National Novel Writing Month–Yay or Nay?

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When I became a mother, I couldn’t wait for all the things I would teach my kids.

I wanted to introduce them to music, dance, and art. I wanted them to have happy associations with Jewish observance. I wanted to inspire them to be lifelong learners and book lovers.

What I didn’t expect was how much my kids would teach and inspire me. My oldest daughter encouraged me to write a children’s novel which resulted in an award-winning book.

My son continues to inspire me to not “sweat the small stuff” and to stay positive.

My youngest daughter taught me to trust that she is learning, even though she is not in a traditional school.  Lately, she has been a beacon of light as I crawl through the tunnel of discouragement regarding my second novel  attempt. She understands my battle with perfectionism and, fortunately, does not seem to suffer from that condition.

“You need to try NaNoWriMo” she told me.

She was referring to National Novel Writing Month. Every November thousands of aspiring writers sign on to the project website. Their goal: write a quick first draft of a novel–in a month. That’s 50,000 words in 30 days!  Of course, not everyone succeeds, but the process itself is valuable–so they say.

“It’s all about silencing your inner critic. At least for a month,” Audrey tells me, fully aware of my nemesis.

Audrey has participated in the Youth Division for the past few years. She enjoyed the pep talks, the writing forums, and the rush of seeing her word count rise.

While I enthusiastically supported her participation, NaNoWriMo sounded like torture to me. I had several reasons for not signing on.

l.  I’ve already written a novel.

2. I’m not a fast writer.

3. I hate writing a big long mess.

4. November is a very busy month.

5. I have other writing contests to work on.

6.  I could never win.

7.  Did I mention that I could never write 50,000 words in a month?

You get the idea.

Of course, Audrey has a counter argument for each of my arguments.  “What have you go to lose?” she finally huffed, after I stubbornly clung to my excuses.

I was reminded of my father. Growing up, I suffered from a lot of worry.  Whether is was speaking in front of the class or trying something new, my anxiety would get in the way.

“What’s the worst thing that can happen?” my father would ask.

Which, today, inspired me to ask myself: What’s the worst thing that could happen by committing myself to NaNoWriMo? 

Answer: 1.  I write a bunch of garbage.  2. I don’t reach the goal.

Hmm. Not the end of the world by any means.

Then I suddenly thought of another question.  What’s the best thing that might happen? 

Answer. 1. I get back on track with the story I want to write. Even better: 2. I get in the flow and churn out a rough draft that gives me something to work on.

I hesitated to the last minute. I thought about being a role model for my writing workshop students (whom I encouraged to enter the Young Writers NaNoWriMo).

So I took the plunge and registered. This is my public announcement.

“Oy, “I’ll never write 50,000 words,” I said to Audrey immediately afterward.

“Mom!”

“Okay. I take it back.”

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The next day I got the first NaNoWriMo pep talk in my inbox. It was from award-winning YA author, Rainbow Rowell.

Wow, she was describing my every thought regarding National Novel Writing Month. Here’s an excerpt from her most excellent post.

Dear Writer,

I was very skeptical about NaNoWriMo at first.

It seemed like something that amateur writers would do. Or young writers. People who needed to be tricked into finishing     their books. I’d already written two books by October 2011, and sold them to publishers, and I couldn’t imagine writing either of them—or anything good—in a month.

That’s not writing, I thought, that’s just piling up words. But then I thought about how wonderful it would be to have a pile of 50,000 words… 

And guess what? Ms. Rowell’s NaNoWriMo first draft ended up becoming her recently published novel, Fangirl.

Her words hit my motivation button. Time to get writing.  Fast!

How do your children inspire you? Are you a NaNoWriMo participant?

New Year’s Resolution Check-up–Are you still there?

March 8thWe are 67 days into the new year.  So how are your resolutions going?

Have you  made progress on the goals you drafted?  Or have you opted out already? If so, you have plenty of company. Researchers estimate between 40-50% of those who make them, fail.

Just after my wrote my last blog post, I noticed that everyone seemed to be writing, talking,or  tweeting about setting goals and resolutions.Turns out, it ain’t easy to form new habits and stick to our goals.  Why?

Human nature and our brains.

I found this research so fascinating that I’ve decided to pursue my Ph.D. (Productivity and Habit Development.) During the upcoming months, I be reading several books and articles on the topic of productivity, habits, and goals. Then I’ll recap my findings here just for you. I’ll try out some of the recommendations, too, and share my results.

The first book I recommend is Succeed: How We Can Reach Our Goals by Dr. Heidi Grant HalvorsonSucceed cover Dr. Halvorson is a speaker, psychologist, author, and expert on motivation.  She uses brain and social science to explain why some people succeed and some don’t at achieving goals in every day life. Dr. Halvorson writes in an engaging style and uses examples from her own life. She’s funny, too.

What I really liked about this book is that the author shows how conventional thinking about goals can sometimes be counterproductive.  For example, we hear a lot about the importance of visualizing–think Oprah–making dream boards, thinking positively, imagining our success.  The problem with this strategy, according to Dr. Halvorson, is that we don’t have a realistic picture of the steps we will take or the obstacles we’ll encounter along the way.  We don’t visualize how hard achieving our goal will be!

This certainly resonates with me as I think about the unfinished draft of my new novel that I thought I’d complete last summer.

In invite you to join my in my 2013 Ph.D program.  Please share your ideas, experiences and recommendations.

No New Year’s Resolutions For Me

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I don’t make New Year’s resolutions.

I decided some time ago that it wasn’t a good practice for a recovering perfectionist. Like most people, I rarely kept them past March of the New Year. And then my inner critic would rise up and chastise me.  But, I do like the idea of fresh starts and self-improvement. So instead of giving up the resolution thing altogether, I’ve made some tweaks to this practice.

First, I look back at the previous year and ask myself: what worked and what didn’t?  I consider different aspects of my daily life: financial, relationships, teaching, writing, health, organization, happiness.  Then I make revisions–not resolutions.  I usually frame them this way:  Instead of (fill what wasn’t working, I will try (fill in the blank with a revision).

For example, I have a lot of trouble turning off my laptop before bedtime.  I know it disrupts my sleep, something I can’t afford to skimp on.  Yet I  find it hard to stop.  My excuse is that I need to finish “one more thing” or read “one more article”  or “respond to an email” before bed. Face it–the internet is addicting.

Instead of resolving never to use my laptop before bedtime , I’ve chosen four days of the week when I will try not to open my laptop after 8:00 pm. Notice I said, try not to? Yes, that may sound non-committal, but when you tell yourself you are NOT going to ever do _______, it is very likely that you will.

So I cut myself some slack.  I try out a new behavior that will improve the quality of my everyday life.

Revisions, as opposed to resolutions, tend to be more specific.  I’‘ll put a reminder on my calendar to call my brother every other Sunday so we stay in touch.  Research shows that when you make a specific goal with specific steps, you are more likely to reach it. That’s good news for me.

What didn’t work in 2012.

1. Trying to enter every writing contest I possible can.

Revision:  I will be more selective in the contests I enter and Limit myself to entering one contest every 8 weeks.

2.  Giving up my gym membership.

Revision: I will sign-up for a weekly yoga or dance class.

3.  Taking on too many outside commitments.  (This happens every year.  I have never succeeded in changing this behavior!)

Revision: I will consult with my family before accepting more commitments.

Get the idea?

If you try revisions this year, please let me know how you did.

If you are committed to making your resolutions–and keeping them, check out Gretchen Rubin’s helpful blog post on the Happiness Project.

Do you make resolutions? If so, how do you get them to stick?  calvin

Recovering from Perfectionism

This book may save my life!

I have always been a perfectionist, but it wasn’t until about 6 years ago, that I really understood how this mental malady was wreaking havoc on my life.  Still,  awareness alone wasn’t enough to turn me into an easy-going, go-with-the-flow, realistic goal-setter, mistake-forgiver type of person.  I felt powerless to overcome perfectionism’s relentless hold on me.

Eventually, I came to view my perfectionism as a chronic condition in need of management and care.  It might go into “remission” for a while, then flare-up. Occasionally, I will an experience acute episode and really have to take therapeutic measures.  I now consider myself “in recovery”, a state that requires vigilance, self-care, and self-awareness.

Buy I can’t do it alone.

That is why I was so excited to discover a terrific book called, The Seven Secrets of the Prolific: The Definitive Guide to Overcoming Procrastination, Perfectionism, and Writer’s Block by Hillary Rettig.  Hillary shows how perfectionism is more than a “destructive habit or way of thinking”.  Her book demonstrates perfectionism’s toxic effects on your view of “yourself, your work, and the world.”

As soon as the author began describing the characteristics and behaviors of perfectionists, my eyes popped.  Hey, this woman really knows me!   I downloaded the 182 -page book in the summer and still haven’t finished it (and that is okay!).  Rettig’s book is not meant to be read in one sitting.  It is a step-by-step guide and you don’t go to the next step until you have made progress. There are clear steps to take, exercises to do, behaviors to practice, and practical changes to make. I was going to wait until I finished to blog about this wonderful book, but every page of her book just keeps getting better. So, I thought I’d share it with you today, and then write about my progress in future blogs.

By the way, this book is aimed at writers, but anyone who is trying to finish a major project or has difficulty with output due to procrastination will benefit.  And speaking of procrastination…did you know that Perfectionism is at its root?

I will leave you with one defining characteristic from Secrets of the Prolific:

“Perfectionists hold unrealistic definitions of success and punish themselves harshly for the inevitable failures.”

Yup, that’s me.

Are you a perfectionist?  What tactics have you taken to tame this unruly condition?  What guides or programs have you found helpful? 

Do You Write on Your Vacation?

I did sit on this very bench overlooking Onset Bay.

As we were packing for a family trip to Cape Cod, my husband asked me if I was taking my lap top.

“Are you kidding?” I replied.

“What I mean is, are you planning on working?” he said.

My answer, of course was, “Of course.”

By working, he meant writing. “Isn’t it a good idea to take time off for a vacation?” he asked. “Clear your mind for new ideas? Come back refreshed?”

What he meant was: How much time are you going to be off (alone) writing?

Anyone who is married to a writer will have this conversation.

In his memoir, On Writing, Stephen King says that when he is in the middle of a project he writes every day, including Christmas, Fourth of July, and his birthday. (I remember rereading that part a few times.) King advises aspiring writers not to take off more than a day when they are in the midst of crafting a story.  “You’ll lose the urgency and immediacy of your story if you do.”

I recently heard novelist Richard Ford, author of Canada, describe similar work habits.

But these guys are older, empty-nester, best-selling, full-time writers who probably don’t do the laundry.  Right?

Novelist and writing teacher, Aimee Bender, wrote about the importance of a regular writing routine in her essay,“A Contract of One’s Own” . Aimee’s writing self-contract has rules, consequences, and rewards. Aimee writes daily for two hours, in the same place, with no distractions or breaks, 5-6 days a week, rain or shine.  And she has been at it for 17 years. “Writing everyday can be a powerful action, a gesture of belief in one’s own imagination…”

While I’m a believer in taking time off for renewal (heck, why not for fun, too?), our family vacation to Cape Cod coincided with the time I devote to writing–the summer.  I enjoy having a break from teaching, scheduling, and chauferring my kids around.  I love taking my laptop outside on our sunny patio and being able to write for a few hours straight.

So as our family packed up the van, I felt like I had already been on vacation. Why should I  take a double vacation?  I worried that a week off from my writing would not only put me behind, but put me on the slippery slope to Procrastination Island.

Of course I didn’t want to ruin it for everyone else. And since I am fighting those workaholic tendencies, I compromised.  I told my husband that I’d write just an hour a day, maybe early in the morning before everyone gets up, or late in the evening. And then, I’d turn into a fun person.

Here’s what really happened. After a day at the beach, I crashed at 9:00 pm. Then  I overslept. Then my daughter visited for a couple days with her husband and baby and I wanted to spend every minute with them.  Then my fourteen-year-old daughter asked me to eat an early breakfast with her on the beach. (Lovely.) Then my husband suggested we have coffee at the cafe around the corner from our rented house.

I didn’t write a word the entire week.

But…I did let my characters visit and show me their wild side. As I walked along the shore, new writing ideas rolled in like gentle waves.  And yes, I did come back refreshed and renewed.

Do you take vacations from writing?  If so, when, and for how long?

Look–no laptop!

Summer Reading

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I live for summer.

As a sufferer of SAD,(seasonal affective disorder) the spring clock change kicks me into gear.  By June, I’m ready to fly. The summer break from my teaching job allows for more intense writing time.  These long stretches of time bring its own challenges and pressures.  Produce! Publish!

My self-imposed writing regimen also conflicts with another desire: to read a ton of books. In my world, one of the small pleasures in life  is coming home from the library on a Friday afternoon with a bag full of new books.  I’ve heard some writers say that they don’t read fiction while working on their novels.  This would be a hard practice for me to follow.  I find that reading certain authors inspire my own work.

When I was working on my YA novel, One Is Not A Lonely Number, I read  children’s novels with female narrators, like in my own story.  If I am working on a short story, I turn to my favorite writers for inspiration in language and voice. One of my favorite collections is Olive Kitteridge by Elizabeth Strout.  The plotting, dialogue, insights, and language just blows me away.

When I get stuck, I reread my writing bibles: Bird by Bird by Anne Lamont, On Writing by Stephen King, and Stein on Writing by Sol Stein. As for those beach books–they are my reward for putting in chair time, for typing those 1000 words.  So this summer I hope to read:  Binocular Vision by Edith Pearlman, Delirium by Lauren Oliver, More Cake and Lots of Candles by Anna Quindlen, Canada by Richard Ford, and Creating Innovators by Tony Wagner.

What’s on your list?

How many books will you write this year?

Sunday afternoons I usually devote to writing projects.  This Mother’s Day, after a little prompting from my family, I took the entire day off.  And I enjoyed myself!  That is, until later that evening when a NY Times headline caught my eye: Writer’s Cramp: In-E-Reader Era, a Book a Year is Slacking.

Oh, my.

Those commercial fiction writers who previously managed to put out a book a year are now “pulling the literary equivalent of a double shift.”  These writers, whom we love and hate, are churning out extras–short stories, novellas, e-books– to satisfy their impatient readers whose attention spans have shortened, thanks to our revved up world.

Thriller writer Lisa Scottoline has revved up her daily quota to 2000 words.  That translates into a 12/7 workweek.  Best-selling literary novelists are, so far, off the hook. (Go ahead, take your ten years. We still love you!)  Since I don’t belong to either camp (not yet), I’m wondering what to make of this madness.  Between book marketing, building my platform, speaking engagements, circulating short stories, writing query letters, entering competitions, raising my kids, and the Other job, my next novel is still in note form.  Maybe I could offer this for 99 cents while my fans await the real thing.

Let’s suppose that you could (or do) write full-time?  How many books could you (would you) write in one year?