Monday, May 23, 2011

Time. Where Does It Go?

During the hustle and bustle of everyday living, it’s easy to lose yourself in the milliard of tasks that require your attention. Housework, yard work, family, friends, kids, work, sports, school, hobbies, commutes, networking, television, Internet, community work, religion, sleep, food, exercise, and writing all vie for the precious moments that make up your day. Meeting the demands of life can sometimes feel overwhelming. It’s easy to feel like you’re falling behind, almost moving in slow motion, in a world that spins at incredible speeds.

You’re not alone. Most of us feel that way. Here’s a few gems that I’ve collected over the years that help me keep pace.

  • Make a list. If you don’t identify what you want/need to do, you’ll never effectively complete any of it.
  • Prioritize. Identify the most important things that must be done.
  • Schedule. Pick a time to do each task and write it down. I use a daily, weekly, and a monthly schedule.
  • Budget. If you need to spend all day keeping track of Twitter updates, then you’re wasting the day. Allow yourself a set amount of time for each activity.
  • Take a break. Schedule time to relax. Even batteries run out of energy.
  • Cut. Yes, I said it. Not everything can/must be done every day. Choose what can be done tomorrow and do it then.
  • Bend. Interruptions are a part of life. Plan on them by giving yourself flexibility in your schedule.
  • Know your limits. A gallon of milk will never fit in a 12-ounce glass.
  • Establish a routine. Keeping up with important aspects of your schedule becomes easier once a routine is followed.
  • Hold yourself accountable. What happens if you don't do something? Is there a consequence? Know what it is and avoid it.
  • Ask for help. It's possible to commit yourself to more than you can handle. When you do, ask others to share your burdens. You'll be surprised where the help comes from.

Monday, May 16, 2011

How a Critique of 15 Pages Improved My Novel

The relationship an author has with their novel is truly unique:

·    The novel is a part of them. After hundreds—or even thousands—of painful hours of effort and craft, a novel represents the emotional journey needed to create their masterpiece. There’s tears on some pages, blood dripping from the cover, and sweat in the binding.
·    While complete, the novel has delicate flaws that never seem to disappear. Sometimes a word, a particular description, or even a name constantly vexes the author, begging for another revision.
·    The novel is a business. There’s a process to writing a book that can’t be accomplished on a long weekend, or during a week of vacation. Whether an author plans in detail or writes solely from inspiration, the dedication to apply the rules of writing into a novel length manuscript is a business skill. Nothing short of hard work and dedication are required.
·    The novel is a talisman of hope. Most authors have livelihoods that restrict them from pure creativity. Jobs, families, and social responsibilities occupy so much of their time that the moments spared to write incite dreams of a new future. If they could sell this one fantastic novel, then writing could become their number one priority.
·    The novel is a delicate creation. Authors protect their works at all costs. Backup files and hard copies keep the writing safe, while careful selection of beta readers shields the story from exploitation.

Taking all of the above with me, I spent an afternoon at a writing boot camp. There, five of us shared the first fifteen pages of our novels and offered various critiques and observations. We had a published author to lead our group, who shared her experiences with publishing while offering additional insight. The best part of the group was how different all of us were. These weren’t friends I had known for years; they were strangers with different personalities, tastes, and motivations. All wrote YA, but all had unique writing styles and points of view. I dared myself to trust them.

At the end of my fifteen pages, the advice they gave was priceless. It gave me a new insight about my writing and helped me understand my reader—them. Some of the best questions challenged my character’s motivations and forced me to take another a hard look at some specific details within those pages. After the boot camp, I applied the lessons learned and reviewed my entire novel. It’s AMAZING what happened. There were tiny holes everywhere—they were so subtle that I had never noticed them before. I wrote down every hole and began fixing them. That led me to the final scene in my book; I didn’t like it. The scene was well written, but it could be so much better. After everything I put the reader through, I owed them more.

I rewrote my ending for On Fallen Wings. Can I tell you I love it? It’s so different that I’ll need to rework a couple things, but that doesn’t matter. Thanks to a critique of fifteen pages, my novel will be the best that I can give you. That’s what matters.

Friday, May 13, 2011

Honors and Benefits Already...

I won an award. Thank you.

The first, shown above was given to me by Megan Conway. Thank you, Megan.To accept this award, I am required to do a couple things:
  1. Thank and link to the person who nominated you.
  2. Share seven random facts about yourself.
  3. Pass the award along to 5 new-found blogging buddies.
  4. Contact the winners to congratulate them.
Since the facts about me need to be random, I'm going to do just that. Voila, seven random facts about me:
  1. I love movies. Even more, I love the characters in movies. My children are all named after memorable movie characters. Weird? Not at all. Their names are really cool.
  2. I speak French. Not just a little and not high school French (I never took French in High School). I'm fluent. Although my accent is gone from years without practice, I still speak rather easily. Sometimes, I even dream in French, which is fantastic. I learned the language while living in Paris (and a couple small french towns) for a couple of years. Want to know more? Check out this post:
  3. I'm scared of skunks. That's right. When I was three, I saw a cat in the garden and decided to go say hello. It wasn't a cat...and it wasn't friendly. Scarred for life.
  4. I've learned that first impressions can be overcome. When I first met my wife, she thought I was weird. We'll celebrate 15 years of marriage in June. She still thinks I'm weird.
  5. I hate the cold. Give me heat and the sun. Ironically, On Fallen Wings takes place during winter. Brr, I'm shivering just thinking about it.
  6. I have Celiac Sprue. It sounds worse than it is, but I'm not supposed to eat gluten. When I do, I pay an awful price. Sucks.
  7. In 1997, when I was in London, people on the street laughed at me because I wore shorts. (They called them "short pants" and stopped to laugh and point.) I'm still angry and refused to attend the royal wedding because of it! Okay, I wasn't invited. But if I had been invited, I would have politely declined out of spite.
Now for my winners of the Stylish Blogger Award:
You'll find that all of my winners have insightful content and very different designs. Great style.

Monday, May 9, 2011

5 Things I didn't Know...and a few More

I attended the LDStorymakers Writers Conference in Salt Lake City last week. This morning, I woke up wiser because of it. I’ll call it my epiphany at the Sheraton.

Step back in time to 1992. A couple friends and I took a spring break trip to Moab, Utah. If you haven’t been there, then I suggest you go now—there’s no place in the world like it. One morning, we decided to drive down to Lake Powell and take a leisurely hike along the steep cliffs and desert rocks at its edge. Since we had planned on a short hike, we left our food in the car. None of us had a watch; the blaring sun overhead was our only indicator of time. The hike was fascinating. The more we walked, the further we had to go—the mystery of what could be hidden over the next set of stones was alluring. As the sun dipped lower in the western sky, we realized two things: we had no idea where we were and we were hungry. Solving each problem meant one thing: we had to find my car. It was obvious at that moment that if we backtracked along the lake shoreline, it would be well after dark before we arrived back at the location where we had started. Quickly, we ruled that out. Instead, in our teenage wisdom, we decided to wander east across the desert. Somehow, someway, we would meet either a road or a marker that would lead us to the car.
So, we hiked east. The hike was exhausting. If you’ve ever seen a movie and some actor is stumbling in a desert, not sure of where to go or how long until he dies, then you can picture us in your mind. We were pathetic idiots climbing the desert rocks without food or water, searching for my car. I don’t know how it happened, but just as the sun dipped out of sight, we mounted a hill and discovered my car—right in front of us. Never in history has anyone been so excited to see a brown 1985 Nissan Sentra! Fate, it seemed, didn’t intend for us to die that day. I’m grateful for that. We ate everything from my small cooler and quickly jumped into the car and drove north. (Incidentally, the ride home was noisy because we had broken out one of the back passenger windows. The day before, I had lost my car keys at Arches National Park; we had to break into the car and hot-wire it to drive.That's another story.)
When we reached civilization, a.k.a. Moab, we stuffed ourselves at a fast food place and then returned to the campground. One of the very cool things about that campground was its fabulous shower facilities. I say that now, but I actually don’t remember how fabulous it really was. I was hot, filthy, and exhausted, but I still had my pride; I took a long cold shower to wash away the day. Stepping out of the shower and rubbing my hair dry with my towel, I glanced into the mirror to see how badly my face had burned. What met my gaze shocked me. The sun had bleached my hair completely blonde. Not a little. Not highlights. I was as blonde as blonde could possibly be. I had started the day with dark brown hair.

How does this possibly relate to the conference? I’m not sure. I wanted to tell that story for some reason.

Here’s what I know: I told myself there would be 5 things I would discover this week. I discovered all of them, and a lot more. Allow me to answer my own questions now.
Do I have what it takes to be an author? YES!

What are authors like in person? They are wonderful, helpful, creative people, working as hard as they can to promote writing and books of all sorts. They love readers and they love other writers.

What are agents and editors like? They are the hardest working people in the business, in my opinion. Think about it—they work AFTER HOURS reading thousands of author submissions hoping for the chance to find the next gem to fall in love with. They do this at no charge. We, as authors, aren’t paying them. They aren’t making a dime to do that. They accept our queries and our typewritten hopes and dreams because they love readers and writers as much as we do. Yes, the agents and editors I met impressed me.

What is my writing missing? Fantastic sparkle and a little more love. The writer’s bootcamp allowed me to see a few things in my story that really matter to the reader. I was thrilled at the feedback and grateful for my group.

On Friday, I had a wonderful experience. A panel of agents and editors listened as a moderator read the first page of submitted samples. Live and in person, they indicated where they would stop reading and what they thought of the story or the writing, offering honest critiques. My sample was the first one chosen. I have NEVER been as frightened in my life. When the moderator read the title, “On Fallen Wings,” I felt my chair try to tip over. First? Mine was first? I was dead! I tried to ignore the pounding in my ears as the moderator began reading. Then I noticed silence. No one else even whispered a word. My written words filled the conference room until page one was done. An editor spoke next. His words:  “The writing felt sensual.” Wow. I had never imagined that response. I was tempted to read my own story after that. Then he said the writing was lyrical. An agent nodded their agreement. There was some feedback—excellent, by the way—and at the end, a unanimous opinion: I would read more. That’s all that mattered. Nobody jumped up and said, “Send me pages, now!” In fact, no one was interested; it wasn’t their type of story. That didn’t matter to me. I watched the faces of editors and agents as they experienced my work for the first time. That was a moment I’ll treasure for the rest of my existence. If you get the opportunity to sign up for an event like that, DO IT! Sending my submission for that session was one of only a few smart choices I’ve made this year.

What can I offer to everyone? A great, well-written story.

For the past few years, I’ve been wandering in the desert, curious to discover what’s next. Attending this writers conference was like finding my car again—grateful that I wasn’t lost. The feeling I had when I woke up this morning was much like the surprise that I experienced after drying my hair. I’m different. I’m very different. People who might have known me before I started writing wouldn’t recognize the type of person I am today. That’s a good thing. I’m wiser in so many ways.

My Epiphany: We’re not alone at what we do. Yes, we sit in quiet corners, sheltered from the world as we escape into our own imaginations. We seek to write what hasn’t been done and if it has, we try to do it better. We hide our works and protect them like our children. We constantly battle rejection and doubt. Our nights are often lonely and filled with the clatter of keystrokes rather than the chatter of friends. Still, we’re not alone. All around us there are writers, agents, editors, and fans cheering us toward future success.

I am writing for you. I have a fantastic story to tell and will do everything possible to give you nothing but the best. I PROMISE.

Monday, May 2, 2011

Five Things I'll Learn This Week

Despite how spontaneous I’d like to feel, I am a planner. My motto for many years has been to have a plan, a backup plan, and a “just in case” plan. I’d love to wake up one morning and do “whatever” or go someplace “just because I felt like it”; sadly, if I tried, I would soon start planning the rest of my day. Deep inside, I’m hard wired for that type of thinking. Call it a curse—much like the full moon thing.

When it comes to writing, I’m no different. I create my stories ahead of time, and write outlines for them long before penning the first words. I analyze the plots, the characters, the subplots, the locations, descriptions, key words of dialog, and potential chapter end hooks. Everything except names goes into various stages of planning before I write. The closer I get to writing a piece, the more detailed the outlines become. Currently, I have outlines for 6 novels that are not my work in progress, allowing me years of revision before, and if, I write them.

This week, I’ll attend the LDStorymakers Conference in Salt Lake City. It’s my first writers conference and I’m going with a plan. Here are 5 things I want to discover.

1.                  Do I have what it takes to be an author? This isn’t a question about talent. It’s an objective query into whether or not my efforts can translate into a successful enterprise. It’s a validation of my process. I have to answer this and I intend to by Saturday.
2.                  What are authors like in person? I’ve never met a published author and can’t wait to absorb their amazing awesomeness simply by association. Okay, I embellish. I’ll be a sponge and take in all the advice they offer.
3.                  What are agents and editors like in person? All I know about agents and editors is from Twitter, websites, and stories. My only contact has been from brief responses to query letters and emails. I don’t want to base an opinion from those responses.
4.                  What is my writing missing? At the conference, I’ll step forward and welcome critiques. A writer’s boot camp on Thursday will expose my writing flesh, and then a Simulating the Slush Pile Panel will tear apart what it needs to. Like the wait for a roller coaster, I’m scared to death, but am certain I’ll live through the experience. (If you happen to be there and notice someone screaming and flailing their arms as they run from the conference room, ignore them—there’s nothing to see.)
5.                  What can I offer to everyone? I’m on the outside of the industry, pressing my face flat against its window while absorbing the delicious smells and views of the successes within. This week, I get to step inside. Whether or not I’ll be accepted or feel comfortable will depend on what I can offer those already there. Finding that unknown will please me the most.

With every plan, there is an anticipated outcome. I have an idea how this week will end, but it’s only speculation. Next week, I’ll share the results. In the meantime, what advice do you have for authors attending a writers conference? Any stories?