Yesterday as I was walking home from the train in the 35 degree weather, I looked down and saw something pretty amazing. . . flowers poking through the dead leaves. A sincere promise that spring is actually coming this year. Not that I had any doubts -- well, I had some doubts, this is Chicago after all, but this was a very uplifting sight.
One of the things I love about living in Chicago is that it is one of the few places I've lived where I enjoy all four seasons immensely. Yes, even winter. (Before you call me insane, let me point out that I don't have a car and therefore winter does not consist of driving or scraping windshields or digging my car out of a snow drift.) I get to embrace all the fun/pretty parts of winter and even enjoy bundling up and walking through it to get to the train at the wee hours of the morning. (Okay, maybe I'm a little insane.) But like a sane person, even I have my limits and usually by March I am ready to welcome Spring with open arms.
For me, Spring is writing season. This is the time of year I typically wake up out of my writing coma and enter into about six months of solid productivity. I've always felt that the first day of Spring would be a much more logical time to make resolutions than on January 1. I think the energy and warmth (well, promised warmth) of a new season is actually more conducive to making positive change than the dead of winter.
With Spring in mind, I've added a new component to my website. You'll notice a new item on the menu above: Inspiration Gallery. Here, I've begun to upload pictures of things I see that inspire me to write. It is mostly a way for me to stash all my random ideas in one place in the hopes that someday I will have time to get back to them. However, the likelihood of me writing something from every idea I get, especially this time of year, is slim to none. So I thought I would put them in a public place so that other writers could browse through and maybe get some ideas of their own. If you click on any picture in the gallery, you will be taken to another page with my thoughts on the photo. There isn't much there yet, but I hope to add to it regularly.
Happy Spring, everybody! Now get to writing!
I am a big fan of volunteering. It's something I did here and there when time allowed after college, but never made a full commitment to until about 3 and a half years ago. I was going through some big changes in my life -- changes that would ultimately end up to be a positive thing but that didn't feel so positive at the time. I needed a distraction, and I needed a reason to get out of the house other than work. I decided to do something I'd been talking about doing for over a year. . . I signed up to be a tutor and workshop assistant at 826 Chicago.
826 Chicago is a wonderful organization that helps students from elementary school through high school with developing writing skills through workshops and field trips. They have an after school drop in tutoring center where kids can get help with all their homework and do a little writing as well. All around, it is a pretty amazing organization. It's just one in a network of nine such organizations around the country. There might even be one near you!
I almost feel guilty when people tell me that I'm a good person for giving a few hours of my time each week. Honestly, I feel a bit selfish. The time I spend volunteering each week is honestly one of the highlights of my week. I am getting to work with a pretty fantastic group of kids, introducing them to one of my favorite things to do: writing. I have met more than one kids at 826 who has declared they want to be a writer when they grow up, and that gives me a thrill like no other. But even the kids who complain about having to write are great to work with. They are so funny and smart and have such a great view of the world. I hope that I have helped at least one kid learn something new in my time there because I know I have learned so much about life and kids and teaching and even writing because of this experience. And I have even gotten a few story ideas. In addition to all the great kids, the other volunteers and the staff are just as fantastic. I have made more than one good friend and have increased my network by leaps and bounds.
I no longer need an excuse to leave the house. My life has changed dramatically in the last few years, and I am probably a gazillion times happier than I was when I first signed up to volunteer with 826, but now, it is an important part of my life. When I face major life decisions like moving or changing jobs or going back to school, I now factor in how this decision will affect my ability to keep volunteering.
Writing is a solitary process, and I think sometimes as writers, we forget to poke our noses out into the real world because we prefer the ones we are creating. I firmly believe that if everyone on the planet just picked one cause or organization to care about and dedicated just a couple hours a week to that cause, the world would be an infinitely better place. I wish I could dedicate more hours of my life not just to 826 but to other wonderful organizations, but until I become independently wealthy, I am going to have to continue to balance my time carefully. However, I am going to encourage others, especially writers, to make a little time to make a difference and possibly change your life. You might even get a story idea out of the experience. :)
One of my favorite things to do, aside from writing, is to talk about writing, and I recently had the pleasure of getting to know fellow Crusader PJ Lincoln through his awesome blog. He was kind enough to share his views on writing and publishing. Enjoy and then head on over to his blog and be sure to check out his new short story. Happy Reading!
1. How long have you been writing?
PJ: I decided as a freshman in high school that I wanted to be a sportswriter. I've been writing ever since; first with the high school paper and eventually with several different Detroit-area newspapers. My last stint in journalism was with the Ann Arbor News a few years ago. I was luck enough to find full-time work before the paper went out of business. Fiction writing is a relatively new development for me. It began after I left journalism as a way of filling the writing void. I quickly discovered how different and how difficult writing fiction can be, but I truly enjoy it.
2. How would you classify your writing? (Genre, length, etc)
PJ: I tend to fall into the Thriller/suspense genre, although my interests are also with writing Christian-related fiction. My next several self-published works will all have a Christian flavor, although I believe they will appeal to wide audiences.
3. I see you just electronically published a piece of your work. Congrats! Tell us about it and where we can find it.
PJ: Thank you, Diane. It's a short story called Born Again. The story is about a couple facing typical challenges with raising kids and leading busy lives. The story is told from the point of view of Jackson Tanner, a 30-something guy who loves his wife and his gadgets. His love for the later takes the Tanners down an unexpected path. The story is available for Amazon's Kindle at: http://www.amazon.com/Born-Again-ebook/dp/B004RUXBQE/ref=ntt_at_ep_dpi_1
4. What influenced your decision to publish electronically?
PJ: I followed the industry closely over the last several years and discovered that getting published traditionally - always difficult - was becoming like hitting the lottery. I didn't like my odds. I also began following people like Joe Konrath - another great resident of Chicago besides yourself - and found that it was possible to have some success self-publishing if you do it right. I'm willing to put in the sweat-equity. Does it guarantee that my stories will ever be better than the Great Slush Pile of work out there that agents and Big House publishers are always talking about? Nope. Still, I choose to do it my way (Sinatra reference).
5. Did you try the traditional route first?
PJ: Other than a few Writer's Digest submissions, nah. Not that I didn't want to, I just have trouble finishing 80,000 word novels!
6. What is the best piece of writing advice you ever received?
PJ: Actually, I think it goes back to my days as a reporter. Journalists are trained to use a minimum of words to tell their stories. I think good fiction is the same way, every word should move the plot along. In my humble opinion, readers want good stories, not dense paragraphs of beautiful prose (of course if you can do both, well, you're a hell of a writer). Harlan Coben's work is a good example of what I aspire to as a writer.
7. What book have you read that you feel has had the most impact on you?
PJ: That's easy. The Bible.
My local chapter of SCBWI (Society of Children's Book Writers and Illustrators) hosted an event with bestselling YA author Simone Elkeles this past weekend. I confess, the event snuck up on me and I didn't take the time to do my homework and read any of her books before I attended. But, especially because I hope to be putting my own books out there for publication on the somewhat near future, I felt I should still attend and see if I could gleam any pearls of wisdom from someone who has not only survived the publishing gauntlet, but has flourished.
What I didn't expect when attending this event was to be so entertained. Simone is hilarious! She's very down-to-earth, honest, and real. She openly shared with us mistakes she made on her journey and times when she made a fool of herself. (There was an amusing anecdote of the time she met Judy Blume -- not that any aspiring YA novelist who grew up on Blume's novels could blame her for going gaga in the presence of such greatness.) She was very open when it came to how much money she makes, and how much she was paid when she was starting out. She offered a lot of good advice on marketing and ways to make money between those infrequent and insufficient royalty checks. Overall, it was a great way to spend a Sunday afternoon, and even without reading a single word she has written, I am now a Simone Elkeles fan.
I did buy a copy Perfect Chemistry, the first in one of her trilogies, and she was kind enough to sign it for me. I then returned to my seat and pulled out my Kindle to buy an electronic copy of the same book. I wouldn't want my autographed copy getting beat up on the train, right? I am looking forward to diving in as soon as I finish the other books I am reading at the moment.
If you aren't familiar with her work, check out the video she made to promote Perfect Chemistry and then tell me you aren't intrigued -- if not by the plot of the book, then at least by her out of the box thinking for drawing attention to her work. I find most "book trailers" to be a snooze, but this one had me laughing out loud. It is also a perfect example of the kind of risks she takes to promote her work.
I found two things particularly reassuring about Simone's work and the information she shared with us. Her books are teen romances -- and there isn't a vampire in sight. Nor a werewolf, a witch, an angel, a demon or any other paranormal creature that keeps today's adolescent readers so riveted. This was refreshing for me because my YA work in progress is also rooted in reality. They are characters that could live in places that could actually exist. The fact that Simone's books are so popular gives me a little more hope that maybe my book won't be passed over just because it lacks a fantasy element.
Simone also calmed one of my worries when she said she has received very little flack for the violence, sex, drugs, swearing, and other taboos in her books. This is another thing I was concerned about with my own WIP. She creates characters who would realistically be doing these things in a world where these things exist. If she censored her book, it would hurt the story, and I feel a little more comfortable with these aspects of my own WIP now. As writers, its very important we stay true to our characters and not worry about offending readers (or readers' parents, for that matter).
I am reaching the point in my journey where I can really benefit from the advice of other, established writers, and I am very grateful to SCBWI for putting on this event. Has anyone else gone to see a writer recently who left an impact?
Most writers will say that reading is an important part of being a good writer. You've got to read if you want to write. I agree with this statement completely and was a voracious reader long before I ever realized that you can actually get paid to write books. (As a child, I just thought the library was this magical place and I never really thought about who was responsible for writing all those books. They seemed to wonderful to be created by human hands.)
As a reader though, I sometimes run into a dilemma. To finish or not to finish? That is the question. . .
Sometimes I just run into a book that just isn't doing it for me. Maybe it is poorly written or the story is just lacking in originality. Maybe the main character is annoying or boring or so unrealistically perfect that s/he is annoyingly boring. Regardless of why, it is inevitable as an avid reader that sometimes you are going to run into a book that you just don't like. So do you finish it or move on to the next darling on your TBR list?
Personally, I don't finish most books that aren't working for me. I do sometimes feel bad about this. I worry that maybe there was an awesome pay-off in the end or that it would have finally picked up if I had just stuck it out. But the truth is, life is short and there is only so many books we can actually expect to read in a lifetime. Add into this fact that new books are coming out every day. Well, if I ever really sat down and compiled a real TBR list, it would probably be insanely long and impossible. Not to mention the fact that I could probably read a few books off of it in the the time that it would take me to compile the list. I feel worse about wasting my time on a book I don't enjoy because it takes away from time I could spend on a book I do enjoy. I am accepting of the fact that I will not get to read every great book I run across in my lifetime. This does not make me obligated to waste time on books that bad.
I don't immediately write a book off as a lost cause if it isn't working for me. I try to give every book a fair chance. If there is something original about the story or perhaps I like the author's style even if the plot isn't working for me or maybe I just really like the main character even though at times the prose seems like it was written by a high schooler. If it has some redeeming quality, I will stick it out for a few chapters at least. Some have gone on to be favorites, others end up being regrets.
What does this habit of giving up on books teach me about writing? I think it just makes me more aware that readers are under no obligation (outside of a school assignment or a book club, and even then, we all know it is optional) to finish a book. If they happen to pick up my (thus far imaginary) book, I want to make sure they stick with me. I can't make my readers sign a contract, and I wouldn't want to force anyone to read my work if they weren't legitimately interested. While I would like to imagine everyone on the planet reading (and buying!) my book, that is obviously unrealistic. So every time I find a book that just simply isn't work my reading time, I remind myself that it is my job to give my readers a reason to stay.
What about you? Do you feel obligated to finish a book once you've started? Or do you drop it and move on?
This week's exciting news is that Crystal Cheverie was kind enough to do a guest post for me over at Conversing with Cats. She's an all-around cool person, has two beautiful girl cats who have already made a guest appearance at CwC, and she's a great writer. You can find out more about her at her website Little Bundle of Contradictions. Stop by and tell her hi!
Also, for those who are looking for an alternative way to stay up to date on new posts here (and thank you so much if you are!) I registered with Networked Blogs so you can follow me through Facebook if the RSS Feed doesn't do it for you. The widget is over there in the sidebar.
Okay, that's it. Back to writing/editing, which will ideally lead to more exciting news later on.
I just wanted to pop in and let everyone know what's been going on in my world the last few days.
First of all, there is a new Conversing with Cats up today. Last week I started a new story arc inspired by Crystal, one of my readers, who suggested her girl cats could date my boys. This resulted in a three post story arc involving a secret cat city, a dune buggy, and all you can eat shrimp. Check it out! Today's post is a break from that story, but for those who enjoyed Angel and Blair, they will be back.
As I mentioned in my last post, I managed to complete draft #2 of my WIP Tortoise Love, and I spent two solid days pretty much doing nothing but lugging my giant binder around this past weekend and marking up almost every page. Then I spent more time handwriting out all the new parts I need to add as well as making a list of changes that affect the whole manuscript, like name changes, etc. I was actually sick earlier this week, which sucked, but wasn't a total loss because sitting in bed editing is kind of nice. I feel like I have made a lot of progress and I am hoping by April, I will have it ready to run through my novel critique group.
Finally, I have gone over to Amazon and started researching all the books that were recommended to me last week so I can decide how to use my gift card. I have a feeling this is going to be a very tough decision and will probably end up spending way more than $20. I blame my mother. Instead of giving me an allowance as a child, she told me I could have as many books as I want. Yes, this fed my already raging addiction for reading, but I missed out on those valuable money management lessons an allowance supposedly comes with, and it made me feel entitled to any book I want. I am forever grateful to my mother for this. :)
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