Using Pinterest to expand your lists

Remember how I talked about the list making ideas from Couch to 80k boot camp here, and again here? Well, I’m going to talk about them again. This time with a twist.

When Tim talked about picking a protagonist and writing a list of things you might find in their bag, I had another lightbulb moment. Pinterest. It will come as no surprise to anyone who knows me, that I have Pinterest boards for writing. I have Pinterest boards for everything. What I didn’t have were boards for specific characters or settings in my work. I do now.

One, in particular, was a huge breakthrough moment for me. I’d been having so much trouble picturing how a key location in my BoK series looked. I had a vague notion, but vague notions are hard to write about. So I began searching Pinterest for a single vintage item I knew I wanted in the shop. I think I spent the next two hours pinning things and the next day I had a picture perfect image in my head of what that shop looked like. I knew all the items they’d find there.

I’d been blocked on that scene for months, dropping it, moving forward, coming back and still having no idea. In one sprint I was able to finish that scene with more detail than I’d initially planned and I felt blissfully free to move on. It also gave me some great ideas to tie in scenes with the other two books in the series.

Taking better care of your tools

It is all too easy to forget that our hands can be our most important tool, regardless of whether you’re a writer, a programmer, a massage therapist or a stay home mum, we rely on our hands is so very much. It’s often not until something goes wrong that we remember to take care of ourselves, at least I know that’s true for me.

I’ve been having a lot of trouble with my right shoulder, bicep, my elbows, and my fingers recently.  I was putting it all down to my usual variety of medical problems, but it wasn’t until I visited my physio for some severe pain around my thumb that I realised a lot of this was due to RSI.

I really like my apps and I really liked my reminders, I may have mentioned that I have reminders throughout the day that pop up on my smartwatch and in my calendar to tell me to drink water, to drink a cup of tea, even to switch between tasks I’ve planned for the day. This week I’m going to trial a new app called “Time out” and use it to help me remember to do various exercises for my hands and arms, including massage all that good stuff. Hopefully, this will help to treat the RSI problems.

Some of the other changes that I’ve implemented are:

  • Switching to my husbands Goldtouch keyboard. It’s a very fancy Bluetooth keyboard that can be adjusted to either sit flat like the usual keyboard or be angled to relieve that ulna/radius twist that’s so bad for our forearms. The angle of the keyboard can be adjusted slowly so that you can retrain your brain and fingers on where the keys are.
  • I’m utilising a great deal of my mac’s dictation commands, which is equal parts convenient and equal parts freaking annoying. I highly recommend setting up you’re own commands where needed. I have found that the computer doesn’t always understand me, for some reason when I say “Lightroom” it hears “)” yep, a closing bracket, *bewildered shrug*.
  • I’ve also moved my mouse pad and keyboard so that my forearms rest on my desk, which provides support, so they don’t have to do all the work.
  • One of my favourite additions is a small spiky exercise ball in bright red; I’m sure the colour is crucial. I find rolling it around between my palms when I am thinking about something else is pleasurable for the muscles, tendons and fascia in my hands and it’s kinda fun).

Time to take a break, and please, do take care of your bodies.

The power of a list

I love lists. I make lists for everything, groceries, packing, daily tasks, family outings, pros and cons for my upcoming surgery. I find that most things in life benefit from lists. So how then, had I failed to make writing lists?

The first week of the Couch to 80k boot camp I mentioned here, was all about lists. We wrote lists of names, words we liked, and words we disliked. Lists of objects, problems, character descriptions, there are all sorts of things one can make lists for.

I was having a really bad spoonie day. I felt horrid physically, but I also felt demoralised. I wanted to write. I had gone to bed the night before brimming with ideas, but the morning dawned, and so did pain. There would be no braining for me this day. I sulked in front of the tv, and then the cast list started flashing up, ping! I paused the show, fetched a notebook and pen, curled up under my blankets again and pressed play, and proceeded to write down the names that appeared in the credits. Sometimes I had a whole first and last name, sometimes one or the other and sometimes a combination of various peoples names.

It got me wondering about the names of characters and how I often make-up names, only to reject them as implausible. I retrieved my phone and headed for Wikipedia and the Islamic royal family tree; I have no idea why that came to mind first, it just did. I wrote down the names of kings, queens, princesses and princes. I followed up that list with Indian royalty, and I have now cured myself of thinking any name I invent is anything but the real deal.

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!

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