Just about anyone who has undertaken some sort of creative endeavor can tell you about the walls that you discover. If you want to bust through those walls, and be “epic” there are plenty of posts that will encourage and motivate you. That’s not what this is, though. I’ve stumbled across a few walls lately, but instead of busting through them, I’ve been sneaking around them, or struggling to climb over them. I have not had the pleasure yet of busting through anything.

While everyone else has been feverishly writing for NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month), I have been participating in a different, and much smaller writing group. Several months ago, a friend and I were talking about how we both wanted to try writing fiction. We each write professionally – she as a technical writer, I as a copywriter – but neither of us had ever seriously attempted to write fiction beyond a creative writing class in college. There was an invisible wall stopping us.

We both have notebooks filled with observations and ideas, but nothing solid. We were stuck behind a wall when it came to actually writing a story. Talking usually helps when you are trying to get past a

Sometimes you’d rather sit down and rest than to try and get past the wall.

wall, so we just chatted about it. As we talked about the different elements of story-telling, we decided it would be fun and useful to take an online creative writing class. We started looking at all of the free ones available, but none of them included what I consider an essential element: writing. That first wall to writing a novel loomed as large as ever.

To get past it, we decided to put together our own creative writing class, and started carving a path around the wall.

Writing groups have been around forever. There’s one in my town that meets at a great bar every Tuesday night. It’s probably a good group, but I’ve never gone. Going would mean I had to get dressed and leave my house. Also, going to a bar every Tuesday would be expensive – the cost of fuel and beer…Anyway, for someone who is almost a hermit, going out to a critique group feels onerous, and presents what for me, is an insurmountable wall.

My friend, let’s call her Debbie, and I made a list of the topics we would expect to be covered in our dream creative writing class. We decided it wouldn’t too burdensome to research and present on a couple of the topics each and that a seminar-style class would be interesting. Debbie and I found three other people willing to join in the experiment, and here’s how it works:

  • We are making heavy use of Google.
    • We have a circle on Google+ where we post random thoughts, comments about topics, or whatever.
    • Google Docs allows us to share all sorts of things. For instance, a day or two before presenting his findings, the person who researched Point of View shared a document with a list of links and his thoughts about each one. In turn, other members of the group asked questions and left comments that the presenter responded to during our meeting.
    • Google Hangouts (within Google+) is what really makes all of this possible. We “meet” in a Hangout once a week.
  • While it’s not a requirement, most of the people in the group are using participation as a catalyst to work on a writing project. The week we talked about plotting, a few of us wrote out a plot for a story.
  • The group provides accountability, structure, a place to bounce ideas around, and will hopefully result in some stories being written.

We are only in our third week of meetings, but so far, it seems to be working pretty well. During our first meeting, we hammered out a list of topics, and people chose which ones they wanted to research and talk about, then we decided who would present the next week. The topic for the second meeting was plotting, which I talked about, and the group discussed in a very general way. We were all planning to share a basic plot line during the third meeting, but circumstances dictated otherwise. (People are busy, it’s a weird time of year, and stuff happens. It’s all right.)

Point of view was the topic of the third Hangout. And BOOM! We hit another wall.

When you are telling a story to a group of friends about yourself, you naturally use first person. You’ve probably been around someone who used third person to talk about themselves at some point, and you probably thought they were weird. When you tell a story about someone else, you naturally use third person (limited, to your own view, of course) because to do otherwise would be strange. Most of the books we read for pleasure are written in what is known as third person omniscient. There is also a POV called second person, but it’s weird and difficult to read.

Anyway, if you are a writer, and you start thinking about all of this stuff, it can act as the biggest, scariest, barbed-wire encased wall in the world. It just stops you cold. You get all tangled up in the technical details of writing. This is a wall we are just going to have to climb over. There’s no path around it, because this wall is the actual telling of the story. As a writer, you need to understand point of view, but you still have to tell a story.

One way to get strong enough to climb over the wall is to play with point of view: write the same scene from different characters’ perspectives. Write it in first person, then third person limited, then third person omniscient. If it sounds like a lot of work, that’s because it is. You are climbing over a big, gnarly wall. That’s never easy.

I’m sure that there will be many more walls between now and when I’m writing a post to tell you that my first work of fiction is available on Amazon. But, I’m equally sure that those walls can be avoided, climbed over, or maybe even busted through.

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My Imaginary Friends & Local Bloggers

Did you have an imaginary friend when you were a kid? I mean, like one that your parents probably still remember?

I had a cast of imaginary friends. They had names, families, background stories, and I talked to them all of the time. These imaginary friends had tea with me, played ball with me, went on walks, listened to stories, and anything else I happened to be doing. I remember them more clearly than I remember a single kid from kindergarten or first grade. Or even 5th grade. It’s a little embarrassing, but I hung out with these imaginary friends until I was 12 or 13 years old. By that time, I was talking to them about stuff I’d read, stuff I was learning at school, people I was meeting and things that made me worry.

Eventually, too many people thought it was too weird that I went in the backyard and talked to myself all the time. But I still needed a way to process things, and so I started filling up notebooks. While I didn’t actually address the stuff I was writing to anyone, journaling took the place of my imaginary friends and gave me a way to filter the world.  Even today, writing is a way for me to decide where I fit into the scheme of things and how I feel about events, people, places, and the world in general.

You might imagine, then, that maintaining a blog is almost natural for me. But, it is actually pretty difficult to distill  my unfiltered thoughts into posts that might be useful or interesting to other people, and despite how personal blogging can be, you click the publish button in order to share something. With other people. If you didn’t have an audience in mind, you wouldn’t publish your writing.

There are lots of reasons to maintain a blog. Smiling Tree Writing sometimes serves as a portfolio, so that prospective clients can see that I can put nouns and verbs together properly  – and when you are talking to prospective clients, you need to be sure you approach them differently than you would your imaginary friends. It is also a place to share my thoughts on owning a small business, the business of writing, and the lessons I am learning. For the last few months, I have been a member of a Facebook group of people from the Chattanooga area who maintain blogs, too. The group has diverse reasons for blogging, and it has been quite a lot of fun getting to know other bloggers and learning about their processes. I wanted to share links to a few of them.

These links are not in any particular order, as it would entirely impossible to rank these blogs:

1. Chanté Newcomb writes at Chante.me, mostly about topics related to internet marketing and social media. I feel pretty lucky to have such a great resource who is willing to meet me for coffee or lunch just about any time. If you keep up with online trends, you should definitely be reading Chanté’s blog.

2. No list of blogs would be complete without a few foodies, would it? There are a few in our group, and Mary Hamaker shares her culinary adventures in a cool blog called Chattavore. I love that Mary does reviews, shares her farmers market adventures, gives us recipes, and writes reviews of local restaurants. There is at least one other food blogger in our group,  VignettesFromMyFork, and my apologies if I missed anyone else!

3. Just as we need the foodies to keep our bellies full, we need the moms to remind us how much fun it is to raise kids. Mommyboots is a great place to share the roller coaster ride. There are photos of cute kids, honest discussions of the ups and downs that make up the life of a mom. StuffParentsNeed offers product reviews, features giveaways, and posts about the lives of parents, and ThatMommysLife shares the perspective of a mom of three.

4. I am always grateful when there is a post at TennesseeTicket, because it helps me wade through the murky waters of politics – both local and statewide. I glad someone writes about it!

5. Some blogs defy description, and so it is with the one maintained by the member of our Facebook group who does not actually use Facebook. Madame Sunday at ModernSauce will make you smile, gag, and literally laugh out loud. Her posts touch on design, life, and fashion, and pretty much anything else that Madame feels like writing about.

6. Several members of our group write for or about their businesses and work. It’s really interesting to get some insight into how people with different careers feel about what they do.

InsideAReportersNotebook is written by a local TV news reporter, both DwightHuntersPosterous and RedLipsandAcademics give us an idea of what it is like to work in higher education, while NeosCreations and FitForAQueenBoutique are retail establishments where the owner blogs. Our group also includes ThePaperDoll, a professional organizer who writes posts that are wonderfully helpful to the less organized among us, and TheBarlewBlog shares information and thoughts about urban living and architecture.

7. Two of our members write about life in Chattanooga specifically. One of them is a newcomer who had a great idea for meeting the residents of Chattanooga and, he writes about his adventures at NewChattanooga. The other is a returning resident who writes about living in a house that once belonged to her grandmother, while rediscovering her home town at  _Emily_Rose. *Edit* I left a third blogger out of this category! Apologies to Tony Burgess who writes about whatever catches his attention – and it is often life in Chattanooga – at Tony Burgess, a Geek for Life.

8. From work to hobbies to life, the list wouldn’t be complete without touching on the spiritual side of things, and we have members who do that as well. The Journey Is an Adventure; I Am an Alien is the place where one blogger shares her musings as she pursues a Master’s of Divinity degree, and AShiftInPerspective is written by a minister who has two decades of experience.

There are other members of the group, who write about other topics. The thing that is amazing about this list, and about the group, and about blogging in general, is that there is such and amazing range of topics, and personalities and that they are all appealing. If you’d asked me two years ago about my interest in politics or organizing your answer would have been a blank stare. Now, I am armed with a little information and find that I really enjoy learning about both topics  – as well as the others on the list.

So, are you a member of a blogging or writing group, either locally or virtually? Do you find it a distraction or something that really contributes to your writing?

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My Love of Cookie Monster Explained

A few days ago, my friend Julie Bestry posted a link to an article on Slate. The title is Chaos Theory, A Unified Theory of Muppet Types. Julie has no doubts whatsoever about her own type: she is an order muppet. It took me a while to come to the conclusion that I am a chaos muppet who works hard (usually unsuccessfully) to maintain a little order.

Part of the reason it took so long for me to decide that I am really a chaos muppet was this:

“Chaos Muppets are out-of-control, emotional, volatile. They tend toward the blue and fuzzy. They make their way through life in a swirling maelstrom of food crumbs, small flaming objects, and the letter C.”

Who wants to be described like that? It is a particularly rough description for someone you might consider hiring to provide some service for your business.

Then there is the author’s whole discussion of life partners. My husband is undoubtedly a chaos muppet. He is a spur-of-the-moment, take-life-as-it-comes, never-plan-anything kind of guy, so you would think that I would almost have to be an order muppet in order for the two of us (and our marriage!) to have survived for so long.

The coffee stain on my shirt, my perpetually wild hair, and the fact that multiple junk drawers exist in every room of my house, though, tell the true story. And, in thinking about it, I’ve decided that there is a business case for chaos.

Sudden, blinding epiphanies are natural for chaos muppets. We have them regularly. We lose ourselves in creative effort and forget what clocks even are, much less that we should use them. In running a business, the logical plan of an order muppet can take you far, but there is much to be said for the focused, creative energy of a chaos muppet.

I’ve decided to fully embrace my chaotic nature. Consider yourself forewarned, and expect brilliance.

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How To Banish Blogger Angst Forever

I haven’t posted here since April 12. That’s almost a full month. If I were my own client I would advise posting “at least every other week, minimum, and once a week would be much better.” But, if you suffer from blogger angst, you know that it’s a vicious cycle – the longer between posts, the more you worry about NOT posting and the harder it becomes to sit down and write something. Well, it’s easy to write something, but it’s hard to write something you think is worth publishing.

Then, you check your calendar and it’s been a month! Yikes! The pressure is on! You must publish a post!

I’m a believer in the benefits of procrastination. Sometimes we really do just need to slow down and give our mental processes time to do their thing. However, it can go too far. Like when you wait a month between posting on your blog.

Since I am pretty much an expert at identifying when I have crossed the line between “taking a mental break” and “becoming a total slacker” I feel comfortable offering some tips:

Take advantage of the times your mind is fertile. There are days when I think of about 15 blog post topics. If I can capture a few notes about each one, I have a start on some posts. Better yet, if I can sit still and write them out fully, I’ll have stockpile. Days like that can’t be scheduled in, but there are some things you can do to increase the likelihood of them occurring.

Boost your creativity. The easiest way to do this is to give yourself little challenges. No matter what you are doing, try to think of some way that it could connect to the theme of your blog. How is a road trip like what you write about? Are your kids’ activities in any way like what you write about? Is there a current trend in your city that you can relate to what you write about? The more you stretch to make these connections, the easier finding them will become. Of course, you won’t always end up with a post you can use doing these kinds of mental challenges, but sometimes you will.

Write at least a little, even when you don’t want to.This is just another way to say “keep showing up.” You don’t have to publish what you write, but you really should write on the days you think you are supposed to be writing. You can’t write just whatever for this one to work. Writing just a sentence or two of a post or editing an old post or making some notes for a future post is fine, but journaling about something totally unrelated to your blog will not help you overcome blogger angst.

Publish it anyway. Don’t let excuses stop you. It doesn’t matter if you can’t find a suitable photo to illustrate what you’ve written, or if you aren’t quite satisfied with it. Sometimes, you have to just let it go and publish it anyway to avoid being stuck forever. If most of your posts have all of the elements that are important to you, that’s what’s important. You may even find that a not-quite-finished thought resonates with your readers, or that a good photo is extraneous to what you are doing.

How do you overcome blogger angst? What makes it worse? Please share, because, to be honest, I’m still feeling a little angst-ey.

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Admission: I Am Afraid

This morning, as my oatmeal cooked, I decided what the topic of this post would be. Then I ate my oatmeal, checked my RSS feed, left comments on 5 or 10 blogs, considered setting up a new folder for local blogs I’ve started following, fed my birds, had a cup of coffee, stared at the screen a minute, recorded the oatmeal in my daily nutrition tracker…

I’ve written about procrastination before. Clearly, it is something that I deal with regularly. Sometimes, it’s okay – even helpful – to put things off. Other times, we do it out of fear, or laziness, or simply because we dread doing whatever the task is. In the case of writing this post, I was probably putting it off because the idea wasn’t a very good one, or at least it wasn’t a full idea. It was something that should go into the idea file.

Procrastination, though, is a topic I could write about for days on end due to my long experience with it. Right now, for instance, I am not only putting off writing this post, but something else as well:

Several years ago, I had a job as a telemarketer. It wasn’t as bad as it sounds – we were only calling licensed insurance agents, and we weren’t actually selling anything. We told them about products or job offers, and set up times for someone else to call and give them more details. But I made hundreds of calls a day – 300 calls a day wasn’t unusual. And mostly, people didn’t answer. Very few people returned calls when we left messages, so we rarely left them. It was mostly dialing and listening to ringing. Somedays it was a struggle to stay awake. We should have made the most of something like ringless voicemail messages which can be very successful if done right.

For a few months, I shared an office with just one other person. She tended toward depression, so sometimes I would tell her stories to distract her from sad thoughts, while we listened to the phones ring. Eventually I was moved into a room with 8 or 10 other people in it, and without the entertainment of telling stories, I had to work to stay awake again. So I started writing a story. I wrote on scraps of paper that I kept under my keyboard, in tiny handwriting. I decided I kind of liked the story, and dug all those scraps out of my bag took them home, and typed them up.

Then I got fired from the telemarketer job. (It was a crazy place. LOTS of people got fired from there.) And I stopped working on the story.

I kept thinking that I “should” work on it some more. It liked it more than any other fiction I’d ever written. I let a couple of kids read it (it is a kids’ story) and they liked it. One of them even occasionally asks me if I’ve written anymore of it yet. But it just sat there, in a file on my desktop. After a year or two, it seemed to be taunting me, so I moved it off of the desktop, where I couldn’t see it anymore. But it still crossed my mind regularly.

A few months ago, I decided to read it and see if I still liked it. I did. It’s fairly unusual for me to read something I wrote a few years earlier and still like it. So, I put the dang thing back where I see it. I even printed it out and put it in my backpack so that I can work on it when I find myself in a waiting room or at lunch alone.

Almost immediately, within a week of re-reading it, I had about 12 new ideas for other stories I wanted to write.

(My organizer friend is going to tell me I should have written them down, filed them away and come back to them when I finished the kids’ story. Yeah, yeah, yeah. I know what I should do.)

I did write them all down, and file them all away. Then I started writing one of them. Now, I have two unfinished projects that I really love chattering in my head, bugging me to work on them. “Write us!” they say every night while I’m trying to raise my high score on Bejeweled Blitz. So far, I have successfully ignored them.

In this case, I don’t think I can say that either of these stories just needs time to “ferment” in my head. One of them has been doing that for about five years now, and the other o

ne just pours out when I work on it. The words don’t get to the page fast enough to suit my brain. So, yeah, the need to let my unconsciousness work its creative magic cannot be my excuse.

Because I firmly believe that we all have plenty of time to do the things we want to do, I cannot say that I’m too busy to work on these projects. Because I (and you!) can find time to work on the things we love. Bejeweled Blitz, anyone? My high score is over 300,000 in one minute…

That leaves fear. What will I do with these things once I feel they are “finished”? What if they are not particularly good? What if I take all the risks to my ego and send them to agents, or publishers, orwhoever (I really don’t even know who I would send them to) and get – gasp! – rejected? Would that make me feel sad? I don’t like to feel sad. Maybe I should just go ahead and delete those stories and forget about writing them. It’s too scary.

All of those questions, all of that fear is bullshit. It’s ridiculous and silly and unworthy. If a friend told me they felt that way, I’d tell them to quit being stupid and write the stories, stop borrowing tomorrow’s troubles, and figure out what to do with them when they are finished. Start spending an afternoon a week working on them. Or a half hour a day. Whatever, just write, and stop worrying.

Why is it so hard to take your own advice?

Do you have a project you love so much you are afraid to work on it? Do you just buckle down and get it done, or do you give yourself mind-candy to numb your brain and silence your creativity?

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Getting Off the Sidelines

Do you participate in writing challenges? I’ve never taken part in NaNoWriMo or anything like it, or even entered any kind of writing contest. I pay attention to them and am usually intrigued, but still stay sidelined. It could have to do with fear, which is strange. I’m not the least bit afraid to write to write samples for clients, and I never worry when I submit work for review.


I hate the idea that I might not be doing something because of fear. That’s just silly, especially with the “something” would probably be fun. So, I’m going to give myself a small personal challenge: set aside a minimum of a half hour every day to work on personal projects. It doesn’t seem like much, but it’s more than I’m doing now.


Making time in your schedule to do the things that are important seems like a simple thing. A couple of years ago, I decided to begin dedicating time each week to fitness. It took a while to make the habit stick, even though it was something I wanted to do and really enjoyed. I’ve always made time in my life to read, and to spend time just hanging out with my family (as opposed to running here and there to scheduled events).


The thing is, when you decide you will spend an hour exercising, an hour writing, an hour doing household chores, a half hour reading, and then add those activities to your normal work schedule, and then make time for any family obligations, you might start to run out of hours. This is probably where most of us start whining about not having enough time. But, as I have said before, there is plenty of time to do the things that are important to you.


I’ll be flexible in my personal writing challenge – the post will count as today’s “personal project time.” But I will make writing my own stuff a priority. I may not be ready for the big NaNoWriMo push, but there are two or three other challenges that look interesting.


Do you participate in challenges? If you write for a living, do you work on personal projects also? Where do you fit that writing into your schedule?

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