Sunday, October 30, 2011

The Magic of Star Wars and Writing

I’m feeling a little empty today.  Bereft of thoughts that are interesting or engaging, even to myself.  While I’m writing this, I sound so depressed!  I’m not.  I think I have just hit overload, is all.  The pressure to be witty (which certainly is work for me!), to tweet, to blog, to write, and then all the demands of my non-writing life has just come to a head.

Yesterday I went to the Denver Zoo with my family to attend a six-year-olds birthday party.  It was Boo at the Zoo, and there were tons of people, children, costumes, candy and fun.  The fall day was cool, and we actually saw more animals outside than we have ever seen before.  For the record, I’ve been to the zoo dozens of times throughout my entire life, so it really was quite amazing to see the tapirs outside and standing up.

One of the best highlights for me, though, was the Star Wars troupe.  I love Star Wars.  I was five, I think, when the first Star Wars: A New Hope came out.  Different stages of my early life have the different movies imprinted in my mind.  Harrison Ford as Han Solo was one of my first Hollywood crushes.  My first date was going to see Return of the Jedi when I was about thirteen years old.  The magic of the movie wasn’t ruined, fortunately, by the immaturity of my date.  He crunched spilt popcorn and laughed about it right when the duel between Darth Vader and Luke was occurring.  How rude of him!  We didn’t have a second date, by the way.

Back to the zoo.  There were Storm Troopers, a Tatooine family, and even a Tusken Raider.  I was delighted!  They had full-sized, accurate weapons, for goodness sake.  It was like being at Comic-Con.  Or maybe even on Tatooine.  I tried to get my sons –- who are Darth Vader and a Clone Trooper (Captain Rex, according to the zoo’s train driver) for Halloween this year—to get a picture.  They refused.  They love Star Wars, too, but they were scared to see Storm Troopers in their real world.  But I wanted a picture with a Storm Trooper! So, with a rush of excitement, I gave my camera to their handler, and got my picture with the Storm Troopers.

That’s me, in the teal shirt.  Can you see me?  I can’t, hardly.  But my friend took some closer pictures, so I’m hoping to get one of them from her.

What does all this have to do with writing, you may be wondering?  Well, it was a magical moment.  I was seven again.  I felt excited, and happy. 

That is what writing does for me, too.  The magic of creating, seeing what my subconscious comes up with, and sharing that magic with others is what makes writing enjoyable.  And we all need magic in our lives.  I think I'm going to concentrate on that part for a while, and not worry so much about the other stuff.  I have to believe the platform will come along.  Worrying about it isn't going to make it grow any faster, right?

For the record, I did make my kids take a picture with a Storm Trooper.  We caught them on the way out of the zoo.  This morning my eldest asked to see the picture, and told me he was glad I made him take the picture, because “I like storm troopers now.”  In the picture, we all look very happy.

What creates magic in your life?

Saturday, October 22, 2011

Goal Setting vs. Patience and Persistence

As for goals, I don't set myself those anymore. I'm not one of these 'I must have achieved this and that by next year' kind of writers. I take things as they come and find that patience and persistence tend to win out in the end.  Paul Kane

The question that comes to mind is “Does it have to be an either/or proposition?”

Many years ago, I took the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator test, which is a personality test.  I don’t know how rare it is, but I scored exactly 50/50 for being an introvert/extrovert.  This tendency toward inner conflict is revealed in other aspects of my personality, as well, such as having the need to set goals, but then feeling boxed in by them.  It even shows up in my writing, as I am a “plantser”.  I have to have some sort of structure to guide me, but room to let the creative imps out to play.

Goal setting is very important, as it keeps us on track for whatever it is we want to accomplish.  Early on I read a wonderful book, Writing Brave and Free by Ted Kooser and Steve Cox, that said to write at least ten minutes every day and make goals.  This wisdom I took seriously, began writing ten minutes a day, and made the goal to be published somewhere within two years. (Which I am happy to say I met!)

The upside to goal setting is that we have a measuring stick for how far we’ve gone on the road toward reaching our dreams.  Goals also help us to know when something isn’t working, and fix it.  Unfortunately, if you consistently don’t meet your goals, it can be pretty demoralizing.

If I were to rely on only patience and persistence, I could rationalize myself out of finishing anything I started.  I could patience myself into stagnation.  But, especially in creative endeavors, a certain level of patience is required.  Words don’t always flow like a gushing river, editing can be time-consuming, and then there is always the inevitable wait after submission, whether that be to a magazine, agent or publisher. 

I have been frustrated lately, as each writing goal I set drops away, unmet. Other life needs get in the way of writing, and I have been reduced, for the time being, to making my goal to write ten minutes a day.  Now is the time I need to incorporate patience into my writing process – patience for myself, patience for where my life is right now, and patience with the long process writing a novel entails.  And keep persisting, moving forward toward the finish line, even if it is measured only in tiny steps.

How about you?  Do you lean more heavily toward goal setting or patience/persistance?

Saturday, October 08, 2011

My Top Ten Most-Helpful Writer Resource Books

Photo from
When I decided I wanted to seriously write with the goal of getting published someday, I was not exactly at a point where I could drop everything and get an MFA.  My parents have always been great role models of studying on your own, so I began borrowing books from the library on writing, bought several other books, read writing magazines, and joined forums and writing groups.  
Throughout my quest for education, I encountered people who held the opinion that all a person needs to do to learn to write is just write.  That may work for some people, but for me, I needed a road map to guide me.  I needed to know what I should be looking for, at least in the beginning.  Once I understood the basics, I knew I would be able to allow intuition to move me along, but first I needed the basics.
On the different forums and groups I belong to, I have noticed other beginning writers engaged in their own search for education regarding the craft of writing, and asking for resource lists.  As I have read an awful lot of how-to books, I thought I might share my own list of what I consider the most helpful.  Here they are--pulled from my bookshelves--my top ten favorite how-to books.
General Writing Information

English Grammar Workbook for Dummies by Geraldine Woods:  Who doesn’t need help with grammar?  This book has all kinds of exercises that are a great refresher, plus a quick reference card.

How to Write Science Fiction and Fantasy by Orson Scott Card:  This book is the best handbook on writing, no matter which genre you write.  It covers all the basics of writing, from idea construction to publishing information.

What Would Your Character Do? By Eric Maisel, Ph.D. and Ann Maisel:  Of all the books on character development I read, this was the most hands on with developing character and backstory. 

Scene and Structure by Jack Bickham:  This book took the mystery out of structure, and gave me concrete methods of developing scenes that go somewhere in a story.  Definitely a great book to read early on in the educational process.

Hooked by Les Edgerton (could also be up at General Writing Information): I bought this to learn how to write a compelling beginning, and wound up learning a lot about structuring a book/story.  He’s also very motivational.

Plot and Structure by James Scott Bell: I love James Scott Bell!  He’s not afraid to outline!  He is my book mentor! (okay, I know, enough with the exclamation points…)

The Fire in Fiction by Donald Maas:  Wisdom regarding taking a story to the next level.  I will be using this book when I get into edits on my novel. 

The Writer’s Book of Wisdom by Steven Taylor Goldsberry:  Short essays of writerly wisdom

Take Ten for Writers by Bonnie Neubauer: Puts fun in writing and coming up with ideas.  Encourages silencing the inner editor and just writing!

There it is, my list of “go-to” books.  There are others, of course, but these are the ones I think of first if people ask me what has been helpful for me.   

Wait… There’s only nine listed?  

Oh yeah, number ten falls in the Motivational category.  It’s Sometimes the Magic Works: Lessons from a Writing Life by Terry Brooks.  I loved this book because it was another writer who believes in the power of outlining.  I was feeling like a writerly weirdo, and this book helped me realize the writing process is different for everyone, and whatever your process is, it’s the right one. 

What resources have you found helpful along your writer’s journey?

Saturday, October 01, 2011

Three Things I Learned About Writing at a Social Work Conference – Part 2

This post details the last two lessons I learned about writing while attending the NASW-Wyoming Chapter’s Annual Social Work Conference.  If you haven’t read Part 1, go ahead and read it now.   I’ll wait! 
Okay, now that we’re all on the same page (pun intended), let’s talk about passion.
About Passion:  Recently I have read many inspiring blogs about finding passion in the task you are engaged in, and/or about writing about that which has meaning for us.  It isn’t just writers, either.  Society seems very concerned about re-igniting passion in its collective life. 
Social workers utilize a process called “reframing”, which is looking at a subject or situation from a different perspective.  Consequently, at the conference, the idea of passion was approached from a different direction.   In his opening speech, Rev. Rodger McDaniel referenced a book by French resistance fighter and concentration camp survivor Stephane Hessek titled “Time for Outrage.” He encouraged social workers to identify what issues ignite outrage inside of them, and then to strive to affect change in that area. 
Outrage is the other side of passion.  Writing a story about what you find abhorrent can be just as powerful as writing about what you love.  My own work in progress came to mind.  I began the story with the sole intention to have abusive parents receive payback for the misery they cause in their children’s lives.  Not terribly social work-y, but the abuse and murder of children by the very people who are supposed to love and protect them fills me with outrage.  The story ended up with themes about family, self-direction, and the protection of children (all of which I am passionate about), and the bad guy (read self-centered, murderous father) happens to really get it in the end.

A cover my you-know-what note to any mental health professionals out there--if I ever do have to work with a self-centered, murderous father, I will be both ethical and professional and request colleague assistance if I can’t be impartial.
About Myself:   The things that make me a social worker are also the things that make me who I am as a writer.  Any originality I have is a result of my own worldviews and personal experiences – my planet.  My writer’s voice is also the voice of the social worker-me, of the mother-me, the daughter-me, the wife-me, and the me in the various other roles I may fill.  By writing fiction, I blend those voices into harmony, and share my planet with the world.  What an amazing gift.

What fills you with outrage?  How would you like your writing to affect a change of perspective in your readers?


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