Last September I set myself an Autumn Challenge
- to have a manuscript accepted by an agent or publisher by Christmas. It was a very ambitious goal. I made it public. And then I worked like crazy to make it happen. I sent out queries. September passed. I attended a writers' conference and pitched my novel and my memoir. October passed.
I edited my novel (again) and sent out more queries. November passed. I followed up on the agent queries, and sent a proposal for a short story collection to a publisher. December... passed. I didn't reach my goal.
When I set my goal, my rational was, "Reach for the moon - at the very least, you will land among the stars."It turns out I landed among
the stars.My book club collection of short stories
with discussion questions, titled Connections:Parables for Today,
has been accepted for publication by Pandora Press. It will be out in September, 2013. (Hooray!)So here are my five steps to reaching your goals:
- Set a clear, achievable goal, with a deadline (see my Autumn Challenge).
- Announce it (maybe not quite as publicly as I did).
- Determine what you have to do to reach it, and start doing it. Keep doing it. Keep on doing it.
- Forgive yourself if you miss your deadline and keep doing what you have to do. You may be only a few months away from achieving your goal!
- Rejoice when you succeed. Set your next goal.
Here's to success - yours!Have you met a goal recently? Tell me about it. What were your steps to success?
As a writer of fiction, non-fiction and memoir, I've been asked how I'd describe the difference between these three genres. My answer is, it's all in the way you use your writer's lens.
A writer's lens is something like wearing a contact lens in each eye - one for near sight, one for far sight. Open both eyes and you get the overall vision, or theme; but if you examine that vision closely, you'll see it's made up of the point of view of each eye's lens. The genre you are writing in determines how you use these two viewpoints.
In fiction, a writer mostly uses near sight - leaning in close to capture every detail so clearly the reader can see and hear and smell and taste the story. Only occasionally does the fiction writer use far sight - for example, when narrating connecting passages, relating backstory, or supplying historical or social context. Past authors like Charles Dickens used distance vision to insert author commentary on the story or characters being described. Distance vision is less intense, less emotional, less involving.
In non-fiction, a writer mostly uses far sight - drawing back to an objective distance to discuss, describe or deliver facts and ideas. The intended effect is intellectual rather than emotional. Only occassionally does the non-fiction writer use near sight - for example when using anecdotes, examples or case studies to clarify (near sight is very clear) a point or to convince the reader of an argument.
In memoir, a writer uses nearly equal measures of both near sight and far sight. She leans in close to recall and describe every detail of a remembered scene from the past, making it come alive with the emotional and sensory impact of good fiction; then she pulls back into far sight to offer information, comment or reflection on the scene just described, from her present perspective. The reader is constantly being moved back and forth between emotional involvement and intellectual understanding. The challenge for the memoirist is to maintain both; to alternate between near and far sight so adeptly that it is almost seamless, that the reader barely notices, but feels himself to be engaged on both levels simultaneously throughout the book. Stretch either too far, and the spell is broken: too much close lens and the memoir is simply a story; too much distance lens and reader is disengaged.
It's all in the way you use your writer's lens.
Last week I was checking out the website of a Canadian I admire - the famous Peacekeeper and humanitarian, General Romeo Dallaire
- and I came across the phrase "le don de soi".
Le don de soi: The gift of oneself. The phrase stayed with me, both inspiring and irritating: a sliver in my conscience.
This week's mass shooting at Sandy Hook elementary school threw le don de soi into stark relief for me. According to the dictionary, the opposite of gift or giving, is steal or taking. Killing sprees, terrorism, Jihad, road rage - so many traumatic examples of people turning themselves into weapons, taking the lives of others. Corporate, National and individual greed - constant examples of turning one's life into an instrument used for stealing from others. The opposite of le don de soi surrounds us daily.
Our natural reaction to the violence or greed of others is self-defense. Apparently, whenever there is an incident of mass violence, gun sales go up. Greed, as much as violence, incites our urge for self-preservation. Even a child will look to make sure no one else is getting a bigger piece of pie than his. Consider the current NHL strike - these guys are hurting for money? Seriously?
The problem with self-preservation is that it doesn't work. It just leads to an increasing spiral of violence and greed. We all know that, but the instinct is so deeply ingrained in our DNA it's hard to resist. So how can we respond effectively to hate and greed? By making ourselves, against our very nature if necessary, into the opposite. Into a gift, instead of a weapon. Le don de soi, the gift of ourselves.
At Sandy Hook, a young teacher threw herself in front of bullets to defend her students; the female principle and school psychologist tried to stop the shooter with their weaponless bodies. So it seems le don de soi is built into our DNA as well. Maybe we only need to find a way to release it.
How do we make a gift of ourself? I've done volunteer work, and made donations to charity, and yes, these were gifts of time and money: gifts of my spare time, my extra money. Somehow, they don't seem to fit the concept of a gift of oneself. Is it possible to not merely give, but turn ourself into a gift? Make our life a gift?
The obvious examples come to mind: Mother Theresa, Ghandi, Martin Luther King Jr., Terry Fox, Romeo Dallaire. Let me admit right here: I am not looking to be a saint or a martyr. I don't have what it takes - the charisma, the humility, the courage, the sheer physical stamina. I have had 5 surgeries in the past year and a half, with three more on the horizon, from minor stuff like oral surgery and cataract surgery to major reconstructiion of the gut. This gift of myself that I'm
contemplating is seriously flawed goods. Not the stuff of heros, let me assure you.
Well, we give what we can. The point is, all we have, really, is ourselves. Nothing else is within our control. So will we make ourselves into a weapon? An instrument of self-interest? Or a gift?
Le don de soi. The choice is ours.
Jane Ann What do you think? Are you, or have you in the past been inspired to make a gift of yourself? If so, tell me about it. Write a guest post about it here, or blog about it and send me the link to your blog.
I love to give presents. Finding that perfect item for someone - and ten more as well - brightens my day. Just the thought of their pleasure when they open it makes my toes wriggle. I love it all: the whispering, the smuggling of bags up the stairs, the joyous warnings of "no one goes into my room from now till the 25th!" Even better is to make a present that turns out well and I know will please the receiver. I am beside myself with barely suppressed excitement the whole season when that happens.
Some people talk about the commercialization of Christmas and complain that everyone gets too many presents. I nod as though I understand that this might be conceivable and make a mental note not to invite them over in December. Brightly-wrapped presents spread out from under my tree in a mountain of abandon, multiplying and creeping across the room as THE DAY approaches, until it is nearly impossible for the recipients to squeeze themselves into the room. On Christmas day I get up slowly. Oh, how I want to prolong the delicious anticipation of those waiting presents!
A gift is something entirely different. "Youth is a gift," we tell the young, shaking our heads as they appear to squander it. "Life is a gift," we remind those who are sad. "Love is a gift," we advise those who are focused on other things. Gifts are intangible things of great value, overlooked, taken for granted until we face losing them. If presents are like sunshine, gifts are like air; one makes us smile, the other allows us to breathe. Allows us to live. Because people cannot live without the feeling of being gifted. Whether it's youth or age, life or love, hope or faith, talent or interest, without our sense of having a gift, we die of depression, loneliness, despair, anger or bitterness.
I have not always felt gifted. At 23 I was diagnosed with a chronic, incurable illness. At times I thought it would define my life. But it hasn't. I have been hurt, as we all have, sometimes so badly I saw no reason to go on. I thought I would never heal. But I did. Don't ask me how. Being gifted is a mysterious, inexplicable ... well, gift.
So I take pleasure in this season of presents. I revel in a gluttony of giving. I give the lesser things that I can give, because I know how much I have been gifted.
Do you feel that you've been gifted? How? Have there been times in your life that you didn't feel gifted?
Hearing his chorus for Antigone chanted by these (wise?) Theben women...
"In mortal life, good fortune, great deeds and presumptuous pride bring certain doom"
Rave on, Sophocles!
Blogging has taken a back seat to organizing this writers' event, this month. If you live anywhere near Kitchener, Ontario, I would love to meet you here on November 24!
This is something I've been accused of a lot. In fact, that gagging sensation of being overwhelmed is so familiar to me I feel lost when I don't have ten things on the go.So now I find myself madly memorizing the chorus lines in Sophocles' Antigone, sewing quilts for Africa, organizing a one-day, multi-speaker writers' event in Kitchener,
teaching a college course one night a week, spending one day a week with my delightful 2-year-old granddaughter, editing 2 full manuscripts, and committed to two online challenges. Oh, and throw right into the middle of all that my whole family coming home for Thanksgiving and driving to Florida to attend a writer's conference there. Egads! Gazooks!
How--chew, chew--will I--chew, chew--do it all? My husband says, unload a few. But they're all things I've chosen to do, things that matter to me. Interesting stuff! I'm not even willing to cut back on the regular stuff - spending time with family and friends, square dancing Friday evenings, exercising daily, sleeping at night.Fortunately, they all come with deadlines. I'm good with deadlines. (And lost without them.) But with them, it's just a matter of meeting one deadline at a time.
So I tell myself. I'll get back to you on that one.I am as committed as ever to my Autumn Challenge
. I've fulfilled my steps to date - I sent off my SF novel to the publisher who asked to see it, and have planned the re-write of my historical fiction.Now, instead of setting weekly challenges in October - when I will be blogging on my other blog site, as part of
the October Memoir and Backstory Blog Challenge
, I intend to set one monthly goal toward the Autumn Challenge: I will, during the month of October, complete the re-write of The Sorrow Stone and send it to 3 - 4 publishers/agents; polish my Memoir and pitch, and pitch it at the FWA conference, after which I will send it also to 3 agents/publishers. I'll do all that by November 1st, when I will check in again here and set my next step toward meeting my Christmas goal.
Maybe I should include just surviving this crazy autumn? Do you tend to take on more than you can manage? How do you deal with it when you do?
Those of you who have been following this blog know about my Autumn Challenge
. For those who don't, it's about setting a challenge for yourself to achieve by Christmas - kind of a Christmas gift you give yourself.
I've been setting weekly goals for myself to get me to that final goal since I began this challenge in September. You may be wondering why I didn't weigh in on Monday. Life intrudes. We say that a lot. Sometimes it's good, sometimes not so.
Either way, I think the challenge (life is so full of them we might as well count on dealing) is to incorporate them into our overall plan. If nothing else, it's less frustrating. Flexibility - that's the key to survival, and to meeting your goals. Flexibility without losing sight of the end.So for me, life intruded when I got this great idea for a blog challenge: the annual October Memoir and Backstory Blog Challenge.
And life intruded when a publisher I'd sent a manuscript proposal to (like, over a year ago) emailed to say it "has promise" and could I sent the full manuscript? And life intruded when my optometrist said I need cataract surgery in one eye. It's been an interesting week.So how can I fit all this into my plan, my Autumn Challenge to find an agent or a publisher or to self-publish, by Christmas?Well, I have to be able to see to write, right? Unless I'm Milton, of course - which I'm not. And the October Challenge will help me develop my story and my characters, as well as meet lots of new writing and otherwise creative
friends. Creativity flourishes in such an environment. And the publisher might like my novel when he reads it, and that's what the challenge was all about. However, he might decide it's not for him, and he did say that it might take up to a year for him to read it, so I can't sit back and hope I've met my challenge yet! Flexibility is called for. This week's steps were to write a synopsis of my memoir - done! To submit the proposal to 3 agents or publishers - I've decided to hold off on that until October, because I've signed up for a writer's conference in October and will be able to present it in person to agents/publishers there. Always a better method. As for the third part of last week's step - to plan out a re-write of my Historical fiction novel and re-write the first 5 chapters - I did get the plan finished. But then the publisher emailed about my earlier SF novel - so I changed direction. Now I'm focused on a quick last edit of that novel, instead. Flexible, right? Sigh. Life intrudes.This coming week's Autumn Challenge step: edit and send off my SF novel to the publisher.
Get out the word on my October Challenge and learn to do a linky list - or some equivalent. By Monday.What's your Autumn Challenge for Christmas? Join us weekly as we weigh in, and share your progress. Together, we'll encourage each other to achieve more!
What's more fun than blogging? Blogging together! Here are 10 reasons to join the October Memoir and Backstory Blog Challenge
. For the full explanation and rules, go here
- It's fun to blog together.
- It can be applied to any type of blog.
- Blog-hopping increases your traffic and you get to meet new friends.
- A monthly challenge gives you writing prompts to stimulate your creativity.
- Memoirs and reflections provide interesting reading for your followers.
- Seeing how others handle the same theme encourages you to try different genres and formats.
- Reflecting on past experiences is a great source of inspiration for future, longer projects.
- It increases your blog output.
- It can be a great way to get to know the characters in your fiction - have them write a short backstory-memoir.
- It;s an excellent way to warm up for NaNoWriMo - or any other creative project.
for the October Memoir and Backstory Blog Challenge begins on September 24, 2012.
I wonder how a caterpillar can bear to weave itself into a cocoon? Strand after strand it ties itself down, burying itself alive, choking off the breeze, the warmth of the sun, theWhat an act of foolishness to willingly do this, to make itself so vulnerable. Does it sense that this is just a stage, that it will eventually emerge?
Or does it feel like a terrible, inevitable, bleak ending?When I entered the dark cocoon of PTSD, I didn't believe I would ever emerge.
Even now that I have emerged, now that I can see it as a stage, I carry a piece of that dark and ugly cocoon inside me, a memory and a presence and a threat. Does the butterfly feel that too, emerging from its chrysalis? Is that why it is so ardently drawn to the sun?When something terrible happens, it pulls us way deep down into ourselves, and anchors us there with pain.
Sometimes its mental or emotional pain, sometimes it's physical damage, but either way it's real, and it holds us down, as dark and constraining as a cocoon.We build that cocoon ourselves, following an instinct as foolish
and as necessary as the caterpillar's. But it is in the nature of cocoons and chrysalis' to open again. We do emerge, and the sun is there, waiting for us. The three things we can learn:
How can we apply those lessons to achieving our goals?
- Trust. When we enter a dark time, we need to hold onto our faith - that we will emerge, that we will heal, that the sun will keep shining even when we can't see it. Trust in ourselves, in life, in God. Whatever faith means to us, we must take it into the dark with us.
- Patience. It takes time to heal; it takes time to grow. We must give ourselves that time.
- Compassion. Consciously or unconsciously, our mind and our body are busy healing. They don't need our criticism. Instead, celebrate each small victory: today I did 'x': I couldn't do that last week.
If you're part of my autumn challenge
, you've already set yourself a goal to reach by Christmas. That is a huge act of faith
in yourself, in your abilities, and perhaps in God. Hold onto that faith every step of the way. You can
do this.Be patient with yourself if one of your weekly steps takes longer than you thought. Don't give up.
Be patient about your overall goal. You don't have to do it all today. Give yourself the time you need.Be compassionate and kind to yourself. Don't beat yourself up if you fall behind. Instead, celebrate the small victories, your weekly achievements. And if it turns out that four months wasn't long enough to achieve your goal,
celebrate how far you've come, how much closer you are than when you started. Take pride in the fact that you set yourself a difficult goal, that you stuck to it, and that you will
achieve it.Weighing In:My autumn challenge goal is to have a manuscript accepted (by an agent or a publisher) or self-publish one, by Christmas.This week I finished the final edit of my memoir
. I've written my proposal. I've submitted my pitch/query to an online forum for critique.Next week's steps: Write a synopsis of my memoir. Submit my proposal to three agents or publishers. Edit/rewrite the first five chapters of my historical fiction novel.What goal will you try to accomplish by Christmas?
What will you do this week toward that goal?
scent of living things, the air. Strand after strand its world grows darker, and yet it keeps weaving, until the light is completely blocked off, until it is all alone in the darkness, helpless and blind.Anything could happen to that tiny cocoon or chrysalis and the caterpillar wouldn't even see it coming.