Monday, October 22, 2012

My Secret Weapon: Or, Writing Isn't So Solitary Anymore

Today's post has a partner. Luisa Perkins and I are blogging about the same thing today (surely with individual perspectives and insights). After reading my post, be sure to hop over to her blog. The link is here and again at the bottom of the post.

Picture of me with Luisa Perkins 
at the Whitney Awards gala, May 2012

First off, I'm stating the obvious: Writing is a solitary pursuit.

You do it alone. It's just you and the computer. If you're lucky, you have a critique group, you attend conferences, and have other chances to rub shoulders with fellow writers, all things to help to keep you going.

But when push comes to shove, it's the whole BIC, HOK—butt in chair, hands on keyboard—that gets words onto the page and, eventually a whole book written. Or revised. Or submitted. And so on.

As my regular readers know, I've been at this writing gig for a really long time. But I still fight my old enemy, Resistance, which can show up in any form to keep me from getting my work done, whether it's puttering around online or getting caught up in the daily drama of life or whatever else (that "other else" often being, at its core, "I'm actually scared to work on that"), somehow, POOF! my time to write is eaten up, and I don't know where it went.

Resistance is sneaky that way, and I have to battle it, consciously, every day. But that's hard to do alone. And writing is a solitary pursuit, right?

This is where my newest and best weapon against Resistance comes in: For the last year and a half (I think? I've lost track), I've had a system with a dear friend and fellow writer, Luisa Perkins. We're accountability partners, and we help each other keep moving, break through blocks, and prioritize our lives. (And yes, that includes family time.)

Here's the basic gist of what we do: 
Each day (or the night before), we email our goals. The lists often include basic stuff like exercise and doing laundry, and then go into specific, measurable writing goals (such as "Edit 30 pages of X" or "Complete chapter ten of Y).

With my list sent to Luisa, she knows my goals. The luxury of slacking off isn't an option. Suddenly writing (and being a mom and cleaning house) aren't so solitary.

And here's why: Throughout the day, we send texts whenever we've accomplished something. My phone goes off a lot, and my kids have reached the point where they just assume a text is from Luisa when they hear it. Even though they've never met her, she's a real part of their lives.

Examples of texts:
-Dishwasher running. Load of laundry started.
-Read scriptures
-10 pages edited
-Blog post written
-Revised 2 chapters
-Grocery list made

(Yes, we even report showing, getting dressed, and putting on makeup. Some days, even those things are an accomplishment. Any stay-at-home mom can relate to that, I'm sure.)

Some results of our partnership, which began largely as an experiment: 

(1) I get far more done when I know someone else is expecting me to report back.

(2) I make better goals for myself. So instead of saying, "I need to finish drafting this book," I've learned to break down big jobs into smaller pieces, taking them one day at a time. So today I'll draft chapter fifteen. That's doable. It isn't nearly as scary.

(3) I've learned new methods of working and fighting Resistance. Every writer has his or her own bag of tricks. Mine has expanded as I discover Luisa's ways of battling it out. One of my favorite ways is her chapter/chore method. She recently blogged about that here. (She also wrote a brilliant post about Resistance. Read that here.)

(4) I've developed new methods of battling Resistance. One of mine is taking a writing task that seems totally daunting and setting a timer for 20 minutes. Certainly I can survive working on anything for that long, right? So I do. More often than not, those 20 minutes turn into 30 or 40 or even 60. Sometimes it really is just 20, and that's okay. Either way, I've made progress on something that would have gathered dust. I kicked Resistance in the teeth!

(5) When Resistance/fatigue/depression/anxiety/stress kick in (and they do), I know that Luisa is only a text away. I can complain to her about my headache or the latest problem that dropped from the sky, and she's always there with a compassionate and loving ear. Her replies give me strength. They may be text-length, but they buoy me up. I've been known to cry after reading her texts, suddenly able to keep putting one foot in front of the other.

(6) The tiniest of celebrations is often enough to keep my inner writer going. Often, after I send off a text with my latest to-do item check off, I'll get a reply with something short like, "You're awesome!" or a simple, "Yay!" It's like I have my own cheering section. Most of the time, no one else is around to see, let alone acknowledge, what I've done, especially when most of my battles are on computer files and are therefore pretty much invisible to everyone else.

(7) I find myself doing more things that are important for my personal well-being and that of my family's, including making home-cooked meals, keeping the house cleaner, exercising regularly, and reading my scriptures daily. (That said, don't drop in expecting to see a Martha Stewart house . . .)

(8) Writing is no longer a solitary pursuit. Every week day, Luisa is right beside me, keeping me going, from hundreds of miles away.

The entire time we've been doing this, we've lived far apart. I'm in Utah, and when we began, Luisa lived in New York, on the east coast. Last summer, her family moved to the west coast, so she's technically a bit closer to me now, but for all practical purposes, she's as far away as ever.

Fortunately, distance simply doesn't matter. We have a simple piece of technology that links us.

I still cling to my critique group; they're my source of weekly sanity. They keep me writing to deadlines, and they keep me striving to constantly improve my work. (And they're great to simply hang out with, some of my best friends ever.)

My ten shades of awesome accountability partner is one very big piece of my writer's arsenal in helping me get the job done . . . and not doing it alone. I stay motivated. I produce. I'm happier. I'm more me. I'm more there for my family. It's been a wonderful thing.

Having an accountability partner has become such a part of my life that when my phone beeps, my kids assume it's a text from Luisa. If they're playing a game on my phone and I tell them I need to send a text to Luisa, they know they have to relinquish it right away. They've never met Luisa, but they probably know her better than they do many of my friends, because she's such a big part of their mom's life.

Accountability partners may not be for everyone, but I know that Luisa and I have both benefited from the arrangement, so we thought that sharing the idea with others could be helpful.

I got lucky in finding mine. Luisa and I have been friends since 2007 (there's a fun story behind that involving knitting), and we sort of fell into it one step at a time. If you hope to find an accountability partner, my best advice would be to find someone you're already friends with. If you've attended writing conferences and the like, you probably have writing friends. I'd definitely partner with a fellow writer, because your goals will more closely line up, and you'll understand each other's needs, desires, and feelings so much better.

Find Luisa's post about accountability partners on her Novembrance blog.

Wednesday, October 03, 2012

WNW: The Influence of a Madman

If you've frequented my blog for any significant period, you know that I adore and rely on the Oxford English Dictionary (known as the OED). An entire blog label is devoted to my references to the beloved OED (including this post!). I turned to my most beloved dictionary a lot when writing my historical novels. (Was "cookie" used in the 1880s?) Many friends ask me to check the OED for similar reasons. (Among them, J. Scott Savage, author of The Fourth Nephite books, to be sure he's got the 1830s lingo right.)

And, of course, right here, Word Nerd Wednesday mentions the OED with relative frequency.

This post will have two parts:
(1) What is the OED anyway? (What makes it different from any other English dictionary out there?) (I've covered this briefly in past posts, but it's been a long while.) (Yes, I know that multiple sets of parentheses is atypical.)


(2) What does a madman have to do with the OED?

What Is the OED, Anyway?
In 1857, Professor James Murray began one of the most ambitious linguistic projects of all time. His goal: to create a dictionary that went beyond definitions to recording the first instance of each word used in print. His dictionary would show the change and evolution of the language.

Understandably, the project took years and years. An entry in the OED lists quotations from multiple sources, so you can see when a word was used, fell out of use, and came back. How the meaning has changed over time, and so on.

During my university days at Brigham Young University, I often walked past a copy in the library. It sat atop a waist-high bookcase, which the blue volumes covered in two full rows with somewhere around 30 volumes. (In that edition. It's longer now.) The OED is constantly being updated, as new words constantly enter the language (today more than ever).

My dad owns the shrunken-down version of the OED. It's only two volumes long, but each page has four complete, miniaturized pages. And no kidding, the set comes with a magnifying glass because even someone with 20/20 vision would go cross-eyed trying to read that puppy.

I own a CD version of the OED from about 10 years ago. I got it for my birthday one year and use it regularly.

What does a madman have to do with the OED?
While working on his dictionary, Professor Murray sent out calls for help in looking for early printed instances of specific words. This wasn't a one-man task. Even with help, completing the dictionary would take decades. And this was way more than a century before computers. Many people sent in slips of paper with quotes and sources.

But one man came to Murray's aid more than any other, somehow managing to find the time search for words hours on end, constantly, eventually submitting over ten thousand quotes, including many obscure words Murray wrote to him about, specifically assigning him to look for.

What Murray didn't know was why this man, Dr. W. C. Minor, had so much time on his hands: He was an inmate at an asylum for the criminally insane. A murderer.

You can read the true story, which reads like a novel, in a book I love: The Professor and the Madman: A Tale of Murder, Insanity, and the Making of the Oxford English Dictionary, by Simon Winchester.

I read it years ago, marked it up, and still count it as one of the most fascinating non-fiction works I've ever read.

Oh, and if you're on Twitter, be sure to follow @OEDonline for fun word nerdiness throughout your day!

Monday, October 01, 2012

A Release, An Event, & A Giveaway

All I can say about the last little while is holy busy, Batman!

(I may be channeling a lot of Batman lately, as my husband and I went to see Dark Knight Rises over the weekend . . .)

I swear, someone has a demented time turner and has put my life on fast forward. (How in the world have I reached the point where my son has to look at college and scholarship applications? Impossible, I tell you!)

This post is to help keep my readers in the loop on the fun (and not Mom's freaking out again) stuff going on in the writing arena of my life.

Introducing Timeless Romance Anthologies
I feel so fortunate to be part of this awesome project! Heather B. Moore, Sarah M. Eden, and I have begun something uber cool: anthologies of Romance stories. Each volume will have SIX stories focused on a specific theme, and we'll hand pick three other writers to contribute to each volume, and you can expect three anthologies a year.

The first volume, what we're calling our "Winter Collection," is full of historical Romance stories that take place, yep, in the winter. (See? It's up in time for the holidays! Awesome stocking-stuffer! *cough-cough*)

(Also: Isn't the cover so pretty?!)

Our guest writers this time: Heidi Ashworth, Joyce DiPastena, and Donna Hatch.

The historical stories span the medieval period all the way to 1901 New York City, and each one is a great read. (It was no accident that we picked Heidi, Joyce, and Donna; we know they'd come up with something wonderful!)

The e-book anthology is up for purchase TODAY! Get it on Kindle HERE or in other e-book formats on  Smashwords HERE, for the whopping price (haha!) of $3.99.

ATHENA Launch: A Month Early in ONE Store Only
Join me, Julie Wright, and Heather,  author of the fourth Newport Ladies book Athena, this Saturday at the Fort Union Deseret Book during their Ladies Night event from 6-8PM.

This is the only store that will have Athena available for sale until it hits stores officially in November. So come get it before anyone else! There will be giveaways, other authors and artists, and food. Come!

ATHENA Spread-the-Word Contest
Help us let others know about Saturday's book signing, especially that long-anticipated Athena will be available for Fort Union customers!

Tweet about it, Facebook it, mention it on Google +, blog about it . . . and have a shot at entering one of several awesome prizes.

For details, visit THIS POST on the Newport Ladies blog.

While you're there, check out the awesome review (link in the sidebar) that Paige got from The Deseret News!

Joyce DiPastena is holding a giveaways right now in honor of the anthology's release.

Phew. I think I covered all the big stuff for this week!

In the meantime, go download the anthology, curl up with a cup of cocoa, and enjoy six awesome stories!


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