Up Against a Brick Wall – Day 8

I’m new to this blogging thing. I’ll admit that today’s challenge is a bit of a struggle for me. I’m enthusiastic about ideas and projects; less so about the hard graft of building – which doesn’t sound quite so impressive as writing – (sorry, not meaning to offend any real life brickies).

I’ll let you in on a secret. I’ve even begun to doubt having embarked on this writers’ challenge. Do I have what it takes? I thought so on day 1 or 2. Now I’m losing a bit of the self belief, losing some of the initial momentum. I’m finding myself up against a virtual brick wall, questioning whether to turn around and give up.

Being creative is tiring at times, and I don’t always feel like producing content. This building stuff is more strenuous than I imagined. I’m a little tempted to ditch the blog and stick to other pursuits. Why? Because sleep seems alluring late at night and other distractions beckon during the day. It would be a lot easier to casually lay a creative ‘brick’ now and then, depending on my feelings, than to commit to finishing what I’ve started. As for getting up early (day 2) – well that’s problematic for a night owl with kids who tend to be around in the morning hours.

In many ways I can see a parallel emerging with the process of writing of a novel. It’s pretty exciting in the early stages and you’re bursting with enthusiasm. About half way through, it gets tricky. Story’s in a muddle, characters become aimless, descriptions threaten to dry up. Basically, it turns from being something you can’t wait to get stuck into, to something you force yourself to continue writing.

Like the novel, I need to build on what I’ve started, not neglect the very thing that should help me develop as a writer and help me achieve some goals.

So, despite my shortcomings and resistance to building, I will press on with constructing this site and find or create decent content to fill its pages. Once I’ve done that I’ll start thinking about the bonus assignment!

Any offers to hold me accountable in this regard are most welcome.

An Ugly Start, A Beautiful Future…

The Great Writers’ challenge for today (Habit #7) promotes freedom to write something unpolished and ugly. We shouldn’t worry about producing something that’s flawless; we need to simply have a go. Let the creativity flow and write (paint/create) something, no matter how poor it comes across.

It’s all part of the process of becoming great, apparently.

You mean I can just hash some blurb out? Yes! It doesn’t have to be edited umpteen times straight away? No!

There’s something wonderful about this suggestion, something that releases the pressure from anyone who’s even vaguely got a bit of the perfectionist lurking inside them.

Once more, I smiled as I realised that this is currently the way I already work. I posted a couple of comments about it on Jeff Goins’ webpage, and have decided to paste it here too, in case it helps any other writers…

This [writing ‘ugly’ style] has generally been my practice in putting together each chapter of the novel I’m working on. I take a look at the brief outline of the story and simply start writing. When I’m mid flow and suddenly get hit with problems of expression or description, I usually insert a few ???? or [insert character description] into the draft and continue to write.

It’s definitely messy. But it gets the skeleton of a chapter complete – and there’s satisfaction in getting something near completion. Then I have time to go back later and try to fill the gaps. At that point, I’m not worried about how long I mull over ideas or possibilities. Or I can suggest a couple of ideas and see what my editor thinks.

Doing it like this, in true ugly fashion, avoids interrupting the flow of creativity – especially when you’re sure you’ve something really decent coming up soon. Don’t risk losing that train of thought – just keep on going with it.

It’s good to know that I’m on the right track with this challenge. I can do ‘ugly’ pretty well! It’s the sharpening and touching up part which I know I find a lot harder. Still, it helps to be reminded that most works of art start off quite messily.

Criminal Minds – When Artists Steal (Day 6/ 15habits Series)

Today I’ve been encouraged to copy and steal other artists’ ideas or materials. Moi, steal? Sounds dubious.

As with a couple of Goins’ previous challenges, I don’t know whether to blush or be smug this time. Thinking about it, yep, I’ve already done that. Steal!

And yet he makes sense. I particularly appreciated the quote from Bono about how U2 came upon their ‘unique’ sound when they first started out. It’s so good – and as a lifelong U2 fan – I’ll say it again here…

“We were just trying to copy everyone else, but we weren’t good enough. This is what came out.” Brilliant!

Likewise I can hereby acknowledge that the underlying premise of my novel is not entirely original. Grown ups especially may draw parallels with previously published works.

However, I’ve weaved an original plot, characters, settings, themes and ending into my own manuscript. And I’m convinced that as a new writer I’ve stamped my unique style throughout the pages. Yes there’s some good and evil stuff, yes the message may sound familiar, but that’s only through the lens of a grown up eye. And it’s not written for you.

When I present my finished work of art, a novel for pre-teens, for publication and ultimately for eager children to get caught up in the story, they won’t be focussing on whether there are similarities with such and such author from a previous generation.

In the same way when viewers have left the cinema, having watched yet another kidnapping-action-adventure movie, they tend not to groan about the common elements of previous productions. If anything, they tend to enjoy the familiar themes.

Now I feel justified in what I’ve aimed for and created. Goins says it’s OK – and he seems to know a thing or two about writing. And seeing as he’s the one to have proposed this stealing stuff, I’m sure he won’t complain about me pinching that quote from his own site! 

Now I just need to finish that novel…

Day 5/ 15 habits Series: Prepare & Get it out there!

Today’s encouragement from writer Jeff Goins was to get on with a project and prepare it for publication. But not for next month or next year. Now.

Easier said than done! Every creative’s mantra.

On the one hand we constantly hear that we should hone our craft, tidy rough edges, work at it, be professional and so on.

Now this Goins chap is stirring up a frenzy among writers to get something out there. Straight-away. I can almost hear the wild tapping on thousands of keyboards as writers everywhere try desperately to churn out their book proposals, synopses or movie scripts.

I suppose we could all use that push. “Ship and tweak” he says. Sounds like he’s turning writing into some sort of manufacturing plant, where no soon as the last batch of goods has been dispatched, work starts on the next lot.  I don’t relate well to machinery in general, so I’ve been finding Day 5’s challenge pretty hard going. It’s true that technology has made it all so much easier to produce work and go back to correct or perfect it. If we keep putting things off, we may never even complete what we’re working on.

Right now, I’m in the middle of the final editing process of my project. I would have loved to send it off to a publisher, but it’s just not ready. And I really need to tweak and update the synopsis.

For now I’m happy that I’m getting into this blogging habit and that I actually uploaded my previous post and sent it into the Twittersphere before I could change my mind on whether it was good enough.

I prepared something and I posted it. I suppose that qualifies. Thoughts, fellow #15habiters?

Pick and Mix Parenting: In Pursuit of an Individual Approach (Day 4/ 15 Habits Series:Practice)

When our first child entered the world several (uh, now 13!) years ago, I soon became aware that there were essentially two camps when it came to parenting infants and pre-schoolers. The two styles were easy to identify, as parents held firmly to a particular set of values and practices that stood in stark contrast to those of the other group.

Each group deplored the practices of the other and heartily believed that they were right. It was at times hard to find a circle of friends, which welcomed parents from both camps. (This was in a metropolitan area just outside New York City.)

Personally, I get on well with a wide range of people and really didn’t want to have to choose between the two. I embraced some of the values from both parenting styles, but was unwilling to go the whole nine yards and fully endorse one particular philosophy.

I was also reluctant to conform to what the latest bestseller on parenting had to say – preferring to model those parents whom I could actually observe in action, and see them relating to their children in a variety of situations.

On the one hand I observed those of the “Attachment Parenting”  camp (Dr Sears et al) – easily recognized by their use of slings and carriers, unlimited bed-sharing and unrestricted access to breastfeeding for as long as the child wishes. (I did once meet a woman who admitted her daughter was five before she was weaned. Really, that was too much information.)

In the area of discipline these people proposed gentle guidance and steered clear of anything that might be deemed authoritarian. They were also anti vaccinations at any age, favouring natural cures over medical intervention, and often raved about organic and eco-friendly products.

On the other end of the spectrum one could often find the highly structured and rigid rules laid down by Gina Ford’s Contented Little Baby Book in 1999 (An expert who’s never had a child of her own.) Although less rigid than earlier gurus (i.e. Nobody today would advocate strict limits on cuddling), many elements remained the same.

Such as not having the baby in your bedroom, ever; pretty tight scheduling of breast or bottle-feeding, along with early introduction to solids. The folks in this camp also stood for defined parental leadership and strict discipline in the area of child rearing, and would accept every drug or vaccine on offer at the earliest opportunity.

As far as I could tell, both styles obviously had their flaws, though in my early days as a mother I felt pressured to side with one of these polarized views. It was unsettling, and somewhat disturbing; I just wanted to be free to be friends with all kinds of parents and let others feel free to do their own thing.

Trouble is, parents often tend to pressurize others with their philosophy (“So, what do you think of the family bed?”- became an uncomfortable topic of discussion over wine at newfound friends’ one evening. Awkward)

Thus over time I began to wonder about the prospect of parents establishing their own, individually crafted style of parenting. One that includes a measure of common sense, practicality, nurture and compassion, mixed in with a whole lot of love; one that seeks the best for one’s children, yet not at the expense of letting them rule the household and dominate your every moment.

I would now encourage parents to draw on the expertise of many and consider opinions from a wide variety of sources – from mother-in-law to community nurse, or friends down the street – while adapting what they’ve learnt in the best interests of their children and their unique family unit.

I also support the right to try things out and make mistakes. That’s right – we all learn from our mistakes. At the end of the day I’d just like to see more balance, an attempt to steer away from any extremes.

Ultimately your child is not a carbon copy of anyone else’s. In an age where there are so many variables, like allergies and ADHD, it seems appropriate in some areas to try a bit of pick ‘n’ mix in the realm of parenting philosophies and admit that sometimes one size doesn’t fit all.

Just this year in the news there have been reports about baby experts’ books leaving mothers feeling ‘confused and inadequate’[1]; something which I only wished I had learned earlier on. It would have relieved some of the pressure.

Day 3: It’s time to Initiate

The writer’s challenge for today is to initiate something. Anything related to writing. Just get going with something new, something you’re a bit scared of doing.

In starting this blog, I feel that I’ve already begun delving into the realm of the scary and uncertain. Will I have anything of worth to say, will anyone ever bother reading? Today I recognise the need to keep the momentum going and to simply keep writing. I decided to take up yesterday’s challenge, waking earlier to write something, and it seemed like a worthwhile plan of action. I actually did get some writing done; 832 words to be precise, though the piece is in serious need of editing. All the same, 832 words more than I would have usually achieved before 9am on any given day. And I guess that can be defined as progress in the world of writing.

As my second draft is awaiting return from my editor, it wasn’t the novel that I was working on this morning. Instead I chose to start an article piece, one of the many articles sitting around waiting to be written, built on nothing more than a title I’ve devised at a random moment in the past. This one is called ‘Customize my faith – The trouble with formulating a faith to suit my lifestyle’. I’ll put it out here once it’s finished.

My response to the call to ‘Initiate’ is thus to develop this blog and actually get some articles out there, ready for whatever opportunities lie ahead. Who knows where it all may lead?

I’m a Believer: Day Two of the 15 Habits of Great Writers

Today I have been challenged to focus on my belief in myself as a writer. Do I truly believe that I can write and be published?

Without a doubt, I do. Since the day I had my first article published in the New Jersey Bergen County ‘Parent Paper’; since the day I recovered my old, tattered third year (Yr 9) essay (‘First Chapter of a Novel’) – entitled ‘New Beginnings’ – and read Mr Smart’s comment at the end: “You have the makings of a writer, I think”. He was the most inspiring, witty and memorable teacher I ever had. I treasure his words, as they help bolster that belief.

I have been paid to write as a freelancer for a national charity, I have been published numerous times on a Christian webzine. I believe I can do this.

For me the challenge is now: Do I believe in myself as a novelist? As an author?

I’m working on that one. And so I will take up the challenge to get up earlier and simply write. (See http://goinswriter.com/believe/)