Monday, August 30, 2010

A Full Mind and a Blank Writing Slate

“The pages are still blank, but there is a miraculous feeling of the words being there, written in invisible ink and clamoring to become visible.”—Vladimir Nabokov
My writing slate today is blank for this blog. A chapter I’m writing consumes my creativity and my mind. One quote “Birds fly because they think they can” started my creative process churning. The first 250 words of the chapter practically wrote themselves and then—nothing. Research about the specific bird featured in this chapter generated no creative ideas. Not one. Even the Bible verses seem obtuse. Yet, like talons gripping its prey, the topic refused to release me from its grip.

I wondered, How do I employ this bird’s spiritual and physical characteristics in a fresh way to apply a spiritual truth? Much of what I researched or read about the bird in question sounded trite or dull, at least to me.

I began by re-saving my research into a new document. I highlighted fascinating ideas or thoughts that grabbed my heart and deleted uninteresting information. Then I listed seven possible talking points. In the dark of the night, one talking point woke me up with a spiritual application that amazed me.

At times clarifying an idea into thoughts into writable prose moves forward at glacial speed and other times it speeds along at Mach 1, faster than the speed of typing fingers. If only we could patent Mach 1 Ink that penetrates our mind at the speed of light.

Contest Winner: Reba won the copy of Susan May Warren's latest book, Licensed for Trouble.

Friday, August 27, 2010

Licensed for Trouble by Susan May Warren (Two contests for you to enter!)

I've been a fan of author Susan May Warren's PJ Sugar series from the get-go. I'm thrilled to say she didn't disappoint me in book three, Licensed for Trouble, the final installment in the series. It's so satisfying when an author starts a series strong and finishes it so masterfully with both humor and spiritual insights.
All the questions that were left unanswered from the first two books--Nothing But Trouble and Double Trouble--get answered, with a few unexpected surprises thrown in.
Do you find out what the initials PJ stand for? Yep.
Do you find out who PJ chooses--Boone, the man from her past or Jeremy, the man who helps her see herself in a whole new way? Yep.
Does PJ get into all sorts of trouble? Well, of course she does. And along the way she dresses up as a hotdog and a turkey--I'm not kidding you!--tries to catch a bail jumper, discovers she's inherited a mansion and tries to help a handyman regain his memory.
It's life PJ Sugar style, written with Susie's flair for humor. You hate to finish the book, no matter that you're smiling because PJ's managed to overcome her self-doubts and embrace her future--and find love with the right guy. (But I'm not saying who he is!) When I got to the end, I kept returning to my favorite scenes again and again.

Leave a comment below for a chance to win a copy of Licensed for Trouble! And check out Susie's contest too for a chance to win a Kindle loaded with her PJ Sugar Series.

Enter PJ Sugar's "Sweet" Giveaway:

Enter PJ Sugar's

Licensed for Trouble, Susan's brand new PJ Sugar novel, is in stores now! To celebrate the release, we’re giving away a Kindle!! You can enter using Twitter, Facebook, or e-mail using the icons below.

One Grand Prize winner will receive a A SWEET Kindle prize package that includes:

  • A brand new Kindle (Free 3G, 6”, Latest Generation)

  • The entire PJ Sugar series by Susan May Warren

Oh, and enter soon! Winner will be announced on September 2nd.

Be sure to check out the blog tour here or purchase a copy of Licensed for Trouble here!

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

What Are You Willing to Give Up?

A young mother of two-year-old twins wanted to start a home-based business. She decided to put everything aside for a season, except for the responsibilities of caring for her young family. Having toddler twins, she'd already given up hobbies. What else could be cut from an already full schedule in order to give her business room to grow? She examined her daily and weekly schedule, then made changes to her lifestyle. She whittled down meal preparation to a minimum by rotating two weekly menus. Her husband didn't mind because she'd chosen some easy favorites. She completely stopped entertaining and didn't accept invitations. She literally didn't do anything more than take care of her family and concentrate on her career. In time, her children thrived and so did the business. Once she made a decent profit, she hired help. With a little more free time, she began finding balance and adding back into her life some of the things she'd given up, like entertaining.

For our large family, dining out was a rare luxury. My husband would eat cheaply on his business trips, then treat us to pizza with the money he'd saved. Today, with half the family working and attending college, I don't feed as many kiddos. So pizza has become standard fare for the younger boys. But I don't mind giving up preparing a home-cooked meal once a week. Not at all. That's one sacrifice I make gladly.

I don't enjoy cleaning my house but I really appreciate a neat environment. In the past, friends would look around my home and say, "Wow. You've got seven kids, yet it's so clean." I really liked the "wow." Prided myself on it, in fact. But think of all the books that might have been written, if I'd cleaned a little less, written a bit more. Well, no one says "wow" about the house today. And that's okay by me. I'm holding out for the potential some day to hear a "wow" about a book I've written.

Now, my youngest child attends preschool a few hours each day. Like nearly everyone in our fast-paced society, a long list of demands could easily fill those hours. But I refuse to use that premium writing time to de-clutter or organize my home. My motto of "work before play" meant I'd always cleaned house, then if I had time to spare, I'd write. Writing was merely a hobby I hoped would become my vocation. I must view writing as my work. So I need to take my job seriously and cut out the things--besides taking care of my family or my relationship with God--that prevent me from reaching my dream of publication.

No one reaches success in sports or business without great sacrifices of time, money, or even relationships. These decisions aren't made lightly. Yet, every day, we decide how dedicated we are about writing when we choose how to spend our time.

What hinders your writing? What changes can you to make? What are you willing sacrifice to make your dreams come true?

~Roxanne Sherwood

Monday, August 23, 2010

Finding Time to Write: Time Management or Mind Management?

“Be careful of your thoughts, they may become words at any moment.” —Iara Gassen

Two members new to a critique group asked, “Can we talk about time management?” Since the last meeting they had not found time to write. Their question made me wonder, “Is writing about time or mind management?”

In our critique group meeting we brainstormed the topic from life distracts us from writing to listing specific ways to write regularly. One member suggested that certain personality types cannot put words to paper until they’ve mulled over what they want to write and it’s perfect. Others just go for it and spill words all over the page.

Are You a Spiller or a Muller?
Being a spiller, not a muller, her observation never occurred to me. My thoughts spill out over napkins, notepads, journals, empty, torn bill envelopes, church bulletins, tithe envelopes, deposit slips—anything at hand to corral my thoughts, lest I loose them. I sleep with my computer beside my bed. I often wake in the night or at dawn with that perfect idea, sentence or paragraph spilling out of my mind. It’s just dying to be captured before escaping my memory forever.

Sometimes I think writers wait for their muse to show up. Seth Godin wrote in his blogpost Finding Inspiration Instead of It Finding You“One approach to innovation and brainstorming is to wait for the muse to appear, to hope that it alights on your shoulder, to be ready to write down whatever comes to you. The other is to seek it out, will it to appear, train it to arrive on time and on command."

My take on Godin’s suggestion? Waiting for the muse to arrive plays into writer’s fright, giving us an excuse not to write. Sitting down and writing challenges our fears, training our muse to show up on command.

Once upon a time, my writing life and muse was mañana. My writing theme song? “Tomorrow! Tomorrow! I love ya tomorrow! You're always a day a way!” The mañana mindset stole away my writing life today. That’s when I decided to start Inkspired. I needed a critique group to hold me accountable. Being deadline driven, I also wanted regular critique deadlines to motivate me to sit down and write. At that time, I worked in a corporate setting. By the time I drove home, fixed dinner, cleaned up, and relaxed, I felt too exhausted to write. I decided to stay after work and exhaust myself writing and email the document to myself. As I dropped into bed, I’d read what I wrote.

Now that I write everyday on purpose, my mind mulls over what I’m writing while I conduct my daily routines of laundry, cleaning, gardening, cooking, and face the ups and downs of life. When mind management kicks in, does time management become less of an obstacle to writing regularly?

Friday, August 20, 2010

Figuring People Out: Birth Order and Your Characters

Photo by surely/stockxchange.com

So, there's a new man in my life and I can't figure him out.
Sure, he's just imaginary--the hero for my new work in progress (WIP). But it's driving me crazy that I can't nail his personality. Who is this guy?!
I've chatted about him in my critique group. I've even talked to my husband about him, if you can believe that!
This week I pulled out my dog-eared workbook from last year's MBT Storycrafter's Retreat. One thing bestselling author Susan May Warren suggests is to interview your character. During the interview, ask your character, "Who are you?" Keep asking why they do the things they do until you get to their motivations and values.
Okay. I've gotten over the listening to/talking back to the voices in my head thing that fiction writers do.
As I tried to get my guy--his name is Caleb--to tell me who he is, I realized he's a firstborn son. Aha! Time to do some research on birth order.
Dr. Kevin Leman wrote probably the best known book on birth order: The Birth Order Book: Why You Are the Way You Are.
Basically, the birth order theory states that your position in your family--firstborn, middle child, youngest--influences your personality. What does birth order mean for Caleb, who is a firstborn son--and, for all intents and purposes, an only child? (I'm not telling you anything more because it will give away my story. Curious?)
Traits of Firstborn Children:
  • confident
  • organized
  • tend to be selfish
  • feel as though they are never good enough (hhhmm, interesting!)
  • want things their way
  • reliable
  • "grin and bear it" mentality
  • perfectionists
  • logical
One website I checked out, The Effects of Birth Order on Personality, even suggested that firstborns gravitated to jobs in law, medicine, computer programming or architecture. That doesn't mean that Caleb's going to be a doctor or a lawyer, but it's given me some things to think about.

Next time you're trying to understand a character in your WIP, ask him or her, "What's your family like? Are you the oldest or the youngest?" Then do a little research on birth order--and weave that information into the story.

Birth Order
(Child Development Institute)
Birth Order (Wikipedia)
The Power of Birth Order (Time magazine)

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Watch Liu Wei - Armless Pianist - on China's Got Talent

This young man inspired me so much I had to share his story with you. Watch Lui Wei's perfect performance of "Marriage D'amour" on China's Got Talent 8/8/2010.

An elementary ed major had an assignment designed to give aspiring teachers an appreciation for a child's difficulty with fine motor skills. Her task was to tie a length of string into a bow using only her feet. I witnessed her success but couldn't tie a bow myself. Now, looking at those same feet, I can't imagine playing the piano with them. Why, I can't imagine teaching myself to play the piano with my hands.

Lui Wei, 23, who lost his arms in an electrical accident at age ten, taught himself to play the piano after a teacher told him he'd never succeed. But Lui Wei didn't even begin playing until he was nineteen. (One site reported he started playing at eighteen.) One of the judges asks about abrasions and cramping. Can you imagine the pain in his back and neck from sitting in that position? The pain of flexing his toes over and over, hitting the wrong keys, stretching for the right ones? It's mind boggling. This incredibly brave, determined, talented young man performs the seemingly impossible, yet makes it possible.

On her blog, Reality Rocks, Lyndsey Parker offered a somewhat better translation of Lui Wei's closing remarks. "For people like me, there were only two options. One was to abandon all dreams, which would lead to a quick, hopeless death. The other was to struggle without arms to live an outstanding life."

I'm grateful Lui chose the second one.

Beginning today, let us practice our craft like never before. Let us no longer squander our writing time with distractions. Let us not be deterred from pressing on toward our goals. May our stories inspire others. May each one of us live a wonderful life.

~Roxanne Sherwood

Sunday, August 15, 2010

Blog Tour Book Review: Good Girls Don’t Have to Dress Bad—a style guide for every woman

Good Girls Don’t Have to Dress Bad—a style guide for every woman
Author: Shari Braendel
Publisher: Zondervan
Paperback: 208 pages
ISBN-10: 031032601X
ISBN-13: 978-0310326014
Zondervon provided a free copy of Good Girls Don’t Have to Dress Bad—a style guide for every woman for me to review. Whether you are a teen or grandma or size 0 or size 26, this book is a quick, fun read. The color pictures show real people, not airbrushed, photoshopped, scary-skinny models, to illustrate body types and what looks good on each body type. No matter your body type, discover basic information and practical tips to feel great about yourself, your clothes, and your accessories.
This Book Features:
Body type/colors: Good Girls Don’t Have to Dress Bad starts with the basics—know your body type and colors to help you determine what looks good on you.
  • Tip: Black could make you look older.

Accessories: Develop your personal style fashionista.
  • Tip: If you’re tiny don’t wear oversized accessories, they make you look smaller. If you are large, don’t wear tiny accessories, they make you look bigger.

Undergarments: From bras to panties to shapemakers, this book offers practical tips regarding fit, color coordination, and care of your undies.
  • Tip: Every 12-18 months get a professional fitting for a bra.

Bathing Suits: The author offers bathing suit suggestions for each body type, plus swimsuit accessory tips.
  • Tip: Your swimsuit is one size larger than your dress size.

Hair and Makeup: She provides dos and don’ts for hairstyles, color, and glasses. Depending on what colors look good on you she suggests colors for lipstick, eyeliner, and mascara that look best on you.
  • Tip: If you haven’t received a compliment on your hair, you need a new hairstyle.

Jeans: This chapter discusses the back pockets, cuts, and rise of jeans for different body types, plus shopping tips to find the perfect jean to fit your body type.
  • Tip: Measure the length of the zipper which determines the rise ( super low-rise, low-rise, mid-rise, and high-rise) of the jeans.

Hit the Mall: Stop, Drop and Shop:  The author provides great tips to declutter your wardrobe of unwearables. Then lists twelve must-haves basics, plus other seasonal basics. She also provides a shopping guide for your personal fashionista style.  
  • Tip: No impulse buying. Shop on purpose.

Skin Isn’t In: This chapter offers a great discussion on modesty and how showing busts and bellies impacts the thoughts of men.

Since I’m in declutter mode, I’m anxious to follow Shari's useful tips to determine the unwearables in my closet. Can't wait to donate my castoffs to my favorite thrift store.
Interested in a Fashion Makeover Contest?
NO PURCHASE NECESSARY. Complete and submit the entry form at www.FashionMeetsFaith.com, Shari Braendel FaceBook page, Zondervan FaceBook page, Zondervan Twitter account between August 9, 2010 at 9:00 a.m. (EST) and August 28, 2010 at 5:00 p.m (EST).
First Prize: One Winner will receive  one $500 Visa gift card, one web camera, one-hour fashion consultation with Shari Braendel via Skype, one set of color swatches, and one autographed copy of Good Girls Don’t Have to Dress Bad. Approximate retail value: $600. The fashion consultation will be scheduled at a mutually convenient time for the winner and Ms. Braendel on a Monday, Tuesday, or Wednesday between September 15 and November 15, 2010.
Second Prize: Three Winners will receive ene $100 Visa gift card, one 30-minute fashion consultation with Shari Braendel via telephone, one set of color swatches, and one autographed copy of Good Girls Don’t Have to Dress Bad. Approximate retail value: $450. The fashion consultation will be scheduled at a mutually convenient time for the winner and Ms. Braendel on a Monday, Tuesday, or Wednesday between September 15 and November 15, 2010.
Third Prize: Ten Winners will receive one autographed copy of Good Girls Don’t Have to Dress Bad. Approximate retail value $150.
Read Shari Braendel’s Blog. http://fashionmeetsfaith.com/speakers_blog.html
Become friends with Shari Braendel on Facebook.
Read other blogger reviews of Shari’s book.

Friday, August 13, 2010

Spanx, anyone?

Photo by jarpur/stockxchange.com

Most women I know want to fit effortlessly into their clothes, with nary a ripple or bump marring their longed-for sleek silhouettes.

And while most women I know may not admit it, we've probably all resorted to Spanx--a little manufactured assistance to smooth out our tummies, torsos and tushes.

The reality is, sometimes we have to face the reflection in our mirrors and accept some help.

Which brings me to editors.

Most writers I know want to write effortlessly, with nary a misspelling or incomplete sentence or confusing thought marring their manuscripts.

But we need to admit that we need help to polish our work in progress (WIP). And we need to realize that editors are not The Enemy.

I'm working with a writer who has a great book idea. She also has some insecurities--don't we all--and was hesitant to show me her writing. We weren't going to see a whole lot of forward motion if I never saw anything she wrote.

So, I told her to think of me like Spanx. As an editor, I'm here to smooth out the bumps and ripples in her manuscript. I'm here to make her look good--to make her look better than she thought she could look.

The "editorial Spanx" analogy got a good laugh, which released some tension. But, humorous or not, there's a truth that both editors and writers need to remember: An editor should accent the positive, while helping a writer smooth out the rough spots in their writing.

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

"Grab Your Gear"

The parent of any preschooler knows their son or daughter can't go to bed alone. These tots don't watch NCIS like I do--though they may enjoy reruns in a decade or so--and they haven't heard Special Agent Gibbs say, "Grab your gear." But young children need the bedtime ritual of grabbing all the gear they'll need to take the sometimes scary journey into dreamland.

My nephew's gear consisted of a stack of books and a flashlight. My oldest son needed a certain small pillow and a pacifier. The second child required a blanket to accompany his thumb a la Linus. However, my youngest has taken the concept to a whole 'nother level.

Four-year-old Peter's bedtime gear includes a menagerie of stuffed friends. As an infant, he began sleeping with a blue, puppy-faced blankie. As he started crawling, he added a tan, brown, and white, floppy-eared pup. As a toddler, he permanently borrowed his older brother's birthday present--a humongous dog, whose body has so little stuffing, it's barely more than a dog-skinned rug with a fluffy head and fat feet. Those same feet poke into my back at night, tricking me into thinking they're parts of Peter. I lay in uncomfortable positions, afraid to move for fear of rolling onto my child or at least waking him. Morning finds me illogically glaring at the stupid inanimate object for ruining my sleep. No use whining on my part as Big Dog is a keeper. Though larger than Peter, my son valiantly carries Big Dog up or down the stairs like a victorious hunter. But Peter's preference isn't exclusive to canines. He's also attached to Chip and especially Dale, whose red nose and tuft of hair makes him a favorite. As if the bed wasn't already crowded, Mickey Mouse is a new permanent addition. Others animals come and go on a whim. Tonight, Owl has a place too.

What's this story got to do with writing, besides giving me a chance to share a really cute photo of my child? Well, the back-to-school sales have me itching to stock up on writing gear. Are my highlighters dry and need replacing? Don't I need colored index cards for scenes for my wip? Look at those Sharpies. Can I justify more pens, notebooks, and binder clips? Aspiring-writer Lisa Jordan has admitted an addiction to Post-It Notes. I find them hard to resist too.

What gear do you need before you begin to write? Please share your favorites. You just may give me an idea of what to buy next time I peruse the office supply aisle.

~Roxanne Sherwood

Monday, August 9, 2010

Shakespalin and Our Cultural Dictionary

“Shakespeare liked to coin new words, too.” Sarah Palin’s tweet after tweeting to her Twitterati followers the non-word “refudiate.”
Sarah Palin isn’t the only person with new words on her lips or tweets. When Beth Vogt coined 'mommy-come-lately' for a late-in-life mom,  I thought, how creative. If you want to keep up with creative use of words, a Chicago ad agency Cramer-Krasselt has created The Cultural Dictionary. 

And here are a few creative words from The Cultural Dictionary.

This is what a publisher wants from writers before they offer a contract to publish our books—TRIBALIZED FANDOM: Declared Devotion to Entertainment Icons

MANUFACTROVERSY: (n.) A “manufactured controversy” based on false or misleading allegations, which subsequently dominates news cycles and takes on a quality of “truth” as growing numbers of people believe it.

CYBERSECUTION: (n.) A campaign of mocking or attacking a targeted group, usually religious, through hacking their social media profiles and groups. (e.g., 4chan hacked Christian groups’ social media, dating sites and email in August 20

PREHAB: (n.) An increasing phenomenon among celebrities of claiming to enter rehab for “preventive” purposes rather than actual problems.

CROWD-MOURNING: (n.) Collective mourning across social media that marks the death of a celebrity, especially seen in cases of Michael Jackson and Billy Mays.

STUFFALANCHE: (n.) The overwhelming experience of accumulating too much stuff.

CAREGASM: (n.) Pretending to care and share the same heightened enthusiasm when in a conversation with someone who is passionate about a cause or belief that you don’t really care about.

SAR-CHASM: (n.) The awkward divide between one who is sarcastic and another who lacks in understanding.

SINDIFFERENCE: Shrugging Off Scandals. Despite the new era of responsibility, bad behavior and scandals continue. After seeing so many long-respected people, organizations and companies caught red-handed, people are no longer surprised when they hear about bad behavior. But what is new is how we are dealing with bad behavior. We expect those who have acted badly to step up and admit to their actions. While at the same time, the thirst to know more about the lurid details of the offender exists, and the mainstream media does its best to deliver. And while bad behavior is broadcast, it isn’t celebrated; it is scrutinized and held up as a path not to take.

VIRTUALLY EVERYWHERE: Growing Dependence on Digital Living. As people continue to invest more personal time in online activities and as new location-based social media innovations are introduced, it’s clear that the line between our physical and virtual worlds is quickly fading. Digital features are increasingly becoming embedded in our everyday lives, advancing our ability to communicate and connect. The world around us is a growing digital playground with the promise of new realities and opportunities. In the coming year, geosocial innovations will move beyond mere games and add meaningful value to our lives.

BLAME-SHARING: Wall Street, Main Street, My Street. Echoing Americans’ frustration with political leaders, the U.S. economic leaders in both the public and private sector have come under scrutiny and blame for the nation’s ills. And while anger still exists, some of us are asking, “Did we contribute to this?” and now are looking inside ourselves to find causes and solutions for our ailing economy. Rather than simply point fingers, moving forward, Americans are seeking innovative ways to get the most out of their money and their lives.

What descriptive words have you made up in your writing?

Friday, August 6, 2010

Not Writing At All

Photo by luzdesigns/stockXchange.com

As I was getting ready for our family vacation, I announced to my kids, "I'm not taking the laptop. I'm unplugging from the Internet for the week."
My eldest daughter looked at me and asked, "So you're not going to write at all?"
I had to think about that for a moment.
"Well, I'm not working . . . "
Skepticism shadowed my daughter's eyes.
Was I backtracking?
Not really.
I am a writer, after all.
And, yes, I am on vacation. (I wrote and scheduled this post before I left.)
But I can't shut my writer's brain down completely even when I'm poolside. What if I get an absolutely marvelous must-write-it-down idea for my next story? What if a stunning snippet of dialogue plays out in my head? What if an article idea starts perking while I'm strolling through the surf or floating along the lazy river?
So I compromised.
"Well, I'll probably take along some pen and paper. Just in case I want to scribble down some thoughts. That's not really writing."
My kids smiled at me, as if to say, "We knew you couldn't go cold turkey."
Guilty as charged.
So, yes, I'm on vacation. I'm not writing . . . much.

Thursday, August 5, 2010

Responsibility and Creativity

Galatians 6 from The Message:

"Make a careful exploration of who you are and the work you have been given, and then sink yourself into that. Don't be impressed with yourself. Don't compare yourself with others. Each of you must take responsibility for doing the creative best you can with your own life."

Hope these words speak to you today. ~Roxanne Sherwood