Category Archives: Inspiration

A Mini NaNoWriMo

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This past weekend, I took part in the inaugural North Shore Readers and Writers Festival in Grand Marais, MN, along the North Shore of beautiful Lake Superior. It was stunning, it was magical, it was invigorating and informative. I met people, reconnected with people, had fun with friends and learned a lot, as well as enjoying teaching sessions to other writers. It was a very centering experience in a place that has long held an other-worldly quality for many.

I am not participating in NaNoWriMo this year, but I know that many are. If I were, this would have surely given me a shot in the arm to spur me into a flurry of writing. But I’m not worried about it – I’ll be sitting down and writing this week anyway. NaNoWriMo is a great idea, and works for a lot of people. The idea of being surrounded by like-minded individuals, even virtually, is a great motivator. And lots of places hold meet-ups, in-person writing sessions at coffee shops and so on, where you can meet your fellow local NaNoWriMoers.

But for many, it just doesn’t work to try to play by the calendar. November is a busy month, particularly if you have kids, book-ended by two holidays and full of the logistics and preparation that the holiday season often entails. It is also a busy month for me personally this year, with two conferences and several author events. I simply would not be doing myself a favor if I tried to hold myself to it.

But I can make my own little NaNoWriMo, riding on the coattails of the North Shore conference and the cooling weather outside to put my butt in the chair and make some headway on some projects. I’m currently working in three genres, but my focus right now is on the first draft of a novel.

I got a good start on it when I participated in my own little Writing Month in August. I had purposely arranged my schedule and prepared myself mentally to sit down and write in August. I didn’t clear my schedule as much as I would have liked, but enough to give me mental and physical time to get a good start. I found the online Writing Challenge group, which I mentioned earlier, and that, I think, was the game-changer. So I wrote over 20,000 words in August. Amazing what a motivation a hashtag can be.

And I encourage you to do the same. Someone asked me this weekend when I found time to read. I simply said, “At night, or in the evenings, instead of watching TV.” The honest truth is that you have to prioritize – you have to decide what kind of life you want. If you want to focus on writing, you are going to have to give something up. And truly, how sad would you be to give up The Voice? Will you be less of a person if you do not watch that?

This goes for any big goal you have, of course. Sit down and think about your goals and how you want your life to play out. How do you want people to see you? What do you want to leave behind in this mortal coil? There was a session at the conference called The Writing Life. I didn’t take it, but I have a pretty good idea of what she covered. Take a look at A Room of One’s Own by Virginia Woolf, If You Want to Write by Brenda Ueland, Still Writing by Dani Shapiro. These are not so much writing guides as they are guides to building the life you want as a writer. Ultimately, of course, building that life is as individual as the leaves on the trees. And it’s up to you.

Joining the Writing Club

“I’m not a writer”

I have been teaching classes at the Loft Literary Center for about five years now, and there is something that I always run into. These classes fall on the career side of things – how to promote yourself, how to build an online platform, how to use social media, how to find speaking opportunities, that type of thing.

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Invariably, in any one of my classes, as we go around the group and do a little pre-class discovery, the same thing crops up. At least one person – and usually more than one – will indicate that the project they are working on, having written or at least hope to promote does not really qualify them as a writer. They always start out by saying, “I’m not a writer, but I wrote this book… “ Maybe it is a collection of stories their grandfather told, maybe a memoir about their childhood, maybe it is a series of essays on living in the northland. One woman collected and edited 2,000 of her mother’s letters, wrote introductions to each chapter, footnoted the whole thing, collected photos (including getting permission where necessary) and then told me she wasn’t a writer.

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My response to them is always the same. “You are a writer. Get over it. Own it.” I feel like they will not make great strides in promoting their project until they take ownership of it and realize that it came out of their own head. Never mind that it was a collection of letters, or stories someone else told them on the front porch, or just a little column that they scribbled for the weekly newspaper. It’s all writing – fiction isn’t the only thing that counts – and I want them to accept that.

I have always written, and I have always self-identified as a writer. I always saw myself sitting at a desk writing. There was never any doubt that my career would have something to do with writing. But then, it often did not. I wrote copy. I wrote press releases. I wrote tons of blog posts, social media posts, and articles. Still, that’s writing. Except when someone asks what you do, and you say you are a writer, and their question is always, “Would I have read anything you’ve written?” And the answer is well, no, not unless you’ve read the Cold Weather Rule brochure for the Public Utilities Commission, or the many press kits that I’ve written over the past several years, or perhaps the series of job search posts I wrote over the span of a year and a half for a careers blog. And no, they hadn’t.

Still, I couldn’t blame them. Because I knew there was something else in me, something else brewing. I just didn’t know what. Imagine my surprise when I finally started writing a big project, and it felt like I was butting into the club.

The Writing Challenge

Oh sure, I’d taken my stabs at writing a novel. I had started several when I was younger. I even tried to write a play once. I did NaNoWriMo in 2009, and barely got half way before I realized that the inane dribble I was spouting was going nowhere. I just wasn’t feeling it. I always maintained that I was a poet and essayist first.

Then this past April, I did a blog post challenge. I wanted to kickstart this blog, and it was somewhat helpful in doing that. But most of all, what it taught me was that if you are going to write, and you need to write every day in order to write, then you had better make it a priority, and you had better do it first thing. And it’s helpful to have support, accountability, and check-ins. So that’s a great lesson learned.

Still, I didn’t have an idea for that great novel. Then one night I stayed up late to watch a show on PBS on one of my favorite topics – ancient peoples. This one was about a series of discoveries just made in the last couple years, of Neolithic villages in the north of the British Isles. At the very end, the host made a comment and used a phrase that seared itself right into my very brain. I watched the end of that show with my mouth hanging open. I knew that I had a story.

I thought about it for a few weeks. Then I saw the August Writing Challenge hashtag (#AugWritingChallenge) on Twitter (there are other months, too, just check the website). I went to the website and read the whole thing. It was already August 1, and I didn’t have time to write anything that night, so I started the next night. I had already written the opening scene (or at least the first scene that came to my mind) on a legal pad. I typed it out. I typed some more. I got over 1000 words that first day. And I’ve been loving it ever since.

Giving Yourself Permission

The idea is to write at least 500 words a day, every day, for the whole month. There is an online participation log, and shout outs on Twitter. I love the log. I get to see all those numbers marching across the row, for every day I have written. There are a few zeros on there, but there are far more that are over 1000 words, and I know it will take a while, but it feels great. And the shout outs are really sweet, too. What better for someone sitting alone in a room with the blinds drawn on a summer day?

And now, hey. Guess what? I’m writing. I’m writing nearly every day. I’m writing this novel, and I’m writing blog posts for this poor neglected blog, and articles on my Books column on Examiner.com, and things that I have long promised to other people.

But sometimes, when I post my word counts on Twitter with the hashtag, I still feel like I’m play-acting a little bit. Like maybe those ‘real’ authors out there are going to somehow call me on it. I fall into the old trap: “I’m not really a writer, but I wrote this book.”

But that’s not true. I’m not play acting. I’m actually doing it. I’m giving myself permission. So, to quote another Twitter hashtag #TenThingsNottoSaytoaWriter, my contribution was “Would I have read anything you’ve written?”

Not yet. But some day, you just might.

Find me on Twitter at @LindaWonder and @PubBones and let’s talk about writing… !

Q is for Quiet

There is something you learn when you have a baby: if you keep the house perfectly quiet, hoping for longer naps, the slightest sound or breath of air will wake that child. Whereas if you maintain a normal hum of activity, maybe with some soft music or something playing in the background, you can practically vacuum under the crib and that baby will sleep through it.

Now, I don’t know if this applies to writing or not. I do know that when I used to work at home alone, in the beginning I would play lovely classical music, usually Mozart or something lively, to keep me humming along. And then when I got really busy with clients, I got out of the habit of playing music. And then my husband started working nights, so now the house is full of all sorts of distractions, interruptions, and different kinds of noise.

Oddly enough, my productivity is about the same. Which is to say, not as much as I’d like, but I am less distracted by the idea of being at home writing than I used to be. I was so in love with the idea for so long that I couldn’t get down to work. Now I just sit down and start typing, most days while still in my pajamas. I am doing less client work these days, on purpose, to have more time for that. We’ll see how that plays out with the pocketbook. It’s a gamble, to be sure.

Most days, I don’t even hear what my husband is saying. Right now, he is in the living room, reading aloud from the latest Growler magazine he just received. He wants me to be up on all the latest news, on which new tap rooms are opening up or what new seasonal beers are available. Truly, I want to know this. But once I start typing, about two or three paragraphs in, I no longer hear him. It’s not that I’m ignoring him – I’ve just kind of vacated into another conscious plane, or something {insert new age thoughts here}.

Very often, when he leaves to run errands, he is back before I even really realize he has left. Often, he will say something to me and I will murmur some response, and then shake my head a few minutes later and ask him, “What?” He is puzzled, “Didn’t you just answer me?” And I have to remind him, “No, not really.” He never remembers to get my attention first. By the time he’s finished his magazine and gone to do something else, I’ve lost track of him entirely.

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This could be considered amazing concentration, or a severe ADD symptom, or absent-mindedness. I don’t know. What I do know is that I cannot wait for quiet to sit down and write. So I write where I can, when I can. I’ve written in theaters, during other people’s readings, during my own readings. I’ve written during high school plays and at bars and cafes. On planes, in hotels and at interstate rest stops. Anywhere where my butt hits the chair, I can write. (Yes, that’s my office, after a big book purge.)

Most often, I write at night. I compose poems and parts of essays in my head, and only rarely do I get up to write them down. I should do that more often. It’s far better than the Facebook posts I used to compose, or the work emails I used to compose before that. Maybe I should be keeping that proverbial notebook near my bed.

I have found that it works best for me to just write it as it comes. I know that there is some truth to the idea of habit – a habit can be a powerful thing. You should cultivate good habits. You should cultivate a writing habit – a creative habit. This was actually the name of a class I took with my coach Rosanne Bane, Building the Creative Habit, and the purpose of her book, Around the Writer’s Block. Now, I’ve never had writer’s block (at least I don’t think), but why take any chances?

There are many collections of the rituals that famous writers performed before they sat down to write. My writing coach thought ritual might have some value for me. It would probably serve to calm my thoughts. There is, of course, some value in routine. Hemingway always wrote standing up. (I’ve been to his Key West house – his writing room contained two large tables, one with the typewriter and one bare. He would clip his pages apart and lay them on the work table, jostling them around for the best effect.) Joyce always wrote lying down on his stomach (with crayons). Many writers required certain types of desks, certain pre-writing rituals (picking fleas off your dog, anyone?) or certain things to be placed near them (rotting apples!), or with only certain writing instruments.

I have found that it can be inspiring to look at where other writers work. I love to tour houses all over the country. So far, I’ve only been to Hemingway’s, but I have a long list to get to. Of course, that is after I finish what I’m working on now. What type of writing environment works best for you? Do you like it quiet? Can you write in a coffee shop? Do you like to be right in the middle of things or tucked away in the attic? I’d love to hear how people write!

Life Cycle of a Book

book-cycle-finalMore and more, I hear from people who are confused about the next steps in the publishing process. I hear from other folks in publishing that they are constantly getting queries about this. And I see deer-in-the-headlights at conferences and luncheons, classes and meetings.

It is confusing. There are so many terms to remember. So many players. What does an agent do? What can I expect from a publicist? How do I find a publisher? What about self-publishing? Reams have been written on these matters. And now, bytes and bytes of information is available. People need answers, they need resources.

Well, that is what I have set out to do here. Admittedly, it is taking a bit longer than I thought. I have not had the time to spend on this that I had hoped I would have. (I had the time, but of course it was eaten up by grief, sickness and sorrow.) And the time I did spend was taken up by technical difficulties that I had not anticipated (who knew?). There are lots more things that I will be including in this website coming up. Please stay with me.

But here is a lovely little graphic that might help you right now (from the fine folks over at Publishing Trendsetter). So on this, Good Friday, I wish you renewal. I think spring is coming, it really is, and I wish you hope and happiness in your endeavors. And I hope that I can help you on your publishing journey. Please do keep checking back. I’ll get this puppy running soon!

Your Own Olympics

OlympicsI love to watch the Olympics. I’m all about inspirational moments (yes, this means I also watch the Oscars and milestone events, like Jay Leno’s last show). This particular Olympics seems chock-full of stories of those who have persevered or overcome perceived obstacles like age and location, and the folks who have not rested on their laurels.

I’m talking about you, Armin Zoeggeler, the Italian luge racer who has won medals in six consecutive Olympics, which is a record for an individual sport. He is 40 years old and just won a Gold medal yesterday. Then there is Shiva Keshavan, the Indian competing under the Olympic flag because India was suspended by the IOC from competing. He has no coach, no track – he trains on a sled on wheels, whizzing along the streets. He is the one who fell off his sled on a practice run but was able to get back on it and finish the run – at something like 80 miles per hour. This guy doesn’t give up.

There is the Canadian snowboarder from Saskatchewan who trained on dry hills, because his home is so flat. There is the Norwegian who won Gold in the Biathalon at the age of 40. There is the Russian who competed in his seventh Olympics and at 42 became the oldest to ever win an individual medal in Olympic history (beating out the Norwegian Biathlete from the day before).

Everyone knows about Yevgeny Plushenko, who at 31 years old is the grandfather of figure skating, and who helped lead the Russians to the Gold in the first-ever Team Ice Skating competition. He said, “I try to forget all my titles. I want to open a new page in my book.” And this seems to be the key – who can make progress without trying a new trick now and then?

Plushenko said, “Four years ago I couldn’t imagine doing a quad in competition. Now I’m planning on two quads.” Well, he didn’t end up doing both of them, but he wasn’t afraid to try. Sage Kotsenberg won the first-ever Gold medal in Slopestyle with a trick he had never tried before: a Back 1620 Japan. For those of you wondering, that’s four and a half rotations in the air, corked (off-axis) and landed on your non-dominant side (backwards). He seemed as surprised as anyone, but certainly happy.

There are many more stories like this, of course. Who could ever forget the Jamaican bobsled team? This time, they lost their luggage en route, but it eventually showed up. Still, it didn’t seem to phase them; other teams offered to loan them clothes and equipment. The main thing is, that not a one of these people was afraid to try. They all forged ahead. They tried new things. Sometimes, they came back from defeat. Sometimes, they changed their attitude. In the end, they are all winners.

You can do this. You never know until you try. Make your own next chance, and win your own Olympics. Learn the new software, try the new tactic, make the new connection. Me, I confess I’ll be watching a lot of these stories unfold over the next two weeks, but I’m going to carve out some time to get my own game up to world-class competition level, too. What’s holding you back? What can you do today to bring your game a little further along? Where will you be in a year if you don’t do it?