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Inspired by Spring

28 Apr
Chicks hit the beach!

Chicks hit the beach!

Here’s a small thing that we enjoyed this past week: a beach day!  It was only a day, but it felt like my own little Spring Break, since it was too cold during our actual Spring Break to wear a bathing suit (or anything less than a jacket.) Nothing like a day of true relaxation to rekindle the creative spirit.

We loved every minute of our beach day. We also enjoyed having our guest chick, Maya, with us!  What are you doing this Spring?

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What Inspires Me

23 Jan

At a writing conference this weekend, I realized the speakers that always inspire me the most are the illustrators. It makes sense because I think in pictures when I’m writing. If only my hands could create what I see in my head. *sigh*

Anyway, I also realized the need to use visuals more in my writing process simply for the inspiration they provide. Here are a few that are inspiring me this morning.

Making 2014 SPARKLE!

7 Jan

Okay, yes I know that SPARKLE! was our December power word.  And, yes I know it is now January.  And, no, I didn’t write a post in December. That’s because, frankly, I didn’t feel very sparkly in December. I felt chaotic, thankful, busy, relieved, and a lot of other mixed emotions but not really sparkly.  In the last week of the year, when most of the hosting and feasting was over, I was simply happy to feel and be lazy.  Because I’ll admit – I was exhausted from 2013.

I don’t make New Year’s resolutions, but I do choose an overall “theme” for each year.  For the past few years it’s been: to be uncomfortable as much as possible. In other words, to constantly say “yes” to new things, to push myself, to make possibilities realities. Because the more uncomfortable you are, the more you grow.DSCN0049

And, it’s worked quite well. To name just a few results, I’ve gotten my own business running on all cylinders, developed some wonderful clients, taught at my former college, become a public speaker of sorts, started a new networking group, learned to paddleboard, learned to surf (barely), learned to play the piano (sort of), kayaked for the first time, made a music video with my Chicks, and written a LOT.  However, I still feel like a beginner at many of these things.

Mario Sarto CCA-SA 3.0

Mario Sarto CCA-SA 3.0

So this year, I’m changing things up a bit.  Always doing new things is great, but now I want to focus on doing things better. I’m going to focus on polishing my craft, whether professionally or personally.

In particular, in my writing, I am in the final stages of completing an approx 35,000 word Middle Grade manuscript.  I’ve started an awful lot of stories before, and finished very few.  This is the one I’m most proud of so far. And, to give myself the chance to make it bloom into something bigger, I have to stick with it, polish it and give it a chance to SPARKLE!  So, our power word for December has become my Word to Live By in 2014.  I’m gonna make it SPARKLE!

Writing Characters People Care About

1 Nov

I’m generally reluctant to blog about the craft of writing, mostly because I feel like ‘Who am I to tell others what works and what doesn’t?’ I’m no Stephen King (whose book On Writing every writer should read!)  But, as one of my wise professors used to say, “I teach in the area in which I most need to learn”. He knew that we internalize learning best when we share it with others.  So, in that spirit, read or ignore the following ramblings as you like…

Character – What Does It Mean Anyway?

Isn’t it funny how the word ‘character’ is used in conversation to mean very different things?  On one hand we say “He’s a man of character,” which means we agree with his values or morals.  On the other hand, we say, “Isn’t he a character?” by which we mean he’s naughty but we like him anyway.  Unless, of course, you’re from the South and you say, “He’s a character, all right, bless his heart,” which means we don’t like him or we don’t approve of him, but we have to say it in a politely passive-aggressive way, you see, because that’s what we do.

Care About vs. Love

The interesting thing is that any of the above meanings can translate into writing a character people care about.  Notice I did not say a character people love.  You need characters that people don’t always love to make a story fulfilling.  This provides tension which is so necessary for a story we just can’t put down. You need both the yin and the yang in your story to make it work.  Sometimes the yin and yang are even within the same character.  The best books in my opinion are the ones where both the protagonist and the antagonist have qualities we empathize with, and those we self-righteously judge, just in different measures.

Avoiding Meh…

Spice, anyone?

Spice, anyone?

As writers, when we get feedback about our characters that they aren’t likeable, our knee-jerk reaction can be to take away all the ‘bad’ stuff – the snarkiness, the depressed outlook, or even too much perkiness (as in, I don’t like this character because she’s always perky and that makes me feel bad about my life).  Though there might be some over-the-top elements you could polish a little bit, if you take away all the ‘bad’ stuff and you have nothing left, you have, well…nothing. Instead, add some dimension by giving them behaviors or motivators that are contrary to what already exists.

Finding the Right Balance

I like to think of it like cooking.  While it is possible to have too much spice, usually it is the lack of balance that ruins the dish. There’s a funny commercial out now, where a couple is in a Chinese restaurant and someone has left the sweet out of their sweet and sour dish. Don’t take out all the sour – what you’ll be left with is bland.  Here are some examples of sweet and sour character types I like:

  • The snarky teen who is uber-snarky to his parents but kind to his kid sister because, frankly, the parents kind of suck and he feels she deserves better
  • The hyper-driven type A who initially appears 100% confident, but who we learn is motivated by fear of abandonment
  • The wimpy kid who won’t stand up for himself but will for his friend

So, that’s it, my thoughts on character that I will try – try, I tell you – to keep in mind as I continue plowing through my current WIP.

How about you?  How do you find the right balance and create characters people care about?

SOAR! On a new breeze

23 Oct

It’s Fall!  My favorite season. I love when it’s still warm outside but cool breezes whisper across your skin. And you begin detecting the dusty smell of leaves drying up and falling from their homes in the sky.

Taking inspiration from this eagle in my neighborhood

Taking inspiration from this eagle in my neighborhood

I think I’ve always loved Fall also because it meant the beginning of school. Not that school was utopia for me.  Like for most people, I imagine, it was equal parts joy, terror, and boredom.  But the first day of school was the start of something new. New classes, new notebooks, new pencils, new possibilities.  In many ways I associate Fall with renewal more than I do Spring.

With that in mind, what can I do to SOAR this month?  Two things, I think.

First, to let the momentum I’ve already created in my creative projects (writing a middle grade novel and querying an early chapter book,) carry me along, like those currents in the air upon which birds soar. Second, to take stock of where I am, what I’m spending my energy on, and clear out some of the clutter that may weigh me down.

Can I tell a story people will care about? Can I find an agent who’s interested in my writing?  Time will tell.  For now, I just have to focus on SOARING!

BOUNCE! From one thing to the next

16 Oct

Yes, I know it’s October, but I’m BOUNCING back to our September power word because I’m still processing that one!

I met with my Chicks recently and we had an interesting discussion. We talked about all the things we have going on. As much as we lamented having Too Much To Do, the reality is we all still wish we could do more!  But we know we simply can’t.

In reflecting now, I acknowledge I need to say “no” a bit more, so I can focus more. But, I must let go of the idea that life will fall into a nice, neat, orderly plan.  My closet, yes. My life, no. (Maybe this is why I like organizing closets so much.)   There are so many things that are a true “yes”, that if I let go of, would diminish my life considerably.

MichaelMaggs Edit by Richard Bartz

MichaelMaggs Edit by Richard Bartz

My writing works this way too, sometimes.  I’m working on a middle grade contemporary novel this year, but I had a chapter book that I wrote a long time ago and never felt confident about sending it out.  Now that more agents are seeking chapter books, it was time to bring it back out.  So, I BOUNCED back to it.  Revised it. Polished it.  Sent it to my beloved early readers.  Read the feedback. Revised some more. Polished some more and now…I’m querying!  And, I have more energy with that off my plate to BOUNCE back to my middle grade novel.  In fact, I’ve already added a couple thousand words.

I’ve embraced the fact that my list will remain long: family time, volunteering with my kids’ schools, cooking healthy meals, my consulting work which is satisfying and keeps me engaged professionally, writing, being an active critique group member and of course, time with my Four Chicks.  But I will stop beating myself up for how I get it all done.  The way I get it done is by bouncing from one thing to the next. It’s not neat. It’s not linear. And, it’s not pretty.  But you know what? It gets done.

So, I say it’s okay to BOUNCE, as long as you finish things along the way.  Just keep BOUNCING and learn to enjoy the ride.

TWIST! Change it up

24 Aug
John Talbot; Ottawa, Canada (Crystal DNA at the National Arts Center) CC 2.0

John Talbot; Ottawa, Canada (Crystal DNA at the National Arts Center) CC 2.0

Once again, I have taken on too much.  Sound familiar?  I have a hard time saying “no” to Really Interesting and Cool Stuff, even when I don’t have the bandwidth.  It’s literally in my DNA.  The thing is, when you’re creative, you can’t just do the Stuff That Must Be Done and ignore all the Really Interesting And Cool Stuff that happens along in life. Denying the experience of those cool and interesting things = souldeath.  And I, for one, am not interested in souldeath, despite some of the really cool zombie movies that are out there these days.

Speaking of zombie movies, I saw one recently that I absolutely love: Warm Bodies.  I’ve never been a zombie fan, but this movie made me one.  How? Simply put, some of the best scriptwriting I’ve seen in a long time.  Somehow, the writer managed to create a story that was all at once cleverly funny, awkwardly romantic, sweetly heroic and brain-eating(ly?) gory.  And, by the way, it had a rockin’ soundtrack.

Probably my favorite scene is when a group of zombies, on their way to SAVE the planet, is walking down the highway – in slo-mo – to Rock You Like A Hurricane by the Scorpions.  Hilarious.  Brilliant. And, you are totally cheering them on.

So, how did the screenwriter(s) do this?  Took something that was “good” and gave it a twist.

Zombie eating brains = good.

Zombie developing crush on a human = twist.

Zombies, zoned-out and wandering around an airport = good.

Zombie who collects and listens to 80’s vinyl  = twist.

See how that works?  Another example is Vivi,’s book: Olivia Twisted, coming out this November (warning: shameless friend-promotion.) She wrote a modern take on the classic Oliver Twist by Charles Dickens.  But instead of just making the same story happen in a contemporary setting, instead of making the youths pickpockets, she made them hackers.  Great twist, right?  Oh, and the protag is a girl, but you probably knew that already.

The best part about TWISTing your creative work is: it’s fun!  And, definitely helps prevent souldeath.  This month, as I’ve written, I’ve tried to remember to throw in some twists that really up the interest.

What are you working on that’s good, but would be great if you gave it a TWIST!?

FLARE! Like a beacon

27 Jul

I’ve got a confession: when I first started thinking about our power word this month, all I could think about was the movie Office Space.  You remember the TGI Friday’s knockoff restaurant where the employees had to wear a lot of “flare” on their suspenders?  It still cracks me up.  But that kind of flare didn’t inspire me to write.

Then, I thought about a flare being a beacon.  A beacon helps people find their way.  That’s what I needed.  To cut through all the clutter of ideas in my head and focus on reaching a single point.  To stay true to that goal. Right now, that goal is a middle grade novel.  I’m tempted to get sidetracked now that I’ve hit the murky middle.  When I sit down to write and I say “I don’t know what they do next,” I’m tempted to get up and walk away. But I will not.  My FLARE is a beacon burning in the distance and I’m staying focused on it.

What are you focused on this month?

DIVE! at your target

30 Jun

I must make a confession: I just came up with what DIVE! means to me.  And it’s the end of June.  So much for it being my power word for the month.

A power word is supposed to be a mantra I can use to focus and motivate myself.  I’ve gotta feel it deep in my gut.  All month, I’ve thought about different forms of diving – scuba diving, sky diving, springboard diving, cliff diving. None of them spoke to me.  Actually, they did, and they all said, “Meh…”

Ahhhh...

Ahhhh…

I went to Hawaii on vacation and thought I’d find inspiration for my metaphor there.  But even there, I never dove!  The pool, the pond at the bottom of the falls, the snorkeling lagoon at the hotel, they were all too shallow.  We took a surfing lesson, which was way cool, but they advised us not to dive off our boards because it wasn’t that deep and there was a reef scattered throughout the waves.  Of course, Hawaii was gorgeous and fun and I can’t wait to go back.  But I still couldn’t find the meaning of DIVE!  What my brain kept saying was relaaaax, wander, enjoy…  

This is largely the approach I’ve been taking to my writing as well. With predictable results.

Then, this past weekend, I went on a writing retreat with some great writer friends. It was fun, we met some other great people, shared our writing and got some great feedback.  Yes, I can’t stop saying ‘great.’  It was.  For me the most important benefit was getting some feedback which helped me focus and motivated me to pursue one particular project like a hawk.

Coopers Hawk (William H. Majoros - CCA-SA)

Coopers Hawk (William H. Majoros – CCA-SA)

Now, like a hawk, I’ve got my prey in my sights and I’m going to DIVE! until I nail that sucker.

Where Art and Nature Meet: The Alligator Princess

31 May

In the spirit of the month, I thought I’d share about an inspiring woman I read about recently who kayaked the entire St. Johns river here in Florida and is now making a documentary film about it.  Her name is Michelle Thatcher but they call her the Alligator Princess.

The St. John’s is over 300 miles long.  That’s a lot of paddling!  Art is about passion and when you are passionate enough, you find a way to create, no matter what marshes or rapids (or alligators) are in your way.

To learn more about Michelle’s journey and see an achingly gorgeous preview of the film, visit her website at: http://www.alligatorprincess.com/Home_Page.html.

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