Monday, February 20, 2012

Bless your heart, Girl. Jump

I'll admit that when Keely brought up the WOTY concept for the blog, I felt a certain smug satisfaction. I had not just a word, but a whole phrase: Stay The Course (STC). It'd been my mantra for 2011 and with it I had completed a 60K-word version of my novel, pitched it at RWA, and received a couple of nibbles. I was on top of the world.

Then, in November, something really wonderful happened. The Rockville 8—those wacky women that write and laugh…a lot—extended an invitation to me to join their group. This was just what I had been looking for: savvy critique partners who would help me take my manuscript to the next level.

Seemed like a good idea in December. It's February now, and I feel differently. Very differently. Smug is no longer an emotion I'm enjoying. Thanks to the wonderfully supportive R8, I'm growing as a writer and my manuscript is becoming tighter and more focused. But, I'm also running smack up against my own self-imposed limitations and STC no longer applies.

I realize now that Stay The Course only works when you're in a safe place and just have to avoid distractions. It's like cupping your ears and squeezing your eyes closed while singing la-la-la-la. So in 2011, in my uber-efficient and security-conscious way (), I carved out a niche for writing that would inconvenience no one, except me. The alarm sounded at 5:30am, and by 5:45, I was seated at my computer with a cup of coffee. Armed with a detailed plot, character bios, and Goal-Motivation-Conflict charts, I followed the plan and wrote every morning. No matter how often my inner critic told me I was writing crap or the list-serve featured another “publishing is dead” article, I just sang la-la-la-la and stayed the course.

It worked, but, I ask you, is that sustainable? Maybe for some people, but I'm burned out and growing as a writer demands more time. So, why not just claim it? Because I’m a Southern woman and we're cursed to put the needs of others ahead of our own. But, even more, I'm afraid of facing uncharted waters. I want to make a plan and follow it, but you know, sh--t, happens. Plans get interrupted. 

The French writer, AndrĂ© Malraux said: "The difference between a successful person and a failure is not that one has better abilities or ideas, but the courage that one has to bet on one's ideas, to take a calculated risk—to act.”
I was ten the first time I jumped off the high dive. Shuffling out to the end of the board had been terrifying and now I was frozen with fear.  At the base of the ladder, a group of children waited and watched. Some yelled encouragements; others taunted me with fraidy cat. Minutes passed. I made no move. Finally, the life guard shouted, "Bless your heart, Girl, just jump!" 

Risk. Courage. Those are the words I'm mulling over today. Will I have the courage to take the risk and jump? I hope so. The girl that I once was did.


  1. Hi, it's Shellie here. If I don't respond to your comment right away, then I will tonight. I'll be anxiously watching my son learn to ski today and praying for no broken bones.


  2. Bless your heart, Shellie, and welcome to the Rockville 8!

    Yes, unfortunately developing in anything does take time, doesn't it. My brother says, "Every overnight success took fifteen years to get there." I think he's right!

    So, you mentioned doing more than rising before the chickens to write, and joining the R8 in order to grow. Has your approach to writing changed? If so how?

  3. Awesome post, Shellie. I adore the quote . . . "The difference between a successful person and a failure is not that one has better abilities or ideas, but the courage that one has to bet on one's ideas, to take a calculated risk—to act.”

    I think you're so right. I'm sure there are many many talented people out there who we'll never hear about because they clung to their security and never pushed themselves or their fledgling ideas out into the public areana.

    I applaud your bravery. Courage is nothing to take lightly and I do believe it's nurtured and first developed and proven in those blinder days of staying the course when the going is tough. To a degree, we still cling to staying the course (and always will) as writers, but if we want our work to be published, it takes courage to expose our writing and ideas to those private readers--critique partners and editing partners--then to agents and editors and, finally, to public readers and reviewers.

    Each step in the process takes great courage and honesty. And reading your work and your post, I'm convinced you have both!

    Good job. Bless your heart, girl. You did it. You jumped. ;0)And you're so much better for it. Woohoo!

  4. Wow, Shellie, what a fabulous first post and what a lucky group we are to have you with us!

  5. Dear Nichole,

    Amen to your brother's comment! Becoming a good, and then maybe great, storyteller does take time. What I didn't remember going into 2012, was that 2011 (STC) came after a hard earned 2010 which I dubbed Chart the Course. That year worked because I took two long writing weekends where I did nothing but outline my story. I literally drank Slim Fast and ate fruit so I didn't have to stop writing. I think 2012 has to have some of that kind of uninterrupted creative time to get me back on track.

    Thanks for asking!


  6. Candy,

    Glad you liked that quote. Here's another one I found that I like just as much: "Man cannot discover new oceans unless he has the courage to lose sight of the shore.” (AndrĂ© Gide)

    My biggest fear? That some will ask me for a 30 second summary of my novel. The pitch looks good on paper, but I can't make it convincing in person. Is it the words or am I not convinced?

    This is my challenge I think this year.


  7. Thank you Evie!

    I feel so lucky to be a part of
    R8. Your critique comments are forcing me to dig deeper, be more precise and focused. Hard work, but good work!


  8. I think finding the time to write is something that almost every writer faces.

    I've been retired for a year (almost to the day) and you'd think that I'd have found more time to write with not working full time. Unfortunately, that is not the case.

    The good news is that I self-published my debut novel. The bad news is that I am the one and only person responsible for promotion of the novel.

    In the midst of all that, family issues took the forefront and I'm STILL trying to figure out a good schedule to get my work done. I'm writing, but not at the level I should be.

    If you find out the secret of finding time to write, PLEASE let me know!

  9. Great post, Shellie! I never thought about it in this way but if you stay the course too long you may miss a chance to change and grow as a result.

    I'm glad that when you decided to jump, you landed in the middle of our group. :)

  10. Oh, Shellie, bless your heart! As a writer, as a wife, and most often as a mother, I do cup my ears and sing la-la-la!

    Bravo on staying the course.

  11. I recently went to a week-long Donald Maass writing bootcamp, and he had a lot of useful observations to make about craft and process and blah, blah, blah, but at one point he took a pause from his well rehearsed patter, looked out across the room, and said something to the effect that, "What holds many of us back as writers is not a poor command of the craft, not a lack of imagination, not a lack of dedication, it's fear. We don't go deep enough into ourselves to get the break out stories that lie inside us."

    The room got really, really quiet. I think your post says the same thing in a more accessible (and cost effective!) way. We need to Writer Up, whatever that means for each of us.

  12. Kathy Bennett --

    I always say "Yes Ma'am. Right away!" to anyone holding a gun, so I recommend you wave that gun (you're holding in your picture) around at your house and see how quickly you get the time you want!! In fact, I may just go get one too, though my real heart's desire is a taser!

    But all kidding aside, finding the time is hard when you're choosing between being present to your loved ones or hunkering down by yourself. That's why getting up with the chickens works--until you just can't do it anymore.

    Thanks for commenting and sharing your challenges.

  13. Lisa,

    I'm so glad to be in your swimming pool. I just hope y'all don't throw me out for splashing around too much--or misplaced modifiers, or horrors! run on sentences!


  14. Sherry Isaac--

    You're singing my song: la-la-la!

    Thanks for sharing.

  15. Grace Burrows,

    I think you hit the nail on the head. I like that phrase "writer up." It has so many applications. One is digging deep into our stories to imbue them with something distinctive and authentic. That's what wins contests, wins over agents and publishers, creates buzz and builds readership.

    Another application is being able to say out loud to friends, family and coworkers: Yes! I write Mystery with Romantic Elements and I have a really good story to tell. Open up that baby at a cocktail party and see what happens. Half of the room is secretly writing a memoir, a quarter is writing erotic memoir and the other quarter is embarrassed at your openess. Maybe? Maybe not.

    Here's to digging deeper!

  16. Shellie - I'm so glad you took a risk on the R8! Your strength of purpose is a beacon for me.

    I recently read somewhere that the root of "courage" is "cour" or heart. So what we do when we act out in courage is allow our hearts to fly free. Jump, indeed.

    Happy to be jumping with you this year....

  17. Shellie, sounds like you've got a plan. I think that's important, and you've surrounded yourseves with supportive "others." My whole theme in 2011 (while I was president of my RWA chapter) was "Keeping On, Keeping On." As long as we do that, we have a shot at being successful (however we define the word.)If we give up on ourselves, we lose. Love your web site, by the way.

  18. Thanks Marsha for your support and for volunteering to guide your RWA chapter as president. That is a pretty tall order.

    "Keeping on, keeping on" has a lot of motion, it travels and propels. That's what we have to do as writers. Don't get distracted. Finish the book. Start the next one.

    “It is the set of sails, not the direction of the winds, that determines which way we will go.” ~ Napoleon Hill

    Thanks for stopping by and sharing your thoughts.


  19. Boy, I'm struggling with the same thing. It seems like the only time of day to take time to write - and not take time away from family - is early in the morning, but I am *so* not an early riser.

    These are a few tactics that have been somewhat successful for me ... when I practice what I preach.

    - Know your limits and set goals accordingly. If you only have 30 minutes a day to write, do not aim to write 2,000/day.

    - Learn to write in brief chunks of time. All the little bits and pieces will add up. Carry a notebook or thumb drive with you.

    - Outline or pre-plan what you will write each day - by scene, chapter, etc. This way you don't have to wait for inspiration to strike. (This is a technique I learned as a professional freelancer. I often lacked inspiration, but had articles I needed to finish for deadlines. You learn to write, even if you don't feel like writing.)

    - Write freely, knowing you can and will edit later.

    - Get into the habit of writing at a regular time so you are mentally and physically conditioned for this habit. It may be 6 a.m., over your lunch hour at work, or at 8 p.m. when kids are watching TV.

    - Set boundaries when it comes to your writing time. Family may try to infringe on this time, but if you gently and consistently redirect them ("Mommy will be out in 30 minutes when the timer goes off.") they will learn to respect this boundary, just like the time you take for exercise, paying bills, etc.

    I hope these tips are helpful.

    /Maria Connor

  20. Maria,

    That's a great list of tips for getting the writing done. I love your quote: You learn to write, even if you don't feel like writing.

    Many is the time I've sat in front of the computer doing the equivalent of just putting one sleepy and/or uninspired foot in front of the other. Later, I looked back at those writing sessions and often found I had made real progress despite feeling abandoned by my muse.

    Thanks for sharing this good advice Maria, and keep up the good work!