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Wednesday, December 31, 2008

New Year's .... Ideas

Well. Gerb tagged us over on her blog : ) And so then she had to explain to me what that meant. Yes, I feel very undereducated at the moment. Which is okay. Nothing a little chocolate and a willingness to ask questions won't cure!

So, what a bunch of us need to do here is share three of our New Year's Resolutions. Personally I chafe at the idea of New Year's Resolutions. Just the word "resolution" makes me feel like I'm setting myself up for failure. This is probably a learned response, having failed at resolutions for years. So that's why I called the post "Ideas". I'm trying to trick myself. And to that end, I'm going to take a break and end this post here. I'm going to go hunt down some more chocolate, then come back and share three of my New Year's Ideas.

Sunday, November 09, 2008

November and NaNoWriMo

November is a busy time in my house. It always has been, as long as I can remember. I loved November when I was a child. I thought that school was closed all those days as a birthday present to me. Thanksgiving was a time for me to see all my relatives and usually score a belated gift or two. Yes, life was good.

Then I got older and had kids of my own. November turned into a nightmare. 'How many days off do I need to plan on for day care? How can I ask my boss for more time off? I have to start shopping for Christmas when, exactly?' And it only got worse as my boys got older. The end of the first quarter is in November, so there are loads of projects and final papers (help me Rhonda). And my Irish dance boy has all the prep and nerves leading up to the regional championships. We get to go to Phoenix in eleven days. Imagine the joy.

So this year, what do I do? On top of my ninth grader skirting with disaster in all his core classes? On top of spending three nights a week at a dance studio? On top of helping a friend untangle her new business accounting? Yep. I sign up for NaNo. What kind of cyber Kool-Aid did my friends entice me to drink?

But wait...I haven't crashed and burned. I've MADE time. I've written. I've gotten (as of yesterday) almost 12,000 words done on my new book. The words may be of questionable quality, but they're down on paper so I'm countin' 'em. The big shocker to me is that I've managed to stay almost caught up with the rest of the NaNo peeps.

It's been a crazy eight days so far. My kitchen table looks like a paper recycling bin. There are dishes in the sink and dust bunnies on the floor. But I've paid the bills and fed the kids. And in the midst of the craziness, I get a happy, warm glow from knowing that I've done something just for me.

What have you done for yourself lately?

Wednesday, November 05, 2008

Quote of the Week

“Always bear in mind that your own resolution to succeed is more important than any one thing.” -Abraham Lincoln (1809 - 1865)

Sunday, November 02, 2008

The Wisdom of Day Two


So we're not even forty-eight hours into this thing and already I've learned a lesson or two about cranking out 50K in 30 days.

1. It isn't going to be easy.
2. The amount of time your family will suddenly want to spend with you is in direct proportion to the amount of time you have planned to devote to writing.
3. Editing at this stage of the game is Not Good. One of the reasons that I worked so long with so little to show for it today is because I kept sneaking back into yesterday's work to add a thing or two here, to tweak a little there. This is bad. Wrong. Don't do it! Not until December 1, at least.
4. I need more sleep.

That last one should be easy to fix. I'm going to bed! I'll deal with the rest tomorrow.

What's the biggest lesson you've learned so far?

Friday, October 31, 2008

The Burn

Call us crazy, but all of us at Face The Page are taking on the NaNoWriMo challenge this year. For the uninitiated, that means each one of us are committing to write an entire novel - 50,000 words - in the month of November. As if we didn't have enough to do, right?

In between full-time jobs and car pool runs and moments of sheer panic, we'll be recording our experiences and insights right here on the blog, so if you've ever wondered what makes otherwise sane people agree to this level of anxiety and self-flagellation, feel free to hang around. And if you are one of the inmates in the NaNoWriMo asylum and just need a place to commiserate, we'll be here!

Tonight, we kicked off the experience with a Burn. Pyros, you'll love this... For a Burn, think of any negativity in your life that's keeping you from reaching your goals. Write those negatives on slips of paper. Torch them.

Here you can see my Burn. I'll confess that I had started out with my negatives written on little sticky notes, but when I dumped them in the Chipotle tin and lit them, they just kind of sat there and smoldered. So I rewrote everything on plain notebook paper and whoosh! A much more satisfying flame!

So there you go. Negativity, gone with twenty minutes to go before NaNoWriMo officially begins!

I'd... um... better go finish my outline...

Thursday, October 23, 2008

Left Turns

Once upon a time, I had an established writing routine that worked. I knew how my process unfolded, how to write until I got to the flow of telling the story without fear (more or less) and without thinking about and criticizing every keystroke. I was able to freewrite and know that I could come back later to edit.

Then life took a sharp left turn and I was unable to follow my old routine and so was unable to write.

For awhile I was too busy dealing with life to think much about it, but lately I feel like part of me is withering away from lack of sunlight and air and attention. I have tried sitting down at odd times to write and started at the blank page with an apparently empty mind. I can almost hear the crickets chirping. No, not even crickets. Nothing but a bit of dust blowing across an empty street and maybe the occasional tumbleweed. A desert.

I started out Googling on things like inspiration, procrastination, writer’s block. I tricked myself by saying I'd just take a few notes. But as notes sometimes do (at least in my world), they took on a life of their own. In the process, I made a few self-discoveries (one of which is that I probably need some counseling). Of course the editor’s voice inside my head has grown stronger each day that I haven’t been writing, like that plant in Little Shop of Horrors.

I need to use some self-discipline to find a new routine and rediscover the joy of writing.

But how do I rediscover the joy of writing? Of sinking into a world of characters I have given birth to? How do I relearn how to turn off the editor, to freewrite, discover characters and stories, to ride the current of the swift-moving river of writing?

I always believed (and still do) that pain, turmoil, stress, troubles—anything negative in my life can be turned into fiction. Everything is fertilizer or fuel. Take lemons and make lemonade. Or as Nicole has often told me, "spin sh!t into gold." But I have discovered that going through a life-altering change has actually blocked me rather than inspired me. When I sit down to write—even for 15 minutes—I can write nothing but a bland calendar entry or the shallowest of descriptions.

I've justified my block with a variety of reasons - mostly blaming my over-booked schedule. In trying to map a way back into writing, I accidentally bumped into the real reason I have been avoiding the page instead of facing it. I realized I am afraid to write about my deepest feelings. I am afraid that to express myself is to judge myself, or leave myself open to judgment. I am afraid that if I uncork the bottle, my feelings will come pouring out in a froth of pain that will paralyze me. I am afraid to let loose the pain and find I am unable to leash it again. I can't afford the luxury of a meltdown, a breakdown, or even a king-sized pity party, and so I have kept the door locked on pain which might otherwise fuel a thousand characters.

And I've used procrastination as a way to avoid facing the page. It's safer than facing the real reasons I am afraid to write. I hope that by pushing my way past the procrastination, I will also be able to push past my fear.


My favorite excuses:
Excuse: "I can't possibly take time to write until I have cleaned my bathroom, kitchen, garage, basement..."
Truth: There are no conditions that are necessary in order to write, save two: 1) a writing implement (a keyboard or a pen) and 2) someplace for the writing to go, such as into a computer or onto a piece of paper.

Excuse: "In order to write, I must have six uninterrupted hours." (something I had in my life as a stay-at-home mom and which is no longer even a vague possibility)
Truth: It is possible to write an entire novel in one hour blocks (or shorter). Even a page a day will add up to a 400 page novel after only little more than a year.

Cures:
-Make an un-schedule ( a realistic schedule which shows the time you spend doing all those untimed activities during the day - cooking, eating, email/phone calls, family time, showering, etc) and then block in small bits of time to write.
-Set the timer and honor it. 15 minutes is easier to fit into a busy schedule than an hour, and you will be more likely to sit down and write. Even if you want to keep writing, stop. "The procrastinating self needs to be able to trust your new non-procrastinating self the next time you say you will only write for a certain amount of time."
-Be accountable to someone.

What are your excuses? What are the possible cures?

Wednesday, October 08, 2008

Quote of the Week

You know how it is in the kid's book world; it's just bunny eat bunny.
- Anonymous

Wednesday, October 01, 2008

Quote of the Week

And by the way, everything in life is writable about if you have the outgoing guts to do it, and the imagination to improvise. The worst enemy to creativity is self-doubt.

~Sylvia Plath

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Pushing Back the Finish Line


After reading Ginger's post and thinking about reaching goals, I realized I had more to say on the subject, so here I am.

I was doing an interview the other day and one of the questions asked about when I first felt I'd made it into the published authors' club. I had to think about that one. DBL is my fourth book to come out, I still have this kind of outside-looking-in mentality. Once the goal was just to get a book published. Now I worry if that book doesn't make lists or get nominated for awards. There's always something. Some further goal to reach before I can really feel like I've "made it."

Ginger's words made me stop and think about how we are so reluctant to give ourselves credit for accomplishing something. How we always feel there has to be more. Claire Mysko, author of You're Amazing! asked the readers on my blog a while back to post about what made them amazing. The answers were largely hesitant and apologetic - as if we don't have a right to look at ourselves and say, "Damn! I'm good!"

So here's my resolution... From here on out, I'm going to celebrate and reward myself for every accomplishment, no matter how small. I'll keep pushing back the finish line and reaching for more, but I will be proud of how far I've come instead of how far I have left to go.

Thanks, Ginger!

Quote of the Week

Even in literature and art, no man who bothers about originality will ever be original: whereas if you simply try to tell the truth (without caring twopence how often it has been told before) you will, nine times out of ten, become original without ever having noticed it.

C. S. Lewis (1898 - 1963)

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Quote(s) of the Week

Two Quotes for you this week:

”The rewards go to the risk-takers, those who are willing to put their egos on the line and reach out to other people and to a richer, fuller life for themselves.” --Susan RoAne

"It is up to us to give ourselves recognition. If we wait for it to come from others, we feel resentful when it doesn't, and when it does, we may well reject it.” --Spencer Tracy

Tuesday, September 09, 2008

Reward yourself!!

Everyone loves a prize right? I mean, who doesn’t love to be rewarded for their accomplishments or hitting milestones? I know I do. Do any of you reward yourself for your writing accomplishments? You should! There are many big moments on this crazy writing journey. It’s so often long and arduous, it's important to give yourself kudos along the way. It helps to keep you going.

For instance, a milestone could be either winning or being a finalist in a writing contest. (Maybe even entering in the first place is something to acknowledge if that was a huge step for you.) Obviously finishing a novel deserves recognition. What about taking that big step and submitting your work to agents in hopes that they will fall in love with your work? Landing an agent—said agent selling your work—holding your published book?


Each of us will have different things that are momentous and meaningful. And you don't have to reward for everything so that the 'biggies' aren't as meaningful. Choose the things that are truly a 'big moment' for you. When I was a finalist in a large contest, I bought myself a silver bracelet. When I finished my first novel, I was supposed to treat myself to a really good quality, shee-shee-poo-poo, pen. (I still need to do this!) It’s like getting a recognition pin or plaque at work. Or a bonus after finishing a project. You deserve to reward your own accomplishments.


You are your own boss. Don’t forget to recognize your employee’s hard work and triumphs.


So, tell us how you have rewarded yourself for your writing milestones. Or if you haven’t yet…how will you?

Wednesday, September 03, 2008

Quote of the Week

"Inspiration is wonderful when it happens, but the writer must develop an approach for the rest of the time... The wait is simplytoo long."

-- Leonard Bernstein

Monday, September 01, 2008

Breaking Dawn: A Critique

WARNING: This post involves the latest in Stephanie Meyer's Twilight series, Breaking Dawn. So if you haven't read it and plan to, there will be SPOILERS. And if you have read it and love it, you might not be so happy with me. And let me also say that this post does not in any way represent the opinions of the rest of the Face the Page gang; my comments are solely my own.
I read through the first three books very quickly, and I give them credit for being good escape material. But throughout the books, there are some fundamental problems with the writing and the structure of the story. All four of the books could easily be 200 pages shorter than they are. Each book has a sagging middle of over 100 pages where nothing happens. And the central relationship is stagnant; it doesn't evolve throughout the four books. The only book in the series where the relationship differs at all is New Moon - because Edward isn't in most of that book - and perhaps that's why that book is my favorite of the four.
Throughout the journey of a novel, a character should change and grow through the obstacles they face and overcome. The story should be propelled by the choices that a character makes and the consequences of those choices. But throughout the four Twilight books, the main character, Bella, doesn't change much at all. She doesn't grow. And she doesn't make her own choices; she doesn't make things happen. Things happen TO her, and then someone else steps in and makes it okay. She doesn't solve any of her own problems. And then, magically, everything turns out perfectly for her. She doesn't have to make any tough decisions and therefore doesn't have to face any consequences. And as a result, there's very little conflict or tension in any of the novels, but particularly Breaking Dawn.

SPOILERS BELOW!

Along the way, Meyer misses a thousand opportunities to provide real conflict. Instead of forcing Bella to make the conscious and deliberate choice to become a vampire, she cops out and has her die (after the out-of-nowhere pregnancy storyline that has no grounding in any of the first three books). A huge opportunity is missed when Jacob imprints on Renesmee; it could have set into a motion a terrific war between the werewolves and the vampires. But once again Meyer takes the easy way out and clears up that conflict in a paragraph. And instead of providing fantastic inner conflict by having Bella as a newborn vampire be dangerous and out of control, Meyer takes the ultimate cop-out and has Bella be the exceptional vampire who has unheard-of self-control. I personally think Bella should have lost control and killed Charlie. Talk about consequences!
Many people compare the Twilight series to the Harry Potter series, and I'm sure you all know which books I consider superior. But here's the reason. Throughout all seven Harry Potter books, all the characters - ALL of them - change and grow. They make mistakes and they learn from them. They fail. Things don't work out for them. They lose people, and they grieve. Relationships deepen. These are flesh and blood characters who have real lives. Despite the fact that they are witches and wizards, they don't live in a fairy tale. Most importantly, as the books progress, you can see J.K. Rowling progress as a writer. I love that. She changed and grew along with her characters. I didn't see any of that kind of growth or progress throughout the four Twilight books. (I haven't read Meyer's stand-alone novel, The Host, so I would be interested to see if that is any different.)
I, however, have learned a lot from reading her books. I've learned how crucial it is to keep asking your characters, "what will make it worse?", instead of "what will make it better?" Coddling your characters does not a good story make. How much more tension would the last 100 pages of Breaking Dawn had if Bella had had mere hours to prepare for the confrontation with the Volturi! I actually laughed out loud when one of the characters said, "We only have a few weeks to prepare!" Talk about taking all the air out of a scene.
I've learned that if the main character sets the story (and conflict) into motion, your book will be infinitely more interesting. How much more gut-wrenching would it have been if Bella, knowing all that she is giving up and all the pain she will cause her parents, turned to Edward and said, "Ok. I'm ready," and bared her throat to him. Instead, that decision is made for her.
And I've learned that happy endings aren't always satisfying. Happy endings are satisfying when the main character has fought hard, sacrificed some things along the way, and learned some difficult lessons. Happy endings are not satisfying when everything falls into the character's lap. Let's be honest - we don't root for that type of person in real life; we root for the underdog, the person who has to struggle to succeed. Why should we be expected to root for someone who always falls into a bed of roses in our fiction?
I can't argue with Meyer's success, and when it comes down to it, anything that gets teens reading is A Good Thing. But I've read many other books for teens that satisfy all of my complaints with the Twilight series - our own Linda Gerber's Death By series, not to mention her two SASS books where the central female characters learn and grow immensely, Libba Bray's fantastic The Gemma Doyle Trilogy, and anything by Celia Rees. I urge readers to check these out, and escape with these well-rounded, fully-realized, flesh-and-bone characters.

Sunday, August 24, 2008

Commitment

Our local Sunday paper had an interesting article called ‘The work and art of writing: Muscle vs. Muse’. The author, Joe Kurmaskie, contacted different authors to see which approach they used. He writes, “Without exception, generous amounts of coffee enter the equation, and divine inspiration packaged as an entire book waiting to be channeled strikes no one.” Here's the article. I know we’ve talked about muscling through the writing process before, but it does bear repeating. Especially if you’re a forty-something writer with a fairly full plate who’s been procrastinating new writing a lot. *ahem* A whole lot.

I think I can safely say that every writer I know, have met, or have heard talk about this subject – every one – considers themselves to be a writing athlete. They don’t write for the muse, they keep going no matter what. That doesn’t mean that they don’t pay attention when a story idea appears in their heads, it just means that this is a job, pure and simple. It’s the difference between a local running club and the Olympic trials, between talking about a secondary degree and actually enrolling, between dating and getting married. It’s about commitment.

After finishing my first book, I think I’ve spent a wee bit too much time patting myself on the back and waiting for everyone to fall at my feet in awe of my accomplishment. Can you see me rolling my eyes here? (I think I sprained my eyelids. Ouch.) So I’m refocusing on my commitment to this rollercoaster ride of a calling, and thinking back to what made me decide to do this in the first place.

Let’s all renew our vows, so to speak. What made you realize you had committed to writing? What makes you continue to be committed to this wacky journey? And should we all be committed for thinking we can do this? *g*

Friday, August 22, 2008

Every Four Years

It began when I was ten.
That summer, the summer of ’84, my parents piled my sister and I into a used van and we headed west from our upstate New York home. For ten weeks we lived out of that van, traversing the country and stopping everywhere from Yellowstone and Mt. Rushmore to Wall Drug and the Corn Palace. It was an incredible journey with an even more fantastic destination: Los Angeles and the Games of the XXIII Olympiad.
That was the summer that my deep love of the Olympics was born. I was there when the now-familiar Olympic Fanfare and Theme was heard for the very first time in history during the Opening Ceremony, I was there when Mary Lou Retton tumbled across the floor towards America’s first All-Around gold, I was there when Carl Lewis flew down the track in world record time, and I was there when the president of the IOC handed the Olympic flag to the South Korean president and he danced across the stage with it like a child with a shiny new toy.
What is it about the Olympics that captures our imaginations and makes us stand still and hold our breath for sixteen days? Is it the beauty of a tiny gymnast spinning through the air and the powerful majesty of a swimmer moving through water? Is it the look on an athlete’s face when he bows his head to receive his gold medal and the way a runner falls to her knees after winning the 100-meter dash? Or is it the bubble in which the Olympics seems to exist, as though all the evil of the world, all that stuff outside, cannot touch it? It is all of these things, and a thousand things more.
My father was a marathoner who participated in the Olympic Trials in ’68. And though he didn’t make it to Mexico City that year, he continued to run marathons for decades after. He loves running so much that he founded the Road Runners Club in the county where we lived and trained my stepmother for her own marathons. I’m sure when he ran in the Trials he could only see the immediate goal of getting to the Olympics in front of him. When he didn’t achieve that, instead of quitting, he turned his passion into a lifelong love, and inspired others to do the same.
As writers, we’re engaged in a marathon every time we start a new story. When we write, we go into that zone that marathoners talk about: just one foot in front of the other, just one moment at a time. Don’t worry about Mile 23 when you’re at Mile 15. And don’t forget to breathe.
We may not all win the publishing equivalent of a gold medal: a Pulitzer or a Newbery or a RITA. But if we fill ourselves with joy every time we sit down to write, just as a runner does when he steps out onto the track in the morning light, we have won. If we turn our passion into a lifelong love, we have won. And if you’ve ever written the words THE END, you know you’ve run a marathon.
My father never held it against the Olympics that he didn’t make it there. He’s been to every Summer Games since the 1976 Montreal Games, except for Moscow ’80 and Seoul ’88. He’s in Beijing right now, watching the marathoners trickle into the Bird’s Nest, one by one, each on their own journey. That is the beauty of the Olympics; it loves everyone that comes to it with a dream or a hope or a desire to be inspired.
Writing is like that too. It loves us deeply. It wants us to succeed, whatever that might mean to us. It whispers encouragement in our ear as we tie our laces and set our foot on that track. It loves us even when we falter at Mile 21 and rejoices when we cross the finish line.
The Olympic Creed reads, “The most important thing in the Olympic Games is not to win but to take part, just as the most important thing in life is not the triumph but the struggle. The essential thing is not to have conquered but to have fought well.” They are words we hold true for sixteen days every four years, and should carry with us every day in between.

An uplifting read and a writing exercise

A writer friend of mine put a very comforting and inspiring entry up on her blog today. And I've determined that linking this exercise to her blog is way better than the cheesy writing prompt I had for you today.
With that in mind, head out to Lise's blog, read it slowly, in a quiet place. Then, choose one or more of the "activities" she mentions and write a scene in which your main character(s) engage in that activity. Or, if you're a poet, choose and activity and write a poem about the emotions it may invoke.
And remember, we'd love to hear about any breakthroughs or just plain giggles you're experiencing when doing these exercises. Share with us!
All right then, here's the link to the blog:

right here

Good luck and Get writing!

Monday, August 18, 2008

Characters

As I'm working through revisions this week, a new character has been elbowing his way into the story. He's a minor character, but important to the plot. His unexpected arrival has had me thinking a lot about creating characters.

On that note, my dear friend and mentor, Marsha Skrypuch, just completed running the Brantford Summer Writing Workshops, wherein she presented a workshop on creating characters. When sharing her notes with me, she said, "Another thing that I point out is that not once do we ever talk about appearance when building characters because appearance has nothing to do with character."

That really struck me. It's absolutely true in real life, right? So naturally the same holds for characters we're creating. I just had never thought about it. Of course our readers want to know what the characters look like, but that's just packaging. Who they are is the important thing.

How do they act when they think no one is looking? How do they handle stressful situations? What makes them happy? What drives them up a wall? And, more importantly, why? What makes them tick?

Often, our characters don't even know the answers to those questions... but they should find out through the journey of the story.

Anyone else have a revelation on creating characters they'd like to share? How about a favorite character from something you've read? What made that character memorable to you?



Monday, August 11, 2008

Speaking of THE DARK KNIGHT

Or is it just "Dark Knight"? Doesn't matter. I am today holding this blog hostage so I can talk about the movie. And okay, not the whole movie. Yes, I, too, can go on at length about the brilliance of Heath Ledger's performance. I, too, can sigh and swoon over Christian Bale. I, too, can praise the testosterone poisoning that created such great action sequences. But none of that's going to happen here. Here, on a writer's blog, I want to look at character.

So.... I'm in the middle of edits on my latest completed manuscript. And one of the things I struggle with is character depth. Knowing this, when I do edits I go back to familiar sources to help me work through concepts of character. One of these sources is Mary Buckham and Dianna Love's Breaking into Fiction plotting templates. Another is screenwriting guru Michael Hauge. This weekend, with many thanks to Gerb, I sat and watched Hauge (with Chris Vogler) talk about the Hero's Journey and there too he talks about character.

One of the things Hauge stresses when it comes to character is making your characters relatable. He suggests a number of ways to do this. And while I pondered how to make the characters in my manuscript relatable, my thoughts wandered (as they do) until they landed on DARK KNIGHT. I've been going 'round for a couple of weeks saying DK is a fabulous movie, just a hair shy of excellent... but adding that it wasn't quite "my thing". Only, I couldn't put my finger on why. Now, after pondering Hauge, I think it was - FOR ME - a lack of relatability in the characters, and its extension, a lack of likeability. I'm afraid that probabably the character I can most grasp and relate to is Alfred. And seeing as the movie's not about him, the whole experience left me kind of... unmoved.

So, without getting into a bashing and without bringing comic book history into this, what are your thougths? Could it be that there is a lack of relatability in the characters? Or was there some flaw somewhere in the story? What trait exists in Bruce Wayne that the audience should/could relate to? What trait does The Joker possess?

Discuss.

Tuesday, August 05, 2008

The Big Leagues

Last week, teens everywhere (and a lot of adults) were howling over the imminent release of the newest Stephanie Meyer book, Breaking Dawn. As numerous stories of her path from suburban stay-at-home-mom to bazillionaire author deluged every media outlet, I thought about making it big in publishing. Really, really big. What would that be like? Could I imagine being one of the few in the Big Leagues? Uh, yeah!

When I finished drooling over the imaginary shopping list to spend my bazillions, I wondered what it would take to make my imaginary dream a reality. Is it possible to craft a story that will sell to everyone based on what you know of popular culture? Is there a way to create universal appeal? What makes us latch on to characters, never to let go and forever to sing their praises at book clubs, dinner parties and casual grocery store conversations?

Unfortunately, there isn't a 'bestseller checklist', dang it all. You can use the Hero's Journey templates, write complex and endearing characters, study the trends and predictions, and try to imitate those Big League Authors. But even if you do all those things you could still be a mid-list author, or even an undiscovered one. The only thing you CAN do is tell your story, the best way you can. Will it be great? Will it intrigue an agent and publisher to take a chance and publish it? It's a crap shoot. But when you are true to the story in you, which is what most of the members of the Big League did to get there, I have to believe that good things will come your way.

Monday, July 21, 2008

Being Open

One of the things I've learned along this great, grand journey of being an artist is to be open. Open to opportunities and possibilities, and especially to new ideas. So often an idea will pop into our brain and we'll dismiss it as stupid or impossible. This, I've learned, is a mistake. It could be that that idea is the thing that will get us off our over-beaten path and into new territory.
Now, sometimes that new path is a dead end. But I think it's better to take the detour than to continue down our familiar path, always looking over our shoulder and wondering what might have been if we'd gone a different way.
I'm dealing with this right now. I've been working on a YA novel set in 16th century Italy, with a supernatural twist. Although I love the premise and the characters and have the whole novel plotted out, something is just not hooking in for me. I've tried a number of things to break out of this rut but nothing seems to really work. It's very frustrating.
Over the weekend a sudden idea popped into my head. What if this story isn't meant to be set in the 16th century? What if this isn't an historical novel? What if this story is meant to be told in the here and now?
Needless to say, as a self-proclaimed writer of historical fiction who loves and relishes history, this was a pretty radical and scary thought. My first instinct was to sweep this thought under the rug and stomp on it, hard.
But instead I swept all of the "what a stupid idea" thoughts under the rug and stomped on them. Hard.
As a writer, my first responsibility is to tell the story. If there's a chance that this story needs to be told in contemporary times, then I need to explore that.
So this morning when I should have been settling in to write, I got up, futzed around, did the laundry, made some coffee, watched Gilmore Girls on ABC Family, and generally avoided going down this new path. But as I did these empty chores, sentences drifted in and out of my head until one hooked in. The first sentence. I sat down at the computer. And an hour and a half later, I had the first scene.
I don't know if this is the right path for this story yet. But I'm open to going down it for as long as it takes for me to find out. I'm here to serve the story, and sometimes that means putting on a good pair of hiking shoes, tucking a water bottle into your backpack, and following the trail all the way to the sea.
What wild ideas have you had and followed? Are there any ideas you've had that you didn't follow through on and wish you had? And if you're in the midst of following a wild idea right now, please share so I don't feel all alone!

Friday, July 18, 2008

Weekly Writing Prompt

This week, there are two options to choose from, both tied to the phrase "Blast from the Past".

Option one:

For those of you with manuscripts under your bed or hidden away in a drawer or in the back of your closet, "resurrect" two or three of the main characters from that old manuscript and have them attend a reunion (for a school, a club, a job, the choice is yours). Try and find a way to show the reader how much the characters have grown and changed during the intervening years.

Option two:

Write a scene in which characters from your work in progress or characters created for this exercise (or write a poem about the emotion evoked) come across an object from their past. Think: cleaning out the attic or garage. What do they find? How does it make them feel? Explore emotions; make the reader laugh or cry or both.

Easy, right? Good! Now get writing!

As always, feel free to share your experiences doing this exercise in the comments section.

Monday, July 14, 2008

Changes

It was a tough weekend. My childrens' dance teacher lost her father, and a friend lost her husband. One was unexpected, and one defied every medical opinion. Both changes, both part of life. Changes, yes, but unpleasant ones. Just call me Debbie Downer.

After I bawled my eyes out, I felt the need to put words on paper. Do something creative. Anything, really. And so I started another edit of my book. I had decided that one specific character needed to have a major change, which sent me off on adding, deleting and solving continuity issues.

In a totally self-centered way, making the changes in my manuscript made me feel better. I can't do anything to make my friends hurt less. Only time will do that. But changes, even uncomfortable ones, can lead to good things.

What changes have happened lately in your life ,or your pages, or both?

Friday, July 11, 2008

30 Pages, Baby

Check out Nathan Bransford's blog where he explains the importance of those first 30 pages in a requested partial.

Monday, July 07, 2008

Setting Attainable Goals

It's Monday. Though it's the start of the week at my day job, it's the end of the week for my writing goals. Why my week runs Tuesday to Monday... long story. And the most important part of that long story is: it works for me. For some folks, Sunday through Saturday is better. But I digress...

One of my goals for this week now ending was actually a "cheat" goal, because the text of the goal reads "outline goals for second half of the year". Setting goals should not be a goal in itself, you see. But for me, achieving goals is a lot about time management. So if I write a task on my goal list, I know I have to carve out time to sit and perform the task -- in this case, taking a piece of paper and listing what I want to achieve in the next sixth months.

The important concept here is the attention to what I want to achieve and how I can make that happen. I recently had a chat with someone who said "My goal is to be published within two years." Hey, no argument that's a worthy aspiration. But it's a dream, not a goal. As a goal, it's got a built-in flaw and no, it's not completely the two-year thing. The trouble with that goal is that it does not rely wholly on personal ability. Unless you've already decided you're going to self-publish through a vanity press, part of the goal is in someone else's hands. The decision to publish you or not publish you belongs to an editor and/or an editorial board and/or a publisher -- and marketing may have their say as well! So to say "My goal is to be published" is to put your goal in someone else's hands. You've given the power to achieve that goal to someone else.

This, of course, is a very long way of saying, when you set a goal, make certain it's a goal you personally can achieve. Absolutely don't give up the dream of publishing, of best-seller lists, of Oprah picks and Pulitzers. But make your goal to write the best book you can, to write every day, to take a class in writing craft, and so on. Set a goal you can accomplish...

...and you'll be surprised by how much you achieve.

Saturday, July 05, 2008

Weekly Writing Prompt

Well, now. This one's going to seem like a bit of a cop-out given the calendar, and given that we did a one-word prompt last week. But this one's tried and true and quite honestly one of my favorites. And why mess with a winner, huh? So this week, again, we're working with a one-word prompt. Mull it over in your mind, think about your characters, old and new, let the ideas flow -- and then let your pen flow across the page. Ready? This week's word prompt is: fireworks.
Got it? Good. Now get writing!
As always, please feel free to share in the comments section how this exercise helped you -- or how it made you tear your hair out : )

Friday, July 04, 2008

Happy Independence Day

Have a happy and safe Fourth of July! My family is doing chores right now. Number One son goes to work in an hour, and Number Two son is flying back from Nashville as I type this. Number Three son is still in his jammies, avoiding his room like the plague it is - it's good to be the king.

If you're in the US, have a terrific holiday. If not, have a great Friday!

Friday, June 27, 2008

Weekly Writing Prompt 6/27

While I'm quite certain you've all been busily writing despite a couple of prompt-free weeks, I'm going to throw you something new just to keep those fires stoked *S*

Sometimes the more specific a prompt is, the easier it is to write with/about. But I'm actually a fan of the generalized prompt. I like an idea I can turn over in my mind, something I can stew over for a while. So that's what this week will be, one of the classic, one-word prompt weeks. In this exercise, I give you one word and from it you build a scene, a poem, a short story, a haiku - whatever gets your pen moving across the paper. Follow the idea wherever your mind takes you. Use characters from your work in progress, characters created for the exercise, or whatever adds variety to your chosen medium, ok? Okay.

This week's word is: burned.

Got it? Good. Now get writing!

Thursday, June 26, 2008

Quote of the Week

Ginger's traveling, so I thought I'd drop in for this week's quote. I have two:

"Come on baby, light my fire." The Doors

"Just Do It." Nike

Monday, June 23, 2008

Heat

Last week I moved to Burbank, California, which is nestled in the Valley, the hottest part of Los Angeles County. Right now we're having a heat wave of temperatures over 100 degrees.

There's a tendency to slow down when it gets this hot, to sprawl out with a mint julep and five air conditioners pointed right at you. But I think there's a way to cultivate heat and use it to our advantage.

What if we internalized that heat and used it to build a fire from which all of our creative energy flows? Imagine a pan filled with all of your favorite vegetables. It's not until the heat is applied that it becomes a sizzling masterpiece.

Instead of the lazy hazy days of summer, let's use the heat to fire up our writing. If you find yourself sitting on your couch, complaining that it's too hot to move, try this little exercise:

Close your eyes.
Picture a banked fire in the pit of your belly.
Inhale deep for at least five counts.
Exhale slow for another five counts. As you exhale, imagine your breath stoking the fire in your belly.
With each exhale the fire grows a little bigger, the flames lick out to other parts of your body.
When the flames reach your fingertips, pick up your pen or touch your keyboard.
Then let the fire spill out of your body and onto the page.

At the end of your writing session, reward yourself with a mint julep. Happy Midsummer, everyone!

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

The value of connections

This has been a busy week for our FTP peeps. Ginger and I were in New York visiting Jen, Nicole's got a show and a move, Barb's relocating, and Linda's on vacation. Whew! No wonder I heard crickets when I came over here!

And about connections...it's been a pretty good week. Ginger and I attended the LIRW luncheon last Friday. Since Jen is a member of LIRW, she helped with the seating arrangements. I asked if we could sit with Janet Reid, an agent with Fine Print. I had seen Janet at the Surrey Conference last year, and was told she had a sense of humor. I'm all about the funny. So we talk, we schmooze, we pitch, we collect cards, and we imbibe some fab champagne punch. Then we sit at our table. Jen introduces Ginger and I as guests, and explains where we're from. Janet then asks more specific questions about where I live. After a bit of back and forth, turns out Janet lived in the same town I did. And almost on the same street. We went to the same college, know the same people...the list goes on. It was an instant connection. Ginger, Jen and I were amazed. It was one of those golden moments when everyone is smart, everything is funny, and every quip leads to another one just as hilarious.

We laughed ourselves silly, but the luncheon came to an end. Then, as we were saying our goodbyes, Janet asks if we want to come to a book signing in the city that night. Just a little one, but there'll be a toasting afterward, since this author is going to debut at #1 on the NYT Bestseller list next week. Do we? Uhhh, yeah!

I'll let Jen or Ginger talk about the signing and party. The gist here, and this was mentioned by Janet many times, is that the writing world is a small community, and connections can make you. Even if Janet doesn't remember us, we'll have something to talk to her about when we see her again, or when we send her a query. I made a new connection with Janet, and refreshed older connections with Jen and Ginger. Like I said, it's been a good week.

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Ask The Agent

FYI - My agent, Elaine Spencer from The Knight Agency is answering questions every Friday in an Ask the Agent feature on Kwana Jackson's blog. Go check it out!

Wednesday, June 04, 2008

Quote of the Week

To write something, you have to risk making a fool of yourself.

~Anne Rice

Monday, June 02, 2008

Do they make Neosporin for this?

I’ve reached a milestone in my writing career (and don’t think that the phrase ‘writing career’ doesn’t make me giggle). I am almost ready to submit my first novel to agents. I have a query letter or three ready to go, and 252 pages of a twice-edited manuscript – 84,658 words that I’m sure will dazzle.

Now what?

I remember the first time I posted a snippet of my writing for critique. I actually felt nauseous. I was a mess. I mean, to open myself up to that kind of criticism…what could I possibly have been thinking? But once those first crits came in, both good and bad, I was able to stop popping antacids like breath mints. It was similar to taking off a band-aid, and it did get easier each time I did it. I hardly ever have to throw up now.

So here I am facing my first real world band-aid. This time I’m going to send my work to a professional in the publishing business. Will it be good enough? Will I stack up rejections as every author does? Is there a market for it? Does it re-define suckiness?

I’ll never know until I hit the ‘send’ button.

Tell us your story, good or bad, about ripping off the band-aid. Sharing your work for the first time. Querying agents. Submitting story changes to editors. It can be any challenge that you faced and conquered, even if the end result wasn’t exactly what you planned.

I hope my band-aid only stings a little. :-)

Friday, May 30, 2008

Weekly Writing Prompt

Pretty straight forward today : ) I give you a word, you mull it over for a little while, let some characters join in the mulling and then write whatever comes to mind. All you have to do, is keep that word or the sentiment it invokes, in your mind. Easy, right? Okay then! The word is "Thunder".
Got it? Good. Get Writing!

Quote of the Week

"So please, oh PLEASE, we beg, we pray, Go throw your TV set away, And in its place you can install, A lovely bookshelf on the wall."

— Roald Dahl, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory

Monday, May 26, 2008

Don’t forget to read!

This is probably like preaching to the choir but it should be said as a reminder how important reading is to writing. And no, not just books on craft that teach you all sorts of methods, tips, tricks and theories on how to write, but good ol’ novels that take hold of you and don’t let go.

Reading for pleasure is vital to the writing process. How else can we write novels readers will get lost in if we don’t get lost ourselves? The process of falling in love with a book is a valuable tool. Yes, you can examine the methods an author used to write such a gripping novel. You can identify the types of suspense, character development (or lack thereof), use of goal, motivation and conflict an author utilized to snag you as a reader and all of that would be educational—true. However there is another reason to get lost in a good book more vital that learning why it is so good.

Falling in love with a story is the ultimate burst of motivation, the spark that will ignite your imagination to get you to face the page in your own writing. If you are a writer, reading a wonderful book will only make you more determined to write one.

Sometimes I get so buried in writing (along with all the other million of things in life) that I forget to pick up and read a book for pleasure. Then I pick one up, get sucked in, skip meals, won’t answer the phone, make the kids forage for their own food because I don’t want to put the book down. My creativity starts to buzz and wiggle and when I face the page again, I’m ready for my fingers to fly!

Recently I have been doing another reread of the Harry Potter series. I savor each one, laughing—crying—wanting to kill Umbridge. I finish one and can’t start the next one fast enough.

Reading makes you a better writer. So—what good books have you read lately?

Friday, May 23, 2008

Weekly Writing Prompt

You've got two choices this week : )

For those of you "serious" about your writing, doing the query and submit thing, waiting for The Call, make yourself a character... and write your launch party. Invite other characters to join you -- maybe all the characters you've created over the years! Write the joy of the launch party of your first - or next! - book.

For those of you writing for the sheer joy of it with no current business plans, I'm going to give a one word prompt. With that one word in mind, write a short piece or scene (or poem, whatever gets the pen rolling) which features your wip characters or characters created for the purpose of this exercises (or no characters if you're writing a poem, I guess. I don't write poems. I guess it shows *s). All clear? Okay. Your word for this week is picnic.

Got it? Good! Get writing!

Feel free to leave a comment letting us know if this exercise helped get your creativity in motion and/or helped you visualize your success.

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Quote of the Week

Writing isn't generally a lucrative source of income; only a few, exceptional writers reach the income levels associated with the best-sellers. Rather, most of us write because we can make a modest living, or even supplement our day jobs, doing something about which we feel passionately. Even at the worst of times, when nothing goes right, when the prose is clumsy and the ideas feel stale, at least we're doing something that we genuinely love. There's no other reason to work this hard, except that love.

- Melissa Scott

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

The Incentive

Since I just launched my book, Death by Bikini, we decided it would be fun to include a post about the launch at Face the Page. Not a promotional post - I do that stuff over on my own blog - but more of an incentive post. Things like launches make all those solitary moments and struggles to find time and motivation and the muse worth it!

To kick of the launch weekend, I held a blog party and invited several other YA authors to guest blog and celebrate with me. This turned out to be super fun and generated a lot of traffic. The best part about it, though, is that I could completely revel for three days straight that my book had hit the shelves. : ) You can't really do that in real life. Not without your friends getting reeeaaallly tired of you.

On Friday, I hit Upper Arlington for a author visit and signing. They had a huge cake with the bikini logo on it and so even the guys stopped by the signing table. The funniest question I got asked: "How old were you when you wrote this book?" LOL

Friday night, my DH hosted a book launch for our friends and neighbors. We had a great turn out and it was a lot of fun, but it was interesting to me the people who I think truly expected me to be handing out books at the party instead of my DH's gentle suggestion that they go grab a copy or two at the bookstore. "They make great gifts!"

Saturday was a taste of humble pie. I had a signing at Barnes and Noble and... they didn't advertise it. I know, right? Why host a signing if you don't really care if anyone comes. I had to hand sell every copy we sent out the door, and believe me, that is not in my comfort zone. I have now been through the initiatory awkward book signing, so I know what to do and not do next time around. That said, the staff at B&N was great and I got a peek at the inner workings of bookseller brains (more on that in another post) so it wasn't all bad.

Sunday I wrapped up the blog party by announcing winners of all the great book giveaways and prizes and wrote thank you's to the authors who participated and read through all the congratulatory emails that I didn't have time to get to on Thursday or Friday. It was a completely Aaaaawwww feel-good day.

This week I have two more school visits and I will consider myself successfully and completely launched.

All the above was exhausting and exciting and exactly what I used to dream about when I first started writing. I guess the message of this whole thing is that by facing the page every day, great things can happen.

Write on!

Thursday, May 15, 2008

Quote of the Week

In honor of the today's release of the wonderful YA novel, Death By Bikini by our very own talented Linda Gerber...

It is the writer who might catch the imagination of young people, and plant a seed that will flower and come to fruition.
- Isaac Asimov


***Note: Death By Bikini is a book for all ages! Go get it! Read it! Savor and love it! Buy another for a friend! It's FAB!

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

When Writing is Your Second (or Third) Job

So, in addition to being a writer, I'm an actress. I also work part-time as an assistant. Not to mention taking care of my husband and the household. So in between all of those things, when do I find time to write?

Well, I just said it. In between all of those things.

It's hard when you want to write full-time, but you can't because it doesn't pay the bills. But you're still a committed writer, so you've got to find the time and space around your other commitments to find the time to write.

This is where my lists come in. I have a daily planner - an actual book, not a Blackberry or iPhone - with one page for each day. Every Sunday or Monday, I make a daily list for the coming week. I look at each day. If I have to work from 9-6, and then have rehearsal from 7-10, chances are I'm not going to get any writing done. So I don't even put it on the list. That way, at the end of the day if I haven't written, I don't beat myself up about it.

But on a day when I don't work, or I have rehearsal from 10-2 and the rest of the day free, I put writing on the list. And boy it feels good to check it off when I've done it!

It IS frustrating when I want to be writing eight hours a day, not working as someone else's assistant. That's why I try to make the most of the time when I CAN write.

It takes a commitment, and it takes persistance. It would be a lot easier to go home and flick on the TV instead of facing the page. But when I choose to face the page instead, I'm choosing to get myself that much closer to the day when I WILL be able to write full-time, and someone else will be MY assistant!

Monday, May 12, 2008

weekly writing prompt - under the weather

Did you ever notice that when you read a book, most of the time the main characters are in great health? No one is struggling to breathe through a cold or think through a migraine. Sure, you get the idiotic heroine who runs in high heels and twists her ankle, but you know as soon as she goes down either the monster is going to devour her or the romantic hero is going to rescue her. Either way, she's not dealing with pain.
But writing a character who's trying to overcome some health issue can add a very enriching layer to a scene. So for this week's exercise, write a scene in which your focal charater has to overcome or work through some temporary physical handicap in order to accomplish his/her scene goal. A headache at a charity funding meeting, broken toes at a dance competition final... be creative : )
Got it? Good! Get writing!!
p.s. No need for you to write a heroine who tries to post to her blog during a bout of stomach virus. I can tell you from first hand experience, it's just not possible and won't make for enjoyable fiction ; )

Wednesday, May 07, 2008

Quote of the Week

If your characters take off without you...run after them as fast as you can. Follow them, keep up with their antics. Keep up the chase and if you're lucky, you won't catch them until the end.

~Anonymous

Monday, May 05, 2008

Happy, happy, joy, joy

It's finally spring in the Pacific Northwet...the sun is shining, the birds are singing, and the air temperature is over 45 degrees. Just barely. And while summer is beckoning to us all, we still have six weeks of the school year left in these here parts. That means projects. At my house, we're presently involved in writing a Civil War journal, and writing and organizing a HUGE poetry project, both for the 8th grade. Yet my cherub detests writing. It's shocking how much he hates it. It's a white-hot-burning kind of loathing and it baffles me. I start by being a cheerleader: 'It's only words, my darling boy! You can do it!' Then I segue into the coach: 'Say it out loud and I'll type it. If you can talk, you can write.' After that, it just gets ugly: 'AAAAGGGGHHHH!!!! Just type some @#$% words on the *&^% page!!'

Ahem.

So as I struggle to control my blood pressure, I wonder about fun writing. You know, the kind when your timer goes off and you think, 'An hour already?'. When you laugh out loud at the joy of making the words do exactly what you want. When the light bulb goes on and you connect some plot points and simply can't type fast enough. Let's remember why we face the page in the first place. Share with us a moment when your writing gave you joy.

Oh, and my teen angel wrote three paragraphs last night. Alert the media.

Friday, May 02, 2008

Friday Writing Prompt - dialogue

Okay. In keeping with the idea of sharpening your saw... or maybe not. Maybe just because having fun with a writing exercise is it's own reward... This week's exercise involves a single line of dialogue. Use characters from your wip or characters you create just for this exercise. You can start your scene with this line of dialogue, end it with the line, or use the line somewhere in the middle but you must use the line and you must use it verbatim. Got it? The dialogue is:
"What do you plan to do with that?"
Feel free to post a response and let us know if you were able to get something written using this prompt.
Good luck and get writing!

Thursday, May 01, 2008

Query Shark!!!

Heads up, query-ers! Janet Reid's got a fun new blog critiquing queries called Query Shark. You have to be a registered Blogger or OpenID member to comment, but anyone can read. Love Janet's wit. : ) Enjoy!

Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Quote of the Week

Everywhere I go I'm asked if I think the university stifles writers. My opinion is that they don't stifle enough of them. There's many a bestseller that could have been prevented by a good teacher.

~Flannery O'Connor

Monday, April 28, 2008

The Craft

Wouldn’t it be great if writing was like driver’s education? Pass one class and you’re set for life, with only minimal maintenance work required to be a competent driver. Well, maybe it would be great. I’m kind of glad writing is a continually evolving skill. All the writers I know constantly sharpen those skills with classes, books, critique groups, editors…the possibilities are as limitless as our imaginations. In the last six months I’ve attended a great conference, taken an online class, and corresponded probably thousands of times with my critique group. I’ve consulted my trusty reference books and even skimmed a few new ones. And every time I pay attention to the craft, I end up revitalized and inspired, which of course makes me write even more!

For those that have been able to ‘sharpen the saw’, what’s worked for you? What gave you an ‘a-ha!’ moment that changed your writing? Mine was the 2006 Surrey International Writers' Conference. The whole dang thing was amazing, but most especially the workshops, blue pencil session and general stalking of Jenny Crusie. :-)

If you haven’t thought about the craft of writing lately, I encourage you to take a class, go to a conference, read a great book on the subject…just remember to hone your writing tools with whatever means you have available. If you do, you’ll be in the driver’s seat.

Friday, April 25, 2008

Weekly Writing Exercise

Since this week's topic concerned creating a writing space - or learning to write in whatever space presents itself - this week's writing exercise will play with the same idea.

Use characters from your work in progress, or characters created specifically for the purpose of this exercise. Then send them on a scavanger hunt. Flex your creativity by deciding what items are on their list, but there's a catch. Only one item can be obtained from a location. So if - for a lame example - the list of items to be retrieved contains a golf ball and a golf club, your characters can get only the golf ball at Location A and must proceed to another Location to get the club.

While your characters move about town on paper, you are going to move about town figuratively. Write each items successful (or even unsuccessful) find in different locations. Example, sit in your kitchen to write the finding of item A, sit in your bedroom to find item B. If you can really move about town, "find" items in the coffee shop, the library, the park. Try to include elements of sound (music, water) or silence, or include fragrances, or even try changing shoes.

Once your characters have obtained all items on their list, YOU sit back and evaluate: was there any space easier or harder to write in? any "trigger" (music, silence, lilacs, coffee) that made a difference? Make note of these differences and use it those notes to help "decorate" your writing space - whether real or virtual.

Feel free to let us know what you've discovered about your writing process when you did this exercise.

Good luck and Get Writing!

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Quote (s) of the Day

In honor of Vladimir Nabakov's birthday today:

The pages are still blank, but there is a miraculous feeling of the words being there, written in invisible ink and clamoring to become visible.
~Vladimir Nabakov


And in honor of Shakespeare's (supposed) birthday today, one of my favorite sonnets:

Sonnet 65

Since brass, nor stone, nor earth, nor boundless sea,
But sad mortality o'ersways their power,
How with this rage shall beauty hold a plea,
Whose action is no stronger than a flower?
O how shall summer's honey breath hold out,
Against the wrackful siege of batt'ring days,
When rocks impregnable are not so stout,
Nor gates of steel so strong but time decays?
O fearful meditation, where alack,
Shall Time's best jewel from Time's chest lie hid?
Or what strong hand can hold his swift foot back,
Or who his spoil of beauty can forbid?
O none, unless this miracle have might,
That in black ink my love may still shine bright.

Monday, April 21, 2008

Your Writing Space

Your Writing Space:

A very important aspect of writing is your surroundings when you write. Have you created a space that supports your creative nature? Do the things around you, the items in view, the chair you sit in, the smells tickling your nose support or inhibit your creative self? Have you ever thought about this? You should!

Now, admission time, I have to laugh a little at the topic I chose for my blog because I need to follow my own advice. My writing space is most often not inspiring in the least. My desk collects clutter faster than my floors collect my dog’s hair. (Trust me that this is freakishly shocking!) On it, in addition to papers from my children’s school, I see power cords to charge the multitude of electronic devices in our home. I have a sizable stack of papers that ‘must be attended to immediately’ because the basket I have in my kitchen for this stuff is towering and leaning into the toaster. My hands can instantly land on a variety of notes my children have written, like a recent one to my husband from our seven year old daughter, “Dad, I want a chocolate sundae with chocolate sauce. I do not like Greyson (her 12 year old brother) at all.” *sigh*

And this morning, where am I? I’m sitting at my children’s computer because the one my husband and I share has gone on the fritz. So let me look around and see what inspires me this morning. Ah, CD’s and DVD’s and Game Cube games are scattered everywhere. There are numerous action figures staring at me. Ah, there's Phil from Disney’s Hercules glaring at me. Here’s the boxed set of Star Wars, Empire Strikes Back and Return of the Jedi. Oh…and a couple of iTunes gift cards. Could be useful. I wonder if the kids will miss these?

Ok, so you can see that I need to create a space that honors my writer-self. Everyone should. It doesn’t have to be fancy. Don’t over think it. The idea here is that you are a writer and if you treat your space (and time!) seriously, you will then take yourself seriously.

Some ideas are a clutter free desk. (The idea of this sends a flutter to my heart!) Perhaps a bulletin board above your desk with inspirational photos, quotes that speak to you, colors that make you feel good or maybe a mini collage of images that relate to the book you’re writing. Some people light a candle, usually the same scent. I know some people have the same drink at hand, whether it is water, tea, diet coke…whatever helps you feel comfortable and get into your zone.

Your space can be anything, but make it something. Create and honor your writing space. Honor your writing self.

Tell us about your space? Inspire me to spruce mine up, would you please?

Saturday, April 19, 2008

Friday Writing Prompt

Okay, so here's your task : )

Use two characters from your work in progress or characters you create just for this exercise. Or, because this bit of writing is just for you use characters from your favorite movie or television show. The only restriction is, these characters must somehow be a pair. They are either married, dedicated to each other, life partners, family, or best friends. This is important because...

These two people are going on vacation (and yeah, I kind of envy them!). They've decided to take a driving vacation to see the country(side). (They're fictional; they're not worried about the cost of gas.) So here's the catch. Character One wants to have a plan in place before they depart, preferably including attraction and hotel reservations. Character Two wants to get in the car and see where the road takes them.

Your task is to write the scene between the two characters as they discuss this difference in opinion and arrive at an agreement.

Good luck and get writing!!

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Quote of the Day

It's none of their business that you have to learn to write. Let them think you were born that way.

Ernest Hemingway

Sunday, April 13, 2008

To Plot or Not to Plot, That is the Question

There is an age-old feud amongst writers: Plotters versus Pantsters. That is, should you plot out the course of your novel, or should you fly through it by the seat of your pants?

In my opinion, you should do both.

I've been on both sides of the feud. I wrote my first novel completely by the seat of my pants, blindfolded and with no map at all. There was something wonderfully spontaneous about it, like I was living on the edge all the time. Every time I sat down to write I was given a new surprise, a new twist that took my breath away. I loved the freefall of it.

But the novel took me five years to finish, and then another year of extensive edits to get it in shape to submit. Granted, that draft got me my agent. But the novel didn't sell, and a big reason, I believe, is because it still needs editing, and a lot of the stuff that probably needs to go is stuff I found while I was on my wild ride and refused to let go of.

When I started my second novel, I didn't want to lose that spontaneity, but I didn't want to take six years to write it. So I sketched out a loose outline using The Hero's Journey (a book by Chris Vogler - highly recommended) template. Then halfway through writing the book I realized that the story needed to start a lot later so I started rewriting the whole thing. I never adjusted my outline, and so once again I was flying virtually by the seat of my pants. That book remains unfinished.

With my third novel, my current WIP (work-in-progress), I decided that I wanted to finish it in less than a year. That meant I needed a strong outline, a clear road map of where I needed to go. I took a class in Plotting Via Motivation (with WriterUniv.com - also highly recommended), I drudged up all my old notes from various plotting workshops I'd attended at conferences and I dragged out The Hero's Journey. I put together a hero's journey template for my MC (main character) and even worked out a scene plot. I'm on track to finish the book within the time frame I've given myself.

The important thing is that even though I have this road map, I'm allowed to veer off it. That outline isn't chiseled in stone. Flights of fancy are of course allowed because characters aren't always predictable and sometimes things happen that surprise us. For instance, I just had a character pop up that I had not planned for or even heard of. But there he is. So I've got to adjust my scene to allow for him. There's still spontaneity. But I have found that spontaneity within a structure is ultimately much more productive - and time-saving.

Writers will debate plotting until they're blue in the face. Terry Brooks swears by outlining. Diana Gabaldon doesn't. Both are fantastic writers. You can't tell from the finished product whether a writer used an outline or didn't. (Well, sometimes you can, but that's a different blog).

It's all about which process works best for YOU. And it may even be dependent on the story. Maybe my first book needed to be written in that meandering, fly-by-night way. My current WIP needs structure. The important thing is to listen to yourself, to your characters, and decide.

Friday, April 11, 2008

Weekly Writing Prompt

Distractions, distractions -- they're everywhere, aren't they? I think we can all agree that being distracted from your writing is a Bad Thing - because then you're not writing, right? But sometimes, distractions can be Horrible Things (distracted driving, anyone?) And sometimes, distractions can be Pleasant Things (the suprising scent of flowers). You know, personally, what happens when you get distracted. What happens to the characters in your work in progress? Or, what might happen when a regular joe or jane gets distracted?

This week's writing prompt / challenge asks you to take a character - one from your work in progress or an entirely new character - and write 1500 words or more on what happens when that character allows him/herself to be distracted.

Happy writing!!

Wednesday, April 09, 2008

Quote of the Week

You can't say, I won't write today because that excuse will extend into several days, then several months, then… you are not a writer anymore, just someone who dreams about being a writer.

Dorothy C. Fontana

Monday, April 07, 2008

Topic o' the week - Distractions

This week's discussion topic is about the little things that distract us from our writing. Not major life events, but mundane items that keep us away from our our love/hate relationship with the keyboard.

Most writers will tell you that the way to get something written is to simply put your behind in the chair and write the dang thing. Yeah, right. We know that it's harder than that. Spouses, kids, jobs, chores, Free Cell addiction...they all throw monkey wrenches in our best-laid plans to craft the world's greatest tome. What are some of the things that can motivate us to face the page and get going?

My own current work floundered for a year or so, until my amazing friends did something I couldn't - set a specific goal. 'First draft completed by year end', they said. After I was done laughing, I realized it would be do-able. I set a word count target per day. I wrote as much as I could on some days, and on others, well... I had to take care of kids, jobs, and life. Doing one hour sprints with my friends brought out creativity in me that I didn't know I had. I wrote over 50,000 words in less than eight weeks - and I have three busy boys, two jobs, and a husband (though he's a very supportive husband). Imagine my surprise when I finished two weeks ahead of schedule!

Your motivation could be a promise to submit to an agent, a deadline from your editor, a contest cut-off date, a looming holiday or upcoming birthday...whatever works for you, use it! Maybe start with fifteen minutes to write or journal. Then make it thirty. Then shoot for a one hour sprint, three times a week. Just keep going! If you love games, make the game your reward for writing a few hundred words. ( A word of caution...if your reward is one dark chocolate M&M per word, it'll only make your behind meld with your chair. I'm just sayin', is all.)

So, what are your distractions, and what motivates you to ignore them and face that empty page?

Julie


**A small plug here...the FTP members took an online workshop from Writer's University http://www.writeruniv.com/ called 'Defeating Self-Defeating Behaviors'. It's all about finding out what works for you to make your goals attainable. It's written and moderated by Margie Lawson. http://www.margielawson.com/ I highly recommend any Writer's University class!

Tuesday, April 01, 2008

Neo-Blogging 101

This is my first ever blog post, and I sorta feel like there should be fireworks and champagne. Or chocolate. Maybe some sort of tutoring manual to show me everything I'm doing right and wrong. Ah, well, I'm sure I'll learn fast enough.

Oh, and I'm really looking forward to being here on a regular basis!

Julie

Saturday, March 22, 2008

Saying Yes

This is actually Nicole's post, but blogger is giving her attitude this week, so I'm posting it for her : )

One of the things I learned doing the Artist's Way program, and that is also a key component of The Secret, is the importance of saying Yes. This was illustrated to me in the past couple of days.

Remember my story (below) about the film audition? Well, to flesh it out a bit, I was up for the role of the wife of a composer/pianist who has lost his hearing. The role was pretty small. At the audition, the director told me she'd be doing some rewrites before the shoot and that the role could get even smaller. Would I still be interested, she asked.

Yes, I said. After all, I was there to get on-camera experience, no matter how big the part. And a small role is better than no role.

The night before the shoot, the director emailed me in a panic. She couldn't find anyone to play the lead, the composer/pianist. All the men she'd auditioned either weren't right or flaked out on her. If she changed the role to a female, would I be willing to do it?

Again, I said Yes.

I got to set on Saturday morning and I now had the lead role. I got to play the cool, challenging part of a composer/pianist who has lost her hearing. It was fantastic! I had a great time and the director was really pleased with my work. It turned out for the best, she said.

My saying Yes opened more doors for me on this project than I expected!

More success - while on break at the shoot, I was writing in my journal about how grateful I was, and my phone rang. It was the stage manager of another show I'd auditioned for, offering me the job. Now, I wasn't offered the role I wanted, but I said Yes anyway. Work begets work.

So far my reports have been about my acting work, but I have had successes in writing, too. Mainly that I'm getting words on the page and working through trouble
scenes. It's a quieter success than the acting, but it's still a success.

The week lies ahead of me and all I see are possibilities. Stay tuned!

Sunday, March 16, 2008

The Secret of The Secret

Before I begin this post, I would like to suggest that anyone following our experiment buy the book or download the video of The Secret. No, I am not advertising, but as an author, I respect copyright. We will be mentioning things in this blog that are derived from someone else's work. That person should benefit from having provided the fodder. 'Nuff said.

I think the single most important principle of The Secret is what they are calling the 'law of attraction.' That is, if we are in a positive place and filled with positive energy, we will attract positive things to us.

The step that we as a group have discussed as being equally important is taking ACTION. Attract those positive possibilities to you with the positive energy your attitude will generate, and then take the steps necessary to make things happen.

How much can we control in our lives by adhering to these principles? That remains to be seen. I believe we will see good things come about in this month (and beyond.)

To be frank, we are all coming into this experiment coping with or rebounding from some astounding hurdles in our lives, including major surgery, marital disintegration, relocation (one coast to coast, one clandestine and another international), family illness, etc. When I say we are going to put The Secret to the test, I really mean To The Test!

In my mind, there is no sense waiting for 'the perfect time' to begin something like this. Life happens. There is always going to be something we can use to keep us from our goals. If we wait for those things to go away, we will never get there.

I'm a prime example. With four kids (five if you count my DH) a puppy and a writing career to manage, there is always something that goes awry. And with all those extra people in the mix (plus editor, agent, publicist, et al) how am I supposed to control my own destiny?

This is the challenge. According to the book, if I command the universe to make this happen, it will. Hey, universe, are you listening?

Stay tuned. This is going to get interesting.

The Secret: Taking Control

As Jen mentioned below, we've embarked on a month-long experiment of The Secret and how we can make it work for us. We started our experiment with The Burn on Wednesday night, and yesterday was our first full day of the experiment.

As you know, I'm an actress in addition to being a writer, and yesterday I had an audition for a short film. Nothing huge, nothing directed by Scorcese, but a chance to get more on-camera experience which I sorely need. I liked the script a lot and thought the role would be a good one for me. So right before the audition, I took a few minutes to write down what I was grateful for that day. Here's what my list consisted of:

I am happy & grateful for this beautiful day. [I live in Los Angeles and the weather has been amazing here!]
I am happy & grateful that I was able to write today. [I got in 1200 words yesterday!]
I am happy & grateful that Chris is feeling better. [My hubby got hit with a case of food poisoning two days ago, poor thing]
I am happy & grateful that there were so many Shakespeare auditions in Backstage West today.
I am happy & grateful that my dad & I had a great conversation last night.
I am happy & grateful that I have such great friends.

That was it. Nothing earth-shattering, but just taking the time to acknowledge all the wonderful things in my life right now.

Then I wrote that I wanted to get cast in the film. I went to the audition and did a good job. Two hours later, the director called me to offer me the part.

Here's the thing. As artists, we often feel like we don't have a lot of control over our careers. It's up to someone else to cast me in a show or to publish my book. Those things are out of my control. So it is important to utilize everything that is in my control and take back that power. It was in my control to be grateful. It was in my control to send positive energy out to the Universe. It was in my control to do a good job at the audition. All of those things gave me power. And that power landed me the role.

Even if I had not been cast, I could honestly say that I did everything within my control to get that part. And what could be more powerful than that?

I'll be checking in often with more comments on The Secret Experiment and with more successes, I'm sure!

The Burn

In keeping with the idea that the principles of The Secret utilize positive thinking, and because we begin our Secret Experiment on 3/15, we chose 3/14 for "a burn". So what is this burn? Well, it's a shorthand title for starters - and we've lost track of what the official name is, but the theory and practice doesn't change. A burn is done to banish / release / destroy negative thought. And it is very simply accomplished...

Take a few moments of quiet time - really quiet. Sit with a piece of paper and a pen, and for those few moments "listen" to the negative thoughts invading your conscience. When we burn, our focus is on our writing. So the negative thoughts that might intrude can range from "you can't spell for crap" to "you'll never bepublished". A lot of negative thoughts that could be applied to any daily obstacle - not just writing - may come up, too. These are often along the lines of "you don't deserve success" and "pursuing your dream is selfish". And remember, this is just you and a piece of paper. No matter how absurd the thought, no matter how much your logic brain might try to argue (it might say tostop being ridiculous, pursuing a dream isn't selfish!) that negative thought belongs on the paper. Write it down. No one is going to see this list but you. Go to town with it. Write down every negative thought the voice of self-doubt is shouting /saying / whispering / insinuating.

Once the list is complete take a deep breath, a box of matches, and a fireproof container : ) I use a metal ashtray for this part of the exercise - a hibachi or fireplace of course works even better - and I keep my fire extinguisher close to hand because I have, in the past, been known to set fire to Thanksgiving dinner and my clothing, so I err on the side of caution. Take the piece of paper in hand and reduce it (tear it or use scissors to cut it) to whatever size is needed to fit it into your fireproof container. For an ashtray, make little pieces. For a fireplace, one tear might do. Whichever the case, as you tear or cut the paper, be very conscious of the idea that you have taken the first step toward destroying negative thoughts, the first step toward exerting your power over them. And once you've taken that first step and dropped that list into the fire pit, light it up. Let the heat of the fire consume and destroy the negative concepts that are holding you back from your success. Watch the negativity be reduced to ash and smoke, watch the smoke rise and dissipate to nothingness, watch the self-doubt that was keeping you from success fade and vanish.

And as the fire sputters out and you're left with a pile of ash, you'll be amazed athow good you feel. You've let go of the negativity and made space in your consciousness to allow the positive thoughts to rule.

Try it for yourself. Just remember to keep the fire extinguisher handy...

Have you heard of The Secret?

It started like this....

Gerb sent us all an email asking if we'd heard of The Secret and the phenomena surrounding it. As is the way of things, I found the arrival of the mail to be pretty amusing, as just a few nights before, friends of mine had left the DVD at my house, encouraging me to watch it. But in the email, Gerb proposed what would very shortly come to be known as The Secret Experiment. She suggested we try applying the principles of The Secret to our writing lives...

(see comments for more...)

Wednesday, March 05, 2008

Are You Published?

It happened to me on Saturday.

I told someone I had never met I was a writer. "Oh, what have you published?" And the inevitable sneer and look down the nose when they find out I haven't yet.

It made me feel like I was an inch big. Because what right do I have to call myself a writer when I haven't published anything?

Well, the answer to that is - every right.

I sit down at the computer and my fingers move across the keyboard, my hand moves across the journal, palm cramped around the pen, I live through the lives of my characters, crying and laughing with them. All of these things comprise the act of writing, the physical and emotional act of writing. Every day I do this. Every time I commit words to the page I earn the right to call myself a writer.

The 500-page manuscript in my agent's office, filled with the blood, sweat and tears of six years of work, gives me the right to call myself a writer. The stacks of research books and pages of notes and 200 pages of rough and jumbled words for my new book give me the right to call myself a writer. But most of all, I give myself the right.

It is not for anyone else to bestow that title on me; not for an editor or an agent or the New York Times Book Review. Just me. I am the only person in the world who has the right to say I am a writer.

Remember that the next time someone asks you if you're published. It doesn't matter if you are or aren't. If you have put pen to paper, finger to keyboard, seen the world through your character's eyes - you are a writer.

Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Trigger Creativity

So you've done your morning journaling, cleared the sludge from your brain and you're ready to get to work. But nothing stirs. Your imagination is stifled. That part of us that wants to dance, sing, or color out of the lines gets told 'no' a lot during the course of a day. Which is fine, because there's a time and a place for such things. It would be pretty frustrating if the cashier at Walmart was too busy dancing to ring up your purchase (although I'd really like to see this).

Sometimes all we need is a way to signal our creative self that it's time to play, to coax it out into the open. I'm sure you've heard of psychological triggers like Pavlov's dog drooling at the sound of a bell. Your imagination can be trained to respond to a trigger the same way. There are lots of different triggers you can use, so experiment until you find one or a combination of several that work for you. The list is endless, but here are a few ideas that have worked for me:

  • Light a scented candle on your writing desk. Smell is a great trigger. You can use one particular scent to trigger your writing, or have a variety depending on what you're writing about. I have a coffee-scented candle, pine, Yankee Candle's 'Fireside' (yum!), and I also use juniper or piƱon incense, especially when I'm writing outdoor scenes that feature campfires.

  • Particular music. You might listen to the same instrumental background music, or maybe loud rock. I often listen to music with headphones on to drown out the sound of the kids and the tv and the phone ringing. I also listen to a variety of styles of music, depending on what I'm writing. I think of it as my soundtrack and to this day when I put on Jon Bon Jovi's 'Blaze of Glory' I am immediately transported to one particular story.

  • Make a cup of hot tea. I rarely drink hot tea at any other time, but when I sit down to write, especially after a few days away from the keyboard, I fix myself a cup of triple ginseng tea.

  • Solitaire. Use this one with caution and careful discipline. Allow yourself to sit down and play exactly three games of solitaire. Or freecell, or spider, or minesweeper. But after three games, whether you've won them all or lost them all, you must start writing. If you start making deals with yourself that you'll write as soon as you've won three games in a row, remove all the game programs from the computer you use to write. (Don't ask me how I know)

Whatever trigger you use, make it your writing ritual. Don't fix your tea and then sit and play freecell for two hours and never write a word. If tea is your ritual, make the tea, then sit down and make words happen. At first it might take a bit of effort, but before long, as soon as you smell that candle or taste that tea, you'll feel the urge to write.

Friday, February 22, 2008

Keeping the Well Stocked

In every writer or artist, there is a Well, a deep pool of possibilities that we draw ideas and thoughts and inspiration from. It is important to keep this Well stocked at all times.

How do we do this?

One of the best ways to keep the Well stocked is to journal. Right now, I’m working through The Artist’s Way program, which is a process of unblocking creativity that was created by Julia Cameron. One of the basic tools of this program is called The Morning Pages. Three pages of free thought spilled out onto the page, preferably when you first wake up in the morning (although I’ve been known to do mine on the subway into work, or in the afternoon). Even if you’re not doing The Artist’s Way, this is a great tool to keep you in touch with writing. It will get the sludge out of your brain, that extra layer of “did I turn the coffeemaker off, I need to do laundry, I didn’t call my doctor” that resides in our minds. We need to get below that layer to write. We need to get below that layer to tap into the Well.

Eventually, after you’ve journaled that sludge away, things like, “that’s how to solve the problem that chapter is giving me, I need to cut that character out, this is the real plot of my novel” will begin to come out. That’s when a bucket of water will come up from the Well.

It is vitally important to keep the Well stocked in times when life is getting in the way and you just can’t work on your WIP (work-in-progress). During those times, journal fifteen minutes a day. Yes, you can find fifteen minutes to journal. If you journal for fifteen minutes a day, you’ll find that when you return to your WIP, there will be a lot less sludge to deal with, because you kept the Well stocked.

So tomorrow morning, set your alarm for fifteen minutes earlier (you don’t really need that extra sleep) and journal. It doesn’t need to be brilliant; no one is going to see it. It just needs to be three pages of free thought. And when you’re done, your Well will be stocked for the day.

Sunday, February 17, 2008

Thoughts on Facing the Page

We've all been there. If you're reading this blog, then you are most likely a writer, and we writers have all been to that place in our work when sitting down and facing the page is the last thing we want to do, right? We scrub the toilets, we reorganize the bookshelves, we surf every editor and agent blog on the internet - anything to avoid the dreaded WIP that is for some reason or another giving us trouble.

It's what we do.

But here's the thing. We can't leave it alone. Even when our work (or the lack thereof) tortures us and we just can't make the scene come out right or find the perfect word to describe the way our MC walks into a room (without using an adjective!) we feel the itch. We have to scratch it. Because the only thing harder than writing is not writing. Writers write, after all. And we want to be writers, so we do the dance, dipping and twirling between exhilaration and despair. For us, there is no choice.

That's what facing the page means to me. It means having the balls/guts/determination/compulsion/discipline/insanity to sit down every day with pen or computer and create when creating's hard. It means not giving up. Even when you a.) feel unworthy because another writer's work is better b.) are disgusted because another writer's work sucks and they're agented/published c.) are frustrated because your editor/agent/critique group/significant other doesn't get it d.) feel certain that your editor/agent/critique group/significant other gets it - but you don't e.) have just discovered your plot goes nowhere/your mc is not sympathetic/your dialog is wooden/no one likes your story f.) etc., etc., etc.

Do I always face the page bravely in my own work? Ha. Just ask the group here how often they have to soothe the insecurities and push me back on track. But I'm here. And so is the page. And once I stop procrastinating/fearing/avoiding/loathing, the page and I are going to have a great time.

Saturday, February 16, 2008

Nourish your writer's soul

Nicole, Jen and Barb did an awesome job talking about facing the page during times of tragedies, busy lives and extreme stress. I’d like to talk about facing the page for a writer’s own well being. I have come to realize that writing is like drinking my 8 glasses of water a day. I have to do it to stay healthy, to keep my writer’s soul hydrated. And, I have to do it every day. Some days I don’t get those 64 ounces in, and some days I don’t get the word count in that I’d like, but I write something! (Even a blog post.) *s* Yes, there are days that it’s simply not possible for some reason or another…but I try never to skip two days in a row. I equate this to getting dehydrated. You can’t go without water…a writer can’t go without writing. Period!

There have been plenty of times that my life took on, well…a life of its own. I put writing on the back burner, to simplify things, but I found it didn’t help. In fact, it complicated my life even more. That is because writing and being a writer is part of me. It’s part of who I am every single day. Writing feeds my soul and nourishes my spirit. If I neglect it, I suffer. I might mention that my family and friends share in the suffering because I perhaps turn a tad cranky and short tempered when I’m not getting my words in.

Furthermore, during the dry spells, the longer I went without writing, the harder it was to start again. But, when I forced myself to write something, whether that be work on my novel, attempting to write a short story, maybe even taking a writing class online…it actually felt like the act of writing was fuel for my body. It literally gave me energy. I’d be pumped up, heart thumping and imagination zinging. It feels so good!

Make writing your water. Your body and your mind crave it! Make it part of your day, something you have to do to be whole and content. Face the Page every single day because it’s good for you…it’s a part of who you are…you need to….because you are a writer.

Ginger