ROW80

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