Low Level Fear Can Undermine Your Progress

We’re back in Los Angeles now, but there is almost nothing about our future that is known. I can deal with that lots of times, but I don’t deal well with stressful situations when I’m not sleeping well. Saturday it seemed like I could only think of the downsides and the negatives in our situation. Half of everything I felt I needed to get my To Do list done is on a ship in Sydney Harbour. John talked me through my fears trying to help me pinpoint the problem so we could find some solutions. Then the next day we went to our old church, Bel Air Presbyterian, and the sermon was about anxiety and getting around it.

Wow.

I am always amazed when God steps in and shakes my shoulder to get my attention. Because we have friends who go to both the 9am and 11am services at church and we haven’t seen them for a couple years, we stayed for both services…so I got a double dose of the message. Probably a good thing.  🙂

So Monday I started my week with some time away with John in Palm Springs. My goal was to spend the week working on the print version of Little Miss Lovesick, getting some writing done on my next book and a short story coming out in an anthology, and resting. I would love to end the week with the feeling that I’d caught up on my sleep! By the end of the day yesterday, I already felt better and had made a dent in my To Do list. Now all I can think about is how to make this letting-go-of-anxiety twist an intentional part of my career in 2012.

Next year is leap year – we have a February 29th in 2012. I’ve been thinking about making it my leap of faith year. How can I put that into concrete terms? What can I intentionally do differently next year? And how will that affect my readership? Am I willing to risk losing some blog readers and potential book readers by not only being myself in an even more transparent way, but focusing on taking faith-based risks in my career? For a whole year?

The thought is both scary and exciting. Which feeling will win?  🙂

If you’re also thinking about next year and what goals you want to make for 2012, you might want to consider joining me in my online class. I’m again leading “Going the Distance: Goal Setting and Time Management for the Writer” for the Orange County Chapter of RWA. You can read about the class and sign up for it on that page. I’d love to work together to make our 2012 goals purposeful and doable.

I’m a member of the Dark Side Down Under blog, Australian and New Zealand writers who write speculative fiction of various kinds. Last week I wrote post titled, A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to Getting Published about how I started writing romantic comedies and how I ended up self-publishing one. You might find it fun to see how things worked for me. It was fun to get it all down on paper, so I decided to re-post it this Friday on the OCC RWA blog, too.

Well, I’m feeling much better than on Saturday. I’m sure letting go of the fear of the unknown future went a long way toward getting a lot done already this week. I’m learning a lot about my new career path (self-publishing) from Aaron Shepard with his books, Aiming at Amazon, POD for Profit and Perfect Pages. Those books – and some research trips to bookstores – are helping me figure out how to make the best choices in getting Little Miss Lovesick into print. It’s been tough to focus on doing the best job no matter how long it takes rather than making sure the book is available for sale in time for Christmas orders. But maybe if I don’t let fear influence my decisions, I’ll reap greater rewards in the end.

Retro Blog – Learning Something New Every Day

This is the second week posting some of our favorite blogs of the last two years. We’ll be back next week with new posts – after we take some time out for fireworks and all kinds of holiday fun. I hope you have a very happy and safe New Year’s Eve, and God bless you in 2011!

Originally posted March 18, 2009

I love to learn. Always have. I was the annoying kid in class who got excited about a pop quiz! I haven’t generally been a fan of the kind of writing class you find at college, but I love the kind you find online.

When I first heard of online writing classes, I think it was through Romance Writers of America (RWA) chapters. The classes were primarily taught by published authors <gasp!>, and covered practical topics you need to know to become a published author. Very different from the high-brow stuff I’d heard in college. And far more useful.

What I learned over time is that a 4-week online course is not the only kind of useful class. Yes, it’s necessary (and fun!) to learn how to write better dialogue and how to make revisions that will help sell your book. But I loved learning at what temperature the human head explodes (one-day forensics seminar put on by a medical examiner) and how to produce an independent feature film (UCLA Extension class) and about the life of King David (a class at church).

Those three classes, along with others, helped me with a series I’m writing. There is going to be a huge explosion at the end – the forensics class gave me some ideas. I want to focus the story so that it draws the widest audience without diluting that audience – learned about that in the film class. And hearing about the fighting skills of David’s Mighty Men gave me some ideas for the hero and his family.

In fact, I’ve long been considering going back to school and getting a Master’s Degree, studying where religion, philosophy, anthropology and sociology intersect with storytelling, and why humans have a need for storytelling. If all goes well, I’ll be starting next year!

Meanwhile, I still take online writing classes – balancing them as best as I can with actual writing. LOL! I also am a big fan of buying the CDs of taped workshops at conferences. I am working through the 100 or so workshops from last year’s RWA conference. And I’ve found you can combine work with pleasure if you put them on your iPod or MP3 player and take a notebook and a lawn chair outside in the sun!

If you’re a member of an organization that offers online classes, ask them about volunteering to moderate a few. In our chapter, a group of volunteers each moderate 2-4 classes a year. For giving their time like this, they get to audit all the classes during the year. It’s sooo worth it!

That’s my take on classes – what do you think?

Gift Ideas for Writers

This is perhaps less a post for you, my writer friends, than for your friends and family.  🙂  Over the last several years of birthday, wedding anniversary, and Christmas gift-giving, I’ve asked for a few things not writing related. (John won Husband of the Year for giving me a Tiffany key necklace for our 20th wedding anniversary.) But for me, most of the things I’d like are things I think will help me tell better stories, or tell stories better.

Here is a list of possibilities for you to consider putting on your wish list:

Books – The obvious first choice. But there are all kinds to choose from – research books or journals for the period being written about; nonfiction how to books on character, emotion, plot, etc.; fiction in the genre being written – or something different. (I asked for three or four Jim Butcher books I don’t have because I love his work and because I write urban fantasy so it’s kind of research.)

DVDs – Movies can be great quick forms (2-3 hours instead of days or weeks) of studying story pieces like plot and structure and character and emotion. Of course, they’re also simply fun! (I asked for the first two seasons of the TV show Castle to study how to have a serious topic – in Castle’s case, murder – with a great deal of humor.)

Amazon or iTunes gift cards – Another obvious choice. Nice thing about both is that there are several choices in both of these online stores – music, books, ebooks, and more. Many writers like classical music, soundtracks, or certain kinds of bands based on the “sound” of their current book. (I asked for Creative Mind 2.0 a couple years ago. It’s supposed to help your brainwaves cycle at the most creative level. I have no proof that it works, but I think I write much better/faster when it’s playing.)

Office supplies – Most writers are a sucker for office supplies, and most have specific favorite pens and notebooks. Pocket or purse size notebooks are always good. Be careful not to overload a writer with too many cool journals – there’s a point at which you get so many you can’t use them all. Gift cards to the local office supply store are always useful. (I bought some more expensive but especially pretty notebooks with a matching bag to take to university when I started my master’s degree. John bought me a beautiful pen for my birthday simply because it was beautiful.)

Software – My two favorites this year are Scrivener and Freedom. Both are available for Windows and Mac. Scrivener ($45 USD) helps you organize your work. Freedom ($10 USD) turns off your Internet connection for a user-determined number of minutes so you can focus on your writing.

Online Classes – There are dozens of great classes available for as little as $20. Make up your own little “coupon” and give the writer in your life an extra boost. (I’m teaching an online class on goal setting and time management in January. All three of us here at Routines for Writers love Margie Lawson’s classes, and you can also purchase just the lecture packets.)

Speakers – There are so many kinds of speakers a writer might be interested in. I went to a presentation once given by a medical examiner. Among other crazy things I learned but don’t know if I’ll ever use is the temperature at which the human head explodes. You could buy a ticket now or you could create a homemade coupon for a specific event or a dollar amount. (John sent me to listen to Joss Whedon, and we went to Kevin Smith together at the Sydney Opera House – about $75 each. I know a couple of my friends want to go a weekend conference by Michael Hauge or Robert McKee – $200-700.)

Writer’s conferences and retreats – Conferences can be as short as one day up to a week or more, so prices can range from $50 to several thousand. Another option is giving a writer an opportunity to get away on a little retreat to focus on writing. It might be with a friend at a hotel or timeshare, renting a house together with a group of writers, or just going away alone for a day, a weekend, or a week. (I’ve rented a room at a TraveLodge for a few days because that chain includes free Internet and a continental breakfast, and has an in-room fridge and microwave. John and I decided that a great amount of gifting to me next year is going to be the cost of going to the RWA National Conference in New York City.)

Musical items – Music is supposed to be connected with math and the logical side of your brain, and it’s supposed to help the creative side of your brain work better. I don’t know the details of why, but it’s a good excuse to keep music on my to do list. (John gave me an electronic keyboard for an anniversary present, and guitar lessons for my birthday one year.)

Brain teasers and video games – Anything that works the muscle of my brain or relaxes me enough to refresh my creativity is a good thing, if you ask me. Ideas include word search and crossword puzzle books, jigsaw puzzles, those metal loop puzzles, Wii or Xbox games, Nintendo DS with Brain Age, and so much more. (John gave me Mystery Case Files: Huntsville for Christmas one year, and Bejeweled 2 during my semester break this year. I just have to discipline myself not to play them too often!)

Bubble bath, favorite wines and other relaxants – Even if you have a $10 limit on your Secret Santa, there is always something you can find. Some of my writer friends love the soaps and bubble bath products at a store called LUSH (and they have a $10 Secret Santa package!). Last year a friend gave us a bottle of our favorite dessert wine. I’d be happy to be given a bar of Green & Black’s extra dark chocolate – less than $5.

This list has probably given you a few ideas that aren’t listed here. Feel free to share them with everyone in the comments section. What are some of your favorite gifts?

P.S. If you’re wondering about the photo, I couldn’t find a picture of a Christmas gift. I was at a friend’s wedding this weekend, so it was the latest gift I bought (a gift set of various teas), and I know I’ll never find another good reason to use this beautiful, romantic photograph! LOL!

Routinely Gather Information, Part 1

In addition to routinely writing, we need to routinely gather information. This may come in a variety of forms, many of which you know about. You might want to take online classes and learn something new or brush up on something you need to work on. One of my favorite online teachers is Margie Lawson. She teaches Deep Editing, Writing Body Language and Dialogue Cues Like a Psychologist (the latest one starts May 31 at WritersOnlineClasses.com), Defeat Self-Defeating Behaviors and more.

If you don’t have time for an online class, you may want to sign up for one that uses an email delivery system (such as Yahoo Groups) so you can file all the emails with lectures and comments to read later when you have time. Another method is buying the lecture packets instead of taking the class. I’ve bought Margie’s lecture packets to do on my own time. While taking the class and spending all the time necessary to do the work would probably have netted me faster results, doing the work on my own has been great because Margie’s lecture packets (several hundred pages each) are so thorough.

There are MANY groups that offer online classes – Romance Writers of America (RWA) chapters and other groups like crime writers, mystery writers, etc. offer a discounted rate to their members, but also offer the classes to non-members for a few dollars more. And don’t let the organization’s name fool you. RWA chapters, for instance, not only hold classes having to do with writing romance, but they also have classes on character, plotting, crime scenes and more. (Do some searches for writer’s classes, online classes, etc. and you’ll find dozens.)

Shonna is a fan of finding information on Twitter and she is very good at it! She follows agents (see her post on “How to Stalk an Agent (nicely!)”) and also keeps track of what publishers and other writers in her genre are doing. I haven’t figured out how to do what she does without taking up my best writing time, but ask her questions and she’ll help you figure out how to get information you can use from Twitter.

Read Stephanie’s blog from Monday to get a list of some of her favorite how-to authors on story structure. She’s got a new favorite blog now, Storyfix, and you can also sign up for the emailed newsletter there. (I signed up but I haven’t read it yet – not quite as useful that way! You can also get RSS feeds of blogs coming to your mailbox. I read these more often than going to the blog.) Stephanie always seems to find yet another blog that posts great information consistently. Again, I have a tendency to read some great blogs for a few days or a week, but quit when it seems to be taking up too much of my writing time. Ask Stephanie if you want more great blogs to read.

Get into the habit of sharing links to great articles and blogs with your other writer friends. Eventually people will get into the habit (especially if you encourage them) of sending links to each other when they find something good. This synergy will help you all find a lot of information without each of you having to search for everything yourself. I am a member of two groups who send each other emails frequently with just two lines – Here’s a great article on X topic, and the link. Doesn’t take much time at all.

Are you familiar with webinars? Online seminars, they are usually in a “meeting” software that you get a link to click into. Basically, it’s a panel discussion that you are listening to through your computer speakers. The ones from Booklist are free, and the two I’ve participated in have been useful for studying the market. Definitely worth my time, even though yesterday I had to set my alarm for 3:45am to dial in to a 2:00pm US Eastern time webinar. I learned a lot about YA (young adult) fiction yesterday in a webinar called “Trends in Teen Lit: The Independent View”. The information can be a little general but if you’re researching something you don’t know much about (like me and YA), it’s good information.

Don’t have time to do all of this info gathering and keep up with your writing? Decide on how much time you will dedicate – an hour a day? an hour a week? – and choose the things you think will be most useful to you and work on those first (perhaps reading a couple of agent and editor blogs). If you have time, try other things to see how they work for you (follow agents on Twitter). Don’t go over your time limit and you’ll feel good about the time you’re putting in. And you’ll feel great that you aren’t procrastinating with your writing.

These are just some of the things I came up with when I made a list of all the different ways I routinely gather information. I’ll share the rest of my list next week. What about you? How do you gather information? How much time do you spend doing it?

Get Your Work Out – Where?

If you are writing for an audience, or ever hope to – unless you are going to keep your writing to yourself forever – at some point you have to get your work in front of people. Does that mean only the lofty goal of finishing a novel and sending it to an agent or editor?

Not necessarily.

Your stress over this should decrease when you remember you are in charge. You are the writer and you get to decide who sees your work. So where do you want to start? Arguably, the easiest place to start is with a trusted friend. This person is someone who has already shown an interest in your interests. If you’re writing fantasy, this person likes fantasy and has wanted to read your work. If you write romance, this person reads romance and has wanted to read your work. See the theme? They already like you and your genre. This is someone you think you can trust with balancing how much they love your work (every writer needs a few of those people) with ideas or thoughts on improvements.

As you get comfortable sharing with one person, you’ll want to branch out. Look for a writing class (an adult education class or something at a library will probably be the least expensive) or a critique group or writing group. The idea here is that you will be presenting your work to the group for feedback. A critique group or a workshop will often be led by someone (or a few someones) who are far enough along in the process to be helpful to you. A group that feels like the blind leading the blind may not be what you’re looking for. (On the other hand, people in that group will eventually learn to see and they can help each other learn together.)

Along the same lines, joining a larger organization (Romance Writers of America, Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators, etc.) and/or going to a writers conference can often be a big help. You meet more like-minded people. You have greater access to learning and to avenues for feedback. You may get to hear speakers who can help direct your writing. You can also take online classes, some of which give feedback on student work. (You generally don’t have to be a member of a group to take a writing class. Most online writing classes charge members a lower rate, but open the class to anyone.) Or, like me, you may decide to get quite formal with your educational process and enroll in a degree program in creative writing.

Most of these choices do not involve very much of the dreaded R word – rejection. Work through some or all of these options to improve your writing before you send it out. There’s a good chance that work will improve your odds of selling your work.

This year, I sent out a proposal to teach a workshop on Routines for Writers to the Romance Writers of Australia for their national conference. I received a very nice rejection email saying they had more proposals for good workshops than they were able to use. (As is usually the case with rejections, it’s hard to say if that means mine was otherwise good enough. But there were more workshops proposed that the conference committee deemed better than mine, so I am looking for ways to improve it for next time.)

I also sent a short article to Writer’s Digest magazine early this year. I haven’t heard back from them yet, but I’m determined to react maturely – a quick scream if I get a yes, a quick swiping at wet eyes if I get a no.  {grin}  In any case, I plan on sending more work out this year. No matter how difficult it is to – and this is the big one for me – decide if it’s good enough yet to be published.

I’ve reached a place in my writing where the only step forward is to get my work out there. See what happens. See what is said by whom. What sells? What doesn’t? Is it the writing, or is it less-than-perfect choices in who I’m sending the work to?

What stage are you in? Are you still trying to get up the courage to let someone read your work? Or are you sending it out to potential buyers? You certainly don’t have to send your work out. Don’t let anyone convince you otherwise. Unless you want people to read it. Even then, perhaps you’d be happy to have a blog that your friends and family read. Or to write stories for the children in your life. I’ve done both of those things, and I got a lot of satisfaction from them. But if you’re like me, and you want to be published – for the sake of being published or because you want to influence the world for the better – you need to start thinking about your strategy.

Do you have one?