How Writers Stay On Task

Business - Not As Usual, That's Life, Writers Comments Off on How Writers Stay On Task
Dec 042011

Writing is hard work, or so they say. Yes, I'll agree with that. The seat of your pants get all shiny from excessive wear and tear and still you often have more work than hours in the day if you're like most writers. If you've done any amount of serious writing you'll probably agree that writing is a whole lot more than just sitting at a computer and pounding out words. It's all too easy to get off track and lose momentum.

Frankly, I'm not sure that most writers can explain adequately what they do.,,,especially when they try to explain how they manage their time.  Because of this, they're often put on the spot trying to explain why they just can't be available to attend to other activities. This drives their neighbors and managers crazy. And it's often a stumbling block when writers try to bid on projects. Anyone who doesn't write for a living just doesn't understand what it takes to do the job.

If you do your own writing at home  – as freelancers generally do – you probably find that your neighbors and managers assume that you are doing nothing but wasting time. They just don't understand that even when daydreaming, or flying a kite, or washing dishes, or whatever, you're probably hard at work trying to earn a living.

Neighbors, seeing you home all day, often assume that you must be independently wealthy – no responsibilities, nothing to do, without a care in the world. Managers with no way to evaluate your efforts beyond the the words they see you put on a page figure you must be wasting time. Neither of them have a frame of reference for the planning, creativity,  molding of ideas that goes into the finished product.

Your neighbors and managers think in terms of what they see. If they see you don't go to an office, return home to do chores, spend free time in recreation and sleep like they do, they invariably think you have nothing to do. Home to most people means personal / free time.

But, frankly, by the time a writer gets to the point where they're typing words, most of the work is already done. 

Be honest now. How many hours do you spend – and what value do you put on those hours – when you're researching, testing and validating and organizing those thoughts that eventually end up on the page? How do you put a value on the time you're wrestling with an idea while attending to the other business of life (like driving your car or doing the laundry) before you transfer those ideas into glowing prose? 

How do you explain that you're actually working? Don't even try. The most valuable word in a writer's lexicon is "No": No, I don't have time to do what you want right now. No, I am not available to… No, I'm busy!

How unfortunate! Because "No" is not a word that works well with creativity A writer's work relies almost exclusively on potentials and a can-do approach. "No" stops creativity in its tracks.

If you work as a writer, strive for balance. Interruptions can be a mixed blessing. Some interruptions help to bring a new dimension to your experiences and give your subconscious a chance to sort out details…but be very careful. Other interruptions do little more than disrupt the creative flow. Words and ideas don't just hang out until you get around to working with them. They come and go in a flash and rarely return when ignored.   

When you do need to employ the No-word, be strong…leave no doubt about what you're saying….but be patient, too. Don't try to explain. Not everyone will understand anyway.. 

Oct 092011

Blogging is a two way conversation – even though it often doesn't feel like it. I've been getting some very nice comments and feeling like perhaps I'm making headway in developing a style and content that has value to you – my reader.

I'm not setting the world afire with my incomparable wisdom and wit. But that's ok, I'm not really trying to do that. Some have asked me how often I update this blog. Honestly, I don't have a routine schedule…I normally try to write something at least once or twice a week….sometimes more, sometimes less. It depends on all sorts of factors in my life right now that are unpredictable.

Others have asked where I get my information. That's a bit more challenging to answer. I've been on this planet for more than 65 years now – seen a few things, been taught a few things, had some successes and made a lot of mistakes, too. I read a lot and pay a great deal of attention to life around me. I've been criticized for being too laid back for my own good. My experiences as a writer working for businesses, newspapers, schools, and others has taught me a great deal about how communications and the media work. And, the Internet has opened many doors to understanding beyond my wildest dreams.

Being a student of philosophy I find myself accepting guidance from such as Rene Descartes who said "Cogito ergo sum"  (I think, therefore I am.)  Beyond that I take joy in the ability that technology has given us so I talk about whatever I'm thinking in the current. time. I figure I'm not the only person who sees things like I do….But, I'm also not hell bent on convincing anyone that I'm right and they're wrong, either. I welcome the opinions of others who may have different views than I do.  And that is primarily where I get my ideas…from others who share their visions and wisdom with me.

There are serious challenges with the internet in general and with blogging specifically when it comes to trying to use these tools to their maximum potential Those challenges fall heavily into areas of relevancy, accuracy and effectiveness. .:

  • I am conscious, therefore, of the importance of maintaining dates on everything in this blog. And, I deliberately seek out the dates on all websites and internet posts. Some believe they should not use dates…They think it gives the appearance of fresh content with less work. .But I believe following this practice we water down the value of the materials we're sharing with each other. I'm highly suspect of anyone who does not think that's important. I don't suggest that we just delete everything that's old. Sometimes that information is critical to our understanding of what''s current and new. But, I do maintain that all information needs to be put into context – that's a whole lot more important than just putting it into sterile databases  Even "evergreen" materials need to be reviewed from time to time.
  • Selection of content is very important. This blog is aimed at being relevant to others who are much like me – normal people living and working in a rapidly changing world. The topics range from topics that I think will appeal to writers (and would-be writers), people who live in condos in big cities like Chicago as well as those who prefer the wide open spaces like you'd find in Colorado and New Mexico. I talk to those who like to work with their hands, do crafts, garden, play music. Occasionally I'll get off on a tangent and rant about injustices and what I perceive as foolishness in our current political and economic society.  You're not normally likely to find out what I had for breakfast or other trivia in my life unless I think it can be useful to my readers.
  •  I get a huge number of comments.  That would seem to be impressive, but I have become more and more meticulous about what I accept and am willing to post on this blog. It's not that I don't value feedback. I love it. But too many comments are shrouded by dummy emails and websites that simply can't be traced. I check out websites and email addresses on all comments. And, I frequently try to respond directly to anyone who takes the time to comment. But if the domain and the email fail or if they lead to places on the internet that don't even remotely contribute to the conversation, then I am not willing to share them with my readers…no matter how wonderful they might appear on the surface. I'm getting a whole lot more selective as time goes on – just a word of warning.
  • Technology and sources of information come and go so fast that we really have difficulty keeping up. It's still much too easy to get stuck sometime in the past with a lot of useless baggage trailing along with us. Some have just given up trying to stay up with changes. I believe that change can be a good thing, and I do try to keep up – but admittedly, I do fall behind from time to time. Broken links, resource pages that have been pulled down for one reason or another need to be cleaned up from time to time. If you find things like this, I appreciate your telling me.

That said, I welcome you and encourage your serious feedback. We're very, very fortunate to be living in a time and place where have tools that make it possible for us to become friends and share ideas and dreams with each other, growing together in spite of how many miles apart we might be. 

Skip the Quick Fix - Feel the Pain

Business - Not As Usual, That's Life, Writers Comments Off on Skip the Quick Fix – Feel the Pain
Sep 222011

I'm  an avid enthusiast when it comes to self-help and positive thinking. There's a lot to be said for both.

But a long time ago I found that there's a lot more to survival in this world than these have to offer.

As a freelance writer and an entrepreneur I've had ample opportunity and lots of hard knocks to test my personal theories. While they may not work for you, I suggest you might want to think about the lessons I've learned.

Positive Thinking Will Get You Only So Far.

That's right. You must be an expert at positive thinking. And, it's important to be able to see the silver lining in all the "challenges" life has to throw your way. But that does not mean that you won't – or shouldn't – feel the pain. When you've given your all and have been beaten down by "the system" or un-ethical practices and practitioners, of course, you're going to be frustrated and angry. If you're not, then I'd suggest it's time for you to go back to Being Human 101.

I've been there. You have, too. State practices choose not to recognize your years of experience and education in your chosen career.and you find yourself forced to start over from scratch.. A co-author steals your share of the royalties from the book you worked on. An unethical customer spreads vicious lies attempting to undercut your credibility and self-esteem. And then there are lots of examples of relationships gone sour because a lover, parent or child fails to live up to our expectations..

They're just some if the many examples of  the kinds of challenges life has to throw our way when we try to accomplish anything significant with our lives. My point is not to make me – or you – feel worse.

The Point Is: Shit Happens, Pure And Simple.

Bad things happen. They hurt.  And, inevitably, for a period of time, even the strongest of us goes into a tailspin – for awhile. But the pain and anguish that results actually are the best possible gifts we can ever receive.

It's true, eventually, you need to look for the silver lining (I'm not going to offer you any magic bullets for that step – I'll lave that for the self-help gurus).. But, before you reach for the latest and greatest self-help book,  it's important to feel the pain – and embrace it. This is where the growth takes place.

If you don't believe me – take that prized house plant of yours out into the sunshine for a breath of fresh air. If you haven't hardened it, you can expect that within a day or two it will become dehydrated and sun burnt. Why? Because it had no reason to develop the survival skills needed to survive the elements. 

If you're a gardener, you've seen this phenomenon play out a different way. You plant marigold seeds one year and get a nice crop of flowers. Winter comes…spring arrives and by mid-summer you discover that you have a whole new crop of flowers that you didn't plant. They came from the seeds of the previous year's flowers that dropped to the ground, weathered the brutal winter months….and, now, much to your surprise, you have the most spectacular marigolds you could ever imagine – far more robust and glorious than you ever hoped for. They are breathtakingly beautiful. The examples of this phenomenon are everywhere in nature.

Or, perhaps you want something a little bit closer to home. When you were a child you probably got chickenpox. Man, that was traumatic, right? But while the pox took you to your knees for awhile, you did come out of it. And, in the end your body developed immunities that helped you avoid even more traumatic illnesses. That same principle is employed when we get inoculations for measles, flue and others…introduce a virus to build immunity. It works.   

But let's get back to that pain and positive thinking as they relate to your business, career and relationships.. 

In the process of embracing the pain you grow strong and confident. You develop and refine new skills that help you to cope. You gradually develop skills that allow you to grow beyond and those skills enable you to move forward ever more confidently who you are, where you're going and new, better ways to get there. Sure it is uncomfortable for awhile. But the ultimate rewards when you finally do start moving toward that silver lining, will be far beyond anything a magic bullet or quick fix can offer.

Writing For Your Loved Ones Is Easy

Writers Comments Off on Writing For Your Loved Ones Is Easy
Jul 272011

Several have asked me how to determine what they should write when they are building their autobiography,  family history, memoirs and such.  

My response is invariably, it depends.

When I was cub writer the first lesson drummed into my head was "nobody cares about you and what you think". But that was journalism where arms-length reporting is essential to maintaining accuracy and integrity. Readers of Editorials, of course, expect interpretation and personal commentary of current events.

Both journalism and editorial writing are very different than the kind of writing you would do if you're writing a book or a collection of your thoughts to leave for your children and grandchildren.

You don't need to worry about meeting all kinds of criteria set forth by the publishing industry. You're not trying to write a best seller.There are no deadlines to meet. You don't need to create characters or plots. You don't even need to worry about whether you will satisfy anyone but yourself and your reader.

Start by getting comfortable with whatever tools you choose – paper and pencil, typewriter, computer – it doesn't matter.

The very best way to start is to imagine yourself sitting in the same room – maybe across the table sharing a cup of coffee (or tea or milk) with your reader.

Simply begin as if you were writing a letter. "Dear Precious Grandchild….", you might begin,  "I have so much to share with you…".

From there you can pour your heart out. The idea is to give your reader a glimpse of all the wonders you've experienced in your life, the lessons learned, your vision of a better world for them. Tell your reader stories:.

  • how did your dad, who didn't even graduate from 8th grade, manage to support a family of 10?
  • what are your most memorable experiences about the vacations your family took out West in the old family Hudson? .
  • what was it like growing up without a fancy toys, a color TV, a cell phone of your very own?
  • what was it like when Elvis Presley or the Beatles first emerged to transform music forever?
  • were you there at Woodstock in August 1969?
  • how did seeing man walk on the moon – the assassination of JFK – affect you?
  • how did you get your first job?
  • what were the most challenging struggles you experienced?

You won't remember everything all at once – unless you've diligently kept your personal journals or diaries up to date. You'll come back many times to fill in the blanks. That's normal. Whenever you recall something new that you'd like to share give yourself plenty of time to relive the memory. You want to include all the suspense you experienced at the time, all the color, the emotions, and how it all affected you.

Remember that collection of photos we talked about in previous posts? As you sort through them, they're sure to jog your memory and and help you fill in the blanks. Include them with the text of your story whenever appropriate.

There are no limits other than what you choose to set for yourself and what you want to share with your current and future loved ones. When people look back into history, or try to learn more about their heritage, they often are disappointed because there is so little in the way of the human experience. Remember, how we learned to memorize dates and names…how how little those all meant because we felt no connection with the people involved? Remember how the Diary of Anne Frank, Angela's Ashes and others grab at our heartstrings? That's what we want to do in sharing our experience with our heirs. 

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