What Lies Within Us

One of the best things about simplifying my life has been re-discovering my love for writing.

As many of you know, I have been furiously working away on writing a novel.

But a few weeks ago, and quite by accident, I stumbled upon a short story contest. I’ve been thinking for awhile now that I wanted to write some short stories and submit them somewhere. I think it will be a good experience and great practice – to learn formatting, get used to rejection, and just maybe, get published and know what it feels like to have your writing ripped to shreds by professionals.

All of that was reason enough for me to enter the contest. But there was more. This was “The Rehoboth Beach Reads Short Story Contest,” with a theme of “Beach Life” that had

Rehoboth Beach Reads
Picture borrowed from: http://catandmousepress.com/contest/

to have strong ties to the Rehoboth Beach, Delaware area. It just so happens, a good chunk of my Mom’s family is from that area, and I spent a lot of time there as a kid when my grandparents were still alive.

It felt serendipitous.

I was allowed to submit up to 3 stories, fiction or non-fiction, for a chance to be one of 20-25 stories published into a collection of short stories, and one of 3 monetary prize winners.

I got to work writing immediately – I found the contest VERY late, and only had a couple of weeks to write and polish my submissions. I ended up with 2 pieces to submit, one fiction and one non-fiction.

As I was researching some quotes to use in my fictional story, I came across this one from Henry David Thoreau:

What lies before us and what lies behind us are all small matters compared to what lies within us. And when you bring what is within out into the world, miracles happen.

As I continued weaving my story together, the importance of the quote grew – to the point that I used it to name the story (and this blog), as well.

I love how it can mean something different for everyone; we each have something unique inside of us. While it can be scary to bring it out into the world for all to see, just think about the possibilities if you do.

I can tell you, these last weeks of writing frantically, editing, re-writing, editing and re-writing some more have been a roller coaster. There were moments I loved what I wrote, and moments I was sure it was all utter crap.

And hitting SUBMIT on my two stories was one of the most terrifying and exciting moments of my life. But man, am I glad I did it.

Now, I have a little experience writing as a deadline looms. I’ve put what is within me -my heart and my very best effort – into this, and now I’ve sent my short stories out to strangers who will decide if they’re worthy of publication.

So now, I wait. August 7th-ish can’t come soon enough. Wish me luck!!

5 Steps to Becoming a Writer

It’s been a little over a year since I left my job and “gave a year to God.”

A lot has changed and a lot has stayed the same during that time, but in some ways, clarity has certainly come. Now that I believe I’m meant to write, I’m trying to figure out what my days should look like as a writer. What exactly do I need to do before I can confidently say, “I’m a writer” when people ask what I do?

I’ve been reading and writing and thinking and journaling and watching videos from those who have gone before me. And the time has come to “set up shop” so to speak.

I’ve identified (and am working on!) 5 things that need to happen for me to get comfortable calling myself a writer. In other words, a road map to being a productive writer

1. Set Goals. As I learned working as a consultant, step 1 of just about anything is to establish goals. Why I am doing this? What do I hope to accomplish? What do I need to get started? Do I need to raise money and/or start making money right away?  Once these questions are answered, I can begin to flesh out an action plan.

Ultimately, I want to impact people’s lives in a positive way with my writing. I think that’s the goal of all writers, although it may take different forms. Deep down, we all want to leave our mark on the world somehow, don’t we? Make even the smallest difference for the better? I’d love to be a published novelist at some point, but I also don’t think that needs to happen for me to be a successful writer.

I have everything I need to get started…a computer, notebooks and pens, books, the treasure trove of expertise offered for free on the internet, this blog, and of course, the ability to think and come up with ideas. And while it would be amazing to make money doing this someday, I am very thankful that isn’t an immediate need for me. (Husband is my hero…swoon!)

2. Develop Habits. I have goals and a purpose in mind, but now I actually need to start writing, and writing consistently. I’ve been watching Jeff Goins and Tim Grahl’s free “Productive Writer” video series and their tips for developing habits are fantastic. They talk a lot about starting tiny – however small the habit needs to be to ensure it gets done – and watch it grow over time. They also suggest attaching your new tiny habit to something that you already do automatically each day. For example, I might set a goal to write 50 words per day, or write for 10 minutes each day, and (like Tim) I could attach that to drinking coffee in the morning. Right after I make my coffee, I sit down and do my writing for the day.

I think this is a brilliant idea to get started in a way that’s not threatening – especially if you are pressed for time and trying to find a way to build something new for yourself.

Jeff had the goal of writing 500 words per day for an entire year, and that turned into hundreds and hundreds of blog posts, a whole host of followers and ultimately, multiple books, more blogs, speaking engagements and more.

In some ways, it’s scary to get started. But I know rewards come when we face our fears. So I’m ready to dive in, start building new habits of my own, and see what happens.

3. Make Deadlines. “Real” writers (and all professionals, for that matter) have deadlines. In fact, I’d venture to say that if you’ve chosen the right habits to develop, you’ve already built deadlines in. I like the idea of writing 500 words daily, or at least Monday through Friday each week, and scheduling at least 1-2 blog posts each week. If I can give myself deadlines and get in the habit of hitting them, it won’t feel quite as scary if I am ever trying to meet a deadline given to me by someone else.

4. Create a Schedule/System. I love the idea of attaching your habits to daily tasks that you’re already doing. But it’s also helpful to come up with a schedule and system that works for you. I’m no pro at this, but it’s something I’m working on. I have created a rough weekly schedule in which I have two writing sessions scheduled most days – what I do in those sessions will likely look very different on different days.

I am hopeful that as I begin building my new habits and sticking to my deadlines and schedule, a system will emerge. Jeff Goins shared that he is more productive when he doesn’t try to come up with an idea, write it out, and edit it all at once.

That was a huge eye opener for me because even though I WANT to write, I sometimes sit down and have no ideas or inspiration. Now, I have a separate list of ideas that I can refer to when I’m ready to write, and I’m also just letting my writing flow and coming back to edit it on a different day. I have only been doing this for few days, but I’ve written more in those few days than I did the past two weeks combined. A game-changer, and so simple.

5. Get Organized with the Right Tools. There are a dizzying array of tools available to help you stay organized and productive. From idea dump tools to programs that help writers organize books, it makes my head spin.

But now that I’ve identified goals and habits and deadlines and schedules, I need to look for tools that enhance what I’m working towards. Again, looking to those who have gone before me is super helpful as I navigate this.

Now, I’m using Evernote to keep track of thoughts and pictures and websites that I come across on the go. I jot down notes from books I’m reading. And I also have running lists of blog post ideas and and plot twists for the novel I’m working on.

I have organized all my book projects (there are 3 now!) into some fantastic writing software called Scrivener.

These are just some of the ideas I’m using to add structure to my days and get serious productivityabout turning this into a career and my life’s work. I’m sure these things will morph and grow as I learn what works best for my own individual working style. But somehow, getting organized makes all of this feel real.

And these 5 steps can certainly be applied to more than just writing! If you don’t have goals that declare why you’re doing what you’re doing, it’s hard to figure out what habits you need to develop. It will be tough to work with/for others if you aren’t able to meet deadlines and stick to a schedule using a system that works for you. And using tools that complement your systems to organize your work is the icing on the cake.

Cheers to being productive at whatever you do!