“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.

 

 

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How to Plot a Short Story That Will Satisfy Your Readers

I covered a bit of how I start stories in my Story Brainstorming blog post last year.  When I write short stories, I use that template to get my brain going.  Sometimes I start with characters and build from there, other times I start with theme and build the characters to suit.

No matter where you start, writing short fiction can be a little tricky.  Many people approach short fiction as if they were excerpts from a larger story, and while that works, if it isn’t written with care it can be unsatisfying for the reader.  That’s why it is important to make sure that your short story has all the same elements a complete, longer story would have.

Beginning, Middle, End

Good stories have these components.  With short stories, if you leave the ending open, it can feel like you didn’t deliver on your promise to the reader.  There are exceptions to this rule of course, but for the most part you want to make sure that your story is complete and can stand on its own.

Beginning

Your Beginning should set the stage for the story.  In story stories, your first line can actually be quite crucial.  You want to hook the reader so that they continue reading.  There are a variety of ways you can do this and here are some of my favorite examples:

  • Start with a question.  This could be a question the narrator asks or one that a character asks.  “Where are you going?”  “Why are you looking at me that way?”  The reader will continue reading because they want to know the answer to the question.
  • Start with a generalization.  All _______ do__________.  “The world is an unhappy place for all writers.”  A generalization is sort of like a question.  A good one will hook your reader and they will want to know why the generalization is true or why it isn’t.
  • Start by establishing Point of View.  If you have a particularly strong main character, you can use their voice to start the story.  This works extremely well if the story is written in first person, but it can work for third person too.

Middle

Just like in longer fiction, your middle will likely be full of conflicts and complications that your characters need to overcome to get to the ending.  The middle is also where you are most likely establish your story’s ‘inventory.’  Your inventory includes plot points and devices that help move the story along or will help tie up loose ends later.  You should always introduce things like plot points, props or other major factors in the first 3/4ths of your story.  

If you add them in at the end, the reader may feel cheated.  For example:  If a magical watch that you never mentioned in the first 3/4ths of the story saves the day at the end, your reader will likely wonder why this watch was not mentioned sooner, or they may just feel like the ending was poorly written.  For this reason, make sure anything that comes into play in your ending is introduced in the middle or even the beginning of your story.

End

For the ending, you’ll want to tie up all your loose ends as neatly as possible.  You resolve all the conflict and complications that were built up in the beginning and middle.  It doesn’t have to be a happy ending, but it should be one that satisfies your reader and makes good on any promises you’ve made to them through plot.

 

Don’t Flatter a Fickle Muse

I bet a lot of us have had a conversation about our “muse” or the “muse.”  I recently was in one of those conversations myself, and it sort of surprised me what kind of advice was bandied about.

Many professionals don’t wait for “the muse” or “flow” when they write, mostly because they can’t due to deadlines.   Yet, I watched another writer, one who I admire, claim that one should “wait for the flow” to write.  This person is a mentor within their writing community and the writing was more for fun than for work, but the advice didn’t jive with me, even though I definitely respect the writer that gave it.

The muse is not the writer.  You are the writer.  She doesn’t have to show up and do the work, you do.

I’ve watched too many friends who “wait for the muse” and never write a single thing.  They have amazing ideas, they have stories I want to read, but they don’t buckle down and write it.  When this happens, the muse becomes an excuse.  She is being uppity and refusing to join you, so oh well, you just can’t write without her.  Gotta wait for that flow of inspiration, right?

Sure, for some that flow comes regularly, but for the most part, a lot of writers have to show up and write whether they like it or not.  Writers who work professionally, either in fiction, journalism or content creation, have deadlines.  There are times I am not in the mood to write, but if I have a deadline, I write anyways.  Generally, it isn’t a joyful process but it is a productive one.  And 9 times out of 10, when I come back to revise that piece of writing, it is nowhere near as bad or lacking in flow as I thought it would be when I plunked those words down.

And honestly?  It amazes every time when I come back to a piece of work and it is not half as bad as I thought it would be.  There are certainly times where that is not the case, where the work needs a lot of editing and improvement, but if the writing has been done that still puts me one step ahead of someone who is waiting for inspiration.

Please note:  I’m not talking about moments when you are stuck or unsure of a direction for a story.  There are times where thinking too hard on a project, and lacking flow because of it, is certainly more detrimental than helpful.  Those moments, I find it’s best to take a step back.  You usually only get to those moments if you’re doing the work, though, whether your muse has shown up or not.

So I think the best advice I can give you is this:  Don’t flatter the muse.  She isn’t the one putting in all the hard work.  If you keep giving her all the credit, she just gets a more inflated ego and then she won’t work at all.  Show up, do the work, and she’ll probably get all jealous and want to work with you more.

 

Opportunities – Sometimes, things have to fall apart so they can fall into place

I had some trouble sleeping last night, and as I chased the pillow, I was reminded of something that upset me a few months ago.  Insomnia driven nights are never good times to contemplate failure, but I’m the kind of person that finds it difficult to get it out of my brain once the thought has popped up.

In one of the writing communities I frequent, I was encouraged by a friend to apply to be one of their volunteer writing mentors.  It seemed like a given I would be able to get the position.  In the past,  I had organized several online writing groups, proofread and edited friends’ writing, and even had a weekly, informal, online writing class I had done to help fellow writers improve their work.  The class involved me picking a topic each week, drafting a short lesson, sharing it and then discussing it with my fellow writers.  It was a thing I really looked forward to each week, so I was excited to possibly do it again.

But I didn’t get the gig.  I was told that it was not based on my experience or ability, that outside factors had taken me out of the running.  For some reason, that only made things worse.  I had thought I was a shoe-in, that it was a given that anyone would want my skills and experience.  Though I was rather disappointed about the whole thing, I did my best to suck it up and soldier on.

It was as if the universe knew I needed a bit of validation, as well as a pick-me-up.  Within two weeks, I found out that I had gotten a freelance job I had applied for around the same time as the volunteer gig, a job that would pay me for my time and efforts.  The job entailed working as a mentor to a budding writer, which was very similar to the volunteer position I had not gotten.  It was vindicating and helped to remind me that my skills and hard work were valued.

If I had gotten the volunteer position, I might have ended up taking a step back from the sorts of jobs I want, rather than a step forward.  I might have had less time to work on projects that took me closer to my goals.  While I’m still working on how bummed I felt about not getting that position, I’m also learning the value of realizing sometimes you miss out on one opportunity, so that another more fitting opportunity can swing your way.  

I know that “Sometimes things fall apart so they can fall into place,” shoulds horribly cliche, but in this instance, it was definitely true for me.  Now, I get to continue to work on my skills as an editor and writing mentor, while placing myself even closer to my goals. I think we all have moments where our confidence is shaken, but if we don’t give up, we never know what might be around the corner.  Failure happens to all successful people, sometimes many times, before they finally hit their stride.  So I won’t give up, and I hope you won’t either.

5 Tools to Boost Your Productivity

After nearly 3 years of writing and working as a freelancer, I’ve found good tools that keep me productive are essential.  I think these tools can be helpful to just about anyone, from writers and artists, to people who work in a more traditional job.  Most of these are tools I have used for a time, and then I’ve gone on to modify them to best work for me personally.   I’ve written about some of them before, but this is an updated list that I think will be of great use to you!

Momentum

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Momentum is an add-on app for Google Chrome.  When you open a new tab on the browser, you are met with the beautiful Momentum Dashboard.  This is one of my favorite parts of the app, each picture is stunning and inspiring.  Way better than looking at a blank new tab page.  It has a place to list your main focus for the day, as well as menus where you can make a to-do list and store your favorite links.  For me, Momentum helps me remain focused on projects that matter, when I might be opening a new tab to do something that’s not quite as productive.

Strict Workflow

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Strict Workflow is another add-on for Google Chrome and it is honestly one of my favorites.  It uses the Pomodoro Technique, which involves 25-minute working sprints and 5-minute breaks, but it takes it a step further.  The little tomato on the upper right-hand part of your browser works as a timer, but it also blocks sites that might distract you while it is ticking away.  If you want to look at Facebook during those 25 minutes, you can’t, unless you want to disable the extension or uninstall it.  If I am struggling to focus, this app is perfect.  It blocks sites that might tempt me away from my work, but I can still access them once the break timer starts.  You can also edit the work and break times, according to what works best for you.

RescueTime

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RescueTime is an application that runs in the background of your computer and measures the time you spend on different programs and websites.  You can log into their website and monitor your productive time, see what distractions you’re spending the most time on, or see if you’re spending way too much time replying to emails.  They also send you a weekly email that breaks down all the time you spent on your computer for the week.

I love this app, because I can see exactly how much time I’ve spent writing and working for clients, based on the programs I’ve used and how long I used them for.  I can also see if I’m spending too much time playing games or writing emails.

Focus Booster

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Focus Booster works similarly to Strict Workflow, in that, they both make use of the Pomodoro Technique.  Focus Booster is not a free program, but they have a trial you can make use of to see if their program is helpful for you.  They also have a “Professional” option, which is about $5 a month and allows you to track your sessions automatically and compile a timesheet.  This is great for those of us who work freelance jobs, because you can seamlessly track the time you work on a particular job for a particular client.  You can also export a CSV report to use for invoices.

Bullet Journal

This year I’ve actually purchased the Ink+Volt Planner, but I use a lot of the functions I learned from 2 years of bullet journaling.  I loved using this method because it made it so easy to see what I had worked on and what I needed to work on.  It’s basically like creating a renewable to do list. You can check out the Bullet Journal website for step by step instructions on how to craft and create your own journal.  You can also check out the bulletjournal tag on tumblr to see how other users are creating their journals!

I hope this list helps you!  Do you have any awesome apps or methods I should check out?  Please comment if you do!

 

 

 

Why You Should Trade in New Year’s Resolutions and Set Goals Instead

One year ago, my best friend and I sat down and set goals for the year.  She and I have spent the last three years or so encouraging and supporting each other toward our goals.  I remember right around the time that she and I got serious about our work, a friend in our community posted publicly that “New Year’s Resolutions were worthless.”  I grumbled defensively to myself, but in some ways now, I agree.  It is one thing to write down a bunch of resolutions, it is entirely another to set achievable goals for the year.  

Back to the goal setting.  A year ago, at the end of 2015, my best friend and I made our set of goals.  We separated them into different categories: Main Goals, Emotional/Spiritual Goals, Secondary Goals, and Tertiary goals.

There are two things you should focus on when setting a goal, it is best to ensure that it is both measurable and achievable.  While saying things like “I want to be a better writer” is all well and good, unless you outline how you’re going to progress toward that goal, it isn’t very measurable.

Our Main Goals were the most important for us to achieve.  Mine were things like “Write 500 words a day.” and “Write at least 1 short story a month.”  I also wanted to win NaNoWriMo again, and even though I did not accomplish all these goals, I still made a lot of progress.

My Secondary goals included things like “Blog on a regular basis” and “Find regular freelancing gigs.”  This year, my blog has grown a lot and that’s allowed me to connect with other creative people, both other writers and artists.  Their influenced has helped me to get closer to what I want out of life.

Tertiary Goals were things we wanted to work on, but may not get to in the long run.  My main goal in this category was to “Learn more about Graphic Design” which I did some of, but it certainly was not my focus in 2016.

When my friend and I met to talk about our progress, we were both a bit astonished.  My goal was never perfectionism, though I did not meet some of my goals, I made progress toward becoming the person I want to be.  We had both grown a lot over the last year.  If we had not set these goals, kept each other responsible for them, we would not have been able to see how much growth had occurred in the past year.

When I set goals this year, I added one more thing.  A theme for the year.  For 2017, my theme is Authenticity.  Though 2016 was a rather rough year in a lot of ways, but one thing I learned during it, was that I was much happier when I was authentic.  So this year, I will continue to focus on trying to be authentic and being the best version of myself I can be.

What about you?  Do you set yearly goals?  Do you have New Year’s Resolutions?

 

 

Don’t Go Chasing Synonyms, Please Stick to the Words and Phrases You’re used to.

Lately, I’ve been doing a lot of article writing and editing for clients.  I have been pulling out my thesaurus a lot, which always makes me think about times I’ve seen words in sentences where they don’t belong.

I have spent a fair amount of time in online writing communities and writing-based roleplay communities.  For some reason, in many of these groups, the need to sound “smarter” tends to become highly valued.  A lot of the writing eventually evolves into over-written, flowery prose that is both difficult to read and often the synonyms are used incorrectly.  Big words don’t always elevate the quality of your writing, and if they are used incorrectly, they actually might make you look more like an amateur.

This is why I advocate for using words you are familiar with when you are looking for a synonym.  There is something to be said for using a simple word, rather than a complicated one.

Good writing should be both descriptive and accessible.  Synonyms are often words with similar meanings, but that does not mean they are completely interchangeable.  So it’s something to watch out for, as you try to find the right words for your writing.  More flowery words, or bigger words, does not necessarily mean better.

If you do have a “big” word that you love, you can make it understandable by ensuring that the sentence it is in has contextual cues so that your reader can figure out its meaning.  Imagine if you read a book where you either had to constantly re-read paragraphs or pick up the dictionary every other paragraph.  It would take you out of the magic and deeply impact your love of the story.

By sticking to the words you know and trying to make your writing accessible, you will find you are able to offer a seamless experience to your readers.