A Writerly Blog
As leaves fall and autumn turns towards winter, we are reminded to give thanks. To have a heart of gratitude. It’s so easy to complain rather than say thank you. Why is that?
Grumbling comes more naturally to us. Sometimes it even brings a sense of satisfaction. But then, after a while, discontent seeps in. The only way I have found to turn those dark complaining thoughts around is to be grateful. There is always someone who is less fortunate than us. When we bring them to mind, our situation doesn’t seem as hopeless.
Last year I read The Brontë Sisters: the Brief Lives of Charlotte, Emily and Anne by Catherine Reef. It was recommended by a fellow children's picture book writer, but, for the life of me, I can't remember whom. But, thank you. It was a good read. So, I thought I would share my writer's POV on this classic, along with quotes from Reef's book.
Although it is a YA book, the content is meaty enough to get a glimpse of the cloistered and dark lives of these three authors, and sense the similarity of their environment to their best-selling books as follows: "Jane Eyre", "Wuthering Heights" and "Agnes Grey" respectively.
I could feel the wind blowing across the moors, and sense the weight of their depressing lives. Since writing was not the proper vocation for women in those days, these girls took on pen names. Charlotte was Currier, Emily chose Ellis, and Anne, Acton. . . and all with the surname of Bell. Escaping their mundane existence, the three invented and imagined a host of characters and kingdoms. They lived and breathed life into them as they put pen to paper.
A couple of years back, like many, I was glued to my TV screen with a cuppa and a scone. As the credits rolled, so did the tears. I was a fairly new writer, and understood the power the written word posessed. I had just finished watching the last episode of Season Three in the saga of "Downton Abbey", the wildly popular BBC series focusing on the privileged and not-so-privileged.
What we learned throughout the ongoing story was this: when it comes to disasters, it doesn't matter who you are or how much money you make — they happen to everyone, regardless of status.
Even though we were reminded of that truth during each episode, it wasn't until I viewed the final scene that it hit me like a monsoon. It was almost too much to bear. Just when I was reveling in the "happily ever after" scene, it happened. I couldn't believe it! I felt cheated. And slightly depressed.
Those of you who have seen it know what I mean. Did the writer want to add a wicked twist to the plot? Did the actor want out? If so, could I have obliged? For whatever reason, the results did not sit well with me.
Then, almost immediately, I began to think of myself and my role as a writer. I, too, have that power. The power to write in or write out characters at will. I realized I would have found difficulty in writing a scene so tragic. So unpredictable. So unwanted.
But that is the beauty of being a writer. I don't have to write scenes that lead to despair. And if I did, one thing is for sure — they would lead eventually to good. There would be a reason. All would work out in the end. It would give my readers hope. Because we all need hope in these days of uncertainty. And I know that my hope is in God, who does work all things together for good.
Those of you who are avid fans, what do you think? Did all things work out for good in the final season of "Downton Abbey"? That was Julian Fellowes prerogative. He held the pen.
How would you have written the ending?
I've been struggling these past few months. Struggling to put words on paper. Is that you, too? Funny thing is, I have no problems with posts on Facebook. They flow like water. So, what's the deal? What I thought was writer's block is probably better named as procrastination. I know I need to write, but what do I do instead?
- The laundry (I have nothing to wear. . .)
- Dishes (really?)
- Bake (it's an escape)
- Mend clothes (I hate looking at the growing pile)
- Purchase mentor texts on Amazon
- Continue one of my writer's courses
- Submit a manuscript.
I tell myself that these things really do need to get done. And, c'mon, the last three apply to writing. Am I not correct?
Correct, but wrong. Huh?
The point is, I'm NOT WRITING.
I sure do. Challenges ALWAYS get me going. I wouldn't have much written if I didn't accept the challenges:
And the list could go on. Some months, I go from one challenge to another. My first drafts are nothing to write home about, but hey, I have something on paper to edit when the time comes. But, as I push ahead, I have found a few other resources to entice and inspire me. Even when I am not writing. Even when it's true writer's block, and not procrastination. Maybe these will help you, too:
A Writer's Guide to Persistence by Jordan Rosenfeld (good help with focus for the writing life)
Second Sight: An Editor's Talks on Writing, Revising & Publishing Books for Children and Young Adults by Cheryl B. Klein (she's given me super editing and revising hints when I’m stuck with character and plot)
Children's Book-A-Day Almanac by Anita Silvey (helpful for story ideas)
The Sound of Paper by Julia Cameron (great for motivation)
Award-winning author Candace Fleming (I consider her a friend) has advice for getting 'unstuck':
- Write one to three pages of anything on your mind. It could be thoughts on your manuscript, or just fleshing out the events of the day. Julia Cameron calls them "morning pages" because they are written first thing in the morning to get you writing.
- Any time you get stuck as you are writing a story, whether it's with a name, location, descriptive word, etc, just fill the space with a "—", and decide what to use later. Then your writing will not come to a halt, as it has for me many times!
Here’s help from Writer’s Digest: A 12 Day Plan of Simple Writing Exercises
The Character Traits Thesaurus is a helpful tool when you are stuck with ideas. Check it out HERE.
Don’t know how to begin a story? This blogpost gives you some ideas.
Ever thought of writing a Fractured Fairytale? Tara Lazar shows you how. Her how-to video is a riot!
THE ANTI-PROCRASTINATION PLAN
Now that I'm an empty nester, I find I have more time to write, but less self-control. As I've mentioned above, I find tons of things to do instead of writing. So, I schedule myself. I carve out a piece of the day that is totally free, and I concentrate on writing or revising. I also take time to read books on writing, look for agents or publishers to submit to, or take a class online. At one point, I thought of choosing one writing 'task' each day. For instance, Monday would be my submission day, Tuesday, revision day, Wednesday . . .well, you get my meaning. But so far, that hasn't worked.
A good app that reminds me of my tasks for the day/week/month is Any.do. They have updated it, and I highly recommend it for reminding yourself of the contest or pitchfest you are going to take part in, or any other writerly tasks you need to accomplish. Make sure you include the name and location of the event as well, so you can find the details when you need them. The app is available for laptops, iPhones and iPads.
Julie Cameron also suggested 'Walks' and 'Artist's Dates' with yourself. Go for a walk in the neighborhood. Or choose a safe forest preserve or park on your way to the shopping mall. And take yourself out on a date to a museum, unexplored neighborhood, or bookshop that is new to you. You'd be amazed at how refreshed and more creative you feel!
SOMETIMES ALL YOU NEED IS A PROMPT: NO EXCUSE FOR WRITER’S BLOCK
If all of the above fails, just sit yourself down in a quiet, distraction free place, open your notebook or computer program/app of your choice and WRITE!
- Your favorite childhood experience
- Your worst childhood experience
- A day in the life of your dog/cat or other pet
- Your life on a deserted island: what would you take?
- If you could live anywhere in the world, where would it be, and why?
- If you could make up any world, what would it be like?
- Pick a color and write about what it means to you. What word pictures does it bring to mind?
- If you have a list of titles/ideas for a picture/chapter book, pick one and just start writing.
- Get your thinking cap on and write a pitch or jacket flap text for a WIP (that’s a Work In Progress). It's amazing how that assignment will clarify the plot and characters of your story.
Well, I hope I have given you some ideas to jump start your writing and get the creative juices flowing. So. . .WRITE ON!!
What excuses do you use for procrastinating?? Share your comments below. . . I’d love to hear from you!
My debut MG historical novel, The Heart Changer will release in Spring of 2019. But, there are so many things to accomplish before then. One thing heavily weighing on my mind, is the task of requesting book endorsements from known authors in my genre. How does one go about asking for an endorsement if she doesn’t know the author personally? Good question. And one I’ve been pondering all week.
Curious? My post is featured today on the Independent Writers of Chicago blog: http://www.iwoc.org/stet-blog/6050924
Come on over . . . I’d value your comments!
I just watched a movie some would call a ‘sleeper.’ To those from this latest generation, that word is outdated. But, I’m sure they could come up with another term to describe Goodbye, Christopher Robin. I would call it a gentle film, one that grows into its own significance. It’s ‘slow’, or maybe even ‘long and drawn out,’ but definitely worth the watching.
Whether most of the details are accurate or not, I do not know. But it is based on the life and inspiration of A. A. Milne, author of Winnie the Pooh. Milne has come home from the ‘war to end all wars’ with shell-shock, and desperately needs to forget the past. After being left alone for two weeks with his son, Christopher Robin, he finds solace in the country taking walks and watching ‘Billy Moon’ (his son’s nickname during his childhood) play make-believe with his stuffed animals. Soon, Milne’s proverbial writer’s block disappears as he begins to capture this imaginary world on paper.
But, I will stop here, not wanting to spoil the ending for you!
By the end of the movie tears flooded my eyes. So many thoughts began to swirl in my head: Should a writer sacrifice his family for a greater cause? Is it wise to place your child in the limelight? Is it best to ‘write what you know’? Do we ever realize what our actions truly beget until the end? I can’t answer these questions for you. Only one’s conscience and conviction can.
I got to thinking of other stories written for the same reason: to take people’s minds off the horrors of war. Folks needed a place to escape. A place to heal. And a place to grow in understanding God and the world.
So, I looked up the top movies from the post war era (40’s and 50’s). Although many were focused on the war itself, (and surprisingly, mysteries were popular as well), here are three I would say gave hope and an opportunity for escape):
It’s A Wonderful Life
Miracle on 34th Street
Can you think of others?
Then, I turned my thoughts towards children’s books written post-war, and came up with a number to fit the ‘take our minds off the war and it’s effects’ category. Some, of course, were set during the (Second world) war, such as The Lion, Witch and the Wardrobe, but others brought the reader to a safe place— one that spoke of home, security and simple joys. Or, they carried one away completely with lighthearted humor:
A Bear Called Paddington
Little House on the Prairie
Cat in the Hat
Make Way for Ducklings
The Little Prince
Can you add to this list?
So, as a writer myself, I often ponder the reason I write. Sometimes it’s to inform. Sometimes to teach. Always to inspire. And at times to cause my readers think, Wow! That’s amazing. I didn’t know that!
And just maybe, to smile at the odd and clever things in life. . .
What is your raison d’être?
Hmmmm. He's non-existent in quite a few nativity scenes in my neighborhood. As my imagination ran wild a couple of years ago, I pondered 'what would happen if' . . . and came up with this 349 word story that solved the mystery.
It's a theme that has been on my heart for quite a while . . .
Help! Baby Jesus is Missing!
Molly stood in front of her neighbor's house, looking at a forest of lighted decorations. There was a snowman, a tin soldier, a candy cane, a candle, and of course - Santa and his reindeer.
In the center were Mary and Joseph, bowing low over the manger. But, it was empty! Where is the Christ Child, Molly wondered?
"It's His birthday soon. Jesus can't miss His own party!"
Maybe the tin soldier would know.
"No, Miss," he said, "I'm just keeping the peace. Try the snowman."
The snowman looked strange.
"Have you seen Jesus?" she asked.
"I can't see. They've forgotten my button eyes. Sorry! Maybe the candy cane can help."
She hoped so. But Molly was disappointed.
"I'm too busy straightening my pretty red bow. I haven't seen him."
"We must find him," she said in despair. "Christmas is coming soon!"
"Ask Santa," the candy cane suggested.
"Yes!" Molly said. "Santa would know."
She tugged on the sleeve of his red velvet suit.
"Santa? Santa! Jesus is missing. Can you help?"
"Can't stop now, little girl. It's almost time to deliver my gifts. Ask the candle."
So she did.
"Mr. Candle, can you help the Christ child find his way back to the manger?"
"Not tonight. Ask His parents."
"Mary? Joseph? Where is your Son?"
"He's coming soon, child. Very soon. He will be pleased to know you were waiting for Him," said Mary.
"Those who are wise seek Him," said his father. "Be patient, and He will appear."
Molly waited. Two whole days. On Christmas morning, there in the manger, was Jesus. Hands outstretched. His parents lovingly bowed in reverence.
Molly clapped her hands in joy.
"He's here! Just in time. Happy Birthday, Jesus!"
The lawn decorations joined in.
"To the Prince of Peace!" said the soldier.
"You warm our hearts," said the snowman.
"Our sweet baby Jesus," the candy cane said.
"The greatest gift!" said Santa.
"The light of the world," said the candle.
"Wise men still seek Him," Joseph declared.
"Our waiting is over," said Mary.
"You've finally come!" Molly said. "Welcome to our world!!"
Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year to all!
Today I am happy to be part of Writers Persevere!, an event that authors Angela Ackerman and Becca Puglisi are running for the next few days to celebrate their release of their newest book, The Emotional Wound Thesaurus: A Writer’s Guide to Psychological Trauma. This book looks at the difficult experiences embedded in our character’s backstory which will shape their motivation and behavior afterward.
Because Angela and Becca have spent the last year exploring painful human struggles, they wanted to highlight a very important aspect of overcoming difficult circumstances: it can make us stronger. I promised to let Angela hijack my blog today, so please read on!
Hi everyone! When you set out to find examples of inner strength, you don’t have to go very far. Right here in the writing community we see it every day. Writers more than anyone understand the swirl of emotions as we work toward publication. We dream of making it and seeing our books in the hands of readers…yet doubt and frustration can be a constant companion. For us, there is a lot to learn, much to steel our nerves for, and unfortunately, a host of real-world problems that can try to derail us. And, even as we slowly move forward and grow, we can sometimes feel like impostors. This is a tough road.
But the fact that writers face this battle, day after day, and KEEP GOING…this should be celebrated! We need to be reminded that we are much stronger than we sometimes believe. We dream, create, and force ourselves to keep striving. Through the ups and downs, we persevere!
Have you encountered something on the writing road that made you question yourself? Have you faced an obstacle that required a force of will to get past?
If so, we want to hear about it! Join Becca and me at Writers Helping Writers from October 25-27th, where we are celebrating writers and their stories of perseverance. Stop in, and tell us about a challenge or struggle your faced, or if you like, join this event by writing a post on your own blog and share it using the hashtag #writerspersevere. Let’s fill social media with your strength and let other writers know that it’s okay to question and have doubts but we shouldn’t let that stop us.
We also have a prize vault filled with items that can give your writing career a boost, so stop by Writers Helping Writers. I would love for one of you to win something that will help you get closer to your goal!
If you struggle, remember to reach out to others. We are in this together, and by supporting one another, we cross the finish line together (and then keep going!).
We pulled into the port of La Coruña around breakfast, had our foreign 'face check' assuring the Spanish government we were indeed who we claimed to be, then disembarked for our city tour.
The shoreline went on for miles, as it snaked around the city. It was difficult to tell what was beach and what was port. No wonder this became the largest port on the Northern Iberian Coast, launching not only commercial ships, but warships (the Spanish Armada) and expeditions—ships exploring new routes and lands.
La Coruña is also known for its 2,000 year old structure, the Tower of Hercules, the oldest functioning Roman lighthouse in the world. Originally it had a ramp oxcarts used to bring wood up to light the warning fires before electricity was invented. Unfortunately it was on the other side of town, and, since we left port later than expected, we never had the chance to see it.
Supposedly, Hercules fought a giant, cut off his head, and buried it with the monster's armor close the shore, and built the lighthouse on top. Which is why, according to myth, Hercules is attributed with the founding of La Coruña. To my best knowledge, it means crown. Whether that means the kingly sort, or the top of the head, I'm unsure.
The first thing we noticed were the apartments lining the shore, having many glass paned windows facing the sea. When Caesar first came to La Coruña, he found a small fishing village, but, due to the rich minerals in the area, it became a thriving commercial port. The fishermen lived in these apartments and would pull their boats up under the arches at night, since the water came up to the building in those days.
Since the area was very humid and rainy, they enclosed the porches, inside and out (beginning in 18th century), where warmth and humidity built up during the day. At night when it was cooler, the inside porch windows were opened to let in the warmed air. Ingenious!
And here is a fancy version in the downtown area of La Coruña. . .isn't it gorgeous??
We visited a church who's bell tower was slightly off kilter. Not because of the architects supposed drunken state, but, to allow the sun in its zenith to enter the tower and reflect down on the alter below. I'd say he had his head on straight!
This statue commemorates Maria Pita, a brave woman who, after losing three husbands in the battle when Francis Drake returned to fight the Spanish, refused to lose the fourth. So, she entered the fight alongside him, found the emblematic flag bearer and speared him to death. Thus, Maria ended the conflict, saving the life of her sweetheart, and all the other Spaniards along with him. Hmmmm. Could be another historical fiction brewing . . .
We stopped in a sausage/ham shop where we were given a taste of the national treat: simply called jambon (ham). Raised in the country, these pigs are slaughtered, the back legs (having more meat) are buried and dried in salt for a year, then hung up for a time to lessen the fat content, then sold in shops as a snack. You see it on the left of this plate, and also hanging from the ceiling in shop in the photo above. . .
Through the years, the church has had a fast or ceremony for women who wished to conceive, since large families were important in this farming community. A few hundred years ago, they found corn to be the best crop for the cool but humid climate. Curiously, still today, engaged couples bring eggs and flour to the nuns so they can make a wedding cake to bring them good luck. Wealthy families years ago would bring their young girls to the nunnery to protect them from unwanted pregnancies before they were of marriageable age.
I was thrilled to visit La Coruña because my MG Historical novel in progress is not only set in this city, but also on a Spanish galleon, similar to the one we were sailing on. Time for research! Via our guide, I discovered there was an orphanage run by nuns that would have been standing in the early 1700’s. Good news! But then, he was told the building no longer existed. I was disappointed to say the least, but decided to visit the neighborhood anyway, to see what would have been standing when my character existed.
I found a street named after the orphanage . . .
A staircase leading up . . .
And down from the street. . .
And it would have been overlooking the bay and beach. That was good enough for me!
All in all, it was a good day . . .
My MG Biblical fiction "The Heart Changer" debuted in 2019 with Ambassador International.