Some Planning, Some Shiny Distractions, Some New News

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Yesterday was the autumnal equinox – which is my absolute favorite way to say this – and with the changing of the season we often see ourselves looking at what we can change in our day to day. And yet it’s so easy to see something shiny and find ourselves distracted.

In the spirit of autumn I have spent the weekend cleaning out closets, prepping for the cold weather on the way. I’m very ready for boots and sweaters, scarves and coffee, finger-less gloves to do some typing in, and this has taken up a lot of my focus over the last couple of days.

With the thought of typing in mind, I’m trying to not let myself dive too deep into the story I’m working on because I can’t write anything until November 1st (NaNoWriMo here I come!) while at the same time trying to create a realistic road map to work off of when it’s time to get started. Sounds like it should be easy enough. Unfortunately, as I am figuring out, this is not the case. Although I guess if I am eager to get started I should take that as a good sign, and be positive about what’s coming next.

Because I’ve reached an impasse with my writing – I don’t want to wander too far down a road into other stories right now – I’ve been thinking about some of my other projects that I have coming up, and I realize that maybe now is as good a time as any to get started on them.

Podcasts are coming back! I spent the summer taking some time off from my podcast, thinking about where I really wanted to take it and I’ve come up with some great thoughts. It’s definitely taking a different path than the episodes I started with and I think this is a good thing – I was definitely wandering a little lost trying to find my way and I think I’ve got some great ideas that will help keep me on path a little better  – recording starts next weekend and I can’t wait to get that out to everyone.

Prepping for the upcoming blog posts. Sneak peak: an upcoming book review (I know, I fell behind here, and definitely have some catching up to do), a review on writing tools I have recently been checking out, and of course a run down on the NaNoWriMo prep I am doing. November is going to be the week by week check of NaNoWriMo progress and newbie walk through of how things go and what I find to be the most helpful processes. Looking forward to the journey!

Let me know if there are any specific tools you’d like to hear about, or blog posts you are looking for either in the comments or feel free to contact me directly through the contact page or via email: hsellers@heather-sellers.com

Now That You Know You Can

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Friday has come, and Friday has gone, but I DID IT!! I made my deadline, created my submission account on Writer’s Digest, and submitted my short story. My first piece that is going to be read by someone I’ve never met. Pretty daunting when I think about it that way. Pretty exciting too.

I’ve spent the last few days since I hit submit thinking about the process and wondering what I’ve learned that will make this easier in the future. To be perfectly honest, the online submission process itself (creating an account, verifying file formats, submitting) was the easiest part – Writer’s Digest has certainly made their online process streamlined and incredibly user friendly. You get an email receipt as confirmation. I am not sure about the mail submission process; if someone has ever gone through the steps to mail in their submission I’d love to hear about it.

Everything else? The outlining, planning, writing, and editing? I’ve talked about all of that over the last few weeks as I’ve agonized over getting ready for this contest. One thing to note here, I’ve always hated the idea of planning my story out, the whole process of outlining has always made me feel overwhelmed. This is often because I start with a sentence or conversation in my head and work my way out from there, an outline – I’ve always thought – limited my ability to do that. This experience has shown me that I can merge the two methods together – outline my overarching story and then begin writing with the lines or conversation pieces that occur to me. I have to say that doing it this way is what made all the difference to me actually finishing the piece.

Now that I’ve learned a bit more about my outlining style I’ve become an insane person – I have ten pages in my notebook with brightly colored post-its to scribble down notes and ideas for scenes or locations. The bright colors and the clean notes make me happy when I sit down to work on my research and outlining, instead of making me dread the process, and I think that’s going to make a huge difference going forward in November for NaNoWriMo.

The last several weeks has been a rewarding learning experience. I’ve discovered new ways to work with outlines, learned that editing isn’t nearly as bad as I was afraid it would be, and discovered that I can complete something when I set goals.

Do you have other ways that help you with your writing process? I’d love to hear about them in the comments or feel free to contact me directly through the contact page or via email: hsellers@heather-sellers.com

Reaching the Finish Line

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This is it, coming into the final stretch of my goal – submit 4,000 words (or less) to a short story competition. Am I going to make it?

Yes! A loud, and resounding yes. I still have some tweaking to do, but I have sat myself down and done not one, not two, but three edit reviews. After slashing an additional 200 words (you’ll remember that I started with removing just the first two paragraphs, and dared to call that editing) I went back through and started thinking about how it all flowed. I managed to add another 190 words back in, but this time it added to the story, it maintained the flow, and gosh darn it, it added consistency. I feel like everything makes sense and it was a story that even though I wrote it I was excited to read.

I’m sitting on the current final version right now, I want to do one last read of it before I decide I am actually 100% fully finished. At this point I think I am just holding on to it because of nerves; I’m not quite ready to hand my work (physically or virtually) off to a stranger for judgement. That’s the next hurdle I have to overcome. It can be done. It WILL be done. Just maybe I need to hold on to it a teensy, tiny bit longer.

In five days I will officially be done with this side of things, and the agonizing wait to hear final results will begin. I’m not even sure what the time frame is for that waiting period. Weeks? Months? I imagine it will be a considerable amount of time. After all, I anticipate thousands of submissions for this contest along with mine, so there will be many days of reading ahead of the judges. And many days of waiting on pins and needles for me.

Actually, not really. I imagine the first few days will feel agonizing. However, as the days go by I have lots of new projects on the horizon. Next up: I’ve decided to take the plunge this year and try to complete a NaNoWriMo. 4,000 words had seemed difficult at first. Now I want to see what I can do with 50,000 words. In thirty days. Think this is something you would be interested in? Check it out at their website here. Have you already completed one and have some insights to share? I’d love to hear about it in the comments or feel free to contact me directly through the contact page or via email: hsellers@heather-sellers.com

 

The Importance of Following Through (even just for yourself)

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I want to start this week by saying … I DID IT! 4,000 words (well 4,079 words, actually) completed. I finally finished an entire project. Since this has been the hardest part for me I have to say I already feel like I can do anything. Now for the part I never thought I’d get to … the dreaded editing.

Some people like editing, it’s like a puzzle that soothes the soul. And in some cases, when looking at other people’s work, I can relate. It’s easy to stand outside of things and see where changes should be made, or what can be cut. It’s so much harder to stare at your own work and tear it apart limb from limb. A bit dramatic, sure. But that’s how it feels. Each piece you read feels as important as the one before. You took such effort, such painstaking effort, to create the story and now you have to acknowledge the parts that maybe are not that great.

So that’s where I’ve been this week – I completed my rough draft immediately after the blog update last week so I had plenty of extra time to start slow. So I did. Start slow. And I’m still going slow. Actually, I have managed to get as far as cutting two paragraphs. Then sending both the original rough draft and the minor edits to a few people to read for a sanity check. And then avoiding all work on it. And I do mean all. So much so that I avoided my computer yesterday.

Today I am smacking some sense into myself and reminding me I have a deadline I need to meet. I have exactly eleven days until the early bird deadline. Add another month onto that for the final, no more submissions accepted, deadline. My goal has been focusing on the early bird deadline. Because I am a firm believer in rip the bandage off and get on with it.

Let’s look over the accomplishments. Story finished, check. Ahead of schedule, check. Editing, not check.

How will this affect me moving forward? Really the two paragraphs I removed bring me to under the word count required. That’s good. Feasibly I could submit that and call it done. Should I? I’m going to go with absolutely not. No way in this lifetime should I submit an unedited, not reviewed piece.

Why Not? After all the impetus for submitting to this contest was to finish something. Goal accomplished.

Because now that I have completed something I feel like it would be wrong to submit something that I didn’t give everything I have. I feel like if I should submit something that has not gotten my full, 100%, absolute focus then if I don’t win I won’t know if it’s because I only went half way, or if it’s because it really wasn’t up to par with the other submissions.

I’ll never know, really, what I’m capable of if I don’t bring everything I have.

So, I’m almost done hiding under my covers, avoiding the computer. It’s about time I force myself to follow through and go all the way.

What does that mean for what’s next on the horizon? This time next week I will have at least one attempt at editing done, and a better idea on how I feel about the final.

I’d love to hear about your experiences with writing goals; you can share in the comments or feel free to contact me directly through the contact page or via email: hsellers@heather-sellers.com

Holding Myself Accountable to the Goals I Set

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Whew! One week down, about two and a half to go. Time flies when you are attempting to accomplish terrifying goals.

This week I wanted to talk about the goals I set last week, let you see how accomplishing them has been going and then talk about what I found helped and what I found held me back. The good news – I mostly accomplished the goals I set. The bad news – I almost didn’t. I had a few touch and go moments and it wasn’t pretty. Luckily I have an amazing support network who understands how important this goal is to me, I would be lying if I didn’t admit that this has made all the difference.

Recap, week one goals define the concept and start the rough draft. In order to really accomplish this I identified that I need to write 300 words a day in order to have a completed rough draft ready for the painful editing process with enough time to have a final ready for submission on September 14th. How did I do with my daily word counts? See below:

  • Monday – 348 words
  • Tuesday – 142 words
  • Wednesday – 0 words
  • Thursday – 307 words
  • Friday – 0 words
  • Saturday – 623 words
  • Sunday – 1,297 words

I managed to surpass the total number of words needed for the week (2,150 words), but as you can see here there were a few days I struggled with getting anything done. I’d love to say I was too busy to write, or that emergencies came up making it impossible. None of that was the case. The only thing that held me back was me.

I was elated on Monday when I surpassed my goal, it felt like a win that was going to help push me through my word counts every day. Instead it was that much more disappointing on Tuesday when I didn’t even hit half of my word count, and that certainly made Wednesday hit that much harder when I closed out the day with 0 words.

I tried to perk back up on Thursday and managed to meet my goal, but somehow a successful day just led me into the following day set up for failure. By none other than myself. I spent a majority of the last week hopping in and out of my own head, psyching myself out, staring at the blank page for far longer than someone who has a completely realized concept should.

And it really is a fully realized concept with characters I want to keep around long after this short story is complete, an entire series worth of adventures and shenanigans for them. So why was it so hard for me to write a simple 300 words per day?

In November those who sign up for NaNoWriMo sign themselves up for a much more intense goal of 1,500-1,700 words per day in order to complete a 50,000 word manuscript. And they succeed! So I keep going back to asking why I can’t do this minor goal.

The answer is me. I am my own worst enemy.

This is where a support network becomes necessary. I sat down yesterday staring at what I had written all week and dreaded adding to it. I had a rough outline and I already knew where I was going with the story, and I still found myself stuck less than 1,000 words into the story. While I was ranting and raving at my computer, ready to quit writing forever (perhaps a bit of a melodramatic response to the self-induced stress) my husband was patiently waiting for me to take a breath. His patience was a life saver (again, a bit melodramatic, my life was never in any danger). He said exactly what I needed to hear and helped me walk through what I was stuck on so I could figure out what needed to come next.

The result of this? Blowing both Saturday and Sunday’s word count goals way out of the water. I surpassed both day’s goals in record time, writing for less than an hour on Saturday and just over an hour on Sunday. I have good feelings about the rest of the word count goals this upcoming week and I know that if I get stuck again I have someone who is there to help me get through it.

What’s next? Another 1300 words to complete the first draft and then I start editing. I can’t wait to see how the next week goes – nervous, always, but definitely excited too.

I’d love to hear about your experiences with writing goals; you can share in the comments or feel free to contact me directly through the contact page or via email hsellers@heather-sellers.com

Setting Scary Goals

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I set a goal this week. A terrifying goal. I have to finish something before September 14th. I have to finish something completely, and submit it. To a contest. I decided this was going to be my big goal to end this year, and I was ready. And now, suddenly, I’m not.

I had an idea I wanted to use for a short story to submit to the Writer’s Digest short story contest, and I was very excited with what I got out initially. Then I looked it over and realized that it will never serve as a short story, it is most certainly part of a larger story. That’s when I realized just how terrifying this goal is.

I’m worried that I don’t know how to be concise enough for 4,000 words. I suddenly find myself baffled with how to finish a story. I’m terrified of the follow through.

When I was a little girl I wanted to be a writer. When I was a teenager I wanted to be a writer. Even now, as an adult with children of my own who are starting to build their own dreams, I want to be a writer. The terrifying realization is that no matter how much I want to be a writer, finishing things still feels out of reach.

I have been going over some of my shorter pieces trying to decide if any of them are up to snuff for this contest, something I would be proud to submit, and I’m second guessing every single piece.

I should just let myself pick one and make it what I want it to be, but for the first time ever I am finding myself unable to see the potential of my ideas and am limited to just the words I’ve put on paper. I’ve spent the entire last seven days being baffled by the choices in front of me and time is running out.

For the next three weeks I am going to force myself to buck up, stop coming up with excuses, and finish something. And then I am going to make myself submit it. This isn’t about winning the contest. This is about accomplishing something I have spent the last many years telling myself I can’t do.

In order to resolve my conflict about this I am choosing instead to create a plan of action. Something that will clearly define the path, and what I need to do to meet my deadlines. Here’s what I’ve come up with:

Week One: Define the concept. Start the rough draft.

Week Two: Finish the rough draft.

Week Three: Edit, Edit, Edit.

Final days before submission – Create a final version I can be proud of.

The good news is that this is realistically attainable. Over the next seven days I need to come up with a concept that I can work with, and start my 4,000 word draft. With 14 days to finish my draft (depending on how long I take to come up with my concept) I can plan to write 300 words per day, and still come in under the time frame I have laid out.

I’ll keep you all posted on whether I make my goals or not, and the lessons I learn from this. If you’re interested in taking a look at the short story contest you can check it out at the Writer’s Digest website here.

If you’ve done something similar and found things that were helpful, or things to stay away from, I’d love to hear about it; you can share in the comments or feel free to contact me directly through the contact page or via email hsellers@heather-sellers.com

 

 

 

Don’t Let Small Successes Feel Like Failure

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The last week has been a whirlwind of activity: kids getting ready for back to school, shifting our summer morning routines back to the early morning school year routines none of us are fond of, trying to cram as many activities into the Saturday and Sunday hours as possible (and failing). Seems like after the many years of doing this we’d have it all better planned out, but that does not seem to be the case. I envy those that seem to have it all figured out – the bowl of lemons on the counter displayed to perfection kind of people.

If you are one of those people congratulations, I honestly and sincerely envy you.

When I was younger I had dreams of being organized to the finest point, knowing where every item was with my eyes closed. A blind person would have been able to comfortably navigate my dream space without Daredevil special abilities. The reality of my life kicked in and while I would never go back to change any of it, I do wonder at what point I lost control of the organization. At what point the chaos set in.

With all of that being said, it’s amazing that with all of our activities and plans I am finding time to write this weekly post. I had so many other writing goals for this year that I am seeing become less and less likely will be accomplished. This can be a frustrating (and admittedly depressing) realization. Where did the extra time go? That abundance of sand in the summer hour glass that is suddenly nearing the end, and none of the projects anywhere near the level of completeness I had promised myself in May.

I could sit here and really let myself have it. I probably need to hold myself accountable, and surely that means there needs to be some sort of action that goes along with my failure to follow through. However, in all reality, negative reactions don’t necessarily provide the kind of response that will lead to me completing my goals next year.

Instead, I need to stop and acknowledge the things I did manage to accomplish in the last several months. Identify where my successes happened, and see where the patterns are that I might be able to replicate to have more successes.

The reality is that last year I was researching blogs and how to create one; this year I made it happen. Small steps are still successes. It’s knowing this and continuing to push on that make us continue to be successful.

Next year maybe my podcast that has fallen to the side will be my next focus, getting to build it up into what I really want it to be. And maybe at this point next summer I will have another success to add to the list.

Don’t let your small success feel like failure. Acknowledge it for the triumph it is. Celebrate the accomplishment. Use that win to keep pushing forward.

Believe in yourself.

The Fear of What Exactly?

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I have yet to work up the courage to submit any of my work to any paying or nonpaying outlet. I refuse to acknowledge why, or rather I refuse to say why out loud where anyone will actually hear me. It’s a combination of things that vary from making complete sense to sounding absolutely insane. It’s usually because, like all things that go into my writing, I have an overactive imagination tempered with a little too much feet on the ground and not enough head in the clouds. Or maybe it’s reverse – either way it always culminates in a lot of fear.

I’m afraid of failure. That one makes sense, we all get fear of failure. It’s harder to fail something if we don’t put it out there. No judgement can dash our hopes against cliffs of despair – as I said before, I have lots of imagination. I’m not just afraid of not doing well, because as we’ve heard time and time again, if at first you don’t succeed, try, try again. I’m afraid of failure because what if the failure is just the reality my overactive imagination refuses to accept? That’s a chilling thought that stops me in my tracks on many a dark and stormy night (for the record, also on a number of sunny afternoons).

Here’s the kicker though, I’m afraid of success too. What is the expectation if I succeed? Not just from others, but from myself. Would I keep going at the same pace as always, happy with success or would I let it become the thing that takes over, setting my pace faster, pushing myself harder, missing out on more than I already do. It’s a terrifying thought, and once out of the inner sanctum difficult to put back.

I’m afraid of how I will handle rejection. You see quotes from authors that mention a writer needs thick skin to handle to rejection – is my skin thick enough? Am I too sensitive to survive the onslaught of reviewers that won’t appreciate the tiny, unable to walk, little idea that I nurtured into a full blown, very mature idea and let go free into the world to make its own mark on society?

Then there are the realistic fears that halt me in my tracks. There never seems to be enough hours in the day when you have children, a full time job and school full time, plus a plethora of additional activities that if I’m being honest I signed up to do so I could avoid thinking about all of these fears, filling my plate so much that I couldn’t see the bottom where I have to face the facts. Shifting my focus from my fears about my writing instead to my fear of where will the money to pay the mortgage come from if I quit my job and focus on writing full time? The throat closing fear of disappointing the kids if I quit the 9-to-5 and take that risk only to place my tail between my legs and go back, hoping there’s a job to go back to.

Then I read the news. Or I see stories about brave young boys fighting for their lives against terrifying cancer. I see people I am close to dealing with the inescapable terror of what they can not control. And those fears help me put mine into perspective.

I won’t know whether I will fail or succeed, or how I handle rejection if I don’t try. If you find yourself in the same frozen state, paralyzed by your own fears, know that you aren’t alone. And let’s see about taking that first step to conquering our fears.

After all, there is nothing to fear but fear itself.

Everyone Has a Story Worth Knowing

Type type type. Backspace furiously. Type a few more words and backspace again. This is my normal mode of operations on Sundays. I usually have an idea, or two or three, throughout the week about what I will write about but they don’t really come together until Sunday evening when I finally sit down and put hands to keyboard. And then remove my hands, and put them back several more times. Sometimes my thoughts come from “helpers”; my kids, husband, articles I read, or even people out in the world. This week it comes from the story of other people.

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This week, yesterday in fact, I was able to spend a few hours helping my friend do a wedding photo shoot. Her normal assistant who is much more versed in this than I am was drafted away to other duties and I stood in, a little unsure of what I was really going to be able to help with but ready to follow through as best I could. Her work is great (hint: she took my photos I updated recently, I think she’s beyond awesome), and it’s easy to forget the amount of work that goes into these types of things when you don’t do them. After all, my idea of photography is some pointing and clicking with my iPhone. I do okay, but that’s not my medium and I take for granted how much work and how much vision the person holding the camera has to have.

This does not take into account the amount of patience the photographer is using when maybe those who should be in the photo wander aimlessly away, or don’t quite understand the instructions for certain poses. It was a wild flurry of activity much more related to mildly organized chaos (albeit helpful people disguised in chaos’ clothing) than what I imagined photography consisted of, all over approximately six hours – which is the time I left, but she would have many more hours ahead of her at the shoot, not to mention the weeks of editing photos to make sure that everything is flawless for the couple.

I am glad for opportunities like this because it helps me stand in someone else’s shoes. Shoes that maybe I take for granted, or don’t really understand. It is so very necessary to understand where someone else is coming from – be it in the work they do or just their perspective in life – because it gives us a point to understand each other’s story. And I have to say, understanding a story always makes the story better – fictional or otherwise. We can’t bake a cake if we don’t understand the steps, and we can’t make the world the best place it can be if we don’t understand everything that is going into it.

The next time you are out, maybe getting your pictures taken, or maybe ordering a cake, take a moment to stop and appreciate the person doing the work. Let them know you appreciate that they are taking their time to do this, that this means something to you. That will make a huge difference to them understanding your story too.

The Old Adage Knowledge is Power – Unfortunately Still Can’t Beat the Power of the Dollar…

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There has been a lot of buzz about the Forbes article with regards to the idea that Amazon bookstores should replace local libraries. If you haven’t already read the article, the link to it is here. To me, this would be a sad thing to see as a large amount of my childhood is heavily wrapped up in memories of my local library.

I have watched over the last several years as funding for library services has been reduced and reduced and then, finally, cut altogether. Beloved library branches have been closed permanently, and the ones able to remain open have been reduced to limited hours open to the public. For some people this makes sense, they have never had much need for the library, and certainly the world of books is readily accessible online. What could the outdated institution possibly have to offer the digital generation?

Memories. Hope. The awareness that an idea is enough to stir a generation to the love of knowledge.

As a child my grandmother introduced me to my love of reading and the ability to use my imagination to travel the worlds in the books I read. As a result, I found I had a voracious appetite for books, earning as many certificates a month as Pizza Hut allowed with their Book It program – which I am glad to see is still alive and well. The library enabled me to find new books, to always push myself into new worlds that I didn’t have access to otherwise. Running my hands over hard copy books made the worlds I was travelling seem more real somehow.

Through all of this, I think about the giant brick historical building that had been re-purposed to house our local library and the winding staircase I would wander as I picked my weekly stack of books, cutting my teeth on Agatha Christie’s Hercule Poirot, and Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes. My heroes included Nancy Drew and Harriet Welsch (AKA Harriet the Spy) because they showed me the power books held for anyone, but especially for a shy girl who had trouble making friends. Finding these heroes was so incredibly important to me as a child because I was unsure of how to interact with people and finding worlds in the written word showed me that I could use the same power of words to express myself.

The article calls out the idea of reducing costs to taxpayers, but ultimately what this does is not reduce costs but increases them and removes the accessibility of worlds of knowledge from those that don’t have the money to visit the book store. It also calls out services like movie rentals that have been replaced by streaming services, and free internet access (being replaced by Starbucks?). Think and consider why users might need to utilize resources like the library instead of Hulu, Netflix, Amazon, Redbox, or Starbucks. While more people today have access to computers in their home, this does not account for everyone and the libraries help close that gap.

People who support this idea need to be aware that libraries do not just house books for knowledge, but also access to the community. Local libraries put on a variety of programs that include those for both adults and children to meet with others that share their interests in a safe, monitored space. Libraries offer a place for teens to complete volunteer work towards honor society and college applications. There are even programs hosted at some libraries to teach people to paint, play an instrument, or, in some cases, learn to read.

While I do not fear the idea of technology destroying the written word, I am afraid that we are losing sight of what a place like the library means to those that visit it. The worries that these walls might be replaced by corporate giants like Amazon and what this could mean to the next generations.