Thursday, December 24, 2009

 

Maintain Motivation in 2010

by LuAnn Schindler

This week, amidst holiday preparations, I sat down and began to map my writing goals for 2010. I'm a big picture person, so I made a visualization chart with generalized goals across the top and broke that flow chart into specific goals. (Some people might say Way to procrastinate, LuAnn, but I say I need visual proof that I'm working hard to meet my goals, so it's not procrastination!)

One problem I've dealt with in the past is maintaining focus on the prize. I may start the year with fountain pen or computer keyboard blazing, but winter doldrums fence me in, spring fever skips through my work, summer fun beckons for play time, and fall festivities fetch my fancy. In other words, life happens, and sometimes, those roadblocks slow down the journey to the goal. And, sometimes, goals shift or are left unmet during the year, causing motivation to wane when I need it the most.

What I've discovered through the writing years is this: We are the choices we make. If I choose not to write today, that's my prerogative. But, if I make that choice, I shouldn't complain, I shouldn't let it slow down tomorrow's writing, and I shouldn't let it interfere with the long-term outcomes I would like to achieve.

No, maintaining motivation is personal, but sometimes, it takes a village to raise a writer. Consider these four tips to keep inspired during the next 365 days.
  • Establish writing time. When I first began freelancing, I kept a rigid schedule. That lasted about six months until I realized the schedule was cutting into my creativity. Now, I make a to-do list and if it takes me three hours to research a possible story idea, I go with it. I make it work. That's one of the benefits of being a freelancer. But, I also make sure that I spend a certain amount of time each day writing. I'm the most productive from 4:30 - 7:30 p.m., and from 10:30 - 1:30 p.m, so I let those times work for me. Find a time that fits your schedule and use it - even if you can only spare ten minutes - to write.
  • Develop both short- and long-term goals. My visualization chart is a compilation of both. I like to plan my week and say to myself, Okay, here's what I would like to accomplish this week. But it's also important to have a direction to work toward. Otherwise, some pieces of work will stay on the back burner if you don't self-impose deadlines.
  • Share your work with other writers. It's important to get other opinions, especially from colleagues. That's how you grow in your craft. This is an area I need to work on. I joined a local writer's group, hoping to share my YA novel, but most of the group wanted to be given a topic and then write about it. While that may work for some writers, it's not the type of critique I need at this point in my career. I'm still searching for an appropriate online group that will fit my needs.
  • Celebrate your achievements. If an editor or a reader let you know how much they appreciate your work, celebrate! If you land a major article in a national magazine or sell a manuscript to a publishing house, celebrate! If you send a new query, celebrate. These moments provide impetus for writing careers, so go ahead, celebrate! I recently completed a three-part series for a regional newspaper, and an editor from one of my state's dailies sent a note to my editor, who forwarded it to me. In the note, he pointed out elements of my story that stood out. Trust me, I celebrated! I printed it out and have it directly behind my laptop screen so I remember why I write: to connect with readers.
  • Network . Connect with other writers and editors, develop relationships, and maintain a professional but friendly demeanor. First impressions are lasting, and hopefully you'll set the right tone with others who, someday, may use your work.
  • Learn a new skill. Even though the art of writing may change very little, we writers still need to keep our skills sharp. Attend a conference. Take a class. Buy new software that assists with writing. Learning a new skill and putting it to use will make you more marketable.

I'm glancing at my goal chart and re-reading what I hope to accomplish in 2010. With a visual reminder, reasonable goals, and writer friends who encourage, I can't go wrong. Maintaining motivation won't be a problem this year.

Happy Holidays! And, happy motivating!

Follow LuAnn on Twitter - @luannschindler

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Thursday, June 04, 2009

 

What is the Focus of Your Story?



I recently edited a picture book for one of my Editor 911 clients. Although the story was a great idea, it was all over the place. I actually found three stories in one, and that is way too many for a picture book. It might be okay for a novel but not for a shorter work.

I see this as a problem in many people's manuscripts for adults and children. With longer works, this out-of-focus problem usually rears its ugly head as the subplots take over the main plot of the story and confuse the reader. If you are suffering from writers' block, don't know where your story is going, or your critique group members say they are confused while reading your story, maybe you have lost focus on what your book is actually about.

With my client, I told her what I thought the three different plots were in her book, and I asked her which one is the most important to the story she is trying to tell. Once she figures that out, she can write a better book for kids. The other two stories do not have to disappear. In children's books, the illustrator can help with subplots, or the author can write another book--maybe a sequel.

Here is what you can ask yourself if you feel your story is losing focus. This should work on any story--long or short, for kids or adults.

  • When I first had the idea for my story, what was my original idea?
  • Why did I want to tell this story?
  • What are the plots and subplots I have in my story?
  • What is my story's theme?
  • What is my story's purpose?
  • Is there any scene in my story that does not fit with my answers to the above questions? (You know those scenes that you think are brilliant, but readers are wondering why they are in your story? Don't delete them--save them for a rainy day.)

If you do a little story soul-searching, then you should be able to find your focus again. If you are still having trouble, ask your critique group members if they will answer the questions above about your story and see what they think. Their answers will be based on the actual manuscript you have written. Sometimes, your answers are based on the manuscript on your paper AND the manuscript in your head--as writers, we know these are not always the same thing. Take a day or two to get your story back in focus. It will make finishing your manuscript easier and more enjoyable.

Happy focusing!

Margo Dill

http://www.margodill.com/

Read These Books and Use Them (blog): For teachers, parents, and children's book lovers.

photo by Capture Queen www.flickr.com

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Friday, September 19, 2008

 

The TMI Dilemma

by LuAnn Schindler

"I can't think of anything to write!" When I taught English and would have classes free write, at least one student would utter those words to me.

"Well, write what you just said a few times, and eventually, an idea will sprout in your mind," I would tell them. "How can you have difficulty finding something to write about?"

I've never had that problem. When I wake up, hundreds of ideas jog through my mind, each elbowing the other out of the way, competing for the top spot in my writing priorities.

Yes, I suffer from the TMI Dilemma - too many ideas. I've talked about this before. My desk is plastered with Post-It notes filled with ideas. My idea file needs to go on a diet, a purge that will result in a delicious payback for me.

If you, like me, are afflicted by the too many ideas dilemma, here are some strategies to help you focus on the cream of the crop:
  • Ideas, like fine wine, get better with age. Some need to age and develop a pleasing bouquet before you pop the cork and share it with the world. I've had a short story idea drifting around in my mind for two years. Each day, the details become a little more clear to me, and when the time is right, the cork will pop! And, I'll write the short story I am meant to tell.
  • Deadlines are key. Even if you don't have a deadline, give yourself one. Even a timed free write can bring the best ideas to the front.
  • Mind the brain. When ideas are swirling, stir them and see what floats to the top. That is the best idea to focus on.
  • Organization is open to visualization. On my office door, I have a list of articles that are due, along with the due date. By keeping these projects in front of my eyes, I am able to stay organized and on task.
  • A network of writer friends, or even friends who are creative thinkers, allows you to bounce ideas off them. Whether you join a critique group or just share an idea with a friend, they'll be honest with you. In the long run, your writing will be better, too.
  • Exercise the right to exorcise. I'm responsible for mowing our acreage. During that time, not only do I walk and get a great walking workout, but I also focus on an idea and flesh out details. If something isn't working with a story line or article idea, I exorcise the idea and start over. It works!

If you suffer from the TMI dilemma, try one of these ideas for fast relief and a clear writing path.

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