Freedom, Independence, and Writing ( A Sunday Love Letter)

Tuesday is Independence Day in the states. Yesterday was Canada Day in, um, Canada, which I think has something to do with becoming a country but I couldn’t quite tell from the Wikipedia page. (Forgive me Canadians, and perhaps one of you could enlighten me?)

The idea of independence and freedom is afoot in the world.

It’s something we all want, right? I mean, who wants to live their life in chains, real or imaginary?  For most of us, thank God, the only kind of prisons we will experience will be mental and emotional.  But those prisons can be excruciating and powerful.

And I am here to assert that the feeling of freedom and independence comes from one place only—within. Okay, I’m fresh off a weekend of watching kid movies, Trolls and Moana, so I admit maybe I’ve been a bit unduly affected by their messages.  But this idea that it all comes from within is something I fervently believe in, and forget often.

So here’s a reminder for me and you: freedom comes from within, and the best tool I know to access that is writing. Yes, writing. Whether you’re exploring your emotions on the journaling page, or pouring them into a character in your WIP novel, or shaping them in the memoir you’re writing to make sense of your life, writing is your best path to mental freedom.

Because, you can put the drama on the page, as Julia Cameron says.  And then it does have to go out into the world, where it can damage tender relationships. Freedom.

Because, you can spend time expressing yourself, doing what you feel called to do, rather than plopping down in front of the TV or computer. Freedom.

Because, you can put your stories out into the world, where they will affect others in positive ways, maybe even loosening some of the bonds that bind them.  Freedom.

So, let freedom ring.  Set pen to paper. Let it rip. It is your path to freedom and independence.

And don’t forget–my Freedom and Independence Coaching special runs through July 5th.  Learn more here.

What are you working on this holiday weekend? Do leave a comment and let me know.

(This post originally appeared in my newsletter. If you’d like to have it delivered to your inbox every Sunday, just fill out the form to the right.)

Photo by kplantt.

Writing Scenes to Unearth Character

He had plenty of character!

As many of you know, I’m a fan of all kinds of novel prep, including creating character dossiers to allow me to learn more about my characters.  I use them to keep a record of the external stuff (really helps when you need to remember someone’s eye color mid-way through a book) and to start to dig into their desires and motivations, all the good juicy stuff.

But lately I’ve been experimenting with something else, and that is writing actual scenes from my character’s backstory.  I resisted this idea terribly when I first came across it in Lisa Cron’s book, Story Genius.  Because, it seemed like a waste of time.  Who wants to spend time writing a scene that might not appear in the novel, when you could spend that time writing one that will?  Then I picked up The Art of Character, by David Corbett, and he suggests the same thing. Sigh.

So I decided to try it. And I’m starting to be sold.  Here are some of the reasons why I like writing backstory scenes:

  1. First and foremost, you’ll learn more about your character–and character is all, isn’t it, class?
  2. It’s good writing practice.  Like practice practice. Sometimes it’s easy to get bogged down in all the things you need to do to plan a novel and forget what it’s like to write a scene.
  3. It’s very freeing–and fun.  We don’t let ourselves have fun with our writing often enough, as far as I’m concerned. (Or maybe that’s just me?) Let loose from the idea that this scene will appear in the book, you’re free to take it wherever it wants to go.
  4. On the other hand, you may end up using the scene, or parts of it, in the novel eventually. Who knows?
  5. Or maybe it will turn into something else.  Like a story that is a companion to your novel. Or, if you’re writing a series, maybe it will appear in the next one. Nothing is ever wasted in writing! (I wrote about this for my newsletter this Sunday. If you’re not a subscriber, just fill out that form to the right.)
  6. The more you write, the better you get at it, and this is especially true of scenes.
  7. It can blast you right out of a block.

Give it a try. Figure out some things you need to know about your character and then write a scene around it. You may be surprised at what you learn about her.

What have you done to learn more about your characters?

Photo by cmx82.

The Number One Difference Between the Pro Writer and the Amateur

The other day I wrote a post about how writing has become a bit of a slog for me lately. One of my clients (Hi, Mitch!) asked me about it, saying, “You’re a professional. That’s not supposed to happen to you.”

He was kidding. I think.  But it brings up an excellent point.

Because, as I explained to him, there’s one big difference between the professional and the amateur writer.

The amateur gets distracted by Christmas and grandchildren and snow (we are currently on snowstorm #2) and allows all those things to lead her away from the computer.

The professional gets distracted by Christmas and grandchildren and snow and figures out how to get the words in anyway.

If you were a brain surgeon, would you let Christmas shopping lead you away from the operating room?

If you were an attorney, would you let snow keep you from the courtroom?

If you were president would you let your business keep you away from intelligence briefings?

Scratch that last one; bad example.

But all kidding aside, you get my point.  None of the other professionals let themselves get distracted and neither should you.

I think my client’s statement is a common misconception.  There’s this idea that the other writer–the bestselling novelist, the memoirist whose book got made into a movie, the essayist who just got a collection published–has it all dialed in.  That she sits down at her computer every morning and the words flow and nobody bugs her until her daily word count is done.  And the corollary to it is the belief that someday when you’re a professional writer, this is how your life will be.  Once you turn pro, your writing will be easy every time you sit down to do it.  Your life will be distraction-free. All that, and you’ll be making the big bucks, too.

I know about this fantasy because I have it, too. For some reason, mine tends to coalesce around English female novelists. I imagine them in their little cottage in the Cotswalds, snow falling outside while a fire roars inside. And as the fire roars, so does the author, banging out novel after novel that all are so perfect they barely need editing as they roll off her fingers.

Yeah, right.

That same author probably had to light the fire because the ancient heater in the funky old cottage went out and not only that but she had to mush through the snow to chop the wood. And every time she just gets into the flow of the writing, her uncle who lives next door appears with his latest drama.  And no matter what she does she can’t get the scene right.

But you know what she does? She shows up anyway.  Distractions happen to all of us, every single one. You can and should do your best to minimize them but they are still going to happen. Keep writing anyway.

Because writing well is the best revenge for every single damn thing in the world.

PS. Keep an eye on this space because my aforementioned client Mitch, is about to publish his first book and he’ll be telling you all about it in a guest post soon.

PPS. Mitch came to me after he had completed a very rough draft and we’ve worked together through the rewriting, the polishing and all the prep work he had to do for publishing.  If you need help with any aspect of your writing, check out my coaching. I’m totally revamping my coaching packages and fees for the new year, so now is a great time to get in at the old prices!

The Best Planners for Writers and Other Humans

daily-calendar
My daily calendar

I’m obsessed about lots of things.   Knitting, popcorn, wine, France, writing, story, character, Christmas, fire, pugs, my grandchildren, and planners.  (I know, weird list.)  And while I could wax poetic about every item on this list, the topic today is planners.

I love them.  I am a planner fiend.  (Probably for the same reason that I am now a dedicated meditator–because my over-active mind drives me crazy and I need a place to write down all the things.) I’ll buy one planner, convince that it is THE ONE that is going to change my life and make me perfect. I use it for a while, then grow disenchanted with it and find myself starting to look for another.  Here’s a (probably incomplete) list of planners I’ve flirted with over the last couple of years:

  1. Day Designer  I love the designs of these planners, and from using her free downloads I realized that what I need most are the daily pages.
  2. Bullet Journal  Which has become a whole, huge industry. If this appeals to you, please bear in mind that you can keep a very useful version of it without all the crazy detailed drawing, charts and graphs that some people do.
  3. Planner Pad. I really like the way these pages are laid out but ultimately there wasn’t enough room on them for my notes.
  4. Erin Condren’s Life Planner.  These are great because they are customizable in style. But the pages didn’t work for me.
  5. Passion Planner. Lovely and wonderful in many ways, but regretfully I needed more room in the daily section. I do like their mission of giving a planner away for every one that is bought.
  6. Dreambook.  This is a beautiful book and has very detailed and specific items to check off on each page, which was the rub for me. I don’t want someone else telling me what I should do each day.

It is worth noting that most of these sites have videos or photos detailing how you can best use the planners, which are helpful. And many of them also offer free or inexpensive downloads so you can try the pages out without committing to an expensive set.  I’ve also found that Etsy has a lot of downloadable planner pages to buy very inexpensively.  But beware, looking for a planner is a rabbit hole activity that you can get lost in for hours, a particularly great way to procrastinate when you’re stuck on your writing. (A friend told me that.)

I’ve finally honed a system that works for me.  And not surprisingly, because I am the most freaking right-brained human on the planet, it is composed of three parts.  I have finally figured out that I need a planner with daily pages, so I can check off the items of my daily routine, my to-dos, and appointments, and remind myself of what’s most important to me each day. But the daily calendar doesn’t sync so well with a weekly one, and I need to be able to open a calendar, glance at a two-page spread, and see what I’ve got scheduled.  And finally I need a place to corral master to-do lists, lists of books I want to read, blog post ideas, etc.  It took me a long time to admit defeat and realize that there is not a one-size-fits-Charlotte planner out there that meets my needs. So instead I use:

  1.  A plain and simple weekly calendar.  I bought one the size of a large index card on sale at Freddies, where I shop for everything, and I use it to note appointments, and places I have to be.

    weekly-calendar
    My weekly calendar
  2. A daily calendar.  I bought this one from Danielle LaPorte (affiliate link) and I love it and can’t wait to start using it.  Because: it has space to note my schedule, the 3 most important things to get done, to-dos, stop doing, what you want to change, what you’re grateful for. Perfect.  Very close to the pages I was drawing for myself in the bullet journal.
  3. A bullet journal. This is an organizer that you put together yourself, using a Moleskine or other journal.  I thought for awhile that this was going to serve as my one-size-fits-Charlotte planner but I got too overwhelmed trying to track my appointments in it.  This is where I keep those lists and so on. I’m also drawing my own daily pages in it until my Danielle LaPorte calendar starts in January.
  4. A blog calendar. Oh crap–I guess I actually have four elements.  Geesh. Anyway, I bought another wee little weekly calendar and use it to track and schedule my blog posts and newsletters. The thought occurs that it would be a handy spot to note my daily writing word count as well.

Now if someone can figure out a way to get all this into one book that doesn’t weigh 20 pounds, I’ll pay you a million dollars in gratitude.  In the meantime, I’ll go with this system.  Which I reserve the right to change.

I also love planning workbooks. You know, the kind that take you through all kinds of questions so that you can plan your year.  There’s nothing I love more than sitting down with a workbook, a pen, and a bunch of scratch paper for a good planning session. (Well, I love planning a novel more, but that’s a topic for a different day.)

For the last few years, I’ve used the Your Shining Life workbooks from Leonie Dawson. These are a lot of fun, full of brightly colored hand-drawn images and Leonie’s signature goofy style.  You can buy a business edition, a personal edition or both. I love these–very supportive and encouraging. Last year, though, I got a bit overwhelmed by the breadth of them.

So this year I decided to try something else.  Currently I’m working through the Your Best Year 2017 workbook from Lisa Jacobs.  She’s been very successful marketing her homemade goods on Etsy, so the focus is on products, but I’m finding it helpful all the same.

Alrighty then.  Do you use a planner? Which one? Do you have questions about how I use mine? Leave a comment below or email me, I’m happy to chat about my obsession.

Also–France.  You know you want to go spend a week there focusing on your writing.  In 2017, we will have two different weeks to choose from. More info here and you can also email me any time for details!

What it Takes to Be a Writer: Part Three

You’ve revved up your brain, planted your butt in the chair, and now you’re ready to write. I sometimes envision this moment as that of a piano player: you place your fingers on the keys, expecting great music to pour forth….and nothing happens.

You freeze. You don’t know what to write. Or the words won’t come. Or you are so damn critical of the words that do come that you shut down the computer and decide to go clean up dog poop in the backyard.  Because dealing with that kind of shit is better than dealing with the crap you’re putting on the page.

Ahem. I have news for you. Writing crap is good.  Writing crap is desirable (at least in a first draft). GETTING ANY WORDS ON THE PAGE AT ALL IS YOUR ONLY GOAL.  So do it. That’s my first bit of advice:

Write Crap

Just write, even if that means reminding yourself how awful you’re doing as you go. My first drafts are full of all caps exhortations about what terrible work I’m doing. Like: THIS DOESN’T MAKE SENSE AND IT’S REALLY STUPID. Once I’ve gotten it out of my system, I can carry on with the rest of it.

Here is an unedited glimpse of what I wrote yesterday as I tried to get going:

Okay I’m just sitting here with the cat, staring at the computer.  What the f#%k. Staring never got the writing done. Just write something. This is where prompts are really handy!   Start with the image.

And I did. I started with the image and the scene flowed from there.  Writing crap, and reminding yourself of it, is incredibly freeing.

Write Crap Often

Like, every day. We already talked about making time and conserving energy for writing in part two.  Do your best to write as often as possible. It makes a huge freaking difference, I’m not kidding.  Doing this, you gain momentum. You have that lovely feeling that half of you is living in your fictional world.  And because of that, you’re in love with the real world you actually do inhabit.  And when you are in love, you want to spend more time with your beloved, correct? So you will be eager to return to writing your novel.  And that, my friends, is the power of writing every day. (Even if it’s crap.)

Plan Ahead

I’ve proven to myself over and over that I procrastinate and get distracted when I don’t know where I’m going.  This is why I like to write a loose outline for the plot of my novel, and why I’m such a huge fan of character dossiers.  The other thing I like to do is write notes to myself. I do a lot of “writing about” the project in my journal, and I just about always write little notes to myself in the manuscript as to where to go next.  Then when I open the file first thing in the morning, I know where I’m going. I often diverge from my plans, but at least I have a way in to get started.

Employ Systems

There’s lots of help out there for writers.  You can download Freedom, which will turn off your access to the internet for a predetermined amount of time.  You can use a Pomodoro timer that allows you to write in spurts (or just use your phone’s timer).  You can use Scrivener.  The point is, there are all kinds of tools out there that will help you in your daily writing. Find the ones that work for you and use them.

So there you have it. What are your favorite tricks to get words on the page?

Because I Know You Love Them: September Writing Prompts #4

And here you have them: the last set of writing prompts for September.  Hope you’ve enjoyed them, and stay tuned for news of the release of a writing journal of prompts soon!

–Not in this lifetime.

–If ever I should leave you….

–What are the parameters of your main character’s world? Is he an international traveler, or someone who has always stayed close to home?

–Whatever. Just don’t expect any help from me.

–When was the last time you got to say, I told you so?

–They ate pie for breakfast, brownies for lunch and cake for dinner.

–I love staying in hotels so much that I think I was raised in one in a previous life. How about you? Do you have any feelings about how you lived in a previous life?

Enjoy!

No Excuses: September Writing Prompts #2

I’m in a prompt kind of mood (or at least I was when I wrote this post, before I left for France) because later on this fall I’ll be coming out, with a wonderful co-author, with a writing prompt journal that you will be able to hold in your very own hands! Exciting, no? But in the meantime, because its Monday and you need to write this week, here’s a week’s worth of prompts for you. Go to it.

–He never knew that his aunt had turned into a hoarder, but now he edged along a narrow path that skirted the huge pile of junk in the living room.

–It will all be over soon.

–I don’t like you, but I love you. Seems like I’m always thinking of you. (With thanks to the Beatles.)

–The pile of notebooks threatened to topple over at any second.

–But, after all….

–You main character’s favorite way to spend her free time.  Drinking wine, pursuing a hobby, watching TV, having sex, hiking, reading, what?

–My neighbors collect gnomes and have them all around their yard. Sometimes they find new ones that friends have left in odd places. What do you collect and why? How about your main character?

Okay, you’ve got your marching orders for the week. Go to it! And if you write something you want to share, put it in the comments!

How To Get Your Writing Done

numbers_text_texture_225115_l (1)So, you have a book…or an article…or a story that you’d like to write. (Right? Because otherwise you wouldn’t be reading this.)  And you need to get that book finished, that story done.  How to accomplish such a thing?  How to make room in your schedule to get it written?

To my mind, there are two ways to get your writing done, and writers fall naturally into either group, because of need or temperament.  I have strong opinions on which works best. But if there’s anything I’ve learned in fifteen years of teaching writing and nine years of blogging, it’s that there’s not one way that works for every writer. The best I can do is offer options and opinions and let you figure it out for yourself.

The first group, and I count myself among them, are those writers who prefer to write every day, or as close to it as possible. The second group write in great chunks of time as their schedule allows. Let’s look at the benefits and drawbacks of each.

Daily Writing

If you’re at all like me, you prefer this schedule.  Aiming for writing every day means you’ll hit at least five days of the week, right?  This is the standard advice that most of us preach, I think with good reason.  Such as:

Benefits

–This schedule is the best way to get and maintain momentum on a project. If you’re writing every day, you watch your word count grow regularly, which is hugely encouraging.

–Your story stays in your head.  I don’t know about you, but my brain is so full of random bits I’ve picked up lord knows where that I lose the train of story very easily. If I’m writing every day, I don’t have to reinvent the wheel every time I sit down to write. This story is right there, waiting for me.

–You don’t even have to write a lot to pile up the pages.  If you manage to eke out three pages a day, that’s 90 pages—a third of a novel—at the end of a month.

–Your writing will become more facile. The more you write, the easier it is. Writing is like anything else: the more you do it, the more adept you become at it. And if you’re writing every day, you’ll hone your skills quickly.

–You will learn more about writing more quickly. As above, the more you write the more you realize how much you don’t know—and what you need to learn. Writing every day helps you learn it.

–There’s magic in making a daily commitment. There just is.  You begin to take yourself, and your writing, much more seriously.

Detriments

 –You may be tempted to write a lot of crap just to meet your word count. Though there are benefits to writing fast (like getting the damn draft done already) I’ve written drafts that are so terrible I’m not quite sure what to do with them.

 –It can be difficult to fit daily writing sessions into your schedule.  I’m with you on this one.  I find that if I don’t write first thing in the morning, doing the most important thing first, it often simply doesn’t get done.

–If you miss a day or two, you might get discouraged.  And discouragement can so very easily lead to not writing.  And then you feel like a failure.

Chunk Writing

You’re a busy CEO and Mom of five. In your spare time you run marathons. But, you’ve got a story inside you that you’re developing into a novel.  So once a month you find a babysitter and spend the day writing.  With luck, you’ll bang out a chapter or two.

Benefits

–This kind of writing schedule can be easier to fit into your schedule.  Those who simply don’t have minutes to spare in their day often have more luck taking an afternoon off, or trading babysitting with a friend in order to nab some writing time.

–The breaks between writing times can clear your brain.  I do find that sometimes my brain gets overloaded when I’m on a writing-every-day schedule, and then it shuts down.  Giving yourself regular breaks can keep your writing brain refreshed.

–Writing less often takes less mental energy. And after a busy day at work, or chasing two-year-olds, mental energy can be in short supply.

–You don’t have to get up early (or stay up late) to fit your writing in.  No regular time sacrifices are needed!

–You may enjoy it more.  If you write for the sheer love of it, forcing yourself to a rigid daily schedule may make you start to hate it.

Drawbacks

–It is really easy to get off track.  If you haven’t worked on the story for a while, you may lose your enthusiasm for it and then it is really easy to find excuses not to spend Saturday writing after all.

–It is much harder to keep track of the story.  Your brain is full of the soccer games and swimming lessons of your twenty children—how are you going to maintain its attention to story as wait a month (or a week or whatever) between writing sessions?

–You’ll waste time getting up to speed.  You’ll likely have to reread your story to remember exactly where you left off at your last writing session.  And that is going to take a chunk of your precious time.

–It is easier to get discouraged.  Hit a writing snag when you’re writing every day and it is not such a big deal.  But if you reach a roadblock—what scene should come next?—while writing in chunks you may waste your entire session trying to figure it out.

So those are my thoughts on the topic.  But here’s the bottom line: figure out what works for you and then do it. If you fancy yourself a daily writer but you’re not doing it, experiment with chunk writing. And vice versa.

What’s your writing schedule? Come on over to the blog and share in the comments.

Photo by maio5.

 

Otherwhere: Good Stuff

I’ve been collecting goodies for you, a lot of which came in the last couple of days.  Also, please note my non-link related question at the end.

Here goes:

Writing

Analyze your novel as if it were a dream.

I could not live without the TK.

On beating not-writing.

How to organize your day.

It isn’t conflict that drives the story after all. (READ THIS ONE.)

Best and worst.

Women Fiction Writers (Amy Sue Nathan’s blog)

A new platform for serialized work.

The importance of words.

Structuring story with Robert McKee.

Marketing, Etc.

Be shameless about sales.

Be your own publicist.

Other Creative Stuff

You knitters out there will appreciate this.

I can’t help it, I love nutty Russians.

My buddy Roy has a great story to tell about a long-lost penpal.

I read this blog every morning.

Okay, basta!  Here’s my very important question: if I were to start a Facebook group (that might or might not be closed, I’m not sure), would you be interested in joining it? I’ve long been pondering a way for my loyal commenters and others to have an easier way to talk to each other. Thoughts? What are your positive/negative experiences with such groups? And while we’re at it, what is the secret to life? (Kidding about that last one–unless you have the answer.)

7 Productivity Hacks For Your Writing + A Last-Minute Bonus One

yellow-dailyshoot-8257834-lDid I just use the word “hack” in the title? I did. Those of us who have been around for a long time remember when “hack” was a word thrown at writers who had sold out, who wrote crap for money.  But now it is more often used (some would say overused) as a synonym for tip, or hint, as in household hints. Trust me, these used to be very popular, things like “cleaning hints for pennies,” or “how to remove photos from an album with a sticky backing.”  I took these from the Hints for Heloise site.

Today I do not have any household hints because I’m a bad housewife.  (If you could see the cobwebs on the window in my family room, you’d agree.) But I have hacks—and not the bad writer kind, the good productivity kind.  The you’ll-get-tons-more-writing-done kind.   Because I don’t know about you, but my writing life is often more about making sure my butt gets in the writing chair and stays there than anything else.  So here goes.

  1. Accept your creative process as it is. Your process involves frequent breaks for scouring the web? Or knitting? Or wandering down the block to chat with the neighbors? So be it.  If you’re getting the work done (and that’s the most important part of this equation) then accept your nuttiness.  I love this post  by Danielle LaPorte.  She says it much more lyrically than me.  Also, if you’re not getting the work done, then keep reading.
  1. Get your lazy ass up and walk around once in a while. Oh, sorry, that’s what I tell myself all the time. Didn’t mean to be quite so indelicate with you.  But maybe that’s what you need to hear, because I know it’s what I have to remind myself.  You will be more productive and feel much better at the end of the day if you get up often. I know the stereotype of the writer is the opposite: there we sit, so absorbed in our work we forget to eat, forget to get up to use the bathroom, forget everything but the work.  Even if you should be so lucky that you experience that transcendent state regularly, it is not good for you.  Sitting is killing us.  You must get up regularly.
  2.  Pomodoro yourself. The Pomodoro method is a whole thing, but you don’t need to take their classes or buy their product. You just time yourself—25 minutes working, 5 minutes off.  I use this online timer  and when it goes off tell my lazy ass to get up (see #2) and walk around the house. Works like a charm, especially if you…
  1. Stay hydrated. This is my secret weapon for productivity. Because, number one, drinking tons of water makes you feel better.  But also it makes you have to pee like a mo-fo.  And that requires getting up a lot. (Again, see #2.) I also trick myself by leaving my water in the kitchen, so that I have to go on walkabout to get to it.  Oh, the mental gymnastics we do to keep going.
  1. Keep scratch paper by your computer. This way you have a place on which to write all those brilliant notes about your novel that occur to you while you’re writing a blog post. So as to prevent yourself from switching from said blog post to novel mid-work session, make a note of it.
  1. Have a way to file those brilliant ideas. If you’re smart and organized, you’ll figure out one system and stick with it.  If you’re like me, you’ll constantly search for a new and better technique (just as I search for a new and better calendar).  I love One Note  and I know others like Evernote, too.  But I also love paper. I’ve tried index cards and putting them in a small file box, and I’ve tried notebooks.  I just made myself a to-do book that is supposed to contain all my things to do and ideas, too.  So far, it’s not working so well.  And that would be because, um, I forget to look in it.
  1. Schedule a few minutes for it. Say you’re busy closing the deal of the century and you are working on a novel at the same time.  When the deal heats up, the novel will suffer.  But one thing you can do to maintain your productivity is work on your project a few minutes a day.  C’mon, you’ve got five extra minutes.  Or even 15.  Because, as the wonderful Rachael Herron says, “If you gave fifteen minutes a day to moving toward a goal, you’d spend ninety-one hours on your project this year!” Huzzah.  Go write for fifteen minutes.
  1. Last minute bonus hack! Literally as I was finishing this article, an email came in advertising that the Freewrite  is now available for purchase. Go check it out—it’s like a typewriter for this millennium, with the bonus of no internet access.

So, those are some ideas that I hope will help you.  Got any writing hacks yourself? Please leave a comment and tell more!