December 9th, 2016
While authors often obsess about getting any agent to represent them, in reality, writers should be concerned about finding the right agent—the one whose personality, business habits, and expectations are a match to the author’s own.
The author-agent relationship is a partnership. Like any business relationship, its success is heavily dependent on the partners’ ability to work together effectively – and authors can increase their odds of finding an effective partner by researching agents in advance, asking proper questions when an agent shows interest in representation, and being willing to refuse an offer if the agent isn’t a proper match for the author’s needs.
Effective literary agents match the author in three important areas:
— Business and Professional Style
— Nature of the Agency Relationship
A significant mismatch in any of these areas will cause tension on both sides, and reduce the effectiveness of the author-agent partnership.
Authors in search of an agent often point out that the agent, not the author, gets to decide whether or not to offer representation, and that the author can only decide among the agents who do make offers. While that’s true, the author chooses which agents to query or pitch, which means the author has the power to decide—up front—which agents (s)he is interested in working with. Authors should take the time to research agents thoroughly in advance, and query only those the author believes would be a proper match.
What should an author look for in an agent? While your specific list may vary, based on your personal and business needs, here’s a brief overview of the relevant categories:
Successful business partnerships are based on mutual appreciation, respect, and complementary personalities. While a personality “match” does not require (or always lead to) a friendship outside the business, if you don’t respect your agent as a person, you won’t work well together.
Some authors form personal friendships with their agents, while others remain on professional terms. Query agents whose style (as observed in conference settings, in interviews, and on social media) match your preferences, and don’t waste time on querying agents whose personalities clash with yours—no matter how famous they are or how many authors they represent.
BUSINESS AND PROFESSIONAL HABITS
Writing is a business, and successful business partners need to have similar business habits and attitudes.
I prefer email to the telephone, for business correspondence. My agent does, too, which streamlines our communications and makes us a more effective team. When researching agents, look for information about the way they conduct their business, and query the ones whose business habits seem a good match for your own.
At a minimum, your agent should behave in accordance with industry standards:
- Agents should not charge fees for reading manuscripts or considering queries. Professional literary agents receive a percentage-based commission on contracts the agent negotiates with publishers (and others) on the author’s behalf.
- Agents should act professionally in public and on social media. Before you query, watch the way the agent behaves in public (including the Internet). Read the agent’s website, social media feeds, and interviews. Don’t query anyone whose behavior is unprofessional or a poor match for your own. Note: the agent will (and should) expect the same of you. Be professional in public, even before you’re published.
- Agents should have stated procedures for queries and responses. Agency standards differ. For example, some agents respond to all queries. Others don’t. While the agent has the right to choose the manner in which (s)he does business, authors have the right to query the agents whose processes they prefer.
NATURE OF THE AGENCY RELATIONSHIP
Even within the industry standards, literary agents conduct their businesses in different ways. Authors should query (and sign with) agents who structure their agency relationships in a manner that meets the author’s needs (and wishes). Here are some questions to ask when evaluating an agency or agent:
- Does the agent represent all the genres you write? Some authors stick to one genre, while others write (or hope to write) different types of books. When querying agents, think about your entire career . . . not just the manuscript you’ve finished now.
- How many authors does the agent represent? Too many authors chase a “famous” agent or agency instead of seeking an agent with the time and passion to represent the querying author’s works.
- How well (and quickly) does the agent communicate? This can be difficult to learn before you query, but it should be high on your list of questions when you get an offer of representation. If you prefer the telephone but your agent works through email (or the opposite), the relationship will suffer tension. You can’t expect an agent to change the way (s)he operates for you, so find an agent whose methods match your (reasonable) needs.
- Does the agent represent authors on a “book by book” or “whole career” basis? And will (s)he terminate the representation if your manuscript doesn’t sell? Make sure your understanding of the relationship matches the agent’s, and that you understand the type of representation being offered.
Make sure your expectations are reasonable, given industry standards—and then find an agent who matches as many as possible. Remember: the author-agent relationship is a partnership, and functions best when authors and agents have complementary personalities, similar business habits, and compatible goals.
Remember: you can’t control which agents offer representation, but you can and should choose carefully when constructing a query list. The more research and effort you put in up front, the higher the likelihood that you will not only receive an offer of representation, but receive it from your perfect agent match.
What’s most important to you in an agent? I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comment section!
Susan Spann is a California transactional attorney whose practice focuses on publishing law and business, and is also the author of the Hiro Hattori (Shinobi) mysteries, featuring ninja detective Hiro Hattori and Portuguese Jesuit Father Mateo. Her fourth novel, THE NINJA’S DAUGHTER, released from Seventh Street Books in August 2016. Susan was the Rocky Mountain Fiction Writers’ 2015 Writer of the Year, and when not writing or practicing law, she raises seahorses and rare corals in her marine aquarium. Find her online at http://www.SusanSpann.com, on Twitter (@SusanSpann), and on Facebook (/SusanSpannBooks).
December 7th, 2016
Tiffany Yates Martin
(In the past two months, I’ve shared my revision process with you here at Writers in the Storm as I’ve moved through the suggestions Tiffany has made. Today, she shares what she does in her job working with authors, like me, as a professional editor. -Fae)
My husband doesn’t want me to be on HGTV.
I’ve been a junkie of the station ever since it debuted, and every time we’ve been at a housing crossroads—whether it’s deciding whether to sell and buy something new, or considering renovations—I toss out my dream of one day being on the receiving end of the magical transformations on Love It or List It, or Fixer Upper, or Property Brothers, only to have him knock my pie out of the sky like a champion skeet shooter.
His reason is always the same: The “after” reveals may look fantastic, but in the way a stage set does: pretty on the surface, but in rushed TV production schedules, the underlying structure may not necessarily be constructed well enough to support it in the long run.
I know he’s right. But it looks so pretty.
The same mind-set often happens to authors in the editing process. I see a good number of manuscripts with appealing stories, intriguing characters, well-written prose. These are among the trickiest edits—for me and for the author—because on the surface everything actually looks pretty good.
But often something is still “off.” There’s something underneath the initially appealing surface keeping the story from being as effective and satisfying for the reader as it could be.
This was the case in my recent work with Fae Rowen on the first of her Keep Sphere series, Finding Athena. Many of you who know Fae and her writing may already be familiar with the quality of her work. In Athena she has a good, original romantic sci-fi tale, and the writing chops to have created a very readable, enjoyable story.
I often work with authors the way I do with publishing houses—in a three-pass editorial process that allows us to do a deep-dive inspection of every corner of the story. In three separate passes, we have the chance to hone the manuscript into a final product that’s not only aesthetically polished, but built rock-solid, and that’s how Fae and I worked on Athena.
We tackled some foundational story structure issues in pass one—we worked a lot on developing character, honing the plot (which induced Fae to kill some well-loved darlings), and addressing world-building elements and other stylistic issues.
Fae revised like a rock star, and came back with a second pass that seemed to have addressed many of the areas I mentioned. We polished a bit more, and both of us expected pass three to be fairly straightforward—often by this point in the process the manuscript has been progressively built out in each preceding pass, and we’re in the final stretch of finishing touches.
Almost every one of my beloved HGTV makeover shows has the moment where, after the crew knocks out a wall or a ceiling or a fascia to achieve their fancy computerized rendering of the final design, something unexpected is revealed: construction shortcuts, deterioration, inadequate support. Sometimes improving one area reveals hidden problems in another.
In Fae’s case, the more deeply she had fleshed out and developed one key element of the story—her fascinating protagonists—the more clearly it revealed another element that still needed attention: their individual arcs and how they were developed in the plot. She’d done wonderful work, and if we’d stopped there things would have looked pretty darn good on the surface. But the structure wasn’t as solid as it needed to be to create a story as impactful and effective as we both believed was possible.
So I dug really deep in the story on my last edit, and our pass three, which I often return with only a smattering of embedded notes, came back to Fae with a full complement of queries in the manuscript, and another extensive editorial letter—4,500 words’ worth this time (and that’s after a 4,800-word first-pass ed letter).
I knew this might be deeply daunting for her, after all the work she’d done already—to be approaching the manuscript yet again with the same level of feedback and revision suggestions we’d started with.
Luckily Fae happened to agree with the feedback, which matched her vision for the story (remember—an edit, like everything else in any creative field, is somewhat subjective, and ultimately the story belongs to you, the author), but rather than being discouraged by the amount of work still to be done, she jumped back in with both feet—and both brains.
Almost all writers find it easy to access the creative, dreamy, visionary right brain. It’s practically the definition of an artist or storyteller. Editing often poses a greater challenge to authors because, to a degree, it’s a left-brain activity, applied to a right-brain process.
One thing I try to do as an editor is to offer specific ideas and “tricks” for authors to access that side of their brains—exercises I’ve found useful for taking a logical, methodical approach to a creative, more numinous endeavor. In Fae’s case, I made several specific suggestions for defining each main character’s arc, and for clarifying the plot to make sure it held together and that every scene moved the story—and each character’s journey—forward.
As Fae has written in her previous posts about our work together, this isn’t always (or ever, really) a painless process. But, as a mathematician, she tackled it logically, creating a worksheet for herself on character arcs from the exercises I’d offered, and executing the “X-ray” for the plot I’d suggested to take an objective look at whether each scene furthered the story and the characters’ journeys.
It’s a longer and more involved process than either one of us was expecting at this point. But Fae’s investment in this story—not only of her time and the expense of a professional edit, but her emotional investment in telling this story, capturing her vision on the page in the best, most effective way she can—sent her back to the studs, and she was willing to do the work.
At the end of it, she’ll still have a story with all the “curb appeal” her talent and skill had created from the first. But what lies behind the HGTV-pretty will be meticulously constructed and solid—not just appealing on the surface and in the short term, but a creation with real substance, that will endure.
Have you faced an edit that felt especially daunting before? What techniques did you use to approach the actual revisions—and to keep your spirits from flagging?
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Tiffany Yates Martin has worked in the publishing industry for more than twenty years, currently through her editorial consulting company, FoxPrint Editorial, helping authors hone their work to a tight polished draft. As a developmental editor she works both directly with authors as well as through major publishing houses. Visit her at www.foxprinteditorial.com, or on Facebook or Twitter [@FoxPrintEd].
December 5th, 2016
Colleen M. Story
Have you ever sat down to write and after four minutes found yourself thinking about something else?
Were you frustrated? Irritated? Angry at yourself?
Well don’t be. With everything we all have going on in our lives—say nothing of all the distractions in today’s world—it’s very difficult to maintain focus on anything, say nothing of something as difficult and complex as writing a story (or article or poem).
Below are three of the most common things that tend to ruin a writer’s focus—and what you can do to get around them.
No one likes to think about it, but age affects focus and brainpower, and we’re not just talking about octogenarians here.
Just like the rest of the body, the brain slows down with age. You know when the fine lines start to show up around your eyes and the gray hairs make their appearance? That’s about the time your brain starts changing, too.
Scientists have discovered that from the age of 20 years on, we gradually lose brain cells, which slows processing speed. If you’ve ever had “brain fog,” you’ve likely experienced the results of this process.
In fact, a 2014 study found that starting at age 24, our cognitive abilities start to decline, and about every 15 years after that, cognitive speed drops by 15 percent.
Age also means that we start to lose our ability to retain information—it doesn’t “stick” as well in our brains. (What did you say your name was?) This can happen as early as our 30s. It may also take us longer to learn new things.
As we go on, the cortex of the brain gets thinner, and the protective sheath around the neurons starts to degrade. By the age of 60, the brain actually starts to shrink.
In addition, keeping our attention focused on something actually requires the brain to conduct a number of processes at the same time. We have to not only focus on what we’re doing, but block out other things going on around us that may distract us. We have to sustain that attention over a good amount of time (if we are to get any writing done), which takes a certain amount of brain energy.
All these changing factors mean that keeping your attention on your task of writing can start to get more difficult starting even in your mid-thirties.
To Counteract the Effect of Age on Focus:
To help maintain your ability to focus on your work even as you age, help your brain out with these steps:
- Shut down all distractions. If there’s something else calling for your attention (television, social media, other people), your brain has to do double-duty trying to shut that out while you’re working. This increases risk that you’ll get distracted. Turn off your Internet, shut down the social media, and find a place to work where you don’t be disturbed.
- Watch your medications. Antihistamines, antidepressants, pain medications, sleeping pills, and more can affect focus, concentration, and cognitive abilities. Try to limit what you’re taking before your writing time, and talk to your doctor about alternatives if you think the meds are bothering you.
- Get enough sleep. Insomnia and other sleep disorders (like sleep apnea) can upset the balance of neurotransmitters in the brain, causing cognitive decline. If you’re having trouble sleeping, talk to your doctor.
- Make sure you’re getting enough vitamin B. A shortage of B vitamins can lead to cognitive difficulties.
- Practice focusing. We can counteract a lot of aging’s affects on the brain by practicing the skills we want to retain. Outside of your writing time, practice focusing in other areas, such as when you’re talking with someone (focus on really listening), or when your commuting, try listening to an audio book and focus on the story.
Some people brag about their multi-tasking abilities, but research has shown that the brain cannot multi-task. Instead, what it does is switch back and forth between two or more projects quickly.
And guess what? With age, our ability to switch slows down. In that 2014 study mentioned above, researchers found that juggling multiple tasks or shifting focus from one project to another was one of the first brain skills to be affected by age.
Multi-tasking requires multiple processes in the brain, and studies have shown that older adults are more affected by the division of attention than young adults, particularly if both projects require intense focus. Scientists say we have fewer processing resources as we age. We’re like computers without enough RAM, and unfortunately for us, we can’t just install more.
To Counteract the Effect of Multi-tasking on Focus:
The best way to counteract the slow-down that multi-tasking causes is just not to multi-task. Don’t try to write and watch your toddler at the same time, or write while watching television or talking on the telephone.
If you have to juggle more than one activity at a time, these steps may help.
- Studies have found that exercise helps delay aging of the brain. We’re talking aerobic exercise, here, so anything that gets you breathing a little heavy. Try walking fast, jogging or running, jumping rope, rebounding, aerobics classes, or any sports that you like. Go for at least 30 minutes a day.
- Listen to music. If you have to multi-task, make listening to music your other task if possible. Research has shown it may help the brain stay focused on a project.
- Reduce stress. If you’re trying to write and babysit at the same time and you’re stressed out, you’re likely to fail. Studies have found that chronic stress can actually kill neurons in the brain. Set up your environment to be relaxing. Provide your child with something to play with, for example, so she’ll be happy while you write.
These steps can help you, but bottom line, realize that multi-tasking is a myth anyway, and that switching from one task to another gets harder every year. You’ll get more done in less time if you can focus on just your writing.
Speaking of stress, it’s one of the top three things that can destroy your focus.
Writers know how this goes. We struggle to fit writing into our busy lives, which is stressful enough. But then there are deadlines to meet, marketing to tackle, and social media to update.
We can usually deal with the occasional stressful event, like an upcoming book launch. But chronic stress—the kind that continues on a low level for weeks or months—can be really bad for the brain and seriously inhibit your ability to focus.
A recent study revealed that stress can actually create inflammation in the brain, which can lead to memory loss and depression. The stress seemed to encourage the immune system to attack the brain’s cells, not only causing inflammation but actually preventing the growth of new brain cells.
In an earlier study, researchers found that women who were stressed took 10 percent more time to recall recently learned information. Researchers suspected that hormones released during stress, including cortisol, flooded the prefrontal cortex, messing with memory.
“Our ability to focus, concentrate and remember has a lot to do with how much emotional stress we are experiencing,” write the authors of the book, HeartMath Brain Fitness Program. “Emotional stress has a major impact on our immediate and long-term cognitive functions, and underlies many of the mental health problems in society today.”
Other research has found that stress hormones actually target the prefrontal cortex, which controls high-level executive functions—including focus and the ability to inhibit distraction. Chronic stress can result in a number of other brain changes as well, impairing cognitive flexibility and potentially inducing anxiety.
To Counteract the Effect of Stress on Focus:
It’s nearly impossible to live a stress-free life, so to limit the effects on your writing focus, try these steps:
- Practice stress-relief daily. Incorporate yoga, meditation, tai-chi, pet therapy, long walks, massage, and other stress-relieving activities into your daily routine. It’s that important! Get used to spending time every day de-stressing and relaxing.
- Dump your stress. Before you start on your writing project, consider “dumping” your stress either through journaling or list-making. Jot down whatever’s bothering you so you can set it aside and focus.
- Stoke your positive emotions. Positive emotions counteract stress. It’s been found in some studies to be the fastest way to feel better! Before you start writing, try making a list of things you’re grateful for, or send a thank-you note to someone who deserves it. Gratitude is one of the best ways to encourage positive emotions.
- Eat right. Certain foods have been shown to be more effective than others at helping to reduce stress levels. Those that contain magnesium, for example, may be relaxing. Try bananas and avocadoes, and throw in more green leafy veggies for powerful antioxidants that counteract the damaging effects of stress. Fatty fish, walnuts, and other foods high in omega-3 fatty acids may also help the brain better manage adrenaline levels.
- Read. Are you spending all your time writing, and no time reading? It may be time to pick up another book. A 2009 study found that reading could reduce stress by up to 68 percent! A more recent study also found that heavy readers lived an average of two years longer than those who didn’t read. To reduce stress and increase focus, try reading for just 5-10 minutes before you start writing.
How do you maintain your focus while writing?
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Colleen M. Story is a novelist, health and wellness writer, and motivational speaker specializing in creativity, productivity, and personal wellness. Her literary novel, Loreena’s Gift, won 1st place in the Idaho Author Awards (2016), and was a Best Book Awards finalist (2016). Her fantasy novel, Rise of the Sidenah, was a North American Book Awards winner, and New Apple Book Awards Official Selection (Young Adult). She has authored thousands of articles for a variety of publications, including Healthline, Renegade Health, 4Health Magazine, Women’s Health, and has ghostwritten books for a number of clients on subjects like back pain and cancer recovery. She is the founder of Writing and Wellness, a motivational site for writers and other creatives. Find more at her website, or follow her on Twitter.
Eric Braverman, “You’re Getting Dumber as You Age: Here’s How to Slow the Decline,” The Atlantic, February 3, 2012.
Elizabeth L. Glisky, Brain Aging: Models, Methods, and Mechanisms. Riddle DR, editor. Boca Raton (FL): CRC Press/Taylor & Francis; 2007; “Chapter 1: Changes in Cognitive Function in Human Aging.”
Alice Park, “Our Brains Begin to Slow Down at Age 24,” Time, April 15, 2014.
Joseph J. Thompson, et al., “Over the Hill at 24: Persistent Age-Related Cognitive-Motor Decline in Reaction Times in an Ecologically Valid Video Game Task Begins in Early Adulthood,” PLoS One, April 9, 2014.
Maridel Reyes, “How Your Brain Changes with Age,” Canyon Ranch, December 2, 2013.
Daniel B. McKim, et al., “Neuroinflammatory Dynamics Underlie Memory Impairments after Repeated Social Defeat,” Journal of Neuroscience, March 2, 2016, 36(9):2590-2604.
“Stress and Cognitive Decline,” Heartmath Institute, January 21, 2014.
Eunice Y. Yuen, et al., “Repeated Stress Causes Cognitive Impairment by Suppressing Glutamate Receptor Expression and Function in Prefrontal Cortex,” Neuron, March 8, 2012; 73(5):962-977.
“Reading can help reduce stress,” Telegraph, March 30, 2009.
December 2nd, 2016
Just about every day I read an article about a writer who’s written 988 books in the last three months under seventeen pen names while maintaining an active presence on every social media platform.
It’s enough to send me to bed with Netflix and a whole lot of dark chocolate.
But after a good binge, you and I still have to face the fact: it’s a crazy world we authors inhabit. And staying sane and productive without burning out is a skill we must cultivate, right up there with establishing a compelling voice and a thriving platform.
I’ve spent a big part of my career studying how writers can work with more ease and consistency, mostly because writing has always been a struggle for me (8 books with a million copies in print aren’t proof writing is easy for me, only that I’m stubborn). I hope the following suggestions for sane productivity will help you like they have me and the writers I coach.
1: Set specific writing goals that help you experience “enoughness.”
If you believe that writing enough, promoting enough, being talented enough, lives out there in someone else’s standard that, once you meet it, means you will… be a good writer, be successful and/or be loved, then I can promise you will always feel haunted and less than as a writer. And you may well quit before you meet your goals.
It took me getting on Oprah to realize I’d been waiting for her to tell me I was good enough. Which, obviously, she could’t do.
To experience “enoughness” as writer set and meet clear and specific goals that are dependent only on you on an average day. For example, I can write for one hour without interruption – that’s mine to decide and do. But I cannot write beautiful prose all day every day that everybody on earth will love.
When you make vague or lofty promises about your writing, you start to feel like a loser, both because you can’t control the outcome of any creative career and because if you don’t give yourself the experience of clear “wins” along the way, it won’t matter how much you get done or what accolades you win, you will always feel behind and less than. And what an awful way to live.
TAKE AWAY: Set writing goals that you can keep no matter what (no matter if the car breaks down, the kids get the flu and throw up on your computer, your last story comes back with coffee stains and a form rejection letter). Keep them reasonable and very clear.
2: When writing more or writing challenging material, give yourself extra self-care.
I’m a runner and I love / hate pushing myself on race day and on long runs. It’s exhilarating, but it also takes a lot out of me. I have to take excellent care of my body, or I’m going to get injured and not be able to run at all.
The same is true for you as a writer. When you’re pushing yourself to write more or write faster or write about personally daunting subjects – to stretch in any way out of your comfort zone – you need a measure of extra healthy self-care. Not as a reward, but as a way to soothe your nervous system and bulk up your courage.
Without this extra self-care – whether that’s getting a massage, hiking on your favorite trail, or staring out the window – you may find yourself procrastinating or straying into “shadow comforts”, a term I use for the things we do that don’t nourish us but only numb us out.
Note: this self-care doesn’t have to take a long time. It only needs to be something that delights you and you give yourself permission to luxuriate it in.
TAKE AWAY: If your writing or your deadlines are extra challenging, instead of skipping the hike or the dinner with friends, skip the laundry, the email, the vacuuming, the volunteering.
3: Resist revising as you write.
I love to revise as I write. It’s so difficult for me to leave the typos, the clunky transitions, the fluctuations between tenses. But when we fiddle with our writing as we go, we lose the flow of our thinking.
Your brain work best if you write down what you’re thinking and then, if it isn’t quite right, leave it and keep going, writing the next more accurate description or idea. When you erase first, your train of thought is interrupted. What you want to say is lost in the tidying up.
The more you do this, the more stilted your writing may become and, perversely, the less likely you are to tear things apart or start over because you spent so much time making it pretty.
Instead, try timed writing where you write without stopping. Writing teacher Peter Elbow states “can’t write a lot unless we get some pleasure from it, and pleasure is unavailable if we wince at everything bad that comes out and stop and try to fix it.” If you write something that doesn’t feel quite right leave it and keep going keep trying keep fumbling leave a trail of your words and thoughts (that was an example!) and clean it up later.
TAKE AWAY: Less fussing, more generating. Making your writing pretty is doing the right thing at the wrong time.
4: Set yourself up for your next writing session before you break for the day
This is so so helpful to help you write faster. When I teach writing retreats I call it “leaving yourself bread crumbs.” Take a moment at the end of every writing session to make a few notes to yourself about what you will write next. Write yourself a note in your document “Start with mom’s slapping me” or “Do a free write about what my panic attacks felt like.”
If your habit is to start every writing session by going back and editing, try this: copy the last two or three sentences ointo a new document along with your “bread crumb” notes and have that waiting for you on your computer screen when you start again. Do not look back at the other document, just start!
One more prepping suggestion: give yourself some daydreaming time before you jump into a new scene or section. When you’re running errands or making dinner, bring to mind what you want to write next. Visualize your characters, puzzle over your thesis. Ask your unconscious to do the prep work for you instead of expecting yourself to sit down and start writing cold.
TAKE AWAY: Prep before every writing session and see your productivity zoom with a whole lot less stress.
5: Don’t let your creative tank go bone dry.
You may think it’s a great idea to “leave it all on the field” every writing session. You may, like me, love those romantic stories of writers writing all night or forgetting to eat for days, living on air and cigarettes. But the truth is: slow, steady and healthy works much better for most of us.
Try to quit writing each day while you still have more to say, while you still want to write.
You might also consider another creative outlet that you do just for fun, completely unrelated to performing, being judged, or selling. I like to make collages. I love the tactile feeling of smushing oil pastels into paper, ripping paper, mixing colors. “Plastic” arts like painting, knitting or pottery get you out of head and allow you to play.
TAKE AWAY: Leave some desire to write in your body and heart and give yourself time and space for creative play – consider it cross training.
6: Declare “writing free zones” clearly and stick to them.
For me, when I try to write everyday or just expect myself to, I rebel. Soon I start fudging on how much time I’m putting in on my book, and writing projects like this one and teaching are allowed to encroach.
When I was a young struggling screenwriter living in LA, I worked at a big talent agency and wrote on the weekends and at night. I would almost never let myself go have fun. I’d say to all my friends, “Nope, I have to write.” I became seriously depressed and stopped writing for almost a year. I also developed a wee drinking problem. All work and no fun makes Jack a dull boy.
TAKE AWAY: Declare zones of time – whatever works for you – that you let yourself completely off the hook from writing. Perhaps nothing drains your productivity faster than demanding that you are constantly working or beating yourself for not working.
I hope you’ll try out a couple of these suggestions and make them your own. And most of all, I hope something you read here helps you thrive as a writer in all ways.
Do you already include one or more of Jennifer’s suggestions in your writing routine? If you don’t, is there one you’d be willing to try?
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Jennifer Louden is an author, teacher and retreat leader who’s committed to helping women bring more peace and gentleness into their lives so they can follow their heart’s desire and get their scary sh*t done while living a human-scaled life. When it comes to her human-scaled writing projects, she’s on a mission to help writers find their voice so they can stand out, attract the just-right readers, and avoid burnout. If you’re looking to find your voice, learn more here.
November 30th, 2016
Have you ever tried to quit writing? Promised everyone near and far that you were no longer going to keep being the schmuck who pounds the keyboard, willingly and knowingly sending out queries and synopses and manuscripts to those who will, for the most part, reject them?
How long did you last?
I’ve never been able to quit for more than six hours. This doesn’t mean that I’m writing every six hours – I don’t even know what that would look like. It does mean though, that my attempts to quit are usually stifled by that tickle of an idea in the back of my mind of how I can improve what I’ve written, of a character I could craft, of the way I’d describe a setting. And then – BAM! – I’m writing again, even if it isn’t producing words.
Why do I keep doing this to myself? (Not a rhetorical question)
It’s not because I’m crazy. (I mean, I AM, a little bit, but everyone is, right? RIGHT?!?)
It’s not because I don’t have anything else to do. (I work full-time, have a husband & three kids. I’m never bored)
It’s not because I’m such a success at everything in my life that I can’t help but stretch to find one little thing that will allow me to be humble. (Life has provided ample opportunities for humility, thank you very much)
Turns out the reason I keep trying to do this is because it is what I LIKE to do. No, really.
In Flow by Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, he states
“Contrary to what we usually believe, moments like these, the best moments in our lives, are not the passive, receptive, relaxing times—although such experiences can also be enjoyable, if we have worked hard to attain them. The best moments usually occur when a person’s body or mind is stretched to its limits in a voluntary effort to accomplish something difficult and worthwhile.”
This means that we enjoy struggling, that we embrace complicated things, that our ability to negotiate difficult things FEELS GOOD.
Do you know what this means?
This means that if you ever do figure out how to write books like the wind, have characters that manifest themselves to you the first time you imagine them, have plots that have perfect pacing and everything else your critique partners, readers, agents and editors point out every single time you are writing, YOU’LL BE UNHAPPY.
What’s a writer to do?
Well, you have two choices. Write what will make you miserable or feel miserable (off and on) while writing.
Hopefully you didn’t just quit again. If so come back and read the rest in a few hours.
If you’re stubborn like me, here’s what you do.
You show up. EVERY. BLEEPIN’. DAY.
I don’t always like to show up. Sometimes I want to sit on my couch and binge watch New Girl or Madam Secretary and eat crap and pretend I’m happy. But I get restless, this urging to create great work, and the speed with which I can put away OREO Thins is not great work.
The last time I almost quit was a few weeks ago. I was rewriting a chapter and it was painful work that I trudged through and slogged through, slowly typing a measly article then a noun, and debating over entirely too many verbs. Netflix was looking really REALLY good.
But then I remembered my favorite TED talk. It is Elizabeth Gilbert sharing her thoughts and feelings on being the person who wrote Eat, Pray, Love and had it accidentally become an international bestseller. In Your Elusive Creative Genius, Liz shares the process of several people, the way they didn’t lose their mind in pursuit of creative greatness, and how we too can create work that is fulfilling and satisfying, despite the struggle.
I remembered that there were times in my process when I have laughed and cried and clapped and threw my arms in the air when I had completed a difficult scene, finally figured out the voice of the characters, finished whatever version of a manuscript I have been working on. I have reflected on the struggle, felt a little flicker of pride for what I’ve been able to get done. If you are reading this, chances are pretty high you’ve felt this too, even a little. Everything that you’ve trudged through, the times when you pull your hair, put it up, take it down, remove glasses, rub eyes finally comes together and you have a little victory dance.
And then, in that moment, you feel
How do you work through the struggle of writing? What do you do to celebrate even the smallest of victories?
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Tasha Seegmiller is a mom to three kids and coordinator of the project-based learning center (EDGE) at Southern Utah University. She writes contemporary women’s fiction with a hint of magic, and thrives on Diet Coke, chocolate and cinnamon bears.
She is a co-founder and the managing editor for the Thinking Through Our Fingers blog as well as the Women’s Fiction Writers Association quarterly magazine (Write On!), where she also serves as a board member. Tasha is represented by Annelise Robey of the Jane Rotrosen Agency.
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