Tuesday, October 31, 2006

Yabbit Hunting

By Darvell Hunt

The fall hunting season came again, but I don’t think too many people bought yabbit hunting permits. Why? Because no permit is required and the season lasts all year long.

Stephen King says the first gut reaction to criticism of your writing is the phrase “Yeah, but…” followed by rationalizing and self-serving excuses about why your writing is so wonderful and why the critiquer has no idea what you’re trying to say.

Suspend that temptation to go hunting for excuses. All writing is subjective and if someone says something about what you have written, it’s always a valid point. The more criticism you can accept as a writer, the more right you have to call yourself a writer—and the more others will call probably you a writer.

Conversely, there are no valid “yabbits.” You can always ignore comments about your writing, maybe because the critiquer really doesn’t know what you are doing; but if they don’t know, perhaps your target reader won’t know either. You cannot explain anything to your reader that does not appear on the page. You won’t be there to say, “Well, yeah, but… such and such.”

Don't make excuses. Just fix your writing and it will speak for itself.

A Measurement of the Immeasurable

by G.Ellen

A measure of the immeasurable. This is my husband’s favorite saying. I think he got it from somewhere, but I don’t know so I give him all the credit. (grin)

He likes to use this phrase with our children when we talk about time and the lack of or a desire for it to hurry. He is quick to quote it to me whenever I’m trying to push myself to beat a deadline or accomplish more than I have time for.

Time. As writers, many of us have deadlines we have to meet. Each day becomes a deadline with so many words having to be written or so many pages needing to be done. How do you gauge your work day? Do you have goals for your progress?

I’ve found the simplest way to measure the immeasurable is to count words. I feel great satisfaction if I have the goal of so many words per day, and I see that I have met or exceeded that goal. At least I know I’m moving forward.

Several writers I know measure their progress by pages. They have a goal of 3 or 4 pages a day, and are able to use that as a guide post. A songwriter in one of my writing groups uses lines as a guide. It doesn’t matter what you choose, the important thing is to set a specific guideline
to help you know you are working toward your goal.

November is National Novel Writing Month, (http://www.nanowrimo.org/) and that is a wonderful way to start if you haven’t put pen to paper yet. They have a goal of 50,000 words for the month. It ends up being about 1700 words a day. It doesn’t matter if you’ve never written a word, or have several attempts under your belt–they just encourage you to write. I have done this project for two years now - this will be my third. I’ve made my goal each year, ‘winning’ as they call it.

I am a little stumped for this year, and find myself wondering if I'll reach the goal as I have before. But here we are–facing November and a measurement of time that is infinite, goals that bring us closer to our desires. Do we make it or not? Ask me again on December 1st.

Saturday, October 28, 2006

Chocolate Daydream

By C. L. Beck
© 2006

Last week in writing group our moderator/teacher, Shirley Bahlmann, gave us an assignment to write about a place made of food. The idea behind it was to get the juices flowing. No, not stomach juices—creative juices.

Pardon the pun, but an assignment like that is a piece of cake. There’s only one thing that rivals the high you get from creating a story. And that’s food. To be more precise, that’s chocolate.

Perhaps I was born a rebel, but the first thing I did was fudge (ooo, there’s another reference to food) on the assignment and write about my favorite chocolate daydream. It goes like this.

The day starts with eggs for breakfast. You know, Cadbury Eggs, with the smooth, creamy chocolate outside and the yellow and white fondant inside. The Cadbury chocolate is like a blessing from the gods as it touches my lips.

Next, as I get ready for work, my husband gives me a kiss . . . a Hershey’s Kiss. The silver wrapping causes my heart to pitter-patter. Opening it up, the chocolate is firm in my hand and, oh, so warm in my mouth, as it caresses my taste buds and slides away, leaving only the memory of its lusciousness.

As much as I’d like, the day can’t consist of just eating chocolate. Dressed in my dark-chocolate, skin-tight, size four jeans (yes, it is a daydream), I put on my lipstick. Aaah, just the right shade—Chocolate Passion.

Next, I spritz my wrists with perfume, inhaling the ethereal fragrance by . . . who else but Coco Chanel. The heady scent lingers in the air, bringing memories of cool fall days, where I’m curled up by the fireplace, dunking a decadent chocolate cake-donut into a cup of steaming hot cocoa.

Sadly, I do have to complete the writing assignment, and so the fantasy winds down.

The daydream fades as I envision hugging my teenage son, Chip, whose aftershave smells like no-bake chocolate cookies blended with chocolate mint ice cream. As I walk out the door, I do one last act—a goodbye pat to the soft, fuzzy head of our new puppy, Tootsie Roll.

I hate for this flight of fancy to end—probably even more than you do. That’s the world of a writer, however. Life goes on, and we have to tear ourselves away from our writing to live in reality . . . if only long enough to bring home the bacon.

What’s that? I’m sorry; did I leave you wondering about something? You want to know what kind of dog Tootsie Roll is?

Why, she’s a chocolate lab, of course.

Writers Block at 9,000 Feet

By Keith Fisher

I couldn’t bring my computer. Well, I guess I could’ve but I’m one of those who didn’t know you should remove the battery from a laptop while on house current so my battery only lasts about 50 minutes. Because of my daily writing habit I wondered if I would go crazy without my computer.

In a half-hearted attempt at appeasement, I brought a wire bound notebook. I figured I could make notes of the ideas I might have. I also threw in a few books to plan a Priesthood lesson I was scheduled to give.

I was going camping. My brother had planned his hunting trip and I didn’t want him to go alone. It turned out that my dad came too and we spent a large amount of time shooting the bull and solving the world’s problems while my brother was hunting. My brother brought Dad’s camp trailer so I was left alone in mine.

Have you ever tried to concentrate on a plot when someone is sitting next to you? I felt a need to put down my notebook and talk . . . so I did. I didn’t get my writing done.

After we ate the Dutch oven food I cooked and we said good night I went into the trailer and opened my notebook. Nothing happened. I tried to make notes for my lesson but I couldn’t keep my mind on it.

I realized if I had a generator, I could’ve brought my computer. At least I could watch a DVD on it. What do you do when you’re camped at 9,000 feet during your writing time and nothing comes to mind? I couldn’t even play computer games. Did I mention I was alone in a camp trailer? Who could ask for a better set up than that? I was having the weekend that most writers can only dream about and my mind wasn’t co-operating. What would you do? I gave up!

I finally decided to go to bed, thinking I would at least get caught up on all the sleep I’ve been missing. Have you heard about the best-laid plans of mice and men? The air was so dry and I was running the furnace. I woke at midnight with a dry throat and a worry that I would be sick by morning. I boiled some water and leaned over the steam while I made hot chocolate.

When my hot drink was ready, I sat down and looked at my notebook. I thumbed through the notes I made before and they started me thinking about the characters in one of my books. It isn’t the book that I have been currently working on. Suddenly my characters were dictating to me and I was putting it on paper, not my computer screen.

Three cups of hot chocolate and four hours later, I decided that I’d better go to bed. I was happy when my head hit the pillow. I forgot about my sore throat because I was thinking about my characters.

I spent the rest of the weekend writing about those characters, the ones I didn’t intend to write about. I learned that it’s a good idea to have two stories going in case you get blocked up with the one you’re working on. It can get confusing, but characters are like children if you pay attention to one, the other will get jealous and try to take center stage. Then all you need to do is write it down.

I learned something else that I had forgotten: There is something peaceful about quietly putting ink on paper but reading it is another matter. My writing is readable when it is done on my computer. I’m looking forward to Christmas with an Alpha Smart in mind. Then I'll be able to read what I write even if I’m camping when I write it.

Friday, October 27, 2006

Due to Circumstances...

beyond my control, I have been unable to write a blog this week. (no really, they really were way beyond my control!)

But I would like to take a moment to refer everyone to a unique and neat opportunity.

www.nanowrimo.org A novel in a month writing challenge begins November 1, 2006. See the website for details and how to sign up.

Good luck, and good writing!

:^>W.L. Elliott

Thursday, October 26, 2006

The Jinx

By Nichole Giles

There is a terrible disease among writers. Well, actually this disease exists among all human beings. And probably some animals as well. We all have it, but not all of us realize it exists.

I am here to tell you about the curse of the jinx.

The jinx comes in many forms, and may strike in many different ways. Most often, the jinx is aggravated by self-inflicted big-headedness. Each time we tell someone we never need editing, or that our work is already perfect, the jinx will make sure we find out, in the most embarrassing way possible, that we are wrong.

Whenever we start to think one good acceptance will make our career, the jinx will hit again with a rejection. In the manuscript that was perfect, with no changes to be made, and every space and letter exact, the jinx will make sure it prints or sends in Chinese. Unless you speak Chinese, then it will automatically change to Arabic, Hebrew, or Gaelic.

The jinx is probably the culprit behind most rejections, spreading its reach to the editors reading our submissions. “This envelope is jinxed,” they say, and toss it to the rejection pile without even reading the brilliant manuscript inside. The jinx is contagious, you see, and no one wants to catch it, especially not an editor. Imagine what would happen if one editor got jinxed, and then he jinxed another, and another, and another…until there were no lucky editors left. Then where would the world of literature be?

We writers must take action!

To avoid the jinx, we need to be mindful of a few things. Never, ever tell someone—editor, writer, friend, or stranger on the street—that your manuscript is perfect and cannot be improved. Be careful, don’t brag about selling a manuscript that is being considered, but not yet under contract. Don’t schedule book signings or promotions for a manuscript that is still in the rough draft stage, and far from acceptance. Always accept criticism gracefully and without argument. Be willing to revise, change, and re-arrange your words.

Most importantly, do not spread the jinx to your writing friends. Avoid this disease of the mouth and fingers by reminding them to remain humble at all times. Because even when one of us has a New York Times Bestseller, we can always find ways to improve.

Wednesday, October 25, 2006

Dust If You Must

By Connie S. Hall

I’ve heard the expression many times that Life is Short. Another thing I’ve heard numerous times is Dust if you Must. In recent years, I have finally taken this to heart. The only time I feel a need to dust the furniture is prior to my visiting teacher/home teacher visits, and before a meeting or party at my house. (If my visiting teachers and home teachers do their job, I dust my furniture at least once a month.) The first clue at my home that I’m expecting company is, if I have done the dusting.

For many years after working away from home all week I almost killed myself cleaning house and cooking every weekend. I loved to do it, but it took all my time. Don’t get me wrong I still keep a neat home, but now I take time for the important things.

Next to God, the most important thing to me is my family. Our family goes swimming together, we play at the park, attend soccer games, go to birthday parties, and we take each grandchild to dinner on their birthday. Taking time to help with schoolwork, play with, and listen to each child is important. It’s good to be involved.

What do I do for me? Now instead of dusting, I write a story. Next to my family, and church the thing I love best is writing. It’s good for me to take the time to do this. Yes, maybe my furniture suffers, but I stay happy, and I think I’m more important than any piece of furniture.

I believe you should cherish your family, and friends. Always find time to listen to good music, and read enjoyable books. Remember you will never have today again so write as long as you can.

Dust if you have to, but there’s not a great deal of time, especially for me since the ‘Time Out For Women’ local reading group will meet at my home tonight. I guess I better get busy and dust.

Sunday, October 22, 2006

Ooo. Far Out, Man

By C. L. Beck
© 2006

I’ve just discovered that I have a major neurological malfunction. My fingers are not connected to my brain. Especially when typing.

The other day I came up with a whiz-bang idea for a newspaper column. Ok, maybe it wasn’t really whiz-bang, but it was an idea.

Hoping to impress the publisher of the local paper, I fired off an e-mail detailing my proposal. This particular newspaper had printed some of my writing in the past, so I brazenly told the publisher that articles I’d submitted before seldom needed editing.

Why, oh why, did I do that? Where were the little warning bells that normally go off in my brain? Were they in Cancun, sunning on the beach, drinking little drinks with paper umbrellas in them?

What about the red flags that usually wave before my eyes? Hmmm—knowing them, they were out eating donuts (which are currently forbidden on my self-imposed diet).

The publisher sent me back a gracious response and said she’d take the matter under consideration and get back with me.

That’s when I discovered my fingers were holding my brain hostage.

Upon re-reading my note to her—a mistake in itself, since you’re sure to find errors after you’ve already hit the send button—I was mortified to discover a small error. One so small that I’m praying she didn’t notice it.

Honest, I’d meant to say that I belonged to a group of writers called the LDS Writers Blogck. Despite the message that my brain sent, my fingers typed out that I belonged to the LSD Writers Blogck.

I’d re-read that e-mail at least ten times before I sent it. I’d spell-checked it three times. Why didn’t spell-check tell me I’d goofed? You’ll be happy to know that spell-check is apparently a hippie from the ‘60’s. It thinks LSD is a real word.

Now I’m wondering. Do you think my fingers know something about the LDS Writers Blogck that I don’t? Maybe that’s why we have so much fun together. Here all along I thought we were coming up with these great ideas from our imaginations. Maybe I should consider that we’re all hallucinating from those cute little gelatin squares someone shared with us at our last get-together.

Hey, it’s not our fault. We’re a group of Latter Day Saints. We’re used to eating gelatin. It shows up at every get-together as salads, main courses, desserts, and even in its pure, unadulterated form— the jiggly, green stuff. How are we supposed to know the difference?

No, now that I think about it some more, I’m sure those gelatin squares were not LSD, but just a creative way to serve JELL-O. Besides, as writers we don’t need drugs to write. Our imaginations are close enough to hallucinations to be brothers.

Well, all I can say is that I’m going to find a way to get into my spell-check and delete LSD as a real word, so that I don’t make that mistake again. Then I think I’ll go do something to keep out of trouble. Maybe I’ll bake myself some brownies.

Ooo, brownies. Far out, man.

Saturday, October 21, 2006

Across Generations

By Keith Fisher

Have you ever sat down to write something and you know exactly where you plan to go with it? You get into what you’re writing and suddenly a thought comes that’s much better than your original thought? That’s how this blog came to be.

Many years ago, my father and I had an adversarial relationship. Perhaps the word is too extreme but I was a wayward son and he was doing his best to keep from cracking my skull.

Sometime after my senior year in high school, he somehow discovered a better way of dealing with me. It brought us closer and we became best friends. His loving the sinner, not the sin approach made me realize I could be a part of his family even with all my problems.

For many years we had long "bull sessions" where we would talk about hunting and fishing and cars. When I came back to church, we talked about religion. After I got married it turned into gardening and greenhouse techniques with a little hunting and fishing added. In 1986 Dad had an accident on the job where he fell 90 feet, hitting solid objects on the way down. He almost died and I had to come to grips with what I would do if I lost him.

He made it through, but he had to retire from his career as a welder and old age is gradually setting in.

Now his major problem is an eye condition that has left him unable to see well enough to hunt, he can’t tie his own hooks onto his fishing line, he pulls weeds by feel and he asks me to come and weld for him.

As we are fond of saying in the church, the Lord closes a door but opens another. Dad has been given a blessing: He signed up for a service that sends him books on tape and he sends them back when he is through. In the few years since he signed up, he has read more books than I ever have. When I come home from a writer’s conference, I tell him about the new author friends I’ve met and he orders their books.

Now we talk about literature and what I am writing, the plots that I am developing, the problems I am having with a character, and we critique other writer’s books together. Recently we took a car trip and listened to a book he was currently reading. Through all this I have been aware of what was happening and I just wanted to express my gratitude for our evolving lives.

We now have a new way of being best friends. Our "bull sessions" have continued and the sharing means a lot to me. Literature has a place in our society but for me, it keeps me close to my father.

Friday, October 20, 2006

Road Show Blues

by W.L. Elliott

Help write the road show? Sure, I’d be delighted!

What, I repeat – WHAT – was I thinking?

Spiritual, but not preachy. Funny, but not silly. Original. Comical. Enjoyable.


Okay, so it is not really impossible—but it is incredibly challenging. Writing something that will be pleasing to the Lord, uplifting to the church, entertaining to the audience – it’s a huge responsibility.

And yet...

Isn’t that why we are all here? Isn’t that exactly the criteria we are all striving to meet in all of our writing? Writing the road show is, simply and realistically, a condensed version of what I am striving to make my life’s work.

Okay, then... looking at it that way, maybe that old road show won’t be so impossible after all.

Thursday, October 19, 2006

He Called Himself a Monster

By Nichole Giles

October is the season of all things scary. Ghosts, goblins, witches, and monsters of every kind. It is a time of happiness and festivity. For parents, along with the fun comes worry and large dental bills. We worry about contaminated candy, or too much junk, or strangers lurking in alleyways.

It is a parent’s job to worry.

I have a terrible paranoia about kidnappers. Granted, I have a right. My grandfather was kidnapped nearly fifty years ago. I’ve been researching his case for nearly ten months, and have found a lot of great information. I even discovered that one of the men who kidnapped him is alive and living in Arkansas.

I thought it was a prank call today when I answered my phone and the person on the other end said, “This is the monster from the past.”

“Excuse me?” I said.

“The monster who kidnapped your grandpa a long time ago,” he said. “I just got your letter, and I wanted to call you right away to tell you how sorry I am for what I done.”

I was in shock. I only sent the letter a few days ago. I wasn’t sure he would even respond. “Oh,” I said dumbly. “I…I’m so glad you called.”

He went on to tell me how greatly his episode with my grandfather affected his life, how much he appreciated what my grandpa taught him, and how haunted he was with his own selfish plans for the man he had planned to kill. He even told me what the weather was like that fateful day.

“I remember everything,” he said. “How could a man forget the act that put him in a federal penitentiary for four years, and on parole for twenty more? I remember every detail.”

Details! That is what I want. I’m dying for details. And the man who called himself a monster has promised them to me. He promised to write it all down, and send me a “book” in the mail. He feels like he owes it to my family.

After hanging up the phone, I wanted to scream and shout my own selfish glee. I’m getting details! I’m getting it straight from the source. What writer wouldn’t be rejoicing?

And then my heart began to throb as I realized the way he thought of himself. He called himself a monster. But he is no monster. He was an eighteen-year-old kid who made a mistake. Now, he is a sixty-seven-year-old man who has been haunted by his actions for fifty years. I couldn’t help but feel sad for him.

He was not lucky enough to have been taught the principals of forgiveness. My family forgave him years ago. I’m sure Heavenly Father forgave him too. It is he who needs to forgive himself. The problem is, he doesn’t know how.

I am left wondering if part of my purpose in this project is to teach him. Maybe by writing this book, by communicating with him, and by showing him that my family truly holds no malice towards him, he will finally be able to forgive himself.

Maybe through this project he will be able to conquer his demons, and never again feel the need to refer to himself as a monster.

Wednesday, October 18, 2006

Death of "one-size-fits-all"

By Connie S. Hall

Wave goodbye to the time of “one-size-fits-all” – it’s gone. No longer in today's competitive marketplace can you be all things to all people. From home building, clothing, and music, people are now getting what they want. Today customization is a well-known part of the consumer life. Writing is no exception.

We live in an extremely diverse society, and there’s no way we’re all going to agree, even if some of us (me) are right about the best way to do things. Suppose you know with complete confidence that there is a fad diet that works. Would that justify forcing cabbage soup or grapefruit down unwilling throats?

Most publishers read piles and piles of stories. They'd rather be doing almost anything else, especially after they've seen too many of the same type of story. After they read your “one-size-fits-all” cover letter, they will probably put it in the recycle bin or the delete box, and never consider it again.

Publishers want to hear from writers who invest the time and energy necessary to customize their story and cover letter. You shouldn’t write the same as everyone else. You need to have your own style, and make your story stand out. If you write a “one-size-fits-all” story, it might mean your own writing death.

Saturday, October 14, 2006

No! I wanted to keep that one!

By Keith Fisher

I'v'e been out of town and wasn't able to write the blog I wanted to write so I used this one that has been floating on my hard drive for a few weeks. I hope you'll enjoy it and I'll be back next week with the profound one. (At least I hope it will be)

Not too long ago, Big Blue and Mr. Gates took some of the first steps into what we called the information age. I know there were others involved but if they want recognition, they can send me an email. After all, There’s plenty of blame to go around.

Since then, we have progressed. We have reached a point in our sophistication that allows us to tell someone how bored we are at any moment during every day. We can ignore our teachers, even our boss, as we send text messages into cyberspace.

Using email, I can have someone send me a message and I will be able to read it in an instant. I can also delete an unwanted email that I never asked for. Junk emails or "spam" as we lovingly call it today, has gotten out of hand!

During the time of the "dark ages", before email and cell phones. If we were solicited, we could leave the store, throw junk mail away, close the door on salesmen, and never think about it again. We didn’t have to worry about an indecent proposal or read words that we never heard outside of a poorly supervised locker room. There were even laws that governed telemarketing, limiting what could be said on the phone.

In another Blog, Jeffrey R Savage told of a wonderfully funny way of dealing with this problem: look it up at six LDS writers and a frog the link is on you right.

Most internet service providers offer a filter. We can set our filter to limit words and block certain senders. It is a great feature, but have you noticed the sleazy dregs of our society will change the spelling of certain words, and change their ID so they can get their email through the filter.

I would admire that kind of cleverness except one thing: What kind of bonehead really believes that if I take steps to reject their email in one form, I would buy what ever they are selling if they put it another way? Basic sales and marketing aside, I should have the right to be sold on my terms not theirs.

I mention this because I was the recipient of an email that I really wanted to keep but in my mindless haste, I deleted it along with the spam. In my mind I began to conjure up a scenario where a publisher sends me an acceptance email and . . . "Oh no, that was from my publisher!" Or worse, Someone gets your business card or bookmark and reads the "really cool" email address you set up for yourself. The one that is "perfect for you", and sells it to the spammers.

As I said above, there are filters, but should I have to bother? They don’t always work the way we want them too anyway. I want a button . . . a way that I can send a tiny robot that tells the sender that I am not interested. The second time, he zaps the sender with an electrical charge. Every time that sender changes the subject and sends it again, the robot uses more voltage. You could recognize who the spammers were then. They would be the ones that have the frizzy hair and the zap marks on their cheeks.

Many authors use email to announce the release of a new book or news that will affect their readers. Please understand I think this is a good thing. But they always make sure that their fans know they are going to get an email from them. And they never sell email addresses to others. We need to keep this in mind when we are famous authors.

The Right to Call Myself an Author

by W.L. Elliott

Since the beginning, I have struggled with taking my own work seriously. Writing down my daydreams doesn’t seem like it could possibly be a genuine career, especially since I have yet to be paid for it. For anyone looking in on me while I’m doing it, it doesn’t look like much, I’m sure. I found a quote long ago that fits pretty perfectly.

“Whether it is done quickly or slowly, however splendid the results, the process of writing fiction is inherently, inevitably, indistinguishable from wasting time.” - Deborah Eisenberg

I’ve always said that I’m “just” a writer. I haven’t been published yet, so it doesn’t really count.

But I’ve just debunked myself today.

In preparing for a completely different blog, I looked up the translation of the words writer and author. Of course, only the best would do, so I went to Merriam-Webster online. Here is what I found out:

Main Entry: writ•er
Pronunciation: 'rI-t&r
Function: noun
: one that writes : as a : AUTHOR

Main Entry: 1au•thor
Pronunciation: 'o-th&r
Function: noun
Etymology: Middle English auctour, from Anglo-French auctor, autor, from Latin auctor promoter, originator, author, from augEre to increase
1 a : one that originates or creates : SOURCE b capitalized : GOD 1
2 : the writer of a literary work (as a book)

Nowhere in the definition of the word author does it mention being published! Now isn’t that something?

Why is it that we, as writers, are so self-conscious about what we do? We already know that none of us may ever be the next J.K. Rowling. Frankly, I’m getting tired of hearing her name in relationship to mine every time I discuss being a writer. I don’t have to measure up to someone else in this quest. I have my own stories to tell, stories that I would want to read if I were shopping for a book. I don’t have to make a million dollars, or sign a movie contract.

As a matter of fact, from the moment my words hit the page, the Library of Congress recognizes them with a copyright.

As I sit considering this, a great example comes to mind. I have a favorite cassette tape. I found it twenty years ago, in a bargain bin at the mall being clearanced for 99 cents. The singers name is Jon Astley, the title of the album is “Everyone loves the pilot, except the crew”. He had one sort-of hit song in the mid-eighties. No one else that I know has ever heard of him. And yet, that tape is one of my all time favorites! I have rerecorded it onto new tapes because the old one is almost unplayable, its so worn out, and I can’t possibly replace it. Jon may not know it, I doubt he even has a fan club, but he does have one die-hard fan.

Is that enough? It is for me. Do you suppose Jon ever felt sheepish about calling himself a singer because he didn’t have a top-ten smash? Gosh, I hope not.

Therefore, despite the fact that no one else can see the battle scenes raging on in my head while I sit staring off into the void; despite the fact that I have yet to be published, I am doing something valuable! I am creating something that I believe to be of worth. I am not “just” a writer.

I am an author!

Thursday, October 12, 2006

Liquid Plumber for the Brain

By C. L. Beck
© 2006

“I’m really, really blocked,” I announced to no one in particular (meaning my husband, Russ) and everyone in general (meaning my dog, Corky).

“Maybe you should eat more fruit,” Russ replied. “Prunes ought to do it.”

“Woof,” barked Corky, seconding the opinion.

Apparently everyone in my household thinks they're a comedian. Despite that fact, the conversation started me thinking . . . no, not about prunes, but about being blocked. Does every career have its own form of ‘blockage’? Writers talk, and write, and talk some more about writer’s block, but maybe we’re just bigger whiners than the rest of the world.

The subject needed pondering.

Taking Russ’s advice, I grabbed an apple to prevent any other form of ‘blockage’ and started making a list.

Chimney sweeps must get a cinder block.
Lifeguards surely get a sun block.
General contractors definitely get building blocks.
Brick layers probably get patio blocks.
And oooo, you’re gonna love this one—world famous chef, Emeril Lagasse, must get a chopping block.
Does an urban planner get a city block?
If so, a woman who makes blankets must get a quilting block.
Then again, it seems like a quarterback would have the worst case of all—his would be block and tackle.
At Halloween, does a skeleton get a spinal block?
There’s no doubt that joggers get a stumbling block.
The manager at Sotheby’s must get an auction block.
And I think it’s safe to say prisoners at the State Pen get a cell block.

Last, but not least, let’s come back to Russ. He’s a therapist, and I’m positive he’s got a mental block.

The list made me feel much better, sort of like Liquid Plumber for the brain. Why did it help? Because it’s always nice to realize every career has its sticking point. Yes, I’m glad to know I’m not the only block head out there.

Why Shorts?

By Nichole Giles

In the process of submitting articles and short stories, there are times when I get tired. “Why am I doing this?” I ask myself. “When I should be focusing all my energy on finishing my book?”

Writing a book requires time and dedication, so I wonder why the book isn’t my only focus. Actually, it is in the best interest of my book that I work on these shorter projects.

For instance, I am able to receive quick feedback on a shorter submission where a book length manuscript could take days, weeks, or months for someone to get around to critiquing. I also have the satisfaction of reading through a finished piece, knowing it is ready to be sent off into the world of publishing, and has a chance of reaching the published status.

I learn editing skills from these submissions. The more short submissions I write, the better able I am to self-edit my book. Obviously the better edited my book becomes, the better its chances of being accepted.

Acceptance or rejection letters for short submissions may take the same amount of time to reach me as a longer manuscript, but because the manuscripts are shorter than a book, they take less time to polish so I am able to submit many of them. Thus, increasing my chances of receiving an acceptance in a pile of rejections.

The bottom line? I got another acceptance today, and friends, my ego feels so good. It is a push of encouragement that every writer needs to feel. Can you guess the first thing I did (after jumping up and down and then signing the contract)? I did what any writer would do. I turned on my computer and started writing.

Wednesday, October 11, 2006

Nut and Bolt Details

By Connie S. Hall

The thing that is most beneficial to a writer in helping them take care of all the nut and bolt details in a story is to have a first-class critique. I actually know a writer who has never had any stories critiqued. It shows. No one I know writes perfectly all the time.

My worst problem is point of view. I don’t know why I have to jump around in my characters’ heads. It must be confusing to the reader. A good evaluation reminds me that I’m not being consistent.

I find myself skipping around, or maybe not telling the entire story, or I spend time writing about things that are not important. Another tendency I have is to want to put in all the details. Every writer should trust the reader more than I do. If someone didn’t tell me to get rid of it, I’d hang on for dear life.

Like most writers, I have my own pet phrases and words. I try to search for them and delete those that aren’t necessary. One writer I know uses the word ‘that’ more often than necessary. Another writer uses the word ‘got’. They both drive me crazy. A good critique will help you find your unnecessary words.

Someone who does an excellent critique will find the words that you are repeating over and over, and find the sentences that begin with the same word time and again. They will help you chop out the fat.

Before you send your story or article out to the world, make sure you get another opinion. No one can find all the nuts and bolt details in their own work.

Tuesday, October 10, 2006

Reading Backwards

By Darvell Hunt

When I was a sophomore in high school, I wrote my biology notes backwards with my left hand—and I’m not left-handed. I only took biology to get the science credit and because I knew I should have a background in biological science to round out my educational experience, not because I enjoyed the subject matter. I much rather preferred physical sciences and anything to do with computers.

Writing my notes backwards so I could read them in a mirror entertained me enough to get through the class. I never used a mirror to read them, though, so I guess I did okay in reading backwards because I got four A’s in the year-long class.

This type of reading backwards is not what I mean.

I recently read my 100,000-word novel backwards. I was looking for typos and other errors. I read it one paragraph at a time, but in reverse order, starting with the last page of the last chapter. I was amazed by the number of errors I was able to catch by doing this, because I couldn’t really get into the story. The plot doesn’t flow very well backwards. I was able to see the words rather than the story.

I would recommend that all writers read their stories backwards, by reading each paragraph normally, but go in reverse order. I do not, however, recommend that anyone use this procedure in reading your favorite books by other writers—especially the first time through. Stories don’t make much sense if you do this, but that’s the point.

I also don’t recommend using a mirror for your reading. You don’t want people thinking you’re weird or anything.

Sunday, October 08, 2006

Something to Consider

by Karen E. Hoover

Recently I read about an experience Richard Paul Evans had when he was trying to take his book to the national market. One day he flew 3,000 miles for a cable network interview and had it collapse to a 45 second spread. The next day he flew to Georgia to do a book signing only to find that the manager had forgotten about it, and to top things off, the article that was supposed to have been published in People Magazine was cancelled…and it was raining. He went out to his rental car, completely dejected, knowing he was about to lose everything. He turned heavenward and basically told the Lord that He’d given him just enough rope to hang himself. He had an interesting conversation with the Spirit, then, one that has really impacted me lately. It goes something like this.

“Why are you doing this?”
When he didn’t answer, the Spirit clarified.
“Is it for the money?”
“Is it for pride?”
He had to think about that one a little bit more, but finally answered.
“Do you believe that I gave you this story?”
“Then let me do with my story as I will.”

We all know how successful it turned out to be, but that’s not my point. It was that conversation with the Lord that struck my heart.
Just last week, both my husband and my mother asked me almost those exact same questions. That got me to thinking. Why do I write? Why do I torture myself trying to get published, knowing I am going to face rejection again and again? Why do I keep sending it back out there?

Well, I dug quite deep to answer those questions, and I finally got my answer. It is this: I write because it’s who I am. It’s something I have to do, not because anyone tells me to, but because it’s so much a part of me that I’m not truly myself if I stop doing it. Not writing makes me more miserable than rejection ever has. I write because I love to create magical images with only a handful of words. I write because I love to create characters from nothing and make them live and breathe for the reader. I write because it lifts my spirit and makes me happy. I write, simply because I am a writer.

Why do I write? It’s a question we should all consider.

Saturday, October 07, 2006

Beauty Can Make You Cry

By Keith Fisher

As writers we frequently talk about how good it feels on those rare moments when we are "in the zone". Those stolen moments recharge our spirit and give us a sense of fulfillment.

We create worlds full of people who overcome the trials and hardships of mortality. They follow their destiny and do it with style and grace. We often look back over something we have written in amazement that it came through our fingertips.

We live in the hope that we can create beauty to touch the hearts of our readers and bring tears of joy. The printed medium has limitations however.

Have you ever wondered what a movie would be like with only the acting and dialog? Even in the days of silent pictures, the movie houses hired piano players to enhance the film. They learned music can build suspense to a climax that can make you jump. It can make you love or hate a character. And even if the movie was terrible, the end music will make you glad it is finally over.

Beyond the movie soundtrack, have you ever found tears in your eyes when you hear a beautiful piece of music? It is during those times when the music touches your spirit and you are given a brief glimpse into the love and peace that will be eternity.

Musicians have it easy. Their audience needs only to hear to be moved.

As writers our job is harder. We have to make our words so compelling our audience will invest
the time to discover the world we have created. Then if we have done it right, our "in the zone" moments will shine and the beauty we have written will touch our readers hearts and make them cry.

In order to do this, we must learn, practice, and experience, polishing our craft so that our fulfillment will show in our writing.

Thursday, October 05, 2006

Don't Forget to Water

By Nichole Giles

In the spring, I wrote about planting roots. I had planted some vines and shrubs only to have my dog rip them back up again and drag them through my yard. Upset as I was, a few months later I noticed little green shoots poking out of the soil where the vines had been.

Now that fall is nearly upon us, I am looking out my window at a vine that has grown more than nine feet tall, winding in and out of the lattice it was planted against, and over and through my back yard pergola. The roots I planted grew up healthy and strong. And my dog has learned to leave them alone.

As I mentioned before, this is very similar to our work as writers. As we are beginning, we find ourselves making mistakes. Our manuscripts come back to us full of red ink, and corrections to be made. But we take our lessons and we learn from them, and in the end we become better writers.

About the time you start admitting to people that you are a writer, a seed is planted in you. It doesn’t really matter if you’ve been writing for your whole life, or just a few days. That seed begins to grow and swell. If we ignore it, eventually it might die. But if we nourish it, water it, give it sunlight and room to grow, it will take off. Before you know it, you’re looking at a nine-foot manuscript that is ready to be packaged and sent to an editor.

The important thing is not forgetting to water it. Find the time to write every day, or at least several times a week. Regular writing keeps you going, even if you aren’t taking a writing class, or attending a conference.

Even as your writing continues to grow, it may take a while before it blooms. That’s okay too. I’ve read that my Wisteria plant won’t bloom for about four years. At first, that seemed like a very long time. But looking at it through a writer’s eyes, I’ve decided that four years is a reasonable amount of time to get from creation to publication. Some plants will need more time, and others will need less. The most beautiful thing about writing is choice.

We get to decide how often we water our manuscripts, how many conferences and classes we attend for nourishment, how much we sunlight we edit in and out, and how long we wait before sending them away to bloom. During the entire process, we are fortunate enough to be able to watch our manuscripts grow, change, and become.

As long as we don’t forget to water.

So, with just over a year of serious writing in, I have three more years to keep writing and submitting. Maybe by then someone will have invented a nine-foot envelope. If not, there’s always scotch tape and glue.

(Special thanks to Keith for inspiring this blog with, "The Wise Old Tree Root.")

Capture the Moment

by G.Ellen

If you've spent anytime outside lately, (at least in Utah) you've noticed that the mountains are on fire. The leaves have started changing and it's my favorite time of year. I love all the different colors. Every October it's the same thing; I need to have my fall foliage fix. It never fails to make my fingers itch for a paintbrush to somehow capture that essence of beauty. I rarely have the chance, but that is my lifelong goal--some day.

I find myself wishing I had a video camera on every moment of my life. I wish I could relive a precious memory, or remember every moment of a vacation. The time is gone so fast--the moments are gone before we realize it. It's like that every fall...I ache to capture the vision in my mind.

As a writer that's something we strive for every time we write. We are trying to capture a moment in our reader’s minds. We describe a scene or a moment in a character's life and if the reader gets that moment and sits back with a satisfied sigh, you know you have succeeded. The problem is, we will probably never see that reaction. We have to go on how it feels to us, if the right mood has been reached, if the feedback we get on something tells us the mood is being conveyed. In other words, we have to depend on others for the knowledge that we've succeeded.

Sometimes we can tell by reading it later. I have to put something away after I've finished it because it's just too fresh in my mind--I've eaten, read and slept that particular piece of writing for too long. After its been put away for a while, then it's easier to see if I like it--if I've captured the imagination of my reader--if it's what I wanted to produce.

But for now, I want to see if I can capture a moment for you.

The air is clear and sharp, the birds are a muted chirping in the background and there is nothing but the crunch of your shoes on the gravel road to disturb them. The aspen and pine trees mix together along the roadside, giving you an array of fall colors that are a feast for the senses--light greens, yellows, red, rust, gold and the rich green of the evergreens. You can almost smell hot chocolate with marshmallows melting or a fresh baked apple pie with its tangy cinnamon apple scent.

Mmmm. Makes me want to go bake. Capture the moment for your readers. Capture the moment for yourself--in everything you do.

Wednesday, October 04, 2006

Don't Put Your Ice Cream in the Cupboard

By Connie S. Hall

When you are writing, don’t change back and forth from one topic to another. Good writing is like a blueprint. It requires preparation, a good design, and construction. Disorganized ideas don’t work. Keep related items together.

Where do you begin to organize your work? Start at the beginning and finish at the end. Each paragraph should tell about one main situation and each paragraph should lead directly to the next. You join all the paragraphs with an introduction and a conclusion.

What comes next? If you are like me, you start moving the bits and pieces around. You hop, skip, and jump about to see which words fit where. Next, lay the pieces out in what looks like some order, as though you were putting a puzzle together. Add to your ideas. Be careful you put in the correct ingredients to complete the picture you are drawing.

Don’t let barriers come between you and the reader. Respect the reader by giving them an organized story they can follow. Be orderly and keep everything in its own place. Yes, like Ice cream in the freezer and cookies in the cupboard.