Tuesday, July 31, 2012 | By: Lynn

Tools of the Trade

Simply put, to write writers need only something to write with and something to write on. Right? Writers don’t need lots of tools of the trade.

Sure.

Cavemen used charcoal (maybe) to draw on cave walls. In earlier days, school children wrote with chalk on slate tablets. We can use what we have available to express ourselves. So if what you’re writing is a note or letter you need only a pencil and paper. If you’re writing a journal you would probably add a notebook to your arsenal of writing tools. But writing a story is a complex task, one that can require more than a pencil and a piece of paper.
When I first started writing – way back when – I wrote in longhand with a pencil in a notebook. I crafted my first “book” that way. That story will never see the light of day, but the point is, it can be done and feeble attempts are not the only product those kinds of tools can produce. Writer Mike Shea made it a project to find writers who hand-write because he is one himself.
“For some odd reason I became fascinated by authors who hand-write their novels. Sure, Orwell wrote 1984 longhand, he sort of had to, but what about modern authors who handwrite?”
Well, I'm not one of those authors. I moved on from writing by hand to an electronic typewriter that could store data and displayed text a sentence at a time on a small “screen.” I loved it. But quickly I realized the limitations of that small screen and limited storage capability, so the next tool of the trade I acquired was a word processor. That was heaven…until I got my first PC. Yeah! Greatest writing tool ever. Well, right up there with the Internet and its vast resources.

The list can go on and on. Just as doctors and plumbers and school teachers and astrophysicists utilize various tools to help them practice their trade and do so with expertise, writers have many tools to help them. So we can go old school, and sometimes jotting down notes on the fly is perfect so we don’t lose that wonderful description that just popped into our head, but there is so much to think about when it comes to filling your writing life with tools of the trade.

Office Supplies Rule
I not only am in love with my technology tools, I love sticky notes, pens, paper clips, and more. If I’m having a block in my writing, a trip to an office supplies store can light up my life. Enough cannot be said about gel pens, cute pocket-size notepads, and legal size pads of paper, not to mention folders of all sizes that help organize my drafts.

Technology is Tops
Writers can be attached to their laptops and notebooks. I know I love mine. I don’t like to travel without it and almost suffer separation anxiety if I try to leave home without it -- even though yes, I have a smart phone, which I also love. I think one reason I’m attached to my laptop is because it is connected to the feelings that come from writing and creating. With my fingers on the keyboard my thoughts pour, sometimes easily and sometimes in spurts, but my laptop’s patience is infinite and contains inputting as well as deleting in a flash. And there is the fact that my laptop connects me to the Internet. From there I can search and learn and use info, definitively or as a launching off place.

But there’s more.

Writers are getting help from technology tools in ever-better ways. A list at Novel Writing Software suggest the variety to consider. Author Victoria Smith found the Snowflake method to be effective. My son likes mindmapping and especially likes XMind. Look around and you may add writing software to your tool bag.

Books are Big
My bookshelves overflow. They are filled with reference books, quote books, writing instruction books, and of course, lots of all kinds of fiction. Books, good and bad, help writers learn about the craft, what they like and don’t like, what works and what doesn’t. I love the feel of pages of a book, so simply holding one can put me in the mood to write. I carry a book with me nearly all the time.

I also love the feel of my Kindle. I have tons of books in my Kindle as well, and carry it with me when I’m reading from it. With my Kindle, I can carry more than one book at a time and not break my back toting it. When I’m finished with my current book, I can purchase and download a new one from Amazon in nothing flat. Voila! I’m ready to read. Instant gratification.

Space is Special
Writers can write nearly anywhere, and they do. They can be found in coffee shops, parks, libraries, and at the kitchen table. Still, having a space reserved for your writing and equipped with writing tools can be very important, as writer Diane Lee  points out.
“A well lit, clutter free, quiet work space to write in can be as valuable a tool as any. I often work with a television playing, a dog barking or a spouse interrupting me. But unless you can tune yourself away from such things it’s easy to lose your train of thoughts. I try to take full advantage of whatever quiet time I can. I find it a necessity to have a light over my work space. It’s just as important to be able to see your keyboard as it is to see your written notes and outlines. And speaking of notes and outlines, it’s hard to find these handy if your desk is over flowing with other projects and you don’t even know where you put the notes you took. I’ve been there and done that and often find myself in the same mess all over again. But I can tell you it’s easier if you’re organized to some degree.”

My writing space in my house is near a window. It’s cluttered. It has objects that inspire me sitting around. It works for me. But your space may be the dining room table or the living room couch. Your space is what you make it.

Exposure is Exciting
It’s all fine and good to sit at your laptop or desktop and pound out stories. Writing is all about doing the work on the page and many writers are solitary sorts. But exposure to the real world, beyond the world in your heart and mind, keeps the writer grounded. Exposure can “excite” your imagination. An afternoon out with friends can expose human frailties you might not have thought about. A walk with your dog can expose you to human interactions that can inspire interesting twists in your plot. Participation in a writers’ group can help you persevere. Being open to exposure to many things allows creativity to flow unimpeded.

Sharing is Helpful
Office chairs that don’t hurt the body. Effective productivity programs and easy to use character charts. Informative websites and blogs. With all the tools of the trade to choose from, it’s helpful to know what other writers have found useful or just a waste. What tools of the trade are you in love with? What tools of the trade do you find pointless? Share?

Image from Dreamstime
Friday, July 27, 2012 | By: Cafe

Cherish your visions and your dreams, as they are the children of your soul, the blueprints of your ultimate accomplishments. 
- Napoleon Hill

Tuesday, July 24, 2012 | By: HiDee

Dog Days of Summer Writing

The hottest, muggiest, most sultry days of summer are all around us.

Moisture. Heat. Sweat. Some days, it’s like living in a sauna. Sauna’s are enjoyed by many for a number of reasons, including to relieve stress, relax muscles, and deep-cleanse skin. I’ve never actually been in a sauna, so I can’t attest to the validity of these reasons. But the natural weather-induced feeling of being in a sauna doesn’t appear to offer the same benefits.  Instead, the hot, muggy days rob us of energy.

As defined by Dictionary.com, to stagnate is “to stop developing, growing, progressing, or advancing.” Whether the weather promotes stagnation in our writing or something else drags us down, writers must realize the possibilities available to them.

The world is our playground. It is ours to explore, both personally and in our writing fields. If we don’t like the monkey bars, we can move to the swings. If we don’t like the swings, we can move to the merry-go-round. Nobody says we can only do one thing. In order to develop our writing muscles, it is important to try a lot of different things, even if we stumble along the way.

Writers must grow. Our passion for the written word increases with each book we read, with each book we write. Reading stimulates our brains, poking us with pieces of information that we find ourselves unable to leave alone. We take those pieces of information and put them together until they take on a life of their own. We have to write because there is no other way for us.

Writers must advance their writing, moving continuously toward new goals and making progress by making improvements along the way. Without progress, we will not be successful.

The dog days of summer won’t be going away anytime soon. NOAA predicts above average temperatures for the next three months. What can we, as writers, do to combat the dog days of summer and avoid becoming stagnant?

Do something you probably haven’t done in years: Go to the library! I promise you it will be cool there. For many of us, our love of books started at the library. Remember how it felt to pick out a title that snagged your interest, and reverently turn the pages to see if you wanted to take that book home with you? Visit the reference section and do some research the old-fashioned way. You might stumble on something that will be perfect in your current work-in-progress.

If you don’t have a local library, spend the hot days at home or at a local café doing research online. Focus on finding something you need to know for your story. Find some obscure tidbit about your location that will make your setting more authentic. Research your ancestors and you might find a family secret that you can incorporate in your story.

If your brain just feels too overloaded, take yourself to the pool to cool off. The lazy river is my favorite hangout. I can drape myself over or in the inner tube and let the water take me where it will. Sometimes this allows my brain to follow, and I find myself overcoming whatever mental block has been stopping me.

Stay hydrated. During the day, fix a big jug of sun tea and sweeten it to your taste. Pour some in a big glass with ice and retreat to the patio or deck with a good book. Reading someone else’s work does a few things for you: 1) it allows you a much needed escape, 2) you can pick up on how words were used for maximum effect, and 3) it can remind you of things NOT to do in your own writing. In the evenings (not every evening though), make a milkshake or have a bowl of ice cream while you watch a movie. All in the name of research, of course!

What do you do to combat the dog days of summer?

Friday, July 20, 2012 | By: Cafe
“The brick walls are there for a reason. The brick walls are not there to keep us out. The brick walls are there to give us a chance to show how badly we want something. Because the brick walls are there to stop the people who don’t want it badly enough. They’re there to stop the other people.”
- Randy Pausch, The Last Lecture
Tuesday, July 17, 2012 | By: Lynn

Time Drought

Parts of Central Illinois have been officially declared an area of natural disaster as we are in a state of severe draught. Rainfall is scarce. Crops are stressed. Garden plants are wilting. The meteorologist says atmospheric conditions exist that will continue to sustain the drought conditions.

My husband has taken matters of water into his own hands. We don’t have acres of crops to maintain, we have tomato and bean plants and flowers. Rather than run water to the vegetable garden or to the flower garden, Mike began collecting water that comes out of the central air conditioner while its in use. Its usual route would be to empty from a hose in to the sump pump pit in the basement. Mike has rerouted the hose and is taking advantage of the clean water as a source for watering plants. It means he has to carry out pails of water from the basement to the gardens but he’s up for the task because, hey, it’s clean, free water and the plants need it. It’s worth the effort, because we have flowers, not simply wilted plants, and tomatoes are maturing on the vines and beans already have been picked.

I easily can be in my own personal draught, not of a lack of water but of time. I feel the load of so many things to do weighing down on my shoulders so heavily that I can barely move from one task to another. All the various things need to get done and I’m glad I have things to do, like earn a living and spend time with family. Even cleaning the house and cooking a meal is proof that I am blessed. But, having a sense of peace, in general, and the time to write are important to me, too. There is only so much time in a day, a week, a month, a year, so how to manage is the big question.

Where is the Time?
People are quick to suggest sticking to a schedule and making priorities would remedy my time-drought. These are good suggestions, but I feel like laughing, sometimes, at these ideas. There simply isn’t enough time and when everything feels demanding, it’s hard to prioritize—something else to do.

So here’s a thought. Just as my husband has adapted to the weather conditions and is utilizing resources that are available but require a little extra effort, I think we writers can be open to doing things differently. If conditions exist in our lives to sustain a drought of writing time, then it calls for looking for time in places where we can reclaim it, even if it takes effort and awareness.

An article in Entrepreneur, 10 Time Management Tips that Work, suggests there are two kinds of time: clock time and real time. Clock time is counted in seconds, minutes, hours, months, years. It never changes. But real time is different.

"The good news is that real time is mental. It exists between your ears. You create it. Anything you create, you can manage. It's time to remove any self-sabotage or self-limitation you have around "not having enough time."

The point is, time is not going to change, but how you use it can—it’s up to you. You know that. You just have to grab the buckets and get started doing things that sustain your life, including your writing life.

There is Time for You
Life Coach Mary Guarino, Ph.D, suggests Spark People that we shift our focus to put what makes us happy at the top of the to-do list because then we’ll have more energy for the whole of our life.

“Set aside a certain amount of time each day just to do what you want to do. How about 1 hour each day? If that’s not “possible,” start with smaller increments of time, say 15 minutes, and work your way up. …And, most importantly, set aside time each week to do something special. Make sure that, no matter how busy you are, you take time to play. Spending time with friends, outdoors, at the movies, whatever makes you happy, is essential in helping you be the most focused and effective you can be with your time.”

Guarino lists things to follow, ways of filling our buckets with time and energy to devote to our writing, such as, learn to say no, delegate, try to eliminate time and energy drainers. I imagine if you record how you spend time in a day or week, as suggested in the same Entrepreneur magazine article, you’ll find free time, but you spent it in ways that maybe don’t support your writing life. Maybe those of us who find it challenging to find time to write can address that and make a choice to do differently, just once, then twice, then again until we've made a different pattern, one that is helpful to our writing goals.

I have not mastered this time-management thing; I’m feeling the drought of time. But I want to do things differently. I want to fill my buckets and enjoy the results, even though conditions exist that would pull away my time.

Image from Dreamstime

Sunday, July 15, 2012 | By: Lynn

Striped Spuds

With the summer solstice in June, summer arrived. But when the grill comes out it's officially summer! I love the flavor of these grilled favorites.

Striped Spuds4 medium-size potatoes
¼ cup margarine, melted
2 tablespoons lemon juice
1 tablespoon dry mustard
2 tablespoons Worcestershire sauce
1 teaspoon sugar (optional)
Salt and pepper

Scrub potatoes. Slice them into ½-inch rounds. Place them in a saucepan in water and partially cook them until just barely done, about 10 minutes. Pour off the water.

Mix together all of the other ingredients except the salt and pepper. Carry the mixture to the grill with a basting brush to baste potatoes. Place the potatoe rounds onto an oiled, medium-hot grill. Allow them to acquire “stripes” from the grill; baste them several times on either side with the butter mixture. Cook the potatoes about 15 minutes on the grill. Season with salt and pepper to taste. To increase the amount, allow 1 potato per person.

Friday, July 13, 2012 | By: Cafe

The only true voyage of discovery lies not in seeking new landscape but in having new eyes.
-Marcel Proust
Tuesday, July 10, 2012 | By: HiDee

*Punch* the keys, for God's sake!



“Watch the movie – before you write another word, watch the movie,” a friend insisted as he handed me a video.  I glanced at it.  Finding Forrester sported a cover that read “In an ordinary place, he found the one person to make his life extraordinary.”  Below the words was a head-shot of an older, very serious-looking Sean Connery.  Behind him stood a young black man – basketball in hand.

What the heck did this have to do with writing?

As I watched, I found myself scribbling notes, rewinding at times to play something a second time.  It was an excellent movie.  Sean Connery plays William Forrester, a reclusive Pulitzer Prize-winning novelist who wrote only one book.  Rob Brown plays Jamal Wallace, a talented 16-year-old basketball player with a secret passion for writing.  Forrester befriends and mentors Wallace, and in his own way, Wallace becomes a mentor for Forrester.

So what did I learn from Sean Connery aka William Forrester?

The purpose of a question is to obtain information that matters to us and no one else.
When we plot, or when we outline, it is necessary for us to know information that may never become a part of our books.  We ask questions of our characters so we know who they are, who they have been and who they will become.  We ask questions like “Why? What if?” because those questions reveal things we need to know for the creative process.  That doesn’t mean we have to reveal all to the reader.

The words we write for ourselves are so much better than the words we write for others.
Have you ever tried to write about something you weren’t interested in?  It’s difficult. We write because we feel passionate about something, and we inject our passion into our writing.  So if we write something we don’t feel passionate about, doesn’t it make sense for us to struggle to inject passion into that article or story?

Write your first draft with your heart.  Rewrite with your head.
We are all passionate about writing when we first start.  Unfortunately, some of us lose the passion as we create because we aren’t able to finish a project quickly.  It’s hard to maintain passion and rhythm amid the distractions of everyday life.  But why not try? Turn your mind loose on the page, let the creative juices flow!  So what if it doesn’t always make sense?  So what if you have glaring grammatical errors or blank lines you have to go back and fill in later?  The important thing is to get your ideas down on the page.  Capture the mood while you can and you’ll be off to a good start.  You can always patch up the holes and cut out the bad parts when you rewrite with your head.

The first key to writing is to not think.
This really is a good point.  How many times have we messed up a scene by “thinking” about it too much?  We edit and revise and edit and revise, and then we end up putting it back like it was when we started!  Just let the words flow.  Your goal is to write - editing is a tool to be used later.

Just typing gets you from page 1 to page 2.  When you begin to feel your own words, start typing them.
Put yourself in someone else’s shoes.  Pretend you are the author writing the book you’ve just read and loved.  Re-type it.  Just typing will draw you into the writing rhythm - you don’t have to think about it.  Just type. You’ll begin to feel what the characters are feeling.  You’ll become absorbed in the book.  Then suddenly you’ll realize you want to type something of your own.  Maybe you want to change the dialogue, or enhance a character or setting.  When you feel this urge, just do it.  Type your own words. 

The final lesson may well be the most important of all:

We walk away from our dreams not because we are afraid of failing, 
but because we are afraid of succeeding. 


The title of this post is a quote from the movie.  Parts of this post are excerpted from an article originally written for Romancing the Prairie, newsletter for Prairie Hearts RWA.
Friday, July 6, 2012 | By: Cafe

And by the way, everything in life is writable about if you have the outgoing guts to do it, and the imagination to improvise.  The worst enemy to creativity is self-doubt.
- Sylvia Plath


Tuesday, July 3, 2012 | By: Lynn

Author/Risk-Taker


In July, the world watches performances of top athletes competing at the 2012 Olympics in London. From gymnasts to swimmers to beach volleyball players and wrestlers, the athletes present the results of their extreme efforts and commitment to be counted among the best. Some will stand among the medal winners and some will go home with just the experience. But for all, the risk is the same – to invest in their dream, knowing nothing is a sure thing. When it comes to writing, also, risk is a part of the landscape.

Risky Business
Risk is all around us. Even if we do nothing but sit on the sofa and stare, we are at risk of the inexplicable and uncontrollable nature of life hitting from anywhere. Though risk-taking may be thought of as a valuable attribute, it gets mixed reviews and risk-taking is something many of us tend to shy away from. Most of us want safety and a sure thing. Of course we do. And when we take a risk, anything but safety and a sure thing could happen.

Writing is an exercise in risk-taking. There’s no guarantee our writing will get published, so we risk failure of a sort. If we want to promote our writing we need to learn how to be effective at all kinds of social media. If that’s a new experience, it may seem like risky business at which we’re doomed to make blunders. If we write a character in a nontraditional way, it may be a reason for an editor to reject the book. It’s a risk to do something different, even if we feel in our heart it is the right direction to go. There’s a chance no one, editors or readers, will agree that we did something different but spectacular. The stunning concept you love may be seen by readers as ridiculous, laughable. For instance, Stephanie Meyer had a different take on vampires and wrote them as sultry and tragic but good-hearted. Though her books found wild popularity, not everyone is crazy about the vampire characters found in the Twilight series.

But risk-takers are also innovators. An article in the New York Times discusses Steve Jobs and how his risk-taking enhanced the possibility of innovation.

“Studies of innovation come to the same conclusion: you can’t engineer innovation, but you can increase the odds of it occurring. And Mr. Jobs’ career can be viewed as a consistent pursuit of improving those odds, both for himself and the companies he has led. Mr. Jobs, of course, has enjoyed singular success. But innovation, broadly defined, is the crucial ingredient in all economic progress — higher growth for nations, more competitive products for companies, and more prosperous careers for individuals. And Mr. Jobs, experts say, personifies what works in the innovation game.”

Good things can happen when a risk is taken, but it doesn’t necessarily come in a nice package, as Job attested to in a commencement address mentioned in the same article.


“It turned out that getting fired from Apple was the best thing that could have ever happened to me,” he told the students. Mr. Jobs also spoke of perseverance. “Sometimes life hits you in the head with a brick,” he said. “Don’t lose faith.”

Why Take Risks
If you’re a writer, at some point you decided you wanted to write. Just making that claim, if only to yourself, is risking pain and suffering because you may trigger inner conflict and find lack of support for your endeavors. When you put your writing out into the world, again, you’re practicing risk-taking. You can minimize the level of risk by making sure you have honed your skills and feel confident in investing in your dream. Still, you risk humiliation and shame. That’s enough to hide your light. But writing doesn’t work like that. It’s a bud vs. the flower kind of thing, as the well-known Anais Nin quote alludes to: "And the day came when the risk to remain tight in a bud was more painful than the risk it took to blossom."

Creativity longs for innovative expression. When we take risks in our writing life and in our writing, we feed our creativity and it can respond with out-of-the-box ideas. Taking a risk by plotting a story that will require you to do research by daring to reach out to expert sources could instill greater confidence and improve your skills, not to mention infuse your story with authenticity and a powerfully authentic voice.

Creative Coach Sharon Good writes on her website about taking risks and points out advantages, regardless of the outcome.

“Life doesn't come with guarantees. That can make it risky and perhaps scary, but it's also what makes it interesting and fun. Even if you're not a gambler by nature, there's something exhilarating about taking a risk and winning. As you go through your life, the parts that are going to stand out are not the ones where you plodded along safely and did what was expected of you. The shining memories will be the times when you took a leap of faith, whether you won or not.”
It’s Hard
I’m not someone who gravitates to risky things like race car driving or skydiving. I like the safe life. But when I first started working as a reporter I heard a commencement speaker suggest graduates, “Do one thing every day that scares you.” I told a coworker, “I do at least 10 things every day that scare me.” It was a very challenging time in my life, it was hard, and it was, well, scary. But it was worth the risk of humiliation and shame and being wrong to improve my writing skills and gain confidence and live my dream of writing. I’m still working at it. And I take inspiration from people around me who keep trying to live their dream, even when it’s hard, and especially from other writers, such as Tyler Tervooren. A self-proclaimed professor of riskology, Tervooren has compiled a list of 99 quotes regarding taking risks. One of my favorites from his list is from T.S. Eliot:
“Only those who will risk going too far can possibly find out how far one can go.”

Are you one of those people who risk losing a sense of security – risk going too far in someone else’s opinion – to bring out your words in to the world? Tell me about it…