Category Archives: Trials and Tribulations

Pedal to the metal!

I’m totally stalling like a 57 Chevy. And umm… waiting for a tow from my fellow restless writers.pedal

I start. Then I stop. Then weeks go by and I’m bummed by my lack of progress on my new writing project. What gives? I mean, does anyone really feel quite ready to write?

I seem to be getting bogged down by deciding where to begin. I’ve written a handful of chapters of a memoir, a genre new to me, but they don’t seem to fit together. And hastily, I’m learning there is no one perfect place to start. So instead, I write this blog post in hopes it will propel me forward in delivering pages to my writing group by next weekend. That’s only seven days from now. Ah, crap.

After reading much advice from other writers online about how to break through barriers when beginning new projects, I’m left wondering, will any of that fluff work for me? I already practice much of it now in my writing routine, like setting goals, making a plan, and committing to other humans (i.e., the Restless Writers)—I am the Leckie after all. I do that stuff, and yet, I feel overwhelmed. I doubt myself and I allow life to get in the way of my progress. Excuses, really.

I need to just start, dammit. And to stop overthinking my story and just get to free-writing.

It’s time to put the pedal to the metal and enjoy the ride!

 

“It’s better to write for yourself and have no audience, then write for an audience and have no self”.  

~ Cyril Connolly

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Filed under Blogging, Getting published, Group meetings, Inspiration, Life and stuff, Motivation, Trials and Tribulations, Writing ideas

Do you have the COURAGE?

courage-stoneWriting takes courage…

…the courage David had when he met Goliath.

Every time you sit down to write, you face the Goliaths of those who have gone before. The geniuses of Shakespeare, Hemingway, Wilde and Irving (insert any of your literary heroes.) You face the Goliath of the depth of the story you have to tell and the multitudinous words at your fingertips to express it. And you face the Goliath of your fears: Am I talented enough? Do I have anything new to say to the world? Will anyone read this?  What if this only matters to me? And on…

Writing takes courage…

…the courage Rosa Parks had when she refused to give up her seat on that Montgomery, Alabama bus.

When you call yourself a writer you refuse to ignore your soul’s mission for a creative existence. You face possible scorn for going against the rules of world order. You resist the laws of comfort and stability. You have the courage to live an amplified life to bring forth the precious gifts that lie within.

Writing takes courage…

…the courage of Martin Luther King Jr. when he shared his dream openly with the world.

You have courage the day you release your creation into the world where you face possible ridicule or disappointment from those you love and respect. You face possible rejection from publisher after publisher. You face possible anonymity and solitude if your work is out there with no affirmation of its worth, but you have the courage to do it anyway.

You have to be brave to be creative. You have to be daring. You have to be bold. As Jack Gilbert, former poet and teacher, said, “Without bravery, we would never be able to realize the vaulting scope of our own capacities. Without bravery, we would never know the world as richly as it longs to be known. Without bravery, our lives would remain small—far smaller than we probably want our lives to be.”

I am reading Big Magic, by Elizabeth Gilbert, and I am moved and inspired by every word as she describes her creative process in a deeply personal, yet practical and humourous way. She opens by talking about Jack Gilbert, who never made great fortune and fame from his poetry (although he could have). He would ask his writing students, “Do you have the courage to bring forth this work? The treasures that are hidden inside you are hoping you will say yes.”

Discovering your treasures, accepting them, and then boldly bringing them into the light for all to see are all acts of courage. Acts of courage the world needs from you.

Find your inner David, your Rosa, your Martin, and say yes…please.

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Get physical with your writing!

I’ve been working on my one-woman show project for a while now, but it’s been slow moving – and when I say “slow moving,” I mean meandering in Southern Georgia in 105ºF sun slow. I toil to find the right words; search for the right flow of the piece; strain to visualize it on stage. Some days I forget where I’m going. Some days I’ve moving so slowly I think I’m actually stepping backward.

One weekend in September, however, I had a breakthrough. I joined a group of six other women for a day coined as “Wealthy Women Master Planning.” The focus of the day was to look at personal wealth, beyond simply the financial side. What does wealth really mean? What are our individual goals around wealth building? Where in our lives do we already possess wealth? How can we use that wealth to translate into financial prosperity?  And on. And believe it or not, it was during this day, my writing breakthrough happened.

We were at was this cool office space with bright, large windows, a two-floor water feature, a foosball table, a mini putt green, and a Buddha sand garden. All features to inspire innovation and creativity. We brainstormed and talked, but half way through the day, I hit another wall. I was attempting to plan out my show on paper, but it felt as productive as trying to convince a three-year old to eat Brussel sprouts. When the facilitator came by to check in, she could see the pained expression in my eyes.

“Andrea, stop trying to write it down. Go play in the sand.”

“Huh?”

“I’m serious. Go play in the sand and build you show,” she persisted.

I shrugged. “Okay.”

It took a minute for my brain to recalibrate as I looked at the sandbox and wondered where to start, but as soon as I let go a little, physically drew out the edges of the stage, and found markers to stick in as audience members, new neurons starting firing. It was like the pilot light had been lit before, but now the flames were ignited and high!sand1

Before long, I felt like a kid again. I threw my shoes and socks onto the floor, the sand soft cool between my toes. I tore pieces of paper to lay out different parts of the show. I found rocks to place as set pieces. With every physical act, fresh ideas popped into my head: new segments to write; clarity on the flow; a deeper sense purpose. In my child-like state, my vision came alive again and I re-discovered the passion with which I had started to write this piece in the first place!

When we feel stagnant and stuck in what to write next or how to fix a piece that’s not working, it’s time to get physical and play. Imagination is a child to be set free. Assume she’s four and let her explore, touch, grasp, feel everything in her world.

“Creativity is intelligence having fun.” Albert Einstein

Einstein said, “Creativity is intelligence having fun.” So, go have some fun. Go outside. Pick up a leaf or a rock. Or stay inside and explore your surroundings. Pick up something where you are. What happens when you move it in your hands?  What does it feel like – its texture, its temperature, its weight? Play with it. Now bring your story in. Think about your characters, your story line, imagery you’ve been using. Just be present, be curious and open up your mind.

Get physical with your writing. Play in the sandbox like I did and see what happens.

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Filed under Inspiration, Motivation, Retreats and conferences, Trials and Tribulations

Getting to done: Applying writing advice to my life

“To be everywhere is to be nowhere.”
Seneca

to-doI’m having a problem focusing these days.

This comes as no surprise to my fellow Restless Writers, to whom I have been promising a fresh new blog post since the holidays.

The symptoms of my lack of focus are not limited to delayed blog posts. I’m also finding that I can’t read a whole book. I went from neglecting a new novel, to not being able to finish a short story, to skipping whole paragraphs in Globe & Mail articles. Even my Twitter feed has started to feel like too much pressure.

And it’s not just reading. I have a to-do list as long as a Canadian winter, enough Post-It Note reminders to wallpaper my guest bathroom, and so many evening appointments and meetings that I am thisclose to forgetting what the inside of my fridge looks like. The idea of replacing the light bulb in my kitchen seems overwhelming but I know I have to do it soon because it’s hard to make G&Ts  coffee in the dark. (Hard, but not impossible.)

Many of you know that my life has taken some turns over the past six months. I’m not surprised that all these changes have affected my day-to-day life in some way, but I didn’t expect that I would turn into a slack-jawed scatterbrain. I can’t seem to finish anything I start, and hunkering down to write seems impossible.

So what to do about it?

In my search for ways to tame my monkey-brain, I turned—of course—to other writers. Who better to advise on how to focus, since so many writers struggle with the fidgets and a perverse inability to just sit down and get ‘er done already.

Here are some of the best tips I’ve culled from the Interwebs about focusing on your writing. I’ve re-jigged them so they will help me focus on my to-do list and hopefully help me read (and eventually write) that book.

Block out time, not tasks: Getting to a word count goal can seem daunting, but telling yourself that you’ll write for an hour is manageable. Likewise, if I give myself an hour in which I can tackle, say, roaming around Home Depot, it might be easier than telling myself I have to choose the perfect light fixture today.

Be mindful of distractions: You can’t avoid distractions, whether you’re writing or trying to put together an IKEA shelf. The phone will ring, emails will keep coming in, and Rob Ford will inevitably do something stupid and burn up your feeds. Identify what distracts you the most. Is it Twitter? Indulge for five minutes, but then shut it down. Text messages? Put your phone in another room. Coffee craving? Keep a carafe full of hot tasty brew on your desk so you’re not forced to hit a local Starbucks.

Say “no”: This one’s hard. Writers are very protective of their time, and often have to employ drastic measures to make sure the world doesn’t keep them from their keyboard. These days, I am trying to fill my life with people and events, so saying “no” to an invitation gives me a bit of anxiety. I have to remember that saying “no” when I feel overwhelmed will help me save my energy for when I am ready to enjoy an activity or someone’s company. (Yes, this includes dates.)

Have an accountability partner: Writers share word counts and pages all the time. Maybe I’m doing the same thing by writing about my challenges and efforts to succeed right here. I may have to call on my sisters and friends to check in and make sure I’m chipping away at life.

Track the resistance: What is it about finding the perfect light fixture that’s so goddamned difficult? The parking lot? The bone-deep chill of winter? The crush of people? Whatever it is, I need to pay attention to where the barrier is, so I can figure out a way to get around it. It’s like with writer’s block—I need to figure out what’s keeping me from moving forward.

Treat yourself: Let’s say I do manage to find that perfect light fixture when I go to Home Depot on my lunch break. Just as when I finish a writing task (like finishing this blog post–yay!), checking that off my to-do list deserves a minor celebration, whether it’s a fancy coffee or a mini-iTunes shopping spree.

Do a little every day: I can’t do everything in one day—which pisses me off a bit—so I have to give my controlling self a break. I need to celebrate the little wins, keep checking things off my to-do list, and remember that things will get easier.

What’s the best writing advice you’ve heard that you can also apply to your life?

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Get up close and personal with your character on a field trip

Baboons at the zooOne of the characters in my newest short story is mute. Not on purpose—it’s just that I don’t know enough about him to get him to say anything. So far, all I’ve got out of him is “yep,” “nope,” and a couple of nods and glares. And he’s kind of important. He’s a great, big, gaping cipher in the middle of my story, and I need to figure him out before I can move forward.

It shouldn’t be this hard, right? He’s an imaginary person, and I can pretty much get him to do or say what I want.

Whatever he does or says, it has to jive with the choices he makes within the story. His actions and the things he says have to be authentic and honest, even if they are all imaginary.

I recently re-read an interview with Erin Morgenstern, author of The Night Circus. She said that she was bored with her original story and decided to send the characters to the circus to stir things up. I was inspired, and decided to see if sending my character on a field trip would help me figure him out.

Field trip # 1: The zoo

Okay, it’s a lot like the circus, so no points for originality–but it’s definitely a destination where almost anything can happen. I found out that my character is “that guy” who will jump into the baboon enclosure if someone dared him to and if there was an audience.

Field trip # 2: A job interview

Not exactly a walk in the park, but this helped get my character talking about himself and his past, and helped me understand how he would react under stress. I found out he’s a bit of a showman in an interview, and adept at highlighting his accomplishments. But he is stymied when questions about organization and prioritization come up. Maybe I should get him to take the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator next. Hmm…

Field trip # 3: A funeral

This was a bit of a downer, but it helped me get a grip on how well my character would mingle with other people in a more somber, emotional environment. It turns out he is uncomfortable with displays of emotion, and doesn’t want to be relied on to help other people manage their problems or their grief. He prefers to work through his own emotions by himself, and he expects other people to do the same. Sheesh. No wonder his girlfriend is on the fence.

So will any of this help? I think the exercise was valuable. As I continue to flesh out the scenes in my story, these tidbits about my character will help me figure out how he reacts to events, how he interacts with other people, and why he makes certain decisions. It might even change where my story ends up. And I hope that will help make my story better.

What about you? Where will you take your characters?

Maria

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Filed under Inspiration, Trials and Tribulations, Writing ideas

Confession Time

I dumped the entire contents of my purse on the floor of my doctor’s waiting room this week. Embarrassing? Yes. But there was a silver lining. While I was crawling on the ground (in a skirt!) gathering up the little pieces of my life, I made a few choice discoveries, including a $50 gift card for The Bay that was MIA since last Christmas and the head of my son’s much-coveted Darth Vader Lego figurine. Better than this though, I also found my ideas—long-forgotten writing ideas for book plots and characters that I’d jotted down on the back of receipts and sticky notes.

I have a habit of doing this. If you came to my house, you would find more of the same random notes on my bedside table, my phone, my laptop and in the back of my agenda for work.

This system for organizing my writing ideas is about as effective as it sounds – chaotic and unreliable. My notes, if I even remember that I’ve made them, are never where I think they should be when I want them. In fact, right now I am leafing through my agenda in search of a bright yellow sticky note that had some great ideas on it for this blog post. Ah, actually found it—crumpled at the bottom of the bag I cart back and forth to work every day.

Clearly, I am in need of some sort of system to help organize my writing. 

I turned to my fellow Restless Writers to see how they keep track of their projects.

Maria wondered if a binder qualifies as a system—I say yes. In her binder Maria says she keeps hard copies organized according to the working title of the piece, including previous versions, all dated.  Beckie relies on file folders, storing notes and papers in folders, one for each writing project.

A quick Internet search tells me there is a myriad of stuff out there for people just like me. Programs like Evernote, Mindjet, and an eBook The Oraganized Writer that promises 30 days to more time, money and less frustration. There is even a mobile app Werdsmith, created for writers to help them keep track of ideas whenever inspiration strikes.

Do others have organizing systems they’d be willing to share? What works for you?

 

 

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Out of the Mouths of Agents

Tip #27: Do not show up at an agent's office wearing this.

I used to be very superstitious when it came to querying agents. It started when someone told me the best time to query was between January and June, but I took it to another level. I started trying to get into the minds of agents (i.e. Would s/he be more receptive to my email in the morning or afternoon? Should I wait until mid-week in case s/he had a crappy weekend? Etc.). It was exhausting, not to mention…unhealthy.

Thankfully, the conference I went to last autumn cured me of my Agent-related OCD. The agent/editor panels were a revelation—instead of guessing what made agents tick, I was able to sit back and listen to them tell me. On the off chance there are other A-R OCD sufferers out there, here some pearls of wisdom, straight from the agent’s mouth:

What agents are seeing too much of:
– Vampires and werewolves
– Mid-life spiritual memoirs
– Heavy YA (i.e. young girls being severely abused)
– Talking animals in children’s books

What would agents love to see:
– Judy Blume-like contemporary middle grade
– Chinese spy novel set between two World Wars
– Historical thriller that lends to a series/branding

What can an agent bring to the table:
– Editorial experience
– Other opportunities to create revenue streams (i.e. speaker services)
– Someone who will champion your work to the world

What agents look for in a new author:
– Writing is becoming very voice-driven and it must be engaging and distinct (i.e. don’t try to write like J.K. Rowling)
– Emotion on the page that evokes a visceral response in the reader
– A great title can make the difference in an agent giving attention to your query
– Have an understanding of the publishing business so you know what your work has to go through before it’s printed
– Critique partners are essential in getting your manuscript ready for an agent, who will then take it up another notch before going to publishers

What all aspiring authors should know about agents:
– Agents take on new clients in cycles, depending on their current list, and much of getting an agent depends on timing
– Summer is not a slow time to query—it’s always busy (one agent signed a client on Christmas Eve! Another one found her client at a drag show!)
– A good query has a hook (logline), book (plot) and cook (bio)—don’t get too clever/cute/wordy

What agents think of social networking:
– Interacting on Twitter and Facebook demonstrates to editors/agents that you are serious about being a career author and building a network
– Unless you get 60,000+ hits per month, having a blog is not as important for fiction writers—the story is what really matters
– Remember that the internet is like a live microphone—be nice and supportive online because agents and editors and readers will Google you
– Think of Google as your virtual resume

What agents think of self-publishing:
– It’s ideal for traditionally-published authors who already have a readership base or who’ve regained rights to previously-published work
– Do it properly (e.g. hire a professional editor, graphic designer)
– Digital publishing is growing, but it’s still one piece of the author’s puzzle
– Agents/editors act as gatekeepers for quality control and can offer brand management (i.e. media outreach) that an author can do alone, but is infinitely harder
– “Debut” is not a dirty word in publishing and often no data is better than bad data when it comes to sales tracking
– It can be tricky trying to move from self-publishing to traditional—40,000 copies sold through self-publishing may be interpreted by a traditional publisher as either not enough copies sold or that it’s been sold to everyone who will buy it
– If your genre is hard to categorize or you have plenty of time to self-promote, self-publishing may be a good option for you

What should you ask an agent when you get “the call” (or, more likely, “the email”):
– How do you work (i.e. does contact occur via phone, email, etc.)?
– What’s the plan from here? What do you see as next steps in terms of short and long-term strategy?
– What do you connect with in the book?
– What revisions do you suggest?
– What’s your experience with my kind of book?

What’s the biggest thing Lori learned from the agents?
– Agents are, remarkably, regular people. And like other regular people, there are some you click with more than others. They have good and bad days, they have personal preferences when it comes to books (and, one would assume, other things), they love their authors and they love what they do. Most importantly, they all want to find new authors with fresh voices and exciting ideas.

As you may have gathered, it appears that the best time to query your dream agent is…right now. Seriously—if your Chinese spy novel set between two World Wars and query letter are as perfect as you can make them, it’s time to send them out into the world.

If your voice is strong, pace is unputdownable, timing is right and you don’t include glitter with a lemon-scented query letter, today could be the day you get an agent.

LD

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Filed under Getting published, Inspiration, Motivation, Starting up, Trials and Tribulations