Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Resolutions for 2014

Last day of 2014!

Earlier this year, I wrote out a list of writing goals that I wanted to accomplish by the end of this year.  Right now’s the time of reckoning. 

1.        Finish writing synopsis for Red WIP, revise query.

Done, done and done.  I believe I’ve revised both multiple times throughout the year.  The query has gone through some extreme changes, but I believe that they’re for the good.

2.       Send out first batch of queries by the end of January

This one was harder.  It’s not easy sending something out and hoping that it’s ready.  But I did do it.  (With a lot of encouragement from hubby.)  I sent out a few queries this year.  Not as many as I should have, but I’ve at least started on that journey.

3.       Rewrite Blue WIP.

I used Camp NaNoWriMo in April to do this.  One month and the entire novel rewritten.  Then, I posted it on Scribophile and had some great critique partners tear it apart.  I’m about 1/3 of the way through a second revision for this year.

4.       Revise Yellow WIP.

Yup.  I can’t remember exactly when I did that, I believe it was the months of May and June.  Once I revised, I posted it on Scribophile, and I am ready to do another revision next year!


This year’s goals I actually completed, which is a shock to me.  Maybe I didn’t set my bar very high? 
Here’s a few things that I accomplished even though I didn’t put it in my resolutions:

1.       Write a new novel in the month of November.  I’m just finishing it up, but I did get to 50,000 in the month of November, which was just as fun as it was last year!
2.       Get published.  In July, I published an article in Home Health Aide Digest on maintaining wellness in the mental health population.  It was a pretty exciting accomplishment, for my writing and for my nursing career!
3.       Become an ML for my region for NaNoWriMo.  This was probably one of my highlights of my 2014 writing accomplishments.  Participating in a live writer’s group, and being able to lead it was a dream come true. 

I’m still working on my writing resolutions for next year.  Hopefully I’ll be able to come up with some harder ones to push me even more.


What are some of your resolutions?  I’d love some ideas!

Monday, December 29, 2014

Query Party Invitation

Is December almost over?  I feel like I just put up the Christmas tree and it’s almost time to take it down again.  And it’s time to start looking at New Year’s resolutions again. 

This next year, I want to focus on my queries and submissions.  It was on my list for last year, but it wasn’t a priority.

What I’ve learned this year is that these letters are even more important than I realized.  I took a new job in September, and I’m now over hiring for my department.  The process of going through resumes has really opened my eyes.  It can take 30 seconds to make a decision.  I’m sure it’s probably even faster for query letters.  It makes me wonder what kind of an impression I’ve made on the agents I did query this year.

So recently, I’ve been researching query letters even more than before and a few weeks ago, I posted an article on a fellow writer’s query process.  (Link here).  It sparked some interest, and I started talking with Vanessa MacLellan and Deborah Osborne (two awesome gals) about having a query party for those who have made that part of their resolutions.  It’s always good to get a second eye, or even a third and fourth eye on those queries before sending them out to an agent.

Here’s how we’re thinking of doing it:  

1.       We’ll create a list of people who are involved and assign each of them a person whose query they’ll read and give feedback on for that week.  (synopsises are welcome too!)
2.       Queries go out on Monday for critiques and are returned by Thursday with any feedback.
3.        That gives us three days to revise and shine before the next round, which will be posted on Friday or Saturday.

We’re hoping to do it once a week for the month of January.

Who wants to participate?  The more the merrier!



For those of you just starting on queries, here’s a list of links that I’ve found very helpful:




Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Reading Books

Last week, on Google+, one of my friends announced that she was so close to achieving her goal of reading 50 books this year.  (Which, Vanessa, I think is awesome!  I bet you’ll make it!)
Her post made me stop and wonder, “Why didn’t I think of that?”  I had so many goals for this year, and many of them involved writing.  Yet, writing and reading walk hand in hand.  Why didn’t it occur to me to make a reading goal?

This year, I think I’ve read more books than I have in the past several years.  One of the reasons has to do with the fact that I finally broke down and got an e-reader.  (Or rather, I convinced someone to get it for me for Christmas).  The ability to have any book at my fingertips was too irresistible.  I can’t say that I did horribly this year.  I’ve read about 35 books, and I’ve grown to love some new series, which was just as important.

Unfortunately, as I dive deeper into the world of writers and readers, my to-read list has increased even faster than I can keep up with.  IT’s one of the only features of Goodreads that I really benefit from.  At least now I can keep that list in one place that I can find.

But it made me realize that maybe I’m not pushing myself hard enough.  Reading that many books isn’t too hard, as long as I manage my time wisely.

So in 2015, I’m going to read at least 52 books.  One for each week of the year.  Pretty reasonable, right?


My question for you is: any good book suggestions?

Thursday, December 11, 2014

Writing as a Group

Is it seriously already December?

I’m still wondering where October went.

November though, was an absolute blast.  There’s something about NaNoWriMo that invigorates me in ways I can’t even describe.  This year was my first year being an ML in a brand new region and I loved it.



For our first year, we decided to go with a crazy, complicated theme to kick off the start of our region.  Our theme was ‘A Trilogy of Trilogies.’ A combination of Indiana Jones, Star Wars and the Hunger Games.  The rules were intricate and convoluted, but I think that everyone had fun.  My favorite part was that we separated our group into three ‘districts’ and they competed against one another for word counts.  I think it was just the boost they needed to get to their 50,000.

I was pretty proud of our little group.  We had five or six of our regulars, the active ones who came to the write-ins, achieve the goal for the first time.  One of them had attempted seven times before, but this was his first year to get to 50,000.  At our kickoff, we learned that two of our writers, who’d met at our meetings last year, were engaged.  We even had a baby who tried to be born during the month.

I love interacting with other writers.  Having someone who knows exactly what you mean when you talk about researching derogatory terms, or how to properly tie someone up (and then practicing), is really the best kind of support a writer can have.  I love my husband, and he’s very supportive of my writing, but I still get to a point where I can see his eyes gloss over when I talk too much about my characters or novels.  I have some awesome online friends through writing groups and through this blog that have become staples of my writing life, but every once in a while, it’s nice to interact with people face to face.

Not only that, I love watching new writers as they discover the joy and addiction of writing.  I feel that too often, when someone new begins to write, if they don’t have someone to support them, the ‘hobby’ drops by the wayside as other things become more important.  I know that almost happened to me.

Have any of you been mentored by someone more experienced?  Did it boost your confidence and give you a foothold in the crazy life of a writer?  Is there someone you’re helping right now?  I’d love to hear your stories!

Friday, November 28, 2014

A Tribute to Past Patients


I love being a nurse.  I love the interaction that I have with my numerous patients, though, as I’ve stated before, I’ll always have a soft spot for those with Alzheimer’s. 

I honestly can’t even count the number of patients I’ve had that have touched my life.  Starting as a CNA, I began to realize how much these people influenced my life.  They made me look at life in a whole different way, and they gave me perspective.  Since it's the day after Thanksgiving, I thought I'd say thank you in the only way I know how.

So here’s to the older couple that taught me true love.  The husband always held his wife’s purse and oxygen while she pushed him in the wheelchair.  And they always ordered a dessert to split because they were just as in love as they were as newlyweds.

Here’s to the Doctor who always respected me because I was a nurse.  Even though he was technically my patient, he never failed to tell me that his career wouldn’t have been so successful without his nurses.  He showed me what a true relationship between Doctors and Nurses should be.

Here’s to the sweet lady who reserved her most brilliant smiles for me when we sat together for dinner.  She taught me the importance of slowing down and really enjoying every moment. 

Here’s to the man who believed he ran our facility.  He believed I was part of his staff, and he always told me how much he appreciated me, and he always offered to help me with whatever I needed.  He taught me what a true supervisor should be, and I try and follow his example now.

Here’s to the man who reminded me of my own father.  He made me realize that each one of my patients are related to someone else, and that each of them deserve the respect I would want my family to receive.

Here’s to the woman who told me stories while she ate.  I loved hearing them, even when they were the same stories every meal.  It makes me want to remember the important moments in my own life so that I can pass them on someday.

Here’s to the Engineer who never stopped fixing things.  Even when he couldn’t walk, he still knew how to use a screwdriver.  As someone told me the other day, “If you do something, you’re good for something.  If you do nothing, you’re good for nothing.”

Here’s to the little old lady who spoke to me in English although it wasn’t her primary language.  She was willing to learn and speak a foreign language, and she loved to teach it.  She taught me the importance of respecting culture, even if it’s from the same country.

Here’s to the older woman who fed her cat so much that he got fat and his extra dandruff gave her asthma.  She taught me that those cat ladies do exist.

I wish there was room or a way to acknowledge each one of them.  I wish there was a way to tell their story.  Because as I got to know each one of them, I realized that their disease had an even more devastating effect than most of the others.  They forgot who they truly were, what they’d accomplished in their lives, and they lost the ability to tell their story.

How about the rest of you?  Want to give a tribute to someone you knew with Alzheimer’s?  I’d love to hear their stories!



Monday, November 24, 2014

The Strain of Caregiving

I’ve been exhausted this month.  Not normal exhausted.  Not I’ve been writing every spare moment exhausted.  I’ve been feeling tension and stress more than I have in a long time.
At first I thought that maybe it was work.

Then, a few days ago, I realized what it was.  I was exhausted because of the novel I’m working on this month.  It’s about a family who’s dealing with a grandfather who has Alzheimer’s and hasn’t been diagnosed yet.  It’s exhausting to write: not just physically, but mentally and emotionally.

Working with Alzheimer’s is unpredictable, and when you don’t know what’s causing the strange outbursts of the odd behaviors, it can cause high family tension.  I’ve seen it more times than I can count.  I feel that in my time as a nurse with Alzheimer’s and Dementia patients, I’ve seen families fall into usually one of two categories.  Either they’re very involved, and constantly vising their family member, or they rarely visit and are difficult to get a hold of.

I honestly can’t imagine what it would be like to experience it firsthand.  I’ve seen it through the eyes of a caretaker, as a nurse.  I know that it’s painful and difficult for everyone, and they all respond to the disease differently.  For some, it’s showering their parents with attention, for others, the change is too painful, and they withdraw.

I’m only experiencing it secondhand from a fictional character, and I’m emotionally and mentally drained.  Trying to keep up, sort through the accusations, the anger, the behavior… it’s exhausting.

It’s amazing how much of an impact that Alzheimer’s plays in our lives.  Did you know that it’s one of the top ten diseases and it’s the only one without a cure?  Think about that.  That means hundreds of thousands of people deal with it every day without any hope of improving. 

If any of you are experiencing it right now, I hope you know how much I respect you for what you’re going through.  Please make sure that you have a good support system – one that can take care of you as you care for your loved one.

Provided by the Us Against Alzheimer's Foundation

Friday, November 21, 2014

Why Do People with Alzheimer's Have So Many Behaviors?


When I first became a nurse, I found a job at what I still call ‘the best job I ever had.’  I’d already discovered my passion for Alzheimer/Dementia patients, and this was a private, skilled nursing facility for Alzheimer and Dementia patients.  I could honestly go on and on about the amazing features of this place, along with increased number of staff and the activities, they had round the clock music therapy and art therapy.  How many places can say that?

One of the things that really stuck out to me was that they had 3 full days of ‘office’ orientation.  You know, the boring stuff where you go over policies and procedures, expectations, handbook, etc.  Anywhere else I’ve ever worked had 1 day.  There was a reason why they had 3.  They spent the first day on the normal stuff, but then they took two whole days training us on what to expect with the Alzheimer’s/Dementia population.

There were many memorable lessons I gleaned in those two days, but they had us participate in one activity that just made me rethink everything I knew about nursing, care, and nursing homes.  I know I’ve mentioned this before, but it was so incredible, I think I’ll repeat it again.

We were given six slips of paper and told to write down the things most important to us.
I honestly don’t remember what I put all those years ago, but sitting here right now, here’s what I would put:

1.       Family
2.       Church/Religion
3.       Chocolate
4.       Colors
5.       Music
6.       Somewhere safe to live

We were then asked to fold our responses and mix them up.  Then we were asked to pick one of the cards out of the pile.  Once we’d picked it, we were told that we could no longer have that one particular object.  It was no longer a part of or life, and we’d have to learn to live without it.

I can’t tell you how devastated I felt.  It was something so simple, and I still had 5 other cards, but losing that one particular item made me want to cry.  Then they asked us to pick the second card.  You can probably see where they were going at this point.

They wanted us to see what our residents were giving up when they move into a facility, or even if their children have them stay with them.  Suddenly, they don’t have the independence they once had, and everything has changed.  Maybe they don’t have easy access to a piano anymore, or they can’t get the food they used to eat at home.  Any drastic change like that can throw anyone off, but when you already have difficulty adapting to new environments or maintaining a grip on reality, it can be even worse.

Most Alzheimer’s patients who move into facilities are going to have increased behaviors.  It’s a natural reaction to the upheaval their life has just endured.  They may not understand what’s going on.  I know that my Great Grandpa believed he was in a gas station.  Others have thought that they were at the store, waiting to be picked up by family. 

Imagine how you would feel, if you woke up and you didn’t recognize anything around you.  And then when you get out of the room, a bunch of (hopefully) friendly people tell you that this is your new home.  You don’t know where your family is, and the food they give you doesn’t taste like home.  How would you feel?

Scared?

Angry?

And if you can’t properly communicate, the only way to let them know is by acting out.  Maybe you just scream for several days, hoping that someone would hear you and rescue you from these strangers.  Or maybe you think that they’ve kidnapped you from your home and you start attacking them.  Or you could try to escape, checking each door to see if they’re actually locked.

Unfortunately, this natural, and really – understandable – behavior can cause families and healthcare workers to get impatient.  Instead of looking at the situation from the perspective of their residents/patients, they might punish them, perhaps by not letting them eat a dessert, or by forcing them to stay in a chair.  But the person with Alzheimer’s doesn’t understand why they’re being punished.  It may cause even more behaviors because now they’re even more angry or scared.  It’s a vicious cycle that can’t be broken with the person who has Alzheimer’s. 

It is something that needs to be broken by the people who are there to take care of them – whether that be their family, nurse, CNA or doctor.  They have to realize that they won’t always be able to vocalize their needs or their concerns.  They need someone who can look beyond the physical obvious action and realize the reason behind it.

It can be exhausting, and it can take weeks, maybe even months to find what the patient needs.  Families should not try and do it on their own.  Burnout and exhaustion can often lead to impatience and anger on the part of the provider.  Make sure that you have a good support system, and make sure that you voice your own needs when they arise.



Thursday, November 13, 2014

Why I Became a Nurse – Part 2

So last week, I talked about the first time I ever doubted my decision to become a nurse.  The second time was when I became a caregiver at an assisted living that was built specifically for Alzheimer’s/Dementia.  I wasn’t quite sure what I was getting into.  I knew that I wanted to work in Geriatrics, but I hadn’t really decided anything beyond that. 

When I started, I quickly realized that all of the clich├ęs – the confusion, the behaviors, everything else… was all true.  But that didn’t mean that it was miserable or that they were difficult to work with.  In fact, it was just the opposite.  I LOVED my job.  I loved working with my residents.  They made my day so much happier.  Most of the days, I couldn’t wait to get to work. 

I think the one thing that I loved about it was that it was almost as though their disease – as devastating as it is – stripped away all of the false shows that we as humans tend to show.  They were completely honest, even if at times they said something offensive, I knew that everything they said was true in their reality.  I loved the job so much that I began to wonder why I’d even gone into nursing school.  Because in the Assisted Living, I never saw the nurse.  She didn’t work the floor, she didn’t see our residents on a daily basis. 

The whole reason that I’d become a nurse was because I wanted to help others, I wanted to take care of them.  Suddenly, I started to wonder if I really wanted to become a CNA and not a nurse.  I started to really doubt my career path.

And then I met Joe.  Of course, his name wasn’t really Joe.  According to HIPPA, I’m not allowed to tell his real name, but it feels funny not to give him a name at all, especially since he influenced my life so much.  He was a chipper, happy, bubbly man who arrived in the facility around the same time that I did.  He was always quick to make everyone feel better, and he always made me smile. 

Over the course of several weeks, I began to notice a definite change in Joe.  He started to become depressed, he stopped eating.  By the time I left the facility, he refused to leave his bed.  His family threatened to take him out and put him somewhere else because they thought we were neglecting him or abusing him.

But I knew exactly what happened.  His family, because they didn’t understand his disease process, felt it was important to bring him back to reality.  They reminded him of things he forgot.  Which wouldn’t be so bad, if the reminder he constantly received was that his wife had died the year before.
  
One of the things that many people do not realize about Alzheimer’s is that it affects different areas of the brain, which includes the memory and reality perception.  Their reality does not always become ours.  Very often, a person with Alzheimer’s begins to ‘regress,’ which means that they slowly move backwards in time.  They talk more and more about their deceased husband/wife, their mother, brothers and sisters.  They may remember their kids, but they remember them as small children, not as grownups with children of their own. 

The absolute worst thing to do is to tell someone with Alzheimer’s that their reality is wrong.  How would you feel if you experienced that?  Someone came up to you and told you, ‘No, the president isn’t Obama, it’s President Tanner, and the year is 2045.  Not only would you be confused, but you’d be upset because you’d think they were trying to pull one over on you. 

Joe’s family didn’t understand that.  All they knew was that he was confused, and they wanted to fix it.  They hung signs in his room, by the phone, on the bathroom door, everywhere, that said, “Dad, remember that your wife, Debora is dead.” 

Joe didn’t remember his wife was dead.  That wasn’t in his reality.  So every time he read a sign, every time his family reminded him, he went through the grieving process all over again.  Though he didn’t always remember exactly why he was sad, the feelings remained with him.  He became depressed.  And wouldn’t you?  If you experienced your significant other’s death for the first time nine or ten times a day, it would be devastating or exhausting.

As a CNA, I couldn’t do anything for him.  I couldn’t talk to the family.  I couldn’t make a difference.  That’s when I realized why it was so important for me to become a nurse.  I wanted to be his advocate.  He couldn’t express his feelings, and he needed someone to do it for him.

That’s why I became a nurse.  And that’s why I focus so much on Alzheimer’s and Dementia.  Did you know that they’re the only disease who can’t speak for themselves?  If someone has breast cancer, they can tell their family and friends, they can join help groups or donate to the cause.  Most of those with Alzheimer’s don’t even realize what’s happening to them.

And that’s why I think that awareness needs to be raised.  Alzheimer’s isn’t a period of forgetfulness, and it isn’t romantic like the movies show.  It’s a devastating disease that affects every aspect of life.  And unfortunately, right now, the only cure is death. 

I know this was a long post, but it’s an important one.  Please spread the word.  If you want to learn more about the disease, there’s a book called the 36 Hour Day which is just fantastic.  Read it if you get a chance.


Anyone here with personal experience with family or friends with Alzheimer’s?  I would love to hear your story!

Friday, November 7, 2014

Why I Became a Nurse

My great grandpa was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s when I was very young.  I don’t remember very much of it, but I do remember the way that my grandma and her sister would keep all of us updated.

“He thinks he’s in a gas station and that the nurses are holding him hostage.”

“He keeps fighting because he wants to go home.”

These are things I remember them saying.  Whether or not that’s what they actually said, I’m not sure.  I was only six or seven at the time.  I do remember visiting him once and thinking that something was different about him.  He wasn’t the same man that I remembered.

I also remembered watching the nurses who took care of him.  They were all very pleasant.  Very happy.  They made me want to do the same thing as them.  I wanted to take care of people when they got old. 

I remember the moment that I decided my career path.  At the ripe old age of seven, I knew what I wanted to be when I grew up.  I was going to be a nurse for old people.  My parents didn’t discourage me, but they did make me learn how to say geriatric instead of old. 

I grew up convinced that I wanted to be a nurse.  I used to unbend paperclips and stick them in stuffed animals and dolls so that I could practice giving shots.

There were only two moments that I ever questioned that decision.  I want to tell you about the first today.

A few years after I decided I wanted to be a nurse, my dad took us to see the musical Oliver!  During intermission, my little sister began swinging around my dad’s legs and fell, splitting open her chin.  Blood gushed everywhere.  I’d never been so terrified in my life.  For the first time, I began to wonder if I’d made the right decision.  Because of the amount of blood, we were all rushed backstage where they tried to patch her up.  When they couldn’t, my dad drove us all to the hospital where my other sisters and I waited in the waiting room while my sister went into the emergency room.

It took me years to overcome my fear.  I was convinced that I was afraid of blood, which is a slight drawback to becoming a nurse.  Despite all of that, I was still convinced that this is what I wanted to do. I wanted to be a geriatric nurse.  Years later, when I did go to nursing school, I realized that it wasn’t a fear of blood.  I was afraid because I didn’t know what to do.  I was afraid of not being able to help her.

Looking back almost twenty years to that decision, it was the best one that I ever made.  Geriatrics is one of the best fields in the world, and I had the advantage of being able to work in multiple facilities focused on Alzheimer’s.  I love the field, and I love all my patients.  They’ve taught me so much about myself and about life.


Becoming a nurse was the best decision I ever made.  How about the rest of you?  Do you have anything you’ve done that you’d never change for the world?

Monday, November 3, 2014

November

November is finally here!

For those of you who don’t know what that means, it means that writers across the world are frantically writing as fast as they can, trying to up their word count before time writes out.  It’s the time to forget about sentence structure, and about precision and accuracy.  It’s about getting those words onto the page.

Friday night, our NaNoWriMo group met at 11:30pm in the only place in our tiny little town that stayed open past midnight: McDonalds.  We met, talked, ate and then anxiously waited until the fateful time when we could begin writing.  Last year, this McDonalds was brand new, and it was a ghost town.  Not so this year.  I’d never seen so many people crammed into one space. 

Our group did a countdown to midnight, and the rest of McDonalds joined in, probably expecting something exciting to happen once we hit zero.  And something spectacular did happen.  Nine or ten different worlds opened up at midnight.  New characters came into being.  Stories that might never have been told began. 

Too bad those in McDonalds couldn’t see it.  All they saw was that a large group of people on computers counted down until zero and then began writing on their laptops like nothing happened.  I did get a pretty big chuckle out of their confusion.

This year, I’m trying something very different.  Writing is always about the journey, about trying something new.  Last year, I finished my fourth YA Fantasy novel, and I’ve got to say, it’s probably the best one that I’ve written.

This year, I decided to try something new.  I’m used to writing teenagers, love stories and fantastical worlds full of magic and danger.  I wanted to push myself to a new level.

This year, I’m writing about a woman in her 40’s.  She’s married and she already has three kids, one of them being a teenager.  She’s dealing with life itself, that after “happily ever after.”  One of the reason why I decided that I wanted to focus on this was because I wanted to write a book about Alzheimer’s.  It’s such an important topic, yet I keep seeing it romanticized. 

Alzheimer’s is a devastating disease, on all accounts.  It’s a change in personality to the point that when you’re interacting with that person who has Alzheimer’s, you’ll never get them back – not completely.  There may be moments that they seem to come out of their fog, but that moment becomes less and less common.  They slip into their own world, leaving those behind to learn to deal with the loss.

In the first two hours of November, I was able to write just about 2,700 words.  Almost immediately after, I went to sleep.  When I woke up, I saw this on my twitter feed.



How appropriate is that?  November is National Novel Writing Month and Alzheimer’s Disease Awareness Month.  I feel like the two of them are converging into my novel. 

That being said, I’m going to use the month of November to give you updates on how my novel is going, and I’m also going to be sharing my own experiences and knowledge about Alzheimer’s.  I would love to hear any of yours!  The best thing we can do to take care of those with Alzheimer’s is to advocate for them.  They’re the ones who don’t have a voice.


Happy November!

Friday, October 17, 2014

Learning Writing

Last week, I was contacted by a company known as Webucator, which is celebrating Computer Education Month by asking various bloggers to write about teaching their craft.  It’s a project known as Teach Your Talent.  I’ve been thinking about it for several days, and I’ve reached one conclusion.

There’s no real way to teach writing.  There’s no real way to measure if you’ve learned how to write or not.  What’s the measurement?  How do you know if you’re experienced or still learning?

If you’re learning how to use C++, wouldn’t you know if you’ve learned it if you write a program that actually works?  If you’re learning the piano, you can measure your achievements by the difficulty of the song you’re playing. 

But with writing?  What’s the goal?

Is it writing that first novel?  Publishing a short story?  Getting your first rejection?  Publishing anything?  Seeing your book in the front window of a bookstore?  Getting on the bestseller’s list?  Having your book adapted into a movie? 

I know of several bestsellers that others have criticized as poor writers.  Their prose is torn apart and their stories reduced to mockery.  It’s a very subjective field.  Nothing ever stays the same.  Different genres bounce in and out of popularity, readers that once loved a certain writing style now hate them. 



So if I were to give advice to a new writer, here’s what I would say:

1.       Don’t focus on the end result.  Writing is going to be hard.  Just because you write one good novel, it doesn’t mean that everything’s going to be hunky-dory.  J.K. Rowling wrote a series that send the entire world into a frenzy, and when she tried to publish under a pseudonym, she barely made a ripple.  Along the same lines, DON’T write for trends.  By the time you write and publish, the trend will have moved on.  Write what interests you.

2.       If you really want to improve, give and receive critiques.  I can’t even stress how important this is.  I spent years working on my craft.  I’d edited, revised and rewritten my novel five or six times and I was convinced that I’d gotten it as perfect as it was going to get.  My first beta partner tore apart the first chapter and left me in tears.  There’s two things you can do at that point.  Either give up, or prove them wrong.  I can’t tell you how grateful I am that her words, though harsh, made me want to try again.  I rewrote the chapter and was astounded by the change.  Same thing with giving critiques.  I’ve had people tell me something in a critique (ex: less telling, more showing) but it didn’t make any sense until I read someone else’s piece and realized what it meant.  Seeing someone else’s work will help you realize what your own is missing – either in a good way or the bad.

3.       Find some good writing buddies.  Writing is so much more rewarding when you have a writing group.  Whether you meet in person, online or anything in-between, knowing that you’re not alone will always pull you forward.  If someone in your group succeeds, you’ll see that it’s possible.  If someone fails, they have a natural net to buoy them up.  Next month is NaNoWriMo, and each region meets in person to celebrate and write together.  Go sign up!

4.       Write every day.  Like anything else, if you don’t practice, you will lose it.  That’s not a threat, it’s just the truth.  The best way to improve and learn how to write is to write.


 How about the rest of you?  Any good advice for someone thinking about picking up that pen for the first time?

Wednesday, October 8, 2014

Finding the Drive

So I have a secret.  I haven’t written.  In almost 2 months.  It’s not that I didn’t plan on it, or that I didn’t have any projects going.  In fact, I was working on a major rewrite of my Blue WIP. 
It’s so easy to take a day off, maybe two.  Then two days stretch into a week, and a week becomes a month. 

At first, it was torture, knowing that I needed to write, wanting to write, but not having the time.  But as the weeks passed, it became easier to justify the time off.  I found other things to do, shows to watch, people to hang out with, even stuff to do at work to keep me too busy to write.

Two nights ago, as I was talking to my husband about NaNoWriMo, he mentioned that I would really struggle because of how long I’d gone without writing.  I decided to use the rest of the month of October to build up my writing strength. 

Though easier said than done.

Last night, I struggled to rewrite a scene.  It took me almost 2 hours, which for me, is nowhere near par.  It took me almost an hour just to start.  I reread the sections I’d already finished, worked through what I wanted to write, even forced myself to start and restart several times. 

Tonight again, I’m going to work on a new scene.  There’s a whole new section that I need to add, and I’m hoping that writing from a blank page will help me find the drive and excitement again. 

Either way, I know what’s going to help me to write.  It’s writing.  I have to write daily until I find that drive, that desire that makes me want to never stop.  The fuel for writing is writing.  How crazy is that?


What do you do when you get in a writing slump?

Monday, October 6, 2014

NaNoWriMo

Pssst!

See this new badge? 



That’s right!  I have the privilege of being one of the Co-MLs in my region – in its brand new, inaugural year. 

I can’t even tell you how excited I am for NaNoWriMo.  Last year was an absolute blast.  I really wish I hadn’t taken so much time to actually participate.  I’d heard about it for years, and I’d always wondered what it would be like…but I never had the courage to actually try.

The greatest advantage to NaNoWriMo is the community.  Have you ever heard that writing is a lonely profession?  That’s because it can be.  I mean…other than the imaginary people that traipse around our heads.  I was a lone writer for years, all through high school and through college.  I never went out to find anyone else who had the same interests or who knew what I was going through.
Then I started following some writing blogs, which led to finding writing communities.  I stayed on the outside, on the fringe.  It took me way too long to actually participate in any of the communities though. 

Then I joined NaNoWriMo.  That was the first writing group I’d ever been in where I had face to face interactions with other writers.  And it wasn’t just people who were like me, there were teenagers, college students, mothers, and fathers – every kind of person imaginable.  But there was something that connected all of us and made us into a united group. 

Writing can be a lonely profession, but that doesn’t mean that it has to be.  Any of you thinking about participating in NaNoWriMo?  Do it!  Even if you don’t make the 50,000, there’s a benefit of finding others in your area that will encourage you to continue writing.


So what are you waiting for?  Let me know if you want to be writing buddies!

Wednesday, October 1, 2014

Using Real Life

The other night, hubby wanted to go out and eat to celebrate his first day of school.  While we were eating, the staff sang happy birthday to a guy who’d arrived with several of his friends.  Right when they finished, another group announced that they were there to celebrate a birthday too –- a group of girls.  The staff and her friends sang to her, making sure that their volume and enthusiasm exceeded that of the guy’s birthday song.

As we were watching the dueling birthdays, my husband leaned over to me and said, “Wouldn’t it be a cool story if after dinner they talked and then connected?  Years from now, that could be the story of how they met?”

I agreed that it would be quite a story, and then I started thinking about the NaNoWriMo story that I’m working on for November.  I hadn’t quite figured out how my two main characters, a husband and wife, meet.  As I thought about it more, I realized that my husband had given me a perfect backstory for my characters.

Makes me wonder what would have happened if we hadn’t gone out to dinner that night.  What kind of alternate story would my characters be experiencing in November?  It’s great to be in my own brain, coming up with characters, situations and even settings, but there are moments that living in the world and watching real people can give even more insight.


Have any of you used real life inspiration recently?


Wednesday, September 10, 2014

The Advantage to Outlining

I’m not a pantser.  I tried it once and it was an absolutely terrible experience.  Not necessarily because I didn’t enjoy the chance to find out as I wrote.  I actually enjoyed that. 

What I didn't enjoy was what happened next...

I’m still working on the revisions to piece together the story so that it’s manageable. 

I’m a planner by nature.  Everything needs to have a plan.  Our family recently received some disheartening news last month, and it was difficult to adjust to our new situation.  However, as I began to think about it, and with some wonderful friends who encouraged me, I realized that this was exactly what I’d wanted, though not in the way that I wanted.

Now, I know exactly what to expect for the next two years.  I know where I’m going to live, I know where I’m going to work – I can make plans in a semi-long term fashion.  In fact, my husband and I have made a 2 year plan, and it’s a relief to know exactly what I need to do to achieve our brand new goals.  It’s something visible, something I can follow and know if I’m on track or not.  If something new comes alone, I can figure out if it fits into the plan, and if it doesn’t, then I can discard it or adapt it to the plan.

I need the same thing in writing.  If I don’t know where the story’s headed, all sorts of sidetracks are taken.  I get lost easily, so my writing is full of dead ends, u turns and slippery slopes.  I need a map to figure out the journey before I even start.

I started working on my NaNoWriMo outline this week, and I’ve got to say, I’m starting to get excited.  The story’s coming together – slowly but surely.  There are already those rough starts, the accidental side road, but I’m fixing it now so that once I get to November, it’ll be nothing but a smooth, exhilarating ride. 


Honestly, what could be more frustrating than getting lost or even stuck in the middle of nowhere when you’ve got somewhere you want to be?

Friday, September 5, 2014

The Advantage of Self-Doubt

Let me clarify.  I’m not talking in the writer.  As writers, we’ve got enough people doubting us – even if they don’t say it out loud.  We’ve got to have faith in ourselves even when things don’t look to be sunny and rosy. 

I’m talking about self-doubt in the character. 

Right now, I’m halfway through Catching Fire, the second book in the Hunger Games trilogy.  I avoided reading the second book because I wasn’t sure how I felt about the first book.  This year’s NaNoWriMo theme in our region involves the Hunger Games, so I figured I’d better find out how it ends.  So far, I’ve been pleasantly surprised.

As I was thinking about the book so far, I realized that almost nothing has happened.  Plot wise, it’s been a very slow book.  Yet, I’m still riveted.  I still want to keep reading.  Why?

Katniss is one of those complex characters that always keeps me guessing.  Honestly, with the self-doubt she struggles with, I’m amazed she’s not mentally crippled.  From the first book, I wouldn’t have expected that.  She just won, she’d somehow beaten the system.  I’d have been elated.  Instead, she’s pulled away, reexamining everything that happened and believing the worst of herself.

Why is the effective?  Because when the character doubts themselves, then the reader will too.  Each character must endure trials and struggles.  Otherwise, there would be no story.  The reader goes through the experience with the character, and it’s important that they realize the danger of losing.  If you’re cheering for someone, it’s more exciting when there’s a chance they won’t achieve their goal.

I don’t know what’s going to happen to Katniss, but knowing that she doesn’t know that she’s going to win means that there’s a chance that she won’t.  There’s a chance that everything will end in disaster.  That’s why I keep reading.  Not because the action is riveting, but because I want to see the outcome. 

Now I want to go back and double check how confident my characters are in myself, and I know the one who probably needs a health amount of self-doubt.  From the start, she’s overly confident, and I’ve got to find a way to knock her down, give the reader a chance to wonder if she’s going to win.


Do you infuse your character with doubt?  Do you raise the stakes so that the reader wonders if victory is even possible?

Wednesday, September 3, 2014

Update

Is it September already?

I know it’s been a while since I’ve posted, life unfortunately got in the way.  I’m hoping that things start to get a little more normal soon. 

The month of August wasn’t very productive in terms of writing.  I might have written 5-6 thousand words total.

It’s been a long time since I’ve gone that wrong without writing, and it’s been a strange experience.   I honestly miss my characters.  I want to know what they’re doing, and what’s going on in their lives.  They really are a part of me, and writing is my way of keeping in touch.


This month, my only goal is to find time every day to write.  I need to get back into the habit.

Friday, July 25, 2014

Secondary Characters

This week, my husband and I decided to go see Maleficent.  I was interested to see how they would turn the fairy tale upside down.  As I’ve said before, I love retellings of fairy tales, and I’ve seen it done quite well.

As we watched, especially near the end, there was one thing that really bothered me.  It wasn’t anything major, or anything that really spoiled the movie, but it was one that’s kept me thinking for a while.  There was a character in the movie who had a lot of potential.  He was in almost every scene.  Yet he did absolutely nothing for the plot.  He was a fluff character who sat back and watched everything else happen.

I’m talking about the crow.  Okay, I know he played little part in the actual movie as well, but he had so much potential.  He was the one there as Maleficent was learning to like the ‘little beastie’ and he was the only one who was willing to talk back to her when he thought she’d done something wrong.  With just a little creativity, I think he could have been more than just a flat secondary character.

So what is the importance of secondary characters?  Are they there to support the main character?  Provide guidance?  Maybe even conflict.

As I look through the different WIPs that I’m working on, I’ve started to really look at those secondary characters and try to determine exactly what their purpose is.  I’ve come up with three things that I think are necessary for a secondary character to be round and to really draw the reader in.

1.  A secondary character must have a role in the story.

                I guess that should be pretty self-explanatory.  If there’s no reason for them to be there, then why are they there?  Except I know I’ve seen and read many stories where there are secondary characters who are only there for filler.  I’ve even created characters like that.  In The Orphans of Jadox, there are quite a few orphans running around.  Though they play a part, most didn’t have a role in the story, other than to show that there were children.  I ended up cutting five of them, and it didn’t even affect the story. 
                In Maleficent, the crow really didn’t have a role.  He was probably there just because there was a crow in the original movie.  If he had been deleted from the story, I think everything would have been exactly the same.  Honestly, she could have been speaking to herself with all the interaction that they had.

2. A secondary character must move the plot forward.

                Now this may sound similar to point number one, but here’s the difference.  You can have a character in the story, who has a role (father, boss, child, etc) but as much as they play a role, they don’t do anything for the plot.  It’s like taking the scenic route when you want to get to your destination. 
                I’ll give another example.  I had a character who was sold as a servant and ended up learning to sew.  The seamstress taught her everything she knew, and despite all odds, they became friends.  Then she was sold again, and she never saw the seamstress after that.  I had a beta call me out on that.  She told me that unless my character needed to use her sewing skills in the final conflict, the entire side plot didn’t do anything for the story.  Did she have a role?  Yes.  She taught my main character, they formed a friendship.  Yet, she did nothing for the story and plot itself.

3. A secondary character needs to have motivation of their own.

                I think this is the most important.  Everyone has some purpose for existing.  Even if the story is told from the main character’s point of view, that doesn’t mean that every character within the story doesn’t have their own agenda.
                I love bringing up Wreck it Ralph for that exact reason.  You’ve got the bad guy, Ralph, who wants to get a medal.  He’s the main character.  But all of the secondary characters have their own agendas too.  Finding the cybug.  Winning a race.  Saving his game.  Their paths intersect, and every interaction is propelled forward by each of their individual desires.  Having a secondary character there just to help the main character doesn’t help either of them.  Give them a reason to do what they do.


Anything else you’d add to the list?  What secondary characters do you love?

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

One Year Anniversary

Wow. I have something amazing to share. Today is the one year anniversary of when I started my blog.

It’s incredible to think that it’s been that long. This morning, I went over my first post. I talked about how I wanted to take my writing seriously. I know that has definitely happened, and I know that it’s in large part because of the connections I’ve had here. I really appreciate all of you and the support that you’ve given me.
I’ve learned so much from all of you. 

Over the past year, I’ve done so much more than before. I rewrote the Blue WIP in August and September. In October, I finally decided to try NaNoWriMo, and I was able to write my Yellow WIP in November. What a fantastic experience, working towards a goal with other writers, especially ones in my own area! I’m already gearing up for this year. 

 January, I participated my first Twitter Pitch session, which was much more fun than I expected. Earlier this year, I finished another revision of the Blue WIP and finally named it The King’s Councilor. My betas have only one chapter to finish and I’ve already started the next set of revisions. I also revised my Yellow WIP (now called The Stone Mason) last month.

I even started sending out queries to agents. Something that I don’t think I’d ever expected to do. What a great adventure it’s been so far, and I know that the momentum is only just starting. 

 My question is, what should I do to celebrate? Any ideas?

Friday, July 18, 2014

Emotional Engagement

Last week, my brother and I got in a teensy argument about the difference between books and movies. 

He said that it was difficult to really become emotionally engaged while reading because they can’t see the emotions being portrayed by the characters.  With movies and TV there’s always background music to alert the watcher as to how they should be feeling and reacting.  It’s more than just reading, it’s a whole experience.

For me, I feel like reading can get more emotional for me.  There’s the opportunity to really get into the character’s head.  I don’t just know what they’re thinking by watching them, I know because their thoughts are right there.  Their reactions and emotions are available for me to experience with them.


So out of curiosity, I want to see what you all think!  Please vote below!



What medium do you find the most emotionally engaging?
  
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