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5 things writers should not take into the New Year

It’s not only First Monday time again, when I open this blog to your questions about writing and publishing, it’s also the start of a New Year when many are making resolutions for how you want to be in 2014. Common ones are to be thinner, fitter, more successful and preferably richer than in the year gone by. As writers we may also resolve to get more writing done and set the bar higher in terms of what we expect of ourselves and our work.
All these are worthwhile goals. And as the saying goes, if you shoot for the moon and miss, you will still land among the stars. But while you’re shooting for the moon, consider 5 things you should NOT take into 2014.

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1. Unhelpful habits
Many writers “fuel” ourselves in ways that aren’t good for us. Chocolate, anyone? This year, resolve to change some of those habits for better ones that support you and your work. Before writing this, I headed for the kitchen for coffee and a home-made cookie. In my head I heard, unhelpful habit, and stopped to ask myself what besides a cookie would meet my needs, picking up a small bowl of grapes instead. I can also look at alternatives as creative fuel. Some writers use music, scented candles, a workspace set up a certain way, or playing a game or two to get themselves into the right frame of mind. As we move into 2014, what unhelpful habits can you switch for more helpful ones?

2. Procrastination
Depending on how long it goes on, procrastination can show itself as anything from a sudden need to clean out the refrigerator (in the domestic sense, rather than point 1 above), to full-on writer’s block when you can’t produce words at all. Start by asking yourself whether you’re distracted or blocked. When I find myself dodging a project, it’s almost always because it’s not ready to start yet. I either need more information – say about characters or story elements, or I’m trying to force the story to go in the wrong direction. Taking stock, doing some brainstorming with a supportive friend, or on paper; or filling in the research gaps often gets me going again. If you’re blocked because of fear – of not being good enough, or of looking foolish, for example – it helps to reread something you’ve already written to remind yourself of what you can achieve. If you’re a new writer, you might join a group or sign up for a workshop as a way to get over your fears in a helpful environment.

3. Tired ideas
If you’ve been struggling to write and don’t feel you’re making progress, use the new year to put away tired material. If you’re sick of it, readers are unlikely to be inspired, either. Try something new – a new style, format, genre – invent a new series character or world, and see where they lead. Freshen your approach and you’ll very likely recapture the excitement of writing as you go into 2014.

4. Negative self image
The nature of writing can lead us to question ourselves and even our sanity. Are we crazy spending time listening to voices in our heads, writing about imaginary people, and mentally living in made-up settings? But it’s not crazy, it’s what writers do. Then we share our stories with readers as our gift to the world. (See my previous blog on using your unique gifts.) We also ask ourselves why we think we’re good enough to follow in the steps of the great writers before us. I have no doubt they asked themselves the same thing. A healthy dose of uncertainty can be a spur to success, as long as it doesn’t overwhelm you.

5. Over-confidence
This may seem to contradict point 4, but it doesn’t. As I mentioned, having a healthy dose of uncertainty is good, whatever we want to achieve. It keeps us striving to do better, to prove that one story or one book wasn’t a fluke. Writing anything can seem like a miracle – and it is! But we must be able to step back from the work and see its flaws as well as its magic. Both are usually in the writing you’ve just completed. Setting it aside for a while and starting something new can restore your objectivity. In writing as well as in life, we need a balance between under and over-confidence, to achieve our best.

As a writer, what don’t you want to take into 2014? Share your experiences in the comment box below. I regret they must be moderated to avoid rudeness and spam. To have your comment appear right away, click on “sign me up” at lower right. I don’t share your email details with anyone.
Happy New Year and may your words flow freely,

Valerie

http://www.valerieparv.com
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on Twitter @ValerieParv and Facebook
Read some reviews of Valerie’s novel, Birthright, at http://www.valerieparv.com/birthright.html

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Three things writers tell ourselves. Only one is true.

We writers are very good at spinning yarns – that’s why we’re writers. But we are also very good at telling ourselves stories. Lies if you like. The trouble is when we start believing them. Here are three I’ve heard, and told myself, countless times. Can you spot the one truth?

1. I don’t need to write my idea down. I’ll remember it in the morning.

This is a big one, and no, you won’t remember in the morning. All you will remember is that you had a brilliant idea. If you’re lucky, you may remember enough fragments to sort of recapture the idea. But you will always know there was more. If only you’d made the effort to scribble down a few notes, dictated your thoughts into a recording device, or left yourself a voice message as a reminder, you’d be on your way. The moments directly before and after sleep are known to produce brainwaves associated with creativity. Unfortunately, they are also least connected to short-term memory, which is why this problem occurs. Capture the lightning. Make notes. Your brain isn’t hard-wired to remember your brilliant ideas in these brief but fertile moments.

2. I won’t write today. I can catch up tomorrow.

You know this for a lie the moment you read it. We all do. Whether your target daily word count is five hundred words or five thousand (yes, these freaks of nature do exist), you’re wise to try to write them, even if you think they suck pondwater.  Kate Grenville told me she has a sign over her desk saying, “It can all be fixed tomorrow.” Another amazing writer, Nora Roberts,  said at an Australian writing conference, “You can fix a bad page, you can’t fix a blank page.” Skipping a day because of an emergency is one thing. Skipping because you don’t feel like writing is dangerous. One day can easily become many, until you have to question how much you really want to write.

3. I’ll think of a better ending later

Strangely, this isn’t a lie. Sometimes the only way to solve a writing challenge is to write your way through it. When writing my screenplay recently, I knew what I wanted to have happen at the climactic scene. What I didn’t know was how the scene would go. I wrote a treatment (synopsis) for the producer and told him that the scene would change. When I got there, it took me several long nights of brainstorming on paper to resolve the problem. What if? Why would she…? Could she do that? What if he…? until I had the breakthrough I needed. The result was a nifty twist I couldn’t have foreseen at the start, because I hadn’t lived in my characters’ world for long enough.

“If you build it, they will come” is often true of writing. Capture your ideas. Commit to showing up most days and meeting your chosen word count. Your reward will be a world that comes to life for you and your readers.

Valerie

http://www.valerieparv.com

on Twitter @valerieparv and Facebook

now writing for Living Magazine http://www.livingmagazine.com.au

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