Friday, April 29, 2016

Friday Feature: Color Me Inspired

freepik.com
Yesterday, I hosted my friend and fellow writer Rachel J. Good, who talked about how coloring book inspire her when she's stuck in her writing.

But coloring books aren't just for writers -- or kids. This article from USA Today on the benefits of coloring came out right around the time I was coloring with my college students, enjoying some of the benefits discussed in the article.

In my neck of the woods, they're calling for cloudy, rainy weather this weekend. Not-so-perfect weather for outdoor enthusiasts, but just about right for those of us who like to curl up with a good book.

Or perhaps a coloring book and crayons.



Thursday, April 28, 2016

Thoughtful Thursday with Rachel J. Good


Last fall, I bought crayons and colored pencils and printed out coloring pages for my students (college freshmen) to color. It was perhaps the quietest five minutes we had all semester, and a few of the young ladies in my class ended up putting coloring books on their Christmas lists.

I never actually gave much thought to what went into creating them, until my friend and fellow author, Rachel J. Good created a coloring book of her own. Read on to find out how Rachel added coloring books to her resume. 

In the mood to color? Click here to download one of Rachel's coloring pages. 





Are You a Coloring Book Fan?

By Rachel J. Good

Have you been following the coloring book craze? I hadn’t. Although family and friends had been praising them as stress relievers and libraries in the area were attracting large groups of dedicated coloring book fans, I was busy meeting book deadlines.

Then an illustrator friend handed me her latest project – an adult coloring book. She thought it might reduce my deadline anxiety. I hesitated about taking time out of my busy schedule to try it, but I didn’t want to hurt her feelings. So I pulled out my markers and colored pencils, sat down, and colored.

And colored…and colored...

OK, so it was addictive.

Maybe it’s the throwback to childhood or the intense concentration it takes to shade in small sections, but coloring not only relaxes me, it puts me in the zone – the creative zone. Coloring unlocks the subconscious and frees the mind to solve problems, including those thorny plot problems I’d been wrestling with in my Amish novel.

Photo: Pixabay
Many famous inventors claim their Eureka! moments came to them spontaneously while they were resting or engaged in a simple, repetitive activity. If I’m stuck on a creative project, I find showering, walking, or washing dishes releases my writer’s block. Now I have a new technique that works equally as well, or perhaps even better, because coloring uses the artistic side of my brain.

For me that coloring book not only unleashed a flurry of creative ideas, it connected two unrelated projects – my Amish novel and coloring books – stimulating me to create my own coloring book, the Amish Quilts Coloring Book. Although it meant carving time out of my life to research and recreate original patterns, I enjoyed the challenge. It also gave me a chance to use my illustration background in a new way.  I had fun choosing each quilt and selecting an Amish proverb for the facing pages. And it makes a nice companion for the first novel in my Sisters & Friends Amish series, Change of Heart, which debuts May 3.

If you’re experiencing writer’s block, or just want to relax, why not try coloring? I’ve attached a sample coloring page with a quilt pattern and a proverb on the same page.  I hope it encourages you to create something new.

Join Rachel for a Facebook party to celebrate the
release of the first book in her Sisters & Friends
series. Details at www.racheljgood.com.

Rachel J. Good writes life-changing, heartfelt novels of faith, hope, and forgiveness and is the author of Amish romances in the Sisters & Friends series. Rachel grew up near Lancaster County, Pennsylvania, the setting for her novels. A former teacher and librarian, she completed her MA from Vermont College while raising five children. She is presently an MFA student at Hollins University. In addition to having more than 2200 articles and 30 books in print or forthcoming under several pseudonyms, she also juggles freelance editing and illustration careers. Sign up for her newsletter and/or visit Rachel at www.racheljgood.com.

Wednesday, April 27, 2016

So, What do You Write?

Photo: Luis Llerena via Unsplash.com
When I first started writing, I wrote nonfiction. Exclusively. I worked on one article at a time and never had to worry about getting characters or story lines confused.

When I began trying my hand at fiction, it was as part of a writing class. I worked on one piece at a time, and the stories were short. I had a job and a small child, and I wrote in small snippets of time during which it was easy to keep one story straight, whether it was fiction, non-fiction or an essay.

Novels came later, and since I still had the job and the child, I continued to work in snippets of time. Though I spent most of my writing time working on my novel-in-progress, I found time to work on articles over the summer, and even occasionally during the school year. Somewhere along the way, I picked up blogging, and started working that in, too.

When I retired, one of my goals was to blog on a regular basis. Four years later, I have a weekly schedule I stick to, writing five to six blogs each week and posting Monday, Wednesday, Thursday and Friday in three different locations.

That's when it got complicated.

Some days, I blog ahead of time so that my posts are all ready to go on their assigned days. Other days, I'm still figuring out what I want to write about early -- or even later -- in the day, and the blogs hang over my head until I write and post them. Once they're finished, I have time for discretionary writing.

When that time rolls around, I sometimes have trouble figuring out what I want to write. Right now, for example, I'm working on new story for one novel, revisions on a second and the occasional non-fiction article for one of the online or print publications that regularly accepts my work. Some days, one project is foremost in my mind, so that's where I put my energies. Other days, they jockey for position or, worse yet, refuse to be prodded into submission like so many unruly teenagers.

I told the barista -- a fellow writer --
that I was going to work
on revisions. 
Eventually, as most parents/supervisors do, I manage to coerce one of them into cooperation and actually make
progress. Sometimes, I need to leave home to do this.

Most writers I know work on multiple projects -- some simultaneously, others sequentially. Tomorrow, you'll meet my friend Rachel, who's primarily a novelist, but has also just put together an adult coloring book that fits with the theme of her soon-to-be-released novel. A talented illustrator, Rachel divides her time among a number of writing and illustrating projects -- and several pseudonyms as well. I don't know how she does it all. (Maybe she'll tell us tomorrow).

So, when you ask a writer what she writes, don't be surprised if the answer is "a little bit of everything." Unless she's famous, chances are good that she divvies her available time up among a number of projects, perhaps feeling as though she never really has enough time for any of them. Who knows? Maybe famous writers do this, too.

Perhaps some day I'll find out.


Monday, April 25, 2016

Life is a Banquet

Last weekend, I went to a college lacrosse game -- the first one I've ever been to. I know nothing about lacrosse, but last semester, I had five lacrosse players in my freshman seminar, and I wanted to get a glimpse of the sport that was such a driving force in their lives and, perhaps, even see them play.

It was a beautiful day, and the team won. None of "my kids" played, but I did see a couple of them, and I was glad I decided to step out of my comfort zone and spend a couple hours getting sunburned and doing something different.

After the game, as I headed back to my comfort zone (Starbucks), it occurred to me how many opportunities I missed when I was in college. Unless something was already in my sphere of interest, I didn't check it out. I could count on one hand the number of sporting events I attended, and I wonder now why I didn't take advantage of all my campus had to offer.

I can't go back and re-do college, and, if I'm honest, I have few regrets, and none that would warrant a do-over. But, I have a college-bound senior daughter, and it's not too late for her to benefit from my less-than-timely realizations. So, here's what I'll tell her.

Geralt via Pixabay
Do stuff. All those things you loved doing in high school? Seek out opportunities to continue doing them in college. Pack your flute and take it with you -- maybe even try out for the band. Don't assume you're not good enough. If it interests you, give it a shot.

Try stuff. All that stuff you wanted to do in high school but didn't? It's not too late. Don't assume that everyone else in that club or activity already has experience. If it interests you, check it out. See if newbies are welcome. Once you leave college, you'll pay per activity for all that fun stuff that's included in your tuition.

Go to stuff. It wasn't until I worked on a college campus that I realized how much is going on all the time. Speakers, concerts, sporting events, seminars, workshops, lectures...and from people who know what they're doing. Don't just go to class and to the library and hang out with friends. Check out all the other stuff that's going on and take advantage of it. Go to a lecture on a topic that interests you. Go watch a team play a sport you've never tried. Go listen to classical music firsthand, played by your peers. (Or better yet, grab your flute and become part of the process).

Fortunately, my daughter is already ahead of me, attending lectures and a concert and even taking a class on the same campus where I watched lacrosse. Watching the ease with which she now does these things, I realize how ready she is to take the next step in her life. While I'm sure it will be filled with more than just classes and homework and guest lectures by scholars (as it should), I hope she'll realize early on that there are myriad ways to learn outside the classroom and will make it a point to take advantage of them as she settles into the next chapter of her life.

Friday, April 22, 2016

Friday Freebie: Gilmore Girls Fun Facts

etsy.com
As I mentioned a few weeks ago, I'm a huge, if belated, fan of the Gilmore Girls. So, as I sit here watching (and live tweeting) The Blacklist, clad in my "See you at Luke's Diner" sweatshirt, a pop culture reference for this blog seems only appropriate.

So I Googled my girls -- Gilmore Girls, that is -- and once I stopped being distracted by all the Instagram pictures of Scott Patterson, Milo Ventimiglia and Sean Gunn, I found a great little Gilmore Girls trivia article. Best of all, as promised, I didn't know most of the fun facts.

The only thing better would be reading the article at Luke's.


Wednesday, April 20, 2016

Hurrah for the Third Wednesday

Pixabay
Tonight is my critique group meeting. I have a long list of things to do between now and the time we meet this evening, including reading manuscripts we're reviewing tonight, and, I hope, a little writing.

This group (in its many incarnations) has been part of my writing world for somewhere around two decades. Members have come and gone, usually changing the composition of the group gently. Recently, though, we underwent a bigger change, losing one long-time member (who has left quite a hole) and gaining four new ones in quick succession. The group has been infused with new genres, new ideas and a new vibe, and although we've undergone some growing pains, we're once again hitting our stride.

A good critique group is a must for anyone who's serious about writing; I don't know how any writer can operate without one. I count on my group for:

Critiques. Obvious, I know, but this group has made everything I've submitted to them stronger. Not only do they catch silly errors (like typos and changes that didn't quite make the cut), but they also call me on shortcuts and sloppiness that make a good story "meh." I owe a major plot twist in one of my novels to someone in the group who told me my story had hit a plateau. He was right, and his comment caused me to brainstorm all the ways I could get off that plateau.

Camaraderie. We get a lot accomplished, but we also laugh. For a long time, we had twice-yearly retreats, spending the whole weekend writing. And talking. And eating. I'm hopeful that those will emerge again, but right now, we all seem to be at a place in our personal lives where planning them is difficult.

Support. No one fully understands what a writer does better than another writer. We talk a lot about the industry, what we've heard, what's confusing, where we've submitted, what we're struggling with. And, because sharing our writing means sharing a part of ourselves, that makes the transition to non-writing (a.k.a. "real world") support easy. We look out for each other. And...

Celebrate. Every meeting begins with announcements, where we share our successes. You'd think that writers would be competitive, but we're not competitive with one another. We're genuinely happy for when someone gets published, no matter the format or length. We buy each other's books and attend each other's events.

I can't think of a better way to spend the third Wednesday of each month.

Pixabay


Monday, April 18, 2016

Empty Nesting

Photo credit: Pixabay
My husband and I bought our house when we were newlyweds and my daughter wasn’t even a blip on the family radar. It was a cute house, with good bones, but it needed updating, and so we dug right in. Painting, decorating, planting flowers—the sweat equity projects that are within the budget of first time home buyers—the things that make a house a home.

For the first few years, I took on a new project every summer. Painting was my specialty, but I’ve stripped and replaced plenty of wallpaper and even tried my hand at a few craft projects. When I got pregnant, the nesting that ensued bookended the summer and temporarily increased my domesticity. I even bought a sewing machine and tested out my long-dormant sewing skills, making valences and a comforter for the nursery. 

When my daughter was small, I managed to squeeze my projects into nap time and weekends, but as she got bigger and more mobile, the projects—and my interest in them—tapered off. Later, when I had to choose between writing and home improvement projects, the former won every time. 

This fall, my daughter is heading to college. As I look around our house, the haphazardness of our home improvement projects over the past eighteen years—years spent at playgrounds and concerts and basketball games—is undeniable. The house looks tired and in need of some of the attention we lavished on it when we were young enough to spend a weekend painting without needing a weekend to recover. Lately, I’ve been lying in bed choosing paint colors for the kitchen and wondering how long it takes a 50-something person to paint a room compared to her 30-something self.

If my daughter’s bedroom project is any indication, that time frame is too embarrassing to print. Early in her high school career, we started an overly ambitious painting project in her room; we’ve yet to finish it. Busyness, allergies and waning enthusiasm collided, leaving the big room repainted (except for one wall behind a heavy piece of furniture) and the smaller space untouched. In the smaller room, horses galavant across a wallpaper border affixed to sponge painted walls, creating an ironic contrast to the trappings of teen life that are apparent everywhere else in the space.

As my daughter’s departure from her room and our house draws closer, I find myself torn between the desire to tear down the border and finally paint the walls and the realization that she won’t be in that room long enough—or often enough—to enjoy the results. Mom-guilt pricks at my conscience at the thought of sending her off to college with this years-old project still incomplete, while my practical side says to hold off and paint the room the color I want rather than the rich, dark red she chose—a color I know will be difficult to put up, more difficult to paint over and a constant reminder that the room’s long-time inhabitant no longer lives there.

Photo: Pixabay
And so I marinate in indecision, wondering how much of this has anything to do with painting at all.

I knew it was normal to nest when I was pregnant, but now I find myself wondering if empty nesting is normal, too. With time on our hands and changes ahead, does it make perfect sense to re-envision our home as we re-envision our future? Am I finally stepping up to the plate and making up for years of turning a blind eye toward all that needed to be done? 

Or, am I looking to fill time and keep busy? 

As parents of an only child, we won’t have a step-by-step transition. In August, we’ll go from being parents to being empty nesters. As the time draws closer, I wonder not only how we’ll do that, but how it’s possible that it never occurred to us before that we’d be diving off the cliff of family back into the waters of couplehood. And that those waters are likely to take some getting used to.

So I look at my house and I wonder what comes next. What’s in good shape and what needs to be replaced? What looks tired and what needs refreshing? Do we start with the inside or the outside?

And for the first time since we bought the house, I can’t ignore the metaphor.