Thankful for Writing

As Thanksgiving draws near and my time at Routines for Writers draws to a close, I have so very much to be thankful for. When we started this blog just over four years ago, Shonna and Stephanie and I didn’t know anything about WordPress, very little about blogging, and nothing about how to build an audience. We’ve learned a lot over the years – and that’s why we went on this adventure. We wanted to learn how to professionally promote ourselves and our work.

That’s not the only thing I’m grateful for, though. I’m grateful –

  • for making new friends
  • for learning new things about writing routines
  • for having someplace to share what I learned
  • for making new friends (did I say that already?)
  • for learning great writing tips from Stephanie and Shonna and you
  • for raising the bar on my writing
  • for realizing I can do more than I thought I could
  • for learning how to stick to something even if I’m busy or sick or moving around the world
  • for having a safe place to find encouragement when the writing life got rough
  • for sharing the first news of my published work with you

I hope you are grateful for some of what we’ve shared here over the years. And I hope that you are finding plenty of things to be grateful for this holiday season!

God bless you! Happy Thanksgiving! 🙂 

Imagine the Changes That Can Bring Good Things

One of my favorite movies is Music & Lyrics with Drew Barrymore and Hugh Grant. Drew’s character has a creative block at one point and she insists they go for a walk out in the city night. She says, sometimes you have to go see new things, do new things, eat new things to get past the block. And she does!

I’ve read several creativity and neuroscience books that suggest traveling to open up your creativity. (I’m still reading Imagine by Jonah Lehrer right now.) All the new experiences help to create new thoughts and patterns in your head. It’s particularly useful if you go somewhere quite unlike what you’re used to. If you live in the countryside of Alabama, a visit to New York City would be very different. If you live in Chicago, a visit to Albuquerque might really surprise you. Even though it was mostly the same language, living in Australia for a couple years definitely changed some of my neural pathways. 🙂

I think this way of thinking, looking for new ways of thinking, really does open up your creativity. If you have been in a normal, everyday kind of rut, do something different, eat something different.

I said last week that I’d spent the last two weeks working in a warehouse doing manual labor. I wondered how much my creativity would spike just by going from normal routine to something completely different and back to writing. Well, whether it was the change, or whether it was desperately wanting to get away and write again, I don’t know. But I got about 55,000 words edited last week! Woo-hooo!!

If you’re trying to figure out how to jumpstart your creativity, read something different like neuroscience books on creativity (I’ve read about half a dozen so far), or nonfiction history books (I heard Killing Lincoln is good), or children’s books (just saw that Lemony Snicket is coming out with a new book).

Or listen to something you haven’t listened to before. I’ve been listening to a lot of podcasts lately – Dave Ramsey and Joyce Meyer in particular. I’m learning a lot about new ways to think about money and new ways to think about living my life. Joyce has a great podcast series on watching your tongue, what you say to and about yourself, because you can make things happen – or not happen – by the way you talk, including how complaining affects your attitude and life.

I mentioned last week that I’m going to participate in the open submission window for Harper Voyager going on now. Then I heard that Love Inspired Suspense (part of Harlequin) has a Fast Track Event (open submissions) later this month. I’m brainstorming a new story for them, too. Carina Press, a digital imprint at Harlequin who accepts both romance and non-romance, has an open submission period going on now through Thursday. If you have a completed manuscript, or a synopsis and first chapter for Love Inspired Suspense, maybe the thing you need to do to change it up in your writing life is to submit your work. Right now.

The worst thing that can happen is that you’ll get feedback on why your book wasn’t right for the two Harlequin lines, or no response at all from Harper Voyager (per guidelines). That’s not bad. The best thing that could happen by submitting is that you’ve got a book someone wants to publish.

But the exciting thing that may well happen for you – it’s happening for me! – is that the deadline will add fire to your writing now. Trust me, it feels great!

Whatever you decide to do, try something different this week. It may change your writing, and your writing routines, for the better.

P.S. In the vein of sharing what I’m learning in the world of self-publishing, you’ve got to read this blog by Lindsay Buroker about her self-publishing journey. She really nails the points you need to be focusing on if you go this direction in your career.

Change Things Up, Make It Happen

As in any part of life, sometimes our writing gets in a rut. Either we’re doing the same old thing over and over again with no results, or we can’t seem to get it together at all. My rut this year has had elements of both. Sometimes something kicks us in the butt and makes us change up our routine – and that kick can get us out of our rut.

My kick came in the form of a temp job. John is in between projects and I was feeling like I should do something to help. My $10 a month from Amazon doesn’t go very far towards our rent. So I called up my temp agency to see what they had. The job I got was a twisted combination of great and horrible.

“It’s a publishing company”, the representative told me.

A publishing company? In my little town? Could I be so lucky? I remembered reading there was a Christian book distributor a couple towns over; could it be there?

“You’ll be working in the warehouse, pulling books to be shipped out,” she said.

Thunk. (That’s the sound of the other shoe falling.)

Right. Of course. Because it’s the hottest summer people can remember, and I hate being hot and sweating. Of course that’s the job I would get. (Insert growing bad attitude here.)

Then she told me how much I’d be paid. It’s been nearly 20 years since I got paid so little. I couldn’t decide if this job would be humbling or straight out humiliating. (Increasingly bad attitude battles with attempts to thank God for providing a job in the first place.)

So for the last two weeks I pulled construction books out of a warehouse and wheeled them over to shipping. All day long. By the time I got home from work every night, my feet and back and neck hurt from the work. (I think it might be a sign I need new tennis shoes that my feet hurt every day. The arches must’ve lost their support over the last few years. I wonder how often you’re supposed to replace tennis shoes for healthy, unhurting feet.)

I wanted to work on my superhero book at night, but I just fell onto the couch when I got home, breathing deeply and trying to relax. Then I’d chow down on dinner because now I was so hungry every night! And since it’s an unnaturally hot summer, and our area has no air conditioning in houses or apartments because we’re near the ocean, our apartment was in the 80s inside when I came home. The best I could do to stay cool was soak my shirt in cool water and sit in front of the fan. I was fairly miserable the first week.

The weather cooled down slightly at the beginning of the second week, and we were catching up on orders so sometimes I got to sit inside at a desk and do actual accounting. I got to know my co-workers a little since I was inside, and that made the job easier because they’re all really nice people.

But I was still freaking out about getting my superhero book edited and off to Harper Voyager by their October 14 deadline. And I was still too tired to do much at night. And too hot. I checked the weather and it was supposed to get even hotter by the time my job ended! Thursday night I had the brainstorm to call our timeshare company and see if there were any openings anywhere within driving distance this week. There was!! (THANK YOU, GOD!!!)

So yesterday we drove 2 hours (in an air conditioned car) to a timeshare where I can write all day (in air conditioning) to prep my book for submission. I don’t think I can get it done in one week, especially since John’s birthday is tomorrow and that will require some fun time off to celebrate, but this is what I learned in that warehouse.

Sometimes you have to change your routine for a little while in order to come back to your work with more energy.

During those ten days in the warehouse, I couldn’t help but think that if I was going to work this hard for someone else – hard manual labor, sweating through my clothes, exhausted and unable to move at the end of the day – I could and would work that hard for myself!

Being someplace else, doing something else, makes the neurons in your brain fire in new ways. Learning something completely alien and new makes your brain work differently. I’ve been reading a lot about this in a variety of neuroscience books (fascinating stuff!!) and I’ll share more of that with you next week. I’m hoping that this week, with all the changes from the last couple weeks, my brain is even better equipped for creating a crazy fun story people will want to read.

So keep in mind that changes – even seemingly negative ones – can be good for helping you create new and better routines. With that in mind, I’m going to curl up with my laptop in this wonderfully cool room and work furiously away on my superhero story! We’ll see next week how much being someplace different helped me get work done.  🙂

The Efficiency of Routines

Last year my kids and I read a book called Cheaper by the Dozen which records the real-life antics of the Gilbreth family in the early 1900s. Their father was a motion study/efficiency expert and often conducted efficiency experiments with his twelve kids. He started down this road when he was a bricklayer and developed ways to make bricklaying faster and easier. From buttoning a shirt bottom to top, to bribing the kids to learn to type using his methods, to getting their tonsils taken out, he was always looking for the best, most efficient way to do something.

This is how I view writing routines. I try to pay attention to how I am writing/editing and decide if there are better ways to go about it. Then I can create my own writing profile set to optimal writing. Or, at least, that’s the theory!

Some Variables for Routines:

 Methods (for getting words down):

  • write same time every day
  • write whenever I can fit it in
  • word goals
  • NaNoWriMo and Camp NaNoWriMo
  • word sprints
  • deadlines (self-imposed or for conferences or contests)
  • keep word count score on the calendar for accountability
  • follow an outline

Location:

  • home: (comfy chair, bed, office, behind a locked door?)
  • coffee shop
  • library
  • beach (that’s for you Kitty!)

Timing:

  • mornings
  • during breaks in the day
  • nights
  • weekends
  • retreats
  • Thursdays and Saturdays

I’m sure you can discover more movable pieces to your writing routines. Pay attention and see if you can increase your own efficiency.

4 Ways to Meet Your Writing Goals

You probably know this has been a hard year for Stephanie, Shonna and me. We’ve talked about how to keep going, both personally and professionally. We’ve discussed whether we have any more to offer you or whether Routines for Writers has run its course. And all three of us have struggled to keep writing through a variety of personal and professional setbacks.

There are so many cliches we could offer each other, and you, to keep writing and not give up. But here are four solid things you can do now, or anytime you need a boost, to keep going and accomplish your writing goals.

(I didn’t mean for this to be so long, but I wanted to share with you what has worked for me. Go to the end for the bullet points if you’re short on time, and come back and read the full post when you have time. 🙂 )

 

Writing Routines 

 

You can tell from the title of our blog that we strongly believe in routines in general, and writing routines in particular.  Routines are habits you are acquiring on purpose. I choose to routinely run three days a week because I have a goal of beating my best time in the half marathon I signed up for in January. My habit thus far has been to overeat and carry a lot of extra weight that is not helping me with my running. For my January race goal, I have identified one routine and one bad habit that I need to change into a positive routine.

In my writing, I have several goals regarding getting my current book into print format, getting my next book out as an ebook and in print, and submitting my superhero novel to Harper Voyager during their open submission period next month. In addition, my 2012 goals include increasing traffic to my web site/blog, creating more online classes to teach in 2013, and learning how to promote my books to increase sales.

It’s great to have goals, but you need to have a plan, too. Just like in Shonna’s post last Friday, I take my big goals and work backwards to break them down into pieces so I know what needs to be done every month to make the goals a reality at the end of the year. When I’ve got that list of monthly goal pieces written down, I can create routines that work for me that will turn the goal pieces into accomplishments. For instance, when my life was calmer, I wrote four days a week and did all my business-of-writing stuff on Fridays. It’s less important what you choose to do, perhaps, than that you create a routine that moves you toward your goal at a pace you can keep up.

Using the “It’s a marathon, not a sprint” metaphor, let me tell you that the training programs for running marathons and half marathons (I only do half’s) suggests running moderately short distances several days a week, increasing your distance slowly, and doing one longer run on the weekend. So I might run four or five miles a day three days a week, then an 8-mile run on Saturday. More 5-mile runs the next week, and then 9 or 10 miles that Saturday. This is the kind of schedule that you can keep up even if you have to get to work in the morning. And it’s a good parallel for making a writing routine as well.

 

Periodic Reevaluations

 

When life is going smoothly (or monotonously, depending on your perspective), it can be difficult to remember to check your progress against your goals before the year is up. Several of my friends and I have an unhelpful tendency to wait until November or December, then freak out and try to cram all the rest of the work into the busiest time of the year. Brilliant.

When I teach my goal setting and time management class (coming again in January), I encourage people to check their goals after a month to see if they were on a “get it done” high when they wrote out their list. 🙂 Then I suggest quarterly reviews, taking 15 minutes to see how close you are to where you’d planned to be. At these checkpoints, we can decide if we think we should readjust our goals, and do so if necessary.

Remember, goal setting is about making progress toward something you want. It is not about beating yourself up for what you haven’t accomplished! You need to sit down and think about why you haven’t accomplished what you set out to do, but only because you need to decide if you should change course or just change tactics. You also need to reward yourself for what you have accomplished. That will give you energy to keep on going. (I started a “Done” journal a year or two ago. I write down all my writing-related work that I do on any given day, bullet-point style so I can scan it easily. I haven’t done half of what I’ve set out to do, but I’ve done a LOT and the Done journal helps me stay upbeat.)

 

Willingness to Change

 

Depending on how your reevaluations go, you may decide you want to make some changes. It may be that your goals are fine, but the way you are going about trying to accomplish them needs to change. For instance, say you decide to take someone’s advice to get up an hour early to write every day, and two months into that new routine you are exhausted and cranky. You’ve got your pages, but people have started to avoid you.

You may decide that you need to write for half an hour during your lunch break, and half an hour in the car before you come home from work. That way you are getting the sleep you need, and no one feels like you’re ignoring them. I wrote part of Little Miss Lovesick that way. I find it almost impossible to ignore my husband – we’re  like little kids who just want to play when we’re together – and this way I made my goals quickly because there’s an end to my lunch break (hurry!) and the car is not an easy place to type and I’m hungry (hurry!).

This weekend, I did a periodic reevaluation for a different reason. My life has been in constant upheaval this year (and for much longer, really) and I knew I wasn’t going to make all my 2012 goals. I needed to see where I was and figure out what was most important to me to get done before the end of the year. I looked at the big picture and monthly goals for 2012 and sighed. Heavily. Then I wrote down what I most want to accomplish before the end of the year. Yikes! It’s still a lot! But I dropped several projects on my original goals list, promising myself I’d look into whether I still wanted to pursue them next year.

Due to my husband’s unemployment and our recent dedication to following through with our Financial Peace University goals, I’ve taken on some outside work. For every hour I take out of my writing week, I’ll have to make some adjustments to either personal time that will become writing time, and/or decrease my 2012 goals again. I just have to keep reminding myself that I’m willing to make changes now to accomplish big picture goals in my “regular” life as well as my writing life.

 

Decide Now to Keep Going Later

 

Perhaps one of the best things you can do to help you meet your writing goals is to decide now not to quit when it gets tough. Life is an ebb and flow of good and bad, hard and easy. When times get tough, what is your plan?

Yes, a plan will help you not to quit.

My plan for this particular hard time was to not quit writing altogether, to not focus entirely on the areas of life calling for my attention. My plan was to let writing time decrease, but to make sure I was still making progress every week. Every baby step counts, and I have to keep reminding of myself of that.

My plan for when life gets into an easier cycle is to work on my writing career with “gazelle intensity” – a Dave Ramsey term he uses to get people totally focused on getting out of debt. As soon as I’m not juggling bills or working temp jobs, I’m going to be working 10-12 hour days to get back on track. I’m giving up some of my personal time and time with John (he supports this – yay!) and I’m focusing on making up some lost time. I did this last week for a few days before my temp job started and I couldn’t believe how much I got done. I was exhausted, but it was worth it because I was seeing progress in just a few days. (I strongly recommend you take at least one full day off from work a week if you decide to do this. You need a full battery each week to keep up this kind of pace.)

The reason I recommend a plan for what you’re going to do when life takes some (or nearly all) of your writing time, and a plan for what to do if you get a windfall of time, is that you can be prepared and make good decisions that much quicker. A few years ago I walked one step at a time into a very deep rut. I didn’t know how to get out of it and I didn’t know who to talk to about it. I stopped writing, for the most part, pretending to most of my peers that I was still working away. But I bet I didn’t write 5000 words (outside this blog) that whole year.

Ouch. If only I’d had a plan for what to do when something like that happened. But because I learned from that experience, when my mom died this year, and so many other pieces of my life seemed to fall apart, I had an idea about how to survive and continue. I decided back then that I would keep going now.

 

Bullet Points

 

To meet your writing goals, you need to:

  • Create writing routines that help you to keep going, step after step after step, getting a little done at a time so that you accomplish your annual goals by the end of the year
  • Periodically reevaluate your goals and your progress, at least quarterly, deciding if you need to make any changes
  • Be willing to make changes, either to your goals and/or your tactics in trying to accomplish your goals
  • Decide now what your plan is to not quit later when times are tough, and another plan for what you’ll do with extra time

I hope you take some time to reevaluate your goals and tactics this week. What can you reasonably accomplish in the next four months? Good luck! I’m rooting for you!

Do You See the Big Picture or the Details?

The question says it all – are you a big picture person or a detail person? Which one comes more naturally to you?

I don’t know about you, but for me, it depends on where I am in the process. When I’m starting a project, I’m totally a big picture person. Planning a trip? I’m all about where we can go and when, comparing how much it will cost to drive or fly, thinking through all the options from the top down.

But once I’ve started a course of action, I love getting immersed in the details. I love spreadsheets and numbers and formulas. I love balancing my checkbook! LOL! If I find a discrepancy, I find it hard to stop until I’ve cleared it up. I can’t sleep if I’m in the middle of a Sudoku puzzle at bedtime.

I hate to admit it, but I’ve not been the best employee at times when I had to be able to go back and forth between the big picture and the details. I get so focused on details that I find it hard to pull back if there isn’t a lot of time.

On the other hand, I also hate to admit that I find it difficult to delegate to people unless I know they are detail-oriented. I tend to have high standards when it comes to details and I get cranky if people don’t follow through in the same way I would.

Okay, so there are some of the areas I’m weak in, but what am I good at? Which area am I best at? I’ve not read about the psychology of this topic, and I haven’t taken a test that I remember tested me in this area, but in my opinion I’m good at both. I think that’s what helps me to be a good writer. I start at the top with the big picture and work my way down to the details of writing and editing the book, even focusing in the end on punctuation.

What about you? Are you better at one than the other? How do you think that helps or hurts your writing? Let me know. I’m really curious about how other people think. 🙂

What Are My Options?

One of the big questions in every area of life is – what are my options? How do I want my hamburger cooked, what do I want on my pizza, how do I like my coffee – the smaller questions. What will I do for a living, how can I make ends meet until the work brings in the money, which of several directions should I take to get there – the bigger questions. (Why am I here, what is God’s plan for me, where will I go when I die – the most important questions, but not directly related to writing. 🙂 )

In writing, I’ve asked myself if I want to write fiction or nonfiction, business articles or romances, romantic comedies or superhero books with a romantic thread. While I like each of these ideas and many more, I have learned in life that you have to focus first to get started in any new endeavor. You can spread yourself thinner later. So I published a few nonfiction pieces, then focused on romance.

I went to Christian writers conferences in the early years because those were the writer friends I was hanging around. I got close enough that I was getting phone calls from an editorial assistant at Tyndale House, but I was writing just enough out of step that we could never quite get my work to run along on their track. Things never worked out.

A friend introduced me to her agent and soon I had representation. Surely my big break! It seemed the right thing to do was to continue with the romantic comedies (called chick lit at that moment, but shhh, don’t say that phrase any more). My agent and I talked about different things I could try when chick lit died. I chose not to pursue an opportunity with a Christian publisher who pays tiny advances. I was too insecure to try writing YA when my agent suggested it. I could see I had options, and – right or wrong – I made the best choices I could.

After four and a half years, I talked to my agent and decided to walk away. I was trying to do what I felt she wanted me to do, but my creativity was drying up by trying so hard. I needed a break. I’d been thinking about going to grad school for years, so when the opportunity came up, I took it. It was so beyond different from what I expected, not challenging at all, that I complained for a long time about what a waste of time it was.

But over the last couple of months, I remembered that I do have options. I can choose to live with disappointment over my grad school work, or focus on what I learned from it. For instance, I learned that I can write YA! I got some extraordinary feedback on a YA story I wrote. More excellent feedback on a spiritual dystopia/urban fantasy I wrote for my final project. And after flying to last year’s RWA National Conference the morning after my last class, and hearing a couple more editors tell me they weren’t sure they could sell my work, I knew I had another option.

I came home from that conference and decided, as an experiment, I was going to self-publish Little Miss Lovesick, the book my agent almost sold to two houses before chick lit died. When the process went a bit smoother than I expected, I considered my options again. I could keep trying to write and pitch my work to the current establishment, or I could start my own business again. The idea of running my own publishing company got my endorphins dancing.

One option that worked out for me was choosing to get involved in two self-published anthologies. The first one, Romancing the Pages, will come out in September as an ebook – see the lovely cover here. My superhero short story “Hero in Disguise” is one of nineteen short stories I hope you enjoy. In a few months, another anthology will be published with a dozen or so short stories written by my friends in my Sydney writer’s group. Another group of stories I think you’ll enjoy. My “Rescue at Loon Lake” is a fun little precursor to my novel Love at the Fluff and Fold.

It’s been a heck of a year. Several moves, several deaths, more months of unemployment than paid work between John and me, a lot of trials and testing. Career-wise, the worst part for me has been not being able to follow-through on my goals, my commitments to myself that I made end of last year. I’d planned to get Little Miss Lovesick into print by Christmas, finish and self-publish Love at the Fluff and Fold digitally and in print by March, and have the next book out in September.

Due to the weight of life this year, I’ve thought about sending my work to other publishers, let them do some of the work in return for some of the monetary rewards. I know I have options. Maybe giving myself a little break would help. It’s an awful lot of work to do all of the publishing work yourself. Several wise men in the Bible have said to count the costs before you start building so you don’t wind up broke, half-finished, and a laughingstock. I think I know the costs of continuing down my current path, and I’m willing to pay them.

I’ll continue to try to keep my options in mind at least once a year so I can adjust my course as necessary. It’s a good writing routine to have. In fact, because I love teaching and miss doing it more, I’m going to offer my Goal Setting and Time Management for Writers class again in January. We’ll start bright and early on the first Monday in January and get our ducks in a row for the coming year. I’ll remind you again when you can start signing up.

Whatever is going on in your life and your writing career, remember that you have options. Some will be better than others, but rarely is “I had no choice” true. What are some of your options?

Creative Breakthroughs – Whew!

We’ve talked about where our creativity comes from this month, how our thoughts and feelings influence it, and when procrastination helps or hurts the creative process. Now that we’ve talked about the more difficult side, let’s look at what creativity looks like when it works.

Creative breakthroughs – whew! I don’t know if I could continue trying to live a creative lifestyle and work in a creative endeavor if I didn’t have frequent breakthroughs. I think we get an endorphin rush when the breakthrough is big enough. We’re happy to the point of laughing out loud and we’re filled with sudden energy to keep going! Yay! Thank God for wiring our brains this way!

This past week I’ve been working my way through a book I found in my library, The Right-Brain Business Plan by Jennifer Lee. Only two chapters in, and I love this book so much it’s on my must-buy list! The web site is also spectacular, full of colorful encouragement and happiness-inducing how-to’s! You may know that I started my own publishing company to publish my books. I did not jump into it with no business sense, though. I have a bachelor degree in business administration as well as a master’s degree in creative writing. I want to work in a creative industry, but I want to do it right.

I’ve written a few business plans in my life, done a halfway decent job with them, but I don’t think I ever looked at them again once they were printed and added to the 3-ring binder of “business stuff.” But the way Jennifer suggests creating your business plan – and I’m only two chapters in, but I think I’m right – both uses common business sense and business tools and the more visual creative side of your brain to create a bona fide business plan that doesn’t get filed away and that you’ll actually use. (Guess what optional reading is being added to my January online class on goal setting?!)

One of your writing routines should be to check in with yourself to see if you’re on the road you meant to be on. When I went to the RWA National Conference in July, one thing I wanted to verify while I was attending workshops and meeting agents and other publishing professionals was – am I on the right road for me?

By the end of the last day, I was doing the Happy Kitty Dance because I knew self-publishing and being a business owner was exactly where I wanted to be! Nothing had changed to make me decide to give it up. Hearing all about what’s going on in New York and who is looking for what didn’t make me want to re-start submitting to agents and editors. Now that I’m making a more visual and creative business plan (and giving myself permission to forego the look of a traditional business plan!), I’m more excited about doing more frequent check-ins with myself. I love Jennifer’s idea of using index cards to keep track of parts of the plan so you can add new ideas when you think of them. I’m sure Jennifer is a friend I just haven’t met yet! I love the way she thinks! 🙂 I’ve been trying to make my business background fit into my creative life, and I’ve tried to get my creative life to fit into a sound business mold, but Jennifer is the one who put the two worlds together.

Am I excited enough here for you to click on those links and check out the book and the web site?! The excitement is because I had a creative breakthrough last week! Something that I’ve been trying to create finally came together and I’ve got the endorphin rush to prove it. And not just an endorphin rush – meeting your friend for coffee and talking about your works-in-progress can give you that, but does it always help you write more and better afterward? Part of knowing you’ve had a creative breakthrough is when you have lists and pages of ideas, and when normal and unrelated “stuff” in your life sparks even more ideas.

Reading the first chapter of The Right-Brain Business Plan on the elliptical machine at the gym (difficult, but it can be done – just don’t fall off when turning pages!), I had so many ideas about getting back into teaching that I was afraid I’d lose some of them. I used to put on an annual one-day writer’s workshop called Write Now! Workshops. I stopped doing them when I started traveling so much. But I have plans for a lot of online and live workshops starting in January 2013. I knew I wanted to get back into teaching, but I wasn’t sure how and where I wanted to start. Jennifer asked all the right questions to get my little brain humming!

I’ve still got most of the work ahead of me in getting my business plan down. But the other thing that excites me is that I can spend a little time “playing.” I can use that drawing class I took two years ago to make little drawings on my business plan. (Oh, how my professors at The Wharton School would faint!) I can use some of the cool programs on my Mac to get more colorful and more creative. I can take pictures of myself in PhotoBooth and record me giving myself a pep talk in GarageBand and add those to my business plan. I’ve been praying for God to help rekindle the fire in my spirit for my work and I think this is part of His answer! I’M SO EXCITED! LOL!

Check out the book and the web site. Get yourself a plan that works for you, no matter how you get it written, and then work at making it happen. You can do this!

Speaking of creative breakthroughs, my friend Mona Hodgson had a creative breakthrough recently. She’s been writing children’s books since before we met (she’s one of my first writer friends!) and has published over a dozen of them. But she wanted to write adult books, too. In 2010, her dream came true. Two Brides Too Many, the first book in the Sinclair Sisters of Cripple Creek series, was released by WaterBrook Multnomah. Too Rich for a Bride followed in 2011, and The Bride Wore Blue came out in May of this year. On October 2, the fourth and final book, Twice a Bride, will be released.

Today Mona is celebrating the release of her very first book trailer! You get to be among the first people to see it! The trailer is beautifully put together. You’ll want to visit these four sisters yourself. Celebrate with us by picking up a copy of Two Brides Too Many, or finish where you left off if you’ve already started the series. I think you’ll enjoy it. Congratulations, Mona, on your wonderful series and the beautiful book trailer! I can’t wait to see what your next series will be!

You can visit Mona at her web site www.monahodgson.com/ and on Facebook at Facebook.com/Author.Mona.

When Shouldn’t I Write?

There are so many writers out there telling us what we should/must do in order to be successful. I am grateful to everyone who is willing to share in order to help others find their way. But I am somewhat less grateful to those who couch their advice in terms of “should” and “must.”

I believe that all of us find our own best path when it comes to how we get things done. For some people, their best path is one that takes more time – seemingly wasting time to others who appear more efficient. For instance, some writers write multiple versions of scenes before they decide which direction they want to go. Other writers decide first and write one draft. Who has the best path? Sometimes the easiest way to understand this concept of finding your own path is to use something you don’t do well as an example.

I don’t cook very well. I have a few dishes that I can make pretty tasty every time – I just made John and Doug bacon-wrapped meatloaf for dinner – but mostly I despise cooking only a little more than I hate cleaning up. I would LOVE to be wealthy enough to have someone cook and clean for me every day for the rest of my life!

So when I do cook, if someone or something convinces me to try something new, I have found that I should double the prep time. One time, it took me 2 1/2 hours to prepare lasagna wraps out of the “easy” Betty Crocker cookbook. The prep time in the cookbook was 45 minutes.  John was pretty starving hungry by the time we ate that night.

Looking at something I don’t do well and rarely enjoy, it’s easier to see how to adjust other people’s “should’s” to work for me, easier than trying to apply it to something I do pretty well and enjoy, like writing. Following me so far?

Stephanie and I were on a writing retreat once where she did all the cooking and I did all the grocery shopping. I ate like a Queen that week! Steph laughed at me so many times when I gushed about how good her food was, and she kept insisting it was so easy. She eventually learned that cooking is not easy for me.

Now compare all the writing advice you’ve heard. I’d guess that over 90% of the advice you hear works for the person who said it. (I suspect that some people tell you what they believe to be the best way to do something even though they haven’t been able to be completely successful doing it that way.) But just because it works for someone, or lots of someones, doesn’t mean it will work for me or for you.

Take writing every day for example. I do believe that working consistently is the best way to build structure and habits and routines that will get you through the hard times when you don’t know what to write, or when life keeps you from writing as much as you used to. But I don’t believe every writer needs to write 5 or 6 or 7 days a week, rain or shine or Christmas or funeral, in order to be successful.

I’ve found that a menu system works better for me. I work every day, 4-7 days a week, but I don’t write every day. Some days I’ll write for 8 or 10 hours, other days I’ll do other “business of writing” work for the whole day. My brain works smoother and more fully when I do only one or two major tasks a day. I’ll spend an entire day doing a week’s worth or a month’s worth of accounting rather than take a few minutes every day. That’s the menu item I chose on that day. On another day, I’ll choose to write all my blogs for the next week or two. On a different day, I’ll spend most of the day researching, reading, and journaling to get my thoughts stirred up or organized.

So how do I know when I “should” write if I don’t have a specific schedule? Well, first let me say I’m curing myself of the “should’s.” But how do I know if I’m choosing what Stephanie calls creative procrastination or if I’m really procrastinating or being lazy? That’s a tough question. I don’t have the answer for me, let alone you. But I will say that asking yourself the question in the first place will often give you a gut feeling as to which one you’re in now.

Most of you know I’ve had a pretty tough year. Several funerals, several periods of unemployment, financial hardship, two moves, it’s been all I can do to keep from wallowing in self-pity let alone try to keep to a writing schedule. On the one hand, I have the feeling that I haven’t gotten much done this year. On the other hand, I wrote stories for two anthologies that will be out later this year, brainstormed a new series of books, worked on getting Little Miss Lovesick into print, and attended two writing retreats and a national conference. I’ve also been learning how to run a publishing company since I’m self-publishing my books.

Under the circumstances, I feel pretty good about what has been accomplished! I’m working on getting more of a schedule going, creating a printed menu of work for each month, and in general getting more done starting this week. But I’m still not going to force myself to write every day because that’s not how I work best.

What should you do this week? Begin by tossing the word “should” out the window. (I’m not saying you definitely “should” but I think you’ll find it helpful.) Then look back over your writing life and your regular life and look for patterns when you felt like you achieved the most and were happiest. That’s where you’re going to find the answers for you.

I need to find some time each week for silly fun, some time for TV and movies, some time for reading fiction and nonfiction, some time alone, and some time with other people. Some varying amount of each of these help me to get the most work done during the week.

Looking over your life, what do you think will work best for you?

Write It Down, Even If It Hurts

I’ve been sitting in front of my computer trying to figure out what to say to you. I have little in terms of writing advice except this: write it down. Don’t forget the things that are important. Write them down even if no one else ever reads your journal, even if you never read what you wrote ever again. Don’t forget. The advice I’ve been giving myself lately is – write even if it hurts.

I haven’t been taking the advice, but I think it’s sound. I don’t want to forget any of the time I spent with Mom in her last weeks. I don’t want to ever forget the one-on-one time we had when she told me how proud she was of me, how she knew I’d go far with my writing, how the best writers are older because they had to live their lives first in order to know what was important enough to say, to remember.

I don’t want to forget how we laughed so much while she was in dialysis for three hours that we had to wonder if that’s why her blood pressure cuff broke that day.

I want to remember how she made me laugh when she whispered in my ear on one of the bad days, “He watches me while I sleep.” I was sure I hadn’t heard her correctly, and she had such a hard time breathing that it was hard to understand her. I leaned my ear next to her mouth, and asked her what she said. “Your brother. He watches me while I sleep. It’s disconcerting.” I pulled back to look at her face and realized her wheezing was laughter. She was in the final week of her life, could barely breathe, and she was joking around about how my brother wouldn’t leave her side, even while she slept.

This is the stuff I want to write down in my journal so I’ll have it forever, but it makes me cry. (And it takes so much longer to write things out longhand.) I’m already tired of crying, tired of the mood swings. But from what everyone tells me, this is the beginning of a long road. Great.

Of all the reasons why I’m forcing myself to move forward, even a little bit at a time, with my writing and my writing business, it’s Mom’s last private words to me that push me to work. My mother believes that there is a future that includes people reading my work and laughing or crying or feeling better or having hope. She believes not just in my writing, but in my ability to make a life out of words. I don’t know how long she’s felt that way, but this month is the first time I really heard it.

So, as much as it hurt, and past my deadline this week, I wanted to write that part down for you. You need to believe that it’s important to write or you may let it slip away from you. If it does slip away and you don’t feel a void, that’s okay. Maybe writing was only for a season in your life and you are or will be ready to let it go, to let something better take its place. But for as long as you believe your words and thoughts and feelings are important, write them down.