Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Keep Facebooking!

A few weeks ago we talked about building your platform and I gave some very general tips on how to start building that platform. Today we are going to focus on Facebook and using it to your best abilities as a platform.

It is very easy to get sucked into Facebook. There are dozens of time wasters (farmville, who's your celebrity lover, etc.) and if you have a very large network just keeping up with all of your friends can be overwhelming. In the beginning I spent several hours a day... just on facebook. At the end of the day, I would be so frustrated because I felt like I had accomplished nothing with my writing.

So you decide to cut back and suddenly you find some of your Facebook friends getting very quiet. There are a couple of reasons for this. The first is that they may have un-friended you. It happens and that is ok. But you may want to look at your practices and find out why they un-friended you. Are you only posting work-related comments? Are you posting offensive items or getting into "drama". If so, stop immediately!

Remember, this is a professional page. If you want a private page where you can do that, go get that private page. At the same time, you do need to maintain a personal connection with your friends. Don't just post work-related items. Make comments when appropriate, but be sure that you keep in mind that the comments you make are visible to all (if you have an open page, which I recommended in the beginning). Engage without arguing!

Make sure that you engage with all of your friends. Even if you simply "like" something that they say. Facebook has a feature that will remove friends from your friends list if you do not keep up with them. Keep your image in mind when you do respond to comments.

Your posts should not just be promoting your book, blog, etc. Post a witty comment, post a favorite quote. Give them something that lets them know that you are human! Keep your image in mind as you plan your posts and make sure that your posts are properly written. They do reflect on you as a writer.

When you do post work-related items, ask people to share. You would be surprised how many will be willing to do so. When they do share your work, all of their friends will see it as well. This increases your viewership beyond your 200 (or whatever) friends.

Once a week take a few minutes to go through the friend finder and add a few friends. In the beginning you will only be adding people that you know in the "real world". But as you engage with others and respond to your friends posts, you can and will become friends with their friends. Once you have built a rapport with your friend's friends, they will be more inclined to accept your friend request. In the real world, I only have a handful of friends. 1/2 of my Facebook friends are old friends that I have reconnected with. About 1/3 are friends and family that I maintain contact with in the "real world" and the remaining are people that I have solely met through Facebook! Some of my "Facebook-only" friends are my best contributors for re-posting my work!

I love my Facebook people! They are probably the best in the world. Although I do use my Facebook page for promoting my work, I have enjoyed the sociability it gives me now that I have become a shut-in working from home! And even the ones you may not know in real life become a part of your real world connections!

This is my favorite of all my "platforms". It is probably the only one I would maintain if I did stop pursuing my dreams of writing. There are connections that I have made on my other platforms that I would pull over if I did give them up, but my Facebook friends are just that! They boost me up when I am feeling down. They re-share much more willingly and actually engage in what I do. I get more comments on my blog posts through Facebook than on the actual blog! And those comments keep me writing these posts, when the lack of comments on the blog gets me down!

Next post we will return to writing tips, so look forward to it!

Monday, August 29, 2011

A Rose by Any Other Name...

Shakespeare was wrong, names are important. So when creating your characters it is important to give them names that suit their personality. Unless of course, you are trying to be ironic. Like naming a big, hulking, girl Grace. Either way, this is an important step to developing your character and should not be taken lightly.

I always have a hard time with character names. I want to name my characters something original and creative. I loathe generic names like Bob, Joe, Jeff, James and Tommy. But you cannot have all of your characters have super-original names. It is emotionally taxing as an author to find so many original and creative names. Keep in mind that strange names can also lead to confusion for your audience. For example, in the Harry Potter series I had Hermione pronounced in my head Her-meee-on. Boy, was I frustrated when she demonstrated the pronunciation in the book as Her-my-oh-neee!

Another example is my main character for All is Well. Her name is Clear Angell. I had to re-write her introduction because several of my testers were confused as to why I had capitalized clear. And I may have to change the last name because most people don't realize it is pronounced angel. Curses!!

Can you imagine how hard it was naming my children? That is how hard it should be for you to name your characters. Your characters are your creation and in a sense your children. You want them to have original names that will stick with the reader long after the book is over. (Laura Croft, anyone?)

How do you go about picking a name? You have your lists, right? Now, go bookmark one of those on-line baby name sites (my favorites are  Parents Connect and Babynames) and look through the names and their definitions. Find one you like that suits your character. If you already have a name picked out, check it in the registry. Sounds easy, right? Hahahahaha!!! I am working on a Zombie story and have changed my main character's name ten times. I can't get past the name part.

The name is probably the first introduction of your character and before you get a chance for the audience to get to know them, they will be automatically imbued with certain characteristics that your readers will associate with that name. Some of those you cannot predict, because they are based on personal experience. But some of them will be almost universal standards based on the meanings of the names.

You also need to pay attention to your setting when naming a character. For example, if one of the characters from Pride and Prejudice had been named Tiffany or Lana that would have been weird! It would have  caused a mental bump for the readers. They might not have realized why it was awkward or uncomfortable for them, but they would know that it  broke the spell that was being weaved by the author. When you look up the name on your baby name site, they will have an origin listing. The origins of a name will aid in your determination of whether it is appropriate for your character, setting and plot.

Character's names need to work together, defining their relationships with one another. For example, twins often have names that sound similar like Jen and Julie. To do this with two friends in your story may indicate a deeper bond than just friends.

Despite its lack of commonality in reality, we like couples names to flow together. Having two very incongruous names, like Toby and Graciella, for your main characters may be awkward if they are to have a romantic interest in one another. But having names that are too similar, like Jeff and Jen, may be banal. It is important to make sure that the names work together, like Romeo and Juliet! (But please do not decide to go with Rome and Julie, unless you are doing a modern re-take of Romeo and Juliet... even then... maybe not!)

Do not neglect this very important aspect of your writing. Make sure you get the right name for your character so that people will care to remember them! What are some great character names you have come up with? Worst character names ever? Share in the comments below!

Friday, August 26, 2011

Are you Listing?

Lists. I love lists!!Shopping lists, daily chore lists, honey-do lists, pros and cons lists; I am a list person!

Listing in preparation for writing is a much more time-consuming process, but it allows for more detail and development. It is a great second step to your brain-storming (or a first step if you don't like brain-storming). It allows you to compare some of the points of development, by putting everything next to each other. It is also a lot easier to do on the computer, for you green writers!

How does listing work? Well, it is pretty straight forward. You pick a topic and write a list of things to go with that topic. For example:

Main Character
Mixed descent
Mid to late twenties
Stumbles into ER all shot up
Dies on the operating table
Comes back to life unexpectedly
Cannot remember anything
Little physical markers prevent her from being identified.
Plate in right ankle indicates high school age injury broken leg, dislocated ankle
Very intelligent
Good with languages
Heals quickly
Develops unique abilities: Speed, strength, agility
Likes exotic food
Prefers black and muted colors
Likes the cold
Has incredible dancing skills
Great rhythm
Exudes confidence, despite not knowing who she is.

This is a general character description. You would do this for all of your characters, even the most unimportant. The more detail you can provide, the easier it will be to see your characters and story as a real world situation. Know that half of the material you provide may never end up in your story, but that is ok. The important aspect is feeling that this world you are creating is real so that you can convey that reality to your readers. Remember that we said the same thing about all your research? Yeah, your research should also be taken and used to help make the lists. Lists are not limited to your character development. They should be written for all aspects of your story.

Here is a good setting list:

Setting (Different story list)
Aiken, S.C.
Main character attends South Aiken High School
Lives in Gatewood Apartments on the south side of Aiken
Hangs out at the local park, Odell Weeks
Small-town southern mentality affects the main character who is originally from the North
Major roads to know: Pinelog Rd, Whiskey Rd, Powder House rd.
Active in the Aiken Community Playhouse Youth wing at Odell Weeks park.

(OK, I sort of cheated and took a lot of this experience from my own history, without doing all of the research. But you better believe that when I decided to write a story where my character travels through Chicago and Peoria, IL, Google street view was my best friend!!)

Now, get listing!

How do you feel about lists? Let us know in the comments below!

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Got a Plan?

We have our idea, we have done our homework and now it is time to write, right? Not quite. I can hear the groans. How can you be a writer, when you don't write! But there is a very fine difference between being an author and being a writer. And a large amount of that difference is in delivery.

This is a lesson that it has taken me a long time to learn. I understood the need for a diagram, brainstorming chart or outline when it came to writing papers in school. When it came to writing books, I always wanted to go where the story took me. Which is why I could never finish a story. Now I embrace having a map!

Readers don't want a wondering book. Readers want a story. In order for you to create a compelling story you have to know where it is going. Remember all that symbolism you learned about in English oh so many years ago? What? You thought that was just an accident that some people got that particular message out of a story after the writer wrote it? O.k., in some cases it probably was. But most great writers already know the beginning, middle and end of a story before they write it. That is how we get such great elements as foreshadowing, irony and red herrings. Writers who do not take the time to plan end up with plot holes that you could drive a mac truck through. Or worse, feeling cliche.

 There are so many different ways to plot out your story and every new writer must experiment with the different techniques. Eventually you will find which one, or which combination, works for you.

The most common form of pre-planning is called brainstorming. We have all done it since probably third grade. Remember all the little bubbles on the paper and you make the bubbles connect? Yeah, that is brain storming. Some call it mind mapping, others call it writing webs. But whatever you want to call it, the principle is the same. You start with your main idea and then you draw other ideas off the main idea. Then you connect the ideas with lines. It ends up looking something like this:

I have to be honest with you, I HATE brainstorming on paper. It drives me absolutely nuts!! I am a bit of a control freak and I tend to be a linear thinker. There is no control in this style of planning, which is what a lot of writers love about the process. You are just throwing ideas out onto paper to see where it leads you. I have a lot of very good friends who swear by this technique. I do something very similar in my own little head, but never have the chaos on paper.

You may find that this is the best way for you to do it as well. Or you may find that you do not like this step at all and would rather choose a different format. (We'll discuss those in other posts.) But make sure you try it often before you give it up. It is one of those techniques that takes a while to get the hang of before you can really determine whether or not it is useful for your own creative process. The idea of a brainstorming chart is that it is for you and you alone. It is not a way to present your ideas to others. If you can make sense of it, that is all that matters.

As I said, I tend to do this process in my head (I like to call it "fleshing out" my idea.) But in my head, I am basically doing the same thing, I just don't have to see the mess I make as it never ends up on paper! The more complex and detailed you can make your brainstorm, the more it will aid you in getting your book to paper. Here is a mind map that I could do for one of the stories I am currently working on.

Yup, see why mine never make it to paper?!?!?

What are your thoughts on mind mapping? What other pre-planning techniques work for you? Feel free to share in the comments below.

Is there a type of pre-planning technique that you have heard of, but don't really know how to implement? Let me know and I can add that to our topics to cover at this stage!

Monday, August 22, 2011

Research: Do Your Homework!

We live in a miraculous and amazing world where knowledge is at your fingertips day and night. Where the only thing keeping anyone from learning anything is their own willingness (or lack there of) to learn. With the increase of public education, the availability of libraries and the birth of the internet;  we have the potential to be as intelligent and well-read as we choose. At the same time, this adds an extra burden to creative types. Just as we are no longer restricted to writing based on our own limited experience, our audience is no longer passive and learning only through us. So, when you venture into a novel, you must do research.

I hear the groans already. No one really likes research. (Despite what those non-creatives think as they watch us reading or writing all the time!) And there are plenty of writers who don't do research. But if you want to have quality work that people will love, you need to do research. And don't think that because you have watched CSI since its inception that you can write a crime thriller novel and be good to go. You can certainly use some of the information you have gleaned from the episodes, but make sure you double-check your information with the vast resources at your fingertips. (You can find anything on the internet! It is a little terrifying!)

Now some of you are thinking 'I know! If I write Science Fiction or Fantasy, I can get out of research. After all, they are based on worlds that do not or may never exist.' And if you are thinking that, you should be slapped!

O.k. maybe that was a bit extreme, but I have been an avid Science Fiction and Fantasy reader for a very long time and I don't think I am brave or ambitious enough to write either. (Yet, but I do have a couple of story lines going!) Why? Because we geeks of those genres are even more discerning and... particular... than the average reader. Don't believe me? Check out the thousands of forums devoted to picking to pieces any descent book in either of those genres. We geeks are neurotic.

If you think you want to write Sci-Fi, I suggest that you begin your research as so: take an astronomy class. If you don't know what the Van Allen Belts are, take another one! Make sure you watch every episode of Star Trek written by Gene Roddenberry. The others pretty much leaned on his own genius and research and didn't add much new to the knowledge. (Which is why I stopped watching.) Watch Dr. Who. Then read every  book ever written by Orson  Scott Card, Isaac Asimov, HG Wells, Jules Verne and at least three other famous science fiction authors. Then read A Brief History of Time by Stephen Hawking. And for good measure, check out Through the Wormhole, an interesting TV series based on current science posit. Now see where your plot fits in with all those conflicting theories! Good luck! (And yes, I am currently working through that research list in preparation for my own Science Fiction book...)

As for Fantasy; the world is fiction, but the fans are rigid! You cannot go creating beings willy nilly and expect people to embrace them. You need to be so immersed in the culture as to be able to create a very real-life story while working within the established expectations. For example, if you were to describe an Elf as under four feet with sharp features and pointed ears, reminiscent of Santa's Elves, you might be shot. (That would be a Warrow or a Gelfling people, everyone knows Elves are taller than humans!). On top of that, the readers of such work expect much higher prose than your typical crime thriller.

Don't think you are getting out of research going the paranormal route either. After all, try creating something original within the realms of the past lore. The biggest kickback to the Twilight series was that Vampires sparkled! And Ms. Myers did her research. Her choice of elements to change was... interesting, but she made at least a halfway decent effort to conform her own vampire world with an explanation for the adaptation from societies expectations of Vampires. (Yes, it is there in the first book. Remember Bella looking things up on the internet?!?!? Yup. Research!)

So stop trying to get out of the research and just get to it already! Trust me, there is a lot to do! Make sure you save all of your research so you can refer back to it as often as needed. Then start planning your story. But that is a topic for another post!

Are there any major research snafus in writing  that you would like to discuss? Or perhaps an author that you find particularly authentic because of their excellent research?  Tell us about them in the comments below!!

Don't forget to follow me on the right if you like what you see!

Friday, August 19, 2011

It Starts With an Idea

Ideas are everywhere around us, all day long. Everyone has ideas. But not all ideas are created equal. A lot of people's ideas run the gamut of creating a shopping list, planning the most effective route to get from point A to Point B, how to impress your boss for a promotion. There are ideas such as how to get that guy/girl to notice you. My favorite is how to bribe your children into doing their homework without them realizing there is a bribe involved here. Yup....

Some ideas strike you in odd places, at odd moments. Like when you are trying to get your children to behave in the supermarket and another kid four aisles over comes careening through. You have this sadistic image of that child getting snatched up and eaten by a zombie/ werewolf/ other monster of your choice so you can point to the incident as an example of why your children should behave! Or while you are waiting in the doctor's office and overhear a bit of a conversation about another patient's illness and plot a story featuring an outbreak of some sort of horrible disease. (I know, a bit cliche!) When you are standing in the walker's line at school and hear one of the other mother's talking about how she is going to leave her husband as soon as she graduates with such and such degree and he is never gonna see it coming. Given the horrible nature of her glee, you feel the need to plan a twisted moral story in which she dies horrifically three days before completion and as her husband is going through her things he learns the awful truth of their marriage!Yeah... I am a very dark and twisted person. Who knew? But here is a good idea!

As you are doing laundry you go to add more socks to the sock basket and find yourself wondering if socks are like dust bunnies and reproduce at an alarming and unexpected rate. All those socks without pairs are not from ones who have been lost, but ones who have been created through weird sock dalliances under the bed. Hmmm....

Yes, even in the midst of life, we have creative ideas. The problem is that when you are at the doctor's office, strolling (or dragging children) through the supermarket, waiting in line and these creative fits of genius (or morbidity) seize you, what do you do? You chuckle (at least I do), and plan on saving that great idea to jot down later. But by the time you make it back to your creative space (my desk in my case) the idea has been lost with the millions of others over a life time. (For you young aspiring authors, this gets worse as you get older, I promise!!) You console yourself with the thought that it must not have been that good anyway, otherwise you would have remembered it. But what could that story have developed into? Now you will never know.

Unless, of course, you keep an idea journal!

For those of you who have already read my little e-book Creative Exercises to Inspire, you know all about this. Ha! That is what you thought! I'm giving you a bit more information this time around. Idea journals are exactly that. Ever since the fifth or sixth grade I have kept an idea journal. And currently I have an entire shelf on one of my bookshelves devoted to the durn things. I have two poetry journals, a dozen notebooks with creative short stories and snippits of ideas and almost every book I have written (or started to write.) I have been oh-so-slowly converting it over to the digital age. I even still have my first idea journal. (It is a dark purple Fat Little Fashion notebook!)

I also have three other idea journals. I have my blog idea journal on my computer, my creative idea journal on my computer and a mini notebook that I carry in my bag with me everywhere I go. This way I can catch those niggling little snippets and bring them back to my computer. (See that Mead Notebook up there? Yeah, that is EXACTLY the one I have!!)

So get out there and start keeping an idea journal. (Make sure you back it up! Would be horrible to start it and then lose it because your computer ends up with a virus!)  Write those ideas down. Whether they seem like good ideas, or corny, stupid ideas. (Like the sock story. Seems pretty stupid, but it could turn into something really interesting.) Some of your ideas in your journal will languish there forever. That is o.k. Don't get rid of them because one day you look at them and decide they are kind of stupid. You never know what other creative ideas they may spur on another day!

The book I am working on publishing actually came from a very lame idea from my first idea journal. It was basically NYPD Blue, except at that age I had never seen it. When I did see NYPD Blue I thought about throwing it away. After all, what good was an idea that had already been done? But it was so messy to tear the page out. So I left it.

Six years ago, I was flipping through my idea book, saw that one little silly story outline and because of outside influences thought 'But what if....' and now I am working on the sequel to that 'what if' story.  Once you get the idea you are most ready to run with we will begin our research! (Spoiler Alert: that is next Monday's topic!)  And while you focus on that one idea, any stray ideas that come along can get shoved in the idea journal until you can give them more attention.

What are some of your more off-the-wall ideas? How do you keep your idea journal? Feel free to share in the comments below!

And a bit of exciting news! My e-book is now officially available on Amazon and Barnes and Nobles. You can get a free copy here as long as your name comes up on the right as a follower. If you send me an e-mail to I will send you a copy in PDF format! Please feel free to share with your friends so we can keep the excitement going!

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Five Steps to Building Your Platform

So, you have decided that you want, no need, to be a writer. You may think that the first step is to sit down and write a book, right?  Well, that seems a logical choice, but the first step is to start building your platform. In the marketing world, they call this branding. But unless you are a marketing major, this may seem very overwhelming and you may not know where to begin.

You may even ask yourself WHY you  need to build a platform. That's OK, I've got the answer for you. In this modern day and age there are so many books being published through so many different sources that you have to compete. Even if you are lucky enough to have your first book picked up by a major publisher, like Random House, who will provide marketing for your book; anything you can add to that marketing will only help you reach more viewers. And, demonstrating to an agent and/or publisher that you have a platform may get you a contract over another writer whose work is just as good (or possibly better) but who does not have a platform. 

Here are five free and easy steps to begin building your platform. Start now, because it takes time.

1. Start Making Contacts

This is easy, if you think about it. You buy books in a store? Take time to get to know the clerks. You don't have to tell them you are an aspiring writer now. But if you take time to build that relationship now, when you do get your book published you will already know who to talk to!
Get in a writers group. Writers are extremely supportive! When your book does come out, if you have built up a camaraderie with these people, they will be excited for you and will want to help spread the word about their writer friend who is making it! They may have also helped you write this book (Through editing, suggestive criticism, etc.). Your success becomes their success and they will expect the same help when it is their turn!

If you go to school, get in with the writing department. You can do a signing with them when the book comes out. There are so many more connections that you can make. Look at your life and your habits, find people you can connect with and start building those relationships now.

Volunteer in your community to help others learn your craft. Whether it is at an elder care facility, your local boys and girls club or another organization. Sharing what you know and love will help inspire others. They become invested in you because you invested in them. Reciprocation is the word people!

2. Start a Facebook Page

Most of you probably already have one, but this is more than just a facebook page. This page should just be about you as a writer. You need to maintain a certain level of professionalism on your page. No posting drunken pictures, embarrassing picture, or photos from when you were a goofy kid! You need to be involved and engaging, but you probably don't want to be posting about your personal dilemmas, using abusive or foul language, or posting controversial materials that may turn people off of your brand. You need to build your friend's list as much as you can. When you do make it; these people will know you, they will be invested in you and will probably buy your book!

3. Twitter

This was the hardest one for me. I had this mental image about Twitter. I figured it was a bunch of teenagers tweeting stupid crap like "I just got in the shower, think of me!" and... I'll be honest, some of it is! You need to treat your twitter like your facebook page. Follow people who interest you and who might be related to the biz. Don't just follow everyone who follows you, because a lot of them are spammers. Be selective.Post thought-provoking insights, inspirational quotes, your experiences, and links to other writers work (or your own). It takes time to build up a good, legitimate following on twitter, but in the end it is worth it. These are more people that you can market to.

4. Get Involved

Writers often have this image of sitting alone in a coffee shop writing a book, or hiding in a basement slamming out thousands of pages a day. But, there are so many great communities out there for writers and you need to get involved. This will teach you about your craft, the movements in the industry, give you a great support group and in the end most writers are readers so it is another great place to market your book! Some great sites that I am active in are Good Reads, Association of Author's Representatives, Horror Writers Association, Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America, Absolute Write Water Cooler, and many blogs written by agents, authors, publishers and other professionals in the business. The important aspect of being involved is to comment at these sites. Get to know the communities. When your book does come out, you may be able to advertise with them and in the case of the bloggers get them to interview you, review your book or otherwise mention you or your work! Plus, people begin to become familiar with your name and your comments, your writing style. When you get involved make sure that you are presenting a positive image that will help you market. Every post you make will reflect back on you!

5. Start a Blog

'What? You want me to directly compete against you?' You may be thinking. No, not really. Although competition is healthy. You don't have to write a Writers Tip blog, particularly if you are new in the industry and not experienced with writing. You can start a blog on pretty much any topic. You can do a book review blog like my Friend Linda with Books For Me. If your interests are in Science and you are a science fiction writer, start a blog on Science and the exciting new breakthroughs being made each day. If you like to travel, or dream of traveling, start a travel blog. If you like Anime, start an anime blog. If you are into paranormal stuff, start a blog on paranormal sitings and your theory on them. It is best to keep it close to your publishing interests, as this is another source to market your book when it comes out! For example, if you write historical romances, you probably wouldn't do well to start a true crime blog. Not a big cross-section of people read historical romances and are interested in the Serial Killers of the Century! But Clive Cussler would do o.k. if he started a blog on Environmental Science or Oceanography. Though his books are adventure books, they almost all happen at sea.

There are many other options for building your platform and all of them work. We will review this often, because your platform should always be under construction. Each of these suggestions can and will keep you busy. At the beginning you may not be able to handle more than a few. But the bigger your platform the more hands you can get your book into and that is what writing is about. We want to share our craft. Start building so that when it is time, you can start sharing!

Do you have any tips on building your platform? Please feel free to share them in the comments! Questions? Ask away, we will do all we can to help!

Monday, August 15, 2011

Time to Up the Ante

Hello again my lovely writer friends! The last week has been a roller coaster ride of decisions and ideas. An Angell's Life was my first blog and I started learning about blogging after I started this blog. I have learned a lot in the first six months and will continue to learn more. Writing a blog is very different from writing books, but I have learned that there are some similarities. One of the most blatant similarities was really brought home this last week and can best be described in this quote by Brian Tracy:

"Goals are the fuel in the furnace of achievement."

I found this little gem on twitter and it really spoke to me. It has joined my mantra list! I've spent that last week making a lot of goals for both the blog and for my writing career. The first big goal for the blog is that I will now be posting to you three days a week. (Monday, Wednesday and Friday!) I was very nervous about this goal as it has sometimes been difficult to post even once a week. However, I sat down and started planning ideas for blog topics and found that there are plenty of ideas out there. (This is the second way that blogging is similar to writing a book!) Look forward to some exciting and interesting topics forthcoming!

Now, on to the exciting little e-book I have promised! I have some good news, bad news and... well, just news! Good news is that my e-book is completed and published on Kindle and will be coming shortly on Pub-it. Feel free to pass it on to any of your friends who might be interested!! Bad news is that neither group will allow me to publish it for free. (GRRR!!!!) And now for the news! I have a PDF copy of the book and if you will send me a message at, I will be more than happy to send you a free copy of the book. Be sure to become a follower on the blog before you e-mail and let me know in the e-mail if you would like to receive weekly e-newsletters with links to the articles!

I think that is more than enough excitement for this blog post, look forward to Wednesday's article!!

If you haven't followed yet, be sure to follow. It is free, easy and only requires a Hotmail, Yahoo or G-mail account!

If you have any suggestions for topics you would like me to cover, just let me know in comments and I will be sure to work it in!

Monday, August 8, 2011

The Dreaded Routine

Yesterday was an extraordinarily productive day! I was pleased with all I had accomplished and was looking forward to writing my blog post this morning. I got up and started the kids getting ready for school. (They don't start for another week, but it is time to get back into routine.) Then I set myself down at the computer and realized that I had no idea what to write!

This is incredibly embarrassing for the woman who claims to never have writers block. Sadly, I have a million ideas for the two books I was working on last night, but for a blog post? Hmmmm.... And I have been trying to force a topic for almost an hour with no success. All I could think is that I can't wait for the kids to go back to school for real. I need to get back in to my routine.

Ding! There is a great topic for you!!

I know that many creative types cringe at the word routine and I can sympathize. There was a time in my life where I could just let the inspiration strike and go on writing binges. I would sacrifice pretty much anything else for the craft. And when there were down days it was no biggie. I'd get inspiration again soon enough. But as I have grown up, I have more responsibilities that just cannot be set aside when inspiration strikes. (Two adorable priorities in particular!) This has forced me to develop a routine.

A routine restricts the creative inspiration, but only at first. When you are not used to writing.... say from 7:30 a.m. to 1:30 p.m. every day, the thought of spending that much time writing can be daunting. But habits only take 30 days to form. After that habit is formed, when your predictable schedule is thrown out of whack (say, due to summer break?) it can be very difficult to go back to the whole writing-whenever-inspiration-strikes mentality.

I honestly believe that our creative muscles get tuned to a certain channel when we adopt a routine. We are more likely to have creative moments if our body is used to the rhythm of the routine. The sooner you start building this routine for yourself, the sooner you will find yourself able to finish projects and build your own writing career. Maybe you can't throw caution to the wind and work from home at this time in your life. Maybe your writing time is limited by other priorities, but that is ok. Set a regular routine now, even if it is only a couple of hours one day a week.

When I first started working on All is Well (my book that currently has an agent) I was working full-time, going to school full-time and raising two pre-school aged boys. I wrote that book in once-a-week meetings I had with my best friend at a coffee house. We would get there after I put my boys to bed (around 7:30 p.m.) and stay as late as we could. We rarely talked as we both had only this set time to write. But on the way to and from we would share what we were working on and catch up on life. I miss that routine! It got me through my first real book and I will always be grateful to my best friend for helping me to start routines in writing. If it were not for her, I would not be writing as a career today!

Because of that routine, I knew when I could write. My body mentally prepared itself to work at that time. It was wonderful how the book seemed to flow, practically writing itself. When I finished writing the book, my friend was so kind and generous to take time out of her busy workweek and review it. I would then work on those revisions during our once-a-week meetings. It was a slow go. It took me two years to finish my book. But it was worth it. After I graduated and went to work in the "real" world, I lost that time. I was mostly just focused on finding an agent, and then dealing with life. It took me another two years to find an agent and in that time, I wasn't writing much at all.

Between work and helping my children and husband with school work and house work; I was emotionally and mentally sapped. But I kept sending my book out. Then my job gave me the opportunity to work from home, opening up my schedule. Within a week of working from home, I set aside two hours in the morning to write. Then I would work and during my "lunch" time I would submit my manuscript.

Six months later I was let go from my company. A week after, I got an agent for my manuscript! It was a hard decision for me to stick to my writing. My husband and I had many long discussions about it at night as I looked for another job. In the end, we determined that I needed to be at home for family reasons and I might as well do this if I couldn't find anything else that would allow me to work from home.

And a year later, here I am. I haven't made the big time, but I am slowly slogging along. Thanks to routine I have one book with an agent, one book in the editing stage, one book on second draft, one on first draft... oh and for those of you who may have missed it, an e-book that will be coming out very soon!

As a matter of fact, I have finished all the drafts of my e-book and am about ready to e-publish. Since the main purpose of my e-book is to give you, my loyal readers, something for the time you have given me; I need to know which you prefer, Kindle or e-reader. Let me know in comments so I can get this baby out to you guys!

Monday, August 1, 2011

Five Lessons I (Re-)Learned from Volunteering

For those of you who don't know, the month of July has been one long list of volunteer service at my house. From cub scout day camp to letting one of my closest friends crash on my couch, it has been a very hectic month. The biggest volunteer project I had, came in the form of creative director for my neighborhood's summer connection program. All of these volunteer services have forced me out into the world again after thoroughly enjoying almost a year of working from home, setting my own schedule and having as much time for my craft as I desired.

This month of volunteer work reminded me of several lessons I experienced in my younger years and that I would like to review with you. 1. Not everyone appreciates art. 2. Think big, work small. 3. Work is hard! 4. Commitment is key and 5. Emergence is real.

Not Everyone Appreciates Art

    OK, this is kind of vague and not entirely true. What I did learn is that not everyone likes art, not everyone realizes how hard art is and not everyone will think "Wow, she is an author! That is so cool!!"

     The first day of my volunteer project, I did not know what to expect. (A common feeling with any new job.) But I remembered my many encounters as a child with authors whom I had never heard of before and I thought these kids would be impressed that I was an author. Nope. Not even a little.
    It was... disheartening. I had spent the last year of my life building my career, getting an agent, writing my little brains out and this group of kids were wholly unimpressed that I was going to be giving five hours a day, five days a week of my time to help them learn my craft and (I had hoped) inspire them to follow in similar footsteps.

  There were days when I just wanted to scream with frustration. I was barely able to maintain my blog. My creative energies were completely sapped and it took everything I had to force myself to do some editing in the evenings after chasing 30 to 60 kids all day. I would be lying if I said that I got much done.

    I had to re-develop the tough skin that I protected myself with in college when people would laugh at my dreams.  I had to bite back tears of humiliation and frustration when the children said insensitive and thoughtless things like. "So, basically you are a stay at home mom." Or "My dad can't find a job either." Ouch!

Think Big, Work Small

     This is something my dad taught me during summers when I would help him with work. It applies to every facet of your life. The gist is that you need to be able to see the big picture, and at the same time focus on the small tasks that will get you to the big picture. It is really important to have that big picture so that when your original small steps have to change (as they invariably will) you can adapt them to best suite the big picture.

   When I signed on for this volunteer project, I had planned activities for children ages five to 12 years. That was what I was told. No one knew how many kids there would be in the program, but I figured that there would be other volunteers to help with projects. I planned big. I had craft projects, a plan to work in groups and have the kids make their own movies, an art show at the end for the parents to see all the work the kids had done. I planned on making a huge difference in these kids lives. (In one month in the middle of the summer? Yeah, I was a little naive.)
  Then I got there the first day and found out that my mother and I were the only volunteers signed up and that one lady from the city was going to be there every day... and we had 66 applications for the program. 66 kids to three adults... oh my!

   And what an unruly group of kids, let me tell you! I had kids from three or four years of age, to teenagers up to 19. How was I going to keep all of these kids engaged and entertained with only two other people to help? Let alone teach anyone anything?

   With my big plan still in mind, I adapted the activities as best I could to ensure that it would engage a much larger age group and.. well, there were many days that we had to change plans at the drop of a hat because the children just weren't interested in what we were doing. There were some days that we ended early and there were many days that we spent more time outside while they played with the sports equipment.

Work is Hard
     Now, I guess because I love what I do so very much, I have become a bit immune to this concept. I have been writing for so long that it just comes to me. I haven't suffered from writers block in years and I gravitate towards art that I know. But writing is a job, just like any other. People think that artists and creative-types don't really work. They think of their times in art class and their times in creative writing and they think we do what we do because it comes naturally to us. It's easy.
      I taught an important lesson on our first day. I first asked them how many of them liked to draw, how many liked to write. Several hands went up for drawing, very few went up for writing. A lot of hands did not go up at all. I asked one kid why she didn't raise her hand and she said she didn't like to do either. I asked her why and she said, "because I'm not very good at it." I told them that very few people are good at anything the first time they do it. It takes an average of 10,000 hours to become good at anything. That applies to anything in your life. Art, craftsmanship, school work, playing a musical instrument. Everything.

  So many kids would ask me to help them with something we were doing because it was hard. Then they would sit back and expect me to do it for them. I wouldn't do it. I would offer advice and encourage them to do it themselves. When they would get upset about the way something turned out, I would encourage them to start over, try again. Practice makes better, but perfect practice makes perfect.

   Even if something is hard, if you like what you do it doesn't necessarily feel like work. That doesn't mean it is easy. Work is still hard. That just means that you love what you do!

Commitment is Key

     In this world of instant gratification, commitment has become a dirty word. Very few people have commitment to anything anymore. But without commitment, you will not get anywhere in life. If you quit because it is hard or because it is taking longer than you thought or whatever reason crops up, then you will never reap the benefits.
     I told the kids this, but had my own personal trial by fire about halfway through the program. The adults were exhausted. The kids were very hard to manage, the program wasn't what we had anticipated. The city had initially offered to pay me because I was basically acting as the program director, but then they couldn't find the funds. We had a couple of groups that were warring with each other and the heat was getting to all of us.

   One day, I overheard the kids talking and they used a racial slur... a racial slur that could only apply to me or my family as we were the only ones of that race in the room. After all the time I had given and all the energy I had put into the program they were talking this way about me?! Well, I was under a lot of stress because of several other things going on and though I am not usually one to cry, I burst into tears. Which gave the teenagers something to brag about. They had made the white lady cry.

   They were incredibly disrespectful about the whole thing and my mom totally lost it. She was done. She was not coming back. She quit. I can understand why she did what she did and would be lying if I wasn't tempted to do the same thing. I had a lot on my plate. My house was a disaster, I had other people that needed me. My work was suffering and these kids were completely disrespectful and it just wasn't worth the time.

    But I had committed myself to this project. When I had calmed down, I realized that there were only four or five kids involved in the situation and there were 30 or 40 who had nothing to do with it. What would I accomplish if I quit? I would re-enforce racial stereotypes, I would give my children a reason to have racist feelings. I would effectually abandon a great group of kids, because of a few trouble makers. I stuck to it. There were days that were really hard. They thought by making me cry, they had broken me. They pushed harder to get rid of me. But those that wanted me there, that appreciated what I was doing, reached out more. In the end even the ones who pushed me away were glad I was there and when I offered a program teaching these kids how to use computers to create art, that core group that gave me such a hard time were some of the first to sign up!

Emergence is Real

   Ok, so for those of you who have been out of school too long, Emergence Theory is the concept that the whole is worth more than the sum of its parts. The idea that the value of a home is worth more than each individual piece of wood that went into building it.
     In this case, I went in and worked for four weeks with a group of kids from a low-income area. The point of the program was to keep these kids off the street and keep them from causing mischief. In the beginning there were only three or four out of 66 that I would have said were worth anything. There were maybe ten that were too young to be able to tell. I was working with a tough crowd.

   When it ended last Friday, I wanted to sigh with relief that it was over, but I was also proud. I walked out knowing that every single one of them had the potential to be great. Every single one of them had a gift or a talent. They had grown on me.

    We as a group had overcome racial tensions, had learned great and wonderful things together, had created a community. They had motivated me, the one who wanted to quite on the second week, to give even more of my time to help them become better and to teach them more. We built each other up and as a group we become worth more than even the best of us and had made the worst better than they were when we started.

I didn't get the pay check and I didn't get much work done, but I learned so much from these kids. In the end, despite the hardships, I wouldn't trade this summers volunteering for anything. There are some things I might have done differently, but I would sign up again to help next year in a heart beat. The reminder of life lessons was worth more than the city wanted to pay me anyway!

   I am putting together a free e-book for all my fantastic followers! It is a compilation of some of the activities the kids and I did to help inspire their creative side. I hope that you will find it useful as well. My goal is to have it out to you by the end of August!

In the meantime, what lessons have you learned (or re-learned) this summer and how can you apply it to your craft? Please share in the comments section