Inspirational Posts

Do You Want It Bad Enough? by Chris Kincaid

In 2006, Alyssa Lampe made history in Wisconsin when she became the first girl to place in the WIAA wrestling tournament. She finished second in the boys’ state meet, at 103 pounds, becoming the first girl in history to earn a medal in the event.  From there, the Tomahawk native went on to wrestle in college, then in international competition. She tried out for the 2012 Olympics, but didn’t make the cut. Earlier this spring, she made yet another bid for Olympic gold.

I’ve met this young woman from my home town, and if I didn’t know the facts, I would never peg her as someone to get down on the mats and wrestle competitively. She’s a very sweet girl, but not so sweet that she can’t take on anything. Anyway, she once again missed out on going to the Olympics and at 28 years old, this was probably her last shot.

When I asked a friend of hers what happened, she told me, “She just didn’t want it bad enough.”

Didn’t want it bad enough? How can someone not want to go to the Olympics bad enough? In one interview I read, her coach said that she had told him her goal was to be number two. Number two? Who settles for number two?

Well, as proud as I am of Alyssa for making it as far as she has, I am not in her head. And I’m not supposed to be. I am in my own head and need to ask myself, “Would I want to make it to the Olympics? Would I want it bad enough?”

Am I willing to work that hard, make those sacrifices, miss out on the fun stuff other people do, because they don’t have their eyes on the same prize?

What about you? Do you want to write that novel bad enough? Do you want to publish your book bad enough? Sell twelve articles this year? Win NaNoWriMo? What goal is at the top of your list and what are you willing to do to get there? Or are you willing to settle for being number two?

And even though you can write well into your old age, isn’t it time to go after it now?

~*~

Chris Kincaid

Read, Read, Read. By Beverley Baird

I didn’t know what I would write for this post. My first thought (and my 2nd, 3rd, etc thoughts ) was – what do I have worth saying?

And then I really looked at the APC (Art Playing Card) I had made and I realized how true Thomas Jefferson’s words were – “I cannot live without books.”

 

books 001

 

Books have always been a part of my life. I wrote about my “Reading Touchstones” in March for the March Slice of Life (a writing challenge throughout March, where we all wrote a slice from our lives)  – and the importance of books throughout my life – from childhood  (Anne of Green Gables) to teen years  (Diary of Anne Frank) to my brush with Catholocism in my 20s  (In this House of Brede),  to my teaching years (The Book Whisperer) and to my growing art life (The Artist’s Way). There have been so many books that have impacted me in some way or another. Sometimes it was just to lift my spirits or take my mind off exams or problems.

 

So many of these books have become a part of me and have shaped me – as a woman, a mother, a teacher, an artist and as a writer. I have kept many of these books, and refer to them as needed. SomeI have read several times. Many I have passed onto othersw or bought copies to give away (The Artist’s Way in particular)

They have given me an immense measure of happiness yes, but many have also become mentor texts for my writing.

 

So many authors offer writing advice and so many stress that reading and writing must go hand in hand.

Here are a few quotes that stress the importance of reading to improve one’s writing:

Stephen King: “Read, read, read. ”If you don’t have time to read, you don’t have the time (or the tools) to write.”

 

Ian Rankin:  “1 Read lots.  2 Write lots.”

 

Michael Moorcock:  “ Read. Read everything you can lay hands on. “

 

PD James: Read widely and with discrimination. Bad writing is contagious.

 

Evan Maloney: “Reading is essential for writers – it instructs, inspires and offers a blissful escape from the blank page.  

 

We read to be transported, to visit new lands, meet new people.

We read to learn the traits of the genres we seek to write; to learn the language; to learn lessons in dialogue, setting, mood, tension.

 May you all read and read and read and then write and write and write.

 ~*~

Bev Baird

How American Idol and Mary Tod Changed the Way I Connect with my Audience by Beth Camp

American Idol’s fifteen year run ended in early April.

 

What a finale with superstar performances and lots of strobe lights. I’ve been a fan since the second year. Each week, American Idol hosted a singing competition with weekly feedback from the celebrity judges. I loved those judges, and I hated them. Each week behind the scenes, selected semi-finalists would move through a round of mentors, practice with musicians and coaches, to finally perform. America voted on who would move forward. Some performances were heart-breaking. Some inspirational.  But each week those who remained ‘upped their game’ and persevered.

 

Ryan Seacrest noted that what made American Idol different was involvement with the audience. America voted. America chose. This resonated with something ephemeral I’ve been thinking about as I weed through the dozens of writing-related articles and posts I receive each month. For we writers do study writing craft. If we’re self-publishers, we take on the whole range of skills needed to publish and market our books. We build our online platforms. Sometimes we pay for advertising. We tweet and blog and post on Instagram, never quite certain if we’re using our time wisely or productively.

 

So here’s what I gained:

 

Readers want to learn about you, the person behind the writer.

 

They’ve read your stories and books. They feel connected with you, and they’re curious about you, your writing, and your opinions. Maybe they’ve signed up for your newsletter. What can you offer that’s a little different than that constant refrain, “Buy my book!”? Whether you’re blogging or writing that newsletter you hope will build your reader base, start by thinking about your audience and then use questions to add depth to your social writing.

 

  1. Define Your Audience. Begin with a specific definition of who your audience is. The most useful suggestion I’ve found is to use a Google search with these words: define audience for <insert your genre>. If you don’t find enough information, use the words: survey of readers <insert your genre>.

 

I wasn’t expecting much from a Google search, but I was thrilled to find Mary Tod’s exhaustive survey of people who read historical fiction, highlighted on the Historical Novel Society’s website. Interestingly, when women read historical fiction, they are drawn to strong female characters. Men and women (who both tend to be a little older than average) want stories that have a strong sense of what life was like ‘back then,’ and men prefer more action and adventure.

 

Additionally, Mary Tod noted that most readers of historical fiction find new book recommendations on GoodReads, blogs and sites about historical fiction, small book review sites, and Amazon. Both LibraryThing and Shelfari also show up as important resources for readers.

 

Mary Tod’s analysis has changed how I think about my newsletter and my blogging.

 

  1. Ask questions as you write your blog and/or newsletter that lead you to add your own opinions or share the experiences that led you to write a particular story. Share . . . the rest of the story, the story behind the scenes.

 

  • Which aspects of characters resonate with your own life or the lives of your target audience? Why did you write about these particular characters? Or about this particular story?
  • How does the content of what you’re writing challenge or affirm your beliefs?
  • What particular stories did not make it into your project? Why or why not?
  • How does the theme of what you’re writing connect to your audience?
  • And, most importantly, what do you think about what you’re writing?

 

Just now, I’m participating in the April A to Z Blogging Challenge. Some of the over 1,800 participants commit to a theme before the challenge begins, and some even write their posts before April 1. This year, I using the A to Z Blogging to write about my research for Rivers of Stone, my current work-in-progress, now in the revision stage.

 

As I write my daily post and respond to reader comments, I’m noticing that readers connect what I’ve written to their own personal experience.  Readers are not returning necessarily to read summaries about my research, but to discover what I think about that research, what personal stories I tie into my research, and how this links to their own experiences.

 

American Idol offered an incredible promise and platform to new talent. Those singers who made the next cut brought hard work, discipline, and their creativity to a wide public. We writers may not have the same support system or the national platform, but this lesson remains:

 

For writers, it’s about the content of what we create and how we connect with readers. The more we understand who our particular readers are, how they find new books to read, and what appeals to them, the more insight we can gain into why our writing appeals to certain readers. This can help us to focus our marketing and to tighten that bond with our readers. May Round 2 bring you new strategies and new ways that encourage creativity in your writing!

 

For more about Mary K. Tod: https://awriterofhistory.com/

About the Blogging from A to Z Challenge http://www.a-to-zchallenge.com/

Book Lover

 

 

Focus on Distraction by Fallon Brown

 

Focusing on writing isn’t always as simple as we might like it to be. There are so many things out there to distract us, and sometimes we create even more of these distractions ourselves. But, there are ways to minimize the disruption they cause. Sometimes, you may even be able to use them to focus more(yes, I know that sounds backwards).

Sometimes it just takes a little bit of time to settle down and be able to focus. Having some kind of routine can even help this along(if that’s what works for you). I do pretty much the same thing every morning before I start writing: Take the puppy out, start my coffee, close the kids’ bedroom doors so I don’t wake them, start my music, and jot down a few notes on the scene I’ll be working on next. Then, I can start writing. Without that, particularly the coffee and music, the words usually don’t want to come.

And the routine really does help. Getting up at the same time(or close to it) every day, sitting down in the same place, having the same things around me. For some people, I understand this may seem more of a rut. For those of us that need it, it can be the one thing that signals it’s time to write.

Sometimes even when you have a routine figured out, distractions can still come up. Kids want your attention, the phone won’t stop ringing(the one I hate the most), all the books you want to read, chores to do, shows to catch up on, and whatever else might take you from your writing. Sometimes these distractions can’t be ignored. My family continues to insist they have to eat every day and have clean clothes for some reason.

I have different ways to focus. Though, some may look at them as distractions. Something I figured out back in high school, though, is that I actually have to distract myself in order to focus. Like I said above, I know that sounds backwards, so just stick with me a moment. I’d be there trying to do my homework in my quiet bedroom, but my mind would keep skipping around to pretty much everything else. But, if I had music playing or something on the TV I didn’t really have to pay attention to, I could focus better. It was like I needed something to distract one part of my brain, so the other could focus on what I needed to do.

One other thing that could go either way as far as being a distraction or a way to focus is having a list of different projects to work on. Sometimes this does feel like I’m spreading myself too thin between them. But, there are other times when I just can’t make the words come on one project, but the characters from another are practically yelling their story at me and the words just roll right out. If I try to stay focused on that first one, it just doesn’t happen. So, I need the distraction from it.

So, really, some distractions aren’t distractions after all. Sometimes it’s just a matter of settling down to write, and sticking to a routine can help with this. Also, sometimes embracing those distractions can be more productive than trying to fight them.

How do you combat your distractions? Or do you embrace them?

~*~

Fallon Brown

 

 

Where’s Your Proving Ground by Shan Jeniah Burton

When I announced my goals for this round, I titled it “Proving Ground”, because Round Two always means high-intensity for me. It’s the end of our winter hibernation. The kids and I tend to move from more introspective occupations to more active, extroverted ones.
 
April also kicks off my annual season of creative intensity:
 
Like I said, it’s the Season of Creation, and it tests and stretches me.

With all that happening, why would I decide to take on something big? Something that’s been lurking there in the dark shadowy places of my mind for decades? Something that feels like taking a flying leap off the crumbling edge of an infinite abyss?

 
Sometimes we need that proving ground – to learn what we’re made of, where our limitations are, and what we can accomplish. There are times when tiptoeing into growth and change isn’t as effective as flinging ourselves over that edge, spreading our feather and wax wings and hoping like Hades the brightness doesn’t bring on a deadly plunge back to terra firma.
 
This round is my time. I’ve discovered my personal proving ground.

I’ve been writing fan fiction since I was 13 and fellow ROWer (and friend since we were 4) Eden Mabee dragged me kicking and screaming into my first love affair with a Vulcan. We wrote as a way to liven up some of the creativity-sapping numbness of public high school, passing several notebooks full of mostly spectacularly bad stories back and forth, mucking up one another’s storylines, evolving as writers. We were passionate about what we created.

We cut our writing teeth on those stories, which expanded to include other fandomsand aspects of our own lives. During those years, we also created original characters and story worlds that are the origins of what we both write today. Neither of us would be as strong without those early collaborative efforts, and the things we learned in the course of them.

 
How does that relate to my proving ground?

Through April, I’m expanding each of my Boldly Go Star Trek: Enterprise A-Z stories, and sharing them publicly at fanfiction.net. While I’ve been sharing myEnterprise stories on my own blog since 2014, there’s a certain security in that. Folks who come to read there generally know me from somewhere, and there’s lots of other material there, as well. That means that the fan fiction wasn’t the first or only way someone was likely to encounter my writing. I wouldn’t be judged, as a writer or a person, solely on that.

 
Why is that such a Big Deal?
For decades, I was ashamed of my passion for this type of writing. My parents considered all writing something of a pipe dream – I was a teen in the 1980’s, and self-publishing and Kindle were words with very different connotations back then. Star Trek was, in their opinion, a “stupid show” and I was “wasting my time” being interested in it at all. That I was also more inclined to write those stories than to apply myself to tedious, unimaginative homework assignments made it something to be reviled, a piece of foolishness that just showed that I was unrealistic, lazy, and other things – not a one of them positive.
 
I carried those parental messages in my head and my heart well into adulthood. I wrote in spiral bound notebooks, and, when I finished one, I dutifully shelved it, or stuck it in a cabinet. I might show them to Eden, and sometimes read saucier bits to my Accomplice. But I didn’t share them beyond that; they weren’t “serious” writing, and I never intended to make any money from them. I wrote them because I couldn’t not write them.
 
The problem with hiding away our passions, or treating them as though we should feel shame for daring to indulge them, is that this attitude can also suffuse the rest of life. Denying or labeling them “not good enough” to be out in the light condemns something of our selves to the shadowy places, too. We’re passionate about certain things because it’s part of our nature, an intrinsic part of who we are.
 
When we deny passionate parts of ourselves, we lose something – not just in those denied passions, but in everything we write.

So, this month, I’m taking lots of deep breaths and flinging myself out over the edge. I’m sharing these stories, and I plan to keep on doing it. I’m offering them up in a place where they can stand in the light, then lift swiftly or leisurely from the ledge, to soar and dance and laugh and sob and be free, right there for all comers to see them, read them, and know a bit of my passion, and my self.

It’s my proving ground. I won’t earn a penny doing it, but there are things to be gained that money can’t buy. Self-expression. Honesty. Wholeness. Acceptance of myself as I am.

 
You can find the stories, if you’re interested, at my fanfiction.net page.
Is there a proving ground in your life? Something you’ve denied or tucked away in secret shame? Can you think of a way to challenge yourself to stretch and grow this year? Will you fling yourself over the edge with me?
~*~

How Marginal Gains Can Bring Big Results by Kait Nolan

The UK has won 3 of the last 4 Tour De France races.  Prior to that?  They’d never won a single one in the history of the race (which started in 1903).  The secret to their success?  Well, according to Matthew Syed’s interview with Sir David Brailsford,  “It is about marginal gains,’ he said. ‘The approach comes from the idea that if you break down a big goal into small parts, and then improve on each of them, you will deliver huge increase when you put them all together.”

What does that mean exactly?  Well, Syed goes on to say (in his book Black Box Thinking):

“The marginal gains mentality has pervaded the entire Team Sky mindset. They make sure that the cyclists sleep on the same mattress each night to deliver a marginal gain in sleep quality; that the rooms are vacuumed before they arrive at each new hotel, to deliver a marginal gain in reduced infections; that the clothes are washed with skin-friendly detergent, a marginal gain in comfort.”

I first read about this in on of Brian Johnson‘s Philosopher’s Notes (a fabulous little, distill-it-down email about some of the greatest books of our time) and the idea stuck with me.  I’m all about breaking things down into manageable bits so that a project doesn’t seem so overwhelming, but this is something else entirely.  This is about all the little things that you probably DON’T consider have an impact on your goal.  In our case, writing.

  • Like, making sure that we have a comfortable chair with adequate back support.  This means I don’t waste time fidgeting because I’m uncomfortable.
  •  Swapping those God-awful compact fluorescent bulbs to something with a more pleasing hue.  Not being annoyed by my lighting, means I can focus better on the task at hand more quickly.
  • Being sure to have a big, insulated glass of ice water right there and ready before I get started.  It’s insulated, so it stays colder longer.  It’s huge, so I don’t have to get up to refill it as often.
  • Putting on my headphones with MyNoise.net instead of just letting it play through the laptop speakers.  This helps me block out distractions more effectively (even though I don’t have full-on noise-cancelling headphones).
  • Picking a candle scent to go along with a particular WIP.  I picked this one up from Tawna Fenske.  Lighting it and having that scent cue primes my brain for that particular book.
  • Getting up a few minutes earlier every day.  I had though I’d need to get up a full hour before my normal wakeup time.  And during NaNo, I did (because I was establishing a new habit).  But I’ve learned that if I get up just half an hour earlier, I can usually crank out between 500-almost 1k words before my morning workout.  Doing that every weekday means my total word count for the week is 2,500-5,000 words greater than not getting up.  (Of course, now that Daylight Savings Time is upon us, I’m in the process of slowly rolling my body clock back and cursing profusely the whole time).  Even fifteen minutes of writing is worth getting up because it starts my day in the story and means that I can stay in it a lot better, regardless of what else I happen to face the rest of the day, which makes my evening writing session far more productive.
  • Using Write or Die 2 instead of just drafting on a normal blank screen.  I didn’t realize how much difference this would make.  Man, that red screen of threat is hella motivating!

There are oodles of things that can feed in to our ability to get focused and stay focused, and I encourage you to give some thought to what little things you can do to achieve marginal gains in your writing.  Those marginal gains add up over time, making the effort (which really isn’t that much) well worth it.

~*~

Kait Nolan