Changes

There are a few changes happening here at Routines for Writers.  The biggest is that Stephanie is returning to blog.  In fact, Stephanie is taking over the day to day upkeep of the blog, allowing Kitty and Shonna to devote more time and attention to their own careers and other websites.

Stay tuned!

I’m learning . . .

I’m taking a class this semester in ePublishing. (When I’m done, I want to talk to Kitty, who I suspect is just as qualified to teach the class as my professor.) At the start of the class, the professor basically said we’d be learning as we went. That there are no standards and that epublishing is developing in much the same way that the Internet grew and morphed into what it is today. Organically. Driven by those who are using it and doing it. That means we writers and readers who are using epublishing in any way are making history.

In this class we each must write a book which will be published onto Amazon. (We’ll also learn how to publish on iBooks, but will not be required to because of the fees.) The past several weeks we have been writing these serious, silly or downright ludicrous tomes. Or at least that is the expectation. At least half of us have said at one time or another we have very little written.

It helps that our professor doesn’t really care about our topic. He is expecting us to produce a finished, professional product, but it can be on any topic we desire. He said in our first class, it could be something as simple as “29 Ways to Prepare for the Coming Zombie Apocalypse” or as serious as “Surviving Cancer” or as practical as “How to Create a Functional Wardrobe with 10 Pieces of Clothing.” As long as it was 30-40 pages in length, the topic didn’t matter.

Sometime in the next week or two, we will begin learning the process of formatting and publishing our books. As that time nears, I’m reminded that a writer must have content before she can publish. Sounds obvious, doesn’t it? And it is. But how many times have we begun the “Where will I publish this?” questions before we have even started to write. One of my classmates has asked several times about how to format. And received the same answer each time. “You’ll learn that later. For now just write.”

That is my advice to you. For now, just write. Once you have your story, book, poem, screenplay, whatever written, that will be the time to consider publishing. When I’m finished with this class, I’ll let you know some of what I learned about that process. (Although I’m sure Kitty could teach us soooo much more. She is one of those trailblazers influencing the way epublishing develops.)

Better Butter

          Late again! At least this week I didn’t completely forget. 🙂 My schedule is full and overflowing with assignments, projects, research papers and classes. Everything else is getting shoved into a corner for later.

          One day as I mulled over all the pressures in my life and considered setting one or more aside (ie drop a course or two), I had a revelation. As is typical for me, that revelation came as an illustration, in this instance that of making butter. Making butter is a process. First you whip up the cream. Eventually, the cream separates and the fat lumps together. The next step is to press out the water, or whey. Over and over the butter is pressed with a flat object to remove the water. Even after all the water seems to be pressed out, letting the butter rest for a short time often allows even more water to separate. Butter with water still in it may still be usable, but is not as palatable.

          I decided I am the butter. I will “stay in the press”. 🙂 It’s already paying off in so many ways. My confidence level has soared. My focus has sharpened. I’m learning and demonstrating skill in new areas of life and school. Probably most significant, at least here, is the renewal of my writing ability. The pressure, particularly of research papers, is focusing and pulling (pressing?) out well-articulated thoughts as well as re-establishing almost-forgotten writing habits. In the process, unproductive assumptions and habits are being jettisoned While I may not enjoy all the pressure, I am more than grateful for it and relish what I’m learning and “the butter” that is being produced.

          What are the pressures of your life developing in you? What “better butter” is being produced.

For You

          Life is busy, busy, busy for all of us here at RFW. Shonna has decided to take a break and I’m struggling with a similar decision. I need to focus on my classes and studies. Even though the break would only be temporary (until December), I really want to continue contributing to RFW. I also don’t want to waste our readers’ time by not writing anything of use. Writing useful and helpful articles takes time. (See my dilemma?)

          Kitty has suggested that I repost (as is or updated) past posts I’ve written here. That’s a good idea. BUT! Finding the time to weed through my past posts is an issue. This week, I’m sending you to Tania Dakka’s blog for an article that is apropos for me. I hope it benefits you, too. In the coming weeks, my posts may be repeats or links to other places, but I will make sure they are of value to you as a growing writer and person.

          Happy Writing!

October Oops

          This isn’t the first time I’ve been surprised that it is Wednesday and I have no blog written. I think it might be the first time that I haven’t twisted my schedule into knots trying to write something at least a little interesting and helpful. This time, though, I really have no time. I have papers due, computer labs to finish, art projects and studying for mid-terms all vying for my attention. I’m taking 20 minutes to compose and upload this, then it’s back to doling out pieces to each of the screaming vultures devouring my time.

          In the course of writing a paper defining the term subplot for my English Composition class, I came across a website, Seven Story Plat Patterns, that might be useful. It’s written to those teaching children. Your first inclination may be to dismiss it or to be insulted. Don’t. When I homeschooled my children, I discover the best way to get a good overview of a topic was to get a children’s book on the topic. Although I did not use this site in my paper, it was a huge help in focusing the direction of my research and my writing. I hope it helps you, too.

         Off to feed those birds!

Influences

          As you have probably guessed, this week’s theme is about what influences us. When Kitty and Shonna and I came up with this topic several weeks ago, we determined that we meant outside influences. Maybe it is the emotional journey I have been enmeshed in for so long or maybe something else, but I can’t seem to think of any outside influences that are not at least an indirect result of my internal, mental and emotional influences.

          The more I consider this topic, the more I realize that what I think not only motivates me to do (or not), but it also filters what I hear and understand and believe. If I believe I’m intelligent and capable of learning, I’ll hear and draw strength from those voices of friends and others. If I don’t believe I’m capable, I probably won’t even hear blatant encouragement. If I do hear it, I’ll discount it. So what I think about myself, my abilities and my possibilities in large part determines what influences me.

          As our regular readers know, I’ve been through an emotional year and a half. I’m on the healing side of that journey, but I still need what a dear friend calls “reality checks” every so often. Periodically, she would share an event or opinion and ask for my perception. She wanted to know if her feelings and actions were appropriate or if she had misconstrued something. By getting another person’s perspective, she can better adjust, or reinforce, her mental influencers.

          My major reality check influence is the Bible. I’ve chosen to base my life on its principles. There have been times when what I read conflicted with what I thought or accepted. Because of my choice to believe and live by the Bible, I had to adjust my thinking. That hasn’t always been easy. (How can I live if I die? How do I become rich by becoming poor? Am I really loved so much the Creator of All pursues, protects and provides for me?) But I choose to believe and in the process, have found strength and purpose through difficult times.

          “How To Live Right When Life Goes Wrong” by Leslie Vernick has been a huge influence this year. I’ve read that book and “The Emotionally Destructive Relationship” multiple times in the past months. (Despite its title, it is more about recognizing and creating emotionally healthy relationships.)

          My friends and my family rallied around me. They believed in me when I doubted myself. They encouraged and prodded and supported me through some very dark days. One friend in particular made a point to articulate those areas where I excelled. (I didn’t believe her for months, but finally some of her words took root and replaced the negativity and self-condemnation that filled my mind.)

          God, books and friends. Seems like appropriate influencers for a writer. Wouldn’t you agree?

My Routines

          Routines. Routines for Writers. That’s who we are. That’s what we talk about. All the topics, all the discussions, everything we say comes back to routines. It is fitting, then, this September, our anniversary month, that we focus on routines, specifically those routines that help us succeed.

          Whether it pertains to creating, rewriting, editing or publishing, routines can hinder or help. Since I’m a hands-on learner and it helps me to have examples of how to apply theoretical knowledge, I’m going to share some of my own examples in the hope of helping those of you who are hands-on, too. I suspected, many years ago, that routines might make my life more manageable (theory). I had a lot of trial and error, though, before I found good routines that aided me in accomplishing my goals (practice). I’m still learning. 

          Life never stays the same. That change so often turns good routines into not-so-good routines. Example: When we started this blog, my posts went up on Mondays. I created routines that allowed me to have it finished and posted by Sunday night. When I moved to China, Sunday night became too difficult, but that didn’t matter. China is 12 hours ahead of the USA so even though I finished and posted, this blog on Monday mornings, from most of our readers’ perspectives, it was still Sunday night. Then I moved back to the US. And struggled to get the posts up on time. So we made the change to me posting on Wednesdays and Kitty on Mondays. Now my routines help me post on time (usually).

          Other routines in my life now are related to my school schedule. I am taking seven different classes for the semester. As you might imagine, I get overloaded sometimes. I’ve learned to not panic when those feelings of being overwhelmed descend on me every Tuesday and progressively get worse throughout Thursday. That feeling is deceptive. Yes, if I did not work on my projects and assignments or study for tests, I would certainly become overwhelmed and fail. However, the routines of my life at present usually allow me a few large blocks of study time. I have a work-study job at the college library. I am allowed, even encouraged, to study while I sit at the desk or do other library things. That means I often have a good portion of my four-hour shifts on Thursday and Friday to work on many of my assignments. Even though I often have Saturday completely free, many times I don’t need to use it for studying.

          There is a negative, though. If the library is busy, like it was last week, I don’t get that study time. I have to find other times to study. If I count on those times too much, I can get into trouble. Like last weekend when I had multiple assignments, projects and labs. (I got everything finished, but just barely.)

          I have found that I need to periodically review my routines. Sometimes all that is needed is to put them back into practice. I’m naturally a seat-of-the-pants type person. I tend to flex my routines a lot. Sometimes my problems are not that the routines don’t fit my current circumstances, but that I’m not utilizing them. Routines have to work for you. Or to paraphrase a great man, “Routines were created for you; You were not created for routines.”

          Are your routines helping or hindering? What do you need to do about it?

My Creative Mis-Beliefs

          Recently I had a revelation. Somewhere in the dark recesses of my mind-heart, I believe I don’t deserve time to nurture my creativity. That any form of creativity, be it writing, drawing, painting, daydreaming, crafting or anything else is a waste of time, a luxury. It might be an activity I can do after I do “the important things” but to routinely indulge is irresponsible.

          That internal belief (a better term is mis-belief) wars with my compulsive need to express myself creatively. This hidden, destructive mis-belief gives no credence to reality and quantifiable facts. The reality is that I feel most alive when I am creating something. It is an observable and repeatable fact that when I spend time creating something of beauty, I am productive in other areas of life. Case in point: a couple of Saturdays ago I was overloaded with homework assignments from multiple courses. I felt I needed to spend the entire day studying, but I’d signed up for a craft class. Even though I probably could have talked with the studio and convinced them to refund my money, I really wanted to learn this craft. I decided, even though it seemed irresponsible, to take the 2-3 hour class and spend the rest of the day studying. (I absolutely loved the class and have ideas for some impressive Christmas presents.) The next 5-7 hours of studying were so productive that by 7pm Saturday evening I was caught up on all assignments and readings through the middle of the next week.

          What does this have to do with this week’s Routines for Writers big picture/details theme? I’ll tell you. 🙂

          I’ve been wondering if I need to stop trying to hang onto my writing. Maybe it’s time to give it up. It gets harder and harder to write each week. I didn’t expect this. It is understandable that during the emotional upheaval of last year that some of my creativity would shut down. Isn’t it also reasonable to expect at least some of that creativity to return as I have progressed through emotional healing this year? To be honest, I have experienced creative success in several art courses. Not so with writing. In fact, because it has gotten so hard at times to write anything at all, I’ve seriously considered withdrawing from Routines for Writers and abandoning any future writing goals.

          Then came the above mentioned revelation. With it came the realization that it is crucial for me to hang onto anything and everything creative I want to do. At this season in my life, I need to battle and overwhelm that mis-belief by feeding and nurturing my creativity. Currently, I’m aided in this fight by my routines. The art courses I take each semester force me to spend time creating. Writing this blog forces me to write. In these and other creative doings, I find peace and joy and a sense of purpose. As difficult as some of my art assignments have been over these past three semesters, I relish them. I have an excuse now to “do art,” to be creative. Because of that, I’ve realized that need for creative expression is as necessary as breathing for me.

          That’s the big picture for me. My life must include lots of creative time. Creative time in my daily life is valuable, necessary and to be protected and nurtured. It is as necessary to me as breathing clean, fresh air. The details of my life need to support that big picture view. Even though sitting down to write may be difficult, I need to do it. Even in the midst of more prosaic school assignments, I need to carve out time dedicated to creativity just for creativity’s sake. Above all, I need to confront and root out this erroneous belief that my creative expression is worthless and time spent on it is wasted. The only way I know to do that is to continue creating.

          So for now, you’ll find me here each week.

Juggling My Options

         Argh! I did it again. I thought all my “plates” were juggling in sync only to watch in dismay as some come crashing toward the floor. This week’s blog post is one of them. (My upcoming algebra test and English Comp paper are others.)

          As you may have surmised from Kitty’s post on Monday, we are discussing options this week (within the broader topic of Taking Control of our writing life). Every one of us has options. At times our options seem limited, but usually those limits can also point to new possibilities and opportunities. Such is the case in the publishing world at this time. This article by David Vinjamuri on the rising use of epublishing is full of examples and references to the different opportunities available to authors today and the shifting business models those options are creating. I hope it is as interesting and encouraging to you as it was to me.

          Now, please excuse me while I go catch my “plates” and toss them back into the air.

Twin Engines of Creativity

          I don’t know much about jet airplanes, but I have watched enough TV and movies to realize there are at least two engines. According to those dramas, a jet plane can still fly even if an engine stops working. It’s not easy nor incredibly safe (which makes good drama opportunity, right?), but it is possible. (There are also small twin-engine planes, but I’m not sure they can fly on only one engine, which means they won’t fit my analogy.)

          This week we are talking about creative breakthroughs. Until recently, I would have said you must be working in order to have a creative breakthrough. How could you break through anything if you aren’t pushing on it? However, as we explored last week, procrastination can actually aid in production. I’ve come to realize that creative breakthroughs are powered by the twin engines of creative discipline and creative procrastination.

          Discipline creates an infrastructure that can support the creativity. The discipline of just “showing up” for work creates a routine that ensures there is time to accomplish the creative work. When a routine time is scheduled (and guarded) for writing and only writing is done during that time, there is a guarantee something will be written. It might not be fantastic; it may not be a breakthrough; but it will be consistent. That consistency creates an environment of productivity as well as giving direction and forward momentum. It doesn’t matter if I am consistently writing every day or only writing from 2-3pm on Mondays, Thursdays and Fridays or for some extended time on Wednesday and Saturday afternoons. It’s not the when that matters. It is the consistency. That consistent time for writing, or any other creative endeavor, programs the mind to be ready to work.

          Creative procrastination is the other engine that powers the jet plane of our creative productivity, creating an environment conducive to creative breakthroughs. If an engine is run constantly, it eventually gives out. In the same way, if we are always “on”, always trying to produce something, we’ll eventually burn out. Even when we do have a breakthrough, we may not have the energy to follow through. As we all discussed last week, taking a break from our work, even totally ignoring or abandoning it for a time, can actually make us more productive.

          Taking a break gives our “creative brain” or consciousness a rest. The pressure to produce is removed for a time. Just as several hours of sleep can totally refresh us even though the body is still “working,” so a break from our writing can refresh us even though our subconscious mind, muse, or whatever you want to call it, is most likely still be working on the project. In addition, the activities we engage in during those breaks provide input of new ideas and experiences that fuels our inspiration. That time away from the project allows us to be refreshed and re-energized, returning to the project with new ideas and new enthusiasm.

          I’ve come to believe consistent productivity can only be achieved with a finely tuned balance of creative discipline and creative procrastination. I’m in the process of tuning that balance.