Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Rain, Rain, Go Away

The last day or so has been challenging. Nothing big, really -- just a succession of minor annoyances, culminating in the unexpected demise of my car yesterday afternoon. But, hey -- it got me home, and like its driver, it's feisty. It will be fine, just as soon as I write a check to free it.

I will be fine, too, but today is a day I could have used some sunshine. After muddling through a cloudy morning cloaked in more than my fair share of self-pity, I realized that I was getting in my own way. Sunshine or no sunshine, I had a choice to make. I could keep muddling and mumbling, or I could change my outlook.
Simple, I know -- and exactly what I would have said to someone else. But when I'm the one doing the muddling and mumbling, that self-pity cloak gets nice and toasty, and a cold, hard reality check seems much less inviting.

Reality check #1: I'm healthy. I have a family who loves me (and vice versa). I love what I'm doing with my life right now.

That wasn't so hard.

Reality check #2: Disappointment is inevitable. So are tired cars and cloudy days.

I gave myself the reality check speech on the way to one of my favorite places, on the way to the job I love. But it wasn't until I came out of Starbucks smiling, then looked down at my cup to see the little hearts one of the baristas had drawn on my cup (how did she know I needed that?) that I realized I had to keep looking. The clouds weren't likely to part on their own any time soon, so I needed to beat down the gloom with a barrage of the little things.

My favorite drink in a cup with my name and little hearts. Beautiful fall leaves that outshine dreariness of the rain. Another car to drive (my daughter's), alleviating my transportation issues. A classical music station discovered amid the saved stations in my temporary mode of transportation. A parking space a reasonable distance from my destination. Students who inspire equal parts joy and exasperation.
I don't mean to be a Pollyanna, and I am well aware that true blues aren't blown away by an act as simple as counting one's blessings. But taking the time and initiative to cast off the cloak of doom and  look at the world through rose-tinted lenses can be the beginning of the end of a persona of self-pity more often than we think.

Some days, you get sunshine. Other days, you have to hunt it down with a magnifying glass.

Monday, October 20, 2014

Gone Visiting

I'm posting on The Susquehanna Writers' blog today. Come visit and give me some advice on how to dispose of buried treasure.

Friday, October 17, 2014

Friday Freebie: What I'm Reading in Ten Minutes or Less: Naps

One of the advantages of having a non-traditional work schedule is having the ability to follow my body clock. If I need to crash in the afternoon (and I often do), I'm at liberty to do so. I used to feel a little guilty about it, until I realized that a quick nap in the afternoon often means I get a second wind and am able to concentrate better in the evenings.

And that got me thinking, and sent me in search of today's topic: naps. One of my favorite bloggers, Michael Hyatt, compiled a lot of the information I found in other places into one brief, well-organized blog post.

Is he pro or con? Find a comfy spot (don't forget your blanket), curl up with his blog and see for yourself.

Have a relaxing weekend.

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Tap Dancing through a Minefield of Homework

You know that old saying about the shoemaker's kids going shoeless? That's how I feel every time my daughter asks me to help her with a paper. You'd think that a writer would be in a wonderful position to assist a teenager with her writing assignments, but I am slowly coming to understand that doing so requires tap dancing through a minefield. Shoeless.

As a writer, I don't really think about how I write. I just do it. I haven't even thought about topic sentences in decades, let alone intentionally crafted or used them. Sure, they have a tendency to show up on the page, usually in more or less the right spot, but that's after forty years of practice. When you ask me how they got there, I am often mystified.

To make things worse, I'm a pantser. I don't plan -- I just write. Okay, maybe I plan a little, but I don't structure my writing the way my daughter is required to structure her school essays. Consequently,   I'm always terrified that the advice I give her is going to run counter to what she's supposed to do. If I urge her to put her passion on the page so that her voice comes through, am I discouraging objectivity and formal writing style? If I suggest that the number of sentences in a paragraph is, indeed, variable and that writing a first draft without an extensive organizational chart might be a good place to start, will she lose points for organization and structure?

And that's the easy part. When I edit my own work, I am brutal. I don't worry about hurting my own feelings or maintaining my own self-esteem. A finished product that is tightly written with good voice will boost my self-esteem more than any darlings on the page that ought to be killed off because they aren't blooming where I have planted them.

But brutality has no place in parenting, let alone in the editing process that is inevitably in its final stages twelve hours before the finished product is due.

And so the tap dancing begins. I wield a pencil instead of a pen because if I cover the page with "suggestions" (as I do with my own work), I can erase the evidence if it mounts to painful heights. I choose my battles, letting some things stand in the name of voice and individuality, stubbornness -- some things I just know she won't change -- and yes, self-esteem.
As I begin to back out of the minefield, the second guessing begins. If I let some things stand, will her teacher do the same? Or will my daughter get her paper back covered in the ink I saved, then come home wondering why I didn't tell her to fix those things? I am, after all, a writer.

Tap dancing barefoot through a minefield of essays.

Monday, October 13, 2014

And Now for Something Completely Different

In celebration of the latest sale on Casting the First Stone (Kindle edition is 99¢ for a limited time), I thought I'd share a quiz I created for my author newsletterIf you're not on my email list, but would like to be, leave your email address in the comments below, or send it to me via email with "Author Newsletter" in the subject line.

Regular content returns Wednesday. Meanwhile, enjoy figuring out which Casting the First Stone character you're most like. 

Choose the answer for each question that’s most like you, then scroll down to see who you are!

1. Family….

a) is everything. 
b) is no more important than any other group of people.  
c) can be really annoying at times. 
d) is a group of people for whom you are responsible.
e) is fine as long as the people in it don’t try to run your life. 

2. Friends….

a) are the next-best thing to family
b) are the family you choose for yourself. 
c) don’t always understand you even though they try. 
d) are useful at times. 
e) are the ones you can really count on.

3. Church…

a) is a place where friends, family and faith come together. 
b) has no place in my life.
c) can be cool. 
d) is required on Sundays. 
e) isn’t all bad.

4. Babies…

a) are a gift from heaven.
b) are way too much work. 
c) mess everything up. 
d) make everyone happy. 
e) turn into teenagers.

5. Christmas....

a) is first and foremost a celebration of our Savior's birth
b) equals celebration! 
c) used to be my favorite holiday 
d) should be a vacation day for everyone.
e) means decorating and cookies and wrapping presents. 

Scroll down for scoring.....

How’d you score?

Mostly A’s? You’re Angel. Marriage, family and traditional values are the backbone of your life, and you’ll do whatever’s necessary to stand up for what’s right, especially when it involves someone you love.

Mostly B’s? You’re Bets. Boyfriends and fun are important, but friends are essential. You’re loyal to those you love, which may or may not include your family, and you’ve seen enough to be wary of both church and tradition. There’s a reason they call marriage an institution, after all. 

Mostly C’s? You’re Charli. Level-headed, but still emotional, you often feel torn between your head and your heart. You don’t want to hurt anyone’s feelings, but you don’t like people pushing you around, either. You often wish life wasn’t so complicated.

Mostly D’s? You’re Jim. There’s right and there’s wrong and there’s rarely any in-between. You’re loyal to the people you love, but practical enough to know they’re imperfect and can complicate your life if you let them. You do what you have to do, knowing it won’t always make you popular. And you’re okay with that.

Mostly E’s? You’re Marita. Feisty and fiercely protective, you know what your priorities are, even if you get them confused sometimes. The traditions you grew up with are still rooted in your heart, but you have no qualms about following a different path if you think it will lead you in a better direction.

Friday, October 10, 2014

Friday Freebie: What I'm Reading in Ten Minutes or Less: Booktrope
When my friend and critique group member Lori Myers told me that her short story collection, Crawl Space, had been accepted for publication by Booktrope, I knew I needed to check this group out. Lori is really good at sifting through myriad publishers and publications and finding the gold nuggets, and while I knew I'd heard of Booktrope, I couldn't remember what I knew.

So my first stop was their website, where a clear infographic of their team publishing model is easily accessible.  Simply put, Booktrope vets books through a team of volunteer readers, then "pull[s] together a small, dedicated team and free[s] them up to do the best work possible." They are not a self-publisher or a vanity press, and they make the essentials (editing, design and publicity support) available to their authors at no cost.

Pretty cool concept. If you'd like to read more about Booktrope, check out their website or this article in Seattle Magazine.

My search turned up lots more info, but my ten minutes are up :-) Chances are you'll find more on the topic of hybrid publishing in future blogs.

Happy reading! (And congratulations, Lori!)

Wednesday, October 8, 2014

Conducting the Orchestra of Collections

Last Wednesday, when it was (past) time to write my blog post, I was struggling to come up with a topic. So, I used a trick Sarah Reinhard taught me, and looked around the room for inspiration. My eyes lit on some decor-turned-clutter and a post was born.

And today, a week later, the post has stuck with me. True to my word, I've been working on seeing things with new eyes -- zooming in on piles and out-of-place items instead of wearing blinders and/or  allowing them to blend into the landscape. I'm walking through my house, conducting a "how long has that been there?" search.

I won't tell you how many things I've found. And I'm certain it's like peeling an onion. The more I find and remove/put away/get rid of, the more that will emerge.

My original goal was to seek and destroy one of these collections each day. That goal proved a little lofty. As it turns out, putting things away properly (not just cramming and jamming or putting it "somewhere") takes more than a few minutes.

But I am making progress.
The "I need to see it" organizational style has an unfortunate tendency to crescendo. One or two things left out as memory joggers whisper -- a gentle, soft pianissimo. A few more things join them, creating a mezzo forte to-do list. But when it's a whole orchestra of visual memory joggers, it's a cacophony of sound, sometimes fortissimo, sometimes not, but always there.
And in this case, the best way to turn down the volume, is to control the instrumentation. A string quartet of reminders? Lovely. A big brass band? Not so much. That's when emptying the orchestra pit strategically becomes a must.

So I will continue to take charge of the instrumentation and the arrangement of my "collections" because, after all, even the most beautiful musical compositions benefit from a strategically placed rest.

Side "note": As I was looking for visuals to add to this blog, I came across a site called Ali Spagnola's Free Paintings. I don't know who Ali is, but I loved what I saw. If you have a minute, check out her site. Though I've obviously gone for a theme here, she's got lots more than music-related paintings.