Your Focus Needs More Focus

Well, Teachers Write! is moving on swimmingly, even when I’m just treading water. If you can even call what I’ve done this week treading water. I mean, I’ve been writing—as in working on my work-in-progress—but when I look at how much time has passed since school let out (four weeks), it feels like I’ve done squat. Boo!

I know many of writer friends would tell me not to beat myself up about it, that we’ve all had those times when we are less than focused. Like Mr. Han says to Dre Parker in the 2010 Karate Kid movie: “Your focus needs more focus.” Exactly. So how does one do that? How does one get “more focus”?

 

Yeah, well, the answer to that is quite obvious: stay off Facebook and the Internet. Watch less TV, right? Right. If only it were that easy…

I know there are Internet distraction blockers out there, but how effective are they really? I mean, if I can set the perimeters, I can certainly change them or cancel them altogether. Drat! That’s not helpful.

Sheesh. I guess that means I need some self-discipline. Some self-control.

Huh. It’s just a little self-control. I can do this, right? I can decide to stop lurking online and stop avoiding this writing thing. But why am I avoiding this writing thing in the first place? I love writing. There’s something about finding that perfect word and putting words together in a way that makes them dance across the page. I love that feeling.

I think I know part of the reason I’m dancing around this writing thing. Writing is hard, but in this particular case, it’s not for the reasons you think. Well, not completely. After reading Jo Knowles’s book Lessons from a Dead Girl last week, I had an epiphany. The subject matter of that book is hard to read at times. Heartbreaking, really. Can you imagine how hard it was for her to write words that break hearts?

I’m not saying my book will be as heart wrenching as Jo’s, but I’m tackling some sensitive issues as well—similar subject matter even. Which brings me back to this whole avoidance thing. Dodging my Muse doesn’t prevent my characters from whispering in my ears. And avoiding her (my Muse) only irritates her, and when she’s irritated, she drags my ass out of bed at 4:00 am or keeps me up until 3:00am. Either way, I surrender to her and write until my head hurts. Stupid, demanding, unyielding, brilliant, beautiful Muse.

You win.

It’s time to hit this thing head on and get it done. One scene at a time.

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#TeachersWrite! The First Week(ish)

Okay. We’ve been at this Teachers Write! thing for about ten days now, and I thought I’d bring you up to speed and let you know what I’ve been up to with my Work in Progress (WIP).

We’ve had writing prompts from Jo Knowles and quick writes from Kate Messner and guest authors as well. I have to admit, I haven’t written at every prompt and when I have, I have sometimes adapted it and written to suit the needs (demands really) of my WIP. However, EVERY prompt I have written to from one of Kate’s crew as proven to be right on target and has fallen in nicely somewhere in my novel.

In addition to writing prompts, the authors who have come on board have given excellent advice, answered multitudes of questions during a Q & A session on Kate’s blog, and have given us assignments to help us organize a WIP or get started on a new project. One such assignment was to write out some type of outline.

I am the self-proclaimed I-Hate-Outlines Queen, so I took the advice of my buddy Gae Polisner and created what she refers to as a “mini-manuscript” in which you create a document that chronicles your chapters with the first and last lines of each chapter, along with a few bullet points that sum things up.

What I find helpful about this format is getting the gist of each chapter without having to re-read the chapter to refresh my memory. This is super important for me because if I re-read what I’ve written, then I feel compelled to revise, revise, revise and I never get to the part where I add, add, add new chapters. In other words, I sort of end up spinning my wheels and don’t actually move forward toward the finish line (and publication).

Probably one of the most helpful things to me thus far, was combining yesterday’s quick write prompt with a blog post, written by Tamara Felsinger, which one of my fellow Teachers Write! colleagues posted on our Facebook group page pertaining to the main character’s personal agenda (which was pretty brilliant, btw).

Well, what resulted of this tweaking and joining of ideas was…well…an outline looking thingy. An EXTREMELY helpful (and quite possibly one of the most important things I’ve created in the process of writing this novel) outline looking thingy. I mean, who knew I’d end up creating an outline looking thingy and like it?? That Kate Messner and her crew are sneaky, tricky people whom I have quickly come to trust and appreciate in more ways than I thought possible. When my book is all set to publish one day, I’ll have to use up a whole page just to acknowledge them, I think.

And I will happily do so.

Teachers Write! Day One: We’re Off and Running!

Today marks the first official day of Teachers Write! I have visited the blogs of Kate Messner and our gracious guest author Jo Knowles. Kate offered words of wisdom regarding finding making time to write, and Jo offered us some encouraging words before giving us our writing prompt.

Kate says that finding time to write is pretty much a myth—you have to make time to write. I talked about this very thing a couple of posts ago. When I get really honest with myself—even with the demands of teaching and raising four kids, a husband, and two dogs—there really are enough hours in the day for me to carve out some writing time. I just have to choose to write instead of doing some of those other things that usurp my time (like all those NCIS marathons I LOVE to watch again and again and those Facebook and Twitter notifications that call to me like Sirens). Kate also helped me see that I also need to have an honest conversation with my family regarding my writing. Of course my family knows I’m working a novel and that I write blog posts, but I’m not sure they see me as a writer yet. My writer friends and I have talked about this ad nauseum, but don’t think I’ve ever really told my family how important writing is to me. Thanks, Kate!

After pondering and processing Kate’s words of wisdom, I went to visit Jo, who seemed to know exactly what I needed today with her words of wisdom, encouragement, and the writing prompt she gave us. I’m still trying to figure out exactly how she did that…  Anyway, the writing prompt was to write a sensory description of a kitchen from our childhood. This prompt transported me to my Grandma Tedder’s kitchen, which I spent quite a bit of time in while growing up. I see sunlight and bright yellow cabinets and Grandpa’s garden through the rear window. I smell fresh baked bread and coffee. I hear sizzling bacon and whispers of past conversations. But most of all, I feel love oozing from every nook, cranny, and crevice of that kitchen and it hugs me tight. Oh, how miss that kitchen. And I miss them.

Jo’s prompt did more than just transport me to Grandma’s kitchen, it was just what I needed to help me fill out a chapter I began a few months ago in the YA novel I’ve been working on for the past year. I couldn’t quite figure out the connective tissue between scenes, and that was SO frustrating! This prompt was EXACTLY what I needed to help me fix this, and I am so excited and relieved to feel a sense of accomplishment and forward motion. Thanks, Jo!

Teachers Write! Camp is off to a great start!

#TeachersWrite: The Best. Summer. Camp. EVER.

Greetings, Campers!! Well, I’m working reaaalllyyyy hard to take my own advice about getting off my butt and writing. Like Yoda said: “Try not. Do or do not, there is no try.” 

So. I am going to put my keyboard where my mouth is. I’ve been writing this week, not as much as I shoulda coulda woulda, but I’ve actually put words on paper. As in complete sentences and paragraphs! And that feels really good. I’ve also been talking shop this week with other writers on Twitter, Facebook, and right here on Micki’s Musings which has done wonders for me in terms of motivation and encouragement to get going and keep going.

Which brings me to something VERY exciting that came together this week as a result of a few casual conversations among some fellow teacher/writers I follow on Twitter. These teachers were talking about the very thing I was talking about in my previous post: finding more time to write and how our writing time as teachers always seems to get pushed off until those glorious months of summer.

Well, the fabulous Kate Messner, who is a well-established author of numerous books for kids, put some feelers out on Twitter to see if any of us teacher or librarian types (who also write) would be interested in participating in a virtual summer writing workshop. Several of us who follow Kate, enthusiastically said, “YES!!!!!” and off she went, planning away. She created this lovely little summer writing workshop she named #TeachersWrite.

Long story short, those of us who were interested took off with it, too. We retweeted on Twitter and shared links on Facebook. At last count, there were 570+ participants signed up. Kate was astonished. I was only a little surprised at that number, as I know there are many, many others out there like me who want to learn the secrets of balance. I will be sharing my progress on my current work in progress (WIP) as #TeachersWrite gets into full swing.

Why am I telling you this? I’m telling you this because there are LOTS of folks out there who, like me (and maybe even you), need a little nudge to get on the right writing track. I think it’s an amazing thing Kate is doing for us in helping us form our own writing communities and to help us become better writers and teachers of writing. I’m also sharing this with you because that’s what writers do: we support each other and promote each other. And I am, after all, a writer.

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