I Do Declare: New Year’s Eve needs to happen more often because I have resolutions to make

I love New Year’s Eve. All that freshness and newness and potential of it all. You get to put away the old year – and won’t we be so happy to do that to this year? – and embrace the new year.

You can throw your arms around the upcoming 12 months and start afresh. The new year is like a big, wrapped box waiting to be opened. It holds a glimmer of excitement, a whisper of something better to come. Possibilities. A shiny new world is tucked inside that word.

Here at the last day of August, this is my New Year’s Eve.

I’ve always felt that September is when the new year happens. School starts. After the lazy meandering of summer, September brings routine and structure. And office supplies! Packs of paper, sticky notes, new notebooks, freshly sharpened pencils, pens in a variety of colors.

It’s a checklist time of year – my idea of heaven – which means things are getting real. Only X number of days until Halloween, until Thanksgiving, until Christmas. No time to waste. To-do lists abound.

So tonight is my New Year’s Eve. Setting resolutions, dining on steak and lobster, popping a bottle of champagne, setting off fireworks at midnight. Just kidding. I won’t go that far. Supper will be the usual fare and fireworks will not be happening (no sense in alarming the neighbors, who might not understand my moving NYE around on the calendar).

But there will be resolutions. And bubbly, probably.

Resolutions are the best part of New Year’s Eve. Intention takes center stage. Resolutions are the great do-over, and for one night at least, you get to feel like a master planner.

Most standard resolutions are about taking better care of yourself or improving yourself in some way:

  • Quit smoking.
  • Eat healthier.
  • Exercise more.
  • Get organized.
  • Save money.

Writer resolutions are different. Sure, we could apply the list above and see some progress and be better people for it, but we writers tend to have a different focus. And a different focus begets different goals.

Here are some resolutions I’ve made in the past. Feel free to adopt for your use.

  • Get organized. By which I mean meet those deadlines – even those that are self-imposed – and remember that you’re on the clock. Yes, it’s your clock, but that doesn’t mean you can fritter away your time. People are waiting to read your work. Getting organized also means avoiding rabbit holes, or at least knowing how to jump back up out of them quickly. When you need to do some research, set a timer. When it dings, close out Google.
  • Feed yourself. Not just your body but your mind. Nourish your thoughts with prose and poetry. If you’re a screenwriter, read as many scripts as you can. If you’re a novelist, dig into books. Read everything you can get your hands on, good or bad. (Yes, the bad too. You need to be able to spot bad writing so you can do better.)
  • Seek peace with your enemies – but make use of the anger. Of course it’s important to let bygones be bygones and forgive those who’ve wronged you. But while you’re working on your peacemaking skills, why not pour all those feelings into your work-in-progress? Give one or more of your characters the same traits as your foes and have at it. Here’s your chance to blast them into next week. (p.s. I’d advise against giving your characters the same names as your real-life foes. You don’t want to spend your future royalties in legal battles over libel.)
  • Use dysfunction to your advantage. Got weird relatives? Of course you do. (Who doesn’t?) Great! You’ve got a ready-made cast of characters. Pull some of that craziness into your work-in-progress. Remember: Normal is  boring. Nobody wants to read about normal. Mentally re-label your family gatherings “Dysfunction Junction” and get on that train. If you’re in therapy, take copious notes. Ask questions like, “What if I didn’t work on these issues? What would that lead to?”
  • Connect with others. Unless you’re collaborating with a cowriter, writing can be a solitary endeavor. It’s important to avert the isolation that comes with it. Get out and about. Do lunch with a friend. At a bare minimum, go walk around a mall or museum or park and be a people-watcher. Observe how they move and what they’re wearing and how they talk. Listen in on their conversations if you can. You need these details for your work.

These resolutions may be a bit on the atypical side, but they’re doable – and you’re more likely to keep at it than a gym membership.

Now I need to set the timer and go look up the words to “Auld Lang Syne.”

Happy New Year!

Best proofreader EVER

I came across @nyttypos from these two articles – here and here – and now I’m wondering where he’s been all my life.

A self-described “appellate lawyer and persnickety dude,” he’s delightfully witty and scathing* in his tweets – a college-level course in grammar.

Follow and learn!

*Normally I wouldn’t use “scathing” to describe something positive. However, in the case of proper grammar, spelling, and punctuation, scathing is appropriate. There are too many means of checking your writing to ever claim ignorance.

I Do Declare: The most important question in novel writing is “What if?”

Ever get stuck when you’re in the middle of writing your novel? Or chase the beginning like a merry-go-round you’re not sure how to jump on? Or have entire construction crews go on strike when you’re world-building?

Yeah, same here.

I’ve found the best way to break free of all that and get on with the business of actually writing the book is to pose one basic question:

What if?

Those two words have power. They can unlock a sticky plot or generate nuance or establish the entire universe of your work – if you take time to answer the question honestly.

Example: See this photo of an alley? It looks interesting, maybe a little mysterious. Something about the curve at the end is intriguing.

And then I get started with what if.

What if this alley was built in the late 1700s and there have been stories around town about it being haunted? And what if several people – at least a dozen since 1970 – have disappeared walking down it? And what if a reporter starting investigating the disappearances and experienced a time-slip of his own? What if he ran into a guy who looked like a pirate and at first he thought the guy was dressed up to be in a play but something about him looked different. And what if the reporter saw the guy vanish right in front of him? And then what if he went back to tell his editor about it and the editor killed the story and then the reporter found out that the editor’s first wife was one of those who disappeared?

See? A few what-ifs and I’m already into the story.

It may seem basic (it actually is … that’s the beauty of it), but sometimes the rudimentary tools are what you need to get the work done. This elementary device has several benefits:

  • What if gives your imagination permission to play. Asking what if opens up a range of possibilities, and you can have fun with them. Go along for the ride. Get as serious or as silly as you like. This might be the moment you push your story to the edge – or over it, if that’s where it needs to go.
  • You don’t have to commit to what if. Think of it as a sandbox or a testing ground. You don’t like where your thoughts took you? Ask it again and add other details. See where that takes you. Keep asking until you find a path that feels right. Or discard all of the scenarios and go back to square one. It might look different now.
  • You can ask what if as many times as you like. It’s not a one-time thing. As with my example above, which began as a simple detective story, you can what if yourself into a different (and hopefully richer) story or even into a whole other genre.

Give it a shot next time you’re stuck. Who knows, it might charge up your work. And what if it does? Where to then?

~ ~ ~

By the way, there are many fine writing helps out there (and you can find some of them on my I’m a Fan page, which I add to weekly) that tout effective techniques, solid advice, explanations of rules – including when to break them – and how to get past writer’s block if you’re ever so afflicted. They’re all good resources. I encourage you to use them.

I Do Declare: The clock is a fierce opponent

I get up every morning, don my battle gear, and go to war … with the clock.

The battles I fight, the struggles I face, and the campaigns I map out are all about choosing the best time of day to get things done.

My high energy time is in the morning. That being the case, logic would dictate that I should be doing the most creative things at that time.

But some days logic takes a sharp right turn, and the to-do list elbows its way to the forefront. I tell myself I’ll just get these couple of things out of the way so I can focus the rest of the day on my passion projects.

You know how that ends.

The tasks take up a chunk of time – or worse, they deplete what energy I had, and I’m left running on empty when I do get to the passion projects.

The thing is, those times when I do start the day with one of my passion projects, I don’t want to stop. I get in the middle of it, become mesmerized and focused and just want to be there all day.

That’s no surprise: It’s my passion, it’s a creative endeavor, it feeds me and it gives me more energy. Who doesn’t want to dwell in that place?

And yet, there’s something in the back of my mind that worries that if I get too involved with a creative project right away, it’ll be hard to get to the tasks I have to get done (the routine, the gig assignments, the do-it-or-else tasks, you know what I’m talking about) – or worse, I’ll neglect them or be late completing them, then I’ll have to scramble to catch up.

It’s not just a what-comes-first issue. I battle with squeezing in creative work on the checklist, in between other must-do work. My experience has been that piecemealing creativity is not optimal.

And yet, what if piecemeal is the only way I’ll get everything done?

This war I wage over the clock is ongoing, and moments when I can “stand down” are rare.

Are there any creativity warriors out there who can share their battle stories? I’d like to hear about some campaigns that were won or weaponry that helped turn the tide.

What can you accomplish in 10 minutes? More than you think!

If you find yourself crunched for time amid your work-in-progress, I highly recommend 10 Minute Novelists.

The header on the site says, “Recognized by Writer’s Digest List of 101 Top Websites in 2016, 2018 & 2019,” and there’s good reason why. The site includes informative blog posts, writing challenges, and perhaps most important, a community of like-minded people – i.e., time-crunched writers.

It was started by Katharine Grubb back in 2006, and … well, she tells the story best here.

The community “gathers” in a Facebook group (check it out here). I joined many years ago, and it’s still one of my favorite groups. Like many Facebook groups, there are strict rules (e.g., no self-promotions, membership restricted to individuals, professional courtesy maintained, etc.), which keeps the group – now up to 15,000+ members – running smoothly.

The Facebook group includes a Question of the Day, Monday Blogs (where you can share the latest post of your blog if you have one), Buddy Day Tuesdays (where you can find help, such as beta readers), and Author Happiness Wednesday (where you can share whatever good is happening in your world).

The posts from members, usually regarding a particular problem the writer is having with a work-in-progress, are often valuable lessons and sometimes entertaining.