Tag Archives | inspiration

What it Takes to Be a Writer: Part One

asok_project365_mydesk_1059218_hWherein I talk about what it takes to be a writer, in my humble opinion, anyway.  To finish a book project, or even an article or short story.  To get the book out in the world, either into the hands of an agent and editor, or publish it yourself, which is a whole other enterprise. To hit the bestseller list. To rinse and repeat, which you’re going to need to do to build a career as a writer. What it takes to accomplish whatever your dream is.

Fresh off teaching a recent workshop in France, I’ve been pondering this.  Working with writers, listening to their hopes and frustrations opens my eyes over and over again, because their concerns echo mine in my own writing practice.  We are all gloriously different, right? And, at heart, we are also all very much alike.  To that end, here are two arenas in which many frustrations lie:

  1. Mindset
  2. Butt in chair

Let’s look at mindset,  otherwise known as the way you think, first.  It is easy to groan about this, to hold up your hands and say “Don’t tell me I am what I think!” But the cold, hard truth of the matter is that it’s true. If you think you can do it, you will be able to. But if you don’t think you can, you won’t. Sigh. You really do need to master your mindset about your writing.

But here’s a lot of the reason why—because after thinking about it, you need to do it. I know. Duh. But if you’re busy telling yourself that you can’t do it, you won’t. It’ll be too much pressure. You’ll get bored and wander away, take up archery or long-distance swimming or bird-watching.  Thoughts wear grooves in your brain and if you keep thinking you can’t, then your brain will believe you. And you won’t take time to write, because, well, you’re convinced you can’t. Or that you’re a bad writer. Or that the odds are stacked against you.

I follow a young woman named Jennifer Blanchard.  She is always ranting fervently about mindset and how important it is, how one must write down their goals every day, or at least re-read their goals. Etc., etc.  Part of me loves this stuff. Loves it. And part of me—the part that actually has to take the action—rolls my eyes at it.  But the thing is, everything she says about mindset is true.  You gotta get your brain in the right place to be a writer.  And that means doing whatever it takes, be that rereading your goals every day or monitoring those pesky negative thoughts.

Most of all it means you have to believe you can do it. Because if you don’t believe, you won’t make the time for it.  You’ll read knitting blogs (like I do when I get blocked), instead. Or you’ll decide the kitchen floor needs mopping. Or the cat’s nails need trimming. And the thing is—you won’t even realize why you’re indulging in these procrastination activities. You’ll convince yourself that it’s because there’s that spot of dirt, right there on the floor where everyone can see it.  Or that you absolutely must read that blog because you have to figure out where you went wrong on the sweater you’re knitting.  Or that the cat pulled up a thread on your gorgeous slipcover. Like that.

What’s the antidote to this? In truth, a lot of it is in taking action, which I’ll get to in a moment. Because the more you write, the easier it becomes and the easier it becomes, the more you’ll believe you can do it. Yeah, there is definitely an endless loop going on here.  But here are a couple other hints about mindset:

  1. Visualization has scientifically been proven to help. Not visualizing the moment you stand at the podium and accept your Nobel Prize for Literature, but visualizing yourself actually sitting at the computer writing. Thinking about how it feels as the words flow and your fingers range across the page.

Here’s an article that gives a good rundown on how to do it, and here’s one from Psychology Today on its benefits.

  1. Meditation and positive thinking. Activities that go hand in hand with visualization are meditation (you knew I was going there) because it quiets the damn monkeys in the brain enough to allow you to think positive thoughts about your writing, and affirmations. Yeah, I know. Dopey. I get it. But you can use them in the most casual of ways, as in when you’re thinking how you just can’t seem to get the scene right instead of berating yourself for being an idiot who can’t write, turn it around and tell yourself you know the story and you can figure out the scene. Just tell yourself that the rest of the day. C’mon, you’re a storyteller, right? So tell yourself a positive story. That’s all an affirmation is, in truth. You’re going to be telling yourself something all day anyway, it might as well be something positive.

As for meditation, just try it. Really. It is ten or fifteen minutes out of your day, and if it helps you become a better writer, isn’t that time well spent? I highly recommend downloading the Insight Timerfor your phone and using it. You can set interval bells so that the fifteen minutes doesn’t seem to stretch to fifteen hours, and there’s all kinds of cool ambient sounds you can meditate to, as well as a selection of guided meditations to try. Plus, it’s like social media for meditators. You can create a profile and interact with others all over the world.

Okay, so, alas, one cannot sit in one’s recliner and meditate and visualize and think positive thoughts all day and become a writer.  Would that we could. So I’ll discuss part two of the topic of what it takes in a blog post slated for Wednesday.

Until then, happy mind-setting. Or meditating. Or whatever.

And do tell what you think it takes to be a writer.

2

Well Hey, Otherwhere, It’s Nice to See You Again!

I’ve been remiss in providing you with Otherwhere links for quite some time now. The problem is not that I don’t have enough, it’s that I have too many.  And when I start to corral them, I get overwhelmed.  Okay. Deep breath. Here we go (and forgive me if they are not in any particular order):

Finding your voice from Jen Louden (she’s doing a cool self-guided retreat on this, too.

Having empathy for characters not like you

The Ultimate Summer Reading Flowchart

Three Easy Edits for Better Emotional Impact 

When You Don’t Want to Write

How to Get Unstuck

Great Advice and Ideas from Asian-American Writer’s Workshop

8 Literary Gardens to Escape to This Summer

How I Organize My Time, Tasks, and Creative Ideas (from Sandra Pawula)

Okay, I could go on…and on…and on. But my cats are begging me to feed them and besides, this ought to be enough to keep you busy for awhile, no? Do weigh in on what you’re looking at on the web in the comments.

4

Otherwhere: May 9th

pencil_notebook_writing_237689_lI have a veritable cornucopia of links for you today, so let’s dive right in. Here goes:

Writing

Finish that novel already! (I know, it’s not that easy.)

Writing historical fiction

For the love of it

Write great YA fiction

How to become a ghostwriter

Writing setting (a topic dear to my heart since I wrote my MFA critical thesis on landscape as character).

How to make comments and use track changes in Word.

Reading

The late science fiction writer Octavia Butler was a genius in many ways. Here’s a quote about how she read.

Travel

France porn. (We still have a spot left in our France retreat!)

Food

I’d much rather write than cook, but every day the same need arises: figure out something to fix for dinner. Here are some imminently makeable but not-necessarily-good-for-you ideas.

That’s it! That’s all I’ve got! What have you been browsing through lately?

 

0

Inventive Writing Post Round-up #10

The latest in writing inspiration from my Tumblr blog.  Have at it, guys!

#68  Close your eyes and imagine your childhood home.  Now put your main character in action in this home.  What happens?  Who does she see when she walks in?  What does she think of the place?

#69  The most important thing that's ever happened to you.  Really, stop and think about it.  Then write about it for you–and for your main character.

#70  They sat around the campfire roasting marshmallows.  And then the screaming began.

#71  The most romantic moment of your life.  Assign it to two characters and see what happens to them after it.

#72  The day has come at long last and I can't believe it is here.  Finally, I get to….

#73  "I can't believe it, this is all my fault," she said.  "If only I hadn't…"  What happened? What did she do to cause the problem?  Who is she talking to about it?

#74  “When I open my eyes in the morning, I am not confronted by the world, but by a million possible worlds.”  Colin Wilson.

What world does your character see in the morning when he/she wakes up?

Have a wonderful time writing, my lovelies!

2

Reviewing Your 2013 Writing Life

Infodesign-calendars-design-52489-hSo, we've got two days until the new year, and I don't know about you, but I've been busy thinking about 2014.  I have so many writing goals I want to accomplish–novels and stories to get out in the world, and classes and products to offer here on the blog.  So this year I'm trying to approach it logically (not my strong suit, as I'm about as right-brained as they come), and write out my goals now.  (I'm using this workbook that my daughter got me for Christmas.)

The difference for me this time around is that I'm actually taking the time to review 2013.   Yeah, I know, brilliant idea, right?  Anyway, as I was working on this project earlier this morning, the thought occurred that maybe you would like some guidance on looking over 2013 as well.  So herewith, I offer questions to ponder and answer in three areas: writing, motivation and putting it into the world (also known as marketing).

(And by the way, I'll be back on Thursday, newsletter day, with guidance for planning your 2014 writing life.)

1.  Writing.  

We start with this because it is the basis of everything.  Duh.

–What was the best thing about your writing in 2013?

–What was the worst thing?

–What are you most proud of?

–What is your biggest writing accomplishment?

–What felt good around your writing?

–What felt off?

–What lessons did you learn around your writing?

–What do you want more of?

–What do you want less of?

–What was your biggest writing problem?

2.  Motivation

Yes, one could argue that this could come first, but I maintain, as mentioned above, that when you're a writer, writing is the starting point of everything.  

–What inspired you?

–What motivated you to plant your butt in the chair and write?

–What de-motivated you?

–What got in the way of your writing?

–What is your biggest issue in finding time to write?

–What time of day were you most inspired?

–What books inspired you?

–What blogs inspired you?

–What magazines inspired you?

–What other creative pursuits inspired you?

3.  Marketing

I know, ick, but if you want your work to go out in the world, you've got to consider it.

–How did you market your work in 2013?

–What were your most successful channels?

–How many times did you submit your work in 2013? Or, how many pieces did you publish yourself?

–Which social media outlet did you rock?

–Did you blog or maintain your website consistently?

–What did you learn about yourself and your writing through marketing?

–Do you have a mailing list?  Did you grow it this year?

–How did your off-line marketing efforts go?

–Did you get media publicity this year? In what venues?

–What areas of marketing did you most enjoy?

Okay, there you have it–30 questions to answer about 2013.  I'll be back on Thursday with thoughts to ponder for 2014.  In the meantime, would you care to comment?  What was your biggest writing accomplishment in 2013? 

Image by eliazar.

6

10 Takeaways from France

CobblestonesI flew home from Paris last Sunday, and as I write this, I'm still a bit jet lagged.  One of these days I'm sure I'll get back to a normal sleep schedule.  I now seem to rise at 4:30 every morning–at least it gives me time to write.

But I'm not complaining.  Because travel–any kind of travel, but especially international travel–is good for the writer's soul.  Really good.  So herewith is a round-up of some of my impressions of France, and how I see they relate to writing.  (Because, you know, everything relates to writing.)

1. Potato chips.  You gotta love a country that is as obsessed with potato chips as France.  Nearly every bar or cafe brings you a little cup of them with your wine or Orangina (my new obsession).   It's offering a little something extra–a habit we writers would be wise to emulate, don't you think?  Take the time to go deeper, to go back and rewrite that scene you've never quite been able to get right.  Take the time to give a little extra in your writing and your life.

2. Fantastic wines from the Languedoc Roussillon region.   Oh man, we loved the wines from the area we stayed in.  (It was the south of France, but very close to Spain.  Big Catalan influence with many signs in both languages.)  What can I say?  Setting is important. Bring yours to life with details from the location you're setting your story in.

3.  Water follows a natural course.  In Ceret, the sides of the narrow, cobblestones streets have gulleys in which water flows all day and night.  (See photo above.) The sound of running water and church bells chiming the hour (starting at 7 AM–no sleeping late there) are a constant backdrop.  Hopefully, your writing flows, too.  It does when you just let it, go I've learned.  And it doesn't when you force it.

4.  You will get jet lag.  And that's a fact.  The best way I found to cope  was to go with it.   The first few nights in France, I awoke every night and stayed awake
for a few hours, but I was so excited to be in Paris (and have a 360
degree view of the city, including the Eiffel Tower and Sacre Coeur)
that I just got up and admired the vista.  You will get writer's block at some point, too.  My advice?  Quit resisting and go with it.  Take a break.  Refresh yourself.  You'll get back to the work, trust me.

5.  French women do have more style.  They just do.  And I think its because they make an effort to put their best selves forward in every situation.  Even if they are running to the corner boulangerie, they pay attention to what they're wearing.  Do me a favor, would you?  Check over your manuscript one more time before you send it out to anyone.  Make sure its formatted correctly (double spaced, please) and that there are no typos. I've seen a lot of manuscripts lately wherein the writer seems to have forgotten this crucial step.  Put your best self forward.

6.  If you don't speak the language, try anyway.  My high school French is rusty, very, very rusty.  But a smile and a sincere effort to communicate always did wonders.  Funny, because this was one of the things I worried about most but I always muddled through.  So maybe its time for you to try writing that personal essay you've been mulling?  Perhaps you really do have a novel in you? (And by the way, if you decide you want to learn a language, there's a fabulous free website called Duolingo that can help you.)

7.  In Ceret, there's a boulangerie on every block.  (Kinda like there's a coffeeshop on every corner here in Portland.)  Every morning, I'd take a walk and swear I would not return home with chocolate croissants.  I'll leave it to your imagination to decide how successful I was.  But this baked goods abundance made me think about ideas, and how we live in a rich stew of them.  An idea on every corner!  And many more in between.  We just have to become aware.

8.  Tourist areas are fun–but many other areas offer delights as well.  I traveled through Paris on my way to and from Ceret.  My first couple of nights in the city, I stayed in the home of a wonderful woman named Diane (this was where I had the amazing view of Paris).  I rented this place through AirBandB.com.  On my way back, I stayed in a fancy hotel on the Champs Elysses (thanks, Marlene).  Two very different experiences.  Is there a different area of your creativity you'd like to explore?  Painting?  Line dancing?  Fiber arts?  Head off the beaten path and see what you create.

9.  A community of writers is crucial in so many ways.  Our hardy band of retreaters read and commented on each other's work every morning as part of our workshops.   Not only did they enjoy the support and trust that sprang up, but they spurred each other on to new heights in their writing.  No kidding.  You wouldn't believe some of the amazing work that got put on the page! Find your community, whether it's a physical or in cyberspace.  (And I have one word for anyone interested in going on retreat with us next year: Italy.)

10.  All roads lead to Perpignan We took the bullet train (that baby really is fast) from Paris to Perpignan, which is a bit of a hub.  It's where Salvador Dali reputedly had a psychedelic experience that led him to declare that Perpignan was the center of the universe.  This may well be true.  As we were out and about on the countryside, we discovered that no matter which direction we traveled, there would be a sign saying we were on the road to Perpignan.   For me, this is true of writing as well.  All roads lead back to my writing.  All experiences, everything that happens, are reflected in my writing one way or another.  I wouldn't have it any other way.

What about you?  Does travel, foreign or domestic, inspire you?  What exotic locale would you most like to visit?

***The above photo was taken by moi.  I had planned to add a bunch more images to this post, but major wonkiness is going on with Typepad and photos.  I took tons of pictures, some blurry, some crooked, some actually halfway good, and you can see them all on my Instagram stream.

 

8

Checking in on the Three Words of the Year

Did you choose three words (or one word) to live by this year?  Have you checked back to see how you're doing with these words?

Last December, in a post titled Three Powerful Words for An Amazing New Year, I announced my words and the thought behind them.  Since we're halfway (gasp) through the year, I thought it would be fun to revisit my words and see how I'm doing.  I'm wondering if you might think it is time to do the same thing with your words.

One reason I'm doing this is because I've written the words on a post-it note that is stuck to a cabinet above my desk, and my gaze falls upon them when I stare off into space.   Most of the time, I barely notice them, but once in awhile the words come into focus and I ponder them.   Yesterday, I pondered them so hard that I finally checked back to the original post to see how I'm doing.

The answer is that I'm doing okay.  Probably not great, but okay.

My three words for the year are creativity, faith, and inquiry. 

I'm going to talk about faith first, because its the word around which I'm doing the best.  In my post I wrote about my faith in God, which is important to me, but also faith in myself, what I'm doing, and that everything was going to be all right.  I wrote about having faith in my ability to go deep within and uncover the riches that are buried there.  And in the six months since I wrote that, I've been learning to do all of this on an ongoing basis–learning being the operative word.  What I'm learning is that faith of this nature responds to effort, maybe even requires effort, and that by making the effort you begin to create the faith.  One of the hallmarks of this year is that I've been consistently making the effort.

I'm doing fairly well with inquiry, too.  In the original post I wrote about not wanting to take things at face value, to dig a bit deeper mentally and form my own opinions.  I still leap to judgment, oh dear lord how I leap to judgment.  I can read a rant on the internet and be totally convinced of its truth, then read oppositional comments and switch to the other point of view immediately.  Such is the curse of the impressionable mind. One way I am using inquiry successfully is to turn off the internal blame machine, and this is a wonderful thing.  If I've eaten a piece of chocolate cake, for instance, or fallen down on my writing goals, I say to myself, "Hmmm, I wonder why that happened."  Or, "Wow, that's interesting.  Wonder what's going on?"  This allows me to observe myself more objectively.  The thought occurs I should turn this style of inquiry to the outside world as well.

And finally we get to creativity.  Falling down a bit here. I'm a lifelong knitter and I love the craft.  It soothes me, satisfies my need for beauty, and allows me to make useful things.    There's nothing I love more than spending an afternoon poking around yarn stores, then coming home with a new project and casting on.  But here's the deal: I don't do it enough.  One of the things I wrote in my year-end post was how I wanted to partake of this kind of creativity more regularly.  I've got opportunity: my pug Buster loves nothing better than for me to sit with him and watch TV in the evenings, and Buster is ancient old and so I figure I better humor him while I can.  This would be a perfect chance to indulge in this creative hobby of mine, but do I?  Sometimes.  And I can't figure out why I don't do it more.  Time to take advantage of that inquiry that is the other hallmark of this year.

Alrighty, then.  That is far more than enough about me.  What about you?  Did you choose three words for the year?  What were they?  How are you keeping up with them?

 

10

The Art of Seeing

Everystockphoto_193921_mA writer is nothing without ideas.

Ideas are so important to our craft that I do a whole class on them.

Where do ideas come from?

One place they come from is observation.  Which means the ability to see is vital to the writer.

Here's the deal: we get wrapped up in our stuff really easily.  I do it, you do it, we all do it.  And when we're wrapped up in our own stuff, that means we're not observing the world.  We're not seeing.  And thus we're not allowing new ideas to filter in.

So if the art of seeing becomes an important creative act, how do we encourage ourselves to do so?  I have some guidelines:

1.  Be present. Yeah, yeah, a no-brainer.  But how present are you as you move through your daily activities? Are you awake and aware or going through the motions?  Being present to your life can make the difference between sleep-walking through it or gathering all kinds of ideas for writing.

2.  Change things up. Do you drive to work the exact same way every day and see the same things? Visit the same cafe for lunch all the time?  Try something new!  Maybe you can't take a vacation at this exact moment but you can take mini-vacations by changing up your daily routine.

3.  Observe in categories.  Writers need to know things–like what noses look like and how hairdos work.  We need to understand details so that we can write details.  So assign yourself categories to observe–shoes, cars, dialogue–and write down what you find.

4. Listen.  Too often we get so wound up in what we're saying we're not listening.  Or, while another person is talking, we're planning what we're going to say.  That's not listening and it's not being present.  Try relaxing and really listening and see what happens.

5.  Get over yourself.  You're great.  I know you are.  But when it comes to the art of seeing, check your ego at the door, as the saying goes.  You can remind yourself later, when you're back at home with a pocketful of ideas, how great you are.  (Or, the flip side of this coin–how nervous you were being out in the world observing.)

6.  Write down what you see.  Obvious.  But maybe not.  Don't depend on your faulty memory to remind yourself of that great observation about what taxicabs look like.  Because you brain won't remember.  Trust me.  Write stuff down.

7.  Practice remembering.  This is for the times when  you can't write stuff down.  Years ago, I remember hearing about a famous journalist–Tom Wolfe? Joan Didion? I can't recall–who, when on a story, took no notes.  He or she had appointments, did interviews, went through her day and when she returned to her hotel room at night sat at the typewriter (it was a long time ago) and wrote down everything she saw and heard.  Now that's practicing memory skills.

Create a successful, inspired writing life: Take yourself out on an observation date right now (or as soon as possible).  Grab your journal, hit the nearest coffee shop, and see.

Please comment!  What are your favorite tricks for seeing and remembering details?

2

Writing Inspiration: Sometimes You Just Have to Wait

Hourglass_hour_glass_263769_lYou've all heard the party line about getting ideas for writing (and I say it myself, often): you can't sit around and wait for inspiration to strike you, you've got to make it happen by sitting down and writing.

It's good advice because it's true advice.

Except for when it's not.

Last week when I was sick I spent a lot of time prone on the couch.  The first couple of days I lay there in what I'm certain was an unattractive manner, considering I hadn't had a shower in a couple of days and…. never mind, I'll spare you the details.  The second couple of days I read (by then I was clean of body, too).   Voraciously.  And somewhere along the line I suddenly started getting ideas for my novel.  The very same novel that had been stalled at the start of chapter three, because I couldn't decide: funeral scene or scene in high-rise office?

I knew I was feeling better when I leapt from the couch, searching for paper and pen.  And thus I have notes for chapter three scrawled on a pad of paper decorated with holly berries, a bonus item the boys of the St. Joseph Lakota school sent me in hopes I'd donate to their cause (along with a dream catcher and a thick stack of address labels).

Had I not gotten sick, I would have diligently forced the issue of chapter three.  I would have thought.  And thought some more.  And walked.  And done free writing assignments.  And taken notes. I would have goosed the muse until the poor muse was so overwhelmed and exhausted he would have yelled, "Stop! Here's an idea already!"

But that didn't happen this time.  Instead, I lolled about and the ideas came.  So I'm thinking my new modus operandi is to just lie on the couch all the time.  Kidding!  Sort of.  Because I believe what happened last week was that my brain finally got quiet enough for me to listen.  The week previous had been full of holiday stuff, and there was much important business and scurrying around and not a lot of quiet.  So I'm putting quiet, just plain quiet, at the top of my list for idea gathering and getting unstuck.

For the record, here are my other top ways to get unstuck:

  • Walk
  • Repetitive motion activity (knitting, weeding, sewing, lawn mowing)
  • Free writing
  • Reading (especially a book on writing craft)
  • Creative projects (doodling, painting, collage, etc.)

The great thing about writing is that things always change.  What worked once may not work again.  What's never worked before suddenly works like a charm.  The way you wrote your first novel, in a white heat with words flowing so fast you can barely keep up, seems like a distant memory as you plod through your second novel, word by painful word.

And this, my friends, is what makes writing the most fascinating profession in the world.

How do you get unstuck?

*Don't forget to sign up for my free bi-weekly newsletter, The Abundant Writer.  The form is to the right.  You'll also receive a free copy of my Ebook, Jumpstart Your Book with a Vision Board.

**Photo by paav-o.

12

The First Day of the Rest of Your Life

Remember that old saying from the sixties, its the first day of the rest of your life? Numbers_text_texture_225115_l

Oh, right, I forgot, you're not old enough.  Trust me on this, it was a popular saying.  And its been ringing in my head ever since I read a blog post (and I'm sorry, I can't even identify where) about how the past is, well, past.  It's over, finito, done. 

Except in our heads, where it is still alive and well and torturing us. 

With thoughts like:

  • What makes you think you'll get your novel published now, when you haven't managed to yet?
  • Why on earth would  you think you will make more money this year than last?
  • You've never been successful before, why do you think you can be now?

And so on.  Our devious little minds egos bedevil us with these thoughts based on important prior history.  Or, more to the point, what our egos think is important prior history.  And we believe them.  When really what they are reacting to is the time Kenny Wayne Chowder hit us in kindergarten.  Or Delia Dalton told us we were dumb when we were playing together when we were three.  

C'mon, is that really what you want to have driving you?  Are those incidents really indicators of your potential?  Stop for a minute and ponder.  What would you be like if today were the first day of the rest of your life? What if the past truly were past and no longer affected you?

Its a pretty big concept to wrap the brain around.  But here are a few things that leap to my mind:

  • I wouldn't be afraid of failure
  • I wouldn't be afraid of success
  • I wouldn't ever say "I can't"
  • I'd treasure every moment
  • I'd take total and complete responsibility
  • I'd expect miracles
  • I'd attack my writing like a hungry bear

There's more.  Oh, there's so much more on this topic, I'm certain, but I've got to let it simmer for a bit.  So you tell me–how would thinking this way affect you?

Speaking of firsts, here's an awesome one.  My friend Lora Cain is going to be a guest announcer on Wheel of Fortune next week.  She'll be the first ever female game show announcer.  Hard to believe, huh?  Listen in and support her.  Then write in and tell them how great she is (details on her site).

Photo by mai05, from Everystockphoto.

7