful writing habits. The 30-day Writing Challenge
is a great book for anyone who enjoys writing, blogging, or journaling!
Sara Crawford has a BA in English from Kennesaw State University and an MFA in Creative Writing (emphasis in Playwriting) from the University of New Orleans. She is represented by Marie Brown Associates, and she is the author of upcoming young adult novel, The Muses.
Previous publications include her play, The Snow Globe, from YouthPlays, Driving Downtown to the Show (Lulu Press) and Coiled and Swallowed (Virgogray Press). In addition, her poetry has appeared in Burlesque Press, Cermony, Share: Art and Literary Magazine, and Illogical Muse.
Find out more about Sara by visiting her website: http://saracrawford.net/
Crystal is a church musician, business owner, active journaler, writer and blogger as well as a dairy farmer. She lives in Reedsville, Wisconsin with her husband, three young children (Carmen 6, Andre 5, Breccan 5 months), two dogs, two rabbits, four little piggies, and over 200 Holsteins. You can find Crystal blogging and reviewing books and all sorts of other stuff at: http://bringonlemons.blogspot.com/
Survey: Do you like background noise while you're working?
Don't know about the rest of you, but I find my background noise preference depends heavily on what I'm working on. When I'm illustrating and am past the early sketch stages, I listen to audiobooks or have episodes of a previously-watched tv shows playing on my second monitor; the key for me is to have something interesting enough for variety but not TOO interesting to distract me from work.
For early creative stages and for writing, I used to prefer silence. These days, however, I like to have something going on in the background, especially if my work day has been especially long. Music with English lyrics is too distracting, so I listen to Italian progrock but even that can start driving me crazy after a while.
One of my favorite background sounds for intense creative work? Coffee shop noise: murmured conversations, movement, muted clatter of cups and cutlery. I also find having people around who are DOING things stimulating, and I'm less likely to start daydreaming or slack off. I used to go to real-life coffee shops to do my writing, but this has downsides. The expense, for one thing, plus sometimes the conversations taking place around me are a tad TOO interesting.
Looks as if I'm not the only one who finds coffee shops and coffee shop sounds motivating:
How The Hum Of A Coffee Shop Can Boost Creativity - by Anahad O'Connor in The New York Times
Why Some Of Us Get More Done At Coffee Shops - by Kevin Purdy on Lifehacker
Coffitivity Plays Ambient Coffee Shop Noise To Boost Your Productivity - by Melanie Pinola on Lifehacker
For others who like coffee shop sounds in the background while they work, here's one solution:
Coffitivity: Just opening up the website page will start up the sounds of a coffee shop, and you can also get free apps for iOS, Droid and Mac desktop. I prefer the latter because I don't like having my browser open while working because it's too tempting to "just check one more website."
There are choices of other sounds as well, like a campus cafe and lunchtime lounge. Coffitivity has also invited the community to submit sounds to share, so I expect we'll get more choices soon.
How about the rest of you? Do you prefer silence? If not, what do you like to listen to while you work? I'd appreciate you taking a few minutes to answer my 1-2 multiple question poll: Do you prefer background noise while you work?
I'll post results in an upcoming Inkygirl post.
“Miss Molly had a dolly who was sick sick sick…”
Many writers create playlists of the music which inspires them to write (my publishers revealed the playlist for my own recent teen novel earlier this month) but I doubt that the nursery rhyme Miss Molly Had A Dolly is on many novel playlists.
However, a couple of weeks ago, I was in an Edinburgh library, grabbing half an hour to write while one of my children was at a music lesson, when I realised I was in the library for exactly the same half hour as the local Book Bugs rhyme time session.
So I wrote most of a scene about treachery and betrayal in a library filled with the noise of nursery rhymes and bouncing songs.
And it didn’t distract me at all
. It was very noisy, but it was pleasant noise, noise which made me smile whenever I surfaced briefly from my fictional world to listen to boats being rowed or bus wheels going round, and it didn’t prevent me writing.
Which made me consider what does and doesn’t distract me.
I spend a lot of time visiting schools and book festivals etc, so I do a lot of writing in trains, staffrooms, libraries and cafes. And I get a lot of serious focussed work done in those places. I can ignore teachers talking about unruly pupils and difficult families (they must assume that anyone typing on a keyboard can’t hear them…), I can ignore waiters dropping glasses and drunken hen parties at the other end of the carriage.
I can write efficiently in the midst of any amount of noise. Provided it’s nothing to do with me.
Because the one place I absolutely must have peace and quiet for writing is my own house. At home, the slightest creak of a child getting up unexpectedly early in the morning can knock me right out of my imagination (who is that? is she ok? do I have to make breakfast already? oops, I’ve forgotten what I was about to type…) Whereas in a library, a dozen adults singing Miss Molly Had A Dolly to a dozen children who are not my children
, is just background noise.
At home any loud noises or even quiet sounds (is anything more distracting than someone making an effort to tiptoe past your study door?) feel like they are my responsibility, so they pull me out of my imagination. But outside the house, the toddlers treating dollies or the waiters clattering or the teachers gossiping are nothing to do with me, so I can stay happily in my own wee writing world.
In order to write at home, I prefer everyone else to be away at work or school, or soundly asleep. Anywhere else, I can write with any level of volume at all, so long as the noise is not my responsibility. And usually, however cheerful the singing or fascinating the gossip, the real world isn’t nearly as compelling as the story I’m creating…
Indeed I often find the outside world inspiring. Unlike some writers, I don’t tend to get ideas from other people’s conversations (so those teachers can keep gossiping…) but I do watch people: how they dress, how they walk, how they act with each other.
I watch the landscape too, from moving trains. And I change what I’m writing if I see something more interesting through the train window.
A couple of years ago I was writing a scene set in a playpark, when the train taking me up the east coast of Scotland passed the bright flags of a golf course. Suddenly a golf course seemed like a much more interesting place to set the hunt, chase and fight. So now Mind Blind
, my new teen thriller, has a couple of chapters set on a golf course (though no-one plays a round of golf, it’s all sprinting and martial arts) and those chapters would have been very different if I’d written them sitting at home.
I’m now wondering whether I should write all my books out of the house, where I’m less easy to distract and more easily inspired. That strategy would cost a lot in train tickets and herbal teas though! So probably I should just keep getting up early and staying up late, to write in my nice quiet study…
I’m also wondering if I could test this 'nothing distracts me' theory, and try to write in the middle of a rock concert, a soft play area, or a thunderstorm. Does anyone want to challenge me to write in loud and potentially distracting locations?
Lari Don is the award-winning author of 21 books for all ages, including a teen thriller, fantasy novels for 8 – 12s, picture books, retellings of traditional tales and novellas for reluctant readers.
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(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
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!
(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.
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.
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.
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.
- What’s Holding You Back?
- Pitch It To Yourself!
- 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.
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.
HAPPY 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.
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.
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.
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.
Do your writing first!
Leave the dishes and your exercise routine and everything else–and just write. Haven’t we all heard that advice a hundred times?
I have–but it’s something I still struggle with after thirty years of writing.
Don’t feel like less of a writer if this describes you too. Just admit it–and find a way to deal with it.
Here’s my own plan…
The First 2013 Challenge
Along with a good number of you, I joined the “31 Minutes for 31 Days: the Challenge” at the beginning of January. So far, I’ve written 19 out of the 21 days. While not a perfect score, it’s much better than I’ve done for months!
Accountability, thy name is Sherryl!
What happens when the 31-Day Challenge is over? I’ll be ready!
My writer friend, Sherryl Clark, will be my accountability person as we encourage each other to pursue our goals. On January 28, we are beginning a 28-day challenge that includes (1) writing first and (2) staying off-line until the day’s writing is done. And we’re supposed to confront (nicely) when our partner isn’t keeping her commitment.
Why the need for such accountability?
At first glance, it wouldn’t seem necessary. We both have detailed written goals, put in lots of work hours, and truly LOVE to write. Even so, we weren’t getting enough writing done on our own projects. (We wrote for others, critiqued, reviewed, taught, and blogged–but by the time we got around to our own books, we were too tired.)
Ready, Set, Go!
So, we made a deal, Sherryl and I. We have committed to writing first thing each morning on our own projects.
I’m aiming for a minimum of an hour daily. If I can do more, great, but however much I get written, I’ve promised to spend time on my book writing first.
When we’re done, we’ll email each other to say how long we wrote. It won’t take us long to send that email, but since I’ll know Sherryl is waiting for my report, I bet I get the writing done.
It’s on my schedule first now. And I’m planning ahead for success.
I take time before I quit each day to set up my desk with all the materials I’ll need to get started right away in the morning.
One iron-clad rule I plan to stick to: absolutely NO Internet until the writing is done.
Do YOU write first thing each morning, before you get caught up in the day’s demands? If so, what are the tricks YOU use to make it work?
What's the problem?
What’s wrong with me? you wonder. Why doesn’t this writing advice work?
A third worrisome thought nibbles at the back of your brain: Maybe I’m not a writer after all.
Not to worry.
I’ve identified three of the most common reasons why writers don’t get their writing done. And I’ve put together an overall solution for you.
Reason #1: No Overall Strategy
You dream of being a novelist. You’ve taken a writing course. You read writing blogs.
And you write. Daily!
But you’re no closer to writing that novel than you were a year ago. Why?
It’s true that you write every day, using exercises and prompts. And you faithfully journal.
But there’s no overall plan or strategy for writing the novel, no measurable goals and sub-goals.
Reason #2: Forcing Square Pegs into Round Holes
Maybe you diligently follow writing advice found in magazines or tips you hear from published writers.
You set your alarm to write at 5 a.m. but fall asleep on your keyboard because you’re a night owl.
You join a weekly critique group, but their need to socialize irritates you because you came there to work.
You set up your laptop to work in a coffee shop with a writing friend. She gets to work and churns out ten pages! You can’t focus, even with ear plugs in.
The problem? You don’t match writing advice to your personality.
Reason #3: Writing Habits That Don’t Help
You have less than two hours of time alone while your child is in preschool. You use that time to do a low-energy job instead of writing on your novel (a high energy job).
You’re on a roll, half way to making your writing quota for the day. Your sister calls. You could let the answering machine or voice mail get it…but you answer instead. When she asks, “Are you busy?” you say, “Not really.”
You have alerts turned on so when you’re on the computer or near your phone, you hear beeps and buzzes every five minutes. New email! A new text! A new “have to see this” YouTube video!
The problem? Sometimes we develop writing habits that are detrimental to our ability to concentrate and thus to our productivity.
Help is Here for Your Writing Life: Free E-Book
As I said above, I’ve put together an e-book dealing with these very issues.
It’s called “Rx for Writers: Managing Your Writing Space and Writing Time.”
I’ll be giving it away this Friday as a kick-off to some changes that are coming.
See you back here on Friday. And if you know any writers with these issues, please pass the word. I’d love to have them check in here on Friday for their free e-book.
As promised, starting today I’m giving away a free e-book for frustrated writers.
Rx for Writers: Managing Your Writing Space and Your Writing Time is short, but it contains solid advice for three of a writer’s biggest problems:
1. following through on our goals
2. organization of our writing space
3. lack of good writing habits
While the e-book is only thirteen pages long, I can guarantee you more success in your writing life if you follow the advice.
Why give away a free e-book now? Because I want to ask you a favor!
The Writer’s First Aid blog has a new home. When you come to visit, you’ll see a familiar face (mine). You’ll find some new pages, plus blog posts from the last two years. [I'm still in the process of moving posts.]
I’ll now be hosting the blog on my own website, so the URL will change. I don’t want to lose any of you in the transition!
After You Download the E-Book…
Here’s the favor. After you download your free e-book, please update the URL (address http://kristiholl.net/writers-blog/) in any location you have the current blog address.
- your RSS feed (wherever you read blogs…I read mine through my Gmail Reader)
- your Favorites folder
- your blog (if you have Writer’s First Aid listed in your links)
- any other places you may have linked to my blog
I still plan to post on Tuesdays and Fridays.
Jan Fields will still give you the “What’s New at Kristi’s” in the Institute newsletter.
Getting Your E-Book
When you go to the new blog site, you’ll find the form to get your e-book on the right-hand side. After you sign up, it will send a confirmation email to your Inbox.
After you confirm, you’ll be taken to where you’ll get Rx for Writers: Managing Your Writing Space and Your Writing Time.
NOTE: I’m not starting a newsletter at this time, nor do I send out sales letters. I won’t abuse your email addresses. Very occasionally, when I post a new report in my Resource area, I will let you know that. And, of course, you’ll be free to unsubscribe at any time.
I've been a fan of Jo Knowles ever since reading Lessons From A Dead Girl and even more so after See You At Harry’s (Candlewick, 2012) plus I love her fun and positive tweets from @JoKnowles on Twitter. I've also heard great things about Jo's Pearl and Jumping Off Swings, so am looking forward to reading those next!
Jo has a master’s degree in children’s literature and taught writing for children in the MFA program at Simmons College for several years. Some of her awards include a New York Times Notable Book of 2012, Amazon's Best Middle Grade Books of 2012, An International Reading Association Favorite 2012 Book, an SCBWI Crystal Kite Award, the PEN New England Children's Book Discovery Award, and YALSA's Best Fiction for Young Adults. Jo lives in Vermont with her husband and son. Her next book, Living With Jackie Chan, a companion to Jumping Off Swings, will be available September 2013.
Q: What's your writing process? What was your writing process for SEE YOU AT HARRY'S?
So far for all of my books, I've just started writing and discovered the book as I went. Not surprisingly, my first drafts are big messes. After I clean things up a bit and have a basic rough draft, I create a storyboard to help me get organized and figure out the themes, plot and rhythm of the book.
Storyboard from Jumping Off Swings.
The storyboard process I use I learned at a workshop with Carolyn Coman. Basically, you get a sheet of paper that's large enough to fit enough squares to represent each chapter of the book. Then you follow these steps:
1. Think of a scene with the strongest image that best represents that chapter. Draw it as best you can in the first box.
Part of a storyboard series from READ BETWEEN THE LINES, Jo's newest project.
2. Write a very brief phrase that describes the point of that chapter and write it in the bottom of the box.
3. Think of the strongest emotion conveyed in the chapter and write it at the top of the box.
Repeat for each chapter, one per box.
Part of a storyboard series from READ BETWEEN THE LINES, Jo's newest project.
This leaves you with a big visual that illustrates the movement of the book both actively and emotionally.
Part of a storyboard series from READ BETWEEN THE LINES, Jo's newest project.
Since my books tend to be less action driven and more emotionally driven, seeing the book this way is a big help. I can see the spikes of emotion and how they play out in the text, and where I need to insert more or less action, or emotional peeks.
Seeing the images also helps me to think about how stagnant certain chapters or groups of chapters might be, and helps me pinpoint where I need to move my character around more. (For example, in PEARL, Bean spent way too much time on the roof, which was her place to escape. I don't know that I would have realized this if I hadn't drawn a storyboard and had that visual.)
Q: What advice do you have for aspiring writers?
Remember that getting published is not a race. I recently read a blog post by someone who had taken three years to sell her first book, referring to her journey as "The Long Road to Publication." Long road? Three years?? Oh my.
In reality, I think the average time it takes most people going the traditional publishing route is more like ten. I think people tend to measure success on how quickly they can sell their first book. This is a shame because speed has nothing to do with it. I think longevity AFTER you sell your book would be a better marker.
Childhood restaurant that inspired Harry's in SEE YOU AT HARRY'S.If you want to be an author, you need to take time to learn the craft and learn it well. Read a thousand picture books. Study the rhythms of your favorites. Type out the text and close- read it without the pictures. Pay attention to the types of details that are in the text versus the ones that are implied or easily and more effectively shown in the illustrations.
The next step is to learn how to revise. To learn how to listen to feedback and make the best use of it. I can't tell you how many aspiring writers I've met who have told me they didn't want feedback because they felt their work was as polished as it could get. But they hadn't shared it with anyone but family members!
One of the hard lessons I learned when I first started out was that I really didn't understand what revision meant. When an editor suggested a revision without a contract, I happily addressed the changes she proposed, but not to the degree I should have. I tweaked, I didn't revise. There is a very big difference.
Revising is rewriting. Not rearranging. Not fixing typos. Not deleting a sentence here and there. That’s what you do at the copyediting stage. Better to learn this with critique partners guiding you than with an editor who doesn’t have the time or patience to teach you him- or herself.
There is just so much to learn and so many early mistakes to be made when you're first starting out. It's worth it to take your time and get lots of feedback from other writers (and make those mistakes with them, not an agent or editor). Not only that, you will develop some wonderful relationships and create a community–a support network–which will be invaluable when you DO start submitting.
I am as impatient as the next person, but for new writers, I can't emphasize this enough: Please don't treat the time it takes you to get published as a race, or measure your journey against someone else's and use that as a marker for success and failure. Instead, think of your journey to publication as a travel experience to savor. The more you learn, the more people you connect with, the better prepared you will be for your final destination. And the more people you will have to celebrate your success with!
Q. What are you working on now? Any other upcoming events or other info you'd like to share?
I'm currently working on two projects. One is a contemporary YA novel called READ BETWEEN THE LINES. After writing JUMPING OFF SWINGS I swore I'd never write another book with multiple points of view, so naturally this book has ten. It's kind of a "day in the life" sort of story about how each character's actions affect the next. While I wait for my editor's comments on that, I've started a humorous middle grade/tween novel tentatively called FROM THE COMPLAINT BOX, about a boy who goes to a funky independent school and the adventures/mischief he gets into with his two best friends. When I told my agent I was writing something funny he said, "That's how you described SEE YOU AT HARRY'S and it made everyone weep!" So, he's suspicious. We'll see!
Where can find out more about Jo Knowles:
Jo Knowles website - Jo Knowles blog - Twitter (@JoKnowles) - Facebook
SEE YOU AT HARRY'S book page
Also see other Inkygirl Interviews.
By: Kristi Holl
Blog: Writers First Aid
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“Habits are the little anchors that keep us from straying very far from the lifestyle to which we’ve become accustomed, whether that lifestyle makes us happy or miserable,” says Karen Scalf Linamen in her book Only Nuns Change Habits Overnight.
Habits: Help or Hindrance?
We all have habits that either support or hinder our writing lives. Habits are simply the ways we repeatedly do some things. Positive habits include daily writing practice, telling ourselves positive things about our abilities, and keeping current with publishers’ requirements.
Negative writing habits run the gamut from playing computer games and surfing the Internet during our writing time, to not keeping track of submissions and not studying to improve our craft.
Do you see any consistent patterns in your writing life? Which positive habits help you? Which habits detract from your ability to pursue your writing dreams consistently?
Habits from Scratch
If you could redesign your writing life from scratch, which patterns would you reestablish? Which habits would you drop, if you could break them? Can you even identify the habits that are getting in your way? Do you wonder where your time is going, why you can’t seem to get around to working on the project that is so dear to your heart? Try journaling about it.
“Keeping a journal can help you identify hidden habits that are interfering with your life,” says Linamen. “You can embrace the changes you want to embrace–and getting a handle on what’s really going on is a great way to begin!”
The Art of Change
A good writing life–a productive writing life–is built on good writing habits. They keep you anchored to the writing life you want to have, both now and in the future. Building good writing habits may not sound very exciting, but discipline now will give you a lot of freedom later on–and a writing life worth having!
By: Kristi Holl
Blog: Writers First Aid
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When 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.
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!
By: Kristi Holl
Blog: Writers First Aid
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Writers are opinionated people.
Our brains never seem to stop. We criticize because we “know” how things and people should be. This “critical editor component” of our personality is absolutely invaluable to the editing and revision process. If you can’t spot what’s wrong with a manuscript, you can’t fix it.
However, this same critical ability can cause writers to actually lose focus, allowing their writing hours to slip away with little or no work done.
Think About It
Many of us go through our daily lives with our internal critic or editor in charge. We don’t see the person right in front of us as he or she is (which may be perfectly fine.) Instead, that person reminds us of an ex-spouse, and we “see” characteristics that aren’t there. Stress!
Conversely, we think the person in front of us is “supposed” to be kind and supportive (our inner definition of parent/spouse/child/sibling). And yet many such relationships are anything but, leaving us hurt and upset because they should be supportive. More stress! Life rarely satisfies a person who lets the “shoulds” run his life.
Do we spend our time “shoulding”? We don’t see a child who is happily singing at the top of her voice. (That child should be more quiet in the store!) We don’t see an interesting shade of purple hair. (That teenager should resemble a miniature adult instead.) We don’t see the predator or user sometimes either–because trusted family members shouldn’t be such things. Our “shoulds” and “shouldn’ts” color everything we observe.
Change Your Perspective
Our inner editor sometimes keeps us from seeing what’s in front of us. We are constantly “revising” the facts. So what’s the problem with that? You can’t accept–and get peace about–what you can’t honestly see or face. You stay stirred up–a condition rarely suited to being creative. Sometimes the simplest solutions evade us because we’re all riled up inside.
It reminds me of a story (you may also be familiar with) about “The River and the Lion: After the great rains, the lion was faced with crossing the river that had encircled him. Swimming was not in his nature, but it was either cross or die. The lion roared and charged at the river, almost drowning before he retreated. Many more times he attacked the water, and each time he failed to cross. Exhausted, the lion lay down, and in his quietness he heard the river say, “Never fight what isn’t here.”
Cautiously, the lion looked up and asked, “What isn’t here?”
“Your enemy isn’t here,” answered the river. “Just as you are a lion, I am merely a river.”
Now the lion sat very still and studied the ways of the river. After a while, he walked to where a certain current brushed against the shore, and stepping in, floated to the other side.
Control What You Can: Yourself
We also can’t gain peace of mind and the ability to focus unless we’re willing to give up trying to control everyone and everything in our environment. We spen
For many reasons, we set writing goals–and then promptly get stuck. The reasons vary:
- The goal is overwhelming, and we don’t know where to start.
- We don’t have an hour or two each day to devote to reaching our goal.
- We don’t really believe you can reach goals “a little bit at a time.”
- We see others going gung-ho toward similar goals and feel intimidated by their (seemingly) effortless success.
Regardless of what your writing goal is, one answer that nearly always works is the concept of “gradual exposure.” Certainly gradual exposure can be a negative thing, like the poor frog who is boiled alive when the water temperature gradually rises. But “gradual exposure” can also be a very positive–and easy–concept to work into your writing life.
Gradual exposure simply allows you to take actions toward your daily and long-term writing goals little by little. These small actions build on each other over time and form habits (such as daily writing, networking with other writers, writing a novel, etc.) According to Kelly Stone in Living Write, “This technique [of gradual exposure] is particularly helpful in areas where you have resistance to writing or fear taking some action that is required to attain the success you desire.”
One Task Per Day for a Week
Stone’s recommendation for gradually inching your way into your desired writing habit is to break down the task into tiny baby steps. You take one baby step toward your goal every day for a week. And you try to enhance or increase the action daily until you reach your goal.
Example: Let’s say your goal is to eventually write an hour every day. Currently you only write sporadically. Your first week of gradual exposure might look like this:
- Monday: write 5 minutes
- Tuesday: write 10 minutes
- Wednesday: write 15 minutes
- Thursday: write 20 minutes
and so on until you hit 60 minutes per day.
Or maybe you want a production goal that gradually gets you to the point where you can write 2,000 words per day. Start small, and increase daily by small amounts.
- Monday: write 200 words
- Tuesday: write 250 words
- Wednesday: write 300 words
- Thursday: write 350 words
Each day is a tiny stretch, but with enough tiny stretches, you can soon be writing those 2,000 words per day this way.
Other types of writing tasks can also be accomplished using ”gradual exposure.” Let’s say you want to eventually have a successful social networking group of writer friends. When starting out, it can look overwhelming! But by using gradual exposure, you can get your feet wet and not feel like you’re drowning. This can apply to getting involved in Facebook, on Twitter, commenting on blogs, writing a blog, etc.
- Monday: subscribe to five writing blogs
- Tuesday: read two blog posts and leave one comment
- Wednesday: read four blog posts and leave two comments
- Thursday: [continue building until you scan perhaps ten blogs daily]
When you’ve met your blogging goal, set up a gradual exposure schedule for creating a Facebook page, inviting friends, commenting on others’ posts, etc.
Gradual Vs. Gung-Ho
For me, I think the “magic&
By: Kristi Holl
Blog: Writers First Aid
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I was wrong–again.
For twenty years, I’ve told students and wannabe writers that you have to put the writing first! Do it before other things take over your day.
Fight the impulse to clean your kitchen first, or straighten your office, or clean up the mess the kids made before leaving for school.
“But I can’t work in chaos,” writers protest.
You know what? Neither can I anymore–at least not well! And when I force myself to, the work is doubly tiring. Doubly stressful. Much less satisfying.
Energy Drains in Disguise
Something I read today made me realize my advice might be a tad off. Not wrong altogether, since if we don’t make writing some sort of priority, we won’t do it. However, to eliminate energy drains in your life, you need to look at the whole picture. Certainly all the things you do in a given day take your energy. Every action you take on your lengthy “to do” list uses energy.
What you may not realize is that actions you don’t take use energy as well. Your disorganized office, the piles of laundry on the bedroom floor, the stack of bills to pay, the two birthday gifts to buy, the clothing needing repair–all this drains your energy reserves as well. It happens whether you are looking at the unfinished business or just thinking about it.
It siphons off energy that could be used in a much more positive way. “These items on your mental ‘to do’ list, the ones you’ve been procrastinating about, distract you or make you feel guilty and drain the very energy you need to accomplish your goals.” (So says Cheryl Richardson in Take Time for Your Life.)
NOT an Excuse to Procrastinate
Taking care of the unfinished business that nags at your mind–and keeps you from feeling like you can settle down to write–may be necessary before you can tackle your writing assignment. Don’t go overboard though, or you’re just procrastinating. Washing the dirty dishes is one thing–taking time to replace the shelf paper in your pantry is something else.
Figure out the things that you MUST have done to feel at peace in your environment, and do those things ONLY. (It helps to do as many of them as you can the night before too.)
Eliminate the chaos in your environment, and you’ll eliminate a LOT of the chaos that blocks your writer’s mind. Now…off to clean my office.
As a writer, don’t ever under-estimate the power of self-discipline. Talent, passion, and discipline are needed–but the greatest of these is discipline.
Best-selling author Elizabeth George speaks to this point on the first day she faces her students in her creative writing classes. Study this quote from her book, Write Away–and read through to the zinger at the end.
“You will be published if you possess three qualities–talent, passion, and discipline.
You will probably be published if you possess two of the three qualities in either combination–either talent and discipline, or passion and discipline.
You will likely be published if you possess neither talent nor passion, but still have discipline. Just go the bookstore and pick up a few ‘notable’ titles and you’ll see what I mean.
But if all you possess is talent or passion, if all you possess is talent and passion, you will not be published. The likelihood is you will never be published. And if by some miracle you are published, it will probably never happen again.”
This is great news for all writers, I believe. We worry sometimes that we don’t have enough talent, that we have nothing original to say, that our voices won’t attract today’s readers. But as Ms. George says above–and after writing and teaching for thirty years, I totally agree–discipline is what will make you or break you as a writer.
Why is this good news? Because self-discipline can be mastered, bit by bit, day by day, until it’s a habit. Talent is a gift over which we have no control, and passion comes and goes with our feelings and circumstances. But your necessary ingredient to success–discipline–can belong to anyone.
Do whatever you have to do to develop the writing habit. Let that be your focus, and see if the writing–and publishing–doesn’t take care of itself!
I love routines! It streamlines the daily business of life and lets me get more done. I have some habits (like how I brush teeth or do dishes) that haven’t changed in years–maybe decades. They work efficiently.
Writers have habits too, and I think that’s a good thing. It streamlines daily chores like email, website updating, reading professional journals and blogs, and other writing-related chores.
BUT…routines can become ruts without anyone noticing.
Habits: A Slippery Slope
You may suspect your routines have become ruts if you are more bored than inspired when you sit down to write. When all your writing has the same tired voice, when you continually repeat subjects and themes–it may be a sign that your writing routines have become ruts.
So how do you break out of ruts? Try making changes in some of these areas:
- Writing area: choose another place to write, change the furniture around in your office, move your desk to the window, clean up the clutter, make a traveling writer’s bag for the airplane or car
- Time: even if you’re a morning person, try writing during the lunch hour or in ten-minute segments every hour on the hour; try a Saturday morning
- Length of session: experiment with writing daily for short periods, writing daily for longer periods, writing just on the weekend
- Tools of your trade: experiment with writing longhand, writing on a laptop, using online journals, Internet vs. library research
- Sound: if you’re used to writing in total silence, try background music you love or a white noise machine (mine makes raindrops and ocean wave sounds)
- People: if you always write alone, try writing with a group or joining a critique group (in person or online)
- Body position: try writing at your desk, standing up, lying in bed or a lounge chair, curled up in the porch swing
Mix It Up
If you’ve lost some enthusiasm for your writing, it may be nothing more than you’ve allowed your routines to become boring ruts. Try mixing it up a bit. Choose another time, place, and position to write. Change your environment with new sounds or new people. See what that does to your creativity.
What about you? What writing habits will you always keep–and where do you like to make changes? Let’s share ideas!
By: Kristi Holl
Blog: Writers First Aid
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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.
My best friend (who once lost 100 pounds) leads a successful weekly weight loss group. This week she and I discussed how much time it takes to stay on top of habits you are changing.
Sometimes I am shocked at how much time it takes to maintain your success. (Not move ahead, mind you. Just not go backwards.) I was struck by the similarities of her discovery and my own (pertaining to new writing habits.)
Just as it’s easy to regain weight you’ve lost, it’s also easy to slip back into the old habits that left you with no time or energy to write. It’s oh-so-easy to slowly slide backwards. You’ve made a lot of gains—but you also must maintain. How?
Ultimately, the answer lies in how you think.
“There are approximately 5 percent of people in any country, in any nation, who will always raise the quality of their life above others. They so do because they choose how to think, day in, day out,” says Richard Bisiker, author of Unlock Your Personal Potential.
In other words, where the mind (or thinking) goes, the man follows. Raise the quality of your thinking, and raise the quality of your life.
It’s important to keep your mind focused daily on your new beliefs, your new boundaries, and your new time-saving policies. Why is monitoring your thinking so important? As psychologist William James said, “That which holds our attention determines our action.”
So, at least until all your new behaviors and attitudes are rock solid habits, pay attention daily to your new beliefs and goals. Each morning, plan ahead daily for interruptions and how to divert them. (“No, I can’t discuss that right now. I’ll phone you back at 5:00 p.m. and set up a time to talk.”) Or better yet, use your answering machine to avoid being pressured into snap decisions.
Weekly and monthly, study your schedule of how you actually spent your time and compare it to your goals and policies. Is there slippage? Where did the writing time go?
Did you get guilted into one more volunteer job or another home decorating party? Did you rescue someone again from consequences of their own actions, using your time to fix their self-created problem? Be ruthless as you examine how you actually spent your time.
Learn from both your successes and mistakes. What things worked that you’d like to repeat? What things would you like to change? Calendars and journals remind you of how you spent your time, show you whether your activities match your priorities, and help you see whether you are making progress.
If you’re not sure you’ll do this essential checking up, find an accountability partner (writer or nonwriter) who will ask you the hard questions every week. The accountability check-in for time spent writing will prevent bad habits from sneaking back in unnoticed.
Setbacks Before Success
Sometimes interruptions occur that no one can help or avoid. You need to drop everything and attend to your sick child. Or there’s been a car accident, or in-laws have arrived for the holidays. The key to rebounding from these necessary interruptions is to view them as one-time events—not your new lifestyle. The events have a beginning, a middle, and an ending. Then you go back to your previous writing schedule.
You do not stay stuck in the familiar people-pleasing role. See unavoidable interruptions as temporary
For the first time, my kiddos are both in school and I have oodles of time during the day to write. I'm not even a full-time writer yet as I work two days a week in my private practice, but that leaves THREE whole days of interrupted free time. Therein lies the problem. I wrote three novels in the past two years, and did it in the one to two hours of time I had in the evening after the kids went to bed. Those one to two hours involved nothing but fast, hard writing--because it was all the time I had to do it. I envisioned that once the kids were in school, I'd be able to multiply that output by ten, and could crank out a book every two months. The kids have been in school a grand total of 5 weeks now, which means I should have another book almost finished, right?
Not quite. First, I discovered the joy of grocery shopping without little ones underfoot. If you haven't tried it, it's an amazing experience. Next, I thought I'd conquer my possessed laundry basket which never empties no matter how many loads I do. I've seen the bottom of my laundry basket several times in the past few weeks, a sight I haven't seen in years. My to-do list has been tackled, my dogs have have enjoyed walks with me in the morning after I take the kids to school, and I've caught up with friends for lunches and brunches and other food-related outings. The most productive writing time for me in the past few weeks...has been in the one to two hours after the kids go to bed at night.
What the hell? I mean, I'm still writing but not nearly the amount I thought I'd be. Part of it is probably the habit of night writing, and part of it is probably the fact that I have quiet time in the house by myself for the first time in over eight years. Part of me worries that even if I were a full-time writer, I wouldn't be writing more than I am right now--Stephen King would mock my current habits (if you haven't read On Writing, you should). I'm hoping the novelty of being home wears off quickly, and I just ordered a day planner and am going to set myself up on a much stricter writing schedule (NOTE: the day planner itself looks so fun and amazing that I'm sure I'll do an entire post on it once it arrives.)
Anyone else struggle with this issue? Any additional tips you'd like to share? Pretty please. Or just let me know if you're in the area and want to go to brunch. ;)
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Are 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.)
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!