The Rule of Three

three-fingers

While I’m hiking The Long Trail, I’m reposting old favorites. This one originally published January 14, 2014.

Despite my annual resolution not to make New Year’s resolutions, I can’t help myself, so like the Lord High Executioner in the Mikado, I have a little list – not of people to behead, but of things to do. It seems endless, not just with new tasks, like renovate my website, learn how to tweet, and dig an asparagus bed, but also with the repetitive ones of groceries, finances and laundry.

But the Big Projects are repetitive too: write, exercise, be kind and generous. In fact, I could probably use the same list year after year, but I don’t. I think there’s some value to recommitting to the Big Ideals, like productivity and health. When it comes to writing my daily list of things to do, however, I limit myself to three.

To give credit where credit is due, I learned this technique from the therapist I saw in my twenties, the one who helped me come to terms with being a writer. In those days, I’d write lists that started with Wake up, and included tasks like Shower, Brush teeth, Dress. In my own defense, putting these tasks on the list did give me the satisfaction of crossing them off, boosting my sense of accomplishment before I even left my apartment to teach. But it was also like paying attention to static, and never getting past the Activities of Daily Life. So I tried the Rule of Three, and it worked so well, I’ve used it ever since, especially when I allow my To Do List to become overpopulated with tasks that I’ll do as a matter of course, whether I write them down or not.

I use the Rule of Three to clarify each day. Today, for instance, my three tasks are: write my post, work on Ellen, and follow up on business tasks. I To-Do-Listwill have the first task completed before eight; I’ll spend the bulk of the day working on the novel, where I’m nearly finished creating a list of new scenes that have to be written, as I continue to increase the story’s complications and bring the minor characters to life. In between bouts at my desk, I’ll come in to my office and call my producer at the radio station and the client who hasn’t yet returned the contract for a teaching gig that’s fast approaching.

Of course, I have more to do than “just work” – like meal preparation, errands, exercise and such. Whether it’s because I’m absent-minded or middle-aged, I have to write things down in order to remember them, and mapping out these other activities in my planner helps me be efficient. For instance, I attend a yoga class every Tuesday afternoon. This is on the schedule but not the To Do List. While this may seem like splitting hairs, it works for me, especially since if I’m struck fluent and find myself in a writing groove at 4 pm, I can choose not to go. I have to write; achieving a full-lotus is optional.

Because attending yoga requires a car trip past a bank and a grocery , I build those errands in to my exercise. But if I don’t go to yoga – the groceries can wait. In fact, everything can wait – until I’ve finished the three items on my To Do List for the day.

In many ways, this method of listing mimics my own writing process: I generate a rough draft that’s messy and inclusive, and then I hone it down. By allowing myself only three tasks a day, I’m forced to prioritize and I’m able to stay focused. Rather than being obsessed by crossing tasks off the list, I’m encouraged by how much I actually get done.

I’m curious to know how others use lists to boost creativity. And if anyone tries this Rule of Three, please let me know how it goes.

dll2013Deborah Lee Luskin is a novelist, essayist, and editor currently accepting select clients developing projects in prose. Her novel Into the Wilderness won the Independent Publishers’ Gold Medal for Regional Fiction. She lives in southern Vermont.

Even though I’m attempting a through-hike of Vermont’s Long Trail, you can still receive An Essay Every Wednesday emailed directly to your inbox – by subscribing at www.deborahleeluskin.com. It’s easy, it’s entertaining, it’s educational, and it’s free.

Short and Sweet Advice for Writers: Remember. The World Runs on Stories.

tiny storiesI have yet to meet a writer who doesn’t routinely doubt the sanity of writing. Despite realizing that writing is an inextricable part of our identity, we can’t help but question its usefulness and value. We feel guilty and self-indulgent. We worry (and sometimes believe) that there are other, more Important Things we should be doing with our time. 

Rubbish.

No matter what our culture may try to make you believe. Writing is Important. Your writing it important.  Writing is your “real” job. It matters. And, you know why? Because the world runs on stories.

If you don’t believe me, I challenge you to go through ONE DAY without consuming or sharing a single story. Go ahead. I dare you. I double dog dare you.

It’s impossible.

Spend thirty seconds on social media – Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, whatever platform you choose – it’s all stories. Watch the news, a movie, a TV show, or a documentary – all stories. Listen to the lyrics of a song, the banter of radio DJs, or the gossip of the little old ladies at your local coffee shop – all stories. Every commercial and advertisement you’ve ever seen – stories. Every whisper of the voices in your own head telling you you can or you can’t –stories. The dream your child told you over breakfast, the email your friend sent you about her trip out West, the joke your coworker told you at the water cooler – nothing but stories.

And not only do we have an insatiable hunger for stories, our appetites are as diverse as we are. While we crave stories in general as human beings, as individuals, we seek out particular kinds of stories – fiction and nonfiction, romance, fantasy, horror, historical, and so on. No matter what kinds of stories you write, there are people out there who want to read them, need to read them.

So, dear writer, when you are feeling low or confused or doubtful of your path, when you are questioning the sanity of spending an entire life putting one word down after another, remember that the world runs on stories: big stories and small, the stories heard round the world and the stories written only for your own heart, sad stories and happy, comforting stories and stories that upset the status quo, realistic and fantastic stories, tragic and funny stories … all kinds of stories, created by all kinds of people, and consumed by every human being on the planet. Remember this, and keep writing.

 

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Jamie Lee Wallace Hi. I’m Jamie. I am a content writer and branding consultant, columnist, sometime feature writer, prolific blogger, and aspiring fiction writer. I’m a mom, a student of equestrian arts, 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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How to Handle Overwhelm

Getting overwhelmed can happen to the best of us. It can happen when we least expect it, but most often, I think, we at least have a glimmer of when it’s about to hit us.

Overwhelm can hit when, like Jamie recently and me back in December/January, your computer crashes in the middle of the workweek and it takes a while to get back ‘on track.’

Overwhelm can hit when you have slow periods with barely any work, then start saying ‘yes’ to any work opportunities that arrive, and within  days or weeks you find yourself with so much work you don’t know when you’ll sleep again.

Similarly, overwhelm can hit when you have a few projects (sometimes even one) that take much longer than you estimated, or that you consider ‘done’, arrive back on your desk needing rewriting or other fixes — and your schedule is full already.

What do you do when overwhelm hits you? My best advice is: step away. It sounds crazy when there’s so much to do, I know.

Step away from all of it. Breathe. Do something mindless or fun or at least not-at-all-related to your work. Re-focus. Re-prioritize. Develop a plan of attack. Move back into the work.

Family of live crabs overwhelmed and washed up by tide

Family of live crabs overwhelmed and washed up by tide

What made me think of this post was seeing an entire family of crabs wash up on the beach over the weekend. Two large crabs, some smaller crabs, and some incredibly tiny crabs all together washed up from a wave as the tide peaked. I imagine they had been swimming just under the surface, having a family day, and then they took a step into a current (perhaps rip tide) and lost all ability to control their own progress.

They became overwhelmed with forces outside of their control. They got left on the sand and struggled to gain their footing and regroup and just as they (almost) managed that, another wave washed over them, tumbled them around, pulled away and left them struggling again. This went on for many minutes. The struggle was real. The crabs weren’t going to drown, but they certainly were overwhelmed.

I thought that the couple of crabs that remained where they were each time the wave pulled and pushed against them – the ones that seemingly remained calm and let the water flow as it would – were the ones that were going to end the day on a good note. I felt the crabs that scrabbled for a grip on the sand and ran this way and that without any plan were going to end up bird food as soon as they exhausted themselves.

We can’t always let go or step away completely, but when overwhelm hits, we need to find a way to stay calm, focus, and develop a plan. Otherwise we’re struggling and may end up too exhausted to do anything at all.

What do you do when you sense overwhelm approaching?

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

On Being Human and a Writer Plus Shareworthy Reading and Writing Links

multiple identitiesBeing human is complicated. And, being a human who writes adds a whole other layer of complexity to your existence.

Unlike animals who live simple lives that inhabit a single identity, we humans must constantly shapeshift between myriad roles, sometimes changing who we are multiple times over the course of a single day. In any given twenty-four hour span, I am mother, lover, daughter, sister, neighbor, mentor, and friend. I am a professional freelance content creator, an aspiring fiction writer, and a nascent entrepreneur. I am a caretaker, housekeeper, and accountant, a cook, laundress, and student.

We slip in and out of these skins in a matter of seconds, like chameleons adapting to the colors, textures, and shadows of a rapidly changing environment. With each transition, we must rebalance ourselves around a new set of expectations and priorities. We change our behavior and make choices based on new criteria, which are defined by a reordered set of obligations and responsibilities.

I wonder sometimes if writers, and perhaps actors, are better suited than other humans to the constant “costume changes” of life. We are, after all, used to creating characters and stepping into their lives as if they were our own. Our vocation requires that we regularly shift out of our own existence and preconceived notions, letting our words carry us to different times, places, and situations so we can see the world from a different perspective – explore, imagine, and experiment.

But, even if our writing does make us slightly better suited to the life of a quick-change artist, it also puts extra strain on our most precious resources: time, attention, and energy.

And so, I sometimes wonder if my life would be simpler if I didn’t write. I wonder if my days would feel more manageable if I didn’t insist on cramming this “extra” identity of “writer” into the limited number of hours available to me. I wonder if I would feel “lighter” if I could somehow turn off the part of my brain that is always running in the background – processing every experience and feeling through the lens of my writer’s mind, squirreling away story ideas, wrestling with my inner critic, and constantly bearing the heavy weight of guilt about the writing I’m not doing.

Because trying to blend and balance all these identities can be draining and frustrating. We cannot have it all. More to the point, we cannot have it all at the same time. As my dad is fond of saying, “You can have anything you want. You just can’t have everything you want.” Every accomplishment demands its pound of flesh. The road to any goal is paved with sacrifices and compromises. You cannot simultaneously pursue two different goals any more than you can simultaneously inhabit two different identities. One pursuit, one role must always take center stage while the others temporarily fade into the background.

Whenever I try to be and do two things at once, I fail miserably. When my daughter is home sick from school, for instance, I repeatedly make the mistake of trying to combine being a doting mother with being a dedicated freelancer. The result is that I am, in those misguided moments, terribly inadequate in both areas. There is no such thing as multi-tasking. We simply aren’t wired that way.

So we are left to try and figure out how to build lives that can accommodate all our identities and goals. Maybe we adopt a big-picture, phases-of-life philosophy that requires us to set certain roles aside for years at a time while we focus the lion’s share of our resources on another role. Perhaps we take a more granular approach that structures each week or even each day into separate blocks of time in which we can inhabit each role.

Whichever strategy we try, we will doubtless still have challenging, heartbreaking days that make us question the sanity of continuing to fight for our writer’s identity.

But even on my worst days, even when I feel like an utter failure in all my roles and am so tired and worn out by the effort of shifting back and forth that giving up seems like the sanest choice, even on those days I know in my heart that I turning away from being a writer is never really an option. Because being human is complicated. And being a human who writes is the only way I know to navigate the complexity of life.

_jamie sig

 

 

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What I’m Reading:

While I’ve been racing to keep up with client deadlines, I have had precious little time to inhabit my Reader identity, but I did complete two books a couple weeks ago that I haven’t yet had a chance to share:

Clariel by Garth Nix

book clarielHaving recently finished reading the third book in Nix’s Old Kingdom series, Abhorsen, I was delighted to discover that he had written a prequel: Clariel. I chose, as I did with the others in this series, to listen to this story via Audible. I was slightly disconcerted in the beginning because the audio version of this fourth book in the series is narrated by a different voice artist than the first three. I had so enjoyed Tim Curry’s performance, that it took me a while to get used to Graeme Malcolm, but I eventually came around.

I don’t have much experience with prequels, but I enjoyed this one very much. The protagonist is a complex character whose nuanced inner conflicts make it difficult if not impossible to draw hard lines between good and evil, right and wrong.

I recommend this whole series, and would almost say that this was one of my favorite books in the series. It doesn’t follow all the rules, and I liked that. I also liked discovering that Nix has a fifth Old Kingdom novel set to release this October. Goldenhand will continue Lirael’s story, and I can’t wait!

My Grandmother Asked Me to Tell You She’s Sorry by Fredrick Backman

book grandmother sorryThis book took me by surprise. It was yet another serendipitous find at the RiverRun bookstore in Portsmouth, NH. I have the best luck there, discovering new books. Here is the description of My Grandmother Asked Me to Tell You She’s Sorry from the publisher’s site:

Elsa is seven years old and different. Her grandmother is seventy-seven years old and crazy—as in standing-on-the-balcony-firing-paintball-guns-at-strangers crazy. She is also Elsa’s best, and only, friend. At night Elsa takes refuge in her grandmother’s stories, in the Land-of-Almost-Awake and the Kingdom of Miamas, where everybody is different and nobody needs to be normal.

When Elsa’s grandmother dies and leaves behind a series of letters apologizing to people she has wronged, Elsa’s greatest adventure begins. Her grandmother’s instructions lead her to an apartment building full of drunks, monsters, attack dogs, and old crones but also to the truth about fairy tales and kingdoms and a grandmother like no other.

This book has so many endearing and admirable qualities that it’s hard to know where to start. It left my heart feeling a little more opened and my soul feeling a little more comforted. It wove the magic of story and the complexity of love into a warm and protective blanket of understanding and hope. I am glad that I chose to purchase this one, rather than borrowing it, because I have a feeling it’s one I’ll return to.

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My Favorite Blog Reads for the Week:

 

Finally, a quote for the week:

pin writing heals

Here’s to embracing being human and a writer, crafting a life that encompasses all your identities and your goals, and never giving up on any part of yourself. 
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Jamie Lee Wallace Hi. I’m Jamie. I am a content writer and branding consultant, columnist, sometime feature writer, prolific blogger, and aspiring fiction writer. I’m a mom, a student of equestrian arts, 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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Photo Credit: Paris Seawell via Compfight cc

Friday Fun – Full Moon Writing

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: Do you find that the full moon affects your creativity, focus, or some other aspect of your writing practice?

JME5670V2smCROPJamie Wallace: I’m not all that big into astrology, but there are two celestial influences I definitely believe in: the full moon and Mercury retrograde.  As far as the full moon is concerned, I do think that it tends to add a little, shall we say, element of devil-may-care attitude to my creative process. It’s not that I suffer from actual lunacy, but more that I feel like the energy of the full moon helps me see the bigger picture so that I can gain some perspective. For instance, if I’ve been obsessing over a particular project and letting my inner demons whittle away at my confidence, a full moon can help me get out of my head so I can move forward. A full moon is good like that.

Lisa_2015Lisa J. Jackson: I haven’t noticed any difference between the phases of the moon and my creativity, but I also don’t follow the moon phases – other than noticing when it’s a clear night and the moonlight is like a spotlight in my window! I think it’d be bad to know I could be more creative on a full moon – then I might want to put aside that night for a writing frenzy every time it happened! And then blame the moon for lack of creativity at other times.🙂

 

 

Resources for Readers

As a writer, I’m also a huge reader. Over the last 10 years, I’ve transitioned from someone who reads all my books in paper form to someone who uses multiple formats to get all my reading done. I love listening to books on CD and I always have a book on my Kindle app on my phone. Now I’m never, ever caught without a book to read!bookssmall

I use my local library all the time, mostly for CDs to listen to. If they don’t have the book I want, I can usually get it through inter-library loan.

One resource I didn’t use until recently is the online library resources I have access to with my library card. I’ve tried to use it multiple times in the past but there has always been some difficulty with using a Mac computer and getting access to the online library.

Well, either it’s gotten a lot easier or I’ve gotten a lot smarter—okay, it’s definitely gotten a lot easier—but I now have access to a whole new world of library resources.

You can get started by downloading the Overdrive app to your smart phone or going to the Overdrive website on your computer. Once there, you choose your local library and enter your library card number to get access to the state library resources. In my case, I have access to the NH State Library.

The NH State Library works very similarly to your local library. You can check out books that are available and you can put a hold on books that are already checked out.

Here are some of the resources available to you:

Audiobooks: my favorite way to read a book these days! You can download a book using the Overdrive app and listen on your phone or you can listen on your computer while you clean the kitchen!

Periodicals: I downloaded the Nook app to my phone and then checked out the latest Writer’s Digest Magazine. Once I’m done I can delete the magazine, but I don’t have to. Periodicals, once downloaded, are not returned. You can read them and keep them for as long as you like.

E-books: You can check out books and return them just as in the brick and mortar library, or they are returned automatically when your time is up. No more late fees!

Videos: The NH State Library apparently only has one video available, but if you have access to another state library, you might have a bigger selection.

Before I go, I’ll just mention one other reading resource you need to know about, if you don’t already. Through the website BookBub, you can sign up to receive a daily email with free and low-cost books from best-selling authors, among others. You can get the newest books here; you just have to scroll through the daily email. Not every author on this list is someone you’ve heard of, but I’ve been pleasantly surprised with the quality of the (free) books I’ve read using this website. I just download the books to my kindle app.

I love having my own personal library I can carry with me everywhere. It’s a book lovers dream come true, especially a frugal book lover!

Diane MacKinnon, MD, Master Certified Life CoachDiane MacKinnon: I’m a writer, blogger, and master life coach, among other things. I’m an avid reader as well as an almost daily writer.

 

 

 

Our Summer Vacation: Writing A Series

OUR WRITING ROADMAPAll summer I’ve been doing blog posts on different aspects of writing a novel. Today let’s talk about how your novel fits into the publishing world, and your own work. Are you writing a stand alone, or is the manuscript you’re working on part of a series?
Stand-alones are just that. They are complete by themselves. The characters, the plot, the setting are all created to exist in a single novel. No prequels, no sequels. This is it.

Series novels are very typical in certain genres. Romance, science fiction, mystery for example. What series means in each of these genres depends on the genre, and also on the publisher. My Clock Shop Mystery series goes under the category of “cozy”, which (in the United States) means a softer traditional mystery. Violence and sex off the page, justice prevails, a town setting that brings comfort to readers.

Not all mystery series are cozy, however. Hank Phillippi Ryan’s Jane Ryland series is more traditional, with thriller elements. Her Charlie McNally series skews more traditional with cozy elements. Thrillers often are series, with the same character in different settings and stories.

Romance series also differ depending on the subgenre they are part of. Sometimes they are series in that the characters are all related. Or perhaps the setting is the same.
One thing to think about when working on your novel—is it part of a series? Could it be? When you’re pitching it to agents, or publishers, that question is going to come up, so be prepared to answer it. If it is, or could be, part of a series, you need to prepare a proposal for it. Lisa wrote a blog post about that a while back. Read it for more details, but here are the highlights:

  • What is the premise of your series? The overarching theme, tie that binds it all together? The setting? What is the hook?
  • Who are the main characters?
  • Who are the other characters in the series?
  • What is a synopsis for the first three books in the series? This can be brief, with much more detail on the first book.
  • What are the marketing opportunities for the series? What is your platform? Who, besides the traditional targeted readers, may be interested in it?
  • What is your biography? Short, with memberships of organizations, social media, etc. included.
  • Your proposal will also need a sample (30 pages, 3 chapters) of the novel.

When I started on this publishing journey, I did not know about proposals. It is a very valuable exercise to work on one, even if you don’t use it to sell your novel. I would finish the first book first, since that act of completion is a huge step and not easily achieved.
Writing is part art, part craft. Getting published is a business. Series or not—a business decision.

One final thought on this–if you want to write a series, read them. Take note of the publishers, and then read other books those publishers put out. If you are planning to self publish, you still should work on a proposal, since it will help you when you are marketing the books.

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As Julianne Holmes, Julie writes the Clock Shop Mystery Series for Berkley Prime Crime. The second in the series, Clock and Dagger, was released earlier this month.