A Year of Lessons from ROW by Gene Lempp

After a year in ROW, much of it as a sponsor, I’ve had time to see what works and what doesn’t. What tends to generate struggle. What tends to generate success. Here are a few of keys I’ve learned.

The moment a goal is set, Resistance will try to defeat it. Suddenly, there are more demands on our time. Kids become clingy. The job wants more time and energy. The goal that seemed reachable now appears as easy as climbing the Matterhorn without a rope. Or maybe, we find ourselves making excuses as to why it can’t be attained – there is still research to do, I have to wait for x to happen, I have to do x and y and z or…you see the point. These things are Resistance and it is the number 1 enemy of every creative. And. It lives right inside your own mind. If you want to learn about this opponent and how to overcome it I’d recommend Steven Pressfields “The War of Art”. This is a short, powerful read that exposes Resistance and provides tools and strategies for dealing with it. I recommend nothing that I haven’t read and used myself.

Goals must be realistic to our individual lives. Never set goals based on what any other person is doing – sure it may sound great or make you think, “hey, why the heck am I not doing this”, but that is a sure way to overwhelm. Only you know your schedule and how much you are able to do. Only you know what your priorities are (you do know them, right?). Jobs, children, medical conditions, known travel plans and time commitments should all be considered in setting functional goals. The point is not to drive yourself to burn out trying to be a “super writer”, the point is to accomplish something that moves you toward your ultimate goals in a way that you will be proud of and satisfied by.

Adjust. Adjust. Adjust. I want to write 3000 words a day for the entire round. Okay, and by week two – 2600 words behind. Not a good feeling. There is no failure here, simply adjust. Four hundred words got done, so I bet 500 a day would work – because it’s not a goal if it’s a given, there has to be at least a bit of stretch.

The second adjust is when we are slamming away at a goal and life throws us an unavoidable curve ball that grabs time. Simply adjust to your new circumstances, but never stop and never let yourself be overwhelmed trying to keep up with a goal that doesn’t match with your new reality.

The third adjust is due to changing needs. I needed to complete x. It’s done. Now I need to do y next. Don’t wait, make the change without hesitation to be sure the momentum carries forward. I’ve watched quite a few people blaze their way to achieving a goal only to wander aimlessly afterward. Always stay in motion.

Layered Goals. Now I am going to share a technique I’ve used the past two rounds. My stated goals are not my “true” goals, they are my “minimum” goals. Here is what I mean and do in reality. Say I have a word count goal of 500 a day. That is a minimum. My real goal is going to be 750 words a day and my true goal, or stretch goal is going to be 1000 a day.

The minimum is what I can be satisfied with, the real goal is what I’d be happy with, and the true goal is what I’d be thrilled by. Now let’s try a harder example, I want to publish a novella this round. Too big. Split it up. “This week, I will do x”, say, do a final read through. Next week, I’ll put together the .epub version. Next week, .mobi. Then Smashwords. Then a double check. Or an edit. Or make a final cover choice. Etc. There is nothing that says the goal stated at the beginning of the round is set in stone. ROW is a dynamic system and its greatest power lies in flexibility. What do you need to do this week? State it, let us encourage you or offer useful advice or give assistance.

The final key. Community. ROW is a group of creatives traveling along a similar path to a similar destination. Imagine 100 people hiking a road together. No cell phones, no ear buds, no distractions – the way people traveled in ancient times. You’d talk to the people near you. You’d look across the crowd for others you knew. Or that were dressed in a similar style or that just looked interesting. You’d interconnect. And support. And be supported in return. If you really want to attain your goals and find the encouragement to make it through the struggles, then travel about the crowd, make friends, offer support, and encouragement and you’ll find that it will be paid back tenfold. It always has been for me.

All the best for your journey.

Gene Lempp

Why I Love Being A Writer by Gene Lempp

Writing, for me, and I know for many of you, is an unparalleled experience. It’s in our blood, haunts our thoughts both waking and dreaming, is a soul-deep drive. And it should be – it is passion that both inspires our work and empowers it.

Here are a few of the things I love about being a writer – I hope they will ignite your passions as well.

I love finding out new things about people. When a character comes out of the blue and says, “Hey Gene, let’s talk. You see, I’m really like this. I’d never wear a turtleneck. Stop making me eat peanut butter, it makes me gassy. Etc.” Getting to sit back and have quality time with my subconscious manifestations brings the writing to life. Sure, the character doesn’t Actually exist – but for writers they do and in deeper ways then the people we know in real life because characters can’t hide their truths from us if we take the time to seek them. How often are you able to see beyond the masks and facades of the people you know when they are trying to hide something? This intimacy is what makes character creation is a refreshing activity.

I love discovering new worlds. I have a fun writing exercise that I use when I want to create a world or scenic area. I call it the Blank Cube. Have you ever seen a cartoon where the characters fall out of the background into a completely white limbo? Imagine yourself in such a spot, only you have absolute power to populate the scenery however you choose. Where is the horizon? What color is the sky? The color and shade of the grass? Turn in a circle, what do you see? Shape the world with the power of your thoughts alone. No inner editor allowed here – just you and the unquestioned power of creation. This is one of the greatest joys of being a fiction writer. Yes, it’s an ego trip, but please save self-denial for that third sprinkled doughnut that is calling your name. Explore the Blank Cube and bring a new world to life.

I’m one of those people that loves knowing the “why” of everything. Call it a strange and guilty pleasure. When I’m working out a storyline, the first test centers on why an event would happen, why would the character(s) take a certain course or action, why would anyone care, why, why. This is a fun exercise and another way to gain intimacy with your characters. “Hey, Bill. Why do you stutter when you talk about your mother but the rest of the time your speech is politician smooth?” And don’t forget to ask the villains the same questions: “Why exactly are you trying to become the supreme overlord of the corner hot dog stand?” In life, finding out the reasons behind other peoples actions and those of the world around us is often difficult and hidden by layers of defense; I’m convinced it is a reflex from childhood, no one wants to get found out and have to pay up for their actions: “If they knew why I did this it would make me look stupid/incompetent/etc.”. In our fiction, the world is an open book (pun intended) that cannot hide when we take the time to search. Find out the why and watch your writing resonate with the power of discovery.

Last, but never least – I enjoy meeting and getting to know other writers. Spending too much time alone in one’s own mind does have drawbacks. Insulation saps inspiration – we need contact in order to learn, grow and recharge the batteries. Only another writer can truly understand the trials and joys of writing. Yes, your mom loves you but a nice brownie and a suggestion to go do something “useful” is not going to help figure out how best to get your protagonist from point A to point B. Take the brownie to go and find a writing friend to talk the issue out with – and that, my friends, is something “useful” and a joy I hope you all experience regularly.

What are some of the reasons you love being a writer? What is the “writerly” activity you most enjoy? Do you have writing buddies you can hang out, call and chat with?


Gene Lempp

Harvesting our Creative Potential by Gene Lempp

ROW80 has been an incredible learning experience for most of us, even more so for me. As a sponsor one of the things that I noticed in the last round of 2011 was how we each grow to the heights of achievement followed by a downtime of creative famine. Euphoric despair. Which I feel is an apt way to describe the life of many writers I’ve met in the past year. This thought brought to mind the farming cycle (yes, I’m odd like that). Crops are chosen. Seeds planted. Nurtured. Grown and harvested. Followed by a fallow time allowing the nutrients of the soil to rebuild and refresh so that the following season another crop will find bounty.

As writers (and I believe this applies to all creative minds) we pass through a similar cycle. Our story idea is chosen. Just a whisper, a first vision. A mystery or space odyssey. A dragon on a mountaintop or an autistic werewolf that collects stamps. An idea of the crop we wish to plant.

The idea, once envisioned, transforms and a story comes to mind. The mystery will involve a serial killer that stalks nurses on nights of the full moon. The space odyssey is launched in advance of a global killer asteroid and those on board face an uncertain future as the last of humanity. The dragon claims a princess, the favored of a powerful king due to her talent with song and harp. The werewolf falls in love with the owner of a stamp shop but her aggressive landlord is trying to force her into marriage and blocking the shy changelings advances. Seeds, also known as log lines, themes, character arcs and plot points, planted in fertile ground and watered by our imaginations.

I’d suggest having at least a basic knowledge of all of your stories seeds, just as a gardener knows all of the requirements of the seeds they plant. The depth, the amount of water and light needed, and the spacing needed between seeds to be sure they grow to their full potential. Additionally, as every row of crops is in a straight line, for a writer, this basic knowledge keeps our story on a straight path.

We nurture these seeds by exploring the story (pantsers) or plotting out potential outcomes (plotters) or something in between. We choose the opposition and follow their line of trouble. We craft a hero that can overcome and survive and in the final crucial moment bring a satisfying win (or die with honor trying). We watch the story grow and take shape from sprout to a full-shafted stalk of corn with fine plump ears and silken tassels.

Then comes the harvest. The labor of bringing it all together and while it is a labor that most writers enjoy it is exhausting work for our creative muscles. The once rich ground left churned and punctured by the corn stalks of the story its nutrients depleted. Yet on our table rests a beautiful plate stacked with corn that we will enjoy for weeks to come, a completed manuscript, be it novel or story, full of all the rich nutrients of our imaginative minds and ready for others to feast upon.

It is at this point when many writers, myself included, stumble. We feel the urge to immediately replant and think that delay is an evil to be avoided. However, this is not always the case. Allowing our imaginations to recharge is essential to the process of creation. We have to breath and live and experience the world around us. This is when we explore options for future crops (brainstorming ideas), learn about new seeds (craft books), study new tricks for planting (reading fiction) and then consider the list we have of potential projects and see what speaks to us.

This time allows us to dabble in other things, perhaps a mystery short for someone that normally writes chick lit (as a ROW friend did during NaNoWriMo last round). Or maybe, a light fantasy adventure instead of dark urban paranormal. Allowing our minds time to recharge in an area is a sure way to find creative energy when we return to plant in our favorite fields.

I would encourage all of you, fellow ROWers to remember that forward progress is true success as a writer, not that you turn out x number of pages every day until the end of time.

Peaceful Writings.


Gene Lempp

Only The Moment by Gene Lempp

Life teaches us many lessons, some come easily, others painfully and some only by a special vote of Congress. A few years ago, as I considered the many lessons of my life I had an epiphany. All of these lessons had one thing in common: An individual. This thought led me to consider why some things had come easier than others and over time I designed the following statement to sum up what I discovered:

Only the moment seems eternal and in a moment everything will change.

Have you ever waited anxiously for a call or child’s arrival home? What could be delaying them? Why hasn’t the job or loan officer or agent contacted me? Perhaps an important meeting or confrontation is on the horizon? The imagination swirls with the possibilities and internal tension grows. Every moment stretches to infinity. Then the phone rings or the door opens, the moment arrives, and instantly all the tension melts away as our thoughts and fears find release. Everything changes.

I noticed in the last round of ROW80 that many of us (myself included) went through phases where life was not agreeable to our plans. Life is inconsiderate like that. Is there anything that we can do to get through these disruptive times and still keep our goals and desires intact? I think so.

Interruptions are many. They can be something as simple as a child’s urgent (and forgotten) need for our time to those of a more serious nature such as a major life change. Here are some suggestions on how to get through these moments and back to the things we want to accomplish.

  • When an interruption, distraction or the chaos of life intrudes, stay calm and relaxed. Take a deep breath. Let the emotion of the moment reside. Doing this helps us gain clarity and manage the moment in a way that is less stressful, keeps us focused and often resolves things in the least amount of time. It is when we resist what the moment brings that it seems eternal.
  • Remain flexible in your thinking. A plan that is rigid is easy to break. If you swing a sledge hammer (i.e. life) at a concrete wall (rigid plan) a hole and fractures will result and in time the wall will collapse. Swing the same hammer at a piece of sheet metal (flexible by design) and while the surface of the metal may be scratched it is likely that the hammer will be flung away with ease. When we keep our goals realistic to the needs of our lives and our minds open to the need for adjustments we reduce the impact of life’s moments. Rigidity increases stress and is a prime factor in making moments seem eternal.
  • Isolation is a lonely place. When life bogs us down it is easy to fall inside ourselves and enjoy a personal pity party. This is a sure way to make a moment eternal. We all (hopefully) have made at least a few friends through life and ROW80. Finding one (or more) that you can talk to privately (through email or DM’s) is a great way to overcome feelings of isolation when the pressure is on and things just aren’t going the way we had hoped. Having a ROW partner is an excellent way to avoid isolation but the important thing is to remember that we are part of a network of people that share common goals and issues. We also, and I know this from seeing it in the last round, are very supportive of each other through good and bad times. Isolation is always self-generated and when we reach out to others they are always happy to reach back.

Taking these steps is the fast road to “…in a moment everything will change.” While we cannot avoid the distractions of life, we can take effective steps to reduce the impact of those moments, minimize the stress and keep ourselves and our futures on track.


Gene Lempp