Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Balancing Writing and Life

All men dream: but not equally. Those who dream by night in the dusty recesses of their minds wake in the day to find that it was vanity: but the dreamers of the day are dangerous men, for they may act their dreams with open eyes, to make it possible.
-TE Lawrence

My goals change with what is going on in my life. Over the past year, I have made decisions to help push myself forward with my writing. I am now facing a challenge with juggling that with an upcoming life changing event over the next year After reading Michelle Zink's blog post about her path to publication, I realized more than ever that I needed to do more. I can no longer use excuses and let things get in the way of my dream. I have to find balance or decide what to sacrifice.

Social media has become one of the things that can easily take up my time. I am finding ways to manage it while still remaining active since I am looking at working with local businesses over the next year. I am creating small goals so I can learn more about it while not letting it take over all my spare time. If it does start to do so, I know that I will have to do something different.

I am going to start getting out of the house and going to the local Atomic Coffee, Barnes and Noble, or library to spend some quiet time alone with my writing. I am looking forward to these outings since I haven't done them as intense as I did in college, and it might do me some good. The way to get writing accomplished is to just do it. It requires time and patience--- and lots of dedication.

It is just time for me to push myself a little bit harder over the next few months during the editing and revision process so I can become closer to finishing my novel. I have gone through the first five chapters of my WIP and am enjoying the shape that it is taking. I handed over the pages over to my husband to read while I move forward with the rest of it. I know that he will challenge me if I need it, which is exciting and nerve-wracking at the same time. (How did I find such a wonderful guy?)

There is a short story that I gave to my critique group that I keep adding a bit to that I am completely in love with for some reason. It is so different so we shall see where that leads me.

If anything, I am going to post it here in the future. I am taking a short hiatus from the blog until this my novel edit is complete. I don't want to use this space as a distraction. When I return, I will have book reviews, updates on my process, and my very first book contest!
Keep an eye out for me and feel free to drop a line!


Monday, August 15, 2011

Mystical Horizons: A 21st Century Stonehenge in North Dakota

Before my bed, the moonlight shines,
Could it be the frost, covering the ground?
I raise my head, look at the bright moon,
I set back, and think of my native land.

                             -Li Bai

We took a road trip this past weekend to see my parents. It is long five hour drive through the middle of North Dakota (we drove through the Geographical Center of North America in Rugby) and end up just miles away from the International Peace Gardens. It is a beautiful drive in the summer time, especially right before harvest, with golden fields of wheat, lots of greenery, and varieties of colorful wild flowers. I grew up in a small town in the middle of nowhere, and after miles of driving and relaxing by the lake, it brought back a lot of memories of summer in the country.

My mother and I went to garage sales in the morning and my dad took Joey to buy a new DVD player. When we met up again for lunch at the house, Joey mentioned that he was going to take me somewhere that evening. He wouldn't give me any clues, and I didn't even know what to guess. We spent the rest of the day eating, going out with the paddle boat and pontoon, before eight in the evening rolled around and we were on the road heading somewhere mysterious.

We ended up at a place with a stone sign reading "Mystical Horizons". Since it is lake country, for all I knew, it was another lake addition. We drove up a hill and parked to find stone markers that were placed similarly to those at Stonehenge (which we toured in 2008) where the sun will stream through the stones during the solstices. The plaque that explained this mystifying place to me, told me it was built as a "21st Century Stonehenge". Unlike the real Stonehenge that is surrounded by rolling hills and sheep, this one is placed on the top of one of the Turtle Mountains that overlooks miles of North Dakota prairie and highway. It was a sunny day out, not too hot or too cold, and the sun was high enough for us to wander around to get some pictures and enjoy the last moments of daylight as cows mooed conversations in the distance. We rested on one of the big rocks to watch the sky turn colors, the sun a blazing orange as it sank into the horizon.

Other people showed up to watch the sunset and they pointed out the rising full moon behind us. It was magical seeing the exchange between the two opposites as one rose and one fell. As this happened, coyotes gave out some spine tingling howls that brought back a memory of them scaring me out of my wits while walking to the bus as a kid. This time it just added something special to the moment.

We stayed long enough for the first stars to come out before we headed back to the house to make malts on an old fashioned machine that my great aunt Veronica used at the local Dairy Queen years ago.

It wasn't until today that I realized that one of the main scenes in my book happens during the sunset and moon rise, and at the same time of year. I must remember to thank my dad again for suggesting that Joey should take me.

Just wanted to share this moment and the pictures. There are just those moments in your life where things just click or make sense, and the day that we went to the real Stonehenge and the Tor in Glastonbury was one of those days. It is odd that one of those other days ended up being at this "21st Century Stonehenge" in my home state.

Check out this blog post I found where Jack Olson's son talks about his father's vision of this wonderful site.
If you want to see all our photos, check out my Picasa photo album.
My husband Joey put together a panorama view. Warning: you will need a high end browser to view.


Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Pearls of Wisdom: Laurie Halse Anderson on Daring the Universe

I read through The Official SCBWI Conference Blog to soak up some of the gems from the attendees. One of my favorites was about the keynote address by Laurie Halse Anderson where she quotes T.S Eliot's Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock:

Do I dare disturb the universe? 

She talked about how she believes that art disturbs the universe and artists dare to create. She spoke of her own experience of writing and how it is important to just go out there and walk the path of creativity. She used a quote from Bruce Coville that also stuck out to me:                                  

When you get to the edge of a cliff, jump. If you don’t jump, you’ll never grow wings.

These two thoughts go together so very well. They both talk about how we can shake up our lives by taking risks and challenges that will help us grow as people. It isn't just about getting published, or becoming famous, or signing autographs. It is about finding ourselves and using our creativity to become who we are meant to be, and most of all, to have fun while doing it.


Sunday, August 7, 2011

The Benefits of Amazing Writing Critique Partners

1) Critique partners can see things from a different angle. They can give you that extra edge, tell you when things don't work, or give you a high five for something you didn't realize you even did. For example, I wrote a story and I had somehow combined three senses into one sentence. It just happened, and my partner loved it.

2) They know how to look out for you. They will give it to you straight, but at the same time, they tell you in a way they would want you to tell them. I have found out over time that my descriptions are my strong suit-- most of the time. I need to work on action scenes and words. It might be hard for a partner to give it to you straight, but in the long run, this improved my writing and editing. Before I hand it into them, I heed their previous advice.

3) They can suggest helpful resources. There are tons of books, podcasts, magazines and so forth that assist writers. My group has a discussions about what we have found over the past month from the latest episode of a podcast or our current book reads. If we are confused about punctuation, we pull out the Chicago Manual of Style to decide what we should use in different circumstances. These discussions have helped us decide on what we think of different resources and push ourselves to utilize them. I, for example, use Twitter as an every day to keep up with the latest news while my partners listen to the Writing Excuses podcast. If there is something we really want to share (for example: websites like 750 Words), we send the links to each other via our Yahoo! Group.

4) Insight into different writing processes. Our group consists of "seat of the pants" writers where we have an idea, sit down, and see where it goes. I have a partner outside of the group who has a detailed outline before writing her novels. We each have our own way of bringing out our stories and it is enlightening to find out how we came up with an idea or how it just happened. Editing and revision have become a bigger part of our process than we might have realized before so there are a lot of steps and lessons we have each overcome to develop our stories. Having people in my corner as I have struggled with some of these challenges has given me more strength to keep moving forward.

5) They are one of the best tools to grow as a writer. Have you noticed that all of the points before lead to growth? Critique partners benefit each other by helping improve each other's quality of writing. They are the cheerleaders, the challengers, the teachers, the editors, the wordsmiths, the students, and, of course, friends that we need to get us to where we want to go. 

Here's to the amazing critique partners! Especially my own (Kris, Paul, and Rhiannon!). 

After writing all of this, it makes me wonder if we need Writing Critique Partner Day?

Comic used with permission from Debbie Ridpath Ohi at Inkygirl.com

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

How to Start a Local Writing Critique Group

It was until after college that I realized how important revision and feedback really is when it comes to good writing. I had the impression over the years that with a few tweaks and suggestions, stories were good to go. Boy, did I learn about the revision the hard way.

When writing my first novel, I only had family and friends read my WIP. I was shy of posting my work onlineand was really looking at their reactions. I am thankful for their input, but I needed more to grow as a writer.

After finishing my third WIP, I decided that I needed to find other writers in the community. I write in the science fiction/fantasy/paranormal/horror genre and I knew that the current writer's group in town wouldn't cut it since most writers I come across "don't get it". They read fantasy with different expectations since they are more "literary" writers, and their comments were far from helpful or understanding. I wanted to avoid that atmosphere and searched out for writers who would "get it".

It has been a year since I have put together Stone Circle Writer's Group and I am very happy that I took the initiative to start my own writer's group. At first it was a bumpy road with trying to figure out what to do. How do I find other people? What rules do we want to enforce? How often do we meet? Does it matter that we have different goals? There was a learning curve for the first six months as we dealt with these issues, and after that it has been smooth sailing.

How to Start a Local Writing Critique Group

1) Finding Critique Partners-- It wasn't too hard for me to find people. I volunteer as a con chair for a local science fiction and fantasy convention, Core Con. I was able to throw something up on the Facebook group to ask for local people to contact me. I created a Google Doc submission form so I could easily keep track of willing participants. I wanted the form to reflect their goals and to help determine if we were all on the right page. Another way to find people is to check out Meetup, reaching out to other local related groups (book clubs), or posting it at your local bookstores, cafes, or even the library.

2) Creating Guidelines-- This was one of the hardest things to come up with after a few meetings. We realized after examining our own writing that we didn't want to spend time helping people structure their paragraphs or dialogue. It was important that people came in with those strong writing skills so we could focus on critique than teaching. It was decided if people wanted to join, we needed to read a piece of their writing to determine that they were a good fit. Creating these guidelines was difficult since we didn't want to alienate anyone down the road by destroying their self confidence, but at the same time, we didn't want to hamper our own progress.

3) Expectations-- Developing expectations of the group is no different than when a professor hands out their syllabus at the beginning of the term. It is a way for people to know what they need to do to not just pass the class, but hopefully grow during their time spent there. We determined that attendance and participation is a very important part of being part of a critique group. Since we started, every month we each have handed in a piece of work whether it was new, revised from a previous submission, or from a writing exercise.

Communication is another factor that keeps our group closely knit. We use the Yahoo! Groups to send out reminders, share relevant articles or advice, and post our pieces of work. If we are having a problem, we go to the group and they give their support. Creating writing goals together has really helped us all in finding out what direction we want to take with our own personal goals.

Another form of communication is how we explain to each other what we like and dislike about each other's writing. I had a few forms from college that I custom tailored to point out points such as voice, plot, setting, and so on. As we became more familiar with each other's writing style, we are able to point out "don't use so many this" or "you need a bit more description here". Don't say anything harsh that you wouldn't want to hear. Remain supportive to your team players and don't hesitate to offer suggestions.

4) Critique Submission Guidelines-- One way to keep your work professional is by treating it that way. When we hand in our submissions, we follow manuscript guidelines as we would if we submitted it to an agent or publisher. Also, we need to determine in Yahoo! Groups whose is what so we have to submit with our initials, date, and name of the piece. During various revisisions, this proves helpful to have a backlog posted so a critique member can go back and do a comparison if they choose.

5) Minutes-- I created a Google Site for the group that has all the documents for the previous information above. Our minutes include what we critiqued and the various discussions we undertook that month (sometimes with related links). It is a nice reflection of how far we have come and proof that we are a dedicated group. It gives me a sense of pride looking back over the past year to see how far we have traveled in our writing. The Yahoo! Groups is kept private, so having a website is a good place to direct people to learn more about our writing critique group and to read samples of our work.

The biggest thing to keep in mind when building your group:  It isn't about having the same goals, but having similar passion and commitment towards writing. Not everyone wants to become a published author, but want to explore this as a hobby. Some people want to write every day, while others are Sunday writers. Those are personal goals, but having this as a group goal helps everyone win.

It took me quite a bit of research and input from my amazing critique partners (who this whole endeavor wouldn't have succeeded as it had, so a big thank you!) to come up with these conclusions. I did some research online, but the search didn't provide results I desired. I hope that it you decide to start a group, that these points are helpful on your journey.

I am quite fortunate that I found such committed critique partners and that we have become such good friends. We have come a long way, haven't we?

Be sure to keep an eye out for my blog post on the reflection of the past year and what benefits that I have gained after creating Stone Circle.


Comic used with permission from Debbie Ridpath Ohi at Inkygirl.com

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