Tuesday, February 27, 2007

The Moral of the Story

A week ago, my three-year-old daughter and I snuck under the covers for her afternoon nap. The phone rang within seconds of our settling in and thanks to caller ID I saw my husband's office number on the display.

We chatted a bit too long according to the little one laying next to me who started singing, "Shit, shit, shit."

Stifling laughter, I whispered into the phone, "Can you hear her?"

"No, what is she saying?" asked the hubby.

"S-h-i-t over and over again."

"What are you going to do?"

"Ignore her."

But the child would not be ignored so we decided to end our conversation until I got her to sleep. I explained to my tiny, curly headed daughter that the particular word she sang was not polite.

"But you use it," she said.

Well, she had me there, so we agreed to try and not use it anymore.

Here is where the writer in me steps in to explain why I shared this story. The words penned above speak of just one of the many comical incidents I experience as a mother. But the writer in me sees more than a mother trying to keep her child from saying a naughty word.

My creative side sees:

- An article about the importance of leading by example
- A humorous out of the mouths of babes story for a parenting magazine
- An article offering tips to parents on how to deal with a child who uses naughty words
- A funny story to share with the readers of my blog
- A fictional account where a child is verbally and physically abused by his father but overcomes it to give a better life to his own children
- The story of a person who tries to win every situation by striking a deal, until it leads him to a deal with the devil and he loses his soul

These were only a few of the ideas which popped into my head when I composed this entry. Perhaps you saw other ways in which to use it.

The moral of the story is: take what you know and turn it into an article or story that can inform and/or entertain your readers. When we write things that ring true for us it is likely they ring true for others. And isn't relating to our readers what this business is all about?


Monday, February 26, 2007

Writing by Numbers

Writers spend a great deal of time learning the craft of writing. I’ve been a student of writing craft for almost 3 years now. While it is true that we must master the craft to become good writers, we will never be published beyond our wildest dreams if we neglect the art of the written word.

When I think of art, I think of painters. You may think of art in terms of music, or dance but I think of painters. When Lee and I were on our honeymoon in beautiful downtown Louisville, we took the time to visit the Speed Museum. No, it’s not a place for racecar fans. It’s where Monet hangs from nearly every wall. We spent hours there, studying the great's and over and over we asked one another, “How did they do that?” Most of them did it by studying the craft from the masters who came before them and as writers we do the same thing. But, if all the masters did was copy the craft, their work would look much like one of those paint by numbers paintings we did as children. So how did Monet create paintings that are distinctly Monet?

Stanislavsky said it best…Use everything in your life to create your art. Monet used everything. What he knew of life in the real, and what he knew of life in the surreal. He took his craft and created art. As writers this is what we must strive for.

We cannot simply use the craft, or our work comes out reading like a write-by-numbers little book. We must take our craft and add to it our life. We must use every single thing we know about life and create characters and places that are as alive as we are. If we fail to do that, we may still be published but the dream of being a great author will forever elude us.

Sit down today and write. But don’t just write-by-numbers. Paint the words onto your paper, and let your life force flow.


Wednesday, February 21, 2007

Trade journals versus forums and newsletters

Recently I started a poll at the StoryCrafters forum. I asked how many of my fellow writers subscribed to trade journals. The results surprised me. Twenty-five percent of those who responded do not subscribe to any. They cited various other avenues to find trade news and helpful tips to improve their craft.

From forums, to websites, to online newsletters there is a wealth of information out there to help writers-- and much of it is free. So, I had to ask, why is it that I pay for three trade journals when I can get good information for no cost at all? Not that trade journals aren't helpful, but if I am struggling to keep expenses down wouldn't it be prudent to subscribe to free newletters and participate in forums. Then I could afford business cards, stationery, or maybe even a professional website to promote my work--which will certainly increase my exposure and hopefully lead to more sales.

Sure looks like 2007 will be the year I change the way I handle and promote my writing career.


Monday, February 19, 2007

No Brags, Just Facts

Here is another great entry from Gwanny. She asked me to post it for her while our favorite troll is recovering.


I spend a lot of time each day perusing the Storycrafters site. Not a lot of time in hours, but a lot of visits per day. It gives me a frequent and refreshing break from what can otherwise become a solitary, lonely existence.

Storycrafters is a lot of fun. There are jokes, posts by just published writers and talk of homelife. But while it’s enjoyable it is also very educational. And that’s what I love most about the site.

Here at SC you will find something for everyone. This is not a woman’s only club; this site has no agenda. Anyone who wishes can join. And that includes Aliens, Elf’s Troll’s and the like. No matter who you are, or what you write there is someone here who can either benefit from your knowledge, or can assist you as you aspire to become the best writer you can be.

Give this short list of published authors and their genre a look see and I bet you will find someone here you can relate to.

Speck…Romance, Mystery, S.F. Non-fiction and almost anything you need to know about anything in the great big publishing world. Query letters, cover letters, and summaries. She is amazing and we all run to her moat in search of writerly wisdom.

Madame Sassy…Romance, Specializes in Talking Head Syndrome. Critiquer Extraordinaire. Also a person you want to talk to if you need help navigating the biz. Sassy stays in trouble quite a bit in the Storytrain. Check her out.

Ccmal…We call her CC. Non-Fiction, Mainstream Fiction, Mystery, and Romance. And if that’s not enough, she will give one of the most professional critiques you will find anywhere. CC forever inspires us to be the best we can be.

Mad Hatter…Our Court Jester. Southern Fiction, Mainstream Fiction, Non-Fiction, Children’s Stories and giver of terrific advice. Mad knows the publishing world very well. She also gives us a laugh or two every day. Ask her what a Cathead Biscuit is.

Forest Elf…our wanderer. Y/A Novelist, Non-fiction, Romance and all around knower of interesting and helpful fact. Another great helper when it comes to the publishing world. She also happens to drive over the road long haul for a living. She has answers to things I didn’t know had questions.

I could go on but every one is so great that this post would wind up looking like an acceptance speech from an Academy Award recipient.

So come join us, I mean really join in. For those of you here every day, talk to us, help us, and let us help you if we can. For those of you who might be thinking of joining us, please do. The more the merrier.

Storycrafters is the best thing going for an aspiring writer, and I ought to know, cause I are one.


Thursday, February 15, 2007

Websites and Promoting Them

For the last couple days I've been working on my personal website. I changed hosts and it was inactive for a while. It is nice to have it back online but I have to wonder how valuable it really is. If no one ever sees it, then it does me no good.

Same thing for this blog. If no one knows it is here, then it does us no good. We have a wealth of info here that deserves to be read, we just have to let others know it is here.

So, how do we make our online presence known to the rest of the web? Here's a couple ideas.

Business cards. These are relatively inexpensive. You can even do them at home with a decent printer. But what do you put on them? Start with the obvious...your name and website. Maybe a brief blurb about your book. I'd not recommend putting your home address and phone number but maybe a special email just for the purpose instead.

Once you have them, what do you do with them? How about putting them in your bill payment or leaving on the restraurant table with your tip? Never can tell, they just might reach a reader. When I sold Avon, I always sent a book through the bank drive in when I was there and actually had quite a few sales from them. Many stores have a bulletin board too. Why not stick one there. Taking your car to the shop and waiting; leave a couple on the waiting room table.

Check with your insurance person, dentist, eye doc and any place you do business. Sometimes you can leave business cards in their office waiting areas. These are places filled with people who will read just about anything to avoid being bored. And again, who knows you just might connect with someone. Many writing conferences also have a table in some visible area where writers are encouraged to put out business cards and such. Be sure to take some with you.

I'm pretty sure all of us email. One way to get the word out is to add a personalized signature to all your emails. You can add a catchy saying, website or blog addy and a personal invite to stop by.

And what about our writing buddies? Why not add a "cool links" page to your website and add them. If we all link to each other, we can spread the word about our websites all over the web with very little effort.

These are just a couple ideas I have. Please share any promotion ideas you have in the comment section.


Wednesday, February 14, 2007

New addition to blog...

Hey all...scroll way down and check out our new counter:--) I guestimated visits since Jan. 1st so it isn't exact but thought it might be cool to keep up with how many visits we get.


Tuesday, February 13, 2007

The procrastinator in me

I put off writing this entry. I told myself over and over again that I had plenty of time. So, I played on the Internet last night, chatting with some friends and posting at a few forums. I figured I could post to the blog early this morning after getting the little one off to school. I don't even remember right now what my original topic was going to be.

But today, real life reared its interferring head and instead of typing away at my computer to meet my deadline, I was calling around to get my microwave serviced. After finding out it would cost more to repair the darn thing than to buy a new one, I cancelled the service call and began comparing models online. Then I drove to the local appliance stores. And then I stopped to have the passenger side rear tire repaired on my husband's truck because it had a slow leak. Needless to say, I had no time to compose my blog entry.

Now, I am finally home and am busy catching up on all that housework I would have done if I had been around all morning--washing dishes, doing laundry, making the bed, cleaning the house.

In between sprints from one end of the house to the other, I am rushing to get this entry done. And why, because I just haven't taught myself to sit down and write every day. I wander aimlessly around the World Wide Web looking for great sales instead of parking my posterior in my chair and working on my next project. There really is no excuse for it--I just like the pressure my procrastination creates.

But today, I am determined to change all that. As of this moment, I will procrastinate no more. My writing will be better because I am not rushed through a first draft and final edits. My thinking process will be clearer because my mind is not clouded by the looming deadlines hanging over my head. The inspiration will be there every day because I have told it to be ready and waiting. I will have more time for writing, reading, and playing because I am not in a panic to accomplish what needs to be done. I have the power and I will use it.

Who will join me?


Monday, February 12, 2007

Free Writing

Writer’s block is a term we all hear a lot and use ourselves when it’s fitting. I don’t know where the term came from or when it was first used but I know I detest it. It’s a cop out, pure and simple.

After many years of writing, and claiming writers block during the times I haven’t written, I have found that I use it as an excuse. ‘Well, I haven’t been able to write for the last many weeks because I have writers block’- or- ‘ Can someone please help me figure out this scene? I seem to have writer’s block.’ Nonsense.

I don’t have writer’s block, I don’t even believe in it anymore and I will never again use it as an excuse for not sitting down to write. I’ve done a lot of research on the subject (I had plenty of time to research while I suffered from writers block lol), and I discovered that the term, as well as the act is rubbish.

This is how it works. We sit down and pull up our word program. Then, nothing. We stare at our empty screen and nothing at all comes to mind. Now I ask you, is that even possible? For nothing to come to our mind? Of course it’s not possible. When was the last time your brain was as blank as the screen in front of you?

We are always, and I mean always thinking on something, even if it’s the fact our screen is blank. So start there…’My screen is blank’… now keep writing. This is called the act of free writing and it’s one of my favorite things to do. It doesn’t matter what you write, you simply write down the thoughts in your brain. They don’t have to mean anything; they don’t have to tell a story. They can and likely will go like this…

I wonder if that was the dryer going off…man that dog snores loud, wonder what I’ll fix for supper tonight…gotta clean the litterbox it’s awful…

When we free write, writing down what we think now and nothing else, we give ourselves permission to write. Once we begin, our brain is unclogged and before we know what’s happening, we are writing a story. Maybe not a good one but first drafts rarely are. See what I just said…first draft. That’s right. In the middle of our free write appears a first draft. We can then delete the free writing we did to get us started and we have the makings of a story.

Next time you allow yourself to tell yourself you have writer’s block, tell yourself that’s impossible. Sit down and free write and you will soon find that blocking the thoughts of a writer is as impossible as plugging a hole in a dam with your finger.

Sherry Heidelberger-Blackburn (aka) Gwanny

Saturday, February 10, 2007

Why do you write?

When I first starting writing seriously, I had the mistaken belief that books were easy to write. That once I had the book written all I had to do was send it out to the agent of my choice, wait a few months and before I could even say bestseller, it would be book signings and the Oprah show. Money would come pouring in and in about a year I'd be living high on the hog.

But wow, did that idea crash and burn soon. I discovered writing well enough to connect with the readers is darn hard work. With a bit more study I learned how the publishing industry really works.

Writing well is a craft that has to be practiced and perfected. Agents are swamped with submissions and can pick and choose who they want to represent. Book signings aren't all they're cracked up to be and if I want to do them, I'll probably have to set them up myself and even then there is no guarantee of success. And as far as the Oprah show...well, I'm not going to hold my breath.

Yet, here I am. Four years later still working hard at learning my craft and studying the publishing industry.

Writing has given me an outlet to express myself. I can play with dragons, catch the bad guys, romance a hunky hero, visit the outer reaches of the universe or write something that will touch and inspire others.

I once read the statistics that many doctors, lawyers and professional people wanted to be able to quit their day jobs and become writers but only rarely did a writer want to change jobs and do something else. I can believe that. What other job lets us play with dragons, become heros and travel to lands far away all from the comfort of our homes. And sometimes we even get paid! How cool is that!!!


Wednesday, February 07, 2007

Back it Up

I feel like the rabbit from Alice in Wonderland. I’m running around pulling my hair out and screaming, “I’m late, I’m late….for everything.” This drives me insane. I’m never late for anything. What’s worse, I put myself in this predicament.

The motherboard on my computer blew taking with it the processor and the hard drive. Did I listen to the wise people before me who shared their disastrous computer breakdowns? Well yes, I listened and felt empathy for them. However, I didn’t take it to heart, so I didn’t faithfully back up my work.

Thankfully, I do have a few items in hard copy. They’re mostly earlier versions and will need revisions. It’s a fitting punishment for my foolish folly.

I broke into a sweat thinking about how much worse it could have been. What if I'd had a brilliant partial sitting on some editor’s desk and he/she requested a full manuscript? That didn’t happen but what if it had?

Speck shared the clever way she saves her work. She emails it to herself. That’s simple enough to do. I was able to retrieve the e-mailed assignments I did with BIP course. Anything that wasn’t an assignment is just plain gone. I cringe when I look at my novel binder and knowing I’ll have to start over from the beginning.

Here are a few suggestions for busy the writer:

Back up often…once a week or bi-weekly or if you're a brave heart monthly

Email your stories and articles to yourself

Print hard copies

Don’t put off these important steps because a computer crash doesn’t give you fair warning.

On the bright side, lessons learned the hard way usually stay learned.


Tuesday, February 06, 2007


Gwanny posted something at StoryCrafters today that caught my attention. And I think it is true for a lot of us.

Here's her comments...

"I admitted to Lee tonight that the fear of failure re this query letter has been eating at me since Friday.

...I am a coward and for some reason afraid of succeeding...make sense? Prolly not, but I know failure better than I know success. It's like an old friend."

Fear of failure is a biggie for probably all of us at one time or another. Why else do we edit, rewrite, edit and then rewrite and edit some more before we send out a piece. Sure, we want it the best we can get it but there are times we edit and rewrite to the point we are just changing things we changed three rewrites ago. That's a sure sign we have gone over the rewriting cliff.

Fear of failure is also the reason submissions sit on our desks so long the price of stamps go up and we have to redo the submission package.

But...the fear of succeeding, that seems to make no sense. Yet how many of us know we write well (at least well enough to sale) and still don't send out things?

Here's where the troll bares part of her soul:--) I'm dealing with this to a degree right now. I'm not afraid of being rejected with my nonfiction project. But what if he loves the first chapters I send? That means I have to write the rest of it even better. What if everyone who reads it loves it and recommends it to others who love it? That means the next project must even be better...and again I wonder if I'm able to live up to those expectations.

Most of you know I have Mary for my Long Ridge novel course instructor. Gosh how that scares me at times. Yeah, I insisted on her when I signed up. Because I knew she would be best able to teach me what I need to know but sending assignments to her really, really take nerve. Why you ask? Because I've seen so much improvement in my writing, I feel I'm expected to not make mistakes. She knows how much I've improved and expects me to write well...and I don't want to let her down. Yes, that is a personal issue I'm dealing with now and not something I've gotten from her but it still bothers me at times.

Also, what could success bring to us writers? Fame and fortune we hope. But what about fans who expect a great next book? Can we write books that people want to read again and again or is one good book all we have in us??? And that fame and fortune, what does it bring? Book signings, speaking engagement and more of the unknown future.

As Gwanny said, failure is an old friend. We've all gotten rejection letters. We are used to them. If truth be told, I bet we expect them more than we expect acceptance letters. I mean, why else do we have several places in mind for each piece we gather the nerve to send out?

So...I guess the thing to do is decide what we are going to do with our fear. I think I'll suck it up, gather my courage and get to work. Want to join me?


Monday, February 05, 2007

I Cannot Tell a Lie

Write what you know. How many times as writers have we heard that? I’ve heard it so much I never want to hear it again.

Okay, this is what I know. I know about communications both the art and the science thereof. I know about raising kids and what a joy it is to be a Granny. I know about people and dogs. I know about all kinds of things that most of the rest of you know too. We are a very smart society.

Okay, so I know stuff.

Now, what about the things I don’t know. This list will be much longer. I don’t know how to kill a guy. I don’t know much about romance, and what I do know would bore you to tears. I know nothing about outer space or what’s under the sea, and my lack of knowledge about warp drives and hard drives boggles the mind.

Suffice it to say that I don’t know more than I do know. So, what do I write about? How do I kill someone in a work of fiction? How do I lay a clue, or put together a couple of steaming bodies and create a love scene. Better yet, how can I take you into galaxies far, far away and make you believe it, when I don’t know Orion from the Big Dipper?

Writers do it all the time and I have finally figured out how. They write what they know. I am learning what I know best for example is people. So, let me stick with that. I will write about what makes them tick and I can write it honestly and from their point of view. I am going to stick to making the people the story. Then when I need to I’ll research how to effectively commit murder and I’ll kill off one of those people I know so well. I won’t get heavy into particulars because I don’t know enough about murder to make you, as my reader believe that I do. But I can learn enough to know that the way I do it is honest.

I can go on, but you get it, right? Writing what we know becomes the theme of our work. Writing the things we don’t know is what makes the things we do know more interesting. No matter which we are writing, we must be honest with our readers. They will know in a heartbeat if we are trying to lie to them about what we know, and they will never read us again.

Now, I’m off to research what I don’t know about baseball. I don’t need to research the guy holding the bat, him I know.