Writing Like an Athlete

September 12, 2012

The athletes in my life have good days and bad days. Lately, they’ve been dealing with injuries and losing streaks. It’s enough to make the strongest competitors question why they compete in the first place. Of course, they do it because they love it—even while they hate it. And they know that if they just keep working, if they push through the bad days, good days will follow.

Those good days come faster and more frequently when an athlete has a training regimen in place. If we’re talking baseball, that regimen can include field work, strength training, stretching and reps (God Bless, the batting cage). The more the athlete repeats a motion, the easier the motion becomes.

Writing works this way too.

A couple weeks ago in an email exchange with Nicole, I whined about needing a game plan but not knowing how to create one. She teasingly offered to make one for me. Ha! I accepted her not-actually-an-offer, and after answering a few more questions for her, I was staring at a game plan. My training regimen. It included things like writing specific word counts each day, completing entire manuscripts on deadlines and submitting. It was exactly what I needed.

Now, don’t get me wrong. It’s not always easy to follow, because I’m not always motivated to do the things that are on that list. But I’m tired of falling short of my ultimate goal, which is publication. To borrow from the sports world again—I’m tired of losing.

These days, the athletes in my house aren’t the only ones who are training. The writer’s training too. 🙂

Do you have a “game plan”? Do you write down your goals? Do you take it a step further and write down the daily actions necessary to achieve those goals? I’d love to know if it works for you.

Elley

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Why Do You Write?

April 9, 2012

It’s a basic question, one that many writers face from time to time. Whether it’s from well-meaning family and friends or from interviews, like the ones we publish for Writer Wednesday, writers should expect to explain why they write.

For me, the simple answer is that I write because I enjoy it. The more creative answer is that I write because the voices in my head need a reason—other than insanity—to be there. But those aren’t the only reasons. The reasons are many, and some are complicated, making this a topic I often ignore. After all, why should I care about why I write as long as I’m writing?

Honestly? Sometimes, I don’t enjoy writing, and sometimes the voices in my head quiet. That’s when I stop writing. That’s when I wonder why I was writing at all. That’s when I need a reminder of the many reasons why I write.

  1. I write because I like the distraction from my daily life.
  2. I write because it gives me control over somebody and some things.
  3. I write because finishing a story proves I’m capable of following through to the end.
  4. I write because creating fictional characters, nurturing them and giving them whole lives satisfies my maternal instinct.
  5. I write because it occupies my time.
  6. I write because the tapping on the keys fills the quiet room.
  7. I write because I can.
  8. I write because I have something to say.
  9. I write because I want to be read.

It’s not an all-inclusive list. I’m sure I’ll think of more. Can you add to the list?

Elley

Pep Talk Anyone?

February 23, 2012

So this is one of those days that I could use a pep talk. Do you have days like this? My life is changing all around me and I’m wondering can I do this? Can I write my book while everything goes crazy? Can I focus? Can I make this happen?

Over the years, I’ve always found a way to write. When I held a real job, I would finagle a way to write a company newsletter or put together the company handbook. As receptionist at an advertising agency, I managed to infiltrate the copy writer room. Kind of like George in the Seinfeld sitcom series, I just took over a desk in an office and started writing ad copy. I know it sounds insane, but I did…and they let me keep writing. Eventually, they even let me write television commercials….I did dream a little about writing screenplays for a while, screenplays from the novel I would write.

When the boys were born and I had three little ones at home, I kept writing primarily short pieces, magazine articles, newspaper columns, press releases…resumes for friends and family…lots and lots of resumes…but rarely my own. Occasionally, just because I wanted to remind myself that I really wanted to write fiction, I would write a short story here and there and tuck it in a drawer, my novel waiting. Waiting for when the three little boys were out of diapers, bottles and off to school, did I say off to school? Waiting for when I quit homeschooling and they were all in college…not that I was wishing those years away. I loved every minute that the boys were home with me…okay, there were minutes I could have done without. I mean really I raised three boys, but whatever happened I loved being a mom, however imperfect a mom I am. It was my first career choice, and writing has been a passion that I’ve put on hold.

So now, here I am boys growing up, doing their own things, building their lives, and I’m watching them in awe while I finally start to do what I’ve always known I would do when I grew up… I mean when they grew up…write.

But life has a way of throwing you a curve ball every now and then. Things can change quickly, and what do you do? The responsible thing of course, whatever that may be. So can I write? Or will my writing get put in a drawer again?

What do you do when life throws you curve balls? How many times have you put your fiction writing career on hold…or have you? Oh, don’t worry. (You are worried about my writing aren’t you?) I’ll keep writing, but things are changing around here once again…anyone have a pep talk for me? I could use one.

 

Growth

January 5, 2012

Sometimes, in the midst of the New Year’s newness, it is easy to lose sight of or disparage our growth. How many resolutions we didn’t keep, how many book deals we didn’t sign, how many pounds we didn’t lose, and so on. Sometimes we only focus on the past year, not the past five or ten. It gives us a false sense of non-growth.

Last week we celebrated my son’s second birthday and yesterday was his two-year checkup. I began to think about all the way he’s changed  in those seemingy short two years. How I’ve changed in the past two years. Not for the first time did I realize my maternity leave really began my decision to seriously pursue publication.

While my son’s growth has been explosive, measurable, constant, my writing growth is less visual. Less measurable. And there were a series of months of rejections that had me seriously wondering if I’d grown AT ALL. How can you really determine if you’re getting better?

I’m not sure there’s an easy answer. Even publication isn’t proof of growth. Still, after years of writing and years of being an English teacher, I can assure you, whether it feels like it or not, if you keep writing, keep reading, keep moving forward, you are growing. Maybe it’s not measurable, maybe it’s at a glacier slow pace, but if you’re trying to get better, you are.

That’s the great thing about writing. There’s no plateau. No one marker to reach that says you can’t get any better. If you’re trying to improve, you will.

I Wrote Anyway

November 4, 2011

If you follow me on Twitter, then you know yesterday went from bad to worse. Bad was the sewer backing up all over my newly remodeled basement. Worse was my husband hurting his back while he tried to drag a 5-feet tall refrigerator up the basement steps.

I wrote anyway.

I’m not gloating or even patting myself on the back. I’m a little irked at the fact. Seriously, for weeks now nothing major has interfered with my writing, and yet I have written very little. On a day when all hell broke loose, I wrote 3000+ words…which proves I can write—should write—even when the freaking sky is falling.

I owe some of the credit to FiMyFuMo for the little nudge in the right direction. (If I haven’t met my word count, I start to get twitchy.) But most of the credit goes to me being sick and tired of whining about not writing when I don’t have a good excuse not to be. I have food. I have shelter. I have healthy kids, a husband who loves me, and friends who make me laugh. Wallowing in the Why Am I Not Writing Swamp is like staring at sewer sludge on a basement floor wishing it would disappear. It’s not going to happen…unless I clean it up. And the book isn’t going to get written…unless I write.

Around 8:00 last night, the drain was unplugged. As I cleaned the sludge off the floor with gallon after gallon of bleach, my “broken” husband tried to get comfortable on the couch upstairs. I dreamed of things returning to normal, so I could write—and breathe without my lungs burning from corrosive chemicals. That’s when I realized, despite it all, I wrote anyway.

With Hubby at work and the drain flowing freely, today should be a piece of cake, huh?

(You can check on my writing progress and the progress of other FiMyFuNo-ers here. You can also join us! We’d love the company.)

Better Late Than Never

October 3, 2011

Of course, the title is talking about this blog post. In a perfect world, I would have had it written and posted by noon. Heck, in a perfect world I would have a stockpile of blog posts written and waiting for WordPress to publish at 9:00 a.m. ET every weekday. But you’re right. It’s not a perfect world.

As I debated over potential blog post topics this whole idea of “better late than never” kept rolling through my head, and it jived with the old journals I’ve been leafing through since my closet got pimped last week and my journals lost their home on the top shelf. See, “better late than never” can apply to a lot of things in my life—especially writing.

Oh, I’ve been writing my whole life. (Isn’t saying something like this a requirement for all writers?) Technically, who hasn’t been writing their whole life? But I haven’t been writing as an act of passion until recently.

I know I’ve said it before, but it bears repeating. I am blessed to be attached to some pretty amazing people who have lived their passions. I’ve been intimidated by them for much of my life. I have dozens of journal entries that lament my lack of passion and how I wish I had a fire inside of me the way so-and-so does. In one particular entry, I relegate myself to the cheering section—leave the greatness to the great ones, because we can’t all be great…right? Wrong.

I feel pretty great right now. And yet, how can that be? I don’t know what it’s like to stand on a podium to thunderous applause. I’ve never broken a longstanding record. I don’t receive fan mail. (Although some of your comments do make my day.) I’ve never received a single “endorsement.” Not a single degree is worth framing. And yet I feel great because every morning I know that at some point in the day I’m going to write what I want to write. After years of writing school papers, checks, emails, non-fiction articles and other words that amounted to obligations, I’m finally writing the words and stories that I’m most passionate about. I’m following my heart…that’s the stuff that greatness is made of.

And while it took me awhile to get here, it’s better late than never.

I’m doing a happy dance! It’s been a great week and a half here at the Jewett house. My husband finally got his score on a very important professional test that he took back in April. He scored the highest score out of an estimated 200+ people who took the test. My teenage son got a job at Cold Stone Creamery….yum, and I finished the first draft of my manuscript…ahead of schedule…Yay!

It may seem a little over the top, but I’ve been in a daze since I finished my manuscript on Tuesday afternoon. So much of my time has been spent in the world in my head that it feels a little strange to come out of it. I’ve fluctuated between feelings of intense elation and accomplishment and feelings of anxiety and self-doubt. Now that it’s done, I’ll have to put my work out there and risk rejection. Now people are asking me to read it.

I’ve been a published non-fiction writer since I was twenty-one. I’ve said it before—I love writing and will write anything. Any opportunity to write is an opportunity to build my skills, so I’ve written articles, columns, press releases, ad copy, hundreds of resumes, even some local radio and television commercials and a small local cable show. But, of course, I’ve always dreamed of writing fiction…and now I have.

I’m not kidding myself, there’s still a lot of work to do. I’ve started my synopsis, which I hope to finish this weekend, and then there are the re-writes. Unlike some writers, I love re-writes. For me, this is where the real writing begins. The first draft is the place to get all of your ideas organized and on paper, but the re-writes are where you begin to craft your work into something special. The re-writes are where you ruthlessly cut passages that are unnecessary fluff and tighten up your writing, where you find places to add energy and emotion. The re-writes are where you make magic.

My original goal was to finish this manuscript by the end of the summer. Then after attending the Romantic Times Convention I was so motivated that I decided to move the date up and finish by July 9, the day before my 50th birthday. A couple of weeks ago something happened to make me move up that date again, so I’m done ahead of schedule!

Now I plan on finishing this synopsis, beginning re-writes on Monday and as a birthday gift to myself, taking the week of July 10 to take some of the books that have been piling up on my nightstand to the beach and read. Unless I decide I just HAVE to keep working on edits…

So, what are your goals or self-imposed deadlines? What motivates you to reach those goals? What builds your confidence? While I’m sitting here anxiously working on my synopsis—in between spontaneous outbreaks of the happy dance—I wouldn’t mind hearing your motivational stories!

Years ago, when my non-fiction writing was the soul financial support for my family, I dabbled in writing children’s fiction. (As the mother of two young children, it made sense.) I joined a critique group, and I submitted my first completed picture book in between diaper changes and non-fiction deadlines. There was always something delaying my edits or my next critique and submission to the group. One day, a group member sent an email to chastise the couple members (me!) who weren’t participating regularly. My response reeked of defensiveness. Come on! How was I supposed to worry about editing and writing fresh children’s verse when I had a husband following his dream, a dream that paid peanuts at that level and caused a lot of stress? And what about my two kids under four? And what about my job, a job that put food on the table and kept a rented roof over our head?  Obviously these other women didn’t have the same stress and obligations I did.

Wrong.

One of the women replied to my reply, letting me know she wrote with terminal cancer. All these years later, I can’t remember the other issues plaguing her, but there were more. Her parting shot was—and I quote, because these words are tattooed on my heart—life will always get in the way.

Smack! It was the biggest slap to the ego I’ve ever taken. I quit the critique group, because frankly I couldn’t “face” those women again. I also quit writing children’s books, because frankly my heart wasn’t in it enough to battle back when life got in the way.

Fast forward more than a decade and I’ve discovered something. Life does get in the way, but when I’m writing what I’m meant to be writing, it’s not easy—or acceptable—to roll over and submit.

If you follow me on Twitter, you know that I have out-of-town guests, and it’s easy for me to say, “No writing for the next 10 days while I play hostess.” The details of why this mentality works best are many, and yet, I sitting at the computer this morning, writing this blog post, thankful for the flow of words, craving more, craving a moment alone with my current manuscript, plotting my own escape for an hour or two. The coffee shop? The front porch? The bathroom floor? Anywhere. Anything. Just so I can write.

Life isn’t going to get in the way this time. I’m going to get in the way of life.

How about you? Do you find certain circumstances are a recipe for writing disaster? Do particular life events take you away from the computer for more than a couple days?

E