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“The unexamined life is not worth living.” – Plato

This is why I love literature. Examining lives. Reading allows me to live beyond my own skin and time, stepping into a different world, exploring what it’s like to be someone else, with different expectations, different family, different abilities.

When I meet people who don’t read, I feel nervous. Not only do they not appreciate the hobby I hold dear to my heart, they also are lacking all the experiences gained from reading stories, biographies & autobiographies. They know nothing of making friends, or the art of communication, and becoming an influential person because they’ve read nothing on how to be great. The political world, the history of the world, the scientific studies…all are lost on those poor souls who don’t read.

But they watch TV and are informed, they say.

Yeah, right. That’s like saying, “I watched a documentary about Adolf Hitler and now know everything I need to know about leadership.”

Books, be it on paper or an electronic device, offer a different type of education. It requires the reader to do just one thing – read. In our society of multi-tasking – one of the worst things to happen, in my opinion – reading requires stillness, peace, and dedication. It doesn’t matter if it’s fiction or studying for a greater depth in understanding about a particular subject, reading is a focused skill that is the heart and soul of the human race.

“The unexamined life is not worth living.” – Plato

It’s likely that Plato wasn’t talking about reading when he wrote this. I imagine that he is expressing a need for the individual to spend time each day reflecting on our actions, words, conflicts, triumphs and plans for the next day.

The advantage to adding reading to this examination of life is looking into other hearts, minds, and goals of other people. Whether they are fictional or historical, the nature of the human heart is to find happiness. Without a proper examination of life, how can we discover what will make us happy?

A few years ago, my two oldest daughters read Pride and Prejudice. It’s fiction, not a scientific study. It’s not an adventure or a fantasy. It’s a novel about manners. It’s an examination of different types of women and their role in family, society, and grace. From that reading, my daughters decided to practice self-control when talking to boys, lest they sound like Lydia and end up with her lot in life…which wasn’t much. My daughters were captivated by the language, the intelligence of their communication, the patience they exercised. They saw the happiness the characters gained at the end of the story and knew that that’s what they wanted for themselves.

In my hopes of raising daughters, I have often spoken (and try to model) self-control, patience and the virtue of purity. But my words are just words; and while actions do speak louder, there is something about it being spoken by a parent that renders the lesson moot. It takes an outsider to cause the lessons to stick; someone who has earned their trust, someone who doesn’t tell them to pick up their dirty socks or to make their beds. Outsiders can, for better or worse, teach children far better than parents. If the outsiders are the characters from books, readers can extend their experiences, their knowledge, and their friends (personally, my greatest lessons in friendship came from books – the most difficult lessons from my own life.)

In the moments spent between the lines of a story, readers can practice behaviors without actually hurting anyone. The behaviors of characters, of historical figures, even of creatures in books (think Gollum), shadows our own. But what do we do with those characters in our reality?

In the Catholic faith, we are encouraged to do a nightly examination of conscience: How did I do today? Did I live for God? Whom did I serve? What did I sacrifice? What did I give? Did I spend time in prayer and with scripture? Where did I fall short? What can I do differently tomorrow?

Regardless of faith, these same questions crack open a whole new way of looking the way people live. As we examine our days, we discover our weaknesses. Knowing our weaknesses leads us to overcome them in strengths. Exercising our strengths allows us to understand that we need proper information to become better people. Better information leads us to Wisdom. Wisdom will save the world.

An exercise that fell short:
 Years ago, in high school I believe, I was asked where I thought I would be and what I would be doing in 10 years. I don’t remember my answer specifically, but I’m sure it was something to the tune of: good job, happily married, a baby, nice car, nice home, annual vacations.

If I ask myself that question now – Where do I see myself in 10 years? – I’m looking at a 50-something year-old woman. While the question is a starting point, it doesn’t examine the deeper questions: What do I want for that 50-something year old woman? Am I robbing that older woman of her gifts and talents by the things I’m doing today? What I can save for her that will help her in the future? What can I do that will make that older lady happy, secure, and strong?

In examining my future, I can focus my plans for today. If I picture myself in 10 years as a woman living completely off the choices I make each and every day from now until then, how different do you think I will choose to live?

What I do today will determine my success in the future. My goals for today, this week, next month, and the coming year will all add up into something great…or, if they exist in an “unexamined life”, will lead to a failed existence.

“The unexamined life is not worth living.” – Plato

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Blog Tour – Why I Write

I was invited to take part in this Blog Tour by Jennifer Chow, a fellow author Martin Sisters Publishing, author of The 228 Legacy, and a woman who understands the power of books reviews as she took the time to read my book, Unforgettable Roads, and leave a review on Goodreads!

I started reading Jennifer’s book and was immediately intrigued. Her style is fresh and thought provoking – you won’t be disappointed!

In doing my due diligence to see just where this blog tour has stopped, I’m humbled. There are some really great authors out there who have taken the time to make a ‘stop’ on this tour, and many more whom I can’t wait to meet – both in terms of a face-to-face encounter and within their writing.

Blog Hop – Writing Processes

What am I working on?

I will admit here that I’m slightly ADD. When people ask this question, I usually keep it simple and just share that I’m still writing. In truth, I have 4-5 different writing projects going. I don’t think that that I’m unique in this – I can think of no career where a person would only work on one project until it’s finished. For some reason, people are surprised to hear that writers don’t write just one book at a time.

Currently, I’m editing and polishing the sequel to my first book, Gateways. I’m still working on a title, but I have been calling it Maps but I’m leaning towards, The Elder’s Circle. I have a wonderful writing partner that I’m meeting with twice a week to work on a book titled, Retreat, a woman’s survival story in the back woods of Northern Wisconsin. After hours of editing or Retreating (our term for our work on this book), I switch gears to another novel, Circle of Pride. Using the seven deadly sins, I’m working on a series (yep, 7 books) about two foster brothers who are targeted by people possessed by these sins. Wanna sneak peek?

Why do I write what I do?

I write to bring Christian values to teens and young adults without the preachy, shoved down the throat lessons. As difficult as failure is, I really do think it is the best lesson and my characters all suffer good-intentions turned bad as the means to become the person they are meant to be. Let’s be honest, if every character acted on 20-20 maturity, there would be no story. The mistakes we make add to our character, our understanding, and our compassion.
As a mother and a reader, I’m disheartened by the amount of fantasy available that makes death look appealing. A young girl at our church, who comes only because she wants to spend that time with her grandmother, told me that she really would love to become a zombie.
What?
I know nothing of the current trend of zombie books and movies, but it’s my understanding that zombies are dead and quite horrifying. The fact that she wants to become one…well, needless to say, I’m confused about her life goals.
I am saddened by the changes happening in the world. I’m sure we can all agree that the world we live in now is not as healthy as the world into which we were born. Perhaps it appears a bit lofty for me to hope that my writing can make a difference in that, but that’s exactly what I hope. Stories are the language of the soul. If we feed our soul on dark stories, we become burdened. If we inspire our souls with stories that lead to truth (even difficult truth) and hope, our souls become light.

How does my writing process work?

Here is what I wish I could answer honestly:
I start with a scene in mind, a skill that is uncannily simple for me, and with a glass of something bubbly in hand, I sit on the deck of my vacation home and plan out the story in its entirety. With my insanely organized mind, I plot each chapter with character notes, plot, and theme. Then, as the waves roll up on the beach outside, I click away contentedly on my laptop, laughing at my jokes, crying at the emotion of scenes. About three or four months later, I submit my work to my agent, who prepares to battle the onslaught of publishers who are knocking down her door for my latest work.

Here’s the truth:
Sometimes I do start with a scene in mind and toil for months to create a story that develops from that. Mostly, I start with a theme or a purpose for the story first. Once I’ve established setting and a basic plot, I turn to research to enhance my understanding of that time period and location.
I do use an outline to plot points, but it’s an outline that inspires fear for any Type A personality – giant sheets of paper that I tape to the wall of my dining room, I sketch out the story as the ideas come and link them together with lines. In education, it’s called brainstorming. To my family, it looks like a mess. To me, it’s perfect.
Being a homeschooling mom of four and a wife who also runs a business with her husband, my time to write is the only strict schedule I follow. I squeeze in an hour every day for writing or reading, but every Thursday afternoon, my husband is home and I disappear. In order to make the most of that time, I do have to keep a running To-Do List with deadlines. It’s this To-Do List that determines the success of each week of writing. If I know what scenes need work, have a few resources to read to keep me motivated and in the loop of the writing and publishing world, then my time that is dedicated to writing is much more focused and effective. If I just sit down to write, I accomplish nothing.
It’s possible that I’m in the running for being the slowest writer, needing several years to complete a manuscript.
Currently, I don’t have an agent. I have been published through a small publishing house, Martin Sisters Publishing. I have also self-published a two other books. The process for both of those avenues to publishing is very different, but both were fulfilling.

Meet Virginia Ripple

I’m tagging Virginia Ripple as the next author in this Blog Tour. She’s an incredibly gifted writer and a true support for other writers. You can check out her writing and mission at www.virginiaripple.com.

 

 

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Over the last several months, and for months to come, I’ve been interviewing authors who have self-published their work or have published through small publishing houses. From each, I’m amazed by the mission behind each book and the hopes of the author to share a theme. I have learned something valuable from each – and the trend continues this week with Virginia Ripple.

If you are a fan of fantasy and also appreciate authors who include their faith, then Virginia’s books are certainly for you!

2Apprentice Cat Toby with mysterious eyes

1. In your biography on your website, you shared something that really struck home – While working part-time as a Religious Education Director and writing the other half “the teeter totter of passions unbalanced” your life and you found yourself writing less. Many people reading this will find encouragement that they are not alone in feeling frustrated with not having enough time to write. What changes have you made to your life-style, your career, and your passions that open up the 24 hours to more writing time?

I learned a lot during my time in ministry about what it means to be Called into God’s service. Sometimes others see our hard work and think, “Wow! She really has a heart for (fill in the blank). She should do it full-time.” If we’re not aware of what our true purpose is, then we might go along with their well-meaning suggestion and then suffer because we’re not doing what God planned for us to do. It took me the better part of seven years to figure that out and another four years to understand what doing my particular ministry meant in terms of what I spent time on.

I’m still learning and evolving as a servant writer, and sometimes I fail miserably, choosing to do something as mundane as doing a marathon watch of a particular television show instead of spending that time working toward the goal of producing another book. However, I now divide my work days between writing (and all those things involved in being an indie author) and the daily tasks I need to do in order to live like anyone else, such as going to my part-time day job. No matter what self-imposed deadline I have, though, I make sure to spend the evenings with my family and force myself to leave writing in my office during the weekends, especially Sundays. I take my Sabbaths seriously, because without that rest, we can’t accomplish what God has planned for us.

 

2. Tell us about your novels, Apprentice Cat, Journeyman Cat, and Huntress of the Malkin.

Secrets-of-the-Malkin

When I was in seminary, trying to find ways to make a little extra money so we could survive, I was naturally drawn back into writing. Although I wrote several short stories (none of which ever made me any money, btw), one stuck with me. The story was about a young tom who had entered a Harry Potter like magic school and was paired with a human that never wanted to do his homework like he was supposed to. This human always wanted to race ahead of what he was being taught and it constantly got the pair into trouble with the head masters of the school. It was just a scene, really, nothing very deep or meaningful went on in it, but for some reason, Toby and his partner Lorn kept coming back to me whenever I sat down to write anything new.

 

Flash forward a few years to just before my eldest was born and I decided to dive into this new thing I’d heard about — self-publishing. It was no longer a vanity thing. People were actually making money. Ereaders were starting to become a big thing and I thought, “What have I got to lose?” Still, I didn’t know what I could write about and I was still trying to figure out how to blend my desire to write with the Call I felt on my heart to serve in ministry. The first book I wrote was actually a Bible study, something that came about from a need my church had for an adult VBS class. I’m glad I did it, but it wasn’t as fulfilling as I’d hoped. I was left wondering if I would ever find that balance.

 

Then one night, as I was going through some old stories, Toby padded into my life again. Why couldn’t I expand his story? Of course, the original didn’t have any of the Christian hallmarks. It was straight fantasy. But who was to say it couldn’t become a Christian fantasy? So I started working on it. It took a year and a half to finish, but when it was done, the pieces sort of fell into place. Now I knew how to blend my Calling with my passion.

 

Since then, I’ve worked toward weaving Christian themes into each of my books. For instance, Toby’s story is ultimately the story of learning forgiveness. This tom has a lot of tragedy to deal with from the disappearance of his father to the terrible thing that happens to his mother. Add to that the things he himself must do in Journeyman Cat, things his very soul rebels at, in order to complete his mission and you have a cat that has much to learn about forgiveness — for himself and others. In Master Cat, we get to see how all this weighs on him and what he must ultimately do for his own spiritual peace.

 

Nadine’s storyline is about taking a timid she-cat and showing her how to follow the path God has planned for her. She’s expecting someone else to solve the problems she sees around her in the post-plague world. God, on the other hand, has a different idea of how it should be dealt with.

 

In many ways, both these characters are living out and working through issues I’ve dealt with myself. I wish I could say I’ve come out on the other side of these challenges and now I know exactly how to face all the problems life throws at me, but I’m still learning. I think that’s part of this whole ministry. While I’m serving God and, hopefully, helping others find a way to work through their own life challenges, God is working in my own life, changing me in ways that make me more like the person God knows I can be, the one God wants me to be.

 

3. The pool of Christian Fantasy writers is sadly, quite small. Does this fact provide an obstacle or a boon to publication and marketing success?

 

Both.

 

I don’t write what’s considered typical Christian Fantasy. Generally speaking, magic is frowned upon in Christian literature, so what I write isn’t always deemed acceptable in those circles. However, fantasy, with magic and all the other bits of wonder it includes, is what I love to read. Growing up, it was nearly impossible to find Christian Fantasy with those fantastical elements in it that didn’t seem childish at best. Yet, the regular fantasy lacked the positive world-view I yearned for. It wasn’t until I read about how C.S.Lewis and J.R.R. Tolkien wrote their wonderful stories and called them Christian that I began to see that there was something more.

 

I don’t know that I’ve ever seen Lord of the Rings labeled as Christian Fantasy, but, according to Tolkien, it is. I think it’s a disservice to Christian Fantasy as a whole not to call a story what it is, but often, for one reason or another, what would otherwise be labeled as such is simply stuck in the pot with all fantasy. I know other writers who do that because they fear they won’t sell as well with the Christian Fantasy label, which is a shame.

 

The niche I’ve chosen is smaller, but so are the sales. That means that, while it might be easier to find in the CF category, most of my sales will be primarily from people who are acquainted with me or that niche.

 

As with all things in life, you thank God for the good and ask God to help you meet the challenges.

 

4. Imagine you are standing in a room of young people that have just read your book. One of them asks who inspired you to write. What is your answer?

 

I’ve always been a story-teller, so I don’t know who my original inspiration was. However, every author I’ve read and movie or television series I’ve seen has influenced the progression my writing has taken.

 

In high school, I read a lot of Mercedes Lackey’s Valdemar series. Her book , By the Sword, particularly inspired me to write in strong female characters. I don’t create shrinking violets or male-dependent love interests. My characters have their flaws, yes, but it’s usually not the screaming meemies or the weeping willows.

 

The Christian turns in my writing were heavily influenced by Frank Peretti’s This Present Darkness and Piercing the Darkness. Both of these books scared the daylights out of me when I was a kid. I loved the depth and reality of the spiritual forces, as well as the nail-biting “will he/she survive this encounter” as the characters faced the opposing human force. The best part of either of those books was the enduring hope you’re left with at the end. God loves us no matter who we are or what we’ve done. It’s a message I hope readers pick up in my works, too.

 

The mystery elements of my writing come from various mystery books and shows from the Joe Grey mysteries to Sherlock on BBC television.

 

And I have to admit that Toby’s story originated from my fascination and love of J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter. That’s not to say I tried to mimic her wonderful world, but I did borrow a few things for Apprentice Cat, like the magical boarding school idea and the beloved head master taking a student under his wing.

 

5. What is your writing process/schedule? Or what have you tried and revised? Speaking personally, I’m always looking for new ideas and am eager to learn from those who have succeeded. What have you tried, what didn’t work, and what does work for you?

 

At first I tried to cram everything into whatever free time I could carve out for myself. That’s a recipe for frustration and procrastination. After my eldest was born, I tried squeezing it all in a scheduled hour or two before spending time with my husband just before we went to bed. That led to being over-tired and cranky.

 

After my daughter started half-day’s in preschool, I was able to get four solid hours of work done before I had to go to my day job. This, so far, has worked best, especially since I pretend that I’m going to a regular 9 to 5 job as soon as I walk in my front door after dropping her at school. On my days off from my day job, I spend the mornings doing the highest priority work, like drafting or editing the next book, and the afternoons on more business tasks, like marketing and administrative tasks, and research.

 

The next step I took was purchasing a Galaxy Tab 10.2 in 2012 with a bluetooth keyboard. That has been the best business purchase I’ve made to date. I can now extend my writing time to the afternoons at my day job and kill the down time between customers with some massive productivity. In fact that’s what helped me win the 2012 and 2013 NaNoWriMo. Combined with my smartphone, I can work on both writing and business anywhere, anytime.

 

As for the actual drafting of any of my books, it wasn’t until I read James Scott Bell Plot & Structure and Conflict & Suspense that I really got the hang of it and the process got faster. I’m a plotter by nature, so Bell’s various ways of plotting made getting my ideas down so much quicker and efficient. And while the old adage “chase your character up a tree and throw rocks at him” might be one way of creating suspense and conflict, it just didn’t make sense to me. It wasn’t logical. When I read Bell’s Conflict & Suspense the “ah-ha” moment arrived with a giant Acme lightbulb. It’s not just throwing your character into challenging situations; it’s about finding the tension point — the “what’s the worst that could happen” moment — and then building the next scenes from that. I highly recommend both these books to anyone wanting to stuff some more tools in their writer’s toolbox.

 

6. Many writers, especially those just starting on the path to authorship, have a glossy image of what it means to write, edit, and publish. What did it look like to you when you started writing your story? And what does it look like now?

 

I sort of had this “If you build it, they will come” image in my mind. I wouldn’t say that’s a bad thing because if I’d known then just how much work getting in front of an audience is, I might not have finished Apprentice Cat.

 

Since then, I’ve discovered there’s a lot of behind the scenes stuff that goes on for an indie author to succeed that has nothing to do with writing or editing. The writing and editing, for me, is the easy part. It’s the marketing and social networking that’s tough. Over time, though, I’ve managed to make some great friends who have helped me figure it all out and who continue to inspire me to greater things.

 

7. You also have written two bible studies titled, Simply Prayer and Fear Not! Discovering God’s Promises For Our Lives. Who would benefit from these books? Why did you write them?

 

Fear Not! Discovering God’s Promises For Our Lives is a basic Bible study I put together when I was asked to teach an adult vacation Bible study class several years ago. Someone wanting to get a deeper understanding of the scriptures might find it useful, especially after doing the meditation exercises, which I designed with different learning styles in mind. I’ve posted several of the lessons on my blog for people to use for free.

 

It’s part of my mission to aid others in developing a closer relationship with God, and I believe accessing the scriptures is an integral part of doing that. That’s one of the main reasons I wrote Fear Not! and later Simply Prayer, which is a guidebook on different methods of prayer and what real prayer looks like. When it comes to knowing God, people often see not a loving Being wanting to have a close relationship, but rather the white, bearded man on the Sistine Chapel. I would like to help others realize there’s more to God than a wrath-filled judge or magic genie.

8. Please share a quote or saying that inspires you. If you have two, share two :) We can all use more inspiration!

 

Be still and know that I am God. — Psalm 46:10

 

In our hurried lives, we so often forget to breath. I love this scripture because it reminds me that stillness is part of balance, that to hear God, we only need to quiet ourselves and listen. I suppose that’s why I love the labyrinth my husband mows into our backyard every year. It offers me a chance to find a moment of quiet in the middle of the rush of life. If I had one wish, it would be that everyone could find a quiet place they could retreat to every day.

 

9. You blog is a eclectic collection of thoughts, scripture, writing and marketing tips. I noticed you do a ‘Wordless Wednesday’ post, which I really enjoyed! How has blogging contributed (or not) to your writing, marketing, and in building a platform?

 

My blog has evolved over the years as I’ve worked to discover how my Calling could reach out to others. As my tagline suggests, it is a glimpse into the heart of one of God’s servants. For a while, I spent so much time on the blog, I lost valuable time producing books. It wasn’t until I realized how unhappy I was that I decided to slow down and re-think the direction I was taking.

 

About two years ago, I decided to switch gears and blog irregularly, focusing mostly on book reviews, as a way for my readers to find good books to read and as a service to other writers. I struggled during that time with a desire to do what would be called sermons in an church setting. I didn’t know how to go about it or even if it was worth doing, not to mention the fear of letting the world hear my voice outside the pages of a book or blog post.

 

Then this year, I decided to take the plunge. I researched podcasting methods and drew up a plan for a once a month inspirational message. I also added the monthly Bible study. I don’t know the exact numbers for my audience on those particular posts, but the number of downloads have been promising. To me, that says I’m on the right track for building a platform that will help me reach out to others who are hurting or simply want to see God in a slightly different way.

 

I’m always looking for new ways to show God’s love to people, so I’m sure my blog, as well as my newsletter, will continue to change and grow. I think that’s what’s important. Do what you’re Called to do and the rest will follow in God’s time.

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Connect with Virginia!

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The world is full of writers, from devoted list-makers to poets and short stories to novels and beyond. For as many writers there are, it’s not too far fetched to claim that there are as many purposes behind the writing. Personally speaking, I write because it helps me organize my thoughts…I just happen to think in a story format.

Once the decision is made to take writing from sketching little stories and poems for our own enjoyment to the next level – that elusive publication. With Self publishing making waves in the industry, these stories are sometimes mistaken (sometimes not) as lesser in quality. As such, self-published authors have come together as a community in several different formats and in online forums. Aviva Gittle is one such author with a heart for helping other self-published authors.

Aviva is my next featured author. Along with amazing stories for children, Aviva has a talent for working with others to bring stories to life and to help other authors share their work. It’s this kind of writer that makes me smile with admiration! It is my great pleasure to introduce you to Aviva Gittle:

Feb 2014 Photo 1 Cropped

Q: Your website is amazing. From what I can see, you have a talent and desire to work with other writers, promoting their work. What was the inspiration for your website and how has it enhanced your writing life?

Aviva: First, thank you for the kind words. My website is a mix of self-promotion, how-to articles for writers and a platform for, mainly, self-publishers. I want to transition to less interviews and more articles. I have much to share about the process of self-publishing. My website (www.GoToGittle.com) is really an experiment in marketing. Often I forget that I’m supposed to be marketing my books and not creating an online magazine. Which isn’t a bad idea, but then I’d have to market the magazine, too! I could call it, “Aviva.” How’s that for self-promotion?

Q: I found six books listed on Amazon: Moon Jump, In Nana’s Arms, Bagel Boy, Kitten and Butterfly, Mort the Fly, Snack Attack. Share a little with us about the origin of these stories.

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Aviva: In Nana’s Arms is a poem to my first grandchild, Louis. I was holding him with one arm while he slept and wrote a rough draft on my iPhone with the other hand. Bagel Boy, and you’re going to love this, is based on a story idea from my ex-husband. Moon Jump and Snack Attack! I wrote with my writing partner, Mark Megson. An amazing young man whose website I stumbled upon last year. (http://www.readingjuice.co.uk/) There I found dozens of story ideas. I asked him to partner with me. Our writing styles mesh so well, I can’t always remember who wrote which parts of a story. Mort the Fly I wrote in 2005; it was the impetus to my becoming a self-publisher. (Because I prefer to do things my own way even when I don’t know what the heck I’m doing.) Kitten & Butterfly is part of the Kitten and Friends series. I wrote all 7 stories in a couple of months. But, it took a year to get the first story published. I’ve got a cute book trailer for it that I’m very proud of.

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Q: What is your writing process/schedule?

Aviva: I’m not a schedule person. A former burnt out IT project manager; I yanked my watch off my wrist September 16, 2004, got in my car and drove away from my corporate life. I’m a writer for a reason. LOL! Something has to inspire me to sit my butt down and write. Kitten and Friends was inspired by an illustration of a kitten and butterfly I saw in an artist’s portfolio. I would jot down ideas for other creatures Kitten could make friends with. I was in a manically productive phase that has yet to be repeated. (Bummer, man.) I have ideas for stories all over the place. In notebooks, on my computer, iPad, iPhone. I even have photos of paper scraps with ideas scrawled on them. Like my brain, my writing process is very scattered. Fortunately, through years of college and work experience, I have learned to write very quickly. So, when I can finally sit still, I get a lot done.

Q: Going back a time, what inspired you to begin writing?

Aviva: Preteen angst. I wrote my first song at age 7. I don’t remember the words, but it was a sad love song. At age 11 I started writing poetry. I’ve been battling depression for as long as I can remember. And writers know that anger, sadness and love are the great motivating emotions. It’s great when you’ve got all three storming around your head at once. LOL! I wrote my first children’s story in 1995 at a very low point in my life. It was called Chloe and the Belly Beast. It was about dealing with fear. I went as far as hiring an illustrator last year with the intent of self-publishing it. When the initial sketches came back from the artist, I knew it was way too dark to be a children’s story. I then tried to make it a tween novel. To date, I just haven’t found a way to make it work. That’s when you put it on the back burner and move on. I did make a fun greeting card with one of the sketches.

Chloe-Falling-Sketch

Q: What lesson in writing has been the most difficult but the most effective? (For example, early in my writing career, I realized that the novel I was writing was in need of a major overhaul. Overwhelmed by how much that would take, I decided the best (and yet most painful) solution was to delete it all and start over. Best move of my life. Well, I married a great guy, but that has little to do with writing :)

Aviva: You need to hire an editor. It’s the first thing I talk about in my Birth of a Children’s Book column (about my experiences as a self-publisher). 
 You should listen to others, but not blindly follow their advice. If you find yourself reacting strongly to feedback, set it aside and go back to it in a few days. Once you put your ego aside, you open yourself up to some great opportunities to make your stories better. Like, a lot better than you can do all alone. Unless you just want to sit in your room and read all your stories to yourself.

The best decision I made was to partner with Mark Megson. I think of myself as a loner, but working with Mark has improved my writing and my production. In addition to Moon Jump and Snack Attack! (technically I’m the senior editor on that, but we really wrote it together), we wrote Mary’s Magic Word which will be published later this year. We are also working on a tween sci-fi novel, Quentin and the Quantum Quilt. Your feedback on the first very short chapters is greatly needed and appreciated: http://goo.gl/VQhSMD (It’s posted on Wattpad.com; real easy to leave comments and vote.)

Q:  When you walk into a bookstore or library, what is the first section you browse?

Aviva: I haven’t walked into a bookstore in a very long time! When I browse Amazon.com, it’s usually for children’s books. Either I’m trying to find self-published children’s book to review or I’m looking to buy children’s books for my grandchildren.

Q: Describe the perfect birthday. Why? Because it’s fun :)

Aviva: The perfect birthday would have me surrounded by my grandchildren playing “Pin the Tail on the Donkey”, “Musical Chairs” and other birthday games of my youth. Oh, and a piñata stuffed with individually-wrapped pieces of fudge. I love fudge. My grandson, Louis, would strike the winning blow and I would stand underneath the poor, battered, paper Mache creature with a giant bowl.

Q: Imagine you are the keynote speaker at a writing conference. The audience includes 500 writers at various stages in their writing, with a plethora of experiences. What would the final statement of your address to them be?

Aviva: Life is a balance. You can’t just write for yourself and you can’t just write for others. Okay, you can do whatever the heck you want. But, one will leave you lonely and the other will suck the joy out of your writing life.


 

Credits:
Moon Jump illustrations by Carlos BritoMoonJumpScene8WithCredits

 

Kitten & Butterfly illustrations by Tekla HuzárKitten-Butterfly_Interor

My links:

Buy or borrow an Aviva Gittle Publishing book: amazon.com/author/avivagittle
Website: http://gotogittle.com/
Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/pages/Aviva-Gittle-Publishing/262156237258544
Twitter: https://twitter.com/AvivaGittle
Wattpad: http://goo.gl/VQhSMD
Submission guidelines for The Gittle List 2014: Top 10 Self-published Children’s Picture Books: http://gotogittle.com/the-gittle-list-2014-guidelines/

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Becoming a writer is just that – a becoming. Like our 18th birthdays when we become an adult, we know that despite the fact that we are legally recognized as an adult, we are too young to drink and we don’t know anything about what it means to be an adult. It takes years of being of age and feeling the pride, the sting, the work that is required to truly become an adult. Despite all the years of practice, some people never become adults.

Writing is the same. We slowly grow into a writer by studying the craft, learning from successful writers, and practice.

Loads and loads of practice.


We write short stories, try our hand at poetry, launch into a novel. We stumble, fall, are rejected and hopefully, we try again.


Just as infants first roll over, then crawl, stand, and the finally walk, learning the craft of writing (or any craft) is the same. Start by watching others, reading the works of authors who have successfully published again and again. Make this first activity a goal:


Make a list of book you want to read this year. How many books can you read in a month?

Put the list into alphabetical order (or in order according to publication dates).

Start today.

Keep notes on what you read, reflect on why the stories are wonderful

(or not, and you scratch your head wondering why that dribble was published and not your own work?

…this comment based on personal experience :)

books

In between reading, and working your other job, making meals, and finding time to exercise, you should find time to write. I suggest this next exercise with a little hesitation:

For a week, track how many words you write.

At the end of the week, reflect about what you did on the days when your word count was excellent.

What did you do on the days you didn’t write much at all?

Remember you are human and there are people in your life who need you.

This is the basic principle of NaNoWriMo.com. National Novel Writing Month (November for Novelist) is a month-long challenge that provides daily inspiration and motivation to write as much as possible – the goal being a 50,000 words. There are both benefits and drawbacks to this.

Benefit – this is a BICAW (butt in chair and write) challenge. It breaks through some of life’s distractions and focuses efforts into one thing – get the words on paper.

Drawback – The result of BICAW stories is more of a ‘diamond in the rough’ than a polished gem.

If you want to challenge yourself to write a much as possible in one day, one week, or one month, I highly recommend you invest the time beforehand to prepare your story as much as possible. Outline, brainstorm, collect snippets of ideas to have by your side before your BICAW adventure.

The purpose of this challenge is for you to go into writing prepared, but to also keep track of what prevents you from writing. It’s more of an exercise in scheduling and lifestyle; an intentional examination of what works and what doesn’t.

Find the balance to be a present human being and a prolific writer. Yeah…good luck :)


Take a break from the story you are working on and work on the query letter to an agent or publisher.

(For help with query letters, spend some time reading www.queryshark.com )

I discovered a hidden benefit when I work on a query letter – it sharpens my purpose in writing that particular story. Every story need a purpose, a lesson, theme, moral, statement – whatever you wish – but it must be there. Many books on the shelves have less than desirable purposes and morals. That is up to you to decide if you are writing a social justice statement (i.e. To Kill a Mockingbird), a tale of to-die-for teenage lust (Twilight), or expressing Christian values (anything by C.S. Lewis, but particularly The Chronicles of Narnia).

When a story starts to fall flat or when I just need a break from writing, I switch gears to work on the query or the synopsis. It’s a nice break from writing scenes, it keeps me focused on the story, and quite often leads to a story break-through.

confidence

If there was a common, and yet thin, connection between these three exercises, it’s that writing does not always include writing. Reading, thinking and, people watching. Seek balance, seek mentors, seek to be successful. Oh, and don’t forget to exercise confidence!

 

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It’s March and we’ve long forgotten our New Year’s Resolutions. The fervor with which we planned the success of this year in January is probably frozen solid…we’ve certainly had the weather for that here in Michigan. (FYI – It was 14 below zero this morning…a temp so common now that school wasn’t cancelled despite the fact that it was when the temps were 10 below zero in January.)

Shake off those March doldrums, pour a glass of something you normally drink in the summer, and roll up your sleeves. It’s time to gear up and resurrect the goals for this year.

Speaking personally, this means that the novel I thought I could wrap up in December needs to be complete by the end of this month. I set an unrealistic deadline for myself during the Christmas season. It happens.

To keep myself on track, I did this for the month of February:

A Plan: Create an editorial calendar for the next month. Write down 5-10 things you want to accomplish and schedule time to  complete those takes on a calendar. At the end of the month, be honest with yourself and reflect on how you did. What worked? What didn’t? Repeat for the next month.

Writing Time isn’t always spent writing. Much of the time, I stare out the window as I need to first visualize a scene before I can write it. Although I appear to be day dreaming…well, that’s exactly what I’m doing, except I do need to come back to my desk to write down my day dreams. That’s where a plan is handy.

In February, I did well planning my journaling and blogging, but novel writing took a back seat. I’m going to work on that this month by spending my Wednesday writing time making notes for scenes. Thursday is my big writing day. Thursday is the day my husband is home in the afternoon, giving me from 1:00 – 9:00 PM to write. I do take breaks, but I’ve set a goal to have close to 3,000 well-written words every Thursday. Lofty, I know.

I’ve taken this exercise a step further and I encourage you do to the same. We’ve all heard that if we want to be a writer, we must write every day. It’s common sense that holds true for anything a person might want to accomplish: runners must run, athletes must practice, students must go to school. My obstacle has always been finding balance with my writing and my family. The solution that is working (for now) is to focus on one thing each day based on how much time I can devote to writing and reading.

Here’s the breakdown:

Mondays are the days I crank out my blog posts for the week. I don’t publish them all on that Monday, but schedule them for later in the week. Each day, I return to the posts to re-read, edit and revise them. By the time they are published, my posts have improved. In order to keep the blog posts as fresh as possible, I keep a notebook on my dining room table to collect ideas.

Tuesdays are reading days. No writing except in the form of notes, comments, and ideas that stem from what I’ve read.

Wednesday are scene plot days in prep for…

Thursdays. As I mentioned, this is my big day each week when I really make progress.

Fridays are too crazy with homeschooling groups to even think about writing. It’s my “Day of Rest”.

Weekends must be spent with families, but I coordinate with my husband to set aside a few hours a weekend to read or write.

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A Pro: Spend time reading Joel Friedlander’s blog/website.

Joel’s website is a treasure trove of information. Set the timer, otherwise your entire day will be spent on his blog and you’ll starve.

A Genre-Mash: Just for fun, re-imagine your novel as a picture book – or your picture book as a novel. Write a few scenes and see what happens.

I’ve done this a few times during my weekend writing hours. It’s refreshing to simply puzzle out a story in a different format. Writing styles, patterns, and techniques mature with exercises like this. What may seem a simple exercise will soon become your power yoga.

Why?

Because my favorite children’s books have quirky characters, surprising plot elements, and very often, rhythmic & rhyming verse. Stretching my thinking muscles to write in such a different format allows me the time to play with words. Instead of formatting sentences and paragraphs to show the story, I can pattern the story into rhythm patterns. Not much I do with this exercise is publishing-quality work – but that’s not the point. Trying something new…that is.

It’s very easy to feel that the success a writer creates is determined by the number of words written. That’s a trap. Don’t fall in! Writing success rides on the back of every unpublished word. The stories that don’t hold up, the sentences that fail, the characters so flat that they can slide under a door – those are the obstacles in writing we must overcome before we publish.

Writing exercises that specifically work on something we have no intention (or pressure) to polish and publish are necessary.

Enjoy the writing fun! Please let me know how these exercises work out for you.

Peace,

Jessica

Other Writing Exercises:

Vol. 1

Vol. 2

Vol. 3

Vol. 4

Vol. 5

 

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How did last week’s exercise feel? Are your creative muscles sore? Shouldn’t be too bad, you watched a movie! :)

This week’s exercise might feel a little, well, it will remind you of the good ol’ days of high school English. What? Those weren’t riveting classes where you devoured the book that was assigned to you? Yeah, me neither.

Exercise 1:

Of all the books you had to read in high school, what was your favorite? No favorite? Well, you’re older now. Go pick the first book you remember being assigned to read and re-read it. (Or read it for the first time.)

For me, the first book I read in high school was A Separate Piece by John Knowles. I enjoyed it… a little. I think I read the entire book, but that was…let’s just say it was a few years ago. I have the book on hold at the library. Apparently, people are still reading it. I’m on a list and should have it sometime in April.

Now, the book that really turned me on to reading was The Count of Monte Cristo by Alexander Dumas. A great part of falling in love with this book had to do with the excellent teacher I had in high school. The other part was obviously Dumas’ superior story-telling.

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Exercise 2:

Make a brainstorming graphic organizer (think bubbles, boxes, and lines) for your current story, or a story you are thinking about. Reflect on how this exercise did or did not (because, let’s be honest, it might not work for everyone)  help you think about deeper layers for the story.

This is how I start every story – with a gigantic sheet of paper on the dining room table, a stack of colorful pens, and an idea. In the center, I’ll start with whatever idea I have. It could a simple scene, an over-arching theme, or an idea for a setting. As I brainstorm, I write everything down, connect ideas with common color-lines, and just have fun with it. In the background I play fairly loud music…that part is optional.

This is a great way to set the story ideas down on paper without fussing for sentence structure or feeling the need to organize things too quickly. Let the ideas fall where they will. Once it’s on paper, you can’t lose it.

Exercise 3:

Write a one-page synopsis for your story. Don’t hide the ending. Tell all in a short and interesting way.

Why do this? Many publishers and agents will ask for a synopsis and they are darn tough to write. As much effort as you put into writing your story, almost as much will go into hacking your story into a one-page synopsis. Hint: Don’t look at this as hacking. Make the one page synopsis fun to read. If you can’t shine up your writing to keep a potential agent or publisher interested through one page, they likely won’t ask for an entire manuscript.

Starting next week, I will be interviewing authors who are self-published or published by smaller houses. It’s been fun to read their work as I prepare questions for each of them. There are still a few spots left, so if you are published and are looking for a fresh and fun way to market your work as well as the books of other authors, check out Pay-It-Forward for details.

Did you miss the other writing exercises?

Writing Exercises Vol. 1

Writing Exercises Vol. 2

Writing Exercises Vol. 3

Writing Exercises Vol. 4

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I’ve just returned from a mid-winter break – a concept I’ve fully embraced! For almost 10 years, my family and I have taken a few days in February to stay at a lodge in Northern Indiana that was built in the 1920’s by the CCC and is still the family-oriented destination that features woodland animals but no Disney princesses.

 

This photo courtesy of the Potowatomi Inn.

This photo courtesy of the Potowatomi Inn.

 

As we walked the halls toward the pool, the craft room, or the common room, I was aware how much my children have grown. Our first years at the lodge were spent corralling toddlers and a preschooler. Swimming was a two-person tag team for my husband and I of keeping them above water and in the shallow end. The craft room wasn’t even an option as my middle daughter always painted her face with anything (and I mean anything! Vaseline was the worst.)

This year, I walked those halls with young women. We swam together, painted little cars and wooden statues in the craft room, we put puzzles together. We watched the Olympics at night and read together in the common room in the morning. I thoroughly enjoyed the calmness of their spirits, their willingness to be together with me, and the memories we shared as we wandered the lodge and surrounding grounds playing, “Remember when we…”

As they mature, I’m constantly in awe by their changes. The interests they had just five years ago have changed, as one might expect. From horses, mood rings and dolls to books, musical instruments and, well, horses. I guess, not everything changes.

I wonder what will that lodge be like for me five and ten years from now?

And tonight I’m home. Sitting at the table for the last several hours, I’ve been polishing a poem and drafting a synopsis for a novel that I’ve finished and feel is ready to send to publishers. I started this poem years ago as a short story, but realized that it works better in rhyming, rhythmic meter. The novel began at least five years ago and has grown from an awkward tale about awkward middle schoolers to a poignant reflection on innocent times, changing times, and war times.

Everything around me is growing and maturing.

Day by day my daughters are becoming women.

Word by word my writing is developing from scenes to chapters to books.

And that’s the point: If it’s valuable to you, put your time into it everyday.

My children are my greatest source of joy, pride, and yes, hardship. As any parent, I would give every ounce of my life I have to them. Some days I feel like I really do that :)

My writing is not quite as important as my children, but I still manage to work it into each day. Some days, like today, I have hours to write. Every other day, I have about an hour or two to devote to reading and writing. It’s not much, but word by word, it’s happening.

Perhaps the writing you did today is in the toddler or preschool stage – messy and surprising. As you develop your skills, you’ll need a training bra or maybe you notice your voice is cracking, then deeper. When the time is write, you can marry that writing to a publisher and a great union is formed.

Whether you are a writer, a parent, an artisan, or a crafter, spend time doing the things you love. Little by little, those small efforts lead to a great outcome.

 

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This blog is usually about writing, but on occasion I throw in a post about homeschooling or faith. Today? Self-esteem and how it influences what we do or don’t do.

Something occurred to me a few months ago…I disciplined myself enough to write a book. Heck, not just one book, but nine so far. Why am I not carrying that over to other aspects of my life?

And so I began writing about it. Shocking, I know.

I came to this conclusion:

Life is hard. Get over it and make your dreams real. (cue Disney music)

In other words: Take the tough stuff, feel it, explore it, and cry about it. Then make a plan and move on.

After practicing the ‘deal with it and walk forward’ plan, I began to look at my reflection, my body image, my children, and my house. In that order. Interesting.

I’ve blamed so many other things -diabetes, stay-at-home-mom, too tired, no gym membership, etc. – in my life I wasn’t happy with, I wasn’t giving the joyful areas of my life their due attention. My family, being a mom, being able to stay home, a husband and family that supports our homeschooling, amazing friends, my faith…the list goes on. Sad how body image can become such a wedge to everything else.

I saw myself first. Self centered me. I was not as thin as I wanted to be, but passably feminine. Because I have three daughters, it’s important that my body image and my ‘self-speak’ are all positive. I don’t want to feed them negative images of women, spiritually or physically. After all, is every woman you love able to grace the covers of magazines? No? Really? Same here. I won’t be on the cover of Fitness or Vogue, but in my kids eyes (and hearts) I am fit and vogue. Yes, I rock these yoga pants!

See that? Positive self-speak.

Say it out loud, believe it, and others will follow.

That is, after all, how politics work. For better or worse, it rocks a nation.

Part of changing how I see myself has impacted how my children see me. I have not talked about those last few pounds I need to lose, but I have talked about training for a 5K and then a 10K. My daughters run cross country, so this is something to which they can relate. We train together, talk about running pace, running shoes, trails and sports drinks. This week, we all went swim suit shopping…and it was fun! I actually liked almost every suit I tried on. They didn’t all look great, but I saw beyond my body’s short comings and could see my strength. It’s all about perspective:

If you train for it, the results will come.

The biggest lesson on body image came from my three-year-old son: At Barnes and Noble, as he played with the train set, a little girl joined him and they played for over fifteen minutes without any conflicts. (For parents who have ever monitored the train table, you know what a miracle this is.) As we left, my son whispered to me, “She is so beautiful!” I asked, “What makes her so pretty?” In his preschool ways, he answered, “Her smile.”

Pow! Truth!

The other area I struggled with was my house. Being a homeschooling family in a fairly small house, it’s been difficult for me to keep things clean and clutter free. I really wanted this to change. It’s hard to think in a mess. I don’t have a desk. Instead I use the dining room table and sometimes a lap desk. How could I possibly carve out a ‘writing space’ where I could truly become the writer I want to be.

The reading corner...favorite place to write.

The reading corner…favorite place to write. It’s clean in the picture, but today there is a pile of Legos on the floor.

I started with my heart. If I want this dream of writing to be real, I needed to make it happen. A desk won’t magically make the words come to life. Only I can do that.

Then I moved to the house and the de-cluttering. One room at a time, we attacked the corners, the papers I’ve picked up and set down a dozen times, the stacks of books. Once we had the room just how we wanted it, I took a picture. Now when I ask my children to clean the reading corner, the kitchen, the bathroom, the family room, there is a picture to refer to so everything is done properly.

The result? Cleaner house, faster runner, happier me. Happier me, happier kids, cleaner house. I’ve also written and read more in the past three months than ever before. The organized home, the positive thinking, the focus on forward movement all pays off.

This process has brought to mind five things we can do to change our thinking from self-defeating to forward thinking:

1. Identify where you struggle and be honest about it.

Journal about it. You can burn the pages when you are finished writing, but have a heart-to-heart on paper about areas of your life that are hurting.

2. Identify aspects of your life that you are good at and feel positive about.

Make a list and list everything you like: eye color, your name, your legs, your wide hips. Maybe you make kickin’ desserts or love to cook for others. That’s a huge gift…and if that’s true, I want to be your friend!

3. Focus on those positive things and figure out how to carry that over to the areas where you struggle.

I wrote books. I disciplined myself to make the time to sit down and write. Then I edited. Now I’m learning to carry that discipline over to exercise. Everything I do well in writing can help me do well in other areas of my life. The same is true for you. Explore that.

4. Don’t ever give up. Ever. Giving up on making changes – be it weight loss, career stuff, making a dream come true – only results regret.

In a journal, write a letter to yourself a year from now and talk about all the things you hoped you accomplished. Try writing a letter to who you were ten years ago. Keep it positive, but identify what is holding you back. Give that younger version of yourself some advice. Then take that advice. In ten years, the letter you write should be very different.

5. Remember that you didn’t get to this point in one day, one week, or one month. It will take time to make the changes happen and to make them real. Be patient with yourself.

This was the best advice I was given by a dear friend: Take it day by day, but move forward every day. This applies to so many different people in so many different ways. Sometimes it’s my house. Other times it’s diabetes. Today it was remaining calm with my son. No matter what, take it day by day.

There’s more for me to work on – next on my list is meal planning. It’s 4:30 right now and I have no idea what to make for dinner.

Baby steps.

 

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Do you remember gym class? Outside of the horrifying gym uniforms (think green polyester shorts and a t-shirt with my last name written across my chest with a black permanent marker), the exercises we did at the beginning of each class prepared our muscles for the real work to begin.

These exercises serve the same purpose. Before you start the long haul of working on your latest, soon-to-be best-seller, warm up your creative muscles with one (or all) of these:

1. Go back to the beginning:

Write about the first chapter book you ever read. What do you remember?

Was it a good read or did you not finish it?

2. Take a step into a great challenge:

Imagine you are a first grade teacher and have been asked to include a 68-year-old illiterate man in your classroom. What might come of that situation? Make notes, write a few scenes, or run with it.

3. Go back to the basics:

Print the first two pages of any story you are writing. Circle the first word of each sentence. Are those words similar? If so, re-work the sentences and re-print.

Make these writing exercises more fun – get out of the house, order a cup of hot something (it’s below zero here in Michigan) and write the way you imagine all writers do…over coffee, in the middle of a cute café, capturing the essence of your next character from the personalities walking by your table.

Do you have a published book? Click on this pic to read about an opportunity to receive and share in a marketing group.

Do you have a published book? Click on this pic to read about an opportunity to receive and share in a marketing group.

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