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Cheryl's Musings

Cheryl's Musings: March 2010

Cheryl's Musings

How to Thrive on the Writer's Road


Ganging up on Isolation


In my last post, I talked about isolation as one of the four challenges we face as writers.  Hopefully I’ve convinced you that even introverted writer-types need the occasional human contact for our well-being—especially contact with other writers.

And no, four legged furry friends don’t count!

But how do you find writerly humans to contact? Step #1 is to step outside your comfort zone and start looking. Here are some possible places to connect:

SCBWI (Society of Children's Book Writers and Illustrators) offers a myriad of resources for connecting writers.

Classes: check out your local Continuing Education program for a writing class that interests you. In addition to learning something, you’ll get to know other local writers—this is a great place to recruit critique group members.

Online Resources such as news groups, listserves, blogs, and Twitter provide a spot for writers to touch base with one another. You’re not necessarily going to manage full-length conversations via blog comments or Twitter chat, but it’s a great place to connect for encouragement, accountability, and reality checks. Here are a few of my favorites:

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Challenge #2: Isolation


Isolation is another one of those big challenges we face as writers. Let’s face it: most of us work alone, avoid the telephone, and spend more time with our favorite pens than our favorite people. With a large number of introverts in the writing community, many of us cultivate alone time. We thrive on it.


Even the most introverted of us all still needs occasional contact with other people—especially with other writers. Other writers can provide us with:

  • Support and encouragement: Every now and then, everyone needs to hear that they’re doing a good job. And no, your cat can’t actually provide the needed reassurance.
  • Normalization: things don’t look so bad when you realize you’re not the only one receiving six rejections for the same book on the same day…from the same publisher. It happens to everyone.
  • Networking: there’s a reason people network. Friends and colleagues help us to connect with future writing partners, business associates, and editors. It’s not about using people (which is why I disliked the term networking for a long time); networking is about helping people make beneficial connections.
  • Shop Talk: Whether you’re looking for someone to vent with about the current state of the publishing industry or a critique partner or someone who knows a bit more about social media than you do—talking shop is a great way to hone your ideas and knowledge, and collect info from colleagues.
  • Accountability/Motivation: There’s nothing like a writing buddy to help you make that word count goal, finish revising that project, or send out the novel you want to protect from the big, bad world. Accountability partners come in all styles, from Boot-Camp Billie to Sweets and Sympathy Sylvia. Find someone and team up with them!

People need other people—in small doses, perhaps, but even introverted writer-types need to rub elbows with others traveling the same road.

Maybe you know that—and don’t know where to go from there. More on tackling isolation in my next post….

:) Cheryl

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The week’s Tweets on how to bypass roadblocks and WRITE THE STORY!

WTS=Write the Story! Why? Because it's fun--rewarding--excruciating--fulfilling--and ultimately cheaper than therapy :) Happy writing!


WTS 64: Spend a day writing down everything you say/hear in conversation for inspiration. Notice: how is written dialog different?

WTS 65: Sometimes the subconscious needs to work without interruption. Occupy the conscious mind w/meditative task like stirring soup...

...crocheting, walking, ironing, yoga...experiment!

Kitty Bucholtz (Routines for Writers) looks back on a month-o-author interviews & finding a routine that works for YOU

Cultivate daydreams as a source of innovation & motivation

Happiness: just finished @LaurenMyracle's Peace, Love, Bby Ducks; stripey socks via; and a novel to rewrite....

Looking for a low-key, children's writer-focused #NaNoWriMo alternative? Check out Nancy Sander's Book-in-a-Month Club

WTS 66: Give your inspiration a target. Pick a story problem and start looking for ideas--you'll be surprised what you notice!

More on paying attention to find inspiration at Freelance Switch:

There is a great deal of difference between an eager man who wants to read a book and the tired man who wants a book to read -(GK Chesterton)

WTS 66: Make small goals when you're "too busy to write". Baby steps move you forward, if only by eliminating what doesn’t work.

Every wrong attempt discarded is another step forward.

(Thomas Edison)

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Depression Prevention

CherylGreen In the past few years, an entire new field of psychology has sprung up known as Positive Psychology. Positive Psychology “is the scientific study of the strengths and virtues that enable individuals and communities to thrive”. It focuses on what’s right with people instead of what’s wrong. Positive psychology research has identified numerous practices that can help make people more emotionally resilient:

  1. Exercise: Research shows that aerobic exercise (3 times a week for 30 minutes) has the same affect on depressive symptoms as antidepressants. In addition, regular exercise can reduce anxiety by 20%
  2. Be thankful—keep a gratitude journal. Science backs it up: research at Kent State University found that regularly writing expressions of gratitude improved happiness.
  3. Meditation: Dr. Marsha Lucas writes and blogs about how meditation actually “rewires” the brain to improve relationships and develop emotional resiliency. Recent research also shows that meditation can thicken an area of the brain involved in pain sensation—decreasing pain sensitivity.
  4. Apply chocolate (of course)—and if anyone gives you a hard time, point them to research on chocolate’s benefits here, here, and here.


Additional Resources

  1. The University of Pennsylvania’s Positive Psychology Center’s website, Authentic Happiness, offers questionnaires to measure depression symptoms and to assess your current happiness, overall happiness, and enduring happiness.
  2. Signal Patterns offers numerous web- and mobile-based applications for inserting positive psychology practices into your life, including my favorite, the Live Happy application for iPhone.
  3. On The Happiness Project website, author Gretchen Rubin explores what does and does not contribute to happiness. She also offers The Happiness Project Toolbox to help readers create their own Happiness Project.
  4. Numerous free how-to-medicate podcasts are available through iTunes, such as Lisa Dale Miller’s Mindfulness of Breath Meditation for Beginners. Dr. Lucas also offers a free meditation download on her website.

    The bonus to many of these activities is that they boost creativity as well as fending off depression. I’m much more likely to take up a positive habit than to kick a bad habit, and the evolving field of positive psych helps us do just that.

    What positive habit can you add to your life?

    :) Cheryl

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    Tackling Depression!


    In my post yesterday, I listed four challenges we face as writers:

    1. Susceptibility to depression
    2. Isolation
    3. Lack of positive feedback
    4. Busy-ness caused by working two jobs

    Lest I leave you with these boulders hanging over your collective heads, I want to talk about each of these challenges—and how we can move past them—starting with DEPRESSION.

    On her website, Holly Lisle writes an impassioned plea for writers to recognize the dangers of depression and get help. Here’s a tidbit:

    Psychologists note that writers suffer from a higher-than-normal incidence of depression, that the same qualities that make us writers tend to make us more sensitive to the ups and downs of daily life.

    She writes about depression so eloquently, you should jump over there and read the entire article. Creativity is the proverbial dual-edged sword: it gives us the joy of creating, but also the pain of feeling too much sometimes.

    In fact, scientists have found that even healthy artists are “more similar in personality to individuals with manic depression than to healthy people in the general population”. Stanford researcher Connie Strong says, “My hunch is that emotional range, having an emotional broadband, is the bipolar patient's advantage…something gives people with manic depression an edge, and I think it's emotional range.”

    If you write, chances are good that you’ll face a mood swing that becomes more of a downhill slide ending in all-out depression. If you’re one of those people who thinks “Great! Depression and creativity go hand in hand!” think again. Most writers and artists are unable to create when in the throes of depression. Shelley Carson of Psychology Today reports:

    Periods of creative productivity occur when individuals are…transitioning out of a depressive episode…In other words, creative productivity is linked to upward changes in mood.

    Other research shows that people are more creative after a “positive mood induction”—more specifically, after participants were given a small, surprise gift.

    So what can you do about this hurdle?

    1. LEARN. Educate yourself about depression, its signs and symptoms.
    2. GET HELP. If you’re feeling really blue—if you slide into a “down” period and just can’t climb out of it—GET HELP. Depression is very treatable.
    3. PREVENT. If feeling down is an ongoing problem for you—or even an occasional inconvenience—there are a number of proactive strategies that have been PROVEN to help prevent depression, strategies beyond vague orders to take better care of yourself, eat well, decrease stress in your life, etc.

    More on those next post!

    :) Cheryl



    The Happy Writer

    SmileyDespite the once-common stereotype of the tragic writer creating heartbreaking literature whilst drowning her sorrows in port, I think most writers would prefer a happier route through our writing lives. And yet, the odds can seem stacked against us:

    • Creative people are more likely to suffer from depression.
    • Writing is (usually) a solitary pursuit, which means we lack the day-to-day support and feedback provided in a more conventional workplace.
    • Writing is a VERY TOUGH field in which to succeed, with many writing novel after novel for years on end while collecting piles of rejections—positive feedback can be few and far between.
    • During the long writing apprenticeship (check out Justine Lee Musk’s excellent post on the writer’s apprenticeship process), most of us have to work at other jobs. After all, those rejection slips don’t come with paychecks.

    So here we are, struggling writers, overworked, underpaid, prone to depression, and, unless we do something about it, creating in the void, with little feedback or encouragement. Makes you wonder why we do it!

    Don’t worry. Writing is hard, but for some of us, it’s also the most wonderful occupation in the world. So how do we get past the inevitable bumps in our writing road? I think the first step is to recognize the challenges listed above.

    And then? Then we can start to DO something about those challenges! More coming tomorrow….

    :) Cheryl

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    On Beginnings: WAKE by Lisa McMann

    wakeYesterday, I blazed through Lisa McMann’s YA paranormal, WAKE (Simon Pulse, 2008). It’s a fun, fast-paced, gripping read about a girl who gets sucked into others’ dreams—which turns out to be problematic when students nap during classes.  

    This book is worth checking out, though, because of the author’s unique (and successful) approach to the book’s beginning. Know how you’re “not supposed” to dump backstory in the opening chapters? McMann does exactly that—and makes the reader love every second of it.

    The book opens with a scene in the present:

    December 9, 2005, 12:55 p.m.

    Janie Hannagan’s math book slips from her fingers. She grips the edge of the table in the school library. Everything goes black and silent. She sighs and rests her head on the table. Tries to pull herself out of it, but fails miserably. She’s too tired today. Too hungry. She really doesn’t have time for this.

    And then. 

    And then we’re pulled into the dream with Janie. The first chapter covers six minutes in just over two pages of text.

    The next chapter is titled “Where It Begins” and it takes us through Janie’s dream experiences from age eight to the present. Backstory, presented in a series of scenes titled with dates and times. Twenty-four pages of it before we return to present-day Janie on the first day of school, August 30, 2004.

    Why does it work? I think it’s because McMann adopts a style that reads almost like a series of incident reports: terse, but so packed with compelling information that it draws you ever onward. She writes in present tense, lending immediacy to every page. The third person narrator feels just distant enough to add to the incident-report feel of the book.

    This style choice lets McMann pack key stories from Janie’s past into a relatively short amount of space. Sure, she presents a ton of backstory in the second chapter, but she does so by flashing the reader through one intense scene after another. The short scenes continue, resulting in a book that (for me) was surprisingly difficult to put down.

    Check it out!

    :) Cheryl

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    Studying Beginnings

    iStock_000011488510MediumI’m working on a new type of writing project right now. A memoir. (No, it’s not my own—I’m working with someone who is MUCH more interesting than I am on THEIR  memoir.) But since it’s new kind of writing for me, I’ve been reading and taking notes on a LOT of memoir to see how other authors handle it.

    In the process, I’ve stumbled upon a wonderful tool for studying book beginnings: the Kindle. In my case, the Kindle for iPhone.

    Did you know that the Kindle allows you to download sample chapters from most, if not all, available books? I knew this, but it wasn’t until I was sitting in a kid’s orchestra rehearsal, wishing I had a pile of memoirs with me so I could check out how various authors begin their stories, that I put two and two together. With the Kindle, it’s incredibly simple to download and compare ten or twenty of fifty book beginnings.

    As a fellow writer, I did, in fact, wrestle with whether it was fair to the authors I was reading to download their book openings for free. I decided it was. First, I could have accomplished the same thing by picking up the books at my local library and spending a few afternoons at my local bookstore. I’d already done the first and was planning on the second—the Kindle just made the browsing process a bit easier.

    Second, when I scan through 20+ book beginnings, I inevitably find a must-buy title that I would not have found otherwise, just like I go out and buy the best of the library books I read.

    Meanwhile, I was able to peruse a wide range of memoir openings from the relative comfort of my folding chair during orchestra rehearsal. What more could a writer want?

    :) Cheryl

    PS: For those of you who do not own the Kindle or iPhone, many books are available to “browse” online through author websites, Amazon, or other bookselling websites.

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    More on crochet for the science geek

    In 2004, the mathematics journal Mathematical Intelligencer published instructions for crocheting your very own chaos model. Two professors in Bristol University’s Department of Engineering Mathematics, Dr. Hinke Osinga and Professor Bernd Krauskopf, were trying to create a computer model of the paths a leaf might take in a turbulent river. They used something called the Lorenz equations, which can be used to describe chaotic systems.

    The result? A thing of curves and beauty containing more than 25,000 crochet stitches—or about as many stitches as a large-ish, dense afghan. 

    Pretty cool, isn’t it?!

    :) Cheryl

    Picture from press release, EurekAlert!, December 16 2004



    Stop! Where’s the Pause Button?

    Don’t you wish life came with one? A pause button, that is. I could’ve used one last week. I can tell, because it’s always a bad sign when Saturday rolls around and I can only remember a sort of blur since Monday . This image hit me, late last night: my life is like a stovetop with too many pots on the front burner.

    I think it’s the entropy problem: without conscious attention and effort, our lives tend to become more and more disordered (and busy!) over time. When the days start to blur together, that’s probably a good indicator that it’s time to take a step back and regroup. I know, it can be hard to do when you’re surrounded by deadlines and projects, but most of us can eke out an hour to pare down our to-do lists.

    Or maybe you just need an hour to recharge and breathe.

    Last night, I took an hour to recharge and breathe—and crochet, which incorporates both. I finished up a project that involves jewel tones, silky cotton yarn, and just enough complexity to keep my mind absorbed.

      Picture 003

    Did you know that crocheting can reduce stress and trigger a “relaxation response” similar to that obtained via yoga and meditation? Research from the Harvard Medical School Mind/Body Institute suggests that those of us who crochet may be happier and healthier than those who do not.