Spring Cleaning you may like


I have had some people tell me before that they like spring cleaning. I never allow myself to turn my back on those individuals. They scare me. However, there is some spring cleaning that you, as a writer, might want to consider that could actually benefit you in ways that you never considered. Check it out![youtube]

Kids, cats, and what the crap?


A while back, I found some soaking wet socks in my son's bathroom. A few days later, I found six soaking wet socks hidden in his bedroom. I asked him what was going on. "I had a dream once about a monster attacking people. I've been showering in my socks so that I can throw them at him to chase him off." Of course, my response to this was, "Son, you are ruining your socks because of an imaginary situation that is never going to happen." At least, that was what I said out loud. In my mind, I was thinking How can I possibly incorporate this into my next book?

On any given day, my cat goes also-freaking-lutely insane. For no apparent reason, she will run sprints all throughout the house. She seems to be attacking bugs that no one else can see. She howls late at night at nothing. She figures out precisely where you intend to sit and decides that is the very place that she intends to nap. I suppose that it shouldn't surprise me that my son loves the cat almost to the point of obsession.

The thing about both of these individuals, my son and the cat, is that they live a lot of their lives in their own imaginations. It's something that can make each day very difficult for those around them as people that don't live in their worlds try to figure out what is going on. However, for my son and the cat, it is a perfectly equitable arrangement, and why shouldn't it be? They might live in their own worlds, but everyone there knows them. The imagination is where they find peace, joy, excitement, and whatever else they are seeking at the moment. Who should deny that?

The truth is that I tend to benefit from it as well. Of course I work to make certain that my son can interact and function in the world. That is my job as his father. However, he as well as the cat, remind me how to make use of my own imagination. They help remind me how to find some of the more simple joys in life that cannot be discovered on a television screen or computer monitor. As a teacher, he reminds me of the youth that I interact with daily, even if that youth left me (chronologically) a while ago. As a writer, he brings me to a place in my imagination that helps me to create the universes needed for a good story to be told.

If you are a writer, or someone that just needs a smile, consider things from the point of view of a child, or even look at the world as a cat. If neither are an option, then think of the last time that you wanted to say, "What the crap was that?" You would be amazed at the direction that this can lead you in.

A good place to start


I remember trying to start my first novel when I was younger. It was unbelievably overwhelming. Coming up with a story idea was easy. Trying to come up with all of the characters, setting up the universe in which the story takes place, giving background, and all of the other details just seemed like more than I could handle at the time. If this seems to be your situation, I have an idea for something that can get you started on your road to developing your skills as a writer. That's this week's vlog topic.   [youtube]

No Valentines gift, and I survived!


Today is Valentines Day. A day when many are enjoying expressions of the love of their significant other, or they are expressing their feeling for someone that they have long desired. Of course, there are also those that dread this day and see it as nothing more than a reminder that they are single. Most amusing among these people are the husbands that have failed to buy a Valentines Day gift for their wife. I remember watching a sitcom back in the 90's where men were fighting tooth and nail to get their hands on the last card and box of chocolates in the store. It was pretty funny. Well, I have a confession to make. I haven't bought a Valentines Gift for my wife in several year. I'm still alive and still married. Imagine that! Now don't misunderstand me. I have always been big on Valentines Day. I used to get roses or other flowers for all of my female friends in high school because I didn't think that any lady should be without a flower on Valentines Day. Yes, I gave my girlfriend more than I gave my friends. I tried to be creative every Valentines. This continued into my marriage. I was always trying to come up with something unforgettable each year. It started to become a rather expensive and stressful endeavor, especially since my wife felt the need to try and match my creativity. Then one year, and I don't quite remember when that was, we both started asking ourselves, "Why?"

It would be easy to start thinking that the romance has gone out of my marriage. After all, I have been married now for over fifteen years, we are parents, both of us work full time, and Netflix and chill for us actually means that we watch Netflix and relax. Add in the fact that we don't get each other Valentine's Day gifts and it's easy to think that we are just going through the motions. However, you have to take a look at the other 364 days in the year to see that this isn't true. I never miss the chance to tell her that I love her. We snuggle together on the couch every night. We are constantly holding hands. One of the reasons that we have stopped getting each other gifts (we often do not give Christmas gifts to each other either) is so that we can save money to go on trips as a family and have fun together in new ways. I can honestly say that I haven't missed the Valentine's gifts. I recognize the love that is there for me every day.

Now, if you happen to be someone that enjoys Valentine's Day, be my guest. I'm not trying to rain on your parade. Have a great time. However, if you chose not to give a gift this year, make certain that you have expressed your love every other day this year. What better Valentine's gift could anyone ever hope to get?

Challenges: Blessings and Curses


A character from one of my favorite shows once said, "We've done the impossible, and that makes us mighty!" Some of the most enjoyable stories and movies that we ever experience deal with a character that is overcoming major challenges. There is something uplifting about cheering on the underdog. Maybe it gives us a feeling of accomplishment to see that someone else can achieve what seems impossible. Of course, cheering on the underdog and being the underdog are two very different things. Do you get that feeling of accomplishment when you are the one having to face the challenges, or do you get a feeling of dread at what might happen if you can't overcome the odds? Most of my writing centers around fish-out-of-water, underutilized and disrespected characters. The usually don't recognize their own potential until they reach some new height, be it on purpose or on accident. Either way, the achieve what would have seemed impossible just a chapter before. I actually smile as I write, revise, or re-read some of those characters accomplishments. It can provide a sense of divine justice. The person most deserving receives the rewards. How can you not love that?

Of course, reality is a lot different from fiction. Many of us face challenges every day. Maybe it is a child whose behavior is slow to change. Maybe it is a job that is trying your patience. Maybe it is the difficulty of getting your finances in order. Maybe it is something as simple as the weather not cooperating with what you have planned. These are usually the challenges that don't make it into books, movies, or television shows. For all of the obsession that people have with reality television, it rarely deals with true reality. When was the last time that there was a show that followed one of its characters for two hours while they tried to figure out why their checkbook won't balance? How about an episode that centers on trying to figure out how you are going to get supper cooked, your child tucked in, your take-home work finished, and still have time to watch the show that you have been waiting all week for? Even Seinfeld, the show that famously claimed to be about nothing, never focused on the every day challenges that most people face. Why not?

My theory as to why we don't see shows, movies, or books that deal with these everyday challenges is because we all already have to. These challenges can stretch us to our limits. We don't want to see them again because we will either be reminded of how difficult it had been to take care of, or we will see a different approach that we had not considered and be angry because it is too late to change it. This is one of the reasons that I don't watch reality television. I watch television to get away from reality. I'm sure that most people would agree that they read or watch television and movies to try and forget about the challenges that they feel may have cursed their days.

Of course, in the end, are these daily challenges really curses or blessings in disguise? Well, I would venture to say that they are both. The challenges stretch us to our limits physically, mentally, and emotionally. It's easy to see that as a curse. However, they also keep us moving forward in our lives, accomplishing the tasks necessary to be the people that we need to be for those that depend on us. That makes them a blessing in disguise. Of course, that disguise is so well done, that we hardly ever see it. That is why we seek out the underdog stories. They motivate us to keep pushing forward in the hopes that we, too, will do the impossible. So, you keep pushing your way through that daily grind (as will I), and I'll try to help provide that underdog motivation to keep us going. I figure that combining those two things will go a long way towards making us mighty!

Remember What is Important


I had the pleasure of getting to be there when my best friends became parents recently. I have watched over the last few days as the things that they think are important have changed. It is a great lesson in life as well as a great lesson for writing. Watch my vlog to see why.[youtube]

Keeping on track: Essential Questions

Keeping on track: Essential Questions

How often have you started working on some piece of creative writing with a pretty good idea of what you wanted to say, only to look at the finished product and realize that you haven’t ever gotten around to covering the idea that you intended to?

Why aren't we "tech-ing" our writing


There seems to be something important missing from a lot of books these days. It is the same thing that writers claim is destroying the book industry, and yet they make extensive use of it themselves. Its technology.   This week I ask why aren't you putting tech in your story?[youtube]

For Thanksgiving, dont just ask what, ask how.

It is the holiday season, and it is a common practice to list all of the things that we are thankful for. I have many Facebook friends that list something that they are thankful for every day for the entire month of November. This is a great exercise in making certain that you are aware of the world around you and the blessings that you receive regularly. As great as this is, I wonder if we get the most out of listing the things that we are thankful for. Maybe we shouldn't be worried about what we are thankful for, but instead ask how we should express that thanks.That is not only a greater challenge, but also one that might impact more people and help you as well. It was once said that nearly any man can withstand adversity. To truly see a man's character, give him power. That thought occurs to me when I read the list of things that people are thankful for. It oftentimes shows what has helped them to get through troubles in their lives. Don't misunderstand me. I understand how difficult adversity can be, and it can test you in ways that you never expected. However, if you are making a list of things that you are thankful for, you are probably past that difficult time or able to deal with it. Now that you are past it, how will you use the "power" of being past a tough time? What type of character will you show when realizing that you are thankful for something or someone that helped get you through tough times? I am asking myself this question, so don't think that I am on the other side of the river and expecting you to cross the same bridge that I did. The most obvious idea is to be for someone else the inspiration that someone else was for you. If you are thankful that someone was there to help you through a tough time or to inspire you to get somewhere that you are, do the same for someone else. If you are thankful for the position that you have achieved in life, why not mentor someone to reach the same position. If you are thankful for your family, let them know that every day, even on the days that they may frustrate you. Be a model. Be an inspiration. Be the person that someone else might be thankful for. It is a great thing for us to look at what we have and where we are and recognize those things that we should be thankful for but sometimes overlook. It would be great if we could do that more often. However, what we do with that knowledge can make a big difference not just for us, but also others in this world. Let's not just think of what we are thankful for,, but also how we can be thankful for it. Happy Thanksgiving!

Publication and Rejection


If you are an aspiring writer, there comes a point where you have to put up your "pen" (or your keyboard in most cases) and finally send the work that you poured your heart and soul into so that you can find an agent or a publisher. Once you do, what can you expect? I might not have the most experience in this area, but I figure I can offer a little bit of a preview for what you can do when you receive your reply.[youtube]

How soon is too soon?


How soon is too soon? The tragedies that took place not only in Paris on November 13, but in multiple locations around the world in previous days have shocked the world and brought horror into the lives of many innocent families. My thoughts and prayers go out to the victims of all of these attacks. I hope that no one will feel that it is too soon for me to write this blog. It is my hope that it will help to prevent authors from making the mistake of offending or, even worse, hurting anyone that might have been impacted by these events. Several television programs have been delayed following the terrorist attacks in Paris. I remember many movies being delayed, rewritten, or canceled following the 9/11 attacks. As an author, I have often scoured my writing to make certain that the story doesn't have the potential of upsetting the families of victims of various tragedies. However, as anyone that has watched television or movies lately can attest to, 9/11 is no longer a taboo topic to mention as long as it is done tastefully. I'm sure that writers are also looking at their stories or story ideas and wondering if they are breaching sensitive areas that perhaps they should hold off on approaching. Of course, if you delay, how long is appropriate? Like many questions, I don't believe that there is a good, solid answer. The fact that some people even ask the question is a huge step forward in humane consideration of others feelings. However, there are a few things that I consider useful indicators of when it might be okay for you to write stories that might have some resemblance to a recent tragedy. Watch the news. While the news may not always have its finger on the pulse of the public, it usually can figure out what most people are concerned about. Some things are obvious. For example, if there are still official memorial services taking place, it is way too early to even think about referring to a tragedy. If you still hear "water cooler" conversations about the event, it is too early to make references about it. Look at social media for some trends. You would be surprised how much you can find out about what is on people's minds based on stories that they link to. The final benchmark to look at is if you have to ask about the event still being sensitive at all, then it probably still is. Writers are supposed to offer a glimpse at reality for their readers. Many writers do an amazing and insightful job of that. However, our job is never to reopen fresh wounds. When in doubt, ere on the side of decency. It might take a little excitement out of your story, but you can look at yourself in the mirror and sleep with a clear conscience. Your readers will thank you for it.

Out of the spotlight and back to life.


I want to step away from the world of writing as a subject for the blog this time. In fact, I think that we all need to step away from our departmented worlds for a moment. We need to take time to step away from the world of writing, or of music, or of games, or of sports, or of any of the hundreds of specialized areas that we have cocooned ourselves up in. I think that it is vital that we step away from these things and spend some time back in the regular, good old-fashioned, shared-by-everyone world.When I was a kid I used to watch reruns of the show Laugh In. They used to have a weekly segment called the Fickle Finger of Fate. Well, today's social media, communications technologies, and other forms of interaction have made the Finger of Fate more fickle than ever. Everyone has an opportunity to stand in the spotlight. It doesn't matter what type of activity or hobby or profession that you are a part of, you can find a community now that focuses on it. Once you find that community, that comfort zone, you have the opportunity to stand out. You have the opportunity to have a spotlight on you for something that, just a decade or two ago, may not have received any attention at all. We live in a time where each person truly does have an opportunity to have their fifteen minutes of fame. That is a great thing...when taken in measured doses. Unfortunately, when have humans ever been known for doing things in measured doses? When we find something that we like, want, or enjoy, we indulge, often to excess. The spotlight is addictive. Who doesn't enjoy receiving accolades or appreciation for what they do? Even those that consider themselves to be introverts appreciate being recognized for their accomplishments. I doubt that anyone really grows out of the high school mentality of wanting to be with the "in" crowd. In today's society, you get that opportunity more than ever. I like that. I was never part of the "in" crowd myself (I know that will come as a shock!), but I have had the opportunity to stand in a spotlight once or twice, no matter how small. It is intoxicating. It is a rush. It is an amazing sense of accomplishment that everyone should have the opportunity to experience and enjoy. It is also temporary. This is where things become tough. This is what takes us out of the real world and has many of us isolating ourselves in our more comfortable specialized worlds, trying to stay in that spotlight as long as possible. The thing is, a spotlight is meant to be temporary. We should never be seeking out a permanent state of celebrity. By its very nature, a spotlight makes us think about ourselves. Good. Everyone needs to take care of themselves. Everyone needs to find pride in themselves. A spotlight certainly helps you do that. Unfortunately, if you stay in your spotlight too long, you start to forget that there is a real world outside of your specialized one. You want to stay in your specialized world more and more because the longer you are there, the more obscure you feel in the real world. Dealing with the real world becomes more and more difficult. After a while, some people stop trying to deal with the real world and spend as much time as they can in their specialized world. The world where they are still in the spotlight. The world where they feel like they matter. The trick is to understand that while the "real world" may not shine a spotlight on you as much as your specialized world, you have a much bigger impact on it. No matter what the situation you are living in is, there are people that depend on you. There are people that look up to you. There are people that want your attention not because of some special ability that you have, but because you are who you are. In the real world, you are still in someone's spotlight. It may not seem as bright as the spotlight in your specialized world, but it is the brightest light that they can shine, and it never turns off. Push away from the keyboard. Turn off the game. Stop playing the sport. Whatever it is that you do in your specialized world, step away from it for a minute. Look around. See the world not only by looking at it, but also by seeing how it looks at you. There are always spotlights on you here. Don't try to be your own reality show. Instead, make sure that you're spending enough time in reality. Your world awaits.

Don't be afraid of your image. Or maybe you should be.


The start of the school year brings about a lot of changes for me. I have much less time for blogging, vlogging, writing, critiquing, etc. That time gets taken up by grading, lesson planning, research, preparation, and helping my own child with his homework. Despite this, it can wind up being a remarkably insightful time for me as a writer. My interaction with students and faculty bring me lots of new ideas and concepts for stories, characters, and even life in general. This week had me realize something that I used to think was limited to just teenagers, but I believe that it impacts writers a lot as well: we compromise to protect a certain image.One of the most frustrating thing that a teacher experiences is when we know that a student is intelligent and capable, but they will not take advantage of their abilities. I see this a lot in my creative writing lessons because they are not part of a graded course, so students are less inclined to put forth the effort. I always have a few students that do not want to put the thought into an assignment or answer that they could. They are capable, but they are oftentimes concerned about their reputation. They are afraid that if they show that they can be thoughtful and creative that it might ruin their image of being a class clown or that others might think that they are a nerd. It has held back some great talent, and it is a frustrating trait that I thought might exist only in middle school. I was wrong.

Writers are often writers by hobby more than by profession. This creates a situation very similar to that of middle school students. You have a professional reputation to protect, and knowing that someone might connect your writing with your profession may force you to compromise some of your ideas or plans for your story. I have been guilty of this on many occasions. The question is, should it? In an ideal world, a writer should be able to express their ideas without their art impacting their professional image. Of course, I don't have to tell anyone that we do not live in an ideal world. I am not talking about extreme cases here. I am talking about language used in the writing or perhaps some character traits. So where do you draw the line? Where do you decide that you need to compromise your art in order to protect your professionalism? Should you even consider such a thing? My thoughts on this depend upon your profession. Some professions and employers don't care if you write a book with some foul language and some unsavory characters. There is little connection with your profession and your hobby. In that case, don't compromise if you can avoid it. Other professions have little separation. What you do at any time is seen as a reflection of you as a professional. When that is the case, it is time to compromise, and keep that in mind as you write.

I am certain that several people just said some of those words that I am would recommend avoiding in some people's writing. I'm sure that the word "sellout" is flashing through several people's minds. First of all, I am writing this for amateur authors, not professionals. If you are an amateur, you have to worry about keeping food on the table. Practicality has to rear its ugly head now and again. Secondly, compromising some of your ideas can lead to a better final product. If you force yourself to rethink your approach to your story, you will often come up with some ideas that you wouldn't have even considered before when you were hooked on your original idea. Being forced to compromise can be a bridge to new approaches and a better final product. Life isn't always fair, but that doesn't mean that it can't be fruitful!

Balancing a career and writing


This week I was working on grading some papers when I remembered how challenging it can be to juggle a career that you love and are passionate about as well as writing, which you also love and are passionate about (throw in a family that you love and are passionate about and you start demanding more hours in the day!) So how does one balance these things? How do you make it work out? I can't claim to have all of the answers, but I can point out a thing or two that might help you a bit in this week's vlog.[youtube]

So what about those short story prompts?


Well, a day ago I posted a vlog talking about the usefulness of short stories in helping you get through writer's block. Naturally, plenty of people want to know how they are supposed to write a short story to help get them past their writer's block if they can't think of a basis for a short story. Here are a few prompts for short stories that you can use: Write a story about the first time a character has to mow the yard.

Write a fictional family history about people moving into a house that is empty in your neighborhood.

Write a story based on your favorite song.

Write a story about one day told from the perspective of your pet.

Write a story about a leaf being carried along in a stream.

Write a story about writer's block (I thought up a book idea that way once.)

Write a story about your first crush.

Write a story about the perceptions of Earth by a person from another planet/universe/dimension.

Write a story about five people in a plane that is flying overhead.

Write a story about teaching someone to play cards/poker.

There's ten quick story ideas to help get you started, and those were just off of the top of my head. What about you? Any good story ideas?

Short story ideas and where to get them


In this week's vlog I talk about short stories, why they can be useful, and where to get ideas from. I mention a few ideas and would love to hear some of your own writing prompts. I plan on posting more prompts later this week.[youtube]

When you should add background to your story and how much


Just the other day I was watching a movie with my wife. I thought that the movie had potential, but I kept getting really confused during a good portion of it. Terminology, technology, concepts, and relationships that I didn't understand or had never heard of kept popping up. I was getting lost in trying to figure out some of the minutiae instead of enjoying the storyline of the film. This is a problem that I have begun to see in movies as well as in books. The writers don't seem to want to give any background early in the story. So when should you and how much should you give? There are some times when giving the back-story is part of the story itself. You don't always want to tell everything up front. Instead, you want to have it divided out because it helps to drive the story. That can work out wonderfully. The youth novel Holes wouldn't have been nearly as good if the entire background of the main characters was given in the beginning. It became a driving force in the storyline. If that is how you plan to have your story flow, go right ahead. However, make certain that you are dealing with characters, situations, and terminology that is familiar to the average person. You do not need your reader to get bogged down in trying to figure out what on earth you are talking about because you are using unique terminology. I will admit to having closed books and turned off movies because I wasn't able to figure out what they were talking about. If telling the background isn't a driving force in your story, then I would suggest getting that background out there as soon as possible. Your reader wants to know whose lives they are following or what situation they are watching unfold. Even Star Wars gave enough background to understand that there was a civil war taking place and that the Rebels were desperately trying to find some advantage to use against the much larger and stronger Empire. If you can't learn from Star Wars, who can you learn from?

The next thing that I find useful to point out as part of the background is enough information to educate your reader. A very dangerous trap that I have seen many writers fall into is that they assume that the person reading their book has a similar education to themselves. I'm not talking about college degrees here. I am referring to practical experience that impacts the terminology that you use or the processes that you might choose to not explain because you are so accustomed to them yourself. The safest bet is to never assume that your reader is familiar with what you are talking about. Just because a reader has chosen a military adventure doesn't mean that they know the difference between a carbine and a lmg. Just because someone chooses to read a legal thriller doesn't mean that they know what an indictment is (a large number of people don't). Some writers are concerned that they might make their audience think that they are stupid if they explain everything. If that is your concern, then have an ignorant character. Very often the people involved in different situations have no experience with whatever is going on. Let the character ask the questions that the audience might have. The audience doesn't get lost and you have a new, useful character for your story.

Be imaginative. Create your own stories. Create your own people. Create your own universe. Just remember that your readers, your audience cannot see into your imagination. You have to use your talent for story telling to draw them into your imagination. It's what some of the greatest stories do.

Can a writer learn about life from their characters?


Sometimes the movies and books that we appreciate the most stick out in our minds because of the lessons that we learn from them. Probably the most obvious example comes from Winston Groom in the character of Forrest Gump. Although the character was markedly different between the book and the movie, we all learned lessons from Forrest Gump through his unique view of the world. Everyone can tell you the relationship between life and chocolates. And who doesn't know that stupid is as stupid does? I have to wonder if, while Groom was writing the book, he really thought through each of those lines as a writer, or if Forrest Gump had become a living, breathing person in his mind that saw the world that way. People who don't write probably think that writers are crazy. That's because we writers are a little crazy.  When you start to truly write an in-depth story, the characters aren't just a name that you write down on paper. Their actions, reactions, and point of view should be consistent, as if they were truly there and doing what you are writing down on paper. They should become believable not only to your readers, but to you as the writer as well. Even though they are a creation of your imagination, you should be able to learn from your characters.

I got to experience this in the writing of my novel, Pup. The main character, who goes by the nickname Pup, has a very unique way of looking at the world around him. I started to exercise my creativity with this character by wondering what his reactions would be to various situations that I experienced throughout the day. As time went by, I started to do this without thinking much about it. What resulted (and continues to result) is a series of sayings that I call Pupisms. Some of them are found in the book. Others have shown up on my twitter or Facebook or even on this blog. The funny thing about these Pupisms is that I will sometimes look at them and ask myself "Why don't I see things that way?" For example, one Pupism states that working for someone else's approval is like living on Jello. You'll never feel satisfied. I have to remind myself of that on occasions.

Now, there are probably psychologists out there chomping at the bit to explain how those words are my subconscious trying to lead me in the right direction, etc., etc. I don't care. The lessons come from a character that I created, and I learned a little something from them. If you are writing a story, don't just gauge how those characters might react to the situations in your story. Started thinking of how they might react to situations in your life. Once they start to surprise you, or once you start to learn from them, then you know that you have a real character on your hands that's ready to teach others as well.

How binge watching might help your writing


I know that as a writer I should tell other writers that the only way to help your writing is to read, then write, then repeat the cycle to improve. There is a reason that formula is used so often: it works. However, we are in a changing time with new technologies and possibilities around every corner, so I would like to entertain new concepts that could open your mind to new possibilities. In today's vlog, I point out that the new public fad of binge watching can actually help you to develop your story and characters. It is all about opening your mind to new possibilities and stimuli.[youtube]