Tuesday, December 29, 2009

My Writer's Resolutions for 2010

I am always filled with a sense of adventure and excitement when the New Year comes around. Maybe it’s because I was born on New Year’s Eve and everybody is celebrating, although not because of my birthday. Or maybe it’s because I’m hopeful that better things are standing at my threshold than those of the previous year. Let’s face it, 2010 has better possibilities to offer me than my mother’s death, a pay decrease, and the bathroom pipes springing a leak.

I feel the same excitement about my writing. I started my newest writing project last June and hope to be at least ¾ of the way, or even closer to the end, by next December. I get all jittery inside when I think of 365 days of writing opportunities, and I have intensified my enthusiasm by taking a week’s vacation in January to get a running head start.

Even with all this exhilaration, I’ve decided to devise a few strategies that will help me stay on track when the words refuse to materialize, or when research binds me in chains, or when life gets in the way. The motto Be Prepared works just as well for a writer as it does for a Boy Scout. So here are ten writers’ resolutions for 2010 to keep the prose flowing and discouragement at bay:

  1. Reevaluate Your Writing Career: Take note of what you achieved as a writer in the previous year and what you want to accomplish in the coming year. Make goals to achieve this new direction.
  2. Resolve to Write: A writer must commit to produce. Without the will, there is no way. Set goals of when, where, and how often you will work. That way when friends want to distract you, you will be ready to politely turn them down.
  3. Set Realistic Goals: If you set your goals too high, you are sure to fail or at least overextend yourself in the process. Moderation is the key to all writing pursuits. By setting lower goals and surpassing them, you will feel more successful and spare energy for other writing endeavors.
  4. Add Variety: Sometimes I get bored with the same piece of fiction day in and day out. I keep a variety of writing projects at hand to stir up the muse. Journal writing and blogging also keep me writing, and these outlets are cathartic ways to practice the art. Just don’t overdo the variety and neglect your more important projects. That would defeat the goal.
  5. Finish Old Projects: There is nothing more stifling or draining than unfinished writing tasks. Their constant cry for completion is like an invisible shield that blocks free thinking. Finish these annoyances and you will unclog the passageways that hold back creativity.
  6. Read More: I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again: We can learn how to write by reading other writers’ works. The way they use words and the way they structure plot can spur us out of writer’s block and help us handle plot in better ways than if we attempted the task in a stupor.
  7. Focus on Your Successes: Dwell on the things that you do accomplish this year instead of on what you don’t. Failures aren’t really failures. They are just methods you’ve tried which don’t work. Attempt different techniques and ways of approaching the subject and you might turn the piece into one that works. But until then, be kind to yourself and pat yourself on the back for all you have achieved.
  8. Submit: There is only one thing to say about submission. If you submit, you provide opportunities to get published. The opposite holds true if you fail to do so.
  9. Be Confident: Wherever you are on the publication scale, don’t think your failure to get your work out in the world makes you a bad writer. I hate to say it, but sometimes publication depends on timing or whether or not the editor had a fight with her husband that morning. Your abilities aren’t necessarily the reason you haven’t seen your name on a book cover.
  10. Promote Yourself: And do so whenever you find the opportunity. Promotion is a vital part of a writer’s success. You might hand out business cards, or contact an editor, or be bold and tell everyone you talk to you are a writer. If you’re like me, this part of the equation is difficult, but critically important if you want others to know your work.
Such are my ten resolutions to keep moving forward on my novel in 2010. I hope those of you who read this little list may find solutions to some of your own writing dilemmas.

Saturday, December 26, 2009

Surviving the Unexpected Grinches

The Grinch who stole Christmas is alive and doing well.

Four days ago my son called me at work and screamed into the phone, “Mom, there’s water in my closet.” Several hours later, a plumber discovered my bathroom sink pipes had sprung a leak and that the walls behind the bathroom were completely saturated. This resulted in the dry out company cutting holes in my closet and bedroom walls, as well as ripping up carpet, my bathroom floor, and installing nine fans that have tried to blow through my Christmas and writing plans.

I must admit, at first I didn’t handle the shock well. As I cried in my Christmas pudding, complained to whoever would listen, and slept on my couch for three nights, I realized my sulking just wouldn’t do, especially with a houseful of people coming. Since I couldn’t sleep well on my uncomfortable, makeshift bed, I had a lot of time to reflect on my attitude adjustment. After all it was turning out to be a Whoville Christmas, and I couldn’t allow this unexpected inconvenience to ruin the holiday.

I realized I have the Gospel, family, my health, good friends, a roof over my head, and talents. The true meaning of Christmas always exists and for everyone, not just in perfect circumstances. The Savior was born and blessed this world with love and a better way, and the sooner my face reflected these facts, the sooner I could spread this message to everyone.

Although all my Christmas money will go to the deductable, I do have homeowners insurance and will get the tile that has sat in my garage for two years finally installed in my bathroom. I was also able to enjoy my family yesterday and put on a nice dinner for all. What more could I ask for?

As for my writing plans, well, although somewhat delayed, I’ve found a little hole between the food storage buckets and misplaced furniture to write this blog post today. The chaos has given me a different perspective and definately something to write about. I’ll get to my novel later on, too. I will always remember Christmas 2009 and how it reminded me of my blessings. Merry Christmas everyone! It truly has been a good one!

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

One-Sentence Summary Statements Save Face

As I sat in my monthly writers meeting last night, we were asked to tell the group about our latest writing projects. When my turn came around I stammered and stuttered, and by the time I finished trying to tell everyone what my book was about, I shrunk in my chair, red-faced, wondering if I sounded as lame as I felt. Mind you, I’m far better at the written word than I am at orating. If I have to speak in front of small groups, unless I prepare on paper what I’m going to say two weeks in advance, my tongue goes numb and my brain springs a leak. Yet, I wondered if my speaking engagement would have been easier if I had known precisely, in only a few words, what the core of my story was about.

A couple of months ago I read an article by Randy Ingermanson on his snowflake method for writing a novel. He suggests that as we begin, we should define what the story is about in a one-sentence summary using fifteen words or less. That shouldn’t be too hard, right? Try it. You’ll see just how difficult the task really is.

First, to keep the summary under fifteen words, you need to use the most specific language possible and avoid using character names. Instead of saying, “Jane must convince colleagues …” write “A deceitful archeologist must convince colleagues...”

Second you need to determine which of your characters has the most to lose and figure out what he wants to gain.”A deceitful archeologist must convince colleagues he’s unearthed an artifact revealing the world’s end.” The sentence needs to be concise enough that you can later use it to sell your book to anyone. I keep thinking if I had already accomplished this assignment for my current manuscript, I would have aced the task of selling a room full of writers the plausibility of my story.

Ingermanson says to search The New York Times Bestseller list for examples of concise one-sentence summaries. I go to this list often and read the short sentences not only to know what fiction is popular, but also to learn ways of honing in on the heart of a plot. I suggest you give yourself at least an hour to find the most compact way to describe your novel’s basic thread. After you try the exercise, please comment below about the ease or difficulty you experienced. I hope I’m not the only writer who finds this drill a challenge.

Thursday, December 3, 2009

2010 ANWA Writer's Conference Is Coming!

As writers, we need and deserve a high quality resource where we can learn ways to improve our work. I have just the venue, a place to receive a pinch where our pants meet the chair, one that will inspire us on to success. It promises to be the best conference ANWA has ever sponsored. Please read the specifics below:

ANWA Writer’s Conference
February 27, 2010
“Start Write Now”
Best Western Dobson Ranch
1666 South Dobson Road
Mesa, AZ 85292-5699

Keynote Speaker: J. Scott Savage, Author of the “Farworld Series”

Also Featuring:
Aprilynne Pike, New York Times best-selling Author of “Wings”
Helen Bair, Counselor and Author of “Finding the Healer in Me”
Sara Fujimura, Freelance Writer, Magazine Writer, Author and Educator
Doug Johnston, Publicist and Owner of Little Red Ride Promotions LLC
Nancy E. Turner, Author of “These is My Words”
Marsha Ward, Author of the “Owen Family Series”
Dr. Pamela Goodfellow, Writing Coach, Editor, and Owner of Goodfellow Publishing Services.

I know I will be at the conference with my pad and pen. I hope to see anyone with a desire to improve their writing skills present and ready to learn from the best. Sign up at http://anwa-lds.com/conference.html

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Be Still and Become Productive

I’ve stopped listening to the radio on my drive to and from work. The noise was a distraction, filling my mind with repetitious tunes and everybody’s thoughts but my own. I’ve discovered that in the stillness, competition for head space has dwindled to a minimum, and I’ve created a healthy environment for the development of plot ideas, blog posts, and ways to improve my manuscripts.

These quiet moments are crucial for a writer’s success. Besides the dreamless, Delta levels where our subconscious often inspires us in our sleep, in today’s busy, over-stimulated world we must create special moments where our brains can engage the muse, a place where we can focus on the next passages we are going to write and the crowning ideas that are trying to immerge.

Not all of us have two hours to kill in the car every day like I do, so how do we find ideal places and specific times for productive thinking? I used to ask myself that question all the time, but it wasn’t until I practiced the fine art of being still that I realized how many opportunities I really had during a day. Below are just some of the ways I’ve found to reconnect my synapses. If you try any of these, don’t forget to keep a pad and pencil with you to write down the ideas that begin to flow.

» Create a sanctuary in a remote corner of your house – Decorate a special corner all your own with some of your favorite items that generate peaceful surroundings. A candle, pictures of family, a floral arrangement, or a special pillow can work magic in this haven away from distractions. Put up a partition to keep your attention reigned in on your work. Before long, you’ll wonder how you ever wrote a sentence without this refuge.

» Take a walk outside – Fresh air and exercise are cures for a stagnant existence. Twenty minutes away from your desk can wet your imagination and get you back to writing again.

» Get up an hour earlier – Even a half hour earlier might give you a few moments to jot down some ideas that you can develop later on in the day.

» Use down time at work to brainstorm – Between work projects or during a break, write lists or send yourself Internet data that will help improve your writing sessions when you have more time to develop the information.

» Stay out of the break room at work – The break room is notorious for wasting time. Well-intentioned people want to talk to you when you want to write. Find an empty desk somewhere in the office or park yourself on an outside bench where no one will find you. Your colleagues will begin to respect your desire for alone time.

» Keep a writer’s journal and use it daily – the moment you wake up is a good time to write down ideas. But carry your journal with you and get in the habit of using it whenever you feel inspired.

» Use the time in grocery store lines to observe action and dialogue – We spend half of our life standing in one line or another. Make the most of those wasted moments by writing down someone’s quirks or the dialogue you hear. You never know when a phrase or oddity might come in handy in one of your plots.

» Refrain from watching television, blogging, or listening to the radio for a day – All the vices of networking and the media can be the worst bandits of our time. Listening to repetitive plot ideas and the same music over and over only locks our mind into someone else's patterns of thought. Social networking and video games may exciting and fun, but they do not help us congregate where we most need to be: at our desks writing. Tune out and tune in to your own unique ideas and you'll be producing abundantly before you know it.

The key is to train yourself to find ways to be still. Remember that as we discover more of these moments in our lives, the easier it will be to find them again. And the more productive we are, the more success we will glean as writers.