Author Archives: Britta Reque-Dragicevic

Encouragement for Writers (and Characters) in Revision

As writers, we spend the majority of our time in revision. It’s where we truly get to know our characters and ourselves. It’s a time of intense concentration that requires different skill sets than first drafts. Revision is where we hone our craft. Where we wrestle. Where we experience the deepest depths, darkest fears, brightest illuminations. It is the real work of a writer and where writers and characters need the most support.

If you’re like most, revision is never done until you decide it’s done. Story is one of the only art forms that can always be improved, changed, re-directed, given new form. Because we spend so much time in revision, there are a few things we can be mindful of during the process.

It’s okay to feel lost.
We think we should always know where we’re going, don’t we? We get critical, trusted feedback; we take time to listen to our guidance on that feedback; we feel strong pressure to know where the story should be going from fade in to fade out. Some people swear by their ability to plot out their entire story from beginning to end. If that works for you, that’s wonderful. It doesn’t work for me. Story unfolds as I write it. I have a general understanding (usually) of the beginning and the end, with glimpses of points along the way. But for the most part, I don’t know what’s going to happen until it happens to the characters. I don’t know what they’re going to say until they say it.  That may sound very chaotic, but for me, it works. I am the container that the story flows from. I give it shape and form, a place for the characters to dwell. Knowing up front where we’re all going? Not going to happen. Feeling lost and completely blind at times is just part of the art form.  Which leads me to the next point.

Time is irrelevant, even with deadlines.
You’ve got a deadline – what do you do? Keep working. But work without striving. If you strive, you’ll lock down your ability to be receptive. Being receptive is 90% of your job. Keep an open mind toward time and understand that you can’t force it. So, take breaks. Step away. Listen to different music. Be present and available, there to receive. Keep a mindset that you’re on duty. Some of that time, you’ll only be on call. Waiting for the characters, waiting for something (you may never know what) to occur where the next scene or thought formulates. You may need to sit at your screen and just write. You’ll get a feel for the story’s rhythm, how the characters prefer to work with you, and the ebb and tide of your own process as a writer.  Just flow, don’t force.

Characters need you more than ever to be perceptive.
Revision is stressful on you and even more stressful on your characters. If you’ve got a solid draft down, they’ve done considerable work with and for you. They’ve poured their energy and emotions into it far more than you have. And let’s face it, most of story is conflict and that’s a tough energy to sustain and endure. Give them a break. You’ve got to get characters to work with you, even if they disagree at first at the changes you (as the Story Director) are asking them to make. Include them in your decision-making process and they’ll surprise you with their willingness to dig deeper. Your protagonist and antagonist carry the most weight and should have the most influence on you. If you think of your characters as a cast (and bear in mind the actors who will embody their roles) and yourself as the Story Director, you’ll be able to ask characters to do or try new things — to fight harder, to reveal more, to defy each other — with the safety that at the end of the day, they’re all still friends.

Characters need you more than ever to be perceptive. You need to be available, there as coach, confidant, leader, ally, therapist, and witness. You will never work more closely with your characters than you will during revision. Build your team. Be compassionate. Be tough. And remember, no matter what, you’re responsible for making the final decisions.

Doubts are normal and necessary.
We all go through it. Doubts, fears, wondering how we’re ever going to pull this off. We run up against challenges that make us quiver. This happens to every one. Success just makes it worse. Doubts are part of the process and this never changes. But think about it — doubts mean we’ve come to a place that is stretching us to either grow as a writer (and a person) or quit. There are no other options. If you grow, you expand your writing acumen, your craft and your experience.

Your mind and spirit need to disengage.
You’re in the midst of revision on a project you feel passionate about. Time passes unnoticed. You are in your story more than out of it. You think about it all of the time. You push on, keep going. Just stop for a moment. Your mind and spirit need a break. The more engaged you are in revision, the more likely that you’re dealing with characters and scenes that are emotionally trying. To the characters, and to you. These emotions may have little or nothing to do with your non-writing life though. You need space to process them. (If you’re not feeling your character’s emotions, you need to dig deeper, because if you can’t feel them, your reader/viewer won’t either.) Let your character’s emotions flow in and through you, but make sure you let them flow away and out of you as well.

Be patiently persistent.
Take the attitude that you will never give up. If what you’re writing means something to you, then set it in your heart that you will do whatever it takes to nurture it, protect it, support it and carry it into the world. Set it in your heart, too, that the process of writing is the real life of a writer. It’s not the film made, the book published. It’s the act of writing. That’s where your successes arise, that’s where you feel the joy. That’s where you are a writer.

 

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What to Do When You Feel Stuck or Blocked

I learned a long time ago that there are tides in life. Times of clear vision. Times of pure blindness. Times of productive activity. Times of forced stillness.

But over time, as I learned to create a life I love, I forgot. I got used to the assumption that the constant pace of life, like the internet, would always be, well, up. Live. Moving. Achieving. Climbing. While I remembered the tides during times of pregnancy; for the most part, life became (and is) a steady cycle of achieving a goal, dreaming bigger, realizing it, dreaming bigger, in an ever-evolving state of expansion. I love the challenges each goal presents, I love the thrill of uncertainty, I love the risks, the stretch, the burn. It’s all good.

But what I’ve realized lately, is that this constant “always on” pattern denies the pattern of the natural world. It ignores the tides. It tries to convince us that the tides are a mistake, that they’re unnatural. That we’re doing something wrong when we experience them. Yes, we think there’s something wrong when the tide goes out. When we go through dry spells. When our finances dip. When we can’t see five years ahead. When we don’t know what we’re going to do next.

Where did we get the idea that we’re an exception to nature, rather than the rule? We understand the tides of awake/sleep, hunger/nourishment, day/night, winter/summer – we believe these are normal, positive aspects of life. Why do we then not see that the low tides in life – the drought, the uncertainty, the periods of less income, the in-between times, the creative blindness, the waiting times — are just as natural, positive and normal to our experience here?

What happens during times of drought? Trees push their roots down deeper. What happens during times of creative or economic drought? We push our roots down deeper  – not that we can force it, but that we grow. We stretch. We learn to trust our ability to endure, to survive, that life is germinating in the unseen. We face our fears and learn to wield our power to choose between faith and fear.

But there is something else that the tides teach us. And that is how to be quiet. How to be still. How to be. Present. Here. To cherish our blessings. To see them, sometimes for the first time. Creative blocks, feeling stuck – sometimes they’re caused by fear. Sometimes they’re caused by the project not being ready to emerge yet. Sometimes they are simply a natural tide of creativity. A tide we are not meant to fight.

What’s hard to hold on to when you are in the midst of a low tide, is the fact that the tide will turn. It will come back in again. It always does. And it brings with it fresh insight, fresh energy, new possibilities.

What do you do when you feel stuck or blocked? Accept your place in nature. Let it go. Refuse to believe that there’s something wrong with you.

Trust.

 

Say Yes and Live It

Life does not require religion; it requires faith.

Faith in yourself, faith in your dreams, faith in your guidance, faith in the unseen, faith that you are a being of Life, that your power is inherent, that you have the heart and soul and spirit to bless others and yourself. Faith that the challenges precede the growth, the hours of cultivation, care, nurturing are in themselves the reward, the achievement of a dream only the beginning of another, as you expand, expand, expand into remembering your beauty, your power, your place – so rooted here for the moment, so blessed for infinity.

Your dream – what you want in your life – matters. It’s tied in a million intricate ways to the rest of us. Your blessing is our blessing. Your joy is our joy. The vision you have opens our eyes. You remind us of where we came from, why we’re here.

Your dream – what you want in your life – is yours. No one can give it to you, no one can make it happen, no one can take it away. It’s yours.

So choose life, choose your dream, choose to say yes and live it.

Carpenter or Architect? Writers, Which One Are You?

The premise of most “writing how-to” books is this: writers make up stories. Because they make up stories, writing one really comes down to selecting the right structure, tools and materials to build one.  If you read enough of these how-to books, and apply what they preach, anyone can write, right? And even further, for those writers who are stuck, the idea that you can just find the right tool to get unstuck somewhere in these books turns into an endless search for a elusive solution.

What amazes me is that so few writing books stem from the premise that so many writers actually experience: we don’t make up our stories, our stories exist and emerge as themselves.

How many writers have felt that the story “comes alive, with a life of its own” and that “the characters seem to know what they want to say and do”, and that “writing is more like channeling”, etc. , etc. You’ve felt it, right? I certainly do. The idea that my brain has concocted the characters, their personalities, their backstories, their emotional fabric, their pain, their reactions to decisions I don’t even know they’re going to make yet, feels completely foreign to my experience and how I receive stories. Perhaps because the concept of “making something up” involves a conscious decision, i.e., “John’s eyes will be blue, not brown; he’ll be afraid of heights and have a fiery temper.”

If I want to know what John looks like, what he’s afraid of and how he reacts, I have to ask him, listen and watch.

I’m not saying that writers don’t have choices to make and don’t alter details to serve the story. We do. What I am saying is that there is no way I could fabricate a story from scratch. Maybe I’m just not clever enough. My experience is that Stories and Characters present themselves to me, I get glimpses and hints here and there of what is going to happen. But mostly I’m working blind and don’t know what happens until my characters do. Which means the snags I face are not structure, tools and materials, but issues of relationships, trust, intention and communication.

Those aren’t in the books.

I have to spend time with the characters to hear what they have to say, what they’re afraid to say. It’s a journey we travel together. They lead, I follow. They speak, I listen, write it down. If something’s not working, or if there’s a better way to present the emotional fabric of their story, we work it out, try different things. We run into spots where we’re not sure what comes next.

The answers aren’t in the books.

They’re in the writing.

In other words, “results and clarity come from engagement (taking action), not thought.”

And not from endless searches through the next promising writing how-to book. I find the next scene by physically typing on the keyboard as the scene unfolds. I spend time discussing with the characters what the next scene will be, but I don’t always know. The answers sometimes elude me for days, until in some odd, unexpected moment, there it is. But more often than not, I have to go back to the keyboard and just type. Let the characters lead, get in deep water, see how they get themselves out. It’s an organic process. It’s not in the books.

But what about outlining? Treatments? Plotting before you write? Doesn’t a story need to be planned ahead of time so you know where you’re going? You wouldn’t build a house without a blueprint, after all.

Mmm. All good points.

What is the purpose of a house? To have a structurally sound protective environment that remains in place and supports a human lifestyle, right?

What is the purpose of a story? To move the human heart to respond, to open, to feel something.

There is a place for craft and knowing how to use the tools of your trade.

But a writer is more an architect than a carpenter.

And where do architects get their ideas? From listening to the needs and desires of the one who will live in the house. Who lives in the houses of our Stories? (If you said, audience – you’re incorrect.)

Characters live in the houses of our stories.

If you want to be a carpenter-writer, then you’ll end up with a house that some other architect designed and has built before. If you want to be an architect-writer, then you’ll understand why the most important quality to have is the ability to listen deeply into the Storyworld and trust what one hears, feels and intuitively knows. You’ll design and build from there.

You’ll translate stories that pierce the human heart and move us.

Five Most Important Things I’ve Learned as a Freelance Writer

Choose Faith Over Fear
When I started out as a full-time freelancer, I had six weeks of savings to go on. As I marketed my services, I soon realized that I made very different choices when I was moving out of faith that the Universe would provide, than I did when I was acting out of fear and desperation. I learned that I had the power to choose faith and to reject fear. This shaped the type of prospective clients I approached and allowed for magic to happen. When you move out of faith, you make smarter, wiser choices that align with your spirit, you’re able to say no to what’s not right for you as you trust that what is right will be provided.

Pick Your Clients
I’m choosy. I know what type of clients I want to work with – and those are clients who value people and improve, inspire or add value to people’s lives. The type of industry those clients are in doesn’t matter to me. I have selectively approached potential clients and have been fortunate enough to choose who I work with. I have also seen the Universe pick ideal clients for me. One of my longest standing clients called me up out of the blue one summer afternoon. We’ve been together for six years. Why does this matter? It creates a synergy in my worklife that allows work to naturally assimilate with my life and who I am. I work with clients that I feel good about and we get along well with each other. It makes sense that as individuals we are suited to certain fields of interest, industries or types of clients. Choosing rather than accepting anyone who comes your way, leads to happier, more satisfying work.

Go Where the Money Is
This is the most important advice I was ever given. It came from one of the most successful American Indian entrepreneurs in the U.S. who founded a multi-million dollar security firm for the Department of Defense. He started as an electrician on a reservation in northern Minnesota. He dreamed of having his own business. He took a risk and opened his own company. He said even when things were tight, as long as he was working for himself, there was the chance that the phone would ring and something wonderful could happen. He knew if  he hadn’t taken that chance, the phone would never have been able to ring. He saw potential, he climbed above the expectations others had and he learned that going where the money is just makes sound business sense. Go where the money is. Go to companies who have the resources to pay you you charge. Don’t waste your time on companies who promise much, expect a ton and pay little. This is why I will not work for start-ups, non-profits or anyone who doesn’t already understand the value a copywriter brings to their business. I’m not going to spend my time convincing someone why they need me. If they don’t have the business maturity to already know that, they’re not the right client for me.

They Will Pay You What You Decide You’re Worth
Many freelancers struggle financially because they charge very little, they scrape by and never set their sites higher than a minimal wage income. You can be one of these people, or you can decide to be someone who charges a lot more and gets paid higher rates because you decide that you’re worth it. Go to salary.com and check out what the average salaries are for your type of job in the places your prospective clients operate. Set your standards higher. Go where the money is. You don’t need the headache of working for clients who have tight-purse strings, who don’t understand what it is that you do, or who want you to work your ass off for little or nothing. There are plenty of these type of clients around. There’s also plenty of clients who know your value and are more than willing to budget for it. But here’s the main point: you decide who you’re going to work for. You decide how much money you can make doing what you do.

Provide Value through Great Relationships, Not Just Performance
How you do business is more important than what you do in business. Offer more. Always be generous. Set up expectations of what you will do and for how much, but be there in a pinch when your client needs you, too. Remember, choose faith over fear. This means being confident enough to know that the Universe will support you and confident enough in your own value, to have the capacity to be generous. People work with people more than once because they like how it feels to work with them. Skills are important, but skill sets can be replaced. It’s how easy you are to work with, the value you give, how you make your client’s life better and easier, and the quality of your work that keeps them engaged with you.

Remember Why You Freelance
For me, it’s freedom to control my lifestyle and be home with my kids. My husband is also home with us, so we are together as a family full-time. We like it that way. I work Monday – Thursdays, normal business hours. I’ve found a three-day break is ideal for sustaining a creative profession. We also home educate, adapting that schedule around my work and days off. We spend part of the year in Minnesota and part of the year in Sarajevo. I’ve read that just because you’re working from home doesn’t mean that you are with your kids. I disagree. I’m physically present, interruptible and it’s my and my husband’s energy (and not a daycare provider’s) that they are absorbing and growing up with. They are learning what it is to commit to your dreams, to create your life with your thoughts, that they have the power to create money, and are growing up with an alternative to conventional living. They are the remote workers of the future, the agile, adaptable, trans-global innovators, equipped with the technology and the freedom to value their creativity, to think for themselves and possess the power to do work they love. It’s this I remember when things change, when finances aren’t as steady as a regular paycheck, when I’m tempted to wonder if the courage and resilience of depending solely on oneself to create your world is worth it. It is worth it. It’s priceless.

 

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