The Chaos Theory of Writing

In a post on Telling the Truth–Mainly, I defined my writing process as chaos.

In the beginning, it wasn’t chaos. When I was in elementary school and junior high, writing was easy. I started at the beginning and stopped at the end.

My early writing process

When I entered the eighth grade, trouble began. I thought about the assignment for about ten seconds; then my brain vaporized and was replaced by a vacuum.

I realize now that things got all balled up because assignments became more complicated: a certain form, a certain length, a topic more abstract than I’d ever wrestled* with.

About thirty minutes before deadline, my brain started up again, but in fits and starts, like it had the hiccups. I always produced the essay, but writing was a harrowing experience. Chaotic. It still works that way.

My current writing process

 

I like to think of it as the Chaos Theory. Through the years, I’ve gathered a body of supporting evidence. In this post, I’ll share observations.

One caveat: I know nothing about the writing process. The Theory isn’t finished yet.  When I’ve completed my research and fleshed it out to the nth degree, I’ll put it all in a book.

Observations

There is no one way to write a book or a story or anything else. With all due respect to Robert Olen Butler, you do not have to write every scene on a note card and arrange them in sequence; and if you decide to change sequence while you write, you do not have to rearrange cards (because you were smart and didn’t buy any cards); and you do not have to refrain from writing scenes that will occur later in the book because you cannot imagine the characters’ emotional states until you’ve written what comes before.

I spent a zillion dollars on note cards, trying time after time to make it work, and time after time discarding note cards after about five scenes because I didn’t know what happened after that, except for some scenes here and there, and at the very end, which I could write, thank you very much.

2. You don’t have to know the end before you start. You don’t have to outline. If you don’t believe me, read Tony Hillerman on the subject. I read his essay about planning in a book, but I’ve forgotten the title, so I googled and found the following passages from a different source:

‘He wanted to know how Tony outlined his books. Tony said, “I don’t do that.” Then how do you know when to end? “I just get to the end.”’ ,’When I got a two-book deal with HarperCollins, the contract said that for the second book, they would pay half the advance upon approval of an outline. I said to Tony, “I can’t outline a book in advance.” He said, “Neither can I. Don’t worry about it, just write up anything for the outline, and then turn in the book you want to do.” . . .

‘Hillerman said he outlined one book and it turned out not so good. So he just started. He needed to know four or five things at the outset, but that was enough for him to write a novel. ~ New Mexico Magazine

3. When you write fiction, you can break a lot of rules you learned in school. I often divide a compound predicate with a comma. In fact, I sprinkle commas all over the place, but I leave a lot out, too. I use incomplete sentences. (Frags) Apostrophes, however, are best used in the traditional manner. It’s not good to experiment with them.

4. Number 4 is True, the Truest statement about writing that I can give. It isn’t just a Truth; it is a Rule.

When you run out of words and are in such a miserable state that the brownies in the kitchen aren’t just calling your name, but popping the lid off the Tupperware, flying into your office, and landing in your lap, then it’s okay to play a game of Candy Crush. Sometimes it’s okay to play a full round of Candy Crush, when it tries to get money out of you for another life.

At that point, you must stop. You may not buy, or ask friends for, extra lives. You may not spend any money. You may play only one version of Candy Crush. I recommend Candy Crush Saga, but whichever you choose, you must restrict yourself to that.

If a game ends in fifteen seconds because a bomb went off, and Candy Crush says you have no more lives and kicks you out for thirty minutes, that’s it. You’re finished. Sentence; period; paragiraffe, as my mother used to say.

When you complete the game, or the round, you must go back to your manuscript and find more words. After thirty minutes, when you get another life, if you’re desperate, it’s okay to go back.

5. Another Rule: Don’t open Facebook for any reason, except to get to Candy Crush, and then be darned careful. Don’t read posts, don’t post comments, don’t click on goat or cat videos. Stay away from everything that looks cute.

There’s a reason this blog is titled Writing Wranglers and Warriors.  I didn’t come up with the name, and that’s evidence that at least one other writer wrangles. It’s more evidence that the Chaos Theory is sound.

I repeat: there is no one way to write. I have shared shards of my experience. Yours may be different. I hope it is.

Numbers 4 and 5, however, are fact. Disregard them at your peril.

I wish I could.

_____________

chaos – utter confusion ~ Thesaurus.com

The comment about Robert Olen Butler applies to a book, not to Mr. Butler himself, and represents my experience, but I could be wrong.

Wrestle is a synonym for wrangle.
wrangle – late 14c., from Low German wrangeln “to dispute, to wrestle,” related to Middle Low German wringen, from Proto-Germanic *wrang-, from PIE *wrengh-, nasalized variant of *wergh- “to turn” (see wring). Related: Wrangledwrangling. The noun is recorded from 1540s. ~ Thesaurus.com

 

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Inspiration, Desperation, Suspiration, Broccoli…

Posted by M. K. Waller

© David Davis, Alien Resort. Used with permission.

Want to know how I think up topics for blog posts?

Of course you do.

I use several techniques:

  1. A topic comes to me about 9:00 p.m. and I write fast and then stay up all night fixing it (and hoping readers can tell it’s been fixed), finding pictures, and making pictures stay where I want them.
  2. Sometimes I forget I have a post due on Writing Wranglers and Warriors until 9:00 p.m. the night before, and I stay up all night doing the tasks listed in #1.
  3. Sometimes a topic comes to me at 9:00 p.m., and I write about it and then see what I’ve written is so horrid that I trash it and write about something else. Often the something else is a topic I’ve meandered into while writing the horrid part.
  4. Sometimes a topic comes to me while I’m driving. By 9:00 o’clock, I’ve usually forgotten it and have to think of something else.
  5. Sometimes a topic comes to me while I’m working–cooking, washing dishes, moving the refrigerator and scrubbing the floor under it. We have a dishwasher, and since my diagnosis, David has done most of the cooking and cleaning up, so those pathways have lain untrodden for a while. Letting David cook is called “Taking Advantage of a Good Husband.” I should have been cooking every night for a long time. But until recently I’ve made it through only half the preparation before wearing out, so he might as well do the whole thing. I move refrigerators at 3:00 a.m. and so usually lose those topics, too.
  6. Furthermore, David serves a lot of pizza and frozen entrees (TV dinners for the baby boomer generation), so I don’t have to eat the broccoli I’m supposed to eat. I’m happy. I was tired of broccoli before chemo, and now I find it almost intolerable. Don’t even mention lettuce in my presence. [This paragraph should follow #5 and not be numbered at all, but current formatting doesn’t allow it, and I don’t care. I could paste the list into MS Word, take out the formatting, and paste it back here; that might work. But, as I said, I don’t care.]

[The next paragraph began as part of paragraph #7, but when I changed my mind and spaced down, instead of becoming #8 or #9, the text flew clear back to the margin and didn’t number itself. Go figure.]

I repeat, I don’t care. I’ve been cooking, and I’m too tired to care.

I’m also too tired to proceed with the topic I planned to write about, which came to me while I was cooking: How to and How Not to Cook a Casserole for a 6:00 p.m. Dinner If You’re Still Doing Something Else at 5:10.

Putative Casserole. With broccoli.

And last week I promised myself I’d stop writing 1,000-word posts. The ideal is 300 to 500 words. This post will make the cut. If I stop now.

It’s only 6:40, but I have to find some pictures and properly attribute them and make them stay put, so I’ll probably be up all night.

*

522 words, not counting this line. Close.

***

M. K. Waller used to write as Kathy Waller. Then she discovered Kathy Waller is the name of the CFO of the Coca-Cola Corporation, and every Google search hit on Kathy the CFO a dozen times before it got to Kathy the writer. So the writer switched to M. K. There aren’t so many of those.

Her personal blog is M. K. Waller–Telling the Truth, Mainly. She also blogs at Austin Mystery Writers and edits HOTSHOTS!, the newsletter/blog of the Sisters in Crime Heart of Texas Chapter.

Her stories appear in the anthologies listed below. You can read her flash story, “And Justice for All,” in Mysterical-E.

 

  Lone Star Lawless (Wildside, 2017)

 Day of the Dark (Wildside, 2017)

 Murder on Wheels (Wildside, 2017)

 

Lessons in Writing from the Compost Heap #writersjourney #amwriting

Writing Wranglers and Warriors
welcomes a new blogger,
Ronel Janse van Vuuren

  Posted by Ronel Janse van Vuuren

A few months ago I shared on my blog that someone tried to burn my property down.

Anyhow, ever since then I didn’t go down to the compost heap (who wants to see the depressing scar?). But in December I realised that things couldn’t stay that way forever. If I’m not going to make a plan, then it’s probably going to turn into a stinking heap of… Well, you get the idea. Armed with work gloves, sunglasses, and sunscreen, I went out early one morning and waded through the remains of the original compost heap and everything just dumped there from the stables, aviary, garden and kitchen. Giant, scary, spiky weeds grew over everything. The weeds from the Jurassic era towered over me – mostly because they grew on a heap higher than my hips.

I felt overwhelmed. How can I, someone who spends her days behind a computer, ever be up to this task? How will I be able to start a new compost heap out of all the “fresh” ingredients, sift through the remains of the old heap to use in the garden, start another heap with the almost-ready compost and not die of a heart attack or heatstroke before the month is done?

You think I’m exaggerating? The compost heap was 10 by 30 meters in length and breadth and between 1 and 2 meters high (excluding the prehistoric plants). And the average temperature was 30 degrees Celsius – except on the rare days when it rained (when it dropped to 20 degrees Celsius with icy droplets pelting you).

Terrifying for someone who spends most of her time in a fantasy world – in the safety of her study.

The first thing I realised was that my deadline of doing this in a month was absolutely unrealistic. If I wanted to do this – without dying – I had to readjust the way I approached this project. I couldn’t spend an entire day pulling weeds – my arms would fall off from the new exercise. I couldn’t shovel dung all day – I’d never eat again. I couldn’t sift compost all day – going uphill with a full wheelbarrow is murder on the whole body (the compost had to go somewhere and I thought this the perfect time to expand the vegetable garden). Yes, yes, let’s not go into my lack of focusing on one project at a time: when in the garden, everything is up for grabs.

Which is what happens when you write, too.

You have this project – a novel – and you know you have to write it in a certain amount of time. You also have to get it beta read, rewritten, proofread and whatever else you need to do for your choice of publication method. But… You also have to blog, use social media, connect with readers and writers, build your brand, and all that other stuff.

It’s overwhelming if taken on all at once. Just like that compost heap. But when you break everything down into manageable tasks – one block at a time – then you’ll accomplish your task without being crushed by anxiety and fear of failure.

Something else to think about: it takes months for compost ingredients to break down into a usable product. Sometimes ideas need to simmer, be plotted, rewritten (turned and sifted like compost) before it can be brilliant. Don’t be too hard on yourself if things don’t go entirely according to plan – the journey is just as important as the destination.

Have you ever taken on a task that you wanted to finish in a ridiculous amount of time? (I’m still working on that compost heap…) What did you learn from the experience? Do you have a compost heap?

 

*******

Ronel Janse van Vuuren is the author of New Adult, Young Adult and children’s fiction filled with mythology and folklore. Her dark fantasy stories can be read for free on Wattpad and on her blog Ronel the Mythmaker. She won Fiction Writer of the Year 2016 for her Afrikaans stories on INK: Skryf in Afrikaans. Her published works can be viewed on Goodreads.

Ronel can be found tweeting about writing and other things that interest her, arguing with her characters, researching folklore for her newest story or playing with her Rottweilers when she’s not actually writing

Burma Shave: A Post in Three Parts

 

 

Posted by MK Waller

**********************************************

Prepost

On March 1, I posted “To March,” a poem by Emily Dickinson, on my personal blog, Telling the Truth, Mainly. I post it every year. There’s no such thing as too much Emily Dickinson.

© MK Waller
© MK Waller

Then I happened across another poem she wrote about March, and it seemed a shame to keep it to myself, so I prepared to post it on the 2nd.

Like “To March,” the new poem celebrates nature, specifically the natural light that appears in early spring. Unable (after an extensive search of several databases) to find a suitable photograph of Dickinson’s Central Massachusetts in springtime, I settled for a picture of a Texas landscape covered in bluebonnets. . . .

Then I added a few paragraphs about bluebonnets. I wrote about the annual tradition of driving around looking for bluebonnets, the different species, the history of the bluebonnet as the state flower. I put in pictures from the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center. . . .

© MK Waller
© MK Waller

That reminded me of the time Fannie Flagg wore a big flowery hat and did an impression of Mrs. Johnson, way back in the ’60s, when Lady Bird was pushing highway beautification. (“Whenever I see a candy wrapper on the ground, I stop and pick it up. . . .  Lyndon collects candy wrappers.”)

I think I saw it on the Garry Moore Show–I was about twelve at the time–and I thought it outrageously funny.  So I decided to include the memory in my post. . . . 

© MK Waller
© MK Waller

But first I had to write about the Highway Beautification Act of 1965, which meant I had to do some research, and that got to me thinking about Mrs. Johnson herself, which led to remembering her memorial service and the lovely words her oldest granddaughter, Lucinda Robb, spoke there–that woman is a fine writer, and I say that in all sincerity–and that prompted me to pull up a video of the eulogy. Of course, I had to listen to it to make sure it was as good as I remembered, and it was, so I decided to add a link, but before I did, I had to listen to the tribute (Parts I and II) given by Bill Moyers, a string of touching and humorous stories about Lady Bird. . . . And by the time he finished, I was all teary and had to get out the crying towel. . . .

© MK Waller
© MK Waller

And then I remembered something really funny, a conversation broadcast on local TV news between a reporter and one of the Johnson Ranch hands, a man who’d worked there since he was a boy. He said Mrs. Johnson woke up one morning and looked out her bedroom window and saw that overnight, deer had grazed on the vast and expensive bed of pansies she’d laid out the day before. She came to him, all fired up, carrying a rifle, and said, “Can you drive?” He said he could, and she said, “All right, get the truck. You drive, and I’ll shoot.” He didn’t go into detail about the hunting trip, and I have a feeling they didn’t bag anything.

Well, anyway, my mind then turned to the East Texas roots Moyers and Lady Bird shared, which took me back to all those people meandering around the Texas backroads every April, looking for bluebonnets, and that reminded me of William Humphrey‘s memoir, which I read in a master’s class in Texas literature, and in which Humphrey refers to Texas’ romance with the automobile. I’d forgotten the title, so I had to look it up. (Farther Off From Heaven.)

© MK Waller
© MK Waller

Thinking about the romance with the automobile reminded me of how my father loved to drive around just to see what he could see, and all the Sunday drives we took, during which I generally had my nose in a book and so today I know a lot of local place names but have no idea how to get there, and then I thought about the many trips we made from Fentress to Houston, and we always took the old highway and stopped in Schulenberg at something that wasn’t a Dairy Queen but was close, and that had the absolute best hamburgers I’ve ever eaten to this very day, and how somewhere just north of Schulenberg, or maybe south of it, there was a series of Burma Shave signs. That was just before the interstate highways came through, when major roads in our area were still junky but interesting and even entertaining, and then I remembered my favorite Burma Shave jingle. . . .

© MK Waller
© MK Waller

So I googled Burma Shave and found Burma-Shave.org, which appears on FrogCircus.org, and the Burma Shave page on Fifties Web, and, of course, the Burma Shave page on Wikipedia. (Unfortunately the Eisner Museum of Advertising and Design, which is cited on Burma-Shave.org, is now closed.)

Finally, I decided to postpone bluebonnets and write about Burma Shave instead.

Then I remembered I was scheduled to post here on March 3rd.  

And that’s how we got to where we are now.

***

Post

 

Set of signs promoting Burma-Shave, on U.S. Ro...
Set of signs promoting Burma-Shave, on U.S. Route 66. (Photo credit: Wikipedia) Released into the public domain by author Ken Koehler.

 

For those too young to know–and I never thought I would use that phrase–Burma Shave was a brushless shaving cream. The company advertised with jingles displayed on roadside signs, one line per sign. They entertained drivers and kept children busy on long jaunts (Who’ll be first to see the next Burma Shave sign?). 

I don’t know for certain, but I’d be willing to bet that at least 99.44% of travelers who encountered Burma Shave signs were constitutionally incapable of passing by without reading them aloud, at least when a second person was in the car. 

Some of the jingles touted the product. Some promoted safe driving. Some were just fun.

Here’s a sample:

*

Hardy men
Were the Caesars
Instead of razors
They used tweezers
Burma Shave

*

Drinking drivers–
Nothing worse
They put
The quart
Before the hearse
Burma-Shave

*

Ben met Anna,
Made a hit.
She felt his chin.
Ben – Anna split.
Burma Shave

*

Slow down, Pa
Sakes alive
Ma missed signs
Four And five
Burma-Shave

*

Display of Burma Shave advertising slogans
Display of Burma Shave advertising slogans (Photo credit: Wikipedia). Photo by Peter Merholz, modified by anetode to fix skewed perspective [CC BY-SA 2.0] via Wikimedia Commons

*

The Sun Does Riz
The Sun Done Set
And We Ain’t Out
Of Texas Yet
Burma Shave

[Author’s note: Ain’t it the truth.]

*

Don’t leave safety
To mere chance
That’s why
Belts are
Sold with pants
Burma-Shave

*

[My all-time favorite]

Cattle crossing
Means go slow
That old bull
Is some
Cow’s beau
Burma-Shave

*

[And a mournful valedictory]

Farewell O verse,
Along the road.
How sad to see,
You’re out of mode.
Burma Shave

***

Postpost

The country said farewell to Burma Shave verses in 1963. Automobile travel hasn’t been the same since.

For more about the history of Burma Shave and its jingles, check the links cited in the Prepost.

*****

More about Ken Koehler’s photograph: https://www.fhwa.dot.gov/byways/photos/62366

“Set of signs promoting Burma-Shave, at the back of Hackberry General Store, Hackberry, Mohave County, Arizona, United States. On U.S. Route 66.”

*

The photograph by Peter Merholz also appears on Flickr.com.

*

Photos accompanying the Prepost have nothing to do with anything. I needed to break up the text, and I didn’t want to search for appropriate pictures, so I just dropped in whatever showed up on my hard drive.

*********************************

MK Waller–who used to be,
and still is, Kathy Waller–
has published stories
in Austin Mystery Writers’
Murder on Wheels (Wildside, 2015)
and on
Mysterical-E,
and memoir in Story Circle Network‘s
True Words Anthology and Journal.
She blogs at Telling the Truth, Mainly
and at Austin Mystery Writers.
She’s also on Facebook.
Her story “I’ll Be a Sunbeam” will appear
in Kaye George’s anthology Day of the Dark,
to be released by Wildside Press
on July 21, 2017,
exactly a month before the
August 2017 solar eclipse.

 

The Importance of a Sounding Board

1

This post is by Joe Stephens

 

 

I have a good friend who helps me with my writing. I’m sure I’ve mentioned her before. Here name is Maria, but I call her Pepper, short for Pepper Potts, who starts out as Tony Stark’s personal assistant in the Iron Man comics and movies. They eventually become a couple. The resemblance ends long before that for us. She’s happily married to another of my best friends and is more like a much younger sister than anything else. But that’s not the story I want to tell. The story I want to tell is how, among other great ways in which Pepper supports my writing, she serves as my sounding board.

This example perfectly illustrates what I’m trying to say. Earlier this week I had finished the first third of the rough draft of my work in progress and was contemplating where exactly to go from there. I had a rough idea of the general arc of the story. Frankly, I knew who the bad guy wasn’t, but I hadn’t completely decided who the killer actually was. And I

Pepper with hubby Jonathan

was considering whether to insert a particular section that I wasn’t sure about. It could be a valuable insight into the main characters or it could be a rabbit hole down which the plot could fall, never to be seen again. What to do?

 

Easy. Text Pepper. I told her about my concerns. I asked her what she thought. After I posed the initial question, I typed out how I thought the section might work if I handled it correctly and how it could even be the genesis for a spinoff book series. But before I could hit send, I received a text from her, and guess what it said. Almost word for word, she told me the exact same thing I had just typed.

Of all the people on the planet, including me, she probably knows my writing and my characters better than anyone else. She reads all my chapters as I write them and has read all my books over and over. We have both talked of how Harry and Dee are like a real couple we both know. So if she and I arrive at the same conclusion about where the story should go and how I should handle a particular scene, I feel completely confident that it’s right.

One of my most treasured possessions is this hat that I got from Pepper and Jonathan for my birthday.

I can’t express just how important it is to my writing to have someone like this to share it with. She keeps me going when I am struggling. She points me in the right direction when I feel lost. She reminds me that there are actually people out there who like and value my writing, and even if she’s the only one, that’s enough.

If you’re a writer, do you have someone in your life who serves this purpose for you? Feel free to brag on that person here.

 

 

 

 

Joe Stephens is a teacher at Parkersburg High School. He is also the author of Harsh Prey, Kisses and Lies, and the recently released In the Shadow, all of which are available in paperback and Kindle formats. The paperback may be purchased from Createspace, Amazon, and most online booksellers. In the real world, you may purchase from J & M Used Book Store in Parkersburg and from the author’s trunk.

ITS Cover ArtCheck out his newest book on Amazon

kindle cover

Take a look at Harsh Prey on Amazon 

Kisses and Lies Cover Michele croppedTake a look at Kisses and Lies on Amazon

Join Joe on Facebook 

Check out joe’s website.

Creating a Villain

1

by Joe Stephens

As a reader and writer of detective fiction, one of the things I pay attention to and struggle with is the creation of a believable villain. As a reader, some of the best villains I remember have been complete sociopaths, with no remorse whatever. The comic book equivalent would be the Joker. Those can be entertaining, especially when they lose. An example from literature I’ve read recently was from James Lee Burke’s Light of the World. The killer was, based on some veiled backstory, messed up as a child. But, regardless of how he got there, Asa Surrette was a demon who gained joy from inflicting pain on others and had no mixed feelings about it. I did enjoy seeing him go down at the end of the book. And I was glad it was a painful death.

An example of that kind of character from my writing is a man named Antonio Bezaleel. He’s a pedophile in my upcoming book, In The Shadow.We know little of his history, and that’s on purpose. I didn’t just forget to tell you how he got to where he was at the beginning of the book. The reason is that there’s no amount of childhood trauma that can justify the unspeakable things this man does. It’s hardly spoiling things, consideringwindow, blinds, raining, lights, blurry, night, dark what I write, that his end is ugly.

But for me, the most satisfying villains are the ones where we can see how they see themselves as the victim. They are flawed but relatable, at least to a degree. We can at least understand how they see the world. A good example of this from my recent reading is in Robert B. Parker’s last Spenser novel, which was actually finished after his death by his literary agent. The bad guy is a horrible man, but there’s a logic to his evil. And, though they are hard to find, there are even limits to it. He loves and is dedicated to his family. And we understand that much of his darkness comes from a very poor childhood that taught him that might makes right. So yes, we’re glad he loses, but we see in him not a complete monster but a flawed human being that, if he’d been caught early enough, graveyard, cemetery, tombstones, dark, night, death, dead, scarymight have actually been a decent person.

From my writing, an example of someone who ends up on the wrong side of the law, as well as the struggle between good and evil, is Johnny Tuttle from my first book, Harsh Prey. He becomes entangled with the mob and does awful things, but I hope readers will see him as a man who is simply in over his head because of one terrible mistake. He’s a man who truly does try to do right by his family but is so sullied by the ugliness, which, to be fair, he has brought upon himself that we are saddened though not surprised by how things end up for him. And ultimately, though we see him as a person who was predominantly good and whose influence on my hero, Harry Shalan, remains powerful, we feel that he deserved what he got.

So what are your favorite villains? Why did you find them compelling as a reader?

Joe Stephens is a teacher at Parkersburg High School. He is also the author of Harsh Prey and Kisses and Lies, both of which are available in paperback and Kindle formats. The paperback may be purchased from
Amazon, from J & M Used Book Store in Parkersburg, and from the author’s trunk.

kindle cover

Take a look at Harsh Prey on Amazon 

Kisses and Lies Cover Michele croppedTake a look at Kisses and Lies on Amazon

Join Joe on Facebook 

Check out joe’s website.

Just Do Something by Stephanie Stamm

 

Steph_2 copy (2)I have a confession to make:  I procrastinate.

Not always. I usually write and schedule my blog posts a few days before the due date, and I do my best to finish work projects ahead of deadline. But when it comes to home repairs—or even my current novel—I put things off.

For example, just this week, I had an electrician come to replace a faulty light switch and the ugly, out-dated chandelier in my dining room. These tasks have been on the to-do list since I moved into the house—nine years ago. And it was only last fall that I had the front door rekeyed so that the key to the back door works for it too. Before then I couldn’t unlock my front door from the outside because I had no key.

Now, to my credit, none of these things required urgent action. Until recently, the light switch was only a minor annoyance. The out-dated chandelier was ugly, but it did its job. And being unable to unlock my front door wasn’t really a problem for me, since I use the back door all the time anyway. Once these items worked their way to the top of my to-do list, I took care of them.

But there was also the thing with the squirrels.

I first heard the scrabbling late last fall, and I knew what it meant. I had had squirrels removed from my soffit three years ago. I recognized the sound. Why, then, did it take me until January to pick up the phone and call Critter Control?

Grey_Gardens_Cover_BiggerIn part, I think, I was in denial. I wanted to believe the squirrels would go away if I ignored them. Plus, I was unsure of what to do to get rid of them. I didn’t want to use the service I’d used three years ago, and I didn’t know the best alternative. Finally, on some level, I was ashamed. I know it makes no sense, but some part of me felt like it was my fault that squirrels had gotten into my house again. So I didn’t want to admit it had happened. I kept remembering Grey Gardens and those raccoons staring out from behind the half-destroyed wall.

Squirrel Hole in Soffit
The most recent entrance hole in the soffit

Then, in January, when I was awakened by squirrels running around and rolling nuts somewhere above my bedroom ceiling, I knew I had to take action. I called Critter Control, and within a few days, the squirrels had been trapped and the holes repaired and sealed. Easy. So, when the critters came back again in March, I was on the phone the next day. They are tenacious, these squirrels. They had gnawed yet another hole. I’ve now had the walnut tree that was next to the house removed, eliminating both a source of food and a means of access. I hope that will take care of my issues with uninvited house guests.

One of the things I learned from all this is the importance of simply taking action. Often I procrastinate because I’m afraid of making the wrong decision, doing the wrong thing. I get overwhelmed by options, and I end up doing nothing. That compounds the problem, making me feel stuck and helpless. And you know what? As soon as I decide to do something, I feel better. Even if that initial action isn’t enough to solve the problem, I’ve at least moved things forward, and the next decision is easier.

The same is true of writing. Sometimes I get stuck and procrastinate because the potential options of where the story could go next seem overwhelming. As long as we stay within the constraints we have already set for our characters and our stories, our imaginations can take us anywhere. And I worry I will make the wrong decision about where to take a scene or the plot. But if I do, then I do. So what? We’ve all experienced writing a scene one day and then cutting it the next, after deciding it didn’t work, no matter how great it might have been. But the writing of that deleted scene, the doing, moves us forward. We eliminate one possibility and get a little closer to our goal.

So the next time you find yourself procrastinating or feeling stuck, just do something, anything. And that little burst of action will get you moving again.

When do you procrastinate? What kinds of things do you put off? And what finally spurs you to action?

 

Connect with Stephanie Stamm:

http://www.stephanieastamm.com

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Stephanie Stamm is the author of the New Adult/Young Adult urban fantasy A Gift of Wings(She is working on the sequel.)

A Gift of Wings Cover

 

 

 

 

 

 

She has also contributed stories (one fictional and one true) to the following volumes:

Undead of Winter Front Only Into the Storm Cover

Printing Progress

This post is by Erin Thorne. September 19, 2012 (768x1024)

Many people keep journals for various reasons. They use this medium to inscribe personal thoughts, vent difficult-to-handle emotions, and as a record of special life events. However, a journal is also an ideal place in which to track one’s writing progress.

I recently began to do this as an integrated part of my work. A writers’ group to which I belong has a feature that, once a week, lets us share with other members what we’ve accomplished in the past seven days. At first, my writing journal was strictly utilitarian. There was simply no way I could have remembered what I’d done if I didn’t write it down. By degrees, it became a motivational tool.journal

Some weeks are busier than others. During those that are packed with activities and obligations, I sometimes feel as though I’m not getting any writing done. This, in turn, leads me to feel badly about my lack of effort. To break out of this spiral, I take a peek inside the journal section of my day planner, which is where I enter my daily progress. Often, I’ve found more entries than I expected, and this has given my confidence a boost. On the other hand, I’ve occasionally been stared down by blank pages that I’d meant to fill. This has provided the impetus to do more, and to intentionally make time to write.

Overall, I’ve been pleasantly surprised at the results. I have finished projects ahead of schedule, and kept a more positive mindset about the whole writing process. Instead of feeling overwhelmed, I feel encouraged. I don’t dread sharing my week’s work with others, because I know I’ve done my best in spite of all the demands upon my time. I’d recommend this technique to others without hesitation; no matter what line of work you’re in, nothing lifts your sprits like seeing how far you’ve come. It inspires confidence, and gives you hope about how far you’ll go.optimism