Take time to enjoy the gift

Take time to enjoy the gift

In January, we traditionally take stock of our lives. For writers, that involves our creative lives, our writing lives. So far, we have already looked at Getting into Writing Balance. Our guest blogger (and long-time writing friend), Aprille Janes offers an uplifting take on examining our creative lives from the perspective of “taking time to enjoy your creative gifts”. Currently, Aprille focuses on visual art at her Stone Bay Studio in Nova Scotia, but her message is relevant for any creative.

Guest post: Aprille Janes

Take time to enjoy the gift

 

The artist is nothing without the gift, but the gift is nothing without work. – Emile Zola

Time away is a gift

This year, being away for a whole month was a first for both of us.

A month changes things, providing distance and perspective. It made me see I was in danger of filling my schedule with things that took me away from what I really wanted. Putting together a program to help artists find time was keeping me too busy to paint.

How’s that for irony?

So I took a deep breath, slowed down and asked,

2019 Planner“What do I really want in 2019?”

Easy. I want to prioritize my painting.

That means committing to a daily practice of drawing and painting, taking time to be a student and making my art a priority rather than an afterthought. Like practicing daily scales, I need to put in the work.

 

We all have our own ways of bringing our dreams to life, but what we do each day, at a ‘right here, right now’ level, will determine whether we get there.  — Tara Leaver, Artist

And, as we all know, for every action there is an equal and opposite reaction. When I say “Yes” to something then I must say “No” to something else.

“What is necessary and what is distraction?”

When I arrived back home I began making time for my dreams by looking at the “mental clutter” I had allowed into my life. Like physical clutter, it took up space, made it hard to navigate and gathered dust.

I don’t know about you, but I tend to subscribe to things as I’m browsing because they catch my eye or I want their ‘freebie’ or there’s a program I’m interested in. That means I end up on a lot of lists if I’m not careful.

Now I looked at each and every promotion and update that came through my inbox and held it up for scrutiny.

  1. Did I even sign up for this? Even with all the anti-spam laws, I still get added to lists without my permission. Those are an easy decision. Unsubscribe.
  2. Is this information pertinent to me anymore? More often than not the answer was No because my life has changed so much. Unsubscribe.
  3. When was the last time I read the information this sender provides? If I can’t even remember – unsubscribe.

Now I’ll admit that unsubscribing sometimes felt a little like breaking up. Often they ask “Why” and it’s tempting to write “It’s not you, it’s me”. Mostly though, I skip giving a reason unless the sender is a friend in the real world.

This is an ongoing process but the difference in less than a week was phenomenal. My inbox holds only those things I deem important to me personally or to my renewed focus on the painting.

the gift of mental decluttering
And speaking of distractions…

Where do I want to invest time on social platforms? Do I have a reason for being there?

For me, it boils down to InstagramFacebook and Pinterest, which make sense to me as a visual artist. I deleted my profile on LinkedIn because I’m not in the corporate/business world any longer. The jury is still out about Twitter.

I left a number of Facebook groups because I wasn’t interacting or they belonged to a different phase of my life. My Creative Fire Café , of course, stays put. I love the community we created and what we learn from each other. The social aspect of Facebook is also a gift because it keeps me in touch with family and friends.

Gift of Changing “The way it’s always been”the gift of studio time

The “Yes” part means daily time in my studio, painting and learning. In the past, I held a belief that my creative time “had” to be in the morning. And yet, I easily slipped into an afternoon routine which feels natural.

By taking care of a few things each morning such as social media, my coaching practice and biz admin (and yes, household chores) I relax and totally focus on my art in the afternoons. Up to now, I hadn’t even recognized that feeling of “something’s not done” and the pressure it created to hurry through my painting time.

Now the parent part of my brain says “Right. Chores are done. Go play.”

Gift of Self-Care

At The gift of self care via a dogthe end of my studio time, right on the dot of 4:00, Joey the Dog comes in, sits down and stares hard at me. He’s letting me know in no uncertain terms, it’s time for his walk. It’s like having my own personal trainer.

These days I find myself taking longer walks which means more fresh air and exercise. Because my other priorities now have their place, I am free to enjoy the moment plus the exercise loosens me up after sitting for so long. When I get back to the house, my husband and I have a cup of tea and spend some quiet time together.

Without even trying, I’m practicing better self-care and enjoying quality time with the spouse, a precious gift.

The Sum of the Equation

All of these small changes add up. Fast. I see positive growth in my art which translates into feeling relaxed and happy, knowing my dreams are getting daily attention. I even sleep better. My time is being spent on priorities, not busy work.

What strategies have worked for you when it comes to finding more time to focus on your priorities?

More about April Janes

Aprille has fond childhood memories of outdoor adventures and time spent near the water. Today, she lives by the Bay of Fundy and her art reflects this love of the outdoors. She divides her time between painting, writing and teaching watercolour workshops.

Find her at:

Submit, I Say

Submit, I Say

Ruth E. Walker

I’ve been quoted more than once as suggesting “If you don’t submit, you’ll probably never be published.” It’s a good line and one that I’ve used in workshops and networking events. But lately, I’ve been thinking maybe I should take my own advice.

Tania Hershman

I subscribe to a few newsletters, some of which share details on calls for submissions. When Tania Hershman’s ShortStops newsletter arrived today, I took a minute or twenty to look at what U.K. magazines and anthologies are seeking these days. Two themed issues caught my attention and I reviewed what unpublished work I had that might fit the themes. Less than thirty minutes later and I had two submissions crossing the Atlantic and arriving in the U.K. for consideration. Confirmation emails back to me in seconds.

So much easier than the old days of printing the submission, finding the envelope, affixing the stamp, ensuring the S.A.S.E. (self-addressed, stamped envelope) was inside, walking to the mailbox and then patiently waiting six months to hear. I sat in self-satisfied reflection for a couple of minutes.

The mirror doesn’t lie

And then I reflected on my submission record for the past six months. And I didn’t go back more than six months because, well, I know I wasn’t doing much better back then either.

Not too impressive:

  • One submission two months ago to an agent that was, in fact, a revised submission from what I sent her in late July. Good news is that the agent was quite happy to receive my revision. Bad news is that I’m still waiting.
  • One submission of three poems to a literary journal last fall.
  • One poem submitted to an online contest last month.

In other words, not much for a working writer to look back on. Sure, I’ve been busy revising my latest novel manuscript. I’ve also been working as an editor and writing coach and, yes, that is demanding but fulfilling work. However, back when I was commuting to downtown Toronto and pulling in a regular paycheque, I was submitting a lot more of my work. Clearly, I needed a self-kick in the pants.

If you don’t submit, you’ll probably never be published.

Well, that is true. And it is also true that sending your work out carries the risk that it will be rejected. That’s the tough part of being a writer who wants their work to be published. So why have my submissions slowed down? Do I not want my work to be published? Or am I afraid of rejection?

I don’t think it’s really any of the above. I just think my focus had shifted to concentrate on other writers and I kind of left me—the writer me—behind. I’ll also admit that finding the ending for the novel has been a lot tougher than I banked on. While I was making those revisions, I didn’t want to think about short fiction, poetry or plays. I just wanted to reach the finish line.

So now, I’m back in the game. While I won’t be submitting weekly, I’m no longer ignoring the calls for submissions. In the past, I’ve often had unpublished material that worked with a particular theme or publication. And just as often, a call for submissions has sparked a story idea in me.

So I’m going to pay attention and, one way or the other, I’m going to remember that I’m a writer—one who plans to submit and craft new material far more often than she has in past year. How about you?

DID YOU KNOW?

There are plenty of newsletters that can land in your INBOX with calls for submissions inside. Besides Tania Hershman’s ShortStops, here’s a couple more you should consider:

Literistic is based in Victoria, B.C., and offers two monthly submission services. One is free and is what they call their shortlist, arriving monthly with a list of opportunities coming up next month. I subscribe to the shortlist right now but my plan is to upgrade to the annual $58 list. That one is curated to your interests. Here’s how founders Liam Sarsfield and Jessie Jones describe it on their website:

If it’s fiction deadlines for publications that pay and are located in the United States that you’re looking for, well, we’ll keep you on top of those. And if it’s poetry deadlines for publications that pay and don’t have reading fees, that’s no problem, we can keep you on top of those too. Imagine Literistic is your new robotic literary agent (less tweed, more whitespace). You’ll never have to cruise another crappy database again. 

Poets & Writers is a U.S. based writers’ magazine. Their weekly newsletter often has submission information. For example, last month’s weekly newsletters included:

  • 57 Upcoming Contest Deadlines (Feb 1)
  • 480 Small Presses Ready To Publish Your Work (Feb 8)
  • 300+ Writers Retreats Where Your Big Book Could Be Born (Feb 15)*

(*Of course, if you really want a writers’ retreat that’s big on book midwifery and writerly support, you can always consider our Spring Thaw at Elmhirst’s Resort on Rice Lake in Ontario: April 20 – 22 or choose the extend your pen option and stay until April 25)

Getting Your Novel Unstuck

Getting Your Novel Unstuck

Guest blogger Stephanie Gibeault is a freelance writer with a passion for fiction for young readers. She recently wrote a post for Writescape about the benefits of writing away at the Highlights Foundation’s Pennsylvania retreat. As she promised in that December post, she’s here to share what she learned about getting a novel unstuck:

Whether you call it writer’s block, an empty tank or say your creative well has run dry, every writer has days or weeks when putting words on the page is a challenge. This past summer, I found myself stuck on my middle grade manuscript.

I created a storyboard (on my closet doors) to help me see the flow of the plot, only to discover there were structural issues I hadn’t noticed before. I could see what the problems were, but had no idea how to fix them. Thankfully, I had already signed up for a workshop dedicated to getting unstuck.

Stop spinning your wheels

In my recent guest post, I wrote about my experience at the Highlights Foundation workshop Getting Your Middle Grade Novel Unstuck. I learned many things at the workshop, but the main focus was how to deal with being stuck.

Beginning, middle or end of your story—there are great techniques that can help move you forward. Instructors Chris Tebbetts and Elise Broach armed me with loads of options. And many of them don’t even involve working directly on your manuscript.

The most valuable piece of advice I took away from the workshop: there’s always something you can be doing even if it’s not writing.

Experiment with play

Sometimes, it feels like anything other than writing a new scene is procrastination. That’s simply not the case.

Anything that moves you forward with your writing, builds your skills, increases your familiarity with your characters or fleshes out your plot is a productive and effective use of your time. That’s incredibly liberating.

Discovering your characters

Successful middle grade writers create characters their readers connect with—and characters the writers know inside and out. Chris and Elise offered lots of suggestions to get to know our characters better. Here’s a really effective one for me:

  1. Create a chart with a column for a character’s self-perception and a column for how they are seen by others.
  2. The two columns are those perceptions that are true or accurate and those that are false. This provides insight into your character’s psyche – what they hide from others and what they hide from themselves.
TRUE/ACCURATE FALSE/INACCURATE
HOW BOB SEES SELF Hilarious

Fun-loving

Always positive

Never afraid

HOW OTHERS SEE BOB Cute but annoying

Makes light of tough situations

Attention-seeking

Over-the-top

Journal as your character. Get at their innermost thoughts, motivations and goals.Other ways of getting in touch with your characters include:

  • Fill out a questionnaire or survey as one of your characters. How do they answer differently than you or another character would?
  • Write about a character’s perfect day. What makes him or her happy?
  • Create a character profile with details like hair colour, favourite movie and best friend. The more details the better.
  • Write a letter to yourself from a character about what you are getting right and wrong about him or her in your manuscript.

Stretch some more!

I learned how writing prompts helped uncover details about our characters and plots. I thought it would be limiting because I’d have to go in a particular direction rather than letting my creativity flow.

I was amazed. Forced to explore areas I might otherwise have ignored, I answered questions not directly related to my story but essential to understanding it. Simple questions like, “What does this character want?” or “Why do I love this story?” gave me a great start.

ReVision to move forward

Editing can be as radical as starting from scratch and rewriting a scene entirely from memory. You’ll likely retain your favourite parts while stumbling onto some new descriptions, dialogue and directions at the same time. With track changes in your word processor, it’s easy to compare the two versions, choosing the best sections to keep.

Or be more conservative and only delete what isn’t completely necessary. Decide what, if any, details need to go back in and what the reader never needed in the first place.

One of my favourite suggestions was when Chris told me to rewrite a section of my manuscript in first person point of view. The purpose was not to rewrite my entire manuscript, (although that is exactly what I will do), but to get me deeper into my main character’s head.

I couldn’t believe the difference it made. No longer hovering over my story, now saw it through my protagonist’s eyes. Changing point of view, or even tense (from past to present, for example), allows you to approach your narrative from a different angle and that can be all you need.

No more excuses

With so many available options, I no longer have any reason to be stuck. Or to use the phrase “writer’s block”. If you’re feeling stuck with a writing project, consider trying some of these suggestions.

Remember to take advantage of workshops and retreats to help propel you forward. My experience at Highlights sure made a difference for me.

Did You Know

Are you stuck? Writescape retreats offer the perfect space to stretch your writing skills, re-imagine your work in new and exciting ways and the safety you need for full-throated expression. Spring Thaw is already half full of eager and focused writers like you, ready to give focus to their work.

Join us for an all-inclusive escape on the shores of Rice Lake. Elmhirst’s Resort boasts cozy fully equipped cottages with fireplaces, private bedrooms and gorgeous sunrise lake views. All you need is your jammies, toothbrush and writing materials; writers at all levels are welcome. Choose either a 3-day or 5-day retreat. April 20-24.

.

Rinse and repeat

Rinse and repeat

Gwynn Scheltema

Okay, I know; I know. New Year is yelling out “GOALS” and “RESOLUTIONS”, and no one really wants to hear it, least of all me. But when I got to thinking about it, I realized I have a few ongoing goal-setting and goal-achieving tools in place already. And they work! So I thought I’d share them with you.

Little and often

While I’m a great supporter of having big long-term goals and a vision of where you want to go in life, I find that sometimes the big picture can be overwhelming. I believe that those big concepts should be the background canvas on which you paint in the details as you go—and re-paint them if you choose.

The writing critique group I belong to understands this perfectly. We meet every two weeks and at the end of each meeting we all set a writing goal for the next two weeks only. We each set our own goal depending on what we are working on at the time and what is happening in our lives.

We encourage specificity— “5000 words” or “edit 3 chapters” or “fill plot hole in Chapter 7 or “four meaningful bum-in-chair sessions”. At the next meeting if we miss our goal, we pay up to a charity fund. But we also encourage life balance. It’s okay to not set a goal if your life dictates. We also recognize that sometimes “thinking about” a plot or character qualifies as long as sooner or later that turns into “writing about.”

This system works because it is frequent, achievable, and there is accountability. Small goals and small successes that add up over time.

Eat that Frog

Mark Twain once said that if you start the day by eating a frog you will have the satisfaction of knowing that this was probably the worst thing you had to do that day. The frog is a metaphor for your biggest and most important task of the day and has become a popular procrastination-busting technique.

When I’m trying to avoid that “frog”, I play solitaire, disappear into social media or sort the kitchen junk drawer or….. I’m sure you have equally pointless—and time consuming—avoidance tactics.

Learning the skill of attacking the most important task first (writing related or not) and getting it out of the way frees you up. You’ll have more time, less guilt and a clear mind to be creative. It’s a skill that helps you accomplish whatever you set as your priorities—including your goals.

It does take practice, but like anything in life, the more you consciously do it, the easier it becomes. Most writers can perform to a deadline. Perhaps putting your own deadline on your “frogs” will help?

 

Make your bed

Now this may seem contradictory to the “eat the frog” principle, but getting through your to-do list and achieving your goals begins with making your bed.

Your mom probably drilled that in to you, but the idea came back into popularity with Navy SEAL Admiral McRaven’s speech to grads in 2014: “If you want to change the world, start off by making your bed. If you make your bed every morning, you will have accomplished the first task of the day. It will give you a small sense of pride, and it will encourage you to do another task, and another, and another.”

All I know, it works for me.

Your frog for today

So there you have it.

Today, go make your bed, then sit down and decide on a reasonable achievable goal to be accomplished within the next two weeks. Then break it down into what needs to be done first, and then next, and next after that….

Tomorrow, make your bed, look to see what is #1 on that list and eat that frog.

Day after tomorrow, eat frog #2

Rinse and repeat…rinse and repeat…

DID YOU KNOW

A writing retreat is a great way to focus on your writing projects and goals and registration for Writescape’s Spring Thaw 2018 is now open, and already half full.

This all-inclusive writing retreat is held at the fabulous Elmhirst’s Resort on Rice Lake in Keene. Stay for the weekend or treat yourself to an extra two days of writing.

    • 10-page manuscript evaluation with written feedback from Ruth and Gwynn
    • one-on-one manuscript consultation with either Gwynn or Ruth
    • private writing time
    • optional daytime creativity sessions to fire up your pen
    • a companion workbook with inspiration, prompts and supports
    • optional evening activities to network and share ideas and inspiration with retreat colleagues
    • comfortable cottages with wood-burning fireplace
    • first-class amenities and delicious meals

Brochure-Spring Thaw-2018

Ten Ways to Get the Most from Writing Prompts

Ten Ways to Get the Most from Writing Prompts

Gwynn Scheltema

At the recent Just Right at Glentula Retreat, we used a number of writing prompts. Most writers have tried them at some point in their writing journeys. Some love them; some not so much. I find them invaluable. I’ve used written, verbal, visual, and textural prompts. I’ve even used smell and taste prompts.

Some writers resist prompts, because they feel that their writing time is limited and they should be writing the “real stuff.” But remember that “completing the prompt” is not the object. The goal is to get you writing, to get you writing what has the most energy for you, and to lead you into your writing project.

How do you do that?

Follow the energy

Often when you begin writing about the subject of the prompt — say swimming in a lake — it can take you  somewhere else — say an experience of drowning or crab baskets in Italy or how your father never believed in taking vacations. Go there. Forget the prompt and go where the energy is.

Prompts unlock memories and experiences, and when you write honestly about them, about how you felt, what you observed, and perhaps even capture some of the dialogue that was spoken, you can take that piece and adapt  it later for your “real” writing.

Prompts are not precise nor prescriptive.

Understand the possibilities of “You”

Prompts often use the pronouns “you” or “your”: “Write about your greatest fear” or “Imagine yourself beside a body of water…” Of course, you can write about your own experience, but you can also approach it as if you are one of your characters. And not just your protagonist or your viewpoint character. Often it is more revealing to pick your antagonist, or a minor character.

Switch it up

Try the same prompt from two different characters’ points of view. If the prompt says “What’s your favourite colour?”, get your character to answer. What colours does she/he have an aversion to? Perhaps you don’t know. Write about the fact that you don’t know that about your character. Why don’t you know? What else don’t you know? Or have characters answer that question about each other. What did your protagonist’s mother think were his /her favourite colours? How did that play out in your protagonist’s life? Did the mother always dress your protagonist in blue for example?

If you are a memoir writer, remember that the people in your life are your characters; they are just called Mom, or Dad or Great Aunt Mabel. And like a fiction writer, you can stretch by writing as if you are another character.

 

Prime the Muse

Prompts take you places you don’t expect, but I’ve also found them useful for getting into scenes that I was planning to write. Start by identifying a scene in your story you want to work on. For instance, you might want to do a scene where one character makes the first show of affection towards the other. Using the prompt “What’s your favourite colour?” as a line of dialogue could take you to a scene at a fair or in a mall where he is buying her something, or in a garden where the flowers are in bloom, or just in the kitchen choosing a coffee mug.

Write what you know  

The facts of your life may not be the stuff of wild imaginative novels, but your human reaction to events is as valid as any character in any novel. Perhaps you haven’t been in a dugout canoe in the Amazon Jungle, but you know how it feels to sweat. You also know how helpless you can feel in a strange place. Could the feeling of being swept down the river with the jungle crowding in also feel like being swept along in a crowd at a frenzied rock concert or at busy subway station? It’s not the facts from your life that connect with readers, it’s the emotions and commonalities.

The Senses

Like the things you feel, what you see, hear, touch, taste and smell also relate to what we all know. When writing from prompts, the senses will always ground you and lead you forward. Make use of ALL five senses. Also consider the temperature, the quality of the light, time of day, the weather, the seasons, the historical period.

Move into Metaphor

When you have considered the senses, move into metaphor. Ask yourself: What does this remind me of? What is it like? What is it not like? Explain it to someone who’s never seen, heard, touched, smelled or tasted it before. What would a child relate it to? What would your character compare it with?

Be specific

As you write, imagine being in your scene. Notice and write about specific sensuous details: not “a car” but “the dented yellow Edsel-Ranger taxi.” Write about unusual details, incongruous details. Write about what’s missing. Imagine the scene with and without people — general people, specific people. Listen for snatches of remembered or overheard conversation.

 

Opposites

Turn the prompt around and do the opposite. Substitute “hate” for “love”, try “old” in place of “young”, use “like least” instead of “favourite”. Write using both approaches and consider the similarities or juxtapositions created. If you can’t remember, start with “I don’t remember.” If you’ve never experienced the prompt, say singing for a crowd, start with “I have never sung in front of people because …” or “I have never sung in front of people but I have …”

Lists

Sometimes a topic seems too big to approach with authenticity. For instance, if the prompt asks you to write about someone you fear, and you’ve always feared your father, you may not feel comfortable diving into writing about him. Instead make a list of all the people you fear. Try to make the list really long. The items you add to the list last are often the ones buried deep. At the end of your list may be a kid from grade school. Write about him. Chances are you’ll find you feared him for many of the same reasons you feared your father.

Or make a list about all the emotions you feel about your father, and write about any one of them.

Give it a go

Prompts have been the source of many of my “keep” scenes. I may end up only using a portion of what I wrote, perhaps just one paragraph, but the prompt usually takes me where I’ve been resisting going and anything that gets me writing is a good thing.

Need a prompt now? There are lots of online sites. Here are a few for fiction, non-fiction and poetry:

Now, go and write, write, write ….

DID YOU KNOW

At Writescape retreats, we provide optional creativity sessions to tickle your muse and a companion work book full of prompts and ideas to take your writing to places it hasn’t gone before. Join us at our next retreat: Turning Leaves 2017.

7 Ways to Keep Writing Every Day

7 Ways to Keep Writing Every Day

Gwynn and Ruth are on vacation for a few weeks. So we’re bringing back a couple of our favourite Top Drawer topics to share with new readers and to nudge long-time followers. The last two blogs explored finding time to write and finding inspiration. This week Gwynn’s April 2016 post rounds out the message with tips for writing every day.

Gwynn Scheltema

We’ve all heard the old maxim, “Write every day.” In the bogaiman quoteok Outliers, author Malcolm Gladwell says that it takes roughly ten thousand hours of practice to achieve mastery in a field. Whether you believe in the 10,000 hours concept, or simple BIC [Butt in Chair], there is no denying that being a writer means actually writing—real words—lots of them.

“Write every day” is the number one piece of advice given by successful writers—and they should know. But it’s often easier said than done.

So here are 7 ways to keep you writing every day:

  1. Set aside writing time

paper-606649_960_720If writing is important to you, it needs to be built into your routine in the same way that you build in any other important activity in your life. If you need to schedule writing time like dental appointments, piano lessons, or hockey practice, do it. Think of writing as your “job” and block out set times like you would if you were going to work.

And perhaps once in a while treat yourself to really dedicated time on retreat, like Writescape’s Spring Thaw or Just Write at Glentula.

  1. Get buy in

Talk to your family and friends about how important your writing time is to you. More importantly, talk to yourself about honouring that time. Are you the one who gives up your creative time to do extra chores, or make way for what someone else wants to do? Ask yourself, “Would I take a day off work to do chores?”

  1. Know yourself

The right time to write is different for everyone. You know when you are most creative. If you feel guilty taking “family time”, get up earlier, or reserve after-bedtime time for yourself.

  1. Have a dedicated writing spacewriting-828911_960_720

If you learn to play the piano, you invest in a piano. If you play hockey, you buy skates and sticks and all the rest of the hockey paraphernalia. Yet so many writers believe that perching on the end of the kitchen table and clearing up when someone else needs the space is okay. It’s not. Claim a writing space that is yours. It doesn’t have to be a whole room, but it should be a place where you can be alone when you want to, and where you can leave things in progress.

  1. Get dressed and show up

While it’s comfy to write in your jammies, getting dressed to go to write lends a validity to the activity, like getting dressed to go to work. And as Woody Allen said, “Eighty percent of success is showing up”. If you can physically get your butt in the chair, then writing that first word is that much easier.

  1. Know your writing style

Stephen King says he writes ten pages a day; Hemingway wrote 500 words a day. Some writers set a fixed time—write for 3 hours. It doesn’t matter what writing goal you set for yourself, as long it is achievable, and doesn’t set you up for failure. Start small. Even 3 paragraphs done every day will get you further ahead than a full chapter not even attempted because it is too overwhelming.

  1. Use prompts, timers or ritualsteapot-574025_960_720

To make the transition from the practical world to your creative world, have a ritual: light a candle, play music, or make tea in a special pot. To get the words flowing, make use of writing prompts or timers or idea files. Anything that will get you started. Think of them as warm-up exercises.

From the picture at the top of this post, it looks like that writer channels Star Trek to get started. My writing ritual is to clear my desk, get a coffee and win three hands of solitaire. What’s yours? Share it in the comments below.

Other articles you might like to explore:

Strange Writing Rituals of Famous Authors

Daily Routines of 12 Famous Writers

Sit Down, Shut Up and the Muse will Come.

The Truth about Finding Time to Write

The Truth about Finding Time to Write

Gwynn and Ruth are on vacation for the next couple of weeks. So we’re bringing back a couple of our favourite Top Drawer topics to share with new readers and to nudge long-time followers. This week is Gwynn’s January 2016 post on writers’ procrastination. Come on. Admit it. Who hasn’t delayed getting BIC (Butt In Chair)?

Gwynn Scheltema

When people ask me, “What’s the biggest barrier to finishing your novel?”, I tell them, “Lack of writing time.”

And indeed, the demands of life often—in fact, usually—trump the ability to set aside writing time. Yet when I look back at my life and the things I’ve accomplished, I realize that somehow I’ve always “made” time for the things I really wanted to do.

At various times I’ve wanted something badly enough that I’ve worked three jobs at once as well as studying part-time by correspondence; I’ve negotiated deals to allow me to fast track programs over three years rather than five; I’ve run several businesses at once, often going months without a day off, working till 2 a.m., or driving three hours one-way for a one-hour speaking opportunity.

So what does that say about my writing? If I can’t find the time to write, does it mean that I don’t want to write?

If I’m honest with myself, the answer is probably “yes”.

Yikes! How can that be? I love words and language. I love books. I love stories. And I have a story to tell, one that occupies my mind constantly, one that I think is important enough to be told. So how can the answer be yes?

It’s yes, because I’m afraid. It’s yes because the pressure I put on myself to write something meaningful is so great, that it is safer to not write anything at all. When I plan and dream and “write in my head”, I’m not opening myself up to judgement, to failure, to rejection, to mediocrity, or even to the pressure of success. I don’t have to risk anything.

Time is not the problem

So it’s not time that is my barrier; it’s the inability to risk, the fear of taking that step into the unknown, the unwillingness to “do it anyway”. It’s a hard thing to admit. It’s an even harder thing to overcome.

My logical mind knows this and has all kinds of practical things to do to combat procrastination, but the answer ultimately lies in my emotional mind. Until I am emotionally ready to write, there will never be enough time.

Name it to turn it

So what can I do? Tackle the real problem. Tackle my emotional fear.

In any recovery program, recognizing the problem is always the first step. In this case, I need to recognise that time is not the problem, but not writing is. Time is not the problem, but not allowing myself to write badly and thinking negatively about what I write is.

The first step

So, I will re-name my fears as affirmations and post them where I can read them often. This will help train my emotional self to think differently.

Photo credit: Epos.de
Photo credit: Epos.de

So:

  • I can find time to write.
  • It doesn’t matter what I write, as long as I write often
  • I can always re-write, but just getting it down in first draft is the most important thing.

It’s a small first step, but an important one. I’m glad I’ve taken that small step. Wish me luck.

I’m sure I’m not the only one out there procrastinating and blaming it on lack of time. Anyone else have this problem? Post your experience and advice in the comments below.

 

To edit or not to edit…

To edit or not to edit…

Gwynn Scheltema

You write Chapter 1. It flows like paddling a canoe in a strong current, a few J strokes and you are heading forward fast. Yes!

Chapter 2 starts out that way too, still moving well, still splashes of enthusiasm and creativity, but the current flows a little slower now. You think back to Chapter 1. Did you start in the right place? Perhaps you should go back to the beginning and make sure?

So you retrace your steps back to the start and paddlecanoe-1082130_640 through Chapter 1 again. For the moment you are convinced that, yes, you started in the right spot. But you find a short cut on an upper stretch that improves the trip, so you make it. Chapter 1 feels really good now.

Back on the route of Chapter 2, you look for similar shortcuts, note the beautiful spots you don’t have time to explore, make notes about bad spots you’ll avoid if you come this way again.

In Chapter 3, your writing river opens into a lake. You’re not sure exactly which way to point the canoe, so you figure you’ll go back to Chapter 2 and explore those beautiful spots before you continue.

And while you are in Chapter 2, you figure you probably missed a couple of beautiful spots in Chapter 1, so you go back to Chapter 1 and….

Sound familiar?

The internal editor

It’s certainly the story of my writing life. But I know I’m not alone. The urge to rewrite before you’ve finished the story is powerful. Many discarded, unfinished manuscripts have polished first chapters that would keep readers reading…if there was more to read.

It’s all the fault of that dastardly writers’ internal editor. The one that tells us that our writing is “crap”; that we are disillusioned at best and arrogant at worst to think anyone would want to read what we write. The one that tells us we need to be perfect.

man-286477_640And the truth is, most first drafts are not publishable. As Hemingway so succinctly said, “All first drafts are shit.” First drafts will have strong parts and weaker bits, and bits that should be axed and areas where more needs to be written. That’s NORMAL. That’s what the editing process is for.

But if you heed your rational, analytical, internal editor, and constantly loop back out of the writing process and into editing, you will run out of creative energy. And you will push the unconscious creative writer in you further and further away.

In her book on writing, Bird by Bird, Anne Lamott wrote:bird by bird

The only way I can get anything written at all is to write really, really shitty first drafts.The first draft is the child’s draft, where you let it all pour out and then let it romp all over the place, knowing that no one is going to see it and that you can shape it later. You just let this childlike part of you channel whatever voices and visions come through and onto the page… Just get it all down on paper because there may be something great in those six crazy pages that you would never have gotten to by more rational, grown-up means.

No editing on a first draft?

 So does that mean that you should never edit as you go. Of course not.

I get momentum for a new chapter by going into the previous chapter—not back to the beginning of the novel— to read it and often edit it. That’s productive. You get into the voice of your characters again, you renew your sense of place in the story. And the time invested is not huge. More importantly, you do it as a way to move forward, not as an excuse to not move forward.

Perhaps like me, part way through your manuscript, you feel that the wrong character is telling the story, or that the POV should be first person instead of third person. I think it makes sense at this point to go back to a previous chapter or two—again, not necessarily the beginning—and rewrite and decide. But make that decision and move on.

girl-1563986_640Time and circumstance play a role too. If all I have is the forty minutes on a noisy train, likely editing is a better use of my time.But maybe not. Maybe just thinking through a plot hole or a character’s reaction in an upcoming scene would be better for keeping the novel moving forward.

It’s definitely tempting to go back to edit when you can’t think of  what to write next. I do it all the time. But I’ve found some effective ways to overcome that urge:

  • Go for a walk and think my way through the plot or character problem and then write forward again.
  • Use targeted writing prompts
  • Freefall write
  • Write a brief summary of the scene I’m stuck on, and go on to the next scene.
  • Persuade myself to write just one sentence…then one more…then…

It all comes down to how much your editing loops are preventing you from writing new material. We all create and work differently. If a bit of editing gets the creative juices flowing, go right ahead. But if it’s a procrastination tactic, fight the urge. The main goal of your first draft is to get the whole story down.

How do you stop yourself from using editing as procrastination? Share your tactics in the comments below.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Get Fearless. Go Public.

Get Fearless. Go Public.

Years ago, I was a committed aquafit attendee. Underwater lunges, leg lifts by the jets, jogging through chlorinated pools—it all turned my crank. I went twice a week with my best friend, Linda. We had a blast, challenging each other to push harder, harder. We churned up big waves with our enthusiasm and built up some wonderful stamina and energy. Aquafit helped keep me healthier and decidedly thinner.

pensive-female-580611_640But life got in the way. I lost interest. And, you know, aquafit just moved to the backburner of “I’ll sign up next year.”

Several years and pounds later, I find myself back in aquafit. A new year’s resolution I opted to actually keep. But man oh man, what happened to make water churning so much harder? Linda and I were iron-women back in the day. Now, I’m feeling far more like rubber-woman. Sometimes even like sopping wet cardboard-woman. I swear they added molecules to the pool.

But I will say that several weeks in, I recognized some of the old iron-woman coming back to me. And by the end of June, I had more energy and fewer pounds. Don’t get me wrong. It will be a long time before I can jog in the pool like a whirlpool on steroids. If ever. But my confidence is up. And I’ve managed to keep a quasi-schedule over the summer with a less strenuous program in the cottage river. I’m looking forward to signing back up in September at the local pool.

And that, believe it or not, gives me hope on an unfinished manuscript that lingers in my computer. This 79,000+ word novel started out like most of my writing. I always write because I want to know the answers that I set up whenever I start a story or poem. And I set up a lot of thematic questions with this one: gender, politics, genetics and nature versus nurture. I was pumped to explore them and it was going great.writer-1421099_640

But sometimes —just like why I had to give up aquafit years ago—life gets in the way of writing. And sometimes, a writer can lose confidence. And then lose the connection to the heart of the story. And finally, simply lose interest. And that combination is deadly. My poor muse has been whispering in my ear for weeks and I just kept shrugging my shoulders and looking for distractions.

Man, I sure needed a kick in the pants. This post is my public announcement and thus, my self-kick in the pants. You, dear Top Drawer reader, will hold me accountable. Like my return to aquafit, I’m diving back into the pool of novel completion.diving-885906_640

I’ve given myself a deadline. September 30: a complete manuscript ready for beta readers. Until then, I’ll be doing the backstroke, butterfly, crawl, freestyle…anything I can do on the keyboard to swim to the finish line. And the only record I’m looking for is to achieve completion on or before September 30.

I’ll let you know if I make it.

 

Step by Step

Step by Step

Gwynn Scheltema

Concrete steps with the words Step by step painted on themLately, I’ve been trying to increase the number of steps I walk each day. I bought a pedometer to record them. At first I just went about my regular routine to see what I was achieving already. Sad. Very sad. Some days I didn’t even break 500!

Apparently, you need to do a minimum of 6000 a day to maintain good health, and well over that if you want to lose weight or increase fitness levels. After several months, I now consistently do 7000 steps and some days even more. One day last week, I topped 15000. Yay me!

Lately, I’ve also been trying to increase the number of words I write in a week. I made a wall chart to record them. At first I just went about my regular routine to see what I was achieving already. Sad. Very sad. Most days I didn’t even break 500!

The difference is, after several months, I’m better but still not averaging a decent word count. I don’t expect to do 7000 a day, but I definitely need to average more if I want to finish my novel any time soon.

A first draft in one year

abacusAt first glance, if you do the math, an 80,000 first draft written over a year, five days a week, 50 weeks in the year, would only require a measly 320 words a day! A 100,000 word book is only 400 words a day.

But let’s face it. Not every word you write is golden. And there needs to be time in there for research or plotting with sticky notes or just plain thinking. So aiming for a minimum of 500 words a day and will allow you to produce enough “good words” for a first draft.

I prefer to think of that as an average of 2500 good words a week for 35 to 40 weeks of the year. That still leaves plenty of weeks for research or holidays or whatever.

 The problem

The problem is, when I think of 2500 a week, every week, I find that daunting, in the same way that I found the prospect of 6000 steps a day daunting. But I succeeded with the steps. So what did I do to get my steps up that I could apply to my writing?

The solution to increasing my steps:

  1. I wore my pedometer every day as a constant reminder and motivator.keyboard with check mark
  2. I coerced my husband into wearing one too so we could motivate each other.
  3. I didn’t try to do all 6000 at once during the day.
  4. I found times of the day when I could get in a quick 1000.
  5. I discovered that jogging got them done faster.
  6. I realized that every little bit counted towards the whole: walking while on the phone or jogging on the spot while waiting for the kettle to boil.
  7. I “rewarded” myself with a check mark on my chart for every day I achieved the 6000.

Therefore…the possible solution to writing 500 words every day:

  1. B.I.C [Butt in chair] every day. Doesn’t matter what I write, as long as I write, or actively work on the draft in some way.woman's face with pen writing on glass - just words
  2. Find a writing buddy so we can motivate each other.
  3. Write in several blocks of time if it’s hard to do them all at once.
  4. Identify quick items that move the project forward to do in limited time slots: look up a missing fact, decide on a character name, weigh up plot options.
  5. Use freefall to write quickly and get ahead of the internal editor.
  6. Realize that every little bit counts towards the whole – keep a notebook handy and use it: on the train to work, while waiting in the car….
  7. “Reward” myself every week I achieve the 2500. Chocolate? Solitaire? A new book?

pile of books and glasses

 

What do you do to keep your word count clocking up week after week?