Writing Contest: How has Writing Positively Influenced My Life.

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I am participating in a writing contest for Positive Writer.

I don’t remember a time when I wasn’t enchanted by stories.

I read early, when I was 3, most likely going on 4. Books and stories have been a part of my life since before I can remember.

When I was six I wanted to write books. I had no idea what that meant or how to do it. In first grade, one of our assignments was to make a book. Now, I thought that it meant that I would be able to write one and take it home. Can you imagine my surprise when what my teacher intended was that each of us would make a page in a book that she kept? I was so disappointed.

From that point on, writing was big in my world. I liked diaries but didn’t keep them. I kept starting them and being a child in transition, I didn’t keep up with them. The thought was always there.

Getting my first official journal at age 13 was the best thing. I picked it out myself. Silk and turquoise blue with birds, I had that thing for years. Sadly it has been lost to time now. But it did do one thing: I’ve kept a journal since. I haven’t always written but I’ve had a journal, just in case I wanted to.

Writing has been the theme of my life.

Journals helped me to see what I needed to for my life. I still have most of them.

Writing stories was a different beast all together. I don’t remember ever writing stories as an assignment in school. I wonder if that happens now. Would things be different for me today if creative writing had been a part of my education?

The first time I tried to write a story that I remember was for a special assignment. It was still in school but it was for a story to read to the first graders. I think I was in 5th grade. I believe it was a colossal failure. I had no idea what I was doing.

I still have another that I wrote that same year. I was a superhero. Can you imagine?

I stopped the stories for a few years but not the desire. I have several I wrote in high school. Better but still very rough. My friends enjoyed reading them though. It was a mostly positive experience.

I believe it was during this time that I began to hear what many early writers hear. “Writing is a good hobby, but you still have to support yourself.” It was discouraging to say the least.

Over the next 20 years I wrote journals on and off always struggling to get a story out. I took classes on occasion but never made the leap to writing seriously.

An area where writing has served me is when I was pursuing higher education. I didn’t begin college until I was nearly 30, which is a whole other story. I discovered that I could convey my thoughts well enough to get good grades. For those years, nearly 9 of them, my writing consisted of nonfiction, writing assignments. I never suffered the anxiety of writing that other students reported. I, at times, had difficulty starting but once I did, things went well. As I look back, I didn’t feel like a writer even though I was.

During college, I took one creative writing class. It was my first time experiencing so many things. Reading my work out loud and getting feedback was a nail-biting challenge. I even wrote and submitted a cringeworthy story to the school writing journal and it was accepted. I’m still not sure how that happened.

Writing has been a theme of my life. No matter what else I’ve done, writing has been there. I’ve used journals to deal with my struggles. The dream of writing a novel that ended up on the New York Best Sellers list has been the one constant in my life.

So here I am, writing still. Things are different now, I must say. I’ve achieved so many of my other dreams, this appears to be the oldest and yet, most unachieved dream I have. It is time. I have begun.

It has taken me so long to get here, I still consider myself a beginning writer. However, I recently read a statement that said something like, if you have 50 blog posts then you aren’t a beginning writer any more.

This is number 47.

I guess it is time I changed my thinking. Again.

Planner or Pantser

typewriter-377042_1280Its been while since I’ve checked in with my current writing projects.

The good news is I am still writing.

That is always good news.

Of course with good news, comes the not as good news. My novel has hit a snag or I have hit a wall or something.

Normally when things get a little off with my writing I have a thing that I do. I fall back to education. Either reading or looking for someone to tell me how to write something. Anything to keep the procrastination going. The truth is I don’t necessarily need to look for learning opportunities. I just need to keep writing. Lessons abound in my own work, though it doesn’t hurt to seek knowledge.

There are very good reasons to seek out other learning opportunities.

One, it gives my creative juices a boost. New information can lead to new and often better writing.

Two, I am able to connect with other writers. I’ve said this before. We cannot work alone. We NEED each other for the encouragement, connections and sometimes, fun.

Three, learning new skills is important. Writing is one of those skills that can, and needs to, continually improve. The writing I do today won’t be as good as the writing I complete tomorrow.

All that being said, I have been looking at my novel and the struggles I’ve been having with it. In looking around, I rediscovered a method of novel planning that I am attempting.

When I say I’ve rediscovered it, Randy Ingerman has been around for a while so many of you writers have probably heard of his Snowflake method for planning a novel. I’ve subscribed to his newsletter for years. The rediscovery is that I haven’t really read it for years. Sorry, Randy.

He has written a book called How to Write a Novel Using the Snowflake Method. I’m not sure if this is a print book, I purchased it as an ebook. Randy has taken a fairy tale and used it to show how to use his method. It is an interesting way to teach.

The first part of the book is the parable and the second half are the actual steps to use. I’ve read nearly all of it and now I’m impatient to begin. He begins with a one sentence summary of your novel and goes through to step by step outlining all of your scenes. There are 10 in all. I am working on step 3, which is characterization. If you are interested in at least checking out these steps, you can find them here – The Snowflake Method.

Though I’ve already written so much of my novel, my MC is no longer cooperating so I am hoping that by going through these steps, she will be a bit more willing. Even at step three, I have a much clearer picture of what is happening.

Its a lot of work to go backwards, which is essentially what I am doing, however, it won’t ever be finished if I don’t work at it. I really want to finish this novel.

There are so many ways of planning and executing a novel. The trick is to learn which one is the best for you. I wrote during NaNoWriMo and though wasn’t a complete pantser, I didn’t have so much of an outline when I wrote it. So, now I have to go back and rework so much.

The good news about this reworking is that much of what I’ve written will be useful. You know, except for those 10 chapters in the beginning that I threw out as backstory. Yeah, I did that. Hopefully, as I try this method I will have less of rewriting like that.

My next week or two, I will be spending a lot of energy working on my novel. Hopefully by the end of it the writing will flow and I will truly be able to say my novel is finished.

How do you write? Pantser or planner? Or, somewhere in between.

The Cost of Silence

I went to a training this week and one of the things that we talked about was the lack of the use of the word “no” when confronted with a choice.

yes-238374_1280That is not to say that we don’t have other ways to express our refusal but they are generally softer ones:

“I would love to but …”

“Sorry, I’ve got to do …”

We don’t want to hurt anyone’s feelings so we find ways to sugar coat our negative expressions. This can create problems.

At one point in my life I had some acquaintances who were building a multi-level marketing business and had finally gotten to my name. During the conversation, I used every soft refusal I had in my bag of tricks to make them go away. The problem was I never told them no and their training was such that as long as the potential client didn’t say the actual word no, they needed to push forward. It was not pleasant.

“No” is a complete sentence. Apparently we need permission to use it as such, without qualifiers or explanation.

This does go against our societal expectations. Especially as women, we are expected to be nice and acquiesce to whatever is coming at us. We are expected to smile no matter what and take care of those around us without comment or complaint. Though this is changing, I still run into these expectations each day.

Because we aren’t able to say the word no, “yes” is implied and if we can’t speak up, then we areyes-238378_1280 stuck. We are stuck cleaning up after people who are able to do it themselves, volunteering for too many things, overworked and under appreciated. We stay quiet because making a scene isn’t necessarily acceptable.

There is a cost to this silence.

The cost comes in resentment and anger, lack of sleep and health problems. We end up taking antacids, pain relievers and antidepressants, as if these will fix the issues.

Except that they won’t.

Nothing will change unless you do, and yes, I am speaking to myself. This is one time where we have a choice and we can speak up. We must become our own champions because no one else is going to do it for us.

This applies to men too. The stereotypical man isn’t allowed to show “soft” emotions, only anger and aggression. This is a societal expectation though I know men who break this. Men are allowed to say no but struggle with showing love to their partners and families.

The silence that follows reeks havoc on our lives, leaving us tired and jaded with everything.

Can this be changed just by saying “no”? Probably not.

What can happen is if we honor ourselves by saying “no” just once and see where that takes us. Our life will shift direction and perhaps you will keep on saying no to those things that don’t bring you joy and yes to the things that do. You may find yourself in a strange place.

A place of contentment where your honor yourself by how you’ve chosen to live. Or your life may take a completely different turn, which can be a good thing.yes-238376_1280

The point of this is to honor yourself and the things you really want out of life. There is no honor in always saying “yes” either verbally or by not saying anything.

By the way, honoring yourself doesn’t mean you dishonor everyone around you. There is a balance.

Honor yourself. This doesn’t make you a selfish person, though the world will tell you it does. It makes you a person who has the energy for those things you want to do, those things that make your life work.

Its a good thing yet so difficult to do.

Challenge: If you find yourself overwhelmed, try looking at something on your “must do” list and try saying “no”. The actual word. Not, “oh, I’m too busy,” or “something has come up”, which is my personal favorite.

Not to steal from a certain ad campaigns, but, just do it. Just say no.

All photo legally downloaded from Pixabay

Perfectly Alone

coffee-750990_1280I am sitting in a coffee shop in a town far away from home, enjoying the rare quiet, reflecting on just how unusual this is.

I had just walked out of my hotel and into the hot windy weather. For a moment I closed my eyes to relish the feel of heat and wind on my face. It had been a rough couple of days and I was feeling none too positive. Somehow, the wind cleansed away the creeping dark mood I’d been carrying. A feeling of peace came over me.

As I now sit and write with soft music playing and the barista the only other person in the building, I remember what I all too often forget:

I need time alone.

Time where I am actually without another person anywhere near me. I don’t mean just being in one room of my house while everyone else is in a different room. I actually need the house to myself. I need to be able to walk outside and just breath in the air. I need that freedom to just sit and do nothing for a bit without someone speaking to me or asking anything of me. Even if they present and are quiet, it’s not the same thing.

I forget that this alone time is necessary. I forget until that moment when that creeping angst crawls into my heart and spreads throughout my body. By that time I am frustrated with everyone and everything. It is not pretty. This is when I don’t like myself very much.

We learn so much about ourselves by being alone and that can be scary. It takes courage to face and accept yourself.

As a writer, I prefer to write alone in the quiet. It is in these moments where I can put honest, even ugly, words down. I know that at some point they will turn into a thing of beauty but in that moment, I am content. I am in the moment.

Being alone can take on many forms. Getting outside and taking a walk is healthy. Sitting in a quiet coffee shop people watching or simply reading the paper is enough. Sometimes just a few moments are all you need.

Our souls crave this quiet, especially in the midst of a busy life. balance-110850_1280

So, the challenge is to find time to be alone, whether it’s for 5 minutes or 5 hours or anywhere in between.

I dare you to stop in that park you pass on your way home and just listen to the wind in the trees.

Or pop into that bookstore you’ve been dying to visit but never found the time to just browse. You don’t have to buy, it’s okay to just look.

Or while you are waiting for your kid to get done with practice. Spend some time away from the field. It doesn’t take long. Just a few minutes to remember who you are and to be in the moment.

Challenge – Find some time to be alone this week and let go, if only a few minutes, of the rest of your responsibilities. You’ll be glad you did.

Young Only at Heart

I didn’t get a blog post out this morning.

Normally I write my posts the night before and schedule them. If I am really on the ball, it may be a day or two sooner. I haven’t figured out the trick to writing a ton of posts, scheduling them and then going about my life. I wonder if that day will come.

My only excuse for not getting a post out when I normally do is because I am not as young as I used to be.

Let me explain.

When I look in the mirror I don’t see the graceful aging that is happening. I am going to call it graceful because its me and I can. I don’t look my age because am lucky that I have some quality genes that disguise my true age. It makes me forget how old I am sometimes.

Except for weekends like I’ve just had.

It was a good weekend spent with friends, celebrating. A friend is getting married soon and, much to our surprise, another just became engaged the night before. We had a lot to celebrate. I also realized I’d never been to a bachelorette party.

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It was tame as those types of parties go. The bride requested no cakes in the shape of body parts nor tiaras or sashes. Just friends, music and general good times.

I believe the weekend lived up to this request. We went to a small metropolitan area in up north. We sampled restaurants, wine and hard cider, which was a first for me. There are several breweries in the area and we found one with music and darts. The beer wasn’t bad either. I don’t play darts, either with or without alcohol. Not sure why. IMG_0015

The evening ended relatively early, especially for a bachelorette party. That is when the realization that I am not as young as I used to be began to dawn on me.

This same metropolitan area is a major tourist hotspot in our state. This particular weekend they were also hosting a soccer tournament and hotels were problematic for a small party who only intended on one evening in this fair city. We solved these woes by pitching a tent in the state campground near the bay.

This isn’t really a problem. I like to camp and I like to camp in tents. I have my own kit consisting of sleeping pad, bag and pillow along with other paraphernalia . I’ve done this before and have enjoyed it.

This night however, was at the end of a celebration, the type of which I don’t normally do.

As morning dawned and my hip hit the hard dirt beneath my tent, I understood clearly that I am not as young as I used to be. I woke up cold and sore and generally grumpy though the coffee we had shortly cured that.

In hindsight, I failed to air my sleeping pad up enough so I felt the hard ground quite a lot. Since I knew I would get cold, I layered my clothing to help with that. Except that I forgot that since I am not as young as I once was, I also have temperature fluctuations in the night (i.e. hot flashes). By morning, I was cold due to the moisture both from me and the condensation from the other bodies in the tent. Not a good combination.

We woke up to a beautiful, warm morning. Found a place for a fabulous breakfast and everyone headed home. On the drive I wondered what I’d been thinking.

I needed a day to recover. Consequently, I did little for the rest of the day including not writing this post nor anything else.

So now I am back to a semi-normal routine. Working but as I write this I am at a training and “camping” in a nice hotel, still trying to recover from my weekend.IMG_0020 IMG_0021

The question for any choice is would you do it again, given all that you learned in the process.

Unequivocally, yes. I would do it all over again.

Would you?

Small Moments

blackboard-620314_1280This week Chuck Wendig wrote a piece and posted it on his blog, Terribleminds.com, called “Dear Writers: None of us Know What the Fuck We’re Doing.” If you can get past the language (and it’s not horrible) this is a fascinating piece. You can find the entire thing here.

As I’ve put together my blog I’ve struggled with how to create, build and market myself. I’ve taken classes and read endlessly, I’ve even bought a book about blogging for writers. I’ve wondered about the “right” way to do this. I’ve wondered that about a lot of things. This blog post spoke to me like none other. I could see things clearly.

There is a plethora of information about how to write, blog and generally anything you would ever want to do online. People who have knowledge want to share that knowledge. People who need to know, go to google. It’s a win-win situation.

I’ve long suspected that every road to success in any area is varied and individual. Writing is no different. It is thought that there are some relatively specific rules for writing, though when you truly look at them, there are writers who have achieved success by breaking them, even in spite of the rules. The question is how do you know. Which rules do you follow and which do you ignore. This is the struggle.

Chuck has a bit of advice that I would like to share with you. These are what he calls the Five Constants for writing:

1. Write a lot (and to completion)
2. Read a lot (and read critically when you do)
3. Think about writing and storytelling
4. Talk to writers
5. Go live a life

I think I am going to print these constants out and put them on my bulletin board for whenever I need a reminder. Especially the last one. I forget that one sometimes.

I will continue to go to classes because I enjoy interacting with others and learning new things. As a general rule I learn something from each and every one.

I will also continue to read other writers and their blogs. I believe we can always learn something from others. Whether we attempt their same path or one close, encouraging and upholding each other is the best thing we can do.

And we can live our lives. This is the one that I will be thinking about this week. When I am focused on writing everyday, keeping things going, struggling with my daily job I forget to just live.

We are meant to be and not just do. I forget this with all of my to-do lists. The tasks will always be there, this moment won’t. It’s this moment in which we live. This moment and none other is where we find our joy.

allens-hummingbird-339126_1280The challenge this week is to find joy in the moments.

I want a life well lived, not well intended.

It is in the small moments like seeing the first hummingbird at my new feeder today. I look forward to an entire summer of watching them as stand at my kitchen sink. Hopefully they will get used to me and won’t fly away any time I move.

It’s the small moments that I want to remember.

What are the small moments you want to remember?

Wednesday Words

This may be a quick post as my week has taken a turn for being completely busy but I still wanted to check in.

Weekend Events:

This coming weekend, May 16th, for those of you in Michigan, the Michigan Writers is hosting their annual Spring Social. Here is the flyer:

May 16, 2015 Spring Social

It looks like it will be fun and a way to connect with other writers. I’ve discovered that it is truly important to make these connections, if only to not feel alone in while traveling this journey.

We will also be talking about setting up a writing group to make the connection from NaNoWriMo last for longer than November. If you are available, come on in. I can’t wait for the live music after. It should be fun.

Bookshelf Confessions

I’ve seen the challenge to post pictures of your bookshelf on Facebook so I thought I would add mine in here:

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These pictures were from a day when I was rearranging and this isn’t even all of my books. I have another shelf full that I don’t have pictured. I think I have a problem.

Though messy, I also feel the most home in this place. I’m sure some of you can relate.

Thanks for coming with me on this journey. I really appreciate the support and kind words I’ve received. I am enjoying myself and learning so much.

Confession time: What does your bookshelf look like?

The Magic of Handwriting

fountain-pen-447576_1280For the past couple of days I’ve been working on my novel by hand. I’ve pulled out my fountain pen and have written lots of words, more than I thought I would. The work has flowed really well with only minor discomfort in my hand. Its been interesting.

I’ve struggled for the past week to work on any of my works in progress, my novel especially. My MC has become stubborn and hasn’t liked the way things have gone. I needed to work with that. Handwriting became the answer for me.

For most of my life, my first, rough drafts have been hand written. I would then type them up so others could actually read them. My handwriting, especially when done quickly isn’t fabulous. I’d forgotten the power of handwriting.

Handwriting is something I’ve reserved for my journal writing. I’d been used to working out whatever my subconscious needed to work on through my pen. Something special happens when a pen and paper is used. It is healing and soothing to our souls.

When you give free reign to your words, whether they are the private thoughts you have or to whatever you are working one, magic happens. It seems to keep out the inner critic and creativity abounds. The words keep flowing.

A part of the magic that has happened for me is that I’ve been able to understand my characters a bit better. I’ve been able to slow down and really get the thoughts on paper. I tend to type quite fast and makes it harder to get things down just right.

This is something that I see on lots of different writing sites. The advice that changing things up can help when you are blocked or are having trouble with a spot in your work. It seems to be working for me.

So, go ahead, if you are able, try to change things up. If you are used to handwriting, try typing straight into your computer. Or if like me, you’ve been creating rough drafts on your computer, try picking up your favorite pen and write your words that way. You may be surprised at the positive changes you will see.

What do you prefer, handwriting a rough draft or typewritten?

Reflections

A-to-Z Reflection [2015] - LgIn order to finish up with challenge, all participants have been asked to complete a reflection post speaking to their experiences with the A-to-Z Blog Challenge. Though I have spoken about completing my challenge, I hadn’t reflected back on this experience.

What I liked about the A-to-Z Challenge:

This was the first time I’d completed a blogging challenge so this gave me a framework to push myself with my blog. I felt like I needed the push to write and post more.

I liked that I found several blogs I wouldn’t have normally found and enjoyed the connection with other bloggers.

I also liked the badges for each day and I really appreciated all of the graphics.

What I didn’t like about the challenge:

There were so many blogs to check out. I just didn’t have time to see as many as I would have liked. Many of them (including my own) didn’t indicate the type and so that made it difficult to find. Next time I decide to do this I will label mine correctly. I struggled to go back and correct this but wasn’t able to.

By relying on the graphics, I didn’t have as much color in my blog post as would have been helpful. This is something I will change next time.

What worked:

I didn’t find out about this challenge until just about a week before it started so I didn’t have a chance to chose a theme and that wasn’t my focus this time around. For the most part I wrote my blog post the night before it came out. Sometimes I wrote two. I liked the fact that the only guideline was that the letter of the alphabet must be used. This made me stretch my imagination.

Though I didn’t really rely on the blog posts for encouragement, I enjoyed the reminders and the drive to keep going.

What didn’t work:

I’m not sure there was anything that didn’t work. If it didn’t work, then normally I would put it up to operator error. Mostly that was me not having any idea what to write about. The site worked well and though I think it was a struggle to catch all of the blogs who weren’t participating, I didn’t find that many.

For me, what didn’t work is I underestimated the amount of time that it would take to keep things up and going. If I had been able to plan for a theme and perhaps work ahead a bit, it may have been better. Though I enjoyed the learning that came out of winging it. Next year I will have a different plan. Maybe.

Finally:

As I said in previous posts, this was an incredible experience for me as I am a relatively new blogger. This challenge helped me to overcome some anxiety that would come each time I pressed the schedule button. I am grateful for that. It has helped me to grow as a writer and blogger, though I have a long way to go.

Share your experiences with any challenge you’ve done this year.

Inspiration

Everyone needs some inspiration.

Regardless of the reason, inspiration is what keeps us alive and creating.

Here are some things that keep me going:

Summer Fun 09 067This is my favorite place to spend a summer weekend with my favorite people.

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He learned to lick the beaters.

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This was the only decent day a winter ago before the really cold weather set in.

Glad we got the pictures.

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I have no words for these tiny feet. His brother, just minutes old.

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Favorite things!

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A hidden road all dressed up.

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I wonder if my daughter will recognize this one from another world away.

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 I don’t think it gets much more inspirational than this.

Where do you find inspiration?