Couch to 80k Bootcamp

The past eight weeks I’ve dedicated about half an hour a day, six days a week to Tim Clare‘s Couch to 80k Writer’s Boot Camp podcast, and I loved it. Tim is an English writer and performer, and he produced this podcast, for free!

He is a great guy, and I’ve learnt a great deal from him over the past two months. He’s been the muse whispering in my ear, encouraging and supporting me to get back into a writing habit. He’s given me the space to let go of my inner critic and write. Just write. What freedom.

The series leads in slowly, and I have to admit I put it aside more than once, thinking I didn’t need it, it was just another form of procrastination, and if I was going to be serious about my writing, I should just write. While there is a rather large kernel of truth to that, I found that getting back into the habit of writing harder than expected. I lacked confidence in myself, I wasn’t focussed and I let myself faff around on googling and Facebook far too much.

Since doing this project, I’ve refocussed, rededicated myself to specific writing times and feel suitably supported and encouraged to get to it. I’ve also found a few new tools to stash in my toolbelt to help with the process.

I should also mention that this is an adult-centric podcast and not always safe-for-work. It can be explicit, but so can I and I found it refreshing to listen to someone talk as exuberantly as I do, neither aggressive nor sugar-coated.

I highly recommend giving it a try.

What’s happening in the world of me.

It would be fair to say that 2018 and I haven’t been the best of friends. There were some health issues to resolve. I under went surgery. Spent time in hospital, out of hospital, back in hospital, out again and, yeah, back in again, until I finally got to be out, again. We’ve been running tests, more tests, and few more tests. Rehab with the physio. More tests, followed by a few more tests, and finally I had some tests done. I do believe, touch wood, that I am now all done with tests and hospitals and rehab. I still have health issues, but we probably can’t understand them any better with any more tests.

With that finally sorted, I’ve had more time and energy to brain writing related endevours. I’ve revived some floundering works in progress, and I have to say, I’ve realy enjoyed re-reading my own work. There have been some really cringe worthy moments of “why did I ever write that?” and “what was I even trying to say there?” On the whole, I’ve been inspired to continue working on two projects and to dedicate more time to practicing the craft of writing.

One of the ways I’ve given myself more time and brain space for working on crafting the perfect prose, has been by deleting Facebook off my phone, again. I only allow myself a once or twice a week checkin when on my computer and it’s strictly limited to a 25 minute browse. It’s amazing how freeing this has been, and how many extra hours one can find in their day. I’ve even started using Duolingo again! And, as you can tell from this very post, I’m even starting to update my rather neglected blog.

I can see that my Be Focussed app is about to count down to zero, and that’s time for me to get off this blog,  have a Pilates exercise break and get refocused on my next writing task.

À plus tard, mon ami.

 

5 signs you need to fire your Muse

If you sit down to write that first chapter or the first scene in your epic short story, and any of these five scenes come dripping out of your pen, stop! Fire your muse, they are failing you.
1) you start writing a “weather report” (it’s a sunny day/raining/wind blowing, etc.);
2) your character is in a dream;
3) your character starts waking up;
4) a phone starts ringing;
5) you write about a woman running (e.g. in woods) with somebody chasing her;
And a couple of bonuses
6) anything about sweat, blood or other bodily fluids;
7) you throw something in just for the shock value, (like killing a dog)

Where do you find your inspiration to write?

Inspiration, comes, unexpectedly!

My current life focus is finding my muse in everyday life. Writer’s block is crushing. Coming up with ideas for story writing can sometimes feel impossible, like everything that was ever worth saying, has been said, ad nauseam. The creative vanishes from your creative writing and you end up staring at an endlessly pulsing black line on a white screen; taunting you, daring you to put a single word, hay, a single letter, on the screen.

Did you ever watch the movie Polyanna, the original 1960’s version? There is a fantastic scene where the minister is on the pulpit, looming over his constituents, hair akimbo. In a booming voice he calls down to them – “Death, comes Unexpectedly!”

I love the way Polyanna’s mouth drops open. That’s how I feel about that startling rush when something unexpected in your life bursts through with new creative writing ideas, and sometimes, it breaks through the writer’s block that has been suffocating you, and you realise the world is full of tiny moments of inspiration.

Leave the house, let that curser pulse to an empty room

Sometimes you have to leave your writers cave and get out into life, I’m not talking about anything profound here, just going for a walk, spend an afternoon with kids, yours or random strangers, it’s all good, just do something. This weekend I went to the Melbourne Museum with my family and we took in an Imax documentary called “Beautiful Planet”. Aside from being a lovely 40 minute film that brought tears to my eyes, and filled me with actual awe, it inspired an idea. It’s not a fully formed idea, it has no place in a particular story (yet), it’s just hanging out in my brain, percolating like a good slow drip coffee.

We live on a spaceship called Earth. That spaceship has an actual force field protecting it, and that forcefield is stunning.

A view of the Aurora Australis as taken by NASA’s IMAGE satellite on Jan. 7, 2005

The magnetic love between the Aurora Australis and the Aurora Borealis.

There is a magnetic field that wraps around our home spaceship as it hurtles through the cosmos. Without it, our planet would look just like Mars, our water ripped away by the solar winds, leaving our blue and green planet desolate, a barren wasteland that other intelligent life looks at through telescopes and wonders if there was ever once life on such a dead planet.

Aurora and the Pacific Northwest by NASA astronaut Scott Kelly from the International Space Station

What you seen when you look at the aurora’s, is the effect of that magnetic field at work, repelling the solar winds and storms.

Can you feel the spark of an idea kindling yet?

Novel writing, short story writing, poetry, it’s all about taking a twinkle of an idea and running with it. It’s about creating characters and allowing them to experience something new. To that, I believe, you as a writer need to experience new things too. Our lives are full of endless moments of new experiences, conflicts, joys, all the things that make a character interesting. Find the serendipitous inspirations in your life and note them down. Be open to inspiration from unexpected locations.

 

Wabi-Sabi for writers or finding inspiration in an imperfect world

Your life is dull and boring. Nothing ever happens. Nothing inspires you to write.

Sound familiar?
When we think of the life of other writers, we often imagine them having amazing adventures and experiences. We see them sitting on the tops of mountain peaks thinking deep transcendental thoughts, while overlooking stunning dawns or expressive sunsets. We do not see them sitting in a home office, at their laptops, in their PJ’s with their hair unbrushed and yesterday’s coffee cups mouldering in the background, which is more often the reality.

It’s easy to fall into the trap of thinking that life has to be full of excitement, and attractive opportunities before we can sit down and write. But sometimes life isn’t perfect and thrilling. Sometimes life is just life. Messy. Boring. Imperfect. Mutable. Just like the Japanese concept of “wabi-sabi”.

“Western beauty is radiance, majesty, grandness and broadness. In comparison, Eastern beauty is desolateness [wabi-sabi]. Humility. Hidden beauty.” 

Shozo Kato

Wabi-sabi is a concept that is hard to define, (and I’m sure I’ll do it badly). In some ways, it is a philosophy that embraces the simplicity of everyday life and appreciating it for what it is, embracing and even celebrating it. Personally, I think this is an important skill for writers.

Life is mostly mundane.

My recent travels were stirring, there were moments filled with actual awe, but for the most part they were mundane and filled with everyday activities like grocery shopping, cooking dinner, taking my son to the park. But, It was in these ordinary moments, taking the tube, walking through city streets, listening to children play, where I most often found my muse.

Looking for the beauty in the old and everyday.

Perhaps while I was travelling I was more open to the sights of even the most familiar places because they were unfamiliar to me. Sights, sounds, smells that were new and just a little divergent from my own grabbed my attention. There is, however, no reason why this shouldn’t be part of our everyday existence. Your backyard is fascinating to someone who doesn’t have one. The run down pub down where you grab a quick brew every Friday afternoon could be charming to tourists.

If you’re feeling uninspired by your surroundings, stop thinking about them from the perspective of someone who has lived their entire life in a dessert or up a tree. Your muse doesn’t visit only when you trip the light fantastic or circumnavigate the globe. She sits on your kitchen counter, kicking her feet and smiling at the everyday way you make a cup of coffee (which is entirely different to how they do it in Turkey).

Embrace the simple tools.
It is too easy to think along the lines of “when I have this or that, then I can start”. Samurai warriors sometimes had the wealth to sleep under sheets made of literal gold, but they didn’t. They chose to use the simple tools of everyday life. Writers need nothing more than a pen and scraps of paper to write their opus. They also only need the ebb and flow of normal life to find inspiration, if only they take the time to appreciate it.

Embrace the normality of life, the transient beauty and enduring, impermanent flow of it. Be authentic, find those things that are distinctive in your world and rest in those moments. Take time to observe them and, above all, write about them.

A look back at my 2016 Work-Life Goals

Health Goals, Writing Goals, Family Goals and Quality of Life, oh my! How am I ever going to find balance in all of that?

This time last year I ditched the “New Year Resolutions” schtick, and instead opted for long term goals focussed in specific areas of my life. I didn’t want to make vague promises to myself, I wanted specific, defined outcomes. Last year I started on a new treatment plan for my health issues and I’m happy to say they have made the world of difference for me. For the most part I feel like a healthy, happy human released from a world of so much damn pain and fatigue it was crushing me.

So, lets review those goals from last year and see how I did…

The combination of health and writing plus my family commitments add up to my overall goal for 2016 – improved quality-of-life (or QoL).

1) Health and Fitness

* Losing weight. Total success here, I’m lighter than I have been in decades and this makes a HUGE difference for my mobility and self-esteem.

* Eat healthier. I’m still tracking my food, most days, as I’m still on a weight loss plan. I’d like to say that I stuck to this plan 100% last year but that would be a huge lie. I fluctuated rapidly for a while and then I found my groove, I made conscious choices and now I find I’m really in control of what I eat, the choices I make and the enjoyment I derive from the life essential.

* Become more active. What makes me so excited about this goal is that I said “I don’t have the returned health to take on a marathon or even attempt a C25K program,” turns out I was wrong. I’m lifting weights 3 times a week and attempting a C25K program (with zombies) the other 3 days a week! This is massive for me and my hand swims in confusion as to how this is possible. It’s amazing what the right treatment will do for a person’s quality of life.

* Keep up with my conditions. This is no longer a huge need for me. I did keep up with my conditions, which is how I got to the real cause of my decade+ long illness.

* Get regular massages this was amazing and I highly recommend it, even once a month. I was lucky enough to have them once a week for several months at a time and it was just the best thing for feeling nurtured, healthy and pampered.

* Start learning dictation Yeah, haven’t don’t so well on this front, probably because my hands have actually been pretty great again with the drugs and all.

Takeaway – I kicked this out of the water! I am so proud of myself.

2) Write more. Write better and get some real direction with my overall writing goals.

* Learn. I’ve decided this is a lifelong goal because once you start learning, it becomes addictive. I still have a long way to go and decisions to make on where I want/need to take things in the future, but, having this as a focus point last year helped keep me on track.

* Publish. I did this. Three times. Not a landslide and I won’t be paying off my mortgage anytime soon, but I still got published and I still got paid.

* Get my WIP out to beta readers! Well, this didn’t happen. Only because I turned the whole thing into a much more epic story with the previous WIP as the background, research for the new WIP. This isn’t waisted effort, in my opinion, it’s just a second draft that doesn’t resemble the first 🙂

* Read more. Read more diversely.
I really struggled with this and I’m going to have to look back at my reading list for 2016 to see if I really achieved reading 5 books outside my comfort zone. But I did read, a lot.

Takeaway – I didn’t have enough writing focus last year as I was consumed by so much else. I need to formulate a better plan if I want to hit my reading/writing goals for 2017.

3) Get organised. Get productive

* Put systems in place that keep me moving forward.
I have finally settled on a fantastic system that is working for me, see, it must be working because I’m writing this 🙂

I didn’t want to use a physical day planner, there was no single app that fit my requirements and so instead I researched all the planners that are available, looked through them to see what I liked and didn’t like and then created something in Evernote that works brilliantly. I’ll try to write something more about this in the future because I think it could be useful for others.

* Daily Routine.
I’m still very dedicated to the routine rather than a schedule lifestyle. I do have my day planner with times and tasks and all that, but everything is fluid and flexible with room to move things through out the day, week/month as needed.

Takeaway – Getting organised takes time. You need to find the system that works for you, notice when/if the system is failing and quickly change to something new. But being organised is the only way to remain focussed and achieve your goals.

4) Travel and Learn a foreign language

WHAT AN AMAZING ADVENTURE! Yes, I had to yell that out. We had so much fun while we traveled through Europe and America, you can read about it here on my travel blog if you’re interested.

* Journal everything.
I took loads of photos. I used the Project Life app to make stunning scrapbook pages that were simple and elegant and I kept notes in Evernote. Yay me.

* Homeschooling!
This was a HUGE learning curve for our entire family and we learnt so much about each other and ourselves. It has its ups and downs and is seriously time/life consuming, but, world schooling has been a success for us. Our son loves it. He’s learning a lot more than he did in public school and we’ve decided to continue doing it.

Takeaway – You really do have to be dedicated to taking photos, noting down memories, thoughts etc after all your exciting travel days if you want to remember all the details for later blogging/journaling etc. These are two huge chunks of time that have to be entered into the routine.

Many of my friends have said how much 2016 sucked for them, and I feel such sympathy for that. Mine, I am pleased to say, was the positive, wonderful time I’ve had in forever. Bring it 2017, I am so ready for you.

Still giving thanks to www.thecreativepenn.com for the inspiration to write this post for myself. Let’s hope at the end of the year we can compare our achievements with a warm fuzzy feeling of satisfaction in a life well-lived.

I’d love to hear what goals others have for 2017 and how you all made out in 2016. Please feel free to post in the comments, on my Facebook page or via a link to your blog.

NaNoWriMo 2016 Word Count Badges

I made some little NaNoWriMo word count badges to keep me motivated. Please feel free to use them and share them around.

nanowrimo_2016_50k nanowrimo_2016_2000 nanowrimo_2016_3500 nanowrimo_2016_5000 nanowrimo_2016_7000 nanowrimo_2016_9000 nanowrimo_2016_10000 nanowrimo_2016_15000 nanowrimo_2016_20000 nanowrimo_2016_30000 nanowrimo_2016_35000 nanowrimo_2016_40000 nanowrimo_2016_45000 nanowrimo_2016_halfway

It’s NaNoWriMo time again

 

Yep, another year has flown by and National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo) is once again upon us. I’ve updated my writing goal calendar for 2016, you can find the PDF links bellow. The generally accepted recommendation is to do 1667 words per day, while this is a great target generally, I find that Nano starts like a fire spurted with gasoline, the flame bursts to life and burns hard and fast at the beginning of the month, but, burns out just as fast. People often loose the passion that inspired them in the beginning and this is when failure sets in.

I find the best approach is to go with the souped-up fire, get as many words out in that first week, let it cool just a little by the second, with a few catchup days at the end of the week, because life will inevitably get in the way of your best laid plans. By the third week you will be cruising along, still with enough energy as you come out of the weekend, maybe with a few hundred extra words up your sleeve. Hopefully you’ve given yourself a little wiggle room which makes those last weeks a breeze with a thousand or fewer words a day dwindling down to practically nothing on those last days when your enthusiasm and energy are flagging towards oblivion.

This is what I’m hoping to do based on the reality that is currently my life – Tracey’s 2016 NaNo Goal

This is the usual recommendation of 1667 words per day – 1,667 words per day

And this is the hardcore, go strong right out of the gate – Go strong, or go home

And just in case you want your own blank form to print out – Blank

I also highly recommend having a plan, if not a completed outline for your novel, but then, I’m not a pantser, I find it waists a great deal of time, energy, and more importantly, words at the beginning of a project.

Rock The Vault: Celebrating The Urban And Rural Setting Thesaurus Duo

Becca and Angela, authors of the Emotion Thesaurus, and Positive and Negative Trait Thesauri are back with their new duo the Settings Thesauri.

As we storytellers sit before the keyboard to craft our magic, we’re usually laser-focused on the two titans of fiction: plot and character. There’s a third element that impacts almost every aspect of the tale, one we need to home in on as well: the setting.

The setting is so much more than a painted backdrop, more than a stage for our characters to tromp across during the scene. Settings, when used to their full advantage, can characterize the story’s cast, supply mood, steer the plot, provide challenges and conflict, trigger emotions, help us deliver those necessary snippets of backstory, and that’s just scratching the surface. So the question is this: how do we unleash the full power of the setting within our stories?

Well, there’s some good news on that front. Two new books have released this week that may change the description game for writers. The Urban Setting Thesaurus: A Writer’s Guide to City Spaces and The Rural Setting Thesaurus: A Writer’s Guide to Personal and Natural Spaces look at the sights, smells, tastes, textures, and sounds a character might experience within 225 different contemporary settings. And this is only the start of what these books offer writers.

In fact, swing by and check out this hidden entry from the Rural Setting Thesaurus: Ancient Ruins.

And there’s one more thing you might want to know more about….

Rock_The_Vault_WHW1Becca and Angela, authors of The Emotion Thesaurus, are celebrating their double release with a fun event going on from June 13-20th called ROCK THE VAULT. At the heart of the Writers Helping Writers site is a tremendous vault, and these two ladies have been hoarding prizes of epic writerly proportions.

A safe full of prizes, ripe for the taking…if the writing community can work together to unlock it, of course.

Ready to do your part? Stop by Writers Helping Writers to find out more!

5 ways writers use Instagram

5 ways writers use Instagram

 

  1. Photo prompts, these are great fun. Some are one-off like #maythe4thbewithyou and others will run for an entire month like#BooktoberFest
  2. Create your own prompt, it’s allowed. Look at how others are doing it, join in a few and then launch your own. Pick a topic that will bring in people relevant to your interest/theme etc, not something random.
  3. Comment, don’t just like. Likes are great, but comments are better. Again, it’s all about being part of the conversation.
  4. Ask questions when you post a new photo. Get people involved in your images by asking them a question like “have you ever done that, or is it just me?”, “Has anyone else got a similar photo to share?”
  5. Share your life, people want to peak into your windows and see how you live and work, so give them a little to keep them wanting more. This could be photos of your workspace, a blurry photo of your manuscript, the cafe you flee to on Thursday mornings, just make it a little personal without oversharing.

Bonus – If your muse has taken wing and headed out into the big blue room then scour Instagram images for a burst of fresh inspiration.

5 ways writers use Twitter

5 ways writers use Twitter
  1. Hashtag search, you can find a great range of topics to read about and engage in this way
  2. Twitter Chats – #IndieChat#CreativeCoffeeHour, and #StorySocial to name a few
  3. Don’t just repost blog articles, try for something more personal like

    hey .@blotsandspots loved your point about tweeting conversation links

  4. Get involved in the conversation, talk to people, don’t just like their post, comment on it
  5. Search for experts, this is a great way to find accurate information from professionals regarding a wide range of topics you might be using in your stories. Find a deep sea diver, a neurosurgeon, a barrister or a stay-at-home-mum by searching for those terms and then filtering through to people. It’s also a great way to network with other writers.

BONUS: Twitter conversations can make a great stand in for your MIA muse. Find a random tweet and use it as a story starter. This is a great way to find a new characters voice.

Takeaway – get involved in the conversation, use the search tools to your advantage
What are some of the ways you use Twitter to enhance your writing?

5 Twitter chats you shouldn’t be missing

 

Twitter chats you shouldn't be missing

 

Being a writer can be a lonely occupation, especially if you work from home and your muse decides to take a nap whilst abandoning you in a remote part of New Zealand, all alone. It can become impossible to meet like-minded people, especially fellow writers in such a setting.

If you find yourself cut-off from your peers and want to make a connection once in a while, then Twitter chats might be your ideal solution.

 

“What is a Twitter chat,” you ask.

It’s a conversation with like-minded individuals held over Twitter (surprise!). Participants use a hashtag created by the chat hosts (read on to hear more). They can be intimidating and confusing at first, but with the right tools and a little practice they became great fun and a fantastic way to meet other writers, share ideas, network and feel part of a wider, vibrant community; without ever leaving your computer screen. It’s perfect for introverts and the otherwise socially awkward because nobody can see you squirm or flounder.

Some chats are one-off, and you have to be in-the-know to hook in at the right time, but there are several regular chats that I’ll recommend in a little while. These chats are hosted by a regular team and will take place at a set day and time every week/month so participants can plan ahead. I now have several reminders in my calendar of the ones I regularly attend so that I don’t forget amidst the hula-bulu of #life.

 

How to participate

I recommend tooling up for the job. Some participants recommend TweetDeck, but I prefer Hootsuite (as I’m already using it for other tasks). Both tools have a learning curve, and you will need to spend some time playing around with them. Connect your chosen tool to your Twitter account and spend some time exploring. One of the first things I did was to set up a few streams based on hashtags you want to follow on a general basis like #amwriting, #writechat, #nanowrimo, etc. You can use the tools to monitor those conversations, respond to people’s posts or make your own; these are open conversations that can often feel like #ScreamingIntoTheVoid, but they can still be interesting to see what other people are saying on topics that interest you.

Once you feel comfortable with creating streams, enter in the hashtags (below) for the chats, you would like to follow. When the live chat session begins you will see everyone’s tweets appear in the order, they were posted, and you can just read your way up the list as new ones appear. It’s totally okay to spend a few sessions just lurking, following the conversation and getting a feel for how it all works.

Once you are familiar with your tools and are ready to add your two-cents, just join in. Many chats are written in a question/answer format where the host will ask everyone a question like:

Q1. Who’s your fav author #twitterchathashtag

Participants will respond in kind by either quoting the original post or just tweeting their answer:

A1. Robin Hobb #twitterchathashtag

Just make sure if you want others to see your post in the conversation you must use the chat hashtag in your post, otherwise, your response will appear on your feed but not as part of the overall conversation.

Bonus tip

If you want everyone in the chat to see your response to an individual place a ‘.‘ in front of their name like .@wovendream instead of simply @wovendream it will ensure everything you say stays part of the conversation, which is the point.

 

5 Twitter Chats for Writers

1. #StorySocial

When: Wednesdays 6 pm PST/8 pm CST/9 pm EST/ Tuesday 1 pm NZT (New Zealand Time)

Hosted by: Jenny Bravo (@blotsandplots) and Kristen Kieffer (@shesnovel)

Focus: Networking, building an author platform, branding, promotion and general business side of being a writer

2. #CreativeCoffeeHour

When: Mondays 6 pm PST/8 pm CST/9 pm EST/ Sunday 1pm NZT

Hosted by:  Callie Gisler (@calliegisler)

Focus:  Not specifically for writers, this chat brands itself as “Helping creatives build purpose-filled, strategy-powered blogs and businesses.” This is a great chat for learning how others are doing things online, learning about new tools and helping newbies to find their way around blogging for business.

3. #FireworkPeople

When: Tuesdays at 6 p.m. PST/8 p.m CST/9 p.m. EST/ Monday 1pm NZT

Hosted by@ashleybeaudin

This is a fantastic space to be enlivened, encouraged and energised by other writers. Shed self-doubt and self-flagellation exercises by hanging out with these lovely folks for an hour.

4. #IndieChat

When: Tuesdays at 1 p.m. PST/3 p.m. CST/ 4 p.m. EST/ Monday 8am NZT (great for sitting down at the start of the week with that first cup of coffee/tea)

Hosted by: CEO of @Bibliocrunch@miralsattar

This is one for the self-publishing crowd. If you are keen on learning more about self-publishing or already dedicated to the cause then this is the group to visit for all things promotional and publishing related. They will get you in the know about creating a team, navigating social media and more. I’ve only lurked on the fringes on this one myself, slowly loading my holster with bullets of knowledge for the future.

5. #createlounge

When: Wednesdays 5 pm PST/ 7 pm CST/8 pm EST/ Tuesday 12 pm NZT

Hosted by@kayla_hollatz

This group can get pretty big and pretty confusing so I don’t suggest you start here. Get your feet wet in a smaller chat first or you may feel like you’re drowning in this big pool. Once you know how to navigate the waters though this is a great place for building “on topic” friendships.

Please let me know of any other chats you find worthwhile and add your voice to the recommendations above, which one’s your fav?

You can follow me on twitter @wovendream

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