Friday Fun – Where do your stories start?

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: Some writers are inspired by character. Some fall in love with a particular setting. Others write stories based on a recurring theme or message. Still others have a soft spot for genre tropes. Where do your stories start? Does a character pop into your head and demand a story, or do you have a vision of an abandoned castle on the Scottish moors and need to set your story there? Are you struck by a passionate desire to tell a story about justice, loyalty, or courage; or do you just want to write something that lets you write an awesome confrontation or reveal scene? What gets your creative juices flowing first?

JME5670V2smCROPJamie Wallace: This is a tough one, because, most of the time the combination of elements tumbles into my mind at almost the same time. For instance, I was hiking in Acadia a couple of years ago and came up with the idea of writing a story set in this beautiful area of Maine, featuring an eccentric and slightly prickly bar owner whose establishment is threatened by a giant corporation, and dealing with the theme of right vs. might. I honestly can’t say which element came first.

Having (finally!) read Stephen King’s book On Writing, I think that my inspiration might come more often in the “situational” form he describes – the “what if?” scenario. In those cases, all the initial pieces of a story appear more or less simultaneously. Usually this happens while I’m half in a daydream or reading some random article or news story. My brain just connects the dots in an unexpected way, and I’m off and running.

Lisa_2015Lisa J. Jackson: Most of my stories start with at a specific moment in time – a snapshot. In fact, my favorite writing prompts are photographs, particularly b&w images. There is one very specific moment captured in a photograph and stories evolve from that. These generally lead to 3rd person or omniscient point of view stories.

Most times my stories come from snapshots in my mind, through dreams. Sometimes it’s me looking at the moment as an unbiased bystander, other times, it’s from the perspective of the main character – I’m looking out through their eyes at a moment in time. This leads, generally, to 1st person stories.

 

Before You Hit Send Comes to New Hampshire

Angela James, Editorial Director of Carina Press to Present her Popular Workshop in Nashua.

This May, the New Hampshire chapter of Romance Writers of America will present Before You Hit Send (BYHS). BYHS is a workshop on self editing created and presented by Angela James, Editorial Director at Carina Press.

Before You Hit Send Logo

Before You Hit Send Workshop Specifics

Make a weekend of it! Come Friday night for a casual get together with other attendees at the hotel bar. The workshop takes place all day Saturday, and Sunday morning there will be a room available for those who want to implement what they’ve learned or work on their manuscripts.  Please note this Sunday session is a self-paced causal event with no formal program. Ms. James will not be in attendance.

When: Saturday, May 21, 2016 9am to 4pm

Where: The Crowne Plaza Hotel 2 Somerset Parkway, Nashua 603-886-1200 (Mention NHRWA for a discounted rate on your room)

Cost: $90 if you register by February 29th Register today to avoid increases!

Who Should Attend Before You Hit Send?

  • Aspiring authors
  • Authors interested in polishing their craft
  • Self-publishing authors
  • Multi-published authors–you may be surprised by what there still is to learn!
  • Freelance editors and copy editors looking to enhance their curriculum vitae.
  • Anyone interested in learning to edit and copy edit.

This workshop is targeted to writers of all genres – mystery, horror, New Adult, fantasy, sci-fi and romance –all welcome!

What will be covered?

  • point of view
  • passive vs. active voice
  • show don’t tell
  • formalizing your manuscript

and much more!

To register please visit the New Hampshire Romance Writers website .

Originally, Ms. James was asked to develop a week long online workshop on self editing. Her first reaction was “What a great topic.” It wasn’t until she sat down to outline the course that she realized what an overwhelming topic it could be. Over the years the workshop has morphed and grown. Angela has been presenting it online and in person for more than eight years. BYHS is never the same workshop twice. She updates it prior to every presentation. Because publishing is constantly changing and writers need different information at different times in their writing journey, it’s not uncommon for people to take the class multiple times. Sometimes as many as four or five people are repeat attendees!

Peggy Jaeger,  author of the soon to be released 3 Wishes from The Wild Rose Press has taken BYHS online and is looking forward to taking it again in person in May.  “Angela James showed me exactly what a manuscript ready for professional submission should look like. And after taking her class, my manuscripts now look professionally polished and ready for a publisher’s eyes.”

Registration for the inaugural presentation of Before You Hit Send in New Hampshire is open now. Your registration fee includes workshop materials, Saturday lunch buffet and an afternoon snack. Registrations are processed on a first come, first served basis.

Before You Hit Send is a labor of love from someone who is an avid reader and quite simply loves books. “It’s not about the money. It’s more important to me to know that people are getting the information.”

About Angela James

Angela James holding an e book readerAngela James is the Editorial Director of Carina press, a digital-first fiction imprint of Harlequin (Harper Collins). She has edited books from bestselling authors including Shannon Stacey (a New Hampshire author), Jaci Burton, Lauren Dane and many others. Look for a more detailed profile of Ms. James in mid-March.

Carina Press publishes books in romance, fantasy, sci-fi, action adventure, mystery, crime and new adult.


Lee Laughlin is a writer, marketer, social media consumer and producer, wife, and mom, frequently all of those things at once. She blogs at Livefearlesslee.com. She writes for the Concord Monitor and her words have also appeared in a broad range of publications from community newspapers to the Boston Globe. She is currently working on her first novel, a work of contemporary, romantic fiction. She is an NHRWA member and the opinions expressed here are hers and my not necessarily reflect those of her fellow NHWN blogmates.

The Passionate Writer–No Really!

I’ve been thinking a lot about storytelling lately. I work in theater (I run a service organization for the New England theater community called StageSource), so I spend a lot of time in the theater, seeing different plays. Sometimes I see a play I know well, done differently. Most times I am told a familiar story, one that fits my familiar and comfortable narrative lens. Sometimes I have my mind blown. But it is all storytelling.

I am also working on Book #3 in my mystery series, wrapping up some narrative arcs that are threaded through the entire series while telling readers a new story with the same characters. I’m adding books to my TBR (To Be Read) pile at an alarming rate, grateful to be traveling a lot in the coming months so I can catch up on my reading.

I am also collecting stories for future use.

The other day I was grocery shopping. It was right before a “maybe you are going to get nailed with snow” forecast, so there was a lot of anxiety snow shopping. (Carbs, cheese, wine, chocolate for me.) I kept running into one couple. At first she was berating him because he didn’t answer her text within a half-hour. Next aisle he was questioning her food choices and cooking abilities. By the bakery aisle I was sure they were going to break up, or at least go to their separate homes to wait out the storm. By the time they were checking out, there seemed to be a detente. They left first, so I didn’t witness the next chapter.

I’ve been thinking about that couple a lot. I can tell their story from her point of view, from his point of view, from my point of view. Three different stories. I can also create different endings for the story, and have. In one, she poisons him. In another, he throws her phone out the car window on the way home. In another, they break up but can’t leave the apartment because of the storm. They even live happily ever after in one of the stories.

I think of people as a puzzle while I get to know them. The more I know, the more pieces I can fill in. With real people I care about, I can tell when there is a piece missing. I know it will be uncovered in time, and I let their story unfold. With people I don’t know, I just make it up. This is what writers do, we make up stories. For the grocery store couple, I decided she freaks out about him not responding to a text because her last boyfriend never broke up with her officially, he just stopped calling. He actually does think she’s a good cook. He can’t tell her he’d rather just get a prepared meal and sit on the couch because he’s tired because she’s fifteen years younger than he is, so he feels compelled to keep up with her. He also can’t tell her he turns off his text notifier during the day because he can’t see his phone without his glasses.

Storing stories also means that I keep the drama on the page. After a very contentious meeting a few years back, someone followed me back to my office and demanded to know how I kept my cool. I replied that I had been thinking about how to poison each and every person at the meeting, and showed her the diagram I’d worked out. (It involved tainted sugar cookies–very Agatha Christiesque.) Her reply? “You are a very scary woman.”

Perhaps. But it doesn’t mean I don’t feel. In fact, I feel a lot. I absorb stories, and storytelling. I channel the passion I feel into my own stories, even if they never make it on the page. Sometimes that makes me seem cold, or distant. I am trying to be better about reacting appropriately, rather impassively filing away details to be processed fully later. This is what makes me a writer–filing away stories for future use. That is where I put my passion, on the page.

How about you, dear readers? Do you make up stories about strangers? Follow people to hear their conversation? Pretend you are reading on the train when you are actually watching a story play out?

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

Julie Hennrikus runs StageSource and teaches at Emerson College. Julianne Holmes writes the Clock Shop Mystery series. Just Killing Time was released last October.

Short and Sweet Advice for Writers: Read!! (Here’s Why)

pin confuscius readIt’s not like anyone ever has to twist my arm to get me to read. In fact, left to my own devices, I’d probably spend at least a few hours each day with my nose in a book. However, Real Life doesn’t always easily accommodate large blocks of reading time. There is almost always something more pressing that needs doing – something that seems more important – and so reading can fall off the radar.

But, reading is critical for writers. Mandatory. Non-negotiable.

You’ve heard the advice a million times: If you want to write, read. It makes sense, you suppose; but have you ever wondered why it makes sense – why reading is such an important part of becoming a writer?

When you read, it’s like taking an immersion class in the language of story and literature. And like any immersion class, the more you expose yourself to that language, the better you understand it and the more fluent you become.

By reading other writers, you develop an instinctive sense of how story works. You begin to see the universal patterns in story structure and notice how different authors use language in different ways. The more time you spend reading, the easier it becomes to recognize the various craft elements for what they are. Even more importantly, you start to realize when these elements are working, and when they are not.

You can hardly ask for a better education.

This is why it’s so important for you, as a writer, to read – because it’s your only opportunity to learn by example, and examples are powerful teaching tools. Reading shows, instead of telling. Stories don’t have to explain themselves. They don’t preach or dictate. They simply present themselves to you, and leave it to you to figure things out.

Some will tell you to be careful what you read – to only read Good Writing, or to never/always read books from the genre you write. I don’t think there need to be any hard and fast rules about reading. I’ve learned a ton about what not to do by reading subpar novels. And I’m constantly learning from the masters in my preferred genre and cross-pollinating ideas from authors who write in other genres.

I’m not sure you can ever go wrong reading. Just do it. Read. Read as much and as often as you can. Immerse yourself in story. It will make you a better writer.
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Jamie Lee Wallace Hi. I’m Jamie. I am a content marketer and branding consultant, columnist, sometime feature writer, prolific blogger, and aspiring fiction writer. I’m a mom, a student of equestrian and aerial arts (not at the same time), and a nature lover. I believe in small kindnesses, daily chocolate, and happy endings. Join me each Saturday for the Weekend Edition – a long-form post on writing and the writing life – and/orintroduce yourself on Facebooktwitter, Instagram, or Pinterest. I don’t bite … usually.
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Grammar-ease: Lying vs Laying (Lie vs Lay)

Using lay versus lie has come up quite a bit, so here’s a re-do of my 2013 post on these tricky words.

Lay is an active verb. A person picks up a book and lays it on a chair. A chicken lays an egg. (The person and chicken are active.)

Lie is a still verb. People lie on beds. Cats lie on people. Fleas lie on cats. (The people, cats, and fleas are still.)

——————————————————————————————————

Lay: to place or set something

Simple Progressive Perfect Perfect progressive (action continues for a while)
Present I lay

You lay

He/she/it lays

They lay

I am laying

You are laying

She is laying

They are laying

I have laid

You have laid

She has laid

They have laid

I have been laying

You have been laying

She has been laying

They have been laying

Past I laid

You laid

She laid

They laid

I was laying

You were laying

She was laying

They were laying

I had laid

You had laid

She had laid

They had laid

I had been laying

You had been laying

She had been laying

They had been laying

Future I will lay

You will lay

She will lay

They will lay

I will be laying

You will be laying

She will be laying

They will be laying

I will have laid

You will have laid

She will have laid

They will have laid

I will have been laying

You will have been laying

She will have been laying

They will have been laying

——————————————————————————————-

Lie: to recline or repose somewhere.

Simple Progressive Perfect Perfect progressive (action continues for a while)
Present I lie

You lie

He/she/it lies

They lie

I am lying

You are lying

She is lying

They are lying

I have lain

You have lain

She has lain

They have lain

I have been lying

You have been lying

She has been lying

They have been lying

Past I lay

You lay

She lay

They lay

I was lying

You were lying

She was lying

They were lying

I had lain

You had lain

She had lain

They had lain

I had been lying

You had been lying

She had been lying

They had been lying

Future I will lie

You will lie

She will lie

They will lie

I will be lying

You will be lying

She will be lying

They will be lying

I will have lain

You will have lain

She will have lain

They will have lain

I will have been lying

You will have been lying

She will have been lying

They will have been lying

Here are some great tips to help remember the differences, from Painless Grammar, by Rebecca Elliott, Ph.D.:

  • Think of to lay the same way as to say and to pay. If talking about today, we say,  “I pay”, “I say.” If it’s about yesterday, we say, “I paid”, “I said”, “I have paid”, “I have said.” To lay works the same way: lay, laid, laid.
  • Substitute the word place or put. If the sentence makes sense, you want lay; otherwise, you want lie.
    • Example 1: You place the book on the table. It makes sense. Therefore, You lay the book on the table.
    • Example 2: You place in your bed at night. It doesn’t make sense. Therefore, You lie in your bed at night.
  • My favorite: No one ever says that chickens lie eggs. Chickens are active and lay eggs, so visualize the action when you are writing about how you lay out a rug, or lay down your book.
  • Lie is a quiet or still word. A fun example from the book: At night, I turn out my light and lie. (I’m going to lie down for a nap.) Whether it’s on a couch, beach blanket, or bed, if you are quietly reclining, you’re lying (not laying).

I still find myself challenged with this pairing at times and need to look back at these notes — if I can’t think of any other words to use in their place.

I hope you have a great week!

Lisa_2015Lisa J. Jackson is an independent writer and editor who enjoys working with manufacturing, software, and technology businesses of all sizes. She loves researching topics, interviewing experts, and helping companies tell their stories. You can connect with her on Twitter, Facebook, and LinkedIn.

Sunday 31 Jan – Shareworthy Reading and Writing Links and Sundry

So, we finally busted out of Mercury retrograde this week. I don’t know about you, but I definitely felt a creative shift. (If you’re not sure what that’s all about, check out this post where I explain a little about Mercury retrograde.) We’re also having a bit of a mid-winter warm up around here. Though we New Englanders know better than to let our guard down, it’s nice to be able to get outside without quite so many layers on. The scent of spring is on the air and it’s got my imagination stirring.

To help boost your creativity and inspire your imagination, here are this week’s links and picks for all things writerly (and some that are on the fringe, but still worth exploring).

Enjoy!

Jamie


Books I’m Reading:

book magicians landLast week I finished the final book in Lev Grossman’s Magicians trilogy, The Magician’s Land, and now I’m having fiction world withdrawal. Often described as Harry Potter for a (much) more mature audience, the Magician’s books are, in my humble opinion, very worthy reads. Yes, they are action-packed fantasy stories that feature sex, violence, and loads of swearing; but there’s more to them than that.

Grossman’s magical world is unique in the way it intersects with ours. As a friend (and fellow Magicians fan) pointed out, Grossman does an excellent job of anchoring his fantasy construct in our modern world without sacrificing wonder or charm. The story is also, at its heart, not about magic, but about becoming yourself. In the same way that J.K. Rowling’s books are really about friendship, the Magicians novels are well-rendered coming of age stories.

I won’t risk any spoilers about this final book in the triology; I’ll just say that I was very impressed with how Grossman wrapped things up – brought them full circle without resorting to 100% neatly tied bows. I’ll also say that despite the heartache readers have to endure throughout the story, the series ends on a hopeful (if unexpected) note. I found that refreshing.

Coincidentally, just as I was devouring the final chapters, SyFy premiered its series based on Grossman’s books. I’ve watched the first two episodes (how could I not?), and I’m still undecided about whether I love it or not. My loyalty to the books is influencing my judgments of the adaptation, which takes a fair number of liberties with Grossman’s world and story. (They even changed the name of one of the primary characters for no apparent reason.) It may be too soon for me to fully enjoy the show. We’ll see.

··• )o( •··

book old countryBecause I’m still hungover from my time at Grossman’s Brakebills Prepatory College of Magic and the world of Fillory, I’m not yet ready to dive into a new novel. Instead, I picked up a novella from my own collection, something I read a while back, but couldn’t quite remember. The Old Country by Mordicai Gerstein is a classic-style fairytale full of talking animals, faerie folk, peasants, and royalty.

I enjoyed being able to recognize many fairytale tropes – the old granny telling a tale to her inquisitive granddaughter, the journey into the forest, the protagonist doing the one thing she was warned against, transformation, the creation of a team of unlikely allies … it was all there; but there were also enough twists (including a surprise ending) that I never felt like I knew what was going to happen next.

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My Favorite Blog Reads for the Week:


Sundry Links and Articles:

Podcast Series: The Elemental Genre

writing excuses season 11I know I gush rather a lot about the Writing Excuses podcast, but I just can’t help myself. I’m already looking forward to a re-listen of Season 10 which walked listeners through the story creation process from idea to first draft to revision and beyond. This year’s season – Season 11 – is all about the “Elemental Genre.” Here’s how they introduce the idea of the Elemental Genre in the season intro:

The word “genre” has a lot of weight to it. Arguments about whether a particular work is, or is not, part of a given genre are long, and tedious. Season Eleven will not be engaging in those arguments. We’re giving all that a wide miss by adding an adjective, and defining a new term: Elemental Genre.

During 2016 we are going to explore what we write, why we write, and how we write in much the same way as previous seasons have, but our guidepost this year will be this concept of Elemental Genres. In January we’ll stay high-level and firm up the framework. Starting in February we’ll drill down on each of the Elemental Genres, and explore the writing process.

I’m really looking forward to this!

··• )o( •··

Free Online Course: Literature and Mental Health – Reading for Wellbeing

future learnThis free online course is offered by the University of Warwick and begins tomorrow – February 1st. It’s part of the FutureLearn program that offers “a diverse selection of courses from leading universities and cultural institutions from around the world. These are delivered one step at a time, and are accessible on mobile, tablet and desktop, so you can fit learning around your life.”

Literature and Mental Health – Reading for Wellbeing is taught by Professor Jonathan Bate and Dr. Paula Byrne. Here’s a little bit about the course from the FutureLearn site:

The great 18th century writer Dr Samuel Johnson, who suffered from severe bouts of depression, said “the only end of writing is to enable the reader better to enjoy life or better to endure it.”

This free online course will explore how enjoying literature can help us to endure life.

Taking Johnson’s phrase as a starting point, the course will consider how poems, plays and novels can help us understand and cope with times of deep emotional strain. The reading load will be flexible, and you will have the opportunity to exchange ideas and feelings via the online discussions with other learners.

I’m looking forward to exploring these ideas further. Maybe I’ll see you there!

··• )o( •··

 

Finally, a quote for the week:

pin you can king

Thanks for sharing part of your weekend with me.  Hope you enjoy exploring the links. Happy reading! Happy writing! Happy New Week! 
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Jamie Lee Wallace Hi. I’m Jamie. I am a content marketer and branding consultant, columnist, sometime feature writer, prolific blogger, and aspiring fiction writer. I’m a mom, a student of equestrian and aerial arts (not at the same time), and a nature lover. I believe in small kindnesses, daily chocolate, and happy endings. Introduce yourself on Facebooktwitter, Instagram, or Pinterest. I don’t bite … usually.
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Weekend Edition – Accomplishing Your Writing Goals with the Eisenhower Decision Matrix

How’re you doing with those writing goals?

It’s almost the end of January. Can you believe it? The first thirty days of 2016 are behind us – whoosh! – just like that. Only 335 days left until we’re perched on the edge of yet another New Year. I’d hate for you to be standing there on December 31st – with your party hat and your champagne – lamenting all the writing you didn’t do.  (I’ve been there and done that more times than I care to admit. Makes for a less-than-sparkly New Year’s Eve.)

Regrets are not fun. Regrets are vicious little demons that gnaw on your heart late at night when you’re all alone with your thoughts. They delight in the excruciating replay of all the moments when you coulda-shoulda-woulda, but didn’t. A poignant video produced by Strayer University brings this point home with an interactive art piece that  invited New Yorkers to write their biggest regrets on a blackboard hung in the street. The regrets were diverse, but there was a common thread running through all of them:

Makes you think, right?

··• )o( •··

It’s hard to avoid regrets. I’m not just talking about the fear factor. You and I both know that our fears hold us back. We fear failure and success, ridicule, discomfort, sacrifice, loss … you name it. Fears are big and loud and obvious. Even when we don’t talk about them, we know what they are. Theirs is a frontal attack. Straight-on. I’m not saying it’s easy to overcome your fears. They were born in deep, dark places in our psyches and have a strong hold there; but we can recognize and name them, and – once named – we can overcome them.

There are other, more subtle and insidious forces that keep you from reaching your goals. They wear disguises and tell lies. They whisper sweetly in your ear and make promises they never intend to keep. They cast spells that warp your perceptions so you’re easily led off your chosen path. If you let them, these time eaters will chew up your whole life minute by minute, and lick their fingers when they’re done. It’s not a pretty picture, is it?

But, there is hope. You just have to learn how to see past their deceptions and resist their siren call. You have to keep your eye on the prize and your feet on the path of your true quest.

··• )o( •··

And so, we come to the down-and-dirty, nitty-gritty, in-the-trenches work that you must do. It’s not sexy. It’s not grand. It’s just a daily practice of making Right Decisions based on your True Priorities. It’s about becoming more aware of and proactive about the Small Choices you make, because it’s those moments that make or break your Big Dreams. You’ve heard there’s no such thing as an overnight success. This is true. Success never comes in one fell swoop. It’s the result of thousands and thousands of small, seemingly insignificant steps in the right direction. Again – not sexy, but it works.

So, where to start? How about with President Eisenhower?

Trust me. It’ll make sense.

··• )o( •··

Though I didn’t know it at the time, I first encountered the “Eisenhower Decision Matrix” back in the 90s when the company I worked for offered a Franklin Covey training. (I did warn you this wasn’t sexy.) The Covey training was my initial exposure to a time management/goal planning/priority defining method and I fell hook, line, and sinker. I’ve since transitioned from a To Do list approach to calendaring, but I’m realizing that the Eisenhower Decision Matrix that Covey co-opted is a missing piece in my time management puzzle.

While my calendaring method does an excellent job of organizing my days around immediate tasks, it’s not so great at helping me wrangle the Big Picture planning (and doing!) that I need to tackle in order to create and maintain momentum on my Big Goals. Calendaring helps me survive the daily chaos of my life, but it doesn’t help me create the life I ultimately want. Using calendaring, I get lots of gold stars for getting things done, but too often the end of the day proves that those stars are made of faerie gold that can’t be traded for what I really want.

Do you ever fall into this trap? If you do, don’t feel bad. We all do it. And, here’s where the Eisenhower Decision Matrix comes in.

··• )o( •··

The Eisenhower Decision Matrix helps you identify and prioritize what’s most important AND what’s least important so you can make your daily choices accordingly. The matrix consists of a four-quadrant grid that categorizes activities based on how important and urgent they are:

EisenhowerMatrix Categories

I borrowed this set of category labels from a post on The Art of Manliness. Even if you only take a quick glance, you can probably guess that you should be spending most of your time in the top two quadrants and as little time as possible in the bottom two. Applying broad brushstrokes:

  • Quadrant 1- More Important and Urgent – represents the daily tasks that we must do in order to survive. It’s primarily about being responsive and gaining an immediate payoff. It’s all the “Must Do” items on your list – obligations and responsibilities that can’t be avoided: crises, problems, deadlines.
  • Quadrant 2- More Important and Less Urgent – represents the activities that will help us thrive (and reach our True Goals). It’s primarily about being proactive in order to attain a long-term goal. These are the activities that don’t offer immediate reward, but which you must do in order to achieve your Big Goals: relationships, planning, recreation. (Yes, recreation is important – especially to the creative soul.)

The lower two quadrants are the cracks through which those sneaky little time eaters creep into our days:

  • Quadrant 3 – Less Important, but still Urgent – represents all those things that tug on your attention, but don’t move you any closer to your Big Goals. They often feel important and like something you can’t avoid, but that’s why they are so damn tricky. This quadrant includes the favors people ask you for, social obligations, and every time you say “yes” out of guilt.  It also includes faux productive activities like overlong meetings, endless email threads, and mindless documentation that nobody ever reads.
  • Quadrant 4 – Less Important and Less Urgent – represents mostly pointless, “time suck” activities that you could really live without. These activities are like the junk food of your intellect. They are the rabbit holes that you fall into, losing hours of your day as though you’d been enchanted by faeries. It’s important to note that these activities are not always intrinsically evil. I like to veg out to a favorite guilty pleasure TV show as much as the next person, and I may or may not spend more than an appropriate amount of time on social media sites. That’s okay. All things in moderation.

Let’s look at an example set of tasks and activities:

EisenhowerMatrix Generic

  • Quadrant 1 – The Things You Need to Deal With Right Now: Obviously, each of these examples is something you have to address immediately. Whether the item is a crisis (like a lost child), a problem (like a broken down car that’s keeping you from getting to work or whatever), or a non-negotiable and time-sensitive obligation  (like paying your taxes), these are all things that you can’t ignore. They go on the To Do list no matter what.
  • Quadrant 2 – The Things You Don’t Have to Do Right Now, But Which You’d Better Do If You Ever Want to Achieve Your True Goals:  Here’s where things get a little slippery. These are the responsible, good-for-you things that you know you should do and you’ve really been meaning to do, but that you mostly let slide to the bottom of the To Do list because no one is making you do them. You know you should exercise in order to ensure long-term flexibility, fitness, and health; but you just don’t have time today. (There’s always tomorrow, right?)  It’s also important to note that most of the things in this quadrant aren’t things you can just check off the list. They are more process- than task-oriented. They involve creating and maintaining an on-going practice. For this reason, we often find ourselves in that unpleasant place of regret where we lament having waited so long to start something.
  • Quadrant 3 – The Things Other People and Cultural Norms Will Tell You Are Super Important Even Though They Have Nothing To Do With Your True Goals: This is another trap. These activities make us feel productive, important, responsible, even noble. We feel good about doing them, righteous, even. They let us check things off The List. They make us look good in the eyes of other people. They earn us brownie points. Sadly, they most often serve Other People’s Agendas, not our own. The standing advice for dealing with things in this category is to say “no” to as many of these tasks as possible and delegate the rest. Easier said than done, but even just being able to recognize these time wasters for what they are is a valuable start.
  • Quadrant 4 – The Black Hole of Time: Yep – this is where dreams come to die. Think of this quadrant as the opium den of your True Goals. It preys on their weaknesses and lures them into a smoky room that incapacitates them, at least temporarily. Steer clear as much as possible. And if you must take a hit, do it in a safe way. Resist the urge until you’ve accomplished your Quadrant 1 and Quadrant 2 tasks. Set time limits. Give yourself a goal for the activity and quit when you’ve accomplished that goal.

So, how might you organize your writing tasks in the matrix?

EisenhowerMatrix Writing

  • Quadrant 1: Finishing client work, sending in submissions, hitting your daily word count – these are all things you’ve got to get done. They are the bread-and-butter tasks that make up your daily rounds.
  • Quadrant 2: No one’s holding a gun to your head to get these things done, but it’s important to your long-term goals to do things like build your audience (maybe blogging more consistently, starting an email newsletter, etc.), work on your craft (take a class, read a craft book, etc.), and take time to work on your Big Picture plans.
  • Quadrant 3: Sure, it’s nice to help out where you can, and there’s some value in participating in networking events and social media; BUT … keep a close eye on whether these activities are truly moving you towards your True Goals, or maybe just making you feel busy/important/productive. It can be deceptive. Pay attention. Don’t be fooled.
  • Quadrant 4: The occasional Netflix binge is not a bad thing, but a weekly immersion in forty-five episodes of some show is not a healthy habit (especially for a writer).  Research for your story or other project is a necessary part of the process, but – admit it – sometimes you take the exercise WAY farther than you have to. (That’s called avoidance or Resistance.) And reading reviews of your work on Amazon or wherever – do I even need to tell you that’s a bad idea?

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I realize this post has been repetitive. I did that intentionally because sometimes the only way to grasp a thing is to look at it again and again and again until it finally sinks in. (At least, that’s been my experience. No offense if you’re a quicker study than I am.)

The thing is that although the concept of the Eisenhower Decision Matrix is simple, it’s not easy to implement. You have to be really honest with yourself about how you spend your time and whether or not each task is a Right Choice for you. You have to make hard decisions and sacrifices. You have to cut out activities that might bring you comfort and a false sense of security. You have to push yourself to do the harder things that you know will ultimately get you where you want to go. And this isn’t something that’s ever “done.” You need to be constantly checking in with yourself and realigning your choices with your True Goals.

Keep your eye on the prize. Don’t be like the adorable but misguided dog from “Up.” (Squirrel!) Figure out where you want to go, what it’ll take to get there, and then prioritize your day around that. Outsmart those deceptive forces that would lead you astray. Put up a magic forcefield to keep out distractions. You know where you want to go, and you can get there – one step (one small decision) at a time. Choose wisely.

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Jamie Lee Wallace Hi. I’m Jamie. I am a content marketer and branding consultant, columnist, sometime feature writer, prolific blogger, and aspiring fiction writer. I’m a mom, a student of equestrian and aerial arts (not at the same time), and a nature lover. I believe in small kindnesses, daily chocolate, and happy endings. Introduce yourself on Facebooktwitter, Instagram, or Pinterest. I don’t bite … usually.
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