Start a Project Blog

A Pen In Each Hand

By Beaver

One of the big appeals of writing challenges like NaNoWriMo or April’s NaPoWriMo is that they have a concrete timeframe and goal, whether it be to write a 50,000-word novel in a month or thirty poems in thirty days. Even if the task as a whole seems daunting, it can be broken down into manageable daily goals: don’t worry about writing 30 poems, focus on writing one poem a day.

Because a writing challenge is finite, it’s easier to keep going on those days when you’re uninspired, tired, or busy. You can remind yourself if you skip a day, you’ll have to make it up later. You can remind yourself you only have X days left, you can do it! You can remind yourself how good you will feel when you complete the challenge.

Writing challenges give you the satisfaction of completing a project. At that point, you can decide what you want to do next: keep writing? start editing? set it aside and move on to something new? Whatever you decide to do next, even if it’s stick your project in a drawer and never look at it again, doesn’t take away from the fact you finished (and, of course, celebrated!)

The challenge-goal reached-reward cycle is what keeps people going for years in many endeavors, but it’s often something lacking in a writer’s life. Writers tell themselves they need to write everyday—indefinitely, forever! Then they get mad at themselves when their enthusiasm for a project started a decade prior wanes. A writing life without meeting goals and taking the time to reward oneself for doing so is a recipe for burn out.

So this month’s challenge is designed to get you moving away from setting goals with no end in sight. For this challenge, you’re going to start a project “blog.” Any social media platform can be used for this project as long as it allows you to post text. Your project blog should be separate from your existing social media. In other words, don’t use an existing account for this project—start fresh! Your project should have a theme, a writing goal, and a set timeframe for completion.

Example: write 52 100-word flash stories, each based on a photograph, in a year.

Think about your daily life and your existing commitments when deciding on your project. Be realistic! The point of this project is give you the satisfaction of reaching a tough, but manageable, goal. Don’t set yourself up to fail. Do-X-every-day-for-a-year projects are popular, but keep in mind it’s hard to do anything every single day for a year. If you do attempt such a project make sure your daily goal is small.

Challenges like NaPoWriMo work well because the writing goal is for the entire length of the project. Writing one poem each day is one way to reach your monthly goal of 30 poems, but it’s not the only way. You might have days during the week when you have time for writing and days when you don’t, making it better for you to write two or three poems on the days when you have more time.

It’s good to have some flexibility built in, especially for a long project. Setting a daily goal for a year and then missing day 360 because you simply got busy and forgot would be demoralizing. If the platform you’re using for your project allows you to schedule posts, take advantage of it. Schedule time to work on your project as you would any other appointment, and set a reminder in your calendar so you don’t forget.

When you reach your goal: celebrate, then re-evaluate. Do you want to continue, take a break, or try something new? If you do decide to continue, renew your project for the same timeframe, just like renewing a library book.

15 for Fifteen

A Pen In Each Hand

By Beaver

This month we’re celebrating 15 years of Toasted Cheese. As we look back on some of our proudest moments from the past decade and a half, we invite you to do the same.

Day to day, progress can sometimes be so slow, it feels like you’re not moving forward at all. Pausing and reflecting from time to time is a good way to not lose sight of the big picture.

Make a list of 15 things you’ve accomplished writing-wise since January 2001. Big or small, anything you’re proud of can go on this list. If you have a writing buddy or group, this would be a great exercise for all of you to do and then share with each other.

Celebrate your accomplishments. Write a blog post or share on social media. (When you hit a low point you can look back on your list to give yourself a boost.) Invest in your writing life. Get yourself some new writing supplies or that software you’ve been meaning to purchase (if you don’t have it yet, Scrivener is well worth the investment). Do something fun! Freshen up your writing space, go to dinner with your writing buddy and toast your successes, throw a party for yourself and your writing group.

What’s next? Set 15 new short- or long-term writing goals. Tuck it away somewhere safe and revisit it in a decade or so to see how you did. Happy writing!

The Summer Writing Bucket List

Absolute BlankBy Shelley Carpenter (harpspeed)

Summer is my favorite time of year. For many of us it is a change-up in the daily patterns of our lives. Because there are fewer vehicles on the roads due to school breaks and vacation rotations in the office, the commute to work isn’t as long, so many of us can sleep in a little longer and arrive home a little sooner. Home life changes, too. The sandals and flip-flops come out of the closet. Summer food is back. It’s a time to BBQ and to enjoy an icy cold one while dinner cooks on the grill or at your favorite restaurant now that the patio and umbrellas are open for dining al fresco. Don’t forget to stop at the ice cream stand on the way home.

The Summer Writing Bucket List

Indeed, the day-to-day demands don’t seem so demanding when the sun is still shining at eight o’clock, leaving plenty of time in the day to squeeze in those extra activities that were not possible during the long winter months. It is so easy to drop off the radar and slip away because no one is looking. And there is no requirement or a sunny sign-up sheet in order to take part in the summer change-up. It’s a given. A gift.

I personally get very excited beginning in June when I see my favorite indie bookstores and my local library have their summer reading lists posted on their doors and display boards. How many new novels can I squeeze in before September? Yet reading is not the only change-up in my summer lifestyle—my writing changes too. It seems to be a natural occurrence as it happens like clockwork every year. Maybe it’s the boost in serotonin levels in my brain from all the added sunshine or maybe it is an evocative reaction to the sights, the sounds, the summery smells resonating deep in my writer-being that I credit from spending extravagant amounts of time outside as opposed to the ocean of time spent inside last winter. Perhaps it is all of the above.

Whichever the reason, along with it comes one extra perk and that is a sense of freedom that can be exhilarating. During July and August I give myself express permission to break away from any existing writing projects. I tuck them in on my hard drive and I step away to try something new. Something that perhaps I’ve always wanted to try but haven’t had the chance. I break out my summer writing bucket list. bucket1My bucket is blue with a picture of SpongeBob SquarePants on its side. If ideas were stones, my bucket would nearly topple over from the weight of all the ideas it holds. I reach inside and pick…

Last summer, I was possessed with writing personal essays. I made a list and managed to get three nearly finished before September first. The summer before that I spent some time playing with narrative points of view. This summer, I’ve decided to change up my writing bucket list. The last three bucket numbers are now re-ordered to Numbers 1, 2, and 3. My plans are to spend some time writing blog posts on a particular non-fiction subject, writing an old story in a different point of view, and perhaps writing one or two fresh pieces of flash fiction. Yes. I’m ambitious.

And even though I may abandon my laptop to literally go fly a kite on the beach or go see a ball game, and may not return to my writing until the next day or the day after that, it is perfectly A-okay to do so. It is okay because if indeed the summer months take over my writing schedule, I know that anything I don’t finish will become fodder for the winter months—my winter writing bucket list.

So writers, while the sun is shining consider a change-up in your writing. Write a list for your summer writing bucket and make it happen.

And tell us about it, too. Share your thoughts and experiences with the TC editors in a comment or a tweet or drop by TC’s weekly writing thread in the Chasms and Crags forum hosted by TC editor, Beaver. Tell ’em Harpspeed invited you. 😉


Make Your Own Summer Writing Bucket List

A Pen In Each Hand

By harpspeed

What will you put in your bucket? Here are some ideas to get you started:

  • Post a suggestion or a comment here. 🙂
  • Take out an old story and write back stories for your main and supporting characters.
  • Write a short story.
  • Write a story entirely in dialogue.
  • Write a story in backward chronology.
  • Write a story that happens in a 24-hour span.
  • Rewrite a story in a different point-of-view: first, second, or third.
  • Rewrite a story with a different narrator, style, or structure: Give an inanimate object or concept such as “joy” a voice. Try writing in stream-of-consciousness style or in epistolary format to tell your story. It worked for Mary Shelley, Bram Stoker, Charles Frazier and a host of writers.
  • Write a flash story.
  • Give an old story a fresh coat of words: Rewrite it in a different verb tense. Try a present, past or future voice: I write all summer long. I wrote all summer long. I will write all summer long. I promise!
  • Write in a different genre.
  • Interview someone of interest in your community and pitch the interview to your local newspaper editor or local magazine editor. Hint: Retired veterans and school bus drivers have great stories to share and know a lot about the community.
  • Create a cookbook anthology using your personal favorite recipes.
  • Pitch an event to your local newspaper editor, attend, and write about it. (I touched the real Titanic and wrote about the artifacts on exhibit when I toured a local museum with third-graders. There wasn’t much news that day so my little story and accompanying photograph made the front page.)
  • Write a friendly letter.
  • Write a query letter.
  • Write a personal essay about something you feel strong about that has a universal audience and pitch it to your local newspaper editor. (I once wrote about Beanie Babies and compared them to other collectables of the past. Approximately 30,000 people read it in the editorial section of my local newspaper.)
  • Write a poem.
  • Write about something you are an expert on. A how-to essay or what a particular activity means to you. If you have hobbies start there. Maybe you know how to build the perfect chicken coop or know some gardening secrets you can share. Visit the newsstands and see where your piece best fits.
  • Write an article or book review for Toasted Cheese!

Ready.  Set.  Write!

Resolve to Evolve as a Writer

Absolute Blank

By Faith Watson (fmwrites)

Janus, the Roman god of doors and beginnings, was the figure at the center of one of Rome’s oldest cults. It makes sense that the first month of the Roman calendar is named after this mythical ruler of gateways, transitions and change. With one face looking forward and one looking back, Janus, like his namesake January, reminds us that we can improve future possibilities based on what we have learned in the past.

The tradition of resolving to change aspects of our lives also makes sense as we usher in a new year each January. However, resolutions, being the firm decisions they are, are not always the best match for creative souls involved in the creative process, where a little more Eureka!-like unpredictability can be expected (and hoped for).

Yes, decisions need to be made, and acted upon, for our writing endeavors to become finished projects and realized goals. But you might want to carry some of that original Janus mystique with you, too, as you pass through the gateway to your 2008 writer’s life. You can do more than make a resolution—go for an evolution.

If you resolve to evolve as a writer, you’ll be seeking the gradual process of change into a better form, and undertaking the process of adaptation, growth and development. It’s essential that you use the backward-looking face of Janus, to assess where you’ve been and how you’ve gotten there, and at the same time use the forward-looking face to search for new horizons and keep an eye on your destination.

Here are some basic evolutionary concepts that can help you make firm decisions about your writing. A bit of introspection combined with realistic goal setting will help you meet the demands of your life’s priorities without sacrificing the personal aspects of your artistic growth.

Aspire. To evolve, we identify a need to move onward, toward a new or better form. To what do you aspire, as a writer? Answer this question first and foremost.

If you can’t comfortably speak of your aspiration, or if your answer is along the lines of “I feel I was meant to be a writer, but it seems impossible to achieve,” take some time to look inside yourself without pre-judgment. (Also, look at that last sentence again, and remember, they say everything after the “but” is baloney.)

Consider this inspirational quote by Marianne Williamson, which was used with great effect in the movie Akeelah and the Bee: “Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. … We ask ourselves, Who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented, fabulous? Actually, who are you not to be? … Your playing small does not serve the world.”

You need to use that forward-looking face. Try journaling a page of possible aspirations, without regard for plausibility or likelihood. What do you want? Tell the truth. (Don’t be sorry about it!) Own your answers—it’s the “new or better form” you need to be moving toward.

Perhaps your goal is long-term and large, or vague and hardly manageable. If it’s something like “I aspire to have a short story published,” then make sure your aspiration is followed up with a list of smaller steps leading you down that path. It’s a lesson that bears repeating: specificity is your friend when you have admirably giant dreams. Big desires are totally allowed, but they need breaking down into actionable bits. Look behind to where you’ve come from to arrive at this door, and while planning your ultimate destination, imagine the steps you need to get there.

Questions to help you express your aspirations:

  • What would you do with your writing if you weren’t afraid?
  • If nothing were stopping you (including your doubts, your education, your finances, your job, and so on), where would you go with your writing?
  • Exactly what kind of work do you aspire to have published (or published next)?
  • Have you already started writing a story you believe in, and need to get back to? What’s stopping you, and what can you do to work around that obstacle?
  • Do you need to take a class and brush up on the basics of you chosen genre? Should you consider new organization for your yet-to-be-accepted work, to make it more saleable?

Resolving to become a published author is admirable, and it is doable for many people. But evolving into a writer whose work gets published is different. What kind of writer will you evolve into, and what does that kind of writer look like? Whatever your aspiration, you’ll need to guide yourself through the landscape with a route and a plan.

Questions to help you act on your aspirations:

  • When will you write? How often? How many words or on what deadlines?
  • Where will you write? What tools will you use? Can you create a better working environment for yourself, say, by investing in new software, keeping paper files for queries, or creating a cache of internet bookmarks for next month’s research projects?
  • How will you write? Recreationally, enjoying writing for writing’s sake? Inspired by a social element, such as heading out to club meetings, or finding an online writing buddy?
  • For whom will you write? Have you identified a potential market or two for your next project? Do you have all the facts you need about submissions organized, at the ready? Will you only write for pay, on assignment?

Your aspirations are nothing to fear, nor is asking yourself the questions, even the tough ones. There are no wrong answers—in fact, honest answers will help you succeed.

Succeed. You might think this step seems out of order, but it’s not. Evolution is gradual. We need to make changes, and we need to keep going.. For many writers, just getting started is the hardest part. For some, it’s building momentum, for others, it’s the dreaded finishing. In every case, success breeds enthusiasm. You’ve dreamed it, now do it.

Don’t be fooled by the word success—it’s not defined by accomplishing your ultimate goal. Success according to Webster means “the gaining of something desired, planned or attempted.” You get to choose what that something is. Your successes are up to you! Maybe you plan to write for an hour on Tuesday. Do that, and you’ll have your first success. Perhaps you long to attend a weekend writer’s retreat next summer. Make your reservation, and you’ll have another success. With those two successes under your belt this week, you’re sure to have new enthusiasm for your research day on Friday. After all, you’ve been going strong all week!

It can be difficult to stay motivated when you’re working on a goal that seems distant, or largely out of your control, such as becoming a professional writer or selling a screenplay. But if you can succeed in doing something specific, that you yourself desired, you will have that enthusiastic edge. You’re proving to yourself, step by step, that you can do what you decided you needed to attempt, and that’s exciting! It’s a successful manifestation of your aspiring mind. Your writing life evolves as it learns that you are making good use of it. It improves, and so does your outlook, and that confident optimism attracts your effort, and then guess what? Your writing improves, too. Now that’s success.

Adapt. Perhaps the toughest aspect of the making and keeping of any Resolution is the part about how life happens. Try. Try again. Tweak as needed. There, that might work.

We aren’t walking around with fish gills anymore, and we now have these handy opposable thumbs. We aspired to move onward, we tried out some smaller steps, and many of them succeeded. Then, we adapted according to the challenges we encountered on, and the efficiencies suggested by, our new path.

When researching this article, I learned that male genitals are actually not in the best spot, biologically speaking. It all descended a long time ago, as part of a species-wide evolutionary experiment. The body learned that the testes would indeed be physically better off it they were tucked back up behind the urethral tube on the inside, with the pubic bone providing a sort of automatic athletic cup. However, the sperm would not survive there. Now, isn’t that something? One face looking forward, one looking back, right there at the doorway of how man might best adapt to go about populating the earth.

How does this apply to your writing pursuits? Well, you will need to be willing to keep up on your gradual development, consider new alternatives, and still morph into the writer you aspire to be, even when stuff happens. Because, it will. If you’re stuck at what feels like a roadblock, don’t despair, and don’t give up. Just change your mind about your approach. Adapt to find something that works better for you. Transition may take a day, a decade, or stretch out over an entire adulthood. The secret to making positive changes is to… (hang on to your hats here) make changes, for the positive.

Grow. Doors and beginnings. Firm decisions about moving forward. Adapting to a new, better form. Looking behind, looking ahead. Grow, to fill your own writing shoes, for your own gain.

Growth is so individual, it’s not easy to advise on. It starts where you are at, includes where you’ve been and what you’ve found there, and it never ends. There is always unlimited potential for you to grow into and out of the various phases of your life, facets of your self, and areas of your desire. If it all seems too abstract, or these types of introspective concepts leave you wondering what you can actually accomplish as a writer, try this one simple exercise to get your creative juices flowing and your writing self growing.

“Act As If” Exercise (write out answers to any or all of the following):

  • If you were the writer you want to be, what would you do? Like, right now, specifically, what would you do? Would you stop reading this article and go write? Would you call your mother and ask her advice on being a writer? Would you meditate? What? Write all of it down. Then, turn it into your To-Do list.
  • Tomorrow, what would you do? Next week, every week…what about the next time you have a three-day weekend? In the summer? When you have a spectacular idea that you just need to get out of your head and onto paper?
  • What would you do with your writing files? With your unfinished stories?
  • How would your desk look? Your reference library? Would you be learning more about a specific subject or two?
  • How would you arrange your time, if you were already the writer you want to be? What sacrifices would you make? What priorities would never change?
  • What would your book jacket bio say?
  • Would you have a website?
  • Would you read more?
  • Would you keep up on publishing trends?
  • Get an advanced degree?

Your To-Do list will be as individual as you and your goals are. However, every list will always contain one element, no matter who you are or what kind of writer you’re aspiring to be: you will have to delve further into, and extract more out of, your own possibilities. After all, if you are not yet the writer you wish to be, then you have some growing to do in this regard.

Both evolution and resolution will support your growth quite nicely.

“I dwell in possibilities.” —Emily Dickinson

Final Poll Results

Seven Writer Resolutions

Absolute Blank

By Stephanie Lenz (Baker)

It’s that special time of year when everyone inflicts self-guilt for not having done all the things they vowed to do a year ago: Learn another language. Perfect William Shatner impersonation (hairpiece optional). Finally have “The Talk” with parents. Make a steaming batch of matelote from scratch… well, I suppose everyone’s list is different. Wouldn’t it be nice to make some resolutions you can actually keep? Try some of these.

  1. Write every week. Things pop up in life and we can’t always keep a daily writing appointment. If you decide to do creative writing at least once per week, writing 1000 words per session, by this time next year you could have your first draft of a novel completed.

If you intend to make a “write every day” resolution and/or a “start exercising” resolution, why not combine them? Write, then stretch and do some walking to get your circulation going. Do some biking and then write a little while you rest and drink some water. There’s no reason your resolutions should compete for your time.

  1. Set up an e-mail account just for your writing-related work. Use this e-mail address for all your submissions. Use it as part of your contact info. Create folders for “submissions” and “newsletters” and any other facet of your writing life. E-mail copies of your work to yourself (then everything’s stored “off site,” in case anything happens to your hard drive, disks, etc.).

Please don’t include any form of “write” in the e-mail address (ex: “ZuzuWriter@gmail.com”); it can come across as hokey to an editor. Avoid weird and cutesy names too, like “snowbunny76” or “scarletsuccubus” or the like. Stick with something like your real name, like sarahjessicaparker or sjparker or sarahjess.

  1. Keep track of your submissions. More than once, Toasted Cheese has accepted a submission only to have the writer tell us “oops, I forgot to tell you it was accepted someplace else.” After weeding it out, reading, rereading, sending the personalized acceptance letter, it’s very frustrating and, for me, puts the writer on a mental blacklist. The best way to avoid this is to have that “writing only” e-mail account to keep your stuff together.
  2. Submit one story, article or poem for publication. You might get rejected. In fact, you’ll probably get rejected. Rejections are nothing to be ashamed of; we all have tons of them. A rejection says “I tried” and trying is better than doing nothing.
  3. Enter a writing contest. Yes, that’s right. Write for fun and profit! The profit may only be publication, but contests are fun and there are several no-fee writing contests in the writing world. Novel and Short Story Writers Market and Poets Market list all kinds of contests (including ours) so check them out and give one a try. Even if you don’t place in the contest, you have met a deadline and you have a completed story to submit elsewhere. Two goals in one!
  4. Try a writing workshop. You can do it online in your own time (like here at Toasted Cheese). You can find a workshop near you and drop in (or just linger and eavesdrop, like I do). Chain and local bookstores often host writer workshops in-store so ask an employee for a schedule or the group’s name. You can usually find groups and their schedules online. Check out Meetup.com and look for writing groups in your area (or reading groups—see #7). If there’s no writing group near you and you’d like to have a real-life workshop experience, try to start your own group.
  5. Read. If you are a writer, you should be a reader as well. Poetry books can teach us about word economy, metaphor and imagery. Novels and collections of short fiction can inspire us to do our own storytelling. Memoirs and biographies can teach us about character development, believability and entertainment value.

Joining a book club can give you a push. Oprah.com hosts a virtual book club that you may have heard of and they read some interesting classics. You can discuss the book online or just use it as a possible answer to “what should I read next?”

You can also read online. Literary journals, newspapers, magazines and even classic literature can be found quite easily. Many folks have posted their NaNoWriMo novels online. Maybe you’ll discover tomorrow’s literary sensation today!

Keep us updated on your progress and let us know how the resolutions work out for you. We’ll check in with you this year (all right, some may call it “nagging”) and hopefully by this time in 2005 you’ll be able to say “look what I’ve done” instead of “I wish I had.”

Final Poll Results

Keep Your Creative Fire Burning

Absolute Blank

By Mollie Savage (Bonnets)

It’s a new year. I’ll bet you’ve made a resolution, silent or aloud, “this will be my writing year!” You’re filled with the exciting, energizing passion of your creativity. Writing is as necessary as breathing, right? Do you feel breathless or are you still pumping? If you are still breathing the fire of your creativity, write on! If the fire simply smolders and only sparks occasionally, read on. If the fire is out of control, read on. This is about finding and maintaining balance in your fiery creative passion: writing.

Each of us, as creative people, has experienced the high burning fervor of words, images and ideas that burst forth onto the page. And we’ve experienced the cold, stark empty hearth when our minds are as blank as the page before us. That is the nature of creativity. At times too hot, at times too cold, at the best of times temperate. There are no right or wrong ways of seeking the temperate balance of creativity.

Melting the Brain Freeze

It’s a painfully cold time when you face a blank page and nothing comes to mind. Some people call it writer’s block; I call it brain freeze when nothing sparks my creativity. Here are a few ideas to melt the brain freeze.

When a work in progress suddenly stalls, don’t fight it; acknowledge that you are experiencing the nature of creativity. Write to it. Open a new page and write about where you want to go with the story. Relax, let ideas flow, travel where your imagination takes you. Perhaps one of the characters doesn’t conform to what you have in mind. Write a letter to her; explore why she isn’t working well within the story. Explore her motivations within the framework of the story. Examine why she isn’t working, tell her your every thought about her. Then with your hand, let her respond. In the process, not only will you be writing, but a lively character will emerge.

Sometimes the setting may not be right for your story: perhaps some element is missing or not true to the story. Depending on your story, take some time to draw a map or layout of a specific room. Bring in as much detail as you can. Use colored pencils to add detail, find out where your story lives. Then write a description of your drawing. Become as comfortable in your setting as you are in your own home.

If you have no work in progress consider these ideas. Write to the brain freeze, “Dear Frozen Brain, I am so mad at you…” Write about how you feel, what you are experiencing, let your emotions heat up. See where that takes your creative spirit. Or think of a time or place that interests you and create a free-association word list. Write down any thought or image that comes to mind.

Try any one of these to acknowledge and address the cold creative moment, and the heat of your writing will melt that frozen brain and allow your creativity to flow.

Too Hot to Handle

The flip side of brain freeze is when your creative juices are flowing like lava down a mountainside. Three story ideas, a personal essay about the holidays, an idea to interview the local artist you met at a party all vie for your attention. Focusing on any one project can be difficult with such a blaze of creative activity.

Step back. Acknowledge your creative dilemma, then spend some time analyzing. Write down what you think is important, what has meaning for you in each of the projects. Look for the true possibilities of marketable success in each idea. Try to give each equal time in your analysis. If one stands out as having the most potential, go for it. Should more than one emerge as having importance to you, look for possible connections between them (more than likely there will be). Pick the one that ignites your passion the most. Keep a notepad near you should ideas arise that relate to another similar project, and jot them down. Don’t deny your creative fire in the name of single-minded discipline. Allow yourself to be flexible, yet focused.

If, on the other hand, one of your ideas has a deadline–whether an article you’ve pitched that has been accepted or a contest you want to enter–and you find the pressure too hot, step back and confront the avoidance. Write about why you are not comfortable with this piece, address what isn’t working, and why you don’t want to work on it. Look for what ignited your creativity in the first place and what may have lowered the temperature of your creativity on this project to sub-zero. Look for the balance between the two; find the temperate comfort zone of your creative nature. It’s not easy, but who said being a writer was easy?

Light a Candle to Celebrate

Reward yourself, each time you write, for having found the temperate balance of your creative fire. Make your reward a tangible, visible reminder of your progress. Something that, each day as you enter your writing space, reflects your previous accomplishments. It could be as simple as drawing the framing circle of a wreath on your writing pad and adding a flower or leaf to the wreath after each day’s writing. Begin your writing time acknowledging and admiring your success.

Final Poll Results

A New Day, A New Page

Absolute Blank

By Tawny McDonald (Butcher)

Like a fresh page of a new notebook, the year stretches before us and like during the year that’s just passed, we lick the tips of our pencils and wonder where it is we begin. What beasts will be conquered, what dreams will be accomplished, what will we do this year to make it different from the last. How will we fill these empty pages both figuratively as individuals and literally as writers?

Writing is by and far one of the more solitary pursuits in this crazy, crowded world—we long for the lonesome, long for that time when the world around us has receded. It’s our time to do our thing, to create, to be happy. But if this is what we actively pursue, then why is it when we finally achieve it (the kids are in bed, the significant other is running an errand, the ringer on the phone is OFF), we don’t make the most of it? What propels us to log onto the Internet rather than loading up Word? How can we succumb to acting out another SIM reality or flipping on the soaps when our own realities are begging to be spun? What leads us done roads well traveled when we should be on those ragged paths that lead to who knows where?

The pure nature of our passion is based on solitude, and as a result, it’s easy to see how it can be one of the most difficult to commit to. But it can be done. Any fitness expert will argue that exercise regimens are most successful when you have the support of either a friend or a group. Rehabilitation programs like Alcoholics Anonymous demonstrate that same philosophy—weekly meetings and sponsors are mandatory. So if writers are infamous for our isolation, then what are we to do? Where’s our buddy huffing along at our side and where are our twelve steps keeping us on track? They’re there—but it’s up to you to pursue them. Here’s a gentle push in the right direction.

  1. Set goals, not ‘resolutions’.

Recently, at Chasms and Crags, Beaver pointed out that she typically chose to refer to her yearly ambitions as goals rather than ‘resolutions’. The idea being that “resolutions are vague wishes that are destined to fail (often due to their daunting scope: “I’m going to write a novel this year!”). Goals are achievable things (it helps to keep them concrete & small: “I will fill one page—even if it’s total crap—each day.”) that you actually plan to do this year.”A goal is a nice idea—it’s something that you can aim for, without the pressure of having to succeed. Much better than a resolution, which often becomes something that needs to be dealt with to avoid failure.

  1. Seek out a writing environment and participate.

There’s something to be said about peer pressure—it’s not always a bad thing. When we surround ourselves with those with whom we have things in common, it becomes natural to want to fit in. By joining a writing community, either physically or online, you can use the effects of peer pressure to your advantage. Surround yourself with those that are writing and sharing their work and you’ll feel yourself drawn into doing the same. When you witness the response and feedback that someone else gets, your need for similar attention will kick in—you’ll desire the same thing. It’s hard to be involved with a group of talented people and not want to share their experiences. Toasted Cheese aims to provide this kind of environment online, but it’s not the only place where writers meet. Do a search online and find out where the community for you is currently residing.

  1. Try writing something daily.

Any fitness expert will tell you that consistency is the key to a successful exercise regime. Writing is no different. If you are to think of yourself as a writer, then you need to write daily. It’s hard at first to establish that routine, but once you do, it’ll be natural for you to pick up that pen each day.Toasted Cheese has added a new feature to their site to help you get started writing each day. It’s a calendar of daily writing prompts that are simple and a lot of fun—for example, one of January’s is to “write about something blue.” Why not give one a try? Visit!

  1. Find a writing buddy.

Everyone can use a buddy, no matter if it’s to spot you while lifting weights or a sponsor to keep you from taking that next drink. A buddy keeps you going when you think your writing is trash, and a buddy will lick the stamp for your latest submission. All of us have dreams of success in a world where many fail and so who wants to go it alone? Toasted Cheese might even be able to help! Visit the “Find a Writing Buddy” area and see if you can’t find someone to travel that lonely path with you.

  1. Attend ‘meetings’.

An important aspect of Alcoholics Anonymous is their weekly meeting—members rely on each other to stay sober each day. Writing groups can achieve a similar form of success—as a group, we can rely on each other to write each day. Find a writing community that meets at least on a weekly basis either in person or online. Take advantage of Toasted Cheese’s weekly chats that already exist by viewing the chat schedule. It’d be great to see you there!

  1. Take part in a class.

Being around other writers is an important part of maintaining your motivation to write and it’s an added bonus if you can actually improve your skills while you do so. A writing course will help you grow in more ways than one and when you find the right one, it’ll be something to look forward too. Universities offer tons of writing courses but they’re not the only choice. Check out your local library for recreation programs and see if you can’t find a writing course that’s “write” up your alley. Another option is to consider a writing class online—they exist and have their advantages too—you can wear your pajamas and eat popcorn if you like!Not sure if you’re quite ready to start with a course? Then why not just write with some other writers? A new concept at Toasted Cheese is the Writers’ Brunch every Sunday where in the first half-hour, a couple of writing prompts are presented and everyone writes. In the second half-hour, participants talk about what they wrote. Sound like fun? You better believe it. And best of all, it’s free!! See our chat schedule for more details.

  1. Understand why you’re not writing.

Probably the most common reason for not doing what needs to be done is time. Unfortunately, between you, me and the keyboard, that’s a lame excuse. If the average person sleeps for 8 hours each day, then that leaves 16 waking hours. That works out to 960 minutes each day. Don’t tell me that you can’t find at least 15 minutes to write?Time is merely a scapegoat, a ridiculous excuse. For many people, the reason for avoidance is a much deeper and more acceptable reason—fear of failure.

People don’t exercise because they get discouraged and think they will fail. They can’t drop 20 pounds; why bother trying? Alcoholics avoid recovery for more serious reasons perhaps, but isn’t denial partially refusing to accept that you are a failure to yourself?

Get past the fear of failure and perhaps writing will become more appealing to you. Stop writing to get published and instead write for yourself. Allow yourself that freedom, and perhaps writing will once again become something you want to do.

  1. Accept the nature of your solitary pursuit.

We live in a world that is over-stimulating and words like lonely, anti-social, seclusion all have negative implications associated with them. But these words also work to your advantage as a writer —and so it’s something that you should adapt to.Practice being alone. Start with 5 minutes each day and rid yourself of all distractions. Turn off the TV, shut the door or take a walk around the block. Distance yourself from people—tell them that you need ‘me-time’. Don’t feel guilty, you deserve it! Increase your time each day until you’re at 15 minutes and then use that time to write.

To get your started, visit one of the many boards at Toasted-Cheese that offers a 15-minute writing prompt. Or, use the calendar. 15 minutes may not seem like a long time—but it can work out to anywhere from 300 to 500 words. Do that every day, and in a week you’ll have written a short story (or chapter) of a reputable length!

  1. Create your space.

Perhaps one of the most awkward things about exercise is the whole idea of being self-conscious, of having those around you watching. And like exercising, writing is hard enough on its own—it’s even worse when you have an audience.Find a quiet spot where you can write and then label it your spot. It can be anywhere—the kitchen after everyone’s in bed, the room with your computer (with the door shut!), even the bathroom if you’re really pressed for space. Surround yourself with things that will please and inspire you. A cup of hot coffee, a novel by your favorite author, candles or incense. Take it a step further and craft yourself a Do Not Disturb sign and tape it to your closed door. We’ll even provide you with one—print off Toasted Cheese’s very own Do Not Disturb sign! [Set your page setup to “landscape” before printing on 8½ x 11 paper.]

  1. Writing comes first.

A lot of exercise experts agree that the best time to workout is early in the day. Not only does it make you feel great, but you don’t have all day to find excuses not to. The same applies to writing.Consider writing first thing in the morning, before all those pesky distractions start to surface. Take 15 minutes or a half an hour before rushing out the door. Do it before you shower or grab your breakfast. Plenty of writers started their careers this way and it makes sense if the rest of your day is hectic. And of course, the perk is you get to go through the rest of your day guilt-free because you’ve already written something.

If you’re not a morning person, then consider writing to be the first thing on your list when you have some free time. Ignore the television, the Internet, the sink full of dishes. Think about how much writing you could get done in a week if you skipped just one thirty-minute sitcom each day!

  1. Keep a journal.

Food and exercise journals have become very popular on the weight-loss scene and they can help with your writing as well. Journals help to keep you focused and are a great way to track your progress. Use your journal to chart the circumstances that either assist or prevent your from writing. Check back through your entries and start to look for the occurrences in your day that either kept you from writing or inspired you to write. You can then start to focus on what you need to eliminate or add to your daily schedule so that you are writing more.Need some tips? Check out Boots’s recent article at Absolute Blank about journaling to help get you started!

  1. Start today.

How often do you hear people who want to lose weight or even stop drinking, say, “Okay, we’re going to change things, but it’s Friday—I’ll start on Monday.” Procrastination is probably the biggest hurdle to conquer in any challenge. Stop it! You’re only cheating yourself by delaying the inevitable because when Monday comes, you’ll find another reason.The best way to avoid this pitfall is to start immediately. If you want to write, then do it. Now.

So there are twelve steps to get you started. The year stretches out before us, its pages just waiting to be filled. What story are you going to tell?

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