Inspire Envisioning

Expression. Craft. Completion.


Leave a comment

Nine Tactics for Winning NaNoWriMo

So, you’ve committed to writing a novel this month. The ambitious goal of completing 50,000 words of a cohesive story in 30 days is both daunting and exhilarating. Whether you’ve completed previous NaNoWriMo novels or are dipping your toes into these challenging waters for the first time, you’ve made the choice to face down that blank page right now. Where and how do you begin? Whether you’re a plotter or a pantser, a veteran or a novice, here are a few ideas that will help you finish November with a draft you’ll be proud of.

1. Structure before you begin (or don’t). Some people prefer to have every detail of their story planned out before they begin (see above re: “plotters”), while others like to let their stories surprise them (these are the “pantsers” of the writing world). If you have a strong preference, it can be genuinely challenging to work outside of your preferred method. However, it can also be revitalize blocked writing. When you’re looking to write something fast (like a NaNoWriMo novel), having an outline speeds your progress, because you know what to write next. If your story isn’t moving as planned, though, try giving it freedom to develop and seeing what twists and turns pop up as you go along. And if you’re an obsessive plotter, writing a fast novel by the seat of your pants might be an exhilarating, and even time-saving, experience.

2. Work with others. Writing is usually a solitary activity: one person, one keyboard (or notebook, or typewriter). But it doesn’t have to be. NaNoWriMo offers a treasure trove of virtual support, as well as in-person opportunities in many communities to meet and write together. Take advantage of these changes to find support and camaraderie with others who are embarking on the same writing journey. Other fun ways to bring collaboration into your writing process include completing NaNoWriMo with friends, working with a writing group or coach, or coauthoring a novel. (My coauthor Kacie Berghoef has a great blog post about book collaboration, which might be helpful if you’re looking to go this route.) Collaboration means you don’t have to work alone. When you run into challenges, you’ll have others around you who will understand and help you through them.

3. Write to reader interest. You want to write the book you want to write. Maybe you’ve heard about “writing to market,” and cringed at the idea. Why would you want to follow ephemeral publishing trends? Conversely, maybe you’ve thought, “if (insert best-selling author) can do it, surely I can,” and decided to take up some broadly selling genre, topic, or formula, whether or not your heart is in it. Writing to reader interest is more complex than many of us think, though. It’s not about writing to a script; it’s about writing something that will be enjoyed. When it comes right down to it, most of us aren’t writing solely for ourselves. We write because we have a story to tell, and we’d like it to connect with an audience. And, my desired audience is probably going to look different from your desired audience. Consider the type of reader who gravitates to your genre and interests, and rather than writing to a general audience, write in a way that will keep their interest. Changes are you’re part of your own target audience. What book would you love to read? Write that book.

4. Write from personal experience. It’s an old truism that you should “write what you know.” This doesn’t mean that you need to limit yourself to things you’ve experienced in the real world. If this were the case, we’d have no imaginative science fiction, fantasy, or horror to enjoy. What is helpful is to draw inspiration from your experiences to ground your story. When your character’s in an emotional situation, look to your past to bring to life similar emotions that you’ve experienced. Your background can add color, detail, and richness: if you have a long career as a gardener, for instance, you can bring unique skill in describing the setting’s plant life. And don’t be afraid to mine your past for ideas. Your life is a wealth of inspiration, if you look at it closely.

5. Research what you need to know. There are lots of times when your story idea will extend beyond your current knowledge. Don’t be afraid to consult other people, books, or the Internet to learn the answers to your questions. From familiarizing yourself with your setting to getting to know the technical or medical details of your plot points, you’ll find that you need to research more factors than you’d expect to get everything right. In addition to information,relevant images, videos, and narratives (not just books–consider blogs and other internet resources) can make good sources, as can reaching out to people in your network who are qualified to answer your questions. Some of this research may come after NaNoWriMo, during the revision process. When the information is important to the plot, though, don’t hesitate to look it up on the go.

6. Throw in some danger. I’m not talking about endangering your own life as you sit in front of your treacherous laptop screen – I’m talking about imperiling your characters! Most novels are about people with problems. To maintain reader interest, keep the problems building until the end. When one problem is solved, might the solution create another one? Plumb plot possibilities by asking, “What could go wrong here?” If you want to write a can’t-put-it-down read, try ending your chapters with cliffhangers.

7. Keep the process fun and rewarding. External incentives make excellent motivators to keep going. NaNoWriMo is already great for this, with pep talks from prominent authors, relevant sponsor offer “prizes”, and the goal of “winning” built in. Build in intrinsic motivation by focusing on the fun parts of the writing process itself. Each day, focus on writing something that’s exciting and intriguing to you. If your scene is boring, cut it out. If it’s necessary to the plot but not that interesting, bring in fun details, dialogue, or other colorful touches. If you maintain your own interest through each passage you write, your writing will intrigue your readers too.

8. Use action to drive the story forward. Your story is about things that happen. Make sure enough happens to keep the pace going. Even a reflective story needs to have a consistent, interesting sequence of events. Your characters, too, need to be active – especially your protagonist. If you notice that things keep happening to your main character(s), give them more agency. Make sure they make decisions and initiate events rather than simply reacting. Give them a choice in every chapter. Give these choices consequences that significantly influence the plot.

9. Look at the story as a whole. If you’re a plotter, consider thematic elements and plot and character arcs up front. If you’re a pantser, watch them evolve and keep them in mind as you write. Beyond storytelling and entertainment, what meaning are you seeking to convey? What ideas do you want to explore? Who are your characters beyond their surface traits? What motivates them, and how will they grow (if they grow – iconic or static characters can work too)? What will they learn from the journey you are taking them on? Looking at your novel on a macro level will help it resonate with themes that speak to your target readers, ensuring it is both cohesive and meaningful.

NaNoWriMo is a wonderful challenge to take on, and you don’t have to do it alone. Feel free to reach out for support if you’d like some writing coaching, or to share what you’re working on in the comments. Happy writing to all of you!


Leave a comment

Nine Roadblocks to Editing Your Writing (and What to Do About Them)

Anyone who writes knows the challenges of editing. You’ve gotten your ideas down in that “shitty first draft.” Now you must look at your work with fresh eyes, fixing messy sentences and filling in plot holes. It’s useful to get help from others, whether they’re peers or professionals, but ultimately we have to edit our own work too. Some of us love polishing our writing, but for others, it’s an uphill slog. Our personalities stall our progress and throw roadblocks in our path. Here are nine that you might encounter during the editing process, along with tricks for dealing with them when they arise.

1. Perfectionism: If you’re a meticulous type of person, editing might come naturally to you. You enjoy reworking problem areas and finding the right word for the job. You might find, however, that your perfectionism sometimes leads to paralysis. The temptation to fix what you’ve written, again and again, makes it hard to know when your piece is done. Set yourself a “no more editing” deadline, or seek out encouraging others who will help you get your work out there and call it a day.

2. Focusing on Others: As much care as you put into your writing, you also devote a lot of attention to the people in your life. If this sounds like you, you might find editing to be a challenge. It seems selfish and daunting to block out time to improve your work. All of a sudden you need to help Grandma wash her car, or put in extra hours at the office. You get wrapped up in doing stuff for others while your draft sits there. Try getting others involved in the editing process, using their feedback as fuel.     

3. Goal Orientation: You have big ideas about what you want your writing to do. You envision an impact bigger than the day-to-day grind of editing, which can make it hard to sit down at your desk with your red pen (or its digital equivalent). Maybe you’ve written with a market in mind, or dream of shortcuts to take your project where you want it to go. But quality takes time and authenticity. As you edit, look beyond results to the truths you want to convey. What do you have to say, and what’s the realest way to say it?   

4. Introspection: The more introspective among us use emotions to fuel their writing, but those same feelings can get in the way of the editing process. You look over your draft and see only flaws. You wonder if your writing is any good, and if it’s worth putting in the time to edit. These thoughts are discouraging. Seek out reality checks about your work’s pros and cons, and work steadily, a little at a time, to polish it.  

5. Intellectualizing: If your writing has an intellectual foundation, you may find yourself focusing on the ideas as you sit down to edit. The resulting work may be well thought out, or it may get bogged down in analysis. Look beyond intellectual concepts at other vital aspects of your writing. It might be helpful to have a list of criteria about clarity, structure, reader interest, and other elements important to your genre.

6. Committee Mentality: Some of us have a hard time seeking the necessary feedback to improve our work, but if you tend toward the opposite, asking all your friends and mentors for their opinion, you’ll find yourself listening to a lot of competing voices. Resources about writing and editing can also be expert opinions that confuse with their disagreement. Filter others’ ideas through your own goals: are they right for your work or not?

7. Distractibility: It was so much fun to write your first draft that you want to start something new again! Why spend time on a boring editing process? Or maybe you should change what you wrote so it’s completely different, make it much more interesting… Without focus, it’s hard to polish your work to its potential. Keep in mind how exciting it will be to have your project finished, and inject novelty into the editing process. Instead of working on new writing, edit in a new location, or intersperse editing time with other activities.

8. Impatience: This writing has been so much work that you just want to be done with it. Isn’t it good enough already? You’ve said what you had to say. Sometimes a light touch is wisest, but there are generally areas to improve that you’ll find with a further read-through. That in no way diminishes the impact or power of your work. If you’re fed up with it for the time being, set it aside, but give yourself a deadline to come back to it.   

9. Inertia: You find it hard to summon the energy for editing. It’s hard work, it’s not pleasant, and it’s not part of your daily routine. You might intend to edit, but find that hours have passed and you’ve spent them puttering around the garage, or checking Facebook. An Internet-blocking program might help if digital inertia is an issue for you, and a new environment might give you fresh energy. If it’s novelty, build editing into your routine, so your inertia will work for your editing process rather than against it.    

There are many roadblocks you might run into while editing, some of which are related to your specific project, rather than the personality-based ones I described above. If you’re looking for coaching through the editing process, or help from an outside editor, I offer both services and often provide them together. Feel free to reach out to set up a Skype call, or offer your own ideas in the comments. Happy editing!   


Leave a comment

Your Instincts and the Creative Process

When you embark on a large-scale creative venture, you bring every aspect of your human nature with you. One influence you may not think about is your instincts. The Enneagram describes three basic instincts that influence people’s behavior: Self-Preservation, or the drive for conservation; Sexual, which involves the drive for stimulation; and Social, the drive for shared engagement. Some of these instincts are more active in your daily life than others, with one usually being unconsciously overdone, one moderately engaged, and one under-attended to. If you look at your creative process, you’ll find these patterns recurring. Each instinct brings vital elements to creativity.

I was introduced to the idea of using the Enneagram’s instincts in service of the creative process in Lindsay Robertson and TJ Dawe’s Develop Your Creativity workshop, and have gained additional insight through teaching The Enneagram Institute’s The Three Instincts (Subtypes) Workshop, which I’ll be holding in Edinburgh this 14-15 October. The instincts are powerful material because they shape your behavior so deeply yet so unconsciously, and bringing them into your awareness opens opportunities for change that we wouldn’t otherwise access. Below, you’ll find strategies that you can use to work constructively with each of the three instincts. Notice which come easily to you, and which could use a gentle nudge. How can you incorporate the strategies you underuse into your creative practice?    

Foundation: In order to create, you need to have some form of structure and discipline in place. You could have the greatest ideas in the world, but without sitting down in that chair and making something, they will remain intangible possibilities rather than vibrant creative projects. Building a productive foundation is one way the Self-Preservation Instinct plays a key role in creativity. You can make this instinct work for you by scheduling time to devote to your project. Many find it helpful to create routines for themselves, such as writing every morning, setting timers, or using a program that blocks the Internet for a set amount of time. Tending to your basic needs and creature comforts is another way to use this instinct in service of your creativity. Is your workspace comfortable? Does the setting enhance or detract from your productivity? Some people find it most conducive to their creativity to work in a cafe with a comfortable hum of chatter, while others might need their workspace to be clean before they get started. Are you sufficiently fed and rested? Many creators have day jobs in addition to their creative work, which help with their foundation by ensuring that their financial and material needs are tended to.

Immersion: All creativity starts with a spark. You have a great idea that gets you excited. You’re drawn to make something new. Connecting with the Sexual Instinct in your creative work is similar to the rush of falling in love. If you can stay passionate about your project, that spark can mature into commitment. Let yourself love what you’re doing, and have a way of recording new ideas when they come to you (notebook, phone app, etc.). Give yourself to your inspirations when they strike: if you’re sizzling with enthusiasm about your novel one night, this might be a good time to get out the laptop. Let your impulses be woven in and see where they go. This won’t always look like foundations and patterns, but fits, starts, and lightning are part of productivity, too. When you aren’t feeling lit up, continue to energize your work by bringing in new ideas. Julia Cameron suggests making weekly artist’s dates, a practice that fuses the routine of the foundation stage with the excitement of immersion. Make it a practice to take yourself new places and experience new things.

Context: No one creates in a vacuum. Even if you complete a creative project on your own, you draw inspiration, consciously or unconsciously, from a broader context. This may include the works of other creators (which are often part of long lineages of influence), and ideas or feedback from other people. Everyone uses the Social Instinct to connect with influences, strengthen, and disseminate their work. If you look in the Acknowledgements section of any book, you’ll see that it wouldn’t exist without a long chain of people involved. You can draw on this instinct’s power by seeking community and context. Find writers’ groups, critique groups, or collaborators who you can bounce ideas off of, and receive valuable perspective. Feedback will shape your work into something more powerful and ensure it resonates with your intended audience. Forge accountability partnerships where you keep each other motivated. Look for work in your field that interests you, and study it to learn new forms of technique and craft that you can try out. You may want to seek professional help, or public response, to take your work to the next level. These strategies will strengthen your work and ensure your voice has an audience and influence.  

Which instinct-based strategies would you like to use more of? How can you build them into your creative practice?

 


Leave a comment

SMART Goal Setting for the New Year

As we turn the corner into another year, our best intentions come with us. We make plans to improve our health, relationships, work life, and many other areas that are meaningful or challenging for us. For a rare few, these goals have a lasting impact. For others, they are swiftly forgotten.

The tradition of making New Year’s resolutions has humbler roots than many of our goals have today. According to Time Magazine, it began in ancient Babylon, with promises made to the gods. The Babylonians took a down-to-earth approach; their promises included such manageable goals as returning things they had borrowed.

We can learn a thing or two from the Babylonians in setting yearly goals for ourselves that have staying power. A philosophy that aligned with their simple, doable promises was articulated by George T. Doran in 1981. Writing to managers, he described a system of goal setting that follows the acronym SMART. There are a few variations on the words associated with SMART. One version we like stands for:

Specific
Measurable
Attainable
Realistic
Time-bound

When we set goals that follow the five SMART principles, we’re more likely to achieve them. We build in accountability for ourselves and ensure that we don’t bite off more than we can chew. Rather than thinking big for your New Year’s resolutions, try using SMART principles that will work with your Enneagram type to help you achieve your goals.

Specific: Instead of committing to an overarching idea such as “getting in shape,” commit to a concrete practice that will move you toward your intentions, such as running three times a week.
While specificity is important for anyone who wants to set achievable goals, it’s especially useful for types Four and Nine to consider. Fours often daydream of lofty achievements; getting clear on the steps they want to take will bring these closer to reality. For Nines, hazy, generalized goals can lead to inaction, so focusing on the specifics will bring momentum.

Measurable: Find ways to measure progress toward your goals quantitatively. Continuing with the example of running, you could aim to get your mile down to under ten minutes, and time yourself with each practice. This step is particularly important for type Eight, as Eights tend to pour a lot of energy into their pursuits, sometimes tiring themselves out or quitting. Creating measurable goals will keep actions strategic.

Attainable: Choose a goal that is under your control. Something like getting a book published depends on external circumstances, but submitting your manuscript to a set number of publishers is something you can accomplish on your own. Consider this especially if you are type Three or Six. Threes often focus on outside validation, and benefit from the inner-directed approach of attainability. Sixes often place control within others’ hands, and focusing on attainability brings the ball into their court.

Realistic: Consider how your goal, which should be fairly concrete by now, will fit in with the rest of your life. Do you have the ability, resources, money, and time to achieve what you’re hoping to do? Are there aspects you need to reevaluate to make the goal doable? Realism is an important consideration for types One and Seven. For Ones, it will minimize perfectionistic expectations and ease pressure. For Sevens, it will focus energy on priorities and lessen overextension.

Time-bound: Set yourself a deadline, for the final goal as well as for any milestones toward it. This practice is valuable for all of us, and wonderful for types Two and Five. Twos frequently prioritize others and can get sidetracked, so keeping to a schedule provides useful structure for tending to their own desires. Fives tend to spend a lot of time on planning, so having a deadline will ensure their goals materialize in action.

We encourage you to use all five SMART principles as you create and pursue your New Year’s resolutions, with a special emphasis on the dominant one for your type. With these practices in mind, you’ll see better results in meeting the goals that matter to you.


Leave a comment

Productivity Tips for the Enneagram Types

IMG_1995In this fast-paced world, productivity is an important skill to master. There is a lot to get done, and the more effectively we can do it, the closer we come to achieving our goals. Productivity skills can also support us in leading a more balanced life, working when we need to work and building in ample time for play and rest.

Let’s look beyond goal setting this month and into building greater productivity through life management skills. Here are some tips for each Enneagram type to hone their productivity that delve a little deeper than “just get it done.”

Type One: Aim for 90%. When stressed, you hold yourself to a higher standard than you need to, and beginning your work can seem arduous. Aiming for 90% in your work is a realistic – in fact a high – bar, and leaves you energy for necessary rest. Make this your new standard and you’ll find that tasks get accomplished more quickly.

Type Two: Limit your “people time” until you’ve accomplished goals. Under stress, you tend to get sidetracked from tasks by attending to relationships. Give yourself built-in structures such as time-limited meetings with others, or deadlines to accomplish non-interpersonal tasks. You’ll find plenty of time for relationship building if you stick to your schedule, and you’ll stay on top of the curve.

Type Three: Build thoroughness of process into your task completion. When stressed, you have a tendency to cut corners and focus on presenting a shiny facade. Instead, look to the minutiae of your work that not everyone will see. Getting everything done right, with plentiful attention to the details, will ensure your work is outstanding and you don’t have to mend any oversights.  

Type Four: Make commitments. When stressed, you lose focus on objective goals as the subjective world looms larger. Commit to specific outcomes in spite of fluctuating feelings, and keep yourself on track with reminders. Build time for subjective processing into your schedule, such as journaling before work every day, so you’ll have more clarity to meet your objectives.   

Type Five: Seek out new possibilities. When stressed, you become more narrowly focused, and may be productive in one area while neglecting others. Connect with colleagues and share what you’re each working on. Take on a project that deviates from your norm. Seeking out breadth in experiences will bring out the most productive side of your innovative thinking.

Type Six: Seek out support for achievements. When you’re under stress, you sometimes procrastinate by doing busywork while putting off necessary milestones. Use your relational skills to create mutual accountability with a friend, colleague, or group. Each of you can regularly remind the others of the tasks you need to get done, or you can work together on them.   

Type Seven: Create a limited time and space for new ideas. When stressed, you look toward future possibilities and don’t always finish present ones. You can mitigate this by having a set daily time (such as 20 minutes) and place (such as a notebook) for the new. When you have an inspiration for a new project, add it to your brainstorming book, set it aside for later, and refocus.

Type Eight: Block out time for reflection and strategy. It’s not a problem for you to act, but under stress, you can put the cart before the horse. Having time laid out to look at which long-range strategies are best for your goals will save you from making hasty, and potentially costly, choices. It may help to seek and consider input from others before you make decisions, as well.

Type Nine: Use affirmations to help with your confidence and productivity. When stressed, you tend to give yourself “dis-affirmations” – believing you aren’t ready, doubting whether this is something you really want to do, and so on. Countering with assertive mental words or pictures – “I can get it done,” “I’m committed to it” – will energize you toward your goals.   

These are just a few tips to get you started in building the complex life skill of enhancing your productivity. Seek out support from others with these strategies – finding the right cheerleaders or accountability buddies is helpful for all the types in developing productivity skills. You don’t need to do these perfectly; every baby step is an improvement. Happy productivity trails!