Thursday, March 28, 2013

Spring Clean Your Writing Life

From Cheryl's Writing Crate

Anyone that knows me well understands my fetish with cleaning and reorganizing projects.  I don’t mind how pathetic it sounds, I love to clean and organize my home.  The fact that I have 8 kids may have something to do with that, but I really believe it’s that sense of accomplishment and peace I feel after tackling a messy cupboard and clearing away all the clutter with the finished result of an orderly area that functions better and is fun to look at once it’s neatly organized.
With spring here, many of us are embarking on spring cleaning projects in our homes, but there are lots of areas in our lives that could use a little freshening up, and for those of us who are writers, it’s the perfect opportunity to take a good inventory of what’s working in our writing life and what could use some rearranging and straightening up.
Here’s a list of 4 things I am going to focus on this spring in regards to breathing new life into my writing life:
1. Re-evaluate My Goals and Actions
Do I still have the same goals that I did six months ago? Am I choosing activities and writing rituals that are  in keeping with making these goals happen?  (For Example, one rather large writing goal I had in January was to really get cranking on the novel I started nearly two years ago.  I still have this as one of my most important goals, but I have definitely not committed the right amount of time and habits to making it happen.)
As a writer you can help relieve troubling thoughts by journaling about them. Some writers use these ideas and thoughts from the past to begin their memoirs.  I am doing this with my “morning pages” that I referenced in a blog post earlier in the month.
2. Stop Doing What isn’t Working
·        Am I procrastinating because I am bored with my writing projects? 
·        Do I still carve out quiet time to work in my writer’s crate every morning like I was doing in the fall?
·        Why am I getting distracted when I start a writing project—is it the environment, e-mail distractions, too much time checking out facebook?
·        Do I need to reconfigure my writing routine and work in the evening after the kids go to bed instead of getting up so early each morning only to find laundry waiting to be folded or lunches to be made for school that day?
By honestly assessing where my writing habits need some fine tuning, I am staying true to my most important goal which is writing each and every day.
3. Polish My Space to Shiny and Bright
Yes, I love to clean and organize, but like so many moms, I tend to focus on the main family areas in our home rather than my own sacred writing crate.  I am going to use the renewed energy that spring brings to do a little redecorating in my writing space and clear out some of the clutter.  I have some new inspirational quotes I plan on getting framed and will also rotate some of my favorite writing books off my book shelves and onto my desk for easier reference as well as a change of ideas from the several books I’ve been using over and over again for the past 6 months.
Even writers need to spring clean their "writing" lives!
4. Plant new seeds
Spring is a great time to do something new. I’ve always loved gardening and decorating because of the creative satisfaction I feel when I accomplish a pretty project.  When I work with paint or plants, it usually sparks some ideas for my writing projects.  I will be taking some time to devote to my creative muse in hopes that it will plant some fresh new seeds that will sprout into some exciting writing projects.
Simply by creating the above list, I already feel inspired to revamp some of my writing projects!  What about you—how do you clear out the cobwebs in your writing life and freshen up your spaces and ideas?

Monday, March 25, 2013

Reads for Writers: Writers' Memoirs on Solitude Provide Masterclasses

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 to be Masterclasses for characters, dialogue, backstories, plots, settings, voice, and/or creativity.
            I don't just love to write, I love to live a writer's life—and read about other writers' lives. We all need solitude to do our work, but how do we find it and where?
One bestselling example is Gift from the Sea by Anne Morrow Lindbergh, as she wrote:
"I began these pages for myself, in order to think out my own particular pattern of living, my own individual balance of life, work and human relationships. And since I think best with a pencil in my hand, I started naturally to write…"
Lindbergh transports her readers to a shore they may never have visited, but can picture perfectly. Collecting seashells—Channeled Whelk, Moon Shell, Double-Sunrise—and her thoughts, she shares insights she could not have had so easily at home with her five children and busy social life married to the famous Charles Lindbergh.
Dorothy Gilman also traveled away from her home to write. Sometimes her trips were research for her popular Mrs. Pollifax series with CIA plots based around the world. With her sons in college, along with other reasons, she moved from New Jersey to a small Canadian coastal village.

As she wrote in A New Kind of Country:
"This is about living in a fishing village in Nova Scotia, and it's about living alone, and about being a woman alone…but this is not about myself, not really. It's about discovery. We're collectors, each of us, for all our lives, collecting years, illusions, attitudes, but above all experience, and to me it seemed very simple: I wanted a different type of experience."
From the back cover: And so she began her life again, discovering talents and interests she never realized were hers…and most of all, understanding the untapped part of herself, almost as if it were a new kind of country, to challenge, explore, and love.
How brave to leave everything familiar and live with élan.
Rick Bass, author of Winter: Notes from Montana, and his artist girlfriend, Elizabeth, wanted to find their ideal artist's retreat in the West.
"…a place where Elizabeth could do her painting and where I could write (separate studios, of course, because we both like to work in the morning); a place near running water, a place with trees, a place with privacy…[but] we were so damn poor, defiantly poor, wondrously poor—but not owing anyone anything, and in the best of health—we were looking for a place to rent..."
After scouring several western states, they found caretaking positions in "a wild, magical valley up on the Canadian line over near Idaho. Yaak…wasn't really a town—there was no electricity, no phones, no paved roads—but a handful of people lived there year round."
In a place where the community gathers at the Dirty Shame Saloon, bears and elk roam, and cutting enough wood for the winter without cutting yourself means the difference between life and death, Rick and Elizabeth found not only their artist's retreat, but their home and happiness.

Where do you find solitude?

Thursday, March 21, 2013

Learning From My Worst Writing Mistakes

From Cheryl's Writing Crate

As a writer, I am constantly learning from my experiences, my successes, and certainly my mistakes.  As much as I love the craft of writing, I am never 100% confident that my final piece is perfect--far from it actually.

I'm the type of person who visualizes nearly everything I do before I complete it.  If I'm redecorating a room in our home, before I take the first stroke with a paint brush I close my eyes and see the entire room finished--in all it's fabulous glory!   The same for a meal I am cooking for my family or even a 10-mile power walk I am about to take.  Same scenario--I close my eyes and picture the finished product with me feeling satisfied and fulfilled.

With writing, it's not always that easy. I usually have a pretty good idea of what I hope my finished column, article, essay or chapter will read like, but just because my ideas are flowing freely, it doesn't necessarily mean my grammar, tense, or the fluency of my article is going to be  as good as it can be.  In fact, these areas are the ones I struggle with most as a writer.

If you're lucky enough to have great editors (like I do!) who can shape your final works into polished masterpieces, you have much to be grateful for.  And although I do have such wonderful editors, I am constantly striving to deliver my pieces with as much perfection as possible.

The Craft of Writing is a Combination of Passion, Ideas, Commitment , and  Learning from  Your Mistakes.

In order to do this, I keep a file of my favorite articles that pertain to all components of writing.
This one written by Clare Dodd is one I refer to often.  

To go from good to great, you may need a professional writer (ahem!) but to avoid looking bad, watch out for these common mistakes:
  1. Incorrect spelling. With spell-check software and Google, it’s much easier to spot and correct spelling mistakes. This is good because they undermine your credibility.
  2. The wrong word. Software alone will not find every mistake: it will not tell you if you have written their instead of there, or mad instead of made. Read through your copy and watch out for typos and homophones (words that sound the same but are spelt differently). Or, better, get someone else to proofread it.
  3. Changing tense. Be consistent. Pick a tense and stick with it. (The past, the present and the future walked into a bar. It was tense.)
  4. Affect / effect. Don’t confuse the two. Affect is a verb, a doing word, meaning to influence or alter. Effect is a noun, the name of something, meaning the change that has happened as a result of an action or other cause.
  5. Apostrophes. Only use an apostrophe to show ownership: “Clare’s informative article” or missing letters: “I haven’t read it.”
  6. Its / It’s. While we’re on apostrophes, this case deserves its own point because it’s such a common mistake. Its denotes ownership, for example: “I don’t like its (the carpet’s) colour. Whereas, it’s is an abbreviation of it is, for example: “It’s a lovely carpet.”
  7. Txt spk. Never abbrevi8 wrds the way u might on a txt msg. It’s hard to read. Apart from common abbreviations like CD or PC, avoid acronyms too if possible. You may think it’s professional to use the jargon of your industry but the odds are you’ll just make it harder for your readers to understand what you’re trying to say.
  8. Passive voice. If you can add ‘by zombies’ to your sentence and it still makes sense, then you have the passive voice. Mistakes were made (by zombies). The passive should be avoided (by zombies).
  9. Long words. Try to write the way you speak and don’t overuse the thesaurus. Long words make your writing harder to understand and, as a recent study demonstrated, they make you look less clever not more so. Short words are best.
  10. Formality. Too many people think that writing like a professional means writing in an extremely formal way, like a contract. Wrong! It’s okay to talk to your reader directly. It’s fine to abbreviate phrases like it is (it’s) and cannot (can’t). Feel free to use the first person: I and we. For example, it may sound more professional to say “the company recommends that users upgrade their software” but it’s actually more effective to say “we recommend that you upgrade.”
How do you keep your writing in check?  Please share with us in the comment section or visit The Writer's Crate on facebook and post there.

Monday, March 18, 2013

Blogs I Read


From Kate's Writing Crate...


            The Writer's Crate blog is another fun Literary Adventure for me. It has also become my favorite writing project.

In almost seven months, I have written about 15,000 words on topics I never would have written about without this blog. I am proud to have written these posts as I love letting other writers know about books that have helped me grow as a writer as well as lessons I have learned while writing almost 1,400 published articles and essays.
However, I don't just enjoy writing posts; I also enjoy reading them.
I visit all my favorite authors' websites to find out when their next books will be out as well as their thoughts about all things writing.

I also enjoy these blogs:

As I recommend his book The War of Art: Break Through the Blocks and Win Your Inner Creative Battles so often, no one will be surprised that I read Steven Pressfield's "Writing Wednesdays" posts. As the author of a dozen books, he has years of experience and is willing to share his thoughts on writing in funny and useful ways.
Meg Waite Clayton's First Novels section on her website is inspirational as authors recount their trials and tribulations on the way to becoming published authors. Most take years, but they never gave up. Book recommendations and writing tips are also parts of the site. Also recently posted there was a graduation speech given by author Neil Gaiman including his advice to always make good art—recommended listening for all writers and artists.
Don't Pet Me, I'm Writing, a blog by Tawna Fenske, provides a personal view of the writing and publishing of quirky romantic comedies. It is also irreverent and often edgy as she shares funny thoughts and tales from her life.
Libereading by Rayna: I love the title which Rayna defines as the act of reading freely. She reads an eclectic mix of books, then reviews and rates them. She is also a site editor for Diversify Your Reading.
Kristen Lamb writes a blog called WarriorWriters. She is an expert on managing social media when it comes to authors and their books. She is also the author of Are You There Blog? It's Me, Writer which Cheryl and I read before we began our blog. I find her to be helpful, funny, and inspiring.
As I have stated before, I think blogging is a great way to improve your writing. You have: the freedom to choose the topics to keep you interested; the pressure of a weekly or daily deadline to keep you writing and, if you choose to (and I highly recommend that you do), a hard word count to help you make every word tell. All things that make writing fun, stronger, and inspired!     
What blogs do you enjoy reading?

Thursday, March 14, 2013

Building a Better Blog for Your Readers

From Cheryl's Writing Crate

For me as a blogger, it's truly hard to believe that Kate and I have been blogging on our site, The Writer's Crate, for six months now!  As Kate shared in her blog earlier this week, once we hatched the idea to blog about our passion for writing, we brainstormed, plotted, laughed, and eventually got our plans in order to launch our joint effort--The Writer's Crate, last September.

The one thing I know for sure about blogging is that it is full of surprises!  Going into our venture, I was sure I would have a detailed plan for what I wanted to blog about well in advance.  Boy, was I wrong about that!  Because I'm the type of person who is very list and detail oriented, I surprised myself, most of all, when I realized about one month into our blog that I enjoyed and thrived on the last-minute thrill of coming up with an idea to blog about.

Having a partner such as Kate who is as passionate as I am about our blog and about writing and reading has been the icing on the blogging cake!  I am continually learning from her, and I always have a sounding board when I need to run ideas about anything--grammar, voice, subjects, or just plain old frustrations about writer's block.  In the end, it's all good--very good in fact, but I am finding that blogging is a therapeutic learning process, not simply another item on my "to do" list.

Now that we're well into six, steady months of blogging about all things writing, both Kate and I are both learning more every time we post about the ins and outs of blogging.  To Kate's credit, she has spent valuable time tracking numbers and finding ways to improve the flow of our blog. We both believe that as we continue our blogging journey, more readers will join us, and  before we know it, we will have a vibrant, expanding community of loyal readers who continually want to  raise the bar as high as possible when it comes to challenging their writer within.

I have just stumbled upon a new e-book that I plan on ordering later today, 31 Days to Build a Better Blog, written by Pro Blogger Darren Rowse.  This book is designed to help revitalize your blog.  
What caught my attention is that it is a workbook style.  The workbook is divided into 31 easy-to-follow tasks that you can work through in your own time.
Each step in the workbook contains:
  • A Task – something to DO that step.
  • Teaching – each day you’ll be given in depth instruction on both the WHY and HOW of the task of the day.
  • Further reading – so you can dive deeper on any task.
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This three pronged approach is designed so that you come away from the challenge having not only learned how to build a better blog but you’ll have actually achieved something with the knowledge.  
Even if I walk away with only one or two new ideas, I will feel that reading this e-book will be a success.  I will be sure to give a review in a future post about my thoughts!

If you blog, do you have any tools that you use regularly to improve your craft on a regular basis?

Monday, March 11, 2013

The Joy of Blogging

From Kate's Writing Crate…

            When Cheryl came up with the idea of this blog about eight months ago, I had no idea what we were really getting into. We spent weeks talking about it, researching how to set one up, studying other blogs, making decisions about the look of ours, naming it, and discussing timing and topics.
            Then the Big Day arrived—we started posting. Cheryl, working hard again, set up a Facebook page as well and we were off!
            After six months of blogging, here's what we have gotten into:
It's just plain fun to have the freedom to write about favorite topics. I love sharing experiences and highlighting books that have helped improve my writing in hopes they will help others do the same. As writers, we need all the support we can find. Writing is hard work, but it is a wonderful calling. This blog let's us celebrate writing and writers.
Expanding My Horizons
I'm always on the lookout for new topics for my posts. For example, I was pleased to find so many TV shows featuring writers and authors that I am working on my third list of ones to watch. Before this blog topic, I never would have guessed there were so many quality programs.
I am reading different genres for inspiration including poetry as poets use inventive language and imagery that inspire me to do the same. In the writing classes I recently attended, the teacher was a published poet. Her command of language, her turns of phrases, and her combinations of images illuminate moments in time or tell entire stories in powerful and memorable ways.

I also discovered The Art of Description: World into Word by the writing teacher's favorite poet Mark Doty. It's an intriguing and insightful guide to appreciating not only poetry, but language and "sonic texture". As an avid reader, I have an extensive vocabulary, but it isn't always apparent when I'm writing. This book reminds me to stretch for dynamic words, not settle for mundane ones.
Improving My Writing
My decision to have a hard word count of no more than 500 per post (except the Gift Book List) and the weekly deadline have made me a better writer. The truth is: the more you write, the better you write—and keeping things brief means making every word tell as prescribed in The Elements of Style by Strunk & White (page 23 of the Third Edition). Being accountable to a writing partner as well as our blog's readers has made me a more disciplined writer, too.
Becoming Braver
I will admit I was scared, terrified really, when I published my first few posts. What if no one read the blog? What if there were negative comments? What was I going to write about next?
Happily, we do have readers, especially on Facebook. The comments have been positive and/or helpful. And I'm not always sure what I am going to write about next, but that's part of the joy of blogging.
If you blog, let us know about your sites.

Thursday, March 7, 2013

Brain Candy for Writers

From Cheryl's Writing Crate

One of my passions, other than my family, my dogs, my writing and reading (what can I say, I’m a passionate gal!) is surfing the net for interesting information.  I have discovered so many random fun facts, neat hobbies I never knew about, a collection of mouthwatering recipes, dozens of unique and colorful ways to decorate my home, endless health and nutrition articles—well, the list goes on and on.

A couple of weeks ago I was randomly perusing author websites (yet another passion—finding out what makes other authors tick!), and I came across an unbelievable find!  A creative website for writers called The Bookshelf Muse which is dedicated to helping writers via descriptive tools, knowledge sharing and support.  I felt at home immediately, and I just had to share one of those tools that I am now enamored with—Braincandy for writers.  This is basically a collection of awesome, eclectic links for writers covering everything from soup to nuts in a writer’s world. 
Angela Ackerman is co-author of The EMOTION Thesauraus, A writer's  guide to  character expression.

Here are some of the links that I found so very interesting and helpful.  Once you check these out be sure and visit the site for yourself.  (Hey, we writers need to stick together!)   I hope you’ll be as impressed and taken with it as I am. 

Specialty Dictionaries: Need to know more about a specific subject like boats, wine, music, Oil and Gas, mythology, etc? OMG, awesomeness, right here.

ISBN: Looking for a book and want to know who published it? Is your book similar to something on the market and you want to see what other books are published on the same topic? Want to look up a publisher or imprint to get an idea of what they currently publish? Great way to research!
Senses Word Pack  & More Senses Word Packs: Here's two neat little list of words for Taste, Smell, Sounds, Textures and Sight. It might help you brainstorm an exact match for your character's experience.

Character Archtypes: A list of 140 different archtypes. I know--140? I had no idea there were so many out there in the big bad world of fiction and film, but here they are. This is probably the most complete list I've ever found.

Food, Past and Present: OMG people. This is so much more that a simple Food Timeline. You have to see it to believe it. If you are writing about any point in history and want to know exactly what crops were available, what people in different countries ate and how it was prepared then BAM, this is the place. 
Confusing Words: Death to Homophones! Affect or Effect? Complement or compliment? Or maybe you just get stuck on those words that are difficult to pin down a meaning for. All you do is type in a word and it helps you with the meaning. Quick and easy!

Self Control: Do you find yourself checking email , Facebook, Twitter, etc when you're supposed to be writing? Of course you do! And if you're like me, you probably bemoan the fact that you need to have the Internet on to research bits of info as you write and so the temptation to 'peek' at other stuff can't be circumvented. Enter Self Control--it blocks your Facebook, Email, etc for a set period of time that you choose while leaving your Internet accessible. No more excuses! (Note: I just found this so haven't used it yet, but it looks great, doesn't it?)
Nonverbal Dictionary: Know all those non-verbal gestures (a blush, a bobbing Adam's apple, a chin jut or crossed arms, etc) that slip our minds when we need them most? Well this dictionary has got you covered. All the possible human gestures are explained and many shown, which makes it an excellent companion to the Emotion Thesaurus (in sidebar).

Synonyms for Commonly Used Words:
 Here's some alternatives for those bland or overused words we sometimes dump into our MSs like Bad, Get, Go, Have, Look, Move, Put, Take, Show, etc. Great for that final polish.

OneLook Reverse Dictionary:
 Okay, I'm breaking my rule on not posting anything I've linked to before, but ONLY because this resource is one I would crumple up and DIE without. I love how I can search for a word or idea that is kinda-sorta-ish what I need and then get a huge host of other words that are related to it. I use this often for my Thesaurus Posts, for example, because I can type in the subject I'm focusing on and often get a slew of content that is directly related to it.

Thanks so much to  and The Bookshelf Muse for allowing us to repost these great tips!  Have you found a certain link on the web that is like Braincandy for your writing?  Please share with us here in the comment section and above all, keep on writing!

Monday, March 4, 2013

90-Day Novel Project Update 3

From Kate's Writing Crate...

            Despite the excellent support and insights of Alan Watt, writing a novel is proving even more difficult than I thought. However, I am following through.

            The story I started to tell had too long a timeline so big changes had to be made in my plot. Characters and dialogue have also been challenging. A first-time novelist has lots to learn so Watt's gives his readers an extra week to work on the first act, if they need it, which I did.
            A first rough draft is daunting, but breaking it down to 500 words a day (or 750, 1,000, 1,500, or more) is what makes it possible. I've found that writing scenes rather than trying to write the novel from beginning to end works better for me. I just need to get the story down on paper. In truth, it helps when I remind myself no one else is going to read this draft.
Remember to be kind to yourself if you do not, or cannot, meet your word count every day. My job's editing and printing deadlines make it difficult to work on any other projects for ten days each month. The important thing is to keep writing.
            It's gratifying to see the pile of pages grow, but I find myself drawn to editing, rewriting, and polishing these pages instead of writing new ones. Now is not the time to do any of that. I need to let go of "perfection" and just write the story.
            This project takes up a lot of time and concentration. If you are planning on following Watt's 90-Day Novel plan, know that you will have to make sacrifices: less TV, reading, socializing, etc. However, you gain confidence, a sense of accomplishment, a greater appreciation for all authors, and a sense of community as you join their ranks.
When I hit my stride on good days, words just pour out. Other times, it's a struggle to make my word quota. The reality is that every day I write is a good day. I am living my dream. I have overcome my own resistance (it's easier to not write than to write) and defeated the naysayers—and you can, too.
Writing is hard work. No way around that, but, if it's what you want to do, it's worth the effort.
As support is essential, I also recommend The War of Art: Break Through the Blocks and Win Your Creative Battles by Steven Pressfield. I find reading his insights get me writing everyday. I simply flip open to any page and read until I cannot wait to pick up my pen or get to my keyboard to work on my novel and other projects.
Pressfield's thoughts on "The Artist's Life" is posted in my Writer's Crate as it is so inspiring. I wish he had put it on the first page of his book instead of the last as it reinforces my belief in myself and my writing goals.
How are your 90-Day Novels going?
My next update will be posted on April 1.