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!
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 https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=z3wcvijAXks]
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.
This week I asked my wife if she would talk a little bit about what it is like to be the wife of an amateur writer. We don't often consider what difficulties might be faced by a spouse when the writer is researching or writing or editing or brainstorming, etc. So here is her perspective on things. [youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=G9Pbpr-OJIo]
I've been pretty busy so my blogging, vlogging, and everything other than work and parenting has had to take a back seat for the past few weeks. However, I had the chance to throw together a vlog today and I'm talking about a skill that writers need to develop in order to be a successful writer. That skill is salesmanship. Are any of you good salespeople? How do you do it? I haven't figured out that talent yet, but I know the necessity of it. Any tips?[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6Nc5EGmTh-c]
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.
I have had one unbelievable week. On top of meetings or appointments after work every day this week, neither my wife nor myself have been feeling great. However, most disruptive of all has been the fact that my dog has been ill. It has caused lots of problems, but lots of concern as well. It got me to thinking about a character that is oftentimes not included in stories, and it really should be. The most forgotten character can be the one that makes your main characters have more depth. That is the topic for this week's vlog.[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WR12YuzEN54]
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!
Guess what! "Pup: A Novel of Accidental Heroism" is now an audiobook! I listened to it and have to say that it is a unique experience to hear your story being told in someone else's voice. To top it off, the narrator did a great job. I would love for some of you to experience this story being told with such a great voice, so I've arranged a little giveaway! Promo codes for a free copy of "Pup" on Audible will be given to three lucky winners. You can enter one of two ways. Use the rafflecopter widget below to enter. Best of luck to you!
This weekend my family and I took a short trip to a museum in west Tennessee. Part of the museum includes a tower that allows you to look out over a fairly impressive distance. I've been suffering from sinus problems lately, so my main thoughts while I was in the tower dealt with how dizzy I felt while that high up. Once we returned home, I got the chance to look at the pictures I had taken while up there and appreciate them without equilibrium issues. I loved them. Maybe I'm easily impressed, which is likely, but I looked at these pictures and realized that there is so much there that could be written about. Between the museum's outdoor exhibits and the surrounding landscape, it was a beautiful sight, and I realized how much people have a responsibility to share that beauty with the rest of the world. Some do it through art. Some pass it on one person at a time through their charisma and ability to share experiences. I try to pass on the history and beauty to each class full of students that passes through my room. As writers, we should be sharing it through our prose. Take a look at the pictures, or take a look around you. The world is there, just waiting to be shared with those that might not be standing by your side. Give them something to amaze them. If you can't show them a picture taken through a camera, paint them a picture created by your words. If you are facing some writer's block right now, look around you and ask, "What am I waiting for?"
*Thanks to Discover Park of America for the great experience*
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 https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9ECoYLV14Sw]
This week I put together a vlog asking questions about romance in stories. Ever notice how most stories do have a romantic interest involved? It's like we can't escape it, regardless of what the topic is. So is it necessary? If you are adding a romantic interest into your story, how do you do it correctly? Well, take a look and let me know what you think![youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_0Tk2Dq_vmw]
The school year is just about to begin for my students. Like seems to be the case far too often, there are new requirements for what to teach and how this year. The new requirements call for more reading and a whole lot more writing in all subjects. As a writer you would think that I am happy with this. Well, as a social studies teacher, I certainly am. I think that students can benefit greatly from learning how to write informatively. As a writer, I’m not quite as thrilled. The thing that I’m concerned about, as a writer, is that we aren’t quite teaching the love. I’m going to borrow some lines from Joss Whedon here to make my point. You can know all of the grammar and tools for proving a thesis in the 'verse, but if you don’t have love then writing may shake you right off as surely as the worlds turn. I worry that as the students get older, we are requiring less and less creativity from them. Non-fiction writing is a crucial skill in today’s world, and I don’t think that it should be less emphasized. However, fictional, creative writing seems to be falling away. I fear that we may be taking the love from the writing, and if that’s the case, then writing may become a matter of nothing more than work for future students. Writing will shake us right off from a lack of love.
I am not recommending any kind of change in standards or anything like that, nor is this any kind of complaint against current standards. This is a plea to the teachers, parents, and writers out there. Even if it isn’t in the standards or expectations, we need to make certain and instill some of that love for writing into our children. Many students love to read, but I wonder if any of them realize that it is up to them in the future to provide the stories that the next generation will read. If we don’t try to instill some of that love into the students, then the next generation may not have the gripping stories to mesmerize them that previous generations have enjoyed. I teach some creative writing as an enrichment course. Do I think that everyone in there leaves with a love of writing? Absolutely not! But if I can get three or four students a year to gain an appreciation for writing and maybe help foster a talent they have for it, then I feel that I have accomplished what I set out to do.
We certainly need to teach our students how to write and explain things with informative texts. It is a skill that they need to learn. But to my fellow teachers, parents, and writers out there, try to find the opportunity to instill a love for writing whenever you can. That is something that many of the children want to learn. That’s important for their futures, too.
This week I look at time periods. Are they important? Is there anything that you should know if you are trying to set things into a different time period? Future, past, or present? When do you like to set your writing? [youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mwa2HyIvevU]
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?
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 https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jUFUnLbV2yg]
I'm sure that many of you have thought about why it is that you like to write in whatever form that you write in. Of course, you have to ask yourself if it is a good reason. Obviously no one else can judge that but you, but can you say that your reason helps your writing? Does it add a passion, a heart to what you are doing? Sure, most of us had our first experience with writing as a result of a school assignment, and doing the writing as an assignment isn't always going to produce your best work, but when you write voluntarily, what is motivating you? That is the question that I ask on this weeks vlog. Take a look![youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1gFn9hr3BDA]
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.
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.
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 https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Ev3opezTXLY]