Writing is a Psychological Pursuit: Smile Past Doubt

To be a writer requires studying the effect life has on the human mind.

In a non-clinical environment, writers are psychologists, and better suited to the task than your local bartender—bartenders watch behavior, writers study what causes human action.

The study of human nature is essential for writers, whereas it’s just a bartender punch-line.

Characters act and respond based on how they think, flavored by their experiences and individual perceptions. Asking what motivates a character, and the life before the story that impacts their decisions, is a natural process for the fiction writer. Often, looking into one’s own outlook is the springboard catapulting the writer into the character development pool.

Self-doubt sharks swim in that psychological pool.

Writers worry if they are good enough, cringe and get defensive when others critique their work, betrayed when a story is rejected–each ignites the self-doubt fires. Self-doubt comes in many shapes, always wrestling with the fragile duo of confidence and ego. Invariably, the internal battle causes strife and creates a maligned attitude.

I love quotes because of their simplicity to a complex problem. One of my favorites is from the Moody Blues song, In The Beginning; although not specifically geared toward writing, it does deal with the psychology of writing.

“Face piles and piles of trials with smiles, it riles them to believe that you perceive the web they weave.”

The first part of the quote speaks to your response when faced with adversity, the second your perception and attitude toward the world around you.

Once you acknowledge the attitude problem is not them, but You, the hurdle becomes easier to leap.

You create the doubt and valleys of pain. When you take responsibility for that view, you begin to realize the roadblocks are not uncaring editors, a system stacked against you, harried agents that didn’t take time to fully consider your genius, but your own whining.

Yes, whining. We all do it. I’m sure my wife is tired of hearing mine; I know I am, so I decided to stop. Being a contemplative fellow, I considered:

What if I didn’t complain when a rejection appeared, but smiled? It felt counter-intuitive, and I admit at first it was just bad acting. I didn’t feel all fuzzy, nor happy or even content.

But then I thought, “Hey, it just didn’t work for them, the same way buying a new smart phone doesn’t work for me.” It doesn’t necessarily mean the smart phone is bad (the same is true of the story), but that it wasn’t the right fit at this place and time.

As I once told my son, “You have every right to disagree with me and be wrong.”

Maybe the next submission will be a better choice, and the editor will make the right decision.

Repackage the story or novel and send it to the next one on your list, and most importantly, get to work on your current project. And smile about the work you have before you.

You can’t control what others do, no more than they can control your actions. Control what you can, which is the delirious act of creation. Let the world take care of its own problems as you take control of the worlds you create, and those of the characters wrestling with their own doubt.

And smile—it’s the shield against the angst.

See You on the Next Page,

Rick

Writing Quote:
“Don’t write to become famous or to make a lot of money.  Write because you love it. Write because not writing for more than a few days feels like you have abandoned a puppy in a mineshaft.  Save the puppy.”  – Joe Beernink

Links on psychology and writing:

Brainpickings
Psychology Today
Helpscout

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3 New Additions At Knights of Writ in 2018

Fiction MusingThe week (and year) started well, working on the second novel in my fantasy trilogy, and adding the final polish to a couple short stories in preparation to market.

The first book of the trilogy, The Returning, which I’ve mentioned a few times, is currently with my writing friend, James, who has the task of critiquing the 3rd quarter of the 125,000-word tale. I am also critiquing his novel, and as I’ve written before, the process is an enlightening experience.

I stopped working on the novel (and any short stories) Monday evening. Halting my work was a conscious decision.

The Holiday Season and New Year had nothing to do with not writing (though there were extra events and happenings), nor was my decision caused by the mythical Writer’s Block, or even that the current novel project hit the dreaded lagging middle: I stopped writing to get organized.

The need to organize began innocently enough. I decided that in 2018 the Knights of Writ will include more to assist readers during their writing journey. I determined links to a variety of writing sources (agents and editors, magazines seeking stories, grammar assistance, and anything else to do with the craft) would be an invaluable addition. The problem was my bookmarks were a mess.

Whenever I see an article, blog post, or news story that catches my interest, I bookmark it with the intention of revisiting and studying the ideas and platitudes at a later time. Several folders are in my Bookmarks drop-down menu (Writing, History, Odd-Ball News Stories, etc.), and each have sub-folders to break the topics further. Disarrayed is how to best describe the bookmark menagerie.

Tuesday I tackled the History folder as practice—hundreds of places to visit awaited me. After a moment of panic at the sheer volume, I decided to organize the sub-folders by time reference (Ancient, Bronze Age, Medieval, etc.), areas and world civilizations (Greek, Egypt, Roman), or generalized topic (Science, Timelines, Miscellaneous, etc.) and shifted the individual bookmarks into the appropriate folders.

Some did not immediately offer a particular placement; I followed the link, quickly perused the content, and determined where it belonged. There were links that did not work or were old or were wrong and no longer interested me—those I discarded. Bye-bye.

Wednesday I wrestled with my largest inventory and the reason I chose this course of action—the Writing folder.

I bookmark a great many writing sites (many are also in my email folders, but that’s for another day). This is where the real work began.

I determined my folders: Agents and Publishers, Novel and Short Story helps (How-To’s), Reading, Markets, Writing Quotes (a new writer quote will accompany blog posts beginning in 2018 as well), General Writing, Organizations, Grammar, Blogs, and a few other less specific ones.

Each bookmark was given a home: special ones were moved to the top, others fell to the bottom. I added a few sub-sub-folders, which became my next job—as I said, I’m organizing; having the bookmarks entirely random in a general folder does not satisfy the task goal.

I worked most of Thursday, and Friday finally finished the Writing bookmark remapping—it was tedious work, but necessary. Months ago I did the same with all my Word doc writing files—it was also tedious.

What did I learn, and what can you learn from getting organized?

  1. Organization speeds up accomplishment, and adds confidence you can find what you need when you finish the allotted writing time. The last thing you want to do when writing is stop the flow to find some minutiae clarification; it’s always better to do it after writing. Make a quick note and come back later.
  2. It’s necessary to move bookmarks to their designated area promptly after saving it in the first place—seconds at the beginning over thousands of instances would have saved me hours and hours of organization this past week.

As I’ve written before, research is critical in all aspects of writing, and having the information location readily available saves time, effort, and frustration. In the future, locating the necessary research will be far easier.

I also reacquainted myself with a few interesting forgotten topics, and used them to make notes on new ideas and plans.

New for 2018 at Knights of Writ

Links to worthy writing sites
Writing Quotes, because we all need a little inspiration
Offers

Offers are not mine in most cases, but those of value as I search the internet and my in-box. Last year I received an offer from Writer’s Digest for a deeply discounted subscription of only $8 a year (10 issues, currently $19.99 or about $40 at the newsstand) with an offer to extend another year for $8, which I did.

I should have shared the offer, but neglected to in a timely manner. This year, should an offer brighten my door, I’ll let you know. There could be several, and not all will appeal to everybody—they don’t all appeal to me, for sure—but I’ll let you make those decisions.

There will be other additions as the year progresses, and I hope they will be of benefit in your growth to become a better fiction writer.

Below are this week’s links and a writing quote.

See you on the next page,

Rick

Writing Quote:
“Every hour you spend writing is an hour spent not fretting about your writing.” Dennis Palumbo

Links: Having learned a great deal through the critique process, I’ll start 2018 with a list of critique groups. Read how each operates and see if any appeal to you. I have participated in the first one, though it has been awhile; at the time I found the help valuable. So, wrap yourself in what James Scott Bell calls the Rhino Skin and dive right in, and remember, growth hurts sometimes.

Online Writing Workshop
Critters Writers Workshop
Critique Circle

Sure-Fire Habit to Increase Writing Output in 2018

Saturday is the day I take the dogs for a walk so Linda can clean the house without distraction. There’s a special place I go most weeks, a narrow field bordered on one side by train tracks, the leisurely Willamette River gurgling on the other. The area is sparsely treed, surrounded by hills climbing to snow-capped mountains in the distance.

There is a small rise where I look back on the path just traveled, and where I can also peer ahead toward my destination. For me, the end of the year is like that: reflection of the past twelve months and goal-setting for the upcoming year.

Reviewing the last twelve months, one habit defined why 2017 was a year of added progress and accomplishment over previous years.

The habit was such an easy and seemingly inconsequential event, something that took mere seconds but acted as both a catalyst and a proof: I call it Notes of Accomplishment, but the name does not matter—it’s the function that counts, that is, accountability.

Although I began 2017 making the notes, I trailed off during the early spring and summer (writing fell off dramatically during this time) and started again in the fall. Production is easy to monitor and gauge when I compare the amount of writing I did while noting accomplishments compared to when I did not.

The accomplishments noted are not majestic successes or wondrous revelations, but links in the ever growing chain known as craft.

The notes are private. Nobody, including my wife, is aware this is something I do each day; she will now, being that Linda is my first reader and nothing is published before she reads, reviews, and critiques at least once.

Noting everything regarding your writing each day, regardless of amount or topic or degree of success, are small little miracles.

This is not a journal, per se, where you jot character sketches, notes, or whine about how much you did not do; it is a place to note what you did, and that includes actual writing, research, reading, outlining, drawing maps . . . any task associated with your chosen career. Here’s an example from my own Notes of Accomplishment.

09.21.17–responded to blog comments, emails; worked on new short story, Timeframe, 375 words; read The Green Mile, pgs. 120-170; started new blog post, What’s it All About, Alfie?, 385 words;

09.22.17–read The Green Mile, pgs. 171-206; reviewed/edited short story, The Matter of Eve, cut 127 words over pgs. 6-11;

09.23.17–Nothing; doctor appointments in town.

09.24.17–worked on Ch. 9, The Case of More Than Six, 789 words; read The Green Mile, pgs. 207-225; edited/revised The Returning, pgs. 78-92, per James’ critique; critiquing James’ book, pgs. 38-65; completed current blog post, 425 words, and posted;

I italicize story titles, books and articles, whether read or written, and blog posts so I can easily skim the dated list; for the same reason, I bold the number of words I wrote during the day, regardless of project or venue. Some days I write 500 words, some days 1,500, others none or a low 50 words; either way, it’s documented—the importance of the process.

Documenting validates the time spent and the varied tasks completed; it also clarifies where I need to improve and shows me a goal I haven’t touched for a week and really should.

I also learned not to beat myself up on those 50 word days; more than likely I spent time doing something else, such as reading 120 pages of a novel or spent 2 hours working on the map for my fantasy world. All tasks are valuable when they pertain to anything within my selected field of interest.

I had days where I accomplished nothing having to do with writing, and that’s okay because I look back and see why, see that life knocked me off-track. I also see how tasks were picked right up the next day, and the next, and . . . .

Tracking what you accomplish—after the tasks are completed—proves you followed your passion, and thereby prompts you forward to do more in the upcoming days.

I use my Goal List (To Do) at the beginning of the day, my Notes of Accomplishment at the end, and together they show me how I am progressing. More than that, though, they prompt me and power me to do more.

This small and simple practice (which, given the nominal effort) easily becomes a habit, and with the habit your production will increase. Try it, let me know how it works for you, and by all means, I’ll

See You on the next page,

Rick

P.S. Let’s have the best writing year ever in 2018. Write On!

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Create Christmas Traditions—and Memories—for a Lifetime

Christmas is a time to nurture family, build traditions, but mostly it’s the memories we shape.

Sir Ken Robinson recalls the time his son was in a nativity play:

“The three boys came in, four-year-olds with tea towels on their heads, and they put these boxes down, and the first boy said, “I bring you gold.” And the second boy said, “I bring you myrrh.” And the third boy said, “Frank sent this.”

A delightful memory he was kind enough to share with us.

Our family developed many traditions and memories over the years. One of the first traditions was when buying our children presents, we strived to buy a gift for their body, their mind, and their spirit; admittedly, when young they often missed the point amidst other presents and brightly colored wrapping paper.

Still, they always received books, music, and the assorted clothing, toys and such. Always books, a favorite gift in our family. I have a shelf of dozens of books about baseball—a favorite topic of mine—given over decades. My son bought me Ken Burn’s Baseball documentary one Christmas, and I still watch it (all nine innings and the extra) every year in the Spring.

Another gift is a disc of family Christmas photos throughout the years our daughter gave us once they had both moved out of the home.

On Christmas Eve we visited my parents who lived a couple blocks away, where my mom would cook a fine meal and laughter filled the house; I suspect those are our most cherished memories.

Nat King Cole woke the kids up singing “The Christmas Song” each Christmas morning, and all during the opening of presents, music played in the background. Personalized stockings were first, and the four of us took turns watching the others open (and respond to) their presents one-at-a-time. There’s nothing like a child’s joy when they open a gift.

Here’s an important tradition: we never went into debt for Christmas. Each year we bought both what the kids needed, and some of what they wanted; it was also a season where learning you don’t always get what you want was part of the plan. Whether we had $200 to spend or $500 saved for the holidays, we never spent what we didn’t have–credit cards were off limits.

Other traditions grew through the seasons and became part of our ritual: Danish and hot chocolate after opening presents, A Christmas Carol with George C. Scott and A Wonderful Life (as a reminder everyone is important and valuable), getting acquainted with our new items, talking, laughing, playing in the snow—living in Lake Tahoe, it was always a white Christmas—and phoning loved ones who did not live nearby.

Christmas was a lazy day where we enjoyed each other’s company.

A few gifts are remembered from decades of giving and receiving, but most are long forgotten and used up, yet the joyous memories remain wrapped with love and bound by family.

And of course there were pictures. Our children tell us their brightest Christmas memories are the camera’s blinding flashes when they sleepily descended the stairs.

This season build your own memory storehouse.

Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays,

See you on the next page,

Rick

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Gifts for Writers on a Budget

For thirty years, the PNC has calculated the cost of items in the Christmas song, The Twelve Days of Christmas. Their website states, “. . . a unique and whimsical holiday tradition that makes learning about the economy fun.”

This year’s tally to purchase one of every item in the song: $34,558.65 (up from $27,673.22 in 2014), and if every number of items were purchased for your “true love,” the cost would be a staggering $157,558.00 (up over $40k from $116,273.06 three years ago).

Who needs six geese a-laying anyway? Five golden rings? I think not. Heck, who even needs one of any of the listed items? Not writers, at least not to improve their craft—that’s where my list helps.

So, gifts for writers that will help boost their output and increase their skills: here are my suggestions of Gifts for Writers on a Budget.

$. Small notebooks to take with you everywhere. I use a 3′ x 6′ I can stick in my back pocket–fits easily into purses as well. One never knows when a great idea or observation strikes. Get it down or you might lose it. This is a mainstay of my writer’s tools; I usually buy three or four, one to carry with me at all times and the others placed where I might need them–by the couch, in the car, on the front porch where I sit and read in the summer.

$. Make sure you have enough pens and pencils. I use a mechanical pencil to jot notes; make sure to get extra leads and erasures–erasing is a big thing for me. These are great stocking stuffers and will cost less than a latte.

$. Purchase a larger notebook. I use a 6′ x 9′ steno notebook; some of my friends use regular 8 ½’ by 11′ ringed notebooks. I keep the notebook next to me when I am at the keyboard in case an idea arrives that is not affiliated with what I am currently working on–a quick note will remind me of things I can focus on later. These can also be used as a journal; many writers feel manually writing in a journal helps catapult them into creation.

$. Get a new writing book to help you with your craft. Recommendations here.

$. Join favorite writer blogs. (Do not forget to join Knights of Writ if you have not already).

$. Get a new novel that you have been putting off. Here  are a few suggestions for fantasy writers and readers.

$. Subscribe to Writer’s Digest Magazine.

Of course there are an infinite number of items writers can find useful, anything from bookmarks to writing programs, computers, notepads (the electric kind), Kindles, and a host more. The less expensive items listed will service a writer well into the new year.

Happy Shopping, and

See You on the Next page,

Rick

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6 Things I’ve Learned About Writing Not Punching a Clock for Two Months

Having retired and gained more time to write has shown me many truths about myself, not all of them pretty.

1. I can be lazy. Okay, I already knew that, but not having to work for a company—my previous job smothered me with two dozen metrics which evaluated performance based on how many seconds I performed my duties—I realized I am now my own gatekeeper.

My wife and I played World of Warcraft for 6 years. I knew continuing would inhibit my writing as it’s easy to “burn” 20 hours a week enjoying the game. And we did enjoy it. Retiring required I leave it behind, which has its difficult moments—WOW was a perfect fit with my love of fantasy, and I’ll admit, there were times when it inspired me to write. Still, the decision to stop was the best choice in the interest of how to use the available hours (we actually quit the game a year before the auspicious retirement date).

There are interests that should be left behind; I found gaming was the one that sucked the most hours and with the least value.

2. Writing down goals solidifies their validity. I have always been goal oriented and self-motivated; owning businesses does that. Writing lists of what I hope to accomplish over the next days, weeks and months have always played an important role to getting things done. This is even truer when it comes to writing.

Not that I complete every listed item, but writing goals gives them a tangible reality rather than vapor spinning around in my head. When I don’t complete a listed goal, I add it to the following week and usually finish within a week or two of its origination.

I also write down a loose daily schedule that includes 4 hours of writing (mostly in the morning) and 1-2 hours reading, and I still have much of the day remaining! Some days I write for another hour or two in the afternoon, or perhaps edit, revise, or critique a friend’s novel.

The scheduling gives me something to shoot for, and even if I don’t hit the target, a day doesn’t go by where I don’t accomplish something involving my writing.

The difference between lists now and three months ago is they’re longer, and at the end of the week, more are checked off and less carry over.

3. Looking back is as important as looking forward. When keen on finding a precious item you dropped and don’t readily see, like a piece of jewelry or a contact lens, it’s helpful to look back where you have just been, giving a new perspective on ground already covered.

4. Reminded me how much I love to read. The past few years limited reading time. During the last two months I have read four novels when my norm while working was a book every three months, or 4 a year. That alone has improved my days, my outlook, and my life.

5. The internet can be a stalwart nemesis. Have you ever walked into someone’s home and the TV is on? Despite good intentions, you’ll find your eyes drawn to the lighted box even though you wish to concentrate on what people are saying.

The internet has that same drawing power, that same mindless and opinionated graveyard that seeps into your brain even though you don’t want it to.

The internet can be a valuable tool if used properly, and that’s one thing I realize more each day, that is, the requirement to separate the web from a place of learning and a venue that drains intelligence.

Just as I decided to leave World of Warcraft, I determined a couple things about my use of the internet: A) I avoid all things internet (email, social media, news, research, etc.) until the afternoon after I have spent my morning writing; B) I allot a maximum of 45 minutes to complete any tasks requiring the internet, such as responding to emails, blog comments, etc., and this includes checking the news where I focus on baseball—nominal this time of year—and new historical, science, and archeological discoveries. I only need about 5 minutes for so-called “hard” news.

6. There will always be distractions. Even without the clock to punch (and trying to woof down a piece of toast, use the bathroom, and kiss my wife during a fifteen minute break), distractions appear, sometimes with little or no warning. These events must be dealt with, whether scheduled or not, and therefore accommodations and leniency are required. Take care of the issue and go back to the schedule.

I’ve known all of these things, I suppose, but having more time reinforced the problems and the need for planning in order to produce and increase my craft. Whether working to pay the bills or retired, knowing your attitudes and what drives you—and making the necessary allowances—will give you more time to write, guaranteed.

By abiding to this list, I am producing more, and one other thing: the grass is greener on the other side, but it still needs to be mowed.

See you on the next page,

Rick

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A Slow, Glorious Good Read

 

The last two weeks I’ve had the joy—sheer rapture—of reading a novel slow, every-word-slow, calculated as I imagine the writer penned and intended it. Smiling at masterful turns of phrase, laughing when appropriate and jaw tensed when anger at a character—no, a person—gave me cause.

Yearning to arrive at the next important event the writer maneuvered me toward—at the same time fascinated by the lyrical sentences luring me down a magical path—I journeyed. Caught up in a world very much like my own, yet not at all, I traveled, experiencing the life of another beyond my own finite personality.

The novel was recommended to me with lofty platitudes. I was skeptical, but hopeful, as I always am when I open to Chapter One. A slow and good read, or a fast read making me a bad reader? (See last week’s post about the difference).

I’ve seen the movie based on the book, a favorite we own and watch at least once a year. Usually a book is better than the movie adaptation, but on a few occasions the movie outperforms the book. Still, I hoped and was not disappointed.

The Green Mile is such a book.

I am not a Stephen King fan, have tried to read a couple of his other novels, and found I was a bad reader. I’ve enjoyed several of his movie adaptations—Shawshank Redemption comes to mind—but never eagerly awaited his next book, which made The Green Mile all that more enjoyable and mystifying.

“For those of you who think that Stephen King only writes horror fiction, think again . . .” San Diego Union Tribune

 The Green Mile is great on so many levels:

the viewpoint of the story (the protagonist, the “I” of first person) is multi-faceted and approachable like a friendship you enjoy over a cup of coffee;

the setting (both present and 1932) is believable, each demonstrated by tidbits of the “familiars” from each era;

the backfill arrives expertly (which is the majority of the text), stitched into the storyline with precision so the reader is never uncertain where they are;

secondary characters develop from the protagonist’s views and opinions as well as by their own actions and dialogue, giving each a “completeness” lacking in many otherwise well-written novels;

the story events flow naturally—at times leisurely, others at break-neck speed—with mysteries enticing and drawing the reader further on the adventure.

Overall a fantastic read determined by this avid fantasy reader, which The Green Mile hints at, and if pigeon-holed, is considered Magical Realism, or to a lesser degree, Urban Fantasy—but defining the book does not do the prose justice for it stretches any barriers that can be associated with it, including “historical” since it’s “time-line” is eighty-five years ago (64 years before its publishing date of 1996).

Besides being a wonderful novel, its publishing history is equally unique: The Green Mile was published as a serialized story, six segments published monthly as small, manageable parts (the completed version clocks in at 536 pages).

Other delights stood out while reading the novel, but those you can discover by reading and living the story on your own—you won’t be disappointed. I will certainly re-read The Green Mile, probably many times, enthralled with the premise, the writing, and the myriad of surprises waiting the next page turn.

I dabbed my eyes a few times during the reading, and I’m not ashamed to say so—those were the best moments.

See you on the next page,

Rick

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