The Power of Saying No by Rochelle Melander

©Rochelle Melander

©Rochelle Melander

At the beginning of summer, the days feel open and full of possibility. I feel like I can do it all—and still write. Of course I can’t. When I try to do too much and say yes to obligations that don’t make my heart sing, I end up letting go of writing time. And then I feel resentful. I’m learning to say no instead.

Here’s what Anne Lamott says about saying no:

My therapist, Rita, has convinced me that every time I say yes when I mean no, I am abandoning myself, and I end up feeling used or resentful or frantic. But when I say no when I mean no, it’s so sane and healthy that it creates a little glade around me in which I can get the nourishment I need. Then I help and serve people from a place of real abundance and health, … —Anne Lamott, Operating Instructions, pp.48-9

Writers, here’s my challenge to you this summer. Decide what you want to write. Grab your calendar and block out your writing time. Say no to anything that threatens to interrupt your writing. And then enjoy the feeling of doing what you’re called to do: write!

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Walk Now! Write More by Rochelle Melander

Rochelle walks the labyrinth in West Bend, WI

Rochelle walks the labyrinth in West Bend, WI

All truly great thoughts are conceived while walking. —Friedrich Nietzche

Now that spring has arrived in Wisconsin—finally!—I’m walking more. In addition to my daily exercise, I take tiny walking breaks. In Write-A-Thon, I wrote about a study that showed that women who walked had better brain connectivity.  But that’s not all! Recent research suggests that walking boosts creativity, improves concentration, and restores our ability to pay attention. Wow! Read on…

Walking boosts creativity. In late April, the American Psychological Association released a study on the creative benefits of walking (published in APA’s Journal of Experimental Psychology: Learning, Memory and Cognition.) While at Stanford University’s Graduate School of Education, Marily Oppezzo, PhD, and colleague Daniel L. Schwartz, PhD, did a number of studies that found students who walked performed better on tests that measure creativity, especially free-flowing thoughts. They did less well on tests that required a single answer.

Walking improves concentration. A study by Andrea Faber Taylor and Frances Kuo measured how walking in three different environments—nature, urban, and residential—affected children with ADHD. The children who walked in nature did the best on tests of concentration (almost as well as their peers without ADHD). (Journal of Attention Disorders OnlineFirst).

Walking restores attention. A study by Marc G. Berman, John Jonides, and Stephen Kaplan at the University of Michigan found that walking in nature can restore our ability to pay attention, something that usually diminishes throughout the day. For urban dwellers, it takes more than walking around outside—since paying attention to street and sidewalk traffic uses up more attention. Instead, head to a park for your walk.

So how do you use walking to jumpstart your writing? Here’s advice from my Write-a-Thon book:

*If you’re already walking or exercising, write for 20-30 minutes right afterwards.

*Take a ten-minute walk before you write.

*Take a ten-minute walk every time you experience writer’s block.

*Take a ten-minute walk as a transition between writing projects.

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How to Tackle a Huge Writing Project by Rochelle Melander

13 May 2014

Note From Rochelle

Dear Writers,

My daughter Elly and me.

My daughter Elly and me.

This past weekend, I ran my first 5K, Run Like a Mother. I didn’t burn up the route but I finished, beating my best training time. The cool part: I had fun. Really. I enjoyed running and cheering on so many amazing athletes!

And in honor of tackling a challenge, today’s tip talks about one way to finish massive writing project!

Happy Writing!

Rochelle, the Write Now! Coach

 

 

How to Tackle a Huge Writing Project by Rochelle Melander

Earlier this spring, we visited The John Michael Kohler Arts Center in Sheboygan, Wisconsin, to view the Arts/Industry exhibition of pieces created by artists while on residency at the Kohler Co. Pottery, Iron and Brass Foundries, and Enamel Shop.

Babel by Jim Neel

Babel by Jim Neel

And wow—the art amazed me! I was astonished by Jim Neel’s Babel, an installation of 50 ceramic chimpanzee warriors, lined up and ready to fight. The artist spent just 11 weeks casting the monkeys and their weapons. He shared the kiln and other equipment with factory workers who were casting sinks and toilets.

As I walked into the room where Babel stood, I felt overwhelmed by the dozens of marching monkeys. I wondered: how does one conceive of something so large and then complete it in a short period of time?

On the wall, just above his army of monkeys, the museum posted this quote from Jim Neel:

I just put my head down and made sure I got those two monkeys finished every day and as many arms and legs as I could. –Jim Neel

Eleven weeks. Two monkeys a day. And as many arms and legs as I could.

That’s so much more concrete than my usual, “I’ve got to work on this book.”

Jim Neel successfully finished his project within his 11-week residency because he committed himself to slow and steady progress: two monkeys a day. It’s not very sexy, but it works.

Try it: Take a look at your current work in progress. What does two monkeys a day look like for you? Declare it and do it!

 

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Writers@Work: The Book Trailer by Marjorie Treu

Hey writers,

I’m delighted to welcome my friend and colleague Marjorie Treu to the blog to share her experiences with creating and sharing her book trailers. Her experience has a lot to teach all of us!

Happy writing! Rochelle, the Write Now! Coach

 

file0001311160630Writers@Work: The Book Trailer by Marjorie Treu

I’m an indie author with a whopping one title under my belt…The 78 Biggest Mistakes New Managers Make – What You Need to Know to Avoid Career Suicide.  (Could that title be any longer?!)

The Background

I struggle to write; but I am published.

I struggle to sell the book; but I am determined to sell the last 200 copies.

I struggle to build my business; but I am celebrating 7 years with Team Fusion.

After losing a job in late 2006, it was time to strike out on my own because then I could control my own fate and not become victim to the whims of a large corporation.  There was no common sense in that decision.  What I was very confident in was my training and development ability, and having a large network of potential clients. Team Fusion started off with a bang and then the recession hit.

I started a blog (along with an e-zine) and wrote religiously for 2 years and slowly built an online community who valued the teamwork and leadership resources I provided.  The community was loyal but small.  That’s when I got the brainy idea of speaking at human resource conferences to build the business.  Why

+Human Resource professionals are my target market.

+I communicate more authentically in-person than in written format.

At the time, my mentor suggested it was time to have a small ticket item to sell as an introduction to the work I do and as a next step in the sales cycle.  I decided on a book since this format is easy to give away during a workshop presentation, people rarely throw away a book, and I had 2-years of content that I could repurpose. I wrote the book in a weekend. More accurately, I organized 2-years of blog posts and e-zine articles into a book, added some content, and wrote the introduction and back cover in a weekend.  Then, had 4,000 copies printed and shipped to the house. It was January 2011.

It’s 2014 and the last 200 copies are taking up valuable garage space. They need to be sold. Enter The Book Trailer. Before considering this option, copies sold through:

  • Association conferences (following my presentation and at their bookstore)
  • Directly to my e-zine subscription list
  • Radio interviews received from ads in www.RTIR.com
  • Client-only workshops
  • Bulk corporate orders

Today

Three years post publication, my client base is saturated, and I need new followers. The only way to gain a wider audience is through a more visual medium.  Research on ‘how to create a video book trailer’ began in earnest.  I know these absolutes about myself:

  1. I do not want to learn a new skill if I won’t use it regularly.
  2. I have no extra time to babysit a new project.
  3. I want every output for Team Fusion to be highly professional.
  4. I have no budget set aside to hire a video director.

Fate stepped in while at a client meeting.  I met a young marketing graduate who had just submitted a video entry for the Super Bowl Doritos promotion (he came in third) and hired him on-the-spot. Cost: $750 (selling 37 books is break even.)

The book trailer took 30-days from concept to upload on YouTube and followed this process:

  1. Concept design – 3 options and I chose a multi-video approach
  2. Treatment and script
  3. 2 script revisions
  4. Site selection, logistics, hiring actors
  5. Shooting footage
  6. Editing and Music
  7. PR and Marketing

The $750 investment may seem on the high end; however, Eagle Stream Media handled everything except the PR and Marketing of the book trailer. It was pretty exciting to spend a couple of hours at the shoot, and talk with the director and actors.  Bonus: a couple of them bought the book!

The Book Trailer Campaign

This is the part where I became a Do-It-Yourselfer since my marketing message is not one I trust a third party to nuance well.  Here were the steps:

  • March 26th — video #1 uploaded to YouTube and Vimeo
  • March 27 — both videos uploaded to my site: www.TeamFusion.net
  • April 1st — video #1 uploaded to LinkedIn / with automatic Twitter link
  • April 2nd — video #2 uploaded to same sites
  • April 3rd — video #2 uploaded to LinkedIn / with automatic Twitter link
  • April 3rd — video #1 sent to All Client Distribution List (with special Customer Loyalty discount)
  • April 9th — video #2 sent to All Client Distribution List (with Bulk Discount offer)
  • April 16 – 23rd —random posting within LinkedIn HR groups I’ve participated in for over a year
  • Second campaign to launch May 7th

Helpful Hints and Resources 

Watch

+YouTube videos on creating book trailers (there are dozens) for self-education.

+Site for kids and teen book trailers: www.BookTrailersForReaders.com  Scroll to bottom of home page / Special Features / How to Make a Book Trailer

+Read Tim Ferris’ blog post on How to Create a Viral Book Trailer (http://bit.ly/Rca6gO)

Hire

+Use recent tech-savvy grads well-versed in social media for cost savings.

+www.WaveCloud.com offers book video trailers starting at $499

+Amazon’s Create Space offers book trailer packages: $1,200 – 2,200

Create

+Keep videos under 60-seconds. Shorter is better.

+Send a short customer survey if you’re unsure your client watches video.

The Result

The Bad News: No direct sales resulted from video #1 but it did generate some interest in folks wanting to see the second video.

The Good News:  The book trailer expenses paid for themselves on April 17th with a third order through the Team Fusion website. The best advice I can give is to map out your campaign carefully and stick to a schedule for best results.  It’s all profit from this point forward and that extra garage space is no longer a pipe dream!

 

07d97bfAbout the author. Marjorie Treu is President of Team Fusion, a training and coaching practice dedicated to partnering with HR professionals to help build deep talent management bench strength.  She brings 20 years of adult education experience into the corporate arena with focus on Leadership and Management Development, Talent Management, Sales Training, and Employee Relations.  After serving as President for the Southeastern Wisconsin Chapter of ASTD, Marjorie has helped small business owners and Fortune 500 companies alike with consulting, training, coaching, and experiential team building events.

Marjorie’s passion for the next generation of leaders was the driving force behind writing her book, The 78 Biggest Mistakes New Managers Make – What You Need to Know to Avoid Career Suicide. She firmly believes that following the practical tips outlined will prevent leaders from losing years of advancement opportunities.  More importantly, they build teams that produce bottom-line results quickly.

For more information: www.TeamFusion.net

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5 Ways to Use a Journal to Boost Writing Productivity by Rochelle Melander

IMG_1765Exercise the writing muscle every day, even if it is only a letter, notes, a title list, a character sketch, a journal entry. Writers are like dancers, like athletes. Without that exercise, the muscles seize up.  –Jane Yolen

Since January, I’ve been exploring art journaling—thanks to an Oprah’s Lifeclass given by Brené Brown. It’s been great fun to journal in a new way—painting, collaging, and drawing. This work has brought new life to every area of my creativity.

As I reflected on my journaling over the years, I realized that journaling can boost writing productivity in multiple ways. I present five of those tools below. But remember: these tools overlap and most can be used in combination with each other.

A note: I like to write on paper.  I shop for unique paper and good pens even when I don’t need them. But I also own and use several journaling apps on my iPad—and realize that many of you prefer to use those tools. Do what works for you.

1. Morning pages or Evening pages. Make your first or last action of the day a written one. Jot down one to three sloppy pages of anything that comes to your mind: words, images, memories, events, experiences: whatever. As a consummate morning writer, I’ve been surprised by my recent desire to write at night. So I’ve started bringing my journal to bed with me and before I read, I write.

2. Dreams or Gratitude. For people who like more structure in their morning or evening pages, I suggest using morning pages to write down their dreams or their evening pages to record their blessings from the day. A dream journal can help writers access their subconscious and provide deep images for writing. A gratitude journal can help the writer pay attention to the day.

Pro Tip: A gratitude journal can get pretty rote—at least mine does, and I end the day writing the same three things I’ve written for the last gazillion days! Instead, give yourself a scavenger hunt in the morning—and note it in the evening. Challenge yourself to look for three signs of spring, three examples of young love, three acts of kindness, or even three different kinds of birds. You’ll be surprised at how that small act of intention will help you see more.

3. The Plan. If you’re a regular reader of these pages, you know that I encourage writers to plan! There’s good research to back me up—people who know the when, where, and what of their tasks tend to accomplish them. So if you’ve planned to write a blog post on composting tomorrow from 3-4 PM at your favorite indie coffee shop—and you write that down in your journal—you’re much more likely to do it than say the person who thinks, I’ll do some sort of a blog post sometime tomorrow. Use your journal to plan: the next day, the next year, your new book, whatever.

Pro Tip: The plan doesn’t have to be a technical “how I’m going to do it document.” If you’re a creative, chances are, that won’t work for you. Try mind mapping, making a list, or drawing a map.

4. The Collection. I recently read an article—oh my, I wish I could remember where—about a woman who decided to get organized and used a journal to do it. She wrote down everything in a single journal: phone messages, to-do lists, meeting notes, ideas, and more. I liked the idea. As someone who has journals for just about every single thing I do—the project journal, the blog journal, the daily journal, the dream journal, etc.—this sounded so, well, doable. I’ve started carrying my regular journal with me. I tend to use it for everything: taking notes at author events and business conversations, recording random ideas and bits of dialogue, working through pitches and more.

Pro tip: Tape or paste in information, inspiration, or photos. If you’re using an electronic journal, you can simply take a picture and add it to your file.

©Rochelle Melander; Journal for Novel

©Rochelle Melander; Journal for Novel

5. Journal of a Book. For the past ten years, I’ve kept a journal for every single one of my books. I got the idea from Elizabeth George, who spoke about it when she was in Milwaukee at a book signing many years ago. She got the idea from John Steinbeck and wrote about it in her book on writing, Write Away: “I’ve begun every day by writing in a journal, sometimes about the writing I’m doing, sometimes about what’s on my mind at that moment. So for each novel I now write, I create a new journal entry, but before I do that, I read a day in the last Journal of a Novel for the previous novel. This allows me to see that, whatever I might be experiencing at the moment, I have experienced it and survived it before.” (p. 199)

Pro Tip: Your journal of a novel or nonfiction book can also be your story bible or idea file, where you keep all the bits of information you need to tell the story.

file0001629116220Bonus Tool: Art Journaling. But I’m a writer! You say. You are. But even writers like to play with color, texture, shape, and more. Any of the journal types above can done as an art journal. For me, art journaling takes one of two forms:

+A place to explore an idea or experience through art. These are messy and fun experiments with language.

+A tool for playing with the art medium, without any idea of what I’m trying to communicate.

Don’t worry about how it looks. Explore and have fun.

 

Your turn: If you’ve used a journal to boost your productivity, leave your suggestions here!

 

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Writers@Work: Interview with Austin Kleon

 © Blue Lily Photography

© Blue Lily Photography

Today I have the privilege of interviewing Austin Kleon, author of Show Your Work. I met Austin Kleon several years ago when he was on tour for Steal Like An Artist and was inspired by both his book and his talk. And now it’s your turn!

On Tuesday May 6, 2014 at 7:00 PM, come hear Austin Kleon speak at Boswell Book Company. And to get you in the mood for the signing, Austin offered some juicy answers to my questions ahead of time. Enjoy! -Rochelle, the Write Now! Coach

Can you tell our readers what your new book is about? 

Show Your Work 3d Hi Res CoverShow Your Work! is a book for people who hate the very idea of self-promotion. It’s a book about how to gain an audience for your work by sharing what you do in a way that’s interesting and helpful to others without taking away too much of your time, energy, and attention. These two books are the Robin Hood box set — first you steal, then you share.

 

What do you mean by, “Think process not product”? How can we share our process without OVER-sharing and boring our readers?

Just share something small every day. At the end of every day, take a look back at the day’s work and see if there’s something worth sharing with others. Share a work-in-progress, your inspiration, a story, or something you learned. Then get back to work.

One of your tips is, “Shut up and listen,” and you talk about the importance of reading and sharing. What are some of your favorite reads (blogs, books, whatever!)?

I like my friend Maria Popova’s blog a lot, Brain Pickings. I think Open Culture is another blog that’s consistently great. As for books, my favorite authors are Lynda Barry, Kurt Vonnegut, and Charles Schulz. As far as recent stuff, I thought John Green’s The Fault In Our Stars was a wonderful novel, and Brian K. Vaughn and Fiona Staples’ Saga comic book series is fantastic, too.

I’m always fascinated by the habits of writers and artists. What are some of the habits that help you work every day?

My habits change a lot when I’m on the road, but when I’m home, every day I meditate and I make one of my newspaper blackout poems. There’s something about having those daily practices that keeps me grounded no matter what I’m working on.

What wisdom would you give to a writer or artist who’s struggling to get noticed?

If you want to get noticed, you have to notice. Look at the world you want to be a part of, and first figure out how you can be helpful to the people in that world — maybe that’s by being a fan, or a patron, or a curator, or maybe it’s by contributing your own art or writing. But first ask what you want to do and what the world wants or needs— the narrow overlap between the two will be where you make your living.

About Austin Kleon: Austin Kleon is the New York Times bestselling author of three illustrated books: Steal Like An Artist (Workman, 2012) is a manifesto for creativity in the digital age; Show Your Work!(Workman, 2014) is a guide to sharing creativity and getting discovered; and Newspaper Blackout (Harper Perennial, 2010) is a collection of poetry made by redacting words from newspaper articles with a permanent marker. Visit him online at AustinKleon.com

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Get Past Stuck: The Magic Questions by Rochelle Melander

Flowers 6Many of my friends talk about the Target effect. Has it happened to you? It’s like this: we go in with a plan to purchase a specific item, usually something practical like hand soap. Somewhere in the middle of the trip, deep in the store, we notice that our cart is overflowing, and we can’t remember what we came in for.

It’s a bit like writing. (You knew that was coming.) When we start a book, we have an idea of where we are going. We know what we want to accomplish and why. And then 5, 50, or a few hundred pages in, we get stuck. The book doesn’t seem to work, and like the Target shopper, we’ve forgotten why we’re here in the first place.

What next?

Last Thursday night, Meg Wolitzer spoke at Boswell Book Company to celebrate the paperback release of her novel, The Interestings. She spoke about how writers can handle that moment of feeling stuck.

Here’s what she said (and I’m paraphrasing):

Stop writing. Go for a walk. Read a good book—even just a few pages.

Once you have some distance, ask:

What was I trying to do with this book?

What should I do now?

Wolitzer recounted how her editor does the same thing for her, asking what her vision for the book is and then holding her to that.

(By the way, that’s what a good life coach or writing coach will do for you: hold your vision for you, keep it in front of you so that you don’t forget what you set out to do.)

The morning after the signing, I went back to my work in progress, and asked:

When I started this book, what was I trying to do?

And guess what? The question helped me remember my purpose—and I knew how to write forward.

Try it. See if it helps you. If you have a different way of getting past stuck, leave a comment below!

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Using Rank My Book as Part of a Social Media Marketing Plan by Ken Dunn

Dear Writers,

I’m always on the lookout for new social media tools for authors. When I heard about Rank My Book, I thought you’d want to hear about it, too. Ken Dunn is the founder of Rank My Book. Enjoy!

Rochelle, the Write Now! Coach

file000132267159Using Rank My Book as Part of a Social Media Marketing Plan

By Ken Dunn

In recent years, social media has become the principal place for promotion, for people from all walks of life, from small business owners to famous actors.  Of course, authors are also taking advantage of social media avenues like Facebook and Twitter to promote their works on a global scale. A marketing strategy that includes a good deal of social media can be critical for both emerging and successful authors.  However, if an author only uses these sites for self-promotion, fans and followers will quickly tune out.  It can be a struggle to engage effectively, especially if an author is missing their target audience.

Authors often set up accounts on Facebook and Twitter, but as their posting and engagement decreases, so will their visibility.  Twitter is an opportunity to engage with a global community, whether it’s sharing news (personal and worldwide) or engaging in a discussion with other users.  Facebook, on the other hand, is great for posting pictures and videos, sharing events the author might be taking part in, and more in-depth content to keep readers interested and entice them to engage.  The social aspect of social media can be taken advantage of to build a loyal readership.

Facebook and Twitter can be very effective for authors to promote a new book and engage with readers, but there are also examples of social media that exist just for readers.  By engaging with a smaller but more passionate audience, authors are increasing their potential reader base.  GoodReads helps connect readers with other readers, so those that love an author’s book can share it and build buzz.  This is a great way to promote a work without burning out the fans that may follow an author on Twitter and Facebook; fans will do the work by simply sharing a book they love.  Rank My Book takes things a few steps further, engaging readers in several ways that can help an author gain notice for their book.

Rank My Book has several features that authors can take advantage of as part of an overall author social media marketing plan:

  • Rank My Book is free, easy-to-use, and dedicated to helping authors promote their work.  Authors with little or no marketing budget can benefit from the site as much as those with funds earmarked for the purpose.
  • Both readers and authors can contribute books on Rank My Book.  This enables authors not only to share their own books, but also engage with readers as readers themselves by sharing favorites.  There’s no limit to the amount of books an individual can add.  Allowing authors, contributors, and fans to promote, rank, and share books creates a strong community of literary people.
  • Rank My Book is an objective, worldwide ranking system for books.  Once a reader or author contributes a book, other users may become fans.  The more fans a book has, the higher its rank; books are ranked by genre.
  • Authors have the chance for their book to be ranked among the best in its genre.  If this occurs, authors are able to add this credential to their book jacket, media kit, and bio.  Also, authors can link their page to an online store or blog, making it extremely easy to sell more books.  In addition, Rank My Book makes frequent Facebook and Twitter posts promoting its highly ranked books.
  • Authors are able to contribute articles.  Contributing can help an author gain notice in the Rank My Book community, as well as worldwide by sharing the link on other social media platforms.  In addition to connecting with readers through articles, this can also help bring new users to Rank My Book.  An author’s article can be a springboard to draw in others who will rank their book highly.

New and seasoned authors alike know that social media is a vital for book promotion and readership building.  Rank My Book includes a global ranking system unique to other social media, making it a powerful tool, and a useful part of any author’s marketing strategy.

ken dunn photoAbout the author. Ken Dunn is the founder of Rank My Book, an unbiased worldwide book ranking website where authors and readers can share their favorite books.  In 2008, he self- published his first book, Being the Change, selling over 100,000 copies and his second book, The Most Important Minute, was even more successful.  He partnered with three colleagues to publish his third book, MLM Heart Attack, which was when he realized that the self-publishing world was flawed and that he had a lot to offer it, determining that he would change the way that people read, write, and experience books.  Ken currently lives with his wife, Julie, and children—Matthew and Laura—in Toronto, Canada. Follow Ken Dunn on Twitter @Ken_Dunn

 

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A Story of Resistance … to Revision by Sandy Brehl

Dear writers,

I’m delighted to welcome Sandy Brehl to the blog to tell the amazing story of how her new book, Odin’s Promise, was born!

Enjoy,

Rochelle, the Write Now! Coach

 

OdinsPromise-240oxwide.2A Story of Resistance … to Revision by Sandy Brehl

Others have posted advice, both brilliant and pragmatic, about the value and process of “re-vision-ing “ our work to make stories stronger, deeper, more engaging. I’ve read and heard them. Constructive criticism is my favorite writing tool.

Usually.

When it comes to the creation of Odin’s Promise, my debut middle grade novel, revision was not the key.

Before I’m cursed to a lifetime of writers’ block for such blasphemy, let me explain.

When I traveled to Norway with a friend almost thirty years ago, we stayed with her relatives. I heard delightful family stories, viewed countless photos, and fell in love with that country and the warm-hearted people I met. One story that attached itself to my writing instincts involved resistance to the Nazi occupation during World War II.

My writerly instincts envisioned one particular event as a richly illustrated picture book.

For the next four years or so I used my limited writing time to research those war years and draft various texts. Unfortunately, the results were poorly suited for a picture book, even in those days. The text was too long, the characters and plot too “old”, and the story too history-laden for a picture book audience.

For the next decade or so I worked at other writing, pulling this story out and revising at least twice a year, never finding a way to solve those issues. For several more years I read, attended workshops, and networked to improve my skills at writing picture book text.  All of which convinced me that this would never work as a picture book.

I was determined to share it in some way, though, so I sought advice from professional editors and formed a new plan. I would write it for a niche audience, readers with an interest in Norway history. It could be marketed in gift shops, museums, and online specialty companies.

What that plan produced was a novella-length light romance which focused on that particular resistance event and the fictional characters who carried it through. Beta readers strongly supported this manuscript and offered encouragement for the marketing plan.

Long story short, this approach led me repeatedly to self-publishing. I’d researched that process. It may have been well-suited to the project, but it was not a good match for me.

Eventually I discovered and joined SCBWI, the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators.  Through my writing groups, workshops, and conference critiques I found encouragement for my writing and the historic elements, but the same advice came to me again and again: this would work better as a middle grade novel.

Did I listen? Not really.

My core story involved older characters and situations, and I clung to that  relentlessly. I couldn’t “re-vision” this story unless they held center stage.

Other projects proceeded, but my research and reading continued. One search led me to a scholarly work on Norway’s street level resistance efforts, with included frequent quotations from journal entries by school age children.

Suddenly, Mari spoke to me. She convinced me that she, too, had an important story to tell and would help me tell it.

Only then could I loosen my grip on my original characters, on their story. I dropped them into the scramble of ideas Mari had offered.  With her voice to guide me I pulled out pieces to construct her story of fear and courage, love and loyalty. It just so happens that bits of my original story found a home within hers.

Once I gave up revision and sought an entirely new middle grade story, it  and went from draft to publication in less than two years.

After all those years of revisions.

All I had to do is listen.

8About the author. Sandy Brehl is an educator and active member of SCBWI. She enjoys art, gardening, and travel (to Norway, of course). For more information, visit her website, SandyBrehl.com. She lives in Muskego, WI.

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How to Focus and Write: A Lesson from Meditation Practice by Rochelle Melander

file0002029876287I probably should have guessed that starting an online meditation program during spring break would be challenging. But I’d set aside Monday to finish up work, so I believed I could sneak in the meditation between tasks. I pressed play, and the dogs barked. I couldn’t hear a word, so I stopped until the teenager took the dogs for a walk. I tried again, and the tween walked in and asked for breakfast. I encouraged her to make it herself. I’d just gotten to the part where I was supposed to close my eyes and chant “ohm,” when my son walked into the room. He’s a big guy, and even with my eyes closed, I knew he was in the room.

“Yes, Sam?”

“Mom, can I just sit with you?” he asked.

Sweet, yes—but I was TRYING to meditate. And then I had work to do—a newsletter to write, a chapter to edit, and a bunch of emails to answer. Why did I feel anxious? I thought meditating would calm me down. My husband walked by the office, and seeing that the teen was already in there, he brought me some checks to sign.

I gave up.

On day two, my meditation didn’t go much better. I chose a quieter time but my brain kept jumping in with BIG ideas and tiny worries: book topics, house tasks, and items on my to-do list marched before me as I chanted the word of the day.

I go through the same routine when I write. Jot down a few sentences, worry about the emails and phone calls I haven’t returned, and piece together another sentence. Each time I turn back to the page, I win a small battle. Writers, remember: we gain the ability to focus on writing, just like we gain the ability to meditate by trying repeatedly. Every time we return our focus to the words or the breath, we’re building strength.

Remember Aristotle’s oft-quoted wisdom:

We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, therefore, is not an act, but a habit.

So here’s the tip for today: If you want to be something new, then act on it. If you want to meditate, then spend time paying attention to your breath. If you want to be a chef, cook. If you want to be a writer, write.

Don’t worry if it’s hard or if you have trouble paying attention. Just keep doing it.

Your thoughts? Add your comments, questions, and suggestions below!

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