Writing

Punctual, Easy To Work With, & Brilliant: 2 Out Of 3 Is Fine

In a lot of ways, this blog ends up being posts that I write because I need to read them or someone close to me might need them.  Neil Gaiman is one of my favorite writing role models and I come back to his book “Fantastic Mistakes” over and over again.  The book is just a fancy version of a speech he gave at the Philadelphia’s University for the Arts commencement ceremony, but it was filled with amazing advice for creative people.  One of my favorite parts of his speech was a specific tip about freelancers and getting hired for jobs.  The advice basically goes as follows–

Freelancers get hired for the following reasons:

  1. They do good work.
  2. They are easy to work with.
  3. They are punctual and meet deadlines.

…And you really only need two out of three to get hired.

Even though I’m doing less work for hire because I’m focusing on writing fiction, this idea still echoes in my head.  If you are easy to work with and you always hit deadlines, you can build a freelance career, even if your work isn’t always brilliant.  If you’re brilliant and easy to work with, you can miss some deadlines and people will most likely be forgiving.  If you do good work and hit deadlines with ease, it might be okay for you to not be the most social/easy person to work with.  Focus on what you’re good at and build your skills accordingly.

I personally strive for all three, but my main focus is that I’m easy to work with and I always am either on time or early for deadlines.  I think deadlines are important because they can really help you show the people you work with that you can be reliable and consistent.

Anyways, that’s my short post for this week.  I would highly recommend “Fantastic Mistakes” to anyone who wants to pursue a creative career or even a creative hobby.  Gaiman’s advice is always so uplifting and yet so grounded and simple.

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Personal Post · productivity · Writing

Self-Care for Creative People

I am a very type “A” person.  I also have ADD, so I tend to bounce around from project to project, furiously trying to get everything done.  In the last year or so, I’ve learned that self-care is kind of key to my mental health and I’ve been learning more and more about what it means to me.  Often times I feel too ‘busy’ to take a minute for myself to refill and refresh my mental state.  It can be difficult to do this normally but I’ve also found it can be hard to do creatively.  There is always the temptation to push for more.  Push to get more done.  Push to write more, draw more, create more.

Instead of feeling super accomplished after I push for more, I tend to feel like no matter how much I get done there is always more to do.

My Favorite Self-Care Rituals

1. Read

It can be tempting to get so into my own projects that I leave no time for reading, but lately, I’ve been trying to set aside 10-20 minutes a day to read something.  A book, a comic, something with some kind of storytelling aspect.  I’ve even gotten a little app called “Webtoons” on my phone where I can scroll through short comics and binge read entire creator-produced series.

2. Color 

I’ve found that coloring is a great way to feel creative without the burden of creating something brand new.  I spurlged on some colored pencils and markers and I have a mermaid coloring book I pull out sometimes.  I’ll listen to music or watch youtube and just feel in the lines to my linking with purples, pinks, and blues.

3.  Go For A Walk

I’m bad about taking my own advice on this one, but getting out of the house can be a great way to clear the mental/creative clutter.  It’s also summer, so right now it’s a lot easier for me to take a stroll.

4. Declutter/Clean Up A Small Area

If it’s really for self-care, I try to pick a small cleaning task like loading/unloading the dishwasher or picking up my office.  I’ve always found that small cleaning tasks can help me feel a little less disjointed and a bit more together.  I have also found that sometimes it helps me work through ideas I’m stuck on.  Something about using my hands/body, allows my mind to hum and work in the background.

Book Recommendations – Novels To Help You Avoid Feeling OverWhelmed

I also want to recommend a couple books that might help you avoid feeling completely overwhelmed in your creative journey.  Sometimes their advice is a little at odds with each other but I’ve found gems that I cling to in each of them.

  1. You Are A Badass by Jen Sincero – I still re-read this book on a regular basis.  It helps remind me that I have great to things to share with the world.
  2. The Life-Changing Magic Of Not Giving a F* by Sarah Knight.  So yeah, this one does swear quite a bit, but Knight has a great approach to figuring out what things you should care about and what things are okay to let go by the wayside.
  3. Anything by Gabrielle Bernstein.  – She is totally Guru-esque, but she’s also just full of light and love.
  4. Girl Wash Your Face by Rachel Hollis – A really lovely book that helps you work on the lies you tell yourself (You’re not talented/good/skinny enough).
my writing

Short Story Release: Battles

So I actually wrote this story about two years ago.  It was accepted into a superhero anthology and I was giddy and then…The anthology was never made.  Despite my disappointment, I decided I still wanted to share this story with the world, so I opted to self-publish it through Amazon.  You can pick up the ebook here:

https://www.amazon.com/dp/B07FK4SJP6

Here’s a synopsis:

Rae must face an enemy that she thought was once a friend. She is faced with an impossible choice. She can use her newly-discovered powers to stop her old friend or she can give into his demands and possibly lose herself in the process. Will she face this battle and find out what she is truly made of or abandon it?

Here’s a short preview:

“You know what makes a hero, right Rae?”  Her mother’s words echoed in Rae’s head. “They keep fighting, even if they know they can’t win.  They don’t pick their battles. The battles pick them.”

She continued down the rain-soaked city streets as the words reverberated in her head.  Even as she tried to think on other things, she could not shake them.

Rae could not remember if she had asked her mother about what a hero was, or if it was just the curious look on her small features that prompted her mother to make the comment, but the words had stuck with her for the next twenty years – long after she had gotten super human abilities of her own.  

Long before she had to test her mother’s statement.

Writing

Passion Vs. Skill

This is a struggle that many creators often face.  The idea they want to write is so perfectly formed in their head and yet when it comes time to put pen to paper, the story doesn’t quite match what was in their head.  It’s much rougher and not as fully formed as they would like it to be.

I recently faced this with a project I’ve been working on.  I had plenty of passion for the project, it’s a story that has been on my mind for 4 years or so…But after a few months of working on characters and plot, I realized though I loved the characters and my idea, my skills to tell this story weren’t up to snuff.

When you hit this crossroads, you can do one of two things:  

  1.  Give up and throw your hands in the air.
  2.  Put the story away for a little while.  Build your skills.  Come back to it later.

If you give up, it’s over.  If you put the story on the shelf and keep working to become a better creator, you can come back to it someday and do it justice.

I’m an avid Neil Gaiman fan.  I loved his writing advice before I fell in love with his writing, because he is often very raw and very honest.  There are a few times where he will mention that he started a story or got an idea, only to finish it years later, long after the initial spark.

Sometimes you just aren’t ready to tell a particular story, even if you love the story to pieces.  I find that I know I’ve hit this point when all the pleasure goes out of writing the story.  Writing is a job, yes, but for me I never want it to feel like hard, monotonous work.

It’s important to have passion and skill for any project you plan to work on.  If you are pursuing a creative endeavor, if you are making stories or art you should love it.  It shouldn’t be just a job, if it feels like a constant slog and you can’t find your passion for the project…Switch projects.  If switching doesn’t help, maybe it’s time to find a new passion.  You want to be excited about what you are working on.  If you can’t find that excitement no matter what you try, then it’s either time to take a break or time to try something else.

There are much easier jobs that pay better that don’t require creative stress.  Creating is labor, but it should be the kind of labor you enjoy doing.

I’ll end this post with a great quote on this topic from Ira Glass:

“Nobody tells this to people who are beginners, I wish someone told me. All of us who do creative work, we get into it because we have good taste. But there is this gap. For the first couple years you make stuff, it’s just not that good. It’s trying to be good, it has potential, but it’s not. But your taste, the thing that got you into the game, is still killer. And your taste is why your work disappoints you.

A lot of people never get past this phase, they quit. Most people I know who do interesting, creative work went through years of this. We know our work doesn’t have this special thing that we want it to have. We all go through this. And if you are just starting out or you are still in this phase, you gotta know its normal and the most important thing you can do is do a lot of work.

Put yourself on a deadline so that every week you will finish one story. It is only by going through a volume of work that you will close that gap, and your work will be as good as your ambitions. And I took longer to figure out how to do this than anyone I’ve ever met. It’s gonna take awhile. It’s normal to take awhile. You’ve just gotta fight your way through.”

Writing

A Goal, A Plan – What Is The Difference?

I am a bit of a planning nut, so I tend to have daily, weekly, monthly and quarterly goals. Goals are fantastic and necessary if you want to work toward achieving something you have never done before.  A few people do magically stumble into the career or life of their dreams, but they are the exception, not the rule.  Your goals don’t have to be perfect starting out, nor do they have to be as thorough as mine tend to be.

Here’s the thing though, goals are just sentences on a piece of paper or glyphs on a google doc without a plan to work toward them.  So let’s break both concepts down and look at what makes a good goal and what makes a great plan.

How To Write Good Goals

There are a few tried and true aspects you need to have a good goal.  Here are the basics:

  • Be Specific – Don’t be vague.  Being vague about your goals tends to make them more difficult to work toward.  While it’s tempting to say “I want to be a writer” and put that as your goal, it is very general and not very motivational.  A goal like “I want to publish two short stories this year” gives you specific information about what you would like to achieve.
  • Make Your Goal Measurable – For a goal to be measurable, there needs to be evidence you have done something once you achieve it.  Again, “I want to be a writer” is sort of a flimsy goal because there is no way to measure progress when the goal is so general.  If your goal is about publishing two short stories, as mentioned above, if you get one or two stores published, you have a clear, measurable way to look at your progress.
  • Make It Attainable –  If you set impossible goals, you are sabotaging your motivation.  Making goals that are attainable is going to help you build on the momentum you get as you start achieving the goals you’ve set.  “I want to be a famous writer” might be unattainable in the short-term.  “I want to steadily self-publish two shorts and 1 novel per year.” is something that you can do if you put your nose to the grindstone and keep working.
  • Make It Time-Bound  – You need a deadline.  Sometimes deadlines still pass you by, but having a clear time limit can be a great way to hold yourself accountable for the goals you have set.  This is why I make daily, weekly, monthly and quarterly goals.  It gives me clear time constraints on the different projects I’m working on.

How To Make A Plan To Achieve Them

If a goal is a thing you want, then the plan is the nuts and bolts of how you get it.  I find that the best way to avoid overwhelming yourself with a big plan is to break it all down into smaller steps.

When I taught special education, we often used a thing called “Task Analysis” to help students learn new and complicated skills.  We would do this by breaking the task or skill down into smaller steps and then we would teach those smaller steps to the student.  Once they knew the smaller steps, they could chain them together and accomplish the more complicated skill.

I use this sort of method all the time when I approach plans. To make a good plan, you break the goal down into various small steps, steps that feel a lot easier to accomplish than the goal as a whole.

Here is an example of a recent way I used this method to make a plan:

One of my current goals is to publish a short story I wrote on Amazon.  It was a story that was accepted into an anthology but the publishing contract fell through.  Rather than let it sit on my computer, I decided I wanted to self-publish it.  The writing and editing are already done, but for example’s sake, we’ll pretend like I’m starting from scratch.

My plan might look something like this:

  1. Write a short story (6-10k words)
    1. Write the Draft of the story
    2. Self-Edit the Draft
    3. Have a friend or friends proofread and give feedback
    4. Polish the final draft
  2. Get the story ready for publication
    1. Figure out how to format the story for e-publishing (or commission someone to format it)
    2. Commission or make a cover for the story
  3. Publish the Story

Now, the steps in between may have other sub-steps that require learning or research on my part, but this is an actionable plan with clear steps to help me work toward my goal.

When working toward your dreams, you’ll want to set goals and then make plans to work toward them.  I hope this little break down helps give you a better idea of how you can do both and do them well.

 

motivation · productivity

Picking Your Team: Connecting with People Who Motivate You

Surround yourself with people who motivate you.”  I’ve heard this sort of thing at a lot of the panels and workshops I have attended.  It is often easier said than done.

I live in a tiny town in South-Western Wyoming.  When we first moved here, I joined a writers group and hoped that I would find that sense of kinship with them.  Though they were fantastic people, most of them wrote poetry not fiction.  I continued to attend the group for awhile but eventually, I stopped going because I was on a very different path.  I did end up finding someone to help me though, and truly, having an accountability partner makes all the difference for me.

Find Someone Who Helps You Stay Accountable

The awesome thing about the age of the internet, is that you don’t have to live close to someone to find a person with common interests.  I met one of my best friends in an online writing community.  She had just started her PhD program and I had just gotten serious about pursuing this writing thing and getting more stuff published.  It was a good match, because we decided to pull each other along.  Even though our goals eventually caused us to go in different directions, for two solid years we emailed and chatted on the phone about what we were working on and the progress we had made.

I think that’s truly what you need to find, a person or group of people who help you stay accountable to your goals. This should be people who make you feel good about your craft and aren’t afraid to be honest with you.  It can take time to build these relationships, but they are great for motivation and These relationships do take time.  Right now, a writer friend and I share a google document that has weekly, monthly and yearly goals.  Each Friday, he and I check in with each other and report back on the progress we’ve made.

He and I cheerlead, scold and motivate each other, because we both know that if Friday rolls around and we haven’t done anything, we’re going to have to admit it.  This accountability will make it so I get 1-2 things done off my list, which is 1-2 things more than I would have done if I didn’t have to report back to someone.  There are lots of great ways to check in, you can use email, a google doc, a weekly call or coffee date.

Some People Probably Won’t Help You Stay Accountable

As a writer, I often interact with people who say things like “Oh, I want to write, I have a whole novel planned in my head but I have never started it.”  These people are nice, but they aren’t the kind of people you want to connect with.  They are what I would call “dreamers” and though there’s nothing wrong with being a “dreamer” but you likely want to take things further.

You want to be both a “dreamer” and a “do-er.”  If you get an accountability partner and weeks go by without them making any forward progress, it may be time to gently let them go.  If they shift from being a dreamer to a do-er in the future, you can absolutely pick them back up again.

The main thing you want from an accountability partner, is someone one who pushes you to do more and be better.  Once you’ve found that, you’ll find it helps a ton in progressing toward the goals you have set!  Now, go out and find an awesome person who motivates you!

 

Writing

“What Do We Do Now?” – We Write. We Create. We Tell Our Stories.

Like many women around my age, I grew up totally in love with Legally Blonde.  Elle Woods inspired me, because though many underestimated her and did not think she was smart enough to achieve her goals, she was determined.  I have always had a bit of that contrary attitude in me.  I think sometimes spite can be a great motivator, we can push past some of the boundaries that hold us back, just to show the nay-sayers that we are more than capable of accomplishing what they said we could not do.  Or would not do.

I recently saw the Glamour Woman of the Year 2015 speech given by Reese Witherspoon, the actress who played Elle Woods, and really struck a chord with me.  I’ll link you to a video with her speech below so you can watch it as well, but the question she brought up and it’s prevalence in movies really made me think.

In her speech, she draws attention to the fact that in a lot of films there is a crisis moment where a female character turns to a male character and asks this question “What are we going to do?”  Like most women, I have had times in my life where I have turned to loved ones and asked this question, but I think they are probably greatly outnumbered by the times where I did not ask this question.  I have also watched countless women in my life go through a crisis and handle it.  Sometimes with grace and elegance, other times with tears and perseverance.

I have been blessed to be surrounded by amazing, complicated, inspiring women for most of my life.  I have watched my mother lose the love of her life and continue on against those sorrows to carve out her own happiness after that terrible loss.  I have grandmothers who are both strong in their own ways, even though they are opposite in many ways.  I have darling sister and her amazing daughter, both who help bring out the best and most caring side of my heart.  I have female friends, a mother-in-law, step-sisters and sisters-in-law who all work to create the life they love, despite the hardships we all face in life.  Each of these women are unique and all of them are capable.

I say it a lot in my life and some on this blog, but women’s stories are important.  It is important that those stories are as nuanced and unique as the women we meet each day.

So that is why, lately, I have been asking myself “What am I going to do?”  I am going to let the women in my life inspire me to write interesting and nuanced stories.  I’m going to write comics about heroes one day that my nieces can both read and be inspired by.  I’m going to write stories that feel important to me.  Stories that tell about the complicated inner lives of both women and men.