Thursday, January 3, 2019

Goal Setting for the Rest of us

All in all, it's not a bad goal. A good grade shows that the student accomplished the tasks that were set, and should be ready for whatever comes next. Good grades have a practical application, too. They are used to qualify for things like competitive programs, financial aid, and if the student is from another country, bad grades can be lead to being sent home.

Unfortunately, as a goal, shooting for an A is not very helpful, and can make your semester harder than it needs to be.

How so?  Well, in many courses, especially writing-heavy courses like history, literature, or social sciences, grading is very subjective. One professor could give you a B for the same work that would earn a C or less with someone else. There are a lot of reasons for this. You may consider some more fair than others. We'll be getting more into this another time, but for right now, we'll just say that not everything is under your control when it comes to grades.

So should you just give up?

Absolutely not! There are lots of things you can do to perform well in school. The key is to focus on what you can do.

We'll get into these in detail later, but here are some examples:


  • Start your assignments early. It's easy to look at an assignment that isn't due for a month or more and put it off, only to find out that it will take longer than you thought. Start early, ask questions, get help if you need it, get a better grade. 
  • Do a little bit each day. It'll be less stressful, and while it may not look like much at the time, you'll be amazed at your progress. 
  • Ask questions. You may feel weird, but if you're not sure about something, it's always better to ask. If you don't want to put your hand up in class, talk to your instructor after class, or send an email.

 We'll be getting into this topic more later this month here and on Patreon.




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Wednesday, January 2, 2019

How Is Fear Showing Up When You Write?

Photo credit:JEShoots/Pixabay 
Fear can keep almost anyone from reaching his or her writing goals, even if the writer has "made it," and should be past these problems.

Unfortunately, fear is an equal opportunity offender. What is not universal is how it shows up.


  1.  You Never Get Started. Everyone's heard this before: "When the kids get older, I'll start that book..." Another one is "When I retire, I'll get that MFA degree..." There's always something that needs to be done first. While we still have to take care of children and attend to jobs that keep a roof overhead, there comes a point where we have to decide that we do have the tools to get started. We will always have more to learn, but it's ok if it's on-the-job training. Putting off writing, or any pursuit, comes from a place of not being good enough. The truth is, there will always be more classes to take, or books to read. We just have to decide to start, knowing that we won't be experts, but we won't stay beginners if we start.
  2. You Start, But Then You Stop. I get it. Life happens. There's illness, family demands, major events in our lives and any of them can disrupt our daily routines, including our writing. Sometimes, the issue comes from the work itself. Sometimes the story demands research we didn't plan on. Sometimes our notes and pre-plotting don't work as we'd hope. Sometimes, everything comes to a screeching halt. You decide to take a break, and that afternoon turns into a week. A month. Years. Sometimes, we call this "Writer's Block," and while there are many theories as to why this can happen, a common root is a lack of confidence in ourselves as storytellers: "Can I do this? Am I good enough?"
  3. You Start, And You Never Finish. On the surface, everything looks great: thousands of words are written every day, the pages piling up. The problem only arises when it comes time for anyone else to see the work. "Oh, it's not ready," you'll hear. It needs revision, some more research "to clean up a few details," but it's never ready. Oftentimes, this delaying tactic comes from a fear of rejection. If we keep working, we can't be told we're not good writers. If it never goes out, we can't be failures.

The imperfect book that gets published is better than the perfect book that never leaves my computer.― BrenĂ© Brown

The important thing to remember is that each of these ways comes wrapped up in the conventional wisdom of writing: Make sure you're prepared, Take breaks as needed, Make sure to revise and review. I'm not recommending that you jump in, throw whatever onto the page and get it out there regardless, but if you're not happy with writing practice, these could be some places to look for what is holding you back.

We'll be talking more about things like writer's block, as well as things you can do to move past fear. In the meantime, what's holding you back?
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Monday, December 24, 2018

Is Fear Keeping you From Your Writing Goals?

Photo Credit: JEShoots/Pixabay

People will come up to me with questions on writing and publishing. When I ask them about their projects, they'll give me a wistful look and say that "someday" they'll get that book started, or finished, or sent out for publication.

There are a lot of reasons why: Day jobs, family, other responsibilities can all take what little personal time we have, leaving nothing for our own pursuits, including writing. I would argue, however, that if we were honest, the real issue that feeds most of our excuses is fear. The truth is that we have to fight for our time in a world that would take every second from us. If we won't set boundaries that allow us to have quiet time to create, why should anyone else?

This goes for established writers as well as for those just starting out. Consider J. K. Rowling's famous quote:

“Be ruthless about protecting writing days, i.e., do not cave in to endless requests to have “essential” and “long overdue” meetings on those days. The funny thing is that, although writing has been my actual job for several years now, I still seem to have to fight for time in which to do it.”—J. K. Rowling

The quick reaction is to say "Well it's easy for her. She wrote Harry Potter."  The important thing to remember is that once upon a time, she was an unknown who was just starting out, too. She had to wrestle with feelings of fear to stand up and follow through.

It doesn't get always get better after the first few publications, either. Fear can be the nagging voice that tells us that we've fooled people into thinking we could write, that we aren't "real artists."

“The first problem of any kind of even limited success is the unshakable conviction that you are getting away with something and that any moment now they will discover you. It's Impostor Syndrome, something my wife Amanda christened the Fraud Police.”—Neil Gaiman

This can continue even after critical acclaim and several publications:

“I have written 11 books but each time I think ‘Uh-oh, they’re going to find out now. I’ve run a game on everybody, and they’re going to find me out.”—Maya Angelou

So if that deep-down nagging feeling is keeping you away from telling your story, not only are you not alone, you're in with some excellent company. I'll be discussing the sources of our blockages and what we can do about them, but in the meantime, what are your fears? What are they keeping you from?

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Tuesday, August 21, 2018

Trust the Writing Process

I was working with a client recently. We were reviewing a short story she was writing, and she kept asking me if I liked it and what I thought the characters should do next.

I explained to her that she was only just beginning her rough draft, and that she had to learn about her characters first. She was still in the discovery phase of her story.

She understands the concept of multiple drafts. It's just that she is trying some new things and isn't as confident as she'd like to be.

This is a common thing. There's a lot of writing advice out there. A good bit of it is based on solid principles, but writing is not a one-size-fits-all game, and what works this time may not be a good idea the next.

There are lots of techniques to get through the drafting process: Plotting, pantsing, time versus word count, and many others. Ultimately, a lot of the issues we face when writing come down to fear.

I've written about this a lot.

In the case of my client, I advised her to just get the first draft done. Write it with the idea that she doesn't have all the answers, and that the characters she started with may not be the ones that she ends up with. At this point, the story may not be very good, either.

And that's OK.

Write with the door closed, rewrite with the door open. 
― Stephen King, On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft

The important thing is to set aside the fear. Tell the internal critic to stuff it. Get writing.


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Thursday, March 8, 2018

Fear, Writing, and Breaking Through: Jordan Peele and Get Out


Jordan Peele Source BBC/Reuters
In a previous post, I talked a little bit about how fear can stop you from pursuing your writing goals. Since then, Jordan Peele, originally known for his work in sketch comedy, won the Oscar for best original screenplay for his movie Get Out.

Winning this award is of course historically important. Among other things, it is the first time the award has gone to an African-American. It is also the first time Peele had directed any movie, much less a movie he himself had written.

Peele states that he stopped writing the script several times:

I stopped writing this movie about 20 times... I thought it was impossible. I thought it wasn't going to work. - Jordan Peele
He kept going. He worked though his resistance with the material, frustrations with getting the movie made, and a hundred other blocks, both internal and external, to complete the script and shoot the film. Now, there are lots of stories out there that never get the audience they deserve. However, an important take-away from the story of the making of Get Out is no matter how improbable it all seems, follow through and finish your story. You never know where that light you bring into the world will shine.

An award like this is much bigger than me," he said. "This is about paying it forward to the young people who might not believe they can achieve the highest honour in whatever craft they want to push for. - Jordan Peele

 
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Friday, February 2, 2018

Daily Writing Prompt



Today's writing prompt: Write a story about a character's first date.
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Thursday, February 1, 2018

Daily Writing Prompt



Today's writing prompt: Tell a story from your character's childhood. 
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