Sunday, April 30, 2006
Every day I wake up and face two important duties. While I don’t get paid yet for either they are both of utmost importance to me. First and most important, I am a wife and mother. I count that as one job, because it falls into the family category. Second, I am a writer. Writing is important to me for many reasons, but mostly for my individual well-being. To put it simply, I love to write and so I must.
Lately it seems as if many people in my life don’t consider my writing important. For instance, my mother called me the other day and made a statement that almost sent me through the roof.
Now before I tell you what she said, I must first take partial blame. I have allowed many of the people I love to be ignorant of my writing desires and the time I put into them. My mother was asking me to do something she didn’t want to do herself, and this is how she put it, “I just don’t have the time, and since you do, I need you to do it for me. You spend so much time on the computer, I’m sure you can take a few minutes to do this.”
Usually I would have bit my tongue, sighed, and said, “Sure, Mom, I’ll take care of it.” But not this time. My writer friends recently heard my cries for assistance from the volume of projects in which I’ve ensconced myself, but my mother has not. Like a child, I felt urges of defiance toward the woman who raised me. I stood up for myself.
“No Mom,” I answered. “I don’t have the time.”
Then, I proceeded to list all of the many things I needed to have accomplished by the end of the week and why. I did not admit to her that many of my deadlines are self-imposed, but that’s a different matter.
My daily writing and reading goals are not large and should be easily accomplished. Each day, I set aside time for each, but I have allowed so many little things to infringe upon those times, that my load continues to build. I find myself staying up nights to write, my brain unable to rest until that scene, or conversation, or character idea, is written. When I counted my works-in-progress a few days ago, I realized I had thirteen and counting.
Writing is a serious matter to me, and so I have decided to stand up for myself when someone assumes what I’m doing isn’t important. Writing is a part of who I am, and since I am important, so is my writing. It doesn’t matter how much time passes before I bring home a regular paycheck. I don’t write for money. I write for love. And isn’t that the best reason?
So, to my mother and everyone else who chooses to scoff when I tell them I’m going to be an author, I’m standing up.
“I’m using my writing time to write, and you can’t have it!”
Saturday, April 29, 2006
By Danyelle Ferguson
Okay, let’s set the scene:
You’re driving to pick up your daughter from preschool and BAM! The next scene for your book finally pops into your head. You can see it all–the conflict, the conversation, actions of the characters involved, and the cliffhanger to get your reader to flip to the next page. You pull up to the curb in front of the school and . . .
One of the most annoying things I’ve come across as a writer is when I get an idea for the next part of my book – and don’t have anything to write it down on. To help other fellow writers with this frustrating occurrence, I’ve compiled a list of tips for writing on the go.
- Carry a pocket size notebook and pen in your purse or briefcase.
- Keep 3x5 cards the pockets of your jackets, jeans and in the glove compartment of your car.
- Invest in an AlphaSmart Dana. There’s no boot up time and it runs on Palm OS. I bought one about six months ago and cannot express how much I love it! It’s light weight and I carry it in my purse.
- Download a writing program onto your Palm Pilot or other hand-held device.
- If you hate writing on the screen of your Palm Pilot, try investing in a collapsible keyboard that hooks into your hand-held device.
- Try a voice recorder. Although you may feel a bit self-conscious when you first start using it, you’ll grow to love how you can get down thoughts while driving your car.
Try out a few of these tips the next time you’re waiting for your child to come out of school or waiting in line at the drive-thru. You’ll find they are much more accommodating than lugging a laptop everywhere you go. May your day be full of more writing and less frustration!
Friday, April 28, 2006
by Danyelle Ferguson
You say you want to write, but just don’t have the time? I say, bah! You do have the time. You just need to set your priorities straight.
So, how do you do that? For me, I started by looking at my schedule. There are things I do every week that are very important to me. For example: going to the gym, taking my son to Kindermusik, my church responsibilities, and date nights with my husband. Then there are things I’d rather not do, but have no choice. Like house cleaning, laundry, car pooling kids to and from school, and cooking dinner. Yuck!
I put all of these activities into a spreadsheet with the actual amount of time I spend on each and on what days. At that point, I found blocks of free time I didn’t realize I had!
Now you’re asking, “What was she doing with all that free time?” right? Well, it certainly wasn’t writing! Watching TV and talking on the phone were pretty high on the list. So, off the TV went and more calls went to voice mail. Now I have a writing schedule that works really well. And knowing when I’m going to start and stop writing helps me focus and get done as much work as I can during that block of time. Now when others tell me they have this great book idea, but just don’t have the time to write-I just roll my eyes and tell them to turn off the TV and find the time.
So tell me-when’s the last time you looked at your schedule and set your priorities straight? I’d suggest doing it today.
It took a mere moment for my day to drastically change. The flip editorial I was about to write fell to the ground and shattered into unimportance as I found something in my inbox that I had neither expected nor wanted.
“. . .to the hospital in the ambulance. He never recovered and passed away this morning at 8:15 AM . . .We will most likely be having the funeral on Saturday. . .”
Suddenly, I couldn’t see. My throat cramped down so hard I could barely breathe, and refused to release until I gave in to the demanding sobs that accompanied warm tears sliding down my face. I could do nothing, held helpless by the sudden onslaught of emotion.
It seems simplistic to talk about it now, I think as I wipe away another tear. What was it, really, that had upset me?
The power of words.
All I ever knew of Ben were written words. I had never heard his voice. I may have seen him in passing at the event that brought us to the same group, but I don’t remember it if I did. His whole existance, in relationship to mine, was merely black words printed on a white screen. I read his work, hearing his voice through the voices of his characters. We had neighborly chats through email and that’s where I ‘saw’ his face, not in person or in a photo, but through his words, his turn of phrase and the attitudes that shone through that black and white as brightly as any color portrait. I read his pictures, and I very much liked the person that I saw behind them.
But, now, here were these words telling me that my friend was gone. Simple black shapes on a simple white screen with the power to nullify everything I had been thinking of right up until that moment.
How powerful are the things we write. Every word that we put down, on paper or on screen, paints something of ourselves into it. Will anyone weep for me, for the loss of my words, when I leave this place? Will I ever affect someone so deeply with the simple, almost involuntary act of pressing a button to put a black mark on a white screen, or scratching an ink filled pen against pristine white paper?
I have one goal that encompasses everything I write, and is the one great reason that I do it.
If I can create one king as noble and great as High King Peter of Narnia, if I can speak with one voice as beloved as Masterharper Robinton of the Harper Hall, if I can give one person a place to escape that is as safe and as dear to them as the Hundred Acre Wood is to me, then I will be complete as a writer, and I will have fulfilled my one great goal in writing.
And if, along the way, my own personality shows through my writing so brightly that someone I’ve never met feels that they know me and consider me a dear friend, as I considered Ben one, then so much the better!
So, Ben – this one’s for you. Thank you for teaching me the power of the written word in a way I never saw it before.
“It is good,” he repeated, raising his arm in farewell as he turned toward the meadow.
-quoted from A Long Way From Nowhere, by Ben Bracken
Thursday, April 27, 2006
There’s no doubt I’m giving away my age by mentioning this, but a number of years ago there was a song released by Paul Simon and Art Garfunkel called Why Don’t You Write Me. It’s one that easily becomes an ear worm.
Have you ever had an ear worm? In case you’ve been infected but didn’t recognize it for the insidious bug that it is, an ear worm is a tune that gets into your mind and repeats itself over . . . and over . . . and over . . . and over . . . and . . . well, you get my drift.
The problem I have is that it’s not my subconscious repeating that phrase; it’s those danged voices in my head. Ah yes, I can see you’re already glancing furtively to the side and wondering if it’s time to call in the little guys with the white coats—the ones with a straight jacket that’s custom fit to my size.
No need to act in haste. Let me explain. There’s a fact all writers will freely admit on Oprah—albeit with a mask over their face and a voice changer in the producer’s control booth. The characters about whom we write have lives of their own. They can be quite persistent when we’re writing about them, often taking paths we didn’t intend, doing things of which we disapprove, saying dialogue we don’t want and sometimes even killing off the heroes that we created.
When we aren’t writing about them, they’re even more insistent. They bug us when we’re awake, give us insomnia when we try to sleep, and when we’re finally so exhausted we nod off, they infiltrate our dreams.
One writer I know sent out a plea for help, asking what she could do to quiet the voices in her head. The suggestions ran the gamut from hot baths and soft music, to hot chocolate and rock and roll.
Well okay, maybe I exaggerate slightly. No one mentioned hot chocolate and rock and roll, but if I’d thought of it, I would have.
Other authors suggested keeping a pad and pen, or an AlphaSmart word processor by the bed in order to jot down ideas and characters as they came to mind. I thought I’d try that. Unfortunately, I wasn’t able to find a pen that actually writes and I don’t own an AlphaSmart. However, I came up with a reasonable solution.
Last night when those voices kept me awake by asking why don’t you write me, I finally silenced them. I picked up the Kleenex and crayon that I’d placed on the nightstand and wrote down everything they said.
Then I took my Haldol, blew my nose, turned out the light and went to sleep.
The other day the sun came out, the temperature jumped, and I decided it would be a great day to play in the dirt. Sunny days are perfect for planting, and I had some plants to replace. Having been in our home for two years this month, I had hoped to be finished planting shrubs and vines so that I could move on to planting more colorful things. And last summer, I was. For a day or two.
Last spring we got a dog, a female Golden Retriever. As dogs go, she is the calmest, most easygoing dog I have ever met. She never barks, she never jumps on people, and she always minds the commands we give her. However, she does have one major flaw. Our dog likes to dig up plants. She didn’t just dig them up. Once she got hold of a new plant and pulled it from the ground, she then proceeded to rip it to shreds and drag its remains around the back yard.
Now I suppose you are wondering, what does this have to do with writing? When a writer puts words to a page (or screen), he or she is planting a root. With sunshine and nourishment and time (not to mention lots and lots of rewrites), that root will grow into something beautiful, something precious, something truly amazing.
And then someone, usually an editor, will rip it up, stomp on it, and drag it along the ground, making sure to leave tire marks where they drove over it.
When I found the remains of my once beautiful plants, I screamed at the dog, and banished her to her kennel, where she remained for several days. I only let her out when I could be out with her, guarding my newly planted roots. I replanted them, you see. The other day when I went outside, I could see tiny shoots peeking their little heads out of the soil screaming, “I’m alive! You didn’t think I’d live, but I did.”
And so will our work. We will take the shreds of what we once considered a perfectly beautiful story, and replant it. We’ll fix it, and nurse it, and give it time and faith. With those things it will grow into something publishable. Something that will make us proud.
This is the reason I went outside last weekend. I saw the old plants coming up, and it inspired me to plant some new ones. So I did.
P.S. In case you were considering it, I wouldn't suggest comparing your editor to a dog. Nor would it be a good idea to scream at them and whack their noses with your red-inked manuscript. For some reason, editors don't react well to those situations, and you may find yourself without one.
Wednesday, April 26, 2006
By Darvell Hunt, C. L. Beck, and Danyelle Ferguson
Last night at about 8:30pm, Ben Bracken, a fellow member of an online LDS writers group called Authors Incognito, posted this email response to our group:
Well....you could come over and help me type this blasted story. The darn thing has taken off with a life of its own, dragging me along behind, trying to keep up with the typing ;) Don't you just love it when that happens?
Just before 8:30am this morning, Ben’s keyboard went forever silent. The unfinished story in his mind and in his heart went with him.
We always appreciated Ben’s willingness to read our group’s writing and he offered many insightful critiques, yet he included praise for things he thought we had done well. He seemed to not only be a prolific writer, but a prolific reader.Ben was the “mountain man” of our writing group. In the photo he posted to our group archives, he’s dressed in buckskins and holding a black powder rifle, which seemed so fitting for his character. He loved the old west and favored the stories of Louis L’Amour. He expressed his wish to us that there were more modern-day writers who wrote western novels for young boys. He was doing his best to make that come true. Ben was good at writing compelling beginnings to his stories and we enjoyed reading them.
We just weren’t aware of his surprise endings.
Ben said his story had “taken off with a life of its own,” completely unaware that the final chapter of his own life was about to be written. His presence in our writing group will be sorely missed. We wish his family the best in dealing with their loss and we pray they will be comforted.
By Connie S. Hall
I attended a seminar twenty-five years ago that completely changed my life. Leaving that day, I resolved to change habits and take control of my life. My life wasn't less busy. The difference was I was now in control.
Most busy people are into a thousand different things, giving freely of themselves to everybody. The list of places where you give away pieces of your life is endless. In the process, you usually forget to save anything for yourself. I learned to arrange my life more efficiently and more effectively, and to save space for myself.
Life for me was busy. All my children were still at home, ranging from 5 to 18. I was president of a children's organization in my church, and I worked a full time job.
It wasn't easy changing habits, and it took effort to plan my days and do the important things first. I use to do things as they came along. Organization isn't always easy, but it's important.
I'm sure by now you have guessed the thing all writers need more of is TIME! Have you ever run out of TIME? Everyone has the same amount
of time each day. When TIME is gone, it's really gone.
My motto since that day is "IF YOU DON'T SPEND TIME PLANNING YOUR DAY AND DECIDING ON YOUR PRIORITIES, SOMEBODY WHO IS LESS ORGANIZED WILL DO IT FOR YOU."
TIME is a gift - You can't demand more time, you can't ask for less, you can't buy it, you can't sell it, and you can't recycle it. Use your gift of TIME well. Learn to manage your time or you will always be one step behind.
Tuesday, April 25, 2006
There are about as many lists for the Three Most-Important Writing Rules as there are writers. Since I call myself a writer (I do write occasionally), I have my own list.
Some of the lists that I have read from other writers include Be Clear, Be Brief, and Be Simple, or Be sure to Include Conflict, Action, and Suspense, or even Collect Ideas, Organize Ideas, and then Order Ideas into a Linear Story Format.
And then there’s W. Somerset Maugham, who said: There are three rules for writing a novel. Unfortunately, no one knows what they are.
Of course, since none of these ideas are mine, they are all wrong. I don’t doubt they are useful, but they are not truly the three most important writing rules, which are, in order of importance:
1. Read a lot.
2. Write a lot.
3. Network with other people who do #1 and #2.
It is my opinion that if you do all three of these for a long enough period of time, you will become a great writer. For some, that period of time may be measured in months. For others, it might be decades. If you read enough of a variety of materials and write enough of a variety of materials and talk to enough people who are doing the same things you are doing, you will learn all of the other important rules and skills that the best writers in history have used.
Yet even so, there are some people who can’t write and never will be able to write. Let them play football, become somebody’s boss, or write income tax instructions. But if you are one of those people who begin with any hint of a writing talent, these three rules can’t help but improve your writing. After that, your level of success is only a matter of time and the amount of dedication that you give to your craft.
Try it. I’m about to start into the third decade myself. I think my writing is just beginning to become tolerable. If you are one of those people who already became bored with my writing and quit before now, you’re a dork and you don’t even know I just called you that. Oh, and have a nice day. Be sure to spend some of it reading and writing.
Monday, April 24, 2006
Critique. The word is synonymous with sweaty palms, jittery stomachs and fear—and that’s just for the people giving them. Critiques are part of the business that most of us love or hate with a passion—sometimes a mixture of both. We love getting feedback, especially when someone says they think our story is brilliant. Unfortunately, that’s not really a critique, and doesn’t help us hone our craft very much.
It is with more than a little trepidation that I take back a manuscript after someone has been working on it. I have one coming back in the next week or so that I’m afraid to think about. I’ve put so much blood, sweat and tears into the thing, reworked it over and over, second-guessed my scenes and rewrote them. I let family members read it and point out problems; some I fixed, some I ignored. Then I sent it to my editor and she covered it in red. I avoided her notes for a couple months, not ready to deal with the major overhaul she recommended, ignoring the innocent comment from my dear husband that the changes didn’t seem that major—he hadn’t taken the time to read the whole thing, after all, so what did he know?
Then, finally, after months of avoidance, I pulled out the manuscript, dripping red ink, and began to rework it. It had two more good edits, with a significant change in the opening, before I trusted my baby to go back out into the world again . . . OK, so it was a fellow writer’s hands, not the world, but it felt like I was risking everything. What if she said my baby is ugly?
I guess that gets down to the heart of it. The book is my baby, from concept, through several drafts and hours of searching the text to pull out the extra adverbs and at least two hundred unnecessary instances of the word ‘just’ (to be frank, I’m not sure I got them all). It seems to be my favorite word. Now I sit, waiting on pins and needles to see what she thinks of my writing. Will she point to my favorite parts and tell me they don’t make sense? Will she tell me that fun line that makes me laugh is out of place, or is one of the little darlings that Stephen King says we all must feel safe killing?
Worse yet, I suppose would be getting it back and not having it covered in red pen—or purple as the case may be. What if after all the worry and fuss, I didn’t get good feedback at all? The whole point of putting my work out on the block like this is to make my book the best it can be. I do this with the hope that it will catch a publisher’s eye, be on the shelves by July, sell out the first printing before August . . . oh yeah, that’s a fairytale, and I’m not Snow White... Maybe I better give myself a little more leeway than that. But though I hate critiques with a passion, I do love the way they make me think and notice the good and bad in my writing (like the two hundred extra ‘just’s).
I have to say though, doing a critique for someone else can be every bit as enlightening as receiving one of your own work, and almost as nerve-wracking. In the past few months I’ve critiqued several manuscripts, worried I would offend the author. I tried to couch my comments in kind language (most of the time), but not being honest won’t help them. So I brave on with my notes, hoping they will find them helpful, and will look at them seriously before dismissing me as an idiot. Surprisingly, so far everyone has seemed thrilled to have me tear their stories to shreds. And while I edit, I’m reminded of rules of writing, formatting points that I might forget, building suspense and creating conflict, and describing the scene so the reader feels as though they are there, without bogging them down in too much description. Pointing out the flaws in others’ work helps me see the ones in my own more clearly. And because of that, we both win.
So while I chew my fingernails waiting for Danyelle to return my manuscript, I’ll see what damage I can do to someone else’s. If nothing else, it could prove therapeutic.
Friday, April 21, 2006
By C. L. Beck
You wouldn’t think it would be hard for eight writers to pick a name for a blogging group, would you? When words normally bubble up in our minds like foam on a root beer float, it should be easy to pick something catchy. Right?
Wrong. All the catchy, easy names are already chosen. We thought of Writers’ Block, and Authors at Large, both of which had multiple uses on the Internet. Really, how many blocked writers can there be—or for that matter, how many large authors? There’s no doubt that one of us can stand to lose a little weight. (That would be me, but my mother says I have a thyroid problem, so it’s okay.) However, you’d think most people would never freely choose to be recognized as a large author.
The thought occurred that if we searched hard enough we’d find other interesting names out on the web that we can't use . . . like Authors with Bushy Eyebrows and Hairy Ears, or Writers That Right Butt Can’t Spel.
Since none of us fit those descriptions anyway, it’s fair to say we won't worry about not using them.
After spending several days pondering the options—okay, maybe it was really only hours—our editor/moderator/wiz guy came up with an idea. He suggested we call ourselves Seven LDS Writers and a Dog.
I was all for that. It was cute and original.
But I had one question. Which one of us was supposed to be the dog?
Fortunately, before someone was persuaded to act the part of the four-legged furball, we found out the title was a play on words from another blogging page, and our wiz guy was just poking fun. Later we finally settled on a name, and I think this time it’s for real.
We’re calling ourselves the LDS Writers Blogck. It’s a catchy play on words, isn't it? But now my question is . . . which one of us is officially the blogck head?
My cousin's opinion aside, I'm sure it's not me.