Thursday, February 26, 2009

How Do I Get Motivated to Write?

Let's face it. We are all busy people. All of us. So how does a person make the time, summon up the energy, and find the motivation to follow their dreams?

It isn't easy. I have three young boys and a household to run. When I first started writing, I was in graduate school. Later, I was the brand new mother of a baby, then another one and another one. It wasn't easy making - forging - the time to write. Sometimes (most of time), I had to trick myself into doing it, especially when I first started writing or was very, very tired because my child was up sick all night.

I'm going to focus on the dream of becoming a writer because it's a dream that I'm currently pursuing. Plus, I've learned a few tricks along the way to motivate myself to write, which I can pass along to you.

So, let's say you've come up with an idea of what you want to write, but find yourself sitting, staring at a blank page/screen because you don't know how to start and all that white is intimidating the bejeebers out of you. Or you've gotten started writing and then got stuck. Or, you can't seem to make the time. I've been there many times and have struggled to overcome these obstacles.

Here's what I came up with to get over them:

1) Finding time: There are twenty-four hours in a day. The typical person needs to sleep 6-8 hours (I prefer 9). If you work, take away another 8-10 hours. Then there's eating, cleaning, exercising etc. You get the picture. So how does a person find time to write?

a) Make a schedule. List all your activities for the week. Somewhere there has to be an hour or two that you can sit down and do something just for yourself. Schedule it in.
b) As hard as this sounds, think about sacrificing one of your lesser favorite TV shows and use that time to write.
c) Find a consistent time to do your creating. Most people go to work at specific times. This is the same idea.
d) There's a lot of down time you don't realize you have. For example, waiting for a doctor's appointment. I've used this time to scribble ideas on scraps of paper. Or taking a shower or standing in line at the groceries.
e) If you're really serious about achieving your dream, you will make time for it. If you are not, you will make excuses. Don't be one of those people who says, I will write when I retire. Let's face these economic times you might never retire, or you'll die before you do.

2) Motivation: Create a creative environment. I have surrounded myself with my favorite books, both for leisure and for research, interesting pictures, my ugly doll, and my skulls, all to conjure up an atmosphere that shouts, Imagination! Another world! It doesn't have to be much space - you can hole up in a corner along with your computer, typewriter or notepad, with the perfect lamp and a stack of your favorite books close by and your i-pod in your ears. But it has to be yours. It's like going to work - you go to an office, or cubicle, or building, to do it. This space you create at home is your office. Consistency of environment can help get you focused and keep you on track.

3) Motivation: Look for stories everywhere. Lately, all someone has to do is bring up one slightly unusual story, idea, or image, and my mind takes it and runs, developing a story as quickly as it can. But first I had to work at freeing up my mind to see and hear the ideas. Be open to this world and it will flow into you. Heck, it might even start to shout at you, trying to get your attention. In raising my sons to be open to creative ideas, I've created little monsters. The two attending school have told me an idea has been percolating in their heads all day and they couldn't wait to get home to put it into practice. Children are so much more open; we adults might have to either reawaken the child within or train ourselves to be creative.

4) Motivation: Along with #3, keep notepads everywhere. By your bed, in your bag or purse, by the TV, in the car. As much as you think you're going to remember your ideas, you won't - unless you're one of those weird people who remembers everything. I'm not. As vivid as the idea was, it goes right down the toilet when the kids start to bicker or the phone rings, or a pretty, fluttery thing floats by.

5) Motivation: Talk to trusted people about your idea. Brainstorming is great for writing a book. You may not use other's ideas, but one of their thoughts might kick off an idea of your own. I've used this method many times to achieve clarity, map out a plot, figure out a detail. It's very helpful and actually quite fun. My engineer husband has a surprisingly fantastical imagination and has helped me figure out directions to take many times.

6) Motivation: Reward yourself for good deeds. I purposely eat less at lunch so I can have a snack while I type. I like food. I know I probably shouldn't use it as a reward, but I do. Still, I don't want to turn into a chair potato, so I have to work at not overdoing. Working at home, I have access to food whenever I want, and personally, I could eat all day. So I, and probably most people, really have to be careful using food as a reward.

My other rewards? When I finish something big (a certain number of pages a day, a book, an edit), I let myself read for fun, or watch a good movie, or go out with my family. The funny thing is, writing itself has become a reward. Most of the time, I love writing for the process itself (that doesn't mean I'm giving up my snack).

7) Motivation/Getting unstuck: Listen to the music that fits with the mood you want to evoke. Ethereal music for ghostly books. Rock-n-roll for an action scene. Whatever floats your boat. Music can be very inspiring. I can't, however, listen to music when I edit. It's too distracting. I've found that I can't seem to pay attention while I'm doing air guitar or singing at the top of my lungs. Go figure.

8) Motivation/Getting unstuck: To get in the mood to write, I read or watch movies in the genre I'm writing in. I write fantasy, so I watch The Chronicles of Narnia or Harry Potter. I'm currently writing a dark romance so I watched the new version of Wuthering Heights (which I wasn't all that thrilled by, I must admit, but it set a mood). Other movies/books can also trigger ideas.

9) Getting unstuck or started in the first place:
a) First of all, take off the pressure. Tell yourself that you don't have to do anything you don't want to do. When it comes to this kind of thing, you really don't.
b) Second, give yourself a goal. Today I am going to write one page, or even one sentence. I've talked about this before in other blogs, but taking baby steps may be just what you need to do to get yourself unstuck. Imagining having to do it all at once is too overwhelming.
c) Take a break. Take a shower or a walk. Or let your work sit for a day or two and think about where you want to go with it. Fantasize about it just like you fantasize about telling off your boss or a jerk with road rage. Writers have imaginations, use yours!
d) Write now; edit later. It's that simple. Don't let your perfectionism kill the project before it can ever really take off.

While writing can be a great joy, it can also be hard work. Most people get paid to work. Writers don't until they publish something, which can be a reward a long time in coming. So search out what motivates you, use it temperately, and most of all, don't give up! Following your dream is a process in itself and is meant to be enjoyed.

Now, what are you doing wasting your time reading this blog? Get out there and follow your dreams!

Thursday, February 19, 2009

Just Thinkin' About the Weather...

Have you ever listened to the 10,000 Maniacs? They're a great group, or were, when Natalie Merchant was lead singer. Anyway, they have a song titled, "Like the Weather" on their CD In My Tribe. I even included a link so you can listen to a bit of it...Like the Weather. Just be sure to click on the right clip. It's the third song down.

So why am I writing about the weather?

Because it stinks!

Here in Northern New England another snowstorm hit us overnight. First, it snowed a lot, then it rained on top of it. Then, when we had to clear our driveway to get to work and school, it started to snow again. The weather forecast called for an abrupt ending to the snow, anywhere from 6-9 a.m. It didn't cease abruptly and it went on until 9:30! Now, Kristina, you say, what's the big deal? Another half hour? Yes, but I started clearing at 7:00, people! By the time I was done, I had to re-do several sections. Plus, the snowblower didn't want to blow the snow because it was the consistency of mud and when it did manage to blow snow, it blew it onto snow not yet blown, weighing those sections down until it was one large, immovable chunk. So we had to shovel that part. I lost three pounds in the process and gained a hernia.

I know I'm whining and I'm very good at it, but we'd just gone through a week of sunny skies and balmy temps in the 30s. Snow was melting, grass was appearing, our driveway was ice free and safe! No longer. The weather is messing with my head...again.

I guess that's what I get for living in New England.

Hey, I said it first, so save your breath pointing out to me that maybe if I didn't like winter, I should move. I do like winter, just not in January, February, March, and, God forbid, April. So there.

Still, at least this year I have my mom and husband to help out (the hubby usually manages to find a way to break a bone. No such luck for him this year). My mother is in her 60s and while she helps out, it makes me nervous. She is going to hurt herself and then I'll have to be her nurse. That wouldn't be pretty. There is a reason I'm not a nurse. It has to do with the fact that I don't like people.

Then I was shoveling the end of the driveway, along came a little machine with a plow and the young driver plowed the end of our drive for me. Bless him! There are good people in the world! I have seen the light!

Anyway, if you follow my blog, you know that at this time of year, not only am I just thinkin' about the weather, I get a little obsessed by it.

We'll see what happens this year. If you want to see someone make a slow spiraling descent into madness, pray for snow. Otherwise, join me and do the happy dance for spring to come now!

Friday, February 13, 2009

A Message From Above...

I was sitting on the couch reading a good book, around 9:30 at night, when a loud bang startled Dorrie (my dog) and myself. Something had hit the patio door about ten feet away, and hit it hard. In the gentle glow of the lamp, the two of us tiptoed over to see what had happened. Had it been an errant icicle? Doubtful. Icicles usually just drop straight down. A snowball from a strange and mischievous neighbor? I hoped not.

Together we peered through the dark window, and there it was…

A little owl. It was so tiny, about 6 or 7 inches high, and it stared up at me with big, black eyes like marbles and dark feathers (I’ve yet to come across a picture or a type of owl that really fits what I saw). It was the most beautiful thing I’d ever seen. I dashed off to find my husband and mother, so they could see it and so they could help me figure out what to do with a potentially injured bird. By the time they showed up, the little owl was gone. I felt both relieved and happy for it and terribly sad, wishing I’d spent another five seconds looking at the little guy, or gal.

It was a mystical experience for me. Though this isn’t the first wild animal I’ve seen (there have been many over the years, but more than usual lately). This fall I saw a huge buck about to run into the road before turning back into the safety of the woods. It was deer season and I said a little prayer that the beautiful creature would survive. I also spotted a pheasant at the same spot twice, on different days. The other day a fox darted across the road in front of the car. This was in the morning, an unusual time to see one. On a different day I had to wait while a flock of wild turkeys hung out in the road.

After this latest influx of animals, I’m starting to feel a bit like Snow White.

Anyway, I thought I’d share my brush with nature with you simply because it was so amazing to me, and because I think such experiences will become rarer and rarer - sadly. When I tell people about the owl, they aren’t nearly as impressed as I was, but if you’d seen the little thing and its wise, yet innocent eyes staring up at you, I believe you would have been equally touched. I just hope little owlie is okay, and remembers next time that there’s a house here.

Friday, February 6, 2009

Flu Prostrates Family: Mom Ready to Pull Out Hair

These are the latest headlines from our household. We have the stomach flu. Over the last several days, I have cleaned up a lot of liquids that have exited the body at brute force (topping speeds of 90 mph), from both of the main orifices, and from three of the four sickies (my husband has managed to make it to the toilet in time, thank the Lord). My oldest child has sometimes gotten the double whammy (both at the same time, poor thing). What a joyride we’ve been on! Today is day seven and I’m the fortunate individual who only got a mild version of it.

I’m just nauseous all the time.

I really just want to curl up and hide under the covers, but I am counting my blessings. One: I could be feeling the same way and still have to care for everybody. Two: Nobody puked at school or on the bus (though one of the kid’s friends did). Three: We’re saving on the grocery bill. Four: We could be living in a car.

Our puppy dog is going stir crazy. She’s always been public enemy number one to our cats, but now she has moved to terrorist status. She stalks them, waits for them to show their furry faces, and then attacks with a ferocious slobberfest. She doesn’t want to destroy them as a true terrorist would, but she does ignite fear in them because they don’t know she means them no harm. Their fur is clogged with spit, they’ve lost tufts of it all over the house, and they’ve had to run faster than they’ve ever had to run in their lives. Big Lou (our male cat) doesn’t like to run. That’s why he’s so big. Our one cat, Beanie, vacillates between thinking this is love (she’s very needy) and deciding those big teeth kind of hurt. Our last cat, Gypsy (a stray who adopted us), is smarter. She just stays out of the way.

To add insult to injury, the day before yesterday I was taking down comforter number twenty-five, which had been drying down in the laundry room (I had to wash it because someone puked on it despite everyone having an assigned bucket), which is also the furnace room, and saw a little red light glowing on the furnace. We had run out of oil. We have a strange set-up and cannot read how much we have in the tank and I don’t know how fast this house burns through oil (cause we only moved here in August) and there are more people using the hot water and it’s been unusually cold, too. So, we ended up spending a lot of money to have the oil company do an emergency delivery and re-start the burner. They were very nice, though, and hit us first on their run. Bless them.


Over these past several days, my boys have grown attached to their puke buckets. Literally, they’re kind of sticky. Ohhh…there goes the nausea again.

Anyway, there is something to be learned from this blog. Here it is: If your child mentions that their best friend puked on the bus, you’re in trouble. If you feel stomach pains or someone complains of them, you’re in trouble. Avoid letting the sickies eat or drink (think ice chips) too much when they start feeling better, or, you’re in trouble.

All right, that’s all from Sick Central. I’m not feeling so well…Where’s my bucket?