A friend writes from flood-weary Nashville that she is sometimes writing only one word a day as clean up progresses. Imperfect action.
I set writing one paragraph a day on the next novel as my goal. Imperfect action.
You sit down to work on your memoir and the words tumble out onto the page in a glorious, raw glump. Imperfect action.
What is imperfect action? It is doing something, anything towards a goal. It is doing something, anything, even when you aren't exactly sure what you should do. Doing something when you're overwhelmed. Doing anything when it isn't perfect yet.
Imperfect action is just doing it. Getting ourselves out of our heads and into the world. Putting words on paper, even when we haven't the vaguest. Starting a blog. Writing an article. You name it.
And I'm sure you get the drift.
We spend way too much time waiting for perfection.
The last few weeks, I've been running a feature called Festive Fridays on, well, Fridays.
But, I have to say, the party has been a bit of a dud. Or at least it seems so to me. The posts don't get any comments and I'm certainly not receiving breathless emails urging me to keep them up. So I'm making like the police and shutting the party down.
Which returns me to my original problem of what to post on Fridays. I often have appointments on Fridays which make it difficult to post. And, since I've made a solemn vow to post every weekday, this is a problem.
But, never fear, I have come up with a new solution. Are you ready?
Drum roll, please….
Yes, I'm inviting you, my loyal readers to write me a guest post. Here are the guidelines:
1. They can be in the 500-word range, but if you write longer, I'll probably go for it, too.
2. Topics can be on any aspect of writing, coaching, motivation, inspiration, spirituality, or the writer's life.
When writing, it is important to have a place to go.
For instance, Ernest Hemingway always ended a writing session in the middle of a sentence, thus insuring that he had a place to go when he started the next day. I've relearned this lesson over and over again in my own work. If I wrap up a chapter all nice and neat, the next day I flounder about as I start a new chapter. But if I leave myself some room to work, things go much easier.
I am embarrassed to admit how many times I've scheduled a writing session, usually first thing in the morning because that is when I like to write fiction, and come to it unprepared. And it is dangerous, for me at least, to be unprepared because that is when the internet and email beckon. (I have this bad habit of clicking over to my email inboxes or yahoo home page when I stop to think. I tell myself it is to give my brain a break, but…you can be the judge of that.)
But clarity can be ridiculously easy to come by, at least the kind required to know where you going when you turn on your computer and get ready to write. It just takes a little advance thought. So here are my best strategies for having a place to go on the page:
1. Make Notes Ahead of Time. In advance of your writing session, go through what info you've collected and make notes, either of where you are at or what you want to start. If you know you are going to be working on a character sketch for your new novel, make a few quick notes. Your amazing subconscious mind will take what you've written and start working on more.
2. Read Your Work Over. Re-read what you've read, the night before if you can. (This works especially great if you are going to get up and write first thing.) Reading your work over reminds you of where you are, so you don't have to reinvent everything during your writing session.
3. Make Like Hemingway. Don't write to the end of a chapter. Stop a few paragraphs short. You can even go so far as to stop in the middle of a sentence, like Ernie did. This automatically gives you a place to go.
4. Carry Your Work With You. When I'm in the full heat of working on a novel, I carry the little spiral that I use for notes around with me everywhere. Not only is it at the ready if I have an idea, but there's something about the act of carrying it around that acknowledges the novel's importance and keeps it front and center in my brain.
So those are my thoughts on always being ready. What are yours? Comment away. And keep the phrase, have a place to go, in your fertile brains because I'm coming back to it tomorrow.
This morning I was writing about a character. Her arc is to go from being what she considers to be a failure, to suddenly experiencing great success. So as I was tracing this movement, I started thinking about how to show what her failure looked like and felt like to her, and then what her success would look like and feel like also.
As always, writing is life and life is writing. The thought occurred to me that this is a good exercise to do for anyone who wants more success in their life. What makes you feel successful? How do you feel inside when you are successful? How do you behave? What actions do you take? What are the outer trappings of your success?
Conversely, how does failure make you feel? How do you act and present yourself when you feel beaten down and discouraged? What does failure look like in your world?
I have some ideas that are not yet fully formed about this topic. A vague starting point:
Successful people hold themselves well, stand up straight, meet your eyes and have a firm handshake. Duh. Beyond that, there's a sparkle in their eye, a zest for life that shows in the way they dress and walk. They don't hesitate–in any situation, they take action. Outwardly, they care for themselves and their surroundings well.
Failures slump over and their eyes are dead. They meander through their days instead of walking purposefully. Nothing much excites them so they spend a lot of time idly flipping through web pages that don't really interest them on the internet. Their surroundings are shabby and they don't much care.
What else? What am I missing? I want to know because this information bears on my character, but I also think it bears on all of us. What does success look like to you? To me success means getting a novel published and no matter what else I accomplish (and I have plenty of unrelated goals, such as write an Ebook and start a coaching program), until I publish a novel I'll not feel fully successful. What does that say about me?
The more I think about it, the more this topic of inner and outer success interests me. I think it is worthy of thought and writing about to explore how you really feel about it. Because once you know what success looks like for you, you can begin to take steps to achieve it. Probably I'll be doing lots of writing about it through the creation of this new character, which will have a bearing on my own life.
So let me know what your thoughts are about success. What will make you finally feel successful? Or maybe you already do–and if so, what contributes to that feeling? I'm all ears.
She asked how she could get to the core motivation for her writing, casting aside all the things we do like comparing ourselves to others or torture ourselves with thoughts of the other things we could be doing. And, I have an answer for that, though I will admit that it is one of the toughest things we writers have to deal with. The pressure to compare ourselves to others or worry that perhaps we are wasting time are two of the most toxic distractions imaginable.
But I like to remember to separate the process from the product and remind myself that during the initial writing, my job is to focus on the process. When writing, it is up to me to concentrate on the writing only, and let all the rest of that crap fall away. There will come a time, all too soon, when worldly concerns will infringe upon you. Then you will be taking your project to market, and that is when you can start thinking about how to position it in regards to the work of others, and so on.
But how, specifically, to maintain this focus on the pure, sweet heart of your project? Here are some ideas:
Give The Whining Free Rein. But only for a limited, pre-agreed upon amount of time, like 10 minutes. But for that 10 minutes, let 'er rip. Stomp around the house, sit and wring your hands, moan, sigh heavily, whatever your favorite is. Worry obsessively about whether the book you're writing is good enough, or ponder all the things you have to do on your to-do list. Then, when your allotted time is up, stop. And get to your writing.
Agree to One Hour. For this one hour, all you are going to do is write. You are going to focus on your writing. You are not going to worry about how to market the book you are writing, or wonder if you'll ever be good enough to land an agent. If your thoughts stray to these topics, you are going to imagine these thoughts are on clouds, gently floating away from you. And you are going to direct your attention back to your writing project once again. In this way, you will stay true to your core motivation for one hour. And then you can do it again for another hour.
Make a Deal With Your Critic. Tell him or her that if she will just take a nap while you are focusing on your writing for an hour, there will soon come a time when you will need her help. (That time will be when you start editing and rewriting.) Note: your critic is not only the inner voice that tells you you're not good enough, it is also the voice that whispers: isn't it time to quit writing and see what they are talking about on Twitter? Until you are done with your hour, the answer is no.
Practice these three techniques to stay true to yourself and your writing. And let me know how they work out for you. Or perhaps you have some favorites of your own?
*Note to Don: Alas, I don't have the answer to your Burning Question, much as I wish I did. I have no idea how they get the caramel into the Caramel Bars. But if you find out, let me know.
My screenwriting friend Marc sent me a link to an article by Lawrence Konner, writer for a gazillion projects including Planet of the Apes (!) and multiple upcoming movies that sound blockbuster-ish. There's a lot of good bits in this article, so much so that you could take any one of Konner's pronouncements and expand into a longer article. Remember, nearly everything he says applies to all kinds of storytelling, be it fiction, or creative non-fiction, or you latest short story. It is helpful to study screenwriting no matter what genre you are writing in, because screenwriters focus on story.
The part of the article that I enjoyed most was his thoughts on character versus plot. "If you try to get characters to do what the plot determines, then they're moving falsely," Konner says. He goes on to explain that the first thing you should do is write a biography of your character because the number one thing you want to do is get your audience (or reader) involved in some way with the character. You must know your character's background, upbringing, current status, dreams, goals and desires. The last aspects are among the most important because a character wanting something is what will power the plot.
In the department of other bits and pieces, here's a small round-up of recent interesting things that have crossed my desk:
Nobel Prize winner Le Clezio says that writing was actually his third choice of career. Firsthe wanted to be an architect, but his math skills were poor. Then he wanted to be a sailor, but his eyesight was bad. So he became a writer. Writing soon became an "uncontrollable impulse." Le Clezio considers himself a storyteller above all else, and not someone who writes to espouse political views.
Has anybody read any of his novels? I'm intrigued by them, myself. Read the article about him here.
Anne Wayman did a good post called Of Creativity at the beginning of the month. She links to a couple good posts on the subject. All of them are worth checking out.
PhilosophersNotes is a really cool idea–they call it Cliff Notes for Self-Development books. During this holiday season, you can download the top 25 titles for free–its an awesome deal. Be sure to read the Meet the Philosopher page on the site, about Brian Johnson, the guy behind it all. It's inspiring.
For those of you looking for freelance writing jobs, Anne Wayman lists the places she hunts for them (or just subscribe to her job listing). Two links to Anne Wayman–clearly she's doing awesome work for writers!