Five Words That Will Change Your Writing Life

Aha moment Do the work

Hard hat

You have questions.

And the internet is a rabbit hole of answers.

When is the best time to write? How do you tackle revision? Should you write in the morning? Do you need a Mac or is Windows still ok? Word or Scrivener? Music or no music? What kind of music?

Suggestions are everywhere.

Truman Capote only wrote lying down. Philip Roth writes standing up. Writing in long hand boosts creativity. Your desk should face the window. Your desk should never face the window.

How do you know you’re doing it right?

On a snowy night in late March, I  sat with two other writers in an Irish pub discussing our works-in-progress (all first novels, two Women’s fiction, one hard Sci-Fi).

We all needed answers.

I had a new chapter to workshop. The Sci-Fi guy, a proud new dad and entrepreneurial mogul, was making progress but wanted to write more consistently. The other WF writer, an MBA and busy VP Marketing executive by day, had just finished her rough first draft and was “stymied” by revisions.

Creative Commons: www.skinnyartist.com

We tossed around suggestions over appetizers and a vodka tonic (don’t judge—the drive in from the suburbs was horrendous).

Seinfeld’s “don’t break the chain” method which I saw him describe in a TV interview, struck a chord with Sci-Fi guy. I’d brought along four books on revision to help MBA tackle her second draft. Sci-Fi guy produced a three-foot long stapled printout from Scrivener illustrating how he kept track of character arcs and timelines, because I’d lost count of the draft I was on.

This was good stuff. Stuff we could act on.

Aha moment Do the work

Creative Commons: blogs.worldbank.org

Still, we pondered. Were we doing it right? Maybe we should try that new book or class! Then Sci-Fi guy said something that we strained to hear over the music and revelry of the pub:

“Or, we could just do the f$#king work.”

My eyes locked on MBA’s, and together we turned to Sci-Fi guy, not sure we’d heard him correctly.

The look on his face was what I imagine Ben Franklin looked like when his uncredited minions helped him discover electricity. It was a literal “Aha” moment.

I resumed my book recommendations, pointing out a chapter MBA might like on setting. Sci-Fi guy grinned at us (I’d say maniacally but, you know, adverb) for a few seconds. Then he interrupted, louder this time:

“Or, we could just do the f$#king work.”

No problem hearing him this time.

MBA: “Wow, this meeting just took a turn.”

Jack Nicholson The Shining

We all laughed, until he said it again.

Sci-Fi guy: “I’m serious. We need to just do the f$#king work.”

Maybe a rowdy Irish pub wasn’t the best place for a critique group, now that we thought about it.

Fast forward two weeks to a snowy April night (that’s right, snow in April . . .my kind of town, Chicago is…), MBA and I sat in the same pub and shared an order of fries.  She provided specific, generous insight that helped me interpret feedback I’d received from a professional editor

Then MBA said she had a question for me.

MBA: “What notebooks do you use? Like, how many different ones and how do you organize them?”

I laughed out loud, repeated Sci-Fi guy’s memorable suggestion and then said, “No, seriously. I have like one for the novel, and another for interviews. . .”

So what’s the point? The point is you have questions. You need advice. You need to learn craft. And you will find endless answers. That’s what fantastic blogs like Writers Helping Writers and Womens Fiction Writers and Bang2Write and are for.

The point is no matter how far you are into your essay, or memoir, or novel, you may always feel you’re doing it wrong.

The point is no matter how many books you read, or how many lists you study, or how many podcasts you listen to, no one way works for every writer.

In an interview on Writers on Writing, Author Sari Wilson put it this way:

“The process has its own intelligence. Committing to the process through all the different obstacles that are presented has its own logic and its own power, and it will take you through the process. There will be an end.”

In other words, the doing of “it,” whatever “it” is, teaches you how to do “it.” You have to DO. You have to mess up.

All the “Habits of Great Writers” lists and viral posts in the world can’t change that.

Sometimes you’re just scared and stalling. How can you tell the difference? How do you get from stalling to writing?

Just Do The F$#king Work

Here’s the best of what’s worked for me:

Set a goal. Any goal.

What should yours be? Who cares? Time spent, words added up. It doesn’t matter. My first one was 500 words a day/5 days a week (flexibility was key).

Refer to a few trusted guides (don’t overload).

Go for tried and true, review recommendations. In the end, the voice that speaks to you matters. I like Wired for Story, Immediate Fiction, and Stein on Writing.

Stay in touch with your project as often as possible.

Don’t fall prey to the drift. I like Seinfeld’s approach. When I had the flu, it all went to pot. Touching it every day makes it easier to get back in. Staying in touch can mean reading a paragraph, or rewriting a whole chapter. You decide.

Practice. Reading about how others do it isn’t enough.

Find a suggestion that resonates? Put down the damn book and go try it. Then and there. Share what worked and what didn’t with your peers.

If you believe you don’t have time to write, keep a time/activity log.

I claimed to want a writing life as I munched on popcorn watching The Voice for the third time in a week. That’s not writing, that’s lying. Make your intentions match your actions.

Make contacts with writers you admire who will call you on your BS.

Go out on a limb. Take a class. Go to a conference. Be brave. Be bold. Have business cards or a pen and notepaper (you’re a writer, after all). Get contact information. Email people. Invite them for coffee. Bam!

Eventually, as Sci-Fi guy knew, we all just have to do the f$#king work. And that’s the only answer you need.

Are you ever guilty of avoiding the work? How do you get back to it? I’d love to hear your tips in the comments.

 

 

 

4 Thoughts on “Five Words That Will Change Your Writing Life

  1. How do I follow you on Word Press?

9 Ways to Waltz Write in to a Better 2016

The King and I

The King and I

When I was 13, my mom took me to see Yul Brynner in The King and I at the Arie Crown Theater in Chicago. She’d been flinging us around the kitchen, belting “Shall We Dance, da da DAH,” for as long as I could remember. Seeing him twirl his co-star around the stage, along with every ballroom scene from every Disney Movie ever made, ignited a lifelong dream of mine to ballroom dance.

So what does this have to do with writing? Turns out, just about everything.

Most creative pursuits happen in the face of fear; all are driven by action. Whether you want to dance, play an instrument, learn to draw, or write, here are a few things you can try to jump start your 2016:

Action 1: Identify Resistance and welcome it as a guide. According to Stephen Pressfield in The War of Art:

The more important a call or action is to our soul’s evolution, the more Resistance we will feel toward pursuing it.

Resistance manifests as procrastination, doubt, and sometimes physical anxiety. Treat yourself to Pressfield’s book and learn to recognize resistance as a sign you’re on the right track.

Action 2: Make a Vision Board. Sure, might be corny, but research proves we’re more likely to achieve things we’ve envisioned and documented.

Neurons in our brains, those electrically excitable cells that transmit information, interpret imagery as equivalent to a real-life action.

There are many ways to practice visualization. Doing something concrete matters. Here’s a picture of my vision board for 2016. For some other great visualization techniques, check out this article in Real Simple Magazine.

Vision Board

Three days after making my board, I received an email announcing a humor essay contest. If you zoom in, you’ll see the following on my board: laugh, contest, we have a winner!

Action 3: Choose a word of the year. I first saw this on Author Jennifer Davis Hesse’s blog and I thought it was genius. She cites Christine Kane as the inspiration behind this movement. Did you know that by January 17, most of us have abandoned any resolutions we’ve made?

Go with Kane’s plan and pick a word or theme instead. Easier to remember. My word for 2016 is “Do.” It appears prominently on my vision board.

Action 4: Leap. In Tara Mohr’s Playing Big, she encourages readers to take an action for which they believe they’re not quite ready. Hang gliding might not be the best example of this.

Instead, send a story to that lit mag you’re not quite ready for, make one call to volunteer to teach a class, or sign up to read a poem in public. My January leap was to lead at least one friend in a visioning exercise. It was a blast!

File Folders

Action 5: Take up space. Claim a spot for your writing. Stock it with colorful files, inspiring quotes, and your favorite books. I love TJ Maxx for great deals on journals, note cards, and unusual office supplies.

Action 6: Schedule Your Year. Hang a calendar and load it with writing events. Block out time for morning pages or your work in progress. Schedule at least one weekly writing-related activity such as a class, a live reading, a retreat, or if you’re on a budget, a podcast or video lesson. Again, better to have too many things to choose from than too few.

Action 7: Develop a Growth Mindset. Read Mindset by Carol Dweck. Seriously, or get the Audio CD. We all have the ability to substantially improve in any area, provided we foster a growth mindset.

Change your mindset, change your life. It helped me to earn my degree, complete my first 5k, and get off the junk food. Writing my first novel was just a bonus. It’s not magic, it’s hard work. But it’s possible.

Action 8: Pick a number, write it down. Send in that many submissions this year. Better to shoot high and fall short than to aim too low. Shoot for the moon and all that but really think about it. If you write down 10, and you do 9, not bad, right? But what if you write down 25, and send in 11? That’s more than 9. See, I’m good at math!

Action 9: Find Your People. Contact one new acquaintance each week this month who shares your passion. Call them, email, or connect via social media. Invite someone for coffee. Exchange links to helpful articles. This is a trial and error undertaking but we all have to start somewhere.

Boldness required. Don’t worry about how others respond. Just do the action. Check libraries, the local paper, bookstores, online groups, or form your own on Meetup.com

Broadcast your desire for a network and you’ll manifest one. Tinker, revise, and keep building. Groups have a shelf-life. There’s one out there for you.

Dream, but don’t stop there.

You don’t have to try all 9 actions. Even doing one or two will propel you into motion. Don’t forget to celebrate each attempt.

Sleeping Beauty

https://www.pinterest.com/pin/292030357059749178/

If you look off to the right on my vision board, you’ll see a picture of dance shoes. Last Friday, I waltzed. Sure, I was wearing jeans instead of 500 yards of satin, but I waltzed.

My husband and I never got around to ballroom dancing lessons before our daughter’s wedding last June. A few months ago, I asked him if he’d be interested in going. He was less than enthusiastic, and it was my dream not his, so I went without him.

Voila, within 40 minutes, a charming instructor named Zach had me twirling around the dance floor, making another of my visions a reality.

I perspired a little, I cried a little (happy, joyful tears). I think I made him nervous, but he hid it well. My audition for Dancing with the Stars is a long way off, but I couldn’t be more pleased with the results. (Turns out, I’m “advanced.”)

imperfect-action-better-perfect-inaction-motivational-daily-quotes-sayings-pictures

We’re all energy in the universe, and I believe that Law of Attraction stuff is for real. DO ONE SMALL THING.

And don’t forget to pass it on. Encouraging others and celebrating their successes will bring you closer to your own dreams. You never know who you’ll inspire. Someone is looking up to you.

What will you start today?

7 Thoughts on “9 Ways to Waltz Write in to a Better 2016

  1. Uplifting and thought-provoking as always, dear Suzanne! Or should I call you ‘Twinkle-toes?’ 😉 xx

  2. YES! This all rings true. There’s a lot here to consider and delve into. I need to claim and pretty up my writing space, schedule my year, and network more…among other things.

    Good luck with the humor essay contest (I see you have comedy on your vision board too!), and congrats on following your dream to dance! That’s awesome.

    Thanks for the shout-out too. 🙂

  3. Thanks for remembering, its one of my very favorite memories!!!! Love you….Mom

Should You Hire a Writing Coach? 7 Questions About Writing Coaches Answered

Writing Coach

Writing Coach

My short answer is yes.

When I wanted to get serious about writing I had a few marks against me: little formal training, dated experience, and few connections.

The advice online and in magazines was abundant and murky: join a writing group; just write and submit; find a mentor. Last I’d checked, our local Target did not have a large selection of critique circles or free mentors on the shelves.

Searching, I registered for a one-night class where our teacher’s credentials included published author and certified life coach.

Two weeks later, I still hadn’t written much and wondered if I’d ever feel like a “real” writer when I glanced over and saw the author’s card on a corner of my desk. I called and after a free consultation, signed up for my first session.

I’ve been attending weekly or bi-weekly sessions with my coach for the last year and the results are remarkable. But we’ll come back to that.

creativity_takes_courage_by_bnavarro-d6wdbhv

Why Should You Consider Hiring a Coach?

Tiger Woods, NFL Quarterbacks, even Picasso all had personal teachers dedicated to their success.

“But writing is different. It’s art. It can’t be taught, you just have to do it.”

Writing is both art and craft. It’s also a goal, a pursuit, a vocation, a dream.

I wasn’t sure what I wanted to write or how to get started. I had no writing community and felt I didn’t have years to establish one. My goals have shifted many times throughout the past twelve months but I continue to see progress.

You sign your kids up for guitar lessons, hire batting coaches for your little leaguer, and may even treat yourself to a personal trainer. Why should your calling to write be any different? You deserve help in reaching your dreams if you feel you need it.

What Does a Coach Do and What Can You Expect?

Coaches are as varied as writers. There are book coaches who help you conceive of and shepherd a book to publication. There are writing coaches that act as tutors providing craft instruction and critiques of your work. Then there are more general coaches offering instruction, critiques, and a variety of goal setting and visioning tools to help guide your career.

I chose a Certified Life Coach who was a writing teacher and had extensive experience with the publishing world.

What Does a Typical Session Consist of?

First off, you should know that I almost always cry. I’m not sure if it’s with relief that I’m taking my own dreams seriously or gratitude that someone other than my supportive family believes in me. Thankfully, she does not charge extra for tissue.

Although writing is therapeutic, our sessions are not therapy. My coach, however, is a trained counselor which doesn’t hurt when dealing with the emotional task of writing from the heart.

Our weekly session starts with a centering and breathing exercise of which I was initially suspicious. This costs me money and I want to get better at writing, not hippie, woo woo stuff. I now look forward to this positive blessing of my writing life. I feel hope, determination and resolve settle over me.

Once centered, we discuss my results from last week, the good, the bad, and the ugly, and we set concrete goals for the upcoming week.  These may include word counts, submittals, time management, brainstorming, or big picture ideas.

We talk about managing the inner critic, coming up with new ideas, handling rejection, writing routines, family support, publications to query, dealing with negativity, etc.

I leave with a to-do list for the week and the wonderful feeling of investing in my dream. My coach believes in my ability and provides support and feedback via text, email, etc., outside of our regularly scheduled sessions.

steveberardi-baldeagle1-300x300

How Do You Tell if it’s Working?

We’ve all had the experience of a good fit; a teacher that seems to “get” your child’s personality; a hair dresser that knows one inch means just one inch; or a tax guy that helps you think out-of-the box with deductions.

Coaching is no different. Personality matters. Energy matters. Availability and pricing and credentials all matter.

But results are where it’s at. Here’s a few of the things I’ve achieved or experienced in one year that I’m convinced would have taken me longer on my own, or might not have happened at all:

  • Accepted as regular guest blogger at two websites including monthly posts, several published book reviews and author interviews including award winning novelists and NY Times Bestselling authors, published in Chicken Soup for the Soul, acceptance into Novel in a Year program at local studio, hired as correspondent for local newspaper, published flash fiction and personal essays, performed written piece for Live Lit event, selected to audition for Listen to Your Mother event
  • Encouraged establishment of a professional online presence including tips on: website, business cards, treating myself to headshots, social media accounts, blogging, etc.
  • Formulated a plan for conference/retreat/class attendance to improve my craft.
  • Instrumental in creating a working cover for my first novel (and convincing me it was a novel)
  • Established and tracked word count goals for WIP
  • Introductions to other writing professionals in our area including award winning authors, playwrights, screenwriters, etc.
  • Explanation of types of editing and assistance with recommendations and selection of editor for WIP
  • Access to well-established platform for advertising my proofreading and editing services resulting in paid assignments
  • Insight into what’s accepted/expected when pitching local editors resulting in several paid assignments and published clips
  • Assisted in arranging book signing for Chicken Soup for the Soul anthology
  • Invitation to participate in local author events as a speaker/presenter
  • Established a revision group, provides recommendations and insight on local classes
  • Sounding board for craft elements of projects in progress

Coaching has helped me keep my writing front and center all while traveling with a college athlete, working a full time job, and planning my daughter’s wedding.

How Much Does All This Cost?

If you search the internet you will find fees ranging from $100 to $150 per hour and an endless choice of “packages.” What’s important is your budget, comfort level, and your results. Trust your gut.

At a minimum, you should receive a free, no-pressure consultation and the flexibility to hold sessions in person, via skype, or by phone. Life gets hectic and flexibility is key. I prefer to pay as I go with no long-term commitment.

Don’t forget to check for certifications and references. The internet can tell you what certifying agencies are acceptable in your area.

What Do You Have to Lose?

If you’re stuck on a particular project or unsure how to get going at all, a free consultation could be the catalyst you need.

In my writing coach I have an advocate, a sympathetic ear, a well-established connection to the writing community, and an experienced publishing professional willing to provide guidance and critical feedback.

A reputable coach can be an invaluable resource. Mine asks tough questions and has challenged me to think bigger than I had the courage to do on my own.

Coaching might not be for everybody but I consider it time and money well-spent.

 Share Your Experience or Questions

Have you ever used a coach or considered it? Why or why not? Have you had a good or bad experience you can share?

 

 

 

3 Thoughts on “Should You Hire a Writing Coach? 7 Questions About Writing Coaches Answered

  1. Hi there! Any chance you could share with me who your writing coach is? She/he sounds like just what I’m looking for! angela@angelawatsonrobertson.com. Thanks! 🙂

How to Find a Writing Community

Finding a Writing Group
Finding a Writing Group

By Leesa from southtown, usa  Wikimedia Commons

You’re getting serious about this writing thing and you need to bounce ideas off someone. Your family’s eyes glaze over when you ask for their opinions on your new opening paragraph and your friends don’t understand why choosing a name for your main character is such a big deal. You need new people. Writing people. But how do you find them?

This was me last year. I was on the outside looking in and didn’t quite know where to start. I spent hours on various internet searches trying to find like-minded people. I’d like to save you some time.

While some websites like www.Meetup.com offer possibilities, the most promising options come from other social connections. In other words…it helps if you “know a guy.”

Hints for finding your community…

Take a class – Ask the students and teacher for recommendations and introductions. You chose the same class and have at least that in common. The teacher has some level of expertise which promises a wider circle of contacts. A good teacher will know the importance of a community and will want good word of mouth about the class. She will want to help.

Haven Writing Retreat

Photo by Author and Haven Host Laura Munson

Go to conferences/retreats – This works much like a class but in a more concentrated and often more intense environment. You can’t be a hermit though. Take down email addresses and cell phone numbers and reach out after you return home. Before I submitted my essay to Chicken Soup for the Soul, a fellow writer I met at a retreat ‘read it and offered invaluable feedback.

Hire a coach/mentor – Most offer a free consultation. A coach can be a sounding board for your writing goals, story ideas, or even help you conquer self-doubt.

All of the above require an investment of both time and money. If writing is your passion, you’re worth it.

Low-cost and free options also exist.

If coaching or classes are out of your financial reach, consider your local library. Many offer free monthly writing groups. These may have members at all different levels of skill or commitment. I found my first paid writing gig through the leader of my local library’s writing group.

Tell everyone you know that you’re a writer. Your friends and relatives have circles of people in all walks of life. Writers are a helpful bunch. A dear college friend introduced me to her cousin, a journalist. We met for coffee and she ended up passing on my name to her editor. A few months later, I was hired to do a freelance piece for their paper.

Social media is free and full of writers. It can be a huge time-suck so beware. If you’re disciplined and enjoy Facebook, Twitter, or Instagram – search their writing groups. Most have writers at all levels (both traditionally and self-published) who are happy to answer questions, suggest critique websites, or just boost your spirits on a tough writing day.

Websites like www.Scribophile.com and Women Writers, Women’s Books offer  active communities with opportunities to share work or even contribute content.

THE BOTTOM LINE

Writing can be lonely – but it doesn’t have to be. Finding a writing group or community requires that you take risks. The rewards are incisive feedback, links to opportunities, and old-fashioned friendship. Where did you find your people? If you have some hints or shortcuts not mentioned here, I’d love to hear about them in the comments!

4 Thoughts on “How to Find a Writing Community

  1. Great post. Yes, we writers need writers. I don’t think there are any shortcuts as what we need is to build trusting relationships where we feel safe to share our work and receive constructive criticism. Trust takes time to build.

    • Thanks so much for reading. Couldn’t agree more about your point on trusting. Writing makes us vulnerable and we need to feel that it’s a good fit before we can share.

  2. I love Women Writers, Women’s Books! I have been keeping in touch with this group, led by the fabulous Barbara Bos, on Facebook. What a fun group of amazing women who happen to be writers. They help me feel less alone as I am busy writing away. Thank you for posting this. I did attend a writing critique group for a while at a local library and I loved it, I’m just so busy writing that I haven’t gone back yet. I’m also fortunate to get lots of support from others in my writing adventure. Happy writing, everyone!

    • Barbara has been an inspiration! The main website is full of inspirational and informative pieces designed to help every level of writer. Like you, I love the support on the Facebook page. Thanks so much for taking the time to read and comment. Much appreciated – Best of luck with your writing!