Last nights #kidlitchat on Twitter had a two-sided topic. One question was what to do when you are blocked with a current writing project. That one generated, as expected, a lot of great tips for jump-starting the writing machine.
But I want to talk about the other side of the question that didn’t get much (if any) discussion – what, if anything, can we do to jumpstart or revive a stalled career?
I guess the first question is, what’s a stalled career? So much of this business is out of our hands. We can control one thing, the manufacturing of a product to sell, a book, a poem, an article. A speech to give, a class to teach. We can control to the quality of that product and we can control the completion of that product but the actual sale of that product, the sale which builds our career, well, we have no control over that.
So is a stalled career one in which you used to sell and now you don’t? Is a stalled career one where you made it to one level of income and you’re trying to jump to the next level? Is it that you want to be more known that you are now? What is a stalled career?
And the bigger, more important question is, what can you do about the state of being stalled? Because if you can’t do anything you might as well just hunker down and get back to work on what you can control – the writing.
I’m interested in your thoughts.
It’s a good day for reflecting so I’m looking back at the goals I’ve set for myself for the year, the habits I hope to cultivate and the planning I’m doing in order to make it all happen.
I tend to think big. I’m a great idea person and brainstorming is like crack to me, I get so excited by the many possibilities and think I can and should be able to do it all. And maybe I can, just not all at the same time. So this year I’m writing down all those great ideas and then picking a few for the year and then, breaking it down even further, picking a few for the first quarter and then for the first month. From there it goes to daily and then hourly.
When I worked in the corporate world we called this making a plan for the plan. I used to laugh at it. We’d fly people in from all over the world and then we’d spend a week or two in one of the giant conference rooms making plans for the plans. We had giant pads of paper on easels around the room, maybe 20 of them, and each group would brainstorm around various topics then tear off the paper and tape it to the wall. Then they’d rotate to the next topic and another group would come in and brainstorm around the same topic the first group just did. Then we’d do it again, combining ideas, filtering them, moving them from group to group. We’d fine comb this several times until finally, at the end of a week or two we had a plan for the plan. A nice overview that the managers could take back to their team, plug into Microsoft Project, and begin to plan in more detail.
There’s a power in planning that I have rarely achieved in my creative life.
But this time, some lessons I’ve always known but rarely applied seem to be sticking. I made a huge dream list. I culled it for must-dos. I organized the list. I picked one project for the first quarter and then broke that project down into daily goals. Finish a rough draft in three months when my writing has been sporadic this last year sounded intimidating. Writing two poems a day for three months makes it sound doable.
So planning is working for me but I think it is working for me because I am making time for it.
Planning to plan. Planning to succeed. I like the sound of that.
Come hear me talk about how poetry helped me find siblings I never knew I had.
I will be doing a live radio program on the June 14 episode of Brain Burps About Books hosted by Katie Davis. 1pmPST/4pm ET
We’ll be talking about how writing poems about the father I never knew for National Poetry Month led me to find family I never knew I had. I will read a couple of the poems as well. Since this is a live show, listeners can call in with comments and questions.
Number for listeners to call: 1 (347) 857-4428. NOTE: Show starts automatically at 4pm ET
There’s a chat room that goes along with it, if you want. For that you should go over and set up your account ahead of time so it is ready before the event. To participate in the chat room, you have to be logged into blogtalkradio.com with your own free account. You can then take this link: http://www.brainburpsaboutbooks.com/ and the chatroom will automatically pop open.
The show will be archived on BlogTalkRadio.com and on iTunes so you can catch it later if you want.
Shortcut if you want to spread the word: http://bit.ly/cBkp2E
I have a new computer coming in a few weeks and each time I get a new computer I think I am going to get a little bit better organized. Mostly it works just never as much as I want it to.
This time I am trying to clean up some of the electronic noise I have around me. I am curious as to what habits other people use for some of these things.
Are you a tosser or a keeper? I’ve got mail going back 10 years, which is really bad. Most of it did not need to be saved. I’m in the process now of going through a few old email boxes every night and tossing all the old stuff that really shouldn’t be saved.
I do have the habit of using my email boxes as a file system so I try to have the same names on mailbox folders as I do on the folders in my documents folder or in my physical file cabinets.
I use Outlook for my email and I am learning how to leverage that program for better time management. For instance, the journal function within Outlook will automatically record each time I open and close a file. Which means I can write a book and know how many hours/weeks/months/years I spent on that part of the project. Which may or may not be a good thing.
2. Documents folder on my computer.
As I said, I have the file names here mimic my mailbox folders and my physical file cabinet. One trouble I seem to be having is that I have way too many folders. I don’t know any way around that.
3. Digital photos.
I am always afraid of losing a photo and as a result I sometimes end up with 2 or 3 three copies of the same picture. This happens a lot when I am saving inspiration pictures for the house or garden.
I have to clean up the mess from the past so I have started just dumping things into general folders (house, yard, family, etc) and will have to slowly sort through them and get rid of the duplicates. But I am not sure how to keep myself from getting into the same mess in the future.
How do you organize and keep track of your digital photos?
Today’s writing tip is not about writing but about finding the time to write and to live a writer’s life. This is, in no small part, motivated by the fact that I am soon to be done with cubicle life and will be a full-time writer/freelancer. This means I am going to have to develop that has been missing for much of my life.
Even though I am still at the day job (22 working days left, if I were a counting down sort of person) I am starting to work toward the transition. I found an old book on my shelf and am rereading it with different eyes then when I first got it – A Writer’s Time by Kenneth Atchity.
Here are just a few snippets.
From the book:
"Productive people have a love affair with time, with all of love’s ups and downs. They get more from time than others, seem to know how to use time much better than nonproductive people-so much so that they can waste immense quantities of time and still be enormously creative and productive."
I know some people like that. They seem to have time for everything they want to do and time to waste and play and relax. I want to be more like that.
From the book:
"I firmly believe that anyone can be productive once the decision is made to master time and the necessary skills."
Oh man, I hope so. I think the key is making a decision you are willing to commit to, like changing eating habits or trying to stop smoking or exercise more. You can’t just say the words. You have to be willing, ready and willing, to walk the walk. For years I have just repeated the words about being a disciplined writer because the thought of becoming disciplined took more energy than it seemed like I had in me at the time. Here’s hoping that being off of work will give me the time to commit and to develop the disciplined state of mind.
From the book:
He talks about laying a foundation for your writing career. "Immerse yourself in the planning process and build the foundation, and take your satisfaction from the doing of it, not from the having done it…….Your career, you’ll discover, will take the shape of your foundation. "
I’ve always believed this, believed you should treat yourself as a professional long before you started paying taxes on your writing income. And for those of us who have been writing a long time, does that mean you can skip this? It depends? Is your writing career, your writing life, is it working out the way you want it to? If so, good for you. You must have your foundation firmly set into place. But if not, if you want more out of your writing life or you want to explore some new areas, maybe you can build an addition which, of course, begins with a strong foundation.
From the book:
"Before anything reaches paper, the business of being a writer is the business of developing self-awareness and honest introspection. Keats called the profession of writing "soul-making" and the first step toward success is recognizing the psychological discipline that writing requires."
No two ways around it, discipline is the answer. And here all along I had hoped the answer would involve chocolate. Darn.
Yes, I know, it’s been a while since I talked about my writing life. There are a lot of reasons for that, some good, some not so much, but in any event, here is my Friday Five from behind the writer’s desk.
1 – I’m thinking about writing again. This might sound funny coming from a writer who is used to always thinking about writing but my brain got overfull with life and needed to decompress. I’m not hearing any voices from characters but that’s okay. Right now my life is very noisy and I am craving silence. Once the inside of my head has realized the rest of my life is quiet, things will begin to percolate again.
2- I’m working on a couple of book proposals for some non-fiction books about writing which is getting the business side of my brain working again. Of course the business side of my brain craves organization the way the rest of me craves chocolate but the chocolate seems easier to come by. I’m working up some survey questions I hope to post in order to get feedback from the masses.
3 – I signed up to take a class at MediaBistro.com . It is about writing for the glossy magazines, something totally outside of my norm for the last 7-8 years. I’m looking forward to the challenge of learning something new. I’m especially looking forward to learning how to write better “pitch” letters to get the assignment as that is a real weak spot for me.
4 – I overhauled my business plan. What? You’re a writer and you have no business plan? Don’t feel bad. This is only the third one I have done and the first one that feels like it is a workable plan.
5 – I am thinking about starting a business group for writers. A group that discuss the business side of things - promotion, recordkeeping, organization – that sort of thing. It would be a private thing, only those in the group would be able to read/respond. Possibly via LJ as a private community or maybe some other online venue. Yes, I know there are blogs that talk about this sort of thing and bulletin boards like Verla’s and SCBWI and such but I want to put together a small group, a brain trust of sorts, maybe 5-7 folks? That way we could all share more personally, support more specifically, and watch our business grow. If you think you might be interested in something like that (this is just in the thinking stages) leave me a comment, please.