Reviewing Your 2013 Writing Life

Infodesign-calendars-design-52489-hSo, we've got two days until the new year, and I don't know about you, but I've been busy thinking about 2014.  I have so many writing goals I want to accomplish--novels and stories to get out in the world, and classes and products to offer here on the blog.  So this year I'm trying to approach it logically (not my strong suit, as I'm about as right-brained as they come), and write out my goals now.  (I'm using this workbook that my daughter got me for Christmas.)

The difference for me this time around is that I'm actually taking the time to review 2013.   Yeah, I know, brilliant idea, right?  Anyway, as I was working on this project earlier this morning, the thought occurred that maybe you would like some guidance on looking over 2013 as well.  So herewith, I offer questions to ponder and answer in three areas: writing, motivation and putting it into the world (also known as marketing).

(And by the way, I'll be back on Thursday, newsletter day, with guidance for planning your 2014 writing life.)

1.  Writing.  

We start with this because it is the basis of everything.  Duh.

--What was the best thing about your writing in 2013?

--What was the worst thing?

--What are you most proud of?

--What is your biggest writing accomplishment?

--What felt good around your writing?

--What felt off?

--What lessons did you learn around your writing?

--What do you want more of?

--What do you want less of?

--What was your biggest writing problem?

2.  Motivation

Yes, one could argue that this could come first, but I maintain, as mentioned above, that when you're a writer, writing is the starting point of everything.  

--What inspired you?

--What motivated you to plant your butt in the chair and write?

--What de-motivated you?

--What got in the way of your writing?

--What is your biggest issue in finding time to write?

--What time of day were you most inspired?

--What books inspired you?

--What blogs inspired you?

--What magazines inspired you?

--What other creative pursuits inspired you?

3.  Marketing

I know, ick, but if you want your work to go out in the world, you've got to consider it.

--How did you market your work in 2013?

--What were your most successful channels?

--How many times did you submit your work in 2013? Or, how many pieces did you publish yourself?

--Which social media outlet did you rock?

--Did you blog or maintain your website consistently?

--What did you learn about yourself and your writing through marketing?

--Do you have a mailing list?  Did you grow it this year?

--How did your off-line marketing efforts go?

--Did you get media publicity this year? In what venues?

--What areas of marketing did you most enjoy?

Okay, there you have it--30 questions to answer about 2013.  I'll be back on Thursday with thoughts to ponder for 2014.  In the meantime, would you care to comment?  What was your biggest writing accomplishment in 2013? 

Image by eliazar.

What Do You Focus On?

Estock_commonswiki_328901_hWhat you put your attention on grows.  It's that simple.

So if you put your attention on how wonderful it is to write every day, that writing habit will grow.  If you focus on how much fun it is to submit to agents (I'm feeling funny today), you'll do more of it. If you think about your novel when you're not writing, you'll spend more time on it.  That's just the way of the world.

So, piece of cake, right?  Just focus away and off you'll go.

Would that it was that simple.  Because in reality the art of focus is incredibly complex, or at least we humans make it so.

It takes discipline and work to train your attention to writing every day.  Usually, what happens in our brains is a thought process like this:

Oh my God, I didn't write today!  I'm a lazy idiot!  I can never get a writing habit going! I'll never finish my novel!

And then we're focusing on the exact condition we don't want to create--not writing.

Negative thoughts, like all forms of fear, are sneaky beasts.  They can be so ingrained that they form a constant low-level litany of which we're barely aware as we go about out days.  It's the proverbial vicious cycle:  you think negative thoughts-->you create negative conditions-->and then you think more negative thoughts.

Heavy sigh.

What's a writer to do to get her focus on the right things?  Here are some suggestions:

1.  Attentional Training.  This is pretty much a fancy word for meditation that I learned in a book by Jonathan Fields.  You can do any version of it you want: zazen, TM, insight mantra, or just close your eyes and take a few deep breathes throughout the day.  Honestly, it's a pain in the butt, and it is helpful for every aspect of your life, including your creativity and your spirituality.  If you're like me, you'll probably be convinced that you're not doing it right, but no matter how you do it, the practice really helps.

2. Active Attentional Training.  And this is the same as above only, as the name implies, in an active fashion.  So, it's when you are performing sports, or playing music, or, more to my tastes, knitting, sewing, weeding, even mowing the lawn (I do actually do that once in a while--with a push mower even).    You're doing AAT when  you're involved in a repetitive activity that does not require constant attention, or if you're engaging in an activity driven by speed, novelty, or intense bursts of concentration.  A recent example of this for me was doing homework for a class I took at church last week.  I had to read some fairly dense texts and process them mentally.

3.  Eternal vigilance.  Like I said earlier, it is a constant process.   You have to watch and monitor your thoughts endlessly.  But, they are your thoughts, and you are going to have them whatever you do, so you might as well work at turning negative ones into positive ones.  It's a lot more pleasant than, say, rerunning the fight with your boyfriend all day.

4.  Show up.  What's the famous Woody Allen quote? Something along the lines of, "99% of success is showing up."  So very true.  If you keep showing up at your writing chair day after day after day you're training yourself to eventually start focusing.  Because staring at a blank screen does get boring.

5.  Respect the work.  When we don't show up, when we don't focus our attention, we're not respecting the work, or  ourselves.  And what's the point of calling yourself a writer if you're not respecting your profession?  Respecting the work leads to better focus and better focus leads to better work which leads to more respect. Another one of those cycles, this one not so vicious.

So, there you have it, some tips on focus.  Got any of your own you'd like to share?

Photo by Julo, from Wikimedia commons.


10 Ways to Ground Yourself for Writing

Planet_earth_australia_264109_lThis has been an exciting week for me, what with the release of my debut novel, Emma Jean's Bad Behavior.  I've been consciously working on staying open to receive the blessings of this event.  I must admit, though, at times I've felt myself flying high, as if I'm no longer anchored to the earth.

Or the present.

Or my life.

Or my writing.

Excitement and joy are good, yes they are, but when they cause you to spin about in the air above everything that is happening in the real world, something must be done.  And that something is grounding.

You gotta get yourself back to the present moment, back into the energy of your body, back into your fertile brain.  This is especially important for writers, because how you can put words on the page if your brain is spinning out of control into the stratosphere?

Luckily, there are easy fixes for being ungrounded (if that's a word).   I list them here, with the obvious ones first, followed by some not-so-obvious:

1.  Journal.  This is the number one way I find my path back to myself.  For writers, it's a no-brainer.  Open that journal and write. 

2.  Meditate.  Yeah, yeah, I know.  But at least try closing your eyes and taking a few deep breaths.

3.  Prayer.  Also a good route.  Ask the universe for help in getting back into your body.

4.  Walk.  A reliable mind-clearer.

5.  Drink wine.  I don't know why this works, but it does.   A nice glass of red will bring you back down to earth.  This is why I always want a glass of wine after I've flown somewhere.

6.  Cook/eat.  Something about reconnecting with the most elemental of urges--hunger--gets us back on solid ground.

7.  Get outside.  Hug a tree.  Lie on the grass. Make a snowball.  Get outside and enjoy nature.

8.  Go barefoot.  Especially when you're indulging in #7.  The earthers (not to be confused with birthers) believe that connecting with the energy of the earth has major positive health implications.

9.  Take a nap.  Nothing like a quick snooze to reorient your brain.

10.  Soak in water.  Did you know that water used to be considered a health cure?  I worked on a book that had a whole chapter on hydrotherapy and was fascinated.  Water is good for a variety of things (be sure to drink it, too) but a hot bath can soak away other people's energies and bring you right back into yourself.

Do you need to get yourself grounded at times?  What's your favorite way to do it?

***My novel is now for sale!  Click here to find links to all the major online outlets.  And thank you everyone for your support!

Photo by monique72.

Fear and Focus

Photoxpress_1687829We don't always think of fear and focus at the same time, but there's very good reason to pair them.

Focus.  It's what we all desire, what gets the writing done.  Because the words don't go on the page without it.

Fear.  It's often what keeps us from focusing.

The kinds of fears we writers and creative types deal with are the insidious ones.  They may very well be so insidious that we don't even recognize them as fears.  Instead, fears can masquerade as a lack of focus. Have you ever told yourself any of the following when it came time to write?

--I don't need to work on the book today

--The kitchen floor needs washing.  I better do it now, instead of writing.

--I need to check my email.

--Writing is too hard, I'll look at Facebook instead

Perhaps some of the following fears are hiding behind this sudden desire to do something, anything, other than write:

--Not knowing what to write

--Not knowing how to write

--Going deep

--Not being good enough

--Being too good

--Putting yourself and your words out in the world.

Interestingly, dealing with issues of focus takes immediate care of many, if not all, of these fears.  Why? Because choosing to focus is choosing to be in the moment.  Choosing fear is opting to be mired in the past or worry about the future.  You can't do either when you firmly in the present.

So herewith, some strategies for both fear and focus.

1.  Remember that you are enough and have enough for what you need in this present moment.  You have all the tools you need to write or create.

2.  Have a curiosity about life instead of assuming an air of knowing everything.  Be present to the amazement of life.

3.  Move before you feel ready.  Send that story out even though you know it's not perfect, commit to writing a novel even though you don't know how.  Such leaps keep our creative selves alive and are one antidote to fear.

4. Stand for yourself.  Take responsibility for yourself and your work.  You committed to writing, now do it.  For some weird reason this always helps me with my fears.

5.  Meditate.  Everyone recommends it for a reason.  It really does help.

7.  Develop a morning ritual and/or spiritual practice that grounds and centers you.

8.  Do ONE thing at a time.  Multi-tasking is death to focus.  My tried and true trick is to set a timer for 30 minutes and only write during that time period.

9.  Work hard, play hard.  Focus and concentrate.  Then take a break and have some fun! 

10.  Don't forget physical exercise.  Move your body in some way, whether you like to take walks, do yoga or Qi Gong, swim or ride bikes.  Sometimes we just need to wear the old brain out to get rid of our fears!

Do you have strategies to accomplish focus and banish fear?  Please share.

 Photo from Photoexpress.

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.