Writing life: patience is a virtue

Have you ever been stuck in the slowest checkout line in the grocery store? You’re slouched over your cart wondering if you’ll get home before your ice cream melts and the frozen shrimp goes bad. To make matters worse, the guy with the full cart behind you somehow made it through the next line over and is headed for the parking lot!

It might feel like you’re in the slowest checkout line in the writing world, too. Success seems to leap frog over you to shower its blessings on just about everyone else.

It might seem that way, but it’s not true. You’re on your own path, and you can’t compare your journey to anyone else’s. You can, however, do some self-analysis and ask yourself if you’re doing everything you can to move yourself forward.

These are some questions I’ve had to ask myself:

  • Am I writing enough?
  • Am I reading enough in my genre?
  • Am I writing in a bubble? Am I taking constructive critiques seriously?
  • Am I seeking out ways (webinars, articles, workshops, critiques) to help improve my writing?
  • Am I quitting on goals before I barely get started?
  • Am I rushing to submit before my manuscript is ready?
  • Are there other writing opportunities I can explore along with my goal of getting a book published?

Writing is a journey. You do have to set specific goals and map out steps to help you get to your destination. But don’t forget:

  • Sometimes stuff happens that is out of your control. But the things you can control? Focus on those.
  • Be realistic. No, the third time is not always – and possibly never –the charm when it comes to submitting your manuscript. Toughen up for a long haul. There are a lot of stories out there about authors who collected dozens and dozens of rejections before hitting bingo.
  • It’s not a race. It may seem like some writers have had a much shorter wait time to publication than you. It’s just not your time. Focus on getting your story right, not fast.
  • Be supportive and happy for fellow writers who grab a hold of the publishing brass ring. Let them inspire and motivate you. Say to yourself, “See? It is possible.”

5 ways to reinforce your writing goals

A new month, a new year, a future full of possibilities. Charge full steam ahead with those writing goals, and stay charged with some positive reinforcement.

  1. Connect with other writers.

Surrounding yourself (virtually or otherwise) with like-minded people is a great way to stay focused, motivated and inspired. Google writing groups in your area. Your tribe is waiting! These groups can lead you to critique groups, writing challenges, webinars and classes.

Critique groups and writing challenges not only provide support and encouragement, they motivate you to write with deadlines.

2. Be a follower on social media.

Join Facebook groups of writers or follow writers, agents, editors and publishers on Twitter. I’m not a fan of Twitter because of the political vitriol. I write children’s stories, so angry posts don’t typically inspire thoughts of unicorns and rainbows. However, I’ve gotten pretty good at scrolling past it all.  I also had to unfollow a “writer” who felt compelled to post numerous pictures of popping pimples. I mean, really?

Still, I often find encouragement and motivation on Twitter. It’s also a good way to stay current on the publishing world and discover submission opportunities.

Warning: Don’t let social media be a time suck. Limit your perusing so it doesn’t take away from actual writing time.

3. Read articles and books on craft, but also for inspiration.

Pat yourself on the back every time you do something to improve your craft. Never stop learning. But also, look for uplifting articles. There are plenty of success stories and how-tos and stick-to-it articles to keep you going. Find inspiration in blogs by authors.

4. Write what you want.

What if the market says dinosaur romance is hot, hot, hot? Do you really want to write that? Even if you could force yourself to write about amorous dinosaurs, by the time it’s ready, the market will have changed—hopefully.

Stick to what makes you passionate about writing. That is what makes your writing authentic.

5. Study books in the genre you are writing.

Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

When I first heard this advice, it was given as a how-to-write tip. Of course! Learn from the authors who write the books you love. But also, take heart from the authors who write books that, well, you don’t love.

Think about all those books that made you go meh. They got published, didn’t they? Why? Because writing, like any art, is subjective. So, when I read a book that makes me go meh, I silently cheer. Your book doesn’t have to appeal to everyone—just enough someones.

The more immersed I am in the writing world, the more motivated I feel, and the more productive I am.

Drive-Thru Edit: Don’t use an apostrophe when making names plural

Fewer and fewer Christmas cards are showing up in the mailbox each year. While I enjoy getting something other than ads in the mail, sending holiday greetings via social media seems to be the way of the world.

But if you, or characters in your story, need to mail or email a family, know this:

  • It is not Greetings Robinson’s. It is Greetings Robinsons. No apostrophe.
  • If the name ends with an s, then add an es:

Write on.

Mining for story ideas

Ideas are everywhere. It’s those good ones that are hard to find. At least for me. That’s why I love those writing challenges.

Storystorm, created and hosted by the fantabulous picture book author Tara Lazar, is my favorite writing challenge. Every January, picture book authors and wanna-be authors start the new year with a full month of imaginative play.

Photo by Andrea Piacquadio on Pexels.com

Play—that’s the operative word here. Let your imagination play. No pressure. Just let it run wild to create new ideas—even if a lot, or maybe even most, turn out to be, well, crappy.

So what if they are? I think of those crappy ideas as a brain dump. It’s a way for my brain to flush out the useless stuff so it can retain and focus on the useful information. I tell myself every crappy idea gets me closer to a good idea, a workable idea, an idea that becomes a real story.

Maybe your idea appears crappy right after you write it down … or a day or two later …  or halfway through your first draft. Even if you file it away in your “Epic Fail” folder, someday you might mine through it again and see a kernel of a better idea glimmering through the mire and muck.

Sometimes I look through my “No way will these see the light of day” stories and remember the hours, days, or even weeks spent on those losers. Wasted time? Writing time is never wasted time. It’s good practice—as long as you’re working toward improvement.

And sometimes, you might find, that one of those fails can be reworked into something completely different—and wonderful.

So, go ahead. Carve out time each day to let your imagination play. Tell it: “No pressure. No expectations.” Find writing challenges like Storystorm or writing prompts on the internet. Here are a few to get you started:

  • Find an object, and write about the Day in the Life of a ________________.
  • Without looking creepy, observe a stranger in a public place and make up an unusual job or identity for him.
  • If you were Big Foot, why wouldn’t you want to be found? Think of the fame and fortune!

Writing goals

There is light at the end of this 2020 tunnel—a shiny, new year is rising. I think most of us want to believe 2021 will be brighter, more hopeful. We can help make it true for ourselves by setting some hopeful, and doable, goals.

What’s the goal?

I’ve stopped calling them New Year’s resolutions. Goal seems to fit better. A goal demands a plan, a strategy for attaining it.

First, I choose a realistic goal I can achieve within or by the end of the year. Now, how do I get there?

One of the best pieces of advice I’ve gotten in achieving writing goals is to divide the year into quarters—just like businesses do. I have an ultimate goal, but I create mini-goals in each of the three-month quarters to help me achieve the ultimate goal.

Map it out

Acknowledge your ultimate goal. Don’t be shy. Say it out loud and write it down. Then tell someone—someone you know who is going to ask you about it. Imagine them asking you about it in the coming months, and you telling them you are on it! You’re working toward it. Because you are.

Create a log and write everything down. What would you like to achieve in the next three months that will help you achieve your ultimate goal? Join a critique group? Take a writing class? Write every day for a certain amount of time?

Maybe you have some ancillary goals that will make you feel productive and help your ultimate goal. Let’s say your ultimate goal is to finish your novel, but seeing your byline on a web article would be great. Becoming more savvy with social media will certainly be useful. Map out those goals, too.

Write down your weekly to-do list and choose days to work on specific tasks. Plan it out on a calendar that pops up on your phone or computer so you can see your scheduled must-do list. (Or you can do it with an old-fashioned planner that sits hulking by your laptop as an everyday reminder.)

Then assess your progress at the end of each week, each month and each quarter. Based on your progress, make mini goals for the next quarter.

Nothing in stone

Sometimes the ultimate goal might change mid-stream (and those other goals, too). Maybe finishing that novel is no longer feasible. You’re getting feedback from your new class or group you joined (a mini-goal in the first quarter) that suggests a lot more research or rewriting than anticipated. Or sometimes life happens, and time gets sucked away.

That’s okay. Goals are not written in stone. They can be revised and reworked—just like our writing. But by the end of the year, there’s progress. The distance between where you started and your ultimate goal has been shortened. And that is something to celebrate.

Recovering writing time

The first step to recovery is to admit you have a problem. So:

I admit have a problem with an app.  Not just any app, a game app on my phone that takes up an inordinate amount of my time.

The app advertises itself as a tool to exercise your brain and stave off dementia. It involves words, so … sounds beneficial, right? Except I’ve become so good at it, I can do it rather mindlessly while watching TV. My brain could atrophy and I could slide into dementia today, but I’m quite certain I would still be rather adept at it. I’d forget what a spoon is, but my fingers would instinctively and proficiently play that darn game.

I don’t even want to think about how much time I spend on it—mindlessly earning game coins that I can’t buy anything useful with—except other game coins.

But I have had an epiphany. Every time I reach for my phone to play that game, I am going to think of the word “write.” What if that time I spent playing the game was transformed into writing time?

I know the time of day when I typically reach for that game, so I can easily imagine doing something more useful: writing, thinking about writing, watching a webinar on writing, reading about writing, honing my writing craft, analyzing books in the genre I am writing in.

When writing isn’t your main job, and it’s not translating into a paycheck at the moment, it’s easy not to prioritize it. There are other things to do. But honestly, some of those other things … are they really worth doing? Think about how much closer to your writing goals you’d be, if you spent more time writing or reading about improving your craft. Even if it’s just a little more time. So:

  • Game app = writing.
  • Log writing time. (I’m going to use a nice calendar for that.)
  • Set goals (my own writing deadlines, submissions, etc.).

Think of a useless, veg-out type of activity that’s wasting your time. Maybe it’s that second hour on the couch watching TV. Imagine turning off the TV, and then choosing to do something very specific: I am going to set the timer and do 20 minutes of free writing on anything that pops into my head. I am going to search for submission opportunities. I’m going to pull out an old manuscript and change the POV. …

Cheers to a more productive writing journey!

Critiques—writer reality checks

I love writing stories. I love tinkering with words. It’s such a joyful feeling to think, “I’ve got something here. I really think this time I’ve got something.”

And then I submit it to my critique partners.

I appreciate critiques. I really do. But honestly, sometimes I wonder if a colonoscopy would be less painful. (kidding)*

Living in a fantasy world where my manuscripts are ALWAYS PERFECT is a lovely place to be. But in the end, it is a very lonely place to be. No one else lives there. Just me.

Critique partners are great when you need help brainstorming or looking for a suggestion to get you over a writing hump. But as painful as it is, they are especially great when they act like vultures, swooping in on your fantabulous story, served up naked on a silver platter.

Sure, sure, sure, there are good things about your story, but chances are, there’s room for improvement. And no matter how nice they are about it, and how carefully they couch their suggestions, critiques of your “baby” can hurt.

“Oooo, what’s that thing? Hmmm. I don’t know … Maybe, you want to … or Hmmm, that doesn’t seem quite right. Ha! I like that part. Good start. Happy rewriting.”

Good start? “Wrong, Wrong, Wrong! They don’t get it. They don’t know what they’re talking about.” You stomp around the room. You cry. You rip up paper. You promise yourself you will never, ever, ever write again.

Then you take a deep breath, and email: “Thank you for your insightful feedback.”

Insightful? Yes, because it is. And You know it. Maybe not now, but in a month or two when you pull out your story and read it again. “Oh. Right. Aha! That would make more sense. They were right.”

Not always right and not on everything. But enough, maybe a lot. The key here is to put space between you and your critiqued manuscript. That way, you can read it with fresh eyes and from a more critical perspective.

Then comes the opportunity to write an even better version of the story.

Rewrite, rewrite, rewrite, and then buckle up. It’s time to submit to the critique partners again.

Lord, have mercy, because hopefully, your critique partners will not.

*(My critique partners are actually quite wonderful. I would much rather get a critique from them then a colonoscopy. They are fabulous cheerleaders on my writing journey, and I am grateful for each one of them. If you don’t feel that way about yours, you need to find a more supportive tribe.)

Welcome to my writer’s office

I was never a big fan of the word “office.” Maybe because a lot of people identify it with something they want to get out of, have a break from, or leave completely.

One of the places where I write is my dining room table. Papers clutter the space around my laptop, and bright sunlight pours in from the windows that line one wall.

I’m always just a few steps from the kitchen cupboards and refrigerator. I’m also a leap or two from the window where I can see what the neighbor’s dog is barking at or what the kids are shouting about on the playground.

Don’t scold me. Those aren’t distractions. Those are mental breaks that might lead to musings, that might lead to something interesting.

My dining room table is a nice place to write. But it’s not my favorite place. It’s not always the best place for seedlings of ideas to sprout and bloom.  

That would be here:

Writing is my mind wandering. And I don’t always wander well unless I’m moving. My mind works best weaving and winding down a tree-lined path or behind the wheel, gliding over a country road.

Ideas have even popped up unexpectedly in the shower, or while cleaning the toilet, or mowing the lawn. Sometimes my ideas go bump in the night. I’ve learned to write it down then and there, or risk losing it forever.

Sometimes when I get back to my seat in the dining room to tap out the idea on my laptop, that idea kind of fizzles and fades. It seemed brighter somehow when I was folding the laundry.

But sometimes it grows into something even better than I thought it would.

Yes, I know I need to plant myself in front of my laptop to actually get words to document. But I also know I need to take my mind out for a walk or a drive and let it run wild.