Thursday, December 09, 2010

Characters

Need some character inspiration? Look around you! Yes, characters are all around us, every day, as Jennifer B. Fields says in her blog post, "Characters in Your Midst."

Check out Jennifer's insights and start looking for that characters that surround you every day.

Wednesday, December 08, 2010

Publication News

My short romance, "Drain Damage," came out in The Storyteller this month. I got my copies in the mail yesterday. Can we say "e-x-c-i-t-e-d"? Yes, we can!

You can explore The Storyteller at http://www.thestorytellermagazine.com/. If you want to read the story, though, you'll have to buy a hard copy of the magazine either online or at your local bookstore.

Happy reading!

Saturday, December 04, 2010

Infrequent Posts

I've been feeling guilty about how long it's been since I posted anything here, and now I'm doubly convicted by Rachelle Gardner's latest post, "Blogs We Don't Like."

I know I'm guilty of at least two of her bullet points:

→ A writer whose blog has irregular and infrequent posts.
→ A blog that is really unfocused and doesn't know what it's about.

Some days I wonder if I should even have a blog. I have the best intentions about keeping up with it (and you know what they say about those), but paying work or my daughter always seems to slip in and come between me and regular posts. Plus, I can't believe I actually have a significant following waiting for my every word. (Actually, I have Google Analytics, so I know I don't.) And, finally, I don't feel I have anything earth-shattering to say that isn't being said better on a dozen other blogs.

Some of these are valid points. Some may be my own insecurities working against me. Here are a couple of questions, though.

1. How much does it bug you when writers don't post regularly or frequently?
2. What other blog faux pas irritate you?

And, most importantly,

3. What can I do to improve this blog? What topics would you like to see, and with what frequency would you like to see them?

Drop me some comments!

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Fears and Failures

On literary agent Nathan Bransford's blog, he says,

"Writers are by nature intense creatures. I really believe people who are creatively inclined tend to experience life, well, more intensely than other humans.

Combine that with trying to break into or stay afloat in a tough publishing business, and the writerly pursuit is not without its fears and anxieties."


He then goes on to ask what his readers' greatest fears are as writers. As I thought about fears and writing, I pondered a few lines I read yesterday in (oddly enough) Gene Edward Veith, Jr.'s The Spirituality of the Cross. Yes, it's a theology book. Bear with me. Veith says,

"Another ploy of the devil is to pry the person out of his or her calling. ... Thus, there may be the temptation to quit: to get a divorce, to leave one's children, to quit one's job, to give up writing or making music or whatever talents one has. ... Bearing the cross in vocation often involves the sense that one's vocation is worthless or futile." (page 112, emphasis added).
I know I've experienced my fair share of fear as a writer...fear that I won't be able to capture the thought or plot I have in my head, fear I'll never get published and fear no one will like what I've written even if I am published, to name three. Fear is strong, and often paralyzing. Think about what Veith said in relation to that, though.

True, some people try to write who probably have no vocation (calling) to it, but let's assume you do. Is there something you should be saying as a writer that will go unsaid if you submit to your fear and never get it out there? How miserable will you be if you leave your vocation as a writer and try to live as something else?

So, here's my modified version of Bransford's question: What are your biggest fears in writing, and what are they keeping you from accomplishing in your life today?

Tuesday, November 09, 2010

There Are No Rules - Ultimate Blog Series on Novel Queries (#2)

This is the second of three posts on novel queries by literary agent Jane Friedman. Number 3 hasn't been posted yet, but be sure to go back and read #1. Valuable insights into an agent's mind!

There Are No Rules - Ultimate Blog Series on Novel Queries (#2)

Monday, November 08, 2010

Rejections from an Agent's POV

For those writers who are seeking agents, this is a wonderful blog post by literary agent Rachelle Gardner. No, it's not an inside track to an acceptance. (I know you were hoping!) And no, maybe it won't make those rejections feel any better. At least now you know there's (probably) a human being behind that rejection letter. Keep that in mind and don't let it ruin your day!

Here's the link:

http://cba-ramblings.blogspot.com/2010/11/rejection-isnt-fun-for-us-either.html

Wednesday, November 03, 2010

Ramblings and Reflections

It seems I haven’t written anything for this blog in a while.

I have the worst of all reasons. I’ve been in a slump. Yes, an unproductive, self-pitying, paralyzing slump. I suppose it happens to the best freelancers as some point or another. At least, I hope it does. I’ve done little writing. What has managed to emerge from pen and PC has been gut wrenching and, well…blah.

I have been thinking, though. Sometimes I think too much. Yes, sometimes I need less thinking and more writing! Some of this particular thinking has gelled some productive results for me, though.

Ever since blogging on Christina Katz’s purity of intention prompt, I’ve been noodling that idea in my foggy little head. What are my intentions? What drives me? Where do I want to be in a year…five years…ten years…twenty? What things, if I never accomplish them, will leave me bitterly regretful?

As a result of all that introspection, I’ve come up with three areas I absolutely want to pursue.

  1. Fiction. Fiction is my first love both in reading and writing. Fiction, more than any other writing form, sets my nerves tingling and my blood humming. It gives me an emotional high that few other things in life instill. Yet, in my everyday routine, it is the writing form that most often falls to the bottom of my to-do list.
  2. Devotional. My faith defines who I am; it’s only natural to share that with readers. I’ve delved a little into devotional writing on my Lessons from the Shadowland blog. It’s tough going as I realize more and more how little I actually know or understand, but I’ve realized it’s something I want to continue, to dig deeper into my faith and cause others to do the same.
  3. Child Lit. I started out with one random picture book idea that seemed good (and has been dismissed by six agents so far). Once the floodgates were opened, though, I saw that there might be more than one, or even two, picture books in me. I’m now polishing a second text before seeking representation and roughing out a third. I love reading with my two-year-old, and I think I have my own stories to share with her…and with children everywhere.
The big question that remains is whether I should concentrate on making headway in these three areas exclusively or whether I need to continue with other projects—marketing, editing, tips and how-tos—in order to pay the bills while I slowly plod along toward my dreams.

Question status: asked but unanswered.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Personal Perspective: Birthdays, Cats and Patience

It’s almost my birthday.

That makes it the perfect time to post something on Christina Katz’s topic of the week…patience.

It’s common to associate youth with impatience and, conversely, age with wisdom and patience. I feel I’ve been running backward on the treadmill.

When I was a small fry, I seemed to have a limitless supply of patience. I was known--much to my parents’ chagrin--for taming any feline within a mile radius. It didn’t matter if they were strays, barn cats, feral felons, whatever. I eventually had them all eating out of my hand. Yes, literally. I didn’t manage that by sticking them on a schedule. I did it through hours of patient kindness.

It was the same with any childhood pursuit. I spent hours on anything that fascinated me, whether it was playing pretend, drawing, painting, music, walking or writing. Even my mother commented on my patience. It wasn’t a matter of rigorous character development, though. Patience came easily

When I obtained my M.A. at the ripe age of 24, I still felt patient. I was going to take the world by storm with my writing. It would happen soon. I could wait that long.

Taking the world by storm, though, gave way to a steady job that paid the mortgage. Months slipped by, then years. I grew older. A couple of short stories were published. The world remained untaken.

It was then that my patience began to wane. I started seeing that my supply of time was not limitless. With each passing birthday, I saw more of it slip away. Someday, it would run out. Where would I be when it did? What would I have accomplished? What would I leave behind to show my path through the world?

A professor told me once that you’re not a rookie in writing until you’re 40. I hope to heaven that’s true. If it is, I still have time left to be patient.

I still have time…if I’m not hit by a bus. If I don’t get cancer. If a tsunami doesn’t wipe me out. It’s more than my biological clock that’s ticking. Not only do I see my natural years floating by, unused; I’m also faced by my own mortality. My sister was 41 when she died. Was she still a rookie? I don’t think so.

I know patience is important. It’s true more so now than when I was taming tabbies and writing adolescent poetry. I know the need for quiet stillness in which ideas can develop, the need to let stories percolate and not send them out in the world before their time. I know the need to sit through one to six months in patient activity while waiting for an agent to respond.

As I enter mid-30s territory, though, I find it more and more difficult to truly be patient. I don’t want to be a 40-year-old rookie. I still want to take the world by storm. And, as another birthday prepares to fly by, I’m running out of time.

So, before my birthday on Saturday, I take a deep breath and consider the future. Seven years until I’m 40. Seven years to work on my writing. Seven years to get myself in shape for the major leagues. Seven years to be patient. Seven years?

I don’t know if I’ll last that long.

Monday, October 18, 2010

Dan Blank Interview with Christina Katz

Check out this internet interview with Writer Mama Christina Katz:

http://wegrowmedia.com/how-to-become-a-successful-writer-the-christina-katz-interview/

Para What? A Little Writing Theory

I found the following verbatim on--of all places--an online RPG forum. Thanks to Australian player Bratzoo for sharing!

A paraprosdokian (from Greek “παρα-”, meaning “beyond” and “προσδοκία”, meaning “expectation”) is a figure of speech in which the latter part of a sentence or phrase is surprising or unexpected in a way that causes the reader or listener to reframe or reinterpret the first part. It is frequently used for humorous or dramatic effect, sometimes producing an anticlimax. For this reason, it is extremely popular among comedians and satirists.

Some paraprosdokians not only change the meaning of an early phrase, but also play on the double meaning of a particular word, creating a syllepsis.

- I asked God for a bicycle but I know He doesn't work that way so I stole a bicycle and asked for forgiveness instead.

- Do not argue with an idiot. He will drag you down to his level and beat you with experience.

- Going to church doesn’t make you a Christian any more than standing in a garage makes you a car.

- The last thing I want to do is hurt you. But it’s still on the list.

- Light travels faster than sound. This is why some people appear bright until you hear them speak.

- If I agreed with you we’d both be wrong.

- We never really grow up, we only learn how to act in public.

- War does not determine who is right – only who is left.

- Knowledge is knowing a tomato is a fruit; Wisdom is not putting it in a fruit salad.

- The early bird might get the worm, but the second mouse gets the cheese.

- Evening news is where they begin with ‘Good evening’, and then proceed to tell you why it isn’t.

- To steal words from one person is plagiarism. To steal ideas from many is research.

- A bus station is where a bus stops. A train station is where a train stops. On my desk, I have a work station.

- How is it one careless match can start a forest fire, but it takes a whole box to start a campfire?

- Some people are like Slinkies … not really good for anything, but you can’t help smiling when you see one tumble down the stairs.

- Dolphins are so smart that within a few weeks of captivity, they can train people to stand on the very edge of the pool and throw them fish.

- I thought I wanted a career, turns out I just wanted pay checks.

- A bank is a place that will lend you money, if you can prove that you don’t need it.

- Whenever I fill out an application, in the part that says “If an emergency, notify:” I put “DOCTOR”.

- I didn’t say it was your fault, I said I was blaming you.

- I saw a woman wearing a sweat shirt with “Guess” on it…so I said “Implants?”

- Why does someone believe you when you say there are four billion stars, but check when you say the paint is wet?

- Women will never be equal to men until they can walk down the street with a bald head and a beer gut, and still think they are sexy.

- Why do Americans choose from just two people to run for president and 50 for Miss America?

- Behind every successful man is his woman. Behind the fall of every successful man is usually another woman.

- A clear conscience is usually the sign of a bad memory.

- You do not need a parachute to skydive. You only need a parachute to skydive more than once.

- The voices in my head may not be real, but they have some good ideas!

- Always borrow money from a pessimist. He won’t expect it back.

- A diplomat is someone who can tell you to go to hell in such a way that you will look forward to the trip.

- Hospitality: making your guests feel like they’re at home, even if you wish they were.

- Money can’t buy happiness, but it sure makes misery easier to live with.

- I discovered I scream the same way whether I’m about to be devoured by a great white shark or if a piece of seaweed touches my foot.

- Some cause happiness wherever they go. Others whenever they go.

- I used to be indecisive. Now I’m not sure.

- I always take life with a grain of salt, plus a slice of lemon, and a shot of tequila.

- When tempted to fight fire with fire, remember that the Fire Department usually uses water.

- You’re never too old to learn something stupid.

- To be sure of hitting the target, shoot first and call whatever you hit the target.

- Nostalgia isn’t what it used to be.

- Some people hear voices. Some see invisible people. Others have no imagination whatsoever.

- A bus is a vehicle that runs twice as fast when you are after it as when you are in it.

Examples of quotes:

* “If you’re not part of the solution, you’re part of the precipitate.” — .
* ”I belong to no organized party. I am a Democrat.” —
* “She got her good looks from her father, he’s a plastic surgeon.” —
* “I’ve had a perfectly wonderful evening, but this wasn’t it.” —
* “One morning I shot an elephant in my pajamas. How he got in my pajamas I’ll never know.” —
* “Outside of a dog, a book is man’s best friend. Inside of a dog, it’s too dark to read.” —
* “I want to die like my father, quietly, in his sleep—not screaming and terrified like his passengers.” —
* “I haven’t slept for ten days, because that would be too long.” —
* “I’m a heroine addict. I need to have sex with women who have saved someone’s life.” -
* “You know, I’m sick of following my dreams, man. I’m just going to ask where they’re going and hook up with ‘em later.” -
* “I like going to the park and watching the children run and jump around, because you see, they don’t know I’m using blanks.” -
* “When I was 10 I beat up the school bully. His arms were in casts. That’s what gave me the courage.” -
* “I discovered my wife in bed with another man, and I was crushed. So I said, ‘Get off me, you two!’” -
* “If I could say a few words, I would be a better public speaker.” —
* “If I am reading this graph correctly, I would be very surprised.” —
* “Mark my words. No, Mark, I really need my words.” —
* “If all the girls at Vassar were laid end to end, I wouldn’t be surprised.” —
* “It’s too bad that whole families have to be torn apart by something as simple as wild dogs.” —
* “Before you criticize someone, you should walk a mile in their shoes, that way when you criticize them, you’re a mile away and you have their shoes.” —
* “I can picture in my mind a world without war, a world without hate. And I can picture us attacking that world, because they’d never expect it.” —
* “On the other hand, we have different fingers.” —
* “The face of a child can say it all, especially the mouth part of the face.” —
* “Whenever you read a good book, it’s like the author is right there in the room talking to you, which is why I don’t like to read good books.” —
* “Somebody told me how frightening it was how much topsoil we are losing each year, but I told that story around the campfire and nobody got scared.” —
* “Broken promises don’t upset me. I just think, why did they believe me?” —
* “I believe in making the world safe for our children, but not our children’s children, because I don’t think children should be having sex.” —
* “I blew a speaker in my car the other day. Yeah, I think he was a… motivational speaker. It left a bad taste in my mouth but I feel a lot more positive.” —
* “I felt guilty once, but she woke up halfway through”—
* ”You can always count on Americans to do the right thing – after they’ve tried everything else.”—
* ”It has been said that democracy is the worst form of Government except all those other forms that have been tried.” —
* “If you are going through hell, keep going.” —
* ”I never thought I could shoot down a German plane. But last year, I proved myself wrong.” —

Monday, October 04, 2010

Going All In

This piece by Benjamin Percy has some beautiful advice to all writers, fiction or nonfiction. (The link below is to Jane Friedman's blog, but the piece was originally published by Glimmer Train.) Makes you wonder, "What am I holding back?"

There Are No Rules - Don't Ration Out Your Ideas

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

The Long and the Short of It

In honor of today's topic, I'm writing the first draft of this post longhand.

Do you draft in longhand or on a computer? The answer isn’t as obvious as it may sound, nor is there a right or wrong answer. I do both. In my creative process, different projects call for different methods. Different writers have different processes. I continue to be surprised, though, by how many writers have never considered writing a draft in longhand.

Yes, it’s time-consuming. That’s part of what I like about it. Maybe it’s a form of rebellion against the speed of life that came along with the computer age. Regardless of my deep-seated psychological motives, though, there’s something earthy and connected about picking up a pen or pencil and putting words to actual paper…the old-fashioned way.

Let me share a bit about why I draft in longhand versus computer. You can draw your own conclusions from there.

Computer:

For me, the computer means two things…typing speed and editing flexibility. When it needs to be done quickly or when it needs to be edited on the fly, the computer is my course of action. I type:

When I have the words in mind verbatim. If the project is short and simple, and the words have already gelled in my head, then I type.

When I have to do it fast. If it’s a quick-turnaround project in which speed matters more than eloquence (rare, but it happens), then I type.

When I know where I’m going but not how to get there. If I can’t seem to stick to my outline--or don’t have an outline--then I type (and copy and paste, and copy…).

Longhand:

Longhand works best for me when I’m working on something that requires thought, meditation or purposefulness. Examples in my own work include devotionals or works of fiction. I draft in longhand:

When I want to unplug. Computers are wonderful for ease of use, but they also hold multiple distractions. If I refuse to be distracted, then I write longhand.

When I want to be portable. This may sound ridiculous in an age of laptops and iPhone apps. I don’t have an iPhone, though, and I find it impractical to tote a laptop on every errand I run. So, if I want to be flexible in my workspace, then I write longhand.

When I want to brainstorm. Darnit, sometimes sticky notes and mind maps are just the best outlining tools. When I need to think outside the box, then I do it longhand.

When I want to engage my senses. I find longhand an earthier, more tactile experience than I do typing. I don’t know why; it’s not, really. We’ll just call it a personal preference, not true for everyone. I do know it allows me to connect to both physical sensations and emotions. The scratching of a writing implement is also quieter than the clack-clack of computer keys. If I want to listen to the whispers of the world around me, then I do it while writing longhand.

When I want to engage each word. I type more quickly than I write, so writing with a pen or pencil obviously slows me down. If I want to notice each turn my thoughts take and each individual word I write, then I write it longhand.

I end with the same caveat as at the beginning…people are different, and different things work for different people. Drafting anything in longhand might turn out to be a disaster for you. However, if you’ve never written a piece in longhand, I encourage you to try it. Sit under a tree or beside a crackling fire, take pen in hand and simply write. You never know what vistas you’ll discover when you’re not gazing at a computer screen.

Thursday, September 09, 2010

There Are No Rules - How to Score a Traditional Deal After Self-Publishing

For other self-publishers out there, this is a great Q & A on self-publishing, marketing and selling to a traditional publishing house. It proves you have to get creative, not just with writing, but also with marketing! Check it out:

There Are No Rules - How to Score a Traditional Deal After Self-Publishing

Monday, August 30, 2010

Published Clip

On the news front:

In March, I sent a tip into Country Woman's reader Almanac. My dazzling and insightful tip on drying hats appears in the October/November 2010 issue. Check out the mag to see my name in (very small) lights!

Saturday, August 28, 2010

Personal Perspective: Purity of Intention

Last week in The Prosperous Writer, Christina Katz wrote about purity of intention. I confess that I was going to let this writing prompt slip by. I told myself I was too busy. I told myself I was too tired from being sick and taking care of a sick toddler. I told myself it’s gelato season, and I just have to realize I don’t have as much time to write right now. Then I realized I was actually scared.

I realized that not because of what Christina Katz wrote (insightful as it was), but because of a blog response by T. L. Cooper on her blog, Write with TLC.

I’d like you to follow that link and read the whole post. In case you don’t, though, here’s a snippet that grabbed me.

As I begin to look at where I spend my time and energy, I feel a little disappointed in myself. Over the years I’ve taken on more and more responsibility because I feel like I have to. I feel like it’s expected of me. I feel like I “owe” it to other people. I agree to help friends and acquaintances even when it interferes with my goals. I agree to take on one more chore or run one more errand to make my husband’s life easier. I agree to add one more thing to my day because “it’ll only take 5 minutes.”


I don’t know if this is a common human malady…or common to women…or common to wives and mothers. Whatever the case, the desire to please other people has always driven far more of my actions than it should. The result is that I am in constant motion yet rarely feel I’ve gained anything in my struggle to be a writer.

After reading Christina’s post earlier this week, I pulled out my submission tracking sheet and took a look at it. The kick to my gut was that I haven’t actually submitted anything since June. WHAT!?!? JUNE?!?! When, how, why did that happen? I know I’ve been doing. In fairness to myself, I’ve been churning out marketing materials for clients. That was never where I wanted to focus, though. So, again, what happened?

The problem is that my purity of intention has slipped…a lot.

Cooper also talks about spending too much time with people who drain her creativity. I meet--and live with--far more creativity suckers than creativity boosters. Personally, my father has always been a creativity-sucker of nearly mythic proportions. Living under the same roof with him, even as a 32-year-old wife and mother, establishes a constant dampening effect on both my energy and creativity. (After all, wouldn’t enough “get a real job” hints get to anyone after a while?)

Okay, so I mentioned that I was scared to tackle this subject. Yes, just plain chicken-livered. That's because, deep down, I realized I'd lost my purity of intention. I just didn't want to admit it to myself. We usually have to face our fears in order to deal with them, though. That's true whether you have a a fear of spiders or a lack of purity!

I don’t know what to do about creativity-sucking relations. I do now realize that I need to dig out and refocus my own intentions and purify them until they’re crystal clear and sparkly-clean. If I want to be a marketing copywriter, my energy goes there. If I want to own a gelato business, I need to focus on that. If I want to write articles, that’s what I need to do. If I want to write novels, I need to spend time with my plot and characters. Will one help with the other? Maybe. If not, out it needs to go. Easier to say than do, of course. A fact, nonetheless.

At this point, I’m so mired in non-writing obligations and commitments, I can’t even see my way clear to get shed of them. With some work and clarity and prayer, though, I may have an answer soon.

I’ll keep you posted.

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Personal Perspective: The Best-Laid Plans

Things don't always go as you plan.

For instance, I planned on working while I was on "vacation." A professor once said there was no such thing as a vacation for a full-time freelancer, because everything is an opportunity to discover new writing topics. I took that seriously. So, for our two-week trip to see my husband's family in Buffalo, I took along my novel hard copy, my general-purpose notebook, my note-taking notepad, my journal, my laptop, my USB cord and my flash drive. I had visions of Internet connections in hotel rooms and friendly libraries. I pictured myself saying, "No, I really can't watch the movie, I have work to do," with firm conviction. I imagined side trips to discover new and interesting topics for magazine articles.

I might as well have spared my car the extra load.

With three twelve-hour driving days in each direction (yes, that equals SIX days on the road, just like the song), a toddler, normal in-law craziness, a jam-packed activity schedule and time-zone lag (yes, it happens even without jets), it was all I could do to keep from blowing my lid.

I did make it back to Oregon on schedule. That left me back on track to drive to Milton-Freewater and shoot some photos for an article I'm trying to sell. It was a wonderful day, with a more relaxed drive than I've had in recent memory, a fascinating conversation and the chance to sit through a free folk concert. I planned to give myself the following, and last, day off, and get back to it full force on Monday.

Then I came home and came down with a cold.

The speed and severity of the onset were for the record books. Got home from Milton-Freewater: fine. Three hours later: sniffles that had nothing to do with the movie I was watching.

Again my plans were laid aside as I spent the next several days getting over a pretty nasty cold. Here it is, Wednesday, and I'm only just beginning to form coherent thoughts that don't involve Kleenex.

And, you know what? There weren't fifty phone-message from editors who wanted that story only if they could have it three days ago. My clients weren't irate at the two-going-on-three-week setback in their project. No one shot themselves because one of my four blogs wasn't there for them to read. The gelato is still getting made. (Okay, so I had to don a dust mask and drag my diseased carcass into the kitchen to accomplish that, but who cares.)

The earth is still here, serenely spinning away.

Given the fuzzy nature of my thoughts right now, this blog post doesn't have a profound point. If it leaves me--and perhaps you--with one thought, though, it's that the world doesn't actually stop if we do. We (writers, women, mothers, humans) don't often give ourselves permission to hop off the hamster wheel and actually sit still. If we push it long enough, though, God and nature will force downtime upon us. It may not be as we would have envisioned...or planned...or preferred...but it will happen.

So, don't be afraid to take a bit of hiatus before you've reached that breaking point. If your best-laid plans are anything like mine, the globe will still be twirling when you get back.

Monday, July 26, 2010

Slipping out of the Time Stream

I received another rejection today. With it, the editor provided some valuable feedback to improve the story. The notes were, quite frankly, things I should have caught myself. Nothing like a polite rejection as a reminder not to get sloppy! So, my thanks to the kind and talented assistant editor who read my latest attempt at the sci-fi/fantasy genre. I shall polish and send it out again!

As I try to live and work through a hectic week, preparing for a “vacation” to Buffalo, NY, it’s difficult to keep my thoughts in focus. Doing anything in a straight line is impossible. It reminds me, though, of a topic I’ve been meaning to cover for some time.

Do you write chronologically? That is, do you sit down with a blank piece of paper, begin at point A and write in logical sequence until you arrive at point B?

I used to. In some cases, I still do. When it came to writing a novel, though, I was stalled. I tried everything--outlines, flow charts, mind maps--everything but letting myself slip out of the time stream. (And maybe self-discipline, but that’s another story.) I finally came to the point where I realized that holding myself to a chronological writing order was inhibiting my progress. If I finished a scene and didn’t have a clue what came next, I stopped. I never allowed myself to skip a scene, or a chapter, or several chapters. There I stayed. As a result, I am the proud owner of about five novel beginnings, but no middles or ends. Then, nearly three months ago, everything changed.

You see, I don’t think in straight lines. Since I don’t edit this blog as rigidly as most of my work, you may have noticed!

I’m not unique in this; many people don’t think in straight lines. My progress from A frequently passes through C and D and maybe F before I get anywhere near B. Since I don’t think in a line, it’s difficult to make myself write in one. I have a long-standing habit of cutting and pasting as I write, in an effort to make my work come out as something another human soul can comprehend. For some reason, though, I always tried to hold myself to a timeline in my fiction, never straying from the A to B progression.

Nope; didn’t work.

About three months ago, I finally gave myself permission to jump around. (And to write a crappy first draft, but that’s another story.) Hey, I didn’t feel like writing chapter two after I was done with chapter one? By all means, work on chapter five! Write the end before I’d written the beginning? Made perfect sense!

If you happen to think in straight lines, just the thought of mayhem like that is giving you a nervous twitch. If you don’t, though, the thought may be liberating. It was for me. Sure, I’ll have a heck of a mess to work with when I go for draft number two, but that’s okay. In the 2009 Children’s Writer’s & Illustrator’s Market (Writer’s Digest Books), Donna Gephart says, “…every writer knows a good book isn’t written—it’s rewritten” (page 21). You can edit out the rough stuff, but you can’t edit what didn’t get written in the first place. Or, as Donald Vaughan said (same reference as above), “It’s a whole lot easier to revise a bad page than a blank one.”

Not every method works for every writer. Find what work for you. If using your outline and writing from end to beginning works, then do that. If you realize you work best without an outline, then throw that out, too. The point is, if sticking to a certain idea of the “right” writing method has been keeping you from writing at all, then it’s time to throw it out and create a method of your own.

Anyone up for a little time travel?

Thursday, July 15, 2010

Personal Inventory: Busyness

I’ll admit it. I’ve been terrible about posting to this blog lately.

I have the perennial excuse. I’ve been busy.

Of course, the word “busy” covers a wide gamut. It could mean everything from raising eight kids while running a business and writing a bestseller, to engaging in a year-long solitaire tournament with myself.

Since most of my efforts are of the long-term kind rather than the instant gratification sort, I do sometimes feel I’m spinning my wheels in an endurance marathon to nowhere.

Seriously, though, I’ve been busy. What have I been up to?
  • I’m not raising eight kids, but I am raising one two-year-old…the always busy and sometimes whiny Baby M. Motherhood…check.
  • I am a partner in a two-person gelato business. Dormant during the winter months, summer sees it swamp me under an obligation that sucks away at least 10 hours a week, often more. Running a business…check.
  • I’ve spent the last year looking for an agent for a picture book manuscript. A couple of months ago, I finally received a helpful reply. Did you know that concepts as characters make crappy stories? I didn’t. That particular book is now on the back burner. No, that’s not a euphemism for the literary glue factory. It’s more like, “Great bone structure but needs a total makeover.” So, now I’m researching kids lit markets and working on a new picture book, in rhyming pentameter, no less. (No, not iambic pentameter; I’m not Shakespeare, after all.)
  • I’m working on a novel. Since that mostly happens between the hours of 5 and 7 AM, though, that doesn’t really contribute to my busyness during the day. It does have a great deal to do with my constant state of exhaustion. That makes everything else take longer so, hey, maybe it does contribute. Writing a bestseller? Ah, what the heck…check.
  • I’m not playing any kind of tournament with myself, though I will admit to a time-sucking fondness for The West. (Please don’t take it away; I finally have the complete Indian outfit on World 1!)
Other than that:
  • I recently conducted a profile interview and now have the article written and the query with a regional publication. I also have a couple other articles, some tips and fillers, and several short stories out and about.
  • My freelance editing and copywriting continues. Right now that means a steady gig that requires two 500-word articles and two press releases every week.
  • I have this blog, a biweekly devotional blog, and two family blogs.
  • I have meals to make, laundry to do, bills to pay, a house to help clean and a garden to tend.
  • I decided to make Christmas gifts this year. Why did I do that to myself? Oh, that’s right; I’m a masochist.
Wow. Looking at it on my computer screen, I realize I actually am busy. Sometimes it seems like an excuse. On days when I feel I’ve gotten nowhere, it feels quite futile. And, looking at that list, I still wonder, where has all this gotten me?
  • It’s gotten me two rejections, one of which I mentioned in my last post. The other waited in my inbox this morning. That’s good news. I now know one more publication that wasn’t a fit for that story.
  • It’s gotten me more familiarity with the kids lit world, which has stripped away some naiveté about what it takes to publish a picture book.
  • It's gotten me a 2-year-old who thinks she's a children's book illustrator.
  • It’s gotten me a short story acceptance, which came in the mail yesterday and which I’m going to have framed. Yes, look for my name in print come fall.
  • It’s gotten me a great conversation with a fabulous musician.
  • It’s gotten me the knowledge that I’m not Superwoman, nor do I have to be.
  • It’s gotten me absolutely no immunity to the effect of seeing a SASE in my mailbox.
  • It’s gotten me the assurance that I have something to offer the world, that I actually do know how to stick with this, that I can keep hammering at the door until it opens, that I can be a contender.
And that means it’s given me quite a lot.

What has your busyness given you?

Saturday, July 03, 2010

Another Shameless Plug

Our book, Creative Marriage Proposals, has been featured on the Canadian blog, "Candid Conversations." Quebec blogger Cliff Tooher conducted an email interview with Carmelo and I about the book and our experience writing it. You can check it out here.

Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Reality? Really?


I received (another) rejection in the mail today. It comes at a bad time emotionally, but I remind myself of what I've learned in sales, which is the same thing Ann Hyman wrote about in the July/August issue of Writers' Journal. That is, every rejection is one step closer to an acceptance. Maybe I'll write more about that when I'm not feeling so...well, rejected.

Yesterday my husband and I went to see Knight and Day for our anniversary. It was a great flick, highly enjoyable and fast-paced, and completely unbelievable. It got me thinking more about a topic that's been on my mind lately. The nature of reality.

I'm not talking about quantum physics or anything here. What I am talking about is the reality we each experience every day, as well as the reality we portray through our writing. Every person's reality is different. The real difficulty, of course, is to portray--communicate, establish, get across--your reality in a way that is meaningful and comprehensible to your audience.

When I was in college, my boyfriend at the time came to visit me in Eastern Oregon for a week in August. He is Japanese, as in actually from Japan, so let's just say there was some culture shock. While he was here we went to a nearby American Indian art gallery. He stopped me in front of a certain painting. I don't remember the whole painting, but I remember it showed a treeless horizon, a brown slash of hill cutting across a flat blue sky. It was an accurate artistic representation of landscapes I've seen hundreds of times here in EO. Toppo, though, pointed to the painting and said, "Before I came here, that would have looked fake."

The reality he came from was not my reality. My everyday was his fake, my understood was his bizarre.

So what does this mean? Do we have to write not only about what we know, but also only about what our audience knows? Of course not! Talk about limiting your readership. What it points to, though, is the need to carry your readers into your reality with you.

I don't have Orson Scott Card's On Science Fiction and Fantasy (Writer's Digest Books) in front of me, more's the pity. It's packed in a box in storage somewhere. I do remember that he, and many other writers, emphasized the need to create a reality that your readers are willing to enter, to keep it consistent within itself and believable within its own context.

When I watched Knight and Day, I was willing to suspend disbelief and invest myself in the plot. Sure, James Bond and Superman combined had nothing on Roy Miller, but the plot pulled me in and made me accept it within it's own context. Tad Williams, a fantasy writer, wrote The War of the Flowers and made me believe in changelings and an industrialized version of Faery. In The Wild Road, Gabriel King showed a world in which animals, domestic and wild, traveled primal highways at super-normal speeds...and had me believing it so much, I checked my backyard for primal animal off ramps.

All this rambling is to say that, no matter what you write about, you have to take your audience with you. Everyone has different tastes. Some are willing to suspend disbelief more than others. Readers of speculative fiction make it a habit to suspend disbelief quite a lot, but all readers have to do it to some extent whenever they pick up another person's words. Whether you're a verbal artist painting a rural Oregon landscape or a horror writer scaring your readers with a megalaturtle, you have to pave enough of the road so they can follow you. It's not enough to say, "This is my reality; believe it." You have to make it real for them, too.

Easy, huh?

Saturday, June 19, 2010

Writer as Gardener

The other day I made a salad from the first of this year’s lettuce. This particular lettuce was a bit special, because it was volunteer lettuce. For those who aren’t gardeners, “volunteer” plants are those that seem to sprout and come up on their own…useful plants that grow in neglected corners or pop up in the middle of cultivated rows. They’re beautiful, tasty surprises; the fruit of labor you haven’t actually performed.

But that’s not quite accurate, either. The lettuce that has scattered itself throughout the garden didn’t come there completely by accident, nor did it pop into existence from nowhere. (Mendel disproved spontaneous generation centuries ago.) In years past, myself and my mother scattered seeds and weeded and watered lettuce plants to produce leafy harvests. Hard work has gone into that garden. The volunteer plants—though they seem to come from nowhere—are really the result of that hard work in years past. The lettuce plants that so delighted us this year sprang from dormant seeds we had planted but long ago forgotten.

And why am I writing about volunteer plants on a writing blog?

Sometimes in a writing life, writers experience happy accidents…emails with work offers from seemingly out of the blue. Phone calls that display new horizons. Chance meetings that open previously closed doors. Often, writers see these things happen to other writers and get lettuce-green with envy. Why does she get all the good luck? we wonder. Why can’t I get a lucky break?

Why does volunteer lettuce grow in my garden but not in yours?

In writing, as in gardening, there is no harvest without labor, no vegetable that doesn’t spring from a seed. The seed may have been planted long ago and forgotten, but it’s been there, waiting for the chance to grow and bear fruit. If you can’t understand why you’re not getting any breaks, think about the work you’ve put into it. You don’t get long-term results in two weeks. You don’t get a harvest without planting and watering and weeding. You don’t get assignments without queries. You don’t get book deals without books…or, at least, book proposals. The query you sent out months ago may come back with surprising results, long after you’d given up and moved on. That won’t happen, though, if you never sent it in the first place.

If you’re serious about this writing thing, start examining your cultivation methods. Are you scattering seeds wherever you go, or are you sitting back and waiting to be “discovered”? If it’s the first, the harvest will come…eventually. The second isn’t likely to provide much lettuce, volunteer or otherwise!

So, what are you doing to cultivate your writing career today?

Friday, June 18, 2010

Creative Marriage Proposals Update

Creative Marriage Proposals is on KINDLE! Check out Amazon.com's Kindle Store to grab a copy today...only $6.95.

If you'd like paperback format instead, we have a special offer for you. You can get 10% off (that's $13.85 instead of $15.39) through June 30th. Just go to lulu.com and enter SUMMERREAD305 at checkout.

Happy reading!

Friday, June 11, 2010

Stories: Find the Fascinating in Everyday Life

Stories are everywhere.

I was reminded of that fact when I went into the bank recently to open a savings account for Baby M. In her information gathering, the woman helping me asked where Baby M was born.

“Norfolk, VA.”

“And where were you born?”

“Here in Heppner,” I said, with my usual disclaimer, “when the hospital still delivered babies.” (They haven’t delivered babies in my hometown hospital for 30 years. That’s all I’m saying about that.)

“Oh,” she said. “Me, too. I was a switcher.”

Ummm…a what?” I mumbled.

“One of the babies who was switched at the hospital up here. Did you hear about it?”

I had. In fact, I heard about it when the story made national news about a year ago. I was way more than a day late and a dollar short in my discovery, since a reporter from the East Oregonian broke the story first. Still, I was fascinated to find myself sitting across a desk from a woman who, quite literally, grew up in the wrong family.

(Oh, and I’m not making this up. You can read the story here.)

While I may not be able to dig any submissions of my own out of this tale—or a book, since the reporter is now working on a manuscript—it still served as a reminder that ideas really are everywhere. How many times during the course of a day, a week or a month do we interact with people who have marvelous, wild or just plain unbelievable stories? Is it the bank teller? What about your hair dresser? Or the young man sitting next to you on the bus?

Sometimes I feel I just don’t have enough good ideas. Not enough fodder for the mental grist mill. After an encounter like I had today, though, I realize that’s just an excuse. It’s an excuse I won’t believe any more. I won’t believe it when I hear it from my own lips and I won’t believe it when I hear it from yours. Instead, I’ll recognize it for what it is…a career-killing combination of lack of imagination and laziness.

Stories like Kay Rene’s are a wonderful jolt. They’re a reminder to dig a little deeper into our own lives and the lives of those around us. If you think you can’t be an author or a journalist because you can’t come up with ideas, you need to give yourself a good slap...mental or physical, whatever does the trick.

Because stories are everywhere. Sometimes they fall into your lap. More often, they require energy to dig up and dust off. Either way, they’re right there. They’re in your own history. They’re in your next-door neighbor and the girl who babysits your kids. They’re in the banker sitting across the desk from you.

Go out and find some stories today.

Wednesday, June 09, 2010

Time Lost and Found

Not a long post today.

I was flipping through the April issue of Sunset magazine in the dentist's office this morning. It's a publication I don't subscribe to and don't usually pick up, since the destinations and decorating tips are usually far outside my budget. Anne Lamott's essay, "Time Lost and Found," may just make me a more frequent reader.

Perhaps you read my recent post, "Time Changes...Nuthin'." I felt this essay went along with that theme perfectly. It's well worth the read.

Thursday, June 03, 2010

Are You Committed...or Should You Be?

In my last post, I mentioned time’s ability to change absolutely nothing…at least, not unless accompanied by some kind of effort or forward motion on our part. I now realize I left out an important component.

Commitment.

How committed are you to your writing career? Committed enough to get up at 5:30 in the morning to glean an hour or two before the kids or hubby get up? Committed enough to put down the how-tos and actually write? Committed enough to risk rejection by sending that writing to an editor? Committed enough to…

You get the idea.

For years, I didn’t have that level of commitment. It was far easier to work an eight-to-five I loathed than to risk my mortgage by gambling on my talent and self-discipline. Far easier to plop on the couch after work and turn on the TV “just for a few minutes.” Far easier to give in to exhaustion and hit the snooze button every morning. Far easier to go to lunch with coworkers (wet or otherwise) instead of spending the time researching markets or writing for them.

It wasn’t talent I was lacking. That sounds arrogant, but it’s not. Moderate talent combined with hard work and endurance can survive in the writing business. Dozens of published articles and books prove that (okay, just my opinion). It wasn’t self-discipline I lacked. Not completely, anyway. I grew up on a farm, and I’ve spent much of my life getting work done without supervision. No, I lacked commitment. Committing to my writing career felt like stepping off a ten-story cliff, and I wasn’t ready to do that.

In this week’s The Prosperous Writer newsletter, Christina Katz compared the writing life to a relationship. True, and more. For me, making marriage vows to my husband of almost eight years was the easier of the two commitments, even though I’d known my writing habit at least ten years longer. In a way, that’s understandable. Committing to another person only requires faith in them; committing to a career in writing takes faith in yourself. I’ve never been good at that.

Commitment takes courage. Commitment takes faith. And, once you’ve taken that ten-story leap, commitment takes the daily struggle to work through disappointment, to find points of compromise, to turn around and send that query out again instead of running back to the retreats where you used to find solace. Remember Jane Kirkpatrick’s definition of commitment as a banking term? “To make a deposit against which you can later draw.” Commitment means showing up, day after day, to put your pen to paper, fingers to keys, and an investment into your life.

So, before you can put the time into writing, you need to commit to your writing. Only you know how much of a commitment you can make. The level isn’t the same for everyone, because everyone’s dream is different. Without that promise, though, you never will find the time. Not consistently and not for long enough to matter. Until you commit, your writing is only a dream. And you can’t take that to the bank.

Monday, May 31, 2010

Time Changes...Nuthin'

“They say that time changes things, but you actually have to change them yourself.” ~ Andy Warhol

That’s the quote I have at the top of my time management matrix. I’m not a big fan of Andy Warhol in general, but those words are truer than I’d like to admit. I spent years thinking I would write when my proverbial and ethereal ship came in. I would write when I was able to stay at home with the kids, when I had my own writing space so I could concentrate, when I wasn’t exhausted from putting in my eight-to-five (see my post on perfectionism and procrastination!). Most of all, I would write when I had time.

Maybe you’re like that. If so, I have tough news for both of us. We’ll only have time when we find time.

Notice that I don’t say “make” time. We each start out with the same golden 24 hours in our day. Some of us have the balance reduced right from the opening flag by work, school, kids, parents and other unmoving commitments. That doesn’t mean it’s time to put it off and wait until we have More Time. That’s a death knell for a writing career. We will always have commitments pulling at us like a creative rip current, tugging us into the depths of “someday.” And as the Steve Miller Band said, “Time keeps on slippin’, slippin’ into the future…” (Thanks to Lobug for reminding me of that song!)

I was vaguely aware of this concept at the beginning of the year, when I promised myself, “No excuses.” It really hit me in the gut when I heard Jane Kirkpatrick speak at the beginning of April. Jane began her first novel when she was still working full-time with a significant commute and a working ranch on the side. She wanted to write the book, but when did she have time? She ended up asking herself, “What am I doing between four and seven [A.M.]? Nothing.” So, Jane began setting her alarm and getting to her computer by five each morning.

I couldn’t possibly, I thought.

A couple of weeks and a little more desperation later, I heard my own alarm go off at 5:30. (No, I haven't quite found Jane's commitment level yet.) I told myself I was crazy, but I got up and rattled off a couple of pages in longhand. A month and a half later, I’ve written several thousand words in that same tired longhand. I haven’t written as much as I would have liked. I certainly haven’t finished the book. I have, though, written several thousand words more than I would have if I hadn’t jumped in with both feet kicking and arms flailing.

“They say that time changes things…” Time changes nuthin'. The only thing that changes with the mere passage of time—time without any activity or effort—is that you have a lower total of time left on your lifetime balance sheet.

“…but you really have to change them yourself.” If you want to see progress over time, you need to take that balance of time and wring every available moment from it. Maybe you already get up so early that an earlier alarm is impractical, but where else can you wring silver minutes from your day? During lunch? Kids’ nap times? Right after dinner? Right before lights-out? If you look hard enough, there will most likely be some window of opportunity where writing can really happen. It may not be my hour-and-a-half; it may be a half an hour or fifteen minutes, but it exists. Grab it today and GO!
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Thursday, May 20, 2010

Perfectionism: A Love/Hate Relationship

Many writers have a dash of perfectionism in their souls. That’s a good thing for a professional writer. If you don’t have some urge toward perfectionism, you may end up turning in sloppy work. If you turn in sloppy work too often, you won’t be a professional writer for long. Perfectionism isn’t always your friend though. There are times it can become your enemy just as much as your ally. Here are some ways perfectionism can work both for and against you in your writing.

When Perfectionism Works against You: Procrastinate Yourself out of Business

Perfectionism is one of the two main causes of procrastination. (The other is hoping the work will go away if you ignore it long enough.) If you’ve never completed a writing project of any length, you may not realize you are a perfectionist. In fact, if you’ve never completed a writing project of any length, you are almost certainly a perfectionist. If you are a perfectionist, you may recognize some of these symptoms. Perfectionists will procrastinate because they:

  • Don’t feel at the “top of their game” right now…they’ll do it later, when they feel better.
  • Don’t feel this is the optimal time or place to write…they’ll wait for a time with fewer distractions or inconveniences so they can do a better job.
  • Need to let the idea gel a bit longer (to perfection)…like another two years.
  • Won’t start something because they don’t feel they can do it perfectly…I can never be a Steinbeck, so why bother?
  • Find lovely rabbit trails to keep themselves distracted from their main task…to do a really perfect job on this, I need to research that and complete such-and-such first.

Does any of that sound familiar? Then you’re a perfectionist procrastinator.

While I’m sure there’s lots of psychoanalysis we could do here, the only real cure is to just write. That’s all. Just write. Give yourself permission to be less than perfect and start spitting words out on the page. You can always go back and edit. First, you need to conquer your perfectionism and simply do your job.

And that leads us to…

When Perfectionism Works for You: Polish Until It Shines

While there is absolutely nothing wrong with a first draft full of flaws, few editors—or readers—appreciate a final version that they can’t decipher. Once you’ve spewed verbal mayhem all over the page or screen, it’s time to go back and edit until it shines. This is where perfectionism works for you. A person who doesn’t have an eye for detail will do an adequate job. The perfectionist is able to use his mental fine-tooth comb to sweep out the bugs…the adverbs, the split infinitives, the clichés and weak description and all the other little critters that give editors the creepie-crawlies. This is the time to give your perfectionism free-reign. Only one caveat: at some point, editing and polishing have to end. If they don’t, you’ve reverted back to procrastination. So, maybe I should say, give your perfectionism free reign with a deadline. Yes, that’s better.

I could say a lot more on the subject. Instead, I’ll let myself consider this post finished, and direct you to a little essay I found quite helpful and entertaining, by Stanford philosophy professor John Perry. Here it is:

http://www.structuredprocrastination.com/light/perfectionism.php

Enjoy and…write! Today!

Thursday, May 13, 2010

Emotion and Experience: Laying It on the Table

“To be able to reproduce a feeling so that others could recognize it, and perhaps understand it for the first time, one had to have some idea of what it felt like in reality. To show that one knew meant revealing what one had felt. Revealing oneself too nakedly did not come easily to a private man, and if one did not reveal oneself, one never became a great actor.”*

Dick Francis wrote those words about the art of acting. I think he knew of what he spoke; I think he spoke from personal experience as a writer. Think of the writers you admire, of the great writers whose work you have read. If they grabbed your soul…how did they do it? Did London hold back when he wrote The Call of the Wild? Was it comfortable for Emily Bronte to write of the darkness within Heathcliffe? Did Dumas check his experience at the door when he wrote of Edmond Dantès’ quest for vengeance? Probably not.

That doesn’t mean they experienced every minute detail they wrote about. It simply means they experienced enough to pass on the realistic, gut-wrenching flavor to the rest of us. It means they were willing to expose themselves enough to let us see that reality. To whatever degree their work was inspired by their own feelings, something of those writers is in those characters. That’s what makes them larger-than-life; that’s what makes them great.

Let’s try an example closer to home.

I have a history of depression. (How’s that for laying it on the table?) It’s a “mild” form of the disease, so I’m not nor have I ever been suicidal, but I have been in some very dark places. It was that emotion, that experience that I poured into my very first short story, Grace. I also consider Grace my best story to date. It won first place in a MOTA contest and received honorable mention from Writers’ Journal; it was published both times. When someone asked me how I could portray my character’s suicidal depression so well, I was nonplussed. It was simple. I could show it because I knew it.

Not that I consider myself a London, Bronte or Dumas. I’m not even a Francis. The principle, though, is the same. That piece of work shone brightly because I knew the darkness about which I wrote…and I was willing to show it.

It’s not comfortable to bare your soul to the public. You leave yourself open to criticism, rejection, anger and psychoanalysis. If you want to take your creative writing to a higher place, though, that’s what you have to do. I’ve used examples in fiction, but it’s true for almost any writing form…fiction, poetry, essay or feature writing. If it’s something other than the bare bones, if it’s a piece that allows personality or opinion to reveal itself, then you’re taking a risk. And it’s in taking the truly great risks that you experience the truly great rewards.

*Smokescreen; Dick Francis. Simon & Schuster, New York; 1978. Page 82.
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Friday, May 07, 2010

Is the Editor Always Right?

I used to work for a hospitality company that had the motto, “The customer isn’t always right, but the customer is always the customer.”

What does that mean? When you’re faced with a demanding, unreasonable client who wants something that’s not even remotely your responsibility—or who wants to pin you with something that’s not your responsibility—you don’t have to knuckle under and give that annoyance her way. Most of us have met those types at some point…the restaurant diner who wants to move this particular two-top across the restaurant so he can sit with his friends, the MBA who wants to change ad copy so it’s *shudder* convoluted and grammatically incorrect, the franchisee who wants a marketing assistant fired because an email contained the wrong link. The list could go on. Unreasonable demands don’t have to be met.

Then there’s that second part of the motto. “…the customer is always the customer.” Even when demands are unreasonable or just plain outrageous, this person is still your client, the lifeblood of your business. Regardless of his behavior, you should treat him with courtesy and respect. You should also set aside the manner of the assault and examine the request to see if it has some legitimate basis.

So, what does this have to do with editors?

As a writer, editors are your clients. Read that again. Editors are your clients. Yes, you have a target audience, but editors are the ones who buy your work and make sure you get paid for it. On those occasions—rare, I’m sure—when editors come to you with changes, what’s your response? You may be so desperate for work that you don’t even think about the changes; you just make them. If you’re like many writers, though, the fact that you’re being asked to change anything about your masterpiece of creative writing raises you blood pressure and your temper. And it’s at those times that writers burn bridges.

I sometimes fill assignment gaps by writing through online sites like Demand Studios. Such sites often hire freelance editors to edit the copy. They’re quick, low-paying assignments that provide writing practice and a little extra pocket money, so my stories usually get accepted without a peep. Recently, though, I had an editor who had a string of comments for every 75-word paragraph. There were comments about phrasing and wording, comments about citation and one comment that I took as a personal affront to my faith. It was tempting to write a scathing reply and find another venue for that particular article. Instead, I logged off and let it rest for 24 hours.

I eventually talked myself out of high dudgeon and back into common sense. I reworded where asked, fixed a typo (oops!) and ignored the supposed affront to my faith. The only place I didn’t budge was in the citations, where I knew I was in line with standard practice. I explained that to the editor—politely—my article was accepted and I got my fifteen bucks.

Yes, that little story has a point. I could have burned that particular bridge and lost not only fifteen dollars but also some great Internet exposure and some of my professional reputation. If I’d gone far enough, I could have been banned from the site. Would it have been worth it? No. Plus, I’m a believer in the principle of behaving in small matters as I would in large. If you can manage to deal gracefully with a few small-time copy editors who may actually have a bone to pick with the world, you’ll find it much easier to work with major players who are simply trying to do their jobs.

Finally, here are a few facts to put things into perspective:
  • Editors are the gatekeepers. Like it or not, they are what stand between you and publication in that particular venue. They also talk to each other. Burn too many, and you’ll soon find your career in ashes.
  • Most editors didn’t get to their positions by being unprofessional or unreasonable. They have jobs to do and they’re doing them to the best of their ability. A request for a change is not a personal assault.
  • Editors are busy. If they are willing to ask for changes instead of tossing your work in the recycle pile—especially if you haven’t signed a contract—that’s a sign that they see some potential. Take it as a compliment and work with their suggestions.
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Friday, April 23, 2010

Flexibility

I apologize for the gap between posts. Our household had a cluster of misfortune recently, including not just a funeral, but a lack of Internet connection, a sick cat and a sick me. That, though, leads to the topic of this post.

Flexibility.

It’s a small word, but a difficult feat…and it means so much to both your personal and writing lives (if you manage to separate the two!).

One of my clients recently emailed me and asked about copywriting versus editing, and if I’d be willing to look at a half-and-half kind of job. “Just wanted to know specifically what you do and do not do,” she finished.

Did I tell my client to go jump in the lake unless she could clearly define the perameters of her current project? Of course not. So, what did I tell my client?

“I’m flexible!”

I don’t talk much on this blog about the editing and writer-for-hire sides of my career. Hey, they help pay the bills, but they’re not glamorous. At times, the work is deadly dull. Working with clients, though, has helped hone the same professionalism I need when dealing with, say, editors. Flexibility is one of the traits that comes in handy. When a client, or an editor, comes to me and says, “This piece is okay, but it’s not what I’m looking for,” do I stand my ground and insist that my way is best?

Only if I want to end my career as a bitter writer grandma whose blog is her only writing gig.

Or, do I say, “What changes do you want? I can have them to you by Friday!”

Heck, yeah, that’s the way to do it!

If you’re a member of a family—especially if you’re the mother of that family—you’re probably already good at flexibility. Certainly, Baby M has taught me loads about flexibility. Life also has a way of throwing fast pitches at you to see if you can either catch them or be flexible enough to dodge. Here are some personal examples from my past week:

  • You've maxed out your bandwidth allotment by spending too much time blogging, so the Internet at your house is down indefinitely. Is it:

    “Bummer! Guess I’m off to the library!” or

    “Darn, a whole week lost!”

  • You get a severe stomach something in the middle of an already-hectic week. When you recover, you’re weak as water. Is it:

    A day snapping at your family because you’re angry at how weak and unproductive you are, or

    “Now I have an excuse to sit and cuddle my daughter!”

There’s a place for rigidity…in your morals, in the values you hold dear, in supporting and defending your loved ones. The trick is to separate those moments that call for the strength of the oak from the much more common moments that require the elasticity of a reed. Try to stand firm at the wrong moments, and you may find yourself snapping instead. Try it in your career, and you’ll be snapping without a paycheck!

Monday, April 12, 2010

Personal Perspective: Amazement

The word of the week is "amazement."

I've been thinking of amazement for a couple of reasons. First, I pondered it as I watched the awe with which Baby M approaches life. She finds limitless wonder in everything around her. A blade of grass is as marvelous to her as a tulip in full bloom. A wasp is as fascinating as a box full of baby chicks. Her new discoveries excite her so much, she wants to share them all with whoever happens to be near her.

Second, I realized last night how quickly life can be snuffed out. I'd been pondering the topic of amazement for a couple of days. When I heard of the death of a family friend last night--she was only in her forties--I realized again that death can visit anyone at any time and invite them to take the journey to the other side. If death can come at a moment's notice, we have all the more reason to live every moment of life with a spirit of amazement.

It's a life lesson. I'm posting it here because it's also a writing lesson. How often does our writing become stale because our perceptions become stale? Does your writing carry with it a sense of awe at new discoveries, or is it, "Just the facts, Ma'am"?

So, this post is accompanied by a challenge. Try, just for this week, to view everything around you through the eyes of a toddler. Imagine how it looks to someone seeing it for the first time. Experience the amazement. I'll do it too.

Let's see if we can imbue our writing with a sense of amazement.

Tuesday, April 06, 2010

Jane Kirkpatrick on "Hardiness"

Last night I had a chance to listen to writer Jane Kirkpatrick at a local women’s dinner. For those who don’t know, Jane is a Christian novelist who writes about the lives of historical women. She’s also “local” to Eastern Oregon…she and her husband have a ranch out of Moro, in the brakes of the John Day River. Jane has published 19 books and has two more getting ready for publication.

Because of the crowd, I didn’t have time to do more than introduce myself and drop a business card, so I didn’t have time to ask her some of the questions I’d prepared. I did draw many gems from her presentation, though, and I’ll share a few here. Even though Kirkpatrick was speaking generally, much of what she said can be applied straight to the writing life. Go figure…she’s written 21 books!

One of the things Jane does in her writing is look at people who have undergone difficulties and dig into the difference between those who let the difficulties shape them into something better and those who simply become cranky. The quality she uses to describe the admirable people is hardiness. According to Kirkpatrick, hardy people understand:

Commitment
A hardy person makes a commitment and sticks to it. To make a commitment is to make a promise, but it’s also an old banking term that means, “To make a deposit against which you can later draw.” When a person—whether a pioneer woman or a writer—makes a commitment, then Providence moves.

Control
Hardy people understand what they can and cannot control. We often can’t control our environment, but we can control our attitudes. People who control their attitudes do so by getting clear on what matters, having the courage to act, increasing their curiosity about what works and what doesn’t, and increasing their compassion toward themselves and others.

Challenge
Everyone faces challenges at some time in their lives, but hardy people face their challenges and look for ways to make the worst possible into the best possible. To draw the strength to do this, they return to their goal…their commitment.

Community
Hardy people understand that they can’t do it alone. They need each other. A point that struck me was how often we forget that when we allow family, friends and colleagues to do something for us, we aren’t the only ones being served. We give when we allow others to do for us. So why are we so afraid to ask for help?

Coping
Kirkpatrick had a wonderful metaphor for this. If you’re as tool-challenged as I am, you have no idea what a coping saw is. Jane had one with her and showed us how it works. A coping saw is used to fit things into tight places. The blade is both strong and flexible, and can change direction quickly without a lot of friction. The blade can also be removed from the handle, put through a hole, and then reattached on the other side. That is, it can go through, not just around.

Aren’t those wonderful gems? I hope you can take something away today and apply it to your own writing life. And, if it gets too difficult, remember something else from Jane.

“You don’t have to write a novel [today]; just pen the first paragraph.”

Thursday, April 01, 2010

Stillness

Earlier this week I made the time to take a walk with my daughter. It was a wonderful bonding experience, wandering down a dusty cow trail in Eastern Oregon and picking spring wildflowers. It also reminded me of an important aspect in the life of a writer…stillness.

Sometimes we forget the need for stillness in the writing life. When you take the leap from hobby writing to professional writing, quiet time is often the first thing to go. If you have kids, or some other full-time job, you’re even less likely to make room for stillness in your life. People and pets demand your attention, deadlines loom large, and a myriad of professional and private commitments pull you away from any semblance of personal time.

It’s a mistake to let it happen, though. There are a couple of reasons.

First, sanity. If you’re an extrovert, you may be able to go long stretches without needing quiet space to recharge. If you’re an introvert like many writers, though, that periodic space bubble is a necessity. It keeps you balanced. It keeps you from biting off the heads of your friends and family. Make room for stillness and not only will your feel better, your loved ones will be ecstatic.

Second, creativity. When you make a living from writing, it’s tempting to feel the pressure to keep the pen on the paper constantly. That’s not always a good thing. Sometimes you get so busy writing that you don’t take time to think about what you’re writing. A little space and quiet, without focusing on your current projects, may provide you with fresh insights. Yes, a little stillness can inspire breakthroughs when you least expect them.

Everyone’s needs are different. Five minutes of quiet may suffice, or you may be so burned out that you need an entire day without voices in your ear. Decide what works for you. Don’t consider it an indulgence. Consider it an investment in peace of mind and creativity.

Today I challenge you to find some time for stillness. Take a walk, pick some wildflowers, go window shopping. Take some time to recharge your batteries. Your family and your writing will thank you.

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Personal Perspective: Balance

In The Prosperous Writer this week, Christina Katz challenged writers to think, and blog, on the topic of balance. It’s not a topic I approach with any kind of authority. I can’t give advice to anyone else on how to balance their lives…their work, their kids, their spouses and their laundry. I’m still working on that myself. I have learned in my short career that balance is different for everyone. Still, “balance” is the last word I would use when describing my life. It’s all or nuthin for this WAHWM. At least, that’s how it seems.

On days when it’s just me and Baby M, with no reinforcements forthcoming, I enter a writing void. It’s difficult to concentrate with a 22-month-old climbing my leg and waging war on my computer. I’m lucky if I get to jot down some notes and check my email while she’s napping. Then, when help arrives, it’s all writing, all the time. Baby M is an orphan, my parents lose their youngest, my husband is widowed and (greatest of horrors) the bed goes unmade. No balance there!

Yet, I’ve become glad of those zany days when there’s no backup plan. On those days—when my husband is teaching in Portland, when my mom has her church quilting group, when my dad makes himself generally scarce so he won’t get recruited to babysit—I get a chance to regroup and reconnect. Those are my sewing days, my baking days, my cleaning days, my days to spend time with Baby M and not feel guilty about the work I’m not doing. In their own way, those “unbalanced,” writing-less days restore balance to my life. Without them, I’d be one burned-out writer mama.

Balance. It’s a work in progress. I’m finding it though…one writing wasteland at a time.

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Book Sale!

Time for a shameless plug. Lulu.com is letting us have a sale on our book!

Now through the end of March, purchase Creative Marriage Proposals and enter IDES when you check out to get 10% off.

Don't wait...this sale really does end soon!

Wondering what you'll get? Here's a snippet from our Holiday & Seasonal Proposal section.

Ice Skating

Rockefeller Center or the frozen pond out back…gliding across the ice with the love of your life is romance incarnate. The best part is, you don’t have to be an Olympic caliber skater for this proposal to work. Whether you’re Fred Astair on ice or skate best on your butt, you’ll be able to sweep your girl off her feet with this breathtaking setting.

Here’s what you’ll need:


  • An ice-skating rink, indoor or out, public or private
  • Ice skates for both of you (make sure you know her shoe size!), or assurance of available skate rentals
  • A thermos of hot cocoa or coffee if there’s not a coffee shop nearby
  • Extra hat, gloves, scarf and even jacket for her, just in case
  • A blanket, in case you need to huddle together for warmth

To do this properly, surprise her with the idea of an ice-skating date. You can show up on her doorstep, skates in hand, or mention it when you just “happen” to be near a viable piece of ice. Either way, get her there. If she’s not a good skater, you may have to beg or cajole. If she’s not dressed warmly enough, you’re prepared for that! Just make sure she knows it’s not her skill on the ice that matters; it’s your desire to be with her and hold her hand.

Of course, your own skating skill may play some part. If you have talent on the ice, it won’t be a problem to turn and kneel without falling over. If you can’t manage that, well…pull her down with you and opt for a less conventional proposal pose. We really don’t think she’ll care.

Celebrate your engagement with a cup of hot cocoa or an extra-hot latte.

Sunday, March 21, 2010

Book Feedback: Writer Mama

All right, I've finally finished Writer Mama by Christina Katz. It took me longer than my usual speed-of-light reading pace because I actually tried to do the exercises Katz supplied at the end of each chapter. All right, I fudged on some of them. Having made it though the whole book, though, I can now give it an unequivocal thumbs up as a resource for aspiring mothers-who-are-writers.

If you have studied writing and/or journalism, you can consider much of the content something along the lines of a thorough refresher course. Even with an advanced degree, some of the chapters served as a dash of cold water to get me out of daydream mode and back into writing mode. If you don't happen to have a degree in journalism, the insights will be a godsend in starting your career.

Katz writes in an easy-to-understand manner and is thorough in her advice. My favorite part, though, was the exercises I mentioned above. You can read all the books you want, but none of them will help you establish your career unless you sit down and write. The exercises in Writer Mama urge you to action and provide clear, gradual steps for breaking into freelance journalism.

If I had one beef, it's that she paid little attention to writer toddler mamas who had to move in with their parents because they're flat broke and their doctorate-holding husbands can only find jobs at local grocery stores...but I guess she can't be expected to cover everything!

Writer Mama. Buy it. Read it. Use it.

Thursday, March 18, 2010

Make Your Writing a Full-Sensory Experience

Do you use all five senses when you write?

Most Americans are visual people. We see people's points, look at problems from every angle and read between the lines. That's not so bad. After all, you want you writing to be visual, right?

While it's true that you do want your writing to paint a picture for the reader, never neglect the power of using all five senses to draw a person into the scene. Let's take a scene from a romance novel, for instance. Imagine you're writing a scene between your hero and leading lady. You describe the look on the hero's face as he gazes at the love of his life, the stormy blueness of his eyes, the cleft in his chin. You add that he sees a tear trickle down her cheek. Wonderful! Now, what about the other four senses? Let’s see what you can do with those.

Hint: If it helps, close your eyes in order to focus more intently on the non-visual aspects of the scene. Ready? Go!


Sound
Sit still for a moment and listen to the sound of your breathing; focus on how it sounds to you. How are your characters breathing? Is the hero’s breathing ragged and hoarse with emotion or exertion, or is it deep and calm, comforting? Now broaden your scope. What sounds linger in the background, mostly unheard? If the setting is a castle bailey, you may hear the ring of a blacksmith’s hammer, he clucking of a chicken or the sound of a hoof on stone. A more urbane setting may include the tinkle of wine glasses or the showering notes of a harp. Immerse yourself in the sounds and then write them into the scene.

Smell
Focus on your nose for a moment. First, let yourself take in the smells around you right now…the scent of a cooking meal, the espresso-scent of a coffee shop or the smell of lilacs through an open window. Now focus on your scene. How do your characters smell? Do you smell sweat or perfume? What about their environment? Hone in on their surroundings and small what they smell. Are the scents harsh and intrusive—does the smell of horse manure waft from a nearby stable—or does the fragrance of flowers add to the emotion of the moment? Follow your nose.

Taste
If your scene contains food, this is easy. Does the heroine taste the seductive flavors of strawberries and champagne, or are they dining on wild game charred over an open fire? Focus on the taste. If it helps, find something similar to taste for yourself (always a good excuse to have champagne in the middle of the day!). If your scene doesn’t include food, open your mind to other taste possibilities. What about that tear that trickles down the heroine’s cheek…does it run onto her lips, where she tastes the salt? Did the hero just get in a fight? A cut lip could leave him with the metallic taste of blood in his mouth. If your mouth is watering right now, you’re on the right track.

Touch
Touch is explosive and emotive. As he reaches out to cup her face in his hands, how do his hands feel on her face? Are they rough and calloused from working long hours, or are they the smooth hands of a rich nobleman? Does he run his hands over her hair? What does it feel like? Is it smooth and well-coifed, or is it a riot of tangles because she’s been playing the tomboy? Whether your characters are dressed in silk, homespun or buckskin, focus on the feel of the material against the skin. Now add the weather. Are their faces kissed by a warm sun or blistered by tropical heat? Are they standing in a light rain or drenched and shivering in a torrential downpour? Think about every texture in the scene and how it might play into the emotion you’re trying to convey.

Once you take the time to focus, it’s easy to see how the use of all five senses can enhance any scene. Don’t imagine, either, that this only works for fiction. Whatever your writing genre, make it a full-sensory experience for your reader. You will boost your readership and leave them coming back for more!

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

eBook Available

All right, I haven't been great about updating this blog lately. That doesn't mean I haven't been busy! Our new eBook, Creative Marriage Proposals, is now available in ePub format for those with eBook readers. Enjoy!

Download for only $7.95 at http://www.lulu.com/content/e-book/creative-marriage-proposals/8507922

When the time comes to pop the question to that special someone, you want to do it up right...but how? With panache, of course! This book of creative proposals provides all the ideas you'll ever need, along with helpful tips and a healthy dose of humor. So don't stress about coming up with that perfect proposal...we've done it for you.

Tuesday, March 02, 2010

Our Book

I've dropped hints over the past couple of months that my husband and I are collaborating on an e-book. Yes, I've spoken about my progress and my frustrations, if not my hopes and fears. Well, it's done! I posted a more-or-less finished project on lulu.com yesterday, and Creative Marriage Proposals is now available to order in its print version or as a download. What's it about?

When the time comes to pop the question to that special someone, you want to do it up right...but how? With panache, of course! This book of creative proposals provides all the ideas you'll ever need, along with helpful tips and a healthy dose of humor. So don't stress about coming up with that perfect proposal...we've done it for you."

I'm excited to have this book finally online. More than anything, it's gives me a sense of completion and progress...and do I need progress right now! If you'd like to check it out--and maybe buy it for yourself--here's the info.

Creative Marriage Proposals: How to Pop the Question...with Panache!
ISBN-13: 978-0-557-34713-1
Lulu.com ID #8429324
Paperback $15.29
Download $7.95

Support independent publishing: Buy this book on Lulu.

Monday, February 22, 2010

Collaborators

As a writer, you may someday be in the position to write with a collaborator. Collaboration can be refreshing in many ways…it takes off some of the burden of creativity and allows you to gain fresh insight into your work-in-progress. It’s always nice to bounce ideas off a second brain and find new ways to make your project—book, article or paper—grow and live. At the same time, you need to be aware of the pitfalls of working with a second (or third or fourth) person.

Disagreements regarding project directions are always a danger. A few ground rules put in place from the start can help sideline this problem, but even the most agreeable of partnerships may encounter a common dilemma that’s much more difficult to resolve. What is it?

The Slow Poke.

If you find yourself finishing sections ahead of schedule, only to watch deadlines fly past with no word from your partner, you’re working with a Slow Poke.

When saddled with this kind of partner, it’s easy to assume the person is slacking and purposefully blowing off deadlines. This thought tendency only grows as frustration increases. Be aware, though, that there can be more than one reason a collaborator doesn’t pull through for you.

  1. They’re not used to working with deadlines. It’s true. Some people, especially those who don’t work as freelancers, may not be used to hard-and-fast deadlines. Journalists are taught respect for deadlines, with phrases like, “Cross this line, and you’re dead.” The same isn’t true for everyone. If your partners aren’t used to setting and keeping deadlines unless they have someone standing over them, you may have to be the whip master…at least until you can convince them of the real-world consequences of missing a deadline.
  2. Their hearts aren’t in it. Sometimes it’s a simple case of ennui. This project may rev your engine, but what about your partners? They may have caught the fever in the beginning, but lost interest once the first flush of excitement passed. If you can, find ways to draw them back into the process. You may need to revamp and include aspects that recapture their interest. Maybe they have too little responsibility, and need more. If this fails, it may simply be time to let the partnership dissolve (if that’s up to you).
  3. They’re overloaded. Due to human nature, this is the last pssibility many of us consider. If you’re working with serious professionals, though, it’s the first place you should look when your partners fall short. Don’t start out by blaming them for not “giving their all” and for failing to work 25/7. Sit back and consider. Is 25/7 what’s required if your collaborators want to juggle their responsibilities and this project? If so, is that a fair expectation? No. It may be that they misjudged and took on too much, or it may be that you saddled them with extra responsibility without asking. Either way, you may have partners who are about to crumple under the strain. Find a way to relieve your colleagues of some of the burden; cut their part in the project or work around their schedules. If that’s impossible, it may be time to cut them loose and hold off collaboration until a calmer time. If handled correctly, it will be a cause for relief rather than hard feelings.

When talking about the failing of others, of course, it’s also good to hold up the mirror once in a while. If you’re in a collaboration and sense frustration from your colleague, check yourself. Are you the Slow Poke? Have you lost interest, overloaded yourself, failed a deadline? If so, put yourself back on track and save your partner the trouble!