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.

Thursday, August 23, 2012


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.

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.

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.

Tuesday, August 14, 2012


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.

Thursday, August 9, 2012


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.


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?

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.