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Posts tagged with: writer’s life

Write On 2017! Your Mission

Picture of frog

Have you heard the phrase, Eat the frog first? It references Mark Twain’s famous quote, “Eat a live frog first thing in the morning and nothing worse will happen to you the rest of the day.” When  I worked in the corporate world, this phrase essentially meant do your toughest work first, and the rest of the day will be a breeze.

Today I’m here to help you craft a writing plan that will help you stay on course and on fire about your writing throughout 2017 (Write On 2017! Worksheet). And it all begins with the Mission Statement. I’ll be honest, IMO, this is the single hardest task we’ll cover in the next seven weeks as we craft writing plans. It took me a week-long retreat in Mexico with some writing friends and a couple of margaritas before I finally got my head around my mission statement.

Simply put, a mission statement is a formal summary of your aims and values. It’s the heart of who you are and what you do. Above all, your mission should INSPIRE you.

Missions are short, about twenty-five words or less. Management guru Peter Drucker suggests your mission be short enough to fit on a T-shirt. Missions are broad; they don’t box you in.  Missions should withstand the test of time and changes in your writing and the industry. Finally, missions are realistic (practical and workable) and easily understood.

Corporate America has spent millions of dollars crafting mission statements to inspire and guide. Here are some good ones:

  • To organize the world’s information and make it universally accessible and useful. (GOOGLE)
  • To bring inspiration and innovation to every athlete in the world. (NIKE)
  • To make the world a more caring place by helping people laugh, love, heal, say thanks, reach out and make meaningful connections with others. (HALLMARK)
  • To spread ideas. (TED)

Your Assignment: Craft your mission statement.

As I mentioned, crafting my mission statement took me a couple of whacks. The task felt so big…so important. But when I reminded myself that missions are about that little nugget, the heart of who I was as a writer, the task got much more manageable. So what’s at the heart? You, your product, your aims, and your audience. Here is a quick exercise to get you thinking about these factors.

  1. List 3-5 words or phrases that describe your writing
  2. List 3-5 words or phrases that describe your ideal image from READERS’ POV
  3. List 3-5 words or phrases that describe your ideal image from YOUR POV

With these words/phrases in mind, take a crack at writing a mission statement for your writing. Start with MY MISSION IS TO…

Here’s mine: My mission is to tell great stories…that capture the hearts and entertainment dollars of a loyal and ever-growing reader bse.

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

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

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! Prioritize Your Writing

Stop clowning around!

Say it with me, writer friends: It’s time to stop clowning around and get serious about my writing! Maybe you’re a new writer hankering to finish your first novel. Or maybe you’ve been in the writing trenches a while and need to take that next BIG STEP. Get an agent. Self-publish. Quit your day job. Regardless of where you’re at in the writing journey, you can increase productivity and improve process through a thoughtful and focused writing plan.

Over the next eight Wednesdays I’ll share proven strategies and exercises to keep you on course and on fire about your writing. In these interactive posts, you’ll learn practical steps to prioritize your creative life, draft a writing plan to hold you accountable, and explore exercises that inspire and affirm. These blog posts are culled from one of my most popular writing workshops: Write On! A Writer’s Guide to Prioritizing, Goal Setting, & Time Management. If you’re a worksheet-y kind of writer, see the Write On Worksheet.

Today’s topic: Prioritize Your Writing Life

If you’re serious about your writing, you must honor it with your time, talent, and treasure. Bonus: When you take your writing seriously, others will too, such as spouses, editors/agents, and readers.

Do you see that little clown above? That’s my youngest daughter. After I first created my writing plan twelve years ago, I told my girls, including that cutey-patooty clown, that I was setting aside time every day to write. If my girls needed something and I was at my writing desk, they would ask me, “Mommy, are you on the clock?” If I said yes, they knew I needed to finish my work. This was a pivotal moment in my writing career. Words and book contracts soon followed.

A few quick tips to prioritize: 

  1. Regular Writing Schedule – Writing is a muscle, and it works best when used regularly. Follow a writing sked that works for you. Write 500 words a day or 5,000 words a weekend. Or write from 5-6 every morning or 9-11 every night. When I’m drafting a book, I write 2,500 words a day, Monday-Friday. Interestingly enough, I became more productive (and less weary) when I decided to take weekends off.
  2. Writing Environment – Create a place to write. Home offices are great, as you can close the door, but don’t get caught up looking for the “perfect writing spot.” I use a desk in my living room. A friend of mine writes at Starbucks every day. If it helps, put up a few inspirational quotes, a vision board with your latest book project, or even a Writer-At-Work sign.
  3. Dollars and Cents – Set aside money for writing conferences and craft books. A solid investment now leads to greater future returns. Even though writing conferences exhaust me, I’m wonderfully productive once I get home. Perhaps it’s all that shared energy and filling of the creative well. 
  4. Writing Groups – Join a writing organization (RWA, Sisters in Crime, ITWSCBWI, etc.), great places for education and motivation. Likewise, critique groups and writing challenges can help boost productivity. Check out the Ruby Slippered Sisterhood’s Winter Writing Festival for a heaping dose of writing inspiration and productivity challenges.
  5. Writing Plan – Create a writing plan and review it at least quarterly. Check the Ruby blog every Wednesday for the next eight weeks, and I’ll help you craft a simple but effective writing plan for 2017. 
  6. Your Manifesto – Say it. To your family. To your friends. And most importantly, to yourself. “I am a writer…a storyteller…an artist who paints with words, and I shall nurture and honor my creative soul.” This above all else.

Your Assignment

Now it’s your turn. Identify at least one thing you can do to prioritize your writing life. Write it in the comment section below. Then, DO IT!

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.

 

 

North Star Or Shooting Star. It Begins.

Next week, during the Ruby Winter Writing Fest, we begin the quest to bring our imaginary friends to life.

Reading that line, I’ll bet some of you immediately had this mental picture of yourself sitting at your favorite work spot, downing carafes of coffee or tea (or in my case, Diet Coke) while drilling the key board, writing an entire novel, and within six weeks, finishing it with ‘the end’. Good for you. You have a goal.

Yet, I’m sure some of you froze at the word begin because the choices you have to start your story are limitless. The question where do I begin? haunts you. Which one start should I pick? Is it the right place?  Fear not, I have some advice for you.  

Every writer knows the importance of the first line, the first paragraph, the first page, the first chapter. Failure to immediately gain a reader’s interest is the vilest death to your story. Your work is like a shooting star that speeds across the sky and disappears without a big bang. The dreams and hopes pinned to such a star are gone in one quick moment. It’s far better to be that twinkling North Star.  So today, we prepare to start our masterpieces.

     #1 Great beginnings are the hard work. Rarely do they come easily and quickly and without dozens of rewrites. Sometimes they appear freely in later paragraphs or even chapters. We only need to recognize them when they do. Know that fact. Owned it.

     #2 First impressions are the most lasting; Proverbs.

A magnificent first line must be lean, powerful, and provide the reader with a question or promise. Here are some examples of great lean and powerful lines.

It was a pleasure to burn.  ‘451 Fahrenheit’ Ray Bradbury

All children but one grow up. ‘Peter and Wendy’  J.M. Barrie

There was a bloody man walking down the road. ‘Discovering You’ Brenda Novak

 Brilliant. Each of those lines not only asks questions but they also laid the foundation of book’s theme or its characters’ persona.  Knowing your story’s theme is important. Try outlining ahead of starting your story to learn the theme, but if you finding outlining is not your thing, don’t sweat it. The theme will come to you.

     #3 Ground your readers as quickly as possible in time and place. However, settings should be shown in small bits and either add to the conflict or become a character itself. Examples:

On the day of the miracle, Isabel was kneeling at the cliff’s edge, tending the small, newly made driftwood cross.  ‘The Light Between Oceans’ M. L. Stedman

It was a cold, bright day in April, and the clocks were striking thirteen. 1984 George Orwell

ONE HOT AUGUST Thursday afternoon, Maddie Faraday reached under the front seat of her husband’s Cadillac and pulled out a pair of black lace underpants. They weren’t hers. ‘Tell Me Lies’ Jennifer Cruise

 

     #4 Write the first chapter as if it were the entire story, with its own escalation of action and conflict. And let it end with mystery and unanswered questions. Mystery demands answers. It propels readers to read on. Do not tell all. Exposition kills drama and backstory is boring.

     #5 Write tight. Write fast. Let your voice ring true. Voice is what is truly unique about your story.

      #6 All the boom, boom action or fast paced dialogue will not keep readers flipping pages unless they care about the characters. A great story is an emotional ride. A reader must connect with the characters and care what happens to them immediately. They don’t necessarily need to like them (leads to character growth) but they must understand the character’s actions and feel for them as a human being. Establish your hero/villain goal, give him/her a familiar quality, and then add a ticking bomb. 

     #7 Dialogue is action. It’s fast paced (quickly drawing a reader farther into the story) and it’s an excellent way to show character and conflict. Here are a few great examples.

“Your title gives your claim to the throne of our country, but men don’t follow thrones. They follow courage.”

William Wallace in Braveheart.

“It’s not the broken dreams that break us. It’s the ones we don’t dare to dream.”

Will Schuester in Glee

“The problem is not the problem. It’s your attitude about the problem that is the problem.”

Jack Sparrow in the Pirates of the Caribbean

“Get busy living or get busy dying.”

Andy Dufresne in Shawshank Redemption   

Wow! Wow! Just wow!

     #8 Big or little, internal or external, conflict is a reader’s addiction. Add it where ever and whenever you can. You hear me. Big or little. Internal or external. Pile it on!

     #9 In order to understand a character fully, we need to know the world he came from. Show the character in his or her world in an interesting way, but make that world change quickly. He can be making toast, but why not have make toast over the gas stove. His method of making toast is interesting and says something about his character, doesn’t it? 

     #10  The most important bit of advice on making your first pages awesome I saved for last. Have faith in yourself that the story ahead will be adventurous and fulfilling and go for it!

 

Anyone else have advice on producing great starts? 

 

Autumn Jordon, one of the sneaker Rubies, is an award-winning author who writes Romantic Suspense, Thrillers, and Contemporary Romance under the same pen name. Join her newsletter at Autumn Jordon.com

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

Happy Holidays

christmas_tree1It’s the blessed time of year and the world, preparing for a celebration is in a spin.

The Rubies thoughts are turning to the priorities of our hearts.

Letting the holiday come and go without telling our readers Happy Holidays would be a sin.

We cherish your support and wish you the merriest of days while we’re apart.

Delight in the hugs given, relish food and the drinks of the season, even if it’s Uncle Joe’s bathtub gin.

Most of all, be safe, and please pray for those who carry worry and sorrow during this season.

Happy Holidays! See you on the 26th.

                            ~The Rubies

Make It Real

Our readers do not want to close their eyes. They want them wide open and still feel like they’re stepping onto the pages of our stories. If you read my blog on November 18th, you know we draw our readers into our stories with an emotional connection to our character. But to really make them feel like they’re taking a wild ride on a snowmobile, or walking onto a reality T.V. set, or running through a hot, steamy jungle, or even stepping back into a time past, or feeling something totally overwhelming, like despair or true love, we need to insert senses onto our pages. Not just what they see, hear or feel, but what they taste and smell.

To me, the most stimulating sense is smell. When a familiar waft strikes, I’m immediately transported back to a moment in time and the emotions I felt then come rushing back at me. Again, emotions are how we connect to our readers.

Adding a scent is a powerful tool. Let me give you a personal example of how influential they can be.

Many years ago, while driving home from a farmer’s market late evening, my husband and I came upon an accident involving two vehicles, where the car was in flames. Two little girls were trapped inside, between the cushions of the back seat as the other vehicle had actually mounted the car from the rear. The father of the girls tried desperately to put out the fire while his wife clutched another daughter, who was badly hurt. It became the mission of my husband and others who stopped to help the father, while I was charged with the duty to hold the mother back. She was burnt herself and the leather jacket she wore was seared. I destroyed all my clothes later because of the smell. Every time since that night, if I get a whiff of burn leather or flesh, I’m transported back. As I’m writing this, my chest is constricted, my throat burns, tears blur my eyes and my fingers are trembling. I’m immobilized by a sense of helplessness and an overwhelming sense of grief washes through me.

Powerful?

There is no denying it.

The world is filled with scents and this season doesn’t take a backseat to summer. Take a few moments throughout your days and jot down in a notebook the scents of this holiday season and the emotions it has caused.

Use scents not just to set the setting. Use them to evoke emotion and connect with your reader on a higher level.

 

perfect-box-basic-2Autumn Jordon is an award-winning Ruby, with seven novels published. She writes contemporary romance, romantic suspense and mystery/thrillers. Join her newsletter at www.autumnjordon.com and receive a free read and be entered into member contests.

Free Advice Small Business: Writing Through The Holidays.

Small Business: Writing Through The Holidays

If you Google writing through the holidays, you’re going to find dozens of articles written on the subject, including a great one dated last December by our own Ruby Sister Addison Fox. Many authors offer the same advice, and I’m going to bring up the same points too later, because they’re good advice. However, today, and for your sanity and mine, I want to approach the subject a little differently.

If you look at my post title, you’ll note the first two words. Got them? Good.  Unless you’re writing to stick your work in a drawer only to be found upon your demise by a nephew or niece who you didn’t hold close to your heart and who will probably either burn your bloodwork or see the wonder in it and use your work to start their own writing career, then you need to think of yourself as a small business owner. And as we all know small business owners have a lot to do during any holiday in order to remain competitive with the ‘Big boys, girls, sellers, box-stores or A’. You pick the noun. So let’s think of our self’s as small businesses during this holiday season and beyond.

The first thing every SB owner does every single day is take care of the foundation their business. You are the foundation of your business. You need to take care of you. You need to eat well, drink plenty of water, exercise (yes running through the mall counts), get the right amount of restful sleep that is good for you and most importantly don’t add stress on yourself. How can do you do that during the most stressful time of the year? Please, read on.images6

I’m going to throw some keywords at you; the first already was tossed, care. The second is flexibility. Writers are creatures of habit. But remember we’re also small business owners. As a business person you need to be flexible every single day. Every single minute of every single day.  The world is ever changing and it affects you and your business constantly. If  you go into this holiday by setting non flexible goals (More on this later) and your kids get sick, or the car breaks down, or your boss at your ‘real job’ demands that you get a new must-have report done by Christmas Eve, you will be adding a ton of stress on yourself.  Setting a non-flex goal in the month of November is one of the reasons I’ve never done Nano.  Stress, leads to guilt, which leads to depression. We don’t want to go there.  Flexible is a key word.

Self-awareness is the next key word. What is your regular writing schedule? Do you write every single day? Do you take time off on the weekends? Do you write when you can? Which of these scenarios is the most flexible? Right. The write when you can. If you can write every day, but now find that during the holiday festivities you can’t, you will feel stressed. Stress is bad.  Be flexible.  Flexible is good.

Don’t try to do a 360° turn with your writing habits in the eleventh hour, trying to accomplish what you haven’t done already. It doesn’t work. Change of habits needs to be done over time, and there is no time of year when our desire to change is greater than right now. Plan your change.

Realization is the next key word. If you had a goal to have a project done by December 31 and you haven’t put the effort into it by now, well, that boat has sailed. Small business owners think months ahead, even years. Because the calendar will flip and your project isn’t done doesn’t mean the world is going to end. It means you will complete it in 2017 with the enthusiasm and the focus that it deserves. Flexible.

Now, I want to prove something to you. During this busy holiday season, you can accomplish a lot of things that benefit your small business by following my advice below.

images1If you write for publication, there is so much that needs to be done, whether you’re an indie author or a traditional pubbed author or a freelance writer. Grab a calendar; one that has the month in blocks. During the day or at the end of every single day, write down what you did relating to your business. I do this every day. It’s my record for the IRS that I am working my business. Here are examples of things I might get done any given day. Email, social media, word count achieved, number of pages edited, articles or blogs written, articles or blogs posted and or commented on, ad copy worked on, design ads, place ads, worked on a plot, talk or meet with critique partners, agent or editor. Trips to office supply store or post office. Time spent researching. Time spent reading craft books or industry blogs (like the Ruby Sisterhood). Write everything down. Now, look at what you have accomplished. How can there be guilt?

If you’re like me, you can’t take days off during a project. Maybe a day or two, but weeks? No.  I need to stay grounded in my project. Does that mean I need to write fresh pages every day? No it does not. Simply writing a page a day, or editing a scene or layering a character will keep your muse alive and you’ll be working toward the end of a polished wip.

Here are the little tidbits of advice I mentioned at the top of this blog. The ones that will help you move forward during the busiest of times.

  1. Set the goal of I will work my business every day. Notice I didn’t say write every day. Be flexible.
  2. Write first (get up early), write last (after everyone else has gone to bed), or in between with a notebook if need be.
  3. Set a timer for twenty minutes and write nonstop.
  4. I sit my laptop on my kitchen counter while cooking dinner and I try to get an extra page written or edited before the meal is ready to plate. In fact, I write, standing more and more. I find walking around helps me think in between lines.
  5. Join an on-line group and sprint. On Twitter, I think, you can always find someone to sprint with by using a specific hashtag. I think it’s #1k1hr. If anyone knows for sure, please place in comments. (And remember the Rubies Winter Writing Fest Begins mid-January. Very productive and tons of fun!)
  6. Not working on story at the moment? Just be creative. Write a blog, article, poem, or short story. Hey, those writings can come in handy later for to use as promo when you’re on deadline.
  7. If it’s hard to write at home, get away. Pack a Go-bag now (pen, pencils, notebook, snacks, bottled water, and a little cash) and store the bag in your car. Anytime you slip out the door to run an errand take a few minutes to yourself while gone and write. Heck you could say you’re going to the garage to clean out the car and just sit in your car and write.
  8. Take a walk and dictate a scene. (Just get out of your comfort zone and use a different method to producing words)
  9. Too noisy with all the kids at home, invest in earplugs. Listening to an audiobook is also work.
  10. Set up a mini-writing retreat with some writer friends for an afternoon, but be prepared to give your spouse some alone time too.
  11. Journal. The end of the year is all about change. People watch. Note changes in people and how they interact with others as the month ends.
  12. This is the season that your senses can go on overload. There are so many sights, sounds, and scents to take in. And the food and drinks. And the feel of the weather, the gifts and the hugs. Ruby Anne Marie brought up in her recent blog how hugs can be different. Made me think.  Take note for future works.  

 

By not letting our passion take a second chair to non-essential chores, we’ll feel less anxious, more balanced, and much happier. Start 2017 positive by taking care of you and your small business now. imagesecau2ujh

 

If you have words of advice on writing through the holidays, please share. What works for you might work for someone else.

 

 

 

Autumn Jordon is an award-winning, sneaker wearing Ruby. She is the author of seven published novels, including a fun, contemporary holiday romance titled Perfect. perfect-cover-snowflake-2-77x100

The holidays are never perfect. However, what happens during the holidays can inspire a perfect love. Christmas romance at its best! Amazon Reviewers http://bit.ly/Perfect-AutumnJordon

 

 

 

Organizing from the Inside Out

Happy Monday! Okay, so we don’t always celebrate Mondays (unless it’s a holiday). But often Mondays are beginnings. The beginning of a new job, or a new project or even a new healthy way of life. There are many avenues to a healthy life. Today I’m going to touch on the mental health that comes with an organized work space.

pigs-in-hats
I am definitely not the most organized person, not even close. I really don’t stand a chance living with three kids, three guinea pigs (lots of cavy paraphernalia), two sugar gliders, a crazy golden retriever who spreads her toys about the house, and a husband who means well but has no problem sitting amongst dirty dishes and clutter. But what I’ve found is that if I can organize a part of my world, I am a more productive person, which makes me a much happier person.
Notice that I did not say clean. I said organized. They are two different things. You don’t have to love cleaning to organize. I love Julie Morgenstern’s description in her book, ORGANIZING FROM THE INSIDE OUT. She says that the goal is to be able to know where something is right away. As long as you have a system where you can retrieve something quickly, without wasting precious time hunting (which is what I did this morning to find her book under my bed), then you have organization.

organizing
So what makes Julie’s way of organizing different and effective? She analyzes first before plunging in and wasting money buying organizational paraphilia that doesn’t fit your space or life style. I’m a plunge-in type of person, but Julie made me stop and think first. And it works!

Here are a few basic steps and how I implemented them. I suggest starting with your writing area or business area. Not a whole room at first but just your desk.

1. Analyze – look at how you have things set up currently. What works? What doesn’t work? Write it down (really, write it down – it helps).
What works for me:
I always know where my passwords are written down. It’s a small brightly colored phone book I keep in a little drawer of my desk.
Lamp, white board with pens and calendar are within reach.

What didn’t work:
Too much clutter – knickknacks that remind me of my books are cute, but too many becomes just clutter, too many stacks of paper, things piled on floor since my desk is small, poorly utilized filing cabinet.

2. Strategize – Create a plan of action for wading through and transforming your space. It takes time so work that into the plan. Either a Saturday or plan to do a little each day, but be realistic on how long it will take (my small desk area took about 6 hours which I broke up over several days).

3. Attack – Julie uses the SPACE formula which is:
Sort
Purge
Assign a Home
Containerize
Equalize

Sort – Julie says it is critical to pick up every single piece in the area. Don’t ignore the pile in the corner. Sort it all. Identify what is important to you and that space. Does it belong there? Does it help you do the function in that area? If not, it goes somewhere else. Also, group similar things so you can containerize properly later.

Purge – have bins for trash, donate, or relocate within your house. This can be difficult and Julie writes more on the psychology of purging. It can be the hardest part for some and the easiest and most liberating for others. I fall somewhere in the middle, but I do feel “lighter” when I get things out of my house.

Assign a Home – Julie talks about the Kindergarten model of organization. Every space should be set up like a Kindergarten classroom. The teacher has specific locations for different activities (art, reading, computers, etc). It is pretty easy for the kids to know what activity should happen in each area based on what is stored there (crayons and glue in the art area, books in the reading area). Every location in our homes and offices should be set up the same way. If you want the top of your desk to be for writing, the pile of bills needs to find a new home.

Containerize – How many of you have bought containers to organize and then ended up not using them because they didn’t fit or work? I have several in a stack in my bedroom. Ugh! But I’ve now learned to measure areas and look at what I’m going to store there. THEN I go to the dollar store and buy bins and baskets. Julie uses the Kindergarten example again. Teachers will have a bin just the right size for 20 pencils, not 10 pencils because there are 20 pencils to live there. A too small bin brings on overflow and frustration. And if a system is frustrating or difficult to use, neither a kid nor an adult will use it.

Equalize – About 2 weeks after you’ve organized your space, take a lunch break to evaluate how things are working. Are you following your new system? Is something frustrating, time consuming or difficult? It’s important to smooth the rough spots and adjust. Our lives are dynamic and our spaces need to be too. If things change, the system may need to flex to that change. So make sure to include “tune-ups” in your quest to keep an organized area running smoothly.

I’ve organized my desk according to Julie’s plan. And yes, it works better, however I need to keep using the system for it to continue to work. When life gets busy I find myself dropping things next to my desk instead of placing them in the nice file folder I created that’s sitting just two steps away. After a week of dumping I have to step over piles when I stand up from my desk. Sigh… But I’ve found that with my systems in place, I can usually clean things up within a half hour. All in all, I think organization is possible, even for someone scattered like me.eleri-organized

Do you have any tips for creating and maintaining an organized space? Do you think clearer in an organized space or do you prefer the creative chaos of clutter?

Ready to take an organization test? Choose one of the items below and see how long it takes you to find it. How well did you do?

1. Recipe for a dish you cut out of a magazine but haven’t tried yet.
2. Your child’s vaccination record.
3. A pair of garden gloves.
4. Notes from the last conference call you had with your editor or agent.
5. Your aunt’s phone number.
6. Needle and thread.

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.

Stop the (Negative) Insanity!

Happy Monday everyone! Okay, so you may not feel like celebrating the start of the work week, but I bet you can find something to smile about if you look. Perhaps the traffic lights were green or a butterfly landed on your arm. These might seem like little things, but they’re important. Often times we dwell on the annoying things that go wrong, letting them eat away at our peace and daily joy. But we must also pay attention to the little good things, which people tend to forget about as soon as they happen.

green lightbutterfly

The same can be said about the huge events in our lives. Bad seems to be talked about and remembered longer than good. Scars on the heart and body haunt us while fabulously joyful happenings fade to pleasant memories that must be recalled purposely.

What does this have to do with writing, Heather? Well, happiness affects all parts of our lives, including writing. Which review sits longer in your psyche? The glowing five star or the one where the reviewer calls your book idiotic and not worth ninety-nine cents? I know the answer for me is the later. And yet these negative strikes shouldn’t be given any more attention than a positive review. (Easier said than done!)

Focusing on the negative will eat away at the joy of writing. It can chase away your muse and cripple your prose with second-guessing and a wildly slashing internal editor. It can make us jealous over the triumphs of our peers, giving their success the power to wound us further. Our bad thoughts will increase the terrible things we say to ourselves in our head. It’s a destructive spiral of doom! BWAHAHA!

“Even though people claim to hold themselves in high regard, the thoughts that spontaneously occur to them—their “mental chatter,” so to speak—is mostly (up to 70%) negative, a phenomenon that could be referred to as negativity dominance. Negativity dominance suggests that there is a disconnect between how people respond to questions about how well they are doing relative to their peers, how rosy their future is, and the extent to which they wield control over their outcomes—all of which exhibit a distinct positivity bias—and how they actually feel, deep down in their sub-conscious, about their life. Deep down, it turns out that people are much more self-critical, pessimistic, and fearful than they let out in their conscious thoughts.” Psychology Today, Raj Raghunathan Ph.D.

mental-chatter-650

So apparently there are a lot of zingers flying around in our heads each day. How does one stop all that negative “mental chatter”? Here are some ways to turn away from the Dark Side, padawan.

 

 

 

1. Talk about the good. At the dinner table I ask each person to tell something good that happened to them that day. It gets us talking and reminds people that we shouldn’t shrug off the good things, no matter how small. Sometimes my kids (and the adults) forget all the amazing opportunities in their lives.marbles

2. Keep a marble jar. Every time something good happens, add a marble. When you see the colorful mix of marbles growing, it will remind you that there are good things happening all the time.

3. Display the positive. Hang up your good reviews and fan mail. Read them over daily.

4. Keep a gratitude journal. Write down three to five things each night for which you are thankful. It really brings the focus back to the light side of life right before you fall asleep.

5. Smile. By forcing the body to act happy, often times we can trick our minds into following along. Breathe deeply too. Stress is a sneaky thief of joy.

6. Wear a rubber band on your wrist. Every time you start with the negative self-talk, snap it. I know that sounds crazy, but I learned it in a seminar, so it must work : )wrist-snap-resize

 

7. Celebrate the big things. Many of you know that I’m an ovarian cancer survivor. I was stage IIC when they found it. I was unaware until just a few months ago that at that at Stage IIC I only had a 57% chance of living five years after diagnosis. I endured extensive surgery, 15 months of chemo, and 6 more months of recovery. 

ovariancancerblk_balloon

I reached five years survival on 4/5/16 with a clean bill of health. I could have just had a nice dinner and treated myself to ice cream (I’m on a diet), but I told my husband that I wanted to celebrate big. So we had a party, a big party. In fact the police showed up! I told everyone “there is enough bad in the world that when something good happens, we really need to celebrate.” So we did : ) And each day that I walk my dog and hug my kids and sit on the couch without pain I thank God I’m still here. I actually find it a lot easier to be positive after that journey.

Sometimes no matter what you try, the negativity builds. If you experience negative thoughts for more than two weeks, you should definitely see your doctor. It could be a chemical imbalance, leading to depression (been there too). The right meds and therapy can really help.

These are the basic symptoms of depression.

  • you feel hopeless and helpless
  • you’ve lost interest in friends, activities, and things you used to enjoy
  • you feel tired all the time
  • your sleep and appetite has changed
  • you can’t concentrate or find that previously easy tasks are now difficult
  • you can’t control your negative thoughts, no matter how much you try
  • you are much more irritable, short-tempered, or aggressive than usual
  • you’re consuming more alcohol than normal or engaging in other reckless behavior

http://www.helpguide.org/articles/depression/depression-signs-and-symptoms.htm

Do any of you have ideas or tricks for cultivating happiness in your life? What good happened to you today/yesterday for those just waking up?

For those interested in more information on ovarian cancer and Heather’s journey, you can find it on Heather’s web site at http://www.heathermccollum.com/ under the ovarian cancer tab.

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