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Multitasking – it’s a method of working that easily divides an audience: folks seem to embrace it or run from it.

Do you find multitasking productive? Or a time suck?

I think of multitasking as leap frogging. For instance, you start replying to emails, end up clicking on a link within an email, and then get lost in the endless world known as the Internet. One page leads to another leads to another leads to another and before you know it, an hour has passed and there are still several emails to reply to.

Do you accomplish more when multitasking? Is it the way you find the success that you want? Or do you think multitasking sets you up for failure because you don’t get much accomplished?

Like anything, I don’t think it’s absolutely-multitask-all-the-time or avoid-multitasking-all-together. There can be a balance; it’s a matter of finding what works best.

Confession: As I wrote this post, I kept checking e-mails and managed to get sucked into the Internet through one of those ‘read more’ links like I mentioned above. <grin> So instead of just cranking through this blog post in 30 or so minutes, it took me a couple of hours. Multitasking did not benefit me in this instance!

Multitasking does work at times, though. For instance, when I’m in a waiting room or in a line – I can reply to and clean out old emails, sort and save emails, and schedule activities and events. Similarly, if I’m waiting for something to update online, I can reply to inquiries on Twitter and Facebook.

How about you? Do you find multitasking beneficial in saving time or a way to extend the time taken on tasks?

 

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 Lisa on TwitterFacebookGoogle+, and LinkedIn.

The Magic of Clarity

lightning treeWriting is an alchemical process that transforms modest words into entire worlds. We begin with an amorphous idea and the ability to string words together in a way that taps into our senses and emotions. We weave a spell that evokes a sense of time and place and experience. Using only these humble tools, we build an alternate reality. We give life to the players on our stage and send them off into adventures of our own devising. If that is not magic, I don’t know what is.

Imagination and creativity are oft-cited ingredients in the story-crafting elixir, but there is another, less frequently cited ingredient that is at least (if not more) important: clarity.

Clarity is both your inspiration and your North Star.

Though you may not know it, it is often the spark that ignites your imagination. It is that bolt of lightning that strikes you – a compelling character, thought-provoking question, or deep belief – that will eventually pierce the earth of your creative mind to become the roots of a story. And, once those roots have taken hold, clarity is the guiding force that shapes your story.

Clarity brings focus and purpose to your writing. It illuminates the ultimate reason you’re driven to write a thing and it helps you make critical decisions about what to include and what to leave out. Clarity is like a pair of enchanted glasses that filters out everything extraneous so you can hone in on exactly the things you need to tell your story. When you have clarity about your writing, you know what you want to say and you know how you want to say it. Writer’s Block becomes a thing of the past.

So, for your craft, clarity is a boon, a near-magical tool that gives you the power to sharpen your storytelling skills and put the weight of purpose and intention behind your writing work. But what about in your writing life?

Last Saturday’s weekend edition asked whether you are a plotter or a panster in your writing life. Are you intentional about where you want to go as a writer and how you get there, or are you kind of winging it and following the path of least resistance? About a month ago, I asked, once again, why we write and included links to some earlier posts on the topic.  This is clearly a question that fascinates me. What drives us to write at all? What drives us to write particular kinds of things?

I’m not here to say that one path or one purpose is better than any other. Each of us is on a unique journey.

I’m just curious about what might happen if in addition to applying clarity to our craft, we also sought clarity about the driving force behind our craft … the “why” of our writing. I wonder how digging down to the roots of our creative urges and desires might change or enhance our work.

What do you think? Have you already discovered the why that fuels your creativity, or are you unsure about where it all comes from? Do you think understanding your personal source would be good for your work, or somehow rob it of some power?

 

What I’m Learning About Writing:

zeus pippaSometimes the Universe has a funny way of getting our attention and clarity comes to us unexpectedly in a palm-to-forehead moment.

My daughter has a dog-walking business, and sometimes (when dogs need to be walked before school gets out, for instance) yours truly has the pleasure of taking one set of pooches or another out for an afternoon stroll. Yesterday afternoon it was the fine pair of Zeus, a handsome standard poodle, and Miss Pippa, a feisty little corgi.

As the three of us made our somewhat mincing way along the slushy roadside, I let myself get a little lost in thoughts about the value of clarity and intention and purpose in my writing. It was no small accomplishment to keep my train of thought while simultaneously managing Zeus in my right hand, Pippa in my left, and my own two feet.My exploratory reverie was interrupted only when Miss Pippa managed to get us tangled up in her leash. Unfortunately, this was a fairly frequent occurrence.

No matter how many times I tried to convince her to stay on my left side, little Pippa kept somehow kept winding up on my right. The trouble was that she got there by crossing behind me, a maneuver that meant I had to either twirl around (raising both leashes over my head as though I were some kind of human May Pole) or manage to nimbly jump (backwards, mind you) over Miss P’s leash. Obviously, neither of these were each to accomplish, especially with Zeus tugging ahead and ice underfoot.

My moment of oh-my-gods-of-course epiphany came when I realized that all I had to do to avoid this knotted situation was to hold Zeus’ leash in my left hand and Pippa’s in my right. Problem solved.

You’re probably shaking your head at my inability to figure this solution out faster. I don’t blame you. But, the thing is, I was so set on doing things a certain way, that I never even considered how such a simple change could eliminate the issue. The same thing can apply to our creative endeavors. Sometimes we get so wrapped up in a certain approach or process that we become blind to all the alternatives. We get, almost literally, stuck in our ways.

But, a quick shift in your perspective or practice might be all it takes to unravel a knot or remove an obstacle.

How might you change things up to better facilitate flow in your creative work? Is there something you’re doing (probably without even realizing it) to hinder your progress?

 

What I’m Reading:

book pilgimage desireI don’t typically read memoirs, but last spring my friend Alison Gresik published her travel memoir, Pilgrimage of Desire. Frankly, I’m a little embarrassed that it took me this long to get around to reading it. I’m also very glad that I finally made the time to travel alongside Alison on her journey.

In the afterword, Alison beautifully sums up the purpose behind her labors on this book ~

I wrote Pilgrimage of Desire for all those who feel trapped in a life that doesn’t let them practice their creativity in a way that feeds their soul, for those who have so much to express but have boxed themselves in with rules and responsibilities.

The book is an account of several milestone events in Alison’s life including the adoption of her two children, and the reinvention of her domestic life when she and her husband embarked on an open-ended trip around the world when their kids were only five and three, and her battle with walking depression. Interwoven with these stories, Alison shares her experience of walking the “desire lines” writing passion.

Alison’s is a story full of simple yet poignant discoveries. As she says of why her modest story matters, “Because it’s not exotic and sensational. I’m not unusual or extraordinary. I’m just a woman who decided to stop trying to be a good girl and go after what she wanted. A woman who realized that she could do more for the world by being herself.”

One of my favorite passages in Pilgrimage tells of Alison’s experience of rediscovering her own god, Amma, while walking a labyrinth at a women’s retreat. I also loved the honest thoughts she shared about the fears and desires each of us has about her creative work such as, “I needed to reframe work as something I did for myself as much as others – a way of caring for myself, a source of meaning and joy, not just of money and approval.”

And this moment, when she addressed her work-in-progress, made me want to stand up and cheer,

Pilgrimage, let’s have some angels join us in the writing. The Angel of Flow, who wears watered silk in shades of blue. The Angel of Love in pink spandex. The Angel of Poetry, black and white words dripping off her fingers. The Angel of Getting Your Shit Together, in tight jeans and a rock-and-roll T-shirt. The Angel of Truth and Beauty, who combines the grace of Venus with the mouth of a trucker. Together we’re going to rock this manuscript.

At the end of each chapter, Alison includes exercises that you, as a fellow seeker of creative fulfillment, can use to help uncover your own patterns, motivations, and triggers. She draws on her experience as a student and creative coach, generously sharing words of wisdom and resources she has found on her journey.

If you are an artist and a seeker, if you are someone who is trying to find your way on a creative journey and might benefit from following the faintly luminescent trail of someone who has walked the labyrinth before you, Alison Gresik’s memoir, Pilgrimage of Desire might be the perfect traveling companion.

 

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 what it is

Here’s to gaining clarity and finding purpose, but always following your desire lines and being open to the obvious solutions that are right in front of you. xo
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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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Lightning Photo Credit: zachstern via Compfight cc

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: How do you test your story’s opening?

wendy-shotWendy Thomas: First of all, I sit on it. After I write my story, I give it time away to do a little bit of maturing. Because I’ve got tech writing in my blood and I feel comfortable with plotting (as opposed to pantsing) once the story and I have both had time to settle down, I go over the beginning with a checklist that looks very much like the rubrics you had to use when writing high school papers.

  • Is there a hook?
  • Have I introduced the hero?
  • Is there conflict?
  • Have I created tension?
  • Is there too much back story?
  • Have I grounded the scene by including descriptions from all five senses?
  • Have I given the reader a reason to turn the page?

Those first few paragraphs can make or break the story. You have to be sure you’ve hit all the highlights and, for me, the best way I know of doing this is to write my first draft, give it time, and then revise with what’s missing according to my list.

 

headshot_jw_thumbnailJamie Wallace:  I’m still learning about beginnings. I’ll probably always be learning about them. The story openings I like best are the ones that make a promise. It doesn’t have to be an overt promise or a specific promise; it just has to make me feel like something is going to happen. More specifically, it has to make me feel like something worth experiencing is going to happen. The first few lines of a story or pages of a book need to whisper in my ear about a secret that will be revealed, a mystery that will be solved, or a discovery that will be made. A good opening captures my interest and my imagination and burrows into my mind, pulsing there like the beat of my heart with a quietly urgent drumbeat of possibility. I know I’ve read a good beginning when I swear I can hear the book calling to me from across the room. And then, dear gods of literature, I pray only that the rest of the story is as good as those first few lines.

hennrikus-web2Julie Hennrikus: Interesting question. Let me tell you about the beginning of Just Killing Time, my debut novel in the Clock Shop Mystery series, due out October 6. I wrote a proposal for this cozy series, which included the first three chapters. Those first three chapters got me the gig. The first chapter was from the point of view of the person who got killed–the inciting incident for the entire book (and series). I got a lot of “well written”, but a lot of push back on the beginning once the entire novel was finished. It wasn’t the beginning of a cozy mystery. Too dark, and it set the wrong tone. So, I changed the whole thing, and cut that chapter entirely.

In a previous novel (in a drawer, may see the light of day at some point), I kept getting “slow” and “drags” comments. So I kept cutting the beginning, and cutting the beginning, and cutting the beginning. The final beginning was the old page 50. You have to be ruthless–if you lose the reader at the beginning, or set up a false promise (great analogy Jamie), it doesn’t work.

 

Lately I’ve been knitting, and it got me thinking about my writing. If you are not a knitter, you may not have noticed that people knit from round balls of yarn but yarn is not sold in round balls. It’s sold in skeins. The reason people have round balls of yarn is they take the skein of yarn and unwind it and wind it back up into a ball.

Knitters do this in order run the yarn through their hands. You have to examine all of the yarn because if there is a knot somewhere in the middle of the skein, you need to know about it. If you find a knot, you can cut it out. You’ll be left with two smaller balls of yarn, neither of which will have a knot in it.

A knot in the middle of a row of knitting looks terrible and can ruin a project if it happens to fall in the wrong place. Thinking about this process in knitting led me to thinking about abdominal surgery.

In trauma surgery, the surgeon will “run the bowels” if a patient has trauma to the abdomen (such as a stab wound.) That means the surgeon holds the small intestines in his or her hands, examining every inch of it for any perforations, as even a tiny hole can lead to infection and death.

As writers, we have to do the same thing, metaphorically speaking, with our pieces. I’m currently working on a short story that I started last year. There’s a part of me that is entirely sick of it. I’m so familiar with the story by now that it’s easy to skim through it and miss obvious mistakes, never mind the subtle nuances of style and effect.

One way that I “run” my story is by reading it out loud, which I do periodically. Another way is by retyping it into the computer from a printed out version. I find this to be unreliable as I can skim as I type, but it’s better than nothing.

The best way I know to “run” my story, once I feel it is nearly complete, is to have someone read it to me (or to listen to it after I’ve recorded it) and retype it as they speak (or as I listen to the recording).

While this process can be tedious, for me it’s a necessary step, to make sure my piece doesn’t have any knots or holes in it.

What’s your process for polishing your writing piece?

Diane MacKinnon, MD, Master Certified Life CoachDiane MacKinnon, MD: is a writer, blogger, life coach, family physician, mother, and stepmother. I’m currently goggling at the fact that two months of 2015 have almost gone by already! I can’t believe it’s almost March. I need to keep plugging away at my writing goals before the end of March–the end of the first quarter of 2015!

 

Well, not really book jail. Book jail is when the hot breath of a deadline is upon you, and meeting the deadline is all encompassing. My Wicked Cozy Author blog mates and I talk a lot about book jail, especially since four of us have deadlines within a month of each other. May/June isn’t going to be pretty.

I read Jamie’s post from Saturday about being a pantser versus a plotter. I am a dedicated plotter. In fact, a lot of my writing time is spent actually working out my plot. I’m in phase two of the process, writing the scenes I’ve laid out. I write in Scrivener, and in order. This isn’t to say there won’t be changes along the way, but I’ve worked out the main plot, the subplots, and the red herrings. The puzzle has been worked out. Unless one of my characters goes off the rails (this has been known to happen, but we all tussled during the plotting), the roadmap is a good one.

The challenge of this phase is that it is a slog. The words in my head are perfect. The act of typing them into my computer makes them less so, but fixing that is phase three. I can’t edit a blank page, so the slog is on.

I talked about Paula Munier’s Plot Perfect in my New Year’s post. I’m going to recommend it again, highly. Paula did a great interview on Jungle Red Writers, with visuals about her sixty scene structure. It is a variation on traditional dramatic three act structure, with the middle broken into two sections.

Of course, to figure out dramatic structure, you have to have your story to guide you. Working on plotting forces you to work on details, and flesh them out. It can also make you think about whether your idea is a book, or a short story. In other words, if you’re done telling the story after 2500 words, you have a short story. Stop, polish, submit. I’ve had short stories that turned into novels. and novels turn into short stories. The story is what it needs to be.

Given that we are a bit snow bound here in New England, it is a good time to think through a plot. How to begin?

Start with an idea. Write it down on an index card. Ask yourself “and then what?” over and over. Write down each answer on a card. Now look at each card, and ask “who” and “why”, write those answers down. Some of these answers may make you fill out more cards, maybe as part of the main story, or maybe as part of a subplot. The beauty of the index cards is that you can change the order of the story as you need to. Maybe you thought you started at the beginning, but you really started in the middle, and need to fill in the front part of the story so it works. Or, and this has happened to me more than once, you start your novel too early. Backstory slows down the momentum, so you need to cut it, and sprinkle it throughout the rest of the novel.

Plotting helps you build a road map for writing your book. You may not follow the roadmap exactly, but it will move you forward.

Now, this may not work for you at all. But it may help you stick with it. Writing is a process. Plotting may help you with that process.

So, are you a plotter or a pantser? How’s your writing going on these snowy days?

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J.A. Hennrikus writes short stories. Julianne Holmes writes the Clock Shop Mystery series. Just Killing Time will debut in October, 2015.

If you haven’t read Save the Cat by Blake Snyder, you should – right now. It’s a reference written primarily for screen writers but the guidelines also work for other writers. In a nut shell, the premise is that within the first few minutes of a movie (or pages of a book) the hero needs to do something significant to make us align with and like him.

The hero saves the cat or he calls home or he brings flowers to mom or he get up so that an older woman can sit down – you get the idea, he has to do something that humanizes him and that immediately puts us in his court. We like him because he took the time to do something we would consider doing.

In movies (and TV) this is particularly important. Take a look at this trailer for House of Cards season 1 (where it was paramount that we immediately like the main character.) Frank Underwood is a sly fox, he’s part of political Washington. We shouldn’t trust a word he says, BUT because once we see that he is addressing *us* directly in the very beginning of the show (literally minutes), we realize that we’re being treated as a confidant. He’s letting us in on the joke.

We trust one of the most devious characters in recent TV history, because he saved the cat – in a big way. He addressed us directly and now we feel like we are part of a secret club. As devious as Frank behaves, we know that he will always be honest with us.

That inauguration scene knocks House of Cards out of the ball park. Frank Underwood, not only saved the cat, but he personally bankrolled the entire Humane Society.

We love him. We’re on team Frank.

Go back to some of the movies you’ve loved over the years. Watch only the first few minutes and see if you can figure out where the cat is saved.

And then, try to translate that action into your writing. No matter what your work is (with the exception of non-fiction how-to) you’ll need to humanize your hero. If it’s a romance, we need to see that the hero may be clumsy but he’s got a soft heart. If you’ve got a memoir, establish up front how people can connect to you, use an example of a time when you stumbled and by the end of the story, correct that stumble to show people how you’ve grown. Same rules apply to any fiction (YA, Romance, mystery, etc) give us a reason to care about your hero and then give us a reason to put ourselves in his shoes. Make us like your character.

Saving the cat is one of those little tools that is so subtle, you may not even catch it the first time you see it, but if you learn to recognize the technique, then like buying a new car, pretty soon, you’ll start seeing that exact model all over the place.

Once seen, trust me, you won’t be able to unsee it.

Feel free to share any “Save the Cat” moments from favorite movies or books in the comments.

***

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.

Being your own boss is thrilling, isn’t it? It’s nice to not have someone to report to every day. You don’t have to deal with someone hassling you if you don’t show up or if you spend all your time chasing dust bunnies, shiny objects, or killing time on Snapchat or Facebook.

Of course you want to impress your clients, but they come and go and care about what you can do for them, not necessarily about your personal success.

There’s a lot of freedom (insert Mel Gibson’s scream from “Braveheart”) in working for yourself. Maybe too much at times.

To be successful and keep your business on track, you need to think like a boss. What do I mean? Here are a few tips.

  • Determine and write down your goals
    • Yearly, quarterly, monthly, weekly, and daily goals will help you achieve the success you want. Written goals keep you focused.
  • Set check-ins and review milestones
    • Schedule time in your calendar, at least quarterly to review your progress on your goals.
  • Set and stick to a schedule
    • When working for someone else, you had to show up at a certain time, it’s just as important t o set a schedule for yourself and show up daily. It doesn’t have to be 8-5 5 days a week, but you should have a regular schedule – consistency and predictability are great for productivity.
  • Track your time
    • Use a timer and track how long  you spend doing different tasks – including those ‘shiny object’ time wasters. Tracking billable hours is imperative to running a successful business.

If you had a boss, you’d be responsible for all of the above – you’d be accountable for achieving certain tasks each day, week, month, quarter, and year. You’d even have once- (or perhaps twice) -a-year reviews. Which brings up another critical requirement for being your own boss: the self-evaluation.

It can be tricky evaluating yourself, so a tip here is to act as though you’re reviewing someone else — it’s important to be honest about your strengths and weaknesses to achieve the success you want. No one else will see the report, but spend time on an honest evaluation, as it can only help you achieve the success you’re after.

So if you start acting like the boss, you can the success that you want in your own business.

Why not start now? You’re the boss – even if you’re the only employee. 

 

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 Lisa on TwitterFacebookGoogle+, and LinkedIn.

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