The stories are for you to discover, and may that journey be a magnificent one.
Here’s your linky:
Have you heard?
Sponsoring for the ROW80 is going to be a thing again! For those of you who have been ROWing with us for a while now, I’m sure you have noticed how our Round of Words has changed in the past few years (especially this one). Change is inevitable… change is good! But sometimes changes can alter the way something feels so much that the good thing that was there becomes… well, not as good as it could be.
One of these changes seems to have been eliminating ROW80 sponsors. While sponsoring could be challenging, ask anyone who did—it was a wonderful experience. 🙂 Sponsoring brought our community closer together, and even pushed a few of us to try new things. I certainly would have never considered myself “social” or at all inspirational, but writing the (as originally) assigned sponsor posts teased out skills and interests (including taking over this blog full-time) that had been completely hidden from me.
Still, the old sponsor format wasn’t working as well as it could have. As our membership changed, so did our needs. Those of you who follow our Facebook group may have seen a survey I posted… the verdict? There is still a place for sponsors in this new format, but it’s a different one than before. There will be some changes.
If you’re interested in finding out more, feel free to contact me at mousefir (at) gmail (you-know-the-rest) for all the juicy details delivered to your inbox by this Wednesday (or later, if you contact me later).
For now though…
…here’s a linky 😉 :
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.
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.
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?
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.
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.
Yes, 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.
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.
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 them – whether 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.
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.
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!
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?
There are times of the year that are better for some things than others. In the winter, I can do a lot of knitting. In the summer, I don’t even want to touch yarn, or rather have it touching me. When it’s already hot out, and I’m dripping sweat from doing nothing more than sitting (and this is in Pennsylvania-don’t want to imagine summer in the South), that’s the last thing I want, even the lighter yarns. What does this have to do with writing, you’re probably asking yourself. Well, a good bit really. I find the same to hold true, though mostly in reverse.
I’m not sure exactly why it is, but it does seem like I write more during the summer than in the winter. I’d think this would be the opposite, as we usually have more going on in the summer. There may be a few reasons for this, though. One is that, due to my husband’s job, he’s laid off from at least Thanksgiving until usually sometime in March (sometimes this starts sooner, depending on the weather. It hard to do any road construction when the snow starts flying). With him home, my whole routine tends to get thrown off. Another possible reason for this difference is that a lot of the writing challenges, aside from RoW80, that I participate in, happen during the spring and summer. There’s Camp NaNoWriMo in April and July, Story a Day in May (and September, but I haven’t participated in that second one yet), JuNoWriMo in (you guessed it) June. The official NaNoWriMo is the only one that occurs outside those two seasons. And that’s probably another reason. Most of the other months, when there isn’t some kind of writing challenge, are when I concentrate on editing. Therefore, my numbers are lower.
Even though I tend to write more during those months, summer has some challenges specific to the season. First, the kids are home pretty much all day. My kids are pretty independent even at 5 and 8. But, there are still times they need my help with something, or I need to break up a fight (which has been pretty common just in the first month of summer vacation). Then, there’s all the get-togethers: birthday parties (we have ones in May, June, August, and September, plus any the kids are invited to for friends), graduation parties, family reunions, and anything else that comes up. Thankfully (for me) most of these are on weekends, and I do most of my writing during the week. The other challenge, at least for me, is the weather. I don’t handle the heat very well, so when it gets hot, sometimes I just don’t want to do anything, even sit at the computer to write. Just one more reason I like to get up early. I can get most of my words in before the temperature climbs.
There are some things that can help get the words down even with these obstacles. One of these is writing sprints. You can usually find someone on twitter running sprints, or ask if someone wants to join you in one. I’ve actually been using the word sprint page at mywriteclub.com for my own writing. They run for the first twenty-five minutes of each half hour, leaving a five minute break between. Of course, you can continue to write during those breaks if you wish to. This works best for me when there are other people there actually writing so I can try to stay ahead (my competitive streak kicks in at the oddest times). You can set it up to save automatically to dropbox, so I go there and copy my words back into the document I’m working on. I used to use write or die, but I’ve found I like this a lot better. And, of course, there’s all the WriMo challenges I mentioned above. Having other people to write with and a particular goal to reach for, helps keep me on track.
Sometimes, getting the words down means having to be flexible. You may have to switch around your usual routine. Usually when the kids are in school, I’ll get most of my words done then. It’ll be a little different this year since both kids will finally be in school all day. I’ll still probably shoot for meeting my writing goals in the morning. This summer I’ve tried a few different things to make sure I get my writing and everything else done. At the moment, I’m writing to the end of a mywriteclub sprint then doing something from my to-do list during the break then picking back up with writing for the rest of the next sprint. Eventually I get everything done. And sometimes it’s necessary to work among distractions if you can’t avoid them completely. I’ve been taking my computer outside to the table on our porch while the kids play. And right now I’m listening to a Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles cartoon while I type this. If I really need to concentrate, I put my wireless headphones in and music playing on my phone, but I’ve found that I can write even without that (like when my headphones die & I have to charge them). The words usually flow better when I have the music, but I don’t “need” it.
I’ve found that I work better at different things during different times of the year. But, that’s just the thing, it’s what works for me. Now, that may not be the way it works out for you. My techniques for getting words down even during those distracted months may not work for you. The important thing is finding what does work for you. In the end, that’s what really matters, finding a way to get the words down.