Tag Archives: perseverance expert

Holiday Sanity Survival Kits for Writers

Hello, hello!  The holiday season approaches and it’s another blog hop edition of the Life List Club!  For those of you already stressing as to how to get everything done, you know the shopping, the cleaning, the cooking, the writing, the errands, the social gatherings, the donation requests, the pounding of your head on your desktop, rest at ease!  Pam Hawley from Hawleyville is here to guide us through!  So grab some hot cocoa, marshmallows are on the table, and settle in.

Holiday Sanity Survival Kits for Writers

A few weekends ago, Lee and I gave our ferret Vinnie a bath. Every once in a while, he gets a little itchy and … well, smelly. As you can see by the expression on his face, he’s not exactly fond of bath time. I’m pretty sure he thinks we’ve devised some new form of weasel torture. Vin isn’t the first ferret to share my home, and this has been a trait all of them have shared. Wet weasels just aren’t happy.

Weasel Washing

The thing is, they always feel so much better after bath time. They may not care about being soft, fluffy and good-smelling, but they’re definitely happy not to be itchy anymore. Like it or not, a bath now in then is a good thing.

As we kick off another holiday season, I’m feeling a bit like Vinnie during bath time.  I’m a WWDJ (Writer with a Day Job), so the season of adding even more to the to-do list always puts me in a panic. I’m an introvert who needs quiet time to reflect, recharge and write. The thought of adding shopping, decorating, family gatherings and the inevitable round of parties to my already crazy schedule has me feeling like a weasel in a bath – all washed up.

But just like a little ferret shampoo and water is a good thing for Vin, the holiday season that puts me in such a tizzy is also good for me. Time celebrating and being thankful with family and friends is a precious gift, and something worth making room for in our lives.
So, what does an introverted writer who is already pulled in too many directions do when life is about to get even busier? If you’re anything like me, you’re putting together your survival kit. During the Season of Social Fun, it is more important than ever to have those things that help you relax and recharge close at hand. Making a little time each day to spend with my handy-dandy survival kit revitalizes both me and my writing. My kit includes:

My Kindle

My reward at the end of a busy day is to curl up on my couch with my trusty friend, even if it is only for a little while. What I love best about my Kindle is that I can stock it up with plenty of reading choices without having to lug around a small library. I’ve got short stories, favorites to re-read, new authors to try, and plenty of writing advice at my fingertips. Inspiration, lessons and pure guilty pleasure are all there for the taking.

My Camera

As much fun as the holidays will be, they will hijack some of my creative mojo. For an introvert, being zapped during incredibly social times is just a fact of life. So when I sit down to write and the words won’t come, I grab my camera and head off for a photography session. My subjects are simple – my ferret, my cat, or even the mailbox in my front yard. Sometimes the pictures are awful, and sometimes they come out great. Either way, I’m clearing my head and forcing myself to look at something ordinary in a new light. That simple act reconnects me to my creative spirit.

A Notebook

For those busy days when there just isn’t time to sit and type, I keep a pen and notebook handy. I’m not going to write my novel that way, but I can jot down snippets and random ideas or observations that I may use down the road. Again, it is about not leaving my creativity behind even when running at top speed.

My Pets

     There is nothing more calming and soothing than to sit and pet my cat Sly while he head-butts my Kindle or purrs in my lap. There is nothing more energizing than watching Vin bounce around my bedroom making happy “clucking” noises and doing the “weasel war dance.” Sly’s lazy yawns and stretches are a constant reminder that the world won’t stop turning if I take a few minutes to yawn and stretch myself. Vin’s playful hops are a reminder that life should be lived with joy in every step.

During the holidays, it is even more important to recharge ourselves if we want to stay on track with our goals. These are my tools for dealing with life at top speed. Do you know what belongs in your survival kit? If not, figure it out before you think about buying gifts, cooking turkeys or digging out the decorations.. Your kit might look very different from mine. Maybe it is a favorite video game and your comfiest chair or a stack of funny movies, a bottle of wine and scented candles. It doesn’t matter WHAT you have in your kit, as long as it makes you breathe a huge sigh of relief at the end of a busy day.

What gets you through the busier times in your life? What helps you relax and recharge so that you can enjoy all the fun of the holiday season while still making progress in your goals?

In addition to short fiction, Pam Hawley writes humor pieces and is working on her first novel, which blends the creepy and the funny by bringing a brutally murdered “player” back to life as a naked ghost. Her short story “A Wingding and A Prayer” appeared in the July issue of eFiction  Magazine (available at http://www.efictionmag.com). Her short horror fiction, “Peanut Butter and Jelly,” will appear in The Spirit of Poe Anthology available at http://literarylandmarkpress.blogspot.com. When not working, writing or in the gym, Pam can most likely be found curled up on her couch reading, hanging out at her family pub Hawley’s in Baltimore, or cheering the Pittsburgh Steelers. She blogs regularly at http://hawleyville.wordpress.com.

Advertisements

Costume Advice from the Perseverance Expert

One of my favorite things about Halloween is the costumes!  I love any chance to dress up.  Don’t believe me?  I’ve been twitter organizing the Life List Club members to be classic horror flick monsters.  Picture it:  Marcia Richards as Morticia from the Addams Family, David Walker as the Wolfman, Gary Gauthier as Dracula, Pam Hawley as The Fly, and if I get to be the Madeline Kahn version from Young Frankenstein, then I’ll play the Bride of Frankenstein.  Gene Lempp, our honorary LLC member, offered to be Frankie himself.  So, Sonia, Jennie B., Lyn, and Jenny H….it’s only a matter of time, choose your monster, or I’ll choose one for you!  LOL

Over the years I’ve had to get pretty creative with my costumes.  My parents didn’t believe in buying ready made costumes; whatever we wanted to be we had to make it ourselves.  I’m pretty sure that’s why we have a family photo of me as a fairy wearing my Easter dress and a turquoise tinsel wig, my brother is a bum with a drawn-in mustache and pillowcase sack, and my sister is Charlie Chaplin.

The plus side of homemade costumes is that you have to think outside the box, be creative, inventive and resourceful.  All qualities that I, your perseverance expert, feel I have.  Just look at my Halloween costumes the last five years and you’ll see it!

     Lion:  In 2006, I was supporting myself in my first year living off campus.  I had three jobs, paid my own bills, and bought my own groceries.  Money was precious.  So when Halloween rolled around, I went simple: Lion.  I curled my hair, balled up two buns and made ears, wore the only brown clothes in my closet, and drew some whiskers.  Bam!  I mean, RAWR!  When in doubt, or poor, go for the animal trend, it is always in style.

 

 

 

 

 

     Dr. Quinn Medicine Woman:  The next year I went as one of my all time favorite guilty pleasures Dr. Quinn, Medicine Woman.  You can’t read it, but in that photo, I was “hanging up my shingle.”  The magic of a costume is in its details.  I bought the skirt, shawl, and my “medicine bag” at a local thrift shop.  While my friends that year dressed up as Unicorns, Corpse Brides, and Playboy Bunnies, I couldn’t have been happier rocking my Dr. Mike outfit.  Passion, confidence, and a heart full of fun can make your night on the town all the better.

 

 

 

Incredible Hulk like Gin and Tonic

The Incredible Hulk:  Ok, so this year obviously needs a backstory.  I was am still working my butt off, supporting myself.  And this year, Halloween sort of crept up on me.  Before I knew it, the day had arrived and I still didn’t have a costume.  I worked in the morning, and then ran to the store to scope out the remaining costumes.  *gasp*  I know, this was the only year I bought a pre-made costume.  Problem was, I’m petite and all the adult costumes left were like XXL.  But Perseverance Experts know how to improvise!  This is child’s Incredible Hulk costume that I stuffed my body into.  I had to buy some green tights and a longsleeve green shirt to wear underneath.  I also had to cut the neckline open to breath and I ripped several seams throughout the night, but I was a hit!  Strangers got their picture with me!  So I say, if you’re in a hurry, seek out your inner superhero.

 

 

     Medusa:  Now this costume is a particular fave.  As a kid we learn the 3 R’s: Reduce, Reuse, Recycle.  Why not do this with costumes too?  I borrowed this one from my sister who made it with her husband the previous year.  The dress is a simple sheet material toga with some gold jewelry.  Then buy a bulk bag of toy snakes that wiggle or bend and spray paint them green.  Adhere snakes to a wire cap, and place over a fabric cap for comfort.  Don’t look now, you just got the evil eye from Medusa!  Every time I moved my snakes moved with me and people oohed and aahed all night.  Dancing was a little tricky, but totally worth it!

 

 

 

 

     Mrs. Peacock:  Last year’s costume was a group effort because more heads are better than one.  A friend and I went to the thrift store and held our own “supermodel documentary hour,” AKA fashion show with the craziest dresses we could find.  Suddenly the idea hit me.  The cast of the board game CLUE.  I purchased the perfectly peacock colored dress with the feather sleeves.  I went to the craft store and bought a pack of peacock feathers for my hair and made earrings.  I borrowed the belt, glasses, and wrench from friends.  This was a great ensemble idea and friends felt like part of team!

 

 

 

So there you have a brief history of costume advice from your perseverance expert.  I’ll bet you have more clever ideas.  Tell me, what have been your favorite Halloween costumes over the years?  Do you make your own, recycle with friends, or elaborate on pre-made?  No matter how you style up, have fun…or else!  It was Mrs. Peacock with the wrench in the blogosphere!  

Operation Write Space

Mission:  Unearth the desk that once was.

There's a desk under there?

The thing about fracturing your nose is you have a lot of time to spend at home.  And since I spent the whole holiday weekend watching marathons of Arrested Development, Sex in the City, and Four Weddings while icing my face, things needed to change.

My first day back at work was embarrassing, to be sure.  I refused to tell anyone how I fractured my nose, and then thought better and used it as a sales tactic.  Ok, everyone, if we make our credit goal by 4pm, I’ll tell you how I injured myself.  It worked.  Who knew public humiliation could make a successful business ploy?  I guess it’s simple supply and demand economics.  I supply the shiny cut across my nose, partial black eye and look of shame, they demand a story.  I demand 7 credit cards by 4, they supply the accounts.  Nice work team.  Happy to have made this arrangement.

So, after a semi-humiliating day at work, I needed to do something that felt like progress could once again take place in my life.  I did all my laundry, got it folded in the dresser and hung in the closet.  I organized my make up drawer, mostly out of procrastination.  And finally decided, I’m going to tackle my out of control desk.

One full garbage bag later, desktops were cleared, bills were filed, library books found, grocery lists moved to the kitchen, nail polish put away, and 12¢ was recovered.

Much more inviting, eh?

*sigh*  I feel better already.  Operation Write Space is successful and I’m off to write right now!

What missions are you working on in life this week?

Jess Takes on Circus World

Experience the Thrill That Never Grows Old

Preface:  I recently finished reading Water for Elephants by Sara Gruen and learned that she did some of her research at the Circus World Museum in Baraboo, Wisconsin.  So this Memorial Day Weekend, my best friend and I, took a two hour road trip TO THE CIRCUS!!!

History:  Set on the grounds alongside the Baraboo River, the Circus Museum is where the Ringling Brothers grew up and also where they rested and repaired their acts during the winter.  The museum is set up in a series of buildings as well as the circus grounds themselves.  Eight out of ten of the original winter quarter buildings are part of the museum.  Originally begun by the Ringling Brothers attorney, John M. Kelley, and then signed over to the state of Wisconsin, the museum has been open since 1959 and is now operated by the Wisconsin Historical Society.

Gruen’s setting of the traveling circus set during the depression is a very realistic depiction.  The time between 1880 and 1930 is considered to be the golden age of the American Circus.  When the Depression hit, the Ringling Brothers and Barnum and Bailey show was the main circus to survive.  Commissioned by the army for WWII recovery, they had tents made by the canvas department.  The army also studied the circus for its efficiency in packing the train cars, everything always going into the same car in the same sequence so everything was accounted for.  Circuses kept up morale, so the RBBB show was excluded from the wartime restrictions on rail travel.

Circus Posters:  The first room you enter in the museum is the history of the circus poster.  Examples of original wood cut and lithography are shown.  What surprised me the most about the posters is the strange images and shows they advertised.  I had no idea how exotic some of the first shows were.  There are posters depicting Burmese Long Neck Women and animal charmers from the African forests.  No wonder shows like RBBB had crowds of 10,000 people and three rings entertaining simultaneously.  Where else would you be able to see such things?

Spectacular, Spectacular:  The second half of the room gives you the history of the Ringling Brothers and their top performers.  Lillian Leitzel is considered to be the Queen of the Circus, performing trapeze acts never accomplished again.  She was only 4’9″ and 95 pounds which makes me love her all the more.  She tragically died during a performance in Copenhagen.

If you’re traveling with kids, you won’t be disappointed by the Spectacular room.  There are costumes!!!  I so would have been in one, but we got there with a massive group and everything was swiped.  Kids of all ages will have fun checking out the parade wagons and glitzy costumes on display here.  And one whole wall is a recreation miniature circus.  You can see the whole overview of the three rings, animal tent, sideshow tents, rail cars, etc.  Really cool to visualize what the whole set up looked like.

Meet Tiny:  Next up, my friend and I crossed the bridge that led to the circus grounds.  First stop, go meet the elephant!

Tiny, a female elephant, was rescued when she was about six months old.  Her parents were poached for the ivory in their tusks, and she was left behind.  She lives most of her days at an animal reservation in Florida with her human family.  She used to be allowed in the house when she was little, and now she taps her trunk on the upstairs windows and pokes her head inside for treats and toys.  Her owner grew up in the circus and his family does the act with Tiny in the Hippodrome.  Tiny is such a part of the family that she doesn’t need to be chained up.  She roams the paddock and is funny and gentle in the home she’s come to know.

Having a moment with Tiny.

I Jess, I Strong Man

Look, the Benzini Brothers! Just like in the book!

Wagons:  Two of the buildings at Circus World are for wagons.  One room houses a vast collection of over 200 circus wagons, the largest and most significant collection in the world.  The second allows you to view the wagon restoration process and see inside what a personal rail car would look like.

Sideshow:  There’s also a history of the sideshow.  One tent houses replicas of the most famous freaks of the RBBB show.

The Fire Eater, the Snake Charmer, the Tattooed Lady

Major Mishap:  Ladies and Gentlemen, next up at Circus World witness Jess take on the Animal Cage in a fearless stupor of enthusiasm!

Yep, that’s right, I had a little accident at Circus World.  The museum is full of wonderful photo opportunities, funny cut outs, animal rides, rich historic wagons, costumes, and memorabilia.  One of the attractions included an open animal wagon you could go inside.  I should tell you, the whole day I had been running around the house crying “I’m going to Circus World, I’m going to Circus World, Freaky and Fabulous can be found at Circus World!”  At this point in my friend’s and my trek, we had fed and pet an elephant, and learned all kinds of cool things about the history of the circus and what a big role our state played in one of the greatest shows on earth!

So, we’ve got this animal cage, right?  You walk up the steps, go into the cage, grab the bars, growl or smile for a picture and walk out.  Simple?  Should be…but if one has the anticipation and excitement of kid let loose in a world of sequins, big animals, onion rings, cotton candy, and an upcoming circus performance, it’s not that easy.  All I ask, dear reader, is that you show a little sympathy, but I understand if you laugh at my injury induced enthusiasm.

You’re familiar with the expression “Walk, don’t run?”  Mmm, should’ve listened more.  I RAN up the metal stairs into the metal wagon whereupon I HIT with a thunderous bang my FACE on the doorframe.  Families walking down the path cried out, “Are you ok?”  *Shake it off, don’t make a scene*

The following is a re-enactment of the dialogue between my friend and I:

“Are you ok?”

“Yah, I’m fine.  Take my picture!”

“No.”

“What’s wrong, am I bleeding?”

“Yes.”

That’s right, ladies and gentlemen, I hit my face so hard, not only did I have a gash, and I mean gash, on my nose dripping blood, I also had a gusher of a bloody nose, and one bad headache.  My friend ran off to get paper towel, unbeknownst to me couldn’t find a bathroom and the one volunteer she ran into was the girl’s first day and she hadn’t a clue.  So, if we’re taking notes here, that would leave me BLEEDING IN A CAGE IN THE MIDDLE OF CIRCUS WORLD, FRIGHTENING LOTS OF CHILDREN!

“Here’s some paper towel.  Let’s clean you up.”

“Is it bad?”

“Um a little bit.  But look at you, not a drop on your clothes!”

“My arms are covered in blood!”

“Can you make it to the bathroom?”

“Do I look like Carrie?”

“Let’s use my water bottle first.”

You know you’ve got a true friend when they help you clean blood off your face.  Despite the baseball size lump on my forehead and the 3/4 inch chunk of skin missing from my nose that bled all day and forced me to make period stops in the restroom to clean my face up, I demanded with the same enthusiasm that we STAY AT THE CIRCUS!  I put my sunglasses on and some tissue in my purse, and we headed for the hippodrome.

Circus Performance:

Instantly excited because she looks like an extra in Strictly Ballroom. "Who's Tina Sparkle?"

Yes, yes that is a great dane driving a wagon full of pekingese and a baboon holding a shot gun. I'd have got a better picture but I was in shock from a blow to the head/believing what I was seeing.

These two were my favorite, Slava and Kristina. They did balancing acts, juggling, hoolahoops, and were just really FUN to watch!

Tiny makes her stage showcase!

So, one road trip, and one ER visit/tetanus shot later, I’m a bit puffy, there’s an unattractive cut on my nose, and I’ve now earned a black eye, but I highly recommend you all HEAD TO THE CIRCUS!  I had a freaky, fantastic time!

What story should I tell everyone at work tomorrow?

Leave your suggestions in the comments!  I’ll need all the help I can get.  😉

The Happiness Project: The List

Photo courtesy David T. Robbins

Over six months of blogging, I’ve edited my about page several times, my blog no longer acting as a personal progress tracker.  Back then Albert was my only reader 🙂 during the “resolution posts,” so I’m taking a hint from fellow blogger, Emily, and updating my 26 Before 26.  I first heard about this list making tracking process on Emily’s blog, and she recently posted her progress on the infamous 26 this week.

The idea of the list is to write down things you want to accomplish before your next birthday.  I originally began this blog as a way to track my progress in writing, which it has helped with, but has also become a wonderful new community to engage with. So here is the list, as it stands so far.

  1. Write everyday.  (This one hasn’t happened yet, but I’m working on it.)
  2. Read 2 books a month for fun.  (I thought I’d only be able to do 1 a month, but I’m pleasantly keeping up with 2.)
  3. Submit my work for publication.  (Huge wake-up call THANK YOU to Nina Badzin for blogging this post on why it’s important to just do it and not be a snob about your publication opportunities.  Thanks, Nina!)
  4. Learn about the craft of writing.
  5. Learn about social media.  (Uh, Kristen Lamb.  Best Freshly Pressed post to ever stumble onto.  I feel a kinship to her as we both started out with turquoise colored blogs.  :))
  6. Attend a writing conference.  (Madison Writers Institute – Wonderful experience)
  7. Meet with other writers.  (Accomplished at the conference, started a writing critique group, and of course engaging with all of you!)
  8. Record my wacky family memoirs.  (You have read the posts about my father, right?)
  9. Write a fiction book.  (It’s my current work in progress.)
  10. Get my own office.  (Remodeling the upstairs is slow moving, my current best place for productivity remains Starbucks.)
  11. Eat healthier.  (I’m well of aware of the bologna incident, and the write like potatoes incident, and the double stuff oreos incident in spite of my mother.  It’s about progress, and part of progress comes from being aware.)
  12. Be more frugal.  (Save money, oh please start saving money.)
  13. Take a real vacation.  (2 weeks I’m off to New Orleans!)
  14. Leave the country.  (I have been to Italy and Ireland, but my boyfriend has never left the country, and I LOVE to travel, so we’re hoping to go to Canada in August.)
  15. Go to the beach.  (We actually do have one on the Mississippi, not that I’d dare to touch the water, but even if the sun HATES me, I want to relax at the beach with a good book more than the 2 times I went last year.)
  16. Go see live theater.
  17. Attend more events at the public library.
  18. Be a better partner.  (I always think relationships can improve and Joe and I will have been together 5 years the same month as my birthday.  We’ve both grown a lot, but the first year of living together is like taking the fast track training to someone’s personality disorder!  Now that we’re in year two of “domestic bliss,” I’m hoping we’ll able to balance a bit more.)
  19. Clean up my room more.  Make it my own.
  20. Take my vitamins daily.
  21. Keep up with my gratitude journal, 5 things each day.
  22. Track my progress of learning the social media and publishing world.  (I’ve been adding a second list underneath my gratitude journal that focuses on eye opening moments.)
  23. Spend more time with friends and family.
  24. Go for a bike ride.
  25. Get new glasses.
  26. Practice cooking seafood.

That’s my list.  Might seem boring, but it’s me and my goals in 26 things.  Most of them are writing focused, but that’s what this year is about.  I had a good 2 1/2 years of only random journal entries to show for it.  It became very clear, during the holiday season in my retail work environment, that it was time to start up writing again.  Nothing has made me happier than the actions I’ve taken towards this goal this year.  I feel like myself again.  Or getting there anyway.  I do feel like the poster child sometimes for “if you don’t use it, you lose it” when it comes to dumb writing mistakes.  So when I start to feel that way, I have to remind myself, hey, at least I’m writing again!

What things are on your list this year?

What 6 Months of Blogging Has Taught Me About Perseverance

Having a Happy Moment

I’ve been blogging for a little over six months.  I think it took 2 of those to even understand the purpose of a blog.  I initially started this thing as a progress tracker.  I’d just finished reading Gretchen Rubin’s The Happiness Project and decided to do my own of sorts.  I became a human guinea pig.  I tried something new each week:  Eliminate television, write a poem, walk for 40 minutes each day, eat in, don’t drink, NaNoWriMo.

What did I learn?  I like audiobooks, and Lorine Niedecker, it’s more fun with company and a dog, cheetos are not a meal, wine counts as alcohol, and NaNoWriMo ain’t for sissies.

My forward movement hit a wall the day I posted about eating bologna with a glass of Chardonnay.

Thankfully, a series of “loving” comments came after that, creeping into future posts so I will never live that down, and taught me the following about blogging, writing, social media, and why my happiness project is all about perseverance.

  1. Blog Regularly.  I admit, I cut it close at times, but I have been consistently blogging 3 times a week.  It’s important because sometimes that’s the only writing I accomplish in the week.  But blogging has become my non-negotiable deadline.  I mean it, I’ve even been given the endearing nickname of Bloggy McBloggerstein from my boyfriend when I’m madly typing or reading blogs instead of hanging out with him.  Posting regularly is my progress tracker.
  2. Readers are the bestest most wonderful thing in the world.  I mean if I named you guys after my favorite things, you’d all be dubbed the Black-and-White-Salt-Rimmed-Cabernet-Page-Turner-Ghost-Hunters of my life!  I wouldn’t be nearly as motivated without you guys checking in AND COMMENTING and showing support and laughter along my journey.  You all rock Cary-Grant-lime-on-the-rocks-wine-charm-Goodreads-spooky-story-style!
  3. Social Media is Attainable When You Know Where To Look.  You should basically go to Kristen Lamb’s blog.  She will teach you everything you need to know about blogging, social media, facebook, and twitter.  And she’s funny, too!
  4. I May Not Move As Fast I Want To, But I Am Moving Forward.  I have a hard time accepting compliments.  So I don’t readily hand them out to myself.  I can focus too much on my laundry list of what I haven’t completed or understood, rather than recognize where I have improved and what I’ve learned.  One thing that has helped me to feel more aware of my progress is an addition I’m making to my journal.  Not only do I write 5 things I’m grateful for each day, but I’ve also started recording what lessons or eye opening moments I’ve had about blogging/writing/publishing each day too.  Then if I feel I’m not moving fast enough, I have a record of just how far I’ve come already.
  5. I Take Better Care of Myself When I Blog.  Reading and writing blogs tells you the truth.  The whole truth, and nothing but the bologna eating truth.  Because of blogging people tell me to take my fish oil (Margaret), how to improve my writing (Kristen), how to stay on top of witty banter (Mark, Gene), hone my storytelling skills (Charles), send twitter helpful emails (Nina), introduce me to cool new people (Clay, Mindi), discuss great literature (Jillian), enjoy the small moments in life (Wendy), and understand my family is normal (Leanne).

What has blogging taught you?

Top 5 Ways to Move Your Writing Forward

     I was so energized by the comments and support in my previous post depicting my struggle with outlining that I compiled a list of various ways writers can propel their work in progress forward.  All of us have battles each day to face.  Mine typically include:  getting out of bed without hitting snooze 1-6 times, eating a healthy breakfast, trying to coach people with 20 years of bad habits under their belts, and getting home and not immediately grabbing a bag of chips and falling asleep on the couch missing the ending of yet another movie, and oh yah…writing consistently.  I never used to live like this.  Yah, right.

So, I started thinking about the different kinds of work writers do.  It’s more complicated than ‘writers write.’  We write different genres, we write fiction or non-fiction.  We build worlds and set construction, we develop characters for readers to fall in love with, and often, if we are successful, we’ve somehow infused real life into our work.  It could be using an image we saw, a place we grew up, a person we knew.  We transform the real world around us into great writing and reading.  The process to do those things differs for every person.  And what kind of Perseverance Expert would I be if I couldn’t help us all find ways to move forward when we’re stuck in one place.

1.  Take a Walk  Sounds too simple, right?  No really.  Try it.  Sometimes we’re too close to our story to think openly about it.  Taking a walk clears our head.  We’re able to focus on new tasks, such as crossing the street safely (I look both ways to left and right, left and right, left and right, I look both ways to left and right before I cross the street).  I was a Safety City Instructor for 2 years!  **crickets**  Ok, back to the point, honestly taking a walk could lead you in a thousand directions!  Duh, Witkins, we’re walking!  No, no, I mean writing directions.  You could overhear a conversation that would spark up your own dialogue and give you insight into your characters.  You could take a camera with you and snap photos of things that interest you along the way.  Maybe an image will help spark a next scene you could jump to or assist you with world building.

2.  Brainstorm/Free Write/Scene Build This was a difficult lesson for me.  Back in November when I did my own version of NaNoWriMo, it killed me to stare at the cursor on my computer screen and think THINK THIIIIIINK what would come next.  It didn’t occur to me I could write non-chronologically and piece the scenes together during editing.  If you’re stuck in one place, or writing a particular scene has become daunting or less than fun, move to another scene you’re excited about and sketch it out.  It keeps you writing your story and should help keep you passionate for it too.

3.  Outline, Character Development If you like structure and that helps you focus, take a time out to list qualities about your characters or plot turning points in your story.  Spend time asking yourself about the mask your protagonist/antagonist wears, what do they fear, what is their strength, motto, what characteristics do they admire in others (supporting characters), do they have a dark side, what is their core need and what will make them their best self?  There’s lots of character development outlines available online, find one that piques your interest and spend time getting to know your characters.

4.  Journal  I had a big aha moment this weekend after reading the Freshly Pressed post by Jamie Lee Wallace.  She wrote about the top 10 ways journaling can make you a better writer.  I highly recommend checking out her post if you haven’t already because all the reasons are great.  My favorite two are:  it gets rid of the crappy writing by allowing you to get your ideas out on page and it makes it clear to you what you’re really struggling with because it’s a way to record your progress, good and bad.  Just start journaling already!  I love it.  You might too, and there are no rules, the more you do it, the more beneficial, but whatever you choose to enter inside it is what’s right for you.

5.  Share  If none of the above seem to be helping, bring in another set of eyes.  I used to think I couldn’t share my work with anyone until it was completely finished, thereby revealing the proverbial masterpiece that came from my mind alone!  Muahahaha!  But frankly, that’s stupid.  It’s ok, I admit it.  I was young and naive, and still am at times, but I’m moving forward and making smarter decisions.  😀  If you read the thank yous published authors write in their books, a lot of them thank the readers who read their work before it was on the shelf.  Also, when I was at the Writers Institute Conference, all the agents said you should absolutely submit your work to a critique group before pitching/publication.  So unless you’re the next Emily Dickinson or John Kennedy Toole, you should let others give you feedback, good and bad, about your work.  Somehow, I don’t think most of us want the hidden papers in a mattress/shoebox approach anyway.

These are the strategies that have been the most helpful to me, because they cover whatever aspect you’re struggling with each day.  If I need more structure, outline.  If I’m feeling lackluster about a certain part, jump to a new one!  Need to set it down for a minute?  Ok, go walk or journal.  And advice from other writers has always been eye opening to me, both in form and story development.

Many of you have been posting recently about the changes you’re making in your writing lives.  Maybe it’s putting your name on your blog!  Woohoo, welcome!  Some have been blogging about their character developing strategies and what inspires them.  And several of my pals are taking writing retreats and attending conferences this weekend.  (Even though I just got back from one, I’m still jealous; they’re just so much fun!)  So chat with me.  What strategies are you focusing on right now with your writing?  What changes or steps have you taken to be more successful?  Do you have a critique group?  How has that input from other writers helped you?  How has blogging helped you?  I know my community here means the world to me!  *bats eyelashes at you all*  Can’t wait to hear from you, and happy writing!


Mastering the Art of the Semi-Plot: A Tale of Plotting Gone Graveyard

Today my goal was to outline my entire story.  From beginning to end.  A bold task that required getting up early and focusing by planting my butt in a chair for the time it takes to drink a venti passion tea.  Three hours later (I savor my drink, ok?…I got lost in social media, ok?), I had at least figured out the “want, motivation, but” for my protagonist, that wasn’t difficult.  But I got stuck on my antagonist!  I know what he wants, but I have no motive, and without that motive I can’t outline major turning points!  Damn it all to hell!  Excuse me, I needed to get that off my chest.

If I lost some of you at “want, motivation, but” it’s a plotting tool I learned at the Writers Institute by the wonderful Lori Devoti.  Lori is a paranormal romance author and if you want a great deal on e-books, she’s running one on her blog right now.  What Lori showed us at the conference is a chart where you list what your character wants, which needs to be the goal of the story so it has to allow growth in your character.  For example, someone’s goal might be to save her marriage.  After you’ve named the goal, you have to know the motivation behind it.  What is it that drives the goal for the character?  What is the best thing that could be if they get their want?  And finally, you put the BUT in there.  The obstacle that prevents them from achieving their goal.  For example, if the goal was for the character to save her marriage, but her husband dies, her motivation and goal become something different, possibly about creating a better life for her child.  Lori’s advice was to draw up this chart with the protagonist and the antagonist side by side because as much as you can pit them against each other with conflicting wants, motives, buts, then the easier it will be to plot them against each other.

Today my problem is that I haven’t figured out my antagonist’s motive yet.  So I decided to stop staring at a blank piece of paper and definitely STOP getting lost in social media world, and do some research for the book to get my brain spinning again.  So, I spent the better part of an hour walking through a graveyard.

Part of my walk in the Oak Grove Cemetery

No, no, this wasn’t a suicide mission.  Not in the slightest.  It’s the main setting of my story, and I thought a stroll through my character’s world would help clear up the muddy bits.  Despite the fact I had to hide my camera from the protective groundskeeper who kept driving past me while I sauntered around, it was a productive visit.  I got several great shots that will help me create scenes in the graveyard.  And best of all were the names!  Many of the graves in this cemetery are from the 1800’s and the names and variety in the tombstones was something spectacular to see.  I also found the FREAKIEST tree that may or may not make its way into the story (I’m almost too creeped out to write about it).

I still haven’t quite nailed down a motive that doesn’t leap beyond the borders of “yaah, right, Witkins!” so I’ll keep working on that.  But I still consider this a productive day that will help me when I am scene building.  I mean, look where I was!

I like the way the different kinds of trees overlap here. Each a different color and texture.

What do you think?  Any advice for this stuck writer?  What helps you sculpt your characters and outline better?

Also, don’t miss out on a chance to win a free book!  Read my review of The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie, leave a comment, and you’re automatically entered to be a part of the World Book Night Giveaway!     

City Slickers and Social Media

Hello and welcome to the World of Writers in what will now be referred to as the Wild Wild West of Publishing.  Let me introduce to you our panelists who will cover the vast opinions circling social media today:

Patrick McGilligan, Film biographer and Social Media Nay Sayer. If you'd like to know what he thinks about something, please just email.

Josie Brown, Fiction Women's Lit Author and Social Media Champion. Click the image to link to her blog, facebook, or twitter account.

Judy Molland, Non-fiction Writer, Parenting and Social Media Advocate. For answers about teaching, parenting, writing and social media, Judy is your lady, and it comes with a genuine British accent!

Jim DeRogatis, Music Critic and Rock N'Roll Know-It-All, If you want the whole truth, and nothing but the truth so help you God, Jim's your man. User of social media, pays someone else to do it, but it's definitely NOT his agent!

Wrapping up Saturday at the Writers Institute in Madison, Wisconsin, was a panel on Social Media.  Like old time wanted posters, these four pioneers of authorship sat in the front of the room, sharing their opinions and travels through the Wild Wild West that is today’s publishing process.  Patrick was kindly allowed to speak first, fully knowing the rest of the discussion would come back to charge him like the bull he was.  Patrick, luckily, is a man with a specific area of expertise.  He is a film biographer.  His agent and his publishing house let him submit a list of ideas to write about, they circle one, he does it.  Patrick sees no need for the extra work that goes into maintaining a website, blogging, facebook and twitter, and to him it’s all just that, WORK.  I should tell you that Patrick was pretty honest about not desiring to have it all either.  He makes a decent living for himself and he’s comfortable with that.  He doesn’t actively promote the sales of his books because in his mind it only accounts for about 10% more anyway.  Are you thoroughly depressed or angered yet?

For those of you that are, Josie’s got your back!  Full of biting quips and interjections, she personally forges the way for writers of today to get involved with their audience by allowing the audience to get to know them.  She blogs about things that inspire her and will hopefully inspire her readers.  She tweets, she uses facebook.  If you saw Josie riding through the rough terrain of the open range, her horse would have her newest book branded into its butt (assuming it didn’t harm the horse to do so, she strikes me as an animal lover).  The words ‘author’ and ‘platform’ are common terms in her vocabulary.

Judy is a teacher through and through.  Her opinion may lean strongly to one side more than the other, but she still wants you to play nice with the other kids.  Her experience led her to be in the middle of social media without fully realizing it.  She began in journalism, she was writing articles for parenting magazines, and then blogging, and now it’s just what she does.  The use of social media allowed her to work on her passion, the site www.care2.com, an activist site that helps people find ways to get involved, donate, and stay educated about causes.

Finally, you get to Jim.  Patiently smirking throughout all the banter of this rodeo, he’ll tell you, Yes, you need to be involved with social media, but don’t ask him how to do any of it.  He voices his opinion on his radio show, Sound Opinions, with Greg Kot.  He says writers do need to market themselves because most agents, including his, aren’t going to do it for you.  He has no idea what his agent actually does, and yet he earns 15% of the sales.  I actually got to chat with Jim for awhile before the day started one morning and he was very affable, happy to sign the book of his I’d purchased, and chatted with me about authors to check out and his band, Vortis, a delightful three piece band of “agitainment.”  Jim may not know the ins and out of html code (which for some of us is comforting, raises hand), but he knows the people to get him there and makes himself very available to the public.  (He told me to email him!)

This post may not have answered all your questions about social media, but it shows there’s a broad spectrum of opinions about it, hence the Wild Wild West of Publishing…and Platforms…and Print on Demand…and oh hell, gang, grab a pair of chaps and a lasso, we’re going writing!  I’ll be your host, Jess Witkins (picture Jack Palance with red hair), Perseverance Expert and Social Media Pony Show Captain.  Come along, subscribe.

For more in depth information on using social media check out the Social Media Expert, Kristen Lamb and her book We Are Not Alone.

What questions do you have about social media?  How are you using it or not using it?  What do you wish it was doing that isn’t yet?

Creativity? How to Force More of It and Have Fun Too

Did you know you can get a degree in creativity?  Oh yes, it exists.  I’m not sure what the criteria for the degree includes, but you can probably google it.  I want to talk about the guy I met at the Writers Institute who has this degree, a Masters in Creativity from Buffalo State College.  His name is Doug Stevenson, and he has a passion for thinking outside the box.  Well, actually, if you ask him, he’ll tell you to think outside the box, but don’t forget about the box.  Doug started out in American Studies, then Advertising, and then got his masters in creativity.  He spent years working in improv acting groups like Second City (a beginning point for most Saturday Night Live actors).

Doug Stevenson

Doug led two sessions at the conference and it was clear they were going to be creative in theme based on the title alone.  For instance, I went to a class called “Innovation is Like a Box of Chocolates:  A Savory Study of what Everyone Suddenly Needs.”  Doug highly recommended that writers take an improv class at some point.  Now, now, before you all start slinking to the back of the room, hear his argument out!

  1. Improv requires no judgement, it’s about accepting invitations and rolling along with the story.
  2. It teaches you the power of “Yes, AND…”  You build on ideas.
  3. You learn how to cooperate with discovery.

In the classes, Doug had us do several warm up activities from his improv days.  I pushed myself and decided to volunteer for one.  There were 7 of us lined up in the front of the room.  Each of us was given an emotion to portray and the opening line of a story “It was a dark and stormy night…”  (I know, a whole room full of writers, and that’s the best we could come up with!)  So our emotions included sadness, anger, frightened, bitter, giddy, confused and I got the lovely assignment of pretending to be in love.  The story took several interesting twists as each of us were allowed to spin our takes on it.  It began on a stormy night, a couple was going on a date (yep, that’s me), my date was sad because he was a lot older than me and the night certainly wouldn’t bode well.  Passersby were frightened by the storm and could only think of stripping in their fear, while others were bitter about them having the nerve to strip.  A giddy thief was stealing from our car and a woman was angry she was stuck in a city with the likes of all of us, and I ended the story by changing my mind and hooking up with the car thief instead of the old man.

That’s all hysterical and wonderful, but what’s the point, Jess?  The point was none of us could plan where the story was going, we had to continue from what we were given.  We could change the direction but we were forced to be creative and open-minded when doing so.  You constantly looked at the story with new eyes, and that’s what Doug wanted us to do with our own WIP when we were struggling.  If something wasn’t working, he said to put it aside, step away, and come back to it later with new eyes.  Or, use a story box of combinations and just go with it, maybe adding in an unknown will lead to something spectacular.  Here are some examples of what we did.

Story box:

The President                    Hypnotization                   Carnival

A Cartoonist                     Melting Apocalypse         Underwater

A Cowboy                          Greek Mythology              Underworld

A Bird Watcher              Murder Mystery                 Boise, Idaho

Ok, so we’ve got this box with columns of character ideas, themes and places.  You can randomly select from them and try to make a story.  For example, The President and a cartoonist must go to Boise, Idaho where everyone is melting in the Apocalypse.  Or, a lone bird watcher travels underwater to claim his true identity as a Greek God.  Whatever, I’m just getting your gears grinding!

The other thing we did was use story cubes.  Story cubes are a toy you can buy that lets you roll dice with pictures/actions on them and you can incorporate that into your story.  It’s up to you how many cubes you use.  We did a practice using just one roll with one di.  So I rewrote the story of Mary Had a Little Lamb, to be Mary Had a Gala Apple.  Again, do with it what you like.  You could roll 6 dice and try to make a story using all 6 images.

Jess, you ask, I’m writing a story about a magic princess slaying a dragon and marrying the man of her dreams, who just happens to be a hobbit/wookie mix but through their love the people of the planet Condroidmilock find acceptance in intergalactical love.  What do you want me to do with the canoe I just rolled?!  Geez, you guys, do I have to do everything for you?  Where’s your acceptance?  Where’s your Yes AND…, where’s your cooperation with discovery?  *Bangs head on laptop*

dghieiht4%%%%pagh3 akf300 11yqq

Sorry, about that.  I’m good now.  Use this as a warm up.  Use it as a way to hone your craft, pick objects that would never go together and try to make it work, just see where the writing process takes you.  If you’re writing the next sci-fi romance that is going to change the way we think of social class or race, then maybe incorporating a canoe into your story wouldn’t make sense.  But, what if while writing that side story, you discover in your protagonist a new strength or quirk you didn’t know they had.  What if it makes you view them in a whole different light?  Or more importantly, WHAT IF YOU HAVE FUN WRITING??

None of us would have chose to be writers if we didn’t love writing.  I’m not saying that writing isn’t fun, but we know writing can be work sometimes too.  When we’re stuck, feeling drained by the non-galactical chaos of normal life, wouldn’t it be nice to have a way to springboard our inner creativity into writing again?  That was Doug’s point.  And mine too.  I’m not trying to sell you guys into taking an improv class if it terrifies you, but DO think about improv as a way to non-judgementally accept new ideas into your writing.  We write because it’s our way of being creative, and who couldn’t use a few more skills in their arsenal of writing talents?

So, I’m challenging you, readers!  Write me your best quick story using these items:  a baby doll, a duck painting, a pillow shaped like a banana, and a remote control.  (These are random items collected in my basement.)  The winner of the contest gets:  A postcard mailed to you from exotic Wisconsin and a feature interview by myself to be posted on my blog!  Happy writing!

%d bloggers like this: