When You Face Resistance as a Writer

Does anyone else ever feel like all hell breaks loose once you set a goal?

Recently I determined to spend a minimum of two hours each day on my novel. Since then my computer broke down and I was required to order a new one. We had “smoke week” here on the coast from the fires in the western states and this agitated me to the point where we needed to get a purifier. Some rearranging happened in our house which took up a lot more time than I expected. My husband became sick, so I tried to “nurse” him. I became sick, twice, and required a doctor’s visit. Family issues cropped up. In the middle we had the awaited “Throne Speech” and the looming threat of a federal election in Canada. And of course there was no end of strife south of the border, as I followed the news and political developments.

I also became aware that my other “work” interferes with my creative process. I am now working on a way to resolve this.

Upheavals in our lives and unsettled business constantly rob us of creative energy.

Some years ago I learned to give credit to the “stressors” in my life. Not surprisingly, I didn’t even know that certain things caused me stress. I ignored and minimized other stressors and this resulted in a kind of cognitive dissonance.

We’ve often heard the saying, The truth will set you free. It is a quote from Jesus Christ. It is remarkable how helpful a good, honest look at our situation can be.

We’ve also heard, “The trouble with being deceived is that you don’t know you are deceived.” We can’t deal with a situation when we don’t understand it. There are times of seeking and then there are times when all we can do is wait for the light.

In my case, my light came through a friend, some years ago, who loaned me a book on stress. I think it was called Pressure Points: How to Deal With Stress, by Don Osgood. Osgood talks about the fact that acknowledging stressors can be a significant key to overcoming stress. I highly recommend his book.

When I give proper credit to the stressors that impair my productivity, I actually have more peace. There are things that make it difficult to clear space in my head for writing. It is as though, by giving them a nod, they settle down.

Naming the problem has a way of reducing its power over us. Even positive stressors like a wedding in the family, or a vacation, or the Christmas Season can drain our resources.

When my children were young I learned to immediately acknowledge their distress. This made them feel cared for and removed the need for whining and nagging.

In my work with mentally challenged adults I took a Behavior Modification course which taught me that if I failed to be consistent in one instance, I could lose years of progress made with a client. I practiced consistency with my children and this made them feel secure.

We all need consistent validation and reassurance. We need to feel secure.

Since we don’t want others to minimize or ignore our needs, we should not be ignoring or minimizing them either. I find that at times I have to picture myself as the “other” in, “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.” We are often kinder to others than we are to ourselves.

Don’t ignore. Don’t minimize. Life is what it is. Acknowledge and work your way through it. Have a little faith that you will find yourself in a place beyond this that may be better.

Many times we don’t understand the seasons in our lives. Certain periods are characterized by unique circumstances. One season passes and we find ourselves in a new place, which requires adjustment. It may be retirement, or an addition to the family, or a child leaving home. The best we can do is be “faithful” and consistently apply ourselves to the next thing that requires doing in our setting.

I read a hopeful blog this morning at Another Slice, entitled Follow the Sun. I look for encouragement wherever I can find it. There is light at the end of the tunnel, I remind myself. There is a way and we will find it by persisting in the face of resistance.

Persistence may look different than we imagined. It may mean first taking care of things that get in the way and then returning to our writing. Think of this as a pause, not a stop. Or it may mean acknowledging and then ignoring them, so that we can write.

I heard a touching story that encouraged me in a strange way. We are living in challenging times and things can get worse. What if they do? How will we manage? Things may get worse before they get better. Some things will not get better this side of eternity. I think of this when my doctor says the word “degenerative.”

The story I heard was of a man who was in a concentration camp. Each morning the men in the barracks rose before sunrise and walked miles in every kind of weather to the place where they put in a long day of back-breaking labor. He and his comrades received almost no nourishment and many succumbed. The man noticed that when the guards saw someone stumbling and failing, the person was shot on the spot. Realizing this, he knew that if he wanted to survive he needed to appear strong and capable. He decided that each morning he would get up and shave. He was a survivor who lived to tell his story.

Each day we have to do the equivalent of shaving–the thing that tells us we are strong enough for what this day may bring. I may not be able to control what happens in my life, but I can maintain my dignity in my trial. This will serve me well in accomplishing my goal.

My New Computer Arrived Yesterday

my new computer is not available for use, yet. my husband, thankfully, is setting it up for me.

i use scrivener for my writing files. we were able to get a 45 percent discount on the updated version, but had to hunt down a receipt, take a screen shot, email it to scrivener, have them send us an official receipt, then apply it to the purchase which was done directly through scrivener since the apple store does not handle these kinds of discounts. finally we were able to install scrivener this morning.

before my husband can transfer my projects he has to convert them to the new scrivener format. this requires cleaning up all my back-ups, of which for some reason i have multiple copies. he then creates a new back-up folder in dropbox to separate the old back-ups from the new ones. i’m sort of following what he’s doing. it’s in these moments that i really appreciate the man i am married to.

in preparation i condensed my scrivener projects. you probably don’t want to hear about this process. i still have fifty projects. that’s projects with folders and files.

by tomorrow, i’ll be on my new computer. yay.

in case you are wondering how i got caps in my title, i did it by using caps lock. however, this doesn’t work for punctuation marks or symbols.

A New Look

This week I updated my blog and gave it a new look. After about a decade, I figured it was time for a change.

If you have been following me over the years, you may have noticed that I’ve moved away from my focus on the craft of writing. This blog will still feature my writing. I’ve posted a few links to books I’ve self published on Smashwords.

Publishing on Smashwords has been a learning curve. If I sell a book for $4.99 Smashwords takes $1.49 in fees, so it’s a pretty fair deal, considering that they place my books on Apple, Amazon, Barnes and Noble, Library Direct and other sites. Having said that, I’ve only earned 9.80 USD so far! But I see this as a place to start. I was so excited when I received a very positive review for Skate With Me on the Barnes and Noble site (See sidebar).

I’ve had about a thousand downloads, so at least my books are getting some distribution.

What I’ve learned over the past years is that I just have to keep at it. Keep doing something in the area of writing. I’ve tried a lot of things. I’ve had my ups and downs.

I may still post articles about writing, from time to time, but I also plan to write some thoughtful articles about current events and social issues. I use tinafriesenwriting to post personal articles.

I will write more about my process and where I am at now in another post.

 

 

 

 

What to Write About – Leave a Legacy

I don’t very often talk about content in writing. In fact, I don’t believe I’ve touched on this subject before.

There are messages out there that need to be shared. A few questions I always ask myself:

1) Am I the one to speak about this?

2) Where/to whom do I talk/write about this?

3) What is the best format/presentation method/platform?

5) Is now the time?

I think for awhile Facebook hijacked my ideas in the sense that it was where I posted short scripts, rather than blogging them or writing a book. As writers we need to determine what specific message we are to make a priority and write about. After this we determine when and where and how we will deliver the message.

This morning I read a couple of blogs I follow. I noted this in one blog: The Russians, for their part, wanted paralyzing chaos and to destabilize the United States politically — Mission Accomplished, Ivan. This blogger posts political content and adds personal commentary. The reason I chose this quote is because I see a lot of material these days that is causing destabilization and I think as writers this is something we could respond to. I would add that Russia does not get all the credit for chaos and destabilization.

Another blogger I follow, who is an inspirational writer of poetry, confessed today that she is actually a “political junkie” on Twitter. She deviated from her usual form and wrote about being moved to tears by a mother who lost her son this past week when a passenger plane was shot down over Iran. She felt the need to draw attention to the plight of Iranians at this time.

I hear from more and more people who are distraught by what they see around them and want to speak out. Don’t allow your voice to be silenced when you have a conviction that you need to speak. Some things need to be said, even if there are repercussions.

Although our privilege to speak freely is being challenged, today, silence is not the answer. Wisdom is.

Count the cost. Be courageous. Be considerate. Be prayerful. Think through what it is you want to say, then choose your words carefully.

I read this recently:

Neutrality helps the oppressor, never the victim. Silence encourages the tormentor, never the tormented. The opposite of love is not hate, it’s indifference. – Elie Wiesel

As writers we have a very significant role. We communicate a message that has the potential to influence others. We pass on information. We help people look at things from different viewpoints. This can be encouraging to some while it is threatening to others. Once again, I do not believe the solution is for people of good intentions to remain silent.

What is your motivation? Why do you write? I am encouraged when I see writers who aim to achieve good in the world. As we have seen, there are those whose motivation is less lofty.

In deciding what it is we want to say, it is also helpful to know exactly what it is we are doing. One person may want to document their journey. Another may want to give a commentary, or an evaluation. Some write to teach and share information. Others feel the need to alert people to current events or developments.

Occasionally people write cathartically, as a form of personal therapy. Some want their words to soothe and heal and bring comfort. Others write to entertain with wit and humor.

Our personality will incline us in a certain direction. A few people have expressed a sense of “call” to communicate a specific message or to deliver it in a very specific way. It is difficult to pinpoint exactly what sets us writing but I think it’s safe to say it is interest and concern.

Whatever your content, whatever your style, I encourage you to contribute. Your voice is unlike anyone else’s voice. What you have to say matters. Together we can work towards creating a more insightful, more caring and more peaceful world. We can address some of the chaos and hopefully bring a greater sense of stability. Let’s leave behind a legacy for those who will follow. Your voice could be the one someone has waited for.

Organizing for Writing

As writers we are always collecting material. I have file boxes full of notes. Numerous computer files. Bookshelves of books. My brain is constantly coming up with new concepts to write about. New angles. New stories. I can’t possibly keep track of them all.

Between my electronic notes and files, and my physical files and notes, I sometimes am overwhelmed with all the resources I have collected. It’s as though an avalanche of ideas is always coming at me and I don’t have time to sort it all and to prioritize it.

I received the book Big Magic: Creative Living Beyond Fear, by Elizabeth Gilbert, from my son for Christmas. He knows I am a creative type as I dabble in art and music and writing. Incidentally, I finally found a template that works for featuring my photography online. You can view it at LensArt. What I was going to say is that Elizabeth Gilbert sees inspiration as a sort of entity of its own, like a “spirit” that makes an entrance into our lives and beckons us to follow it and create something. She also says we can’t sit idly and wait for this sort of inspiration to knock on our door. We grasp it when it does, but in the meantime creativity needs to find us busy working.

As I’ve already said, my problem is not that ideas don’t come to me. On the contrary, there are too many ideas competing for my attention. Too many projects I’ve started, and so many more I want to begin. My problem is more in the area of effectively working with my ideas and not losing them.

I’ve finally come to the conclusion that it is alright to have all of this evidence of raw writing material–files upon files, books upon books. For too long I compared myself with others who were not writers and who didn’t have this semi-organized chaos, and thought I needed to be like them. Then one day I observed that other writers did indeed have the same challenges I have in dealing with endless resources. I wasn’t some odd sort of hoarder. I saw that writers need a lot of material before we put pen to paper. We need lot of exposure to other sources. We end up doing a lot of gathering and collecting.

If only I had someone to help me with the task of sorting, organizing, storing and retrieving. What a luxury that would be.

In the early church there were theologians who had sponsors who enabled them to write because they provided them with scribes or secretaries and often paid their living expenses. I read about one church father, I believe it was Origen, who had seven secretaries at one time. Imagine that. In this way he was able to write reams of material.

Of course, back then all of it was done by hand. At least I have the advantage of a computer which, compared to handwriting or using a typewriter, is an incredibly useful tool, taking numerous hours off of my writing time. I don’t miss the days of pulling paper out of my typewriter and erasing.

Like most writers, I continuously face the tedious task of documenting my ideas and organizing and prioritizing them, without the aid of a benefactor or the assistance of secretaries. I’ve had to train myself to be alright with a bit of chaos when too much focus on cleaning up my reference materials takes energy away from actual writing. 

There is a sort of dividing line I need to be conscious of, an imaginary line dividing the past from the present. It separates the collected material from the collections I am working with.

When I write, I pull items forward from the past into the present. Some of my collected material is no longer relevant. It needs to go. Other material must be accessible, not lost in some slush pile–namely, a place from which it is never retrieved.

From time to time I need to go back into the past and remind myself of what is there.

Memory is an amazing thing, the way it retrieves information. But my memory  occasionally needs a little help and so I go back and review what I’ve written and stored.

I am determined to continue to work at implementing an effective organizational system. An effective organizational system is one where I can utilize material that is helpful and retrieve it when I need it.

Currently I sort documents into broad categories and sub-categories on my desktop, in Scrivener, in my email program (I email links to articles to myself), in online bookmarks and in my physical filing cabinet. I use Google Keep to take quick notes when ideas come to me. I have to consistently work to keep ahead of the clutter and remain focused on what it is I want to write.

Organizing is not an end in itself.  The result I am trying to achieve is to free up more time to write and to become a better writer. Keeping this in mind helps to protect me from what could easily become an obsession–organizing.

My Happy Place as a Writer

...ok, I didn't buy it.

For a long time I searched for my Happy Place as a writer and I didn’t find it. The reason I couldn’t find it was because I needed to create it. I needed to understand what this place is made up of. Most of all, I needed to identify the core of my motivation.

Writing can be a lonely, thankless venture. For about five years I have been in the process of establishing myself as a writer and I admit I am still far from where I plan to be. But I am exactly where I want to be right now because this is the place from which I move forward.

Right now I have a great deal of experience, raw material, writing resources, ideas, and visions of possibilities for the future. With each day that passes I accumulate more writing aids and grist for the mill. This is a good place to be. 

Five years ago I quit my job and began to work diligently on my writing. At that time I gained a lot of momentum as a writer. However, a year later I went back to work at two consecutive jobs. All the while I kept having a gnawing feeling that I was to focus on my writing. Finally I submitted my resignation. (I don’t recommend quitting your job unless you are convinced in your heart that this is what you are to do.)

The past two years have been riddled with doubt and confusion as I vacillated back and forth between staying at home on a reduced income and going back to work again. After repeated rejections from agents and editors I contemplated giving up fiction writing altogether. I over-analyzed and second-guessed myself after numerous blog posts with virtually no reader response.

I admit I have yet to regain the momentum I had during the first year before I went back to work. However, the time in between has not been wasted and I have gained many valuable insights.

Little has changed around me, but something has changed inside me. I have embraced the messiness and the beauty of where I am today. I have accepted what I have, and even what I don’t have.

I made two decisions which are moving me forward.

One, I am motivated by love. I write because I love people. I want to inspire, encourage and entertain people.

Two, I want to write.

I can write anywhere and on any subject. I may write comments on social media, or messages and emails to friends, or notes on birthday cards, or I may write in my journal. The success of my writing does not need to be measured in terms of financial profit. I write because I love people and because I love to write.

I am truly grateful for each writing resource I have studied, each note I have taken, each creative line I have written. I am grateful for all that has brought me to this place where I am today and all that will influence my tomorrows to come.

If there is one thing the past months and years have taught me it is this: Writing is a struggle and it will always be a struggle. That is why it is so critical to know why I am writing and who I am writing for.

My future success may not come in the form of a published book. In fact my future may look much like my past. I’m OK with that. I now see intrinsic value in what I am doing from day to day. I am in my Happy Place.

 

Orienting Your Reader

I am currently on holidays in Manitoba for a month, visiting family and attending two weddings, as well as my mother’s eightieth birthday celebration.

While I am here I am also trying to carve out some daily time for writing. This is more easily said than done. I don’t have an internet connection so doing research presents a challenge. But the library is not far away.

Recently a friend loaned me a book I wish I had known about years ago. It is Dwight Swain’s Techniques of the Selling Writer. If I had studied this book early on, it would have saved me countless hours of editing I am now required to do on my novel.

Techniques of the Selling Writer was published in 1965 and reads like a college textbook, so you have to be prepared to plod through it, but it is well worth it. It has more practical advice than any other book I have found. I would say it is a must read for every beginning novel writer.

Like the old saying goes, “You don’t know what you don’t know.” We all have gaps in our knowledge and we don’t know what they are. As I read Techniques of the Selling Writer I recognized many of my gaps. It was thrilling for me to learn why some things I was doing were not working and to find out what I could do to improve my story. I am not yet finished the book and every time I pick it up I learn something new.

One thing I learned was that with every scene, and particularly in the beginning of the story, it is important to orient your reader. Give your readers a sense of time and place. It sounds simple, and maybe you have always done this. But I looked at my story and went, at what point does my reader realize that the story happens in Portland, ME? It was way too long before this became evident.

Also ask yourself, what time of day is this incident happening, and then slip in a clue. Sometimes you make a clear statement like, It was six o’clock, on Friday, March 6. But more often you’ll probably say something like, Sally dried the last of the dinner dishes. Or, The sun was sinking behind the trees as he turned into the driveway and saw Jayne sitting on the front step with the twins. Earlier you have clued the reader in to the fact that your lead character looks after the twins every other weekend.

Think about seasons too. Is it cold or hot with humidity? You could state, It was January in Chicago. Or, maybe the month isn’t that important and you simply want to give your readers a sense of the weather by saying, He wrapped his woolen scarf around his neck as he bent his head against the wind and blowing snow. Here is another example, Dark clouds loomed in the sky. Maria slapped a mosquito on her arm as she sat down on the grass and opened her lunch bag. The reader knows it is noon, there is the threat of rain and it is warm enough to sit outside on the grass without a coat.

Our readers will appreciate this small consideration. It will help them to relax and get into the story. If we tell them early on, then they will not feel jolted by information that came too late and didn’t match their assumptions. After you do this for awhile it becomes second nature.

If you are serious about writing, I encourage you to pick up a copy of Techniques of the Selling Writer. I’m sure you will make some surprising and helpful discoveries.

Why do you write?

Recently I had someone ask me why people blog. I explored a few blogs to see what other writers are saying. If I were to sum it all up I would say we write for two reasons: ourselves and others–we want to give something to others and we want them to give something back to us.

We want to share ourselves and have others do the same. You tell me your story. I’ll tell you mine. We are looking for subjects that resonate with us and we are looking for people who get it, or get us.

I enjoy creating and discovering meaningful dialogue. I feel rewarded and even excited when I read a blog where someone expresses a thought succinctly or uses language in a way I would never have thought to express myself.

It happens in comments too. I don’t think we give comments enough credit, not only from the reader’s perspective, but also as writers who comment. A good comment can be as skillfully crafted and insightful as the blog itself. Comments are reflective responses that allow us to see how readers received what the author of the blog wrote. They are also an opportunity for creative dialogue.

I guess I am just plain fascinated by how people think and communicate. Some are all compassion and understanding; others are aloof and intellectual; still others are agitated and insulting. Why? What is it in their experience that makes them react this way?

I was facilitating a discussion group this weekend and had an amazing opportunity to watch in person how people interact with each other. One of the participants started out by clarifying that she is a “thinker” and not “emotional.” She didn’t like to be “told”…. Another participant immediately revealed something very personal, hurt from the past, and shared how he was willing to risk being vulnerable. I appreciated both of their openness. But I noticed that the other people in the group were more responsive to a third person, a song writer and performing artist. I think years of experience had taught her how to anticipate the kind of response her words would generate.

In blogging we are looking for a response. How do we get people to talk about what matters to them? Of course, we want to talk about what matters to us, but if we are not tuned in to others we can actually impede communication, as happened with the two examples I gave.

Some bloggers are naturals. They have discovered not only what others want to talk about, but how to get them talking. We love to read their blogs. They are the writers that tend to get picked up by publishers.

I love this writing journey. I love the blend of experience and thought and communication that makes each blogger unique. I think this joy of discovery is the reason I blog. Why do you blog?

What I learned from the NaNoWriMo process

The first two weeks of National November Write Month went better than expected. I managed to keep up with my target word count, more or less, or at least catch up. But then we ran into a bit of a crisis at work and my job had to take priority, with extra hours and more responsibility. Life happens.

I was in an educational program once where I had four hours of classes a day and a lot of reading to do. I don’t read very fast, and I underline and make notes at the back of my book. That’s what those nice empty white pages are for, in case you didn’t know. It’s great to go back and find the highlights of your reading at a glance.

But what I was going to say is that I had to pace myself. When I started the program I didn’t think I had the health or the energy for it. But I learned that if I devoted five hours a day to reading I managed to stay caught up. And there was no getting behind, with that amount of material to cover. After I finished my reading I would work on my papers and presentations.

With NaNoWriMo, I tried to use the same systematic approach. I had a target of 1500 words a day. Some days I was not able to do as much, but I could not allow myself to get far behind. On weekends I would catch up.

I tried not to do a lot of editing. The idea was to get words on a page.

I would have liked to be able to continue, but I value my health more than sticking with a pre-determined plan. One thing I have learned over time is that my life goes better if I pace myself instead of acting like I am super-human. So I looked at the NaNoWriMo project and said, yes, I can put this on hold for now.

The two weeks I spent on it were a lot of fun. While I was driving or cleaning or cooking I would think about my plot, what I was going to add, where I was going, what my characters needed to do, how I planned to put it all together. Then when I’d sit down I had material in my mind to work with. I eagerly anticipated getting at it.

So now I have a 20,000 word start on a new novel. If I do another two week sprint, I’ll just about be at my goal of 50,000 words. December will be a very busy month, so I don’t have high expectations, but I think I will pick it up again in January. If anyone who is reading this has ever accepted the NoNaWriMo challenge, I would love to hear of your experience.

NaNoWrMo

I’ve heard about it. National November Writing Month. Write a novel in a month.

Here is a synopsis from the NaNoWrMo website:

NaNoWriMo is all about using the magical power of deadlines to tell your story. Give someone a goal and a goal-minded community and miracles are bound to happen. Pies will be eaten at amazing rates. Alfalfa will be harvested like never before. And novels will be written in a month.
Part of the reason we organize NaNoWriMo is just to get a book written. We love the fringe benefits accrued to novelists. For one month out of the year, we can stew and storm, and make a huge mess of our apartments and drink lots of coffee at odd hours. And we can do all of these things loudly, in front of people. As satisfying as it is to reach deep within yourself and pull out an unexpectedly passable work of art, it is equally (if not more) satisfying to be able to dramatize the process at social gatherings.

But that artsy drama window is woefully short. The other reason we do NaNoWriMo is because the glow from making big, messy art, and watching others make big, messy art, lasts for a long, long time. The act of sustained creation does bizarre, wonderful things to you. It changes the way you read. And changes, a little bit, your sense of self. We like that.

Doesn’t that sound exciting? Doesn’t it tempt you? Well, crazy as it sounds, I’ve decided to give it a go. I’m sure I’ll learn something about writing during the process. I also want to see if I can do it. After all, Barbara Cartland wrote two novels a month for many years, although I think she dictated them. Trust me, I have no intentions of writing over 700 books.

So, here goes. I’ve signed up. It’s free. I plan to have fun doing it. Anyone care to join me?