Success only flourishes in perseverance -- ceaseless, restless perseverance.
--Baron Manfred Von Richtofen

Thursday, June 30, 2011

Summertime...And the Bloggin' is Easy

My brain feels like that picture up there. I'll call it summer brain. It's a good thing, really. It's just I can't think up anything interesting to post about.

I have written 35 pages of my new novel. Not bad. I have also been taking kids swimming and to the library and out for picnics. Hopefully, we'll get some camping in soon. I love the lazy feel of summer, the lack of schedule, the freedom to play.

What have you been up to this summer? Anything fun? How's your writing going? Anything else you want to share?

Friday, June 24, 2011

To Live Deliberately

I went to the woods because I wished to live deliberately, to front only the essential facts of life, and see if I could not learn what it had to teach, and not, when I came to die, discover that I had not lived.... I wanted to live deep and suck out all the marrow of life..."   Henry David Thoreau

Photo by Nicole Lawton

I'm not going to run off to Walden Pond (though it looks lovely, doesn't it?), but I do feel a keen desire to live deliberately and suck out all the marrow of life. Sometimes I feel like there are a million things getting in the way. I move from one activity to the next feeling like I should be doing something else instead, something more important. This vague sense of guilt follows me around.

But, hello? That is life. Those little daily moments are the "essential facts of life." Living deliberately is not so much about what you do, but about your state of mind while you do it. If I would just take the time to be in the moment--to notice, to wonder, to enjoy--I would realize that I am not missing out on anything. Be it writing, walking, taking care of my family, visiting friends or relaxing at the park. That is the marrow. I just need a reminder now and then.

And Thoreau said something else I wholeheartedly agree with: 

"How vain it is to sit down to write when you have not stood up to live."


Our life is frittered away by detail. Simplify, simplify. 

(He said so much more, I may have to start a Thoreau quote post as a regular feature)

What do you do to suck out all the marrow of life?

Monday, June 20, 2011


No man is an island,
Entire of itself.
Each is a piece of the continent
A part of the main.
~John Donne

For Whom the Bell Tolls has always been one of my favorite poems. It seems more true than ever with all the ways we have to connect to each other these days. Social networking has been a big boon for me. I've met and connected with so many wonderful and helpful people. Those are connections that I value. It has to be kept in it's proper perspective, of course. Social networks shouldn't trump our most important relationships. It should enhance them, I think.

And so, I'm seeking more connections today. Please join me if you haven't already. Let's see what value we can add to each other's lives. It doesn't pay to be an island.

What other Social Networking sites do you like to use? What benefits do you get from them?

Friday, June 17, 2011

Critiques Part II: It is Better to Give Than to Receive

When it comes to critiquing is is truly better to give than to receive. Receiving critiques is important, but generally, while you may get advice that can carry into your other work, getting a critique will only help you with that story.

Giving a critique, on the other hand, opens your eyes to what works and doesn't work in a story like nothing else can. Critiquing forces you to define what engages you in a story and what throws you out. What makes the writing invisible and what makes it intrude.

One of the best things I ever did for my own writing was to become an editor for Mindflights. I have learned so much about what it takes to write well just from reading and judging submissions. (If you ever get a chance to do something like that, take it!)

So, a few rules for giving good, useful critiques:

#1: Be honest! This is the first and foremost rule in my mind. A critique is useless if you aren't truthful.

#2: Be kind. Yes, you can be both honest and kind. Remember the feelings of the person receiving the critique. You have to state your honest opinion, but you can do it in a tactful way. (You can be blunt, but don't be rude.)

#3: Remember that it is just your opinion. The other person does not have to take all of your suggestions and that's okay. I usually prefer not to know if they've taken my suggestions. (Unless I've asked for a rewrite on a submission. Then they'd better take my suggestions!)

I should probably state for the record that I don't belong to a critique group. I have not found them effective for me. Luckily, I have some trusted writer friends who are willing to give me feedback. Maybe face to face critique groups have different rules to consider. I don't know.

What has been your experience with giving critiques?

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

How to Give and Receive Critiques Well

This was the second panel I did at CONduit. A very important topic for writers. I have been giving and receiving critiques for seventeen years now, so I think I know a little bit about it. For the sake of shorter posts (we all like shorter posts, right?) I am going to divide this topic into two different posts. Today's will focus on receiving critiques.

You need feedback. No matter how long you've been writing. No matter how good you are. You need to be critiqued. It's not always fun, but it is necessary.

Rule #1 when receiving a critique: Don't take it personally.  It's not you being critiqued. It's not your story. Your story exists in your head and it is perfect. What is being critiqued are the words you have used to convey your perfect story into the head of the reader. (Remember the "This is my manuscript. This is me." routine? Use it again here.)

Rule #2: Everyone's opinion is valid. If someone is expressing their opinion, it's their opinion. You don't have to agree, but don't argue with it. Make sure you thank those who have taken the time to read and give feedback on your work.

Rule #3: You only have to take the advice you want to take. The story is yours. Listen to all the feedback, comments and suggestions. Let them sit a few days. Then, make the changes that you feel excited to make. If you don't think a suggestion will make your story better, ignore it. This is so important. Get feedback, take suggestions, but never never forget that this is your story and no one else's. You have to stay true to it.

Do you have any advice on receiving critiques? I'd love to hear it.

Monday, June 13, 2011

Writing at the Pond

So many fuzzy ducklings on the pond this morning. So adorable. The cool breeze sent ripples across the surface of the water. I walked for almost an hour and wrote two pages sitting on a bench overlooking the pond, all while my MP3 player served up the shuffle of unending awesome. I had offered to bring the kids along, but they refused. Even the three year old. Too bad for them. I think the pond may be my favorite place in the world.

Where do you go for inspiration?

Monday, June 6, 2011

How to Add Flavor to Your Vanilla Character

That was the title of the first panel I participated in at CONduit. We had a great discussion on character.

What comes to mind when you think of a vanilla character? Ordinary? Safe? Forgettable?

Yeah. Not want we want in our fiction, right? We want vibrant, dynamic, memorable characters. Characters that live in the readers heads and in their hearts.

So, how do you create them? My best advice in this arena is to observe people in real life. Yes, you might even consider eavesdropping. You have colorful characters all around you. Watch what people do. Listen to what they say. Try to imagine their motives, their feelings, their history. It's loads of fun.

Consider how setting affects your character. Where do they live? In what time period? What kind of culture do they come from? What kind of family? How does all of that affect them?

You can give your character quirks, but to just add quirks randomly is sort of cheating. Create quirks that really add depth to your character. One of the panelists gave the example of a character who stutters because when he was young his house was burning down and when he called 911, he was too frightened to be able to get the words out. Deeper than just a plain old stutter, right? One the main characters in my novel has a locket she wears with pictures of the family she never met. Whenever she's upset or feeling any strong emotion, she reaches for that locket. During the course of the story, the locket is taken from her. Then whenever she reaches for it out of habit and finds it isn't there, she is reminded again of all she's lost. That's the kind of quirk that works well.

Creating characters is probably my favorite part of writing. Great characters are definitely my favorite part of reading. So, take time to make sure your characters have a  little flavor to them. Don't we all want something a little more like this?

Friday, June 3, 2011

Words of Wisdom from Tracy Hickman

Last weekend at CONduit, I attended a lot of panels that Tracy Hickman was on. The man is a fantasy legend and everything he said was just brilliant. He kept spouting amazing quotes so fast, I couldn't write them down quickly enough. I thought I'd share some of what I learned from him.

On the Streamlining Your Fiction panel, he suggested you take your manuscript, hold it at arms length, point to it and say "This is my manuscript," Then point to yourself and say, "This is me." Do this over and over until you believe it. He also pointed out that story is structure. Anything else is just chrome (ie: the part of the car that doesn't do anything for it). When streamlining, you have to get rid of the unnecessary chrome. He said, "If you don't streamline your text, you're reader will." They'll skim if the story is good enough. If it isn't, they'll streamline by just putting your book down. (Or throwing it against the wall. Or burning it.)

He pointed out on several of the panels that our goal should not be to get published. Anyone can get published, especially now. Our goal should be to be read. That's what is really important. He said, "The written word does not live until someone else reads it."

He also said, "Story is not about who we are. It's about who we should be." That was in the panel on when to use cliches. (Yes, there is in fact good reason to use cliches. That was probably the best panel I attended.) That quote there hit me in the deepest part of my heart.

Listening to him speak was probably the best part of the convention for me. Well, that and hanging out with Danyelle.  =)

Tracy Hickman and his wife and fellow writer Laura are offering online seminars on writing which look fabulous. You can find them at Scribe's Forge.

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Out of This World Adventure Winners!

Today's the day! The day I announce the winners of the Out of This World Adventure giveaway. I hope you all had as much fun adventuring as I did. I had 104 entries from 40 different people. Very cool. A HUGE thanks to everyone who participated. So, without further ado, I give you:

The Winners!
(Selected by
Candy Bar winners:

Ali's post: Melissa

Terry's post: Sheila Deeth

David's post: Teri Anne Stanley

Nisa's post: Tiffany

Todd's post: Melanie Goldmund

Danyelle's post: Donna K.Weaver

Elizabeth's post: Theresa Milstein

Shallee's post: Cindy Taylor

Stephanie's post: Linz

Aubrie's post: Rochelle R.

And the Grand Prize Winner:

Rochelle R!

Rochelle is a lovely young lady who blogs about books, college and life at Rocky's Ramblings. Go get to know her. You won't be sorry.
Congrats to all the winners! Email me your address and I'll get all the prizes in the mail ASAP.