“Chipping Away”

“The difference between ordinary and extraordinary is that little extra.”
Jimmy Johnson

“Everyone goes into the season and they want to make all these crazy changes and they want to improve so drastically. But to get 2 or 3 percent better at something is really, really great…so just keep chipping away.”
Jay Bruce, Mets outfielder

In August 2016, Jay Bruce, a new Mets outfielder, was battling a slump. He’d just come off a great season and couldn’t understand why. Though he roared back in September, those August days when he got up to bat and couldn’t really connect with the ball haunted him. So he asked a coach to look at his advanced metrics — technical data on his swing — and tell him what was wrong. Based on the data, the coach told him that his hitting was off — he was chasing pitches that he usually let go and also hitting fewer fly balls.

Keeping his eye on analytics is helping Jay keep his eye on the ball. He’s learning more about his style of hitting and how to maximize it. “You have to recognize what your strong swing is” he says.

The same is true for us with our writing: Like Jay, we can make small tweaks to our writing process or style that can have big payoffs in consistency and impact. Instead of trying to hit the ball out of the park every day and making ourselves frustrated, let’s figure out what works best for us and then, like Jay, do a little more of it on a regular basis:

If you’re working to increase the amount of time you spend on your writing, why not add 15 minutes a day to your writing session? If you do that over four days, you’re giving yourself a solid hour more of work time — and applying the “15 Minute Rule,” you might find yourself writing longer and going deeper (see post, 15 Minutes).

If you want to improve your dialogue, how about finding examples of pithy, pointed exchanges in three or four novels you really like and seeing what makes them work? Devote a consistent amount of time a few days a week to studying and emulating them. Once you’ve got the knack, you can transfer your sharpened skill to your own characters.

Are you a lark or a night owl? Do you seem to write with greater ease during the day or is “burning the midnight oil” more your style? If you’re a lark, why not start your day a little earlier and devote some of that precious time to your writing? If a night owl, how about
setting aside a specific time after dinner to tackle your work?

Big things come in small packages: big changes come in little steps. Write on!

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Walt’s Way

“The more you like yourself, the less you are like anyone else, which makes you unique.”

“If you can dream it, you can do it.”
Walt Disney

It’s hard to think of anyone who can share better advice about turning
our sparks of creativity into stories than our friend Walt. Here are
five bits of advice a write once gleaned from Walt’s approach to
turning dreams into reality:

1.  Think tomorrowmake today an investment in tomorrow:  While staying in the present helps us bring life to the page, it’s also true that seeing each day as part of a string of tomorrows can be very motivating. It can help us see that everything we accomplish today can move us forward toward completing our writing goal, whatever it is.

2.  Free up your imagination — we can usually do more than we ever thought we could: How true this is! Our imagination is boundless –it knows nothing of time or distance. It can carry us anywhere at anytime. What a gift it is! Why not think of ourselves as “imagineers” — adventurers exploring not just the depths of the ocean, but the fathomless secrets of the human heart. What more worthy endeavor can there be?

3.  Strive for lasting quality — don’t cut corners, do everything the best you can the first time: I love this gem! This challenges us to bring our A-Game to the page every day — to arrive at our work with a can-do, uplifted attitude and a strong, sparkling work ethic that prompts us to give our very best at every moment. If we can learn to bring this way of working to our work, what can’t we do?

4.  Stick-to-it-ivity — don’t quit too soon, hang in there: Cultivating this quality in ourselves in things both little and big can be so powerful! If we don’t quit, if we keep going, if we make a decision that we’ll get where we want to go come hell or high water, then everything else becomes simple, obstacles begin to fall away. Persistence makes us unstoppable and it’s a gift we can give ourselves each and every day.

5.  Have fun! — what better motivators can there be than joy and a sense of fun? When we bring these to the page, we find again that childlike innocence that makes every day a miracle and every moment a discovery. When we drop all the angst and the pressure and write for the joy of it, our words have wings. Have fun! Have fun! Have fun!

What a what a wonderful set of daily prompts for us! Any one of them can help us bring our writing to life full of energy and joy. Write on!

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Reverse Writing

“The power of imagination makes us infinite.”
John Muir

One of the many joys of penning this KWD blog is the comments and “likes” that I receive, so please, keep them coming! Often, I’ll visit the site of someone who enjoyed in a post, which leads me to other sites, which is how I found fellow lit enthusiast, Shawn (check out
her great Bookwormshawn.wordpress.com). Shawn is a writer, entrepreneur, book lover, and former English teacher.

In a post called, “A Novel Approach: Writing Literary Fiction in Reverse,”Shawn recalls that when she finally sat down to write a novel she’d been thinking about for a while, she started as many of us do, by jotting down her thoughts and ideas. While this was helpful, after months of dedicated scrivening, she did not really have a story with a narrative drive, just a collection of notes. Looking for advice from writing bloggers, she found a very helpful strategy: reverse writing. As Shawn aptly describes this approach: you “build
the skeleton–complete with all major plot points and character descriptions– and then go back, slowly and painstakingly covering the bones with flesh.”

Here’s how she describes the results she garnered using this tool:

“After several brainstorming sessions and discarded attempts, my vision became a little more clear and I began to fill a basic, college-ruled, 1-subject paper notebook with specific and general ideas, which slowly evolved into a storyboard and then into a written outline. After a week or two at this phase, I graduated to the Macbook and typed my outline, 39 chapters, with multi-paragraph breakdowns…”

Equipped with this road map, Shawn is well on her way to completing her first, “Literary Southern Gothic” novel and credits this approach with helping her focus and keep going. She’s got plenty of company. John Grisham, for example, outlines every novel before
launching into the actual writing (see my post, “Story Sketching”).

Having written my way into my children’s novel and floundered quite a bit, I’m thinking of using this technique for the next story in my series. As a “pantser” rather than a “plotter,” I find it daunting, but I’m willing to give it a go. I’d love to know if any of you have tried it and found it helpful. For more inspiration, check out Shawn’s site.

Bravo, Shawn — write on!

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Starting Up

“The way to get started is to quit talking and begin doing.”
Walt Disney

Walt has a point, but it’s easier said than done. For many of us, getting started can be the hardest part of any project. “It’s the start that stops most people” — this is one of my friend and mentor Dr. Rob Gilbert’s sayings and how true it is! We’ve all been there. In
fact, a KWD reader just sent me a note asking about how to get going on a project when there’s no external consequence like a deadline goosing  you along. A great question.

Why is it so tough to shift our writing motor into gear? Sometimes we have just the wisp of an idea and we’re not sure there’s enough to work with, so we let it fade away instead of developing it. At the other extreme, sometimes we have a big idea for a story or novel, and it seems too ambitious, too overwhelming, to tackle, so we give up before we start. Or maybe it’s just an issue of resistance and momentum: The natural tendency to stay at rest has to be overcome. Or as Walt says, all talk and no action.

How can we crack this nut and move ahead in our writing? A few ideas:

Start simply: The bigger a deal we make about a project, the bigger a deal it becomes. If we can give up the need to invest it with huge amounts of angst and the drama, it can be easier to get going. So keep it simple. Start small. Instead of opening up a computer document, try buying an old-fashioned composition book for a few bucks and just start jotting down any ideas or scenes that come into your head. Keep it with you and when you get another idea, jot it down. Keep going.

Start anywhere: Sometimes trying to begin at the beginning can be a show-stopper, because we don’t know where the beginning is: We just have the glimmer of an idea or a scene.  Grab whatever comes and run with it. Don’t worry about having a beginning
or even an end. Sometimes starting in the middle actually helps.

Start short: Use the “15-Minute Rule” to get going . This is one of Rob Gilbert’s* most  popular tools for good reason: it works! Commit just 15 minutes to working on something. You’re just dipping your toe in, but taking action. Taking action breaks down your resistance and gives you the momentum to keep going once that 15 minutes is up. Why
not apply The 15-Minute Rule to something that you’re finding it tough to tackle? You might get immersed in your work, find your flow, and be off and running.

Starting is hard. But not starting is even harder. So let’s break through and all write on!

* Check out Dr. Rob Gilbert’s wonderful Success Hotline at 973.743.4690.

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Something Wonderful

The longest road out is the shortest road home.  Irish Proverb

Since St. Patrick’s Day is still fresh as the green grass that is sprouting somewhere just beyond my door, I thought we’d all enjoy the warm glow of a traditional Gaelic blessing:

May The Road
Rise Up To Meet You

May the road rise up to meet you.
May the wind be always at your back.
May the sun shine warm upon your face;
the rains fall soft upon your fields
and until we meet again,
may God hold you in the palm of His hand.

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Leprechaun Alert

Ah, those impish leprechauns! They sent me this story on St. Patrick’s Day via my dear friend, Janis Quinn. Feeling a tad impish myself. I feel sure the leprechauns won’t mind if I share this — there’s always a pot of gold in a good story!

Why Irish Eyes Are Smiling…

While on vacation in Rome, I noticed a marble column in St. Peter’s
with a golden telephone on it. As a young priest passed by, I asked
who the telephone was for.

The priest told me it was a direct line to heaven, and if I’d like to call,
it would be a thousand dollars. I was amazed, but declined the offer.

Throughout Italy, I kept seeing the same golden telephone on a marble
column. At each, I asked about it and the answer was always the same:
It was a direct line to heaven and I could call for a thousand dollars.

Then I went to Ireland.

When I finished my tour in Ireland, I decided to attend Mass at a
local village church. When I walked in the door I noticed the golden
telephone. Underneath it there was a sign stating: “DIRECT LINE TO
HEAVEN: 25 cents.”

“Father,” I said, “I have been all over Italy and in all the cathedrals I visited, I’ve seen telephones exactly like this one. But the price was always a thousand dollars. Why is it that this one is only 25 cents?”

The priest smiled and said, “Darlin’, you’re in Ireland now. It’s a local call.”

Happy St. Patrick’s Day x 2 to all YOU little leprechauns out there!

Thanks, Janis — write on!

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Hustle IQ

“If you hear a voice within you saying ‘You are not a painter,’ then by all means, paint…and that voice will be silenced.”
Vincent Van Gogh

When the founder of a successful company asked him what it took to succeed, he replied, “The same thing it took to get started, a sense of urgency about getting things done.”

A sense of urgency: with it, you can push through almost any barrier; without it, you’ll probably stop when you hit even the smallest roadblock. There are tons of people, many of them aspiring or even established writers, who intend to get started as soon as they have
the time or the energy or circumstances align in a way that makes them sure they’ll be successful. And they’re probably still waiting to get going.

Talent is great to have — the more, the merrier. But it can never take the place of urgent persistence. People who don’t worry about how much talent they have but who are gifted with a sense of urgency — who understand the importance of getting started now are the ones who often accomplish the most and find their work most fulfilling.

“Life, Liberty, and the pursuit of hustle” –I once saw this on a billboard in New York — what a great recipe for success! let’s forget about our mental IQ or our emotional IQ and focus on our hustle IQ! Which leads us all to the question:

How’s my hustle? Do I bring a sense of urgency to the page?

If your hustle needs more bustle, here are a few ideas:

Pump up your passion: Get in touch with what excites you about
whatever you’re writing — use it as fuel.

Ignite your ingenuity: When you hit a roadblock, instead of getting discouraged, get driven. or as my good friend and mentor Dr. Rob Gilbert* says, “Get Fascinated, not Frustrated” — see it as a challenge to your creativity.

Find your Second Wind:  There’s no greater feeling than pushing past a point where you feel like stopping and finding out that you have more gas in the task. We’re never really empty, we’re just idling. So keep going when you feel like stopping.

“Life, liberty, and the pursuit of hustle” — let’s go for them all today as we write on!

* Check out Rob’s great Success Hotline at 973.743.4690.

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