Perseverance 101

Do you find it easy to keep writing day after day, effortlessly summoning enthusiasm? Do you do exactly what you set out to do, never deviating from the marketing plan? Wow, good for you! You can go away from this blog now.

Okay, now that we cleared the room of all those liars, let’s talk about the challenge of sticking with it.

I don’t have the luxury of writing full time. I wish I did, and I greatly admire those of you who do. But I suspect this problem affects full-time writers as well. I have a difficult time coming home from work and writing. It’s easier on the weekend, but not by much. I have more time then, but not necessarily more inclination. I’ve constructed a nice long to-do list of marketing tasks that Outlook reminds me of every day, as well as one that says, “Write 500 words.” On far too many days I click “dismiss” on that one, despite really wanting to finish the work in progress.

Can you tell I’m writing this post for me?

I know I’ve written about this before, but it’s all in the mind. I have to make up my mind that I want to keep writing and do it, without letting the tired parts of me interfere. Paul (the Apostle, not the Beatle) had it right when he wrote, about 2000 years ago, about the dilemma we face: “For what I am doing, I do not understand; for I am not practicing what I would like to do, but I am doing the very thing I hate” (Romans 7:15). It’s about discipline, and I am so not disciplined unless it’s something I really want to do. So I need to MAKE it something I want to do. Let’s try these steps:

1. Stop thinking of writing as a chore but as a privilege. I get to sit down with my characters in this world I’ve created and tell their story.

2. Instead of having a goal of a set number of words a day, write for a set amount of time a day and do nothing but write the novel during that time.

3. Have a story goal in mind for that 30 minutes of writing, preferably a question. This isn’t the overarching goal for the character, but a simple next step: “Will she find the person she’s looking for in the building?” or “What happens when her father finds out she’s disobeyed him?” Write that goal at the end of the previous section of writing to be ready for the  next day’s session.

4. WRITE SOMETHING. It becomes a habit after, what is it, six weeks of doing something? For me it may be longer.

5. Keep that final word count in mind, but on the first draft, don’t stress over it. If you’re that hung up on it, and you’re writing in MS Word, insert a field ever so often of the number of words produced. That may make you feel better. (Cool idea, Donna! Thank you, Donna.)

I’ll see how this new plan works out for me, and I’ll report in a later post how it’s going.

What about you? How do you keep persevering in your writing, even when you want to quit?


On Forced–I Mean, Disciplined–Writing

People of the planet Earth who know me, and doubtless inhabitants of other planets who tap into our Aethertubes as well, agree that I am not the most disciplined person on said planet. The reason I’m going to a personal trainer to lose weight is because I cannot summon up the required discipline on my own. Neurons within my brain or whatever it is rebels at the thought of forcing myself to keep to a rigid schedule of anything. (Although I am obsessive about getting to work early.) I’m trying, though, to reimprint those neurons, and I’m happy to say I’ve had a modicum of success.

Two reasons for this miracle of modern reprogramming occur to me. One, I’m newly obsessed with writing. Now, I’ve written fiction since I was 10 or 12, but with my discovery of Smashwords, Kindle and e-publishing, I’ve felt a new empowerment, of which I’ve written elsewhere. Two, I very much want my writing to succeed. I don’t particularly want to be famous (okay, maybe a little), but I do want to sell books to more than my friends and family (because, let’s face it, they can only buy so many copies).

Because of this obsession, I’ve constructed a schedule of marketing for my books, and so far I’ve stuck with it fairly well. Outlook mercilessly reminds me of my to-do list items. The schedule includes tasks such as “Comment on 2 blog posts daily” and “Write a blog post on Aether Excursions every Thursday” and “Freshen Amazon Author Central page monthly.” One of the tasks I haven’t been so good at keeping up with is “Write 500 words daily on Noora and the Vessel of the Clouds,” my work-in-progress (WIP). Now, 500 words isn’t much, about half a single-spaced page in Word. I try, but I tend to slack off on that particular item.

But I got an invitation from an author I very much respect, a former Horror Writers Association colleague, Nancy Etchemendy to participate in this year’s Clarion Science Fiction and Fantasy Workshop Write-a-Thon. How cool is that? (It’s not too late to sponsor me! Here’s the link. Proceeds go to support the famous Clarion Writers Workshop.) The challenge I chose was to write 1000 words per day for a week.

I’m a slow writer. I tend to self-edit as I go, diving off into research tangents. But I figured I could write 1ooo words a day.

Most days have gone pretty well, although it’s hard to find the time. It takes me about an hour to write about a page or a little more. But by tomorrow, I should have about 10,000 words toward my novel. If I keep this rate up, I could have the first draft finished in a couple of months. Amazing, you say? It is when you consider it took me at least 22 drafts to write the 100,000 words that are Second Death. Yes, I’m Donna, and I’m an over-write-a-holic. But I’m working on changing that.

How long does it take for an action to become a habit? Six weeks or so? Maybe I’ll keep this rate up. Oo, maybe I’ll join Camp NaNoWriMo and write the rest of it in a month!

Wow, talk about re-channeling engrams. That might even cause an entire personality change.

Not sure if the universe is ready for that yet…

[What are your experiences with forced stints of writing? Let me know about them in the comments.]

Holding On and Letting Go

I spend a lot of time exercising these days (yay, me!), or maybe it just seems that way. I go to a personal trainer twice a week, because it was the only way I could get my 51-year-old stubborn mind to convince my overweight body to improve itself. Yesterday I was riding the recumbent bike while another woman walked on the treadmill a few feet away. What struck me most was that she wasn’t holding onto anything as she walked at a fairly brisk speed.

The treadmill doesn’t scare me as much as it did a month ago when I started going to the trainer. The first time I was on it, though, I was a little freaked out by the speed at which I was walking and the fact that it just…kept…going. My legs were getting tired, so I thought I’d rest a bit. Instead of mashing one of the two prominent red buttons labeled STOP, I stepped onto the side—and promptly fell. A nice man on the elliptical turned it off for me while I nursed my injured knee. Since then, I hang on for dear life.

I told the woman when she finished on the treadmill that I was impressed by her ability to walk without holding on. She said, “Oh, I’ve been coming here for two months now, so I’ve gotten used to it. You’ll get used to it too.” In that month’s difference, she’d been able to let go, not just of the handles, but of her fear, too.

I find myself writing a lot lately about fear. I’ve been learning from my therapist to overcome the anxiety that’s plagued me much of my life, and the process has made me realize what a destructive force fear is. I won’t truly progress in exercising if I allow fear to hold me back. The more experience I gain, the more my confidence builds. It’s true in so many areas of life, and particularly in writing. Writing requires a certain amount of confidence in one’s own ability. After all, when we write, we’re spilling our emotions and experiences and life essence out for all to see. We’re making ourselves vulnerable. Vulnerability is uncomfortable enough around friends, much less strangers who don’t know us except through our writing, and are judging whether they should’ve spent the money on our work or not.

Holding on to the handles of the treadmill has its value, but if I hold on for too long, I know I won’t get the full benefit of the exercise. At some point I have to let go, take the risk, and not let fear hold me back from reaching my full potential. Yeah, I’ll probably fall at some point, but it’s better than if I didn’t try at all.

Let me know in the comments how you overcome fear in your own writing experience.

5 Ways to Reinvent Yourself at Age 51 (or Any Age)

In the interests of full disclosure, I turned 51 in January of this year. As I’ve written elsewhere, I experienced a big emotional change in my life that’s prompting me to reexamine my outlook. Lately I’m thinking often about reinvention. Here’s some ways to do it that make sense to me:

1. Express yourself.

Starting a blog is a good way to do this. Write about your own outlook on life. Write from the perspective of the person you wish you were. Share your own unique wisdom and perspective.
If you aren’t confident about your writing abilities, try posting photos are meaningful to you. Draw pictures and scan them. Sing songs and record them and post them.

2. Renew a relationship.

We’re defined to a large extent by our relationships. Improve them, and you’ll improve yourself. Get closer to a parent, reconnect with the brother you haven’t seen in years, call up the sister you always fought with.

3. Get serious about a hobby.

Invest the time, money and effort in something you really love, and get better at it.

4. Define yourself as something other than your job.

We spend so much time at work, we often see ourselves chiefly through that lens. If you’re fortunate enough to be employed, that’s wonderful, but don’t let it sap your soul. How do you do that? See #3 above for a suggestion.

5. Do something new for your physical, mental and spiritual health.

Join a gym, see a psychologist, take up meditation, deepen your prayer life. Concern yourself with the plight of the poor, the needy, the friendless, the outcast. Change your eating habits–eat one new thing a week that you’ve never eaten before.

I’d love to hear from you. Let me know how you’re reinventing yourself, no matter what your age.


Total Control

[Note: This blog entry was originally posted on the I love Smashwords website on May 15, 2011. It has since been taken down. I recovered it from the Wayback Machine, because it has particular significance to me. I don’t use Smashwords anymore, but the sentiments are still valid.]

I suspect nobody but me knows this one, but have you ever heard the old Michael Nesmith song, “Total Control,” off one of his solo albums? It’s a lighthearted song about how the singer wants “total control of the airports. Total control of the sea. And total control of the freeway. Total control of police” (Source ). Smashwords gives me just that feeling–that I have total control.

I hit a bad patch of crazy at work a few months back where I was demoted from a job I created about 12 years ago, completely out of the blue or left field or from whichever cliche abrupt changes come. It arrived on top of negative self esteem issues related to my weight. And turning 51. My inner voice felt like the complete opposite of total control. (Good thing I was already seeing a therapist!)

And along came Smashwords.

I’m not even sure now where I found out about this marvel of the e-publishing world, but discover it I did. And ideas starting churning in my head. I had two novels whose pixels were covered in dust. The first novel, Second Death, had been turned down by multiple publishers, with numerous “almost, but not quite” rejections to its credit, despite paying a professional editor a lot of money to edit it (and she loved it too). Why not publish them? What could it hurt?

First, I threw myself into Research Mode. When I get enthusiastic about something, I get enthusiastic in a big way. (Obsession is an ugly word. I prefer euphemisms.) I researched the marketing of e-books, particularly J. A. Konrath and his irascible style. I read every detail about how to upload to CreateSpace and Kindle and Smashwords, their requirements and caveats. I was excited.

When at last I held my breath and pressed the upload button, I felt such a feeling of control. “Total control of all variables,” as Mr. Nesmith would say. I realized I’m not bound by what a publisher thinks of me, what an editor might say, what the fashions and trends in publishing might be. Granted, I’m a firm believer in editors, and cringe at the low quality of many Smashwords descriptions (dang, if the description is that poorly written and edited, I sure won’t read the book). But that’s all up to me. I choose what I want to write, what my cover looks like, all within the boundaries of what Meatgrinder the Mighty will accept. I’m fine with that stricture. (Again, it’s a quality thing. E-published authors won’t get rid of the reputation of “vanity publishing” if we don’t produce quality work.)

Smashwords has given me freedom, and challenged me to write more. I want the instant gratification (well, nearly so) that comes with uploading my own manuscript. I want to see lots of books written by me in my list. So I’d better get busy and write them. I don’t even stress over work anymore. I’m a writer first. My job’s way down the list of importance.

And I have Smashwords to thank. Now I have control of some aspect of my life. And I’m grateful for it.