It’s FRIDAY!!!!

Ah-h-h … it’s here. Friday, at last. We’re on the eve of relaxation and tranquility once again. Ha!

Nightfall

All during my school years Fridays heralded The Weekend. We loved our weekends and the freedom initiated by Friday afternoon’s final bell. Sympathetic teachers sometimes let us out of class a few minutes early. At least, we thought it was because they were sympathetic. After I became a teacher I realized those early dismissals were more likely their way of accepting defeat. We were restless and pretty much unteachable after 2:30 p.m.

For many employees in the workday world, Fridays offered a similar release — two precious days without schedules, customers or commitments. Or so we liked to think. In reality we often saved up a host of tasks that had been put aside, waiting for the weekend’s promise of ‘free time’.

It’s strange how we procrastinate. No matter the job, there’s always a better time to tackle it or something else we’d rather be doing. While we’re living the nine-to-five shift, raising children, caring for aging relatives, or any other such things, ‘later’ is the carrot we promise ourselves as it dances ahead of us. All those things we hope to accomplish are relegated to an indefinite ‘some day’.

Even in retirement we may be waiting for the perfect opportunity — until suddenly we’re lamenting that time did its strange disappearing act and the once endless days have shortened to the point where we can’t seem to get anything done in a weekend, never mind during the five preceding days.

I have a few projects (I should be honest and admit it’s quite a few!) that are in danger of never being completed because I dawdle about even starting them. Some aren’t much of a priority, so if they don’t get done it’s okay. No guilt there. Others, though … they should be a priority. I need to beat up that nasty Procrastination goblin and send him packing!

Maybe this weekend.

~

What’s one project you’ve been putting off? What’s keeping you from it?

~  ~  ~

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The Writer and An Addiction to Social Media

GoldenEarsWriters

A comment left on my previous post reminded me why I began my venture into social media, AND why I have ever-so-slowly backed away again. Wendy Love said,

I love reading ideas that concur with my own as this one does. As a writer/blogger I keep reading that I have to spread myself all over the internet. But as someone who is challenged by bipolar disorder, I only have so much energy to go around. At one point I cut myself off of everything but now that I am back to writing online I realize I should probably be reaching out more. Can anyone suggest a select few that they would recommend?

Part of my reply: “I began blogging chiefly because I heard the same thing: that to be a successful author you need to establish a tribe…a crowd of online followers. There’s a certain benefit to being part of the social media community, but if we become obsessed with developing numbers to the detriment of our personal growth and writing time, we counteract the value.”

Also detrimental is the subtle addiction to social media. It’s too easy to get hung up on being a courteous communicator — checking online conversations and making sure we reply promptly. One week I discovered I had spent more time trying to react to comments and other people’s articles, and to provide thoughtful responses, than I did working on my own writing project.

Most of my early writing years were spent in cognito as far as any online presence was concerned. I stalked popular agents’ and editors’ blogs while reading ‘how to’ books on the craft of writing. I was in learning mode, and I stayed there until one day the urge to respond to something prodded me into visibility. (I think my first comment was on Rachelle Gardner‘s blog, and I was almost in a cold sweat as I fearfully pressed the SEND key that first time.)

At one point I had well over a hundred blogs and websites bookmarked — all interesting and useful, but, of course, I couldn’t visit each of them every day. A pattern developed, and I found a way to code my favourite, more favourite and most favourite sites. Later I joined Facebook, then also Twitter and Google+, but managed to withstand the temptation of everything else. As I mentioned last week, in conjunction with my blogging, even those few have become too time consuming.

I’ve come to believe that establishing a specific online community is desirable for gathering personal support and industry information, but trying to be present everywhere and “do it all” will eventually drain my energy and shift the focus of my writing towards maintenance rather than creativity. And before having published books to promote, the creative writing aspect is what I need to pursue.

The question of which social media sites are most useful has no single correct answer. I qualify that by adding it depends on what genre you write, how experienced you are, and what your goals are. It also depends on what ignites your passions. I’ll share some of mine in the next edition of my Musings.

I’ve been reading Jeff Goins’ YOU ARE A WRITER (SO START ACTING LIKE ONE). One of his observations struck home:

You know what most of this crazy, social media platform maintenance is? Stalling. Procrastinating the real work you need to do, which is writing. I don’t play that game anymore. I pick a few networks that work for me and I say ‘good riddance’ to the rest. If you’re going to be a real writer, you’ll have to make similar sacrifices.

I hadn’t read that when I decided to jump ship from Google+, but I think he would approve. I’ll be back here on Friday to share what social media I haven’t abandoned and which blogs and websites get the majority of my attention.

In the meantime, in Jeff’s words, “do a little purging and get to work.”

~  ~  ~

Putting the ‘friend’ into cyber friendships

On her blog a few years ago, author Jody Hedlund questioned if our modern cyber world is distorting the meaning of the word ‘friend’. She asked, “How would you define a true friend and can you find that kind of friendship in the cyber world?” I’ve often thought about that question but never really come up with a definitive answer.

“What constitutes a friend in the truest sense of the word? We all value different qualities in our friends. but certainly we can all agree that a friendship must involve a genuine relationship. My pocket Webster defines friend as: close companion. More specifically as writers, we need genuine friends who can encourage and challenge us in our writing journey and we can do the same for them. Do Facebook friends fit that definition? Are they close companions or are they another “list” of people to help us in our quest for publication? For that matter, do any cyber friends live up to that definition?” [Jody Hedlund]

::shifting gears here::

On Friday, June 6, 2008 Joylene Butler published her first blog post. At least, it was the first one that I know about. She had sold five copies of her first novel and was moving to the next step: blogging to promote it and become more visible.

I didn’t know her then, nor had I found her blog when I began my own three weeks later with an initial post on June 28, 2008. My fiction wasn’t published yet so I had nothing to promote, but I was following the trend to be prepared by developing an online presence in the writing community.

There were no comments on my first post, just as there weren’t any on Joylene’s. We were newcomers in cyberspace.

CG&JBI don’t recall how I found her blog. Something in the mysterious realm of cyberspace drew us together. There was a post that November about eagles ‘fishing’ among the ducks on her lake that caught my attention and prompted me to respond with a comment about the goose who nested atop a beaver house in our marsh. Later in November she left a comment on my blog, and as our exchanges continued we discovered we had a lot in common.

When her second novel was being released I interviewed her on my blog. At some point she read and critiqued a story for me. Mostly, though, we’ve just played the role of encourager for each other. She has her own long-standing circle of writer friends and I’m involved in a writing group of my own.

We interact online regularly but we’ve met only once. She lives about 900 kilometres from me, but we managed to arrange a rendezvous when she came south for one of her book signings and I was visiting with family in a nearby city. When she answered the door that day I felt I was being greeted by an old friend.

::returning to the original question::

Friend? One who can encourage and challenge? Hmmm.

JB2Joylene and her husband went to Mexico on November 1st and are renting a casa for the winter at Los Arroyos Verdes in beautiful Bucerias. It’s a place that obviously agrees with her. But two weeks ago she posted about how she had fully intended to set up a strict writing schedule and finish a WIP while there, but so far hasn’t managed to write much at all. You can read the post here, but she concludes, “It’s disheartening to realize I’ve turned into one of those well-meaning persons who can’t get anything done past getting her nose burned.”

Dozens of people have left encouraging comments for her that range from, “I don’t blame you for being distracted. I’m sure you’ll settle back into writing soon,” to “Enjoy yourself and don’t worry too much about the productivity side of things,” and “Keep the faith. You will get there.”

It’s comforting to receive this kind of response, but I’m starting to wonder if any of us were being true friends in offering those consoling virtual pats on the shoulder. Maybe we should have been saying more challenging things like, “It looks gorgeous there. Take a day or two or three every week to soak it all up, but be sure to honour your desire to use a portion of the time for finishing that manuscript (or starting another if that’s the direction you’re led). If you don’t, after six months away you’re going to be cross with yourself when you get home.”

What do you expect from your cyber relationships? How would you want a friend to react when you were avoiding the very thing you normally loved to do — the writing that you promised yourself (and all of us!**) you were going to do during your several months of free time?

If I actually said that to Joylene, would I be a true friend, or just a nag?

Joylene writes suspense thrillers … has two published, with two more in the works, and has a story in a recently published collaborative steampunk anthology.

After reading this she’ll probably write me into her next story and kill me off!

~

 

** I will gain momentum soon and begin a routine of writing and blogging and whatever else I promised myself I’d do while here. The right schedule will arise in short order. In fairness, my internet connection has been terrible and I’ve had to stifle my impatience. Which also means I’ve had no excuse for not writing. That will change. I pledge to finish my current WIP, Shattered and to smooth out any clinks in my Vietnam political thriller, Kiss of the Assassin.” [Joylene Butler, Blog post: November 17, 2014]

~  ~  ~

A Writer’s New Year

The last candle on the Advent wreath has been lit. We’re half way through the Twelve Days of Christmas and coming face-to-face with the New Year.

There are so many bloggers posting about New Year’s resolutions that I hesitate to even mention the subject. Every year I tell you that I don’t make resolutions because I can’t face the idea of setting myself up for failure.

photo 3

But the year is almost over. This is my last post of 2014, and it feels like I should be sharing something of significance, especially since this is also my 965th post since I began here six years ago. 965!!! The trouble is, six years of blogging hasn’t necessarily been the valuable learning experience I expected.

It’s given me lots of practice, but amassing quantities of words doesn’t produce quality writing any more than long hours practising an incorrect tune on the piano produces the perfect song. Repetition simply reinforces a habit, bad or good.

During Sunday’s sermon it did my heart good to hear my son-in-law say he likes Mondays because no matter how badly he might have ‘screwed up’ the week before, Monday provides a clean slate, an opportunity for a fresh start.

You’ve heard me say many times how much I like Mondays, too, and I like the New Year for some of the same reasons. I don’t have to make a fresh start, but the opportunity is there. Of course, before the desire to do so takes hold, evaluating the status quo has to happen. That’s what the year end is for.

As writers, how do we evaluate the status quo?

  • Has our life changed for the better? Each of us will have various standards against which we measure our progress, improvement, or achievement. In each case, however, forward momentum is desirable. If we’re still in the same place we were at this time last year, still going through the same motions and offering the same explanations and excuses, we’re likely stagnating.
  • Are we satisfied/content with what we’re doing? Success can mean different things to different people. While some of us might daydream about a lucrative publishing contract, even if that were possible, the reality is that few are ambitious enough to put in the required effort. And that’s okay. Just because a person loves to write doesn’t mean being on a best sellers’ list has to be the destination. There are many outlets for creative writing, from composing letters of encouragement to shut-ins, to creating online devotionals or how-to articles. Discovering our niche and taking pleasure in it is a worthwhile achievement.
  • If a published book is our goal, are we taking appropriate steps to make it happen? Have we studied the craft of writing and what the constantly-changing publishing industry requires? Are we writing regularly, finishing what we start, getting our work critiqued and/or edited, researching and querying effectively, building a platform? Or are we only online, reading blogs, talking about writing and enjoying the social media experience? (Hey, I’m happy you’re here, but I know how easy it is to hop from one site to another and get nothing else done.) 

As writers, how should we move into the coming year?

  • Understand what’s needed to achieve desires and goals. If we’re already under contract, there are expectations and guidelines. Some will have specific edit deadlines. We need to have a realistic understanding of how many words we can produce or revise in a day or week, and the working conditions we require to meet those deadlines. Idealizing isn’t our friend. We need to know our abilities and limitations.
  • Stop procrastinating. A writer’s worst nightmare is procrastination. Yes, some of us work faster when we’re under pressure, but the resulting stress and long hours of work can make us crazy. (People think we’re a little crazy to begin with, but we don’t need to fuel their delusion.) If we’re waiting to finish a character sketch, or complete some research before we start writing, we may never get beyond that stage. We have to push out of the rut and get going… get the first draft done. There will be time later to revise and develop the story, but there’s nothing to edit on a blank page.
  • Become a list-maker. Don’t indulge in vague goals. Itemize specific plans on paper, put the list in a visible place, and check off tasks as they are accomplished. Seeing the results materialize will help boost our morale and fuel our drive to do more.

Notice how I haven’t mentioned ‘resolutions’? They don’t work for me, but that doesn’t mean I won’t continue to move ahead with my writing goals. Desire and intent are great motivators as long as they’re combined with action. 

What’s one thing you want/plan to achieve in 2015?

~  ~  ~

“Procrastination is the art of keeping up with yesterday.”

[Don Marquis]

~

“Turning pro is a mindset.
If we are struggling with fear, self-sabotage,
procrastination, self-doubt, etc.,
the problem is,
we’re thinking like amateurs.
Amateurs don’t show up.
Amateurs crap out.
Amateurs let adversity defeat them.
The pro thinks differently.
He shows up, he does his work,
he keeps on truckin’, no matter what.”

[Steven Pressfield]

~  ~  ~

Some days are more conducive to writing than others. (Or are they?)

Bitter wind rattles the windows and flings icy pellets at the glass. The rhododendron leaves are curled into themselves, huddled against the cold. It’s wild and wintry outside … a good day to stay home, turn up the thermostat and catch up on the writing we’ve been meaning to do all week.

Cold Snowflake

Of course, it’s also a good day to do a bit of Christmas baking. Or finish cleaning the bathroom. There’s too much to do. We’ll have more time to write in the New Year, after Christmas is over.

But perhaps New Year’s Resolutions will make fitness sessions and the gym more of a priority, (Of course I’m talking hypothetically here! You know me better than that!) so we’ll take a breather and get back to writing next month … or in the spring. Well, after the garden beds are dug and seeds planted. Oh, but there’s always summer to look forward to … all those lazy vacation days with endless opportunities. In the summer the excuse becomes the heat. It’s too muggy to stay inside and write. Better to take advantage of the sunshine and opt for gardening, or vacationing, or enjoying some family time at the beach. When the fall rains start there will be time enough to stay inside and write. We won’t talk about the changing colours and crisp autumn afternoons that will tug us outdoors for walks.

From what I’ve seen, successful authors don’t procrastinate. When there’s writing to be done, they write. But when being interviewed, it’s interesting to hear them describe what they consider ideal writing conditions.

*

Darkness has enveloped everything beyond the window. The family room is lit only by Christmas lights, the fireplace crackles and the room is cosy. Lyrics of a winter song come to mind: “Oh, the weather outside is frightful, but the fire is so delightful, and since we’ve no place to go”–we might just as well write, right? Except it’s too cosy, too comfortable. I’m content to stare into the flames and let my thoughts wander.

I think it’s time to grab a mug of black coffee and take my laptop into the office where the room is cooler and distractions are minimal. It’s time to get down to work and make the most of the next hour.

What are your ideal writing conditions? Is there one season or situation that’s more conducive to a productive writing session?

~  ~  ~

Procrastinating on Snow Days

BlogBlankWe had a friend, Nel, who maintained February always had at least nine sunny days.  She wasn’t a meteorologist but relied on her memory to substantiate the claim. When we started paying attention, it seemed as if she was right. February might be too soon to plant or mow, but nice days often had us outside, cleaning winter debris from garden beds and planning spring projects, like power washing decks and cleaning gutters.

Not this year. This February tossed winter fury at us by way of sub-zero temperatures, bitter windchills and — this past weekend — more snow. For easterners this wouldn’t be unusual, but we BC west coasters are offended! Enough is enough!

Snowy Squirrel

It was still snowing when I went to bed last night, but I think… I hope… this week’s rising temperatures will soon be melting our six inches of heavy snow into puddles and mud. It’s not that I like mud, of course, but it’s an inevitable forerunner of springtime, and now that the Olympics are over, I have my sight set on spring.

There are plenty of indoor projects that could use my attention, but if I can’t do what I want to do, then I might not choose to do anything. Yes, I’m reading books and organizing a manuscript, and for a writer those are valid, even necessary, occupations. But this ornery weather is putting a pucker in my seasonal intentions. It’s allowing me to procrastinate when I shouldn’t. I think I need to start a list.

I’m being flippant. If I procrastinate, the worst thing that might happen is a few tasks will be put off for another time. Is that a bad thing? Probably not, although it sets a bad precedent. Then again, I’m retired and schedules are a thing of the past, so who’s going to care? I do have a routine of sorts — things I do each morning — but beyond that the day is my own.

Hmm… not entirely true. If I were in charge of my day’s activities, I’d be gardening in the snow today, and that’s not going to happen. Ah, well… patience! The snow will eventually melt. I’ve never met a summer that was chilling under six inches of snow.

Do you procrastinate? Does it matter?

~  ~  ~

Having my say about procrastinating

BlogBlank

“A bird does not sing
because it has an answer.
It sings because it has a song.”

Chinese Proverb

Feed Me

To be honest, I have to admit this colourful male Varied Thrush was not singing. I’m not sure what he was doing — it looked more like a yawn, but it has prompted various potential captions:  “Feed me!!!” “Go find your own perch; this one’s mine.” “Hey, Alice! I’m gonna go watch the SuperBowl with a few starlings, and you can like it or lump it.”

The point is not so much what he might have been doing or saying but more that his mouth was open. Another Chinese proverb says, “A book tightly shut is but a block of paper.” It reminded me that intending to do something doesn’t require any effort, but doing it requires an action. When it comes to reading or writing a book, the action might be nothing more complex than opening the cover, creating a computer file or sharpening the lead of a pencil, but by not taking that simple action, any achievement is doomed.

DSC07413I should have thought of that during the weeks (months?) when I couldn’t face tidying my office! I know it’s related to the words of Chinese philosopher, Laozi: “A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step”, from which we glean that even the most difficult tasks have a starting point. Still, if anything is to be achieved, that single step must first be taken.

DSC07415In my office, the first step came by means of a donated bookcase. I had to relocate an old one to make room for the new. One thing led to another, and soon I was reorganizing the whole room. Making a start set off a chain reaction.

My next writing project has been waiting in the wings. Even though I’m not entirely finished mulling, I think I need something to prod me to open my mouth… open a file… and start letting the words spill out. They’re beginning to clutter up my mind and the only way to remedy that is to begin organizing them on paper.

I’m just not sure what it’s going to take. It’s soooo easy to procrastinate.

What does it take to get you started when you’re procrastinating?

~  ~  ~