Category Archives: My Work in Progress

Wordsmith Studio Blog Hop: Writing Challenges, Successes & Strategies – Part 1

I love this sign from Atlantic Center for the Arts, which comes on the heels of a sign asking the public not to venture beyond a point where the center is reserved for artists. c Elissa Field

I love this sign from Atlantic Center for the Arts, which comes on the heels of a sign asking the public not to venture beyond a point where the center is reserved for artists. c Elissa Field

I’m joining in Wordsmith Studio’s 3rd Anniversary Blog Hop, today — responding to a great Q & A about my (recent) writing challenges or successes, and the tools, strategies or resources that help me succeed.10634351_10100112304388454_1141723537_n

Being a little funny, there, calling it a “great” prompt, as I was actually the one to write it. This is the third week I’ve hosted the WSS blog hop for writers, for our anniversary month.

I encourage you to go over and check out the hop. You don’t have to be a member of the writing group to join in. Do jump around and read the various posts. Particularly this week — it would be great if you shared a post with your own writing challenges and your tools or strategies for success. I’ll post links to the hop down below.

But not yet. First, here’s the interview.

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Q & A: My Writing Challenges (or Successes) and the Tools, Strategies or Resources That Help Me Succeed – Part 1

1) What are you currently working on?

My work is split between my business (freelance nonfiction, writing & editing), my Masters (writing and research related to curriculum & learning) and fiction. I occasionally write short stories (have a had a few published, a couple awards — small fry), but spend most of my time on novels. I work toward literary fiction, or what is referred to as crossover or book club fiction — literary fiction with commercial appeal.

I am working on a novel called Never Said (it was nicknamed Wake elsewhere on the blog). It trines between the U.S., Ireland and the Middle East, with one couple’s love affair unraveling a tension of what it is to live “without war” in an era when war touches everything.

As tools go: I use Outlook to block out time for business, masters and fiction, and to keep to do lists with weekly steps that help keep me moving forward in all 3 goals. I share goals with friends and with a life coach, to organize my goals and keep me accountable.

2) In recent past, what was your greatest joy or greatest challenge?

I have been impatient to complete this novel — but it was challenging, as it was the first one I attempted where the idea wasn’t that clear when I started writing. I knew the main characters and understood an essential tension, but had to go deep into research to understand the international context, and then deeper into character to develop the motivation and parallel stories that drive each.

Badge for my personal 2015 challenge with this novel.

Badge for my personal 2015 challenge with this novel.

It’s easy to get impatient when you feel like you should be able to have finished by now (twice, I thought I was revising a final draft), but as I work on this 8th draft, it is obvious that I had to work this long to understand the story that I had only sensed in the earlier versions. A fast version would have “worked,” but wasn’t compelling. Being willing to pull up and start over let me find the real story. And, of course, hard work teaches valuable lessons.

The greatest joy is that I love the newer material.

As resources go: 2 books on writing offered some good tools for targeting and addressing weak areas in my narrative or characters: Ann Hood’s Creating Character Emotions, and Donald Maass’s Writing 21st Century Fiction: High Impact Techniques for Exceptional Storytelling

3) What challenge are you working through now?

Time is always an issue — especially right now, as I restarted my business and am busy with my kids — so any time delays are aggravating. I had a tree fall across my windshield 2 weeks ago, so groaned over the time spent getting it fixed. Same goes for lags in technology, or time spent marketing for work.

It’s not just about having time to write every day, but wanting those writing hours to be end-zone-level productive.

Transitioning between drafts means that I am pulling successful scenes from several documents in Word to build the new draft. Last summer, on the last draft, I did this simultaneously in Word and Scrivener; Scrivener has won me over, so I may be assembling this draft just in Scrivener. Although it sometimes slows me down to have to set up all the preferences, I like the ability to see each scene as a discreet piece in Scriv. Much of my writing in recent months involved re-envisioning existing scenes — the ‘notecard’ view helps me locate, compare or replace previous versions, and to readily sort scenes that will be re-ordered in the final draft. The challenge, though, when working from multiple drafts is staying organized.

As tools go: I believe in Scrivener enough that I’ve include a link to their site in my sidebar. If you don’t know much about the software, click the picture here to check it out (if it takes you to a “buy” page, click the banner for the homepage for more about…). They are generous in offering a 30 nonconsecutive-day free trial, which allows you a lot of time to play with it before having to pay.

Buy Scrivener for Windows (Regular Licence)

4) For work you are just planning or starting, what challenges or growth are you expecting or hoping to encounter?

I’ve drafted novels and met with agents face-to-face before, but this will be my first foray into blind querying. I’ve practiced pitching and spitballing at conferences and workshops in the last year, and gotten an agent’s feedback on a query draft.

As for strategies: It’s worth noting that attempting to draft a query or plan pitches and log lines during different face-to-face activities with peers and agents is part of what helped me know when I didn’t have a clear sense of the story. Writing pitches and queries ended up being a great strategy for understanding my narrative structure.

5) What have successes or challenges in your work (recently) taught you?

Well, the thing I just mentioned. Having come from a literary background where these things aren’t brooded on as much as word choice and such, I was surprised how important plot structure, narrative arc, suspense and other elements more typically suited to screenwriting have been, as tools in my revisions.

As resources go: the sign at the top of this post was from a workshop I participated in last January (Blue Flower Writers Workshop at Atlantic Center for the Arts), where Ben Percy was the clearest I’ve heard in talking about structure and suspense, even in literary writing.

6) What obstacles or challenges have you not been able to overcome, or still frustrate you? Is there a “magic wand” you would invent to solve this problem?

Yes, I want Hermione’s time turner — to be able to use the same hour to address multiple priorities. It’s not that I don’t have the time. Keeping time to write (fiction) every week is a nonnegotiable for me — I am stubborn in crafting the rest of my life around it, even while running a business or when I teach full time. But I still get frustrated to not be done yet.

As tools go: A magic wand that pulls the story straight out of my head would be great. As strategies go: here are other posts I’ve written on time management strategies for writers.

To Be Continued…

There are 2 more questions to the Q & A, asking how I would define a great writing week and what specific tools and strategies help me succeed. Those answers are long enough that I’m going to let them be a second post.

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How About You? Join in the Blog Hop!

What successes or challenges are you working through, and what tools, resources or strategies help you succeed?

I’d love to hear your answers in the comments.  Better yet, if you are reading this 4/29-5/4, join in the blog hop by using the linky tool below.  Visit the initial prompt, with all 8 questions and more explanation of “how to hop,” on Wordsmith Studio’s site: Writers’ Homecoming Blog Hop – Week 3.

Powered by Linky Tools

Click here to enter your link and view this Linky Tools list…

If you like the idea of more blog hops, let me know, as I may host them in the future on this site.

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If you like this blog, be sure to click the WordPress +follow button, or subscribe via email or Bloglovin options in the sidebar if you don’t have a WordPress account. You can find me on Twitter @elissafield or on Facebook. I love to connect with readers and writers.

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Filed under My Work in Progress, Time Management for Writers, Writing Life, Writing Process & Routine, Writing Prompt

Writers’ Homecoming: Participating in Wordsmith Studio’s 3rd Anniversary Blog Hop

Persistence. Stole some writing time in an empty science lab while at a school today. With a limping keyboard no less. What is community? The coffee brought to me by a neighbor.

Persistence. Stole some writing time in an empty science lab while at a school today. With a limping keyboard no less. What is community? The coffee brought to me by a neighbor.

If you’re a regular reader here, you may know how much I value my writing community. I am way overdue sharing some of the great interactions I’ve had with new writing friends at writers’ conferences and workshops over the winter, but today is all about jumping in to participate in a Writers’ Homecoming Blog Hop to celebrate the 3 year anniversary of my fabulous group of writing friends, Wordsmith Studio.

What is Wordsmith Studio?

10634351_10100112304388454_1141723537_nWordsmith Studio came together 3 years ago on the heels of one of the best challenges I’ve ever seen online: poet Robert Lee Brewer’s April Platform Building Challenge. Every day for 30 days, each of us learned about how to make the most out of a different social media tool in building platform (that is, readership and genuine connection). We learned not just how to blog, but how to create authentic interaction with readers and other writers. How to participate in comments on others’ posts and encourage comments on your own, to create authentic dialogue. Likewise, how to understand the formats of Twitter, Facebook, Google+, Pinterest and more to, again, create authentic connection through each of those venues.

Since then, the group has created a formal affiliation. We have a website with weekly posts and member bios. We have a Facebook page with numerous smaller offshoots (there’s an events page for this month’s anniversary activities, and subgroups — my favorite is the Goals group, where we trade our monthly goals and cheerlead each other through successes and pitfalls). Wordsmith Studio is on Twitter, hosting 2 weekly chat sessions (#wschat), as well as other periodic activities, like wordsprints or live events. These are where I participate most, but we have members who are more active in other venues, like Google+ or Pinterest.

The group is formal enough to have a process for joining, and is administered by a 6-member Advisory Group (I am one of the 6 members; we each serve for 2 years).

We have been glad to add in new members over the years, whose writing interests have broadened us well beyond our initial platform building challenge. Our group has seen several book releases, through traditional and self-publishing routes. Our writers share expertise on drafting, revision, conferences, querying, signing contracts, readings, publication, promotion… and blogging, photography, graphic arts, crafts, fine arts, music and much more.

That said, we are above all supportive of each other. We have diehard founding members who have been active the whole 3 years, and many more who we have seen come and go as other life’s priorities take them away and bring them back to us again. Someone is always apologizing for having been absent, but we’re just glad to see them again and to catch up on what they’ve been working on.

Which is what our “homecoming” theme is about, this month.

What is Homecoming? And What is the Blog Hop?

We celebrate each anniversary with events that help us rekindle any skills we want to work on and renew any connections that have drifted apart over the past year. We get to know each other’s work and current goals again… And we get to know new members, who may wonder how to get involved (it’s easy — just jump in).

As part of our Homecoming events, I agreed to lead the kickoff of our group’s first official blog hop. To participate, read the instructions here at the Wordsmith Studio site.  Or use the Linky Tool at the bottom of the post.

Worry you missed it? The Homecoming Blog Hop takes place every Wednesday this month. Look for a kickoff post each Wednesday, then you can participate anytime through that Sunday.

My Homecoming Interview

Running manHere are my answers to this week’s optional interview questions:

1) Are you a WSSer (a member of Wordsmith)? I already answered this one above: yes, I’m a founding member of Wordsmith Studio. I really value some great friends I’ve made through the group… and really miss a few members who are no longer active!

2) What medium/genre do you work in? I make a living writing nonfiction (freelance writer/editor, and a teacher), but my focus is fiction. I occasionally write short stories (have a had a few published, a couple awards — small fry), but spend most of my time on novels. I work toward literary fiction, and am also inspired by the intensity of young adult and the intrigue of mysteries, and that kind of energy seeps into my work.

3) What’s the name of your current project (ok multitaskers, give us your main one)?  I am working on a novel called Never Said (it was nicknamed Wake elsewhere on the blog). It trines between the U.S., Ireland and the Middle East, with one couple’s love affair unraveling a tension of what it is to live “without war” in an era when war touches everything.

4) What is your favorite detail, sentence or other bit you’ve written lately? My main character was grabbed from behind as she dashed away down a street in a scene I wrote this week. At the time, her mind was unraveling, it was late at night, and the street was full of carousers, so you assume she’s being attacked. There is this awesome, immediate tension when she realizes it is actually the taciturn, armed man protecting her lover, who she does not realize followed her out into the night. I didn’t mean to write it that way, but the physicality of the scene managed to increase suspense and bridge an emotional storyline. All this year, writing has been like that. If you’ve read any of my prior posts on revising this novel, you know that there have been at least 2 drafts where I thought I was almost done… but each time, I am so grateful that I pushed myself further, knowing I did not yet fully understand the story. I feel the texture and layers in scenes now, in ways I did not in those earlier drafts. One of the biggest a-ha moments that steered me in the right direction was when I started to distance myself from the main character and let her get down and gritty, as I wrote about in Writing Character: Say the Things We Never Say.

My current challenge... or threat.

My current challenge… or threat.

5) Any obstacles or I-hate-this-chapter moments? I would roar like a T-rex to say this adequately: I hate that I work so slowly. I met with Ben Percy in January at Blue Flower Arts Conference and finally spilled out my frustration: I’ve had a novel almost done before, with agents who had asked to read a full… and never made it that last 10% to cross the finish line. His advice was to just set a 30 day deadline, break it into words/day and threaten that I’d have to eat a dirty sock if I don’t make it. I have legit excuses (just finished 3 classes for my masters, plus client work & am a single parent), but that’s not it. I write 10-40 hrs a week, even with that workload. And I write fast. So I don’t know if I am too much of a perfectionist, or just slow in fitting the whole thing together, but I am routinely irritable about wanting it done, now.

6) What’s the biggest thing you’ve learned lately from your writing?  Interestingly, as a ‘literary’ reader and writer, the biggest things I’ve learned lately have to do with plot structure, screenplays and suspense.

7) In what ways do you hope to grow in the next 6 months/year?  I’m moving on to stages of how to market. I’ve been drafting queries and gotten feedback from an agent. I want to have a full draft done soon, and then on to beta readers or I may find a private coach or mentor to work one-on-one. Then time to query.

8) In what ways do writing friends and communities help you do that? I am as much of an introvert as any writer, but I have learned more and grown more by interacting with other writers than I would have alone. It can be lonely work, so it’s powerful to be able to shout out, “I hit my word count goal for the day,” and have someone cheer you on. Time is always limited, but it’s worth stoking those friendships and building these communities, because you can’t wait for the day you wish you had a writing group or friend to share work with — it takes time to find people and build connections. While I talk about Wordsmith here, some of the writers in my network are people I first met in Poets & Writers’ Speakeasy forum 10 or more years ago. It’s worth the time it takes.

How About You?

Please do click through to the Wordsmith Studio 3rd Anniversary Homecoming Blog Hop. Jump in and connect — write your own answers to the questions above or otherwise let us know what you are working on. You do not have to be a Wordsmith member to participate. Here are some options:

  • From 4/8-4/12, you can join this week’s Blog Hop using the linky tool.
  • If you are reading this later, just share the link to your post in the comments beneath the kickoff post.
  • There will be new blog hops each Wednesday this month. Follow Wordsmith Studio or me to see links when those posts go live.
  • To find out about more Wordsmith Studio activities, follow the group website, Twitter or Facebook using any of the links above (you can ask to join the group via the Facebook site – mention you heard about it here).

Linky Tool for the Blog Hop


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If you like this blog, be sure to click the WordPress +follow button, or subscribe via email or Bloglovin options in the sidebar if you don’t have a WordPress account. You can find me on Twitter @elissafield or on Facebook. I love to connect with readers and writers.

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Filed under My Work in Progress, Relentless Wake, Social Media, Writing Life, Writing Process & Routine, Writing Prompt

Press Freedom for Journalists Covering Conflict: Free Austin Tice

Several times each year I have friends ask me to share different aspects on what motivates me to write. Sometimes I halfway chisel out a post, but it rarely comes close to what I mean.

Certain themes in my current novel project, Never Said, are so large I can only imagine them through the one-inch-frame of individual character experience. War, all around us, impacting citizens despite peace. What pulls a person into participating in war — especially the wars dotting our planet at any time, where hate or fear stretch back generations until one day, one side begins to organize, to amass ammunition?

Journalists at Risk

There is another theme running parallel, that I haven’t often found voice adequate to share about.

When my son was one, I watched journalist Daniel Pearl’s wife interviewed on Oprah, telling about the morning he kissed her goodbye in Paris, patted her pregnant belly, and left on an assignment in the Middle East. She spoke of how a fixer led him into an ambush. Pearl was captured, a ransom video mailed to his editors. He was later beheaded.

I want to untype that sentence. More than ten years after hearing the story, it’s chilling. I want to undo that truth.

After that, I wrote about India for awhile.  I started Never Said in response to a trip to Ireland, and then to the emotion of a friend’s son deploying to Baghdad.

Somewhere in the rabbit holes of my research — international affairs, international treaties, the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan; even after that, something mild in passing — I met the kernel of a passionate cause.

I don’t remember which of these two I discovered first: the CPJ — Committee to Protect Journalists, who report on the continual disappearance, murder, imprisonment or interrogation of journalists around the world.

Or Austin Tice.

Freelance Journalist Austin Tice

AustinAustin Tice is an American freelance journalist who turned 33 yesterday, which I know from watching his mother and his father tweet birthday wishes to him.

Austin Tice is a Marine Corps veteran and Georgetown Law student, who was working as a freelance journalist providing photographs to the Washington Post, English Aljezeera or other media outlets.

I first heard of him when I stumbled on his Twitter stream some time last year.

It reads like poetry, each thread of his dedication to reporting, the worst days of violence, his own reactions, his momentary happiness in the last tweet, celebrating his birthday.

Syria, 2012

Austin is a talented photographer and covered several domestic and international stories in 2012. In the summer, he went to Syria to report on the war between the government and rebel soldiers.

Photographs on his Flickr account reveal Austin’s glimpse into the war. His personality is there as well: his sensitivity to an injured child, boys laughing as they rode bicycles, a community working together to clean up after a bombing, a tranquil little girl resting on a wall, his dry wit observing the personality revealed in the stylish outfit of a rebel soldier.

729 Days Missing

Austin’s parents spoke to him every day while he was on assignment. The stream above shows his last two tweets: the last, on his 31st birthday.

On August 14, 2012, he disappeared.

Syria was the deadliest country for journalists in 2012. The CPJ reports that 31 of the 74 journalists killed worldwide were in Syria.

But Austin is not on list of journalists killed.

Also according to the CPJ, “Cases of journalists missing in Syria are extremely difficult to track. Information is scarce, the situation is constantly changing, and some cases go unreported.”

On August 30, 2012, the CPJ issued a statement calling for Austin Tice to be released, which reported that he was believed to be detained by government forces.

RT: #FreeAustinTice

In all reporting I have seen, there is a continued belief that Austin is alive and detained in Syria.

The CPJ includes his status on their “Imprisoned” list. In August 2013, other journalists who had been missing escaped, adding encouragement of the possibility he could be held despite the government’s denial.

As his parents mark Austin’s 33rd birthday, their local news station provided this coverage, reiterating a belief that he is still alive, although his family does not know where or by whom he is held. FOX 26 News | MyFoxHouston

I’m not alone in the impact Tice’s story has had.  As Michigan Times staff writer Heeba Dlewati talks about dangers for journalists in her March 2013 article, “The Human Element: Missing the Truth” , she says, “The story of one journalist continues to haunt me, the story of Austin Tice.”

Austin’s story was repeated on the floor of Congress Monday and he is followed by journalists around the world, including Richard Engel, who has himself been detained while reporting on conflicts overseas.

What Can We Do?

You can show that Austin is not forgotten and support his friends and family by tweeting your thoughts using the hashtag #FreeAustinTice (you can follow @FreeAustinTice for more), especially this Thursday, August 14, 2014.

Beyond that, one of the most important things we can do is to realize the need to ensure press freedom throughout the world. Often, the frontline bravery shown by reporters to put the truth into words and images is the most powerful tool we have to battle the kinds of atrocities history has shown to take place when no one is watching.

Reporter Emma Beals shares her first-hand fears of abduction while reporting in Syria in “More and More Journalists Being Kidnapped in Syria.”

Journalists, photographers, translators and fixers covering conflict abroad need our support.

At the same time, you might notice there is often a “radio silence” around abductions. I’ll add a link if I find an explanation, but international news agencies often intentionally do not broadcast news of journalist abductions in order to prevent terrorists from using abductions as a means to gain media spotlight. It’s argued that this helps protect the journalists, but often diminishes public outcry in support of a missing person.

In a similar vein, on July 30, 2014, The New York Times featured this article, suggesting Europe Bankrolls Al Queda Terrorism by Paying Ransoms.

If you want to learn more about what can be done: You can offer your voice in support of individual journalists by connecting with web accounts like the ones set up to support Austin. Or, look for more resources from government agencies and NGOs through resources like the CPJ “Assistance” page .

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Respect for Austin’s Safety

In sharing this post, what matters most is the safe return of Austin Tice. I am not a frontline reporter and have relied on national reporting and the articles listed to share Austin’s story. If any family member of Austin’s or anyone else affiliated with his safe return believes that I have in any way misstated, overstated, understated or in any other way included details that could put Austin at risk, please use the contact form on the Welcome page to email me, and I will make immediate corrections. (Update: I received a message from Austin’s father hours after posting this, expressing appreciation and sharing additional links. I can’t overstate the emotion I feel for what this family goes through.)

 

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Filed under Culture + World, Inspiration, Relentless Wake, Research

Today’s Work: Sharing a Scene from Never Said

Running man

Some of you may know that I participate in a variety of writers’ groups online, which has been fabulous company and motivation as I pound through novel revisions this summer.

Novel Revision Process

I haven’t been posting about my writing process as often as I did last year, but regular readers may know that part of my obstacle is that I’ve taken on a daunting but very thorough revision process: rather than just continue tweaking draft 4-5, which I’d worked on through the winter, I am fully retyping the current draft. It has been an extremely effective process… but s-l-o-w, in the sense that it’s August 1 and I only have 24, 700 words in (last winter’s ms was 176,000).

What has been particularly exciting about the process is it has benefitted from the concentrated power of scenes written later in my understanding of the story, and I’ve been really excited, in particular, about the layer of meaning that have come about from expanding viewpoints.

I have been sharing about this regularly on Twitter (#SumNovRev), within Facebook groups and during daily writing activities at TeachersWrite! but have posted little about it here.

Sharing an Excerpt of the Work in Process

Teachers Write 2013 ButtonThat said, today I am sharing an extended scene from the last third of my novel in progress, Never Said. (I shared a short excerpt from this as part of Gae Polisner’s Friday Feedback; revision to this scene was prompted by character description activity on Kate Messner’s blog for TeachersWrite.)

About the Excerpt

Michael Roonan is an elusive main character as the novel takes place at a point in his life when he appears resigned to his own death despite the community around him absolving him from blame. He goes along with his best friend’s insistence that he go on the run, but there’s the unspoken undercurrent that he doesn’t disagree with the man who is after him (Sean).  This excerpt is from Sean’s POV, but really is lead up to the reveal of secrets Roonan has been keeping all along.

I’ve written before about how I like to play around with POV, writing from several different viewpoints as I discover a story. This antagonist, Sean, was a fun surprise, as he had insights I hadn’t thought of.  (Writing in Process: Using Alternative Voice to Understand Internal Conflict).

 

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Excerpt from Never Said

(The following is an excerpt from an unpublished novel. Do no copy or use without express written permission from Elissa Field.)

Sean saw the back of Michael Roonan’s head from a distance, across the thin stream that split the village center.  Mick turned toward the marketplace on the other side of the stone bridge. Wind lifted his hair and Sean saw his face in full profile. Definitely him. His hair was heavy, coarse with the filth of a man on the run. It calmed his anger to know Mick ran, no matter what he’d said. His hair grown out like the mane of a horse, so unlike himself.

Unrecognizable from the man he’d last met on the jetty south of Wicklow, when he’d watched Mick dive off the stern of a trawler, knowing he was avoiding the Garda whose lights flickered fierce off the roofs of their cars, parked in jackknifed formation at the entrance to the docks. Sean had grinned at him, unseen: They’re not for you, Mick. It’s a body washed up against the headwall. Coppers wandered bored as farm dogs, no hints yet if it were a murder or just a ferry jumper or a man washed overboard. So tedious, waiting on coroners.

He followed the intermittent bob of Mick’s head beyond the concrete breakers, carried far south by the inlet currents. He might have drowned, another body to be fished out, but sputtered out of the surf along the strand amid coarse grasses and weekend strollers. Sean watched him collapse. Waited. Mick pulled himself to sit facing out to sea as if what chased him was yet panting in the frothing waves. Not behind him in the car park, where Sean  leaned back for a smoke. A think.

Shells or stones – he couldn’t see from this distance – rattled in the waves with a sound like dried bones. Mick’s hair was buzzed military-short, then. More stark than months Sean had seen him reported, imprisoned in isolation for all the players who wanted him dead.

This little man. Hunched along the shore line, thin thread of light blazing brilliant beneath the oyster shell gradations of the sky.

Water and sand fell from his shirt when he stood. He brushed kelp from his shoulder. Otter of a survivor. One summer in Ridell, there’d been one of the younger brothers – he was sure it was Mick –pulled in an undertow jumping off the tower at Blackrock. The black shadow of his head, like the back of a turtle or a skate, pulling deeper and sideways along the Irish Sea bottom that would be exposed, smelly with the decay of exposed mussels and whelks at low tide. Sean was the one to dive for him, a bolt through the current, wrenching him to the surface. Clear vomit of seawater sprayed over his forearm as he held the boy’s chin in the crook of his elbow, rolling onto his back, the boy buoyed on his chest as he waited out the current to let them go. The little brother’s head gagged and sputtered and cried, gasping for air. Struggled to get free, to swim, not knowing all you could do is relent and float until the current gave you up. “Easy,” he’d told the top of the boy’s head, fixing his face to the sky. “Look, there. See the gulls? How many is that?”

He was sure it was Mick. The Roonan son who covered his ears at the high engine whine of his father passing in a race, even as others took pictures or shook their fists to cheer.

There was no rush. Wait him out.

Mick’s head was down when Sean came upon him, nearly dried, on a bench along the roadside not quite into the adjoining village. Mick said, without looking up, without surprise, “How is it going for you, Sean? I’d heard you were out.” It was barely discernible: the faint shift of posture to check peripheral vision, clear enough one wolf to another, to be certain Sean was alone.

“You killed Stephen.”

There was a long silence. Cars passed, their headlights bilious green in the odd fog come in from the sea. That color got to him, always – color of the dead boy in the canal – and he wanted to shake Mick, to shake the whole world, the way Man and Ulster vibrated in the high-revved videos of Gerry Roonan at 200 miles per hour. How did Mick take this for granted? How did he not know how lucky he was, for what he had? Him and Stevie: they’d be famous racers, just like their da. What hate makes you blow that all apart? For what? Not even a cause.

Mick turned fully to him, no avoidance in his eyes. “I killed Stephen.”

“What the fuck, Mick. Can’t you even deny it to me?.. Why? Why would you do that to your own brother?”

Roonan didn’t answer that. Not yet. “How did you know?”

“I watched you. I saw you do it, you stupid fuck. Watched… I saw him…”

Both were in it, then. Graphic memory. Two men, brothers to Stephen in different ways, watching from opposite sides as the universe sucked inward on Stephen then exploded infinitely outward. The only two to have seen it plainly, true. Night stills for them as it does in sacred moments, letting damnation seep in.

“Why the fuck did you do it?”

A man climbs fully inside his eyes when come upon his truths. Sean knew as he stared into Mick’s face waiting for an answer: it was there. Mick was walking around inside it as if visiting an old room, testing what was remembered, what was broken, what was new. He wanted to punch him, deflate silence by crushing his head like a collapsed football. Fury at such deliberation, such unhurried reflection. Michael was a big man now: past twenty-two Sean guessed, strong from pulling nets on the trawler, taller than Stevie would have been. He’d heard stories of Roonan crushing an undercover cop’s head against a rock to stop the man from beating an informant. He’d heard rumors of his calm shadow in a doorway being enough to scare off provo gunners.

“You need to run, Mick.”

The man’s eyes rose to his face, but he was not there. Somewhere else, some other time, and a chill went through Sean. Remembering the boy in the hedgerow, when Rodgers hit the tree. Sean and Stevie and Mick were the first to the body, the racer’s attached hand still opening and closing in a fist, as his severed arm was further down across the road. The man’s eyes met their three faces through his visor, pleading for help. Mick would have been just eight when he heard that first gasping groan of a body giving up life, and his father’s road racer had passed them just after, front wheel lifting in the air at the surprise of finding Rodgers’ spent machine broken apart across the road, then whining away up Perry’s Hill.

He did not give away the gun tucked into his waistband. Did not acknowledge he could pick up a rock or that broken sign post just feet away and bash his skull. Could have done it then, that evening, as the high pressure sodium lighting came on over their heads, lighting them in a glow as if good friends reminiscing before walking home from the pub. He said as if he had yet to make a plan, so Mick had the benefit of a warning: “You need to run, because I’ll have you dead for it.”

Mick had stood. His feet were bare, having kicked off his white rubber fishermen’s boots when they filled like anchors with the sea. He looked up and down the street like an animal dropped from a car, dazed and recalibrating for home. He took a step toward the street to read a sign, he looked back to the car park where he calculated Sean’s car was parked. “I know you will,” he said to Sean. “But I won’t run. Not when you come.” Mick met the man’s eyes, held them to be certain Sean understood, and he’d walked off slowly in the direction of the main road.

If you want to share your feedback in the comments: 

If anything resounds with you, do click “like” or leave me a comment to let me know what you liked — it’s hard and lonely work, so I will love you forever for any encouragement. Seriously. Of course, the impact may be lost a little,  since this piece is from 2/3 through the book, and some details may reference earlier chapters (for ex: “hedgerow” is a frequent reference to where the boys stood when watching Roonan’s father race motorcycles) — but still, find kind words to let me know if any of the scene didn’t work for you and why.

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What About You?

What are you working on this week? Are their aspects of your writing process or writing community that help you get it finished?

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No so much a selfie as sign of how bad the glare on the laptop screen can be. c Elissa Field

 

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Writing Life: Celebrating My “Irish” by Writing

copyright Elissa Field; repro w written permission only

copyright Elissa Field; repro w written permission only

I was woken this St. Patrick’s Day morning by the most Irish of my sons studying me in my jammies and challenging, “Are you wearing green?”

Slice of Life Challenge - TwoWritingTeachers.com

Slice of Life Challenge – TwoWritingTeachers.com

My family is not fully Irish — one grandfather is Finnish, a grandmother French, another grandfather English. It’s one grandmother alone who feeds my Irish roots. Her family was Irish as they come. I can’t say that without image coming to mind of any of her wiry-haired brothers with his head tipped back to laugh.

Yet I never felt so Irish until my sons were born. I inadvertently tipped their focus toward their Irish roots when I name my oldest son Liam — less in Irish obsession than in the fact I liked the name (it is actually nod to my Finnish grandfather, William).

His younger brother, Blake, however, is the true throwback.  I’ve never met a more Irish person than my youngest son, whose looks and mannerisms perfectly replicate Irish ancestors so long dead he could not be mimicking, and it was Blake (who slept in green shorts) who challenged my commitment to St. Patrick’s Day this morning.

My sons get the double-dose, as my mother-in-law was full Irish, complete with her dark humor. I cracked up over the tweet from Weinstein Books publicity director, Kathleen Schmidt, below, because it so much represents the “catching up” conversations we have with my mother-in-law each visit home:

Not only does my mother-in-law catch you up on family news by cataloguing the latest illnesses and disasters (in the most dramatic stage whisper, as if she were nearly — nearly — too shocked to tell you), but she is an avid lover of murder fiction.

She was never so pleased with a trip to visit us in Florida than the night we ended up trapped on South Beach, in Miami, because the FBI had the island cordoned off while they chased Gianni Versace’s killer. We had given her the perfect mystery-lover’s outing as we walked past the still-stained sidewalk in front of Versace’s house and inadvertently walked through the live taping of America’s Most Wanted, on our way to take her to a salsa-dancing club, where the blue-lit helicopter footage of the chase was being broadcast over the bar.

Blake and the Irish cow. c. Elissa Field, request permission for use

Blake and the Irish cow. c. Elissa Field, request permission for use

Still, my boys’ and my own Irish identity reached its peak after a family trip to the ole sod in 2006.

The trip planted a seed that later grew into a novella and then a novel draft, which is the novel I have been working on the past 2 years and often write about here (click for all posts on Wake or on novel revision).

The picture of my son on the lawn of an Irish country house, at the top, epitomizes a certain essence of the internal motivation in the novel. While early drafts focused on the love story between Carinne and the paramilitary man she met in Ireland, development of her character and the story have made it clear that it is the need of her son to find his father that becomes the inciting incident for her to unravel all the mysteries in the book. Where she has been paralyzed to act on her own motivation, she is made brave enough to do for her son.

What’s interesting to me, as my boys and I celebrate being Irish on St. Patrick’s Day, is the backwards connections we have to Ireland now. For the deeply passionate connection we feel, my own inspiration is often in reverse to our factual roots.

In tracing family roots, we traveled to the south, although the Cooleys are from north of Dublin. My son poses in front of a country house, although our family left behind roots as humble as a mud-floored cottage. In Kerry, where the Irish Troubles didn’t reach, I first felt the dark spark of my paramilitary character, Michael Roonan, on the shadowy, cool bed of a room in the garden wing of a English peerage hunting lodge. As much as the violence of the north was absent, the dark shadows of the surrounding forest seemed to speak of something in hiding, and Roonan was vivid in my mind from one sleepless night as if he leaned against the wall impatiently waiting for me to write.

But writing is like that. And our Irish love of story is like that: craving surprise, darkness, even shock.

I celebrate this St. Patrick’s day by making the most of the week I have off for spring break by writing. My characters have been speaking loudly to me since the first hour I left work on Friday. I’ve written each of the last few days. I’ve copied new material from the last months into the existing draft (I’m well up to a 6th or 8th draft by now).  I’m due for another print-and-read-through, expecting much from early drafts will be deleted now, and there will be big challenges in weaving together the reveal moments of various threads of the internal and external conflicts.  Lots to do.

But I think I’ll start with the promise to my son: I’ll go don green.

Happy St. Patrick’s Day!

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How About You?

What are you working on today?  Are you celebrating your Irish roots?  Or, how does your own ancestry inspire what you write about?

We’d love to hear from you in the comments.

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Dublin from World Bar. c Elissa Field.

Dublin from World Bar. c Elissa Field.

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Writing in Process: Using Alternative Voice to Understand Internal Conflict

Running manOne of the great things about my online writing community is the way we keep each other motivated, often in ways we don’t expect.  Last week, I shared how it had motivated me to re-set my 2014 goals after I shared a brief excerpt of Wake and gotten feedback that pushed me to think, to have confidence and above all, “Keep going.”

My 500 wordsToday’s post is sort of Jeff Goins’ fault, as the day 19 prompt at his 500 words challenge was to write in another voice. So it is I spent the day evaluating a process I have been going through in deepening internal motivation of a novel character.

This post serves as follow up to several novel revision articles posted over the past year. I’ll include the relevant links to individual revision steps for anyone looking for more on the revision process.

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Revision in Process: Internal Motivation of a Main Character

Throughout my series of posts on Novel Revision last summer (this link takes you to all posts on Novel Revision, or find links to individual skills within this post), I revealed how deeply I felt the need to push my main character, Carinne (Revising a Flat Character).

Motivation for the male protagonist, Michael Roonan, was clear from the get-go. He’s killed people; guilt and loss compel his self-castigation. But, in early versions, Carinne’s written motivation was only that she was getting out of a bad marriage and she fell in love with Roonan.

Expressive eyes of Gerard Butler. (celebs101.com)

Expressive eyes of Gerard Butler. (celebs101.com)

Truth: as I wrote about in Can Literary Fiction Be Hot, the romantic element is often the most compelling and memorable aspect of fiction that sticks with us.  Still… My gut told me there had to be more to her motivation than “failed marriage” and “he’s hot.”  Kind of lame motivation, right?  Too thin, too predictable, too linear.

Many of my novel revision posts have shared the ways I’ve challenged my own understanding of Carinne and character motivation because, one way or another, my gut told me that I knew something more about her than I had written.  (Did you pick up on that when I distinguished her “written” motivation, above?)  But I needed to go deep to put it into words, and part of that included distancing the character from my own experience.

copyright Elissa Field; all rights reserved, no repro without written permission

Father and son. copyright Elissa Field

The eye-opener was in an exercise I completed (October Challenge: Raising the Stakes on Character Motivation), where I kept assessing and re-assessing stakes for the internal conflict of the main characters.  For Carinne, the written stakes were only whether she raised her son alone or if she could get her lover back with her. Then I realized it wasn’t her own stakes that drove her, but those of the little boy, Liam, she had conceived with Roonan.  The driving motivation to go find Roonan had to come from a place beyond romance — she was off to find him so that her son would not grow up without a father.

Along the same time, I wrote last summer that I had come to understand a crucial backstory for Carinne that distances her from myself.

This is something I have not written about, but have felt deeply in the year and a half since a young photojournalist went missing on assignment.  His last tweet — from a birthday celebration with friends — and the pride in photographs he shared in his online portfolio — have stuck with me as an eerie, disembodied voice over the months his parents and sister worked through international channels to discover what happened to him.  As much as the news speaks of military or civilian losses, lost journalists has been a major piece in international affairs of the past 20 years.

The thing with this novel I am writing is, it has to do with why people get involved in violent international affairs. Roonan became a murderer while doing everything he could to avoid involvement in paramilitary activity in his family’s Irish border town. Carinne meets him years after the violence, finding the ghost of the man. A failed marriage is not her motivation; I quickly wrote that out of the early draft.  Carinne came to life for me last summer when I stopped apologizing and making excuses for her and let her behavior be entirely contrary — then let the missing reporter be the loss that drove her chaotic behavior.

True Revision Can be Messy

Danger Book May Bite c. Elissa Field

Danger Book May Bite c. Elissa Field

I began last summer’s revision-series with a post titled Work is Messy, Book May Bite.

What a mess new motivation makes of a draft, but slowly the 2 internal storylines have been laying themselves out clearly in parallel to one another, as the external conflict brings the story to resolution that genuinely resounds with meaning, as Carinne unites father and son.  Yeah, okay: it can be romantically hot, too, but the resolution now resounds on a more universal level.

I once watched my stepmother unravel a month’s worth of knitting to correct a missed stitch in a complicated fisherman-knit afghan, and I couldn’t believe the patience and insistence on perfection it took for her to do that.  Taking apart this main character, Carinne, has felt like all that unraveling — pulling the whole novel apart and putting it back together.  But I knew in my gut that it wasn’t “there” yet.  I love the characters and their story, but I just knew that the resolution of an international conflict could not be just romantic happily-ever-after. The little boy was symbolic of something in the opening, and he had to be the core of the resolution, as symbol of something greater for the novel to resound.

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The Work in Process

That’s a lot of thinking out loud.  How does it play out?  One approach that brought me closer to understanding the mother’s motivation was to write scenes from the child’s perspective.

In final revisions, I’ll be deciding between a close-omniscient or alternating third person narrative structure, which means I am not yet sure if I will keep the boy’s voice or just let it inform the mother’s perspective.  But, for the sake of sharing a piece of the writing process, here is the scene I shared at Gae Polisner’s Friday Feedback last week.

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Excerpt from Work in Progress, Where the Wolves Find Us (nicknamed Wake)

Context:  This excerpt is from a rough draft rethinking an opening scene from the son, Liam’s, perspective. The novel opens with the mother (Carinne) finding her son burying something in the back yard. As Carinne is in the process of washing mud from his hands, he asks, essentially for the first time, if his father is dead.  This becomes the inciting event; by the end of the chapter, Carinne is searching for the missing father.  The drafted scene below is from a long riff that came out when I took time to see “life with his mother” from Liam’s perspective. What would he see, hear or feel, growing up with a mother isolated and obsessed with missing people?

His mother’s shoulder was warm against Liam’s back, the water glittering beneath the sink-light as she sudsed his hands. He clapped his hands so bubbles sprayed and he tracked them, her voice murmuring in his ear as each iridescent orb floated up and sideways and down, each at its own rate so that his eyes measured them as if racers toward a finish line. Plik! Hope. Plik! Each popped, no matter he’d resisted the urge to touch them. Each, in its own path, flicked a mini explosion of its membrane and ceased to exist in the vacant spans of light.

Carinne’s voice reached a pitch – Liam’s feet had kicked dishes stacked in the sink – then went silent, replaced by the constant curt voice of men and women from the television playing in the next room. News. Always the news, and he hated it.

He patted suds onto her cheek. She took it as a joke, laughing, her eyes smiling at his.  He hit her again,  harder, wanting it to stop: the man chopping news into his head.  An airport. A warning. A plane stopped along a runway. Heads talking. The plane. More heads. A fire truck.  She would look: study the stream of words at the bottom. Flip three channels forward, pausing on each. Each, more news. Then back.  Even she didn’t care, he could tell. She took in what was happening the same way she studied the noise of trash men arriving for the blue bins or the neighbor’s garage door motor starting: look to the noise, see it for what it was, and disregard it as not affecting them.  But most hours of the day, he could not make her change the channel.  “Just let me see what’s happening overseas,” she would tell him, “Then we’ll change it.”

She corrects him now, “We don’t hit!” gripping his hands together in her own as if for prayer. He twists his head away and pulls his hands. “Hands are not for hitting,” she recites.

He says very quietly, as if to an unseeable friend, “I hate the news.”

She lets go, relieved. The smack makes sense, as it hadn’t a second ago. He leans into her shoulder, his dried hand reaching along the back of her neck to where her hair is softest, her baby again. “I hate it, too,” she says.

She will change the channel, this time, but he doesn’t believe she hates it. The firemen spraying foam on the plane by the runway did not interest her, but other times she has watched the same repeating footage, over and over.  A black uniformed policeman being interviewed in a mist of rain, dark clouds rising behind him.  A white SUV driving between sand-colored buildings in a cloud of dust behind a reporter cloaked with a checkered scarf. Over and over, she might watch these. Study the images to the corners of the screen. Study faces blurred in the background. Over and over. Then flip channels in hope to see the same scene from another angle.  Not notice the stack he’d made of his cars: three tall, now four, his eyes widening, willing them not to topple.  His mother frozen silent, remote clenched in her hand. Sometimes tears. He hated it as she did not. So easily, she could have flipped to another channel. Thomas the Train. Even Dora.

“I hate the men,” he said once.

She had turned away from him like she did when he broke something and she was mad even though she said she wasn’t.  “Never hate the men,” she said.  She left the room, crying and trying to hide it from him, as if these men were her own friends, her family, as the empty house of the two of them showed no sign of.

Have Feedback?

Of course this piece is in draft form and out of context, but constructive feedback is welcome.  I am on the fence whether it is helpful to actually use the child’s voice, as I think it would be tough for a toddler to carry the opening voice of an adult novel. Would you try to use his voice, or just let his insight inform the mother’s POV?  Hmm.

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What About You?

Are you revising fiction this week?  What challenges do you run into or what has worked well for you? If you’ve also been sharing your work or revision strategies, feel free to add your links or comments below.

Are you exploring issues of conflict or stakes in a character you are writing?  What challenges or obstacles do you find?  Or, what tactics have you found that get you more authentically or deeply into your characters’ motivation?

For more posts on this site related to character development:

Done. Done. Chickie approves. cElissa Field, repro w permission only

Done. Done. Chickie approves. cElissa Field, repro w permission only

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Motivation to Write: Setting New Goals to Move Beyond a Success

c. Elissa Field

c. Elissa Field

It’s the 12th day of 2014. I’m sitting on the couch, surrounded in both directions with the binders, books, papers and plans from yesterday’s work: reviewing curriculum for the rest of the spring.

I sat down with my laptop to finish what I was working on — but first ended up re-reading comments from author Gae Polisner in response to an excerpt from my novel draft that I had posted on her Friday Feedback column.  The comments from her and other readers had me re-opening the novel draft for Wake.  I scanned past the excerpt I had shared, getting lost in the voice of a new piece I’d written during the holidays.

There are times in life when you are staring down the barrel of multiple to-do items. And there are times you see your life revealed with remarkable clarity.

Last Year’s January Challenge

One year ago, I was teaching writing part-time. I loved the job and the students, and it gave me time with my two sons, but it perplexes me how I kept them fed (or tuition paid at their school) with how little I was being paid.  On the upside, I would drop the boys at school in the morning, come home and write for 2-3 hours, go teach for the afternoon, pick them up and come home. I finished research for Wake.  I finished the novel draft and made it through first revision rounds.

I reached goals.  Every single day, I faced those free hours by asking myself, “What one (or 5) thing(s) could I do right now that will make my life better tomorrow?” and I tried, every single day, to that first.

What puts my life in perfect clarity right now is that one year ago I hosted the January Challenge here to use just that kind of strategy to tackle competing goals and make real progress.  (Don’t check it out now; I’ll put links at the bottom.)

One of those things that would “make my life better tomorrow” was the writing: get the novel polished enough to query by end of summer.  Some of them were personal, like resolving my divorce and where the boys and I wanted to live.  But one big goal was that wanted to be hired to teach full time.  I love teaching in a way that is similar to my love of writing: I love the in-the-trenches intensity of it, the creativity, the constant demand for solutions, the perspective that working with middle schoolers gives me, the way both professions continually re-examine the world.

It’s interesting that New Year’s hit this year and I felt no temptation to set resolutions, because I really did follow the strategies I wrote about, and made a ton of progress last year. I had kept my novel writing goals and tripled my blog traffic.  I made money off my site.  I expanded my writing about education.  I made progress with the family goals.  And one big fat accomplishment: I was hired as a full time teacher, tripling my income from the previous year and satisfying my hunger to grow into a more challenging professional role.

The “Day Job” Challenge for Writers

I’ve written before (link below) about how most writers balance their time for writing against the demands of a day job, whatever it may be, calling it the “time-money-credit trifecta.”  For anyone new to the term, it’s not a pejorative but recognition of a writer’s job other than writing.  The day job could be literary agent, partner at a law firm, teacher or professor, full-time parent, journalist or night clerk at a hotel.  Even the time published writers spend in lecturing or attending book signings is work that takes time away from writing.

The truth is, no matter the drive to complete a novel, it is important for writers to have an income that allows them to be housed, fed and healthy, and not worried about supporting their families.  I can’t downplay how important it is to my family that I succeeded in teaching this past year, nor the opportunity for growth and “street cred” that teaching has offered my writing.

Success as Hurdle to Motivation

I sat on the cusp of 2014 completely unworried. My goals this year related to continuing in success, not creating it.  Sure, I was short on time and behind my target date of getting the novel done, but I still have the coming summer.  Things were going well.  There were still some family goals to focus on and plenty of demands for me to address in teaching, so why worry about the writing?

Let Hunger be Your Fuel

I wonder if other writers would relate to this same moment: what made me go back to setting goals this morning was the hunger that it awoke in me, to have shared an excerpt of my novel draft with another writer and to read her feedback.

“Keep going,” Gae said at the end of her comments.

She had questioned certain things, praised others and wondered about context.  I went back to the full draft and, reading my own work, heard my characters’ voices and saw things to fix. The hunger was there to get back to it.  I wanted to do just what she said: keep going.

And other goals came alive, too: to follow through with the grad school applications I’d started or registration for workshops/conferences I wanted to attend.  To light the fire that would keep me moving forward, not just continue.

During the school year, I focus 1,000% on my students, my sons and the amazing work being done at the genuinely fabulous school where I teach.  If I stop to write, it’s often new teaching materials or an article on what went well in class.  I like that I teach in a demanding environment, where it feels like competing at the Olympic level.  And yes, I still work on the novel when I can.  What I am experiencing now is the success I worked for last year.  It’s awesome.

But current success was hiding the hunger that had compelled me to grow.  I needed to re-find that hunger.

Do First the 1 Thing That Helps You Grow

The hunger this morning recognized that I have dropped my own rules for continuing to grow.

Yes, I will get back to what I need to do to continue my current success.  But I need to remember not to skip that step beforehand: to do, first, one thing that will continue to move my goals forward.

Both as a teacher and as a writer, I have goals I still need to work toward.  Whether it is spending an hour on the novel or finding the number of the professor I need to call for  a recommendation letter for grad school or… the small steps done each day are what get us closer to reaching our goals.

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Are you looking for motivation or working on writing goals?

Does any of this ring true with you?  Feel free to share your own goals, successes, or blocks in the comments below.  If you wrote about a similar theme, feel free to share a link to your blog post.

I’ll re-share links to the January Challenge, below. It was a popular series, as the strategies shared are particularly helpful to writers, who are often challenged to keep motivated despite competing priorities.

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grasp c Elissa Field

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