Inspiration

Wednesday Check-in Week 9

See this?

Courtesy of Wikipedia

This is you.  This is me too.  It is a rough diamond in the matrix of other stones that diamonds are normally found in.  It is one of the rarest gems out there.  It is beautiful, bright, shiny…  and it is hard, strong—unbreakable.  It has been forged under great pressure over a long (very long!) time.  That’s why, here at the ROW80, we “challenge” ourselves daily 80 days per round, four rounds a year—because it takes more than pressure to make something as amazing as a diamond.  It takes time and the right environment too.

Part of what makes the ROW80 such a wonderful environment is our supportive community.  It’s not just about checking in, but also about visiting other ROWers and supporting them.  We even have #row80 sprints on Twitter to connect and socialize.

And of course, we have goals….  how are you doing on yours?

Let us know at the little blue froggie:

Sunday Check-in Week 7

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Sometimes you need more than just a desire to achieve…  which is exactly why Kait Nolan created the ROW80 a few years ago.   The steps work, but #4 requires one extra bit…  the sharing of progress.  Because how can we support each other if we don’t know where we’re at in our various journeys?

So, here it is again, another check-in, a chance to give and get support from your fellow ROW80 members.  Even if you’ve been behind for a while, a lax member whose been afraid to check-in because saying “no real progress” over and over again feels self-defeating…  stop in, check in, and begin again.  Today is a brand new day to build your dreams.

The linky:

Sideways Up The Slope by Shan Jeniah Burton

What do you do when you’re stymied, and it seems like nothing is getting you any closer to achieving your goals?

Sometimes, I find answers in the efficiency of nature.

Take the sidewinder rattlesnake. Here’s a video of her in action. A note for the squeamish – nature doesn’t offer grocery stores. Like all wild predators, Miss Sidewinder has to take other measures if she wants to eat.

You’ve been warned.


The sidewinder makes forward progress…by going sideways.

How does that relate to my trickiest writing issue – revision?

For many years, I had no real idea how to revise. I poked aand tweaked, but I was missing major pieces of the puzzle. They didn’t fall into place until I channeled my inner sidewinder.

Yup – I “went sideways” up the steep sandy slope.

Miss Sidewinder has venom, but she also has a problem: she lives in a climate where she stands out.

When I first tried to revise a novel, anyone who looked could see the tracks I made. Where revision should look seamless, mine was as obvious as a snake sidewinding her way up a sand dune.

Miss Sidewinder has to conceal herself to catch her dinner. She digs herself into the loose sand, where her coloring helps her blend in. The horned scales over her eyes keep sand and glare out.

I needed to learn how to immerse myself in word-sands, and wait for my prey. I hadn to observe carefully, so when the right prey came along, I’d be ready to strike. Instead of horned scales, I have an adaptable human brain. I can learn things that help me capture my quarry – revision that goes somewhere without being obvious about it.

Miss Sidewinder uses her lateral movement to scoop out the sand. Once she’s wiggled a hollow out, she curls into it, letting the sand slide back in to cover her. Then she waits for her moment.

I went sideways, too. I read a book called Rock Your Plot, and learned about key elements like story structure and the need to understand my character’s goals, motivations, and conflicts. That led me to Rock Your Revisions, and I wiggled out a hollow in my mind and settled in.

Eventually, seeing what needed to happen in revisions got a lot clearer – and the drafts I’m creating with my new plotting know-how are faster and cleaner right from the start. My prey is easier than ever to catch.

Miss Sidewinder also has an inborn imperative to perpetuate her scaly species. Once she gives birth, Mama Sidewinder stays at the little burrow, guarding her young.

Mama’s Little Sidewinders are cold-blooded babies. The desert outside the burrow is too hot for them to survive at first. Their underground home is too cold. Mama can’t share her body heat, the way warm-blooded critters can.

Caught between deadly extremes, the baby snakes do something amazing.

They work together, forming a net at the entrance to the burrow with their tiny, writhing bodies, and regulate their collective body heat to a very constant temperature . Each baby takes turns, always moving, and, together, they do what’s needed to survive.

There’s something to be said for banding together, networking to reach the collective good, with every member making contributions and reaping rewards as others do the same.

After NaNoWriMo 2015, three other local writers and I formed a critique group. Our goal is to each submit one piece weekly, and critique the works of the other members. I also do beta readings and reviews for other members of the writing community.

This might seem like a sideways approach. I have several WIPs of my own awaiting revision. Surely I could get through them faster if I weren’t spending hours each week offering input to other writers, right?

Maybe not.

I want a sustainable writing business that brings in a modest income. I need to learn how to revise as efficiently as Mama’s Little Sidewinders maintain their body temperature.

If I only revise my own writing, I’ll always know what I meant to write. I might see that rather than what’s actually there. I would always know the backstories, and the process of creation, and I’d cut myself slack whether I meant to or not.

Joining a group where I give three critiques for each piece I submit quadruples my workload. ButI want to become proficient at the principles that will help with all revisions. The distance and objectivity of critiquing and beta reading for others gives me lots of practice where I don’t know the “inner core” of the story – the vision only its creator can have.

In return, I get critiques from my three partners. Each has a unique way of reading and specific skills that mean that I get three distinct opinions on each piece I submit. I’m learning a lot from the comments and questions I’m getting, and from reading and critiquing their work.

We are all sidewinders in ROW80! By setting our own goals, being accountable, and by visiting one another to offer kudos, encouragement, or commiseration, we’re banding together like Mama’s Little Sidewinders, in a network aimed at collective success, but which relies upon each individual doing their part.

Let’s slither sideways up the slopes of our writing challenges, and band together for the common good as we move into the final weeks of Round Three, and beyond.

Do It Different Day’: Another Way to Build Your Writing Productivity and Just Maybe, Save Your Sanity! by Beth Camp

So you’re deep in revision, the phone is turned off, the to-do list is covered up, and you want to make progress with your story, but you keep thinking about what needs to be done next in the ‘real’ world.

Maybe you write early in the morning or late at night. You write in the middle, between, or before all those other commitments come screaming at you. The job. The kids. Volunteer work. Dare I say it? OTHER writing projects? As in that beta read that’s due this week, chapters waiting for the red pen for your critique group, and that flash fiction you want to submit. Whether you are self-published or not, we add marketing to the list. And social media. By the way, is your e-mail inbox full?

I can always tell when ‘real life’ becomes overwhelming. My office looks like Attila the Hun just paid a visit and took prisoners. And I stop writing.

My challenge this month was balancing writing with commitments to others. My e-mail ballooned to over 600 messages, many gems from writing gurus, and I couldn’t find time to write for 4 days. All too quickly, that fear that I would never write, not be able to finish this beautiful story I’m working on, began to grow. Adding to my doubt, several readers popped into my life to ask: “When are you going to finish the next book?” My daughter reassured me that I’m not a coke machine, producing consumables, but a three-year turnaround is a long time for readers to wait.

I read somewhere that decluttering is a way of life, not just an annual purge.

We start the day and end it with routine. Our stories have structure, and whether we recognize the warp and woof of each day, so too do we weave our own designs for living – the when, the how, and the what – with each small decision we make.

Remember that old ‘fight or flight’ syndrome from psychology class? We all run away at times to those people, activities, or treats that soothe us. Do you run away from conflict and challenge? Consider asking: What have I needed to do for so long and keep putting off? This follows the theory that what we dread falls to the bottom of the list and somehow remains invisible as it grows in our subconscious like a dark, dark alien, sucking energy as it drains away our focus and attention from ‘what matters most’.

Consider facing into your challenges. And if you make lists, now’s the time! Try a ‘Do it Different Day.’

  1. Set your writing aside.
  2. Look at your work space and grab that endless to-do list.
  3. Consider your commitments.
  4. Assess those tasks that interrupt your writing. What gets in the way? Why?
  5. Analyze what needs to be done, break larger jobs into smaller steps.
  6. Tackle the hardest task on your list.
  7. Spend some time organizing/cleaning up your work area.

Why not set that timer for 30 minutes? OK, 15 minutes. Try baby steps and – most important — notice your reaction AFTER those 30 minutes of focused organizing/cleaning are complete.

Know yourself. Know that the crazy disorder will reoccur, unplanned disasters will create havoc (and leave emotional ripples), deadlines will shift, and distractions will multiply. But you can make a ‘Do It Different Day’ a part of your life, kind of a scheduled way to bring order and creativity in balance with the rest of your ‘real’ life and your writing life.

Reality check: I’m back on track with my revision and meeting my minimum of one hour a day on revision. E-mails are comfortably under 100. No, I haven’t confronted that to-be-read pile, and I haven’t watered my long-suffering African violets, but I’m writing. My office welcomes me with materials organized by project. I won’t lose my place. I’m not sure when exactly my next “Do It Different Day” will occur, but this strategy works for me. I hope it helps YOU!

~*~

Save the Trees: A Cautionary Tale by Eden Mabee

I took a long time in writing this. I wasn’t sure that a post of this nature would be appropriate—or welcome. It’s not very inspirational. Nor have I filled it with writerly wisdom.

What it is… is important.

Under the purview of a ROW80 sponsor post, it involves the insidious creep of an “Everyone else seems to be doing so well, what is wrong with me? I’m so tired and stressed and… I must be doing something wrong” mindset that pervade social media these days, including ROW80 member blogs, and the inherent dishonesty behind that belief.

a5068ffe5391e9181e63d7e5a4653814a379b8a78647bcace01a494eeeb29245Yes, the ROW80 is the Writing Challenge that Knows You have a Life, so failure is an option where the Cray-cray comes to visit. But how many of us really want to share those personal heartbreaks that mess up our word counts or knock our goals out for the count a week or more? We cannot stop life from having its way with us, but we can stop sharing—we don’t want to seem like we’re whining or being downers, after all.

I’ve been involved in the ROW80 for about four years, and I’ve sponsored for a couple. I’ve watched how we all seem to back off from employing the support we could give each other when life get hard. I’ve seen how we beat back Life’s Frustrations with cudgels of optimism, “I know I can do better next week”…. only to drop from the challenge within the next few check-ins.

I know this pattern from personal experience too. Last year, around now I dropped out of the ROW80 (and a few other writing groups I was involved in) for several months (I’ve only returned early this spring). Life had gotten … punchy, and on top of the many things I was dealing with, I was blocked…. blocked as I had never believed I could be.

From a series of deaths (two family, two friends, and one pet), to having to help my son deal with adjustment to two different schools, to the university bureaucracy as I sought to finish my teaching degree, my husband’s change of employment after sixteen years…. It’s been one hectic year, the kind of year that could –should have filled a thousand stories.

If I could have… as I said, I was blocked. I was stressed, tired… and I was desperate for the solace of my words.

"Do All The Things!" with dust bunnies subletting the vacancy in my emotional and physical reserves.

Do All The Things!” with dust bunnies subletting the vacancy in my emotional and physical reserves.

I returned to the ROW80 because of this… After all, what could be a more natural place to find a way back to one’s words than to take up a writing challenge? It might have been fine, but in my mad need, I also joined the two CampNaNoWriMos and the JuNoWriMo (as crew). I was determined to kick my Muse into action, somehow.

It took nearly ending the life of an innocent maple tree with the 2-ton guided missile that is my truck after a late night visit to my parents to accept that I couldn’t do it all anymore. I never could.

From my social media posts, few would have known. I tried to stay upbeat. I tried to cheer on fellow writers, believing that showing how much things weren’t going well would discourage others. I wonder now, though if it wasn’t dishonest. Things weren’t going well, and this was bad; I wasn’t allowing the ROW80 to be what it was designed to be. At its simplest, I wasn’t truthful in my check-ins. At the worst, I was denying my fellow ROWers the chance to see the bad with the good and the chance to be supportive… to be part of the community that they joined.

This is why I had to write this post, why it was important for me to share.

Because you deserve better of me… and of yourselves. We are a community. Maybe we don’t want to always air our dirty laundry, but we owe it to each other to admit when things just suck. We should feel comfortable enough to say when we need to step away without falling off the world. Because we’re not the only ones out there who need a kind supportive word.

Who knows? Maybe we’ll save a tree for it.

~*~

Eden Mabee

Am I Doing This On Purpose? by Shan Jeniah Burton

Do you have any odd little quirks to the way you do routine tasks – things that make perfect sense to you, but maybe not to anyone else?

When I take laundry out of the washer, I shake out each piece before dropping it in the basket. Once, while watching me do this, my Accomplice said, “You could just put it all in the basket at once. The dryer doesn’t need it to be separated.”

He was right – if my goal had just been getting the laundry into the dryer. But, while I shake out our clothing, piece by piece, I think about who owns it, and how thankful I am to have them in my life. I remember special memories and everyday moments that article of clothing was a part of. I get amazed, again and again, at how quickly the children have gone from tiny socks and onesies to people with clothes almost as large as my own – or, in my teen son’s case, larger!

For me, the laundry is a chance to be mindful of our right now. It connects me to the story of our family – almost two decades now of washing laundry as a married woman, and almost fifteen of doing it as a parent. Sometimes, now, those once-babies do the laundry, and I’m removed from this stage of the process. In what might seem the blink of an eye, I could be back to washing for two.

Clean laundry is more of a happy side effect, for me. My deeper purpose is to savor and relish the moments and the fact that we are all here, together, right now, when we haven’t always been, and may not always be. Dirty laundry is more than just a chore to me – it’s the story of us.

So what does this have to do with writing?

Sometimes I forget that my purpose is to be mindful. I get frustrated a the endless round of things I feel I should be tending to. I do them with a spirit of “gotta get this done” that saps the joy, and makes the doing more like a punishment than a blessing. I forget that some people don’t have a home to tend, a family, or passions that beckon and fulfills them. I’m fortunate enough to have all of these, and more.

When I’m in a funk about the goals I’m not meeting, I forget the deeper reason for setting themwhether that’s hometending that makes this a more pleasant place for all of us to live, or embracing my passion for writing, or supporting my childrens’ learning.

It can be easy to get swallowed up in the pursuit of goals, to the point where we forget that we have a higher purpose.

That to-do list mentality gets in the way of finding something much less tangible, and much more valuable. If we’re lucky, we get a reminder, and a chance to reset, like I did a few weeks ago, when I had one of the most intense migraines of my life.

I also had a long list of writing goals I wanted to attend to.

Writing was absolutely out of the question. That added to the tension of being incapacitated – until I had a revelation. I was making myself even more miserable because I couldn’t meet the arbitrary time frames I’d set. I was getting hung up on concrete goals, and that kept me focused on what I couldn’t do.

I decided to set time limit goals aside in favor of the purpose they were intended to serve: creating and preparing my Kifo Island novel series for self-publication.

In Smart Change, Dr. Art Markham cites management philosopher Peter Drucker’s distinction between achievements (or goals met) and contributions.

  • Goals are the path to contributions. Completing a goal is an achievement in the service of the overarching purpose it supports.

  • Contributions are larger scale, and make an impact. For instance, writing a rough draft of a novel is a goal; bringing the book to publication is a contribution, with many more steps (achievements) between the two.

In my laundry story, the goal is clean clothes. The contribution is mindfulness in my service to my family – a much bigger deal, for all of us.

This is an important distinction, because I sometimes get into a mindset of wanting to complete my goals without considering if they still support my desired contributions.

Here are some signals that clue me in that I’m in a “goal” rather than a “contribution” frame of mind:

  • A home that slides too far into unlovely chaos;

  • Feeling like I’m cheating on my writing if I don’t get to the computer right away, and stay there;

  • Frustration with other activities of daily life (like needing to sleep and eat!) and the inevitable hiccups along the way, because they’re “taking me” from my goals and my work.

What if I find myself slipping back into that “to-do list” mentality:”

I’m giving myself permission, here and now, to take time off. I will set my list and schedules aside for a day or three, and allow myself the space to just be – without guilt.

  • to putter,

  • or play,

  • or to do something absolutely not writing-related in any sense,

  • or to dive back into writing for the sheer passion of it.

So…I’ve talked a lot about me. Now, it’s your turn:

  • Are your goals working to move you closer to your contributions?

  • Do you know what your intended contributions are?

  • Are there steps you can take to relax and make sure you’re putting your energy, time, and focus to the best use to support those contributions, while not making yourself crazy with “have-tos”?

If you answered no to the first two points, I hope you’ll join me in taking some time this round to consider how to get a better handle on your goals and contribution planning, so that you get the most out of the time you’re writing – and the time you’re doing those Other Things life is full of, without stressing yourself out!

~*~

Shan Jeniah Burton

On “Finding” Your Writing Voice by Denise D. Young

Voice seems to be the most elusive and hard to define aspect of writing. A Writers Digest article defines voice this way:

What the heck is “voice”? By this, do editors mean “style”? I do not think so. By voice, I think they mean not only a unique way of putting words together, but a unique sensibility, a distinctive way of looking at the world, an outlook that enriches an author’s oeuvre. They want to read an author who is like no other. An original. A standout. A voice.

In short, it’s what we choose to notice, the words we use, the phrases, the types of sentences. Voice is not only difficult to define; it’s tough to teach.

Over the years, I’ve written a number of different works: poems that explore my connection to the goddess and nature; short stories following a character through a harrowing, life-changing moment; epic novels about saving a world from impending doom; blog posts chronicling my journey as a writer.

And I no longer worry about writing voice. Because somehow, through all the practice, it’s just there. It’s in the words I choose to describe a character or setting. It’s in the settings I choose for my characters, the cottages and cabins and castles and gardens and ancient forests. It’s in the stories I choose to write (or the ones that choose me, depending on how you look at it).

Many of you have found your voice the same way. You wrote your first million words, anything from flash fiction to sprawling 100,000-word novels, and you discovered your voice along the way.

And if you’re new at this, still in the first stages of your journey and you hear people talking about this thing called voice, and you hear agents say that they’re looking for “a distinctive voice,” or you hear that what really captivates readers is a strong voice, my advice is to write. Write often. Write a lot. Even if you’re just scribbling a few lines here or there. Even if it’s in a journal. Just write.

Because I have learned that writing voice cannot be found when you look for it. It is discovered during your journey as a writer. One day you will look back at a body of work and realize your voice has been there all along.

So go forth. And write. Often. And a lot.

What about you? How do you define “voice”? How did you discover yours—or are you still discovering it?

~*~

Denise D. Young