Writing Serendipity

Trifolium repens ?
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Serendipity is an interesting thing. It’s when you find valuable or agreeable things that you weren’t looking for. I experienced serendipity this week, though I didn’t realize it until today.

Instance #1

I blogged about the need for writing practice over on Learn to Write Fiction a couple weeks ago.

There’s a theory that 10,000 hours of practice is required to become a world-class expert in anything. There are some caveats to this, of course.

You can’t just randomly do an activity for 10,000 hours and suddenly you’re an expert. The 10,000 hours have to be engaged in meaningful, deliberate practice where the person is actively trying to improve.

Instance #2

This week I picked up a copy of Outliers by Malcolm Gladwell. His book presents a theory that it isn’t just 10,000 hours that make an expert, though that is necessary. He adds that there are often instances of great opportunity in the lives of these experts-opportunities that propelled them forward toward expert status.

This makes sense in the publishing world where there are many examples of excellent writing that doesn’t get published and examples of mediocre writing that does. The opportunities that come your way are more often the result of luck than anything else. Right place, right time, right person syndrome.

Instance #3

Penelope Trunk blogged about time being more important toward achieving expert status than talent. We think of the talented people as being assured of expert status some day and we envy them for starting out with an advantage.

But scientists are starting to discover that it isn’t talent that assures expert status. Yes, it confers an advantage, but not a guarantee. Instead, “you need to work every single day at being great at that one thing if you want to be great.” The New York Times emphasizes the need for immediate feedback, as well..

Serendipity Thoughts

All of this has come together in my brain this week and I think about what it means for writers. Here are my conclusions:

Having a natural talent for writing doesn’t guarantee you’ll be a best-selling author. That means there’s hope for writers who weren’t born with the writing gene.

Deliberate, focused practice is required to get really good at something. 10,000 hours is the recommended target based on studies of experts in multiple fields including sports, science, music, art, math, finance and hobbies. This means setting specific goals, obtaining immediate feedback and concentrating as much on technique as on outcome.

You need to really love the thing you want to be expert at, otherwise you won’t put in the 10,000 hours of hard work needed to get very good at it.

Luck still plays a large part in becoming a best-selling author. You can’t control luck or opportunities, but you can prepare yourself and your writing to be ready when luck strikes.

Your Turn

Do you really love writing? Enough to get up early, stay up late, skip fun activities, work every spare minute, dissect and study other novels, revise constantly, solicit critiques and incorporate the feedback, write, write more, write better?

Do you spend your writing time in deliberate, focused practice, always striving to get better?

Do you prepare yourself to be ready for publishing opportunities by meeting other writers, attending conferences, following news in the publishing industry, and submitting your best work over and over again?

Tweet Tweetly-Tweet

Most people think social networking websites are a waste of time or for hooking up.  In my youth that meant something entirely different but, I digress.  Yes, you can while away the hours with meaningless chatter but, you can also learn things.  I have.

I’ve spent time on LinkedIn, LiveJournal, MySpace and FaceBook, fun and believe it or not informative.  I don’t mean what Aunt so and so is up to, yes, nice to know but there’s more to it than that.  I fought setting up both of the later pages, finally giving in and along came Twitter.  I couldn’t see the point in joining.  I mean really, who wants to read snippets of my day in 40 characters or less?  Reading my attempts at blogging are bad enough, right?  Oh wait, you’re reading this aren’t you?  Ooops.

Cheryl—you guessed it, the super talented chick who follows me every month—said, ‘Give it a try, you’ll be surprised.’  I gave in and have to admit I am surprised.  Surprised that people actually follow me—besides my Saturday Writers cohorts—hell, I’ve even got a few published writers reading my prattle.

Most of those I follow are industry professionals. Other writers, agents, editors, publishers ect.  Most of them willingly answer questions when asked.  Don’t ask them what the secret to becoming published is, by now you should know.  Butt in chair, fingers on keyboard!  Don’t try to get them to read your WIP or ask personal questions that are none of your business.  Things like that are just rude and unprofessional.

I’m not afraid to ask questions—I have and have received answers—I just find myself learning more by reading the tidbits they toss us.  Some of these little gems I’ve marked as favorites and I’ll share a few with you.

Yasmine Galenorn—I use “said” as little as possible. And I hardly ever use any other dialog tags. I use action to denote who’s speaking. For ex: “You actually kissed the zombie?” I couldn’t believe what I was hearing. “Yeah, it was gross.” He shuddered.

Rachel Vincent—My fight scenes must be written in layers. 1st: the blow by blow. 2nd: the pain and reactions. 3rd: internal thoughts. 4th: goings on around.

Laurell K. Hamilton—One of Hamilton’s rules of writing is: The more fantastic thing you expect a reader to believe the more real your reality better be.

Laurell K. Hamilton—Ray Bradbury said, “The muse cannot resist a working writer.” Sit down and write anything see if it breaks something loose. The worst thing you can possibly do is sit & stare at the blank screen, or paper, writing anything is more productive.

The obsession factor runs high with all of these sites, as said before you can lose yourself in them.  Will power is a must when using any or all of them.  Think of them as the carrot at the end of the stick, hit your goal and you are allowed to look.  If inspiration runs low set a timer and do a little reading, something may take spark.  When the timer goes off close the window so you won’t be tempted to peek and get back to work.

Now it’s your turn.  What if any social networking sites do you frequent?  Do you fall into the waste of time camp or do you find them useful?  Don’t be shy.  Share your opinions and what you’ve learned!  I’m listening, I mean reading…

2010 GOALS

My nine month old granddaughter, Alexa Reese, started walking this week.  I still am in awe of how fast babies learn and grow.  In less than one year she has gone from being a newborn infant who only knew to cry to get her needs met to feeding herself, communicating her feelings of unconditional love for her Mommy and Daddy to her delight for almost everything new she accomplishes.  It’s wonderful to watch and all of us are very proud of her. 

 The first of the year I turned in my writing goals to my writing chapter president.  Those goals came easy because I love writing and my dream is to be published.  All these goals will move me closer to accomplishing that dream.  At the end of next year the president will pull out the list and everyone in the chapter who reached their goals will receive awards if they reached those goals.  I reached all my goals last year and I’m looking forward to reaching them this year.  She made sure the goals we listed were goals we could control the outcome, goals we alone were responsible for attaining.

As for personal goals I had a hard time with these.  I came up with usual ones, losing weight and getting healthy, making more money.  I have some written on paper and some hanging on the wall in my office.  I can say as of almost the end of January I haven’t accomplished anything towards obtaining my personal goals.   I remember the passing thought of not making goals this year.  I remember thinking I could just be satisfied with the way I am and what I have.  After all, my life is comfortable.  I have pretty much everything I have ever really needed.  I have a good job, a nice house, a wonderful husband and family.  Then I saw my granddaughter walking.  I had to ask myself how could I take my life, health and time with my family for granted.  Just because I’m a grandmother doesn’t mean I’m that old.  I’m still healthy enough to exercise every day.  I still have many years ahead to accomplish lots of good things.  How could I just not care or even try to make a difference or believe I could make a difference in the way my life is lived?  I lectured myself, gave myself a pep talk, rewrote my goals and all I can say now is that I have eleven more months to accomplish them.  Thanks Alexa Reese.

When a good idea practically hits you over the head…

I’ve never considered myself much of a “spiritual” person, but I do have a certain form of faith running through my veins.

I have faith that my vacuum cleaner will quit on me on the day I need to clean the house for guests arriving the next day.

I have faith that my car will get a flat tire soon after quipping that I haven’t had a flat tire in a while.

I have faith that I’ll get a big zit on the tip of my nose on the day I need to have professional – expensive – photos taken of me.

All sarcasm aside, there are things in which I hold strong beliefs – or faith. I believe in Fate, that things happen for a reason. 

It is this faith that caused me to sit up and pay attention when something happened in my life this week.

I was getting ready for work one day when a loud, glass shattering crash echoed through my tiny home. Searching room-by-room, I located the cause of commotion in my bedroom. A large glass framed painting had fallen from a closet shelf, landing on my bed and shattering into tiny – but potentially deadly – pieces. The very bed where I had, only minutes previously, been sleeping peacefully.

After carefully cleaning up the sharp shards of glass, I thought long and hard about why this had happened.

Clearly – in my mind – someone was sending me a message. An extreme way of getting my attention, but effective. What was on that shelf  immediately beneath the picture that possibly could have caused it to slide off?

My Quija board.

One simply does not ignore a message from one’s Quija board!

I only wish the message were more clearly defined. Thus, I’m left to interpret the message on my own, and I have a theory. Strangely enough, it relates to a story idea I’d been tossing around in my head for a while now.

The story involves a teenaged girl with the ability to see ghosts,  who inadvertently brings back an evil spirit while playing with a Quija board…in the back room of a funeral home…with a group of friends. The spirit makes his appearance by shattering the glass in all the paintings hanging in the room.

Freaky enough coincidence for you? It got my attention!

And why did it fall on my bed? I take it as a message to “put the story to bed” or finish it.

The message doesn’t end there. My dead father came to me in a dream last night. The dream was strange, disturbing, and confusing – as dreams can often be – so I looked it up in my dream interpretation book…every home should have one of these books.

Without going into too much detail about my dream, my book’s interpretation goes like this: I have choices available to me that will help me control my life but I am feeling constrained by a job that I hate but have to keep so I can pay the bills. I have a lot of hard work ahead of me, am impatiently waiting for something to happen and fear losing control of the direction my choices will take me.

Translation: I want to quit my hateful job so I can concentrate on getting this story (and many others) finished and published, but am living with the fear of failure.

WHEW! Pretty good, huh?

No wonder life as a writer has enormous appeal to me! I have imagination to burn, can put a creative spin on any situation, and firmly believe you need to pay attention to the messages life sends you. If you’re not listening, life will smack you up side the head to get your attention…or drop a sheet of glass on you and visit you in a dream!

Now…I’ve got a story I need to get to work on…

Ten Years Later

2010 - Happy New Year!
Image by Patrick Hoesly via Flickr

All day yesterday on Twitter, people were posting their thoughts with the hashtag #tenyearsago. They were remembering and highlighting where they were ten years ago and how their life had changed since then.

As a writer, I’ve come a long way in ten years. I wrote a lot of words in those years. I completed several NaNoWriMo novels. I participated in several online writing communities and real-life writing groups. I read many books on writing and applied them to my stories. I made new writer friends. I started a website about writing.

And in those ten years I learned a lot about myself and my writing. Some of the things I learned…

  • Strong emotion can drive a short story. It’s actually one of the best inspirations for a story.
  • Regular writing practice makes the words flow easier. Julia Cameron’s morning pages are a good way to incorporate daily writing practice into your life.
  • There are two kinds of books published about writing – “How to” books on craft and books that motivate you to write. You can learn from both, but the best way to improve your writing skill is by just writing.
  • If you push through to the end of a story, even one that you don’t like anymore, you can learn more from finishing it, then abandoning it for a new story.

How far have you come with your writing in the last ten years? What have you learned?