Emily Hanlon’s Ten New Year’s Resolutions for the Fiction Writer

emily-hanlon-emily-at-pendlehill

Emily Hanlon

Emily Hanlon posted these New Year’s resolutions for fiction writers, and she’s given me permission to reprint them here. I first encountered Emily through the International Women’s Writing Guild years ago, when they were holding their annual summer conferences at Skidmore College in Saratoga Springs, New York. I gained a lot from her five-day workshop, and I’m delighted to be back in touch with her. She gives workshops both live and online as well as mentoring individual fiction writers.

Reading Emily’s bio, I just learned that like me, she’s a graduate of Barnard.

Ten New Year’s Resolutions for Fiction Writers!

Forged in Fire: Creativity and the Writer’s Journey!

  1. When I begin a new piece, I write without thinking or planning.
  2. I welcome the unexpected in my writing.
  3. My best writing comes from my heart and the fire in my belly.
  4. I become my characters, they do not become me. I go where my characters take me.
  5. I love my first draft writing for its chaos, fertility, and uncovered gems.
  6. I do not think about being published until the piece is finished.
  7. I set up a writing schedule that supports, not defeats, my writing. I will not use failure to keep to my schedule as a reason to give up.
  8. I write the story that is gestating within me—even if it scares me or makes me think I am losing my mind.
  9. Writing is a craft. Craft supports writing, it does not define it.
  10. I am a fierce warrior for my writing and creativity!

Excellent advice for all writers, fiction or nonfiction. It’s especially applicable to “pantsers,” who write by the seat of their pants without outlines or preconceived ideas. Planners who like to know where they’re going before they embark on their creative journeys may find some of the ideas intimidating, even downright scary, but you can take what you need and leave the rest.

car-night-road

Personally, I’m a pantser. My novels are character-driven, and the plots evolve chapter by chapter. I like E.L. Doctorow’s quote: “Writing is like driving a car at night. You can only see as far as your headlights, but you can make the whole trip that way.” But I’m not gutsy enough to carry that method to the extreme. I prefer having at least a rudimentary map, though not a GPS; I don’t like taking directions from anyone else.

Of the ten resolutions above, I have the most trouble with #6: I do not think about being published until the piece is finished. For me, it’s impossible not to think about publishing; it’s the omnipresent elephant in the room. But when the writing is going well and I’m in a state of flow, I forget about publishing. It’s only in the before and after times, or when my inner critic kicks in, that publishing becomes an issue.

My favorite may be #7: I set up a writing schedule that supports, not defeats, my writing. I will not use failure to keep to my schedule as a reason to give up. Schedules are a major nemesis for me, one I’ll discuss in a future post. Even in retirement, with few fixed obligations, I have trouble maintaining a regular writing schedule, and that danged inner critic makes me miserable when I let distractions lure me away from my desk.

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Edvard Munch

Much of Emily’s coaching focuses on getting in touch with our shadow sides. Lately she’s been giving hour-long online workshops where students from throughout the country and abroad can participate free of charge. You can learn more about Emily Hanlon, her coaching and workshops, by visiting her website: www.thefictionwritersjourney.com.

What do you think of these ten resolutions? Which ones inspire you, and which ones scare you? I’d love to hear from you, so please leave comments. And subscribe to my blog by leaving your email address in the column to the right. Creatively speaking, I feel 2017 will be a great year, and I hope you’ll come along for the ride.

A new year, a new book project

At yesterday’s New Year’s service at church, we sat in a circle, passed around a talking stick, and shared our goals and resolutions for the year ahead. I announced two:

  • Work on creating a serene, organized home environment
  • Complete the presentation for my new book project on creativity, then find an agent and publisher
fuusa-emerson-choir

Emerson Hall at FUUSA

The church in question is the First Unitarian Universalist Society of Albany, and our minister, Sam Trumbore, had chosen the topic “Begin again in love.” Usually we sit with the chairs arranged in conventional rows, and there’s less opportunity for individual participation, but this being New Year’s morning, Sam expected a smaller turnout. But there were several dozen of us, and we formed three concentric circles. As we passed the South American rain stick, many people chose not to speak, and others spoke of modest, everyday goals—spending more time with family or in nature, being more mindful of health concerns, learning more about social media or, conversely giving it up entirely.

Having come late to the service, as is unfortunately all too typical, I was the last in the row of the outermost circle, and impatiently awaited my turn to speak. When I did, I failed to mention the state of disarray my house is actually in, but I was more specific about my book project, announcing my working title and the fact that I’ve already registered it as a domain name. (I’ve blogged about the project before, but I’m still not ready to go officially public with the title, because I don’t want anyone stealing it. I figure the FUUSAns won’t remember.)

waterhouse-john-william_-_i_am_half-sick_of_shadows_said_the_lady_of_shalott

John William Waterhouse

At 75, I sometimes wonder whether it’s overly ambitious to take on a major project like the book I have in mind. Granted, the goal I set is daunting, and realistically, I don’t know if I’ll manage to land a good agent and publisher within the next twelve months. But completing a nonfiction book proposal is well within my capabilities—I’ve done it three times before, although I abandoned all three projects before seriously seeking publication.

The first was a book based on my daughter’s first year of life. I’d done a project illustrating the minutiae of my daily life with her, I showed it in a SoHo gallery, and it was featured in New York magazine. An editor at a major publishing house saw the show, called me up, and I paid her a visit in her spectacular office high in a skyscraper with panoramic views of Manhattan. I’d brought my daughter along, and she peed on the editor’s couch. That wasn’t the reason I gave up on the project, but I’ll leave that story for another time, along with the reasons I abandoned my books on art therapy and gardening.

For now, let’s just say I’m confident in my ability to put together a book proposal. It draws right-brain-left-brainon the logical, left-brain side of my intellect, the side that won me my Phi Beta Kappa key at Barnard.* And as for being too old to take on a new project, I’m convinced I’m as sharp as I ever was. I could drop dead any day—far too many of my contemporaries are taking that trip—but in general, my health is disgustingly good. The only activity I’ve given up because of age is downhill skiing, and that’s primarily because I haven’t been working out regularly enough to maintain the strength in my legs, not to mention that snow conditions in the Northeast have been abominable for the past couple of years.**

But my major reason for embarking on an all-consuming project is that for my sanity’s sake, I know I have to. From past experience, I know that abandoning my dreams of creative achievement is likely to plunge me into a major depression, and that’s worth avoiding at all costs. When I hear my contemporaries rhapsodizing about their travels, their grandkids and their cats, I know those everyday pleasures and satisfactions, wonderful as they may be, will never be enough for me.

waterhouse-john-william_the_lady_of_shalott

What about you? Do you have any major new goals or resolutions for the New Year? I’d love to hear from you.

*My classmates at Barnard included Martha Stewart, Erika Jong and Twyla Tharp, but that’s another story too.

**In the back of my mind, there lurks the possibility that I may yet ski again. Many people ski into their 80’s and 90’s. Unfortunately, my old ski pants are a size or two too small, but when I told my husband I might buy a new pair, since they’re handy for snow shoveling, dog walking, and maybe a little cross-country skiing, he tried to dissuade me. Maybe I should try flannel-lined jeans, he said, or rain or wind pants. When I asked why not ski pants, he confessed that he was worried I might take to the slopes again. Hey, never say never.

Creativity book title a dynamite secret for now

Lunesta computer April 2014

My beloved Lunesta helps me write

I’m psyched about my new book project, an exploration of creativity, the roadblocks we set up to prevent ourselves from reaching our fullest potential a authors, and the ways we can smash through those barriers. Since I blogged about this project two weeks ago, I’ve made gratifying progress. The book’s structure is coming together in my head, although it’s far from fully realized on paper. But I’m feeling more confident and optimistic about my writing than I have in ages.

I’ve come up with a dynamite title I like so much that I registered it with GoDaddy as a domain name, but I’m not ready to share it with the world—not until I come up with a complete proposal and start querying agents early in 2017. I’m aiming for March, and this time around, I plan to seek a traditional publisher, because I believe this can be the break-out book I’ve been dreaming of. Today I designed a cover, with the title and subtitle at the top, then this photo my husband took of me at the Writers Police Academy last summer.

julie-at-wpa-swat-truck-aug-16

Centered beneath the photo is

Julie Lomoe

Author of Eldercide, Hope Dawns Eternal, and Mood Swing: The Bipolar Murders

I printed copies on luxurious certificate paper with a swirly lavender border, and I’ve got one pinned over my desk as a good luck talisman. No doubt the final cover will be far different, but I like the kick-ass image of me posed against the S.W.A.T. truck of the Green Bay Police Department.

Through blogging over the past several years, I feel I’ve developed an authentic voice I’m comfortable with. There’s no need to slip into an alternative reality or immerse myself in a fictional character, so I have a hunch my creative juices will flow a lot more easily than in my mystery writing. And I’ll probably include excerpts from my blog, poetry and novels to illustrate my points. I’ll also include research into the psychology of creativity, the latest findings on the workings of the mind, and other topics that will enable me to plumb the more academic, structured side of my brain, the side that won me my Phi Beta Kappa key at Barnard.

I may also include contributions from other writers. In the near future, I’ll develop some guidelines for authors who might like to be included, but at minimum, there will be two criteria: You must be a published writer (either traditional or self-published is fine) and you must buy at least one of my novels and review it on Amazon and maybe other sites. Yes, it’s pay to play, but those are the rules, folks.

Oh, and I gave up on my NaNoWriMo goal of writing 50,000 words in November, but I Imagination Rain.epsmade it to 18,000 words, and I feel good about my progress. Turning out 1,667 words a day just isn’t feasible for me. It results in shoddy first drafts that need extensive editing, and I’d rather edit as I go along and wind up with something I feel good about. For me, between 600 and a thousand words feels about right, and that’s what I’ll be aiming for from here on out.

I’m excited to embark on what feels like a brand-new chapter in my life. I hope you’ll join me in this journey of exploration. Subscribe to this site by entering your email in the column to the right, leave comments, and if you’d like to contact me privately, email me at julielomoe@gmail.com.

Lunesta on printer 7-27-14

Onward and Upward with NaNoWriMo

Imagination Rain.epsIt’s Tuesday, November 15, 2016. November is half over, and so is NaNoWriMo. Once again it’s National Novel Writing Month, and I’ve vowed to write 50,000 words by November 30. So far, I’ve written just over 10,000, and the jazzy graph of my statistics on the NaNo website predicts that at the rate I’m going, I’ll finish on January 11, 2017. So should I give up? No way—there’s still time to salvage what’s left of this ghastly month.

“The time for hesitation’s through, no time to wallow in the mire.” So sang Jim Morrison, and though his “Light My Fire” lyrics were about lust, they apply equally well to creativity. And why not? Like the late lamented Leonard Cohen, the Lizard King was a poet before he morphed into a pop star.

jim-morrison

Jim Morrison

Like practically everyone I know, online and off, I’ve been wallowing in the mire of depression ever since last week’s election, and tiptoeing around the dismal swamp that our government and political system have become for months before that. I’ve frittered away countless hours online, tracking the latest polls, reading the left-leaning articles and opinion pieces in the Huffington Post, clicking the links that lead to still more articles that clutter up my brain with gloom and doom scenarios.

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Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson

This morning, amidst all the horrifying stories about Trump’s transition and the scary people he’s recruiting to ruin our country as we know it, I came upon some breaking news that’s actually cheerful: People magazine has named “Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson as its Sexiest Man Alive. I’ve always liked “The Rock,” though huge muscle-bound men have never been my type. But probably the People editors thought we could use a little levity in these dark days, and despite his huge hulkiness, The Rock is reportedly a nice guy who doesn’t take himself too seriously, unlike certain politicians I could name. (FYI, my favorite Sexiest Man choice in recent years has been Mathew McConnaghey. I even referenced his looks in describing one of the characters in my novel Eldercide.

matthew-mcconaughey

Matthew McConaughey

In hopes of breaking free of the shackles of gloom and doom, I’m resolving to cut down radically on my news consumption, whether online, on TV or in good old-fashioned newspapers. I’m cutting back on Facebook too, since most of my FB friends are still preoccupied with the political scene. Instead, I’ll do my best to play ostrich for a while, focus on the people and pets I love, and zero in on my writing.

For this year’s NaNoWriMo, I won’t be working on a novel. Instead, I’m focusing on a new nonfiction project, a book on creativity and blasting through the blocks that inhibit it. In recent months, I’ve given some workshops on the topic. I’ve enjoyed them immensely, and so have the participants. It’s a lot more fun than reading passages from my novels in hopes people will buy them, and paradoxically, I’ve sold more books when I’m not overtly flogging them.

nanowrimo-camp-2015-poster-get-lost-writeBack in a former lifetime, when I was a creative arts therapist, I gave workshops on creativity, dream work and women’s issues at colleges and growth centers, but it’s a skill set I haven’t used in many years. Facilitating the creativity of others, I realized I’ve got a lot to say about it—hence the book project I’m plunging into now. It will be part memoir, part self-help, part exploration into past and present findings about how the brain works, and much more. I’ll probably include stories from other writers about their own adventures with the creative process. I’ll tell you more about it in my next post. Please subscribe so you won’t miss anything. I’ll talk with you soon!

Block Busting in the merry month of May

woman flaming typewriter cartoon

It’s just over a month till my workshop at the East Greenbush Library on June 4th. Here’s the description I sent for their newsletter:

BLOCK BUSTING:

HOW TO BREAK THROUGH THE BARRIERS

THAT KEEP YOU FROM WRITING 

Writer’s block afflicts every author sooner or later. If you’ve ever found yourself paralyzed, staring at an empty piece of paper or a blank computer screen, you know the feelings of frustration and even downright panic that can keep you from writing. In this workshop for writers or would-be writers of all levels, we’ll explore the underlying feelings behind your personal blocks and learn a variety of techniques to help you overcome the barriers that keep you from reaching your fullest potential as a writer.

Julie Lomoe is a novelist and poet with over three decades of experience as a creative arts therapist and workshop leader. This workshop will use creative visualization and writing exercises along with a discussion of successful writers’ tips and techniques for overcoming creative blocks. Free handouts will include a tip sheet and bibliography. 

June 4th feels like a particularly auspicious day, because it’s my mother’s birthday. She died in 1970 of complications from a fall in the house she and my father were renting in Sarasota, Florida, to escape the frigid Wisconsin winters. She was only 61—an age that feels absurdly young to me now—and as a pre-feminist wife and mother, she never reached her full potential. But that’s a story for another time. June 4th is also the birthday of Gloria Tropp, the brilliant singer, poet and artist who was my best friend and matron of honor at my wedding to Robb Smith in 1975 when we lived in New York City, but Gloria deserves a blog post of her own.

So as the birthday of two strong, creative women who played such a significant role in my life,  June 4th is a special day, and I want to do them justice. But I have to admit that since I blogged about this workshop on March 21st, the first day of spring, I haven’t made much progress. Back then I wrote about how fear and habit are my major blocks to writing, and I described a typically pedestrian day in my life and all the distractions and feeble excuses that keep me from writing.

Cherry blossom tunnel, Sakuru, Japan

Cherry blossom tunnel, Sakuru, Japan

But May feels like the true beginning of spring, especially since my garden has finally been blessed with some truly drenching rain, and everything is greening up nicely. A good time for goal setting, and I’ve resolved to write at least 600 words a day, each and every day. Any and all forms of writing will count, including journaling, which I find a wonderful way of getting my creative juices flowing. Last night I churned out nearly a thousand words in half an hour, a relative breeze when I’m blathering away with no literary critic whispering nasty messages inside my head, telling me how inadequate I am as a writer.

The sheer physical act of typing has the power to awaken muscle memories that go deep underground and dormant when I’m not using them regularly, but I feel the energy seeping back into my mind and body even as I write these words. But distractions are creeping in—the sound of my cat Lunesta, her amazingly accurate inner clock kicking in as she scratches at my office door, reminding me it’s six o’clock and high time for dinner, my husband tempting me to abandon my writing with the offer of a roast beef sandwich. My own inner clock telling me it’s time for a glass of wine. But for May I’ve committed to abstaining from booze until I’ve reached my daily quota of 600 words. And now, by golly, I’ve done it. This blog post now contains 637 words, so I can legitimately sign off and indulge myself.

I welcome your thoughts and suggestions on creative block busting – either as comments or perhaps in an entire guest blog post. Please let me know if you’re interested!

Lunesta on printer 7-27-14

Wanted: Guest Bloggers!

Calling all writers—how would you like to be a guest blogger on this site? And how would you like to host me on yours? Beginning Friday, April lst, I plan to start featuring fellow authors on a weekly basis.

woman writing sunny room Bonnard style

 

This spring I’ve vowed to ramp up my online presence so as to spread the word about my three published novels. When it comes to social media, I’ve been AWOL for far too long, and that has to change. Effective immediately, I’m reconnecting with the wonderful online authors’ networks I drifted away from, and I hope to discover some new ones as well.

What can you blog about? I’m especially interested in explorations of the creative process—what works for you, what doesn’t. As I wrote in my last post, I’m developing workshops on creative blocks and how to blast through them, so I welcome helpful hints and musings that focus on this area. Self-publishing and marketing are also of interest. You’ll be able to promote your own books, of course, but the emphasis will be on creativity and the ups and downs of the writing life.

brain creativity starry sky

Since I first published Mood Swing: The Bipolar Murders a decade ago, there have been enormous advances in scientific research on how the brain works and how we can tap into that knowledge to enhance our own creativity and productivity. And the sophistication of online communication and networking has grown tremendously as well. I’ll delve into those topics in upcoming blogs, and I’d welcome your contributions on those subjects as well.

In my next two posts I’ll explore the role of habit in creativity, focusing on books by two authors whom I heard recently at the Writers Institute of the State University of New York at Albany: Charles Duhigg and Twyla Tharp. If you haven’t already, please subscribe to my blog by clicking on the link in the menu on the right. I plan to publish new posts at least three times a week, and I wouldn’t want you to miss anything!

Note to authors: If you’re interested in being a guest blogger, please get in touch by writing me at julielomoe@gmail.com. I’m also looking for someone creative and not too expensive to help with a new website, and I’d be grateful for any suggestions you may have. Please include a link to your own site as well as theirs so I can check them out!

brain-exchange profiles.jpg

 

 

The NaNoWriMo Challenge – Do you play well with others?

Baldacci Total Control coverWarming up the car this morning before taking off for my Nia class, tardy as usual, I caught the tail end of an interview with the best-selling novelist David Baldacci on WAMC Northeast Public Radio. Joe Donahue, the interviewer on The Roundtable, asked him if he’d ever consider collaborating with another writer. “No,” he said. “I don’t play well with others.” 

Donahue was referring to writers like James Patterson and Janet Evanovich, who have published novels with a co-author listed in smaller type below their names. “Why would I do that?” asked Baldacci. “It would spoil all the fun.” 

I’m with him – I don’t write well in groups. Case in point: National Novel Writing Month, aka NaNoWriMo. I signed up again this month, though it’s been an exercise in frustration when I participated in past Novembers. Writing 50,000 words in a month is a daunting task. It comes out to an average of 1,617 words a day. You post your daily word count on a jazzy bar graph on the NaNo website. The graph and its accompanying chart track your progress and the date you can be expected to finish if you proceed at your current pace. Last night the site told me I’d finish on Christmas eve if I churned out about 2,500 words a day. In other words, I’d lose. 

The Albany area has a large and dedicated group of NaNo participants. There are multiple write-ins at various locations in the Capital Region. For the most part they’re at cafes and coffee houses, and for good reason – the caffeine tends to inspire jacked-up bouts of creativity, and people can hang out for hours nursing a single cup of coffee. Personally, I feel it’s only fair to order some food as well. This usually takes the form of high-calorie, high-fat, high-sugar concoctions. One of my favorites is warm apple pie a la mode drenched in caramel sauce. Denny's French toast ad

That particular diet destroyer is on the dessert menu at Denny’s, where write-ins take place every Sunday night. Writers with laptops descend on the place like locusts at the Latham location, where they’ve taken to saving a separate side room for us. The Municipal Liaison, aka chief cheerleader, is Shannon Kauderer, a young woman with blond hair shading to green, who’s a chemist by day and science fiction writer by night. 

These Sunday night write-ins have an unusual format: folks write silently for 20 minutes, then socialize for 20 minutes, then write, then socialize. And so it goes, usually till midnight, sometimes as late as 2:00 a.m. (The fact that Denny’s is open 24/7 is a major inducement to patronize the place.) 

My husband thrives on this format. He can flail away at his laptop, then get up and stroll around the room, chatting with the other participants, most of whom are several decades our juniors. Then when Shannon sounds the timer, he can sit back down and resume writing right where he left off. Others can apparently write this way, although I have no clue as to the quality of what they’re churning out. Still others ignore the chit chat and write straight through the social breaks. 

Woman Writing, Picasso 1934

Woman Writing, Picasso 1934

I can do neither – at least not well. I work best in absolute solitude, with only my dog or cat for occasional company. No background music, no interruptions except for full-blown emergencies. I’ve learned to write during those 20-minute sprints, but I hate turning my creative process on and off at will. And I never talk about what I’m writing in the midst of writing it. For me, it dissipates my energy and scares away my ever-elusive muse. Huddling silently over my laptop while my spouse enjoys the company of younger women, I may come across as curmudgeonly, but I truly don’t care. Like David Baldacci, I don’t play well with others. 

Still, despite my reservations, I’ll probably show up for another Denny’s write-in. The positive energy is infectious, and I’m getting better at jumping right into my writing without procrastinating. I may make my 50,000 word count after all. Besides, there are lots of scrumptious desserts I haven’t tried yet. 

What about you? Can you write with others around, or do you require solitude? I’d love to hear your comments.

 

 

 

 

 

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