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I had a conversation at a party a few years ago with a woman who wanted to be a writer.

Working on that pose.  Photo credit: Beverly Goodwin

Working on that pose.
Photo credit: Beverly Goodwin

“I’m really good,” she told me. “My adviser said that my thesis was one of the best she had ever read.”

“Well that’s a good start,” I replied. “Do you have a blog or a website?”

“Nope.”

“Do you belong to any writers’ groups?”

“No, I don’t have to, I’m already a writer.”

“Have you had anything published?”

“No, but I know I would be a really good writer if I was given an article to write.”

At this point my eyes started to glaze over. I tried one more time.

“Well, if you’ve written something and you’d like me to take a look at it I will.”

She huffed a tiny and polite breath, gave me an off look, and then excused herself to go find her husband. Later I found out that she told a mutual friend she couldn’t believe I didn’t recognize what a good writer she was and immediately offer her a writing assignment.

If you are a reader of this blog, you are probably rolling your eyes along with me (it never gets old) at this story. It’s one thing to have supreme confidence in your skill, it’s quite another to have that skill in the first place. I call myself a writer. I *am* a writer, but one of the reasons I love this craft is that I recognize it is ever changing.

I have never shoved my stick in the sand and declared that that’s it – I’m done with learning and this is where I stand. Instead, it’s more like, the tide sneaks up on me and swallows my stick. My stick is taken out to the rough surf where gasping and sputtering, I dive to retrieve it. When I go to plant my stick again, I learn to place it a little further up the beach than before, but you know what, I still don’t know if the tides will reach it again or not. It’s an active dance of moving progress and regression.

How do I keep retrieving my stick? I read, I write, I listen to feedback and I try new techniques – in short, I treat my writing as the job that it is.

Too many people think that writing is easy. “Oh, I should write a book someday.”

Writing is a craft – it’s an art. That’s one of the reasons I love being a writer. And just like any type of art it evolves. Techniques change (if you doubt me, compare blog writing to newspaper article writing), new insights are gathered and your internal sense of direction always gets refined.

Writing is definitely not easy (and question anyone who says it is.) It takes work, real work to get your story into words that will move others. It’s a discovery of you as much as it is a discovery of the intricacy of language. As in yoga, a writer needs to stay on her toes while holding a difficult pose. You need that balance, but you also need strength and the only way to get that strength is to practice, practice, get comments on your work, and then practice again.

I meet so many people who want to write, far fewer are the ones I meet who have what it actually takes to be a writer.

 

***

Wendy Thomas is an award winning journalist, columnist, and blogger who believes that taking challenges in life will always lead to goodness. She is the mother of 6 funny and creative kids and it is her goal to teach them through stories and lessons.

Wendy’s current project involves writing about her family’s experiences with chickens (yes, chickens). (www.simplethrift.wordpress.com) She writes about her chickens for GRIT, Backyard Poultry, Chicken Community, and Mother Earth News.

 

I loved Lee’s post about accountability partners. Having my own team has made all the difference. They are a support group, task masters when needed, cheerleaders, editors, and friends. Writing is hard. Having people who understand that, and want you to succeed is critical.

But my post today is about goals. And making them achievable.

It all started with my FitBit.

I set a 10,000 step a day goal. I walk a lot, and was frequently hitting 8,000 steps a day. But I was rarely making the 10,000 steps. So I was failing at my goal, and beating myself up for it. I decided to lower the goal to 8,000 steps a day, and see how that worked for me overall. In the two weeks since I lowered the goal, I walked more steps each week then when I was aiming for 10,000. Since I can meet the goal, I do.

We all hear about the write 1000 words a day goal. Or edit for one hour. Or write a scene. And I think they are all great ways to make writing a habit, and it does work. But what happens if you can’t make the daily goal? Do you give up? No, you adjust. Maybe 250 words is the daily goal during crazy busy weeks. You can make that, and more.

Writing is a long, hard slog to get the words out of your brain, and arranged in a way that tells the story you wanted to tell. There are a lot of ways to do that, but no shortcuts. It is hard work. Wanting to put yourself through that process is both a blessing and a curse. So make it as easy on yourself as you can. Set achievable goals. Then develop the discipline to meet them.

And enjoy the journey. Unattainable goals make the work about the goal, and not the work itself.

Do you set goals for yourself? Are they achievable, or do they make you stretch?

************

Julie Hennrikus writes short stories as J.A. Hennrikus, and mystery novels as Julianne Holmes. She also blogs with the Wicked Cozy Authors.

 

 

Two people shaking hands

Image Credit blu-news.org

I’ve written before about how I need deadlines to keep me motivated.  I’m very goal oriented, but if there’s no one to hold me accountable, it’s easy to put things off.

Back in June I emailed a fellow romance writer about becoming accountability partners. Jen and I are in similar places in our lives. We are both married with older children. We’re writers, but we’re also entrepreneurs wearing too many hats. We write, but we drive hither an yon, and juggle multiple commitments. We have works in progress and someday (preferably sooner rather than later) we want to be published.

Our process is simple. Once a week (usually Sunday) we exchange emails summarizing what we accomplished last week and outlining what we plan to accomplish in our fiction projects this week.

Examples of tasks include

  • Write 3,000 words
  • Edit 3 chapters
  • Research a medical malady for a characterization
  • Finalize plot points
  • Research contests
  • Identify potential agents or publications

Sometimes our paths will cross in person during the week, so we’ll check in then, if not, we’ll email on Wednesday or Thursday giving an update on what we’ve accomplished and the cycle starts all over again on Sunday.

One benefit has been that we’ve both learned that while word count is important, sometimes productivity comes in the form of research or other writing related activity. Overall, I’ve made more consistent headway on my work in progress in the last three months than I’ve made in the past year of working on this same project.

We’re not taskmasters instead we’re supporting each other. Some weeks given our personal and business commitments our creative writing has to take a back seat. Not ideal, but the way things have to be. For me, just knowing I have report back to Jen on my progress, inspires me to make time for my creative writing.

My Advice for Selecting an Accountability Partner

  • Know what you want going in and find someone looking for similar things.
  • I think it’s helpful if you find someone who is in a similar place to you. Neither Jen nor I are published yet, but we both want to be. We both write romance, but we write different sub-genres.
  • Set up a communications method that works. Emails work for us, but you might need calls or even face to face over coffee.

Where Can I Find an Accountability Partner?

Jen and I met at a local chapter meeting of the New Hampshire chapter of Romance Writers of America. You can check out local writers groups, your local library, college or university. No one nearby? Look online. If you are active in an online writer’s community, post a request, I bet you’ll find someone to work with.  I think it’s helpful to work with someone who is a writer but, I suspect you could also be successful with someone who is creative and goal oriented.

Have you worked with an accountability partner?  How has it worked for you?

Lee Laughlin is a writer, wife, and mom, frequently all of those things at once. She blogs at Livefearlesslee.com. She is currently a member of the Concord Monitor Board of Contributors. Her words have also appeared in a broad range of publications from community newspapers to the Boston Globe.

There’s a fun day on tap this coming Saturday, and if you’re somewhat local to Concord, MA and this is of interest, make sure to register today, Monday, October 6.

Fellow NHWN bloggers, Diane and Julie, and I are part of a mystery writers group called Sisters in Crime. We also both belong to the New England chapter. And it’s the chapter that has pulled together a wonderful mystery-focused event this Saturday.

Here are the details:

Sisters in Crime New England Presents

History, Mystery & Murder!

Saturday, October 11, at Concord’s Historic Colonial Inn

11 a.m. Guided Walking Tour (optional)

12:15 p.m. Luncheon & Author Panel

What happened when two Puritan ministers and a fur trader wandered into the wilderness? What was Nathaniel Hawthorne’s shocking and grisly encounter? What’s so memorable about Major Pitcairn’s boo-boo or Tildy Holden and her chickens?

This easy-going, 60-minute walking tour of downtown Concord and Sleepy Hollow covers a bit of what you’ve read in history books and a whole lot that was left out, including tales of witches and shoemakers, drunken barbers, and the almost unbelievable story of Frank Sanborn, “possibly the coolest dude that ever lived in Concord”.

Afterward, enjoy a luncheon at the historic Colonial Inn and a spirited author panel on writing one of the hottest properties in our industry, Historical Mysteries.

Moderator Leslie Wheeler and award-winning authors M.E. Kemp, Ben and Beth Oak, Tempa Pagel, and Sarah Smith discuss how to make the past come alive while spinning an exciting tale for contemporary readers.

SinC/NE is covering most of the cost of this unique chapter event for members and their invited guests.

Register as my guest at these rates:

Tour & Luncheon/Panel: $25

Luncheon/Panel Only: $15

Reserve your tickets now/today (this is the last call for RSVPs) at http://sincne.org/history-mystery-and-murder

It should be a fun time on a beautiful New England fall afternoon… as long as no headless horsemen appear, I’ll be just fine.

 

LisaJJackson_2014Lisa J. Jackson is an independent writer and editor who enjoys working with businesses of all sizes. She loves researching topics, interviewing experts, and helping companies tell their stories. You can connect with her on TwitterFacebookGoogle+, and LinkedIn.

Navel gazing and other writerly fears

"Quick Splash" by Jay Melnick via Albumarium. The picture of canine shame. ;)

“Quick Splash” by Jay Melnick via Albumarium. The picture of canine shame. ;)

You self-indulgent, spoiled brat.

If someone hurled these words at you, it would feel like a physical slap in the face. You would flush with reflexive shame and regret before shifting to feeling indignant or even angry. Thankfully, these words are only ever spoken out loud in rare moments of extreme conflict. To hear them, or anything like them, ringing in your ears is – I hope – something you never have to experience.

However, while the circumstances that would incite another person to deliver such a sharp insult seldom occur in the real world, the possibility of suffering such an attack from our own inner critics is, sadly, a much more likely event. After all, our inner critics are not bound by any sense of propriety. They are severely lacking in social graces and have abysmal impulse control. Whether they are shouting their cruel accusations or, more insidiously, whispering them, they always appear frighteningly confident and justified in their judgment.

As writers, we spend an inordinate amount of time engaged in what might understandably be perceived as navel-gazing. We create and inhabit internal worlds that ultimately serve as vehicles of self-expression. We have the audacity to believe that our dreams and ideas have the right to a life outside the confines of our own minds. Cheeky, aren’t we?

Most of the time, your focus on the craft provides protection against would-be assailants intent on character defamation. But a moment’s doubt is like a blade slipping through your defenses to deliver a small but decisive wound. You falter. A moment ago you were blissfully immersed in the creative flow, but now there is a covert poison working its way through your system. There is a small voice asking, “Who are you to tell this story?” And, suddenly, you don’t know who you are or what possessed you to believe you could do this thing.

You have succumbed to the fear of self-indulgence.

You have given in to believing that your writing is a selfish, conceited, and frivolous act. You have accepted your inner critic’s ruling that you are unworthy. Only Real Writers have the right to write, and you are most certainly not among that high and lofty set. After all, no one is reading what you write. No one is paying you to write. No one needs to hear your stupid story.

But, they do. They do. Who are you to tell this story? You are the only person who can tell this story. And do you know what is selfish and self-indulgent? Keeping the story to yourself. Staying scared and silent. Giving up. Using your fear to protect you from the possibility of rejection.

Writing is not self-indulgent. Writing is brave and generous. It is the act of digging deep down inside your heart, mind, and soul; extracting the truth you find there; polishing it to the best of your ability; and sharing it with others. Writing is the opposite of self-indulgent. Yes, it requires that you look within, but ultimately that internal searching is an effort to connect. Stories are not meant to be kept inside. Stories are, by nature, shared. They are the best gift you can give.

 

What I’m Writing:

writing classA few weeks ago, I signed up for a Fiction I class offered by the Grub Street writing center and taught by KL Pereira. The first class took place this past Tuesday, but I was unable to attend because my daughter came down with a nasty cold on Saturday and was convalescing on the couch through Thursday. Happily, she is feeling much better now and was able to return to school on Friday. Sadly, missing that first class felt, for a moment, like a particularly unking karmic injustice. But, I’m over that now.

Pereira was wonderfully gracious and accommodating. She provided me with handouts and assignments and even shared my classmates’ “intro questionnaires” via email. Though I was sorry to have missed that first getting-to-know-you session, I felt welcomed and was already excited about being engaged in the learning process … even if from a distance.

This coming Tuesday (knock on wood), I will have the pleasure of meeting these people in person and giving myself the not insubstantial gift of five hours dedicated to my non-business writing. Despite my heavy freelance workload, I will prioritize what’s important over what’s urgent. I will put my money where my mouth is. I will choose desire over obligation.

I know that it won’t be easy, and I know that taking this one class will not dramatically change my writing life. But, it is a small step in my right direction. It is tangible evidence of my intention and commitment. And that matters. A lot.

 

What I’m Reading:

book tin houseThough my temporary role as Florence Nightingale left little time (or energy) for reading, I did manage to do my “homework reading” from the Grub Street class that I missed. This week’s assignment was a short story called “Moving On” by Diane Cook. Since I was not in attendance to receive the hard copy, I ended up downloading the back issue of Tin House (Memory) which features Cook’s story alongside others by writers whose names were mostly unfamiliar except for a few whom I recognized right away (Stephen King and Cheryl Strayed).

After wrangling the MOBI file onto my Kindle, I made myself a cup of hot chocolate (with, perhaps, a splash of Bailey’s) and settled onto the couch to read.

The very first sentence drew me in, “They let me tend to my husband’s burial and settle his affairs.” It’s a simple enough sentence, benign at first sight except for those first three words: They let me. With three words, Cook raised all kinds of questions – conscious and subconscious in my mind. Let me? I read on.

I like short stories because I can usually enjoy them in one sitting. Unlike a novel, which has the potential to steal me from the real world for hours at a time, a short story invites me to indulge in a more controllable and defined time out that I can safely shoehorn into almost any day. Despite this advantage, I have always struggled a little to understand the short story form, particularly those of the literary kind. I usually come away feeling like I’ve read the beginning of something but had to walk away without gaining any closure. I also sometimes feel like I’m not smart enough to “get it.” Short stories often feel like intellectual riddles that I’m too dull to solve. I’m left puzzling over the last sentence – something cryptic but obviously full of meaning that goes right over my head.

I enjoy the language and the imagery. I am interested in the characters and their actions and thoughts, but I’m left wondering, “What was the point?”

I have a feeling I’ve a lot to learn about the short story form. At least the literary kind.

Still, I did enjoy the Cook’s piece and am now working my way through the rest of the Tin House issue. I haven’t read stories like these in a long (long) while, so it feels like an adventure in a foreign land. I’m not quite sure what to expect or how to behave, but I’m doing my best to be respectful of local customs and learn what I can from my visit.

 

And let’s not forget the blogs. Here are a few of my favorite writerly posts from this week:

 

Finally, a quote for the week:

pin magic new beginnings

Eckhart Tolle

 

I hope this week brings you the pleasure of indulging – guilt-free – in your writing passions, the satisfaction of learning something, and the joy of new beginnings. 

.
Jamie Lee Wallace is a writer who also happens to be a marketer. She helps her Suddenly Marketing clients discover their voice, connect with their audience, and find their marketing groove. She is also a mom, a prolific blogger, and a student of the equestrian arts, voice, and – occasionally –  trapeze (not at the same time). Introduce yourself on facebook or twitter. She doesn’t bite … usually.

Friday Fun is a group post from the writers of the NHWN blog. Each week, we’ll pose and answer a different, get-to-know-us question. We hope you’ll join in by providing your answer in the comments.

QUESTION: What’s your favorite way to get about town? Your favorite mode of transportation?

hennrikus-web2Julie Hennrikus: In Boston,  I have two favorite modes of transport. Public transportation, the T, either train or bus, is a great way to get around from meeting to meeting. But my favorite is to walk. I try to reach 10,000 steps a day (FitBit!), but that is a tough goal. I will say, as a walker, it is hard to be fashionable from the ankles down. For leisure, I drive when needed, but prefer being a passenger. I used to love to fly, but these days prefer trains if possible–better for writing time.

 

wendy-shotWendy Thomas: Like Julie, I also have a FitBit and try to get 10K steps a day. (trust me when you’re a writer who sits in front of a computer, sometimes that’s not easy.) On the weekends, my husband and I try to go somewhere just so we can get our steps in. As I live in a residential area, I use my car (new favorite is our Bright Red Kia), but if we’re talking about absolute favorite modes of transportation, nothing beats being on a bike (I have the “Murder-she-wrote-upright kind of bike) to see what’s going on around town.

 

Diane MacKinnon, MD, Master Certified Life CoachDiane MacKinnon: I drive around town in my Volvo station wagon, which I love. Every once in a while, as I’m driving, I think: “I’m so lucky to have a reliable car to get around in.” My brother-in-law is a Boston firefighter and he once told me he’s pulled many people out of cars after accidents and when it’s a Volvo, they are much more likely to be able to walk away. That sold me on the Volvo as my next car.

When I first moved to Nashua, in 2006, we lived in the Clocktower apartments and I loved being able to walk to Main St. and do my errands. I’ve lived in Manhattan and Brooklyn, where I also walked and took public transportation, which I miss being able to do. I have to make a conscious effort to get my exercise in here in the suburbs, but I love to be outside so I get to Mine Falls and run a few times a week. In a pinch, I’ll do laps around my little dead-end street to get some miles in!

LisaJJackson_2014Lisa J. Jackson: I love walking whenever I can, it gives me time to enjoy the fresh air and disconnect from the Internet of Things. I lived on an old farm growing up with a lot of land. I spent hours exploring the woods and just listening and soaking up my surroundings. It was so blissful.

I enjoy cycling, but don’t do it nearly as often as I’d like any more — too many distracted drivers on the road for me to feel as confident as I’d like.

I mostly drive and have a super-reliable Honda; if it was economical I’d prefer a Jeep or a large pickup truck, though. I wish I enjoyed being a passenger in any vehicle (auto, plane, train, boat…) but I don’t, unless I’m medicated to avoid motion issues!  A dream is to find a community to live in that had all I needed and where I didn’t need motorized transportation. Walking, to me, is the best way to get around.

M. Shafer, Photo

M. Shafer, Photo

Deborah Lee Luskin: I’m a walker, hiker and biker, but I live in a rural area and simply can’t get anywhere without starting the car. I used to think that driving was the biggest waste of time ever, until I bought a car with Bluetooth. Now, I look forward to the next chapter of whatever audiobook I’ve downloaded from the library. Nothing like stories to change attitude!

 

As many of you know, I hosted a writing retreat in Nashua, NH, on September 20, 2014. It was a wonderful day and I’m so glad I did it. I’m already planning my next retreat.

The most surprising thing about the day, for me, was how much of my own writing I got done. I’ve hosted many writing retreats in the past and I don’t usually get too many words of my own on the page. This time, I did.

Being in a room with a group of writers, in a structured setting, turned out to be an ideal way for me to be able to get past my “gremlins” and get down to the business of writing.

I felt supported by the other writers in the room and inspired by them. If they could take time out of their varied and busy lives to make writing a priority, then so could I.

Back in January of 2014, I went on a different kind of writing retreat. A friend and I went up north and stayed at a condo in the mountains for a few days. I got a lot of writing done then, but it was very different. Having had both experiences in the same year, there are some things I will do differently the next time I go on a solitary (or unstructured) writing retreat.

  • I will plan smaller blocks of time to write with breaks in-between, especially at the beginning of the retreat as this seems to “prime the pump” for me.
  • I will give myself concrete assignments for each block of writing time—even if that assignment is “Do a 10 minute flow writing exercise,” which could take me anywhere.
  • I will plan time to talk about my writing process—what’s working and what’s not, either in my journal or with my writing companion.
  • I will assess my WIP at the beginning of the writing retreat and again at the end (for a multi-day writing retreat.)

There are also some things I will do differently for my next structured writing retreat, but they mostly involve non-writing issues, so I won’t detail them here.

Every bulleted item on my list above is something I can do in my regular life as well. Maybe Mondays I’ll do more writing prompts and flow writing, and later in the week I’ll focus more on my WIP. I’m going to play around with what I’ve learned from this latest writing retreat and apply it to my daily life, where I often have my journal open on the kitchen counter or my laptop set up at the kitchen table.

One other thing I learned (again) from this writing retreat: writers write. All the writers in the room with me on September 20th, had one thing in common: We wrote.

What are you writing right now?

Diane MacKinnon, MD, Master Certified Life CoachDiane MacKinnon, MD: is a writer, blogger, mother and stepmother. I’m trying to post this while cooking dinner and fending off a 4-year-old who can’t wait another 10 minutes to eat dinner, but it’s all good. He’s into the pot cupboard and deciding which “shield” works the best for him right now. Happy writing!

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