Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Quote of the Day

Easter is the only time when it's perfectly safe to put all your eggs in one basket.--Anonymous

Friday, April 15, 2011

Time Management

In my Writer's Circle the other night, we talked about time management.  There are a lot of different tricks and methods out there and you need to find what works best for you.
Part of me thinks I do very well utilizing my time (I have my very own time-turner). Another part of me is frustrated when I have written only two pages by the end of the day. What happened? I started out with such good intentions. There are a few factors that come into play here:
First, what are my priorities? Family, faith, my writing, my job, in that order. That means when the kids or grand kids call or need something, I don't view them as an interruption. They are ALWAYS more important. It also means I have to get my chores done. Growing up, my mom taught me 'chores and responsibilities first, play later'. This doesn't mean that I don't work seriously at my writing--it means that I have to keep my day job for a while.
Second, 'moderation in all things'. There are many tasks related to the writing process. Improving my craft by reading 'how to' books, practicing writing exercises, attending workshops, participating in critique groups, and entering contests. Research before, during and after writing my novel. The trick is to not let research take over and distract me from writing. The prep work; growing my 'what if' ideas, character development, and plot structure. It sounds like this would take a lot of extra time but it saves time in the long run. If I take the time to develop my characters (read How to Write a Damn Good Novel), and structure the plot according to cause and effect, my story almost writes itself. The last task, taking care of business includes answering emails, updating blogs and tweets, helping other writers in critique groups and workshops, following other writers, keeping track of expenses, and submitting query letters. All of these tasks are important to the writing process. I need to do them in moderation and be content with this kind of progress as well. A lot of these tasks accomplish two purposes; updating my blog gives me practice writing prose and hopefully helps another aspiring writer out there, somewhere.
Third, avoid distractions. When I know what I want to say, I can write for hours and forget to eat. Other times I watch the birds outside, or see the mailman, or wonder what my neighbor is up to. Sometimes those kind of distractions are essential to feeding my muse; collecting sensory details of birds singing or collecting characters from among my quirky neighbors. The trick for me is to not let these distractions pull me away from my keyboard.
I think the most helpful advice I could give is simply to enjoy the journey, no matter what point of the journey you happen to be at. I love the opportunity to write. Have a great adventure today!

Thursday, April 14, 2011

Time Saving Crock Pot Dinner

Pull out your crockpot. I use slowcooker liners for quick and easy cleanup later (so worth it).
Place 2-4 chicken breasts on the bottom (they can be frozen, which saves even more time).
Cover with one can of corn, do not drain; one can black beans, drain and rinse; and one 8 oz jar of salsa, any variety. Cook on low for 6-8 hours and the chicken falls apart. It's great to serve with chips or like a burrito in soft, flour tortillas. Add a dollup of sour cream and a handful of shredded cheese before you roll it up. Allow one chicken breast per serving or one chicken breast per two child-sized servings. With dinner done, you can spend more time on your book. Enjoy!

Monday, April 11, 2011

My Blog Picture Treasures

Equal to my love of writing is my passion for history. My blog picture is bits and pieces of my family history. Included are my mother's photo albums, and her handbag that she made; old skeleton keys from my father's army trunk; my grandmother's ledger--she ran a small mercantile in the front half of her house; my grandfather's school books--penmenship, composition book, and a book of Golden Rules (I wonder if they teach that anymore); my grandfather's elementary class picture; a picture of him as a baby held by his mother, and a picture of him as a teenager with his brothers; a grade school reader and school bell that belonged to my great-grandmother who was a school teacher before she married; and a family Bible of my grandmother's family (over 150 years old). I have a wealth of family history treasures. They remind me of a line in a song by The Judds--Guardian Angels. "I might not know where I'm going, but I'm sure where I come from." I owe all that I am, and the freedoms I have to the sacrifices of my 'Guardian Angels'.

Saturday, April 9, 2011

The Best 'How to' Writing Books Out There

This past January I found myself unemployed, so while looking for work I decided to make the best use of my spare time I possibly could. I was all set to sign up for some college writing courses that I couldn't afford. I also decided that attending some writer's groups would be good for me. At one group a writer mentioned how much he enjoyed reading How to Write a Damn Good Novel. I'd heard of that book three years ago, and goodness knows I'd read almost every other 'how to' book out there. I assumed this book would be more of the same.
I couldn't have been more wrong. If there is only one 'how to' book you can afford, it needs to be How to Write a Damn Good Novel, and if you want to go further, How to Write a Damn Good Novel II. I checked these books out of the library, but then decided to buy them for my reference book shelf. I also read How to Write a Damn Good Mystery, and How to Write a Damn Good Thriller, and bought them as well.
The author is James N. Frey. He is one of those seasoned writers totally unspoiled by the profession. He has taught college courses and his books are set up like one of his courses, each chapter a different class. He writes very clearly and supplies abundant examples.  He writes with a wry sense of humor and encourages the reader like he knows the reader personally. I felt like I physically attended his classes. Of course, I took copious notes, because I found in these books exactly the help I needed. I even emailed him with questions and he took the time to return my email that very day.
For the first time in three years I have a clear focus of what I need to do, and it won't come all at once. I still have to practice, practice, practice. So, if you are serious about learning to write, these books are a must!

Friday, April 8, 2011

The Technological Wonder that is the Oreo

The Technological Wonder that is the OREO.
I am always amazed by the ingenuity of some companies who strive to keep their products up to date with fresh marketing gimmicks. Today's technology demands we have the latest apps, the fastest speeds, and the most memory storage possible.
Take, for example, my favorite store-bought cookie, the Oreo. The Oreo was introduced in 1912. It soon became the best-selling cookie in the United States. For over 63 years this cookie out-sold all others with very few changes. In 1975, the Double Stuf Oreos debuted followed by Fudge covered Oreos, Halloween Oreos and Christmas Oreos.
Today, besides the classic Oreo, we can choose from Fat-reduced Oreos, Chocolate Creme Oreos, Peanut butter Oreos, Mint Oreos, the 'UH-OH' (or inside out) Oreos, Golden Oreos, Strawberry Milkshake Oreos; Oreos dipped in Fudge, Fudge Mint, and White Fudge. Besides Halloween and Christmas Oreos we also have Spring and Easter Oreos with blue or yellow frosting. There are Oreo sticks you can dip in frosting, and frosting wrapped inside Oreo Wafer Sticks, and Oreo Sippers--chocolate wafer sticks that you can use as a straw. There are bite-sized Oreos, Golden bite-sized Oreos, Double Stuf, Golden Double Stuf, and Chocolate Creme Double Stuf Oreos. And What about the soft Oreo? The Cakester. There are Chocolate Oreo Cakesters, Golden Oreo Cakesters, and Peanut Butter Oreo Cakesters. Just when I think I've seen every Oreo there is to see, Nabisco came out with the Chocolate Football-shaped Oreo with vanilla frosting. Does the Football-shaped Oreo taste any better than the Classic Oreo? I doubt it. Will it sell more cookies? Probably. I suppose I will need to pour myself a glass of milk and do my own research. Hmmmm--Oreo taste tester. Rough job, but someone has to do it. Here's to you Oreo, in all your forms.
addendum: Since this writing OREO has introduced the double-decker sandwich cookie and a bunch more flavors. Out in stores today is the Birthday cake flavor. I think I must go out and buy some OREOs to celebrate its 100th birthday (6 March 2012).

Thursday, April 7, 2011

Are you an Internet Junkie?

1- Do you become restless and pace the floor when you service goes down?
2- Do you check your cables 10 times over, just in case?
3- Do you look aimlessly for substitute activities?
4- Do you break into a sweat at the thought of having to use the phone instead of email?
5- Do you stuff your face with cookies while you wait patiently for your service to be restored?
6- Do normal friends mock your suffering?
7- Is order and balance restored to your universe when your service returns?

Aahhhhh. See, I can go without the Internet anytime!

Keeping a Writing Journal

As I grow older and more forgetful, I find that I make very little progress unless I make a check list of assignments. By keeping a writing journal I am able to make my list and track my progress. The following list was adapted, for my purposes, from an article by Gregory Martin entitled The Treadmill Journal found in The Writer April 2007:
1. Date
2. Time--this establishes a habit of record keeping
3. How long will you work today? (start with a goal of 10 hours per week)
4. Today's list of assignments
5. How much time was actually spent today
6. Take inventory of your assignment list, evaluate the experience
7. Record your feelings, in general, about writing
8. Goal for the next day and when you will work (this helps you keep your own appointments)

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Homemade Oreos or How to sustain a writer

1 pkg devil's food cake mix
2 eggs
2/3 cup shortening

Mix well. Drop by teaspoonfuls on cookie sheet. I use a melon baller for nice, round shapes. Bake at 350 degress for 9 minutes.

Let cookies cool before frosting. Frost with any flavor ready to spread frosting you like. One tub will frost a double batch. Store in plastic container after the frosting sets up. They are softer the second day and melt in your mouth. These were the hit of the neighborhood. Fattening, but so calorie worthy.

Monday, April 4, 2011

5 Research Tips for Writing that Novel You Always Wanted to Write

I'll admit it--I know very little about real writing. All of the 'how-to' books and online experts I've read stress the importance of 'writing what you know'. That's the problem. I could fill volumes with what I don't know.

Did I let that stop me? For about twenty years I told myself that I couldn't write because I didn't know how to write, or what to write.

Write what you know, but if you don't know. . .research, research, research. Don't let not knowing stand in your way. Do your homework, look it up, find out.

I enjoy researching so much that I have to be careful not to let it be an excuse for putting off the reason for the research--my writing.

Research Tip #1: Is there something you have always wanted to know more about? Make a list. What is it you really want to know? Narrow it down. I love history in general, but I wanted to know more about my great grandmother and her life as a nineteenth century midwife.

Research Tip #2: Write yourself a list of questions about your topic. Be specific. These questions become your research goals.  If you want to write fiction, include 'what if'' questions.

Research Tip #3: Keep an assignment/research log. Write your assignments from your questions/goals list. Log the books or articles you read alongside your assignments to prevent duplication of efforts. Keep a copy of the author and publisher information so you can reference it later in footnotes and bibliographies.

Research Tip #4: Make a list of possible resources. Your local library and the Internet are obvious resources and they can lead to more resources. You can access almost any university library from the Internet. Are there any living experts you could interview? Check out local museums. If you can afford to travel take your camera. Document your pictures as soon as possible. If you can't afford to travel take a virtual tour on the Internet. Collect pictures, maps and satellite images.

Research Tip #5: Find a filing system that works best for you. I've tried several. I wanted to be able to divide my research into categories; 19th century daily life, places, politics, the economy, cultural aspects, etc.

Some authors prefer to fill up legal pads with notes from books or Internet sources. I couldn't turn the pages, I had to flip them over. Big deal? It was for me. I also had a difficult time dividing my information into categories.

Other authors choose to take notes in lab books. The pages are more convenient, but I still could not segregate my research.

Still others like to take notes on index cards. This allows you to keep research categories separate and add information to each category as information becomes available. You can add index tabs to organize and file your research making it easier to retrieve. With this method I wasted a lot of time copying down information I had already printed.

The method that works best for me is a binder. I set up a binder for each project or idea.

May you find the method that works best for you and Happy Researching!