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Posts tagged with: writer’s journey

Write On 2017! – Money, Money

WARNING: Today’s topic in our Write On 2017! series is NOT sexy. My apologies in advance. But here’s a cute weimaraner puppy for your viewing pleasure.

In this series we’re exploring ways to keep you on course and on fire about your writing, stuff like missions and visions and goals that fuel our writerly souls. Today is all about spreadsheets.

If you’re serious about the craft and business of writing, you need to invest in yourself and your products. And if you’re earning revenue, you must keep track of earnings. Uncle Sam agrees. I am not an accountant or tax professional, and I am not offering any financial or tax advice. My goal is to encourage you to be aware of your expenses and revenue streams, even if you are just starting out. Why? Money motivates. 🙂

Your #1 Assignment: Identify expenses for 2017.

On a spreadsheet or good ol’ yellow legal pad, record anticipated expenses. At year’s end, record actual expenses. Expenses can include: professional associations; education; craft books and comps; office supplies and equipment; book services such as editing, formatting, etc.; postage; bank fees; publicity; travel and lodging; networking functions; self-employment taxes; etc.

The benefits: Setting aside money for craft books or writing workshops will encourage you to work on your craft. Going to conferences will expose you to industry professionals such as agents, editors, cover artists, etc. Your tax adviser can also talk to you about deductions. Finally, putting figures down on paper is a statement of serious intent. Yay, you!

Your #2 Assignment: Identify income for 2017.

On that same spreadsheet, identify potential revenue streams such as royalties, advances, speaking honorariums, freelance work, etc. As money comes in, record it.

The benefits: You might identify some unexpected revenue streams. In addition, it’s cause to celebrate. Millions of people talk about “writing a book”, a tiny percentage of those actually do it, and a minuscule number of that subset make any money off their writing. This is a tough biz, my friends, and I applaud all of you who have earned money from it!

While budgeting isn’t too sexy, finding ways to empower our writing is. In the comment section below, tell us about one great investment you’ve made in your writing career. Might be a craft book, research trip, conference, or whiz-bang website. Write on!

This is Part 6 of the Ruby Slippered Sisterhood’s series, Write On 2017! A Writer’s Guide to Prioritizing, Goal Setting and Time Management. Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, Part 4, Part 5.

Shelley Coriell is an award-winning author of mysteries, romantic thrillers, and novels for teens. Her debut thriller was named one of Publishers Weekly’s Best Books of the Year, and her other novels have been nominated for an RT Reviewers’ Choice Award, Best Paperback Original of the Year from the International Thriller Writers, and a Kirkus Recommended Read. A former magazine editor and restaurant reviewer, Shelley lives in Arizona with her family and the world’s neediest rescue weimaraner. You can find her at www.shelleycoriell.com and Twittering @ShelleyCoriell.

Write On 2017! – Strengths And Weaknesses

I want all of you to picture yourself on a boat. Any boat. Any body of water. Might be sailboat on the ocean or a kayak on white water rapids. This boat represents you on your writing journey.

Are you in your boat? Good. Because it’s time for the next installment of our Write On 2017! series, which explores ways to help you stay on course and on fire about your writing. Today’s topic: things that propel your writing, hinder your writing, and yes, sink the dang boat. We’ll call these Strengths and Weaknesses. 

Your Assignment: Identify your writing strengths and weaknesses.

Let’s start with your strengths. Picture you and your boat moving effortlessly through the water. You have sunny skies, good winds, and plenty of fuel in the tank. Now identify specific reasons why you are making such amazing headway in your boat (writing career). In other words, list your writing strengths. Here’s our Write On! worksheet if you need one. Don’t be modest. Hint: Look at the craft of writing, business of writing, and personal/writer’s life.

For example, strengths can include things like:
* I am good at world building.
* I write engaging and natural dialogue.
* My family supports my writing.
* I have robust social media accounts with daily interaction.

Now picture yourself in that same boat. You’re getting battered by wind and rain. You’re taking on water. The sharks are circling. Take a few minutes and identify specific things that hinder your writing career, especially those that have the potential to sink your boat. Hint: Look at the craft of writing, business of writing, and personal/writer’s life.

Weaknesses can include things like:
* I struggle with pacing. My stories are sluggish and bloated.
* I start stories but don’t finish them.
* I am in a toxic writing group.
* I spend too much time on social media and not enough writing.

Why this exercise? It’s important to know your strengths so you can exploit them. For example, if you’re good at writing dialogue and you’re having a tough writing day where the words just aren’t flowing, by all means, start writing dialogue! Also, when you’re facing down that big, burly Doubt Monster, acknowledging your strengths is like lobbing hand grenades at the beast. Knowing your weaknesses will help you identify concerns that can undermine your career. If you struggle with plotting, get yourself craft books on plot. If you’re having a hard time getting into a regular writing routine, get yourself an accountability partner. One more thing…knowing your weaknesses will help you determine goals, which will discuss next week. 🙂

Your EXTRA CREDIT assignment: Develop a fix-it strategy for one weakness.

In the comment section below, list one weakness that you want to work on in 2017, and as a community we’ll brainstorm fix-it strategies. Got that? This is an interactive exercise where you’re invited to post creative and constructive suggestions for your fellow writers. The last time I did with exercise with  a class, one author said she got stuck on a writing project because she had to do research and she hated research. The class brainstormed a number of ideas, ranging from “hire someone to do the research” to “reward yourself with a chocolate sundae every time you researched a sticking point.” Looking forward to brainstorming below. Write on!

This is Part 4 of the Ruby Slippered Sisterhood’s series, Write On 2017! A Writer’s Guide to Prioritizing, Goal Setting and Time Management. Part 1, Part 2, Part 3. Photo: CC Image courtesy of Ken Teegardin on Flickr

Shelley Coriell is an award-winning author of mysteries, romantic thrillers, and novels for teens. Her debut thriller was named one of Publishers Weekly’s Best Books of the Year, and her other novels have been nominated for an RT Reviewers’ Choice Award, Best Paperback Original of the Year from the International Thriller Writers, and a Kirkus Recommended Read. A former magazine editor and restaurant reviewer, Shelley lives in Arizona with her family and the world’s neediest rescue weimaraner. You can find her at www.shelleycoriell.com and Twittering @ShelleyCoriell.

Write On 2017! – Your Vision

Every Monday I volunteer at a house of hospitality for pregnant and newly parenting women. Essentially, it’s a homeless shelter. Many of our moms have no family support or are newly released from jail or battling addiction.

One of the first things our moms do once they arrive at the house is put together a vision board. On this vision board they place words and images of what they want in their futures. For most of these women, this is the first time they’ve done “vision” work. Their reality: it’s hard to think about the future when you’re looking for your next meal or fix.

I love listening to our moms talk about the things on their vision boards, everything from graduation caps to shiny new baby cribs to words like SOBRIETY in giant letters. I love to see the looks on their faces as they picture a better life for them and their sweet little newborn babies. I feel their anxiety, excitement, and, above all, hope.

Visions are powerful tools.

Today in our Write On 2017! series, we’re going to talk about visions and how you can craft and use a vision to motivate you and guide your writing career.  Simply put, a vision defines the desired or intended future state of your business. Remember when we talked last week about missions? Missions INSPIRE; visions are what you ASPIRE to.

What makes a great vision? Visions are short, no more than a couple of sentences. They clearly outline your overall future aspirations without providing details of how those aspirations will be reached. And unlike missions, visions will and should change as you reach new milestones or change direction.

Some big-biz examples:

  • The earth’s most customer-centric company, where customers can find and discover anything they might want to buy online. (Amazon)
  • We will be the model for high quality journalism in the 21st century, strengthening the cultural, civic and social fabric of our democracy. (NPR)
  • The world’s beer company. Through all of our products, services and relationships, we will add to life’s enjoyment. (ANHEUSER-BUSCH)

Your Assignment: Craft your vision statement.

Time to have some fun with this one. Get yourself in a quiet, thoughtful state of mind. When I give this workshop in person, I’ll turn off the lights and let the room settle into a nice, peaceful silence. Ready?

  1. Close your eyes and envision your writing career FIVE years from now. What are you writing? Who is surrounding you? What is your financial situation? What is your state of mind? How is your health? Your spirits?
  2. Close your eyes and envision your writing career TEN years from now. Has anything changed? (It’s okay if it changes…or not. My goal is to help you deepen your thought process.)
  3. Now write “I am _____________________” and fill in the blank. Don’t worry if you need two or three sentences to list your aspirations. Once you get the thoughts down, you can narrow your focus. Or not. 🙂

Here’s my vision: I am a best-selling author who creates compelling stories that touch the hearts of my dedicated readers. A bit simple and not-too-sexy, but right now that’s how I visualize my future. Likewise, your vision must be you; it must come from a deep and true place. 

Feel free to post the above exercise and/or your vision in the comment section below. Write on!

This is Part 3 of the Ruby Slippered Sisterhood’s series, Write On 2017! A Writer’s Guide to Prioritizing, Goal Setting and Time Management. Part 1 here. Part 2 here. Image via Wiki Commons By Evan-Amos – Own work, Public Domain.

Shelley Coriell is an award-winning author of mysteries, romantic thrillers, and novels for teens. Her debut thriller was named one of Publishers Weekly’s Best Books of the Year, and her other novels have been nominated for an RT Reviewers’ Choice Award, Best Paperback Original of the Year from the International Thriller Writers, and a Kirkus Recommended Read. A former magazine editor and restaurant reviewer, Shelley lives in Arizona with her family and the world’s neediest rescue weimaraner. You can find her at www.shelleycoriell.com and Twittering @ShelleyCoriell.

There Is No Use Denying Who You Are

This is a republished blog posted here on the Ruby Slippered Sisterhood as Closet Writers that was felt by many of our readers. I hope it will connect with a few more as we go into a new year.

Closet writers break my heart. Any reason a writer keeps their writing a secret is just wrong, unless the writing is extremely personal and not meant for other’s eyes. I was a closet writer.

There are many reasons why writers remain in the closet and the Rubies have had discussions concerning them. At some time or another, many of us have faced the road-blocks that kept us from being us.

Some writers think they haven’t read enough books to be considered a writing expert. In their minds, if people find out they write, they must’ve read every single book ever published. I’m here to tell you that I’ve never read Huck Finn, War and Peace, Fifty Shades Of Gray or a zillion other classic or best-selling books. Does that confession make me less of a writer? I think not.

Being shy, it can take years for some people to join a writer’s group. A long, long time ago, when the internet was young and a thing called dial-up was used to connect to it, writers actually went to public meetings to connect with those of like minds. Walking into a meeting can be daunting to a wall flower. I know because I’m an introvert. The internet and the ambiguity it provides, has made it easier for some writers to connect to others, but not all. They remain in the background, unsure of themselves. To them, I say, “it’s always the quiet ones who make the biggest impression when they’re ready.” Rest assured most writers are genuinely nice and more than willing to help other writers in any way they can. You only need to be serious about the craft to be considered a writer by them.

A closet writer might feel they don’t know enough about the craft and until they know all there is to know they remain in seclusion. I’m not sure if there is anyone out there who knows it all. Well, maybe King, Patterson or Nora. Only they can answer that question. The point being, the majority of writers will openly admit that they don’t know everything and that they learn something new all the time. Join the club that strives to be better at their craft.

My writing sucks. It very well could, but are you the best judge? You’ve read and studied and wrote and edited. Now it’s time to trust yourself and share your work. If a critique offers constructive advice, weigh it, and then accept it or not. In the end, it’s your story. There is no greater joy for a writer than when a reader enjoys your work. The only way to know that joy is to share your gift.

There are those who really, really want to be a writer but struggle to do the work required. Writing is hard work and takes a huge amount of time. Completing a work is possible a word at a time. Commit to the work, or perhaps another hobby would be better for you.

I’m fortunate. I’m a writer who has had the support of family and friends for many years, but that wasn’t always the case. I once was a closet writer. I was told that my dreams of becoming a published writer were stupid and thus I hid my passion. Now, when I read the notebooks I filled during that time, I cringe at the darkness that shadowed my life.

One day, I finally broke and said to myself, “This is my life and I don’t want to look back and wonder what if I’d taken one step. Would my dreams have come true?” That was a year of change for me on many levels. It was a hard trial but through it I learned I had the support of many family members. I read craft books. I joined a writer’s group. I wrote and wrote and wrote. I attended conferences and workshops.  I found more support through my writer friends. I met the man of my dreams and he became my biggest supporter. I will love him forever for letting me be me.

Life doesn’t give us do-overs, but it does give us second chances. Take the step toward being you.

 

Autumn Jordon is the award-winning author of Perfect and Perfect Hearts.  She enjoys writing  contemporary romance, romantic suspense and thrillers/mysteries.  Subscribe to her newsletter at www.autumnjordon.com and be entered into members only contests. perfect-box-basic-2

A Writer’s Struggles

writers-blockIt could happen to any of us. In fact, I’m certain it’s happened to a number of us. This year, it happened to me. I won’t say “writer’s block,” because that’s not quite right. It was a sense of disillusionment, I guess. A crisis of faith (that the stories wouldn’t come to me anymore). A frustration and tiredness that seemed to seep into my soul and sit there, filling me up so that no words could break through and get to the paper. Or so it seemed most days.

 

It started earlier this year, and I pushed through it for months to meet the deadlines I’d already set up. Then I took the summer off, hoping to “refill the well” or “rediscover my passion” or whatever you want to call it. When school resumed for my three kiddos, I was doing better, creatively speaking, but not up to my earlier level of productivity. And so the cycle of disappointment (in myself) continued. I missed feeling productive, valued, and valuable. The summer months I took off were spent watching movies and reading books, trying to study the craft of storytelling. That helped me feel as if I weren’t simply wasting time. Not having deadlines helped, too. But I still wasn’t recapturing the joy.

 

One “productive” writing-related thing I managed to do over the last couple months is read. For pleasure and for personal growth. Not to get too religious here, but I pulled on some advice that I’d heard in my catechism classes…when in doubt or feeling lost, flip to any random page in the Bible and read. You’ll find something to inspire you. I decided to apply that advice to my bookshelf full of books on the craft of writing.

 

The book I pulled most recently was one I haven’t read in about a decade. It was one of the earliest books I’d picked up on craft, and I can’t even remember where I originally heard or read the recommendation, but I’m glad I did. And I’m probably getting more out of re-reading the book now than I did before I had written a dozen manuscripts.

 

Bird by BirdThe book? Bird by Bird by Anne Lamott.

 

The author’s sarcastic sense of humor and her advice for pumping out a messy first draft, polishing the second and third, etc., fit my personality as well as my style of writing. And as I read on, I felt like she was in my head. She knew what it was like to want to be a writer, but feel like you had no words. She spoke of writer’s block as an “emptiness” rather than something blocking the writer. I related to that. I felt used up and wrung out (mostly by other things going on in my life), and in desperate need of something to fill me back up.

 

The “bird by bird” reference came from something her parents told her brother when he procrastinated on a big report that he’d been given three months to complete, and now it was due the next day. He was, understandably, completely overwhelmed at the prospect of writing this report. It was supposed to be about birds, and so her parents told her brother to take it “bird by bird.” That’s the only way to accomplish anything or get anywhere. One step, one word at a time.

 

The book is over 20 years old, and some of the references are outdated (such as how research was done pre-Internet explosion), but the stories of writers struggling with words is timeless, and it’s important to me to remember that. Writers go through struggles with their craft, just as any other artist does. And this too shall pass.

 

I’ll send cyber hugs to the writers out there who are struggling, and gratitude to those who currently aren’t (because there is inspiration in seeing others do well!). In the meantime, I thought I’d share what I got from this book.

 

writingstuff1.) I don’t have to do it all right now. 

Lamott says when one is overwhelmed with the idea of writing, break it into “short assignments.” She keeps a 1-inch-square picture frame to remind her that “all I have to do is to write down as much as I can see through a one-inch picture frame.” She quotes E. L. Doctorow, who said “writing a novel is like driving a car at night. You can see only as far as your headlights, but you can make the whole trip that way.” Though I’m normally a plotter (or, at the very least, a “plantster”), I’ve had difficulty planning too far ahead this year, and these tidbits were extremely comforting to me. I just need to take things “bird by bird.” I went to Michael’s and found a 2×2 picture frame ornament and hung it at my writing desk to remind me to take things just a piece at a time. (Inside, I put a post-it that reminds me of the two things a story/scene needs to have: Emotion and Motion. And yes, that’s a Wonder Woman mug next to it—another source of inspiration. 🙂 )

 

2.) Remember that my first draft can suck.

Lamott calls it the “down draft,” as in “just get it down.” And the second draft is the “up draft,” where you fix it up. I think I let my perfectionist out of her cage too much, and need to remind myself that the sentences don’t come out perfect the first time. And they don’t have to. (BTW, Lamott has a chapter on “perfectionism” too, and it’s fabulous!)

 

3.) Remember the value in what I write.

I write romance. Lamott, as far as I know, does not. However, she states at one point (when talking about characters) that “there’s no point in writing hopeless novels. We all know we’re going to die, what’s important is the kind of men and women we are in the face of this.” Besides, as she notes, “you wouldn’t be a writer if reading hadn’t enriched your soul as much as other pursuits.” So books are important. What I write IS IMPORTANT. So I should keep doing it, right?

 

4.) “Plot grows out of character.”

So focus on the characters and let them tell the story their way. This takes the pressure off. I just have to be the conduit. I’m just the “designated typist” and the “holder of the lantern,” to use Lamott’s analogies.

 

5.) Listen to my broccoli.

Lamott references a Mel Brooks routine where a psychiatrist tells his patient, “Listen to your broccoli, and your broccoli will tell you how to eat it.” Meaning, if I don’t know what a character should do, I need to try to be quiet and listen to him/her. Or to that voice inside me. Lately, things have seemed so crazy and, well, LOUD in my life. Getting to that quiet place where I can listen to my writer’s voice is important, and I’m working on that. I want to know what that broccoli has to say! It’s full of vitamins and good stuff. These vitamins build confidence. This has been a tough one for me, particularly in 2016. Lamott recommends trusting yourself. Being on your own side (“militantly”). Stopping the chatter of doubt leaves space for getting a writer’s intuition back. And man, I need to hear that. To have hope for that. Whether it be broccoli or some other metaphor, I need to find that part inside of me and listen to it.

 

6.) Use rituals to get into my story/writing.

Whether it’s making my coffee and checking email and then sitting at my desk or in a special place to write by a certain time, having a ritual can trick your brain into being ready to write. I lost my rituals recently when things in my life got kind of shaken up, and am working to reestablish them or create new ones. 

 

Blank notepad and pencil7.) Writer’s Block is normal.

“The fear that you’ll never write again is going to hit you when you feel not only lost and unable to find a few little bread crumbs that would identify the path you were on but also when you’re at your lowest ebb of energy and faith.”

Yes. This. A thousand times this.

Lamont speaks of hopelessness and feeling bleak, and it helped me immensely to understand I wasn’t alone in these feelings.

The part I underlined was this: “The word block suggests that you are constipated or stuck, when the truth is that you’re empty.” And she advises to get a page of “anything” written. Doesn’t matter what. On bad days or weeks, let it go at that. Don’t pressure yourself. And to think, what if I was dying tomorrow? What would I spend today doing? And then go do things that will fill me back up. “It helps to resign as the controller of your fate.” Everything we need to write a story is inside, and we have to wait until our consciousness is ready to hand it up to us. “Your unconscious can’t work when you are breathing down its neck.”

 

8.) Find inner peace.

According to Lamott, this can’t be found in the world. The world can’t give it to us. It’s in our hearts, and sometimes we have to search to find it there. “But the good news is that by the same token, the world can’t take it away.”

 

There are so many other tips in this book, everything from jealousy to taking note of one’s surroundings to dealing with critics and being in critique groups to what it’s truly like to be published (a.k.a., it’s not the nirvana writers long for). I found a lot of comfort from Bird by Bird, and felt rejuvenated and focused after reading it (perfect timing for NaNo!). I highly recommend it to any writer.

If you’re interested in the book, here are a few places you can find it:

Amazon  |  iTunes  |  Kobo  |  Barnes and Noble

 

I’m going to go sit at my desk and listen to my broccoli. And continue to fill up the emptiness (which, thankfully, seems less empty every day). My next craft book re-visit is Vogler’s THE WRITER’S JOURNEY. I can’t wait to see what bits of wisdom I rediscover there. In the meantime, happy writing to you all!

 

What books seemed to have jumped off the shelves when you needed them most (hint: they don’t have to be nonfiction or even craft-related!)?

 

ABOUT THE AUTHOR:

annemariebeckerAnne Marie has always been fascinated by people—inside and out—which led to degrees in Biology, Chemistry, Psychology, and Counseling.  Her passion for understanding the human race is now satisfied by her roles as mother, wife, daughter, sister, and award-winning author of romantic suspense.  

She writes to reclaim her sanity.

Find ways to connect with Anne Marie at www.AnneMarieBecker.com. There, sign up for her newsletter to receive the latest information regarding books, appearances, and giveaways.

Meet 2016 Golden Heart Finalist Carrie Nichols!!

 Today we’re welcoming 2016 RWA® Golden Heart® Finalist and 2015 Maggie Award winning author Carrie Nichols, whose manuscript RESCUING RILEY has been nominated for best Short Contemporary Romance.

Carrie is a hardy New Englander transplanted to the deep South, where two inches of snow can bring a city like Atlanta to its knees. She loves to travel, is addicted to British crime dramas and knows a Seinfeld quote appropriate for every occasion. Carrie’s characters, much like her family, often ignore the wisdom and guidance she lovingly offers.

Here’s a bit about RESCUING RILEY:

On mandatory medical leave, Marine Corporal Riley Cooper returns to his childhood haven, Loon Lake. All his fond memories revolved around summers here with his grandmother and the McBride family next door. All his fantasies involve Meg McBride – the girl next door, his best friend’s sister – and their one night of passion before he was deployed.

Megan McBride has returned to Loon Lake, too. Though not for the summer. She’s a permanent resident, looking to open a new chapter of her life. She has a lot to consider, how to make ends meet in the small community, where she wants to raise her daughter, Fiona, how to deal with life as a single mother, and how to finally give up on Riley Cooper.

Soon Riley has a lot more to deal with than his injuries. Meg is more beautiful than ever and angrier than he ever expected. Every time he tries to help her, he ends up making things worse. And then he meets her daughter – a little girl with her hair and his eyes. How is he ever going to prove to Meg that he deserves a second chance?

“How to finally give up on Riley Cooper”….what a line!! Sigh–small town, wounded hero, secret baby, second chances!! Carrie’s got us hooked already!!

And she’s here today with her own story about hope and persistence that will ring true for (and inspire) many writers.

Take it away, Carrie!!

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

Carrie NicholsThe Long and Winding Road that Led to the GH Final

I have wanted to be a writer from the moment I picked up a crayon. The road to my GH Final has been long, slow process. As a newlywed, I wrote a romance and sent it off to Harlequin. Because I’ve been married since the Dark Ages, I had to box up my printed pages (printed on 25 lb bond, mind you) schlep it to the post office, purchase something called International Reply Coupons—the equivalent of a SASE so the editor could write back to tell me how my story made her weep with joy. Months passed before I received a form rejection from Toronto. But wait! There was a hand written note from an editor (I still remember her name was Helen something) that said “You’re a good writer but need to find your voice.” I had no idea what she meant, and that story went under the bed with several others.

Burnout

At first, I was reluctant to write about this topic during the Winter Writing Festival, when so many people are motivated and rocketing toward the finish line to meet their goals. However, burnout is something that hits many creative people (right where it hurts!) at the most inconvenient times—not that it’s ever convenient to be mentally exhausted—and I suspect some of us out there are feeling the burn. 

I had my first episode of burnout at the tail-end of 2015, and feel like I’m just coming out of that brain-fog-like state. I couldn’t focus, couldn’t get motivated, and had little energy to put toward my everyday tasks, let alone creative endeavors. I first blogged about it on February 1st at Not Your Usual Suspects, and am reposting here, in the hope that someone out there doesn’t feel so alone…

 

BURNOUT

 burnout-self-care

Burnout. Such a short, simple word, but with such a high impact. When it happens, it can derail even the most dedicated artists. For people who thrive on exploring their creative selves, mental exhaustion hits hard, but we only have so much energy—mental or physical.

So what does one do when one hits that invisible wall?

Survive, revive, and thrive.

 

Survive

I blogged about “The Write Balance” a few years back. As a counselor (in a former life), I’m aware how important finding balance is to maintaining health and happiness…and as a human with people and projects pulling at me from all directions, I’m just as aware how difficult that balance is to achieve and maintain on a daily basis.

This time, when my turn to blog came around, the only writing craft or career-related topic I could think of right now was the one thing that has consumed me for the past several weeks: Recovering my lost mojo. My motivation. My sense of balance. Whatever you want to call that need, that drive to create, I had lost track of it sometime back in early December. It’s possible I misplaced it earlier than that and was just going through the motions for many weeks, meeting deadlines but feeling no joy in the process.

It wasn’t until my health started suffering (both physically and depression) that I had to admit to myself that I’d hit a wall. Whether it was the current work-in-progress that threw that wall in my path or the holidays and a couple family emergencies combined with deadline after deadline throughout 2015, or just my inner two-year-old coming out to throw a tantrum, I just. Didn’t. Wanna. Anymore.

 

burn-out

Image from: http://www.pauladavislaack.com/burnout/

 

When my physical health started to fail and I wasn’t enjoying time with my kids during the holiday season, I knew these were signs I needed to slow the heck down. I had to focus on survival, making the holidays as bright for my kids as possible, and rest my poor, tired brain.

I worked on nothing but enjoying each moment, especially with my family. I read as much as I could. I communed with nature and binge-watched movies, trying to reabsorb any and all forms of creativity and storytelling while not having to work on my own stories. My only job became to nurture and restore myself.

 

Revive

I was convinced (and more than a little worried) that I was done with writing. Kaput. For about two weeks, until the holidays passed and the kids were back in school, I focused on family stuff. During that time, I hung out with family, played mindless online games where I grew crops and entire towns populated by imaginary people who didn’t care if I finished my book. I also jumped into several household projects that had been bugging me—such as repainting and reorganizing my pantry.

And I tried not to think about the manuscript that I’d already put weeks of hard work into, that already had a beautiful cover and two-thirds of a rough draft and was now languishing on my computer.

And I assessed what I wanted. Was this career still my goal? Was I simply tired? Did I need to try something new, even if it was simply switching to a new genre of writing?

Emailing with friends (writer friends who’ve been there, in particular) was helpful at this time. And I think the self-preservation part of me was trying to keep one foot in those writing waters. I wasn’t ready to give up the career I’d fought so hard for.

Except…
My friends kept asking me “can you really walk away from this?” And, “what would you do if you didn’t write?” The tone suggested that, as a writer, I couldn’t NOT write. But I thought that maybe I could walk away and not look back. After years of working toward this career. (This was scary.)

So, analyzing why you’re pursuing a goal—Money? Passion? Fame?—can help you discover whether the pursuit is still worth it for you.

For me, I need to finish a project I’ve started. I’ve always been that way. So I’ll get back to it and finish. And I enjoy being a writer. At least, I’m discovering that I can revive that joy, now that I’ve had a break from the deadlines. It also helped to remember I could take a step back and it didn’t mean I was quitting. I just needed perspective.

 

Thrive

zen

Photo from: http://wemagazineforwomen.com/ finding-zen-easy-ways-to-cultivate-more-inner-peace/

The answers didn’t come easy. In fact, I’m still working on finding that inner “zen.” I’m not sure where this path is taking me, or whether a different path might be better. But after about four weeks of regrouping, of doing other “writerly” things other than working on the book I’d stuck in the corner, and totally non-writerly things like finally working on getting my youngest’s baby book together (he’ll be 6 in a couple weeks!), I decided to reopen the work-in-progress and take a peek. It wasn’t so bad. I know it went off the rails somewhere, otherwise I wouldn’t have stopped. And when my brain’s rested, I’ll find the answers. Despite my recent struggles, I have faith in this process.

Slowly, I’m getting back into the groove. (After all, I’ve already got that beautiful cover and don’t want to waste it!) I’m learning that I need to pace myself, and part of that was setting time limits and reassessing goals. Instead of having a daily word count or page count goal, I’ve switched to a time goal. I know that, if I put two hours a day into this manuscript, eventually it’ll get done. And I’ll probably build up my stamina again in the process.

When committing to a word count or page goal seems daunting, or exhausting, I know I can still manage a time goal. One or two hours seems manageable.

And one day, that energy will be back and I’ll thrive again.

 

Have you suffered burnout in your job? Have you had to take a step back and reassess? Do you have any tips or tricks of the trade for recovering from burnout and/or maintaining balance? If so, please share!

 

Finding the Aha Moments

Last week, for about the twelfth time, I found myself befuddled up to my eyeballs over a romantic suspense work in progress. Whether you’re a panster, like myself, or a plotter, at some point you could find fresh ideas hiding in the deepest, darkness recesses of your mind amongst a pile of crappy overused ideas. When this happened to me in the past, I’d walked around for days mulling over my problem, my plot’s direction, which is perfectly fine, if you don’t have a deadline and or have time to waste. This time I purchased a few books (Snap: Seizing Your AHA Moments by Katherine Ramsland and Your Creative Brain by Shelly Carson, PHD) and learned for one that mulling is an acceptable process to release your muse. What I also learned, so far, that the more tricks you use to open the gates the faster that will happen.

We’re like the grains of sand on a pearly white beach. Besides having the potential to be stuck in places we really don’t want to go, we’re totally awesome and unique and we all learn in different ways. And in combination of ways.

It’s alleged that we have seven mind-sets (seven ways of learning and using our minds): Absorb Brainset, Envision Brainset, Connect Brainset, Reason Brainset, Evaluate Brainset, Transform Brainset, and Stream Brainset. I’m not going to divulge every detail I’ve learned from these books so far. I suggest you check them out for yourself.  However, I will share a concise description of each mindset and an exercise you can use that key to unlock your mind’s muse.

Absorb Mindset: Ability to absorb new information in a non-judgmental way to be stored for use later when you can use say information to see associations between objects and to remain open to your subconscious.  

Exercise: Pick a space, indoor or outside. For five minutes, really absorb your surroundings. Notice the colors, textures, lines and shadows.  Then touch, listen, smell and taste. Next pick an object and think of a new way use for it. We’ve all seen the Knorr Side Dish commercial where a cork screw is used as a coat nail and a fork is used a cabinet handle. That is the same idea.

Envision Mindset:  In this mindset we deliberately imagine ways to solve problems, using absorb information. This mindset is well known to creative people.  The exercise below will help you increase your mental imagery. It turns off the stream of unwanted thoughts.

Exercise: Close your eyes and take three deep cleansing breathes. Now image your happy place. Where you feel the most relax? Picture yourself there. Allow yourself to feel the surroundings. If your recliner, feel the texture of the material against your skin, the firmness of the cushion surrounding you, the angle of your body as you relax. Are there sounds around you? Soft music or maybe a ball game on the T.V., or your children playing at your feet.  How about smells, tastes.  Allow yourself to enjoy your happy place for a few minutes.

Connect Mindset:  This mindset allows you to spawn many ideas without concerns to how they will play out. You’ll think out of the box. Successful use of this mindset could lead you to become overwhelmed with creative possible ideas. You’ll become energized and excited about your work.

Exercise: Set a timer for three minutes. On a piece of paper write down as many uses for a shoe you can think of. Then set the timer again and write down all the things you can do with a shoelace. Set the timer again and jot down the consequences of a torn shoelace.

Reason Brainset: This brainset solves problems logically, using all your storage memories and knowledge. It allows you to control what thoughts occupy your mind. It is deliberate and necessary as you complete your creative project. It is the perfect mindset to flesh out a whimsical idea and make it realistic. It helps you motivate action, manage time, increases chances for success, strengthens self-confidence and heightens sense of control over your life. It’s one mindset I’ve consciously worked on every single day, several times a day, over the last several months.

Exercise: You will stop particular unwanted thoughts or train of thoughts as soon as they enter you mind by simply saying, “Don’t go there.” Or “Thinking of this is not my on my hour’s agenda.”

Evaluate Mindset: Coming up with fresh ideas is vital is our line of work, but judging whether those ideas are indeed worth spending time one is also essential. This is where this mindset comes in. Three factors are necessary: active judgement, focused attention and impersonality. We need to judge our work against others of which it’s competing. Not us against them. This is about our work, not ourselves. In order to do that, we need to get some distance from our work, judge it with respect, don’t toss the work mid-project, look at each of its parts and evaluate their merits, and look at the work from the point of view of your audience. Be flexible. Consult others. Be hard on your work and not yourself!

Exercise: On a sheet of paper write the titles of your top ten books of all time.  Imagine they’re no longer available anywhere or ever again. Now, ( I know you’re going to hate me)  cross off five. Behind them, write why you crossed them off.

Transform Mindset:  Is all about emotion. Our emotion. Our negative emotions and how they affect our memories and visions. It’s important we know this mindset and how it disturbs our creativity. It is a what-if state, just like the envision mindset, but unlike the purposeful imaginings of the later, this mindset’s themes are worry, anxiety, self-pity or regret.  But this mindset can help with your creative project. Our characters are an extension of humanity.  People have flaws, negative thoughts, regrets. We can use this mindset to write timeless characters if only we draw on the transform mindset.

Exercise: Pick three things in your home that you feel best represents you: personality, taste, qualities. Now write a paragraph about each and how they relate to you. Did you learn anything about yourself? Was there a negative or positive view of yourself?

The Stream Mindset: We refer to this mindset as being in ‘the zone.’ It is the unique melding of self and action. You lose your sense of self and focus on the world at hand. But how do we achieve this mindset.

First, you need the expertise to enter the stream mindset. Second, you need to be engaged in an activity that intrinsically motivating you. (Intrinsic motivation means that you’re involved in an activity because of an internal award and not an external one.) Do you write for the joy of writing?

Exercise: On a piece of paper jot down five activities that had your blood surging and your mind whirling. These activities are your passion.

 

As I said at the beginning of this blog, I’ve only touched on the information contained in these two books. In fact, I’m not finished with either of them, but what I’ve learned so far has helped me to be more productive, to think out of the box on my wip, and be more acceptable of the amount of work I can accomplish in a day.

Collaboration: How NOT to Commit Murder

dreamstime_crow on gravestoneMany moons ago, a younger cousin requested help with his writing.  He’s a marvelous storyteller, enjoys roll-playing games, and, like me, is a Ren Faire denizen, but his writing was what he calls organic—aka weak, wordy, and wandering, in need of industrial-strength honing.  Since he’s more like a brother than a cousin, I agreed.

I had several advantages:  

I am the elder.  Cousin remembers the days he, along with my brothers, was put in my charge.  Old habits die hard.

I have more experience.  At the time, I wrote a quarterly magazine column, handled publicity for several youth related organizations, and had two books under contract—which I, later (with cause), withdrew.

Cousin wanted to learn.  No question about who had final authority.

A word of warning:  No matter how well you think you know someone, be prepared to learn more about both that person and yourself.  Not all of it will be good.  There will be days you won’t like the face across the desk.  Worse, you won’t like the one in the mirror.

One of the first things we did was attend a local RWA® meeting where writing friends, Jim and Nikoo McGoldrick, gave a talk on collaboration.  A husband and wife team who write as May McGoldrick (historical) and Jan Coffey (romantic suspense), they punctuated the discussion with audience roll-play.  The first warning bells tolled, but we moved blithely on, confident family ties would ease our way.

They didn’t.

Knowing Cuz wasn’t keen on Historical Romance, and being a closet Sci-fi geek who once dreamed of being an MD—and studied accordingly—I whistled up an idea that combined our interests.  Next, a comprehensive outline complete with character profiles, the particulars of two disparate worlds, and enough conflict to set those worlds aflame.  Since the Sci-fi romance genre did not yet exist, I considered it a fun exercise to hone Cuz’s wordsmithing skills.

Hah!

SAM_0159First mistake:  The outline. (Photos are of the original chapter by chapter concept.)

I’m a pantser.  Dyed-in-the-wool, can’t-write-any-other-way type.  I wanted to get us thinking along the same lines, not strangle us with them.  Cuz’s writing style and mine went to war.  Finding a way to mesh diametrically opposed processes took a wee while.  

If you are a plotter, run from collaboration with a pantser.  All those nice bullet points you put in your outline will become points of contention.  Baldness will be the least onerous outcome.  And two pantsers?  I’m thinking chaos, but it would be interesting to see the final result—if one didn’t cosh the other.SAM_0160

 

Second mistake:  I wrote the heroine.  Cuz got the hero.  

Never would the twain meet.  Narrative passages had to be worked and reworked ad nauseum.  Oh, and my heroine would not have given Cuz’s hero a second glance—except to insure her aim when she shot him.

The list goes on, but this post is supposed to be about how NOT to commit murder, not the myriad reasons why doing so will cross your mind—repeatedly—so let’s move on.

SAM_0161As I said, being the experienced elder gave me leverage.  You may not have that, but it’s important to recognize strengths and weaknesses and step forward or back accordingly.

Cuz took my ideas and ran with them, coming up with things that would never have occurred to me (Sentient androids?  Really?).  His aerospace industry experience provided a knowledge base alien to me.  His perspective also added a depth I would have missed.

I am a word junkie.  Words delight me with their shades of meaning and inherent strength.  Putting them together just so is crack for my addiction.  Add a creative streak that makes the Atlantic look like spit on the sidewalk, and storytelling comes naturally.  And, since the hero is fashioned after a 12th century Scots warrior, my infatuation with history proved handy.

We began to achieve balance.

That’s not to say we didn’t argue.  We did.  Often.  For hours.  Sometimes Cuz’s writing didn’t accurately convey his ideas.  I’d rework a scene, adding continuity and strengthening prose, only to have him come back with a resounding, “That’s not what I meant.”  Frustrating—for both of us.  He threw ideas at me like a pitching machine run amuck (thank you, Donald Maas).  I couldn’t simply dodge them; I had to explain why I wouldn’t swing.  We’d argue—again.

Then there are the small things, the previously written bits that trip you if you aren’t wary.  I have a mind for such details and often scoured the manuscript to find what precluded Cuz’s latest idea or snippet of heroic dialogue.  It didn’t help that life intervened mid-story.  The manuscript languished, all but forgotten–except at family functions when we’d unfailingly end up discussing it—for nearly a decade.

Thus, we call it The-Story-That-Wouldn’t-Die.

Things we’ve learned:

The strongest glue for any collaboration is respect.  Respect for the other person’s ideas, talents, strengths, and opinions.  Without it, clashes will destroy the partnership before it can mature.

Life happens.  Death, illness, accidents don’t care about commitments.  And when two people are involved, twice as much can go wrong.  Add the give and take necessary to determine the best story solutions, and flexibility is a must.

When words won’t come to explain or an idea won’t gel into something easily shared, patience saves lives.  After a time, you learn to hear past the words.

Sometimes you must be willing to see where the wrong road leads.  When time comes to backtrack, you might find yourself with a treasure taking the right road probably wouldn’t have revealed.  If not, there’s always the childish satifaction of, “I told you so.”

Collaboration isn’t for everyone.  Truth is, had Cuz been anyone else, I doubt we would have stuck it out, but I didn’t kill him, he didn’t kill me, and our exercise is now a full-fledged book.  The feedback from those few who’ve read it is encouraging.  One reader, who prefers suspense to romance of any kind, called it gripping and admitted, despite reservations, she read it in one sitting.  It’s a long book!  Have to say, that one earned a cheer and a tear or two.

So, let me introduce you to a brainchild conceived in the 90s, nurtured off and on as life allowed since late 2009, and finally, brought into the world January 2015.

Does she have a soul?SwordandtheStarshipDigital2Smaller

 Genetically engineered to blend with a sophisticated, aristocratic society, Valara F’al-ten awakens from her hibernetic sleep in an uncharted star system, orbiting a planet rich in resources Earth Colony 5 needs, but how does one negotiate inter-galactic trade agreements with a society that still wields swords?

Clan High Chieftain, Gordain Ryn Phellan, has problems—an outlawed clan, a rival chieftain, and a despot with mind-control capabilities—even before he captures the bewitching female who claims to have a flying ship.  That she could be kin to his greatest foe and was assembled rather than born should repel him.  It doesn’t.  Instead, he finds himself torn between his responsibility to the clans and his escalating desire for her.

Despite unnerving physical and emotional changes, Lara needs to complete her mission, but Dain’s enemies have other plans.  Past and future collide as they work together to neutralize the threats, leaving Lara caught between duty and the yearning of her awakening heart. 

Currently available for Kindle, but alternate formats will follow in a few days.

We also have a website.  It’s a bit sparse at the moment, but books 2 & 3 are already in the mental womb.  Shorter gestation should make birthing these new babies—(choke) interesting.

 

 

 

Closet Writers

CLOSET WRITER

http://www.dreamstime.com/working-late-free-stock-photography-imagefree59647

http://www.dreamstime.com/working-late-free-stock-photography-imagefree59647

Closet writers break my heart. Any reason a writer keeps their writing a secret is just wrong, unless the writing is extremely personal and not meant for other’s eyes. I was a closet writer.

There are many reasons why writers remain in the closet and the Rubies have had discussions concerning them. At some time or another, many of us have faced the road-blocks that kept us from being us.

Some writers think they haven’t read enough books to be considered a writing expert. In their minds, if people find out they write, they must’ve read every single book ever published. I’m here to tell you that I’ve never read Huck Finn, War and Peace, Fifty Shades Of Gray or a zillion other classic or best-selling books. Does that confession make me less of a writer? I think not.

Being shy, it can take years for some people to join a writer’s group. A long, long time ago, when the internet was young and a thing called dial-up was used to connect to it, writers actually went to public meetings to connect with those of like minds. Walking into a meeting can be daunting to a wall flower. I know because I’m an introvert. The internet and the ambiguity it provides, has made it easier for some writers to connect to others, but not all. They remain in the background, unsure of themselves.  To them, I say, “it’s always the quiet ones who make the biggest impression when they’re ready.” Rest assured most writers are genuinely nice and more than willing to help other writers in any way they can. You only need to be serious about the craft to be considered a writer by them.

A closet writer might feel they don’t know enough about the craft and until they know all there is to know they remain in seclusion. I’m not sure if there is anyone out there who knows it all. Well, maybe King, Patterson or Nora. Only they can answer that question. The point being, the majority of writers will openly admit that they don’t know everything and that they learn something new all the time. Join the club that strives to be better at their craft.

dreamstimefree_666077My writing sucks. It very well could, but are you the best judge? You’ve read and studied and wrote and edited. Now it’s time to trust yourself and share your work. If a critique offers constructive advice, weigh it, and then accept it or not. In the end, it’s your story. There is no greater joy for a writer than when a reader enjoys your work. The only way to know that joy is to share your gift.

There are those who really, really want to be a writer but struggle to do the work required. Writing is hard work and takes a huge amount of time. Completing a work is possible a word at a time. Commit to the work, or perhaps another hobby would be better for you.

I’m fortunate. I’m a writer who has had the support of family and friends for many years, but that wasn’t always the case. I once was a closet writer. I was told that my dreams of becoming a published writer were stupid and thus I hid my passion. Now, when I read the notebooks I filled during that time, I cringe at the darkness that shadowed my life.

One day, I finally broke and said to myself, “This is my life and I don’t want to look back and wonder what if I’d taken one step. Would my dreams have come true?” That was a year of change for me on many levels. It was a hard trial but through it I learned I had the support of mBooks 2012 001 (640x480)any family members. I read craft books. I joined a writer’s group. I wrote and wrote and wrote. I attended conferences and workshops.  I found more support through my writer friends. I met the man of my dreams and he became my biggest supporter. I will love him forever for letting me be me.

Life doesn’t give us do-overs, but it does give us second chances. Take the step toward being you.

 

 

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