Category Archives: Writing

Time Marches On – Time to Renew Commitments

Clock tower on a 19th century brick building in Carson City, Nevada. A visual reminder of the passage of time.
Clock Tower on the Laxalt Building, Carson City, Nevada
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Another Month

Time waits for no one. The tick of the clock is relentless. Grabbing every possible moment is key to achieving goals, whatever those might be. Each tick of the clock is potential. As month three of 2019 begins, the lesson is coming home to me more than ever. Time continues to march on despite my desire for things to slow down.

Time to Recommit

Each new moment is an opportunity to recommit to goals. No need to wait until tomorrow, next Monday, next month, or the New Year. My new motto “the time is now” is my mantra as I push forward to achieve my goals. Posting this thought over every surface I see on a regular basis will be a means of reinforcing the idea.

No Pressure

Artificial deadlines hinder my progress. While some authors plan out their goals in minute detail, this doesn’t work for me. My new attempt to be productive will be to just open one of my WIPs each and every day and see where that takes me. Writing, re-writing, editing, or adding to an outline will all help me to progress toward my ultimate goal of finishing the projects.

Accountability

So each Wednesday, I’ll post on this blog to hold myself accountable. No word counts or deadlines for the time being – just the fact that I’ve worked on one of my projects at least once per day for at least thirty minutes. The current goal is to build writing routine back into my day.

Nothing New to See Here

Also, anyone interested in tracking my procrastination progress can check out these other posts: Time Thief, Day by Day, or Why Write. For some time now, I’ve struggled to get much writing done.

So what are your writing issues?

Maybe sharing them with each other will allow us the opportunity to help each other out. Suggestions are also welcome here.

Paperback Writer

‘Paperback Writer’ is one of my favorite Beatles’ songs and often serves as a source of both humor and inspiration to me. I listen to this one often, but didn’t think much about the lyrics until recently. If you’re not familiar with the song, you can check out the Wikipedia entry here.

Dear Sir or Madam, will you read my book?

This is easy enough to understand. A simple question authors often send to someone they hope will be sympathetic to their work: an editor, a publisher, or a reader.

It took me years to write, will you take a look?

Again, simple and to the point. True, too, since a good book takes a long time to create. Writing is a huge commitment that isn’t for the faint of heart.

It’s based on a novel by a man named Lear

Many novels are based on the works of someone the author read and admired in the past. No surprise here.

And I need a job, so I want to be a paperback writer

This I find amusing. Many people feel they have at least one great novel in them. Most writers work a day job to pay the bills, so they’re considered hobbyists on the publishing front. Except for the ‘overnight successes’ who can give up the rat race to sit in their pajamas with a computer all day.

The reason I’ve been thinking about this so much is that I’ve been off track on the writing for a while now. My day job wears me out, which isn’t a good excuse if I truly want to write since the only writing time available to me is after work. People committed to writing and publishing will get in a few minutes of creative time no matter how hectic their schedules. My plan (again) is to commit to my art in the coming year.

My hope is to be able to ask you the immortal question from the beginning of this song some time this year: Dear Sir or Madam, will you read my book?

After all, I want to be a Paperback Writer!

Oscar and Me

Over the years, I’ve lived a life based on the philosophy of Lucy Ricardo on I Love Lucy. Lucy inspired me to try outrageous things. Given the chance, I’ve checked a few exploits off my own list: stomping grapes (done), meeting celebrities (done), acting in a movie (done).

A Huge Television and Movie Fan

I watched classic movies and shows on repeat countless times throughout my childhood. Lucy, Gilligan’s Island, The Brady Bunch, The Beverly Hillbillies, etc. You name a show and I’ve seen most, if not all, the episodes multiple times. The fact that I started living like Lucy is a direct result of how much I enjoyed watching sitcoms. Which is explains I’m holding an Oscar statuette in the photo below.

2008 Reno Film Festival

The statuette I’m holding is real; won by Michael Semanick for Best Sound Mixing on Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King in 2004. Mr. Semanick brought his award to the Reno Film Festival (RFF) during my time as volunteer coordinator for the event. We spent a few enjoyable minutes talking about his experiences with the movie before they took the photo.

I first attended the RFF in their second year of existence. In the course of my day job, I’d met the woman who coordinated volunteers at that time, and she recruited me for the following year. Another year later, I found myself in charge when she decided to step down.

Unexpected Experiences

My involvement in the RFF led to more interesting adventures. Cast members of American Graffiti applauded me, screenwriter Shane Black signed a Lethal Weapon movie ticket for me (a one-of-a-kind autograph!), and the festival screened the movie in which I was an extra. Getting my picture taken with good ‘ole Oscar was icing on a very rich and satisfying cake.

All good things must come to an end and I stopped working with the RFF for various reasons. This doesn’t mean I’ve given up my desire to try outrageous things whenever possible. I also haven’t given up on the dream of someday being photographed with my own Oscar – earned for either acting or screenwriting (I’m not picky).

Since nothing much out-of-the-ordinary has happened of late, the itch is building again. In the meantime, I’ll continue to watch TV and movies, work at my day job, play with my grandsons, read, write…and dream.

The Day by Day Routine

A routine is the performance of the same task over and over. So much of our life is mindless: wake up, eat, work, sleep, repeat. We don’t really think about any of those tasks, do we? That’s because we’ve done these things so often they’ve become a part of who we are. Yet any activity can oh-so-easily slip through the cracks until it’s no longer a part of the routine – which is just what happened with me and my writing.

Blending Seasons

“You will never ‘find’ time for anything. If you want time, you must make it.” Charles Buxton

The above quote from a calendar at the office where I spend my days really spoke to me. Time is one of our most precious commodities. I often feel life passing by in a blinding flash of mindless routine. This means I often don’t get to enjoy a lot of the pastimes, like writing, that I once favored. Writing is high on the list of the activities I’d like to begin enjoying again.

Making time.

I’ve decided I want to set aside just a few minutes each day to work on something writing-related. My first step will be to spend a half hour each day at my desk. Thirty minutes isn’t much to ask. If I then want to stare into space I can, though chances are good that I’d rather continue working on whatever project I’ve started instead.

New routines are created by performing the same task over and over for a set period of time. I’m starting my journey to this new routine by sitting at my computer, here and now, to write this blog post. When tomorrow comes, I plan to sit here again to either work on character development or write, if only a paragraph or two. The next day, I’ll do the same again. I’ll do my best to continue on this path over and over again, day by day, until a new routine is formed.

 

Why Write? A Tale of Procrastination and Progress.

Why write?

Or, more specifically, why do I want to write?

I’ve asked myself this question a lot. Over the past few years, I’ve been trapped in a cycle of self-doubt. Disgust washes over me whenever I re-read any writing I’ve managed during that time. This has led me to a series of activities that I convinced myself were writing related: reading, watching AuthorTube videos, plotting, planning, daydreaming. You know…all the basics of procrastination.

Anything but writing. Even though I have an awesome work space (see below), complete with a sign warning away people who dare try to distract me – which honestly isn’t too hard to do!

why writeThe good news.

Watching YouTube videos (#authortube) helped me realize all writers suffer from self-doubt. I need to stop being so hard on myself. No first draft will ever match the masterpiece I imagine. Work needs to be done to hone the raw material into something worthy of publication. This is one reason to write: the challenge of turning a stone into a sparkling gem. And this is an enjoyable challenge. I just need to remember that the first things to flow from fingers to keyboard to screen aren’t the ones that may one day go out into the world. There’s no need to feel disgusted by a first draft. My new #authortube friends have been a great help in teaching me this important lesson, and for that I’m very grateful. This, in turn, helped me to answer the “why write” question.

Why else would I write?

As a child, I walked to school alone most every day. This gave me a lot of quiet time to create stories in my head. These tales were most often built upon a favorite TVshow and character. The habit of rewriting and expanding upon television programs carried over into adulthood, when I started typing some of these thoughts in manuscript form. In other words, I began creating fan fiction because I like to answer the eternal “what if” question. If a show didn’t quite end the way I liked, I could create an alternate version, which has become a very popular pastime for a lot of people. Chances are that you, dear reader, have done the same thing at one time or another.

Fun, isn’t it?

The problem.

I’ve come to realize one of the reasons I’ve had trouble writing is I’m now creating original fiction instead of building upon already-established characters. My new friends aren’t as fully-formed as the ones I once wrote about. So I’m having more trouble picturing how their stories might play out. This isn’t a bad thing, really. Bringing unknown characters to life can be quite a challenge (there’s that word again). With these new people, new situations, and sometimes even new worlds, I have the opportunity to share the stories important to me. This can be powerful and heady stuff when done right…or write, as the case may be.

Why write?

The short answer for me seems to be that I like a challenge. Of course, this challenge can also be so daunting as to lead to an extended period of writers’ block. The reason I want to write is also the reason I fear writing. Am I up to the challenge of creating something others might want to read?

That’s not the question I should have been asking myself. What I should ask is whether or not there’s a story I want to tell. Do I want to challenge myself to create characters and worlds I find entertaining? If so, that’s answer enough for the question. No one else need ever care about these stories, though some part of me will always hope others might also enjoy them.

What about you?

Why write? What inspires and motivates you?

If you’re having trouble with your own writing, think about those questions. Use some of your procrastination time to consider why writing is important to you. Check out the #authortube channel on YouTube. If you’re interested, try out some of my favorites: Kristen Martin, Vivian Reis, Kim Chance, Su Scribes, Joanne Mallory, and Jenna Moreci. These are only a few of the people I follow, and chances are you may find others that I haven’t yet discovered.

Most important of all…

Image result for writing quotes

Luck for All & All for Luck

Luck (from Dictionary.com): good fortune, advantage or success, considered as the result of chance.

Luck is something people wish each other all the time. The problem is, traditional notions of luck may lead to negativity due to the element of chance. In March of 2018, Scientific American published this interesting article by Scott Barry Kaufman about how luck may be a bigger factor in life than we often realize. Kaufman lists findings related to the achievement of success, like country of residence or how a name looks or sounds.

While these elements may be part of the equation, I believe redefining luck may also lead to success in life…and in the art of writing.

L = Love

Everyone experiences love. We may not all feel the emotion the same way. Yet each of us loves someone: a parent, friend, significant other, our even ourselves. We may love our work, a hobby, the earth, or life in general.  As the song goes: It’s written on the wind, it’s everywhere I go. (from Love is All Around).

Some writers love what they do so much they don’t care if their work is popular; the act of creation is reward enough. Others love the idea of achieving best seller status without putting in the work necessary to make the dream a reality and become disillusioned when they don’t achieve their greatest desire. The former writer will most often be happier than the latter because of the element of love.

U = Understanding

Galileo said: All truths are easy to understand once they are discovered; the point is to discover them. Understanding comes with familiarity. We can all learn a lesson by watching how children often repeat an experience over and over until they’ve mastered the task. People who are serious about learning something are willing to put in the work necessary to achieve a comfortable level of understanding. Even in maturity, adults can continue to learn and grow.

Understanding how to write well is difficult. As mentioned above, many wanna-be writers don’t have the drive to put in the time necessary to master the art. Loving what they do enough to achieve understanding is an important factor in achieving success.

C = Compassion

Most of us feel sympathy toward someone who’s facing a situation we’ve experienced for ourselves. While we can’t always ease pain, we may try to do something for them because someone helped, or didn’t help, us in our time of need. To quote the Dalai Lama, If you want others to be happy, practice compassion. If you want to be happy, practice compassion. 

While we don’t all experience life in the same way, I believe creating characters to whom readers can show compassion helps to enhance the reading experience. This is a great way to expand horizons in the hope that those readers may show more compassion to people they’re dealing with out in the world.

K = Kindness

A simple smile, a compliment, or even holding open a door can be a kindness. Being nice to someone doesn’t have to take much time or effort. No act of kindness, no matter how small, is ever wasted (Aesop).

While equating writing with kindness may be a stretch, think about how often reading a book can make a bad day more bearable for a reader. Entertaining and inspiring authors provide a kindness. Popular authors like JK Rowling are often kind to their fans in more personal ways, too.

Looking at luck in this new way can be transformational.

Thinking of luck as a way of being loving, understanding, compassionate, and kind instead of just as an indicator of random chance can improve life in unimaginable ways. We all need more of this in our lives. Learning more about the ‘other’ who we may distrust is a good way of finding common ground and understanding. Showing kindness during disagreements helps diffuse tension. Being compassionate to someone else can ease our own pain.

And the world can never have too much love.

For those of us who write, following these principles will add depth to our work. Having our characters show some or all of these traits helps our readers relate to them. And using the components of ‘luck’ may just inspire us to write that best-seller.

Luck for all and all for luck!

Life in the New Year – Looking Back to Look Forward

Looking Back

The author in 1979

About three years after this photo, I graduated high school, married, and moved off to start a new life. The young couple soon became a family of five. At the ripe old age of twenty-five, and a stay-at-home mom to three kids, I found myself in desperate need of some intellectual stimulation at an adult level. I started writing romantic stories with an eye to a career as an author.

The image above from about forty years ago now, during my junior year of high school, reminds me just how much I miss creating music. I’ve still got the violin and the memories of how to play. The feeling of the bow, the smell of rosin, and the sound of Eine Kleine Nachtmusik are as familiar now as they were then. My love of music hasn’t diminished over the long years since. The young girl in the picture remains deep inside. She just matured into someone who didn’t make time to pursue a once-favored activity

Romances morphed into TV tie-ins (glorified fan-fic!) for my favorite show. This attempt at publication attracted the attention of a well-respected editor at a well-known publishing company. Despite a face-to-face meeting with the aforementioned editor, the book didn’t quite make the top of the publishing pile and TV show (and novelizations) ended. My writing attempts continued unabated until the need for a second income led me to take a day job. Between work and kids, I didn’t write as often, but still managed a few words here and there for quite some time.

Here and Now

The kids are now grown and out of the house so I’ve plenty of time to write after work, yet I haven’t done so on a regular basis. Camp Nano and Nanowrimo aside, my attempts to finish a manuscript haven’t gone far, despite the little voice in my head telling me I’m still the same person who once attracted the attention of that editor. This is a change I plan to make in the new year.

Looking Forward

Who Knows What Tomorrow Will Bring?

The road in the photo above looks like it either dead-ends or fades into the dirt path. Does the asphalt continue? The driver will not know until they go on. This picture is a lot like life in that no one knows what tomorrow will bring. We can only follow the road until we find the way to our destination.

With this in mind, my plan of action for the new year is to take each day as it comes. I’ll follow the road until I find whether this path will head the way I hope to go. If not, I’ll find another route, like the unmarked trail with the potential for adventure. If I have to turn around, I will. The one thing I won’t do is stop at side of the road – and certainly not in the middle – to wait for guidance. The resulting boredom and inactivity are not pleasant.

Musician me will seek out my old violin and practice again whenever I get the chance. Whether or not that someday leads me to audition for the local community orchestra is on the other side of the hill.

Writer me has once again started my vehicle to make the slow drive toward those hills. Creating this blog post has moved me the first few feet forward. The road ahead looks quiet. Of course, potholes aren’t often visible until too late, but that’s something to worry about when the time comes. My current view is smooth enough for me to get at least as far as the point where the road vanishes. I’ll handle whatever I find once I get there.

The End – Or Is It?

The End
The End Credits

While not always written on the last page of a manuscript, the words ‘the end’ are implied when an author reaches the final sentence of a story. This can be one of the most satisfying parts of the process, the point where a punctuation mark acts like the fade out of the last scene in a movie, followed by an end credit card and a dramatic swell of music. Completing any draft of a writing project feels like a major accomplishment. Finishing the final draft can be magical when the author believes they’ve done the absolute best work possible for that point in their career.

Though I don’t often print copies of my works these days, I can well remember the stack of paper filled with fresh new words sitting atop my desk, the corners a little dog-eared from being shuffled and squared. I once loved the act of sliding a completed manuscript and a cover letter into a large envelope addressed to a far-away editor and taking my new baby off to be weighed and stamped before going out into the world. Sending an electronic file doesn’t have quite the same feeling of ceremony, but is still an exciting time that incites an exhilarating feeling of both joy and terror in a writer.

Reaching the end of a story doesn’t always instill the same feelings in a reader, though. When written well, many characters become good friends, so leaving them can be a painful process. A reader often wants to know what happens next. Where did the character end up? Are they happy? Why did they make the decisions they did? The withdrawal of finishing a good book can leave a reader with a hangover that takes days, weeks, or even longer to get past. Those are the types of books people go back to again and again when they need comfort. They are the books with broken spines and dirty pages from being read over and over again.

Those are the books that both writers and readers want.

When reaching the end point in any story you may be writing don’t just think about the satisfaction you may be feeling, but consider whether the finished product will leave your readers crying out for more. Remember books you’ve read that you didn’t want to put down and what made the endings so memorable. Do you think your story has similar elements? If not, you may want to revisit where you’ve left your characters. Don’t become so drunk on the feeling of having finished the task you’ve found so maddening for however long you’ve worked on it that you aren’t willing to revisit that ending.

If your book were a movie would the reader be sitting in the theater watching the end credits in stunned silence? Would they be chatting with their companions about how much they enjoyed the story? Or would they be so enthralled they wanted to re-watch the movie right away?

Ask a few people aside from your family or friends to read your story and ask how they feel about the ending. Use their responses as a gauge as to whether or not your story is one that people will latch onto the way so many have to books like the Harry Potter series. As someone who has read the books many times, attended midnight book releases and movie showings, and continues to want to read and watch them over and over, I consider them a good example of the type of writing many people want to read. The books are not only about magic, they are magic, and I felt a deep sense of loss when I reached the end point of both the books and movies.

Those are the feelings you want to inspire.

Fade to black…dramatic music swells…

The End.

 

 

Time Thief

“Procrastination is the thief of time.” Edward Young, 18th Century British Poet

What kind of distractions would an early 18th century writer find to keep them from putting pen to paper? The evenings of the well-to-do would be full of parties, dances, the theater, or games. By day, they might visit friends, travel abroad, or refurbish their homes. The impoverished would, of course, be more worried about day-to-day survival: earning enough to pay for food, clothing, and shelter. Though we might consider the 1700s to be a simpler time with fewer distractions, that wasn’t the case. The dreaded time thief procrastination could be just as much a problem then as it is today.

In the early 21st century, modern authors have the added distraction of being able to use the internet to access a world’s worth of information spanning the history of the human race from the comfort of their own home. We have TV shows, movies, video games, etc. Plus, we still have the same distractions as our 18th century counterparts to go along with all the newer ones.

Why has procrastination been such an issue for writers?

This article in The Atlantic from February of 2014 discusses why authors are the worst procrastinators. The one that resonates most with me is imposter syndrome – or the fear of being unmasked as a fraud. Even when I’ve done what I feel is my best writing, I often think my work is not up to the standards of the truly great writers. Doing everything but getting my words down on paper gives me an excuse not to risk embarrassing exposure as an imposter. If I don’t write, I won’t be embarrassed.

Yet I can’t not write. When I watch TV or a movie, read a book, do housework or whatever else I might be doing instead of writing I’m always thinking about current or future WIPs. If my mind can’t give up the idea of writing, why can’t I sit down and work? Wouldn’t that be easier than stressing about what I want to (or should) do?

Did poet Edward Young write about the time thief all those many years ago because he suffered from the same problem? Was his education a form of procrastination? Or did he avoid putting pen to paper by dancing or game playing? I’d love to know what issues might have prevented him from getting down to work and to learn what means he used to get around them.

My chosen form of procrastination at the moment is writing this blog post instead of working on my current project. Is reading this yours?

Time for us to lock away that horrible time thief and get down to the real business at hand. How else will someone from the early 24th century wonder what we did in order to settle down to write?

The Comfort Zone

We all tend to fall into the comfort zone where we do the same things at the same time in the same way. We may do this because we’re busy and it’s the easiest way to complete tasks on a deadline or we might just be too tired from our day-to-day routine to change things up. Whatever the reason, the comfort zone is a, well, comforting place to be. The problem is that doing the same things over and over and over again can stifle creativity by settling our thoughts into a groove they have trouble escaping. The longer we spend stuck in the rut the harder it can be to climb out. What can be done?

The easiest way to break out of a strict routine is one step at a time. If you drive the same direction to work every morning, turn left instead of right and see where you end up. Try reading a book in a genre you haven’t yet tried; if possible, try reading one in a non-native language. You might even try sleeping on the opposite side of the bed than normal. One little change can open the mind up to all kinds of new possibilities.

Over the years, I’ve done a few things I never imagined I could and each has led me to learn something new about myself and the greater world. Despite my shyness, I ran for a local political office and learned I could survive interviews in a variety of media without too much humiliation. Entering a series of 5k races despite my childhood aversion to exercise taught me I could run farther and faster than I’d thought possible (though I’m still working on finishing without walk breaks). Taking on day jobs that I thought were beyond my skill level got me promoted to a professional position I never imagined holding…and one that I’m lucky enough to love.

This Lifehack article by Karla Jennings has some great insight into some of the small steps that can be taken to escape the comfort zone. Seeking out new information is a great one, especially for those of us who write, as is turning off the TV to read (though I think that watching TV as a group activity can inspire interesting discussions which can lead to learning new things about the people we know). Facing fear is a major factor in breaking out of a rut since we tend to stay in the places we know because we’re afraid of what might happen if we end up in an unfamiliar situation.

I’m in the midst of taking steps to get out of my current comfort zone by reading outside my favorite genres to find out what the expanded experience brings to my own writing. Not only have I been stuck reading in the genres I love, I’ve been re-reading the same books over and over and over again. This is great when I need to unwind without thinking too much but doesn’t stir up my creative juices. The books I’ve started reading have already opened up vistas I hadn’t imagined and I’m excited to continue exploring them.

Take a small step out of your own comfort zone. You may be surprised where you end up.

The Comfort Zone
Escaping the Comfort Zone