Motivation

I’m gearing up for SiWC 2011 (leaving on Wednesday actually, yay!), and as usual I’m super stoked for the conference and all the workshops, presenters and kibitzing with other writers—lots of whom have become friends by now, my eighth year. (Ohmigoodness, do you know how wildly affirming and inspiring and plain ol’ fun it is to be in the midst of 600+ people who all share your obsession? I live in a small town, so perhaps the huge gathering of like-but-very-different minds is that much more amazing, but it is good, good stuff—worth every penny I pay every year. It fires me up, re-energizes and refocuses me for the next 12 months, every time.

That all said, as much as I relish the conference itself, an equal draw is the time I’ll spend with three other writers—Barb Cameron, Angela Dorsey, and Jen Brubacher. While Jen is unable to attend SiWC, because of the way her trip to Canada worked this year, she is able to make our annual pre-conference sushi and gab-fest—a group meeting of what we informally call Woodstockers 5—a name with a story behind it that makes sense only to us.

Thursday night, we’ll meet at a certain restaurant that’s become tradition, slide our bottoms onto bright-coloured satin cushions, and commence blabbing our heads off over our past year’s literary successes, woes, accomplishments, and challenges.

Then we’ll pull out our Woodstocker 5 Goals and share what we followed through with—and confess what we didn’t. A couple of us will then go onto elaborate about plans for November 2011 through October 2012 (our writing year has started to mimic the months that pass from one SiWC to the next). A couple of us (or at least one of us, me) will have to share our plans later, via a small online writers’ forum, after the conference has done its magic and put wild dreams in our (my) head.

Writing is by necessity a solitary pursuit and like a lot of writers, I’m okay with that—thrive in seclusion, actually. Need a lot of alone time. However, over years I’ve noticed that I write better—and am much more prolific—if I have a few close writing friends to celebrate and commiserate with. And to give me the occasional swift, motivational kick. (Thankfully, the boot is usually just a figurative.)

If you’re feeling in need of a bit of motivation, I can’t encourage you enough: try to find a writing workshop or conference to take part in over the next months or track down a writing friend or two to start meeting semi-regularly with. There can be a danger to spending too much time talking about writing and not doing enough writing (a post for another day, perhaps!), but for some of us, too much isolation is just as inspiration-killing.

p.s. I’d love to hear what works best to keep you on track with your writing goals (so I can steal your method, lol).

p.p.s. I think I’ve written on this topic before. What can I say? Sometimes I need reminding of what “works” to keep me working!

Take 15 . . .

I’ve been extra busy lately—in good ways, with great things: my business, my part-time day job, my family. . . And though I strive (and mostly succeed) to work on my own writing projects, plus do at least one “author Ev” chore daily, I’m always tempted to give into the feeling that I can’t fit one more thing in and should go watch TV.*

The ongoing struggle is not to find words, but to sit my butt down and get them out on the page.

For the most part though, I’ve learned well not to yield to sloth (unless I really need to which is another post for another day ;)). Not making my own work a priority makes me miserable. Plus, I work hard to not let other people down and to help them achieve their goals—so why wouldn’t I give myself the same treatment?

And in that vein, I was fortunate this month to discover two amazing strategies for getting work done even when you think you have no time.

The first strategy comes from a course I took online through RWA, offered by author Kerri Nelson , called “The Book Factory—Produce Multiple Novels in a Year” (an amazingly practical and inspiring class, by the way. I highly recommend it). It boils down to this: write new words everyday, even if just for 15 minutes. Set the timer and write flat-out, no editing, no breaks, no pausing to think . . .

It’s freakish how effective those fifteen-minute sprints have been for me this month and last. I’ve had NO fiction writing time, yet in January I wrote 18 142 new words.

The second strategy is a bit more specific, but no less powerful. It’s “Plot your novel in 15 minutes or less” by Claudia Suzanne and I came across it at Mayra Calvani‘s blog (Mayra’s Secret Bookcase), a site recommended to me by author and friend Angela Dorsey (Oh, the tangled World Wide Web!).

I don’t usually outline at all, but desperate to not lose a new novel idea that just occurred to me last week, I thought I’d give it a try. I loved it. I now have a very bare bones, yet fantastic 15-point outline that gives me plenty of freedom, but that will guide me through to the story’s end, and (even better!) provide a frame for the book’s synopsis (my least favourite part of novel writing).

Anyway, I’d love to hear how your writing and life is going this month. And if you’re busy and my small suggestions above motivate you to put off your lounge on the couch for even just fifteen minutes, you’re welcome, heh heh.

* Yes, I realize there’s an obvious logic problem there—if I have no time, how can I manage to watch TV? What can I say? I like television . . .

Get Thee to a Conference!

I can’t believe that this time last week I was at SiWC sitting in a workshop called Polish and Shine led by Elizabeth Engstrom (fantastic class!). This Saturday is decidedly less glamorous and thrilling.

All this past week I rode the post conference high, but now the fuzzy glow is fading just a bit (or being blocked from my immediate view!) in the face of the dishes stacking up, the floors being in serious need of a sweep and mop (oh, my dogs–gotta love’em; wish I could shave’em!), the laundry and meals that never cease to need doing/making, and the bathroom, argh, the bathroom! Let’s just not talk about it. . . However, all grumbling and moping aside, my newly reaffirmed goals remain clear and focussed. My inspiration is freshly topped. And when I think of all I want to do, plan to do, need to do . . . Yes, I feel a bit intimidated, but even more, I feel stoked: being surrounded by 600+ writers for four days is seriously motivating.

Almost every year I hesitate before I hit submit to register for SiWC (my annual conference ;-)). Then I recall what it does for me: refuels me for another twelve months, reminds me that yes, writing is a solitary pursuit, but that I am not alone. Literally hundreds upon hundreds of other people identify with and embrace a similar madness!

Meeting with like minds (or at least similarly bent ones), being surrounded by a crowd of folks who really “get” this strange obsession you have with stories and words, and having the chance to learn from others in different places in the writing path than you–well, corny as it sounds, it’s priceless.

Not cost-free though. I’m already starting to put money away for next year, and I think you should do the same.

And less you’re not convinced you or your writing are worth the extravagance of a first conference (or a third, a tenth, a twentieth!), what am I doing right now? Sitting down to write while the house is empty and clear, dirty and in need of a clean as it is–and that’s the whole point, isn’t it? We want to be writers, so we write. We don’t need conferences to give us permission or to remind us–but they do help us remember it. If you have the chance to take part in a writer’s conference, big or small, nearby or far, I really recommend it. It makes all the time we spend in solitary sweet.

Slow Writer

I’m used to being a speedy writer, easily getting 1000 words, and usually closer to 2000 or 3000, on any given writing day—and that would just be on the fiction side, not reflecting my non-fiction work, blog entries, column ideas, or miscellaneous writing projects and experiments . . . And then I took a regularly-scheduled day job. I’m slowly getting into (and loving!) my new routine, but I was a bit worried a few days ago when I considered what it might be doing to my writing.

While I’ve been writing almost daily in June (to my huge relief, phew—in May I was worried about when I’d be able to return to that!), my word counts per session are way down. 380, 431, 494, 650, 733, 198 (gah!) . . . I only broke 1000 once this month. (Again though, not counting any non-fiction writing.) Yikes, my whole aim in getting a day job was to alleviate financial stress that was slowly quashing my creative joy—now was I in danger of potentially crushing my progress? Was I stuck in some lose/lose scenario? Absolutely not.

I did the math (funny how more and more as I get older I see the beauty and inspiration in numbers!); all those low numbers actually averaged 500 words per day. Even if I only write 20 days a month and even if I only get 500 words per session, that’s 10K in a month or, even more excitingly, 120K a year—a full novel, plus. And I suspect that most months I’ll write more than 20 days—and more than 500 words.

My worry changed to renewed excitement and fresh vigor. I love how my writing, no longer burdened with the need to generate money to live, is free to be my whimsy and passion again. And I especially love that I’ll be able to keep on track (easily!) with my novel a year goal, even if I keep being “slow.” I’m still striving to be a career novelist, hoping to write novels for enough money that I can work at them full time, writing even more of ‘em . . . but it’s nice to know that until that day comes, I don’t have to be a starving artist or sacrifice my writing goals.

It was a lovely realization and I’m thrilled to consider what my new routine will do for my writing.

How about you? Do you enjoy the luxury of writing full-time and still making ends meet? (Or perhaps struggle to make ends meet, but feel the pay off of doing what you love most makes it worth it?) Or do you balance your Art and a job/career? What are the benefits, pay-offs, or downsides of the type of writing life you lead?

Do-it-yourself online writing retreat

The writing life can be a tad isolating, so a few years back, I started my own writing forum, Procrastination, as a way of keeping my treasured friends-who-also write close as we grew further and further apart geographically. We’re a small board; maybe five of us post regularly, with only three or so more than that who pop in every couple of months. We’ve even taken to (most years) meeting up for the community-building/inspiration-boosting/writing-celebration of them all–the Surrey International Writers’ Conference.

Then this year at SiWC, late Saturday night, missing one of our Procrastinators who couldn’t make the conference, feeling sad and a bit blown away that our wonderful weekend was almost over again already, we started discussing (or maybe bellyaching, just a bit ;-)) how Surrey gives us energy/motivation for our whole writing year, and how the conference never arrived a moment too soon . . . In fact, wouldn’t it be great if we could afford do two a year–SiWC, plus some other retreat or something six months or so later?

Enter fantastic brain wave! It occurred to us that we already had a perfect meet-up place, and instead of just using it as a message/conversation board, as fun and valuable as that is, why not use it for something a little more planned out. An online writing retreat! Our set up was simple.

I created a private thread (only people who had signed up ahead of time could see the thread when they entered Procrastination.) On the set day, at a set time, we each posted one exercise. Then we spent that full day, plus one more day writing according to our own schedules. On the third day, again at a set time, we each posted our results to each exercise (with no disclaimers about perceived quality, etc). Everyone who signed up committed to reading and responding to each participant’s posts. The result was fantastic–much better than we’d even anticipated in terms of fun, inspiration, and concentrated, results-based motivation.

We all came away a bit in awe that we could write so much in such a short time period–and that a lot of it was “keeper” material, stuff we wanted to do more with, possibly lengthen, possibly tighten and polish and submit as short stories.

Seeing as it was such a success, and how (for now) our ability to take in bigger conferences/retreats is limited to annually, we decided to make it a seasonal event–our spring writing retreat is just around the corner; I’m already excited and brainstorming what exercise I’ll offer.

If you’re part of a small online writing community and feeling a bit low energy in the ol’ writing department, I highly recommend organizing some form of your own online writing retreat. And if you don’t have that kind of online community, but long for a bit of a writing extravaganza/refuelling? Well, come visit me here again soon. A while back I did a writing retreat for one and I’ll post a bit about that in a few days.

Happy writing!
🙂 Ev

While I was away . . .

I’m still in the process of Organizing My Office (note the capital letters, please). It’s a convoluted task. While I was away this summer, messmaker elves (a breed similar to the shoemaker’s elves in the old fairy tale, but nowhere near as helpful or benign) were hard at work. Or at least I’m pretty sure they were involved–I have no idea who else would’ve left stacks of notes jotted on crumpled scraps of paper, piles of mail (opened, but not dealt with), and mountains of miscallanea across the region called (in fond remembrance) my desk.

While other writers are in full fall mode and have already written inspiring posts about new energy to pursue goals and freshly scrutinized, revamped plans, I’m pulling out another trash bin. However, there’s been some progress. My keyboard is cleared (I do have my priorities), my year-at-a-glance calendar is updated (yes, I consider September the first month in a new year), and I’ve pulled down my corkboard (not sure that was a good decision) to replace with two new ones . . .

Before digging into my day’s work though (editing and writing a column, then organizing if I get to it ;-)), I wanted to share two exciting things that happened while I was away (no elves are involved this time): (1) I had a story accepted by AlienSkin Magazine. “Red Bird” will appear in their December 2009/January 2010 issue. (2) I got an e-mail about how well Cleavage – Breakaway Fiction For Real Girls is doing. It’s gone into a second printing and is listed in the Canadian Children’s Book Centre’s Best Books for Kids & Teens 2009, as well as in Resource Links Best of 2008 for Grades 7 – 12. The editors Deb Loughead and Jocelyn Shipley continue to promote it and the book now has a trailer. I know my story is just one small part of the anthology, but I’m very excited about how the whole book has been received!

Autumn is re-energizing, but even more inspiring than new post-it-notes, colour-keyed schedules, and the like, is the fact that bit-by-bit I’m starting to amass a body of fiction. I’ve published non-fiction for awhile, but I’m eager to share my stories. Slowly, slowly it’s happening. It’s happening! And I don’t want to rush my year, but I’m already wondering what nice surprises I’ll look back at next September.

The Waiting Game

Is there anything more onerous to a writer than the waiting game? Most people tackle a project and then, well, they’re done. Not fiction writers, oh no. They “finish” their work (which could take months, a year, or even years) and send it away, only to have the really time consuming part of the job start: the waiting.

Lurking dangers surround all that waiting. Self-doubt has lots of time to imagine unkind things being said to your story’s face (and to do its own unkind muttering in your head). The desire for regular coffee money might trick you into some cave of a job where you’re paid by the hour. Writer’s block (if you subscribe to that kind of notion) is more prone to leap upon you and starting chewing on your throat—especially if what you want to write next might depend (foolishly!) on whether the circulating work sells (my advice: write like it sells, or don’t and start something entirely new—just write!).

It’s not all bad though. If you let it, waiting to hear back can be kind of like counting down to a vacation. Each passing day is one closer to at least some sort of a response, the wait gets sweeter, the anticipation builds. I’ve learned to use the hope that just won’t die (I’m bandaging my throat here as you read!) as motivation to write the next thing. While your words sit on someone’s desk, there is the endless opportunity that said words might find a home—someone might like that story, poem, article, or what-have-you. Nothing is more inspiring than the idea that someone might relate to your offerings and even (gleep!) want more of them. Exciting stuff.

I try to take full advantage of this wait/hope phenomenon by keeping 6 – 8 things “out there” all the time. That way, rejection doesn’t hurt as much (hope sprints over to another project to rest on) and my inner-creep can’t do as much of a job on my self-esteem.

Hmmmm . . . Is there a point to this post? Yes (lectures self), get your stuff out there and keep it out there until it finds a home. And in the meantime, the waiting time, get busy on the next idea.

Happy writing,
☺ Ev

Self-soothing

When my daughter was just freshly born, the doctor on duty watched her noiselessly root about for her clenched fist. When her mouth found it, she gave a contented sigh, and the doctor commented that I was lucky—my baby was a self-soother. I asked what he meant and how he could tell. The general gist was that apparently right from birth, people show signs of personality type and individuals who spend a lot of time around babies can tell those who will work to comfort themselves almost from the get-go and those who need help from someone outside themselves for consolation.

As a neurotic, I mean a writer, I’ve given the doctor’s comments a lot of thought over the years, because I seem to have to search for comfort quite often. Is getting down just a natural accompaniment to thinking? Does everyone share my angst? Does everyone feel completely useless, ill equipped for, and entirely intimidated by the endeavours they pursue? (Excuse me while I suck my clenched fist for a moment, please….)

This past week (month), I’ve been suffering what seems to be a reoccurring crisis in my writing life. Writing gives so much, but it also demands a lot. And every so often, I just feel tired. My pile of rejection slips grows, and along with it, my worry that maybe I’m only a competent writer, not a good one. I wonder if I should stick with what’s easy (business writing), and keep my fiction for myself, hoard it away in a drawer…. I can’t quit writing. I love it. I need it. It brings me (despite what this post may suggest) a lot of joy. I just don’t always love the selling-your-wares side that goes along with it.

Compounding my problem (funny how you can know the source of a problem and not just go and fix it!), I’ve been away from my novel for too long. Always a recipe for madness. Anyway, I won’t bore you with all the insecurity and meanness my brain can throw at me—I’ll cut to the part where I root about for comfort and let out a satisfied sigh.

By now I know that that the cure for writing-related-neurosis is to write. When I’m writing every day, I’m insane with story, not self-doubt. However, you can know the medicine you need and still have to steel yourself to gag it down. Some people recommend an equal dose of sugar. I prefer Stephen King.

I wrote cryptic “am going through stuff/will write you later” e-mails to my close writing friends (accidentally scaring them), then got off the computer (the horror, the horror!) and dug out my old standby for times like this: On Writing. No one calls it like it is quite like S.K.

I appreciate his matter-of-fact assertion that I probably am only a competent writer at best; I LOVE how he goes on to assure me that I can become a good writer if I stop being such a whiny little sot and get back to work. He’s a dragon slayer, making all the insecurity and neurosis I deal seem like normal parts of the writing life. His no-exceptions command to be honest when writing is always beneficial. But perhaps the most important affirmation he provides is the reminder that I don’t write for glory or money (obviously); private, intangible things make writing so crucial, so wonderful, so worth it.

I did some journaling. I stared into space. Then I did what I couldn’t put off anymore. I opened the binder that holds the second draft of my latest novel and read/worked over the first three chapters. And they weren’t that bad. They might be okay—or even good. Ish. (Why can’t I just say, Hey, I actually think they’re good? They’re good. There. Gah.) Does any of this bring me any closer to knowing whether or not I’ll ever find an agent, “get published,” or be able to write fiction as a day job instead of fitting it around one? No. But it did something much more important; it reminded me that none of that matters.

In short (well, not in short, it’s a bit late for that, isn’t it?), I rooted around to find those things near me that I could use to comfort myself, to get myself back at the page again, and in doing so and experiencing that “Ahhhhhh, finally” feeling, I find myself wondering (just like I always do when I’ve let myself get out of hand) what was the big deal anyway? Why didn’t I just sit my butt down and face the page at the first onset of nervousness ages ago. It’s a mystery…. One that I’d promise not to repeat, but by now I know myself too well. It’s not if I need the reminder again… it’s when. Until then though, I’m feeling quite determined to never let a day go by without writing.

(I heard your sceptical snort-laugh! Stop that.)

Wherever you are on the writing sanity spectrum, I hope your project’s going well. And if it’s not? Well, suck it up, Princess, and get back to it. (My extremely modified version of S.K. encouragement. Whaddya think? Did it work?)

Happy writing,
Ev

Get the words out.

The hardest thing about writing, for me, is actually getting down to it and doing it. My favourite ways to procrastinate are devious, because they often look so industrious, so productive, so thoroughly worthwhile, that it barely occurs to me to crack the whip. My variety of stalling—working on assignments, paying bills, doing lesson prep, “improving” my craft via Internet forums, etc—is the very worst type, because I feel so justified and righteous while not doing what I know I should (and worse, what I really want) to be doing.

Well, now—at least for while I’m in the first blush of New Year’s resolutions—I may have found a way to foil my do-anything-but ways. Each week, I’m creating a weekly work calendar (time-slotted, guys. Yikes!). And more importantly, I’m adhering to it. I’ve even assigned specific e-mail, blog, and forum time. Wah. So yes, right now, I’m not actually playing hooky…. I’m using scheduled time. (Yes, I am fully aware of how pathetic that is.)

The irony of my renewed commitment? My own writing-avoidance methods are partially to thank for it. As I was putting off getting down to something, I was reading from Eliza Clark’s Writer’s Gym (a book of exercises and training tips for writers) and came upon an interview with Val McDermid. At one point she was asked, “If the writing life is a pie, how would you slice it up and what size would the pieces be?”

She answered, “35% talent, 40% hard work, 25% luck.”

I assumed she was speaking to the having books published aspect of the writing life, and found her words inspiring. She acknowledges luck and talent, but feels work has the most weight. And really, talent-shmalent…. I think you get born with some, yes, but it’s amazing how working hard at something will make it seem like you just have a “gift” for it. And luck? Again I have a sneaking suspicion that those who get lucky in the story-telling business sat their butts down at their desks and wrote a lot of words before luck magically befell them.

And on that note, I have to go. My allotted blogging time is up. 😉

Happy writing!

~Ev