header('Cache-Control: max-age=259200'); Procrastination Archives – Kristen Koster

Social Media: Where You’ll Find Me

 The Writer  Comments Off on Social Media: Where You’ll Find Me
Mar 152013

Social Network IconsThis week my accountability group’s How I Write series asks, “Which social media platforms do you do? Which do you prefer and why?”

I’m not an extrovert by any means, but I can almost pretend to be one on the internet for short periods of time. I do have a tendency to lurk, but I have met some great people through various online social media networks that I wouldn’t have gotten to know otherwise.

I think the most important thing when trying one out is whether you like the atmosphere and the people you connect with. Surround yourself with positive people, people who inspire you, make you laugh. While it’s important to find “your tribe”, it’s also important to look beyond it to escape the filter bubble

Daily Social Media


Likes: In and out quickly. The instant information when something happens. The cocktail party atmosphere. How approachable most people are.
Dislikes: 140 characters. Straight web interface. Impending death of Tweetdeck — I need to find a replacement.


Likes: Games. Groups, ability to find people you’ve lost touch with. More than 140 characters. Ability to filter what updates you get from some people.
Dislikes: Games. Privacy issues. Repeated sharing of hoaxes or just plain misinformation.

Frequent Social Media


Likes: Online photo sharing and organization. Groups if I want to read them. Random pic(k)s!
Dislikes: I always forget to check the groups. Some of the organization tools are a little clunky.


Likes: Finding new books from my friends! Tracking what I’ve read.
Dislikes: I tend to lurk on groups, not sure why.


Likes: Ooooooh, shiny! Lots of neat stuff out there.
Dislikes: Ooooooh, shiny!

Forgotten Social Media


Likes: Ability to do hangouts. Clean appearance. Communities seem like a good idea.
Dislikes: Circles aren’t necessarily intuitive to set up and use. Is it just me or is it still VERY quiet?


Likes: Easy to find cool new things! Great way to help spread the word about cool things on the net.
Dislikes: Remembering to use it! (Yeah, I never got into digg either.)


Likes: I like listening to new music. I like listening to old music.
Dislikes: Remembering to open up something other than iTunes, heck I even forget that some days.


Likes: Umm… I never really got into it. My kids use it and love it though. I like looking at other people’s when they’re linked from twitter.
Dislikes: Remembering it’s there?

I’m sure there are several others I’ve forgotten I signed up for. You’ve also probably noticed that LinkedIn isn’t on the list. I’ve gotten numerous invitations (Haven’t we all?), but don’t feel like I have time or really a good reason to be there. (I’m happy to listen to reasons why I’m wrong though.) I also currently use YouTube and IMDB, but I don’t post or comment on either of them.

I do also use NetworkedBlogs, Technorati, Gravatar, WordPress, and Blogger (for commenting on other blogs), but those are much more passive than the platforms listed above.

YOUR TURN: Which social media platforms do you do? Which do you prefer and why?

And if you’d like to check out the rest of my accountability group, you can find their blogs here:
Alexia ReedKimberly FarrisDanie FordEmma G. DelaneySusan Saxx

Apr 202012
Ways to Flip Your Brain: right brain/left brain spin dancer optical illusion

Click on image if not moving. Which way does she spin for you? Can you get her to switch directions?

This week for our How I Write series, my accountability group asked, “How do you balance between your muse and your internal editor? (and/or) How do you make your internal editor work for you, and not against you?” In otherwords, how do we find ways to flip your brain back and forth?

There’s a lot of talk about right-brained and left-brained people where the labels “logical” for the left side or “creative” for the right are assigned. My more Vulcan-esque left side frowns and is confused by the lack of research supporting this split, because in fact, both functions are present in both hemispheres. On the right, the flighty and timid sprite is feeling extra whimsical today so we’re going to run with this analogy. You can even take a quiz if you’re not sure which side you exercise more.

I’ve always loved this gif. She’s got all the grace I lack and she can’t seem to make up her mind about which way to turn. Oh wait… does she only spin in one direction for you? You guessed it… this gif is a quicker test. If you see her turning clockwise, then you’re using more of your right side of the brain and vice versa. Can you make her change directions? Is it easy, is it hard? Do you find it just spontaneously happens or can you make her flip at will?

A lot of artistic types talk about their muse or their characters speaking to them, of being unable to create until that spark of inspiration hits. Others claim there is no such thing and you can train yourself to be creative on demand. Another term that comes up a lot is “internal editor”. You know, that voice that complains when you use the wrong word or says it all sucks, or wants those paragraphs or scenes switched around. Yeah… that annoying pest. I don’t know about you, but they always seem to want to get to work when I want to just write.

  1. Practice with the Gif above This is kinda fun and feels like you’re wasting time, but only you can tell if it’s worth it. When I’m feeling overwhelmed by my internal editor, I’ll pull up this gif and wait until I can get her going clockwise before trying to write.
  2. Visualization Sometimes before a writing session, I’ll visualize stuffing my internal editor into an iron-bound box and shipping her off to Timbuktu for a while. This, combined with a timer, helps me focus on the creation of new words instead of getting caught up in futzing with ones already on the page.
  3. Give Both Sides Time To Play It might sound weird giving your worst critic time to play, but it doesn’t always have to be on YOUR stuff. A critique partner can benefit too! So… Give that IE a vacation (forced if necessary like above), but also give your analytical side some exercise too.
  4. Compartmentalize Set boundaries for yourself. Maybe you can only allow yourself 30 minutes rereading what you wrote previously and make changes and catch typos. Maybe you feel more creative in the morning, so use that time to create and do your edits and revisions later in the day. You might even find alternating days or longer periods work better for you.
  5. Prime the Pump Similar to compartmentalizing… do some warm-ups before jumping in to your project. If you need to be creative, try do something for 5-10 minutes that stimulates one or more of the items on right-side brain function list below. If you need your best analytical skills, pick something from the left side.
Left Brain Right Brain
uses logic feeling
detail oriented “big picture” oriented
facts rule imagination rules
words and language symbols and images
present and past present and future
math and science philosophy & religion
can comprehend can “get it” (i.e. meaning)
knowing believing
acknowledges appreciates
order/pattern perception spatial perception
knows object name knows object function
reality based fantasy based
forms strategies presents possibilities
practical impetuous
safe risk taking

YOUR TURN: Which way did she turn for you at first? How do you switch gears between creative and analytical tasks? Easily, consciously or do you need to wait for inspiration to strike?

And if you’d like to read about how the rest of my accountability group answered, you can find their blogs here:

* Alexia Reed * Kimberly Farris *
* Angeleque Ford * Danie Ford * Emma G. Delaney

Spring It Forward

 Writing Life  Comments Off on Spring It Forward
Mar 232012

photo of spring flowersSpring forward. Spring Cleaning. Renewal. Rebirth. Awakening.

These are all clichés associated with spring. Now, we all know that clichés become trite and commonplace for good reason. There’s a universally acknowledge grain of truth in them or tradition builds up and it’s just the done thing.

So… What have I done to spring myself forward this year?

2012 Seems to be the year of challenging myself. This is the first spring in about three years that I’ve felt able to do this. I’m not swamped with my son’s health issues. My focus isn’t bent to making sure he’s finishing every piece of assigned work so it counts toward his attendance or even being split by calls from the health office to come pick him up from school, because his head hurts so bad he can’t make it any longer.

First there was my RWASD chapter’s PALS Challenge where the published authors challenge the PROs to finish a book between February and September. Yup. Jumped on that bandwagon. Signed up to finish a 75k word story, I need to put about 500 words a day toward it. This used to mean about 20 minutes of writing on a good day. Completely doable though.

Next came the chapter’s Spring Into Romance contest (Deadline was extended to March 31, 2012! The contest has a positive reputation for constructive and valuable feedback and is only about $1 per page before postage.) I only judged last year and I’m judging again this year. But, I decided I needed to enter as well this year. It was on my goals list to enter an RWA Chapter contest, and what better place to start than my home chapter. I pushed this one further. I submitted two entries to see the difference between the feedback on the older piece and the newer piece to objectively see how my writing has changed.

Never one to shy away from encouraging others to join her in mad deadline dashes, Bria Quinlan decided to host a #wordfool challenge this year (yup, that’s lots of words by April Fool’s Day). I thought it would be cheating to use the same words I was already doing for the PALS challenge, so I signed up to add an additional 250 words a day to one of my older manuscripts that could use some fleshing out. Again, not a lot, but manageable right now. So far, so good! Even after coming down with a horrible sinus infection this week. I slacked off on the PALs challenge, but even with a 102˚F fever, I managed to find those 250 words. Hopefully, they won’t be too obvious. =)

Use that renewed energy and challenge yourself to take new steps, up your game, reach new heights. Pick a goal, and spring it forward!

YOUR TURN: So… What are you doing to spring yourself forward this year? (This can be in your career, your life, or any creative endeavor!)

And if you’d like to read about what the rest of my accountability group is up to this spring, you can find their blogs here:

* Alexia Reed * Kimberly Farris *
* Angeleque Ford * Danie Ford * Emma G. Delaney

Mar 162012

Cover image for Dorothea Brande's On Becoming a Writer
This week’s topic for my accountability group in our How I Write Series is “What do you wish you had known before you had even started to write? What would you have told your past self? Would you have discouraged yourself or encouraged? Would you have gone a different route?”

So… this post isn’t so much general advice to newbie writers, but more specifically tailored to what I wish I’d known back in 2007 when I decided I was going to do this writing thing as a creative outlet. I was bored and at loose ends during the summer of 2007. I picked up my husband’s copy of Becoming A Writer by Dorothea Brande and was blown away.

The book was written in the 1930s, but here she was in my head, speaking directly to ME, telling me I COULD do this! She believed in me. Total and complete unconditional belief.

Ok. That sounds hokey, but it’s exactly how it felt. And, so armed with that boost in confidence and not much else, I set out to write a Regency-set historical romance, just like the ones I’d been devouring at an astonishing rate. In retrospect, probably not the best plan, but not the worst either. If I’d tried something too simple, I would have been bored easily and not stuck with it. Instead, I’m still eager to tell the first two stories I began the right way. And some day, I’ll pull it off! I’m getting closer all the time.


What do I wish I had known before you had even started to write?

How to better tell a story. I’m still working on learning this one, but knowing where to look for guidance would have been a godsend. These books will be some of the most influential to your writing process and understanding of how stories work: Emotional Structure: Creating the Story Beneath the Plot by Peter Dunne, Story: Substance, Structure, Style and The Principles of Screenwriting by Robert McKee and On Writing Romance: How to Craft a Novel That Sells by Leigh Michaels. Go read them now.

Also, listen to Dorothea… write daily. The journaling is a good start, but keep it up and try playing with fiction in there too.

Oh, and going Gluten-Free will help instead of losing so much time to the boy’s almost daily migraines between 5th and 7th grade. Push to find the cause, not just treat symptoms.

What would I have told my past self?

This is harder than it looks. What you read in a published book is NOT a first draft. Don’t give up because the first draft isn’t perfect.

PRACTICE, practice, practice. Practice with ideas, synopses, hooks, blurbs. Oh.. and when you download Scrivener, don’t give up on it. It’s far more powerful than you think it is. It WILL help you see and build the structure you crave.

Would I have discouraged or encouraged myself?

I don’t think there are any valid reasons to discourage myself about writing in general. I definitely needed pushed and bless my DH, he’s encouraged me every step of the way.

Valid discouragement would be to avoid time sucks, avoid long stretches of not writing new words or ideas.

I would encourage putting myself out there sooner and networking earlier. Social media is a force to reckon with, but it’s not the only thing to spend time on.

Would I have gone a different route?

I don’t think I would have done things very differently, just sooner. And more consistently.

Life is going to happen around you. You will hit some serious road bumps, control what you can. Don’t hide from the world, don’t stop writing. Find your escape in the ballrooms, the salons, the characters. Yes, it may be easier to just play facebook games, and you may even convince yourself that you’re “helping your DH”, but you’re wasting valuable time and eneergy. *head smack*

Two other things, you know that Warrior Writer workshop with Bob Mayer?! It didn’t kill you, right? 1) You SHOULD take both days. *head smack* 2) You SHOULD listen to Pam and Margaret and join RWASD right away. *head smack*

YOUR TURN: What career advice would you go back and give yourself when you were just starting out?

And if you’d like to read about what the rest of my group would go back and tell themselves, you can find their blogs here:

* Alexia Reed * Kimberly Farris *
* Angeleque Ford * Danie Ford * Emma G. Delaney

Mar 092012

Photo of a rabbit munching on grass.

The seemingly innocent-looking plot bunny
(Cuniculus ex machina).

Before we get to plot bunnies, let’s talk about creative insecurities for a minute. Many people worry to the point of paranoia about having their ideas stolen. This notion isn’t specific to any one industry either. Movies, music, writing, game design, car makers, electronics, everyone’s got something they’re afraid someone is going to overhear and take off with it and make their millions with it.

Unfortunately, ideas are cheap. Ideas are the easy part! It’s the execution of those ideas that are the equivalent of the MultiMillions Lotto ticket. Or not.

So… what’s a writer to do?

If you’ve ever heard the term plot bunny, you already know what I’m talking about. If you haven’t, a plot bunny is an innocent looking idea that hops up to you, nibbles at the carrot you’ve been dangling in front of your muse’s cave, and promptly scampers off in completely unpredictable zig-zags only to disappear down some plot hole, dragging you and your work-in-progress (WIP) with it because you refuse to let go of the string tied to the carrot. Way to go!

Today, we’re going to talk about what we can do to harness these wild critters and tamer, more domesticated story ideas and put them to work for us when we need them. Generating ideas, once you start is easy… you play the “What If…” game enough and the ideas start breeding like… well,… bunnies.

How to keep track of story ideas?

You need a way to corral these pesky varmints! Whether you use a notebook, a scrapbook, a WORD document, some other fancy piece of software on your computer or a combination of all of the above really doesn’t matter. The important thing is that your system works for you and that you can periodically retrieve and review your ideas.

Personally, I keep a set of nested folders on my computer for projects I’d like to one day write. Several have simple notes, others are more detailed, complete with pictures and outlines. Others have exploratory writing where a character, a voice, or other aspect captured.

How to decide if an idea goes into the story idea file?

The middle of a brainstorming session is NOT the time to let internal editors out of their box. Leave the censoring until later. Ideas shouldn’t be tossed before they’ve had adequate time to ripen. Some will definitely be “off” when you look at them again. Toss them then. It really doesn’t cost anything in the meantime, and luckily there’s no physical mess or smell to deal with. The ones that only seem a bit stale? Let them percolate a while longer. They’ll either bloom given more time, or prove rotten later.

Yep, I periodically review my idea file (not just when I’m bored or procrastinating) looking to see what’s interesting, might spark other ideas, or just to see which ones need a little air and attention. This is all part of the next section…

How to decide if an idea will make a good story? If it won’t?

Some ideas won’t let go. Like earworms, they’ll keep coming back. Often when you least expect it. These plot bunnies are more like the vorpal rabbit of Monty Python fame. They’re the kind that leap up and grab you by the throat and refuse to let go. These shouldn’t be ignored, but carefully explored and exercised regularly. They can be tamed, although some may take longer than others. If it holds your attention over time, it probably has some merit.

Many people talk about the “Book of your Heart” and “commercial ready” fiction. Only you can decide if an idea contains a story you want to tell.

Take your plot bunnies to the equivalent of a county fair. Talk about them with other writers and readers. If they get excited about a story idea, it probably has some merit.

My biggest problem is identifying story ideas that are with the range of my technical capabilities. I often feel like I’ve bitten off more than I can chew. Practice and patience are probably the best tools to use in this situation. I keep telling myself that anyway.

How to choose which story idea to work on?

The one that won’t go away. That’s easy for me to say, because I don’t have any external deadlines yet. I’m free to pick and choose between which characters are vying most loudly for my attention. Shiny New Project Syndrome (SNPS) is a valid concern. This is when anything new looks more interesting than what you SHOULD be working on. Set a limit on how long you’ll allow the new idea out to play. Use it as a reward for progress toward completion on the dreaded old project.

How to take an idea and form it into a plot?

Once I have an idea selected, I play with it for quite some time before I ever try to begin putting together a plot. I have to know the characters first. I have to know what drives them and how they’ll react to certain things. Don’t get me wrong, I like to be surprised along the way too, but I need to know the lay of the land first.

What to do when a story idea hits while working on another WIP?

First, make sure it’s not just SNPS rearing it’s ugly head. If it is, feel free to set aside 5-15 minutes to jot down everything you can think of about it. Remember, at this point the idea is probably not ripe. You can’t judge its merit yet. Let you muse play with it for a bit, then let it sit. Of course, I’ve also taken ideas like this and run with them and I think it shows that they weren’t quite ready to go because there are either gaping holes or I run out of steam after a certain point with them. They’re still in my folder, waiting for more information.

What kinds of ideas are in my story file?

Regency Romance Ideas: Beyond my big three projects (BHT, Revealed, and a new one I just started writing, but have been playing around with since last summer), I have 2 sequel ideas for BHT, a sequel to Revealed, a story about horse breeding and bloodlines in the nobility that’s based on a folktale at the same time, a Regency-set romcom involving mistaken identity and gender role reversals.

Other ideas: contemporaries: chef & foodie/reviewer/blogger, Holiday story with two blizzard-grounded travelers paired up in hotel because the airline assumes she’s male because of her name, then there’s the game developer heroine who finds true love online.

Also, before I go, I’ll apologize for any mixed metaphors or even abandoned ones above. I’ll blame it on the free-ranging wild bunnies and not on distractions or the lateness of the hour.

YOUR TURN: How do you keep track of your ideas? Do you have a wishlist of things you want to work on (feel free to talk about artistic projects, or any other projects around the house, the organization methods are likely similar)?

And if you’d like to read about what the rest of my group suggests for ways to deepen characters, you can find their blogs here:

* Alexia Reed * Kimberly Farris *
* Angeleque Ford * Danie Ford * Emma G. Delaney

Jan 062012

Last time, our How I Write series, we talked about which books we’d include in a time capsule for 2011. This time, we’re looking at the other side of the calendar and all the introspection and planning that comes with the beginning of a new year. The questions posed were “What did you accomplish in 2011? What one thing about last year would you change? And What are your goals for 2012?” This isn’t a new topic for my accountability group, we start assessing the current year and how we want to change and revise and plan for the coming year with SMART goals back in November.

2011 Accomplishments

I joined RWA at the national and local levels and also joined the regency era specialty chapter, the Beau Monde. I also finished BHT and submitted it to a literary agent. I haven’t heard back but it was enough to get my PRO status for RWA.

A photo of our new house.

We're homeowners again!

We bought a new house at the beginning of the year and have made significant progress on settling in and making it ours.

I made an effort to listen to music on a regular basis and got in at least 60 hours each month. I also got a new digital camera for my birthday and have been playing with it with good results. I also made an effort to reconnect with two of my friends and had brunch with them once a month.

As a family, we managed to do something together for each major holiday/vacation, saw our daughter promote from 8th grade and enter high school and celebrated DH’s 40th birthday. There were trips to D.C./Philly/NYC, L.A. and Jacksonville for educational enrichment, fun and family.

this was about half of what I’d hoped to accomplish but when it’s all listed out it sounds like a lot, considering all the usual health and chaotic interruptions.

What Needs to Change?

Less drifting along and more focus. Like water, I’m prone to take the path of least resistance. My accountability group and several members in my local RWA Chapter are amazing at prodding me along and give me the courage to move forward. I don’t have any good excuses for not chasing what I want.

2012 Goals

So, my big, hairy, audacious goals for 2012… I have more goals than what I’m laying out here, but most of them would bore you to tears. You probably won’t care if we get our bookshelves organized, if I treat myself to a spa day every 3 months, or if I make my annual donation to Juvenile Diabetes Research. Balance is important, but I feel my writing has suffered from having my attention pulled elsewhere or just drifting because I didn’t have clear paths to follow. 2012 is a year to change that.

Without further dithering on, here’s what I’m willing to stand up here and say, THIS is what I WILL accomplish this year:

  1. Attend the Nations RWA Conference in Anaheim in July. This is a HUGE for me. I’m not good with crowds or new situations. Eep.
  2. Have 2 mss out to agents & contests by the end of the year. Gotta justify my PRO pin and you can’t get a yes by never asking!
  3. Migrate my online identity to my name instead of my blog name or a nickname. Again, this is very hard for me, but needs done if I want to be taken seriously.
  4. Stop lurking and participate with other writers and with local people who energize us. One of the ways I’ll be pushing myself to interact with other writers is doing interviews here on the blog. Expect the majority to be Regency Romance, but I have a couple Victorian writers in mind that I think you’ll love too.
  5. Participate in a 365 Photo Project for 2012. Look for weekly summaries soon!

You should feel to pester me about any and all of the above if you haven’t sensed any movement from my cave in a while! Seriously.

YOUR TURN: How are you challenging yourself this year?

If you’d like to see what my friends accomplished in 2011 and have planned for 2012, you can find their blogs here:

* Alexia Reed * Kimberly Farris *
* Danie Ford * Emma G. Delaney * Angeleque Ford *

Dec 232011

Last week, our How I Write series laid out our writer’s toolkit and resources. This week we were asked, “Which books that you’ve read this year would you put into a time capsule for 2011?” It’s funny how you can almost tell who picked the questions each week by how whimsical or practical they are. This week’s question was put on the list by Alexia, but I picked it.

I read a wide variety of books. Our house is filled with Science Fiction, Fantasy, Mystery, Romance, Non-fiction, and even numerous collections of poems and literary short stories. Oh and comic books. I don’t just mean graphic novels, I mean individual issues as well as collected editions. Yes, many of those are not mine, but I’m often just looking for something different to read.

I wish I had kept up with keeping my reading list current in GoodReads, but I’m going to make an effort to do so again this coming year.

In reverse amazon purchase order, here’s my top 9 books for 2011:

The Black Hawk by Joanna Bourne
I love the way Joanna Bourne uses language. That shouldn’t be a secret by now. Adrian’s story was one I eagerly awaited and while it wasn’t what I was expecting at all, in no way did it disappoint. In addition to her command of language in general, she also uses it in such a way that her characters are expertly drawn and brought to life with their very own voices.
Pure Red by Danielle Joseph
I read a lot of YA, mostly to know what my daughter’s reading, but also to scout out great books for her to read. This one caught my eye because it tackles the topic of searching for your passion. An excellent read for anyone on this journey of self-discovery, I can only wish it’d been around when I was my daughter’s age.
A Night to Surrender by Tessa Dare
This is the first book in The Spindle Cove series and it packs a wonderful sense of humor and also addresses some serious topics at the same time. I fell in love with the main characters, but also several of the secondary characters. If you haven’t read the companion novella for this series: Once Upon a Winter’s Eve, You’ll want to go grab a copy and settle in for a cozy winter’s night read.
We Are Not Alone by Kristen Lamb
This book is a must read for the person who isn’t technically savvy or is new to social media. I sent a copy to my father-in-law, it was so useful. I’m still working on fixing a couple of mistakes Lamb pointed out from learning the hard way, first hand experience. Great advice, very personably and entertaining voice, and a great sense of cheering you on in your efforts. Lamb also encourages people to use the #MYWANA hashtag on twitter for additional conversations with others in the same boat.
Thief of Hope by Cindy Young-Turner
One of my friends from college published her first book this year. She had me at “thief”. But you add in a fantasy world with an interesting magic and political atmopshere, and you’ve got a fantastic read.
Texas Gothic by Rosemary Clement-Moore
Yep, more YA. I know want to go read more about the other Goodnight witches. Paranormal with lots of wit and real life dilemmas for the characters. I have yet to read a book by Clement-Moore that I didn’t love.
Too Hot to Touch by Louisa Edwards
If you love food and you love steamy romances, you need to indulge yourself with the richness of Louisa Edwards’ culinary explorations. She’s earned her kitchen credentials and is a bona fide foodie and it shows in her books.
Story Engineering by Larry Brooks
I love Larry Brook’s website Story Fix Lots of practical information for this theoretical plotter. I’m not sure I’d recommend it for pantsers, but if you’re interested in what makes a story work, this is a great read.
The War of Art by Steven Pressfield
I was on a big kick last year with Sun Tzu’s The Art of War and The Art of War for Writers: Fiction Writing Strategies, Tactics, and Exercises by James Scott Bell, so this one by Pressfield was a natural follow-up. Learning to be an artist is definitely a lot different than strictly practical professions such as business and economics. You may need some of those skills, as well as many more today, as artists are no longer relegated to garrets or ivory towers.

YOUR TURN: What books would you put in a time capsule for this year?

If you’d like to see what’s in my friends’ time capsules, you can find their blogs here:

* Alexia Reed * Kimberly Farris *
* Danie Ford * Emma G. Delaney * Angeleque Ford *

Dec 092011

Last week, our How I Write series delved into our planning process, and since we’re all writers, we focused on plotting. Which inevitably led to my post on Plotting via Spreadsheets – Don’t Be Trapped in the Box.

This week we were asked, “What’s on your writer’s wish list for Santa?”

A children's form letter that has been filled out reads "Dear Santa, This year I have been ( ) Very Good (X) Not So Good At Times and would really like to find a time clock, an industrial-sized tube of super glue to insure some quality BICHOK time, and a large dose of confidence so I can finish this novel! under my Christmas tree please. Here's a picture to show you what I mean: Than you so much, Kristen."

Wishing you and yours a happy holiday season!

YOUR TURN: What’s on your wish list for self-improvement and career-building for this coming year?

And if you’d like to see what’s on my friend’s writer’s wish list, you can find their blogs here:

* Alexia Reed * Kimberly Farris *
* Danie Ford * Emma G. Delaney * Angeleque Ford *

Nov 182011
Photo of a Christmas Tree with eclectic ornaments.

A typical Koster Christmas tree.

This week, my accountability group is writing about “Holiday Plans and Are You Writing?” Last week, we blogged about the topic of “Where do you stand?” in terms of our writer’s journeys. The entries are part of our How I Write series.

Ya know, I’ve always wondered about Chris Baty’s sanity for picking November for NaNoWriMo. Then I think, “Student, not mother!” and nod to myself and keep going. My plans on the NaNo front went well for the first week and then I hit a wall. Having kids home sick from school on a revolving basis this week didn’t help either. I’ve been trying not to catch whatever they’ve had, but my focus and motivation has been completely shot in the whole process.

I enjoy the holiday season, but I’m always looking forward to the restful and relaxing aspects of it more than the hustle and bustle. I was sickened by seeing Christmas decorations up in the stores before Halloween weekend. The idea of Black Friday sends me to the corner to curl up in a whimpering ball. Cyber Monday is more my speed, but I try to spread it out through the month of November and the first week or two of December.

While I was growing up, the Holidays always meant food, family and travel. Thanksgiving has always meant a lot on my dad’s side of the family which traces its roots to the Mayflower and beyond. Turkey, mashed potatoes, gravy stuffing, green bean casserole, sweet potato casserole with the pineapple and marshmallows, fresh yeast rolls, Apple Harvest Cake and pumpkin pie have always had our table groaning. But last November 1st, DH and I gave up grains, legumes, potatoes and most white sugar. Thanksgiving felt kinda funky. Not as funky as the year we went to his uncle’s in NYC and didn’t have turkey, but a huge pork roast. My Puritan roots were shocked, but I survived. Christmas dinner is usually a replay of Thanksgiving as well.

The biggest take away here is that our routine shifted and we survived. I HATE change and new things. But I’m learning lots of new tricks as I work on trying to build up my discipline and continue to improve my craft while balancing it with the bustling life around me. I think I’ve learned that I can’t throw all my hopes and dreams into the single biggest writing month of the year (NaNoWriMo), not and still maintain any resemblance to balance and sanity.

So about those promised tips in the title… They may sound sarcastic in places, they may be a little tongue-in-cheek in others, but they are all things that I’ve found that help me and to me are worth trading money for time and sanity in some cases. Your mileage may vary, but do what you can to keep your creative tanks full.

How I Write While Dealing With Holiday Madness:

  1. Consider an Online Christmas — All your ordering can be done between writing breaks and many offer gift wrapping options. And really, who has time to wrap? We seriously considered saying it was an Amazon themed Christmas one year and the boxes would have been deemed as acceptable. Saves your gas and time and sanity! Ok, maybe not the most carbon conscious option, but it still has appeal. Just don’t hand your kids scotch-taped boxes and tell them to wrap their own presents. I HATED not knowing what was in those boxes until Christmas Day. (*waves* Hi, Mother!)
  2. Add Writing Time to your Wish List — You won’t get it if you don’t ask for it. And if you ask nicely in advance, I’ve found people are more likely to respect your time and space. I also find that just taking it by getting up earlier than everyone else works wonders. They get to feel superior because they slept in so late, and you get a quiet house to yourself — until they get up. At which point, feel free to direct this hapless soul that has wandered into your creative space to dump the ingredients for dinner in the crockpot to let you finish this section.
  3. Decide What Matters Most — Only YOU can answer this one. Plan according to your priorities and don’t feel guilty about it. If you have a family, next summer consider talking about what people enjoy doing most during the winter holidays and adjust your traditions to drop ones that no one likes or try new ones that appeal to your family’s values and tastes. If something doesn’t work for you, make a note of it so you don’t repeat it next year.
  4. Make Ahead Meals — Dump chicken is a staple in my freezer. Buy a bargain tray of boneless skinless chicken breasts or thicker pork chops. Buy a couple bottles of BBQ, Italian Dressing, Ranch Dressing and some quart-sized ziploc freezer bags. For my family of 4, I put 4 breasts or equivalent servings of chops in a ziploc. Then add approximately 3/4 cup of the BBQ, Italian or Ranch Dressing (I also add some minced garlic and some black pepper to this one). Zip and freeze flat. You can bake one of those suckers from frozen at 350˚F for 50-60 minutes and get two solid 25 minute writing sprints in while it cooks. It marinates as it freezes and also more if you let it thaw first, but honestly, who remembers to do that in time?!
  5. Make Sacrifices to the Crockery Gods — I can’t tell you how many times throwing something into the crockpot in the morning has saved my bacon! Look for simple recipes with 5 ingredients or less, dump chicken and pork loins work well for this too. Most of dinner cooks while you’re doing your thing. Husbands and teens CAN be taught to dump the ingredients in. They may claim to have forgotten how the next time, but this is where all that practice at being a persistent writer comes pays off!
  6. Pamper Yourself — De-stress by relaxing. Curl up and read a book. Go see a movie. Go get a mani-pedi if that’s your thing. You’re running around doing everything for everyone else right now, right? Hopefully, they won’t forget you deserve to be pampered and treated like royalty, but… yeah. Trust me on this one. You’ll feel better for giving yourself a treat like this in the middle of the chaos.
  7. Holiday Parties, Concerts, & Get Togethers — Don’t let them get you down. They’re a great opportunity for people watching! If you see or overhear something you’re afraid you’ll forget, slip into the bathroom and pull out your trusty notebook or smart phone or whatever and note it down for later! Same thing goes for that Aha! moment that strikes you in the middle of the concert… don’t lose it!
  8. Say ‘NO!’ When Appropriate — You know your deadlines and obligations. Don’t short-change your own goals just because every family on the block has invited you over for some eggnog and carols. You know the connections you can’t miss, but you’re not lying if you say you have other plans and what you mean is you want to write. Give yourself the gift of time for yourself.
  9. Houseguests — Whether you have them or are one… be sure to schedule downtime for everyone. Some may need more than others.
  10. Remember Why You Celebrate— To me, this is the most important one… if my writing slips, it slips. If my holiday prep slips, it slips. I’d much rather spend time with the people I love having a good time than run around like a chicken with its head cut off, scrambling to get everything done and feel miserable about it.

YOUR TURN: With the holidays’ coming up, what are you holiday plans? What are your favorite holiday food traditions? And how are you plan to balance your creative endeavors with your real life obligations? Or are you taking a break?

And if you’d like to read about how the rest of my group approaches their research, you can find their blogs here:

* Alexia Reed * Angeleque Ford * Danie Ford *
* Emma G. Delaney * Kimberly Farris *

Nov 042011

This week my accountability group is blogging about how we buckle down and focus on our writing to inspire our creativity as a few of us are participating in this year’s NaNoWriMo challenge. Last week’s post on research strategies and sources is also part of our How I Write series.

The title of this post is a play on words: both in the sense that it rises from within and finding that sphere of focus that lures the muse out into action. I find my creativity bubbles best when I can control my ability to narrow my focus, limit distractions and have something to hold me accountable. This post is a bit of an expansion on the one we did a while back called “Getting Down to Business” which looked at the routines we rely on to settle into writing.

Narrow Focus to improve Creativity

I’ve always been able to hyper-focus on something that interests me or is mind-numbingly tedious. Give me a good book, a puzzle to solve or get me into the zone with a sewing project or organizing data or text and I can tune out the world. I’d probably get in trouble for this, but my husband has the same ability, perhaps more so. It’s not unusual for one of us to walk up behind the other, ask a question and be ignored until we forcibly insert ourselves into the other’s attention bubble.

I know I used to drive my roommate nuts in college. In order to study, I’d turn on music to drown out the noise from the rest of the hall. Unfortunately for her, what worked best for me was loud and obnoxious like Run D.M.C or The Violent Femmes. I knew them well enough that I could tune them out as well and they provided excellent coverage for any noise on the floor.

Lately, for writing, I’ve found that I can’t listen to music with lyrics if I’m trying to write down new words of my own. Does. Not. Work. Doesn’t matter how well I know it or not, it’s distracting. My solution? Instrumental music. Preferably Peter Gabriel’s Passion soundtrack. There’s just something about the building rhythm of the percussion on those tracks that intensifies from the beginning through to the end of the hour simply pulls me along and the words with it.

The song in the video below is a great example of how the music builds throughout. If you have any suggestions for stuff that sounds similar, please let me know! I’ve found Japanese drumming to be VERY close to what I’m looking for, but I’m always looking for new stuff too!

My next album of choice is the soundtrack from Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon for similar reasons. I usually get pulled out of my zone when the song “A Love Before Time” comes up. I often skip both the English and the Mandarin versions because of this, but at least they’re at the end. I’ve also listened to some other instrumentals pieces, but nothing works as well for me as the Gabriel soundtrack.

Limit Distractions to Creativity

I’m horrible about distractions. I’ve always needed to take frequent breaks and rest/refocus my eyes as I’m far sighted and hate my glasses. This usually means looking out the window. Hummingbirds are a HUGE distraction. But any movement in my peripheral vision will pull me out. I’d probably do better with blinders than headphones. I used to write with headphones (more as a signal to the other parents waiting) during my kids’ martial arts practices, but I lost that hour of writing time when they gave that up.

A ringing phone drives me nuts. It has to be answered by the second ring or it kills me. I could probably turn it off, but I feel I need to be available in case school calls about one of the kids. With CallerID there’s no excuse other than being unable to stand the sound of it ringing not to ignore calls I don’t need to take. If only the telemarketers were as trainable as everyone else to respect my “office hours”.

Trying to work when the kids are home is just asking to be interrupted. They’re teens, so they should be self-sufficient by now. Honestly, they mostly are… but as any mom knows, as soon as your attention is directed elsewhere, like to a phone call or something you’d like to do for yourself… BAM! There they are, like magic. This is why my writing time usually falls during the day between dropping them off at school and picking them up again. You can imagine the havoc this plays with my ability to focus when my son is home with a migraine, especially when he missed an entire quarter when they knocked him down daily and then we did home-study for a quarter. Luckily, he’s doing much better this year. Although he has missed a few days here and there, it’s not constant. I also find working in the mornings on weekends before anyone else is up to be a good time.

Staying Accountable

So that brings me to the internet. I’m my own worst distraction some days. There was a running joke in college about “Study breaks” which really translated into “I need to take a break from the fun and study”. I always do better knowing someone else is working “with” me. Or at least at the same time. This is also a holdover from college where my now-husband would force me to work and more importantly finish my undergrad thesis by saying “If I have to work, so do you.” So I did.

These last two factors are why chat challenges work so well for me. I find I work best with 20-30 minute “sprints” with a few minutes between to refocus my eyes, check-in with whomever I’m working with and be accountable for how my time was spent. The #1k1hr challenges on twitter are too long and I find myself drifting away from the task to randomly surf. I don’t think I could use one of the internet blocking programs because I frequently look something up for research and go right back to writing. Research like that doesn’t usually pull me away from the project for long, it’s undirected or unspecific research that is dangerous.

Deadlines and I are not good acquaintances yet. This is one of the reasons I keep coming back to NaNoWriMo. Some days are better than others for productivity, but I feel like I need to be doing this on a consistent basis. I’ve tried writing trackers and such, and unless I’m already dialed into the project, it’s not a motivator. But knowing so many others are working toward the same goal? Yeah, that speaks to me and I can’t always ignore the call.

YOUR TURN: How do you shut it all off and just focus? Do you play music to block the world? Do you shut yourself into a room for a few hours? Can you manage it while surrounded by others?

And if you’d like to read about how the rest of my group approaches their research, you can find their blogs here:

* Alexia Reed * Danie Ford * Emma G. Delaney *
* Angeleque Ford * Kimberly Farris *

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