Where I play with words. I can't promise it'll make sense.
|For the final round of "Invalid Item" I am to respond to two quotes:
“Blogging is to writing what extreme sports are to athletics: more free-form, more accident-prone, less formal, more alive. It is, in many ways, writing out loud.” ~ Andrew Sullivan
Years ago, I met another writer at a writers conference (strange, that. Meeting a writer at a writers conference? How does that happen?). She wrote non-fiction, and had several chapters started, but all the feedback she received from publishers and agents was the same: her writing was too stilted and legalistic. The main reason was because she wrote legal papers all day, and she struggled with making her writing more personable.
I told her the surest way to cure it was to start her own blog.
My reasoning was exactly what the quote above states (although my explanation wasn’t nearly as concise). I noticed after a few months, her writing changed, and opened up to the point her natural bubbly and hilarious personality popped off the page (figuratively speaking). She’s gone on to other things now, so I can’t link her blog. Otherwise you could see what I mean.
Writing a blog helps us find our voice, and the best part is, no one (or at least very few) care if we use the wrong word, if our sentence structure is – odd, or that we use a different font for every paragraph. That’s why I named my blog “My Writing Sandbox.” It’s here where I play and discover new things about the world, others around me, and even myself.
Simply put, when it comes to writing a blog, there are literally no rules. None. Zip. Zilch. Nada.
When I first started writing as a teenager, I wrote for the singular goal of publishing novels. It’s been a dream for literally the last 30 years. While I have a few articles and short stories under my authorship belt, I’ve not succeeded in fulfilling that life-long dream of seeing my novels on bookstore shelves.
After writing a blog for a few years on WdC, and the near instantaneous reaction I received, I put my novel-publishing dream on hold. I didn’t mind. In fact, I considered giving it up completely – but why I didn't is another story for another time.
Writing and reading other people’s blogs, however, I had no desire or intention to quit. There’s something organic, almost earthy about it. Just as Andrew described, we don’t have to worry about grammar or spelling (although me being on the edge of OCD, I’s gots to). We can also be more of ourselves in our blog, versus writing an article for a magazine, for instance. Magazine editors, agents, et al, have certain expectations, whereas blog readers don’t – except that blogs be somewhat interesting, or thought-provoking.
When people respond to what we write, how can that not stroke our egos a bit? As I’m sure most of you know, writers need a lot of ego stroking. We’re a sensitive bunch. At least for me, the smallest criticism can send me into a spiral of “woe-is-me” whether it be my writing, or the fact I have a booger on my nose. It’s really kind of sad in a pathetic sort of way. But if ever I need to give my ego a lift, I write a blog entry. Most of the time it helps.
Which segues me into the next quote:
“Social media is not a fad because it’s human.” ~ Gary Vaynerchuk
We all want to be heard. We all want people to engage with us in whatever we have to say, and we want it now. We are social creatures, because to avoid all interaction with others inevitably leads to insanity. I believe Gary is right; social media is here to stay, because it feeds our need to be seen and heard, and it boosts our self-esteem when people respond positively and instantaneously. Like me, I bet you check Facebook, Twitter or other sites to see how many people liked, shared or responded to your posts. I am so guilty of that, it’s sickening.
As with our humanity, there are darker sides to social media, too, not the least of which has resulted in some suicides because of online bullying. But that’s a subject also for another time.
Have you ever engaged in a conversation with someone where all they did was talk, and they never stop to listen? Social media takes that annoying trait and explodes it a hundred-fold. I know. I’ve done it. So busy talking, whether it be on Twitter or Facebook, I’ve not stopped to listen. Granted it’s hard not to, because how does one interrupt someone else on Facebook?
This is part of the reason I kicked myself off of Facebook for a year. Well, mostly. I keep an author page where I post my blog entries, and see if there are any family invites I need to be aware of. But I don’t post any opinions, or share stories about my day-to-day life. Nor do I take the time to read other people’s posts.
I decided to stay off Facebook when I did mostly because of the election season. It’s one of the nastiest I’ve seen, and I choose to avoid it. Politics is so inherently divisive, and because I do have strong opinions, I want to keep my mouth shut and not further alienate or infuriate my friends and family. They don’t piss me off, either, because I don’t take the time to see theirs.
Since I left Facebook back on December 1, 2015, I finished three novels, writing well over 150,000 words (I’m in editing phase now). Even better, I now have more time to spend with my friends and family here at home, face-to-face.
So, yes, social media is here to stay, but like with many other things in life, moderation is the key to making sure we don’t let social media be our only outlet of expression and interaction with others.
There I go, going all motherly on you by warning of the dangers of too much social media. Sorry. I’m a mom. I can’t help it.
I want to cry now, because my own mom was right. She threatened that I would grow up to be exactly like her, and I did. Dang it.
|Looks like I made it to another round of the contest – by the skin of my teeth, I’m sure.
For this round, I’m to answer the following question:
What is your number one rule for other writers? How has this influenced your own writing?
I read a lot, and I mean a lot of books on writing. Some I’ve read more than once. My bookshelves are full of them, and some are better than others (both bookshelves and books).
My top four (in no particular order):
1. Self Editing for Fiction Writers by Renni Brown and Dave King
2. Elements of Style by William Strunk, Jr. And E.B. White
3. The Forest for the Trees by Betsy Lerner
4. On Writing by Stephen King
The problem with reading so many books on writing – and this is especially frustrating for new writers – is some advice can be contradictory. There are so many factors involved, and writing is so darned subjective, each writer must decide for him/herself which advice to follow and which to ignore.
Because of writing’s subjectivity, I’ll bet your list of favorite writing books is different from mine. Part of it is due to you and me writing in different genres. For instance, you could write non-fiction, literary, or children’s books, while I concentrate mostly on adult sci-fi and fantasy.
All that said, however, there is one rule I try to keep in the back of my mind as I write.
It’s two simple sentences that I gleaned from On Writing by Stephen King. I read his book well over ten years ago, and although I forgot most everything else he wrote about, this little piece of advice stuck with me.
It may be a bit paraphrased (because I’m too lazy to flip through hundreds of pages to find it):
“Never lie to your readers. They can always tell.”
It seems obvious, doesn’t it? Why would anyone lie to their readers? This is especially true for non-fiction. On the other hand, how does one not lie when writing fiction? Isn’t it by definition made up, or false?
Made up, yes. False? No.
So what does King mean, then?
Have you ever read a book when a character did something completely out of character, or the writer used Deus ex Machina (in case you don’t know, the phrase means “a person or thing that appears or is introduced suddenly and unexpectedly and provides a contrived solution to an apparently insoluble difficulty.” [per Mirriam-Webster.com]) either too many times, or in such a way as to make you go, “Impossible!” and throw the book across the room.
It’s happened to me more times than I can remember (in books, and in movies and television shows), and each time I felt a sense of betrayal. I had been lied to, and all because the writer either couldn’t find a better solution, or was too lazy to find one. It’s also the one thing I keep in the back of my mind as I write, and I suddenly find my characters in an impossible situation. I force myself to stop and think about how they’re going to get through it without making the characters do something they normally wouldn’t do, or bring in Deus ex Machina.
For instance, in a recent story, my protagonist tried to fight off an assassin. The assassin shot him, and at one point the protagonist lost his own weapon. I could have awoken another character that the assassin knocked unconscious, but that would have ignored biology – and that particular action has been done to the point of dull and unoriginal. He could have found another weapon nearby that wasn’t previously mentioned, or some other character could have simply walked in and reacted quickly enough to kill the assassin. Remembering King’s advice, I stopped and stared at that evil little cursor winking at me for at least ten minutes before I found a solution that worked, and seemed plausible.
By avoiding such writerly laziness (which is my biggest weakness other than coffee and chocolate), that particular scene ended up so much more interesting. At least I think it did . . .
I could give even more advice, such as read, read, read, read – and read some more, both in your chosen genre and out of it, both fiction and non-fiction. I could also tell you to not consider the old advice, “write about what you know,” and instead “write about what you want to know," but I won't – even though I just did.
All in all, it boils down to this:
Respect the reader.
We writers have chosen to study, weep, and bleed into a skill that is completely subjective, and our successes and failures are ultimately decided by our readers. If we don’t have the utmost respect for them, we may as well quit right now, because we will see nothing but frustration and heartbreak.
After all, while in many ways we write for ourselves, we strive to find as many readers as we can who will laugh, cry, hate, fall in love, and every emotion in between as much as we and our characters do. We can’t do that if we don’t respect them.
|Second Round for "Invalid Item" by A Guest Visitor :
Write about your greatest struggle so far writing or otherwise. You can choose whichever form you want: short story, poem, creative nonfiction, etc.
When I first saw the question, my brain went into overload. Like every other human, my list of struggles is so long, to pick one is near impossible. It seems we are born, live, and die with struggle.
There's a quote from the movie "The Matrix." I don't have it exact but to paraphrase one of the "agents" as he talked to Neo: "We tried creating the perfect world for you. No struggles, death or disease, but you kept waking up, because you could never believe in a perfect world. We lost entire crops."
I also think that since we live almost daily with struggles, we can't imagine what Heaven will be like.
The one that I choose for this particular entry isn't my greatest struggle, but it's certainly one of my more recent ones.
Call it a slight case of mid-life crisis.
My hair is graying, certain parts aren't -- shall we say -- as perky as they once were. I have arthritic knees and now elbows. Last year I graduated to bifocals. I'm finding myself saying "What?" more often than I used to, and I can't remember anything unless I write it down or tell my phone to beep me a reminder of an appointment or meeting.
Every day I gain a greater sense of my inevitable mortality.
I see younger folks with better health, figure and energy than I do, and I can't help but mourn the loss of my youth. I look in the mirror and think, "Yuck. I'm old, fat and saggy. How ugly and worthless am I?"
Like it or not, I determine some of my self worth based on how I look. I would love to lose a few (or 40) pounds, but it gets more difficult the older I get. My brain tells me that looks don't matter. My son still adores me and smiles whenever he sees me. My husband still thinks, and calls me beautiful. They don't care that I'm all squishy. Why do I refuse to see me through their eyes?
During church today, my pastor mentioned a recent scientific journal where scientists have discovered that so-called negativity such as anger, frustration cling to our neurons like Velcro. Positive emotions and thoughts, on the other hand, slide off our neurons like Teflon. If true, my brain is no different from anyone else's. I often see the positive in most every circumstance, but it also takes a lot of mental rigor to get me to that point. Afterward, I need a nap.
In other words, we have to work on optimism, and we have to work on embracing the fact that we are flawed creatures, but nonetheless loveable and beautiful in spite of -- or even sometimes because of -- those flaws.
So I'm getting old. So no young stud is going to turn his head and think, "Whoa. She's hot." That same young stud, however, may still smile and take down a grocery item from a shelf because I can't reach it. He will treat me kindly and with respect because I am his elder (they still do that, believe it or not. I've seen and experienced it).
My brain is convinced that even though there may be fewer days ahead of me than behind, I still have today, and I must not squander it. I am still worthy of being loved no matter what my age or how much loose skin waddles underneath my arms.
Convincing my heart, that's the real struggle.
|My first entry for "Invalid Item" by A Guest Visitor :
What is originality and what is plagiarism? As writers we experience a fine line between the two. Most ideas have been done, but if we take our own original take on them, are they new? Sometimes we find inspiration or influence from other authors; it is how we grow as writers. How do you deal with this dilemma in your own writing?
The other day I complained to a friend how reading as much as I do has constrained me when it comes to starting a new story. Every time I think I have a great idea, I remember a book or story that tackled it already.
"It's been done already," is a phrase I oft repeat, and it's downright depressing.
I can also point out certain ideas in my current stories that have come from other books and even television shows. Does that make me a plagiarist?
First, let's consider the definition of plagiarism (according to the Oxford Dictionary):
the practice of taking someone else's work or ideas and passing them off as one's own.
On the surface, yes, I have plagiarized other writers.
According to Wikipedia, however:
Plagiarism is the "wrongful appropriation" and "stealing and publication" of another author's "language, thoughts, ideas, or expressions" and the representation of them as one's own original work. The idea remains problematic with unclear definitions and unclear rules. The modern concept of plagiarism as immoral and originality as an ideal emerged in Europe only in the 18th century, particularly with the Romantic movement.
Plagiarism is considered academic dishonesty and a breach of journalistic ethics. It is subject to sanctions like penalties, suspension, and even expulsion. Recently, cases of 'extreme plagiarism' have been identified in academia.
Plagiarism is not in itself a crime, but can constitute copyright infringement. In academia and industry, it is a serious ethical offense. Plagiarism and copyright infringement overlap to a considerable extent, but they are not equivalent concepts, and many types of plagiarism do not constitute copyright infringement, which is defined by copyright law and may be adjudicated by courts. Plagiarism is not defined or punished by law, but rather by institutions (including professional associations, educational institutions, and commercial entities, such as publishing companies).
The Bible even addresses this difficulty in the Book of Ecclesiastes (verse 1:9):
What has been will be again,
what has been done will be done again;
there is nothing new under the sun.
All in all, a certain amount of plagiarism can't be avoided in anything we write. A large percentage of what we know and learn originated from someone else.
What we have to do as writers is try to make whatever idea, concept or thought we find from someone else, and put our own unique spin on it.
For instance, one idea I copied pertains to mental telepathy. Some of what the telepaths in my stories are capable of, and what their limitations are I stole (although I prefer "borrowed") from the television series "Babylon 5". I could claim the rest is all from me, but if I searched every book, story, and television show I've seen with telepaths, I'll bet what I thought was unique, I subconsciously took from those stories.
My world and my telepathic characters, on the other hand, are different enough from "Babylon 5," I believe only true fans of the show will see the similarity between the two. I doubt they'll contact the owners of the show and convince them to sue me for plagiarism, though. If anything, they might consider it a compliment - the whole "imitation is the sincerest form of flattery" kind of thing.
As the Wikipedia article states, I am certainly in an ethical gray area if taken to plagiarism's literal definition to the extreme, but I don't use the ideas to subvert or otherwise harm the "Babylon 5" writers, or to claim their work as my own.
That's really all plagiarism is. It's not using other people's ideas and thoughts to create something different or unique, but to take something someone else has done or written in entirety and claim it as my own.
As for the rest, if you want to borrow my words and my ideas to mix in with your own, you have my permission. I'd be flattered if you did.
Then again, I'm not making any money with my writing, either . . .
|“Making the decision to have a child is momentous. It is to decide forever to have your heart go walking around outside your body. ~ Elizabeth Stone.
This quote made complete sense to me the first time I laid eyes on my son, but there were many other momentous experiences I was - and still am - not prepared for.
Parenting strengthens the heart, and I don't mean by the love a child fills you with. I want to cry with my son every time he cries, especially when I can't take away his pain. I have to keep my tears hidden, because he needs me to be strong.
It strengthens the stomach. From puke to blood to poop. I've seen it all, I've smelled it all, and I've had to clean up every drop and chunk. Not fun, but it has to be done. I can't afford to add my puke to his, because that would mean more to clean up, and no one likes to see other people puke, especially a parent.
It strengthens the body. I discovered I'm a lightning bolt with stubby legs when I see my son in danger. One time we played on a sandbar when Tom was not yet two. He wandered into the water and fell into a hole. I never ran so fast in my life. He didn't go but six inches under water when I had him in my arms and returned to the shore. I did it all in about 3/4 of a second, but it felt like twelve minutes.
It strengthens the nerves. Bugs and insects don't bother me. There are plenty I don't like, though. Wasps being one of them. Ugly creatures. But I don't run away screaming when I see one. I just think they're ugly with their skinny little bodies. One insect does make my skin crawl, and that's a tick. They're also ugly, but what creeps me out is how they can crawl all over you, suck your blood, and you don't feel a thing. I see one crawling on me and it takes all my wherewithal to remove it and either flush it down the toilet or burn it.
Right before Tom stepped into the shower this evening, he called me into the bathroom and asked me to remove something from his hair (you know where this is going, don't you?). At first it looked like a piece of caramel stuck in his hair, but then I noticed the shape. My first instinct was to call my husband and tell him to remove it. He was in the garage, however, so I steeled myself, grabbed a pair of tweezers and removed it all by myself. I then flushed it down the toilet.
I was proud of myself, not only that I removed it all by my lonesome, but that I managed to not cringe or make weird noises and faces as I did so. Like with everything else, my son needed to see me calm, so he wouldn't freak out.
That's not to say I didn't shudder after I left the bathroom, or that my skin isn't crawling with the heebie-jeebies as I write this. Because I did, and I am.
|I signed up for a blogging contest -- of sorts.
The premise is as follows (copied from forum):
The Great Blog Off!
Do you have what it takes to be the blog champion?
Ready for some bracket style fun?
This contest will be run in the form of a bracket. This means you will face off against one person to advance to the next round where the winner of another pair will face you.
I decided to participate, and I invite you to do the same. Who knows, maybe you and I will have our own little "face-off" and see who's the better blogger .
|I received two items in my mail today:
You'd think I'd be celebrating, but I'm not. I'm grateful, don't get me wrong, but I honestly thought my story was better than Silver. I deserved a Gold, dang it (read with slight tone of sarcasm).
I took a few chances with this story such as not keeping a single point of view. And since the word count was constrained, I went "minimalist" in that - for instance - I didn't describe the characters such as hair color, eye color, etc. I figured I would let the reader decide what the characters looked like. And because there was so much action, a lot of description had to be slashed.
Based on the contest judge's review, I went too minimalist. For the most part, I can't argue with the review. There were one or two things I didn't agree with, but that goes with the territory when receiving (and giving) reviews. It's so darned subjective. What one person hates, another will love. And what one person sees in a story, another one may miss -- including the writer. I can't tell you how many reviews I've received where the reviewer saw something in my story I never saw, let alone intended.
That said, the judges scored based on factors such as characterization, setting, and dialogue, to name a few. I scored the lowest on description (5/10), but the highest on dialogue (9/10). Those two scores show where my strengths and weaknesses are, which come as no surprise to me. Dialogue has always been my strength, and description my biggest weakness. I scored overall 52/70, and based on the thoroughness of the judge's review, I couldn't help but think I didn't even deserve that.
This contest will open again next month with new prompts, and I intend on entering again. Next time, I plan to write a better story that's more in line with what the judges are looking for.
What bothers me most is this is the same story I submitted to Writer's Digest Annual Competition. Based on one person's review, I'm now thinking I wasted $25 and will have nothing to brag about come October, dang it.
Oh well, That's life. Win some, lose some. As long as I don't give up, this one loss doesn't matter -- except as a means of learning something so I can and will write better.
|Judging by the above title and the title of the previous entry, I wonder if I could start a whole series on four-letter words. It would certainly provide me with so many ideas, I'd never have another reason or excuse not to write another entry.
I wrote on Twitter a while back: "One of my weaknesses is impatience. I want to know a lot of things, but I don't want to take the time required to learn it."
To add to that, the singular frustrating part about writing and submitting said writing to agents, magazines, publishers and/or contests is the waiting for results.
The fantasy contest I entered closed almost two weeks ago, and -- although it said judging could take up to four weeks -- I still can't stop checking my email at least once a day, only to find out the results aren't in, yet.
There are really no winners or losers in this particular contest, because it's based on points. Plus only one other person besides me entered.
I liked my story enough that I decided to submit it to Writers Digest Annual Writing Competition. I had to rework it quite a bit, because the maximum word count is 4,000 words, and my original story ended up close to 5,000.
I don't hold out much hope that I'll even place, let alone win, because there will be thousands upon thousands of entries. Sometimes however, one must take chances in life, regardless of the odds, because you just never know until you try. The problem is I won't know anything until October, and even then, I won't hear a word from them unless I placed. Truth is, I don't even care about the prizes (and they are substantial). I'm looking for bragging rights -- something I can add to my query letters (once I get off my tush and actually submit them, that is).
I'm not being lazy, honest. I'm actually waiting. Yep. Waiting. On purpose, and I'm not chewing my fingernails to the quick as I wait. Nor am I sitting idle. Well, I am, literally, because I can't write while I'm standing up. At least not very well. Since I signed up for a writers conference in August, I decided to go through my novels one more time as well as write what people call "One Sheets," which is similar to a combination of a resume and query letter. Perhaps I'm making excuses to procrastinate more, I'm holding off on querying agents until after the conference.
So all this hate for waiting is 100% my own doing. I gots no one else to blame but me.
|I've been wanting to write an entry for a week now, but every subject that pops into my head soon fizzles as boring and worthless.
Even now I'm considering holding the delete button down until every word I've written so far disappears.
How often do you go through your previous blog entries and think, "Wow. That's some good stuff?"
Part of me winces at the thought, because it smacks of pride, and doesn’t “Pride go before the fall?”
Regardless, I think it, and worse, I believe it. I have written some good stuff. I just wish I could do it all the time.
If I dig a bit deeper, it’s not only that. I don’t want to have to work hard to accomplish it. Some people seem to write the good stuff without much effort. They’re inspired by little things they see every day, whereas I have to spend days – if not weeks – searching for even a smidgeon of an idea – many of which never take root.
I know I’m being overly harsh on myself. I am who I am; my gifts, desires and talents are unique to me, and I shouldn’t compare myself to others. No. That’s not quite true either. I need to look at what other people accomplish, not with envy or jealousy, but as a way to motivate me to do better. I need to work hard, so when I look back I can say with complete honesty, “I did good.”
And I do. For the most part. Just not as often as I think I should.
Then again, there’s nothing wrong with working hard to achieve a goal. Working hard is what makes us appreciate our accomplishments more. If it were too easy, then it’s not a real accomplishment.
To use an example, let’s say I run around a track in five minutes, but I cross the finish line at the same time as someone wearing prosthetic legs. Which one of us accomplished more?
For me at least, I shouldn’t write because it’s easy. I do it because it’s hard. Maybe not all the time, but often enough. That way, when I do succeed, I can be proud of myself. While pride may make us stumble, it can also motivate us to continue to strive for success. Like everything else in life, it’s a matter of finding balance – and being honest.
"Never go to excess, but let moderation be your guide.” ~ Marcus Tullius Cicero
"It ain’t bragging if it’s true." ~ Will Rogers
|A friend and I had a conversation the other day about the difference between what we want and what we need -- especially as far as what God gives us. As long as we depend on him, he will always give us what we need. Rarely is it what we want, because, at least for me, what I want is too often not in line with God's will. I'm selfish that way.
I also think of God as holding back, and what I need is often not all that interesting or exciting. After all, what's exciting about being able to eat every day? To have a roof over my head? It's necessary stuff, and while I'm beyond grateful, none of it is blog-worthy.
What began the conversation was how her daughter decided that God could not exist, because he wouldn't let her have children (she and her husband tried for years and spent tens of thousands of dollars in fertility treatments -- to no avail).
She and her husband recently divorced, and my friend told her, "Maybe God knew that children weren't right for you, because of what eventually happened between you and your husband."
Her daughter said, "I never thought of it that way."
God has his reasons for doing things, and I told my friend, "While it makes sense, there could also be another reason -- or many reasons -- that they couldn't have children. Their divorce is only one possibility."
It reminded me of Dave and I's own journey with having children -- and a very profound thought hit me.
Neither Dave nor I wanted children, and we were perfectly content with that.
Twelve years into our marriage, I changed my mind. I was 35 at the time, and chalked it up as my biological clock ticking. I begged God every single day to take away the desire to have children. It was pointless to have that desire all of a sudden, because it was driven by hormones, and no other reason. Our life was just fine without kids. Plus, I knew Dave wouldn't change his mind, so these sudden, infuriating thoughts and desires were nothing but pain. I wanted -- and needed -- that pain to end.
Until one day Dave made an off-hand comment about children.
A small voice in my head said, "Pursue this."
I asked, "Dave. Did you change your mind about having kids?"
Quite meekly he responded, "Yes."
Long story short, we discovered on our 15th wedding anniversary that we were pregnant.
We now have an 8 year old son whom I couldn't imagine my life without. He has added so much love, joy and richness to my life that I thank God every day for giving me -- not what I wanted -- but what I needed.
A perfect example of how God sometimes determines that what we need is far more extravagant -- and blog-worthy -- than what we want.
Look at the birds. They don't plant or harvest or store food in barns, for your heavenly Father feeds them. And aren't you far more valuable to him than they are? . . . Seek the Kingdom of God above all else, and live righteously, and he will give you everything you need.
Matthew 6:26 & 33