Thursday, September 27, 2012

Becoming a Writer Mama

From Cheryl's Writing Crate

When Kate and I decided to launch this blog, I knew instantly that we would make great partners. She has been my editor for over a decade. She not only knows my creative strengths, writing style, and stumbling blocks (probably better than anyone), but she also inspires me to raise the bar and challenge myself to be a better writer with every post and article I submit.

Now as my blogging partner, I have the pleasure of reading her posts. I am learning about what feeds her writing muse as well as getting to see what makes her tick as a fellow writer, not just an editor. Because of this, I gain new insight into my own writing goals every week--something that wouldn't have been possible if we hadn't created The Writer's Crate!

This week Kate discussed how best-selling authors Pamela Clare and, one of my writing idols, Maryann McFadden have positively impacted her writing by way of the Masterclasses offered in their books for characters, dialogue, back stories, plots, settings, and/or voice.  

This post really hit home with me. I can’t tell you how often I used to finish reading a book that touched my inner writing goddess only to sigh and tell myself that, although I knew writing was in my blood, there was just no way that a busy mother of eight like me could ever pull it off.

However, that all changed when I found and read one of my writing bibles, WriterMama—How to Raise a Writing Career Alongside Your Kids, written by Christina Katz.  It was as if the author was speaking directly to me on every single page. 

The book starts off very appropriately with a pep talk to mothers about why motherhood and writing can go hand and hand. Immediately she shares 10 reasons why mothers can pursue writing careers regardless of how many kids they have, what their past experiences are, or even if they already work outside their homes. Refreshing!
Writer Mama has become one of my writing bibles. Christina Katz inspires busy moms to take the plunge and indulge in writing careers alongside their family obligations.

Writer Mama came to me at exactly the “write” time in my busy life—a time where I was about to give up on my dream to become a published writer simply because my mindset was that I had no right to take time for myself to pursue writing. I mean, wouldn't it be unfair to my family if I stepped away from a few loads of laundry during the week to write? Or worse, what would people think if I didn’t spend my 14-hour days catering solely to their needs?
Christina Katz put this all into perspective for me and every other “Writer Mama” by dividing her book into four helpful sections:

Preparation—adopting the tools and proper attitude that successful writer mamas need to succeed. 

Practice—she takes writer mamas step-by-step on building basic writing skills to compete with the pros!

Professionalism—helps to take these newfound writing skills and confidence and apply them to the exciting task of querying for assignments.

Poise—guides writer mamas to develop crucial skills that will garner the attention of editors and agents as well as landing paying writing assignments!

I own two copies of Writer Mama. One is close by in a bookcase next to my Writer's Crate and the other I keep in my car or tote bag so that I can come back to it over and over again even if I only have a few moments between carpools. I always learn something new and get re-motivated every time I read random pages. If you haven’t read it yet, I highly recommend you get a copy today!

Do you have a writing book that excites and inspires you?  We’d love to know about it!

Monday, September 24, 2012

Reads for Writers: Pamela Clare and Maryann McFadden Provide Masterclasses

  From Kate's Writing Crate...       

           As a reader, I always love discovering books that appeal to me. As a writer, I am twice as pleased when authors also provide Masterclasses for me 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 authors whose books are Masterclasses for characters, dialogue, backstories, plots, settings, and/or voice. 

          Pamela Clare writes historical and contemporary novels including the I-Team series which follows the lives of reporters writing for The Denver Independent.
         The I-Team started in the story Heaven Can Wait published in Catch of the Day. Five books are now in the series (Extreme Exposure, Hard Evidence, Unlawful Contact, Naked Edge, and Breaking Point) each highlighting one main character, and an e-book, Skin Deep, following up on a secondary character, but the whole cast appears in every book.

          While the newspaper office is their base, the characters drive throughout Denver, live in different apartments, and visit political offices, the police station, a jail, a museum, cabins in the surrounding mountains, an Indian Reservation, and Mexico. Clare uses not only visual descriptions, but distinctive sounds, fragrances, foods, and ambiance to create you-are-there settings.

          The dialogue is terrific. Work discussions are professional--usually. The dialogue changes when the female characters are talking amongst themselves or the male characters are bonding with each other. Conversations between the romantic leads are intense, sometimes outrageous, and often funny.

          Backstories are key to the success of these books. Each character lives according to her reactions to her backstory that is revealed throughout "her" book. The plots are tight providing a lot of suspense as the investigations lead the reporters into danger. The men they meet, also shaped by their own backstories and occupations, are often in conflict with the reporters. Happy endings are in realistic doubt due to circumstances and the characters' outlooks on life.

(PLEASE NOTE: There are adult situations and violence in these books. Also, an excerpt of book six was posted recently on the author's blog. It is more graphic and violent than the books I reviewed here.)

                          * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

          Maryann McFadden writes novels about women who need time and space to make difficult decisions due to changes in their circumstances, relationships, and within themselves. Each woman finds her own path to solitude, not always comfortably, meeting kindred spirits along the way.

          Thoughtful and well-written, McFadden's stand-alone books all take place near the sea or a lake. These settings play important roles in the books.

          The Richest Season features two women at the different stages in their lives--one who needs care and one who needs shelter. A cottage by the sea gives them both comfort as they make life and death decisions.

           In So Happy Together, the lead character is a mother who always wanted to be a photographer. Through a summer class, she ends up photographing Cape Cod. Her avocation brings the settings alive. The light, the scenery, objects, and people are all described in brilliant detail so the reader can visualize the shots she is taking while feeling both the wind and the sand as she walks around looking for the right composition.

          The Book Lover is a triple duty book as the lead is a first-time author. She works hard to get her book into the hands of readers. Budding authors should take notes.

           The books have happy endings, but not always conventional ones. The settings stay with you--especially if you dream of time away by the sea.

What authors have provided Masterclasses for you?


Thursday, September 20, 2012

Finding Your Audience

From Cheryl's Writing Crate

I'll never forget the first time I was published.  It was an essay titled "Yes, We Have Seven Children and We're Proud of It" which was published in The Providence Journal in its Lifestyle section on October 6, 2002. I was up at the crack of dawn waiting for our paper to be delivered.  It was a crisp Sunday morning, and I didn't sleep a wink knowing that my "big debut" was going to be delivered to my doorstop by 6 AM.
My very first published piece was
this "Thinking Out Loud" essay
which was published in October 2002
"Yes, We Have Seven Children -- and We're Proud of It!

That essay changed my life.  Because I had yearned to be a writer from a very young age but was discouraged by guidance counselors and others who said writers very rarely have full-time careers, I only toyed with personal journals to fulfill my desire to write.  Deep down, I always believed in my creative heart that writing was my calling.  So when I received the stamp of approval from The Providence Journal--I was good enough to be in print!--I caught a very strong second wind to do more than dabble in a notebook.

Growing up I had fantasized about my ideal audience.  I originally thought that women would gravitate towards my style--my heartfelt and insightful takes on family life, fantasies, romance, and above all the humor I managed to find in every day situations would resonate with them.

Now I had an actual audience, readers who were engaged by my story about raising a large family. Once I had a taste of that, there was no turning back. 

Ten years later, my writing career has exceeded all of my dreams.  I've been writing for two wonderful local community magazines for almost a decade. I have my own family/humor column, work as a freelance journalist, publish on-line, and became an author in 2010 with my first book, Pregnant Women Don't Eat Cabbage. Plus I am Macmillan Publishing's Mighty Mommy with my own column and podcast--and now I'm a blogger! I have to pinch myself to see if this is all real!

Not only has my writing career unfolded in unexpected ways, the audience I thought I was writing for has changed as well.  You see, because I had to steal snippets of time to write while raising my 8 children, I found that an audience wasn't who I aimed to please with my words; it was really myself.  

Writing is a substantial piece of who Cheryl L. Butler is and will always be.  I write to satisfy my passion for writing, not to get accolades from an audience--although I love connecting with my readers!

Having an audience that is drawn to my words is certainly a major component of writing, but fully realizing that I write because I simply enjoy it and I simply must do it to feel vibrant and fulfilled is even more important.

If you write in your own personal journal or for a magazine, newspaper or other venue--how do you feel about who is reading your words?  

Is an audience what fuels your writing passion or do you have other reasons for wanting to write?

Monday, September 17, 2012

My Perfect Writing Tools

From Kate's Writing Crate...

          When I discovered Natalie Goldberg's Writing Down the Bones, she made becoming a writer seem possible--a lifeline when I didn't know any writers and no one I knew really supported my dream to become a writer.
          Among all of her excellent advice for writing and creativity, Goldberg suggests using inexpensive notebooks so you feel "you have permission to write the worst junk in the world" in them using pens that allow you "to feel the connection and texture of the pen on paper." Many years later, I still use spiral notebooks that I "can fill quickly and afford another" using "fast-writing pens because your thoughts are so much faster than your hand".
          These simple directives from Goldberg freed me from my fear of the blank page. I now had permission to write junk just as long as I wrote enough to fill a notebook every month. As it turned out, the more I wrote the less junk was in my notebooks.
          I had a goal I could achieve, but I had to go on a quest to find the "perfect" pen and notebook to make it happen.
           My perfect pen turns out to be a Pilot V Ball with the tinted barrel so you can see the ink sloshing around. I write in blue or black ink with the fine nib which moves quickly across the page. I edit with the red pen with an extra fine nib.
          I LOVE them! However, in the last year I have uncapped a couple of new pens from the boxes of 12 I bought only to have black ink explode all over my hands and anything else nearby. After years without any problems, not sure why this is happening. It has not dampened my enthusiasm. I only buy the blue and red pens now and carefully open the black pens I already bought over the sink.
           After trying out many brands, I found the 80 Sheet College Ruled Composition Book #730000 made by Fay Paper Products, sold in six solid colors, to be the notebook for me. When the chain drugstore where I bought them stopped carrying them, I called the company directly, told them my story, and they let me buy two cases. I was now a writer for the long haul!
           My supply is dwindling--only enough for another year or so, but I like to be prepared--so I want to buy another case. To my dismay/horror, the company has gone out of business. (I'm sorry for all the employees. Thank you for your excellent work.)
           I love these notebooks. I find them comforting, familiar, and sturdy. Now I have to go on another quest to find the next best thing.
           Amazing how such simple tools can mean so much. And I have learned my lesson: I have bought enough pens to last me for years; I request them as gifts; and I am spreading the word about them in hopes they become so popular they won't be discontinued.

What are your favorite writing tools?

Does reading Writing Down the Bones inspire you?

Thursday, September 13, 2012

The Beauty of a Writer’s Rut

From Cheryl's Writing Crate...

I don’t think I’ve ever met a person who has not gotten stuck in some type of a rut.  Whether you’re a chef, teacher, artist, fitness instructor, parent, gardener or a writer like I am, there are ebbs and flows of exceptional creativity. And even when you’re simply satisfied with the status quo, every now and again—BAM—we hit a brick wall and don’t know which way to turn to get on to a more fulfilling path.

When people find out I have 8 kids, they either think I’m crazy (depends on the day!) or assume that I must not have time to do anything much more than laundry, cook meals, and, on a good day, get my teeth brushed.  While those tasks certainly do take a good portion of my time, I have somehow always squeaked out enough time to write, even if it was a snippet of 15 little minutes. 

As my kids have gotten older and are now all in school, I’ve had the luxury of writing for more than 15 minutes at a time, and some days I actually have an hour or so!  For me, that’s the equivalent of winning the lottery!  (Well, almost!)  I’ve found, however, that I now face a challenge I never really had before; I’ve hit a handful of writer’s ruts. 

When I had to write quickly and on the go for so long, I had no choice but to get the words from my racing mind to my pen and pad or usually my keyboard because I didn’t know when the next rushed opportunity would present itself.  Now, however, with a little bit more time on my hands I’ve experienced a whole new scenario in the writing process, and, I have to tell you, I’m grateful for it.

My writing voice has pretty much stayed the same for the past 10 years.  I’m known for my humor and tell-it-like-it-is approach to family life. Because I’m writing about very personal and real life situations, I open myself up and invite thousands of people to enter some of my most private moments, which I have found most families can relate to.  Family humor and column writing is my favorite and most comfortable genre, but I also enjoy writing feature articles about the community, health-related articles, and am very excited to be in the process of writing my first novel.  As much as writing energizes me and gives me purpose, now that I am venturing out into more uncharted writing territories I find that it is also causing me to get stuck on a more regular basis.

At first I found this daunting, but now when I feel I’m in a rut with my writing style, my character development, or simply a stale imagination, I have used these opportunities to build some momentum which leads me to try new things such as coloring abstract designs with bright crayons or watercolors, or baking a new cookie, or reading a cookbook or craft magazine to inspire a breakthrough.  These are all things I keep close by in my Writer’s Crate!
Swishing a paint brush around with vibrant colors helps me to break through a writer's rut!

For me, ruts are a new blessing in disguise and I welcome them.  Without stand stills and blocks of boredom in my writing life, I may never take the time to tap into other creative venues that end up being building blocks for a more enthused muse.

How about you?  How do you break through your writing ruts?

Monday, September 10, 2012

Fun with Quotes and Six-Word Memoirs(R)

From Kate's Writing Crate...

          Inspiration can come from anywhere, but it is also smart to have inspirational things around you in your Writer's Crate. Cheryl has a vision board with quotes and photographs that works for her. I have my Common Books, these are journals filled with quotes I have copied from favorite books, articles, even TV shows--especially Charlie Rose where so many fascinating authors are interviewed.

          I use those beautiful hardcover journals sold in gift shops and bookstores. Sometimes I buy them, but, usually they are given to me for birthdays and holidays.

          In journals with lines on the pages, I print out the quotes by hand using my trusty Pilot V Ball blue pen with a fine nib. I keep the current journal where I read so I can copy down new quotes that inspire me immediately.

          For the journals with blank pages, I am more creative. I type the quotes on my computer using different fonts, print them, cut them out, and rubber glue them on the pages along with pictures and artwork that appeal to me. I also cut strips of pretty gift wrapping paper to make frames for some of the quotes and use stickers to highlight others.

          It's fun and soothing to do this, sort of scrapbooking for writers. It's also a reminder of how creative you can be given some time and space.

          Both journal types inspire me. Just depends on my mood which one I read. The important thing is to get inspired.

          I do have a third type of journal based on the book Not Quite What I Was Planning, Revised and Expanded Deluxe Edition, Six-Word Memoirs by Writers Famous & Obscure edited by Larry Smith, Founding Editor of Smith Magazine.

          If you can't think of anything to write on a given day, write about you or your life using only six words. I know it doesn't sound like you can say a lot, but you really can. For examples, visit, home of the Six-Word Memoir(R) project.

          The genre has become so popular, there are three more books available: It All Changed In An Instant More Six-Word Memoirs by Writers Famous and Obscure; I Can't Keep My Own Secrets: Six-Word Memoirs by Teens Famous and Obscure; and Six-Word Memoirs on Love and Heartbreak by Writers Famous and Obscure all edited by Larry Smith.

          I have shared this tip with all the writers I know. It's addictive and, best of all, it gets you writing. Some of my friends and co-workers now make sure to include Six-Word Memoirs(R) in conversations and emails. It's also a wonderful exercise for people of almost any age to engage in while sitting around the dinner table, during long car trips, or just to sum up relationships or situations at work.

          It's essential to provide yourself with inspiration so you can stay at your desk--or wherever you write--until you have finished your project or met your daily goals. That's how your writing dreams come true.

What inspiring items surround you when you are writing?

Have you tried writing Six-Word Memoirs(R)?

Thursday, September 6, 2012

An Inspired Space to Nourish Creativity

From Cheryl's Writing Crate...

I was introduced to the Little House on the Prairie series written by Laura Ingalls Wilder when I was about eight years old. The characters and their adventures captured my imagination—and my love affair with books began.

This adoration for books, especially the mystery, thriller, and romance genres, cultivated my passion for writing. I knew early on that I wanted what my favorite authors had—the opportunity to let your imagination flow, capturing the ideas onto paper with the hopes of crafting a page-turning adventure to mesmerize readers. 

Sounded simple enough, but instead I followed my second-choice career of business school as I didn’t want to starve as my guidance counselors warned I would if I pursued a writing career. My writing waned rather quickly. Though I still kept a journal, I didn’t write nearly often enough to feed my muse.

Once my husband and I began raising our eight kids (now ages 6-19), along with two dogs, my life was one big combination of tireless wonder, delightful chaos, and, in all honesty, slap-happy exhaustion. The only thing I was writing were notes to myself like: Cheryl, don’t lose your mind!

While my kids were very young, I was inundated with diapers, spit-up, and sleepless nights. At the same time, I was enraptured by many sweet moments that I would never have known if I weren’t a mother.
I put my reading and writing needs on hold. How I wish I had just grabbed a book of interest and read a measly 15 minutes every other day—at least I would’ve been keeping my dreams alive. What better escape from a day of cranky kids than a racy love story where the heroine didn’t have to worry about the drudgery of vacuuming the dust from behind her fridge, but instead she could pretend to be her lover’s French maid with the focus of buttering his hot croissants! Oui, oui! 

I wish I had had a reading and writing nook then as I do now. I call it my Writer’s Crate, symbolic of the crates that both Kate’s family and mine have used to train our dogs when they were puppies. These crates were safe havens for our precious dogs, and that basic need of staying contained when there are too many distractions around is exactly why Kate and I created our blog. Our unique writing spaces keep us grounded and on track so we can meet our individual writing goals and deadlines.

My writing space is a cozy nook in the dining room. I have computer armoire that I washed with a pale turquoise stain. The dining room walls are a soft yellow so the combination reminds me of the tropics which always lightens my mood when I want to get creative. 

My Writer's Crate is easily accessible because I can open and close the doors  anytime I have a few quick seconds or, even better, an hour or two to sit and write, write, write!  

Inside my armoire, I have a laptop, writing journals, and a framed vision board with some favorite quotes and photos that inspire me whenever I’m feeling stuck. This space is sacred to me--a place where I can nourish my creativity.

I also have three bookshelves close by that house my favorite writing books and novels by authors I admire and enjoy. A copy of my first book, Pregnant Women Don’t Eat Cabbage, is close at hand, too, as a reminder that, even with my crazy life as the mom of eight kids, there is always time to feed the muse and write!

Though I never refuse an opportunity to visit my Writer’s Crate, recently I implemented a regular writing routine. I awaken an hour before the rest of my family so that I can enjoy the peace and quiet of each new day alone with my thoughts.

How about you—do you have a special writing place or writing ritual that keeps you focused so that all your writing dreams can come true, too?  Kate and I would love to see your special writing places, so please share your photos with us.