Tuesday, March 31, 2015

Brainstorm in Moderation

"My feeling is that as far as creativity is concerned, isolation is required. The creative person is, in any case, continually working at it. His mind is shuffling his information at all times, even when he is not conscious of it . . . t
he presence of others can only inhibit this process, since creation is embarrassing. For every new good idea you have, there are a hundred, ten thousand foolish ones, which you naturally do not care to display."

Writing is neither a team nor a contact sport. Well, unless you count smacking your head repeatedly against a computer screen when you get stuck. My point is that the grueling, day to day act of pounding out words to complete a novel is necessarily a singular activity. Yeah, I know. That's kind of a given. 

So, how does brainstorming fit into this equation? Usually at the beginning of the novel writing process.

First, a writer comes up with their own idea for a story. Maybe a character they've been noodling. Or a theme they want to explore. Something that the writer is passionate about. These are all story seeds, and it's the seeds that are brought to the brainstorming table to sort through.

When you've got some ideas to discuss, then you call your brainstorming buddies. Note: this isn't an entire tribe of yes-men to hold your hand and sing Kumbaya. This is two, maybe three writerly friends who you feel comfortable with sharing your seeds. They'll tell you what's good, what's bad, and what's ugly about your ideas, and then add their own. This is where you work out the general idea of a story, discussing it until you feel like you can take the ball and run with it.

Then you do. You run away. You write. Alone. If the story bunches up some in the middle, then another, smaller brainstorming session can be held. Otherwise, it's you and the words. The danger for writers, especially newbies, is to groupthink novels to death. 

The Dangers of Too Much Brainstorming
  • It sucks the voice right out of you. 
  • It stretches the story into awkward shapes that don't belong to the writer but to the collective. 
  • It takes away risk, turning the words to a grey meh.
  • The pressure to conform increases anxiety in the writer.
  • The presence of others can even stifle creativity.
So go ahead and toss your ideas around with writerly buddies, but just like everything else in life, partake of this pastime in moderation. 

Monday, March 30, 2015

A Library Made of Books

I've never really wanted to visit San Francisco. I've heard it's expensive. Riding streetcars up and down huge hills would make me throw up out the window. And it's chilly there, never getting hot enough to feel like a summer vacation. But (and I've always got a big but) the temptation to toodle over there this June is nudging me in that direction.

This summer at the Bay Area Book Festival, a non profit art group (the FLUX Foundation) will build a library entirely out of books. It's called the Lacuna and will be constructed out of 50,000 books which have been donated. That means it's free, folks. Like not only entrance, but pulling books out of the wall is at no charge as well. Sweet deal!

Yeah, I know what you're thinking. "Dude! The thing will collapse if everyone starts yanking out books!" Don't panic. It does have some structure beneath all the books, such as shelves and guidewires holding things up. The concept is that as books are removed, the structure will change into an entirely new design. Gaps in the walls will change the way light and sound filter in. It's kind of an evolutionary building. In their own words:
"Lacuna is a library where the process of taking out a book shifts
 and re-shapes the very structure in which those books are contained."

Sounds like a unique library worth visiting. So hey, if you do, fling me some pix and I'll post them here at Writer Off the Leash.

Sunday, March 29, 2015

Shout

everything falls down at some point
just stops
and falls right over
the little boy's ice cream when he licks too hard, dying in the dirt
and he weeps
the grey-haired lady, linoleum unforgiving beneath her broken hip
and her family weeps
the newborn robin, half-crushed on the sidewalk, empty eyes unblinking
and I weep
blood dripping from a young man's brow
and
God weeps
all broken
but not hopeless
tell the boy, the gramma,
shout it at the birds in the sky
He lives!
He lives!
He.
Lives.

Friday, March 27, 2015

How Free Do You Want Speech to Be?

Lots of interesting word policing going on out there in the wide, wide world of writerly sports. Two extremes, wanting things their own way . . .

Extreme Far Right: The Clean Reader App

This handy dandy little download scrubs out naughty words from books on your e-reader. It obliterates F bombs and closes the door on naked body parts, which can sound like a fantastic idea for readers who find this offensive. The problem is that it doesn't just erase words -- it changes them into gentler, kinder words.

Here's the deal, folks. If you don't want to read a book with swearing or sex, then be careful about the books you choose to read. Sheesh. It's really that simple. When you go changing an author's words, you're ripping the fence off their intellectual property and running roughshod over their creation.

Before you get out your pitchforks, no, I personally do not read erotica or F-this, F-that, and F-you kinds of books. But (and I've always got a big but) last time I checked, this was a free country. If writers choose to put out that kind of material, it ought not be censored. Check out the freaking first amendment. What? You're calling me a Libertarian?

Yep, you'd be right.

Extreme Far Left: The Intolerable Word List

It's no secret Hillary Clinton is gearing up for a run on the White House. But did you know there are certain words that are banned by the press in relation to anything they print about her? Here are the 13 no-no's not allowed to be used in conjunction with her:

"polarizing," "calculating," "disingenuous," "insincere," "ambitious," "inevitable," "entitled," "over-confident," "secretive," "will do anything to win," "represents the past," and "out of touch."

Again, last I checked, which actually was on Wednesday since that's the day I teach a high school Civics class, the Constitution is still our supposed guidebook for the management of this country, and there's nothing in there that allows for banned words. Apparently, however, we are free to call Clinton manipulative, past her prime, and chubby cheeks.

In both of these situations, far left and far right, words are in the crosshairs. Who gets to decide which words are kosher and which aren't? Should that not be between man and God, not man and man? After all, He's the author of words to begin with.

Thursday, March 26, 2015

The Legacy of Kara Tippetts

I was late catching the Kara Tippetts bus, but so thankful I hopped on at the last minute. Her blog, Mundane Faithfulness, is an authentic, gritty look into living life slathered with God's grace.

She died last Sunday . . . but her words live on. What an impact this humble author made in her 38 years here on planet Earth. What a picture she created by sharing her beautiful passage into eternity. And just today she'd pre-posted a letter to her readers upon her death.

Words remain long after we are gone, which is a solemn reminder to choose your words carefully.

If you didn't have a chance to meet Kara over at Mundane Faithfulness, here's a little sample of the amazing woman she was (and yes, the blog will continue, run by her friends) . . .






Wednesday, March 25, 2015

Authors as Presidential Candidates

It's barely 2015 and already things are heating up for the presidential election of 2016. Ted Cruz, senator from Texas, just announced he's throwing his hat into the ol' election ring. Personally, I like him, but it got me thinking what if an author became president? What would that be like?

Stephen King
Terrorists shmerorrists . . . no one's going to mess with a man who pens murder and death in horrifically creepy ways.

Nicholas Sparks
I know Obama was supposed to "bring us all together and tear down barriers," but yeah . . . how's that working out for us? If Sparks were pres, just imagine the warm fuzziness that would blanket the country.

Veronica Roth
With her no-nonsense, hard-hitting characters such as Tris or Four in Divergent, this woman would single-handedly whip congress into shape.

Dr. Seuss
Who wouldn't want executive orders to rhyme? Yeah, I know he died like twenty years ago, but honestly, some of those senators have been in office so long, one wonders if a few of them are actually breathing anymore or just taking up chair space.

J.K. Rowling
British accent. 'Nuff said.

There are my top five pics for authors as presidential candidates. Share yours in the comment section. Go on. Be brave. I don't wield a politically correct axe around here.

Tuesday, March 24, 2015

Pumping Up Some Motivation to Exercise

I kind of just want to sit around and eat. Could be because I've got a container of homemade chocolate chip cookies calling to me from the counter. But more likely it's the dang snow outside. The calendar says shorts weather is just around the corner, but my thighs and the weather are screaming that ain't gonna happen anytime soon.

Yeah, I've got a gym membership. Yeah, I should walk the dog. But here I am, sitting on my rump roast, thinking about cramming one more killer cookie into my mouth. Why is it so hard to exercise? Oh yeah. That's right. BECAUSE I HATE IT.

You didn't know you'd be tuning into a rant today, did you? I suspect, though, that I'm not the only hater out there.

Here's the deal . . . thinking about slipping into shorts and tank tops without any cottage cheese type lumps or serious muffinish overhangs is oh so much easier than doing the hard work to achieve that body -- which is eerily like writing. Except for the cellulite. What I mean is that it's easier to think about writing a novel than committing the actual deed.

So. There's the ugly truth. The only way out of this lack of exercise pickle is through, one sweaty sit-up at a time, just like the only way to make it to "The End" of a novel is one word at a time. Wait a minute . . . pickle?

I think there's a hamburger calling my name. Smashburger, here I come, baby.

Oh, quit your judging. I'll jog there.

Monday, March 23, 2015

Why Writers Should Use Instagram

Facebook shmacebook. Move over Pinterest. Tweeting? Yeah. Been there, done that, and honestly still do. But even so . . . Instagram is the hip-hop happening place to be. It's way more than stupid cat pictures or selfies in a mirror. I'm still a relative newbie to this venue, but hot dang! I'm having a wingding of a time over there, posting pix of my England trip and other randomosities of my life. Click HERE to sample the wares.

But my followers are nothing compared to 18 year old Emily Ables. This chick has close to 54,000 followers. Why? Because she posts beautiful pictures of books. Check out her readerly pix HERE.

I hear ya, though, "Seriously? I don't have time to make dinner or plow the back forty let alone add one more social media time waster to my schedule. Why in the world should I cave in to peer pressure? What good is being on Instagram?" You do where this is headed, right? You got it, grasshopper . . .

5 Reasons To Use Instagram

1. Connects you with a new audience.
Looking to garner new readers? The Instagram population is generally a younger group of users, which is a great way to broaden your fan base with minimal time spent posting. When you attract this population to your pictures, they'll become interested in you as a persona, visit your website -- and hopefully even toodle over to your Amazon page.

2. Gives you a break from words.
I know. Words are your life. Can't live without 'em. Yada. Yada. Whatever. But the thing is that writers have a love/hate relationship with words. Sometimes you just need to take a break from them in order to appreciate them more. Instagram lets you create without the "hassle" of words, and honestly, everyone needs a sabbatical every now and then.

3. Opens your eyes to the beautiful mundane.
Sure, writing is art, but so is life. Capturing moments via picture causes you to slow down and really look at the things around you, the pile of books next to your bed on the floor, the way the sunlight slants in through the window, creating a halo around that pile, the zillion zinging dust-motes dancing in that golden ray. Then transfer that new perspective over to your writing.

4. Promotion.
No, not the beat-the-poor-slob-over-the-head-with-your-latest-book kind of marketing. Instagram provides a kinder, gentler sort of tooting your own horn. Case in point, I post pictures of historical places and items, tying in to my latest historical fiction release.

5. It satisfies your inner artist.
As writers, we paint with words, wishing we could master other mediums. Instagram is easy to use, with filters and photo enhancements that are so intuitive even a 3 year old (or me) can use them, that you can create a beautiful picture in less than a minute. Now that's satisfaction, folks!

Now that you know why to use Instagram, want to see how other authors use it? Here are a few for you to follow so you can have a daily dose of inspiration . . .

Michelle Griep

Laura Frantz

Lisa Tawn Bergren

Amy Tan

Amanda Torroni

And those are just a few. If you've got a favorite author you like on Instagram, or you're on there yourself and want to share your link, go for it in the comments.

Sunday, March 22, 2015

What If?


"I will never leave you nor forsake you." 

What if you believed that?
What if you lived life with those words etched into the front of your mind, the back, the sides?
What if you swallowed those words and they became part of you?
What would happen to fear? Doubt? Loneliness?

God, forgive us for merely entertaining "what ifs" instead of embracing them.

Friday, March 20, 2015

How To Be a Happy Writer

This is it. Today's the day. Blow your horn twiggler and bang your hog-doggity drums. Huzzah for the International Day of Happiness!

The idea of proclaiming a day of happiness came from Bhutan – a country that supposedly houses some of the happiest people in the world. According to the UN . . .
"The day recognizes that happiness is a fundamental human goal, and calls upon countries to approach public policies in ways that improve the well being of all peoples."

Yeah. I know. Sounds like a bunch of feel-good gobbledegook, but just for the heck of it, let's take the happiness ball and run with it for awhile, shall we?

10 Ways To Be a Happy Writer

1. Stop looking at your Amazon rankings.
2. Decide that failure is an opportunity to improve.
3. Happiness equals word count so write, write, and then write some more.
4. Pry your fingers off of perfection.
5. Quit comparing yourself to others.
6. Step away from the naysayers because no one needs extra negativity in their life.
7. Go ahead . . . love what you do, you crazy little writerly animal.
8. Encourage another writer -- a rising tide lifts all boats.
9. Write what you love, not what you think you "should" love.
10. Eat chocolate, and lots of it.

Now then, slap a delirious smile on your face and get out there and play ball. This day only happens once a year, so yuk it up, happy pants!

Thursday, March 19, 2015

#DitchYourDateIn5Words

I probably should have been writing today, but instead I doodled around on Twitter and discovered a super fun hashtag.

Ditch Your Date in 5 Words is a creative playground. Here are some of my favorites:

You're not Benedict bloddy Cumberbatch!

I have chronic diarrhea.

Been sober since 7 a.m.

I'm more into fictional people.

You look like my wife.

Hey, want to go--SQUIRREL!

You should really order salad.

Does this smell like chloroform?

Focus on the dollar menu.

So, I thought, hey, I'm a writer. I should give this a whirl. How hard can it be to put together 5 little words? Turns out, way more difficult than I thought. Here's what I got:

Oh yeah, about that felony...

Trench mouth isn't contagious, right?

And Saturday, we'll join ISIS.

My mom's in the trunk.

I was raised by goats.

There you have it. Are you ready to give it a whirl? If you're brave enough, leave a Ditch Your Date in 5 Words in the comment section, or go all out and tweet it for the world to see.

Wednesday, March 18, 2015

Judging Books By Their Covers

Everybody likes to gawk at a good train wreck now and then, and whoa, baby . . . have I found some awesome rubber neck sites for you you to visit.

Kindle Cover Disasters chronicles Ebook covers that are butt-ugly. Oops. I hope none of my writerly friends are on there.

Lousy Book Covers has some uber lousy covers.

Bored Panda lists the 40 worst book covers and titles of all time -- according to them.

Flavorwire shows embarrassingly bad classic book re-dos.

The Museum of Bad Book Covers has a plethora of strange, silly, ugly and baffling book covers.

Tuesday, March 17, 2015

Irish Authors

In honor of St. Patrick's Day, I will not be drinking green beer. Not a huge beer fan. Last time I tried a swig, I immediately wiped my tongue on my buddy's sweater to get the nasty taste out of my mouth. Yeah. Don't sit next to me in a pub.

Nevertheless, we will be roaming an Irish neighborhood today, because everyone's Irish on March 17th, or something like that. So here's a shout out to some great Irish authors that perhaps you didn't even know were of the Emerald Isle persuasion . . .

Revolutionary Joyce Better Contrast
JAMES JOYCE 1882-1941
Ulysses
Dubliners
A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man
Finnegans Wake
The Dead
Eveline
Chamber Music
The Boarding House
Stephen Hero
Pomes Penyeach
and a bajillion more titles...okay, so like 13 more

Oscar Wilde at Oxford
OSCAR WILDE 1854-1900
The Picture of Dorian Gray
The Importance of Being Earnest
The Canterville Ghost
Lady Windermere's Fan
An Ideal Husband
The Happy Prince
The Selfish Giant
and seriously a bajillion more titles because the dude was prolific
JONATHAN SWIFT 1667-1745
Gulliver's Travels
A Modest Proposal
A Tale of a Tub
Directions to Servants
The Battle of the Books
Polite Conversation
The Drapier's Letters
A Meditation Upon a Broom-stick
GEORGE BERNARD SHAW 1856-1950
Pygmalion
Caesar and Cleopatra
Arms and the Man
The Devil's Disciple
The Man of Destiny
You Never Can Tell
Man and Superman
Heartbreak House
Saint Joan
BRAM STOKER 1847-1912
Dracula (actually, there are a total of 5 Dracula titles by Stoker)
Lair of the White Worm
The Jewel of Seven Stars
The Judge's House
The Lady of the Shroud




C.S. LEWIS 1898-1963
The Screwtape Letters
All the Narnia Books
The Space Trilogy
The Pilgrim's Regress
The Abolition of Man
Mere Christianity
The Great Divorce
Surprised By Joy
and a metric ton load of other titles

I confess that I'm not very well-read when it comes to Irish authors. All I got is Dracula for Stoker and Narnia, the Space Trilogy, Surprised by Joy and The Screwtape Letters for C. S. Lewis.

How many of these titles have you read? Share in the comment section unless you're too busy slugging back pints of green beer.

Monday, March 16, 2015

Essay Contest . . . For a Country Inn

Have you ever dreamed of living in the Maine countryside? Of running a bed and breakfast? And of accomplishing this for simply writing a wingding of a short essay and a contest fee of $125? Have I got an opportunity for you!

The Center Lovell Inn and Restaurant is currently being offered as the prize in an essay writing contest, sponsored by Janice Sage, the owner and current innkeeper. Why in the world would she offer such a thing? Because that's how she got the inn back in 1993, just by entering a contest. According to the Portland Press Herald,

“She hopes to receive 7,500 responses, or about $900,000, about what local real estate agents suggested as a listing price for the 210-year-old inn and two outbuildings overlooking Kezar Lake in Lovell. It is also an amount that would allow Sage to transition smoothly into retirement, her ultimate goal. She also hopes the novel approach will ensure that the inn will land in worthy hands.”

This little contest perked up my writerly antenna. Not that I want to write an entry and win a country inn (though I wouldn't mind reading the entries). No, I'm thinking what a fantastic idea for story. Heroine wins a bed and breakfast. It's run-down, in a small town, where local folklore has some kind of creepy mystery associated with the place. Of course it won't really turn out to be something scary. No aliens involved. Or zombies. But the strapping hunk of hero will save the day, the heroine, and the inn all in one fell swoop. Win, win, win!

And here's hoping you win if you decide to enter the contest. All the rules you need to follow are HERE.

Sunday, March 15, 2015

Two

If two boxes were side by side,
one labeled beauty,
the other labeled bitterness,
which one would you choose?
Seems like no contest.
Why is this even a question?
Who wouldn't snatch the beauty box and crush it to his chest yelling, "Mine! Mine!"
Reality is, though, that sometimes
our grasp veers off course.
We wrap our hands -- our souls -- around the other one.
The ugly one.
The wicked, choking, deadly one . . .

. . . when we don't get our own way.
. . . when a sharp remark cuts to the marrow.
. . . when tragedy crashes into our lives.
That's when it's hard to see beauty, let alone grab it and embrace it.
Two boxes.
One choice.
Which one will you reach for today?

Friday, March 13, 2015

What Is Voice?

I just returned from a dog aggression class. Oh erase that stupid cartoon bubble you have of me lunging at dogs. Sheesh. What I mean is that I returned from a class I take my dog to because she lunges at other dogs.

Now that we've got that cleared up, what I learned tonight is that voice is super important, second only to body language when it comes to dog behavior modification. It's the tone that cues a dog in to what we want them to do and how urgently we want them to do it. And doggone (sorry, couldn't resist) if writing isn't a whole lot like that.

The subject of voice comes up frequently in writerly circles, mostly among newbies. "What's a voice? What does that even mean? Can I pick one up at Target? I'm only an alto, is that bad?" The whole concept of voice seems kind of nebulous, but really it's pretty simple . . .

Write like you think.

Trying hard to attain a "voice" only messes you up, and guess what? You don't need to attain one, as if you could go pick one off a shelf and bring it home in a bag. Your voice is the way you process information. Do you think in complete sentences? Then write that way. Is there a big sack of slang words dumped onto the floor of your brain? Write that way. Fast thinker? Slow thinker? Whatever. Write that way.

Your voice is your style of thinking captured with words onto paper. It's what makes you unique, and it's what readers will come to expect of your writing.

" . . . Your voice is the key to getting dedicated followers and fans, and that's the only sustainable way to write. If you’re not being yourself, you’ll eventually burn out."

Thursday, March 12, 2015

Why Stories Change Everything

Fact: Humans are attracted to stories.
Fact: Stories change humans.
Fact: There are humans reading this blog post.
Fact: This is a good time for you to run away before Writer Off the Leash changes you.

Okay, so I veered off course there just a tad, but it really is a fact that stories change the human brain, and I've got back-up on this so don't shoot me yet. If you're really in to multi-syllabic scientificky-type words, then watch Empathy, Neurochemistry and the Dramatic Arc. Otherwise, just take my word for it and let's move on.

There's a process for the way a story changes us. Once a story holds our attention for a period of time (assuming, of course, it's a kick-butt story), a reader begins to resonate with the characters. There's a fancy term for this: transportation. When you experience "transportation," you may even begin to feel physiological changes such as an increase in heart rate or breathing due to the release of oxytocin. That's usually barely noticeable to the reader, though, because the person has "transported" into the story and is living there instead of reality.

But not all stories transport a reader. Only the good ones. So . . . how is a writer supposed to construct a story that causes this effect?

The Dramatic Arc

1. Begin with something surprising. It's imperative to immediately hook a reader with a flash-bang.

2. Increase tension by tossing in difficulty after difficulty that the characters have to overcome -- and if they don't overcome them, they're toast.

3. These tensions must lead to a deep, dark moment -- a climax -- where the characters have to face their fears in order to succeed.

4. The main characters should be forever changed by the end of the story.

That's it. Those four simple steps will cause the transportation effect in a reader and will seriously mess with their mind -- in a good way, that is. Thankfully. Lord knows there's enough litigation going on without readers lobbing lawsuits at authors.


Wednesday, March 11, 2015

#Fangirl

Gerald Dickens
I've long been a fan of Charles Dickens. Bleak House is my all-time fave, so much so that my dog's name is Ada Clare, who's one of the characters. And that's exactly what I love best about Dickens -- his characters. The names: Bayham Badger, Anne Chickenstalker, Wackford Squeers. The mannerisms, such as Mr. Smallweed who is carried around on a pallet and must have his bones shaken regularly. And the personalities, especially the ones I love to hate such as Mr. Skimpole, a conniving rat-fink who claims he's "nothing but a child."

So when I heard that Dickens' great-great-grandson was going to be in town, I was like "Oh son! Gotta see me some of that!" So I did.

Gerald Dickens performed a one-man play at the Music Box Theater in Minneapolis. To Begin With is the story of a little known book written by Charles Dickens: The Life of Our Lord. This book was never intended to be published, but instead was written for the sole purpose of instructing Dickens' children (he had 10 of them) in the story of the Gospel. It was only to be read aloud every Christmas for his family. Here's an excerpt:

“My dear children, I am very anxious that you should know something about the History of Jesus Christ. For everybody ought to know about Him. No one ever lived, who was so good, so kind, so gentle, and so sorry for all people who did wrong, or were in anyway ill or miserable, as he was. And as he is now in Heaven, where we hope to go, and all to meet each other after we are dead, and there be happy always together, you never can think what a good place Heaven is, without knowing who he was and what he did.”

Fangirl & Dickens
Gerald Dickens did a fantastic job portraying his great-great grandfather. He was also gracious enough to not only greet guests after the play, but also signed autographs. Yeah. Had I known that, I'd have hauled my entire Dickens collection with. I settled for having him sign my playbill.

If you ever get the chance to see Gerald Dickens perform, do it. He frequently travels the U.S., especially during the holidays when he presents his version of A Christmas Carol.

Tuesday, March 10, 2015

The Half-Way Blues

I like jazz when it has a tune to it. Something I can whistle along with. A melody I can listen to even when the music isn't playing because it's captured inside my head. What? You don't do that? Huh.

Anyway, the jazz I don't like is the crazy zig-jiggidy sort. The kind that's unpredictable. Saxophones wailing like banshees getting an enema. Bass's that thump up, down, and sideways on a semi-scale. The kind of jazz where the notes don't mean anything, and they certainly don't stay within the boundaries of something I can hum along to. Unless I'm on acid at the time.

And I don't do drugs.

But doggone if that same effect doesn't happen to my writing sometimes, usually around the half-way mark of a manuscript. The beginning was a big honeymoon love fest. Creating new characters. Setting the plot into action. The end is where all the flash-bang fireworks explode across the novelly sky. These things have a rhythm, a quick-paced rat-a-tat-tat.

Then there's the middle. That's where things get squiggy. And that is currently where I find myself. I'm at the point where I'm sure my story is pig dung and why do I even call myself an author? Panic sets in. Followed by self-loathing. Maybe I should just flip burgers at McDonalds.

What to do? How to push past the roadblock of my-writing-sucks-with-a-side-of-sucky-sauce? Have I got a handy dandy list for you (and me) . . .

The 3 R's to Regain Your Writerly Self-Esteem

Respiration
Air is good. No, really. Take some deep breaths. See what you're doing? Your doing what every human being does, and that's exactly what you need to realize. Not the breathing part per se. You are doing something just like every other author out there on the planet: dealing with doubt. You are not alone in this. You are normal. And guess what? This, too, shall pass . . . kind of like a kidney stone.

Review
Take a moment to remember all of your accomplishments up to this point. Chances are there are quite a few. Clearly you are not a loser, so quit lying to yourself. Even if you're not an award-winning author-o-maniac, if you've simply written half a manuscript, hey, that's more than most people accomplish. Read what other writers or readers have said about your writing. Soak in the encouragement that's been offered to you in the past.

Refill
Drafting a story drains the ever-loving creative juices right out you. Sweet mercy! If only it burned calories half as fast. It's important to keep the inspirational embers glowing red-hot. Now is the time to buy that mp3 on Amazon you've been wanting, pick up one of your favorite author's books, cough up the cash for tickets to that theater production that's in town. Sometimes to keep your creativity from going bankrupt you've got to borrow some from others.

Remember, the only way out of these doldrums is through, and the only way through is to write, even if--especially if--you think your words are steaming piles of literary manure. Sure, some of them might be, but odds are they're not all. You can shovel out the caca later, when you've finished the manuscript.

Sunday, March 8, 2015

5 Ways to Take Your Story From Meh to Marvelous

You know that story you've written that's hiding in a drawer?

The one that's finished but it's just meh?

The one you love but know isn't market ready and you're not quite sure why?

Have I got a handy dandy checklist for you . . .

5 Ways to Spice Up a Lukewarm Manuscript

Cause Trouble
When it comes to characters and story, safety is overrated. If your characters aren't having the rug yanked out from beneath them in every chapter, forget about it. You think readers want to wade through a dung pile of description for pages on end? The answer is no, they don't, and I don't care how clever your prose is. Ramp up the tension, not the exposition.

Speed It Up
Think about it. What's more exciting to watch? A Nascar race with squealing tires and burning rubber, or a blue-haired senior shuffling along with a walker? Pacing is everything when it comes to story. Put the pedal to the metal and keep the action whizzing by.

Shove Your Reader to the End of their Seat
Cliffhangers aren't only for the climax of a story. Use them at the end of every scene. Wait, did you hear me? EVERY scene. Don't give your reader a reason to yawn and close your book.

Zigzag and Switchback
Predictability is death. Except for a few die-hard formula romance readers, no one wants to have the story figured out from page one. As an author, it's your job to keep the reader guessing.

Toss in Some Clown Pants
Humor has its place in every book, no matter the genre. Sprinkled throughout, a good grin creates levity, breathing space, and contrast.

So go ahead and pull out that manuscript. Give these techniques a whirl. You'll have a spicey dicey story in no time.

Kick

Image: imagerymajestic at FreeDigitalPhotos.net
Why would anyone trample on words?
On God's word?
Why do I?
Oh, not openly. Not jumping up and down with maniacal laughter, crushing God's word on purpose.
No, I'm more sophisticated.
I give it a sideways kick when no one is looking . . . not even myself.

Nah. 1:7 He's a stronghold in the day of trouble.
Kick: But I run to my friends for consolation.

2 Cor. 12:9 His grace is sufficient.
Kick: But I turn to food or sleep or anger.

Rom. 8:31 God is for me, not against me.
Kick:  But I let fear and worry crawl into my thoughts and make a nest.

What if instead of kicking God's word, I stand on it? How solid would that feel? How unshakeable?

Probably enough that I could kick up my heels and dance like the wind.

Friday, March 6, 2015

Calling All Historical Fiction Lovers

Everyone I know is sick of winter. Sick of cold. Sick of stupid snow and stupid drivers and stupid I-hate-changing-the-dumb-clock-ahead-an-hour. Yep. There's a lot of anger and rage out there, folks, but never fear. I have a cure to soothe even the most savage of beasts.

A BIG FAT GIVEAWAY!!!


Here's your chance to win one of ten fantastic historical fiction reads in a contest that runs from March 6-27.

Just click HERE to put your name in the hat. It's that simple. Good luck, little buddies. I hope one of my readers wins!


Thursday, March 5, 2015

Canva

Got a few minutes to play? Looking to update your Facebook banner? Need to create a social media graphic? A presentation? A poster?

Then CANVA is the place for you!

One of Canva's community outreach specialists -- whatever that is -- reached out to little ol' moi, inviting me to check the site out then share it here on Writer Off the Leash. No, I don't go jumping off bridges just because someone asks me to, but (and I've always got a big but) I had some spare seconds, a burning curiosity, and a need for a fresh Facebook banner. So I did it. I toodled over there and played around, and here's what I came up with:

A Facebook Banner








A Social Media Graphic
















A Blog Graphic






























A Business Card


A Photo Collage
















And those are just a few of the things you can do at Canva. Plus, it was super easy to use. No, really. As in super dooper. Next time you need some kind of graphic in your life, I highly recommend you give this place a whirl.


Wednesday, March 4, 2015

You Kiss Your Mother With That Mouth?

Psst. Hey buddy. Step a little closer so I don't have to speak too loudly. Blue-haired hunch-backed ladies might get their bloomers in a knot if they heard this conversation. Today we're talking about about swearing.

Recently I saw a movie that dropped "F" bombs as if it were D-Day. Really? Is that the current extent of creativity? Talk about pet words. Sheesh.

I admit a well-placed naughty word sometimes makes me smile. Is that sinful? Maybe. But let's set aside the swearing-is-wrong debate for the moment because there's another reason writers shouldn't use vulgarity.

It's lazy.

Popping in an F-this or F-that is easy and common. Coming up with a creative expletive is hard and will stick in a reader's mind much longer. And really, don't you want your story to linger in a reader's grey matter long after they've put the book down?

This morning I awoke to this comment on Facebook:

"I must hear "Sweet flying peacock!" ten times a day, 
ever since reading the Flannery and the oranges scene to Jonny last week. 
I think we have a new Griep fan in the making here."

Sure, I could've used S*#%! or F&^$! instead of sweet flying peacock, but would those words have had the same impact? Nope. 

So here's my challenge to you: think outside the box when it comes to exclamations this week, even in your everyday language. Go ahead. Surprise people. And feel free to share some of your favorite concoctions in the comment section.

Tuesday, March 3, 2015

Choose Your Friends Wisely

I didn't have a whole lot of friends when I was in junior high, except for a few big names . . . Ray Bradbury, Isaac Asimov, Arthur C. Clarke. They were my buddies because I kept my nose stuck in a book during those awkward years, and science fiction was my chosen genre.

I did have one friend, though, that's remained with me since then. You might have heard of him, too.
Procrastination.

Every writer, shoot, everyone hangs out with this fella. Everyday. Our friend Procrastination gets the best of each of us at some time or another, so there's no sense feeling guilty about it. Go ahead. Yuk it up for awhile. Swap a few stories. Share a cup of java.

Then tell your friend it's time to leave. Think about it. You don't allow other friends to suck the time out of your entire day. This one shouldn't either.

Don't worry about offending the poor little buddy. You can always invite Procrastination back when you're finished writing.

Monday, March 2, 2015

Don't Be a Failure at Failing

"Success is stumbling from failure to failure 
with no loss of enthusiasm."
~ Winston Churchill

When I was a kid, I used to love doing connect-the-dot puzzles . . . except for when I failed and the picture ended up looking more like my knotted shoelaces than a cute puppy playing with a ball. No worries, though. I'd simply rip out the page and pretend that picture never existed, then go on to mess up the next page. It made for a pretty tattered book by the time I finished, but I loved every minute of it.

I haven't sat down with a puzzle like that in decades, but I don't need to. Life is a series of connect-the-dots, which is sometimes hard because the stupid little dots don't have numbers by them. As a result, failure is easy, especially for a writer. There are a bajillion different ways writers face defeat:

- a plot wrinkle that won't iron out
- a character arc falls flat
- you can't land an agent, editor, contract
- one-star reviews
- a self-esteem the size of a sesame seed

But whether you're a writer, a mom, a business exec, or a llama farmer in Wyoming, failure isn't a matter of if. It's when. You will fail and you will fail hard. It's part of the human condition. The question is how will you handle it when you fail? Decide now. Go ahead. Take a minute if you need to. I'll still be here.

It's an emotional thing to not succeed at something that's important to you, but I propose that the emotion doesn't have to be despair. Flip that coin over to determination. Eventually you'll figure out what works and what doesn't, and the payoff will be fantastic: deep satisfaction.


Sunday, March 1, 2015

Blur

I am busy.
I choose to be.
I want to squeeze out of this time here on earth all that's possible for a body to accomplish.
To serve.
To encourage.
To help when and where needed.

-- But --

That doesn't mean my heart and soul must be frantic.

-- And --

That doesn't mean I should run ahead of God,
finding my own opportunities to be busy rather than those He's granted.

-- Still --

Still my spirit.
Quiet me at Your feet.
Remind me, frequently, to fall to my knees and adore.
Life is not an emergency.
It is a gift.


 
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