Tag Archives: writing advice

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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Friday Links for Writers: 09.06.13

At work writing. c Elissa Field

At work writing. c Elissa Field

Writing this week has felt like a covert operation: completely unexpected details of my characters or scenes in reaction to the most unexpected inspiration, in a week I hadn’t planned to have much time to write. You can’t complain about that.

What’s been great about this week’s writing is the way that deepening discovery of inner character details has re-envisioned and empowered a couple moments I hadn’t thought much about. Developing and nuancing character is so much about discovery.

By chance or serendipity, this week’s Friday Links shares a series of articles on approaches for character development, starting with a review of a favorite author’s new release. As always, let me know what resonates for you in these links, what you’d like more of, or share your own favorite reads from the week in the comments. Best wishes for a great writing (and reading) week!

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Someone, by Alice McDermott

What the writer of this review says about Alice McDermott is exactly the reaction I’ve had to McDermott’s strongest work. I was equally stunned by the same short story (nugget to her coming novel) in the New Yorker, in a way that ties to the kind of quality I seek in writing. “Her sentences know themselves so beautifully,” the review says, and touches on the ways McDermott accomplishes deeply nuanced characters.

What’s Next: How Do I Look?

This post by Cate Levin at She Writes begs a question I’m sure she is not alone in asking: how much description is needed of a protagonist? In first person POV, no one wants to force in details like, “while tossing my long strawberry blonde hair…” Cate shares her own thoughts, and invites conversation on what other writers find matters in describing main characters.

Knowing What’s Real

Keeping on the same theme: Cate Levin’s question reminded me of this guest post by Khara House on writer Gerry Wilson’s blog (see the next link for more on Gerry). In asking whether it’s necessary to describe your main character, Cate was really raising the question: what details really reveal the character, more than mirrorlike description? Khara’s take on this is lovely.

Own the Emotion, Then Give It Away

Sharing the post by Khara, I came across another of my favorite posts that builds on this same theme. In this, Gerry Wilson makes a fabulous connection between ballet training and writing in the need to fully occupy and use emotion in developing character.

Indiegogo: Bestseller with Chuck Adams

Okay, so this is an Indiegogo fundraising page for the book Bestseller, currently assembling advice on how talented writers can become bestsellers from editor Chuck Adams. Fundraiser or no, the page includes several short videos with Adams sharing behind the scenes stories of editing, rejection and one of his great acquisitions, Water for Elephants, giving an interesting view into different aspects of the industry.

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More on Writing Character

Are you on a roll and want to read more about writing (or revising) richly developed characters? That’s actually a favorite topic on this site. Here are a few favorites:

Along with a fabulous group of writers, Elissa Field is a Founding Member at Wordsmith StudioFab Writing Community

It wasn’t pure chance that I shared with you writers Khara House and Gerry Wilson. Gerry, Khara and I (and lots of those reading this post) are part of a fabulous writing community called Wordsmith Studio. I hope sharing Friday Links or other posts on my site is useful to other writers and readers, because there is a great bond when writers support one another — and this is exactly the community Wordsmith Studio members have found together. You can find more about our group’s activities by watching the #wschat hashtag on Twitter.

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Friday Links for Writers: 08.30.13

Summer Green Market at Rockefeller Center, 2013. c Elissa Field

Summer Green Market at Rockefeller Center, 2013. c Elissa Field

Heading in to Labor Day is a bittersweet time of year, as end of summer and back to school signals lots of creativity around here at the same time my long writing days of summer come to an end.

Not that writing stops, but it fits into a different time strategy.

What never ends is great reading, and this week revealed some great resources for writers. Here are a few, below. As always, feel free to let me know which links resonated with you and what you’d like more of, or share your own links in the comments.

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But I Digress

In this great post at Beyond the Margins, Nichole Bernier takes on the effective use of flashbacks with a list of questions to ask to determine when digressions are effective and when they impede the narrative.

Freedom and Structure: Matt Bell’s Seminar on Revision and Rewriting

In this post at Grub Street, writer Susi Lovell shares nuanced advice for revision and rewriting that she took away from a Grub Street seminar with Matt Bell. Beginning with the advice, “Don’t try to ‘tackle the whole story’, he said. ‘Take one element at a time,’” she shares the lightbulb moment that came in revising her work.

How Not to Write a Novel: the Quiz

I’m sharing the link to this quiz just for fun — but the concept behind the full book, How Not to Write a Novel, is certainly valid. Howard Mittelmark and Sandra Newman offer a different perspective on writing advice by sharing 200 classic mistakes and how to avoid them.

14 Writers Handwrite Their Writing Advice on Their Hands

Need a boost? Take inspiration from one of these 14 writers and the advice they’d give if distilled only to what fit on the palms of their hands.

Guest Blog Post Strategies for Writers

This post at Galley Cat offers link to Jared Dees’ Book Launch Guide, with 33 solid strategies for authors to let the world know about their book. Get started with the strategies given for pitching and writing guest blog posts.

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Friday Links for Writers: 07.26.13

 

Yup, there's a copy of my novel draft in that bag, for revising on the train. At Rock Center with the boys. c Elissa Field

Yup, there’s a copy of my novel draft in that bag, for revising on the train. At Rock Center with the boys. c Elissa Field

I am traveling this week, which has me on sensory overload. Think: 22-hour drive, zipline obstacle course through the treetops, 5th Avenue and climbing rocks in Central Park with my boys…

As much as we talk about avoiding distractions in order to write, traveling has its own kinds of distractions. If you’re facing those during summer’s tempting travel months, check out Motivation to Write: Keep Writing While on Vacation. That said, I’m off to work by the pool with the boys.

Before I go, this week’s Friday Links include 4 great articles for taking writing deeper… followed by Chuck Wendig’s  As always, feel free to let me know which links resonated with you and what you’d like more of, or share your own links in the comments.

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Bent on Books : Openings and First Lines

This post by literary agent Susan Hawk of The Bent Agency offers 5 suggestions for the qualities she finds lead to successful openings and first lines. Thanks to Melanie Martilla for sharing this (and thanks for visiting here frequently, Melanie!).

The Difference Between Idea, Premise & Plot

In Donald Maass’s Writing the Breakout Novel, he observes that many novel drafts fail because the writer had a great idea or premise, but it wasn’t enough to sustain power through the arc of the narrative. This article by Janice Hardy distinguishes between the deepening role of idea, premise and plot in a way that may help a writer better establish a well-fledged concept.

Thought Verbs by Chuck Palahniuk

Trust Chuck Palahniuk as he says, “In the next six seconds, you’ll hate me…” This post on a tumblr collecting Palahniuk quotes shares some brass-knuckled advice: “From this point forward—at least for the next half year—you may not use “thought” verbs. These include: Thinks, Knows, Understands, Realizes, Believes, Wants, Remembers, Imagines, Desires, and a hundred others you love to use.” With these gone, Palahniuk urges writers to un-pack the real meaning intended by those shortcuts. (Thanks to Amanda Byrne, who shared this at Wordsmith Studios.)

Click post link for Maya Eilam's infographic.

Click post link at right for Maya Eilam’s infographic.

The Shapes of Stories: A Kurt Vonnegut Infographic

Eyes tired of words? Check out Maya Eilam’s infographic of Kurt Vonnegut’s theory on the archetypal shapes of stories. (My WIP would be Man Meets Girl While in Hole).

So You Just Had Your Book Published

Worried you won’t get that first novel finished? Or, got it finished and sold and now worry you won’t have any publishing worries left to keep you awake at night? No problem. Novelist Chuck Wendig has you covered with this post at Terrible Minds.

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Friday Links for Writers: 07.05.13

thailandIf I am late in posting this Friday Links for Writers, can we brag a little about having our feet up, kicked back, reading a book or luxuriating in chance to write uninterrupted because it’s summer?

Not just summer, but 4th of July’s long weekend. Savoring…

On Tuesday, I shared some great experiences I’ve had writing this week (Tuesday Writes). Kudos to a number of my writing friends and readers here who shared their writing milestones (and Twitter wordsprints) this week, too.

As always, each week’s writing includes awesome reading, and here are some of the best articles I’ve read this week. Let me know what resonates with you, what you’d like more of, or share your own links in the comments. Enjoy your weekend!

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4 Types of Freelance Clients to Avoid

This article by Lauren Levine at the Daily Muse is fabulous, especially for anyone considering getting into freelance writing or freelancing part time. No matter how tempting it is to take any client who asks for your services, Levine helps target the kinds of clients best avoided.

The Bridge & the Tunnel

Yeah, tease me: I’ve been tooting Donald Maass’s horn repeatedly the last 2 weeks. Last year I was doing the same over Ann Hood (like, in Writing Character: Sometimes the Work is Messy or this How Internal & External Conflict Build Story). Honestly, by the time you’re writing novel-length, it takes a certain quality of advice to really move your writing forward — to engage at the level of deepening conflict and character and story structure — and Hood and Maass do both of these. So, again, yes: another great resource from Maass. This article on Writers Unboxed addresses novel midpoints — key, as this is the part where so many drafts sag. Some fabulous prompts are included.

Work Alone: Hemingway’s 1954 Nobel Prize Acceptance Speech

Twice this week, I wrote about the value of having community support when writing. That said, in the end, it takes time alone to get the work done. Brainpickings is awesome at sharing original texts, and this transcript and recording of Hemingway’s Nobel Prize Acceptance speech is inspiring.

The Coffeeshop You Meet in Heaven

You don’t work in isolation but in a coffee shop, you say? This essay by Rebecca Makkai (author of The Borrower and several stories in Best American Short Stories, with a 2nd novel in the wings) in Ploughshares is worth a read. It’s Rebecca’s perfect coffee shop for writers.

Literary Culture Clash: Jonathan Lee Interviews Nicole Aragi

I could say Nicole Aragi was my favorite literary agent without actually knowing she existed simply because she has signed and promoted so many authors I admire (Nathan Englander, Jonathan Safran Foer, Aleksander Hemon, and being friends with Colum McCann, earns her bonus points). This interview by Jonathan Lee at Guernica is amazing to read, whether she reps your kind of fiction or not, just for offering a different glimpse inside publishing — one that includes love of good writing. (Thanks to agent Jenny Bent of the Bent Agency for sharing this. @jennybent)

Preditors & Editors

This is an old source I’d forgotten about — until a fellow writer was offered representation this week and the question arose: is the publisher legit? This is a great tool for vetting out legit publishers versus scams.

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Friday Links for Writers 02.22.13

Ernest Hemingway house, Key West (credit: user MacG5User at stock.xchng)

Ernest Hemingway house, Key West (credit: user MacG5User at stock.xchng)

What I’d like to take time to write about is how much I learned, reading a favorite author’s novel this week. But it’s time for Friday Links — and this Friday includes a range from old school advice from Hemingway to decoding ISBN’s. 

As always, let me know what you found inspiring in these or what topics you’d like to see more of.

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7 Tips from Ernest Hemingway

Going old school, here. While Hemingway pre-dated most MFA programs and was not from the modern crowd of writers laying down how-to-write advice, this article from Open Culture shares 7 pieces of writing advice curated from his letters and works. Unlike H., I’ve often sworn by processing a story while not actively writing — yet reflected on his point to never think about a story when you’re not working on it, as there have been times I was positive I’d written a scene but it turned out I’d thought it through but never written it down.

3 Ways to Save a Scene You Lack Confidence In

Shifting from Hemingway to fantasy writer L.B. Gale, here is an interesting piece about approaching that writing that came so easily yesterday, yet does not seem so fab in rereading, the next day. Gale is honest that there’s a point for binning, but otherwise offers 3 simple ways to regain the intended effect.

Who Should Read Your Unpublished Work?

Agent Rachelle Gardner is consistently fabulous in her advice to writers seeking publication, facing the first steps in promotion, and managing a growing career. This piece tackles the advice that writers should seek beta readers with the caveat that “not all readers are created equal,” with suggestions in making the most of early readers.

7 Common Questions About ISBNs

One of the keys to marketing a self-published book is making it accessible through distribution channels. In her article at SheWrites, Emily Suess explains the coding and practices behind ISBN, or International Standard Book Numbers. Great information for editing consultants and indie authors.

A Visual History of Literary References on The Simpsons

Just for fun, an old favorite: Jared Keller’s fine compilation in The Atlantic of classic literary references on The Simpsons, like an argument between Jonathan Franzen and Michael Chabon.

What did you find in these links that is useful to you? Let me know if you want more on a particular subject, or share your own best finds.

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Shared by the Library of Congress, this poster is from a Chicago promotion 1936-1941. No known copyright restrictions.This week’s writing has included preparing for a reading challenge I’ll kick off in March. As this vintage poster says: it’s time to “read the books you’ve always meant to read.” 
 
If you have a minute, please click here if you’d like to share the kinds of books on your 2013 Reading List — including any you’ve always meant to read yet never gotten around to.
 
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Notes of scene and personality of my character, scribbled in the margins while reading Ann Hood's Creating Character Emotions.

Notes of scene and personality of my character, scribbled in the margins while reading Ann Hood’s Creating Character Emotions.

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