Thursday, December 2, 2010

Thanks to

I'd like to thank for honoring me with a Top Blog award. Visit their website dedicated to help people consider a career in English.

Life has kept me away from this blog for the last six months. I hope to be online again in January 2011.

Sunday, July 18, 2010

Giving Pause

I feel as though I’ve been away for a year. I left Arizona on June 5th when I heard my father had a stroke, and we just returned home last week. When I left, I had no idea what to expect. I thought two weeks was sufficient time to take care of matters. Little did I expect to close up his house and place it on the market so I could move him back to my home.

My heart broke as I dispersed his 5000 volume library to book collectors and lovers in the San Francisco Bay Area. I toiled from morning until night packing and throwing things away that he cherished, all the while placing my writing on hold.

In the span of time I’ve been away, I’ve received two blogger’s awards, and have only managed to put one online. The second award was from Lydia Kang and this is the first opportunity I have had to acknowledge her kindness. Thanks Lydia. I much appreciate your thoughtfulness.

A few weeks ago I stated if I were stranded on a desert island, I would write in the sand just to keep writing. Obviously, I had no idea that some challenges would alter my desires and wishes more than I could know. Taking care of my father and working are quite the challenges to juggle. Since my novel takes first priority in my writing, I have decided to close down both of my blogs until time affords me to take them up again.

I want to thank all those who have become my followers over the past few months. I almost reached the 100 mark, and I’ve enjoyed every moment of this writing adventure. I’ve felt much impressed with those who have entertained me with their informative posts and kept me returning to their blogs. I’ve enjoyed sharing thoughts and ideas with you. Keep up your wonderful efforts. I will try to visit your sites from time to time.

I look at this as a momentary break from a pursuit that will take time to build up again. But for right now, my priority is my father. My love for him takes the higher road, and I will miss you all.

Saturday, June 19, 2010

What the Doctor Ordered

I'm stunned! I have just received my first blogger award, and my heart is bursting. Thanks to Bec over at Gaining My Writing Wings. . . I have received a big lift. I am still tending my father who suffered a stroke two weeks ago. I am moving him from California to live with me. My writing is on the bottom of my list for another few weeks, but this award is exactly what the doctor ordered. Thanks, Bec.

The Rules:

1) Thank and link back to the person who gave you this award.

2) Share 7 things about yourself.

3) Pass the award along to 15 bloggers who you have recently discovered and who you think are fantastic for whatever reason! (In no particular order...)

4) Contact the bloggers you've picked and let them know about the award., what seven things do I want to reveal about myself? Let's see...

  1. I'm a graphic designer by day, so I write at night and on weekends.
  2. I belong to the American Night Writers Association (ANWA) based in Arizona.
  3. I love to write both fiction and non-fiction, though writing fiction brings me the greatest joy.
  4. I once had a novel contract, but lost it because the company made a financial blunder and had to release all their contracts.
  5. I have many published newspaper articles and a featured story in another author's book.
  6. Several years ago, I won the American Mother's creative writing contest.
  7. If I were stranded on a desert island, I'd draw letters in the sand just to keep writing. 
My choices for this award go to the following excellent bloggers.  These writers have kept me returning to their blogs over the last few months:

  1. Samuel Park
  2. DL Hammons
  3. Jon Paul
  4. Amy Tate
  5. Molly Hall
  6. Elana Johnson
  7. Jan Cline
  8. Margo Berendsen
  9. Angie Paxton
  10. Lani Woodland
  11. Wendy Paine Miller
  12. Rosslyn Elliott
  13. Nicole Ducleroir
  14. Lydia Kang
  15. M. Gray
I just love this blogging stuff. I can't wait to get back home and continue with my favorite pastime...writing, of course.

Friday, June 4, 2010

An Emergency Takes Me Away

Life has provided me a curve ball this week. My father had a stroke last night, which takes me away from my writing for a short time. Thank you for all who have left comments and supported me by stopping by my blog. I hope to be back with my weekly posts in a week or two.

Saturday, May 29, 2010

Keeping the Creativity Faucet Turned On

I'm all for finding ways to improve my writing.

Sometimes when I sit down to write the resulting effort is nothing more than a mess. After such unfruitful sessions, I wonder if I even know how to put a sentence together, or how I have the cheek to call myself a writer at all. At other times, the words flow from my creativity faucet, and I marvel at the miracle of my thought processes. It is at these times I ask myself, “Where do the words come from, and how can I keep inspiration’s faucet turned on?”

These are good questions. In his mentoring programs, the motivational speaker, Anthony Robbins, suggests people can learn to create consistent results in whatever they do.

“If you want to be successful, find someone who has achieved the results you want and copy what they do and you'll achieve the same results,” says Robbins.

His advise has helped top professional athletes, Fortune 500 executives, parents, and world leaders achieve consistent results on a variety of subjects. He has helped individuals manage weight, improve relationships, and obtain a better outcome in virtually every domain of life.

So how can using Robbins’s method help us achieve consistent creativity in our writing? We can’t exactly copy another successful writer’s work. That would be unprofessional and unethical. Mr. Robbins clarifies that it is the successful person’s state we should model—reproducing the same strategy and syntax—the order, the timing, and the way in which they do things.

Since writing is a lone endeavor, we might have a difficult time observing another writer’s syntax as he works within the confines of his private office—how he sits in his chair, the routine he carries on before he types the first word, the way he breathes, or any of the tricks he uses in the writing process. If we can't talk to the writer or read about his writing syntax, our only alternative is to analyze ourselves for these intimacies during our more successful bouts with creativity.

When the words are flowing out of us, we need to see what we do and in what order we do them and then repeat that process the next time we write. According to Robbins, if we accurately repeat the steps, something triggers in our brain, and we are able to reproduce the same results as before. My question is this: does the brain cooperate every time, especially if sleep-deprived, or aged, or under the influence of fluctuating hormones? It seems to me brain functionality is more complex than we think and inconsistent at best, even if we use the same syntax every time. And does talent have anything to do with a writer's success? I'd love to talk to Mr. Robbins and pick his brain on the subject.

Strategy is another matter, however. We can observe an author’s strategy: how he uses nouns, verbs and adjectives, how he sets pacing and constructs plot. If we find an author whom we admire and then examine and recreate the formula he uses to write books, perhaps the books we create will end up winners. The trick is to allow our own style to develop and shine as we use the proven techniques.

The only way we'll discover if such a process works is if we practice, practice, practice. Every successful athlete, musician, or writer practices his field of expertise. And it seems logical, the more we apply what we observe, the more adept we’ll become at mimicking strategy and syntax.

You might be skeptical about the success of such a program. I know I was when I first read Robbin's book, Unlimited Power. But so many people swear by his methods. We may not become bestsellers *or maybe we will* but if we apply Robbin's techniques to our writing, we might actually become better writers. That result, in and of itself, makes me think his ideas might be worth a try.

Saturday, May 22, 2010

The Last Manuscript

If you, a writer, were dying and you had time to create a last work, cork it in a bottle, and throw it into the ocean for someone to discover later, what message would that work portray?

I’ve thought about this long and hard since I listened to and watched Randy Pousch’s The Last Lecture. The doctors diagnosed this Virtual Reality professor of Carnegie Mellon University with pancreatic cancer in 2006, and he spent the last two years on earth lecturing, leaving a legacy that has inspired a multitude. He didn’t sulk. He didn’t give up hope; he handled the inconveniences of his disease with a positive outlook, even though he would leave behind three young children and a wife who adored him.

Think about it. What would you want people to know about you if you weren’t going to be around for long? What could you possibly write that would sufficiently portray who you are as a writer? Would you want to leave something that would last through time, to be read like the works of Shakespeare and Chaucer in classrooms around the world? Or would you direct your words to a more intimate setting, like your family? Would you leave out certain words or ideas that might taint your readers' minds? Or would your words become more potent, more angry, more shocking?

After much thought on this question, my answer is this: I would write exactly the book I'm writing right now. Maybe I would better use every spare moment I have to get the words down on paper, to complete the task more quickly. Maybe I'd find more courage to consult with experts and find beta readers, realizing that what I want my reader to know is plausible if they will just keep an open mind. The thought excites me, fuels my muse, and silences the negative voices that would hold me back.

For I am a writer and a human being, and I have something to say. Thankfully I don't have ten tumors vying for my time right now, but the question spurs me on to treat whatever time I have left on this earth as a laboratory for creating the best I have within me.

I hope the thought does the same for you.

Saturday, May 15, 2010

Using Or Not Using Prologues

Upon returning from a writer’s conference, a member of my writer’s group informed us that editors and agents hate prologues. Since I had just read the group my WIP’s prologue, her revelation made my heart sag. I was quite pleased with what I had written. I introduced vital back-story in a pertinent character’s viewpoint, which was the one and only chance for this character to express himself before his demise would silence him forever.

That got me to thinking—and researching—about when we should use prologues in our fiction. The online consensus about the nasty little setup pages brought me to conclude that more readers *and editors* are against them than are for them.

Really? Why? I love a good prologue. I never skip them because I’m afraid I’ll lose out on vital information the author placed there to help me understand the plot. If done well, they can enhance a story.

I imagine editors get tired of reading misfit prologues. One editor said she could count on one hand how many necessary and successful prologues she has read in her years as an editor. Another suggests a new author avoid using a prologue if he really wants his manuscript considered. So when may a writer use a prologue or is it best to avoid them altogether? My research uncovered the following.

A writer may include a prologue if it:

Provides critical information – You should never use this information elsewhere, and it should provide necessary enhancement to the plot. However, if you can weave that information throughout the rest of the novel then eliminate the prologue all together. If the story makes sense without the prologue, you don’t need 3-5 pages more to bog it down. If you hold doubts about whether the information is important enough to stand on its own, consider making it chapter one, even if it takes place in a another time period.

Provides more than mood or action – If your purpose is to set the mood or hook someone into the story with action, then get rid of the prologue. You can do those two things in the body of your story. Using these ploys might suggest to the editor your first chapter is weak.

If you do use a prologue, make sure  it is short, relevant and in the same style as the rest of the book. Since using a prologue is asking the reader to start the story twice, make sure this addition is brief and supplies the missing elements that make the plot clear as it progresses. When submitting your manuscript for consideration, include the prologue with what you send.

After all this advise, I still love a good prologue. As I rush to the completion of my manuscript, I'll consider and weigh whether mine contains information I can slip into the body of the story or not. I want the best chance possible to impress an agent or editor. Even if the setup pages are well written, I have to be willing to sacrifice them for a sale.

Sunday, May 9, 2010

Late Blooming, But Present and Accounted For

I think I’m a late bloomer—you know, the kind of girl who stumbles through her early years lanky and boyish, whose body holds back until after all her friends develop from ugly ducklings into beautiful swans. Except my underdevelopment has nothing to do with looks but instead revolves around a fascination with books and reading them.

I’m confused about this enigma of my history, really. From an early age, my father collected books and couldn’t put his latest read down before he purchased another. Today his library holds over 5,000 volumes on various subjects and schools of thought. He also taught me to read before I attended kindergarten. I swelled with pride that I could read words my fellow classmates struggled to decipher. My teachers placed me in the advanced readers while the rest of my friends had to drudge through the regular curricula for our grade level. In other words, I had all the tools at hand, yet I lacked the one thing that would have aided my present hunger to write books: the desire to read.

I’m not saying I didn’t read at all. I had my favorites: Beverly Cleary’s Ramona Quimby series, Caroline D. Emerson’s The Magic Tunnel, and later Daphne Dumaurier’s Rebecca. But as a young girl, I had much rather my parents find me skating around the block or winning at tetherball than find me cooped up in my room reading a book. I never read the classics; somehow my teachers hadn’t required such in-depth study. Nor did I care about Nancy Drew or any of the other popular fiction that other kids were reading.

I did, however, enjoy writing stories and poetry. My first poem appeared in a hometown newspaper in 1960, and I often submitted short stories for my elementary school’s student publication. Yet until I entered the eighth grade and won my first creative writing contest, becoming a writer hadn’t even occurred to me. Why would it? I still skewed my nose at the thought of diving into a book when there were so many more interesting things to do, like drooling over boys and listening to the latest Beetles tune. Reading back then made my head hurt and sent me running for open air.

I often wondered if my elementary school’s Nazi librarian had anything to do with my disenchantment. Well, she wasn’t exactly a Nazi, but her stern demeanor and maniacal penchant for embarrassing students who couldn’t answer her Spanish Inquisition about the Dewey Decimal system frightened me. Every time my class’s weekly required library sessions rolled around, my stomach balled into a knot, and I found any excuse I could to stay home from school that day. I have no doubt the school authorities were trying to expand our young minds, guiding us toward the realm of reading, but their well-intentions only invoked fear in my heart each time I stepped across the library’s threshold.

Today my world has blossomed because of books. I love to read, can’t find enough spare time to stick my nose into the latest novel. I struggle to balance my time between reading and writing and all the other billions of tasks I juggle in the air. I can hardly manage patience because I want an author to sweep me away to England to learn about Shakespeare’s missing manuscript, or fly me all over the world to discover and put into place the six missing pillars that will save the world. I feel like I’m in a race to catch up with all of you who have thousands more reading experiences tucked under your belts than I do. And that doesn’t even account for the umpteen research tomes I’m pouring through that will help me make my WIP more interesting. My current library is growing on a weekly basis, and I haven’t even scoured through the pile of books reaching to the ceiling on my bedside table yet. Time just isn’t cooperating.

I wonder if they have a book about resisting our urges to purchase new books before finishing the ones we already possess?

I bet they do. As a Mother's Day gift to myself, I’ll have to check that out on Amazon tomorrow.

Sunday, May 2, 2010

On What Wall Is Your Ladder Leaning?

Last week I started reading a novel (I won’t mention the author’s name) that began well enough, but about half way through the plot the author ventured into the most graphic sex scene I had ever come across. I stopped reading, threw the book in the recycle can (hoping the pages would be put to better use) and started searching for prose worth my time. Now I ask you, I know sex sells, but are our efforts to become great writers enhanced by writing pornography? Wouldn’t we better spend our time lifting souls and encouraging others through our words?

That author is probably laughing all the way to the bank. After all, I helped fund her future projects by buying her book in the first place. Though I’ve added her name to my black list of stinky authors, I’ve already helped to further the demise of morality in the world with my purchase. Not to be a prude, but honestly, why can’t we leave the most sacred of acts behind our bedroom doors and write something that can pull us out of the trash receptacles of life?

A wise man, Boyd K. Packer, once expressed my sentiments in a perfect analogy: “There are many who struggle and climb and finally reach the top of the ladder, only to find out that it is leaning against the wrong wall.”

If we have to struggle and climb to the top, why not reflect the best of what life has to offer? Of course, the plots we create must reflect opposition to make the story interesting, but the sole use of the lurid and the degrading, just to sell a book, saddens me beyond expression. I can’t help think those authors will one day find themselves under the heavy hand of heaven’s task masters erasing their words with their noses.

Some might argue that free expression is what makes our vocation important. Yes, that freedom is important. But I believe the way we use our gift, either for sensationalism or for helping people discover the best they possess within them, matters far more than we realize. And if I’m wrong--well, I’d rather be on the side of honor and decency, than on the dark side, enticing the worst from my readers.

Were we put here on this earth for good or for evil? Whether we believe in God or not, something inside tells me we already know what wall we need to scale. And in this day and age, we have no time to waste. We'd better start climbing as fast and high as possible.

Sunday, April 25, 2010

Defeating the Writing Ogres

During the months of March and April I struggled to find time and the words to write. On my writing days I’d sit and stare at my screen, begin to peck out sentences, but then end up erasing them. I took a week of vacation to make up for the time I had lost, but self doubt and conflicting research sent my creativity into a nosedive. I accomplished only two pages during that time which I wasn’t sure I even liked. The sad fact about my efforts was this: nothing I tried pleased me.

Added to the mix were my time bandits—overtime at work, family needs, bush removal, car maintenance, and church assignments all vying for my writing slots. I went crying to my writers group, lamenting that I teetered on the verge of abandoning my project for good. My frustration had brought me to the brink of writing disaster, and the sage words my friends handed me failed to convince me otherwise.

Then the unfathomable happened. I wrote over my manuscript with a lesser version and realized the two pages, and then some, I had written out with my blood no longer existed. During that same week my employer took away the block of space I had set as my official writing day. My self-fulfilling prophesy had come true, and I was lost on the road climbing toward novel completion and publication.

Sound at all familiar?

I think their must live a writing ogre in the world, ready to jump out at us from behind the trees, whose purpose it is to pounce on our good intentions and well-laid plans for writing. At times he is the victor, far stronger and equipped with more tools than we, mere writers, possess. But whoever said writing was easy?

Sometimes determination and cunning are the only weapons we have to outwit our foe. Pushing ourselves to write, even when the victory seems futile can surprise us. Courage in the face of defeat can send the rocks of our retaliation hurling toward the enemy’s head, buying us time until reinforcements arrive.

Natalie Goldberg in her book Writing Down the Bones suggests to “take out another notebook, pick up another pen, and just write, just write, just write.” That’s exactly what I did. I never gave up, although I allowed myself to concentrate on other writing while my subconscious mind worked around the roadblocks of my novel. I took time to restructure my outline, put the research away and began to trust my instincts for survival. To my surprise, as I tried to recapture the segments of my manuscript I had lost, stronger and much more pleasing passages flowed from my depths. I wrote beyond the loss and my characters came up with new ways to direct the story, sending discouragement and self doubt behind enemy lines with their tails between their legs.

I’ve stunned the ogre for now. I’m sure he’s found another tree and is waiting for the right moment to leap out at me. But I’ve learned some strengthening strategies along the road that will aid me in future battles. I’m grateful for my characters too. They’ve taken up the fight and are carving the way to my next victory.

Such is the fairy tale of this feat called writing. But as in all fairy tales, there is a happy ending.

Sunday, April 18, 2010

Writing Through the Eyes of a Child

Have you ever watched a toddler explore the world? Whatever circumstance we place before them, they move about touching, seeing, tasting, smelling, and hearing their way through their environment. They sample everything and turn their experiences upside down and sideways, often wedging themselves in the least expected nook to see life in a way their eyes have yet to behold. I’m convinced if that toddler were capable of writing their encounters in words, we’d have some of the best poetry and prose the world has ever seen.

Somewhere along the way to adulthood that desire to thoroughly investigate our surroundings springs a leak. Maybe we become lazy or get bogged in the mire of disappointment and forget how to enjoy the adventure. Or maybe we form prejudices and borrow the narrow opinions of others instead of reaching for the ideas dangling from our own study and observation.

Life is tough, no question about it. But should we allow our weariness or indifference or slothfulness keep us knee-deep in the mud? As writers, taking time to explore our world in new ways is vital to our success. We must feel the textures of our thoughts, smell the meaning of the moment, taste the laughter and tears that living life rains down upon our literary tongues. As we seek new angles of our existence, somehow we have to clutch the vision and translate the data into words that others can hear in their hearts.

How do we lick life and explain the flavor on the page? Some of my favorite techniques are analogy or metaphor. Imagery can draw pictures in the mind and help the reader see what we’re trying to say. But maybe this post tastes too sweet or smells too flowery for your liking. That’s okay. We can choose from a variety of methods to decipher and explain our corner of the world. Please share how you delve into your part of the whole and how you translate your inner thoughts into the written word? I bet we can learn incredible things from each other.

Thursday, April 15, 2010

Leave a Mess, Glean a Draft

Each time I sit down to write I show up at my computer like an excited pup, tail wagging, anxious to play, ready to retrieve the words my unconscious mind tosses out in my line of sight. But just like the dog, there comes a point in the game when the fun runs out. It’s then the thought of retrieving one more word makes my head sag, tongue droop, and my body long to plop down and take a nap for the rest of the day. After I run my little synapses off the romance is over, and I’d rather be anywhere than loping around inside the wordless void between my ears.

Some writers have a bigger challenge than others. I question my abilities when someone tells me they write 10,000 words a day; on my productive days I might pinch out 2,000 words and feel like a train wreck when I finally drag myself from my chair eight hours later. Maybe I’ve yet to catch the vision of free-flow writing. I labor over each word and try to make my phrases sing the first time around.

Call me a perfectionist. I am. And I'll take my punishment now, thank you very much.

Writer Anne Lamott reminds us that perfectionism makes us try too hard to avoid the big messes we'll have to clean up later. However, her point is this: clutter and mess show us “we are living life”. As we allow the unedited words to flow onto the screen, we find more opportunities to glean a treasure or two among the muddle. More importantly, this uninhibited process helps us avoid writer’s block and teaches us to write with more flare while having fun in the process.

Somehow we’ve all got to learn to let the dam in our minds go. Natalie Goldberg suggests participating in writing practice. Fill up notebook after notebook. She tells about the piles of notebooks she’s accumulated over the years. She admits that some of what she writes is trash, but other parts of the writing are some of her best work. The important thing about writing practice is to keep our fingers moving and to lose control.

After struggling with the void today, I’m anxious to try something new, something that might improve my productivity tomorrow. It sure can’t hurt. Who knows, I just might finish a scene or two and feel like I’ve accomplished something. Care to join me?

Sunday, April 4, 2010

The Power of Encouragement

A couple of Sundays ago, as I sat in church, an old friend walked by and squeezed my shoulder. He said nothing, but proceeded up to the front of the chapel to join the choir who presented a lovely Easter program to our congregation. I hadn’t talked to him in weeks and had missed our conversations of gospel topics and life musings. His was a simple gesture of encouragement that told me I was in his thoughts and prayers and that I was not alone.

How often in the business of writing, or in life for that matter, do we give and receive gestures or kind words of encouragement? How often do we take interest in anybody else’s work but our own? Brief well wishes or donations of our time to get someone over the slump are life preservers that lift our colleagues and friends back on life's ship. Someone once said, “A word of encouragement during failure is worth more than an hour of praise after success.”

I believe that. For the last month I’ve struggled: finding time, direction, and balance in many aspects of my existence, including my writing. I've wished for someone to throw me a lifeline a time or two. I know I will eventually work through the lack of productivity and discouragement. I always do. But a pep talk could have buoyed me up as I dangled over the water’s edge.

Fortunately, it doesn’t matter how we toss these circles of hope to those who are drowning. It only matters that we take notice and exercise life-saving, mind-hefting service to lift a sinking soul from the murky waters of defeat. Sometimes it might appear the service is just one more thing to add to our lists. But I know that in the process of lifting another, the soul we help is often our own.

Friday, April 2, 2010

Applying Time Well

Life is too short to impatiently wish for more quality time—time that life may or may not afford us. Have you found yourself wishing for the next stage of your life: for more time to write, for the weekend, for a worry free existence, for a better house, for a better financial position? The constant longing for better circumstances does nothing more than take the joy out of the journey.

If you drag yourself home with unfulfilled-dream days, taking to your bed early in hopes that tomorrow you might have better ideas and more time with which to write them, you just might miss the lessons of the moment because you’re living in and for another time zone.

Think of all the precious and life-expanding moments we let go by when we worry about the next tick of the clock and how much more and better things we can cram into the moment. In my case, the image staring back in the mirror is an impatient writer who wishes work, heck, life for that matter, was a little easier.

Easier is relative. Our efforts over the passage of time become more difficult if we fail to practice living for now.

Goethe reminds us, “One always has enough time if one will apply it well.” So I guess the lesson I want to remind us about today is this: the only time we have is now. Make the best of it. And if the day turns out less than you had hoped for, switch gears and think about how wonderful it is that you are a writer. Don’t waste another moment. Prove that you are.

Sunday, March 28, 2010

Journal Writing for Our Own Good

How many of you keep a journal? How many of you would like to keep a journal but find it hard to begin? I have good news for you. Of all the types of writing, this should be the easiest form of expression you ever attempt. You don't have to be a great writer, perfect speller, or creative thinker to keep a personal journal. Journal writing means that you regularly write down your thoughts and experiences. If you keep a blog, you can keep a journal.

I’m not talking about diary entries here. Diaries contain a description of daily events, usually nothing more. A journal, however, is where we breathe life into those mundane lists; it is our opportunity to reflect on our lives and express emotions and understanding behind our actions and thoughts.

I have a few tips for keeping a journal that might make the experience a little easier.
  • Begin. Write down a few thoughts you experience during the day—the passage doesn’t have to be long—just get the thoughts down on paper. Don’t worry about your spelling or grammar. The most important thing is to express yourself. I know, I know, you can’t allow misspelled words and poor grammar to go unchecked. Fine, edit AFTER you pour out your soul.
  • Write a little each day. Practicing every day helps you become more observant and confident. Who knows, something you write may inspire a scene in your current work in progress or become the plot for your next novel.
  • Ignore excuses Sometimes you may feel you don’t have time to write down your personal experiences. Spencer W. Kimball once stood before the World Conference on Records and said: “By now, in my own personal history, I have managed to fill seventy-eight large volumes . . . . There have been times when I have been so tired at the end of a day that the effort could hardly be managed, but I am so grateful that I have not let slip away from me and my posterity those things which needed to be recorded.” (Ensign, Oct. 1980, p. 72.)
  • Try to write at the same time every day. When writing becomes routine, the words will flow more easily. You'll begin to feel committed to your journal. Hmm, have you heard this writing advice before?
  • Carry a notebook with you at all times. If you do this, you'll never miss an important moment.
  • Get your senses involved. Say exactly what you see, feel, hear, and so on. Be specific when you write. For example, instead of saying “tree”, say what kind of tree you’re writing about. I could have written a boring list of incidents about my move to Arizona in 1982. Instead I wrote: 
 The rich San Joaquin Valley never looked as beautiful as when we drove out of the Bay Area on   February 21, 1982. Through my windshield, I must have viewed six different shades of green that crisscrossed patterns over the land. The almond trees were abloom, emanating life, providing a white contrast in square patches alongside the highway and afar off. This display came after torrential rains pounded the Bay Area, saturating the homes and hillside residences. Mudslides had demolished anything that had stood in the way. As I marveled at the hues, textures and patterns before me, I found the scene ironic—that such beauty exists so close to devastation.
  • Observe. Take note of "who," "what," "when," "where," "how," and "why." Even the most routine events are worth observing. But don’t record things like, “I went to the store. Then I came home. Then I brushed my teeth and went to bed.” Don’t forget to write about the life changing events that occur in your life. That is what you and your children will want to go back and read.

I know, without a doubt, that writing personal and family histories bless our lives and the lives of our families. I enjoy reading the recorded memories of my past. Even my children love to find out about my successes and failures, and like to kid me about my peculiarities. They are reflections that can enlighten and teach important lessons to my posterity. So the next time you resist the urge to record your life’s events, kick yourself, and say, “This is for my own good.” You might even discover it’s worth a belly-laugh or two.

Sunday, March 21, 2010

Eloquent Phrasing

Each time I read a book I really like, I break down the author’s work, write down the phrases that impress me, and try to discover what aspect of their writing draws me in. Most times my attraction is due to the author’s way of saying mundane things in unique ways. I’ve started a phrase book to inspire me on those days when I struggle to write with a fresh perspective. I read through the phrases until the itch to create something as clever pushes me to the keyboard. The process usually helps.

I recently read Interred with Their Bones by Jennifer Lee Carrell. She has a PhD in English, and not only did her topic enthrall me, but her phrasing made my taste buds water. Below are just some of her creative uses of the English language:

I camouflaged the lie in a thin wrapping of truth.

I felt hope splinter and crack.

Sparks shimmered down like a slow rain of fiery petals.

A mundane tale of worn-out parts

Smoke scudded across the sky.

The spiraling wail of sirens

A prickle of watching eyes

My voice carving through the shadows

Lights kindled as night crept through the city in a dark tide.

The smokestack speared the night.

Smoke poured like black blood.

Ahhh!!! Divine!!!! Does anyone else get excited reading her words? Since I’m always hunting for unique turns of phrase, always desiring to add to my phrase book, please leave a comment, sharing your ideas of exceptional writing.

Friday, March 19, 2010

Pleasing Our Readers

The other day, my son, the one I thought would NEVER show interest in anything I’ve written, told me how he’s read my manuscripts when I wasn’t looking. He complimented me on my skill as a writer and called me an intelligent woman. I stared at him, mouth open, eyes ogling. My child had actually read my writing and felt impressed!

Writing can seem an intimidating pursuit sometimes, and though I struggle to stay positive in the climb up the ladder, I have to remind myself, people often read my words and like them. The crazy thing about the process is that we never know who is reading our work. As we network, we pick up potential readers, and we might balk at how many people are really interested in our progress. Of course, we also push away a few who hate everything we say.

That’s okay because we’ll never be able to please everybody, all the time.

Still I obsess over spelling and punctuation; I cringe every time I go back to read my blog posts and find some infraction of the English language or a thought that misses the point. Such infringements ruin our credibility as writers, right? The same son who read my manuscripts on the sly shakes his head and tells me not to worry so much, especially when writing a blog post. He assures me bloggers misspell words all the time.

I don’t know how comforting that is. I want to at least appear as though I’ve used spell check and have edited my posts before I publish them—because according to my son, I am an intelligent woman. And I do want to present to all those who read my work the best I have to offer. After all, I am trying to build a reputation in the writing world.

Still—I'm thrilled that Hemingway choked at spelling.

Sunday, March 14, 2010

Writers Are Odd

On February 27, I attended the ANWA writer’s conference, Start Write Now, and one of the more humorous speakers, J Scott Savage, commented that writers are odd. To emphasize his point, he revealed his list of oddities: writer’s talk to their characters in the shower, cry over the characters they kill themselves, write down their dreams, and have crazy egos. We all laughed over his slide presentation, illustrating the various quirks. Despite his humor, I’ve thought about his comments over the last couple of weeks, and I’ve come to the conclusion he’s more correct than not.

I came up with my own list of idiosyncrasies to prove he’s hit the mark. I’m sure if you thought about it awhile, you might come up with some weirdness yourself. Please share if you do.
  • Writers Emote - I’ve always been a drama queen. My husband (now ex-husband) used to tell me all the time, “You’re not on the stage,” when I reacted to life’s curve balls. I went around the house emoting and feigning the end of the world often. My children ogled at me, marveling at the woman banging her head on the computer keys and crying, “I’ll never get it! Never!” When I think back on my moments of drama, well, I'm sure I'd have repeated the same things over again.
  • Writers Are Superstitious - Charles Dickens placed objects on his desk in exactly the same position, always set his bed in north/south directions, and touched certain objects three times for luck. I recently learned about Feng Shui, and now I won’t write facing the south, my worst direction of all.
  • Writers Roll Play - Whether on a bus or in a grocery store line, you can find a writer acting out their characters’ lives in the strangest ways. Perhaps you’ve taken up skydiving or asked your children to tie you to a chair so you know how your character feels. On a good day, you can find me throwing punches in the air and dancing with my houseplants.
  • Writers Rather Type Than Eat - A writer is always rushing to meet deadlines or yearning for the right word to replace another one from their last writing session, thus they’d rather be typing than doing just about anything else. I’ve skipped meals often when the flow is erupting from my depths. My stomach grumbles on, and I can’t stop writing until the walls start moving behind my computer.  
Sound familiar? At all? I hear a resounding, “Yes!!!!” Because writers ARE odd. It’s the nature of the zillions of beasts that roam around inside our heads. But, hey, rather than tame the invasive creatures, I’ll do whatever it takes to get to the end of my novel.

Thursday, March 4, 2010

Up With Which I Will Not Put and Other Rules

The rules of writing are sometimes meant for bending or breaking. That being said, we must first know what the rules are in order to ignore them.

I love the way Winston Churchill made this point apparent concerning the age-old rule of ending a sentence with a preposition.

“Ending a sentence with a preposition is something up with which I will not put.”

By following the rules we learned in elementary school, we see how ridiculous that sentence sounds. Now I ask you, is there anything wrong with ending this sentence with a preposition? Most grammarians will say it's OK to end sentences with prepositions when the preposition doesn’t create a relationship between other words. Yet violations of this rule might tick off editors and land our manuscripts in the slush pile. If we are preparing letters or manuscripts for publication, we might make a better impression by using proper grammar. I might have rewritten the sentence this way, avoiding the issue all together: I won’t put up with using a preposition at the end of a sentence. I used one less word and it gets right to the point.

I don’t know about you, but I’ve never completely understood what my elementary teachers taught me about the more complicated grammar rules and can never remember the meanings of the odd titles they used to describe grammar mismanagement, like split infinitive and dangling participle. Back then, I thought the English language had to be the most complicated gibberish in the world.

It wasn’t until I started writing regularly that grammar usage started dripping, one rule at a time, into remote locations of my brain. Even so, my hands shake every time I write a blog or submit a manuscript for fear I have yet to learn another important rule and have proven my ignorance. The remedy: continue to write, continue to learn grammar.

If you choose to ignore the standard grammar rules, make sure you do it in a way that makes your purpose apparent—like in the quote mentioned above or in dialogue. But please sacrifice a misuse of the rules if, by doing so, you sacrifice clarity and a foot in the editor’s door.

Friday, February 19, 2010

Finding Voice

I was born with more writing sense than oral expression. When it comes to speaking, my lack of eloquence constantly goads me, often rendering me spineless. I sometimes wonder if this underdeveloped talent is the reason for my lack of published works. You know, sort of a self-fulfilling prophesy: if I publish, I might have to speak to people, so I give less effort, and thus I never get published.

I talked to my friend about this the other night. She suggested I take less threatening opportunities to learn how to express myself right now, while I get my novel on paper. I nodded, and told her that is good advice, all the while knowing that forcing myself to talk in intimate settings, impromptu, would cause me to stutter and go blank inside my head, never to get to the point of the multitude of words roiling around inside me. Why can’t I ask questions in a lecture or during a lesson at church? Why do I remain silent most of the time? It’s like lacking a tongue.

I’m told my problem is a self-esteem issue, although, if you get me behind a pulpit after I prepare a speech or lesson, I can present an air of articulateness. It’s the springing of an unrehearsed speaking engagement upon me that is another matter.

So what options do I and others with this stigma have to increase our abilities? I researched the topic and came up with these helpful pointers:

Decide to Confront, Face, and Defeat the Obstacle - Unless we are committed to doing the things that will help us improve, we probably never will. We must remind ourselves that a little discomfort now, will help us defeat the problem in the future.

Practice - According to authorities on the subject of shyness, my friend was right. Searching for opportunities to challenge ourselves will help us improve. Practice relaxation and breathing techniques. Think calm thoughts. Talk about the things we’re passionate about and use personal experiences to help our conversations along.

Focus Elsewhere - Having low self-esteem tends to make us think about our fear. If we can turn the conversation to the other person, be genuinely interested in what they have to say, it may help us push fear to the back of our thought processes.

Be Mentally Prepared - We should start rehearsing in our minds what we might say in different situations. Obviously we can’t think of all that will occur, but analyzing our feelings ahead of time may help us over the hurdles when forced into difficult situations.

Start a Success Diary - No matter how small we think our successes are, we can write them down and remind ourselves how we managed each victory.

Becoming more assertive may take time to accomplish, but if we desire to improve, practicing the above techniques may help us find our voices again.

Friday, February 12, 2010

The Pen: Responsible Use of Our Weapon of Choice

Whether we want to admit it or not, writers have a great responsibility to their readers. Those who write and publish without understanding or caring about this, might as well drive drunk and let the bodies fly where they may.

Nathaniel Hawthorne once said, “Words - so innocent and powerless as they are, as standing in a dictionary, how potent for good and evil they become in the hands of one who knows how to combine them.”

Edward Bulwer-Lytton drove his point into our hearts when he wrote,

“The pen is mightier than the sword. Behold
The arch-enchanters wand! — itself a nothing! —
But taking sorcery from the master-hand
To paralyse the C├Žsars, and to strike
The loud earth breathless!”

Have you analyzed your writing motives lately? Maybe you have no goal but to irk your readership as Thomas Hardy expressed, “'If you can't annoy somebody with what you write, I think there's little point in writing.” Or maybe you desire what Cicero said was to get at “the very heart and core of ages past, the reason why men worked and died, the essence and quintessence of their lives.” Then perhaps your combination of words is meant to strengthen the “hands which hang down, and the feeble knees.”

I ask you: doesn’t a writer’s work reflect the character of that artist? I believe it does. I have seen the fallout from the explosion of an artist’s words both build and destroy, shock and please, even inspire and nullify.

The consequences of a writer’s musings may successfully strike the loud earth breathless, and he might sit back in his chair and put his feet up on the desk and smile at his cleverness. Whether he believes in a higher power or not, if his intent is to see how much damage he can inflict, I am certain whatever missile he launches will eventually turn around to seek out his heat, maybe explode in his face. Then when it’s too late, when he emerges from the rubble, maybe, just maybe, he’ll wish he had traded in his pen for a weapon less dangerous.

Sunday, February 7, 2010

Sucked Away by Research

I love research. If I had to live my life over, I might have considered some form of investigative exploration as a career. I love to scan the Internet or sit down with a good book on a topic about which I am writing and glean interesting facts to put into my novels.

Yesterday I attended an eleven hour lecture on a Book of Mormon topic I’m currently pursuing in one of my works in progress. Never mind eating (they didn’t break for dinner), never mind housework, never mind preparing my Primary lesson, and never mind WRITING, I was hooked and couldn’t leave the mini-conference until I helped put away the last chair.

The grueling hours of sitting with backside to seat, eyes fixed and dilated, was well worth my time. I came away with two new books, validated the research I’ve already done, and realized more than ever the importance of my novel’s subject matter. Even viewing the very artifacts I write about in my novel still has my head buzzing a day later.

Now some of you might think eleven hours is overkill. They did repeat one of the afternoon topics in the evening (I HAD TO hear the information again). But it was an event that filled my well to overflowing—invigorated my mind so now all I want to do is get my thoughts down on paper. What more can a writer want than the desire to write.

All writers understand there is a time when we have to put the research aside and put fingers to the keyboard. I agree 100%, well, maybe 98%. The amount of research, and the consideration of what we gain from it, is dependent on the type of writing we do and our purpose within that market. If your book explores the Nicene Creed and Egyptian Coptic Christians who came to this country before Christ, your research time will obviously require more attention than if you were writing about your dog, Charlie.

There will come a time when I collect sufficient information about the Michigan relics and the Hopewell culture of the Great Lakes area that I can stop attending eleven hour lectures. However, I won’t stop willingly; I can already envision myself holding on to the door frame by my fingertips as obligation sucks my feet off the ground and pulls me toward home. But right now, lengthy lectures and hours of studying my notes will help me write the novel my heart yearns to create. I’m not going to lash myself into submission or feel guilty for taking the time away from the essential part of my craft. Research, for my project, is essential. And, if you need the extra book time for your projects, I say, “Go for it! Get carried away! You’ll feel better when you relieve your suffering.”

Thursday, January 28, 2010

Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs

When I attended college, my English teacher taught us about Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs. Simply stated, the theory professes the following:

Man’s most basic, primitive needs must be met before he can consider other needs.

What is Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs? See the list below:
  • Physical Needs: air, food, water, sleep, sex
  • Safety: shelter, physical and financial security, health
  • Social (Love/Belonging): family, friendship, acceptance in a group, intimacy
  • Esteem: confidence, respect, acknowledgement
  • Self-Actualization: morality, wisdom, personal potential, privacy
  • Cognitive: acquire and understand knowledge
  • Aesthetic: appreciate and create beauty and structure
Hmm…does the need for food, water, or sex always take precedence over morality? Not necessarily. Someone with high moral character might deny himself sex before marriage. A starving mother may feed her child before feeding herself.

 Writers are always trying to find motivation to move their characters to action. Our characters are constantly involved in relationships, solving mysteries or crimes, seeking betterment, more knowledge, money or glory, and sometimes they are totally insane. Understanding this theory and how man often defies the rule can help us better create believable characters and maybe even help us introduce plot twists. And don’t forget motivation such as attachment, comfort, trust/dependency, occupation, and control are additional needs to throw into the mix.

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Serial Commas: To Use or Not to Use, That Is the Question

I do a lot of editing at work, and one of the main annoyances I see over and over again is the missing comma before a conjunction in a series of three or more items: red, white and blue. Unless you are writing a newspaper article, a proven venue for saving space, in most American style guides, this is incorrect grammar usage and is considered the Wrong Rule. The phrase should read: red, white, and blue.

Now before you get riled and swear to me that everyone has accepted this grammatical faux pas, that it’s a matter of preference, let me cite the sources I use as my foundation.

» Chicago Manual of Style
» American Psychological Association (APA) Style
» The MLA Handbook for Writers of Research Papers
» Elements of Style
» Modern American Usage: A Guide.
» A Manual for Writers
» Gregg Reference Manual
» Scientific Style and Format

Most people who argue for ommision quote from newspaper style guides, which include the Associated Press (AP) Stylebook. Some British writers also have jumped on this grammatical band wagon. You might ask why most American standard usage keeps this vital comma. The reason is to prevent confusing combinations of the final two words: eggs, bacon, and toast. “Bacon and toast” is not one idea. If I write eggs, toast and jam, and bacon or eggs, bacon, and toast and jam, the potential confusion becomes apparent.

Thursday, January 14, 2010

Just Get the Words Down

I had to laugh when I attended my writer’s group this week. I had shared the first scene from my novel and was telling everyone that when I begin a writing session, I usually read what I wrote the day before and then continue to write more.

An excellent writer in the group, Donna Hatch, looked at me and said, “You’ve got to stop doing that. Just keep writing. Get the words down.” Obviously her insight didn’t seep in the first time because I again told everyone how I often go back and add information I have forgotten.

Donna looked at me again and said, “Don’t do that. Don’t edit. Place asterisks in your paragraph with a reminder to yourself and keep writing.”

Each time she tutored me, the thought became more prevalent in my mind. I think she even admonished me a third time when I told the group I’m worried about writing a query letter that will snag an editor’s attention. But it wasn’t until then I finally got the point. I can’t even begin to tell her how much I appreciate the reminder.

We’ve all heard this counsel over and over again, and I know every one of you is far better at obeying such wisdom than I am. I guess I’m an editor at heart. I want to make my scenes as perfect as possible before I go on. But editing is a left-sided brain function that can stifle right-sided brain creativity. Unless one is exceptionally gifted and can use both sides of the brain at the same time, I think we should follow Donna’s advice and just get the words down.

I’ll say it again, for emphasis. “Just get the words down.” Now stop reading this and get to work.

Sunday, January 3, 2010

Shoot for the Stars

I often start writing projects I never finish because I stew over the significance of my message. Since writing drains me of time, blood and tears, I figure I had better use my resources on endeavors that lift and edify or on those that change thinking in important and essential ways. You know—tasks worthy of my trouble.

I'm not saying that other forms of writing aren’t just as noteworthy, but I have to be true to myself. If I have to struggle to write, I want to write something that will mean something to ME years from now. I want to make my mark on the universe, in the most comfortable method for my psyche and personality.

I like to laugh, and I enjoy a story where I don’t have to dig too deeply to ponder the meaning, but someone forgot to install my funny bone before they sent me to earth. If I attempted to write the witty and fun-filled fiction that Janette Rallison pens, I’d never get my nose in the publishing door. More importantly, in the back of my mind, in the very root of my soul, I can’t ignore the stirrings that drive me toward the more serious side of my craft either.

That’s okay. We all have to find our niche for telling our stories, and thank goodness they differ in scope and purpose than in other authors’ works. It would be a dull existence if we had to read the same style and category all the time. And there is all kinds of room in the writer's mansion. But that which we feel comfort in creating, should come from the best that we have within us.

I love President Spencer W. Kimball's quote about greatness. "Let us remember, too, that greatness is not always a matter of the scale of one's life, but of the quality of one's life. True greatness is not always tied to the scope of our tasks, but to the quality of how we carry out our tasks whatever they are. In that attitude let us give of our time, ourselves and our talents to the things that really matter now, things that will still matter a thousand years from now."

So in all we do as writers, I hope we strive for greatness in whatever form of the written word we pursue. “Shoot for the stars,” my friend, Anna Arnett, says, “and you might hit the top of the telephone pole.” And if we strive for a quality ride, I’m willing to bet we'll hit even higher.