Listening to Your Inner Voice

May 29, 2008 at 12:03 pm | Posted in Meg, motivation, writer's block, writing | 2 Comments
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While I was on ‘hiatus’ (i.e. writer’s block from hell), I did a tremendous amount of work on personal growth and transforming myself into the person I’d like to be. You know, what you wish your obituary will say about you. Morbid, I know. During this time, I listened to numerous books on CD including Jack Canfield’s Success Principles, Joel Ostein’s Become A Better You, and Rhonda Byrne’s The Secret.

 

In addition, I finally read a book that had been gathering dust for years. It is by a group of life coaches and focuses on vision. One of the articles helped me when the words wouldn’t flow and inspired me to return to writing. Written by Claudette Rowley, a life coach I had met with when I had envisioned my own coaching practice, the article discusses the Five Pathways to Listening to your Inner Voice. I adapted Claudette’s words to my struggle with writing and thought I’d share them with you:

 

  1. Check in with your heart- Ignore your head, that inner critic or that logical letdown, and open your heart and soul. Your heart is the source of your creative energy and imagination. It’s the place where romance comes alive.

 

  1. Connect with your body- You know when your story is heading down the right path. You feel alive. Energy pulses through your fingertips and you worry the computer will blow up. The same goes for when you’re forcing the story- you become frustrated. Your stomach ends up in knots. The body has the amazing ability to tell you when your writing works and when it doesn’t. Listen to it.

 

 

  1. Allow your intuition to surface- Ever write a scene and when you reread it, you wonder where the hell it came from? This has happened to me often. The words flow like I’m in a trance and I don’t recognize the paragraphs the next day. I know I’ve written them (unless someone has tapped into my computer and kindly left the brilliant scenes for me), but they came from a different level of consciousness. Something greater than my forced cognition.

 

 

  1. Lock the self-saboteur in the closet- Learn to distinguish from the self-saboteur from the self-editor. The editor looks at the writing with constructive criticism- recognizing areas of brilliance and identifying ways to improve the scenes needing work. These ideas don’t come self-doubt or negativity, but encouragement to create the best story possible. It’s important that a writer knows when the inner critic has surfaced and to lock that destructive energy away.

 

  1. Identify limiting beliefs- We all have a belief system that gets us through the day. Unfortunately, sometimes these beliefs hold us back from reaching our goals and dreams. If you always find yourself inches away from the place you’d like to be, it may be a useful exercise to figure out if you have any values or beliefs that are holding you back. Identifying them allows you to become aware so you can change them.

 

Try to use some of these tactics in your own life and see what happens.

 

-Meg

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Overcoming Writer’s Block

May 8, 2008 at 10:04 am | Posted in inspiration, Meg, writer's block, writing | 8 Comments

Writer’s block for a writer is like a broken leg for a marathoner. You can’t do the thing that brings you stress relief, releases endorphins (anyone who’s written that perfect scene knows the ‘writer’s high’) or fulfills a life long dream.

Yet a runner can go to a doctor who can put the leg in a cast, and after an indeterminate amount of time, the leg will heal. Maybe some rehab is necessary, but most likely the runner will be back on her feet in no time. Back to training and reaching that goal. For a writer, there is no literary doctor. No prescribed healing tasks that will set it right. Nothing to guarantee a complete restore to health. So what does one do? What did I do?

First, I tried to push through it, but then remembered my personal promise to not force myself to do anything in life that wasn’t fun. Then I took a vacation, otherwise known as giving up. And I enjoyed it. For a while. I read, I watched way too much TV and I walked around aimlessly without that one thing that I did for MYSELF and for personal enjoyment. And I realized I missed it. I MISSED WRITING.

So the cast is off and I’m ready to start my rehab. I surfed the web, looking for sites to overcome writer’s block and I came across this great one: http://grammar.about.com/od/yourwriting/a/wblockquotes.htm

Writers on Writing: Overcoming Writer’s Block from Richard Nordquist http://grammar.about.com/mbiopage.htm. On the site, he captures numerous points in a writer’s career where writer’s block may interfere with the process and uses quotes from successful authors to help jumpstart over the hurdles. These are the ones that caught my eye, but I recommend you refer to the site for full details:

GETTING STARTED:
§ “The easiest thing to do on earth is not write.”
(William Goldman)
§ “Writing is 90 percent procrastination: reading magazines, eating cereal out of the box, watching infomercials. It’s a matter of doing everything you can to avoid writing, until it is about four in the morning and you reach the point where you have to write.”
(Paul Rudnick)

The easiest thing to do is not write- very true. There are all the things that Paul Rudnick itemized that you can do to not write. BUT, and this is a big but, if you are a writer, if composing sentences and scenes is in your blood, after a while, the hardest thing to do is not write. It shows in your attitude and behaviors. It hurts.

CAPTURING IDEAS:
§ “I carry a notebook with me everywhere. But that’s only the first step. Ideas are easy. It’s the execution of ideas that really separates the sheep from the goats.”
(Sue Grafton)

I started doing this. Jotting down ideas, moments, descriptions of setting and people. This helped me realize that I was back in my writer’s head- seeing the world as a resource and it excited me.

COPING WITH THE BADNESS:
§ “We can’t be as good as we’d want to, so the question then becomes, how do we cope with our own badness?”
(Nick Hornby)
§ “You don’t start out writing good stuff. You start out writing crap and thinking it’s good stuff, and then gradually you get better at it. That’s why I say one of the most valuable traits is persistence.”
(Octavia Butler)
§ “People have writer’s block not because they can’t write, but because they despair of writing eloquently.”
(Anna Quindlen)
§ “I think writer’s block is simply the dread that you are going to write something horrible. But as a writer, I believe that if you sit down at the keys long enough, sooner or later something will come out.”
(Roy Blount, Jr.)
§ “Lower your standards and keep writing.”
(William Stafford)

WOW- this section is what made me see the light. What hit me over the head and said, “You idiot! You let your inner fears stop you from doing something you loved!” I did stop writing, even this blog, because I felt my writing was horrible. I had let people read my last novel without it being polished and the feedback was nonexistent. I should’ve held myself back until I knew it was ready and showed it to someone who would give me feedback on what was right and what still needed work.

ESTABLISING A ROUTINE”
§ I only write when I am inspired. Fortunately I am inspired at 9 o’clock every morning.”
(William Faulkner)
§ “I have to get into a sort of zone. It has something to do with an inability to concentrate, which is the absolute bottom line of writing.”
(Stephen Fry)
§ “Close the door. Write with no one looking over your shoulder. Don’t try to figure out what other people want to hear from you; figure out what you have to say. It’s the one and only thing you have to offer.”
(Barbara Kingsolver)

With all life demands, I do find it hard to establish a daily routine when it comes to my writing. The idea of putting six pages together each day won’t work for me. Instead, I hope to carve out one day a week that I can concentrate on my latest work. Progress won’t be easy, but I can use other unstructured time to think, jot down notes and observe the world to further develop characters and scenes. That way, even though I only have a set number of hours each week to write, I am working on my story every day.

WRITING:
§ “My block was due to two overlapping factors: laziness and lack of discipline. If you really want to write, then shut yourself in a room, close the door, and WRITE. If you don’t want to write, do something else. It’s as simple as that.”
(Mary Garden
§ “If you want to write, write it. That’s the first rule.”
(Robert Parker)
§ “The writer’s duty is to keep on writing.”
(William Styron)
§ “Read a lot. Write a lot. Have fun.”
(Daniel Pinkwater)

It sounds so easy, go write, but when you’ve fallen into one of the above traps, it’s not just about putting words on the page. It’s finding your inner confidence to battle the critical demons or carving out the time to join coherent sentences into paragraphs. Or maybe it’s figuring out the conflict that will tear your hero and heroine apart or even developing your characters. No matter what the cause of your writer’s block, I empathize with you and feel your pain. I promise the cast will come off eventually and when you are ready, you will be able to run again. And maybe even fly!

-Meg

Writer Burnout – Friend or Foe

March 12, 2008 at 12:39 pm | Posted in Bria, career, creativity, writer's block, writing | 14 Comments

This month we had two wonderful Honorary Heartlettes guest blog for us. Mary Buckham and Diana Snell inspired us all.

Throughout the week people wrote in with their struggles and thanked the ladies for their generous words. There was a common denominator through most of the issues – they were all caused by burnout.

While burnout feels bad, it isn’t necessarily a bad thing. Think of it as a catalyst.

Burnout forces you to look at what you’re doing and how you’re doing it.

Last week Jessica told me about a book she was reading and it dawned on me that I hadn’t read a book in weeks – everyone who knows me, gasp now. Typically I read a book each day and (when I’m not on assignment) I can read 2 a day and still enjoy my writing time.

But, with the Golden Heart finalists to be announced in 14 days, I’m in a bit of a panic. All the changes I wanted to make! All the editing that needed to happen! The proofing! The polishing! How will I ever finish?

Do nothing but write/edit/rewrite/edit/read/edit/polish/edit/polish. . . Burnout.

Burnout wasn’t on the list, but it happened.

This weekend I read two new books and one of my keepers. I watched a movie. I made some notes. I worked on my CP’s stuff. I started researching warriors’ castes and societies as war itself.

And the dreams started again – the ones that are so clear I have to get up in the middle of the night and write.

Burnout forced me to change my patterns and nothing but creative good came from it.

Treating writing as a career means knowing that, just like any job, you need to manage your stress before it becomes burnout. But once it does, just like any job, there are cures:

Look at your schedule – is it realistic, is it manageable, have you added unneeded extras, are you delegating (yes, your 8-year-old can unload the dishwasher.)

Are you beating your head against a wall – sometimes we call it “writer’s block” but it may just be burnout. Change your routine with one of Bria’s R’s:

 1. Research – sometimes research makes us look at what we’re writing about in a brand new way

2. Relaxation – it isn’t that you don’t have the time to relax, it’s that you don’t have the time to not relax. Writers are creative people and stress kills creativity – even if it’s one night off – relax and recharge.

3. Renewal – Beyond relaxation, renewal brings a freshness to your life and your writing. Think of relaxation as recharging a battery – great, but the life isn’t as strong or as long lasting. Renewal is buying yourself a brand new battery right out of the factory. Everyone’s is different. I gave myself a weekend alone in New Hampshire hiking (please, no lectures on hiking alone.) the time, the atmosphere and the activity brought me home excited to get to work again.

4. Remove Refuse – You heard me. Stop being so nice. There are people, activities and belongings that clutter your life and create a negative impact on, not only your writing career, but your life, your relationships and your joy. Get rid of them.

So, get out there, burn your burnout and then, Go Write.
-bria

Recovery – Getting Over Writing Roadblocks

February 27, 2008 at 10:16 am | Posted in Bria, getting organized, goal setting, motivation, writer's block, writing | 1 Comment

Writing is wonderful. Writing is difficult. Writing is relaxing. Writing is stressful.

And life multiplies each of those sentiments times ten.

As many of you know I’ve been jobless for 8 months due to lots of things (as you read this, I’m in training on my first day at my new job HURRAY.) During my unemployed time, I tried to make the most of my “struggling artist” phase and got a lot done on the writing front.

It was going so well. Too well apparently.

Flashback to several weeks ago when my laptop died and brought part of my hard drive with it. Now it’s back and I need to get remotivated, reorganized, and generally stop feeling bad for myself.

But how?

1. Assess
What did I lose and how can I replace it?
(ex: This week I must finish comparing paper trail to old saved hard copy)
2. Plan
Whenever taking on a large chunk of work, break it into smaller bits and schedule it. Goals can be motivators if they’re S.M.A.R.T. Goals
3. Act
Wallowing can be a huge barrier. Personally, I spent ½ the week wallowing and now it’s time to really jump into Step One.

A small writing disaster isn’t the only time we need to recover. We all have things that pull us away from our writing.

Computer issues
Family issues
Work issues
Transportation issues
Illness
Weather getting you down
Scattered Priorities

And tons of others – the key is not to let something that slows you down, stop you. I remember the days of growing up in sports and my soccer coach literally yelling “run through the pain” (I hear they don’t yell that until you’re in high school now) – but that is sometimes what you have to do:

Write Thru The Pain

Because eventually, it becomes a joy again.
Go Asses/Plan/Act – but, whatever you need to do, find your joy.
-bria


I’m ready to get up now…

January 11, 2008 at 9:00 am | Posted in goals, life, Meg, resolutions, writer's block | 2 Comments

It’s official. I think the words have left me. I’ve been staring at the blank computer screen for five straight minutes trying to think of my opening line for this New Year’s writer’s resolutions blog. Now five minutes is not the black hole of time, but when your mind is empty and you’re a writer, (and you haven’t been writing for months) those precious three hundred seconds can feel like you’re trapped in space without oxygen.

This moment of frozen panic lead me to thinking about the beautiful email Jessica wrote last night in response to my quiet cry in the darkness…a tiny question hidden at the end of an irrelevant email…what if I never write again? Her response was perfect. She never allowed me to accept that I will NEVER write again, but gave me some avenues to pursue in my investigation of ‘why’ I’m not writing. And the one that stuck with me is her comment about having an inner three-year-old that stomps her feet, pouts and gives up. And having a real live three-year-old in my daily experience, I must admit there are some similarities to the standard tantrum and my recent behavior.

When I completed my last manuscript, I was so proud of it. I actually had a high concept plot (or what I think might be one), characters I wanted to have coffee with, some romance, some drama, even a conflict or two. I felt it was the best writing I had ever done. I let other people read it and got some great feedback and suggestions of areas needing work. Then I sent it out. And the rejections poured in and my heart sank. I started revisions and hated them. Every new word or chapter felt wrong so I stopped. And NaNo started and I struggled. Tremendously. So I threw myself on the floor, kicked my feet and screamed.

Okay, not really on that last part, but that is what I wanted to do. I admit I did pout, and I did growl a few suppressed primal screams. And I definitely whined (just read any blog in the last three months- hell reread this blog!). Therefore, summing it all up- I had an adulterized tantrum. And what happens to a whiny, tantrumming child? She goes in time out.

So here I am, still sitting in time out, literally facing the corner of the room (ironically that’s how my computer is set up). And I’m ready to get up. I want to. So I apologize to my creative process for forcing you into NaNo. It wasn’t the right outlet and did more harm than good. And I’m sorry, my sensitive soul, for rushing you into the world when you weren’t strong enough to deal with the rejections. The story needed polish and I shouldn’t have sent it out to agents when it wasn’t ready. And to my inner negativity, I need to put a leash on you and not let you roam free. Turn to the dark side again, I will not.

For 2008, I will follow my personal promise made last week. In my writing, I will remember that life is too short. I will write when I want to and how I want to. If the story is not working for me, I will find a new one. I will not waste my time and talent on something that weighs me down or does not excite me. I will write without thought of what others will think or how they will react. I will write in hopes of one day getting published, but not to get published. I will write for me.

-Meg

5 Minutes Until the Miracle

October 15, 2007 at 9:35 am | Posted in editing, Jessica, procrastination, self-editing, writer's block, writing | 3 Comments

Self-editing. That’s the topic for us Purple Hearts this week.

“For a writer, the ability to look at a sentence and see what’s superfluous, what can be altered, revised, expanded, and, especially, cut, is essential. It’s satisfying to see that sentence shrink, snap into place, and ultimately emerge in a more polished form: clear, economical, sharp.”

In one of those serendipitous moments, this week I started reading the book, Reading Like a Writer, by the aptly named Francine Prose . The prose above comes from page 2 of that book and has come in handy, not only to help shore up my week’s post but to also provide a much-needed refresher to my perspective on self-editing.

I have approached editing, revision, and rewriting as essential but abject pains in the writing process. But because I get so weighed down in the stress of this part of the process, I often lose sight of the point of the exercise – to make a rough draft better, or a good book great.

Which doesn’t mean I don’t struggle with how to do just that. I have been so frustrated with this process that I have started to question how much longer I want to do this. It’s a painful admission.

But then someone posts some words-for-witers-to-live-by to one of my writing loops and one entry in particular steals my attention: You are closest to making it when you are closest to quitting.

It’s like being a member of the mob for me – just when you try to get out, they do something to Suck. You. Back. In. Argh!

I was watching the Today Show one morning last week and a segment featured a family whose mother’s priceless heirlooms got lost on a trip to the hospital and dumped in the trash. To make a long story short, the family persuaded the trash company to dump the hospital’s compacted waste at a separate site at the landfill so they could search the enormous amount of trash. A compassionate custodian from the hospital joined in to help in the search for this needle-in-a-haystack.

Throughout the arduous process, the custodian encouraged the family by repeating his belief that you cannot quit five minutes before the miracle. After six hours of digging, the family was ready to admit that they were never going to find their mother’s lost jewelry. The custodian ripped open just one more bag . . . and located the heirlooms.

He refused to quit five minutes before the miracle.

Self-editing is the figurative enormous amount of trash I have to overcome. But if I refuse to quit five minutes before the miracle, then perhaps I, too, will be able to sort through the detritus and find the buried treasure in my manuscript.

And besides, Joey-Bag-of-Doughnuts can be very persuasive.

I hope your week is full of miracles and serendipitous moments!

-Jessica

Blogging is NOT Procrastinating

July 9, 2007 at 9:33 am | Posted in inspiration, Jessica, procrastination, writer's block, writing | Leave a comment

I started writing because I actually liked to do it. In my newbie naivete, it was fun, it was challenging, and it was something I could control. Somewhat. But now I am at that point in the learning curve where writing is actual work. Hard Work. (Yes, it deserves a capital W.) And after putting in my forty hours or more at my day job each week, there are times when I really don’t want to come home from work only to work some more, and anything – and I mean just about anything – is way more appealing than wrestling with that amorphous, sticky blob that I, at times, affectionately refer to as my work-in-progress.  (And can I just marvel at how working moms manage it?!)

 Why tear my hair out when procrastination is so much easier?!  

And I am aided in the temptation to procrastinate by my ever-present ‘friends’ – the enablers otherwise known as the pesky perfectionist, the evil internal editor, and the constant critic.

How do I procrastinate thus? I could truly count the ways. But in the interest of brevity, I will own up to just one: I can best justify my ‘not writing’ time when I am reading. And the justification is strongest when those books are on the business, motivation, and craft of writing. In my defense, a number of these books have helped me a great deal. However, I also know that writing is something that one learns by doing, and reading about it and hoping that I’ll get published is a far cry from logging the hours and emitting the proverbial blood, sweat, and tears it takes to get there.

In the book, Starting From Scratch, best-selling author Rita Mae Brown said it in a way that was both diagnostic and medicinal for me:

Never hope more than you write.

I admit – I am a great hoper. Without hope I cannot dream so I know that, for me, hope is an important part of my every day. But it helps to remember that I strive to be equal parts writer and reaching that pinnacle that I want to reach takes work. When I attended my first RWA-National conference, I looked around at the two thousand or so writers also in attendance and it really hit home for me that for every minute I’m not writing there are thousands of other writers who are.

So . . . I will acquiesce that procrastination has its place, but there are few things that can derail hopes and dreams as quickly or thoroughly. My challenge to myself and to you is this: the next time the siren call of email – or a blog – sings to you or the all-day marathon of last season’s Miami Ink or America’s Next Top Model or Top Chef temtps to glue you to your television (don’t ask), remember what your hopes are and ask yourself – have you logged the writing time today to get you there?

-Jessica

When The Words Will Not Come

June 25, 2007 at 10:00 am | Posted in creativity, Jessica, writer's block, writing | 2 Comments

If you have been with us during this first month of the Purple Hearts, you will know that we each took a turn on a specific topic each week.  We left the last week of the month as an open topic week, and, while it sounded good at the time, I find it both freeing and paralyzing in its execution.  What to write?  What to do when the words will not come?

Not that that ever happens when I sit down to hack away at my work-in-progress.  Much.

When one creative outlet just will not work, some time spent on another one may serve as just the activity to break through the dam.  A friend and fellow writer, Heather Laskowski, is also a gifted artist.  She took her love of layout and design, paired it with her talent for paper art, and developed a Storyboarding Workshop that she has conducted at a number of writers’ organizations and conferences. (Storyboard Workshop Handout)

Essentially, she uses scrapbooking techniques to create four storyboards per WIP that illustrate her plot, setting, theme, and the general physical characteristics, the goals, motivations, and conflicts of her characters.  By using images from magazines, the Internet, arts and craft stores, cards, etc., she manages to capture the entire tone of her books.  I have participated in this workshop as well as worked one-on-one with her and each time I have come away with a greater understanding for my project at hand.  A plot twist I had not conceived before.  A relationship complication that will up the sexual tension.  A new character that will ratchet up the conflict.  This process forces participants to think through all the tough aspects of putting a story together, and my work has been the better for taking the time to fully picture the story.

And I have heard similar feedback from every person she has led through the process.

So if you are a visual person and find yourself suffering from writer’s block, a four page storyboard spread may be just the thing to help get your WIP back on track.  A word of warning based on personal experience: the lure of the craft store is a strong one and can easily result in lots of time and money spent acquiring accessories for storyboards.  When you find yourself hopelesly immersed in celebrity photos and paper stock and stickers and photo mounting squares, STEP AWAY from the craft supplies and get back to the writing. 

I want to thank Heather for her willingness to share this information with us. You can find more information about her and her new artistic venture, Merry Moon Designs, at her web site: www.merrymoondesigns.com

 -Jessica

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