Baring My Writer’s Soul – Part 12

Writer's Soul 12Today’s Writer’s Soul blog post is going to be a bit like tap dancing on a landmine.  Per the suggestion in Page After Page, I’m going to explore my parent’s influence on my writing life. When I first read the exercise, I thought to myself, “There isn’t enough red wine in the entire world to make me do this, especially when both parents follow my blog.” Yet here we are.

I don’t believe either of my parents ever aspired to be writers, although I do remember mom jotting down an occasional poem during my childhood. That’s okay because neither resisted the idea of writing or being an artist of any kind.

The funny thing is I don’t really consider either of them to be readers. Well, not on the same level that I hoard and consume books anyway. Mom admits that she came to pleasure reading as an adult when she read The Wind in the Willows. This still surprises me because she was always reading to me and my brother when we were little. In fact, I credit Mom with instilling in me a love for books as I mentioned before.  (My Love Affair With Books)

I only remember my Dad reading Garrison Keillor’s Lake Wobegon Days and John Irving’s The World According to Garp. Otherwise, my only memories of Dad reading were the gigantic manuals and/or books he studied when testing to make rank on the police force.

To what degree did my parents influence my writing? Mom is extremely creative in areas of decorating, cooking, hosting, and crafting. Perhaps I’m drawing on these genes when I write. From Dad I learned that whatever I do should be done well and completed. I mention the completion aspect because he has always complained that Mom has thousands of dollars of unfinished crafts and too many tea sets. I think Dad doesn’t understand that creativity is ongoing.

Both of my parents are hard workers, and while Dad would probably say that he did what he wanted to in life, Mom would wistfully admit that there were things she would have liked to have done and didn’t. I know she wanted to own a bed and breakfast or tearoom.  Her dreaming is what prompts me to keep writing even when things seem hopeless and the self-doubts arise. Dad’s successful career causes me to worry about making money at writing. I believe this stems from the fact that he conveyed to me and my brother the need to get jobs that supported ourselves but didn’t necessarily allow us to follow our dreams. This is the type of influence one would expect from a provider.

With these perspectives on working and following dreams in mind, I am better able to understand why I vacillate between the thoughts of “Will I make any money at this or am I just chasing a pipe dream” and “I really want to write and be published more than any other creative endeavor.” There’s a lot of pressure that comes with such thoughts, but as an adult, I’ll own them.

If Mom and Dad aren’t the driving force behind my writing, who is? The first people to come to mind are the countless writers behind the Little Golden Books Mom bought for me. Laura Ingalls Wilder, Judy Blume, and L.M. Montgomery float to the surface of my memory. I could go on forever listing all of the authors and books I discovered through the years, but I’ll just say that my love of writing was birthed from my love of reading an excellent story.

What makes a great story? Great words. I admit, I’ve been caught reading with my lips moving, but if people would step closer and lean in, they would hear me reading softly to myself. When a passage is well written, it begs to be read aloud. My friend, Eleni Byrnes, would understand my obsession with words. She keeps a notebook of words she likes as she comes across them. It’s why she writes so well.

So, I’ll start with Eleni in my writing family tree and make her a sister. I’ll add Billie Letts and Wally Lamb as grandparents because they are excellent story tellers, and I’m all about the story. Isabel Allende will be my exotic aunt, and David Mitchell and David Liss my quirky cousins. Tim Gautreaux and Charles Frazier are favorite uncles.

Again, there are too many brilliant authors who have influenced my writing, so I’ll direct you to my Authors I Admire board on Pinterest and Goodreads to see who they are. Together, they make up my writing family tree and neighborhood.

I encourage everyone to explore who influences their writing or chosen art form. You’ll discover an extended family you never even knew you had.

Write Happy!

Baring My Writer’s Soul – Part 5

untitled (5)Allow me to preface today’s post with a nod to Heather Sellers’ book, Page After Page. As I mentioned in an earlier Baring My Writer’s Soul post, this is about blogging my experience. I truly hope you find something here that appeals to you; however, I strongly suggest that you do yourself the favor of reading Ms. Sellers’ book. Believe me when I say that you don’t want to miss one word of her valuable insight.

With that being said, the following lists are a writing exercise from Page After Page. The simple task jumpstarted my writing when I stalled due to resistance and, I recently discovered, boredom. (Boredom and Burnout: What To Do When Artistic Work Stops Being Fun by David J. Rogers) Even if it’s just a blog post, at least I’m productively writing.

The qualities of my ideal writing guidebook (what is covered):

  • Large, easily referenced grammar and punctuation section with examples
  • Daily writing exercises
  • Visual writing prompts
  • “How to” quality to the book, instructional without being preachy or stringent with rules
  • Info packed, fast paced

The qualities of my ideal writing class (what I learn):

  • How to write a query letter
  • Order of items in an e-mail to an agent, what is attached, what goes in the body of the e-mail
  • Standards of punctuation, grammar, when to italicize, underline, quote
  • How to write in deep POV (my most evil nemesis)
  • The art of good story telling (which I’m currently exploring in Steven James’ book, Story Trumps Structure)
  • How to write in the present tense when something occurred in the past
  • Writing a great first chapter (Again, Story Trumps Structure)
  • The best way to conduct research
  • Answer the question, “Does every story written these days have to follow an outline with nine-point structure, character arcs, pinches, plot points, etc., etc.?”

My best student-like qualities (who am I when I’m learning, my attitudes when I’m loving the act of learning, what do I look like, what do I wear, what do I have in the palm of my hand):

  • Detail oriented
  • Takes fabulous notes
  • Studies diligently, thoroughly
  • Combines book learning/reading with a hands-on experience, admittedly a bit more on the bookish end
  • Listens well
  • Questions endlessly because I like to get things right the first time
  • Loves to learn when it’s interesting, must apply more effort when it’s not
  • Wears casual clothing
  • Writes information (usually on a McDonald’s napkin unless I’m in a formal setting) but will use my laptop if the info comes fast (I type well!)
  • Enthusiastic, passionate
  • Loves to be hooked from the first moment of instruction

As expected with me, the completion of this task prompted more self-analysis leading to admissions and questions:

  • I discovered that I’m afraid to tell people I’m a writer because I believe if I don’t produce quickly, I’ll be viewed as a failure.
  • I feel pressured to publish soon, but I don’t want to crank out garbage.
  • Certain people I’ve engaged in life resent when I do something that they perceive as getting ahead of them, being more successful, so I downplay my achievements.
  • Other than the occasional, “That’s nice,” I don’t feel as if anyone supports my writing.
  • Money factors in to my writing heavily. I make very little working as a substitute at the library, and I feel the pressure to bring in a paycheck especially with the economy the way it is.
  • Is my writing a selfish hobby or a real career?
  • I don’t really feel as if I have a writing ally, no connectivity in the writing world or to another writer.
  • Have I started too late in life to make a go at writing?
  • What do I do when there is no money for writing classes, retreats, programs, conferences?

These are the thoughts that usually accompany me as I sit down to write. Unfortunately, they influence my writing habits. I know that most of them are ridiculous self-doubts, so when they arise, I remember to acknowledge them quickly, and then press on with my writing.

Write Happy!

Baring My Writer’s Soul – Part 4

In answer to the question in my last post, “Why am I not learning?” I discovered an answer that is not at all surprising: resistance.

I think I always knew this was my problem, but I hated to admit it. I created a vicious circle in my head that started with fear-born resistance to what I thought should happen versus what actually does happen when I write and/or learn to write. The fear/resistance combination kept me from learning from my new chosen method. There was nothing left for me to do but shut down and stop writing. I tried to claim writer’s block, but even I knew this wasn’t true.

images4GQIRHHZSo how do I reduce the resistance in my life? First of all, expect that it is going to occur in the form of doubts and ego which leads to comparison to other writers. By acknowledging this fact, I’ve already begun to address the issue, and that’s exactly what I want. Second, by dealing with the first concern, I’ll be able to tackle the fear of change which I often perceive as a threat to myself.

I already know doubts, ego, and comparison are counterproductive, so I must quickly recognize this yet again, and press on. Address my good intentions, per Heather Sellers the evil twin of resistance, and press on. Don’t over think the process, and press on. Let go, let down, relax, and write.

Page After Page advises that I learn to listen to my mind without getting sucked back in to all the negativity mentioned above. Just because I do this once doesn’t mean it won’t rear its ugly head again, but when it does, I’ll be ready for it, and that knowledge is very liberating.

Naturally, this self-analysis generated more questions for me.

  1. If I’m not receiving quality instruction, does that translate into resistance on my part?
  2. Are instruction and critiquing/criticism the same thing?
  3. If I don’t rewrite based on someone’s opinion, does that mean I’m resistant?

While I don’t plan on addressing these questions in future posts, I put them out there to see if other writers/authors struggle with these issues. I’d love to receive your feedback on them.

Write Happy!

To NaNoWriMo, or not to NaNoWriMo, that is the question

I first heard about NaNoWriMo two years ago from my friend who heads our Writer’s Group. The idea of writing 50,000 words (an entire novel) in thirty days was both exciting and terrifying. As luck would have it, I had been kicking around an idea for a great novel. NaNoWriMo seemed like a good way to get the story out of my head and onto paper.

Before NaNoWriMo, I wrote short stories and children’s stories of picture book length. I had never heard of outlining a novel which might have been helpful for my first NaNoWriMo experience. Undaunted, I began writing near the end of the book leading up to the scene that was the catalyst for the whole novel. That’s when I realized I need to go back to my character’s beginning. My first experience with NaNoWriMo was a jumbled mess.

I reached my goal of 50,000 words but didn’t have a complete novel. There was more to the story than I originally thought. The rest of the year was spent creating those portions while editing and chucking large sections of what I wrote for NaNoWriMo. I began to wonder if my November efforts had all been for naught when NaNoWriMo rolled around again. What to do?

I cheated again. I used the 50,000 word goal to keep writing new stuff my novel needed and editing what I had written last year. Perhaps the Deities of NaNoWriMo would smack my fingers with a ruler for this, but I justify what I did with the explanation that at least I wrote.

This year marks the third NaNoWriMo since I first participated. I didn’t join. I also didn’t use it as a motivational tool for rewrites and editing. I let myself off the hook with the understanding that my schedule and novel were in different places than what NaNoWriMo required. In short, I didn’t have the time and there wasn’t anything new to write or edit to meet the word count. I also didn’t want to start another novel when I already had one under way.  I’m not sorry for having tried NaNoWriMo, and I’ll probably do it again. In the meantime, I shall continue working on my second round of editing and looking for beta readers.

If you’re trying to decide whether or not NaNoWriMo is for you, consider the following article by Christopher Shultz. He’s much more eloquent in his explanation of what one needs to consider before jumping feet first into NaNoWriMo without knowing what it’s all about. I agree with his opinion that one should make NaNoWriMo work for him/her and that it isn’t a ‘must’ or ‘mustn’t’ situation in the life of a writer.

Blood-Red Pencil: Things That Drive An Editor Crazy

Today’s advice comes from The Blood-Red Pencil, a weblog hosted by a team of editors.  The post I’m sharing was written specifically by Maryann Miller, author and freelance editor.  Her post originally ran October 7, 2008.  I know you’ll find her advice is every bit as relevant today.  Enjoy! 

Blood-Red Pencil: Things That Drive An Editor Crazy.

Advice on Character Description

Nine times out of ten, when I find a piece of good writing advice on the Internet, the link directs me to K.M. Weiland’s website, Helping Writers Become Authors. And just as many times, I’m in agreement with what she has to say.

Like a carpenter stocking his toolbox with quality tools, my goal is to fill up my Writing Toolbox with valuable advice, tips, suggestions, etc. In turn, I want to share what I found with people who are seeking assistance with their own writing.

Most of the posts I put in my Writing Toolbox have been created by the owners of the sites to which I link. I will always indicate the website/blog name and owner (if known). When I create the post on my own, I’ll let you know.

So, with that being said, it is my very great privilege to share K.M. Weiland’s advice on ‘4 Ways to Make Readers Instantly Loathe Your Character Descriptions.’

Why Aren’t You Following My Blog?

In the spirit of the attached article, I would like to ask my Facebook friends and Twitter Community: “Why aren’t you following my blog!”

Authors are required to promote themselves long before they ever publish a book. Long before final revisions, query letters, and agent searches, authors must “sell” their “product” to a potential audience. I can tell you that most authors/writers do NOT have a degree or background in marketing. This makes the task much more daunting. With the advent of social media, authors can build a “platform” to accomplish the above-mentioned tasks. This is where you come in.

I’m offering each of you the opportunity to join me from the ground up. My promise to you is free, quality writing delivered straight to your inbox. Most of you are already perusing various social media sites. With my blog, you won’t have to search for high-quality content in various places. My blog features short stories, non-fiction blogging about the quirks of family life, and interesting articles used while researching my novel, The Secrets of Dr. John Welles. I also promise to not bombard your inbox with chain e-mails, offensive jokes, pictures of my kid and pets, or boring accounts of what I ate for breakfast.

In closing, thank you for your support during my journey from pre-published author to New York Times Best-Selling Author. ~ HL Gibson

“If You Don’t Ask, You Don’t Get”

The Boxes in Which We Put Ourselves

The Writer Has the Last Word

The Writer Has the Last Word

It is my very great pleasure to share an article by Mela Saylor of The Greater Canton Writers’ Guild, Inc.  The following article was featured in the September newsletter.  Information regarding the Guild can be found at:  http://cantonwritersguild.org/

Mrs. Saylor’s personal blog can be found at:  http://paintandpens.blogspot.com/

The Boxes in Which We Put Ourselves ~ Mela Saylor

First time writers are always told “write what you know” and they dive into their pool of knowledge head first, taking their first tentative strokes with their pens. But after a few years and many laps of swimming in that subject matter, writers may feel the need to expand. To be brave, writers must get out of the pool and take a dive into the ocean.

Explore new topics, learn new things. 

The world of writing is vast, and I find that exciting – and there’s no need to stay on the same topic all the time. To be honest, your readers might be bored hearing the same topic all the time. Understandably, writers may discover they have a tendency to stay within certain comfort zones. But it is always good to step out of what we so often find ourselves writing. Learn something new and play with ideas – push them around, see how far they’ll stretch. We do need to keep in mind that there is a difference between having a recurrent theme and redundancy.

Writers may wish to ask themselves what they have learned as a writer this past year – your writing needs to grow right along with you. If your writing doesn’t grow, if it stays the same, it becomes stale. Make a promise to yourself to take a chance or two with your writing style and subject matter, explore and reach out into new horizons. Starting something new – topic, idea or story line – is exciting and keeping to what you’ve done before is limiting. Take a chance. Who knows where you’ll go.

Literacy and Democracy

Reading and writing, like everything else, improve with practice. And, of course, if there are no young readers and writers, there will shortly be no older ones. Literacy will be dead, and democracy—which many believe goes hand in hand with it—will be dead as well. ~Margaret Atwood

Since I began working at the library, I have seen a decline in the quality of books for children and teenagers.  I have even witnessed a decline in the value of those being read by adults, and it shocks me.  There is very little worth in the written word lately.

My concern is that authors aren’t putting out their best work for the sake of their readers.  I find it hard to believe that some writers are actually proud of what they are producing.  Rather, it seems as if turning a quick buck is the goal.  Again, this is cause for concern.

As a writer, I lay this burden at my own feet first.  My goal is to write a book that will engage my potential audience.  I dream about my novel becoming a classic, but, at the very least, I want to give readers something to chew on mentally.  Even if I create a book that’s just a good story, I work to make sure it’s well written.

What we feed our minds is as important as what we feed our bodies.  I’ll admit that I love a good dessert as much as the next person.  However, even desserts come in varying degrees of quality.  Then again, so does much of what we eat to sustain ourselves.  What I mean is, a diet of garbage from fast food restaurants isn’t going to provide what our bodies need.  I could probably live a better life eating my mother’s homemade desserts all the time, not that I would.

The same is true with what we choose to read.  I can’t fill my mind with endless garbage and expect to increase my knowledge and/or awareness of the world around me.  Too much cotton candy for the brain will render me useless.  I’ll die without anything of value to read.  This is the point where someone will want to debate who assigns value to what is being written and read.

But just for a moment, let’s be logical.  A steady stream of unintelligent reading is harmful.  Like cotton candy, it’s fun for the moment, but it won’t sustain you.  Train your brain to crave the weightier reads the way you teach your body to desire healthy food.  I promise you, there are no negative side effects to nourishing your mind.

As for the link to democracy, even if someone lies to you about a situation, you will know better because you took the time to read and find out.  You will not be led around by the nose.  You’ll be mentally strong enough to meet their attempted deception head on.  You will understand what is being said to you.  What’s more, you’ll be prepared to fight back.

So I implore you:  seek out quality reading.  Treasure it and share it with the upcoming generations.  Write the very best you have to offer.  By providing worthy literature, poetry, screenplays, etc., you will leave a foundation for the youth.  In return, they will know how to take care of you in your golden years as well as prepare for the generation coming up under them.

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