Why Write? (part II)

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I feel like standing up and saying, “Hi. My name is Sandy. I’m a writer.”

I haven’t confessed to too many people that I actually have four blogs. I don’t post on them all regularly, but they are four very different blogs on very different subjects. For instance, I also have a humor blog where I write true funny family stories, but also stick in some good old clean jokes now and then. That blog is strictly for sharing the funny. Another blog concerns my husband’s occupation — b.o.r.i.n.g. to most people.

Why four blogs? For compartmentalizing different focuses.

I also have written nonfiction articles, as well as stories cross-genre and cross-age, from PB to adult thrillers. (The last is under a pen name, so as not to confuse my dear children readers.)

When I was a freshman in college, my advisor — a very plump woman threatening the existence of her chair, with narrow eyes which burned into your very soul — asked me what I wanted to be (when I grew up). I got all fluttery and replied, “I just don’t know. I love being outside, but I love working with kids, and I want to help people, and I want to explore places, and –” She slammed her hand to her desk to stop my babbling. I was startled because, after all, she’d asked. She waggled her finger at me and said, “Focus. Decide on one thing and do it.” Then she waved me out of her presence with the back of her hand. I was devastated. But then, I ended up in a profession which did all of the above. I was an elementary school teacher, and a girl scout leader, later becoming a wife and mom and cub scout leader. I really COULD do it all. Ha on her!

Coming back to my wide interest in writing… I feel my former advisor shaking her pudgy finger in my face with a “Focus!” Will I ever learn? Could I focus on just one series and write a bazillion stories with those characters? Not sure it’s in my varied personality. But because of my families adventuresome spirit, I don’t need to do tons of research for what it would be like in many situations. We’ve been there. OH! something I hadn’t thought about because it is far too scattered to focus into one book — a memoir!

March’s 20,000-Word Challenge

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Now you see! With thirty-one days in the month, and no scheduled holidays off from school or work, THIS makes for a much better writing challege month (v.s. November/ NaNoWriMo when it’s not only one day shorter, but has THREE holidays thrown in the mix, plus the holiday weekends often with family buzzing about).

So… simple dimple writing challenge: Write 20,000 by the month’s end. It does not have to be edited. It could simply be Raw Writing (writing without thinking with the editing coming later).

An Evening With Gary Paulsen

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Last night I hd the privilege of attending a library-sponsored “Evening with Gary Paulsen” at the W.K. Kellogg Auditorium in Battle Creek, MI. Known for his Newbery Honor Books, HATCHET, THE WINTER ROOM, AND DOGSONG, at 73-years-old, Gary looks like a cross between Santa Claus and Red Green. Although his hour-long talk was biographical, listening to him was as much fun, and certainly as interesting, as reading a book by him. It isn’t that Gary has led a good and lucky live. Quite the contrary. His real-life adventure demonstrates a fascinating and interesting life of a writer.

Gary grew up in northern Minnesota with both parents drunks. As a kid, he was never a reader. His life changed when he escaped the cold one winter day, by stepping into a library. The librarian asked if he wanted a card. He never had anything with his name on it before, plus, someone took an interest in him.  It took Gary a long time to finish that first book, but when he did, he went back for another, and another. Each book took less time to read. He is the author of over two hundred books. 

At 17, he forged his parents’ signature and joined the army, mostly to get away from his parents. He worked as an engineer on missiles and satellite tracking. In 1963, he was making “two grand” a month, at a time when teachers made two grand a year. He decided one night he wanted to be a writer, got up, turned in his security badge, and quit his job. He wrote a story involving missile guidance systems, forcing the FBI to question him, thinking he was a spy. He was so excited with his first book that he didn’t tell them they misspelled his name for fear they wouldn’t publish it.

He went to Hollywood where he got a job by lying about his writing credentials. He made a penny a letter, which amounted to about $380 per month. He knew he wasn’t a good writer, but there were good writers where he worked. He wrote westerns. Gary approached three of them who agreed to meet with him each week to critique writing, insisting he write a chapter a day during the week, and three chapters over the weekend.

With no money, he left Hollywood, just like he left engineering. He paid $25 per month for a cabin on a Minnesota lake, snaring rabbits for food. He wrote all winter and in spring, he sold two books. He went to New Mexico where he started drinking for the first time in his life, and became “a full-blown alcoholic.” In 1973, he got sober and went back to writing. He signed a 20-book deal with a children’s publisher, but the book club never sent him money for his books. He went from rich to poor, and moved back to Minnesota.

Minnesota passed a law that it was legal to trap animals by dog sled, but not with motorized vehicles. So Gary invested in dogs and a dog sled. This experience changed his life. He didn’t have a lead dog, but he saw a dog lying in the back of a pickup truck, ready to be “put down.” Gary took the dog, fed it two beavers, and the dog, Cookie, survived and because his lead dog. Cookie also saved Gary’s life when he fell through some ice and was sinking in the water like a rock. He grabbed a dangling rope and Cookie pulled him to safety.

Gary heard about the Iditarod in Alaska, and businesses in MN supported him, allowing him to participate. He came in 42nd place on his first race, and was hooked. He wrote the Newbery Honor Book DOGSONG after a young Inuit boy approached him during a race, wanting to see what a dog looked like.

I could only post a few of Gary’s stories here. I could easily have listened to him for hours. Gary Paulsen is a fascinating man with fascinating adventures, and, of course, excellent writing skills.

To Tweet or Not To Tweet

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I had a meeting yesterday dealing with social networking in our church. Actually, I called the meeting so we could have focus, consistency, clarity, and purpose, because what we have now is pretty hodge-podge. I’m not sure the meeting was a success, but that’s a different story.

In the meeting, a 43-year-old man was shocked that I didn’t do Twitter. He knew I blogged and have a FaceBook presence. I defended myself (needlessly, as always), explaining how I’d gotten aboard the Twitter Train shortly after it left the station, and that I have lots of people who have asked to follow me; plus, I’m aware of the fact that young professionals today use it “all the time.” (I wouldn’t put myself in the young professional category. I was just flaunting off a piece of my excessive knowledge of facts.) I explained how boring a writer’s life is: “Spent four hours writing.” A week later — “Wading through a stack of books and links for research.” Two weeks later — “Writing.” Two months later — “Yea! Finished rough draft.” A month later — “Starting first round of revisions.” Well, you get the picture. Boring. Even I wouldn’t follow me on Twitter.

I remember when webcams first came out, a comic strip showed in the first box the character’s excitement to be able to watch his favorite author, live. The character is glassy-eyed in the second box. In the final box he looks sick , commenting how disillusioning it is to spend six hours staring at someone typing in their underwear.

Sure, there are the up times for a writer. Mountainous, exciting times, like attending conferences, reading fan mail, book signings, school visits, special readings, etc. And there are interesting authors who can write interesting  or funny Tweets. But most of writing is plain dull to watch — or Tweet about.

Anyone out there have positive Twitter comments for writers?

Writing Exercise — Weather

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We’re in part of the “monster storm” area. Eighteen inches of snow is predicted to fall tonight, over top the six or so we’re to get during the day. Power will be iffy. We are also on a well-system, which means if the power goes out, so does our water pump (i.e., no flushing toilets, no showers, no leaving water dripping through the pipes with single digit tempts outside to keep the pipes from freezing). If we use our fireplace, we must keep the flu open or smoke will fill our house. But if we do use the fireplace, that means more warm house air will escape up our chimney than stays inside, because we don’t have a blower. With single digits in the forecast the day after tomorrow, someone would have to be up all night feeding the fire. We simply don’t have the wood supply for that.

This is exciting.

Why?

I am a writer.

Yes, I know there is real-life danger issues with this storm. But as a writer… I’m taking notes, and suggest you do, too. What are my emotions ahead of the storm? During? After? How can I describe the various stages of the storm? What can happen with candles? Then there are always the “what-ifs.” What if this were 1800? (– for those writing historical novels.) What if someone was pregnant and went into labor, but the roads were impassable? What if a child wanted to play outside, alone? What if a tunnel had to be shoveled to the barn to take care of the animals? What if that heavy snow and resulting power outage and … brought people together? How? What? Where? Who?

What fun.

I’m grabbing my journal and pens and pencils (pencils in case the ink in the pens freeze). Bring it on.

A Lesson From Song Writing

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If you read and write in only one gender, one piece of advice given by many writing conference speakers is to go listen to someone outside your box (genre). For example, if you write mysteries, you might learn a lot about characterization and relationships from a romance writer. If you are an author, you may learn a lot about visualizing from an illustrator’s session.

I like music. I’ve tried my hand at writing poetry and songs. That said, there is nothing in that category I would dare put up on a blog. Nonetheless, I took the above advice this past week and attended a Song Writing Workshop with Ken Medema. It was during a 3-day Worship Symposium at Calvin College. Most of the hour-long workshops only got 1/2 to a whole page of notes in my journal. The one presented by Ken got a full three pages in my journal. The man is amazingly talented and gifted, and funny to boot. It was fascinating to watch creation at work. I could easily sit in on a year-long course with Ken and every day learn more things about writing. From his hour-long workshop, I shall abbreviate even further.

A few things I learned from Ken about writing:

1) A Writing Exercise — find a song (or story) and write another one in that style (or voice);

2) Pick a theme to go throughout the song (or story);

3) “Tighten the fence” — an illustration meaning why put a fence around your entire yard when only the garden needs it? In other words, focus the theme. If you want the theme to be hope, pull in the fence to whom the hope is for, where the hope comes from, is it hope in the past, present or future, etc.;

4) Choose every single word with care;

5) Choose every phrase with care;

6) Another (poetry/song) writing exercise — practice speaking in pentameter to your friends, or daily writing them yourself, to make “couplets;”

7) Have fun with words.

MG/ YA Writing Contest

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There are constests here and there, but here is one you may not wish to miss, especially if you write MG or YA.

Deborah Halverson is the author of the upcoming Writing Young Adult Fiction for Dummies (June 2011). She is the award-winning author of two teen novels, and has worn editing shoes for fifteen years. In celebration of her completed manuscript, she is giving away a free MG or YA critique. Your novel must be complete and must be under 80,000 words.

Check it out at: http://dear-editor.com/2011/01/19/newsflash-a-deareditor-com-giveaway-a-free-yamg-edit/

Good luck.

Simple Writing Rules

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Rule #1: Writing is not simple.

Rule #2: Write; Finish what you write; Revise; Have it critiqued; Revise a few more times; Let it sit.

Rule #3: Read. Read. Read — read EVERYTHING you can get your hands on: books in your field/genre; NF research; books for pleasure; books so out of whack from your own writing genre that it would make your fellow writers blink to see you reading them; etc., etc..

Rule #4: Take another look at your story; Revise again.

Rule #5: Research agents and/or editors; submit it.

Rule #6:  Start writing another story.

Rule #7: Go out and play. (More grown-up authors might rephrase that to “Go out and live.”)

Well?

2011 Writing Goals

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Long ago, I ditched the resolutions bit. Could never keep them; often broken by the end of the first week of the new year. So I started setting goals. Goals are much easier to reach, especially when taken in baby steps, e.g., not a vague “lose weight” or “lose 30 pounds,” but rather, “lose 5 pounds by February 14.” Ah, sounds like a goal I could reach.

So it is with writing. Set goals you can keep, then re-evaluate and reset them in summer.

Like my friend Rose, each year I try to simplify my new year’s writing goals. My general (did you hear “vague?”) writing goals are to read, write and submit. More specific is to revise two novels, send them off, and write two more. At this moment, I have no idea what the two 2011 new novels will be about. Isn’t life exciting?

So what are your new year’s writing goals?

2010 Writing Goals Reviewed

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Each January, I set writing goals before me for the coming year. At the end of December, I look over my goals and reflect on how I have improved and/or moved forward in this bizarre career of writing.

The first goal I listed in January of 2010 was to find work at MacDonald’s, or else to quit writing entirely. I’m very happy to announce that I did neither of those things, although working at a fast food for research purposes had crossed my mind several times during the year.

I only attended one live writers conference (usually it’s more), but I participated in several on-line conferences or workshops in 2010.

I’m disappointed that I only sent out a few submissions to editors or agents. Like winning the lottery, and the fact that you must buy a ticket in order to win, so it is with writing. Write your story, revise it, have it critiqued, revise it a few more times, but then you must submit it if you want to see it published.

However, the good news is that I revised (a few times) my historical MG novel, written during the 2009 NaNoWriMo period, and I wrote and revised (a few times) my tween fantasy, as well as worked on some shorter stories. One polished novel a year isn’t too bad at all. Maybe, though, future goals would be more than one a year.

I also helped clean turtles in a river oil spill near our house. This was not a writing goal for 2010; however, I never find time-investments in new things a waste. I’m sure oil spills or turtles will show themselves in a future story.

How did your 2010 writing goals work out?