Please welcome guest blogger, Sam Horn, the author of Tongue Fu!® Get Along Better With Anyone, Anytime, Anywhere. Thanks for joining us at Write It Forward!
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In the beginning, clients often tell me they think writing is hard work.
I tell them, “Not if you write when you’re flush with ideas.”
Do you know how flush is defined?
“A rushing or overspreading flow.
A sudden rise of emotion or excitement.
Glowing freshness or vigor.”
Wow. What writer wouldn’t want that?
Writing is only a chore or a bore when you over-think it.
From now on, don’t write when you’re grinding; write when you’re glowing.
Writing is joyous when you’ve just observed or experienced something different, something intense – and you’re simply transferring the aha’s running through your mind onto paper.
The thing is, many of us are busy so we set aside a time to write. We sit down at the appointed hour and expect flow to show up, on command.
Flow doesn’t like to take orders.
It has a mind of its own.
It happens IN THE MOMENT.
It happens when we’re one with something that just happened and the miracle of it is filling our mind, soul and spirit.
That’s when we need to sit down and write.
When those exquisite moments happen, we need to GO WITH THAT FLOW or it disappears.
Next time, you see something, feel something, understand something as if for the first time … and your mind starts racing with epiphanies … honor them.
Sit down (even though you have ‘other things to do) and get those thoughts out of your head and onto the screen or notepad … as fast as you can.
Without editing or critiquing.
Let what wants to be said come out in a vigorous rush … because what’s coming out is alive.
It may not be grammatically perfect … but it will have a voice, a passion, a pithy purity that only results when we’re swept up in what wants to be said.
When we do that, when we get out of the way and facilitate what wants to be said along its way, we collaborate with the muse.
It may sound grandiose, but writing those thoughts down in the moment is a way to render them immortal.
When we are in that pure state of flow, we are simply the conduit for whatever insights are blossoming within us.
We are merely the messenger and our role is to get those thoughts out of our head (where they serve only us) and into the world (where they have the opportunity to serve many).
You know you’re getting this “right,” when you look at what you’ve written and it’s better than you know how.
So, if you want writing to be a blessing instead of a burden; if you want to be at your intriguing best, write in the FLUSH of the moment to free up FLOW.
They don’t call them fleeting thoughts for nothing.
Next time you experience something that gets your juices flowing, get going.
Actually, sit down and let what wants to be said …. get said.
You have to start somewhere.
Have you ever listened to a writer who just recently started a new project? They are practically jumping out of their pants with excitement. Their eyes light up and oddly enough, they break out of that introverted shell and start babbling away about their latest novel.
This is at the core of the Kernel Idea. The spark of inspiration. That one thing that made you believe you could sit alone in a room and write 100,000 words. However, when the writer hits the 50k mark they often forget what excited them in the first place. As you go through Nanowrimo, are you starting to sputter out? The flame flickering low?
The kernel idea is the Alpha and the Omega of your book. By that I mean it starts your creative process and it completes it. It’s what you begin with and at the end of the manuscript, everything in the book points toward it.
The kernel idea is the foundation of your novel. When I say idea, I don’t necessarily mean the theme, although it can be. Or the most important incident, although it can be. But it can also be a setting. It can be a scene. It can be a character.
It is simply the first idea you had that was the seed of your novel. All else can change, but the idea can’t. It might be a place; a person; an event; a moral; whatever. But you did have it before you began writing and you must remember it as you write. If you don’t, your story and style will suffer terribly. You should be able to tell your idea in one sentence. And repeat it to yourself every morning when you wake up and prior to writing. Knowing it will keep you on track.
Every new book I begin, I write out this one sentence on a word document as the very first writing I do. I print it out and put it where I can constantly see it.
Can you clearly state what your book is about in 25 words or less? This is a key, essential ingredient of writing a good book. This idea keeps you focused and on track. It is important to:
- Write The Kernel Idea down.
- Ask yourself what emotional reaction does it bring about.
Good writing and strong characters are the key to great writing and knowing what excited you to write the book in the first place will bleed onto the page. However, if you don’t write it down, you might forget and get lost along the way.
What Is Your Kernel Idea?
- Good news is you had one.
- Bad news is you probably forgot it.
- It is usually the first thought you had (the spark of inspiration)
- It is the foundation of your book, the seed.
KERNAL IDEA EXERCISE:
Write down the idea behind your current project.
If you can’t do it, then you need to backtrack through your thought process to find it, because you had it at one point. Everything starts from something. While idea is not story (something I will talk about later) idea is the only thing in your manuscript that won’t change. Your story can, but your idea won’t.
In one of my early novels, the original idea was an action: What if Special Forces soldiers had to destroy an enemy pipeline? That’s it for Dragon Sim-13. Not very elaborate, you say. True. Not exactly a great moral theme. Right. But with that original idea there was a lot I could do and eventually had to do. I had to change the target country after the first draft. But that was all right because I still had the idea. I had to change characters, but that was fine too, because it didn’t change my idea. I had to change the reason why they were attacking a pipeline, but again, the original idea was the same.
You will have plenty of latitude for story after you come up with your kernel idea; in fact, I sometimes find the finished manuscript turns out to be different from what I had originally envisioned, but one thing is always true: that kernel idea is still there at the end as the Omega.
For my first kernel idea, I made it as simple as possible to enable me to focus on the writing because when I was in the Special Forces my A-Team had run a similar mission on a pipeline. Since I had a good idea what would happen in the story, I could concentrate on the actual writing of the novel.
I’ve sat in graduate literature classes and heard students say: “The author had to have a moral point in mind when they wrote that book.” I agree, but sometimes it is not at the forefront of the story. Many authors write simply to tell a story started by that kernel idea, which indeed might be a moral point, but sometimes is a story that they wanted to tell and the theme developed subsequently.
A moral or theme (screenwriters call it intent) always does appear in a book by the time it’s done. No matter what conscious expectations or thoughts an author has when they start writing, a lot more appears in the manuscript than they consciously anticipated.
After you have that kernel idea, you should spend a lot of time wrestling with it and consciously uncover your feelings and thoughts about it. I try to look at my main characters and determine what will happen to them emotionally, physically and spiritually as they go through the story. Who are they at the beginning of the story and who are they at the end?
This is an example of being aware of what you are doing. Not all authors have a conscious theme when they write a novel, but experience has taught me that it is better to have your theme in your conscious mind before you start writing. It might not be your original idea, but it will definitely affect your characters and story.
The reason it is important to have a theme in mind is because people want to care about what they read and the characters. If there is some moral or emotional relevance to the story they read, they will become more involved in the story and enjoy it more. Even if the reader doesn’t consciously see it either.
Writers balk at the Kernel or one-sentence idea. How can you be expected to write the entire essence of your epic novel in one sentence? You are told that every word, every sentence, every paragraph and every scene must have purpose, so how can any writer sum up their work in twenty-five words or less?
It’s simple. Your story started with an idea. The idea wasn’t much. If you write it down when you think of it, then summarizing your story in one-sentence is just that much easier.
One way to work on understanding the Kernel Idea is to take your favorite movie or book and try to figure out the Kernel Idea. This will help you narrow the focus and see how it is the foundation of everything in the story.
Do you know what your kernel idea is?
Can you say what your book is about in 25 words or less? The Write It Forward Workshop: Conflict and Idea, we’ll discuss ways to find and state your original idea so that you can stay on course while writing and revising your book. Conflict drives your story and must escalate throughout your entire novel. One of the techniques we will use in this workshop is the Conflict Box. The Conflict Box is a way of diagraming conflict and allows you to focus on the protagonist, antagonist, their goals and finding out if you have the necessary conflict. The course will begin on 1 February and is done on-line in a Yahoo Loop email delivery system so you can read and work on lessons when its convenient for you. The course runs for one month and costs $50.00. For more details and to sign up go to the Cool Gus Website.
(In the next post, I’ll give examples of Kernel Ideas)
I learned the hard way how important it is to have a plan when attending a conference or convention. While I’m not a shoot from the hip kind of girl, the first conference I attended (RWA National in Reno), I didn’t have much of a plan and frankly, I got very little out of a very expensive experience. I didn’t read up ahead of time what the workshops were all about. I didn’t look at which authors were presenting, or even what they wrote. I had no idea what to expect.
In a nutshell, I went to a few workshops (was disappointed because I hadn’t done my homework on the presenters). I spent a lot of time in my room working on my pitch and then after I got the request for the full, I spent even more time in my room going through my manuscript one more time. After I got home, I sent off my manuscript and then began reading emails about other writers’ experiences. It was then that I realized how much I had missed. Now I plan.
Last weekend I gave a presentation to the Pocono’s Lehigh RWA chapter. What I loved about the writers attending is they all had a plan for my workshop. Everyone came with specific questions. I think this is important when going to a workshop. Know what you want to learn and don’t be afraid to ask for clarification or if something you thought would be covered and wasn’t, don’t be afraid to ask.
Whether it is presenting or attending, planing is key for making the most of your experience.
Bob and I have been using a combination of Dropbox and Google Docs for some of our work. Google Docs is nice because we can both be working on a document and we can see what the other is doing. A little weird, but it works. I parked a spreadsheet there for my schedule for BEA. I’m going to be meeting people from Kobo, Apple, Amazon and also talking to other authors. I like to set up meetings ahead of time when possible. I find it slightly amusing that Bob is adding to my schedule, but going to BEA is a big deal for Cool Gus Publishing. It will be the first convention we are going with the official new name change. We have a shelf on the digital bookshelf showing off some of our fiction titles. Its exciting times and I’m really looking forward to attending. I have never been to BEA. All the more reason to do my homework.
I’m only going to BEA for two days and I want to make sure I get everything done that I have my BEA checklist. I’ve contacted a few author and agent friends I know that have attended and they have given me all sorts of tips. Now, you would think someone like me who speaks at least 6 conferences a year, this process would be a no brainer. However, we have found that when we don’t use checklists we then make mistakes. Early this week Bob shared his SOP for the ACX audio program. Anytime he adds a book to our audio listing, he’s going to follow that SOP and if it needs changing, he will change it.
So what is my SOP for attending a conference? I actually change it up each time I go, but mainly it consists of:
- Write out business and personal goals for conference
- Create any swag, business cards, etc.
- Know what presentation to attend before getting there
- Know the presenters and find them on-line, learning as much about them as possible
- Contact other business professionals who have attended the conference
- Make a list of who I want to meet with
- Contact them if I can and arrange meetings
- Of the people I want to meet, find out if they are giving a workshop, having a booth and schedule in a time to visit
- Once there, walk the terrain–learn where everything is first
- Stay on the conference floor the ENTIRE day
- Drink water and have snacks like peanuts or a granola bar
- Wear comfortable shoes
- Take notes
- When returning home, rewrite notes
- Jot down thoughts and send on to Bob
- File business cards and connect with the people I meet
- Go through all of this a week later and work on staying connected after the conference
So far, for BEA I’m nearly booked solid for the two days with meetings. The highlight will be that Cool Gus Publishing will be hanging out at the Kobo booth on Tuesday from 1-2:30 and again on Wednesday from 1-2:30. If you are going to be at BEA, come stop by and say hello. Bob and I are very excited about the future and what that means for writers and more importantly: readers. Readers Rule.
Write It Forward
Ahh, all those New Year’s resolutions. Writers are notorious for setting goals. And failing to achieve them.
This is often because all those goals we set don’t have a strategic goal, which they support. The #1 key to success in any endeavor is to set a strategic, overall goal and do whatever it takes to accomplish. I’m gearing up to teach a Write It Forward workshop on-line for the next two months (registration closes Thursday night) and the first thing we work on is goals. The excerpt below is from our Guide to Writers’ Conference: How to Get the Most Out of Your Time & Money, but it’s also a version of what’s in Write It Forward.
Strategy First: Know Your Goals
Understand Why You’re Going
We’re opening this book about conferences with an adapted excerpt from Bob’s book Write It Forward: From Writer to Published Author. In this section we discuss goal setting, because the first thing you have to do, even before you look for a writing conference, is know what you want to achieve both with your writing and with your conference experience. Every decision you make before, during and after the conference depends on what goals you set.
Let’s talk first about your strategic writing goal. It can be anything, but it’s important that you lock it down in one sentence. Here are some broad examples:
- I will be a NY Times best-selling thriller author in five years.
- I will write my memoir for my grandchildren in the next three months.
- I write part-time simply because it is a hobby and spend an hour a day on it.
- I want to be published within 2 years by a major, traditional press.
- I will have my book in print within 2 months via self-publishing.
- I will write a book that will help people with —– and spend the next three years using it to bolster and complement my speaking career.
The Importance of Your Strategic Goal:
- It starts your creative and practical process.
- It determines your supporting goals.
- Remembering it keeps you focused.
- It is the core of your work regime.
- It is the core of your marketing campaign.
- It determines what conference(s) you will attend and how you will plan for them.
- All supporting goals must align with it in the hierarchy.
Your supporting goals are designed to help you achieve your overall strategic goal. Thus, everyone’s path will be different based on having different strategic goals. What conference you pick to attend, what workshops you will go to, how you will socialize and network, who and how you will pitch, etc. all will be shaped by your goals. Each of those decisions are based on the supporting goals for each one.
Everything that you are getting in this book is filtered through your specific strategic goal. When you go to a writers’ conference, everything you hear is also filtered through your strategic goal. So two people attending the same session are going to walk out with two different impressions, each filtered through their point of view, which is shaped by their strategic goal.
When you state your goals, they should be done in one sentence. The sentence should have a positive verb that indicates the action you’ll want to use to achieve your goal. The verb must indicate an action you control—to an extent. In publishing, you control the writing and the way you approach the business. Beyond that, the publishing gods are fickle. I will become a NY Times Bestselling author in five years seems a bit lofty. But here’s the bottom line: if that’s what you want to achieve, then state it. And then develop a plan to do it. This greatly increases your odds of achieving the goal than the hit-or-miss method. Studies have shown the #1 key to success is setting a long-term strategic goal and doing whatever it takes in order to achieve it. Once you have that strategic goal, it determines everything you do, because everything you do has to support that goal.
Your goal should have an external, visible outcome. Just as in your novel your character’s goal should be something concrete and external, so should yours.
You should have a time lock for achieving the goal, unless time is of no consequence to you. For most of us, time is the most valuable asset we have.
Keep It Positive- A Negative Goal Accepts Defeat
Here’s another thing about stating your goal: Putting it out there, verbally and in writing, is a form of making a commitment. We know many writers get some static from those around them about all the time and money they invest in writing when they are unpublished and there seems to be no payback. The expense of a conference might be hard to justify. If people just see you sitting in front of a computer staring into space and then going off to conferences, they might start to question what you are doing. Letting others know your goal is committing to trying to achieve it and also lets others know you’re serious about it. Then showing your supporting goals such as how much time you allocate each day to writing, attending conferences, taking workshops, etc. will make sense in terms of the framework of the larger, long-term goal.
It also puts pressure on you to stick to your goals. We know many people who are afraid to clearly state their goals because by not doing so, they can slack off day after day. Also, some are afraid to state goals because they fear ridicule.
In 1987 Jim Carrey was 25 years old and a struggling comic. He drove his Toyota up Mulholland Drive in LA. Overlooking the city he wrote himself a check for $10 million. He dated it 1995 and noted it was “for acting services rendered”.
He was wrong. In 1995, his price for a movie was $20 million.
We can guarantee you one thing: if you don’t state your goal and strive for it, you are guaranteed never to achieve it.
Write goals out. Post them where you can see them every day. Put your conference goal on the inside of your notebook where you can see it every time you open it up to take notes.
What do you fear doing? (Often this is exactly what we must do). We have often found that many writers are afraid of writing about the things closest to them. Which means they are afraid to write their passion. Most writers are introverts, so going to a conference is against our instincts. Socializing is difficult for us and we don’t like crowds. We know many writers who go to conferences and hide in their rooms, rather than attending sessions.
Questions to ask Yourself
They key to answering these questions is the ability to do so in one sentence. This is important because it forces you to focus on what you really want.
- What do I want to do?
- Why do I want to do it?
- Why should anyone else want to do it? (History & Research)
- What is the most important thing I want to achieve?
- How will I know when I have achieved my goal? What will have happened?
- How have others defined it?
- How long did it take others to achieve this goal?
- What was your original goal when you began writing? The good news is you had one. The bad news is you might well have forgotten it. That original goal is key. It’s usually the spark of inspiration. It is the foundation of you as a writer, the seed, from which all else comes. It is your Strategic Goal.
Strategic and Supporting Goals Worksheet
My strategic writing goal is:
My tactical writing goal regarding mode of publication is:
My tactical business goal/priority regarding agents is:
My tactical business goal/priority regarding editors is:
My tactical business goal/priority of attending conference is:
My tactical goal regarding priority of workshops is:
List all the things you intend to do to help ensure your goals are met:
Write It Forward!
(PS: We’ll be doing a bunch more blog posts this month about Writers’ Conferences because many of you are planning on attending at least one in 2012)