Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Tron-tastic

I went to see Tron Legacy today and it was about four thousand times better than I thought it would be. This was surprising because Hollywood has a way of resurrecting old, good things and remaking them into new, bad things.

This isn't to say the original Tron was top-notch. We're talking about a technological movie from the early eighties. How good can that really be? But after seeing Legacy in 3D at IMAX, let's just say I was impressed. Big time. Normally, I don't recommend movies. But, this one was different.

Now, I've already mentioned in an old post that you should never begin writing after having watched a movie and I am not encouraging that here!  What I am encouraging is for you to see what a story -- a good story -- is all about, and how it might just help you with your writing too.

  • It is Transformational: This story was all about THE story. You know, kid loses parents, finds out he has special gift/powers to help this other "world" from being destroyed, overtaken, etc, gains understanding and friends, and ... our hero transforms: he is a new creation and has a new meaning in life. Moral: This story concept, however many times repeated, if done right, makes a great story. (Star Wars, Harry Potter, Lord of the Rings.)

  • It is Tribulation: This is where the hero has to learn and adapt in order to become a better person. And it's where the movie did a decent job. Sam Flynn has to immediately adapt in order to survive, mesh into a new world, and save his father. Our unlikely hero also has to, ultimately, risk losing him too. All of these are elements needed for a good story. And they're in this movie.

  • It is Triumphant: I won't tell you how the story ends, but I will say that the movie shows battles, gives the characters goals to reach and hurdles to jump over in order to gain victory. That's the essence of a great story.

  • It is Truthful: I don't mean in the sense of actual Truth. This movie is as far-fetched as me making it into the grid through my old Atari game console. But a timeless move transcends eras. We get truth here; we see the battle between good and evil, free will and the desire for perfection. (This is where the Jesus theme sort of pops into the story, but that's a whole different kind of grid).

  • It is Tripled: So, it's true that most movies -- ones that do well--come in threes. I'm expecting Legacy to have a follow up, since there was major room for various interpretations in the end. And if it is anything like the second one, I am all for it.
Maybe it was because I hadn't seen a movie in ages, or was getting over an illness. Or maybe it was because the movie brought back fond memories of my youth. Regardless, glowing lights in a digital world filled with motorcycles, sweet fight moves and a decent dance track was something that left me wanting more and wondering: How old will Jeff Bridges be in the next film?

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Sickness Can Improve Your Writing

Sorry for the delay in posts. I have been sick with the flu, and am still recovering. But, I finally feel like I can sit up at the computer without falling over ... hence, this blog post.

Even though lying down was my main goal through this ordeal, I had time to think about the benefits of being sick. I know. There aren't many. But, trying to be positive does come in handy because I came up with several things to improve my writing skills all whilst wrapped in blankets and coughing my lungs out.

Here's how your flu symptoms can help you:
  • Fever: I don't know if you've ever noticed this, but some fantastic ideas for stories come to me via a fever. Maybe it's the delirium or that parts of the brain come alive when they are on fire, but I came up with a great idea for a book, and I may even write it ... now, if only I could remember what it was.
  • Achy Body: Ever wondered how to describe your heroine's heartache and pain? Or your protagonists climactic dual with his evil nemesis? Try explaining the pain that comes with an achy body and put them in your text. There are words you could use to describe it that you haven't learned yet! Bust out a thesaurus, and get busy describing. It's great for the vocab and great for describing to the doc how you truly feel.
  • Chills: You know how you're supposed to describe that killer snow scene, filled with cold cliffs and icy roads, but it's in the middle of summer at your house? Well, chills are great for not only cooling you off but reminding you how to explain the climate. And what about chills in winter? Well, if you want to know what the antarctic feels like, then there you go. A great setting for your newest thriller!
  • Cough: So, having a cough is lame. Yes, if you're lucky, you may acquire a six-pack over time. The down side is you won't get to appreciate it when you're well because your significant other will have smothered you with a pillow for some peace and quiet. But, a cough is beneficial. How? You learn the difference between empty and dry ones to productive ones, or even simple tickle-type ones. It's good for your new mystery-- the one where the killer's cough implicates himself.
  • Bloodshot Eyes/pink eye: The only benefit? You'll look like a vampire. And tell me, who doesn't want this trendy look?
So, think of your cold as a good thing. You'll learn tons about your future characters emotions and feelings and also gain some scenery and setting for your new work. It's learning to be thankful in all things. And not to mention, Nyquil is an awfully nice friend to sit with you through those long nights.

Sunday, December 12, 2010

“A Cup of Blah To Go, Please.”

I was in Starbucks yesterday and over heard a man talking about a book he’s writing. His subject? How we all view things in different perspectives. I was immediately interested, not just because I like hearing about fellow writers and their material, but because he seemed so confident about his subject. I wondered what he meant by it.

He went on to explain, to the woman listening, that “For example, you may look at your cup and see it as a nice drink, or whatever. But, when I look at it, I think of all the resources required to make it, and how it has negatively impacted our environment, etc.” You get the idea.

I wanted to dump my drink onto his head and ask, “Aren't you grateful for anything?”

Normally, these things don’t bother me. I respect people’s opinion -- even if I don’t agree with it. This is what freedom is all about. But, what he was “trying” to explain -- or even defend -- wasn’t rational.

Here he was in a peaceful establishment, one filled with people so blessed --including himself-- that they could go in and buy a days’ worth of groceries for a family of three on ONE cup of coffee, plug his laptop into an outlet that sucked gobs of electricity, all the while sniffing that the very place he was in and enjoying was bent on putting our earth in the dump.

Really? Besides, doesn’t Starbucks use recycled materials for their paper cups already? How “green” does one have to be to be considered green?

And if he was so concerned about Starbuck’s adding emissions to the air, and waste into the earth, what was he doing there anyway? He should be at home, in the dark and the cold (because he isn’t using heat or electricity) writing by hand (no PC to plug in) and by candlelight, using a ceramic mug he can wash over and over. And then maybe I’d believe his words.

What’s worse? His subject wasn’t a new concept. Any editor would roll their eyes and say “Been there done that. Pass” We have enough literature and propaganda about keeping the earth green. I have enough commercials, paper advertisements, reusable bags and recycling cans to remind me constantly to keep the earth green. I keep my thermostat at 67 in the winter (or lower) recycle every glass or plastic item I use in the house, turn off electricity, and still … someone else wants to write about how my paper cup is ruining the world?

I’m not buying it. His words or the book. Until green people truly insist on being green--not just through driving a Prius or using recyclable shopping bags -- then I just DON’T BUY their unsubstantiated words. I do my part, but I am also grateful for everything I have right now: the freedom to drink at a café without wondering if a suicide bomber will come in, to peruse the internet without restriction, to write what I feel without being thrown in jail, and drink my coffee with thanksgiving and joy… before the price of coffee goes up again.

Remember these three things: 1. Actions always speak louder than words. 2. Real writers don't "write" in Starbucks. And 3. most writers know to write something more original ... like "How Our Over-greening the World Made Us Wish We'd Never Listened to Al Gore."

Monday, December 6, 2010

Three Steps to a Great Story

Today we have another fabulous guest post by author Lori Sinclair, writing about her experiences for our column "Good Things Come from Threes." Enjoy!

Good Things Come From Threes - Three Steps to a Great Story

There is something almost magical about the number three. It has captured our attention as few other numbers have. From the time we are children and learn nursery rhymes such as Three Blind Mice, and The Three Little Pigs, to our adulthood when we are mesmerized by Larry, Curly, and Moe, or the latest trilogy at the box office, the number three is always a guiding presence. We hang out together like the Three Musketeers, and when someone is not welcome they feel like a third wheel.

Why is this?

I took a screenwriting class a few years ago. They taught that everything should be written in a strict Three-Act-Structure. This includes novels, short stories, screenplays, and even magazine and newspaper articles. For any story to be complete it has to have a very distinctive beginning, middle, and an end. The instructor felt that this was somehow connected to the Biblical meaning of the number three. It means “complete”, “entire”, or “finished”. Like a three leaf clover, God has three parts: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. In all three parts, He is complete. We are somehow programmed or engrained that when the third piece of something comes around, then we are done. And, so it is with our writing as well.

The Beginning: An introduction. This should comprise 25% of your writing, or word allotment. This is where you set up your story, your characters, or your point of view for articles. To quote Kevin Costner from Robin Hood, Prince of Thieves, “and so it begins.”

The Middle: The biggest part of your writing. Like middle age, it is where all of the problems come in. This is where your conflict and drama takes place. It should comprise 50% of your writing, and will be the most intense. Throughout this time your readers should be on the edge of their seats for suspense pieces, make all of your arguments for documentaries and articles, or fall deeply and passionately in love for you romantics out there.

The End: Your conclusion. This will be the remaining 25% of your storyline. This is where you will tie up all of your loose ends. All of your arguments or points should be made, and the story brought to its natural conclusion. If you have a “happily ever after” ending, this is where that will be brought forth. For mysteries or thrillers, here you will reveal your culprits, or make your plot twists that keep everyone entranced. Ideally these will be in the last few pages of your story, but that depends on the ebb and flow of your writing. You also do not want a reader to be able to pick up your book from the shelf, flip to the very last page, and see how it all comes out. Waiting that long can drag out the suspense for too long. You run the risk of losing your reader’s attention. Keep your pace consistent with the story.

Of course, these are just estimates, but you get the point. Without all of these three pieces together, your writing will be incomplete at least, muddled and confused at worst.

“Good things come from threes” is a great theme for any writer. Breaking it down even more, with good plotting and writing, publication will follow, making the cycle complete.

Happy Writing!

Loretta Sinclair











Check out Lori Sinclair's latest Christmas book with a free copy!

Ho, Ho, Hey! What Just Happened?

Holiday enlightenment from an overworked Santa and his testy crew.

Sinclair Publishing, © 2010

Saturday, November 27, 2010

Five (more) Reasons to Write

I did it. The NaNoWriMo, that is. Instead of traveling the pathways of retail with throngs of shoppers, I was inside my house the day after Thanksgiving, writing.

Truthfully, I didn't think I could do it towards the last twenty thousand words or so ... actually, it was more like I didn't think I wanted to do the last twenty thousand. After all, it meant I would have to edit the ugly monster if it went anywhere. And, I think the story may have lacked compelling characters and perfect plot. (Also known as "major issues" with the story.)

But here's the cool part: I have a "book" completed. Hurrah! Not that I'll ever let it grace the eyes of an innocent and unassuming reader. Maybe not even myself, either. Do you know how much groaning and eye-rolling that would require?

Whatever I choose to do (probably leave it on my PC for a long time), here are five things I learned while writing (even 50k words in less than a month) and why it can be good for you too.
  1. You are superwoman (man): Really, writing is tough. We have to come up with something worthy to write about and actually make it sound good. The awesome thing about NaNoWriMo is that my work can read horribly, be so grammatically incorrect and as interesting as a piece of toast, and we are called winners! It's great to feel like superwoman (even if it only lasts a few seconds.)
  2. You learn how to be creative: Making your story come alive is a great way to fuel creativity, especially if you can't afford anything. How? Well, things that you can't do, because lack of funds make it unallowable, is allowable in writing. We live vicariously through our characters, go to places we never visit in real life, and overcome obstacles (that the characters overcome) that we would never have to. That's creative! And hey, maybe applicable to your life one day.
  3. You learn how to be disciplined: This is huge, and a reason why something like only 10% of the NaNoWriMo writers actually complete their novel. It takes an odd sort of dedication to finish something that fast. But this discipline is like using a muscle; once you repeat it enough, it becomes something habitual and useable! I'm learning how to meet deadlines (even if semi-fictitious) learning how to do something I don't want to do (just like exercise) and stretching myself to be a better writer by using these brain "muscles."
  4. You learn that writing is freeing: This is true, you know. Again, like reason number 2, we get to be creative with our art. Writing is almost like being able to live out things we want to say, or do or be, but we don't have to really do it. My back hurt the day after I finished writing my book. Hadn't hurt all month. Do I think this had to do with not being able to free my thoughts? I think so. Free your thoughts, free youself.
  5. You learn to drink lots of coffee without noticing: Okay, so this isn't necessarily a good thing. But I love coffee, so it isn't bad either. Can't tell you how many hundreds of cups of the black stuff I drank and how many times I wondered where it disappeared to. Many writers attest to the disappearance of the drink to some time/space continuum; one they find themselves lost in while immersed in their writing. I fully agree with that theory.
Writing is a wonderful thing, even if it's within the context of a crazy competition, and I'm (hopefully) becoming a better writer. Now, what about you? If you've done NaNo, or just want to share with us your latest endeavor, please do. We are all learning.

Happy writing!

Monday, November 22, 2010

Translation and Writing: So Happy Together

My guest post today is from Anne Goff, writer and translator who has some great points to make about translation and why we need to think about it when writing. Enjoy!

We're Not So Different, You and I

When I got my degree in translation and when I started working as a translator, I had to deal with a lot of confusion and misunderstanding from my friends and family. I still do. Topping the list of questions I face:

- Just what does a translator do anyway?

And

- Why on earth would you want to be one?

Today, I want to answer question number one. A translator takes a text that is written for one audience and rewrites it for a different audience. In essence – a translator is a writer. All writing is translation and translators are writers who work in two different languages.

“But,” you say, “I’m a writer! I don’t translate!” Are you sure? Really? As a writer you are always thinking of your target audience. (And if you’re not, you should be.) This awareness will impact every word you put on paper.

Let’s illustrate with a story. – A man goes to a party. A lot of alcohol is consumed at this party and tempers flare. A gun is drawn and the man is shot.

Now, how would you tell this story? You don’t know. You can’t. Not until you know who your audience is. Think how differently you will approach this story if your audience is a high school classroom, a roomful of sociologists, an executive of a major motion picture company… The original story may be translated into a morality tale; a case study; or an intense, high-drama, action scene. Each of these translations requires a different vocabulary, a different register, a different final text.

My thought process when translating is very similar. In translating a press release, the story of a company’s achievement, the facts don’t change, but the story does. As I tell such a story to an American audience I will smooth the flowery flourishes of the original French into the calm professionalism appropriate to business communications in the United States.

I cannot be a good translator without being a good writer. And you? You can’t be a good writer without being a good translator. There are a million ways one person can misunderstand another; our job is to translate our source texts, our stories, our thoughts into something our readers will understand and appreciate.

Do you think your job is easier than mine? After all, you’re only contending with one language. I wouldn’t be so quick to dismiss the translative aspects of writing. In the words of Bernard Webber:

Entre
Ce que je pense
Ce que je veux dire
Ce que je crois dire
Ce que je dis
Ce que vous avez envie d'entendre
Ce que vous croyez entendre
Ce que vous entendez
Ce que vous avez envie de comprendre
Ce que vous croyez comprendre
Ce que vous comprenez
Il y'a dix possibilités qu'on ait des difficultés a communiquer.
Mais essayons quand même...


Or, in English:

Between
What I think
What I want to say
What I believe I say
What I say
What you want to hear
What you believe you hear
What you hear
What you want to understand
What you believe you understand
What you understand
There are ten possibilities that we’ll have difficulties communicating.
But let's try anyway, shall we?

Translation and writing both attempt the impossible – to communicate not the words, but the ideas of one mind to another. Impossible, right? See, therein lies the fun. But now I’m answering the wrong question. What was I supposed to be saying? Oh, right – a translator is a writer!

-Anne













Happy writing.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Will (Not) Work For Free (Forever)

There is a time and place to write for free. I think we all understand that. And there's a time to acquire your skill, be a lowly intern -- basking in the bottom-dwelling ranks of the work place -- and we're generally okay with it because we know that's how it works; that's how we get to be paid one day -- and of course, how we hope to move up to a slightly higher rung of the ladder.

However, there comes a time, when we get past that; where we are at the higher rung, and now looking down at those below us with a smile. When and if we work pro-bono, it's because we're helping someone else, or we feel the cause is so worthy, we just have to donate our time or risk feeling like a loser.

I have a writer-friend, who also happens to be a snazzy French-to-English translator, who has her own business AEG Translations-- in other words, she's a PROFESSIONAL. Also meaning, she gets paid to do the job; the one she studied and worked hard for. Yet, to her dismay and the absolute hilarity of it all, she seems to get a lot of people asking her to work for them ... for free.

Her rebuttal to the latest request was on her blog, and I laughed and agreed so much, that I had to repost it. No, she didn't actually send this reply (I don't think) but it sure made me smile.

Here it is:

Dear John,
Thank you for the message! I am happy to provide test translations to potential clients. I understand that this is a test translation, that I will not be paid for this work, and that it does not guarantee that I will ever receive paying work from you. I know how important it is to verify that the people you work with can perform as promised.

To that end, while I'm working on the test translation, there is something that I need you to do. In order to ensure that clients can meet payment deadlines and that there will be no problems with the chosen payment method, I require a test payment from all new clients. To make sure that your account has not been flagged by the chosen payment service the test payment will need to represent a reasonable sum of money. Please send US$600 to my account before the end of the business day tomorrow. (This test payment is non-refundable.) My payment information is included at the end of this email.

I'm sure you will understand why such measures are necessary.
I look forward to working with you!
Sincerely,
Anne

If you too have had one of these "experiences," share it! We'd love to hear about it. Anne, thanks for writing out what we really want to say sometimes.

-HJS

Monday, November 8, 2010

Good Things Come From Threes - Guest Post by Kimberly Rempel

Today's a great day for a guest post. Why? Because I get to host a post written by author Kimberly Rempel, whose book Beauty in Darkness is now out and ready to read. (Oh, and I'm still working on my NaNoWriMo so this post is perfect timing).

I've decided to start a column called "Good Things Come from Threes," because it's true. You've heard the phrase "Third time's the charm," right? Well, I find that answers I'm looking for in work and home -- even answers I'm not looking for-- usually get verified in a process of three affirmations. (Though sometimes, they're not good.)

It's no different for a writer. There is easily a zillion combinations of three things that can propel you to write, edit and have your book published.

It's just a matter of making sure to recognize what they are! Take a look.

Good Things Come from Threes -The Path to Publication

First, thank you Heather for your invitation to guest post. I’m so excited to share the top 3 things that helped me become a published writer. The release of my first book,  has caused me to look back a lot. The project spanned a couple of decades (wow … now I feel old) so I needed to look back - to reconnect with what I’d written, and to remember the things that helped me along the way.

Publishing Beauty in Darkness has taught me a lot already. Marketing however, is a whole other story. I just want to quickly share with you the synopsis: “Glimpse a soul exposed, explore truth and observe heart secrets. And somewhere between cigarettes, germs and baby toes, as we examine this soul open before us, we see in ourselves the need for Beauty In Darkness.

If you’d like to get your hands on a copy of this highly praised collection, email me at dawn123@mts.net. We can send it straight to you ($15 including shipping), or you can get in on the blog tour coming up, and generate traffic to your blog while getting your copy for FREE.

Okay, enough of that. Here are the 3 biggest things that helped me to become a published writer.

Writing Mentor: Many moons ago when I was still a closet writer, I happened to discover that one of my customers was a writer. She took an interest, and we arranged monthly meetings where she would critique my work. I had shown my work to family before, and received the "Atta girl" I hoped for, but it hadn’t helped me to improve my writing.

But this woman pushed me. She questioned each word, painstakingly evaluated the sound, rhythm and implication of each stanza. She taught me basic writing rules: "show, don’t tell" and "involve all 5 senses," as well as "Use short, concise sentences." She was ruthless. My writing improved dramatically.

Writers’ Club: Soon I got up the nerve to join an out-of-town writers’ club and later even co-founded a local one. The critiques received in those meetings are priceless! I am continually pushed to excel, to improve, to persevere. It’s amazing to hear each writer give their unique critique of a work. I learn so much from what others contribute – and my writing toolbox continues to grow.

It’s daunting to lay your words on the altar of another’s critical eyes. (i.e. – writers’ club critique time) One of the big lessons I learned right at the beginning was that it is the words that are critiqued, not the person. Phewf!

Deadlines: Perhaps it’s the procrastinator in me, but I work best under deadlines and pressure. My face may contort and speech become little more than distracted grunts, but I sure get writing done! Without deadlines, I tend to float around convincing myself that "I’ll get to it yet." Yeah, right. One author advocates that writing happens not by waiting on epiphany or timing, but by "applying butt to chair." Yes, yes it does. And deadlines are the glue that helps me apply butt to chair. Nice image, I know. Classy.

So those are my ‘top 3’. I’d love to hear what works for others! Maybe locking oneself in a room for 30 days until 50,000 words form a story is one of those priceless motivators…

-Kimberly Rempel


Tuesday, November 2, 2010

NaNoWriMo--What is that?

Yeah, I thought the same thing too: What kind of weird name is NaNoWriMo?

It’s weird because it stands for National Novel Writing Month. And it’s something I kept seeing a lot of my writing friends sign up for in the month of October. Did that make them as weird as the name for doing this too? Yes and no.

While I’d heard about this “contest” over the years, I wasn’t too sure about it. After all, it’s about writing 50,000 words in 30 days. Not only is that grueling, but it’s also demoralizing.

Seriously, can you image how bad the material is after 30 days of (no-holds-bar, no-looking-back without editing) writing? Pretty horrendous. But then, that’s what the month of December is for: to correct the hideous beast one might want to call a manuscript.

Why am I blogging about this? Because I think I might just dive into the month-long craziness and do it for myself too. Well, it's more than maybe, because I’ve already signed up!

Yes, I’m way too busy. Yes, it’s madness. Yes, it’s something that I might fail miserably at and not even finish. But hey, since when has that mattered before?

I know how to fail (easily the winner in my family), I’m busy anyway (yeah, kids, dog, husband, house and work just isn’t enough), and I’m a writer (I’ve already been diagnosed as mad. And it's irreversible. I mean, really, who in their right mind would write for a living?)

But, you know what? I can fail forward. I plan on learning tons this month about the writing process.

I do, however, have a couple of things to ask you to honor:

1. Don’t ask me what I’m writing about. I have no clue.

2. Don’t ask for snippets of it to dissect. Even I won’t do that to myself until Dec.

3. Forgive my absence, as blog posts become less frequent. Hopefully I’ll have lots of tasty morsels to write about when I’m done with this project.

4. Sign up like me! It’s not too late. We’ll get great practice, have great fun, and become great insane, individuals wondering what the heck we were thinking when we’re done.

I’m already a day late in starting the book that I don’t know how to write, so I better get crackin'. Happy writing to you too. This might be the best way to get that “idea” for a book out on paper. There’s nothing like now to do what you’ve always wanted!

Monday, November 1, 2010

Voting and You

For me, voting is a complete privilege and an amazing freedom. It’s also a responsibility that I think we as free (as of now) Americans have to participate in order to keep our freedom. Most of the time when I hear about government, politics or campaigning, I don’t think of my simple vote as integral to the "pushing forth" of what I want to see. Yet, how can I not think that it is? If multitudes of people feel as I do, and I know they do, then we’re missing out on making a difference if we don't vote.

However, plenty of people don’t feel this way. They’re disillusioned by the past (Nothing has changed, so why make the effort?) Some think voting is a waste of time (Hey, I’m just one vote. Big deal). But maybe that’s because they’re not passionate enough about their philosophy? Maybe they’re not passionate enough about having a voice because freedom doesn’t mean much to them anymore? Have we forgotten that we GET to have a voice here in the USA?

Even if we don’t like any of the candidates, it doesn’t mean we can’t find a way to get a great candidate for the next election through our selection right now. By not voting, we’re letting other voters choose our future for us. Even if you think that’s fine and dandy today, what happens when you finally feel you need your voice heard? That door may already be closed.

All I know is that in the past (I do absentee now), when I got to my polling place, I didn’t fear someone would bomb it. I didn’t fear that other people would shun me, come after me, hound me or shoot me, all because of how I voted. We still live in a place that allows major freedoms in our voting system. We get to vote --to choose --what we think is right for our country and not what a king dictates for us to choose as it once was for us, hundreds of years ago -- and unbelievably, still is in other parts of the world.

Your freedom to vote is a luxury. If the government isn't to your liking, or even if it is, exercise your right to make a difference in whatever way you want. Do it for your fellow Americans. And most of all, do it for your own conscience and soul.

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Puppies and Sly Dogs

I seriously thought about writing a blog post about my new dog. Because, hey, that’s a huge deal. A puppy is like a toddler. And a toddler, to any family, can be stressful.

But I hadn’t figured out yet if there was a literary angle to this potential puppy post; like if having a dog made me write better, faster or worse, or not at all since I spend more time training, feeding and playing with her than anything else. But I didn’t get to think that far ahead. The blog post wasn’t to be about my dog. Sorry puppy.

It was to be about the break-in at my house. Yes, it was the real deal. The thief entered our (locked) home, rifled through our things just hoping for something good. Fortunately for us, and unfortunately for him, we didn’t have anything valuable in the house, other than the kids, and they were both at school.

I’m sure he thought he would get in and out scot-free. After all, he had thievery down to a science since he’d just tried the same trick down our street minutes before. He parked his car in our driveway and that was key to breaking in (excuse the pun). If people see a car in the driveway, they think we know the person. Very sly.

He had to be on his way out when we arrived because when my husband confronted him -- after noticing not only the car but also two of our house doors wide open -- the burglar politely told my husband, “Sorry Sir, I didn’t take anything. I’m just going to leave.”

Yeah, um, when someone breaks into your house, and he calls you sir, it doesn’t change the fact that you want the idiot to be responsible for his actions! This is when my husband grabbed him and they wrestled all the way outside. The punk jumped our fences, grabbed his own wallet from his car (don’t know how he had time to think of that) and ran.

I got to make the wonderful 911 call. I’ve never called them before in my life. That was all for 48 Hours Mystery, or someone else. But I did it, and it was rather frantic. Afterall, I was watching my husband try to keep the dude from bolting, give a physical description, remain calm and talk rationally. Not easy.

The bad guy got away. But not for long. We positively identified him. Would you be shocked to know he was on parole for burglary? Yeah, mind numbing. The police are picking up the dummy as I write. On a good note: it was cool to see CSI at our house. Of course, it was nothing like the fake show. But still, very cool. All the police and sheriff were awesome too.

Lesson: Keep the puppy out of her kennel when we’re gone, even if it means she’ll tear apart her bed, rip up the doormat and euphorically pick apart my houseplant, leaf by leaf. My dog barks. That’s a good thing. Had she been out of her kennel, the perpetrator would’ve never come in.

Was it terrifying? Yes. Are we better prepared in keeping safe in the future? Yes. And for me, I already know everything works together for good. Even the bad stuff. Angels were watching over us. And most importantly, the thief didn’t carry a weapon. Had he? Well, this blog post wouldn’t even be happening. Oh, and if anything else good came from it, it’s fodder -- heck, nothing beats real life experiences-- for a great story.

Saturday, October 23, 2010

Recycling Your Ideas

Have you ever had a wonderful idea for a book but when you got it on paper, things (i.e. the ENTIRE story) just sort of fell flat? The characters weren’t as deep as you’d like, the storyline not as punchy as you intended and as for actual material, well, just imagining writing another seventy thousand words made you break out into a sweat.


If this sounds like you, then stop what you’re doing. This is the part when you don’t force yourself to write all because you though it should be a story. If you do, in a matter of days --if not hours -- you’re going to dread it. Your work will not only become laborious, but the very zeal and gusto you once had for the idea will fall so flat you’ll ponder your sanity for coming up with the idea in the first place.

I’ve done this before, and not five thousand words into it, I wondered if there was hope enough that the story would be something even I would want to read in the end.

So, what’s the solution? Well, don’t instantly think you have to scrap the story all because it’s dead in the water. I’m a firm believer in not wasting anything. Scrap food goes to compost (or the new dog IF she’s lucky and well behaved), clothes are worn until there are real holes in the knees and pill balls on the sweater. Even the shampoo, that lasts longer than the conditioner, is saved for future use.

Instead of tossing the story, rework and recycle your material. What you intended for a novel, might be better used as a short story. A story you think would work great as a personal essay may instead work great as flash fiction. And what about that story you thought might make the best women’s fiction novel, which really needs to be a poem?

If something isn’t working right, don’t think of it as the short, happy life of a story never written. Set the work aside, think about it, and come back to it with fresh eyes later. If you still think you can’t make it the great American novel you wanted, then maybe you need to recycle it.

This has happened to me. What I thought would make a great book, ended up being a two-thousand-word short story. And this was after an outline, character names, and thought-out plot and progression. Finding the right “recycling bin” is sometimes all it takes to make your story the masterpiece it really is, even if that masterpiece is no longer a novel but an eight-line poem.

Try reusing your material for something else and watch your words reignite the spark you saw in your story from the very beginning. Not every story needs to be a book. Not every book needs to be a thriller or romantic comedy. Change things up. Try different genres. Maybe the nonfiction family memoir idea really needs to be a science-fiction short story.

Recycle your ideas -- be willing to change -- and your writing world will reinvent itself into something remarkable.

Happy writing!

Sunday, October 17, 2010

All Aboard!

Two days before I left for vacation, I was on the phone making reservations for the
Polar Express Train Ride.  What is that? Well, it's exactly what the name implies: a train ride based on the book The Polar Express, by Chris Van Allsburg.

I'd say that I was only doing this for my children, but that wouldn't totally be accurate. Something with this much hype had to be good for me too. At least I hoped so.


The Polar Express
Select cities all over America, and one in Canada, utilize trains (available from their railroad museums or railways) and transform them into replicas from the book -- complete with dancing waiters and hot chocolate. Passengers even get to wear their pajamas.

While I’d heard that this was an extraordinary event, one my kids couldn’t miss, what I wasn’t prepared for was the mad dash --the absolute insane intensity-- that every parent in my city dove into on October first at 9 in the morning. It was like getting tickets for the concert of a lifetime.

Thirty minutes, three phones and one computer later, we got through. Yes, that was three phones. I had one cell phone, the other hand was on the keyboard trying to navigate the slammed website, and my husband had the landline and his cell phone.

I’m happy to say we got tickets.

But I’m equally as happy to see how one simple book created so much excitement over trains and Christmas. While it helped that the movie was a success, furthering to promote the book, what’s even more fabulous is that a children's book is at the crux of the whole Polarpalooza.

When promotion includes children's reading, trains and family time, instead of television and video games, I’d say it’s an event worth talking about. And that it includes chocolate of some sort is a major bonus.

Now, for the real question: Do I really dare to wear pajamas on the train along with my kids?

Monday, October 11, 2010

Poetic Manna

Being away in Maui for a week is a little like getting a lobotomy. I can't think rightly or clearly, and no way can I give a passing thought to writing a blog post.

This is why it's absolutely perfect timing that I wrote a guest post before I left for vacation which is now at Write for Charity and up today!

Below is a little snippet of the blog post.


Just like “Autodidact,” the poem that Write for Charity picked for their wonderful book, From the Heart, I wrote “Motherhood is a like a Pacemaker” when one particular day seemed just a bit too overwhelming ; when I wondered if the work I was doing as a mother really counted for much.


Like this poem, motherhood sort of transcends the normal, yet is required to keep the normal. There are difficulties that motherhood presents to us at times — and yes, there are happiness and joys, rewards and fulfillment involved too — but the role of a mother is never easy. It always receives, yet it also requires. It always is, but has to be ready for was or will be … or just plain won’t.

Click here for the rest of the post and the poem.

-Heather

Thursday, September 30, 2010

When Not to Write

Okay, so you’ve all heard that a writer can write anytime he or she darn well pleases. And that writers should write whenever they can.

But what about times when writers shouldn’t write? Are there any rules for that, or is this just an excuse to use when there’s a deadline looming?

Sure, procrastination can be detrimental to your career. But maybe there are times when it’s not such a bad idea? That maybe stepping away from the computer can benefit your work?

Here’s a list of times when I know I should NOT write for fear of losing the Muse and my mind.

1. After I’ve submitted a manuscript.
This may seem counterintuitive, but it’s not. When you submit a manuscript, or an article or poem or hey, even a blog post, it’s time to celebrate! Time to focus on a job well done. Don’t start another novel. It squelches your current glory, well, at least mine anyway. Enjoy the satisfaction of hard work sent off into eager agent’s/editor’s hands- and then write.

2. After I’ve been out all day running errands.
This may seem dumb, but trust me, I lose my skills --or whatever you want to call it-- when I am out picking up groceries, having the car repaired, or running to Target. An errand or two, maybe I can get away with. But a half of a day? No way, doesn’t work. Because by the time I get my rear end in a chair, I CAN’T focus long enough before I have to start dinner, get kids to bed, etc. You see my predicament.

3. After I’ve seen a movie.
Wow, this is a weird one. But it’s also true too. There’s something about movies-- kind of like the very reason they make them-- that makes me want to write the next great story that every producer and director in Hollywood will want, which in turn everyone in the world will want to watch. Don’t do it! Write down an idea or two, and wait for the euphoria to pass. Then you can look at your notes … and throw them away.

4. After I’ve read the best book ever!
Very much like number three, do NOT try to write after you’ve read the best, heart wrenching, anxiety-ridden, edge-of-your-seat book. I’ve tried this before. All I ever write is garbage. Really. Because inevitably, I sound so much like the author I’ve just read that what ends up on my computer is a washed-out, copycat mess that no one -- and I mean no one -- should read. Read the book, let it simmer and then maybe in a day or two try to write. Maybe. Even then, that might be too soon.

5. After I’ve written for six days.
Take the seventh day off. Some people write five days a week, some write three. Whatever the amount, for God’s sake (no really, for God’s sake take a Sabbath) take the seventh day off and recuperate. I do this. It’s not only something to look forward to-- even though I love writing-- but it’s a chance to focus 100 percent on my family; something other than my work.

6. Before I’ve had my coffee.
Do I really need to elaborate on this one?

Now, get out there, and write --or not-- and see how some of your best stuff will show up with practice, education and more practice. Write on!

Friday, September 24, 2010

Characters That Work

I’ve heard countless times that agents, when looking for the next great manuscript and readers, looking for the next great read, want compelling characters. But, what does this mean? Compelling? And why have I never thought of characters as compelling when I can’t put the book down? Sure, these characters are amazing, and sometimes I want to be in the middle of the stories as if they were my own experiences. But why?


Compelling characters make me --force me-- to be in love with them as they find their way through trials or charge fearlessly down hidden hallways and dark forests. This makes for wonderful literature, and for fascinated readers. But how do we do this? How do authors create compelling characters -- ones that not only we want to read but others too -- and convince our readers that they should care about them?



Here’s a tiny list by which I try to strive:

  • Make them human: This is a given. And most writers would tell you this is. Give your character flaws that lots of people have or even flaws that only some of us have. Give us your poor and needy, and you’ve got a character most everyone can identify with. Fears, insecurities, bad habits. These human characteristics are all important for a true character, which in turn, makes them compelling.

  • Give them a goal: If the character isn’t striving to overcome a huge goal, or meddling with a huge personal sacrifice, what’s going to make me turn the pages? Why would I care about a perfect character without any goals? I wouldn’t. That’s a non-compelling character no one identifies with. Plot-less, character-less books don't make for happy readers. Give your characters goals, and you’ve got attractive people.

  • Give them a problem: I’ve heard this, most recently from Mary Kole from a Writeoncon “class,” to absolutely, without a doubt, give your characters a problem. In other words, what’s the worst possible thing that could happen to this person? Or take it the other way and figure out what’s the best thing that could happen? (which, should inevitably lead to a problem). This propels the story, makes more personal the character for the reader to relate to, and gives the writer awesome characters.

  • Make them learn: Don’t forget to make your character learn through this goal/problem that they overcame. If they’re worse off than when the story began, or didn’t learn a thing, talk about an unfulfilled reader! And really, as a writer, it should be unfulfilling for you if by the end of your story nothing's changed. Your characters, especially the protagonist, need to learn something about themselves and their world around them, in order to create not only a great story but satisfying characters.

If you utilize these four things, and yes there are many more layers to this list, it’s the basics for some amazing characters. And if you have compelling characters, then more importantly, you will have both agents and readers compelled to read your works.

-Heather


* This blog post would not be possible without the gentle coercion from Elana Johnson, writer, writing teacher (Writeoncon, Query Tracker Blog, and League of Extraordinary Writers) and amazing person. Thanks for the inspiration and for reminding me how to write compelling characters. *



Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Posting Productivity

For all of you procrastinating, I’ll-do-it-later, just-leave-me-alone people who are trying to find a way to become productive in your own life -- and a more organized member of your family-- perhaps I have the answer you’ve been waiting for.


This may come as a complete shock, but if you’re willing to buy a pack of Post-It Notes©, and a pen or pencil - anything that will create tangible writing (no, the computer monitor doesn’t count -- you need something you can actually scroll a pen over) you will find yourself fast becoming productivity’s friend. Are you ready? This is what you need to do:

Write down all the important things you need to do today.

Now, I can hear you thinking, “Whoa, hold on there. Don’t you think that’s a little too simple? I mean, lists? Come on, I thought you were going to give me a life-changing idea.”

But, I have. See, if you’re anything like me, I feel productive when I’ve accomplish something worthwhile to myself; something I place value in doing. I understand that this is subjective; that accomplishing something “worthwhile” for some is climbing Mt. Everest and for others, like me, it’s just getting on the treadmill for twenty minutes. But God gives us a certain amount of hours per day, and if we end that day without an accomplished goal, what exactly did we do with our time? Did we waste our time or spend it wisely?

The thing about lists is that they are the “to-do” not only for the day, but also for our future. By writing out what we need to do daily (wash the car, go to the gym, read two chapters of book) our goals are clear. We accomplish much, rather than wasting it doing frivolous and often-inconsequential things like checking our Facebook friends or staring endlessly into opened refrigerators.

Seeing your “to-dos” in front of you reminds you to check those things off until you’re done, and even possibly, make us feel a little guilty if we don’t.

To be honest, I didn’t believe in all this list “stuff” either. I saw my sister doing it and thought she was bonkers. But when I decided to do it for one day, I was amazed. I not only finished everything -- because suddenly it forced me to accomplish things rather than twiddle by thumbs -- but found myself irrevocably proud of what I’d done. If I could do this for one day, what would happen if I wrote a list out every day? What amazing things would I be able to achieve if I wrote out a list all the time?

Let’s get one thing straight though: lists don’t define you. Obviously, we don’t have to follow them to a T to be successful. But it’s a guide; a map to remind you where you are and where you want to go. A simple list, one with a few relevant “to-dos” that you can cross off when completed, (yes, this is very satisfying) is something you have to try once.

Lists are like a stepping-stone that help us reach our peak productivity because it forces us to figure out what’s important, and what’s not.

It’s a very simple concept. But this concept has the possibility to change your life for good. And who doesn’t need a good dose of change every now and then? Let me know how this works for you. Did you accomplish more with a list? Or, if it didn’t do a thing for you, why? Forward this to friends who you think need help (or those who don't, but just love sticky notes.) Tell me about it, and maybe we can all help each other become productive.

-Heather

Monday, September 13, 2010

From Not to Net

Networking. It's a tough job. And it’s a job that sometimes, though very beneficial, doesn't feel like it counts for much. After all, as my "punny" husband so kindly pointed out, there's only one little letter that turns "networking" into "notworking."


That got me thinking: Is networking really me not working? Then I asked myself - while I was busy throwing dagger-like glances at my husband: Just because I don't get paid for this, is it still considered real work?

I'd like to think that this work of finding people with similar interests to not only be friends with but become fellow blog followees, has helped me with my writing career; one that could potentially pay me a few dollars. As of now, it's all free; all my time and energy isn't compensated for. So in order to feel like I'm doing something worthwhile, I prefer to think of my time spent networking without pay as an internship; the whole paying-my-dues-before-I-get-paid thing. And not as “not-working.”

What I’ve found, through all of this networking, is that the friends I make (through Facebook, Twitter and the like) don’t join my list of “friends” as just another friend. They all count as friends; as real friendships. Yes, I have to spend time to make friends. And the old adage we heard growing up “in order to have friends, you must be a friend,” is relevant in this case too.

While I can’t know everyone like I know my true best friends, I understand that this friend-making isn't wasted time. They're friends whom I trust and rely on for help and they’re all from the online world. Without them, I couldn't have gotten this far; I'd never have had the nerve to take that step of faith and get my writing out there. The friends I'm following are in my best interest so that I can not only learn from them, but help them too. And hopefully, I’m their friend for the same reason. If not, well, that’s their problem.

Having a following of people who like my blog can't hurt a future in writing either. That’s a given. Unless, of course this following finds out that I really can't write. Then the answer is no, I’ll never have a career in writing, and now I just have a bunch of friends like me with common interests. But, that’s not exactly a bad alternative reaction to my endeavors, is it?

Everything I've done up until now -- reading, researching, seeking friends, mentors and like-minded writers or readers -- has taught me copious amounts about my career and field, especially from authors who've already been there and "done that." And if all I net are friends, then that's still time well spent.

Just because I’m not paid for this “work,” doesn’t invalidate it. If I trust my talents and time as productive and focus on the things I feel led to research, then I can learn from it all. "What is the answer then?" I hear you ask: Work your hardest, be a good friend, and you’ll reap a harvest when the season arrives. And think about this (written by the wise-writer Solomon) the next time you might think your networking is a waste of time: “All hard work brings a profit, but mere talk leads only to poverty” (Proverbs 14:23, NIV). Get busy networking.

For me, I’ll continue to network while I blog/write. But I’ll also stick to my day job, or rather, my husband’s job, as most of my writing and taking care of the kids -- last time I checked-- is still salary-free.

-Heather

Thursday, September 9, 2010

Ralphie and Glenn: Two Peas in a Pod?

Okay, this isn't a political statement, nor is it a way to jump start Christmas, but do you  notice a resemblance between these two people? Maybe it's just me, but they sort of look related.

Perhaps you're laughing, perhaps you agree, perhaps you think this is a waste of a blog post. Regardless, the first time I saw Beck with his glasses, I told my husband that he looked like Ralphie, you know, the kid from  A Christmas Story. And I still think he does.

No, this guest post has nothing to do with writing, and it's not really writer's food of any kind (well, maybe it is) but I suppose it is food for thought. The glasses give Ralphie such an endearing quality. And they do the same for Glenn.  Um ... I think. Or is that a bit of a stretch for some of you?  - Heather

Sunday, September 5, 2010

A Happy Medium

Ah, the paper and pen: that duo is such a powerful and magnificent reverence to our literary past. So much so for me, that I used to write only long hand in the early days of my "authorship." It’s how I thought true writers really should write because in all honesty, there’s something to be said for feeling the words lick off the ink or lead, throwing caution to the wind, and getting those words out at which to marvel. But, this was erroneous thinking, and the error was believing it was the only way to write.

I changed my thinking about this a few years ago when writer’s block was having at it with me. I decided to sit at the computer and write something, anything, that didn’t have to do with what I was currently stuck in with my paper canvas. Lo and behold, after typing away and finding paragraphs and pages of quick, good material appear, I realized I was beginning to understand how people wrote books solely on the computer. It was remarkable. What I first thought to be boring and bleak really had an amazing advantage. The biggest one? Ideas entered the page within seconds on the PC, versus minutes with handwriting. Having written papers long hand in school for years, and then transferred to the computer as a final draft, I didn’t actually think of starting a project on the computer screen to begin with. Oh, woe is me ... and to think I had been showing my age too!

With either method of writing, using both allows me to change my medium for variation -- to change the scenery if I’m having an “off” day -- yet still supplies me with the same outcome: finished, written material.

If you could only choose one method for writing, would you feel short-changed? I didn’t think I was. I felt superior really; being able to grab what I wanted to say onto paper with my snobberish notebook-buying, pen-purchasing club-of-one. But that was absurd. Because today, I love writing on the computer. In fact, this essay was written wholly on Microsoft Word© and I’m extremely happy about it.

Yet, I must divulge the drudgery of computer writing as well. There are times, when a blank screen tears at my creative soul, leaving me as pale and wan as the screen itself. Somehow, that white and dismal virtual piece of paper has the power to suck the creative juices out of me; like an electrical vampire, leaving me lifeless ... and just plain dumb.

That’s when I revert to my precious paper notebooks and put the bleached pulp to my nose, watching the ink flow out of the tip of the pen like a waterfall over the proverbial writer’s block mountain, down to the river of words. Yes, old ways die very hard indeed.

So which one do I choose? I don’t. I use both. Here’s the moral: don’t choose one medium over another to create your masterpiece. Your canvas is workable utilizing both methods. What do I do when neither of these methods creates a work of art? I stop, close the notebook (the real or the electrical one) and set my writing aside. I use that time instead to read and absorb other people’s words, their style and flow. It still helps my writing, only I don’t have to do any actual typing or scribbling.

Are you stuck in a rut? Switch things up a bit. And don’t be afraid to try new ways to find your muse.

-Heather

Monday, August 30, 2010

Writing with Design in Mind

Today for Manna Monday, I'm the guest post blogger for Rebecca Ward Design.
Hope you enjoy.

I have this passion for writing. You know, stories, articles, fiction, poetry. So I’m sure you’re wondering: How can she possibly relate writing to interior design?

In all honesty, I was stumped when first presented with the idea of guest blogging for a designer. Some designers have the ability to write, but not all writers can design.

Then I realized, after thinking about it, that a well-designed room has a story to tell. And that these stories, the rooms or buildings, set the background information for most books. The design ends up being critical to specific scenes or dialogue because it sets the mood and temperament, and reveals detail necessary for a quality story.

This is accomplished through any and every thing: the color of the walls, the style of the protagonist’s favorite chair, texture of a bedroom duvet or even the run-down fifties-era kitchen. These descriptions all have to do with design.

How is this true? Well, look at your favorite book-turned-movie and you’ll see exactly what I’m talking about. Take Harry Potter’s less than perfect sleeping conditions at his Uncle and Aunt’s house, in Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone, and watch how it comes alive with just a few words: “Harry found a pair [of socks] underneath the bed, and after pulling a spider off one of them, put them on. Harry was used to spiders because the cupboard under the stairs was full of them, and that was where he slept.” The mixture of socks and spiders is what sets the scene. The set decorator (to me, also known as an interior designer) has to find the creepiness factor and does this by splashing the room with cobwebs and darkness. This is design and literature meshed to perfection.


Mystery writer, Michele Scott writes this in her novel, Murder Uncorked. “The furniture was done in distressed leather and warm woods. The walls were painted a gold tone, and a Navajo rug hugged the hard wood floors.” Michele’s writing and interior design descriptions make me want to go there … and live their too!

Writing and design blend well because together it sells the story; it makes the scene and characters not only come to life, but through these details we feel, smell and hear everything we read.

With that thought, I have to inform you of something amazing. What if you could see this idea of design and literature in action? What if you could go to a place with rooms designed for specific authors, mixed with elements from their works, from Virginia Wolfe to Mark Twain or Tolkien and Emily Dickinson? What if this was on oceanfront property and you could not only visit this place but stay in it?

At Sylvia Beach Hotel, in Nye Beach, Oregon, you can. This is a book-lovers hotel, inside and out. There’s even a restaurant called “Table of Contents,” and a library on the third floor that takes up the entire west wing. It’s literature and design together!

Take Agatha Christie’s room for example, it has a private deck, fireplace and ocean view. As soon as you’re a guest in this room, you can read from Christie’s books and even find clues from each mystery hidden somewhere in the room. Hello? This is incredible. And it proves that writing about interiors, and even matching it with the author and their writing, not only creates great literature but also creates unforgettable characters and authors.

Writing and design are relatable and necessary to each other. And I think without it, books would pretty awful stuff to read. The interior design is what pulls me in as a reader or writer into the story. It's crucial for vivid imagery and feeling. And it's something writers shouldn't forget about, particulaly to bond the reader to the characters. Quite honestly, if the design aspect were to disappear, it just might signal the end times.

-Heather

Saturday, August 28, 2010

Write This Down

I had a great conversation with a writer-friend of mine this week. She and I have been in a similar predicament for the past few years, in that most of our energy and time has gone into raising our children, and not into the world we so longingly want to delve into: writing.

Our kids, of course, and the time we give them is valuable time dedicated. We understand that. We chose to forego our passion of writing for them instead. But, we also discussed why some writers -- as busy as us --were still able to write while raising a family. Did they have extra help? Was their writing so miraculous that their brains just downloaded the stuff onto their computer in mere minutes? What did they do differently?

Obviously, many women and men raise their children and manage to write; perhaps even write bestsellers (ahem ... Mrs. Meyers). So what’s the difference between them and us? What was it that made them more productive? It comes down to something very simple: these authors wanted to write more than anything.

There's no good time to start writing. It's just like having kids. A lot of people “wait for the right time." But seriously, when is that? When you have more money? When you're done with school? When you learn the tango, travel to Japan, and master the Finnish language? There is no perfect time to have kids. Nor is there any perfect time to write. There will always be something else you “need” to do instead.

The truth is that people do what they want to do. While that may sound incredibly redundant, it’s true. And I was a victim to that laziness. If I wanted to write, then regardless of the kids, regardless of the messy house, the dishes, the husband, or laundry, I was going to have to make time for this passion or I would never get it done.

Write down your ideas.
If you're anything like me, having children has irrevocably taken your brain and turned it to mush. I can barely remember the thread of a conversation, let alone a great literary idea. So, I keep paper near me when I watch TV, read, write or even eat. Whatever it is, dialogue or storyline, I write it down.

I've made the mistake in the past saying "Oh, I'll remember that idea. I don't need to write that one down," only to have forgotten the essence of the idea within minutes. We need to write our ideas down so that when we have a little time to write, we'll have something from which to draw.

Make time to write.
If the only time we have is after the kids get to bed, then work with that! Successful people don't whine about not having time or resources. They just make it happen. Writing is no different. Write when the time is available; early in the morning, late at night. Whenever it is, do it, because books and articles don't write themselves. If you only get fifteen minutes at a time, then work with that (then read this article http://www.jessimac.com/, "Do you want to write? Then lie to (yourself)").

People do what they want to do. I finally believe this and say the phrase all the time to my kids when they complain they can't "clean their room" or are "too tired to brush their teeth." I'm not sure that my almost-four-year old understands this fully, but really, what does that matter? If he gets the reaping and sowing concept, which is what I’m trying to teach him through my work, then he’s gained something worthwhile.

Anything worth doing is going to be difficult. Do you want to act? Then find the time to take a theater class. Do you want to design a car? Then start designing it, even if you work at a fast-food place by day.

We get to give life to our dream. And if we can dream it, then we can do it.


-Heather

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Striving Laundry

It's not Manna Monday, but I have a great guest post by writer Alisa Hope Wagner for which I couldn't wait. Enjoy.


I have been anxiously striving to finish edits on my first book. My mind has been consumed with writing, and I’m constantly telling myself to get to work. I feel the pressure of a deadline, and I told God one afternoon, “I can’t wait until I’m done.”

I could sense God smile and say, “Then you’ll start your second book.”

I stopped in my tracks. I realized that I will never be finished. When I’m done climbing this mountain, God will have another one for me in the distance. While I’m alive on this earth, God will always place promises for my life in the horizon.

God places promises beyond each of us; and as we move closer to them, God is able to mold us into the likeness of His son. Promises are in the core of Jesus; they pull us toward Him like gravity and slowly perfect us into our original design.

At that moment, I had a reality check. Obviously my perspective was wrong because God would not want me to be anxious about anything (Philippians 4.6).

How do we strive towards God’s promises without becoming overwhelmed? How do we find balance and joy in a life that will always be pulled toward higher goals and greater accomplishments?

I would like to answer this profound question with one simple word: Laundry.

Laundry is never done. Whenever I go from room to room with arms filled with dirty clothes, I like to sing the theme song to the 1984 movie The NeverEnding Story. If that story were written by a woman, I am sure it would have been about laundry.

I’ve learned to do a little bit of laundry every day. I don’t even think about it anymore. When I wake up, I’ll notice that the hamper is getting full, so I’ll grab the clothes and start a load. That afternoon after I put the kids down for a nap, I’ll put the clothes into the dryer and forget about them. While the kids are playing before bed, I’ll take the load out, fold it and put it away. Never once was I anxious.

I used to let the laundry build up, but I noticed that I always became anxious. The lack of clean clothes would begin to affect my life, and my mind would send me distracting signals to “get to work.” Laundry would become a big deal, when, in reality, it is such a small part of my life. If I would simply give laundry a fraction of my attention every day, it would be manageable.

This concept is the same for God’s promises. God doesn’t want His promises to become anxiety builders in our lives. His promises are supposed to draw us closer in relationship with Him. The imbalance comes when we stop daily focusing on God, and we let our relationship with Him build up, unused in the hamper.

If we hungrily seek God everyday and align our lives in His will, He would ensure that we have just enough time every day to work on His promises. As we seek God, He will groom our lives of everything unnecessary, and we will have perfect amount of time to complete His will. Also, when we focus on God, He will fill us with joy and peace that will filter through every aspect of our lives, dispersing our anxiety, worry and procrastination.

The purpose of life is to glorify God. If we are not doing that in our daily life, we probably need to ask God for a healthy dose of perspective. I decided to give up on striving; instead, I’m keeping my eyes on God and allowing His grace to move me toward His best for me.

"Cease striving and know that I am God; I will be exalted among the nations, I will be exalted in the earth” (Psalm 46.10 NASB).

Alisa Hope Wagner

Faith Imagined

Monday, August 23, 2010

Designing Writer

Today is Manna Monday, which means a guest post from Rebecca Ward as your literary food. Enjoy!


As a professional interior designer, my job is to magically create perfect interior spaces for my clients. I take their dreams and turn it into a reality. But design is more to me than just a job. It is my passion. And because of my love for it, I have to share it with others.


One of my outlets for doing this is through my design blog, Design R. Over time, I have discovered that I am no longer just an interior designer, but an author. I publish my writings about my passion in a public format so others want to read it. But, I didn’t fully come to this “writer” realization by myself. I thank Holly Becker of the blog Decor8 and the blogging class I took called Blogging Your Way (a wonderful course for bloggers from any genre). She is a perfect example of a blogger-turned-published-writer. Through this combination of her extremely popular design blog and writing, she writes for many magazines and has now been asked to publish a book. Obviously, the writing and design work well together.

Design blogs are highly visual and often littered with tasty photos of luxe interiors and fun decorator items. But it’s what is in between those photos -- the real substance -- that brings the readers back. As a reader of other blogs, I find the rhetoric critical for linking the subject to my interest.

Most of my blog posts are based on items I see, places I go, vendors I use and emails I get. How boring would it be if every posting went as follows:

“Here are some nice throw pillows ... " (http://www.pillowsandpillows.com/)



…and that’s it. It’s cold and impersonal and the only thing my reader gets from it is my taste in pillows. And besides, it’s just a throw pillow. Who cares?

What if instead I said this along with these pillow pictures:

“Throw pillows may be the most pivotal item in your room. As a decorator item, they can play a key role in tying together accent colors in the room. Their size and cost allows them to be changed with the seasons, occasions and mood. But they are so much more than accessories and so much more supportive than providing comfort when sitting against a stiff-backed sofa.

How many times do you see people holding throw pillows on their lap while relating an emotional story, grasping tight, punching or crying into it as the narrative progresses? Throw pillows can become fast friends."

With interior design writing, I draw an emotional connection for my reader with an easily dismissed accessory. Additionally, I ask a personal question of my reader that may lead them to comment with their own story, or at the least, reflect on the role throw pillows have played in their life.

Design bloggers need to remember they are so much more than designers: they are writers.

When we “sell” our design to our client, we build a story around it so that the client can see himself in this future space and become emotionally attached to it before it becomes a reality. Description and engaging the client in our design, is key to our success.

When presenting to my client, instead of saying,

“This is the sofa I chose for you. This is the fabric and this is where it goes. Do you like it?”

I would say something more like this,

“Now look at this sofa. Notice how the style of the legs tie in the coffee table you love. The fabric is a strong and durable ultra-suede that you won’t have to worry about your children being on it. I made sure the color is a wonderful neutral tan. Since you mentioned you like to host seasonal parties throughout the year, you will easily be able to change the colors and styles with each event by incorporating throw pillows. I made sure the this seat is 3” deeper than your current sofa so you can stretch out and take a nap comfortably when you watch golf on Sundays. The frame of this sofa is high quality, so durable that it could easily outlive you.”

My client is much more likely to buy the sofa after they picture themselves living with it. The use of these descriptive scenarios are powerful tools for every designer and something design bloggers need to make sure they are using in their writing.

Though a slightly foreign medium for designers, writing is just another outlet to release our need to express creativity. I encourage every blogger in every genre of “blog-dom” to consider themselves a writer first and foremost.

Rebecca Ward

Rebecca Ward Design



Saturday, August 21, 2010

Hello, My Name is ...

Right about the time when I think things will stay the same, they change. Which is a good notion, I suppose. Without change, where's the progress? This was essentially Walt Disney's Motto "... keep moving forward ...," and look at the empire he created?

Sometimes, in order for great things to happen, change is necessary. But we have to keep looking ahead, and actually implement change, if we expect an empire of our own (figuratively speaking, of course).

So here's the deal: I'm changing the name of my blog to the title I should've had months ago, Writer's Manna. I woke up to this title, one moring, after having written something with those words, and am being forced by my one-tracked and often stubborn mind to make it my blog's name. And I hope, this is a better change.

There you go. A new title, for a new day. And I'm hoping to keep this one for a good, long time. Is there a lesson in it for all of us? Embrace change -- good change -- and watch amazing things happen. At least, that's what I'm telling myself.

-Heather


Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Guest Blogging: Is it for you?

Hey, writers out there, I have a question for you:

Have you ever been a guest blogger?
This is where you write an article or essay for someone else's blog, so the focus is off of your own site and onto someone's else. The article can be anything, or everything. But the point is that the writing is to benefit not just your writing platform, but theirs while simultaneously expanding your experience.

I'm sure you're asking: How is this beneficial?
Well, not only is it a chance for you to write, but it allows your writing to extend to more circles, ones most likely directly related to your line of work. This means potentially new contacts, resources, friends and knowledge for you and your host. It's a win for you (since more people will see your writing), and it's a win for the host because they gain an educational or insightful article/ blog with a unique voice ... one other than their own.

I also hear you asking: Can you give me an example?
I have a friend, Alisa Hope Wagner, who wrote a great guest blog for Michael Hyatt, the CEO of the world's largest Christian book publishers, Thomas Nelson Publisher. His blog is great. Her article was great. And together, it was a perfect combination. Read it: right here. It's not only eye-opening (thanks Alisa) but a perfect reason as to why you can --and should -- be a guest blogger. You never know who you can write for, or what it will do for you, if you don't try.

Having said that, let me now say that I would love to host a guest writer/blog by any author, agent or editor. It just needs to have something -- anything-- to do with the love of writing and/or furthering the education for us literary people. This can include book reviews, funny spelling/writing errors, etc. You name it: it could quite possibly go up here. Contact me. I'll post one every two weeks ... and more frequently, as they come in.

Oh, and did I mention that I was a guest blogger today? You can see for yourself by visiting the lovely website of Jessie Mac. The article is called "Do You Want to Write? Then Lie (to Yourself). It was fun for me, and hopefully not only helpful for her, but beneficial to everyone who read it.

-Heather