Anna Questerly

Anna Questerly
Bookseller and bibliophile turned author, Anna Questerly writes medieval fiction and fairy tales for smart kids and young hearts. For adults, she creates Utopian fantasy as A.J. Questerly.

Sunday, September 29, 2013

Managing Your Muse
Part 2

Mission Statements

In the same way a Vision Statement can benefit career ambitions, a Mission Statement can help keep each project on track and in line with your short and mid-range goals.

You know that moment when the kernel of an idea for a story first arises? Whether it’s a character, a setting, a conflict; whatever it may be, that first exciting inkling of “I could write a story about that!” That’s when you begin your Mission Statement.

Jot it down! Don’t wait. Grab a piece of paper, your smart phone, a napkin, whatever’s handy. Don’t lose it. These are the precious nuggets of which great books are made. (Yes, there have been some not-so-great books written too, but since you don’t know which yours will be yet, take no chances—write it down.)

Unlike Vision Statements, your Mission Statement can be as long as you need it to be. It doesn’t need to be typed. Mine are handwritten in my journal and there are more projects there than I’ll ever be able to write in my lifetime.

When I do school visits and the kids  ask, “Where do you get your ideas?”

I tell them, “From my magic journal.”

Mission statements can be flexible and will adapt as your story dictates. Which means, you don’t need to wait until you have all the plot points worked out, the characters created, or any of those details to get started. You can always update your mission statement.

What’s important to remember is, time changes everything and, if you don’t keep a record, these ephemeral gems will vanish into the ether. I find it comforting to know what my original intent was, even if I decide to change it later.

As important a function as recording your ideas is, the real magic of a Mission Statement is that it engages your Reticular Activation System (RAS). Your RAS is the way your brain organizes the myriad of information bombarding you every minute of every day. Without it, we’d never be able to concentrate on or accomplish anything. It sifts through the ever-flowing river of data and draws our attention to what we’ve told it is important enough to notice.

You’ve probably experienced it often. Two of the easiest examples to cite are when you first buy a new car and then see the same color and style all over roads, or you hear a word for the first time and then, soon after, notice it popping up all over the place. This is your RAS doing its job as efficiently as Google’s search engine.

When you take the time to write your Mission Statement, you are telling your brain that this topic is important to you. You’ve given it more weight and substance than a simple, “Yeah, that would be cool,” passing thought can generate. Your brain responds by drawing your attention to relevant resources. At times, it really feels like magic.

The following is not the only instance when I felt my RAS kick into gear, but it is certainly the most memorable.

When I first began writing my mission statement for The Minstrel’s Tale, I knew it was going to take place in medieval Europe. I knew Richard II would be involved, so I had the time frame narrowed down and had just began my research. It was during this time, before I had written the first word about Richard, when Dr. Brook Ballard walked into my bookstore for the first time. Dr. Ballard was writing a book too, and we began to talk about writing in general. During the course of our conversation, I learned he was a retired professor. His specialty? English Medieval History. Wow!

Of course, I begged him to become my historical advisor for The Minstrel’s Tale, and he agreed, loading me up with source material and even reading through my drafts to make certain I stayed true to the time period. His help and suggestions were invaluable for me to write the books I wanted to write. To make them real enough that readers could escape into my world without blatant historical errors slapping them back to the present.

Would I have had this relationship with Dr. Ballard had I not been clear in how I wanted my book to be? I don’t know, but somehow I don’t think our initial conversation would have played out the same way if I hadn’t been in the writing place I was at the time.

I think that was my RAS at work and I intend to keep it employed by using Mission Statements for all of my projects.

I’d like to share my Mission Statement for this project, Managing Your Muse, so you can get an idea of how to write one. As I’ve said, it’s not complicated or elaborate; in fact, there’s nothing fancy about it at all. (I’ve typed this from my un-edited, handwritten notes, so be gentle in your critique.)

Idea: from Poynter podcast—Writing a Mission Statement for your book or story.

Mission statement…Ugh! God I remember so many of those boring business meetings and struggling through those god-awful mission statements. BUT, I learned a lot from all of that corporate training AND I’ve applied a lot of it in my writing.

Things like using spreadsheets, Powerpoint, Word, teambuilding, flow charts, scheduling, goal setting. Jeesh, there’s a lot!

I’ll bet there are a lot of people retiring from corporate jobs who are thinking of writing a book and don’t know where to start. I could write a book about this. Probably about twenty chapters or so. I think it would help a lot of struggling writers.

That was my initial Mission Statement. Days later, I received an offer from a company who wanted to advertise on my blog. My blog! I haven’t posted on it in months. So, I updated my Mission Statement.

Maybe I can kill a couple of birds here. Maybe I can write it as a series of blog entries and then later, perhaps publish those entries as a book. That way, I don’t have to take too much time away from writing Pangaea, and can still get this done doing just a chapter a week.

I know I really should be using social media more often and keeping my blog up, but it’s just so difficult to come up with good content when I really want to put all of my creativity into Pangaea.

Even so, I think I can do this. I think it can help my career, and help other writers, I love a win/win and it really won’t take too much time away from Pangaea.

After thinking about it for a few more days, I updated it again.

Managing Your Muse! That’s the perfect title. Okay, I’ll do it, even though Pangaea is still my first priority,  I’ll commit to writing a chapter each week and putting it on my blog.
Introduction-why I’m writing this and what it’s about
Vision Statement-career goals
Mission Statement-project goals and RAS
Teambuilding-critique groups, alpha and beta readers, editors etc.
Goal setting and Scheduling
Flow Charts-plot
Spreadsheets-Characters and plot points
Power Point-character arc
There’s more, but that should get me started and I’ll add as I go. Gotta leave room for RAS discoveries!

 That’s pretty much all there is to a Mission Statement. What do you want your next book to be? How will it look? Use this helpful tool to keep you on track, activate your RAS, and keep your idea chest overflowing.
The next time your muse whispers in your ear, write it down. One of the first steps toward managing your muse is to make her feel important enough, she continues to share her imaginings with you. When you think about it, it’s the same common courtesy you would extend to anyone you respected. Respect your muse!

Monday, September 23, 2013

Managing Your Muse: Part 1 Vision Statements

In my previous posting, I mentioned how a Mission Statement was my impetus for this series on Managing Your Muse and we will get to that—I promise, but not today. Today, let’s talk about creating your Vision Statement.
In every leadership class I’ve attended and every business book I’ve read which was published after 1990, creating a Vision Statement was the first priority, and for good reason. A Vision Statement succinctly states why you’re doing what you’re doing and focuses you on your primary goal.
An author’s vision statement encompasses an entire writing career, not just the next book. Think big picture and long-term. What do you want as a writer? What is your dream?
By clarifying what you really want, it makes decision making easier on almost every front, and believe me, you will have more decisions to make while writing than you can imagine.
Should I use a pen name? How will I market my work? What type of writers’ or critique groups should I join? Which genre will I write? What will my covers look like? Should I self-publish or get an agent? Who is my target reader? Just to give a few examples.
Your vision statement will go a long way in helping to answer most of these. Take a few moments to think about why you want to write. What do you want from a writing career? Do you even want a career, or is your writing only going to be a hobby?
There is no wrong vision statement because it’s based on your very personal goals. This isn’t something you have to share or publish, it’s simply a tool to help you focus on what you want to accomplish.
So what makes a good vision statement?
Keep it short, make it memorable, and make it inspire you.

Here are a few corporate vision statements examples to give you an idea of how far-reaching and all-encompassing yours can be.

Habitat for Humanity: A world where everyone has a place to live.

Smithsonian: Shaping the future by preserving our heritage, discovering new knowledge, and sharing our resources with the world.

Microsoft: A personal computer in every home and office running Microsoft software.

Avon: To be the company that best understands and satisfies the product, service, and self-fulfillment needs of women.

Google: Organize the world’s information and make it universally accessible and useful.

Anheuser-Busch: Be the world’s beer company. Through all of our products, services and relationships, we will add to life’s enjoyment.

Sears: To be the preferred and most trusted resource for the products and services that enhance hone and family life.

Apple: We believe that we are on the face of the earth to make great products and that’s not changing. We are constantly focusing on innovating. We believe in the simple not the complex. We believe that we need to own and control the primary technologies behind the products that we make, and participate only in the markets where we can make a significant contribution. We believe in saying no to thousands of projects, so that we can really focus on the few that are truly important and meaningful to us. We believe in deep collaboration and cross-pollination of our groups, which allow us to innovate in a way that others cannot. And frankly, we don’t settle for anything less than excellence in every group in the company, and we have the self-honesty to admit when we’re wrong and the courage to change.

Walt Disney: To make people happy.

As you can see with the Apple example, not all vision statements are short but, you have to admit, each of these would help to inspire both employees and customers and, if their leaders adhere to their ideals, would be useful in making both long and short-term decisions.

So what would a writer’s vision statement look like? Unlike corporate statements, most artists prefer to keep their goals private. However, I was able to tap a few of my talented author friends for their vision statements:

Tia Dani: When you read a Tia Dani book…prepare to be whisked away into another world of mystical, magical romance. Places where your will laugh, maybe cry, and when you’ve read the final page, our characters will still live on in your heart.

Kris Tualla: To make Norway the new Scottland!

Just to be fair, I’m happy to share my own humble goal with you.

Anna Questerly: To become an award-winning, best-selling, international author by writing stories into which readers can truly escape.

Yes, I wrote this before I typed the first word of The Minstrel’s Tale. And yes, it’s shamelessly ambitious. But it is my dream. The real questions are has it helped me become a writer? And if so, how?
The answer is a resounding yes, from the selection of my pen name (I wanted premium placement on bookshelves, settled snugly between Christopher Paolini and J.K. Rowling), to working up the nerve to enter a writing contest (The Minstrel’s Tale took first place in a novel contest on—award-winning: check!), to limiting the genres I write to historical and fantasy (pure escapism), to my current project of having my books translated (international—working on it), to motivating me to get my butt-in-chair to write and then rewrite my books, making certain each book was my highest quality writing (in the belief that to one day be a best-selling author it’s vital to give my best efforts).
So many more of my decisions were based on my vision statement, I couldn’t possibly list them all. Each choice is weighed against my vision statement and whether it will move me closer to my goal. My statement continues to inspire me, motivate me, and keep me focused on my dream. Granted, I still have a long way to go, but I’m loving the journey.
Whether your dream is as grandiose or more modest, a vision statement can help you get closer to it. There is good reason why this is taught in every business school in America—it works.
What’s your vision?

Sunday, September 15, 2013

Managing Your Muse

Is there a book inside of you? Does it tickle your consciousness occasionally, or pound on the inside of your skull as you try to go to sleep? That, my friend, is your muse trying to get your attention.

Classical mythology gave us the muses: Calliope, Mneme, Erato to name a few. These goddesses of the arts, these ancient thought-provokers, are as fickle and capricious as the rest of the Parthenon. That time-worn advice still holds, “Beware of gods bearing gifts.”

Muses are notorious for hounding writers with their many fabulous ideas and then, once we actually attempt to capture those ideas in writing, our muse vanishes just when we need her most. Our poor, half-written story then languishes in a drawer or on our hard drive, never to see the golden light of a riveted reader’s lamp. Our dreams of becoming a writer dashed yet again. Our dented ego pulls the covers over her head and hides from the world while those mischievous goddesses giggle.

It doesn't have to be that way. Whether it’s a children’s story, a fantastical wonderland, an erotic love story, or a stunning murder mystery, let me show you how to manage your muse and get that story out of your head and onto the page.

After many years of living and working in corporate America, being subjected to required reading (Remember Who Moved My Cheese?), technology workshops, training classes, team-building exercises, corporate retreats, along with the myriad of management books we read on our own, we now own the skills, not only to run a business, but to make our dreams of authorship come true.

Rejoice! Those boring meetings were not all for naught. We can use these well-earned skills to create characters, plots, settings, and conflict. By applying this knowledge along with our imaginations, we have all we need to write a novel. I know; I've done it and I’m still doing it and, trust me, although it’s one of the most demanding undertakings I've ever attempted, it’s also been a magical journey and one of my most rewarding accomplishments to date.

Over the following weeks, I’ll be posting new ways to modify those boring old business skills to harness our creativity so we can bring those amazing story ideas, dancing around the edges of our minds, onto the page.

My muse came up with this idea while I listened to a pod-cast by Roy Peter Clark author of Writing Tools: 50 Essential Strategies for Every Writer produced by the Poynter Institute’s School for Journalism. Actually, I found many gems in this podcast and I highly recommend it. (It’s free in iTunes University). One of his suggestions was to write a Mission Statement for your work.

Don’t groan; again I say, “Rejoice!”

While many managers and business leaders have struggled and moaned about writing mission statements for boring jobs, writing one for your own novel is an exercise in pure fun. I’ll go into more detail on mission statements, and even give you an example, in one of the upcoming posts to this blog, but for now I just wanted to share how the concept for this series came to be and give credit to Roy Peter Clark for his role in its origin.

The idea for this blog series came when I realized, it’s not only mission statements we can pilfer from our corporate training. Think about all you've be forced to learn over the years and let me share some strategies on how you can use skills like PowerPoint and spreadsheets, flow charts and schedules, team building and goal setting, and much more, to manage your muse and write the book you've always dreamed of writing.

I’ll say it one more time, “Rejoice!”  Dance around the room with your muse because the two of you are going to finally learn to work together! What a team; imagine the worlds the pair of you can build; envision the knowledge you will both soon share with others; dream of the characters you and your muse will bring into the world.

Are you dancing yet?

As we go forward, I’d love to hear your thoughts and experiences as well (I don’t know about you, but many times I enjoy reading the comments more than the actual blogs), so please feel free to comment.