Thursday, August 31, 2006
Lately I’ve learned the value of diversifying my work. I generally have several different projects going at once. In the spring, someone asked me how many “several” means, so I counted. At that time, several meant thirteen. I was almost overwhelmed by that large number. But these last few weeks as responses to my work have begun to show up in my mailbox, I’ve discovered there is virtue in diversity.
I recently finished my first middle grade novel and mailed it to an agent. During the summer, I also wrote several magazine stories and articles, and kept up on my weekly blog submissions—which has proved challenging for many of us. I have also done a great deal of research and begun working on my next big project. All the while, I’ve been jotting ideas down for future writing.
Sounds busy, doesn’t it? When I look at my ever-growing list of works-in-progress, I feel a great deal of pressure to get it all done, and I can’t seem to find the time to do it all. So everyday, when I have a few minutes set aside for writing, I look at my list and pick one thing to focus on for the day. I work on that project until I either run out of time or my eyes won’t focus anymore, and then I put it away. And I do it again the next day, and the next, and the next.
And the rewards? Last month I finished several projects all within a few days of each other. It felt good to stand in line at the post office with seven submission packets all packaged and ready to fly off into the world. Even better than sending out several submissions at once is getting several replies within days of each other. I admit, there have been rejections but—more importantly—there have been contracts.
As difficult as it has been to keep up with my many projects, I am beginning to reap the rewards. For instance, the timing of one particular contract last week was more than just a coincidence. I was sent a contract for one of the church magazines one day, and the very next day I received a book rejection. I have the distinct impression that the timing of the contract was of great importance. I believe it happened this way for a reason. I feel like it was the Lord’s way of softening the blow. Maybe it’s His way of telling me not to give up, that what I’m doing is real, and of value to Him. And I need to keep on trying—because if I do my best, and have faith, He’ll show me what I’m supposed to do next.
So even though I’ll keep writing every day, I’m not going to stress about whatever rejections or roadblocks come my way. I’ve decided to let Heavenly Father take the wheel for a while. Because when your eyes get blurry, and your knees begin to cramp, and about the time your rear end starts to fall asleep, it’s time to close your eyes and rest while someone else drives the car. He’ll make sure you get where you need to be.
Wednesday, August 30, 2006
Eyes have they, but they see not:
They have ears, but they hear not:
noses have they, but they smell not:
They have hands, but they handle not:
Have you ever finished writing a story, and then months later realized you left something out? I recently did this. I carefully described the things my character saw, heard, and touched, but now I realize although there were many occasions where I could have inserted the taste or smells of something I didn’t do it.
I know a good writer can skillfully transport the readers with the use of descriptions to the same place as the characters in the book. Readers want the characters to come to life. They don’t want to read about the world you've created, they want to see, hear, smell, touch and taste it. When you want to bring a story to life, you need to turn to your senses. They will describe the emotions and attitudes of your characters.
Concentrate on your choice of words so that your reader will have the illusion of actually being there. Then write about it in vivid detail using all five senses. To help yourself do this make a list of different words you can use, comparisons, metaphors, and similes you can make. Do this exercise anytime you come across a description in your writing that isn’t very exciting or is cliché.
I guess its back to the drawing board for me. Except I don’t draw or paint, I use words to describe the things I want my readers to see.
Saturday, August 26, 2006
Many of you have callings in your ward or stake. Some have more than one calling. Everyone has been called to be a parent, a child, or a brother or sister. I want to discuss a calling that LDS writers have but they may not know it.
Recently I was attending Sacrament meeting as several of the members of my ward were released and other members were called. Some of them were shifted from one job to another. A few of the positions were left open giving our Stake Presidency and Bishopric time to fill them. When this happens it is always an interesting time. There is much speculation in regard to who will be called to fill which position of authority.
While sitting there, it occurred to me that I wouldn’t be called to fill any of those vacancies. I heaved a great sigh of relief knowing that I wouldn’t be asked to step out of my comfort zone this time. Suddenly I had an epiphany. I realized that I was given a calling years ago.
As writers, it is natural to labor under the delusion that we will someday be another J.K. Rowling or Dan Brown. Many would like to be Mark Twain. But the truth is the odds are against us, and writing in the LDS market won’t net us the number of readers that J.K. Rowling has. In other words: Don’t quit your day job.
With that in mind, what is the purpose of the inspiration? Why are we awakened in the night by a concept that touches our hearts so much, we must write it?
In Paul’s second letter to Timothy he cautioned the young man to never be ashamed of his testimony and remember he had been called with an holy calling to do the work. 2 Timothy 1:8-9 Perhaps we can paraphrase that and have a little fun:
Be not therefore ashamed to be a writer for our Lord: Who hath saved us, and called us with An Holy Calling.
Many of us have been inspired to write. We have stories in our hearts that if told correctly, will touch the hearts of many with comfort and love. I suspect that those who have chosen to write in the LDS market were given a calling. Like many callings in the church, this calling is not easy. In fact, it can take time away from family and career. Magnifying this calling will leave you with a sense of fulfillment and joy.
Many of the published LDS authors not only write pearls of pleasure for those who have been touched by the spirit of which they were written, but the authors also speak at firesides and other venues, spreading the good news of the gospel. That description sounds like ‘An Holy Calling’ to me.
So there it is, I know that many of you will be published soon, if you haven’t already. I can think of no better way to make a living than to write good works that are not necessarily LDS doctrine, but good works for which you can be proud. When you cash that royalty check or get that rejection, you might consider that maybe . . . just maybe . . . You were called of God before the foundations of the world began. If the Lord decides to help us make a living at it, then that would just be icing on the cake.
Friday, August 25, 2006
or The Care and Feeding of Fictional Heroes
by W. L. Elliott
When I find myself screaming “real people would never do that!” I’m often reminded by my dear husband or friends that the people in the book aren’t real people –that’s why it’s called fiction. So before anyone else thinks the same snarky remark, I will simply say--when I am really into a book, those characters become real people. When the people in the story are well written, they are as "real" as any other person I might meet on the street downtown. When you take that away from me, it's almost traumatic.
With that in mind, what follows is a list of my personal pet peeves:
Not all heroes are tall, dark and handsome. Nor are all females stunningly georgeous, petite yet leggy, blondes. Sometimes people are just average looking. And you know what? That’s okay!
Not every hero who is out to save the world needs to travel great distances to do it! “Never confuse movement with action.” (Ernest Hemingway)
When having characters travel, please remember there are physiological limitations. Don’t have your caravan march out across the desert and never mention water. If they don’t get a chance to bathe, please keep in mind that they are going to smell in short order. Sometimes even fictional characters get tired and cranky. I’m sure the Donner party started out as a bunch of really nice people, but look what happened when they were deprived.
The terminator was a robot – not a human being! NO real person could be shot twenty three times and keep on going to save the day. Unless your hero is a superhero, or a robot, or the Energizer Bunny – he can’t just keep going, and going, and going.
Even horrible criminals have something likeable about them. That’s what makes their heinous side so shocking.
The most noble good guy in the world has at least one absolutely irritating habit that makes you want to slap him upside the head now and then.
And I can, from experience, guarantee that PMS will strike even the sweetest woman in the world.
DON’T MAKE YOUR CHARACTER AN IDIOT!! How many times have you been reading a book and practically thrown it across the room because the hero did something so stupid you hoped the book would hit him on the way to the wall? I have! (Put a dent in the wall, too.)
There is no excuse for using your hero’s stupidity to steer the plot, create further suspense, or anything else. I don’t mean every hero should be McGyver, building atom bombs out of toothpaste and an innertube. But give them the common sense to solve the problems that arise in a reasonably intelligent manner.
Real people don’t make bad decisions for the sake of word count.
My biggest pet peeve of all time is people who do something uncharacteristically dumb, usually getting themselves caught by the bad guy and complicating things. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard someone say, “they were so stupid, they deserved what they got!”.
A specific example is the famous Harry Potter. When given a chance to turn back time, with the opportunity to right thirty years of wrongs, he chose instead to let things remain as they were. It aggravated me so badly that I lost a large amount of respect for, and interest in, the Harry Potter series.
I realize that I am not the voice of expertise on the writing end, but I do speak from many years experience as a reader. And so I say, from one reader/writer to another, please don’t make me throw your book across the room. I don’t need any more dented drywall.
Wednesday, August 23, 2006
“If you have an apple and I have an apple and we exchange apples, then you and I will still each have one apple. But if you have an idea and I have an idea and we exchange these ideas, then each of us will have two ideas.” by George Bernard Shaw
This depicts the way I feel about my writer friends. When among friends I’m not afraid to share my ideas. Their plots or outlines are safe, and my thoughts and inspirations safe in our small group. They tell me if the picture isn’t clear or the story doesn’t make sense. My friends are always there to lend a helping hand.
Our goals are similar in purpose. We all want to become better writers. When you have a friend who is aiming for a similar objective, it’s easier to stay on target. I know when they correct my errors their intention is to help me achieve a better story. The knowledge they each have has helped me many times.
Sharing ideas with them has given me inspiration more than once. I can’t imagine keeping all my ideas inside my own head. That wouldn’t do anyone any good. I’d encourage each of you to share the ideas you have. The new idea you receive in return may be just what you are waiting for.
Saturday, August 19, 2006
Have you ever watched the look on someone’s face as you try to explain why you love to watch people? (Connie Hall did a wonderful job of explaining in her recent blog). Have you ever watched a person’s expression and thought of a whole scenario that will explain it? When you were a child, did you love to play make-believe? Did you ever look close at a clump of grass and see a whole world that exists below your feet?
Have you driven someone crazy by asking them questions about their area of expertise? Have you sat down to write for ten minutes before bed and suddenly realize that it’s 3:30 AM and you have to go to work in three hours? Have you skipped the second hour of church while you wrote down an idea you had during sacrament meeting?
If you answered yes to these questions chances are you look at life through a writer’s eyes. Now that you know about it I recommend you expand the talent God has given you and write down the story you created in your mind. The stories you created while playing make-believe will be great middle-grade fiction that will delight the teenager in us all. Think about that clump of grass and imagine you are traveling through Tolkien’s Mirkwood Forest. That little stick down there is a huge log that must be crossed. How is your character going to do it?
When you get to work after only three hours of sleep, remember that wonderful feeling you had when you were in "the zone". It was almost like when you spent hours digging in that dirt pile with your toy trucks. Or when you invented whole life stories for your Barbie and Ken or GI Joe and played them out to conclusion before bedtime.
If you are concerned that you have an illness or something and you just found out about it, don’t worry, you do . . . but it’s treatable . . . And there are support groups that will help you. Just associating with like-minded people will provide validation and education that will help you know that you are perfectly normal for a writer.
You will find that your writer’s eyes allow you to look at life and see things other people miss. Things that open up myriad of concepts, plot twists, character traits and sometimes whole stories, not only can be, but will be gleaned from a simple experience. Remember who gave you the talent and never abuse it. Keep your content clean and uplifting. Build others, the way Your Father in Heaven has helped you.
Friday, August 18, 2006
I work for a company that contracts out to the post office. We presort the mail in exchange for lower rates for our clients. In the course of a day, anywhere from 3000 to 15000 pieces of mail pass through my hands. Every piece is going somewhere, intended for someone to read.
The envelopes come in a rainbow of colors and sizes; white, blue, silver, black, orange, pink – you name it. They range from the standard number tens to great big bubble lined 20”x30”, I've even seen one made from elephant dung. But there is one thing they all have in common.
Every piece has a name attached.
Some names are short, some are long. Some are individuals, some are companies.
Names are fun!
I find myself flipping through mail and wondering about the people whose name I find on those envelopes. There are many good, useful names. Every once in a while, I find one that revs my creativity like a teenager waiting for the green light.
Here are some of my cache, golden results of an unlikely treasure hunt. (My apologies in advance if anyone sees their name here, and I hope you take it as a compliment if you do!)
Sherlock Whitlock (now THAT’S too good to pass up!)
Push-and-be-damned River (and Lodge) in Canada
Avalon (Street, Blvd, Court and Place)
Lost Dog, WY
Mud Lick, KY
Frisby On The Wreake, Leichester, England
LLANFAIRPWLLGWYNGYLLGOGERYCHWYRNDROBWLLLLANTYSILIOGOGOGOCH, Anglesy, Wales
I swear I am not making any of this up!
We writers aren’t the only creative ones, either. Recently, we did a large mailing to scrapbooking stores all over the US. Out of 700 plus addresses, these store names made me scramble for a pen and paper:
Tickled Ink (Montgomery, AL)
The Scrap Bucket (Plano, TX)
Crop Circle (Grand Haven, MI)
My personal favorite:
The Embossible Dream (Bremerton, WA)
All of this has me really thinking about two things:
Titles: Considering my book will have to share a shelf with many others, I want my title to be the one that someone just has to pick up. That’s what titles are – a mini-intro to the story within, an eye-catcher, a baited hook.
Pack-rats: We writers are pack-rats, just as bad as any quilter, crafter, or scrapbooker. We accumulate bits and pieces, words and phrases, like some people collect stamps! We rummage through the oddest places, like outgoing mail, to find our treasures—and it’s just as worthy a search as any antiquer’s hunt through a flea market!
Now, if you’ll excuse me, I’ve got to get my notebook and work on my collection... whoops, I mean, I've got to go to work!
Thursday, August 17, 2006
Last week our ward rented a nearby public pool for a private party. It was a busy day for me, and I hadn’t been able to squeeze in any time for writing. (This has become a hazard of summer for many of my writer friends.) The pool was open to the public until eight o’clock, so we didn’t get to go in until eight fifteen. My kids were excited, but I selfishly harbored secret hopes that the sky would open up and pour on us so the pool thing would have to be cancelled.
The party was going to cut into my writing time.
As luck would have it, the sky was a deep, clear blue with a few clouds, but not enough to generate a party-canceling storm. Drat. I really needed that time, as I had an idea swirling around in my head that desperately needed to be written out.
While my kids were loading my car with giant inflatable alligators, beach balls, and towels, a thought occurred to me. I might be able to get my writing done, and go to the party too. How? Well, it’s this little book filled with lined paper called a notebook. Usually, there are pages in this book that allow a person to write whatever comes to mind. A great invention, the notebook. I grabbed mine—complete with a ballpoint pen sticking out of the spiral rings—and headed to the party.
Before we were allowed in the pool, the ward had games and a picnic in the park. As my children played games and had root beer floats, I sat with my notebook and scribbled down my story.
Okay, I may have been considered anti-social by some of the ward members, but I decided it was a price I was willing to pay. I am, after all, a writer.
Once the story was released, I again had the ability to stand up and converse with some of my neighbors. It was the best kind of satisfaction to get that story out, even knowing I would have to go home and type it later.
I don’t always do that. Most of the time, I set up shop in my bedroom. I spread out my essentials—dictionary, thesaurus, research pages, notes, etc.—pile a few pillows behind my back, open my laptop and go at it for as long as I can stay in one position. That is where I do my best work, and where I generally write.
But—as I discovered at the party—I can be diverse. That story I wrote was a great rough draft. So the other day, knowing I had a deadline and a busy summer Saturday ahead of me, I threw my laptop in my bag and toted it along. With one eye I watched my son play soccer, and with the other, I roughed out an article I needed to finish. Again, not the perfect mom, but I was able to watch all three of my children’s soccer games, write an article, and still make it to my grandfather’s seventy-fifth birthday party that evening.
I squeezed it in. That’s what we do. When life becomes too hectic or crazy for our solitary craft, we find a way to come up with the time. Sometimes that means writing on a napkin in a restaurant during your lunch break, or on the back of an envelope in your car waiting to taxi your kids to and fro. Maybe it means giving up sleep one night while you stay up until two in the morning pounding away at a keyboard writing a blog that’s been in your head all day. I have been known to do all these things, and my writing has become better because I’ve made the time to write every day.
Where do you write?
It’s all a matter of perspective. A true writer can write anywhere, learning to block out the distractions of the world and siphon those thoughts onto whatever surface is handy. I am learning to write wherever I can.
Wednesday, August 16, 2006
I traveled to a land far away to visit the homeland of my heroes, to walk in their footsteps and see the things they left behind. This new experience will help me as I write their stories. Many of my ancestors left England searching for religious freedom.
Walking down the same paths they left behind did give me a new perspective. There is nothing as good as seeing the scenes with my own eyes. I was grateful for the few days we left the normal touring road and went in search of the small villages where my ancestors were born. Most of the older thatched roof homes were gone, but the churches where they were christened still stood solid. We found the church and graveyard in Henlow where one of my Mayflower Pilgrim ancestors Henry Sampson left as a young lad in the early 1600’s.
My most treasured morning was the one spent in Tisbury at the St. John church where my great- great grandfather Thomas Mayhew of Martha’s Vineyard was christened as a baby in 1593. We were blessed to have the parson approach us and inquire why we were there. He assured us that the church we were looking at did indeed date back to the 1500’s. After visiting for several minutes outside he invited us in saying, “I have something inside I would like to show you.”
Once inside he proceeded to a narrow door, which he opened. He had us look up a worn stone staircase. “The priest use to climb these stairs every night to the tower to spend the night,” he told us.
The doorway was tiny, not as wide or tall as those built today. The steps were solid stone and extended up to a room above. The center of the steps was worn down almost to the step below while the outside of the steps were as firm and tall as the day they were built. He showed us the oldest sections of the church and then excused himself to go about his business telling us, “Take all the pictures you would like.”
We visited other sites where our ancestors had a large part in the history of England such as Raby Castle, Bernard Castle, Warwick Castle, Chepstow Castle (in Wales), Wentworth Manor House, and the Tower of London. Going from village to village, we found the old churches in Scrooby, Grantham, St. Faith, Horstead, Caltishall, Wroxham, Sailhouse, Arsley, Wymondham, Dinton, Woodbastwick, and Attleborough.
This trip gave me a great appreciation for those who came before me as I walked in their footsteps. Unlike my ancestors, I arrived in America to a husband waiting to take me back to my home while they had no home or family to greet them. Because of my ancestors, I am blessed to live in this great land America.
Sunday, August 13, 2006
There are distinct advantages to writing for the LDS market—ones that I’m eternally grateful for. See, there’s one right there. I can say I’m eternally grateful for something and no one thinks I’m weird.
Another benefit is that I don’t have to make up new names for things pertaining to the next life. If I want my character to die and go to the celestial kingdom, I don’t have to send him to ‘the happy hunting ground’. If his cat dies, I don’t have to send it to ‘the great litter box in the sky’. Without a smitch of worry about political correctness, I can just ship them off to heaven and be done with it.
In addition, I don’t have to fret that my characters are going to let their hormones carry them away and I’ll have to describe a graphic sex scene. It’s not that Latter Day Saints are prudes; I believe most LDS adults know about the birds and bees. I’m just eternally grateful that they aren’t interested in reading about them. (Ooo, ‘eternally grateful’. I just got to use that phrase again.)
I love it when my characters want to be married in the temple, and I don’t have to go into a lengthy explanation about it. Nor do I have to explain that baptism for the dead does not mean that we’ve put sprinklers in the graveyard. Any Latter Day Saint who reads my work understands that we do not baptize dead people in the flesh (or non-flesh, as the case would be), but by proxy. I don’t even have to explain that big word ‘proxy’ in my stories.
Then, too, there is the matter of swear words. I love being able to have my character say, “Oh my heck!” when he trips over a rock—precipitating a fall off the cliff— and is caught by his belt loops by a tree root just before he splats at the bottom of the canyon. None of the LDS would think I’m odd, immature, or just plain strange for saying ‘Oh my heck’. In everyday life they all use words like darn, shucks, scrud, flip, fetch, oh my land, and crap.
Oops. Crap. Is ‘crap’ a swear word? Can I use that one? I’ve never quite figured it out, since I do know of active Latter Day Saints who use it. Perhaps it’s a quasi-swear word, like doo-doo. I’m never quite sure on that one either.
It doesn’t matter, though. I’ve got an out. If I have a mean, rotten, low-down-skunk of a character who wants to swear up a blue streak, I can simply use ellipses in place of the words. Bless their hearts; the Saints understand what those little dots mean without making me actually type out the words.
Every pancake has its flip side, and there is one to being an LDS writer. We do have to be careful how we address sensitive subjects like unwed pregnancy, drugs, abortion and abuse. Being careful is a small price to pay, however, for the swearing we don’t have to use and the sex scenes we never have to portray.
Oh my heck, yes.
Saturday, August 12, 2006
Have you ever wondered what happily ever after means? In the old days, stories always ended with "And they lived happily ever after". Or for the not so imaginative was the plain old, "The end".
I am about two weeks away from finishing the final edit before submitting my manuscript to a publisher. (Give or take a few weeks.) I have been living with this particular manuscript and the characters therein, for about 10 years.
When I started writing I had the whole concept in my head. I knew how it would end and I knew where it would go. I was wrong! I soon found out about plot holes and character dictation. The book I wrote is a pretty good mystery story but I didn’t submit it. Fifteen years later, I’m glad I didn’t.
Over the years, I have learned what good writing is and what it isn’t. That first story is a good story but not well written. I have plans to rewrite it and hopefully turn it into a thriller but I have many other projects in different stages of development and I’m not sure which characters will want their story told first.
The book I am finishing has been submitted and rejected before. But then . . . it’s really not the same book. After the first rejection I rewrote it. After the second rejection, I began to get help. I felt that it was a good story, and I felt I had some talent. I knew I lacked the knowledge that wise old authors have, so I consulted with them. I found their books in the library and let them teach me.
From Sol Stein I learned how to capture a reader in the first sentence and keep their attention at the end of a chapter. There were many lessons learned from him and others. Of all the lessons I learned, perhaps the most important lesson was realizing that I look at life "through a writer’s eyes". I discovered obvious flaws in my writing and I got to work correcting it.
I have been associating with good people who want to write in the LDS market and they have been teaching me volumes. They force me to relearn lessons I should have learned before.
Now I feel the book is ready. It’s basically the same story I started with but it has evolved. The characters have asserted themselves and they have grown. They are living "ever after". Not necessarily happily, but ever after just the same. And I cannot bring myself to write "the end" because I know it’s not. The story will begin again every time someone turns to page one and begins to read. My characters WILL live ever after, sometimes sadly, but then, it all turns out OK, in the end.
My husband is to blame for this article.
Let me give you some insight. Fred is a bus driver in the Salt Lake City metropolitan area. On any given day he deals with literally hundreds of people; loud mouthed drunks, demanding customers who become irate when the bus doesn’t serve as their personal taxi, along with the ones who try with all their cunning to avoid paying the $1.50 fare. He daily puts up with discourteous drivers around him on the road, the most regular being the “cut off and flip off”, usually used by sports car owners who think that a 40-foot bus should be perfectly able to stop on a dime.
After a particularly hard day at work last week, he disgustedly said to me:
“You should write about treating people like human beings!”
At first I dismissed it because it wasn’t about writing, but the longer I thought about it the more I realized it most certainly does pertain.
Riding the bus is a unique experience, and if you have the chance to spend an afternoon people watching, this is the best place to do it. Watch how people react to and interact with the driver. You can tell a lot about people by the way they treat those in the service industry.
Which brings me to the real point: treating your characters like human beings.
All human beings, unless they’re gurus tucked away on a mountaintop, have to interact with other people. It is such a common occurrence that we scarcely take notice of it, but it is an ingrained part of who we are.
As such, it should also be an ingrained part of your characters.
For instance, after a delicious dinner in a fancy restaurant, your hero and his lovely assistant decide that it’s time to go. He calls out “Check please!” Then what? How does he treat the waiter that brings the check? He could be very pleasant, or he could take the opportunity to grouse loudly about every item on the menu and how poor the service was. We will never meet that waiter again in this book or any other, but how does the interaction with your hero leave him feeling?
And what does this seemingly unimportant interlude tell your readers about your character?
If your hero had to take the bus, and ended up on my husband’s route, what would I hear about him when Fred got home that night? Would I like him, or think he was a rude, undignified idiot?
On the flip side—how are your characters affected by the people they interact with? Was your hero’s evening ruined because the waiter was an annoying so-and-so? Or did it go so well, with the waiters attentive service, that his lovely assistant agreed to marry your hero right there in the restaurant?
Now, I don’t expect anyone to go into raptures about the waiter at the restaurant when what we really need to know is Joe proposed, and Mary accepted, and it was all very romantic. But somewhere in-between the lines, I would like to imagine that the very nice waiter went home and told his sweet wife all about this lovely couple that came into the restaurant that evening, got engaged, were very happy when they left, and made his own night very pleasant indeed. Those unspoken depths are what make the story full and satisfying.
Oh, and one more thing…
Did your hero leave a tip?
Thursday, August 10, 2006
Most mothers absolutely dread back to school shopping. Okay, I admit I could do without dragging my kids through the mall for shirts, pants, shoes, and underwear. But about mid-July when the school-supply ads come out, I am there. Well, maybe not right there, but I want to be there.
There is something comforting about being surrounded by notebooks and pens, pencil sharpeners and scented erasers. It must be the writer in me that is addicted to binders and folders and note-cards. I find myself walking through the aisles—before ever receiving lists of what the teachers are requiring—filling a cart full of all the things we can’t live without.
I convince myself that we really do need four packages of markers, six to eight boxes of colored pencils, and no less than twenty glue sticks. I find myself buying packages of pens—one in every color—and four different kinds of pencils. Did I mention notebooks? I can’t walk away with less than twenty or thirty. They’re a bargain at ten cents each. And paperclips. A box in every size.
Before I’ve finished the second aisle, I’ve practically filled my cart with back-to-school bargains. And then, when I think I’ve seen everything, I walk around the corner and see the backpacks, desk sitters, and locker organizers.
Once I get home, I cram it all in a basket in the linen closet—next to the leftovers from last year’s shopping binge—while I promise myself that someday, I’ll have a real office. Someday, I’ll have a desk with room to spread my notes out on, a row of filing cabinets to hold all my writing files, and a bookshelf that goes from floor to ceiling. I’ll fill my bookshelf with all the novels I’ve written, leaving a little room for the works of my author friends.
When I have my own office, I will have drawers and shelves for all the office supplies I buy at back-to-school. For now, all those pens and notebooks and binders will have to live in the basket in my closet. And my office will continue to double as the place where I sleep at night. But someday….
Today, I buy office supplies. Tomorrow, or next month or next year, I’ll have an office to put them in. And in two weeks, my kids will have everything they need—more than they need—to go back to school. Again.
Wednesday, August 09, 2006
Most of my mother’s family lived in Spanish Fork, Utah and it was no surprise that when I was a young girl of about 10 we moved back to the town of my birth. During my teen years, I became aware that every Saturday morning an aunt and uncle drove their car to town and parked on Main Street where they watched all the people coming to town. I remember as a young girl snickering about someone who would do such a silly thing.
The older I get I find myself doing the same thing I use to poke fun at them for. I don’t go to the extreme my aunt and uncle did, but still I spend time watching people. I have learned you discover many interesting things about people if you take the time to observe them.
During my recent trip to England, I had the best opportunity I’ve ever encountered to watch people. After spending an entire day touring London we caught the underground that took us to Victoria Station so we could catch a train to East Grinstead where we were staying. We missed our train by only a few minutes so had almost an entire hour with nothing to do. The only available seat was a cement slab in front of the gate that some of the people would be going through to reach their train. Above my head were the departure signs.
This was a perfect setting. The expressions on the people’s faces as they studied or scanned the sign were priceless. Some of them would squint, while other looked wide-eyed, many scratched their head or their nose. Several talked on their phone while others were eating. A number of people rushed by hardly looking at the sign above, and others ran as though their life depended on catching the train. I saw expressions of puzzlement, relief, and horror filling the many faces.
One dear woman stood for a long time looking at her watch, then the sign, and then her watch. She did this over, and over again, looking puzzled. Finally, as though a light turned on she quickly hurried through the gate.
My favorite person was a young man with brown hair standing straight up, glasses upon his nose, and a bag slung over his shoulder. He stood with a thumb in his pants pocket, and his forehead wrinkled as he stood staring up at the sign. I couldn’t tell he was even reading anything because he just stood there as still as a statue.
Next time I watch people I’m going to locate another perfect setting. I discovered the setting is an important part of the watching.
Tuesday, August 08, 2006
Time. We never seem to have enough of it, but every one of us has all there is. What we make of our lives depends on how we use those limited bits of time.
Some people say they don't have time to write. Others say they don't have time to read. Since I have a very limited amount of time, just like everyone else, I'm writing this blog entry to be short, so the time for me to write it is short and the time for you to read it is short.
Since it didn't take too long for you to read this, you can now make use of the rest of the time you would have spent reading this in doing something else. If you're a writer (aren't we all wruters in some capacity?) then go write. If you're a reader (and you better be!), then go read.
Saturday, August 05, 2006
Years ago, while serving a mission, I heard a sister missionary say that she loved when things got hard and she was persecuted because it always meant there were tremendous blessings on the way. In other words the trials brought blessings.
I have been noticing lately that many of my writer friends are having trouble. Something comes along that takes them away from their writing. It usually comes in the form of life and time spent with the family but sometimes it is more severe.
We all know that trials are part of life, but those trials can persuade us to curtail the tranquility we achieve while we write. So not writing can cause more stress than the original trial. I have heard it said that writing is life for the writer. I believe that everyone who has ever had a character come alive will agree with that.
If our writing is necessary for survival, then it only makes sense to suspect that some of our trials are designed to keep us away from our life’s blood. Of course we can also remember the teachings found in Ether 12. Moroni was giving a lesson on faith and said: For ye receive no witness (or blessing) until after the trial of your faith.
I have a friend that recently experienced this kind of trial and she gave me permission to use her experiences in a blog. She was called as camp director one week before girl’s camp. It took three weeks. One to prepare, one to camp, one to clean up. Then her son got baptized and you know how that takes your attention. Then was her anniversary, a huge ward party, a 4th of July breakfast, all of which she was in charge of. Then that night, her sons almost burned down the house while playing with matches. Thankfully everyone was OK. Then there was a four-day family reunion that she was in charge of. On top of that she got stuck and wrecked her van.
All of that is interesting when you consider that she is waiting for word from a publisher about the novel she sent. Eight weeks and counting. Of course she may have gotten word or a rejection even as we speak, but the point is that we should give the Lord a chance to bless us.
I, for one need to hold to the promise and remember another quote: That which does not kill us will only make us stronger. I hope I can always remember the sincerity of that sister missionary when she told us how happy she was to have trials.
Friday, August 04, 2006
by W. L. Elliott
Several current computer programs have what is called a “skin”, which is a fancy way of saying that you can change the way they look on your computer screen. The program still runs the same, it just looks different. It’s not really a skin, though, I’d call it more of a change of clothes.
People are like that, we change our clothes once or twice a day. It doesn’t affect the person we are, but it can widely affect our attitude and our self-view. It is actually proven fact that employees who wear business clothes will act in a more businesslike manner. Casual clothing results in a more relaxed, less formal atmosphere. Ask any woman who has ever dressed up, I mean really up, and she will tell you how elegant and sophisticated she feels. More than that, other people will treat her with greater care and respect than a woman who is ‘dressed down’. Men will open doors, waiters and waitresses will respond quicker, and salespeople will be much more attentive to a person who is dressed nicely than a person who is dressed casually. Dress sloppily and you can kiss you chance at attentive service pretty much goodbye.
So what does this have to do with writing?
We write characters. Characters are people. Well, usually. People have feelings about themselves – but do our characters?
Characterization is 99.44% of your story. Okay, I borrowed that number from Ivory soap, but your characters really are the important part of writing. What good would a plot be with no one to live it?
Everyone has heard that old cliché—“walk a mile in someone else’s shoes”. But how many of us have ever really tried it?
The next time you have a character that needs fleshing out, I suggest doing just that. Does your hero need some fine-tuning? Put on his shoes. Followed by his pants, and his shirt, and his hat if he wears one. Is she a high powered business executive? Put on that black suit, stockings and sensible pumps and go to your office (even if it is only your kitchen table) to write your next scene. Is your knight having trouble saving the damsel in distress? Costume shops have a wide variety of great rentals (don’t try this in October), you may find the rental cost is worth the investment in research payback.
I, personally, love this trick of the trade, and have found it a powerful tool in building my characters.
Me? I have a green, full-length skirt and a white peasant blouse with sheer, flowing sleeves. Given any chance, I will put them on and go run through the grass barefoot. They make me feel poetic. They make me feel primitive. They made me feel like Rowena. In those clothes, I could feel what she would feel, a gypsy walking into a castle. The skirt swished around my ankles as I walked across the cold stone floor, and…
Sorry, sorry. I get carried away when I walk in someone else’s shoes.
But then, that’s a good thing, isn’t it?
Thursday, August 03, 2006
In the world of working adults, there are many professions that require a uniform of some kind. From suit and tie white-collar business people, to vest-wearing Wal-mart workers, to matching t-shirt and slacks small business employees, or full out head to toe fire gear, people wear different things for different jobs. Even the Dog-On-A-Stick employees who wear rainbow-striped shirts are never seen without the matching hat. It’s part of the uniform.
Writers have a uniform of sorts too. It’s called comfort. Comfort comes in many shapes and sizes, many different levels and tastes. One writer may choose to write in his Sunday best, because wearing a collar and tie help give him the comfort that he is doing something important. Another writer may work in her work-out-wear; because she figures writing is exercise for the brain. Someone else may sit down to his computer in a swimsuit, hoping to keep from drowning in his own words.
Being comfortable while writing is important. It eliminates one of the big distractions of getting started. I need that help, since the blank page is distracting and intimidating all by itself.
The good thing about writing from home is that your boss (the almighty publisher) doesn’t get to see your writing uniform. They will never know that you wrote your most brilliant book in your Spongebob Squarepants pajamas, or your grandmother’s hand-me-down housedress. If you jumped out of the shower, with shampoo in your hair and soap on your back and started writing in nothing but your bath towel because you finally figured out what comes next in your story, the publisher will never know that either.
When you look at the writer profile on the back of a book, you will likely see a distinguished looking figure, dressed in a suit—or something equally distinguished and smart-looking—with a perfectly calm expression on his or her face. Readers mostly believe—without thinking much about it—that this writer got out of bed every morning, dressed himself in that particular suit, arranged his face in that exact expression, and sat down for eight hours of hacking away at the keys of a word processor.
We writers know that this belief is a fallacy.
That distinguished looking writer probably wrote this story—all twenty-five drafts of it—in his underwear in the middle of the night, while chowing down on M&M’s and soda pop. His hair spiked out in every direction from the fingers constantly run through it, his face rough with stubble from lack of a razor, and he smelled like he hadn’t seen a shower in three days—or more.
But when the book was published the picture on the cover looked classy and admirable. So classy that readers who pick up the book look at it and think to themselves, “Gee, I wish I could be as cool as that guy.”
That is the beauty of what we do. Every day when we sit down to write, we get to decide what our uniform is going to be. Kind of makes you wonder what I was wearing when I wrote this blog, doesn’t it?
Wednesday, August 02, 2006
Do you search for unnecessary words in your stories? I haven’t always taken the time to look for words I know I shouldn’t use, but now I realize it’s an essential part of writing.
I can’t believe how much smoother my story sounds without the extra words. If I take time to search for the weak modifiers–just, so, such, very, really, even, at all, anyway, some and all the words ending in ly, my story moves faster. How could I be so dumb to think I write good enough that I don’t have to do a search?
Another thing I do frequently is over use some of the verbs–come, go, went, get, said, look, shouted and laughed. I don’t usually have trouble with superfluous beginnings. For some reason I learned to not use them.
I still have trouble with the hedging words–usually, probably, maybe, rather, fairly, perhaps, sort of, kind of, somewhat, quite, a little, look, seem, and almost. When I take the time to search for them and use my delete key or a different word my story flows better.
There is a list of taboo words such as–has, had, is, are, was, were, be, been, a lot, and really. I can get rid of many of them, but others have to stay. Rewriting sentences to make the story flow smooth can be fun. Since I started to hunt for unnecessary words, my writing has improved. I find myself immediately going back and deleting words such as just, very, and words ending in ‘ly’.
The one thing I’ve learned is “I’m not the best I can be yet.” I hope someday I will be a better writer. Rules are broken every time I pick up a book to read. How do they get their book published? I don’t know, but if I’m going to make it, I want my book to be good. That means I have to search for all the no-no words.