Archive by Author

Making Use of Bonus Days Off

2 Sep

Happy Labor Day (to everyone in the US)! The last “official” day of summer, I guess. Back where I come from (there was a song in there, somewhere) today is the last that beaches and pools are open and all of the lifeguards get to go back to their normal lives. Me, I get a long weekend and an extra day off to do whatever I want.

What do you do when you get the magical bonus of a long weekend? Lounge around? Entertain family? What are you doing with your extra days off? The holidays are coming (Halloween is coming! I can’t wait!)

Why not make part of your bonus days off a little more productive. I’m not saying bury yourself in writing. That may or may not be the most productive use of your time. Many holidays have festivals and events that go along with them. This weekend, for example, was the Disneyland Half Marathon. Now, I didn’t get in on THOSE festivities, but I’m sure there are many other places to get into trouble if I look hard enough.

If you are going to be out and around on extra day off, why not try to catch some interesting conversation bits that you might not catch any other time? Grab details on settings that might be fleeting and elusive. Don’t forget, you may have your phone with you and you can send yourself a text message or you can use apps on a smart phone. Capture details that you might be able to use later.  Snap a few pictures that might not be what you would ordinarily take wherever you are, something that might bring  back the setting or might just be interesting.  At the mall?  Grab a shot of the food court or an interesting store.  See a few interesting people (I live in a place where three town are renown for being Weird, Unusual and “between a rock and a weird place”, there are always interesting people).  Homeless guy?  Panhandler that  has a unique angle (juggling maybe or break dancing).  Capture it.  File it away (organize your digital files so you can easily retrieve things).

You may not need the information now, but you never know when it might come in handy. You may, one day, need to put one of your characters in a family picnic or a beach party, you may want to set a backdrop to something.

Make use of whatever time you have and whatever place you may find yourself. If you can’t use it now, squirrel it away somewhere. You may, one day, be glad for the little details you ferreted out when you were enjoying your down time!

Beware of Rules: Passive Verbs By Zombies

24 Aug

Let me start by saying that I am very sorry for being in the land of the lost. We went to South East Asia on an adventure and it never occurred to me that “the rainy season” would impact contact with the outside world to such an extent. Add to that… the rainy season means I got sever fungal infections and other interesting things that knocked me to the sidelines when we got home. Now… I’m human again.

Yesterday, I saw a picture on Facebook. It was captioned something like… you can tell when you are using passive voice in verbs if you can put By Zombies at the end of the sentence and it makes sense.

I guess I can agree with this in premise. For example…

I was eaten by zombies
I am being eaten by zombies
My dog was stepped on by zombies

These, the rule holds true.
However, like any self respecting grammar rule, it has its gotcha.

Holy cow, did you see that? She just ran by zombies.

This one is an active verb *ran* yet the sentence makes perfectly good sense and is grammatically correct as written.

I remember when the vowels were
A E I O U and sometimes Y and W too
And I before E Except after C… then they added… or when sounded like “ay” as in neighbor and weigh.

having handy dandy ways to remember things like that are great. And they get me out of some iffy grammar situations. But you still have to double check. I know that I am often accused (lovingly I hope) by friends of being a grammar nazi, but I had an awesome teacher in 9th grade that I truly liked (I was only one of a few who did). Miss Stuck was an English teacher. She taught me grammar, how to expand my vocabulary, and that The quality of mercy is not strained. It droppeth as a gentle rain from heaven upon the place beneath.

Grammar isn’t always easy. And heaven knows English is among the worst (especially US English) but it’s something you CAN have fun with if you want. Just be careful how “by” is being used if you chose to decide if the the sentence was written by zombies, or if the logic of the sentence went right by zombies!

The Music of Our Words

14 Jul

 

What do you listen to when you write? Do you listen to music? Or to white noise? The sea or windchimes or birdsong? Or to nothing at all?

This morning mine is Tartanic (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=R2HMKpOYel4&feature=share&list=PL16EFDDBDFDFC7E2B) and Cast in Bronze (http://www.youtube.com/user/CarillonBellsMan)

Have you ever thought of changing up what you listen to? How would it change your writing? The tempo? The message?

This morning I’ve been playing around with music and creating my own mix to listen to over the next few weeks, and I’ve found that I can create in myself differnt moods even within my writing that kind of go along with what I’m listening to. I know it plays a role in how the words flow and how I lose myself in the writing, but I hadn’t realized that I can influence myself with what I’m listening to.

I’ve started taking one minute videos every (okay, almost every) day of something that strikes me. Some mornings it is the birds at sunrise, sometimes the cicadas at sunset. Others a moment caught when I’m out doing something with my family. I have my phone with me always and I capture moments in time that I think maybe I would like to be able to call back to mind easily later. I use these videos much like music on my iPod or on YouTube, to call a certain mood or frame of mind back to now.

How do you use the tools that you have at hand? How could you? I know in my life, I’m busy enough that I may not take the time at any given moment to capture the words that I maybe could capture but I capture a few words (sometimes on audio on my phone, sometimes as a note, sometimes just as a picture stolen in a second) and call back the memory later, when I have just a little more time.

There are shortcuts and tools all around us, what music can you capture today?  How can you make your words dance?

 

Making Time To Take Time

28 Jun

Life has a way of getting away from you.  I am living proof of this.  Between doctors appointments and health concerns, Kids, vacations, work, cleaning and an occasional nap, life seems to take over my life.  
SO, I guess, today what I’m saying is as much to remind myself as to remind everyone else that it’s really important to take care of yourself mentally as well as taking care of everyone and everything in your life physically.  It might be way over stated and way over cliché, but if you don’t take time (even a little time, even stolen moments hiding in the bathroom at work) to nurture your mind (reading or writing, messaging yourself with your phone about things to write about, or better yet writing about them) you will quickly burn out and not be able to handle nearly as much of the other stuff either.  
Find what nurtures your creativity, and run with it.
Take time to take time.
And when you can’t take time, invent time to take.  Five minutes while the coffee is brewing, fifteen minutes while you are walking the dog, or even during your commute.  You can call yourself and leave yourself voice mail, record a voice memo, or use the voice recognition feature on your technology to record and translate a note.  Even a few words at a time are often enough to keep yourself sharp and start to meet your deadlines (the ones you set on yourself, or the ones imposed upon you).
Remember, this matters.  It matters because it matters to you.  It’s no one’s business but your own what you do in the bathroom…. and just think of what you can do with five or even ten minutes!
Write a haiku
describe the sounds around you
Better yet, capture the conversations you hear around you! (this is awesome to do in the bathroom because people kind of let there guards down).
You never know when you will have the occasion to be able to go back and realize that you can use whatever things you snatched in your five minutes here or there to add spice to your work!

Inspiration!

20 Jun

So, I’m always up for different ideas that I can use to tickle my inspiration.  Sometimes they end up taking me places I didn’t plan on going, sometimes they make me realize that there are some topics I just can’t chase very far.

I buy books, I hound websites, and I just start writing about random things.

One of my favorite trilogies is Your First 1,000 Days in Writerspark/ Your First 2,000 Days in Writerspark/ Your First 3,000 Days in Writerspark.  Three years’ worth of prompts in each book!  These books were based on a Yahoo Group “Writerspark”.

The fabulous news is, the moderator of the group is back and they are, once again, accepting new members!  This morning, I got a deluge of new prompts!  I’m avidly looking forward to prompts showing up in my email box every day!  I’m just as avidly looking forward to being able to stretch my edges and explore ideas I might not have been able to come up with on my own.

I’m wading through the new prompts, pulling them into my own PDF so I can take them with me on my tablet device and write when I have a few minutes to stretch.

How about you?  Where to you get ideas when you need to find new ways to exercise your writing muscles?  To come up with angles on things that are a little different than what you are used to?

This Yahoo group is supportive and will provide constructive critiques for writing samples if anyone wants to take a chance on it.

As for me, I’m going to venture forth and write about my desk!

Exercise #3740

The Desk

Compose a piece of no more than 750 words that shows the contents of a desktop in such a way that the images provide a sense of the person who uses the desk.

Bulls-eye: Knowing Your Target Audience

10 Jun

Hi, My name is April. I’m a writer who is guilty of writing without a target. I don’t know if you are guilty, too, but I’m guessing at least some people reading this are. I’ve almost always written because I’ve got something running around in my head that needs to escape. I guess I’ve always kind of assumed that whoever needed to read it would either find it or stumble on it accidentally.

DOH…

I was reading, this week, several different blog posts and a couple of book chapters, all of which reminded me what we were taught in high school English class… remember your reader… remember your target audience or your perfect reader. Picture your perfect reader, the one you are writing to and it will make the writing sound more like a story you are unwinding and less like you are spinning out of control.

As I read, this week, and worked through who I’m writing to this week, I connected better to myself and connected better to the story I am unwinding in my mind. I’ve decided on several projects that I need to work on and I know that I have different audiences for each one.

It is not to say that you write to what you think that audience wants, then all you are really doing is pumping out stories that don’t have the ring of authenticity. That isn’t any better than just taking off on your mind trip without any companion in mind. It is more to say that you want to have in your mind the person who you believe is sitting in the passenger seat of your automobile in your mind, the one you are traveling in as you unravel your tail.

How old are they, or how old do you think they are? The life experiences of a 45 – 55 year old are incredibly different from the life experiences of a twenty year old. How you tell your story is likely going to be different based on who you are talking to.

What is their education level and/or their socioeconomic background? It may well be that your story will fascinate people across the spectrum, but if you write for someone whose vocabulary is that of a neonatologist, you may find yourself losing the people who would treasure your stories if they had a more conversational vocabulary.

Where were they raised? You don’t have to know that they were raised in Intercourse, PA specifically to think that they are probably from a small to mid-sized town and will understand the reference of a small town and you can freely talk about dirt roads and sink holes where the ideal reader might not be from inner city LA necessarily if that is the language you write in. You can’t possibly hope to write for or make happy everyone from everywhere.

What are their core values?  Are you going to offend them if you swear?

This blog has a fascinating list of questions that can help you narrow down your target.  As a result of my thinking through who is in my adventure with me, sitting in the passenger seat of my peti-cab through the fertile fields of my imagination, I have a picture of my companion, and I am writing now for that person.  I really hope she likes the trip we are going on together.

Random Inspiration (finding the smallest details that you need in creative places)

3 Jun

So, I’ve been thinking again (I hate when that happens) about writer’s block and where ideas come from.  I know how to feed my dragon when I have an idea and I just can’t get to the details.  And that usually works for me very well.  But there are so many times when there are hundreds or thousands of butterfly words chasing each other around in my head and I don’t know what order they want to take, or what subject they want to settle on. I just can’t find one subject that will make them happy.

Other times, I have kind of an idea for a setting where I want something to happen, but I really want to have a more concrete idea, a more real picture of what I’m struggling with.  I can’t quite get it right in my mind’s eye.  And when that happens, I can’t get passed it until I can figure out what might be the tiniest detail.

There are incredible places on line where you can find random pictures that can feed your imagination.  You can search for pictures of things, like red door or ugly car.  Or you can find random pictures that speak to you.  Flickr will let you find pictures that were randomly recently uploaded.  They can fuel your thought process, or you can decide that your character is the one uploading them and figure out what he might be thinking as he turns then lose into the wild.

The internet can be an incredible place to waste time.  But it can be a font of information to tap into.  Use whatever tools that might fall to your hands (photography books in the library, google images, or the two places I enjoy hunting:

http://www.flickr.com/explore

http://photobucket.com

On Mind Mapping

25 May

I grew up in the hay-day of outlining. Everything I ever had to turn in had to have a formal outline before it would be accepted. I’m not sure what the point of this exercise was, other than (I think) the teachers were taught to teach us this stuff and that is what the followed.
So… I handed in outlines before I handed in papers. NOT before I wrote the papers, I always wrote them first so I would know what would need to go into the outline; before I handed in the papers. It always meant three times the work in a very short amount of time, because I wanted the outline to be very true to the final product. I would write, proofread, and edit the final paper before I ever started the outline.
This was well before either word processors or computers. I always did this either long hand or on a typewriter. We didn’t have a typewriter at home, not one that worked without the keys sticking, so I would have to go to the library every study hall (back when we had those, too) and use the ones in there to try to hurry the work done. It was always an adventure.
But the outline would be true to the paper and the paper would be true to the outline.
I don’t do that now. It seems like too much work to do before I start a really big writing project, to write it first so I can outline it and write it. I don’t just write all willy-nilly, though. I usually start with at least a rough idea of what I want to accomplish in the end and a pretty good idea about how I want to get there. I spend a great deal of time working it through in my head. And on “paper” (either the digital version in my geek toys or the analog version that you need a pen or pencil to deal with) I draw it all out in a mind map.
I’m a very visual person, and very much not linear in my thinking. Mind mapping is a way of outlining that leverages visual thinking over linear thinking. I found some great examples here

from the simple

Simple Mind Map

Simple Mind Map

to the ornate

Ornate Mind Map

Ornate Mind Map

(oringinal here http://www.mindtools.com/media/Diagrams/mindmap.jpg)
They are as flexible and personal as you want them to be. They are as simple or as elaborate as you want them to be. They are yours. All yours. They can reflect the work you have in flight or just reflect what you are thinking. And the best part of them? There are no hard and fast rules! You can expand them, or delete from there whenever you need to. They are a visual reminder of what you have in your head. Not just for your writing (although that is what I use them most for) but for whatever you want to dream out.  It can help you remember where you were and follow your own rabbit trail.
Google them. Embrace them as your friend.
While they are not for everybody, they can be an invaluable tool in your arsenal!

Do you mind map?

On Following the Trends

19 May

I’ve been feeling really crappy this week. My doctors have been tinkering with meds to try to get my blood pressure under control, and the side effects of the meds have knocked me for a huge loop. Which is my way of apologizing for this being a day later than it should be. AND is the best way I can think of to start this entry!
Ba-dum-cha…
I’ve been reading magazines (writing ones, primarily) and Facebook posts quite a bit this week. Both meant I didn’t have to think. Both made me think, there’s irony in that, I think.
People pay a great deal of attention to what people say about the kinds of things they are writing. I have. For years I’ve looked at the fact that poetry really doesn’t sell so well unless you are a famous poet. But if they don’t sell, how do you get to be a famous poet? If people aren’t buying what I am writing, why is what I’m writing relevant and why do I see the kind of things that I’m writing in print? That seems to be the ultimate catch 22 conundrum.
I read an article in the May/June issue of Writer’s Digest that speaks a great deal to this. No Reservations, in the inkwell column, suggests that, despite the fact that people seem to claim that memoir as a genre is a cheap overused hack of a writing venue. But it also points out that people are making money with it and is a great way to break into the writing life as a paid writer, often a well-paid writer.
Hot on the tail of that article, I read a post by Christine Schwab on Facebook that the publishing industry is in a state of flux (go figure, most of my attention right now is focused on being able to publish epub-mobi-ibook format to get my words out) but that the fact that it is in flux shouldn’t keep writers from writing and shouldn’t discourage any of us. Her quote seems to sum it up pretty well…
“it has long since come to my attention that people of accomplishment rarely sat back and let things come to them. They went out and happened to things”
-Leonardo da Vinci
This gave me great hope, this week, because what I’m currently playing with is a series of memoir kind of books, or maybe more to the point fiction based to a great extent on reality, a book with my son that is directly memoir, and my poetry. Maybe there will be a market for my work. Maybe not, but I’m certainly not going to let that doubt stop me.
AND you, dear writer/reader, should not let it stop you. Don’t kill your darlings. Follow your heart, chase your dreams, and maybe think about writing out your deepest darkest secrets or your biggest ugliest pet peeves and see if there might just be a market for your words. You can’t be the only one, and don’t we all, secretly, like to eavesdrop on other people’s lives? I’m not kidding myself that I will make ten thousand dollars (but I might, and why not take that chance), but maybe I can do something better, touch just one person who needed to be touched and leave a small mark on eternity.
Okay, you may say I’m a dreamer, but I’m not the only one!!!

Making Friends With Your Writer’s Block

11 May

We have all struggled with Writer’s Block. The times when you know you need to be writing or you should be writing but you sit and you stare at the nothing on the page. It’s frustrating and scary.
I know that you had to have heard all kinds of advice on getting past, or through, writer’s block. And to some degree, I’ve tried almost all of them. To some degree, most have gotten me through some tough spots. But, in reality, I’ve found one that seems to work very well for me.
I’ve made my Writer’s Block into its own character. He doesn’t have a place in any book that I am working on, although that has even crossed my mind. Rather than looking on him as an adversary, I’ve embraced him; given him a voice.
Draco Imaginaria (thanks goes to Google Translate, it is Latin for Imaginary Dragon) is a lavender dragon with random multicolored scales scattered around his diminutive frame who is ageless, wears thick glasses, and is sometimes friendly and sometimes confrontational. He has been bullied (he IS a lavender dragon who wears glasses) much of his life. He’s pretty good at typing, despite being a dragon.
Whenever I find myself unable to get going with writing when I know I need to be getting words on the page, I open a text editor and pretend that it is a chat window. I talk to Draco and I think about the things that he might (or might not) say to me. When he is silent, sometimes I just type obscenities at him. He doesn’t judge. I don’t have to worry about sentences or even real words. And he doesn’t hold it against me later. He just eats the obscenities and adds them to his lexicon. He lives on words. That’s where my words go when I can’t find them to make up the work that I need to be doing. He has eaten them: all of them. If I feed him enough (because maybe I hadn’t been feeling him sufficiently lately so he is stealing them from my mind) or I feed him the words that he is hungry for, the words I’m looking for begin to flow naturally again. When he is argumentative, I argue back. Sometimes I win, sometimes he wins, but in the end, because he is mine, we both win.
Sometimes I talk to him when I’m angry or when I’m trying to puzzle through a plot line or a poem. Not really because I’ve actually hit writer’s block, but because I’ve come to respect his opinion on things. He is, after all, my own voice (I’m creative, not necessarily crazy). Sometimes all it really takes is not thinking about what I’m “supposed to be” thinking about to trigger what I need to have triggered. And I’ve managed to actually put in some writing time.
I always save these conversations, which is why I carry them out in a text editor, so I CAN save them. Later, I can go back over them and maybe use pieces and parts of the conversation as ideas for other work or dialog in something I’m working on.
It isn’t always about using the tools that other people have found work for them. Sometimes it is about embracing your own tools and making them work for you.
So tell me, what is your Writer’s Block’s name? Is he a cat or is she a unicorn? Describe him, make her come to life. Embrace the silly and the unusual and see if maybe you can’t make your writer’s block work for you!

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