Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Tested on the Road Trip

The second question I’m dissecting from my post 8 Questions Every Writer Must Ask Themselves is:

Am I resilient enough to handle rejection and long waits?

Picture this: You plan a road trip across country. You map it out, expecting to arrive in about a week. But you encounter more than your share of setbacks throwing your expectations into Tasmanian devil frenzy and hysteria.

Setbacks like:

  • flat tires (exhausted and discouraged from the wait)

  • getting lost (buying into the negative voices)

  • need for bladder breaks (too distracted to write)

  • bad weather (things outside your control throwing you off course and making you swerve)

  • rough & bumpy roads (writing just isn’t flowing)

  • detours (rejections—ouch!)

  • bumper & exhaust fall off (major edits)

  • donkeys surround car (every other obstacle in your way on the road to publication) (note: this actually happened to me and my husband at a state park in Montana)

I want you to make it across country. Heck, I want to make it across country. So I’m giving you a checklist of things that have helped me keep on keepin’ on so far:

Hit the Rest Stops Sometimes I need a break. My words come out muddled and I have some other major issue taking up all the vacant brain space needed to write. I pull over and rest up. Better to drive alert than fall asleep at the wheel.

Pick Up Friends along the Way Some friends might even start out as strangers. Remember when hitchhiking didn’t conjure up every scary movie known to man? Think of fellow authors as nice hitchhikers. These folks can be excellent encouragers, critique partners, and they most likely know what it feels like to drive all night.

Connect with Truckers These roadies have traveled the path. They know the roads like Galileo knew the stars. Give ‘em the old trucker hand pump to get them to honk. We can learn so much from them.

Assess Food Supply I pay attention to how much I’ve poured into my work—how much plotting and editing I’ve accomplished. If I’m spending every day chomping on beef jerky alone, how can I expect to have enough energy to make it across country?

Gas Up I read books on the craft, books in my genre. I read any & everything. I eat books.

Map it Out, but Keep Expectations in Check (more on this in a few weeks)

Get Some Fresh Air Have a life outside of writing? What? What’s that? Yeah, I said it. I can’t tell you how many creative thoughts stir inside me when I’m running or brush painting. Life breeds ideas. Live a little.

Reward Yourself with Beautiful Views Whenever I reach a new milestone, an article in print, an agent asks for partial, then a full, I find a way to reward myself. I get out of the car and enjoy the sights, the unique landscaping each state of writing provides (all except Texas of course. Texas = driving purgatory).


What are your tips for making it for the long haul and determining whether you are resilient enough to keep on keepin’ on?

*photos by flickr

Monday, March 28, 2011

Ground Control to Major…Character

Ever feel like your MC (main character, I know, I know) is floating and you can’t seem to pin him or her down?

My most tried and true resolution: Ask questions.

Here’s a list of questions that will help to reveal more about your character’s inner life…

  • How would your MC react when everyone in a crowded restaurant begins to sing Happy Birthday to them?

  • Your MC finds $1,000 in the street, what would he do with the money and if he chose to spend it, what would he spend it on?

  • Does your MC have any strange sleeping habits? Does sleep come easy for her?

  • What terrifies your MC (not just frightens, not just scares…terrifies)?

  • Your MC wins a choice of a free vacation to either camp or beach it, which does she choose?

  • The duo from What Not to Wear visits your MC, what would they say is wrong with his style of dress?

  • What’s the most rebellious thing your MC has ever done or would ever do?

  • Someone spills an entire Coke on your MC at a baseball game by accident, how does your MC respond?

  • How does your MC react after witnessing a violent crime?

  • What’s the best memory your MC has? The worst?

  • Who is the one person your MC trusts most?

Noah Lukeman asks hundreds of questions like these in his book, The Plot Thickens: 8 Ways to Bring Fiction to Life.

What’s one of your best ways of grounding your characters when they begin to slip out of your grasp? (As a bonus, answer one of these questions for you or your MC.)

*photos by flickr

Friday, March 25, 2011

Moving Thoughts Friday

Every Friday I’m going to ask a question. The questions I choose might be ambiguous on purpose. The goal is to have you answer the question according to your beliefs, where you’re at in life or a circumstance that might have recently impacted you. The only thing I ask is that you provide an explanation for why you answered the way you did.

It’s my hope to understand you better through this and also to gain a greater understanding of humanity and how people make decisions.

Benjamin Button or Big?

*photos by flickr

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Passion for Your Genre

And now to tackle the first question from 8 Questions Every Writer Must Ask Themselves: How much passion do I feel for the genre I’m currently writing?

Why is having passion for your genre important?

Passion is Tied in with Production
Think about your significant other. The more love and passion you feel for your lovebird the more you value finding ways to improve and grow the relationship. Same goes for writing. More passion = better material produced.

Interest & Inquiry Lead to Layered Plot
Do you remember the stage early on in a relationship when your mind flooded with things you ached to know about your date?

The more you care about something, the more you’ll naturally be inclined to want to learn more about it. You’ll ask more questions related to the genre and in the process of doing this, you’ll likely create a more textured plot

Genre Hopping for the Wrong Reasons
There are enough genres to choose from, it’s like a smorgasbord of options under the sun. Every writer will feel the temptation to genre hop when the going gets rough, an agent doesn’t bite or a publishing house isn’t chomping at the bit to pick up your work. Check your motives if you’re feeling led to make the switch. Is it simply because the road has gotten bumpy or did you never really feel it for your current genre?

Becoming a Surface Skimmer
Instead of solving the problem in your work, you spontaneously decide you’re better suited for Amish fiction when you were focusing on contemporary romance. Whoa. Hold those horses. Two completely different genres requiring two different skill sets. In order to improve you must be willing to go deep in your current genre. Dig down to the root of the problem if it’s a problem that has you thrown. Don’t let boredom or discouragement turn you into a surface skimmer.

Long Haul Thinking Creates Discipline
A marriage is forever, no? Hence, the vows, promises, and contractual agreement before God and man. Forever…yes.

I’m not saying you need to be married to your genre, but you might be surprised how much more disciplined you’ll become if you enter into a mental commitment with the genre you are gifted to write.

Shoo Fly to Less Compelling Ideas
If you feel a passion for your genre you won’t be distracted by smattering of ideas that constantly bombard writers. You’ll learn to take notes on the good ideas and dissect them later.

Putting in Time
No mystery on this one, you invest more time in what you love.

Test the Love
Try other genres. There’s no rule that says you can’t dabble in dystopian YA novels when you normally write romance. (This is especially the case before you secure an agent and/or house.) I highly recommend getting a feel for your strengths. Before I fell in love with writing novels I primarily wrote nonfiction. My career required me to write newsletters (so very many newsletters). My love for novel writing has far superseded any joy writing nonfiction inspired.

But I’d never have experienced the rewards of novel writing if I never tried it.
Can you think of another reason why it’s important to ask yourself if you have passion for your genre?

*Rosslyn Elliott recently
posted on this subject. Worth a read!
**photo by flickr

Monday, March 21, 2011

Attached to Books

My plane landed late last night. After days of spending time with my mom I realize we speak a unique language, the language of books. One day we spent over an hour in the sun reading first lines of her books together. My mom and I are able to talk about pretty much anything, but when we conversed in the language of books it was as though we were able to simultaneously transcend our current realities while intermingling them with the characters we know or ones we’ve yet to meet.

Take Little Bee for example. My mom has read this book. I began it several days ago. One morning I caught myself so moved by the book, on the verge of tears as I anxiously waited when my mom would wake so we could discuss it, so I could read her the lines that jumped out at me.

We spoke about books and through them. Books flavor my life in an extraordinary way.

It didn’t take the dozens of times my eyes gravitated to books and Kindles on laps of people at the airport to tell me this or the how I slowed my pace every time I passed a bookstore. I already knew it. I’m attached to books, the language of them, the messages in them, and the characters born amidst the pages.

Here is one of the paragraphs from Little Bee I couldn’t wait to share with my mom:

On the girl’s brown legs there were many small white scars. I was thinking, Do those scars cover the whole of you, like the stars and moons on your dress? I thought that would be pretty too, and I ask you right here please to agree with me that a scar is never ugly. That is what the scar makers want us to think. But you and I, we must make an agreement to defy them. We must see all scars as beauty. Okay? This will be our secret. Because take it from me, a scar does not form on the dying. A scar means, I survived.”

I’m probably addicted to books. And because of sentences like the above that might not ever change. What about you, are you attached to books?

*I wrote this on the fly, so excuse spelling or grammatical errors. In fact, I’m still sleeping as I write this.
**It’s good to be back.
***photo by flickr

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Time Away

I’m going to be mostly offline until next week. I’ll see you then!
*photo by flickr

Monday, March 14, 2011

I Dream in Characters

Forget dreaming in black and white or in color, I dream in characters. Lately, my dreams are pervaded with facial details, snippets of dialogue, and deep motivations. As soon as I slip into REM sleep I enter my novel world. I look through the eyes of my protagonist and absorb everything from her perspective. Talk about a trip!

And I can only profess to love this recent phenomenon. Why? Because it helps me write in deep POV for my MC. It reminds me of a woman looking in a mirror with a reflection of a woman looking in a mirror and a reflection behind that woman of a woman looking in a mirror. All the same woman, of course.

I’m a strong believer that to write a character well, you must extract their traits, their fears, and their strengths from somewhere inside yourself. This is not to say your characters are merely a reflection of you, but rather they are a creative glimpse of an aspect of who you are. I’m also not saying you must live through everything your characters will endure. That would be absurd. But what I am getting at is it certainly helps if you’re able to identify and flesh out the emotion, impetus, and reasons behind why they act the way they do—why they make the decisions they do.

Back to dreamland. This is why I smile when I wake from a character dream. I’ve been given a gift. I’ve tunneled into their world only to help me make their world more believable. And the beauty of this occurrence is that I’m not ignorant of the fact I’m changing, I’m healing, and I’m releasing some part of myself while I dream. I’m giving it up to my character—to come alive on the page.

I dream. I release. I embrace the character this extension of me has become.

I capture it in a story redolent with plot twists, conflict, and resolve. I wake up wrapped in that fragrance. The memory of dreaming reflected in the process of leading story to life.

Why do you think my dreams are a safe place for my characters to establish themselves? And have your characters found your dreams a place to grow?

*Keli Gwyn wrote some wonderful posts about dreams last week
*photo by flickr

Friday, March 11, 2011

Moving Thoughts Friday

Every Friday I’m going to ask a question. The questions I choose might be ambiguous on purpose. The goal is to have you answer the question according to your beliefs, where you’re at in life or a circumstance that might have recently impacted you. The only thing I ask is that you provide an explanation for why you answered the way you did.

It’s my hope to understand you better through this and also to gain a greater understanding of humanity and how people make decisions.

Write numerous reasonably noteworthy books or write one phenomenal book?

*photos by flickr

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

8 Questions Every Writer Must Ask Themselves

  1. How much passion do I feel for the genre I’m currently writing?

  2. Am I resilient enough to handle rejection and long waits?

  3. What do I expect out of this journey, including what are my expectations of those I come across along the way?

  4. Do I take myself seriously as a writer?

  5. How willing am I to learn and grow as a writer?

  6. Do I have enough affirmation and support nudging me to keep moving ahead during difficult patches?

  7. Am I disciplined and if self-discipline is a challenge for me, what do I plan to do to improve in that area?

  8. Why do I write?

And a bonus question to tuck in your feathered cap: Who do I write for?

What is one question you find yourself asking over and over as you journey on in this industry?

*I understand I’ve only grazed the surface of these probing questions. I’m planning to dissect each of these in greater detail over the next 8-10 Wednesdays
*Check out the cool new idea my crit partner,
Jill Kemerer is featuring (I’m who she interviewed today)
*photo by flickr

Monday, March 7, 2011

Beekeeping Thoughts—Collecting Honey from Ideas

Our thoughts possess great power. They have the potential to sting us repeatedly or to produce the sweetest ideas that stick.

At any given moment, we are in a prime role to become beekeepers to the bee yards inside our brains. I read on Wikipedia, bee colonies can have up to 100,000 individual bees in them. Sounds exactly like my crowded brain.

I’m going to blend my bee knowledge with my understanding of self-controlled thinking. There are ways to collect honey from our minds, some ways better than others. Shedding light on the art of beekeeping, here’s how we can develop wisdom as we cultivate thoughts worth thinking:

Gear Up
The thoughts we entertain matter. They flow down to our hearts. The overflow shows up in our actions. We are responsible beekeepers (aka apiarists) if we suit up. Before beekeepers step near the buzzing, they dress in protective clothing. Ephesians 6 provides excellent details on this. Our helmets might look different, but ultimately the key is having our eyes and ears protected from being stung.

Take Every Thought Captive
To maximize the amount of honey harvested, beekeepers work hard to contain all the bees. No flyaways. We have flyaway thoughts too. Temptations sneak in distracting our will to concentrate. But beekeepers learn the art of capturing those escapees. They bring them in, gathering them with the other harvested thoughts. Often the skill of doing this results in humility.

This is why it’s valuable to understand our environment, the equipment we work with (our genetic makeup, environmental factors that have likely influenced us, etc.).

Know Your Bees
While defining beekeeping Wikipedia states, “knowledge of bees is the first line of defense”. Socrates wasn’t talking smack when he proclaimed the famous “Know thyself.” (However, I must add that knowing God trumps knowing ourselves. He’s the most skilled thought shaper.) When we’re honest about our vulnerabilities, we are aware of where we’ll most likely be stung.

There are numerous different kinds of bees a beekeeper has the choice to work with. Honey bees use a method of dancing to communicate with each other. Defensive bees are attracted to breath. When we dwell on a thought it only serves us to know more about where the thought might have come from, the function it serves, and why it’s there.

Discover Your Best Working Conditions
There are several methods of harvesting honey, including movable comb hives (moving thoughts) and smoking the combs. After we perform a little self-analysis, we’re more prepared to know the best method of producing the most enriching thoughts. The sweet stuff. Ideas include talking to a friend, getting in the Word, journaling, etc. This reminds me of a book that influenced my faith,
Sacred Pathways by Gary Thomas (highly recommend).

Mesh What Produces the Sweetest Outcome
While digging deeper in my research, I discovered beekeepers hybridize bees, ones that produce disease resistance with those that have good honey production. Or they blend those with good honey production with those that are prolific breeders, etc. When we harvest delicious thoughts we have the same opportunities to blend highly creative, out-of-the-box thoughts with highly relatable thoughts. We can hybridize edifying thoughts with those that will inspire needed action.

Something to remember: The thoughts we harvest today will impact our actions tomorrow.

What do you think about harvesting thoughts? Which one of the above is easiest and/or most difficult for you?

Bees Knees:
Loved the book: The Secret Life of Bees
Want to read the book: Little Bee
(oh yeah, and seeing my face on
this blog was the bees knees, too—even if it was just for winning a book.)
*photos by flickr

Friday, March 4, 2011

Moving Thoughts Friday

Every Friday I’m going to ask a question. The questions I choose might be ambiguous on purpose. The goal is to have you answer the question according to your beliefs, where you’re at in life or a circumstance that might have recently impacted you. The only thing I ask is that you provide an explanation for why you answered the way you did.

It’s my hope to understand you better through this and also to gain a greater understanding of humanity and how people make decisions.

You’ve been turned into a Jack-in-the-box (or Jill-in-the-box). What’s the one thing you say every time you pop out?

Bonus question: What music plays when the crank is turned?

*photos by flickr

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

My 400th Post—Three Little Birds on My Doorstep

400 posts! I thought in honor of all 400 posts I’d list 400 things I appreciate. Ha! You know I could, but I wouldn’t do that to you.

Instead, on this I 8 Wednesday I’m presenting a list of 8 things I’d like to see 400 of on my doorstep:

400 Spoons
I have a thing for spoons, what can I say?

400 Pictures of My Children
I’ve tried so hard to be good at scrapbooking. But I’ve been a slacker for the past few years. I probably have 400 pictures of my kids shoved in a drawer somewhere. Still, I’d love to see this on my doorstep.

400 Books

400 Notes from My Husband
I like when my husband writes me notes because writing isn’t his thing. It takes concentrated effort and thought for him to eek out a letter—why I like it all the more.

400 Words from an Agent in a Letter
It would inspire some big time smiling on my part if six of those words were “I would like to represent you.”

400 Frogs
As long as I haven’t been thrown into the middle of a plague, I’m all over it. Good for a laugh at the very least.

400 Thousand Dollars
To give to the charity of my choice.

400 Different Kinds of Flowers
To remind me that spring is just around the corner. Hope springs eternal.

What would you like to see 400 of on your doorstep?

*check out my short story Peonies on Wednesday in CFOM this month!
**Yeah for Dr. Seuss!
***photos by flickr

Taking Time

college applications                 homecoming                            flag football                basketball             SATs   ...