So, every year I choose a word to represent the year. Actually, most years I choose three words. And usually I write a blog post about my words in December. Well, December is long gone and I never wrote the blog post.
And that’s because I felt uninspired about choosing a word–or words. Usually they come to me easily. This year, nothing. Was it because of the year in politics and current events? It was a tough one, no matter what your political persuasion. Was it because I have fifty-one projects going and can barely focus on all of them, much less choosing a word? Probably.
But two things happened to finally change this. First, we attended a Burning Bowl service on New Year’s Eve. This is a most wonderful event that I love. You go through a whole process of writing down what you want to let go of and then literally throw it in a huge flame. There’s something about sitting in a candle-lit sanctuary with hundreds of other people all focusing on intentions that is wonderfully affirming. And while at that service, I read something that has stayed in my mind ever since.
Every moment of every day is a new beginning.
I have so many things I want to accomplish (witness the aforementioned fifty-one projects) and sometimes I get caught up in what I’m not doing. Not taking all the steps. Not eating all the vegetables. Not writing all the words. But if I can remember that every second of every day I can begin again? That is hugely comforting. I don’t have to do all the things at once! And if I fail, in the next moment I can begin again.
The second thing that happened was, funnily enough, in another church service, this one called a White Stone service. The white stones come from Jerusalem and symbolize freedom–because in biblical times when prisoners were released from jail they were given a stone to remind themselves of freedom. One thing that happens during this service is that there’s a meditation wherein you get a word.
My word came to me immediately. Breathe. As in, with every breath, a new beginning. A new chance to begin again. Freedom. I don’t have to do all the things all at once. If I feel like I’m screwing up, I can go back to my breath and remind myself–begin again. The best part of it is that my breath is always, always with me.
So that’s my word and I’m excited to see if I can remember the simple instruction it gives.
Do you have a word–or words–this year? Care to share? Leave a comment!
I think I’m the most unorganized writer on the planet.
If you could see my office right now, your stomach would hurt from laughing. I’m way too embarrassed about it to post a photo, but there are stacks of binders atop file boxes, a teetering tower of office supplies, folders from a class I taught last summer recently waiting to be put into some kind of order, yarn for weaving and knitting piled up besides knitting needles and looms. And that’s just my office. The desktop on my computer is covered with icons for folders and files and for the last few days I’ve been searching my cloud storage for a folder I know for certain I’ve saved but can’t find. (Likely because I tend to nest folders within folders in logic that makes sense only in the moment I do it.)
I am ridiculously, painfully unorganized.
This terrible state of affairs is because I put organization at a very low priority. I try to make a little time for it every day, but if I end up having a little time I would much prefer to do other things. Like read blogs I like to follow. Or knit a few rows on the never-ending scarf I’m working on. When I think about organizing, my mind goes blank and I can’t seem to figure out where to start.
It is not that I don’t notice the mess, like some people I know who may or may not live in this very same house with me. I notice it plenty. And it bugs the hell out of me. I just don’t want to spend any time dealing with it. So I don’t. I love the idea of being organized, not the reality.
I think this is how a lot of people are about writing. They love the idea of it, but have no real desire to sit down and actually do it. Now, I’ll be the first to admit that sitting down to writing is hard. It is easier, so much easier to do something else. Like sweep the kitchen floor. Or laundry. Or check the latest election polls. But, unlike organizing, once you get writing, it is actually fun. (At least when the words are flowing.)
Like everyone, I have good days and bad days when writing. That’s normal. But if I’ve made the commitment to show up regularly, the bad days don’t loom quite so large, because I know that tomorrow will likely be a good day once again. When you make writing a priority, the good and the bad even out and eventually you’re just writing.
All this by way of excusing myself for being so unorganized. Because, well, I can’t be bothered. I’ve got more important things to do. Like write.
What about you? Are you organized? Or do you write in the midst of chaos, like me?
Christmas is in two weeks. Urp. How did that happen? So, here's my list of suggested Christmas gifts for the writers in your life. Or for the person who needs to buy a gift for the writer in their life. If you're like me, you'll offer your significant other a long tiny list of suggestions.
1. A book!
Is there any better present than a book? I think not. I've got several possibilities, from friends near and far.
Emma Jean's Bad Behavior. My novel, she said modestly. It's about a woman who loses everything but ends up finding herself. Most of my stories are about that in one way or another.
Dollface: A Moses Palmer Crime Thriller. From my beloved reader J.D. Frost, this thriller will keep you wondering what will happen next, as good thrillers should. It is also a lovely evocation of the city of Chattanooga. Read J.D.'s guest post from earlier this year here.
Swept Upby Kayla Dawn Thomas. A wonderful romance. It kept me company on the plane ride to Paris this year. I did her cover reveal for the book, which you can see here.
These Gentle Wounds, by Helene Dunbar. Another one I've not yet had the pleasure to read, though I did read part of it in manuscript form a few years ago and loved it. Read my interview with her here.
2. Pens (Make great stocking stuffers)
My current favorite is the Tul. (The u is supposed to have a funny little thing over it, but I don't know how to do that.)
3. Notebooks, of course
I'm partial to Moleskines. But I also just bought the Circa system from Levenger for my 2015 bullet journal, and I'm excited to see how it works.
4. A class on Udemy
One of my favorite novelists, Rachael Herron, has one on how to write a book. It's aimed toward beginners, but I figure you can always glean something from everything you read/watch. Speaking of watching, keep an eye out for sales on Udemy–they have them all the time. Like serious, 75% off sales.
In a previous post, I confessed how setting specific goals doesn't work well for me. So maybe I should learn how to change that? I'm a big fan of Michael Hyatt, and he has a goal-setting workshop here.
7. Post-It Notes
I cannot exist without mine. I use them for everything. My desk and calendar and to-do lists are covered with them. So are my notes for my novel rewrite. Great stocking stuffers.
Stalled on your book? Need a jump-start? Hit me up! You will be amazed and thrilled at how working one-on-one with a writing coach can get you going.
10. A Stand-Up Desk.
I like the looks of this one. I'm currently in the very long process of moving my office from upstairs to downstairs so I've not bought one yet, but its on my list for early in 2015. I sit way too much, and I'd like to have the option to set my laptop on a pedestal and stand.
Those are my suggestions. What are you asking for for Christmas this year? What are you giving? Please leave a comment.
I don’t write a lot about social media, but I’m on it all the time and I’m a big believer in its importance to us as writers. It is good for your platform, good for networking, and it is also a lot of fun, too. I can hear you all groaning, but stop, I’m serious–it is fun. The reason people (i.e. writers) shy away from it is because they over think it. They take it way too seriously and think it takes way too much time.
But, guess what? Social media is a fact of life and it is not going anywhere so one way or another you need to make your peace with it. And the time to do it is now–no matter where you are in your writing career, just starting out, almost published, or published.
Here’s my best advice on social media: do what you love. For instance, you won’t find me on Facebook much, because, well, I don’t like it. But I’m on Twitter and other sites all day long. Over and over again I hear that everyone needs a Facebook presence and I make another lame go at it and then I give up.
I think the best way to approach social media is to find one channel you enjoy, get comfortable with it, and then choose another one. To that end, I’ve listed the sites I like best below, along with what I like about them and how you can connect with me there.
Blog. You must have a presence on the web, and a blog is far and away the easiest way to do that. The average person surfing the internet doesn’t understand the difference between a blog and a website, and honestly, these days there isn’t a lot. The standard advice you’ll hear is to get thyself a WordPress blog, but I started blogging before WordPress was even a thing, so I went with Typepad and I remain loyal because I like it. The site is easy to use, looks great ( a lot of designer types use it) and best of all, if you get stuck, you can ask them for help and they respond quickly. So I’m staying here.
One of the things I always tell people who are afraid to start blogging is to just dive in. It’s good to remember that the genesis of what we now know as blogs started as web logs, i.e., online journals. A blog is, by its nature, an ongoing record of what’s going on. And so here me now: it does not have to be perfect. I have over 1,000 posts on this site, and some of them quite frankly, are crap. But a lot of them are pretty good. If I worried about perfection none of the posts would exist.
Twitter. My favorite. I’ve been on it since a short time after it debuted, and I love it. Twitter is easy, direct, and fun. If you tweet something, it stays up and all your followers will see it (unlike Facebook), although the Twitter stream does move fast. You can easily connect with other writers, authors, agents, editors, indie publishing folks–you name it. You can search with hashtags (#amwriting is a great one) and find like-minded people. I’ve made some great friends through the site–I love my Twitter peeps! Again, don’t over think it, don’t worry about it, just jump in and see what happens. You really can’t do it wrong, unless you spam people. And one piece of advice: put an icon up right away or people will shy away from following you, thinking you’re a bot.
Google +. I’ve been fooling around with the Google’s social media site for a simple reason which I will share with you: because its crazy good for your search engine rankings. The more you’re on Google +, the higher you’re going to show up on searches. I experimented with this myself, with astounding results–my own posts or Google + posts rising to the top of very popular searches. (Let me also point out that Google likes me a lot already, thanks to the afore-mentioned 1,000 posts. Nothing the Goog likes better than fresh content.) I’ve also heard that Google is getting quite overt about Google+, and that it would behoove you to at least go fill out a profile there–or you won’t show up on searches at all. Google+ is good for when you want to write something longer than Twitter, or share a link with a bit more supporting information. I’ve not yet found a lot of traction in terms of community, but I think that will change the more I’m on it.
Pinterest. Oh, let me count the ways I can get obsessed with Pinterest. Like, losing two hours on a Sunday afternoon to it. Which is why I stopped using it much for about a year. Pretty and fun as it was, I never saw much traffic from it, or felt like I engaged with others there. Until a couple of weeks ago, when I started noticing that I was getting a lot of traffic from the site. Consistently. So I decided to update my presence. And, yeah. Spent an hour on it yesterday when I should have been doing something else. But there is a lot of good stuff for writers on it–and a ton of beautiful images as well. It is probably the easiest of all the sites to figure out–just create a board and start adding pictures to it. (Yesterday I also discovered the Pinterest mobile app. Talk about something to do while you’re sitting in a bar at the airport lounge alone–you can pin to your heart’s content.)
Instagram. No, I take that back–Instagram is may be the most user friendly. Just open an account, start taking pictures and post them. You can add all kinds of fun effects to your photos as well. Apparently, hashtags are the thing on Instagram–the more the merrier. But I don’t generally worry about that too much. I hate seeing a post with a bunch of hashtags cluttering it up and I get bored feeding the in. So I do a couple and then skip it. I’m a sporadic Instagram user, tending to take a lot of photos when I’m traveling (I initially downloaded it when I went to France last year), the daily life of a writer not being all that photogenic (unless you like images of me in my jammies). It’s also a great time waster when you find yourself waiting for someone or something. (I do so miss the days when we used to read, or knit when we had spare moments.)
So that’s my take on social media for writers. Oh, and by the way, speaking of blogs, next week is the seven year anniversary of this one. I’m planning something special. Don’t know what yet, but something. So stay tuned.
And comment, please–what social media sites do you use? Feel free to share your handles for each site, too and we’ll all come follow you if we don’t already.
So, there's clarity for writers, and clarity about writing.
In a post about writing clarity, I'm being clear as mud.
So let me explain.
A few days ago, I was sitting in the backyard of a friend. Gorgeous summer night, and the surroundings were gorgeous, too: neatly mowed lawn and perfectly weeded and edged garden beds.
I thought to my own backyard, which is full of flowers, but in a wild, uncontrolled way. My husband's currently working on a garden path when he has time and let's just say you might see a weed or two back there.
The comparison of my friend's perfect back yard with my own wild one made me feel bad for a bit.
But then I remembered something: earlier this year, after a valiant but losing battle with weeds in the front garden beds, I got very clear about something. And that something was that I didn't want to spend a lot of time gardening. This year I hate gardening. (I reserve the right to love it again in the future, as I have in the past.) This year I want to focus on writing my novel and working on my business.
Clarity for this writer.
Which makes my life so much easier. Because I know that I have goals other than a perfect garden in mind, I don't have to waste time making myself feel bad about it. And this goes for other things, too.
Which is where the clarity about writing comes in.
I know exactly what I want to work on in the next few months: my next novel, my writing retreats, my novel-writing class, and my coaching. You may also know exactly what you want to write, and I hope you do, because this, too, makes life easier. There's no fussing about with deciding what to do, you just do it. (If you don't know what to write, may I suggest checking out my Punch for Prompt page? Choose a prompt and write to it for 20 minutes.)
Clarity is essential for writers and writing, and if you don't have it, I suggest you work on getting it. You'll get a lot more writing done. And you can quit making yourself feel bad about the weeds.
Do you have clarity about your writing? If you reach a murky point, how do you get clear again? I'd love to hear your thoughts.
**Need clarity about your novel? My new Get Your Novel Written Now class starts August 14th, and I'd love to have you join in. You can read more about it here.
In order to be a good writer, you must avoid passive voice whenever possible.
This topic has all the excitement of a rainy day in January.
But, the thing is, it's true. Passive voice can sink a sentence faster than the Titanic. Okay, okay, I'll quit with the metaphors that are as dumb as a rock. Sorry, I'll stop now. Really. Back to passive voice.
Because, if your writing is laden with passive sentences and phrases it will be boring. Dull. Flat. Lifeless. And you don't want that, now, do you?
Many, many, many, many, many years ago I wanted to apply to journalism school at the University of Oregon and in order to do that one had to take an infamous class called J250. It was infamous because it was hard, purposely so, in order to weed out those who might not be completely, totally, one hundred per cent devoted to the journalistic ideal. One of the best things I got from that class was a book called The Lively Art of Writing by Lucile Vaughan Payne. Lucile absolutely rails on passive voice, and ever since reading her chapter on it, I've been a demon about it, too. (For the record, Lucile has her own, slightly perplexing Facebook page.)
Here's Lucile on passive voice:
The English language has two voices–active voice and passive voice. These terms refer to the use of verbs. Most verbs can be active or passive, depending upon how you use them. Active voice is direct, vigorous, strong; passive voice is indirect, limp, weak–and sneaky. It can creep unnoticed into your writing unless you are on guard against it constantly and consciously.
As Lucile goes on to point out, the difference between passive and active is essentially the difference between your subject acting, and the subject having something done to it. So,
Active: Peter mowed the lawn.
Passive: The lawn was mowed by Peter.
Passive voice tends to creep into business and technical and other official type language, but it can easily appear in your writing, too. So here is my handy-dandy quick guide to ditching it:
1. Make the subject perform, rather than have something performed upon him. That sounds vaguely kinky, but its an important point. If you fear you've constructed a passive sentence, ask yourself if the subject of said sentence is doing something, or having something done to him.
2. Choosestrong and interesting verbs. As you can see in the above example, passive voice often arises when you use variants of the verb to be. As in, Mary was at the store. Or, Tom was reading a book. When you force yourself to work a bit harder and push for stronger verbs you just about always sidestep passive voice. So, Mary trudged to the store. Or, Tom devoured a book. It is impossible to eradicate all forms of the to be verb, but do your best to minimize how much you use it.
3. Avoid the gerund verb form. This is, of course, the "ing" usage of a verb. I could not find any good explanation of the "ing" form which wasn't hopelessly complicated. The way I think of it is that it tends to denote action occurring over time, such as, I was eating the cake. This is less direct and snappy than I ate the cake.
(Note to purists: yes, I know that sometimes gerunds are not gerunds but past participles or some damn thing, but trying to figure out the nuances of all that is about to make my head explode and the point here is to provide quick, let me repeat, quick fixes for passive voice.)
If you keep those three tips in mind as you write, you'll conquer passive voice. But, I hear you ask, is there ever a time when passive voice is appropriate? Why, yes. Once in a great while you may want to use it for an artful reason, such as to denote that the character about whom you are writing is a passive type. Or, as our friend Lucile says, "Sometimes only passive voice can provide a neccessary tone or connotation. It is possible for a verb to be too brisk, too energetic, to express accurately an exact shade of meaning."
So there you have it, writing tips for the scourge of passive voice. Now, tell me. Do you struggle with passive writing? Or is it something you've learned to master?
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I just love me an epiphany, especially when it makes me feel happy and in love with the world again. Not that I had fallen out of love with it. Well, maybe a little. Given a few little ups and downs and my anger at the idiots people who are running the country. (Note: I'm not pointing fingers at either side here, I'm fed up with the whole lot of them.)
So, anyway, the epiphany. It came, actually, thanks to my ego. That wondrous entity that really loves to point out to me that I am not thin enough, rich enough, successful enough, perfect enough, enough enough. My friend the ego especially likes to point these things out when I am feeling most out-of-love-with-the-worldish.
This weekend, when I was in the middle of journal writing, my ego whispered, "what if this is it?"
But the intent behind that whisper was: "what if this is it, if this is all you get, you stupid idiot. What if this is it and you'll never achieve the success you desire, never get your novel published, never accomplish the things on your intention list that you read every morning…." Like that.
And that was when the miracle happened. Because sometimes epiphanies, when they are accompanied by that wonderful sense of letting go, feel like miracles. The miracle was this: I realized, that indeed, this is it.
And that this is it is wonderful. And all I need.
Because this is it is amazing and perfect and miraculous. My this is it features a huge loving family, a charming little house with a yard full of flowers, a career I love with clients I adore, travel, a life devoted to writing and sharing it, a crusty, stinky old pug and two fat cats, sunshine and rain and the chance to live in one of the greatest small cities in the world.
And more, so much more:
Clean water that comes out of a tap, two strong legs to carry me on a walk every morning, an active brain and interesting things to focus it on, hands to engage in writing and making things, friends and colleagues and a whole other family at my church.
My this is it is nothing short of a flippin' full-on miracle.
And anything else that I get is icing on the cake.
What does your this is it look like?
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**The cost of my Get Your Writing In Gear sessions is going up August 15th. Book now at the current price and use the session any time you want. Or buy it for a gift!
A client mis-interpreted a suggestion I made for her this week, and it got me thinking about some of the critiquing terms I use, which at times are slightly odd. And since this is a blog about writing but most of the time I write about mindset, motivation, and inspiration, I thought it might be nice to actually do a post about something writing-ish.
So here's a list of common phrases and words I use when critiquing:
1. Fleshing out. As in, put more flesh on it. Add some heft. Expand the scene or description or dialogue. Make it come alive so I can see it. Interestingly, we generally think that revising is a process of paring away. I find most often it is a process of adding on.
2. Mount on the page. God, I hope the spiders don't assume this is a porn page. Anyway, when I talk about mounting on the page it means you have not given me the full picture yet. The scene is no doubt alive and well in your head, but you haven't gotten all the elements to the page yet. Similar to #1.
3. Root in scene. Have you ever read a manuscript where there's lots of action and dialogue but you have no idea where the characters actually are? This is another common problem. The fix is to go back to the location through a line of description or action every so often. Such as, "She set the glass down on the table." Just one line here and there can help to root the reader in the scene.
4. G.D. No, its not a swear word, its an abbreviation for Go Deeper. You need to get in to the paragraph and pull it apart. Really get to the meaning of it. Enter the spaces between the sentences and find out what's going on.
5. Make scene. This is just what it sounds like. You've probably had a long thread of narrative going and now you need you some scene. Put the characters in action in real time, like something you'd see on a movie screen. And now you have yourself a scene. It is the difference between showing and telling. Readers like showing much better.
So those are my top five critiquing phrases. What words and phrases do you use? Which ones have you come across?