Sunday, June 3, 2018

On Writing With A Plan

I’m blogging a series that I’m calling “Stop Thinking About Writing...And Just Write!” Thinking about writing is easy. When I mention that I’m a writer, people often say, “Oh, I’ve thought about writing a book.” My encouragement to anyone who has had that thought is, stop thinking that. Just do it. Writing can be difficult but it’s worth it to give it a try. So here are some of my thoughts on the process. Six thoughts, actually. The first was Write Every Day. Next...

#2: Write With a Plan

Know where you’re headed. I always like to approach life with a plan, so that I can then ignore it while reminding myself that at least I have one if I need it. That’s my basic approach to writing, too. I love outlines. I have loved them since I first learned how to make them. I love how neat and tidy they look with all their indents and subsections. Outlines are my go-to writing plan. I’ve used them forever, for every kind of writing I do. If I have an outline, I have something to work from. It gives me confidence and a sense of accomplishment. When setting out on a journey, it is important to know where you are going. It is perfectly acceptable to amble around with no real plan or purpose, discovering new places and things along the way. However, if your intention is to start in one place and get to another, you should have a general idea of how you’re going to make that happen. If you’re on a hike or a road trip or going somewhere for the first time, you need a map, or at least directions. If you’re writing, you need an outline, or a cork board or a brainstorming bubble, or something that is leading you where you want to go. Make yourself a map before you start your writing journey. Some of the stops along the way may surprise you, but knowing your ultimate destination will help you keep your focus.
Be willing to take detours. Planning is important, but the actual writing is much more important. It’s when you write that your creativity really begins to flow. It may take you places you didn’t expect to go, and that’s okay. Be willing to explore the side trails your minds takes you on. You may get lost and have to retrace your steps, but you might also find new adventures you never expected. Don’t be afraid to get caught up in your writing and let your mind take you into new territory. A lot of writers tend to write the same things over and over. I’ve written almost the exact same scene, with completely different characters, in at least two books. I’m talking almost verbatim, with dialogue and everything, and I didn’t do it intentionally. A favorite author of mine growing up repeated the same storyline in at least four different fiction series. I read and enjoyed almost everything he wrote, but I remember thinking, “Oh, we’re doing this one again? Really?” If you always stick to the same plan or formula for writing, you may get overly repetitive. Ask yourself new questions. Explore new approaches to a scene or character. Try something you’ve never done before. Even better, try something you refuse to do. If the idea of trekking off into new writing territory makes you nervous, remember that you have a plan. If you veer off to far and don’t like the direction you’re heading, abandon that idea or thought trail and come back to the plan. No writing is ever wasted, even if it never sees the light of day. It’s just practice, and we all need more of that. We don’t get better at writing by thinking about writing, or even by reading about writing. We improve with practice. At the end of the day, it’s better to write something that ends up in the trash than to not write anything at all.
Don’t lose sight of the goal. Is your goal big? Does it scare you? If so, good. If not, that’s okay too. You don’t have to have a big scary goal, but you have to have a goal. Once you have it clear in your mind, keep it in front of you. Write it down. Talk about it. You don’t have to make it the topic of every conversation (because soon most people won’t want to talk to you) but mention it. Elaborate if people ask. Don’t hide your dreams in your heart. Get them out there. Some people won’t understand, some might laugh, but some will be encourage you along the way and a few might even help you. I write my dreams in pink ink. Those pink letters encourage me to keep learning, keep growing, keep working. PinkDreamInk is so important to me that I made it into a brand and adopted it into my image. What about you? Are your dreams hidden away in a dusty corner of your life, or have you put them out for people to see? Don’t let fear keep them hidden. Bring them out, dust them off, breathe life into them, and see what happens next. 
In some ways, an outline or writing plan is like a goal. If you have a plan and you know what you’re working toward, you can track your progress as you get there. Even if you deviate from the plan, it’s still there, keeping you accountable, reminding you of your ultimate destination, your end goal. You can break down your plan and get a good idea for how many scenes or chapters or words you need to write every day or every week in order to meet your deadline. If this sounds too structured for you, if all your feelings resist the idea of boxing yourself in like that, I encourage you to try it anyway. If you find after a month or two that it does, in fact, stifle your writing, you can go back to exercising your creativity freely and without restraint. More power to you. If you’re anything like me, however, you may find that a little planning on the front end goes a long way toward giving you the vision to get to your ending. You can thank me for that later. For now ... just write.

Monday, May 28, 2018

On Doing What You Don’t Want To

Today, I did a workout I didn’t want to do. I’ve been fighting a stomach bug this weekend, nothing too dramatic but it makes me want to lay around, do nothing, and stay close to home. I’m wrapping up an exercise challenge for this month and I didn’t want to get more than a day behind, so I forced myself to do this workout. I knew it would be tough, I knew it wouldn’t feel good, and I didn’t want to do it, but I also knew I needed to do it. So I did. I got through it. I thought it would be a lot worse, than it was, actually. It’s not a long workout, only took about 12 minutes to finish, and muscle memory did most of the work. I’ve been doing these same three moves for nearly a month now so once I started my body just did what it needed to do. Now I’m not sure if my stomach feels any better, but I do feel better about myself.

Clearly, my mind has been focused on challenging myself to do things I haven’t done before, and things I need to do but have been avoiding. There are times in life where it’s good to be content with were you are, and other times when you need to push yourself to do more, be more, accomplish more. Guess which season I’m in right now?

I wrote recently on doing what you can’t. That’s certainly a challenge, but I like a challenge. What is hard for me is doing what I don’t want to. The reasoning behind that is so obvious, I can’t believe I’m going to say it. It’s because ... I don’t want to. Crazy, huh? The absolute hardest thing for me is doing the things I know I need to do, but that I don’t want to do. And worse, I am confronted many times a day with this conundrum. Whether it’s a tough workout when I’d rather be goofing off or taking a nap, making better eating choices, getting up earlier, having an uncomfortable conversation, or taking a scary step that may or may not work out well, I am constantly having to choose to do things I’d rather not. So here are a couple of things I’ve learned about that.

First, you don’t get anywhere in life by refusing to do something just because you don’t want to do it. The hard things, the challenging things, those are the things that grow us. If you’re not where you want to be, ask yourself, what hard thing have you been avoiding?

Second, if you refuse to do something you don’t want to do, you may miss an opportunity you have been hoping for. Sometimes we do things we regret. Sometimes, we DON’T do things, and miss out, and regret that even more. I’ve missed out on so many things because I didn’t want to do the work it would take to accomplish them, or because I was afraid of what might happen if I tried. Sometimes its worth it to take a risk. Even if you fail or get hurt, you can learn a lesson and grow as a person. If you never move forward because you might fail, if you never love because you might get hurt or hurt someone, you will live a sad, boring, empty life. I don’t want that. I’d rather face the tough stuff, do the things I don’t want to, and live a full, meaningful life.

Third, you’re not alone. I was reading Romans 7 today and it’s pretty clear that even the great apostle Paul, whose actions and teaching literally changed the world, struggled with this issue. It’s part of the human condition. We do the bad things we know we shouldn’t. We avoid doing the good things we know we should. It’s a struggle. A certain amount of mental fortitude and stubborn determination can get us pretty far in life, but Paul also gives the secret for when we can’t do enough on our own, and hope for when we fail. The sacrifice of Christ wipes out our bad decisions, the grace of God gives us another chance and the Holy Spirit gives us the power to do both what we can’t and what we don’t want to. As I was reading Romans 7 this morning I was really feeling Paul’s struggle, and also the relief when he concludes by exclaiming, “Thanks be to God through our Lord Jesus Christ!”

If you’re facing something today that requires doing a good thing that you just don’t want to do, I challenge you to take a deep breath, say a prayer, and just do it. Hopefully, you’ll be glad you did.

Tuesday, May 22, 2018

On Writing Every Day

Over the next few weeks I’m blogging a series that I’m calling “Stop Thinking About Writing...And Just Write!” Thinking about writing is easy. When I mention that I’m a writer, people often say, “Oh, I’ve thought about writing a book.” My encouragement to anyone who has had that thought is, stop thinking that. Just do it. Writing can be difficult but it’s worth it to give it a try. So here are some of my thoughts on the process. Six thoughts, actually.

#1: Write Every Day

Make success a habit. I’m going to guess that if you’re interested in writing you have at least some creative aspect to your personality, and the idea of routine might be a bad word to you. It brings up these horrible ideas of stifling boredom and sameness and … blah. I feel all those things. I crave freedom and the ability to do what I want when I want to. And yet, I’ve found that my free spirit flourishes when I give it structure and familiarity and yes, even rules. I have very boring daily obligations that must be met so I try to balance that with times when I can just relax and be me and let my creativity flow. So I challenge you, if you’ve never done it before or even if you have, take a look at your daily activity. How are you spending your time? If one thing that keeps you from writing is never having enough time, where can you make some time? Do you have pockets in your day that you can dedicate to writing? I encourage you to find that time every day. A full hour is always best for me but not always possible. If you can squeeze in half an hour to focus on writing when you wake up, or before you sleep, or at lunch, or after work, or any time in your day, do it. Plan to do it every day. Create the systems you need in order to put that plan in motion. Then, when it’s time, sit down with your computer or your preferred writing apparatus and DO IT. Don’t think, “Look at this free time I have. I should do some errands or chores or make a phone call or check social media or sleep …” NO! You will do those things in your other time. When you carve out writing time, use it for writing. Make a habit of it. Because if you don’t, you are not a writer. You’re a poser. That’s right. I said it. Posers think about writing, and say they want to write, and join Facebook groups about writing, and read blogs about writing, but writers write. 
Find what works for you. Create a plan for how and when you will write. When you are planning, dont forget that important word, Why. Keep your identity and your purpose clear in your mind. Why do you write? Why are you writing what you are writing today? Are there other words you need to get out before you can focus on this project? Keep your goals, objectives, and most importantly, your purpose, clear in your mind so that you can confidently focus on your writing. What you write is part of who you are, and reveals who you are to the world around you. You have something to contribute, a unique voice that no one else has. Find it. 
Creating a plan is only one step toward creating the habit of writing. If you start your plan and find it doesn’t work for you, you have permission to make adjustments and find what does work. Before giving up a plan, I do encourage you to really try it out first. It can be tempting to give up on something before you’ve really put an effort into it, especially if you’re feeling nervous or uncertain about it. With anything new, commit to working at it for awhile before deciding it doesn’t work for you. Then if you know it really doesn’t, let it go and try something else.
Stick with it. If you don’t feel like getting up, remind yourself that you’re a writer and that you have to get up and write. If you just want to go to bed, tell yourself to write for half an hour and then you can sleep. If your list of things to do tempts you to skip writing for today, add writing to your to-do list and get it done. Life happens. We can set ourselves up for success but we can’t control everything. We get distracted and interrupted. Illnesses, vacations, and events disrupt our rhythm. We can always find reasons not to write, or at least to put it off for now, but let’s not waste the work we’ve done to determine why we write and give ourselves space to do it. Missing one day of writing might not seem to be a big deal, but what if I skip today and then something comes up tomorrow, and I find something else to do the day after that? That carefully crafted creature of habit is easy to destroy. Skipped days turn into weeks and then we’re back to thinking about writing and not actually doing it.
When it comes to pursuing any goal, including writing, we often get in our own way. It’s important to deal with obstacles and objections and keep going, rather than get sidelined by them. If you do need to step away from your writing for some reason, make yourself a promise that you will get back to it, preferably at a specific day and time. Set reminders, create accountability, take care of whatever it is that is pulling you away, and then come back.
Okay writers, I want to hear from you. But I want you to do something important first. Write something. It can be anything. A poem, a journal, a story, a rant about something that bothered you today, a personal manifesto, a love letter. It doesn’t have to be good, it just has to be something. The more you do it, the easier it will be. Start your writing habit right now. Take a few minutes and write. Be a writer. And then come back and tell me how it went.