Friday, September 30, 2011

Quotes and Cookies: Great People

Many thanks, Tara of Tara Tyler Talks for the Blog on Fire award!

"Keep away from people who try to belittle your ambitions. Small people always do that, but the really great make you feel that you, too, can become great."

Mark Twain

I love being a writer because the writing community is chock full of really great people. People who make you feel like each person's journey to becoming great is a group effort. Everyone pulls each other up together. You are all truly amazing.

Just one of the million reasons why I love you guys!

If I could send you all real cookies instead of just virtual ones, I totally would.

Source Link
Have an awesome weekend, everyone!

Thursday, September 29, 2011

Stick Wars Castle Defense

First of all, I'd like to thank Lynn(e) from The Submission Process for the Blog on Fire award. Thank you, Lynn(e)!

Secondly, I loved, loved, LOVED reading everyone's comments on yesterday's post about what genre and age group you write for! Make sure you check out the updated graphics. I think you'll find it very un-scientifically interesting. If you didn't a chance to leave your genre and age group yesterday, I'll update the graphics for a few more days. For some reason, colorful puff balls make me happy. :o)

Okay. I live in a family of gamers. As the only person in my family who didn't get any of my husband's genes, all the talk about what race, class, and spec a new character should have, getting exp, picking up armor.... above and beyond me. I couldn't play an mmorpg (massive multiplayer online role playing games, for those of you not familiar to the lingo) any more easily than I could dance in a ballet.

One day, I was in a creative slump. I hadn't written in days, and I wasn't sure I could even pull myself out of it enough to try. My son came up to me and said, "Mom, want to play a game with me?"

I groaned inside. Mostly because I hate long games. "What kind of game?"

"Stick wars. We each draw a castle, then draw things to defend it with."

Immediately I thought about Paladins, Druids, Shamans, Mages, Warlocks, Hunters, Elves, Dwarves, Undead.... and the talk about having one character that's a healer, one that's a tank, one that's a damage doer.... It took about a second and a half of imagining this game before my head wanted to explode. "Uh.... I'm not good at that kind of stuff."

"No-- it'll be fun! We each only have five minutes to draw, and you can defend your castle with anything that will scare off the enemy."

"Anything? And it's all about speed?" Okay, that game I can play.

So here is our game in all it's awesomeness. The instigator of the game didn't want his posted on the Internet, but my other son let me, as long as he could remain anonymous. :)

Now, I'll admit: he nearly had me with all those archers, spear men, snakes, spiders, bramble fence, thorn moat, fog, elven warriors, and impenetrable castle walls.

I think may have him beat, though. It was the confined spaces that turned the tide my direction. That, and having those butterflies drop the science fair project on the unsuspecting hordes. Those are scary things indeed.

And when we were done, guess what? Not only did I have a fabulous time with my sons, I realized it had kicked me out of my creative slump IN FIVE MINUTES FLAT.

Moral of the story: Sometimes stepping out of your comfort zone and doing something out of the ordinary can reward you in ways you never expected.

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

The Way We Are: Dump your Genre and Age Group into the funnel

In writing, the rules are pretty much the same, no matter your genre and no matter the age group you write for. Sure, an incredible amount of things that have to be different with every genre and every age group. But the bones— they’re the same.

Just like writers. We’re the same, too! Okay. We just might be vastly different. But it feels like we're the same. The bones of a writer are the same. But even though we’re all the same, it’s still fun to see where we are different. Like the differences in what genre we write and what age group we write for.

So let’s hear it!

Are we writing vastly different things from one another, or a lot the same? I think it’d be interesting to know. Leave what genre and age group you write in the comments, and as often as I can, I will update the graphics to reflect the comments.

Me? I write middle grade adventure. Sometimes it's tinged with fantasy. Sometimes a little science fiction. Sometimes a little mystery. But ALWAYS a lot of adventure.

Can’t wait to find out what everyone else writes!

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

I've Got a Theory: What's in a name? LOTS.

My theory is based on another theory. That theory is called the "Theory of Deadly Initials." Maybe you've heard of it. It was published in the Journal of Psychosomatic Research, and said there's a link between the lifespan of human males and their initials. Basically, if your initials are positive (like W.O.W. or A.C.E.), then you'd tend to live 4.8 years longer than people with initials who didn't really spell anything. If your initials were negative (like U.G.H. or D.U.M.), then you'd tend to live 2.8 years less.

You write your initials a LOT over the course of a lifetime. Every time you do, if it's positive, it's kind of a You Are So Cool shot in the arm. If it's negative, it's like a You Stink shot, right?

So here's my theory. You write your last name MUCH MORE than you write your initials! So your last name can have a HUGE impact if it is an actual non-name word, or similar to an actual word.

My maiden name is Wheeler. Is it any coincidence that my dad was a race car driver? That he built hot rods, dune buggies, custom cars and race cars, and fixed wrecked cars as a side job when I was a kid? That my sister manages a car parts store? That three members of my family are in a car show club? That my brother restores classic cars? That nearly every member of my family owns more vehicles than they have licensed drivers? Hmmm....

And that's just one example. The one I'm closest to. I'm sure you can think of several others.

So if W.I.N. makes you be more winning, R.A.D. makes you cooler, F.A.B. makes you be more fabulous, D.U.M. makes you feel dumber, O.A.F. makes you feel clumsy, and B.A.D. makes you feel terrible at everything, then what does having a last name that is also a word mean?

How does it influence what you do, or more importantly, HOW PEOPLE VIEW your possibilities, personality, temperament, stability, and a host of other things? If initials make such a difference, than so can having a last name like Hart. Mason. Parker. Woods. Bright. Cross. Twiggs. Feld. Knight. Price. Law. Butcher. Archer. Cook. Young. Stone. Steele. Farmer. King. Singer. Best.

Does it matter? What about that last time you had to pick a doctor? You stare at a list of doctors your insurance covers, knowing nothing about them except for their names and phone numbers. How do you choose? That's right! Their name! (Unless you're researchy and you don't like to go into things blind. Or if you're choosing based on the ease of memorizing their phone number. Both are also entirely valid methods.)

The truth is, it does make a huge difference.

Which means that the names we choose make a huge difference on people's impressions of the characters we write. Choosing a name that doesn't really have connotations isn't a bad thing-- it's more of a neutral thing. But you can choose a name based on its connotations, good or bad, and that can make an incredible difference in people's perceptions of that character.

Choosing a character's last name is pretty incredible. When else in your life do you get to actually choose a last name? Last names can be hugely powerful. We should wield that power well.

How do you choose characters' names? By their connotations, or just by how cool they sound?

Monday, September 26, 2011

The Scientific Proof

Scientists conducted a 20 year study in 27 countries, which is pretty darn huge! Massive, even. The study and its results make me happy.

The study found that the number of books in a family's home has a greater determining factor on how much education a child will get than anything else.


Before this study, scientists believed the education level of the parents was the greatest determining factor. But get this: having books in the home is twice as important as the father’s education level.

It's more important than what country the child was born in.
It's more important than the father's occupation.
It's more important than the country's political system. Or its gross domestic product.

The study found that, “Having as few as 20 books in the home still has a significant impact on propelling a child to a higher level of education, and the more books you add, the greater the benefit.”

And having a 500 book library in your home versus having no books is the same as the parents having a university education versus having a 2nd grade education. Can you even believe that?

So what does it mean? Well, lots of things, but two that are pretty great.

First, if you have kids, ever plan to have kids, or are a kid yourself, you have a great excuse to go buy more books!

And you can tell parents (either now if you already have a book published, or later if you don't yet), "Buy my book and your kid will go to college!"


Friday, September 23, 2011

Quotes and Cookies: Writing is Your Choice

First off, I need to tell you guys how much I LOVED reading all of your How Old Were You stories on Wednesday. They're all downright inspiring! It made me all kinds of giddy to read them. One commenter, Iain from Iainspiration did a post to tell his whole story. Check it out!

And holy canoli was this a busy week! Anyone else SO GRATEFUL that Friday is here? Got a craving for some cookies or a fabulous quote? Me, too. Let's get to it!

"No one is asking, let alone demanding, that you write. The world is not waiting with bated breath for your article or book. Whether or not you get a single word on paper, the sun will rise, the earth will spin, the universe will expand. Writing is forever and always a choice - your choice."

~Beth Mende Conny

Kinda puts it into perspective, doesn't it? The world won't end if we don't write. We will survive if we don't write (even if it really doesn't feel like we would). We create those stories the world needs because we CHOOSE to. It's our choice, and if we're going to make such an all-consuming choice, then you can bet we are going to do THE BEST WE CAN.

Because that's what writers do.

(Oh, and we also eat cookies.)

Have a wonderful Friday and a great weekend!

Thursday, September 22, 2011

Guest Post: Lani Wendt Young

Today rocks. Like, a lot. Wanna know why? Because Lani Wendt Young is here! I was lucky enough to discover her blog a few months ago, and I've been stalking her ever since. She's amazing, her blog is amazing, she hails from the land of The Lord of the Rings, and she is on her book tour for her newly released book, TELESA. Take it away, Lani!

As a writer who writes too many different things all the time – I am often asked: “Where do you find the time and the drive to write? How do you overcome writer’s ‘block’?”  Such questions are a puzzle to me and so my answer is 105km and 14 hrs long…

Two years ago, I had a crazy idea.  I wanted to put together a women’s team and run in a 105km relay that went around the main island of Samoa. It was crazy because at the time I couldn’t even run around the parking lot without stopping to gasp for breath. But I was determined. I convinced some other moms from my church to be crazy with me and we started training.

For 5 days a week over three months, we would meet at the crack of dawn to go for a 5k run. I use the term ‘run’ very loosely since, at first, we did more of a shuffle, which then accelerated to become a waddle, which then after a few weeks, became a jiggly, joggly sort of jog. Did I enjoy it? Hell no. I hated every minute of it. Many times, I only went because it was my turn to drive and pick the team up. Other times, I only went because the rest of the team was honking their car horn outside, waiting to pick me up.

The 2009 Dream Team at the finish line, Apia Samoa (I'm number 34 in the middle).

But after 6 weeks, something strange happened. (No, I didn’t transform into a stunning athletic muscle machine. I wish.) I found myself waking up early on Saturday mornings…wanting to go for a run, itching and edgy for a run. Huh? By Wk 9, I was going for a run TWICE A DAY.  And when I got the flu and couldn’t train for a week? I was raving mad. As if someone had bought all the Diet Coke on the island, leaving me with nothing but coconuts to drink. By the time the Perimeter Relay came around, I was running twice a day, sometimes 6 days a week. But more significantly, the running had become as essential to me as eating. Sleeping. Brushing my teeth. I wouldn’t dream of going a work-day without it.  It took our team 14 hours to complete the relay, running from 2am to 5pm the next afternoon. Many times during that relay, I wanted to puke and die. But many times, I was also running on an exhilarating high as I gloried in feeling like  – I could run forever and never stop.

Writing is just like that. If you want to BE a writer, you don’t ‘find time’ in your busy schedule to write. You make time. You start with a goal. A crazy dream. ‘I want to write a romance. A best-selling thriller. A children’s book. A memoir about my grandmother...’ You set aside a time and a place every day that you are going to write. You start off small. Shuffling, waddling baby steps to get you building the consistent writing habit. You write anything and everything. Start a journal. A family newsletter. Write down those bedtime stories you tell your kids. Record your family history. Write long, chatty letters to friends. Start a blog AND THEN STICK TO IT.  The best thing I ever did for my writing career was to start a blog – it forced me to assert and accept responsibility for my writing. Your blog readers can be like that relay team of runners who force you to stick to your crazy dream by bugging you every day for your latest piece of writing. At first, it will be hard. You will probably hate it. Complain. Whinge and whine looking for excuses NOT to write. But if you keep at it, doggedly, persistently - you will hit that point where you can’t imagine a day, a moment, without writing. When you’re not writing, you will be thinking about it. If you have an unruly mob of children like me, you will dread the weekends because it means less writing time. ( And don’t even get me started on the horror of school holidays…aaargh!) You will write because you feel like you will die if you don’t. You will write because you are a writer. And that’s what writers do.

A Very Sad Footnote to this Writing Story: In the past 12 months, my first book of narrative non-fiction ‘Pacific Tsunami Galu Afi’ was launched. My story ‘The Beast that Came from the Sea’ was professionally recorded for radio and broadcast in 54 countries. I have blogged 5 days a week. Completed a collection of short fiction which has just won the Fiction Award in the 2011 International USP Press Competition. Finished my 450 page urban fantasy YA fiction novel TELESA and started on the second. Written numerous children’s stories that are published in the NZ School Reading Curriculum. All while being the slave mother to five fabulous children. However, I have not been running anywhere. Not even in the parking lot. And it shows…

Thanks for stopping by, Lani! (I don't know about you guys, but I think that picture shows she is an athletic muscle machine.) I definitely recommend checking out her blog. She posts five days a week, and somehow manages to be hilarious and well-written with every single post. I kid you not, I would read anything Lani writes in book form because everything she writes in blog form is stellar. Check it out! Sleepless in Samoa. Lani's book TELESA was just released, and you can buy it on Amazon here.

Have a fabulous day everyone!

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

The Way We Are: How Old Were You?

A few weeks ago, I was fascinated by all the Spark stories I read! (I bow down to Christine Tyler. It was an act of sheer genius on her part to think of doing the Sparkfest.) One of the things I loved the most was hearing the variety of ages everyone was when they first decided wanted to be a writer.

So let's hear it! Inquiring minds want to know.

Go ahead and mark your vote, then feel free to elaborate in the comments!

As much as I love hearing stories of people who were, I was not a kid when I decided I wanted to be an author. I wasn't even a teenager. In fact, it wasn't until my baby started Kindergarten that I figured it out. Once I made that decision, though, I attacked writing with a ferocious determination unlike anything I've ever done before. And the determination has only gotten stronger every day since.

(But for probably the ten years before this, my hubby would say, "You should write a book." I'd give him a look that was equal parts That was random, and What makes you think I can do THAT?! Apparently he believed I could do it way before I believed I could.)

So tell me your story! It'll make me a million kinds of excited to read it.

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

I've Got a Theory: The Need for Stories

It's Tuesday, which means I've got a theory! Funny how that always happens on Tuesdays...

So here's my theory:

EVERYONE has a need for stories.

I work at an elementary school, and a particular group of sixth graders from three years ago were especially memorable.

One group of girls, determined to kill off a section of grass by year's end, sat in a circle in the exact same spot each recess and chatted. Every so often, I'd wander near and eavesdrop. I'd catch things like "You are NOT going to believe what he did!" and "Are you serious? That's CRAZY! So what did you do?"

A second group of kids always played a game that seemed equal parts Dungeons & Dragons, and every fantasy book they'd ever read. They would decide what kind of character they were going to play, what special abilities they'd have, what the epic good-versus-evil fight would be, and then they'd act it all out.

One group traipsed to the ends of the playgrounds and fields and back, while the other sat unmoving. They both did the exact same thing, though. They created stories.

At a writers' conference a couple years ago, Tracy Hickman talked about this same thing. About how, when we see something with an incomplete story, we fill in the gaps. And it's true! If we walk into our favorite grocery store and see someone sitting on the sidewalk with their back against the building, face tear-stained, clothes nice but mud-crusted and torn, our minds start forming a story as to what happened.

(Right? Did you start making up what had happened to this person?)(And if you thought of something interesting, I want to hear about it in the comments!)

Tracy Hickman even took it one step further. He asked us to imagine a world where there were no stories. [Pause... pause...] Then he said, "In your head, you just started writing the story of the place with no stories, didn't you?"


Think of the story you thought of with the person at the grocery store. And about the world with no stories. Those girls killing the grass weren't talking about the square root of pi. And the D&D kids weren't talking about elves skipping through the forest. So the REAL theory is:

Everyone has a need for DRAMATIC stories.

Some people definitely have a greater need than others. (Writers probably have the greatest need of all!) But we don't want those stories to be things we experience all the time. We want stories outside our range of normal. We want them to be the things we either don't experience often, or the things we'd never experience on our own.

People NEED stories. So how freaking cool is it to be a writer?

Monday, September 19, 2011

Awards! Awards!

Confession time: A couple of weeks ago, I worked REALLY HARD and wrote a couple weeks' worth of blog posts. I know! I was so proud of myself! It allowed me to focus on my WIP for a couple weeks, which I sorely needed. BUT since I already had my posts scheduled, when I was awarded some awesome blog awards, I wasn't able to accept them very quickly. And I feel like a heel for waiting this long, especially when they're so darn sweet! I really am crazy flattered.

Thanks to the fabulous people who gave me awards! They are seriously awesome people. If you don't already follow them, you definitely should.

Stacy Henrie at Live, Laugh, Love, Write awarded me the Liebster award
Francesca Zappia at Zap's Lobster Tank awarded me the Versatile Blogger and 
Irresistibly Sweet Blog award
Jeff King at Author's Union awarded his favorite blogs
Lora Palmer at A Writer In Bloom awarded me the Versatile Blogger and 
Irresistibly Sweet Blog award
Julie Tuovi at From Pen To Paper awarded me the Versatile Blogger
Tara at More Than Fiction awarded me the 7 x 7 Link Award
Krista Wayment at I Take the Pen awarded me the 7 x 7 Link Award
Maeve Frazier at Lollipop's Cottage awarded me the Versatile Blogger
The Writing Well awarded me the Versatile Blogger award
Rachel Bean at I Read. I Write. I Control the World. awarded me the Versatile Blogger

The rules were all different, but they all seemed to have you list seven random facts about yourself. So here goes!
  1. Whenever I hear a phrase, I feel the need to figure out where it came from originally. Ones that still stump me: “Who let the cat out of the bag?” I’m wondering why someone put the cat IN the bag in the first place.... and when people refer to a “laundry list” of things. Are laundry lists normally that long? Whites, darks, inbetweens, delicates.... Wouldn’t “grocery list” make more sense?
  2. I feel unbelievably fortunate to have had THE Brandon Sanderson as my creative writing teacher one semester. It was one of those “Make an outlandish wish that couldn’t possibly ever come true, and then it does” kind of things.
  3. I can memorize a string of 50 numbers in 5 minutes.
  4. I hated the movie “Peggy Sue Got Married.” I’ve never seen it, but for years after it came out, I got asked if my middle name is Sue by hundreds of people. My middle name is ANN.
  5. I don’t watch, listen to, or read the news. It messes with my belief that all is right with the world. Unless a news story is on’s home page on a day I go to their home page, I don’t know about it. So if something major happens, leave a comment about it! No, seriously. I’m not kidding. But... only if it's something major. I like believing all is right with the world. :)
  6. I like to do cartwheels. Especially in the halls at church.
  7. I love to close my eyes and smile up at the sun. It's possible I got my incredibly bad eyesight from smiling up at the sun WITHOUT closing my eyes as a kid. It might be hereditary; I think my son got glasses for the same reason.
The 7 x 7 Link Awards also come with a part where you link to your own blog posts. It's a fabulous idea! I think I might do it in a post by itself. (If you are receiving this award, though, in your post, link to the post of yours that are Most Beautiful, Most Helpful, Most Popular, Most Controversial, Most Surprisingly Successful, Most Pride-Worthy, and Most Underrated.)

And now, the best part! Passing the award on to seven other fabulous bloggers. Feel free to choose your favorite award, one you haven't received before, or even accept them all! You totally deserve it. (And if accepting blog awards on your blog isn't your thing, just smile, stick a little feather in your hat, star on your forehead, let it warm your heart-- whatever-- and know that I will NOT be offended if you choose not to.)

Cristina at Once Upon A Time... Cristina is made of awesome, and it shows in all her posts. Check her out!

Tara at Tara Tyler Talks because she brings the funny and her posts are totally enjoyable.

Carrie So, You're a Writer... at because not only do her posts rock, but her comments KILL ME.

Linda at Wistfully Linda because her posts are fabulous. They are so well thought out and have so much great info.

Talei at Musings of an Aspiring Scribe because not only is she awesome, but her posts make me happy Every. Single. Time.

John at A Universe Behind Your Eyelids because not only does he have great writing posts, but great how-to blogging posts.

Alexis at Alexis Bass Writes because her posts have fabulous voice.

Go check out every one of these blogs! You'll be glad you did. Have a fabulous writing week, everyone!

Friday, September 16, 2011

Quotes and Cookies: As it needs to be

"Write your story as it needs to be written. Write it honestly, and tell it as best you can. I'm not sure that there are any other rules. Not ones that matter."

~Neil Gaiman

To all my fellow rule-following-inclined friends, did you hear that? Neil THE MAN Gaiman himself said that there are only three rules that matter. Write a story honestly, the best you can, and how it needs to be written.

To everyone who likes to break the rules: Neil THE MAN Gaiman gives you permission.

I think that deserves a cookie, don't you?

Happy Friday!

Thursday, September 15, 2011

Dropping Fire

**DISCLAIMER: This is totally and completely a "Don't try this at home" story.**

My parents built our house themselves. Literally. (They used ropes and pulleys when erecting the walls to make up for the lack of hands.) It took a full two years to get finished enough that we could move in. Okay, maybe it wasn't entirely by themselves. I remember seeing a lot of pictures of the four-year-old me, and my two-year-old and six-year-old brothers helping to nail down plywood on the floors, pick up scraps, sweep, and give other INVALUABLE help.

It took a few years to get the house finished once we moved in, and because it was such a huge lot, it took a few more years to get the yard finished. By the time we got to the back yard, the weeds had grown pretty high. One Saturday, we all worked to gather the dried weeds and dead branches to a huge fire in the middle of the yard. Of course, we were drawn to the fire like... well, like kids to a fire. (Which might have had something to do with genes-- my mom will never admit it, but we think she's a fire bug.)

We each stuck a big stick into the fire and lit them. Then my older brother discovered that if you put a plastic milk jug on the end of your stick, hold it over the fire and turn it at just the right moments, it catches on fire and melts to the stick. The best part? The plastic would fall in drips, like liquid fire falling to the ground. (And contaminating it for many years to come. Although I swear we didn't know about that part.)

Lots of dried weeds grew along the barbed wire fence at the back of the lot, so my brother and I took our Dripping Flame on a Stick along the back fence, and dropped liquid fire along the strip of weeds. (I think my parents let us because we were such responsible kids. Not ecologically responsible, mind you.) So we set little fires all along the way, close enough that one would eventually reach the next, leading up to the bonfire growing in the middle of the yard.

Plotting a book is a lot like dropping liquid fire into dry weeds. You need that fire-- or the conflict-- happening often enough that it will pull the reader to the next flame of conflict. If you place each of the flames carefully, then the fire will propel its way along and lead your reader all the way up to the bonfire-- the climax-- at the end.

Because the bonfire at the end is what it's really all about.

P.S. I've been interviewed by Chantele at My Writing Bug. You should go check it out, if for no other reason than to sit and stare at how darn pretty her blog is. Seriously. It takes me a good minute of staring before I even start reading her posts, which are every bit as great as her layout.

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

The Way We Are: What we're willing to sacrifice

[First, to those who have given me blog awards-- I haven't forgotten! Early next week, I promise. And thank you again!]

Anytime you take on an endeavor as time consuming as writing is, you're going to have to sacrifice things, right? I doubt any of us were just sitting around for hours every day with nothing to do before we started writing. (And if you were, I guess you decided to sacrifice doing nothing then, right?)

So my big The Way We Are question today is, What is it you sacrifice for writing?

My answer:
Sleep, definitely.
TV, unless it's after the kids are in bed and also counts as time spent with hubby.
Playing games, unless it's with my family-- then it's family time, not wasting time.
House cleaning, yard work, laundry, grocery shopping, and cooking, but not too often.
And let's face it-- reading time. I'd definitely read more if I weren't writing. Sad.

The two things I sacrifice that are the hardest:
Being on top of everything and feeling like I have everything under control.
Creative energy to spend on anything other than writing.

Do I miss those things I sacrifice? Heck yes!
Would I give up writing for them? Heck no!

So what do you sacrifice?

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

I've Got a Theory: The glass is half full

As fabulous and awesome as the writing life is, it's not always full of rainbows and lollipops.

Maybe our critique group didn't like our latest chapter... An agent sent a rejection... A reader gave a bad review... A scene just isn't working out... Edits getting you down... Having a bad day of writing...

I have a theory, though, that says that No matter how bad things seem, you can ALWAYS find the good in it.

Allow me to illustrate with a funny story. My then eight year old daughter and I were getting the Christmas tree ready to decorate a couple of Christmases ago. I was stringing the lights, and she was checking each strand to make sure the lights all worked. One set was not as bright as the others, so I set it aside. I hoped not to use it, but as I got closer to the end, it became obvious that I'd have to if I wanted to cover the whole tree. I sighed and picked up the dim set.

My little girl: "It's okay. Using dull lights is better than using no lights at all. Just like having a dead cat is better than having no cat at all."

Me: "WHAT?! I'm pretty sure I'd rather have no cat than have a dead cat."

My daughter: "But you can still pet a dead cat."

No, I wasn't speechless. I don't think you can call gut-injuring laughter "speechless." When I gained my breath and my composure, I praised her for her astonishing ability to, once again, find the good in anything.

In my family, we no longer use the expressions "every cloud has a silver lining" or "glass half-full." We use "A dead cat is better than no cat at all." My daughter asked if she was ever going to live that down. The answer is no.

But do you know what? She was totally right. You can find the good in EVERY SINGLE SITUATION. Even the really crappy ones. Those people that are always happy? I'm convinced it's because they are experts at finding and focusing on the good in any situation. It's not magic. Anyone can do it.

Your critique group didn't like your chapter? Now you know what to change. And it's way better to know now instead of ten revisions later when you really couldn't stand to change something that big.

An agent sent you a rejection? Now you are one agent closer to finding your dream agent.

Got a bad review from a reader? Maybe. But how many GOOD reviews did you get? And any publicity is good publicity, right? And then of course, whatever doesn't kill you will make you stronger. :)

Scene not working out? Then you get to have that awesome scene spending more time living in your head than you would've gotten otherwise.

Edits getting you down? It'll make finishing all the sweeter.

Having a bad day writing? Well, I think we can all agree that...

A bad day writing is better than a day of no writing at all.

Monday, September 12, 2011

Shooting at Targets

You know, the thing about writing is that it always feels like you are behind on everything. You should've already gotten through that first draft. You should have already finished editing. You should've already read a million more books and blogs.

And that's not even counting all the REGULAR LIFE stuff you have to do. It can kind of feel like there are a million things you need to do, and you can't even figure out which one is most important to work on, right?

Sigh. And it gives you grief.

I was driving down the street, stressing about the aforementioned malady when something brilliant came to mind. My mom hangs frames on their bathroom wall with great quotes or pictures, and every so often she changes the quotes. Suddenly, as a gift from above, one of the quotes came to mind.

“Nothing can add more power to your life
than concentrating all of your energies
on a limited set of targets.”

~Nido Qubein

Well, duh. Now that you mention it, it makes all kinds of sense.

If you have a circle of 50 targets around you and you’ve got 50 arrows in your quiver, then you can shoot one arrow at each target. Sure, you’re probably going to get a bull’s eye every now and then. And you might hit the rings on twenty or so more. But there’ll be a lot you don’t even hit.

And here’s the kicker— the ones you don't hit could be the most important targets.

But if you shoot all 50 arrows at ONE TARGET, you’re going to get a few bull’s eyes. And a couple dozen or so in the other rings. And of course, you’ll miss the target quite a few times. But you’ll get bull’s eyes! And hit tons of other places that give points! Your target is going to be full of arrows!!

When you have that one target that you’ve been aiming at, and it’s filled with tons of arrows, IT FEELS REALLY GOOD.

And when you have a whole mess of targets with no arrows, it kinda makes you feel like you really suck at... Okay, we’ll say archery.

So I decided to make a gigantic bon fire and huck most of my targets into it, leaving only a the most important ones to aim at. (Of course, unless you're talking ONLY writing, you're not likely to whittle it down to just one target.)(And okay, I didn’t actually burn the others targets, because I really like most of those other targets! I’d like to shoot some arrows at them again sometime. So, I mostly just stood them on end in a neat little row with a label on the side so I could find each one at a moment’s notice.)

But holy cow, does it feel good to have less targets to aim at!

I’m talkin’ REALLY good.

So I say, chuck some of those targets you’ve been aiming at!

I think you’ll like it.

I mean REALLY like it.

P.S.  I was interviewed by ever fabulous Cristina at Once Upon a Time.... Go check it out! :)

Friday, September 9, 2011

Quotes and Cookies: Get it Written

“Don't get it right, just get it written” 

~James Thurber

I don't know about you guys, but I need that taped to my computer screen. REVISING IS FOR LATER. Trying to get it right the first time siphons creative energy. Right can give you writer's block. (Maybe it should be renamed to Righter's Block!)

Give that demanding inner editor the boot and just get it written! (But maybe give him/her a cookie before you kick them out.)

Thursday, September 8, 2011

I died once.

When I was a kid, we discovered THE MOST ANNOYING THING. Repeating the same thing over and over and over. Then I came across a little ditty that was annoyance GOLD. I said this puppy over and over so many times! It was awesome. (Feel free to teach it to any kids you know.)

I'm going to show it to you in drawings, because drawing make things more fun, right?

Now imagine that repeated over and over. AWESOME, right? It totally was! Well... if you were the one saying it. Not so much if you were the one hearing it.

Repetition can be a great thing in a book. Like when it reinforces the theme or when you repeat a phrase to add emphasis.

But repetition can also be a really bad thing in a book. There's lots of repetition we have to look out for.

Like repeating those pet phrases we each have. Or pet words. Or pet body language or actions (raising eyebrows, shrugging, sighing, etc.).

On a paragraph or page level, having two sentences that say essentially the same thing.

Character types. When multiple characters share the same personality traits, appearance, quirks, likes and dislikes, the characters can feel flat, even if they are well developed.

Repeating conflict. I read a book recently that had conflict on every single page! It was great... except that each conflict was the same conflict. The MC got captured, then he'd find a way to escape. He'd gain a little ground, get a little closer to his goal, and get captured by someone else. He'd find a way to escape... and you get the picture.

When you explain too much. This SO EASY to do on a first draft! You want to make sure you convey everything. Make sure the reader REALLY GETS what is happening, and that's totally fine. But in revisions, remember to trust the reader. You're a reader. You know how we are. We're pretty good at picking up things, even when they are more subtle.

Repeating emotion. I read a book a year or two ago that people generally loved. There was a lot of the book that I loved, too, but there was something that kept it from being fabulous. A single emotion permeated the entire book. Everything was seen through the eyes of that ONE emotion. We never got a reprieve, and by the end, I was exhausted.

So as fun as it is to annoy your siblings when you're a kid, it's a good thing to never annoy your reader through repetition. Do you have a repetition pet peeve that drives you crazy whenever you see it? Do you have any you find yourself doing often?

Now go teach my little ditty to any kids you are frequently around. Come on. It'll be AWESOME.

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

The Way We Are: How many people read your manuscript?

I'm just guessing here, but I'll bet we all have different approaches when it comes to getting critiques. Maybe you have a critique partner that is so awesome, you don't feel the need to pass on your manuscript to anyone else.

Maybe you have a group of writer friends that you send your manuscript to, either all at once, or one at a time, making changes after each set.

Or maybe you send it to some writers and then to some family members.

Maybe you even send it onto a group of friends who aren't writers, but who are invested in you, and therefore want to read everything you write.

Or maybe you even go for a bigger group of readers.

The point is, no matter where you are in the writing line-- writing to leave something behind for grandkids, writing to self-publish, looking for an agent, on sub to publishers, have an agent and an editor working to publish your first book, have several books out.... You usually go to others
for critiques to catch things that could embarrass you later.

Maybe you just like people reading your book. I get that.

When we're "done," we might all send it different places-- to the printer, to sit on a hard drive while querying agents, or to your agent or editor. The point is, there's a time we call it "done," but we keep our fingers crossed that we aren't REALLY done.

So, here's my question:

How many people do you ask to read your manuscript before you call it "done?"

Here's my answer. For the book I'm getting ready to query, I sent it chapter by chapter each week to my writing group. So +3. I also sent it to my husband and my parents at the same time. +3. At revision three, I couldn't stand waiting any longer to read it to my kids, so +3 more. At revision seven, I sent it to my sister, a friend, and a writer friend.
+3. Revision eight I printed out seven copies and gave to friends / family. Some read it with their kids. I have no idea how many people got that version. Somewhere around +15. Then a teacher I work with read it as a read-aloud to her fourth graders. (Which, btw, coolest experience ever. I even got to be in the room, working with kids one on one while she read. Talk about a fantastic way to spot problems! Especially with someone else's voice doing the reading.) Then I sent revision nine to +3 writer friends. All in all, somewhere around 30, plus a class full of kids. So.. um... apparently a crazy amount of people.

Hmm. After all that, I suddenly went from being curious about everyone's numbers to hoping that someone else sends their book to a crazy amount of people, just to make me feel more normal.

Or maybe your numbers will make someone else feel normal. I'm okay with that, too.