Inspirational Posts

Don’t Break The Chain by John Holton

It’s the beginning of 2015 as I write this, and the various how-to sites are full of productivity “hacks” (i.e. hints or tips… why they don’t call them that, I have no idea why), about increasing your output and establishing new habits. One that comes up all the time is the “Seinfeld method,” the way Jerry Seinfeld established himself as a great comic.

When he was starting in the comedy business, Jerry figured out he had to write every day if he was going to make it. He bought a year-at-a-glance calendar and a red Magic Marker, hung the calendar on his wall, and, each day when he had finished, crossed out the date on the calendar with the marker. After a while, realizing how much fun it was to see his calendar gradually fill up with red X’s, he made it his goal not to have any dates that were not crossed off. He called it “Keep The Chain Going.”

I realized he was right, and that I had experienced it myself. I started on 750Words.com back in February 2012, and committed to completing the 750 words each day. The site told me after three days “You’re on a 3 day streak!” Then it was 4 days, then a few days later 7 days, then 30, 60, 90… Soon I was doing the 750 words just to see the number go up by one every day. Then, for some reason I can’t remember, after I had reached a streak of 403, I broke the chain. I felt terrible; I had broken the chain. I managed to get myself back on track, and, after a couple of false starts, I’m now (as of this writing) at 54 days in a row. I don’t want to let that chain get broken. And there have been times I’ve sat down at the computer at 11:30 at night (2330, if you keep time the way I do) and finished just before midnight. And, as tempting as it is to generate 750 words of “Lorem ipsum aliquat” etc., I’ve never had to rely on that to keep the chain going.

It’s been the same with my blogging. Last July, I challenged myself to blog at least once a day, every day, Monday to Sunday, for as long as I could. July 1 was the start of the Ultimate Blog Challenge (where you post daily for the month) and just kept going. Today, the chain stands at six months, eight days. I go to my web page and look in the upper left-hand corner at the calendar there, with all of its days marked off, and I don’t want to break that chain, either.

“Keep the chain going” is a technique that works for me, and for Jerry Seinfeld, and for others who have used it to establish a habit. Seeing the chain forming and keeping it going is a powerful incentive.

So, if you’ve been having trouble keeping a habit going, why not give it a try? Print a calendar (here’s a good source), use one of those calendars you get for free at church (it’s the beginning of the year, after all), or use this. Write your goal at the top of the page and hang it where you can see it. Every day you complete your daily goal, cross off the date on the calendar. Soon, if you’re faithful to the process, you’ll see a chain forming. Then, don’t break the chain.

All right? All right! Straight ahead!

~*~

John Holton

What Makes Us Tick? And Why Does It Matter? by Shan Jeniah Burton

It seems like a simple enough question, doesn’t it? Maybe even a little pointless?   

Or maybe not. 

ROW80 is, after all, the writing challenge that knows you have a life. And the thing about lives is that no two look just the same. That’s exactly what makes the act of setting personalized goals so empowering. Each of us can decide what we want to accomplish, based on our own vision, our own reality, and our own nature. We can have one goal, or many. We can have goals that, on the surface, have nothing to do with writing. Our goals can be short term, or take an extraordinarily long view, or anywhere in between.

It’s all up to us – each of us. Every time we check in, we have the chance to evaluate those goals, and to decide if they still work for us, if they fit with our vision, our reality, and our nature.

And that’s why knowing how we tick matters.

Take me, for instance. I’ve got a wide-angle mind; I do better with a sweeping variety of projects I can flit between. I’m OK with things taking longer than they would if I did doing one thing at a time. Every thing I’m engaged with feeds others in a symbiotic relationship, forming new connections encouraging plot tribbles and new projects. 

That might be torture to those of you who have laser-focus minds, or just like a more minimalistic, tidy approach that allows you to see big gains, fairly quickly, in return for your effort.

Lots of projects keep me energized, like carrots that luring me to say, “Good enough; let’s get on with other things now,” rather than, “It’ll never ever be good enough, so why do I even bother?”

That’s just part of the way I tick.

Like many of you, I’m a parent, in addition to being a writer. That, of course, puts wrinkles in my plans and my life that wouldn’t be there if I didn’t live with children. Having a spouse and a house adds others, and so do the companion animals who share our lives.

We homeschool, so while we aren’t tied to school schedules, I have paperwork to contend with several times a year. I spend most of my waking hours in close proximity to my kids. I might need to interrupt my writing anytime, because I’m their mom, and that’s part of my job.

For me, with this parenting and educational reality, my many diverse goals mean that there’s always something I can be doing to move me closer to my long-range vision. Shorter, easily stopped, less focus-intensive projects when the kids might need me, or I’ve got things to do or places to go, and longer, more challenging goals for when they’re doing their own thing, and I’m free to devote a stretch of time to my own.

For those who aren’t parents with children at home, or who have older or younger kids, or who pursue other educational paths, there might be a definite schedule that brackets when you can write, and what type of writing projects you can manage. One thing at a time might work best, in those situations, or just a few things that can be cleared from the to-do list fairly quickly.

With many goals, I can adapt to the changeable and free-flowing nature of my life. I need that, to keep ticking along.

Many of my fellow ROWers combine work and writing. I can decide when to write, and for how long, and I don’t have a schedule as much as I do a certain rhythm to my days. When they were little, writing was hit-or-miss, and it may be again, when we enter the ‘old enough to have a job, but not old enough to get a license phase’ next year. 

I’ll need to adapt, then – and that’s part of keeping my writing ticking along, too – the knowledge that life is change.

Each of our lives has a list of particulars far more complex than I’ve touched upon here. No one else can tell you what will make you more or less likely to achieve your goals, or what goals will suit you best, or even how to define whether you’ve succeeded at them. All of these things will depend on your unique situation. If what you’re trying to achieve, and the way you choose to pursue it, matches the way you tick, you’ll be free to focus on your goals, rather than struggling to fight your life or your nature.

So, what makes you tick? How do you like to write, and how does that fit with the rest of your life? How does your mind approach goals and challenges? Learning in general? If you haven’t given it much thought, adding that to your goals might do wonders for your progress, this round and beyond.

~*~

Shan Jeniah Burton

Do It Now by Elizabeth Mitchell

If you want different results, you have to put something different into the mix. If you keep putting the same ingredients in the cake, it will always turn out the same.  Pretty basic knowledge in baking, but still hard for me to put into my life. Many times, I have told myself, “I don’t like/want this [fill in the blank].” Sometime over the past several years, part of my brain has responded, “So change it.”  Now, with my “decade” birthday this spring bringing the dawning realization of my mortality, my brain responds: “So change it NOW.”

 

I would therefore like to add “Change it now” to Kait’s challenge in this first Round of 2015 to try something new and shake things up.  Shake off the comfort of the familiar. Let me assure you, I love my comfort zone.  It has no sharp edges to poke me, but it also does not challenge me, or anyone else.  Full of words I could write in my sleep, it has no bite, no truth.  Honestly, I’m scared silly of the truth, but it is all I have to offer.

 

I have often proclaimed my inability to write fiction. When I force myself to look at it honestly, my protest is a safe way to avoid the challenge and hard work involved in writing good fiction. Am I comfortable writing fiction?  No, not at all.  Three years ago, I shelved a story that occurred in a dream, because not only was it fiction, it was horror, which in all truth, I have no idea how to write. But should I shelve it out of cowardice?  The more I dig, I find there are more stories I want to tell, and each one frightens me more. But I’m going to try.

 

And I’m going to try now.  I hide behind the full-time day job and other responsibilities, saying that I will write when I’m retired.  I have told myself that I cannot write enough with these other responsibilities, but I wrote two academic articles totaling over 12,000 words in less than a year, so that inner conversation is patently untrue. While I will certainly have more free time after retirement, why am I waiting? Might it be cowardice? (The answer is an unequivocal “yes,” in case you are wondering).
My challenge to shake it up now is not just for us few neophytes in this group, but for all of us. Kait’s point that the same process doesn’t always work with a different book is surprisingly freeing for me.  Authors with several books behind them still have to leave their comfort zone and find something new that works. So I challenge those of you comfortable with this business of writing to shake things up and find a new approach. Those of you contemplating something very different–a new genre, non-fiction, or fiction–go for it.  So will you join me in my leap into the unknown?  Let’s do it now.

 ~*~

Elizabeth Mitchell

What I Learned from My Art by Bev Baird

What I learned from My Art  by Bev Baird

 

Trying to find my own inspiration for this post was a challenge. What could I offer that has not been said?

Then I remembered an article I just read by Susan Spann – “Writing Lessons From a Baby Seahorse.”  (http://writersinthestormblog.com/2015/01/writing-lessons-from-a-baby-seahorse/)

I realized that my art had a few lessons for my writing.

 

  1. Have fun with new techniques or media.

There is nothing I like more than to go to my art room and play with paints and just explore, with no agenda and no project in mind. Just as children enjoy the process, so do I. I may end up using some of my papers or other work, but that is not the goal.

When I allow myself to just write, whether it is morning papers or a scene that I envision, I am in the moment and I just write, with no expectations. Sometimes, I can use a bit of the writing, but other times, it acts as a catalyst for my other projects.

 

  1. Stretch yourself by trying new things.

I love watercolour but until I took a course I was afraid to try it. Now it is a favourite technique, even though I am still learning.

Same as with writing, I took a non-fiction picture book writing course and though I doubted my ability, I polished a book I am proud of and through that course, attended a retreat and made many connections.

 

  1. Seek out classes, mentors, competitions.

As with number 2, finding courses or mentors, submitting to contests, really helps push our writing (or art) forward.

 

  1. Keep practising.

Keeping an art journal and taking part in weekly art challenges has kept me creating art almost daily.

It is the same for writing – we need to write consistently and often. When I fail to do this, I know my writing suffers. The number one piece of advice from authors is “WRITE DAILY!”

As Stephen King said: “If you want to be a writer, you must do two things above all others: read a lot and write a lot.”

 

  1. Display your work. Give it away. Share.

I have several pieces of my art displayed in my home and am reminded of the effort it took to create it and what I learned when I look at them. I have also made gifts to give and know they are appreciated.

Your writing too, can be sent out – to critique partners, to other’s blogs, to contests, to agents and editors. Get it out, get feedback and keep writing.

My art has also been an inspiration for my writing at times. I was having to add another chapter to a book I had written and needed a centrepiece for the chapter. An ATC (art trading card) I had received, inspired an artpiece that I created and then used as a gift to the heroine in the story. It helped move the story forward and was fun to create.

You never know where inspiration will strike.. Be on the look out. It might just be in front of you.

 ~*~

Bev Baird

How About a New Process for Revision by Beth Camp

The monster draft awaits. You’ve moved all of NaNoWriMo’s thousands of words into one file. Or you’re looking at that old manuscript, the one you’ve hidden in the bottom drawer, and you’re thinking, “It’s the New Year. I’m going to tackle this revision.” For some inexplicable reason, you’re reminded of Edgar Allen Poe’s, “Quoth the raven ‘Nevermore.’”

If you are a part of this wonderful online writing community, A Round of Words in 80 Days, by now we likely have “set goals by the round, assess progress, and report in weekly” tattooed on the inside of our foreheads.

But sometimes, we need to ask what’s not working. How might we improve the quality of our final draft? How productive is our revision process?

We could look at the large, unwieldy task of revising a novel and break it into manageable chunks.

  • Make a plan.
  • Set a deadline.
  • Get to work.
  • Evaluate progress and adjust goals and/or timeline as needed.
  • Repeat for three years – or until that draft goes back in the drawer.

Research says setting goals with a deadline works – most of the time. But I haven’t mastered how to revise without taking several years for the process. I’d like to improve my revision process so I can work on other stories, but I don’t have the process that works for me. I guess I’m not disciplined enough. Or maybe I don’t have the skills. Ooops! I just fell into the self-doubt hole.

I jumped on Google to see if I could find some more motivational articles on how to revise a novel. Lots of new ideas here. Here is the process I hope to use:

Proposed Round 1 Process for Revising:

  1. PRINT OUT the whole document, double-spaced or single-spaced. Your preference.
  2. READ THROUGH the whole story out loud. Put X where you falter. Doesn’t matter why. Don’t think overly much. Just read. Your goal? To bring the story to life, to understand, even unconsciously at this point, what the great theme is, how your characters’ journey develops, and what the resolution offers your readers. Allow 2-3 days.
  3. This time just read, slowing down to make notes throughout. Look at how the chapters fit together. Anything out of sequence? Any missing scenes? Characters act true to themselves? Story arc and character arc reasonably logical to the planned conclusion? Maybe work in pencil to avoid the red ink. Don’t worry about being tidy. Holly Lisle recommends using several different colors of pen or pencil and writing down notes in an Editing Notebook (both these tips work!). I’m guesstimating this level of reading will take most of Round 1.
  4. REREAD AGAIN. Dig down to the chapter level: Any missing scenes or extra scenes? Emotional tension appropriate for this chapter and at this point in the story? Sequence of events at the chapter level runs smoothly? More description needed of characters or setting to make the scene come alive? Ask how this chapter contributes to the larger story and the character arcs for your main characters. Resist the temptation to work at the word level, for that’s next. Make notes and move on!
  5. WORK AT THE WORD LEVEL, chapter by chapter. Does every single word add to the story? If not revise and delete. Tighten. Ask how each word connects to the larger story and the development of your key characters. Everything fits. Each word has a purpose. All that you write moves the story forward and connects to your deeper theme.
  6. LET GO and send this nearly final draft out to your beta reader/s. Hope your beta readers take a few weeks so you can celebrate your progress and take a break to work on your marketing plan!

As I’m writing this trial process up, I realize I’ve already skipped Step 1 (to read and take in the whole story) and slid straight to Steps 2 and 3 (revising at the chapter and word level). So much for trying something new! Even though I feel good about the minor edits I’ve made so far, the rest of this weekend (and the beginning of next), I’m going right back to work on Step 1: Reading the whole wip. No revising. No editing. Just marking that X.

A Note about Beta Readers and Editors. When your novel is at the final stage, you could consider working with a beta reader. Even after all the revision I can possibly think of, I still send my final drafts out to beta readers, those generous and talented writing partners I’ve met face-to-face or online whose writing I respect. But before you invite someone to be your beta reader, know the level at which that person writes and how timely their response to your work will be.

You may prefer hiring an editor to working with a beta reader. Several writers I know have complained their editors did not understand their story. Alarm bells go off for me. I dread turning over writing that’s not-quite-finished to someone I don’t know.

Cost may be another factor. Charges range from $40 to $100 per page, and more. As Elizabeth Lyon says: “On average, editing 100 pages plus a synopsis, and writing the evaluation, will involve 15-25 hours.” Cost will also vary depending on whether your editor undertakes developmental editing (think story line, plot holes, major restructuring) and/or copy editing (clarity, mechanics, punctuation, and grammar).

Your revision suggestions: What advice would you give to improve revision? Please share what works for you in the comments. And may your writing go well.

 

 A few helpful resources:
–Holly Lisle: “How to Revise a Novel

–James Duncan: “7 Tips for Revising a Novel”

Editorial Freelancers Association

 ~*~

Beth Camp

Recipe to Plot by Fallon Brown

I recently saw someone compare plotting to cooking. They described it as knowing what you wanted to make and throwing all the ingredients together. This is a bit of a foreign concept to me. Unless I’ve made something a dozen times, I follow a recipe. Sometimes, even when I’ve made something more than that dozen times, I still need the recipe. I plot much the same way. I have my methods of brainstorming, and figuring out characters’ back stories as well as the actual plot. And I tend to follow the same “recipe” to work these things out.

 

Now, following a recipe doesn’t mean you can’t adapt it. I’ve done this more than once. I found one recipe in a cook book I got for my wedding. The first time I made it, I followed the recipe exactly. It didn’t turn out right. The sliced potatoes on the bottom of the casserole didn’t cook. It didn’t say to cook the hamburger first, so I just dumped a pound of ground beef in(and yes, it turned out quite greasy). So, I tried boiling the potatoes first. I’ve also made it with mashed potatoes(which almost makes it a reverse shepherd’s pie). And I always cook the beef first now.

 

I’ve done this with my plotting as well. When I started using the snowflake method, I found some of the steps didn’t work well for me. So, I cut them out(something else I do in recipes if we don’t like one of the ingredients). I’ve added other steps along the way, like how I do my mind maps and using James Scott Bell’s “Signpost Scenes” as well as a beat sheet.

 

My mom used to make a meal she called(or maybe it was my stepdad who coined the term) “slop”. There’s a reason we called it that. She’d take whatever we had on hand, and throw it in together. It usually consisted of at least hamburger and corn, among several other ingredients. It sounds disgusting, and usually didn’t look much better. But, our family always liked it.

 

I don’t do this very often with my plotting. But, there are some that call for less plotting. And even when I do plot, I end up throwing stuff in I hadn’t planned. Sometimes, this works out so much better than what I had planned in the first place.

 

Sometimes plotting can take a combination of these two approaches. Like I said above, sometimes I start out with a nice outline, or recipe. And as I write, things start happening. I take items I have, or that maybe I didn’t realize I had sitting around, and throw them in. Granted, sometimes this can make a meal(or story) fail. Just ask my kids. They’ve turned away more than one meal that wasn’t up to their standards. But, you may also find a meal that becomes your new favorite.

 

For me, whether I follow the recipe or not, plotting is a lot like my need to plan out the week’s menu. If I don’t, it gets to be half an hour before dinner, and I have no idea what to make. If I don’t plot, even just the basics, I’m usually not sure of what to write.

 

So, whether you follow the recipe, or just throw ingredients together, get out there and cook up your story. Either way, in the end, I’m sure you’ll still end up with a story you’ll be proud of.

~*~

Fallon Brown

6 Ways to Take Responsibility For Your Writing by Steph Beth Nickel

Some people choose a word for the year. Others choose a theme. My theme for 2015 is The Year of Taking Responsibility.

 

What does taking responsibility look like to a writer?

 

Here are six ways we can each step up this year.

 

  1. Create a list of goals.

 

Since you’ve signed up for A Round of Words in 80 Days, you’ve likely started on that list. At least you have goals for the next 80 days … and that’s a great start.

 

Keep in mind the acronym created by George T. Doran: SMART.  Goals should be specific, measurable, assignable (or attainable), realistic, and time-bound.

 

  1. Schedule time to write.

 

Of course it is ideal if you can write every day, but that isn’t always the case.

 

Haul out your day planner or your smartphone. Schedule a regular rendezvous with your pen and paper—or your keyboard and computer.

 

Except in the case of truly extenuating circumstances, keep every date with your creative self—even when you don’t feel particularly creative.

 

  1. Participate in ROW80

 

I know. I know. You already have this one covered.

 

But to take full advantage of what your fellow ROWers have to offer, check in at least once per week; visit other participants’ sites from time to time; and if you’re so inclined, pop by the FB group and connect with your fellow writers.

 

  1. Read skills development books and blogs.

 

If you’re anything like me, you don’t have to look any further than your bookshelves, physical and virtual, for a stack of writing-related books that you have yet to read or reread.

 

Scheduling specific time to curl up with a good book is a great idea. We all have more to learn, no matter how far along the writing journey we are.

 

  1. Read other books too.

 

Read in the genre in which you like to write. Read in other genres.

 

Read books that grab you by the throat. Read those you think have nothing to offer—you might be surprised.

 

While you’re reading, think about what the author has done well and things you would do differently. Incorporate what you learn in your own work—the good stuff, at least.

 

  1. Write. Write. Write. And then, write some more.

 

We can call ourselves writers if we write. The adjectives like prolific, skilled, and published come with time.

 

Keep on keepin’ on, my fellow ROWers.

~*~

Steph Beth Nickel