Baring My Writer’s Soul – Part 17

Writer's Soul 17If you’re like me, you have to build up to writing, ease into it. To wake up and start writing is like jumping out of bed and going to work without coffee.   There are people who can do this; God bless their perky morning souls. I approach things a little differently by creating a positive work environment and attitude for myself. This is achieved with a cup of hot tea and reading my Bible. The simple activity sets the stage for the rest of my writing day.

Then I take a few minutes to mentally organize and deep breathe. I rid myself of negative thoughts and focus on the positive. As a writer, one of the most negative things I encounter is writer’s block. I can feel the ideas in my head, but I just can’t get them out. I accomplish this by acknowledging that I’m not truly blocked. Rather, I’m giving in to fears, doubts, and insecurities. Being able to say this makes the fears, doubts, and insecurities manageable, and I can move on. Also, I stop guilting myself for what I may or may not be as a writer, and I stop playing the comparison game. Once I’ve dealt with these issues, I’m free to write.

One of the most important things I’ve learned since I took up writing is to keep my equipment simple. All I need to create literary brilliance is a single subject notebook and a pencil. I choose a pencil over a pen because they make noise as they move across the paper. This light scratching is satisfying to my brain and is proof writing efforts. I see and hear my progress. Another technique that helps with this process is to sometimes write on lightly textured paper such as a sketch pad.

I write in capital letters. It took some getting used to, but by doing so, the process slows down my writing and focuses my attention at the same time. My ideas actually flow better. As new ideas pop into my head, I write them in the margins of my notebook.

One of the hardest things to conform to is a writing schedule. You would think making your own hours would be bliss, but I find as my own boss, sometimes I have the tendency to not take my writing seriously. I become lax beyond the point of flexible, and my writing suffers. When I set a schedule and stick with it, choosing the time of day that works best for me, I am more productive. Of course, I allow for emergencies in my life and some flexibility, but I don’t allow myself to get too far off the schedule I created.

As for social media, it took me a while to learn to not be controlled by it. Author platforms are good, but when you spend all your time maintaining them, you’re not writing. Not to mention the rising stats are addictive, and the minute you tell yourself you’ll only be on a minute, you’ve wasted thirty minutes playing. Remember: writers write; they don’t build reputations on what they’re going to do. Resolve this issue by scheduling the time you’ll spend maintaining your social media, and again, stick to it.

Another trick I use to nudge my writing along is the daily word goal. It’s effective, but I learned that when I write what needs to be written, completing a scene or story in fewer words, I still consider myself successful. In other words, I write until I’m finished. I’ve been surprised how long or short a handwritten portion turns out to be when typed. Coming short of the goal isn’t failure as long as I’m writing.

That’s when I reward myself with chocolate, a cup of tea or coffee, pleasure reading, napping, calling a friend, cooking, taking a walk. I warn against using social media or television as a reward because they lure one away from focusing.

Also, I do not punish myself for not meeting my writing goal. There are already too many negative thoughts bombarding my head, negative influences toward my writing from outside, and my resistance will pounce on these to keep me from writing. The goal is writing. The quantity is negotiable.

I keep one main project to work on, usually my novel, and resist the urge to put too many irons in the writing fire. However, I also maintain a notebook of other writing projects I’d like to work on in case I need to switch things up. Sometimes I need a project while waiting for a response to a research question or if my main project becomes heavy and I need a small break. Alternative writing includes journaling, blog posts, letter writing, flash fiction, and short stories. I use caution when setting aside my main writing project for a period of time, making sure it’s for a valid reason such as research, time to think and/or reflect, or major upheavals in my life. I know when I truly need a break and when I’m just sloughing off.

In short, I found what worked for me. Good writing habits take time to establish, so I never quit. I carry a notebook with me everywhere, have one in every room of my house, and write on the run. If I mess up, I start again. My resistance battles me along the way, but I am stronger. Resistance tells me these methods are weird, lame, and ineffective. I do them anyhow.

The easiest thing I do for my writing is be present. I simply put myself in a chair at the table with a pencil and paper. Then I made this process enjoyable by scouting out the best location in my home where I can be the most productive and tailored it to my needs with music, silence, windows, shade, snacks, and beverages. Sometimes I change locations to keep from stagnating.

One of my writing jump starts is to write twenty different words on index cards (the first twenty that come to mind or twenty things that interest me), turn them upside down, take one from top of stack, and free write for ten minutes. I do this for twenty days as a warm up and repeat as needed until I trust myself to jump into my writing day without assistance.

Another is my list of ten. In three minutes, I write down a list of ten things I did yesterday. In ten minutes, I free write about one of the things I did on my list. If nothing grabs me, I choose number three. A month of this particular warmup helped me set healthy routines. Keep in mind that these simple exercises are like mental stretching. No athlete competes without first stretching. True, it can be boring, it isn’t pretty, but it does massage your brain into creative mode.

I never forget good ole visual or audible writing prompts. Some of my best writing has been jumpstarted by a picture or piece of music. The funny things is, when I went looking for a pretty picture to write about or music to put me in the writing mood, I couldn’t find anything. Then there are pictures I wouldn’t have looked at twice and music that crossed my path that flashed a story through my brain so quickly I knew I had to put it down on paper. Don’t discount any source of inspiration.

Making myself accountable to others is effective for meeting my writing goals. I chose a writing buddy who will encourage me to stick to my goals and help me address why I might not be. I’m careful not to compare what I am doing to what my buddy is doing, and I don’t swap work with them. My buddy should have a different writing buddy to help manage his writing goals. In that vein of thought, choose wisely with whom you share your writing. He or she should be able to provide constructive feedback because poorly given feedback can knock you off your focus.

Based on my own personal experience, I don’t read writing books while I’m writing, especially the how to variety and those on writing style. I find them to be distracting because I try to incorporate all the wonderful new ideas I’m reading into my writing, and they don’t all fit. They don’t all belong, and they can hamper my writing if I’m not careful.

Most of what I learned about creating a writing life came from Heather Sellers’s book Page After Page. Some of it came from other inspirational sources. I’d love to hear what works for you and your writing, your process, and your thoughts on what I’ve written. Remember, feedback is what we authors live for.

Reading Like a Writer by Francine Prose

I first spied Francine Prose’s book, Reading Like a Writer, while shelving at my former job. I sneaked a few moments to read the first few pages and Reading Like a Writerinstantly fell in love. The sentence that resonated with me, “Like most–maybe all–writers, I learned to write by writing and, by example, by reading books,” combined with, “Long before the idea of a writer’s conference was a glimmer in anyone’s eye, writers learned by reading the work of their predecessors,” confirmed for me that I had found a kindred spirit. Her passion for reading and writing and the process of learning by indulging in both was the best piece of advice I had ever heard. Mrs. Prose’s comments awakened in me what I always believed to be true: great writing is an organic process that comes from creating beyond outlines and plot-pointed structures with perfect character arcs.

Great writing begins with close reading and follows with careful consideration for every word that will become a sentence, which will become a paragraph. This isn’t to say that Mrs. Prose or I believe writing should be utter chaos without any structure, but I trust if one applied her approach to their own writing, he or she would see amazing growth in how they create characters, employ narration and dialogue, and present details and gestures.

Woven throughout the book are examples from great writers that will back up what Mrs. Prose is teaching. You don’t need to be familiar with these authors or their works to appreciate them. Another reviewer I read proclaimed his dislike for Mrs. Prose’s book because he didn’t know any of the referenced works. I suspect he thought Mrs. Prose was being pretentious; I encourage you not to be intimidated by her knowledge but rather delve into the suggested reading list as soon as possible.

Another aspect of the book that appealed to me is Mrs. Prose’s admission that while there are rules in writing for the express purpose of guiding us, rules are, essentially, meant to be broken. And if you’re brave enough to ride off the reservation of writing rules, make sure you’re breaking them brilliantly.

Regardless of your preferred writing style or approach thereof, I highly recommend reading Francine Prose’s book. I would be truly surprised if you didn’t take away something positive from the experience.

Baring My Writer’s Soul – Part 7

I’ve really been off my game for the past three weeks. Instead of being a sweetheart and manifesting itself as the lover in the center or the lover on the side, my writing became the school yard bully. (See Page After Page, Heather Sellers.) I could explain that sentence, but it would take way too long. Again, for your own benefit, read the book!

Facepalm GirlI want to write. I want to be published. So why did I let the process of writing terrify me into a near-catatonic state? Good question. The answer is that I treated my writing and/or writing time like an obligation rather than a reward. I ignored the clues that writing can be a scary and lonely process, I let it intimidate and frighten me, and I pushed it aside where it grew into a monster. Bad move on my part.

Writing should be enjoyable. I made the mistake of trying to force my writing life into an unrealistic schedule, treating it like a job. I don’t know about you, but I hate having to go to work. On the other hand, I love to sneak away with a friend to idle away the hours producing fun. It’s not that I don’t want to write; I don’t want my writing to feel like work.

Then I bored myself with writing projects that weren’t actual writing, and I put busy work first. Now don’t get me wrong; I balance my priorities, but I’m learning to do it in a way that allows them to walk hand and hand with my dreams. This way, everybody is happy including me.

There will be days when my writing takes front and center place in my life, but there will also be days when it sits patiently on the side waiting for me to return. And that’s okay because absence makes the heart grow fonder and the muse grow productive. Understanding this has returned me to the pleasure of writing.

Write Happy!

Baring My Writer’s Soul – Part 6

untitled (8)I struggled a bit with chapter two of Page After Page because I couldn’t relate to the exact experiences Heather Sellers presented, and her advice seemed to contradict other things I’ve been told, most specifically regarding social media. While she didn’t address social media directly, what she proposed would require a noticeable change in how I handled the various aspects of my author platform.

Rather than allow my resistance to flare, I decided to go forward with closing the gap between my writing life and the rest of my life because I am a writer, plain and simple, whether or not I’m published, all the time, period. I’ll do this by drawing on all the positive writing and reading experiences, thus quelling my fears and doubts. This will be an ongoing process for me. At least I know how to seek out and find quality input.

As for conserving my energy to write, that’s going to require a step back from social media. What an unusual request when we live in an era that is all about social media. How can I build/grow/maintain my author platform if I’m not tweeting, posting, honking, and tooting my own horn, shouting, “Hey, look at me! See what I’m writing?” Whose advice do I take?

Let’s consider the point Ms. Sellers makes when she says that talking about writing all the time means you aren’t actually writing. That’s true. Then there are all the stats on social media to gauge how well we’re liked, or not, which can really make or break one’s confidence. I decided to trust Ms. Sellers and withdrew to a safe distance.

The first couple of days felt as if I didn’t have anything to do. I picked up my pen and wrote, and I listened to the voices of the characters in the book I’m reading, and I treated myself to two new writing books, and I read, and I wrote, and I scratched out what I had written, and I listened to the instruction presented in my new writing books, and I wrote some more.

The best part is I don’t have to tell you what I’m writing; that’s for me. What I will share with you is that Page After Page, Story Trumps Structure, and Fiction Writing Master Class have been phenomenal in breaking through my resistance and writer’s block.

The positive momentum kept me moving forward. In addition to my writing group, I joined a book group online and at the library, and I will be attending two “Meet Your Local Author” events. I know this is going to further enhance my writing because I’m all about the tactile experience.

Never fear, though. I shall not abandon my blog. I’m just tweaking the focus to build a community of reading, writing, interactive friends whose presence in my life goes far beyond that of just follower.

Write Happy!

Baring My Writer’s Soul – Part 3

imagesV0ZD86UPMy previous posts established the fact that I was frustrated with my writing and needed a new approach. Guilt over breaking writing rules and procedures threatened to kill my passion. Desperate for a change, I sought help from Heather Sellers’ book, Page After Page.

At this point, I should confess that I usually don’t read books on writing; they are boring. Page After Page is the first writing book that didn’t lecture me. Rather, the book engages the reader as if providing one-on-one instruction.

But enough gushing. The book also makes promises in the introduction, and I am a stickler for making authors fulfill their promises. By the end of the book, I am promised the ability to develop and sharpen writing tricks that will help me stay in my writing chair and get me there in the first place.

Heather Sellers included a quote from Natalie Goldberg’s book, Writing Down the Bones, which states “to do writing practice means to deal ultimately with your whole life.” I like this advice because 1.) I didn’t realize that an unbalanced life would negatively affect my writings, and 2.) This is exactly my request.

The first step in dealing with my life as a whole involves the process of learning how to learn from any class, any teacher, and any situation. It sounds simple enough until I step back and address, “Why am I not learning?”

Ask yourself this question, be honest, and see what you come up with. My own answers, while obviously detrimental, weren’t all that surprising.

Until next time, Write Happy!

Baring My Writer’s Soul – Part 2

untitled (8)Many thanks to my Twitter friend, Lucy Flint @flintily, for mentioning the book Page After Page by Heather Sellers. I immediately checked it out based on her recommendation, but after reading two chapters, I had to order my own copy from AbeBooks.

The excruciating wait for my book to arrive was lessened by the brilliant idea that popped into my head:   why not blog about my personal experience while reading the book? Immediately, self-doubts arose which was kind of funny because chapter one addresses this issue.

Page After Page is short, action-packed, conversational, “how to” in its voice without being preachy, and applicable to writing as well as other endeavors in life.

I’m inviting you to come on this journey with me, but you do not have to feel obligated to do so. In reading Page After Page, I’m learning from Heather Sellers’ process and picking up useful, relevant information and instruction that meets my writing needs.

If you find something that resonates with you, run with it. If not, don’t feel discouraged; what you’re looking for may be in the next post, by me or someone else, or a different writing book.

Write Happy!

Slip That Leash

untitled (6)Unleash The Writer Within by Cecil Murphy is a relaxed and encouraging read. It’s an easy commitment that you’ll be able to finish in a few days.

The chapter titles make for a quick reference guide, directing you to different areas of your writing that you may need to work on. I could see this book becoming a handy tool that a writer might revisit as needed.

Each chapter ends with a motivational saying that might seem trite at first but are the very words often bandied about many writing websites, Facebook, and Twitter. They prove to be little jewels of wisdom, perfect for lifting yourself out of the writing doldrums.

When you need to step away from writing for a few days due to writer’s block, reading this book would be a good use of your time to help free your inner muse.

Keep Those Emotions in Check

51j0JxV-MZL._AA160_Today I am stocking my Writing Toolbox with a book recommendation.  I first came across The Emotion Thesaurus: A Writer’s Guide to Character Expression when I stumbled across the authors’ website, Writers Helping Writers.  This was during the days when my own author platform was being created, and I clicked on and followed anything and everything that looked as if it might be valuable.  The point being:  I didn’t give the book much of a glance.

Of course, posts from the site kept leading me back to The Emotion Thesaurus as well as mentions on other writing blogs.  I checked out the book on Amazon, and I decided I must have it.  And by must have it, I mean I asked my local library to purchase it.

The simplicity of the book is brilliant.  Ms. Ackerman and Ms. Puglisi did a wonderful job explaining how to write emotional responses well.  The book includes a long list of emotions with examples of physical signals, internal sensations, mental responses, cues of acute or long-term confidence with other emotions to which the original one may escalate, and cues of repressed desire.  As well done as all of the above-mentioned features are, what I liked best about the book was the authors’ admission that their book is a launching point.

The Emotion Thesaurus is meant to help each and every one of us writer better, not to copy verbatim from the list of emotional responses.  This simple book gently pushes and guides one to think beyond the usual, clichéd responses.  It presents one of my favorite things in writing:  malleable rules.

I hope you find this book as helpful as I did.

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