Saturday, January 21 2017
Our topic for the January Round Robin Blog is: Everybody wants to write a book, but most do not. Writing is hard work. What got you started, and what helps you get through a complete story?
I think everyone has a story in them and we often hear people say they want to write a book, or they should write a book. But the truth is, writing really is hard work. At least, writing that is captivating, convincing and capable of drawing the reader in, and keeping them on the edge of their seat until the very last page. There are some who freely admit they can’t or don’t wish to write. Back in the day of correspondence that included picking up a pen and paper, I had friends who shrugged and said, "I’d never know what to say." But story telling is as old as mankind. Writing a book is story telling in print.
Part of this month’s question was what got me started. Well, back in my junior year of high school, I was fortunate to be assigned to Mr. Fred Keye’s English class. I didn’t think I was fortunate on that first day, though. He began the class by informing us that we would lose five points for every misspelled word. I cringed. I was the worlds worst speller and those were the days when anything below a 70 was failing. He threw us a lifeline by suggesting that he expected us to keep our dictionaries on our desks and referring to them when we didn’t know how to spell a word. Even during a test. That was the beginning of my fascination with vocabulary. You would be amazed at the wonderful things you can find in a dictionary.
Mr. Keye’s next challenge was to write 500 words on something you could smell. OMG? What 500 words? Was he kidding? The assignment seemed impossible. But as it turned out, it wasn’t. When I stopped gasping and put my mind to the task, I ended up with 500 words about the smell of sheets dried on a clothesline – something most kids today have no idea what they are missing. Climbing into a bed my mom had just made up fresh was something I loved. I got an A+ on that very first assignment and every word was correctly spelled because that was what had been demanded of me.
Learning to write well is a lot like that assignment. I had something to say and I’d been given the tools to do it well. Writing a book is very similar, just a whole lot more than one night’s assignment in high school English. When I embarked on my first novel, I didn’t have the tools I needed. It’s written in pencil on yellow lined paper in a file somewhere, but I have no inclination to ever revisit it because I know how much I’ve grown as a writer over the years. And one thing I’ve found along the way is writers are the most generous of people in sharing the things they’ve learned from folk who came before them. Paying it Forward is alive and well in the world of authors. There are dozens of daily or weekly blogs that have terrific posts on the nitty gritty of writing. You can find conferences all over the country that feature workshops on “how to.” There are also hundreds of craft books from the essential Elements of Style, to character development, plotting, dialog, and books focused on specific genres.
So, now it’s just a matter of finding the time and discipline to write the story that’s in your soul, and if you end up enjoying it, all the stories that your busy imagination can come up with. Some folk are what we call Plotters and others, like me, are Pantsers. The plotters create detailed outlines, story-boards, and fully developed synopses before they begin writing the actual book. Pantsers generally have a good idea where they are going, but the road map could be nothing more than an image in their mind, a stack of index cards with plot points and ideas, or a file, like I have, filled with snatches of dialog, scenes and important turning points. I also start with a very detailed biography of my main characters which means I know my hero, heroine, protagonist and antagonist so well that once I put them in a situation, I don’t have to wonder how they are going to react, although I admit they sometimes surprise me and say things I never imagined coming out of their mouths.
As for the “What helps me get through a complete story?” That depends. I’m traditionally published and when I’ve already sold the story, I have a deadline and that tends to keep me focused on finishing. But when I’ve created wonderful characters I love, but have put in jeopardy, I am impelled to finish because I want them to have a happy ever after. But the most important word here is DISCIPLINE. I have to want to finish, for whatever reason. Then I have to find the personal discipline to put aside the time, turn off all the distractions (including social media) close the door to my library and as the Nike people like to say, Just Do It!
What to know what inspired other writers and how they get the job done? Hop on over to these sites and read their posts.
Margaret Fieland http://margaretfieland.wordpress.com
Heather Haven http://heatherhavenstories.com/blog/
Dr. Bob Rich http://wp.me/p3Xihq-SK
Connie Vines http://mizging.blogspot.com/
Victoria Chatham http://victoriachatham.blogspot.ca
Helena Fairfax http://www.helenafairfax.com
Beverley Bateman http://beverleybateman.blogspot.ca/
Marci Baun http://www.marcibaun.com/blog/
Judith Copek http://lynx-sis.blogspot.com/
Rachael Kosinski http://rachaelkosinski.weebly.com/
Diane Bator http://dbator.blogspot.ca/
A.J. Maguire http://ajmaguire.wordpress.com/
Rhobin Courtright http://www.rhobinleecourtright.com
Tuesday, January 17 2017
It's been one of those days . . . like for about a week now. You know the kind of day, I'm sure. Ever heard the joke about the woman who decided to clean the kitchen and came across an unpaid bill in a pile of stuff shoved into the corner of the counter? She decided to pay it straight away because it was already late. She heads for her desk and the checkbook, but discovers the last check was written out on Sunday for the church offering. So, she digs through the closet for the box with replacement checks, but it's empty. Then she remembers the new checks were in yesterday's mail which she left in the car. So out the garage she goes. Yesterday's pile of mail is still sitting right on the front seat where she left it. But so are three empty water bottles. She grabs the bottles and heads to the recycling bin. But the bin it out by the curb awaiting collection. When she gets to the curb, the recyclables have not been picked up yet, but the rubbish has. So she drags the rubbish barrel back into the garage and hunts for a replacement plastic liner. But the box is empty. Her husband has another box in the basement, so back to the house, down the stairs and to hubby's bench. She pulls a new plastic rubbish liner out of the box and returns to the stairs, where she decides to grab the half full paint can and take it back out the garage. The shelf where the paint should go is soaking wet. What? Where did the water come from? Wait - that's not water. She sniffs her fingers. It's not paint thinner. Not water either. She's not sure what it is, so she hustles back to the kitchen to get the spray cleaner and some paper towels. But the towel dispenser is empty. And the new package of paper towels is still in the trunk of her car. Back out to the car, lug the paper towels, and while she's at it, the giant on-sale package of toilet paper, plus a box of bath soap, also on sale. She deposits the paper towels on the counter and heads for the linen closet to store the TP and bath soap. The linen closet it open and she remembers that she meant to change the sheets on the kids beds. So, after stowing her purchases, she finds two sets of sheets and matching pillow cases and heads to the kids room. Turns out crossing the floor to get to their beds might be dangerous to her health so she leaves the sheets on the corner of a dresser and promises to make up the beds after the kids get home from school and clean up their room. By now she's exhausted. Time for a cup of coffee. As she sits with her hands wrapped about the steaming mug she realizes she's been on the go all morning, but the kitchen is still not cleaned up, the bill has not been paid, the mail is still in her car, the shelf in the garage is still wet with unknown substances and the rubbish barrel is sitting in the driveway without a new liner. How can she possibly have been so busy and yet gotten nothing done?
Well, that's my day. After spending the last two weeks getting two newsletter's out, my own and one for my writer's chapter, sorting through piles of my father's paperwork and getting payments scheduled for his care in the nursing home, trying to get both my own and my father's brokerage accounts unrestricted (due to a letter I need to sign and return, but which hasn't yet been sent to me) so I can place a couple trades, I had planned to get back to my work in progress this week. It's been so long since I actually worked on it, I spent yesterday catching up to where I stopped writing. And today was supposed to be . . . well maybe tomorrow . . .
Tuesday, January 10 2017
For the most part, I don’t care for reality TV, but I make an exception for Dancing With the Stars. But I admit I don’t pay close attention to all the drama between dances. Two seasons ago, one contestant stood out. Noah Galloway, and perhaps I should have been absorbing the drama. He didn’t win, but making it to the finals was no mean achievement considering he was a warrior who had lost an arm and a leg to an IED in Iraq. In spite of his injuries, he was a joy to watch on the dance floor. And then there was his heartwarming proposal to his sweetheart.
Needless to say, when I saw that he had written a book about his journey from dedicated warrior to severely injured man struggling with depression and a new normal, to the man we saw on TV, I wanted to read it. My daughter dropped Living With No Excuses onto my Kindle for Christmas and I couldn’t wait to get started.
Perhaps I wouldn’t have been so let down by Noah’s unflinchingly honest story if I was not a romance author, I would have been able to applaud Noah’s achievements without wishing he had been a better, more caring husband. I do like my happy endings. But it’s more than that. I enjoy cheering on two people, real or imaginary, who love each other and have to find a way to make that love work through challenges that put that love on the line. I especially like it when they succeed. Noah did not.
His first marriage was on the rocks before his injuries, partly due to the stress of his military deployments but even more due to his selfish and single-minded devotion to being a warrior. He honestly admits to letting go of that relationship, often citing how young they were when they married. But unless he left a lot out of the telling, he didn’t really put much effort into being a good husband and making his marriage work. He was more focused on loving his job as a soldier. He says more about loving his life as a soldier than he does about loving his wife. Perhaps by the time he wrote this memoir, he no longer remembered loving her.
After his injuries, and even after he’d begun to heal and find himself again he struggled a lot with depression – who wouldn’t given the extent of his injuries and the cataclysmic changes that brought to his life doing what he loved? But in the midst of that he reconnected with a friend from high school and that turned into a love affair and then marriage. Another caring woman who gave Noah an incredible amount of love and support during very difficult times.
And yet, he had found another single-minded focus – and again it was not his wife or their marriage. It was in competition to prove he could still cut it as an athlete. Competition after competition, race after race, and he never mentions how his wife and chief supporter felt about the time he spent away from the family, both competing and encouraging other athletes with disabilities. Nor does he mention anything he did or tried to do, to keep their marriage healthy and strong. Once again, he was selfishly focused on being better with each race or each event and neglecting to be a good husband. Being in a relationship requires work, caring and dedication. I am not minimizing the effects of depression, but it seems, from Noah’s own account, that he did very little to mend the rifts that appeared in his marriage and eventually that failed just like the first. He didn’t have youth to blame this time.
At this point I am wondering why Noah thought that embarking on yet another relationship with another wonderfully loving and supportive woman was fair to either of them if he wasn’t going to be willing to give at least as much as he got. He went down on one knee on national television and proposed to this woman in a wonderfully heartwarming moment. And one is rejoicing that finally, Noah, who has been through so much loss, is going to have his happy ever after. How quickly that hope is dashed. When his fiancé quite normally expects to have children and Noah has always loved his role as a dad, it’s kind of shocking when he says no. He has three kids, one from the first marriage and two from the second. He admits that he loves his children and they are an amazing and wonderful part of his life. And yet, he would deny the woman he loves the chance to experience the wonder of carrying a child and becoming a mom. To me that was the deal breaker.
Noah is an amazing man. He’s come through an ordeal that few can even imagine. He’s rebuilt himself and he is an inspiration to thousands. And yet, he is so focused on himself and what he wants that he would not give the woman he loved a child of her own. How can I admire the hero would won’t give anything in his power to the woman he loves? Where is her happy ever after?
Reading Noah's story is an amazing journey. He struggled and fought his way through devastating injury, dozens of surgeries, months of rehabilitation and therapy, years of depression, failed relationships and so much we’ll never know or understand. He is a remarkable man and an inspiration to anyone who has their own mountain to climb. But in spite of all that, he disappointed me. Perhaps I was expecting too much.
Living with No Excuses: The Remarkable Rebirth of an American Soldier
Military hero and beloved Dancing with the Stars alum Noah Galloway shares his life story, and how losing his arm and leg in combat forced him to relearn how to live--and live to the fullest.
Inspirational, humorous, and thought provoking, Noah Galloway's LIVING WITH NO EXCUSES sheds light on his upbringing in rural Alabama, his military experience, and the battle he faced to overcome losing two limbs during Operation Iraqi Freedom. From reliving the early days of life to his acceptance of his "new normal" after losing his arm and leg in combat, Noah reveals his ambition to succeed against all odds.
Noah's gripping story is a shining example that with laughter, and the right amount of perspective, you can tackle anything. Whether it be overcoming injury, conquering the Dancing with the Stars ballroom, or taking the next steps forward in life with his young family - Noah demonstrates how to live life to the fullest, with no excuses.
Tuesday, January 03 2017
It’s that time of year again . . . Are you going to make resolutions? Or have you decided to just move forward with a vague idea of being a better you this year?
I always make them, and occasionally I’ve actually kept one, but far more often, I’m as bad as the next guy, and it’s history before January is even over. It’s like my frequent promises to lose weight – it always seems so easy while I’m driving in the car, or stretched out in bed considering the topic. But the next time I’m at Publix, there is always at least two or three things that have no place on anyone’s diet shouting my name. Okay, the forbidden food isn’t really shouting, but my psyche sure is. It would be a lot easier if giving something you love up had immediate results – or at least a sign you can see that it’s doing the job you were hoping for. But unfortunately that isn’t how weight loss works – at least for me. I can go three weeks before I see even a half pound melt away. And it continues that way. Which is why I get discouraged and don’t follow through.
Over Christmas, after listening to my very talented granddaughters play two beautiful pieces on their violins, I mentioned that I’d thought about learning to play now that I’m retired and have more time – in between writing more books that is. My son commented that the best way to make sure I failed was to not even give it a go. So maybe I will consider it seriously this year. But it’s not a resolution. I walked a thousand miles last year according to my Fitbit – maybe I should try for 1,500 this year? Or maybe I should sign up for a water aerobics program? I’m still trying to decide.
But then I saw a list on FB about books to read this year. Not just books that catch my eye - the kind of books I always read - but others that stretch my envelope and broaden my knowledge. So, I’m definitely going to make that list a resolution. Along with writing another book for my series and finally getting down to writing a story that’s been cooking in my brain for some time.
So, what about you? Do you make resolutions? If so, how are you planning to challenge yourself this year? And definitely don’t give up on being a better you. Our world needs a whole lot of better YOUs. Be kinder. Be gentler. Be more accepting. Be more open to differing opinions and beliefs. Be more loving. Be more generous. I’m going to open up that gratitude book of mine and be grateful for the discipline to be a better me. Happy New Year.