Progress not seen by the naked eye?

A photo Jenny took while walking around downtown Dallas, where she was attending the NCAA women’s basketball Final Four instead of writing. (Research!)

Well, you won’t see my original blog post because that just evaporated into thin air. Do other writers feel this way? Nothing annoys me more than losing something I’ve written and having to write it again. Which makes you wonder why I’m not more careful about hitting the save button, wherever they’ve managed to hide that on this updated version of WordPress.

Caroline and I have neglected this blog, though we’ve been successful at getting work on our books done. Still, that progress seems to come in surges, and we both worry that we’re not as far along as we should be. (I’m not sure who determines “should.”)

So we met last week for a check-in. Caroline points out that we’re more focused on our projects and getting close to the finish. It’s true, and a clear benefit of our Year of Submission. Now, to get to that submitting part. It’s only weeks away. I swear.

Meanwhile, WordPress–why’d you have to go changing? I guess this is what happens when you don’t post for a few weeks. Okay, months. Dang. Cross your fingers that this one sticks!

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Getting the Work Done

“When I feel difficulty coming on, I switch to another book I’m writing. When I get back to the problem, my unconscious has solved it.”

IMG_6375 (2)If you asked Caroline, she’d tell you that’s the sort of harebrained approach she’d expect me to take. And when you look at my projects spread across a table, it’s hard to deny.

But it just so happens that those words belong to Isaac Asimov, not me.

It’s one of many quotes you’ll find in the book The Write Type. I can’t remember what inspired me to request it from the library.

The premise is this: There’s no one correct way to get your writing done, despite what people tell you. The best thing you can do, this book says, is figure out your natural inclinations and make the most of them.

Perhaps the Universe does send you gifts when you’re ready to receive them–or possibly when you don’t need them quite so much as you used to–or maybe those two are the same thing. Caroline and I spent the first six months of this year looking for better ways to get our work done. Now, it feels like we’re finding our way.

Still, this books has plenty of positive reinforcement and some ideas for taking what I’m doing and making even more of it. The author, Karen Peterson, is perhaps the perfect combo–a psychologist and a writing instructor.

Three things that stuck with me:

  1. Most of us have a conflict going between our adult side and our child side. When we try to strong arm our child side into doing something, the child rebels. That makes it  even harder to find the will to get work done. Better to appease your child and trick/coax/bribe it into doing the adult thing.
  2. There are plenty of ways to work on your writing that don’t require sitting down to a blank page and inventing scenes. Peterson provides a list of six categories of work that you can keep on your desk to remind yourself of ways to keep going.
  3. It can help to challenge some of your beliefs. Of course, if you’re going to challenge them you also have to realize you have them.  Peterson gives you a structure for doing all of that.

Now true, a lot of this I already know and practice. But as I’ve said before, even when I know how to solve problems, it helps to be reminded that I do.

Some of the things this book might help you figure out include what is your best time of day for writing, whether you’re a schedule or deadline writer,  whether you prefer one project at a time or thrive on the chaos of multiple projects, and how much solitude you need to get your work done.

When it was time to return this book to the library, I realized I’d like to keep it around. So it received my ultimate endorsement: I bought it.

Greetings from Panem!

It’s been a tough week for Jenny the writer, mostly because it’s been a big week for Jenny the public speaking coach. I’ve led four days of presentation skills training in Monterrey, Mexico this week. I left for the job early on Sunday morning. I’ll be getting home Friday night. I’ve been working long days. I have a cold. And I’m tired.

Wah, wah, wah.

I’m not as tired, of course, as J-Law‘s character in The Hunger Games. And the Panem I’m visiting happens to be a charming upscale panaderia in one of the nicest parts of Monterrey. I’ve loved working here this week. And I’m earning a nice paycheck for my efforts.

But I’m feeling haggard, nonetheless. And discouraged. When will I get this writing life thing right?

I was reading one of those encouraging self-helpy emails I get, scanning it with half-closed eyes last night before I fell asleep. The email’s writers suggested that we need rituals to get the important things done, their more soulful way of saying that we need habits or a schedule or structure. (So, like my mother always told me, just not quite as annoying.)

After this totally exhausting week, I’m not even sure what to say about that.

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Really, I did not indulge in drinks at “The Embassy.” Though I did have some crispy fish tacos. Hey, a writer’s got to eat.

Without a doubt, I intended to get work done. I intended to wake up early and do some writing. I intended to come back to my hotel room and research submission opportunities.

That hasn’t happened.  And it’s not because I’ve been slacking off, lying by the pool and sipping margaritas.

This has been one of the main challenges of my adult life, one I’m sure other writers do a better job of managing. My paying work has a way of upending my writing work. So I wonder, is a “ritual” of writing every day possible? Or is it akin to dieting–setting yourself up to become a disappointment and to feel like a failure?

But, optimist that I am, I still hope to salvage the week–on the long plane ride home tomorrow. Maybe writing on planes can be my ritual.

 

Is submitting a mindset?

dweck_mindsetThis morning, in my successful mission to procrastinate about writing and submitting, I found myself scrolling through a lengthy Brain Pickings post. It provides yet another look at how we feel about ourselves, failure–and how that influences the risks we take.

I can’t say there are any revolutionary ideas in the post, though Maria Popova points out that this book by Carol Dweck provides research to back up your basic self-help fodder.

Was there anything I can use here, so that it wasn’t a total waste of (#amwriting) time?

Possibly.

From Dweck’s book, which looks at what it means to have a fixed vs. growth mindset:

“In one world, effort is a bad thing. It, like failure, means you’re not smart or talented. If you were, you wouldn’t need effort. In the other world, effort is what makes you smart or talented.”

And also:

I’ve seen so many people with this one consuming goal of proving themselves — in the classroom, in their careers, and in their relationships. Every situation calls for a confirmation of their intelligence, personality, or character. Every situation is evaluated: Will I succeed or fail? Will I look smart or dumb? Will I be accepted or rejected?”

It seems that by opening yourself up to being your bumbling striving rejected self, you actually make yourself more successful. You move from a fixed mindset to a growth mindset. And that makes rejection the door to possibilities!

Though I sort of hate to call it a mindset, this shift is what Caroline and I are trying to achieve with our Year of Submission. Perhaps a new mindset CAN be powerful. Perhaps there is even RESEARCH to back that up. Perhaps (according to the post on Brain Pickings), if we can move to a growth mindset about our writing, we might even improve our RELATIONSHIPS.

Wow. Will keep you posted on how that last thing works out.

Meanwhile, I wonder if Dweck had to change her mindset in order to write and publish her book. And if you’d like to read the full Brain Pickings piece, find it here.

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Time to start the weekend with risking failure on a 5 mile run–and braids that definitely say “growth mindset”

P.S.: In the interest of embracing failure to further success, I just submitted a manuscript at the worst possible time, I’m sure–late afternoon on the Friday of a holiday weekend.

Yay me and my growth mindset. JM

Distractions

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I told Jenny I needed help focusing.

She sagely suggested I write a blog post about it since other people probably struggle with focusing too.

“You can’t start concentrating until you’ve stopped being distracted.”  From a quote I found on the internet, but I was too distracted to write down the author’s name for attribution!

When I try to focus on writing my novel, my main distractions tend to be:

  • Getting up and doing something else, like searching for food. Hence, the carbs photo.
  • Scrolling through Instagram.
  • Hitting Google Chrome. I start highbrow and eventually go lowbrow. The New York Times leads to the New York Post, and before I know it, thirty minutes are gone.

I needed some helpful ideas. The following are a few I might try.

Turn off my phone. Not just vibrate. Or lower the volume. Turn it completely off. Move it far away from me.

Turn off the internet on my computer. Or even certain websites. This one for Mac users looks like a good one.

Use a typewriter instead of the computer. No internet distractions on that old school device.

This blog post got my attention. The idea that we are addicted to wasting time.  I think there’s some truth to it.

I could try Write or Die.  That program would for sure scare me into focusing.

Or maybe RescueTime.  An app that breaks down how I spend my time online. That would probably be a reality jolt.

Set a timer for 10 minutes. This one I’ve tried, and it works. I tell myself, ok Caroline, for ten minutes, you can focus. Once ten minutes are up, I’m usually into the writing, and I set the timer for another ten minutes and so on.

Pump myself up with some self-talk.  Act like my muse works for me, and not the other way around. Think of my muse as a defiant employee and give it deadlines. Even tell the muse to show up at a fixed time every day and make that sucker get to work and into the flow.

Speaking of flow. That’s what we’re all after. To enter another world and lose track of time so that we can then create for the reader what John Gardner called in The Art of Fiction “a vivid and continuous dream.”

Why the mind struggles with sitting down and doing the work, I wish I knew! That might call for another post titled “Resistance.” This is a great book about that.

From Venice to Memphis: Headed in the right direction?

Venice Caroline

Text from Caroline: “Took a photo of my short story in Venice. Didn’t work on it once!” Hey, at least she TOOK her short story to Italy.

Like most other people, both Caroline and I have work to do, places to be–a dozen reasons every day not to write and submit. The past week was a good test for both of us.  Caroline had enrolled in a photography class and was headed to Venice (Italy) for the week.

Here’s Caroline on confession cam while living it up in Venice:

Dyers Memphis

Jenny conducting important research on the “ageless grease” of Dyer’s in Memphis.

Meanwhile, I was teaching a public speaking class in Memphis (Tennessee) and eating as much as possible, adding up to two long days of training plus two long days of snow-socked travel (and several very good meals).

How did we do despite the distractions?  Better than we expected.

Caroline got a crash course in using Instagram as a storytelling medium with one of the most successful “grammas” out there–and she took her short story along for the trip. (You can see some of Caroline’s great photos here.)

I continued to develop a character for a new story through a comics writing and drawing class I’m taking, and I used my travel time to re-read and edit both a play and a humorous book I’d written a couple of years ago.

Leading to this week:

  • Caroline is getting feedback today at 1:00 on her novel, from an editor she’s been working with off and on for the last year. More on that to come.
  • I’ve sent my play to an actor/director for reading and input. I’m editing the book today and doing research to submit it to some agents/publishers in the next week.

Proving, at least to ourselves, that it’s possible to keep moving toward our goal for the year, no matter how deliciously greasy the distractions might be.

manuscript at Drip

Taken at our status update meeting, Jan 28, at Drip Coffee in Columbia, SC. (Appears someone wears that slouchy sweater far too often. Meanwhile, someone else was wearing an adorable sweater from Venice. Where’s the pic of that?)