Search:
 
 

Posts tagged with: writer’s life

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.

Death & Then There Was Rebirth

I’ve come to the conclusion that death mirrors birth. From the moment we’re conceived, we fight to grow into a whole person.  Then we take enter into a new world where again we strive to develop into a unique person. At some point, we struggle again, leaving behind love ones, and again take passage into another realm.  Based on the trend, one thing we can count on in the next kingdom  there will a promise of hope.

I lost my husband, my love, my best friend. Then I lost the first man to hold my heart, my father. Then my beloved dog whose coat held many tears, and finally my pretty kitty of nineteen years. All of them in a short span of a year and a few months. A few other family members and friends have followed since.

When you lose someone that held your heart, it’s like you’re the only one in the history of the world that has ever felt the pangs of the deepest, darkest, totally empty, endless freefall of grief. All desires except one leave your soul. Then, like the moment of conception, there is the tiniest spark of self-preservation that makes you look up and take a step forward to fulfilling your purpose in the world. Taking those steps and allowing yourself to fall and get back up takes strength and courage.

We all are unique. We all have strengths, weakness and gifts. For some reason, this community has been given the talent of putting words to page, words that will affect others and perhaps change the course of their lives.

Over the years, I’ve heard many of you state that “not to be able to write would be like taking away your ability to breathe.” Fitting words. It doesn’t matter how you write or what you write or whether anyone ever will see your words. What matters is that you’re striving to be the accomplished, awesome unique person that you’re meant to be.

If you or someone you know is going through the stages of mourning, I offer one thing that helped me. I wrote letters to my love ones. I journaled my thoughts. I wrote poems. They are my private works filled with hate, pain and love, and the world will not ever see them.

I’m not the over-achiever that I had been several years ago, wanting to write several books a year. I’ve become the writer who wants to write for me first and the world second. And that is okay.  I hope the books I release will be enjoyed by fans, and blogs like this one will help others. I’m feeling accomplished, and that is good.

 

Talk Amongst Yourselves

chailatteI used to love that Saturday Night Sketch from the 80s called “Coffee Talk with Linda Richman”. Just thinking about it gets me verklempt. Essentially it was a spoof on Mike Myer’s Jewish mother-in-law, and her infamous catch phrase “like butter” or rather “like buttah” was something I used often. If you’ve never seen it, you can find the clip here. (It’s only 25 seconds :))

Oh, if only all our careers could be like buttah, right?

Well, I know first hand there is many a slip between the cup and the lip (as my mother likes to say) and what we think will be our path to greatness if often strewn with pitfalls, dead ends and out and out breakdowns. When the Rubies first assembled all those years ago, we tried to think of a name for our Golden Heart Finalist class that embodied who we are. How fortuitous that not only did we nail the concept of who we were as writers but also innately sensed that the path we’d take toward getting our books published would be A.) better with friends and B.) fraught with flying monkeys, poppy fields, false wizards and lots and lots of doubt.

The Rubies know all too well my ups and downs so we won’t rehash them here because we all could spend hours talking about our stops and starts. So what I would really like to discuss is starting over.

Starting over.

Hmmm…well, that’s not really what I’m doing. BUT, I think there comes a time in a writer’s life when he or she has to stop and change directions. It could be a change in the mode of publishing – going from traditional to indie or vice versa. It could be a change in genre. Or a change in POV. Or going back to the craft books and relearning a new way to do things. Or just starting the damn book over again. And Again. And again. There’s a wealth of possibilities as to what constitutes starting over, but I believe we all do it at some time or another.

And thank goodness we do. Because starting over means new opportunity…even if it takes more work and is scary as your reflection after a week of the flu. And this is where I find myself. Starting Over.

For the past six years, I’ve been writing for Harlequin fairly exclusively. I loved it. Truly. Superromance fit me like a good jacket – comfortable, easy to wear and lots of pockets that allowed me to tuck in all of my characters, arcs and secondary stories. But with so many changes in the industry, I found I needed to expand my opportunities to find readers (pretty much what everyone is trying to do, right?). So with my agent waving her pom pons, I sent out new proposals, and thankfully, I found another home with a new publisher. And I’m excited. This is a new opportunity to find more readers and write stories that are different from what I’ve been writing. Not necessarily starting over, but stepping off the path I have been trodding. And you know what? It’s sorta scary. Okay, so I know many will say “That’s not starting over” and maybe it’s not totally. But at this moment, I have no contracts. None. It’s been forever since I’ve not had another contracted book waiting on me. And I feel weird. Like I don’t know what to do. And that’s new for me.

So at this moment, I’m trying to figure out my next step. Do I try to jump into women’s fiction with a proposal I have? Can I create something high concept? Sub a new series to Harlequin? Take the plunge into self-publishing? I just don’t know.

And I bet there are many of you out there who feel the same way. Start over with something else? Or stay the course? So let’s do a little Coffee Talk with Liz Talley. Let’s “Discuss amongst ourselves” what’s the best way to start over….or the best way to stay the course. It’s “Let’s Talk about It Wednesday.” (Yeah, I just made that up!)

Ready?

Go.

A Dark Horse is Born

Over the past few months I’ve been swamped. Spring is always busy with baseball, end of school activities and, since I try to write 2-3 books a year, a perpetual deadline. So, yeah, busy. Which means I haven’t blogged here in a while. It’s good to be back among my peeps.

Since I’ve been MIA, I thought I would share a day from my journal several months ago. It was a really good day, a click-my-ruby-slippers-together kind of day. We’ll skip the days with headaches, dirty socks and dismal book sales for now.

March 26, 2015, aka Golden Heart/Rita announcement day

7:00 am – Today is the day calls go out BUT I’m going to pretend I don’t know and act accordingly. Okay, fine. I have to promote the Ruby announcement party. That means I can’t pretend to not know. I’ll just pretend not to care. RITA schmeeta. Who cares? Doesn’t really mean anything. Besides I’m writing today. I have a deadline. Focus, sister. Focus.

9:30 am – Ah, Starbucks! My true friend with your muffins and much needed caffeine. Let’s get the laptop open. And maybe sneak a look at phone and see who has finaled.

10:00 – No writing done. Okay, one sentence done. Sinking realization I’ve entered wrong category. Let me hop on email loop to Rubies and share my idiocy (cause misery loves company). There. Feel better (but not really) but better. Try to focus on wip.

10:15 – chat with fellow writer about Chapter business. Don’t mention RITAS. Don’t think about the fact the categories are filling up. RITAS don’t matter anyway. Right? Right.

11:05 – Screw it. Check Twitter. See lots of congrats. Feel happy for friends. Sad for self. Consider saying to hell with it and buying a cake pop.

11:12 – see I have a message on Twitter. Wait. Abigail Sharpe wants me to check my messages. Why? Wait. What? Is this a sick joke? She better not be asking me something about the Golden Network. Is she in the Golden Network? I can’t remember. But, this could mean something.

11:13 – Send Abigail a message that I’m not at home. Send a question mark. Then send cellphone number just in case.

11:14 – pretend to write. Look at  friend writing across the table and try not to vomit.

11:20 – phone rings. Unknown number from Florida. Pick it up. Answer calmly with hello.

11:20:20 – break down crying when she says she’s calling on behalf of RWA. Scare writing friend. Alyssa Day says magic words  – “Is this Liz Talley? I have really good news.”

11:21 – look at writer friend who looks worried. Her eyes get big with unasked question. I nod and say something into phone that is gibberish.

11:21:20 – hang up and shake like leaf.

11:24 – wipe eyes and call husband’s office. He’s with a patient. Damn it. Leave message. Get on Ruby site and drop the bomb that I finaled in the RITA! The MFing RITAs that seconds ago meant NOTHING!

11:25 – call Mom (should have called her first!) Explain what the Rita is. Assure her it’s a big moment.

11:26 – call agent, switch over to tell husband, switch back to agent. Shut computer down. Who can write a sex scene at a moment like this?

11:35 – go to lunch. Eat grilled chicken and veggies because now I have to buy a dress and not resemble a baby hippo in it.

Rest of day – accept congratulations, try to get a grip on reality, and wash baseball uniforms. Oh, and answer perpetual question of “what is there to eat around here?”

So there’s a glimpse into a helluva day…a most wonderful day. Other good days came as a result of this day, things like getting Godiva chocolates and flowers, receiving invites to fun things like receptions, and getting that pretty little pin to wear at conference. I’m sure by now you’re thinking,  “Okay, sister, we get it. You’re a finalist. Whoop-dee-do.” And I understand.  Because what does it really mean? A pin, a moniker behind a name?  Why bother sharing this day with you?

Because often I’ve thought about quitting. Just letting my writing career slip from my fingers much the way my child’s hand slipped from my grasp at the playground. At some point it just all pulls away and you’re left standing, wondering if that’s all there was to it. You sit day after day on the sidelines, sending congrats to other people, watching them talk about the calls they got, the big news, the deals, the numbers, the accolades. And you feel like you suck. You fondly recall a moment when you were one of them. When you believed in yourself.  That’s how I’ve felt for the past two years. Very much like a nobody sitting on a park bench waiting for someone to remember she existed.

I don’t share the wonder of this day to gloat or to cheerfully say “looky here what I did.” No, I share it because I am you. I’m every writer who wants to quit and do something better with her time. I’m the writer who felt alone, who wondered why everyone else was doing better than she was. I’m the writer who doubted everything she did. Who didn’t know if she should write more, promote more…get another job and forget about writing.

And I’m the writer that on that day not only felt joy, but sincere, SINCERE relief that I might have some small glimmer of goodness still in myself somewhere.

In essence I’m every writer out there.

So there. The reason why I needed to share this. And I’m sure you’re wondering about why I called this a dark horse. It’s because if I had an extra $100 I wouldn’t bet on myself. No. Seriously. I’m so dark a horse for this award, you might as well call me Midnight, Ebony, Obsidian and every other word you’ve used to describe your hero’s black eyes. But that’s okay, cause I made it to the track this time. I’m happy to be on the fricking track.

So I don’t even have a question to ask. Maybe you can think of something in your own life this pretend journal entry (like I keep a journal…I can barely find my list to the grocery store) can relate to. Do you feel like you’re on the sidelines? Are you waiting on something good to happen in your writing life?

 

 

 

Words in the Refrigerator

It’s no secret that I enjoy food. Different food groups, different cuisines, I love it all. So when Susan Elizabeth Phillips said in a speech that it’s an all too common problem to “look for the next line of our stories in the refrigerator,” it touched my taste buds.

There are many authors who deal with their writing by eating while sitting at the keyboard. It could be they’re on deadline and can’t take the time for meals at a table away from their work. It could be to deal with the anxiety of not knowing, or not liking, where the story is headed. It could be they use food to help start the process of writing and then stop eating when they get into the flow of the story.

I’m guilty of the last. It’s a terrible process but it’s instinctive and I’ve never been able to completely stamp it out.  

Whatever the reason, this isn’t a healthy way to eat. And the next line of our story isn’t hiding behind the yogurt. So for our series on the real life of writers, I thought I’d discuss the problem of keyboard calories. 

When this hits you, as it hits me daily, there are some things to do. Chew gum. Fix a cup of coffee or tea. Get up and pace rapidly like a regency hero about to explain to the heroine why he can’t deflower her. Do something mindless like scrubbing the toilet until the next line pops in your head or you wear a hole in the porcelain. Chomp on carrots, radishes, apples, etc. to give your jaws the workout they need to make your brain function.

All those who suffer from this affliction with me, give me an “amen” and tell me how you deal with it. I could use some more ideas.

Kate Parker writes historical mysteries laced with romance and fueled by tea and carrots. The next, coming out in July, is The Royal Assassin.

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.

Just Say “No” to NaNoWriMo: In Defense of Writing Slowly

Two books and a novella.

That’s what I remembered being “normal,” back in 2011, before my son was born. It felt like a lot, but as an unpublished author, I didn’t think I had much say in the matter. Swim with the big fish or get left in the shoals. And before my baby was born, I could keep up. I mean, I wasn’t writing the sort of books that I absolutely love to read, but doing so would have required a much lengthier research period, and I didn’t feel like that was possible. Not with the pressure we were all under. I had to demonstrate that I could meet the very high expectations placed upon us. Whether or not I was writing the book of my soul was secondary to meeting the expectations of the industry.

Look, the first book I wrote won a Golden Heart. Doors opened for me. I couldn’t stand in the hallway. I walked through and got to work.

Then my baby was born.

I didn’t fall into motherhood as naturally as I’d hoped I would. He was large and needed almost constant feedings. He didn’t sleep well. He cried often, not quite enough to be called “colicky” but enough to make us feel like we were doing it all wrong. 

This is not unusual, I know. What was unusual was that I hadn’t intended on taking any maternity leave from writing. I’d sold my first two books just weeks after my son was born. I meant to keep writing, to capitalize on this amazing sale to a fabulous publisher. But I couldn’t. Just….couldn’t. I was too tired, too sore. Even when I found free time, which was very rare, I couldn’t think of a single thing worth writing about. I tried. But I had no interesting inputs, and therefore I had nothing to output. I was drained. Empty. 

But every other mother I’d talked to had been able to do it. Why couldn’t I? Why was I so weak-willed that I couldn’t do it all? Why was I so unimaginative that I couldn’t write while taking care of one little baby?

Failure. Guilt. Shame. You know the drill.

I soon found that I was happier when I was 100% devoted being a mother. So I stopped trying to write. We moved to live closer to family, became happier. Life got easier. My son flourished. He has turned out to be a bit of a physical and mental dynamo who was probably just pissed off that he didn’t pop out of the womb ready to run. Now, he’s in preschool, and I have twelve hours a week to write.

Except I’m not writing, not in the way I used to, with #1k1h sprints and daily tracking on a spreadsheet to keep myself motivated. I was happy but not healthy on that treadmill. Worse, I’d been afraid to write my most favorite kinds of books: multi-layered, beautifully written romances with a rich cache of historical detail and intricately woven mysteries.

Why was I afraid? They take a lot of time to write, especially if you’re starting from scratch in a historical period. I didn’t feel like I had that sort of time before. I just jumped in and started swimming. Frantically.

But now? I’ve been out of the game for three years. I’m a mother. I feel like I’ve been through battle. My skin has thickened. I’m not afraid of the industry anymore. (Oddly, this has carried over into my personal life, as well.) As long as I’m being true to myself, I don’t care very much what other people think of me.

So I’m writing what I love to read. Finally.

And I’m not NaNoWriMoing. Instead, I’m researching. I’m taking weeks to read and think and plan, and I’m not feeling anxious about how many words I’m writing or what the market is doing in the meantime. What matters to me now is whether or not I’m writing my very best book. My best. Every time. That’s how you make it, in my opinion. That’s how you find and keep devoted readers. By giving them your very best every time, as often as you can, but not so often that you die trying.

Let me repeat that: Don’t die trying.

Really. How is your thyroid? Your carpal tunnel? Your back pain? How’s your neck holding up? That tingling in your toes? Your weight? How’s your caffeine consumption? Your energy level? Your sex life? Your relationship with your non-writing friends? Your children? Your family? When’s the last time you had your teeth cleaned? How much pain medication are you taking? Alcohol? Anti-depressants?

When’s the last time you lamented your slow pace and wished you could just…write…faster? When’s the last time you heard a friend say the same thing?

Honey. Stop. Just…stop. Listen to me: you don’t have to do this to yourself. This is absurd! Why are we accepting these insane expectations as normal?

WHY?

Because we are WOMEN, and women are supposed to make people happy.

Aren’t we? And it makes editors and agents and husbands very happy when we are extremely productive, and all the more so when we pretend that we can get up at 4:30 AM with a smile and that our backs aren’t killing us and that we don’t harbor a secret and unhealthy addiction to caffeine.

We are supposed to “do it all,” remember?

That’s our right as beneficiaries of feminism. If we don’t “do it all,” we are failures. Even though we think it’s really hard or perhaps even impossible to be extremely productive without driving ourselves into an early and painful grave, we think it’s WHAT WE SHOULD BE DOING. This is like the Mommy Wars, only there’s no one on the other side saying, “Hey! I’m tired. I’m sick. And I’m unhappy. I can’t meet these insane expectations, and I think we need to slow down and support each other in doing so.”

I think we’re doing it to ourselves.

Or at least we’re complicit in the agreement that this is all supposed to be normal. By nodding in agreement when some editor or agent or whoever talks about the crazy pace they want us to meet, we’re agreeing with the insanity. When we beat ourselves up for not meeting this unmeetable standard, we’re complicit with this craziness.

Well, bull. I think that what I should be doing is living a full and healthy life while also writing beautiful, well-researched and fully imagined books that I can stand behind 100% (rather than some half-baked, one-handed erotica that pays the bills but makes me feel like I’m not using my talent or speaking my truth. Not that that’s what I or you have been doing, but I know we’re all wondering if that’s what it’s going to take to make it big). I think that if more of us who cannot meet these unreasonable standards take a vocal stand against such pace, we’d all be better off.

For me, this is a feminist issue.

It’s an issue of women vs. women, and how hard we are on ourselves. Victoria Dahl gave a moving and brave speech at the Emerald City conference about how the whole “your heroine must be likable and good!” message is finally fading, and it’s because writers like her took a courageous and lonely stand against it. She feels that part of the “likable heroine” messaging that we receive is an extension of the “women must be likable” messaging that most of us would agree we have been receiving since birth.

So, I’ve begun having conversations like this one with my friends who feel that the expectations placed upon us are insane, and that those who manage to meet them are very often living unhealthy lives. I’m not saying that every writer who can meet this schedule with a smile are unhealthy; please don’t take offense if you are a productive, healthy writer. 😉 But most writers I speak to who are extremely productive are also secretly very, very tired and very, very sick.

We’re killing ourselves and encouraging our friends to do the same. I say it stops now. NaNoWriMo if if makes you happy. I’ll cheer you on! But if you feel like the pace of our industry is killing you softly, then please, for your own health, join me in writing at a more reasonable pace. I realize that we’re genre-fiction writers, and our readers do expect regular offerings. But our health and happiness is more important than our writing output. Don’t let the industry squeeze you dry in ten years flat. Find a steady, productive pace that allows you to maintain your own good health and loving relationships with your friends and family.

If I hear one more of you tell me that you skipped a family vacation to write, I’m going to get seriously angry over here!

Love,

Jamie

Jamie Michele writes smart, sexy suspenses about women who never do what’s expected of them, and the men who should know better than to stand in their way. Check out An Affair of Vengeance, the first in a two-book sequence, on sale for $2!

Next Page »

The Latest Comments

  • Louisa Cornell: You are so right, Elisa! One of the reasons I have limited myself (so far) to proofing and editing...
  • Elisa Beatty: There’s such a big gap between developmental editing and line editing….some editors are...
  • Louisa Cornell: LOL ! Yes, Walmart is indeed the scariest place in town! A place I only visit as a customer now. And...
  • Gwynlyn: Laurie and I were discussing this very topic last night, Louisa. Being her editor, I need the objectivity to...
  • Louisa Cornell: Thank you, Autumn! The temptation is always there to edit oneself or to go as inexpensively as...

Archives