Always Learning

My writer’s group had a workshop this weekend. It was a real treat to just go over some basics together that may be overlooked in a normal writer’s group. Our primary focus for this workshop was story arc, but we also talked about getting the reader hooked and about setting goals. 

I enjoyed the workshop and learned a lot. Some big issues we all needed help working on were:

  • Knowing when and how to get the story started
  • Making ourselves actually finish things we have started
  • Use more action and dialogue to communicate key elements instead of passive voice “info dumping”
  • Have more confidence in ourselves as writers. Learning to trust ourselves and our voice seemed to be a very common goal 

Part of our discussion was about establishing good writing habits. I’ll freely admit I was far better at this when I was in my 365 day writing challenge last year and feel I need to get back to that. I have taken on additional responsibilities at my full time job, and have a very busy family life, but I have truly missed the habits I had established of writing every day. So one of the things I decided after my workshop today was to get back to daily writing. 

Beyond a commitment to establishing a daily writing habit again, I need to set some solid writing goals for myself. Our leader asked us today what our 30 day writing goals were, what our 6 month writing goals were and what our goals were for the next year. I was nowhere near setting realistic ones, but I need to be. Where am I headed? What do I want to see happening? How will I make it happen? 

I’m still figuring it all out and I am most definitely still learning a lot, all the time. I don’t think there are many of us who aren’t still learning something new. 

Being a part of a group of other writers who are largely in the same boat has helped me immeasurably. It helps to see I am not the only one struggling with getting things finished. I am not the only one who lets doubts creep in sometimes. 

How about you? Are you still learning? Do you have a group that helps support and push you? Do you surround yourself with others who are “in the same boat” as you? Do they help you not feel so alone? I’d love to hear about it in the comments. 

Thanks & have a great week!

~CJS

S is for…

 

My 2015 A to Z Challenge Theme is Quotes & Lines from Literature. Each day I will be posting a favorite quote or a few lines from well known short stories, poems or novels, with the letter of the first name as the A to Z. I’ll have a short write up with each quote, but each quote can also serve as a writing prompt for readers or myself.  I may write a poem or flash fiction based on that quote, or just throw it out there as inspiration. Hopefully you’ll join me in this adventure! I’ll try to include some of my favorite blog finds as I move through the challenge as well.

 

This quote is just one of many gems that can be found in Stephen King’s autobiographical writing guide, On Writing

My Twisted Writers post yesterday was about reading and writing and how they can go hand in hand, but also how I have been missing reading lately. I just enjoy reading, so the fact that I haven’t done much lately has me feeling like I am missing some of that magic King talks about. I have books all around and a To Be Read list that is always growing, so I have no real excuse except time. But busy or not, I need to make time for reading.

Are you a reader? What are you reading now? 

K is for…

  

My 2015 A to Z Challenge Theme is Quotes & Lines from Literature. Each day I will be posting a favorite quote or a few lines from well known short stories, poems or novels, with the letter of the first name as the A to Z. I’ll have a short write up with each quote, but each quote can also serve as a writing prompt for readers or myself.  I may write a poem or flash fiction based on that quote, or just throw it out there as inspiration. Hopefully you’ll join me in this adventure! I’ll try to include some of my favorite blog finds as I move through the challenge as well.

   

I’ll confess when brainstorming for K, I tried to think of authors whose name started with K and then looked for the quote, rather than having this one. This quote is from Khaled Hosseini’s And The Mountains Echoed, which I will also admit I have not read, but I really love this quote. 

So many favorite books feature characters who seem ordinary or feel ordinary but end up having extraordinary things happen to them.  Harry Potter and Katniss Everdeen are just a few. 

By reading, or writing, we can find ourselves in the characters who live in an extraordinary world and through them feel extraordinary as well. 

To start of the new week of A to Z posts, I’m adding in a poem. I chose the Nonet form which I found on Shadow Poetry. A Nonet has nine lines, with the top line having nine syllables, the second with eight syllables, the next seven, etc down to the last line, which only has one. Rhyming optional. 

Ordinary

By CJS 

Some may say there is nothing worse than

being ordinary, but still 

the ordinary may find

extraordinary

moments may happen

in a life that

seems normal

even

dull.

Something “Twisted” This Way Comes…

Today is the first day of a new blog launched by a group of writers I belong to now, which we are calling the Twisted Writers!  Check out Twistedwriters.com, where every day we will have a new post from one of our group. 

Currently we have six members in the Twisted Writers, each with a specific post day, and will leave Sundays open for snippets of our work or guest blogs. We will all make sure our posts touch on, if not center around, writing themes.  We also have some upcoming projects as a group we’ll share more about as they develop. 

There are lots of exciting things to come, so stay tuned!

Jesi Scott, from over at The Lunatic Poet, will be posting a cute little story about our group today on Twisted Writers which you should go check out. Jesi will be posting every Monday, including, I am sure, some of her poetry work and insights. 

Read my first post tomorrow about what makes us Twisted Writers. Then you’ll see my posts there every Tuesday.  😃

AJ Prince, from Fiction and Food, will be posting on Wednesdays. You’ll love her natural writing style and great sense of humor. 

Joe Bucemi will be posting on Thursdays and I am sure will quickly become a favorite not only for his writing but for his fantastic and fun cartoons.

David Franklin is our spy thriller writer. His keen intelligence, razor sharp wit and tight writing will keep you reading. 

Amanda S. Green from Nocturnal Lives will be posting on Saturdays. She has published novels and short stories under several pen names so offers great insight into the joys of publishing and the ups and downs of our current publishing industry. 

Thanks for stopping by! I hope you’ll give the Twisted Writers a look as well as we start this new adventure. 

Have a great week! 

~CJS

Surprise Yourself

IMG_4679.PNG  Lester Burnham – American Beauty 

If one of the main questions we ask ourselves in this life is: “Who Am I?”, then one of the next important questions should be, “And who else do I want to be?” 

I find the answer to “Who Am I?”, a fairly involved one. I wear a lot of hats. I work a challenging full time job where I am still always learning and always busy. I am a mother to three young children who keep me *very* busy. I am lucky to also be a happy wife to a great husband. I’m a daughter, a sister, a friend.  All of these roles help define much of my life and keep my life very full, but I realized in the last few years that I needed a creative outlet to be fully myself.  I have long had a call to write, so I am also a blogger, a tweeter (is that a word?😃), a novice poet, novelist and writer of short stories. 

Yet, despite having written a great deal, I haven’t published yet or submitted much of anything for publication.  So, if I ask myself what else I would like to be, one big answer for me right now is – to be published! 

For this reason, amid all the existing craziness in my life, I’ve recently become a part of a group of writers making plans to launch a new blog. (Details coming soon! 😀) We are also putting some plans in place for some intriguing future projects which I will also happily share later as things develop. 

The goal of all our plans is essentially to help light a fire under all our behinds to get our work out there.  Then the goal is also to promote each other’s and our own work.  Just the initial meetings alone have helped prompt me to tackle a few things I haven’t pushed myself to do before.

While committing to this team makes my list of things to be done quite a bit longer, it is a surprising and exciting new piece of who I am and hopefully will help get me closer to where I want to be! 

What challenges are you setting for yourself?  

When was the last time you surprised yourself? 

What else do you want your life to be?  

Let me know in the comments and have a great week! 

~CJS



Off to a great start!

My last blog post asked for some advice or thoughts on what I should do next (following my first 365 day challenge). Some of you replied on this blog, some on Twitter and some IRL (in real life – over the phone or in person). I appreciated all feedback. 🙂

Everyone seemed to agree that committing to write every day again was a good idea. I wholeheartedly agree. I definitely have grown as a writer as a result of the initial challenge. Therefore, I am declaring today Day 1 of my new 365 challenge. Cheers to getting back on track! Thanks for the encouragement. 🙂

Consensus also seems to be that I shouldn’t rule out the opportunity to try new things and write as I feel called to write. New poetry, new short stories, some flash fiction – all were supported suggestions. I will definitely allow myself to explore.

Building the blog also seems a key part of my writer development and challenge. I will continue with a once a week commitment on Mondays, but I may add more days (like tonight’s) randomly or expand my schedule later. I would also like to plug a future blog project you should see coming soon, with a group of local writers where we each will have a blog day during the week. I’ll let you know once that is up and running. 🙂

I also have a few upcoming blog events I’d like to mention as well: 1000 Speak in February and April’s A to Z Challenge.

1000 Speak blog for compassion on Feb 20th was suggested to me by Jessica Scott and I am very excited to be a part of the project. Essentially the idea is to have many blogs dedicated to the idea of compassion the same day- on February 20th, the day of compassion. You can follow the blog, Facebook page or on Twitter (#1000Speak) if you would like to participate.

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I am also looking forward to participating in the April A to Z Challenge again. I did my first challenge last year & it was both great fun and a great way to find new blogs/meet other bloggers. I believe that Monday will be the first day to join the list and getting on early does help get more traffic to your blog, so go check it out! 🙂

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I am excited for this new daily writing challenge and for continuing to build a blog voice here and on the new blog project. I am also excited about making some big steps forward on my writing projects, and will share with you in my next post what is helping get me there.

Talk to you soon, and in the meantime, I am writing. 🙂

CJ

What do I do now?

I finished my first 365 day challenge at the end of 2014. We are now well into the first month of 2015 and I am floundering a bit.

Do I do another year of writing every day? I thought I would but haven’t been doing so consistently since ending the first 365 days. I want to tweak the challenge a bit before starting again. Unfortunately I have been rather indecisive as to what the new guidelines will be.

Committing to write everyday was a tremendously helpful goal to set. I wrote far more than I would have without the commitment, even if perhaps not so much in the direction I need to be going. The first year commitment was simply to write every day. I made no restrictions on what I would write. Free writing, character sketch, poetry, work on short story or novel or even a blog post, all counted as my writing for the day.

Now I am at a place where I need to pick a new challenge. So, I thought I would ask your advice! 🙂

What should the new challenge be?

-Same exact challenge? Just write. Every day.

-Build my blog? Increase the number of days I blog? Throw in some challenges like Flash Fiction Fridays?

-Write Every Day exclusively on current WIP? And then into next book in the series. No blog posts or poems or side projects count for daily writing requirement?

-Combination of both? Blogging more & differently and write every day?

-Something different? Suggestions welcome!

I know that the saying is true, without a plan, a goal is just a wish. I am working out my plan now. I need to make a decision soon and move forward with a new challenge because I have already been missing the habit I had established with the previous challenge.

Thanks for your thoughts and suggestions. 🙂

Have a great week!

CJ

My Writers (Mini-) Workshop Experience

Today I had the opportunity to attend a mini- workshop put on by the leader of the local library writer’s group to which I belong. The workshop focused on the building blocks of novel writing: plot, characters, setting, point of view, and all the little details that go together to make a novel work.

Most of the material wasn’t new, as we have covered a lot in the course of the year and a half I’ve been in the group. But it was helpful to put it all together at one time and to share the experience with the diverse group of writers we had in attendance.

During parts of the workshop we were given small little exercises to apply the lesson we were covering at the time, such as “Use this room as a setting for your current WIP.” Or “How could you switch Point of View in current project or in a book you love to improve or change it up?”

One of the things I loved most about the exercises was hearing everyone’s take on the same exercise and how representative the results were of who they are as a writer.

The setting exercise for the Fantasy writer became not the room we were in as I would see it, but as he would imagine it to fit his story. The fluorescent lights didn’t work so it was torch lit. The sounds weren’t kids milling about outside the library conference room but creaky wooden floors as characters paced about in heavy boots.

The non-fiction/Motivational Self Help writer described the room quite beautifully as an incubator for great ideas.

Our Young Adult novelist pictured her character looking in the glass window to the room, filled with curiosity about who and what was in the room.

Each response was similarly fitting to the author’s work. I loved watching that play out because I think we all struggle a bit with finding our own identity as a writer.

Maybe we feel we don’t have a voice as a writer.

Maybe we feel we don’t have a story to tell.

Maybe we feel we lack the talent or the nerve to tell it.

Whatever the doubt may be, the exercises today painted a picture for me of how a writer’s identity can emerge when given the freedom to trust his/her instincts. Of course our leader talked about knowing what the rules are, but once you have all those building blocks, it comes down to trusting your instincts to know what you need to write. So what I walked away with today was that our identity as a writer comes out when we trust ourselves.

Rather than say, I don’t have anything to say, remind yourself that no one else can say what you can, the way you can.

Instead of saying I don’t have the talent to write my story, remember that the only way to uncover talent is to dig in and learn the craft as you continue the work.

I don’t have everything down, I still have lots to learn, I still struggle with doubts, but I know I have stories to tell and I need to tell them. Today’s workshop helped get me closer to embracing my own identity as a writer by reminding me to trust my instincts.

Hopefully you will, too.

Have a great week. 🙂

Top 10 Ways Having a Writing Goal Has Helped Me

I’m over halfway through my year long commitment to write daily.  365 days of writing every day was the goal I set for myself at the end of 2013 and here we are in June already! Halfway seems like a great place to throw in an update and a rundown on why I’m glad I made the commitment.

1)  Setting a goal and sticking with it feels good

I know I can’t be the only one who has ever said “I should do…” whatever it is and then just not followed through with it.  I have a couple of other things right now that I talk about doing but am not actually taking any action to do.  But I’ve set this writing goal, I’ve shared this writing goal and because of that I feel good about doing something that I’ve said I wanted to do.  Because … well, see # 2 

2) I would have quit already

If I didn’t have this writing goal there are more than a few nights I absolutely would not have written anything.  I would have said, I’m too busy, too tired, or whatever other excuse I could find.  And I have been tired, busy and otherwise disinclined to write.  But it’s important to me that I follow through with this goal, so I have.  Have I written something really short or counted my blog when I was doing the A to Z Challenge when blog post were not originally in my plan? Absolutely.  But I have written every day.  Something.  Even if it was small and frequently when it was bad.  But I haven’t quit.

3)  This goal has helped lead me to other new & exciting things

Because of my writing goal, I’ve started building this blog and my Twitter presence.  I’ve found many cool new people and groups and resources as a result.  I likely would not have started blogging had I not made this a part of my writing goal.  I’ve really enjoyed the process of writing and also reading other blogs I’ve found because of my own.  I love that I am building an archive of previous posts that I can go back to read or point others to sometimes.  Because of the writing goal and establishing the blog I joined Twitter (and ok because I wanted a certain celeb’s Tweets) to promote my blog and start building connections.  It’s been a fascinating process both blogging and Tweeting.  And I love it!

4)  It’s a great conversation starter with others, writers or otherwise

Meeting new writers on Twitter or in real life, I usually mention this writing goal.  I’ve found it’s been a great way to start talking about what I’m working on, but also just about my journey as a writer.  I’ve been surprised how many others have had similar goals.  Some blog every day in addition to their other writing.  I’ve not made that commitment yet, but that may be part of my next 365 day goal!  We’ll see. 🙂

5) Word count

Of course writing every day has helped add to my word count on my novel, which has brought me almost to the end of the first book – though I am still tweaking.  I need to stop and just edit.  I’m getting close.  But I’ve also started the next book in the series and I’ve worked on a few short stories as well.  Had I not made a commitment to write every day, my current WIP would still be sitting on my computer untouched.  Instead I’ve made serious progress.  It’s fantastic.

6) Experimenting with style

Some days I do not feel like writing on the novel or the short story.  So to stick with the required daily writing, I’ve written quite a few poems. Let me just assure that is not at all my normal style.  But I love it.  I have a couple that I’d even say are relatively decent.  And the others are still an example of me stretching myself and trying something new.  I’ve also played with a few other formats such as flash fiction and an attempt at a humorous essay.  I’m going to write every day anyway, so I feel a bit more freedom to try new things. 

7) Distraction from “real life”

Some days my day to day “real life” of working full time, a long commute, managing the kids and trying to keep a house running gets a bit … crazy.  It’s truly wonderful to have this writing commitment because I have a creative outlet that helps my sometimes weary soul.  Yes, my job may beat me down one day, but I can remind myself that I am not just my job, I’m also writing! The kids may get a little loud and we may be watching another episode of really awful kids television, but I am not just a parent, I’m also writing! I may have just had an overall bad day, but I am also writing. 

8) Helping define myself as a writer

And guess what?  I am a writer.  I am not just another person who wants to write someday.  I am writing.  I can call myself that, not because I am a bestselling author, but because I am doing the work of actually sitting down at the computer, butt in chair, to write.  Actually, sometimes I even write on my iPhone (hey it happens, you gotta do what you gotta do to get in the writing sometimes!)  I both can say I am a writer and I can tell people what I write.  Small steps sometimes can be big ones!

9) If I can do this, why can’t I also …

As I said before I’ve been known to talk about making changes and not always make them, but I can see how I’ve successfully stuck to something after having made it a solid goal with a serious commitment.  I’ve started to look for how to apply this in other areas I need some “stick with it”.  Little successes can lead to other little successes.   

10)  It’s fun

It really is fun.  There is a reason I’ve always wanted to write.  I love it.  And the sheer pleasure of writing and having written is well worth setting this goal. 

 

The Fault In Our Stars

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As seems usual for me, I am a bit late to this party, but now that I am here, I love it! 🙂 John Green’s The Fault in Our Stars is, as you have no doubt heard and/or seen, being made into a movie. I was tempted to wait until after I saw the movie to read the book because I have the tendency to play the “That’s not how it was in the book!” game and I was afraid I might do that with this one. But I really wanted to read the book because I have seen so many great reviews. I bought the book at a local grocery store with a gift card I’d been given. Why buy food with a gift card when there are books? :). I got a trade paperback with the original cover, not the movie cover, because I am funny like that. 🙂

Then I was busy with family in town and other things and only this week did I finally get around to reading it. It took no time to love it. Sadly my life does not easily accomodate reading a book the whole way through anymore, but I did stay up late reading a few nights and finished it yesterday.

Cleaning, who needs to clean? Laundry? It’ll still be there. Kids fighting? Sorry guys, I gotta see what happens to Hazel and Augustus. Mommy, are you crying? Yes, yes I am.

Green does so many things right with this book, and as a writer who is always looking to improve her craft, I had to admire his story and all the little details. I cried several times and not just in the BIG moments. I laughed a lot too, cared for the characters, and could see it all so clearly.

I purposely did not watch this trailer until I had read the book so there would be no spoiling the book for me. Now that I have read the book I am super stoked to see that the movie looks like it will be really great, too.

Since I did not want any spoilers I will carefully avoid giving any. I do want to share with you one of the things that really spoke to me that is not tied into something that would be considered a spoiler. Feel free to comment and we can chat about the book as much as you want though. Because there are so many good things.

Hazel has a book she loves in this story. A book she had read again and again. A book that spoke to her and her experience. A book that meant something to her and then to Augustus as well. Of course as a reader I can identify with having a book that you love like this. But because of some things that happen in the story, I really caught a glimpse into the power of being the author (or creator of anything really) that touches people. What we write has the power to move people. Maybe it is simple entertainment, and that is great. Maybe we just take them out of whatever else is going on in the world for a moment. Maybe we make them laugh. Maybe we make them smile.

Maybe we can change their life.

As Spider-Man’s Uncle Ben reminded him, “With Great Power Comes Great Responsibility”. Reading this book helped me see the power and the responsibility.

As I work on things I am writing, I will remember. And even if all I ever write that gets read is this blog, even this can be important to someone. Maybe not monumental (ok probably not monumental 😉 ) but even small things can make a difference.

And we may never know the difference we make.