Thursday, May 30, 2013

Links for Writers: The Things We Do for Love

If you awaken at half past dark to squeeze in an hour of writing time, scribble in a notebook at Little League games, or hash out plot points with a friend while commuting to the day job, you're my kind of person. But how do we keep going in the face of rejection? 

Torre DeRoche, The Fearful Adventurer blogger and author of the memoir Love with a Chance of Drowning, has the answer: "Forget the stats, the numbers, the wealth, the prestige, the popularity, the things you imagine to be waiting for you on the other side of ‘success.’ They’re not there, and if they are, they won’t stay long. Instead, work tirelessly to make your soul happy. Keep going until you’re standing before a big, glorious creation made by you, for you. Your baby—made of cells, or paper, or clay, or words. That’s yours." Read more here

Think you need long, uninterrupted blocks of time to write anything meaningful? Jo Eberhardt accomplishes LOTS in sixty minutes a day.

There's no secret handshake that will transform a struggler into a published author but I perk up my ears when a writer offers to share her twelve-point writing plan. When will I learn? Here are numbers eight and nine of author Deborah Moggach's twelve-point plan:
8. I have to know the ending before I can begin. Map out as much as you need but don’t over-plot or you can constrict your characters. Let them change it as they go along.
9. You don’t have to know the ending.

She had me going for a minute. That said, her advice, especially, "There are no rules to break" speaks to me. If you only have time to read one writing-related article this week, make it Moggach's. 

On Memorial Day, I spoke with a thoughtful young man whose employer soon will send him to three countries for training. The Asian location hasn't been identified yet. 

"Does it make you uncomfortable that you don't know and can't make plans?" I asked.

"Not at all," he said. "I'm flexible. I have to show I'm flexible."

Writers need that young man's attitude plus the flexibility of Gumby. Here's agent Rachelle Gardner on what has changed and what won't alter in publishing.

Happy writing, friends!

Thursday, May 23, 2013

The Feedback Sandwich: Disappearing from a Menu near You

The feedback sandwich, a staple of the workplace and writers' groups, has fallen out of favor. Even Human Resources people, who foisted it on us in the first place, diss it now. The problem is, once a person develops a taste for the feedback sandwich, the open-faced variety or, worse, a slab of mystery meat on a plate, doesn't satisfy.
Ooh, shiny mailbox!
Remember the recipe for a feedback sandwich? A supervisor, co-worker, or critique partner delivers criticism by sandwiching it between two positive comments. A writer might hear the following from critique partner: "You write believable characters. I wish you'd give those characters something to do besides guzzle coffee and think about the big mistake they made long ago. Hey, good job conveying a sense of place in a sentence or two."
If you're like me, you brace yourself for bad news as soon as you hear a compliment. Maybe you're a skeptic and consider the praise nothing more than a delivery system for the criticism. Maybe you think a nice comment about your silver ballet flats has nothing whatsoever to do with your ability to craft a compelling press release about the city's recycling program.
The feedback sandwich may be hard to swallow at first, but I contend it causes less indigestion later.
After the fact, isn't it nice to take a break from stewing about the criticism and recall the words of praise even if you're not 100 percent sure they were sincere? Wow! I may not contribute a thing at team meetings, but I'm always prompt and work past quitting time without complaint.
Go on, make fun of the praise sandwich. You, too, will miss it if it goes the way of the dinosaur.
Last week, I opened a letter from my homeowners' association and was surprised by its one and only message: Paint your mailbox.
I read the thing three times looking for a snippet of praise for my roses-for-dummies (Knock-Outs) that bloomed lushly or the pot by the front gate planted with a thriller (a tall grass), a filler (cora vinca), and a spiller (potato vine). Did the HOA notice the society garlic I planted where I lost an agapanthus to drought? 
No, no, and no.
Sunday morning, I painted my mailbox. I began the task grudgingly, but at some point between the initial sanding and the final stroke with black semi-gloss, I let go of my resentment. My roses deserve a shiny mailbox.
Thanks, HOA for the work you do to make sure our neighborhood looks nice.  Don't be afraid to point out what people are doing right and praise it since a focus-on-the-negative approach often backfires. Hey, nice letterhead!
A person whose biggest problem is a letter from the HOA about her mailbox is lucky, indeed. Here, the Pioneer Woman, Oklahoma-based blogger and cookbook author Ree Drummond, lists ways to help the tornado victims in Moore and Oklahoma City. 

Thursday, May 16, 2013

Help! I Forgot How to Juggle

It's hard to juggle these.

I failed to post here last week for a happy reason: seasonal, full-time employment. I like my job, but the first few days left me feeling wet noodle-weak and dumber than pasta. So, how do y'all do it?

Yes, I'm talking to you. 

How do you work a full day, come home, cook, clean, help kids with homework, write a few pages of the WIP (work in progress), tweet, update Facebook, and blog? 

Last week, no joke, I did not have one original thought. Not one.

Those of you who juggle jobs and family responsibilities while churning out fiction and non-fiction are my heroes. If no one praised you today for any of your original thoughts, here goes: you are amazing.

This week, I embraced the notion of getting up an hour earlier than usual and using the extra time to write. Today, I chose roasted almonds for an afternoon snack because I need quality fuel to keep me going. Tips and tricks I once knew well are coming back to me along with fervent appreciation for you who make "doing it all" look easy.

It's not. Have I told you you're amazing?

My kids are grown, so I'm not slapping sandwiches together at dark-thirty in the morning and nagging them to eat something more nutritious than a slice of cheese for breakfast. (Although, come to think of it, why did I get bent out of shape over a slice of cheese?) Better still, I no longer drive carpool. Note to those of you who do: someday, you'll drop off your last passenger and regain a fast-food wrapper-free vehicle. You'll choose the music and the car will smell of air freshener rather than day-old French fries. 

Attention, carpool drivers: you're amazing.

For the next couple of months, Sunday afternoons will serve as my planning periods. I'm going to organize my week and make time for the WIP, this blog, and, oh yeah, laundry and meals. 

Meals I can simplify. The WIP, however, is getting complicated, and if I don't corral an original thought, the characters will lose respect for me.

(Notice I'm not scheduling time to clean the house. When the dust bunnies threaten the cats, I'll vacuum. When dust migrates toward the laptop's keyboard, I'll reach for the microfiber cloth.)

Original thought eludes me for now, but my plan's coming together. I could, however, use your input. How do you do what you do week after week? What time-savers give you an extra hour or more a day to devote to the work of your heart?

One more thing before I go: you're amazing.

Thursday, May 2, 2013

Say it Again, Sam

I collect words the way a friend collects bits of sea glass and the way a nephew looks for examples of graffiti that speak to him. 

Words speak to me even though the only place I've "heard" some of them is on a page. I get a kick out of old words that have fallen out of favor, regionalisms, cooking terms, and slang.

Last week, hackers broke into the computers of the LivingSocial online deal site and accessed customer data, including encrypted passwords. The notice I received about the event didn't alarm me as much as it should have because I was charmed, yes, charmed by LivingSocial's reassurance that it had "hashed and salted" those passwords. Apparently, "hash" means to encrypt and "salt" means to add a string of random data to an encrypted password. (I hope no one reading this plans to deliver bad news to me anytime soon, but if you must, forget the spoonful of sugar and give it to me with a new use for a familiar word.)

Yesterday, friend Lynn Kelley wrote the following on a loop I follow:  "My other comment was getting too long, so I'm bogarting the space here. Making up for lost time. :)"

Bogarting? I loved the word even though I didn't know what it meant. (Is it possible to fall for a word that means nothing to you? Think of the first time you heard someone speak Spanish, French, or Italian. Didn't you melt a little inside?) 

Here's the Urban Dictionary's definition of the verb bogart: (slang verb) To keep something all for oneself, thus depriving anyone else of having any. A slang term derived from the last name of famous actor Humphrey Bogart because he often kept a cigarette in the corner of his mouth, seemingly never actually drawing on it or smoking it. Often used with weed or joints but can be applied to anything. 

In other words, Lynn was hogging or monopolizing the space. (But, of course, she wasn't doing anything of the sort because her posts are always welcome.) 

Finally, last week, Older Daughter emailed me an article entitled "Slash: Not Just a Punctuation Mark Anymore." (If you've read this far, you, too, are a word junkie, so go look at the article.)

The use of a slash to link two related constructions is commonplace. Saturday morning is as good a time as any to run errands/get gasoline. As Anne Curzan points out, however, her college students now write  out "slash." Saturday morning is as good a time as any to run errands slash get gasoline. Better still, they use "slash" to link two unrelated words in an ironic way. I won't get home from work slash hell before seven p.m. 

How about you? Have you come across a new word or an old one used in a new way? Do you, like me, consider yourself a deep thinker slash real-work avoider? Let me know in the comments section slash proof I'm not talking to myself.