#NaNoWriMo: Use this Seven-Step Method to Write Your Novel by Jessica Lourey

Participant-2014-Facebook-ProfileDear Writers,

I can’t believe it: National Novel Writing Month starts Saturday. And if you’re way behind in planning, I have a treat for you. For today’s tip, I’m featuring an article by acclaimed mystery novelist Jessica Lourey that will give you everything you need to plan your novel for November. And if you’re in the Milwaukee area, she’ll be appearing at Murder and Mayhem this coming Saturday, November 1, 2014.

Happy Writing! Rochelle, the Write Now! Coach

Roatan stairs

I’ve got a great idea for a novel—it’s a heart-pounding adventure and the main character is young, she’s on a mirror planet where she possesses magical powers, and she’s a hamster.

This is a snippet from a conversation I had with a guest at a recent book signing. As our chat continued, it became clear that he was passionate about his hamster adventure and had devoted many brain-hours to fleshing it out. “How far along is it?” I asked. “What?” “Your novel,” I said. “How many pages have you typed?” “Oh, I’m no writer, as much as I’d like to be. I just come up with the ideas. That’s the hard part, right?”

While there are a lot of things wrong with this conversation (start with “hamster adventure” and work your way to “That’s the hard part, right?”), the one that stuck with me was this: “I’m no writer.” This fellow was so juiced about his concept that he shared it with perfect strangers, yet he had no idea how to translate it into a novel.

I can’t tell you how many people just like him I’ve encountered on book tours and in my classroom. These are people who dream of turning their unique idea into a book but are too intimidated by the process to take that first step. Or, they start writing and soon become overwhelmed and demoralized.

I’m here with some good news: Writing a novel is a process you can navigate. I’ve created a writing pyramid that illustrates how to plot your path, guiding you from a crucial one-sentence summary of your book (the base of the pyramid) to progressively higher levels until you’ve created a finished manuscript.

February Fever (2)I’ve used this approach to develop my critically acclaimed six-novel Murder-by-Month mystery series from Midnight Ink, so I know it works. If you’ve got a great idea and you’re ready to turn that spark into a full-fledged novel, all you have to do is carve out some time and follow these seven straightforward steps.

1. Summarize your novel in one sentence.

Begin the process by distilling your idea into its purest form. Don’t include specific names or places now; the idea is to be purely conceptual. Here’s an example of a one-sentence summary for H.G. Wells’ classic novel The Time Machine: An English inventor travels thousands of years into the future, discovering the devolution of humanity where he had hoped to find utopia. It’s tempting to pack lots of detail into the one-sentence summary. Your idea is complex, your characters multifaceted, your setting diverse. How can you condense all of that to a handful of words? I know the challenge. Here is my first attempt at crafting a guiding one sentence summary for November Storm, the novel I’m now writing for my series:

Mira James, a new PI license and copy of Private Investigation for Dummies in hand, is asked to look into a suspicious hunting accident in northern Minnesota and instead uncovers a secret that threatens to topple the community. Meanwhile, another dead body is thrown into her path, and she is forced to juggle a budding relationship with blue-eyed Johnny Leeson with an uncomfortable attraction to Gary Wohnt, local police chief, while her kinetic sidekick, Mrs. Berns, flies the coop, leaving Mira to work it out on her own.

Besides being one sentence too long, this summary includes extraneous detail that is important to me but not crucial to the task. Again, the goal of Step 1 in the writing pyramid is to take an aerial snapshot of your novel, capturing only the large structure. So, after I cut away the subplots, supporting characters, and superficial detail, I was left with this summary of November Storm:

A newly minted Minnesota PI investigates a suspicious hunting accident, uncovering a brutal small-town secret.

If you craft this sentence well, it will not only give your entire writing process a boost, but you’ll have a powerful selling line to use with a future agent or potential reader.

2. Now expand your one-sentence summary into a full paragraph. Include the status quo at the beginning of the novel, what obstacles the protagonist encounters, and how the novel ends. This isn’t the time for secrets. Lay it all out. If it is helpful, freewrite or mindmap, using key names or phrases from your Step 1 summary as your launch point. Based on my one-sentence summary of The Time Machine, for example, I would use “English inventor,” “thousands of years into the future,” and/or “devolution of humanity.” Here is that single sentence summary expanded into a full paragraph (note: spoiler alert in case you’re planning to read his novel!):

The book opens with the Time Traveler dining with peers in late 1800s England, where he is trying to convince them that he’s invented a time machine. His guests are naturally skeptical. They arrange to dine again in a week, and when they return, the Time Traveler tells them he’s visited the future. He discovered two humanoid races remaining on the planet: the beautiful and childlike Eloi, and the subterranean, haunted Morlocks. He explains his idyllic time eating fruit with the Elois and exploring the area, followed by his discovery that the Morlocks raise and harvest the Eloi like cattle. He ends by describing his escape from the time period, including his burning of the forest, the wresting of his time machine from the Morlocks, and the loss of Weena, his Eloi friend. Distraught, he travels further into the future where he witnesses the death of humanity and the planet. Finally, he returns to the time period he left, providing an exotic flower from Weena as proof of his travels.

Note that the ending must be given away to make this paragraph work. This summary is for your eyes only, and it’s dynamic. You’ll find yourself returning to tweak it as you continue up the writing pyramid, and that’s OK. Revising as new ideas occur is one of the exciting elements of writing.

3. Invite your characters in. So: You’ve taken a snapshot of your novel’s point and created a rudimentary outline of how to get there. Now is the time to create a sourcebook, or character bible, for profiling each of your significant characters. I handwrite my character bibles, but a computer works just as well. Devote at least a page to each character. Include the following information:

Name and photograph. The photo is optional, but if you come across a picture of someone in a magazine or newspaper, or an old family photograph that reminds you of your character, slipping that photo into the character’s page is an effective way to spur creativity and flesh out characterization. For example, I have a photo of actress Betty White in the character page for Mrs. Berns, the wonderfully spicy octogenarian who regularly appears in my series. Physical characteristics. This includes the basics of height, weight, hair and eye color, etc. Age. Include the actual birth date if it’s relevant.

Personality traits and their source. For example, is the character lazy because her mother always picked up after her? Does he love baseball because it’s the only game his father ever played with him?

Quirks. These are one or two imperfections that make your character human, such as a tendency to hum when nervous.

Goals and motivation. Ask yourself what your character wants and why he or she wants it.

Conflict. List the obstacles, large and small, that the character faces in achieving his or her goals.

Growth. How is this character going to be different at the end of this novel than at the beginning?

General story line. Draft a three to five-sentence summary of the character’s story arc; this will be a character specific version of the novel summary you wrote in Step 2. Remember that you as the author always need to know more about your characters than your reader ever sees. This inside information allows you to create a multi-dimensional, internally consistent population for your novel.

Beware that Step 3 is an easy place to get sidetracked; keep your character outlines to one page per person so the process doesn’t morph from novel writing to scrapbooking.

4. Sketch your setting. If you don’t yet have a notebook for your novel, buy one. You want to physically draw the neighborhood(s) and the interior space(s) where most of your story will take place. No fear—you don’t need to be an artist to do this. If you’re sketching a room, for example, just chicken-scratch the major pieces of furniture and placement of windows and doors, as well as which direction is north. If your book is set mostly in a neighborhood or town, sketch out the relevant cross streets and put labeled boxes where you imagine all the businesses and houses would be.

The setting sketches anchor your writing and allow you to maintain congruity in your place descriptions. If you have space, staple in a photo or two if you come across an image that visually captures an element of your setting.

5. Develop each sentence in Step 2 into a full-page description.

Include at least two sound, two smell, and two feel details on each page. For example, let’s take the first sentence of The Time Machine summary that I created in Step 2: The book opens with the Time Traveler dining with learned peers in late 1800s England, where he is trying to convince them that he has invented a time machine.

If I were to expand this to one page, I would describe the characters’ clothes, the smell and flavor of the food they’re eating, the feel of the tablecloth under their hands, the clank of the forks on their plates. I would include preliminary research into the political issues, mores, and scientific breakthroughs of England in the late 1800s so I could include accurate conversational topics and make sure I got the clothes and hairstyles correct. Specific to the topic of a time machine, I’d brainstorm and roughly outline the give-and-take that would occur if someone told me they’d invented a time machine. Do this for every sentence in Step 2.

6. Do a rough outline of the novel. Remember the words of Robert Frost: “No surprise in the writer, no surprise in the reader.” A chapter-by-chapter, detailed outline is laborious to craft and restricts the creative drive when it comes time to actually write the novel. I recommend instead generating a rough outline that highlights only the major conflicts and character interactions, essentially a more complex version of the summary you completed in Step 2. This “big picture” outline allows you to always have something exciting to write toward without eliminating the joy of discovering what your characters will do when left to their own devices.

7. Write the novel. This is it. The training wheels are off. You have a snapshot of your novel and a rough map for creating it. You know which characters you’re bringing in, what they’ll face, and in what locations they’ll face it. Start writing the story from the beginning, and don’t stop until you have a complete first draft. Writing a novel really is this straightforward when you break it into the seven manageable steps of the writing pyramid. Good luck! And if you see a hamster adventure tale on the bestseller list in a year or two, you’ll know who’s to blame.

Lourey_Jess2013About the author. Jessica (Jess) Lourey is best known for her critically-acclaimed Murder-by-Month mysteries, which have earned multiple starred reviews from Library Journal and Booklist, the latter writing, her books are “a splendid mix of humor and suspense.” Jessica also writes sword and sorcery fantasy as Albert Lea and edge-of-your-seat YA adventure as J.H. Lourey, and is branching out into literary fiction, including magical realism, under her given name. You can check out her Kickstarter project to bring her latest book to a wide audience here.

She is a tenured professor of creative writing and sociology at a Minnesota college. When not teaching, reading, traveling, writing, or raising her two wonderful kids, you can find her dreaming big, playing with her dorky dog, or watching craptastic SyFy original movies. Visit her website at www.jessicalourey.com or her Facebook page at https://www.facebook.com/jess.lourey

 

 

 

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#NaNoWriMo Prep: Saying NO and Yes by Rochelle Melander

Image courtesy of National Novel Writing Month

Image courtesy of National Novel Writing Month

I have a bad habit: saying yes. Sometimes I agree to do things—volunteer my time, write stuff, make food—and later regret it. When Brené Brown talks about setting boundaries, she uses this mantra: “Choose discomfort over resentment.” Wow. I love that! And I need it—especially if I plan to complete National Novel Writing Month this year!

Here’s the thing: I like saying yes. I like it when people approve of me. As you have probably noticed, the people who are asking you to do something LOVE it when you say yes. But we cannot say yes to everything everyone wants us to do and still show up for our writing.

We need to find a way to say yes to our writing and say no to the activities that tend to get in the way of writing. It’s been more than ten years since I first read about the absolute yes list in Cheryl Richardson’s book, Take Time For Your Life. Since then, I have used this tool to help me set and keep priorities.

An absolute yes list is simply a list of the five things in your life that you will always say yes to. My list is: self, family, friends, writing, and coaching work. For each of these items, I’ve made a list of the activities that tend to nourish me—like exercise, reading, seeing plays with friends, and writing books. When someone asks me to do something, I mentally check the list. If the task is not on the list, I usually choose not to do it.

Writers, if you are planning to do National Novel Writing Month, you need to make your list right now. If you are not doing NaNoWriMo, think about creating this list anyway. It will help you keep your priorities and write more.

So how does it work? Ask yourself: What five things are most important to me? List them. Under each item, add a few sentences to describe what you mean by “writing” or “family.” It is helpful to be specific here. For example, while family is definitely on my list, and part of that includes helping out at my children’s schools, I am clear that I want to help in ways that allow me to use my strengths. That means I rarely do administrative tasks but usually do teach a writing class or two a year.

Once you have made the list, orient your days around it. Eliminate the things that do not fit your plan. National Novel Writing Month is great because it gives you an excuse to take a month off from some of your regular activities. At the end of the month, you can decide whether or not you want to keep these commitments.

Why this works. Over the years, I have collected some thoughts and ideas about why an absolute yes list is a must. I cannot tell you where these come from or who said them first. I can tell you that these ideas have helped me to stick to my absolute yes list more often than not.

*How you live today is how you live your life.

*When you say YES to that which matters least, you are saying NO to what matters most. When you say yes to tiny tasks like constantly tweeting, you are saying no to being a writer.

*The things that matter most must never be at the mercy of the things that matter least. A simple example: the telemarketers calling you or texting you should never be more important than your work.

*What matters most to others might not matter most to you.

The absolute yes list is a simple tool to help you say no to the activities that distract you from writing. When you are asked to facilitate the neighborhood block party or join a new dinner club—you will look at your list and ask, “Is this event or task on my absolute yes list?” If not, you say no. No guilt. No angst. Not even an explanation. Just say no.

 

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#NaNoWriMo Prep: The Book Hook by Rochelle Melander

Image courtesy of National Novel Writing Month

Image courtesy of National Novel Writing Month

You’re at a networking event. (Maybe you’re an introverted writer who avoids any group gathering with strangers, but work with me here.) While chatting over wine and cheese, someone who knows you’re a writer asks you, “So what are you working on now?”

My advice? Make something up. Don’t ever tell people what you’re working on until you’ve finished it. It just raises expectations and makes you crazy, especially when you dump that idea in favor of something better but your great uncle keeps asking you, “Have you finished that book on the secret life of squirrels?”

That said, YOU need to know what you’re working on. Last week, you jotted down all of the features you love in a book. Once you’ve got that information, it’s time to pull them together into a book idea you will love working on. In order to gain clarity and focus, it’s helpful to prepare a book hook.

What it is: A short summary of your book that includes the genre, main character, and central conflict (fiction) or main problem and solution (nonfiction).

What it looks like: Here are three examples from the current New York Times bestseller list:

Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn. A woman disappears on the day of her fifth anniversary; is her husband a killer?

Personal by Lee Child. Jack Reacher, a former military cop, helps the State Department and the C.I.A. stop a sniper who has targeted a G8 summit.

Quiet by Susan Cain. Introverts — approximately one-third of the population — are undervalued in American society.

Why you need it: 

While you are writing the book, your book hook will keep you focused. When you’re tempted to jump off onto yet another meandering tangent or subplot, you can look at the book hook and remember the central theme and purpose of your book.

After you’ve written the book, your book hook will help you sell it to editors, agents, booksellers, bloggers, and the rest of your adoring public.

How to create it:

Read. The best way to learn how to write book hooks is to read them. Look at book jacket copy, reviews, and author websites until you “get” the formula.

Know the key elements. Start by jotting down the key elements for your book hook. As you do so, remember you are writing this hook with your ideal reader in mind. What will he or she need to know?

If you’re a fiction writer, the key elements of a book hook include:

*type of book

*main character

*central conflict or quest of the book

*location

*era

If you’re writing a nonfiction book, your elements are:

*central problem the book addresses or teaches readers to overcome (perhaps with some anecdotal evidence or statistics to aid you in hooking the reader)

*the ideal reader (e.g., overworked parents who need help managing tasks and children)

*the solution (you don’t have to give it all away, but let us know what you’re providing—maybe a ten-step program to help people lose weight)

Write and Revise. Write a draft of your own book hook. Rewrite it. Play with word order and verb choices. After you have a draft you like, test it out on a few trusted people, like those in your critique group. Don’t worry if you have to rewrite it hundreds of times—the work will help you sharpen your understanding of both your book and how to sell it. A great hook gets used repeatedly throughout the life of a book—so it’s well worth the time and effort to get it right.

Next week: Tune in to find out how to turn your book hook into an outline!

 

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#NaNoWriMo Prep: Write What You Seek by Rochelle Melander

Image courtesy of National Novel Writing Month

Image courtesy of National Novel Writing Month

 

Write the book you want to read, the one you cannot find. —Carol Shields

 

About a year ago, Louise Penny came to Boswell Book Company to launch her mystery, How the Light Gets Inthe ninth book in her wildly successful Inspector Armand Gamache series. She told us that after facing five years of writer’s block, she decided to write the books she’d love to read. Penny created a village that she’d love to live in, people she’d want to hang out with and Gamache, a man she’d want to marry. I often wonder if Louise Penny’s books are so successful because of her approach: create something she adored.

In November, many of you will once again take on the crazy, wild National Novel Writing Month challenge. Some of you will write a novel, while others will take the opportunity to finish that memoir or scribble your next self-help book. Whatever your goal, this month is a good time to plan your NaNoWriMo book or your next writing project. And here’s your first assignment:

Make a list of your 5-10 favorite books in the genre you plan to write in. Then, consider these questions:

+If these books are novels, what do you love about the:

*genre

*characters

*plot

*setting and time period

*writing style

*point of view

*voice

+If these books are nonfiction, what do you love about:

*the genre (self-help, essays, biography, etc.)

*the topic

*the structure

*the features (e.g., callouts, stories, questions for reflection, etc.)

*the voice

When I do this assignment before I work on a new book, it helps me plan a project I’m going to enjoy writing. I hope it’ll help you plan your NaNoWriMo project—or whatever sort of book you plan to write next.

Your turn: what helps you decide what kind of book to write next?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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#WritersRead: Author Gayle Rosengren on Historical Fiction

WhatTheMoonSaid_presalesDear Writers and Readers,

I’m delighted to welcome Gayle Rosengren to the blog to talk about her favorite historical fiction books for middle grade readers. I met Gayle last spring at an SCBWI event, and was impressed by her knowledge of historical fiction. Gayle’s also the author of a historical novel, What the Moon Said. Read about Gayle’s favorite books, share your own, and enter to win a signed copy of What the Moon Said!

—Rochelle, the Write Now! Coach

 

#WritersRead: Author Gayle Rosengren on Historical Fiction for Young Readers

Narrowing down my ever-growing list of “favorite” books to just five has not been easy; especially since I’m a Gemini and making choices is always fraught with angst, but here are five outstanding titles that I highly recommend. Some are older and some are brand new, but all of them are great historical fiction reads.

24137Catherine Called Birdy by Karen Cushman is a great read for so many reasons that it’s difficult to know what to praise first. I think its greatest success, though, lies in making historical fiction amusing as well as accurate. The voice is uniquely fresh and unfettered and, well, earthy. It startles and grabs the reader immediately. The setting is Medieval England but the romantic façade present in most fiction of this period has been peeled away to reveal the reality of life at that time, even among those who were considered well-off, as Birdy was as the daughter of a minor nobleman. The story is told in diary entries and makes casual references to farts and flea bites and chamber pots, body odors, and tooth-loss, all of which were inescapable facts of her daily life. Another fact of the time was a father’s right to marry off his daughter to whomever he chose. Catherine Called Birdy is a realistic yet humorous take on the traditional once-upon-a-time tales, showing one spunky heroine’s desperate attempts to avoid being married off to the men her father chooses for her. It was published in 1994, and won the Newbery Honor award.

47281Number the Stars by Lois Lowry, is a frank yet tender look at a young girl’s experiences during the German occupation of Denmark in 1943. Ten-year-old Annemarie misses life as it used to be before the German soldiers came, and she’s frightened by their ominous presence everywhere with their menacing guns and scowls. They pose a threat to everyone but especially to the Jewish members of the community, who are taken away family by family and never heard from again. Annemarie’s best friend Ellen is Jewish and Number the Stars is the story of how Annemarie’s family risks everything to protect her, taking Ellen into their home and pretending she is a member of their family. Fear is never more than a heartbeat away in this realistic story of friendship and human kindness triumphing over evil. Published in 1989, Number the Stars won the Newbery Award for children’s fiction.

17925536No Surrender Soldier by Christine Kohler (2014 from Merit Press) is a unique and beautifully written novel of a boy’s coming of age on the island of Guam in 1972 and a Japanese soldier who–afraid to surrender at the end of World War II for fear he’d be tortured–has been hiding underground in the jungle for 28 years. Told from the alternating points of view of teenaged Kiko and soldier Seto, the two would at first seem to have little in common. But they will make life-long impressions on each other, just as No Surrender Soldier will make life-long impressions on its readers. I cannot recommend this book highly enough. For ages 12 and up.

 

289681Lily’s Crossing by Patricia Reilly Giff was published in 1997 and is another Newbery Award winner. The story takes place in the summer of 1944, at the peak of World War II. Summer, usually the highlight of Lily’s year because she and her father and grandmother leave New York City behind and head to their cottage on Rockaway beach, is a sad occasion this year because Lily’s father recently left to join the fighting in Europe. But she makes an unexpected friend in a young war refugee named Albert and her summer brightens considerably. Unfortunately, a lie Lily tells Albert could put his life in real danger. A memorable coming of age story with timeless appeal for readers age 8 and up.

17814086When Audrey Met Alice by Rebecca Behrens is a new novel for ages 8-12 (from Sourcebooks). It criss-crosses the line between contemporary and historical fiction when the main character, Audrey—a new presidential daughter—finds the hidden diary of Alice Roosevelt under a loose floorboard in the White House. Audrey soon discovers that although the time periods are different, the experience of being a First Daughter hasn’t changed all that much since Alice Roosevelt’s day. It’s just not a normal life. Nothing—not even ordering a pizza—is easy. And she’s expected to be on her best behavior all the time. Then there’s the matter of political hot topics and occasional disappointment in one’s presidential parent (in this case Audrey’s mother), who doesn’t follow through right away on issues she’d committed to supporting during her election. There’s lots for readers to think about long after they’ve enjoyed this lively and well-researched middle grade novel.

 

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Gayle with MOON display at Anderson'sAbout the Author: Gayle grew up in Chicago. Gayle worked as a children’s and young adult librarian at a public library for several years in the late 1980s and early 1990s, enthusiastically sharing her love of books with young people. Gayle eventually moved to Wisconsin, but by then she was a mother with three children.  She worked in the reference library, and later as a copyeditor, at American Girl.  During this time period she published short stories for children in Cricket, Ladybug, Jack and Jill and Children’s Digest magazines. Now Gayle writes full-time in her home just outside of Madison, Wisconsin, where she lives with her husband, Don, and slightly neurotic rescue dog, Fiona. She is living her dream, she says, writing books she hopes will make the same difference in children’s lives as her favorite books and authors made in hers.  What the Moon Said is her first novel.

 

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Five Tools to Clear Your Mind and Write by Rochelle Melander

Autumn morning Oct 06 2013_1014 (17)

With all that’s been going on this month, I’ve done little more than skip from task to task, crossing items off my mental to-do list. When I take my daily walk—time I usually set aside to plan my writing day—I’m often strategizing how to fit it all in. I’m not alone. I hear from many of my clients and colleagues that in the spaces between work, life, and social media, they have little energy to think about writing let alone write.

I’m convinced that writers need distance from the dreck of daily life to ponder big ideas or fictional worlds and write about them. In leadership studies, this is called balcony space—when leaders escape from work demands and look at the big picture, much like they’re on a balcony. When I’ve written about balcony space in the past, I’ve recommended taking time away to vision the future and set goals.

But writers need more than a day away from the office twice a year. We need regular open space to imagine and dream. Here are five ways to free your brain to play:

1. Dump brain clutter. Most of us can’t think about writing because we’re strategizing how to juggle work and home or worrying about any number of real and imagined disasters. We need to clear out the brain clutter.

Try this: Each morning or evening (or both), jot down all of your worries, thoughts, and tasks. Just get it out of your head and onto paper (virtual or tangible). If there are tasks to complete, add them to your schedule so you know when you’ll complete them.

2. Clear physical clutter. I have too much stuff. Maybe you do, too. It’s hard to think big thoughts when we’re dealing with straightening, cleaning, and arranging our junk.

Try this: Take a look at your living and work space: what could you let go of that would open up space and give you more room to think?

3. Automate decisions. Several years ago, I read a book by Dr. Oz that recommended automating one’s meals—eating the same rotation of healthy foods to avoid temptation (No, I’m not going to eat the seven layer pizza for lunch. I’ve packed a beautiful salad.) Anytime we can automate our decisions—what to wear, what to eat, when to write—we free up brain space to think about writing.

Try this: Take a look at your life: what practices could you automate to save thinking time?

4. Time Travel. Last week, I visited my favorite hair salon. Most clients are in their 80s and 90s. One read a paperback book. Another chatted with her hairdresser. No one had a phone out—including me. And for the first time in a long while, I was able to think.

Try this: Choose a few tasks and do them like it’s 1975. Ride in the car without your phone. Take a walk without your MP3 player. Write with a pen and paper.

5. Go wild. Psychologists have found that being in nature resets our ability to pay attention.

Try this: You don’t have to live in the wild to get connected to the wilderness around you. Go outside. Take a walk in the park. Dig in your garden. Watch the birds or the bugs.

Your turn: How do you free up brain space to think?

 

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Advice from the Masters: Keep Writing by Rochelle Melander

file0001667866468Our summer ended with a trio of crises. The car stalled, and despite multiple expensive trips to the dealer, we couldn’t fix it. The dog ate a pile of stones, and even though we tried to save the little guy, he didn’t make it. Then the sewer backed up into our basement, filling it with water and then sewage. Thankfully, the local roto-rooter® guy cleared the drain, and my sweet husband took on the job of cleaning up.

In the midst of all this, I’ve been writing. For the most part, writing is a respite for me—the place where I go to deal with the figurative and literal crap of daily life. But in the past few months, I’ve had my share of writing challenges as well. Often, it seems like I’ve barely pushed “send” on a query, and a rejection pops into my inbox. Yikes.

Over the weekend, I realized I needed someone to tell me to keep writing. That someone showed up in my Monday morning workout—in the form of my playlist. We all know that exercise improves our mental and physical health. But did you know that listening to music also makes you happier? Research by the University of Missouri shows that listening to upbeat music can immediately lift our mood and, over a two-week period of regular listening, increase our general feelings of well being.

Sometimes life sucks—so we write. But the writing life isn’t always easy. If you’re a writer, you’re going to face days when the work goes poorly. You’ll have days when you’re so busy writing, you barely have time to eat. But you’ll have other days when there’s no work, and you wonder if anyone will pay you for your work again. You’ll get accepted but you’ll also get rejected more times than you can imagine. While you’ll have some fans, other people will hate what you write, or worse—ignore it. You may even lose friends over the endeavor. In the moments when you want to give up or give in, take a walk and listen to my writing inspiration playlist. These are some of the songs that keep me writing. I hope they remind you to, “follow your arrow wherever it points” (Follow Your Arrow by Kacey Musgroves).

 

Believe in yourself.

Gold by Britt Nicole

And don’t let anybody tell you that you’re not enough

Yeah there are days that we all feel like we’re messed up

But the truth is that we’re all diamonds in the rough

 

You’ve got stories to share with the world.

Unwritten by Natasha Bedingfield

Live your life with arms wide open

Today is, where your book begins

The rest is still unwritten, Yeah

 

Not sure what to write next? Listen to your gut.

Compass by Lady Antebellum

So let your heart, sweet heart

Be your compass when you’re lost

And you should follow it wherever it may go

 

Let Your Soul be Your Pilot by Sting

When the map you have leads you to doubt

When there’s no information

And the compass turns to nowhere that you know well

Let your soul be your pilot

 

Rejected? Try again.

Fight Outta You by Ben Harper and the Innocent Criminals

Don’t believe the headlines,

check it for yourself sometimes,

don’t let them take the fight outta you

 

Do It Anyway by Martina McBride

You can chase a dream

That seems so out of reach

And you know it might not ever come your way

Dream it anyway

 

I Dare You to Move by Switchfoot

I dare you to move

I dare you to lift yourself up off the floor…

Like today never happened

 

We need you and your story.

Let Your Light Shine by Keb’ Mo’

No one else could do what you do.

Get out of the way

Let your light shine.

 

Your turn: What songs inspire you to write? Leave your suggestions in the comments below!

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Listening for Voices by Rochelle Melander

0894-DSC_0178-001Many people hear voices when no one is there. Some of them are called mad and are shut up on rooms where they stare at the walls all day. Others are called writers and they do pretty much the same thing. —Margaret Chittenden

On Saturday, I attended a mystery writing conference (MWA-University). Sara Paretsky spoke about how her best books emerged from fallow periods, when she had the time to listen for the voices of her characters.

In Walking on Water, Madeleine L’Engle wrote about the value of listening to our work:

And sometimes when we listen, we are led into places we do not expect, into adventures we do not always understand. (p. 22)

I’ve written repeatedly about how writers need idle time to develop their ideas. Lately, I’ve become aware of how little time I have to simply be idle. It’s a rare moment when I’m not working, writing, talking, texting, coaching, caring, teaching, reading, watching, or surfing. And when I do have a free moment, I tend to use it to check one of my digital devices. I’m not alone. Consider these stats:

+The average user checks their phone 110 times a day.

+Americans spend 16 minutes of every hour on social networks.

+Americans spend 11 hours a day with digital media.

L’Engle, writing in the late 70s before the onset of the digital life, said it like this:

When I am constantly running there is no time for being. When there is no time for being there is no time for listening. (Walking on Water, p. 13)

Writers, if you’re struggling to find new ideas, develop your story, hear a character’s voice, describe a setting, or simply get words on paper, you might need some idle time. Turn off your devices and try:

+Taking a walk

+Driving

+Riding in a train or bus

+Sitting still

+Chopping vegetables

+Daydreaming

A final word of advice: Keep pen and paper close by, in case the muse—or your next protagonist—speaks to you!

 

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Three Hurdles to Writing Your Book (And How to Overcome Them) by Rochelle Melander

file7861238965439He would like to be capable of writing as he thinks, quickly, without effort, the word as agile and dynamic as athletes in a race, jumping over hurdles, one after the other, go, go, go, flying towards the finishing post, faster than the disgust limping behind him.

—Filippo Bologna

We desperately yearn to write that book, to become a published author, to find our passionate readers—and yet we don’t. Day after day flies by, and we do not put pen to paper. Why? Are we failures? Do we need to go back to school? Does procrastination hold us so tightly in its ugly grips that we cannot free ourselves to write even a few words a day?

Over the years, I’ve worked with many people who want to write books. I’ve noticed distinct differences in the attitudes and behaviors of people who finish books. When I examine my own writing habits, I can see why I manage to finish some projects while others languish untouched.

Last week, you wrote out your writing goals for the rest of the year. Although not all of you want to write a book—some of you have blogs, articles and poems to finish—this applies to you, too. Here are three hurdles to writing your book this year, and how to overcome them.

 

Hurdle One: Purpose

So you know what you want to do—write a mystery, a memoir, a self-help book. But do you know why you want to do it? Most of my procrastinating clients tell me that they have no trouble finishing an assignment for an editor or a teacher. When we puzzle over why, a variety of reasons come up from pay to punishment—you get paid to write for an editor and punished if you don’t. But the real difference is purpose: When we write for an editor, we have a purpose. Real people will read our work. When we write a novel—unless we’re under contract to a publisher—we have no idea if it will be read by anyone other than our critique group.

The Fix: We need a reason to be writing a book, a purpose beyond ourselves. Rewrite your goal and add a purpose statement:

  • I will write my book this year so I can teach my clients how to overcome symptoms of depression.
  • I will write my book this year so I can achieve my dream of becoming a children’s book author.
  • I will write my book this year so I can … (Add your reason here!)

 

Hurdle Two: Other Goals

You’d be writing the great American novel, but first you have to finish training for the marathon, planning the launch of your business, or redecorating the living room. Your big life and career goals conflict with your goal of writing a book. You don’t have the life-space or head space necessary to think big thoughts and write them down.

The Fix: Take a hard look at your life and list every single thing you’re doing that might get in the way of writing your book. Let go of one or more activities that conflict with your goal of writing. Open up time and space in your life to think and write. If letting go of one thing doesn’t help, go back to your list and choose another activity to let go of. Repeat until you’re writing regularly.

 

Hurdle Three: BHAG

Lots of coaches talk about the Big Hairy Audacious Goal (BHAG). I often meet writers who have BHAGS—like writing a nine-book epic fantasy series or the definitive guide to the care and feeding of rabbits. I tend to like a good ol’ BHAG myself, but the truth is: having a big hairy audacious goal is a huge hurdle to actually writing a book.

The Fix: Break down your BHAG into absurdly tiny steps. So instead of “write nine-book epic” or “write book one” or even “research characters” try something like:

+Write physical description of Mist Le Doux, the evil queen of the fairies.

When the steps are small enough to be workable, you’ll know. You’ll feel calm and able to tackle anything. And you will be writing.

 

Bonus Hurdle: Getting around to it. In my head, I’ve got a lot of stuff I’d like to get done—including organizing the bathroom closet, practicing yoga, and writing a few new books. I’ve even put some of these goals on my to-do list—every single week, all summer long. Clearly, I never get around to working on them.

The fix: Schedule the small steps. A to-do list isn’t enough. Get out your calendar and create a schedule. Add a time slot for each small step.

 

But Rochelle, you didn’t talk about …

No doubt I’ve missed a few hurdles. Maybe I’ve even missed the hurdle that trips you up the most. Don’t worry. During this month’s Write Now! Mastermind class, I’ll be talking about overcoming writer’s block, procrastination, and other hurdles that keep us from writing. If you have one that you’d like me to discuss, email me or leave a comment at the blog.

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Set Your Writing Goals by Rochelle Melander

file0001029169644When you discover your mission, you will feel its demand. It will fill you with enthusiasm and a burning desire to get to work on it. —W. Clement Stone

Effective teachers enter the classroom with a set of learning objectives—information, techniques, or skills that they expect the students to learn by the end of the class. The objectives direct the daily practice, giving the teacher and the students something to work towards.

Writers need learning objectives, too. We need to vision:

*What we want our writing career to look like.

*What ideas we want to explore in our writing

*What products we want to create—poems, articles, short stories, books.

*What writing skills we want to learn.

*What additional information we want to learn.

Take time this week to imagine what you’d like to be and do in this next phase of your writing career. Then write out your learning objectives for the fall. It will help to direct your writing time. It will also guide what you read and what conferences you choose to attend. It might even ignite your passion for writing. As Stone said above, when we get our sense of mission—we are filled with “a burning desire to get to work on it.” Yes!

 

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