On Your Mark

On Your Mark

Ready for goals“This is my favorite week of the year, Little Sharks. As you reflect on the year past. don’t forget to plan (not WISH) for the year to come.” — Kelley Sue DeConnick

Almost there. In less than 24 hours, 2015 will be done and dusted. Yesterday was about looking back. Today is absolutely all about looking forward. We finish our last “musts” as early as possible and then we celebrate.

The cynic in me likes to note that January 1 as the start of the new year is just an arbitrary date and other traditions celebrate other days. But there is something both enticing and comforting about the end of one year and the start of a new one. The page turns and it’s a clean slate, the idea that no matter how badly we might have fallen down on our goals or screwed things up in general, we get to start again on a blank page. “This year,” we tell ourselves. “This year I’ll do better.”

But we can’t get there just by wishing. Plans need to be made, goals set. But while the goals should be SMART — Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Realistic, and Time-bound (an acronym that personally annoys me for so many reasons, but it is a useful tool), let’s not overload ourselves and remember that other acronym that is so important to planning: Keep It Simple, Stupid. If we get overwhelmed by our planning, then what use is it?

Planners and journaling systems abound and I absolutely recommend having one you keep regularly. I’ve found that it’s helpful for keeping track of things and reassuring yourself that you aren’t just sitting and doing nothing. Planning systems abound ranging in complexity (and price), but if you’re looking for one, I’d suggest taking a look at Bullet Journal. To start, you need a notebook and a pen, your choice. I use Moleskines because I like those and a fountain pen because that’s my favourite writing instrument, but a spiral notebook from the 99 Cents Store and a ballpoint that wandered home from the office will work just as well. The reason I like it is because the system is absolutely simple, yet flexible. Within a week of starting, I was already adapting the way a day was laid out to work better for me. You can get wildly creative or keep it simple — though I’d advise limiting anything that isn’t actually logging tasks or events to a minute or two a session. I realized I was heading way down the rabbit hole in decorating my entries, which took away from actually doing them.

I discovered the Bullet Journal via Kelley Sue DeConnick and her motivational list, Bitches Get Shit Done. Sign up and you’ll get text messages several days a week to help inspire and motivate you. One of my favorites was the day my phone chimed and I found the message “FOCUS” waiting for me. For those who aren’t familiar with her work, Kelley works a great deal in comics and was the writer on the most recent version of Captain Marvel, and is currently writing the creator-owned “Bitch Planet.” The latter might not be everyone’s speed, but I highly recommend her Captain Marvel and, frankly, I think her run on the book is one of the reasons Marvel chose to add the character to their roster for Phase 3.

So you’ve got your journal to write your goals in, you’ve got a source of motivation that’ll come to your phone. Think about what you want to do for 2016 — and make certain there’s at least one “shoot the moon” goal because our reach should exceed our grasp.

Your blank page awaits. Ready, set…

Light One Candle

Light One Candle

Light one candle for hopeTonight marks the Winter Solstice, the moment when the earth is furthest from the sun in its orbit and night is at its longest. Little wonder that this moment falls close to the point where we mark the end of the year. Throughout man’s history, this has been a time to note because after this, night grows shorter, the days grow longer — and the promise of spring and a new growing season is at hand. That’s still a ways away, but we know it’s coming.

But it’s a hard time as well. The stresses are piling on us as the 25th approaches, and we can keenly feel the weight of expectations. We struggle with diets, schedules, relatives (do not get me started), balancing work and family, struggling to carve out time for ourselves. Nor is the news we hear good. 2015 seems to be a litany of misery with disasters, terrorism, tragedies both personal and global, and a lead-up to next year’s elections that often seems like a very bad sitcom. Personally, I’ve had major upheavals in my home and work life that have long term impacts and both of which are contributing significantly to holiday stress. And, as always, there are empty chairs in the circle which we know will never be filled again and the loss pains us.

And yet…

At this time of year, we are also bathed in lights that hold back the darkness, even if only for the moment. There is kindness, often unexpected gestures that warm our hearts and make the day a little bit brighter. There are moments to make us smile. It is a time to keep those we hold most dear close to us, whether in person or in the warmth of memories. If we open ourselves to it, there is joy and hope. We have to reach for it, though.

So, as we face this longest night, light a candle against the darkness. Let other candles be lit from yours. As long as we keep the flame going and do not surrender to the night, there is hope, both big and small.

Light a candle, for we know that spring will come again.

NaNoWriMo Inspiration: Day 30

NaNoWriMo Inspiration: Day 30

The end - Victory“Victory belongs to the most persevering.” — Napoleon Bonaparte

Word counts are due to the NaNo site tonight by 11:59 PM your time zone. Do yourself a favor and get them posted early because the site will see some heavy traffic as midnight starts to roll in around the world. Don’t let your words go uncounted because you couldn’t get the page to load.

We’re here. Thirty days and however many words you’ve written, if you’re still pounding the keyboards, you’ve done good. Make no mistake; 50,000 words in 30 days is a long road, one I think is worthwhile because the point is doing the thing, to take time during the middle of the madness of November to make time for your writing.

I’ve lost two NaNoWriMos since I began doing this annual madness. I’ve always counted myself a winner, though. Each year teaches me something new, most often something I need to change or watch for, habits I’ve slipped into that actively work against the writing need to be changed. The stress and heat of the moment that comes with NaNo exposes these things and I always walk away with a few “do this, not this” and some “you must change this.”

There’s another prize I’ve gained from multiple NaNoWriMos: I can draft faster. I remember a time when getting just a thousand words a day was a struggle. Several times this month, I’ve done sprints where I’ve made a thousand words in 30 minutes. I’ve consistently hit word counts of 2,500 or above in a day, and 3,000 and above a few times. This carries over into the rest of the year and when I sit my butt down in the chair and focus, 1,667 words at some point doesn’t seem so scary any more.

That speed didn’t come overnight. In fact, that mystical 1,667 nearly killed me the first few years. Doing NaNoWriMo, trying to reach that speed help me to slowly, over time, get that count up. If I can’t break a thousand on a given day, I have to ask myself what is wrong.

These are the gifts NaNo brings, win or lose. That you can prove to yourself that you can find the time to sit your butt in the chair and write. That you can write more words in a day than you thought possible. Maybe you didn’t win this year, but if you take the lessons you’ve learned over the past 30 days and bring them to your writing in the next 336, when NaNo starts again, you’ll do better. If you did make 50,000, you’ll write more words next year.

Victory is ours, even if it isn’t the obvious one. What have you learned from doing NaNo this year?

NaNoWrimo Inspiration: Day 29

NaNoWrimo Inspiration: Day 29

Loki #17 - Stories come alive“Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed people can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has.” — Margaret Mead

Two days left. Come Tuesday morning, NaNoWriMo 2015 will be behind us, win or lose. Today, though, we write. We write because that’s what we set out to do, to reach 50,000 words by the end of November or get as close as we possibly can. A lot of folks have already validated their novels, hit the magical 50,000 mark and stopped because that’s what they set out to do. Finished or not, they wrote their words and will get their winner goodies.

If you’re reading this, you’re either a) still frantically trying to reach 50,000 words or b) your story’s not done yet. What’s more, you know it isn’t done and you know it may likely not be done by the end of day tomorrow, no matter your word count.

For a lot of people, the doing of the thing is enough. They’ve always wanted to see if they could actually do this writing thing and this has given them a chance to try. A lot of the NaNoWriMo social life revolves around coffee shops, the chance to be one of those people typing away on something that is obviously not school or work. There’s absolutely nothing wrong with that and if the doing of the thing is what makes you happy, do the thing and enjoy. Writing is first and foremost for yourself; there’s no other reason to put yourself thorugh this torture otherwise.

For those who are looking beyond the finish line and to what comes next, take heart. You’re not alone. Writing isn’t just 30 days in November; it’s a calling to tell the stories inside you.

Agent of Asgard #17 - Once Upon a Time

The words, of course, are ones every storyteller knows well: Once upon a time…

The images are from Loki: Agent of Asgard #17, written by Al Ewing, art by Lee Garbrett, colors by Antonio Fabella, lettering and production by VC Clayton Cowles. I recommend the series, but I highly recommend this issue even if you’re not a comics fan. It’s a wonderful meditation on stories and the power they hold and have always held.

Stories can change the world, because they present an idea that sparks the imagination of those around us or fills a need we didn’t even know we had. They can be, as Loki says, magic.

We’re almost home. Let’s make some magic today.

All images copyright 2015 by Marvel Comics. All rights reserved.

NaNoWriMo Inspiration: Day 28

NaNoWriMo Inspiration: Day 28

“You can have it all. You just can’t have it all at once.” — Oprah Winfrey

Funny, I keep telling my characters that. At this point, they’re not particularly interested in listening. But they’re in the middle of the book, so they do not know the pain which lies ahead of them. My hero, especially. He has no understanding how out of his depth he is. Naturally this is going to cause considerable pain, especially to the heroine, who is falling for him despite her logical instints that tell her otherwise. ::cackles evilly::

Character torture. Gotta love it.

Three days left in this year’s NaNoWrimo and we really all should be in the middle of angst now, happily torturing our characters as they move toward the climax of their story. I’ve got my ending already written and am filling in the middle bits, but I’m starting to be filled with this dreadful urge that I want it all done now. It’s so close, I taste it. What doesn’t help is that I know exactly what scenes I need; I can see them in my head. Now the problem is to keep my focus as I head into the home stretch, make certain that I don’t let my mind go leaping all over the place. I’m not writing in order, but I need to stay with what I’m currently writing on so I can make certain I don’t miss something I wanted to get down on the page.

People want to know the “secret” for writing, and usually aren’t amused to find that most writers will tell you, “Butt in chair, hands on keyboard.” They want some mystical wisdoms that will let them finish a book in just an afternoon and then see it as an instant best-seller on Amazon. There are plenty of folks out there who are willing to tell you how to do that — for a price. I’ve got a few in my inbox right now.

By now, you know that approach doesn’t work. You’ve got twenty-seven days under your belt of sweat and frustration, too much caffeing and moments of using the wordiest descriptions you can to help you make that word count. You’ve been doing the work — it’s just that the work seems to be never-ending. Welcome to the joy of writing.

Books are written one scene at a time. No matter how hard we try, we can’t write two at once. Trust me on this one. I’ve been trying for years. So today, know that you can have your win and your finished draft, but you can’t have it yet and you can’t have it at the same time you’re trying to figure out the scene where your protagonist is uncovers the person who’s been dogging him all this time. Focus. And if you need a prompt, you can always borrow today’s quote — it’s not a bad lesson for characters to learn.

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