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.

A Love Letter About Writing and Heat Waves

(I’m experimenting with posting my weekly newsletter here on the blog as well. If you’d like to have it delivered right to your inbox, fill out the form to the right. I will never do anything untoward with your information!)

Yesterday it was 97 here. Today it is forecast to be the same.

Now I know many of my readers may exist in more modern conditions than I, as in, you have air conditioning.  But we live in an old house that doesn’t have it. And, at least historically (not so much anymore), we would only get maybe a few days of extreme heat every summer, and so there really wasn’t much need for it. So when it is hot, I suffer. Oh poor me and all that.

But there is still writing to be done, right?  When you are a writer, there is always writing to be done, no matter what.  The baby cries, the cows need milking, the beloved ancient parent needs tending.  But there’s till writing to be done. And so one needs to find a way to do it, in heat waves and cold snaps alike.  And even if you are cossetted from it, extreme heat is still energy-sapping. (For those of you reading this from the Southwest, I hope your terrible temperatures abate soon.) You still have to get from house to car and from car to work and from work to the grocery store.

A couple of summers ago I got in the habit of taking my computer outside and working at the table on the back deck in the cool early mornings.  When the sun hit the fence beside me, I knew my writing time was over for the day because soon it would be shining on my monitor.  It was a lovely way to get my writing done and set myself up for rest of the day.  Later, when I’d be toiling in my hot office, I’d remember my morning sojourn outside and smile.

I often observe how my cats behave in the heat. Mostly, they stretch their fat selves out as far as possible and sleep.  We should emulate them in the heat, right? Ha! Would that we could. But in some parts of the world, they do such things. The other day I was at my daughter’s and we were trying to get my five-year-old grandson to have thirty minutes of quiet time.  Not even a nap, mind you, just quiet time. So I told him about what happens in the small towns of France (and many other European countries).  How every day from noon to two the stores close and every one goes home for a break. Quiet time.  It is a lovely habit and one that can serve the rest of us well during heat waves.  Just allow yourself to take a break once in a while, for goodness sake.

Doing research for my Do That Thing class, I ran across some information last week that said most people spend a good chunk of their precious time worrying about expectations. They feel they must be perfect parents and perfect on the job. And I know for a fact that writers often feel they need to be perfect the second they throw words on the page. This makes my heart hurt. All these harsh expectations we place on ourselves.

And I think the hot days of summer when you don’t feel like doing much of anything are a good time to start practicing slowing down a little. Give yourself a break from those expectations that control you.  Get your writing done in the cool of the morning. Find an air-conditioned coffee shop and camp out there with your computer.  Go easy on yourself.

Do leave a comment about how you beat the heat!

Okay–are you ready for the big news? I have created a Facebook group for us! People are engaging in all kinds of different ways these days, and Facebook is a biggie, obviously.   The group is called Prolific and Prosperous Writers and it is closed, which means any posts you make won’t appear on your personal timeline–that way you have all the freedom in the world to kvetch about your writing without worry that civilians (those who may not understand) will read it. Join here. Please do, I can’t wait to chat there!

Offerings:

Freedom and Independence Coaching Special:

I’m running a Freedom and Independence Coaching special through the Fourth of July.    For three-month, paid in advance clients, I’m offering two free extra sessions.  That’s 14 sessions instead of 12. And for six-month, paid in advance clients, I’m adding on 4 sessions. Woot! That’s 28 sessions instead of 24.  Just think what you can get done in a few months of one-on-one coaching with me. You could get a huge start on your novel. Or finish the project that’s moldering in the drawer. Or start the process of getting an agent—or get your book self published.

Interested? Email me and we’ll set up a time to talk.

My new How to Get an Agent class is on July 11th.  (I moved the date out because I, um, forgot I was going to be out of town.) It’s a one-session class that will tell you everything you need to know about getting an agent, from query and pitch through what to ask when an agent is interested in your work.  Just in time for summer writing conference season, and the class includes an upgrade option for a critique of your query. Find out all the details and sign up here.

Tuesday Tip: Remember, it’s called a rough draft for a reason

I’m going back through the second draft of my WIP novel, checking for places where I have to drop things in. Most of these are little things, like another mention of a physical object that figures in the plot (in this case, a necklace), or pumping up a description that didn’t get fully mounted on the page.

But in one instance, I have a whole chapter to drop in. (Because, um, it features an important character that I failed to show anywhere in the novel. Duh.)

So this means I am writing rough draft material again for the first time in a couple of months. I’ve been rewriting and editing and getting the draft ready for beta readers. (Soon!)

And this morning I found myself laboring over every word.

WTF! I know better than this.  A rough draft is just that–the draft of a chapter or story or essay that is in its rough stages.  And just because the rest of my novel is almost ready for other eyes, doesn’t mean that this chapter needs to be.

I had to remind myself to just put the words on the page.  Let them rip. Write fast. Don’t worry about how “good” the words are once they land. Just get the damned thing written!

And that is my Tuesday tip for you–let the writing of your rough draft stink. Make it awful. Require it to be. Because once you’ve gotten those words on the page, you’ve got treasure with which to work.  You can rewrite and revise and edit to your heart’s content.  But not yet.

Remember there’s a reason it is called a rough draft and let it be, well…rough.

Five on Friday: Sunshine Through my Window

Fingers crossed for a nice weekend!  Here’s what’s going on:

What I’m Reading: Same books as last week, which I can’t divulge, because I’m reading for a contest.  But I also have occasion to load up my Kindle with Ebooks because I read while baby George naps on my chest.  So I have been perusing You Are a Badass at Making Money.  Because I’m a sucker for self-help books and this series by Jen Sincero is far more entertaining than most.

What I’m Watching: Not much of anything. I’ve been out a lot at night.  Oh crap, I just looked at my calendar and I am out every night through next Wednesday. This is why I end up watching stupid sitcoms.  Because there’s not a lot of evening time for anything more taxing.

What I’m Excited About: The beta launch of my Do That Thing program. Couple of spots left–check it out here.

Where I’m Spending Time: Answering questions on Quora. I’m finding it mildly addictive.  Very fun.

What I Recommend:  One of my favorite blogs is Thekitchensgarden.    I read it first thing in the morning to find out what’s going on down on Cecilia’s farm.  A writer needs to let loose her inner farm girl once in a while.  Though I’d probably collapse in a quivering heap after one hour trailing Cecilia about.

That’s it for the end of this week. What’s going on with you?

Nanowrimo Update: Some Core Truths for Maintaining a Writing Practice

Typewriter_Writing_Writer_238822_lI know. This is like, the ten thousandth blog post you’ve read on Nanowrimo.  I wrote one myself (well, okay, it was sort of about the election, too), and there’s another good one here.  

But, here’s the deal. As the headline promised, I’ve been reminded of some helpful core truths about the writing practice as I’ve toiled away on my Nano novel this month.   None of these are new, nor are they earth-shattering.  What follows are just plain, practical tips for getting the freaking words on the page regularly.   Here we go, in no particular order:

Set a word count goal.  When it comes to Nanowrimo, if you’re going to win the damned thing, you need to attempt to write a certain amount of words every day. I choose a goal of 2,000 words, because that gives me some wiggle room for days when I don’t write. (Like this morning, for instance. For some reason Saturdays are not productive for me when it comes to writing.)  And this is helpful even when it’s not November, because it gives you at least a vague idea of how you’re progressing.

Lower your expectations.  Yeah, I know. This sounds contradictory to the above advice.  And it is, sort of.  What I mean here is this: if its 11 PM and you’ve not yet hit your word count, adjust accordingly. Maybe this is a day when you get 500 words in. That’s nothing to sniff at!

Know where you’re going.  This is the single most helpful thing I can tell you. Even if you are a pantser and hate outlining, always have a sense of where you are going next.  Make a few notes about the next scene before you end your writing session for the day. Keep an ongoing scene list. Have a pad of paper handy next to your computer to scribble reminder notes.

You can get unstuck.   If you find yourself stuck, don’t despair. You can pull yourself out of it.  Turn to your journal and do some free writing, either specifically about your WIP or to a random prompt. Or plow ahead in your project–I’m continually amazed at how often the unstuck-ness comes in the actual writing.

You can write more than you think possible.  2,000 words a day sounds like a lot to some people, but you could do it if you tried.  The other day I wrote 6,000 words, participating in 10K for Writers day.  It was exhausting, but exhilarating, too.

Momentum carries the month.  There’s nothing more exciting than knowing you are making steady progress on a WIP.  You wake up every day and chug along. The pages pile up. And life is good, because part of you is living in the lovely fictional world you’re creating every morning.  Momentum carries you through when you miss a day. It leads you back to the page, reminding you that all is not lost, that you can pick up where you left off.  This doesn’t happen when you write only occasionally.

Brain.fm is a revelation.  This is a site that advertises itself as “music for the brain.”  You can listen to tracks for relaxation, sleep, or focus. I plug my ear buds into the computer and choose which kind of focus music I want (chimes and bells, cinematic, rain, forest sounds, and thunder are just some of the options), and off I go. I swear it helps enormously.  You can get 10 free sessions before you commit. I was so taken with it I bought a year’s subscription.

Find your best routine. It works best for me to get up early, take a quick look at email to see what’s going on, and then get to it. If I can (if I have no morning appointments), I write until I reach my word count. This way I feel good all day, knowing I’ve accomplished my most important thing. But I could spout off about writing first thing until I’m blue in the face and if this routine doesn’t work for you (if, say, you are a night owl), then you’re just going to ignore me. With good reason. Because you’ll drive yourself crazy trying to get up at the crack of dawn when you’ve been up late the night before.  Moral of the story: find what works for you. And then do it.

Thanks for reading.  What tips do you have for maintaining a writing practice over the long haul?

PS. You can find my books on my Amazon author page here.

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!

Preparation is Three-Quarters of the Battle

Tour_Eiffel_Wikimedia_Commons_(cropped)I’m leaving for France (Paris and Ceret) soon. I’m not one of those people who pack and repack a week ahead. No, you’ll find me throwing clothes in the suitcase the night before.

But, and this is a big but—when the time comes for me to commence said throwing, I will know exactly what I’m going to take. (Okay, because I’m a terrible packer and a confirmed right-brainer, there will be last minute changes and additions.) Because I’ve been thinking about what I need to take clothes-wise, book-wise, and technology-wise all month.

Chance favors the prepared mind.  And the prepared packer. And the prepared writer.

At least I think so.

I know there’s an endless debate between pantsers and plotters.  (For the record, a pantser is one who flies by the seat of his pants when writing, and a plotter is one who plans everything out.)  And, seeing as how I have a completely somewhat loose approach to organization and house cleaning and the like, you would think I would fall down on the side of pantsing.

But I have learned through many years of experience that when I pants, I get into trouble. Not that I don’t love it, because I do. What could be better than allowing your mind and fingers to ramble down shady lanes and sunny byways in strange worlds? But the key word here is ramble, because that’s exactly what I do. Ramble along with no worry for the strictures of plot or character. Or showing a cohesive setting. Or anything but my rambles.

And one cannot write a novel without worrying about plot or character or setting.  Or one can, but one will need to do a lot of rewriting when one is done.  I do love rewriting—but not when I have to figure out how to make a shapeless lump into a story.

So, I plot. And write up character dossiers. And draw maps of locations and diagrams of houses and offices.  I call all of this prep work and I actually enjoy it. Sometimes I think I enjoy it too much, as I can get so engrossed in it that I never quite get to the writing of the novel.

It occurred to me, as I pondered what clothing I should take to Europe, that it might be helpful to share what I consider to be the bare minimum of novel prep work, because it’s been awhile since we discussed this.  So here you go (and remember this is a minimum. You can do a lot more if you wish):

Character Dossiers.  I fill them out for all of my main characters and do at least the rudiments (appearance, personal traits) for the minor ones.  Because all story starts with character, this is time well spent and often helps me come up with plot ideas as well.  It is also helpful to know who is going to tell the story and if it will be in first person or third.

Setting Sketches. I need to be able to see where my character lives and works.  This goes for big setting, such as the overall city she lives in, and small setting, such as her home and office.

A Loose Outline. And by loose, I mean loose. I’m not one of those people who plans out every single beat and action and character thought. I do like to leave some room for surprises.  A simple list of potential happenings will do.

Really that’s it. I know, you don’t see research on the list. That’s because, like technology, I’m on a need-to-know basis with it.  When I don’t know how to do something on my computer, ask the Google How do I do _______________ ? I always get a quick answer.  Same thing with research.  At least for the first draft you do not want to get mired in a lot of facts you might not really need. (And if you’re writing an historical, my hat’s off to you. And you’ll need to do a lot more research.)

Since I just finished my rewrite, I’ll be prepping a new novel myself soon. Can’t wait.

While I have you, are you a pantser or a plotter? What do you think are the advantages of your approach?

Photo from Wikipedia.

Corralling Your Writing Ideas

writing organization, corral ideas, novel writing, mapping the novel, productivity
writing organization, corral ideas, novel writing, mapping the novel, productivity

If you’re anything like me, the beginning of writing a book is a messy affair.  You’ve taken notes like crazy, and they might be anywhere and everywhere. You’ve got nuggets about character buried deep inside a Moleskine, and the best ideas ever for a plot–if only you could find them. I’m all for this chaos at the start, but there comes a time when one must get organized or risk not going any farther.  You need a way to corral all your supporting information.

So how do you corral your notes into a usable outline, or list, or something you can follow while writing a book?  Amazingly enough, I have ideas for you. But first,  let me be clear here, I am not a paragon of organization, far from it. I’ve just learned the hard way I need to get my notes together one way or another, or I’ll never write the novel.  (Also, there’s that productivity thing I wrote about a couple posts back–a person who feels in control is much more motivated to accomplish things.)

Before I share some of the methods for organizing I’ve discovered, first, a note–it does help if you take all your notes in one place.  (No, duh.) I’ve got a giant legal pad I’ve been scribbling ideas in and I number the pages and sometimes often remember to annotate on the margins to make it easier to go back and find things.  You might choose a Moleskine, or a humble spiral. I’ve used them all, depending on my mood.  Okay, ways to organize thyself:

  1. Mini binders. I love these little guys. Okay, I’ve gone off the deep end for them. I use them  for corralling everything from novel notes to ideas for workshops to my day to day life.  Often an index card seems too small, or a regular binder, too big–too much information on one page, ack! But as Goldilocks said, the mini binder size is just right. Also, I can make sections–sections, people!–for plot, setting, character, brilliant ideas, etc.
  2. Index cards. You, however, might like something smaller, and in that case you might want to try index cards, which do come in two sizes. Beloved of screenwriters, these babies make it easy to put one scene per cards, or one character trait per card, or whatever  you would like. There are tons of nifty little containers to put them in, and you can take them out and play with them. You can move scenes around, pin them up in different configurations, whatever  your little heart desires.
  3. Scrivener. I am not a Scrivener zealot devotee, though I respect those of you who are. I do, however, love the idea that you can use index cards on the computer through this program. And there’s lots of other cool stuff as well. I just don’t have the patience to learn it.
  4. Powerpoint.  If you like the idea of corralling ideas on index card, but insist on doing everything on the computer and don’t want to learn Scrivener, try Powerpoint.   You most likely have it on your computer, and it is easy to work with and very visual seeing as how it is a program to create presentations.  Each slide equals a card and there’s enough flexibility to create sets of cards for plot and character or whatever you need. I’ve only just begun to explore the possibilities here.
  5. Regular binder. You know, the 8.5 by 11 standard size we used as school children. I do love me a good binder, which always feels so rich with possibility, but as stated above, the pages get a bit overwhelming for me. They do have the advantage of holding lots of info.
  6. Word document.  Nothing fancy, nothing special, just the file most of us use every day for our writing. No reason you can’t put all your supporting info for your story in a Word doc. That’s what I did for Emma Jean.
  7. OneNote or EverNote.  Choose your poison from these online organizing tools. Both have advantages like accessibility across a broad number of platforms. I prefer OneNote for its simplicity but many writers love EverNote. It’s up to you.

So those are my recommendations. What do you use?  Please do share.

Oh and by the way, I’ll be talking about stuff like this at my three-day Mapping the Novel workshop, to be held in June on the glorious Oregon coast.  Check it out here.

Detoxing Your Writing, Your Writing Mindset, and Your Writing Habits

Drink-Drinks-Healthy-28192-lI am at this moment a fool for detoxing.  I’m doing a three-month heavy metal detox (under doctor’s supervision—don’t try this at home) and, at the same time (because why not), a detox designed to clean out my gut and make it healthier. I’ll spare you the gory details of it all, other than to say that I’m feeling great—lighter and more energetic.

But all this emphasis on detoxing my body got me to thinking, as I do, about detoxing the mind.  Specifically, the writer’s mind.  And that led me to think about our writing habits, good and bad.   And I realized that while I’m detoxing my body, I might just as well be detoxing my mind and my writing as well. So here’s what I’ve been thinking about. Maybe these new habits will be helpful for you, too.

  1. Shed the negativity. We all do it. Whine about how hard it is to write, to get published, to make a career out of writing. All of those things are true—and yet sometimes writing is fun, new people do get published every day, and many, many authors make a career from their words. So why not buck up and think about the positive instead?
  2. Let go of what Brene Brown calls confabulating. These are the “dangerous stories we make up,” like, “I’m not creative,” “I’m not lovable,” “I’m not good enough to be a writer.” We all have our own particular confabulations. What are yours? Uncover them and eradicate them.
  3. Ditch adverbs. I really, really, really love me an adverb. Yes, I do. Really. Okay, I’ll stop now.  Most writers will tell you to never ever use an adverb. I’m not a fan of blanket rules like that, so you won’t hear that from me. But I do advise caution in using them because they weaken sentences.  Even if you do like them, like me.
  4. Get rid of flab words. One of my favorites is just. Another is that, or but. I’ve got lots of them. How about very? Another way to ditch the flab is to eliminate unneeded words, and quit hedging your bets (seems like, could be).
  5. Resist perfectionism. That is, until you are going through your manuscript for the very last time before sending it out.  Then you want to be picky. But before that, don’t stop and obsess over every word. You’ll never get a draft done that way, and besides, its torture.
  6. Stop procrastination. Who, me, procrastinate? Never. But I do hear that lots of people have this problem, so in the interests of fairness I will mention it. When I start procrastinating hear of people having trouble with procrastination, I remind them of the phrase: Use yourself up. Use all of yourself up.  Because that’s what we want to feel when we die, right? Like we’ve used every last bit of ourselves up.
  7. Ditch your addictions. For the record, I do not consider my nightly glass of wine an addiction because I am old and I deserve my wine. But I will admit to an internet addiction.  As in constantly looking at my inbox, waiting for the rush of new emails coming in. Or always eyeing my phone, ever alert for the next notification. Lately I’ve been engaging in the radical act of leaving my phone on the charger in the kitchen most of the day.  Much less distracting.

So those are my thoughts on what I want to detox for my writing life. How about you? Any ideas on things you’d like to let go of? Please comment below and let us know!

Photo by MeiTeng.