Beth Hautala

Children's Author

 

Counting Down . . . Time for Giveaways!

So, I promised a little more activity here at WritingWordByWord, and you may consider this the start of it! 

January 22, 2015 (three months away!), WAITING FOR UNICORNS will skip into your nearest bookstore and cautiously slide onto a shelf. But until then, I thought it might be appropriate to send a few copies out into the world. Are you interested in reading one? Cuz I have a few I'd like to give away!
Here's the scoop:
Every week from now until Jan 22, I'll be posting a question in relation to the book (and no, you don't need to have read the book in order to answer!) Like any good storyteller, simply answer the question from your own experience and leave your answer in the comments section. At the end of the week I'll give away three signed galley copies of the book to those who participated. Easy peasy lemon squeezy!

Ready?
Here we go!

Question #1)

WAITING FOR UNICORNS opens with the protagonist of the story, Talia McQuin, moving away from home for the summer. It's not a move she wants to make, even for a short period of time. Have you ever had to make a move (physical or otherwise) to a place you didn't want to go, or a place you knew nothing about?
 

* You have until Sunday, Oct 26 to answer and be entered for a chance to win one of three signed copies of Waiting For Unicorns!

Happening Kinds of Things . . .

So updates around here have been a sparse as of late.
Partly due to this:
 

And these:

And also him:


They are my four very favorite things.
(But their daddy [not pictured] is my most favorite).

The littlest of my tribe arrived late May, so this summer has been almost entirely about surviving and learning how to do life with four. And let me tell you—what a beautiful chaos I've stumbled into! 

And while we are on the topic of beautiful chaos and favorite things, this also happened this summer:

It got a cover! And an ISBN number! And now it's beginning to receive the most lovely reviews! Four months and counting. January 22, 2015 this "fifth baby" of mine will arrive, and I'm so excited to share it with you!

As UNICORNS approaches release day, I'll be posting more frequently here. There may even be a give-away or two . . . I'll keep you updated.

In the mean time, if you want to know what might be going on by way of events, book signings, reviews, and blog tours, I'll be posting that info here and also in a couple of other places:
Twitter (http://twitter.com/BethHautala) 
My Facebook author page (http://www.facebook.com/BethAHautala)
Goodreads (http://www.goodreads.com/BHautala).

Thanks for stopping by!

World Read Aloud Day—What are you reading?

Today is World Read Aloud Day—part of an effort to raise literacy awareness for children across the globe, and at my house, it's one more excuse to sit down and read something!

So, just for kicks, here's a few of my favorite read-alouds for kids. And this is BY NO MEANS a very complete list. But I had to keep this post to a reasonable length!

So you tell me, what are your favorite read-alouds? I'd love to have a few to add to my list!

Never Too Busy

I'm home today with two sick little girls, my son is off to school, and I can count on one hand the hours of sleep I've had in the last 24. My laundry is piled as tall as my head, and I have no idea what I'm going to feed anyone for dinner tonight. And yet, here I am, pounding out words. Because for some strange reason, this act of forming words and setting them against a page feels necessary.

The above list is no more dramatic than any one else's list. "Busy" is the most common (and accurate) response to a question regarding wellbeing. And so, just to be clear, I didn't lay all that out there to earn bragging rights for the day. Hardly. Rather, to throw a word of encouragement into the void.

Because despite 'the list,' I'm writing. —This blog post, and later revisions on my book. Why? We fill our hours and our hearts with the things we love. 

I can't tell you the number of times I look back and want to yell at my younger self for all of the leisurely hours I frittered away when I could have been writing. And yet, if I had those hours back again, I'd probably waste a good number of them. Because at the time, they seemed endless. And we only value that which we have little of.

I value the stash of dark chocolate hidden tucked in the back of my cupboard. I value the last drops of a carmel latte. I value the hours my baby sleeps over the course of the night. I value uninterrupted conversations I have with my husband. I value my kids' attention spans during story time. And I value time to write.

This new year I made a point of avoiding resolutions, but I did commit to making better use of my time. And I have already seen the benefits of rearranging some of my priorities. You can't multiply time, unfortunately. But you can re-order it. And for me, this means I'm never too busy to write.

What do you value? I'd love to hear how you make room for the things (and people) you care about! Have you reorganized? Prioritized? Restructured your life in any way this year? Fill me in!

Afraid Of A Good Read


Sometimes I'm afraid to read. This is a staggering realization, considering the line of work I'm in.

I don't mean I'm afraid of the process, or the story, really.
Rather, I'm afraid of its effect on my heart.
And yet, this is why I pull books from shelves, inviting them into my life in the first place.
Books change you. At least, the truly good ones do.

Good books twist and tear at parts of me I've forgotten about entirely. They leave my convictions and suppositions, my established sets of ideas and clarified ways of thinking in shambles. I fall in and out of love with characters. I'm left exhausted by plot turns and twists. Beginnings capture my imagination and endings break my heart. —Not because they are sad (though sometimes they are), but because the whole wonderful messy, glorious, satisfying thing is over.

Books are like little lives in and of themselves—we alternately breathe afresh and then expire between preface and epilogue. And this both thrills and frightens me. Story is a powerful thing.

I recently told a friend, "I never stop reading a book because it bothers me or because I disagree with what the characters are doing. I always finish the book, though I've thrown books away for those reasons. The only reason I ever stop reading, is because the book fails to capture my heart."

Good books are the most safe and the most dangerous place you can enter. You can close the last page and resume life, but if the author did his/her job, then you can not walk away unchanged. And change can be a frightening thing. 

I've read two dozen books this past year. Not nearly as many as I'd like, but considering the small amount of time I have to my name, it's a reasonable number. And while only a couple of those books grabbed me and have yet to let go, all of them left fingerprints on my heart. And I love that.

Tell me, what have you read this year, and has it left you changed? What elements of a story capture your heart?

Being Creative in the Everyday

Sometimes I make creativity a rather involved, over-ambitious thing. I forget it can be as simple as an old newspaper and a Sharpie. Black-out poetry is one of my favorite ways to jump-start my word-walled brain. Sometimes re-ordering a few words goes a long way in the war against writer's block. 


How about you? Trying any new creative work or methods? I'd love to hear about them! 

On Dissonance and Sunrise

Writing is a way to process externally, I think. To sort and sift, weigh and wrestle, and sometimes to alter outcomes. I write as I want the world to be. As I want me to be. I want a better beginning, a better middle than the one reality often offers. I want a better end.

The human heart craves answers. 

This shouldn't come as a shock, but somehow it felt profound to me this week. 
We long for resolution in all things.

In music, our ears beg for harmony. Please, never hang me on a diminished chord! It's too ambiguous. Eerie. Unsatisfied. Tonal instability—dissonance—leaves me standing on tiptoe waiting for that final note. 

In stories I look for the same thing. For arc—beginning, middle, end. I search for repeated themes that gain meaning as I approach the final chapter. I delight in character growth and change. I am unbelievably satisfied when the author ties up every last lose end.

Every effect has a cause.
A struck match. 
A lightbulb moment. 
Ah-Ha!
Just reading those phrases makes something inside of me nod. I understand this. I get it. I need this. 

We all do.

And so when it doesn't happen, I'm left on that proverbial cliff, hanging over the edge by my fingernails. Sometimes I manage to scrape and scrabble back up over the edge, and I lay there, panting and exhausted. Other times I lose my grip and fall. That endless fall of nightmares.

I don't recall ever learning these things. But I must have, somewhere along the way. Because tucked inside me—in that stretch of space between head and heart—I know darkness comes before the dawn. I know if I wait long enough, I'll see the sun rise. 

The world doesn't need one more commentary, one more blog post, one more rant about the most recent cause of our nation's shock and grief. My words—thrown into the ever-growing jumbled pile, are no more useful than an inadequate condolence from the lips of a stranger. I don't have answers to the whys, and grief doesn't respond to reason anyway. Nor rage. In fact, grief doesn't respond at all. For a time, it just is.

All I know, is that I can't tell the sun to paint the sunrise with only colors of my choosing. I don't get to tilt the earth and change the designated hour it crests the horizon. I can't restrict the length, breadth, and reach of shadows. But I can refuse to stand in them. And when they touch me anyway, I can turn my face, my heart, my whole self to the Light at that break of day.

"But this I call to mind and therefore I have hope: The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases, His mercy is new every morning; great is Your faithfulness. 'The Lord is my portion,' says my soul, 'therefore I will hope in Him." 
—Lamentations 3:21-24 

In Submission No More!!!

This post will go down in history as one of my favorites.

It is with great excitement and deep humility that I share some long-anticipated news. My book sold, and to a marvelous house—Dutton Children's Books/Penguin Group. I AM GOING TO BE PUBLISHED! I feel like I need to repeat that a few times, but I'll refrain and share the story of recent developments instead.

The journey toward this exciting announcement actually began a long time ago. A long, long time ago. Forgive me while I get historic for a moment. . . 

I remember the­­­ exact moment I realized that letters, when strung together, create words.

I was in second grade and I couldn’t read. The school district responsible for my education was trying something new—sight recognition in the elementary reading program. Phonics were out, memorization was in. For me, this meant a slow and painful death.

My mom taught me to read, and for that I owe her everything. Together we would sit on the couch, or lay stretched out on the floor and we would work on letter combinations, vowel sounds, and basic word construction. It was hard. My brain just didn’t want to hang onto anything.

But my mom is made of determination, and I can still see the look on her face when the moment arrived. There were tears and laughter and clapping, and I knew they were for me. 
In my head, a line of random letters had ordered themselves, stood up a little straighter, squared their shoulders, and became words. I saw it happen, and overnight I went from halting my way through “the cat sat,” to Black Beauty, Anne of Green Gables, Pollyanna, Little Women, The Secret Garden, and pretty much anything else I could get my hands on. 
I was a pretty good kid, but when I really messed up, my Friday night reading privileges were taken away, and I would go to bed soul sick and repentant.

I was eight when I wrote my first book. I don’t even recall what it was about—probably because at the time, the story itself didn’t seem as important as the number of pages I could fill. And I’ve been working my way through those pages ever since.

The first time I saw my name in print left me breathless, and like an addict, that satisfaction, the feeling of validation kept me filling pages. But the highest and most unattainable goal remained unreachable. I wanted to see my name on the cover of a book. I wanted to share real stories with people who took the time to read through pages and pages of strung-together letters. And I wanted those letters to come from me. 

But like learning to read, learning to write a book, find an agent, revise (revise-revise-revise-revise), and then find a publisher, is a lot harder than I imagined. Even writing the thing—writing an honest story that you pray desperately will last—is harder than I imagined. I wrote three books (novel length stories that I praise God will never see the light of day) before I finally stumbled on the story that pulled me into the kind and capable hands of my agent. Rejection after rejection after rejection had gone a long way in chipping at my hope. I wasn’t quiet bitter, but part of me was broken. So when I listened to Danielle praise my little story—beaming and glowing over the phone—I didn’t quite believe her. She liked it? Really? She wanted to represent it? For real?

She did. For real. And she spent a considerable amount of time walking me through the process of revisions and cheering as we waited expectantly for an editor to claim the finished manuscript.

 And today, it is with shining eyes and a heart overflowing with thanks, that I can finally share my news: I’m going to be an author.

Those six words have been on repeat in my mind for the last few days, and setting them against the page is truly one of the most satisfying things I’ve ever done. There was a time when I was utterly convinced—completely certain—this moment would never arrive. Not ever. And that it would be in my best interest to let the dream die and move on. And there were periods of time where I tried to do just that. But they were short lived, because no matter how painful the rejection, I had watched letters string themselves into words that day I learned to read. And they have never stopped marching on ahead of me, pointing my heart in the right direction. 

But I’m not going to shout this from any rooftops and I’m not going to toot any horns on my own behalf. I’m just going to stand here in the quiet corner of my blog, hold this gift, and repeatedly whisper my thanks. —Because that’s exactly what this is. A gift—a blessing given to me by hands of grace—in the form of reading lessons, rejection letters, and the belief of people who took the time to read my scribbling.

Because of these I know letters strung together create words, and words strung together create stories, and stories strung together create books. Real, live, to-be-published books. 
And at least one will have my name on it.

Thank you for sharing this journey with me! Many of you reading this right now have been an immense source of encouragement and support, and for that I am forever grateful!

What Do You Read and How to Do You Read It?

A friend of mine recently allowed me the privilege of perusing a literature curriculum she is planning to teach her son this fall, and I have to say, it made me itch to go back to school. This happens to me every year. Call me crazy, but I have always loved learning, and if I can do it through the pages of a book, all the better. Plus, new school supplies have always had their own special pull on my heart.

As an adult, my favorite books are the ones that teach me something. One could argue that all books teach you something, which is true. But some do a better job than others . . . And then of course, how you read makes a difference as well.

I've always been a fast reader. My brain makes up for the motion my body can never quite manage to achieve. (I hate treadmills). But there's a downside to being able to read a 200+ page book in an afternoon. Just like wolfing down an amazing meal, while you get the gist of what you consumed—the unique flavors, the nuances of combined herbs, the textures built to interest your pallet—the complexity of these are missed. And the same is true of consuming a book.  

Reading can be a form of entertainment. And as any writer knows, writing a book is often done with an audience in mind—even if that audience exists exclusively in the author's imagination. And as a form of entertainment, it's meant to be enjoyed. But you can argue that it is difficult to fully enjoy something when significant aspects are missed.

And so, while I continue to devour books at a break neck pace, I have a self-imposed read-twice rule. —The first read for the pleasure of wolfing down a fabulous story, and the second read for intimate attention to detail, twist of phrase, and story arc.

Which brings me back to the curriculum my friend is using. It's a literature curriculum designed to teach the student to read. Not in the basic sense, stringing letters together, but in the comprehensive sense. It asks the question, What is this story truly about and what was the author trying to communicate? What subtle details, nuances, foreshadowing, twists of phrase tell you something deeper about the story that a sweeping read might miss?

I'm thinking it might be time to go back to school, starting here. (And not just for the books. Those school supplies are still oh so attractive).

So you tell me, what and how do you read? Does it make a difference in the amount or quality of information you consume? Do you have any self-imposed reading rules? I'd love to hear about it!

Back into the void . . .

So after a bit of a revisioning-hiaitius for WritingWordByWord, we are back and live!
Thanks to everyone for your patience and support! It's always great to receive good feedback and comments even when the very site being visited is somewhat—er—inactive

On that note, allow me to throw a question into the vast space of the online world:

As a writer, how much room do you allot for your writing life—and would you say it's ok, or not, for writers (and bloggers) to take a break?

A year ago I would have (and DID) answer this question quiet differently than I would answer it now. Obviously, when you leave a garden untended, (or a blog/forum) some of the plants take over while others wither away. And yet, room is always made for the growth of something new . . .

So you tell me, as a writer or blogger (or both) do you find it difficult to balance life and your craft? Have you ever abandoned both for a time? And how important is an "online presence?" 

And Now to Begin (and begin and begin again)

I love beginnings. When I'm working on a story, they are my favorite parts. Everything is fresh and new, the ideas are rampant, keeping me up at night, and I know where the story is going. In the beginning I can see

This generally continues for the first third of whatever project I'm working on. I have lots of great first-thirds lying around. Not unpredictably, this seems to be a trend for me in a great many things—not just writing, so at least it's nice to know I'm consistent. 

However.

No book is ever finished this way. And I am realizing that it's not the process of finishing I struggle with, instead it's a fear of stagnancy. Staleness. The trite. And so I avoid even the mere possibility of this when the ideas cease to keep me up at night. —When my characters quiet down. —When writing becomes work

So, I'm setting out to try something new this year.

My current WIP is about half-way written (further than a third!!!) but for the sake of its completion, I've decided to pretend it's only one-third complete. The First Part. And today I get to begin again. Not somewhere in the middle with characters that are getting weary of one another, but at the beginning of Part Two, having the benefit of knowing my characters (or at least being pretty familiar with them) and their tendencies. The plot may be a wee-bit fuzzy in places, but I believe in this project, and I know the details will sort themselves out. And then in a few thousand more words, I'll complete the arc of Part Two and begin again at Part Three. Whether or not I actually keep the "parts" in the finished project is debatable. For now they are merely a tool to help me process through the story—a key to help me keep opening doors. I'm all about using tools.

So you tell me, what writing goals have you set (or reset) for yourself this year? Are you shifting perspectives, changing tactics, or simply keeping on keeping on? What tools are you using to help you do so? Plotting a story? This editorial and plot checklist tool is one of my favorites. I've used it to plot the entirety of my current WIP and I'll be using it again to plot out its parts. Have any useful tips, tricks, or tools you care to share? I'd love to hear about them!

Leaning In

I've always loved the idea that all of life's experiences are fodder for a writer's fire. Because essentially, this implies that the older I get, the better my writing will become. *plucks a grey hair* (Hey, a girl can hope, right?)

There is something to be said for having lived, truly lived, through something. It lends a certain credibility to writing that a mere sympathizer could never have.

Developing the main action in a plot hinges on this very thing. Conflict, mystery, and lack are the three primary aspects of action in the plot of any story. Sometimes a story focuses on only one—sometimes all three, but these are the things that ultimately drive a protagonist to greatness, or conversely, to failure. 

And, not surprisingly, these are the things that drive a writer to the same.
Wouldn't it be fantastic if we grew (in the emotional/spiritual/inward-strength sense) primarily through success and gain? —Through the accumulation of much and the affirmation of all? —Only the good, never the bad? Unfortunately, this never makes for a very strong character—on or off the page.

Someone told me once to lean into my experiences—all of them. "Don't waste either your pain or your joy," she said. The beautiful and the ugly alike lay a foundation for every aspect of my life. Leaning into both provides strength to meet the future and whatever it holds with perseverance and joy (and joy is different than happiness, you know).

Nothing catastrophic has happened in my life recently to spur this train of thought, and I'm thankful for that. But I'm not so foolish to think that nothing trying will ever traipse through my days. I know it will, and that isn't me being overly pessimistic. It's just me being prepared. Leaning in. The foundations I lay now will make me a better writer. But more importantly, they will make me a stronger protagonist in my own life story.

How about you, what do you think? Agree? Disagree? How are you leaning in, on and off the page? I'd love to hear your thoughts!

Grammar Tip

Throughout my elementary and high school years, the value of good grammar was repetatively drilled into my brain. I can't spell to save my life, but generally speaking, I can weave my way around the labyrinth of English grammar.

That said, a tip for the day: Their vs There vs They're.

The three versions of this word dive me to a special level of insanity. So here is the quick and dirty rundown on proper usage.

Use their to show possession, commonly followed by a noun. Usually, if you can replace their with our in the same sentence, and it still makes sense, then you are using it correctly.
Example: "Their new house is enormous!"

Use there to refer to a physical or abstract place. Usually, if you can replace there with here in the same sentence, and it still makes sense, then you are using it correctly. 
Example: "Let's go there today."

Use they're as a contraction for they are. Usually, if you can replace they're with they are in the same sentence, and it still makes sense, then you are using it correctly.
Example: "They're the nicest couple!"

And there you have it!

You tell me: Do you have any favorite grammar tips to share or any grammar points you would love to have clarified? 

Working

I often hear writers say they feel so unproductive if they haven't set words to paper/screen on any given day. —That somehow the day is lost without that activity marking some measure of writerly success. Certainly little is actually written unless it's set down in sentences and turns of phrase, but just because words don't necessarily make it to the page doesn't mean that a writer isn't busy at work.

I work quite a bit on long car rides, even when I'm the one behind the wheel.

Don't get me wrong, I've not actually got my laptop propped on the dashboard, but I do keep a little notebook in the center console. It's full of cryptic notes I can barely decipher—single scribbled words that slant across the page.

The real writing happens in my head. Scene sketches, imagined conversations, character development, and every once in a while I get some major plot points worked out. And whether or not it all ends up written out at the end of the day doesn't discredit the fact that I accomplished some serious work.

It was Rudolph Erich Rascoe who said, tongue in cheek, "What no wife of a writer (or husband in my case) can understand, is that a writer is working when he's staring out the window."

Quite frankly, I think that's a good thing to keep in mind. A working writer might not appear to be working, but don't interrupt her if she is staring at a blank wall smiling faintly, or conversely, wearing a fiercely determined expression. —She's most likely building a story and if you're not careful you could alter the plot. Or, depending on the frequency of interruptions, the security of your own existence. 

So you tell me, where do you do your best "in-head" writing? Car rides? Morning shower? Afternoon walk? I'd love to hear from you!

Summer Secrets

So, while I never meant to let the consistency of things like blogging fall to the wayside, or lose connection with like-hearted and like-minded writers on both Facebook and Twitter, this summer the unthinkable happened. I did.

From June through August, though I didn't want to, I essentially closed my internet connection and buckled down to face some much-needed tasks that were demanding my attention. I still emailed when necessary, and stayed in touch with enough people to reassure them that I was not dead. But now as fall has arrived and I have logged back in, the whole thing has left me feeling a bit frustrated with myself and, well, inadequate.

I mean really. I can't blog consistently!? I can't communicate with the outside world consistently!? 98% of humanity does this everyday and so much more! What is wrong with me?

I'll not go on about my crazy summer, because chances are, your summer was even more insane than mine and I probably can't hold a card to your version of busy summer. So, that aside, what is to be done about the whole balance issue? I know for a fact I'm not the only one who wrestles with keeping things consistent. And I'm not just talking writing—I'm talking everything else that happens while we are trying to write. Yaknow—kids, meals, grocery shopping, housecleaning, budgeting, yard care, jobs, volunteering, community life, relationships, sleep

Chances are, many of you have already figured out most of the "secrets" I've only just stumbled upon this summer. But for the rest of us—for the ones like me who start off great and slowly slide into oblivion due to, well, everything, here's just a few of the things I've been learning. Maybe you'll find them usefull too.

Organization.
     I'm not an organized person and I've always kinda taken pride in that. "I fly by the seat of my pants!" I shout from the rooftops. (And then I pray that the whole world has not seen me crash off said rooftop, the seat of my pants afire).
     How do you feel about organization? Lists? Structure? —Even a little bit? My own perspective has changed, because, let's face it. You can only spin innumerable plates for so long before your high-heel snaps, or the baby throws up on you, or dinner burns, or you get yet another rejection letter and everything comes crashing. I'm learning that organization is a kind of safety net for all those plates. —My friend, not my enemy. Who knew?
     My grandmother used to say, "A place for everything and everything in its place." It's a fabulous mantra, actually. I have two small children and a third on the way, my husband and I own a small business, we live in a hundred-year-old farmhouse that is literally falling apart and in several stages of remodel, and my life is CHAOS. Having a place for things not only helps maintain some order, but it is actually a timesaver. When my whole family understands that everything has a "home," (toys, shoes, craft supplies, dirty dinner dishes, Mommy's writing stuff) then we all spend less time looking for lost items, and more time accomplishing the necessary (and the enjoyable!) with time left over. 

Sacred Time.
     Due to the above mentioned chaos, time is more precious than money to me, (and that is saying something). But it's the truth. I've got such a limited supply and a seemingly endless amount of things to fill it. And as the old adage goes, "Life expands to fill (or overfill) the time allotted for it." Solution: Set some time aside that belongs to nothing else but__________. Fill in the blank.
     For me, my Sacred Time is reserved for writing. I get up at 5:30am most days, make coffee, and retreat to my study. The door is closed and I am unavailable (save to turn on some morning cartoons for early-risers) until 7am. After that my day is off like an express train, but I feel ready for it. I've spent time on me, and honestly, it's a good investment. I can be nothing to the people around me if I don't take good care of myself. I've learned there is nothing selfish about that.

Reasonable Expectations.
     I'm a firstborn (eldest of three daughters) and if you know anything at all about birth order, I promise you I fit ALL of those firstborn tendencies. Type A personality. Unreasonably high expectations of self. Perfectionist. People pleaser. And, as you can imagine, most of these tendencies end up with me standing on tiptoe, failing to meet the bar I've set too high. But I'm learning.
     These days I ask myself a few questions before I launch into any new projects, commit to any new opportunities, or take any flying leaps (falls) off rooftops.
1. How does this new thing affect the things and people I am already committed to?
2. How long can I reasonably perform this new thing? 
3. What do I hope to accomplish with this new thing, and how will I know when I've actually accomplished it?
4. What is the most I can commit (time, energy, quantity)?
5. Is there enough flexibility with this new thing, that I can change or adjust when needed?
     Once I've defined some parameters for myself, it's much easier to either welcome the new thing with open arms and exuberance, or kindly decline the opportunity without having to give empty excuses. Knowing your own limits is never a bad thing. In fact, it seems to ensure a much higher success rate.

Prepared Discipline.
     Doesn't discipline feel like a terrible word? I've never really liked it. I always associate it with childhood misdemeanors. However, it actually means "an activity, exercise, or regimen that develops or improves a skill; training." I'm all about improving skills, especially writing skills. But discipline doesn't mean you just work at something with every ounce of willpower you possess until it becomes habit—though that is part of it. It also means that you have to be prepared when all the willpower you possess runs out. Blogging is a perfect example of this. Blog preparedly, I've learned. Have a month's worth of posts already written and scheduled to publish. Have a running list of ideas, concepts, materials, and guest bloggers so that when you do reach the bottom of your creative barrel, you have something to draw upon.

Give Yourself Freedom To Fail.
     Fortunately, there is no such thing as a perfect person. And also, failure isn't fatal! I wrote about this earlier, and it's the truth. Don't give yourself excuses not to try, but don't beat yourself up when all the planets don't align perfectly in your favor. I've got one of those Quotable magnets stuck to my refrigerator as a good reminder of this. It reads, "Courage does not always roar. Sometimes courage is the quiet voice at the end of the day saying, I will try again tomorrow." —Mary Anne Radmacher

So, you tell me. How are YOU doing this writing life? What works? What doesn't? I'd love to hear your tips and tricks, because heaven knows I can use them! 

Handing Out Your Name

Someone asked me for my card yesterday, and as I handed over my contact information, it dawned on me that it might be time for a redesign. The old one is doing a descent job I suppose, but some of my tastes have changed and my current card doesn't quite reflect who I am anymore.

I love the idea of personal brand—which makes sense, I guess. My husband and I have spent the last seven years building our advertising agency, RedHouseMedia, so I probably should like working with brand identity. But beyond that, I love presenting an image that creates an impression. Not a "Whoa-aren't-you-something," impression, but an "Oh-so-THIS-is-who-you-are," impression. That's a lot to expect out of a business card, I know, but it can be done. 

As a writer—freelance, agented, published, or brand new to the craft—business cards are just as important as they are in the corporate office world. We live in an increasingly paperless age, but it's still nice to have a little slip of informational card stock handy. Conferences, seminars, classes, and even writing groups are great places for both distributing and acquiring contact info. And like a good query letter, a business card should jump right in and tell the audience your story. No messing around with backstory or character sketches. Just dive right in and say it clearly.

A good business card should accomplish three things.
1. Clearly present a name and simple occupational title.
2. Provide contact information at which the holder can be easily reached.
3. Offer a visual representation of the holder's identity. 

Moo is one of my favorite "ready-made" business card companies. They print small-batch, custom-designed products that make it easy for people to create personal brand identity. Cool, inexpensive, and good-quality, Moo is a great place to start. I especially love their mini-cards. —Also, as a side note, this is not a promotional blog post. Moo has no idea that I exist and I'm sure they don't need my approval of their products. 

As a writer, what do you think about personal brand? Do you have a business card or are you a fan of the "scribble-it-down-on-a-napkin" method? 

I can't wait to hear your thoughts!

Failure Isn't Fatal

It's true. You don't actually die. I speak from personal experience. Failure isn't fatal. If it were, there wouldn't be a single breathing speck of humanity left on this planet. Each and every one of us lives with varying degrees of failure. And as depressing a thought as that might be, this ragged Monday morning, it's also a rather nice realization.

Okay, hold up. Before you close this window, give me a chance to explain.

I hate failure. I'm not some sort of masochistic failure-monger. It's actually my greatest fear. But here's the thing: failure is the perfect avenue for Grace. —It makes room for change, realization, wonder, and ultimately, success.

About ten years ago I had the perfect book idea, and then a few years later, another one. I wrote first one novel and then the other. They were edited, critiqued, queried, and ultimately rejected. Both of them.

I deleted both files from my hard drive.

These rejected books felt like certain evidence of failure in my writing life. I would never make it. I couldn't write. My ideas sucked. I sucked.

But after a while, a couple of years actually, something happened. A realization. Those failed attempts at noveling became something I needed to do before I could write the story that eventually earned me a "yes" in the querying world. I had to write those two failed books, go through the process of editing, revising, querying, and rejection so I could learn how the thing is actually done—earn an education of sorts. Also, so that I could get those excess words out of my system, making room for the ones that would matter.

So, how was your weekend? Did you receive a rejection? Have you written a red line through one more name on your list of coveted agents? Don't give up. You don't suck. Your idea doesn't suck. No one on earth can tell your story exactly as you can, and even if your current WIP isn't the one that ultimately ends up on shelves, it will most certainly be part of what gets you there. The publishing industry isn't about statistics, it's about beautiful individual books. And the world is waiting to read yours.

As Samuel Beckett said, "Ever tried. Ever failed. No matter. Try Again. Fail again. Fail better."

Failure isn't fatal. Not in the least. So write on.

Happy Monday.

Pouring Emotion Into Your Writing

I am sure reading blogs about my writing life can occasionally become a bit tedious, and the last thing I want is boredom from any of you! So.

Enter my lovely friends from the Writers' Guild

This week, my dear friend Carlie has offered a few thoughts and techniques for writing well-rounded, emotional characters. Her practical ideas are excellent tools anyone can put into practice, whether it be for novel-length work, or short stories. Enjoy!

Without putting some emotion into writing, it becomes an amount of dead words on the page. There’s no point in telling a reader how someone feels in a particular scene, if there’s no emotion behind it. The reader wants to connect with the character you've crafted. They want to understand what makes them tick, and relate to them emotionally.

So the big question is, How do you go about accomplishing that?

I have a few techniques I use and I’d like to share them with you. Perhaps you do something similar, maybe you struggle with this, maybe you have some techniques of your own that you can share with our little community. I hope some of this will be useful to you!

As I write, I find a massive amount of material by drawing on my own past experiences and likening them to my characters. For example, if I’m writing about a breaking heart, I think back to when it happened to me. Then I try to remember how I felt at that time and I make notes. —Not only about the actual emotions, but also how I reacted, how I behaved for a few days afterwards, and how I related to people around me. In addition, I try to recall how others behaved towards me—my friends and family— the support and comfort they provided, (or not) and the sort of things they said.

Interaction with others is also crucial to understanding emotion. Everyone you meet has a story to tell and most love to share it. I listen carefully to the way people phrase their tales and the tone of voice they use, I watch body language, facial expressions, and make note of what they do with their hands. —Put all of this together and it builds a powerful picture. Again, I make notes the first chance I get. If you do this on a regular basis, you will come across a wide range of stories and emotions that can be catalogued and filed away for future use.

Last week, one of my colleagues was acting a little strangely and I enquired if she was ok (as you do). And then I got her story. She’d recently suffered some trauma and was having medical treatment. She had so many mixed emotions about the whole thing—one minute she was hopeful, the next, worried and frightened. Her face was expressive, particularly her eyes, and she moved her hands quite a lot. This was a veritable smorgasbord (please don’t think I’m unsympathetic toward her, it’s actually quite the opposite), and I made notes as soon as I was able.

Finally, as I am working through the expressions and physical demonstrations my characters might emote, I try to imagine myself in the situation I’m writing, then analyze how I would react and what I would feel. Again I make notes. Sometimes it’s just a list of words, other times entire sentences detailing the situation.

I always transcribe my notes in my laptop as I've found that pieces of paper can get lost, no matter how well organized or careful I try to be. Also, don't forget to back work up. Nothing is worse than days or even weeks of lost work.

As I write characters I design must have emotions that readers can relate to and empathize with, or I feel I haven’t done my job properly. They have to be real, complex, and well-rounded. Nothing accomplishes this more effectively than making sure I've given them true, situationally-appropriate feelings.

Something to ponder this week: How are you working to write well-rounded emotionally-believable characters?

Carlie is an administrator by day, part-time professional dance teacher, mother, and in her every spare moment, she is writing her first novel. She has always loved writing but had not done anything with her writing seriously until her daughter earned a Creative Writing degree. This rekindled Carlie's own passion and she began working on her first novel September of 2010.

Editing, Voice, and Diminishing Returns

Monday's post is brought to you by the ever-creative and diligant writer, Brandon. If you are not following him on Twitter already, you should. Go now and do that. I'll wait.

*waits*

Right then, on to the post. Enjoy and be sure to comment!

 

Editing. Some of your lips just curled, disgusted at the very thought. Some of you cried metaphorical bittersweet tears. Others (me! me!) love it. We all have to do it. At least if we want our writing to get anywhere.

We’ve all heard/read we must edit our work to a high gloss. Kill every adverb! Slaughter those “to be” verbs! Gouge! Tighten! Repeat. And again.

But at what point do we transition from making our manuscripts shine and doing harm? With all of the advice out there, it’s sometimes hard to distinguish between the two. There’s a point when you’ve edited as much as you can. You begin carving out the things that make your manuscript yours. You edit your voice. You edit the uniqueness that is your prose. Our writing becomes something we think it should be instead of what’s best for our story and what comes from our hearts. We lose sight on why we started writing in the first place: we love it.

Example: I want to read the merciless efficiency that is Joe Abercrombie’s. I want to waltz over, through, around the metaphors of Chabon. Feel the pain and the power that is Suzanne Collins’s.

You know the feeling. You’re at your favorite bookstore. Coffee, couches, chairs, books. Heaven. You pick up a book and read the first page. What grabs you more often than not? For me it’s voice. I don’t want to read voiceless, generic prose. I want to hear you in your writing. Your passion. Your desire. The reason you started this book.

I’m giving you permission to leave that adverb on page 156 because you know what, sometimes a perfectly placed adverb gives your story life. Every story, sentence, word is different. Only you know the how it should be written. Until, that is, you get an agent or editor. Then (mostly) do what they say.

Something to ponder this week: How do you edit your own work? Are you giving yourself permission leave some of your "darlings" alive? 

Discipline and The Writing Life

So, newsflash:

Writing is hard.

Rephrase. Writing well is hard. It takes so much stinking practice! 

I play the piano. Not well, but I play.—The result of seven years of lessons, and endless scales, and hours of practice that seem to stretch into the eternity of my childhood past.

*shudders*

I didn't like the practice and I hated the scales. But I continued taking lessons for seven years because I love to play. And I wanted to play well. I am sure we could argue the definition of "well," and the entire world would have an opinion on the matter, but for me, the success of the thing is defined whenever I sit down to play and find that I love it.

It was Aristotle who said, "We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, then, is not an act, but a habit."

The same is true for the writing life.

It takes work. It is incredibly hard. It is riddled with disappointment and self-doubt and rejection. If you choose a writing life, you will have to not choose other things. You will redefine success and come to grips with the fact that people assume you have some sort of personality disorder—what with all those unwritten characters living in your head.

But here's the thing: It is totally worth it.

You know that feeling of waking up in the middle of the night (or not being able to sleep at all) because the most amazing scene just unraveled itself inside of you? Or when a character seems so alive, that you weep as you write his/her struggles and failures across your page? Or how about when one of your critique partners/beta readers/friends reads your work and weeps/laughs in all of the right places? —It is for reasons like this that writers discipline themselves and press on.

It takes discipline to make progress.

For a long time I never wrote anything save when inspiration struck. And in the midst of my crazy life with toddlers, running an ad agency, and yaknow, trying to sleep once in awhile, those moment were few and far between. I rarely finished a project and I'd never written anything longer than eight-thousand words.

*blushes*

Then I stumbled upon NaNoWriMo, and I began writing regularly—even when I didn't feel like it. And I wrote fifty-thousand words in thirty days. They were not all good words, certainly, but I finished something, and perhaps more importantly, I proved to myself that with a little discipline, I could write consistently.

Self-discipline is hard. Sometimes it feels impossible. But the end results are always worth it—whether it's an ability to play a sonata or finish a book. So you tell me, how do you discipline yourself to write? Do you have a designated place? A designated time? Do you set word goals for yourself and have people around you to keep you accountable? Are you part of a writer's group? How do you eliminate distraction? Tell your tale and share your tips! I would love to hear your story.

Something to ponder this week: How are you being disciplined in your writing life?