Monday, April 14, 2014

Writers and Their Notebooks

From Kate's Writer's Crate…


        If you are a writer or really want to be one, writing in notebooks is, I believe, essential. Not sure what to write about or need inspiration, read Writers and Their Notebooks edited by Diana M. Raab where 24 writers, including Sue Grafton and John DuFresne, expound upon and/or share excerpts from their notebooks.

        This thought-provoking book is divided into five parts:


Part 1—The Journal as Tool

James Brown (page 8): Writers…need to hang on to our experiences, both the crushing and the joyous, and through reflection, either by keeping a journal before we begin a project or during its writing, we hope to come to a better understanding of who we are, what we've become, and where we are going. That's where you'll find your best stories, the ones that makes sense of the chaos we call our lives.

Sue Grafton (page 9): The most valuable tool I employ in the writing of a private eye novel is the working journal…from "C" Is for Corpse on, I've kept a daily log of work in progress. This notebook (usually four times longer than the novel itself) is like a letter to myself, detailing every idea that occurs to me as I proceed.


Part 2—The Journal for Survival

Kathleen Gerard (page 63): [After the unexpected death of her father when she was 14]…My early efforts at keeping a journal were sporadic, and what I conveyed was rather repetitive. But that was the beauty of it—there were no rules…My journal became a safe place where my voice and my feelings could finally be heard, and my perceptions counted.


Part 3—The Journal for Travel

Wendy Call (page 87): My journal is like a nest, a tangle of shiny trinkets and bits of string: words, sentence fragments, disconnected paragraphs, pages torn from magazines, photographs, even small objects glued into holes I've carved into pages…Dorothy Allison calls her writer's journal "a witness, a repository, and a playground.

Bonnie Morris (page 98): A date with my journal is the most pleasant of outings. Off we go to the movies, where so many strange childhood memories float to the surface in the twenty minutes before the lights go down. Everyone wonders if I'm a film critic. But no…I'm using that comfy, faux-velvet chair time, Junior Mints melting on my tongue, to write about last week's insult or this year's romance or any number of thoughts.


Part 4—The Journal as Muse

John DuFresne (page 119): You're a writer now, and a writer writes. Any time, any place. That's his or her job. So take your tools with you wherever you go. The Muse is as likely to sit across the bar from you as to come by your office for a chat, and you want to be prepared when she taps you on the shoulder…


Part 5—The Journal for Life

Kyoko Mori (page 160): I allow my thoughts to roam and meander rather than come to the point of order too soon. In the process, I usually discover that my mind is not as empty as I feared. There are a lot of ideas I've been tossing around, and they even have an overall pattern and direction…In my notebook, I can look for the story I would tell…

(Kyoko Mori also loves writing with a blue Pilot Vball pen—although extra fine instead of fine point.)


At the end, Editor Diana M. Raab wrote: Appendix I: Use Journaling to Spark Your Writing listing tips and Appendix II: A Journaling Workout listing writing prompts.

        A long list of sources and further readings at the end of the book provides even more inspiration.

        Since most writers work alone, it is comforting to find others who keep notebooks and are willing to open them up to fellow scribes.

How do you feel about writing in n

Thursday, April 10, 2014

Marketing Techniques for Writers

From Cheryl's Writing Crate

With each passing day, I, as a writer, strive to improve my craft as well as to start earning a regular income from something I love to do immensely.

Many writers consider themselves introverts and would rather be holed up in a small space, alone, writing to their hearts content rather than think about "putting their stuff" or "themselves" out there for the public to scrutinize.

I happen to be just the opposite.  (And please forgive me if I sound a bit full of myself! When you're the mother of 8 kids, 5 of them teenagers, there's not too much one can be afraid of!) I guess you'd call me the stereotypical "social butterfly".  I don't mind sharing my written words with the world, in fact, I rather enjoy it.

So where am I going with all this you ask?  I'll get right to the point.  As an author of one book, a columnist and writing enthusiast of freelance articles, and more, I have a dream of being able to earn a living from my writing.  Though I consider myself quite lucky that I've achieved many paid and unpaid writing gigs at this point in my career, I truthfully believe I could do a heck of a lot better---if----if I became a bit more savvy with my marketing skills.

Yes, some writing assignments have easily fallen in my lap, but there are plenty of opportunities that still await and if I don't do something to acquire them then who will?

The past few weeks I've been researching all kinds of ways to rev up my writing opportunities and stumbled upon a great article written by Carol Tice entitled 5 Quick Ways Busy Freelancers Can Keep Marketing.

You can visit the link above to read the entire article, but I'll share with you the one tip from these five that I intend to begin working on:  Submitting more queries.  One of my writing inspirations for 2014 is to do at least one freelance article for a national woman's magazine.  To date, I've done nothing to make that happen but I am inspired by the tip below and intend to get cracking on some queries this weekend.  Here's the author's Tip # 4:

Short bursts
If you want to send letters of introduction or query letters and feel like you never have time for a multi-hour writing project, you can get it done by splitting up the task into 10- or 15-minute tasks.
Today, just write the introductory paragraph, or maybe do a quick pre-interview with a source so your query has a quote. Tomorrow, write your bio line that’ll go at the bottom. And so on, until your query is ready to send.
Time management is one of my biggest challenges, so this quick marketing tip will hopefully guide me in the "write" direction so I can attain some more assignments and keep doing something I absolutely love to do--write!
How do you fit in some quick and necessary marketing strategies with your busy schedule?

Monday, April 7, 2014

Freeing Your Life with Words

From Kate's Writing Crate…


            In honor of Poetry Month and to hone writing skills, I recommend reading Poemcrazy: Freeing Your Life with Words by Susan Goldsmith Wooldridge. Her 60 essays reveal ways to notice more details and ask more questions about everyday things—even names, colors, words—that we take for granted. She also suggests creative projects.

        Among my favorite essays is On a Night Picnic on page 44 where the author, her daughter, Elizabeth, and a family friend who "loves to create small occasions" pack a picnic, get into a canoe, and row out from shore to enjoy a meteor shower.

        "…we saw very few shooting stars. But Elizabeth noticed that whenever we moved a paddle or hand in the water it lit up as if Tinker Bell had sprinkled magic light into the sound. The starry show turned out to be beneath, not above us—from phosphorescent plankton…(page 45)

        Wooldridge notes this "ordinary magic" that takes place in our regular lives is as worthy of poetry (or whatever writing form we like) as life-altering moments.

        In her essay Stirring the Sky on page 132, the author notes how her young children inspire her.

        "Children naturally see and express things in a fresh way before we teach them the "right" way… [her children have asked] What would happen if the moon burned? Do bees pee? Are flowers afraid of scissors?..." (page 133)

        While I don't remember this, my mother told me that when I was three I was watching glowing embers fly up the chimney of our wood burning fireplace. I turned to her and asked, "Is this how stars are born?" How I wish I still asked questions like that today.

        We shouldn't be surprised most of us do not ask questions like that as, according to Carl Jung in Wooldridge's essay Listening to Our Shadows on page 76, "…that when we turn about seven we separate from and then bury or repress whatever parts of us don't seem to be acceptable in the world around us." Luckily, Wooldridge then suggests ways to reconnect with ourselves.

        In her essay The Image Angel on pages 149-150, Wooldridge shares: "Images often appear as messages from the unconscious, especially in dreams or daydreams. Sometimes important images appear in the real world…We need to pay attention…We can follow them to see where they lead in our writing and our lives…

        "The image angel, I think, is an aspect of the muse. She brings me images from the outside, while the muse helps me see and listen within myself." 

        Pay attention! Patterns and images often appear in our writing and our lives, but we have to notice them, think about them, and discover what they mean to us. Notebooks and journals come in handy for recording and delving into them whenever they occur.

        I admire poets. They live in the same world we do, but have different skill sets so they see and hear inspiration everywhere.

With conscious effort until it becomes ingrained habit, we can, too.


What images and/or questions inspire you?


Thursday, April 3, 2014

Vision Boards Help Writers Keep on Writing!

From Cheryl's Writing Crate

One of the reasons I enjoy being a writer so much is because I love to visualize (don't most writers?).  No matter what I'm writing--a humorous family column, a chapter from my novel, even my grocery or to-do list--I usually have a pretty clear vision of what the outcome will be.  Well, let me clarify that a bit--I don't always have the piece written exactly as I'd like while I'm working on it, but I have always had the ability to picture the completed article as something I will be pleased with during the process of writing.

For example, last week I was working on a column I write each month for a local magazine that deals with different boutiques and shops.  After visiting this funky and very eclectic gift shop in town I couldn't wait to get started putting it all together on paper.  I rushed home to my Writer's Crate only to be deterred by my 7 kids who actually wanted me to serve them dinner!  Ah yes, my writing would have to wait until my family's needs were met.

Two days later, I finally sat down to work on my shopping column.  Frustrated just a bit that I hadn't been able to write when the details of this magical little shop were fresh in my mind I closed my eyes and imagined myself back in the store gleaning all the delightful items that were displayed so artfully throughout the shop.  I then envisioned myself capturing the essence of the store's personality from beginning to end on paper--with the final result being a completed article that I felt great about and that I hoped the store owner would enjoy.  When I get myself into this zone, I can usually create a final piece that I'm happy with.

One tool I've had fun using to help keep my writer's momentum going strong is a vision board.  If you're familiar at all with "The Law of Attraction" you may already know about vision boards. 

In the most literal sense, a vision board is a collection of images and notes attached to a board and placed somewhere that you can see it every day.  But truthfully, it's so much more!  For me, it's an inspired daily reminder of my deepest desires and is a very powerful writing tool.  When I look at the writer's vision board I created for myself it allows me to focus on my deepest writing desires--becoming a best-selling author, a syndicated columnist, author of a children's book and a regular contributor to a national woman's magazine to name a few items.  This visual reminder gets my juices flowing when I need a push to keep on writing.

Here's an example of a vision board that uses quotes for inspiration.

If you'd like some more information on how to create a powerful vision board of your own, you can download a free e-book written by Christine Kane called The Complete Guide to Vision Boards.  There are also many on-line articles available that can guide you as well.

Vision boards can be used for any area of your life that you'd like to focus on.  I  have two vision boards--one for family life and one for my writer's life.  Do you use visual tools to help feed your muse?

Monday, March 31, 2014

Writing Tools Matter

From Kate's Writing Crate…


        Favorite and  familiar tools make writing easier. Once I pick up my blue, fine point Pilot V Ball pen and my sturdy spiral notebooks, I am in business. I start scribbling away. I stop and start as my thoughts dictate, but I never hesitate because my pen feels too heavy or scratchy.

        If I am working on my computer, I only require white pages and black type in the Arial font. For three days recently, I had black pages with neon yellow type. Not sure how it happened, but I am grateful I finally figured out how to reverse it because this change gave me a headache. I didn't—couldn't—write under those conditions.

        This doesn't mean you shouldn't try new tools. I write in different ink colors when I feel stuck, but I stick to the five colors of my favorite brand of pens mostly. For me, a V Ball pen just feels like an extension of my hand.

        Trying new computer equipment can make a difference, too. Visit any store that sells computers and try them out or, as I did, try out a friend's computer. While visiting her home for a small get together, I noticed she had a very large screen for her desk top computer—about 50 percent bigger than the one I have. A user can see two pages of text, full size, side by side.

If asked, I wouldn't have thought I'd like that—too distracting. It's also a lot of light coming at the eyes. But the more I used it, the better I liked it. I could read documents like books. It made me feel more like a writer which surprised me. It was a new perspective that felt comfortable and familiar quite quickly.

I am now saving up to get a larger screen of my own. Who doesn't want to feel more like a writer? Especially when you are a writer!


What tools make you feel more like a writer?

Thursday, March 27, 2014

4 Fun Apps for Writers

From Cheryl's Writing Crate

One of my favorite ways to stay motivated with my writing is to surf the web and keep up with the latest trends.  I find inspiration in articles saturated with tips on grammar, overcoming writer's block, advice from other authors on feeding the muse and much more.

I've recently been frustrated by computer issues, well, more specifically issues with computer viruses.  Within the last 6 months, my laptop has crashed four times.   I won't bore you with the details, but let's just say if I weren't so dependent on the cyber world for my work, I would've given up after the 2nd crash and gone back to my tried and true friend--my pen and journal.

When my laptop was down, I needed to find other avenues to keep up with the rest of the world so it was then that I began relying on my smart phone on a more regular basis.  Imagine my delight to discover an amazing assortment of writer's apps!

There are dozens of writer's apps available, but here are 4 of my favorites.


This virtual notebook keeper is essential for anyone who needs a place to store and organize thoughts, information, and media (including pictures, audio recordings). No scissors,glue, tape, or string required. The contents of EverNote can be synced across all devices, providing anytime/anywhere access. Timesaving functions include a search function for keywords -- even handwritten words or text within images. If there's a major due date in the future,set a reminder to be notified. Ready to share your masterpiece with the world? Quickly and easily post to Facebook, Twitter, Linkedln,or share the URL to Clipboard.

Since most people can think a lot faster than they can pound the keyboard, this app is the salvation for inspiration and ideas alike. Dragon Dictation is today's version of "Take a letter, Miss Jones", without Miss Jones. Just hit "Record" and diction instantly transforms into text. Hit "Done" and you are all set. Then copy and paste the text into any word processing program with a simple double-tap. Dragon Dictation even has a feature to put lengthy text directly into SMS or email. Publishing to social media platforms like Facebook and Twitter is just a few taps away.

Write or Die is a wicked blend of Creative Writing and Psych 101 (can you say Operant Conditioning?) with a dollop of Catholic School knuckle-rapping discipline for good measure.The idea is that the secret to learning to write well is writing a lot. Tell this web-based app how many words you want to knock out and over what time period. And start writing. If you stop or fail to reach your goal punishment will be meted out. The good news is that the user can set the level of virtual pain -- from a gentle pop-up reminder to an annoying sound to the really annoying disappearance of your work.Write or Die says they put the "prod" in productivity. It may be more like putting the "fun" in dysfunctional. Consider it boot camp for budding journalists. Now jump down and give me 300 words!


What's a good cure for writer's block? Put some spice in your life. Spice Mobile provides the inspiration when finding the right words is a challenge. Stuck at "It was a dark and stormy night?" Need to flesh out a character or scene?Let Spice Mobile tap into its comprehensive collection of famous literature to help put some mojo back into your manuscript.While directly copying the masters is a major no-no, there's nothing a little nudge from Will Shakespeare or Ernest Hemingway to break up the cranial jam and get your juices reflowing.
What writing apps do you love? 

Monday, March 24, 2014

A Day in JD Robb's Latest, Concealed in Death, Provides a Masterclass


From Kate's Writing Crate…


As a reader, I always love finding books that appeal to me. As a writer, I am twice as pleased when the authors also provide masterclasses within their books.
        Masterclasses take place when performance artists and musicians work one-on-one with students. Writers don't generally have this option, but I have found some books to be masterclasses for characters, backstories, plots, settings, voice, and/or creativity.
        How many pages could you fill describing only one day for a novel? And keep readers not just interested, but engrossed? JD Robb surpassed any guess I would have made in her latest book, Concealed in Death.
        First, the parameters of a day need to be set: From morning until bedtime or 24 hours?
From mid-morning when the scene of the murders was first discovered until bedtime, the action filled 134 pages. Recounting the entire 24 hours, over 150.
To be clear, I did not take notice of the page count while reading this book. The investigation was moving too quickly. This is a bestselling page-turner after all. But once I finished and realized the entire novel took place in three and a half days, I went back to look at this master storyteller's timeline.
The second bedtime happened on page 248. The second 24 hours ended about page 289—although a case could be made that they ended on page 304 as we are never given exact times.
Bedtime number three occurred on page 366. And the novel ends at dinner time the next day on page 402.
Making this timeline work takes real craftsmanship. Dialogue is a given in a novel, but what keeps readers engaged in this series is attention to details—murder is a messy business—and the constant action: not only visiting crime scenes and the police station as well as tracking down leads, but also seeing the city—lights, pickpockets, car accidents and all—while characters are walking, driving or traveling on public transport. Even when in her office, lead character New York City Homicide Lieutenant Eve Dallas is setting up the murder board, working on and/or slapping her computer, or replaying the crimes in her mind searching for clues.
The author always takes time to ground her work in reality. Her main characters have delicious meals described in detail as well as have sex, sleep, dream, shower, and dress. The plot still moves along as Dallas is usually, but not always discussing the latest case with her billionaire husband, Roarke, at these times.
Because the action is non-stop, I tend to read JD Robb's books in one sitting. Dallas always moves fast when it comes to tracking down killers. She knows her job. This is the 38th novel in JD Robb's In Death series after all. 
Dallas has a supporting cast that makes this possible including her aforementioned husband, her partner, Delia Peabody, the detectives working in her division and other professionals from medical examiners to computer geeks.
For an overview of the In Death series, see my post "Reads for Writers: JD Robb/Nora Roberts" dated October 22, 2012. And yes, I only recommend reading the books in order so you can see the growth in the characters and their relationships which makes this whole series a masterclass. WARNING: Please note these books contain violence and adult themes.
Time flies in JD Robb's books, but in a grounded, high action, well written way.
Can you create a day that takes you 134 to 150 pages to describe?