Sep 24, 2013

25 Productive Alternatives When You Just Can’t Write

Have your imaginary friends stopped talking to you? Is your muse on vacation?

I don’t have writers block. I'm in a writes lull. My main manuscript is on submission. I was working on book two in the series, but if book one doesn’t sell, I might backburner it and focus on a new project. I don’t want to get the new project going just yet, though, until there is some resolution on book 1. No since changing gears if I won’t need to. Besides, starting a new project would be an emotional commitment that I’m not ready for yet.

But I don’t want to be a slug. So if you are like, in a lull, unable to work on a manuscript, here are 25 other things (with resource links) that we can be doing to spend the time productively.

1.       Support fellow authors with shout outs on twitter and facebook
2.       Walk – All the cool writers do it
3.       Pre-write a month’s worth of blog posts around a particular theme
4.       Find and post helpful advice on a writer’s forum –,,
5.       Find, read and review a book from a first time published or Indie author. Nora Roberts does not need your review J
6.       Put critique karma in the bank by being a beta reader or critique partner. I use Ladies Who Critique and Scribophile
7.       Hang out on the internet somewhere you wouldn’t normally – arts, science and food, oh my
9.       Learn one new grammar tip a day. I like Grammar Girl and Daily Grammar
10.   If you aren’t already on it, join and dive in to Goodreads. If you are, up your gaming by participating more
11.   Set up your Google+ profile and presence, (the second largest social community on the web) including linking your author presence so that your picture and bio show in google search
12.   Sketch or draw – It makes you see better
13.   Guest blog – everyone is always looking for a way to mix up their online content and it’s a great marketing tool
14.   Host a contest – big or small work but engenders lots of goodwill
15.   Join a genre fan group – be a fan before you need fans
16.   Go somewhere new – bar, restaurant, concert at the local school. Or try communing with nature scientifically proven to up your creativity
17.   Ride the bus or train – and be amazed at the creativity it inspires
18.   Go somewhere old and act differently – observe how people respond
19.   Take a class – most community colleges and local universities offer cheap, fun classes through their extension programs. Also, check out free online classes
20.   Attend your local government meeting – want to see conflict in action? Go to a town meeting.
23.   Take pictures and tell a picture story
24.   Join a meetup on something you have passion for
25.   Discover your romance name – or other silly things that can inspire you to think differently

 What do you do when you can't write? Share your tips in the comments.

Sep 18, 2013

Stop Your Yo-yo Writing Diet Now!

There I was, in my writers group, sucking down my healthy snack and a good cup of coffee, listening to my fellow wannabe authors round-robin their week’s progress, looking for support to overcome their obstacles. And then it hit me – substitute words written for pounds lost and I’m in Weight Watchers for Authors.

Last post I talked about time management for writers and starting the new year with goal setting. But most writers have writing goals. The problem is, we aren’t meeting them. The number one issue facing many aspiring writers is not their writing talent or craft development, it's figuring out how to manage a writing life and a real life.

Goals and Desire Are Not Enough

Like the aspiring pound-dropping, healthy eater, we often start the week determined to meet our word or chapter goal, only to find ourselves at week’s end disappointed with the results. It was a bad week at work or with the family, we tell ourselves. Or the migraine flared up. Or I couldn’t possibly stick to the plan with the season premiere of Breaking Bad tempting me worse than a desert table at a Christmas party. So the manuscript sits until we can haul ourselves back to it through brute force. Before we know it, we've been on and off the yo-yo diet so many times our wip is dizzy…So we tell ourselves that we need more discipline, like the yo-yo dieters who tell themselves they need to have more willpower.

To stop the yo-yo writer's diet you must have a success system.

As much as dieters can’t willpower themselves to a gym routine and a ten pound weight loss, writers can’t discipline themselves into getting a 1000 words a day on the page. Instead we must put a system in place that sets us up for success. It is not enough to have a goal to write. To effectively execute any goal or change, we need a reinforcing set of support mechanisms that will keep us on track even when our discipline and willpower aren’t flowing at a 10. The system is like the safety net under the tightrope - if we fall, the system bounces us right back up.

What’s in a good system (and will it cost me 3 low payments of 19.99?)

Like no single diet works for everyone, everyone’s writing system will be different, as well. But a good system will have three things in common:

  1. You system must maximize your strengths
  2. There’s a segment of management theory that says you can’t help someone overcome their weaknesses, you can only play to their strengths. We all have times when writing comes easy.  For me, the words flow easiest in the morning. I’ve found that I’m a burster who likes writing big chunks in a sitting and then not writing (or preferably doing anything else either) at all for a while. My system doesn’t include a daily word goal. Instead, I have a week’s goal based on a daily average and I arrange my day so that it starts with writing when possible.

  3. Your system must help you avoid your triggers to failure
  4. When I’m tired I can’t write and I eat too much. By the time I’m tired, I have no hope of stopping myself from eating or motivating myself into getting in the words. Part of my system is to ensure I’m managing my schedule to keep from getting too tired. And when I know I have tiring times coming up, I don't include writing in my plan. 

    To do this, you must know what your triggers are and that typically doesn't happen unless we are analyzing our failures. This can take some time to discover, but with each new discovery, should come an adjustment to your system.

  5. Your system must help you stomp out your procrastination derailers
  6. While triggers suck your will to write, derailers take your will and have it focus on something else. If you are someone who gets lost in social media, install a social media blocking app, turn off your wireless or take your laptop where there is no wifi. Are you supposed to be writing on your lunch hour but find yourself chatting with colleagues in the lunch room? Start taking your lunch and eating at your desk.

A writing system is not one thing. It is a series of things that work together to get you off the binge-purge-self-esteem-bashing cycle of the yo-yo writer.

And like with dieting, if you fall off the writing wagon, evaluate what happened, tweak your system to compensate if needed, and get right back at it.

Now, while I eat my doughnut,  hit me in the comments with what is working well for you in your writing system and what you know you need to tweak? 

Sep 16, 2013

3 Tips to a Successful Writer's New Year

Despite having been out of school more years that I’m comfortable admitting on a public blog, I am one of those people who still looks to the Fall start of school as the beginning of the new year.
In addition to the New Year being a good excuse to drink champagne, it’s also a time for reflection on the year past and time to focus on what comes next.

For those who have followed the short life of my blog you already know my last year has been filled with change and adventure.

But with the New Year, it’s time to look forward. 

As you will discover in my bio section, in my day job I am a certified project manager (or a PiMP to use my daughters lingo).  I also have four kids, three pets, two businesses,  two houses (one being sold and one new house that needs work), one manuscript on submission with publishers and two WIPs.

Translated – I am currently a task juggling fool.

Luckily, two things that I have absolute passion for are task/time management and the science of creativity with an emphasis on how these two can intersect.  The only way I have been able to survive my current load is by experimenting and finding secrets to time management and applying those that work. While there is certainly plenty of advice in the world on time management, not much of it is focused at writers and creative people. In fact, I often find that many creative people have bought into the myth that creativity cannot be managed. That is a theme worth exploring.

To that end, for the next while I will be focusing on time/task management for writers and how science can make your creativity more efficient.

So, no time like the present. Today’s post focuses on the New Year and making your writer year the best it can be.

3 Tips for a Successful Writers New Year

1. Set Goals - 

As a writer, if you do nothing else for yourself, please, please, please set a goal or goals for the coming year in writing.

Quick tips to good goals:
  •           Do not worry about how you will achieve your goal. Simply have one makes you more likely to achieve it. Your subconscious is a powerful thing. I will focus more on goal achievement in coming blogs.
  •           Your goals must be SMART (Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Relevant and Time bound) – example – will write 4,000 words a week for the next six months
  •           You must write your goals down – You’re a writer, so this should be obvious, but so many writers I’ve met don’t do this. They have a goal in their head. This won’t cut it. Science shows that one of the best ways to achieve your goals to put them in writing.
  •           You must keep your goals a secret – This is counter intuitive and flies in the face of what we yoyo dieters have been told, but studies show that when you share your goals, you are less likely to achieve them.

2. Commit to Doing Something Different – 

Many of you have tried goal setting before and failed miserably. To achieve your goal this time, you must commit to doing something different, to trying new things to get you there. You don’t have to know what those things are yet, but you must write down that you will be open to exploring and then set time aside each week, even if it’s only a small amount.

3. Write Something Personal - 

I’m in my second week of being on submission to publishers. Before that, it was the agent chase, with its countless rejections (I am now represented by the delightful Lotus Lane Literary). Before that, it was trying to finish my wip and managing beta’s and critique groups while juggling everything else, before that…before that…before that…

I am sure your writer’s story looks similar to mine. In all of the chasing it is easy to forget why we write, the power of writing and what has meaning. As I was researching something on story structure last week, I ran into a post from Larry Brooks that was a great reminder to me of the power of words:

Larry reminds us that in the pursuit for fame, fortune, glory or discovery of our work by the rest of the world, the most important things we will ever write are ones to those closest to us. As our family and friends put up with a lot for us to pursue writing, remember them in your writing this year. Adding this step to your writing routine and goals is sure to make you feel better about your writing.

And a happy writer is a productive writer.

Are you setting goals this year and have you written them down? Share your tricks in the comments.

Sep 11, 2013

A change you can believe in: 3 Tips for Managing a Move, Change or Transition

Over 40 million people in this country move each year. This year, I was one of them.

Our cat won’t poop because it’s in a strange place. 

There wasn’t room in the car on moving day for her old litter box so we bought her another and now she won’t poop.

I feel like my constipated cat. 

My house is full of boxes. My bras are all missing and I don’t know where my favorite pair of boots are. The new backyard looks like something off of that show “After Humans” with its several months of untended overgrowth.

There is no coffee joint within a fifteen mile radius.

And, then, unpacking, I found the below. It's a teapot that sits on a cup with a great message. I've had it forever, a gift from the husband from another move.

I know moving is good. Moving is best. For my physical health as well as my mental well being. 
But change is still…change.

So here are 3 tips for dealing with change for my 40 million movers-in-arms

Tip 1: Advice from Curly - Find Your One Thing

Find one thing to make "normal" for yourself. For me, I have to have one room that is completely box free and looks like someone happily lives there. For you it might be finding that one place in town that serves the pumpkin spice latte you used to get back home (if you do please share)

Tip 2: Say Hello Until They Say It Back

Every morning in Under The Tuscan Sun, the old man brought flowers. Every morning she would try to say hello, needing the connection. Every morning he would ignore her. Until he didn't. Eventually even ignoring an action becomes part of a routine signaling you have arrived.

Tip 3: Be Patient

Growing roots takes times. But with persistence and patience we can all bloom where we are planted.

How do you manage through tough transitions? Share your secrets in the comments!

Sep 5, 2013

How You May Be Like the Metal Band the Scorpions

I had a whole other blog post planned for this week, but when I saw this article about the best hair metal bands of all time, snubbing both the Scorpions and Def Leppard I had to interrupt my regularly scheduled post. 

Now, I’ve previously mentioned my borderline obsession with the Scorpions in my "10 Things About Me" section. (no worries guys, I’m Still Lovin You!) So, to me, the article was tragic on that level. What the heck was the LA Weekly thinking – Hanoi Rocks in the #1 spot, seriously! <Face palm>

But their misguided list was also a good reminder that taste in any art is so subjective. I’m currently working with several authors on their agent queries and manuscripts, many of whom are frustrated at the constant subjective nature of their rejections. When I queried I got over 30 “not right for me” responses. I also got requests to read my full manuscript and eventually offers for representation. That makes me lucky. I cleared the first hurdle of traditional publishing. I’m now back in the game, on submission, waiting for those similar “not right for me” responses to roll in from the big publishers, crossing my fingers and hoping the stars line up right for my book.

If they don’t, though, I won’t be giving up.

While cleaning out my mom’s house after she passed away,we found tons of old poems and essays. They were good. At the very least they had something to say. But instead of them being seen and appreciated, they were locked away in a box.

Thankfully, this is not my mother’s era anymore. As most of you are aware, the publishing industry is in the midst of either a revolution or a civil war (depending on your perspective). Even though I’m an avid reader, I’m new to understanding the writing market place, so I hadn’t yet really formed an opinion.

Finding my mother’s stories shifted that. With the plethora of publishing options these days, there is no reason for stories with something to say to be locked away in a box for children to find when the author dies. And if you are really committed to writing for a living, then, as Kristine Rusch tells us, self publishing is a must in your toolbox.

That’s not to say I think everyone should rush out and self-publish or that the self-published world doesn't have some things to figure out to ensure that published stories find the audience that might be out there for them. Marketing is hard. Writers have to do the right things to ensure their stories are audience ready (like copy editing for peats sake) and honing their craft.

But if you've done all of that only to find yourself without an in into traditional publishing (or singing or art) and you believe that what you have to offer has an audience, you should find an alternative outlet.
There’s this scene from Sister Act 2 between Whoopi Goldberg an a reluctant choir singer that sometimes goes through my head as I’m reading my rejections:
Whoopi: I know you want to sing. See. I love to sing. Nothing makes me happier. I either wanted to be a singer or the head of the Ice Capades. Hey. Do you know who the Ice Capades are? Don't roll your eyes. They were very cool. I went to my mother who gave me this book...called Letters To A Young Poet. Rainer Maria Rilke. He's a fabulous writer. A fellow used to write to him and say: "I want to be a writer. Please read my stuff." And Rilke says to this guy: "Don't ask me about being a writer. lf when you wake up in the morning you can think of nothing but writing...then you're a writer. "I'm gonna say the same thing to you. If you wake up in the mornin' and you can't think of anything but singin' first...then you're supposed to be a singer.
So screw the LA Times Weekly who thinks LA Guns is better than Whitesnake. Go Poor Some Sugar on It and Rock It Like a Hurricane - keep writing, painting, singing and most of all – Go find your audience, the people who love you as much as I love the Scorpions even if the LA Times (or anyone else) don't think they (or you) rate.

Curiosity Seekers

Copyright © Melinda O'Neill Design by Dzignine