Monday, October 29, 2012

Got Blog? The Party Continues....

Happy Monday--and Happy Birthday to my blog the day after! Although the actual "birthday" was yesterday, there's still time to join the site before Friday, leave a comment telling me what you'd like to see in a future post, and have a chance to win one of my 3 prize packages, details here.

Today I was thinking about some of the reasons I started blogging all those four years ago.  Here's what I came up with:
  • Initially I wanted a vehicle to help get the word out so I could sell more books. Yes, commercialism was high on my list!
  • I also needed a way to build my "platform." Although I have a website complete with book ordering info and other pages:, I needed something to supplement the standing text there. A blog seemed the perfect way to do that.
  • I'm busy, you're busy, we're all busy--too busy, unfortunately, to write lengthy personal emails (which replaced lengthy snail mail letters) to each other. But a blog is something I can write and then share with friends and family in one swoop. Believe me, I'm thinking of everyone one of you when I sit down to write each week.
  • I love to teach writing. My how-to book The Essential Guide for New Writers, From Idea to Finished Manuscript has helped hundreds of writers to get their words down on paper. Blogging about writing is a way to continue that inspiration.
  • I enjoy combining art with my own writing--and blogging fits right in with the creative arts. I have so much fun designing the digital collages that head up most of my posts.
  • Working on my blog sometimes feels like I'm in charge of my own little literary magazine. I often think of what I would like to know more about if I was reading a magazine article, and then I write a post about it.
  • Blogging has become an important writing practice and discipline for me. It's especially been helpful for encouraging me to show my artwork, eliminating much of my previous anxiety about opening my sketchbooks and portfolios for public viewing.
  • More than anything, blogging has become a vehicle to share a conversation with my readers and other bloggers. Oftentimes this conversation is held on places like Twitter and Facebook, and even my writer's group, taking the blog off site and into a larger arena.
  • And hey, it's just exciting to be a BLOGGER.
But bloggers need TOPICS, and here's where you come in:

Tip of the Day: If you haven't already, join the site, then leave a comment suggesting a topic you'd like me to write about in the future. I'll give you full credit for the idea as well as include a link to your own blog or website. And you might even win one of the giveaways! Good luck and happy creating. Drawing will be held on midnight, November 2, 2012.

Thursday, October 25, 2012

Celebrating My Blog's Birthday--With A Giveaway!

Happy Birthday to My Blog! Four years old on Sunday, October 28. I can't believe how the time has gone so quickly, or that I've managed to stay dedicated and happy to keep the ball rolling. It's been a wonderful four years, and I want to thank you for staying with me and supporting my books and writing. And the best way I can do that is with a giveaway!

From now until midnight November 2, 2012, all you have to do to be entered into my random drawing is:

1. Join up and follow my blog (button on sidebar).
2. Leave a comment on this or my
next post telling me what you would like to read
about in a future post.

Easy! There will be 3 winners and each one will receive the same giveaway package:
1. A copy of the book I co-authored with parapsychologist, William Roll:
2. A copy of my how-to book: The Essential Guide for New Writers,
3. A journal.
4. A pack of my new-favorite (and very colorful!) InkJoy pens.
I think this is going to be a lot of fun. If you already follow my blog, that's great--just leave a comment regarding a future blog post, and you'll be entered in the drawing.

Tip of the Day: Let's party! Put on your thinking caps and do your best to come up with some interesting questions or a topic you'd like me to discuss. Even if you don't place in the giveaway, I'll be sure to give you credit and add a link to your own blog or website if I choose your topic. Good luck--I can't wait to hear from you all!

Thursday, October 18, 2012

Art Journaling and More With Mini-Collages

If you've been reading my blog for any length of time now you'll know how much I enjoy working with magazine cut-outs: words, phrases, photos; I collect them all. Whether I'm using them to plot out my next novel, or simply illustrating my art journal, I can't imagine being without my various files of cut-outs.

The sizes range all the way from items so big I have to crop them (or fold then into quarters) to fit my pages, to teensy-tinsy little things I find in the classified or other obscure sections of magazines and catalogs. I've ended up with so many of these miniature gems that I've started using them for what I call "mini-collages," small pictures no larger than 6" square, usually less.

The best thing about mini-collages is they can be put together in minutes--they're almost like doodling. The materials are easy to carry to work, or while you're on vacation: just a glue stick and a Zip-loc bag of images and supports. They're especially great for those times when I don't have an art journal handy--once I've finished I just stack them up to glue into my journal later.

Readily-available supports for mini-collages can include:
  • Index cards; lined or unlined; white, pastel, or fluorescent.
  • Business cards.
  • Old greeting cards.
  • New greeting cards (treat yourself!).
  • Envelopes--new and used.
  • Origami paper.
  • Scrapbooking papers cut or torn into smaller pieces.
  • Mini-canvases and art boards sold in small packs from art supply stores.
  • Disposable coasters.
  • Cocktail napkins (especially the pretty, printed ones).
  • Old calendars divided into pieces. The page-a-day type work well, too.
  • Old paperback book covers--both the backs and the fronts.
  • "Failed" drawings and paintings, cut up or torn.
  • Empty matchbooks.
  • Old photos (duplicates, or ones that are no longer important, of course!)
  • Larger-sized magazine cut-outs.
Right now I'm using mini-collages mainly for my art journal, but here are some ideas I thought would be fun to try in the future:
  • Add to, or frame, a larger collage.
  • Glue on top of small cardboard or wooden boxes.
  • Turn into greeting cards (even the ones made from old greeting cards!)
  • Use one as the basis for a book cover design.
  • Use as templates for drawings.
  • Photograph, scan, enlarge, and make transfers for T-shirts, tote bags, or cushions.
  • Use as the background to a website, blog, or social network sites.
  • Create a deck of prompt cards for creative inspiration or meditation.
Let's go! 

Tip of the Day: The next time you're gathering magazine photos for prompts or other uses, don't overlook anything you might think is "too small." Good things DO come in small packages, especially when put together as a group: see how many mini-collages you can make in one sitting.

Friday, October 12, 2012

Deadlines or Dreadlines?

This month I seem to have a lot of deadlines. I don't really like them. That said, I also know they are a necessary evil for every stage of the creative process, whether they're for sending in an article to a magazine on time, or setting up personal completion dates for various manuscript drafts. Which still doesn't make me happy with them!

The first time I ever had a real contract deadline I worked right up until the very last second I could, then rushed to the post office right on the nickel. My manuscript made it to the publisher on time, thank goodness, but the next day when I spoke to my editor by phone, she told me I was "very slow." Wow. I was a newbie at that stage and didn't know much about the publishing world. There and then I vowed to not make the same mistake twice.

Since that first professional submission, I can't say I've made friends with deadlines, but I've also learned a few ways to make them bearable, and perhaps more importantly, do-able. These include:
  • Deadlines are not about killing yourself--or the work. Pacing is everything! Take some days off in between writing.
  • If you need to move a deadline forward--be honest with yourself (and your editor), but don't use the opportunity to change dates as a way to procrastinate and avoid completing the work.
  • If a serious emergency occurs that may delay or prevent you reaching your deadline--let your editor know ASAP. Don't be embarrassed to be human.
  • The best thing about assigning a deadline to your own private work schedule is it makes you STOP working on a piece before you take all the life out of it.
  • Always keep a deadline calendar that is only for your manuscript or other creative project deadlines. Work out realistic stopping points.
  • Try not to be too public about personal deadlines--letting everyone know a certain date for being finished with your WIP or similar, and then not being able to deliver might keep you from working with deadlines ever again.
  • If possible, do your best to be a few days early with your professional deadlines.
  • Don't agree to absurd deadlines unless you really, really know you can comply. Sometimes we can be so hungry for a sale or a shot at publication we'll agree to unreasonable demands--and then find we're mired in an impossible task. Better to walk away without signing if something doesn't feel "right."
  • Know your boundaries and energy limits. Know your working style and how much you can (or can't) do.
  • Schedule and plan out your work pace. Don't be a "last minute sprinter" working on sheer adrenaline. Just like tackling exam questions, work on the easy parts of your manuscript assignment first, then take the more difficult areas line by line, one paragraph at a sitting.
  • Give yourself space between deadlines to breathe and regroup.
  • Even when you finish a piece, give it 24 hours to gel. Whether it's a blog post, a query letter, or a finished manuscript, don't push "send" the second you finish writing. Let it wait.
  • Whenever possible, practice working with deadlines. Finished work is the key to success; deadlines will help you get there.
Tip of the Day: Create some easy deadlines for yourself. For instance, give yourself a week to write a short story. Break the work into sections: e.g., one day for research, one day for the first and last paragraphs, one day to polish, and another to rewrite. Slow and steady does win the race (and keeps you ready and rested for more!).

Wednesday, October 3, 2012

Manuscript Organization 101

Except for tweeting and some very quick emails, I have to write longhand. Everything. I can't even fill out a simple questionnaire without writing out my answers by hand first. So when it comes to writing the first drafts of my book-length manuscripts, or working on my writing practice sessions, or just tracking my ideas, I need some way to keep each project separate from the others.

For me, the best solution has been good old-fashioned legal pads. After years and years of writing in fancy--and expensive--journals, I've found that nothing beats a good-quality, white paper, three-hole-punched, stiff-backed legal pad--brand name as shown in the photo above!

I started using these wonderful tablets when I found myself writing mainly manuscripts, rather than journal entries, in exquisite blank books, only to then transcribe the writing into proper manuscript form, and then be left with a beautiful, but unnecessary, first draft. My recent move into condo living this year facilitated finally parting with all those gorgeous notebooks, and I must say it feels great. Although I still want to continue keeping lovely art journals and sketchbooks, as well as my commonplace book, from here on out anything that costs more than five dollars is going to be for "special."

So here's how I'm using legal pads right now. To start with, I have about 6-8 going at any one time. These are:
  • Morning pages. Legal pads are particularly good for morning pages. I usually will write my pages for at least a week, give them a quick read-through over the weekend, follow up with any notes I need to keep in a more permanent form, and then tear everything up and toss. Easy!
  • Blog Ideas. During the day I often get an idea I want to share via my blog. So it's good to have a dedicated place to jot it down and even expand on the theme whether I'm blogging that day or not. Added benefit: doing this has helped me blog more consistently.
  • Freewriting. I am a great believer in writing practice and working from prompts as much as possible. None of this is guaranteed to be great writing, or even usable writing, but more often than not I will come up with a scene for my current WIP, or a character or premise I'd like to use in the future. After I've filled up every line and reached the cardboard backing, I can either add my pre-punched pages to a specific WIP binder, or simply file the pages away in various places for later use.
  • Poetry. I like to keep poetry separate from prose. Not only am I using a different voice when I write poetry, but it also just makes everything easier to find when I do file or transcribe the pages.
  • The Novel WIP. My current fiction WIP is already transcribed and printed in manuscript format, but now I'm going through the massive job of re-reading and taking notes on the text. Keeping these together in a single pad/place has been helpful as I go chapter by chapter, page by page, line by line to look for inconsistencies, plot glitches, and places where I could use more foreshadowing, action, or description.
  • The Screenplay WIP. This is where I keep absolutely everything that occurs to me re: my screenplay WIP. It's a place where I can over-write and put in all the emotional/mental content and back story my heart desires--all the things that aren't supposed to go in my actual script. These are valuable notes when it comes to trying to get the most out of the least amount of acceptable page- and word counts.
  • Marketing. At least once a day I try to do something that adds to my marketing efforts. Whether it's simply making a list of potential reviewers, or discovering new blogs to read and comment on, this is where I put my notes and information. I also use this particular pad for practicing my synopses, queries, and cover letters.
  • Fiction Ideas in General. They just won't stop!  And in order to get on with my day and keep them quietly in one place, I've given them their very own pad. Whew.
With the exception of the "Morning Pages" pad, I like to keep writing straight to the last page before I read through any of the previous pages. Once I've reached that point, however, I then file what I plan to keep, and discard the rest.

I also have to say that it's kind of fun to watch the pages fill up on the pad. Seeing that I "did the work" seems to help me get right back into it the next day. A growing stack of orderly pages helps me to feel that I am making some serious progress rather than floundering around jotting down a mish-mash of themes, plans, and journal entries in a single, confusing notebook.  The best part is that I never feel anything is so precious that I can't part with it. Added benefit: more clutter-free closets, yay!

Tip of the Day: If the thought of starting with as many (or more) legal pads as I've outlined here is a little overwhelming, why not just start with 3? I suggest keeping one for your current WIP, one for marketing, and one for general ideas. Let me know how it goes.