Inspirational Posts

When Chaos Descends by Fallon Brown

My mind can be a crazy thing. It’s never completely at rest. And it doesn’t handle stillness well. It’s one reason I don’t usually “take a break” even during the RoW80 breaks. I just…can’t. If I’m not doing something with my hands, I have to be occupying my mind somehow. Sometimes, even when I’m doing something with my hands, I have to do something else to occupy the chaos in my head.

 

And that’s really the best way to describe it…chaos. So many different thoughts bouncing around. What I have to do for the day, whatever story I’m working on, random bits of dialogue that just suddenly pop up. That thing I said a week or month ago that I wished I’d said differently.

 

About the only way I can control even some of the chaos is by organizing everything. This is the reason I have all my calendars, schedules, and to-do lists. Without them, not only do I not have any focus, but that chaos can feel like it’s drowning me. And that makes it very hard to get anything done. But, when I do have all those in place, my day, and my work, seem to run a lot smoother.

 

  • Calendar: I put all my writing and editing goals/deadlines on a calendar. I used to have a paper one, but I changed things so much, it made it easier to just keep one on the computer. I figure out how much I need to write/edit each week to finish on time. This changes for me as I finish things, usually faster than I figured I would be able to.

 

  • To-do lists: I put just about everything on my daily to-do lists. Not only my writing or editing goals for the day. But also the household chores, reading, and crafting I want to get done. There are some that are on everyday, like washing dishes and prepping dinner. There’s the laundry, which is a different load every day. There are some I only do once a month. But, if any of them don’t make it on the list, it’s unlikely they’ll get done at all.

 

  • More lists: I also have monthly, quarterly, & yearly lists which I make my weekly and daily lists from. Those I update periodically, but it’s the daily ones I really focus on. I organize those by priority. My writing and editing goals, of course, go first. Then, I worry about household chores and social media stuff. After that’s any reading or crafting items I have on my list. I try to work my way down through in order as much as I can. And if I finish everything for the day, I usually move on and get started on the next day’s. Although sometimes I’ll just stop for the day and get some bonus reading in.

 

  • Schedule: I don’t actually write this down. And it kind of goes along with my daily lists. It also goes along with the way I naturally work. Writing new words comes easiest for me first thing in the morning. So, that’s one reason it’s first on my list. Also, it’s when the kids are sleeping, then at school. I find it easier to get other things done when they’re home.

 

I know this probably makes me look very rigid. And to a point, that’s likely true. But, like I’m sure is the case with most of you, I have a family as well. In my case, that includes a husband and two young children. While they are mostly independent, they still need me at times. Which means there has to be some flexibility. I think one of the reasons these to-do lists work for me is that I understand there’ll be some days I don’t get to everything. Those days I just move those unfinished items to the next day. And at the end of the week, I start fresh again.

 

I say this in a lot of my posts, but it holds true. You have to do what works best for you. Some may say so much organization will wreck creativity. But without it, I can’t even focus enough to tap into that creativity.

 

So, if you’re finding your mind is like mine and doesn’t settle down on its own, maybe this is one way you could help it along. It’s certainly not the only way, maybe not even  the best way, but maybe it will work for you, too.

~*~

Fallon Brown

True Confessions by Beth Camp

I’ve Always Wanted To Be A Writer. And Always Denied It

I remember staring at my bookcase crammed with books when I was in my 20s, and crying in despair because I knew that I would never write a book of my own. After a decade of working odd jobs through school, I found a career as an international banker. In my late 30s, I fell in love truly and married a man with light feet, a big heart, and absolute belief in me. We traveled. Once we had our cherished child, I returned to school for my masters and taught English at a community college. I loved working with these students – their journeys as convoluted as mine; their clear visions inspired me. I wrote between my commitments to others and during summers. Poetry. Flash fiction. Some published. Some not. A novel that yet lives in a drawer.
Why was that first novel so important? Because it showed me that I could truly tell a story. Those characters also helped me confront and exorcise something very painful – my childhood as the daughter of an alcoholic.
And then somehow, when I wondered if I would ever retire, my husband and I went on sabbatical, a glorious six-month trip to as many countries. I returned to work to discover my department had saved several noxious projects because, as they put it, nodding their heads as we sat in a tiny boardroom, that I completed projects like these so well. In that moment, I knew it was time to retire. What would I do – used to 70 hour weeks as a routine? Perhaps I would write.

So I took a creative writing class. The teacher, a little intimidated by my presence in the class, stood up on that first day to say she accepted any kind of a story except those that ran with gore. I was dismayed, for I had hoped to work on my not-yet-completed novel, Mothers Don’t Die. Well, I thought, I might as well write about mermaids. And so I did. Over the course of the next ten weeks, ten stories emerged, teaching me anew that creativity is not limited by subject. After the class was over, one of those stories lost the mermaid and morphed into my first book, Standing Stones, and led to a two month research trip to Scotland.

I’m now immersed in that delightful process that sometimes seems unending for Book 3 in the current series: Write, research, write, edit, write, research, edit, and write again. Send out to beta readers, then write and edit and, finally, publish. My characters and their struggles in the middle of the 19thCentury are endlessly fascinating.
Why am I telling you this story? To say that dreams do not go away when you turn 40, or 50, or older.
Dreams shape who we are. And, we know we are writers – even when we cannot see quite how to achieve our dreams. I began writing seriously the year I turned 64. That was 8 years ago, and I haven’t stopped. Writing shapes each morning and anchors the rest of my life. Sometimes I wonder how long I will be able to write, if my muse will decide that SHE wants to retire. Or I worry that this story I’m working on will never be finished. But in the morning, the keyboard calls, and I write.
The lesson I hope to share with you? That we writers, albeit very, very different, need to pursue a commitment to our dreams in a very tangible way. Yep, butt in chair. We each will find our own path, writing journals, story boards, NaNoWriMo, or simply writing every day, or 5 days out of 7.
Participating in this wonderful online community of ROW80, offers us another way to support our writing through a process of setting and committing to very specific goals — and reporting our progress. We are accountable to ourselves and, in a rather unique way, to each other.
May 2016 be the year you write that project that emerges from your deepest heart.
~*~

The True Meaning of Words by Gloria Weber

As writers we all know the power of words.  However, some words get certain connotations and we make presumptions.  For example, odorous.  I hear that and I hold my breath, because I assume that the odorous house smells nasty.  However, the actual definition of the word is “having or giving off a smell.”  So roses or freshly baked cookies are odorous.

When I started writing, I had certain preconceived notions about some words.  For example, routine meant the same as rut.  Rut means “a habit or pattern of behavior that has become dull and unproductive but is hard to change.” Ruts aren’t very good for writing.  However, routine means “a sequence of actions regularly followed.”  There’s nothing wrong with that, is there?

I unintentionally started developing writing routines even when I tried shunning them.  I’d always come to the computer with a beverage.  I’d play music or make sure everything was quiet (depended on my mood).  I opened my writing program.  These were (in fact, they still are) the signals that let my writer brain know, “It’s time to shine!”

But this is not a rut!  Things change. It isn’t always the same drink (time of year and what’s in the house colors my choice).  My music (or even “silence”) preference depends on the task and my attention span for the day.  Sometimes I will the writing program and then go get my drink.  And some days none of that happens at all.

Routine isn’t rigid like rut.  Unlike rut, routine is good for my writing.  Heck, routine, I’ve come to find, is quite comforting.

Routine wasn’t the only word I got wrong.  I used to be a pantser because “plotting made everything boring.”  Plotting means “devise the sequence of events in (a play, novel, movie, or similar work).”  It doesn’t mean know every word and minute detail involved.

It’s like knowing you’ll drive down the highway, but there are no promises.  There could be an accident that slows you down.  Maybe you get hungry and stop to buy some nachos.  Just because you know the path it doesn’t mean you know the entire journey.

So, I invite you to look at some words you’ve shunned or feared. Do they mean what you thought they meant?  Could you look at them another way?  Could they help you?

~*~

Gloria Weber

Be Who You Are By Elizabeth Mitchell

Last Round, I had a comment exchange with Gloria Weber, who is also a sponsor this Round, about letting our possibly geeky interests be part of our blogs, without worrying what others thought about them.  The exchange has resonated with me since that time. Although I am not generally ashamed of my more pedantic interests, I have downplayed them in my blogs, saving them for the academic writing I do for my day job.  However, they are an intrinsic part of me, my voice, and my brand.  In fact, my trying to write what I think others want to read has more often led to my not writing anything. I have also been convinced that no one else is interested in the topics I enjoy writing about, but that conviction is belied by the continued amount of interest in the nerdy posts I have allowed myself since I began blogging nearly five years ago.  Therefore, I promised myself that this Round, I will be more genuine, nerdy side and all.  I spent years studying language and literature, so why not show my interests in my blogs?  It is my voice; whether I try to hide it or not, it will come out.  I plan to stop fighting it, to stop worrying about what people will think.  Those who don’t enjoy it, won’t read it.  No harm done.

 

These ruminations have some practical application to Row80, too. So many times I have heard participants say that they cannot think of what to write for their check-in, or that they cannot possibly write two check-ins a week, because an accountability listing is not very interesting.  I have two suggestions, based on my new decision to let my nerd out of the back room, and on several RoWers who do a good job blending a check-in with their regular blogging.

 

Include some analysis of why you succeeded, or why you failed to meet a goal.  While it is true that sometimes it is as mundane as “I was too busy,” or “I made myself sit in the chair and write 5 out of 7 days,” there are many times when this analysis unearths a habit to cultivate or choke, or a set of circumstances to institute or avoid. I found out I can write in the middle of chaos, with football games blaring from the next room, but that I cannot write on break at work, for example.

 

Fold your check-in into a regular post.  You can delineate the check-in with typography from the rest of the post so that a reader can read just the check-in or the whole post. I find that even when I only read the check-in on a first pass, I often go back to read the rest of the post, and enjoy the glimpse into the diverse interests of the group.

Therefore, I encourage you to write about what interests you, and to let your voice ring true through all your writing, both on the blog during Row80 check-ins and in your longer creative writing efforts. A passion for a subject lights up the core of the writing done about it, and is mesmerizingly attractive.

~*~

Elizabeth Mitchell

12 Ways to Make the Write Resolution

The New Year is rapidly approaching and many of us will soon be setting our goals (aka resolutions) for 2016. Where is writing on your list? If you are reading this post, it’s likely close to the top.

Here are a dozen writing and writing-related goals you may want to include and tips on how to do so:

  1. Be on the lookout for inspiration.

Some people record ideas, snippets of conversation, random words and phrases, etc. in a notebook or on their electronic device. Make it a habit to do so. Don’t simply trust your memory; it’s amazing how quickly “that perfect idea” can vanish.

  1. Set up your writer’s nook.

What do you need around you when you write? Pictures of your family? A shelf of skills development books? A cozy corner with a comfortable chair, your journal, and a stash of gel pens? A clutter-free desk with only your laptop and a cup of your favorite beverage? The busyness of a crowded coffee shop? Create your perfect space and if at all possible, don’t do anything besides writing and writing-related tasks there.

  1. Enlist your support system.

If others take your writing seriously, you are more likely to as well. Explain to your family that you are going to set aside time every day (at least Monday through Friday) to write. Ask them to give you your space, only interrupting if it’s something that legitimately can’t wait. And from your end of things, don’t answer emails, the telephone, or the door during your writing time.

  1. Write every day.

Set aside a specific time every day to write and record the time in your planner and / or set an alarm on your cell phone to remind you—at least until it’s a habit.

  1. Set a specific writing goal.

Do you want to write a new blog post each week? A short ebook or novella for publication online every two to six months? A full-length novel or nonfiction book for print within the year? Break each task into bite-sized pieces and set deadlines for each piece.

  1. Read skills development books.

Read up-to-date books on general writing topics and on specifics that are of interest to you. You may want to read a new book every month or two. For most of us, that would be an achievable goal. Don’t forget to incorporate the skills you are reading about into your work.

  1. Read other books as well.

It’s amazing what you can learn about good writing just by reading a variety of books in a variety of genres. Read with a notebook on hand so you can record words / phrases / sentences that appeal to you. Jot down thoughts about what makes the writing amazing—or terrible. Learning opportunities are all around us.

  1. Enter writing contests regularly.

Entering contests is a great skills development exercise—even if you never win. You learn about writing with specific guidelines in mind. You learn about submitting on a deadline. There are countless contests you can research online. Just a word of caution . . . be sure that the contest sponsor is reputable.

  1. Join an online writing challenge.

I participate in OctPoWriMo (October Poetry Writing Month) and PiBoIdMo (Picture Book Idea Month) each year. In October I write 31 poems and in November I come up with 30 ideas for picture books. I often attend Camp NaNoWriMo once or twice a year but have never participated in NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month), though I would like to do so one of these years. You can learn about these and other challenges online. Just type “writing challenge” into your search engine and see what catches your attention.

  1. Attend a writers’ conference or one-day workshop.

From skills development to networking . . . from inspiration to feeling understood . . . there’s nothing quite like hanging out with other writers and industry pros. Don’t feel intimidated. No matter how far along the path, every writer has more to learn. And every writer was a newbie at some point.

  1. Join or start a writers’ group.

I had the privilege of being one of the original four members of Women Writing for Christ. Over a decade later, we still meet monthly (except in the winter) and share the adventure of writing. We each write in different genres and for different audiences, but it is a wonderful opportunity to encourage one another. It’s a highlight of my month.

  1. Be patient with yourself.

Remember it takes time to develop new habits. Add one or two new goals each month. It’s much easier than trying to incorporate everything all at once.

Have a New Year overflowing with rich and abundant blessings!

~*~

Steph Beth Nickel

On Mastery and the Power of YET by Kait Nolan

I’ve had about a million ideas for this year end wrap up post for ROW80.  I have, over the last–holy crap–FIVE YEARS, written about everything from data driven decision making, to habits, to owning your dream as a writer, to being kind to yourself, to…all kinds of other stuff.  Because I’m a very outcome-oriented person, I think a lot about goals and how to achieve them–and how to inspire and encourage others to achieve theirs.  I believe in getting things done, and I’m very often of that mindset “If you want something done right, you have to do it yourself.”

I started A Round of Words in 80 Days as a reaction to National Novel Writing Month.  NaNo is awesome in that it gets people excited and amped up–but I saw far too many people beating themselves up for failing to meet that goal.  Writers are already prone to self-flagellation on multiple levels.  We don’t need another reason to be hating on ourselves because the life we lead doesn’t neatly allow for us to attain that one-size fits all goal.  I also hated that it was November (horrible time for people in academia and really for anyone hosting Thanksgiving). I’m a writer 365 days a year.  I needed a support group for the other 11 months, too.  And that’s what ROW80 has become–for me and so many others who’ve become a regular part of this community.   Over the years, we’ve grown together, cheered each other on, and supported each other, no matter what.  That gift is one beyond measure.

Any of you who’ve followed me during that time know that I have an unhealthy obsession with spreadsheets and data.  Call it an occupational hazard.  I’m a social scientist in real life, so I have this driving need to quantify things and track them.  I’ve been tracking my daily word count since 2010, using that information to see where and how I can push myself to write more (I talk exhaustively about this in my post about data-driven decision making).  The goal in the back of my mind has always been to get to NaNo levels of productivity all the time.

That 50,000 words in one month has been my Holy Grail, partly just to prove that I can do it and partly because that level of productivity each month would finally allow me to produce enough content to really build an audience and make major strides toward being able to write full-time (also, it might allow me to carve some inroads in my To Be Written pile, though I’m pretty sure that is hopeless, as I keep getting attacked by rabid plot bunnies on a regular basis).

This NaNo, I actually did it.  I blew through 55k in a month, in fact.  And I’m on track to do the same for December.  Which is…awesome.  I can’t tell you all the numbers I’ve been running trying to sort out what I want to put on next year’s production schedule.  Now I say all of this, not to be all yay me but because I’ve been having all these thoughts about how the heck I got here and how you can, too (if that’s what you want).

Stop saying you can’t do something

For years I said that word count of 50,000 words in a month was impossible.  That I couldn’t wake up early and write.  Along with a whole plethora of other can’ts I won’t get into here.  If you’re struggling with something, don’t say you can’t do it as an absolute.  That’s negative, defeatist thinking and is programming you for failure.  Instead, reframe it as I can’t do _____ YET.  Because that leaves room for improvement and learning and change.  Carol Dweck has a fantastic TED talk about this.

Embrace Write or Die

One of the biggest tools in my box for how I’ve finally pulled off this fast drafting gig is Dr. Wicked’s Write or Die 2.  You can use the traditional punishment mode (wherein if you stop writing it starts deleting words) or you can work it in reward mode, where you get pictures of puppies or kittens or whatever for every x number of words.  The key to this for me is that even in reward mode (my preference), if I stop writing for longer than about twenty seconds, the screen starts to turn red to remind me to get my metaphorical butt moving.  At that pace, my internal editor simply DOES NOT have time to engage.  I’ve come to realize that without that stimulus, I spend a lot of time just STARING AT THE PAGE.  But I set my test mile of 500 words and 30 minutes for a session, and I almost always exceed that by at least 50% and usually more.  And when I’m done, I copy and paste the text over into the relevant section of Scrivener.

Recognize that mastery takes time

So there was this study done by K. Anders Ericsson that basically says that it takes 10,000 hours of practice to become an expert in any skill-based field.  Malcolm Gladwell talks about this in his book Outliers (well worth a read).  For writers, this is generally assumed to equate to a million words.  Now, it’s not just mechanical repetition.  A million crap words with no deliberate attempt to analyze and improve is just going to be a million crap words.  But a million words written with that intentionality toward learning, growing, getting better–THAT kind of practice does lead to mastery.  I realized today that this year I surpassed my million words (see, more reason to track stuff).  Since 2010, I’ve written over 1.3 million words.  And right around the time I crossed that million mark, something shifted in my brain.  Is writing easy?  Nope.  Do I write perfect first drafts?  Other than one book–no, I don’t.  I don’t ever expect to.  But getting that first draft down and out of my head–THAT has gotten easier and I’ve gotten faster.  I’ve spent the last six years studying and working my butt off to learn and do everything in my power to improve my craft, and I know it shows.  Are there better writers out there?  Heck yeah.  Always will be.  But I know that I’m better for all the work and practice.  Great writers never, ever stop trying to learn and improve, no matter how many books or stories they write.

So, wherever you are in your million word journey, I hope you’ll come back to join us on January 4th for the beginning of Round 1 in 2016.  Your cheerleaders will be waiting.

What Is Your Motivation by Tonya Cannariato

As a writer, this is something you think about all the time in terms of character development and plot devices. But as is clear from your participation in the ROW80 challenge, you also have to think about this in terms of what prods you forward. How do you convince yourself to commit the time and effort to complete your story, let alone tell it well?

 

There are conflicting bits of information out there regarding whether telling others your goals is motivational or demotivational. Then there’s the boatload of articles with the top 20 tips to motivate yourself or even the 3 must-dos to stay motivated.

 

In the end, it comes to this: You’ve joined a group of writers who are all looking for that elusive set of tricks that will keep us from being distracted by all the shiny objects–on the Internet, on TV, in our daily lives–long enough to drive toward a mysterious destination: A completed creative endeavor.

 

If you approach this task from the meta perspective of viewing yourself as a character who’s reaching toward a goal, how do you recognize the stumbling blocks you put in your own way? How do you reward yourself for the progress you make? Sometimes the key to moving forward is taking that internal step back and assessing your circumstances.

 

And because creative inspiration is a notoriously fickle beast, how do you handle the obstacles that sometimes-fiend can put in your path? Where do you store your multiplying plot bunnies? Or how do you slog through the desert of the middle of your story?

 

For myself, even though in recent rounds I’ve vastly overestimated my capacity to power through life events I knew could put roadblocks on my creative path, I still find the public accountability of the ROW80 group can push me further than I otherwise imagine I might have managed.

 

So I offer you a different kind of motivational reward this week:

from GIPHY

from GIPHY

May enjoying the cute of a shooting-star-producing sloth so juice your dopamine levels that your writer’s brain kicks into high gear and you reach your goals this week. If not, at least let the smile he produces in you be the consolation that it’s not the end of the world and there are others out there who are still rooting for you to make it.