National Poetry Month, a Novel, and Now

Throughout the month of March many of us took part in a literary version of March Madness, daily working our way toward an assortment of writing-related goals. Now April has arrived, bringing with it National Poetry Month, and a new daily challenge — reading a poem a day.

Sunny Tree

The challenge was dished out to me by Sandra Heska King and her allies at TweekspeakPoetry.com. Who can deny having time to read just one poem each day? I already read a portion of scripture and the poetry of the Psalms. How hard could it be to fit in a few more verses? Of course, one could jump in with more of a commitment and write a poem a day, but that would stretch my poetry moments into poetry hours, and end up overshadowing the other writing I want to do. I know my limits.

Each day I spend a chunk of time working on the new novel I began last month, but my tortoise-like progress reminds me of how easy it is to let other activities obscure that priority. I have writer friends who hold down full-time jobs, homeschool their children, and still cope with the deadlines of multiple book contracts. I’m always in awe of Ruth Logan Herne who daycares a houseful of children, prepares material for and monitors two daily group blogs (in addition to her own website), has chickens, and dogs, and goodness knows what else, but is consistently up and writing by 5:00 a.m. every morning, getting her couple hours in before the rest of her household awakens and her ‘other’ workday begins. My days are mostly empty, but I get much less done. It’s all about priorities, having goals, and not letting them become lost behind other attention-grabbing pursuits. Oh, and knowing how to juggle a bit doesn’t hurt.

I watched a video yesterday and one statement in it really hit me: “It is always now.” Yesterday is an unchangeable memory. We may wait for tomorrow, hoping for our situation to get better, easier, or improve in some other way, but each moment we live is our NOW. We will never get this moment back to do over. What we want to accomplish tomorrow will only happen if we work towards it today… beginning right now.

Do you have any desires or goals that are being eclipsed by other things? What are you doing to try and achieve them?

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March Madness 5: Believing in Yourself

Anyone who’s visited my place would understand when I say my garden beds are a little on the wild side. Not in a nice, English country garden style of wildness, but more of a weed-filled, woodsy mess. Even in the middle of gardening season they tend to get neglected and the ferns and salal that pop up in places where they don’t belong, get ignored.

Woods 1

 

Ferns 1

(Animals that show up where they don’t belong are harder to ignore but I have a ‘live and let live’ philosophy about them, too.)

Bear 1

I’d like the gardens to be more civilized, but I’ve come to accept that moss and weeds are more energetic than I am. More persistent, too.

Years ago a friend gave me a wonderful gift… a set of Celtic-themed garden stones that look exactly right in my au natural space. I have them tucked into special spots around the yard where their messages bring a moment of of reflection each time they’re encountered. Despite a bit of moss, one in particular seems very appropriate for us writers as we move into these last few days of our March Madness — Believe.

Believe2

  • Writing is more fulfilling when you believe you are an authentic writer.
  • Reaching a goal is more likely if you believe you can.
  • Persisting in the face of discouragement and rejection is easier if you believe in the value of what you’re doing.

Insecurity and uncertainty hound all of us at times. I’ve been writing for many years, but I think I first began really believing in myself as a writer after hearing Robert Dugoni’s keynote speech at the closing of the 2010 Surrey International Writers’ Conference. It was a re-visioning of Aragorn’s rally call, ending with a rousing, “This day we write!” and it resulted in a standing ovation from all 600 attendees. If you need an extra dose of inspiration, consider taking the time to listen to it:  http://www.booksontheradio.ca/podcasts/Bob_Dugoni_SiWC.mp3

And then head into these last couple days believing you are a writer and you can reach significant goals on this journey if you will keep trying.

Do you believe?

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Now… I’d like to give away yet another March Madness prize from our prize arsenal. Today’s winner is…

Girl Parker!

Congratulations! Stop by our goal-setting post, and choose your prize from those still listed. Then e-mail Denise at d(at)denisejaden(dot)com with your choice and we’ll get it out to you as soon as possible.

And if you didn’t win, there are still lots of great prizes to be won, so keep checking in each day. It’s not over until it’s truly over!

Our second-to-last check-in is tomorrow at Angelina Hansen’s blog.

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March Madness #4: Writing as Magic or Ministry

We’re different, you and I. As readers, you may love to lose yourself in a richly told romance, while today I might prefer a faith-filled inspirational story, and tomorrow a mystery.

As writers, we choose our genres based on a particular level of comfort… telling stories that may be close to our hearts or based on our knowledge and experience, or our desire to master a challenge. How we get those stories out of our heads and onto the page is a unique process for each person. Why we do it and what we accomplish may be equally unique. For many there is an element of creative magic that is intoxicating.

“Writing is magic, as much as the water of life
as any other creative art.”

[Stephen King]
 

Bud

Those of us who are Christian writers sometimes question the validity of our calling to write if we’re drawn to produce secular instead of Christian fiction. We may think it’s frivolous to write something that doesn’t intend to convey an inspirational message, or at least a message of significance.

It’s an attitude that can spill over into other daily activities and even our careers. However, I truly believe that any task done with passion that attempts to bring beauty, help or healing, is a calling… a legitimate form of ministry. At first glance some writing may appear only to entertain but will still have a purpose — providing a brief escape from the mundane, or showing how characters overcome difficulties and solve life problems.

It’s not so much what we do but the attitude we have towards doing it, that determines whether our work is self-indulgent or a ministry/calling.

How do you view your work, whether it’s writing or any other regular pursuit during these thirty days of March Madness? Is it a calling, a satisfying hobby, or simply something you do because you’ve become caught up in the routine of doing it?

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We’re on the brink of our last week of March Madness.  Are you ready to push ahead and make the best use of these final days?

As a bit of encouragement I’d like to give away another prize from our huge prize arsenal today! Today’s winner is…

Nicole Luiken!

Congratulations! Stop by our goal-setting post, and choose your prize from those still listed. Email Denise at d(at)denisejaden(dot)com with your choice and we’ll get it out to you as soon as possible.

And if you didn’t win, there are still LOTS of great prizes to be won. Winners are chosen from participants who comment at the daily check-in blog locations, so keep checking in each day. Tomorrow’s check-in is at Angelina Hansen‘s blog at  http://yascribe.blogspot.com

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March Madness 3: Fragile Reflections

Bubbles 1A couple weeks ago a granddaughter was here for the afternoon. One of her activities of choice was bubble blowing with Grampa. There are various soapy solutions and different shaped tools that all seem to work, although some produce better bubbles than others.

This particular afternoon the bubbles were very fragile. After blowing them she would try to recapture one, hoping it would balance on the wand. Each time a bubble was touched, however, it popped with a splat and splatter into the air.

Left alone, the bubbles were light enough to catch the breeze and soar away.

Bubbles 2

Thinking back on this I was struck with the similarities between those bubbles and my new WIP. One of the reasons I lean towards the ‘seat-of-my-pants’ kind of writing is because I like the unexpected pleasure of watching a basic idea develop into a beautiful story. I don’t generally talk much about it during the first draft because the concept seems fragile, and too much poking around can easily destroy whatever beauty my spontaneity may be creating. If I try to wrestle it into position, something that at first seemed exciting, begins to lose its appeal. The bubble finally pops and a rainbow idea disappears.

I’ve been moving gingerly into this new story, and now that we’re half-way through our March month of Madness it’s clear my original goal of a complete first draft isn’t realistic. As other MM hosts have suggested, it’s not a bad thing to step back periodically to evaluate what we’re doing, to redistribute our efforts over the remaining available time, and possibly even tweak our goals.

There is no shame in adjusting our goals, only in abandoning them. March 31st is only an arbitrary deadline. Do whatever it takes to stay focused on your destination but also retain joy in your writing. Don’t let anything burst that bubble!

Just sixteen days of this madness left. How are you faring? I hope you’re soaring!

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Blog Tour: Denise Jaden’s FAST FICTION

p1053859691-2-177x260Rather than doing a traditional interview-filled blog tour, Denise Jaden is celebrating the release of her new nonfiction writing book, FAST FICTION, by dropping tips about writing quickly at every stop of her blog tour, and offering some awesome prizes for commenting on any of these posts (including this one!)

The more you drop by and comment, the more chances you have to win these great prizes.

Denise’s Fast Fiction Tip: Don’t Beat Yourself Up!

As writers, I think you’ll agree this phrase almost sounds like an oxymoron. Beating ourselves up is often what we’re best at! And that, faster than anything, will stilt our creativity. Either we don’t feel like we write well enough, or fast enough, or consistent enough, or commercial enough.

In order to stop this, first try to think of which phrase you beat yourself up with most often. If it’s that you don’t write well enough (or perhaps a more negative phrasing of that sentiment), try to find something that will help you remember the opposite about yourself. There must have been a time in your life that you did think you wrote well enough, otherwise you would not be a writer. Was that from a certain piece of writing that you crafted a few years ago? If so, print a piece of that writing out and place it somewhere prominent in your writing area. Or was it from compliments you received on your writing via email? If that’s the case, keep all of these “happy” emails somewhere in one place where you can find them easily when you need them most.

Battle all of your negative voices, and you’ll be sailing through your next draft!

The Prizes:

  • Compliments of New World Library: They will be giving away A BOX of copies of FAST FICTION by Denise Jaden and GET IT DONE by Sam Bennett (US and Canada only):
  • Compliments of Denise Jaden, TWO BOXES of great fiction (US Only). Details on Denise’s blog.
  • Audiobook copies of NEVER ENOUGH by Denise Jaden!
  • A critique of your first five pages, compliments of Denise’s agent, Michelle Humphrey from The Martha Kaplan Agency!

All you have to do is comment and then enter the rafflecopter for a chance to win (at the bottom of this post, I’ve included links to all of the other blogs where you can comment for more chances to win).

About Fast Fiction:

Writers flock to National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo) each November because it provides a procrastination-busting deadline. But only a fraction of the participants meet their goal. Denise Jaden was part of that fraction, writing first drafts of her two published young adult novels during NaNoWriMo. In Fast Fiction, she shows other writers how to do what she did, step-by-step, writer to writer. Her process starts with a prep period for thinking through plot, theme, characters, and setting. Then Jaden provides day-by-day coaching for the thirty-day drafting period. Finally, her revision tips help writers turn merely workable drafts into compelling and publishable novels.

 A portion of publisher proceeds will be donated to National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo).

Praise for Fast Fiction:

“Fast Fiction is filled with stellar advice, solid-gold tips, and doable, practical exercises for all writers who want to draft a complete novel.”

— Melissa Walker, author of Violet on the Runway

“Being a ‘pantser’ I have always resisted outlining, but I have to say that Fast Fiction changed my mind! Denise Jaden takes what I find to be a scary process (outlining) and makes it into an easy and, dare I say, enjoyable one. Fast Fiction is a hands-on book that asks the right questions to get your mind and your story flowing. I know I’ll be using Fast Fiction over and over again. Highly recommended for fiction writers!

— Janet Gurtler, author of RITA Award finalist I’m Not Her

“Fast Fiction is full of strategies and insights that will inspire and motivate writers of every experience level — and best of all, it provides them with a solid plan to quickly complete the first draft of their next novel.”

— Mindi Scott, author of Freefall

“Fast Fiction provides writers with the perfect mix of practical guidance and the kick in the pants they need to finish that draft. This book is a must-have for writers of all levels.”

— Eileen Cook, author of The Almost Truth

Practical and down-to-earth, Denise Jaden’s Fast Fiction makes a one-month draft seem doable, even for beginners, any month of the year.”

— Jennifer Echols, author of Endless Summer and Playing Dirty

“One of the greatest challenges any writer faces is getting a great idea out of one’s brain and onto the page. Fast Fiction breaks that process down into concrete, manageable steps, each accompanied by Denise Jaden’s sage advice and enthusiastic encouragement. And anything that helps streamline the drafting process is a-okay by me! Fast Fiction is a great addition to any writer’s toolbox — I’ve got it in mine!”

— Catherine Knutsson, author of Shadows Cast by Stars

“Forget the fact that this resource is directed at those wanting to complete a fast draft — if you’re out to get your novel done, period, Jaden’s Fast Fiction will be the kick in the butt that gets you there, from story plan to ‘The End’. . . and beyond.”

— Judith Graves, author of the Skinned series for young adults

Where you can find Fast Fiction:

Blog Tour Stops:

To be entered to win prizes galore, comment on any of the following blog posts celebrating Fast Fiction’s release! Then to get credit for each comment, click the Rafflecopter link and follow instructions.

(All Fast Fiction blog posts should be live by March 9th, or sooner. Contest will be open until March 15th. If any links don’t work, stop by http://denisejaden.blogspot.com for updated links.)

GCC Blogs:

Additional Participating Blogs:

Remember, all you have to do is leave comments to get lots of extra entries to win some great prizes. Don’t know what to comment about? Tell us the name of your favorite writing book!

Enter the Rafflecopter giveaway here

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March Madness: Taking a deep breath…

There is a moment, a thin slice of time just before something momentous is about to happen, when everything becomes still. It’s as though the world has taken a collective breath… waiting. I’m sure it happened as the hatch opened on the Apollo 11 to let Neil Armstrong out onto the surface of the moon, but I’m equally sure less history-making events have caused a similar response, though on a smaller scale.

  • Teetering at the outermost edge of the high diving board.
  • Listening for a baby’s first breath in the delivery room.
  • Watching the morning sun as it begins to break over the horizon.
  • Waiting for the hanging drip to drop from a melting blob of ice.

Icy Branches

I get a similar feeling every time I prepare to hit the ‘send’ key to whisk a query or submission into cyberspace. It happens the night before I begin NaNoWriMo every November, too. It’s easy to say, “Sure, count me in” when the event is weeks away. Faced with that last no-turning-back moment, however, I always have to take a deep breath to steady myself before I’m able to make the leap.

Today it’s all about jumping into March Madness. If you haven’t heard about it, or would like to join us, check out the details on Denise Jaden‘s post. (She’s our co-ordinator and Boss Lady.) This is my fifth year participating, and I know it’s all good.

My goal is attainable, but even if it isn’t, any progress I make will be useful. There’s no reason to feel hesitant. I have a fresh notebook on my desk; a new file has been titled and saved on the computer; the few notes (very few) I made about this new novel have been read and re-read. A fresh stock of Diet Coke fills half a shelf in the refrigerator. I’m ready… and yet I’m not. I never feel quite ready at this final moment. A whole litany of excuses rise up to taunt me. Fortunately I know there’s also a whole #wipmadness community that’s been holding its own collective breath, and is waiting to jump into this month of writing (or reading or illustrating… whatever you’ve committed to) with me.

Do you have trouble making a start on big projects, or are you one who starts with enthusiasm but perhaps has trouble staying the course? Together we CAN do this and accomplish our goals. March Madness here we come!

Let us know how you feel about leaping into the madness today, and then tomorrow be sure to head over to Angelina Hansen’s blog, http://yascribe.blogspot.ca, for Sunday’s check-in, and let us know how your first day went.

So here we are. We’ve arrived at the brink. Let’s link arms and race in together. ONE, TWO, THREE… GO!!!

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Image courtesy of khunaspix / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

 

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March Madness (i.e., #wipmadness) is almost here!

We’ve reached that time again — our semi-annual dip into insanity. In November it was NaNoWriMo. Now March is almost here and we’re ready (sort of) to tackle March Madness. You’re invited to join the challenge. Whatever your bookish endeavour — reading, writing, blogging or illustrating, etc. — you tell us what you want to achieve in March, then you get busy and start achieving. Each day there’s a blog post to offer encouragement and act as a check-in location where you can report your progress and cheer each other on.

mm 2014 wordle

Author Denise Jaden coordinates us, and today is Goal Setting Day on her blog, so click on over there and let her know your March goals.  They don’t have to be mind-boggling ones. Make them reasonable — ones that you know are attainable but that will push you a little beyond your comfort zone. Then let your public declaration boost your willpower.

There will be loads of encouragement and prizes galore to help provide motivation. In fact, Denise is offering the first prize to someone who comments on her post TODAY. 

We’ll tweet regularly under the hashtag #wipmadness, and bloggers will be posting their encouragement every day of the month. There will be lots of great prizes available to those who check in regularly. Here are the daily check-in locations beginning here on Saturday, March 1st:

It all starts here on Saturday, BUT you need to get yourself over to Denise’s blog TODAY and let her know you’re committed to our mad-dash month of writing (or whatever your pursuit) and make yourself eligible for the very first prize giveaway.

Do it! Go on… don’t over-think it. Just click HERE and spill your plans to Denise. Then we’ll see you back here on Saturday for the kick-off. I guarantee it’ll be worth it.

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Oh, Spring… wherefore art thou?

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Sleet pelts the windows, driven sideways by 50 km per hour gusts of wind. The storm was predicted and will be over by morning, although rain showers will continue. I’m not complaining. We had an unusually dry January and we need this moisture. But… well, yes I suppose I am complaining. Just a wee bit.

Snowdrops and Hellebores are blooming, and some years by this point we’ve already had to mow the lawns. Not this year. This year the grass is sodden, and early shoots are struggling up through uncleared winter debris — orangey brown bits of cedar, hemlock needles and mud-spattered moss. I hesitate to mutter too much, given there are places where folks are still under multiple feet of snow, or a deluge of flood waters, but still….

When springtime hovers just out of reach and the weather is miserable day after day, it can be hard to keep depression from settling in.

Tulips

I know of two friends who received red roses for Valentine’s Day. They’re beautiful, of course, but I don’t think anything is as romantic as having someone know me well enough to bring me a bouquet of cheery tulips. I adore tulips, and they were the perfect spirit brighteners for a blustery February 14th. (And yes, he received a kiss for his thoughtfulness!)

During this in-between-the-seasons time, another way to lift spirits is to put some energy into a project. Many years my hubby would choose the early New Year to paint a room or two. (This month he’s bucking up a tree recently felled, slowly building the pile of next winter’s firewood.) I’m more likely to rearrange furniture or start a new writing project.

This month I’ve already moved the furniture. In ten days I’ll begin the writing.

Every March a group of writers and readers band together under the banner of #MarchMadness. We encourage each other to set and fulfill significant goals, and then cheer each other on. We commit to checking in… every. single. day. all. month. long… and reporting our progress. It’s surprising how much we achieve when guilt stares us in the face. Mind you, it helps that there are prizes offered, too.

Author Denise Jaden coordinates us, but we have seven different hosts this year, one for each day of the week. (I’ll be providing Saturday #MarchMadness postings here.) Earlier this month Denise posted a heads up that “there are some great prizes trickling in – like audiobooks, and high-demand books and even at least one agent critique. Start thinking about what writing/reading/blogging goals you will set for this March, and I’ll be back soon with more details.”

Our goals aren’t necessarily lofty ones. They’re meant to be individualized to meet specific needs. Maybe you’d like to join us this time. As Denise said, start thinking about what goals you’d like to set. There will be more information coming, and on March 1st we’ll all leap into action.

Just think… before we’ve completed #MarchMadness SPRING WILL HAVE ARRIVED! Oh, joy!!! I’ll be happy-dancing! :)

As a writer, reader or blogger, might you be tempted to join us for #MarchMadness 2014?

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People Watching and Developing Fictional Characters

I spend more time than I should just staring out windows. It’s not that there’s a lot to see here, but you never know what you’ll miss if you don’t happen to be looking at the right moment.

Watching 3

You can observe a lot by just watching.

[Yogi Berra]

Watching 2

You may get real tired watching me,
but I’m not going to quit.

[Harrison Ford]

Watching 1

Discipline is just doing things
the right way
whether anyone’s watching or not.

[Michael J. Fox]

While I’m watching I try to put into practice what my father once told me when we were out hunting: “Look for what doesn’t belong.” Of course, that had us checking out a lot of stumps on hunting trips, but it’s true — a movement, a shadow or shape that wasn’t there before is often what alerts me to the presence of a visitor in the garden.

I like to people-watch, too. In a stadium or on a bus, train or plane there are wonderful opportunities to study the people around me. (I try not to stare, especially in church!) Some of the characters in my novels bear the traits of people I may have seen during one of those times. A few well chosen quirks or tags can make a character memorable.

My characters are totally fictional, not modelled on anyone specific. Seeing them in my head and developing them into believable people within a story may end up with them being a composite of people I’ve seen or known, but it’s important to me that they behave true to their personalities. I can’t combine a random assortment of personality traits and expect the resulting character to be credible. People may act in peculiar ways, but there’s usually a good reason. The writer’s challenge is to find that reason.

One resource I’ve found valuable for ascribing appropriate traits to my characters is the WRITERS GUIDE TO CHARACTER TRAITS: Profiles of Human Behaviors and Personality Types by Linda N. Edelstein, PhD.
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So, I’m curious. How do you develop your characters? How do you select the key personality traits that govern their actions and reactions? Oh, and are you a people watcher? Do you have a method for camouflaging your observations… or do you just go ahead and stare? ;)

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Cover Design in Less Than Two Minutes (a reprise)

We’ve been sharing information here on the designing of book covers and I remembered a related post I wrote three years ago that I thought you might enjoy seeing again. (More accurately, I seized this opportunity to use something from the archives because I forgot to write a post last night. There! I’ve admitted it… but it fits in so well with my last few posts that I don’t feel one bit guilty.)

Here’s a time-lapse video that cleverly utilizes the process, condensing a six hour process into less than two minutes. It’s fascinating, albeit dizzying. In it, the Creative Director of Orbit Books, Lauren Panepinto,  displays her process for designing the cover of Gail Carriger’s Blameless. While vampires and werewolves aren’t my genre of choice, I thought the resulting cover was a good example of what Rachel Cole said in Friday’s post, that the cover design must reflect the genre, or potential readers won’t pick it up.

There’s more about the the making of this video on the Orbit Books website, and a further detailed commentary by Lauren Panepinto on the Design Related website.

It all goes to show that creating exactly the right cover isn’t a simple process.

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