Category Archives: how to succeed

Skin in the Game VS External Motivators

It is amazing what a little direction and an external motivator can do for a writer. I think, at times, I take my writing group for advantage – as in, I am always amped to beta read, offer my services as a sounding board, or my myriad experiences with life and the multitude of careers that I have held…but sometimes (most of the time?), I fall vastly short of what I promise. I am the Prince of Empty Promises, which sucks…hard. Hell, I can’t even follow through on promises I make to myself (remember, Self, when I promised to write every day, even if it was only for twenty minutes?).

So when a friend offers to help me, it usually brings forth feelings of guilt, bubbling to the surface in sticky, resinous clots. I need to get over that shit. I am an ESFJ, which I hear is pretty cool. I don’t know a ton about personality tests, but the title of ‘Provide’ definitely seems to fit me well. I love to give, and have a hard time taking. I want to motivate others to be their best. I want people to look up to me for one reason or another – I guess that is why I have a degree in education. I believe that one should only surround his/her self with people that they strive to be like – I do not waste time with people that I do not admire. That being said, I need to get over my shit and start taking help from those who I admire, those who I strive to be like.

So, I was offered help recently. By one of those very friends who I strive to be like, none-the-less. Someone who is as well versed in literature and writing as you can get. Someone whose spirit and personality outshines everything else. And my knee-jerk reaction was to make sure that I wasn’t taking advantage of their expertise or services. I was laughed at, in the most kind-hearted and flattering of ways.

That brings us to today. I have written more from the spark of that outreach in the past six days than I have in several months. I talked about my lightning in a bottle writing session a while back – this is the most I have written since then. And it feels incredible. I am just writing. I am getting out of my own head, circumventing the tumors of self-doubt and vast wasteland of over analysis. I am just writing. And it feels incredible.

Concurrent to NaNoWriMo, their funding drive kicks into full gear. The argument is simple: if you donate money to the cause, you will be more inclined to reach your goal. I use this same argument at work. If you put some skin in the game, you are more aware and involved in whatever it is you are doing. So I donated. And I ‘failed’. I wrote over 13k words, so it wasn’t a total failure, but it sure wasn’t the mark that I set for myself. I am okay with that today. However, for me personally, this rationalization is a complete lie. It is bullshit. If I were to actualize my intentions for everything that I approach in this manner, I would be in amazing shape as well. As in, I pay for a gym membership every month, but I haven’t gone in eight. Skin in the game does not work for me.

The difference for me, in this situation, is that I am now on the hook for letting a friend down. If I don’t follow through, I am going to fail as an ESFJ. Again, that profile doesn’t resonate with me in terms of being a Briggs Meyer fanatic – it resonates with me in terms of being the person I want to be. I want people to come to me for help, advice, a hug…whatever. But I need to be able to reciprocate that situation for my friends as well. They are doing incredible things. I am sure they want me to go to them for help. Sometimes though, they chose to offer the hand before the request. I feel this encouragement in many ways. For example, I felt it when KM Alexander asked me to cover his Friday Link Packs while he was on tour with his wife for her amazing art exhibition in Melbourne.

I promised my amazing writing group that I would submit to contests, lit mags, etc. at least four times this year. I am certain that I will accomplish this, because I have an external motivator now – the fear of letting my group down. I have promised a friend to try a strategy in writing, and I am producing words again. This is happening because of that push. Even if fear is the motivator, it is working. I do a lot of public speaking and for me, that fear, right before I begin a presentation, is a tangible pod humming with the energy I need to be great. I harness that fear, breathing it in and swallowing it, as fuel to do great things.

All I can do now is figure out how to take my fears and apprehensions with writing and harness them in the same way. Dedicating time to the craft, and getting a few words on the page is the start. As I test the waters with my words, I will breath in their energy, and build up the confidence to dive in and let the electrifying shock of the process invigorate me.

How about you? Do you perform better when you have some skin in the game or when you have the push of an external motivator behind you?

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Friday Link Pack: 2/28/14

The last Friday in February – how time flies. I believe this will be my last Friday Link Pack to cover for K.M. Alexander, however I plan to continue doing this style of post more regularly. It has been a great experience in the sense that I have become more diligent in reading more blog posts and staying in tune with the writing community.

I owe a thank you to those who have tuned in and followed writebrainedramblings – I know a couple of you have become followers and I hope to offer you motivation, advice, and a place to read something of substance, if not tangential. Please feel free to follow me on Twitter at @wordrew.

Writing:

“I almost let him die.”

Victoria is a great writer to follow – her insights are always fantastic and tangible.  This article really hit home with me, as my most recent work (of which I posted a raw snippet) was something that I wrote on a warped mini notepad that I was using as a coaster on my nightstand. The opening of the story was a slurry of words that swirled and thickened in my mind as I drifted on the edge of deep sleep. Usually, when I am tired, I SLEEP – there is no drifting near anything. Just sleep.

Writing Excuses 9.6: The Experience of Time

This is a great episode in which relating real life experiences, and how the flow of time can change, in real life situations. Time can play such a powerful role in our writing – it can also wreak havoc if we are not careful.

The Biggest Lie Aspiring Writers Believe

I cannot tell you how hard this hit home with me. It is my biggest struggle. It always has been. I need to plug in a different response, pronto. Instead of ‘one more video game’ or ‘just a bit more research on new board games’. I need to listen to Patrick Rothfuss when he says:

RothfussPatrick

Random:

National Enquirer Forced to Fund New Playwriting Foundation in Honor of Phillip Seymour Hoffman

I have listened to both side of the argument about PSH’s death – that it is tragic and too early, or that we shouldn’t be praising an addict who chose drugs over family. This isn’t in any way taking a stance on that issue. This is a rose in the cracks – a seedling of something great born from a tragedy. Plus, screw the National Enquirer.

On why I accepted the apology and on the role of apologies in general

I love Mary Robinette Kowal, but I do not follow her enough to know what this post is really about – I imagine it has to do with SFWA and the trouble that community has been having as of late. None-the-less, this is a great article to read about what an apology actually is, and why we need to think about them before we give or accept them.

Farewell Gif of the Week:

“Insanity: doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.”

-Albert Einstein

NaNoWriMo: This is My Plan of Action

I had a fantastic day today. Just a simple, good old fashioned happy day. I am now exhausted and ready for bed. Initially, I was hoping that, on the eve of NaNoWriMo, I would take a nap then wake up in time for the midnight kickoff of my challenge. That is not going to happen. I am going to get a full night’s sleep and storm the castle in the morning. You need your rest for castle storming. That’s science.

I feel that the fact that I am ready to sleep is a good thing. It’s an indicator. I feel that my body is totally relaxed and ready to shut down for the night because I am in a fantastic place to succeed this year. My body knows this. My mind knows this. My heart knows this. I will sleep deeply and with drooling abandon tonight.

I have decided a couple of things recently – things that you should be aware of.

First, I am going to give to you all my favorite snippet of each day’s writing on my SNIPPETS page. It might be a turn of phrase that catches my fancy or maybe a revelation that I make during my discovery writing. Whatever it is, there will be something every day.

Second, I will be giving a weekly status update of my progress. I want to share with you all the strides that I have made. I want to hear about your progress in the comments – let’s have a discussion on what you are doing to succeed or what you need help with to do so.

So this is my daily plan of attack:

Wake up.

Shower. Eat a healthy breakfast. Pushups, squats, crunches.

Writing warm-up in longhand.

Writing session.

Work.

Dinner with Preggers.

Pushups, squats, crunches.

Writing warm-up in longhand.

Mini writing session.

Read.

Sleep.

This is, obviously, a pretty idyllic day for me. Work is going to wear me down and get in the way. Things are going to come up (finishing the nursery, traveling back to Michigan for Thanksgiving, etc.). Writing may not sound appealing to me at times. Tough shit. In my listening to podcasts such as Writing Excuses, reading Stephen King’s On Writing, and from other places where I hear authors talk about their craft, the great majority of them have a routine that they stick to daily. I need that in place. I am a creature of habit and will conform to whatever routine I establish.

I would like to point out my separation of longhand warm-ups and the main writing sessions. I am foreseeing a distinct difference in these two acts. For one, I have come to realize in my traveling these past two weeks, that I love writing in longhand. It’s a freeing experience. I feel more in tune with my voice and imagination now that I have in over a year.

The physicality of writing longhand aids your creative process in a few ways. First, it slows you down. You type faster than you pen and sometimes that does not give you the fraction of a second needed to connect thoughts, retrieve the proper word, or think through the sequence. I liken this to my teaching experience. Studies show that teachers call on students who raise their hands within one second the vast amount of time – studies also show that the same small fraction of the students in a class raise their hands that fast – other studies show that if you wait for three seconds before calling on a student for an answer, the vast majority of the students will have the answer. I am not entirely sure where I am going with all of this scientific data, but the point is that if you delay in calling on the same immediate response, participation increases and therefore engagement increases. The same is true with longhand. By delaying the speed at which you are transfering your thoughts, you give your brain the proper time to search for a more suitable word, to connect several thoughts together, and to think ahead in the story. These are good thigns.

I am planning on, at this point anyways, switching to the computer for my actual novel writing in the main writing sessions based on one simple assumption – that I will not be able to keep up with my thoughts once I am in full swing. I liken my writing rhythm to a locomotive. I am slow to start, but once I get going I have momentum that is incredibly difficult to stop. The warm-ups are there to shovel coal into the engine. The writing sessions are to carry my momentum over the crest of a hill and downwards at a pace that I have no hope to stop.

This post may not make a lot of sense. To be honest, I am so worn down from two weeks’ worth of travel, I am having a hard time discerning up from down most of the time (despite having a joyous day today). This is me clearing my head. This is me stating my plan of action for the big day tomorrow. This is me.

Further Reading

Purdie Writing – http://purdiewriting.blogspot.com/2013/06/writing-longhand.html

Kenisha Cummings – http://kenishacummings.wordpress.com/2013/10/31/nanowrimo-prep/

See Sam Write – http://seesamwrite.wordpress.com/2013/10/31/confessions-of-a-procrastinator-aka-my-commitment/comment-page-1/#comment-38

NaNoWriMo: Stratejay to 50k

It’s a horrible title, I know. Just horrible.

This year, I feel as though I have the strongest strategy to-date for my approach to success. I have really dug into the core issue with my failing every NaNo for the past seven years. It has been an exercise in introspection and a quite humbling experience.

Ultimately, I need some bite to my bark. I have said a few times in the past via social media or conversations with my peeps – I am more in love with the idea of being a writer than actually writing. It’s okay, according to the awesome people at Writing Excuses, to present yourself as a writer, even if you do not have anything published. Unfortunately for me, I have done a lot of talking about being a writer and spent very little energy actually doing the craft. This needs to change for NaNoWriMo 2013.

So I have started developing strategies that will give me teeth. That will give me the aggressiveness to bite when needed. These are obviously what I feel will help me best for the long month ahead – they may not work for you.

First and foremost, I am going to eliminate the distractions that I put in place last year. Most of these were technology-based distractions. I purchased Scrivener and was immediately overwhelmed by the vast coolness of serious number of features that it offers. That ended up as a detractor from my writing though, as I spent more time trying to set up syncing features and DropBox accounts and such. I am sure it works great and this is in no way a review or commentary on Scrivener. I just lost focus of what was important – the writing. I have tried out a new piece of tech that I am actually really enjoying however. Stenosaur is a fantastic little app that allows a user to tweet microjournals to the Stenosaur app for future use. For me, this is fantastic.

I will write a full review about Stenosaur once I have explored it to the fullest, but for now, I am in love with the fact that I can use talk-to-text functionality to voice record ideas while I am driving, which I do more than the average bear.

My second strategy is to do warm-ups before each session. Ultimately, if you start writing cold, your first five hundred words or so are still your warm-up, but I am going to employ a new strategy: I am going to write for a half hour before every session for a different project. My main NaNoWriMo project is a fantasy novel that I have been working on for quite some time. The other project that I want to use warm-ups for is a somewhat post apocalyptic novel about survival and human drive. I will use this designated half hour to simply write character explorations of a few people jangling around in my head.

My intentions here are to build up a working base for the new novel, while letting my mind and fingers fall into my natural rhythm of writing. I have found from past experiences, that when I sit down to write and the words do not come easily, I get frustrated and give up on the session. I have also found that I love write character sketches and letting them grow and explore on the page. Using the moment of these free write sketches I will, I hope, be able to switch gears into the world and characters that I already know and love and understand, and continue with the real juicy stuff for the day.

Finally, I am going to change perspective on my word count approach. I have decided to take the 1st off of work, which gives me a three day, full on NaNoWriMo start to work with. I plan to write until my fingers bleed on day one. I plan to write my ass off on day two. I plan to write until my preggers wife drags me from my office on day three. At that point, on Sunday night, when I need to rub cream on the ever-expanding belly of my beautiful wife, I will start calculating word count. Let’s just say, for argument’s sake, that I manage 10k words in those three days, I would only have to average 1429 words per day (aWPD) for the rest of the month. If I started at Day One, I would need 1613 aWPD to hit 50k by the end of the month. A 200 aWPD difference does not seem like much and you would be correct.

The bigger issue at play is the inspirational force of grinding out 10k words in 3 days! At that pace 100k words is feasible, and I am a man who rides the waves of momentum quite well. This is the biggest point for everyone to embrace. Develop strategies that give you small victories. Let the high of those victories fuel your momentum. Let your momentum carry you into the land of NaNo victory.

In most things in life, I am at least as much bite as I am bark. So far, this has not been the case in my writing, and I have realized that is because of a lack of confidence in my craft and a lack of micro-victories to prove to myself that I am capable of doing this.

One.Hundred.Thousand.Words.

One.Hundred.Thousand.Words.

That’s nothing, right? Right? Seriously. I can do that. Can I do that?

I have been coming to terms recently with the fact that my story, no matter how desperately it wants to be told, will not come to fruition without BiCHoK (Butt in Chair, Hands on Keyboard). I have neglected my writing for a couple of weeks now and, after some introspection, I think I have found a few key factors for this.

First, I am going to be a dad. What?! Yuppers. My wife and I are now out of the DangerZone in terms of risk for the pregnancy and we are excited to be able to tell people now. Obviously this has been a fantastic, frenetic, and (insert any applicable ‘f’ word here to continue consonance) time for us. We were busy planning the different announcements for our family members, celebrating, and combating some morning sickness.

That aside, I was able to sleep through the night so I cannot use exhaustion as an excuse. As the end of CampNaNoWriMo was drawing to a close, I saw my required daily word count rise from 5,500 words to 6,150 to 7,342. What I actually saw was my goal pompously defying logic. It floated farther and farther away, yet it appeared larger and more menacing each day. Discouragement set in.

My expectations were set too high. One night I participated in @FriNightWrites and #WriteClub and wrote over 1,000 words in a half hour sprint. I was amazed. I let a scene flow out of me with inhibition. I wrote from the PoV of my second main character who, ironically enough, I was initially more interested in as the primary main character (ugh, I know that sounds redundant, but I have twin brothers as protagonists and so there is really the primary main and the secondary or supporting main).  I thought from the beginning that I would be writing his PoV from the get go, but working from the other brother’s PoV first allowed me a deeper insight and thus the writing flowed quite nicely. I created a crumpled, wrinkly old woman who is tough as stone and as warm as fresh bread. I set up backstory for the village in which the story starts out. It was a completely positive experience.

So I thought, “Self, if you just do this 100 more times, which is only 50 hours, you would have a first draft.” The logic is solid. 1,000 words every half hour. 2,000 words an hour. 20,000 words every ten hours. 100,000 words every fifty hours. I imagine that is the pace that self-professed speedster Rachel Aaron writes at (her book, The Spirit Thief, is pretty rad to boot).

This all seemed so damned easy to me. Then I tried writing the next day. I could hear the sucking sound as words had to be practically pried from brain. It was excruciating. So I gave up. I let my lack of willpower defeat my aspirations. That burdened me with guilt. Guilt led to depression. You get the idea? Does it sound familiar? I have gathered from this new exploration into the craft of writing and learning about other authors’ processes that this is sort of common. I want to move past that.

I have also been struggling to find my voice. Lauren Sapala’s fantastic blog recently had a post about How to Hunt Your Writing Voice that gave me insight on my perception of discovering my voice. Just like her opening example discusses how a fellow writer thinks about his craft, I have decided to try and conceptualize my process. At best, to this point, I have given myself a fantastical scene in which I am an adventurer digging for an ancient relic (remember, I write fantasy). Each word is nothing but detritus being flung atop a heap of writing scree. They say that you have to write a few novels before you write one worth publishing. My process is simply to do that. The more I write, the closer I get to that ancient (although future) relic of my first published book. The product implies the completion of the journey. I hope.

So this is my pledge. I want to give myself and all of you at least one blog post worth reading each week. It won’t come on the same day. It will pertain to writing or creating. I will try but do not guarantee that you will find something to take away with you from it. Right now, this process is for me – the books I publish will be for you.

The Right Time to Write

My career, simply put, keeps me moving. I travel within the local area about 50% of my time with an additional 10-15% of long distance travel. I unfortunately do not have as consistent of a schedule as I would like. I also have a career when I am constantly on the computer so some days, when I come home from work, the last thing I want to do is stare at a computer some more.

What I am finding is that, for me, there are going to be a lot of days that aren’t conducive to me writing on a schedule. I won’t have a cell phone alarm chirping at me to, as Patrick Rothfuss wrote on his hand, “Sit your ass down and write”. I have to grind out eight hours, come home, take care of TheNecessaries around the house, and then find the gumption to write for a couple of hours. Does this mean that I am not dedicated enough if I don’t find that drive? I sure as hell hope not.

So plan on seeing me make intermittent postings here, much like this one. I am sitting at a health fair answering questions as they come up and creating a sweaty ass imprint on my vinyl covered chair. Ah, the inspiration!

I have decided that due to my hectic life (and I completely acknowledge that other authors have equally if not more hectic lives than me) I just need to force the right time on occasion and use these opportunities to write, clear my head, and reflect on what has been written and what needs to be worked on next – to plan, brainstorm, work in my writing bible, and blog.

Face My Fear

I have a confession to make – more to myself than to anyone reading this – but a confession none-the-less. I am coming to terms with the fact that I am terrified to become a writer. This is a realization that has revealed itself to me very recently…today, in fact. I find that others have pushed me, encouraged me, smiled and nodded as I rambled on, and otherwise allowed me to come to this realization on my own. Perhaps that is exactly why I feel so responsible to fix this particular issue.

Thinking that I had a breakthrough (with the gentle nudging of a fellow writer who knows who she is) today, upon arriving home, I strode into the bedroom and promptly woke my sick wife. “Honey,” I said. “I know what my problem is. I am scarred to write … the thought terrifies me.”

Heather, the amazing woman that she is – even when not feeling well – gave me a familiar gentle smile and head nod, somehow telling me that she already knew and was glad that it dawned  on me as well. We talked for a moment. She arrived at the exact same conclusion mere hours earlier.

This is confirmation. I can write it in stone. Give me a slate tablet and a chisel – no need for a hammer though, I will just repeatedly pound my head into the chisel to do the work. This fear is as hard to get rid of as blood on a white shirt or grease stains on a graphic tee.

I really do not know what I hope to accomplish here. Well, I do know, but I fear that I won’t actually accomplish it. In the idyllic landscape that is my mind – the place where the notion of writing and becoming an actual author sounds glamorous and perfect – I hope to use this blog as my centering, my focus, where I can write to clear my head and know what I am writing before I write it.

This is as good of a time as any to discover myself as a writer and I intend to do just that. I will not fear writing again, regardless of how daunting it seems or how much I self-depricate by comparing my words to another author’s.

My writing buddy tweeted a quote for me tonight because she is awesome like that.

Do what you fear and fear disappears.
~David Joseph Schwartz