Monday, January 18, 2016

Learning to Embrace the Story

For the last couple of years, I've seen a trend on social media. Come January, people start posting their "word" for the year. Something that speaks to them, to what they want out of the shiny, clean slate that is a brand new calendar. A word of encouragement; one that points toward a goal. A hope. An area of growth.

I like this idea. But then again, I'm a fan of words in general.

After pondering for a couple of weeks, I think I've landed on my 2016 word of the year...


            em•brace  verb
            1. to accept (something or someone) readily or gladly
            2. to use (an opportunity) eagerly

I especially love how this word applies to both my life in general...

Embrace the messy house. I have two children. And a life. Mess comes with the territory.
Embrace simplicity. Contentment is the new black.
Embrace the present. There are memories to be made now. The future can wait its turn.

...and to my writing career...

Embrace the wait. The perfect thing later is a lot better than the wrong thing now. 
Embrace the rejections. That agent/editor/publisher wasn't the right one. But the next one could be.
Embrace who I am as an author. Focus on sharing a story, not selling a book.

That last one is the hardest (at least for me). I think one of the most sought after - and most feared - words in the writing world is "marketable." If you're a writer you've probably heard people say, "Don't write for the market! Write the story only you can tell!" And if you've ever been told that your book is lovely but not marketable enough, you've probably felt the strong desire to pummel those people with the largest, heaviest book you can get your hands on. (I keep a nice, fat hardcover copy of War and Peace in my living room for just such occasions.) 

(Just Kidding.) 

(Or am I?)

I realized recently, as I've been exploring ideas for new writing projects and revisiting old ones, that I've been trying to shove myself into the elusive box of marketability. And it's sapped a lot of the joy I once felt at the prospect of putting new words on paper. It's a difficult balance, wanting to write the story that brings you joy, but also wanting it to bring you an agent and a book deal. And while I think writing with the awareness of what makes a book marketable is a good thing, writing solely with the intention of creating a sellable story is a recipe for disaster. Writing is like cooking: the secret spice is love. It's the difference between a bland TV dinner and a spicy home cooked meal. It's the difference between a good book and a great one. 

To gain your own voice, you have to forget about having it heard.”
—Allen Ginsberg

That's not to say that the story you're passionate about comes easy. Even things you love can make you want to pull your hair out (every mother in the world knows this). But it's worth every single edit. Every single rewrite. Every single moment of questioning your sanity.

I read a story this week, after the passing of Alan Rickman, that really drove this point home for me. Evanna Lynch, who played Luna Lovegood in the Harry Potter films, shared a story on her Facebook page of an interaction she had with Alan at a charity dinner a few years after the filming of the HP movies. At the time, Evanna says, she "was stressing about the pressure I felt to already be a successful actress and that I'd run out of time to make mistakes." Then she goes on to share Alan's advice...

"As an actress, already having to lie about my age at 24, it seems mad that Alan only found his vocation and began his acting journey at 26 and turned out to be…Alan Rickman. But when I told him that I was worried if I didn't figure myself out quickly I would miss the most important opportunities and never get them back, he simply told me that I was focusing on the wrong thing. He said not to worry about getting 'there' and instead to focus on feeding my soul and following my heart from place to place."

As I move into this new year, I want to embrace the stories that are tugging at my heart. The ones I can't stop thinking about. The ones that bring a smile to my face and make me eager to take up my pen again...and again...and again...even when it's hard. 

Because after all, those stories are the reason why I started writing in the first place. 

Saturday, January 16, 2016

DIY Writing Planner (For Under $10!)

Every year, my writers' group does a gift exchange at the holidays. This year (because, life) we ended up having a New Year celebration, rather than a Christmas one, so we decided our gifts should be something to encourage one another to write throughout the coming year. I put together a simple, inexpensive writing planner and loved it so much I decided to make one for myself! 

When I'm working on a story, I like to have a notebook handy so I can jot down notes and inspiration that come to me during the day when I don't have time to pull out my computer. If you're a wee bit OCD like me and secretly annoyed by having a notebook filled with out-of-sequence notes, this binder gives you the bonus of being able to add and/or rearrange pages as needed. 

All the materials can currently be found (for under $10 total!) in what my kids call the "Dollar Section" at Target. (You know, that section near the entrance where everything is cheap and adorable, AKA, the most dangerous aisle in the store.)

1 Mini Binder
1 Filler Paper/Pocket Divider Combo
1 Pack Pencils

(I like to use a sturdy card stock for these.) 

Print the project and word count sheets
(pro tip: draw a cut line 1/4" from
the edge of the first column to get nice,
evenly sized sheets).

Use the filler paper as a template to mark
where to hole punch.

Separate the lined paper into three (roughly)
equal stacks, split them up with the pocket
dividers, and add a project and word count
sheet at the beginning of each section.

And there you have it! There are so many ways to make it your own...print writing prompt cards or inspirational images to stick in the divider pockets (Pinterest is a great place to find both), add character profile sheets, setting maps, calendar pages to help schedule writing time...whatever helps get you excited and motivated to write.

Have you made your own writing planner? I'd love to see photos of your creation! Leave one in the comments below or tweet me @papergram.