Tag Archives: motivation

Real Artists Ship

It’s a quote attributed to Steve Jobs. I found it in a book by Jeff Goins, called You Are A Writer, So Start Acting Like One.

I’ve been reading it in the winding line at the Postal Service Center, waiting to pick up packages that invariably contain anything but what I was waiting for. (My wife had fun with holiday shopping.)

Today I got my present in the mail:

 

Sometimes shipping takes a while!

And all but one of the books are already claimed. I got my signing pens ready!

Thanks to all who support in various ways – the Facebook shares, the GoodReads review, the “me!” responses when I post an offer. 

This gets me going for the next book (the draft of which currently holds 5,600 words).
Blessings.

Word More!

I’m always grateful for a little motivation from my friends and co-workers. Whether it’s the question, “So when’s book two coming?” or a simple, “I got a copy of your book the other day,” every little bit helps spur me on to put words to paper.

I’ll say I would write these stories anyway, because I do enjoy the process and the accomplishment. But it’s easy to wonder if anyone cares. 

Then I get a text from an old friend:

 

“Guess what I got in the mail?”

He actually asked, “Think I can get the author to sign it for me?”

The answer of course is yes, gladly.

Another friend, whose feedback has been the most thorough and constructive, said to me, “I’m thinking of writing a story in your world.” He asked as though this was the most arrogant of requests.

I saw it differently. By writing a book, I’ve invited readers into a world that only exists in my head. Someone wants to play in that sandbox? That’s amazing. 

And one of my long-time WoW buds is starting writing. I guess he figured if both Dave and his wife could knock out a book, then anyone can. 

Motivation is everywhere… So I have no excuse but to get those words down. It’s a hardship but I think I’ll be okay.

 

Wasting Time

Today’s been one of those “Why am I even bothering with writing?” days. Maybe none of you have them.

After a lot of moping and video games, then some inspirational videos on YouTube, I’ve come to a conclusion that serves as a good reminder to myself for next time:

Writing is not a waste of time. Worrying over that thought is.

Off to pick up the teen, then I’m getting back to work. These stories won’t write themselves.

Considering Why

A blog I follow on writing posted this lovely YouTube video of my favorite author, Brandon Sanderson:

His personal story is compelling to me on several levels.

I’ve said elsewhere on this site that it feels like I do a number of things at the “karaoke” level — well enough that people are impressed, but only when it’s free. Writing is one such endeavor.

Songwriting for Christian worship services is another. I have over a hundred songs inspired by sermons and Scripture over the last seventeen years. Some have been used in church services for a season, many have been files taking up space on a hard drive. Similarly, I’ve written hundreds of thousands of words, including two complete novel manuscripts and several short stories. But most of those are (for now) using up cloud storage space and nothing more.

Positive feedback from alpha readers is helpful. But let’s be honest; these are my friends and acquaintances over the years. They’re willing to pick up and read a novel because we already have a connection. I won’t be so lucky with your average reader browsing through a pile of self-published e-books on Amazon.

A friend of mine sent me this picture, which I took as much needed encouragement:  

So… why write? Am I willing to put forth the effort to craft the seven or eight novels bouncing in my head at present, knowing they may do nothing more than collect dust and entertain my kids? Am I willing to pen songs for personal worship knowing they might never be played in a public setting? Am I willing to throw a handful of words onto this webpage and click “Publish” knowing I might never have a bunch of Likes or hits?

Yes. I hope you are too.

Making Time

“I would, but I don’t have the time!”

Whether the topic is exercise, writing, a volunteer opportunity, or some other optional pursuit, I’ve heard and said those words countless times. I’m sure you have too.

But we’ve all probably heard it said: <em>You make time for what matters to you.</em>

It took me by surprise a few years ago, but writing really matters to me. Given my job–or more specifically my desire to keep my job–fitness matters too. Most of all, spending time with my wife and kids is a priority, but it’s so easy to get distracted and shove that to “tomorrow.”

I’ve found I can double the benefit I get out of the same amount of time.

One: a lot of my writing is done on a stationary bike. I can prop up the iPad and Bluetooth keyboard, and tap keys while pushing the pedals. Can’t I find an hour a day to spend on NaNoWriMo? Why not spend it on the bike?

Two: I took a board we had from moving and laid it across the arms of our treadmill. Makeshift desk for free instead of hundreds of dollars, and I can walk at a light pace (2-3 mph) while writing. It’s not much, but it’s not sedentary!

Three: I’ve been reading to my kids for some family time, doing funny voices for different characters and sharing some of my favorite books with them. Now I often do it while walking on the treadmill. Again 3 mph seems the magic pace where I can read (a little uncomfortably) while challenging myself a bit.

Four: For relaxation, I play video games like World of Warcraft on my laptop. Hello, treadmill desk! Yes, I’ve run instances in WoW and finished off quests while walking on the treadmill at the same time. If I’m going to play for an hour (haha, an hour, that’s so cute, let’s be honest 3 or 4 hours) I might as well get something beneficial out of the time. Something more than just another level or another piece of pretend equipment.

Five: “But Dave,” you say, “I don’t have a treadmill, and I don’t have access to a good gym or a stationary bike.” Great point. Let’s assume you’re fortunate enough to have a tablet or at least a smartphone. Hopefully you also have access to a school track or walking path, or a safe sidewalk route where you won’t get run over or jostled by other pedestrians. (Come on, certainly you have a place to walk.) I walk around the track sometimes, tapping away at my on-screen keyboard or entering words into my wee little phone screen. I’m going to have to edit later anyway, so mistakes and auto-correct failures don’t really matter. And do I look weird? No, I just look like I’m trying to relive my teenage years, walking with my head down, eyes and thumbs glued to my personal device. People are going to judge anyway. I might as well do something productive while they’re doing it.

I know, none of these are novel ideas or earth-shattering fitness breakthroughs.

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What they are, though, are answers to many of my excuses.

What have you found as a helpful way to maximize your productivity? I’d love to hear in a comment.

Do It Now

I’ve got some freedom and free time on my hands while I’m on a business trip to the States.

And I have all sorts of grand plans for how to spend the time. Writing my current project, planning my NaNoWriMo project, catching up on other bloggers’ posts, reading up on a few subjects, playing some piano at the music room in the community center, maintaining a healthy diet instead of the junk food that’s readily available.

One of my goals is 2 hours of aerobic activity each day. Maybe not all-out soul-crushing intensity aerobic activity, but 2 hours of good exercise.

Of course here I sit in my room as the clock ticks away the remains of the day.

I messaged my wife to let her know I’m headed to the gym (where sometimes we can’t chat online), and the message captures something I’ll file away in my Motivation folder:

My inner procrastinator is crying and calling me a traitor.
My inner procrastinator is crying and calling me a traitor.

I don’t know what tasks you have on your to-do list, but one of the lessons I constantly have to re-learn is that none of them age well. If you can do it now, do it. Enjoy looking back on the completed task rather than dreading the task that lies ahead.

So, I’m off to the gym. See you in a couple hours.

Elements of Critique: Zaftig

Here we are at the end of the A to Z Blog Challenge. This year, April caught me by surprise.

On March 30th or 31st, I saw a reference to the challenge and remembered how “fun” it was last year. I toyed with the idea of participating, and realized I could do a series on critiquing writing. Topics sprang to mind in a torrent, and I prepared my entire A to Z list in minutes…

Except for the Z.

What writing concept or element to critique falls under Z? I know, I can suggest people write “zany” things or whatever, but that felt lame.

I popped the Merriam-Webster dictionary app open and scrolled to Z to see if anything sparked an idea. And “zaftig” is the first thing that caught my eye, because I have no idea what that means.

“Zaftig” means (of a woman) slightly fat in an attractive way, pleasingly plump. A safe term might be “full-bodied.”

It comes by way of Yiddish from the German word for “sap.” Think of it as that which sets dead wood and wooden characters apart from something alive and meaningful.

Full-bodied, lively characters and meaningful articles are something I look for in critique.

For non-fiction, zaftig might mean that interesting angles are covered. When writing, I might have several analogies or personal recollections that would fit a given topic. But which of them are unique to the average reader? Which would present the most vivid picture?

I’ve tried over the course of this project to come up with examples that capture a reader’s interest as well as communicate a thought. I want to write something full-bodied and thorough, not emaciated and weak.

Word choice can reflect a “zaftig” mindset. Does the writer choose plain vanilla phrases to give the bare minimum detail, or do they select powerful words that evoke imagery and feeling in the reader? The letters on our screens and the ink on our pages should be ‘sappy’ — carrying life and energy to the reader.

And characters, most of all, embody this “zaftig” concept I look for when critiquing fiction. Are the actors in a story realistic people with dreams and goals or are they cardboard placeholders meant to call up a stereotype that will be forgotten one page later?

Our main characters usually get a lot of attention and thought. But what about the villains? Are they full-bodied, three-dimensional, reasonable and logical in their motivations? Or are they Snidely Whiplash, twisting an oiled mustache and cackling while tying yet another damsel in distress to the train tracks?

The villain should have some kind of redeeming or likable quality. It’s a rare person who has none at all. They should be as believable and thought-out as the hero, or they look like a caricature instead of a character.

Supporting characters are important too. Fictional worlds deserve to be populated with zaftig people, not the literary equivalent of Photoshopped crowds.

When I was young, my pastor always wore a three-piece suit to church. That was the only way I could picture him. One Saturday we drove past his house and I saw him mowing his yard in a T-shirt and shorts. I couldn’t believe my eyes; I thought he should be mowing in a suit because that’s the only way I knew him.

That’s what can happen to our supporting characters. They become one facet of their personality, to the exclusion of everything else. I think of friends with whom I only interact on Facebook or social media, compared to those with whom I experience the ups and downs of life in person. I “know” the Facebook friend, but I only see one dimension of them. It’s nothing like being face-to-face on a regular basis.

So I look for that character depth when critiquing writing. Or more likely, I note its absence.

For example, in my current project, I had two women watching the protagonist attempt to use divine healing. One was the motherly, kind-hearted, supportive encourager. The other was the scowling, stern, follow-the-rules, dissatisfied stickler. And they were going to maintain those roles for the foreseeable future.

They became wooden and lifeless, cardboard stereotypes.

When someone pointed this out to me, I realized I could switch their roles.

In a later scene, both women witness the protagonist using forbidden magic in an attempt to save lives. The motherly encourager becomes horrified and rejects the protagonist. The scowling stickler sees the pragmatic value of the deed, and approves of the choice. It’s a minor change, but it keeps the characters from staying in established and expected ruts.

Our writing is meant to take the reader somewhere, and our story arcs should force characters down a new path: Not one populated with faceless Facebook “friend” caricatures and deep grooves dug into the well-traveled route, but one with full-bodied characters and evocative writing to blaze an uncut trail into the unknown.

That sounds lively and interesting. That’s what I’m looking for, from those whose work I critique, and even more, from myself.

Thanks for hanging with me for these A to Z entries. On top of these posts, I have three extra elements of critique I will be adding to this series, covering the difference between subjective and objective advice, being a good participant, and the basics of an orderly critique group.

Counter-Productive

After Physical Therapy this morning, I hopped over to the base gym to put the rest of my body through some paces.

Having not eaten breakfast, going just before lunch time might have been a mistake.

The gym at some point opened a lunch bar. I walk in to the area with all the exercise equipment and immediately smell all manner of deliciousness. Is that pizza? I heard folks talking about gyros. This on top of the smoothies and shakes they already offered?

Whose side are these people on?!

I guess it’s no worse than me a few years ago as a Spin Instructor, bringing doughnuts to my class as “added motivation.” Maybe this is karma.

Self-control won out over hunger, at least for today.

If you go to a gym or fitness center, do they serve food and tantalize their customers with the aroma? Or do you find yourself tempted when you jog or bike past some restaurant in the local area?

Share a story in a comment. I need some company in my misery. 😀

When the Iron is Hot

No, I did NOT stay up ’til 4 AM after a short catnap in order to finish a chapter of my current project. Haha, who would do such a thing?

I’ve read numerous articles (as I’m sure any aspiring writer also has) discussing discipline and honing one’s craft. We can’t simply wait for inspiration, then write. We have to carve out time and force out effort, knowing that even if the result sucks, at least it was a result that helps us get better in the long run.

Quantity of effort ensures opportunity for quality effort.

“Strike when the iron is hot,” so goes the saying. And it’s taken to mean we should take advantage of those brief bursts of creativity and inspiration. When an idea springs to mind, run with it. If a scene plays out in your head, start writing or typing, and put that image down on record.

But that understanding of the idiom is flawed. The iron only gets hot when the smith gives careful attention to the fire, ensuring the proper temperature to work the metal. The iron gets hot because of effort, not luck. Thus, opportunities can be created, not merely stumbled upon.

I’m curious. If you write or express yourself creatively (which you probably do in some fashion if you’re reading WordPress), what is your experience with the balance of Muscle and Muse, the interplay between forcing out effort and flowing with creative energy?

I do the former to find the latter. What’s your take?

Critique Group on Steroids

There’s a special moment coming today that both excites me and fills me with dread.

It’s not tonight’s special date with the wifey – we’re going to the symphony, something she’s been wanting to do since we came to Omaha.

It’s not our 2nd annual Christian Writers’ conference today, with a special guest couple who are going to talk about songwriting (a passion of mine). I’m looking forward to hearing what all the speakers have to say.

It’s not even the silly skit we’re going to perform for the writers in the audience. I can handle getting up and saying a few lines in public without heart palpitations.

So what has me all a-flutter?

The first two chapters of my main writing project are going to get professionally critiqued during a 20-minute sit-down with an editor.

I belong to a critique group with at least a few folk who can be “mean enough” to tell me when something I write just doesn’t work for them. But we’re all encouraging with one another, and so it can sometimes feel like we’re all patting each other on the back.

This editor has no reason to waste his time and mine by sticking to niceties and compliments. In fact, I imagine he’ll pull no punches precisely because that’s what he’s there for.

So I’m cringing a bit, but I’m giddy at the prospect too.

We’ll see if I’m singing the same tune in a few hours.