New Year’s Plan, Revisited

clockThe end of January looms nearer and across the nation, New Year’s Resolutions (or goals or plans or whatever you like to call them) are dropping like flies. How are yours going? Are you still in the race, or did you trip coming out of the starting gate and never quite find your feet again?

I shared my New Year’s Plan at the beginning of the month: to cultivate the habit of rising early to write by getting up 15 minutes earlier each week. By this week, I’m supposed to be getting up at 6:15. This is a very achievable goal, especially since ideally, I’d be getting up at 6:00 am already. And yet…it’s not happening.

What do you do when your ambitious plans for change don’t seem to be working? Experts claim that fewer than half of‘people who make New Year Resolutions stick with them longer than six months, and it’s oh-so-easy for one stumble to lead to another and another, until you’re ready to call it quits.

switchI’m reading a great book on this subject: Switch: How to Change Things When Change Is Hard, by Chip and Dan Heath. It discusses the concept of “bright spots,” places where success exists despite the obstacles.

For example, they tell the story of Jerry Sternin of Save the Children, who was charged with fighting malnutrition in Vietnam in 1990 . Sternin didn’t have the resources to tackle the underlying problems—issues such as poverty, poor sanitation, and a lack of clean water. Instead, he looked for children who were thriving despite these obstacles—the “bright spots”—and asked what was different. The result? He managed to create a significant change in childhood nutrition in a short period of time on a minuscule budget.

The idea of bright spots is applicable to any situation in which the desire to change meets resistance. In my case, I started asking what life looks like when I do get up early.

A pattern emerged. I’m more likely to succeed when:

  • I give myself winding-down time the night before, reading or practicing yoga
  • I put my alarm across the room
  • I don’t hit the snooze button
  • I put out clothes the night before, so I don’t disturb my husband
  • I have a clear plan for what I’m going to work on once I hit my writing desk

I love the idea of looking for bright spots, because it’s positive (looking for areas of success) rather than negative (looking for how I screwed up). I love that it helps me to identify concrete actions that will move me forward, because it transforms an immense, nebulous problem into something I can tackle.

Most of all, I love that it forces me to identify the ways in which I do succeed. Sure, I’ve stumbled on the path to achieving my goals—but I’ve also had moments of success. If I’ve done it before, what’s to stop me from doing it again?

Good luck on your goals—both new and revisited.

:) Cheryl

Letting Go: the Power of Ritual

photo (4)Every year my critique group shares our writing goals with one another. They range from “Keep on keeping on” to 10-item lists of books to write and projects to finish. It’s inspiring to hear what my fellow writers hope to accomplish in 2011—and motivating, because I don’t want the same goals on my list when 2012 rolls around.

This year, we added something to our January goal sharing and recap: in addition to things we want to accomplish, we identified things we want to let go. Things like:




We wrote our chosen things-to-release on squares of blue Flying Wish Paper, rolled the squares into tubes, and set them alight.

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The paper burns away to a puff of ash that lifts to the sky. And strange as it seems, the fear, worry, or struggle written on that square of tissue paper seems to fly away with it. It’s a powerful ritual for release of those things that might be holding you back.

photo (6)For 2011, I’m letting go of fear in my writing—fear that it won’t be good enough. What about you? What do you need to release to make 2011 a better year?

Happy writing

:-) Cheryl

Tightening Your (Manuscript’s) Belt: a Checklist for Eliminating Unnecessary Prose

iStock_000011338536LargeWriters: we like to write. Some of us (like me!) like to write lots and lots and lots of pretty words…and then have to cut half of them during the rewrite/polish process.

I’ve been doing a LOT of rewriting—and cutting and tightening—these past few months. If you need to do a bit of your own manuscript pruning, read on for ways to tighten your story and bring down your word count!

Checklist for Tightening the MS Belt

1. Do you say the same thing twice?

  • Example: Sudden tears burn at my eyes, angry and hot.
  • Rewrite: Sudden tears burn at my eyes.
    –“angry and hot” doesn’t add anything to the description

  • Example: It’s almost worse that he sounds okay. If he was overwhelmed with emotion, I could forgive him more easily.
  • Rewrite: It’s almost worse that he sounds okay.
    –“If he was overwhelmed with emotion, I could forgive him more easily” doesn’t add new information.

2. Do you use two adjectives when one might do?

  • Example: He blinked bright eyes the color of blueberries.
  • Rewrite: He blinked eyes the color of blueberries.
    –Okay, it’s nice to know his eyes are bright, but is that really important for the scene? Probably not.

3. Do you use an adverb and verb when a single strong verb might be better?

  • Example: Cass put the pot angrily on the stove.
  • Rewrite: Cass slammed the pot onto the stove.
    –“slammed” replaces “put…angrily”, cutting a word and increasing emotional impact

4. Do you spell out information that’s already implied?

  • Example: We won’t be here long. There’s no reason to change your schedule just because we’re north of the equator for a few weeks.
  • Rewrite: There’s no reason to change your schedule just because we’re north of the equator for a few weeks.
    –“We won’t be here long” is implied.
  • Example: “I know it’s hard,” I say finally. “It’s okay.”
  • Rewrite: “It’s okay,” I say finally.
    –“I know it’s hard” is implied by the fact that she forgives him enough to say “it’s okay.”
  • Example: “Yes, I was going to tell you. I was waiting for a good time.”
  • Rewrite: “I was waiting for a good time.”
    –Again, “Yes, I was going to tell you” is implied if we skip straight to “I was waiting for a good time.”

On a larger scale, it’s easy to do the same sort of overwriting with scenes as well as sentences. Here are a few final rewrite questions:

  1. Do you show any scene that might better be narrated in a few succinct lines? We all know the old “show-don’t-tell” adage, but if you show every event in your novel, you’ll never reach the end.
  2. Do any of your scenes repeat an earlier event? Sometimes, I discover that I’ve written two scenes that serve essentially the same purpose: they reveal the same information, develop the same relationship, or move the story forward in the same way. When that happens, one scene needs to go.
  3. Do you give too much stage direction as you move between scenes? Often you can skip straight from point A to point B with only a sentence to orient your reader. Look for extraneous stage directions and cut!

Happy writing—and rewriting and slashing and pruning!

:) Cheryl

The OCD Writer, Revisited

I’ve written before about the ease with which a writer can drift into obsessive-compulsive behavior. And I have to admit: I’ve succumbed.

Unlike earlier bouts of obsession, when I fought the evil temptations of compulsive email checking (Did anyone respond to my submission yet? How about now? Or now?) and mailbox haunting, I like to think that my current state of…ahem…hyperfocus has been not entirely a bad thing. Maybe even a little bit of a good thing, because I’ve been obsessed with WRITING.

I’ve been rewriting this YA paranormal since last July. I’m usually a speedy writer, especially after I’ve cranked out a first draft, so it’s been especially difficult to take six pickin’ months on a rewrite—and especially wonderful when, a few weeks ago, everything started to fall together. By last Friday, I was so close to the end I could taste it. Seriously. I woke up at 4:30 in the morning to crank out two chapters before I had to head to an all-day meeting.

Obsessive? Okay, maybe a little.

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On Saturday, I finished. My husband and first reader cranked through 300 pages of manuscript to give me feedback, inspired, no doubt, by the hope that I would stop asking if he liked it. And yesterday, I began making all the tweaks inspired by our discussion. And I’m having trouble stopping. I want to finish, and I’m so close, so excited to be so close, that I can hardly stand to put my manuscript down!

Obsessive writing: it’s not sustainable over the long run, but sometimes, you just have to go with your instincts, and my instincts say WRITE!

Happy writing, friends! May you all be bitten with the bug and suffer a bit of writerly OCD this week!

:) Cheryl