Tuesday, December 6, 2016

Tis the Season for Inspiration, Reflection and Hope -- One Writer's Message

Writing is most difficult when you're a writer. Sounds contradictory, doesn't it? Well, think of it as examining something under a microscope. You see all the imperfections, each and every detail, whether attractive or unappealing it's there. Writers do much the same thing with their words. They view them with extreme scrutiny, as if "under the microscope". Still, they write, and editing becomes part of their therapy. However, during that process they sometimes stumble, lose faith in their ability, and even consider quitting.

There is value in those experiences. As the saying goes, what doesn't kill you makes you stronger. With each success, when writers cross the finish line and type "the end", that's something to remember. In fact, it's something useful to pass along to others who might need some "hope" and "good cheer" to help them survive similar struggles. 

I've had my share of inspiring stories since I started writing. I guess they wouldn't work for everyone, but I'd bet some writers who are reading this will understand what I mean. For instance, there are moments when I've felt encouraged by other writers' good fortune. There's no envy involved to spoil the moment. It's more like their joy is contagious, and I just want to soak it up and share in their happiness. It positively makes me want to grab my laptop and write like a madwoman! I'm a believer. If others can do it, there is hope for us all. 

A few days ago, I attended a holiday party given for our local chapter of SinC. (Sisters in Crime). Each of us took a turn sharing what we've accomplished in our writing. As my sisters spoke, I felt proud of each and every one of them. I'm blessed and honored to be a part of such talent. There were those who announced novels recently published; those with works in progress and who are still waiting to hold that first book with their name on it; those with happy stories, and those with struggles they'd managed to get through, sometimes with the help of fellow authors. I enjoyed hearing all of them. They show courage, perseverance, and tremendous love for writing. What more could I ask for?

So, this holiday season--a time for reflection, hope, and giving--I'm wishing everyone will find inspiration within themselves, share it with others, and enjoy each others' successes. Tis the season, after all. 

Happy Holidays, everyone!


Tuesday, November 29, 2016

What Struggles Do Your Characters Face?

'Tis the season when we may share our kindness and our generosity. It's the time to give joy. And there's nothing like this opportunity to discover the good in us. We all have shortcomings, human failing being what it is. However, we know life is full of struggle. The important thing is how we handle it. Some will ignore their failings, others will strive to improve them. So, yes, there's no better time than the holiday season to discover what's good in all of us. 

It's funny, but I've come to recognize the struggles my characters have are similar to mine. Yes. A full disclosure moment. *sigh* ... For instance, self-confidence. I struggle with that at times. And it makes for awkward moments in social situations. Relationships may suffer. Conversation may sound clumsy. Or I might appear snobby when I'm really shy. Still, I try to make an effort. One greeting at a time. LOL. My character, Lilly Milanovanovich from the Lilly M Mystery Series, has issues like this. She bungles through life, saying the wrong things, making the wrong choices at the worst possible moments. Yet, somehow she manages. She has a generous heart, a loving soul. She strives to help people with their problems, even at the risk to her life.

Another struggle I have is being critical. Especially of myself. Even if the strive for perfection can give me positive results, it's a rather impractical notion to expect this all the time. Always? Yes, it's exhausting. Hadley Brennan--from my current work-in-progress, It's a Con's Life--struggles with this problem. She's been wanting the perfect life with the perfect job, believing it's the path to her happiness. It takes a lesson or several to show her how finding happiness comes from within, no matter where she is or what she has. 

I guess, when I write about my characters, giving them problems to work through, it's almost therapeutic. Their solutions sometimes become mine, and along the way, hopefully, we will all find happiness. After all, everyone loves a happy ending. Right? 

Happy holidays, everyone! 

Monday, October 24, 2016

The Musical Sense of Emotional Triggers

Years ago I was watching an episode of the TV series, Warehouse 13. It's a bit weird and not for everyone. Heck, not sure it is for me! I quit watching after season one. However, some points stuck with me. For instance, this particular episode titled "Resonance" proposed the idea of certain melodies having the ability to create a feeling of euphoria. Now, that isn't so weird. Right? 

Regarding writing, I have many colleagues who insist listening to certain types of music helps create whatever mood their story is in at that moment. I myself need either silence or instrumental tunes when I write. Song lyrics get mixed up with my story vocabulary and turn out all kinds of nonsense. Not a pretty picture. That's not to say I don't use music. I have lots of music in mind when I write. I include music references in certain parts of my story. Case in point, in one of my unpublished works -- Grave Maker Blues -- the lead male character is a blues singer and the female character owns the bar where he plays. It's been lots of fun researching blues music and finding the perfect song for each scene. 

Even though it's hard for me to listen while I write, I have been known to listen to certain music if I'm having trouble with a scene already written. Maybe the words aren't conveying the mood I want to achieve, something like that. Play the right song and voila! Come on. Think about it. Who puts on romantic music when it's date night with a girlfriend or boyfriend? Or how about when you go to an exercise class? Want to speed up the tempo of those aerobics, you play fast tunes. During a cool down, slow, easy, calm will do the trick. If I'm feeling a little discouraged about writing or really anything... those favorite songs get me back up! Hey, it even helps when I'm tired! And so much more fun than chewing gum to keep me awake. 

Now, as for using a particular melody to hypnotize people into a euphoric state while bank robbers manage to get away with the loot? Well, please don't :-) Let's keep it positive and productive in a good way, shall we? 

By the way, while writing this post, I've been listening to the instrumental version of "Don't Disturb This Groove" a throwback to the eighties by The System. It's one of my feel good songs. Enjoy! 

Happy writing, everyone!

Monday, August 1, 2016

Let's Play Concentration: Plug In and Tune Out

This morning I read an article on tips to increase productivity posted by a certain brilliant agent I know *wink, wink*. This started a discussion about one of the tips warning how multitasking is counterproductive. Another author and I tweeted that it's kind of hard not to. It's how we are programmed nowadays. Multitasking is everywhere. Working jobs, busy lives, media devices all contribute to the need or desire to try doing several tasks at once. And it's okay sometimes. After all, the clothes washer will do its thing while you sweep the carpet or cook dinner or write that next chapter or do your homework. That's not the kind of multitasking we're talking about here. 

Think brain work. Try to watch your favorite television program while doing homework. Every kid knows, every adult remembers, it doesn't work well. Oh, I'm not saying you won't get your social studies paper finished or answer those questions in Science, but how long you spend on it or how well you've done it is the problem. Taking away the TV, finding a quiet place without people or other noises to distract you, and the job is finished quicker and better. Media has spread way beyond your living room, though, and it's messing with your brain. It goes with you everywhere. Smart phones, iPads, Kindles, game systems, and so many other devices will grab your attention in unhealthy ways. There are studies done how the average teenager has a short attention span that's growing even shorter as I write this blog post. In a flash we all can flip from one page to another, skip over what doesn't hold our attention and we move along. Our brains are crying out to us, "Stop! Please stop and slow down." Taking time to enjoy the moment, to process, to focus is the way to exercise your brain. It needs it because it's become a saggy, lumpy blob, out of shape and in need of a tuneup.

With that said, I will admit there are people I know who can concentrate on what they're doing -- reading, writing, etc.-- in the middle of chaos and NOTHING about it distracts them! Go figure. I'm not wired that way. When I write, I need quiet. I'd say I'm not even one of those who typically listens to music while tapping the keys. I especially need solitude and no distraction when I read. But that's me.

So, I decided to find an article on what really helps me, besides no multitasking. I found one on how to improve focus. Author David Rock* says we need to train our brain, if we want to improve focus. I say improved focus and increased productivity go hand in hand. Right? Anyway, Rock claims there are three parts to brain training: 1) Do creative work first; 2) Allocate your time deliberately; and 3) Train your mind like a muscle.

I love number one. All writers do! This one advises you do the creative tasks while your mind is well-rested and alert. Save those easier tasks like reading your email for later when your brain doesn't have as much energy. With number two Rock states how we only have a few hours a week when we're truly focused, and those times are usually in the morning or late at night. So, capitalize on those times. And finally number three is part of the whole media frenzy thing I mentioned earlier. Our attention spans are damaged along with our lazy brains. Rock advises to train the mind you need to start small, maybe a few minutes, when all distractions are removed and you just concentrate. Build on the time gradually. It's like you have to rewire or reprogram your mind to do what it used to do, or for the younger crowd, what it never has done but should. 

I'll admit I am as guilty as the next person. I spend so much time on my phone or computer that it's become a problem. I don't know about you, but I'm gonna start training my brain and build my focus!

Here's to writing that next great novel! Happy reading and writing, all. Enjoy your week. 

How to Stay Focused: Train Your Brain

Wednesday, June 22, 2016

Five Things You Should Know About Writing

I recently wrote this as a guest post during my book blog tour and decided it might be worthwhile to re-post. I'll let readers decide. So, here goes...

Most writers will learn as they go, make mistakes and hope to do better the next time. That’s why getting advice from those who are willing to share tips on the craft is so appreciated. Anything to help avoid those pitfalls. Right? There are lots of books on writing, from mechanics to pitching to marketing to whatever you’re looking for. It’s all there. I have a whole library of them myself. Authors networking with authors through social media or in person provides a wealth of knowledge, too. For instance, I belong to the local chapter of Sisters in Crime and I frequent author expos. Writing is such a solitary endeavor. Rubbing shoulders with other authors is like therapy.

It’s difficult to narrow down the multitude of things I’ve gathered during my career in writing—almost twenty years of accumulated knowledge—and I’m still learning, but here you go!

1) Your first attempt may not be worth publishing. Okay, that sounds harsh, but it’s reality. Your writing should get better with time. Like any skill, practice can make perfect. In this instant-gratification society we live in where most of us want to see quick results, hearing someone tell you to wait, write another book or story, try again because next time it will be better is not what we like to hear. Nonetheless, it’s prudent advice.

2) Find something to write about that you love. Here’s the catch. You may love it, but perhaps no one else will. It happens. If your goal is to get something published, understand that it’s a business. No publisher is willing to put X amount of dollars into a project that nobody wants to read and thus makes zero profit. Unless you’re writing purely for your own pleasure and never plan to sell, find something to write that you love and readers love.

3) Writing one project takes so much time, so much effort, but may gain so little reward. You can write and suffer through it enough to draw blood. It can take you from months to years to write one book. Nobody out there in the writing/publishing world cares. Readers don’t think when they consider buying your book how much time you spent on it, how many hours you sweated and slaved. They want a great read at a real bargain. Bottom line? If you love writing, you’ll keep doing it no matter what the reward.

4) It only gets harder. Did I say the writing gets better? Yes, I did. Here’s the thing. You improve and you expect more of yourself. Make sense? It’s like earning all A’s in school. Now, everyone including yourself expects A’s in the future, and forever! You can’t help it. The na├»ve writer you once were, the one who didn’t know you should be cautious of how many times you use words like that, then, would or could, or recognize the difference between showing and telling, that person has been replaced by a wiser and craftier writer. That person won’t be satisfied with mediocre. Yeah, it only gets harder, but your writing gets better!

5) Writing can become an obsession. What do you mean? I can walk away from it at any moment. Yeah, think again. If you’re passionate about it, you’ll have a tough time giving it up. I say this from my experience, but I have heard other authors argue the same. You’ll think, sleep, eat writing, create little scenarios in your head, recognize great story ideas everywhere—the six o’clock news, the man talking on the phone next to you at the bus station, the bickering couple at the table across from you at the restaurant, the stories are everywhere and you can’t stop them from invading your imagination. They beg to be written. Yep. It’s an obsession, but you’ll probably love it. At least I do.  

Enjoy your week! 

Monday, May 30, 2016

In Memory of ... a Time to Reflect

I normally don't do this, but it's Memorial Day and I'm getting older. Time does that to a person, especially during occasions like holidays, weddings, birthdays, and sadly, funerals. We remember the past. Today I'm thinking of family who served during war -- WWII and the Korean War come to mind. 

Uncle Pete (Momchilov) was my mom's brother. I didn't get a chance to know him very well. He died when I was twelve. He flew planes during WWII, was shot down a couple of times, but survived it all. Pete loved flying. After the war he went on to pilot commercial flights, small charters and such. Sadly and ironically, he died from a heart attack during one of those flights. His co-pilot was able to land the plane safely. Pete was only in his forties. He loved his country and flying. That's what I'll remember most about him.

I have three brothers, all many years older than I. My oldest, Art Schake, served in the army during WWII. I don't know anything about the time he served. I wasn't born yet, but I've seen photos. He looked so handsome in his uniform. He came out of the Army and continued to serve his country in another way, by becoming a police officer. That remained his occupation for thirty-some years. Unfortunately, he passed away in his early sixties and didn't get a chance to enjoy more than a few years of retirement. However, he lived a full and joyful life, loved by family and friends, appreciated by citizens and country. 

My middle brother, Bob, is a quiet, dignified, and intelligent man. I can't even imagine him being in a war, but he served during the Korean conflict for several years. I was only four when he sent home gifts, including the outfit you see me wearing in the photo. I loved it and wanted to wear it all the time! I imagine it was quite a culture shock living in a foreign country for years. It must have been comforting having fellow soldiers around him, giving support and boosting morale. I'm sure he came back after he served, a wiser man, more worldly. He went on to further his education on the G.I. Bill, one of the benefits of serving the military. He found a job at Firestone Tire in Akron, worked his way to the top and ended up the VP of Purchasing for Dunlop Tire. 

My youngest brother, Jim, may have wanted to serve in the military (I don't know for sure), but a health condition prevented him from doing so. He made up for it in other ways, becoming a viable and contributing citizen, raising a family, and working for a local company, Reiter Dairy. He's retired and has lived to enjoy seeing his three daughters marry and have children of their own. 

I guess the point I'm trying to make is that we all have different stories to tell, but also we have one thing in common: being proud of our loved ones who've served and knowing the sacrifices they've made helped make this country great. 

Have a wonderful Memorial Day and honor your veterans!

*I apologize in advance for any facts I may have gotten wrong. In any case, I'm sure my brothers will let me know, if I did! LOL

Friday, May 20, 2016

Let's Count ... What's in Your Toolbox?

A writer's toolbox is special. Think about it. A doctor has her medical bag. A teacher carries her briefcase of lesson plans, papers to grade, utensils, etc. A lawyer, an accountant, a carpenter, a plumber, and the list goes on forever -- all of them need tools. Right? Tools get the job done. 

A writer is no different. What's important to us may vary, but the tools are there to help us plan, create, write, edit, until we complete the WIP. I like my tools. I keep them close by and use them frequently. What are they? Well, let's take a look...

1) Laptop -- I used to write out stories longhand, then type them. Eventually, I decided going straight to the keyboard saved me time and made the changes a cinch to read! Okay, yes. I'll admit it. I can't help but edit as I write. Some say it interrupts the flow of the story. I say the story won't take one step further if I don't correct what I see as glaring errors!

2) Outline -- I'm a planner. Used to be a pantser. Planning keeps me from writing myself into a horrible, confusing corner that would take erasing several chapters and starting over at that point to fix. So, a detailed, chapter by chapter outline it is, resting next to my laptop!

3) Sticky Notes -- This is where I will sound a bit fanatical, but I use these for brief chapter notes. I know what you're thinking. I've already outlined, so isn't this redundant? Not exactly. It's true my outline is a lengthier version of my stickies. However, the most important reason for them is to help me keep track of my story timeline. On each one, I write a few words about the chapter and include the date. Then I stick them along the edge of my bookshelf where I can give them a quick glance when I'm trying to figure out how many days have passed since such and such event happened, or which event occurred in what chapter. 

4) Character List -- I like to reference my story's characters and their descriptions, especially the minor ones, which may sound illogical but these are the ones who may not appear that often in the story. Chances are I may forget their names! It happens in my world.

5) yWriters5 -- I use this software program because it's free. Yes, I'm thrifty, frugal, oh heck, I'm cheap. Otherwise I would be using Scrivener. In any case, whatever one chooses, a program where you can enter in all the fun stuff -- outline, summary, characters and their descriptions, etc. It helps a planner like me, or a pantser who needs reforming. lol

6) The Emotional Thesaurus by Ackerman & Puglisi -- Yes, I occasionally get stuck in the muck when choosing my words and expressions. I take a look through this reference for help now and again, though I do put my creative mind through a major workout to come up with my own ideas first! Can't let that brain muscle become lazy ;-) 

7) My writer's mug -- Actually, I have three now, but my favorite is this one. They're great for inspiration or just some comical relief. 

8) Writing Utensils -- I wouldn't be complete without these. I scribble across my outline all the time, in the margins, between the lines, anywhere I find white space. It's my obsession to change words and ideas constantly! 

9) Last but absolutely not least are the abstract essentials -- imagination, perseverance, confidence, and a thick alligator skin to protect against criticism, naysayers, and all around Debbie-downers. Who needs them? 

Okay, so those are my tools, what about yours? I'd love to hear. In the meantime, I'm going to be book blogging with Reading Addiction Book Tours starting in a little over a week from now. Hope you'll stop by some or all of the blogs hosting me. I'm even going to write a couple of guest posts! Should be a fun time :-)