Sunday, November 13, 2016

Election Night 2016: It's 2:30am and I Can't Sleep..

Because I knew that, regardless of the outcome, I was bound to be stressed by Election Day reporting, I purposely avoided all news, including my Facebook news feed until bedtime.

I fell asleep early but woke, stressed, 90 minutes later. Unable to get back to sleep, I broke my "news fast," hoping that good news would ease my anxiety. As you likely know by now, the news – at least as I saw it – was not good.

After obsessing online for an hour, I tried again to sleep. Again, I was unsuccessful. Finally, I did what I do best: I put what I was feeling into words and posted it on Facebook.

Some of those who read my words found them inspiring and comforting and encouraged me to share them here and in my newsletter

To be clear, this is not intended as an attack on anyone's voting choices. It is an expression of how I felt on election night and how I continue to feel days later.

inspirational quote
It's 2:30am, and as I lie in bed unable to sleep, I feel moved to set down my thoughts about tonight's election results – as much to put something into words for myself as to share those thoughts with you. Maybe thinking "aloud" will help still my mind and free me to sleep. Maybe it will help someone reading this to do likewise. I hope so, on both counts.

I will try, in the days ahead, to find some redemptive value in what has just happened, as I do my best to do with all perceived setbacks. I know that redemptive value is there because it is always there, somewhere in the "big picture," even if it is not always easily visible.

For right now, though, I'm just heartsick...
  • For my daughter, who will spend the next four years governed by men and, yes, women, who have demonstrated little respect for the wisdom I know she possesses to make wise and considered choices about her needs and about her body
  • For my lesbian and gay sisters and brothers, who will spend the next four years governed by men and women who have vowed to strip us of our human rights
  • For my Jewish coreligionists, who will spend the next four years governed by an administration endorsed by rabid antisemites
  • For the millions who, like me, are certain to lose our health insurance if, as promised, Obamacare is repealed 
  • For my black, Muslim, latino and other minority friends, who will likely continue to be insulted and disrespected, now at the highest levels of government
  • And for everyone of compassion in this country and beyond who respects human dignity and human rights. 
It is easy to be frightened and angry right now. I have been both over the past several hours and have yet to let it all go. It is easy, too, to demonize and blame. I have done those, too. It is also hard not to feel powerless. I have felt that as well.
inspirational quoteBut it is fear, anger, blame and feelings of impotence that created tonight's results, that got us into this situation. They cannot get us out of it. They will not get us out of it.

I wish I had an easy alternative to offer, for myself as much as for those of you who have been feeling as I do. Unfortunately, there are no simple solutions, no quick fixes, despite what some of those elected tonight might believe.

There is only the always difficult, moment-to-moment step of acknowledging our feelings, of not letting our fears and anger rule our words and actions, of not giving in to despair, of continuing to do our best to be the best we can be and of continuing to keep our hearts as open as we are able, as heartsick as we might feel in many of those same moments.

It is difficult for me to feel hopeful at 2:50am, when it seems as though this darkness I am experiencing will never lift. I don't imagine it will be a whole lot easier when light dawns in a few hours.

Yet in moments like these, hope is all I have. In moments like these, I have to push myself to remember that without hope, I have nothing.

Is that simplistic? Perhaps. But if it gets me to sleep tonight and, coupled with constructive word and action, gets me through the next days and months, it will be enough. It will have to be.

One final thought before I switch off the light and try again to sleep: I told a friend earlier today on a different topic that when times are tough, writing is the only thing that makes sense for me. Perhaps what I should have added is that when nothing else in my life seems to make any sense, writing is often the only thing that helps me to understand what I'm feeling and to find sense in the seemingly senseless. It has certainly begun to do that for me just now.

Perhaps my sentences are the seams that hold me together. Perhaps, that's the real reason I write. Perhaps, in the end, it's the only reason.

I invite you to share your feelings, experiences and comments. Please note, however, that insulting or inflammatory remarks will not be posted.

Saturday, November 5, 2016

Not Just for NaNoWriMo: My Top 10 WritingTips

I am often asked at the end of an interview whether I have one piece of advice for the writers listening to the show. Or, if it's November, whether I have pointers to offer those writers cranking out a 50,000-word novel as part of National Novel Writing Monthor NaNoWriMo, as it's popularly called.

My problem with the question is not that I can't answer it. My problem is that I have more to say than the allotted time will allow! 

My solution? This blog post, timed to coincide with NaNoWriMo but filled with suggestions that will work for you year-round. All apply to fiction or screenplays; many are equally relevant regardless of your form, medium or genre. So, here goes...

My Top Ten Writing Tips for Authors & Screenwriters

1. You Don't Have to Know What Your Book Is About Before Starting.
I have rarely known what my books were going to be about before I began writing them. With three of them, I didn't even know I was writing a book when I started!

With The MoonQuest, for example, a writing exercise in a class I was teaching sparked a story I knew nothing about. When the class was over, I just kept writing...and a novel eventually emerged. The Voice of the Muse and Dialogues with the Divine each grew from journaled jottings that were never (consciously) intended for an audience. 

(It's those experiences that prompted me to write a book I did know I was writing and what it was about: Birthing Your Book...Even If You Don't Know What It's About, a step-by-step guide to getting your book written, whether or not you think you know what you're doing.)

2. You Don't Need to Plot, Plan, Outline or Otherwise Prepare. 
Of course, you can plot, plan, outline or otherwise prepare. There's no right or wrong way to write a book...or any other creative project. The only right-write way is the way that works for you on this book. (It might be different next time!) Just so you know, though, I have never outlined. Nothing. Ever. Not even my screenplays, which orthodox screenwriting lore would have you believe is compulsory. (That's why I wrote Organic Screenwriting: Writing for Film, Naturally – to free you from creativity-stifling orthodoxy.)

So how do you begin? With one word, any word. And then another and another and another. And another. No stopping. No editing. No censoring. No going back. Just racing forward through and past the fear, anxiety and inevitable nonsense and into the story that will reveal itself to you through the writing of it, if you get out of its way and let it. That's a Cliff's Notes version of my "Writing on the Muse Stream" method. Read more about it in any of my books for writers.

3. Forget the Rules. All of Them.
All my books for writers include a set of tongue-in-cheek "rules" for writers. And although they vary depending on each book's theme, they all share the same first and final rule: There are no rules. 

Whether during NaNoWriMo or at any other time, write the book (or short story or poem or screenplay or stage play or essay) that demands to be written as it demands to be written, not according to anyone else's rules or strictures, including those set out by the folks at NaNoWriMo.
  • You haven't started yet? Start today. Now. Or start tomorrow or the day after or next week. Just start!
  • Your book is a memoir or other non-fiction work? Or it's not a book at all but a screenplay? Celebrate the fact that you're writing something instead of beating yourself up for not having written a novel. The fact that you’re writing, that you’re moving forward with a project you’re passionate about, is more important than its form, medium or genre.
  • Your NaNoWriMo draft is shorter than 50,000 words? Celebrate that you've finished your draft instead of mourning the fact that you didn't meet NaNoWriMo's arbitrary word count.
  • You don't finish by NaNoWriMo's November 30 deadline...or by whatever deadline you have set for yourself? So what! However many words you have written are more words than you would have written had you not launched the process. When the time comes, celebrate that.

4. Don't Judge.
Just as you are not judging your process, don't judge your output. If you're participating in NaNoWriMo, you are racing against the calendar to meet a November 30 deadline and have no time to fix 'n fuss as you go. That's a good thing. The most uncreative thing you can do is edit while you write that first draft...of anything. NaNoWriMo or not, let your first draft be as chaotic, repetitive, inconsistent and illogical as it needs to be. Just get your story onto the page, however it comes out. Use subsequent drafts to polish, hone and refine your rough stone into the jewel it was meant to be. 

5. Trust Your Book & Its Characters.
Your book and its characters (if it's a novel) are smarter than you are. Get out of their way (and your own) and let them tell their story through you. Abandon control! 

6. It's Okay to Be Out-of-Order.
Like movies, which are rarely filmed in sequence, your first (or second or third) draft may not write itself in final book order. That's okay. In this as in all aspects of your writing enterprise, let the bits and pieces of your book or other writing project come as they come...and write them that way, knowing that your project's innate wisdom will determine the appropriate order when the time is right. 

7. Take Risks.
Creative expression is about risk-taking. It's about pushing boundaries – your own as well as those of others. It’s about boarding Star Trek’s starship Enterprise, taking off for parts unknown and journeying to the edges of the creative universe. Commit to taking more risks. Commit to the creative artist you are.

8. Do the Best You Can, and Let It Be Good Enough.
Your book may be excellent, accomplished, creative and insightful. It may be brilliant, compelling and universally lauded. But perfect? Not possible. It’s not possible because when we translate an idea or concept into language, we’re taking something that is infinite (energy) and dynamic (neural impulses) and converting it into something that is finite (language) and static (squiggles on a page). The resulting “translation” can never be more than an approximation. Do the best you can, and let it be good enough...because your book will never be perfect. Not. Ever.

9. Write
It seems obvious, particularly in a month devoted to novel-writing. But it can be easy to put writing aside in favor of research. It’s even easier to put writing aside while you try to figure what your book is about.

Don’t wait to figure out what your book is about. Don’t worry about its direction, theme, structure or focus. Don’t worry about chapter breaks (my first MoonQuest draft had none). Don’t worry about what people will think of it, or of you. Don’t worry about anything. Set pen to paper or fingers to keyboard and, without judging or second-guessing what emerges, let your book do its wizardly work – on you as much as on the page.

In other words: Write...the book (or other project) you didn’t know you had in you...the book you could never have imagined writing...the book you believed you could not write...the book that is yours to write. 

10. There Are No Rules
As I noted in Tip #3, this is the one rule that never changes. No matter what you’re writing, the only certainties are that flow is fluid, your creation is unique and your book makes its own rules. Truly, there is no universal right way or wrong way. There is only your way, the way of your book.

You may be wondering whether I have ever participated in NaNoWriMo. The answer is yes. Three years ago, I wrote The SunQuest, the third and final installment in my Q'ntana fantasy trilogy, during NaNoWriMo. Amazingly, I did it in 21 days. But not every book can be written in 21 days...or 30. The StarQuest, The Q'ntana Trilogy's Book II, took me 11 years and two false starts to get from the first to the final word of a first draft!

However long it takes, the important thing is that you're writing. So hurry up and finish this blog post, open your notebook or writing application and WRITE!

Oh, and don't wait until your book is finished and released to start promoting it on social media. The best time to start talking about it online and off is now...even if you haven't started writing it yet! My newest book –  Engage! Winning Social Media Strategies for Authors – has lots of tips to help you do just that!