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Posts tagged ‘writing life’

We write against the void…

wewriteagainst the void

A mental map of a writer’s mind

I have been to all of these places and will return to each a thousand times more.  I am currently headed to the Glade of Hopeful Aspirations after a bout in Crippling Insecurity-ville.  How about you?  Where have you been hanging out lately?
mapofawritersmind
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Elizabeth Gilbert’s TED Talk: Your elusive creative genius

For those of you who aren’t familiar with them, TED talks are delivered at a global set of conferences owned by the private non-profit Sapling Foundation, under the slogan “ideas worth spreading”.  TED stands for Technology, Entertainment and Design.  Past presenters include Bill Clinton, Jane Goodall, and Bill Gates, to name a few.

I love this talk on nurturing creativity delivered by Elizabeth Gilbert, author of Eat, Pray, Love in 2009.  Enjoy and happy writing with your elusive creative genius.

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May Round Up – On My/In My

It’s always fun to take a glimpse into the minds (and lives) of others.  So here are the things that were On My… and In My… for the month of May.  I found this idea over at In the Warm Hold of Your Loving Mind.

On the Nightstand:

Where Things Come Back by John Corey Whaley

where-things-come-back

and

Wonder by R.J. Palacio

wonder

On the Shelf:

Look Me in the Eye: My Life with Asperger’s by John Elder Robison (The book I was supposed to read for my May book club meeting.  I didn’t read it because I’ve been busy with editing 100 pages for submittal to an agent.  See more below.)

lookme

and

Moloka’i by Alan Brennert (The book I’m supposed to read for my June book club meeting.  I’m hopeful I can carve out some time for it.)

molokai

At the Theater (or from the couch):  I watched this from my couch.  I’m a sucker for fairy tale remakes.  This one had some visually stunning scenes.  Overall, I can’t say that I was blown away by the characterization or story.  I did love the filmmaker’s take on the seven dwarves.

Snow White and the Huntsman

snowwhite2

On the Small Screen:

Shameless – More on this in its own post.  All I can say is I love this show.  I just finished watching the first and second seasons on Showtime.  The show is crass and tough and has gratuitous sex and nudity, if you ask me.  But I still love it.  The characters are three dimensional and the situations are hilarious and heartbreaking all at the same time.  This isn’t typically my type of show, but something keeps me coming back.  I think the writing is brilliant and I love William H. Macy’s acting in the show.  I can’t wait until January, 2014 for season three.

shameless

In My Ears:

“Hands Held High” by Linkin Park.  This song came on during my run the other day.  It’s been stuck in my head ever since:


Around the House:

Building a dog fence.  We adopted a puppy from an animal rescue.  Monty, our 10-week old mutt joins our 15-year old Brittany Spaniel, Bailey.  Bailey isn’t sure what hit her with this new puppy begging for her attention.  In order to adopt from the animal rescue organization, we needed to build a fence.  It was a new adventure pitting my 5’3″ frame against a post-hole digger.  Thank goodness it was a team effort with my husband or that sucker would have bounced me all over the yard.

Monty

In the Kitchen:

Smoked Salmon – I bought my husband an electric smoker last Father’s Day, and we’ve been making this killer salmon recipe at least once a week.

This is more like a brine recipe, meaning you will keep your salmon marinating in the mixture overnight.

1/3 cup soy sauce

1/3 cup brown sugar

1/3 cup water

1/4 cup veg. oil

Mix above ingredients all together in a bowl.  Place the salmon skin side up in bowl and refrigerate overnight.  If you have a large slice of salmon, you may need to cut it in half.  Both pieces of salmon should fit on your grill when smoking (use the top grill when smoking this).  When you are ready to smoke the fish the next morning, pull it out of the fridge and let it sit on the smoker rack over your sink, to drip dry, about 10- 15 minutes.  When the salmon appears to be drying off, lightly sprinkle the salmon with lemon pepper and garlic powder.  Place the fish top rack of your smoker and cook for 1-1/2 hours. (Cooking times may vary depending on your smoker.)  We use a mix of apple and hickory chips.  Yum!

In My Closet:

Nothing new here except a mess and ridiculous amounts of laundry to which I need to tend.

In My Mailbox:

Three prints from Spain.  I ordered these from this Etsy.com shop.  They have a Buy 2-Get 1 Free deal right now.  The print quality is excellent and they arrived without a rip or bend in the package.  Can’t wait to frame them for my office.

balloonlines copy

In My Cart:

My friend invented these Benbini watches.  They were originally designed for new mothers, but with kids aged 8 and 5, I’m definitely not a new mother, and I love my Benbinis.  I have the white and the melon colors.  I’ve had the Grey/Raspberry one in my cart for a month now.  I’m sure I’ll break down and add it to my collection soon enough.

Benbini watch
On My Heart:

Thoughts of the victims of all of the Oklahoma tornadoes.  Every time I pull up Google News it seems like I’m reading about another weather-related incident: wildfires in California, tornadoes in Oklahoma, flooding in Central Europe.  I’m thankful that Colorado had some decent rain and snowfall in May and hopeful that we continue to get the much needed moisture to delay our own wildfire season.

On the Calendar:

Sending two sets of requested pages to a literary agent.  This request was the result of a pitch session at this year’s Pikes Peak Writers’ Conference.  More on this once the edits are finished and I’ve hit the “Send” key.

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Graze vs. Devour – What’s Your Writing Style?

Grazing

Over at Writer Unboxed, Carleen Brice wrote a post today about grazing.  Here is an excerpt:

I too am back at work full-time and find that I don’t have large blocks of time (when I’m not exhausted) to write or exercise or garden or read. However, I am figuring out I do have many small bits of time that I can use. As I written here before I lost weight over a year ago and in my efforts to keep it off, I am packing my lunch and grazing on it over a few hours rather than eating it all at once. It’s working.

I usually bus in and get off a few stops early so I can get in a 10-minute walk before work. Then I take a 10- or 20-minute walk (or yoga break) at lunch and a 10- or 20-minute walk on the way home and voila! Exercise is done.

Just this week, I started doing the same with writing. I’ve always been someone who thought I needed several hours at once to get any writing done, but now I’m finding that I can apply the same grazing philosophy (10 or 20 minutes in the morning and at lunch, etc.) and I can slowly but surely get some work done.

After reading this, I was jealous and frustrated.  In my head, I’m not a grazer.  I long for those large blocks of time during which I can delve into a project and really concentrate.  But I rarely get them, and then I find myself having produced nothing because my number one writer’s excuse is, “I don’t have time to write. I need languorous afternoons filled with undisturbed time.”  My husband is always telling me, “You are rarely going to have hours to yourself to write.  Why not use those 20 minutes here and there to work?”

There have never been truer words.  Next year, my youngest goes to first grade.  In theory, I will have seven hours every weekday while both kids are in school.  In reality, these hours will be filled with meetings, other work related tasks, errands, and life. In an effort to be prepared and hit the ground running in August, I’ve been analyzing my calendar.  It appears that dear husband is right. I will rarely have large blocks of time.

Efficiency experts tell you it’s about working smarter, not harder.  Working smarter for me means having a grasp on which tasks are grazing tasks and which tasks require devouring.  Here’s what I’ve found:

Grazing Tasks—For which I tap into my inner sheep and chomp away little by little

  • If I’m halfway through a scene and I’m loving it, (For a first draft “loving” is a relative term.  It might mean that I have one or two lines I think are decent and the action is moving in the right direction.) I can usually graze through the middle section.  I know the characters, I know the voice, I know the plan for the scene.  I can write the remainder in small chunks of 15 minutes here and 20 minutes there.
  • If I’m writing non-fiction, I can graze through the middle of a short article.  Openings and conclusions are too brain-intensive to be grazing tasks.
  • Outlining, research, planning are all grazing tasks.
  • Editing is a great grazing task.  Especially line editing for punctuation, grammar and spelling.  Word-by-word editing also fits the bill.  It’s exhausting to spend extended periods of time re-working sentence after sentence for stronger verbs and more precise description.  I usually take a few sentences for the road and mull them over while driving or exercising.

Devouring TasksFor which I tap into my inner wolf and sit down to devour a full carcass at once

  • Beginnings and endings.  Whether it is the beginning of an entire novel, the first sentence of a new scene or the opening paragraph of an article, openings and closings require more dedicated brain power. I find that I often have to ramble my way into an opening.  The first 3-4 paragraphs of new work (fiction or non-fiction) are usually thick and muddled (and end up in the outtakes file) but serve as a bridge to get me to the “true” opening.
  • Action scenes.  Drafting an action scene requires undivided attention for me.  I’m a wordy writer and an even wordier drafter.  Skimming the fat to produce a tight action scene is challenging for me.  For this reason, these scenes need devouring time – no grazing allowed.
  • Fleshing out a scene which stems from one great line.  I often have lines (particularly of dialogue) and images that come to me at inopportune times.  Doing dishes is a prime time for this.  I jot them in my notebook, transfer them to my “Must Have Lines” page in Microsoft OneNote, and let them simmer.  These lines are usually something around which I can build a scene.  But then I get performance anxiety.  I love the line or the dialogue exchange.  I don’t want to write a crappy scene that doesn’t do justice to the dishwashing gem.  This is when I need long blocks of time to dig and devour the scene instead of grazing through filler.

I will still always dream of a cabin in the woods with an endless supply of coffee, firewood and peaceful time to write.  But I’m a mom, a wife, and a writernot a hermit. The list above certainly isn’t going to solve the not-enough-hours-in-the-day dilemma, but it might help me use those hours more effectively.  And who knows, maybe I’m really a sheep in wolf’s clothing and can successfully graze my way through a manuscript after all.

What about you?  Are you a successful grazer?  What tasks work the best for you as grazing tasks?  Or do you need space to devour your writing?

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Crawling out from under my rock…

It’s always tough to come back after a hiatus without some sort of apology.  So I’ll just get it out of the way.

I’M SORRY FOR MY ABSENCE.  Very sorry!

Between writing non-fiction, consulting, mothering, PTAing and managing a household, life got the best of me.  This isn’t an excuse and it isn’t a woe-is-me-look-how-busy-I-am plea.  I know we’re all busy.  The truth is:

if-it-is-important-to-you

The bottom line is I’ve been finding excuses.  But this blog is important to me for several reasons:

  1. I’ve made some wonderful virtual connections because of posts written here.
  2. I’ve discovered the joys of interacting with readers and writers through blogging.
  3. I’ve discovered my fiction writing voice because of this blog.

These are all important, but number three is HUGE.  Scour the internet and you’ll find hundreds of articles on voice. Articles from Writer’s Digest, from writer Nathan Bransford (I love his blog and my boys love his Jacob Wonderbar books), from Chuck Wendig, and even an entire book about it here.

Voice is an elusive concept for writers.  It is still an elusive concept for me.  But after so many years of honing a non-fiction “voice,” I was struggling with finding my fiction voice.  Consequently, I was struggling with fiction writing in general.  But thanks to this blog, I’ve come one step closer to unlocking that fiction voice.  I’ll be posting about this discovery, my experiences at the Pikes Peak Writers’ Conference this April, and lots more things in future posts.

Meanwhile, I’d love to hear how things are in your neck of the writing woods.  Are you working on any new projects?

Happy Writing!

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Writer’s Notebook: An Idea Gold Mine

Take any writing class or read any writing book, and the first thing you will learn is, “Keep a writer’s notebook.”  It sounds elementary, but so many writers today don’t keep that notebook tucked away for capturing random thoughts before they are lost.

I started keeping a diary at the age of nine or ten.  At the time, I was obsessed with unicorns, so receiving this diary was a dream for me:

Unfortunately, this isn’t the original diary. (I found the picture on Ebay.)  I haven’t seen mine in years, but I’m guessing it’s somewhere in my parents’ garage along with that popcorn tin that holds all of my carefully folded, hand-written notes from middle school.  Back then the idea of a diary was romantic.  I had very little real drama in my life, but it was fun to pretend that my boy crushes and straight-versus-curly haired days were traumatic and secretive.  I went in phases during which I wrote every day and other times where six months passed between entries.  But writing in that diary was always like coming back to an old friend.  Turning the wheel on the combination lock never lost its appeal because I knew that my secret thoughts waited inside.

In middle school and high school, I spent many years diary free, but I did write poetry.  Some were tormented poems about the boy who was in love with my best friend.  (They ended up getting married.  So I guess it wasn’t meant to be between us.)  Others were more esoteric poems about imagination, the industrial revolution or gargoyles in Paris. I just found a box of these in my own garage last weekend.  They are a treasure trove of embarrassment and a time capsule of my life.  I love the way these poems instantly transport me back to the 80s and 90s.  I can often picture the exact place I wrote the words.

In college, I continued with my writing, but it was more class-driven. Somewhere on that Brother word processor, which I so proudly carried to my freshman dorm room, live files filled with comparative literary papers and poems about Mott the Hoople, sunflower seeds and a sunset from a mosquito-filled dock.  These images became a diary of my life at a college in the middle of rural Indiana.

But many of these words and images are locked away in the bowels of technology.  Yes, I did refer to my antiquated Brother word processor and box filled with floppy disks as the bowels of technology.  And my thoughts are trapped in these bowels. Sure I can fire up the Brother, but I can’t open a dusty box, pull out a stack of notebooks and immediately connect with my most treasured images.

Today, it’s even easier for our fleeting thoughts to get lost in “the cloud.”  I’ll admit, I’m a technology junkie.  I record my thoughts in Evernote, Pinterest, Scrivener, Word documents, and the Notes app on my iPhone.  In spite of the convenience of technology, there are times when we need to simplify these recording mechanisms.  That’s why a few years ago, I finally wised up and decided to go old-school again.

The notebook!

This little gem is a Moleskine knock-off I found at Target.  At 5.5″ x 3.75″ it slides right into my purse and goes everywhere with me.  And at $5.99, you can’t beat the price.  This notebook is my savior.

When I was young and had few responsibilities, I could afford to linger for hours on a mosquito-filled dock and wax philosophical about beautiful images and life.  But as a writer, mom, wife and chronic over-committer, I rarely get to linger over anything.  Consequently, inspiration strikes at the most inopportune times.  Usually when I’m washing dishes or driving in the car.  Enter: The Notebook.

This little baby is filled with thoughts and images.  Here are some examples from a randomly-selected page.

  • A quote from an interview I heard with Anthony Hopkins: “As a child I wrote to escape the desert of my mental emptiness.”
  • A description of the woman accepting my donations at Goodwill. She appeared to have been badly burned at some point.  The smooth texture of the scar tissue on the side of her head was beautiful and heart wrenching at the same time.
  • Notes about the tattoo a friend’s brother just got – an Illinois license plate.  Why would someone want “the Land of Lincoln” tattooed on their arm?  Fascinating!
  • A quote from an interview on NPR about the new Chitty Chitty Bang Bang, Chitty Chitty Bang Bang Flies Again.  “You can take parts away, but Chitty is still Chitty.”  Something about the gestalt-ness of Chitty (the whole is greater than the sum of its parts) makes me love this childhood icon even more.  AND…
  • An entire conversation between my MC and her love interest about fish scales which came to me all at once while I was elbow-high in dishwashing suds.

Many of these images will never leave this notebook.  I’ll page through it now and then and find myself transported to a stuffy backroom at Goodwill, but that kind woman accepting my donations may never make it into the pages of a novel.  However, this notebook is my gold mine.  It is the place I go when I’m stuck.

Just yesterday, I discovered a note about the song “Danny, Dakota & The Wishing Well” by A Silent Film.  This song wafted through my car while I was waiting in line to drop my kids off at school.  I’m not sure why I wrote down a snippet of lyrics, but at the time the words struck a chord with me (no pun intended!) Reading over this note yesterday, it suddenly dawned on me how a climactic scene between my MC and her love interest can work.  That’s the magic of the writer’s notebook.  Disparate thoughts have a chance to stew together.  In the end that stew of thoughts becomes the Stone Soup of your writing.

Now it’s your turn.  Do you keep a writer’s notebook?  Scan the pages for a minute and tell me your favorite (or most random) snippet from the past week.

Here’s a great post on the pocket notebooks from 20 famous writers including Hemingway, Twain and Beethoven.

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Embrace the Nonsense

Laboring on Labor Day Weekend with Dr. Seuss

Hopefully you’re taking a break to enjoy a few slow-paced days this holiday weekend.  Whether you’re lounging or laboring this Labor Day weekend, enjoy a few words of wisdom from Dr. Seuss.

Number 23 seems especially appropriate for a long weekend.  Get outside and enjoy the “opener” air!

Writers Conference #1 – My ah-ha moment

I attended my first ever writers’ conference in April – the Pikes Peak Writers’ Conference in Colorado Springs, Colorado.  Can you believe that I’ve been writing professionally for 16 years and I’ve never attended a writer’s conference?  Here’s the rub.  I attended this conference not as a journalist, not as a non-fiction writer.  I attended as a fiction writer – a novelist.  Initially, I didn’t feel like I had a leg to stand on.

We arrived in the lobby of the Marriott hotel admidst a flurry of writers.  People were already hovering around the bar (at 7:30 in the morning.)  To be fair, the bar area doubled as a Starbucks until after lunchtime.  Most of the writers were holding out for their morning shot of espresso, not their morning shot of vodka.  Although, who knows.  Some may have had both in those recyclable cups.  I’ll admit that I felt like I could use a shot of something to calm my nerves.

Why was I so nervous?  I’m usually the epitome of calm when it comes to professional engagements. Although I’ve never attended a writers’ conference, I’ve attended plenty of professional conferences.  Usually I roll in composed and maybe even a little annoyed that this professional development opportunity is taking away from the daily grind of my ever-looming to-do list.

But in the case of PPWC, I didn’t have a novel-ing to-do list waiting for me back at the office.  Sure, I needed to whip through some article writing, but since my fiction writing hiatus started at the end of March, I didn’t have any novelist to-dos at all.  In fact, I wasn’t even a novelist.  I was an ASPIRING novelist ready to take off the mask and declare myself to the greater writing community.  I felt a bit like the green-faced woman in the painting above – hovering on the outskirts of the smartly dressed novelists at the bar and reeling from the anticipation of it all.  In her case it might be the absinthe that has her reeling (not the writer’s conference nerves), but regardless of the potion (distilled Green Fairy juice or novelist-coming-out-of-the-closet anxiety) I was a bit green around the gills myself.

I did the only thing I could: took a deep breath, picked up my registration packet and jumped in with both feet.  The weekend was phenomenal.  The people were friendly.  I don’t know if it’s just that Colorado has a kick-a$$ group of writers or if it is writers’ conferences in general, but the majority of attendees were truly interested in learning about and supporting their fellow writer.  The weekend was exhausting.  Taking a break from the daily grind and spending 10+ hours/day focusing only on the craft and business of writing was inspiring… and exhausting.  The weekend was epiphinous.   More on this writing epiphany in a bit.  But first, my top five tips for surviving your first writers’ conference:

1.  Have a plan:  Study the schedules, biographies and class descriptions ahead of time.  Wandering aimlessly from session to session is definitely an option, but carefully selecting your sessions ahead of time will give you the most bang for your buck.  Let’s face it writers’ conferences are expensive, and I feel like I got my money’s worth because I went to sessions that were right for me rather than following the herd to the next big-name presenter.  (Note: I did attend several sessions by the “big name” presenters also, and let me say that Donald Maass and Jeffery Deaver did not become “big names” accidentally.  The insight these guys offered an aspiring novelist like me was priceless.)

2.  Deviate from the plan (or follow your gut):  I wasn’t pitching a novel because I didn’t have a completed novel to pitch.  I wasn’t drafting query letters because I didn’t have a finished work about which I could write a query letter.  In spite of the fact that I wasn’t ready to face the query or the pitch, there were two sessions on the agenda that kept calling my name.  And I’m so glad I deviated from my plan and went to those sessions.  The first was a Read-and-Critique session which was open to the public.  Authors read their own first page and a literary agent responded.  In this case, the agent was Taylor Martindale from Full Circle Literary agency.  Martindale provided valuable feedback in a very kind-hearted way.  I think the writing of everyone in the room will benefit from her evaluations.  And the courage of the authors to read their first pages buoyed me.  As I sat green-faced in the corner imagining that I might pass out if forced to read my fiction in public, these authors made me realize that next year (PPWC 2013), I too can survive the firing squad and learn something from reading my own first pages in a public setting.

The second deviation proved to be my smartest choice of the weekend. Agent Weronika Janczuk from Lynn C. Franklin Associates led a breakout session call Crucial Compactness.  I took more notes during this one-hour presentation than I did the rest of the weekend put together.  She discussed the writing and editing of compact queries, synopses, and first chapters. You wouldn’t know it from this long-winded blog post, but I learned a boatload about compactness.

3.  Take a walk:  10+ hours sitting in hotel banquet chairs and three meals a day of hotel banquet food can be hard on the mind and the body.  Make sure to schedule time to take a walk.  Get up early or skip half of the lunch session.  Fresh air and sunshine will keep your body in sync with your brain and might even allow some time for the muse to swoop down in the midst of the information overload.

4.  Be friendly:  I’m a shy person by nature.  I have a hard time being the first to stick out my hand and introduce myself.  I had an even harder time at the conference because as a novelist I didn’t feel as legit as many attendees.  What I quickly learned is that it doesn’t matter if you’ve published five novels or only written five pages.  The majority of the writers at the conference were not only interested in their own craft, but the craft of their fellow writers, too.  As writers we spend a great deal of time talking to (and about) the voices we hear inside our heads.  Make-believe voices.  Voices that our spouses or friends may never understand.  To sit in a room with 400 other people who also talk to the voices inside their heads was a breath of fresh air.  Take advantage of the unspoken commonalities and enjoy being a part of the larger whole.

5. Embrace the bigger picture:  I arrived at the conference thinking I was working on a YA historical fiction novel.  I left realizing that my long abandoned 2009 NaNoWriMo manuscript was the story I need to tell.  This realization dawned on me while sitting in a session called “A Survey of Childrens and Young Adult Books” by Denise Vega.  Somewhere in the midst of Denise’s description it dawned on me that Sliver of Souls deserved a different title and a suspenseful/thriller twist.  The pieces all came together and I almost jumped from my seat.  I’ll admit that this ah-ha moment had nothing to do with the deconstruction of a board book storyboard, but something Denise said resonated with me.  She quoted Madeleine L’Engle: “You have to write the book that wants to be written.”  It dawned on me that FOR NOW writing my historical fiction novel was like putting a round peg in a sqaure hole.  It didn’t want to be written – right now.  Sliver of Souls? That story has been trying to crawl out from under the bed since I finished NaNoWriMo in 2009.  Maybe it was time to let it see the light of day.

All in all my first writers’ conference was a triumphant success.  I signed up on the spot to attend the 2013 conference.  You can belive that as a “veteran” attendee, I won’t be quite so green when I walk through those lobby doors.  I’ll be ready to read my pages, ready to pitch, and more than ready to join that smartly dressed group of novelists at the bar.

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