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).
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.

 

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.

 

 

Writing

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.

 

Writing · Writing Guide

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.