Advice You Give Yourself

I’m a big believer in lists, plans and notes to self. Ironically not because I necessarily follow them, but because when I’ve got something down on paper it’s easier to make a change. And often that change is in my own approach to the problem.

Case in point, last post I mentioned my appalling lack of get up and go [it got up and went – again I’m dating myself – thank you, School House Rock]. I found however that writing my angst down in a blog post helped me to work it out. In actuality, I was forced to take my own advice and in that moment I had an epiphany. A blog can be advice you give yourself.

So over the past few weeks I have been trying to change my perspective, challenge myself and shake things up.

Shaking things up

I had just come out of a November that had me elbow deep in words and story, and while that was successful, the burn-out was inevitable. Not to mention the previous months of plotting and planning for NaNoWriMo, that is a different kind of exhausting all together. Then December hit with a month load of work to be done in three weeks. Then there’s Christmas vacation that offers its own pressures. So what did I do to shake things up? I didn’t write. You might be wondering about that. That’s shaking it up? Doing nothing is shaking it up? Exactly. And for me that is a big shake.

I don’t do nothing. Nothing is hard for me. Please understand. This is not one of those job interviews where they ask ‘and tell me what’s your biggest flaw’ and you give some lame answer like ‘I work too hard and am too devoted to my job’. No. I only do nothing when I’m sick. Bed-ridden sick. So the fact that I wasn’t sick and still didn’t write is about as unusual as if I walked around on my hands all day and cooked dinner with my feet. ‘Cuz I don’t cook. The outcome? I ended up coming back to my WIP with a revelation about the ending that I don’t think I would have arrived at without the break in my writing routine.

Shaking things up means just that – doing something against your grain – that you don’t normally do – you being the operative word.

Challenging myself

When you go from your day job to your career, day in and day out, every night, and on the weekends, maybe the last thing you need is yet another challenge, but the problem is that everything you do carries with it an enormous amount of weight. I love to craft and for me engaging my hands crafting is a welcome change from all that typing. Playing around with something tactile is a break from all the mental gymnastics that my brain has to do. So when I found out about this abstract painting using what they call a ‘dirty pour’, it felt like just the thing to try.

You can check it out yourself if you google ‘fluid acrylic painting’. It was just the right amount of planning and chaos that I needed. So I watched how others did it and followed their instructions. Bought the supplies and got to it. My hands got all gunked up and I got to play around mixing paint and putting it on the paper and canvas. I challenged myself to make something, but I didn’t get too hung up on the results. I challenged myself with learning something new and focused on the act of creating. I challenged myself to not listen to negative self-speak and to be kind to myself. That was a big challenge.

Challenging yourself does not mean succeeding – it means doing something you’ve never done before – or that you find difficult.

Changing my perspective

One of the best ways to change your perspective is to see the world through another’s eyes. As writers, we sort of have to do that to write engaging characters. We employ empathy and our imagination but even then, we are still stuck in our heads. One thing I have been doing over the past little while is listening to a podcast at Story Grid. This site is, in my opinion, one of the best for writers. The podcast is, in its own words – a show dedicated to helping you become a better writer. And how do they do that? You get to be a fly on the wall as Shawn Coyne, the creator of Story Grid and an editor with over 25 years’ experience helps Tim Grahl, a struggling writer, figure out how to tell a story that works.

This is a rare opportunity. This is a beacon to all those writers who have submitted their stories and received a form rejection, or worse, no response at all and are left wondering what am I doing wrong. While Shawn helps Tim craft an outline and then scenes you hear not only what could work for Tim’s particular story, but what works in story in general. Changing your perspective from the understandably narrow view of your present WIP to someone else’s story and also getting the perspective of someone like Shawn with his wealth of knowledge and experience is eye opening.

Changing your perspective – to see something from a different vantage point – is an opportunity that must be sought out – it takes effort and mindfulness.

Now I just want to say, I promote other sites because I am just another artist looking for inspiration and information and when I find them, I want to share. And perhaps like me, you are finding these gray winter days hard to take and are in need of a little inspiration yourself. Why not try shaking things up, challenging yourself or changing your perspective. It just takes a little gumption from you. Those opportunities are out there.

Happy searching.

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Winter Blahs

It’s like the hamster running the wheel in my mind is curled up in the corner of the cage, staring at its toes. In other words, I’m finding it hard to get going.

I don’t know if it’s the weather. Overcast with only rare hints of sunshine that I can never quite time right to appreciate anything outdoors. It makes me feel less then enthused about getting out. Maybe it’s going to and from work at what has been described as dark o’clock. I don’t think I have SAD but I do find myself tired – like – all the time.

Not that I would ever suggest giving up any vacation time, but sometimes the Christmas break only reminds you of how much you’d rather not go to work. Adversely, you find yourself missing the routine because all that freedom is daunting. As an AWADJ you may be filling in all your free hours with all the stuff you can never seem to get to and you’re suffering from burn-out. No matter the reason, it’s hard to pull back far enough to see things accurately.  It’s a dismal case of can’t see the forest for the trees.

Trees? We’re talking about trees now? What trees? All the trees that contribute to that lost in the woods feeling; not knowing which way to turn, what direction is the right one and whether or not you should just stay put and not move at all. So in an effort to dissect that feeling, let’s look at some trees.

The Birch has a relatively short lifespan in the tree world. You might be feeling that time is running out, getting away from you, slipping through your fingers. I’m hearing like the sands in an hourglass, so are the days of our lives… But I am dating myself so let’s move on. Birch however grow in temperate deciduous forests which experience drastic changes both seasonally and climatically and are populated by diverse wildlife. Perhaps you need to mix things up, change your routine, do something new. That just might shake you out of your mood.

The Pine seems so perfect, all triangular and smug in their never-ending greenness. Are you waiting for the perfect time to do… whatever? When you’re in the mood? When there’s enough time? When you’ve had enough sleep? When it’s quiet? Pine grow in boreal forests where, on the surface, circumstances are less than perfect. They however can not only withstand harsh conditions, but thrive in them. Maybe you’re not giving yourself enough credit for your hardiness or you ingenuity. Maybe you need a challenge. Don’t wait for the perfect opportunity. Create it.

The Kapok tree is the tallest in the rainforest, that’s saying something when the canopy may be over 100 feet/30 metres above the ground. Imagine the view from up there. And maybe that’s what you need; a different view. Can’t see where you’re going? Look up. Look around. Change your perspective. Trees reach for the sun. Try to do the same.  This time of year, that can feel impossible, but you don’t have to do this on your own. Seek help, company, inspiration and vitamin ‘D’.

So as we consider forests and their trees, remember trees also rest. The natural world has an ebb and flow that we as humans and our 24/7 lifestyle so easily forget. If you are finding it hard to get going – maybe don’t do something – do nothing. That includes beating yourself up. You are a creature of nature and just as the trees take their time to rest and replenish, maybe you should too.

I’m thinking I’m going to have to take my own advice and pencil that in – like – now.

Better Beginnings

At this time of year my thoughts turn to beginnings.

Beginnings are hard. There. I’ve said it. Stated it right up front. Right from… well… the beginning.

And if you’re a writer who has decided that this is the year you are going to start that novel you might know what I mean. You might be sitting there staring at a blank page or more likely a blank screen and wondering shouldn’t this be easier than this? Well, the answer is no. Beginnings are hard because they have a lot to accomplish in not a lot of time.

Beginnings promise.

When a reader starts in on a story, they enter into an unwritten contract with the writer. The writer says come along with me. I’m going to take you somewhere. The tricky thing is the reader doesn’t want the writer to come right out and tell them where they’re going. Where’s the fun in that? Why would the reader keep reading? The writer is going to hint. The writer is going to with tone, and imagery, with sentence structure and form, illustrate that promise. At the same time, the promise is full of expectations that, if not significantly met will disappoint a reader.

Beginnings are hard because you make a promise without saying exactly what it is, but hinting enough that the reader is trusting that it is a promise they are going to appreciate, and that you are going to keep.

Beginnings introduce.

When a reader starts to read, they want to know the main character. They want to know what he or she is like, what makes them tick, what they want, what they’re afraid of. They want to care; to be engaged in the main character’s story. The reader wants to know what the story is about; what is the theme. They don’t however want you to tell them these things. They want to be shown why they should care, why they should invest the time and energy to read what you’ve written.

Beginnings are hard because while the reader wants to know about the main character and their story more importantly, they want to want to know.

Beginnings entice.

Whether through exciting action or intriguing mystery, witty dialogue or engrossing setting, the reader is compelled to turn that first page. But you only give them just enough. A reader wants to be teased into reading. The reader wants their curiosity piqued. You give away just enough to have a question form in the reader’s mind. The final kicker is you must determine what that just enough is.

Beginnings are hard because there is no one way to entice a reader to read on. There is no paint by number or magic formula, no ‘cool button’ that you can press.  Doubt me? Do a little digging. For every ‘rule’ you want to hold tight to, for every ‘don’t’ you avoid, for every example of a successful beginning, another, doing seemingly the same thing, falls flat.

How do we accomplish a beginning that is promising, engaging and compelling? Frankly, that is the main cause of much hair pulling and bad language on my part. One thing I’ve discovered is that to work on your beginning, you need to have a whole story. You need to know what your story is about.  Yes, to write an effective beginning, you may need to know how your story ends.

Great. And here you are staring at a glaringly blank page one and I’m telling you to write a whole novel so that you can write page one. Thanks. For nothing. But hey, doesn’t that put the whole stymied page one issue in perspective? Think about it this way; you have a whole novel to help you figure out what your beginning is.

Written your novel and still need some help with your beginning? Read other writers’ beginnings and analyze which ones you think work. The more you can recognize a good beginning in another’s stories, the better chance you have of analyzing whether yours is working or not. A great website that does just that is Writer Unboxed with Ray Rhamey’s Flog the Pro blogs. Check out his site for a checklist that you can use to help guide you toward a better beginning.

Good luck and happy writing.

Persistence

At this time of year, thoughts turn to resolutions. My response? To consider persistence hunting.

Persistence hunting is a theory that explains the technique of using running, walking and tracking to pursue prey. This earliest form of hunting goes hand in hand with our evolution from tree climbers to endurance runners. Running down our prey, until the antelope or some other fleet quadruped dropped from exhaustion, is how we managed to feed our developing big brains with the necessary proteins.  Of all the animals, man is best equipped for persistence hunting. Apparently, our bodies are made for it.

Interesting thoughts, no? But, you say as you read this, why should that matter to us? Aren’t we more developed, more advanced, more sophisticated than primitive man? Short answer? No. Not really. Our brains have certainly advanced, and in so doing we have the wonderful tools, gadgets and some might say toys we have invented. We can’t deny however, that the human body hasn’t changed all that much. And why should it? Didn’t it, along with our beautiful brain, raise us to be the dominant species of the planet? Hasn’t it done for us? Shouldn’t we do for it?

And while one may feel that there is a considerable amount of ‘persistence hunting’ in our daily lives, whether that be for missing socks, misplaced tools or the occasional lost thought, it is not the same. We spend an inordinate amount of time on our collective backsides. This, we are not made for. Don’t believe me? You don’t have to look very hard to find statistics on this. Better still, remember how you stiffened up after that long car trip or the soreness at the base of the spine after too much binge watching? Even as I type this, I am suddenly and disturbingly becoming aware of the poor posture, that I am no doubt going to pay for later today. Yep. I can certainly speak for myself. I can spend a lot of time in front of various screens. My mind may be racing a mile a minute, but my body… not so much.

Once more we turn to face a new year, keen on getting healthy, exercising and eating better. Perhaps what we should really be thinking about is how we can improve our mindset. Remembering that we are the culmination of a complicated evolution of the human species due in part to persistence hunting, might help. And persistence might be the key element.

That persistent nature, that dogged resolve, plus our unique biology, had us chasing our prey across the plains.  Perhaps that effort, not just the added protein in our diet, was the opportunity for growth and improvement that our species needed. So looking forward, perhaps the resolution should be to be more persistent. The hunters didn’t give up the hunt after the first fifteen minutes or fifteen miles. They didn’t say well we haven’t caught anything, so we may as well give up. Had they done that, you could imagine where the human race would have been.  Still at the starting line.

So when you fall short of your resolution, as we so inevitably do, remember it is about persistence. Be in it for the long haul. Don’t give up after setbacks; see them as opportunities to exercise persistence. And until we evolve past the need for bodies and can safely store our brains in jars and speak telepathically, or upload our consciousness to live virtually, riding neon cycles through the ether, we may want to get up off of that chair every now and then. It could be the first step, literally and figuratively toward better health.