Tag Archives: motivation

You think too much!

There’s a great quote from Montgomery Scott in “Star Trek III: The Search for Spock”:

The more they overthink the plumbing, the easier it is to stop up the drain.

It’s occurred to me lately that quote describes could explain what’s happened to my writing. Could it be there comes a point where thinking too much about your writing just gets in the way, makes writing harder than it should be, and kills the joy?

I recall hearing a few times about Tiger Woods taking time off from tournaments to “rebuild his swing”. There have been several celebrities who have retired, only to return a few years later. I’ve heard people declare that they intend to keep working at their job until it’s no longer fun.

So how do we strike a balance between enjoying our writing and continuing to improve? I’ve never been one to believe that the mere repetition of a task in itself will help you improve beyond a certain point. At some point we need to incorporate new information, new methods, new ways of thinking if we ‘re going to get any farther. Can we do that without losing the fun?

As I’ve mentioned in other posts, writing has become hard for me lately. While it may not explain all of it, I believe my own drive to improve may explain at least some of it. I think I may have gone too far, to the point that I was afraid to write something down unless I was sure it was better. I told myself I had to write these stories, even though they weren’t fun to write. I’m a professional, after all. I’m disciplined. I can make myself write.

Well, maybe not.

I recently picked up my last “trunk novel” to see if there was something I could do to improve it. As I read I was surprised at just how much I was enjoying it! My last impressions of that manuscript were that the plot was weak and the characters were bland. And that may still be true, but it wasn’t as true as I remembered, if that makes sense. There were differences between characters, and while the plot could perhaps be improved, it wasn’t bad. There’s a lot more to be pleased with, even with its problems, than I thought.

Most of all, I had fun reading it. And I remembered having fun writing it. Something changed between that project and the two other projects I struggled with all last year. I think I overthought the plumbing. Perhaps it’s time to go back and rework my swing.

I’m not saying we should only write when it’s fun, but if we’re not getting at least some satisfaction and enjoyment from what we do…why are we doing it?

Thom Stratton

About Thom Stratton

Thom Stratton was born and raised in Idaho, and now lives in Utah with his Finnish wife, three amazing kids, three distinct cats, and a big, goofy dog. He works for a regional bank, and is part owner of a video game store. He enjoys writing, photography, war gaming, music, theater, building things, and reading. Though active in writing as a teen, he convinced himself it could never be a career. Decades later upon moving to Utah, where there’s something odd in the water, he has decided to get serious about writing. To date he has written five novels to be published posthumously by his greedy estate and is polishing a set of short stories to start submitting. Any day now…

Looking backward

When the time comes for young Anakin Skywalker to leave Tatooine to become a Jedi his mother tells him to go, and not look back. In the Bible when Lot and his family flee Sodom they are told to not look back. Every day we’re told to not dwell on the past.

Sometimes that’s good advice. But sometimes it’s good to look back, get some perspective, and see how far you’ve come. Dust off those old “trunk novels”. Re-read those old short stories. Pull out the partial manuscripts of projects begun but never finished.

Take a good look at where you were as a writer back then compared to today. See some progress? What have you learned since then? What bad habits have you overcome? What weaknesses have you shored up and turned into strengths?

What sort of stories did you like to tell back then compared to now? What kinds of characters did you find most appealing? How have your tastes changed?

One of the best results of a stroll down memory lane is the chance to see what actual progress you’ve made. People usually improve gradually–so gradually, in fact, that often it seems like we’re not actually improving. One of the best ways to notice that change and put it all in perspective is to compare your current writing to your old writing.

Need some encouragement and motivation? Take a look at your old writing. Chances are you’ve made progress. Cut yourself some slack. Most writers, like their projects, are a work in progress. Take a moment to look back and see how far you’ve come.

To borrow from the old cigarette ads, “You’ve come a long way, baby!”

Thom Stratton

About Thom Stratton

Thom Stratton was born and raised in Idaho, and now lives in Utah with his Finnish wife, three amazing kids, three distinct cats, and a big, goofy dog. He works for a regional bank, and is part owner of a video game store. He enjoys writing, photography, war gaming, music, theater, building things, and reading. Though active in writing as a teen, he convinced himself it could never be a career. Decades later upon moving to Utah, where there’s something odd in the water, he has decided to get serious about writing. To date he has written five novels to be published posthumously by his greedy estate and is polishing a set of short stories to start submitting. Any day now…

Just jump

Ah, can’t you see me standin’ here

I got my back against the record machine

I ain’t the worst that you’ve seen

Ah, can’t you see what I mean?

Ah, might as well jump

— Van Halen, “Jump”

Last week I wrote about a short story I was working on to submit to an anthology. Like always seems to happen, the deadline crept up faster than I’d realized, and I found myself last week running out of time to finish my rewrite. It didn’t help that I decided it needed major changes.

I finished, but there wasn’t as much time as I would have liked for editing. I’m still not sure it’s worth submitting. I’m sure I could have made it better with another couple days’ attention. I seriously considered not submitting it.

But I submitted it.

I can’t hide forever. It’s nice and safe writing just for myself and a few kind friends, but that’s not going to get me to where I want to go. As Miss Frizzle always says on The Magic School Bus, “Take Chances! Make Mistakes!”

If we listen to our doubts we might avoid embarrassment, but we’ll never get where we want to go. Doubt has it’s place in the writing process–it’s what drives us to improve. But there comes a point when we have to tell that voice “Shut up. It’s time to act.”

So I submitted it.

And it’s going to hurt if I’m rejected–and I fully expect I will be. But it’ll hurt a little bit less than the last time. And if I pick myself up from this failure, too, and keep doing this again and again, eventually it’ll hurt less, and perhaps I’ll even get accepted. There is a chance.

Chance of acceptance if I never submit? 0%

I don’t like those odds. I’d better toughen up and submit more. If you have dreams you’re still chasing, you probably should, too. You never know what might happen, but it’s easy to predict what will happen if you don’t.

Thom Stratton

About Thom Stratton

Thom Stratton was born and raised in Idaho, and now lives in Utah with his Finnish wife, three amazing kids, three distinct cats, and a big, goofy dog. He works for a regional bank, and is part owner of a video game store. He enjoys writing, photography, war gaming, music, theater, building things, and reading. Though active in writing as a teen, he convinced himself it could never be a career. Decades later upon moving to Utah, where there’s something odd in the water, he has decided to get serious about writing. To date he has written five novels to be published posthumously by his greedy estate and is polishing a set of short stories to start submitting. Any day now…

Unsticking the Stuck

This week I nearly threw in the towel. Writing is just so hard! I just can’t do it any more! There are so many other things I could be doing! It’s not like I’m ever going to be good at this!

And then I took a deep breath and filed it away to deal with later. I did end up skipping my writing session that day, until I could figure out what was driving my sudden loss of desire. Later that day I had some time to think, so I looked at all the reasons I might not want to write. It wasn’t hard to identify most of them. I’ve fought them off before.

For one, I’d just started listening to Brandon Sanderson’s “Words of Radiance” on audiobook again. That’s a guaranteed double-whammy. For one it’s very hard not to devote every moment of free time with my headphones in, catching just another moment or two. Having read it before doesn’t help. It’s simply too big a book to remember everything that happened, so in many ways it’s like reading it for the first time all over again.

The other problem is that Sanderson intimidates the daylights out of me. I’ll never write as well as he does. I’ll never write half as well as he does. I’ll never even write as well as his laundry. I may as well give up. Not many writers make me want to give up, but he’s one.

But I’ve managed to overcome both of those issues before. There had to be something more.

And there was. I’d just returned from a family trip, during which I’d done no writing at all. There hadn’t been any time. I was out of the habit. But that wasn’t all of it. It couldn’t be.

No, I was also really tired from that trip. That alone is not enough to stop me from writing, but when added to the mix…? Yup. But there still had to be more.

Was it because of where I was in the story and the scene I was about to write? Well, actually… I was dreading the next scene. I knew what I needed to do, and I didn’t want to have to do it. But why? Then I realized that my outline was getting in my way again. Though I’m a somewhat sparse outliner, I sometimes still feel obligated to follow it exactly whenever there is a signpost to guide me. I had to remind myself that the outline is still just a suggestion, not a retaining wall. If I don’t like it I can do something else.

All those factors, I realized, were contributing to a major internal rebellion against writing. But having identified and, to some degree, dealt with each one in turn I found I had cleared the log jam. My very next writing session I not only wrote, but I wrote more in a single sitting than I’d written in weeks. And I still wanted to write some more that night. And the next day. Not only was I unstuck, but it was as if I had a backlog of writing propelling me forward. It’s been a great couple of days.

I think we all get like this from time to time. We may call it writer’s block–and it may be–but often it could just as easily be a bunch of factors all ganging up on us at once. Sitting down and identifying them, then sorting through them and resolving them may be all it takes to get the creative juices flowing again.

It helps to know ourselves as writers, to understand what things can sap our creative energy, what dead ends we can let ourselves slip down. The more we understand who we are, what motivates us, and what stops us cold, the more we can unstick ourselves. Which can be a big relief. I really didn’t want to have to put away my Brandon Sanderson while I finish this novel.

Thom Stratton

About Thom Stratton

Thom Stratton was born and raised in Idaho, and now lives in Utah with his Finnish wife, three amazing kids, three distinct cats, and a big, goofy dog. He works for a regional bank, and is part owner of a video game store. He enjoys writing, photography, war gaming, music, theater, building things, and reading. Though active in writing as a teen, he convinced himself it could never be a career. Decades later upon moving to Utah, where there’s something odd in the water, he has decided to get serious about writing. To date he has written five novels to be published posthumously by his greedy estate and is polishing a set of short stories to start submitting. Any day now…

“Stick-to-it-iveness”

I recently complained on Facebook that I had to cut my writing short for the day because the scene I was about to write was just more than I could handle that particular day and in that particular mood. A friend of mine replied to remind me of advice I had given him almost five years ago when we both participated in NaNoWriMo 2011.

My advice? “Write crap, but write.”

Now of course I had to feign indignation that he would save up my words all that time just to hurl them back in my face, but I couldn’t help but feel a little flattered. Someone remembered something I’d said! And for five years! But I also felt just a little shamed, too. Here I was quitting early for the day just because it got a little hard and I didn’t want to write a bad scene.

We all get that urge to self-edit, that little voice that tells us we can’t just write, we have to write well. We have to write “Art.” Hence my advice. Granted, it was originally geared to NaNoWriMo and the Herculean task of writing 50,000 words in a month. If you spend time editing and polishing, or trying to create perfect prose on the first pass you’re going to fail. It’s as simple as that. Hence the advice: to make that word count you’re going to have to just accept that some of your words are going to be pooped out by something less elegant than unicorns. Accept that, and keep writing. Don’t look back.

It was good advice for NaNoWriMo, and looking back, it’s been good advice for the past five years, even though that was the last time I did NaNo. I hit my goal that year, and though it was hard, I proved to myself that I could sustain a solid writing effort. I’ve written more or less continuously ever since, finishing three novels and part of a fourth in that time while mostly writing during my lunch hour at work.

I’ve had to accept that, working under those conditions, there are going to be days I write crap. There are going to be days when 300 words are the best I can do. But I’ve tried my best not to give up. I’ve accepted that there are going to be entire months worth of work that may have to be reworked or even tossed out. But if there is any truth to the notion that you have to write a million sub-par words before you start to become a good writer, then I do myself no service by not writing until I’m certain what I write will be pure gold. The sooner I burn through that million words the better!

And yes, I’ve written crap, and I’m probably still writing crap. Twice now I’ve thrown out half of a draft and completely rewritten them (hence only three finished novels in five years). But I haven’t given up, and I haven’t needed NaNoWriMo for motivation. I write, even at risk of writing crap.

By now I’m getting pretty close to at least halfway through those million words. Am I getting better? I don’t know. Have I wanted to give up? A couple of times, yes. Have I got anything to show for it? Well, no, not really. But as they often quote on “Writing Excuses”, “Anyone can tell you you can’t write. Don’t let anyone tell you you don’t write.”

In that regard, at least, I am a success. I write. Five years later I still write. I’d like to think my writing doesn’t stink, but I don’t really know. That’s not important, anyhow. After five years I have learned at least one thing: I write because I want to, and because I want to, I write.

Thom Stratton

About Thom Stratton

Thom Stratton was born and raised in Idaho, and now lives in Utah with his Finnish wife, three amazing kids, three distinct cats, and a big, goofy dog. He works for a regional bank, and is part owner of a video game store. He enjoys writing, photography, war gaming, music, theater, building things, and reading. Though active in writing as a teen, he convinced himself it could never be a career. Decades later upon moving to Utah, where there’s something odd in the water, he has decided to get serious about writing. To date he has written five novels to be published posthumously by his greedy estate and is polishing a set of short stories to start submitting. Any day now…

Letters from the future

I’m not a patient man. I’m pretty sure that the future me who is a successful published author is one day going to write a letter from the future to myself in the past to give myself some advice. But I can’t wait that long. And so I’m going to try to imagine what advice I might try to give myself in ten years or so when I’ve finally figured it all out and am making a living doing what I love. So here goes…

Dear me,

Here I am, taking a break after having sent the last manuscript for the last novel in my latest series to my editor (Andrea is really great! You’re going to love working with her, but hold your ground on main character descriptions. Less is more!). I was thinking back on how things were ten years ago and how I never thought I’d ever actually make it. So here’s a little advice from me to you.

  1. You’ll make it. Hang in there. Don’t give up. On the other hand, it won’t be what you expected, either. I’ve made it, but I never really entirely feel like it’s real. I keep falling into that “I’ll be a real writer when…” trap that everyone warned me about. You know, I’ll be a real writer when I publish a novel. I’ll be a real writer when I publish a second novel. I’ll be a real novel when I hit the NYT Best Sellers list. I’ll be a writer when a publisher picks up my first novel for a completely different series. Etc. It goes on and on, and it never really stops. Just relax and enjoy it more. But don’t give up.
  2. Don’t try to implement too much advice at once. I remember where you’re at now–you’ve been listening to all sorts of advice on what to do and not to do, and you’re trying to work it all in at once. Stop it. It’s making your writing feel forced and unnatural. It’s killing your voice. Back it off and just pick a few honest-to-gosh weaknesses to shore up and focus on that for the current novel. Then add in a few more things. Don’t try to leap over five years of practice in a single novel. It’s killing your writing and draining all the fun out of something you love.
  3. Write what you love to read, but don’t be afraid to take a few deliberate steps to make your work more accessible. Go ahead and write those “average Joe gets in over his head and rises to the occasion” novels, but don’t forget that Average Joe could be a Josephine, a Jojo, a Jing Pao, a Joachim, or a Jose. Or he could have those people as friends. Don’t homogenize your world unnecessarily.
  4. When writing other worlds be sure to take the time to make it truly different. And then kick it up another level. You don’t have to be Brandon Sanderson, but take the time to really think things through. It takes more thought and more prep than you think it does. Learn to take your time with the prep.
  5. Work on making your characters more different from one another. I know, “how do I do that?!” Practice. And people-watch. That’s all I can say. Even friends who get along well are still different, and still say things differently, even when they’re agreeing. Practice it. It’s one of the biggest things holding you back.
  6. Study other authors’ writing. Remember how you try so hard not to get carried away with description, backstory, asides, etc, only to catch your favorite writers doing exactly that? If they’re not getting carried away, neither are you. Relax, and go with it. You can always trim it back later. Andrea will be good at telling you when you’re getting carried away.
  7. Find some interim Andreas. Work on building up your alpha and beta reader groups. See if you can’t get a peer group going. You need that feedback. It’ll help. Trust me on this. You can’t stay a “Lone Wolf Writer” forever.
  8. Always build in deep symbolism. Your readers will love that. Just kidding. Don’t keep inserting Easter eggs into your scenes. It’s pretentious, and even if certain people do like it, you won’t respect yourself in the morning. And seriously, that thing you’ve got going on with blueberries as a symbol of death? Drop it. No one gets it. It doesn’t work. Kill that darling!
  9. Read lots. But don’t compare. Study what those writers do, but don’t try to be them.
  10. Step outside your comfort zone from time to time. Remember that YA Paranormal Romance you started writing on a lark? It was terrible, but admit it. It was a lot of fun to write! And without that you never would have stumbled onto writing LDS Romance (and yes, a pen name is a good idea). And no, you won’t get pigeon-holed when you go back to fantasy (but the pen name is still a good idea!).
  11. Keep writing. Don’t overdo it, either. Find that balance. You won’t have your kids much longer. It’s good that you’re showing them it’s okay to pursue your dreams, but if you’re tempted to spend less time on them and more time on writing, don’t. Just keep fitting it in when you can. You’ll get there.

That’s probably enough for now. I won’t tell you which novel will finally get you published, as that’d freak you out so bad you’d never write it. But I suspect you can tell from the above that it’s quite likely the last one you would expect. So I guess that’s point #12: don’t assume. Put your work out there. Get rejected. Get used to sending everything out regardless of whether you think anyone will like it. And then be prepared to be floored at what finally sells. You wouldn’t believe me if I told you.

Good luck, and best wishes! It’ll be worth it!

Sincerely,

Me

Thom Stratton

About Thom Stratton

Thom Stratton was born and raised in Idaho, and now lives in Utah with his Finnish wife, three amazing kids, three distinct cats, and a big, goofy dog. He works for a regional bank, and is part owner of a video game store. He enjoys writing, photography, war gaming, music, theater, building things, and reading. Though active in writing as a teen, he convinced himself it could never be a career. Decades later upon moving to Utah, where there’s something odd in the water, he has decided to get serious about writing. To date he has written five novels to be published posthumously by his greedy estate and is polishing a set of short stories to start submitting. Any day now…

Deep Writing Dreams

Natalie Goldberg, in her Writing Down the Bones, noted that some of her students had been doing what she calls “practice writing” — some of them for as long as three years. So one night, she asked them “Where do you want to go with writing? You have this strong creative voice; you’ve been able to separate out the creator and the editor. What do you want to do with it?” She told them that “There comes a time to shape and direct the force we have learned.”

Then she re‑couched her words: “What are your deep dreams? Write for five minutes.”

I haven’t read every short chapter in her book, but I always leave a marker where I’ve left off. I DO like many of her ideas. I opened to my marker this morning on p. 59 on which I’d highlighted, some time ago, “What are your deep dreams? Write . . .”

In other words, I wasn’t about to write for “only” five minutes.

I was literally shocked to see this particular exercise pop up as the next thing to do. For the last several weeks, I’d been collecting my thoughts on where I want all my UNfinished writings to go. In fact, to facilitate my dreams of writing, I’d already given notice to one writer’s blog, that I would stop writing my weekly blog for them by June 1, because here were (some of) my Deep Dreams:

Before the end of the year, I will finish the first full draft of my historical novel, which I have done many, many hours of research on, written one full screen‑play, and a 36-verse (rhymed & heavily accented “Celtic”in iambic pentameter) poem about my MC’s full story, to be printed with intermittent verses dividing chapters within the novel. All I need to do is re‑read extant copies of historical documents, past writers’ critiques, my poem, invent a new “order” of events to fit the story as it now should appear, and BEGIN WRITING. That’s a lot to do between now and Dec. 31, 2016.

After that? Write my three non‑fiction books (shorter and much easier): My journey through 30 years of ever‑changing cancer treatments; My Spiral Life, where my students, for 50‑plus years, taught me how to be a Teacher; THE Trip, illuminating how I managed to survive, and return to Utah from a trip in 1967 which took me to California, Hawaii, then by cruiser to several ports in Oregon, California (again), Mexico, through the Gulf, into the Caribbean Islands, onward to Portugal, France, eventually England. Which was where I bought my mo‑ped and traveled England, Scotland, France, Italy, and Spain before flying to Copenhagen, then on to NY, and eventually Utah, for my one‑and‑a‑half years of Grad School.

Meanwhile, I’ll be working on trying to sell small pieces (already completed, and sitting in my files): a little poetry, humorous essays, and scholarly articles.

When that’s done . . . I may have to write down my next Deep Dreams.

 

 

How LTUE saved Christmas

HowMurraySavedChristmasOkay, perhaps it wasn’t that dramatic, but attending Life, the Universe, and Everything 2016 in Provo this past week has, once again, made a significant difference in my writing. Every year I’ve been has been wonderful, of course, but there have been a couple of specific occasions when it may have literally saved my writing career.

The first time was two years ago. I was halfway through a novel I had spent a year working on and getting nowhere. I was making progress with a sledgehammer, and everything just felt wrong. It was a struggle to get myself to write, and I nearly gave up. Instead I went to LTUE, and within the first two panels I had figured out what was wrong with my novel. I had over-outlined and, in the process, lost sight of what the story was about.

I ended up starting over on that novel, choosing a new beginning that focused more on the heart of the story, and within six months I had the entire novel finished. It’s probably my best writing to date.

This year things weren’t quite that extreme, but giving up on writing had occurred to me at least a few times in the past month. I’ve been world-building and planning for several months in order to really do the setting justice in this next project, and I had largely lost interest in the entire novel. Outlining had helped build a little enthusiasm, but when I started writing it just felt like…work. Nothing flowed. I felt like a hack.

Then I went to LTUE last week, and after the first two days I felt my enthusiasm returning. I could do this! But what I needed was to set that project aside and work on that YA paranormal romance that I jokingly said I was going to write as an April Fools gag last year, but later decided was actually a cool idea. I wasn’t really ready to write the other project. I could bury it for a few more years.

The breakthrough this time came not from a panel, but from a conversation with Julie Frost in the dealers room. We were discussing our various projects and she mentioned how an editor had told her once to either take one of her characters out of the novel or give it something to do. She ended up removing that character and finding the story was better for it.

The light clicked on. That was precisely the problem I was having with my new project I was just starting. I had convinced myself I needed certain characters in the novel, but in creating my outline I had failed to realize they weren’t really playing any important part in the story. I need to remove them or give them something to do.

Realizing that one thing felt like a weight had lifted. I had maneuvered myself into a corner again, thinking that just because I had begun planning with a specific idea in mind–in this case, what characters I needed–I had to continue on regardless of whether that idea was still what the story needed. The added freedom of realizing the story likely didn’t need those characters, and might be better off without them, made all the difference. I’m excited about that project again, and ready to try again.

Of course I now have the problem of having two projects I’m excited about and need to do. But hey, even LTUE can’t solve everything!

Thom Stratton

About Thom Stratton

Thom Stratton was born and raised in Idaho, and now lives in Utah with his Finnish wife, three amazing kids, three distinct cats, and a big, goofy dog. He works for a regional bank, and is part owner of a video game store. He enjoys writing, photography, war gaming, music, theater, building things, and reading. Though active in writing as a teen, he convinced himself it could never be a career. Decades later upon moving to Utah, where there’s something odd in the water, he has decided to get serious about writing. To date he has written five novels to be published posthumously by his greedy estate and is polishing a set of short stories to start submitting. Any day now…

“What Scares You Most: Writing? Or NOT Writing?”*

I’m told fear itself is not good and it’s not bad. No more than a weather vane: it just lets us know if we’re ready to meet or anticipate the challenge before us. Fear is only problematic if we do — or sometimes, don’t do — something to avoid feeling what’s bothering us.

Scared to pitch to an editor in that crowded elevator? Watching floor numbers overhead won’t help. What’s the worst that can happen? The editor might say, “I’m thinking of my up‑coming speech to the group. Could we talk about this after the next meeting?” Or, “Sorry, I’m not looking to pick up any new clients just now.” So, what were you so afraid of? And why? Both answers are civil, straightforward, easily understood. And one of them contained an invitation for further congress.

So we need to swallow some lessons about fear. How do you know when fear’s got you by the throat? You pass out in the elevator? Run, screaming, from the confines of the sliding door. Some real signs of fear:

A. You consider giving up writing.

  1. You keep revising. And never finish.
  2. You write in a frenzy, for hours . . . and its still not “good enough”

B. You’re afraid . . . so what?

  1. Admit (even just to yourself) what you’re afraid of. Out loud. Then let it go if it sounds silly.
  2. It’s OK to let the fears have their say inside your head. In fact, if that’s where they are, learn to ignore them while they’re talking.
  3. Find a way to prevent that fear from taking over; stopping you from moving forward.

C. Change your focus from the doing to the results.

  1. You think your book isn’t going to be good enough? And you’re only on chapter 2? Start working on chapter 3, and forget about “The End” result.
  2. Check out what your intentions are with this book, all the commitment you’ve put into the first chapters, the love you’ve had for any part of the process, your ultimate goal. Your intent could become to follow through, whether the ending is what you wanted or not at the beginning.

D. Are you a Perfectionist?

  1. You’re not perfect. Neither am I. Neither was J.K. Rowling when she started. I suppose she really isn’t now either. What she is, is dedicated to finishing what she starts.
  2. Acknowledge what, in the process, you are dedicated to — and keep that in mind.
  3. Study the genre or type of writing you’re attempting. What can you do which will bend your story to the will of that genre or type?
  4. Aim for “finished” rather than “perfection”.

E. It’s not that hard . . . so don’t make it harder!

  1. It’s not time to panic about how to self‑publish; or what to do for a “selling” cover, or where to find an agent.
  2. None of those things, and a myriad of others, matter until you type “The End”.
  3. Staying up all night to write chapter 4 probably won’t help. Pace yourself. Set achievable goals that are in reach from the way that you write — is being “driven” your style? Or a sign of your fear?

F. Examine your writing habits, and decide what they mean.

  1. Avoidance? You keep putting off getting back to chapter 7? Is it because you’re stuck? Or scared?
  2. Rewrites? Maybe you got to “The End” once. And now you’re on your 10th complete rewrite? You won’t reach ultimate perfection. If it’s good — and your critique friends say so — consider, that might be fear talking to you. Set limits. “3 times per scene, then move on.”
  3. Substituting housework for writing? Haven’t written for days because you had to sweep the back porch? Do last week’s laundry? Walk around the block, so you can “think”? Fix dinner for your sick hubby? Well, OK. Some of those things probably do need to happen. Can you give a “chore” 15 minutes, then give your writing 15? If you alternate, maybe you’ll be surprised at how much gets done, of each.
  4. Whatever you do should be done in the spirit of re‑training your bad habits, glorying in your good ones!

G. Does writing scare you? Good! Let it !

  1. Is the “scare” going to harm you? Scared of starting? Writing slowly? Going too fast? Letting anyone, even your trusted writing friends see it? If it won’t harm you, do as much of it as possible until the fear goes away.
  2. You’ve finished a book. Now someone in your women’s club has asked you to speak to them about writing. Just Do It.

H. Focus on the feat, not the fear.

  1. You write a column that’s accepted for a gardening tract in your town.
  2. Focus on the gardening you love and how to express the how to’s and the where and wherefore’s.
  3. Don’t focus on the fact that you’ll have to face this group, and talk. With coherence. You can do it!

I. Worst‑case scenarios should be faced.

  1. What’s wrong with my story? I’m a terrible writer. According to whom? My non‑writing neighbor. Or the magazine which turned it down.
  2. Why can’t I finish my story? Because it’s hopeless, it’s bad. If I never finish, I’ll never have to send it. I’ll never know — but I’ll be safer then.
  3. But if I finished, and got some feedback, I might improve. Wouldn’t that put me one step closer to reaching my goals?

J. Free your Fear

  1. Realize, fear isn’t the problem. “Fearing the fear” is the problem because it stops us in our tracks.
  2. Will getting rid of the fear mean that all my dreams will come true? No. But they may come one step closer to being realized.
  3. Your writing is important. Important to friends and family. Important to you! Your life is important, to all those same folks, including you!

Step it up. Identify the fear. Face the fear. It’s your fantasy. It’s your need to write things down. And it’s your Life. Make the most of them all.


*These 10 general ideas about challenging fears were garnered from The Writer’s Digest online from an article by Sage Cohen, entitled “10 Ways to Harness Fear and Fuel Your Writing,” Jan. 3, 2012. If the above wasn’t enough, look it up and read his take on these ten challenges.

Keepin’ Stuff, and Keepin’ Goin’

I keep a lot of “stuff”. Some of it, I even keep on my computer: old writers magazines I didn’t make time to read when they hit my INBOX. Further, I admitted (all too recently) how many partial books I have written (and “kept” thinking “some day . . . ). And admitted how much I want to work on my longest, most researched, toughest book, an historical tale from Celtic Times in today’s England.

So I was deleting literally HUNDREDS of “saves” from some of my 1586 folders (that is an accurate, not an exaggerated, number). And I spotted an old Writer’s Digest article called “6 Simple Ways to Reboot Your Writing Routine,” by Brian A. Klems. Since my “writing routine” consists most of thinking about, but not necessarily DOING the writing, I thought maybe I’d better READ THE ARTICLE, this time, from January 10, 2012. And, yes, sometimes the “old” ideas are the really “good” ideas.

Since this was an old January 2012 piece, I thought it very fitting that I try to learn something from it now, at the end of January 2016. Here’s the short list:

  1. Your New Year artist statement: You do have one don’t you?
  2. Your Current regimen. Still working?
  3. Your hardware, software: Time for an upgrade?
  4. Writing extracurriculars: Are you missing out?
  5. Your support network: Is it in place?
  6. Day planners and deadlines: Have you mapped out a path to success?

SELF‑EXAM TIME:

  1. What do I write? Any fancy, new idea that pushes its way into my head. Why do I write it? Because sitting down to write something new is exhilarating! At this point, everything always looks POSSIBLE. OK, Brenda, but dig deeper. How much does this really matter to me? Why should I bother?

DEAR READER: WRITE A SIMPLE, HEARTFELT ARTISTIC STATEMENT WHICH WILL SUSTAIN YOU OVER THE NEXT 11 MONTHS.

(If you wrote an artist statement LAST YEAR) drag it out, dust it off and find out whether any of it still applies. Make sure this statement for the new 2016 year fits you, fits your desires, fits your aims.

  1. Current regimen ‑‑‑ I HAVE one ? ? ? I usually set goals for the next day as I write my 750words on my journaling site. I know my most productive hours are in the morning. That said, those hours often collide with my “new” husband’s hours (haven’t quite reached our 4th anniversary, and this while we are in our 60’s and 70’s ‑ can you say “set in his/her ways”?), and I drop things from my agenda which are REALLY the things I want to get done. I need to start VERY early in the a.m. and get the MOST IMPORTANT THINGS done FIRST ‑‑‑ before our hours clash. SO:

6‑7 am: Get up, eat

7‑10:30 am: WRITE & REVIEW RESEARCH

I’m currently blogging for 3 different sites: A ‑ short, once a week; B ‑ full length, once a week; C ‑ two per week, but will need to increase as we get closer to May and June

Blogs can be written later and on specified days.

10:30‑noon: Household chores

And I MUST set my phone to buzz me when it’s time to move on ‑‑‑ for me, that’s a deadline and I’m pretty good at meeting (or even beating) deadlines!

  1. Hardware, software & upgrades: It’s good having a live‑in computer genius with magic hands around. Why, just tonight he reinstalled a program which may now prevent the SEVEN SHUT DOWNS I’ve been plagued with today! Hooray! for husbands ! ! !
  2.  Writing Extracurriculars: We’re both “retired” from Navy (him) and Teaching (moi). We’re just well enough off, normally, to be able to go to many writing workshops, conferences, as well as many theatrical venues: as a former drama director/debate coach, that’s Life’s Blood to me. We’ve already paid for two major workshops, and have our season’s tickets for this years plays and musical events which keep my blood flowing (AND ideas coming ! ! !).
  3. Support Network: I’ve been in one 40‑year‑old critique group for many years. I couldn’t go to their weekly sessions while I was teaching, but am now able to attend pretty regularly. My husband and I also started a small critique group (2 couples, with occasional visitors). Both families have been a bit bogged down since before the end of 2015 with holidays, illnesses, family “emergencies,” etc. We’re working at getting back on track. I’ve also found a neighbor and an “old” friend of many years who would be glad to act as Alpha or Beta readers. My Distractors/Discouragers? I have no one who discourages me from writing . . . other than myself. With this new plan (above, and last item below), I’m hopeful that will not be a problem now. Distractors? That’s something else again. The needs of extended family are occasionally almost over‑powering. I MUST learn to find good, gentle, kind ways to keep that from being a regular problem.
  4. Day Planners/Deadlines: I loved the quote the Writer’s Digest author of these main ideas gave: He’d had a college professor who would tell her graduate students, “A good paper is a done paper.” I’ve already set deadlines for myself from now until June 20, 2016. When I get close to that deadline, I’ll extend it through the next several months, and move from my historical novel (which takes precedence now) to one of the THREE non‑fiction tomes I’d like to pen. Or, actually, “compute.”

WHAT’S YOUR PLAN ? ? ?