Writing is an exploration. You start from nothing and learn as you go. ~ E. L. Doctorow

Monday, January 31, 2011

A Flawed Writer Stands Strong


Growing up watching my mother apply her make up, I was bound to pick up some of her habits, like rubbing Cover Girl concealer on the dark circles under my eyes.  We don’t want to leave the house, exposing our imperfections.  Always present a flawless image.  Yes, mom.  

Well, a while back drinking some beers with friends my flawless image cracked.  One of them asked me to define a word.  My response, “I don’t know.”  Disbelief stared back at me.  “You’re an English major.  Shouldn’t you know that?”  I wanted to slap him.  What am I a dictionary? 

Apparently, someone found humor in my vulnerability and put this scene on repeat.  The judgment crushed me.  I wanted to avoid that feeling at all costs.  My solution?  Give everyone the impression that I was stupid.  You can’t fall far when you aren’t that high up, can you? 

How did that turn out, you ask? 

My self-esteem meter dropped to zero.  I actually started to believe I was stupid.  What a mess. 

I want to be proud of myself.  Proud of everything I am.  I’m tired of hiding all my imperfections.  People can sniff ‘em out anyway.  I need to stand up straight and own my shortcomings.

Yes, I’m a writer (not a shortcoming). 

No, I’m not perfect (not a shortcoming either). 

I am a terrible speller.  That’s right.  Some days I can’t spell myself out of a paper bag with a ladder.  I turned to my students when I was unsure if I spelled a word correctly on the board.  They quickly reviewed it and gave me a consensus, never noticing my embarrassment.  They probably just thought I was testing them.  Now, I rely on my spell checker. 

Next?  Vocabulary.  I’m a voracious reader.  Unfortunately, some novels prove challenging.  I keep a dictionary next to me for the times when the context clues fail me.  Then, scribble the definition on the page.  Hopefully, it remains stored in my amazing brain.  Let’s not hold our breath on this one though.  I also use Twitter to help me remember words I’ve had to look up by tweeting a word a day with the definition.  I found I’m able to remember and use them more often.          

Another lifesaver: the thesaurus.  My fancy words repertoire may be small, but it doesn’t mean I can’t find one to add brilliance to my prose.

Don’t even get me started on my punctuation and grammar issues.  My finger of blame is pointed directly at the Pennsylvania Department of Education.  FYI: you suck.  My junior and senior honors class teachers in high school both took a quick break to re-teach the entire class what we already should’ve known.  Obviously it didn’t stick.  So, now I have at least 20 books on grammar and punctuation to fill in the gaps. 

Although a bit hesitant, it feels good to get that off my shoulders.  An English major and writer with a few English related flaws.  Hey, I can still read, I’m far from stupid and my imagination constantly keeps me writing.  It just might take me a bit longer than others.  My life looks pretty good from here.  To be honest with you, if everyone admitted his or her imperfections, we might just get along better and put an end to the senseless judgment and feelings of inferiority.   


So, what shortcomings do you try to keep hidden? 

    

 


Friday, January 28, 2011

Writer Enemy No. 2: Self-Doubt


authorculture.blogspot.com


Everyday I wake up I think I should find a 9-5 job.  One offering set hours, easy work and a steady paycheck, instead of writing.  Little thoughts start popping in my head: “Your writing stinks.”  “You can’t make people laugh.” “Nobody enjoys reading your work.”  “You’re wasting your time.”  “Few writers succeed.”

These thoughts work hard to deter me from what makes me happy.  Feelings of loserdom overwhelm me because I haven't published or made any money.  That pesky issue of money again.  Education seems to be the answer.  Enrolling in a MFA program sounds magical, unfortunately, my education coffers are depleted.    

Then, the self-doubting sneaks out of my head and into my writing.   
Looking back over my blog posts, I noticed all the disparaging remarks I made about my work.  Ugh.  I’m so concerned about people reading my blog; it never occurred to me I stepped over the line of funny self-deprecating to unattractive berating.  Who wants to read that junk?  

How in the world can I convince people to read my work, if I don’t believe in it?

 All of this nonsense needs to stop.  I’m not working so I can make my dream a reality.  It will happen.  I know that for sure.  When I set my mind to something I accomplish it.  Getting into the teaching profession took three years after I graduated from Penn State.  I’m insane if I think in a few months my writing career will be right where I want it.

So, what is the solution to the self-doubt problem?   

Write it down, make it happen. My mantra.  I write positively about my writing, even if I’m cringing at the thought of being conceited. When I discuss my writing I use adjectives and descriptions I want to emulate.  Eventually the thoughts will transfer to my writing.

Displaying my work for judgment.  Very similar to wearing a bathing suit to the beach.  All I want to do is cover up and keep it to myself.  On the other hand, I need feedback to improve.  Writers groups provide a safe intellectual environment to share and discuss work.  Contests push you to create the best work to beat all the other participants.  Sure I get upset if I don’t win, but I’m writing.  Eventually, if I keep at it, I will win.  The law of probability, I think?         

Enrolling in writing courses.  No, I can’t afford $30,000 for an MFA, but there are courses lead by established authors and writing conferences all over the United States.  Granted they can be costly, but far less than a graduate degree.  Learning and guidance provide opportunities to improve.  Many students of these classes go on to publish their work.  And, you have the chance to critique the class for future teaching of your own. 

I see a lot of off ramps on this road ahead of me, and it’s difficult staying on course, but I never appreciate anything unless I’ve worked for it.  A pat on the back for my accomplishments and validation awaits me.

How do you avoid the negativity of self-doubt?

Thursday, January 27, 2011

Drained, but Positive


I'm exhausted. Shoveling over a foot of snow drained all my energy.  This blog post is going to be short.    

I just signed up for my first writing class.  It's a four week online course in February lead by 
Author Craig Clevenger.  It looks like its going to be the kick in the pants I need.  I'm really excited and can't wait to get started.

I also entered Nathan Bransford Paragraph Contest.  My entry is below.  I honestly have no idea if it's any good.  

I'm not even sure if I'm any good at writing.  One thing I know: I'm tired of doubting myself.  Magpie Writes discussed the murdering of your inner editor on her blog today.  Right now, I'm giving mine a big F U! 

Honestly, I may not always believe in my work, but I believe in myself.  I'm making positive steps in my writing life.  I just need to have the patience to wait and see where they take me.       

That's it.  Nothing clever, funny or insightful today.  Just tired.  


Rebecca placed her hands on her knees gulping in air.  The cold burned her lungs.  Looking over her shoulder to the top of the grassy stairs, she realized she had a head start, but the barking was getting louder.  She stood up looking for her boat, stumbling from the blood rush to her head.  It was gone.  Squinting through the fog, she saw it, a five-minute swim away.   The sun is coming up. I need to hurry.  As she climbed onto the small boulders making up the shore, she slipped.  She sucked in air, cringing at the pain.  Blood ran down her shin.  She glanced back up the hill.  The erratic movement of a flashlight announced the dogs at the top of the stairs.  They ran down, barking their determination to stop her.  She stood up, trying to keep her balance on the slippery rocks.  

What do you like/dislike about my paragraph?  Anything missing?        

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Foot in Mouth Syndrome

Take 10: A Date Derailed
Here is my response to Writer's Digest's "Exercise Your Pen" prompt from the January 2010 issue.  The guidelines required me to write for ten minutes about a person being abandoned by their date.  I had to start with "No matter what I do..." and choose a number from 1-10 corresponding to an idiom.  I revised my original response.  Enjoy!


No matter what I do, I can’t get a date to pay for dinner. She smiled, cutting a piece of chicken with her fork. Charlie’s face turned so red I thought he would explode.  Her hand reached up to cover her mouth as she hiccuped before swallowing the bite.  I can’t believe he threw his napkin at me then stomped off.  Giggles shook her shoulders as she picked up her wine glass.  Bewildered faces stared back as she eyed the other tables.  I’m sure his little tantrum gave them plenty to gossip about.  The goblet slipped out of her hand, hitting her plate of sweet and sour chicken, then, spilling on the table.  She glanced at the red liquid bleeding into the white fabric, her cheeks getting hotter from embarrassment.  An elderly waitress immediately appeared with a towel. 
“Ms. Jenny, are you alright?”  She signaled the bus boy to hurry over.
Anna waved her hand towards the waitress.  “Oh, Mrs. Lee, I’m fine.  Just a bit clumsy.”
“That young man didn’t leave pleased.”  The bus boy cleared Charlie’s plate and glass away.  
She giggled.  “No, ma’am he didn’t.”
“Another glass of wine?” she asked, picking up the one laying on the table.
“Yes, but let’s go with Cavit pinot grigio this time.  No more red today.”
“Right away.”  Mrs. Lee turned and walked away.
Jenny reached over and grabbed her purse, digging around for her Blackberry. She shook her head, thinking back to the conversation she had with her friend Allie earlier that week.
“Jenny, you’ll really like him. He’s handsome and sweet.  He's a manager at McDade Credit Union.”
            “So?”
“I thought since you worked at a credit union it might break the ice.”
            Break the ice.  Sure if you mean Charlie defending himself against my comment about a high school senior being able to do his job.  She picked at her food as she waited for Allie to pick up. 
“It’s over already?” Allie asked, sighing.
She took a sip of wine.  “I’m not entirely sure what it is about these guys you set me up with.  They have no concept of fun.”
“Fun?  The last time you thought a guy was fun, you were thrown in the back of a police car.”
“They escorted me home.”  Mrs. Lee returned.  “Hang on one sec, Allie.”  She placed the phone against her shoulder, and turned to Mrs. Lee, pointing to the plate.  “Could you wrap this up for me?” 
            She nodded, grabbed the plate and hurried off. 
“So, what did you do this time?”
“I didn’t do anything.  Charlie was too uptight.”
“Another case of FMS?”
“Hey, my foot was no where near my mouth.  I was just being honest.  How was I supposed to know he would be so sensitive?”
“Anna, I understand honesty and insulting are synonymous in your world, but you can’t vocalize everything that pops in your head.”
Anna rolled her eyes.  She looked up to see Mrs. Lee walking towards her with the brown paper bag.  She took another sip of wine while Allie continued to lecture her on proper social skills. 
“Hey, let me call you back.”  She hung up and grabbed her purse again.  She yanked out her credit card and placed it on the tray with the receipt. 
 Waiting for the credit card slips, she glanced around the restaurant again.  Everyone was back to scrapping their forks against the plates of heaping rice and stir-fry.  Couples were leaning closer sharing secrets about their co-workers.  Parents were laughing as their young children attempted to feed themselves with forks as big as their arms.  
Jenny sighed, then gulped down the rest of the wine as the payment tray was dropped off by a bus boy.   She quickly scribbled her signature.  Lifting up her credit card and receipt, she noticed something on the back of it.
A stitch in time saves nine.  Better luck next time.
Love, Mrs. Lee
What does that mean?  Since the wine was starting to swirl around in her head, she shoved the receipt into her wallet, grabbed the fortune cookie and got up to leave.  I should interview these guys.  No more blind dates.  And certainly no more guys Allie knows.  She started to giggle as she pushed the glass door open.   God, it really was funny watching his face turn the color of his hair.     

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

What is NCF Tuesday?



gebasports.org
Audacity comes to mind when I encourage you to visit my blog, dazzling with clever topics and expressive sentences, asking for comments, receiving nothing from me in return. Shouldn’t I offer you something for visiting?

You might want to sit down for this one.

So, I got to thinking.    

Several blogs I follow sum up the week on Fridays.  Amie Kaufman does her “BTW” post talking about life beyond her blog, literary items of interest and updating her readers on what she’s reading.  Nathan Bransford updates his devout followers on the week’s literary news in “This Week in Books”.

To generate more followers, I am taking a tip from the well-established bloggers and setting up a weekly blog post that keeps you abreast with evocative literary News, a rundown of ongoing writing Contests and silly Fun as an attempt to lighten the mood.  A newsletter of sorts.     

Don’t worry, the brainstorming didn’t end here.

Not to be outdone by other bloggers I am choosing another day to show my gratitude for following my insane journey.  Besides, on Friday, I impress you with my extensive knowledge on writing.  Mondays.  I don’t think elaboration is necessary on this dreaded day of the week.  Wednesday and Thursday are previously engaged.  So, Tuesday it is!

Let’s be honest.  Chances are it will blow up in my face. But who doesn’t love to watch an explosion every once in a while? And I’m always willing to sacrifice my pride for a bit of entertainment. Shall we get this crazy Tuesday party started?

News

Business

Currently, I’m trying to build a freelance career with zero marketing expertise.  I came across a blog post by writer and marketing pro Guy LeCharles Gonzalez, “Marketing Yourself in the Digital Age,”  providing notes from his presentation at the 2011 Writer’s Digest Conference. Three marketing book recommendations can be found there as well. One of them can be read in its entirety for free online.  Yes, that’s right.  Free!

Libraries Disappearing

The digital age swept in and took everyone by surprise.  The financial crisis has government cutting budgets to save money. Libraries are getting hit hard.  Texas state budget almost completely cut library funds affecting most of the 561 public libraries.  In England, read-ins are scheduled for Feb. 5, 2011 along with protests against the plans to close almost 40 libraries around the country.

Some of the public response shows the disinterest in the libraries with all the information made available through the Internet and e-books.  Sorry, but Wikipedia isn’t the ultimate information location. 

What about individuals who don’t have access to this technology?  Lower socio-economic families require libraries because they can’t afford Barnes and Noble visits to satisfy their child’s hunger for reading or trips to Best Buy to stay up-to-date with the latest gadgets. 

Several inner city schools I taught at didn't have well stocked libraries and were rarely used. Many of my students complained about the hour cuts at their local libraries, which made it hard for them to borrow books.  So, Administration strongly encouraged me to build my own classroom library to give my students access to books. 

I’m the first to jump on the technology bandwagon, but we need to be cautious with our dependence on it.  Education is failing in America, especially in low socio-economic areas.  All information and reading should be available to everyone, not just the ones who can afford it.   

Contests

Writer’s Digest
o   Grand Prize: $3,000
o   Deadline: May 2, 2011
-       Your Story #32
o   For fun

-       First Place Prize: $1,200
-       Very Short Fiction Deadline: January 31, 2011


The 4th Sort-of-Annual Stupendously Ultimate First Paragraph Challenge
           - Deadline: 4 pm Thursday, January 27, 2011
-       First Prize: $250
-       Deadline: March 31, 2011


Fun

Joke:
A writer died and was given the option of going to heaven or hell.
She decided to check out each place first. As the writer descended into the fiery pits, she saw row upon row of writers chained to their desks in a steaming sweatshop. As they worked, they were repeatedly whipped with thorny lashes.
"Oh my," said the writer. "Let me see heaven now."
A few moments later, as she ascended into heaven, she saw rows of writers, chained to their desks in a steaming sweatshop. As they worked, they, too, were whipped with thorny lashes.
"Wait a minute," said the writer. "This is just as bad as hell!"
"Oh no, it's not," replied an unseen voice. "Here, your work gets published."

Riddle:
What is special about the sentence below?  If you’re the first one to answer correctly you win a free 4,000 word critique.

"I love to mimic the right eye of my dad, which works like a radar, which is again similar to a rotator.” 

Monday, January 24, 2011

Blog Schedule


I’ve been trying to put together a website and a name brand to help better sell my writing services.  Creating the name came easily after a short brainstorming session, but deciding what I offered was much harder.  My lack of confidence made me feel I wasn’t qualified to offer anything. 

Then, I signed up on Linkedin and while setting up my profile my thoughts started to come together. The site required a description of my job titles or expertise.  So, I sucked it up and went for it.  My profile lists my qualifications as: freelance writer, blogger and editor.  Write it down, make it happen. I felt more confident knowing what I offered.  Everything in my profile then began to support my qualifications.  My confidence meter started to rise.  


Ok, so I have a resume ready to go, but what about my actual skills?  Unfortunately, my daily writing has been lackluster and unproductive.  I’ve been slacking off, and if I continue I won't improve. I've been preoccupied with my platform and building my readership, completely neglecting my actual writing. I created a Twitter account for christ sakes.   


My blog has been sucking the writing energy right out of me.  I am constantly coming up with ideas, scribbling them down on any available surface.  Once I get to writing, I can't seem to figure out which topic I want to write about.  Some of them require research.  What am I going to say? Several hours go by and I've produced a stiff, unexciting, monotone blog post.   Ahhhh!  


Of course my fiction writing gets pushed aside.  My confidence meter starts to drop. Seriously, I knew writing as a career would be difficult, but this is ridiculous.

My thoughts floated back to my Linkedin profile.  Once I knew what I was offering as a businesswoman on my resume, I was able to organize my information to help me market myself successfully.  Hey, why not do the same for my blog.  So, I started another brainstorming session to determine what I wanted to write about on my blog. 

I knew I couldn’t just talk about my experience writing everyday.  It isn’t that eventful, so I thought about the other topics I’ve written about lately.  I wrote everything down, with a description of what exactly I wanted to accomplish or how I should approach each daily topic.  Afterwards, I came up with a weekly schedule.  This way I have a set routine and I know what topic to write about when. Oh, the confidence meter is rising again. Here's what I came up with:             

Blog Schedule

Monday: Journal my writing experience
Tuesday: Discussion of writing current events
Wednesday: Display my work
Thursday: Journal my writing experience
Friday: Offer my knowledge

Because this flash of genius came up over the weekend, I am implementing it this week.  So far, so good.  The ultimate goal is to spend less time worrying about my blog and spend more time with my fiction and revisions.  I will reassess next week.  Keep your fingers crossed!


How do you approach your blog posts?  

Friday, January 21, 2011

Prose from the Pros #2: Miranda Bliss



Are you an aspiring mystery novelist? Well, there’s no better way to improve your mystery writing skills than to learn from a published author. One author I enjoy reading, Miranda Bliss, has written the Cooking Class Mystery series. Today’s discussion of the fifth novel, Murder has a Sweet Tooth (2009), will focus on analyzing its literary elements.

Besides the elements, a basic story structure is important when writing a mystery. A writer employs a specific format to gain the readers trust: a crime occurs, detective investigates the crime and, finally, the mystery is solved. Once you create the skeletal structure of the novel, your style and ingenious plotting build the muscle and present an engaging story.   

Character:
Characters are the most important part of the novel. Their personality and lifestyle create the fictional world the crime takes place, provides the motives of the detective and suspects and drives the plot forward. You should intimately know your characters. Keep in mind round characters create engaging writing and give the novel verisimilitude. 

Every character needs to work! Avoid overwhelming your reader with unnecessary characters. It causes confusion and slows down the story momentum. Don’t be afraid to fire lazy characters.

The detective or private investigator is the star of the novel. He or she is in charge of solving the crime by examining evidence, collecting clues, asking questions, investigating the suspects and getting into trouble. His or her investment in solving the crime needs to be believable. Annie Capshaw works to exonerate her fiancé’s cousin, Alex, of murder weeks before she gets married in Bliss's novel. 

Your novel needs minor characters who show the fullness of the main character's life or the lack there of.  They can help solve the crime or provide a romantic element.  Eve (Annie’s best friend) and Tyler (Eve’s police officer boyfriend) assist Annie in solving the crime.  Jim, her fiancé, provides the romance and support she needs throughout her investigation.  

Then, no mystery novel is complete without the suspects. These law-breaking citizens are the reason for the novel. Everyone has a motive, but not everyone did it or did they?  If they aren’t the perpetrator, they’re a red herring. You want your reader to solve the crime, but not before the main character does; there’s no incentive to finish reading. So, be sure to make everyone’s motive realistic and believable.       

Plot:
Ah, the muscle of the novel. A good mystery should have a main plot and a sub plot.  The main plot focuses on solving the mystery. Our heroine, Annie, must go undercover to prove Alex is innocent. 

While she is earnest, she can’t possibly spend every minute solving the crime. This is when the sub plot enters the scene. It provides a transition between main scenes, helping the plot continue forward.  A novel may contain several sub plots.  In her off time, Annie plans her undercover work and wedding.

Plot Element: Suspense
Danger! Danger! Suspense is my second favorite element of a mystery novel, right behind the crime solving. It pulls your reader to the edge of their seat with anticipation. They should be so invested in the story they can’t stop reading. Bliss coaxes her readers to turn the page to the next chapter by:
-       Revelation: the main character discovers information, possibly solving the mystery, but leaving more questions to be answered.
-       Imminent Peril: Main character finds trouble at end of chapter, the reader must continue to read to find out what happens.
-       Delayed Gratification: the main character keeps the reader on the hook by waiting to reveal new information pertinent to solving the mystery.

So, what are you waiting for? Write down that mystery novel hiding in your imagination.  Whether it’s in the planning or revision stages, be sure your story follows these guidelines to ensure a quality mystery guaranteed to your entertain readers. 

What mystery writers do you admire?  What apsects of their writing do like? 

Thursday, January 20, 2011

Writer Enemy No. 1: Distraction


i-likethings.blogspot.com

Man, having your momentum rip away feels like someone is sucking the life out of you with a vacuum.  I submitted a short story for my writer’s group, showed up and endured the critique torture, finished my novel and put a blog post up all in a few days.  The progress had me skipping around and humming tunes.  Unfortunately, the expiration date on my happiness came sooner than expected. 

My stretches of concentration are short.  I spend most of my time distracted by an endless amount of things.  As a newbie to the writing life, I battle daily with my ability to maintain focus.  But I fear if I don’t get myself under control soon, I will never see lucrative success. So, at the moment I’m learning to clear some hurdles.

TV
To put it mildly, I have an addiction to televsion. Whether I’m streaming live from Netflix or catching up on shows piling up on the DVR, it’s embarrassing.  I see a support group in my future.  Luckily, this one is the easiest of my obstacles to overcome.  The movies and shows rotting my brain aren’t going anywhere.  So, I try to award myself with TV after I’ve accomplished all my daily goals.  Setting up a work area in a location sans TV proves helpful as well.    

Blogs
I admit I’m not an impressive blog post idea generator.  Other blogs provide a wealthy source of topics to discuss and comment on in my own posts.  Plus, reading and commenting on other blogs gets my name out there and increases my blog traffic.  Unfortunately, a few minutes turns into an hour wasted not doing my own writing.  Setting a time limit helps me stay focused.   

Facebook
I peruse the Writer’s Digest and Poets and Writers pages on Facebook in the morning before I begin my writing.  They post interesting blogs and current news in the writing community, which in turn provide me with topics to explore in my blog posts.  Then the next thing you know, an hour has flown by and I’m now cyber-stalking and commenting on friends’ statuses.  What I should do is wait until my daily blog has been written.  I can use the information I glean from these sites to write future posts.  Setting a time limit is key.   

Emotional Turmoil
As a sensitive person, my emotions tend to dictate my writing momentum.  This is my biggest struggle.  When I’m upset about something, I can forget getting any work done.  I’m caught in its Debbie Downer clutches, over analyzing and creating hypothetical situations.  My journal helps me exorcise the demons just long enough to get some work done, but it doesn’t always cut it.  In the meantime, I need to deal with the problems when they happen instead of pushing them aside. 

One other helpful trick is to make a list of tasks I want to accomplish for the day.  Crossing off the completed ones boosts my motivation.  I know I’m not alone in the day-to-day fight to stay on track, so tell me:
   
What in your life keeps you from writing?  How do you avoid those distractions? 

Monday, January 17, 2011

The First Bucks County Writer's Group Meeting


Yesterday marked the first Bucks County Writer’s Group meeting.  Two fellow NaNoWriMo participants and I met up in the café at Borders Bookstore in Langhorne, and with cookies and coffee in hand we dove into the critiques. 

Alex submitted the beginning of her Young Adult (YA) novel and I submitted a horror short story.  I was nominated to go first; Alex wasn’t ready to face the firing squad.  To avoid interruption and to keep the discussion moving, the author is “killed”.  My frazzled nerves and motherly protectiveness over my short story made it difficult to remain “dead” during the critique, so I shoved cookies in my mouth to stifle any attempt to defend or respond.

I took notes to refer to later and realized all the constructive criticism was spot on.  Their feedback mirrored all the questions I asked them to focus on while reading my piece.  I was convinced I would want to throw myself out a window after listening to my piece being ripped apart, but it's not as bad as I thought it would be.  I know the feedback will only strengthen my piece.  I wiped the sweat on my forehead and released my fists.  The impending doom of offering yourself up to other’s opinions is frightening, but only builds up to an anticlimactic reveal.      

Once we put Alex through the cookie devouring torture, we spent the second half of out meeting writing.  My unfinished mystery novel has been following me around ever since the end of NaNoWriMo.  I couldn’t finish it.  So, I decided to work on it yesterday.  As an aside, I can’t say enough about the encouragement I get from working with other writers around me.  Although we work independently, their presence keeps me from fooling around online and cruising the soul-sucking Facebook. 

The sun was setting, and one by one Alex and Greg left to attend to their families.  I found it hard to break my writing flow, but I was hungry.  I packed my things up energized by an amazing high of writing accomplishment and drove home.  After I grabbed dinner, I continued to work on my novel.  My eyes kept fluttering from the exhaustion of writing and creating, but I pushed through.  The next thing I knew I reached the end of my story.  I finished the first draft of my novel.  I couldn’t believe I did it.       

I printed it out today, slipped it into a paper-sized envelope and placed it into my filing cabinet.  The excitement to see it printed out is unparalleled, and in a few weeks the enormous job of revision shall commence.  A weight has lifted from my shoulders replaced by a permanent smile.  I’m riding the wave of this writing high, and I can’t wait to tackle my short story.  The Bucks County Writer’s Group had a successful first meeting.  Go Team!    

Are you gripped with fear when your work is critiqued?  What do you do to get you through the process?

Friday, January 14, 2011

Prose from the Pros #1: F. Scott Fitzgerald



Six years ago, I was student teaching at Pennsbury High School East, 11th and 12th grade AP English with Anne Marie Liebel (now Garth).  Administrators and parents visit the classrooms often, so it was important to display student work and learning on the bulletin boards.  The students learn from it as well believe it or not.  Anne Marie came up with a brilliant idea: the composition class will create a bulletin board with aspects of a piece of writing they felt was well done.  The students would choose from well known authors read in class.  We called it Prose from the Pros (see picture above).  The students were then expected to emulate that style in their own writing. 

I thought the idea would be perfect on a writer’s blog, for myself and for others.  This series of posts will explain what I liked stylistically about a novel or book, albeit the structure, diction, figurative language, characterization, setting, etc.  Then I will open up discussion with my readers regarding the novel and their writing.    

Today’s discussion is The Great Gatsby.  I vaguely remember reading this novel in school.  I can’t recall the grade, but I remember liking it.  My boyfriend bought it for me as a Christmas present, since I’m trying to read as many classics, along with modern literature, to improve my writing.  At some point my own style will emerge.  

The two aspects of Fitzgerald’s novel worth considering, among many others, are his description and characterization. 

Description 
Fitzgerald’s sentences bring life to the paper they're written on.  He sweeps the reader up with his metaphors and carries them into the story with his carefully crafted details.  Chapter III is my favorite chapter in the novel.  Nick Carraway attends Gatsby's lavish party and the reader is given a glimpse into the carefree world of the rich.  
   
There was music from my neighbor’s house through the summer nights.  In his blue gardens men and girls came and went like moths among the whisperings and the champagne and the stars (39).

And on Mondays eight servants, including an extra gardener, toiled all day with mops and scrubbing-brushes and hammers and garden-shears, repairing the ravages of the night before (39).  

Characterization
Fitzgerald, through Nick's observations, paints a portrait of the rich and cavalier in the 1920’s.  The round characters deal with controversial topics such as infidelity and racism.  The characters are written with specific mannerisms.  Jordan Baker walks like a boy showing the reader the affect athleticism had on her as a golfer.  Daisy Buchanan's siren's voice caused her husband and lost love, Gatsby, to fight over her, ending in the latter's death.   


As you read, they come to life as if they were plucked from the world around us.  The realistic characters are the driving force of the novel.  Their behavior creates the plot of the novel.  


My writing is still evolving.  Characterization is not as easy as it looks, and a poet with my words I am not.  Reading The Great Gatsby, closely observing his style, reminds me of college.  Hopefully, some of his skill will slip into my writing, and one day someone will be discussing my novels.     

What did you think of The Great Gatsby in terms of style?  How do you approach description in your writing?  Do you believe characterization drives the plot forward?         


Thursday, January 13, 2011

Sleeping My Way to Success


No, no I am not planning on bedding agents and editors in exchange for publication.  No sexual impropriety here.  Sorry to disappoint.  I’m employing my dreams as a muse and mentor.  Growing up discussing my dreams with my family was commonplace, and as an adult, the tradition continues.  It’s a conversation with my unconscious, and one of the few times I’ll take my own advice.    

Last night, I dreamt I was on a boat in the ocean.  The waves tossed me and the boat all over the place.  I remember struggling not to fall over.  As the dream progressed, the boat found calmer water.  When I woke up, I reached for my dream dictionary to find out what it meant and scribbled everything down in my journal.    

Let's take a deeper look at my dream.  Deconstructing a dream helps you understand the different parts at work, and, eventually, determine what your unconscious is telling you.  Water symbolizes the emotions.  Calm water represents positive emotions.  Rough water represents negative emotions.  Under water represents the desire to delve deeper into the emotions.  Since water winds its way into my dreams often, I tend to pay extra attention.  

Moving on to the boat carrying me through the water.  The possible symbolism of the boat includes hopes and fears for the immediate future.  Since the boat was being tossed around by the waves, the dream warns of conflict or emotional turmoil to come.  But the dream ends with the boat in calmer seas, which can also mean a transition from a negative emotional state to a positive one. 

I’m sure you saying to yourself, “My dreams tend to be the last thing I saw or read before I fell asleep,” or “I don’t think my dreams are telling me anything.”  Ok, dreams may not always tell us something about ourselves, but they can be a great source for story ideas.  Back in October of 2010, I had a dream that wouldn’t leave me so I ran downstairs and wrote it down.  That dream went on to inspire the mystery novel I’m currently writing.    

Besides the role of muse, my dreams lend professorial advice on symbolism. Symbolism can be found on the page of almost every novel, and the ability to include this literary term without appearing obvious and trite requires skill and practice.  By analyzing my dreams, I’m learning different symbols I can incorporate in my writing and ways to present it.  

The more I know about symbolism through the interpretation of my own dreams the more my writing improves.  So, tonight, put a journal or a piece of paper and pen next to your bed.  When you wake up tomorrow, write down everything you remember.  Consult a dream dictionary (Dream Moods or Dictionary of Dreams by Rose Inserra) to decode your unconscious, refining your skills or let it inspire your next story. 

What reoccurring themes from your dreams can transcend into your own writing?  What experiences do you have using symbolism in your writing?   

Friday, January 7, 2011

Losing Touch

truthbook.com

The tech-frenzied crowd has swept me up.  Everyone’s fighting to get closer to the latest shinny smart phone, e-reader and mobile computer.  The endless selection of applications available for the devices is crushing me, while I choke on the mass of information floating around the Internet. 

As I interact with people on social sites, I realize I do so from my home, not in a public place where we can share a laugh.  The sites give me the chance to keep in touch with old college friends, meet like-minded people and reach more people with my writing, but I’m afraid I’m losing touch with humanity.  I’m sure many of you would agree, there is more than a fair share of angry and miserable people spreading their hatred around out there, and now I have an excuse to avoid being exposed to it.

I don’t have to deal with bank tellers anymore with direct deposit and MAC machines.  I don’t have to push my way around warm, stuffy stores or listen to screaming children to shop.  Cyber schools provide an alternative for children who don’t want to leave the house to go to school.    

Next time you're in a restaurant, check out how many people are on their smart phones, rather than talking to the person sitting across the table from them.  New Year’s day my boyfriend, his father, and I played on our phones in the sitting room for half an hour, rarely uttering a word. 

Is that the kind of person I want to be?  As fun as the new toys are, what will be come of us in the next several years?  Sci-fi movies like Surrogates seem plausible, like a glimpse into our future.  I need a moment to step back, put my phone down, close my computer and stop avoiding people.  

How do you feel about the abundance of technology in our lives?  What does the future to hold for us?

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

Testing. Testing. 1, 2, 3. Is This Thing On?

Source: blogs.voices.com

The glory of completing my first novel, I fear, will be met with disappointment.  Why you ask?  My readership is abysmal.  Agents and publishers give contracts to sellable authors.  I can’t sell anything if I don’t have a trusted group of readers, and they don’t have the time or money to wait around until there is. 

I'm constantly incorporating what I've learned to improve my blog and build a readership.  My blog statistics prove people visit, but they’re useless to me.  I don’t know who those people are or how they feel about my writing. 

Michael Hyatt, the Chairman and CEO of Thomas Nelson Publishers, discussed unsuccessful blogs in “Why I Stopped Reading Your Blog” today.  I used his list of six reasons and a few of my own to revise my blog.  Here’s what I found out:     

Titles

As of right now, I am content with my blog and post titles, but I should love them.  An attention-getting title that screams, “Hey!  Check me out!  I’m smart, witty and I guarantee you’ll be entertained,” is key.  Laura’s Realm of Writing doesn’t scream anything.  Drowsiness comes to mind as well as the promise of another trite blog about a wannabe writer’s attempt at success and publication.     

Subject Matter

My blog represents how I feel, think and write.  I’ve added pictures to make it more appealing.  And after taking a website design class, I learned a “call to action” is important to coax reader participation, like responding to my posts.  So, I conclude my posts with a question.  Unfortunately, not too many comments are left.  Is it because they don’t have time or they don’t feel moved to respond?  Do I lack credibility? 

Length

I’ve read a lot about this.  Hyatt recommends it be 500 words or less (this blog has 503 words).  Readers don’t want to spend all day reading a blog, and I haven’t always done this in the past. 

Frequency

Daily blog posts tell my readers I’m serious and worth reading.  As an impatient person, I’m let down when I wait for weeks to read something new.  But can I produce enough interesting posts?  My solution was to regularly following a few blogs and keep abreast of current writing news. 

Etiquette

I should respond to my readers’ comments and thank them.  I don’t do that.  I apologize to those of you I left hanging. 

Ping

Well, not all my friends on Facebook share my passion for reading and writing.  I cannot expect them to loyally follow my blog.  Pinging is an often-free service that sends out notification of updated blogs to search engines.  The two I use with little problem are Pingomatic and Ping.In

Since it’s you I am trying to reach, my writing won’t improve without your help.  Leave me a comment and tell me what you like and feel I can improve on. 

Do you like my blog appearance and title?  Does my writing make you want to read more or scrap your eyes out?  
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