Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Happy New Year

Stopping by for just a few minutes to wish everyone a very Happy, Healthy and Prosperous 2009!

Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Resolutions

It's almost New Year's Eve. It's the time everyone starts thinking about their "new year resolutions." I've usually been reluctant to do this as oftentimes, these resolutions go out the door as soon as January 2nd rolls around. This year, however, I'm in a more positive frame of mind. I have a considerable amount of confidence that I can actually follow through on my resolutions.

First, as with most people, it's time to lose a few pounds. This could be body weight, or it could be those weighty words that tend to creep into my writing. The pounds and the extra words both need to go, although it might be easier to lose the words than the pounds. Which would you rather lose, pounds, words, or both?

Second, I will set goals for myself. I've found in the past setting goals that are realistic are easier to stick to than setting goals which are out of reach. Although I've retired, I still have a lot of interests and activities which take up time, such as my animals, my family, my garden, reading, and my volunteer hours. Still, I know that I can write and complete at least one article or story each month. If I do more, life will be good. It's an easy goal to set for myself, and one that I see myself achieving. What writing goals would you set for yourself?

Lastly, I want to learn to have more patience. My 93 year old mother lives in an apartment attached to our home and has for the past 25 years. She has been a great help to us during her years with us, and her proximity has been comforting for our children. Now, it's my turn to care for her. I've tried to let her be independent as long as I could. Now, we no longer let her drive. This week, I took over her medication. Her memory is going, although she knows who we are. Life could be worse. I figure this is a time to learn to let stress go and enjoy her last years with us. It's also a time when I have to take notes on how not to act when my own children are faced with caring for us. This is the time to start journaling the things which I find annoying or that set me to grinding my teeth in frustration. What about your frustrations? Are you able to journal and let them go?

What are your resolutions? Do you think you can follow through with them?

Friday, December 26, 2008

Cleaning Up

Christmas is over and my main room is like an obstacle course. It's amazing how many toys for a toddler can fit under the Christmas tree. This was my granddaughter's first Christmas. Needless to say, we spoiled her. Of course, she's more interested in playing in the cats' water bowl, and the dog food in the pantry. The boxes all the new toys came in are also very exciting.

As I go around picking up stray toys and discarded clothes, I think about how this is similar to cleaning up my writing. I have to look for a stray word that's in the wrong place, just like I find a single sock buried under a chair cushion. Are there words to discard like the packing material in the toy boxes? Most likely and by careful editing, they will be gone. Can my writing be streamlined like the path through the mound of toys? Toss what isn't needed and keep the rest.

It's been snowing here in Oregon for over a week. Many of us are housebound. Many of us are tired of looking at the same walls. Try to be like my granddaughter. She finds delight in the feel of the potatoes in the pantry and the crinkle of the onion skins.

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Christmas Eve - Happy Holidays

It's Christmas Eve and we're snowed in. Good thing we've got a well stocked pantry and family willing to improvise when it comes time for dinner. Being creative is the best thing we can do. Having patience helps as well. Letting stress go and enjoying what we have is relaxing.

No matter what holiday you and yours celebrate, I wish you the very best this holiday season. So many of us are snowed in, without power, or somehow cut off from the world. Let this be the time to get to know your neighbors, play games with your family, drink hot chocolate and eat popcorn.

If you live in a warm, sunny clime, send good thoughts to your friends and relatives in the chilly north.

Whatever you do, don't feel guilty if you take a day off from your writing. You can write an extra hour on Friday.

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Shedding

The other day, I read an article in House Beautiful by Julie Morgenstern, "the guru of putting lives in order." Julie was discussing ways to clean out your closet, but it struck me that what she wrote could apply to your writing as well. The one section that really struck me was her thoughts on "shed: what it means." She stated it is more than just getting rid of things and involves four steps: 1. Separate, 2. Heave, 3. Embrace, and 4. Drive.

What does this mean for you as a writer?

  1. Separate - look at your words, find the "gems," and discard the rest. This can be old manuscripts that haven't sold, or it can be right in your current WIP. Don't be so attached to your writing. Be willing to separate the good from the bad.
  2. Heave - eliminate the words that weigh down your manuscript. Look for passive writing, and adverbs and adjectives that clog the story or article with unnecessary words. Be sure you're showing not telling your story. Find an active voice, use fresh exciting words.
  3. Embrace - find your own voice and hold true to it. Don't try to copy another writer's style or story. Look for your own unique way of telling a tale.
  4. Drive - push yourself to be the best writer you can be. Proofread, edit, and rewrite as necessary. Explore new types of writing. If you're stuck, try poetry or a non-fiction article. If you can't sell your poetry, try writing a children's picture or rhyming book.
What can you shed today?

Saturday, December 20, 2008

Being An Expert

Awhile ago, I posted an entry about how easy it is to find an expert to add quotes and specific information to articles you're writing. Today, I want to encourage you to be an expert yourself. One of the best things we can as writers, is to help other writers. We often operate in a vacuum, isolated from other people. We work at home in small offices, at kitchen tables, and at desks tucked into our bedrooms. Put yourself out there if someone asks for help. Even if it takes some time away from your own writing ventures, be willing to help.

I just completed an article about writing across genres. While my fiction is cross genre, fantasy romance short stories and a MG paranormal mystery novel, I don't know everything there is about this form of fiction writing. I posted a request on the Muse On Line forum and had several cross genre writers respond who were willing to answer questions. The response was wonderful and each of these writers was able to add something to the finished manuscript. Their quotes were just what I needed.

I hope someday I will be able to offer my services to these writers or to another who is looking for an expert. While I may not have expertise in some exotic field, I am a writer and to that extent I have advice to offer. I may also have advice in other areas and would offer to share that as well. What about you? Do you have something to offer another writer? What are your areas of expertise? What kind of interview questions would you be able to answer? Don't cut yourself off from other writers. Get out there, even if it is only over the Internet.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Honest Scrap Award

This came as quite a surprise. Today, I was awarded the Honest Scrap Award by Lori Calabrese. According to Lori, "What is Honest Scrap? Turns out this sign used to be advertising for a wacky tobaccy company! Go figure! Why is it the companies pushing products that are bad for you are the ones with the greatest advertising? There are 2 guidelines for receiving this award. One, you are to list 10 honest things about yourself. Make them interesting, even if you have to dig deep. Two, present the award to 7 other bloggers. "

First, here are ten honest things about me:


1. I love motorcycles, but now that I'm "old," I have more fear than I did when I was "young."'
2. I was a vegetarian for years and could easily become one again.
3. I recently found out I have sleep apnea and was prescribed a sleep machine. It's great not to feel tired any more.
4. I prefer to live somewhere where it's not too hot, and not too cold. Most of the time Oregon is like that.
5. Spring and fall are my favorite times of the year.
6. Being a parent is rewarding. Being a grandparent is wonderful.
7. I don't like French Fries and I don't drink carbonated soda.
8. Everyone should have at least one best friend. Furry friends count as best friends.
9. I prefer to listen to Classic Rock from the 60's and 70's to any other kind of music.
10. I don't like dark chocolate (or chocolate in general for that matter - does white chocolate count?)

And here are the 7 blogs that I would like to award the Honest Scrap Award: They are in no particular order.

1. The Frugal Editor, http://thefrugaleditor.blogspot.com/
2. C. Hope Clark, http://hopeclark.blogspot.com/
3. Karen and Robyn, Writing for Children, http://karenandrobyn.blogspot.com/
4. Tam's Think Tank, http://tokenhippygirl.com/
5. Linda Jo Martin, Perspectives on Writing, http://lindajomartin.com/
6. Dianne Sagan, Life as a Ghostwriter, http://diannesagan.wordpress.com/
7. Story Crafters, http://storycrafters.blogspot.com/

Now I guess I'd better let them know I've given them this prestigious honor!

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Characters Point of View

Another important aspect of your character, as you tell his or her story, is the point of view. You need to be sure you know whose story you are telling. The main character, your hero or heroine, is your protagonist. Your character who causes problems for your main character, is your antagonist.

If you are writing a short story, your point of view should be that of your main character. When you are writing a novel or novelette, you have more room to expand and can switch to other sub characters' view points. The main thing to remember, when novel writing, is to not switch point of view in the middle of a chapter. If you must change POV in the middle of a chapter, use a space break or some other device to show that you have changed scenes. You want to be sure your reader knows which character is seeing, feeling, tasting, or touching at any given point.

Telling your story in first person from your protagonist's point of view is one way to approach your story. If the story is coming from your main character, you have the ability to let your reader know what's going on in his or her head and what is happening to each of his or her five senses. Many authors chose to use the third person, or omniscient point of view, when telling a story. This point of view is much the same as first person, except you use the character's name, or he, or she, instead of "I." With an omniscient POV, the narrator can see everything that is going on throughout the story. He misses nothing.

Research guidelines before determining which POV you wish to use. Some publishers will not accept first person stories. Try writing your story in different viewpoints. It can totally switch your story around.

Monday, December 15, 2008

Believable Characters

We all know how important our characters are when we write fiction. Recently, at a forum in which I participate, one of the members asked "Is your fiction plot or character driven?" Almost all of the responses came back "character driven." Characters make or break our stories. If your character is unbelievable or unsympathetic, no one will want to read about him or her. How do you create believable characters? Start with small details.

  1. Consider some physical characteristic of your character. What makes him or her different? A shock of white hair at the temples? (Think Morticia of the Adams Family.) A mustache that droops over the upper lip? (Think Jim Qwilleran of The Cat Who series.) Make this physical trait an important part of who your character is.
  2. Give your character a flaw. No one likes a protagonist or an antagonist who is perfect. Your characters need a flaw whether it is physical or emotional. Your readers need to be able to identify with them.
  3. Allow your characters to embrace all five senses - include sight, sound, touch, taste and aromas.
  4. Be true to your characters speech patterns. If you've created a modern day heroine, don't have her speaking Victorian English.

Sunday, December 14, 2008

Revising Your Manuscript

I just read an interesting article by Laura Backes, the editor of Childrens Book Insider. Her premise was the importance of revising a manuscript before submitting it. We all know how important it is to send our best work out, but do we always follow that advice? I know I've been guilty more than once of sending off an article without that final glance through. It's easy enough to get caught with a deadline. How many of you would say you work better under pressure? I know I'm not at my best when I'm in a time crunch. I would rather have the time to go over the story one last time.

If you plan your time wisely, you can be sure to look for errors. Ms. Backes suggests putting the manuscript away for awhile. This makes a lot of sense. Errors which don't show up at the first reading are much more obvious after the manuscript sits for a few days. Plan your work load so you have this time to let the story or article stew.

When you take your manuscript out, read it through carefully, looking for errors the computer won't recognize. By now, most of us know that your spell checker won't catch word substitutions such as "their" for "there." If you use the wrong word, but spell it correctly, it's not going to jump out at you. Read each line carefully, highlight anything which glares at you. Go back and correct it after you've completed reading.

Most of us will write without editing as we go. This is much more productive and keeps the thought process moving forward. If we stop to correct each line or word, it slows us down and we lose that important train of thought. Write your piece until it's finished or until you need a break. Don't read what you've already written, unless you need a reminder for where you left off. Once you've completed your work, then put your editor's cap on. Look for unnecessary adjectives and adverbs. Use active not passive language. Make sure your grammar and spelling are correct.

What about details? Check those when you are revising and editing. Do your characters remain consistent. Is their hair always the same color? What about eye color or facial expressions? Does your action move ahead without being bogged down by excessive back story or description? Cut, revise and tighten.

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Saturday, December 13, 2008

Finding Experts

Do you write non-fiction? Are you hesitant to do so because you don't feel like you know enough about a subject to be an "expert?" You'll be surprised then to learn you don't need to personally know about a subject. What you need is an expert. How do you find your "experts?" That too can be as easy as asking a friend, or contacting a professional organization in your area.

I'm currently working on an article about writing across genres. I, myself, do write in more than one genre at a time, but I like to include other opinions besides my own when I write. I posted a plea for help to a writers' forum and was rewarded by responses from eight professional writers, all who have a unique perspective on writing across genres.

A few years ago, I wrote an article for teens on how to deal with domestic violence in their home. While I had some training as a women's crisis line volunteer, I contacted our district attorney's office and spoke with a victim's advocate who gave me additional information to flesh out my story.

More recently, I interviewed my water aerobics instructor and developed an article about the health benefits of participating in water aerobics. While I had a basic knowledge of the sport, having participated for over eight years, my instructor was able to provide me with specific details.

After reading an article in our local newspaper about teen suicide, I contacted the organization behind the article and they referred me to a local teen help group. The young woman who responded to me was extremely helpful and this article too appeared in Listen magazine.

I planned a teen article about cheating in school. My husband, who taught high school, asked his students if they would participate in a questionnaire. Several agreed to do so and the resulting article appeared in Listen magazine.

When I wanted to write about safety in our local schools, I turned again to my husband. He was able to recruit several co-workers who were more than happy to help me with the project.

You may not have access to teachers like I did, but you will find many willing to help if you approach them. Just go to your local school district office, let them know your needs and they will direct you through the proper channels. Police officers and fire department personnel are also excellent resources. Ask your friends and relatives who they know. You'd be surprised at the "experts" you will find right in your own locality.

Friday, December 12, 2008

Snippets of Time

Thirteen days and counting till the biggest gift giving day of the year for most of the world. As we get nearer and nearer to the holidays, most of us become frazzled, harried, and rushed trying to get it all done. Still, we need to make time for what's important to us, whether that's family, friends, or writing.

As writers, we sometimes feel guilty that we don't get enough writing done during this hectic season. What we can do, however, is carve out small snippets of time. As special events occur, keep a notebook handy. Jot down your two year old's words of exclamation as she opens her Christmas gift. Last year, she was too young to know what was happening. This year, opens a new world for her. Listen, take notes, or remember the words if your great aunt has a story to tell of survival - maybe the Depression, maybe the Holocaust. Sitting around the table at a holiday dinner gives you an opportunity to learn about your older family members. If you can't deal with a paper and pen because your hands are full of cookie dough, keep a small tape recorder handy. Push a button and record those memories.

While now may not be the time to sell a holiday story, keep your notes handy and in a couple of months be prepared to write, write, write. Those cute words of exclamation could end up as filler in a parenting magazine. Your aunt's story may be fodder for a memoir, novel, or short story. You may not have time to write now, but your notes will come to your aid after the holidays. Get up fifteen minutes early or go to bed fifteen minutes later to record your thoughts. These small snippets of time will get you through the holidays without feeling guilty.

Monday, December 8, 2008

Memoirs

Today a friend of mine handed me a copy of an article she found in Readers Digest about writing memoirs, "The Story of Your Life," by Joe Kita. You've probably read a few memoirs yourself. I've read some of those mentioned in the article such as The Glass Castle by Jeannette Walls, Frank McCourt's Angela's Ashes, and Elizabeth Gilbert's Eat, Pray, Love.

The article is well worth reading. There are some excerpts from a few memoirs at http://www.rd.com/your-america-inspiring-people-and-stories/5-extra-memoir-excerpts/article112521.html. The whole article is found in the January 2009 issue.

We don't have to be special to write our memoirs. If you consider most of the great fiction of the past fifty years, it's about ordinary people trying to live their lives. If you consider your own life, there is a story to tell. You don't need to be a survivor of a tragic experience, or someone who has achieved great heights. All you need to do is share your life in writing. This can be a legacy to your children, grandchildren, or even a niece or nephew. Another close friend of mine has been keeping a journal since she was in middle school. She plans to leave these journals to her niece. Her life, while not particularly exciting, is rich with history nonetheless. She came of age during the Vietnam War, protests, and Woodstock. She was part of history and because of those journals, her memories are archived forever.

Oftentimes, young people don't care about what happened fifty years ago, until it's too late to ask their relatives who lived during that period. Write your story and bequeath it to your loved ones. If you were born in the 1940's, you grew up before their was television. Imagine your great grand children living in a world without television. Did the milkman deliver milk to your house when you were a kid? Mine did. I remember coming home from school on winter afternoons to find the bottles had exploded and frozen cream oozed down the sides.

Start writing before you forget. You may find that your journals can also provide you with fodder for your next novel.

Friday, December 5, 2008

Volunteering

During the holidays many of us start to think about giving back to the community. Many folks help serve Thanksgiving and Christmas dinners to the homeless. Others will pack up food baskets for the needy. Still other may purchase gifts for giving trees. Fact is, there are needs year round and for those of us who have time, we should think of giving a few hours each month. This cuts into writing time, you say? Well, yes it does, but think about the basic premise of writing, "write what you know."

In past years, I've volunteered for a number of groups, including our women's resource center, our talented and gifted school program, Girl Scouts, and our local human dignity group. While the hours spent doing these activities took away from my writing time, I also learned a great deal about many subjects. As a result of my volunteer hours, I sold several articles.

One article, "The Art of Grantwriting," is still archived on several Internet sites. This was a direct result of training I received when I volunteered to do grantwriting for our women's center. This was one of my first writing attempts and won first place in a Byline Magazine contest before going on to be sold several times.

Training at the center also gave me the information necessary to write articles about date rape, developing listening skills, domestic violence and tolerance. Each of these topics was written for both adults and teens giving me twice the markets. Another of my early sales was an article on our local talented and gifted program. While many hours were spent working with school children, I also saw a byline and a check as a result of my volunteer time.

Now that I've retired, I see the need once again to give back to my community. I have found a cause in which I believe, and I have contacted the director. Yes, it will take a few hours a month away from my writing time, but it will pay me back in so many ways, including new material for articles. Think about volunteering today, you may find yourself with a byline and a check.

Thursday, December 4, 2008

Setting Goals

One of the most important things you can do for yourself as a writer is set goals. When I first came back to writing in 1993 - after too many years convinced I wasn't capable, I knew I needed to set goals for myself. At the time, I was working full-time, had two young children, a husband, and numerous animals all needing something from me. How could I reasonably add writing to my life?

I first decided that even writing fifteen minutes a day would be worthwhile. While it doesn't seem like much, after four days, I would have an hour's worth of writing completed. Add it up over the month, and I've accomplished something. I decided that I could finish at least one article or story each month. While this doesn't seem like a fantastic goal, it was a workable one. If I had aimed too high, I would have been frustrated when I didn't achieve my goal.

When I researched a market for the story, I would be sure to find at least three suitable magazines. If the story was rejected the first time out, I would be ready with the next market. This way, a story was always in play. When the first story went out, I started in on the next. It's important to set realistic goals for yourself. You don't want to be trapped in a negative space. It's better to shoot a little lower and achieve higher, than to shoot for a goal you'll never attain.

Carefully consider your own time constraints. When do you have time to write:
  1. In the morning before work?
  2. After the kids are in bed at night?
  3. While the baby is napping?
  4. During your lunch hour?
  5. Waiting for your bus?
  6. During your train or bus ride to work?
  7. At the dentist or doctor's office?
If you can't find fifteen minutes in your day, maybe you need to re-prioritize. What can you give up? Exchange walking the dog with your husband every other night? Take turns with other family members making dinner? Do child care exchanges with other writing moms?

If you look hard enough, you'll find your fifteen, thirty, or sixty minutes to write.

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

Big Screen TV

Yesterday, Jan commented on my post that she doesn't care for television. For years, I agreed with her. I didn't have much use for t.v., although my husband is hopelessly addicted. I have to admit, though, as I've aged, I spend more time in the evenings watching movies and science fiction shows. Of course, my hands are busy with crochet projects, and I consider this my down time. Being retired allows me the freedom to pursue not only my writing, but my other passions without regret.

Jan also commented that big screen televisions require large rooms. I also have to agree with this. We are fortunate to have a room big enough to play ping pong. The new t.v. will live in this room. While my husband loved to play ping pong in his youth, he has lost interest in the game. The room will make a great home theater room. One thing we learned while educating ourselves about t.v. is the distance one should sit. 9 feet for a 42" t.v., 10 feet or more for a 50" t.v.

When we first started to look, I thought, "we don't need a huge t.v." Once you look at a 42" next to a 50", the 42" t.v. looks really small. We are fortunate that our room is big enough to sit far enough away to make the 50" t.v. something we can watch. The price difference, while significant, is something each buyer needs to determine based on their own finances. Savings can be had by different brands as well. Amazingly, we were able to see the difference in the better quality t.v. Old eyes or not, there are visual differences. Do research on the Internet. Take notes. Go to several stores. Ask lots of questions. Look at different brands and compare. Buy the biggest and best quality you can afford - that way you won't need to upgrade in a few years. While you're doing it, consider the benefits as a writer. Are there any?

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

Shopping for a Big Screen T.V.

All day yesterday, my husband and I went from electronic equipment store to electronic equipment store learning about big screen televisions. When he first suggested it, I thought I would be bored out of my mind. What do I know about 120 this and 180 that?

It turned out to be quite interesting. We went first to a Sony store. The young man who assisted us was a wealth of information. My husband did his homework before we went there, of course, surfing the internet to educate himself about the various televisions available. Our salesman assured us he wasn't working on a commission and spent over an hour showing us the differences in the various Sony models. Originally I thought we're too old, our eyes too poor, to notice these subtle differences. I was amazed to see that we actually were able to detect differences in the various models. Yes, LCD is better than Plasma. The people aren't as fuzzy....

We followed our trip to the Sony store with a visit to Video Only, Costco and Best Buy. Needless to say at each store, there was a willing salesman to voice the virtues of buying at their store. We still don't know where we will get our t.v., but at least we're getting closer. Was this day away from my computer and writing time wasted? No, definitely not. What we learned may possibly help another befuddled consumer. There is an article brewing on what to look for when buying your big screen t.v. Remember the writer's mantra, "write what you know."