Friday, July 31, 2009
Since any talk about our founding fathers would have to include George Washington, I touch upon him lightly because he is well known and I was trying to mention those who are a little less on the tip of the tongue. There is one thing that I didn't know about the man -- he had a list of 110 Rules of Civility. They are kind of interesting, and I recommend the reading of them.
However, the men I have spotlighted haven't necessarily been in that order (we all know Benjamin Franklin) but I'm hoping to enlighten as well as to inspire. These men were generally greatly educated and willing to expound upon their thoughts and feelings. One such was Patrick Henry.
I knew the line for which he is famous, but I wasn't entirely sure of the name. Now I know I won't forget it. I think sometimes, that extreme times bring about deep feelings and great passion. Such is happening now, and the same such happened at the birth of our nation. As we close the month of July, let us who desire to add our note to history through the written word take note of those who came before and model our desires after them. They were not in things to make money from their writings, they were trying to shape a nation. Many of them suffered as a result of their choices, along with their families. But we stand today in this land of freedom, and know that we have been given a gift. A wonderful gift that I hope we never squander.
It is in vain, sir, to extenuate the matter. Gentlemen may cry, Peace, Peace-- but there is no peace. The war is actually begun! The next gale that sweeps from the north will bring to our ears the clash of resounding arms! Our brethren are already in the field! Why stand we here idle? What is it that gentlemen wish? What would they have? Is life so dear, or peace so sweet, as to be purchased at the price of chains and slavery? Forbid it, Almighty God! I know not what course others may take; but as for me, give me liberty or give me death!
Thursday, July 30, 2009
Lately, it seems to me like the terms working and writing become more and more of a contradiction. First, when you tell someone you have work to do, and then sit down to start a chapter or edit a book—they automatically assume that your work can wait while you write. (Because, as we all well know, writing isn’t actually working, right? Or is it?)
Thus, these same people have trouble understanding why making a word count or chapter conclusion goal is a pressing matter. (And while we’re at it, can’t we just whip that thing out and be done with it?) Says the person, “You can’t drop what you’re doing to babysit extra kids? But…you’re home. It’s easy to babysit while you write since you aren’t actually doing anything.”
Or are you?
Do we treat our writing as work? I think in order to actually do much of it, we have to. There will be times when we have to feel like the bad guy and actually say, “No, I’m sorry, I have work to do,” when someone asks to infringe on our precious writing time. And though the feelings of extended family members or close friends may be hurt, or misunderstandings ensue, at some point it becomes a necessity for us to stand our ground.
Just because some people perceive our writing as a fun hobby doesn’t mean that’s all it really is. For most of us, writing is a calling, a life path, and hopefully, someday, a career.
But how do we make those around us understand our need to write? This absolute hunger that eats away at our hearts and brains to tell stories in the way only we can?
I think first we have to convince ourselves. This is why it’s important to set aside specific times to write, and treat those times the same way we’d treat a job, sport practice, or other regular commitment. It may take some adjustment, and will definitely require some sacrifice from us and our families, but in the end, if we keep at it, the rest of the world will come to understand that writing is work—and that it requires love and dedication, as does any other job in the world.
That doesn’t mean you won’t still be asked to give up your time, but perhaps people will be understanding when you have to tell them no.
I believe this, and yet, find it hard to say the words writing and working in the same sentence. Because while writing really is a lot of work, most of the time it’s so enjoyable or massages such a need that it really feels more like recreation.
Are the words ‘working writer’ an oxymoron for everyone or is it just me? And if it really is that, then why do I so often avoid it, only to give up sleep so I can give into the need?
Hey, I never claimed to be normal. Working or not, I’m a writer. Yes, I am.
Wednesday, July 29, 2009
Monday, July 27, 2009
By Ali Cross
In life, it never pays to be selfish and egocentric. The same goes for our writing careers. Every good writer relies on the help of others—to read, review, critique and offer suggestions for improvement. I’ve read books, and I’m sure you have too, that obviously did not enjoy this careful attention prior to publication and the book suffers for it.
A truly great novel typically becomes so because a group of people worked tirelessly to make it the best it could be.
However, your writing does not happen in a vacuum. If you expect others to help you perfect your work, then you must be prepared to give, not only to receive.
I belong to an online critique group and we have the rule that for every one piece of work you submit for evaluation, you commit to critique three more. So for every one of yours, you read three other submissions. This way, we avoid the lopsidedness that is bound to occur when you have prolific writers paired with less active ones.
It might seem like a big inconvenience to read others’ work when you’re focused on your own and you have a timetable that motivates you to complete your project. However, in critiquing others’ work, your own writing can only benefit.
Critiquing others’ work can be likened to an Olympic gymnast. The gymnast not only works tirelessly on her gymnastic skills, but she also does Pilates to improve core strength and balance. She takes ballet to improve grace and encourage long and appealing lines. These extra activities are not readily apparent when the gymnast is performing her routine, but they are invaluable to her overall talent and ability.
The same is true for your efforts as a critiquer—it will only make you a better writer.
Put aside your frustration or reluctance when a fellow writer asks you to critique their work. Not only will you likely benefit from the same favor on your behalf in the future, but your talent and skill will shine as a result.
Saturday, July 25, 2009
While searching for a lost something the other day. I pulled on my center desk drawer. It decided to be free, and came all the way out. I sat there, with the desk contents on the floor, and threw my hands in the air. I needed to go to bed, so I left it.
It was still there this morning, when I went to post my blog. The drawer lay on the floor with the contents strung all over. I sat and stared at the mess. It was kind of like those I Spy books we give to kids, only I was reliving memories with each object I spied. I looked at the Dutch oven tag from the Japanese Dutch Oven Society, expensive pens I haven’t seen for a long time, Dutch oven hat-pins, and a miniature sword letter opener.
Of course there were stamps and checkbooks, Drafting tools and colored pencils. The charcoal pens I used to make headstone rubbings on our trip to Pennsylvania were there. As well as old hunting and fishing licenses, Keys, and spare change. I found the whistle that was given to me by Chuck-A-Rama restaurants in a Dutch oven cook off. I wondered where that went. The one thing that grabbed my attention most, however, was the old Duty to God Award.
When I was a teenager in the early seventies, it wasn’t cool to get merit badges in scouts or work on any thing like a Duty to God Award. It was cool to skip church, break the word of wisdom, and go inactive. Consequently, I never received a Duty to God Award.
After I got married, I rode my bicycle for exercise. I was riding one day, about 14-years ago, and found an On My Honor Award lying in the street. It is givento Deacons who are on their way to Duty TO God and it had obviously been discarded because of the way it lay in the road. Someone had even driven over it with an automobile.
I picked it up and took it home. Every time I examined it, I was intrigued. What would make someone throw it away? It seemed pretty callous considering I foolishly never received one. I had served an honorable mission and wished I had remained righteous and pure through my teenage years. Someone had, and they were discarding that.
The Duty to God Award is now a medallion, but back when I was that age, the award was a real medal, with a pin for attaching to a scout uniform, like the Eagle award.
The Duty to GOD Award, coveted by me, stands symbolic of a committed soul. A soul, that puts God first in his life. I keep the award I found, as a reminder to be, that committed soul. Perhaps my desk drawer is not the best place to keep it. I think I’ll hang it above my computer so it can remind me.
Now, the part about writing, my desk drawer is a great analogy of the editing process. Sometimes it’s hard to get the story right. We search, and search, for that one little flaw. "Why doesn’t it work?" we ask. We start pulling on the drawer by tightening the sentences. Still, there is something wrong. So we pull harder.
Like my drawer, we end up with our story all over the floor. Editing and tweaking are essential to a good story, but it can be overdone. Recently, I tweaked a chapter before taking it to critique group. When I got it home, I noticed one of the suggestions was to change something back to the way I had it before. My group didn’t know that, but they all agreed.
There is a time to quit editing and step back. Give it to someone else to read, while you work on your new project. Don’t pull too hard on that drawer handle.
Good luck with your writing---see you next week.
Friday, July 24, 2009
I had thought to spotlight one of the early pioneers for this Pioneer Day edition, but in looking up names and information, I decided it was too difficult a proposition. Brigham Young has volumes of discourses, many of which are controversial, so I avoided those. There are many others, but it's difficult in my time frame to find writing by them. I was tempted by Ezra T. Benson, the grandfather of our own prophet, Ezra Taft Benson. The grandfather was an amazing early apostle, but I haven't been able to find anything written other than his autobiography, which was much the same things we've read of other members of the early church. He didn't elaborate on the pilgrimage west, and I wasn't able to find anything about the early days of Utah with regard to him, so I ended up with nothing to share for this great day.
So -- it ends up back to our founders. But this got me thinking. Were not our founding fathers pioneers in their own way? They pioneered free thinking and enabled our great country to get it's its start, so I feel continuing on with these great men does no disservice to our ancestors. I'm sure they would agree.
The person I ended up picking was John Jay. You have probably heard of him, there's a college named after him and he was Chief Justice on the supreme court. Amazing. But -- I hadn't heard of him before.
Though my education may be lacking, I hope yours is not, and that these writings are somewhat familiar to you. They were very interesting for me to read. This is a quote from The Federalist Papers, which he co-wrote with James Madison and Alexander Hamilton.
It has often given me pleasure to observe that independent America was not composed of detached and distant territories, but that one connected, fertile, widespreading country was the portion of our western sons of liberty. Providence has in a particular manner blessed it with a variety of soils and productions, and watered it with innumerable streams, for the delight and accommodation of its inhabitants. A succession of navigable waters forms a kind of chain round its borders, as if to bind it together; while the most noble rivers in the world, running at convenient distances, present them with highways for the easy communication of friendly aids, and the mutual transportation and exchange of their various commodities.
With equal pleasure I have as often taken notice that Providence has been pleased to give this one connected country to one united people--a people descended from the same ancestors, speaking the same language, professing the same religion, attached to the same principles of government, very similar in their manners and customs, and who, by their joint counsels, arms, and efforts, fighting side by side throughout a long and bloody war, have nobly established general liberty and independence.
This country and this people seem to have been made for each other, and it appears as if it was the design of Providence, that an inheritance so proper and convenient for a band of brethren, united to each other by the strongest ties, should never be split into a number of unsocial, jealous, and alien sovereignties.
I thought this was an interesting passage, considering it's July, and we are struggling as a nation (I believe) right now. I also noted that he said this nation had common ancestors, spoke the same language, etc. That is not the America we know today, nor was it much after that time. I noticed his language is not as 'flowery' as some of the others, though it seems as educated. I get the feeling that this man was more contemporary, a 'mans man' as it were.
Regardless, I hope that you have the chance to read more about him and get to know yet another person who helped shape this nation we are privileged to live in today.
Pioneer Day is a state holiday for Utah -- in case you do not live here. We have a big parade, picnics and fireworks at night. It's a great family day and we take this time to honor those who came before.
In honoring those great men, we also honor the founders of our country and note that many people gave much for the lives we live today. Enjoy your freedom.
Thursday, July 23, 2009
The other day one of my online writing groups got into a discussion about time, and how impossible it sometimes is to have even a few minutes a day to write. One person lamented that the demands of family, full time job, church callings, and household duties wouldn’t allow much spare time. The question asked was, “How do I even start my next novel with no time?”
Of course, then the rest of us chimed in with similar frustrations. Because, let’s face it, this is the life of a writer.
But the discussion that ensued got me thinking. When do we find time? And how? And then, when we finally have twenty minutes to devote to our beloved computer, what does it take to get those words out onto the page before our time runs out?
Well, the last thing on the list requires discipline. If you read my blog from last week, you know how hard it is for me to stay away from my email (all my friends are in there!) and blog reading. But even worse, when I finally do find a minute, I end up staring at the blank page for ¾ of my allotted time. Then I end up wondering how I had so many great ideas an hour ago when I was driving my kids around, but now can’t figure out how to get them into the story. It’s frustrating, I tell ya!
And the how? Well, I’m right now reading a book called “Organize Your Life” by Marie Ricks (Review yet to come on my personal blog). She gives a lot of great ideas on how to squeeze the most time out of your day. But in my world, you just can’t plan everything. No matter how hard I try, it just doesn’t work. So what do we do?
The truth is we find the time to write whenever we can. Even if we’re jotting down a line or two in a notebook as we’re waiting to pick our kids up from practice, or school, or the orthodontist. We allow our story to sit in the back of our minds, swirling, fermenting, gelling, until a great idea leaps forth—and then we do our best to capture it. Hopefully, when that happens, we have a notebook or other recording device handy, but if not, we try to stick it on a post-it in our brain and not let it go until we find some way to write it down. (I won’t take the time to lecture us all about the merits of always having a notebook handy.)
Though it’s hard to admit, sometimes, this is how novels get written. One sentence at a time. My friend Rachelle Christensen reminded me of that today. Even on the worst of days we can usually come up with one sentence. If we make that our goal, we’ll be able to go to bed at night knowing that we’ve made some progress—however small. And that eventually, those sentences will add up to become an entire book.
And though it might seem like a turtle’s way of moving, the forward momentum will continue. Sometimes, we have to take a moment to breathe, write one sentence, and at the end of the day remember that we did what we could, and it’s good enough for now.
My novel will get written, however long it takes. What about yours?
Wednesday, July 22, 2009
Of course, when you are making cookies you do use a lot of the same stuff each time. Have you ever stopped to think about how many different chocolate chip cookie recipes there are in the world? No one makes them the same way, but most of them start the same. If you asked 10 people to each bring chocolate chips cookies to a party, none of them would look or taste the same. Nearly all of them would have the same ingredients, plus a few other things.
4. Baking soda
7. Chocolate Chips
The ingredients used in making chocolate chip cookies are as different as the way a person writes a book. No two people write the same, but every book has to have a plot and characters. Your setting will be different from what someone else will write. The way you write dialogue will not be like anyone else would do it. Every writer has their own unique style of writing, but you all have to use the same seven components in your stories.
5. Point of View
As in making chocolate chip cookies, you can’t leave any of the ingredients out or your cookies will fail. The same is true with writing – you need all of the above components to have a good story.
Tuesday, July 21, 2009
One of my neighbors is running for mayor of my city. He's an interesting fellow that some of you may know—or at least think you do from his media coverage. There's a lot more to him than what you see on the local TV news.
See: Dell Schanze to Run for Mayor of Saratoga Springs.
I find it curious that so many people are interested in this guy and his politics and other activities, which you can't fail to see on the news every so often, unless, of course, you don' have a TV or you don't live in Utah.
You can't argue that he's a popular figure in Utah. Whether you like him or not, if you know him or have heard of him, you probably have an opinion about him.
How does this relate to writing? Good question. I was just waiting for you to ask.
People buy books for many reasons. To be entertained, to learn new things, or to understand why their friends liked a book so much to recommend it. I don't claim to begin to explain Dell Schanze's fame, or infamy, however you see it, but you must admit one thing: the people of Utah know him.
I would love that sort of attention for my books. They say there's no such thing as bad publicity, and while I don't think that is totally true, there's something to be said for somebody who can get himself in the spotlight, like SuperDell can do.
Dell Schanze knows how to draw attention to himself, whether he tries to do it or not. I'm not sure if that means that I have to have to dislocate my jaw to form a big grin, have a hip flat-top hairdo, or have a slogan like "Totally Awesome!", but if it does, well, perhaps it's worth giving it a try. It cetainly seems to be working for him.
Monday, July 20, 2009
By Ali Cross
Right now I’m writing like a madwoman. I am thoroughly infused with enthusiasm for my work and I’m accomplishing a lot. It’s fantastic and I wish it could be this way all the time.
If you asked me, I’d tell you I’m working this hard because an editor has asked for some changes with the possibility that the publisher might be interested in my book. But, really? We should always be this enthusiastic about our writing.
Why can’t we always write with the expectation that someone will want to publish our story? Isn’t that the point of what we’re doing anyway? Except, I don’t think we—or at least I—usually think of it that way.
I tend to think thoughts like I hope someone else will love my book as much as I do. Or, I just need to find someone who will believe in my story. When maybe the cold hard truth is, we don’t always believe in our stories ourselves.
Oh, we believe in them to an extent, otherwise we wouldn’t be writing them. But I think maybe we constantly doubt ourselves, fearing that perhaps what seems like brilliance when we’re at our computers, won’t hold up in the light of day—namely on a bookstore shelf.
As soon as someone with any clout validates our work, we gush with pride and, like I’m experiencing now, we take increased satisfaction in what we’re writing. It’s easy then, because someone likes us, someone wants to read our work.
But writing is mostly countless lonely hours where all we have is our imagination, our dedication and our hope to keep us company. What I suggest, is that we have more faith in what we’re doing day by day. Write today, with the belief, the knowledge, that what you are creating will one day be adored. Write with the expectation that someone with clout will love your work.
I would like to retain this enthusiasm even beyond my current situation. I don’t want to have to rely on someone else to infuse my heart with this joy in my work. I have a gift, yes I choose to believe it’s a gift, and this gift has a purpose. And, I believe it’s possible to experience joy in the journey—not just at the end when we’re sitting in front of a stack of our books signing copies for happy fans. No, even in the dark of night when we sit up late typing away, we can have joy.
You have a gift. Cherish it. Use it. And by all means, enjoy it.
Saturday, July 18, 2009
I Saw, Harry Potter and the Half Blood Prince on Tuesday night. My daughter and I stood/sat in line for the midnight showing on opening day. It was our daddy/daughter date, and I wanted her to have the experience of being in an opening night movie.
We left about ten-thirty, thinking we would be first in line. Yeah, I know what you’re thinking. When I turned the corner into the Riverwoods development, the sheer numbers of humanity shocked us. Finding a parking space wasn’t easy, but at least we didn’t have to go to borders.
People lined the building. They extended into the parking lot and up the street. The theatre worker on the corner asked us what time our tickets said. I told him, and he directed me to the line up the road.
By the time they let us inside, there was no rhyme or reason to the lines. They picked a line and started with them. Yeah, you guessed it---we were last. Theatre assignments were given according to ticket show time. We walked into our theatre, and all the seats were taken. We sat in the middle, on the extreme front row.
I watched conversations happen with Harry on one side of the screen, and Ron on the other. I literally had to turn my body to watch the other one say his bit. It gave a whole new meaning to the term, following a conversation.
So how was the movie? You ask. After the last two movies and all they had to leave out in the translation from book to movie, I thought they would make the last books into two movies each. There was a ton of relevant stuff left out. I wonder how anyone, who hasn’t read the book, could follow the movie. Also leaving out scenes that touched our hearts in the final pages of the book was lame. I hope they show us those scenes at the beginning of the next movie.
I’m told they did The Deathly Hallows in two movies and I’m glad. I just wish they had done that in earlier movies.
As for the film, it’s nice to see another one. But I suspect the die-hard fans will be disappointed. The cheers and applause was deafening when the movie started. When it was over, surprisingly little applause could be heard. I heard a few disparaging remarks mostly about scenes that were missed.
As for standing in line at midnight to see a movie, I think I’ll grow up. I say, “Goodnight harry. I’ll watch you at a better time.” Although it was fun to listen to the college kids talk. I learned about how to write characters of that age. As a younger man, I stood in line for many a Star Trek premier. I loved the movies (I think), because I hadn’t read a book before. Maybe those who didn’t read will love the movie.
Personally, I got more out of the television special about JK Rowling a couple of days later. It showed (a little) of what it’s like to be an author. However, I wish they’d shown the edit/rewrite process, and how painful that can be. The program gave the impression that writing is a piece of cake when it’s really a lot of hard work. I did see something that touched me, and I will end this blog on that note.
The show was a collection of clips taken over the year in Rowling’s life when she was finishing Deathly hallows. They took sequestered video that would not be released until after the release of the book. There was a scene when we saw her finishing edits on the final pages. Non writers would think she was writing the book, but they showed us her computer screen, and I noticed she added sentences and took things out.
When she finished the last edit. She turned to her interviewer and smiled. She said it’s done and immediately grew sad. Her thoughts were about those who would not like it. Try as she might, she couldn’t please everyone.
There are many lessons to be learned by that. One I would point out is we can’t expect everyone to like our book. There will be some that just don’t get it, but if we listen to our characters and write what we feel, it will be as it should be.
Good luck with your writing---see you next week
Friday, July 17, 2009
In looking at the writers of our early nation, I chose some that I thought I knew. As I read about them and their passions, I have grown to respect them even more. This week, I'm spotlighting John Adams. Here is a quote from one of his writings:
Man is distinguished from other animals, his fellow inhabitants of this planet, by a capacity of acquiring knowledge and civility, more than by any excellency, corporeal, or mental, with which mere nature has furnished his species. His erect figure and sublime countenance would give him but little elevation above the bear or the tiger; nay, notwithstanding those advantages, he would hold an inferior rank in the scale of being, and would have a worse prospect of happiness than those creatures, were it not for the capacity of uniting with others, and availing himself of arts and inventions in social life. As he comes originally from the hands of his Creator, self-love or self-preservation is the only spring that moves within him; he might crop the leaves or berries with which his Creator had surrounded him, to satisfy his hunger; he might sip at the lake or rivulet to slake his thirst; he might screen himself behind a rock or mountain from the bleakest of the winds; or he might fly from the jaws of voracious beasts to preserve himself from immediate destruction. But would such an existence be worth preserving? Would not the first precipice or the first beast of prey that could put a period to the wants, the frights, and horrors of such a wretched being, be a friendly object and a real blessing?
I thought this was an amazing piece. I love the language with which he speaks, the picture he vividly paints and the expression of gratitude for a divine being.
I hope you'll look up some of his works and get to know him better. I'll surprise you with next weeks' spotlight.
Thursday, July 16, 2009
You know, sometimes I wonder how I ever get any writing done. I wake up in the morning, and run here, and there, and do this and that and before I know it, more than half the day’s gone and I haven’t even opened my computer yet. And then, when I do open it, the very first thing I do is check my email, scan a few blogs, check my email again, sign onto Facebook, check my email…
Eventually, though, I get around to opening my current work in progress.
This month, I took one of Tristi Pinkston’s challenges, and am attempting to add 25-30,000 words to my WIP by the end of the month. Hopefully, that’ll put me close to the end—if not all the way there. I’d really like to finish my rough draft of this so I can get to the good part—editing.
But when I finally open the document, I end up staring at the blank page for at least half an hour—not knowing what to write. So, I check my email again, scan blogs, log onto Facebook, edit work for other people, then get back to my document. I go on like this for most of the evening—taking time out to make dinner, talk to my kids, be a taxi, etc—until before I know it, it’s after 11:00 and I’ve only written half a page.
At this point, I look at my bed, then my computer, and generally end up playing einie meenie meiny moe between the two. But this month, because I really want to get this done, I work it so most of the time the computer wins the battle. I then take it downstairs away from my bedroom (so I’m not tempted to shut down and go to sleep) where I set up camp in the den and actually start writing. Sometime around midnight, I’ll find my groove, and by 2:00 a.m., I generally have either 1500 words or an entire chapter.
Then, I close my computer and crawl upstairs and into bed—satisfied that I’ve actually accomplished something with my day. Unfortunately, the cycle starts all over again the next morning, and I find myself wondering why I write best in the middle of the night when I should be sleeping?
Well, according to my fifteen-year-old son, the answer should be obvious. Sleeping hours are the most creative for our brains and just because I’m not lying down in my bed doesn’t mean my brain isn’t sleeping. Therefore, the majority of my work is probably more of an extended dream that has been intricately mapped out via words on a screen. And I—the author—am merely the vessel through which these brilliant and wonderful dreams are filtered.
So there you go. The answer to the one question we all get asked at least twice a day. “How do you know what to write?”
I guess I don’t! Really, it’s my brain being fed a dream as I sleepwalk through life. Whoda thunk?
Wednesday, July 15, 2009
One of my favorite months of the year is July. I love July 4th and all the festivities that come with it. July 24th is another day that I enjoy. It’s so good to ponder and think of the reason for these holidays, and of course, pay tribute to those who came before me.
For many years, there has been a free Days of ’47 Pops Concert held in Salt Lake City. I love good music and always look forward to the orchestra and guest performers that entertain the audience. This year I was not disappointed when one of the soloists was Joseph Paur from the movie Rigoletto. Although I love the music from Rigoletto, it’s not what I enjoyed most. The song he sang that touched me was, You Raise me Up.
I wish when I’m writing I could always remember the words, “You raise me up, so I can stand on mountains; You raise me up, to walk on stormy seas.” When I hear these words, I know I can do anything. And I believe the song when it says, “I am strong, when I am on your shoulders; You raise me up; To more than I can be.”
I know without the Lord’s help I am nothing. Now, if I could always remember that, I know I’d be okay.
Monday, July 13, 2009
By Ali Cross
Sunday came and my blog was due the next day. But I didn’t have a single idea of what I should write. So I sat, hands poised above the keyboard, and searched my heart and mind for inspiration.
Sometimes you finally carve out a moment of time and happily head to your computer ready to take that time to write. Ahh, relief! Joy! Writing time!
Except you find that your muse has taken a holiday and you’re left alone, and shockingly without a single bit of inspiration.
The minutes tick by and sweat beads on your brow. You can feel the time slipping by and the lack of words on the page feels less like an invitation and more like a slap in the face. What in the world made you think you could write in the first place? It was presumptuous of you to think you could write, again. It was a fluke, a marvel, never again to be repeated.
And then you start to type. Slowly at first, directionless, you let your thoughts flow onto the page, your fingers flying over the keys. And soon you find you’ve not only filled up your time with writing, but your page is also full.
There is no better cure for writers block than writing. Remember, when you don’t know what to write, write anyway.
Saturday, July 11, 2009
When I was asked to review Bron Bahlmann’s new book, Bone Warriers, It was still an ARC and hadn’t been released yet. Because of life changes and commitments, It kept being put back. I never knew what I was missing.
Finally, I picked up the book and began to read. Two paragraphs into the first chapter, I became aware that Bron Bahlmann was no ordinary kid writer. I had to read his sentences out loud because of the mastery of his writing.
Bron is a word weaver. He takes sentences and braids them into other sentences without the aid of a conjunction. And the words he uses conjure images in the mind, leaving the reader feeling like he/she has taken a journey.
I like this book and I like reading it. The author has a long career ahead of him. I’m glad he writes fantasy because I would have to stop writing. My mediocre talent is no match for his. When I grow up I want to be like Bron. I want to be a word weaver.
Bone Warriors is YA, but its a must read for everyone. You can find information about the book and Bron here. You can find the book at Amazon and fine bookstores everywhere.
Good luck with your writing---see you next week.
Friday, July 10, 2009
We all learned about Benjamin Franklin in school, but I think many have forgotten how much we owe this man. Can you list all of his inventions? Or how many quotes he is responsible for? He was one of the most amazing men of his time, and it is simply mind boggling all the things he accomplished.
With writing in mind, it should be noted that he is responsible for over 206 quotes that we still use today. I think it's interesting how the language hasn't really changed in their use. For example:
A penny saved is a penny earned.
A place for everything, everything in its place.
A countryman between two lawyers is like a fish between two cats. (my family, made up of lawyers, especially enjoys this one...grin)
By failing to prepare, you are preparing to fail.
Certainty? In this world nothing is certain but death and taxes.
Energy and persistence conquer all things.
God helps those who help themselves.
Guests, like fish, begin to smell after three days.
He does not possess wealth; it possesses him.
He that rises late must trot all day.
Honesty is the best policy.
And these two that I'll end with:
Either write something worth reading or do something worth writing.
He that composes himself is wiser than he that composes a book.
I think the thought that doing something worth writing about is what a writer always needs to hear. Life is full and rich enough...there is plenty to write about.
The last quote is food for thought. Imagine someone who is able to do both -- compose himself and a book -- the kind of wisdom that would come as a result.
Those are my thoughts for the day. Next week I'll be talking about John Adams.
Thursday, July 09, 2009
Every writer who is brave enough to submit is bound to get rejections. It doesn’t matter how good your work is, or how many people love it. We all have different writing styles, and not everyone is going to immediately fall in love with everything we write.
Because of this, submitting can often be a scary thing. Even more scary than sending our work to critique partners or loved ones who will give honest feedback. Our friends and family will (hopefully) give us comments and helpful suggestions to improve our work—but most editors or agents don’t have the time or resources for this. Instead, they might send a form letter, thanking you for your submission and informing you that your work doesn’t fit their needs. That’s hard.
Other editors or agents won’t reply at all, and you’re forced to spend weeks, or even months, wondering if your submission got lost in the mail—or if possibly cyber-gremlins ate it for lunch. Then you spend more time wondering if you should send a follow up email or letter, or if perhaps you should call.
Then there are the agents or editors who are kind enough to reply personally to all submissions, even negative ones. They might jot a nice note telling you they’re sorry they have to pass, or graciously thank you for submitting your work to them. Some might send a form letter but sign it personally—with a line like, “Keep submitting.” It’s amazing what a single personalized sentence can do to help temper the sting of rejection.
Whenever you get a rejection, it’s important to remember that these people are looking strictly at your work and how it fits into their vision of business. Even when you’re submitting to agents or editors you know or have previously met, they’re reading your writing with an eye to what kind of manuscript fits their current needs. If they really like you personally, they might read your submission faster, or look harder, or be possibly more anxious to find a reason to accept your stuff, but in the end, it’s still a matter of matching the right manuscript with the right company.
What I’m saying here is that rejections are not personal.
Wait! Wait! Before you all stampede over to my house to flog me, listen to what I have to say. Writing is personal. It’s like pouring pieces of your heart on paper and then sending it to a stranger to find out if you yourself are a good enough person. But while all authors feel this way—it’s true, we do—the bottom line is that a rejection of your current work in progress is NOT a rejection of you as a person. It’s not personal! It’s business.
It is an agent /editor’s job to pick the right manuscripts for the right market at the right time. And the writing must be…well, just right. So, in other words, there could be a thousand different reasons why you received a rejection on a specific piece—but that doesn’t mean you’re a terrible writer and it’s time to quit. Pick yourself up, dust off, and submit to five more places. Every author gets rejections. It’s a fact of life in this business.
The thing that makes each of us different is how we handle those rejections. Will you stop writing? Will you stop submitting? Will you lay down your pen forever and still the voices and stories and descriptions floating around in your head? Or will you mark each rejection as a notch on your post and try to fill the whole thing up until you succeed?
Rejections from editors and agents aren’t personal, but your reaction to them most definitely is. What will you do? How will it affect you?
Me? I choose to take the high road. I’ll be the author who brings a trunk full of rejections to speaking engagements where I tell other authors how many rejections I got before I succeeded.
What do you think? Want to join me?
Wednesday, July 08, 2009
I’ve been looking at a list I have of things you should never do as a writer, but I have a new one to put at the top of my list. The number one thing that you as a writer should never do is take a vacation.
My vacation this time lasted almost two weeks, and I purposely left my computer at home. Now that I’m back, I’ve decided that it was a huge mistake leaving it. I do have many tiny little notes that I scribbled on small pieces of paper. Some of them make sense, but most of them have no meaning and are untidy, illegible doodles. The memorable moments are still in my head, but I lost more than I saved. I even took my tape player that sat in my bag unused. I was really on vacation.
A writer should always be prepared and should always write all those precious thoughts onto more than small scrapes of paper. You should always write clear notes, and not scribble. I’m not happy that I failed to keep track of thoughts swimming in my head. I know that once it goes away it will never return.
Other times when I’ve gone away on vacation, I’ve kept good records and at least wrote on my AlphaSmart. This time although it was with me, I only recorded the pictures I took. I can use the excuse that I was too busy and having too much fun, but it won’t help bring back all the lost thoughts. At least I learned from this experience.
Tuesday, July 07, 2009
“I don’t want to write this story until I know more about the plot, or the characters, or what color of clothes the sidekick likes to wear on Tuesdays.”
I say things like this all the time. To my credit, I often write very quickly when I finally force myself to get to the computer and bring up MS Word. By the time I start to write, I really do know the plot and characters, because I have thought about them so much.
Unfortunately, it’s quite difficult for me to tell when that time arrives. When does planning and plotting become simple procrastination?
I’m not sure I know the answer to that question, but I do know that it has happened when I am not yet submitting my next story to an editor because it’s still in my head.
Instead, I find myself on Facebook or eBay or checking online classifieds, or even reading a book or taking a nap on the couch. And, in between doing all of those things, I’m still thinking about my story.
Sometimes I wish my characters would get more impatient with me, tap me on the shoulder, and say, “Hey! Make me live! And do it NOW!”
“OK, OK!” I say. “I will! But first, I need to mow the lawn....”
Monday, July 06, 2009
Saturday, July 04, 2009
Friday, July 03, 2009
I have been fortunate at times during our blog's history, to post on days that have national significance. Some would probably argue that July 24th isn't a national holiday, but I think it affects them, whether they accept it or not.
Anyway -- the first holiday this month is national. The 4th of July is Saturday, and while Keith will have the honors, I still get to mention it.
Recently, my family and I have been taking a closer look at our country and it's its founders -- especially at their writing and how it is viewed today. One of the early writers of the revolution was Thomas Paine. He wrote several articles that ignited the people and helped spark the resolve to separate from England. In a talk on Sunday, one of the articles (The Crisis) was mentioned and quoted.
"These are the times that try men's souls."
In listening to the quoted material, I noticed how differently we talk now. Depending on whom you were to talk to today, this sentence could come across in many different ways.
Child - "I don't know what he's talking about. Do you?"
YA - "Hey, like, these times are trying, ya know?"
Late Teen - "It's getting harder and harder to pay off my credit card, dude."
Adult - "I'm worried about where this country is going."
Educated adult - "The conflict and dissolution between the parties is pulling at the very fabric of our country."
As writers, we try to make our writing something that isn't associated with a specific time period. In my critique group, they comment on particular phrases or common slang, and remind the writer that if they don't want the work to be classed as '80's' or '70's' or whichever era, they need to take out the slang words that were related purely to those times.
In some ways, it's sad that our language has lost some of its depth. Many of the words Thomas Paine used would be confusing to someone of our day. Here's another paragraph from his book The Crisis to illustrate what I mean:
"THOSE who expect to reap the blessings of freedom, must, like men, undergo the fatigues of supporting it. The event of yesterday was one of those kind of alarms which is just sufficient to rouse us to duty, without being of consequence enough to depress our fortitude. It is not a field of a few acres of ground, but a cause, that we are defending, and whether we defeat the enemy in one battle, or by degrees, the consequences will be the same."
I admit, if I were reading that in a newspaper today, I'd skip it and move on. It would not be my chosen reading material, because the language is different from what I'm used to. But I still like the intelligence it displays. It's kind of the same reasoning some people use for slang or swear words. My mother-in-law likes to say that those who swear just can't think of better words to use.
I think our language has changed because we have gotten lazy. It's a sad state of affairs, but it's true. One of the common complaint my husband has had about cell phone texting, for instance, is that those who do it a lot loose some of their ability to use grammar and spelling correctly.
Thus -- again, our language is being affected by the changes in society. Amazing how many different things are changed or affected by how people act, speak and think. Including the books we read and the education we get.
For now, enjoy our nation’s birthday, and remember the freedoms we have as a result of an amazing and intelligent group of words on paper. Next week I'll explore another early writer -- Benjamin Franklin.
Thursday, July 02, 2009
As I contemplated what I’d write about this week—tossing topics around in my head between taxiing my kids and taking care of life—I kept coming back to the fact that our nation’s birthday is coming up. And as I thought about it, I realized something.
I’m able to try new things, step out of the bounds others might try to impose on my personal self, because I live in this wonderful free country. I haven’t done anything to necessarily earn this freedom, other than being born in the United States. I just am.
This week, my husband and I watched the movie, Defiance. It’s the true story of some Jewish people in Europe who, during World War II, ran away to live in the forest—thereby defying Hitler’s attempt to kill them. What started off as three brothers turned into a huge community of people over a thousand strong. (Great movie, by the way, and very well done.) They were free within the confines of their little community, and yet, were hunted until the end of the war.
And here I am, living in this place where I can dress however I choose, work at any job I set my mind to do, give birth to as many children as I want without government imposed limits, and try something new every single day. Well, you know, if I want. That is the glorious nature of America.
Just because I didn’t do anything to earn my freedom, there are many, many people—historically and currently—who have done it for me. Since the beginning of time, people have been fighting for the kinds of rights and freedoms that I enjoy today. I may not have fought the battles, but that doesn’t mean I should ever forget them, or what our country is because of the brave souls who did.
Today, I choose to thank the soldiers—those out serving, those just returning, and those waiting to be called up. I’m thankful to all the soldiers—from all the wars and conflicts and issues—who have given their lives, or at least large chunks of time, fighting for my freedom.
I am truly honored to live here.
In honor of the holiday, and because this is a blog about writing, here is an exercise:
Write about what freedom means to you, and what you can do to show gratitude toward those who have fought so diligently for it.
Happy Independence Day, America! We are the land of the free, because of the brave.
Wednesday, July 01, 2009
Recently, I ran across a blog article by William Highsmith suggesting writers stand a better chance if they pitch their story in the editor's right ear. At first, I wondered if the article was meant as a joke but as I read farther, I realize it wasn't. It went on to say that the human brain has cross-wiring. No surprise in that, as my brain always seems cross-wired ... only not in a scientific way, like the article intended.
The old adage about words going, "...in one ear and out the other," is almost true. What really happens is words that go in one ear come out on the other side of the brain. Therefore, something heard in the right ear is processed by the left side of the mind. And the left hemisphere is the logical side—the portion of the editor's brain that you want to accept your work.
I suppose the trick lies in getting the editor to turn so you're speaking in the correct ear. I'm not sure how to accomplish that. Maybe point to a good-looking chick/hunk (depending on whether your editor is male or female) to your right and comment on the lack of clothing, thus causing a head turn on the editor's part that might rival Linda Blair's in The Exorcist. I'm not certain that's the best subterfuge, but it certainly seems worth a try.
All I know is that I intend to give it a shot in the future. After all, no one can dispute that it's a good idea to pitch a story in the write ear.