Archive for May 2016

Take a Risk – Reach for your Dreams   Leave a comment

Fear. It can hold us frozen in place, deny our dreams. Recasting it as a challenge can drive us forward beyond our wildest imaginings.

Gabriela Pereira(diymfa.com) views fear as resistance to change in her new DIY-MFA book (DIY MFA pre-order). She sees it as a compass that leads you to growth.

 

Dog sees steak

Dog sees a roast – Resistance blocks him from reaching it

 

For years I was paralyzed by resistance. When I was young, I wrote myself into a thousand worlds created by others, but they never left my head. I feared that if I put them on paper, someone might see them and laugh at my innermost thoughts and dreams, maybe say they were stupid.

I wrote about business processes and technical details but I seldom shared my inner thoughts, even after I was married. I never shared my precious fiction–not with my family or my friends, certainly not with strangers. I wouldn’t, couldn’t take that risk.

 

Dog settles for dogfood

Resistance wins: Dog settles for dog food

 

Seven years ago I started role playing in the virtual world of Second Life. The owner of the Alinar sim had created a deep history into which individuals were encouraged to write their own stories. I relished the immersive play, which aroused the creative side I’d suppressed for so long.

I submitted a backstory for my character, the first crack in my resistance. Another player told me that the reviewer provided extensive comments and update requests when he sent his story to her. I expected the same. Instead, she added my story, unchanged except for formatting, to the Alinar history book in the library.

 

Dog pushes against resistance

Facing fear: Dog tries to penetrate the resistance barrier

 

My heart sang. A stranger read my fiction and liked it. I wrote more stories and read them at online gatherings, always concealed behind the face and name of one of my avatars. Never as myself.

I was devastated when the Alinar sim folded. I wanted to write more Alinar stories, but Alinar was someone else’s creation. I needed a new background and setting for my work.

I explored other sims. I moved from Second Life to the new virtual world of inWorldz, writing new stories in each place I tried. I even started a novel based in a fictional version of pre-Christian Ireland but I didn’t find a place that resonated with me until I built my own sim.

Together with a friend, the Isles of Gedwimor were born in inWorldz. We created a history and started building some role play but never achieved enough traction to sustain it. My friend eventually pulled out. My own participation in inWorldz dwindled.

By June of 2013, when the concept for my first novel trickled into my brain, I was seldom active in any virtual world. Resistance made me try to push the idea away but it grew larger and stronger than the resistance. After three weeks of trying to ignore the brain worm, I began writing. I was 10,000 words in before I realized I only had a beginning. My planner’s heart insisted I spend a week creating a rough outline. Gedwimor became Fyrnlosing. I realized that the story I wanted to tell was too vast for a single book–it needed to be broken into parts. My first draft was nearly complete when I realized I had no idea how books got published.

During the three years and nine major revisions since that highly flawed draft was completed, I’ve learned more about writing than in all the years before. I still encounter internal resistance sometimes, but my confidence has grown enough to allow me to move through it to the next level and the next.

 

Dog reaches goal

Resistance overcome: Dog reaches the delicious roast

 

This spring I took my biggest leap yet when I hired a professional editor, Sione Aeschliman, to help me turn the book into what I’ve always believed it could be. I trusted her to tell me both the good and the bad of my entire manuscript so I could make it better. She didn’t disappoint. Three years ago I couldn’t have taken such a risk. I wouldn’t have taken her suggestions as they were meant. Now I can. Because of them, the book is getting better each day.

For most of my life, resistance kept me from the joy I feel as I deepen my characters and plot their futures. Accepting the challenge opened new worlds, brought new friends, and generally enriched my life. I’m still working on my ultimate goal of seeing my book in print; I’m no longer afraid to try.

If resistance is holding you back from your dreams, take a risk. Accept the challenge to reach for greatness.

Posted May 27, 2016 by Leoma Retan in Fear, Writing

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Unleash the Creator Within   Leave a comment

Doodle 1

Creativity: Inborn or learned? I believe it’s within everyone but needs exercise and continuous practice to develop.

Developing technical requirements, which is not inherently creative in nature, is one of the more interesting parts of my day job. The basic task is to derive detailed requirements from a customer’s high level needs with no additions or subtractions. That being said, anyone who thinks I’m not creative has only to glance over at my notebook when I’m in a boring meeting—the margins are filled with sketches and outright doodles.

My day job exercises my intellect. I write fiction to satisfy my need to create. I believe the same need exists in everyone, though the means for releasing it may vary.

 

In her soon to be released DIY MFA book, Gabriela Pereira(diymfa.com)talks about Myths of Creativity, including:

  • Creativity is all about getting one “Big Idea”
  • Creativity is focusing on an idea until it’s perfect

 

In truth, ideas are everywhere. I’ve been known to go into a lecture and come out with two or three; a cool concept may come to me when I’m driving or showering or walking; I look at the headline news feed always scrolling in the lower right corner of my screen and see new possibilities.

Are all those ideas worth basing a book, or even a short story around? Hardly. Ideas by themselves are like a bag of random objects—you may or may not be able to build something useful from them. Some ideas are no more than possible settings or conversations. I write them all down in a small notebook because, quite frankly, I don’t accept the “big idea” concept of achieving success.

High concept ideas make it easier to describe a project. They may initially get an agent’s attention. But unless the writing is good (not necessarily great or perfect), the characters are interesting, and the plot holds together, agents and publishers will most likely pass. They might pass for other reasons even if a story has all those things.

Doodle 2

Doodle 3

As to focusing on a single idea until it’s perfect… First of all, what is perfect? Perfect is always in the eye of the beholder. It is not possible to achieve every person’s idea of perfection at the same time.

It is worthwhile to spend time looking for twists on the idea that will make it fresh and new. That’s what every writer who enters prompt-based contests does, or should do.

It’s equally useful to spend time developing background for characters that informs how they behave—what they like and hate; what they eat for breakfast; what background caused them to be as they are. I spent the month of April working on short stories featuring various characters in my novel. Little or none of that work will appear in the novel but most of it will influence my character development.

Creative ideas are necessary to writing but any story or novel, good or bad, is far more than one “big idea”. It’s a collection of little ideas, little choices that support an overarching concept. When those little ideas work together to form something fresh and new they can create genuine magic.

Accomplishing that takes effort. It takes thought and practice. If you’re willing to capture the little ideas you have every day and put in the work to unite them, you can unleash the creator within yourself.

Posted May 21, 2016 by Leoma Retan in Creativity, Writing

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Whose Practice is “Best”?   Leave a comment

Best Practices

Whether the subject is writing, business, or losing weight, chances are that somebody has a “best practice.” Bookstores and corporate websites describe them in exuberant prose. The authors of books about best practices make big money training others in their nuances. Gabriela Pereira, creator of the Do-It-Yourself Master of Fine Arts (DIY MFA) program (diymfa.com) and author of a new DIY MFA book due out in June (DIY MFA pre-order) says there’s no such thing.

Wait. What? No such thing as a best practice? Actually, I get her point. There are practices that work well for individuals or for particular types of groups. There are none that work for everyone in all circumstances. That would be the equivalent of a single pill that can cure all diseases.

Many writing best practices focus on doing something every day–writing 2000 words or 500 or some other number, always writing at the same time, writing for one hour a day. The problem is that real life tends to disrupt intentions and carefully laid plans. Most of us have other commitments that sometimes need to be our priority.

Some years ago I hit on a compromise that works for me. At that time I used it to maintain a diet so I could lose 30 pounds. I’ve found the same technique works for writing. What is it? I focus on progress over a week rather than a day. During the week I’m an engineer. Sometimes my days run long; sometimes they’re so frustrating or chaotic that I want nothing more than to watch a little television and go to sleep at their end. On those days I simply do not have the energy to write before I go to sleep, as is my usual practice. I may or may not have the energy in the morning before work. That’s OK because my “schedule” for writing is based on weeks, not days. The trick is to not let the writing lapse happen for more than a day or two in a row. I have more time to write on the weekends and I know I can catch up then. Making sure I do it is a matter of discipline. It only works because I want to write badly enough to make it a priority.

The tricky part of this plan is figuring out how much writing to schedule for each week. All the books about planning and self-motivation I’ve read say that you should set a goal that’s a little bit of a stretch but not so large you get discouraged. For instance, if you’re trying to diet you might set a goal of one pound of weight loss every two weeks and tracking that, rather than immediately worrying about the 30 pounds you really want to lose. The same thing applies to writing. You might have a long-term goal of writing a 90,000 word novel but that’s so much effort it paralyzes many people completely. Instead, you might focus on a number of chapters to write in a week. Or a number of scenes or of words. The words don’t have to be perfect. They just have to be written. You can edit and refine them later.

I’ve tried a few ways of tracking progress. When I do the National November Writing Month (NaNoWriMo) or its associated Camp NaNoWriMos I use word counts because that’s how those events are structured. I tend to prefer the Camps because I can set my own goal for the month rather than tackling 50,000 words every time. The NaNoWriMo tools give you a daily progress graph, which I make use of by putting in my additional words every day. Most of the time I’ve written between 30 and 50 thousand words in NaNo months. In April I planned and wrote only 10 thousand. Why? Because I knew I had an exceptionally busy month. I spent nearly a week in Norway on business, exhausted at the end of each day, and another four days in New York City on vacation. I nearly missed my conservative (for me) goal when I came down with the mother and father of all colds immediately after my return from New York but pulled it off in the last few days. Even without a special tool, I find it helpful to track my weekly progress in a table. That way I can see how much I’ve accomplished when I hit a low point (and that happens to us all from time to time).

Right now I’m trying a different form of progress tracking. I received feedback from a professional editor on my 92,000 word novel and promised her I’d have the rewrite done by early July–eight or so weeks from my start. The version she saw had 85 chapters so I set a goal of completing 10 chapters of edits per week. Some of those are new material, I will delete other chapters to make up for them. Now, at the end of the first week, I’ve completed rewrites of 12 chapters based on her notes and our discussion and have a plan for the next several. I created a table in Microsoft Word to keep track of my daily and weekly progress (yes, I track progress daily even though my goal is weekly). Writing this blog, my first in a very long time, is my “treat” for completing my planned work.

Is my technique a “best practice?” All I can say is that it works well for me. It may well be disastrous for people who prefer a less structured sort of writing.

The bottom line is that your “best practices” are whatever works best for you, whether your’re writing or involved in some other endeavor. Feel free to try the practices of others. But feel equally free to ditch them if they’re not working.

Posted May 13, 2016 by Leoma Retan in Best Practices, Writing

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