28 Feb

5 Steps to Mindful Writing

Posted in Mindful Writing, Revision, Writing, Writing Exercises

Mindfulness is the idea of becoming aware of our mind; we notice when it wanders and strive to bring it back to the task at hand.  Mindfulness is all about being present and living fully in the moment.

Recently, I’ve been thinking a lot about mindfulness and its connection to writing.   In particular, how can we as writers, improve our writing practice by being more present in the moment?  Here are 5 steps I’ve discovered that bring me to more mindful writing. 

1)  Show up at the page.  This is the “being present” part of mindfulness practice.  It might seem like a no-brainer, but you can’t write if you don’t actually show up at the page.  These days it’s so easy to putter around and “look busy.”  You can tweet or post on Facebook that you’re writing.  You can hang out with writing friends and talk about how you’re going to write.  You can do lots of things instead of writing, but if you don’t actually pull out your pen and paper to write, you won’t get any writing done.  It’s that simple.

2)  Be aware.  Are you feeling overly judgmental about the current project?  Are you loving your idea a little too much?  Is your inner critic gnashing at the bit?  Notice your emotional impulses (especially fears and worries) as you write, then set them aside and keep writing. 

Tip:  I keep a worry jar on my desk where I write my fears on a slip of paper and put it in the jar.  This way, I get them out of my head and put them away for safe-keeping so that I can keep writing. 

3)  Draw on your Wise Mind.  Wise Mind is where Emotional Mind and Rational Mind intersect.  Wise Mind is where you find the resources to write mindfully and push forward in your work.  When you write, your Rational Mind might be worried about pragmatics: how tough it is to get published and why you should be researching potential agents before you write your book.  Your Emotional Mind will probably focus on emotions like: What’s the use?  Whatever you write will never be perfect so why bother?

Wise mind is the part of you that tells the other two to shush.  It’s the part of your mind that acknowledges that both Rational Mind and Emotional Mind do have a point but that they’re not right about everything.  Yes you need to know something about the business, but if you don’t write, you won’t have anything to sell.  And maybe your book won’t be perfect, but you can work at it and make it better, as long as you put words on the page in the first place.

4)  Sit with your discomfort (for a little while).  I hate mindfulness exercises.  I fidget too much and can’t keep still.  My left knee is always bouncing and I have a nervous tick where I start to laugh if I think people are looking at me.  Still, I make myself do them because I know it’s important.   I do my best to sit with my discomfort for a while, until it starts to melt away.

The same is true for writing.  I used to have this knee-jerk reaction whenever writing something would get hard: I’d start writing something else.  Now I force myself to sit with the uncomfortable project for a little while, to see if my decision to set it aside is one of pragmatics (the project just isn’t feasible) or based on my own discomfort.  If the latter, I try to work through the discomfort.

5) Practice, practice, practice.  This comes back to showing up at the page.  The goal with mindfulness isn’t to be aware of every thought every minute of the day.  The point is to be able to turn on the “mindful” switch and become aware when you need to be.  The same is true for writing.  You need to practice getting “in the zone” so that eventually you will be able to do it on command.

Contrary to popular belief, the brain is a muscle and you need to work it often.  As you become more accustomed to switching on this level of awareness–this mindfulness–you’ll be able to do it whenever your writing needs a boost.


16 Feb

How to Survive the Revision Process

Posted in Conferences, Craft, Process, Revision

OK, I’ll admit it.  When I was in school (and college and grad school) I was seriously guilty of turning in work before revising it.  Sure, I would do a quick spell-check and maybe give it a once-over for grammar, but rarely did I ever roll up my sleeves and do serious revision.

Now that I have a draft of my book done, I find myself in the middle of the revision process and I totally realize why I was resistant to revision before: it’s flippin’ scary.  This is why I was so thrilled to hear James Scott Bell speak about the revision process at the Writer’s Digest Conference.  I was particularly excited to attend his talk because I am a huge fan of his book The Art of War for Writers.  Here are some of the sparkly nuggets I took away from this session.

Principles of Revision

1)  Write hot, revise cool.  Revision allows you to add rational choices and strategy to the frantic bursts of creativity that came out in the first draft.  Take at least two weeks (maybe longer) after writing your draft to let it cool down before you revise.

2)  You need to finish first.  Nothing you write is etched in stone… you can always come back and make it better later on.  The only thing you can’t do is revise a blank page.  Finish first.

    3)  Do a first read-through.  Try to recreate a reading experience so that you’re not focused on the fact that you’re reading your own book.  Make minimal notes.  Tip from Gabi:  I put my book on my Kindle and have been reading it there so that it feels more like a “real book” and not just a draft on printed computer pages.  I use the footnote function on the Kindle to make my notes, and since I’m lazy about taking notes on Kindle, it forces me to make my notes short.

    4)  Summarize your changes.  Write a 2000 word summary of your draft with the new adjustments you just noted.  Tip from Gabi: You can also try extracting an outline from the first draft, as a way of getting a handle on what you have written.  Then adjust the outline according to the notes you made in your read-through and implement those changes in the draft.

    Things to Think About in Revision

    Character:  The characters need to jump off the page.  Here are a few exercises to help you with this:

    • Try creating some “off-screen” scenes where you see what the character would do in crazy situations.  
    • Do the “opposite exercise” where you have the character do the opposite of what you’d expect, then figure out why they did that.

    Remember, even at the very beginning, try to give the reader an inkling that the character has the potential for change.

    Opening:  As Bell put it: “Cut out the parts that people skip.”  Start the story where things get interesting.  Also, make trouble for your characters from the start.  Readers become engaged with the characters at the first sign of conflict.

    Dialogue:  Compress the dialogue and extend the action.  Get rid of exposition and ramp up the conflict.  Even if characters are on the “same side” they should still have some kind of conflict between them.

    Take-Home Message

    Ultimately, revision is where you add the strategic element to your story.  Now that you know who the characters are and what’s going to happen, you can plant foreshadowing moments and hint at themes that will be important later on.  You can’t do all this in your first draft because during that stage of the process you don’t know your characters or the story completely.  It’s only once you know the ending and who your characters are at their core that you can manipulate the story in a strategic way.

    Much as my brain understands all the amazing benefits of revision, I still find myself having trouble because I keep psyching myself out. 

    Help!  Do you have any revision tips I can borrow?


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