Happy 4th of July!

“Give me your tired, your poor,

Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,

 The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.

Send these, the homeless, tempest-tossed to me,

I lift my lamp beside the golden door!”

~~Emma Lazarus

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Inspired by WD-40

In 1953 a fledgling business called Rocket Chemical Company set out to create a rust-prevention solvent for use in the aerospace industry. It took them 40 attempts to get the formula right.

Voila! WD-40, which stands for Water Displacement, 40th attempt.

I find that inspiring! What if they’d given up on number 39? Then I wouldn’t have my favorite solution for unsticking locks and making my sliding glass doors actually slide.

WD-40 Your Manuscripts

No, don’t spray the greasy mist on your manuscript. But do take the WD-40 as your slogan. Don’t stop revising and submitting until you also have tried many, many times!

In order to spur myself on to submit several book manuscripts that I had “retired” after just two rejections, I was reading in Ralph Keyes’ The Writer’s Book of Hope. I was encouraged by some very famous “WD-40″ kinds of authors who would have remained nameless if they’d given up so early.

  • Despite being represented by a top literary agent and being read by prominent editors, John Knowles’s A Separate Peace was rejected by every major American publisher who saw it. (It was published in London.)
  • Other famous books that went through multiple rejects include: Look Homeward, Angel; Love Story; A Wrinkle in Time; All Things Bright and Beautiful and many other novels that became classics and continue to sell decades later.
  • Twenty major publishers thought Chicken Soup for the Soul had no commercial prospects, despite the authors being experienced speakers and aggressive marketers.
  • Stephen King’s first four novels and sixty short stories were rejected.

Having your work turned down is no fun, and I won’t sing the praises of being rejected. I hate it too. But we must come to terms with it, accept it as part of the writing life, accept criticism if it has merit, and get on with it.

A Necessary Part

As Keyes puts it, “To working writers, rejection is like stings to a beekeeper: a painful but necessary part of their vocation.”

And now…in the spirit of the inventers of WD-40, I’m getting back to my umpteenth revision.

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For Writers Needing Some Fun, Try the Unschedule

I have a tight deadline, and I’m tired of working.

I could also use some fun in my life.

Can I have both? Yes!

Back to What Works!

Last year I tried the “Unschedule,” a technique for breaking through procrastination found in The Now Habit, a book by Neil Fiore. According to my notes in the book, the four days that I used Fiore’s “unschedule” turned out to be some of the most productive I’d had in a while. The one day I disregarded it (thinking I really don’t have time for these breaks–too much to do) I actually got less work accomplished!

This coming week is very full with writing deadlines and family events. Yet I feel so antsy. I want to do almost anything but sit here and write. But if I simply procrastinate, I’ll get precious little done and not even enjoy the time  off.

So…I filled out my Unschedule this morning before starting this blog.

What in heaven’s name is an Unschedule?

Hooked on Play

A clue is on the cover of the book. The full title of Fiore’s book includes the subtitle: A Strategic Program for Overcoming Procrastination and Enjoying Guilt-Free Play. An unschedule is a way that incorporates play and leisure FIRST in your schedule. Yes, you actually put FUN on your schedule before your chores are listed. Each immediate and frequent reward follows a short (30-minute) period of work. (This is instead of delaying a reward until the whole project is done.)

For example, I have six scenes to outline today. Always in the past, I did the six scenes (about 4-6 hours) non-stop, then crashed with a bad neck ache and headache. Today I’ve scheduled it one scene at a time with rewards scheduled after each scene. I also have a phone call with a friend this afternoon on the schedule.

Why Fun First?

Fiore’s book is about overcoming–even preventing–procrastination.

“By starting with the scheduling of recreation, leisure, and quality time with friends,” Fiore says, “the Unschedule avoids one of the traps of typical programs for overcoming procrastination that begin with the scheduling of work–thereby generating an immediate image of a life devoid of fun and freedom. Instead, the Unschedule reverses this process, beginning with an image of play and guarantee of your leisure time.”

By the way, before scheduling the fun times, block out the chunks already committed elsewhere–taking kids to summer swimming lessons, a class you teach, dental appointments, lunch, commuting places, etc. It will encourage you to get started a bit quicker when you see how much free time you ACTUALLY have for your writing.

Tiny Work Loads

The other recommendation for the Unschedule is to keep work periods to thirty minutes. Thirty UNinterrupted minutes. Thirty minutes of work–use a timer to be sure–and it can’t include anything like checking email on a whim, or returning a phone call, or other distractions we procrastinators are famous for.

After your thirty minutes is up, you record the actual work done on your daily schedule somewhere, and then freely enjoy your reward. Believe it or not, those half hours add up by the end of the day. Fiore says, “Thirty minutes reduces work to small, manageable, rewardable chunks that lessen the likelihood that you will feel over-whelmed by the complexity and length of large or menacing projects.” And thirty minutes of concentrated work can mean a lot of pages piling up.

Time for me to go! I’m twenty-eight minutes into this blog, and I hoped to finish in thirty instead of my usual plodding hour-long pace. Guess what comes next? I plan to read a chapter in a new mystery set in England, my favorite kind of fun reading. 

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How Fit is Your Writing Life?

Ever have a pig-out weekend with a wake-up call on Monday morning? I did yesterday. After reading a few motivational articles online for getting myself back on track, it struck me that getting fit and getting published have a lot in common.

The Writing-Fitness Team

The problems that derail our writing goals and our fitness goals (and the solutions proposed by the “experts”) can almost be interchanged!

  • For example, if you want to lose weight and get in shape, fitness experts say that a support system of some kind is necessary. (Writers need it too.)
  • Interval training is recommended for fitness–short bursts of focused work, then lighter periods for recovery. (This works best for my writing schedule as well.)
  • Fitness experts recommend keeping track of your calories consumed and miles run. (Writers recommend keeping track of words and pages written.)
  • Certainly to succeed in both areas, you need daily disciplines (consistency).
  • And in both arenas, “slow and steady wins the race,” rather than days of self-torture followed by taking several weeks off.
  • Both fitness experts and published writers recommend journaling, both for dealing with emotional issues that can throw you off your goals, as well as “before-during-after” journals for dealing with special blocks and temptations.
  • Fitness gurus tell you how to deal with those loved ones who (perhaps unconsciously) try to sabotage your weight-loss progress. I’ve written about that issue myself, pertaining to writing.
  • Fitness experts talk about the changes you need to make daily, and how you must think of them as “lifestyle changes” if you want to be successful. (Writers, also, must make changes in lifestyle that need to be permanent instead of lasting only until a deadline is met.)
  • Diet instructors caution against using your calories on junk food and feeding the body little nutritional value. (As a writer, we need a variety of “nutrient dense” reading, not just fluff.)
  • To be successful in either endeavor, you need to stop those negative, defeatist thoughts and be optimistic.
  • There are also times to deal with where you do everything right but get disappointing results (follow your food plan and exercise daily, yet gain a pound–OR write daily and submit, yet get rejected.)

I realized today that if I can master these general habits and mindsets, I can conquer all my fitness issues AND my writing issues! How do I plan to do that? My tried-and-true mini habits.

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Too Much Housework = Too Little Writing

Summer is upon us, so it’s time to remind the mom/writers out there about something.

I recently re-read parts of an old favorite If You Want to Write by Brenda Ueland (originally published in 1938). Reading some of her comments, you’d think she was writing in the 21st Century.

Chapter Ten has a lengthy title: “Why Women Who Do Too Much Housework Should Neglect It for Their Writing.” The chapter is about doing too much (unnecessary stuff) for others and neglecting your writing.

The More Things Change…

While most of us today have enough modern conveniences that housework isn’t the time-consuming drudge it used to be, we’re trying to juggle home, day jobs, carpooling, throwing kids’ birthday parties, running the school’s bake sale, and a thousand other things. Those “lazy, hazy, crazy days of summer” only seems to intensify the madness. Some things are truly important to your child’s and family’s welfare, but much of it isn’t.

Let me quote Brenda Ueland and see if you agree:

They [wives/mothers] are always doing secondary and menial things (that do not require all their gifts and ability) for others and never anything for themselves. Society and husbands praise them for it (when they get too miserable or have nervous breakdowns) though always a little perplexedly and half-heartedly and just to be consoling. The poor wives are reminded that that is just why women are so splendid–because they are so unselfish and self-sacrificing and that is the wonderful thing about them! But inwardly women know that something is wrong.” 

That Was Then! Or Was It?

You might say, “But that was 1938!” Yes, but judging from the letters I get from mom/writers, things haven’t changed all that much. We break our necks trying to keep up with whatever “expert” says a good wife or good mother does. We still “people please” and try to live our roles perfectly–instead of choosing what is the more excellent use of our time and doing that well.

My children (and now my grandchildren) have always come before my writing in importance. But in order to find time to write, I had to stop making my own pickles (like good farm wives did back then), running every children’s program at church, sewing costumes for plays, making applesauce out of the bushel of half-rotten apples given to me, painting my kitchen ceiling that was stained, and a host of other things.

I wanted to write! Something had to give.

What About You?

Today I believe the pressures are much higher. Thanks to social media, young parents are expected to have their children in several social groups starting before preschool, have big birthday parties for the kids, and be at everyone’s beck and call. 

Could this be why you don’t have time to write? Does your family knowingly (or unknowingly) put pressure on you to give up all of your activities in favor of theirs? Or is the person putting pressure on you to be everything for everybody…you? It’s worth thinking about before the summer gets away from you.

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