Breaking Writing Dreams Down

 

When my husband and I first moved into our house we had so many dreams. First we were going to change this, add that and then we were going to find out about creating something else. At the time we had a 15 month old and I was pregnant with what would be the second of our six children. Our dream list got longer and longer and we soon realized that it was truly out of hand. We had big dreams but we didn’t have any plans on how to reach those dreams.

20170103_125922“Yeah, we’ll have to do all of this after we find the cure for cancer,” we finally said to each other.

It seemed at the time that finding that elusive cure would have been far easier than tackling all that was on our list. To this day, if one of us is attempting something too big without a plan, we’ll mention that we should probably try to cure that cancer before we start the project.

It’s January, we all have brand spanking new writing dreams for the upcoming year.

You’ve carefully written them down. You may have even posted them on your bulletin board to ensure you see them every day.

Now – why is it that even with all this new resolve, (which was the same resolve you had last year in fact) you haven’t made much progress?

Perhaps it’s because you’re trying to cure cancer.

A dream without steps is just that – a dream. Dreams are big. So big that they are difficult to contain. They contain happiness, sunshine, rainbows, and our future.

Dreams are pretty incredible. Finding the cure for cancer is a dream (for now anyway.)

But here’s the thing, you can’t measure a dream. What you can measure however are goals.

And you achieve goals by identifying steps or mini -goals.

So here’s an example.

Dream – I want to be a published author this year.

Okay, that’s a big dream, if you just left it like that then is it any wonder, you may still not be published?

But let’s take that dream and set some goals:

Goal – I will get an article published in a magazine by April.

That there is a measurable goal. You either do or do not achieve it.

But even that goal is a bit large, so now you break it down in to steps (mini-goals)

  • I will come up with 10 good topics for magazine articles by the end of each week.
  • I will flesh out an outline for each of those topics.
  • I will gather information and create an article pitch.
  • I will submit two magazine pitches a week until April
  • And I will volunteer to write a newsletter article, blog post, etc each week that I can use as a credential in my pitches.

Maybe your goal is larger – You want to write a book.

Same thing goes. You have to break it down.

  • Perhaps your mini-goal is to write 1500 words a day.
  • Maybe it’s to not get up from your desk until you’ve finished a chapter.
  • Or maybe it’s to go to the airport to get some character ideas.

The possibilities are endless because this is your goal and your dream. It’s up to you to figure out how to get there.

So take a good look at what you hope will happen in the New Year and begin to work backward. Keep asking this statement -“to get to this step, what do I first need to do?…” and keep answering until you find yourself sitting in your seat in front of your computer or notebook.

And then go ahead and get to work on your cure.

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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.

The beauty that is Jack Reacher

 

Lee Child’s Jack Reacher books are gems. If you haven’t picked one up (his latest is Night School) then do yourself a favor – get a copy and sit down to read it, but make sure you have a spoon handy so you can enjoy every last bit.

night-schoolI’ve been asked to review Night School for a publication and for that review I’ll be talking about characterization and plot (both excellent) but for this review I want to talk about Child’s writing style.

In a nutshell Child follows the philosophy of – “less is more.”

Child uses short sentences. All the time. Instead of explaining how a situation is affecting Reacher, he’ll use techniques like repetition to “show” us, what Reacher is thinking about. Like this passage which is repeated several times as a way to describe how he views a woman he is working with:

Taller than average, but no wider.

The black dress, the pearls, the nylons, the shoes.

The face, and hair, combed with her fingers.

Looking good.

Reacher is literally fixated on this woman.

In just a few words we know so much about the character Reacher. He’s smart, he’s analytical, he pays attention to detail. He notices things. Think how less effective it would have been if we had been given a full and detailed description of the woman – we would have seen her from the author’s point of view and not the character’s. In stating only the important details, Child lets our minds fill in the blanks.

Here’s another passage where repetition (attention to detail) is effectively used:

“Then he dug in his pocket and gave the guy five American dollars, and asked, “Do you have a phone?”

The guy pointed at the wall. An old Ma Bell pay phone. All metal. For outside a gas station rather than inside a barbershop, but points for effort.

Reacher said, “Does it work?”

“Of course it works,” the guy said. “This is Germany. It was rewired as a normal telephone.”

Reacher dialed the number on Griezmans’ business card. From the envelope with the fingerprint. He got ring tone. The phone worked. Germany. Rewired. “

By using such clipped sentences and observations, Child leads us through the story in real life as the main character experiences it. It’s really an extraordinary writing style which not only gives us a front seat to Reacher, but which also helps the book’s pace race along.

As writers you should be constantly reading and analyzing other works. It’s part of the job. Writing in short sentences and clips may not be the best style for you, but knowing what it can do and how powerful it can be means that if you understand the technique, you can keep it in your tool box to pull out when needed.

Give yourself a treat and go read Night School but along with that spoon, bring a highlighter so that you can take notes on some of the best writing around. Trust me, you won’t be sorry.

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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.

Forgiveness and intention for writers

 

It’s the end of another year and it’s time to think about what your goals will be for the next year.

Like so many of the writers here at this blog, I don’t make resolutions. They are just too difficult to keep and when you inevitably break them, you feel like a failure. No thanks.

Instead I reflect on what I did in the last year, how I can do better, and what it is I hope to accomplish in the coming New Year.

Which brings me to a little New Year’s Day ceremony I used to do with my kids -I don’t do it anymore but maybe I should dig it out and dust it off.

On New Year’s Day, after our annual family breakfast of pancakes, bacon and sliced fruit, I would hand out 6 green leafs cut from construction paper to each member of the family.

On 3 of the leafs we were to write things that we didn’t like about the last year. Things that embarrassed us or that made us feel bad or worthless. Failures, lies, poor performances.  We didn’t have to show anyone what we wrote; we just had to be true to ourselves.

The younger kids would always need help with this, because let’s face it, there is little self-doubt or embarrassment in the very young child, it’s only when we get older that we start to attach morality and shame to our failings.

On the other 3 leafs we wrote goals that we wanted to accomplish for the coming year. A project we wanted to complete, an aspect of ourselves that we wanted to improve upon, something that we wanted to contribute to others.

I’d gather the leafs with the things we didn’t want to remember and we’d gather outside while I burned them in a special cast iron kettle that was only used for this purpose. We’d all watch as tiny wisps of paper ash rose into the sky forever absolving  us of our shame, our guilt, our doubts.

And then we’d take the goal leafs and travel to the bank of a local river where we’d throw the bits of paper into the rushing water, thereby releasing our intentions to the world.

It’s a powerful thing when you allow yourself forgiveness for your mistakes. And it’s just as powerful to put your intentions into words and then send those words outward – a prayer of hope.

You don’t need paper leafs in order to do this ceremony, but it certainly doesn’t hurt – leaf buds signal growth, fallen leafs signal change. If you choose to do this, though, your “bad things of the last year” list needs to be destroyed – fire is a wonderful cleanser. You can’t, for example, write them down in a notebook. A list of bad things reviewed is a list of bad things that are never forgotten or forgiven.

It *is*, however, important to keep your list of intentions for the New Year up front and center. Place it loud and bold on a wall in your office, by your bedside table so be seen at end of and beginning of day, or even attached to your bathroom mirror. A list of goals daily seen is a list that is daily re-enforced.

Whatever you choose to do, make it count.

Consider spending some time this New Year’s Day to reflect on how you can release old doubts and how you can accomplish unique contributions to help make the world a better place.

And then get to it.

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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.

The power of announcing your goals

I belong to a writers’ goal group. It consists of a total of 4 women and when we meet (we try for once a week) we declare our goals to each other. Very simple and yet very powerful. Not only do the goals include our writing goals but they have, over the years, also included personal goals, for example, 2 of us have competed in triathlons as a direct result of declaring that goal and then cheering each other on.

photo credit: Melody Campbell

It’s a mini-support group of the best kind.

The name of our group is D.A.R.E and after 3 years we can’t fully remember what it originally stood for (I do know the D was for Dumbledore) but it doesn’t make any difference, the acronym says what it should say. In the group we dare to dream and we dare to set down on paper what it is we want to accomplish. The power behind being accountable in immense.

This Monday we met for our yearly anniversary meeting. We talked about what we have accomplished in the past year and we also discussed not only our goals but our big dreams for next year. It’s been a busy few weeks, I wasn’t really prepared for the meeting and so in desperation I came up with only some of the more obvious goals.

I’d like to get a little travel in, I want to exercise more, and to do more with our writing.

We talked about writing retreats at relatives houses, and we talked about how we all had tremendous potential, we just need to harness and focus it, in order to keep moving forward. This is the year we’ll get our writing out there, we told each other.

But I also want to do more. I want to make a difference this year, I want to be responsible for change. I want to teach, I want to learn.

Which is why, right after the meeting I purchased a notebook that will be dedicated to my efforts of reaching my goals next year. I’m going to spend the next few weeks thinking about this and deciding exactly what it is I want to accomplish and the best steps to take in order to get me there. I’m also going to identify what success means, how I’ll know when it is I have reached my goal.

When that ball falls on a bright and shiny new year, I’m going to be ready to hit the ground running.

I’ll have a game plan, and, more importantly, I’ll have my 3 friends cheering me along the way.

How about you? What are your goals (writing and otherwise) for the next year and how are you going to be accountable to them?

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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).

Cost of the notebook? 4.99, setting up goals for the next year? Priceless.