Blog Break

Ah . . . summer vacation, a time of lazy days sipping lemonade in a hammock with a good book . . . or not.  Maybe that’s what summer looks like for some people, but not this girl!

I just got back from Forensics Nationals, a super fun but not so relaxing week traveling with another coach and nine teenagers. Needless to say, sleep was somewhat elusive, and despite the best of intentions, I didn’t touch my blog.

Instead, I thought about my blog, a lot, and I’ve come to the conclusion, that I am going to be taking a break from my regular two posts a week. I started this blog and enforced a Monday, Thursday posting schedule with myself so that I would write. No matter what, I would sit my ass down in a chair and try to write something that maybe someone, somewhere would read. It didn’t always happen, but it did more often than not.

Over the past year, I have learned a few things:

  1. I found that I liked it – it was really fun to write, to push myself to think of something to write about. I feel like I found my voice in some ways.
  2. People actually read what I have to say – that, to me, is amazing!
  3. Sharing my writing at first was incredibly scary, but I got over that.
  4. Holding myself to a schedule that forced me to write was important to building my skills and confidence, but even if I don’t write every single day, I discovered I can pick up where I left off. Almost every single “writer” book, says to write everyday at the same time. Perhaps in some sort of dream world that doesn’t include kids, a husband, work, coaching, etc. that might happen, but my writing life is much more fluid than that and that’s okay! I managed to blog and finish a novel using my own process.

With those lessons in mind, I’ve decided to take a blog break. I’ll be posting, well, when I feel like it! I have not decided if I will pick my regular schedule back up this fall or not. I think I’ll decide when school starts.

In the meantime, I will be: revising my novel so that maybe someday people will be able to read that, taking a class to keep my teaching credential up to date, hopefully launching a website for teen writers, and maybe fitting in a quilt or two this summer. I’ll let you know how it goes.

If I can write, I can write . . . right?

This past weekend, I had a two by four hit me in the head again, as life hammered another lesson home.  It’s a lesson that I’ve learned before, but one that I clearly needed to learn again, hence the two by four.

On Friday morning, my alarm went off at 4 am, so I could catch the bus with my Forensics/Speech and Debate team to head six hours across the state of Nevada for our state tournament.  Twenty plus schools headed north from Vegas and the rest came in from the northern half of the state.  There’s not a whole lot in the middle of the state of Nevada, so it really was a “Civil War” type tournament, a true North vs. South contest.

There are seven speech events and three debate events to compete in.  We could enter two kids/teams per event.  Because many of my top competitors had a conflict this weekend and couldn’t go, I took some novice competitors and put them in events in which they hadn’t competed previously in order to fill as many slots as possible.  We practiced, and I felt that since they were solid speakers, they would be fine. They were.  In fact, one novice speaker made it into final rounds in Domestic Extemporaneous Speaking which means out of approximately 50 competitors, he was in the top six . . . statewide.  He ended up placing sixth in finals, but a sixth place ranking at a state tournament is pretty impressive.  In fact, I’d even say its college application worthy.

So how is this a lesson for me?  The lesson is that (drumroll here) . . . skills transfer.  If my student is an excellent debater, then it makes sense that he’s also a good, I mean excellent, extemporaneous speaker.

I have always wanted to write and when I was in high school, my mom encouraged me to write my stories down.  Like many teenage girls, I ignored her and told myself that I couldn’t because what could she possibly know?  I wasn’t good at it, and I knew everything -  sorry Mom.  When I was in college, I finally acquiesed and took a creative writing class.  It was a disaster.  I hated the class, the teacher, and the stories I wrote.  It solidified to me that I wasn’t a good fiction writer.  I could write essays and non-fiction with ease, but fiction threw me.

Last year, when I decided to start writing a novel as well as a blog I had to overcome this hurdle.  I had thought for twenty years that fiction was out of my reach, so it was a BIG hurdle.  To overcome it,  I wrote a short story and a few scenes, and I learned that my writing skills transfer.  If I can write, I can write . . . right? Though fiction requires a different skill set, the basics are the same.  Writing is writing.  This blog has taught me that lesson because I’ve asked myself numerous times over the last year, what is a blog exactly? What is the genre?  It requires skills in essay writing, personal narrative, analysis, how-to writing, fiction and reflective writing.  It requires solid writing skills in terms of structure, organization, grammar, and punctuation.  In writing one to three blog posts a week over the past year, I have worked on these skills.

Though I’ve worked on these skills, I still question myself, wonder if what I’m doing is any good at all or if I’m writing an entire “practice” novel. Many people do, and then I begin doubting myself again which I have been doing over the past few weeks.  My student’s success this weekend reminded me that I CAN do this.   I’ve learned, yet again, that skills transfer.  If he can successfully speak in a debate round and transfer those skills to an extemp round, then maybe I am not doomed to write essays my entire life because at the ripe old age of nineteen I decided that’s what I was good at.

Nobody else (besides my Dad who loved it – of course) has read my fiction, but I have learned over the past year to believe in myself and my writing.  If I can write a blog for a year, then maybe I can write a novel too. I’ve only got about 8000 words to go . . . I can do this.

Writing Strategies to get the Novel DONE (hopefully)

This Thanksgiving season, I’m thankful for this blog.  It has given me the courage to make my writing public, something I have never done before.  It has forced me to stick to a writing schedule.  I’ve posted every Monday and Thursday, except for a few misses here and there, since April.  It has pushed me and even gotten me to believe in myself as a writer. Amazingly, people actually read what I write, and some even comment on it and “like” it.

However, since school started this fall, blogging has taken a huge chunk of my precious writing time during the work week.  During the week, I’ve focused on my blog posts, and then I work on my novel on the weekends.  I’ve turned into a weekend warrior writer, and its killing me.  So far this fall, I’ve had a 10,000 word weekend, a 6000 word weekend, and a 4000 word weekend.  I realize for those participiting in NaNo, this is nothing, but for me, they are exhausting weekends. While I’ve learned that I can produce in large chunks, I have also learned that I don’t necessarily like to.

After I  have a “writing warrior” weekend, I take a break from my novel as I’m drained, and I tend focus on blogs, mine and everyone elses, all week.  This is a problem because my intended little break turns into a big break, and then I need a super productive weekend to maintain my goals and my vicious cycle starts all over again. I’ve decided that it would be much better for me to write on my novel a little bit each day rather than in giant, draining chunks.

This past weekend I didn’t get much written at all because I kept thinking I MUST write 8000 words. I got completely overwhelmed with that amount, so I didn’t writing anything.

Yesterday afternoon as I was not writing and distracting myself with activities related to writing, I was reading an article in Poets & Writers Magazine by best-selling author Ellen Sussman titled “Four Steps to Higher Productivity.” Yes, I note the irony here. Unfortunately the article is not available online as it’s a great piece.  She offers four steps to increasing writing productivity. They are:

  1. Do ten minutes of pre-writing meditation to clear your mind of distractions.
  2. Block the internet – it is NOT ALLOWED during writing time.  Research time is different than writing time.  The internet is a major distraction for me, so I think this one will be helpful.
  3. Write in 45 minute chunks and then take a mandatory 15 minute break before writing again, even if you’re on a roll.  As a full time writer, she is able to repeat this cycle three times a day, five-six days a week.  I can’t imagine having the time to write for three hours uninterrupted each day, but I can try for smaller chunks.
  4. Write daily. I try to write every day, but there are days when I don’t or I just focus on my blog and never write a word on my novel.  I need to be focusing on my big project at this point, and I need to focus on it every single day, not just on weekend marathon writing sessions.

I am going to experiment over the next few weeks and try her four steps.  The first step I am going to take will be to limit my blogging to once a week, each Thursday, with the occasional Monday.  I want to focus on getting my novel done.

Hopefully, her steps will help me do that.  I will let you know how it goes.

UFO’s – UnForgivably Ordinary (please revise)

I currently have ten quilting projects in various stages of completion.  In the quilt world, these projects are called UFO’s, or “UnFinished Objects.”  I think, relatively speaking, that ten is not that many but for me, it’s a lot.  In fact, it’s driving me crazy.  I want to work on them, but I also am really compelled to write, to make progress and someday finish this major writing project I’ve begun.

It’s interesting that in the writing world, there isn’t a name that all writers understand as a collection of partially finished work, like the UFO’s in the quilt world.  If I were to ask any quilter about her UFO’s, she’d know exactly what I was talking about.  She might even, like me, be able to put a number on how many she had stacked on her shelves or shoved in closets or under her bed or, well, anywhere there’s space.

I don’t consider my writing projects “objects” in the same way I consider quilts objects, so the acronym UFO of the quilt world doesn’t work as well for my writing.  I’ve been thinking about what UFO could stand for when it comes to my partially finished blog posts (the ones that I will definitely finish and post someday), or that scene that I had to stop writing to make dinner.

Perhaps a half completed chapter that isn’t quite working could be “UnForgivably Ordinary (please revise),” or that random blog post that started out as a good idea but didn’t quite go anywhere might just wither into “UnFinished Obsolescence.”

Perhaps my favorite UFO for writing would be “Useless Fodder I’m Over” for those pieces that I’ve revised, and revised, and revised, and they still suck.  Those will probably never be finished. I’m okay with that.  I’ll shove those in my orphan block basket.  Then at least they’ll have quilty friends to hang with.

All the rest that I finish will hopefully become, like this blog, “Utterly Fabulous Odes.”

Okay, I’m done.

Forgive me.

Unless, of course, if you want me to keep going, and then I could write a great “Unbelievably Fabulous Opus,” but probably not here on this blog. I’d need more space.

Okay, I’m really done.

I think I’ll go work on one of my quilting UFO’s.  I know exactly what that will entail.

What’s in a blog (or should be)?

In my last post, I concluded that I am a sucker for books on writing, so yesterday I lived up to my label, got up early, poured myself a cup of coffee and read We Are Not Alone: The Writer’s Guide to Social Media by Kristen Lamb.  Her blog is in my blog roll, just to the right of this post if you want to check it out.  I like it.  In her book, she argues that in the current competitive publishing market, anyone interested in writing and actually publishing a book must create a platform to help achieve success.   Even unpublished authors like me, from the get go, should focus on establishing relationships with future readers to help ensure success and sales.  Having worked in sales, this makes sense, and of course, the way to create these relationships is through social media.

As I read, I felt pretty good.  So far I’m on track for just beginning this whole journey in the past few months.  Except for Twitter.  It still scares me a bit, and I reside in the land of the “tweetless.”

I also don’t link all my blogs to my Facebook page or even post on Facebook much, mostly because I’m a mom with two teenagers.  Many of my “friends” are actually my kids’ friends, so I can keep an eye on the lot of them.  (I guess that makes me either a creepy stalker mom or an aware parent – I’ll choose the latter but that’s another blog).  At this point it is more of a parenting tool, not a tool to build my author’s platform, but that will change, eventually . . . hopefully.

For now, my author building platform is this blog, and I’m comfortable with that – one step at a time here.

One of the most interesting arguments Lamb makes is that authors should use their blogs to establish themselves as someone with expertise in their area or genre, even if they’re writing fiction.  To do this, I should blog on topics that relate not just to writing, or the craft of writing, but to whatever my novel or genre is about.  This idea resonated with me.  For example, this blog, so far, has been about writing and my creative process.  This appeals to writers, judging from the comments and traffic I’ve had, but not necessarily to my future readers.  My novel is not about writing; it’s a story, but my posts have been about me and my creative process.  I don’t want to sell me (that’s a whole different business that my husband would probably object to); someday I want to sell books!  I can use this blog to not only talk about the writing of the books, but also about what’s in them.  That makes sense.

In my novel, I use a quilt as a strong thread (no pun intended) between two intertwined narratives, one contemporary and one historical.  I also quilt and have learned it’s an essential piece of my own creativity.  Every time I’ve posted references to my own quilting or quilts in general, traffic on this blog increases.  Interesting!

With that said, I’ll be experimenting with this strategy and writing a little bit more to my future readers on this blog by including a greater focus on quilts, quilt history, quilt fiction – both contemporary and historical, historical fiction and even historical tidbits about mid-19th century America I discover as I research.  I’ll still be writing about writing, my creative process, or anything else that seems relevant because, well, I just like to (even if it may not be strategic).  I enjoy reading blog entries that are just good essays/writing like this one I read this morning, “The Corn Lady of Hillbilly Road,” and I may start writing some of those too.

Obviously, this blog is a work in progress on this writing journey.  I’ll keep you posted on how this new strategy is working out, or you keep me posted!  Thanks for reading.