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Exercise as Muse: Writing Wednesday

Little Girl Running, Moving with the Muse

Muse: (noun): a source of inspiration

In Jim Scott Bell’s excellent and easily readable book, The Art of War for Writers, he talks about his new-found way of coping with a sedentary profession (writing). He says, “I bought a treadmill. It sits right here in my office, and it’s my new best friend.” After he uses it in the morning, he says he feels ready to write. And when he feels stuck on his writing, he says: “Take a nice, long walk. Don’t think about your book. Have a little notebook or recorder with you. You’ll find the “boys in the basement” sending stuff up. When they do, write it down, and keep writing.”

Stephen King notoriously uses the metaphor for his Muse, “the boys in the basement.” He, too, walks to get his Muse flowing.

Do you ever have this? In life, whatever it is you’re working on, sometimes we get stuck. There seems to be no path forward. And, I believe Jim S. Bell and Stephen King have it right. Once we start our muscles working, the brain loosens up and the Muse appears. And suddenly, the problems have solutions. Then we just have to be ready with a way to record the ideas, or they slip away…

I love to exercise — to get moving. Whether it’s my weekly Tennis doubles match with friends, a long bike ride, or a few miles on the elliptical, exercise always helps.

Here, 5 Big Benefits to Exercise (and tapping into the Muse):

1) New Ideas: it seems that we think of solutions we most need when we are not actually thinking about them. Mysteriously, exercise does this for me every time.

2) Improved Attitude: Once I’ve proven that I can lead myself, that I have accomplished something difficult, I realize the world is really full of potential.

3) Increased Energy: Numerous studies published every year talk about the benefits of energy from exercise. We can do more from doing more.

4) More productivity: When we have more energy from exercise, we can perform better at what we do.

5) Fun / Fit / Feel Better: In January 2010, I started a mileage log … and early April 2011, I passed 1000 miles. (Yay!) I’ve honestly never felt better or more fit than I have in recent years, balancing physical activity, stretching, and writing. And, the more regularly I exercise and write, the more the Muse flows.

How about you? Do you enjoy getting moving? What is your Muse of choice for getting unstuck?

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Writing Wednesday: How to Make Time to Write

a treasury of books, in Strahov Library, Prague

“Serious writers write, inspired or not. Over time they discover that routine is a better friend to them than inspiration.” -Ralph Keyes

“The scariest moment is always just before you start.” — Stephen King , On Writing

About seven years ago, I attended my first big writers conference. I remember being so very overwhelmed, as most aspiring writers feel when they dip their toe in the ocean that is publishing. But in my dizzying haze, one particular piece of advice struck me so hard that it has stuck. It was on how to clear the schedule so that you can do what you love — write.

a treasury of books, in Strahov Library, Prague
a treasury of books, in Strahov Library, Prague

 

Isn’t that the thing all writers struggle with?

Writing is hard work, and for most of us, writing has to happen along with the rigors of everyday life. Finding time to write is one of the most difficult parts of writing.

Usually, when I meet new people, this is how the exchange takes place:

“What do you do, Jennifer?”

“I’m a writer.”

“Oh my gosh! I’ve always wanted to write a book! I have about five ideas for stories, and my mom told me I should write a book about ____. I’ll do it after … [substitute one] Johnny’s out of diapers, my kids are in school, my project finishes up, when I have some extra time.”

Many people want to write a book. It’s making time and finding the courage to move beyond the blank page that moves the wanna-be’s into serious writers. So, how do we find / make the time to write?

My thought is this: Take a season (say, for the next three months) and take a hard look at your daily schedule and monthly calendar. Figure out what you really want to do, and make the time for it. Clear the calendar. Put the bottom in the chair and type. It will come, and soon the book will be finished. But clearing the calendar is essential.

Tips for Clearing the Calendar for a Season to Write:

  1. Make a short list of your essentials — things that cannot be wiped off of the calendar. For me, this begins and ends with my family, adding in a bit of time to recharge with close friends and a weekly tennis match.
  2. Determine what time of day / night you prefer to write. I’m a daytime writer, beginning as early as possible.
  3. Find a writing time block that can be repeated most days that doesn’t interrupt the essentials. I use every last drop of school-time, when my boys are in school.
  4. Clear off the non-essentials from that time block. This isn’t easy– it’s the PTA volunteering hours, and all of the well-meaning activities that can steal entire days away  for weeks in a row. It’s hard to say no, but it’s also impossible to write a book without the bottom in the writing chair. It’s not a popular thing to say no– I can vouch for that.
  5. Turn off the internet, the radio, the television, the cell phone, and the washer and dryer. Everything that is a distraction will be a distraction. Make a pact, like “I’ll write 500 words and then check my email.” And stick to it. The words add up quickly without distractions!
  6. Evaluate your writing routine. Do you want to clear the schedule for just a season (writing one first draft?) or do you want to make this writing thing a habit, a serious gig?

As with a post from a few months ago, How to Finish Your Novel in 2011, figure out your plan, your target word counts, and stick to it. Because once the calendar is clear, anything is possible. You’ll have your work-in-progress in good shape before you know it. And soon, you’ll hold a finished book in your hands. There is no better feeling.

Bonus: an excellent post from friend and debut author, Sarah Jio, on balancing writing with her three young sons. I love this post, titled, Yes, You Can Write A Novel With Small Children Hanging On You. Her highly-acclaimed novel, THE VIOLETS OF MARCH, came out this month.

Question for you: How do you make the time to do what you love?

 

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Reading: An Essential Bridge to Personal Growth

The Treasure of Old Books, Strahov Monastery, Prague

Literacy is a bridge from misery to hope. It is a tool for daily life in modern society. It is a bulwark against poverty, and a building block of development … a platform for democratization … for everyone, everywhere, literacy is, along with education in general, a basic human right … Literacy is, finally, the road to human progress and the means through which every man, woman, and child can realize his or her full potential.  -Kofi Annan, Ghanaian diplomat, seventh secretary-general of the United Nations, 2001 Nobel Peace Prize

The Treasure of Old Books, Strahov Monastery, Prague
The Treasure of Old Books, Strahov Monastery, Prague

This past week, my family and I visited Prague’s lovely Strahov Monastery and its extravagant libraries. It was not the first time I had been there, but it was the first time I was able to see the Philisophical Hall, post-reconstruction. It is astounding, holding 42,000 volumes within its cases alone.

Strahov Monastery Library, Philisophical HallStrahov Monastery Library, Philisophical Hall, Prague

Being in libraries so significant, with books and knowledge dating back many centuries, I can’t help but imagine what our world would be without the writers of those books, and without the people who have lived out and carried on the knowledge which they have read. To read is to grow, in the grandest of all forms.

Old Books, Strahov Monastery, PragueA row of Old Books, Strahov Monastery, Prague

2011 has brought with it the full clean slate that I love with a new year. Along with the multitudes, I made goals for myself for the coming year, along with a day-by-day way to tackle those goals … because without a daily plan, a goal isn’t achievable. I have a goal for my physical health, for my writing, for my travel hopes, and for time with family. But maybe one of the most important goals I make each year is the goal toward improved thinking — toward exercising the mind and reducing mental flab.

Just like the saying goes: we are what we eat, the same goes for: we are what we read.

What sort of reading do you do in your daily life?

Theological Hall, Strahov Monastery, PragueTheological Hall, Strahov Monastery, Prague

I’m a firm believer in the notion that knowledge is power. In societies where freedoms have been stripped away, reading is the one that causes the society to suffer the most. Because where people are out of shape menatlly, they easily become dependent on the thinking of others — upon the thoughts and opinions that float around on the popular wind. Rather than dealing with issues and different ideas, people who don’t read and train their minds to think reduce their lives to become full of rules, regulations, and programs.

But for a person who reads and broadens their mind, they have the important and powerful ability to gather information and form their own opinion and decisions. They can be independent of the stifling inability to think of the masses. The reader is able to listen to differing views, remain open-minded, and form an identity for themselves.

Example Goals for Growth through Reading

  • Have an easy answer for “What are you reading lately?”
  • Have at least one good book going at all times, if possible.
  • Set aside one hour per day for reading.
  • Keep a journal of important ideas found in reading.

Whether it is on a Kindle, iPad, or through the pages of a beloved physical book, we can learn and grow and thrive. We can move rapidly toward hope, as Kofi Annan so eloquently says. We can not only move ourselves toward a better year, but toward a much improved self. All through reading.

A few good sites to find great books to read:

BookScreening.com: A new way to find a book– through watching its book trailer. Like watching a movie trailer, a book trailer shows the viewer the essence of the book in a minute’s worth of video. I hope this is an up and coming way to find a good book, and that more sites will catalog their books with the trailers (like Amazon) in a convenient book-searching format.

Goodreads.com: a social media approach to books and recommendations. You can find my profile here: JenniferLynKing on Goodreads (notably, my profile could use a little more time and attention)…

Amazon.com: the gargantuan site for finding books, buying books, and just about everything else having to do with books. Always a favorite. And my book at Amazon.com (click here), in case you’re looking for a daily inspirational to start reading in 2011.

Starting the Conversation: What book have you wanted to read for a long time? When can you fit reading into your daily schedule? Do you have a favorite website or source for finding good books?

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How to Write and Finish Your Novel in 2010

“Everything you ever wanted – personally and professionally – is 2 or 3 steps beyond your comfort zone.” -Andy Andrews

Everyone has a story to tell. I believe that. So, based on that belief, I’m writing to encourage you to tell your story. With today being near the end of March, I’m laying out a plan to help you figure out how to write and finish your very own novel by the end of 2010, roughly 275 days away.
I wrote a very similar post in February of last year … and I heard from a lot of people. Since I’m working on polishing my novel, I thought I’d post on the same topic again, for 2010.

Why, you ask, should I think I can write a novel before the end of the year?

Great question. Two years ago at a writer’s festival, I listened to a man speak about how his novel had taken him over ten years to complete. Every fall, the NaNoWriMo phenomenon goes on, or National Novel Writing Month, where writers complete an entire novel in one month. If we take a middle ground somewhere between the two, I’m guessing nine months to complete a first-draft of a novel might be just about right.

photo of William Faulkner’s writing space


Here’s the plan:

Since a full-length novel falls somewhere near 80,000 words, 275 days will provide plenty of time to write at a leisurely pace.
In my experience, writing 500 words per hour is very doable (1000 words per hour is also doable for some). With only one hour spent per day (500 words), nearly two novels could be written in the remainder of the year (150,000 words in 300 days). So, if you factor in taking a day off on the weekend and a few days for holidays and sick days, an 80,000 word novel can be written in the remainder of 2010 with extra time to spare. What to do with extra time? Revision and editing are always a great use of time after the novel is done. In fact, rewriting and editing and revision are what I’m doing right now on my own novel.
Hopefully, by now, I’ve convinced you that you can finish your novel in 2010. But I’m sure you have a couple more reservations. A novel is a big undertaking, after all.

Why write?

For me, I’ve found writing to be an amazing cathartic experience, therapeutic in profound ways. I am a better and more complete person by writing. Story is a powerful connector in the world, and there is no better way to engage in story than in your own novel.

When can I find time to write?

Easy—the hour watching television or surfing the web, instead write. Or the hour before everyone else wakes in the morning. Or the hour when everyone is at school. Or the hour after dinner. Just one hour is all you need.

What do I write?

Well, I would start by thinking what it is you like to read, and even reflect on shows you like to watch. Thriller? Romance? Literary?

How do I know the proper format, margins, etc? Since many books are devoted to this question, I’ll start by pointing to some I think are very helpful. The First Five Pages and The Plot Thickens by Noah Lukeman, Writing the Breakout Novel by Donald Maass, Novel Idea by Angela Hunt, Self-Editing for Fiction Writers by Renni Browne, and my personal favorite Stein on Writing by Sol Stein along with his How to Grow a Novel.

See? It can be done.But in my experience, the ONE THING that will enable or prevent you from finishing your novel in 2010 is discipline.The most grueling thing I face in writing each day is just that—writing each day. No matter how comfy the chair I choose, I find it almost impossible to put my bottom in it. No matter how sleek and powerful the computer, I find it tough every day to place my fingers on its keyboard. No matter how simply the clock says it’s time to write, my whole will pushes back and says it’s time to do other things.

 

Writing is hard work.
BUT, if you are one of those adventurous people who says Just Do It … I know without question that you CAN do it. To close, here are some of the benefits I’ve found from the discipline of writing each day.

1. The biggest advantage to writing each day is that the story stays fresh. The writing flows, and continues to flow day after day by writing (even a little—500 words) each day.

2. Like heading to bed at a similar time each night, writing at a similar time each day can be beneficial. The body knows what to expect. The mind comes ready to write, and the flow is easier.

3. The story becomes a place to look forward to going each day, if only for an hour.

4. The routine lends itself to the others in your life respecting your time to write. Distractions are always plentiful, and my house certainly has a constant list of more things to do, but with a routine hour set aside each day, writing becomes a priority.

Go ahead, start thinking today about your novel, and plan to start. You CAN write and finish your novel in 2010.

Questions or extra thoughts? I’d love to hear them—post in the comments section below.

And of course, I’d love to hear about your journey along the way to finishing your novel. You can contact me directly at https://www.jenniferlynking.com/ on the Contact page.

Godspeed!

-Jennifer

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How to Write and Finish Your Own Novel in 2009

Everyone has a story to tell. I believe that. So, based on that belief, I’m writing to encourage you to tell your story. With today being near the end of February, I’m laying out a plan to help you figure out how to write and finish your very own novel by the end of 2009, roughly 300 days away.

Why, you ask, should I think I can write a novel before the end of the year?

Great question. Last spring at a writer’s festival, I listened to a man speak about how his novel had taken him over ten years to complete. Every fall, the NaNoWriMo phenomenon goes on, or National Novel Writing Month, where writers complete an entire novel in one month. If we take a middle ground somewhere between the two, I’m guessing ten months to complete a novel might be just about right.

Here’s the plan:

Since a full-length novel falls somewhere near 80,000 words, 300 days will provide plenty of time to write at a leisurely pace.

In my experience, writing 500 words per hour is very doable (1000 words per hour is what I normally hear writers assume). With only one hour spent per day (500 words), nearly two novels could be written in the remainder of the year (150,000 words in 300 days). So, if you factor in taking a day off on the weekend and a few days for holidays and sick days, an 80,000 word novel can be written in the remainder of 2009 with extra time to spare. What to do with extra time? Revision and editing are always a great use of time after the novel is done.

Hopefully, by now, I’ve convinced you that you can finish your novel in 2009. But I’m sure you have a couple more reservations. A novel is a big undertaking, after all.

Why write? For me, I’ve found writing to be an amazing cathartic experience, therapeutic in profound ways. I am a better and more complete person by writing. Story is a powerful connector in the world, and there is no better way to engage in story than in your own novel.

When can I find time to write? Easy—the hour watching television or surfing the web. Or the hour before everyone else wakes in the morning. Or the hour when everyone is at school. Or the hour after dinner. Just one hour is all you need.

What do I write? Well, I would start by thinking what it is you like to read, and even reflect on shows you like to watch. Thriller? Chic lit? Literary?

How do I know the proper format, margins, etc? Since many books are devoted to this question, I’ll start by pointing to some I think are very helpful. The First Five Pages and The Plot Thickens by Noah Lukeman, The Breakout Novel by Donald Maass, Self-Editing for Fiction Writers by Renni Browne, and my personal favorite Stein on Writing by Sol Stein along with his How to Grow a Novel.

See? It can be done.

But in my experience, the ONE THING that will enable or prevent you from finishing your novel in 2009 is … discipline.

The most grueling thing I face in writing each day is just that—writing each day. No matter how comfy the chair I choose, I find it almost impossible to put my bottom in it. No matter how sleek and powerful the computer, I find it tough every day to place my fingers on its keyboard. No matter how simply the clock says it’s time to write, my whole will pushes back and says it’s time to do other things. Writing is hard work.

BUT, if you are one of those adventurous people who says Just Do It … I know without question that you CAN do it.

To close, here are some of the benefits I’ve found from the discipline of writing each day.

1. The biggest advantage to writing each day is that the story stays fresh. The writing flows, and continues to flow day after day by writing (even a little—500 words) each day.

2. Like heading to bed at a similar time each night, writing at a similar time each day can be beneficial. The body knows what to expect. The mind comes ready to write, and the flow is easier.

3. The story becomes a place to look forward to going each day, if just for an hour.

4. The routine lends itself to the others in your life respecting your time to write. Distractions are always plentiful, and my house certainly has a constant list of more things to do, but with a routine hour set aside each day, writing becomes a priority.

Go ahead, start thinking today about your novel, and plan to start. You CAN write and finish your novel in 2009.

Questions or extra thoughts? I’d love to hear them—post in the comments section below. And of course, I’d love to hear about your journey along the way to finishing your novel. You can contact me directly at https://www.jenniferlynking.com/ on the Contact page.

Godspeed!