5 Things Writers Can Learn From Models

“What’s past is prologue.” — William Shakespeare

I’m a big fan of living in the now and not dwelling on the past, but I also think that our pasts are excellent teachers. This is poignantly true for writers; virtually every experience we’ve ever had can become research. If nothing else, our past experiences led us to where we are. For most writers I know, this is an insanely fabulous thing.

passion quote

Modeling and writing may not seem very comparable—other than the fact that in both, one can arrive to work in PJs—but my years in fashion did prep me for writing in numerous ways. In addition to providing endless fodder for my blog posts and fiction, here are five of my favorite takeaways:

1. Self-doubt shows. (And it’s often best to ignore the audience.) The first time I tried walking on a runway before my agents and other models, it was as though my legs were foreign creatures I’d never before utilized. Every part of me wobbled awkwardly, more so the harder I tried to force grace. The same can happen in our writing. The more we think, “Please don’t let this suck,” or “I hope they like it!” we’re pulled from the page, and words we use routinely can seem difficult to maneuver. It’s normal to have some level of insecurity about our work, but fixating there, instead of on our craft and stories, can keep us from falling off the runway producing our best work.

2. “No” is part of the deal. I’ve joked that I could hold an honorary Master’s degree in rejection because I’ve dealt with it hundreds, perhaps thousands, of times. After my first casting, after which I waited longingly for the phone to ring (it never did), I learned that my job was to simply to show up and bring my best game. When I booked five to 10 percent of the jobs I was up for, I knew I was doing well. As writers, pleasing a small percent of readers is pretty darn awesome! We can’t make everyone happy, but we can satisfy the heck out of some. And each negative response from a publisher, agent, editor and reader is one “no” closer to a positive.

3. It’s not personal. When I was transitioning from modeling to acting, I auditioned for many roles that specifically called for models (who could “handle dialogue” LOL). I studied my BUTT off for a lead in an oh-so-Shakespearean piece entitled Zombie Strippers. I came close to booking it when a celebrity entered the equation and POOF! Gone were my half-naked zombie dreams… *sigh* Maybe the celeb had some serious acting chops, but regardless, I knew the decision wasn’t personal. She would draw in far more cash than a no-name actress. Many decisions affecting writers function similarly. Harsh feedback often has very little to do with us, and critical feedback can help us grow if we let it.

4. Fake (some of) it until you make it. When I was in the thick of the high-fashion world—New York, Paris, etc.—I knew extremely few confident models. The industry attracts women with insecurities. But we could all fake it. We had to, or we’d never book a job. Over time, most of us could “turn it on” when necessary. I believe that we’re writers the second we decide to be and start writing. (Forget “aspiring.” I’d rather perspire. And more importantly, WRITE.) I’m not suggesting dishonesty, but I do think that we occasionally have to believe that we’re stronger and more capable than we realize. Very likely, we are.

5. Writers are damn lucky! A fellow approached me at the gym the other day and asked what I was working on.  (As usual, my elliptical machine dashboard was a mess of pages and pens.) I explained that I was editing. “Oh, you’re a writer. You really missed the boat. You could’ve been a model or actress.” He probably meant it as a compliment, but honestly, writing is many steps up from modeling and always has been. Models are seldom praised for who they are and what they do. Dependent on others, they’re like canvases on which others’ art appears. That’s fun and all, but as writers, we’re artists! How incredibly cool is that? Artists change the world, man. I don’t care if I sound like a weed-smoking cheese ball; it’s true. (I’ve never smoked weed, Mom. Don’t worry!) When we cherish what we do, we’re better able to make the most of it.

What do you think? Do any of these lessons resonate with you? How has your past career prepared you for writing?

5 Things Writers Can Learn from Wall St: A Guest Post by Kourtney Heintz

“Friendship is born at that moment when one person says to another: ‘What! You too? I thought I was the only one.'” — C.S. Lewis

Well before I met Kourtney Heintz in person, I knew that we shared much in common. We’re both compulsive about writing, for example, both adore dogs (especially our own) and both gave up “glamorous” gigs in the Big Apple for eventual happiness via the pen. Her previous career varied slightly from mine, however, and I figured we could all learn a lot from the recently published author. (Congrats, Kourtney!)

I read a sample of her new release, The 6 Train to Wisconsin, when she’d entered the Amazon Breakthrough Novel Award contest. (She was later named a semifinalist.) Man, was I upset when I ran out of pages; it was that good. Today, I’m honored to share my blog stage/living room with her. I’ll even let her hold my beloved mic. 😉 Take it away, Kourtney!

Kourtney Heintz

Many thanks to August for generously offering me a spot on her blog. She took me under her wing and taught me everything I know about social media. There’s a reason my blog hits and comments skyrocketed after I met her. (You’re way too sweet, Kourtney! Whoops, your mic!)

1) Deadlines Matter

Delays at any point in the process ripple through the entire project. If I let myself fall behind schedule, I was in trouble, my boss was in trouble, and his boss was in trouble. My actions spiraled right up the chain of command.

Even when you’re indie publishing, one missed deadline can snowball into an avalanche and derail your entire book project.

2) Getting to Yes is A Backbending Feat

Most people opened with “No.” “Yes” means more work. If someone agreed to an interview with me, it was time out of their day. I offered to come in early, meet during lunch, stay late. I’d promise to keep it to 30 minutes and be done in 29 minutes.

Any time an agent or editor request a manuscript, they are adding to their workload. Make sure you’re sending out your very best work. Research exactly how that particular agent likes to be queried. Invest time to understand what will make things easiest on them and then do it.

3) Stamp Out Flames Near Any Bridges

I had to build relationships with hundreds of people within my firm. Each interaction had to be respectful and courteous because all future interactions hinged on the current one. No matter how frustrated you get with someone, you never know how integral they may be to you down the road. And there is always more road.

4) Prioritizing Your Day is the Best Way to Stay Productive

I was usually involved in 3-6 audits on any given day–all in different stages of completion.

Everyday, I crafted my to-do list, ranking everything.  My “Top 7” items were mission critical. The rest I’d work my way through. Often a few items had to move to the next day. But I always knocked out what absolutely had to be done.

 5) No One Understands Your Process like You Do

No one knows how much testing and interviewing and digging it took to find an issue and make a recommendation to remediate it.

Same with writing. People will think you play on the Internet all day. They can’t imagine what revising entails. You can try explaining it to them, but the most important thing is that you know what you’re doing and you show up and do it everyday.

Author Bio: Kourtney Heintz writes emotionally evocative speculative fiction that captures the deepest truths of being human. For her characters, love is a journey never a destination. She resides in Connecticut with her warrior lapdog, Emerson, her supportive parents and three quirky golden retrievers. Years of working on Wall Street provided the perfect backdrop for her imagination to run amuck at night, imagining a world where out-of-control telepathy and buried secrets collide. Her debut novel, The Six Train to Wisconsin, was a 2012 Amazon Breakthrough Novel Award Semifinalist.

One Sentence Summary of Novel: When Kai’s telepathy spirals out of control, her husband Oliver brings her to the quiet Wisconsin hometown he abandoned a decade ago, where he must confront the secrets of his past to save their future.

Connect with Kourtney Online:

Website: http://kourtneyheintz.com
Blog: http://kourtneyheintz.wordpress.com
Facebook Page: http://www.facebook.com/kourtneyheintzwriter
Twitter: http://twitter.com/KourHei
Goodreads: http://www.goodreads.com/goodreadscomkourtney_heintz
Amazon Author Central Page: http://amazon.com/author/kourtneyheintz
Pinterest: http://pinterest.com/kourhei

Paperback available from:
Amazon  Barnes and Noble
Ebook available from:
Amazon  Barnes and Noble  Smashwords  Kobo  iTunes

Any thoughts or questions for Kourtney? What has a previous career taught you about writing? 

 

A Peek Inside ‘Big 6’ Author Life: Amanda Kyle Williams

Thank goodness for books! Seriously. With all of the buzz circulating about Abercrombie & Fitch and its CEO’s damaging messages, I’ve had youth on the brain. Mysteries and thrillers helped me through countless teenage hardships, and I looked up to their creators long before I imagined becoming one. In a world with too many villains (*clears throat* Jeffries!), I’m particularly grateful to my author heroes.

Cup of coffee and book

Today, I’m stoked to bring you one of my favorites, Amanda Kyle Williams. Her Stranger series, starring former FBI profiler, Keye Street, is captivating, witty, spine-tingling and inspiring. Now through Sunday, you can nab its first installment, The Stranger You Seek, for only 99 cents. (Total steal!) I hope you’ll pull up a chair, and a cup of java. This author is one you don’t want to miss.

AM: I first had the pleasure of “meeting” your work, thanks to a serendipitous galley copy of your series premiere. Now, you’re about to release #3. (Time flies!) How different is it, being a further celebrated veteran?

AKW: I can tell you the writing process is very different now. It took me a couple of years to settle into my job. Sometimes just being still is challenging. Learning a new job is challenging. But I’m in the groove now. I have a routine. I’m fairly disciplined and I’m enjoying writing again, remembering why I love it. I lost that for a minute while I was freaking out. I just finished the third book, Don’t Talk To Strangers, and it’s the first time I’ve finished a book without secretly believing I’d never write another one. I hear I’m not unique in this way. Writers, as it turns out, are neurotic as hell.

AM: As a traditionally published, Big 6 (well, 5) author, are you flown around the world with an entourage who wines, dines and does all of your marketing for you?

AKW: [laughing] You’ve been watching “Castle,” haven’t you? Actually, I am treated very well thanks to a great agent, publicist and publishing house. But it’s more like I’m flown to a few cities with mystery bookstores. Great opportunity to develop relationships with booksellers and to meet readers. My books have a few translations now and that means foreign publishing houses so I was very happy to be invited to London last year to meet my UK publisher and attend the Harrogate Crime Writers Fest.

But here’s the truth, or at least my truth and my experience at my level: There’s a big push just before and after a release. Tours and publicity. It’s this crazy blast of activity in the middle of a writer’s solitary life. It’s fun and exciting. And then it’s over. And if you want to keep the buzz going, you pretty much have to do it yourself because publicists and publishers are on the next bazillion new releases. Not that they don’t work hard for me all year. They do. But their attention shifts. They have other authors. Now, if I have a marketing idea or need help, I can reach out and they’re there. The team at Random House has been incredibly available and willing. But it’s up to the author to learn how to promote, attend conferences, meet people, stay involved in the community, keep your name out there, develop social media relationships, visit book clubs, develop a website…

There’s a financial investment associated with conferences, of course. Travel is expensive. But I see it as just that—an investment in my career. A lot of authors blog, as you well know. I don’t. It’s fraught with dangers for a dyslexic writer. I’d have to employ a full-time freelance editor. It’s not something I have any interest in at this point. And honestly, I don’t have that much to say. Some days I can’t even manage a status update or something cute for Twitter so…

(Psst! She’s actually a great Twitter follow. Check her out: @AKyleWilliams.)

AM: What’s your funniest or zaniest fan story? (If your groupies are super normal, feel free to embellish.)

AKW: Oh sure. Everyone knows thriller fans are perfectly normal, right? All I will say is, my inbox gets pretty interesting. Funny story about my first tour: I went to Houston after the release of The Stranger You Seek. Murder By The Book petitioned hard for me to come to Texas and visit their store. My publicist was skeptical. First tour. No one knew who I was. Tours can be brutal anyway. It’s hard to get people out of the house and into a bookstore for a book signing even if they like the author.

So I go to Houston. Nice hotel. Good food. Published book. I’m feeling pretty important. Four people show up, including an older couple, white hair, sitting very quietly through my whole spiel. During the Q&A, I discover they’re only there because they think I’m a long lost relative from Mississippi named Amanda Kyle. [August falls over laughing.] Bless their hearts. More recently, I visited a local book club that chose one of my books as their monthly read and I was asked if I’d ever killed anyone. I took that as a compliment.

AM: Well they were lucky to meet you anyway. What lesson have you learned writing or career-wise, that you wish you’d learned sooner?

AKW: You know, I really wish I’d identified as a writer before I was a professional writer. I was writing on and off for 25 years before it was my full-time job. I think I would have found the confidence to go for it sooner. There’s value in speaking about things before they’ve materialized. It’s like looking like a success before you’re a success. Same principal.

When I began making lists of positive things to say to keep my mind for running negative loops, telling me I wasn’t good enough or talented enough, my life started to change very dramatically. It’s virtually impossible for your brain to get stuck on fear and worry when your mouth is saying something positive like, Everything I Touch Prospers and Succeeds. I’m creative. I’m talented. I have new ideas all the time. I write many books. I have these affirmations posted around my house—on the fridge, inside the medicine cabinet, over my bed on the ceiling with painter’s tape. Turning off that little voice that was holding me back infused my writing with some confidence.

AM: If you weren’t a writer, and could take on any skills/traits, what would your dream alternate career be?

AKW: Seriously, I have no skills except that I can write a little and I’m really good with animals.

AM: If you could have any celebrity endorse your book, who would you choose?

AKW: Um… Oprah. [August cheers too loudly.] I mean, come on. She sells the hell out of books. But seriously for me, for the big rush, I want one of the big boys. Right now Gillian Flynn (Gone Girl) and Lee Child (Jack Reacher series) are my fantasy cover blurbs.

AM: Lee Child would totally blurb you! We shared smoothies once. I’ll put a word in. (Kidding—pretty sure he’s forgotten my name.) What aspect of the author’s life do you find most rewarding?

AKW: Besides typing The End? I guess reading back something you really struggled with, honed and revised, and discovering that you managed by some miracle to say what you wanted to say, or create the emotion or suspense you were going for. Because when I start a scene, it’s not like that. It doesn’t come rushing out of me, perfectly shiny and polished. It’s a painstaking process, word-by-word, building from the foundation up.

The other thing would be getting mail from a reader who really gets the character or was touched by something in a book. I talk a lot about addiction in the series. I hear from a lot of folks in recovery. I get mail from from former cops and private detectives and dedicated crime fiction readers. It’s really great when you’ve gotten it right for them. All the hours pay off in those moments.

AM: Beautiful. Tell us about your 99-cents promotion, and what we can look forward to next.

AKW: My publisher decided to run a nice little promo on the eBook edition of the first book in the series, The Stranger You Seek—$0.99 wherever eBooks are sold in the U.S. The promotion runs through May 19th.The 3rd book in the series, Don’t Talk To Strangers, is scheduled to release February 11th. We thought this would be a great way for new readers to discover the Keye Street Stranger series and jump in at the beginning in advance of the 3rd release.

*****

Great indeed. If you haven’t yet, I hope you’ll all race over to Amazon, B&N, or wherever else you e-book shop, and check out Amanda’s work.

Isn’t Amanda Kyle Williams fabulous? Any thoughts to share with her? Do you relate to her “neuroses” as much as I do??? Sure we’d both love to hear from you.

Image
In the sweltering heat of an Atlanta summer, a killer is pushing the city to its breaking point, preying on the unsuspecting, writing taunting letters to the media, promising more death. Desperate to stop the Wishbone Killer, A.P.D. lieutenant Aaron Rauser turns to the one person he knows can penetrate a deranged mind: Keye Street, an ex–FBI profiler and former addict who now picks up jobs where she can get them. But the last thing Keye wants is to be pulled into the firestorm of Atlanta’s worst nightmare. And then it suddenly becomes clear that the hunter has become the hunted—and the stranger she seeks is far closer than she ever dared imagine.

Available on Amazon, iTunes, B&N and more.

Reassuring Facts for the Creatively Compulsive

Me, "sleeping"

Me, “sleeping”

It happens every year. Leading up to Christmas, I shift into maniacal work mode, as though saving up for time off I claim to be desperate for. Meanwhile, thoughts of curry feasts, bubble baths, peppermint spiced cocoa, hang-time with family and generally partying like the holiday obsessed kid I still am keep me giddy. In recent years, I’ve also claimed that I rest enough, busy or not.

The break adoration and sufficient rest bits? Questionable. While I definitely prioritize both more in recent years, having learned that R&R benefits everything from moods to work quality, my e-book release may have tinkered with that ever so significantly slightly…

On December 26th, while at my parents’ place in Minne-snowda, the combo of overwork and giddiness sent me plummeting from spazmo to sick in a snap. This year my family nearly replied to my sniffling, shivering tankage in unison: “You always get sick after Christmas.”

Oh yeah… At least I didn’t un-eat curry on an elderly woman at Woolworth’s this time, I reminded them, to which their eyes rolled harder. Compulsivity isn’t always pretty, but it can be if channeled appropriately.

The difference a day makes

The difference a day makes

If you’re one who has a tougher time pressing pause than start, I hope you find the following tidbits as comforting as I do.

5 Reassuring Facts for the Creatively Compulsive

1. We’re not alone. Being creatively compulsive can feel lonely, particularly around others who don’t understand. The truth is, many artists function similarly. Connecting through social media or in person with fellow compulsives can remove the edge from lonely feelings. Same for simply realizing that they’re there.

2. Breaks help more than we realize. I’m not the only compulsive in my family. My brother, a visual artist, can be too. Before heading home, we both work like crazy then bring work with us. Once we arrive, our work usually sits in our respective rooms while we chill elsewhere. Post visit, it benefits hugely. If you’re not compulsive, starting is probably toughest. If you are, it’s the stepping into relax time that’s daunting. When it hurts, remind yourself that respite and work are equally important.

3. It’s okay to have an on/off switch. In an interview with Oprah, Simon Cowell shared that he works like a maniac in the midst of projects, then slogs around in a moody, sleepy state for some time after. Bestselling thriller author David Baldacci writes like mad then takes total off time , according to his ThrillerFest talk last year. Daily word count goals and structured time slots work well for many. As compulsives, we’re more likely to have on/off switches, or low, high and highest gears. As long as we can turn them on and off when necessary, we’re gold.

4. Doing what we love isn’t selfish. Doing anything we enjoy can seem selfish, but following our passions makes us stronger individuals, partners, society members and friends. If we’re compelled to write, even during an “inopportune” times, such as during a family getaway, doing so might help us more than the hurt we’d cause by stifling it. When the desire strikes, tell your loved ones you need some craft time. Then if possible, claim it. Even small doses can help. For me, waking up early to write during busy life times is key.

5. Healthy compulsivity pays off. Unlike creative compulsive disorder and hypergraphia, two debilitating conditions, a healthy amount of compulsiveness wisely utilized can facilitate prolificness. Agatha Christie, the world’s bestselling mystery novelist, wrote 69 novels and 19 plays. “The best time to plan a book is while you’re doing the dishes,” she said. It seems that compulsivity and breaks served her well. Regardless of how long it takes to complete our work, intense passion and overwhelming desire to create are gifts to be cherished.

How about you? Are you creatively compulsive? Any challenges, success stories or pointers to share?

Creativity Under Pressure: How to Write Your Way Through Storms

You’ve been trudging along, writing at an erratic pace, when an email arrives. Noting the sender, you close your Twitter, Pinterest and Facebook windows and hone in. Thanks for your recent query. We’d love to feature your work. Fantastic, you think. Then you spot the deadline. Yipes. Adrenaline kicks in. Your heart beats faster. And within minutes you’re fully submersed in the work you wished you’d been prioritizing for months.

Relatable? If so, you might want to take the following seriously.

In response to my deadline post, many of you admitted to working well, even thriving, under pressure. Others of you expressed difficulty in making self-set deadlines—which often lack pressure— stick. Well guess what. A growing body of evidence shows that the notion that pressure boosts work performance and creativity is a myth.  (Yowsers, right?)

Research published in the Harvard Business Review in 2002, for example, showed that the more pressure workers experience, the greater their creativity suffered. On days involving the highest amount of pressure, creativity dropped a whopping 45 percent. Participants also experienced a “pressure hangover,” meaning their creativity dropped not only on the high-pressure day, but for several days after.

And it gets crazier. People involved in the studies deemed their creativity the sharpest under pressure, i.e., when it tanked. Based on multiple studies’ conclusions, we’re likely to believe our creativity rages under pressure, when in fact it’s stress and adrenaline. We may get the job done, which is commendable, but at what cost?

What this could mean for writers:

  • If we believe we work best under pressure, we may be fooling ourselves. Are there exceptions? Probably. But I think it’s worth considering.
  • Waiting for pressure to set in before writing could pose challenges and limitations. And not only in regards to creativity. With the exception of taking reasonable breaks, not writing isn’t known to improve writing.
  • Relaxation is important for creativity, particularly when we’re up against tight deadlines.
  • When given the option, choosing longer deadlines might save our creativitys’ hineys.
  • Learning ways to reduce what HBR calls the biggest creativity-dousing factor—extreme time pressure—is invaluable.

“The best situation for creativity is not to be under the gun. But if you can’t manage that, at least learn to dodge the bullets.” —Harvard Business Review

8 Ways to Sharpen Creativity Under Pressure

1. Understand why timeframes are necessary. This helps keep creativity better in check, according Harvard researchers. If we know that a publisher will only accept a manuscript by a particular day, for example, we’re more likely to embrace the importance of the work and forge ahead effectively compared to having an arbitrary deadline.

2. If a tight deadline isn’t necessary, consider an extension. As a health writer, I’m used to working under deadlines. And I love them. But when my agent and I agreed on a one-month deadline for a major revision of my novel, I knew within days how lofty it was. Once the deadline grew close, I asked for a 5-day extension. Simply having that freed up my creative juices and helped me write what I think may be some of my strongest material. Asking for more time when needed isn’t a sign of weakness, but professionalism.

3. Recognize the difference between extended deadlines and procrastination. If you tend to procrastinate, avoiding pressure could be a double-edged sword. Some amount of pressure, or at least motivation, seems key to moving forward. If you’ve been waiting for pressure, when you believe you thrive, ask yourself if you’re truly waiting or simply postponing the work out of fear of failure or other deeper issues. Self-honesty plays a big role here.

4. Take care of your physical and emotional self. We’ve probably all had times when our personal needs fell to the wayside out of creative work obsession  enthusiasm. Whether we’re hyper-focused due to personal passion or deadline-induced stress, taking measures to sleep well, eat well, exercise and relax matters. We may think we’re awesome professionals for prioritizing our craft over self-care, but all we’re really doing is damage. Self-care boosts creativity. Just don’t make it a full-time job. 😉

5. Maintain a comfy routine. I’m not a big fan of schedules. That said, I love my loose writing routine—write in the morning, take breaks to eat and exercise then write all afternoon. Erratic shifts in routines amidst pressure can disrupt creative flow and stimulate or worsen anxiety. If you can, postpone gatherings, household repairs and aliens overtaking your workspace.

6. When you’re plotting or pansting a first draft, cut yourself some slack. Sharp creativity is particularly important when our stories are first being crafted. Some writers love pressure induced by word count goals and whipping out drafts. And there are some benefits to rapid writing. But opting for more flexible goals, such as writing every day, can be helpful from a creative standpoint—assuming you don’t have a hefty deadline upcoming. Moving forward and producing our best work trumps plentiful words and writing quickly, in my opinion.

7. Let ideas incubate. Some of our best work takes form after our minds have had a chance to mull new ideas over. This is why allowing ideas to incubate, even for short time periods, can help ensure effective work once we sit down to write. Research published in Organization Science in 2004 suggests bouts of mindless work as a useful way to enhance creativity. So why not let your ideas incubate and tidy your house or car at the same time? If you’re under the deadline gun, take short breaks. For added perks, let ideas incubate during exercise—a mega brain function-booster.

8. Seek support. Research also shows that one-on-one collaborations and discussions, and avoiding needless/obligatory group meetings, encourages emotional ease, creativity and work quality. Don’t be afraid to ask your agent, publisher, editor or best writing pal for support. Chances are, they’re eager to give it.

For more information, check out these fabulous related links:
Big Think: Relaxation and Sleep: The Science of Sleeping on It
Harvard Business Review: Creativity Under the Gun
Freelance Switch: 14 Essential Tips for Meeting A Deadline

Were you surprised by the Harvard findings? Do you feel you work best under pressure? How do you nurture and stimulate your creativity? **No pressure, but if you haven’t submitted your “I’m a writer!” photo and would like to, you have until the end of the day Wednesday. 😉

Urgency to Write: How to Keep The Fire Burning

ur-gent adj.

1. Compelling immediate action or attention; pressing.
2. Insistent or importunate: the urgent words “Hurry! Hurry!”
3. Conveying a sense of pressing importance: an urgent message

We hear a lot about creating a sense of urgency in our writing. But do you have it in your writing life?

A recent ADOBE study showed that 8 in 10 people see unlocking creativity as vital to economic growth and nearly two-thirds consider creativity an asset to society. Yet only 1 in 4 people worldwide believe they are living up to their creative potential. Yipes. Though it’s refreshing to hear that creativity is valued, those results are frightening. And I couldn’t help but wonder how many writers feel similarly.

I’m not suggesting we run around in a “MUST WRITE” panic, as…entertaining as that might be. 😉 And I know many of you are eager go-getters who interact on social media between intense bouts of writing, or have deadlines keeping you on your toes. Regardless, I think we can all use tips and reminders when it comes to maintaining writing glee. Remember that wheeee feeling we talked about a few posts back? The following steps have helped me ignite it when the swing set seems slightly out of reach.

 10 Ways to Relight Your Writing Fire & Keep it Burning

1. Write when ideas strike, or shortly thereafter. There’s a reason ideas are illustrated by cartoon lightbulbs a la head. When they strike us, they are HOT. If we wait hours, days or longer to put them down on paper, they’re likely to fizzle out. Keep a note pad in your car, purse or workplace, or type your thoughts into your computer or phone.

2. Nurture ideas you’re excited about. It can be tempting to choose a topic or premise only because it seems profitable. But writing for (what I believe are) wrong reasons shows. I believe we should write stories because if we don’t, we might explode, stories that have us jumping out of bed in the morning. Think about the book you’ve always wanted to read, then write it.

3. If you don’t have a full-fledged story idea, start with a character, place or issue you’re revved up about. In other words, get excited about something. Don’t sit there waiting for exciting story ideas to crop up. Excitement attracts ideas; boredom nukes them. You could also try brainstorming a list—quickly—of possible ways to build on your starting point, or simply write about it until something forms. Then go to a quiet place you find inspiring and let the ideas flow.

4. Take breaks. Staring at the computer, awaiting the muse, won’t do much good. I like to use FAR—an acronym developed by author and physician, Dr. Matthew Edlund. It stands for Food, Activity, Rest. By creating a rhythm of eating, doing something active (writing, exercise, cleaning…) then something restful (walking, meditating, taking a bath…) we can feel more rested and sleep-ready at night, and sharper creatively during the day. Some of our best ideas arise when we’re away from our computers. That’s still writing, in my opinion—a vital part, at that.

5. Manage stress. I don’t much believe in writer’s block, but I do believe in life block. If we’re stuck in toxic relationships, jobs we hate or other stressful situations, our writing lives can feel like cement—unmovable or changeable. If you tend to write your feelings before you recognize them, incorporate morning pages into your routine. Julia Cameron features the exercise in her book, The Artist’s Way. Free-writing—some call it “word vomit”—first thing each morning can not only ease stress but show us how we feel. It also clears the pathway  for other writing.

6. Take a novel outing. Cameron recommends Artist Dates, or taking yourself on solo expeditions to do anything your heart desires. I take my actual projects on dates. (No, not in a delusional Lars and the Real Girl type way.) When I feel unproductive, I take my computer or notebook to parks, Starbucks or where ever for quality one-on-one time. We all need solace for our writing to soar. Pets, family members and home or office distractions can interfere. These outings work every time.

7. Interact with driven, creative friends. Chatting with fellow artists who are totally on fire for their work can light our fires. Hopefully you’ll have a similar effect on them. Simply talking about our work adds meaning and value. Just try not to do so on Twitter, Facebook and the WANA Tribe all at once, all day, or with friends who love talking about creative work, but seldom do it.

8. Do something really boring. I’ve never done this on purpose, but before I’d fully quit theatrical and fashion work, I had several jobs that required standing very still for very long periods of time, for a purpose I didn’t care about whatsoever. It took all of my might not to bust out of there and start typing.

9. Remind yourself why you’re a writer in the first place. If you love writing, you should write. Whatever led you to start putting words and stories on paper can keep you going. If not, ask yourself what has changed? Like stress, stagnancy can be a symptom of a deeper problem that needs addressing.

10. Repeat after me: I am my muse. My muse is in me. I’m a writer. I’m a writer! I MUST WRITE! Now ignore the funny expressions poised at you right now. They’re just jealous. 😉 If you want to write, you can and should. I believe that. And the more you write, the better you’ll become. Don’t judge, just write.

More ideas worth mentioning:

  • Enter writing contests.
  • Set deadlines that stick.
  • Set reasonable goals.
  • Join a quality writing or critique group, or seek coaching or counsel from a trusted agent, editor or beta-reader.
  • Get therapy. (We can all use emotional check-ins, if we can’t manage stress or stagnancy in particular.)
  • Go to a conference.
  • Take a WANA class, and join a tribe.
  • Use the buddy system, trading pages every week or month.
  • Write in short increments—give yourself at least 30 minutes each day.
  • If you’re a morning person, write first thing most days.
  • If you’re a night-owl, write first thing most nights.
  • If social media is swallowing too much of your time, take a break. Or save it for breaks.
  • Exercise. (Activity stimulates creativity.)
  • Create a mini writing retreat in your home or, if you can, away.
And check out these fantastic, inspiring posts:
Tameri Etherton: Rewriting the Ending
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Are you as compelled to write as your characters are to fight, overcome or win? What helps you stay motivated and on-track?

Deadlines: Lifelines for Writers

If you sit around waiting for inspiration, it may never come.

I met an author—let’s call him “Larry”—at a conference last year whose first novel, part one of a trilogy, was soon to come out. When I asked how the second was coming along, he said he didn’t feel much urgency since his deadline lay a year out. Once his publisher set that deadline, his work slowed down—in fact, it stopped.

Perhaps Larry, like many of us, works well under pressure. He may complete the manuscript in two or three months and do a fine job. I personally wouldn’t feel comfortable doing so, however, for several reasons. First, taking too much time off from writing can lead to creative atrophy. Once we restart, it may take a while to warm back up to our usual groove. Second, all of those months off are months that could contribute to sharpened writing skills. And third, if Larry only takes a few months to complete one novel, why not finish the next two in the series sooner? The more quality work we complete, the better.

I’m not sure which contributes more to my adoration of deadlines—my work as a journalist or the on-time-is-late gene I inherited from my dad. In either case, I believe deadlines can serve as a lifeline for most writers. Here’s why:

1) Sitting around waiting for our muse to appear is impractical. Sure, being struck with wicked inspiration is awesome. But complacency can block inspiration, in my opinion. When I worked as an actress, I used slow months to create film projects of my own. When times were slow at a magazine I worked for, I wrote additional articles and submitted my work to other publications. And you know what? The work inspired me. It still does. The more routinely we sit down and write, the more inspiring we’ll find the act of doing so. Deadlines, whether set by us or others, helps keep us focused. We have little choice but to work.

2) The Parkinson’s Law states that “work expands to fill the time available for its completion.” In other words, the more time we have to complete a project, the longer it will take us to complete it. If Larry set his own deadline of six months rather than twelve and took it seriously, he’d probably meet it. The same goes for all of us.

3) Honing the practice of deadline-keeping promotes professionalism. I wouldn’t be surprised if the interest some agents expressed in representing me stemmed from the skill set journalism requires. One even said, “Ah, so you’re good with deadlines.” (Are you kidding? We’re like BFFS. ;)) Fortunately, you don’t need to work with editors, agents or publishers to get your deadline skills in order.

Tips for Setting Your Own Deadlines and Making them Work

“Shoot for the moon. Even if you miss it you will land among the stars.” — Les Brown

Choose realistic dates. If our deadlines are too far off, we may make like Larry and feel no sense of urgency. They can then sneak up us, causing crazy stress, weakened self confidence or total surrender. (“I give up!”) If our deadlines are too short, we run the risk of little things getting in the way or overwhelming ourselves, which again may inspire us to give up. Deadlines should trigger anticipation and enthusiasm, not panic.

Allow for some wiggle room. I generally have about a week to finish feature articles. I give myself a deadline of two to three days. This way, I have plenty of time for unexpected delays and to review my work with fresh eyes before submitting it. And my editors know that I work fast, so if a short turn around piece arises, I’m a realistic candidate. If you feel confident that you can complete a project in six weeks, take seven or eight. Or set a rough draft deadline of six weeks and a final deadlines of seven.

Set incremental deadlines. If your goal is finishing a novel in one year, setting weekly or monthly goals of a certain amount of work time, pages, words or “chunk” can be helpful. I personally don’t dig goals of specific words or pages because quality matters more to me than quantity. But you should do what works best for you.

Create accountability. The more often you set and meet deadlines, the more likely you’ll be to take them seriously, simply by thinking or stating them. If you need more accountability, try joining or starting a critique or writers group. (FYI, choose critique groups with caution. Taking feedback from a bunch of writers can help or hinder our work. What you want is accountability, not a bunch of contradicting opinions.) Or use the buddy system with a fellow reader or writer. Each week or month, share or exchange x-number of pages, chapters or whatever quality work you’ve churned out.

Reward yourself, but don’t punish. Once you meet a deadline, reward yourself with a day off, new book or whatever else strikes your fancy. If your deadline draws near and you’re way behind, set a new one—preferably not too far off. The beauty of setting our own deadlines is that we can remain flexible. In many cases, editors, agents and publishers will allow extra time if you explain in advance that a few more days or weeks would allow greater work quality. Quality often trumps meeting specific dates.

So, I’d LOVE to hear your thoughts. What do you like or dislike about deadlines? Any points to add? Experiences to share? Challenges we can help you manage? Share, share away…

Writing Tricks and Blog Treats

Wouldn’t it be awesome if we could go door-to-door on Halloween and get loaded up with insight from writers??? In some ways, that’s the internet–streets and houses chock-full of free goods. And until we’ve visited a particular house–website/blog, etc.–we don’t know what we’ll get. Some offer the BEST goods; so great, we return for more, share memorize their addresses and share them with friends. (“Dude, that house has king size Symphony bars!”) Others we wish we’d bypassed. (“A toothbrush? Are you serious?”)

But maybe you hate chocolate. (Ouch, that hurt.) Or have a…minty fresh breath fetish. What works for and pleases one writer’s appetite may not work or please another. That’s just one of the many beautiful things about this business.

A few WRITING TRICKS that work for me:

Make writing a high priority. Many of us struggle to balance writing and other responsibilities. My career took off once I made it a top priority. This meant sacrificing work opportunities I cared less about, at the risk of making less money, turning my ringer off during writing time and saying “no” to social functions that felt obligatory. As it turned out, this led to my making more money through writing. (Do what you love and love what you do, right? It pays off.)

Set and stick to deadlines. As a journalist, many of my deadlines are built in. Applying the same practice to my fiction does wonders for my productivity and work quality. (Creative juice can kick into high gear under pressure.) Deadline keeping also brings a level of professionalism that appeals to agents, publishers, editors and other industry professionals.

**Tip: If you have trouble holding yourself to self-concocted deadlines, join or start a critique group that requires x-number of pages per week or month. Or pal up with another writer. Just as gym buddies tend to exercise more successfully than unenthused singles, knowing a friend is expecting your work and bringing theirs is hugely motivating. Just don’t pick a friend who’s laxer than you. 😉

Read. A LOT. Like Stephen King says in his fantastic book, On Writing, “if you don’t have time to read, you don’t have time (or the tools) to write.” I’m always amazed when an aspiring, usually stuck, writer tells me they don’t read. And it happens fairly often. Write because you love writing, but because you loved reading first.

BLOG TREATS (Chock-full of tips for writers!)

If you enjoy the posts below, consider subscribing, following, posting comments, “liking,” Tweeting and/or emailing them about the cyber-sphere. Supporting their creators will inspire them to keep inspiring you and others. And you’ll be amazed at how much support and even friendship you may get in return. Enjoy!

Write Practice
Write From the Inside by Joe Bunting
Five Ways to Quit Being a BiPolar Writer by Joe Bunting

Kristen Lamb’s Blog
The Dark Side of Metrics–Writer Friend of Ticket to Crazy Town
Structure Part 4–Testing Your Idea–Is it Strong Enough to Make an Interesting Novel? 

Nathan Bransford’s Blog
Page Critique Thursday: The Importance of Staying with Your Character

Dystel & Goderich Literary Management
Conference Consternation by Michael Bourret

Writers in the Storm
Critique Groups: How to Find Your Dream Team 

Novel Rocket: Getting Your Book off the Ground
5 Books You Should Own by Gina Holmes

The Renegade Writer
The Number One Thing Holding You Back From Freelance Success

The Writers Help
Easy Writing Ingredients by Jackie Paulson

Paperback Writer
NaNoWriMo Prep IV: Ten Gems O’ Wisdom You Should Probably Ignore During NaNoWriMo by Lynn Viehl

Any tricks or treats you’d like to share??? I’d love to hear them.