Monday, October 29, 2012

Dogs: One of the Many Ways Reading Has Influenced My Life

From Kate's Writing Crate...

          Learning to love reading is the greatest gift I was ever given---thanks Mom! She is a teacher so I learned to read early. My parents also ensured there were plenty of books to read since they often had their noses in their own books.

          I have a lot of books because I am descended from a long line of avid readers; I inherited the personal libraries of two family members; and I still have my favorite books from childhood.

          However, I don't live surrounded only by books, a computer, notebooks, and pens. I have family members who demand anonymity and their privacy (fair enough, blogging is my choice) and pets who don't--their numbers vary, but as many dogs as possible and one cat.

          Books have influenced my life including my career choice and even the pets I choose. Early on I read The Five Little Peppers and How They Grew by Margaret Sidney, a classic reprint given to me by my grandmother. It's the story of a widow raising her five children. They don't have much money, but they have a lot of fun until one day when the youngest child, Phronsie, is enticed away by an angry organ grinder and his little monkey. She is saved by a sturdy boy named Jasper and his majestic German shepherd appropriately named Prince. The two of them watch over Phronsie until Ben, her oldest brother, finds them. They all become fast friends.

          I was smitten with Ben, Jasper, and Prince; however, I didn't think I could ask for another older brother, but I could ask for a German shepherd. So I did, repeatedly, until my parents bought a puppy--a black Lab puppy, a better dog for children they thought. He was a nice dog who preferred running off to swim in a local watering hole than playing with us until we fenced him in.

          Since then, I have had the privilege of owning many German shepherds, some adopted adults and some puppies.

          They are the greatest watch dogs. As I work from home, they watch me constantly. They follow me from room to room watching to make sure I don't get lost or leave the house without them. They watch to make sure I do not sit at my desk too long by bringing me their giant tennis balls and dropping them at my feet until I get up to join them in a game of fetch at least hourly. They watch for anyone to touch the leashes as they are always ready for a walk. And, I swear, they watch the clock so they can nudge my elbow exactly at meal times.

          If they are outside watching over the yard and neighborhood, they come in often to check on me. Since I am watching them run and play outside my office window, that seems only fair.

          Ben and Jasper may have lived with me only in a book, but German shepherds like Prince have moved in providing wonderful companionship, writing interruptions, regular exercise--and protection from angry organ grinders.

How have books you read as a child influenced your life?

Do you find pets help or hinder your writing?

Thursday, October 25, 2012

Finding A Constant Source of New Ideas to Write About

From Cheryl's Writing Crate

People always ask writers where they get their ideas because the process seems like such a mystery. I think finding an idea has everything to do with being open to whatever the world is throwing at you. It's as if your brain is flypaper. Your job is to see what sticks.

Writer Neil Gaiman has a great blog post on this concept in which he says, "You get ideas from daydreaming. You get ideas from being bored. You get ideas all the time. The only difference between writers and other people is we notice when we're doing it." I love that.

Being the mother of eight kids doesn't always offer up ample time for daydreaming, but I have found that even just a few short moments can deliver a handful of amazing topics that I can take and mold into funny columns, serious articles, or even whimsical fodder for the journals that I keep about family life here in the Butler household. 

The key point I’d love to share with you is that when you’re open to any and all possibilities that may present themselves, you have nothing to lose by grabbing your favorite pen and pad of paper and allowing the words to flow.

For instance, last week I was driving the cross country team carpool home when a gust of wind swooshed a bunch of ripped newspapers in front of my car actually blinding my view for several seconds. I admit I was rattled momentarily, but the more I thought about the incident, the more ideas began to flow into my mind about what this meant in terms of my writing. By the time I pulled in our driveway, it hit me—sometimes I get stuck in neutral and just can’t get my mind moving in a forward or backward direction. While the wind pushed those newspapers temporarily in my line of vision, that same wind also unstuck the papers and blew them to the side of the road, allowing me to see clearly again. Aha! Sometimes you need to be blindsided in order to let a brand new, clear picture come into focus to begin again.

A writer can find ideas almost anywhere, as long as he/she is open to receiving them.
This moment is just one of many that I can refer to as an example of being open to the possibilities that present themselves throughout the week for ideas to keep my muse going.
Sometimes these moments are quite clear. Other times they are temporarily hidden. But when I’m in tune to allowing my creativity to feed off of the ordinary, it’s then that I come up with my most passionate pieces.

How do you get your ideas for your own writing pieces?  We’d love to hear about them in the comments section!

Monday, October 22, 2012

Reads for Writers: J D Robb / Nora Roberts

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 for me within their books.
          Masterclasses take place when performance artists or musicians work one-on-one with students. Writers don't generally have this option, but I have found some books provide Masterclasses for characters, dialogue, backstories, plots, settings, and/or voice.

          Nora Roberts as JD Robb provides a Masterclass in writing a series where the two leads, Eve and Roarke, aren't only memorable as a tough, attractive homicide lieutenant and a gorgeous, brilliant, and occasionally ruthless billionaire, but also for their backstories which aren't even completely revealed through the 35th book. Yes there are 35 books in the In Death series, plus a few novellas, and it is still going strong.

          The plotting is well done. In each book, Eve and Roarke, along with co-workers, friends, and relatives, track down criminals and murderers.

          The series works because the author also gave both leads very complicated, emotional, stark, scary, and overwhelming childhoods so there is plenty of conflict within and between them. This also influences how they do their jobs and deal with plot twists springing from their dark pasts. (PLEASE NOTE: These books contain adult situations, language, and graphic violence.)

          The author set this series about 50 years in the future with helpful droids, AutoChefs that provide delicious meals in both homes and cars, and some vehicles that can hover and fly to make getting to crime scenes and chasing criminals easier.

          In another twist, the main characters get married early on. The marriage is sometimes another layer of conflict as Eve and Roarke occasionally fight and feel the need for distance, but they also acknowledge the strength and security this bond gives them. Their dialogue takes on various undertones depending on their moods which anyone in a long-term relationship will recognize.

          The supporting cast has grown wonderfully as the series progressed. These characters provide a great deal of humor to books that have very dark sides. Murder isn't neat or easy in these books, but all the characters have distinct personalities, backstories, and lives outside the crimes which enhance the plots and keep readers waiting impatiently for the next installment.

          I am narrowing down Nora Roberts' vast successes to her Stars of Mithra series---Hidden Star, Captive Star, and Secret Star. This trilogy provides an excellent opportunity to learn about longer-term plotting as the conflict and action, which centers around one long weekend from the viewpoints of three best friends, has to last through all the books.

          As in most books, some characters are privy to information that others are not, but the information (in this case, two intertwined crimes) affects everyone because of the choices one of the best friends makes in the first book. Each of the two other best friends then takes action based on her personality traits and strengths which add depth to the series. The men they run into, run from, hire, are suspected by, and fall in love with also have strengths, knowledge, and backgrounds to add their own spins on the various situations they find themselves in.

          The dialogue flows well, is sometimes witty, and at times is filled with outrageous lies. As romances, happy endings are guaranteed, but twists in the plot keep readers guessing until the very end.

What authors provide Masterclasses for you?

Thursday, October 18, 2012

A Writer’s Personality

From Cheryl's Writing Crate

There are many days when I am amazed that I am the mother of eight kids. It was never the plan, but I am so grateful that some higher force thought I could handle countless temper tantrums, emergency room visits, baking cookies for last-minute bake sales, holding a basin at 2 a.m. when one of them was barfing all over me, kissing endless boo boos, and teaching four of them to drive.  Each time I'm called “Mom”,  I realize, without a doubt, I’d never change a thing.

There are also many days when I sit with my never ending thoughts and marvel at the fact that I am a published author and full-time writer! I’m not Virginia Woolf, Stephen King, or J.K. Rowling. Even better—I’m Cheryl L. Butler. I have my own unique writer’s voice and style. Though many readers have not read a single paragraph I’ve written, I believe that someday that will all change. It’s not that I have some psychic super powers that tell me this, but what I do have is something more important—I have a writer’s personality which will help me persevere.

Although I always knew writing was in my blood, I didn’t have enough gumption and faith in myself to take my writing seriously. However, my writer’s personality slowly came out of hiding as I shlepped through my days as a stay-at-home mother until I couldn’t ignore the signs any longer.

Here are a few of the telltale signs that reaffirmed that I had no choice but to write:

An imagination that never sleeps

I’ve always had an active imagination. When I was four, my family lived in Puerto Rico. Not only did I have a pet iguana, I also created a magical world underneath one of the coconut trees that grew in our yard. I would sit underneath those wispy leaves holding one of the rough, shaggy coconuts and pretend that the milk sloshing inside was transporting my sister and me to an ocean made of creamy chocolate or to a rainbow-colored beach where mermaids would swim with us. 

As an adult, I still enjoy visualizing crazy, make-believe worlds, but the difference is I now write everything down.

Patience—it’s a virtue and a writer’s best friend

As the inspired novelist Richard Bausch said so beautifully about a writer’s patience:

“I don't teach writing. I teach patience. Toughness, stubbornness, the willingness to fail. I teach the life. The odd thing is most of the things that stop an inexperienced writer are so far from the truth as to be nearly beside the point. When you feel global doubt about your talent, that is your talent. People who have no talent don't have any doubt.”

This quote reminds me that although I’m nearing 50 and haven’t written a best-selling piece yet, I am on my own timetable and the journey to reach my writing goals is just as important as the final destination.


Applying the gift of your senses

If we are vigilant, we can use all our senses to live more vibrant lives. Rely on them to navigate everyday matters as well as the most difficult or exciting paths you choose to take. (I do!) When you let your senses lead the way, they open up your brain allowing it to transform experiences into concrete and vivid details thereby furnishing yourself with an endless source of writing material. 

Let your writer's personality inspire you to sit down and write.  Never mind if you don't know where it will take you, you just have to find a starting point!

Diligence—make your writing a priority

I have kept journals since I was a young girl. I write notes on our family calendar every month, jot things in my children’s scrapbooks, send letters to faraway friends, and slip “I miss you” notes into my kids’ lunchboxes. 

This was the type of writing I had known for years, until I answered an ad in a local town-wide magazine that was looking for writers over a decade ago. Now I write two or three 1,200+ word articles as well as a column every month. I also write for this blog once a week and run the newspaper club at my children's school--all of these deadlines while working on my novel, too.

To accomplish all my writing goals, I sit down and write every day from 5 a.m. – 7 a.m. and usually between 9 p.m. and midnight—faithfully. I truly believe that diligence is the backbone of my writer’s personality, and, in combination with the other traits I listed above, I will persevere until I completely satisfy my muse--which hopefully, will take a lifetime!

What qualities do you consider the cornerstones of your writer’s personality?  We’d love to hear about them.

Monday, October 15, 2012

Becoming a Writer Takes Practice and Perseverance

From Kate's Writing Crate...

          People look at established writers and authors as though they woke up one day fully-formed and sat down with pens and paper or in front of computers and churned out flawless prose. Au contraire as working authors and writers will tell you.

         On CBS News Sunday Mornings 9-10:30AM, many authors are interviewed about their latest books usually in their sanctuaries so you can see how they really live and work. No two have the same writing routines--and ideas come to them differently.

          Even after writing 200 books, Nora Roberts said on the show recently, "It's still hard work." She writes 6-8 hours a day.

          Those who write the books we love are human just like us. The biggest difference is they didn't give up. They wrote. They put in the hours, improved, and succeeded.

          We can, too!

          Writing is not a zero sum game. There is no writing limit, no global word count. Everyone in the world could write and the world would be a better place. People would feel validated. Communication skills would improve. Imagine if everyone wrote--all those unique voices and points of view shaped by countless cultures would reveal the human condition in all its facets.

          However, not everyone has the desire or, sadly, the education needed to write.

          Also, most writers I now know were discouraged from becoming writers. It seems like other people cannot believe anyone they know is smart/talented/interesting/unusual/(pick-your-own-reason) enough to be a writer.

          Who are they to judge or jeer?

          Writers who write are happy--willing to grow, finding opportunities and taking chances. 

          Since each beginning writer has a fragile belief in him- or herself, the writing dream can be crushed easily. Plus we do not know how to become writers. There are no apprentice programs--so just keep writing.

          Write. Write in secret. Write at night. Get up early and write. Keep writing however you can. Fill a spiral notebook each month.

          I always wanted to be a writer, but was told no money/future in that so I ended up being an accountant despite no happiness in that for me. I kept reading about writing. I wrote on my lunch hour. I also scribbled down lines that came to me as I worked on spreadsheets.

          I confided my dream to an equally unhappy co-worker. Turns out she wanted to be a doctor. Since we were stuck, we decided to help each other. I picked up a pre-med application for her and she found a writing class for me.

          In the class, I met a magazine publisher and a newspaper columnist. The first hired me to write; the other recommended me to intern at a small book publisher where I was later hired.

          The former co-worker is now a doctor back in her home state and I am a writer and editor--both as happy as can be.

         All it took was one brave step in the right direction--so be bold and then be happier!

What bold steps have you taken to become a writer?

Thursday, October 11, 2012

Staying Inspired with Writing Websites

From Cheryl's Writing Crate

Ever since I began to take my writing seriously, I find that I awake each morning with more of a purpose and a keen eye to take in all that goes on around me. By no means do I jump out of bed with a pen and pad and start scrutinizing the consistency of my undercooked bagel or frown upon a raw, gray day that was promised as balmy and sunny, but now I'm much more aware of the details that surround me.

For example, years ago when I worked full time in a dental office, I would drive the same route to work, park my car mindlessly in the office lot, and meander through the entrance completely focused on my habitual list of tasks that would need to be completed before our patients began arriving. It was all second nature, and I took it all for granted.

Now as a writer, my experience traveling to that same dental office is an absolute startling occurrence. While driving, I notice the jewel-toned leaves that are dancing on the trees. When parking, I admire the shiny silver sports car next to my blue minivan. I imagine the person who owns it being adventurous and daring. The antiseptic and sterile smell of the dental office immediately embraces me as I walk through the waiting room doors. It’s the same office I worked in for 15 years, but my writing mind and senses have transformed it into an entirely new destination.

The atmosphere that now envelopes me--whether I’m shopping for a pound of tart Granny Smith apples or enjoying a romp with our feisty Pomeranian puppy in the damp sand at the beach--definitely translates into my writing because I'm much more tuned in.
Even the most mundane of tasks that I perform now offer me inspiration for my writing projects; however, I also look to other sources to inspire me and help me grow as not only a writer, but as a woman, a wife, a mom, and a friend. Because I spend a lot of time in my Writer’s Crate with my laptop close by, I now rely on a handful of writers' websites that energize me, offer great writing tips, and overall keep me open to new ideas that are nudging me to grow creatively.
I draw inspiration from what is around me as well as the writers' websites I've listed below.  I also have this poster framed and placed in my Writer's Crate--it reminds me that writing is an essential part of my life now, and I must never forget that!

Here are four of my favorite Writers' Websites:

Women on Writing   WOW! is a global magazine designed to support women's creativity, energy, blood, sweat and tears, throughout all stages of the writing process.

Write it Sideways      Since 2009, Write It Sideways has been helping visitors see the world of writing from a fresh perspective. Its experienced team can help you learn new skills, define your goals, increase your productivity, and prepare for publication.

Filbert Publishing  A plethora of interesting articles and advice to help you make your writing sparkle!

Writer Unboxed      Writer Unboxed began as a collaboration between aspiring novelists Therese Walsh and Kathleen Bolton in January 2006. They’re thrilled the site now includes contributors from the not-yet-published to bestselling authors and industry leaders–and that it’s grown into such a rich community for writers.

Do you have any writing sites that you can't live without?  We'd love to have you share them with us.

Monday, October 8, 2012

TV Shows Highlighting Writers 1

From Kate's Writer's Crate...

          As a writer, I spend as much time as possible reading and writing to improve my skills. However, sometimes I need a break.

          Here are a few favorite and inspirational TV programs that often showcase writers, authors, and books:

CBS News Sunday Morning from 9-10:30 AM hosted by Charles Osgood. This is a high quality series that covers news, the arts, heartwarming profiles, history, and pop culture. I love the author profiles. Reporters go to the authors' homes and into their offices or writing spaces to discuss their beginnings, successes, routines, and thoughts. I have found many new favorite authors through this show.

Charlie Rose almost daily on PBS, check local listings. More writers are interviewed on this show than any other that I watch. Mr. Rose invites them to sit at his round oak table in studio for in-depth discussions of their work and lives. I watch all of them, even if the book topics aren't of interest, because these are professional authors sharing their knowledge, writing routines, and advice. Another great way I discover new books.

Book TV weekends on C-SPAN2. I enjoy the author discussion panels from book fairs around the country. This series covers non-fiction authors speaking about their books in various venues. Check the listings on

American Masters on PBS, check local listings. This series profiles authors, artists, actors, musicians--performers of all kinds.

Masterpiece on PBS, Sunday nights and various replays. These are high quality programs and mini-series often based on classic and beloved books. They inspire me to read them.

Once Upon a Time on ABC and Grimm on NBC are both based on fairy tales, but the writers for each show went in divergent, but engaging tangents.

The Next List on CNN hosted by Dr. Sanjay Gupta. People on the cutting edges of various industries, programs, and professions are profiled. Some have written books and articles, but mostly this show opens your mind up to possibilities while highlighting how far passion, hard work, and dedication can take you.

NOVA on PBS, check local listings. Covers many topics and opens the mind to possibilities, too.

Doctor Who on BBC America. A charming and sometimes ruthless Time Lord travels throughout history with human companions meeting famous and infamous people. Author characters like Agatha Christie and Shakespeare make occasional appearances. The plots are well-written. The characters unique. Just fun to watch!

Sherlock Holmes. A writer, famous for his Doctor Who episodes, has modernized the detective in amazing and clever ways on PBS. The CBS version, Elementary, reveals how paying attention to details is essential for good plotting.

Prophets of Science Fiction on the Syfy Channel. While not a genre I often read, the highlighted authors changed the world. Real-life scientists, who invented many modern marvels, discuss how they were inspired by these Sci-Fi books. These authors were truly ahead of their times.

          Writers and authors can and do have big impacts on the lives of others!

What TV shows inspire you and your writing?

Thursday, October 4, 2012

Habits for Writers

From Cheryl's Writing Crate

There are dozens of habits that most of us practice daily. We brush our teeth, (hopefully floss!), shower, pay our monthly bills, and in a perfect world, call our mothers at least once a week.
As writers, however, we might not be able to say the same for our writing routines. Writers are infamous procrastinators. But we don’t have to be, if we cultivate the writing habit.

Here are the steps that I have implemented to reach my writing goals despite having the busy life as a mother of eight!
      Set and write down specific goals for habit. If you don’t commit to creating this habit on paper, you aren’t really committed to forming the habit. If you want to form the habit, you have to be fully committed. What is your habit going to be, specifically? When and where and for how long and what will you do? Write it down. I have committed to writing at least 3 pages every day for my current novel, or my family humor column, or even my “to do” lists.

      Write at the same time daily starting with a trigger. It’s best if you have a certain time of the day to start writing. I prefer early mornings before the rest of my family awakens. Pick a time that you won’t be distracted by other activities. Just as important as having a scheduled time for writing is having a trigger. What’s a trigger? It’s the event that sets off your habit. For example, let’s say you want to write in the morning — you might awake, clear your head and think of positive thoughts, make some tea, and then start writing. So making tea is the trigger for writing. Choose a trigger that you know you’ll do every day, and then do your writing right after it without exception.
As a result of creating a solid writing habit, I published my first book, Pregnant Women Don't Eat Cabbage, in 2010.
Commit yourself to others. One of the best things I’ve ever done as a writer is to find myself a partner—that would be my blogging partner, Kate, to help keep me accountable for my writing goals.  Because we both share a passion for writing, we touch base with one another on a regular basis to keep ourselves on track.  

      Put complete focus on it for one month. One of the keys to forming a new habit is focus. If you place your full focus on forming that habit, you’re likely to succeed. Once I committed to taking writing seriously, I made it a priority to write every day for at least one month. Because I was focused on this goal, it helped me formulate a regular writing routine nearly every day from then on.

      Find ways to stay motivated.  Motivation is key when it comes to successfully staying on course.  Think about what motivates you to do anything that you love and then make it a part of your routine.  I am highly motivated by visiting writing sites that help “move me along”. One of my favorites is Here you are prompted to take 60 seconds to write about the word at the top of the screen. The goal is not to think—just write!

What habits have you found help you stay on track and write?

Monday, October 1, 2012

Words Count When It Comes to Word Counts

From Kate's Writing Crate...

          While growing up, reading was second only to breathing in my life. As long as I can remember, whenever I had a problem or an interest, I went looking for and discovered books that enlightened me.

          When I decided I wanted to be a writer, I again turned to books. I read about writing, rewriting, and editing. Not sure what genre to choose, I read about writing novels, romances, memoirs, screenplays, and non-fiction.

          I took one writing class. I learned more about the craft, but, more importantly, I got my first two writing jobs from connections I made there.

          Before I got these jobs, I wrote occasionally. I had to work writing in around my 9-5 job, family obligations, errands, chores, illnesses, exhaustion, and resistance. In the end, I didn't accomplish enough.

           However, once I had professional deadlines, my writing habits became regular and ingrained. I made the time to write. Editors were counting on me and I was not going to disappoint them or myself.

           Now my regular monthly assignments are writing profiles and articles after interviewing individuals and members of organizations. I also write book reviews and essays.

          The word count for these assignments is a range, not a hard number. I never gave much thought to the word count when I wrote. I just wrote, rewrote, and edited until the article was done then checked the word count. It usually fell within the range so the assignment was complete.

          But I now realize I wrote only well enough.

          I made this discovery when I gave myself the hard word count of 500 maximum for my posts on this blog.

          I still write without a thought about the word count although I may track it. I rewrite and edit my posts four, five, six times or more.

          Then I check the word count and, for me, the real fun of blogging begins. I refine and sharpen my sentences; this is not to say I ever reach perfection, but I improve the posts with each pass.

          It's essential to make every word tell--to use the most descriptive, encompassing, or specific words, which means searching and stretching my vocabulary. When I find each one, I recognize it--almost hearing a click--and no other word will suffice.

          I have made similar rewrites and edits before, but because of the hard word count, these improvements really resonate in me, especially when I am at the 500 limit and find another change that must be made. I then have to make difficult decisions and rewrites to return to that total. At times, it's frustrating, but, mostly, it's exhilarating!

          I think writing a blog with a hard word count is one of the best ways to improve your writing. Along with the pressure of a weekly deadline, blogging is a high stakes game with a potential world-wide audience. What more could any writer ask for? Well, being paid would be better--and you might get some offers. You won't know until you blog.

Do hard word counts improve your writing?