Wednesday, May 31, 2006
What causes procrastination and how do you cure it? You don’t, it’s impossible. You learn to procrastinate well.
You can work on (a) nothing, (b) something less important, or (c) something more important. Everyone develops their own unique combination of escape by doing something that isn’t a priority, or by making excuses. As a writer, you could put off working on small stuff to work on big things, or you could just do nothing.
What’s the best thing you can work on? Why aren’t you doing it? Maybe you should work on an ambitious project you really enjoy. Do you work on small stories rather than big ones because it’s easier? If you work on a story you can finish in a day or two you can expect to have a good feeling of accomplishment sooner than if you work on something that takes longer. Perhaps you procrastinate writing a novel because it can be terrifying. Have you ever started working on a story that was small and it grew bigger and bigger? That’s how most of my stories begin. I never start out thinking I’m writing a novel or I’d probably never start, I’d put it off.
Some days you will accomplish real work, and other days you will spend doing errands. That’s the way life is. Do you have days that you get work done, but it’s the wrong work? Unless you’re working on the most important thing you have going, you are procrastinating.
Good procrastination is avoiding errands that will go away or that someone else can do so you can do real work. Of course, there are things that get worse if you put them off. In that case, instead of procrastinating I guess you should do it now.
Tuesday, May 30, 2006
“Daddy, are the bad people coming to get us?”
My world changed when my youngest son said these words on the evening of September 11, 2001. At the time, my eyes had been glued to the television news that was repeating over and over the same horrific pictures that included smoke, fire, dust, bewilderment, and fear.
All of these images said just one thing: Would we be the next people to die?
I turned off the television and had an emotional discussion with my son about the terrorist events from earlier that morning. I doubt he forgets the images he saw on television that day. I know I won’t. I know most of us won’t.
These days in the media age, there is so much information begging for attention that you must grab your reader in five or ten seconds or you will lose them forever. You might get one paragraph to do this. More likely you will get one sentence.
So much time is spent writing a novel that is utterly wasted if you can’t get your readers past the first page. You need to start with a powerful message that smacks your reader upside the head with a two-by-four and prevents him or her from being able to put your story down.
Start in the middle, start with power, and introduce conflict right away. Your first sentence is paramount to the success of your story. If you assault your readers with real meat—forget about the milk—in the first five to ten seconds and keep them in your grasp, they’ll stay up to four in the morning just to finish your story.
Unless your name is Stephen King, John Grisham, or J. K. Rowling, you simply can’t afford to slowly build your conflict. You do it soon or your story dies a horrible death before it even has its chance to take its first breath.
Sunday, May 28, 2006
In working with other writers to critique various works, including my own, I have gained an extensive knowledge of diseases common among manuscripts.
In the interest of saving the world from an epidemic, I will now impart the latest list of plagues discovered by the Center for Manuscript Disease Control.
Symptoms: A rash of red marks all over your manuscript. Do not panic – this is to be expected when you send your manuscript out into public for the first time. It is not only common, but desirable in the early stages, as it will save you from extensive outbreaks later in life if properly cared for the first time around.
Close examination by author, and prompt action to improve wherever the rash of red marks is visible.
Symptoms: Manuscript will look slightly skewed, and show large sections of blank page. This is easily treatable, though irritating. It is simply a small case of displacement of words on the page, common when someone sends a manuscript back. Pagination Disease usually accompanies Cyber Pox.
Treatment: The same as for Cyber Pox, with an added chiropractic adjustment of page breaks.
More commonly known as Writers Block or Brain Cloud.
Symptoms: Inability to think of anything worth putting down on paper, and usually includes leaving characters in a lurch. Can be dangerous, resulting in bad writing, lack of interest or, in extreme cases, abandonment of manuscript. Luckily, this disease is not contagious. Creativitus Lackus is known to have recurring episodes over the life of the writer.
Treatment: Many options are available, some more painless than others. The top three are generally accepted as:
--Pentopaper Immedius, or Freewritus Non Stopus
Boosters against recurrence are encouraged in the form of frequent contact with other writers.
Symptoms: There are two distinct forms of Typosemia.
Strain A causes a loss of fine motor control in the fingers, resulting in a complete disorder of letters in any given word the writer is attempting to put on paper. This can be caused by many factors. The rarest form of this strain occurs when a scene or plot runs through the brain at a faster rate than the fingers can type. Those who suffer from this rarest of forms rarely complain about it.
Strain B causes a complete blindness to any incorrect words within the writers own manuscript, though they can still perfectly see any mistakes in any other writing.
Medicate with a grammar/spell-check program. Holistic cures, provided by a reputable writers group, can also prove effective, but may result in Cyber Pox and/or accompanying Pagination Disease.
Treatment remains the same for both strains.
The unreasonable fear of altering a manuscript in any way. This does not only infect those who write, it can also affect those who critique. Major onset of Revisophobia is almost always directly linked to witnessing Cyber Pox. Those affected tend to eat large quantities of chocolate, pout in corners, and may become argumentative.
Self medication is necessary, as advanced revisophobia makes the sufferer leery of any other writer. Strangely enough, the symptoms are also the cure; i.e. large doses of chocolate and a good pout, though argumentativeness will only make matters worse. Behavioral modification is also highly beneficial, and the writer should reach for a pen and paper as soon as possible after onset of the disease.
As shown by the above information, writerhood diseases are common and treatable. With attention and care, writers need not suffer unduly from these afflictions.
For those who may be currently suffering from any of the above maladies, take heart in knowing you are not alone. Studies show that 99.44% of writers will, at one time or another, suffer any or all of the above conditions. Any mark remaining from said infection will be looked upon as battle scars, and coveted by less experienced authors.
This has been a public service announcement from the National Center for Manuscript Health and your Local Writers Group.
Saturday, May 27, 2006
I first noticed that my characters had taken on lives of their own the day one of them died.
He didn’t just lay down and die of old age. Oh, no, not McGregor. That wasn’t his style. This strapping, handsome knight with long, wavy brown hair and a short beard died in battle. He gave his sword to an unarmed man, leaving himself defenseless. It didn’t even cross his mind, in the heat of the battle, that the man he would die protecting was his rival for the love of the woman they both adored. It never entered his noble soul that if he’d let the other man be killed, there would be nothing left standing between him and the woman he worshipped. Even I didn’t realize the depth of his goodness until the enemy slashed his chest open from shoulder to hip, baring his heart just as he had not long before when he told Elspeth he loved her. Nor did I realize how much I, the person who created him on paper, loved him
So I made my traveling group, though they were fleeing the kingdom for their lives, stop at the closest church and arrange a proper and respectful funeral for this brave knight.
And I grieved him. For days.
An author must feel great emotion for his or her characters, or no one else will. Love or hate makes no difference, but it must show through the words.
A word of caution. Do not love your character so much that you shield him from danger. To do so ensures your hero a long life, rich in leisure and deadly, deadly dull. It also ensures that your undiscovered readers remain that way.
What if Dr. Jones had remained in his classroom rather than traipsing through the jungle? How many times would James Bond have saved the day if he’d remained in the pub on the corner with his “shaken, not stirred” martini? Who would have unmasked the ghost if Scooby Doo had stayed in his doghouse? He'd have gotten away with it too, if it hadn’t been for those meddling kids!
So bite the bullet and let your characters go! Allow them to have a life of their own. Let them jump from roof to roof on a motorcycle. Let your hero take a leap of faith from the lion's head. Let your knight in shining armor give his life to save another.
Then, between gasps for air and thumping heartbeats, your readers will thank you!
Friday, May 26, 2006
There’s writers block, and then there is simply uninspired. Say you’ve finished the latest book/article you were working on and didn’t have another project waiting for you. Or, perhaps you just don’t feel like working on something old, you want to work on something fresh–something that captures your imagination.
There’s nothing like a mad-write to get the creative juices flowing. A mad-write is simply what they call mad-libs in school. (Well, that’s what they’re called in the school I work at–grin) Someone gives you a sentence, or a group of words and you have to create a scene, paragraph or short story around them. Sometimes there is a time limit, sometimes not–it’s all flexible.
These are my favorite things. Many times you can get caught up in the middle of editing a story, but you still want to get some words down on paper for the day. It’s that whole ‘writing’ thing. This is the quickest way. You don’t have to worry about plot, or character lines, or anything that would be your normal worry. This is free reign of your imagination.
Ask someone to make up a sentence for you. Go online and find them–there is a whole host of sites that promote creative juices. WritersDigest.com has a category that gives you writing prompts.
I have to warn you–these can be totally distracting. You might get caught up in what you’re writing and create a whole new story out of it. You might even have fun. But then, that’s one of the reasons you write, isn’t it?
Here’s a sentence for you to try: Your mother's uncle wore army boots. Um...nope. How about: The cat jumped up on the table and started licking at the three layered chocolate cake. Or: The monkey decided peanut butter was the next best thing to bananas. I could come up with these all day. Then I wouldn’t have to do anything productive. . .
My favorite time to read is while driving my car.
No, I don't have a paperback novel perched atop my steering wheel, which, I’m frightened to say, I’ve seen plenty of people doing. Instead, I “read” audio books.
I have a long commute and I get a surprising amount of reading done while driving my car. My driving time is now my primary reading time. It’s even gotten to the point where I don’t mind my commute at all; in fact, I look forward to it. It’s amazing how many books I have audioread over the past couple of years while driving my car. (Yes, I made up the word audioread. I’m considering getting it trademarked.)
I also have an audio book playing in my car when I’m just bumming around town. Who needs to waste all that time listening to music when you could be getting some good quality reading time instead? I save listening to music for during my workday, when I can’t concentrate on listening to a story. I also find myself listening to background music when I write.
I’ve often been asked where I get my audio books, because they are generally much more expensive than print books.
I buy most of my audio books from eBay for discounted prices, but you can also sometimes find good deals on audio books at truck stops (where I often stop during my commute). Books stores will often have close-out prices on audio books they have had for awhile. I don’t usually buy the latest books that have just been released, unless they are my favorite writers. Audio books can also be checked out from the library, but I find that I like to keep them after I listen to them and most libraries frown heavily upon that.
So next time you get in your car, forget about listening to The Beach Boys, Celine Dion, Fiddy Cent, or Mariah Carey; instead, listen to Mark Twain, Nora Roberts, J. K. Rowling, or even Stephen King. Your mind will thank you.
And in the process, you just might find that your writing improves through increased reading, even if someone else is doing the actual reading and you’re just listening.
With "Reading While Driving" now mastered, I think I'm going to try "Writing While Driving."
Thursday, May 25, 2006
By C. L. Beck
Have you ever tried using a quill pen? I’ll admit, when it comes to tools of the trade, a writing instrument made from a feather is just half a step above the zucchini and Woolly Mammoth paint that I mentioned last time.
How in the world did we graduate from one to the other? Was there a prehistoric feathered pen that bridged the gap?
The mention of quill pens always makes me think of those pens you see at wedding receptions. You know—the ones that tickle your nose as you try to write with them. Ah, that’s it. That’s how the quill pen evolved. Grunt, the caveman, had a daughter getting married and needed a handy way for guests to sign the wedding rock register. He didn’t have time to mix paint, and zucchini wasn’t in season anyway, so he plucked a feather from a Pterodactyl.
That mental image reminds me of an incident when I was a teenager. No, I’m not that old. I didn’t pull a feather from a Pterodactyl; the incident was between my bird and cat.
The bird’s name was George, and he wasn’t very bright. He once bit my uncle, who was trying to teach him to whistle, and my uncle gave him an even more interesting name. It can’t be repeated in polite company, though, so you’ll have to use your imagination. When it finally dawned on us that ‘George’ was a misnomer, we nicknamed him something much more accurate—‘That Stupid Bird’.
The cat’s name was Oedipus Rex. It was a dignified, grand name for a cat that we later realized liked to leave his calling card on every bush in the yard. Since the name was obviously too grandiose for the mangy ol’ thing, we nicknamed him Eddie.
Eddie loved George-That-Stupid-Bird. He’d sit in front of the cage every day, admiring him. I suppose it didn’t matter to him that George wasn’t too bright; he’d watch the bird for hours on end.
One day I was in the other room and heard George kicking up a fuss. Since he neither whistled, nor sang, it seemed odd to hear him making noises. Pretty soon the sounds turned into raucous squawks and the slap of wings against metal bars.
Rushing into the room, I was greeted by feathers flying everywhere. Eddie was on top of the cage with a mouthful of George-That-Stupid-Bird’s tail feathers, tugging and pulling on the upside down bird in an effort to get him through the half-inch slats.
Apparently, it was not love that Eddie had on his mind all along. It was lunch.
At this point, you’re probably wondering what Eddie’s lunch has to do with quill pens. For a moment, I wondered that myself. Then it came to me.
Quill pens are made from feathers and before Eddie got a hold of him, George-That-Stupid-Bird actually had some. Parakeet feathers aside, most quill pens are made from the feather of a duck, goose, swan or pheasant. The feather is stripped back so the pen is comfortable to hold, the tip is sliced on an angle and the inner membrane is pulled out. Voila! What was once some cat’s lunch is now a finely tuned writing instrument. I will admit, in the interest of space, I may have glossed over the procedure. However, if you’d like to go online to http://www.regia.org/church/quills.htm you can find a handy diagram of the process.
The upside to the quill pen is that it was readily available. Fowl abounded in the quill pen era, and those who wanted a more high-class pen could even use a five-foot long peacock feather. Talk about something tickling your fancy.
The downside was that the pen didn’t have any ink. The writer had to dip the point into an inkwell, taking care not to overload the pen. It was good for three to seven letters and then had to be dipped again. At the rate of seven letters per dip, writing was a tedious process. The thought of that makes me more tolerant when my computer takes more than a microsecond to do what I want.
I must say that I’m not old enough to actually remember quill pens, or to have used one. The closest I ever came was a fountain pen, which was in vogue only as a novelty. I never mastered the thing. It left ink smears all over my fingers and ink blobs all over the paper—which Eddie promptly walked in on his way to entice George-That-Stupid-Bird to stick his tail feathers, once again, out of the cage.
The other day my husband paid me the nicest compliment. It wasn’t your average; “You look nice” compliment either. He could’ve said, “You’re the most beautiful woman in the world” or “You’re the best cook” or “The house looks perfect, you must’ve spent all day cleaning.” Okay, I admit those are all far from the truth. My house is never perfect; I only cook when I have to, and I believe beauty is internal.
What he said was much more meaningful, definitely more thoughtful, and spiked my ego in a way nothing else could. He said, “Your writing has really grown.”
A person who didn’t write might not understand the depth of this praise, but to me it was the ultimate flattery. I’ve been working toward writing professionally for over a year. I admit, it has been hard for me to subject myself to scrutiny from those I’m close to, but the one person whose opinion matters most just told me I’m getting better.
He went on to explain, “You were good when you started. With time you’ve become even better.”
His thoughts gave me cause to think to myself. What have I done to improve my writing in the past year? I made a list: I took some writing classes, attended writing conferences, read many books (including several books about writing), set daily writing goals and strive to keep them, and joined a writer’s group. All these things have helped me a great deal. Classes and conferences have taught me a lot, and I know the more I write, the better writer I will become. But joining the writer’s group has catapulted my confidence in my writing abilities into new and amazing places.
My friends love me enough to be brutal. They will pick apart every sentence I write as long as they need picking. They aren’t afraid to tell me when something doesn’t make sense, or sounds awkward, or just plain stinks. When one of them reads through one of my documents I fully expect it to come back to me with a rainbow of colored corrections. This is the best way to catch all the nitpicky things I couldn’t see for myself. I’ve discovered being nitpicky is the best way to get things done.
Thanks to my husband for his innocently poetic flattery. To all my friends at Authors Incognito, thanks for being the nitpicky, ink-wielding, brutally honest critic’s that you are. Because of you, my writing has grown.
Wednesday, May 24, 2006
Have you ever sat and pondered the true meaning of the word artist? They are creative people. Many creative achievements are born out of a passion. An artist has the gift to visualize or create something new. They realize there is always room for improvement.
Writers are artists. A writer can’t rest until they tell the story, a painter needs to put it on canvas, and a musician has to play or sing the song. An artist has a fire running through their veins, driving them to fulfill their dreams.
I’ve never been a painter, but I imagine they must be plagued with dreams of landscapes flashing before their eyes, or of a beautiful portrait they need to paint. The close-up details, proportions, realistic depictions, and interpretations must drive them until they know its right.
A musician has dreams with music floating in their head until they are able to write, play, or sing it. The hours they practice to reach perfection are many.
A writer fulfills their dreams by telling stories of fantasy, adventure, or romance in fiction or non-fiction form. It doesn’t matter if it is short or long. A writer needs to tell the story.
Sometimes writers eat, drink, and breathe writing. They each have a special niche where they fit. If they can write, they are happy. I don’t think writers are eccentric, irrational, undependable, or obnoxious. If they seem obsessed or preoccupied it’s because the writer in them can’t rest until they tell their story. They need to fulfill their dream so they can sleep!
Tuesday, May 23, 2006
We at LDS Writers Blogck have been plagued with questions about how to pronounce the word blogck. Well, okay, so nobody has asked yet, but we knew we’d get the question sooner or later, so we thought we'd provide a preemptive answer.
How do you pronounce the word blogck?
Well, honestly, we don’t know. It just looked cool to us. We never thought anybody would actually say it!
If you do find the uncontrollable urge to say the name of our blog, here are the two most obvious pronunciations:
1. With a silent g, as in “block.” That’s easy. You don’t pronounce the g in sign, through, gnome, gnash, foreigner, or reign. Why pronounce it in LDS Writers Blogck?
2. Saying both the g and the ck sound together, just like it’s spelled, as blog-ck, as in words like, um, well, I couldn’t think of any words like that. But you know, kind of like the word geek, but without the ee sound in the middle.
So why did we even use a made-up word like blogck? Because we’re writers. True creative writers are supposed to be able to make up our own words, right? And although we aren’t yet published authors, we are writers. Want some proof? Read our blog. We actually write this stuff ourselves. Impressed, aren’t you?
Blogck is a marriage of blog and block. We are writing a blog, hence the blog part, and we hope to be the “new LDS writers on the block” soon. We also liked the play on words of writers block, which we hope to avoid by writing this blog. We also wanted to show how creative we were so that when the LDS publishers received our submissions, that we could include a link to our blogck and the publishers would find themselves unable to send us a rejection notice.
See? Are we smart or what?
Monday, May 22, 2006
I'm making plans for major reconstructive surgery—-a process that is becoming familiar to me. I can see the changes in my mind's eye and know exactly how everything's going to look when I'm done. No, I haven't been in an accident and I'm not in need of a nose job. I'm not
even on a diet, well, maybe a little one.
I'm not the one that will look different when finished—my story is.
I picked up an old manuscriptlast week and began reviewing it. I'm changing a sentence here, a paragraph there, but mostly I'm making notes of the strengths and weaknesses. The margins are full of notes for new a subplot I'm adding and new circumstances I've put my character into.
This isn't the first major reconstruction I've done on this story, I think it's number three. I've haven't seen the manuscript in over a year and though I remember the basic storyline, there are surprises around every corner. I can't say the book is the best I've ever worked on, but it has potential to be so much more than it is.
You may say that editing isn't much like major surgery, but when it comes to my writing, I'm the best surgeon around—for my books. I'm the only one who can see the final picture the way it is supposed to be. No one but me can rewrite this story and get it exactly right,
because the book is mine. And while others who point out the story's strengths and weaknesses may have a big influence on the final product, it is still mine.
Over the past couple of years I have learned a lot about writing. I've had a professional editor bleed on a couple of my manuscripts, and a few critiques as well. I've gotten rejections from publishers. All of this has made it so I can look at my story a lot more objectively than I once did and I'm hoping it will make all the difference in the end.
Writing is a continual learning process. I've spoken to writers with multiple books in the market who say they still learn new things about writing with every new book, with every critique and with every class they sit in on. I will probably never know everything there is to know about writing, but every new page I write gets me closer to my eventual goal—getting the book published.
So I'll make notes to whittle and trim, reshape and redirect and when I get back to this book down the road—it is the fourth in a series with the first one about to get a final polish—I'll be ready to implement the ideas and make it the best story possible.
This surgery may not be physically painful, but I know in the end the emotional pain of rewriting will all be worth it.
Sunday, May 21, 2006
Today is the first Sabbath day without my Mother. It is a strange feeling. From this point on, my life is different.
I got published today. Well, in the newspaper, anyway. I wrote for the Lehi Free Press for two years, so this doesn't seem like a significant accomplishment, yet it is. It was one of the most important pieces of writing I have ever created, even though it was edited considerably for brevity after I finished it. That's okay, though. It's not creative writing. It's informative.
My Mother's obituary was published today in Utah County's Daily Herald newspaper. My daughter saw it and was surprised. She wanted to know how the newspaper got a picture of her grandmother.
I've cut and pasted the obituary as it appears in the Daily Herald this morning. It's not quite in the form that I wrote it, but editors never seem to leave your writing alone, anyway, so I guess that's okay.
Here's to you, mom! Thanks for being there.
Obituary for Fontella Howes Hunt, as it appears in today's Sunday Daily Herald newspaper:
Fontella Howes Hunt, age 69, lost her final battle with cancer and passed away in Pleasant Grove on May 17, 2006. She was born on June 21, 1936, in Marysvale, Utah, as the daughter of John Taylor Howes and Florence Norma Johnson Howes. She married G. David Hunt, of Roosevelt, Utah, on August 7, 1959, in the Logan Utah LDS Temple.
Fontella was a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and actively served in many ward positions. She and her husband, David, served two stake missions and a five-stake family history mission. She also served a full-time mission with her husband at Martin's Cove in Wyoming.
Fontella is survived by her husband, G. David Hunt, of Pleasant Grove; four children and spouses with twelve grandchildren: Darvell & Gayla Hunt, of Saratoga Springs; DeVere & Toni Hunt of Idaho Falls; Alene & Wayne Weakley of Pleasant Grove; Udell & Susan Hunt of Jackson, MI; her two sisters and brother: Shirley (Russell) Lee, Ogden; DeLyle (Leonard) Allsup, Orem; Roger (RuthAnna) Howes, Hinckley; and sister-in-law, Sandra Howes, Cedar City. She was preceded in death by her parents, brothers: Norman and Gerald, and three grandchildren: Kyler, Maygen, and Alexis Weakley.
Funeral services will be held Wednesday, May 24, 2006 at 11:00 am in the Timpanogos Third Ward Chapel, 520 N 400 E, Pleasant Grove. Family and friends may call Tuesday evening from 6-8 pm at Olpin Family Mortuary, 494 S 300 E, Pleasant Grove and at the church on Wednesday one hour prior to services.
Graveside services will be in the Cedarview Cemetery near Roosevelt, Utah at 5:00 pm.Condolences may be sent to the family at www.olpinfamilymortuary.com.
Daily Herald Obituary for Fontella Hunt.
Saturday, May 20, 2006
By Danyelle Ferguson
I first met Josi Kilpack at an LDStorymakers Conference two years ago. This petite blonde immediately caught my attention when she stood to speak and turned multiple shades of red. Since that day, I’ve attended many other meetings where Josi was the guest speaker and much to my disappointment, she doesn’t even turn the slightest bit pink anymore.
Josi’s inspiration to write came when she was on bed rest during her third pregnancy. Between overdosing on Lifetime Television for Women and reading every LDS novel she could get her hands on, Josi felt a desire to read more realistic LDS fiction. She said, “I personally don’t come from a perfect family and I haven’t always made the right choices. I wanted books about characters that weren’t perfect, that did make mistakes and then tried to make things better.”
What better to do with her time than write the type of novel she wanted to find in her hands? Now Josi’s seventh book, Unsung Lullaby, is getting ready to hit bookstores next week. “It just goes to show that the Lord knows us and He knows our potential and it is sometimes through life’s trials that we figure out who we are.”
For more Q&A, read on!
Q: Do you have any rituals you do before you start writing or while you write?
Josi: Does putting my laundry in and plugging in the crock pot count? I write in small snatches of time for the most part and don’t have time for rituals. I do, however, start with editing. I go over what I wrote the last time and clean it up. It not only revises what I’ve written, it also serves to get me oriented to where my story is at the time.
Q: How do you fit writing time into your schedule?
Josi: I try to write for at least an hour a day. If I’m feeling blocked, I shoot for just a half hour because it’s tortuous. I also grab ten minutes here and there throughout the day. If it’s playoff time in any sport involving the risk of bodily injury, my husband will watch the games and I’ll find some time to write after the kids are in bed. I tend to only write 4 or 5 days a week. The other days I’m crammed with other stuff but that gives me the chance to let ideas percolate so that when I sit down again I’m ready to go.
Q: What is the most difficult scene for you to write and why?
Josi: The end. I struggle with endings because I’ve worked so hard with the story and my endings never seem good enough. I sometimes write three or four versions. I’d prefer to blow everyone up—THE END, but I usually come up with something eventually. The single hardest scene for me to write on an emotional level, however, was in Earning Eternity when Kim says goodbye to her son who’s been on life support.
Q: What advice would you give to a parent trying to balance family, work and writing?
Josi: Keep your priorities straight, you can’t expect the Lord to smile on your writing if you neglect your family and/or work responsibilities, but if you keep life in the proper order the blessings and opportunities to write will come. Be willing to make trade offs and then just sit your butt in the chair and find your bliss. If that’s too hard—then don’t do it. The fact is we all have 24 hours in the day—that’s it. It just takes discipline.
Q: If you could pass on one gem of knowledge to other aspiring authors, what would it be?
Josi: Revise, Revise, Revise, Revise, Revise, Revise, Revise—oh wait, that’s seven gems of knowledge. Sorry. I do, however, feel that getting feedback and revising your manuscript is paramount. If you’re not willing to work it and work it and work it, then don’t expect an editor willing to publish it. There are rules to writing and they are there for a reason. Don’t become so arrogant about your talents that you ignore advice, that you set yourself to ‘prove them all wrong’. Be humble enough to accept other perspectives on your writing, but still confident enough to keep going.
Thank you for chatting with us, Josi. And good luck with your newest book, Unsung Lullaby.
To find out more about Josi and her books, please visit her website at www.josikilpack.com
Also, check out Josi’s blog at http://josikilpack.blogspot.com/
Friday, May 19, 2006
One of the LDStorymakers said at a conference last March, “You can never have too many writing books.” I know that must be true, so I’ve taken to collecting them. I wish I could say I’ve read all the books on writing I’ve been collecting, but I haven’t. I've read several, and they have given me many helpful tips. One of the best tips I’ve picked up is covered in every book I’ve read. I’m talking about clutter.
What is clutter? Superfluous words. Anything that doesn’t move your story forward, doesn’t add to it in some way could be considered clutter. For example: I had been seriously considering the amazingly satisfying idea of smacking that darn editor on the head with the stupidly impersonal rejection letter that he had sent, but I decided that it might not be such a perfectly great idea for me to do so.
At one point, I would have looked at that sentence and laughed. I doubt I would have found anything wrong with it, since every writer experiences similar feelings. However, after reading several of my stash of books, going to conferences, and critiquing others’ manuscripts I am willing to take a minute to use what I’ve learned and cut the clutter from that sentence in order to make it stronger. Here are my results:
I was considering smacking that editor on the head with the rejection letter he sent, but I decided it might not be a good idea.
This is the kind of editing that happens in EVERY manuscript. It must be picked apart, analyzed, scrutinized and then fixed. When editing this sentence, I was able to cut twenty out of forty-five words. In case your math is bad, that leaves twenty-five words. I cut nearly half of what was originally written, and the writing is stronger with the loss of the cut words. This is important when you’re trying to stay within a word limit.
Some of the most commonly used superfluous words are: that, had, of, so, enough, had been, up, such, very, and words ending in “ly”. Every time I go through one of my own manuscripts, I try to cut a few more of these words to tighten my story.
I hate cutting words from my beautiful manuscripts; it’s a little like giving a baby his first haircut. It breaks your heart when the scissors come out, but the end result makes him look so much better—unless you get one of the really bad haircutting people. In that case you may wish to take that person’s scissors to his or her own hair to return the favor. The good thing is if a fellow writer hacks your baby’s hair to unrecognizable bits, you don’t have to take his advice. Even if they try to rewrite your story it still belongs to you. You are the boss, and you alone can decide if a word is important or not.
I decided twenty out of forty-five words were unimportant, and by cutting them added emphasis and clarity to what I was trying to say.
That sentence is now much stronger. Not to mention a rule to live by. Hitting editors over the head with rejection letters could be considered bad writing etiquette, despite the satisfaction it might give you.
Thursday, May 18, 2006
By C. L. Beck
There's no doubt in my mind that early cavemen had their share of writers. Only a writer would be so driven to put his thoughts down for posterity that he'd write them on the walls. (Please don't even consider including people who write on public restroom walls in this category—although I'm sure their I.Q. is positively pre-historic.)
I've recently pondered the whole concept of early pictographs. What story lines were burning in pre-historic minds, waiting to be written? I'll bet they kept the writer tossing and turning on his stone bed at night.
What about writer's block? When my mind is bereft of ideas, staring at a small, blank computer screen puts it into permanent deadlock. Imagine the writer's block they got staring at a thirty-five foot, blank wall!
Today's writers have a number of genres to choose from, which makes you wonder what genre cave-dwellers favored. Judging from the writing on the walls, it was either self-help thrillers or zoo-keeping instructions.
Modern authors need to be aware of not only the mental picture their words create, but also, for the sake of editors, the format in which they're written. Did cave-dwellers have to use correct formatting as well? And what would that be, "Indent one rock; place one extra crack between pictographs"?
What about critiquing? I can see them now, getting together in little roaming bands that went from cave to cave, giving critiques. They'd use beet juice to make comments like, "Good job, Grunt. Your picto-story, 'The Saber-Toothed Tiger that Could' was great. You should have used a curly-q instead of a straight line in the second pictograph, though."
Lastly, we need to consider the matter of the pictograph paint. Research shows that early man mixed fat or blood with ground vegetable matter to create their ink.
That's interesting . . . fat, huh? The biggest fat thing in those days was the Wooly Mammoth and what writer would want to tangle with him to get a little blubber? I'm sure it was even harder to get him to donate blood. It does make one skeptical about the research.
Then again, you have to wonder what type of vegetable matter was around that long ago. Oh, I know. It could only be zucchini. In fact, before grinding it into ink they probably used the end of the summer, big as a baseball bat zucchini to club the Woolly Mammoth over the head and steal his fat.
I have to say, even though we have no way to know what the stories were really about, we should be grateful for those early writers. They've left behind a written history for us to ponder and set an example for writers of the future.
There is one other thing they should've done for us, however. They really should have warned us about that darn zucchini.
Recently, I overheard someone on a cell phone asking the person on the other end, “Where you at?” The woman speaking was well groomed and, as she was in the garden section of a home improvement store buying armloads of flowers, I assumed she was neither completely uneducated, nor living in a ghetto. So why, I wondered, had she sounded as if she was? And why was I wondering?
It was the way she spoke. Unfortunately, so many people in our country have become so accustomed to using slang they forget about basic sentence structure, as well as basic rules of grammar. Even more unfortunately, many people write the same way they speak.
People write all the time. In everyday living, and in a great many jobs, there is some amount of writing required. You don’t have to be a writer to write. Police officers write reports, construction workers write invoices and bids for jobs, fast food employees write assembly instructions and recipes. The mother who stays at home with her children must write notes to teachers, grocery lists, and instructions for the occasional babysitter. Everyone has written a letter. People write, no matter their professions.
Fortunately, when it comes to publication, editors require a higher standard of writing. I am so grateful for good grammar when I read a book that I find myself wanting to jump up and shout, “Hooray for editors!” When I do come across a poorly written piece, I throw it down and never look at it again.
As I sat in the office of some important people the other day, a man in his forties who has worked his way up the ladder to a respectable position in his profession said, “I ain’t gonna be the one to find it. Last time I seen it, so-and-so had it.”
I don’t know what he was looking for, and I don’t care. I couldn’t get past his grammar. How sad that his poor grammar stood out so badly that I will always associate him with bad speech. It left me wondering if he writes his work reports using the same language habits. I later found out he does, indeed.
You don’t have to have a college degree to use proper grammar, but using bad grammar is almost a sure sign that you don’t have one. Words, when used correctly, can be powerful tools for anyone in any profession. A person who is grammatically correct rarely stands out when speaking; the words become invisible in speech, as you would want them to in writing. However, a person who uses bad grammar distinguishes him or herself as uneducated or dimwitted, when they often are not. For example: A person who speaks of feelings but pronounces the word fillings. Another good one is a human being spoken as human bean. My all-time favorite was actually written in a place where many people had the misfortune of reading it. In reference to a chest of drawers was written the Chester drawers.
Maybe someday someone will invent a spelling and grammar check for the human brain. That way when we open our mouths, we can delete the not-so-smart sounding phrases that want to fly out. Fillings will be left in jelly doughnuts and teeth, human beans will be a great side dish, and Chester can keep his drawers to himself.
Wednesday, May 17, 2006
Did you know perfection can and will destroy you as a writer? When I start typing, the words on my computer screen rarely measure up to what is floating around in my head. Sometimes the gap is so enormous I give up writing for days. Other times, everything I write sounds like garbage and I feel like quitting.
Don’t quit! It's important to get the words from your head onto the screen. Remember you can fix what you write. Your first draft will not be perfect, but you have to plunge on and continue to write. Once you realize you have Perfection Syndrome decide you can beat it. Outline and plan your writing as long as you want, but at some point every day, you must write. As you sit to write, say to yourself, “no one will ever see this” then begin typing away.
Notice how you feel each day before you start writing and how you feel when you finish. You’ll feel better when you finish your writing than you did before you started. Set a target number of words that you’ll write each day. Some people say to write the entire story and then do the re-write. It doesn’t work for me–it’s not my style.
Your computer has many tools to help you as you write. Be sure to use the spelling and grammar checker and the thesaurus. Many times, I use them to check what the reading ease or grade level shows. I can increase the reading ease of my story by restructuring the sentences I write and the grade level by using the thesaurus to find words that are more difficult. It can actually be fun restructuring sentences. Find a sentence in your next story and see how many different ways you can write it. It’s good practice and you’ll be amazed at the results.
Since I love perfection, I also set aside time every day to make the things I write more readable. Sometimes I have an overwhelming urge to check my story sentence by sentence. Be careful you don’t catch Perfection Syndrome. Instead of striving for perfection, strive for excellence.
Tuesday, May 16, 2006
Your story is compelling, but it’s too wordy and has too many adverbs. Try rewriting it and then resubmit.
Have you ever received comments like this in a rejection letter? If you have, you are not alone. And if you did, congratulations are in order, because most rejections are mere form letters. Perhaps the only thing holding you back from becoming published is that your story has too much fat.
At the risk of sounding like I’m bragging, let me tell you that I’ve lost 25 pounds in the past 18 months. I now have more energy to do things and I feel much healthier. All it takes is a little self-discipline, a bit of exercise, and some dedicated dieting.
Stories need that, too. I believe your stories (and mine) will have much more energy and be more exciting if you remove all of the excess fat. Kill the -ly words, remove the extra adjectives and adverbs, and try to simplify your writing by saying the same thing in fewer words.
It’s hard to do. Just like losing fat pounds, it takes practice and consistency over a long period of time. The extra effort you give in forcing your stories to lose their excess weight will make your writing much healthier. I can guarantee the extra work you do in slimming your story will pay off in the quality of your writing. I can also guarantee the editors to which you submit your stories will notice your additional effort. I can’t guarantee, however, they will accept your story and publish it, although I wish I could, but I honestly believe your chances will be better.
I can’t yet fit into the pants I wore when I got married fifteen years ago, but I’m getting there. I’m slimming up and I’m getting healthier. So is my writing.
Monday, May 15, 2006
So you're walking down the street and overhear someone say the most unbelievably perfect thing. When I say perfect, what I mean is ridiculous, but completely real. Perfect for one of your books. Or maybe you are at a social event or family party and overhear a piece of gossip and think 'Wow, that would make a great book! But what if they read it and realized where I got the plot idea?'
Where do you draw the line?
I once warned my coworkers that nothing they said would be completely sacred, that if it worked, I could easily put it in a book some day. Then I had to reassure them that if I did, I would twist the circumstances enough that no one would figure out that it had originally come from them. This was after I heard someone in a store talking about not wanting to move to California because of the gun control laws. It seemed to me like one of those odd small-town, backwater things, though the guy speaking wasn't a redneck—just a lover of firearms. It only took about five seconds for me to know exactly where and how I was going to use the quote, I doubt he would ever realize I was using a variation of his two-dozen-word sentence, even if he did read LDS women's fiction. Which he certainly wouldn't.
Listening in on conversations may seem like bad manners, regardless of whether you have a choice or not in overhearing them, but it can also be a fountain of information of story ideas and plot twists. Real life is stranger than fiction, after all, and using it to your advantage is one thing a good writer does.
I have a file on my computer that I call my cookie jar. In it are little snippets of scenes that I came up with after seeing something downtown, things my nieces or nephews said or did, characters I run into on the street. These could be fodder for great scenes later on, or maybe they will spark an idea for a story down the road. If not, at least I had a good writing exercise.
On the other hand, if you're going to use a circumstance you overheard in your small-town grocery store line, it wouldn't hurt to make sure you twisted the situation enough that no one would recognize themselves when you publish your book. Especially if you haven't warned them in advance.
I know a man whom I want to use as a general outline for one of my characters someday. His life is completely mixed up and would work perfectly in the right situation. I doubt he would ever read my book, and if he did, he would certainly not recognize his behavior. If I ever use him in a story, I plan to twist the circumstances around him enough that very few people would realize who my inspiration was—if anyone.
That's what good fiction is about; it's why characters and events seem real, because writers take what they hear or see, give them a twist and breathe life into the story. When a reader opens a story and sees bits of themselves, they are more likely to keep reading.
Sunday, May 14, 2006
I realized today that my book has become a third child, but not just any child, oh no. This is a stubborn, time consuming, chest pounding, King Kong sized, tantrum throwing child that won’t let me eat or sleep without invading my thoughts and dreams. I can’t help but feel a little guilty sometimes. My baby takes up so much more time and energy than the rest of the family put together. It seems selfish to put one child above another.
So, how do we find a balance? My initial reaction is, “I don’t know, you tell me,” because this is something I’ve certainly struggled with. I am hardly an expert—but the image that comes to mind is that of a high-wire walker holding a long pole. Too much weight on one side and the pole tips. Too much force to compensate and down comes the walker.
I guess balancing our lives is much the same. Too much time writing and, oops, the family suffers. Overcompensate by becoming a supermom (or dad), and our writing and creative self fall. I don’t know about the rest of you, but if I’m not writing, I’m not happy. Life falls apart. I fall apart and my family takes the brunt of it.
If we can’t be supermom or superwriter, alone, how do we find the balance?
For me, it has meant turning my eyes heavenward. Everyone has different needs that will be answered by different solutions. What works for me may not work for anyone else, but thankfully, there is someone who knows all of our needs and will answer them if we but ask.
Balance? For me it means taking the time to sit with my family at dinner. It means writing while my children are at school or in bed, and taking them with me for errands. It means pulling myself away from my writing long enough to check on them every hour or so on the weekends, and taking time to put a puzzle together or play a quick video game. It means sharing my dreams with them, and making them part of the process.
There is where I find my balance. There is where I find my joy.
Saturday, May 13, 2006
By Danyelle Ferguson
Come one, come all . . .
Okay, let’s revise that statement—Come all published LDS authors!
LDS Writers Blogck staff writer Danyelle Ferguson (whew, that was long!) has been assigned the task of spotlighting LDS authors for her Saturday blogs.
When given the assignment, Mrs. Ferguson cringed, fell to her knees and begged to be reassigned. But to no avail. Her big mean boss-man, Mr. Hunt, has put his foot down.
Now she’s on the prowl with her magnifying glass out searching for the proverbial needle in the haystack—a published LDS author. Will she find the clues leading to these individuals? More importantly, will she find them in time to meet her weekly deadlines?
Perhaps you can help.
Email Danyelle Ferguson (Danyelle@FergusonAuthors.com). Give her your name, contact information, the date of when your next book is coming out (if applicable)—and most importantly, your consent to be interviewed.
Then keep tuned to the Saturday edition of LDS Writers Blogck to see if Mrs. Ferguson does indeed meet her deadlines . . .
LDS Writers Blogck (http://www.ldswritersblogck.blogspot.com)
Sponsored by AuthorsIncognito (http://www.authorsincognito.com)
Which is sponsored by LDStorymakers (http://www.ldstorymakers.com)
By Danyelle Ferguson
It’s that time of the year again. Sigh.
Yep, it’s Mother’s Day. You probably think I should be more excited. After all, I’m a mom, right? Oh yeah, it’s fun to get flowers and chocolate at church and I absolutely love having my kids jump on the bed early in the morning to wish me Happy Mommy’s day sprinkled with hugs and kisses.
But I hate the guilt.
What guilt? As if you other Mommy-Writers out there don’t know what I’m talking about. For you guys and mommies-to-be, let me clue you in. No matter what religion you are, Mother’s Day is one of the higher church attendance days of the year. In the LDS world, we have the privilege of sitting through not one, but three hours of listening to speakers drone on about the sanctity of motherhood and their perfect mothers who baked fresh bread every day, car-pooled all six kids to soccer, dance, and music lessons, cooked dinner every night, kept the house sparkling clean and still had time to listen to each of her children every single time they wanted to talk.
It all sounds so wonderful, doesn’t it? In my case, these perfect mothers are the complete opposite of who I am. For weeks following Mother’s Day, I feel guilty about every little thing I do that isn’t what Molly Mormon Mommy would do. Or at least I did until two years ago.
What a glorious day it was when my Relief Society president told us to stop beating ourselves up and stop feeling guilty for not being the same mom as someone else. We all have different talents and different personalities. Don’t worry if the laundry isn’t all done, if dinner’s not a three course meal. Don’t stress about not showering until after lunch or your kids are still running around in their pajamas at dinner time. Don’t get caught up in the cycle of perfectionism. Give yourself permission to enjoy life, enjoy being a mom, and enjoy becoming the daughter of God you’re meant to be.
Wow. Let me say that again—Wow! I don’t think you can even imagine the sighs of relief heard from fellow sisters that afternoon. That day changed my attitude in the struggle of Mom vs. Me. I learned to balance my responsibilities to both my family and to myself. How? Well, just keep on reading . . .
When each of my kids enters kindergarten, they get to choose one extra-curricular activity. My son chose horseback riding. My daughter chose dance. I don’t make them stick to it for years. If they want to try a different activity the next year, no problem! But I’m not going to run one child to three different activities and another to two. It not only makes our family life hectic, it would drive me crazy!
If you’ve had the opportunity to visit my house, you know first hand it’s not sparkling clean—unless our realtor just showed it. I only do two loads of laundry a day which means there’s always a growing pile in the laundry room. We eat out two days a week. When I do cook, it’s usually something in the crock-pot or a frozen meal popped into the oven. Every night we have family reading time. Homework gets done right after school before the TV goes on. We read our scriptures and say our prayers. Heck, we even sing primary songs while changing diapers. We’re a mad house of kids and young-at-heart adults who love to play chase, tickle, and laugh. Some people think we’re hyper-active, but really we just love having fun and being goofy.
And everyday, I schedule some “me time.”
I write while my kids are watching their favorite PBS or Disney programs. Then in the evening it’s a toss up between writing or taking a nice hot bubble bath and reading a good book.
Now, what does this have to do with your writing? Well, I’m not sure. I think I’m mostly just sharing my experiences so others don’t feel as guilty as I usually do on this one special day to celebrate our most valuable job—being mothers.
So as your Mother’s Day gift to yourself—throw out the guilt and enjoy your opportunity to both be a mother and a writer!
Happy Mother’s Day from all the LDS Writer’s Blogck Staff!
Friday, May 12, 2006
It’s a generally accepted fact that those who succeed in the entertainment industry often also succeed in getting a big head. Many people find it hard to remain humble when so many people tell them that they are absolutely amazing.
Fortunately, the members of our little blogging group don’t have that problem. (I mean the part about having a big head—we’re all absolutely amazing and we know it!)
I hope I never get to the point of getting a big head, even though the size of my gut is now disproportional to the size of my head and a bigger head might actually help. But that’s another topic for another day.
In order to promote a feeling of equalness (is that a word or did I just make it up?), my boss’s boss’s boss says that nobody in his organization is allowed to have a door on his or her office. What that means is that we all get cubicle offices—a trend that has been running rampant across this nation for decades like small pox did across the Native American population in some areas of the
My problem is that I work at a research facility off-site from the main part of the rest of the company. We have a small building with offices that have doors. After we recently hired a new employee, I found myself moving out of a room that I shared with one other employee into a room by myself. Curiously, there’s something that looks suspiciously like a door in one wall.
But it’s not a door. I have a hole in the wall with a swinging board in it, that’s all. I say that to keep my boss’s boss’s boss happy. I hope it works. (Crossing fingers.)
I plan to maintain such creative humility when my LDS book becomes a best seller. Then I can quit my job where I work with the swinging board in the wall and get a real writing office with a real door.
We all know the rules for critiquing other authors’ work; be honest, be thorough, and be kind. For some reason, people who have no problem with those rules have the worst time with the rules for the other half of the equation. And so, in the interest of equal opportunity, here are the rules for graciously accepting a critique.
Rules for the Critiqu-ee.
1. If someone points out something they disagree with, do not explain why it should be that way. There is one simple reason for this—you won’t get a chance to explain to your readers what you really meant. If you’re writing doesn’t make it clear, then you have failed in your attempt and the critiquer was correct to point it out to you. Bite your tongue and fix the problem.
2. Grammatical errors and typos are not negotiable—they are either correct or they are not. Content and style, however, are entirely subjective. Remember it is only opinion. Just because someone thinks one thing about a certain passage is no guarantee that any other person in the world will see it the same way. In fiction, your writing is your world, figuratively speaking, and yours to do with what you please—to a certain extent, at least. However, before you use this as a loophole, keep in mind that if several people tell you that paragraph 352 stinks, it’s generally a pretty good idea to revise said paragraph. If only one critique mentions it, then you can feel fairly safe invoking the ‘That’s your opinion’ clause.
3. Under no circumstances may you tell your critiquer to “sod off”, “go fly a kite”, or “take a long walk off a short pier”! A simple “thank you” will suffice, whether you like the critique or not. Then you can go home and rip all the pillows in the house to shreds. Or eat a bag of chocolate. Or hide in a corner and pout. Or all of the above, not necessarily in that order.
But sooner or later, there’s one thing you’re going to have to remember. You asked for it!
So now you got it. What you do with it, whether it gets put to good use or thrown in the pouty corner with all the shredded pillows, is entirely up to you.
4. Use it! Every point given deserves at least an obligatory look. Whether you ultimately decide to adjust or leave alone based on the critique, this is your golden opportunity to see your work through the eyes of a real, live reader. There is no book on writing that can give you that, no matter how complete and concise they are about the writing craft.
And you can bet, if you do buy a book on writing, that—long before it hit the shelf—that author had to accept a critique or two, just like you.
Thursday, May 11, 2006
My last blog had a statement that I’d like to follow up on: Life ain’t fair and Writers gotta write.
If life were fair, things would be different. All important phone calls would happen as we finish writing for the day, not as we start. We’d never have typos; our first draft would be perfect. There’d be no delete key on our keyboard.
Most of all, our mothers would be our biggest fans. They’d announce to the world how talented we are instead of making subtle comments like, “Why do you waste your time writing, when you could earn a decent living playing the Jet-Puffed Marshmallow Man? Why can’t you be like your brother, Bill, who plays the Pillsbury Dough Boy? He’s successful!”
(Okay, I’ll admit it—my mom never really made that comment. She’s never had the chance because I’ve never had the nerve to tell her that I write.)
Writers are an optimistic bunch. Either that or we’re brain dead, because no matter how unfair life is, no matter how many rejections we get, we still keep doing the same thing. Over and over again, we write. We’re driven to put words down on paper, no matter whether someone will ever buy them or not. We dream of the six figure contract, but until it comes we often write for free. Yes, you heard that correctly. A writer’s gotta write, and even if no one pays us, we just keep clicking that ol’ keyboard anyway.
Non-writers may think that makes us a candidate for psychotherapy and surely Freud would have had something interesting to say about it. Thank goodness he’s dead. No doubt it was his mother’s words that killed him. “Sigmund, why are you wasting your time analyzing minds, when you could be earning a decent living as a barber? Look at your brother, Otto, who designs bombs. He’s successful!”
Are you looking for a good story idea? Do you have the urge to write, but find yourself unable to decide what to write about? I recently found a pool of ideas, fiction and nonfiction, long stories and short, detailed and vague, floating around in strange places. I am talking about my family’s secrets.
Family history could sound like such a boring topic to me. Yes, these people are my ancestors, and need to be recognized, but do I really care how many wives my great-great-great-uncle Clyde had? Of course, I do. But I never used to. When I was a kid, I couldn’t have cared less. I saw my ancestors as people who were dead, gone, and six feet underground. So what if my brother was named after my great-great-grandmother’s dead brother who drowned in a river behind their log cabin? Really.
When I was young, if someone had told me that I was related to someone famous, someone who did something cool, like Jesse James, or Billy the Kid, that might have interested me. And if someone told me an amazing story about a man who was kidnapped on his way to work one winter morning, I might have listened. When they got to the part about a knife being held to his neck, I’d have kept listening. Then when they told me he was driven across two states, tied up, gagged, and left in the middle of the desert to die, I’d have been absolutely enthralled, wondering, “Boy, I sure hope he figures out how to escape from that mess.”
“That guy is cool,” I’d have thought.
Then I would have wanted to know more about him. No one can resist a compelling real-life story and I was no exception. If I’d known the story I was being told was for real, I’d have considered that pretty neat stuff. I would have thought it even better that I was related to such a brave person, and probably wished there was a movie about him, or at least a book.
Since I’m not a kid anymore, I’ve taken more of an interest in the stories of my ancestors. Okay, so maybe they’re not really family secrets, but they are hidden stories waiting to be told. And there are so many incredible things I never knew actually happened. For instance, did you know that in the sixties they didn’t have things like cordless phones and microwaves? How did people survive before computers and the Internet? And no home had more than one TV, which was okay, since there were only four channels.
Maybe if I write stories from the past, my own kids will want to read them and pass them on to their kids, who’ll pass them on to their kids, and so forth and so on. Who knows, maybe someday there will be a movie about that guy in the desert.
Wednesday, May 10, 2006
Okay. You're a writer. You’ve decided that there are stories within you that no one else can tell in quite the right way. You’ve accepted that people are going to think you’re crazy by spending hours at the computer typing madly on the keyboard. However, there’s one more thing you might want to consider.
Do you have a support system?
Most people would think I mean a writing or word processing system. "Do you have a computer?" they might ask, or "Do you have one with adequate RAM? How about the size of the hard drive?" Perhaps they think you mean a typewriter–yes they do still exist–or they think you’re talking about a laptop you carry around with you and start writing on the minute an idea grabs you.
Not at all.
I’m talking about people. I’m asking–who is your support system? Is it your family? I have to say, most people who write are treated much like the scripture “...a prophet hath no honor in his own country.” You’ve read in our blogs how many of us deal with mothers who think we have a nice hobby, or friends who think ‘that’s um, nice, but what else do you do?’. What is the hardest is when our own parents don’t support us. We long so much for their support and approval and when it’s not forthcoming, it makes everyone else’s approval a little less.
I am fortunate to have a husband that supports me in every way. Take today for example: I had a situation with my car (it’s one of those embarrassing stories) and ended up staying home from work. I paged my husband so he would know where I was and he immediately called me to confirm the page. When I told him that I was staying home, the first words out of his mouth were “You’re writing, right?”
How many of you have someone like that to back you up? Do you belong to a critique group? A writing club? Anything that will help support and encourage you to write? We’ve talked about what makes you write, how up and down the life of a writer is, but you also need a support group. A base from which to push yourself along. Someone who will help and encourage when those rejection letters come, reminding you that acceptance is just around the corner.
A writer will write, regardless of encouragement or laughter. What makes it so much sweeter is the help, strength and support of friends and family. Of course, a little chocolate doesn't hurt either...
You hop on board as you start your newest story. The ride begins as the story flows through your fingertips. Excitement fills your whole being as you climb the first hill. Reaching the summit, you begin to drop, catching speed as you descend. So far, it’s an incredible ride. Then the dreaded stumbling block hits. Writer’s block!
Self-doubt enters your head as you begin the next climb. Why are you doing this? The ride is smooth and then you are swooping down the next hill. There is a disorienting feeling of fear and joy all at once.
You are enjoying the variety of hills, and twisting turns as you fly up the next hill. Before plunging down you complete your story. Then you send your story to a critique group. Their comments come in as you round the next bend in the track. Some are favorable and you climb the next hill. Many comments are marked in red as you go down hill.
This non-stop adventure is leaving you breathless. You take the turns with relentless speed. Maybe this is what it feels like flying acrobatics in an airplane. At any rate, it creates a genuine flying sensation.
As you fly up the next hill, you’ve completed the revising and are ready to send your story on its way. Fear of rejection really sets in as you descend to the bottom again.
Being a writer, you must negotiate many varieties of emotional rides. Writers have many ups and downs in their life. You must admit the ride is all-out exhilarating from start to finish, and yes, it is worth it.
Tuesday, May 09, 2006
By Darvell Hunt
My mother would love to see my writing get published. Parents, especially moms, always love to brag about their kids and my mom is no different. But I’m discovering that being published isn’t all that it’s cracked up to be.
I will get a publishing credit in only a matter of days or possibly weeks because of my mother. And to be truthful, it’s some of the hardest writing I’ve ever done. My family—mostly my dad and my sister—has assigned me two writing tasks that I have been procrastinating because I don’t want to write them.
It’s hard to know what to say in a couple of paragraphs that accompany the last pleasant-looking photo of a loved one that will appear in the obituary section of the local newspaper. It’s also hard to pay tribute to your mother’s seventy years in ten to twenty minutes in front of your extended family and her circle of friends. What can you say to these people that will make any difference, when some of them have known your mother even longer than you have?
The Norsemen from the middle ages believed that writing, or runes, as they liked to call them, had actual magical power that the writer could wield by the mere act of writing. The ancient Egyptians believed that writing was so powerful that they could help preserve the souls of the dead by writing their names in stone.
So I ask, where is my power? What words can I write that will immortalize my mother’s life in the minds of those who hear me speak at her upcoming funeral? What phrase can express the feelings that I have in my heart as the cancer in her body grows and slowly squeezes the life from her?
I don’t doubt that it’s possible to express great power in my written words much like the ancient Egyptians did with hieroglyphs or the Nordic people did with runes.
I do believe that the words of my tribute already exist out there somewhere, yet I can’t manage to find them. It seems to me that all I have to do is figure out which words to use and in what order to place them. It sounds so simple.
Yet somehow, I seem to have discovered some form of writers block in this particular case. Ironic, isn’t it?
Monday, May 08, 2006
I work at my local library and this weekend we organized the annual Cinco de Mayo festival. Because of this, I found myself spending most of the day Friday making piñatas for sale, which left me with plenty of time to think. I came to a conclusion.
Writing a story is much like building a piñata.
First you have the balloon. This determines the shape of the piñata—will it be long and thin, round, and what size. The balloon is like the genre you are going to write in. In most cases a person writes the kind of story he or she most like to read.
Then you have the layers of newspaper and paste. This is like the story question or plot idea, it forms the basic ‘bones’ of your story, it is the structure which carries the whole story. Without it, the piñata wouldn’t hold its shape once it’s full of candy.
My piñatas were both round with cones sticking out each side, the cones are side plots that weave into the main story. Without these, the story would be boring, linear and a heck of a lot more simple to write, but certainly less interesting as well.
Then you add the layers of color. This is when you, as the writer, jump into the character’s head and let the reader understand them. It’s the description, both of what the character’s look like, but also their surroundings that give a sense of time and place in the story. It’s the banter of dialogue that tells so much more about what is going on than straight exposition ever could. Without this layer, you can’t keep the reader’s attention because it gives the story a three-dimensional feel.
If you remember to use all the layers, you end up with a great story that captivates. If you skip a step, like not making sure you have enough conflict or you forget the story idea halfway through, the story won’t stand on its own. This is akin to having the piñata burst open before the bat even touches it—anticlimactic.
When the story is all written you let someone critique it, or maybe rewrite it yourself, essentially smashing it to pieces before you put it back together even better than before. Too bad piñata’s don’t go back together looking nicer. Olé!
Sunday, May 07, 2006
I had a friend ask me last week how I created the “many layers” of my story and what my writing process was. My answer was this:
1 – Pray.
2 - Create the premise for the story—General outline.
3 - Create the characters. (I include pictures of the characters in this stage as well as "interview" them.)
4 – Pray.
5 - Do a general outline of the story—just the major scenes.
6 – Pray.
7 - Start writing. I do not do chapters. I just write as if it is one long story and put the chapter breaks in later. Each day I allow myself to read just enough of the previous chapter to put me back in the story and write from there.
8 – Pray.
9 - Keep repeating steps 7 and 8 as needed until the book is done, at which point Write becomes Edit. Step 8 always stays the same.
How many times do we sit down to write and forget that creation comes from The Creator? How often do we neglect to include Him in our creative projects?
This has been a hard learned lesson and is one that I still forget from time to time, but when applied it improves my writing more than any class or conference I’ve attended. The Spirit teaches, guides, and whispers not only to us, but through us and when we listen the lessons are priceless. Who are we to say which prayers are worth answering and which are not? The Lord says “Ask and ye shall receive, knock and it shall be opened unto you.” He doesn’t say, “Ask and if it’s important I’ll answer,” or “Ask and I’ll answer if you’re good enough.” He says “Ask and ye shall receive.” Period.
Isn’t it time that we took Him at his word? I have, and do you know what I got? A story. And not just any story but a great story. He listened and answered. I asked, I knocked, sometimes I even pounded and every single time he opened the door and answered.
Try it. You’ll be amazed by what you find.
Saturday, May 06, 2006
by Danyelle Ferguson
Have you ever wished one of your best friends was a character from a book?
One of the greatest compliments an author receives is when a reader identifies and loves the main character. But before a reader can love the character, the author first needs to give birth and raise their creation. In some ways, an author is like a god. We imagine the hero's good looks, qualities and faults. We create the heroine’s family, friends, history, and love interests. We bring them to life.
But how well do you really know your characters?
For example, have you ever filled out an employment application for her? These applications are full of important information like where she went to school, past jobs, references, home address, etc. While you're filling that out, think about what variety of jobs your character would both love and hate.
Or how about writing a college application essay from his point of view? If you're writing a book for youth, this is a fantastic way to develop your character's personality. How would a twelve-year-old from
When was the last time you charted out a four-generation family tree for you main characters? We are LDS after all--we should use any tools available. It's nice to know who Grandma is before your character gets into a conversation about her. When you take the time to flesh out these characters and how they influenced your character's life, you will spend much less time when you get to these types of scenes. Another bonus, is you don't break the flow of your writing!
One of my favorite things to do is to take my main characters and put them into situations in which they would never find themselves. For example, how would Jennifer, the heroine from my current novel Take Two, react if she went to bed one night and woke up to find herself in another time period? Or what if she came home from work one day to find her dead husband sitting on the couch with their six-year-old son? There are numberless situations to choose and each of them will help you get to know your characters in a new, intimate way.
Now, here's my challenge to you: Get back to your keyboard and write a scene that involves you meeting your main character at the grocery store. Your carts bump into each other and instead of just saying “Sorry,” and moving on, you find something in common. What will that something be and where will the conversation lead?
These techniques give your characters depth and personality. It also allows you as the author to have more confidence when you put the main character up in a tree and set it on fire! Have fun and enjoy getting to know your hero and heroine!
Friday, May 05, 2006
Your closest friends won’t tell you that you forgot to use your deodorant this morning; they also won’t tell you that your writing stinks, let alone tell you how to fix it. So what can you do to keep your readers from wrinkling their noses at your writing?
You have to find somebody who’s willing to rip your story to shreds.
I recently sent a short story of mine to a popular LDS writer for critiquing. The manuscript came back so marked up with a red pen that it looked like it was bleeding. Yet I was incredibly thankful.
She picked up things all throughout my story that needed attention. Just like the past two stories I had submitted to her, I expect this one will be much better once I have given her red comments the consideration they deserve. Much of what she said will prompt me to change something for the better. Other comments will be ignored because it’s my writing and I have the final say.
I recently read a blog post by this particular author about her red pen and I thought up this stupid pun:
A Red Pen Makes a Read Pen.
While I admit that this pun is a bit of a stretch, it’s still a valid truth. You need to have your work critiqued by an impartial evaluator—someone whose eyes aren’t tainted by your sense of pride in writing such an amazing story. If you seriously consider anything this person has to say about your story, your resulting work will improve and your readers will be waiting for more of the fruits or your pen.
The life of a writer can get lonely at times, since much of it is spent in solitary confinement in front of a computer screen—or if you’re old fashioned, a pen and a pad. If you expect to be a good writer, you have to allow somebody else into the picture—somebody with a good nose who’s willing to tell you that you stink. You also need to learn to ignore your pride a little and try to appreciate it when someone rips apart your beautiful writing.
Getting critiqued is kind of like getting a shot: yes, it’s a pain in the butt, but it’s for your own good.
There’s a saying, an old standby, that we’ve all heard.
“You make time for what you want to do.”
I beg to differ!
Sometimes, that simply is not true. Ask anyone who has ever worked 12 hour rotating shifts in a mine, pulled greenchain for 14 hours in a lumber mill, or worked three jobs to support a family of four on minimum wage. I’m sure they’ll agree with me. That old cliche is not always accurate. Not that I mean to play the devil’s advocate, but there is one simple fact that cannot be overlooked.
You cannot manufacture time.
All you get is twenty-four hours, seven days a week. No more, no less. Within that time frame lies everything that must be accomplished to live day to day. No matter how hard you try, there will always be something demanding your time and attention. And, unless you are one of the blessed few, the most crucial item on your list of priorities will probably not ever be your writing.
I’d like to thank Willard Boyd Gardner for bursting my little bubble on this particular subject. As a friend and I were rhapsodising about the day we could quit our respective jobs and write all we wanted to, he gave us some words of wisdom.
“You’ve got to realize,” he said, “it’s going to be a while before you can make a living by writing. You’re not going to be able to just quit your job right away. Probably not for years.”
Hardly the unbridled optimism I was hoping for, but still a well-placed reality adjustment.
Face it, Bill’s right.
You make time for what must be done; a career with a reliable paycheck, time for your family, food on the table and a roof overhead. It’s the reality of living. In the words of John Lennon, “Life is what happens to you while you’re busy making other plans.” In other words, no one should ever feel guilty for putting survival higher on the ‘must do’ list than writing.
However, there is a light at the end of the tunnel, and it’s a bright one. Unclaimed moments occur all over in between the pressing matters of everyday living, and they are time that we can borrow for what we want: to write!
As an example, do I absolutely need a hot lunch, when that few minutes waiting for the microwave in the break room could be spent writing? This is why I scribbled down the notes for this article while scarfing down cold macaroni and cheese. Two hours of my eleven hour workdays are spent in the car, time with nothing but me and Ford on the open road, where I can talk to myself, planning whole pages of dialogue and no one is there to think I’ve lost my mind for doing it.
So, despair not, O Writer with a full time job!
Just learn to like cold macaroni and cheese.
Thursday, May 04, 2006
The other day I sent an email to a large corporation regarding a problem I’d encountered with them. I’d love to tell you the company’s name, but if I do I’m liable to get the pants sued off me . . . and when it comes to that, my momma didn’t raise no dummy.
(It’s obvious after that last sentence that she didn’t raise me where they spoke decent English, either. *Big wave* to all my kin in the town of TwoSheep-And-A-DeadRooster, Oklahoma!)
But I digress. Just so that you’ll understand how it went, I’ve included the correspondence below.
I recently purchased a book on writing. I ordered it on the fifth of January, and you responded speedily with a note that you would ship within two days. Two weeks later, I checked the site and it said you would ship by the end of February. Now here it is May, and your site says you will ship by December. This is not acceptable. What do you suggest I do?
C. L. Beck
Lowly Customer, Aspiring Author
To their credit, the company sent a prompt reply:
Thanking y0u for your suggestions of some. Sorry to here of your problems WE send you a complimentary pack of prune juice. Also, we noticed you can cancel order but allow 18 years for money back guarantee-- If that not pleasing you, we suggest you to give book as Kwanzaa or Christmas gift.
D. L. Skwee
Vice President in Charge of Communications
Wow, the guy that wrote that email was a vice president? My razor-sharp brain told me that if I was just an unpublished writer and he was a corporate executive, the cosmic balance was out of whack.
I work hard at writing. Scrutinizing each sentence, I nitpick for grammar, formatting and content in hopes of correcting all mistakes and thereby convincing an editor to read past my first sentence.
I have to ask. With all this writing experience and attention to the finer details—niceties like spelling and punctuation that seem unimportant to Mr. Skwee—how come he’s a V.P. and I’m not? Where did I go wrong? How come no one ever told me I’d earn a lot more money doing something else? Think of the big bucks I could make selling used toothbrushes door to door, walking the ants in someone’s ant farm, or even painting parakeet toenails.
Face it; there are two truisms to mortal existence. Life ain’t fair and Writers gotta write.
That being said, I suppose I’ll forgo being a V.P. and keep on writing. Until the day comes that I’m on the best seller list, I’ll just have to be more innovative with the little bit of money that comes my way.
Oh, and speaking of money—that brings me back to the book that I ordered. I’m not going to wait eighteen years to get my money back. I’ve decided to give the book as a gift. After all, I’m sure my Jewish mother-in-law would love to get The Rules of Writing Mormon Fiction as a Christmas present.
Either that or I could send her the pack of prune juice.