Sunday, April 12, 2015

The Impact of a Mentor

In the Creative Arts, having an amazing mentor can make all the difference in the world. Whether it be writing, dance, graphic design, film production, or music. The greatest mentors are on call twenty-four seven. They return text messages in the middle of the night, provide a guiding hand over the years to help us make the wisest decisions, and have a passion for their art that touches us in such a way, that we can only hope to one day pass that same gift onto someone else.

In my first official year of full-time writing, I was lucky to have my work critiqued by an amazing author who recognized something special in my words. She gave me the confidence to follow my heart and share my stories with others.  I can only dream where I might be today if my path had crossed with hers or another who took an interest in my words when I was younger. So you can image how thrilled I was when my eldest son, Zakaria, met his mentor early in life.

I am fortunate to have the Osceola County School of the Arts  in my county and was ecstatic when Zakaria got accepted into their program. It's renowned for its excellence in academics and for nourishing the creative arts. The only worry I had is that my then sixth grader would be attending the same school as juniors and seniors. I quickly found out how foolish I was for being concerned. Anytime I was at the school, these students were by far the nicest group of kids I'd run into. So when Zakaria asked to take guitar lessons from an older student, I agreed. But never did I foresee the transformation that was to follow. 

Over the next few months, my son went from listening to Top 40 Pop to American Jazz Greats like Charlie Parker, Wynton Marsalis, Charlie Christian, and Louis Armstrong. He'd shed morning, noon, and night. You see he'd met his mentor, James Zito, and a new life path--one that without James he probably would never have taken--was formed. 

Zakaria and James playing downtown

When I first watched James play, I immediately understood why my son fell in love with jazz. His mentor didn't just play the guitar, he became an extension of it. Think spontaneous conviction spurred by passion, channeled through self-expression and then translated into music. Yep, that about describes James' playing. My son was very lucky to find such a talented teacher, but was blessed when that teacher became his mentor.

James' talent has not went unrecognized. Recently, he was accepted into the Manhattan School of Music. A premier international conservatory, this college is only for the highly talented. Check out the GoFundMe link to learn more about James and to hear him play. Even if you are unable to donate, please RT on Twitter and spread the word. You never know whose path that tweet might cross.

Monday, April 6, 2015

How to LOVE critiques

First things first -- I LOVE my critique partners. They are awesomeness incarnate. They trudge through my WIPs with smiley faces, great suggestions, and most of all with a red pen!

SO if you're struggling to understand someone's red ink or comments, here's how I learned to appreciate critiques.

1. Realize you are receiving someone else's opinion.

A great quote to go along with that -- "No two persons ever read the same book." ~ Edmond Wilson. This might seem difficult, but really, it isn't. Take everything with a grain of salt or sugar! You are not required to follow everyone's advice. The story you're writing is, above all else, yours! That said, if three CPs say the same thing, it might need changing. :)

2. If you don't understand a comment, ask!

Don't be shy to chat with your CPs. They want to explain their suggestions, I promise. If something is making you scratch your head, send an email or call them up. Or if you're in a group with time limitations, ask if you can talk to them after all the critiques are finished.

3. Take a deep breath and realize you don't know everything.

This goes for everyone! Even if you've written three thousand books, you can still learn something new. Humility wins out over pride every time. Take a break from your WIP, whether it be a nap or a good night's sleep (or a month or two!) and look at it with fresh eyes. Then you might see what others are saying.

4. Be willing to revise. Or not...

I think all writers understand that we can revise and rewrite a story to death. And sometimes over-revising kills voice and originality.

5. Say, "Thank you!"

With or without the exclamation point. :) Saying thanks is not only good for you, but lets your CPs know that you truly appreciate the time they spent reading and critiquing your words.

6. Pay it forward.

Do your best when critiquing the words of others. And remember to sandwich! Compliment-> sage advice-> smiley face.

As always, thanks for reading! We love hearing from you! Share your wonderful ideas on critique partners or horror stories. :)

Monday, March 30, 2015

What's Your Excuse

Happy Monday, guys and gals! I'm going to chat with you about something that you very well may already be familiar with, but I wanted to throw it out there for those of you who may be new to the writing community or maybe just new to podcasts in general.

If you write genre fiction, especially sci fi and/or fantasy, then you probably already listen to the Writing Excuses podcast. Buuuuuut on the off chance that you haven't had the pleasure, you should seriously think about checking it out.

It's a once a week, 15 min long (give or take) podcast about writing, and it's run by some really cool folks, namely Mary Robinette Kowal, Brandon Sanderson, Dan Wells, and Howard Tayler. Maybe you've heard of them?? The podcast is fun, informative, full of fabulous guest authors, and it's short, so you're not wading through 45 mins of off topic banter before getting to the good stuff.

Season 10 began in January and, taken from the shows transcript: "Each month will focus on a specific bit of the writing process, and each podcast will drill down on one of those bits."

I've enjoyed following along so far this year! And even though it's nearly April, the back episodes, plus all 9 previous seasons are available for your listening pleasure via the archives on their website.

Right now, they're digging into story structure, which is a topic I'm always fascinated by. I really enjoyed today's episode, and I thought maybe you would too.

So if you want to check it out, here's the link:

Happy Listening!

Monday, March 2, 2015

Three Basics to Setting

As storytellers we want to ground our readers in the setting of our story. Setting is a necessary tool to help our readers relate with our characters. It can also increase suspense of conflict.

1. Always give a location.
Is your story in a room? Which one? A bedroom and a living room are vastly different. Make sure to mention the city, state, or general area. In fantasy, describe the landscape or lack thereof to familiarize the reader.

2. Seasons and weather can increase your reader's association with the story.
Weather allows the reader to experience the sensations your character is feelings in whatever setting you have placed them. We can all relate to rain and cold or a sunny day and heat. A little extra description of the temperature or season can go a long way. Season can also show your story's time length.

3. Time is important!
All people associate time with their own lives. We all feel different at different times of the day. Time can show your character is a morning person or a night owl. Hunger at breakfast, lunch, and dinner are also ways to bring an extra layer of believability to your character.

The ticking time bomb approach can also build conflict and suspense in a story. For instance if a bomb is going off in 24 hours, you've got a new challenge for every hour.

So check out your manuscript and make sure you have offered a location, time, and described the weather surrounding your character's story. We all experience these aspects of life at all times and it is important for your reader to associate these within your story world.

How have you used setting to increase the reliability in your story? Any struggles in building a realistic fantasy world? We love to hear from you!

Monday, February 16, 2015

The Comparison Game (Spoiler Alert: No One Wins)

So. A couple weeks ago, I was chatting with someone on Twitter about how easy it is to get swept away in the comparison game. You see amazing things happening to other writers—heck, to your friends—and sometimes, all you can think is, “Why not me? I'M DOING MY BEST, HERE."
Look, I get it. I know what it’s like when your story more closely resembles a 1,000-piece puzzle that just spilled onto the floor (and a piece has disappeared under the couch, and your dog has eaten a piece, and your kid swiped a couple…), and then you read someone’s post on how they wrote a book in two weeks. I know what it’s like to feel completely lost and wonder whether or not you should keep writing or hop on the next bus to join the circus, and then you wake up to someone’s 6-figure book deal announcement.
But here’s the thing: Comparing yourself to others can be a dangerous game. It hinders your work. It stunts your growth. Because in this crazy writerly world, there are so many different paths to get where you need to go. The path set out for you may not even be on another person’s map. That person who wrote a book in two weeks? Sometimes a story simply pours out of you. Or maybe that person is a pro at fast-drafting and this is their method. And the one who got big bucks for their book? There's no telling how long, or how hard they worked on that book. While it may look like these things happen overnight, they don't. I know it's difficult to see that when you're trudging through the mud of a difficult story (believe me, I KNOW), but they just don't.

It’s been said time and time again, but I’ll say once more, with feeling: Eyes on your own paper. If that means taking a Twitter break, do it. If that means cancelling your Publisher’s Marketplace account, do it. My motto lately has been “head down and WORK,” and let me tell you, it’s been a sanity-saver. I love when great things happen for even greater people. And when I take regular breaks and focus on my own work, I find that I'm able to be even happier for them. Sure, jealousy may flare once in a while - we're only human. But it's possible to turn that into motivation to work harder on my own stories.

There's no way to win the comparison game. When you compare yourself to others, you take away from the amazingness that you have to offer. No one can write the book you’re writing. So don’t shortchange yourself, ‘kay?

Tuesday, February 3, 2015

Is It Done Yet?

Why is overediting not recognized by MSWord? Does that mean it's like drinking water, eating vegetables, and walking--it's pretty dang impossible to do too much of these things?

My second manuscript got some early attention from some very kind persons in the agenting and publishing world. They only saw ten pages mind you. But something about my words sparked their interest. The novel wasn't completed yet, so I was encouraged to take my time and send it to them when it was ready.

Well, once I typed The End, I sent the novel off to my Beta Readers and went over it line, by line, by line...  I made sure it was grammatically and mechanically shiny. I took all the feedback I received and implemented it. Without question. I even cleaned those first ten pages because, hey, even though they were liked, surely they weren't pretty enough.

I never heard from the publisher, but the amazing agent (who had it in her heart to look at the full on two different occasions from me) nicely told me that somewhere in all those edits, I quit trusting my character's voice. I had to separate myself from the book for several months. Then, I took out the ten pages I initially wrote and compared them to those edited pages. They were as if they were written by another person. I'd turned my snarky teen and her slightly uptight boyfriend into a butterfly and a marshmallow.

As I pound away at my work in progress, I try to implement the things I've learned through trial and error on my other manuscripts.  Now that I'm older and, hopefully, slightly wiser, I will edit, edit, edit... but I'll also remember why I wrote something a certain way to begin with.  

photo credit: Proofreading marks example via photopin (license)

Monday, January 26, 2015

You Got This

There are times, I believe, that we all think, "Why am I doing this?"

Besides the fact that I love to write stories, writing isn't always fun storytelling and creating. It's rewriting, revising, and killing your darlings. It's going back after rewriting the entire novel four times and rewriting it again because it's not good enough yet.

Recently, I received some rejections on my first YA fantasy. I was bummed so I shelved it until I can get a fresh perspective. I switched gears and have honed my focus on last year's NaNo novel. BUT. Doubtful feelings still creep up when I read a spectacular book. I think, "I can never write a book this good." And I'm probably right.

I couldn't have written that beautiful book because someone else already did.

My writing won't be the same as anyone else's. It will be mine.

This weekend I went to one of my family's favorite parks and saw something new. Something that encouraged me to stick with what I love. To never give up. To keep pressing the boundaries of words and stories.

A wonderful, creative Canadian sculptor, Eric Lapointe is featured right here in Texas! These are a couple of the sculptures featured on the park trails near my house. Super cool, right?

It's a... 

My son getting a glimpse of...
Neuschwanstein Castle!

This was such a lovely treat for me and my kids. When I got home, I googled Eric and truly enjoyed his artistic profession quote:

"Through my work, I rebel against the evidence that clouds our ability to question our habits. I try to give things perspective, to take my subjects out of their ordinary aspect in order to reveal their hidden reality."

So be encouraged writer of tales and artist of words! Look beyond your current perspective like so many other writers have in our past and press on! 

You got this.

Please share your thoughts with us! Have you sunk low after a rejection? How did you cope? What has encouraged you to keep on writing?