Category Archives: organization

Victoria Schwab Does It

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I’ve talked about tracking progress before, and today I saw Victoria Schwab’s tweet on keeping a calendar. She awards herself with stars for the number of pages she writes and the number of pages she reads, as well as the amount of exercise she gets each day. The magenta stars are for days she’s travelling or attending events.

As you probably know, I keep a calendar of my writing and submitting schedule. I set goals for the week, then record my progress as I go. But I know I’m not getting enough exercise. Victoria’s calendar has inspired me to keep track of my own physical activity. I truly believe in the importance of balance. We need to be aware of how we spend our time. So much of my life goes to household chores and tasks that have to be done every day. Having a calendar to prove that will force me to take action and reclaim some time for myself!

How do you keep track of where your time goes? How do you make time for yourself?

Note: Victoria Schwab’s “A Darker Shade of Magic” is a current goodreads Choice Awards Best Book of 2015 nominee. If you’ve read and loved it, vote for it here: https://www.goodreads.com/choiceawards/best-books-2015.

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Coloring: Stress Relief & Creative Inspiration

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writer's coloring bookI recently saw an ad for Rachel Funk Heller’s, The Writer’s Coloring Book. If you click on the link to visit the website, it states: “Harness both sides of your writer’s brain with The Writer’s Coloring Book® and write better stories with less frustration.”

Donald Maass, author of Writing the Breakout Novel and founder of Donald Maass Literary Agency, said, “Rachel Funk Heller’s book doesn’t ask you to color between the lines. Instead, it gives you great worksheets and visual tools to draw your own unique story.”

I purchased the book in PDF format from the website for $10. However, if you can’t afford that (which I can’t, but you know…) you can find similar coloring pages with inspirational quotes by doing a simple search. Google “inspirational coloring pages for adults” or search Pinterest for “quote coloring pages printables.” Here’s one from ColoringShapes.com I plan to try: “Today is going to be awesome.”

The best part: coloring helps you deal with stress. Psychologist Gloria Martinez Ayala says, “When coloring, we activate different areas of our two cerebral hemispheres. The action involves both logic, by which we color forms, and creativity when mixing and matching colors.The relaxation that it provides lowers the activity of the amygdala, a basic part of our brain involved in controlling emotion that is affected by stress.” This isn’t new information, as Carl Jung was “one of the first psychologists to apply coloring as a relaxation technique.” (“Coloring Isn’t Just For Kinds. It Can Actually Help Adults Combat Stress,” Huffington Post)

So, take a break and color today! Then, come back here and let me know if it helped!

Track Your Progress, Celebrate Your Successes

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Thanks to the Writer’s Digest Platform Challenge, I’ve kept track of this month’s activities on a calendar. I start out with the week’s goals in red and as I complete each task, I change it to black and move it to the day the task is completed. This way, I can look back on everything I’ve accomplished, and still keep my upcoming deadlines in mind. So, when I have one of those days where coffee just isn’t helping me focus, I have something to provide a clear path for what I should be doing.

It’s simple. In Microsoft Word, I create a table with 7 columns–one for each day. Here’s an Example Calendar to show, rather than tell you what I mean.


It’s also important to celebrate your successes!calyx

This year, my poem “Mourning List” appeared in the same issue of Calyx as the memorial to Margarita Donnelly, founding editor of the beautiful publication. Margarita Donnelly died Christmas Eve 2014, the very same day as a good friend of mine, Sarah Edwards McFarland, who I’d known since 4th grade. The title and subject matter of my poem was appropriate, though when I wrote it, I had no idea Sarah or Margarita were going to pass on. I wish I would have known. I wish I could say goodbye to Sarah, or thank Margarita for building such a wonderful home for women to place their works of art.

Sadly, we cannot time travel. (Yet.) So, forget the rejections. Draw from them whatever constructive criticism they offer, then press that lovely delete button. Life’s too short to dwell on your failures. And, if you haven’t had any publications yet, tomorrow is a new day.

In fact, tomorrow is November 1st and… NaNoWriMo BEGINS! So, let’s get to work. And WHEN–not if–you have a publication or acceptance from an agent, come here and let me know. I’ll feature your good news in a pretty post dedicated to your successes and we’ll all celebrate together!

Know Your Strengths

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As a college writing instructor, I’d be asked the same question at every interview: What is your greatest weakness? (Clue: The answer, for me, is always perfectionism.) Although I don’t understand the interviewers’ fixation on flaws, I fully acknowledge the importance of being acquainted with your inner demons. Whereas employers are obviously seeking ways to weed out all candidates who either cannot or will not reflect upon their own shortcomings, as a writer (and arguably as a human being) it seems more important to build upon your unique set of strengths, rather than constantly battling your inherent imperfections.

On the first day of class, my students complete a few activities that help illuminate their individual strengths for them. Many of them had never heard of Howard Gardner or Multiple Intelligences. This is a shame because, when you know how you learn, you will learn better.

As a teacher, I read Teach With Your Strengths by Rosanne Liesveld and Jo Ann Miller, which is a great option for non-teachers, as well. Stengths Finder 2.0 is from the same publishers and, though I haven’t read it personally, I’m sure it would be equally beneficial.

There is also obvious value in learning about your unique personality type. Over at 16personalities.com, you can take the Myers-Briggs Personality Type (based on Jung’s theory) that will tell you the 4-letter combination that defines your identity. To be honest, it’s downright uncanny how accurate the results are!

A bonus: learning about ALL of the different kinds of personalities can help you write depth into your characters. K.M. Weiland discusses this in her article, “Myers-Briggs and Writing: My Characters’ Personalities.” Over here, she points out that INTJ’s are archetypal evil geniuses, but Batman is also an INTJ. So, it’s important to know your characters on more than just a superficial level.

It’s also important to know your own personality–to not only know but also to trust thyself, as Emerson said. Don’t focus on your weaknesses. Know your strengths, and exploit the hell out of them!

Writing with Purpose

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Over at Lunch Ticket, Bettina Gilois writes a blog called “Writing: The Toolbox.” In her 8th installment, she discusses character, and the necessity for a reader’s emotional investment:

As writers we are the pusher man for the reader, we control supply and demand. We get the reader hooked, and once hooked we tease with a controlled giving and taking, dealing in identification and fantasy, creating want and tension, and doling out relief and reward.

Gilois advises writers to incorporate philosophical statements as part of character building:

Philosophical statements by your characters elevate the material from a pragmatic and dramatic narrative to something that holds greater value and endures through time. While it also serves as characterization, it satisfies the reader with recognition of self in the greater context of what it means to be human.

To me, this is what mediocre writing lacks. As a young adult author, it’s important to provide sustenance in a variety of ways–be it philosophical statements or scenes that place characters in difficult situations in order to prove their mettle (or not, because that can be fun, too). In these ways, a young reader receives more than just entertainment. She is nourished by the story; he learns without an obvious moral.

So, how do you accomplish this task of writing with purpose? How do you use your characters to say something important?

Music & Writing?

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Do you listen to music while you’re writing, or is it too distracting? My kids’ screams often serve as ambient noise while I work. Sometimes, I play nature and meditation CDs with names like Zen Garden or Orient Tranquility. (The kind you find below the machines that play music as you walk by, usually located in the same aisle with scented candles, flower vases, and throw pillows.) Other times, I have a little Norah Jones, Duncan Sheik, or–since I write YA fiction–Lorde playing softly. Then, during specifically angst-filled scenes, I might crank up Rammstein’s Du Hast to set the tone all the way to rage. Every now and then, I like it as close to silent as I can get after my 5 kids have gone to sleep. That’s the only way I can quiet my own mind enough to focus and draw my words to the surface. Though there are times when it gets to be too quiet, so I’ll turn on HGTV to feel like there’s someone talking that I need to ignore.

So, what kinds of music do you find inspiring? Who serenades you while you write?

Writer’s Digest October Platform Challenge

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It’s Day 3 of Robert Lee Brewer’s Platform Challenge at Writer’s Digest! Today’s task was start or continue writing a blog. After taking the last 9 months off from my blog, I think it’s time to restart it. Thank you, Mr. Brewer! This was a much needed boot to the butt to get me back here.