All posts by ashleymcarmichael

Acquiring a Writing Game Plan

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De-clutter

In writing about this challenge, I’ve decided to address all of the challenges but in a slightly different order than what Goins had listed. After you have started to build your writing (stealing and starting), I feel it is important to keep yourself organized and decluttered. You need a game plan. Until you come up with a way to keep yourself writing and accountable you won’t take yourself seriously as a writer. Every great writer knows the same. As Ray Bradbury says,

 “Just write every day of your life. Read intensely. Then see what happens. Most of my friends who are put on that diet have very pleasant careers.”

The problem is finding the discipline to write in spite of or in addition to our already hectic lives can be problematic. So to make writing a priority, you have to come up with a plan. First is to declutter your writing space—if you have a writing space. If you don’t, you should set aside a space for yourself. I have found that when you have a designated space it becomes sacred. That’s the reason why “man caves” are such a popular concept. You don’t mess with a man in his man cave or a person crafting dinner in the kitchen. That is their space for whatever craft they are producing (or not producing). Writers need space too. Find a space, keep it sacred.

Declutter 1 Declutter 2

 Then make a plan for how you are going to write seriously and stick to it. During the past year, I realized that if I was truly going to claim the title I would have to make writing more of a priority in my life. The difference between writing being a hobby and being an occupation is the amount of time, effort, and dedication you give to it. Isn’t that true of sports? Your sport can be a pastime or you can “go pro”. Of course, going pro means you get paid for your work, which is the ultimate goal of any writer, but to do such a thing you have to put in the conditioning hours first like any athlete would. So you make a plan. The key is to make your plan realistic.

I decided to make my plan 250 words per day and to model it after the “magic spreadsheet” concept I discovered online. I am not a part of a community with the magic spreadsheet as I found recording it on a shared spreadsheet to be a little over my digital capacity/skill-set, but I created my own and I keep track of my “points” and I post it on my website so my followers and supporters can keep me accountable. And they ask me about it constantly, especially my close friends. This plan and accountability step has been crucial this past year in my success as a writer. The more I write, the more I produce and the more I continue to grow as a writer.

Magic spreadsheet 1

Only then can I work on de-cluttering my writing, which  is all a part of the editing process. Less is more. Wordy does not mean “smart” a lesson I have to teach my students over and over again every year—a lesson I have to learn over and over again as I continue to write. I start with my goal of reaching certain word counts, then I polish and declutter it as I edit.

Connect, Share, and Publish 

Once my own goals are established and I have my plans in place, then my confidence begins to build. Harper Lee once said,

“I would advise anyone who aspires to a writing career that before developing his talent he would be wise to develop a thick hide.”

And every knows why she would advise all writers in this way. Developing confidence is one way to develop the “thick hide”. Does that mean your confidence cannot shatter; of course not, but it does ensure that you have a leg to stand on as you face criticism. It also helps as you start putting yourself out there more and more, which is why connecting with others and networking is also a vital part of the process. Other writers not only help you develop as a writer, they are your support system. Without this support, you are not likely to succeed. I went out in my community and looked for support wherever I could find it. In Winston, there is a wonderful group—The Winston Salem Writers (http://wswriters.org/). They develop workshops, critique groups, outings, contests, and all sorts of places and events for writers to connect on multiple levels. Joining the group is a worthwhile investment for a number of reasons, not the least of which is to help you connect to a local group of artists. During the 1920s, the Harlem Renaissance flourished and developed not because of the vast amount of creativity and genius that flowed from the African American writers, poets, and artists. Langston Hughes, Zora Neale Hurston, and a multitude of others emerged and were heard because they came together as a community and supported one another. They connected, they collaborated, and they supported each other; as a result the human race was able to receive beautiful new additions to our literary history that might have remained buried in obscurity otherwise. Artists should always learn from the past and continue to thrive with each other’s help.

 

Finishing the Writing Challenge: Stealing, Starting, Building

steal

When I last posted, I was on step 5 of the writing challenge. I proceeded to finish the fifteen days, but to be honest 15 days is not enough time to ‘master’ anything, let alone good writing habits, so I am continuing with each one and picking a focus as I go along. On Goins’ blog, he lists the rest of the habits as:

6. Steal

7. Start

8. Build

9. Connect

10. Share

11. De-clutter

12. Provoke

13. Publish

14. Brand

15. Serve

For this week I am going to focus on steal, start and build. These three ideas go hand in hand for many reasons and all of them help to improve writing on a basic level.

Stealing is valuable advice. We spend so much time and energy trying to be original, trying to stand out, trying to be non-conformists and radicalists that we forget what Solomon so clearly states in the Bible:

“What has been will be again,/ What has been done will be done again; /there is nothing new under the sun./ Is there anything of which one can say, / “Look! This is something new”?/ It was here already, long ago;/ It was here before our time.” (Ecclesiastes 1:9-10).

Even if you don’t believe in the Bible as truth (as I do), most scholars agree that Biblical texts contain wisdom and this is evidenced in this passage. Great teachers don’t reinvent the wheel or try to do it all on their own. You learn that the first day you step in a classroom. Even before the students arrive, you collaborate with your colleagues, because if you don’t you have immediately set yourself up for failure. John Donne said it best:


 

            No man is an island,

            Entire of itself,

            Every man is a piece of the continent,

            A part of the main.

            If a clod be washed away by the sea,

            Europe is the less.

            As well as if a promontory were.

            As well as if a manor of thy friend’s

            Or if thine own were:

            Any man’s death diminishes me,

            Because I am involved in mankind,

            And therefore never send to know for whom the bell tolls;

            It tolls for thee.


No man or woman is an island so it’s important to ‘steal’—if you can get past the connotations of the word and understand what that means for an artist. This doesn’t give an artist freedom to plagiarize—why would any artist want to do that? What it does give the artist license to do is to “scoop up all the little pieces of inspiration” and then curate them (Goins). It’s like taking a dozen smashed teacups—all originals into themselves—and creating a picture frame from the shattered pieces. You create something new by using the ideas and inspirations all around you. You must “meld together pieces of the chaotic mess we call life” and end up with a new creation (Goins).

Then you start. And no one starts pretty, you start where you are. For the vast majority of us, it’s a pretty ugly place. For gold to be purified, it must first go through the refining fire. So waiting for the “perfect” moment or the perfect idea won’t work. Perfection doesn’t exist. You must start where you are and make it beautiful as a part of the refining process.

Once you’ve started, then you can build it. But this takes dedication. I have been keeping up with my word counts daily as a way to discipline myself to write more. Each day I record how much I have written either on a novel or blogging so I can have accountability for what I do. This is how I build my writing habits. Establishing a habit isn’t easier, if it was I doubt it would be worth doing. I have found that this works for me, but only if I can have a tangible result. The more I write, the more progress I see with my writing—but I can’t expect it all to be beautiful. If I did, I might as well quit now.

Writing is what you make it for yourself. You can write for relaxation, for fun, for entertainment.  The main difference between writing and being a Writer is once you claim the title, you claim a new perspective and it is that new perspective that will make all the difference in your prospective ideas.

http://goinswriter.com/great-writers/

Prepare

Prepare

“Can you stop by the Harris Teeter up here on the way home?” Jennifer asked this question as I drove home this evening from Camino Bakery in downtown Winston Salem.

“Sure,” I responded. “Is it on the right or the left?”

“The left.”

I put on my blinker and began to check my blind spot carefully.

“But you have a little ways, like at least two stop lights.”

“I know, but I like to be prepared.”

Everyone in the care snickered a little as Jennifer responded, “No, really? You?”

All facetious teasing aside, this anecdote shows what Goins in his Writing Mastery Challenge points out for day 5. He suggests that there is a difference between preparing for something and stalling or putting off or waiting for perfection. For a perfectionist, this is  a fine line that is never truly defined because everything you do feels like preparation. But the plain faction of the matter is perfect doesn’t exist.  As hard as it is for me to admit it, nothing I do or say or plan will ever be perfect and so ‘stalling’ for perfection under the guise of ‘preparing’ is merely a game I play with myself to guard my precious self-esteem. Unfortunately, if we spend all our time preparing for what lies ahead, we tend to miss out on what is here and now and right in front of us; that’s the tragedy of the perfectionist.

So the challenge is this: prepare something specific, with a deadline. I have an idea in mind. I have spoken to a small publisher and they are publishing my first book. I look forward to this. Now is time for me to continue striving. I need to get more exposure. I wrote a short story but I keep ‘perfecting’ it so I haven’t done anything with it even though I keep saying I’m going to. This is how I will accept the challenge: I will prepare this short story “Career Counseling” for submission to either a contest or a magazine and see what happens. I will do this by the end of June and will check back in with you! Keep me honest, people. It’s what I need.

In the meantime I’ll just keep writing, reading, and, well, perfecting (you can’t expect me to do a full personality transplant, can you? My blinker is on, so I’m finally getting in the next lane).

Initiate and Practice

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Day 3 in this challenge was about initiative. Just write. I got up at 4 am to just write for 2 hours. Not ideal, but I didn’t suffer too terribly the rest of the day for it. I got a lot of writing in, and enjoyed the time to just sit and think in the morning, cogitating on my characters plights instead of my own. It was a refreshing way to start the day. I can’t do that every day but if I continue with my spreadsheet, the concept remains the same: habitual writing. On his blog Goins writes, “Every day, you have a decision: to start or stop the things worth doing.” I can appreciate this on multiple levels, but first and foremost with my writing. I have been focusing myself since October, and hope to continue indefinitely, because as Goins says these types of habits help “make you more of your truest self.”

Day four builds on this concept. I do not enjoy the limelight. I enjoy praise (who doesn’t?) and I like the concept of building an audience, but the process by which I must travel to get there is, let’s face it, terrifying to the introverted.

I have been in many leadership roles throughout my life, some voluntary, some not so voluntary, but each time I was relieved to finally step down and let someone else take over. Why? Because it is more work to put myself out there than it is to work diligently behind the scenes or passively observe and work. But writing is active. Most things worth learning from are. The challenge is to become more active with my writing.

Honestly, I’ve already accepted this challenge. I sent out a book proposal and signed a contract. Now I have to keep up that habit and continually search for ways to practice publically. I am not scared to fail; in a lot of ways I am scared to succeed because I know success will thrust me into a spotlight I wonder if I’m ready for. Failure in this industry is what I’ve come to expect, perhaps prematurely, but there is a reason artists are ‘starving’. Success is often more troubling, so practicing is the only cure. 

Believe

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Believe

I am a realist.

Throughout my life I have struggled to grasp the concept of belief without proof. I need facts, I need evidence, I need witnesses, I need explanation. My brain thinks logically, linearly and rationally. Now before you start thinking I’m a robot, let me assure you I have my fair share of emotional entanglements, but when it comes to the concept of believing I struggle painfully to the point that I have daily apologies to God about my disbelief as I am constantly asking Him for explanation to that which I don’t understand because it frustrates me to no end.

For day two, Goins suggests that a writer should master the art of believing in herself as a writer (http://goinswriter.com/believe/).

I scoff.

Didn’t I just declare myself to be a writer? Now I need proof! I don’t need an esoteric exercise exploring my inner self. Now is the time to collect evidence to support my declaration.

Irritated, I ruminate on this suggested day two. I do believe I’m a writer, don’t I? I declared it.  But is declaring something and believing it the same thing?

What does it mean to believe that I am a writer?

I start to dig deeper into what belief is and I recall an NPR series entitled “This I believe…”. Over 200 segments made up of this series, and I use it in my classroom. I love listening to the creeds of various people from across the world, some famous like Amy Tan or Tony Hawk, and sometimes they are high school students just like the kids I have in class every day. Each and every one of these essays are filled with belief, deep rooted truths that people hold dear to their hearts for various reasons that show what unite us as humans.

So maybe there is something to this idea of understanding what you believe about yourself. If I believe I am a writer, what does that mean for me? The easiest way to answer that question is with a creed similar to NPR.

I believe that as a writer I am capable of producing works that people will want to read.

I believe that the more I write the more comfortable I will become as a writer.

I believe that to be a writer you have to commit to the craft and surround yourself with support even if inside you have screaming doubts.

I believe that to silence the screaming doubts you have to keep pushing forward and continue writing and that is the only way to truly accept your belief.

I believe that saying you are a writer is only part of the battle; to truly believe it you have to act on it.

Writing is like any other profession; you have to actively pursue your goals to believe that you can be anything at all. Tomorrow’s challenge is to get up 2 hours earlier to write. That means I will be getting up at 4 am to write before going to work. Better set the coffee on now, because I believe that determination is key to helping you believe that anything is possible.