Thursday, December 31, 2009

Happy New Year!

I found two perfect quotes to celebrate the start of 2010:


"Be at war with your vices, at peace with your neighbors, and let every new year find you a better man." ~Benjamin Franklin


"Tomorrow is a new day; begin it well and serenely and with too high a spirit to be encumbered with your old nonsense." ~Ralph Waldo Emerson


Happy New Year to all my fellow writers! May this year bring you a flood of inspiration and creativity, and may those of you who desire publication GET IT (myself, included, lol). Cheers! *clinks virtual glasses*

Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Cliches: Avoid Them Like the Plague

"A cliché is anything you have ever heard before, and it's banned...you have to create your own language." ~Janet Fitch

I love this quote. It's strong, it's concise, and it's spot on.

It took me awhile, as a writer, to realize the danger of cliches - WHY it's not a good idea to use them. I tell my students now that it's "lazy" writing. To rely on a cliche, on something you've heard before (especially over and over again) is easy. Too easy. The reader wants something fresh, something new and original. Something different.

Avoiding cliches is easier said than done (<--See? *giggle*). Because we're not only to avoid the obvious phrases: "dead as a doornail," "blue as the sky," "hard as a rock," but also cliched plot devices (those storylines/characters you tend to see over and over again). Right now, an example I can think of is the wave of "chick lit." I actually enjoy chick lit, but am seeing a lot of the same cliched plots/characters, a la Bridget Jones. They all start to "sound" the same to me, after awhile - same (usually overweight and insecure) heroine, same jerky romantic lead, same clever/witty friends who surround the heroine, etc.

I realize as I'm typing this that I'm a complete hypocrite. I write women's fiction (less "spunky" than chick lit) which tends to have predictabe plots, in terms of having the lead girl and lead guy fall for each other in the end (if the plot is romance-related). But, I try my best to be original and unpredictable in the "getting there" process. Actually, I think predictability is a bit different than a cliche. Predictability is comforting to many people and is used often (in any romantic comedy, you KNOW they'll get together in the end; in any action story, you KNOW the good guy will win and the bad guy will be brutally killed).

But - even in those predictable genres, I think there's room for originality. And that's what any writer should strive for, no matter what the genre.

Monday, December 28, 2009

Kindles. Hmm....

So. I just read today that Kindle (digital) books actually out-sold hard/softback books on Amazon last year. Wow. Really? I find that very interesting. I knew Kindles were popular, but had no idea they were that popular.

My thoughts on this: I don't own a Kindle, though I've contemplated jumping on the bandwagon. But the purist in me much prefers feeling the texture of a page with my fingers, smelling that "new book" smell, reading a printed page in front of me. I don't know that I will ever prefer reading a screen to reading a physical book.

But, if Kindles will make reading more accessible to people, I'm excited about that. If there are non-book-loving people who start reading because of this new technological advancement, then, great! As long as actual hardcover books don't eventually go the way of the dinosaur, I'm happy.

What does all this mean for the writer, though? Does the new popularity of the Kindles affect our chances of getting published, or change the way the agents/publishers handle manuscripts? Since I'm not any kind of expert in this area, I'm posting a link to someone who is - The Rejecter (an anonymous literary agent's assistant). I love her blog. Very insightful, snarky, and honest. Here's the link.

So, any thoughts on the Kindle? Do you own one? Love it, hate it? Think it's just a passing fad, or here to stay?

**edit - since the 2 hours that I posted this entry, The Rejecter posted this link to a VERY interesting article that could give a preview to the MESS that could occur in the publishing world over e-books (Kindle): LINK

By the way - I hope everyone had a Merry Christmas! I simply cannot believe it's already over. Went wayyyyy too fast for me. :-P

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Merry Christmas!

A little bonus post here, as I probably won't be blogging again until next week. I wish all my readers a VERY Merry Christmas. Stay safe, enjoy your family/friend time, and let the diets go out the window, lol.

Here's a beautiful, poetic passage from Isaiah that, for me, sums up the spirit of the season:

Isaiah 9:6 --For to us a child is born, to us a son is given, and the government will be on his shoulders. And he will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.

Peer Evaluation

To wrap up my unintentional "series" of posts on sharing one's work, today I thought I'd post the questionnaire I give to my Creative Writing students on the day they're to exchange their work with someone else in the class. We do this three times a semester, for a small grade. Because I don't want a peer evaluation being a free-for-all (and because I need something substantial to grade), I give them this form (below).

I also tell the students that ultimately, when sharing their work, THEY are the one who decide what to take and what to leave, when it comes to someone's critique. I tell them not to feel pressured or obligated to incorporate someone else's changes. Because if they do that, the changes won't ring true - they'll feel forced.

So, I tell students to take each comment, positive and negative, and toss it around in their mind a bit - ask themselves if THEY agree with their reader-partner. If they don't, they should shrug it off and listen to their gut. But, if they do agree, they should be humble enough to accept that the person was right, that they might need to change a few things. Because ultimately, it's the work itself that's the most important. The writer's goal is to do everything in his/her power to make it the very best it can be. So, here's the form (many other questions could be asked, but due to time constraints, I decided to narrow it down to these):

FIRST CHAPTER OF NOVEL PEER EDITING FORM
Name of Reviewer: _________________________
Name of Writer: _________________________

Directions: Read the student’s chapter TWICE - the first time, read it at a normal pace, and the second time, slow down and read it very carefully. Keep these evaluation questions in mind as you read the second time. Then, fill out this form honestly but sensitively. Offer any necessary advice and help in a constructive way.

1. Is the opening paragraph interesting? Does it make you want to read further?

2. Did the writer use any dialogue? If so, was it effective? Did it feel "natural"?

3. By the end of the chapter, is there at least the hint of an upcoming conflict given?

4. Is the plot (thus far) convincing? If so, why? If not, what might be the reason?

5. Does the chapter have smooth pacing? Are there places in the story that are slowed down by too much dialogue, description, or exposition?

6. Are there any spots that contain too much "telling" and not enough "showing?" What would you suggest for these areas?

7. Does the chapter contain the correct format? (Are indents used with each paragraph? Is the chapter double-spaced? Does the dialogue have correct punctuation and correct paragraph format?)

8. Is the writing smooth and free from cliches, wordiness, passive voice, too many run-ons, etc?

9. What are the strengths of this chapter? What did you like best about it?

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

The Darker Side of Sharing

I've talked recently about the importance of writers sharing their work with others - for feedback, for objectivity. Today, I wanted to talk about the down side of sharing, the risk that writers always take when they make themselves vulnerable to someone. If you're new to this sharing thing, here are two types of people to avoid as readers of your work:

*note - for even more insight on this topic, take a look at the comment Gayle just posted - very spot-on and eloquently-written.

1) Plagiarists. This sounds like an obvious one to avoid, but it's tricky because at the time, you don't KNOW they're stealing from you. These people look at your work, decide it's pretty good, and rip it off from you - an exact passage, a central plot, a quirky character, a specific idea. Maybe in their minds, they're only "borrowing," but it's stealing, all the same, and you need to protect yourself. These people are difficult to recognize until after the fact, after you've already trusted them. Bottom line - unless you fully TRUST the person, don't share your work (or even your brainstorming). Better to be safe than sorry. Now, I don't want to fill you with paranoia or make you start questioning your most trusted friends (because, most likely, if they're trusted, you can indeed trust them). But it never hurts to be careful with whom you share your work. For instance, if you post a poem on the internet for all the world to see, there's a high chance that someone will read it, like it, and post it as his/her own. Just be smart about where and with whom you share your work.

2) People who give extremes in criticism. If the reader you've chosen is overly-flattering, it could be disingenuous. On the other hand, if the reader is overly-critical, with nothing positive to say, you might even question his/her motives. Perhaps that person is envious of you and wants to knock you down a few pegs. Perhaps he/she is just a negative personality type and simply can't see the good in things. If that's the case, you won't get the full picture of your work, anyway. You'll only get a narrow view. Because sometimes, it's good to know what someone likes about your work, so you can know that you're "doing it right," that a particular plot/character/piece of dialogue works.

So, do your best to avoid the "dark side" when selecting a reader. It's a shame that trust has to be an issue between writers - there should be a code of honor that stands with all writers - but this is the real world. So, we have to be smart and protect ourselves the best we can, while still being open enough to share. A delicate tight-rope balancing act, but it can be done. And, it's worth it to try.

Monday, December 21, 2009

Words of Wisdom...

I found a great little article the other day that might be of interest to others: 7 Reasons Agents Stop Reading Your First Chapter

The paragraph before the "7 Reasons" is this (an interesting way to "test" that first chapter!):

I recently attended the Writer Idol Event at Boston Book Fest. I t was not for the faint of heart, but for those willing to brave public ridicule, it was a great way to get helpful feedback. This is how it worked: An actress picked manuscripts at random and read the first 250 words out loud for the panel and the audience. If at any point a panelist felt he would stop reading, he raised his hand. The actress read until two or more panelists raised their hands, at which point the panel discussed the reasons they stopped, or in cases where the actress read to the end, they discussed what worked.

As for the 7 Reasons, I agree with all of them, surely, but avoiding them is easier said than done. Because writing a novel or short story is so much harder than non-writers will ever know. It's hard, in terms of hitting that "sweet spot" - getting the writing, the plot, the characters, the conflict just right. Stirring and mixing all the "ingredients" together in the proper order, in the proper amount - then, not over-mixing or under-baking (which, now that I think about it, reminds me of my "stew" post a few weeks ago).

Still, it's helpful - crucial, in fact - to know the pitfalls, to be highly aware of them. Because, how else will we avoid them?

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Money Where My Mouth Is...

Yesterday, I talked about the importance of sharing one's writing, getting a "second opinion."

In class, I give the students the option to read their work aloud (I never put them on the spot - I don't want them to associate "fear" with writing). And at the end of the semester, I tell them, "You all have shared your writing with me for weeks and weeks. Out of fairness, I'll shove down my own nerves at sharing my work publicly, and read you a couple of paragraphs I've written."

So, in the spirit of sharing, putting my money where my mouth is, I'll offer a couple of paragraphs of my novel here to you, the lovely readers of my blog. *deep breath* Here goes:

*a quick background synopsis - the main character, Brooke, has inherited a cottage from her great aunt. This scene takes place a couple of weeks after the aunt's death.

Back at the cottage, putting away the groceries, Brooke opened a cabinet and paused - stared at her aunt’s dishes and saucers sitting there, unaware that anything had changed. She tried to imagine the last time Aunt Joy had eaten from them. Was she happy? Was she lonely? Did she know it would be her last time?

Next, she opened the pantry door and saw that it had been cleared out by someone, but there still remained an empty container with BISCUITS written in gold print. Things had been so hectic yesterday, then this morning, that it hadn’t quite hit her yet, the weight of everything. The nuances and details of someone leaving this earth, leaving behind things like a cottage and dishes and a biscuit tin for someone else to find.

Fighting the desire to sit indoors all day and let melancholy sit over her like a cloud, she decided to prepare a cup of tea while she waited for Mr. Lester. She needed to stay sharp for this meeting, full of financial figures and confusing legalese. There would be time later, she told herself, to contemplate the sadness between the lines.

Sharing Your Writing...

Letting someone else see your writing can be a terrifying experience. Fear and anxiety seem to lace the questions in your mind, "Will they like it? Will they hate it? Will they think I'm stupid? Am I stupid?"

But, sharing your writing is CRUCIAL to the process. Everyone needs a "second opinion." Sharing does two things: it gets your material "out there," available for someone else to enjoy - and it gives you an objective opinion on your work, both negative and positive. Trust me. A good reader will not only find the typos you didn't catch (even upon the 100th reading!), but also the blatant inconsistencies you thought weren't there. Example: my mother, who's my "own personal editor," once read a passage in which I had two characters darting under a tree during a storm. "Ummm," she said carefully, "wouldn't the characters run AWAY from a tree in a storm? I don't think a tree is the safest place for them." LOL - duh. I knew that, really I did. But I had been so caught up in writing the all-important dialogue, this key conversation the characters were having during said rainstorm, that I didn't think it through properly.

If you've never shared your work - with anyone - I would strongly encourage you to give it a shot. Writing is such a solitary endeavor - it's easy to shelter yourself inside the safe coccoon of your own thoughts/ideas and never venture out. But, at some point, especially if you ever want to get published, you must put yourself out there and share.

A piece of advice: Be selective with whom you share. Make sure it's someone you trust, and who will give you sensitive, honest feedback. I've chosen my mother because she reads my genre (women's fiction) and knows well what works and what doesn't. And although, yes, she's my mother (which makes her automatically less objective than others), she is still able to give me negative feedback when necessary - which is extremely helpful. In fact, I ask for it. I tell her to be HONEST with me. I don't just want my ego stroked. I want to know what's not working almost more than I want to know what is. Because I can't see past the end of my nose, when it comes to my own writing. None of us can. Which is why we should share. :-)

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Thinking Outside the Box

So, I write women's commercial fiction. I like to think I know the genre pretty well - I've been reading it for years and years - and I haven't planned on going outside it as a writer (because I feel so comfortable in it).

Well, I'm currently writing a series, which I've never done before - very exciting! I just started writing the third book, a Christmas book. It didn't start out to be a religious book, but the further I get, I'm realizing the theme is turning in a particularly spiritual direction (unlike the previous two books). I'm letting the characters/plot lead me where they wish, at this point.

Now, for the "thinking outside the box" part: If the first two books in the series end up not getting published (a realistic possibility), I'm going to do something different. I'm going to take this third book, which is virtually a stand-alone book, and try to market it as Christian fiction - find an agent who specializes in that genre! I think it's a creative solution to a potential problem with any series (which is that if Book 1 doesn't sell, then logically, neither will Books 2, 3, 4, and so on...).

As you can tell, I'm excited about this prospect. But the most important thing for me is that, either way it falls (in regard to publishing), I'm still staying true to the original plot that "wants" to be told. I love thinking outside the box!

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Beware the Muse...

Yesterday, I wrote about brainstorming, about letting yourself be "open" to the Muse. But I forgot to put a caution statement: When you open yourself to the Muse, she just might steal all your attention, so be ready!

Case in point: I was only planning to BRAINSTORM yesterday. That's all. But, idea lead on to idea and before I knew what was happening, I had written the first page of this new novel! Then another, then another. I ended up writing 14 pages! And today, 5 more so far!

Sure, it's a great "problem" to have, and I'm not complaining. Really. But I didn't plan for this. I've got 100 other things I should be doing right now - cleaning up for holiday company, washing clothes, running all-important errands. But when the Muse hits, it seems to trump everything, and priorities get shifted.

So, beware the Muse (is that like the Ides of March?) and make sure you have TIME to devote to her. Because she can end up being a demanding little wench. lol

Monday, December 14, 2009

Brainstorming

I'm about to tackle another novel - a shorter one, maybe even a novella - something Christmasy as Book 3 in my series. So far, I've got a couple of characters roaming around my brain, as well as the vague beginnings of a plot.

I love this part of the process, the brainstorming. Nothing's committed to the page yet. Nothing is set in stone. Anything goes. There's great freedom in that.

But, I also dread this part because anything goes. Because there's such freedom. On one hand, there's always the possiblity of coming up empty, of feeling dry. On the other, there's a chance of becoming paralyzed with the endless brainstorming questions. There are hundreds of them writers must ask themselves: Where will the novel be set? Why there? Is the protagonist too likeable? What are his/her flaws? What motive does this character having for making this decision?

Then there are the physical details one must consider - physical descriptions of character and setting (thankfully, many of those can be decided even as you write the story).

So, how do I tackle the brainstorming? A few different ways:

1) I stay open to the Muse. This isn't as mystical as it sounds. Really, it just entails thinking and thinking and thinking about the novel. Letting ideas about the novel drift and circulate inside my head. Giving them the opportunity to marinate.

2) Asking myself questions. It goes back to the questions above - wondering about the details of plot, character, setting, structure. Those questions must be answered, somewhere along the way. Many writers like the questions to answer themselves AS they write the story. But I like to get some of the biggies out of the way ahead of time. That way, I feel more comfortable writing the story.

3) Make notes. Write EVERYTHING down, all your ideas, as they hit you. This can be difficult for me, as sometimes the Muse strikes me in odd places - driving from home to work, grading essays, having a conversation with someone. Not the most convenient times. I tell my students always to have a method for capturing those brainstorming ideas. If you don't have a pen handy, try this: call yourself and leave yourself a voicemail, detailing the ideas. Yes, I've done this before. Many times. Because as much as you try to remember brilliant ideas, trust me, they often have a way of flittering into your head, then out of it, just as quickly. Not a fun experience, trying to call up the memory and failing miserably. Because once it's gone, it's usually gone.

So. How do you handle the brainstorming process? Any special tricks or tips you use?

Friday, December 11, 2009

Another Gem...

First of all, a wee celebration for myself -- I submitted all my 160 student grades this morning. I'm spent. But happy it's over. I'm closing the book on another long, exhausting semester. Whew...

So, on to my writing "gem." Sorry this one's a little morbid and un-holiday-like, but I thought it was so clever. I found a little-known movie on cable the other day. It stars Bill Paxton, and it's called Resistance, a war-time romance based on an Anita Shreve novel.

Anyway, halfway through the movie, this little boy witnesses the horrific murders of his townspeople at the hands of Nazis. Later, when he tries to describe the scene to a woman, he says, "Have you ever seen someone hang?" She shakes her head "no." He says, "They look like they're dancing. Except their feet can't find the floor."

Wow. That one sank deep. How poignant and vivid, nearly poetic. An excellent piece of writing.

Just wanted to share that little "gem." Not very cheery, but I like the reality, the truth in it. I think the best writing comes from absolute truth. No matter how difficult it sometimes is to hear.

Saturday, December 5, 2009

Gems in Unexpected Places

Confession time: I have a couple of guilty-pleasure t.v. shows I enjoy watching. They actually serve a great function for me: they allow me to turn off much of my brain and just sit. Just watch and enjoy and relax and not think too hard. These shows are especially nice after I've spent all my brain power grading research papers - ack! :-)

One such guilty-pleasure show - yes, feel free to point your finger at the screen and laugh hysterically at me - is the "new" 90210. I used to watch the old one in the 90's, so I started watching this new one out of curiosity. It's fluff. It's silly. It's melodramatic. It's filled with eye-rolling dialogue and unrealistic plots. But today, as I was watching my DVR recording of it, there was a well-written gem amongst the rubble.

One of the teenage characters had just lost her mother to cancer, and had attended the funeral an hour before. Afterward, she sat on the edge of her bed, talking to a friend about the surreal funeral experience. She said this, in a monotone voice, with an empty look in her eyes: "People, strangers, kept coming up to me, kissing me, and telling me things like, 'I'm sorry for your loss.' 'I'm sorry for your loss.' My loss? What does that mean, loss? She was a person, not a baseball game."

I paused and processed what the character said. How true. How cleverly-phrased. The word "loss" is cold. It's over-used, impersonal, even trite. To compare a meaningless baseball game to the weight of someone's life puts things into an odd sort of perspective.

The moral is - if you look hard enough, sometimes, you can find a moment of actual depth and poignancy and creativity in an unexpected place. So, always keep your eyes/ears open for well-written gems -- even when partaking in a guilty pleasure that you're sure will only yield fluff. Because it might surprise you, where the gems can be found...

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Castles and Daydreams...

This is the Thoreau quote I write on the board on the first day of class: Do not worry if you have built your castles in the air. They are where they should be. Now put the foundations under them.

Then, I tell the students that, as creative writers, they most likely have vivid imaginations, daydreams, "castles" they visit in their minds -- all of which is necessary for writers to have. Creativity. However, what's equally important is knowing how to channel that imagination, those daydreams, those castles, into something on the page. It's all well and good to have an idea for a story. But if that story never sees the light of day because of fear or procrastination - or, if it isn't told well enough on the page, what good will come of it?

So, I tell the students that the "foundation" must be placed underneath the dreams. The foundation becomes the tools of a writers' trade - things like technique and format and voice and grammar. These must be present in order for the story to have a proper life. Sure, foundations themselves are boring, solid, stable - the opposite of creativity. But, they're also essential. In fact, without a foundation, a house will eventually crumble and fall. Just like a story.

**a little side note - this week and next week are finals weeks for me, so I'm buried in essay-grading/compiling. I might not post for a couple of weeks, but hope to be back when I have more time. Thanks to those of you who read my blog! I've really enjoyed this experience, and you guys make it that much richer for me!

Saturday, November 28, 2009

Dangling Carrots...

As a writer of fiction, I've had to learn how to dangle carrots in front of the reader. It's not as cruel as it sounds - I don't giggle with sadistic delight as I watch the frustrated reader try to grab the out-of-reach carrots I'm dangling. But, in fiction, I must give the reader something to reach for - some reason to turn that page.

I think of it this way -- rather than showing all my cards to the reader, up front, all at once, and rather than drop key information about characters or situations altogether, in one huge dose, I try and lightly sprinkle these key details throughout the story - bit by bit. It's partly to sustain the action/plot/conflict throughout 400 pages, but it's also to provide a more interesting story, overall.

Here's an example: Let's say you have a character receive a letter, gasp, then nervously stuff the letter into her pocket. This instantly produces the obvious questions for the reader: What's in the letter? Who's the letter from? Is it good news or horrible news? How will it affect the character's life? You've just dangled the carrot. And if you can hold off and have her not open the letter for a chapter, or even a few chapters, then you've carried the suspense even further, making readers even more eager to have their questions answered.

Call it a hook, or a gimmick, or even passive-aggressive manipulation, lol - but whatever you call it, you can't deny that some level of suspense can keep a reader interested. And, it can keep things interesting for you, the writer, as well. Because, trust me, if you're bored with your own work, the reader will be just as bored.

The textbook from which I teach (Crossroads) calls this carrot-dangling technique "developing dramatic questions." Basically, you want the reader to have certain questions about characters' pasts, or their future decisions. Because questions make readers curious. Curious enough to read on. And, even better, it makes them think for themselves. You're not spoon-feeding them and over-telling the plot. Instead, you're giving the readers a chance to form their own opinions and suspicions. They become more actively involved, that way...

One word of caution - there's a difference between dangling carrots and flailing them about with a devious look in your eye, taunting the reader mercilessly. Dangling carrots is a way to create suspense. But if readers can overtly see it as manipulation, if they can tell it's just a gimmick, "stuck there" to produce suspense, it won't work. It's got to feel absolutely natural - part of the story itself, worked in seamlessly. Because if readers feel manipulated, if they "see" you dangling carrots in an obvious way, it'll only make them frustrated. And rather than read on, they might just close the book altogether.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Thankful

This might be the last blog post before Thanksgiving, so I wanted to make this one Thanksgiving-centric.

It sounds corny, but I'm thankful for writing. I thank God for the creative outlet it allows, for the "other" world it lets me enter, for the unique connection it brings between fellow writers. I'm grateful that I can be myself in ways I can't be otherwise, through writing. And, I'm grateful for the magic that happens (occasionally) when the Muse sprinkles generous portions of her creative pixie dust onto my fingers as I type.

Because when I'm in that "zone," when everything else is shut away except the words I'm placing on screen, that's magic. There's nothing else like that high, and I'm most grateful for it.

Saturday, November 21, 2009

Let it BREATHE...

I'm sure you've heard this advice before: "At some point in the writing process, put the manuscript aside and let it breathe. Leave it alone for a few days, even a few weeks, and come back to it with a fresh, more objective eye."

I've taught this to my students for years, and have always believed in its core value: that distancing yourself from your own (very subjective) work can help you see things in it later on that you wouldn't normally see. The distance provides a small amount of objectivity.

I've never before experienced this "truth" to such a great degree as I'm experiencing it right now. A bit of background info: Last summer, I spent 6 glorious, difficult, intense weeks writing the first draft of a new novel. I wrote about 10 pages a day (sometimes more) - every single day - in order to complete the manuscript before my first faculty meetings began. I knew that once the semester started, I wouldn't have the time to finish the novel. I would have to work it in between meetings and lesson plans and essay-grading and classes. Nope, I'd rather "rush" to finish it, all in one gulp.

Well, because of that rushed timeframe, I wasn't able to do what I usually do with a first draft - each day, I normally get my bearings by reading over the pages I'd written the day before, then write fresh pages. But, this time, I only read maybe the last couple of paragraphs and then dove in to write the new pages. Thus, much of this new novel had been written, but never reviewed.

So, now, as I'm editing the manuscript four months later, having let the material "breathe," something amazing is happening. There are entire passages, even entire chapters, that I barely recall writing. It's like looking at someone else's book -- which is exactly the point. Fresh eyes! I'm seeing not only the strengths in the writing, but the glaring flaws and inconsistencies, too. Things I might not've been able to see so well, if I'd "known" the material from many read-throughs.

Another good reason to let the material breathe is that sometimes we can grow tired of our own work. We get a sort of manuscript-fatigue if we work on something too hard, too long. It's almost like friends who see each other too often. If they take a break, the next time they see each other, there's more to talk about - the relationship has been refreshed.

And I must say, I'm enjoying reacquainting myself with this new novel, revisiting characters I'd only just met a few months before. Absence does make the heart grow fonder.

Friday, November 20, 2009

The Waiting Game

If you're trying to get published, it's inevitable -- you will be forced to master The Art of Waiting, like it or not.

By now, I have just about mastered this "art." And I've got the war wounds to prove it. Just two examples: an article I got published in 2007 took 3 YEARS to see the light of day. I submitted a query, waited a few months. Got a request to see the full, waited a few more months. Got a "We're interested in maybe, perhaps, possibly publishing it, but would you be willing to make a few changes?" email, waited a few more months. By the time I went to the bookstore and got the edition in my hot little hands, so much time had passed that a tiny part of me wasn't even joyful about it. The grueling process itself had practically sucked some of the joy away.

Another example: a huge (I'm talking big-wig, best-of-the-best, stellar) NY agency requested a full manuscript of my novel. Then, they sat on it. For 18 months. I sent four VERY polite, professional email inquiries, but to no avail. Totally ignored. Finally, I sent a (still-professional) hard copy letter to the office, saying another agency was interested in seeing the full (which was true). The next day, I received a form email rejection, saying my material "wasn't for them." It took 18 months for them to decide that.

Those are extreme cases, and most of the time, agents/editors are very courteous to stick to their word, to their projected turnaround times.

But the main point is, if you're a writer trying to get published, you WILL be made to wait. It's a natural part of the process. So, what to do during that time? Try to forget about it, let it go, and KEEP WRITING.

As a matter of fact, right now, I'm awaiting a response from the agent who (very kindly!) requested re-writes on my novel. The holidays are a very busy time for everyone, agents included, so I really don't expect to hear anything before Christmas. This agent is a rare breed, in that she's been nice enough to keep me updated/informed about her turnaround time along the way, which has lessened my wait-anxiety.

Here's what I'm doing in the meantime - I'm pushing the agent situation to the back of my mind, and biding my time by editing the second book in my series. It's keeping me very busy - and very focused on something else besides the gnawing anxiety that I might get rejected. Or, heaven forbid, that I might actually get accepted!

So, remember - keeping busy and staying productive kills the frustration/anxiety/impatience bug. Well, maybe it doesn't totally kill it. Maybe it just maims it a little bit. ;-)

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Book Lovers, Unite!

Passing along this link that many of you might already be aware of -- Goodreads.com. It's a book lover's dream! It has book reviews and recommendations, author interviews, quotes, trivia, reading groups, etc. You can also stay in touch with your friends and find out what books they're currently reading - and create a "book list" that helps you keep track of what you're reading.

So, if you love to read, you should definitely check out Goodreads! It's book heaven!

Friday, November 13, 2009

Fragments and Run-ons - Acceptable or Not Acceptable? That is the Question!

Yesterday, I talked about the joys and dangers of bending grammar rules in creative writing. Today, I'd like to focus particularly on fragments and run-ons. *Note: What follows is strictly my opinion -- a few writers/teachers differ from me on this...

First of all, I feel that too much of a good thing IS too much of a good thing. Too many fragments, too many run-ons, too many ANYTHING can be too much and can overwhelm the reader. And, after awhile, over-use of something makes it lose its flavor, its punch.

So, here goes: I think fragments are completely, totally acceptable in creative writing. They can be used in powerful ways. For emphasis. For drama. For...well, you get the point. Fragments are just what they sound like - pieces, fragments, of whole sentences. Sometimes, there's nothing more striking than seeing a fragment planted in the middle of a long, descriptive passage of text. A fragment, because it's usually brief, tends to be eye-catching and effective. Again, not that fragments should be terribly over-used (or even used at all, for some writers - it's your choice). But I personally love them. Love them!

Now, let's talk run-ons. Here's where some might differ from me. In fact, a well-known, best-selling author of women's fiction (who shall remain nameless) apparently adores run-ons. So much so, that nearly every sentence of hers is a run-on. Maybe it's the grammar teacher in me, but it drives me nuts, lol. I want to get out my red pen every time I read her books, which is why I no longer do. It's just too distracting.

Here's the thing I don't like about run-ons. A full sentence (subject/verb, complete thought) is whole, all by itself. Therefore, to add another complete sentence hot on its heels, with only a comma (or nothing at all!) separating the two, feels like too much information at once, even in creative writing.

My suggestion? Separate the two sentences with a period. Or, if you want to get creative, use a dash (which is an informal version of the semicolon). Or, you could add a conjunction in between the sentences, which corrects the run-on automatically.

Here's an example of a run-on that I, personally, don't find acceptable in any case:

Shelly didn't think it was going to rain, she took her umbrella anyway.

Here we have two complete sentences separated only by a comma (essentially, a comma splice).

I think it looks/sounds better this way (and, it's grammatically correct, to add the conjunction, "but"):

Shelly didn't think it was going to rain, but she took her umbrella anyway.

That "but" actually adds to the meaning of the sentence, making it easier to read.

I'm curious - any preferences out there, on the run-on issue? Do you like them, dislike them, or have no opinion either way (either as a writer, or as the reader)?

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Ack! Grammar!

So, let's talk grammar.

The good news: The rules of grammar can be bent, twisted, and in some cases, broken, in creative writing. As opposed to formal writing, in creative writing, we're allowed dashes (which I adore!), fragments (which I also adore), run-ons (which I personally don't adore), and many other errors that a formal writing teacher would be happy to slay with one stroke of her bright-red pen.

The bad news: The rules of grammar cannot be totally thrown out the window in the name of creative writing. Things like too many run-ons, lack of proper format and punctuation, misspelled words (accidental), wordy/wandering/meandering sentences that have no clear focus, etc. These should not be acceptable, even in creative writing.

Which brings me to this: if a writer cannot master the elementary basics of grammar, the reader will learn quickly not to trust him/her. And, worst of all, poor grammar distracts the reader from the point being made.

I've seen this happen over and over again with my students - they'll have a nail-biting plot, smooth dialogue, deep characterization - but I'm too busy marking the myriad of run-ons, the lack of punctuation surrounding dialogue, the missing indents for each new line of dialogue, and the misspelled words, to see the good stuff. Sure, as a teacher, I'm actually looking for that sort of thing. It's my job. But - the reader will catch it, too, and will be distracted from the sparkling text.

Bad grammar always gets in the way. It's almost like a crimson wine stain on an otherwise-pristine white carpet. What's our eye drawn to? Always the stain.

And, honestly, agents/editors won't give a stained-with-bad-grammar manuscript a second glance. They'll look at a poorly-written page, no matter how brilliant its text, and move along. On to the next writer.

So - know the basic rules of grammar first. Honor them. Only then are you free to bend them.

In the words of T.S. Eliot: "It's not wise to violate the rules until you know how to observe them."

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Word Choice

Here's a quite-difficult writing exercise I recently gave to my students:

Using one-syllable words ONLY, write a short scene from a story (or you could even write a long-ish poem or mini-essay).

Students surprise me every time with this assignment. Because of the difficulty level, I'm usually expecting them to come up with a somewhat simplistic, nursery-rhyme-ish, sing-songy-sounding story/poem. But they don't. Their work is poignant, rich, deep, philosophical, and oftentimes, funny!

It's one of my favorite in-class exercises - not only because it's challenging, but also because of what it teaches the students. Every time, without fail, the students tell me something along these lines: "This assignment made me look at every single word SO closely. I really had to slow down and think about my word choice."

What a great lesson for all writers - the importance of word choice. How about these: hurt vs. ached; exciting vs. scintillating; loud vs. sonorous. We writers have total control over what ends up on the page - word choice is our choice. And it's not that the words have to be formal-sounding or overly-descriptive or intellectual-sounding. But one word can create one image in the reader's mind, while another word can create an entirely different image. It's that important.

For me, keen attention to word choice happens in the editing process. The rough draft is for pouring my thoughts/ideas on paper nearly the moment they spill out. But in the editing process, I slow down, almost painfully-so, and pay careful attention to sentences, to individual words. And yes, I break out my thesaurus from time-to-time. No harm in that! It's one of a writer's many tools.

So, today, why not give this one-syllable exercise a try? (I'd love to see a few of them posted in the comments! How fun! I'll start...*takes a breath and dives in* lol).

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Quote of the Day

I am not at all in a humor for writing; I must write on till I am. ~Jane Austen

Excellent philosophy: press on, write something - even when we don't much feel like it...

Monday, November 9, 2009

Double Meanings

I love double meanings. In titles, in character names, in dialogue. If done correctly, intended double meanings can have a one-two-punch effect, making already-deep text plunge even deeper, reaching the reader on an entirely different level.

Here's an example: I happen to love that old 80's t.v. show, Thirtysomething. Well, in Season 3, a character named Ellyn finds herself in murky water, dating a married man. For many episodes, she deals with the moral issue itself, with judgment from her friends, and with the empty promises of the married man (to eventually leave his wife for her).

In a particular episode, he actually does the unthinkable and leaves his wife to be with Ellyn. Unexpectedly, both he and his 12-year-old daughter move in with Ellyn, while they all try to sort out the chaotic details of this sudden decision. Well, Ellyn visits her therapist when the romantic bubble starts to burst - when she realizes that the decisions she and the married man have made start to affect other people. Like the daughter.

Which brings me to this -- there's a powerful scene where Ellyn is talking to her therapist about the daughter, venting about how aggravating she's been. Ellyn spouts off something like: "This girl is sweet, but annoying. She's bugging me! And she's careless. She loses things all the time! Her school notebook, even my very-expensive bracelet. She left it in the cab yesterday and now it's gone. Can you believe that? This girl loses everything!" *a pause as Ellyn realizes what she's just said* Then, she whispers, slowly: "She loses everything..."

The first time she said it, the statement meant one thing. It was about jewelry. But the second time she said it, the statement meant an entirely different, more poignant thing. The daughter was the one paying the price for Ellyn's decision to date a married man. The daughter was the one "losing everything." Double meaning. I love it. And then, of course, those physical objects of the notebook and bracelet have now become actual symbols of a greater loss woven throughout the episode. Thirtysomething is filled with that kind of deeper meaning in nearly every episode.

I think it's an excellent lesson for writers - not that we have to try too hard to inject double meanings into absolutely every line. In fact, if the symbolism/double meanings are all over the place, or are overly-obvious, they become less effective. But sometimes, when the scene or dialogue or description allows, a double meaning can be pitch-perfect and create a deeper throughline to the rest of the story. Powerful stuff.

Friday, November 6, 2009

Quote

Rounding out a week of discussing the importance of reading, I thought I'd bring it to a close with this - wise words from a wise man:

We read to know that we are not alone. ~C.S. Lewis

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

20 Questions

Yesterday, I talked about the importance of reading (of "studying" authors and reading books through a writer's eye). Here's an assignment I give to my Creative Writing students, to help them develop that writer's eye. They choose a novel and then answer these questions. I tell them to be honest - even to examine the "flaws" in the writing/plot/characterization. No book is perfect, and I think we can learn from all books, even the not-so-great ones.

Opening and Setting:
1) Examine the title of the book. Is there a double meaning? Does the title refer to a specific object/phrase used inside the book?

2) Study the first sentence of the novel. Is it interesting/captivating? Does it make you want to read further? Why or why not?

3) Pay attention to the main setting of the book. When did the author give that information to the reader? (the first page, or 20 pages into the book?) Was the setting too obvious or given away too early, or was it just right?

Characterization:
4) Does the writer seem to “know” the character thoroughly? Explain your answer.

5) Do the characters feel authentic - do they seem like real people with real emotions/reactions/thoughts? Give an example.

6) What is the main character's name? Is it significant? If so, explain why.

7) Who’s your favorite character, and why?

8) What are that character’s good points, and what are his/her flaws?

9) Does that character grow or evolve from the beginning of the novel to the end? If so, explain why or how.

Writing Style:
10) Is the writing easy to read, or does it seem challenging? (i.e., are cliches, wordiness, passive voice present?)

11) Regarding pacing -- Are there places that are slowed down by too much dialogue, exposition, or description?

12) Are there any spots that contain too much “telling” and not enough “showing?” If so, what would you suggest for these areas?

13) Examine the dialogue - did it feel natural, the way real people talk? Or was it odd or unnatural in places?

14) Did the dialogue reveal anything significant about the characters? Give a brief example.

Plot/Theme:
15) Is the plot convincing, grounded in reality? (Even if it's sci-fi or fantasy, there should be grains of truth inside the plot, a believability of some sort). Or is it too outlandish to be believed?

16) Did the author use any ongoing symbols throughout the novel? If your answer was “yes,” were these symbols subtle, or too obvious?

17) What was the main conflict of the story (in just a couple of sentences)? What was the climax point of that conflict?

Ending:
18) Was the ending satisfying (i.e., did it tie up loose ends and seem to “close” the story)? Why or why not?

19) If you were dissatisfied with the ending, how would YOU have written the ending, to make it better?

Overall Review:
20) In just a couple of sentences, give your overall impression of this novel.

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Read, Read, Read!

Read, read, read. Read everything-- trash, classics, good and bad, and see how they do it. Just like a carpenter who works as an apprentice and studies the master. Read! You'll absorb it. Then write. If it is good, you'll find out. If it's not, throw it out the window. ~William Faulkner

I couldn't agree more with Mr. Faulkner. I'm always amazed at the small percentage of my Creative Writing students who don't enjoy reading! To me, writing and reading go hand-in-hand and personally, I don't see how a writer can't love to read.

In fact, my own love for writing was born directly out of my love for reading. I can remember being the geeky 7th grader whose favorite day of the month was seeing that huge stack of rubber-banded books on my teacher's desk - which meant that the books I'd ordered from the school catalog weeks before had finally come in. I would spend that evening choosing the first book, then devouring it, pouring over it, getting lost in that imaginary world. To this day, I still love the texture of a physical book in my hand - and yes, I even love the way a book smells. Ahh, that new book smell. Nothing like it. See? Geeky. But my greater point is this: from the time I realized the words in those books didn't just magically appear on the page - that there was an actual person laboring over those words behind-the-scenes - I wanted to be part of that process, as a writer. To create that book-loving experience, myself.

But something interesting happened as I started to become a more serious writer over the years. I started to read differently. Even the books I read for pleasure became more like textbooks. I found myself studying, through a writer's eye - examining dialogue, paying attention to plot development, noticing subtle symbolism within the text. And this, I believe, makes for better writing. I'm studying the Masters, as Mr. Faulkner put it. Watching them work, peeking behind that writer's curtain, seeing how it's done.

To that end, I've started giving my Creative Writing students a book report assignment during the semester. They are to choose a book (even one they've read before) and see it not as a reader - but as a writer. I give them a list of 20 questions (which I'll post on tomorrow's entry) to help them start to look at all books through a writer's eye. I'm hoping this will be the beginning for them, that it will change the way they see the written word, and that it will influence them personally, as writers. Because I'm a firm believer that a good student (of the written word) makes a better writer.

Monday, November 2, 2009

The Rejecter!

I've been reading this blog for awhile now and wanted to pass it along. It's written (cleverly) by an anonymous NY assistant agent. Because she's anonymous, she gets to tell it like it is - and gives VERY blunt and VERY practical advice to struggling-to-get-published writers. I love it. I love the tone of her entries. I think sometimes the best thing writers can hear is HONEST advice.

Here's the link: The Rejecter

And here's the description: I am an assistant at a literary agency. I am the first line of defense for my boss. On average, I reject 95% of the letters immediately and put the other 5% in the "maybe" pile. Here, I'll talk about my work.

Sunday, November 1, 2009

Casting Your Characters

I don't know about you, but I sometimes have trouble "seeing" my characters vividly if I don't have a pretty good grip on their physical appearance. They tend to be sort of vague and faceless as I write, unless I "cast" them. This may not work for everyone, but something that helps me is to have a particular actor/actress in mind for the "role" I'm writing.

Before even starting my book, during the characterization process, I "cast" my main characters, figuring out which actor/actress would most physically fit the description in my head. That way, their features are stronger when I write because my brain is already familiar with that image. For example, the two main characters (Brooke & Adam) in one of my novels, are "cast" as Reece Witherspoon and a Welsh actor named Ioan Grufudd.


Another trick I use to help me picture things more vividly - and I know this sounds a little extreme - is to create a screensaver on my computer that's got the character pictures, and places for the setting (in this case, a village in the Cotswolds).


This, for me, creates vivid images in my mind that I'm able to (hopefully) transfer to the page. Because if I can see it, I can write it. Plus, it's fun! I love creating this screensaver during the brainstorming process because it gets me involved in the story/setting/characters early on. Anybody else use these tricks? Or others? I'd love to hear about them...

Saturday, October 31, 2009

The Power of Punctuation

Punctuation in all the right places can have a tremendous impact on a piece of writing. And, the opposite is true - punctuation in all the wrong places can greatly hinder a piece of writing. Or, even change the meaning of it, altogether.

Here's an example I love to give my students (I can't take credit for this - a friend sent this to me in a "forward" last year):

I write this sentence on the board:

Woman without her man is nothing.

I pause and let the students take in the meaning. Then, I punctuate the sentence this way:

Woman - without her, man is nothing.

I pause again and watch the students' faces change. They start to smile and nod their heads in understanding.

Punctuation is a powerful thing. In creative writing, I personally love to use dashes for dramatic pauses. I find them more effective than periods sometimes. Commas are another issue. I tend to overuse them, but I notice that in published creative fiction, they can be quite sparse. I think too many or too few (of anything) can be a bad thing. But, the good news is that it's up to the individual writer. Reading your work aloud, to "hear" the need for a short pause (,) or long pause (--) is always a great idea. Thankfully, in creative fiction, we're allowed some freedoms that formal writing doesn't offer.

So, consider punctuation thoughtfully. Consider its importance and the way it can enhance or detract from your writing. Because it's an intregal part of the communication process - and of creative fiction. ;-)

Thursday, October 29, 2009

Award!


Hey! My first award in BloggerLand (thanks, Matt!).


Never done this before, but I'll do my best to follow the instructions:





The rules are:
1. Copy the Kreativ Blogger picture and post it on your page. (Okay, done).
2. Thank the person that gave the award to you and link back to their blog. (Done - link below...).
3. Write 7 things about you that we don't know. (Below...)
4. Choose 7 other bloggers that you would like to give the award to. (Here's the tricky part - I probably only read/follow about 3 other blogs because of time constraints, and a couple of those blogs are sort of personal-friend blogs (so, I'm not sure if they want me to link to them or not. I'll ask them, though...).
5. Link to the bloggers that you chose. (See #4)
6. Let your winners know that they have the lovely award! (Will do!)
So, here are those 7 random things about me:
1. I have a real weakness for donuts. I could eat 5 of them, easily, in one sitting.
2. I wish James Taylor would make a new original album. I loved October Road.
3. I'm an Anglo-phile and would probably live in England if I wouldn't miss my family and friends so much.
4. I get tired of speaking in front of people all morning (lecturing to students). It doesn't come naturally to me. Never has, never will.
5. I love the specific quiet hush that snow brings with it.
6. I know my love of Shakespeare came directly from my watching the 70's movie version of Romeo and Juliet. I was 13 years old and hadn't read the play yet, so I had no idea about the tragic ending. I got so absorbed in it that I think I might've even talked to the screen, to Romeo - "No - she's ALIVE. Don't kill yourself!" lol Alas, he didn't listen to me...
7. I wish people didn't feel the need to judge other people. We're all in the same boat, living this life. So why point fingers?
Here are the blogs I follow and want to give this award to (I'll add more soon, hopefully):
1. Matt from Pensive Sarcasm -- he's a fellow writer and his razor-sharp, witty writing is amazing. His blog always gives me a good laugh, plus something substantive to ponder. A great mix!
2. Gayle's Bard Blog -- see my #6 to see why I love this blog. She's a lover of Shakespeare, like me.
3. The Sweet Life of a Trophy Wife - hilarious, witty, sarcastic blog of a good friend of mine. She's also a great mother and an awesome writer. Highly recommended.

Quirky Cards

This is a recent assignment I gave to my Creative Writing class, one that seemed to go over pretty well with them:

I handed each student 10 note cards and instructed them to separate the cards into 2 stacks - on 5 of the cards, they were to write down 5 occupations/careers (one per card). On the other 5, they were to write down 5 quirky behaviors (one per card). The occupations and quirky behaviors shouldn't intentionally "match." They should be entirely separate.

Then, the idea is to shuffle the cards and choose one random career and one random quirky behavior, and create a story/scene from that scenario. Sometimes I have the students swap cards, so that they're writing from someone else's ideas. That's always interesting! :-)

Here's an example: The first semester I taught Creative Writing, I had the most delightful 84-year-old woman as a student (she was auditing the course). She was quite proper and formal, but when she read her "card story" aloud, it was a little...surprising. She'd used another student's cards to create a scene in which a man goes through a drive-thru, orders a hamburger, then pulls over to the side and parks. He unwraps the burger and eats the pickles. Then, the cheese. Then, the tomatoes. Then, the meat. And finally, the bun. He wads up the wrapper and throws it on the seat, next to the gun laying there, and thinks ahead in his mind about the woman he's about to go use it on!

After she read the story, we were all a little shocked, and I asked her what the cards had said. She replied with a grin, "A mob hitman who eats his meal one ingredient at a time." Brilliant! Quirky! And, it gave her permission to write a story she probably never would've thought of, on her own. I think she enjoyed it more than any other exercise we did.

And, really, that's the point of the cards - to bring you out of your own head a little and create something unique, something quirky and left-of-center. I think we all need to write something like that once in awhile...

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Another Great Link

This one is called Preditors and Editors, and it's possibly the most valuable resource available to writers trying to get published. It contains a HUGE database of publishers and agents, listed alphabetically, with updated contact info. Even better, it helps writers distinguish between the legit agencies/publishers and the not-so-legit agencies/publishers. A very important distinction!

Before I ever send off a query letter to an agent, I go straight to this site, to double-check the quality of the agency first. To see if the agency has any "red flags," or even if the agency has recently gone out of business. Many times, after checking with this database, I change my mind about submitting to that particular agency, and I've probably saved myself some potential grief in the process. As well, I'm able to see positive remarks about the good agencies, and my hopes for those agencies are reinforced.

It always pays off to do your research, and this particular site should be an essential part of any writer's agent/publisher research process.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Ode to Poetry

So far, I've focused my entries on fiction because it's what I'm most comfortable writing. But I also enjoy, and occasionally write, poetry. So, here goes:

I'll be blunt - in high school and college, I didn't "get" poetry. I tried. I struggled. I sweated. I squirmed. But I just couldn't get it. It was out of my grasp, the carrot I was always reaching for but could never quite snatch.

Fast-forward several years - the lightbulb finally turned on for me during a Modern Poetry class I took when I was 30 years old. The teacher had the key that unlocked the mystery of poetry. She explained each line in tangible terms and made it easy to understand. I finally "got" it, and I appreciated it like I had never done before. It fascinated me.

Understanding it also gave me the courage to write it. Now, I still don't consider myself a true poet, and writing poetry still doesn't come easily to me. But I find it, by far, the most raw, real, personal, and subjective form of literature available. I love its freedom, its mystery, its depth, its brevity. I appreciate it. And I'm (hopefully) a better writer for appreciating it. Because there can be poetry, even in prose. In fact, there should be. Metaphor, imagery, personification, alliteration - these devices all have a place in prose, as well.

So, what's your "relationship" with poetry? Love it or loathe it?

Monday, October 26, 2009

Agent Link

From time to time, I want to share some writing links I've found helpful, entertaining, or informative. I'll try to post the links each time on my main Blog board, to keep a running list of them. Please feel free to add some of your favorite links in the comments, as well! I love finding new sites!

So, here's today's - How I Got My Agent, a blog from Writer's Digest. I love these stories, detailing the struggles, pitfalls, and sheer joys that writers experience on their way to getting an agent. And, it's encouraging because it shows we're not alone. Agented writers had to face the highs and lows and everything else in between...

Sunday, October 25, 2009

To Cuss or Not to Cuss...

Let's talk profanity. :-)

In my students' Creative Writing papers, I allow a certain amount of profanity. I tell my students that if their characters really need to cuss - if that's part of who they are as characters - then, let them.

But, I also caution my students - too much profanity can actually detract from the writing. Case in point, the movie Good Will Hunting. Now, I like that film. It's got some great moments in it and some well-written sections. But the first time I saw it, all I could hear was the "f" word. I even started counting them, for fun, and lost track after about 30 or so. I'm not a prude, and I don't mind profanity in movies, to a degree. But when it overshadows the dialogue, the characters, the plot, it's too much.

Think of it this way - if you have a character who uses that "f" word every other sentence, then after awhile, the reader starts to become numb to it. The word loses its impact, just like any other word you might say over and over and over again. But, if you have a character who never, ever cusses, and suddenly that character is infuriated by some situation and says, "F$%# that!", then it makes the reader sit up and pay attention. It's much more effective, used in moderation.

Certainly, profanity is not mandatory. In fact, most of my characters don't use profanity, and when they do, it's in moderation. That's just my personal choice, and it reflects the kind of novels I write ("cozy" women's fiction). Action/mystery seems to be a genre that lends itself to more profanity, but not always. I once heard John Grisham say that he uses very little profanity (if any) in his books, and that certainly hasn't stopped the sale of them!

In the end, it's your choice as a writer to include profanity or not to include it. Just be sure that it's necessary to the character/plot, and not simply "thrown in" for the sake of being controversial or startling. Every word, even cuss words, must serve a purpose in your writing.

Friday, October 23, 2009

Character Sketch

To help me get to know my (main) characters better, I use this "sketch/profile."

What is the character's...
* physical presence? (height, weight, hair color, skin color, eye color, etc...)
* personality? (get as detailed as possible - even could take a Briggs-Meyers test AS your character, to get to know him/her better)
* special quirks, phobias?
* background? (including childhood, siblings, friends, education, etc.)
* current career? (Why did he/she choose that career? How does it fit his/her personality? Is he/she happy in it?)
* hobbies?
* family situation? (married/single? current and past relationships with parents and siblings - birth order, dynamics between siblings, parental issues, etc.)
* past loves (who were they, how did they meet, what was the relationship, how deep was it, and how far did it go, and when and how did it end?)

Additional questions:
* How does the character react to: fear, love, death, decision-making, hard-to-like people, boredom, conflicts, crises, children, etc...
* What’s in the purse/wallet?
* What kind of car does he/she drive and how old is it?
* What’s his/her idea of a perfect evening? Perfect day?
* Neat freaks or sloppy?
* Favorite tv shows, music, movies?
* Dog or cat person?
* Religious or political affiliation?
* Any tattoos or piercings? If so, where are they located and what's the significance?
* Speak more than one language?
* How many other cities/countries has the character visited?

Environment:
* Describe his/her room or living space - what’s in it? Color scheme, items (computer, clock, CD’s, furniture)? What could you tell about this character by just walking into his/her house or office?

----------------------

Certainly, the list could go on and on. And the odd thing is, you probably won't end up revealing even HALF of these specific details inside your story/novel. There's not room to do that (without wasting valuable plot time), and it's really not necessary. These details are for you, the writer, more than for the reader.

I'm sure many of you already have some sort of "character sketch" you usually follow, probably even similar to this one. I'd love to hear some of the questions you use to get to know your own characters!

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Out-of-Character Characters

Well-drawn characters should feel like real people - with strong personalities, quirks, weight issues, Bachelor's degrees, huge DVD collections, sibling rivalries, sleep-walking issues, etc. They should be full and deep and intricate and complex, just like real people.

Which leads me to state something slightly controversial: I believe that real people don't change. Now, certainly, people can become jaded or more open-minded, can develop new musical tastes, can even change political parties throughout their lifetimes. But the core of who they are, their very essence, generally does not change: core values/beliefs, personality traits, basic view of the world. These things, I've found, usually remain the same, even over decades of time.

Likewise, characters in our books/stories/plays should not drastically change. Of course, they should evolve, grow, learn from mistakes, or else why write about them in the first place? Nobody lives in a stagnant place. There's always room for growth and improvement and lessons learned. A character should grow from Point A to Point Z, surely.

But - the very core of who the character is should remain the same. Because when it doesn't, then it leads the character to do something...well, out-of-character. And that frustrates readers. They will pause the reading, scratch their heads and furrow their brows, and say, "That character would never do/say something like that." Even worse, readers might stop trusting the writer altogether, wondering if the writer knows his/her characters at all.

I'll let you in on a little secret. One of my guilty pleasures is watching The Young and the Restless. (*waits for tomatoes to be thrown at the screen* LOL) I've watched it since I was in college, so I know these characters pretty darn well. One time, a few years back, Victor Newman did something TOTALLY out-of-character. I don't even remember what it was, but it had me practically talking to the screen: "What?! Victor would never do that! How stupid!" I can't tell you how frustrated I was that the writers had gotten so lazy. Or sloppy. Or careless. Whatever the case, as the viewer, I was pointing my finger directly at them.

As a writer, trust that your readers are smart, that they will care for and know your characters -- well enough to hold you accountable for sloppy/lazy/careless writing.

So, how do we avoid angering our readers, and keeping our characters "in character?" Know the characters. Well. Better than anyone else. Know their habits, their morning routine, how many sugars go into their coffee. Know their dating history, their future goals, how much they love or hate their current career. Have a conversation with them (internally, unless you don't mind that your friends/family might think you're going a little nuts). Know the way they talk, walk, whisper, dream, hold grudges, love, and hate. Know everything about them.

Then, the likelihood of them doing anything "out-of-character" will diminish drastically. And you will have happy readers. Which is always a good thing. ;-)

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Character Stew

Let's talk characters. I have 3 blog entries in mind (this is the first) that will deal with characterization.

First, creating them:

Creating a character is a bit like making a stew. It doesn't happen all at once, in an instant, BAM! No, it happens in stages, as the author puts on the apron, hums a tune, and then begins - sprinkling in bits of description, dialogue, relationships to other characters, inner turmoil, background details, decisions, etc. Then, the stew simmers and is brought to a boil.

Think about creating characters the way you get to know a person in real life. The first time you meet someone, you make an initial assessment - how he/she looks, talks, carries himself/herself. Then, you communicate - and you learn even more about who that person is from the accent, mannerisms, hesitations, word choices. And, over time, you find out the likes/dislikes, the personal history, education, career, religious beliefs, etc. It takes time to "know" and develop a character, much like it takes time to know a real-life person.

Mainly, don't feel like you have to give the character away on the very first page. Just like real people do, let your characters have a few secrets, to be revealed at a later time. Then, bit by bit, action by action, page by page, let the readers decide for themselves who this character is. "Show, don't tell" is especially important here. Be careful not to use too much exposition (background information) to tell directly "about" the character. Instead, show the character to the readers and let them develop their own "relationship" with the characters, without your "telling" them what that relationship is. Easier said than done, of course. It's a tedious process, characterization. It takes hard work, diligence, sensitivity, and practice.

Another tip is to READ. See how other authors do it. How do they craft their characters? The best thing to do is to re-visit a book you've already read - one in which the characters were so richly drawn that they felt absolutely real, and that when the book was over, you felt sad to leave them. Go back to those books - but this time, go back as a writer instead of a reader. Observe exactly how the author made you care so much in the first place. See whether, in tasting their character "stew," you can identify the individual ingredients that made the stew so rich and hearty.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Passive Voice

I'm going to share one of my greatest writing weaknesses (oops, see? I just made the error in that sentence! - "I'm = I am," lol). The evil passive voice. Overuse of the dreaded "to be" verb.

I didn't even know I had a problem with this until a Creative Writing teacher of mine - at the Master's level - started circling the verbs in my papers. It shocked me. Until that moment, no other teacher in all my years of schooling had ever marked passive voice.

Once I started to recognize and fix the evils of passive voice, my writing changed for the better. It truly did. Now, yes, I still have the tendency (*see first sentence) to let it sneak in, but at least now I'm aware of it and can change it during the editing process as much as possible.

I've found that many of my writing students don't know how to recognize passive voice or how to correct it. So, I give them this simple example sentence:

Romeo and Juliet was written by Shakespeare.

That sentence is passive for two reasons: 1) Romeo & Juliet, the subject, is passive (not "doing" the action), and 2) we have that pesky "was" - a passive verb. Other forms of passive "to be" verbs to watch out for: is, am, are, were, be, being, been.

An easy way to fix that sentence, to make it active:

Shakespeare wrote Romeo and Juliet.

Now, we have Shakespeare, the subject, performing the action in the sentence, and our verb suddenly became active, wrote.

A writer should try to make his/her sentences active rather than passive (as much as possible) because it makes the writing more exciting, more active. It's not possible to eliminate the passive voice from every single sentence. But if you start to see the "be" verbs in EVERY sentence you write, there's a problem.

The reader will probably never notice active/passive sentences, but something about active sentences makes the writing more interesting. And that's always a good thing. ;-)

So, just curious: Anybody else have trouble/difficulty with passive voice? Do you have a similar story to mine, where you didn't even realize you had that "issue" until later on in your writing life?

Sunday, October 18, 2009

The Powers of Observation

For writers, I think observation is vital. We should be constantly eavesdropping, making mental notes, observing details in our daily lives: like the way a squirrel rummages for food, the tone of a couple having a fight in a booth next to us, the awkward expression people wear when they're not being 100% honest with us (or with themselves!).

I actually developed an assignment for my students called an "Observation Paper": Choose a place (a park, library, restaurant, mall, bookstore, etc). Observe everything around you - the atmosphere, the smells, the sights, the sounds, the people. Use your senses to sharpen your focus.

Some of the best papers I've had from students come from this assignment. They love the freedom of it (I don't require a certain format - they can make a long list of detailed descriptions, or turn them into a poem or story, or write long paragraphs of description, whatever they want).

Often, our observations can end up in our stories/poetry. Little bits of actual conversations can be turned into character dialogue. An incident you observe can be the plot foundation of a future story. Someone's personality flaw can become the core of a main character.

Observation is a powerful tool that helps us sharpen our descriptive skills - and, can spice up our writing like almost nothing else can. As well, I think it injects a certain realism into the text that you can't get any other way...

Friday, October 16, 2009

Learning Something from BAD Books

Okay, admit it. There are occasions when you've eagerly started reading a bestselling novel (that you've plunked down $30 hard-earned dollars for), and been wildly disappointed. Maybe as you flip through those pages, you see unrealistic plotlines, paper-thin characters, endless cliches, bits of stilted dialogue, or even poor basic language structures.

Then, admit this. Your next thought is: I could write a story/book better than this one. WHY is this person published, and I'm not?

The interesting thing is that we, as writers, can actually learn something from these poorly-written, how-on-earth-is-THIS-a-bestseller books. We can learn what NOT to do in our own writing.

For instance, when I was a student getting my teaching degree, I learned a heck of a lot about what makes a good teacher by watching good teachers. It makes sense. But - I also learned a lot about what kind of teacher I did not want to be, by watching the less-than-great teachers: overly-harsh, overly-critical, insensitive, aloof, uncaring, or boring.

I like to apply this to writing, as well. When I pick up a book I'm not particularly fond of, one that has (in my opinion) tremendous flaws, I don't stop reading right away. I try to learn from it. I study the flaws, study how they're made, then make a mental note to avoid them in my own writing.

You can learn almost as much from a bad book as you can from a well-written book. Not that you should waste your precious time purposely seeking them out, of course. But on the hopefully-rare occasion that you do run into them, take a little while to study them - and to figure out how you don't want your own books to be.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Quote of the Day

Finish every day and be done with it. You have done what you could; some blunders and absurdities crept in; forget them as soon as you can. Tomorrow is a new day; you shall begin it serenely and with too high a spirit to be encumbered with your old nonsense. ~ Ralph Waldo Emerson

Such a beautiful, inspirational life philosophy - which, I think, can also be applied to writing. We should let old disappointments, rejections, self-doubt, even writer's block, drift away with the past. There's no reason to waste even another moment dwelling on them. Onward and upward!

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Whew. I "Just Did It!"

Please, my fellow authors, allow me a bit of self-indulgence for a moment.

Here I sit, listening to the pouring rain on my roof, and to the glorious sound of pages being printed. 445 of them, to be precise.

The re-writes for the agent are completed. Finis. I'm about to thumb through the manuscript, attach the address labels, and run this puppy down to the post office.

I have no idea what will come of the re-writes - whether the agent will be impressed enough or fall in love enough with the book to offer representation. But, I did it. I buckled down, backside to chair, fingertips to keyboard, and did it. Over the past 4 1/2 weeks, I wrote new chapters, re-wrote existing chapters, and took my fine tooth comb to the novel - all between essay-grading, getting sick, and enduring all that everyday life stuff that gets in the way. And, it's a better book, for all the changes. That is what I'm most proud of - considering someone's advice, agreeing with it, and churning out what I believe is ultimately a better work. Which is what it's about, after all. Putting our personal best onto that page.

I share this with you because I know that you, my fellow writers, understand. You know the thrill of setting a deadline and actually meeting it (well, a few days late, if you're anything like me, lol). Of working so hard on something you're so passionate about. Of pushing away the self-doubt and the impossible odds of publication long enough to get something accomplished.

So, again, I say - Just Do It. And if you've already done it, turn off your computer, shut your eyes, and rest awhile. You've earned it.

Saturday, October 10, 2009

Just Do It.

That phrase is from an old 80's Nike commercial, if I'm not mistaken. But I think it's a perfect phrase to apply to the writing process.



You can have all the brilliant ideas in the world, but if you don't sit down and start typing, they'll never have life. They'll never be given a chance to breathe, to be seen.

So. Here I sit on a peaceful Saturday morning, after a particularly challenging work week (being ill didn't help). I have a self-imposed goal of sending out my novel re-writes to the agent on Monday. This Monday. 2 days away. I'm close. Very close. Still, there are temptations all around - watching the 100 t.v. shows stored in my DVR, catching up on much-needed sleep, reading a book, playing on Facebook. Not to mention the 100 essays I should probably be grading right now. But, these re-writes are important to me and I want to finish them.

Today, I issue a challenge for you and for me. If there's a piece of writing you've been working on, if there's an idea germinating in your head, if there's a self-imposed deadline you've been avoiding for awhile: Just Do It. Turn off the phones and the t.v., log off of Facebook, ignore the piled-up laundry and the stacked-up bills for one afternoon - and get to work! :-)

Thursday, October 8, 2009

Movies, Movies, Movies!

Aside from being a huge lover of books, I'm also a huge lover of film. Always have been. As a writer, I love learning something from well-written films. I get caught up in the stories and characterizations in a different way than, perhaps, if I weren't a writer.

Here's a perfect example:

I showed this short film to my class last week. It's amazing. I'm not normally a fan of shorts, but this is a well-crafted piece of writing, beginning to end. It's one of 18 shorts in a movie called, I Love You, Paris. (Don't let the subtitles scare you away - it's actually fun to see the words on screen - makes the experience even richer). Out of the 18 shorts, I fell completely in love with about 9 of them, fell in like with about 6 of them, and could sort of take or leave the rest of them. This collection of shorts is quirky, moving, poignant, funny, gut-wrenching, and did I mention, amazing??

I told my students to view this short film much like they would read a short story - to notice the subtleties, the symbolism, the characterization, the themes of human nature - all crammed masterfully into a very short space of time.

If you're anything like me, you end up not just watching films, but dissecting them, scrutinizing them, peeking behind the curtain to see how the screenwriter did it. As writers, that's our job. We're allowed to peek behind that curtain. In fact, we should. But, I'll save that for another blog entry...

So, what are some of your favorite movies - that speak most particularly to the "writer in you?"

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Never Let 'Em See You Sweat!

Raise your hand if this is true for you:

Easy reading is damn hard writing. ~Nathaniel Hawthorne

Aside from the occasional creative spurts that flow easily from your brain, straight to your fingertips, writing can be a challenge. (And if it's not, then good for you - you may stop reading now. :-) For most of us, there's a process, a diligence, a self-discipline that's involved behind-the-scenes. There's work. Damn hard work.

I had a conversation with my aunt (a fellow book-lover) awhile back. I was talking about the intricacies of writing - show-don't-tell, characterization, setting, etc. And she paused and said, "I don't think of any of that stuff when I'm reading, especially if it's a good book."

And it struck me - the reader shouldn't see the activity behind the curtain. They shouldn't be aware of the "special effects," the brainstorming, the blood, sweat, and tears the writer has had to endure. The finished product should be "easy."

Just like when you go to a live play or musical and the players involved make it look seamless, flawless - the actors all know their lines, the music is in all the right keys. Sitting there, an audience member should never be aware of the hours upon hours of hard labor that went into that flawless performance. And if the audience is aware, then it's not flawless.

So, pour all that hard work into your writing. And know that it will eventually PAY OFF -- when the reader doesn't see it.

Saturday, October 3, 2009

It's All in Your Head

Last week, I had two different students approach me with the same particular frustration: they have this great idea and they see it so clearly in their heads - but they just can't seem to transport it to the paper in a way that the reader can "see" exactly what they want him/her to see.

We talked about how that's probably the greatest challenge of writing - transporting the picture you see in your own head to the page - and then from the page to the reader's mind. Sometimes, that picture can get lost in translation. Sure, I would love it if readers "saw" my characters, my plot, my ideas, exactly the way that I see them in my own head, detail for detail. But the truth is, that's virtually impossible.

For instance, if I tell you to picture a tree with three branches, thick with emerald-green leaves, the image in your head might come close to mine, but it won't be identical. My tree will look different than your tree. It might be shorter, or the branches might lean in a different direction from yours. But I suppose that's the beauty of it all - because we're different people with different perspectives on the world, our interpretations will be utterly unique.

So, my suggestion to my students was to relax, and do the best they could do with the tools in their writing toolboxes - dialogue, imagery, characterization, setting - in order to place their unique vision onto the page. Then, to let it go. At that point, even if the reader's vision ends up being slightly different, it's okay. Because in the end, a tree will still be a tree.

Thursday, October 1, 2009

Life Gets in the Way...

So, on my plate currently: 7 classes, about 100 essays to grade over the next week, 300 pgs of my novel still to revise - oh, and getting SICK. Hey - that wasn't in the plan!

Seriously, it's times like these when real life seems to get in the way of my writing. And that stresses me out. Here, I've been so diligent and disciplined, juggling my essay-grading and my revisions for the last three weeks, and Wham! Suddenly I'm struck with flu-like symptoms that are begging for my attention. Tamiflu, come and rescue me!!!

It's frustrating, sure. But I make myself step back and realize what's important. My health is - absolutely. So, I try to rest, take fluids, stay home from school 2 days, and get well. I'm not there yet, but I hope it's soon.

Of course, this also means that both my essay-grading and my re-writes have now fallen behind. But when I'm tempted to feel guilty about that fact, I remind myself: I'm not Superwoman. When things start to intervene with writing, sometimes I think it's important to re-evaluate. To remember what the real priorities are. Like good health, family, friends, career.

Sure, writing is on that list, too. But I think writing has to be nudged down a few notches when life gets in the way. It'll eventually make its way back up to the top, but until those other important things are taken care of, the writing needs to take a backseat -- or else it will suffer, too...

Monday, September 28, 2009

Support Systems

I'm going to dive right in and ask a question: Do you have friends or members of your family who don't "get" your writing? Treat it as a silly hobby? Or even mock you for spending hours upon hours on something that may or may not ever get published?

I think, sadly, all of us do.

Certainly, I have many family members and friends who are incredible supporters of my writing. They actually listen when I go on and on about my characters and plots - or, better yet, they READ what I write and seem to enjoy it (and no, I don't bribe them). But -- there are also those whose eyes glaze over when I talk about writing. Or worse, they never - I mean, never - ask about how my writing is going or what project I'm currently working on. In fact, I've had people who knew about an article I published in a national magazine, but never bothered to read it. It was 3 pages long and would've taken them 5 minutes' time. But they didn't really care.

Sure, it's frustrating and even hurtful when people seem not to care about our passion - our writing. But I guess I've learned to shrug my shoulders at them and feel sorry for them, for missing out on a VITAL part of who I am, of what's important to me. I understand that writing isn't everyone's cup of tea - that they might not share my level of interest in it. But I guess I hope for the same courtesy that I give to them, showing interest in things they are passionate about (whether I'm equally passionate about them or not). Is it really too much to ask for a mutual exchange?

Bottom line, writers need support and encouragement. It's why we go to conferences, log on to writer's messageboards, pour our thoughts into blogs (*wink*).

So, today, whoever's reading this - consider yourself encouraged. Know that for every person in your life who doesn't support your writing, there are dozens upon dozens of writers out there (like me) who DO.

Saturday, September 26, 2009

What's in a Name?

Choosing a character name can be a difficult task - one that requires much thought and deliberation. If you're lucky, names come to you instantly, through some cosmic channel, and you don't have to work so hard. But, for the rest of us, it can take a lot of time to decide on a name.

The names are important because you, as a writer, have to live with that name for a long, long time. Names can be symbolic of something, or can cleverly fit the personality of the character. Or, they can also just sound great rolling off the tongue.

Some advice I've learned throughout the years:

1) Keep the first name down to minimum syllables. If the name is 3 or more syllables, it can be a little daunting to read over and over again. If you want, develop a nickname which makes it easier on the reader. For instance, one of my character names is Dorothea Farraday, but I call her "Dora," for short.

2) Try not to have character names that look the same on the page. Having them all start with a different letter can help. It can be really confusing for the reader to try and juggle names like Arthur, Alan, Angie, and Antonio. Their eyes have to stop and determine which character is which. It's much better if they're Ronald, Guy, Lenny, and Amanda.

3) Don't be afraid to experiment, to change character names, even later on as you edit the book. Just be sure you catch all of them when you're replacing them in the manuscript! :-)

4) Use the internet for help. I use, oddly enough, baby naming sites to help me figure out character names. This one is my favorite. There's also a last name site that's fantastic.

So, what's your advice/experience when choosing character names? Any tricks of the trade that help you out, make things easier?

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Music

I'm sitting here, working on my re-writes, and listening to this gorgeous compilation CD I put together last year, which I entitled, aptly enough, "Writer's Music." I adore music of all kinds - but I find I can only listen to a certain type as I write. Soft instrumental or slow classical, that's about it. Movie soundtracks are an ideal choice for me. Little Women, Sense & Sensibility, How to Make an American Quilt, Still Breathing, Unfaithful - these are my personal writing favorites. Ones I never, ever tire of hearing. They're soothing and lilting, but not distracting.

Speaking of distracting, I cannot write while watching t.v. or while listening to music with lyrics. It's too "busy" for me, and I can't focus. My mother, on the other hand, must have something going on while she writes. Loud t.v., loud music with lyrics, rock music - none of that bothers her. We often laugh about our opposite tendencies. But that's the beauty of it. We're all different people, just as we're all different writers.

I think the most important thing is figuring out, as a writer, what suits you best. Quiet background music? The noise of t.v.? The bustling of people at a sidewalk cafe? Or simply silence? Whatever facilitates and helps your writing, do it. Because finding something, no matter how small, that gets the best out of ourselves as writers is a goal we should all be seeking on a consistent basis.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

What If...

That's the title of a wonderful book of writing exercises that I use at the start of every class (the authors are Anne Bernays and Pamela Painter, two creative writing teachers).

I give the students a creative prompt, and they write for 20 minutes. Then, if they wish, they can share theirs aloud. This seems to be the favorite part of the class for most students. Creativity-on-the-spot, I call it...

So, every now and then, I thought I'd post a prompt here for fun (I sometimes change things up a little from the book and put my own spin on it). If you're experiencing the dreaded writer's block, these exercises can help to jump-start your creativity in just a few minutes. Or, they can sometimes hold the potential seeds for a future story or book.

So, here's one for today: Write a short scene using these 5 words: pyromaniac, tuna sandwich, bowling pen, polyester, infinity.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Great Quote

I'm honestly too tired to blog today (after teaching, grading 20-something essays (one that contained 22 run-ons, ack!), and attempting to do my re-writes). So, I'm taking the easy way out and letting a genius writer do the work for me. Here's the quote I read to my Creative Writing class this morning, from Joseph Dougherty, a writer for "Thirtysomething" (before you roll your eyes at me, lol, that show had some real quality writers - one of them being no less than Oscar-winner Paul Haggis!). Anyway, I think there's such truth in this quote and I wanted to share:

The more you write, the less you censor, and the more comfortable you become trusting your instincts. You learn to get out of your own way, and start to experience that sense of spirit-writing, where scenes create themselves and characters find their own voices. . . I believe the most satisfying work a writer does is that for which she or he feels the least conscious responsibility. It simply flows from somewhere. You don't write it down so much as the paper is there to catch it. Ego is lost and you become transparent, something through which the story is seen and focused. For a writer, this is a state of grace.

Sunday, September 20, 2009

Distractions

They're everywhere. Every day.

For me, specifically today, they are:

* My Sheltie - she's bringing me toys, saying, "Play with me - you're neglecting me," with those pathetic brown eyes.
* Facebook - entirely too much fun. Chatting, quizzes, status reports, time wasters. Facebook is eeeevil, but I love it.
* Essays - they're sitting on my laptop (online classes) and on my desk, begging to be graded.
* Laundry and other daily must-do's around the house
* New Fall t.v. - this is a silly one, but all summer, there's been NOTHING on t.v. Now, suddenly, when I have nothing but work in front of me, there are dozens of new shows starting this week that I'd like to at least take a look at. Thank goodness for DVR's.

So - what are your distractions from writing, and how do you handle them? I guess for me, the first step is stopping and noticing them - realizing they are keeping me from my work (currently, my revisions for the agent). And once I recognize them, I apparently blog about them first (*grin*), and then I make myself GET TO WORK.

With that, I'm signing off, to get something productive done today. Well, at least that's the plan... ;-)

Saturday, September 19, 2009

Quote of the Day

Writing is the only thing that, when I do it, I don't feel I should be doing something else.

~Gloria Steinem

Friday, September 18, 2009

Writers Supporting Writers

Almost nothing warms my heart more than being part of a COMMUNITY of writers. Writers who support and help each other - that's a beautiful thing.

I see it in my creative writing students each semester - the warm respect and support they display as they timidly open themselves up and share their writing. I see it in brand-new online friends who are fellow writers - the lovely encouragements we give each other, never even having met. And most recently, today, I see it in perfect strangers who are also writers. In this case, the very special online company, Ninth Moon - Gifts and Tools to Inspire.

No, this isn't an advertisement, and I'm getting nothing from Ninth Moon for mentioning their site. But in the spirit of sharing information and supporting MY fellow writers (readers of this blog), I wanted to let you know about this company.

As you might know, I'm working hard on revisions for a potential agent. Well, she wants to see the entire revised manuscript - in hard copy form! So, I needed a professional-looking, sturdy manuscript box (nesting boxes, so that one fits inside another, to serve as a SASE). Last week, I found these boxes online, at Ninth Moon, and received them today.

But I didn't just receive the boxes. I received a LOVELY hand-written note, from writer to writer. The note presumed (rightly) that I was an author, buying the boxes in order to send my material "out there" to a potential editor/agent. The note then encouraged me and wished me success. You should've seen the smile on my face, reading such inspiring words from a perfect stranger.

But that's what I mean about "community." Writers understand each other. They speak the same language. They recognize in each other the ups, downs, heartaches, and exhilaration of what we do. Even writers who've never met face-to-face can form a bond of sorts because of their love for the craft of stringing words together on a page. How cool is that?!?!?! (<--not eloquent or poetic, but I think it's spot-on, lol). I'm so proud of writers who put aside any competitive tendencies and choose to support one another. Because, goodness knows, this is a solitary, sometimes lonely occupation. And we need all the support we can get. ;-)