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Archive for April, 2012

I’ll be honest, there were days when I didn’t write. There I said it. I wanted to be a writer, to spin a tale worthy of a book club, but I couldn’t seem to schedule my day well enough to make the writing thing work. I had plenty of excuses too: three kids whom I homeschool, meals that stood between me and my laptop, and then the adoption of my son, which drove us back to diapers and bottles and the emotional effort of bonding. How could I be a writer if I didn’t jot down the mandatory 500 words a day?

One post-it at a time. That’s how.

If I had an idea, instead of looking for an hour to spend working on that scene, I committed 2 minutes to writing it out on a post-it or two, which I then stuck in my 3-ring binder “Notes Page”. Like making a deposits into a safe box, these little ideas grew into a new novel.

Countless benefits to post-it writing have actually increased my productivity:

Then – A great idea was born, so great that I couldn’t possibly forget it, right? (Wrong!)

Now – I have a post-it notebook with every idea, good or bad, ready for further development or deletion.

Then – Writing success was determined by the number of words I wrote for my current work-in-progress; a worthy goal but one that set me up for failure.

Now – Writing success is an actuality; not determined by the number of words I write, but by the solid ideas, the cluttery look of post-its stuck inside my notebook.

Then – I spent $4.00 on three pads of post-its.

Now – I buy a 6-month supply at Sam’s club for $8.00

The lessons I learned:

1. Take life in small snippets. Yep. Post-it sized moments.

2. A great idea is no good if you can’t remember it. Save it with a post-it.

3. Post-its fit in any size purse. You’ll never be without.

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School Visits 101

It’s starting to roll. My marketing plan includes school visits as a means of reaching out to students as a writer and potentially a mentor. My first school visit is scheduled in two weeks. I will be speaking to three classes of fifth graders. And now a whole new phase of preparation begins!

The teachers have asked me to discuss the writing process, particularly the need for editing. I have a few ideas, but I’d love to have more input. If you have any suggestions, words of encouragement, stories of authors you remember visiting your school, please share!

And then, of course, the woman in me comes through…what should I wear? I don’t want to be ultra casual, but also not so overly dressed that I’m unapproachable.

Which brings me to the first point I will be making about editing – when you prepare for a special event, you take the time to clean up, iron your clothes and brush your hair. Shoes are polished and teeth are brushed. No one would ever consider going to a special event wearing ripped jeans, smudges of dirt on his face or tangles in her hair. It’s the same for writing. We wash away the grime of misplaced commas and misspelled words as we edit. We trim stray strings of run-on sentences that give our story a haggard sound.

The final product should be our Sunday best.

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Writer’s Block. It’s a reality, although personally, it has more to do with being a busy mom than being stumped by my own story. The moments to write are so precious, I don’t want to ruin my creative time with trivial things like preparing dinner or doing laundry. But there are times, when the pressures of being mom, daughter, sister, wife, teacher, writer, friend, and volunteer add up to give my brain a surge that shuts me down. Instead of throwing in the towel and giving up on writing, I’ve learned to use these strategies to keep me moving forward.

1. Go for a walk alone – no ipod and no cell phone. Just you, your feet and nature. (If you’re a mom of little ones, you just rolled your eyes. I know, the thought of doing something alone is a glorious, yet out-of-reach goal. I have, on many occasions, taken the kids with me on these walks. The benefit is that they seem to enjoy and need the quiet time in nature too. Just go with what you’ve got and make the most out of it. That’s all that counts, anyway.)

2. Return to Research. After suffering from writer’s block often over the years, my husband has been trained to remind me to return to research. So far, I’ve researched: fantasy world creation, mythological creatures, Hobos, trains in the northwest, Montana Catherdrals, the Elements, and a dozen other topics.

3. Talk to a trusted friend about your story and ask for ideas. This works for me every time, so much so that I should give a by-line to my husband.

4. Re-read your favorite book…a.k.a. take a vacation from writing. Pick up the book that started this writing journey for you (The Count of Monte Cristo by Alexander Dumas) or choose old reliable (Wizard’s First Rule, Terry Goodkind). Choose the latest hit, the newest addition to the NYTimes bestseller list or a recent recommendation from a friend. Then let me know if you actually finished it. I find that when I take a ‘reading vacation’, the block I hit in writing vanishes before I’m even a fourth of the way through a book.

5. Change your writing environment. Go outside, to the library, a new bookstore or coffee shop. I’ve even tried the bar and really enjoyed it :)

6. Read what you have written into a digital recorder. Put that recording away for a week, then listen to it. Presto-magic-o! You will see where you are stuck and what you need to do.

7. Create a soundtrack to your story. This is just plain fun, gives you a new perspective for your story, and provides a final product for your listening pleasure.

8. Work on something else for a while. This is why I have 9 novels. When I couldn’t maneuver in one story, I set it aside and worked on a different project. After several months away from the problem, I can see where my issues were and fix it. By never completely setting writing aside, my productivity has always been a five-star effort.

Bonus Tip: Remember why you write. Could you really give it up? What would you do to fill your time if writing wasn’t your hobby? Maybe a break is just what you need. But only those who keep at it, fight the odds, leap over tall obstacles with a single key-stroke – only those people find their success in writing.

Most importantly, don’t fret. It will all come together if you keep at it. A story is like a marinade – to really have good flavor, it needs to set a while. Let it rise. Enjoy the scent of it baking. Taste test often and add a few seasonings. And then, invite people to enjoy the finished product.

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Writing a story, a book or a poem might not be a physical feat, but it is certainly a mental accomplishment worthy of medals and trophies. Finishing a story, polishing it up to be read and shared is much like what we do to prepare for church, for a date, for school pictures. Who would ever think of having a school picture taken with messy hair and a smudge of playground grass on your cheek? Ok, I just described my fifth grade picture…but that was a mistake I still regret!

Parents and teachers feel frustration when kids turn in writing assignments that have not been edited or revised. While it’s a valid excuse for frustration, what do kids really know about the difference between writing, editing and revising?

Editing is the grueling task of fixing spelling errors, comma splices or a lack of a comma, adding possessive apostrophes…you get the idea. Editing does not come naturally. The knowledge must be learned and practiced.

Revising is studying the flow of a paper. Do the paragraphs begin with a good introduction sentence? Are they followed by supporting sentences? Does the paper veer away from the intended purpose?

The best way for students to learn to edit is to read their work aloud. For me, that step alone helps me catch more than 50% of my editing errors. Reading aloud works for revising, too. First, for a student to recognize a good flow of a five paragraph essay, they need good examples and poor examples – none of which should be fellow student’s work. The pressure is too great to be a good writer and the horror too lasting if a student’s paper is selected as being the ‘bad’ example.

If you are a teacher or a homeschooling parent, teach writing in small and consistent chunks. Share samples of good writing. Choose a topic and help students to create one outline. Assign each student to write their own five-paragraph essay from that outline. The most important piece is to grade these writing assignments using only three or four specific areas. For example, all students should know when to use a capital letter, end punctuation and how to indent a new paragraph. Once those three areas have been mastered, move on to three new areas.

This idea is not mine, but something I learned years ago at a writing conference. The areas are called “Focus Correction Areas” or FCA’s, which should be written at the top of the paper to remind each student in which areas the teacher will be grading. There is a great example of this at http://www.docstoc.com/docs/23426069/Five-Types-of-Writing-and-Focus-Correction-Areas-(FCAs) .

As a writer, a task I do for several hours each day, I still make mistakes. How can we expect students to hand in well-edited papers? (In the professional world, we have editors for that!) Allow them time to “professionally” edit each other’s work and keep the possibility of earning a good grade an achievable reality. Don’t hand out those gold medals for writing to every student who hands in a half-effort. Allow the students to earn that prize by keeping the focus on the progress, not the final result of each paper.

Put on your Sunday best for your writing. It will pay off, I promise!

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Stretch Marks on My Heart

My three oldest children were born of my womb. My youngest was born of my heart. Our family has been forever enhanced by adoption. Unlike pregnancy and labor, adoption brings it’s own stretch marks and pains: Making the decision to adopt. Waiting for a birth mother to choose us. Balancing a new baby with homeschooling, diabetes, and an established family. Is all the work worth it?

Yes!

Adoption has brought new lingo into my life: case-worker, home visits, birth mother, court dates. Adoption has stretched my heart to love a child that biologicially looks nothing like me. Adoption has opened my mind to witness the unrelenting voice of God and acknowledge that our lives would not be complete until this little man was a part of our family.

Now I can see a little more of the ‘big picture’. When Jesus teaches about love, we know that he means to love our neighbors as well as our enemies. He also meant that we should open the safe doors of our hearts and homes to welcome strangers; people who enter our lives from unlikely circumstances and never leave our hearts. From the moment I held him in the hospital that very first time much has changed, but God’s plan for me and my son remains steadfast: unconditional love.

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Self-publishing is risky. Without a publishing house behind the release of a new book, how do we know whether or not it’s worth our time and money? It all comes down to what the author brings to the table; the platform upon which she declares herself an expert in something, known for something, and therefore worthy of a purchase.

I self-published my first book after a decade of rejections from agents and publishers. I rewrote, edited, and studied my writing. I read what’s popular and what isn’t to determine the difference between what people buy and what they reject. After hundreds of dollars spent on writing conferences, travel expenses, ink and paper, I have the equivalent to a Bachelor’s degree in creative writing. Now I’m moving on to a degree in Marketing.

An amateur author believes that once the story is written, the job is done. Typing in that last word is crossing one finish line and entering another race of editing and revisions. Just when you think you have a perfect story, the race becomes a fight for survival to find an agent or publisher. Professional Authors, whether they are self- or tradtionally published, must strap on good running shoes and get out into the world to do thAvailable through CreateSpace and Amazon.com in paperback and Kindleeir own marketing. As an Amatuer Perfectionist, I’m wearing cleats and ripping the sod, seeking locations outside of Amazon.com to sell my book, and adding another foundation to my platform.

Self-Publishing has given me an audience, a sense of professionalism, and a clear means to determine my effectiveness as a writer and a marketing agent. I’ve created my own sell sheets, flyers for guest speaking, and introduced myself to librarians, school teachers, bookstore owners and readers. I wouldn’t have done that without my book and the encouragement it brings. And yes! I feel encouraged by my self-published book. It’s receiving 5 star reviews on Amazon.

Now that I’m in this fickle business of literature and entertainment, I must remain focused on the long-term objective by side-stepping the little plops of discouragement along the way. I’m making the slow transition from writer to author, from unknown to having-potential, from ‘selling my books out of the trunk of my car’ to bookstores. If self-publishing is a mistake, then I’ve learned more from my mistake than I thought possible. And I would do it again.

I don’t know ifGatewayswill ever be more than a self-published book. What I do know is that I loved writing it and I love re-reading it. It’s being recieved well by readers I don’t know. I’ve learned a great deal about writing, editing, revising, formatting, and marketing. What more could I want?

Am I a professional mistake-maker or an amateur perfectionist?

The answer: Yes to both. It’s a must.

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Lord of Autumn

Lord of Autumn (Photo credit: JimmyMac210)

 

Fall is my favorite season, especially now that I’m an adult (side note: my age says I’m all grown up, but I’m still waiting to feel like I have it all together!). As a child, the fall season meant a return to school and served as an open door to winter. Now, Fall is harvest time. After months in the garden planting, weeding, watering, and beating back mosquitoes, the tomatoes are ripe and the melons are ready. Pea pods drip off the vine and sunflower heads bow to teh close of the growing season.

Fall is now the ‘canning’ season, a whole new level of gardening that makes weeding look like a walk through a warm summer rain. Hot pots of water for blanching, skinning tomatoes, shucking peas, timing the water canner and always scalding my arms – that is the joy of canning (written with much sarcasm). But when the work is done, my shelves are filled with beautiful jars of preserved fruits, vegetables and venison. I can approach winter with a sense of accomplishment, knowing that should the power go out, should the economy claim our income, we would not starve.

Writing is much the same. A seed of an idea is planted, I weed out the subplots that confuse the reader, water the story with patience and hard work, beat back the droning buzz of nay-sayers, and finally harvest a completed story. But then the real work starts: submitting to agents and publishers. I prep my work with a clean query letter, a sweet-syrupy chapter-by-chapter synopsis, and a sample of my work. I feel burned by the scalding lack of a personal touch from the form rejections, but the need to fill my shelves with the finished product of my work drives me forward.

My bookshelves hold one completed and published book and I love to see it standing there next to C.S. Lewis, Madeleline L’Engle and Kathi Appelt – a few of the authors who inspire me to write (if you haven’t read Kathi’s The Underneath, stop what you are doing and go get it now! You will never regret it!) I look at my book and know that if I were snuffed out today, I’ve left my children a piece of a story of which I’m very proud. They will see their mother’s story between the lines of every story I write; for just as we can’t walk through life without leaving a footprint, neither can a writer tell a tale without leave a trace of herself on the page.

We harvest what we sow. Words, vegetables, love…it’s all what life thrives upon.

C. S. Lewis' house (The Kilns)

C. S. Lewis' house (The Kilns) (Photo credit: MikeBlyth)

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Years ago I read a piece of advise that made me smile: Create a soundtrack to your life. Yes. A soundtrack. I loved the idea and spent a few days gathering CD’s and scouring iTunes for just the right songs. The result was a 15-song play list of my life. I play it constantly for writing inspiration, dance to the music with my children and listen to it on long drives. But mostly, and you can laugh at me, I play it loudly during the moments of my life that should be big but feel anti-climatic. For example, I finished my third novel a few weeks ago and no one was home to celebrate with me. Saved by my soundtrack, I poured a small glass of wine and listened to U2’s ‘Zoo Station‘ three times. Then I set to work editing, feeling my ‘movie moment’ had been fulfilled.

My son repeated me when I said, “I love you.” It came out more like, “Wuv U” but I’m not picky! I celebrated by rocking him to sleep to George Winston‘s ‘Holy & Ivy’.

When I slid my submission packages across the counter at the post office, I was torn between the Rocky theme song or ‘Eye of the Tiger‘.

Now I’m creating the best query letter I can possibly write, formating my chapter-by-chapter synopsis to be just as entertaining as the book I hope they will publish. What is the music of choice? ‘The Kiss’, the beautiful violin music from The Last of the Mohicans.

I’m sending submission packages to smaller publishers in hopes that someone will ‘Take a Chance on Me‘ (ABBA). And send them out I will. A submission can only be successful if I try…and try and try again. If I stop writing and submitting, then failure will embrace me like a choke vine. I refuse to quit (I Will Survive). Rather, (imagine ‘Stayin’ Alive‘ here and picture me walking down the street, full of motivation and wearing a spiffy white suit) I will will weed through the Writer’s Market 2012 once more, take all the notes I can, attend the conferences, support authors at booksignings and writing groups, and remember who it is I write for: God (Il Divo‘s, ‘Amazing Grace’) and the young minds and hearts who want an excellent story about people with a pulse.

Share your song – what music motivates you? Workouts, writing, driving, dancing with the kids…share the soundtrack of your life.

 

 

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