Saturday, January 20, 2018

Goodbye Distractions, Hello Writing!

Everyone's lives are full of them - distractions.  From Twitter to Facebook; from cable news to the sitcoms I love.  It seems that there is always something interesting keeping me from my "To Do" list.  So, then I make a valiant effort to be more disciplined and stay on track, attacking that "To Do" list with a vengeance, feeling a huge thrill every time my pencil checks off another finished task.  But what about my other work?  My real work.  My writing.  Could it be that even my "To Do" list with its long list of emails to answer and letters to write and even blog posts to create is keeping me from my most important creative endeavor, the draft of my next middle grade novel?  Could it be that all of those tasks that are part of my job as an author, not only distract me from "doing" my writing, but also distract me from living a creative life so that I have the inspiration I need to create interesting characters and tell unique stories? 
I wish I could say I asked myself those thoughtful questions on my own, but I only began asking those questions after reading
Manage Your Day-to-Day:  Build Your Routine, Find Your Focus, and Sharpen Your Creative Mind.
This book allowed me to step back and, not only evaluate my work, but also evaluate how I go about accomplishing that work each day.  After that evaluation, I realized how much I have let the distractions (even the author-related ones) stand in my way.  But in 2018, I plan to give my best energy and attention to my writing, saving the other tasks on my "To Do" list for later. 
So goodbye pesky, annoying, aggravating distractions and hello year of amazing, creative, fulfilling writing! 



Friday, January 19, 2018

Putting writing goals on paper for 2018

The general thought of putting pen to paper to establish goals for the next 12 months is something that tends to give me stress flashbacks to my junior high days. Academics tell us goals must be specific, measurable, realistic and timed.

This is not how I write.

It’s true I am a very structured person. I am goal-oriented, highly organized and as a past journalist, driven by the motivation of deadlines.

When I transitioned from being in the newsroom to being at home and attempting to be a writer – whether it be freelance, books or blogging – I knew it was only me at the helm. Me to hold myself responsible, me to enforce the deadlines and the hours in which I’d be in my chair at the keyboard. I’ve always worked well independently. I took several college courses online, I often worked remotely as a reporter. I have no problem telling myself what to do, possibly because of the crushing guilt I feel if I leave responsibilities hanging.

In relation to writing novels, however, I have had few deadlines. Going to publication meant deadlines for editing and proposals and marketing plans. I’ve always met those. When it comes to writing a new novel, however, I never know exactly what I’m getting into. Some novels have taken me many months to write. One I wrote in a frenzied but euphoric three weeks. Some characters are more willing to show themselves to me, their plots readily unfolding, and therefore quicker to write. And it comes through that ability to recognize my characters and setting to properly convey their story that the entirety of the novel comes.

I have yet to be able to staple a deadline to this.

So when 2018 approached, just as in years past, I give myself an outline. Each month, I assign a basic goal that I hope to achieve. “Finish writing X chapters” or “Complete manuscript” or “Edit manuscript.” Perhaps “Query X manuscript” or “Critique partner’s manuscript” or “Submit to X to contest or Pitch Wars.” I also allow certain months for nothing but “Write write write.” In trusting myself with a certain amount of structure yet also free reign, I’ve been able to reach not only my annual goals but many of my lifelong goals as a writer. To see myself in publication, to see my short story in a literary magazine, to earn writing accolades, and perhaps best of all – simply to keep writing throughout my life.

Happy New Year and happy reading!

AM Bostwick


Thursday, January 18, 2018

My Goal for 2018: Creative Joy by Claudia Mills

How I love formulating goals for myself for each new year! I think most writers do. As self-employed persons, we need to be self-starting persons, and resolutions can be an effective way of getting ourselves started on achieving whatever it is we want to achieve.

As I formulate my plans for each year, I have evolved these guidelines:
1) Although I may have lots of small, incidental goals (e.g., in the wake of last year's kidney stone surgery: drink more water!), I want to have one big goal that is my chief focus for the year.
2) The goal should be measurable and quantifiable, so that I can know whether or not I actually achieved it.
3) The goal should be achievable: I want to set the bar high enough that I have something to strive for, but low enough that a reasonable amount of striving is going to lead to success. I myself am demoralized by failure.
4) With this last thought in mind, my preferred time frame to focus on for my annual goals is the MONTH. The DAY is too demanding, where if I miss my target on even one day out of 365, I've already failed. The YEAR is too forgiving; it makes possible a dangerous amount of procrastination and postponement. But the MONTH - ahh, the month is just right.

Last  year (2017), my goal was to submit something different every single month: it could be something big and ambitious like a book proposal, book manuscript, or well-researched scholarly article; it could be something smaller, like a revision of one of these in response to editorial or reviewer comments; it could be something very small, like a 700-word article for the SCBWI Bulletin, or a short poem. I didn't need to have a single submission accepted - that part was up to the universe. But sending stuff out into the world was up to me. I just barely managed to meet this goal, as I describe in detail here.

For this year (2018), I wanted something very different, something that would focus not on product, but on process. As my personal life is very difficult right now, I also wanted something that would focus on FUN. The best fun is the fun I get from creating something, from making something - from writing. So my focus this year is creative joy. But how to make this goal measurable and quantifiable? I decided it would be: to have ten hours each month of creative joy.

But what would count as creative joy? How could I make the goal more clear and precise? I decided that "creative joy" needed to involve some extra effort in the direction of generating happiness for myself. An hour of creative joy could be an  hour writing with a friend, or in a cozy cafe, or at an art museum, or on a bench in a park. It could be an hour writing at home IF I added something special: lighting a candle, playing inspiring music, eating an extra-tasty treat.

Ooh! I liked this goal, I did!

So far this month my hours of creative joy have included:
1) an afternoon writing at the BookBar indie bookstore/cafe on Tennyson Street in Denver with a dear friend;
2) an afternoon touring the exhibit "Her Paris: Women Artists in the Age of Impressionism" at the Denver Art Museum and writing poems about the artworks;
3) a morning writing with a friend in her sunroom;
4) writing at home with while eating two Pepperidge Farm apple turnovers;
5) writing at home with Cool Whip added to my usual Swiss Miss hot chocolate;
6) writing at home with a vanilla-scented candle lit on my desk.

And think of all the creative joy I'll be able to find in February - and March- and April - and May!

Monday, January 15, 2018

When the Cat Explodes





Ursula Le Guin


"Ultimately you write alone. And ultimately you and you alone can judge your work. The judgment that a work is complete—this is what I meant to do, and I stand by it—can come only from the writer, and it can be made rightly only by a writer who’s learned to read her own work. Group criticism is great training for self-criticism. But until quite recently no writer had that training, and yet they learned what they needed. They learned it by doing it." -- Ursula Le Guin, Steering the Craft

 
On another blog I talk about my current search for an agent. I searched for years for the right agent, firing two agents along the way because they were not serving my best interest. Finally, finally I found the ONE. After five years, and the sale of my two historical fiction middle grade books, my agent decided to focus on picturebooks and so ended our relationship. For a year now, I’ve been in search of a new agent. I write historical fiction, focusing on forgotten characters (usually girls, who are not represented enough) and events (because I think as a nation, we are historically illiterate and have forgotten our own story) that helped build the American landscape. I write historical American fantasy, a unique blending of the tall tale tradition and character that captures so much of the American identity with the historical American landscape.

Careful to do my research, and asking for recommendations, I’ve sent out two to three queries a week. Giving time for responses, I’ve sent out close to thirty queries. Most have given me the silent rejection and not responded. A few responses rejected the manuscript because historical fiction is a hard sell. A few others offered only that it was a bad fit. One asked for a revision, and then ultimately passed. Another asked for another revision, offering detailed observations.

But now, I struggle with the writing. I struggle with getting it done.

I am reminded of Neil Gaiman’s speech on how to live the creative life, delivered in May of 2012 at Philadelphia’s University of the Arts:

“When things get tough, this is what you should do: Make good art. I’m serious. Husband runs off with a politician — make good art. Leg crushed and then eaten by a mutated boa constrictor — make good art. IRS on your trail — make good art. Cat exploded — make good art. Someone on the Internet thinks what you’re doing is stupid or evil or it’s all been done before — make good art. Probably things will work out somehow, eventually time will take the sting away, and that doesn’t even matter. Do what only you can do best: Make good art. Make it on the bad days, make it on the good days, too.” –Neil Gaiman, on making good art. See more at Maria Popova’s Brain Pickings here.


The definition of “good art” seems to shift between readers, between agents, between editors. One agent rejected my story, stating it has too many characters while the plot was exciting. Another agent stated that she loved all the characters but the plot is too quiet. Another said there was too much reflection, while another said it had too much narrative. The indomitable Ursula Le Guin speaks to this notion:


“Thanks to “show don’t tell,” I find writers in my workshops who think exposition is wicked. They’re afraid to describe the world they’ve invented...This dread of writing a sentence that isn’t crammed with “gutwrenching action” leads fiction writers to rely far too much on dialogue, to restrict voice to limited third person and tense to the present. They believe the narrator’s voice (ponderously described as “omniscient”) distances the story — whereas it’s the most intimate voice of all, the one that tells you what is in the characters’ hearts, and in yours. The same fear of “distancing” leads writers to abandon the narrative past tense, which involves and includes past, present, and future, for the tight-focused, inflexible present tense. But distance lends enchantment...”  states Ursula LeGuin, on her criticism of John Rechy’s essay that “attacks three “rules of writing” that, according to him, often go unchallenged: These three rules include 1.Show, don’t tell. 2. Write about what you know. 3. Always have a sympathetic character for the reader to relate to.” (Find more of Ursula LeGuin’s wisdom on her blog here.) 

So what’s a writer to do? First, have courage to break the rules, but finish the story.

Neil Gaiman reminds us that, “You have to finish things — that’s what you learn from, you learn by finishing things.”  (To learn more about Neil Gaiman advice to aspiring writers, and to see a podcast interview, visit Maria Popova’s Brain Pickings here.)

 “If you’re only going to write when you’re inspired, you may be a fairly decent poet, but you will never be a novelist — because you’re going to have to make your word count today, and those words aren’t going to wait for you, whether you’re inspired or not. So you have to write when you’re not “inspired.” … And the weird thing is that six months later, or a year later, you’re going to look back and you’re not going to remember which scenes you wrote when you were inspired and which scenes you wrote because they had to be written.” -- Neil Gaiman 


So with this new year, during this time of new beginnings: Finish your story. Learn the rules. Break the rules. Make new mistakes.

“Because if you are making mistakes, then you are making new things, trying new things, learning, living, pushing yourself, changing yourself, changing your world. You’re doing things you’ve never done before, and more importantly, you’re Doing Something.

"So that’s my wish for you, and all of us, and my wish for myself. Make New Mistakes. Make glorious, amazing mistakes. Make mistakes nobody’s ever made before. Don’t freeze, don’t stop, don’t worry that it isn’t good enough, or it isn’t perfect, whatever it is: art, or love, or work or family or life.

Whatever it is you’re scared of doing, Do it.” –Neil Gaiman.

Wishing you a year of making good art.

Bobbi Miller

Photo of Ursula Le Guin courtesy Euan Monaghan/Structo



Sunday, January 14, 2018

Filling the well

I have enjoyed reading my fellow bloggers' writing goals and resolutions for the past few weeks, but I admit I'm not quite there yet. It always takes me a few weeks in January to get back to business. After all the hub bub that takes place in November and December, I reach the new year feeling weary. A little worn-out. Somewhat depleted. So my goal -- if you can call it that -- is to fill my creative well.

This is a concept drawn from screenwriter and director Julia Cameron's book, The Artist's Way, which is designed to help enhance creativity. Cameron points out that we need an inner reservoir to draw from if we are going to continue to create -- a creative "ecosystem" of sorts, that needs care and upkeep. If we don't give our reservoir the attention it requires, it can dry up, become blocked, or even stagnant.
Her suggestion is to set aside time each week to do something that nourishes the creative self. A trip to a museum, a walk in the country, or watching an old movie are just a few examples. These should be done alone so we can absorb the experience without conversation or distraction. Cameron calls these activities an "artist's date," as we are taking ourselves out.

I love that idea! Who better to take myself out than me!

I've found that when there's too much going on, it's hard to tune everything out and focus on my work-in-progress. So I plan to set aside time in the next few weeks to nourish my creative self. Instead of tasks that "must" be done, I vow to find time -- even if it's thirty minutes a day -- to do something fun, delightful, mysterious, or intriguing.

Another concept I've come across recently is something called "moodling." The term means dawdling, idling away time, letting the mind wander. Despite our busy, frenetic lives, we all do this in little bits of moments -- while sitting at a stoplight, washing dishes, waiting at the doctor's office (that is, if we're not checking our phones). But a good exercise is to do this consciously, with a pencil and paper, for an hour. Let the thoughts come as they may. Some of the most innovative and interesting ideas can rise up out of the pockets of your mind.

Wishing you all a refilled well and time to "moodle" this year!

Michele Weber Hurwitz is the author of Ethan Marcus Stands Up (Simon & Schuster/Aladdin 2017), The Summer I Saved the World in 65 Days (Penguin Random House 2014) and Calli Be Gold (Penguin Random House 2011). Find her at micheleweberhurwitz.com

Saturday, January 13, 2018

NOTE TO SELF...


I've never been one for New Year's resolutions, but in keeping with the theme this month, I'll share a handout I offer at some of my workshops. I call it ADVICE TO MYSELF. These are things I always try to bear in mind along the writing road, not just with the turn of the calendar, but whenever I'm writing, facing the slog, feeling stuck, or just contemplating the nature of the work itself. 

Here's wishing you all a happy, productive writing year in 2018! 
  • The more you work on it, the better it tends to get (usually).
  • There are no shortcuts.  (But there are good days.)
  • “I find the harder I work, the luckier I get.”  – Unknown
  • I’m not doing myself any favors by broadcasting what I don’t like about my own work.
  • Stop worrying about whether it’s character driven, plot driven, or what. Just write it.
  • I am who I am. (aka, I’m not Edith Wharton. I watched too much t.v. as a kid. Deal with it.)
  • Yes, most of my ideas probably exist elsewhere.  So what?
  • There are (arguably) no bad ideas. It’s all about execution.
  • “The best way to bore someone is by leaving nothing out.” – Voltaire
  • Kill your darlings. 
  • “Never wish more than you work.”  - Rita Mae Brown
  • Stillness, silence, staring into space—it’s all part of the work
  • “We must understand and accept that we lose half of our audience the moment we open our mouths.”  - Kate DiCamillo
  • Write to your ideal reader.  And write to please yourself first.
  • Trust your instincts. For real.
  • “My most important piece of advice to all you would-be writers: when you write, try to leave out all the parts readers skip.”  - Elmore Leonard
  • When in doubt, ask yourself: What are the questions I should be asking myself right now?
  • Follow your curiosity, not your passion. – paraphrased from Elizabeth Gilbert
  • “Everything should be made as simple as possible, but not simpler.” – Albert Einstein
  • Tell the truth. 
  • Don’t save your ideas for later. There will always be more.
  • eedback is a gift. That means you can do what you want with it. (But keep an open mind.)
  • Dreck is part of the process. So is falling out of love with your idea. Keep going anyway.
  • You are a writer if you want to be one.  Think of yourself as a writer.  Call yourself as a writer.  Don’t wait to get published for this to happen.
  • Tell a good story first and worry about the moral later.  No one wants to read a moral.
  • I may get better at this as I go along, but that doesn’t mean it gets easier.


Friday, January 12, 2018

New Year = New Plan by Darlene Beck Jacobson

No matter how many times we grumble and grouse about new year's resolutions, many of us still look forward to a fresh start and chance to do things differently in the new year.  As a writer, I usually make goals that reflect my aspirations and hopes in the writing field.  Completing a draft of a new novel.  Sending a finished project to my agent, hoping for a sale.  Reading as many MG, YA, and PB's as I can throughout the year.  These have been recurring goals as I browse past journal entries.
This year I want to add something new:  For every PB, MG, and YA book I read, I hope to post a review on Amazon and Goodreads to boost the visibility of my author friends and help spread the word about books I really enjoy.  Popular authors like Kate DiCamillo, Neil Gaiman, Katherine Applegate, Jacqueline Woodson, etc, don't have to worry about getting reviews.  Everything they write is featured everywhere we look.  Rightly so and deserved.

But for many of us who have written quality books for children, and received praise and accolades from friends and acquaintances, as well as the children we write for, I want to take it one step further.  It takes only a few moments to write a sentence or two stating what you enjoyed about a book.  It goes a long way toward helping an unknown author receive recognition and maybe sell a few more books.  (Caveat: If you don't like a book, spare the author any venomous reviews.  There is enough negativity in this world.)

We authors owe it to each other to be supportive and sing the praises for each other's works.  
I hope some of you will join me in spreading the word and "paying it forward" for a favorite author.

Thursday, January 11, 2018

Week = Strong

 by Jody Feldman

A couple days before New Year’s I was sitting in a theater seat, waiting for the movie to start, when my person next to me started talking about a friend who was about to pull out the contents of a jar she hadn’t opened (except to add to said contents) in a year. She had decided that, at the end of each week, she would write down the one thing that made her the happiest or had her feeling the most accomplished over the past seven days.

The movie started, and I thought little of that until New Year’s Eve when the conversation turned to resolutions. Every last person was reticent about sharing. So was I because I hadn’t yet decided exactly how to improve myself. With barely a thought, I committed to the Best Thing Jar. The more I thought about it, the more that idea excited me.

Too often, in writing and in life, we can get derailed by an isolated disappointment; especially one that lasts several days. But over the course of a week, it’s much easier to find something good even if it’s simply making a pan of delicious brownies or writing one unique sentence or making someone smile.

It’s my hope that throwing away the daily judgments will only make me stronger. And by the end of the year I can open my jar and be even the slightest bit wowed by what I’ve accomplished.
Happy New Year!