Friday, July 30, 2010

Writing Pitfalls

When I talk with other writers, we often commiserate about how many things keep us from writing. Things like work. Or family--which I realize isn't a thing. Or other priorities like sleeping or exercising or paying bills or buying groceries or doing the laundry . . .
You get the idea.
Then I ran across a Writer's Digest online column: The Top 10 Productivity Pitfalls for Writers to Avoid. When you do have time to write, how do you make sure you're not wasting your time?
Sage Cohen compiled a list of time wasters, including:
  1. Fear - "When we let fear prevent us from taking steps that could bring our writing dreams closer, we limit our opportunities to succeed,"Cohen said. I blogged about "writer's fright over at MBT Ponderers.
  2. Shabby systems - I'm more of a "pile-r" than a "file-r", so I know what Cohen's talking about when she said you limit yourself when you can't find the latest draft of your essay or you can't remember where you scribbled down that great idea.
  3. Perfectionism - My desk may be messy, but I like my writing to be perfect. But there comes a time to say, "This is good to go"--and release your . I'm practicing what I'm preaching by sending my manuscript to my agent--finally! Forget perfect. I like how Cohen puts it: "Focus, instead, on professionalism—doing the best you can, learning along the way, and understanding that mistakes and failures feed every success."
Check out Cohen's list of pitfalls. What one's are you most likely to fall into?

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

I Wish It Was This Easy To Be Creative

But, sadly, it's not.

Writer Teri Dawn Smith recently wrote of her brainstorming technique using a letter cube like the one in the Scattergories game or by choosing a tile from a Scrabble game. When she needs "a new idea, a creative detail or even a solution to a problem," Teri says it's amazing what happens when she rolls that cube and a random letter pops up. Brainstorming with that letter lifts her "out of a rut."

Critically-acclaimed Author Steven James does the opposite of brainstorming. He limits himself to foster creativity. For example, hasn't this scenario played in your home?

"Where do you want to go to dinner?"

"I don't know. Where do you want to go?"

When nearly all the restaurants in town are possibilities, the conversation could continue for the next thirty minutes without reaching concrete dinner plans, leaving family members grumpy and hungry. A quicker result would be found if the choices were limited. "Do you want steaks, Italian, or pizza?"

James suggests limiting the choices aids creativity. He asks two questions. What would the character naturally do in this scene? How can I make things go worse? His goal is to drive the story by putting the character into an impossible situation.

The next time you're stuck and wonder what happens next, try brainstorming as Teri suggests or ask James' two questions. Either way, you're sure to be "unstuck" and making progress toward typing those magical words "the end."

~ Roxanne Sherwood

Monday, July 26, 2010

Does Crisis Enrich Your Writing?

"When written in Chinese, the word 'crisis' is composed of two characters. One represents danger and the other represents opportunity."—Robert F. Kennedy.
When crisis strikes my heart, my writing voice magnifies. Pain and frustration squirts my innards all over the page. Without afflictions it’s too easy to write what everyone thinks and feels, but is afraid to say. The danger of life’s disasters or dilemmas?

The temptation to not write.

Don’t Waste a Crisis—Write

These quotes by writers reveal why hard times strips away the veneer of our fa├žade to reveal moments of great truth in response to catastrophe, change or impasse.

"It is the depth of the crisis that empowers hope. The power of turning, that radically changes the situation never reveals itself outside of crisis."—Martin Buber

"Opportunities to find deeper powers within ourselves come when life seems most challenging." —Joseph Campbell
"The period of greatest gain in knowledge and experience is the most difficult period in one's life." —Tenzin Gyatso, the 14th Dalai Lama

"We only think when we are confronted with a problem." —John Dewey

"When a man is pushed, tormented, defeated, he has a chance to learn something." —Ralph Waldo Emerson

"Great emergencies and crises show us how much greater our vital resources are than we had supposed." —William James

"The truth is that our finest moments are most likely to occur when we are feeling deeply uncomfortable, unhappy, or unfulfilled. For it is only in such moments, propelled by our discomfort, that we are likely to step out of our ruts and start searching for different ways or truer answers." —M. Scott Peck

"In time of crisis, we summon up our strength. Then, if we are lucky, we are able to call every resource, every forgotten image that can leap to our quickening, every memory that can make us know our power." —Muriel Rukeyser

"Don't fret when your equilibrium is upset; it may be just the motivation you need to grow."—Dr. Mardy Grothe

Consider it all joy, my brethren, when you encounter various trials, knowing that the testing of your faith produces endurance. And let endurance have its perfect result, so that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing. But if any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask of God, who gives to all generously and without reproach, and it will be given to him.” James 12:1–5 (NASB)

Friday, July 23, 2010

Book Review: The Dragon and the Turtle by Donita K. Paul & Evangeline Denmark

Today I have a guest to review the book, The Dragon and the Turtle, by bestselling author Donita K. Paul and up-and-coming author Evangeline Denmark. I read the book to my daughter Christa and she's going to review the book!

So, Christa, did you like The Dragon and the Turtle?
I liked the book a lot.

What did you like about the book?
I liked both the story of Padraig and Roger and the artwork too.

Did you have a favorite part in the story?
There's so many good parts to choose from. I liked the personality of Roger and Padraig--they are fun. And I like the cookie recipe in the back of the book for Chocolate Chip Snappers. We're gonna make those, right?

Did you like having the book read aloud to you?
Yes, because I like listening to you read to me.

Would you read this book again?
Yes, I would! And I'd read it to someone else too--especially someone younger than me.

Note from Christa's mom (me!): Originally, after I invited Christa to review the book for me--and explained what that meant--I handed her the book to read. And then I thought, This is a read-aloud book! So, Christa and I snuggled on the couch while I read the adventures of a little lost turtle and a very helpful red dragon. It was fun to share the story with my daughter and to hear her giggles. And, yes, we are going to make the Chocolate Chip Snappers!

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Dialogue Webinar with James Scott Bell

Writer's Digest is offering a live webinar with bestselling author James Scott Bell this Thursday, July 22, at 5 PM (EST). Focused on dialogue, the webinar will teach you:
  • The 8 Essentials of Great Dialogue
  • The 12 Tools for Creating Dazzling Talk
  • Where to put dialogue in your novel queries, synopses, or other proposal materials

The 75 minute webinar costs $49 and includes a live Q&A time.

Writer's Digest has a variety of on-demand webinars you can order. Topics include:

Sunday, July 18, 2010

What Do I Do with Critique Feedback?

“Like brewing a proper cup of English tea, take feedback and give it time to “steep.” When it tastes right, add the feedback to your manuscript.”—Scoti Springfield Domeij

Handling the Truth—Or Not
Susan* dropped into one of my writing critique groups. She sent her first draft composed that day for a critique three days before our meeting on Saturday—eleven days past the submission deadline. 
     Susan’s deadline to submit her story to the publisher? Said Saturday—midnight.
     My first gut instinct? Just edit the story and return it to her. It was a wonderful story with a strong ending. All it really needed? A stronger hook, some editorial tweaks, replace repeated words, and change passive verbs to active verbs. I resisted the urge. However, since she had a deadline, I spent four hours to offer a detailed critique of her story.
     One of our submission rules includes that the first person who submits by the deadline, receives their critique first. Any manuscripts arriving after the deadline, receives a critique in the order sent—if there is time.
     On Saturday, I moved the critiques along to make time to critique Susan’s manuscript. She attacked the first person providing legitimate feedback. Her body language, tone of voice and verbiage? Defensive. Contemptuous. Angry. 
     While we critiqued the first three manuscripts, I had watched Susan, hoping she’d observe the first three critiques to recognize the process. Susan didn’t. And we didn’t treat her manuscript with any less care than we treated everyone else’s. The next person, one of our strongest critiquer’s, offered valuable feedback. Susan went into aggressive mode again, attacking the critiquer and arguing every point.
     I was shocked, felt sick and embarrassed for her. How could anyone behave this way with people she really didn’t know? It would take me years before I’d be comfortable enough with someone to act like that. I’d reacted that way when I discovered my husband’s continuing unfaithfulness.
     The critiquer calmly requested that Susan wait until the critique was finished before responding, giving me courage. My arms automatically raised, palms out. I said, “Wait a minute.”
     Susan’s response and treatment of others in the group was way out of bounds. I explained the role of a critique group, a critiquer and the person receiving a critique. She calmed down, took the critiques home, and worked on the rough draft she thought was darn near perfect. 
     Late in the afternoon she called, “Can I email my story using your Internet access?” I agreed. She said, “This doesn’t sound like my story anymore.”
     After 11:30 PM she arrived on my doorstep. I got her submission emailed by the midnight deadline, but not before she said, “Oh, I don’t know if I saved my story to my thumb drive.” After she left, I re-read her submission. She Frankensteined in every edit, suggestion and comment offered by every critiquer, plus doctored her manuscript with personal changes.  
    She was right: It didn’t sound like her story. And I felt terrible.

What Did I Learn?

I love encouraging others to pursue their writing passion and hone their skills. However, my strength in this situation was also my weakness. I offered access to the group, when the best response would have been to set a boundary to protect Susan and the group. I confronted myself, What do I need to learn from this experience?

Firm boundaries and agreeing upon mutual objectives prevent unnecessary conflict. I don’t know what assumptions Susan held about what to expect. And her attitude and behavior didn't live up to my expectations. However, I made a number of mistakes, some of which include:
  • Accepting Susan’s manuscript past the deadline. (Hey, our group members already offered grace to each other, why not Susan?)
  • Responding to the urgency of Susan’s deadline without any regard for our group’s submission deadline.
  • Sending Susan’s work to members for critique without giving Susan adequate orientation.
  • Not allowing time for Susan to build trust with group members.
  • Offering a critique with no commitment from Susan to our critique group or our agreed-upon purpose.
  • Not closing our group to new members without identifying their interest and commitment.
Confront immediately. I looked back over the critique groups I’ve participated in where conflict arose. I realized that the first time one person treated another group member with anger, disrespect and contempt, we let it slide hoping it was a one-time event. When it continued we gently approached the person offering a kind, grace-filled Matthew 18 confrontation. If the person does not respond and continues in the group, expect bad feelings and confusion to fester, breed and disrupt the group’s goals.

Recognize—sooner rather than later—who is NOT ready to participate in a critique group. Someone in denial or struggling with personal issues—unresolved anger or past abuse, inability to trust others, controlling behaviors, prickly, insolent personality, or destructive communication patterns—may be too emotionally wounded to accept constructive feedback. And if someone is not mature enough to receive a critique, group members need to honestly evaluate, “Is this person ready to participate in a critique group?” Sound harsh? It’s not. A person not-quite-ready-for-prime-critique-time can destroy the critique group’s morale and even kill the group.

Protect your group. Up until this point, before Susan's not-so-grand entrance, our critique group’s interaction? Incredible. Harmonious. Positive. Everyone wanted to learn, work on their craft, and encourage each other. The members appreciated feedback from the group and respected each other. I could not allow one person to destroy our camaraderie. I reached out to Susan. She rejected getting together one-on-one and further attempts to connect were met with excuses. She didn’t return to our group.

Not every person’s feedback is gospel. It’s important to let new critique group members or beginning writers know that feedback strikes at your deepest insecurities. It takes time before a newbie recognizes what feedback to incorporate into a manuscript. You gain confidence about what changes to make, when you realize your writing weaknesses, identify the different strengths critique members offer and trust their feedback.

One Last Comment
Whether or not you incorporate someone’s feedback into your piece or it fits your voice, it’s important to be grateful. Be thankful that others care enough about your success to invest their time and input into your writing.

Friday, July 16, 2010

Check out Inkygirl.com

I like a good laugh. If you can make me laugh, odds are we're gonna be friends. And if you can somehow make me laugh about something writing related, well, we'll be friends for life.
One day I hope to meet Debbie Ridpath Ohi in person. If she's half as funny in person as she is on paper, I'm going to buy her a BFF bracelet.
Check out the InkyGirl website for more fun comics, blogposts and videos! And have a great weekend!

Oh! One more thing: Roxanne's got a great post about pondering, er, prewriting over at MBT Ponderers.

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Writing to Music, or Not?

Everything about my writing habits are changing. Schedule. Location. Even a new work-in-progress. I'm used to writing in the late hours of the night when my younger children are asleep and the house has gone quiet. There aren't many visual distractions, and no one cares if I mouth bits of dialogue, trying them on my tongue as I test them on the page.

After parenting for 23 years, I've finally gotten what I've long yearned for--the opportunity to claim a few hours during the day as my very own. But, unless I want to waste half of the time driving from school to home and back again, I'll need to learn to write in public venues like Starbucks and the library. It's going to be eerie writing while surrounded by people. I've mastered editing during my kids' many activities, but composing new material is a whole 'nother animal. To avoid visual distractions, I'll look for corner tables and sit with my back to the public. Maybe it's time to end the silence and try writing to music.

Multi-published, Award-winning Author Francine Rivers requires background noise as she writes, whether from her busy family when her children were young or a blaring television. But she prefers to write to music and uses it to set the scene. For example, when Rivers was writing The Last Sin Eater, she listened to a lot of Appalachian music. While writing Her Mother's Hope, set during World War II, she listened to swing dancing and big band music. She also likes sound tracks, including the music from Troy.

I can't imagine writing as I listen to anything with lyrics. I guess I'm afraid snippets of songs will find there way into my novel. My new wip will incorporate show tunes, so I'll listen to several soundtracks. But I plan to listen when I'm traveling in the car, doing housework, and working out--not while I'm writing. But I bought a white-noise CD with the sounds of the ocean to break my vow of silence.

Do you listen to music as you write? Does it set the scene for you? If so, what type of music works best for you?

~ Roxanne Sherwood

Monday, July 12, 2010

Write. Fight. Tight. Right?

“Mental fight means thinking against the current, not with it. It is our business to puncture gas bags and discover the seeds of truth.” —Virginia Woolf
Has anyone noticed? Everywhere people fight. Religious fights and in fighting. Cultural fights. National fights. Political fights. Tribal fights. Family fights. Internet anonymous posting fights. Even people in critique groups fight.

The Talmud tells a story about two Torah study partners—Rabbi Yochanan and his study partner Reish Lakish. For years they studied Torah together. Reish Lakish’s death sent Rabbi Yochanan into a deep depression.
People asked, “What’s wrong? Why are you sad?”
“My study partner died and now I have no study partner.”
To console the Rabbi, his friends found him a brilliant, young scholar to be his new study partner.
Not long after, Rabbi Yochanan’s friends noticed he was still depressed.
His friends again asked, “Why are you sad? We found you a brilliant study partner. What’s the problem?”
“My brilliant study partner tells me twenty-four ways that I’m correct. When I studied with Reish Lakish, he showed me twenty-four ways that I was wrong. And that’s what I miss. I don’t want a study partner who agrees with me. I want someone who challenges and questions me.”

To know the value of your ideas and writing, a critique group offers a safe place to receive straight, honest feedback. Critique groups provide a focus group where writers test-market their writing. If someone doesn’t understand your point or plot or even disagrees with your viewpoints, valuable feedback helps you to better communicate with future readers.

However, it’s important to choose your critique partners carefully. Opening yourself to the ideas and feedback of others taps into your deepest insecurities. You need people who balance positive affirmation with honest critiques. When mature critique partners disagree, they don’t argue, they discuss and at times agree to disagree.

Our critique partners inspire growth as a person and as a writer. My critique partners stimulate my creativity, expand my thinking, and push me to dig deep and be real with myself and in my writing. Best of all, they want my writing to be the best it can be. 

Friday, July 9, 2010

Kindle, Nook, Sony Reader--and Now There's a Kobo!

A few months back, my husband begged me to get a Kindle. He was tired of my multiple To Be Read (TBR) piles encroaching on our living space. Truth be told, I even had a mobile TBR pile on the front seat of my car.

I did some research about Kindle versus Sony Reader versus Nook , i.e. queried other writers. I also waited for the iPad to come out just in case I might want to go that route--and then remembered I am not a Mac person. (Gasp!) So, I settled on a Kindle.

I've got to say, I like this gizmo. Why? One word: convenience.

Now there's a new e-reader on the block: Borders is offering the Kobo e-reader.

I'm not having buyer's remorse. I'm just wondering how many more e-readers are going to pop up--and if one of them will tempt me away from my Kindle any time soon.

The Kobo costs all of $149 and it weighs all of 8 ounces. I'm pretty sure I've eaten a steak that weighed more than that. (I shared it with Rob!) My Kindle weighs only a couple ounces more, so I'm not overly-concerned. Borders touts the Kobo's quilted back--but that's not getting me too excited either.

It looks like navigating through to books and through books may be a bit easier on the Kobo than it is on the Kindle. But, I'm not a techie. This is just my initial observation.

So, here's the question: Do you own an e-reader? If so, which one? And why did you select that one?

And, yes, I realize that's three questions.

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

Staying Relevant

My ancient home copy machine needed toner. In the scope of my day, buying toner was hardly a blip on the radar. Just another item on an already too-full list. But I needed toner for a Xerox machine, only I couldn't find any. Turns out, Office Depot, Office Max, and Best Buy, the only stores in my day's shopping radius, all carry toner for copy machines--just not Xerox copiers.

What happened? When did Xerox lose its market share? The word Xerox used to be synonymous with copies. Like Band-Aid and Kleenex, Xerox had to worry about its brand becoming a common noun. My machine is so reliable that after thirteen years I've only replaced one part. And it still makes clear copies. . . if it has toner. When did Xerox lose its relevance as a premier copier?

In writing, it's important to stay relevant too. I know a multi-published, award-winning author whose historical novels weren't selling well a few years ago when historicals hit a slump. She had to reinvent herself as an author of contemporary fiction in order to stay published. Is your writing relevant to our culture? I'm now looking at my own writing with a different eye.


If you are able to travel to San Antonio, it's not too late to register for a Mid-Summer Writers Conference on July 17, 2010. Christian Writers Group of Greater San Antonio is offering "Hearts and Craft," a one-day conference with workshops by Janice Thompson, Allison Pittman, Eileen Key, Kelly Irvin and Karen Roth. The cost is $40. Click here for registration form and details.

~ Roxanne Sherwood

Monday, July 5, 2010

Celebrate Freedom

"You have to love a nation that celebrates its independence every July 4, not with a parade of guns, tanks, and soldiers who file by the White House in a show of strength and muscle, but with family picnics where kids throw Frisbees, the potato salad gets iffy, and the flies die from happiness. You may think you have overeaten, but it is patriotism." Erma Bombeck

We live in a country with unlimited access to google, freedom to express our thoughts and to hangout with other creatives without fear of reprisal.

How often do we stop to appreciate the freedom to write?

Friday, July 2, 2010

Another Take on Writers Voice

Photo by gerard79/StockXchange.com

My 9-year-old daughter just finished writing camp. That's correct--writing not riding. There were no horses any where in sight.

Instead, my daughter, Christa, joined other kids in 4th through 6th grade and had fun--really!--learning about memoirs, journals and blogs. Christa has a little bit of her mom in her because she's already started several stories. And, also like her mom, they aren't completed yet.

During the second week of the three week camp, Christa mentioned the teacher taught them about finding their "voice". I'd just come back from the My Book Therapy Polish Conference (now called The Summit Conference) in Seattle. There, literary agent Chip MacGregor summed voice up as "Personality on the page." I couldn't wait to see what this teacher added to that working definition.

For those of you still struggling to determine your voice, here are the questions from the My Voice worksheet Christa brought home. I also included Christa's answers for fun.

My voice sounds like _______________ (waterfall & wolves howling)

My voice tastes like ________________ (buttered popcorn)

My voice looks like ________________ (perfectly purple)

My voice smells like _______________ (buttercream vanilla)

My voice feels like ________________ (cotton stuffing)

Before you chuckle and move on to reading someone else's blog, stop and think about that exercise. What was Chip's working definition of voice? Personality on the page.

Was my daughter's personality revealed in her answers? Yep--in a funky, fun, out-0f-the box kind of way. And sometimes when we stop being so serious about something is when we finally have our "Aha!" moment.

So, how would you answer those questions? Do your answers reflect your voice?

I'll come back later today and post my answers for fun.