All posts by ashleymcarmichael

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. 

Declare

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As a part of a 15 day challenge I found on this website http://goinswriter.com/great-writers/. I am officially starting day 1.

DECLARE

Let me start by reflecting on the importance of declarations. To declare something means that you make it public, but you do so in a strong, impervious, confident way. In 1776 a group of men, rebels, got together on a spit of land that was savage and wild and they decided to hell with the rules and regulations they’d been following according to the government they’d known their entire lives. They were tired of maltreatment (ironically since they weren’t exactly treating everyone equally, but that’s another blog post in itself) so the DECLARED their independence. This was a ballsy move. It was treason. Had they lost the war, this declaration with their names so clearly written and penned on this official document, publicized for the world and specifically for their King to see, would have gotten them killed in a horrific many (drawn and quartered…entrails cut out… the whole nine yards!). My point? Declarations are a serious business.

So, when I read that the first step to “15 Habits of Effective Writers” according to this website is “Declare” I do feel some sort of connection between my own experience and this advice.

I’ve been writing my entire life and throughout this time I’ve been praised for my talent and for my creativity. I enjoyed writing and took every chance that was thrown my way to practice the craft. I wrote short stories when I was little. I wrote two hundred pages of a novel when I was in middle school before my floppy disk (yes, a floppy disk) was destroyed by kool-aid and the hard drive burned out in our old computer in the same week–destroyed, but not forgotten. But it was always something I did, it was never who I was.

Oddly, that wasn’t the case with my career. If someone asked me what I do, my immediate response is: I am a teacher. I don’t say “I teach” I say “I am a teacher”. Because I am. I spent a lot of time becoming a teacher and it is a part of who I am inside and out. It is second nature to claim the title. It’s not what I do, it is who I am.

With a little prodding from friends and family this past year I came to realize that writing is no different. It is a part of me, and published or not, I AM A WRITER. I made this declaration several months ago, but I make it again now as a part of this challenge and as a challenge to anyone out there who may be searching for something to declare. Find out who you are. Don’t just do it, but be it and declare it. Own it, because you will start living your life in a completely different way the more you come to understand who you are, not just what you do.