Friday, December 28, 2012

Fifth Place

I wrote about my 2012 horse show adventures a few times in my blog posts, focusing on the idea that winning when you felt you didn't perform as well as your competition feels worse than not winning when you think you and your horse did really well.  I mentioned that because both my veteran show horse and my young horse, in his first show, won nothing but first and second place ribbons and always won Reserve or Grand Champion ribbons for their division at almost every show. I didn't think any of us were that great, and the competition was pretty good. I won't say it wasn't nice to win, but the enjoyment was lessened because it felt undeserved.
     At the last show of the year, both my horses won nothing but fourth and fifth place ribbons, which was interesting because I felt we performed as well (or not any worse) as we did at the first four shows of the season (with the exception of one jumping class where my mare - who never spooks - was startled by some crazed wildlife in the field next to the ring and went off course; I am certain we would have placed first or second in that class). Really, fourth or fifth is about where I would have placed us in most of our classes through the season.
      While placing where I felt we deserved did feel more right than winning when I didn't feel we should have, I was still - only very slightly - disappointed. I was surprised to feel that way. Having never had a show series go quite like this, I had never been able to juxtapose the two situations. A small part of me thought, "Well, as long as we are going to perform consistently under par, isn't it better to place higher?"
     In my past blogs on the subject my point had been that it was better to write well and be unappreciated than to write poorly and have your work praised and/or published. Maybe it has something to do with getting older, but now I'm thinking that even if I write mediocre stories or books, isn't it better to have success with getting them published or appreciated by others rather than ignored? It certainly would be nice to earn money from work, even if it is not as good as I would like.
     I may have to revisit the question posed by one of my writer friends: Would you rather become rich and famous for writing crap that is commercial success, or write great works that are less popular or lucrative?


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Thursday, December 6, 2012

Unexpected Motivation

For more than a decade my oldest sister has given everyone in my family a wall calendar for Christmas. This started as a very practical thing, mainly so all members of the immediate family would have a source listing  birthdays, anniversaries, impending graduations or family trips, which my sister writes in every one's calendar before wrapping them.
    One really fun part of this - for my sister and the rest of us - is what calendar she chooses for each of us. For the first few years mine were always about horses, then cats and dogs, then wildlife and onto more diverse things my sister thinks I would like. My other sister's calendar themes went from lighthouses to seascapes to ships to nature scenes and so on. Mom's calendars started with pictures of schoolhouses and old barns and historic sites have since featured things like churches and gardens.
   Besides having amazing pictures, these calendars often have tidbits of information or great quotes that also influence their being chosen. The other day I turned my calendar to December and found this quote: "Be faithful in small things because it is in them that your strength lies." - Mother Teresa.
    That quote was very meaningful to me as I have just returned to writing after an unexpected and prolonged hiatus. The words remind me that to do just a little writing each day will keep me moving forward and strengthen my skills and hopefully my discipline. And I know from experience that when I start writing, even if I just plan to do a small amount, inspiration may strike and carry me along further. Getting started and keeping going is hard; focus on one step at a time and it becomes easier.

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Tuesday, December 4, 2012

Blogging Topics

 Many months ago, a writer friend sent folks in our writers' group a list of 100 topics to blog about. They were generic things like response to an article you read, details about a trip you took, a dream or an event. It made me think: If you need to find something to blog about, why bother?
    If you google ideas for blog topics most of them suggest posting about various things in your "niche" (in my case that would be writing) and tend to be business oriented; ways of marketing your product or service, increasing productivity, things you've learned about certain aspects, etc.  (I have since wanted to find that generic list my friend sent out, to challenge myself to post something on each topic and somehow tie it to writing.)
   Having just this week once again returned to my writing, I am following the example of many of my friends who blog that keep no schedule. They blog only when they have something to share, an idea or experience or whatever, that most other people can relate to, like family life, jobs, everyday adventures like errands or school functions.
     I often find myself applying many of my blog posts on writing to other talents, professions or life in general. Perhaps my new blogging "schedule" will make my topics more universal and if I only blog when I feel driven to, the posts will be more inspired.


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Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Maybe I Can('t)

I recently started the best "day job" for a writer. I stock groceries at Wal-Mart. (Sorry, if you have negative opinions about the company. I don't feel strongly either way, but I love my job and the people I work with.) This job is perfect. Stress-free, mindless, and more physically active than you would believe - I have lost weight every week since I started. My only responsibilities are to find what needs to go on the shelf, put it where it belongs, keep the shelves neat and everything in order. My inner librarian is as happy as a clam. And I can spend all day thinking about stories, characters, plot, conflicts, etc.
      I have always been that annoying person who goes into a store like Home Depot and asks random employees where to find light bulbs, bug spray, ladders, curtains, and various types of hardware that I have no need for and no interest in purchasing. I do this not to be obnoxious but because I enjoy being amazed that anyone you ask can tell you what aisle something is on, what side of the aisle, how far down the aisle and, if applicable, what shelf. This fascinates me because I know I wouldn't be able to do it. Or so I thought.
    The grocery section of Wal-Mart is not nearly as huge as a DIY store, but there is a lot of stuff -small stuff. And I am completely shocked that after the first few weeks I worked there, I can tell any customer where almost anything is. (This is valuable, because some of it makes no sense. Why is dried fruit on the baking aisle between jello and pudding and not with the canned fruit? Why is Kool-Aide by the soda and not on the juice aisle? Why is instant tea with the Kool-aide and not with the coffee and tea - which are on the condiments aisle? And so on.)
     We carry exactly one kind of molasses (on the middle of the top shelf of the cereal aisle with the pancake syrup).  We have cream of coconut in two different places, while coconut milk, coconut water and coconut oil are in three other separate places, none on the same aisle. Pimentos are in the vegetable aisle right next to canned artichokes and mushrooms and sauerkraut.
    In most cases, I can lead customers to these things unerringly. I still get a little confused that chili is on the pasta aisle instead of with the beans on the soup aisle. And I get capers  -which are with olives and pickles - confused with cloves, which are with spices.
    I have gotten so confident that when a customer asks me, "Do you know where I can find...?' I say, "I know everything." I once had a woman ask me this and when I claimed I knew everything, her wise-ass husband asked, "The square root of pi?" Wish I could have remembered it and tossed it back at him.
    The reason I am so impressed with myself is that I always considered employees at Lowe's and such places to be like those writers who can remember every detail of their books. I know many writers are like me and have to keep notes and constantly check back to see what Teri's husband's name is and which of the neighbor kids drove the four-wheeler through the other neighbor's corn field.  But I suspect that many writers don't have to do this and I am envious.
     So, ridiculously, I am now thinking, since I can recall the exact location on everything in the twenty sections of each of the twenty shelves in grocery, that maybe I can keep all the details of my novel in progress straight in my mind. Is this belief the result of my new confidence in my ability to find things in the store? I don't know. It's possible that my new skill will translate to my writing. Also possible that it won't. But maybe if I think I can...

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Thursday, November 22, 2012

Things I Am Thankful For

My grandmother had a saying that my family members quote to each other when any of us suffer a crisis: "If money can fix it, it's not so bad." It is understood that frequently there is not enough money to fix whatever the problem is, or often, lack of money is the root of the trouble (can't pay the rent, can't afford to get the car fixed, etc.). What Nana was trying to make us understand was that money can't buy health or happiness or the life and well-being of our loved ones.
      When I count my blessings, family, friends and loved ones are always at the top of the list followed by health - mine and theirs. I always put the intangibles above the material things I am thankful for. I am grateful for my house and having enough to eat and transportation to work, but I am thankful that I am able to work and even to eat. I appreciate that I am mobile, have the ability to see and hear and talk.
     I am glad for my intelligence, although I recognize that those among us who are less intelligent are often happier; they are satisfied with the simpler things, as I try to be. I'm glad to be as well-educated as I am (being a book lover, I cannot imagine not being able to read), that I have traveled and experienced different things. I am thankful for memories. I am grateful that I can love and be loved.
    Among these intangibles I most appreciate, right near the top, is my creativity and ability to write. If I can keep reminding myself what a blessing it is, it may inspire me to be more dedicated to my craft and write as much as possible, not just as much as I feel like doing at any given time, not just when it's easy.


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Tuesday, November 20, 2012

To Blog Or Not

As I was contemplating another post on the subject of blogging, I happened to read an article reposted on our writer's group (LWC) fb page. It was about blogging: "Would Jane Austin Have Written A Blog?" by Cath Murphy. Interesting article and Ms. Murphy is a very entertaining writer.
     In it, the author opined that you should only write a blog if you have something to say. Now I don't understand people who blog about their everyday adventures, even when they are amusing or informative. However, I have also wondered if my blog, where I try to share encouragement, advice, experiences and information about writing is really helpful to anyone. I do, on some days, feel what I post may be useful to someone.
    Ms. Murphy also said you shouldn't blog out of a sense of duty. I'm not sure what that means. I guess it could apply to one of my reasons for blogging, which is to keep myself in the habit of writing regularly and keeping to a self-imposed deadline.
    The statement that most caught my attention was that a writer should not blog "to feel like you are writing when you are not." That speaks directly to another of my reasons for blogging, which is to use it as a writing exercise. I more than occasionally think I use blogging as a way to write when I am "not able" - I use that term loosely and relative to my lack of self-discipline - to work on any other writing projects. But for the most part, I do consider it a valid writing exercise. I try hard to find topics I think are relevant and I work to convey my ideas and information clearly.  It really is an effort for me.
    I feel Ms. Murphy is one of those who thinks any kind of writing that is not productive work on a publishable project is a waste of time that should be spent on 'real' writing. I know many writers believe that as well, and it may be true for some people. However, I am of the school that you need to write regularly, and if emails, random haiku or blog posts are all you can manage at a given time, it is worthwhile.
  

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Thursday, November 15, 2012

NaNoWriMo 2012

I'm not participating this year, but I did once a couple of years ago. It was how I got the rough draft of my second book finished. Even though I had already started it, I needed to add at least 50,000 words, that was my project for the event and it was an effective way to get the book done.
    Some of my writing buddies are doing NaNoWriMo this year and they are struggling.  I don't understand why. The point is to write 50,000 words. It can be - in fact, is expected to be  - crap. You aren't supposed to care whether the story is any good or even if it's written well.
    Maybe I had an advantage in that I had a work in progress when I started. But I think it would be fun to just start with a speck of an idea and just write whatever. Maybe I will try that next year. (When things calm down...)
    Even though I had a definite plot and established characters when I wrote my 50,000 words in 30 days, I still feel like the experience, not the end result, was the important thing. You learn a lot about yourself  - about your writing process - when you commit to something like that and stay with it. And I think what you learn stays with you. The experience has positive benefits no matter what the end result.
     Another angle to consider is the idea that "writing is re-writing". Many people have trouble just getting the story down, but once they have something to work with - no matter how rough or bad it is - they feel they can make it into something good. The hard part is getting the raw material.
    This is not true of all writers. I am one among many who, when faced with a manuscript that needs a huge amount of work, finds it easier to just start over. I'm not sure if it's because fixing too much is overwhelming or if my mind isn't as strong at remodeling as building. (There is a difference.)      
    Whatever kind of writer you are, whatever your process, experience, strengths and weaknesses, I think NaNoWriMo is something all writers should try. Whether you've never written anything or have already finished one book (as I had), it's a worthwhile experience.



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Tuesday, November 13, 2012

When Things Calm Down

Except for blogging, I haven't worked on my writing in weeks - which at this point adds up to months. Not editing, not rough-drafting, not researching markets, not outlining. I haven't even participated in my writers group flash fiction contest.
     I keep thinking when things calm down - which of course they never do (dad's health is better, moving is almost done, horse show season is over for the year, I'm settled into new job and NOW I have the flu - something would inspire me to get back to it. Interestingly it's not so much that I miss the writing itself, although I do. The main thing I'm missing my characters.
     I've always been anxious to finish one book (or book-related short story) so I can go on to the next adventure. Kind of like reading a series and anticipating the next instalment, even though I am the author.
     I like to think one day my readers will feel this way about spending time with my characters and wanting to know what's going on in my characters fictional world. But in order for that to happen, I need to get book two edited and published. And do some marketing. And get started on book three. Essentially all the things I'm not doing. (I give myself some credit for getting this blog posted while I'm feeling so miserable, but I did miss posting both times last week. sigh.)
     Don't be like me. There is always something that will keep you from doing what you want and what you love. There may never be a "good" time to start, continue, return to whatever it is. I have to teach myself to work through the challenges that life will continue to throw my way. I hope everyone else has an easier time with this than I do.


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Thursday, November 1, 2012

Writing Yoga

In my last post I mentioned that I was reading a book about meditation and not sure why, but I have come across several phrases and images in it that I find thought provoking. Today's was, "every time you come back to yoga practice, you see the effect of not having done it for awhile." The next paragraph clarifies that you realize how much harder it is after any lack of practice, but when I first read it, applying the idea to writing, I thought maybe there was some positive impression that could be gained from coming back after a break.
    So I've been trying to think of what beneficial effects you might see after a hiatus and I'm not finding any. Sigh. The only one I can think of right now is realizing how much you miss writing when you have been away from it for a time. I am just now getting to that point again after a few months off. It's too much to hope that you might come back to writing with some great new skill or perspective, but maybe it could happen. I write fiction; I can believe in these things.
     The lesson here - again - is that not practicing your craft just makes it harder, dulls your skills and sets you back in your works in progress and growth as a writer (or as anything else). So follow my advice and not my example and keep at it.


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Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Books I'm Reading

Right now I am reading Odd Apocalypse, by Dean Koontz. Love it! I cannot get enough of Odd Thomas. Can't wait for the next one.
     I have just finished Rick Riordan's (YA) The Serpent's Shadow, last book in the Kane Chronicles. Still need to read the two latest in the Heroes of Olympus series, Son of Neptune and Mark of Athena.
    I recently posted about reading Gamble by Felix Francis and how delighted I am that I liked it and look forward to the next one. I plan to go back and read Crossfire, the previous release of Dick and Felix Francis (before Gamble was published). 
    I am still sporadically working my way through Patrick Rothfuss' tome, The Wise Man's Fear. It is still incredibly awesome, I just don't get to pry my Nook away from my husband very often to continue reading it.
    My random (picked-up on a whim and not sure why) non-fiction title of the moment is Wherever You Go, There You Are by Jon Kabat-Zinn. It is a book about meditation, which I totally don't understand and have no real interest in, but the book is holding my attention.
    I am looking forward to reading Wicked Business, second book in the new series by Janet Evanovich and anxiously waiting for the next release in the Sookie Stackhouse series (Charlaine Harris), the new Dresden Files novel by Jim Butcher and a new title from Tim Dorsey.


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Thursday, October 25, 2012

Second (And Third, Fourth and Fifth) Chances

In my last post I wrote about the book Gamble, by Felix Francis, who, since the death of his father Dick Francis, has been co-writing (possibly completing, whatever) his dad's books. I described how disappointed I was in all but the first of these "collaborations" and by the fourth one, I gave up. Then I read the fifth and liked it very much and am looking forward to the next.
     Many years ago I read a book - don't know how I finished it, wanted to burn it a dozen times - that I immediately place on my five worst books I've ever read list. It was called Riding Lessons by an author named Sara Gruen. She wrote a sequel, Flying Changes, that I never picked up, having vowed to never read another book she had written.
     A few years back she wrote another book, Water For Elephants. After it had been out for awhile and just before the movie came out, I picked it up and started reading. It was a best-seller obviously, and it never occurred to me, in spite of the unusual name, that it was written by the same woman. (I have since learned that Riding Lessons was a bestseller and I have to wonder if this was before or after the phenomenon that Water For Elephants turned out to be.)
     I agree with most of the world that Water For Elephants is a great book. It really is nothing like her first novel, which will never free itself from my-most-disliked-books-of-all-time-list. And I have to say that I'm glad I read it, and think I might have even if I had realized who the author was.
    In the second paragraph above I used the phrase "worst books I've ever read", and just above I mentioned my "most disliked" books. Those two phrases don't mean nearly the same thing, and I have to say that by worst book, I am stating an opinion.  I have not read Sara Gruen's latest novel, Ape House, and not sure that I will.
     These two examples make me aware of how unfair it is that I - and many other readers - give up on an author because we didn't like one (or more) of their books. Another of my favorite authors, Dean Koontz, who is an incredible writer, has written many books that have failed to impress me. So has Stephen King, arguably one of the most talented writers in the history of writing.
      I have recently published my first novel. It is a good book. I am proud of it, but it is not a great book. I know many, possibly most readers, will not be impressed, but might still read the upcoming sequel. I have written a lot about authors "growing" in their writing talent as they continue learning to write and become more experienced.  I hope and expect that will be true of me as well. But it won't matter if readers - like I have on occasion - give up on an author after a less than stellar book.
     In the future, I'll try to judge a book on it's own merit and not be influenced by past experience with a certain author. I will choose to read books that catch my attention and interest, regardless of how I felt about similar books. I'm sure, in most cases, I will be glad that I did.


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Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Gamble

The official title of this book is "'Dick Francis's Gamble" by Felix Francis. I'm not sure that title is properly punctuated, but that's not what interests me about it. I believe this is the first book (officially) by Felix Francis.
    As many people know, Dick Francis is my writing idol and all-time favorite writer; best writer in the world in my opinion (followed closely by Stephen King, who is an amazing writer, but not one of my favorites). Since his dad's death, Felix Francis has published four novels with both Dick Francis and Felix as authors.  Presumably his dad had started these books or written parts of them or possibly just had notes for them. Whatever the case, I have read each of them - and by most I was disappointed.
    The first one, Dead Heat, was good. Some of it I thought was very like Dick Francis and some I thought was not nearly as good as he would have written, but overall I enjoyed it. The next one I was not impressed with. Nor the one after. I started the third one and lost interest.
     Last week I picked up the latest, Gamble, and was delightedly surprised. It's not amazing; it's not written by Dick Francis. But it's really good. Not great, but I liked it very much. I am hoping, hoping, hoping that Felix has come into his own in his writing.
     I don't know how much of his dad's writing he had to work with for these five books, but except for the first one they didn't feel like Dick Francis novels at all. Not that I think Felix should write like his dad. Stephen King's son, Joe Hill, is a great writer - but his writing is nothing like his dad's, which I feel is a good thing. However, I have held hope that Felix did share some of his dad's writing ability and that I would enjoy his books.
     I am now looking forward to the next one. If his writing continues to be strong, I also hope Felix will be able to leave his dad's name off the title and create a following of readers on his own.


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Thursday, October 18, 2012

Writing Therapy

Saw my therapist yesterday for the first time in months; since just at the beginning of the chaos that has kept me from writing or even wanting to write. He was distressed that I haven't been writing (outside of blogging) and urged me to get back to it.
     He is possibly the best therapist in the world and while he doesn't write, he is a big reader and huge lover of books. He knows that those of us with any kind of creative nature have to create in order to stay balanced and happy. Writers have to write, singers have to sing, dancers have to dance, artists have to paint or sculpt or whatever. (I am not ignoring the other less recognized kinds of artists: jewelery makers, those who knit or crochet, fashion designers, etc. I know all such things are driven by the need to make something to share with the world.) Our creativity is such a big part of us that it is unhealthy to keep away from it.
     I haven't purposely kept away from writing. For a few months I haven't had the energy to write, even on the rare occasions recently that I have had time. But the urge to write is starting to rear is lovely head and I hope to get back to it soon.
     There will always be chaos - it's part of life - but hopefully not so much of it. I admire writers who can keep up with their writing in spite of the craziness in their lives. I am jealous of those who can use writing to keep themselves grounded when things get wild and stressful. It seems I'm not one of them, but maybe one day I will learn to be.
    So, the next time I have a few extra minutes and I'm not exhausted, I hope to do some writing. And I feel positive that soon I will be once again, planning writing time into my week and doing so on a regular basis. Perhaps it will create some order to battle the chaos.


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Tuesday, October 16, 2012

My First Review

So I finally read the review of my book, Daylight's End, on Brianna Lee's Book Reviews (blog), and was very pleased. She only ranked it 3 out of 5 stars, which is good, but not great. Interestingly, what she said about the book, both good and otherwise, is very much what I think of the book also. It's my first published novel and it's good. And I think that's good enough.
     Of course Daylight's End is not my first book. It is common and sound advice that no writer should ever try to publish the first book they ever wrote. I wrote three previous novels that were not fit to be published. I may shorten them to novellas and publish them in the future, but I waited until I wrote a book that I thought was good enough to publish.
     Another reason I think it's fine that my book is good but not great: I e-published.  And that means if I find a way to improve the story, make the characterization stronger or the plot more intense, I can; then I can re-publish a new edition. This is one of the many great, great things about e-publishing.
    An interesting thing about Brianna's review was her brief description of the plot and characters at the beginning. Reviewers typically do this before giving their thoughts on different aspects of the book. I wrote a blog recently commenting on whether it was easier for a reader to briefly describe a book and do it well, when many authors struggle with doing that for their own books. Brianna's description of my book was so different from my own that while everything she said about the story and characters was true, I had difficulty recognizing that the book she described was my book. It was fascinating. I feel her summary of the book, while different from any I have ever written, was effective in making it sound like an interesting book to read.


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Thursday, October 11, 2012

Fear

I have  writing friend - amazing writer, amazing woman - who entered a short story in a contest for the first time a few months ago. She first shared it with several critique buddies, me included, and it was a great story.
     It was a contest where readers voted on their favorite story and within the first two days her story was in first place in the contest. Readers could also post comments and/or reviews. When I asked my friend a few days later how her story was doing, she told me some woman had written a lot of negative things in her comments and my friend had withdrawn the story.
     I was disappointed - well, shocked even - but my friend had a lot going on in her life and was emotionally fragile (and she is one of the strongest people I know) at the time and fortunately she recognizes this and realizes she acted rashly. The two times I've entered contests like this, my stories not only got few votes, but also few comments. A story that draws no reaction from the reader, positive or negative, can easily be considered a poor story.
    I recently sent my book to one of my new book review friends on fb and asked her to review it. I had followed her review blog and like her and her reviews. She posted recently that she had finished reading my book and was writing the review and I am terrified! What if the review is negative? I like to think I will react as I do to critiques - learn from it and improve. But I've never had a public review of my work and it's nerve wracking.
    Bless fb and my online horse friend Kimber Goodman who posts uplifting, positive and inspirational quotes, always with pictures of horses and often mentioning horses and riding specifically or as a universal metaphor. This morning I found this on on my fb news feed and I think it will give me courage to read the review of my book (which posted on my friends review page yesterday.)

"In order to live a creative life, we have to give up the fear of being wrong."

Because of the phrase "creative life", I feel like this should mention the fear of being judged or of failure or even not just producing our best work. It still got my attention and gave me what I needed to face this new experience. Everyone, especially artists and writers, should share and remember this quote.

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Tuesday, October 9, 2012

Reviewing Books

I don't think I've ever written a review (at least not of a fiction book) - not an actual, deliberate review. I have made comments and blogged about some novels and non-fiction and books about writing.
     I've been reading some book reviews lately and I think they must be hard to write and really hard to write well. Not that the ones I have read aren't good, but I think it must take some practice and development of a system for rating.
   One of the hardest things might be describing/summarising the story. I know how hard it is for an author to briefly describe their own book and make it sound interesting. Is it harder or easier to do that as a reader - or does it depend on the book?
     I know from critiquing (and from teaching horseback riding) that I'm pretty good at being positive while making note of things that need to be or could be improved. I wonder if I could be honest about a book I really didn't like? I could choose to write reviews only of books that I did like.
     Is it more worthwhile to share with other readers books they would like - rather than books they should avoid? I don't think it's necessary to draw peoples attention to a book they might not enjoy, but it's always nice to recommend good ones.
     It sort of follows the adage about not saying anything if you can't say something nice and that makes sense to me.


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Thursday, October 4, 2012

Encouraging Bloggers (And Would-be Bloggers)

In my last post I 'reviewed' (my version of reviewing is like my version of research - meaning it would be derided by anyone with any skill for or dedication to either) the book Blog, by Hugh Hewitt. He made several interesting points that I thought merit consideration.
    One of the things he stated in his book is that, although many people feel the trend has been going so long, it's not worth joining now, it is never too late to start a blog. If you have something you want to share, whether with a certain target audience or just randomly, blogging is a worthwhile effort, and can be very effective.
   Some of the simple pieces of advice he gives are:

    Link freely - this helps readers find other interesting or useful information.
    Keep most blog posts short.
    Post often - so any regular followers you have will keep checking in for new stuff.
    Be generous in praise and attribution - I really like this, because I am a positive person and like to promote others accomplishments, qualities, etc.
    Keep titles short - so they are easy to remember and type in. I feel this is also true of blog names/addresses.
   
Hewitt, a very experienced and successful blogger, makes a point of saying that being a technophobe is no deterrent. He is so technology challenged that people heckle him for the simplicity of his blog - but traffic on his blog is off the charts. If you don't think starting a blog is easy, try it. (I did this and found myself with a blog unintentionally). To prove his point, Hewitt mentioned that he was blogging for 2 years before he leaned how to use spellcheck on his blog posts. I am hopeless with learning anything computer related and that only took me 14 months.


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Tuesday, October 2, 2012

'Blog' by Hugh Hewitt

This is so like me. I am sharing information - not quite a review - of a book that has been out for eons, published in 2005. And since it's about technology-related stuff, which ages much more rapidly than other things - its a fossil. I'm banking on their being an updated version out there, and because I (mostly) enjoyed this one so much, I recommend finding it.
    This is not one of those books - of which there are many - that I randomly saw at a family members house (although I did) and started reading because I am addicted to words and will pick up and read anything the way I will automatically eat any chocolate I happen to come across. I deliberately chose to read the book, because I thought it would help me learn how to blog more effectively.
     The subtitle of Blog is Understand the Information Reformation That's Changing Your World. The first part, among highlights of the history of sharing information from the earliest civilizations, gives lengthy details about the powerful way the very first blogs influenced media, politics and the public. I found all of this fascinating, especially the history.
    The second part of the book focuses on how blogging has evolved and how to use it and keep up with and ahead of the changes. The last part of the book gives specifics on how to use blogging to market your product or service.
     While the book turned out to be primarily geared toward businesses and organizations, it also addressed individuals and the many kinds of blogs and motivations for blogging.  It was far from what I expected when I started reading, but I learned a great deal and it gave me many insights that I can apply to my own blogging and that I will share in future posts for other bloggers and writers.
    Even if you have no interest in blogging or its influence and usefulness, this is an interesting book. Hewitt is a talented and entertaining writer - several times I laughed out loud while reading, which is always fun when reading in public places - and the book covers a lot more than blogging. As well as history, it offers business advice and commentary on human nature and changing cultural trends.
   Like many people who write about politics, Hewitt occasionally states unequivocally that certain political views or religious beliefs are "wrong". I don't agree with this, but I am one of those who just smirks at such comments and I don't bother to react to what I see as others narrow mindedness or ignorance. The incidences in the book are very few and not enough that I would warn anyone that they might be offended.
    I strongly recommend this book, a newer updated version if there is one, but if not, this one still has a lot of merit. We can still learn a lot from the ancient writings from throughout history and this can be viewed the same way.


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Thursday, September 27, 2012

Grammar Goddesses

My mom was a high school English teacher and I had correct grammar in both speaking and writing  drilled into me since I was able to speak and write. This has been a huge asset to me as an author. I often, but not always, know when grammar sounds/looks/is correct or incorrect, but I don't always know why it is.
    I have two writer friends, amazing women, who help edit and critique my work. Both of them know everything abut grammar.  When they edit and critique they don't just write: "This needs to be worded this way," or "This sentence has to be structured like that." They explain why and cite the grammar rules that apply. One of them includes "for further reference" the exact section of the Chicago Manual of Style where the rule can be found!
     Sometimes I want to be like them. Other times I think it is much more practical and useful just to know them and be forever grateful for their knowledge and willingness to share it and educate fellow writers. I am blessed to have such incredibly talented people in my group of writing peers.


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Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Maybe It's Not Poor Spelling...

I have mentioned before that I have come to rely on spell check when writing blog posts. (Word always auto corrects me before I realize there was an error).  This is rarely because I use a word I don't know how to spell. I am one of those writers who will occasionally change a word or an entire sentence to avoid looking up spelling or correct usage.
    Most of the words I misspell are the same words, common words, known (at least in education) as "commonly misspelled words" or "spelling demons". (That term is a story waiting to be written...) I have begun to wonder if my brain actually spells the word wrong or if the problem is really typos. Does my brain know the correct spelling and my finger's muscle memory just ignore the brain's messages and type it incorrectly? Does it matter?
     What I really need is grammar check; something more than Words occasional "Fragment - consider revising" or useless highlighting of grammar issues without explanation, leaving me to figure out what the problem is. Perhaps my writing peer Grammar Goddesses could create a program for that.


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Thursday, September 20, 2012

Character Interviews

I am a big fan of character interviews. Even more than author interviews, they can give potential readers a great introduction to your book. But only if they are done well. I read one recently on a writer's blog that was not. The character gave no details about his adventures except to say they were difficult and he had scars. The only impression I got about the character was that he was a surly whiner.
     A writer fb friend recently posted that she wanted to do a character interview, but never knew what questions to ask. I feel the same way. I once thought that I could just read other's character interviews to get some ideas, but that doesn't work. The questions have to be tailored to reveal what it is you want to show about the story or the characters.
    I have been working on my first character interview to put on my book website. I'm looking for things that are unique about the story and the characters and trying to formulate questions around those things. It's a slow process as many questions and responses are considered and rejected - probably not unlike how a journalist decides what part of an interview gets included in an article.
   I've seen character interviews done two ways: in a simple question and answer format or like magazine articles - "When I first met so-and-so, we were meeting in the lobby of...". Again, I think the method has to be chosen according to how you want the characters and story portrayed.
   It's not a bad idea to consider interviews with secondary characters, especially if they are important to the plot or just add a significant aspect, like amusing, quirky sidekick or knowledgeable advisor to the protagonist(s). These characters can offer insights and perspective that the heroes and heroines may not be able to.
     If nothing else, it is said that interviewing your characters, even if you don't share this with fans and or potential readers, is a great way to become more familiar with your characters. If you learn something new about them, it may help improve characterization or give you new plot ideas.


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Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Believing In Yourself

At the last horse show I competed in, I rode my young horse, Turner. It was his first show and he won Reserve Champion in his division. My veteran show horse, Nessee, who injured herself four days before the competition, won Reserve Champion in her division in her first two shows this year and Grand Champion her third time out.
     I was delighted with Turner's performance and as well as complimenting him, many people commented on how well I had ridden. They frequently do. I never feel as if I ride very well, certainly not as well as I think I could/should. I always give the credit to my horses and my great luck in having been blessed with wonderful horses.
   At this particular show, a friend of many years pointed out to me that I have always trained my own horses from the very start. In many cases, I bred and raised most of them. This is true. It's possible others are right and I'm wrong. Evidence points that way.
  While I believe I am a good trainer and riding instructor and I do well working with young horses and both child and adult students, I still feel I'm not a very good rider. I think many writers are this way about our work. When others praise our writing, it's easy to discount their opinions for whatever reason. When our work wins contests or gets published, we often feel it was just luck.
   Maybe we feel that even though a piece of writing is successful, indicating that it is good writing, we feel it isn't good enough. But if we are writing the best we can, our work is as good as it can be for the skill level we are at when we write it. Which means it IS the best it can be, if not as good as it could be if we wrote it when we have more practice, education and experience. We need to understand that and understand that our work will continue to improve.


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Thursday, September 13, 2012

Short vs. Long Blog Posts

I read somewhere (I do that a lot) that blog posts should be short; that's supposed to be the nature of a blog. Some people may disagree and people have different opinions of what "short" is.
     Personally, I prefer to read blog posts that are only a few paragraphs. It's possible that is just because of my short attention span.  I do enjoy well-written longer posts, but it is my belief - if not something I'm good at - that a talented writer should be able to get a point across successfully in a small number of words. Some of the blogs I read that have longer posts are awesome and have great messages or information. But some are very wordy and I feel could have been written more succinctly.
     I try to keep my posts short. Part of the trick to that is choosing topics that can be written about briefly while still being covered adequately. This is good practice for writing skills in general.
    However, I also wonder: what is considered too short?  If a post is very short, that might imply that the topic wasn't significant enough to warrant writing about. Or that not enough was shared and/or the topic wasn't sufficiently covered.
    I believe that certain ideas or information can be shared with very few words. I'm a big fan of sharing adages; they are short and some of them are potent. And there are things that cannot be said in too few words. As with most things, there's a balance to be achieved. Yet another writing skill to be worked on and improved.


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Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Why Beta Readers?

I'm not asking "Why have them?" I'm wondering why they are called beta readers when they are also known as first readers. Shouldn't they be called alpha readers?
     I understand that writers/authors are the alpha readers because we are control freaks and very protective of our work and careful about who we share it with.  But it still makes more sense to me to call first readers "alpha readers" or beta readers "second readers."   
     Whatever they are called, beta readers are important and they must understand how important they are. A writer needs a beta reader that takes a vested interest in a work's well-being; who truly cares about the author and wants the book or story to be the absolute best it can be.
     My beta reader is my awesome oldest niece. She is currently doing her job on my second book. She wasn't the first reader of my first book and she should have been. She didn't read it until after it was published and has been taking notes and giving advice on how it can be improved and problems with the plot or characters that no one else - even me - noticed or mentioned. (Fortunately, one of the great things about e-publishing is the ability to edit/rewrite and then republish the improved edition.)
     It's better if a writer doesn't find out after their book is published that they need a beta reader. Having more than one beta reader is also good. (Maybe this is  why they are called beta readers? There can be only one alpha, but any number of betas.) It may take a false start or two to find the right beta reader, but once a writer has one (or more), they should appreciate what a blessing it is.


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Thursday, September 6, 2012

Time Management

I started a new job this week, a few months after having lost my wonderful job working for a book seller whom I really like and with co-workers I really like. I think I will really like my new job and most of the people, though it is a huge company, unlike the staff of four that I was part of previously.
     While I was between jobs, I did not use my free time for writing as much as I should have. During the first part of my unemployment I did finish my second book, which is now being reviewed by my beta reader before being published. But since then I haven't written much at all, and except for blogging, have not had any kind of regular writing routine.
    There has been a lot going on: visit to my dad, moving my father-in-law (by his choice) into - and subsequently (also by his choice) out of  - assisted living, competing in horse shows again for the first time in three years, cousins wedding, job searching, finding contract work to keep paying the bills, etc. But mostly the problem is that once I get off schedule or routine, I struggle to get back to it.
    My last job had set hours 9-5 M-F. My new job has hours and days that change every week. Schedules are posted two weeks in advance, but this will be a huge challenge for my already weak time-management skills.
     I like to feel that once I am less stressed and frantic about regular income and stop doing extra projects and things that I wanted to accomplish before I started working again, that I will settle into my new working life enough to begin writing regularly. Having to schedule my writing at different times of the day and on changing days off will be a struggle for me. But I'm always talking about improving one's writing skills and one of the writing skills I always need to work on is self-discipline and managing writing time. A challenge is usually a good thing.


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Tuesday, September 4, 2012

Tense And Point of View

I read somewhere that writing in the first-person is harder than writing in third, and that first-person narration should not be attempted by beginning writers. I disagree with this. I feel it is easier to keep the correct perspective when writing from the "I" point of view.
     I know this isn't always true, even for me. My critique buddies often cite me for having my protagonist mention something she couldn't possibly know. But first person narration is much easier than trying to keep the correct point of view when writing in third person, where it's too easy to just mention things that would only be seen or understood by someone who is not the main character.
    Regardless of preference or writing ability, some books and stories are more suited to one type of narration or point of view than others. The Sherlock Holmes books wouldn't work nearly as well if written in any other way than from Watson's first-person perspective.
   I have also read that present tense is very common/popular in stories and books. I find this hard to believe. I read a lot and very rarely come across anything written in present tense.
    It is said that present tense is great for giving a story a sense of immediacy, which is something I didn't fully understand until recently. I have just now finished (seemingly after everyone else on the planet already had) reading The Hunger Games Trilogy, which is written in the present tense. The few times I've read stories in this tense, it always felt awkward to me. It works so well in The Hunger Games, I was hardly aware of it.
     Random observation: Another thing I noticed in  Hunger Games - and think is unusual and possibly advised against - is that many of the tag lines are written as, "says Peeta" or "says Cinna", rather than the more common "Peeta says." or "Cinna says.". Because of the nature of the story, the setting and atmosphere, this also feels right, where it might not in other works of fiction.


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Thursday, August 30, 2012

Reviews, Good Or Bad

I recently became fb friends with many authors and several book reviewers. I always enjoy their status updates and what they share about books they are writing, reading or reviewing.
     I have noticed that when I see someone write that they loved a book or wrote a rave review of a book or say they gave it 5 out of 5 stars, I want to check out the book. However, if they say they liked the book, but it wasn't as great as they hoped or only gave it a 3 out of 5, I don't even feel like reading the review.
     Maybe it's just me.
     I haven't had any reviews of my book and I'm hesitant to ask any of the reviewers (whose reviews I have read and appreciated) or anyone else to review mine. Is having a mediocre review worse than none at all?
   I think it's possible that a mediocre review might be worse than a really bad one. At lease a bad one has a curiosity factor that might make some people at least want to take a look. I feel that half of the people that read "Fifty Shades of Gray" did so not because of the great reviews or even the reports that it was outrageously smutty, but because many people said it was SO badly written.
    I admit to having read it for that last reason - to see if the writing was as terrible as I'd heard.
    They say the worst response you can have to your work is indifference. It should evoke some kind of response in the reader, positive or negative, but I don't think that relates to reviews.


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Thursday, August 23, 2012

Downtime

I read an fb post by Anne Lamott the other day. I love her books and sometimes her posts leave me in awe as well, but sometimes I have no idea what she's saying or trying to say. This was one of those times, but it still gave me something to think about.
     The post had to do with how she feels about people who say they just completed a writing project and are moving immediately onto the next. I'm unclear whether Ms. Lamott was trying to say she liked or hated when people do this, or if that is or isn't what she does when she finishes a WIP. 
     It is common - and I think good - writing advice, that when you are done with a draft of any written work, you should set it aside for a time before looking at it again. For some people this means a few days or weeks, for others it is a matter of hours or even minutes. Going on to work on another project is also often suggested.
     In the case of a final draft or finished manuscript, is it best to go right on to the next project or take a break from any kind of writing? Part of my delight in completing the final draft of any work is excitement about getting to start on the next one. Even so, I usually, without consciously planning to, take some time off.
     While this happens to me sort of naturally, I feel it is something that my brain has to do. But as I've learned, any serious break or time off from writing makes it very hard to get back to it. The writing vacay can turn into a hiatus. I need a routine to keep my momentum and what little discipline I have.
     This will be different for every writer. Some need a solid break, some need to keep moving with barely a pause. The important thing is to figure out which type of writer you are and have a plan, so you have the right amount of energy and enthusiasm for your next project.


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Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Those Who Can...

Most people are familiar with the saying, "Those who can, do. Those who can't, teach." I prefer the alternate version: "Those who can, teach. Those who can't, go into some less significant profession."
    Which is true? Teaching is an art; one of those things you can learn to do, but never be great at unless you have a natural gift for it. Even those who are really good at something can't necessarily teach others to do it.
     I am both a riding instructor and a rider. I am a better instructor than rider. I know how to ride; I know what I have to do to ride well. I just am not always - sometimes not ever - able to do it. (I have always been blessed by amazing horses and they make me look much better than I am. It has been pointed out to me that I personally trained all my horses, which may support either argument.)
     I have a friend who teaches hunt seat riding and is one of the best riding instructors I've ever seen. I don't know if she rode or showed hunters when she was younger, but she now competes in calf roping - a totally different kind of riding sport. But she doesn't teach calf-roping.
    Many great sports coaches never played very much of the sport they coach. Many great players make terrible coaches. Understanding what you teach, and being able to teach others, is far more important than being able to perform spectacularly yourself at whatever it is you teach.
    So I don't believe the first statement above, but the second one is true for nearly everything.


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Thursday, August 16, 2012

Chapter Titles

I am a big fan of chapter titles - if they are done well. I'm mainly referring to chapter titles in fiction, because most non-fiction books need to have them, but even in non-fiction it's best to have chapter titles that are interesting.
     I think more children's and YA books have chapter titles than adult fiction, which is appropriate.  I feel chapter titles should be like book titles - intriguing. They should make you want to find out what happens.
     If a writer is planning to have chapter titles that are bland and meaningless, I think they are better off without. I recently perused a book by Pat Conroy, which had chapter titles like "Going Home." I don't see the point.
     Creating good chapter titles is one of those writing gifts I am envious of. Since titles are such a great lure for readers, I think most novels could benefit from them. However, not every chapter will lend itself to a great title.
      Should a book have chapter titles, if only some of them are really good? There will be some titles that are less than stellar or even kind of dull, but if the majority of the chapters in the book have entertaining, interesting titles, a few poor ones won't detract. I think a small number of uninspired chapter titles is worth keeping, if chapter titles are an asset to a novel overall.


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Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Location

After my recent bout of missed blog posts, I've gone back to my previously successful practice of writing a blog post any time I happen to have a few spare minutes: Dr.'s office, in my truck while hay is being loaded,  waiting for the pharmacy to open, etc. For some reason this always works for me, in spite of having the common problem at other times of not being able to find a worthwhile idea to write about on demand.
     I suspect this has something to do with the location.  If I already have a topic I want to post about, I can usually write it anytime and anywhere.   If I am stuck on deciding what subject I want to address in a post - or have difficulty expressing what I'm trying to say on a chosen topic - being somewhere other than my office helps.
     A different environment, and different scenery, affects the way we think about things. If you let your mind wander, your attention will be drawn to the things around you. If I'm waiting at my neighbors farm for hay loading I will notice the cute herd of donkeys in the next field, how my hay guy's horse is similar to some of mine, if I would prefer a tractor like he owns over the one that I have. A waiting room has magazines I've never heard of  that have subjects I'm not familiar with. The folks waiting with me have some fascinating conversations. All of these things are inspirational in terms of writing.
   According to some writers, we can train ourselves to be inspired at any given time. That may not be true for all of us, so we have to make use of anything that helps our creativity.


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Thursday, August 9, 2012

Formats

Sister and nieces and I did our local monthly "Art Crawl" in downtown Franklin, TN. Local businesses feature work by local artists and serve wine and snacks. One shop had a musician on the front porch. I don't remember the song, but it was one that I recognized and it was so bad that we spent very little time at this stop because the music was so hard to tolerate.
     Going back the same way to where our cars were parked, I happily commented to my sister, "They have a different singer. She's so much better than the guy who was here earlier." My older niece replied, "It's the same guy." And it was, but I was not the only one in our little party who was confused.
     We all stopped on the street to experience this phenomenon. It was the same musician, still performing acoustically, but his voice was almost feminine. It was a different kind of song, but still one we all knew and it was amazing to listen to.
    Do all musical performers sound so different when they play and sing alternate kinds of music and lyrics? If that were the case, I thought they should find what they sing well and stick to the kind of music that makes them sound good. That made sense to me until my writer's brain kicked in and put up an argument.
     I have written picture books, young adult, christian/inspirational, essays, genre fiction and poetry. Some of these things I do better than others and some I don't do well at all. I write terrible poetry, but I do it occasionally because I enjoy it and I recognize that it is a good exercise for my creativity and writing skills.
    This must apply to musicians and artists and any work or craft people do. If we don't try different things, how do we learn what we are good at? If we don't practice things we struggle with, how do we improve? There's a reason we are encouraged to "step outside of our comfort zone" and see what we find and what were are capable of - or not. The more we do it and the farther we go, the more we can learn.


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Tuesday, August 7, 2012

Are Other People Like This?

By other people I mean non-writers. Or maybe non-artists.
     Today I was bringing hay to my horses, which involves driving my truck to a neighboring farm, having my "hay guy" use his tractor to drop a 6x6, 1,500 lb., round bale of hay into the bed of my truck, which I then take back to my farm and out into the horse pasture where I roll it out of the truck.
     This afternoon, during the drive to and from my farm, all the radio stations were repeating continuous severe weather warnings about thunderstorms, high winds and hail, but all we had at that point was lightning. Serious cloud-to-ground lightning in every direction. The torrential rain didn't start until I was out in the pasture unloading the hay.
     So while I was standing in the bed of my truck, trying to wrestle, push, maneuver this recalcitrant hay roll out onto the ground - I mentioned they weigh 1,500 lbs? And while round bales, also known as hay rolls, are technically round, they all have a flat side and can sometimes be difficult to "roll" out of a truck bed - my actions were arrested by fascination with the weather.
    In the few places in the sky where there were no rolling clouds and phenomenal bolts of lightning, a stunning sunset was showing. I found myself thinking this would be a good time to work on my admittedly poor skills of description by taking note of my surroundings.
      Smell: wet hay, mud, wet horses. Tactile: itchy hay stuck to my skin; how heavy a light t-shirt and shorts can become when suddenly drenched by a downpour; my bare feet (lost my sandals in the mud while trying to climb into truck bed) trying to get some traction on the slick truck bed liner; how different the hard, fat drops of rain felt, compared to the stinging impact of the small, sharp ones. Sight: The light spots in the sky where breaks in the clouds let the sunset show through;  the colors - black, palomino, chestnut, gray - of the impatient horses, circling the truck like sharks. Sound: Cracks of thunder; rain splattering on the roof of the truck; horses slopping and slipping in the mud. Taste: rain and (unfortunately) damply dusty hay.
     While trying to experience all these things, I was distracted buy the continual spears of lighting, all nearly straight rather than jagged or forked. It seemed as if the lightning was taking the shortest, most direct route to the earth to have the most devastating impact.
     Does this sound safe? I can tell you from recent research into lightning strikes for a short story I was working on, it is not. I even spent a few seconds, standing soaking wet and barefoot in the back of my truck in the middle of a wide-open field, wondering what the odds of my situation being an attraction for lightening might be.
    It reminded me of videos and photographs of deadly situations, where the person responsible for the visual images must have been dangerously close to tornadoes, volcanoes, explosions, tsunamis, flying bullets, or vicious wildlife. I always think, "Was the photographer/filmer crazy? Stupid? Or just so intent on capturing the experience to share with others that they were oblivious to all else?"
      Fortunately, I didn't become a casualty of this aspect of artistic temperament. I came to my senses, dumped the hay and scampered to the relative safety inside my truck. But I keep wondering...are other people like this?


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Thursday, August 2, 2012

Reasons or Excuses?

I've missed my last three blog posts - or rather missed posting on the last three scheduled days. This has been a rare occurrence since I challenged/charged myself with keeping a twice-weekly posting schedule. Embarrassingly - I'm admittedly not the most organized person - the first one I missed was simply because I just plain forgot what day it was. (Sadly, this is not the first time that has happened.)
     And, as expected and has been proven time and again, once I get off schedule with my regular writing routine, it's very easy to not get back into it. (Does this sound familiar? How often have I posted about the skip-a-day-or-two-and-lose-momentum/motivation issue?)
     The last post I missed was "because" my laptop had a virus and had to go to the shop. It's still in the shop and I am writing this on my little Netbook that I keep for backup and am very grateful to have. But using the Netbook is hard. And using that as an excuse not to write a blog post is easy.
     So, I'm making myself get back on schedule with my posting, and still hoping one day I will learn these lessons often enough and well enough that I will stop repeating the same mistakes and bad habits.


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Thursday, July 19, 2012

How Being A Writer Can Ruin A Good Book

I'm being generous here - with a lot of work, the book I have in mind might attain the adjective  "fair".  It would possibly make a decent short story. It's a cozy mystery centered around golfing, set in a country club community. I think the mystery itself might be interesting (I'm only half way through the book) and some of the characters are likable.
     I don't want to mention the name of this book or the author, because of some misguided protective instinct. I will say it's published by a subsidiary of St. Martin's and on the dedication page, the author thanks her editor. The editor made sure the book has proper grammar, spelling and punctuation. But the editor is not a writer,or this would have been a very different book.
     I feel that many years ago I could have enjoyed this book despite its flaws, probably few of which I would have been aware of.  Now, however, my inner editor started shrieking in the first few pages: Show, don't tell! Poor characterization. Erratic pacing. Unrealistic characters and relationships. Slow moving plot. Drastic POV shifts. Unnecessary prose.
     (I mentioned in my last post that I had begun reading Fifty Shades of Gray and the writing isn't as bad as I was led to believe. Shades is award-worthy compared to this.)
     While I'm disheartened that my writerly knowledge is making it hard for me to like or get through this book, it is a great learning tool of the "what not to do" variety. (I think this book could be a great assignment for a creative-writing or editing class.) The problems are so glaring that I will not be likely to forget them. In my case, having read this book will help me to catch my own writing mistakes in regard to plotting, pacing, POV and characterization. There is something to be learned even from the worst examples of writing.

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Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Evaluating Opinions Of Books

So, I finally started reading Fifty Shades of Gray. The two main things I had heard about it were that it was badly written and that it was pornographic. True readers, like myself, readily admit to reading at least some of anything we come across, from cereal boxes to Penthouse Magazine. I don't think Shades is any more explicit than much contemporary romance and certainly not as much as erotic romance. I kinda have to wonder what the people who are shocked by it generally read and what made them pick up this particular book.
      I will say that it could use some editing, but it's not as awful as I was led to believe. There are engaging characters and a romantic love story with interesting complications. There are a lot of things about the author's style that I think are unique and good. (This is evidence of my twisted sense of humor, but I'm very amused by how the protagonist relates some of her feelings. I don't remember the exact quotes, but some examples were a variation of this: "My inner goddess was licking her lips." and "My subconscious was huddled on the couch with her head in her hands.")
     I will also be interested to see if I am drawn to read the sequels to this book and if they will show  improvement in the author's writing. As I've said in a previous post, I have seen this in series books from some of my favorite, very talented, series authors.  Wherever we are in our careers and professions, if we keep working at it and trying to get better, we will keep improving in our craft.
     While readers are free to have and share any  opinions about books, I don't think they should base their judgements of any work on personal preference. If they don't like how it's written, that doesn't necessarily mean that it's badly written. If they don't like the characters, that doesn't mean the book has poor characterization.
     It's a fact that writers are compulsive editors. We evaluate everything we read with an appreciation of what is done well and an eye for what could be done better. But I feel that in doing so, and because we have a professional, if not expert view,  we are fair in our assessments. I need to always keep this in mind when listening to both writers and non-writers opinions of books.

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Thursday, July 12, 2012

New Ideas For Lucrative Writing

I have heard that movies and TV shows get advertising or sponsorship money for featuring or endorsing products and brand names. This may or may not be true, but as a writer I think this would be a great thing for authors. If I am particularly fond of a product, place or service, I like to mention them - specifically and by name - in my books and stories because I like to promote them. I believe in these places and things and I want to help them attract more customers and I think others can benefit from visiting and/or doing business with them.
     Writers can get into legal trouble if they misuse or misrepresent things that are trademarked. However, if a brand name is used properly and in a positive way, I think the owners of that product should consider sending a check to the writer.
     I understand this could lead to some version of promotional purple prose of the worst kind if writers thought that businesses would send them money just for including a product or service in their stories or books.  While I'm not clever or business-savvy enough to think of how, there should be some way that businesses could make sure such a thing was not abused.
     Perhaps businesses could review books or stories that include their names, product or services and choose to show appreciation to the writer in the form of a book award. Maybe the winner could be chosen for the most interesting or intriguing use of a product, restaurant, etc., in a plot.
     I think I may be onto something here. Who do I talk to about this?

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Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Crossover Novels

I am not referring to works of fiction that cross genre boundaries - well I am - but specifically the boundary of Young Adult fiction and Adult fiction.  And I'm thinking more specifically of YA fantasy novels: Rick Riordan's Novels, JK Rowling, The Hunger Games, etc.
     I am a huge fan of all kinds of YA books (and middle grades and even younger). It takes a whole different kind of talent for authors to write for teens. This is something I appreciate and admire and I love that many books/series like the ones mentioned above are also enjoyed by adults.
     I am intrigued as to what it is about these YA books that is so appealing and different from adult books. They have amazing settings, characters and plots, but so does most bestselling adult (genre/fantasy) fiction. I cannot pinpoint what would make adult readers become so caught up in the adventures of young people.
      I discussed it with a book loving friend and she said that well-written YA books appeal to adults because we remember being young and can relate to characters, certainly in a way that teens might not be able to understand the motivations of adult characters in adult novels. This is a really good point, but I don't think it's the whole answer.
    I tried to imagine placing an adult cast in some YA books, and found it's difficult. How would that change the perspective, thoughts, actions and emotions of the main characters?   It isn't that the characters are not mature, have never experienced hardship, or don't have responsibilities of caring for loved ones. Most of them have all the same problems with insecurity, family issues, and personality flaws as grown people. So, why is it so hard to see a grown person in these roles?
     The fact that I can't find a satisfactory response to this question may show that I just don't have enough imagination. And maybe that's the answer. It could be that older people have grown away from using their imaginations the way they did when they younger.

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Thursday, July 5, 2012

Always Encourage

I've been regularly attending poetry meeting/readings at Landmark Booksellers and gotten a bit familiar with the regulars. Not everyone is at every meeting, but those that miss one are generally at the next. Occasionally there is a new face and voice.
     Last night there was a woman who had made nearly an hour's drive to join us. She mentioned that she had been "thrown out" of another group she'd been meeting with. It's possible they didn't actually ask to her to leave, but being driven out by negativity is the same thing. She told us the other group members had criticized her poetry - which is different from critiquing - because her work wasn't ready for publication (perhaps because she wasn't aiming for publication) and even made negative comments when she chose to use unusual font she thought was appropriate for a particular poem.
     The Landmark readings are just that - readings. The attendees don't critique or discuss what is read, although appreciative comments and occasional questions are encouraged. In fact, appreciation and encouragement are one of the main reasons for the meetings.
     This woman, who had not been to a Landmark reading before, did read some of her work and it was quite good. Several listeners commented on aspects that we liked and I hope she recognized that we were sincere and not patronizing. I hope she will join us again and realize that those who criticized her work lacked the ability to appreciate her poetry.
     I am always dismayed when I hear stories of writers (or artists of any ilk) discouraging other writers. True writers and artists should - and I believe most are - be positive toward others' work and art, whatever the level (or lack) of expertise and whatever their personal feelings about it may be. We need the support of others like ourselves, who know and understand our struggles and triumphs in a way that non-creative types can't.

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Tuesday, July 3, 2012

Classics

I'm not really sure what the criteria is for a book to be called a classic, but I can recognize ones that are, usually by title or author. Another way to know: If it is a book I read, I hated it; If I haven't read it, I tried - and couldn't make myself finish it.  This is not entirely true for all classics, but there are so few classics I've read and liked that it might as well be.
       I'm also not really sure why I hate them.  I don't think I hate them all for the same reason. For many, like Shakespeare and anything written pre-1900, the language and structure make them too much effort for me to enjoy reading. As much as I love books, I can't enjoy anything I have to spend a lot of time and energy to decipher. I have read Children's Classics versions of many books -several Dickens novels, The Count of Monte Cristo, Swiss Family Robinson - and really liked the stories. I just couldn't read them in their "classic" form.
     For many of these books, my problem is either a lack of romanticism or lack of empathy. As much as I love history, I would not have survived living in the world of Jane Austen or the Brontes. I just cannot and do not wish to relate to those times and cultures.
     I'm trying hard to think of classics that I do like, and it's a challenge. Black Beauty, of course.  Kipling's Rikki Tikki Tavi and Jungle Book and Just So Stories. (But I recently tried to read a collection of Kipling's horror and fantasy stories and couldn't get past the second story.)
    I love all of Agatha Christie's books and stories. And I enjoy Mary Roberts Rhinehart, although some of her stories and many of her protagonists - who I'm sure act realistically in accordance to their time and culture - try my patience.
     While I was in school, I thought my problem was that I just wasn't mature or educated or worldly enough to appreciate the works that it seems everyone else thinks are the epitome of literature. As I've grown older and doggedly continued my quest to read classics and understand and enjoy them, I've gotten no better at seeing what everyone else sees. I've begun to suspect maybe I'm not intelligent enough to get it. I also suspect I will keep trying and hopefully one day figure it out.

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Thursday, June 28, 2012

You Can't Edit Enough

Lately, I have been selecting posts from my blog to post on fb. I try to chose ones that have themes that can be applied to things other than writing or to life in general.
     Like most writers, I edit everything I write. I sometimes have to force myself to use common abbreviations when texting or posting things on fb, but whenever I can I spell everything out correctly, use proper punctuation and grammar. Unless I'm tired or in a hurry, I meticulously re-read and edit even my short, personal emails.
     So when I read each blog post as I am considering which ones to choose for fb, I am always surprised to have to edit them - again. I find punctuation, spelling and grammar errors, typos and awkward sentences.
    We never stop learning how to write better , but our editing skills must improve continuously as well.

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Tuesday, June 26, 2012

When Bad Is Good

My last post was about writers growing and improving their skills. It is sometimes hard for people to see improvement in their own work.
    Most writers look back on their early work and are appalled at how bad it is. As writers, we find it hard to believe that when we produced the writing that we look back on as awful, we thought it was really good at the time we wrote it.
   We always view it in terms of how bad it was then. I don't recall ever hearing a fellow writer say, "When I read my writing/stories from years ago, I'm amazed at how much better my writing is now." - which is how we should look at it.
    Writers also need to recognize that the writing they look back on and see as "awful" and remember thinking it was really good, probably was really good, if they were writing to the best of their ability at that time. Even if our early work was not our best writing, it was still good in the sense that it helped us practice and learn to a point where we appreciate that we are better writers now than we used to be.

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Friday, June 22, 2012

Growing

   I mentioned in my last post that I am currently reading Eragon, by Christoper Paolini. It has been out for a long time and he has written a few more books in the series. I remember people talking about what a great book it is.
    It's a good book. It's holding my interest. The story is not unusual and the writing isn't exceptional. There's nothing really phenomenal about it, except for why people talked so much about it:  it was written by a nineteen-year-old.
    That fact is more incredible to a writer than to the average reader. Even great writers could not write so well at that age, no matter what age they started writing. It takes most of us decades of writing consistently and learning how to improve before we can produce the kind of writing in Eragon.
     What is really making me want to finish this book is so I can read the next one. Because the next book is sure to be better, and the next one better than that. And I love to see how writers grow and improve with experience.
    I remember being very aware of this in Jim Butcher's Dresden series. I don't think the first Harry Dresden book was Butcher's first novel, but it was truly great. Even so, I noticed a marked improvement in the writing - all aspects of it - in the next few books. And they just keep getting better.
     Another example is Charlaine Harris, best known for her Sookie Stackhouse/Southern Vampire Novels. They are consistently great. But she published two mystery series before starting Sookie; the Shakespeare Series and the Aurora Teagarden books. I've read all of them and, even from the perspective of one of her biggest fans, the Shakespeare books are mediocre. The Aurora Teagarden books are good, but not anything special. But again, I loved seeing the author's growth as a writer over the years.
     It's important to keep in mind that no matter where we are in our profession and what our skill level is, we can continue to grow and get better if we keep learning and practicing.  This is true for writing or anything else.  Sometimes it's hard to see our own improvement, so being able to recognize it others can keep us inspired.

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Tuesday, June 19, 2012

More Good Books

On the recommendation of a friend, I have just finished reading Joe Hill's "Horns". The story was good and extremely well written, but not my kind of thing. I did really enjoy Hill's "20th Century Ghosts", an eclectic group of short stories.
     I have also just finished The Hunger Games, which I loved and I can't wait to read the rest of the series. This is a book I put off reading - like many that I ignored the hype about, because I figure if the masses love it, I probably won't. Which is ridiculous, since I ended up liking (among other titles I can't call to mind at the moment) Harry Potter and The Percy Jackson Series - both also written for YA, but loved by readers of every age. If you haven't read The Hunger Games, give it a try.
    I am in the middle of reading Stephen King's latest tome, 11/22/63 (also on the recommendation of a friend) and it is really good. I have just started reading Eragon, another YA phenomenon that went mainstream that I never got around to reading when everyone was raving about it.
    Not long ago I read the latest in the Sookie Stackhouse/Southern Vampire Series by Charlaine Harris, which was as consistently enjoyable as all the previous books in the series. I can think of a few other authors could take lessons from Harris on how to do that.
    I received an email the other day telling me that the new Janet Evanovich title in the "Wicked" something series is about to be released. I read the first one and it is a fun if frivolous story and I am looking forward to the next one.
    Like many bibliophiles, I sometimes get anxious when there are many new (and old) books that I want to read, but that is preferable to (those very rare times of) not having any new reading to look forward to.

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Thursday, June 14, 2012

Just Start

I recently came across a  Gene Rebeck review of a book called "Just Start", by Leonard A. Schlesinger,  Charles F. Keifer and Paul B. Brown. It is a business book that I doubt says anything of great interest to writers.
     However, the review said the general premise of the book is that a person can't get a business idea off the ground if they try to think out everything ahead of time. And I think that is an idea that could be very useful to anyone starting or planning a large writing project.
     With a short story, you may be able to work out all the details before you begin writing. With a novel you can only plan so much. Experienced novel writers know that however much you plan your book in advance, that plan will start to change almost immediately.
     In regard to starting a business, this book tells the reader you have to be flexible and adjust as you go along. This is also very true of writing a book. Many beginning writers have trouble getting started because they don't think they are "ready". You have to "Just Start" or it's possible you never will.

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Tuesday, June 12, 2012

And You Will Outline!

Our writers' group watched another section of a video of William Bernhardt's seminar on novel writing. Several times during his amusing and informative talk he mentioned outlining, always followed by the statement, "and you will outline." According to Bernhardt, all novelists outline, even those that claim they don't. He offered the opinion that some writers think that admitting to using an outline suggests a lack of creativity or spontaneity in their writing.
     I think it's true that all novelists outline in some form or fashion.  I don't see how anyone can write a fiction book without some kind of organizational method for keeping track of "what happens when" in the story. Many writers may not think of their system of notes as an outline, but it serves the same purpose.
    The word "outline" suggests having the plot of a book all planned out before the writing begins. Many writers do have a good enough idea about their book that they can create an outline first. But nearly all writers that do so will - and know they will -  make changes to the outline as the book progresses and deviates from the original.
     Authors who claim not to use an outline, or call their outline process something else, are more likely to be the ones that don't outline before they write; writers like myself, who don't know enough about where the story is going to lay it all out before hand.
    I call what I do a timeline. And I don't bother with it until I have a clear idea of what the main story events are, but not the best order. That's when I put each scene on an index card and move them around in different patterns to find the one that works best. Then I write out the order of scenes, so I can keep track of "what happens when" and adjust as necessary.
    So, yes, if you are writing a novel, you will outline. Even if you say you don't, you do - in your own way, however such a thing fits in you personal writing process.

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Thursday, June 7, 2012

A Few Last Bits Of "Gratitude"

A few more (some of my favorites) writerly quotes from Todd Aaron Jensen's "On Gratitude":

"The impulse to tell stories is part of our species. There's a storytelling instinct in everyone." - Joyce Carol Oates

"I'm very grateful for all the long-term support of my readers, the pleasure they take in my books, and the generous way they express that to me. They are the unseen force in my life - people I've not met, for the most part, but who drive me and inspire me and move me deeply to always to better work." - Danielle Steele

"The nice thing abut fiction is it develops our ability to empathize. Literature makes us more human." - John Updike

"To stare at horizontal lines of phonetic symbols and Arabic numbers and to be able to put a show on in your head, it requires the reader to perform. If you can do it you can go whaling in the South Pacific with Herman Melville or you can watch Madame Bovary make a mess of her life in Paris. With pictures and movies, all you have to do is sit there and look at them and it happens to you. I am grateful to people who still concern themselves with the work of being readers." - Kurt Vonnegut

And a completely random quote:

"I'm very grateful Hawaii exists. I thank Hawaii every time I'm there. I really wish Hawaii would let me live there. I am a whining, screaming kid every time I have to leave." - Maya Rudolph

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