Thursday, May 29, 2014

Pick a Color, Any Color

Apples and Pears;
Derwent Inktense Pencils on
Acrylic Gel Print Background

When I was in elementary school we used to play a "fortune telling" game that I can only describe as a piece of multi-folded paper that fit over our fingers, had various numbers, colors, and "fortunes" written on each of the folded sides, and was opened and shut like a greedy baby bird mouth, or a type of hand puppet. Anybody know what I'm talking about?

I used to love making--and using--those things. All through math lessons, recess, even story time, I was busy folding my notebook paper and thinking up outrageous fortunes for anyone willing to play along. To get to the fortune, the person playing the game had to first choose a number (written on the outside of the first set of folds), and then a color (revealed when the paper was opened and closed as many times as the number chosen). Over and over:  pick a number, pick a color . . . Once the color had been chosen, you opened a flap to reveal the surprise: Oh, you will win a million dollars! Or: You will get straight A's!

I've been thinking about that game these last few weeks, especially as my life seems a lot like "pick a number, pick a color" as we choose the decor for our new house, from wall paint to carpet, curtains, and breakfast nook lighting. So far the master bedroom and my office/art room have both been repainted twice thanks to some wild and wrong decisions (e.g., salmon and apricot thankfully changed to neutrals with names like "Twilight" and "Taupe Mist") and I still can't decide what on earth I want for the laundry room flooring.

Which is why I think I'm more inclined to want to draw than write right now. There's something I need to express in color at the moment, and the color that is calling to me the loudest is yellow. This spring I've seen it everywhere in Albuquerque: the magnificent blooming Spanish Broom growing in my neighbor's front yard; rogue daisies sprouting in cracked cement in an industrial park; the apples I bring to work for my afternoon snack. Yellow is such an optimistic and comforting color--maybe too strong for my walls, but definitely a much-needed accent for all those neutrals.

Seeking out and concentrating on a single color as a creative exercise can be a great art journal or writing prompt. I don't know how long my "yellow phase" will last, but for now I'm turning my search for it into a daily habit, taking note of my feelings and memories associated with the color's many hues and shades. Although I'm currently using yellow as the focus of my artwork, I'm certain I'll be using my notes later on for some poetry, or as the basis for a descriptive passage in my WIP. 

So how about you? What's your favorite color--or most detested? Sometimes it can be interesting to explore our reactions to colors we dislike as much as those we love. In the meantime, I've got to start finding some ideas for that laundry room . . . Catch you later.

Tip of the Day: The next time you're in search of some creative inspiration, go for a "color hunt" through your house, workspace, favorite store, or nature walk. Pick a single color and note how many times it appears and in what form. Paint or write your results, and who knows? You may experience an entire change of fortune as an added bonus!

Friday, May 23, 2014

An A+ for Alphasmart

Hi, Everyone. I'm still in the middle of moving, renovating, revising . . . The middle space seems to be a very hazy place to be right now, finding me longing for the end, wondering how I ever got into this mess in the first place, and discovering my mind has gone utterly blank when it comes to writing blog posts. Which is why I'm going to go back to the alphabet for some inspiration.

When I first signed up for the April A-Z Blogging Challenge, I didn't know what my theme would be. I thought I would concentrate on the business of writing, when I suddenly found myself drawn to my lovely keeper books, and all my pages and pages of brainstormed writing ideas went into my filing cabinet. That is, until today--

So . . . starting with the top of my list and another "A" topic, we have: I love my Alphasmart!

In case you've never heard of the NEO Alphasmart, it's a super-portable, super-basic word processor that's the closest thing I know to writing by hand without running out of ink or developing writer's cramp. 

I bought mine in 2008 after I attended a Land of Enchantment Romance Authors meeting and saw another member using hers to take notes. When I learned that you could simply download your typed text from the Alphasmart into any program such as Word, or simply into the body of an email for revision and professional formatting, I knew it was exactly what I needed for NaNoWriMo. 

Since then, I haven't looked back. Sadly, the company is no longer producing this basic model (although there are plenty of used Alphas out there) but the good news is they have come out with an upgrade, the NEO Dana, that seems to have all kinds of nifty features. That said, I'm still a big fan of the original, and Alpha and I (Teddy, too) have been on hundreds of exciting literary adventures together.

There's something about writing on my Alphasmart that keeps me focused like nothing else other than my fountain pen can. Maybe it's the size (small), the color (drab), or the fact that all I can really do on it is write that makes it so addictive. I can't use it to make phone calls, or to surf the Internet, or even snap a few pics. It's a baby dinosaur--and it's one of the most amazing things I've ever owned. 

My top reasons for being such a fan (and what will take me to the upgraded Dana if "Alphasmarty" should drop dead one awful day) are:
  1. It's so lightweight--2 lbs. 
  2. Has a full keyboard, and with a "tilt"to it just like a typewriter. Very comfortable for my wrists and fingers.
  3. I don't know about the Dana, but the beauty of the Alphasmart is it's designed for writing. Editing is kind of a secondary function. Of course, you CAN run a spell-check, cut and paste lines and paragraphs to new positions, find buzz words, etc., use an in-built thesaurus, and completely clean up your manuscript if that's what you really, really want to do. But why bother? That something for when you download your writing into your computer.
  4. And you can very easily download your work into your PC or laptop--approximately 50,000 words at a time! That's nearly a whole NaNoWriMo manuscript.
  5. The power is close to immortal. All it takes are three AA batteries which then last 700 hours. That is a very, very long time to write before you need to change to new ones. 
  6. It goes wherever you can take it. Want to write your novel in the middle of the rain forest or atop an ice floe? No problem. Just bring three AA batteries in case you're going to be there for a year or two.
Tip of the Day: Having a favorite tool for creativity can be an important part of the process and ritual of settling down to work. For me, my Alphasmart is the tool that does that best; just taking it out of its carrying case puts me in the mind-space of knowing it's "time to write."

What about you? If you own an Alphasmart, I'd love to hear how you use it. Or if you have some other cherished writing tool, drop me a line and let me know what it is. Thanks for visiting, and I wish everyone a happy and safe Memorial Day Weekend. See you next week.

Wednesday, May 14, 2014

Revision, Revision, Revision

I am in the middle of moving. I am in the middle of renovating the house I am moving to. I am also in the middle of a major manuscript revision. It feels like I've been in the middle of all these projects for a long, long time, and I can't wait for them to be over, as in Happily-Ever-After over.

One thing I can be assured of, though, is that if I stay with the work, chipping away on a consistent basis I will very soon be a) able to move into a nice house, and b) have a submission-ready manuscript to put in the mail. Because as disgusting as tearing out old carpet is, or how painful cutting pages and pages of first draft writing can be: once it's gone, only the new and better can fill it's place. But I have to do the work first. 

Right now, I'm lucky in that my husband is handling the majority of the heavy renovation work. My part is mainly to drive to Lowe's and try not to complain/worry too much. In many ways my manuscript is a life-saver because it gives me something to concentrate on when I'd rather be screaming. And the best way I can sanely write and revise is to:
  • Avoid editing anything while writing a first draft--including the first draft of any new and/or revised section or scene. Just keep writing until you reach the last page or paragraph. (For some extra help with that last page, check out  my earlier post on writing your endings first.)
  • Once you're ready to read through your initial or discovery draft, try to read without a pen or pencil in hand. Be a spectator rather than an editor.
  • The second read-through is the time to make notes. Aim for order: chapter-by-chapter, line-by-line. Keep everything together in a special manuscript binder, preferably one with dividers.
  • Once you've finished writing your editorial notes, switch to right-brain mode and journal out your feelings and overall impressions. What did you like best about your manuscript? What do you feel is missing? Do you need to write any new scenes? Did any parts of the story bore you to the point you didn't want to read them? (Extra tip: be ruthless--cut out anything you don't enjoy. Readers won't like those sections either.) Make a comprehensive to-do list for your next draft.
  • Examine the chapter arrangement. Are the chapters in the right order to tell the story most effectively? What about the chapter lengths? Are some chapters too long, while others are too short? While it's not essential to make your chapters always the same length, you also don't want to throw your reader off balance with too much variation unless it's intentional.
  • Look at POV (point-of-view) use. Have you gone for single or multiple POVs? Have you kept them consistent? If not, make your changes now.
  • Read the manuscript aloud whenever possible. Reading to your critique group can be helpful.
  • Create a style sheet to record important story details, e.g., correct spellings of characters' names, their dates and places of birth, the floor plans of their houses, a map of their city streets. I like to make a list of their wardrobes and other belongings--items in the story that will appear more than once. For instance, if I've said my heroine lives in a one-story house, I don't want her to ever go upstairs unless she's visiting someone who lives in a multi-level dwelling; or have her receive a compliment for her lovely green dress after I've dressed her in shorts and a T-shirt.
  • Use your computer's "search and replace" function to weed out repetitions and buzz words. For instance, how many times have you used the words "suddenly," "actually," or "really," or had your main character bite his lip, run his hand over his hair, or drink a cup of coffee? Or used a word like "enthrall" too many times?
  • Once a draft is finished, put it away for a while and work on something new. Two to four weeks between drafts is usually long enough to let a manuscript "rest." Follow the guidelines above and you may only have to rest two or three times before you're ready to submit your work to a publisher.
Tip of the Day: More than anything, revision is a process to help your words shine on the page (or e-reader device). Your goal is to make the manuscript flow--not to strangle the life out of it. Remember to take your time and stay true to your original vision--whether it's your screenplay or your new backyard--make it the one that pleases you, not someone else, the most.

Wednesday, May 7, 2014

The 12 Top Things I Learned from the A-Z Blogging Challenge

Wow, the A-Z Blogging Challenge has been over for a week, and I'm just now recovered enough to add some of my thoughts to the list of other bloggers' reflections that you can read by clicking here.  

As mentioned on my sidebar, my theme for the challenge was "My Keeper Books," all the books I can't imagine living without. It was a particularly poignant theme for me, because I'm currently living without them! As soon as the challenge was over, I began packing for another move, and I started with my books. After two years of condo-living, I'm off on a new adventure to an unfinished town-house in serious need of renovation. But that's all for another post; today's is about the top 12 things I learned from the challenge. Here goes:
  1. My chosen theme of "keeper books" gave me the opportunity to really examine what books I own and why. It helped me to make some choices for the upcoming move, leaving me with a small pile of "non-keepers" that went off to Friends of the Library for resale.
  2.  I learned that using a set theme for any creative project is an excellent idea to help you stay on track. Whether it's choosing a theme such as "Love conquers all" for your novel, or painting a series of still life pictures only in yellow and green featuring  koala bears, a theme keeps you focused and productive.
  3. For the majority of my A-Z posts I made digital collages to serve as illustrations. Stretching to include a visual "post" along with the text each day was a bonus that kept me feeling even more committed to the challenge.
  4. I learned that I could write a post without stressing about it. Because I had a deadline to adhere to, I found I was writing more naturally and with a lighter heart--despite the time pressure. Weird.
  5. And with that, somehow, I found the time to post every day! Proving to myself that I will always have the time to write, draw, and create every day if I want it badly enough.
  6. I also found I could be much more open with what I wrote about. When I first started my blog several years ago, my intention was for it to be a "how-to-write" site, an extension of my creative writing workshops and classes. But that often meant I would become overly-focused on the need to teach, leading to more stress: Was I clear in my instruction? Did I make the subject too difficult, or boring? Did I make the reader feel inspired or simply overwhelmed? It was a worry, but one that I've learned to set aside. My posts will still center on writing and creativity, but I plan to share more of my own journey and daily life into the mix as well.
  7. I met a lot of great bloggers. It was wonderful to visit, connect, follow, and comment on so many interesting and varied sites--sites I would never have found prior to the challenge. Can't wait to read more!
  8. Apologies for this rather negative "lesson" but I was astonished at how many blogs I couldn't read! It saddens me to say this, but it was such an important discovery and eye-opener for me. Many, many blogs I visited turned out to be too cluttered or too busy for me to read without getting a serious headache. Most of these had teensy-tinsy fonts on black backgrounds, and quite often with just a "hint" of the post, with no real indication of how to click onto the main body of the post to read what it was supposed to be about. With this was another problem I kept running into--blogs that I DID like very much had no way (at least that I could see) to follow them. So frustrating! In light of this, I hope my blog is easy for you to use and follow. If at any time you have trouble with any of it, please let me know.
  9. On the pleasant and easy-to-use blogs, however, (which were also the vast majority) I started to develop a much-improved habit of leaving comments. In the past I have been a terrible non-commenter, blaming my perpetual lack of time. What I learned to do over the month of the challenge was to simply set aside a few extra minutes each day so I could comment on whatever blog(s) I was visiting. It was a good plan and I hope to continue it.
  10. When I signed up for the challenge, one of my goals was to learn how to blog more frequently--and I certainly did, LOL. Now that the challenge is over, I don't think I will be blogging every day, but a schedule of every 4-5 days is manageable, and more frequent than my past posts of once a week.
  11. Blogging every day came close to being a daily meditation for me. I enjoyed that, and I may continue using my morning writing practice as a way to generate if not actual blog posts, at least the ideas and themes for them.
  12. Prior to the challenge, I kept hearing voices in my head--the nagging ones that come from agents, editors, publishers, etc. demanding that writers "blog, and successfully, too." I guess "successfully" means having a gazillion hits and followers, and a fan list from here to the moon. In other words, blogging was promotion and marketing and something to do with job performance and pleasing other people. The A-Z Challenge turned that all around for me. Now I feel blogging is about community and communication, and sharing what is important in your world. It's not about numbers, it's about conversation and helping each other where and when we can.  
Tip of the Day: One last thing about the challenge, and maybe the most important: I learned to take time off. Sundays were set aside as the "non-blogging" days, and I was amazed at how vital it was to follow that rule. So the next time someone tells you have to write "every day," guess what? They're wrong! Giving yourself necessary, scheduled breaks will help you maintain energy and enthusiasm for even the most challenging project. 

I want to thank the organizers of the challenge--as you can see, I learned a lot from them. I also want to congratulate everyone who completed the challenge. Wishing you an entire dictionary of future blog post ideas!

And we have a winner for the giveaway copy of OVERTAKEN!
Congratulations, and happy reading!