Writers create characters and worlds in which everyone does our bidding. Our creations speak the words we put into their mouths, think the thoughts we give them, act and react exactly the way we want them to. We control their every thought, word and deed.
So what happens when we, as creators of a written universe, face life in the real world? What happens when situations involving family or careers spiral out of control?
How can writers keep from getting the blues when the real world wonâ€™t co-operate as nicely as our plots and characters on the written page? How can we keep the dream going in the face of rejection, family crises, health challenges, or endless demands on our time?
After almost twenty novels and twenty years in the business, Iâ€™ve had plenty of experience with the mercurial ups and downs of a writerâ€™s life. Here are some of the thoughts I fall back on to snap myself out of a funk when my world spins out of control.
1. Give up some control and delegate. Maybe your characters can do everything at once, but you physically canâ€™t. Delegate whenever and whatever you can. Things might not get done exactly the way you want, but in the long run, who cares? Ask for help when you need it.
2. Take time for yourself. Find a quiet corner in the house, the garden, at a park–or in drastic situationsâ€”get in the car and escape. Set up a retreat area for yourself. Include a scented candle, incense, soft music, whatever you like. Take a deep breath, quiet your mind, close your eyes, and tell yourself that things never stay the same. Life is in constant flux. Whatever is overwhelming you shall pass. Let it go. Meditate or pray. Visualize the outcome you desire.
3. Exercise. Get moving. Go outside if weather permits. Fifteen minutes sitting in a puddle of sunshine in a corner of the yard or porch works wonders to lift your spirit. Take a walk. Drive to a different neighborhood if youâ€™re bored walking around your own.
4. Know your limitations. When you are down, donâ€™t overload yourself with more obligations, appointments, and deadlines. If a full calendar starts to make you anxious, start saying no. Know how long it will realistically take you to meet your deadlines and leave time for the unexpected things that are sure to come up.
5. Stay in touch. While you are guarding your time, donâ€™t go overboard and isolate yourself when you need people the most. Call an old friend. Talk to those you trust about whatâ€™s bugging you. Get good advice. Help someone else. Volunteer your time in a new and different way. Go out and refill the creative well.
6. Eat right. Notice I didnâ€™t say eat healthy, because you know what works for you. Just remember that caffeine, sugar, alcohol and chocolate might give you a quick lift, but you can bet it wonâ€™t last. You may end up feeling worse than you did before you over indulged.
7. Take action. Decide how you can help yourself and start to take action. Try writing your way out of the blues. Call a friend and talk things through. Come up with as many new ideas for all areas of your life as you can and then start working on the one you like best. Figure out whatâ€™s not working anymore and make changes.
8. Stay positive. With practice it can be done, even if that means saying â€œStop it!â€ to yourself when a negative thought pops up. Donâ€™t dwell upon the past. Set realistic goals. Applaud your achievements. Avoid people who are critical of you and of your goals. If they are family, limit your time with them. If they are your immediate family, speak up and tell them you need their support.
9. Count your blessings. List the people and things in your life that make it worthwhile. Make lists of what makes you happy. List all the positive things youâ€™ve accomplished, list your favorite things, (ice cream, orchids, whatever). List your friends and family and what you love about them.
10. Act instead of reacting: See #7 above again and remember: Life is 10% what happens to you and 90% how you react to it. Pain is inevitable. Suffering is optional. When you feel as if youâ€™re at the end of your rope, tie another knot and hang on.
Hopefully one or more of these thoughts will help if you ever get down. Remember that life is full of endless possibilities. You truly are the master of your own universe.
Jill Marie Landis is the best selling author of twenty novels. Not only is she listed on the RWA Honor Roll, but six of her books have been Rita Finalists. She is a Golden Heart, Golden Medallion, and Rita Winner. Heartbreak Hotel, named one of the Top 5 Romances of 2005 by the Library Journal, will be released in paperback in August 2006. To keep up with her adventures in paradise, read her blog at http://www.jillmarielandis.com/
By Dana Diamond
Excuses are like…well, you knowâ€¦everybody has one and they all stink. Need I say more?
I have many, in factâ€¦excuses, that is.
Iâ€™ll list them, not to make excuses, but, rather, to show you that I have them should I choose to use them…and so you know Iâ€™m not some â€œprincessâ€ with a housekeeper eating bon bons, lunching with ladies whoâ€¦lunch, lounging by the pool, exercising when I feel like it and writing when inspiration strikes.
In addition to my day job (that’s really a 24/7 job) and family obligations, this year, Iâ€™m taking on a lot of new challenges:
– Secretary of Orange Countyâ€™s chapter of RWA
– Writing a monthly article for Orange Blossom
– Weekly blog articles (for your viewing pleasure)
– Contributor to The Writerâ€™s Vibe
And those are just the new professional challenges. Iâ€™m also killinâ€™ myself on the treadmill every night after a full day of work, trying to rid myself of the muffin-top I acquired this holiday season. (Iâ€™m not vain, well, okay, Iâ€™m a little vain. But itâ€™s also for health reasons and, frankly, I like being able to buy my clothes in the kids section. Itâ€™s cheaper.)
Anyway, on top of those new challenges Iâ€™ve added another book a year to my schedule. Soâ€¦every single thing I listed keeps me from my goal of writing two books this year (instead of the one I wrote last year).
Still, I write. And Iâ€™m on track to finish.
So, I challenge you to stop making excuses. Iâ€™ll even help. Hereâ€™s a list of excuses and ways to combat them. I give you Danaâ€™s Reasons Why Notâ€¦
1. My back hurts – Take an aspirin and get a heating pad.
2. My wrists hurt – Get iVoice or Dragon Naturally Speaking
3. My eyes hurt – Get some glasses or the above mentioned voice programs
4. I have to work – Write at lunch
5. I have kids – Write during naps and/or school.
6. I have to clean my house – Boring women keep clean houses.
7. School, kids, and work â€“ Write one page a day. (Anybody can do that!)
8. Aliens abducted me â€“ Surely they have a recording device you can speak into!
9. Stuck in traffic â€“ Get a digital voice recorder and transcribe your work on weekends
10. I have stomach flu â€“ This one may fly, but I admit, I once actually considered dragging my laptop onto the bathroom floor with me so I could write in between retch sessions.
11. I have a computer job and am too tired of looking at a computer in the evenings and on weekends. â€“ Write longhand.
12. I have ten kids and a husband who doesnâ€™t support me. â€“ Divorce him and put your older kids to work for you. (Okay, for the record, Iâ€™m not in that position and that does seem harshâ€¦even to my heartless soul.)
13. Iâ€™m exhausted â€“ Leave youâ€™re laptop on all night and write until you fall asleep and resume when you wake up at 4 a.m. (What? You donâ€™t do that already?)
14. Iâ€™m training for the Olympics â€“ An hour a day, thatâ€™s all I ask.
15. But Iâ€™m Michelle Kwan â€“ Youâ€™re going to win anyway!
Now I ask you, what are your Reasons Why Not? If you post them, I’ll help you beat them.
PS I wrote this last night. Today, I was chatting with my mentor about when I was going to get back to my YA that sheâ€™s been reading along as I write and was left dangling for a few weeks now. (Oh, the shame.) The storyâ€™s suspenseful and I’m leaving her on cliff-hangers, so sheâ€™s, understandably, a little ticked.
So, I give you a few new excusesâ€¦and how my mentor shot them down for me. (Oh, the hypocrisy!)
Mentor â€“ â€œWhen am I going to see that next chapter?â€
Me â€“ â€œI have to finish the final copy of the interview I just did, and then I need to transcribe the minutes from the board meeting this weekend, and then I have a critique project, but Iâ€™ll probably finish that by the end of this week and then Iâ€™ll—â€
Mentor â€“ â€œDana, you can do one page a day.â€
(Dude, I hate it when sheâ€™s right! Love you, Mentor!)
PPS I am still on track, damnit!
Before you read on, please note that I am and have been guilty of these unhealthy habits. Letâ€™s just dive in and get the pain over with:
1. Write to get published
2. Spend more time talking about writing than actually writing
3. Believe excuses as to why you never have time to write
4. Need the approval of others whether it is a contest judge, a “get-published-quick” seminar or a critique partner
5. Say â€œif I finish a bookâ€ instead of â€œwhen I finish the bookâ€
6. Canâ€™t keep your behind in the chair, or worse, play online Mah-jong for “inspiration”
7. Give up too early
Write to get published
I know what youâ€™re thinking. But trust me, I know what Iâ€™m talking about. Early in my career I was chasing my own tail by trying to write to sell. Bad idea. I should have been writing to uncover my voice. This realization happened after I had finished a book that I intended to sell as a category romance. Did it sell? Hell no. Did I want it to? Well, not really because it just didnâ€™t feel right. Not that thereâ€™s anything wrong with category; it just wasnâ€™t me. Thatâ€™s when I realized that writers don’t get published because they created a story that fits the new trend everyone is buying. They are chosen because of their voice, their unique way of looking at and making sense of the world.
So how do you know when youâ€™ve uncovered your voice? Two things. First, the story is true when it is so honest that someone could get hurt, or threaten to disown you.
Second, the writing is like typing an email to a friend … but with more drama and a liberal use of SpellChecker. I know the characters are real when it feels like they’re talking through me. By the way, that doesn’t happen all the time and it often happens when I’m doing other things like showering or feeding my son. However, in revisions it is much easier to tap into what I imagine is an underground river of words. Which is why I race as quickly as possible through the first draft so I can get to the good stuff.
Spend more time talking about writing than actually writing
Thatâ€™s self explanatory so letâ€™s move on.
Believe excuses as to why you never have time to write
I donâ€™t buy this excuse. Sorry if I offend, but Iâ€™ve had the 12-hour job and I still wrote during my lunch hour and on weekends. For the past six months, Iâ€™ve been a stay-at-home-working mom. I write two to four hours a night (depending on how close I am to my deadline) and eight hours on the weekend. Before you plan to slash my tires at the next meeting Iâ€™ll admit that there are nights when Iâ€™m incapable of spelling my name, much less writing. But I cop to it and Iâ€™m getting better at outlining as well as carry a handheld tape recorder to capture ideas on the fly.
It all boils down to commitment.
Need the approval of others whether it is a contest judge, a “get-published-quick” seminar or a critique partner
This should be called the deadliest habit and this is why I firmly believe that all new writers should not jump into critique groups. Itâ€™s a tough line to walk because you have to hone your instincts and know when your voice clicks. On the other hand, we grow from constructive criticism. Experience has taught me if someoneâ€™s bringing you down, if they make you feel like theyâ€™re shoving a sock down your throat, walk away. I was a lone ranger for many years before I found my critique group just for that reason. By the time I found my critique group, I had three books under my belt.
If I still havenâ€™t convinced you, let me put it this way: how many best selling authors have said that there was someone who told them theyâ€™d never make it? Just about every single one of them.
Say â€œif I finish a bookâ€ instead of â€œwhen I finish the bookâ€
Buddhists train for years, decades sometimes, on mastering the art of meditation, or quieting the mind. First they learn to breathe by counting each inhale and exhale. When you get that down, they learn to treat their thoughts like clouds in the sky and when they start thinking, they learn how to acknowledge the thought but pull away from it. A true master can go into a complete state of non-thinking and slow the breath down to an almost comatose state.
My point is that you take those principles and revise what you say to yourself. When you hear yourself saying, â€œit just isnâ€™t good enoughâ€, or â€œI canâ€™t get it to workâ€, or â€œthat agent wonâ€™t listen to meâ€; acknowledge that you just said that and then turn around with a positive rebuttal: â€œit will be good enough if I work on itâ€, â€œI will get it to work by getting to know my character betterâ€ or â€œsheâ€™ll listen to me if I practice.â€
Canâ€™t keep your behind in the chair, or worse, play online Mah-jong for “inspiration”
Discipline protects the talent. My very first mentor, Ben Masselink, said those words to me the last time I saw him. The book wonâ€™t get done unless you write it. Thereâ€™s just no getting around it.
Give up too early
If you feel like you can’t type one more word, or that your work will never be good enough, think of what Wonder Woman would do. Do you think she’d give up while fighting for our rights in her satin tights? I was rejected 15 times before Hot Tamara sold. And guess what? I got the 16th the day after and the final 17th two weeks after the deal was reported in Publisherâ€™s Marketplace (fools, all of them â€¦ ha ha ha!)
Oh sorry, did that come out?
If I had listened to those 15 rejections, that book would be in my closet and who knows where Iâ€™d be. (Oh thatâ€™s a scary thought, so letâ€™s move on.)
Allow me to leave you with the Seven Healthy Habits of Happy Writers:
1. Writes to uncover voice
2. Makes time to write, rather than wait for the right time
3. Knows an excuse when she hears one
4. Listens to her instincts
5. Erases failure from her vocabulary
6. Exercises discipline to protect her talen
7. Has the courage to overcome and learn from rejection
Before we announce the two runners up and the winner, the Orange County Chapter of RWA would like to thank Mary-Theresa Hussey, Executive Editor for Silhouette, for agreeing to judge this contest! Mary-Theresa is always gracious and generous with her time, expertise and talent to help out our chapter, which is why the Orange County Chapter of RWA awarded her the very first Helping Hand Award.
Thank you, Mary-Theresa Hussey!
And now it’s time to announce the two runners up and the winner. Starting with the runners up first…
The 2nd Runner Up is…
MR. PERFECT by Dana Diamond!
The 1st Runner up is…
ROMANCE HEROES; ALWAYS THERE WHEN YOU NEED THEM by Michelle Thorne!
And now the winner is…
FAIRY TALES DO COME TRUE by Gillian Doyle!
Thank you all for submitting and reading the blogs, and for making the 25 Days of Romance a success! FAIRY TALES DO COME TRUE by Gillian Doyle will be recorded as a pod cast and the link to that will be posted on the OCC/RWA website by Saturday, March 25th.
As a young reporter, I used to whine that my editors â€œdumbed downâ€ my writing when they traded big words for simple ones, broke up long sentences or otherwise made my writing clearer.
Iâ€™ve learned an important lesson since then.
Clarity is never dumb.
Clogged, jargon-filled writing is one of the biggest mistakes I find in professional communications today. The point of all writing is to convey a message. Yet the writing that comes out of businesses, schools and other institutions too often lacks a point, the messages weighed down under awkward phrases.
Take a look at the following sentence: The university seeks an increase in funds for the acquisition of periodicals in the library.
Now look at it this way: The university library needs more money to buy books.
Which one is better?
If you picked the first sentence, Iâ€™m not surprised. You have been trained to think that big words and long sentences sound professional.
In college, professors gave you minimum word and page requirements for your assignments, convincing you that good writing is long writing. That lesson is reinforced on the job, where you face reports and presentations full of acronyms, clauses and paragraphs that never end.
Hear me on this: Long writing does not make you sound smart. Nor does it make you sound professional.
It makes you sound scared.
Jargon and â€œbureaucrateseâ€ force readers to focus on your words, not your message. And when your message is cloudy, you fail as a writer.
Are you guilty of the heavy writing Iâ€™ve just described? No fear. Whether you realize it or not, you already know that simple is better.
Think back to those college days. When studying, did you highlight passages in your text books? You likely do the same thing today when youâ€™re reading annual reports or memos from co-workers. Thatâ€™s your mind telling you that not every single word youâ€™re reading is crucial.
So, why waste time with words and sentences that arenâ€™t necessary? It is better to make sure that every word you write is clear, precise and essential to your message.
Here are some tips to clarify your writing:
Whatâ€™s the message?
Before you start writing, ask yourself a few questions. Who cares about this topic? Why should they care? What is the impact of this issue? What do you want people to do/think/feel after they read your words?
Questions like these will focus your writing on the most important points, which always adds clarity. They will also define your message and help you choose the perfect words.
Write like you talk.
You run into a colleague at the water cooler. She asks whatâ€™s new, and you say, â€œDue to a lack of funding, my plan to acquire an enhanced transportation method will have to be put on hold.â€
Translation: I donâ€™t have enough money for a new car right now.
For some reason, people think that when they put a message in writing, they have to dress it up and bog it down. Theyâ€™re wrong. Writing should sound like you. This is how you establish your voice â€“ your unique view of an issue translated into the written word. Itâ€™s OK to have a voice, even in professional settings.
The key to writing like you talk is to actually talk while writing. Before you put fingers to keyboard, pretend youâ€™re explaining the issue to your mother. Write it that way.
And, yes, the level of formality in your writing should reflect the audience. I would expect you to speak differently to the President of the United States than your mom. But donâ€™t confuse formality with stiffness. You must still be clear, and your writing should still sound like you.
Assume that your audience has little or no idea what youâ€™re talking about; that your memo or report will be the first time theyâ€™ve ever heard of your topic. This is true even if you know that your audience are your colleagues, who are as well-versed and as well-educated as you are on your subject.
When writing, pretend youâ€™re trying to explain this to a group of middle-schoolers. This ensures that you keep it simple, stick to the basics, and avoid the pitfalls of jargon. Define acronyms. Cite studies. Explain procedures and use short words.
I know, I know. The inner Ph.D in you is gasping in pain. How can she possibly show off all those years of college if she canâ€™t use the jargon of her field? Tell her to shut it. Sheâ€™ll be fine once she realizes that her message makes her sound smart; not her words.
Speaking of wordsâ€¦ Shorter is better.
Look again at the two sentences above. We replaced â€œacquisition of periodicalsâ€ with â€œbuy books.â€ We cut ten syllables to two.
You might argue that â€œperiodicalsâ€ does not exactly mean â€œbooks.â€ Youâ€™re right. The point is that you can always find a simpler way to say things. As an added bonus, finding the simple way forces you to be as specific as possible. Thatâ€™s always a good thing.
Get rid of jargon.
Iâ€™ve said a lot about the evils of jargon, which should have been a clue that it would eventually get its own section. Nothing grates my nerves as much as jargon. Amateur communicators think that jargon and overly technical writing makes them sound like an expert. Look how much I know about this! I can spew all these fancy words!
I argue the opposite. Jargon is a camoflauge for a lack of confidence in the message. How do you know if something is jargon? Ask yourself this: Does a reader need a degree in the subject matter to recognize the phrase? Could a reader with no background in this issue understand the word? If the answer is no, find another way to say it. (Again, think about how you would explain it to your mother.)
People especially rely on jargon when delivering bad news, as if the message is easier to take when couched under â€œtech speak.â€ Bad news is bad no matter how you say it. Readers (a broad term for your customers, co-workers, superiors, etc.) will know when youâ€™re trying to pull one over on them, and they wonâ€™t appreciate it. Sales are down? Then just say it.
Take a cue from Winston Churchill. The news from France is bad.
Mark Twain once mused, â€œI didnâ€™t have time to write a short letter, so I wrote a long one.â€
Professional writers know what he means. The hardest part of writing is rewriting, and the hardest part of rewriting is cutting. You spend all that time putting the words down, and then youâ€™re supposed to erase a third of them?
Yep. Writing is cruel.
But if you take it in steps, cutting doesnâ€™t have to be so painful.
Start by looking for redundancies. Do you refer to an â€œadvance planâ€? Just say â€œplan.â€ It means the same thing. How about â€œunexpected surpriseâ€? Arenâ€™t all surprises unexpected? Youâ€™ll be amazed how many of these redundant phrases crop up in your work and weaken your message.
Next, condense or break up sentences. Read your work aloud. If you canâ€™t finish a sentence without taking a breath, itâ€™s too long. Either break it up into two sentences or shorten it. With paragraphs, a good rule of thumb is to not exceed a few sentences.
Finally, change passive to active voice. Not sure of the difference? Letâ€™s look at some sentences again.
Passive: The man was bitten by the dog.
Active: The dog bit the man.
The first sentence is passive; the subject of the sentence (the man) is acted upon. An active sentence is one in which the subject acts upon something else. Turning your passive sentences into active ones will immediately make your writing sharper, warmer and more authoritative.
You can spot passive voice by the word â€œwasâ€ and by the use of â€œingâ€ words. She was dancing becomes She danced.
The proposal was approved by the city council becomes The city council approved the proposal.
Proofread beyond the spellchecker.
Township to hold forum on pubic safety.
If you caught the mistake in that sentence, Iâ€™m impressed. If you didnâ€™t catch it, read it again. See it now? Didnâ€™t know your local government was so concerned with your pelvic health, did you?
Too bad that real-life headline from my first newspaper job was supposed to say â€œpublic safety.â€
Few things can kill your message as quickly as typos. Donâ€™t rely solely on the spellchecker to proofread your work. Print it out. Edit it. Then edit again.
Is that clear?
Â© 2004 Louise Knott Ahern
OCC member Louise Knott Ahern is a freelance journalist and public relations coach who writes contemporary romances. Sheâ€™s the author of â€œOpting Out: A Career Womanâ€™s Guide to Going Home Without Going Crazy,â€ a blog for mothers at http://www.optoutguide.blogspot.com/. She is also a contributor to The Writerâ€™s Vibe (http://thewritersvibe.typepad.com/the_writers_vibe/), a blog for professional writers.
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