The “7 Things I’ve Learned So Far” Column

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If you have not read his blog or don’t follow him on Twitter, Chuck Sambuchino is an awesome resource for all things pertaining to writing, literary agents and the like. He has a column entitled “7 Things I’ve Learned So Far,” where he spotlights different writers, inviting them to share words of wisdom from their journey in the writing life.

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This is one from awhile back, featuring Liz Tolsma. The advice she gives is succinct, practical and inspiring. The outline is below, but to read the full column in all it’s glory, go here.

1) BICHOK – “Butt in chair, hands on keyboard.” Enough said.

2) Stories are everywhere – look for inspiration in all kinds of places; be anticipating it and ready to capture story ideas when they come

3) Publication will happen when you least expect it – this sounds frustrating for those of us who have not been published yet, but the bottom line is this: keep after it and let the results come in their own time.

4) Marketing is hard work – I didn’t like this one, but it’s the world we live in now. The ball is almost exclusively in our court as writers to get our names out there. No excuses.

5) Never stop learning – Again, enough said.

6) Get a good critique partner – This is great advice and something I need to pursue. Most of the writing life seems to be flying solo, but I also know I can’t make significant improvement without outside input.

7) Have an outlet – I love this one! Get away from the screen and let life refresh and recharge you for future work.

That’s all I’ve got for today. Are there things you have learned so far in your writing that would be valuable to share with others? Feel free to leave a couple in the comments below!

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Three Arguments for Outlining

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Well, summer is here. I am taking a break from my current novel while it’s out being read by a few friends. It’s nice to step away from it for awhile, and I know this will refresh me to dig into more revising when they send it back. In the meantime, I am jumping into another project to clear my head and get the creative juices flowing again.

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A new project has spurred me to thinking about outlining again. As I am preparing to write another novel, I am evaluating my planning process and there are a few improvements I want to make from last time. With my previous novel, I wrote out a synopsis in a few pages, then broke it up into scenes and called it good. That was fine, but this go round, I want to try a grid outline with chapter divisions, timelines, progression of plot points, etc. I was inspired to do this by this collection of famous author outlines. Even the greatest had to plan ahead!

Here are three reasons I have decided to outline my next novel:

1) To See What Doesn’t Work. It sounds obvious, but it’s so much easier to catch problems early when you craft a bird’s-eye view. It’s far simpler to erase a couple of notes than comb through an entire manuscript trying to root out a subplot you don’t like that is now sprinkled everywhere.

2) For Sanity. It was a huge time-waster for me this last time to read back through my drafts, trying to remember how long ago I mentioned this particular person, or if my heroine and her father had actually discussed XYZ in that scene. Did I give the horse a name? Did I already mention the affect that poison has on the human body? Almost all of these could have been solved with a detailed outline.

3) For Measurable Goal Achievement. When you’re working through an outline, it is even more clear to see how far you’ve come and how far you have to go. I knew roughly how many words I wanted my last novel to be, and I knew how many scenes I had written, but there was a lot of squishiness in there. An outline would have helped me firm up my goals more.

But what about organic creativity in the writing process?!

This is a very legitimate question, and there are many writers, great ones in fact, who walk through the writing process without an outline, or at least a very minimal one. Still, I have a strong suspicion that, still being a novice writer, an outline will actually free me to be more creative, because I will know the direction my proverbial ship is already sailing, and where I want to dock in the end.

We’ll see. I’ll let you know how that works out.

In other news, I am a Veronica Roth fan (author of the Divergent trilogy, you know) and she has a terrific list of posts on her blog that she wrote several years ago on writing. They are insightful, funny and helpful, and I find them even more valuable because she wrote them before she was “flashy and famous.” This really has nothing to do with outlining, but I get excited when I discover a writing treasure trove, so here you go!

Any thoughts on outlining? Do you outline before you launch into writing your drafts? How has it helped or hindered you in your writing process?

 

 

Summer Writing Goals

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I am sorry for the long, unannounced break. I was assisting with a student production of Peter Pan that just ended this last weekend. While I had planned to continue blogging during this time, it proved to be too much working full time, going to rehearsals nightly, blogging regularly and maintaining any semblance of a personal writing habit in the mornings.

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So, I’m back. And…I have exciting news! I finished off my novel revision, in spite of the craziness, and sent it off to a few trusted friends for feedback. If you remember, my original deadline was May 31, and I ended up finishing revision on June 14. This was frustrating, as I am a “stick to deadlines” kind of person. However, done is done.  I can step away from this project for a little while.

So, time for new goals! Dostoyevsky said, “Arriving at one goal is the starting point to another.” As writers, we cannot stop putting clear goals out there for ourselves. It fans the flame, and meeting even small goals can give us greater pluck to take on the bigger ones. In that spirit, here are a few of mine for the rest of the summer:

1) Write 500 words a day, 6 days per week. In waiting for my readers to work through my manuscript, there’s no better distraction than a new project. I need a break from my current novel as I’ve been staring at it for the last six months straight.

2) Blog 2-3x per week. Blogging helps to work out a lot of my thoughts about writing, and I trust it is helpful to you, as well! Plus, the discipline of putting out something regularly for the eyes of others can improve writing skills.

3) Prepare Writers Conference Pitch. I am planning to attend the Willamette Writers Conference in August, and this will be my first time to pitch. Yikes!! I am so excited and also incredibly nervous. In all honesty, this has more to do with conquering fear than signing with an agent (but of course, I wouldn’t mind that either!).

In other news, Dad beat me again in reading this last month. If I have any hopes of winning the grand prize of a Cadillac Eldorado at the end of the year, I’ve got to bring it to a whole new level this month. His voracious reading is simultaneously the bane of my existence and a source of great inspiration.

That’s it for now. What are some of your writing goals this summer? I’d love to hear. If you like, share in the comments below!

Pressfield on Fear of Rejection

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I planted these on my back patio this last week. If I remember to water them (that is a big if, considering I have a memory like a goldfish), they will fill out nicely. I bet you think I’m going to pull in some analogy about growing as a writer here, just like these tiny herbs that will grow healthy and strong with proper care.

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Nope. I just wanted to show off my plants. The end.

Actually, I wanted to encourage you if you have not yet read The War of Art by Steven Pressfield, put down whatever book you are currently reading and pick this one up. It will change your life as a writer, artist, creative, etc.

One section in particular that has impacted me in the revision process talks about fear of rejection. It’s one thing to admit to people that you’re working on a novel, but to let them read it? That’s a whole different level of fear for me, and probably for you, as well. Pressfield addresses this fear:

“The professional loves her work. She is invested in it wholeheartedly. But she does not forget that the work is not her. Her artistic self contains many works and many performances. Already the next is percolating inside her. The next will be better, and the one after that better still.”

I am finding as I begin sharing my work with others, the whole idea of what’s coming next in my creative pipeline keeps me from getting discouraged. I want people’s thoughts and opinions, but they do not change the will to push on, the commitment to keep moving forward. I will finish this project, and then its on to the next one. This novel is not my life’s work. Pursuing the writing life is my life’s work. It’s silly, but I have to say this out loud to myself:

My value does not hinge on whether or not people like my novel.

I am writing it because I have to, because it is a story I love and feel compelled to tell. Writing it has enriched me personally, and it may enrich others as well, but I cannot let their response be the driving force that keeps me going. It must be something deeper.

Do you find it hard to distance yourself from your writing? How do you work through the fear of sharing it with others? Also, if you’ve read Pressfield’s book and have a favorite quote, feel free to share it below!

 

 

 

Practice vs. Perfection

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This is my mom and I. My mom is an amazing woman and continues to be one of my biggest cheerleaders in pursuing the writing life. She is a huge fan of practice, of taking risks and of not being afraid to fail. I owe a lot of my decision to persevere in writing to her encouragement.

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Practice and perfection are two things I have been thinking about a lot lately with regard to writing. Perfection is something I strive for, but practice is the space where I live. And that’s okay. In fact, it’s the space where I want to stay. Why? Well, what happens when you stop practicing?

You plateau.

Perfection gives this deceptive sense of arrival, that we have made it to “the zone” and there’s no need to strive further, to push harder. However, those who are continually in a mind set of practice have their head down and their game on. They take nothing for granted, and they continually throw out new goals for themselves before they have hit the old ones.

Maybe this doesn’t settle right with you, because you think of practice as the dry run, the pretend stuff before you get to the real deal. Like when you’re playing a board game for the first time and everyone says, “Okay, this is just a practice round.” However, that round matters, because it is what enables you to play the game well in the long run.

Make no mistake; practice is where writers are made.

So, what does pursuing the writing life look like with a practice mind set?

1) You practice. Obvious, but it needs to be said. Keep writing. Rain or shine, happy or sad, stupid or brilliant, write until you think your fingers might fall off. Don’t talk about it, don’t think about it, don’t strategize about it, just do it.

2) You publish. Living with a practice mind set does not mean you wait to show your work to others. Share it now. Write a blog, publish an e-book, start an email newsletter. It is so easy to make excuses to wait, to make it just a little better, but you can’t listen to those voices. Seth Godin encourages the principle of shipping, and that definitely applies here. Write it. Ship it. Repeat.

3) You persevere. You never arrive, and this is the crazy, maddening, exhilarating thing about this whole journey. You keep practicing, and keep pushing forward, and before you know it, you look back and have a boat load of finished work to your credit. Is it perfect? No. Has it made you famous? Probably not. But that’s not the point anyway.

“Practice makes perfect” is never a true statement for the writer. In fact, practice begets more practice in the writing life, but you know what? Out of all that practice may come powerful work that can change lives.

Is it hard or easy for you to live in the practice mind set when you’re writing? Do you struggle with perfectionism? Feel free to share a comment!

 

April Reading

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Dad beat me out this month on reading. Badly. In case you didn’t know, my dad and I are doing a reading contest throughout 2014 which will culminate in a giant page-counting showdown in December where the stakes are high, the books are big, and a trophy of pure gold will be awarded to one lucky victor.

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However, in the meantime, we are comparing page numbers each month to see how we’re faring. This month, I ran home with my tail tucked between my legs. I’ve been reading for sure, but not as consistently as I could have been. And you know what? I notice a direct correlation between how well my writing flows and how much I’m reading. When I’m not reading as much, or its more sporadic, my writing suffers. No exceptions.

Anyway, my dad is very encouraging. He doesn’t gloat like me when he wins. He just smiles and says, “May is a new month!”

It is a new month, and with it, the deadline for finishing my novel revisions is looming large. The closer I get to sharing it with my beta readers, the more insecure I become. This is a stupid part, I hear myself saying. Why did I write it like that? Ridiculous.

It may be ridiculous, but you know what’s more ridiculous?

Quitting.

Regardless of where this novel goes (or doesn’t go), I will not shut it up in a drawer and give up. It’s not about whether it sells or not. It’s about proving to myself that I really do have what it takes to write this baby, and the gumption to share it with others. It’s about conquering fear.

By the way, two great resources on fear:

Jeff Goins just produced a great podcast episode on facing fear, and you can find it here.

If you want to read a fantastic book, Jon Acuff’s Start: Punch Fear in the Face, Escape Average and Do Work that Matters is terrific. Acuff is inspiring and hilarious.

How’s your writing week going? What are you doing to face your own doubts and fears?

The Meat in the Middle

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From 2011-2012, I had the opportunity to live in England for one year as a writer for a non-profit. It was an incredible opportunity, one of those life-shaping milestones I will never forget. However, during that year, it wasn’t all peaches and cream. I had some challenging times, and especially right in the middle, I remember wondering if I truly had the guts to stick it out and finish the year strong.

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During those middle months, an image came to mind. This is the meat in the sandwich, I thought. The first part of this year was like squishy white bread, glamorous and fun, and the very end will probably feel the same as I prepare to go home, but this is the meat. I am walking through the important stuff right now.

It’s the same with writing. Michael Hyatt refers to it as “the messy middle.” When you’ve set goals and you’re in the process of achieving them, things get real, and things get tough. Anything worth doing is not easy.

In writing, you’ll confront “the messy middle” in a few different ways:

1) Messy Project. This is not a surprise to most, but writing gets messy. We write stuff, we rip it to shreds, we rewrite it, we throw it away and we pull it back out of the trash to start the process again. I am in the mess right now as I am revising my novel. Don’t be afraid of it. The more determined you are to forge into your work, pull it to pieces and confront the problems, the more satisfying the final product will be.

2) Messy Life. In case you haven’t noticed, the world doesn’t stop so you can write. Life is messy and in the midst of the mess, we have to find those small spaces to make art. Besides, when we ignore or try to banish the mess, we are pushing away the very stuff that inspires a lot of our work to begin with.

3) Messy Emotions. You will falter. You will doubt. Guaranteed. As Michael Hyatt says, the most important thing in forging through the messy middle is to hold on to the why. If you have a firm grasp on why you are pursuing the writing life, your will conquers your weakness. Every time.

“Starting is the fun part,” says Hyatt, “But the middle’s where you make it happen.”

This is where it counts in your writing. Don’t give up. How are you forging through the mess in the middle of your writing journey? I’d love to hear your thoughts on this in the comments!