Monday, July 31, 2006

The blank spot

By Heather Justesen

I sat staring at my computer screen trying to come up with a topic for today's blog, but nothing was coming out. It was like all my ideas were tapped, my mind empty. The problem: I knew I needed to write something, couldn't believe I had put off finding a topic until the day it was supposed to be posted. Unfortunately inspiration wasn't moving me.

So what do we do when we reach a blank spot in our writing whether for a blog or other project when inspiration doesn't strike? Well, I can always eat chocolate. It won't help me write better, but it will taste good. I could try writing something else, something from another story as I've said I sometimes do, but what if I feel completely dry? What if nothing strikes my interest and I'm still staring at the blank screen?

Sometimes the only way you can start writing is to write. My friend John sends a bunch of us writers 'Snacks'--ten-minute writing assignments of varying genres. Each week he assigns three, fiction, non-fiction and biographical. OK, I admit, I haven't done very well following through on these writing assignments, but the point is they are there and they are a great source for ideas on something to write.

You can do your own variation of this by watching people around you. Make up stories about what they are doing, who they are, where they are going. I understand there are books with ideas out there as well. Look and see what you can find.

When it comes down to it, the most important part of writing is simply writing. A lot. Not everything I write is going to be great. Some of it will stink and will have to be rewritten. Maybe over and over. But when I start to write, even if what I'm working on is total trash, I never know when that trash might turn into something salvageable. Maybe something sliding from my fingers onto my screen will turn out to be a great tidbit for one of my stories.

I read a quote somewhere that went something like this: "The only way to write a good story is to write a lot of bad ones first." Unfortunately that has held true for my writing. Now that I've done a lot of bad writing, I have a lot of good ideas I can turn into good writing. Right?

Saturday, July 29, 2006

Bragging About Your Baby

By Keith Fisher

How many of us when asked about our children would say, "He/she is a good boy/girl but they are just like the other kids." Would we say it different if their life depended on how much we brag about our kid?

This has become a real dilemma for me. Not that I have trouble bragging about my kid, (My daughter is more talented than yours.) but bragging, even explaining about my book can be hard.

Last weekend, we were the hosts for a block party and someone asked whether I plan to write a cookbook. Since I was half of the 2005 Grand Champion Team at the World Championship Dutch Oven Cook Off, it is a question many people ask. (See I do know how to brag.) I told the inquirer at the block party I had been approached by a publisher for that reason, but I was going to try and use that submission to bring attention to my novel.

"Do you write fiction?" he asked. It surprised me that he didn’t know, because after letting the secret out, I’ve been embarrassed to have so many people know about my investing so much time without a clear return on my investment. I have yet to be published so many folks think I am deluding myself.

Yes, I write contemporary LDS fiction, I said. Then the inevitable next question, "What have you written?"
"I am in the process of writing five . . . right now I’m getting ready to subm . . . well, it’s a story about a girl who . . ." That’s my dilemma, how do I sum up a complex story in a few words that will intrigue someone and make them want to read the book?

Yes, I have trouble writing query letters. It was easier when I could send in the whole baby, bath water and all. Also, in order to submit to Cedar Fort we are asked to fill out a marketing survey and send it with the submission. It’s an easy form to fill out and I am more than happy to say I will do everything I can to help sell my book. There is one question however, question number four . . . I copied it here:

What does your book say that no other expert or author says?
It’s a fair question. I realize that the question is designed to assess the writer’s belief in his/her self. When I start to answer, I’m sure I have a dumbfounded, "deer in the headlights" look on my face and I am left feeling as I did at the block party.

I know the very life of my baby hangs in the balance, and my stage fright causes me to wish my latest book was more unusual. I want to say: "You have to read the whole story to get the full impact." Then I look at other books and ask the question in light of what other writers have written.

I have discovered that many stories, albeit they are told differently, are pretty much the same. So I came up with an answer to question number four, although I won’t put it on the form. Tell me what you think.

I told this story as it was given to me. I’m sure that other writers could tell the story, but the inspiration came to me, not to the other writers. Like the missionary who just happens to be in the right place at the right time, with just the right personality, I told this story in order to touch the hearts of those who need solace and to hold the attention of many others.

My daughter may never be valedictorian or become President of the United States, but she has the potential of touching hearts for good and making others feel good about their lives. My book will do the same.

Friday, July 28, 2006

My Treasure Hunt

By Nichole Giles

Today I had a breakthrough. In previous blogs, I have written of a man who was kidnapped by hitchhikers, driven hundreds of miles from home, and left—bound and gagged—in the desert to die. This man was my grandfather, and I am writing his story.

Research is such an intimidating word. The very thought of it sounds heavy and burdensome to people. It is especially tiresome when the thing you are researching cannot be found online. “What? You mean I have to go to the library and look it up?”

You can imagine my foreboding when I realized that the newspaper clippings in my grandmother’s basement would not give me enough information to write this story correctly. You see, there is no book that contains court transcripts and police reports. There is no encyclopedia to tell me the facts. There is no library I can visit that will tell me exactly what happened that day, or on the days that followed. I want to know what became of the kidnappers, and where they ended up later in life, but there is no book written that will tell me these things. Yet.

I started out with a fifty-year-old hand typed court subpoena, and proceeded to call the police agencies that were involved in this case. Unfortunately, for some strange reason the people in charge of keeping the records don’t keep police reports for fifty years. Next, I emailed the archives in Albuquerque, New Mexico—where the criminals were tried.

Nada

But, they did link me to a website, which gave me contact information for three other places. On the third call, I was given a phone number for a federal court information center, where a cheerful man named Jesse found an index card and faxed me a copy. He then gave me another phone number.

I practically vibrated with excitement when I made the next call and the person was not only friendly, but also helpful. When Rob—the voice on the other end of the line—pulled out the case file, he got very excited. “I can send you copies of everything you want, but there is some stuff I can’t copy,” he said. In the background I could hear voices and exclamations. “What can’t you copy?” I asked, wondering if there was some legal reason it couldn’t be copied, and what I would have to go through to look at whatever it was. “It’s some sort of hanger looking thing, or wire. And some clothes. And, some strange books. Hey, this case is really cool,” he said with his voice full of excitement.

I was shocked. They still have the physical evidence? “Are the books scriptures?” I asked, knowing that scriptures were involved. “Hmm,” he said. “Well, it’s not the bible, but it does say published by the Presidency of the Presiding Bishopric. Looks like some sort of study guide.”

Since the National Archives in Denver were closing for the night, Rob had to go. He’ll be calling me back soon, though, when he finishes making my copies and tracking down a digital camera so he can take pictures of the evidence. After two months of searching, I feel like I have found a priceless treasure. When I think about it, all the phone calls and emails, all the time I have spent tracking these things down has been worth it. I guess researching isn’t so bad after all. Especially once you have found what you are looking for.

Today I found a personal treasure, one that no one else has bothered to look for. Today, I am rich with information and I can’t wait to share it with the world.

Thursday, July 27, 2006

All the Things I Should Have Said

By Nichole Giles

I have a bad habit. Whenever I have a confrontation with someone, or when I have avoided a confrontation I should have allowed, I stew for days. In the shower, the car, lying in bed at night, at the gym while I’m working out, I will go over and over in my mind the conversation as I think it should have happened. I think about my own reactions and why, and eventually the inevitable happens. Days later I come up with the perfect response to the thing I avoided or ignored. And I want to kick myself for not saying all the things I should have said.

The good news is, since I’m a writer I can still go back and say it. If I’m smart, and take a few minutes to write down the conversation as I heard it in my head, it will be well preserved for the characters in a future story. I love that! Never again will I have to stretch my knees into undesirable positions so I can put a shoe in my own behind for not saying something that needed to be said.

It can work the other way as well. Do you ever wish you could take back something you said? You didn’t really mean it, it came out wrong, or was taken wrong, or maybe you were just in a mood. But you find yourself with your foot in your mouth, wishing desperately that you could push the rewind button on life’s remote control and un-say that thing that just flew out of your mouth.

Okay, so maybe you can’t really take it back, but one of your characters can. This is your chance to fix all the mistakes your big mouth has made—or not made—for you. Write it down! Write it down! Find a napkin, or a post-it, or a gum wrapper if you’re desperate and write down that stupid thing you said—or the thing you wish you had said but didn’t.

As writers we have a rare opportunity to be someone else for a little while every day. When we climb out of our own head and into the head of our characters we get to leave behind all of our real-life mistakes, and go out into a fantasy world to make new, bigger, more life altering mistakes. What better way could a person rid their mouth of the taste of their own toes?

Next time you find yourself struck dumb and speechless by something you want to say and can’t, give it to your character and let them say it for you. And when you next find yourself in one of those inevitable foot-in-mouth situations, spit, smile, and write. You’ve just taught your character what not to say in the same situation.

There is probably no way to avoid confrontations that make us react in a way that is uncharacteristic of our normal selves. Too bad for us, we’re human. In the world of writers though, our own human traits become part of our characters. Maybe the characters in our stories will be able to project the person we all wish we could be.

PS. This knowledge is in no way a license to allow your mouth—or your fingers—to run amok among the world of real-life people. Only a writer will buy the “I hear voices in my head” excuse. The rest of the world might think you’ve lost your marbles.

Wednesday, July 26, 2006

The Magical Secret of Writing

By Connie S. Hall

I have learned there is no magic formula for creating the perfect book, and nothing enchanting, charming, or captivating that you can conjure up to make your writing better. The method you use to write has to be your own. You have to write your own story. Learning new techniques and studying grammar helps, but the real story comes from within.

Nobody has the perfect recipe. Yes, they can guide, and instruct you. Not all of their methods, guidelines, or instructions will help. Everyone has his or her own process and technique. No one has the ideal secret or ingredient that makes it work.

You can get back some of the magic you use to have when you wrote. Don’t let writing become a chore. Sit back, relax, and take delight in creating your own story as you make it as unique as a fingerprint. When you are creating your own tale, it can be thrilling to watch the words fill the page. Completing the story will give you the perfect feeling that you have indeed created magic.

Tuesday, July 25, 2006

My Level 23 Human Accountant

By Darvell Hunt

I've been a fantasy fan for years. Lately I've found a new medium for exploring this genre: online fantasy computer games, specifically World of Warcraft. I've found this game to be very addictive. I'm completely fascinated by how well the game developers have created such a complete world in which to interact with other players in a virtual fantasy world.

It's the kind of world I dream of creating in my writing. It's a perfect example of interactive fiction.

I wonder if my Gnome Rogue, my Dwarf Hunter, or my Human Warrior, have ever come to the realization they are characters in a game. I think not. But I can imagine them playing a game called "World of Everyday Human Life," even though that sounds much to boring for me to play.

I could see my Dwarf Hunter creating a character of her own in this game that would be called somthing like a "Human Accountant." Would she find this game interesting and different enough from her world to take time from her hunting and skinning and making of leather clothing? Would she be compelled to stay up half of the night trying to reach level 23 in accounting so she could buy a fancy new calculator to make work with her virtual clients easier and quicker? I wonder if she would be interested in picking up a side profession as a used television repairwoman or maybe learn microwave oven recipes to improve her urban cooking skills to help her stay up late during tax crunch time.

Nah, probably not. She would be much less interested in my world than I seem to be in hers.

But anyway, back to my writing. I have found that reading good fantasy books is an excellent exercise in becoming a good fantasy writer. It also seems that playing fantasy video games may also help my writing skill. At least that's what I tell myself as I try to get to level 27 so my Gnome Rogue can use the new weapons I already purchased from the in-game auction house.

They say that research is one of the most important aspects of writing. I agree. So now I have to stop writing this blog entry and get back to my research.

Monday, July 24, 2006

What's for Dinner?

By Heather Justesen

The daily decision of what to eat and do I have the right ingredients can be so frustrating—I hate more than almost anything. I found some ways around this. One was in planning out my weekly menu in advance, another was making a list of dinners that we enjoyed and having that available as a reference when I started thinking about dinner. A third is having meals ready made.

I mentioned last week how I sometimes sit down and plan out my week’s menu in advance, then shop accordingly. That way I have all the ingredients on hand and know if I need to start a certain meal early, for example if it requires a crock pot. I can plan around scheduled events to make sure that there is something good on the table that night even if I have little or no time to make it.

I heard another variation of this from a friend who said she had every meal written on 3x5 index cards and after shopping according to what was on sale that week, she looked through her file and put all the meals that she had ingredients for in front of a divider and as she cooked those meals that week, she moved the card to the very back so she had an idea of how recently she had cooked the meal. This had the added bonus of giving her more flexibility each day to decide to switch one meal for another if she wasn’t in the mood for a particular meal.

Then again, there’s planning ahead, way ahead. In my second writer’s conference they suggested cooking up many meals in advance and freezing them. One of the writers said she uses the book “Dinner is Ready.” I had a church women’s meeting once where we had a class on this idea—preparing a month’s worth of meals in a day and sticking them in the freezer.

I did this once when I wasn’t going to be able to cook many meals. Some of the meals required a few minutes in the microwave while others needed a couple hours in the oven to be ready, but they were all tasty and there was a great variety available for my husband to heat up after a long day of work.

It only took me a day to cook and package enough meals for over forty dinners—with a little advanced planning. Do a search online for books using the key words ‘batch cooking’ or ‘thirty meals in a day’ and you’ll find plenty of options for places to turn, and best of all, the food was really delicious and took only minutes to prepare the day that we ate them. You can make a bunch and save them for days that are especially hectic, eating them a few days a week.

The bonus—the meals cost less than prepackaged, taste better and are better for you without all of the over-processed ingredients and preservatives you find in store-bought. And of course, it leaves your evening free to spend time with family and sneak in time for your writing.

Saturday, July 22, 2006

The Other Mormon Pioneers

By Keith Fisher

In my blog last week, I mentioned the writers that were published before the market got so tough. It is those writers I would like speak of again today.

Like many of you, I remember going to an LDS bookstore and seeing the scriptures and many non-fiction books about the scriptures. There were other things as well like construction paper, carbon paper, and pictures that depicted the Savior. The fiction books, if there were any, were "G" rated novels that were safe for children to read.

Then came a revolution. Many brave souls started to write fiction, about LDS people or LDS subject matters. There were artists who began to paint, songwriters who expressed their love of the Lord, and many people who followed there dream of being published.

Much of the fiction from that time was mediocre by today’s standards. I re-read many of those works looking for ways to improve my writing. I often stop to examine whole chapters and notice some rule has been broken. I resist the urge to use a red pencil out of respect for the book.

The other day, I was re-reading a work I enjoyed about twenty years ago. I became incensed, wondering how that writer got published when I’ve been rejected for breaking the same rules of good writing. Then I went to the public library with my family.

While I was there, I picked up a copy of a new book by an author I met at a writer’s conference. I am learning from that book too. I have found plot twists that completely astonished me. Something the other author was unable to do. While I was perusing the shelves, I turned a corner and discovered a surprise. Taking up almost two shelves, were books that were written by the author that I had criticized.

I have enjoyed his stories. I have learned the lessons he taught me, but I had no idea that he had written so many books. Then it happened: I realized that although he and many others have broken many of the writing rules we follow today, they were pioneers. We trudge in their footsteps and creep along rewriting, restructuring, and discarding our latest inspiration because it doesn’t quite work.

So in the spirit of the Pioneer Day season, the time that we celebrate our Mormon pioneers, I say hooray for the pioneers of LDS Fiction. Without them the market would not be what it is today.

Friday, July 21, 2006

The Com-pooter

Tools of the Trade, Part IV (Final)

By C. L. Beck

Despite our nostalgia for old-fashioned writer’s tools like quill pens and typewriters, no one can seriously argue that any previous inventions were ever as handy as the computer. (Or as my friend in Nevada calls it, “the com-pooter”.)

With a com-pooter a writer can whip out a story in no time, use grammar check and spell check to improve the manuscript, and then delete any errors in the blink of an eye. It can be saved as a file on the hard drive, on a CD, on a zip drive, or on a flash drive that can be attached to a key ring. Come flood, earthquake, or mud slide, multiple backups ensure all is not lost.

Armed with that knowledge and counting on the computer's speed, I sat down to work on this week's blog at ten o'clock last night, figuring I could whip it out in no time. I wrote the first two paragraphs in thirty seconds. There was no pen to refill, no carbon copy mistakes to correct, no dinging to indicate I needed to return my typewriter carriage back to start. Just the quiet of my thoughts (which included a nagging feeling that I should do a backup) . . . and the ‘whirring’ of the com-pooter fan in the night . . . and this error message that came out of nowhere.













Where had the message come from? Were there little men in my machine who knew when I made an error? What error had I made? And why? Thinking I must have hit a wrong key, and having an overwhelming spiritual reminder that Jesus saves and I should too, I moved my mouse to highlight and delete the message, only to get another.








Knowing my word processing program had done an automatic backup, I followed the instructions and restarted the com-pooter. In the two hours it took the infernal machine to re-boot, I could have written the blog by hand. When I finally got back to my word processing program, it had backed up my text in Chinese and I was ready to shoot the thing. It must have sensed my hostility, because it sent another message.











There's a stack? A stack of what? I was beginning to think it could only be a stack of idiot programmers.

Fidgeting at the thought of a fallen stack, I accidentally bumped my mouse. My com-pooter blinked, hiccupped, and all my Chinese writing disappeared. I would have throttled the stupid mouse, except I was afraid if I moved it, it would eat my cheese. Using stealth, I started typing all over again. Just as I began wrapping up my thoughts, I got another error message.









Replace user?

Every writer has his/her own ethical guideline to follow. LDS writers have an even stricter code. Believe me when I tell you it's for that reason alone I didn't call the com-pooter a bleeping so and so when it suggested replacing me.

By now the sun was rising, peeking over the ridge. I picked up my com-pooter, lugged it outside and threw it into the henhouse, where it made a fine nesting box for Henny Penny.

My blog is still unwritten; I guess I'll have to do it by hand. First, though, I need to find the old rooster. I'm sure he won't mind donating a tail feather so I can make a quill pen.



****(Please Note: I haven't a clue who created the 'error message' images that I've used above. Therefore, I'm unable to give credit. If the images were created by anyone who reads this blog, please contact me and I will be happy to list your name. Assuming, of course, I can drag the com-pooter back out of the henhouse and get the stupid machine to re-boot.)

Never a Boy Scout

by W. L. Elliott

I was never a boy scout.

Of course, that could have something to do with the fact that I was never a boy. That’s an entirely different subject, best left for a different day.

No, my current train of thought has nothing to do with gender confusion or identity crises, or issues involving my horrid childhood—which was actually quite nice as childhoods go. I mention the Boy Scouts only to point out that I obviously never had the Boy Scout motto ingrained into my psyche.

And what motto is that, you ask?

Why, I’ll tell you! It is the famous Boy Scout motto “Be Prepared”.

The other night, for example, I had a bit of writing to do, and a deadline to keep. As per my usual manner, I left the task until the last possible moment. (However, as the Boy Scouts say nothing at all about procrastination, that shall go, for the moment, unexplored.)

As I was saying before I so rudely interrupted myself—after settling on the location in which to install myself that most comfortably suited my pursuit (or suited the fact that I was stuck in town for three hours waiting for my husband to get off work), I reached for my trusty notebook and pen that accompany me everywhere I go.

Except there.

After scouring the car, my purse, and the lobby I was waiting in, it became quite obvious that I had taken my notebook home and apparently left it there. Of course, there was the reassuring knowledge that I always keep a spare notebook just for such an occasion in my locker at work. My place of business, however, was several miles away and locked tight for the night, therefore rendering my spare notebook completely useless.

At last I was able to acquire several odd-sized sheets of scratch paper which were blank on one side. Not trendy, but useful enough to scratch out a rough draft, despite the fact that the sentence length on this size paper averaged a whopping four words per line. Nevertheless, in an emergency one must make the best of any situation.

I next reached for my pen, at which point it became apparent that there was no pen to be found in my purse, any of my pockets, nor in the immediate surrounding area. The next several minutes were spent sprinting across the parking lot to my car and engaging in an exhaustive search for a writing instrument of some sort which would not require the piercing of any part of my body to allow writing in blood. Finally, I located a ball point. An obvious spot, really, it lay under the back seat, enmeshed in car wiring in such a manner that only a pygmy could comfortably reach it. Since it was either that or the pencil stub that fell down the dashboard vents several months earlier, I soldiered on, surviving the ordeal with only minor scrapes and a few moments anguish when I became stuck and wondered if I’d ever make it out from under the back seat alive.

I arrived back at my designated writing area in time for my cell phone to ring. A further ten minutes were spent establishing the already known fact that my husband would be off soon and we were to carpool home together.

By the time I folded up my phone, arranged my disarrayed paper, and clicked the pen only to find it had no ink, I intrepidly uttered aloud that heartfelt two-word phrase that so aptly befitted my evenings ordeal –

“BAG IT!”

I have a new appreciation for the Boy Scouts. As I stated earlier, I never was one, and I obviously never learned the motto by heart. After the other night, I might just smack the next scout I see out of spite and frustration. (Okay, okay! I wouldn't really!)

So, let us learn from my experience, or more aptly put, from my tribulation. I may not be a boy scout, but I’m stealing their catch-phrase.

“Be Prepared” is my motto now. I’ve earned it!

Thursday, July 20, 2006

Portrait

By Nichole Giles

Last week as I prepared to leave on a family vacation to Yellowstone a good friend and fellow blogger said to me, “It will inspire you.”

Actually, I am the kind of person who is inspired easily. Maybe it’s a girl thing, or maybe just part of my personal nature, but I have always found Heavenly Father’s beautiful creations inspiring. Tonight I wonder if it is my appreciation for His portrait of our world that fuels my need to write.

Having lived in deserts and mountains, visited big cities and oceans, and natural wonders of many kinds, I have been fortunate to see different parts of our little piece of this earth, each one magnificent in its own way. My friend was right. I was inspired this time, as I have been so many times before.

Luckily, I have chosen to not limit myself—or my writing—to middle-grade fiction. Middle grade is my genre, but not my boundary. As a writer, I choose to diversify myself—using magazines and smaller publications as guidelines and goals. Keeping a journal is definitely important, and documenting special family trips is a great idea too. But what do I do with the four-page commentary I wrote on the wonders and beauty we discovered in Yellowstone? If I were to go to Arches National Park in Southern Utah, and feel inspired there, what would I do with that piece of writing besides file it away? Or if I were to write about the developments of the hidden wonders inside Mount Timpanogos cave, would that piece of writing go into the file drawer never to be seen or read by anyone but me and my immediate family? It better not!

Diversity is inspiring in itself. Familiarize yourself with the magazine market. There are numerous opportunities to sell smaller pieces of fiction and nonfiction to publications, which might be delighted to publish your work. This knowledge is both comforting and encouraging to me. I can indulge myself in something I might not otherwise put the time into, strengthening my writing, and broadening my horizons.

Yesterday, instead of editing another chapter of my nearly finished work of fiction, I allowed my inspiration to flow into something completely different. I began to paint a portrait of the things I have seen and felt. It felt tremendously good to let my emotions flow through the tips of my fingers to be manifested on a monitor, creating the world as I had seen it. But it left me wondering.

I wonder if this is what Heavenly Father felt like when He was creating our world? His is a portrait more artistic and beautiful than any we can create on paper or in our minds. And we have the privilege of living here. In Heavenly Father’s portrait. In Heavenly Father’s story.

Wednesday, July 19, 2006

Those Who Made a Difference

By Connie S. Hall



This time of the year, July, I always reflect on my pioneer ancestors. I’ve given many talks about who they were and the things they did. Since I was small, I’ve always been thankful to them and the fact they left their homes to make a better life for me.


They are responsible for who I am. These noble pioneers are the hero’s in my life–those I admire. This month I’m on a trip to walk in their footsteps.


As I look at my itinerary for July 19, I’m staying in a little bed & breakfast run by a couple with the same last name as my great-grandmother. I don’t know much about her except that she was born nearby. In this same area is the birth and death place of many other relatives.


By now, we will have visited Liverpool where many new church members got on board a ship and left their beloved country for an unknown place. I know I would never have been as brave as my ancestors were. I love new things, but going somewhere unfamiliar would be scary. Getting on a ship to come to this new world would have taken more courage than I think I would have had.


Once in this beloved country their trials weren’t over. They suffered more hardships as they ventured to the Salt Lake Valley. I can’t imagine such courage. Building homes and learning new skills were only a few of the difficulties they endured. Their pain and suffering is more than I can begin to comprehend.


I hope during the coming week that each of you will reflect upon those that are directly responsible for you being where you are today. Give thanks to God above that you are in a free land, a land given to us by the men and women who gave their all.

The World's Fastest Pen

By G.Ellen

Well. . .my family watched The World’s Fastest Indian last night, and boy, was it fascinating. My husband stopped watching before the main character made it out of LA, simply because of the way America was being presented. He was disgusted with the whole lifestyle that the character was introduced to.

I was simply amazed at how everywhere he went he found a new friend. What inspired me even more was how he fought for his dream–how he focused all his energy and overcame every obstacle to reach that dream.

Are you willing to go through that for your dream? Let's say writing is your goal in life and you're reading this because of that. Are you willing to go through the grueling hours of typing and editing and waiting for the mail to come with rejection after rejection–still convinced that what you have written has merit and someone will want to read it? That it will sell?

If you are, then you are made of some stern stuff. You have what it takes. You will go through hours of typing at the computer with your children whining and complaining around you, your dust tracks growing thicker and the microwave beeping every meal time to accomplish that goal. Your children will think that laundry is supposed to be piled in baskets in the laundry room and seeing folded and sorted clothing in their friends rooms is a strange sight.

Your spouse will think that going out to eat is a true treat when compared with canned chili for the third night in a row–no matter that you dressed it up with corn and tortilla chips. Your local office supply store will know you by name because you come in every other month for printing supplies, paper and burnable CD’s. The post office will recognize you by face, if not by name–assuring you that your book will reach it’s destination in one piece and they know you want signature confirmation, you don’t have to ask for it.

That is what it takes to be a true grit writer. Never mind that you’ll feel the rest of the world is passing you by and that somehow your children are missing out on something. What are their future spouses going to think when they are told that the laundry is supposed to be done this way? You just hope that everyone will understand when that book comes back in its box with your name on the cover and your picture on the back.

You made it. You're published. Every sacrifice was worth it.

Okay. . .maybe not the laundry bit with the kids, but the time at the computer was worth it. You’ll lie there on your back on your bed, book and check in hand, staring at the ceiling in amazement muttering to yourself that you finally made it. You did it. Against what everyone else said or thought—you did it.

Monday, July 17, 2006

Putting your house in order

By Heather Justesen

Life can be insanely busy and squeezing in time for things we want to do can be difficult. It can be hard enough to deal with our regular daily activities, caring for our families and our homes without trying to squeeze in some time to write as well.

And once we start to clean, how do we stay focused long enough to accomplish the job without getting sidetracked onto a dozen other things that need doing? Sometimes picking up the living room can turn into an all-day event—especially if you have young ones who are dirtying the room again as soon as you turn your back.

When balancing every-day life with my job began to seem impossible I ran across a web site on the internet. Flylady.com.

There are many cleaning experts who recommend similar techniques, but this is the first one that worked well for me. Though I have gone through long periods where I don’t follow the routines, the techniques I learned on the site have helped me get life back under control when things seemed a little too wild.

Flylady splits up household chores into daily, weekly and monthly sections. She helps organize which things get done each day and which regions of the house you work on each week, and splits those chores into five-, ten- or fifteen-minute jobs. And best of all, she lays out how you can customize your cleaning and household needs to fit your life.

Mondays I have home blessing hour—in one hour I can clean up my home—dust, sweep, vacuum, change the sheets, etc—and make it presentable for the week. Part of the reason for the name is to help you think of the work as blessing your home, rather than drudging through the cleaning. Some women split each chore up so they do one a day, or maybe do two blessing hours a week if they have messy children.

Have too many things in the house? Take five minutes and get rid of some things you don’t love. If you don’t use it and it doesn’t bring a smile to your face when you see it, get rid of it. It’s all about simplicity. And you can do anything for fifteen minutes if you know when the timer goes off you’ve given yourself permission to walk away from what is still left undone.

I had a huge pile of things that I didn’t know what to do with when we cleared out a room to put one of our kids in. I was certain it would take me hours to get through everything and let it sit for two or three months, taunting me every time I walked past it. When I finally decided to tackle the job it only took two fifteen-minute cleaning session—a much more reasonable chore than I had anticipated.

Five minute room rescues every morning and night give you enough time to clear up a space without feeling duty bound to vacuum and dust. And with the use of an ostrich feather duster—which actually attracts dust instead of just pushing it around—I was able to cover my whole house in under five minutes. This prevented me from feeling guilty for letting the dust pile up because I don’t want to spend twenty minutes with a cloth.

One woman online said she used the pattern to keep her desk and office clear at work as well. You even pick a day to do weekly menus and prepare a shopping list—cutting back on multiple trips to the store each week and cutting back on the question of what you are going to make for dinner.

And best off all, this didn’t take up my whole life—the idea is simplicity, not making things more complicated. And it left more time for my family and my husband as well as other things I wanted to pursue—like my writing—without all the guilt about what I was leaving undone.

Sunday, July 16, 2006

Finding Four Leaf Clovers

By Keith Fisher
Do you remember four-leaf clovers? When I was young, they fascinated me. In every patch of clover, on every lawn, there were billions of three-leaf clovers, but a true four-leaf clover was rare and considered lucky. Some believed that four leafs were a myth. I knew they were real because I had seen one.

I’m not talking about the clover that grows in alfalfa fields. They are huge by comparison and may have four leaves. I’m talking about the patches that grew in lawns.

It became an on-going quest to find a four-leaf. Sometimes we spent hours lying on our bellies over a patch of clover, looking for the Leprechaun’s leaves. There were many clever lads who would remove two leaves and put two stalks together, providing the illusion of a four-leaf. But if you looked closely you could tell that it was a fake.

We didn’t notice at the time but clover patches were also rare in lawns. When I grew older and I had to take care of my own lawn. I learned that clover is an undesirable lawn weed. Growing up can certainly change a person’s perspective.

When I think back on those lazy summer days and our quest for a lucky charm, I realize the lessons of life that I learned: Persistence, perseverance, patience, hope, organization, sharing, humility. I also learned to talk with my friends.

As the memories of my youth begin to fade, the lessons learned while lying on the lawn are still there. In my writing I have learned (through rejections) to have patience, to be persistent, to keep looking. Just like looking at every three-leaf to find one four-leaf, I am learning to look at every word and every sentence while editing. I am noticing the poorly constructed sentences of the clever lads, those who were published before the LDS market got so tough. I am realizing that I need to learn to do better. Above all, I am learning from all of you, my writer friends. I learn from your wisdom.

The one lesson that I didn’t learn in a clover patch, the thing I have needed most as a writer is overcoming my pride when I realize that an editor is right. My writing has improved from the support of a writer’s group and I realize that any success that I attain will be (in part) due to my writer friends.

Friday, July 14, 2006

What You Read Might Be What You Write

By G. Ellen

When I first started to write, I was reading a lot of gothic romances and classical romances. Ones like Jane Eyre. I loved Jane Eyre. My first stories were dark, romantic and dramatic. As I got older, I started reading mystery suspense type books, less romance. My stories became less dramatic and more violent.

When I returned home from a mission, I wanted to use the area as a backdrop for a romantic suspense novel. I began reading more LDS centered fiction, and fell in love with a couple of books by a author who writes in first person--which is my favorite medium. I finished the novel. My employer let me print it at work (as I had no way to print it) and I entered it in the Utah Arts Council competition. Obviously it didn’t win, or you would have heard of me way before this. It was the first completed full length novel I’d finished. I was devastated. I didn’t get a review or critique of my work. Just got it sent back in the self addressed envelope I’d provided.

Now that I’ve been writing for much longer, I can see where that poor thing didn’t even catch someone’s eye. I like it much better now. I think this is probably the 10th time I have rewritten it. I have also read many other genres, and my perception and abilities have grown.

When a writer tells you (upon being asked the ever asked question, 'how do I become a better writer?') to read, they mean it. Reading other works broadens your understanding and abilities. You see where a sentence works better or where a broader vocabulary fits a character or doesn’t, how to write what you know, (unless it’s fantasy, and then it can be whatever you like ;) and how to do the length of your chapters or do a hook at the beginning of a chapter.

The best way is to find someone who sells lots of books and see what it is about their writing that people like. You have to be careful though, because what you read might turn up in what you write. The mind is funny that way.

Thursday, July 13, 2006

Giving it Away

(Homework for Your Story, Part 4)
By Nichole Giles

Over the last four weeks, I have passed onto you—the reader—the homework assignments given to me at a writing workshop at BYU. I have done this because these assignments were instrumental in helping me reshape my story into something even better than it was when I first wrote it, and because I believe thinking about and doing these things can help other writers better develop their stories.

Someone once asked me if I felt like I was freely giving away something I had paid for. My answer is no. The truth is, I could copy and paste all my notes and all the handouts I received during that week, and send them to each one of my writer friends and they still wouldn’t have learned half of what I did by just being there.

In the morning, a portion of my manuscript is going in the mail to an agent in New York. Am I nervous? Absolutely. But I am confident that my story is better than it has ever been. So tonight, before I pray about the fortune of my manuscript, I’m going to share one last homework assignment with the LDS WRITERS BLOGCK readers. Pay special attention to this assignment; it was the basis for the complete makeover of my manuscript.

Assignment 4: Rewrite the first page of your story. Include in it the following points:
1. Who is the main character? Include one important thing about him or her.
2. When and where is this story?
3. What is the story’s problem?
4. What makes this day different?

If your readers can answer all these questions in the first page of your book, they will be hooked. If a publisher or agent can answer all these questions by reading your first page, they might be inclined to keep reading. Isn’t that what we are all aiming for?

Special thanks to Martine Leavitt for assigning this homework to the workshop participants—including me—and extra special thanks for her willingness to let me share these assignments with our blog readers.

Thanks for reading, thanks for writing, and most of all thanks for being. For what is a writer without a reader? You are my readers, and today I want to thank you—whomever and wherever you are—for giving me the chance to keep writing. Without you, my words would be “As dust in the wind.” (With my luck, they would end up in one of the little ‘piles’ my dog likes to leave around the yard—Yuck!)

Wednesday, July 12, 2006

Walking the Same Path

By Connie S. Hall

I’m writing this blog prior to my boarding a plane with my sister this afternoon bound for Scotland. I’ll be having the time of my life as I travel a small portion of Scotland, England, and Wales. Yeah, I’m nervous.

It’s hard leaving my husband at home. I’ll also miss some of the children, grandchildren, and of course, my mom. I won’t miss the phone, but I’ll miss my laptop (but I’m taking my alpha-smart) and I’ll miss my e-mail friends. It’ll seem odd not going to work, and I dread the pile of work that will be waiting for me on my return to a one-girl office.

Driving a car in Europe has me a bit worried. Thank goodness, I ordered one with automatic transmission or I’d be in deep trouble. It would be hard to learn to shift while driving on the wrong side of the road. I’ve never dealt with money other than dollars and cents. The pounds and other money there will be foreign to this oldster. I know they speak English, but their accent is strange. Flying across the ocean is going to be a tough one. I’ve been to Hawaii, but it didn’t take long. Both my sons told me at that time I wouldn’t be able to tell the difference between the sky and the ocean. They lied. I knew the difference. I love flying, (except taking off and landing) but have never gone anywhere that you left one day and got to your destination the next.

Now to the best part of why I’m going to a land so far away. Most of my ancestors came from the areas I’ll be visiting. Many left a world full of riches for a life of poverty. I’m actually writing a book about one of them called Riches to Rags. Many left their homes and families searching for religious freedom. I can’t imagine getting on a ship to sail somewhere unknown to me and having no idea where I would end up. I’m getting on an airplane to go some place new to me, but I’ve seen pictures of it, and I know others who have been there. I know how long it will take and what time I will arrive. I have places reserved for me to sleep. The Pilgrims and Pioneers had no idea how long it would take them to get to where they were going and they had no home or family waiting for them.

I’ll be doing research to help me understand and know my ancestors. Seeing the scenes with my eyes will be a tremendous help. Walking down the same paths and seeing some of the homes they left behind will give me a new perspective. Visiting the identical castles and churches they visited will help me realize the type of life they lived. Smelling the similar smells and tasting the same type of food will help me have an appreciation for their life. Hearing some of the identical sounds will be like music to my ears.

As you can guess, I’m going on an adventure until the end of July. Meanwhile Nichole has offered to post the blogs I have written for the next two weeks. Hope you have a fun and exciting summer.

Tuesday, July 11, 2006

When the Call Comes

By Darvell Hunt

I felt like a fool wearing my pajamas while sitting under the porch at 1 a.m. with a flashlight, playing with our six-week-old puppy; but when the call comes, you must listen.

My kids were away in Idaho celebrating Independence Day activities with their grandparents while my wife and I stayed home to attend the BYU stadium fireworks. With no kids around, our young puppy felt abandoned. Just like an infant child, he gets bored easily if he’s not being entertained. Nobody had played with the puppy all day long and he probably slept much of the day.

By nighttime, he was axious for some activity. So there I was, a grown man, playing with a puppy in the middle of the night, trying to stop him from yapping in the early morning hours. Rather than let him into the backyard and possibly get lost in the darkness, I kept him in the dog run I had built under the deck at our back door.

Sometimes the call of inspiration comes at inconvenient times. Sometimes it comes during the night and wakes you up like a yapping dog. It might come in the shower or in the car. But whenever the call comes, you must listen if you wish to call yourself a writer.

Many of us writers are mediocre at best while we are writing. It’s those fleeting moments of inspiration—those that often come at inconvenient times—that often create the best material for writing and make use look like we know what we are doing.

Take, for example, a yapping dog at 1 a.m. Even something as annoying as this can become interesting source material for writing—as it did for me.

When the call comes, remember to listen. And then write about it.

Monday, July 10, 2006

A little support

By Heather Justesen

Writing is a very individual project, one that necessitates many hours of face time with the computer screen, and not as much with humans. However, we all need support for our obsession from living, breathing people.

When I speak with other writers I often hear comments indicating that their family and/or friends think they are involved in a nice ‘hobby.’ Some people feel like their family thinks they are wasting their time when they could be doing something else. Others face loved ones who simply don’t care one way or another. All of these attitudes can cause your enthusiasm to flag and make it difficult to plug through the work when things get difficult.

Everyone I know has times when they need support to accomplish their goals. And when family and friends cop out on us, we need another place to go for encouragement and support. The e-mail group that I belong to, along with all of these bloggers and several dozen more people, is one of those places of support that I use. When I feel my enthusiasm waning there is always an encouraging word from my friends here, even if I rarely see them face to face.

There are lots of writer’s e-mail groups out there. Don’t know where to find one? Hop onto Yahoo or any other web site that hosts web groups and do some key word searches. I also belong to a group of LDS women who write romances. We are scattered across the United States and write in various divisions of romance from LDS to national publishers, contemporary to historical, sweet to spicy, time travel, vampires—you name it, one of us writes it. Some of us are published, some are not, but it doesn’t matter, we are a support to everyone in the group.

Local writing groups meet face to face around the country as well, though in my remote location I can’t reach regular meetings for any of them, but they can be another great source of information and encouragement. These groups can be somewhere you can receive training to improve your writing as well.

Another thing to consider is how much your friends and family know about your writing. My mother-in-law told me years ago that it was a nice hobby but not to take it too seriously. A couple years ago I let her read one of my manuscripts, since then she has become one of my best supporters. It isn’t always going to be easy to convince those around you that your work is important, but if you don’t give them a chance, they will never understand.

I don’t write because I envision being rich and famous some day. I write because it’s part of me, because if I don’t I can’t sleep some nights and because the characters live and breathe for me, even if I sometimes struggle to make them live and breathe for others. Without people backing me up, however, I wouldn’t get anything finished, or have the guts to submit it.

No matter how solitary the work is, we all need someone to back us up. Even if it is someone you never meet face to face.

Saturday, July 08, 2006

Killing Two Birds with One Stone

By Keith Fisher
Many years ago, I was a kid. I new I was a kid because I had to do what I was told by a woman who felt a certain responsibility for how I turned out. Of course I still have to do what I’m told by a woman who feels a certain responsibility for me, but the new woman has greater power.

Getting back to when I was a kid; I remember working hard in the garden and feeding the animals. Or was it working hard at getting out of work? Well, that’s another issue. We had great times as well. My friends and I would often pack a lunch in the morning and go exploring for the day. We explored the gravel pit, the old house, the canal, the sand dunes, and the turkey ranch. There were fishing trips to Utah Lake too.

Life was grand in those days but one of the most poignant memories of my kid hood was when my father sat down to read to us. He stretched out on the couch and we stretched out on top of him. In a few days he read the best book of all time.

I have been reading the Chronicles of Narnia with my eight-year-old daughter. While reading this and other books, I have learned some things about writing, about my daughter, and about me. Mostly I re-learn lessons. Like when she was two and we read the little red hen story. Oh how I wish the hen realized who gave her the seeds, the water, the farm, and who made the seeds grow.

What does this have to do with writing? Well, we all know that we must read to perfect our writing. I am trying to kill two birds with one stone. I read to my daughter and learn how other writers write. I am crossing Genre but I still learn. Oh, and the best book of all time is an obscure novel called The Ghost of Dibble Hollow by May Nickerson Wallace. http://www.i-reports.info/b/B200017.html I remember the story of that book. My daughter will remember what we read as well, but I hope she will remember me the way that I remember my dad. Through it all though, I will learn something.

(I pulled the book off the shelf after writing this and re-read it. My daughter wasn’t interested in it but for me it was research. I discovered that there is another way to spell cookie and Wallace used it.)

Friday, July 07, 2006

UNCERTAINTIES

by W.L. Elliott

I’ve wanted to write the story of my life for years now, but every time I try there is a great big monster that rears its ugly head and stops me from crossing the drawbridge between wanting and doing.

The troll under the bridge has many names, and even more faces, but it is, in reality, only my own uncertainty and fear. Of all the trials I have yet faced in my writing, this is the hardest to face and the only one that seems impossible to overcome.

In any undertaking, especially a worthy one, there is going to be opposition. In the case of those wishing to write good, clean, wholesome literature we are going to be faced with a number of challenges. Scratch isn’t going to let us get by that easily. There will always be publishers who won’t consider anything worthy that doesn’t have gratuitous sensuality, readers and critics who believe that anything innocent is na├»ve and unlearned, therefore of little value, and other authors willing to do anything at all to sell their product.

But these causes of discouragement are exactly the things that should give us the impetus that we need to forge onward! I need to write my book, and you need to write yours, to give the readers of the world a good, wholesome, and intelligent fare for their love of reading.

“For behold, out of the books which have been written, and which shall be written, shall this people be judged, for by them shall their works be known unto men.” (3 Nephi 27:25)

God said it, we believe it. That settles it.

Thursday, July 06, 2006

Epiphany

(Homework Part 3)
By Nichole Giles

The sixteen people sitting around the long oval table in a little room in the BYU conference center were getting comfortable with each other by the third day of the writing workshop. This day we were talking about plot.

“In children’s literature, story is what we do best,” says author Martine Leavitt. “Each writer approaches plot differently. You can’t build a house without a plan.” These are the tools Martine suggested for creating our story’s blueprints: character, conflict, and change.

Who is the character? What is the main conflict? Is there a change somewhere from beginning to end?

When considering conflict, there are three basic combinations: man vs. man, man vs. nature, and man vs. himself. Which of these will your conflict be?

Norma Foxx Mazer (a very wise lady) sees three kinds of structure:
Something happens and there’s a consequence.
Someone’s life is off balance and the story is about returning to balance
Someone wants something and sets about getting it. (This is her favorite)
She makes her character try three times before getting it, making the circumstances worse each time.

Adam Rapp, author of “Buffalo Tree” suggests putting your story in three sentences. This is a story about _________. It begins when __________. The main character wants _______.

This week’s homework assignment is simple. It is also an important part of your plot. You have two choices. Write the moment your character says or thinks, “Aha.” (No using the words he realized or she thought) Or write the hopeless moment in your story.

As I searched through my completed—but still unfinished—novel, I had to think way too hard to find either of these two things. Luckily, I found one of each. As I thought through the day’s lesson, I did some editing, some revising, and reworking. What I ended up with was an important, usable scene in my story. Thanks again, Martine. My story is getting better every day.

Give your character an epiphany, and enable them to resolve a conflict. It just might make your day.

Wednesday, July 05, 2006

Creating Balance

By Connie S. Hall

Create balance in your life and fulfill your obligations to God, church, family, and job and include yourself.

Setting priorities is not a problem of time; we each have the same amount of time every day.

Don’t waste time watching too much television and playing computer games for hours. Instead, you should take time to read. Reading increases your understanding and comprehension. In Proverbs 4:7 it says, “Wisdom is the principal thing; therefore get wisdom; and with all thy getting get understanding.”

We should all be studying our scriptures. If you read John 5:39 it says, “Search the scriptures; for in them ye think ye have eternal life; and they are they which testify of me.” Reading in D&C 26:1 it says, “Behold, I say unto you that you shall let your time be devoted to the studying of the scriptures…”

We should spend time studying or examining new ideas. Taking time to think is good for the mind. Everyone should take time to reflect about his or her life, or imagine ‘what would happen if’, and wonder, speculate, or even question the way things are. Ponder the scriptures, or other good works.

When you put God first in all things, they will fall into their proper place, and you will be able to balance the remainder of your life. Every writer needs to read, needs to write, and needs balance in their life.

Saturday, July 01, 2006

Midnight Editors

By Keith Fisher

I wish I were the kind of editor that I am in my sleep. Sounds strange don’t it? Read on. About two days ago I went to bed after editing 20 pages of my manuscript. I was so full of it. You might say I had red ink running out of my ears. I rolled into bed about 1 or 2 AM (It’s like the difference between 95 degrees and 100, when you get to that point, who cares how hot it is). Anyway, I had no trouble falling asleep since I was tired and thinking of my character at the time.

At that point I’m a little fuzzy on the details as you might well imagine. Life gets pretty unclear at 3 AM or so (as I said, 3 or 4, who cares). I was talking to someone and corrected my syntax. Do you think that is strange? I think not. After all I don’t want an editor marking up my dreams with a red pen.

Now before you think I’m crazy, you should know, I woke right up and started a debate with myself. Should it be worded this way or should it be the other way? I got up to go to the bathroom (an older person’s thing) and I continued the debate. When I came back to bed I had it all worked out. I was satisfied that I had saved a bunch of red ink and the time of an editor. I was able to fall asleep again knowing that the world was safe.

With all that debate, you would think that it was one of the hardest words of all time wouldn’t you? A word like snuck versus sneaked or how do you spell tomato? Well . . . I like to think it was one of the mysterious words, but the truth is . . . I don’t remember the word . . . I was asleep at the time.

Have you ever corrected the grammar of a newscaster as they spoke? What about the scriptures? Are you plagued with midnight editing? If you have any of these symptoms don’t worry. It means you’re a writer, you’re getting better at the craft, and unless you start correcting your spouse’s speech, then you’ll be OK.

Just be careful and don’t let anyone see you arguing with yourself. It would not be good. When you are a published author, look me up. I will be staying in this spacious white room with soft walls, soft everything. (Smile)
I’m really not crazy I’m a writer. (Smile)