Author Insights: 7 Tips From a First-Time Novelist (+ an Autographed Book Giveaway!)

Happy New Year, writers!

We’re kicking off a new year here at Called to Write with a new author insights series featuring book giveaways. I’ll be introducing you to writers who’ve taken their writing all the way to the finish line of publication, and they’ll be sharing their “lessons learned” stories with you. There’s nothing quite like learning from a writer who has made to the other side.

Plus, if you leave a comment at the end of the post before Tuesday, January 17th, you’ll be entered to win an autographed copy of the author’s book in a random drawing. (You must be located in the United States to win.)

Meet Donna Baier Stein, author of The Silver Baron’s Wife

Let me introduce you to Donna Baier Stein. Donna was a member of my Called to Write Coaching Circle in 2012 when she was working on establishing a writing habit to help her complete her first book. And the proof is in the pudding, because, ta-da, her book The Silver Baron’s Wife came out in the fall of 2016. So exciting! 

I asked Donna to share her greatest insights from writing the novel.

Seven Tips From First-Time Novelist Donna Baier Stein

Donna Baier SteinI chose the historical figure of Baby Doe Tabor as the main character of my first novel thinking her fascinating, event-filled, roller coaster life provided its own ready-made plot. I’d been writing stories and knew that my strength was language, not narrative structure. I’d even spent time in two radically different writing groups—one focused on literary fiction (heavy on characterization and language) and one focused on more plot-oriented genre fiction. I, rather arrogantly it turns out, preferred the literary focus. I was definitely a pantser rather than a plotter.

So I decided to write about a woman whose life story had already been the subject of an American opera – The Ballad of Baby Doe – and several other books. There were so many events to choose from her life: her work in the silver mines of Colorado and first marriage to a philandering opium addict, a second marriage to a man worth $24 million when they married at the Willard Hotel in Washington, DC, with President Chester Arthur in attendance, her years writing down her dreams and marking visitations of spirits on her wall calendar at the Matchless Mine in Leadville. All I had to do was write what had happened in Baby Doe (Lizzie’s) life, I mistakenly thought, and voilà, I’d have a novel.

So I started my research. I researched for years, taking occasional stabs at writing early chapters. But the writing of the novel was far less easy than I’d naively hoped it might be. Here’s what I learned from my mistakes:

  1. A writer can do too much research. I had boxes of hard copy files and dozens of folders on my computer. And in early drafts, I put far too much emphasis on describing the physical details of clothing, furniture, food of the era. I’d say “Bluchers” when saying “boots” would have sufficed, for instance. It was only in the final drafts that I realized I could focus only on the items that the characters came into direct contact with… and see them as they would see them, not as if they were described in a museum catalog.
  2. Narrative arc is key. I discarded many early chapters about Lizzie’s childhood because they didn’t serve to tell the story I ultimately wanted to tell. I had to choose certain episodes of her life, ignore others, and create new ones in order to show the change in Lizzie I wanted to reveal. The novel, unlike a biography, wasn’t just about re-telling Lizzie’s life. Its purpose was to reveal a theme and a transformation in my main character.
  3. When writing dialogue, be inside your characters. At first, I felt intimidated by them. How could I talk like a 19th century woman talked? I did find some historically current slang phrases to toss in, but mostly I wrote dialogue as I heard Lizzie and other characters saying it in my head.
  4. Be inside your characters as they move through a room, too. It was like being an actress on a stage. Instead of seeing Lizzie from an outside view camera, I had to metaphorically go inside her. See what she would notice in the rundown mining cabin in Dogwood or the extravagant villa in Denver. And feel what she might have felt living in such radically different environments.
  5. For me, writing in first person really helped me inhabit my main character. An agent once told me that third person limited narratives were easiest to sell. I rewrote the book that way and though it came close, it didn’t sell on that go-round. I went back to the first person voice I felt most comfortable writing in, and I’m happy with the result. That was the way I wanted to tell Lizzie’s story from the beginning.
  6. It’s hard, though certainly not impossible, to give adequate attention to every phase of someone’s entire life. The next novel I write will focus on a much shorter time frame than 81 years.
  7. Don’t be obsessive about rewriting until you’ve got your story down. I must have rewritten the first pages of the novel fifty times. I thought, mistakenly, that I had to have it exactly right before moving forward. This is not the way to get a novel written.

I’ve already started writing a new novel, and I’m grateful to have the first under my belt. I’m sure I’ll learn new lessons this time, too!

About The Silver Baron’s Wife

silver-barons-wifeKirkus Reviews called the The Silver Baron’s Wife “an artistic, sympathetic imagining of the life of a 19th-century woman who made headlines for all the wrong reasons.” Foreword Reviews gave it five stars and said, “A unique portrait of a time and place populated by fearless people, this reimagination of an uncommon woman is powerful.”

The Silver Baron’s Wife is available on:

About Donna

Donna Baier SteinDonna Baier Stein is the author of The Silver Baron’s Wife (PEN/New England Discovery Award), Sympathetic People (Iowa Fiction Award Finalist), and Sometimes You Sense the Difference.

She founded and publishes Tiferet Journal. She has received a Scholarship from Bread Loaf, a Fellowship from the Johns Hopkins University Writing Seminars, three Pushcart nominations, and prizes from the Allen Ginsberg Awards and elsewhere. Her writing has appeared in Writer’s Digest, Virginia Quarterly Review, New York Quarterly, Prairie Schooner, and many other journals and anthologies.

She is currently completing a new collection of stories based on Thomas Hart Benton lithographs. You can find Donna online at www.donnabaierstein.com.

Enter to Win a Copy of The Silver Baron’s Wife!

Donna has graciously agreed to give away 3 autographed copies of her book to my readers. Leave a comment on the blog about one of your own writing lessons or something you learned from Donna’s insights before Tuesday, January 17th at 5 p.m. Pacific Time and you’ll be entered in the random drawing. You must be located in the United States to win.

 

Armchair by Jez Timms

This Writer’s Life: A San Franciscan Middle Grade Novelist Breaks Down the Work Into Manageable Chunks

Today we’re continuing my “This Writer’s Life” series, in which you get to meet some of my Called to Write Coaching Circle members and take a look inside their writing lives. If you’re just joining us, I encourage you to also check out the pieces about Rebecca, Frani, and Rick.

Today we’re joined by Foenix Ryder, a writer who found her home in Middle Grade fiction.

Meet Foenix Ryder: A San Franciscan Film Freelancer and Middle Grade Novelist

I’ve known Foenix for almost two years now. It’s been such treat to have her participating in the Circle. She’s the kind of writer whose enthusiasm, energy, and positivity is always present, even when the challenges of writing rear up. I love her determination and passion for her writing, and I’m thrilled to be helping her get her words out into the world.

Not only do we work together in the Circle, but I also have the pleasure of coaching Foenix around building her writer’s platform, something I’ll be offering in 2017 to other writers as well. I asked Foenix to tell us more about her writing and what she’s learned over the last several years — including how to break down the overwhelming tasks of a major writing project.

foenix-ryderWhat kind of writing do you do, and where are you in your writing process?

I love Middle Grade and Young Adult stories whether they’re action, adventure, fantasy, coming of age or anything else in those genres. Naturally, that’s what I’m drawn to write: Stories where kids and teens can get immersed and relate — and hopefully be inspired and encouraged when they read. 

Right now I’m on the verge of starting the third draft of my second novel. After struggling for a few weeks with a major element in my story, I realized I needed to pause to study the conventions and expectations of fantasy stories so I can further develop the world I’ve created and the rules within it.

In some ways it feels like I’m “taking a vacation” from my story and avoiding the work. But I’m reminding myself that I am and always will be developing as a writer. The stepping away to learn more about my genre and craft will only empower me to tell the best story I can. And that’s what we are all here to do.

How has your writing practice changed since you’ve been in the Circle?

Oh wow… it’s changed immensely! Before the Circle, over the course of six years, I wrote and revised my first novel. It actually still needs a major overhaul, but it was written in bits and pieces, from different places in the story, and most days it felt like I was struggling just to get words on the page.

Since joining the circle in March 2015, where I was instantly welcomed into a warm community of other writers, my practice has become almost daily. Writing my second novel while in the Circle, I feel like I finally have a rhythm. I create a daily goal, sit down and write, and then check in on the Circle site. I feel grounded and supported by my group every single day, which helped me write the first draft of my second novel in 7 months!

That’s not to say there haven’t been moments when I struggled, but now I have a space with other writers where I can voice my challenges and get encouragement. That helps keep the excitement going when things are great or get it going again when things are difficult.

I also love going to the daily writing sprints where I can jump online, say briefly what I’ll be working on, and completely focus on what I’m working on for one hour. The sprints have created a foundation for me to begin each day while also giving me a moment to think about what I would like to accomplish before diving into the writing.

What have you learned about yourself as a writer ?

I have learned so much over the past seven years I’ve been writing. For instance, I’ve learned that I do my best writing in the morning, and ideally write from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. each day.

I’ve also learned to create a timeline/calendar for myself at the beginning of each draft, section, or when I’m starting something new to help me stay on track. It helps me see how much time I need to accomplish my goal and what I need to get done each day. I have also learned to let go of worrying if someone is going to like my stories or that I don’t write like other writers that I admire. I can only tell my stories as best as I can. And it is my duty to write these stories.

And something huge I am just starting to take in is that I have a tendency to see a project in its enormity and can get overwhelmed thinking I need to get it all done TODAY! But Jenna has helped me see the impossibility of that and instead break things down into much smaller chunks in order to achieve something in a realistic way. This has taken so much stress off of me while helping me accomplish small tasks that add up to a larger piece of the storytelling puzzle.

How much do you write, and where do you typically write?

I have a unique life as a freelancer in the film industry where I sometimes have 12-hour plus days for a few weeks and then I have a chunk of time off. When I’m off, I have time to dive into my writing and be fully present. So when I’m not immersed in “work work” I typically write four hours a day, Monday through Friday. I find it’s the perfect amount of time for me — anything past 4 hours, I just start to fizzle out.

I write in an artist’s studio in the Mission in San Francisco. It’s a private room I share with another artist inside a building where all types of artists have spaces. My half of the room is like a small apartment with a cozy couch, a soft blanket, some china lanterns, and a cool pirate ship kite I recently bought on the beach in Bali.

In order to get into my writing “dreamspace,” I must be curled up into a ball, legs pulled to my chest, body hunched over, blanket around me, with my headphones on playing the constant rumble and downpour of “Thunderstorms.” This allows me to tune everything out except the adventure movie I see inside my head while writing by hand as fast as I possibly can.

What does a successful writing day look like for you?

A successful writing day is one where I have either gotten through the section I wanted to get through, have worked out some kind of problem in my story, or where I wrote so fast, I felt energy flowing through me, writing while the story just poured from me. Those days, I walk away feeling vibrant and excited and truly feel like “I want to live that adventure!”

What’s next for you with your writing?

I’m planning to finish my novel mid-2017 and submit my manuscript to agents. Between drafts, I’ve been writing a short story which I’ll revise a few more times and submit to magazines for publication. I feel writing short stories is valuable for me in two ways: First, I get new ideas often and want to get them out into the world so this gives me an outlet for writing something in a shorter timeframe, and second, getting a few short stories published will help me build a brand by getting my stories in front of people who would enjoy reading them.

Also! I’m working regularly with Jenna to create my website and writing platform, building my writing brand around my pen name, Foenix Ryder. Having a pen name helps me maintain the energy I feel when writing my stories.

Circle Profile

foenix-ryder

Name: Foenix Ryder
Roles: Novelist, short story writer, screenwriter, film industry freelancer
Location: San Francisco, California
Genre: Middle Grade & Young Adult Fantasy
Current writing goal: 1) Finish 3rd draft of my current novel by February 2017, 2) Build my writer platform including developing and launching my website by January 2017.
Biggest writing challenge: Working myself out of the stressful mind-numbing boxes of what I “don’t know” about my story.
Biggest writing ah-ha: When it was pointed out to me that I write Middle Grade fiction, it helped me understand my writing better and also see that there is a place for the stories I love to tell and that people of all ages can enjoy them.
Go-to writing platform: Writing by hand, Scrivener
Favorite writing spot: My super cozy writing studio that has a comfy couch and a warm softy blanket.

Bio: Foenix Ryder is a Middle Grade and Young Adult storyteller based in San Francisco, California who tells fantastical stories and lives brave adventures. Foenix’s stories explore diversity, confidence, and self-discovery while taking readers on an action-packed ride. 

diamonds

Join the Circle: Get Your Words Into the World

Join the Writer's CircleJoin us in the Circle and get daily accountability and support to make your writing happen. With our special end of the year savings, you can get a whole year in the Circle for less than $100 per session.

It’s the perfect time to join us — our next session begins on Monday, January 2nd so you can start off the new year “write”!

Registration closes on Thursday, December 29th. Find out more and join the Circle here.

 

Mountain Sunrise

This Writer’s Life: A Swedish CIO Writes His Historical Thriller at Dawn

For your Christmas reading pleasure, today we’re continuing my “This Writer’s Life” series, in which you get to meet some of my Called to Write Coaching Circle members and take a look inside their writing lives.

Hopefully the holiday fervor has died down for you now, if you celebrate Christmas, and you’ll have a few quiet minutes to read about this inspiring writer, Rick, a Swedish businessman and historical thriller writer who recently completed a major novel revision … in the dawn hours. 

Meet Rikard Bergquist: A Swedish CIO and Historical Thriller Writer

Rikard, whom we fondly call “Rick,” has been with the Circle since 2012. Rick is a constant with our group — always writing, never giving up, even through the ups and downs of a major novel revision. He’s just finished his 8th revision and is getting ready to submit his novel to agents after getting some final feedback from his story coach.

You may remember Rick from an earlier guest post when he finished the first draft of his novel after jump-starting his writing habit with five minutes of daily writing. When he joined us he lived in Sweden, but has now moved to Reno, Nevada, where he is working as the CIO of a Swedish startup, raising his family, and writing.

To say that I am gratified by and proud of his achievement is an understatement. Having written alongside Rick for these last four years has been a true gift. It’s so easy when we see people reaching major milestones like this and to compare ourselves to them. But when we are right there with them in the trenches, seeing all the challenges, the highs, and the lows, it’s just a giant celebration for all of us to see him being ready to start submitting his completed manuscript to agents.

Rikard-BergquistWhat kind of writing do you do, and where are you in your process?

When I write it’s mainly fiction but I also do business plans, research grants and business presentations. However, when I refer to writing it is my creative endeavors that I think of. Right now I’m putting the final touches to an historical thriller set in Sweden in the 16th century I’ve been working on for the last five years. I used Storyfix, The Story Grid, and the services of a professional reader in my revision process.

How has your writing practice changed since you joined the Circle?

The Circle taught me about the importance of process and how you can trust that process even when you don’t know where you are or where you’re going with your writing. Keep on writing and roll with resistance. Nearing the finishing of my manuscript I’ve been close to calling it quits a couple of times, but the Circle has gently nudged me forward and pulled me back in. This last year it’s been my happy place when I’ve struggled with the writing. I also feel that Jenna has a set of very hands-on tools to enable me to see through the despair for what it is, handle my resistance, and keep me on track.

What have you learned about yourself as a writer?

Writing is a lonely business and I need my efforts to be seen. Even if not one single person reads my novel, I need someone to share the ups and downs of getting it done with. The Circle provides just that perfect environment of learning about yourself in likeminded company. I’ve learned that writing for just five minutes in a day, isn’t so much about the progress that day, as it is about overcoming the resistance. That is the real achievement and that positive feeling feeds on itself until you’re suddenly writing two hours a day. That’s magic.

Where do you typically write?

I have several places I write in. I feel most comfortable in the places where I can feel undisturbed. I need to be able to shut the world out and go inside of myself. That can be in a café, at my desk a couple of hours before everyone arrives at work, or in the study at home when it’s empty. For some reason I tend to go to busy cafés, where I can look up now and then, and remember that there’s another world waiting for me out there when I’m done.

What does a successful writing day look like for you?

I like to start early, early — preferably in the dark — and write through dawn. Get my hours in before the rest of the world wakes up. Spending the first hours of the day on writing, gives my a sense of accomplishment and I can hit the rest of the day with a smile on my face. I feel like I’ve put what’s most important to me first.

What’s next for you with your writing?

I’m currently outlining part two in my historical trilogy and I hope to have a first draft ready in six months. The big challenge will be going back to first draft mode, after being in the finishing touches phase for the last year. It won’t be long before I miss having a full chapter to revise instead of a empty page to fill. I hope the Circle is ready to roll with my ups and downs once again. (We are, Rick!)

Circle Profile

Rikard-BergquistName: Rikard Bergquist
Roles: Writer, CIO in the healthcare industry, father of two girls, skier, hiker.
Location: Reno, Nevada
Genre: Historical thrillers
Current writing goal: Finish first draft of second book in a trilogy before July 2017
Biggest writing challenge: Not falling into a chasm of despair by looking at how far I am from my goal
Biggest writing ah-ha: Stay connected every day with your writing, even for five minutes, this will keep your subconscious in gear to write your story for you.
Go-to writing platform: Scrivener, Word
Favorite writing spot: Early morning, with a coffee, at a back table in a café

Bio: Rikard Bergquist is a historical fiction novelist from Sweden living in Reno, Nevada, who writes in the mornings and works as CIO for a healthcare start-up in the day. He loves the outdoor life and snow of the Sierra, where he fills his creative well skiing and hiking together with his wife and two girls.

diamonds

Join the Circle: Get Your Words Into the World

Join the Writer's CircleJoin us in the Circle and get daily accountability and support to make your writing happen. With our special end of the year savings, you can get a whole year in the Circle for less than $100 per session.

It’s the perfect time to join us — our next session begins on Monday, January 2nd so you can start off the new year “write”!

Registration closes on Thursday, December 29th. Find out more and join the Circle here.

 

Laguna Madre by eutrophication&hypoxia

This Writer’s Life: A Texas Psychotherapist Revamps Her Life to Write

Today we’re continuing my “This Writer’s Life” series, in which you get to meet some of my Called to Write Coaching Circle members and take a look inside their writing lives. Next up is Frani, an action-adventure novelist who joined the Circle in June of 2015.

Meet Frani Bradley: Psychotherapist and Action-Adventure Novelist

Frani is a psychotherapist who lives in Texas, and has impressed me with her dedication to her writing in the time I’ve known her. She leaves no stone unturned when it comes to her writing, getting out of her own way, and honing her craft, and she recently undertook a massive life redesign in order to make more time for her writing.

I invited Frani to tell us more about her writing project and how she has created more space by overhauling her life, work, and even her living situation (including a Great Dane!).

frani-bradleyWhat kind of writing do you do, and where are you in your process?

I am working on the second in an action-adventure novel series.

Right now I’m waiting for beta readers to finish reading my first novel and entering it into writing contests.

Soon I’ll be studying the feedback they give me, and begin the work of incorporating what I want to use.

How has your writing practice changed since you joined the Circle?

I never had a consistent writing habit before I joined the Circle. Before joining the Circle, I had a consistent daily habit of guilt and regret about not writing. Now, most days I feel very good about keeping my daily habit of writing.

What have you learned about yourself as a writer?

I often wondered if I just liked the idea of writing and would never really finish anything, but in the Circle I learned that I am a writer, someone capable of finishing a novel. I owe this to the support of the Circle. Completing my first novel is the manifestation of a dream I’ve held since I was five years old. I told my grandmother a story, and she wrote it down. It was about a witch who rode a hula hoop rather than a broom. My grandmother said, “Francie, you are a wonderful story teller. Someday you will write a book.” She was right.

There are so many levels of happiness and contentment that I have now, seeing my novel in hard copy ready for beta readers. I’m convinced this would never have happened without our group and you, Jenna. So you have literally allowed a life long dream come true. Thank you!

Where do you typically write?

I usually write at my desk at home. Now and then, at a coffee shop with a friend. I also work with my editor online. We collaborate across the internet in real time and over the phone when we’re working together on the novel.

What does a successful writing day look like for you?

A successful writing day for me looks like putting in at least two hours of writing time on the suggestions beta readers have made on my first novel, working on my second novel, and studying a book on the craft of writing or doing research. I feel good when I spend at least two hours involved in something writing related.

How have you shifted your life to make more space for writing?

I’m right in the messy middle of changing my life. Over the last three months, working toward the goal of creating more time and mental energy for writing, I have made an effort to streamline my life. In doing so, temporarily I hope, I’ve created more chaos and extra time and energy drains. Things are winding down now, so I’m beginning to get my sense of humor back about all that has happened. Also, a glimmer of hope has returned, that it’s not been madness to try this. I am beginning to see that my writing life could be as I envisioned it in the New Year. 

I started by closing my office, where I have had a psychotherapy private practice for nearly twenty years. I opened a home office on October 1st. Moving the furniture, changing my address with managed care companies, deciding suddenly I needed to go paperless, adjusting clients to a new meeting space, and all the many boring details of change have snowballed to create extra work. Meanwhile, my home office needed a new driveway and several other changes to create a good space at home for seeing clients.

I also rented the larger home on my two-acre property to new renters and found myself embroiled in figuring out how to successfully house their large Great Dane in a way that worked for all of us (especially me, at night!).

So needless to say, it’s been a bigger project than I’d envisioned. :)

It is December, and seems like much longer than three months since I began the journey of making my life simpler. That sentence really did make me laugh. I am feeling excited right now about how I see things shaping up. My doubts and regrets about starting this are disappearing, and I’m seeing a new writing life forming in 2017. Maybe it’s true that “change is messy.” It’s sure been true for me. In the same moment, I hear the saying, “no guts, no glory” and get happy butterflies.

I’m feeling something wonderful out there with my writing waiting for me to step into it. I can’t wait!

What’s next for you with your writing?

I plan to continue working on suggestions from beta readers for my first novel, entering it in writing contests, and working on my second novel.

Circle Profile

frani-bradley

Name: Frani Bradley
Roles: Psychotherapist, Novelist
Location: Corpus Christi, Texas
Genre: Action Adventure
Current writing goal: 1) Incorporate the suggestions of five beta readers into my 1st novel by April 15th and submit to contests, 2) Complete Outline of 2nd novel by January 31st, 3) Complete first draft of 2nd novel by June 1st.
Biggest writing challenge: Keeping boundaries and commitments in regards to writing time
Biggest writing ah-ha: Two people I trust to give honest feedback have read my novel and enjoyed it as a good read. My ah-ha is that I have a novel that two people have enjoyed. It’s enough to keep me going a long, long time.
Go-to writing platform: The cloud version of Pages for collaborating with my editor.
Favorite writing spot: In my living room, looking out over an inlet of the Laguna Madre, in the company of my dog and the large water birds in the distance.

Bio: Frani Bradley is an action-adventure novelist based in Texas who writes alongside running her home-based psychotherapy practice. She’s a passionate animal lover and has dedicated herself to bringing the spirit of adventure, respect for animals, and spiritual inspiration to her stories. 

diamonds

Join the Circle: Get Your Words Into the World

Join the Writer's CircleJoin us in the Circle and get daily accountability and support to make your writing happen. With our special end of the year savings, you can get a whole year in the Circle for less than $100 per session.

It’s the perfect time to join us — our next session begins on Monday, January 2nd so you can start off the new year “write”!

Registration closes on Thursday, December 29th. Find out more and join the Circle here.

 

Laguna Madre featured image by eutrophication&hypoxia and used under a creative commons license.

 

 

This Writer’s Life: A Berkeley Mama Writes a Historical Fiction Trilogy in 15 to 60 Minutes a Day

It’s December, the end of the year. In a continuation of my goal to help you Start 2017 Off Write, I thought you might like to meet some of my Called to Write Coaching Circle members and get a look inside their writing lives. We’ll kick off this series with Rebecca Brams, a local Berkeley writer and longtime Circle member.

Meet Rebecca Brams: Mama, Grant Writer, & Novelist

Rebecca is a Berkeley mom of two boys (we have both of those in common!) and she’s writing a novel alongside parenting and the grant writing work she does. She has been a Circle member for three years. I invited Rebecca to tell us more about her writing and her writing life. 

rebecca-bramsWhat kind of writing do you do, and where are you in your process?

I do several different types of writing, including grant writing for non-profit clients, personal essay, short fiction and blog. I mainly use the Writer’s Circle for my novel work — I’m writing a trilogy of historical fiction novels set during the Inca Empire, in what is today Peru. Since I joined the Writer’s Circle three years ago, I’ve written a draft of the first book in the trilogy and put it through a story analysis process including reverse outlining and mapping. I used two story analysis methodologies: Save the Cat and The Story Grid. I’m now partway through revising the novel. (If you’re curious about the novel trilogy, you can learn more about it in an essay Rebecca published here.)

How has your writing practice changed since you’ve been in the Circle?

I’ve become much more productive and stay on track more easily. I’ve been part of different kinds of writing communities over the years, including when I got my MFA degree, and I’ve found different types of value in each experience. The Circle is unique because of the daily check-in and because of the focus on process, not content. I know that if I get stuck, my coach will offer me a different perspective, and I often use the coaching calls to help me work through issues that come up. Being in the Circle makes me feel like I’m part of a writing community that’s “got my back” and will help get me back on track when I become overwhelmed or lose focus.

What have you learned about yourself as a writer?

I’ve learned to trust the ebb and flow of the creative process. Recording my progress on a daily basis (and seeing my fellow Circle members do the same) has shown me that I can have a fabulous writing day, followed by a humdrum day, and then get back into the flow again in my next writing session. Now when I have a tough day or hit one of those “stuck” spells, I worry less because I’ve realized it’s a normal part of the creative process.

Also: This is life. This is it. Every day we create it with our choices. Every day we choose to write even though urgent things are calling us, we honor our creativity, the Muse, and the unique voices that can only speak through us. Every day we choose to be gentle with ourselves, we create a life of compassion and peace. These two elements can feel in opposition to each other, but perhaps allowing for the coexistence of opposing forces is necessary for a rich artistic life.

How much do you write and where do you typically write?

I try to write early in the day, usually right after I drop my kids off at school, before lots of other to-dos pop up. That probably happens three to five days per week, depending on whether there are school holidays, my husband’s work travel schedule, or if I have a lot of client work. I usually work at home, but sometimes I mix it up by going to a café. About once a week, I go to an in-person writing group.

When I’m at home, I often work at my secretary desk in my bedroom, but when I’m deep into line-edit revisions, I find I work better sitting in bed or on the sofa — it gets me more into the mindset of a reader. When I’m strapped for time and trying to get in a sliver of writing, I will sometimes even write in my car. My coach has called me a “time-stealing ninja” for the different ways I’ve managed to slide writing into a busy schedule over the years.

What does a successful writing day look like for you?

It used to be that 15 minutes a day was all I tried for. Now my minute goals range a lot more depending on what else is happening in my life. I’d love to work for an hour a day or more, but there are so many different elements in my life that it really depends. Locking myself into a rigid schedule tends to lead to stress and guilt. I try for consistency and keeping up momentum more than getting the same amount of time in every day. And I do writing retreats — often solo weekend retreats — to immerse myself and get in big chunks of time.

What’s next for you with your writing?

My big writing goal for 2017 is to finish the second draft of the first book by the beginning of the summer when my kids get off school. It’ll be a stretch, but I’m going to give it my best shot with the help of the Circle.

Circle Profile

rebecca-bramsName: Rebecca Brams
Roles: Grant writer, novelist, blogger, essayist, mother of two boys
Location: Berkeley, California
Genre: Historical fiction
Current writing goal: Finish second draft of novel by June 2017
Biggest writing challenge: Juggling priorities, the unpredictability of young children
Biggest writing ah-ha: Starting is almost always the hardest part.
Go-to writing platform: Scrivener
Favorite writing spot: In bed!

Bio: Rebecca Brams is a writer and mother to two young boys in Berkeley, California. She grew up in California’s Mojave Desert and has traveled extensively in Latin America. She has a B.A. in Anthropology from Stanford University and an M.F.A. in Creative Writing from St. Mary’s College of California. Her fiction and creative nonfiction have been published in Carve Magazine, Literary Mama, Dark Matter: Women Witnessing and on blogs, including her own, www.thismamawrites.com.

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Join the Circle: Get Your Words Into the World

Join the Writer's CircleJoin us in the Circle and get daily accountability and support to make your writing happen. With our special end of the year savings, you can get a whole year in the Circle for less than $100 per session.

It’s the perfect time to join us — our next session begins on Monday, January 2nd so you can start off the new year “write”!

Registration closes on Thursday, December 29th. Find out more and register here.

 

Save the Dates for the Two-Week Writing Intensive: Project Deep Dive

Coming up this month: The Project Deep Dive Writing Intensive! 

*** REGISTRATION IS NOW OPEN HERE ***

If you’ve been wanting to really focus on a writing project in a deep and concentrated way for a short burst of time, this is the program for you.

With your input I’ve been pulling together a collection of terrific support tools for you so you can make massive progress on your writing project in a short period of time, whether it’s a book, novel, script, short story collection, or anything else your heart has been longing to have more time to write.

This is also a great opportunity to prep for NaNoWriMo so you can make the most of the month of November if you’re planning to participate.

I’ll be posting a registration page later this week, but in the meantime, here are the important dates for the intensive so you can mark your calendar if you’re planning to join in the fun:

  • Project Deep Dive Writing Intensive: Starts Friday, October 14 and runs through Friday, October 28 (fifteen days in total).
  • Live Calls (all will be recorded & email questions may be submitted if you cannot attend the live session):
    • Free Clear the Decks Call on Monday, October 10, 4:30 p.m. Pacific Time (this call will be open to all the members of my community and people interested in the intensive, so if you’re not on my mailing list, now’s the time — see the sign up form in the upper right on my blog page.)
    • Project Deep Dive Kick Off Call on Thursday, October 13, 4:30 p.m. Pacific Time
    • Weekly Coaching Calls:
      • Monday, October 17, 4:30 p.m. Pacific Time
      • Monday, October 24, 4:30 p.m. Pacific Time
  • Weekly Ask the Coach Live Chats (in a chat room):
    • Friday, October 14, 11 a.m. Pacific Time
    • Friday, October 21, 11 a.m. Pacific Time
    • Friday, October 28, 11 a.m. Pacific Time
  • DAILY 60-Minute Writing Sprints at 9 a.m. Pacific Time including weekends, starting Friday, October 14 and running daily through Friday, October 28.

Special Circle member pricing will be available. 

Your commitment: You’ll to commit to writing for a minimum of one hour per day, ideally between 90 minutes and 2 hours per day (more if you like). You’ll accrue that time on only ONE writing project, and you’ll do super-short check-ins twice a day on our site (we’ll be using a different platform than the one we use for the Circle… I’ll be announcing those details on the registration page) and briefly support and cheer on your fellow Deep Divees.

My commitment: To write furiously alongside you and support you relentlessly along the way. I’ll coach you through the challenges and the ups and downs. I’ll provide structure, containers for your writing, coaching for when you struggle, and accountability to help you see it through.

Stay tuned for more details and registration information this week!

If you have burning questions, feel free to post them the comments below and I’ll do my best to answer them for you, if not here, then certainly on the registration page.

*** REGISTRATION IS NOW OPEN HERE ***

Upcoming Writing Classes

Need help getting going with your writing and/or a big rewrite? Want to get a sense of working with me? Check out these upcoming writing classes I’ll be leading in October and beyond.

Note:  The links I’m providing are referral links so the company involved will a pay me a small commission for referring you to them if you sign up after clicking on the link.

 

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With The Writer’s Store:

Navigating the Inner Journey of a Rewrite

navigatingrewrite-500_smallWHEN: Thursday, October 1, 1:00 to 2:30 p.m. Pacific Time.

HOW: Webinar

WHAT: The Navigating the Inner Journey of a Rewrite webinar is focused on rewriting for screenwriters but also has relevant tools for all writers because it addresses the inner aspects of dealing with a major rewrite. This is a one-time, 1.5 hour webinar and will be recorded if you cannot attend the live class.

DESCRIPTIONYou’ve finished your screenplay, right?

Or have you?

Whether you’ve just typed FADE OUT or you’ve been wrestling with a rewrite for ages, rewriting is a necessary part of the screenwriting process. After all, you want your script to shine before you take it out into the marketplace. And since rewriting is part of a screenwriter’s job description, whether you’re elevating a spec, doing a page one rewrite, reworking a script based on feedback or coverage, or overhauling to meet a producer’s needs, it’s worth making sure you have all the tools you need at your disposal to make it happen. (Read the full class description by clicking on the link below.)

In this class you’ll:

  • Discover how to deal with the resistance and overwhelm that turn up when tackling a major rewrite
  • Develop both practical rewriting strategies and inner mindset tools to help you see your rewrite all the way through to completion
  • Gain the skills you need to successfully complete rewrite after rewrite — a must in the screenwriting industry

Click here to find out more and register: Navigating the Inner Journey of a Rewrite

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On Screenwriter’s University:

Fitting Writing Into Your Life: Becoming a Productive Screenwriter

fittingwritingintoyourlifeWHEN: Starts on October 15 and runs for 7 days

HOW: A weeklong intensive with a three-part online recorded video presentation and discussions online (with lots of interaction and support from me).

WHAT: The Fitting Writing Into Your Life: Becoming a Productive Screenwriter course is about making your writing happen, one day at a time. (There’s a later section of the same course in January you can register for now if the October class doesn’t work for your schedule). Although this class is offered as a screenwriting program it is relevant and useful for other writers too. This is an online program with a prerecorded class (from me) and interactive writing prompts on the site with feedback from me also.

DESCRIPTION: If you aren’t making progress on your screenplay, or you feel blocked every time you sit down to write, it’s time to break the chains of unproductive writing. Adopting the techniques that will make you a consistently productive writer is imperative to seeing any of your writing projects from beginning to end. Get all of the tools to develop an effective strategy and a schedule that you can stick to.

In this week-long intensive, you’ll first watch and discuss (via discussion boards) a three-part video lecture exploring 10 habits and techniques that will keep your writing schedule consistent and productive. Then, you’ll use what you have learned to create a personalized writing plan that you will submit for feedback. At the end of just one week you will have a fail-proof strategy for the most productive writing of your life.

What You’ll Learn:

  • Myths about writing that may actually be sabotaging your progress as a writer.
  • Simple, fresh strategies for handling writing resistance and creative blocks.
  • Ways to design your life and your writing time so it happens regularly.
  • Mindset shifts to help you write more consistently and productively.
  • Techniques to cut down on the time required to “gear up” into writing mode.

Click here to find out more and register: Fitting Writing Into Your Life: Becoming a Productive Screenwriter

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My Fall schedule got so busy with these classes that I decided to postpone my own Called to Write teleclass but I expect to offer it in November or December, so stay tuned!

 

Share your input + be entered to win

I’m working on prepping a class called “Called to Write: How to Align Your Daily Actions with Your Soul’s Deeper Purpose” and I’d love to have your input.

If you can spare a few minutes of your time to fill out a short survey, I would be grateful!

Everyone who participates will be entered into a random drawing to win a print copy of The War of Art or Turning Protwo of my favorite books by Steven Pressfield. Multiple copies are available, courtesy of the lovely Callie Oettinger at Black Irish Books, so there will be multiple winners!

The drawing will be held on Wednesday, August 26th and winners will be announced then.

You can enter the drawing and participate in the survey by clicking here.

Thank you so much!

Free teleclass 12/2: Write Through the Holidays

You’re invited!

I’m holding a free teleclass next week called “Write Through the Holidays“.

This class is for those of us who aren’t planning to take a break from our writing over the holidays and want extra affirming of our commitment to do so, along with some strategies for protecting our writing time and making it happen. 

It will also be particularly valuable for those who will have just finished NaNoWriMo and want support to keep the writing going.

The class will be on Tuesday, December 2 at 4 p.m. Pacific Time. If you’d like to participate, join my mailing list in the sidebar on my blog — I’ll send out an announcement with the call in phone number and details as the date approaches.

So for now, just mark your calendar for Tuesday, December 2 at 4 p.m. Pacific Time and make sure you’re on my mailing list (sign up where it says you can get my free ebook in the upper right sidebar below the black arrow) and you’ll be good to go.

During the call I’ll share tips and ideas, then we’ll have time for Q&A and on the spot coaching for anyone who wants it. It’ll be fun and inspiring. :)

Feel free to tell your friends too.

“See” you soon!

Warmly,

Jenna

 

 

 

FAQ:

  • Yes, the call will be recorded. As long as you’re on my mailing list, you’ll get an email with information about how to listen to the recording.
  • Yes, it’s really free, all you’ll pay are any regular long distance charges associated with calling the conference line.
  • Yes, it’s okay to listen quietly and/or stay muted. You don’t have to speak up if you don’t want to. I’m totally okay with that.
  • Yes, there will be some time at the end of each class for participants to ask live questions. I’ll put us in Q&A mode, so you’ll press some numbers on your phone’s keypad when you want to ask questions. That way we won’t have people interrupting each other.
  • Yes, you can submit questions in advance. I’ll include a way to do that when I send out the conference line information.
  • The class will run for approximately 30 minutes with a Q&A section of 30 minutes, for a total of 60 minutes.
  • Click here if you need help converting time zones.

I hope you’ll join me!

Other questions? Click here to submit a question to my team.

 

© Image is “Rotary phone” by Clemson, licensed through the Creative Commons license. No modification other than cropping.
If the goal is too big, make it smaller

7 ways to beat procrastination

Ugh. Procrastination.

We’re all familiar with that simultaneous desire to write and the repulsion from writing that leads us into the nether realm of procrastination. We’re doing something else — ANYTHING else — and it can range from feeling like we’re doing something vitally important to just plain old digging our heels in and resisting.

Sometimes we tell ourselves we need to “warm up” first before we can write, with a little email, Facebook, or even a treat of some kind.

Or we decide we simply cannot tolerate the state of our physical space for a single minute longer — how many offices, bathrooms, and kitchens have seen the plus side of procrastination on a day when writing feels oh-so-hard to do?

Other things come up too, right? All those urgent deadlines, other people’s problems, our kids’ needs, that bit of online research you just can’t wait to do (you know, that one that snowballs into two hours of online nothingness — and yes, I speak from experience), or even bigger things, like that college degree you suddenly have to have.

Understanding procrastination

There are a few of key things to understand about procrastination:

1. It’s (usually) driven by fear. There’s some kind of fear coming up that’s stopping you from writing. You may not be clear on what it is, but trust me, it’s there. Fears of success, failure, commitment, overwhelm, rejection, praise, inability to deliver, etc. are most likely to come up. (When it’s not fear-driven, there’s usually something significant going on, like healing from a traumatic creative wound or recovering from creative burnout, but I would call that a block, a subject for a future post.)

2. Not taking action on your writing will keep you in a low grade state of anxiety, guilt, and shame. I say “low” but it can skyrocket into a full-on painful squirming-in-shame. So even if you’re pretending you are just watching your favorite TV show for a little treat before you get started and that it will help you relax into writing — check in with yourself — are you really, truly, in your heart-of-heart’s feeling relaxed? Or are you twitching with unrest and discomfort inside?

3. It’s a lot easier to fix than you think it is. There are some days when it simply isn’t possible to sit down and power through tons of writing. That’s okay. There are days when you can’t face your draft. That’s okay. But you CAN write, even if it’s just for a few minutes.

And ultimately, making small moves will help you beat procrastination in the big picture.

Beating procrastination

Here are seven ways you can beat procrastination and get back in the writing saddle:

1. Have a short but honest talk with yourself about what’s really going on. This doesn’t have to be a big deal. But it’s worth acknowledging in the privacy of your own mind, “Yes, I’m procrastinating, and it feels crummy. I’m going to do something about it.”

2. Tell someone what you’re doing. Find an accountability partner, a writing buddy, or a writing group (like my online Writer’s Circle) that will help you commit to doing the writing and seeing it through. It helps tremendously to say to another person (even if it’s your spouse or best friend!), “I’m going to write today no matter what.”

3. Make a deal with yourself to write ANYTHING for 15 minutes. I don’t care if you write morning pages, a list of all the reasons you hate writing, or actually work on your current writing project. Just get out a piece of paper or open your Scrivener file or Word document (I’m a Pages girl myself), and put words on the page, even if they are crap. (Using a timer for your 15 minutes is a special bonus tip – it’s like pressing the “GO” button. Try it!)

4. If 15 minutes feels like too much, make it smaller. The goal should be small enough that you find yourself saying, “Well, heck, I can at least do THAT much.” So if 15 minutes sounds daunting, do five. Or write ONE sentence (I’m not kidding). The key here is to get yourself into action WRITING. Period.

5. If you’ve racked up a lot of frequent procrastinator miles, STOP when you meet your goal. There are a LOT of writers I talk to who commit to write for 15 minutes, do it, and then find it so easy they keep on going. That’s great, if you’re just jump-starting yourself after a day or two away. But if you’ve been in the writing desert and the words have been few and far between, when you meet your writing goal for the day, stop and celebrate. Don’t break trust with yourself and keep on writing — you’ll only set yourself up for a bigger challenge tomorrow when you feel like you have to “do better” and suddenly have too daunting a goal to face. 

6. Reward yourself for writing. One of my favorite writers, writer-director Joss Whedon (Firefly, Buffy, The Avengers), rewards himself just for having an idea. Don’t be stingy here. Writing each day is the equivalent of beating back the forces of darkness. You deserve to whoop it up a little once you pull it off. Give yourself a piece of chocolate, a stretch in the sunshine, or even those things you’d normally be procrastinating with. Remember the email, Facebook, and favorite TV shows? Make those your cool downs instead of your warm ups and you’ll be good to go.

7. Do it again tomorrow! You’ve beaten procrastination today, great work!! Now, when you wake up tomorrow, use these tools to make a shorter path to writing. It’ll feel great. Then once you get on a roll, start building up to more over time.

Thanks for reading!

I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments.

Warmly,

Jenna

 

 

There’s no right time to write

Join the Writer's CircleWe often trick ourselves into thinking there’s a “right” time to write. We plan special writing days. We dream of far-off futures where we’ll have plenty of time to write. But there really isn’t a “right” time — there’s only now. Join the next Writer’s Circle session (new sessions start every 28 days) and get help to beat procrastination and write every day.

Find out more and register here: http://JustDoTheWriting.com