The Artist’s Date by Rochelle Melander

3 March 2015

Note From Rochelle

Dear Writers,

I’m so happy it’s March! This Saturday (March 7th), I’ll be celebrating March and Dr. Seuss’s birthday by teaching Boing! Bam! Boom! at Central Library in Milwaukee, WI, from 11:00 AM to 1:00 PM. Bring your kids and join me in writing noisy poetry!

Today’s tip is about one of my favorite activities—taking an artist’s date!

Happy Writing

Rochelle, the Write Now! Coach

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In The Artist’s Way, Julia Cameron encourages readers to take a weekly artist’s date. I love the idea but rarely take time to do it. This year, the winter has been long and cold. Just leaving the house and braving the icy sidewalks feels daring. But in these dark winter days, more than ever, I need to take time for artist’s dates. As Cameron says, “Always, when I return to the practice of Artist’s Dates, my sense of wellbeing increases and my work deepens and enlarges.” Walking in the World: The Practical Art of Creativity by Julia Cameron, p 10) Here are five fun and free ways to nourish your creative spirit on an artist’s date:

181791341.         The Kitchen Table. Get out your art and craft supplies and make something. Don’t worry about being fancy or professional—all you need for this activity is paper and crayons or colored pencils. Scribble and enjoy! (Pro Tip: My favorite companion lately has been the book The Art of Whimsical Lettering by Joanne Sharpe. Loads of fun with letters!)

 

 

 

2.         The Library. Visit your local public library and wander around until you find a IMG_1125section that piques your curiosity. Grab a book. Repeat the process (wander, get curious, grab a book) until you have a stack of books. Find a cozy corner of the library and page through the book much like you would wander through an art museum. Stop on the pages that intrigue you, skip the ones that don’t.

 

 

 

 

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3.         The Music Device. My teenage son is a musician and insists that the best way to understand an album is to listen straight through, from beginning to end. Choose an album that you love and listen from beginning to end. Or make a playlist of songs to spark your creativity. (And if you don’t have a music device, don’t worry. Use the radio, an online streaming service, or YouTube to get your music fix!)

 

4.         The Junk Store. Maybe my favorite part of visiting craft fairs is seeing how file5731271955180artists repurpose everyday objects to make art. Though I work with words rather than stuff, I like visiting second hand stores. Sometimes I think about how I could makeover old items. At other times, I’m happy to just wander and admire the art of every day things—dishes, fancy shoes, and books.

 

Maisie wants to make art, too!

Maisie wants to make art, too!

5.         The Zoo, Aquarium, or Humane Society. We got a new dog in February. As crazy as it’s been to cope with a young dog in the middle of winter, it’s also brought great joy to our lives. Take an afternoon off to visit the animals or hang out with your own.

This winter, don’t whine about being tired or burned out. List 20 activities and places that you could do for an artist’s date and start planning. Remember, you can do an artist date without spending a dime—take a walk in the woods, attend an author’s book reading, or visit a building with great architecture. Just get out of the house and have fun! I’m guessing this small act will have big results for you.

 

IMG_0091About the authorWrite Now! Coach Rochelle Melander is an author, a certified professional coach, and a popular speaker. Melander has written ten books including Write-A-Thon: Write Your Book in 26 Days (And Live to Tell About It). As the Write Now! Coach, she teaches professionals how to write books fast, get published, and connect with readers through social media. Contact her for a consultation.

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Writers@Work: How Independent Publishing Landed Me An Agent & Healed My Heart by Bridget Birdsall

Photo_2624 February 2015

Note From Rochelle

Dear Writers,

It’s been a crazy February. I took on a freelance project that required me to spend about 20 hours each week in the company’s office. Of course, I still put in about 20 hours a week with my current clients. And on top of that, I teach and, in the early morning hours, I write. No wonder I crashed Sunday afternoon. Unfortunately, I woke up with some sort of nasty virus. (I won’t give you the details.) So here I am, camped out on the couch, canceling everything, and trying to rest up. GRR!

Along with canceling clients and coffee meetings, I’m moving the Write Now! Mastermind AGAIN. We’ll meet March 25, 2015 at 12:00 PM CT to talk about overcoming obstacles. Thanks for your patience.

Today’s amazing tip comes from my SCBWI colleague Bridget Birdsall. She’s the author of the amazing YA novels Ordinary Angels and Double Exposure. She’ll be appearing at Boswell Book Company this coming Sunday, March 1 at 3:00 PM. Read on to discover how self-publishing her first novel led to getting an agent and more.

Happy Writing!

Rochelle, the Write Now! Coach

 

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“Mom, why don’t you self-publish?”

For over twenty years my son, Quinn, had witnessed my fledgling writing career. He knew about the countless near misses. He’d seen me at my desk, day after day, hour after hour. Once, when he was in middle school, he even caught me still in my p.j.’s at the computer after school. “MOM, talk about me spending too much time on the computer!”

Busted.

Quinn was with me on the plane to New York when we learned my editor from FSG had just been fired. Yikes. Now, I would be meeting with someone who’d never read a word I’d written. An overworked stranger who graciously agreed to read my work. Unfortunately, I couldn’t figure out how to make it better when she requested I revise and resubmit.

My son also shared in my disappointment when the two-book contract with Front Street Press died because they suddenly closed their doors. Amazon had stomped into the scene and it seemed the world, and the entire publishing industry was in upheaval.

“But Mom, you promised to publish a book by the time you turned fifty.”

The deadline was fast approaching, I finally agreed, “Okay, I’ll try independent publishing!”

For a dyslexic writer this task felt daunting. With the same time and patience I’ve applied to my writing over the years, I began this journey. A supporter, who’d heard me read from Ordinary Angels at Edgewood College, offered to help with the book’s publishing expenses. “This story needs to be told,” she said.

Even with support, secretly, I wasn’t sure I wanted Ordinary Angels out in the world. But at least this way I could retain control over its distribution, which at the time trumped worries about the book’s future sales.

I hired a fabulous book designer, Carol Bracewell of Flying Pig Productions, and got cover help from Kimberly Puetz. I also hired an amazing developmental editor, Lissa McGlaughlin. All told, I spent $3,300 to make the book as professional as possible. I declined the myriad services offered by CreateSpace. Though, theoretically, if I had just uploaded my word doc file, the book could have cost me nothing to publish.

10636577With my first draft of Ordinary Angels fresh off the CreateSpace Presses, I headed up to the Sheboygan Childrens’ Book Festival to cheer on my friend and mentor, Kathi Appelt.

Do you have an agent yet? She asked. Sheepishly, I shook my head. Not that I hadn’t tried. Then she asked if I would like her to read my new book. “YES!” Of course, was she kidding?

By the end of the week, Kathi had read it, an agent she’d recommended had read it, and over the phone, I heard him say, “I’d like to represent you.”

Major coolness! Right?

But, before I signed on the bottom line, I needed to meet him. You see Ordinary Angels was no ordinary book; it’s my story, in the form of a YA novel. Furthermore, my mother had threatened to “Sue my ass off!” if I dared to publish a personal story. I did not doubt her, because she had already sued one of my brothers.

When I got to New York, yet again, my new prospective agent said in his somewhat serious and reflective manner, “If your mom sued you, it would be the best thing that could ever happen to the book.” He smiled at me and I smiled back. I’d never thought of it that way. Obviously, he was not afraid of my mother.

As it turned out, I didn’t need to worry so much, and my mom actually read the book before she passed away, which is a story for another time.

To date, Ordinary Angels remains available on CreateSpace and Kindle, and though a traditional publisher hasn’t picked it up yet, the editor of Lovely Bones, among others, gave it a strong look. This would never have happened without my agent.

Double Exposure 9781629146065 2Overall, the whole process of independently publishing has served me as a writer. It helped me understand the complexity of the book business, something I now prefer to let my agent lead the way; it helped me land my agent; and landing an agent helped me shape up and sell, traditionally, my new book, Double Exposure.

Most importantly, independently publishing my first book helped me to understand on a deep level that I am never happier than when I am writing! Such a different skill set than those required to design, edit, market, place or publish a book.

Independently publishing taught me what I already knew: that books are more that “consumables” in a material world, they are an opportunity to create art, and touch hearts. Something, that’s easy to forget in a numbers game played by giants. Good books help us remember who we are and why we are here. They challenge us, entertain us, heal us, and for some—they might even save our lives.

Would I do it again?

My answer is unequivocally, yes.

My initial goal was to publish a book by my fiftieth birthday. I did. My greatest hope was that my book would make a difference in the life of at least one person. It did. I’ve received countless emails from people who told me that I wrote their story. This blew my socks off. By independently publishing my story, even as a YA novel, I not only found a great agent, but I touched more than a few peoples’ hearts, while healing my own.

Bridget Birdsall Anti-Bully BookAbout the author. Bridget Birdsall is an author and inspirational speaker. Despite dyslexic challenges, Bridget made a midlife decision to pursue her dream of writing books that touch hearts, especially young peoples’. She earned her MFA in Writing for Children and Young Adults from Vermont College and now facilitates creative, contemplative and transformative writing opportunities for writers and non-writers alike. Bridget’s young adult novel Double Exposure about a teen athlete and published by Sky Pony Press was selected by Publisher’s Weekly as one of the top anti-bully books of 2014. Her first book Ordinary Angels, about siblings surviving the death of a sibling, is part memoir and part novel, it continues to receive recognition. Bridget believes books can save lives and she is becoming known as a writer willing to tackle tough topics. A longtime resident of Madison, Wisconsin, Bridget is the recipient of numerous awards and fellowships. Check out her blog and learn more at: bridgetbirdsall.com

 

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How to Clear Clutter and Write by Rochelle Melander

17 February 2015

Note From Rochelle

Dear Writers,

I made the mistake of going on Facebook before writing this morning. Oops. I was immediately hooked by several news stories unfolding around the world. Then my phone rang. And the dog wanted me. I eventually worked on revising my novel, but a part of my head was still out in cyberspace.

Has that ever happened to you? If so, you might appreciate today’s tip on how to clear the clutter from your life!

Happy Writing! Rochelle, the Write Now! Coach

 

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A few weeks ago, I took two days off to work on revising my novel. But my office was a mess, my son was still home on break, and I had details for future work that needed to be attended to. Guess what? I had trouble focusing on my book because I didn’t have enough free headspace to think about it.

If you have trouble letting go of worries and focusing on writing, try these tools:

1. 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?

2. Dump brain clutter. Most of us hold a good bit of information in our heads—events to attend, people to connect with, work and home tasks to do—you get the idea. While we might get to our desks, we have trouble focusing when there’s so much on our minds. 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. THEN, dump the stuff you don’t want to do. If you don’t want to attend that committee meeting, cross it off your list. Doesn’t that feel better?

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  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?

Bonus tools: Once you’ve dumped some of the internal and external clutter, it helps to practice some additional clutter-clearing practices.

+Limit time on social media, especially just before writing time.

+Limit online reading and gaming time.

+Limit television and movie viewing.

+Clean out your email inbox.

+Turn off push notifications on your phone, ipad and computer.

+If possible, hide your phone while you write to avoid being distracted by texts and calls.

When I practice this intentional space clearing, my brain stops spinning. I can play with ideas and characters. And I’m able to write. Whew!

 

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How to Make Time to Write (Even if You Work Full Time) by Rochelle Melander

Photo_26Dear Writers,

What gets in the way of your writing? If you need support around something, send me a note and let me know: rochelle@writenowcoach.com. Who knows? I may cover your obstacle at the Write Now! Mastermind class later this month. If not, you can bet I’ll tackle it in a tip.

Today’s tip tackles another huge obstacle, and it’s one that nearly all of us face.

Happy Writing!

Rochelle, the Write Now! Coach

 

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“I’d write a book, if I only had time.” —says nearly everyone

When I ask colleagues and clients why they haven’t written their book yet, they all say the same thing: I don’t have time.

I say it, too. With juggling my family, clients, editing projects, teaching, and blogging, I only get to my book when I have leftover time. (And guess how often that happens. Yup. Never.)

And as much as I love everything I do, I feel awful when I don’t write. And I get crabby.

Then I read Barbara Sher’s book, Refuse to Choose. She offers tools for scanners, people who can’t choose a single passion, but scan the horizon for what engages them. In this helpful resource, Sher presents several life design models that allow scanners to work at multiple passions. With Sher’s models as inspiration, I’ve created three writing life models for people who work full time jobs. See if one of these might fit your life.

 

The Exercise Class Writing Life Model

I’m willing to bet that you take some sort of exercise class at least once a week if not more—yoga, Spin, or Zumba. Or maybe you prefer classes in crafting or cooking. Think about what you’ve done to make time to attend that yoga class every Tuesday and Thursday from 6:00-7:00 PM. Now forget yoga and schedule your writing as if it were a bi- or tri-weekly exercise class.

 

The Weekend MBA Writing Life Model

Many schools offer MBAs and other graduate degree programs to working adults by squeezing the program into two years of weekends. But as a writer, you don’t need to spend money on an expensive degree. Set aside a portion of each weekend to write your book.

 

The Lunch Hour Writing-Life Model

This month, I’m working part time at a nonprofit as an editor. Because I need to fit in 20 hours a week into an already-packed schedule, I usually work through my lunch break. Yesterday, it occurred to me that if I did this full time, this would be the perfect time to squeeze in a little writing—because everyone else in the office is focused on their own thing. Try taking your writing to lunch today!

 

And the variations. Of course, you can take these ideas and play with them until they fit your work and life schedule. If you’re a teacher with summers off, you might choose to spend the summer writing. Or, if you happen to be an early riser like Anthony Trollope, you can adopt the Early Bird Writing Life Model and get all of your books written before you go to work. (By the way, Trollope learned this skill from his mother Frances who began writing at 4 AM and finished in time to prepare breakfast for her family.) Perhaps you’re better suited to writing a quick scene while your family watches a sit com in the evening.

Choose your model. Then, go for it. As I always say, do what works for you.

 

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Eliminate This Obstacle and Finish Your Book by Rochelle Melander

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Every writer or wanna-be writer has ideas for books. The problem isn’t finding an idea, it’s choosing one. —Jo Linsdell

When I meet with new clients, I ask: “What one project would you like to finish by the end of the year?”

Usually clients know the answer immediately. Then they say, “But I’d also like to write…” and present a long list of project ideas.

I’m no different. I have more ideas than I have time. When I do get time to write, it’s tempting to flit back and forth between projects, like a bee searching for the best source of pollen.

Most writers have a million good ideas floating around in their brains. We jot them in our notebooks and on our to-do lists, but juggling too many potential projects becomes a huge obstacle to finishing any of them.

Make this year different. Choose one project and schedule time to work on it. Write one word at a time until the project is done. When you have finished writing and revising to your satisfaction, choose another project.

This is how a writer builds a large body of work—writing one word at a time on one project at a time.

 

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Writers@Work: From Blog to Book by Barbara Mahany

27 January 2015

Note From Rochelle

Dear Writers,

What obstacles will you have to overcome this year to finish writing and revising your book? I’m looking for your toughest blocks—so I can address how to overcome them in a very special Write Now! Mastermind class (to be held Wednesday, February 4, 2015 at 12:00 PM CT). If you have an obstacle you’d like me to cover, let me know via email. And if you’re not a member of the Write Now! Mastermind class, you can sign up here.

And think about joining me to knock out those obstacles in our Write-A-Thon accountability group starting February 18. You can check out the details here.

Today’s tip was written by Barbara Mahany and talks about how a yearning to write about the homefront blossomed into a blog and then a book! And if you’re in the Milwaukee area, Mahany will be reading and signing books this coming Thursday, January 29 at 7:00 PM at Boswell Book Company.

Happy Writing! Rochelle, the Write Now! Coach

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It all started, honestly, because I bumbled my way through my annual sit-down with my editors in the features department of the Chicago Tribune, a meeting in which we reviewed my work from the previous year and talked, at the very end of the hour, about what I might truly love to do in the years to come.

I tried to explain that there was a sort of writing from the heart — and the soul — that I might love to bring to the newspaper’s pages. Fumbling for words, I managed to say that I thought there was much to be mined in the landscape of the homefront. But I had a hard time articulating just what those stories might be. Or why they belonged in a newspaper.

Riding home that night on the “el,” Chicago’s rapid-transit train, I remember cringing at how I’d stumbled through my once-a-year chance at shooting for the journalistic moon.

But here’s what happened next:  That very December night, when he should have been doing his homework, my then-13-year-old son decided to fiddle around with the laptop he’d just handed over to me, because he’d traded up for a refurbished MacBookPro. He was showing me all the tricks I could do on his old Mac. Among the tricks: software that amounted to Blogging for Dummies.

As the clock ticked toward bedtime, the kid built me a website, we gave it a name, then he looked me in the eyes and declared: “Mom, you can do this.”

So, the very next morning, Dec. 12, 2006, I rose before dawn, and began typing the first words of “pull up a chair,” a blog that amounted to a virtual kitchen table. I wrote, every weekday morning for a solid year, whatever most captured my imagination — subjects and stories culled from the heart and soul of the homefront. I was typing the sorts of stories I’d been trying to explain to my editors. And slowly, quietly, readers were “pulling up chairs,” sharing in the conversation, offering wisdom all their own, always in a realm of gentle consideration. No harsh confrontation allowed.

I’ve been sitting down before dawn ever since — although after the first year I cut back to three posts a week, then two, and now, religiously, I write every Friday morning. What happened during those early mornings was akin to working out every day at a gym, and discovering muscles you never knew existed. Even though I’d been writing newspaper feature and news stories for 25 years, I’d never before exercised a deeper-down voice. One that at first was only a whisper. But morning after morning, as I wrote in the dark and the quiet, I found synapses firing more swiftly. I found myself connecting dots, and discovering truths I’d never quite realized when my writing was confined to reporting and writing other people’s stories.

I worked hard on the craft of unspooling the stories I knew best — the ones that unfolded right here inside my old house and my rambunctious garden. I worked to strike those deeply personal chords that resonate through universal connection. It’s the art of the personal essay: To make the words reach far beyond the confines of my own little life, and open veins that connect deeply with readers, even readers whose life looks little like mine.

Over time I found myself weaving the spiritual into those essays — not always, but often enough. Flash forward to the summer of 2012, when my husband and I were moving to Cambridge, MA., to spend a year studying at Harvard University, where my husband would be a Nieman Journalism Fellow, and I was generously invited to partake of what I called The Year of Sumptuous Thinking. When the man who would become our landlord, a professor of poetry and divinity, asked if I’d ever thought of writing a book, I answered yes — the first time I’d said so out loud. When he asked me what that book might be, I said something about a Book of Common Prayer, believing some of the best essays I’d written might be the ones that found the sacred amid the noisy messiness of the everyday homefront. I’d imagined a collection of those essays, somehow woven into a whole.

SlowingTimeThat book became Slowing Time: Seeing the Sacred Outside Your Kitchen Door (Abingdon Press, Oct. 2014). Publishers Weekly generously named it one of the Top 10 Religion Books, Fall 2104. And the book I never knew I’d set out to write is, in many ways, the answer to my deepest prayers.

In my own quiet unorthodox way, I’ve always believed in the power of words to heal, to illuminate, to strike the common ground between each one of us. Nothing touches me more deeply than the letters and emails from readers who tell me that Slowing Time has touched a quiet place in their hearts, and something beautiful is blooming.

 

BAM_headshot_finalAbout the author. Barbara Mahany, the author of Slowing Time: Seeing the Sacred Outside Your Kitchen Door (Abingdon Press, Oct. 2014), was a staff writer at the Chicago Tribune for nearly 30 years. Before that she was a pediatric oncology nurse at Children’s Memorial Hospital in Chicago. She is married to the Tribune’s Pulitzer Prize-winning architecture critic, Blair Kamin, and they have two sons.

 

 

 

 

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Is it Time to Write Your Book? by Rochelle Melander

Photo_26Note From Rochelle

Dear Writers,

I’ve been frustrated this winter—with the kids home most of the time and a full work schedule, I haven’t had time to write. Maybe you are struggling with the same thing?

Instead of complaining or worrying, I decided to host my own Write-A-Thon. WAT_therapy-2During Lent this year, I plan to write a book. And starting February 18, I’ll be leading a Write-A-Thon accountability group. You can check out the details here.

To help us get ready, I’m teaching a very special Write Now! Mastermind class on how to overcome your most common writing obstacles. If you have a writing obstacle you’d like me to address during the class, let me know.

Today’s tip talks about how to know if you need to write a book! Enjoy!

Happy Writing! Rochelle, the Write Now! Coach

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“You should write a book,” Ron told Hermione as he cut up his potatoes, “translating mad things girls do so boys can understand them.”

— J.K. Rowling, Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix

Last week at the library, I had the young people write about their nighttime dreams. After they sketched out the bare bones of a dream, I invited them to use those characters, events and images to create a story. Each one brought something unique to their story, and it occurred to me that each of them had the raw material for a book.

I have that thought nearly every time I talk to someone. Maybe it’s because I’m a writer and avid reader, and I tend to think in books (instead of inventions or movies). I don’t have the time to talk to every one of you before the winter Write-A-Thon group begins, but I’d be willing to bet that you are also holding onto a book idea.

Am I right? Or maybe you’re not sure. For those of you on the fence, I’ve grabbed three of the best reasons for writing a book from my book, Write-A-Thon. See if any of them fit you:

1.         You have IMPORTANT, life-changing INFO to share. You’re constantly thinking about how you could change the world and, more specifically, the lives of those you love, if only you could tell them what you know. Perhaps you’ve developed a tool that could support others in working smarter or living better. Stop thinking about how this great stuff could help others and write a book. You can’t be everywhere at once, but your book can. It will save you time and help a lot of people.

2.         You want to promote your work or business. Maybe you offer a unique service to individuals and businesses—but no one knows it. Your goal is to get people to work with your company, buy your product, or hire you to consult, coach, or speak to them. You have a web site—but you can’t exactly hand it out when you speak. You need something more portable to help people know you and your work. A book that offers your clients and potential customers real value can teach them about you and help them see the worth of buying your products or services.

3.         You make up stories. Some people—like your boss, parents, or significant other—might call it lying, but you know the truth. You have been making up stories since you were old enough to talk (and maybe before). Your beloved grandfather with the twirly mustache was secretly a spy. The woman who sat in front of you on the subway yesterday—the one who was crying and rubbing the tattoo on her arm that said Arnold—you spent the whole ride debating whether Arnold broke up with her or died in a tragic accident. Stop wondering aimlessly. Put your stories into a book that we all can enjoy!

So? Do one of those reasons fit you? If so, you might want to enroll in my winter Write-A-Thon group. In the course of 40 days, you’ll write like crazy with the support and help of a coach and the accountability of a regular group meeting. Sound like something you’d like to try? Click here to learn more.

 

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Restart Your Writing by Rochelle Melander

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Isn’t it nice to think that tomorrow is a new day with no mistakes in it yet?

—L.M. Montgomery

 

How are you doing with those New Year’s resolutions? Have you had difficulty keeping all of them? Or, like me, did you simply postpone making them? Fear not. I have a plan for those of us who’ve either bumbled our new beginning or forgot to push restart.

My plan comes from the wisdom of 92-year-old producer Norman Lear: “There are two small words that are important and mostly overlooked: over and next. When something is over, it is over. Everything is about what comes next.” (TV Guide, October 27-Nov. 9, p. 7)

Got that?

Stop dwelling on anything you’ve done or failed to do last year, this year, or any other year: it’s OVER.

Now focus on what you want to do NEXT!

Instead of worrying over what you haven’t written yet, write now. Jot down a few words about the present moment, the story of your life, or wisdom to help another.

In the words of Samuel Beckett:

Ever tried. Ever failed. No matter. Try again. Fail again. Fail better.

 

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Need an Epiphany? How to Create Aha Moments By Rochelle Melander

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I never made one of my discoveries through the process of rational thinking.

—Albert Einstein

It’s a New Year: we’ve made our resolutions and put our butts in the chair. This will be the year we write that novel, pen the self-help book or blog our way to fame and fortune. Or not. We’ve already heard predictions from people who don’t even know us that we’re likely to fail at keeping our resolutions. We’ve never lost the voices in our head telling us we’re not good enough. And now, as we type away, we wonder what happened to all of our good ideas. We need an epiphany—and quick!

Don’t worry. I’ve got five tools to help you court the aha moment and rescue your writing:

1. Write, doodle, repeat. The cartoonist Charles Barsotti takes a big stack of paper and doodles until the aha moment occurs. Madeleine L’Engle famously said, “Inspiration usually comes during work rather than before it.” (The Summer of the Great Grandmother, p. 144). So that butt in the chair thing? Best idea yet!

2. Clean the house! Do the dishes, sweep the floor, and fold the laundry! Repetitive, mindless activities lead to aha moments. (The Breakout Principle by Herbert Benson and William Proctor). If you’re not the cleaning type, think about taking up knitting, tennis or doodling.

3. Get out! Enact the metaphor “think outside the box” and work somewhere other than your cubicle (or your version of it). Researchers found that people who worked outside a box, no matter how comfortable it was, were more creative than boxed-in workers.

4. Work tired. Feeling fatigued? It’s the perfect time to dream up new stuff. When we’re tired, we’re more open to innovative ideas. According to a 2011 study led by Mareike Wieth at Albion College in Michigan, students performed better on problems that required novel thinking when they were tired (Thinking & Reasoning, 2011).

5. Still Stuck? Take a shower, walk in nature, listen to music or nap! When Michael Gelb, author of How to Think Like Leonardo DaVinci asked creatives where they got their best ideas, those were the most popular answers. Greek polymath Archimedes got the very first Eureka moment while in the public bath.

Your turn: How do you encourage those aha moments? Make a list of the last 5-10 times you had an aha moment and pay attention to what was going on around you. Could that practice be the key to your next aha moment? Leave your comments below.

 

Resource: For more on cartoonists and their aha moments, check out this article by Robert Mankoff.

 

 

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Your Toolbox: What You Need to Make 2015 Rock! By Rochelle Melander

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When we take a trip, we rent condos or homes. The practice gives us more space and saves us money on food. It’s also often cheaper than a hotel room. And, as a result, we’ve been able to stay in real neighborhoods and get a feel for the city we’re visiting.

After a few condo stays, I noticed a pattern: we’d go food shopping and while making our first dinner or breakfast, we’d discover missing essentials—coffee filters, dish soap, and so forth. So we’d run back out to the store to stock up. After several trips, we’d collected multiple kinds of coffee filters, boxes of plastic silverware, and a variety of wine openers. Instead of repeating the pattern, I created travel box packed full of the essentials we might need on future stays, including coffee filters, storage bags, and salt and pepper shakers. That box stays packed and goes with us on every trip. When we get home, I restock it so that it’s ready for the next adventure.

As I restocked our travel box this time, I wondered: What if I had this kind of box for my writing life? What would I need to make my writing time productive? As I doodled my answers, it became pretty clear that the things I needed couldn’t be put in a box (silly me): scheduled writing time, journaling, exercise, idle time, reading, connecting with writing colleagues, and connecting with readers.

I write a good deal about creativity and productivity, and there are the things productive writers do. They:
+schedule writing time
+write regularly
+exercise
+take time to be idle and dream
+read

Beyond those basics, the habits of writers vary. Some of you swear by writing first thing in the morning. Others must write in that hour before dinner. Some of you choose paper while others write on your laptop. As you say good-bye to this year and begin to imagine a new one, try this.

1. Review. Review your most productive times in 2014 (and before) and record what was going on. What did you do to support such productivity? You might write a bit of narrative about each experience or simply list what practices made you more productive.

2. Box it. Now that you’ve examined your most productive times, you know what you need to put in your writing box. But make a list anyway. We forget this stuff when we’re stressed by deadlines, chaos, or illness. Write your best tools in BIG letters—and post it in your office.

3. Practice it! Get out that calendar and a journal—and make notes about how you’re going to put these tools into practice. Schedule your writing time. Plan artist dates. Clean up the office. Add walking time.

Got that? Good.

Keep this exercise handy and repeat it, as needed, when you get blocked and can’t remember what works. (Believe me, it happens.)

Here’s to a brilliant, beautiful New Year filled with much writing!

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