Y is for Yoga

YogaSome of the benefits of Yoga are:

  • Increased flexibility.
  • Increased muscle strength and tone.
  • Improved respiration, energy and vitality.
  • Maintaining balance.
  • Weight reduction.
  • Cardio and circulatory health.
  • Improved athletic performance.
  • Protection from injury

While I love Yoga…I really do, in this instance I’m using it as a metaphor for writing. Now how can you apply these wonderful benefits to your writing.

Increased Flexibility – Whether you are trying to finish a book or trying to find a home for a manuscript.  Its important to be flexible.  Life interrupts the writing process.  Sometimes your dream publisher doesn’t accept your manuscript.  It is important to be flexible, remember the important thing is to try again, to be stronger and not break.

Increased Muscle, strength and tone – Have you heard the phrase “Use it or Lose it”?  Writing frequently, dare I say daily, increases your muscles.  If you type on a keyboard, you will type faster due to muscle memory.  If your write daily in a journal, or on a manuscript, poetry, etc., your process is strengthened,  and the tone of your work improved.

Improved Respiration, energy and vitality – Just Breathe.  When you are blocked or your just not feeling it, take a break; A breath if you will, and work on another creative project.  Often times when I “scrapbook” or when I’m cooking, I get ideas for my story.  Writing without other creative outlets can drain your energy.  You need to fill your creative mind.  This will give you vitality, and passion for all your creative works.

Maintaining Balance – As with all things in life, writing is also a balancing act.  When you are an Aspiring Writer, you are balancing work, writing, and whatever life throws at  you.  These same things apply when your are published as well, and then you get to add in promotions, book signings, blog tours, etc.  It’s important to try and balance to the best of your abilities, and what is important to you.  I still work full time so my priorities are Family, Work, Writing.  I know, writing is in there last, but it is where it fits today in my life and I still manage to find balance.

Weight Reduction – Okay writing won’t make you thinner.   But you may need to think about making your book thinner before sending off for publication. 🙂  Basically, “Cut the Fat”.  You want your book to be a lean, mean, selling machine.   Not to say you should write short stories, but make sure your 155,000 word novel doesn’t have redundancies in it.  Be sure you are using strong vs. passive language, and it is the very best it can be before you publish.

Cardio and circulatory health – Go with the flow.  When life throws you an obstacle, handle it and then get back on track.  In my opinion – not all writers can deal with life crisis and write.   I’m one of those writers…life’s challenges often derail my writing.  However, some authors excel at it – Using their writing as a tool to deal with life’s issues, or utlizing it as a means of escape.  Whatever writer you are – Go with the flow.  There is no right or wrong answer to how, or when you write.

Improved athletic performance – Over time all writers seems to innately learn things about craft, genre, editing, publishing, and other business items.   Not all writers will be good at all things, and some writers can zero in on one thing.   We learn to spot passive voice, or what genre a book falls into.  We can craft perfect prose, or create a list of potential publishers with ease.  What we don’t know, we learn from others.  The point is…we improve over time and not just at putting words on a page. We become literary athletes and excel in our performance of specific tasks.

Protection from Injury – Remember that rejection letter, horrible review or jealous writer who made it personal?    Writing doesn’t protect you from these initial injuries,  but writing groups and fellow authors often support those who fall down.  I belong to three groups, and all are very supportive.  RWA – Romance Writer’s of America Online Chapter, F-M Word Weavers – A local writing group and this group Writer Zen Garden.  For any of my rejection letters, bad reviews or other slight I may have felt, there was a support group for me.  They helped heal my wounds, cherish my soul and free my creative spirit to move past the hurt.

Yep, I love Yoga, I think I’ll go do some poses to get some of the benefits.





The Importance of Moving Around

Studies have been around for years stating that sitting for long periods can be detrimental to your health. I’ve read that office workers should stand at least once an hour if only for brief minutes. I know it can be tough when there is a constant flood of phone calls or emails, but I suggest setting some sort of unobtrusive timer so you don’t neglect yourself completely.
Maybe a silent running stopwatch on your desktop will suffice. Some time during each hour, make the effort to visit the water cooler or the restroom or even just stand and stretch. Having an alternate standing desk would be ideal, though I don’t know who can afford one for their home, let alone request such a thing from their employer. So move when you can and don’t be shy about telling folks the reason.
Make sure others know you are not slacking on the job. Tell naysayers that a brief respite from the computer screen will not only benefit tense muscles and strained eyes. In fact, physical movement engages the brain differently. Maybe you’ll see a new solution to an old problem.
As for me, I’m blessed with a laptop that can go from desk to table and even my recently discovered impromptu standing desk. That is, as long as the cats aren’t using it…

Healthy writing! Do you have any suggestions?

Alan Watt’s “The 90 Day Novel”

I’ve been fortunate to have a warm, safe place to share both my writing successes and frustrations in The Writer Zen Garden forum. And now my friends there have welcomed me to host a workshop based on Alan Watt’s “The 90 Day Novel”.

A local writer introduced me to the idea. I resisted at first, not wanting anyone telling me what and when to write. That’s how I initially saw this process despite her enthusiasm.

Now, I feel totally different.

The fact Mr. Watt quoted Julia Cameron near the very beginning of his book decided me that this is the right time for me to embark on such a quest. Alan Watt truly shares Ms. Cameron’s gentle approach to getting folks creatively working. Granted, he wants his students writing two hours a day minimum, but I feel comfortable with “The Artist’s Way” approach of just doing what I can.

We shall see how I fare as the next three months come to a close. Right now, it’s getting me on the page daily. And that alone is worth the price of the book.

Is there anything getting your creative juices flowing these days? Please tell us in the comments.

Writing Tools and Tricks for Getting on the Page

Wisdom abounds about writing goals – so many words written a day, keeping certain routines, having accountability.  Many kindly authors will share their valuable tips when asked.  Yet each individual is different.  To this day none of these ideas have worked for me.
Once the glorious bustle of November’s National Novel Writing Month ends, so does my grand output.  Good habits fall by the wayside and my output trickles to little or none.  I don’t necessarily even wallow in editing.  Some of my novel manuscripts have remained untouched since the day I met that year’s NaNoWriMo goal.
This time I wanted to continue the joy of storytelling beyond November.  So far, I have.  As you can guess it hasn’t happened through goal setting, at which I’ve never been particularly good.  Nor have I set a particular routine.
The madness in my method seems to tie more into what many experts suggest to help break a habit.  I’ve shaken things up this time.  Routines are being broken.  Times, locations, even methods have been altered according to whim.
No longer do I feel the need to get my writing done early in the day.  The day is far from over by afternoon or evening.  Why not save the best for last?  Yet if I wake with inspiration from a dream, I may certainly get the words down before they’re lost.  The words may be recorded in a notebook, Microsoft Word, or the Scrivener software I recently purchased.
I also have been writing out some character and setting sheets in Scrivener, adding more topics as I go.  I usually just carried details around in my head.  Besides cementing a few characteristics, I’ve found myself learning new things about my fictional peoples/places.  And it’s been a pleasure getting to know them, whether those details make it into the story or not!
As for one huge change, I went to some write-ins during NaNoWriMo and blessedly got invited by some nice folks to year round gatherings.  I’ll be going to one tonight, in fact.  I just have to decide which project I’ll open.  Edit the latest novel or write something new?
On that note I’ve also rekindled my love of short stories.  Somehow, they seemed inferior to novels.  How could I consider myself a writer if I wrote tales under a few thousand words?
I seemed to have forgotten some famously beloved short story collections.  And as several wise folks have told me: the fact I’m writing makes me, by definition, a writer.  I hope you’ll join me and dive into whatever speaks to your heart.

Happy Writing!

Writer Wednesday – Using the Tools

Tips and tricks abound to aid the creative process.  I’ve become familiar with some very clever ones, often through the warm and wise counsel of accomplished author Catherine A. Noon.  She introduced me to the multi-talented Julia Cameron, for example, who has an entire side career dedicated to inspiring fellow artists.  Another gifted friend reminded me just this morning of some grand ways to hush the inner critic (Thanks, E!).

Unfortunately, I’ve discovered a recurring failure to utilize these tools.  However much sense a plan makes, my good intentions somehow evaporate.  Why?  I think I’ve pinpointed a reason.  Buried in my psyche, a notion seems to persist that good writing materializes like a rabbit out of hat.  It’s supposed to be magic.
I do believe that art has magical properties.  Without it, existence lacks a sense of hope or wonder.
An important thing to remember about magic, though, is that David Copperfield didn’t really walk through the Great Wall of China.  Criss Angel can’t actually levitate.  They’re illusionists who put countless hours into manipulating the willing minds of an audience.
Performers on any stage workto entertain us.  Why should writing be any different?  The answer: it’s not.
Julia Cameron summed up my quandary in a line from “Finding Water”.  To paraphrase, my ego wants creativity shrouded in mystery.  This snooty persona thinks that artistic pursuit is somehow above punching a time clock.
Today I defied this snob by setting a timer.  And you know what?  Thirty minutes dedicated to storytelling didn’t feel constrictive at all.  The added paragraphs gave me a sense of accomplishment even if the critic still sneered at the low word count.  So what?  I can set the timer for another thirty minutes when this post is up.

What gets you on the page, stage, or wherever you wish your art to flourish?  I hope you’ll find the time to get out there today and do it.

Monday with Aunt Noony – and a Fireside Chat with Kimberley Troutte!

My friend, Kimberley Troutte, is up for several awards and I wanted to chat with her about the awards process and how it fits in with the rest of her writing. She was kind enough to take time out of her busy schedule to chat with me. Grab a cuppa and join me as I get to talk with Kimberley Troutte!

ACN: Kimberley, you said you received word that your manuscript, Epicenter (also called Her Guardian, His Angel), is a finalist in the RWA contests Launch A Star AND the Melody of Love. You also have a second manuscript, God Whisperer, in the finals of the Hot Prospect contest. First, congratulations! That’s awesome news!

Can you tell me a little more about Epicenter?

KT: I would love to. Epicenter, is the dramatic story of an American philanthropist and a Haitian doctor who are fighting to save lives when the greatest earthquake Haiti has ever known rips their world apart.

ACN: How did they get considered for Launch a Star and Melody of Love? Is that something you had to submit, or were you nominated? How does that work?

KT: These are writing contests in two different RWA Chapters (Romance Writers of the World). I entered online, paid my fee and kept my fingers crossed. Preliminary judges read all the entries, score them based on predetermined scoresheets, and determine which entries are good enough to move to the final rounds. I was honored and thrilled to hear that I was moving to the finals where agents and editors determine the final standings of the winners.

And the nail biting begins…

ACN: Is there a contest fee?

KT: Yep. Usually around $15-35 USD.

ACN: How about God Whisperer? What is that about?

KT: It’s the story of a mother and her eight-year-old son who are hiding for their lives in a Danish community in the hills of California when the boy becomes famous due to an ear surgery that allows him to hear God.

God Whisperer is near and dear to my heart. I wrote it because my little boy was born without an ear canal or eardrum in his right ear. The outside of the ear looked normal (albeit a little smaller than the left) but he had no hole! Very rare. The amazing surgeons at UCLA recreated his ear, drilling the hole, making an eardrum from his own tissue, and lifting the bones so that they could pick up sounds. It was a miracle when my boy could hear out of both ears for the first time in his life and I wanted to pour that love and miracle into a book.

ACN: How did it get selected for Hot Prospect? Is that something you did on your own, or were you nominated? How does that work?

KT: I entered it in the online RWA writing contest. I was so pleased that it was a finalist in the single-title category that I cried.

ACN: What made you want to be considered for these?

KT: I’d be lying if I said I didn’t hope to win :-), but mostly I entered these contests looking for answers. I had made huge revisions to the beginnings of both manuscripts and wanted to know if the changes worked.

First chapters are hard for me. I tend to revise them several times before the book is ready. I always worry that I might be starting in the wrong place, or in the wrong point of view, or including too much backstory, or…

The questions I hoped that the judges would help me answer were:

  • Would readers be hooked enough to want to invest their precious time to read on?
  • Am I clear—not too much backstory but enough information so that the reader is not confused?
  • Are the character likeable?
  • Is the plot interesting?

I was thrilled to pieces to see that the preliminary judges liked my first chapters, OMG they really did.

ACN: How do you find contests fit into your writing process? Is it something you do out of enjoyment, or is it part of your overall marketing strategy?

KT: Contests give me a chance to see where I am succeeding and falling short so that I can improve my story before other readers and publishing professionals see it. I always keep in mind that judging is subjective but if two judges touch on the same weak point, it probably needs to be changed.

ACN: What advice would you give to a writer wanting to start out competing? Where would a person start and what strategies could you recommend?

KT: I would recommend going to the RWA [Romance Writers of America] website. There are all sorts of contests for the unpublished and published alike and you don’t have to be a member of RWA to enter. Make sure you read the rules carefully and email the contest coordinator if you have any questions. I would choose a contest that offers judges feedback so that you can learn and grow from their advice. And remember that it is a subjective process. All judges, just like readers, are not the same. I have had one judge love the chapter while the other disliked it rather intensely. That’s the way it goes sometimes. If you are willing to put yourself out there and enter with an open mind, determined to use the contest as a tool, you should be able to learn something from it.

ACN: I wish you every success and, regardless of whether you win, you should be proud for having entered. That takes guts and I’m sure proud of you.

KT: Thank you so much. I am in a place of happy shock. I’m so grateful that judges gave up their time to help me become a better writer. It’s such a gift.

Write on!

Kimberley Troutte

On Blocks and Other Frustrations

Have you ever set a goal for yourself, like, “I’ll finish this story by X date,” and then realized your mind’s gone blank?

Yeah, me too.

I wanted to have the next chapter of The Night Is a Harsh Mistress today, and set that as my goal.  Then, when I sat down to write, my mind went blank because I worried about whether it will be any good.  Rather than fight the goal, I figured I’d chat about what works for me for getting around it.

First, be careful about what goals you do accept.  If you know that setting your expectations can tend to block you, then be selective about what goals you do try to struggle for.

Second, set small goals for doing the work.  For example, try using a timer and set it for 30 minutes.  Even if you just stare at your computer for that 30 minutes, (and no cheating on Facebook or garbage surfing), see what happens.

Third, if that doesn’t work, try sitting with your journal for a while.  Write about why you don’t want to work on your goal.  Write all the nasty, petty, complaining little putsy comments that you can think of.  Sometimes, just getting them out there can help.

Fourth, try something else.  If you have another craft, like knitting, do that for a bit just to get moving creatively.  Or, try a blog post, like this, for example.

Fifth, give yourself permission to fail.  By the time it got to be dinnertime, I realized I wasn’t going to get the chapter done today.  Instead, I decided to be honest and write about my block, and in the process, came up with some ideas for how to get around them.  It doesn’t make my goal happen, but it does keep me moving in the right direction – and that, in and of itself, can help you.

Above all, remember we are all imperfect beings.  It’s not about the goals you accomplish, but the journey you take along the way.  As they say, you win some, you lose some.  Just keep moving forward and you might be startled by how many you start finishing.

Happy creating!

Why Big Goals Don’t Work – Baby Step Your Way To Success

Every so often in writer circles, there is talk about goal-setting and success and word-count and other such lofty things.  I repeatedly hear writers moan, “My word count is too low.”  “I need a kick in the pants.”  “THIS month it’ll be different and I’ll write a NaNo length manuscript.”  (NaNo refers to the National Novel Writing Month held every year in November; more information at their website.)  What these goals fail to do is offer a workable way to achievement.  They’re not bad goals, exactly, just ineffective ones.  Why?

The secret lies in why we don’t write more.  The common misconception is that we don’t write because we’re lazy, or because we’re doing other things, or because that other person got there first and there’s just no use, or because all the good stories have been told and there’s no space for us and our stories.  The reason is rarely because we are physically incapable of writing.

I’d like to tell you an anecdote.  A professional friend of mine, under deadline for a novel (and her novels are over one hundred thousand words each), became very ill.  After hospitalization, she returned home and was given the wrong medication.  She nearly died.  Her ability to sit up at a desk at all was gone.  She could not type.  She could hardly see the monitor in front of her face.

What did she do?

She typed that novel, word by painful word, with one finger.  Tap.  Tap.  Tap.

If that doesn’t blow any excuse out of the water, I don’t know what will.

What’s the lesson there?  When we have large projects in front of us, the only way to accomplish them is by one bite at a time.  One does not eat a chicken by stuffing the whole thing in one’s mouth.  One has a nibble at a drumstick.  A bite of wing.  One eats the chicken, slowly, swallowing each bite before going on to the next one.  So, too, with writing a novel.  One does not sit down in one sitting and write a novel (unless under rare circumstances).  To have sustainable growth, one gets into the habit of writing a small amount, each day, which add up to a completed manuscript.

Next time you have the opportunity to make a large goal, why not try taking a step back and set a small one instead?  Maybe, “I’ll write 3 pages a day.”  Or, “I’ll write 1,000 words a day.”  Or even, “I’ll write 3 pages today.”  See if that unlocks some of your potential and gets you onto the page.  That way, at the end of the month, you won’t be one of the writers who laments, “Wow, I had such high hopes for this month but… [fill in the blank].”

Tap.  Tap.  Tap.

Write on!

Writer Wednesday: Business Cards – Do You Need Them?

At a recent writing group meeting, one of the members asked me, “Do I need to get business cards?” It’s a good question, and it deserves a good answer. And that answer is not, necessarily, “Yes.”

The first question to ask ourselves is, “Do I want business cards?” If the answer is, “Yes,” then my answer is, “Then go get them.” If we really want them, then why not get them? That would imply there’s something wrong with having them, or a worry that we might not be important enough to have them. That’s nothing to be concerned with, because there’s nothing bad that will happen if we have a business card. There are no Business Card Police that will come and arrest we if we have one.

The next question to ask ourselves is, “Why do I want business cards?” What do we want to use them for? This leads to a philosophical question, what is a business card to be used for? It’s something we can give to others so they can contact us. The minimum we’d have on a card is our name and either a phone number or an email address, or maybe just a website. But it’s unlikely we’d give someone a card with no way to contact us and just a pretty picture and a quote (though if that’s what we want on our cards, then go for it).

Once we know why we want them, for networking or to promote ourselves, the next question is easier: “What do I want on my business cards?” Here are the obvious ones:

1. Our name

2. How to contact us (be it a phone or an email address)

Here’s the less obvious string attached to those two questions: do we want to protect our “real” identity and use a pen name? If we want to protect our identity and don’t yet want to do the work required to launch a pen name, then it’s perfectly permissible to put only our first name on the card. Be prepared for folks to be curious, but all we need to tell them is “This is what I’m comfortable sharing on a business card right now.” Most folks will accept that answer. Using whatever name they were given when they met us will lessen confusion. If we go by “Bob,” then using our internet handle of “Wicked Dog 41” will confuse people. Putting “Bob” and then “wickeddog41@yahoo” works, but make sure that folks can figure out who the heck gave them the card. Otherwise, it loses its effectiveness as a way for them to contact us – which is the whole point of the card to begin with.

The less obvious question is a little trickier: “What else do I want on my business cards?” These can include:

1. Our website, if we have one

2. Our blog(s)

3. Our Facebook or Facebook page (if we do this, get a unique username and use that instead of the alphabet soup Facebook uses in the beginning)

4. Our Twitter name or names

5. Our LinkedIn profile

6. Any other online presence that we’re part of

7. A description of who we are an what we do; for example, “Writer,” “Author,” “Creative Designer,” “Web Programmer,” etc.

8. Some folks I’ve seen use #7 as an opportunity to put something funny or offbeat, such as “Cat Wrangler” or, simply, “Geek.” If that fits with the image we’re trying to project, then by all means, put that too.

The next question is, “What happens if I have these cool cards and then change my mind about what’s on them?” No problem. We can print up just a few cards, if we decide to do them ourselves with templates from Avery or another similar provider; we can also get cards from somewhere like Vista Print and that’s only 250. Worst case scenario, they go into a drawer or we get creative about changing them (handwriting the changes or even printing up labels to paste over the parts that have changed).

And the big question: “What if I’m not published yet? Can I still have cards?” Of COURSE we can. What’s the purpose of a business card? So people can contact us. We will make friends and connections on the journey to being published, and presumably, those folks would like to continue to contact us. Giving them a way to do so just makes good sense socially – otherwise we have to handwrite it, and maybe on the back of one of THEIR cards (how embarrassing, no?) Plus, if our handwriting is out of practice because of all the internet usage and typing that we do these days, it’s probably safer to give them a nicely-prepared card rather than an illegible scrawl.

There’s no reason not to get ourselves business cards and, with a little thought, we can have fun and create a card that reflects ourselves and becomes part of the entire presentation of ourselves. Like resumes, clothing, websites, and blogs, they are simply a reflection of ourselves to the world. The more thought we put into how we want to do that, the better.

So, the next logical question, now that we’ve cleared out the “why’s,” is “How do we get business cards?” The next thing to decide is, “Do we want to do them ourselves, or buy them?” We’ll take them one at a time.

If we want to make them ourselves, we can use Microsoft Word or a similar program, or something like Adobe InDesign. I’m going to make the assumption that Word is the software most of us have available, so I’ll explain how to use it. Inside Word, there are templates for Labels; inside that list are a number of pre-made templates for popular business card manufacturers. The ones I use are Avery; 3M and other manufacturers have them as well. Under older versions of word, go to the “Tools” menu to get to the label function; under the new version go to the “Mailings” tab and click on Labels.

The labels you purchase will have a number associated with them; find that number in the list and select it. Create a new document and edit it from there. We can add graphics or fancy type if we want to; however, remember that it’s more important that it’s legible than fancy. If we use a fancy font for the name, then make sure we use a simple font for the email addresses, phone numbers, etc. Make sure the person to whom we give the card can easily get a hold of us.

If we prefer to buy cards, a great place to start is Vistaprint. If we keep our eyes peeled, Vistaprint runs regular specials for 250 cards for free. They offer a number of color schemes and graphics. There’s less flexibility than doing your own designs, but they offer a good way of designing the cards and coming up with a quality product. If we choose to, we can also load up our own graphics instead of using the free templates; doing that will cost a little more can simplify the process.

Whatever we ultimately decide, remember that all of this is to support our writing process. As we make contacts in the industry, and make new friends, business cards can help us build our network. The more thought we put into that, the better off we are. Don’t be afraid to experiment and change cards as time goes on. Nothing is set in stone; it’s okay to have trial runs. After all, the card is simply a tool to facilitate communication.

Have fun!

Wiley Wednesday: Life After NaNo

Those of us who have done NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month) share one thing in common, whether or not we actually completed our project or not: there’s a sense of let-down after November is over, a feeling of “what now?” Rest easy, writers; you’re not alone. There are others out there to play with, other projects to tackle, and other crazy goals to set.

A great place to look, even if you didn’t do NaNo itself, is the “I Wrote a Novel, Now What?” section on the main NaNo site. It has several sections useful to writers of all stripes:

Revision Advice – After the draft is done, the editing begins. There are as many ways to revise as there are to edit, and this section features excellent suggestions to make the process less painful.

Revision Pep Talks – never underestimate the power of a good pep talk! Marathoners and long-term Weight Watchers can tell you, attitude is everything; a good pep talk can help give you a well-placed attitude adjustment.

NaNoWriMo-style Events On the Horizon – I love this section! It is comforting, particularly in the first and second weeks of December, to find that there are others out there doing what you’re doing – or, in some cases, doing WAY more. There are blog-everyday-for-a-month people, editing people, and NaNoNotNovember folks. This is a great place to come to get ideas about where other writers hang out, and what you can do to keep up the madness of NaNo. Momentum’s a beautiful thing.

Novel Writing Contests Without Entry Fees – This is a great way to test your mettle. Many contests out there do not require entry fees and this is a place to find many of them. Not all of them are for novels, either – the Writer’s Digest “Your Story” contest is 750 words or less – a great way to prime the pump.

Some Thoughts on Publishing – This is a very useful section. Rather than pimping for the publishing industry, it contains links to some excellent advice sites, particularly helpful for avoiding scams.

More OLL Goodness – Last, but not least, this is the place to come to find out what else the crazy folks at the Office of Letters and Light (the organization that brings you NaNoWriMo every year) are up to.

Bottom line, if you love to write, there are others out there who love it too. Even if you don’t have an in-person writing group in your very own town, with the internet, you don’t have to. Writers all over the world connect and support each other every day. What are you waiting for? Get out there and write!