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July 2012

The Writing Contract

Alarm_clock_numbers_266493_lWriting, writing, writing.

It's really all we writers want to spend our time doing.  Unless we don't.  Our can't.  Or won't for some reason.  And then what we do is worry about the fact that we're not writing.

I've been doing free sessions (there's one slot left if you're interested) and mostly what people want to talk about is how to find time to write, or some variation on that theme, like how to focus when they actually find the time.

Not gonna lie here, I struggle with this, too.  I struggle to balance all the aspects of my writing: blogging, teaching, ghostwriting, coaching and novel writing.  Most often what goes by the wayside is my novel writing.

Which is stupid, because it novel writing is what defines me.  It is what makes me me, what I feel I'm here to do--communicate through story telling.  So it's an act of self-destruction not to do it.

A couple weeks ago, I had a good run of working on it.  The clouds parted and I found myself with several free hours to write.  Pure bliss.  And then it ended.  And I didn't open the file for a week.

I thought about the novel.  Worried about the novel.  Some might even say obsessed about the novel.  But obsession didn't turn into writing.  Because, you know, I was so, so busy doing other important things.

Yesterday at lunch I read an article in the latest O magazine, in which author Aimee Bender wrote about a writing contract she drew up with a friend.  The contract was written in official language, maybe even notarized.  They made a big deal out of it, but basically the conditions of it were simple: the friend would write an hour a day, and after doing so would send Aimee a one-word email saying "done."  In return, Aimee would write, "check." 

And it worked like a charm.

Which reminded me of a time a few years ago when I was working on Emma Jean's Bad Behavior. My friend Suzanne and I would each get up early (at, yikes, 5 AM, I believe) to work and email each other when we were up.  If one of us didn't hear from the other, we'd call.

That simple. 

And yes, it was very effective.  I wrote a rough draft of my novel that way.

So yesterday, reading the article and remembering this, I lectured myself sternly.  Self, I said, it is not so much that you don't have the time, you don't have the mental time.  You're allowing yourself to be distracted and unfocused when if you really, truly wanted to, you could carve out an hour to work on your novel.  That thing that defines you, that makes you who you are.

And so, I did. And in the process, I started my own version of a writing contract, which is a small spiral notebook in which I note my goal (one hour of writing on my novel a day) and then keep daily track of how I accomplish it.  (I only had time for 30 minutes this morning, so I owe myself another 30 later on.)

And I feel good.

I'll keep you posted.

So, do you have a writing contract with yourself or someone else?  How do you keep yourself going?  Please share any good ideas you might have.

**And don't forget the Authenticity + Creativity class I'm offering with Karen Caterson.  Click the snazzy button to the right or click here to read our page.

Photo by draganski.

Just a Little Thing Called Fear

A few years ago, I helped my friend Suzanne sell her photographs at art fairs.  The photos were gorgeous shots of flowers, spectacular close-ups. Water_waterfalls_fall_270904_l

People would walk by and say, "I don't need to buy one of those, I could take a photo like that."

Um, really?  You could get the settings on the camera right so that all the detail popped out, and you also had the eye that could make the creative angle of the shot pop out?  Really, you could?

A couple weeks ago, my husband and I were flipping through the TV channels on a Friday night when we landed on the coverage of Nik Wallenda's tightrope walk over Niagara Falls.  Talk about inspiring.  But news reports featured people's doubts because ABC made him wear a harness:

"Onlooker Gary Neal was disappointed.

'I reckon I could do it myself with a safety harness,' he laughed. 'That takes the excitement away for me.'"

Really?  You could stroll on over that high wire, with spray from the Falls blinding you and wind whipping you?  Without any training?

Both of these are examples of naysaying.  And naysaying is an example of fear. 

Naysaying is what we sometimes do instead of creativity.  We say, "yeah, but" in order to take down the person who has actually gone out in the world and done something creative, the person who walks the highwire or takes gorgeous photographs. We want to take them down to make them more like us, we who are not actively being creative and daring.

I've found myself doing it with other writers: 

"Yeah, but, even though the book is a bestseller, it's poorly written."  (Fifty Shades of Gray, anybody?) The fact remains that the book has struck a huge chord and its an enormous accomplishment.

We do it in order to somehow diminish the other person's accomplishment.  And what it really does is diminish ourselves.

Fear is like that.  It's a sneaky bastard, and it'll overwhelm you in a variety of guises.  One way it acts is to make you inauthentic, to make you scared of being yourself. Because diminishing yourself and your authentic creativity is the ultimate naysaying act.

Which is why I am THRILLED to announce a class that I'm offering with Karen Caterson, better known as Square-Peg Karen, on Authenticity + Creativity.  It's an affordable one-session class coming up on July 10th and we'll be getting to the heart of this topic.

I won't recap all the details here, when there is a perfectly lovely page that explains it all that you can click over to right here.  We'd love to have you join us!

What about you?  Have you ever naysayed before?  Or do you diminish your creativity in other sneaky ways?

Photo by agentoseis.

Answering Your Writing Questions: Introducing Characters

This is the third post in an ongoing series of answering readers' questions.  It's not to late to ask something! Just go back to the original post and leave your question in the comments.

Today's question comes from my wonderful Loft student Karen Phillips:

If an important character doesn't come in until later in story, do you need to introduce it (this character is a dog) somewhere in the first or second chapter? I read in Stephen King's On Writing that you should introduce them early on, but would love to hear your thoughts. I'm struggling with this because of the chronological issues.

The crux of this issue is playing fair with the reader.  You don't want to throw a new character at them at the end, leaving your reader trying to figure out where this new person came from.  That's cheating.  We have an expectation that all the players in the drama will be placed onstage early on, so we can get familiar with them and their stories.  Bringing a character on at the end robs us of the chance to get to know them. 

In a mystery, it is considered fair game--and good writing--to introduce all the suspects as early as possible.  It's a major cheat to bring the perpetrator of the crime in at the end and if you do that, you'll have readers throwing the book across the room.

There's a psychological thing that readers go through wherein whatever character they read about on the page first is the one they will assume is the main character.  It is essential to orient your reader with the main character from the very beginning.  This is why it is so dizzying to read a novel that doesn't begin with the main character's viewpoint--you're thrown off your story orientation from the very start.

So all that being said, how do you get a character in early on if the dictates or chronology of the story won't allow it?  Sometimes just a mention is enough.   Have a character mention the one in question.  As an example, in the novel I'm currently working on, the protagonist has an ex-husband.  When I began writing the novel, the ex didn't exist as I didn't know she'd been married before.  Then I realized she was on her second marriage and the ex came through as a fleeting thought in her mind.  Then he became more important and came through as another character mentioning him.  Then he became even more important and now warrants an actual phone conversation.  So there are degrees of importance and you can allot novel space accordingly.

In the movie The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel,which I highly recommend, there's a character who doesn't come in until three-quarters through.  He's important to one of the main characters, but he is basically a sub-plot of the main story.  (The way the movie is structured, each of the main characters has a story, and all of these sub-plots make up the main story.  Am I making sense?)  The way he is shown early on is in a brief glimpse of an old photo.  The viewer gets a whiff of something, they aren't sure what but the film makers have played fair in letting us in on the story.

In the case of a character that's a dog, I'd ask if it is truly a main character or perhaps more of a catalyst?  I'm not sure, but one way you might be able to get around it is to have the character who gets the dog think of or mention the desire for a dog early on.  Then it is set up.  In novel writing, it is all about setting things up.

Please comment. I'd love to hear everyone's take on this.  How and when do you introduce characters?

Also, I'm excited to announce a new class on Authenticity and Creativity.  It's a one-session telecall that I'm co-hosting with Karen Caterson and we've just opened registration.  Check out our page for more information and consider joining us!

7 Ways to Master Concentration

White-Background-Hand-87578-lOne morning last week I worked on social media: answering blog comments, and scheduling tweets.  (I collect quotes and love to tweet them--if you have any to share, let me know.)

But I was feeling, to put it mildly, unfocused.  I couldn't concentrate on one thing for long.  I'd check Twitter, then answer a blog comment, then click onto my home page to see what was up on the news, stare off into space, check Twitter again, answer an email, look at my blog stats.

Felt to me like I was totally and completely lacking any kind of concentration.

I beat myself up over this, kept talking to myself about how unfocused I was that morning.  And then I thought to check what I'd done: answered numerous blog comments and scheduled a day's worth of tweets.


This experience made me realize that sometimes I'm my own worst enemy.   I'd accomplished much more than I'd thought, all while berating myself that I wasn't concentrating.  And all this got me thinking a lot more about concentration, mostly because being intently focused on work (like a piece of writing) is more pleasant than the distracted state I describe above.  There's nothing I love more than being in flow while writing, and yet this can be an elusive place.  So I thought about and tracked what allows me to concentrate and here I share the results with you:

1.  Feelings Lie.  Emotions are tricky buggers.  We think they are always telling us the truth when sometimes they are overwhelming us for a completely unrelated reason--like that something triggered a long ago subconscious memory.  If your feelings, like mine, are telling you that you're unfocused, look deeper.  Maybe you've gotten more done than you think.  Give yourself a break already.

2. Set a Timer.  I proselytize about this all the time, because it works so well.  Seriously, try it.  This is how I get most of my writing done these days.  I set the timer on my phone for 30 minutes and dive in, doing nothing but writing for those 30 minutes.  Then I take a brief break.  Only usually I'm so absorbed I hit the timer off and keep going.

3.  Keep a Success Journal.  I've been doing this lately in relation to my writing non-negotiables.  At the end of every work day, I pull out my Moleskine and ponder what I've accomplished, and then I write it down.  It's very pleasing to review and it also helps with #1 on this list.

4.  Change Your Venue.  If you're distracted at home, pack up and go to a coffee shop and vice versa.  Try a different room in your house, or go outside on your deck.  Even though I have a laptop, I get rooted in place in my office and once in awhile I need to remind myself to change things up.

5.  Keep At It.  True confession: my concentration was initially all over the place as I started this article.  But I kept returning to the work, and eventually concentration kicked in.

6.  Nap.  Sometimes there's just no substitute for some shut-eye.  I actually hate to even admit this, coming from a family that abhorred inactivity and napping, but sometimes it is exactly what you need.  Doesn't have to be a long nap, close your eyes and doze for 5 or 10 minutes.  It can be incredibly mentally renewing.

7.  Learn What Works For You.  Napping may make you sleepy all day and changing your venue may destroy any concentration you could muster.  What works for me may not work for you, so pay attention and figure out what does.

And speaking of which....please share.  I'd love to hear your tricks and tips for concentration and focus.  I'd love it if you left a comment!

Photo by Batreh.


Answering Your Writing Questions: Teaching vs. Writing

This is number two in an ongoing series in which I answer your writing questions. (It's not too late to ask one--you can check out the original post I wrote and leave a question in the comments.  I'll either devote a blog post to it or respond in the comments themselves if it's a short answer.)

My wonderful cyber-friend and amazing blogger Patrick Ross asked today's question.  If you haven't already, be sure to check out his blog, The Artist's Road.  It was voted one of the Top Ten Best Blogs for Writers and with good reason, which I'll leave it to you to find out.

Patrick asked:

How would you describe the balance you find between teaching writing and doing your own writing? I'm wondering if the process of working with other writers, and more specifically other writers' prose, interferes with your own writing process.

Thanks, Patrick, great question.  I think it is one we all struggle with, in different ways.  We want to be writers, with plenty of time to work on our own projects, and yet we have to make a living, too.  One obvious way is to teach, which I do.

Every so often, I decide that being a best-selling novelist would be the ticket--all day to work on fiction projects of my choosing with no other distractions.  It's my dream life. But then I remember how much I love blogging so I add that back onto my dream life.

And then I have a coaching call or lead a workshop and remember why I do it.  So I add that back in, too.  And I realize that I pretty much have my dream life.  I teach and coach writers  because it energizes and inspires me.  Not only that, I learn so much from my students and clients.  

Yes, there are some days that I would prefer to have more time to work on my fiction projects.  But if I went over to only writing fiction, I know I'd miss working with writers.  I'd miss the clarity that it gives me.  When I have to explain a technique on my blog, or point out how a student could make an aspect of her manuscript better, I have to think it through first.  And that gives me a much deeper understanding of my craft, which I can then use in my own work.

In terms of whether or not working with other writer's prose interferes, the answer is also no.  I can get very involved with my student's work, but I'm also able to keep a distance so that its not influencing me.  I fancy it is just like how some people don't like to read novels when they are working on novels because it influences or inhibits their own writing.  But I'm the opposite--when I'm immersed in a project, I need to read more.  Words in, words out.

So the short answer to your question is that I love teaching and coaching!

How about you guys?  Do you struggle to find balance?  How do you achieve it?

Answering Your Writing Questions: First Person

On Friday, I offered to answer any and all of your writing-related questions, and some good ones have come in.  Today, I answer a question from mystery writer and loyal reader J.D. Frost:

When writing in first person, can I stay in active voice without beginning every sentence with I?

This problem is the very reason that I vowed never to write in first person again.  (Those of you who read this blog regularly know I recently forsook that vow.) In the past when I've written first person, I've gotten mired in that I, I, I, I, I voice, where it seems like every sentence begins with I. And that does not make for a very flowy voice.  When I wrote my MFA novel in first person, my biggest complaint was that it just didn't sound right.  And I never could get it to sound right because of the preponderance of "I"s. 

But a funny thing happened when I switched my novel from third person to first person.  There were stretches of sentences that had no "I"s in them, because when writing in third person I hadn't felt the need to start every sentence with an I.  And it worked just fine.    So here are a couple of tips that will help:

1.  Get rid of the filtering consciousness.  Edit out all the "I saw" and "I heard" and "I smelled" constructions at the beginning of sentences and you'll be left with the meat of it.  By now we know that your viewpoint character is telling us the story. Work what's left of the sentence into an active piece of writing.

2.  Be the camera.  Report what your character sees, in camera fashion, in an objective way.  Read Hemingway for this.  He reports like a journalist with very little emotion (where you might be tempted to get that "I" in) and its very powerful.  Or, as Zan Marie put it in a comment below, it's not what the character is doing, it is what they are perceiving.  Well put, Zan Marie!

3.  Practice with description.  You can write paragraphs of description without need for the "I" voice. Then start translating these skills to the rest of your writing.  James Lee Burke is a master at description and he writes often in first person.

Anybody else have any helpful ideas for writing first person?  Leave them in the comments, we'd love to hear them.


Question, Question, You've Got Writing Questions? I've Got Answers

Question-trade-world-11479-lI had a brainstorm yesterday. 

As is my wont (for some reason I absolutely love that phrase), I was visiting my usual haunts on the internet, among them the Pioneer Woman's blog.  And there I found that she is putting on her advice columnist hat and answering questions about reader's problems.

And the thought occurred that I could do the same thing.  Only about writing.  Or getting inspired to write.  Or maintaining a writing practice.  Or my upcoming classes.  Or my coaching.  Or any of the gazillion things we talk about on this blog.

So, here's the deal.  If you have a question about an aspect of writing, write it out in the comments below.   Make sure you're signed up so your name and blog name appear so I can give you a shout-out, and why don't you throw in a bit about what you're working on?  (If you'd rather be anonymous, send me your question via email with Writing Question in the subject line so I don't miss it.)

I'll gather up your questions and do my best to answer them, starting next week.  If I've got a long answer, it'll make up one post.  Short answers will be grouped.  And if I don't know the answer to something, I'll do my best to steer you to a resource that will.

So come on, now.  Don't be shy.  What are your writing questions?


Review: Artist's Way Toolkit

This is a paid review for BlogHer Book Club, but the opinions are mine.

Regular readers of this blog know that I'm a huge fan of Julia Cameron.  I've done the program laid out in The Artist's Way on my own and in groups led by Julia herself (in Taos, New Mexico, one of my favorite places on earth).  I think that Julia's work on creativity is seminal and that nobody has beat it yet for its sheer power to get people creating.  I also believe that every writer and artist can benefit from her book.

So I leapt at the chance to review Julia's new site, an online collection of tools from the book.   There are all kinds of interactive goodies here, including a daily quote from one of Julia's books, such as "The reward for attention is always healing" and your choice of creative affirmations from Julia, like, "I love others for their true selves."

The site is cleverly laid out like a notebook with tabs featuring:

  • My Contract
  • Artist's Dates
  • Artist's Way Exercises
  • Creative Pages
  • Creative Notes

You'll notice that "Creative Pages" and "Creative Notes" both feature blank pages which you can fill with your own words, but there is not a space anywhere for Morning Pages (three pages written stream of consciousness first thing in the morning).   This is because Julia believes that morning pages should be written by hand, because the hand has a direct line to the brain and that is lost a bit when you introduce a keyboard to the mix.

There's a few more links across the top of the notebook, one called "My Creativity Library," which leads you to a page of where you can buy Julia's books.  Smart marketing. 

I really wanted to like this site and was excited to play around with it, but honestly, I've been less than thrilled with it overall.  The main value of it that I can see is access to the affirmations, quotes, soundbites and exercises. For some people who like to do creativity exercises on the computer, it would be a boon, but I'm old fashioned and I like to write them out by hand, just as I do morning pages.  And it is a bit of a shame that you can't do morning pages on the site, as they are one of the most vital parts of Julia's program.   Overall, I'd be nervous that all my notes and ideas that I'd collected on the site would be lost if I forgot to resubscribe or decided not to.  I'd rather keep such things in a journal where I know I can access it.

Have you read The Artist's Way?  What did you think about it? 

Checking in on the Three Words of the Year

Did you choose three words (or one word) to live by this year?  Have you checked back to see how you're doing with these words?

Last December, in a post titled Three Powerful Words for An Amazing New Year, I announced my words and the thought behind them.  Since we're halfway (gasp) through the year, I thought it would be fun to revisit my words and see how I'm doing.  I'm wondering if you might think it is time to do the same thing with your words.

One reason I'm doing this is because I've written the words on a post-it note that is stuck to a cabinet above my desk, and my gaze falls upon them when I stare off into space.   Most of the time, I barely notice them, but once in awhile the words come into focus and I ponder them.   Yesterday, I pondered them so hard that I finally checked back to the original post to see how I'm doing.

The answer is that I'm doing okay.  Probably not great, but okay.

My three words for the year are creativity, faith, and inquiry. 

I'm going to talk about faith first, because its the word around which I'm doing the best.  In my post I wrote about my faith in God, which is important to me, but also faith in myself, what I'm doing, and that everything was going to be all right.  I wrote about having faith in my ability to go deep within and uncover the riches that are buried there.  And in the six months since I wrote that, I've been learning to do all of this on an ongoing basis--learning being the operative word.  What I'm learning is that faith of this nature responds to effort, maybe even requires effort, and that by making the effort you begin to create the faith.  One of the hallmarks of this year is that I've been consistently making the effort.

I'm doing fairly well with inquiry, too.  In the original post I wrote about not wanting to take things at face value, to dig a bit deeper mentally and form my own opinions.  I still leap to judgment, oh dear lord how I leap to judgment.  I can read a rant on the internet and be totally convinced of its truth, then read oppositional comments and switch to the other point of view immediately.  Such is the curse of the impressionable mind. One way I am using inquiry successfully is to turn off the internal blame machine, and this is a wonderful thing.  If I've eaten a piece of chocolate cake, for instance, or fallen down on my writing goals, I say to myself, "Hmmm, I wonder why that happened."  Or, "Wow, that's interesting.  Wonder what's going on?"  This allows me to observe myself more objectively.  The thought occurs I should turn this style of inquiry to the outside world as well.

And finally we get to creativity.  Falling down a bit here. I'm a lifelong knitter and I love the craft.  It soothes me, satisfies my need for beauty, and allows me to make useful things.    There's nothing I love more than spending an afternoon poking around yarn stores, then coming home with a new project and casting on.  But here's the deal: I don't do it enough.  One of the things I wrote in my year-end post was how I wanted to partake of this kind of creativity more regularly.  I've got opportunity: my pug Buster loves nothing better than for me to sit with him and watch TV in the evenings, and Buster is ancient old and so I figure I better humor him while I can.  This would be a perfect chance to indulge in this creative hobby of mine, but do I?  Sometimes.  And I can't figure out why I don't do it more.  Time to take advantage of that inquiry that is the other hallmark of this year.

Alrighty, then.  That is far more than enough about me.  What about you?  Did you choose three words for the year?  What were they?  How are you keeping up with them?


Saturday Writing Tip: Use Yourself as Inspiration for Characters

Spain_reflection_mirror_51847_lI know, duh.

Don't all writers use themselves as inspiration? (Some, such as memoir writers, obviously more than others.)

What I'm talking about today is using your own thoughts, reactions, and feelings as a springboard to create characters.

Here's how you do it:

1.  Write a journal entry as yourself

2.  Now write that same journal entry as someone else--a character you have in mind already, or someone you create off the top of your head.  Soon you'll find yourself veering from your usual voice to something completely new. 

A variation on this theme is to write (or imagine) how your character might react to a situation you find yourself in.  You're going to see a movie.  Now imagine your character going to see a movie.  Which one does she choose?  How does she get there--car, bus, bike? What is she thinking as she travels to the theater, and is the theater a funky, old one that sells pizza and wine or a huge suburban multiplex?  Is she looking forward to the movie or going because someone else is dragging her along?

These kinds of questions about your character's ordinary activities can give you a huge window of insight into her life.  Play with making this a daily practice.  Stopped at a red light, ponder what your character might be pondering.  Going grocery shopping?  Think about how your character does the same chore.

A bonus to this activity is that it is way better than worrying. When your brain turns to obsessing about your finances, or your teenage son, or your lack of a love life, stop that unfruitful line of thought and think about your character instead.  What is he worrying about? 

How do you learn more about your character's lives, inner and outer?  I'd love to hear.

By the way, I've quietly posted the info and registration details for my Get Your Novel Written Now class, which you can see here.  We'll be discussing all the things you need to have in place to write your novel, with tips, tricks and exercises such as this one.

Photo by Robin Taylor.


What Are Your Writing Non-Negotiables?

I think writing non-negotiables are a great idea. Rose_dark_death_220937_l

What are they?

Writing non-negotiables are the the tasks you don't negotiate with yourself, you just do.  They are the one thing or several things that you must--in agreement with yourself--do every day.  If you don't do them, you'll feel lousy.  If you do them, you'll feel successful. 

Why are they a good idea?

Because writing non-negotiables keep you in balance.  They are a constant reminder of what you want to accomplish.  I have three:

1.  Work on my author platform.  Since I have a novel coming out next year, I want to make sure my social media presence is sharp and wide ranging.  This includes blog posts and Twitter.  It would and should include Facebook, except I'm allergic to it.  This is far and away the easiest non-negotiable and I usually have to force myself to stop doing it.

2.  Make money.  Every day, I must do some writing or coaching that contributes to me making money.  For many of us, a no-brainer.

3.  Make progress on my novel.  I admit, this is the one that most often does not get accomplished.   I have a broad definition of the word "progress," too.  For instance, earlier this week I sent a chapter out to my critique group.  That counted.  Reading over notes counts, too.  You get the idea.

If you're interested in the concept of writing non-negotiables, feel free to steal any of mine that work for you.  You can easily keep track of them in a success journal (just make note of any and all successes at the end of the day. ) And consider some of these non-negotiables as well:

4.  Write a sentence.  I had a friend whose singular goal around writing was to write one sentence a day for a year.  She accomplished it and she was content with what she had done.  Never underestimate the power of one sentence.  It has power on its own, or it can lead to more.

5.  Write a poem.  Some people like to write a poem a day.  I bow down to them.  I'm not that good of a poet, but for many the practice encourages their other writing.

6.  Write a blog post.  I've known bloggers who write a blog post a day.  I did this for awhile a few years back and then it about killed me.  But you might choose to do it for a limited time, say, a month.

7.  Commit to a word count.  10K a day, anyone?  You don't have to be a super-hero at the computer to enjoy producing a consistent number of words every day.  1,000 seems to be a good goal for many people.

8.  Revise a page.  When you're in rewriting mode, it is hard to abide by word count.  But find a way to set a goal for yourself.   A certain number of pages might do it.

9.  Morning pages.  Many writers, myself included, find journaling first thing in the morning to be of enormous help to their creativity.  These cycle on and off of my non-negotiable list.

Those are my suggestions.  What are yours?  Do you have a list of daily non-negotiables?  Please share.

 Photo by Rotorhead.

12 Habits That Will Bolster a Consistent Writing Practice

Brief aside before we get started: Welcome to all of you who have found your way here from BlogHer!  I'm so pleased you are here.  You can navigate five year's worth of content on writing, inspiration, creativity and spirituality through the subject cloud in the right sidebar.  And please stay in touch by subscribing to my newsletter in the form to the right--you'll get notice of classes and book releases as well as a free copy of my Ebook, Jump Start Your Book With A Vision Board.

Everystockphoto_211230_mOkay, back to the topic at hand: what habits encourage a regular writing practice?

First, let's define regular writing practice.  I mean every day.  Or damn close to it.  I know, I know, I hear your excuses and see you making faces at me.  But truly, the best way to sink deeply into your writing, whether you are keeping a journal for yourself or writing a novel, is to connect with your work every day.  If you don't have time to write, read a page of what you've written.  Do whatever you can to somehow stay in touch with your WIP.

And now to get to the habits that I've learned help me to do this.  And yeah, I get that it is difficult to find time for some of these things as well.  After all, if you can't find time to write, when are you going to find time to walk? Or meditate?  Or any of the other things on the list?  I struggle to incorporate these habits into my life, too.  But here's the deal: the struggle is worth it.  Because my writing life and my personal life work better when I do.

So, let's get started.

1. Writing.  I know, duh.  But the kind of writing I'm talking about here is not working on your passion project, but journaling.  Or blogging.  Or writing morning pages.  Personal writing of this nature will help you sort your thoughts, clear the dreck from your brain, and train you in getting words on the page.  It is worth taking the time for it.

2.  Reading.  Once in awhile, someone will come to me and say they want to write.  And when I ask them what they read they say they don't.   Really?  It is impossible to write well without reading a lot.  Like, inhaling words.  Imprinting them in your brain.  Read everything you can get your hands on.  Reading will inspire you to write more and better.

3.  Sleeping.  Our romantic vision of the creative person is that of the mad writer or painter staying up all night, working and then collapsing.  News flash: this is really bad for you.  We need sleep to rejuvenate our bodies and replenish our brains.  Make sure you get enough.

4.  Take Joy.  Find the things you love and do them.  One of my great joys in my life is my family and I spend as much time with them as possible.  Incorporating joy into your life will give you a solid base from which to create.

5.  Admit Bad Habits.  Once you acknowledge your bad habits, it is the first step for them to dissipate.  In the spirit of full disclosure, here's mine: stupid TV. I used to hate TV and railed against it every chance I got.  Then I discovered American Idol.  And The Voice.  The good news is that those shows are over for the summer.  Except I just started watching America's Got Talent.  Truly, it is my pug's fault.  He gets upset if he can't sit on the couch and watch TV with me. 

6. Fuhgeddaboudit.  Take a break from working so hard, or even thinking so hard--most of us creative types walk around in a haze, pondering our WIPs.  But giving your brain a rest from figuring out the plot of  your novel can allow it to present you with luscious new ideas.

7.  Walk.  Julia Cameron recommends walking, not so much for the exercise, though we need that since we sit on our butts all day, but for the creative haze it can put us in.  Creative haze.  I made that phrase up.  Nifty, huh?  Anyway, something about walking shakes up the mental synapses and allows new thoughts to arise.  Take something to write on, because I guarantee you'll need it!

8.  Focus.  When you're writing, write.  Don't check your email inboxes or hit up Twitter to see what's going on.  Use the power of attention to get your writing done.  I like to write in 30-minute bursts, setting a timer.  For those 30 minutes I do nothing but write.  Then when the buzzer goes off I get up and walk around a bit (okay, I check inboxes and Twitter, too) and then return to the computer and do it again.

9.  Be Positive.  It is so easy to fall into the habit of negativity and most people in the world don't even realize they are doing it.  Dare to be different.   Be positive--about your life and your writing. One way to start is by looking at all the things in your life and writing practice that there are to be grateful for--like the fact you have a brain and functioning fingers to tap at the keyboard.

10.  Be Quiet.  Meditation can help with both #8 and #9.  Another thing you can do while being quiet is visualize yourself writing regularly.  According to Jonathan Fields, studies have shown that this kind of visualization really works.

11. Do Something New.  Brendon Burchard talks about the power of doing something new and different every so often.  It can be as simple as driving to work a different way!  The creative brain thrives on new input, so find a way to get some.  Drive to the beach for the day.  Take an Artist's Date.  Read a book in a subject completely new to you.

12.  Retreat.  Over and over again I hear from writers about the benefit of retreating.  You can take a personal writing retreat or go to one where there will be writing guidance. Retreats can be life-changing experiences. (Not lyin', one of the participants at my recent Diamond retreat used those exact words to describe it.)

Okay.  These are my 12 writing-boosting habits.  (And please don't think that I'm some paragon that managed to do all of these all the time, I'm not.)  What are yours?  Let's discuss in the comments.


Photo by ppdigital.  I was going to find a photo of a sun, to indicate the sunny happiness you'll feel when partaking of these habits, but that seemed a bit of a stretch.

To Outline, or Not To Outline, That is the Question

People in the world can be categorized in a variety of ways: Everystockphoto_247318_l

Night owls vs. larks.

Creative vs. non-creative (Though I believe everyone is creative, it is all in your attitude about it.)

Dentists vs. non-dentists.

And for writers:

Outliners vs. Non-outliners.

Outliners, at least in popular thought, tend to be control freaks, tight, anxious, did I mention the issue with control?

Non-outliners tend to be casual, loose, free and easy.

Now, in most of my personal habits and traits I am laid back, laissez-faire, some might even call me lazy.  (I never met an excuse to take the day off that I didn't like.) Just like a non-outliner.

So you would probably assume that I'm a non-outliner.

You would assume wrong.

I am an outliner of the highest order and I believe fervently that you should be, too.  (Though I am willing to accept that you might believe just as fervently that I should be a non-outliner.)  Your outline doesn't have to be fancy or perfect.  Mine usually start out as a loose list.  And when I say loose, I mean loose.

But here's what I've noticed: as I progress with my novel prep and then the actual writing of the novel, I learn more about my characters and the situations I want to put them in.  And those things get added to my outline.  The loose list gets more and more populated, and pretty soon I have a fairly detailed road map for where I'm headed.

Crucial words: where I'm headed.

Because, as I wrote last week, if you know where you're going to go, you can write a helluva lot more.  Like, 10K words a day more. 

And if I don't have my road map I meander.  I take two or three scenes to get to my destination when, really, it only warranted one.  Characters walk down dark alleys when, really, they'd be far more apt to stroll down a broad country lane.

In other words, I get lost. 

When I wrote my MFA novel, I started with an idea and had no clue where that idea might end up.  So I just started writing.  All things considered, it is a miracle the book ever got finished.  Truthfully, it is still sitting on my computer because the plot doesn't quite hang together.  The characters don't quite ring true.  I believe that if I'd taken the time to figure some of these things out ahead of time--if I'd made an outline--that probably wouldn't be true.

Okay, fess up.  Are you an outliner or a non-outliner?  Which do you prefer and why?

Photo by sheldonken.