Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Stephanie Rowe: Letting Go Of The Big Picture

My guest is Stephanie Rowe. She is is a nationally bestselling author of more than twenty books. You would think  writing a new story would be a piece of cake, wouldn't you? Well, you would be wrong as Stephanie shares with us.

I will admit it; I can make myself crazy sometimes. I'm one of those people who has all these goals and all this aspirations and a million things on my plate, and I can let it overwhelm me. And by overwhelm, I mean, paralyze to the point at which I am completely and utterly unable to perform.

Most specifically, it happens to me in my writing.

For example, when I sit down to brainstorm a new book, often I will become overwhelmed with how difficult it is to pull the story together. I feel like I have a hundred feelers out in different directions, and I can't get a handle on how it needs to all come together. I'll start feeling like the project is so huge that I can't manage it. I'll start to wonder how on earth I'm going to be able to pull four hundred coherent pages out of the 80 pages of seeming unconnected brainstorming on my computer.

At that point, I usually decide the idea is unworkable and decide to write a picture book instead. Since I can't draw, that's usually not the best idea, but since I have no standards and no expectations when it comes to a picture book, it feels like a brilliant idea.

But of course, the moment I start working on my stick figures of Pilfer the Penguin, my mind keeps drifting back to that one I've spent so much time on. I feel like the idea should work, but when I think of actually trying to write 400 pages on it, my brain goes numb and I lose feeling in my hair.

And that's when I look up and see the sign that I carefully penned and hung on the china cabinet that is directly across from the sofa where I like to work. It says, in bright purple marker:

One minute at a time.
One word at a time.
One small step at a time.
Keep your vision big, but your focus small.

The first time I read it, it doesn't register because I'm too busy feeling overwhelmed.

The second time I read it, it doesn't register because I'm too busy feeling overmatched.

But the third time I read it, I pause. I take a deep breath. And I realize what it means.

It means that although, yes, I need to ultimately write 400 pages that are wonderful, amazing and make my editor do the shriek with delight, the truth is that I don't need to worry about that right now. Right now, my only job is to relax, decide I'm going to have a little fun, and commit to spending thirty minutes playing around with the ideas.

Thirty minutes of play.

I can do that. No pressure to deliver. No pressure to have answers. No pressure to get it right.
Just thirty minutes of having a little fun.

Sometimes, I will even set the timer on my phone, and force myself to play with the idea for a half hour before I can take a break, worry about how it's going, or even think about writing the book.

Little by little, step by step, word by word, once I let go of hugeness of the task and focus only on a little, manageable bit, I can start to move forward again. Something meshes, and I chuckle. I have a cool idea and I jot it down. I don't worry about how it will all fit together. I don't worry that I've been brainstorming for four weeks and I still don't have a story. I simply play.

And then, out of the blue, the ideas will all start to come together. Once that happens, I will go from a state of seeming utter chaos to a complete story mapped out in a day or two without even trying. Why? Because I stopped trying so hard. I stopped putting so much pressure on myself to go from 0 to 100 in one step, and instead, I let myself go from 0 to A to Texas to 53.4 to tulip gardens and around and around until suddenly I found myself standing on 100.

It's not always easy for me. In fact, I just had to go through this latest exercise with my most recent book. Six weeks of brainstorming, a number of days of sheer panic, followed by a deep breath, retreat and relax. Then all of a sudden, click, click, click, everything fell into place and four days later, I'm 20k words into a book I gave up on several times.

  • What tricks do you use to help yourself get through the tough moments when you're struggling to accomplish something big or important to you?

Leave a comment and be entered to win a copy of Touch if You Dare.

Touch If You Dare--Soulfire series, Book #2

To save their respective siblings, Jarvis Swain and Reina Knight will have to team up to trick Death himself.

Who better than a bad-ass warrior on a mission? Jarvis Swain is the ruthless, confident aggressor Reina knows she needs at her back--someone even she can't screw up. This unlikely darkside duo with impressive deadly superpowers of their own may just prove that two wrongs together can be more than right...Excerpt 


Stephanie lives in New England, and spends every day doing her best to fill it with people, observations and activities that uplift her soul, which include writing, tennis, friends, and  her amazing family.
Four-time RITA® Award nominee and Golden Heart® Award winner Stephanie Rowe is a nationally bestselling author of more than twenty books. A life-long reader, she began crafting stories at age ten, but didn't realize it was her dream until she was an adult.

Once the light dawned, she immediately left behind "work" as the world defines it and went to "work" as she defines it, which means getting up every morning with a smile in her heart so she can spend the day doing that which makes her spirit sing.

Stephanie believes in learning to listen to your heart in order to figure out what your dreams are, and then opening yourself to the inspiration that will direct you there. She believes we all deserve the right to enjoy life, and for the ride to be as easy as we want it to be, and that we all should accept nothing less than making our dreams come true. Find Stephanie on her website and on Facebook


~Sia McKye~ said...

Stephanie, Welcome back to Over Coffee. I have a nice comfortable chair, perfect for a lady and her laptop, plenty of coffee, tea, and homemade goodies.

I really enjoyed this article, I can relate to being overwhelmed by having to put together a 90K story. I'm going to copy down your steps and add at the bottom, because Stephanie says so.

Teresa aka Journaling Woman said...

Hey Stephanie, I needed to read this. And this line of your posted encouragement "Keep your vision big, but your focus small." totally speaks to me.

My ADD gets in my way.

Sia, thanks for hosting!

~Sia McKye~ said...

Teresa, I have ADD as well, so I understand where you're coming from.

Olivia Cunning said...

I'm at that overwhelmed state right now. Except it hits me at 70,000 words instead of at the beginning. Thanks for the blog. Maybe I can pull this off if I concentrate on the small steps.

Jill Lynn said...

I think out of all the posts on writing I've ever read, this resonated with me more than any other. Not only did you describe the overwhelming feeling well, Stephanie, you privided a plan of action to resolve it--one I'm most certainly going to adapt.

Thank you, Stephanie and Sia!

~Sia McKye~ said...

Jill, that's what I liked about Stephanie's article, too. If a bestselling author of many books has overwhelming feelings when pulling together a story, then I don't feel bad when I have those feelings. I like the idea of giving yourself a span of time to *play* and kick around ideas without the pressure of worrying this piece has to fit into the big picture.

Helen Ginger said...

Loved your story of plotting and bringing the vision together. I think a lot of writers have a piece of an idea and start writing, without the idea of where it's all going. Spending time hashing it out, for the most part, before you begin sounds so much better than writing 50,000 words and then realizing it's going nowhere.

Serena said...

Good morning Stephanie, this book sounds great I will ave to buy and read the first to get ready to read the second. In a series I am one of those people that have to start at the beginning. :) have a great day. Thank you.

Elle J Rossi said...

Great post! My issue is managing to calm down enough to pull those last chapters out of my butt. I can do beginning and middle, but the end? Holy bananas...just thinking about it makes me sweat. I think there are several reasons for this, but one of the big ones is once I'm finished, I actually have to do something with it. I have to put it out there. Thankfully I've recently managed to do just that, which to me means I can and will do it again and again!

Crystal Trent Dotson said...

Wonderful post !!!! The book looks amazing , and dont worry just take a deep breath and it'll all come together

Crystal Trent Dotson

Sheila Deeth said...

Vision big and focus small--that's just what I needed to be reminded of today. Thank you so much!

Stephanie Rowe said...

Hi Sia! Thanks for having me! I'm so thrilled to be here. You have a great site!

Hi Theresa, thanks for your note. I'm so glad that my post was helpful for you. That's why I wrote it, hoping that it would give someone a breath of relief. I know that many people have helped me so many times, and if I can pass it forward, that is very meaningful for me.

You can do it, Olivia!!! I was on 22k and I hit that state again with my current book, but I'm rolling along again. It can certainly happen at any time, that's for sure.

Wow, Jill, thank you so much for your kind words. I'm so very glad it was helpful for you. That feeling of being lost and overwhelmed is so tough, I know. Good luck!

Sia, what a great point about letting yourself feel okay about struggling. It's so important not to get down on yourself when you struggle, because that just makes it even more difficult!

Stephanie Rowe said...

Hi Helen, I actually used to do that a lot, and wasted so much time and effort having to start a book over after I was 40k into it, because I'd gone off on the wrong path. I have learned to slow it down before start writing, and make sure I know what I need to know.

Thank you so much, Serena! I hope you enjoy them!

Great job, Elle on pulling that last book together! What an accomplishment! Be proud!

Thank you, Crystal. Sometimes that's all you can do is take a deep breath and keep on going.

That's great, Sheila! Good luck with your project and your day!

Alyson Reuben said...

Terrific post, Stephanie and Sia!

Oh boy, do I get overwhelmed. It's a relief to hear from other authors who also struggle with this. While writing, I sometimes get frustrated and a little bit cranky. My hubby can tell which stage of a story I'm in just by my attitude alone. Should I be admitting this?

You're so right about taking it one day, one step, at a time. We tend to forget to also have fun with the creative stages of writing.

Dana Fredsti said...

Sia and Stephanie, thank you for this wonderfully (for me) timely and encouraging post! I'm trying to work on revisions for the first book in a contracted series and am worried about the next two books and stalling myself completely... One step at a time... or should I say, one BOOK at a time!

Dana Fredsti said...

Oh, and your book sounds wonderful and that cover is magnificent!

Alex J. Cavanaugh said...

Since I am trying to brainstorm a third book, I needed this!

VA said...

Successful steps I'm assuming. Got nothing.

I just start writing something new until I back myself into a corner and then abandon it like a piano ditched from a covered wagon heading west.

Eventually, I start dreaming about the abandoned and they call me back usually with some cockamamie scheme about how X and J are really sections of the same story. Which oddly enough does work. Strange, but true.

Off to read the excerpt. Cheers, Sia.

Stephanie Rowe said...

Hi Alyson! I definitely get cranky at certain times in my book! Almost always during brainstorming, and sometimes later as well. Yes, admit it! It helps empower us all to be easy on ourselves when it happens, b/c we realize we're not alone!

Hi Dana, yes, you are right. Bring your focus down smaller. Too many books is too overwhelming!

That's great, Alex! I'm glad it was helpful for you!

That's great, VA. We all need to find out what works for and then to ride it out without getting too frustrated. Good job!

Tonya Kappes said...

Gosh, Stephanie! I'm feelin' for ya. That exhausted me reading about it. I'm pretty lucky that I don't have that problem. I get through those moments by writing long hand. Generally after five or ten minutes, I'm on a roll again. I'm glad you do go through all the work because your books are fantastic!!! So you're doing something right;))

Mason Canyon said...

Stephanie, I LOVE your sign. I don't write but it speaks to me on so many other levels. Best of luck on your writing and I can see you will stay focused. :)

Sia, thanks for introducing me to another wonderful new author. You're the best!!

Thoughts in Progress
Freelance Editing By Mason

Stephanie Rowe said...

Thanks, Mason! I use that sign for many things other than writing as well, so I'm glad that you were able to do the same. Thanks for stopping by!

Vonnie Alto said...

Hi Stephanie,

An insightful post! I'll have to remember to focus on manageable small bits as opposed to worrying over the bigger things.

However,I can't think of any tricks I use to get me over those mountains because I keep advancing and retreating. Not the best way to write. That's why I'm looking forward to your handouts. Maybe it will make writing easier for me.

V.R. Foster said...

Hi Sia! This article stood out the most to me and I LOVED it! Stephanie, I also loved your post about "One minute at a time. One word at a time. One small step at a time. Keep your vision big, buy your focus small." because I totally have to keep telling my self that when I feel overwhelmed or stressed about my writing.

I hope you don't mind me using your post to keep me focused, I'm even going to put 'Stephanie Rowe's words of wisdom' on the bottom of it. I can't wait to read "Touch if You Dare".