Posts Tagged ‘writing’

This Friday I am going to a weekend Buddhist writer’s retreat in northern New Hampshire. This is how the retreat is described:

At the Write Meditation retreat, we will delve into the creative writing process within the context of Buddhist meditation practice and explore how the qualities of mindfulness and compassion can enhance the generative flow of creative writing.

banner-aboutThis retreat has much to do with Listening. . . listening with the heart, mind and senses to what arises from the stillness of our being; listening for the voice and narrative that yearns to be expressed through writing.

We will use techniques and skillful means that help bypass our tendency to inhibit or self-edit the creative impulse and help identify the themes and images we most want to explore in our writing. We will also work with methods for revising and revivifying works in progress.

Sounds nice, right?

Although I’ve been to writer’s days and conferences, where there is a frenetic mishmash between workshops and exhibits, I have never gone to an event that is focused on nothing but writing for an entire weekend.

My biggest complaint about my personal writing is that I never have time for it. There is always a job that pops up or a kid’s soccer game that is out of town, or…. My best intentions always leave me with a blank page and a bit of a pissed-off demeanor.

Hopefully this will address that very issue of time.

So what does one do at a Buddhist retreat? The short answer is anything you want. There is a structure, but you are not obligated to follow it.

You do what you need to do. (That’s kind of how Buddhists roll.)

If, however, you do need some structure, there are meditation (ha, my spell check had corrected that to medication)  sessions –  running from 45 minutes to 1 hours – a few times a day, designated writing times, and even an opportunity to share your writing with others.

I figure that if I’m going to do this, I’m going to do this. I’ll be attending all of the meditations (I used to attend a Buddhist meditation group and so for me, sitting for an hour meditating is not as difficult as it sounds) and workshops, while working on my personal writing only (not bringing up any article work) during the dedicated writing sessions. Not sure if I’ll read my material out loud but I’ll certainly go to cheer on others.

I’m also looking forward to the vegetarian meals that will be offered. We’ve all heard that expression “garbage in equals garbage out.”  That applies as much to your physical body as to your imagination and writing soul. Even on my restricted diet, (for Lyme disease) my diet could always use some cleaning up.

Between the meditation and the food, I look forward to the cleaning out of stagnant materials that may be interfering with my writing (really, Wendy?? You can’t find 20 minutes during the week in which to write?)

And in an effort to really experience the retreat, I’ll be sleeping in my car for the weekend.

Yup, my car.

I signed up for the camping option.  There were bunk house and even private room options available (for an added cost) but I figured – in for a penny, in for a pound. I was all ready to set up one of my son’s single person tents on the retreats grounds (several people do this) when I realized that our (very large) SUV is easily the size of any tent (and its water and windproof.) I’m going to put all the seats down and lay out my sleeping bag in the back. I don’t plan on sleeping much and the way I see it, your eyes are closed when you are sleeping so who really cares where you are (And besides, the doors will be locked.) I’m just going to make sure that I have plenty of warm socks, a flashlight with a backup, and a polar fleece liner for my sleeping bag.

I have friends who are mortified that I would even consider doing anything like this retreat (especially the car sleeping part) and who are concerned that I might be falling into a “cult”, (once again, repeat after me Buddhism is not a religion but a philosophy) but, I’m not worried, the way I figure – it’s all about trying new experiences and getting that story.

And this will definitely be an experience.


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.

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Today’s guest post comes from a friend; Lisa Allen, who is not only a talent writer, but also a Literary Life Coach.

Family lore puts four-dozen Golden Books on my bookshelf before I turned two. As much as defining my familial reputation as the bookish one, I like to think that such an early relationship with words and paper has also served as a subliminal guide towards my role as a Literary Life Coach. What is a Literary Life Coach? Well, it’s another way of saying book shepherd, book midwife, or writing coach. I like to include the word ‘literary,’ as it is my way of implying quality for the end-product.

1182178016_50870517afIn the excitement of seeing their names in print, it is easy for first-time authors to overlook fundamentals, such as grammar and spelling, before self-publishing or querying a manuscript. Although I do not proofread, copy edit or edit manuscripts, my Rolodex of publishing professionals includes others who do. It is my mission to ensure that my clients’ projects have integrity, from the inside out.

A writer creates their own work schedule. This is where I bring out my virtual pom-poms. The Literary Life Coach is a customizable cheerleader, a writer’s accountability partner, with a mutually agreed upon timeline and an eye on the end-goal. Those pom poms are shaking, twisting and shouting during every phone check-in. Working with an accountability partner is a writer’s tool for keeping a project on track, an ongoing source of encouragement.

Everyone has a book in them, I say, and have always enjoyed talking with people about their writing projects (you don’t have to be a professional writer to have a book idea or publish a blog!), problem-solving concept and/or structural issues, encouraging writers and following up on their progress. A cross-pollinator of people and ideas, it is thrilling to help others make valuable connections, so if you meet with me, be sure to bring paper and pen for note taking. As the Literary Life Coach I work with non-fiction writers, primarily business owners, who use books or websites and blogs to strengthen their visibility in the marketplace — to help them make noise in the world.

Recently, I had a call from a business consultant who described her current project as “writing hell,” although she is already the author of several books. With input from her team of advisers, she had three versions of the manuscript. She was absolutely stuck on how to organize the chapters and how to edit out some elements that should be used for a different project. How lucky was I that she was vacationing at her lake house, and that we could meet there for a day-long session?! Together we worked out the best flow of information for her book, and, the true test, after sleeping on it, she was energized and focused and back on track.

A very different kind of project is the children’s picture book biography of a famous historic figure. The manuscript has been edited, finely groomed, given the thumbs-up by important people in high places, yet the author needed regularly scheduled check-in sessions to override self-doubt. With the manuscript already in good order, we have brainstormed publishing options and marketing strategies. I will soon be meeting with the author and her illustrator, an accomplished artist. It is exciting to see this project come to fruition.

Writing can be a lonely process. Belief in a project’s completion can feel elusive. For the duration of a story’s journey, a Literary Life Coach is that guide with a headlamp, a reassuring voice in the dark.

 About the author:

web_Headshot_Lisa Allen 2013 150x200Lisa Allen Lambert first discovered the lure of writing while researching and writing travel news at Yankee magazine. Later, she wrote, designed, and self-published Eating Clean, a cookbook based on the healing and healthful benefits of unprocessed foods. Recently, an excerpt from her MFA memoir thesis, “Paradise Not Quite Found,” was a finalist in the anthology contest “Times Were A-Changing.”

As the Literary Life Coach, Lisa can help you with your nonfiction book or blogging projects. She is the managing editor for Tall Poppy Writers (website launching in Sept.), a new online consortium that connects smart readers with smart books, and is the assistant residency director for a low-residency MFA program in creative writing.

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Early this year I spent about four months of my (writing) time reworking a short story for submission to an anthology. I edited, rewrote, shared the story with my critique group, and rewrote again. The week the story was due I was in New York City with my family. I stayed up late tweaking the manuscript and got up early to do it again (and again, and again.)

When I finally mailed the manuscript, I knew I couldn’t have done any more–I also knew the story wouldn’t be accepted.

It wasn’t until the story was out of my hands and on it’s way to the editors of the anthology that I saw the “fatal flaw” in my story. I realized, in that moment, that the story didn’t work on a fundamental level. I saw that it was a good story, and I also saw how I could have made it better.

A part of me was disappointed, but another part of me realized I had to go through the process of preparing the story for submission and sending it off in order to get to that epiphany.

The clarity gained from the experience of writing the best story I possibly could and actually submitting it was priceless.

In my coaching work, I often talk about “eagle vision” vs. “mouse vision” with my clients. Eagle vision is the big picture view, seeing everything from a great height and distance, as the majestic eagle does. Mouse vision is seeing just what’s in front of you, the very next task, as the busy mouse does. I believe that every aspect of our lives benefits when we are able to use both these types of vision–and, if you asked me, I would have said that I used both routinely.

However, I jumped right into mouse vision with my short story and didn’t take the time to stop and use my eagle vision to view my work as a whole, at least not until after I sent it off.  If I had switched my focus from “zoom” to “panoramic,” I think I could have made my story even better.

But I don’t feel that I wasted my time because I learned a valuable lesson: In writing, as in life, eagle vision and mouse vision work best when they are used alternately.

Diving into the work of rewriting (mouse vision) works best only after a look at the big picture (eagle vision) to make sure each task gets me further toward my goal of creating the best story I can. Also, pulling back from the work periodically throughout the editing process to make sure I’m still on the right track is important.

And, finally, no writing is really wasted. It’s all part of the journey toward becoming a more skilled writer. After submitting that short story, I know I’m a better writer than I was before I wrote it.

What lessons have you learned from your writing life?

Diane MacKinnon, MD, Master Certified Life CoachDiane MacKinnon, MD, is a wife, mother, stepmother, writer, life coach, and family physician. I’m slowly but steadily putting in the hours in hopes of becoming a published author. In the process, I’m having a great time!

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paint-samples           If you’ve ever painted a room, you know that rolling on fresh paint is the dramatic part of the job – the part where you see the most progress for the least effort. I’m now in a point in writing Ellen, a novel, which is very much like rolling new paint on a properly prepped wall.

Just picking a color can be excruciating. It’s as if I’ve been looking at paint chips for years. I know I’ve considered several completely different ways of telling this story – just the way I’ve fretted over the color chart when considering new paint for a room.

Once, I picked what appeared to be a lovely pink for my study. Applied to the walls, pinkthe room resembled the interior of a bubblegum bubble. I repainted completely; the second time I choose a hue that appeared almost white on the sample, and which went on as a calming, pale rose. This was the room I wrote in for ten hectic years when I had three babies, two jobs, and a small farm. Getting the color right was arduous, but well worth the effort.

After choosing the color, the hard work begins: pushing the furniture to the center of the room, taking the artwork off the walls, unscrewing the switch plates, discovering an accumulation of dust and dirt as well as a few lost treasures (earrings, change, socks), and cleaning.

And there’s still more to do: I drape and mask what needs to be protected from being painted. This is just as important as knowing what to leave out of a story, which is often more difficult than knowing what to leave in.

Even applying the paint isn’t all slick and easy. I use an edger to separate the walls from the ceiling and trim. It’s tedious, but it keeps the edges neat – something like the justified margins of a published book, as well as the clear plot lines of the story.

But there’s no question: when all that prep work is done, the painting is fun. That’s where I am with Ellen right now: after almost two paintyears of intense preparation, I’m rolling down sentences and seeing the clean color of the story emerge.

I know there’s lots more to do, just like applying that last lick of paint means I’m about halfway done with the job. I know that there will be revision, just as after the paint dries, there’s hardware to replace, furniture to polish, curtains to hang – as well as brushes to clean. The finish work can take a long time.

I’m not there yet. I’m in that delicious place where I’m spreading words on a page like paint on a wall. It’s going well, and I’m having fun.

photo: M. Shafer

photo: M. Shafer

 Deborah Lee Luskin is a novelist, essayist and educator. Listen to a recent radio broadcast here, and learn more about her award-winning novel, Into the Wilderness here.

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This is the stack of drafts leading up to the first draft I've almost completed. . .

This is the stack of drafts leading up to the first draft I’ve almost completed. . .

I started writing a new novel in February of 2012. I planned to write a chapter a month; in fact, I wrote a chapter every two months until September of last year – until I started over again. For a little external pressure, I signed up for NaNoWriMo, and I had over 80,000 words on the page by the end of November 2012. They were good words, too. But they weren’t the right words, or they weren’t in the right order, and the story still wasn’t clear, so in December, I put that draft aside, too.

In January 2013, I started over again. Thanks to all the previous work I’d done on the book, I’d gained a much clearer idea of the story. Instead of spanning a lifetime, the story would take place over three years. And some of it would take place in a setting I had to make up, so I indulged in the singular pleasure of primary research, which involved delving into out-of-state archives. This research was not just great fun, but also a terrific way to keep refining the scope of my story and adding a subplot with meat on its bones.

In the spring, I started writing again. Now the story would take place in about twenty months – a much steeper arc, with more happening in that shorter time frame. Of course, I was able to plunder lots of material from the earlier drafts. I also filed away material that will no longer fit in this story for a possible sequel. Just because a character or scene doesn’t make it into one novel does not mean that the effort of words were wasted.

My goal for this year had been to finish a “sloppy copy” by the end of June and rewrite it twice by the end of the year. But I was struggling. I was writing well, but the story was stalled – until I attended an all-day writing workshop in June. There, I wrote a new opening for the novel. I’d finally found my way in.

I didn’t make my June thirtieth deadline, but I’m not too far behind. Here it is, the end of July, and I’m three hundred pages into the story, with about hundred more to go. My revised goal is to have this first draft completed before I leave for a week long vacation in September, so I can think about the story as I ride my bike along the Great Allegheny Passage.

In order to meet this deadline, I’m forging ahead heedlessly, inserting notes for scenes I can’t write yet, but know where they will have to fit in. I’m also highlighting and/or striking through passages I love but know won’t make the cut. I’m not quite ready to delete them; the strike-through helps me get used to the idea, so it will be easier to take them out later.

For now, I’m writing joyfully. I have a tight, eighteen-month timeframe, I have a general outline of what happens, and I’m discovering the details as I write.skeleton2

Yes, I wish I wrote faster, and no, I don’t either. All the writing I’ve done around this story has helped me get to know my characters so well that I’ll be able to make them vivid to my readers without subjecting them to every childhood trauma. All this writing has also helped me find the book’s structure, the authorial voice, the historical details that will lend it verisimilitude and the backbone upon which the book will hang with firm musculature.

I still have a long way to go. “A first draft,” as a friend who’s won the National Book Award once told me, “is just notes to yourself.” Ah, yes. But what notes!


photo: M. Shafer

photo: M. Shafer

Deborah Lee Luskin lives in southern Vermont.

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Last week, our local library (Merrimack Public Library) hosted a Skype event with an author. The author was Susan McMartin who is a columnist for Studio City Patch, as well as a writer on the hit CBS series, Two and a Half Men.

Susan McMartin with her daughter

Susan McMartin with her daughter

Susan began the event by telling us about her writing career and then she read from her book – “Understanding the Fall” –  the story of a child growing up with an alcoholic parent.  I’ve got to tell you that during her reading, no one and I mean no one in the room moved. It was that powerful.

And it showed the absolute need for completely exposing yourself in your writing.

What was supposed to be an author talk quickly turned into a writer’s support group as we all realized that there was no use in pretending anything when that kind of honestly was in the house.

I contacted Susan and she agreed to be interviewed for this blog. Read her inspiring words of wisdom and do check out her book. If you’ve grown up around any kind of addiction, you will feel as if Susan has been able to read your soul’s secrets.


Everyone has a defining moment in their life when the clouds part and they get a glimpse as to what their purpose in life really is. What was that defining moment for you?

I think that the first time I wrote a poem from a place of pain and saw how healing it was for me, and how well it expressed emotions that are otherwise too hard to put into words I knew that writing was my gift. My answer. My calling, if you will. I wrote my first poem (the kind where it wasn’t required in class but rather I ran to my room in tears and anger at my mother’s drinking and grabbed a pen and wrote) when I was around eight years old. From that day on I kept a journal and wrote in it, cried in it, screamed at it, and dreamed in it. By the time I was in high school I knew I wanted to be a writer.


You’ve talked about being a single mom with a toddler and yet you found the time to write. What kind of a schedule did you keep and did you write to keep your sanity or did your insane circumstances compel you to write?

My marriage ended when my daughter was just over a year old. Getting out of a bad marriage and having a baby gave me strength and courage I never knew I had. It inspired me, it excited me, it terrified me, it delighted me. My energy and passion to write kicked into high gear because I was free. Free and madly in love with my baby. I was now writing not just for me, but for her. I wrote when she slept, I wrote when she was at pre-school. I wrote the one day a week she was with her father. There wasn’t really a schedule. I simply wrote whenever I knew I had a window. I was in touch with my voice in a deeper way and words poured out of me. I wrote what I knew.


You say that the Patch column gave you an outlet and a voice and yet you didn’t get paid much for that. Worth it? Would you recommend that new writers write for free?

 When I first was asked to write for Patch I was paid a very small fee per column. I had never written a column but I was told by my editor and friend that I had free reign to write whatever I wanted. He trusted me. So, I began Studio City Mom one column at a time. Writing about my life as a single mom trying to juggle it all. I wrote about the ups and downs of life and did so with complete honesty. Readers found me and it was exciting to discover I had hit a chord with people. I had no idea that during this time I would also find myself walking through the worst period of unemployment as a writer in my entire adult life. And I wrote about that too. I shared with complete abandon the fear and pain and desperation I was going through as a single mom trying to put gas in the car and food on the table. My readers followed my journey, shared their own struggles, thanked me for removing the shame of financial fear that much of the world was going through at that time. My column shot to number 1 and I found strength and humor and support in my Patch audience. By this point Patch was no longer paying it’s columnists. I had a choice. I could stop my column or write for free. I chose to write for free. Now, this isn’t to say I agree that columnists and bloggers shouldn’t get paid. I don’t. I think we are all here to help each other and we all have value and worth. I have very strong views about this — why should anyone be asked to work for free? Especially when the people asking aren’t and have money. Perhaps if we took better care of each other and passed the buck around there wouldn’t be as many people in financial fear. However, I did continue to write my column for free and still do today. Why? Because of my readers, because of my editor who trusted me, because my little column saved me emotionally during a very difficult time. My column is a gift. It also helped lead me to the job that turned my life around. So, was it worth it? Absolutely. Would I recommend writers doing it? Yes? Do I think we should all get paid for our work? Yes. But sometimes the paycheck comes in far greater ways than a dollar amount. It comes in helping others, changing lives, bringing smiles, tears, hope. It’s all how you look at it. Studio City Mom was and still is one of the greatest blessings of my life.


You currently write for the TV show Two and a Half Men. Do you find yourself looking for inspiration everywhere – that guy in front of the line at the coffee shop, that woman who dropped a jar of mustard in the store? How do you leave your work at the office? 

I am a people watcher, spy, eavesdropper extraordinaire! I get inspired by everything. I often bring my own life stories to the table but definitely use what I witness or hear as well. When I lived in New York I loved walking the streets and riding the subway to people watch. The world is filled with characters and stories. Just go outside!

When I come home it’s all about my daughter. Mommy and daughter time. But what is wonderful is that my child has been on this road with me and so she takes an interest in what I do. It’s quite beautiful. Every day she asks me about work, what stories we’re writing, what episodes are shooting, even what we ordered for lunch. My daughter is my greatest cheerleader, biggest fan and an amazing artist and writer herself.


Tell me a little about how important *thinking* about your writing is to your writing.

I walk a lot. It’s where I let the words, voices, thoughts, feelings talk to me. It’s in my walks that I hear what it is a character wants to say, where they want to go, what they want to feel. My walks are half the work (maybe even more). My walks tell me the story, coming home and sitting at the computer is simply the way I get it all on the page.


Your book, Understanding the Fall, is incredibly personal and powerful. How was it to release such an intimate portrait of who you are into the world?

When I wrote, Understanding the Fall, I did so in one sitting and after I finished I shoved in a drawer where it lived for many years. And then, one day, I took it out. I gave it to my husband at the time and he read it. He said, “This can’t live in a drawer. This can help people.” That was all I needed to hear. If it could help one person feel not so alone, confused, scared, angry, ashamed about another person’s drinking… it would be worth everything I went through growing up. I have never wanted to hurt anyone with my writing so I gave it to my mother to read to ask for her blessing. She not only gave me her blessing, she attended every reading I did of it, and gave copies of it to her friends. I’ve never been afraid of telling the truth about myself. To me it’s our truth’s that make us special (and not so special). Make us learn from each other and make us all connected.


Top bit of advice for people who want to be full-time writers?

Write as much and as often as you can. Write what you know. Write sloppy — get it on the page! Don’t worry about it being perfect. Keep notepads with you. Be honest. Find your voice — don’t try and copy someone else. Live life and write about it. No one can tell your story better than you.


What’s next for you?

Right now, a kiss for my daughter and off to work. Grateful!



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.



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In my life coaching blog, I often write about difficult times I’ve gone through. I find this helps me learn from my mistakes and I hope it helps my readers.

One thing I’m very clear about is that I never write about something until I’ve gone through it and come out the other side. If I’m still upset or feel that it should have gone down differently, then I don’t write about it—at least for publication.

When we write in a “lesson” style, we have to know what the lesson is. We can’t be in the middle of the mess wondering how we’re going to survive—that’s not why people read our words.

It’s not that we have to know everything or portray ourselves as perfect, but we have to have some clarity about the experience—why we went through it and what we learned from it. If not, we are just venting to our readers.

For example, I often write about the fact that it took me nine years to have my son. That was a difficult and, ultimately, amazingly positive experience. If I’d written about it before I got to the point where I was truly okay with whatever happened with that experience, I would be just another person telling a sad story. While that may have interested a few people, I believe the really interesting part, especially to someone who is struggling with infertility, is that I got to a place of peace—before I got pregnant with my son—and how I got there.

There are many topics that I feel qualified to write about, from a life coaching perspective, because I’ve been through many experiences and gone through them with my clients and patients.

There are also many things I don’t write about—not because I don’t have passion for the topics, but because I’m not through processing them. Those are still journal entries, rough drafts of essays, or even blog posts, but they are for my eyes only.

What do you write about? What don’t you write about? Why?

Diane MacKinnon, MD, Master Certified Life CoachDiane MacKinnon: Mom, life coach, writer. Hope everyone is enjoying this amazing summer we are having. 97 degrees today–again!

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My week carried me away recently. I knew my calendar was packed and I had writing to do, but I didn’t realize I’d gotten overwhelmed until I was out on one of my walks.

Notice the path

Notice the path

I try to walk 45 to 60 minutes a day to (somewhat) balance all the sitting in front of the screen that I do. While out on one walk last week I caught myself having some heavy sighs — those sighs, or exhales that accompany a sound.

My first thought was the humidity was causing me to breath heavy. Then I thought I was walking too fast (if that’s possible). But then the “ah ha’ hit me, as I had another loud exhale, that my mind wasn’t focused. Thoughts were flying all over the place and I wasn’t even paying attention to my route, nevermind to my breathing or anything in the world around me. My body was physically in one place and my mind in another.

So I stopped where I was and took some purposeful deep breaths until I ‘noticed’ my breathing… and then birds chirping… the slight breeze … the scent of flowers … and so on.

Stop to smell the flowers

Stop to smell the flowers

It’s so easy to let life’s tasks overwhelm us at times, isn’t it?

I’d like to suggest something, for all of us who have these moments. Tomorrow, before starting the craziness that our days entail, let’s stop, take a breath, and appreciate the beauty of the moment we’re in.

Enjoy the morning cup of (iced) coffee, tea, or glass of milk instead of inhaling it on the go. Step outside and take a stroll around the house, through the garden, or down the driveway instead of doing a chore.

Savor every drop of the morning beverage and be aware of each step taken. Take the time to ‘see’ every single thing we can possibly take in with our eyes. Touch what we can, listen to the birds, stop and smell the flowers.

Let’s appreciate each and every moment for what it brings into our morning. Enjoy what flows into our bodies through all your senses. Keep taking those deep, fulfilling breaths.

Then, when we feel refreshed (and wide awake), then we can sit at the keyboard to type, or notepad to write, and turn a similar focus to what we’re writing, letting go of all thoughts of any other things we need or hope to do.

Soon enough, I know we’ll find words flowing. It will be as if time doesn’t exist. We’ll write and write and write. We’ll be in sync with our muses, and it’s quite possible that when we look up, we’ll find more time has passed than what we expect.

That’s what it’s like to live in the moment. I’ve done it before, and it’s an unsurpassed feeling. I’m going to strive to get that back in my mornings this week.

What do you do to get refocus on what’s important?

Lisa J. JacksonLisa J. Jackson is a self-employed writer and editor. She loves writing about NH people, places, and activities. She writes fiction as Lisa Haselton, has an award-winning blog for book reviews and author interviews, and is on the staff of The Writer’s Chatroom where she gets to network with writing professionals on a weekly basis. You can connect with her on FacebookTwitterLinkedIn, and Biznik.

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I’m adding another ‘thank you‘ to Jamie’s to those of you who participated in the recent NHWN poll. Great feedback.

Onward! In April, I wrote about a 24-hour short story contest I find to be fun, stressful, inspiring, challenging, entertaining, and a great exercise for my muse. Do you see the ups and downs in that last sentence? I have a lot of emotions when writing for a contest, assignment, or a client. And I like that. If I didn’t have a mix of emotions, then I’d take that as a sign I’m too comfortable. Growth comes from pushing into the ‘uncomfy zone,’ not from the same ol’ same ol’.

With the next rendition of the contest coming this Saturday, and based on survey feedback, I thought I’d delve into some tips for writing a story or article with a deadline of a day or less.

These tips can also be applied to blog posts, interviews, and more.

  1. Know the assignment. If it’s a contest, be familiar with the rules. If it’s a client project, make sure you’re clear on the deliverable. If it’s an article, blog post, or interview, know the key points to be covered.

    Brainstorm on the screen or on paper

    Brainstorm on the screen or on paper

  2. Write out initial thoughts – brainstorm. Turn off your internal editor (easier said than done sometimes, I know) and start freewriting ideas. Make lists, mindmap, scribble, draw, whatever it takes to get initial ideas downloaded from your brain. Use a timer, or write until you run dry, whatever works best. For me, a timer keeps the internal editor from speaking too loudly.
  3. Step away. Turn the paper over, minimize the window, close the laptop, walk away from your desk, or close your eyes. I find it helpful to change gears completely and go for a walk, have a snack, listen to music, read e-mail, or anything that doesn’t relate to the project. The mind is still turning ideas over, and likes to do so when you aren’t paying close attention.
  4. Come back with fresh eyes. Read through your notes. Highlight the items from your brainstorming that catch your eye and cross off the ideas that are too typical. What else leaps to mind now? What strikes you as interesting, original, or fun? Shift perspectives — if you’re the reader, which of the items, which focus/approach, would be most interesting or refreshing?
  5. Pick one idea. Yes, just one. Which one floats to the top of the list? Start with that one. (You can always go back to the list later if you need to.)
  6. Free write.  Write on that one topic you’ve just chosen without worrying about what you don’t have. Assignments can need research, quotes, pictures, or other background material. Don’t worry about that now. Write your story/article/blog post with what you know at the moment. You’ll know where you need to insert details later. Leave a blank line, capital letters (XXX), or symbols (???), if you need to. Most important, is that you write without worrying about spelling or word count.
  7. Repeat step 3.
  8. Write your second draft. You know the topic now; your muse is partnering with you to get the story written. Fill in the blanks.
  9. Repeat step 3. A great time for a treat because you’re almost done.

    Deliciously cool key lime pie

    A treat — Deliciously cool key lime pie

  10. Read with an editor’s eye. Clean up the grammar and punctuation. Get within your word count. Give your story / article / assignment a nice polish.
  11. Sleep on it. Similar to step 3, but, it’s the final stretch. The words are on the page and fulfill the guidelines. You have time to relax and let the piece simmer.
  12. Make final revisions and submit before your deadline.

And my favorite step — 13. Celebrate the milestone. I do the “whoot whoot” and fist pump the air and/or do a happy dance. It’s a great feeling knowing a task / assignment / contest entry / what-have-you has been completed and submitted.

It’s like using the fine china or crystal today instead of waiting for “a special event”. Celebrate the moment, the accomplishment. The piece didn’t exist in any form 24 hours (or less) ago, and now it’s done, dusted, and submitted.

Now for the next project!

If you have specific questions, please ask.

Lisa J. JacksonLisa J. Jackson is a self-employed writer and editor. She loves writing about NH people, places, and activities. She writes fiction as Lisa Haselton, has an award-winning blog for book reviews and author interviews, and is on the staff of The Writer’s Chatroom where she gets to network with writing professionals on a weekly basis. You can connect with her on Facebook, TwitterLinkedIn, and Biznik.

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As I lean into creating a career as a fictionn writer, and look for and talk to mentors, I keep waiting for the “and then it kicks in and just works” statements. No one is saying those words. At all. And the hard work goes beyond the butt in the seat writing time required. It also involves the business of writing itself.

sisyphus-signI have a number of friends who are publishing books right now. As a member of Sisters in Crime New England (and the current president) this isn’t really surprising. That is the point of the organization–support and mentorship. And friendship. Many of my Facebook friends are writing mystery series (or two or three), and have a book due every nine months. I know two people who had books released today. E and L had book #2 in their respective series due on Sunday, meanwhile they are doing signings, guest blogs, and promotion for their first books. T has a new series (her third or fourth) launching in two months, and is a wreck. B and J have book # 1 in their series coming out this fall, and are both working on book #2. J is thinking about a second series as well. S just got her first book contract, so now she has to write the book. G is looking for an agent. And R just got a contract on a book he has written, and is now working with the publisher on his promotional materials.

As someone who aspires to being on this treadmill, I am learning a lot about the publishing and promotion business. I am also learning over and over something I already know, but sometimes forget. It is hard work. All of it. Writing. Rewriting. Editing. Promotion. Starting it all over again. Hard work.

But what I am also learning is that attitude is everything. I learn from the people who lament publicly at every phase. I learn how not to act. And I learn from the people who are funny, exhausted, distracted, and grateful. Grateful wins, every time.

Writers need to write. We’ve eaten the apple, and are doomed to feel the call for the rest of our lives. Sure,  you can ignore the call; that is its own misery. No, we need to write. It is hard work, and a hard life. But we need to do it, despite the difficulties.

As I watch my Facebook feed, I just thought this should be acknowledged. It is all hard.

Really hard.

It never gets easier.

And worse? There are no guarantees. A series can be dropped. Promotion falls on the author’s shoulders. Ideas don’t come just because you scheduled this afternoon to write.

But still, even after all that and more, we write. Because we have to. We are blessedly cursed to have been infected with the need to write. It is more than a desire, it is a need. So the hard work needs to be balanced by joy. The small steps needs to be celebrated. We can control two things–what we produce, and our attitude.

Have a great 4th of July.

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