Allowing the Silence in

Finish-lineThis has been a whirlwind month. I am shocked by how many things I successfully juggled. While excessive busy-ness often warps my attitude, the month of May felt like a marathon I had been conditioning myself for. (Good thing I went to that retreat the end of April!) I managed to keep my focus and juggle a rush job on top of regular clients, editing, teaching, and my own writing deadline. I’m pleased to say I plowed through problems and projects alike. Like running a marathon, I felt a huge sense of accomplishment—and this was all happening those first three weeks of the month!

By May 25th I was ready for the lull before the next push toward the finish line. As often happens after a huge achievement, I spend time “recuperating” by resting, replenishing the freezer (need quick and healthy meals in order to keep up break-neck writing/editing sessions), and refilling the creative well with wonderful books and movies.

I also like to use music. It feels the silences and when I’m writing, I focus on the melodies at first, but soon typing thoughts to screen takes over and I no longer notice the music. It’s as if I have to ignore it so I can focus on writing. I often listen to either music of audio books as I work in the kitchen or do housework.

FloridaAtlanticBut this month, I found myself skipping the audio input. I relished the silence and as I worked straightening up or making meals. I allowed both thoughts and silence instead. It was refreshing, much like my recent retreat. I liked to hear the ticks and creaks of my house displace the silence. As my thoughts settled, and like drowning out the music with writing, I found myself generating new scenes or cobbling together new story ideas.

The silence became rich with meaning and words. Now I’ve been spending time each day in the stillness and silence. I cherish the peace and lack of busy-ness, then allow the words to take over.

In my writing, I have kept the reverence of the silence in mind for a few characters. Silence—the lack of sound—does count as targeting the sense of hearing within our manuscripts.

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Make Peace with Holiday Writing Progress

sun tree“Christmas is the season for kindling
the fire of hospitality in the hall,
the genial flame of charity in the heart.”
~Washington Irving

I hope you are giving yourself a gift of time this year: time to spend with family and friends, time to sit and dream (i.e., pre-write & plan), time to be kind to yourself.

Perhaps you’ve been very motivated all year and focused on your writing projects. Now, it may be frustrating to feel you’re making little progress due to the “holiday dash.” Or, perhaps you’ve thrown yourself into the holiday celebrations BECAUSE you’ve made little progress this year. In either case, the following writing-related activities will keep your head in your project with a few snippets of time throughout the week. They are all related to pre-writing, which is an important stage in writing. If you can find time now to do a few of these, you’ll have that pattern established once the holidays end and your time frees up a bit.

1. Back off on your expectations (and this applies to non-writing parts of life, too). This is NOT the time to set outrageous goals to get your family to support or encourage you as a writer. Be realistic. If you normally make time to write four days a week, aim instead for two or three days per week during December and early January. You have twice the work load with holiday shopping and prep (especially if you’re hosting family for dinner or celebrations).

2. Select 2 writing-related activities in lieu of adding word count. Items for this list might include:

  • reading (especially in the same genre as your project)
  • exploring publishers
  • finding authors similar to your project (for the pitch letter)
  • drafting a project summary or cover letter
  • making outline notes (or even thinking about how your character will face the next obstacle)

These are all related to writing and your current project, even if some do not include putting words to paper. For example, reading articles about writing craft in a magazine or on a website will help you with your writing after the holiday prep is completed.

The challenge of writing "on demand" pushes beyond the comfort zone.

3. Keep a notebook with you. Jot thoughts about your work-in-progress. (How do your characters celebrate the holidays? Which holidays occur during the course of your story?) While you’re in the holiday crowds (or at family gatherings), note mannerisms and oft repeated phrases. These could become character tags in your story, or provide a detail to make a character come alive. Note memories triggered during holiday activities. Then, journal about them.

4. Journal. If you don’t normally journal, now is a great time to begin. Journaling is a way to put words to paper on a regular basis, even if it’s only a few paragraphs or a summary of your busy days. (These details can come in handy when you return to your regularly scheduled writing routine.) Journaling can also help clear your mind and allow you to focus on tackling the holiday to-do list.

Think of the above as similar to working out. It’s much easier to get back into full swing after the holidays when you’ve kept the writing muscles warmed up with writing-related activities.

WhitePineSeason’s Greetings, and happy writing!

This is my wish for you:
peace of mind, prosperity through the year,
happiness that multiplies, health for you and yours,
fun around every corner, energy to chase
your dreams, joy to fill your holidays!
~D.M. Dellinger

Juggling Words

“I don’t know how you do it!” said one of the women at the writers group when I shared a list of current projects. She said it with mixed disgust and captivation. She has not been the only writing colleague to react with stress to my multi-project, busy schedule. It’s summer and I have both fiction and nonfiction projects in various stages, plus I do editing for other writers, and I’ve taken on two big projects working with clients to help them bring their books into the world. A recent “dilemma” is having a waiting list for people who want to work with me.

think-you-canI never know what to say in response. Sorry–that my life as a professional writer doesn’t appear lazily creative? I do work to keep my life balanced (a variety of projects for a variety of age levels and genres plus down-time and socializing and fun things to refill my creative well).

Often my response is to simply scratch my head and say nothing (implying I am as perplexed with their comment as they are with my workload). This is the bottom line: I make my living doing this so I don’t know how to NOT work on multiple projects. Besides, I once worked as a technical writer and later as a publicist for a hospital. Anyone who has worked in a company should get HOW I juggle demands on my time. Add to this scenario that fact that I was supervisory level at several jobs, which meant I was responsible for my work as well as the work of others (and sometimes those “others” needed help meeting their deadlines/workloads), so I can’t wrap my head around how I could NOT juggle one than one project at time.

Do I find it easy? Not always. Do I find it overwhelming? Only rarely (hey, I’m human after all). Do I find it confusing or draining  or something I dread? Never. I thrive in having many irons in the fire or balls in the air–as my mother used to describe my attraction to busy-ness.

Sysephus-stoneLike anyone else, though, I have good days and bad. I face days when I wonder WHY I chose this career, but it is a momentary frustration. I have had moments when I feel a bit like Sisyphus rolling the boulder up the hill, watching it roll down, and beginning all over again. I’ve also had moments when I think I’m getting too worn out and tired, that I should go get an office job and let someone be in charge and relax in being told what to do. But those low times are few and very far apart. At the end of the day–and occasionally only the end of the week–I am amazed at how good I feel about what I spend my days doing: writing, editing, learning, sharing. I often feel a strong sense of accomplishment and satisfaction. Sometimes the perseverance needed to meet a deadline is the same as that needed to cross the finish line in a marathon. But after the aches subside, it was well worth the effort. Most days, my writing projects do not feel like work. In fact, I feel energized by all that I get done and in seeing the transformation of words into publication.

Daily I feel very blessed to be able to juggle words for a living. You’ll find the same satisfaction and fulfillment if you follow your dream and keep it balanced with the other demands on your time and attention. Best wishes and happy creating!

Write Through the Holidays

The holidays have arrived. Allow me to wish you a most merry holiday dash! For many people, CharlieBrownTreemyself included, the holidays herald the added stress of a longer to-do list, too little time, and frustration at fitting in writing time. When I was still working full-time and freelancing (instead of writing full-time), it was even more stressful because I’d offer myself an early gift of making more time to write. Disaster. Over the years, and especially since transitioning to full-time writing, I’ve learned to balance writing and all the holiday prep using four guidelines:

broken-orn First, back off on your expectations (and this applies to non-writing parts of life, too). This is NOT the time to set outrageous goals to get your family to support or encourage you as a writer. Be realistic. If you normally make time to write four days a week, aim instead for two or three days per week during December. You have twice the work load with holiday shopping and prep (especially if you’re hosting family for dinner or celebrations).

Second, make a list of writing-related activities and target achieving those instead of adding word count to your work-in-progress. What is one thing you can do daily (or four times a week, or whatever your goal) to make progress with your writing? Items for this list might include, reading, exploring publishers, finding authors similar to your project (for the pitch letter), drafting a project summary or cover letter, making outline notes, or even thinking about how your character will face the next obstacle. These are all related to writing and your current project, even if some do not include putting words to paper. For example, reading articles about writing craft in a magazine or on a website about will help you with your writing after the holiday prep is completed.

Third, keep a notebook with you. When I was starting out, I wrote magazine articles so I kept a notebook with me at all times, making notes and jotting ideas based on my experiences with family and friends. An article about what women do while men watch football? Tips for faster clean up to get out of the kitchen and back to the gathering? Ideas for occupying little ones during “boring grown-up talk”? I recorded them all, without judging the quality or feasibility. (Those decisions were made later.)journal Likewise, I noted mannerisms and details that could be used to make fiction characters come alive.

Four, journal more frequently. This is still my trick for making writing progress during the holidays. I faithfully wrote daily in my journal (though I frequently skip days at others times of the year). This gave me the chance to clear ideas from my head and record plot and scene summaries for current writing projects. It also served as a way to put words to paper on a regular basis, even if I only wrote a few paragraphs. After the holidays it’s easy to look at these summaries and plan, then get back to a regular writing routine. Like working out, it was easier to get back into full swing because I kept the muscles warmed up with daily short writing.

If you do not normally journal, now is a great time to take it up. At the very least, jot thoughts and ideas in a notebook for use later. It may provide an added “gift” of creating a regular writing routine to build from after the holidays.

HappyHoliday

Set Boundaries to Limit Distractions

“I enjoy writing in the desert. There are no distractions

such as telephones, theaters, opera houses, and gardens.”

~Agatha Christie

Boy can I relate to Agatha! “Life gets in the way” moments are overflowing the brim on my cup of life this month. Emails from former workshop students looking for quick answers, neighbors wanting to meet for coffee, community and building maintenance that either create excessive noise or inconveniences (such as needing to move vehicles or preparing for a water shut-off all morning), phone calls to change scheduled appointments (which disrupts everything else). The list goes on, but we all have these problems to deal with. Life happens.

Set boundaries and stick to them.

Set boundaries and stick to them.

The trick is in setting boundaries. This is difficult for writers, whether you are working your craft on a part-time, full-time, or “whenever I can grab the time” basis. If, like Agatha, you know you’re going to be distracted, then go somewhere to minimize those distractions. Okay, most of us don’t have the luxury of retreating to a second house or a hotel, especially for an extended stay. So, the answer lies in setting boundaries at home. This is as simple as carving out an hour or two of time to dedicate to writing. Depending on how you work, these don’t need to be back-to-back hours. Progress is progress and it adds up over time. I recently declared Mondays my “writing days” and I now focus first on my own project (before shifting gears to work on client projects). I allow no meetings or appointments on Mondays. When someone tries to set appointments for Mondays I apologize and inform him or her that the “slots are filled.” They are. By my projects.

Remember that when you set boundaries, you do not need to provide an explanation. Have the PTA president asking you to help with an event? Great, but as a parent you have a job to take care of your family along with whatever other hats you may wear. Simply say, “Oh, I’d love to but I’m not free at that time.” Yes, I’ve known some pushy people who might ask, “Really? Doing what?” Very rude, but you still do not owe any explanation (even if you were simply planning on taking a long soak in the tub)!

Consider your choices and choose a path.

Consider your choices and choose a path.

If you feel guilty, first remember that they want you to accommodate them, and second, what you have planned is important too. It’s about choices and you need to choose to take your writing seriously. You can always say you have an assignment to complete or a project to finish (because you do; your writing project). I had one pushy client who hinted many times that I should make her project a priority and even suggested I work on her computer at her house! I restated my unavailability until she asked to know about my other clients. I smiled, and said, “Now that’s not fair.” I paused and then jokingly added, “I mean, I suppose I could tell you, but then I’d have to . . .” (I didn’t need to finish that old cliché. She got the hint that it was none of her business!)

Guard the time you set aside.

Guard the time you set aside.

When setting boundaries, people often get upset that they are not getting their own way. This is okay. It’s part of the power struggle in maintaining boundaries. Their hope is that you will bend your boundaries to accommodate them. Think of young children who push to the limit to see how much they can get away with. As parents, we stand firm. As business people (and yes, you should think of your writing as a business), we need to stand firm, too. I have never made appointments with dentists or repair people when I could “nudge” them into a time that was the better for me. Whoever makes the schedule suggests the closest open time slot: “I have an 11:30 a.m. or, the next time on that date is 3:30 p.m.” I choose the time based on what’s available. We need to work with all the people in our lives to do the same and guard what little time we manage to set aside for our writing projects.

The effort you put into maintaining boundaries will pay off. During the guarded hours you create for your writing, you can ignore potential distractions, just as Agatha Christie did in writing in the desert. Over time, those distractions that are part of daily life will feel less invasive because you will see progress on your writing, and page by page you move closer to your goal\.

Freedom Friday

Happy 4th of July to my American friends and followers!

LadyLiberty

I’m glad Independence Day falls on a Friday this year. I needed the reminder to guard my freedom to write every Friday. It’s long been my “free” writing day. It’s not that I needed to be reminded that Fridays are (and have been for nearly 20 years) my dedicated writing time. It’s that I needed the reminder that saying “no” for a Friday commitment is okay.

Though I’ve been writing professionally for 25 years now, it’s only been about 12 that I have freelanced full time. In my early writing career, I worked full-time and struggled to carve out writing time. After selling regularly for about 5 years, I sought out jobs that would allow me Fridays off. This way I had a long weekend every weekend to focus on my writing business. At first it was a company that allowed me to work 40 hours during 4 days (or sometimes work only a half-day on Friday). Later, I took a 32-hour-a-week job and then a half-time (20 hours per week) job.

freedomFridays have been “sacred” writing time to me. Even now, when I’m working on a client project or have a deadline, Fridays are still my “free” day. I choose the project to focus on, even if it’s only for part of the day. It’s often one of my newer projects. This keeps me motivated. (There’s something about a project in the early stages of planning and character development that recharges both my creativity and my energy.)

Recently, I’ve had a several requests to either teach or meet a client or commit to some writing-related event on a Friday. Inwardly I blanched. Outwardly I said, “I’m so sorry. That day is already booked.” But, I felt guilty. Really guilty. It’s so easy to feel the guilt trips from others weighing heavily on my shoulders. I mean, I work at home. My time is flexible. What’s the big deal about accommodating someone else’s schedule and helping him or her out?

The big deal is that if this were a job in which I had to leave my house, go to an employer’s place of business to complete my tasks, then no one would question my inability to meet with them on Fridays. This is one of the toughest things about committing to a freelance career—even from family. It seems to them so flexible, so filled with freedom to set one’s own schedule (meaning, fitting into their schedules). There are plenty of other things that are hard about freelancing. Guarding the time we work to carve out and commit to our writing goals shouldn’t be one of them.

So, with Independence Day falling on my “free” day to write, it reminded me to make a new choice. I choose not to feel guilty about guarding my freedom to write. What choices will you make? Will you carve out writing time too—and guard your freedom to write? I hope so!

One Step Closer

This has been an overwhelming year. The month of November was especially challenging, but I got through it with the help of friends and family . I’m grateful to them. But I’m also thankful that I learned something years ago that has helped me navigate the rough waters of life. While working for a company that held yearly “Make It Happen” goal-setting days, we also received Franklin-Covey planners and learned about creating action steps and prioritizing every item on our To-Do lists.

Out of this evolved a process to juggle a variety of projects — I’ve always thrived on having a lot of irons in the fire. But the idea is so simple most people disregard it.

The key is actually two parts that work together. The first part is to remain positive. The second is to break every task and goal into smaller pieces. The pieces help you feel you’re accomplishing something, which makes it easier to remain positive. With this in mind, break everything into as small a piece as necessary to 1) move toward completion, and 2) feel as if you’re making progress.

So, every word builds a sentence. Every sentence a paragraph. Every paragraph a page. Page after page builds a chapter and so on until the manuscript is complete. Now you’re moving forward and making progress.

During the last few months I’ve focused on “just one more” of whatever I’ve been facing. One more class meeting toward completing a workshop. One more meeting toward completing a project for a client. One more manuscript to read. One more student to critique. One more course proposal submitted. One more box toward packing away my father’s possessions. One more load to donation. One more room emptied and cleaned. One more day toward a fresh start in a new year.

And now, one more blog toward getting back on track. Try it for yourself. Just one more step takes you closer to your goal. And as you get through each task, you’re have one more thing to feel good about.