Eight Thoughts for 2018

I was inspired by Natalia Sylvester’s post on the Writer UnBoxed blog: 18 Writing Lessons to Carry Into 2018. I don’t have 18 profound lessons to offer, myself. I do have eight general thoughts that I will be reminding myself of this coming year in my writing, so I decided I’d share them with you.

  • Just Write. Everyone knows this one, but speaking for myself, I need a constant reminder. Like every other habit of productivity, it only works if you do it regularly. This has been hard for me (I failed at my 10-minutes-a-day challenge last year) but I’m determined to do better. Wish me luck!
    • You can’t wait for inspiration. You have to go after it with a club. (Jack London)
    • Writing is hard for every last one of us…Coal mining is harder. Do you think miners stand around all day talking about how hard it is to mine coal? They do not. They simply dig. (Cheryl Strayed)
    • Show up, show up, show up, and after a while the muse shows up, too. (Isabel Allende)
  • Minimize Distraction. This is a closely linked topic, but a more focused one. For me, a big distraction lately has been Twitter. Toward the end of last year I was posting once or twice a day in the various hashtag writing challenges. It was fun, but took too much time. I’ve cut back on that (now I only do #1linewed), but I could still do better.
    • Work on a computer that is disconnected from the internet. (Zadie Smith)
    • It is doubtful that anyone with an internet connection at his workplace is writing good fiction. (Jonathan Franzen)
    • Writing is 3% talent, 97% not being distracted by the internet. (Anonymous)
  • Find the Right Words. I’m going through my WIP now to bring out more evocative descriptions and clearer action, But at least for my own style, I also want it to be transparent. It should open the window between the reader and the story, without calling attention to itself. That’s going to be quite a trick.
    • Don’t tell me the moon is shining; show me the glint of light on broken glass. (Anton Chekhov)
    • Remember that all description is an opinion about the world. Find a place to stand (Anne Enright)
    • If it sounds like writing, I rewrite it. (Elmore Leonard)
  • Listen. Read the story aloud. Though I do my writing on a computer, I printed my most recent version out and sat with it on my lap, reading aloud. I can’t tell you how helpful this was. I tweaked lots of sentences that didn’t flow right, which I only discovered when I stumbled over them while reading. There were places where things just came together to abruptly, or the rhythm was off, and wrote notations in the margin like “give this more weight” or “needs a beat” or “more reaction.”
    • Listen to what you have written. (Helen Dunmore)
    • Read it aloud to yourself because that’s the only way to be sure the rhythms of the sentences are okay. (Diana Athill)
    • Reading aloud is a vital part of good prose. (Robert McCrum)
  • Focus on the Story. All the literary tricks in the world won’t help if the reader doesn’t deeply care about the story and about the people living in it, and that won’t happen unless I, too, care deeply about it. As I go through the revision process, polishing the form and structure, worrying about pacing and sensory detail, I have to keep the story itself front and center.
    • A story is how what happens (the plot) affects someone (the protagonist) in pursuit of a difficult goal (the story question) and how he or she changes as a result (which is what the story is actually about). (Lisa Cron)
    • No tears in the writer, no tears in the reader. No surprise in the writer, no surprise in the reader. (Robert Frost)
    • Write the book you’re desperate to read. (Keren David)
  • Deny Perfectionism. Sometimes people set such high standards there is no hope of reaching them. This can happen when people buy into the hype that you should never settle for second best, so it’s perfect or nothing. It can also happen when people unknowingly handicap themselves, because if I never accept anything I’ve done as perfect, then I never have to expose it to anyone else’s criticism. Either way, guess what — nothing is done.
    • The old writer’s rule applies: Have the courage to write badly. (Joshua Wolf Shenk)
    • Progress, not perfection. (A principle of 12-step programs)
    • Perfection is like chasing the horizon. Keep moving. (Neil Gaiman)
  • Draft Boldly. This is a more focused version of the last one. I’m revising right now, but there will be drafting in my future as I move on to the next book, so here’s what I have to remember about drafting. Just get the draft done, pushing through to find the story. There will be time to polish later
    • I’m writing a first draft and reminding myself that I’m simply shoveling sand into a box so that later I can build castles. (Shannon Hale)
    • The first draft is just you telling yourself the story. (Terry Pratchett)
    • Every first draft is perfect because all the first draft has to do is exist. (Jane Smiley)
  • Be Wary of Rules. I collect advice like this, hungry for it as a squirrel after acorns, but in the end we’re all just feeling our way along. I’m still figuring out what works for me. The best rule is, do what works for you.
    • There are three rules for writing a novel. Unfortunately, no one knows what they are. (W. Somerset Maugham)
    • Never forget, even your own rules are there to be broken. (Esther Freud)
    • Don’t take anyone’s writing advice too seriously. (Lev Grossman)

What ideas are lifting you up as you go into 2018? What helps you keep going? Share them with the rest of us.

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2017 – Looking Back, Looking Ahead

I have to say there are a whole lot of things I won’t miss about 2017. But that’s mostly relating to current events, nationally and globally, not what I focus on in this blog. So as the year turns, I’m going to take a few minutes to look back on 2017 and look ahead to 2018. Before I do, though, I want to take a moment to say THANK YOU to all the wonderful people who read or follow my little blog, and especially those who take the time to post comments. You have no idea how much you lift my spirits every time.

In looking back to 2017 I collected a whole pile of blog statistics (*yawn*) but ditched them. Instead I’m just going to look at how I did with respect to the goals I set a year ago, and then set new goals for 2018. So here we go!

Looking Back: 2017 Goals

  • Revise my work in progress (WIP): I’ve made very good progress on this front. The book has gone through a whole series of revisions, and is right now in its 6th version and is out to my local critique book for another round of feedback. I still have faith in this project and am pleased with what I’ve done so far, though of course it can always be better.
  • Participate in the weekly WordPress Photo Challenge. I only missed six of the possible challenges this year, and all of my most popular posts were in this category. When I look at the top five, I see a theme of using small, close-up images to reflect on various larger themes:
  • Keep up the Wednesday Words posts related to writing. I missed this one completely. I shifted Wednesday Words to Weekend Words when the Photo Challenge moved from Friday to Wednesday, then it just got dropped. I had a very busy spring with unusually intense work and personal demands, but I’m not finding that excuse very satisfying.
  • Participate in the A-Z Blogging Challenge in April. Once again I posted haiku puzzles, this time focused on topics from fantasy and science fiction. It was a ton of fun, but not quite as successful as the 2016 challenge, and I think that’s because the F/SF focus meant it frustrated some folks. I’ve got a reflection here.
  • Dance at my daughter’s wedding. I was the primary wedding planner, which is one of those demands that led to me dropping the Wednesday Words commitment, but it was TOTALLY worth it, even if I didn’t actually do much dancing. You can read more about it here.

Looking Ahead: 2018 Goals

  • Move forward with my WIP: I plan to get connected to a new group of beta readers online, polish the book to a high gloss, and start querying. At the same time I’ll start working on my next book, so there will always be a WIP to move forward with.
  • Continue participating in the WordPress photo challenge: This is an obvious one, since it’s the thing I did most in the last year and produced all of my most popular posts. I’m going to try to get them all!
  • Participate again in the A-Z blogging challenge. This has been fun twice, and I will definitely do it again. I expect to return to the original plan of haiku puzzles for ordinary words, not the F/SF version. It seems to appeal to more people.
  • Post more on writing: I don’t think I can commit to a weekly post on writing, but I hope I can post more than the seven I did all last year.

So that’s it – my mark for the turn of the year. I hope your year turns well!

2016 Blog in Review

This week’s Wednesday Words is a look back at the past year on the blog, and a peek at the crystal ball to try and anticipate what might be going on here in 2017. First, the look back.

I focused quite a lot on the weekly photo challenge from WordPress this past year. I participated all but six of them (I’ve got the last one of the year all planned, but haven’t posted it yet). These photo challenges have accounted for all of my top five most visited posts of the year:

  • Temporary Beauty, about finding the joy in the tiny, evanescent details of each season and each time.
  • Look Up, about how often we miss the unexpected just because we keep our heads down and don’t look up.
  • Looking for Letters in All the Strange Places, about the delightful challenge of searching for letter forms in the ordinary things around me.
  • Happy Outline Guy, about seeing a prosaic warning cone in a new way and getting a laugh from it.
  • Banister Detail, about the elegant curve at the bottom of the stair at the George Eastman Museum, which captured its grace in a single detail.

Looking back at this list of top posts I see a theme. They are all about opening our eyes to see things in a different direction, or close up, or in a new way. It’s not surprising that a challenge focused on photography would inspire thoughts and images about seeing things in a new way, but it also reflects my way of looking at things through the camera. For instance, I didn’t take any large panoramic photos at the George Eastman Museum, showing the spread of house and grounds, but focused on intimate details like that curve of the banister. It’s just the way I see things when taking photos.

Looking beyond the individual posts, I find that by far my busiest month in 2016 was April, and that was all down to another challenge: the A to Z Blogging Challenge. It was my first time participating in that challenge, and it was overwhelming but a whole lot of fun. I chose the theme of haiku puzzles: each day I had a haiku that referred to a word that started with the letter of the day. Visitors were invited to try to guess the word, and people got every single one. The most viewed letter was B (you’ll have to visit the post to see the haiku, the guesses, and the right answer). The most comments were made to the letter D, which tells me my audience has a scientific bent that makes me really happy.

So, overall, how did I do? It’s useful to look at what I predicted for 2016 a year ago, to see what I got right and what I didn’t.

  • I said I’d have my book revised and polished by now. I don’t. Not even close. I’m part way through the first revision pass, with the help of my critique partners, but it hasn’t been going as smoothly as I hoped. Not because there’s a problem with the writing, but a problem with time. I know, if I made it more of a priority I would be able to find the time, but it just hasn’t worked out that way. I have excuses, of course. Two big ones are that my daughter got engaged early in 2016 so I’ve been digging into wedding planning, and that I took over as chair of my academic department at Monroe Community College in June, a big job that takes a lot of attention. So, yeah. But still!
  • I said I’d do more reblogging and more essays on the blog, and I haven’t really lived up to that. I only reblogged twice in 2016, and both of them were related to gender issues in writing (see them here and here). I still want to do more of this. There are so many terrific blogs out there, I’d love to spread the word! On the other hand, I’ve added a new thing that I didn’t anticipate: Wednesday Words. I put this in because I was worried about losing the blog’s focus on writing. It also pretty much doubled the number of posts I make on a regular basis, which is good for the blog.
  • I said I’d get and give more regular feedback, and this one I’ve lived up to. I found a terrific critique group that meets twice a month to share work and get feedback. These people are good at finding the balance between encouragement and honest criticism. They are quick to point out where I missed the mark, while celebrating the places where I got it right, or mostly right. Or kinda right. (I take my celebrations where I can get them.)

So what are my goals for 2017? I’m going to double down on the first two, that I didn’t get done this time, and then add a couple more.

  • I will push through the first round of revision for my work in progress and maybe get into a second round of polishing. I have to acknowledge that I can’t move ahead as fast as I’d like, but I’m not stopping!
  • I’ll keep doing the photo challenge most every week, missing just a few here and there. The thinking that’s involved in selecting or creating a photo that fits each week’s theme is most of the challenge, and I love doing it. I also enjoy seeing the different directions other people go with the theme each week. There is so much creativity out there!
  • I will keep the Wednesday Words feature on the blog, but branch it out to talking about more than my own writing. It could be a place for some reblogs that have to do with writing, or reviews of books, or general essays on books and writing. Something word-related, every Wednesday.
  • I will definitely do the A to Z Challenge again this year. I have debated what to do as a theme, thinking over all kinds of ideas, but I’ve decided to stick with what was so successful this year and do haiku puzzles again. They were fun to do and garnered a lot of interest, so why not? Maybe I’ll be bored with them after next time and do something different in 2018, but for now, I’m sticking with it.
  • Oh – and I’ll dance at my daughter’s wedding. That’s a great thing to look forward to!

So that’s it – a look back at 2016, and a look ahead to 2017.

How about you? What has 2016 meant to you? What will you preserve into the next year, and what will you toss out and replace? What goals have you set, and how will you go about reaching them?

Happy New Year!

Turkey Soup

turkeysoup

Thanksgiving is good and all that, but for some of us, it’s what comes after that’s terrific: the homemade turkey soup. This is an especially part of the holiday season for my son. He faces some challenges in living on his own, and the turkey soup I make after Thanksgiving was always something he looked forward to more than anything. These days I freeze single-serving portions for him to take home, and several times I’ve also given him a dozen frozen servings as a Christmas present, roasting the turkey breast, wings, and drumsticks for that purpose only. Once I even surprised him with turkey soup for his birthday, but that’s in August so it just didn’t seem right. Around here, it’s the holiday season when the house smells like turkey soup.

If you want to make Mom’s Turkey Soup, drop a note in the comments and I’ll post the recipe. It can be a bit time-consuming, but it’s not complicated or difficult, and it makes a hungry young man very happy.

Posted in response to the WordPress Photo Challenge: It’s Not This Time of Year Without…