The One Word Resolution – 2017: Commit

Things that make me especially happy and a bit grateful today:

  1. My whole family and I having today off.
  2. Having another week before I start a class.

As one who works in education, I am also ever grateful for winter break and even more thankful and appreciative when a district opts for a calendar that allows for 2 full weeks off. I am not currently in a position where I desperately need this full 2 weeks, but I remember the days of teaching in the classroom and noticing a huge difference at having 2 weeks off instead of a week and a half or even just over a week. I know that in many ways this time off is a privilege, but I’m not going to back away from the ever-present argument that teachers put in gobs of hours and in order to serve our children best, this perk is well-deserved.

With this kind of grace period, the desire to make New Year’s Resolutions grows. I’ve written before about my take on New Year’s Resolutions – and I haven’t really changed my stance on it except that a couple of years ago, I remember reading about the idea of a single-word resolution. The idea is to find a single word that you can focus your energy around that might make all list-style resolutions act as stepping stones.

Two years ago I chose invest. I was in a company that I started to feel uncertain about and had a role that was one part rewarding, one part draining. As a firm believer in “you get what you give”, I knew that the more I put into making the job better for myself, the more I would get out of it. Invest. It applied to a lot of other aspects of my life, too.

I seemed to have skipped it last year, but I wanted to come back to it again this year. My word this year? Commit.

I feel like I’ve been sort of wishy-washy with some of the areas in my life in the past months and recognized that I needed a change. I’ve already enacted some of this in the past month. For example, I’ve been wanting to become a runner again, so 3 weeks ago I started taking advantage of the indoor tracks at my district’s high schools and dove into a Couch-to-5K program – I’m in week 4! I’ve also enrolled in a class to start on a path to an additional licensure and there are a couple of other areas I really want to simply commit myself to so that I can make things happen.

When I originally read about this idea, it was suggested that you write the word down somewhere you can see it easily and frequently, to encourage you to keep on track. That’s my next step today.

commit

What about you? What one word will you use for your year-long resolution? I’d love to read about it below in the comments!

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Saturday Summation – 10 December 2016

Bits and pieces of things that caught my eye not only for my own interest, but enough to want to share with you, too…

This is kind of a minimalist summation post. I’ve struggled with writing anything at all in the past month, even these more basic Summation posts. So I’ve plucked a couple that have really stuck with me and threw in some recent recommended reads:

Reading Stuff:

Buzzfeed had an article Alanna Bennett that talked of the generation that grew up with Harry Potter and its current relationship with the HP world. I felt it gathered my thoughts pretty well – as a writer/author, I totally get the desire to continue in a world that gave you so much back in so many ways, but personally, I kind of feel like Rowling might have done better to leave it all well enough alone. And yet… I read the Harry Potter and the Cursed Child script and mostly enjoyed it (there was one key point that I didn’t like as well, the foundation for the story in the first place – it’s a little tired), and I went to see Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them  – mostly because my youngest was soooper excited to see it. I enjoyed it more than I expected, but am still troubled with Rowling’s lead up to it with her American magical lore and co-opting, unsuccessfully, Native American/First Nations ideas. So you see, I’m conflicted and basically continue to circle back on “how about concentrate on your Cormoran Strike series, instead” camp. What do you think?

Writing Stuff:

Kate Moretti shared a post a while back on preserving our creative selves in times of trouble that spoke to me. I haven’t been overly successful with her suggestions, but I appreciate them and even though words have not been making their way back into my routine, I have dedicated energy into different endeavors (especially professionally) that has helped.

Recommended Reads:

Echoes of Family – Barbara Claypole White (A) (my Goodreads review)
The Moon in the Palace – Weina Dai Randel (A)

When the Moon Was Ours – Anna-Marie McLemore (YA)

Currently reading: Exit Signs by Patrice Locke, Great Expectations by Charles Dickens, and listening to my first Jack Reacher novel: Killing Floor by Lee Child

Song of the Week:

Yesterday, at the end of my walk, a song from the playlist of one of my novels came on that I had only recently added and it was a catalyst for ideas on how to revise that particular one. I set it on repeat during my drive home from the indoor track in order to keep the brain going. And now I have hopes that soon – maybe this weekend – I’ll actually get some words down to support those ideas.

“Be Here Long” – Needtobreathe:

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Nature and Music: Nurturing the Writerly Soul

I meant to write this up and post it last Monday – you know, back when I felt hope and optimism – but since this little writing story started with music and ended with music, and because more music came my way this weekend, it’s coming to you now.

A couple of weekends ago, I had the unexpected pleasure of spending the day on the University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire campus to read, write, walk, and hang about while my oldest son rehearsed with many high school peers from around the state (and beyond, obviously, since we’re from Minnesota). It was a gorgeous weekend as we’ve been having unseasonably warm and sunny days this fall.

I’d been struggling with finishing the current draft of a novel. I was THIS CLOSE to the end, but could not quite get the words out. The first thing that helped (although, admittedly it was more helpful for how to transition into Book 2 of this duology than with how to end Book 1) was my son’s high school Gala concert. It’s a yearly fundraising concert that features the top band, orchestra, and choral groups. In other words, some beautiful music.

And so, the following Saturday, I was determined to squeeze the words out, no matter what. I settled in at the UWEC student center – Davies Center and stared at the page. Then outside. Then the page. And then, a student started playing the piano on the second level. It was perfect. “Hallelujah” and “How Great Thou Art” and something else that I didn’t recognize. It was perfect. My main character finds solace in a piano and it seemed quite fitting. I tweeted this out:

screen-shot-2016-11-13-at-4-50-15-pm

I found out later that the university chancellor favorited it and retweeted it, which got me a lot more favorites, but even more interesting was this follow up tweet:

screen-shot-2016-11-13-at-4-50-37-pm

Sorry, Chancellor Jim. Didn’t mean to stir things up.

(Here’s the piano in question, by the way. Not gonna deny it does look like a nice one, though I don’t know much about them…):

piano

And so, with that inspiration, I changed over my playlist to my David Lanz one on Pandora.

Was that the cure?

Well, no.

I had lunch with my son, tried some more, with no success, and then decided to take a break. I went on a hike at the nature preserve:

trail

Stopped to walk out on this jutting out rock:

juttingrock

And stared at the cool pattern in the river for a bit.

coolwater

Kept going and saw this ahead:

 

annecopse

Doesn’t it remind you of a space that Anne and Diana (of Anne of Green Gables) would play in? That then encouraged me to take a break on this bench and read for a bit:

bench

The book: When the Moon Was Ours by Anne-Marie McLemore (I recommend)

Now, I thought, now I am ready. I headed back to the student center and, well, I’d like to say the words suddenly flowed out, magically, but they did not. I persevered, however, and managed out 1200 words, which is great, if only it hadn’t taken all day.

The temporary reward, though, was listening to this group play:

writingday

And the good news is that the next day I DID finish. Boy, I needed that because just two days later was the election, and I haven’t been able to write anything at all since then. I’ve not even wanted to try.

And now, I want to try. Words are my fuel and they are my voice. While I cannot always express myself in the ways I want to in essay or verbal form, I can do it in fiction. I am not sure what will happen when I put myself in front of a blank page again, but after another Honor Band concert at St. Olaf College this past weekend…

stolaffestival

…I have hope again that I can do this writing thing.

For my song, I could have gone with a piano version of Hallelujah, and I do love that song, but I’ll go with the other from that day, How Great Thou Art.

 

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Saturday Summation – 22 October 2016

Bits and pieces of things that caught my eye not only for my own interest, but enough to want to share with you, too…

 

Writing Stuff

There’s all kinds of great advice in Chuck Wendig’s “Quick Story Tips” – which includes both “dos” and “don’ts”. I’m glad he didn’t spend too much time on #3 regarding secrets and lies. These are good for your new reader, but tiring for your experienced one. It also requires a fine balance. If the whole conflict is resolved by one character simply revealing the truth early on with far fewer consequences, then an author has relied on it too heavily and leans towards lazy storytelling, I think.

If you’re a writer, you might have people in your life that keep you from feeling like it isn’t serious for you, that it’s just a hobby. I have been super fortunate to be surrounded by family and friends who understand my passion and mission with writing, which helps a lot with my momentum (not that I don’t lose it every once in a while, but that’s all on me and no one else!). Nancy Johnson reminds us to self-talk: “Think of writing as your career. Even if you’re not getting paid for it. Yet. It’s not a hobby. It’s not the magic that springs from your muse. It’s your job.” Read more on losing the mythological muse.

So let’s say you’re writing and hit one of those many obstacles that make you wonder, now what should happen? How can I up tension? Lisa Cron says too often we search for an external factor that doesn’t fit with the story at large. She reminds us that instead, “The story doesn’t come from the external events, it comes from what those things mean to your protagonist.” Her post on Where Drama Really Comes From walks us through a great process on recognizing this issue and how to work through it and resolve through knowing our characters and story already, vs pulling in something new.

Just for fun: a Never Have I Ever “drinking game”, writer’s edition:

 

Reading Stuff:

Quite a while back, I wrote a couple of posts about the importance of not only details in our writing, but accurate and authentic ones. I started with details vs story and continued later with realistic vs authentic details. This past week, Kimberly Sullivan asked if sloppy research – ie, getting the details wrong – in a story drives you crazy. How much is too much when it comes to slipping on this research and getting things obviously wrong vs. forgivably wrong?

 

 

Publishing Stuff:

Have you ever wondered what it means when an author gets an advance? Probably the biggest misunderstanding is that it is money outside of royalties (sales profits) – like a bonus. However, this is not the case. Susan Spann describes the nature of advances (and understanding that it is what we more logically should connect it to – as though it was an advance on the next paycheck) offered through publishing contracts.

As a reader, you might not care at all about who has published the books you read, but as a reader AND a writer, it becomes ten-fold more interesting! This graphic came out recently that shows the intricate web of the many, many imprints that fall under each of the “Big 5” publishing houses. Super helpful.

 

Video of the Week:

Both kind and entertaining, Canadians tell us Americans that we ARE great. I hope they’re right – and not just because politics are making us doubt it right now. I mean, I think of how often we get messages from citizens in other countries that support us in times of crisis or messages like this one below and I sure hope we have lots of American citizens doing the same for citizens in other countries because it sure is encouraging and what keeps my hope alive for world peace and cooperation.

 

 

 

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A Writer’s Brain Under Duress Is Still a Writer’s Brain

One of my critique writing partners recently told me that she liked reading my post about my parents’ divorce because it reassured her that one doesn’t have to have suffered in life to be able to write dark or gritty material in fiction. (And if that seems weird to correlate to my parents splitting up, then you’ll have to go read that post to understand better.)

It’s true I certainly believe a writer will do better having some sort of experience with a difficult situation (coupled with good research), but it certainly doesn’t have to be first-hand experience.

On the other hand, direct personal experience obviously is a boon to a writer looking to include it in her story. “Write what you know” may be a broad statement to include “what you know of the human experience”, but it clearly includes specific knowledge, too.

My past week has included two trips to the E.R., both resulting in overnight stays in the hospital, among other things. Sure, there’s a lot I can pull from that (in fact, at one point they moved me to the hall because they needed my room, and I was only waiting to be admitted. I told E.R. staff that it was writer’s gold for observation.), but where I decided to really dig in was what followed the most recent hospital visit.

Cardiologists added a new medication to my regimen and a side effect is headaches. Let me tell you, I had that side effect in spades, that side effect took over like a Penguin-Random House merger. If you suffer from migraines, I’m sure I don’t need to tell you much for you to understand.

[SIDE NOTE: Very fortunately for me, this side effect will ease away as my body adjusts, which is not something migraine sufferers or anyone else who has chronic pain can say. Also, I recognize that while my experience was intense, I was still able to think through it. I don’t want to minimize the pain that those who suffer from chronic episodes of any sort that rate 9-10+, disabling them from any kind of functional activity.]

One night the pain was so intense, it radiated out from the front of my head, down the back of it, down both sides of my neck, and into my forearms. Regular pain medications couldn’t keep up.

There wasn’t much I could do at that point to distract myself imaginatively from that pain, but after some of it receded and decided to just have a romp only in my head, I let my writer brain go to work. Maybe I couldn’t make lemonade, but I sure could squeeze something from that experience, right? And maybe distract myself in the process?

How could I effectively describe the pain without using “throb” or “pressure” for example? How, in the future, can I help my readers feel the pain with my characters?

It felt like bolt gun practice.

Yep, that was a good start.

And obviously we can use the thesaurus.

“Throb”: beat, pound, thud, drum

“Pound”: beat, batter, pummel, hammer, clobber

There are some good ones there, but hey, we can do better than that can’t we? We’re writers, not middle school students working on a grammar worksheet.

Let’s see.

Margie Lawson might suggest twisting a cliché for “fresh writing”:

My head pounded. < — Total cliché.

My head pounded as though there was a construction competition and the current event was a jackhammer contest: who could break into my head or out of it first?

The Incredible Hulk squeezed my brain while Captain America pushed back with his shield to keep my head from exploding. (I live with a bunch of Marvel superhero fans.) 

Some people love fireworks. Try having all the dud ones explode in your head at the same time and you might change your mind.

Donald Maas might suggest emotional detail:

The pain in my head curled tighter, tighter around until I no longer cared about who wronged me or what those wrongs were. All I could feel was the physical necessity of pushing through the bolt gun firing in my head. (I had to put that bolt gun in somewhere…)

Have I given you a headache yet (in more ways than one since these examples aren’t thrilling me, either)?

How about the relief?

As my head became unshackled, I smiled, too tentative to bound in joy, knowing how quickly the chains could cuff me again.

Wait, that’s only partial relief, isn’t it?

Well, now you know where I was at when I wrote this post. 😀 😀 😀

Let me hear from you – what are fresh ways to describe physical pain? Or what about the release one feels when the pain passes?

For this post’s song, I thought I’d better go with something soothing rather than headache-inducing – maybe that will further loosen the creative juices…

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Saturday Summation – 01 October 2016

Bits and pieces of things that caught my eye not only for my own interest, but enough to want to share with you, too…

Every occupation has its busy “season”, and for education, September is definitely one of them. Thus, I’ve let the Summations and other potential posts slide.

Here are a few make-you-smile tidbits, though, from the past month that I still want to share:

  1. Storyteller gold, right here, with this Target employee offering us a highly entertaining account of his first week at work, interacting with various customers. I love the perspective he gives on each an every one of them.
  2. How to publish the next great American novel? I enjoyed this tongue-in-cheek post which, to be honest, is full of snark and possibly bitterness, but many a writer can relate, I’m sure.
  3. If David Corbett is to be believed (and I’m too tired and lazy right now to do fact-checking, so let’s just go ahead and believe him), then the word and socio-linguistic meaning of “twitter” came from Chaucer and “yahoo” from Swift. He lists others, along with one of those FB type things about creating Shakespearean insults, and many other fantastic linguistic goodies in his post.

 

Recent Recommended Reads

If I Was Your Girl – Meredith Russo (YA) [My Goodreads review]

Hamilton: The Revolution – Lin-Manuel Miranda and Jeremy McCarter (A) [My Goodreads review]

Scarlet (Basically the whole Lunar Chronicles series – Cinder, Scarlet, Cress, Winter) – Marissa Meyer (YA)

Harry Potter and the Cursed Child – J.K. Rowling, John Tiffany, and Jack Thorne (A) [My Goodreads review]

Homegoing – Yaa Gyasi (A) [My Goodreads review]

Now That It’s You – Tawna Fenske (A) [My Goodreads review]

 

Video of the Week

A little over a week ago, I spent several days in New Mexico at a writer’s retreat. I was surrounded by so many amazing writers and authors and second to simply meeting so many of them face-to-face for the first time after many months of virtual interaction, was hearing the stories. And I don’t mean their fiction. I mean *their* stories. Even though so many stories represented long struggles and squiggly lines to goals, they were encouraging. Many stories were a lot like author Erika Robuk’s below, and the inspiration was that indeed, we all are remembering why we are doing what we do; why we started.

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Saturday Summation – 20 August 2016

Bits and pieces of things that caught my eye not only for my own interest, but enough to want to share with you, too…

Reading Stuff:

Fanfiction, Wattpad, and now Hooked. This is a pretty cool new bite-sized story source – stories that are presented entirely in SMS-style text messaging. You read the first person’s text, then get a “next” button to see if you want to read more, which will reveal more of the conversation and story. I’m intrigued.

Writing Stuff:

I’m no expert at all regarding copyright, but I did do a lot of research around it when I was developing web design lessons for my 8th grade students. Students are sure to want to use all kinds of popular things on their websites, so helping them understand copyright and “fair use” details was a valuable lesson. So when it came time to decide whether or not I could use a piece of a song for a section opener in on of my books, I knew that wouldn’t be a “just drop it in, I’m sure it will be fine” sort of thing. In fact, music is full of sticky wickets. I am super glad that Sidebar Saturdays has covered this issue in their series.

As someone who is currently re-writing a story and considering an overhaul of another, this post by Dennis Gaunt regarding whether or not a story is the same after dramatic revision/re-writing was interesting. He starts with a comparison to the Ship of Theseus and that really works. I kind of needed it, too, because while I have not feared tackling the current novel I’m re-working, I am nervous for the other one. Frankly, that other one has always been intimidating, which sometimes drives me crazy, and other times not, because I know it is helping me grow and stretch as a writer. Completely re-building can indeed make something stronger.

From Thomas Despin and sent along by a friend – writing can be hard, but we do it anyway. A piece that affected me nicely at this phase of my writing.

Story – plot – trumps all for some, and yes, this is a pretty big deal, but for me, more often than not, character is king. I want to empathize with a character in a book I’m reading, not just sympathize. Chris Adler talks about how when writing, we also need to really know our characters in order to convey the great story.

“Until we white writers are ready to listen, until we’re ready to accept that, yes, we are a part of systemic racism, yes, we benefit from white supremacy, it doesn’t matter what the tone is, we won’t be able to hear or understand what’s being said.” Author Justine Larbalestier talks about White Fragility and listening and learning vs. feeling offended or defensive.

 

Publishing Stuff:

This post from editor Kate Sullivan is from a while ago, but an agent I follow recently shared it. I think this editor is on the right track with recognizing that white agents and editors saying they “didn’t connect with the character” is a problematic thing to say to authors from marginalized populations, but then she goes on to say “If most editors are white and straight and middle or upper class, of course they won’t “identify” or “connect” with a diverse perspective. “ Honestly, that POV is the problematic one. Why should any of us assume we couldn’t connect with a character who is different than we are? Haven’t we assumed that readers from non-white, non-heteronormative, non-neurotypical populations will still love white, hetero-, etc protagonists? She follows up with some valid suggestions, but I think her post highlights how narrow agents and acquiring editors are still reading from their submissions list.

I’m not sure if this post encourages me or discourages me about the publishing process –Sarah Callender writes about the endurance needed to reach publication. She’s on her third novel (since finding representation), still hoping the first two might get picked up in spite of their non-conformity to a lot of category standards. I do appreciate that she has an agent who has really stuck by her, regardless.

 

Video of the Week:

Do you know what the best thing is to donate for a community that befalls a disaster – natural or otherwise? Money. Check out this article that gives examples how almost everything else gets in the way, and the video below that explains the value of cash donations above anything else.

 

 

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