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Have you ever read a book where you felt like you were actually living the story with the character? Have you read one where the character felt remote and lifeless? I can guarantee the reason for both is showing vs. telling.

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I’ve always been a daydreamer. More often than not, as a child, it got me into trouble. But the more I’ve thought about my wool-gathering habit as an adult, the more I realize that my greatest strengths rely on this sometimes misunderstood state of mind. Here are some ways I think we’ve got daydreaming wrong.

I’ve always been a daydreamer.  More often than not, as a child, it got me into trouble.  But the more I’ve thought about my wool-gathering habit as an adult, the more I realize that my greatest strengths rely on this sometimes misunderstood state of mind.  Here are some ways I think we’ve got daydreaming wrong.

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Myth #1: Daydreaming is a time-waster.

Not so for the creative person.  Unless I take time to let my mind wander, my creative juices just won’t flow.  It’s more like the 12-inch ice buildup everyone in my area of Canada has been dealing with this winter in their eaves troughs.  So if I don’t daydream, I’m actually making myself less productive, not more.

Myth #2: Daydreaming is childish.

Just because I’ve always daydreamed since I was a child doesn’t mean it’s something I should stop doing as an adult.  When I daydream, I stimulate the creative centre of my brain.  I pick up little bits of data that have been lying around without a home, dust off the places I’ve been neglecting, and make new connections that weren’t there before.  That doesn’t sound childish, does it?

Myth #3: Daydreaming doesn’t accomplish anything.

Actually, without daydreaming, I wouldn’t have accomplished anything at all.  Every one of my books and stories has been the direct result of daydreaming (and some night-dreaming).  Not to mention all my blog posts, paintings and murals, and many of my life plans and goals.  That’s a pretty good reason to daydream, right there.

 

So I encourage you, today, to take some time to daydream, to get away from people and computers and pressure and just let your mind wander.  You might be surprised where it takes you.  🙂

Have you ever come back to a work in progress after a break and found it a stranger?

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This is something I’ve done many a time.  Hello there, book-to-be.  Who are you exactly?  And where do we go from here?

I’ve made plenty of mistakes with this process, daunting mistakes that almost made me give up on finishing a neglected novel.  Here are some things I’ve learned about getting back in touch with your manuscript.

  1. Don’t reread the whole thing.  Especially if you’re really far into it.  You’ll get so bogged down that you won’t want to start writing once you get to the blinking cursor.  If you have to remind yourself where you are, make yourself skim, and maybe really read the last scene, just to get into the mood.
  2. Jump in.  Really.  You don’t have to be scared.  You’ve got muscle memory.  Once you start tapping away at those keys, your brain will remember what to do.  It might take a paragraph or two, but that’s okay.  Your first draft doesn’t have to be perfect.  And in the same vein …
  3. Don’t revise as you go.  When you’re skimming (not reading, skimming!) through what you’ve already written, it will be tempting to stop and revise what you wrote weeks, months, or years ago.  There will be a time for that.  But your story will never be finished if you keep nitpicking at your partial manuscript and never working on the rest.  Finish a first draft first, then revise, no matter how tempted you are.
  4. Keep cheat notes.  This is a good idea when you start a new project.  Keep a binder or a file or a set of cue cards or whatever works for you that outlines the plot, lays out the scenes like a story board, describes the characters (not just the physical but their motivations, etc.) and the settings.  These will be invaluable to you if you have to take a hiatus for some reason.
  5. Don’t stop!  Sometimes you really do have to take a break.  You might have personal issues to deal with, or another project that’s taking all your time.  But you can almost always squeeze in a few minutes of writing each day.  Even if you can only write a page, it’s something.  And it keeps you acquainted with your work.  So if you can do this one thing, you don’t have to do any of the others!  Don’t be a stranger to your manuscript.  🙂

So there are some tips to help you get to know your book again.  Feel free to share any others you might have.  

Ever watched a baby learn how to walk?  I’ve had the privilege of a front row seat to this phenomenon four times.  And every once in a while I’d marvel at how they struggled, how they pushed through each phase of learning, from rolling over to running, how they failed and fell – often in ways that would leave a grown-up feeling bruised – and each time they got back up again and kept trying.

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I feel like that in life plenty of times.  In my writing.  In friendships.  In parenting.  In keeping my house clean.  In singing, or painting, or cooking – pretty much anything I put my hand to, it’s inevitable that I’m going to fail at it at some point.  

I used to think failure was the end of the world.  But I realized as I failed more and more and lived through it that the world wasn’t over.  

Then I had this choice: would I let failure cripple me, or would I keep trying until I got it?  I’d like to say that I’ve chosen right every time, but I’m still working on this.  Still falling down and getting back up again.  

Sometimes you’ll stay down longer than others.  Life has been pushing me pretty hard these past few weeks, and I’m just now feeling like I can get steady on my feet again.  And this is me getting back up again.  Watch me walk!

What about you?  What have you given up on because you were afraid to fail?  Is it time to get back up again for you?  You never know, you might not just learn to walk.  You might learn to run.

Ever get to the place in your writing where you just want to play it safe?  I think every writer gets there.  Doesn’t every writer have a manuscript that’s too blah because you were too scared to go where you should have gone?  Or a manuscript that’s gathering dust because you’re too scared for anyone to read it?

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But staying in the safe zone stifles your writing.  Risk brings your work to life.  Here are some leaps of faith to take your writing to the next level.

Tap into your own fears

When you’re writing, reach into the part of you that has suffered the most hurt.  Take the anxieties you have and put your character through those realities.  This will make your writing so much deeper.

Try something crazy

Did some insane plot development pop into your head and you said “nah”?  Give it a go.  See what happens.  You can always go back and rewrite it again.  But the experience will never be a loss, because you’ll learn something from it.

Let someone read it

If you’re afraid to let someone read your work, this is the leap of faith you need to take.  You might have to take a few deep breaths as you let go of your brainchild, but put it into the hands of a trusted friend for starters, then work your way up to a supportive writing group or critique partner.  

Let it go

There might be something in your writing that you need to get rid of, but you’re hanging onto it.  Ask yourself why?  Letting go of needless characters, plot lines, stylistic elements, etc. can free you up to explore new possibilities.  Like Faulkner said: Kill your darlings.

Put it out there

When the time comes, it can be very hard to walk your little manuscript up to the bus stop, kiss it goodbye, and send it off into the cruel world of rejections.  But if your story is ever to become a book, this is exactly what you have to do.  It may mean a lot of rejections.  It may mean some rewrites.  It may mean that your story doesn’t make it at all.  But that book isn’t doing anyone any good cluttering up your hard drive.  

Any art worth sharing involves some risk.  So get brave and take that leap.

 

 

I grew up writing.  For the longest time I had a rather serious problem.  Most of my stories lost steam about a third of the way through and sat gathering dust.  

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Then one day I picked up “The Outlandish Companion” by Diana Gabaldon, writer of the bestselling Outlander series, and I discovered an amazing thing: you don’t have to write in a straight line.

What?  But that can’t be right.  A story needs a beginning, a middle, and an end, right?  Of course.  And you have to visit each of those things in order, right?  Not necessarily.  

Once I learned that I didn’t have to follow that story thread from start to finish in my writing, that I could stand outside of time, so to speak, and pop back into the story wherever the mood took me, my writing took off.  

Now when I write, I see my story as a string of beads.  I have a string, which is the rough outline of my plot.  I have a beginning, I know where the story is going to end, and I know the direction it needs to take to get there.  But along the way are a series of scenes – the beads.  I pick up the beads out of the jumble in my imagination, and I can lay them where I want them to go in my manuscript.  Then, when most of the beads are in place, I can fill in the gaps and string them all together.  Voila! 

Sometimes a scene isn’t going to work with the overall story.  So when I get to the stringing stage, I might have to let it go and try something else instead.  But I find that the benefits of this approach far outweigh the occasional trouble of letting a scene go.

1. I actually finish the manuscript

2. I work more closely with my inspiration

3. I discover moments I might not have written otherwise

4. I uncover a new direction for the story to take

5. I identify scenes that just don’t work

Sometimes I do manage to write a story in a straight line.  And kudos to those who can do it every time.  But when it doesn’t work to write linearly, I find the “string of beads” approach helpful.  

I’m a smiley person.  But I’ll tell you a secret: I don’t always feel like smiling.  But here are a few things I’ve learned about smiling that might change the way you arrange your face.

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Even when you don’t feel it …

I’ve heard it said that if you smile enough, your brain will actually begin to release the chemicals that make you feel happy.  Now this doesn’t mean a fake, cheesy grin.  Actually making your facial muscles imitate a genuine smile after a while will make you really happy.  Is this the epitome of “fake it till you make it”?

Find a reason …

Usually when I don’t feel much like smiling, I look around for a reason to smile.  It might be the smallest thing, like the way the snow looks so pretty on the trees (even though it’s causing major inconvenience today), or the memory of something cute my kids said.  I have a few go-to songs when I’m needing a boost, too, and they almost always lift my mood.  Then, when I have a reason to smile, I give in to the urge.  Lots.

Share the feeling …

Someone once spoke to me in a line at the post office, saying I looked too serious and I needed to smile.  That was unusual for me, but I was glad he pointed that out.  A lot of the time I make a conscious effort to smile at others in the store, on the street, in a parking lot – especially if they don’t look that happy themselves.  In fact, if someone looks particularly grumpy, I’ll actually try to catch their eye just so I can smile at them.  It’s amazing the transformation (once they get over the oddness of it all) that comes over their faces.  Not only can you help someone else find their smile, but all that smiling will boost you, too.  

 

A smile is such a simple, little thing that can be so hard to find sometimes.  Don’t take it for granted.  Spread your smile today.  🙂

We writers all have that word-count hang up, don’t we?  If we’re lucky, we’ve had the occasional day where we hammered out words in their thousands.  But those days are rare, when the inspiration keeps flowing, and the temptation is to hold out on writing until we think one of those days has arrived.

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I don’t know about you, but if I always waited for a prime writing day, I’d hardly write a thing.  And the longer I wait between writing days, the less likely it is I’ll get one.  Here are a few reasons why I think it’s much more productive to think about writing for consistency, rather than for quantity.  

1. Keeping a Pulse

Writing consistently keeps a finger on the pulse of your work, so when you come back to a work in progress, you know what’s going on.

2. Practice Makes Perfect

There’s a lot of truth in the old adage.  Repetition creates a pattern in your brain, like muscle memory, that springs back into place more easily each time.

3. Creating a Habit

Along the same lines, they say it takes 21 days to create or break a habit.  Whether or not that’s accurate, consistency is definitely a key ingredient to making a habit stick.  If you want to get into a daily writing habit, there is no magic formula other than sitting down daily and writing.

4. Working with Flow

There are some days when the words flow easily, and some days when they don’t.  If you’re hung up on word count, then this can be very frustrating.  If, however, you’ve determined it’s more important to write daily, no matter how many or few words you write, then you will likely be less discouraged by your lack of progress, which in turn makes you more relaxed and more likely to write well.

5. Word Count will Follow

If you focus on writing consistently and worry less about word count, the good news is you’ll still get word count.  Some days will be light, other days heavier, but in the end you’ll still be producing words every day and eventually you’ll finish your manuscript – something that won’t happen if you wait for the right day.

So if you’re serious about writing, try shifting your focus from word count quantity to consistent writing times and see if that helps you reach your goals.  🙂

We all have days when we just don’t feel it.  You know the ones I’m talking about.  Can’t get out of bed.  Feel like you’re in a fog.  Ask yourself a hundred times “Why do I bother?”  

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But you’ve got a deadline looming or kids to feed or a threatening avalanche on your desk, and you have to do it even if you don’t feel it.  How do you get past that?

I have to confess, I’m having one of those days.  So this is just as much for me as it is for you.  Here’s what I’m going to do.

Breathe.

I’m going to do what I can to calm the physical side effects of this day.  Slow my frantic pace.  Get my body working the right way again.  A brain won’t work properly if the body is going haywire.

Take a Step Back.

I’m going to take a minute to look at the big picture of what needs to be done today.  I’m going to reevaluate priorities, maybe whittle my to do list down to the essentials, and identify steps to complete what I need to do.

Take a Step Forward.

Now I’m going to take one thing from that list and start it, whether I feel like it or not, knowing I’ll feel better after I do it.  I’m not going to think about the other stuff yet.  Just this one thing.  (My one thing right now is this blog, and it’s almost done!) 🙂

Pause.

I’m going to do something to reward myself for finishing that one thing.  Not enough to derail the rest of the day, but enough to celebrate the small victories.  I’ll also reflect on my little accomplishment and be thankful for what I’ve got and what I can do.

Repeat.

I’m going to repeat the process until I get this day done.  I know from experience that I’ll feel better when I do.  

 

I hope this helps you if you’re in the same spot I am.  🙂  Feel free to comment if you have some tips yourself.