Write

:: What Feeds YOUR Creativity? ::

* This post is in response to a writing prompt from DIY MFA Book Club which I wrote about here.

The fourth writing prompt in the series is:

When I first sat down to ponder this writing prompt, I had a hard time coming up with something so I put off writing about it at all. Can procrastination count as fuel for creativity? Unlikely, I suppose.

After finally diving in and giving it some consideration, the few things that stood out to me were my odd interest in the lives of people who were/are associated with historical figures, my compulsive Instagram trolling, and – no surprise here – my love of vast, awe-inspiring landscapes. I’m a very visual person. Not that I am necessarily a visual learner but I find a lot of inspiration in images and seeing how other people live.

I also get fired up by witnessing other creatives living fully in their passion and weirdly, by images of their creative spaces, i.e. where they make their magic.

While I know that writing prompts, such as this one, are a common and popular tool for getting the juices flowing, I haven’t allowed myself enough exploration to see if it could be a good resource for me too. The closest I’ve come is half-finished sentences when I pause or take a break from writing that I have to complete when I return to working.

Okay, I’m procrastinating again. I’m off to work on my manuscript! (Right after I check Instagram.)

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:: Mid Month Check In – Jan. 2018 ::

We’ve officially passed the midway point in the first month of the new year. Whew.

During the week between Christmas and New Year’s, I was vibrating with ideas, and goals, and plans, and… and then January actually arrived and I remember that this is when I deliberately go into hibernation. It’s winter after all. The days are still short, the weather frigid (well, that is if you live anywhere other than Southern California. We hit the mid-80’s this past weekend.), there are still 11 more months ahead in the year to tackle all of the things I’ve set out to accomplish, and I’m on a serious slow living kick right now. So why rush?

But despite taking it “easy”, I’ve accomplished a lot. I’m writing! Freelance projects are starting to trickle in. I’m in the process of drafting an article for an online magazine and working on a second to submit to another publication. I’ve written another chapter for my manuscript.

In other areas, I’m on track with my workout goals. I did four unbroken kipping pull-ups this morning among other milestones in the past couple of weeks. There has been a lot of reading and studying up on a variety of topics I want to explore on a deeper level.  I’ve also been invited back as an ambassador for Sportland Tea Co. which produces a fantastic line of tea blends aimed to help athletes (or anyone who loves good tea!) perform at their very best.

The Sportland Team.

All-in-all, 2018 is off to a great start!

:: My Storytelling Superpower ::

* This post is in response to a writing prompt from DIY MFA Book Club which I wrote about here.

The third writing prompt in the series is this:

 

Whoa. Like OMG, WHOA.

Included with the third writing prompt was a fun little quiz to help participants figure out their storytelling superpower. My result was The Survivor which was summarized as:

You’ve got a penchant for characters who will do whatever it takes to survive. Maybe they’re stranded on a desert island, captured by an evil genius, or fighting to beat a terminal illness. Or maybe they want something so desperately that not getting it feels like a matter of life and death. Regardless of their situation, you’re drawn to creating characters your readers will admire for their pluck, determination, and sheer creative willpower.

This blew my mind because my protagonist in the novel I’m writing, The Colonel’s Keeper, is a survivor, hands-down. My character, Mary Agnes, endures a tumultuous marriage filled with years of emotional abuse and a near-fatal shooting at the hands of her alcoholic husband.

Throughout this process, I’ve been amused by the idiosyncrasies that have surfaced. The discoveries I’ve made, being drawn to writing about survivors, for example, have been a pleasant surprise. My inclination to write works of historical fiction was another unexpected revelation, especially since history (edging out math only slightly) was my least favorite subject of study in school.

I’m not sure I’d call either of these a superpower but they are definitely themes that I imagine will recur as I continue to hone my craft.

:: Honor Your Reality ::

* This post is in response to a writing prompt from DIY MFA Book Club which I wrote about here.

The second writing prompt in the series is this:

In essence, this question is asking us how we balance real life with the writing life.

This is a tough one to answer because I’m still pretty inexperienced as far as big projects go. However, I think my recent attempt at participating in National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo) opened my eyes to the importance of setting realistic expectations. Writing is HARD. Sometimes I feel blessed by the writing Gods… making the time to write comes easily, the words flow onto the page and it all doesn’t completely suck. More often though, I’m tormented by the inability to find/make the time to sit down and work, I’m at a complete loss for words and what I do manage to write is unimaginative and dull.

The reality for me is that I’m lucky if I can knock out 300 words whenever I do force myself to park my ass in the chair and work. My outline is currently a mess because I’ve been indecisive about how many parts it should be based on a gap in time within my story and whether or not that will affect the number of chapters, word count, etc. (I know at this stage it is not supposed to matter but I can’t stop obsessing over it.) I *thought* I would be able to complete my first draft a lot quicker; I’m coming up on a full year and only have two-thirds of it completed. And, to top it all off, I have no fucking clue what I’m doing.

All of that has to be balanced with my responsibilities as a wife and mother while managing a household, paid writing work, projects and hobbies, health and fitness endeavors, and whatever else life throws my way. I guess, to be honest, I don’t know that there really is a true balance. The key though, I’m learning, is to ignore the unrealistic expectations and focus on doing what I can when I can.

To sum it up, I suppose that I honor my reality by showing up to write even though life is a big, crazy blur and my work is all a mess and complicated and I’m afraid that I don’t know what I’m doing. And I’ll keep showing up because I know that’s the only way I’ll achieve what I’ve set out to do.

 

:: How Did You Become A Writer? ::

* This post is in response to a writing prompt from DIY MFA Book Club which I wrote about here.

I didn’t set out to become a writer. It sort of sought me out.

It is said that we often don’t see the correlation between our chosen career path and what we are called to do until we look back over our job history and work experiences. This is certainly true for me. I didn’t know I wanted to be a writer until about 2010 when I discovered that I had two non-fiction book ideas floating around in my head. One was about dreadlocks with a working title of A Head Full of Dreads and Nothing to Wear (no, I’m not kidding) and the other was a cookbook that focused on bean recipes and was titled something along the lines of Beans, Beans, the Magical Fruit. (Also, not kidding.)

In 2010, I was laid-off from a job in the fire service. I’d spend the previous five years in the role of Community Liaison Specialist and Public Information Officer where my duties included writing press releases, public service announcements, and an endless array of material for publications on fire prevention. Prior to that, I’d spent about eight years working for a radio station where I wrote news stories and advertising copy.

A throwback to my fire service days. (The house behind me was being burned down intentionally, FYI.)

Following the layoff, I started teaching yoga and created a monthly newsletter that included articles about the practice or specific poses that I sent out to my students. In early 2013, I started training for my first marathon and subsequently started a blog to chronicle the journey which I kept active until the end of 2016. I was also asked from time-to-time to help write things for family and friends; copy for a website my brother was building, an obituary for my husband’s grandmother upon her passing, a guest post for a friends blog, race previews for Run Oregon.

All the while, I couldn’t figure out what I wanted to do with my life.

At some point in 2015, it became clear. What I was meant to do, I had already been doing for years! Regardless of job titles, I had always found a way to weave writing into my duties whether it was asked for of the position or not. Writing gave me joy and it seemed to come naturally. In fact, one of the best compliments – albeit slightly backhanded – I ever received was from the Fire Chief I worked under. He once said to me that “despite not having a college education, you’re a pretty good writer.” That comment has stuck with me all of these years and I still try to live up to that praise.

Writing – with the ultimate goal of being a published author – is now how I dream of spending my days.

 

:: DIY MFA Book Club ::

As a writer who aspires to become better at my craft, I try to regularly participate in activities that are in alignment with that goal. Reading and studying various texts by seasoned authors and authorities on the subject is a prominent piece of the puzzle. One such book that I picked up last summer and have been slowly making my way through is DIY MFA by Gabriela Pereira.

For the sake of full disclosure and transparency, I do not have a college degree. In fact, I dropped out of community college when I was 17 years old before completing the first term. (Honestly, I don’t think I even made it a month!) While that is another story for another day, I will say that on many occasions over the years in professional settings especially, I’ve allowed the lack of a certificate to make me feel less than enough. Now, 23 years later, I still find myself occasionally wishing that I had followed that path because I would love to have a Master of Fine Arts in creative writing. However, at least at this point in my life, it’s not in the cards.

So back to DIY MFA. I was drawn to it because Ms. Pereira has created a do-it-yourself alternative to the college experience and teaches her readers how to apply the fundamentals of the MFA program – writing, reading and building a support network – without stepping foot on a campus or going into crippling debt.

In addition to the book, she offers a number of resources and coaching opportunities to help writers refine their skills. One such program I’m currently participating in is a book club that works through some of the concepts in DIY MFA and includes challenges such as writing prompts in which we are asked to write about a specific topic and share our work. Our first assignment is based on the question: how did you become a writer?

I’ll be sharing my response to that prompt in a forthcoming post as well as future ones throughout the event.

DIY MFA Book Club Participant

Participant badge.

 

 

::A brief recap of NaNoWriMo::

Even though November is a distant memory, I’m still getting regular email from the National Novel Writing Month organization (NaNoWriMo). The messages in my inbox consist of requests for support, opportunities for writers to get feedback on their manuscripts, or alerts about new blog posts on topics such as maintaining creative momentum and the next steps in the pursuit of publishing.

Don’t get me wrong. I’m all for supporting this awesome organization and welcome mail from them! However, each email has been a somewhat bitter reminder of my failed attempt to participate in the movement. (I wrote a little bit about what derailed my efforts here.) Having had a little time to reflect these past few weeks following NaNoWriMo, I’ve realized that I actually gained some solid insight from my attempt… even if I don’t have a complete manuscript to show for it.

Four things I learned attempting to participate in NaNoWriMo 2017.

Lesson #1

In the weeks leading up to November, I was at a complete loss for an idea – a story – to write about. Then, magically one day in the shower, I was struck by an idea. A good idea (at least I think it’s a good idea and that’s all that matters, right?)! For the past year, I’ve been so attached to the work of my first (still in progress) novel, The Colonel’s Keeper, that I couldn’t see past it or believe that I was capable of unlocking another creative treasure buried somewhere deep inside my subconscious. I was pleasantly surprised to discover otherwise!

Lesson #2

One of my concerns leading up to NaNoWriMo was whether or not I should finish my current manuscript first and either not participate or put it on hold to work on the new idea. I chose the latter. Even now, I’m not really sure I’ve found the right answer but instinctively, I feel like I should focus on one project at a time and finish what I’ve already started before moving onto the next thing. The preparation I did for NaNoWriMo has allowed me to create a pretty solid story and foundation for my next novel and I look forward to working on it at a later date. I even have a head start since I wrote almost 4,000 words! But that said, this experience taught me that I’m a one manuscript at a time kind of writer.

Lesson #3

Something I’ve been exploring this year is realistic vs. unrealistic expectations in relation to how much I can juggle at any given time. Beginning in January, I had four big projects vying for my attention. I was training for a spring marathon, studying to take an exam to earn my real estate license, trying to build my freelance writing business, and write a novel. I felt overwhelmed for the first few months of the year and not certain that any one of those things was really getting the attention they deserved. The first thing to go was marathon training. I got injured and then sick in February which turned out to be a blessing in disguise because I was forced to take that off the table. Later, I decided that my heart is not in real estate and decided to not pursue my license. That, of course, left the writing stuff, because honestly, that IS where my heart is.

The lesson here is that four is too much. Three is a little more manageable. Two is ideal. Two is my magic number.

As far as how this was applied to my NaNoWriMo experience, I guess that what I’m trying to say is that I simply had too much on my plate in November and I didn’t recognize that until after I’d already announced my participation. I’m hopeful that this will allow me to plan better for the 2018 event.

As a side note, this topic is something that I plan to explore deeper as we move into 2018 and I begin planning and goal setting. I have also discovered the paralysis that comes from having so many ideas, goals, and ambitions… basically, I recede into a prolonged state of disorientation and get NOTHING accomplished. I intend to streamline my workflow a bit better so I can truly focus on things that light me up.

Lesson #4

Time away from my first project has rekindled the desire to see it through to completion. Honestly, I was a little scared that if I took time away from writing The Colonel’s Keeper, I may not return to that work. Those few weeks – okay… months, if I’m being honest – that I put that project on hold and let my project have my attention turned out to be the refresh I needed. I’ve been slowly making my way back and feel recharged. NaNoWriMo gave me the opportunity to step back and take a much-needed break to process where I was and where I am heading.

I’ve got my work cut out for me over the next 10.5 months because now I need to finish the two manuscripts I’ve started so I can have a clean slate come NaNoWriMo 2018!

The write life.

How do we live the writer’s life? There’s only one simple answer: we write. ~Dani Shapiro

:: National Novel Writing Month ::

Several years ago, in early November, a flier at the public library caught my eye. The handout was promoting National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo) and the challenge created by the organization that encourages writers to complete a novel – or 50,000+ words – in the 30 calendar days between November 1st and 30th.

It was already several days into the month, if not a week or more when I saw the flier. I considered joining late but ultimately ended up passing on the opportunity, putting it off for another year when, I dunno, I’d be less busy.

A few months ago I started thinking about it again. At a third of the way through the manuscript I’ve been working on since January, with a goal completion date of October, I figured I had plenty of time to finish my current work and then get ready for NaNoWriMo. Then life and procrastination happened. I missed my self-imposed October deadline and – in the spirit of truth-telling – I’m not even two-thirds of the way finished and we’re well past mid-October.

Regardless, I signed up for NaNoWriMo anyway. Without a single idea or spark of inspiration, I created an account on the website and then contemplated not doing it at all, rather continuing the work I’ve been doing on my first novel, The Colonel’s Keeper. I watched the first half of the month go by without anything to work from… no plot, no outline, no characters to develop, no nothing.

And then BAM! The gods and goddesses of inspiration responded to my pleas while I was in the shower yesterday and an idea slowly started to form.

I guess at this point, I have no more excuses…

Working Title: Take a Lover

Genre: Historical Fiction

Synopsis: In 1932, nineteen-year-old Scarlet Mills is a liberal arts student on scholarship at the College of Creative Studies in Detroit, Michigan. Suffering from anxiety and depression following years of sexual abuse at the hands of her father, she writes poetry as a means to cope with her pain while pursuing a degree in creative writing. After a chance meeting with an eccentric painter from Mexico, the pair becomes friends, then lovers. The encouragement by her lover to pursue her writing and sexuality throughout their brief relationship takes Scarlet on a journey of self-discovery and healing.

Visit the National Novel Writing Month website for more information or to commit to writing your own novel next month!

::A curation of obsessions – 4/28::

Where do I begin? This week has been nuts! But in a super good way, because as some like to say, myself included, I’m living the dream! Ha! (And also the reason why I’m posting this on Saturday instead of Friday, as intended.)

At any given moment I’ve had at least 800 tabs open in my head if you know what I mean. I haven’t had a lot of space between tasks to curate my obsession list this week (In fact, nearly every little gap of time I’ve had has been filled in with another task, such as this blog post. I’m never not writing!) but even with little free time, there’s always something to be obsessing over. And I found my title!

This is what got my attention this week:

Passerbuys

I’ve become slightly obsessed with the life of an author who recently published her first book. She was featured on the site and since then, I’ve sought out the profiles of some of the other women they’ve showcased; an assortment of creative types. (I romanticize the writer’s life but let the record reflect that it is hard-ass work. In fact, my ass literally hurts from sitting in a hard wooden chair for hours on end in hopes that something magical will manifest from my brain, travel through my fingers onto my keyboard, and launch me into author stardom. A girl can dream, right?)

Brooks Peacock Line

Peacocks are such beautiful, regal birds. I’ve admired them for a long time (before they were “trendy” even) and was stoked to see that Brooks has launched a new design for the Pure line that has a peacock feather print. They offer two colors for the PureFlow 6, which is what I wear, and they’re awesome! (I will have to add a savings goal to my budget to snag a pair – see below.) A fresh pair of running shoes would, I’m certain, help me set some new running goals!

Mint

Budgeting… er, trying to budget, is something I’ve been pretty much working on my entire adult life. Admittedly, I have a long history of hang-ups about money… earning money, spending money, saving money… fear that there is never enough to do everything that I need and want to do… stuff like that. Honestly, it’s something I really detest about myself and I’m constantly trying to figure out ways to improve my relationship with my finances. What I like specifically about Mint is the ability to create saving plans for a number of goals such as an emergency fund, travel fund, car down payment fund, laptop fund, etc., that you can customize. It also tracks how and where you are spending money which is a huge eye opener! (I should probably cut down on my kombucha consumption.)

What obsessions have you been curating lately? I’d love to know what you’re into! If you feel compelled to share, please comment below.

Have a great weekend!

P.S. One more day to take advantage of discounted services!!!

::Three Reasons Why You Should Hire a Professional Writer::

When it comes to your vocation, chosen career or craft, you are probably fantastic at what you do. Take a guy I know for example; he is an amazing contractor and builds beautiful houses. He thoughtfully and meticulously works to create custom, dream homes for his clients.

Unfortunately, you’d never know how talented he is because his website lacks compelling content that highlights his qualifications and achievements. To add insult to injury, the home page is blemished with a number of simple grammatical errors and poor writing in general.

Writing a well-articulated description about your business, products and/or services is not everyone’s cup of tea. And I’m here to tell you that it’s okay. Most small businesses do not have someone on staff dedicated to writing copy (or manage marketing, social media, etc.). But I’m here to help!

Your website is one of the most powerful marketing tools you have when it comes to attracting business and staying connected with your customers. Here are my top three reasons why you should consider hiring a professional writer to assist you in maximizing your website content to grow your business.

  1. Let someone else toot your horn.

Many people struggle with speaking highly of themselves or their accomplishments (in both spoken and written forms). They may be very humble or just not the type of person to toot their own horn. However, when trying to attract business and potential clients, your skills, talents, and achievements should be shouted from the rooftops. At the very least, on your about or home pages. A skilled writer can toot your horn for you!

  1. Your site is outdated.

When was the last time you read your website? If your answer is, say early 2015, I’d guess you’re due for some updating. I see it all the time. If you’ve made changes to your business but your website doesn’t reflect them, then your customers don’t know.

Have you recently expanded your offerings? Added new products or services? Opened a second or third location? Changed your hours or contact information? Won a prestigious award or were recognized for excellent customer service? Why not make sure both your would-be and existing customers know?

  1. Professional, quality work is guaranteed.

Speling and, grammaticall, erors happen too the the best of use. (See what I did there?) It’s true. But that said, professional writers work diligently to make sure that the copy written for your website will be of the highest quality, free of mistakes. We tend to be perfectionists and want every piece we produce to be the best of our ability.

If your website could use a tune-up, consider making the investment in hiring a professional writer to create content that reflects the voice and branding of your business. I’d love the opportunity to help! I can be reached via email at hyla@hylaridenour.com.

P.S. You can get 10% any package or service through the end of the month!