What Richard Simmons Taught Me About Being A Writer (Reprise)

Richard Simmons Who?😉

These days we might have a bit of trouble imagining the energy of Richard Simmons and his brand of exercise videos. Heck, even in the Hey Day of Sweatin’ to the Oldies it was heard to imagine that kind of energy, at least for me. Though… it worked for him!

If you haven’t seen Mr. Simmons’ iconic series from the late 1980s, well, you can always catch snippets on Youtube or order a boxed set on DVD (yes, really). He probably was one of the first to make “Dance Like No One is Watching” into a brand. But when you’re watching those snippets, remember the real goal here… to forgive yourself when you slide and get right back into the Doin’ and the Movin’. And write…. I mean dance like no one is watching.


Richard Simmons. Frizzy, bedazzled, uber-enthusiastic. What better cheerleader could you ask for in the realm of weight loss? I’m a grumpy pessimist and even I can’t help but smile at the man’s boundless, cheerful energy.

Plus, the most important thing I’ve learned about writing, I learned from him.

Okay, well, it wasn’t about writing. It was about keeping diet and exercise goals. And maybe I’m mis-remembering. Maybe it wasn’t Richard Simmons, but someone else that imparted this wisdom, but I like to think of it coming from a man who isn’t afraid to wear shorty shorts.

What did I learn? This:

Today, you have the opportunity to do better than yesterday.

None of us are perfect. In the land of weight-loss, a bastion of self-discipline might meet a piece of chocolate cake that can’t be refused. The early-morning exerciser might over-sleep when the forgotten alarm clock doesn’t ring. Without getting on a soapbox about dieting versus lifestyle changes, it’s obvious that a plan shouldn’t be abandoned after one failure. Or two or three failures. Yet, that’s what often happens. “I’ve blown my diet. Pass me a second piece of cake.”

That’s where Richard’s advice comes in. Two pieces of cake? That was yesterday. Today, forgive yourself and do better. Get back to eating healthy; sweat to some oldies.

We get this way with writing goals too. The goal is to write 500 words daily. Unfortunately, after a couple successful weeks, the word count spreadsheet lists 323 words on Monday , 122 on Tuesday, and 275 on Wednesday. It’s easy to throw in the terrycloth towel after not meeting the goal a few times. “That’s only 720 words instead of 1500. I’ve blown my writing goal. Why should I bother shooting for 500 words today?”

Because you have the opportunity to do better than yesterday. Writing 276 words is better than yesterday, and a whole lot better than zero words. Sitting down to writing that 276 might reap more.

Inherent in this philosophy is self-forgiveness. It’s good to look at yesterday and decide on what can be done better, but it’s useless to dwell in the failure. Don’t arrive at day 80 and find that nothing was achieved after “blowing the goal.”

For the last couple of years, I’ve run in a 5K race. I’m not much of a runner. I do it because it’s exercise and a group of my friends like running the event. This year, I wanted to beat last year’s time. About halfway through, I knew it wasn’t going to happen. I had to slow down and walk too many times. That didn’t mean I didn’t run my hardest in the last quarter mile. I didn’t beat my time, but I still finished. I was a little mad at myself for not pushing harder. Yet, I still run. I’ll train more and do better next time.

These writing goals that we make? They’re like running that race. As long as we go forward, we finish. It’s not all or nothing unless you quit.

Yesterday is past. I can’t do anything about only writing only 57 words yesterday. Today is a different. Today, I have the opportunity to do better.


Katherine Nabity


Check-in 5/28

Sunday, Sunday… so good to be…. Sunday ROWin’ will guarantee…

That it’s time to share how your week has gone, fellow ROWers! (What else?)

It can also guarantee we will be with you, all these 80 days, cheering you on, giving you little nudges.

So let us know how things are going for you here at our linky.

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Living Life as Imagined

When you looked into the ROW80—heck, when you looked at a computer or a blank page and decided you wanted to make something uniquely of you with it—what did you envision for your future? Not only the achieving of the goals you set at the opening of a ROWnd, but after several rounds, after years (in or out of these challenges)….

What do you see for yourself? How can the ROW80 help you get there?

Here’s the perspective of fellow ROWer and past sponsor to show one way to try reaching that person inside you:

Live The Life You Imagined

A Round of Words in 80 Days is meant to remind us writers that we have lives outside of writing. Not only that, but the life outside of writing is often what inspires us to write in the first place! My inspirational post will be short today because I want to practice what I preach. I want to get out there and live.

I don’t only want to get out there and live, I want to live the life I imagined. Here’s a secret of mine: I’ve been in the real world for ten months (I went straight to grad school after undergrad, so I’ve been in school the last seven years). It has been a tough transition because I understood the academic system like the back of my hand. I still don’t quite understand this whole “working for a paycheck” vs “working for the love of it.” A week or so ago, however, I realized that maybe I’m just looking at things with the wrong attitude.

When I was little, I imagined I would be a published author by the time I was 25. Check. I wanted to have my own place, be independent. Check and check. Now, I don’t have a husband, which I thought I would by this point, but doesn’t every 16-year-old think that? If this is something I want, truly, then I need to be out there living rather than writing alone.

I’m not saying don’t write. Just don’t write alone. Go to a coffee shop, library, wi-fi enabled restaurant if you write on the computer. Go to the park and write in your journal. Surround yourself with people and engage them when the opportunity strikes. You never know what might happen. Perhaps you will have a conversation that inspires your next chapter or book.

At the end of the day, your experience with ROW80 is determined by your attitude and availability. Where do you see yourself when this round is complete? Can you imagine it? What do you have to do to get there?

Whatever it is, get out there and do it. Why wait? Live the life you imagine you will be living in June today.


Belinda Kroll


What it Is (or is not) About

We all have an idea of what we want to get out of these online challenges Some are grandiose, some less so… but we all know what we want, what it means… what it’s all about… But do we really?

Now I’m not sure. Are you? What is it?

Well, as sponsor Alice McElwee noted in her great post: It’s Not About Quality OR Quantity.” (This is a repost from May 2, 2011)


Writers are often a bit neurotic, especially newbie writers who are still building their writing habits and developing their writing style.

We start by following the golden rule of writing: write. Write every day.

It’s not long before “writing every day” turns into “writing x amount of words every day”. That’s where sh** hits the fan. We stress ourselves out because we’re not writing as prolifically as other writers. I have a friend (great, great friend – love her lots) who can write thousands of words a day without breaking a sweat. There are some days where she will write almost 10K in a day.

Then there’s me.

I struggle to write 10K in a month, let alone in a day.

Surrounding ourselves with such amazing writers who can write a lot every day is a good thing. We strive to be at their level, to write thousands of words a day. However, there is a downside too. Sometimes, surrounding ourselves with these uber-writers makes us feel pretty bad about the pittance of words we struggled to get out.

Here’s the thing (and it’s easier said than done) – it is not about quantity.

STOP worrying about your word count. Don’t even look at it. If you can’t help but look at it, write in a program that doesn’t show you a word count or write in a notebook.

I promise you, you’ll write more than you’re used to when you learn to stop looking at the word count.

Your word count doesn’t matter – finishing the story is all that matters. You can add/delete words when you revise.

Speaking of revision…

Stop revising as you go.

Whether we like to admit it or not, a lot of writers (myself included) struggle with this. Those damn little red/green wiggles taunt us. We get ideas to change scenes we wrote 50 pages ago. We hit a wall in writing new stuff, so we go back to revise, hoping that in revising we will be inspired to write something new.

Sorry, but that’s rarely how it works.

Whatever program you use to write, there is probably a setting to turn off edits. Those squiggles will haunt you and taunt you until you gave and add dozens of new words/names to your dictionary fix all the spelling and change sentence structures.

Ignore the word count. Ignore the grammar. JUST WRITE.

It doesn’t matter if you write 50 words and they are all misspelled, as long as you write. And while you’re writing, write every day. Five minutes, twenty minutes or an hour – doesn’t matter how long, how much or how bad – just write.

Writing is the only way our stories will get finished. Worrying about our word counts and grammatical problems isn’t going to finish our story. Click-clacking at our keyboards, however…


Alice McElwee

Check-in 5/14

How’s it going?

Just another check-in. Let us know how you’re doing. Share a kind word (crass ones are acceptable when necessary, but kind are preferred), and visit your fellow ROWers…

Here’s the linky:

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Making Good Choices

While we’re still at the beginning of ROWnd 2, this post seemed appropriate. Given our recent growing pains as we recover from a hectic couple of years, a new sense of how social media and online publishing have changed… we are surrounded by choices. We tend to think things “used to be easier”. They really weren’t, but because we’re here, not there, and we survived those struggles when today’s seem so insurmountable, we repeat the myth to ourselves.

Let’s stop. Each time has its challenges. Some are easier than others (and more friendly, like the ROW80), but they all require effort… and good choices. So here is a little timewarp post from Kait to help you with that.

(Please note, this repost from our very first ROW80 sponsor posts, Make Good Choices was published by Kait Nolan from April 4, 2011.)

There is this scene in the Disney remake of Freaky Friday–the one with Jamie Lee Curtis and Lindsay Lohan–where therapist Jamie is dropping teenager Lindsay off at high school and she shouts out the mini-van window, “Make good choices!” at a pitch that all can hear.  Lindsay, of course, hunches her shoulders in mortification and hurries inside.   This scene always makes me laugh.

I have my own little Jamie Lee Curtis who lives on my shoulder to remind me to make good choices.  I find her more appealing than the traditional angel or devil.  Now, in my case, she is usually popping up in response to diet and exercise, helping steer me toward making better choices. Deciding to have the vegetables instead of the fries.  The salad instead of the burger.  To sacrifice that half hour of sleep for some exercise.  I find my little shoulder companion more helpful than making sweeping declarations that I’ll lose 10 pounds in a month or eat nothing but vegetables or whatever.  One day at a time.  No punishing myself for not making good choices yesterday.  There’s only today and the choices I make now.

But you know, this applies to more than health and fitness.  It applies to writing too.  Very few of us are fortunate enough to do nothing but write.  We have day jobs.  We have families.  We have friends.  We have (hopefully) other hobbies.  And sadly there are only 24 hours in a day.  So until we locate and develop rapid space travel to a planet with a 30 hour day (wherein, I would have time every day for an afternoon nap–oh  bliss!), we have to learn how to prioritize and put the writing first, even though we might rather go out with friends or see a movie or (if the book is going badly) do laundry.

To you ROW80 newbies, welcome.  If you’ve been talking to our veterans or checking out the About Page, then you know that we are not like other writing challenge.  We don’t ask you to give up your life and unplug from the world.  That’s ridiculous and impractical as a long-term strategy for success.  OUR goal is to be flexible, to recognize that there is no one-size-fits-all strategy that will work for every writer.  Your goals are up to you, and you’re free to change them as Life Happens or if you think you’ve bitten off a bit more than you can chew or if you were too conservative in your original estimates of what you can accomplish.  Just write up your new goals in a post and link to it on the next check-in.  For more on the importance of goal setting and what makes a good measurable goal, I point you to my Round 1 kick off post.

To you ROW80 veterans who are back for Round 2, I challenge you to look back at your experience with Round 1, at the goals you set then, whether they worked for you or not.  Maybe you fell off the wagon (a lot of us did).  So what?  That’s over and past.  Make a vow this time to have your own little shoulder companion sitting there urging you to make good choices.  Maybe for you it will be your favorite writer.  Maybe you’ll have a little Stephen King or a Madeleine L’Engle or a Nora Roberts on your shoulder.  Maybe you’ve got somebody else who will inspire you to put the writing first.  No matter who you choose as your personal mascot, let there be someone who can push you that extra mile.  And don’t worry…the rest of us will be there to back you up as well.

Good writing!

Are You A…. Crit Partner or Beta Reader

Which One Are You?

(Please note, this is a repost from our very first sponsor posts of the challenge, Crit Partner or Beta Reader: Which One Are You by Susan Bischoff from March 14, 2011.)

As we near the end of ROW80, I thought I’d give you a post about editing. Here are some things that won’t be covered: proofreading, line-editing, copy-editing. These are all basically the same thing, and are a final phase that comes after the real editing has been completed. The lesson in this paragraph: proofreading does not equal editing.

So now that that’s out of the way, let’s talk crits and betas. A lot of times you’ll see these terms used interchangeably. I’m not sure there are official definitions or if there’s an actual difference, but in my head I definitely make a distinction between these two characters, and that’s what I’m going to talk about today. The difference between beta and crit in the mind of Susan, and how it applies to you.

To me, beta reading is a kindler, gentler art than critique. Beta readers are a small pool of readers with slightly varying tastes and life experiences (because our own life experience often plays into our enjoyment of fiction) who are going to give your book a read-through to see if they like it. While some are more critical than others, beta readers basically want to like your book and generally will. When you send things out to beta readers, you’re often looking for general impressions:

* Did it make sense?
* Did you enjoy the story? How was the pacing?
* Did you like my characters, esp. the mains? Were they relate-able, could you connect?
* Did you feel like there were holes? Was anything confusing?

These are all important things to know. Naturally, you think you’ve handled all this before you let anyone else see the book, but it’s good to get confirmation from fresh eyes and different brains.

Beta reading usually doesn’t take much longer than any other kind of reading, and, while some betas may note some typos for you, ask a few questions, or write a bunch of LOLs within your text, what you usually get back are a few paragraphs with general impressions.

Critique implies criticism, or at least critical thinking. Someone who is critiquing your work is not casual about their reading. They’re thinking like an editor. Unlike the beta who gives you a read-through, wanting to like your work, a crit partner combs your text, line by line, wanting to make sure as many people like it as possible. They’re looking for more than “Do I like this?” I guess the easiest way to describe reading for critique, in the way I think of it, is that a crit partner is looking for things to be wrong.

Which is why finding a good critique partner or editor is really hard. Because not everyone is good at looking for problems objectively, from the mindset of Genre-Reader X. Some people who go looking for mistakes do so because they get personal satisfaction in finding mistakes and pointing them out rather than the in the editorial process itself. Some people involve ego in their crits. Some people aren’t able to step out of their own voice and style and objectively evaluate work that is different from the way they would have written it.

Good critique involves, amongst other things, understanding the voice and style of the author you’re working for, and understanding the genre you’re reading. Because as a crit partner, you’re placing yourself in the character of Genre-Reader X, a picky reader who would be happy to write a scathing, 1-star review on Amazon. You’re undercover as Genre-Reader X, looking for anything that might confuse or pull the reader out of the story, when, in reality, you’re really the person who stands between your author and that 1-star review.

As a crit partner, even though you’re in there looking for mistakes, it’s not because you want to tear your partner down, it’s because your job is to serve and protect your author by helping to find weak spots and flaws that she was too close to see. It’s then up to her to decide, hopefully with the same amount of objectively you brought to the job, whether and how to make changes. You might provide thoughts, guidance, suggestions, but the work is hers, and so are the decisions.

Now you have some understanding of how I think of these two different terms and we can get to my real question: In your own work, are you doing beta or crit?

I see this a lot: “Whew! I finally finished the first draft. Huzzah! Now a quick pass for typos and then it’s off to the betas!”

I’m here to suggest, based on what I’ve seen in rough drafts over the past few years, that you do more than a quick pass for typos. When you’re writing your first draft, it’s important for many people to just write through and not go back and edit the work as you go. There’s value in that. But your readers, even the pre-release readers on your team, deserve more than a pass for typos. In fact, they probably don’t much care about the typos (proof-reading being an entirely DIFFERENT event that comes after this phase).

But, more importantly, part of growing as a writer is learning to be better evaluators of fiction, including our own. It may be especially true for indies, many of whom won’t have the benefit of professional editorial services, or will have to pay for those by the hour, that learning to put yourself in that Genre-Reader X suit and to look at your work objectively will be an invaluable skill. I think that the more you’re able to do this after your draft is written, the more you’ll be able to internalize what works and what doesn’t, and the stronger your first drafts will be going forward.

So what I’m suggesting in this post is to consider becoming a critiquer, as opposed to a beta, of your own work, before anyone else ever sees it. Rather than giving it a quick read-through, and one in which you want to love everything you’ve written, learn to put yourself in someone else’s shoes and evaluate. Think critically and learn to find your own weak points.

Editing, whether it’s for yourself or a fellow writer, is a skill all its own. Few people are naturally good at all aspects of writing. Learning to analyze what works and what doesn’t in fiction and in your genre, learning to be objective about your work–these things can take time. Probably the hardest thing is learning to see what’s actually on the page, rather than what’s in your head that you meant to be on the page.

Keep practicing your editorial skills, on your own work, and on work you critique for your peers, and they’ll improve like any other skill set in your Writer Arsenal of DOOM.


Susan Bischoff

The (Extra) Long Stretch

(Please note, this is a repost from our very first sponsor posts of the challenge, The Long Stretch by Dawn Montgomery, from March 7, 2011.)

I have three boys, two tomboys, and have been raised in a family of Texas (American) football fanatics, so let me throw this one at you in sports terms.

It’s fourth and goal, 10 seconds on the clock, and twenty yards to the end zone. A field goal would tie the game and knock it into overtime while a touchdown would end it right there…so what do you do? Both are respectable choices and come with their own risks. You can take the field goal and run the risk of losing the advantage in overtime OR you can go for the touchdown and run the risk of the game ending with your team 3 points short if you fail to bring it home.

Writing is no different.

When I’m reaching the end of a writing challenge I feel this panic in my chest and gut like I’m racing against the clock…and losing. I haven’t met my goals, I didn’t complete my book, I didn’t create the world or edit the pages I’d said I would. I’m a failure…

Any of this sound familiar?

The field goal is what you can safely finish by the end of this challenge. You have a *few weeks* left. You can’t look at the game (the writing challenge) with how many points (words, pages, etc) you’d MEANT to complete. You have to take a good hard look at what you can accomplish. By now you’ve seen all the possible things that could wipe out your motivation, time, etc. So you have a better handle on what you can get done. So now, make a goal, based on your previous weeks’ tallies. Check your average and set that up as your new goal. Then, when the challenge ends, you’ve got some time to finish your current work in progress by going into a little overtime.

But what about those who will accept nothing less than a win?? I want that touchdown! What about you guys? If it’s in your heart to do it, go for it! You’ve got a *few weeks* left so get it done and take that hard break between challenges. When the next round starts, however, you’ve got to consider taking all the work you’ve finished and polishing it, getting it ready for submission, etc. That kind of drive is fantastic, but remember, we’re developing our writing skill as well. Get the words on the page, get your work done, but schedule time for editing.

So what do we do when the challenge is over? When we’re in the off season, so to speak.

I, for one, will be breathing a great sigh of relief for another challenge under my belt. Just like athletes in the off season, however, we have to prepare for the next one. Does that mean read a ton of books on writing, lose myself in all the recent political intrigue involving my chosen genre, etc.?


Staring at my playbook on plotting and character description is not going to make me a better writer after such a tough challenge. What I will do in my off season is pick up a book in my favorite genre and/or an author I love to read and just enjoy. Remind myself why I do what I do. I love books, how they send me to far off places with amazing adventures. How the hero and heroine in a romance find that key moment where they each realize they’ve fallen in love. I will give myself permission to enjoy it and not feel pressured by deadlines or looming challenges. Give my mind a break.

I’ve seen so many different challenges in this round from writing poetry, creating a new novel, novella, or short story to editing, creating a new world, or completing research papers. I hope you’ve met your goals, but if not, I’m still proud of how hard every one of you have worked to get this far.

Keep writing!


Dawn Montgomery