Day 28: Removing the Obstacles

Well, we have just a few days left in the December 2009 Writing Marathon. Some of you are chugging along reaching those goals; some of you are simply writing a little bit very day. For me, this has been a very up-and-down sort of a month. November was extraordinarily busy for me and December proved to be even busier. Halfway through the month, I realized that there were obstacles in my path that were getting in the way of my ability to focus. Here’s just a few of the things that were driving me batty:

  • Pending projects
  • the filing (Boo!)
  • No designated “writing” workspace
  • Extra holiday craziness
  • Clutter

It got to the point where the “stuff” that I hadn’t gotten done was literally pissing me off more than not getting any writing done. As I’m sure many of you realize, balance is an extremely difficult thing to achieve for many writers, because we love to write — aka “work.” What I’m finding is that it’s next-to-impossible to have that balance if I let disorganization take over for “too” long. Of course, when I’m busy I let some things around the house go. (Who doesn’t?) But those little annoyances turn into BIG distractions, especially when your free time is limited because you have a “day job.”

What’s my solution? Identify and remove the obstacles, a piece at a time. Afterward, if there’s still something that’s frustrating you or preventing you from focusing, then that’s a separate issue. At least you won’t have any more excuses! Still have a few more days to go, and I’m hoping to get through my “goal” revisions!

🙂

Day 20: What’s Your Mantra?

Dec09WM20We’re two-thirds of the way through, and from what many of you have been sharing, this has been a “busy-insane-nutso” month for many of us. Still, regardless of whether or not you’ve written or revised one chapter or several, there’s something we can all learn from being this busy. Sometimes, in order to write we need to shut off our brains and just put our fingers on the keyboard. (Like Yoda says, “Do or do not, there is no try.”)

I love the idea of being surrounded by clean, simple mantras or phrases you can really hold on to. Lilith Saint Crow‘s recent advice was to put the words “no choice” on a postcard in front of you. My New Year’s Resolutions are simply to use the words “Yes” or “No” more often. Let my characters over-rationalize. Let them over plan and obsess about what they have or haven’t done through their thoughts and actions on the page.

So today, in the midst of your writing, think about what your mantra is or will be. Let that be your rallying cry to keep motivated or to help yourself minimize the distractions that are often all around us.

Here’s a few of my favorite “I” writing mantras:

  • I love to write
  • I will write every day
  • I will learn one new thing about writing every day
  • I will not worry about how good of a writer I am
  • I am proud of my ethics as a writer
  • I am a writer

I hope you find your own rallying cry, and that you continue tapping away at your keyboard. After all, how can you revise a blank page?

Day 15: On Dealing with Insecurity

Dec09WM15If you think about it, writers, artists and musicians have everything in the world working against us — because conventional wisdom tells us we’re not “supposed” to make money doing this. We’re supposed to suffer, because that’s part and parcel of being an artist.

Many writers that hear this message get discouraged, and often take it to heart by worrying about “only” getting published through this channel or that, or by giving away their work for free because they don’t think they’ll ever be good enough. (For clarification, you’ll want to read my stance on writing for free or about puking content, plagiarism and too much free. In short, the persistent view on what an author should do often affects how new writers approach the market.

I’m on the opposite end of the spectrum. On my end, writers should have ethics because we have to set an example as to why we should and deserve to get paid. I have a short list as to what my core ethics are: a) don’t plagiarize from online-or-offline sources, b) don’t push someone else down to make you look better and c) don’t “over” self-promote by telling everyone how great you are. I believe these are pretty simple standards to have, but my failing is when I do see other authors plagiarizing and getting away with it or putting down “new” authors because they don’t know any better. (Even though, we all had to start somewhere.) Then, I get frustrated because it’s hard enough trying to promote a positive image for professionals that are typically deemed as being mentally unstable.

The hard, cold truth of being a writer is: you have to be your own cheerleader, but you have to know when to stop cheering. You have to know when to shut up and simply sit down in front of a keyboard to get the words out, and when you are asking “too much help” from another author or professional. In my mind, you also have to know, in your heart of hearts, that every single doubt and insecurity that you have is what every author feels. The more you write, the more good and bad things you experience. (I can’t remember who said it, but it’s a lot like getting punches on a coffee punch card. Plagiarized? Check. Haven’t been paid? Check. Etc.)

To me, there is “good” and “bad” in every situation and a lot of things come with the territory. There’s going to be complete *ssholes that make a lot of money. There’s going to be authors that write one book and never have to write ever again. There’s going to be authors that have to write dozens of books and pile up rejections before they are ever noticed. And while it’s good to be aware of the pitfalls of being an author (we all like to eat, you know?) none of this should really matter to you. Why? Because the absolute worst crime I believe you can commit is to not write at all because you are afraid. Then? You’re not a writer. You’re just someone who “talks” about writing. And that, dear reader, is a lot more common than you might think.

So be brave, be bold and forget about everything you have been “taught.” Forget about worrying how far you are in this Marathon, too. You can’t edit a blank page, you can’t sell an unfinished manuscript, and you can’t worry about how successful you are or you’re going to be. Sometimes, you just have to suck it up and put those demons to rest.

Day 14: The One Thing That “Just Doesn’t Matter”

Dec09WM14Well, we’re just about to the halfway mark for the December Writing Marathon, and I have a “new” confession to make…

I stopped counting the number of words I’m revising and wading through, and am going to wait until the end to tally up my goals.

Why? Because the number of words doesn’t matter to me as much right now. As a professional, I know I can comfortably write and edit between 20,000 and 30,000 words of original content in a month with a day job, provided there are no other roadblocks to get in my way and I know the project and setting “cold.” I know that for newer ventures, like a novel, putting demands on myself and my time creates more stress. I’ve written novellas, gaming books and short stories, but as I’ve mentioned before, a novel is much different — especially when it’s “my” work and not for a tie-in project.

Maybe, the word count doesn’t matter for you, either. Maybe for you, just getting those words out is more important than counting how far you’ve come.

It amazes me how many people I run into that look at writing like a competition or get really insecure about what they’re doing. This “marathon” isn’t about any of those things. It’s about establishing the habit of writing for yourself a little bit every day. It’s about understanding that learning how to write is a lot like learning how to play an instrument. The more you do it, the better you can become, even though you’ll sometimes need some guidance along the way.

So today, dear reader, I ask you to take a good, long look at what you are doing. Ask yourself, “What doesn’t matter to me?” Is it the quality? Your progress? Do you hate what you’ve written and need to toss all of it out the window? Or do you want to write something brand new?

Once you’ve figured out what doesn’t matter to you, you’ll be left with what does. For me, that means sitting down and simply telling a good story.

Day 13: Dealing With Holiday Stress

Dec09WM13So here we are almost halfway through December and the words — my words — have been slowing down to a trickle. This week I had a problem with the number sixteen…sixteen inches of snow which translated to sixteen extra hours of commute time between driving, defrosting my car, etc. Additionally, this is my busiest season at Musicnotes.com, because we’ve got an immense collection of digital sheet music for the winter holidays that we’re highlighting to help people find the songs they want to play.

Needless to say, by the end of the week I was more than a little stressed out. So? I ordered myself a holiday gift in the form of a Doctor Who Tardis USB hub (it’s got a blinking blue light on the top and it has optional sound effects), started doing more yoga, listened to some fun audio books in the car (Life, The Universe and Everything by Douglas Adams and Servant of the Bones by Anne Rice), went on a baking spreeeeee and am currently planning my second of three random holiday gifts. On the surface, these activities might not seem like they have anything to do with writing ARGENTUM, but they really, really do.

Too much stress sucks. It sucks because it zaps your energy and makes you feel like a big pile of goo. Not enough stress also sucks, because when you’re in that shiny-happy-sunshine place (or, at least when I am) there’s no need to write because life. is. beautiful. Somewhere in the middle usually works for me. When I’m too stressed out, it definitely impacts my writing because I tend to over-think the words I’m putting down on the page, or I’m wondering what else I should be doing. Then, when I do take a moment to relax and do something for “me,” I feel guilty because I’m not writing.

I needed this weekend to remind myself of two things: one) Taking things one day at a time is probably a good thing right now and two) the volume of words isn’t as important as actually sitting down and doing it. Or, in other words, to remain focused — one foot in front of the other gets you to where you want to go.

I feel that dealing with stress is a lot like trying to get back in shape. Many people (including myself) fall off the wagon simply because after a few weeks you feel better but you’re not seeing results fast enough. Or — like in my case — something comes up that throws a wrench into “your master plan” for working out (MP, for short.) Well, this week was my nice, yet gentle reminder, that the MP means diddly squat. I reminded myself that persistence, moreso than any other skill, is the number one thing I need to focus on right now. Sure, there’s going to be roadblocks, there’s going to be distractions…heck…there might even be a few zombies or two. That’s just how it is.

After all, it’s impossible to edit a blank page. And while I have ten short stories I could be editing, the prize is this book.

Hope you’re finding a way through the holiday season…

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