Words to remember as we head into a long weekend:
Have fun writers. Be [productive. Write on!
Words to remember as we head into a long weekend:
Have fun writers. Be [productive. Write on!
I’d been working full-time revising a novel from August twentieth until September twenty-first. Those were four glorious weeks of concentrated work, during which I never had to wonder, What am I going to write today? I worked on the revision morning and afternoon, completing all other assignments as breaks.
I love working deeply in a book, where I have its alternative universe to keep me company during the activities of daily living, from weeding the garden to hanging the laundry and other necessary chores. I’m particularly pleased about how I juggled this delicious revision task with the interruptions for the kitchen renovation, which demanded my irregular attention.
I pushed myself to have a typescript finished and printed in time to read it on the train to New York City for a weekend visiting friends, and I managed to proofread this version on the train ride home.
But back home, I didn’t have the anchor of this project to keep me grounded, even though I need to update the document before sending it to my next set of readers. It’s finish work, just like the kitchen, where I needed to make frequent decisions. In fact, the finish work of both the kitchen and novel are similar, demanding decisions about smaller and smaller details – a chapter heading, paragraph break, comma usage for one, and a door stopper, cabinet pulls and knobs for the other. Not just which ones, but where. The details seem endless.
And then there’s family life: my youngest and her partner returned from nearly six months hiking the Appalachian Trail, which they finished on the heels of a hurricane. They returned home tired and hungry. It’s been fun to feed them and hear their stories while they’re still fresh.
The upshot of this break in routine and concentration was first a sense of delirium – so happy to have completed the revision! How wonderful to meet an adult child for dinner in Manhattan before spending the weekend with friends! So relieved the hiking kids are safely off the trail!
But the delirium ended as it always does – with a crash.
I didn’t resume my routine. I didn’t check my planner. I didn’t reign in my mind, and my life wobbled out of control. I missed deadlines for two posts. (This one should have appeared last week.) I went to the grocery store without my list. I spent hours, it seemed, looking for my phone.
After four days, I’d had enough. I returned to my desk, I sifted my emails, and I went for a walk. It was on the walk that the word “Scattered” came to me, and I knew that wobbling from lack of routine and losing my focus would be the subject of a post. And that’s how I found my way back to work.
What’s different from the thousand other times this spinning off-center has happened, is that this time, instead of beating myself up for what I didn’t do, I’m congratulating myself on knowing how to pick up the fragments of my scattered concentration: Go for a walk, return to my desk, and start writing.
For me, the best way to regroup is to go for a walk and listen for my voice.
It works every time.
How to you regain concentration after it’s been disrupted?
Deborah Lee Luskin is a writer, walker and educator. She’s hosting Women Walking and Writing toward Wisdom WALKshop with walker and life coach Kate Lampel Link on Saturday, November 4, from 9 am – 4 pm in Newfane, Vermont. Early Bird registration ends October 7. For more information and to register, click here.
My colleagues here have written eloquently about the value of journaling. Lisa describes journaling as A Method for Creative Discoveries, and Jamie lists 10 Ways Journaling Makes You a Better Writer.
Like both of them, I’ve been journaling since I was quite young. As an only girl in a household of boys, writing was sometimes the only way I could make myself heard. It’s still sometimes the only way I can hear myself.
But now that I’m a professional writer, I sometimes need a break from my desk; that’s when I walk.
Walking is a lot like journaling. Instead of unspooling my thoughts in ink, I hike over the uneven terrain of my mental uncertainty. Before long, my footsteps shake my ideas into place, and I return to my desk with mental clarity.
Sometimes, it’s emotional upset that blocks the words, and walking helps calm me. Being in nature changes my perspective with a long view. I’m reminded, “It’s not about me,” one of The Four Agreements that I find so helpful since reading Don Miguel Ruiz’s book about personal freedom and Toltec wisdom last February.
I read The Four Agreements in preparation for attending two-day “aWALKening to Personal Leadership Retreat” that deepened my understanding of how walking aids my writing and my life.
The retreat affirmed how walking literally and metaphorically helps me move forward.
One of the unintended consequences of that retreat was connecting with Kate – with whom I’ve crossed paths for years, usually on local cross-country ski trails.
Since February, we’ve been walking side-by-side in a deepening friendship. Our walks through the forest have led us to understand better the synergy of walking and writing, two activities that reinforce our personal leadership and help us to live mindful, fulfilling lives.
Kate’s a coach and I’m an educator. We both work primarily with women pursuing self-empowerment, whether pursuing a dream of entrepreneurship (Kate) or reframing the narrative of their lives (me). We hadn’t walked very far together before we started collaborating on a way to bring our knowledge and skills to others.
So it is with great excitement that we’ll be offering Women Walking and Writing toward Wisdom, and all-day WALKshop on November 4, 2017.
Please note: Space is limited and Registration is required.
Last month I attended my first Romance Writer’s of America National Conference in Orlando, Florida. I’ve attended several regional events in New England and New Jersey, but this was my first National Conference. It was a wonderful experience and I’m glad I went in spite of the sweltering temperatures and humidity. This Yankee doesn’t do heat.
RWA conferences are truly professional development conferences for romance writers. Nationals is so on an exponentially larger scale. Regional conferences might see representation from a few publishers. Nationals is a must-do for anyone who publishes romance. Several publishers host signings because above all, romance writers are romance readers. The bigger players are featured in spotlight information sessions and several even host open houses.
In conjunction with the conference Carina Press hosted a contest to win a critique of the first two chapters of your WIP. If picked, you had an opportunity to have your work critiqued by a Carina editor and the other participants in your session.
I’ve had my work critiqued before, but mostly personal essays. People could pick apart my grammar and sometimes the angle I chose to present the story, but those works were based on my experiences. Some find that a vulnerable place to be, but for me, it’s my life, it’s what I experienced and my thoughts. You don’t have to like them, but it’s my truth.
My fiction is different. These are stories I’ve made up. Sure I’m influenced by my experiences, but there is so much more too it. I’m perpetually waiting for someone to pop up and say “You’re doing it wrong!”.
It was time to put up or shut up. I polished my words (with the help of an editor friend) and sent it off. It was a random drawing and according to the staff at Carina, they got a great response. I was stunned when my story was picked. I posted to my RWA chapter Facebook group that I was equal parts excited and nauseous. I was relieved to hear that’s normal.
Each session was an hour and was supposed to have 4 authors in it. Due to scheduling conflicts, our session only had three participants. As part of the process, I had to critique the work of the other authors in my session.
I was nervous reading the others work What if it’s better than mine? Like WAY better. In some ways their work was better than mine, but all in all, I felt like my words held their own. The day of the critique, the excitement and nausea was present full force.
I lectured myself in advance to be quiet and take notes. So much so that at one point they wanted an explanation for something, and I was so intent on listening and taking notes about what they said, I had to be prompted to give the information!
The whole experience was very positive. The other authors offered great insight and it was good for me to hear where they were taken out of the story. Kerri Buckley from Carina was very encouraging and basically told me to finish the damn book! I walked out of there smiling so hard my cheeks hurt.
That’s not to say I agreed 100% with everything they said. Some things they needed more information to understand but I could also see how I could either trim or foreshadow more for clarity.
I am really excited to get back to work on it. In an odd way, I now feel like I have justification. Which is dumb. Because “I want to write” should be enough, but alas, that’s not how my brain works.
I can make time to exercise because that’s good for my health and things fall apart when I’m sick. My writing is harder for me to make time for. Now I feel like I have validation and justification. I’m writing something people want to read.
Have you ever had a piece critiqued? What was your experience?
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 the second draft of her first novel, a work of contemporary, romantic fiction.
Point of View is the perspective from which a story is told.
One of the best ways to understand Point of View is by example, so here are two versions of the same story told from two different points of view.
A Touching Reunion is a story about a time when my husband and I became separated while hiking. I told it to a live audience at a Vermont Public Radio event. It was subsequently broadcast. If you read it or listen to it, you’ll understand why my husband wanted to tell his side of the story.
He’s too busy to write it down, so I’ve taken the liberty of doing it for him. It follows below.
I don’t know that I’ll ever live down forgetting the color of Deb’s eye ever since she broadcast what happened on the radio the time we became separated on the Long Trail.
We didn’t get on the trail until after 3, but Deb was right behind me – right on my heels – even though she was carrying a heavy pack. So I walked faster and pulled ahead.
The next time I stopped, she wasn’t behind me. I doubled back and couldn’t find her, so I hurried ahead.
Desperate, I called the police from a woman’s trailer just before dark. Then I headed back to the trailhead and slept in the car. Or tried to, but a carload of guys from out-of-state pulled in about midnight and started to barbeque. They offered me a burger and beer, said they were heading out first thing to climb Killington. I told them I’d be searching for my wife.
“Sorry man,” they said. If any of these frat boys were married, they didn’t act like it.
I liked being married. I liked being married to Deborah. And I was worried: where was she? What happened? Was she okay? I wouldn’t allow my mind to go further than that.
At first light, the frat boys were snoring in tents pitched in the parking lot. They didn’t even stir when the rescuers started to pull in.
A woman named Josh was in charge. She asked me Deb’s height, weight, hair color, eye color, and her birthday. Deb’s always riding me about getting her birth year wrong, always making her younger than she is. It isn’t intentional, but it’s become one of those tics that’s hard to correct once you’re unsure. So I was afraid they wouldn’t believe I was really her husband if I didn’t get it right, not after being unsure about her eyes. So I guessed a year earlier than I usually do. I think that was right, but what would they do if her ID didn’t match what I said? I couldn’t even prove we were married. Sure, both our names were on the car registration – our different names. Was that going to be another barrier to my credibility? If they didn’t believe I was her husband, how would I ever get her back?
Just then, Josh stepped away to the radio. When she came back, she said, “Your wife’s just called in. A trooper’s gone to pick her up. She’s okay.”
I was so glad to see her, and I did look deeply into her eyes. I wasn’t ever again going to be in doubt to their spectacular, loving, hue. So I did shout, “They’re blue!”
But really, how important was it to the search – if there had been one. As far as I was concerned, the Search and Rescue people could just round up every medium sized, brown haired forty-eight year old white female lost in the woods and we could sort them by eye color later.
Reading is something I’ve always done. When I was a kid, my mom would take away TV as a punishment and once I got over the initial sting of being in trouble, I’d go find a book and that was that. As an adult, I’ve often said, I could live without a TV, but you’ll pry my kindle out of my cold dead hands.
I wish I could remember the first time I heard “To be a good writer, you must be a good reader.” I even Googled the phrase to see if I could find someone other than one of my teachers to attribute it to. I can find many an essay or blog post touting that as truth, but I can’t find a source.
Romance is my genre of choice, but I find my writing is enriched by everything I read, so I work to expand my horizons. That said, I’m an emotional person, and I can be deeply impacted by what I read. I read some mystery, but suspense stresses me out and I need to read thru to find out what happened. Sometimes, my schedule doesn’t allow for a marathon reading session. Horror is a no go for me. The boogeymen take up residence in my brain and I can’t sleep. I enjoy memoir, biography and autobiography. I love in depth news articles about places and experiences different from mine.
My TBR (to be read) pile of Romance books is extensive, but I’m on a bit of a non-fiction kick at the moment. I read Born to Run by Christopher McDougal with plans to go back to fiction, but After I read Deborah’s review of Word by Word by Kory Stamper, I made that my next read. I’m really enjoying it I didn’t expect to laugh so hard at a book about dictionaries. Both books introduced me to new information about the world I live in.
I find that reading across genres strengthens my writing. Bits and pieces of what I’ve read get manipulated, massaged and woven into fictional tales. Now to be clear, I’m not suggesting I read someone’s biography and use their experiences verbatim to create a character. That’s NOT cool. It’s like cooking, take a physical trait from one story and combine it with a personality trait from someone I’ve encountered and expose it to a life changing event from a from my imagination. Boom! I have a rich, three-dimensional character that people want to read about.
Reading about different geographies introduces me to different locals and potentially different motivations for characters and events. This is another area where it is important to do my research to make sure I really understand how things work. We don’t have typhoons in the Eastern U.S., but hurricane season is real. And, the way we prepare in the Northeast is likely a little different from a Floridian’s preparation. The devil is in the details.
These days, the news is sometimes stranger than the imagination, and plot twists and character flaws are the low hanging fruit. Talk about stressful reading! I do think reading makes me a better writer. How about you, can you read while you have a writing project active? What is your preferred reading genre? What genre stretches you?
Lee Laughlin is a writer, marketer, social media consumer and producer, wife, and mom, frequently all of those things at once. 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 the second draft of her first novel, a work of contemporary, romantic fiction
The War of Art by Steven Pressfield is one of the books that, as a writer, you feel obligated to read. It’s right up there with Writing Down the Bones and Bird by Bird, but it perceives and talks about art in a completely different way. It takes a “harder” and more pragmatic view of the creative process and the writer’s life. It’s a no-punches-pulled, nose-to-grindstone, get-off-your-lily-ass-and-do-your-work kind of pep talk.
And, it isn’t.
Despite the fact that he employs a lot of military and warfare metaphors, Pressfield actually has an almost lyrical view of how writers get their ideas and develop their work. He talks a great deal about angels and muses; and he’s not referring to them in a strictly conceptual way. He believes that there are various intelligences operating on different planes of reality who are helping the human race evolve by inspiring artists to bring their work into the physical world.
Pretty cool, right? Almost magical.
I found it interesting that a book titled, The War of Art, has so much to say on the subject of love. While Pressfield is unflinching in his admonitions to stop making excuses and just do your work already, he always circles back to love as a touchstone – as the driving force behind our creative impulses. This is always a helpful reminder. When you are, as my friend puts it, “slaving away in the word mines,” it’s important to remember that you crawled in there of your own accord, and you did it for love.
If you haven’t read this classic yet, I do recommend it. It might not be exactly what you expected, but I guarantee that you will come away with at least one (and likely many) nugget of wisdom to help you beat your Resistance demons. While I’ve had a paperback copy of this book sitting on the shelf forever, it wasn’t until I stumbled across the audio book version (read by one of my all-time favorite narrators, George Guidall) that I finally took the plunge. It’s a short listen – just under four hours including the foreword by Robert McKee.
Love to hear what you think of it if you have already read it or if you decide to listen now.
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. In addition to my bi-weekly weekday posts, you can also check out my Saturday Edition and Sunday Shareworthy archives. Off the blog, please introduce yourself on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, or Pinterest. I don’t bite … usually.
This post originally appeared on the Live to Write – Write to Live blog.