Category Archives: Writing topics

Oops!

I am sorry this post is late today. Life has gotten in the way, but in a good way. 🙂 I had a fantastically lazy and relaxing Thanksgiving weekend. I didn’t worry about very much (for a change) except reading my book and getting caught up on some chilled out family time. With all that laid back time, I just didn’t get my post done this weekend.

Then last night I went to see a production of Shakespeare’s The Winter’s Tale, starring Sir Kenneth Branagh and Dame Judi Dench, broadcast from the Garrick theatre in London’s West End through a Fathom Events Live special showing at a local movie theater. It is a treat to see something like this, or NT Live’s Coriolanus, which I have seen a few times in local movie theaters. I have seen a few others and am also thinking I will HAVE to check out the Fathom Events Live broadcast of Sherlock – The Abominable Bride that will be here in the US in January.  With all the excitement of seeing the play, I didn’t manage to get anything written by the time the play was over at almost 10:30.

So even though this is late, I wanted to share a story with you from my super relaxing long weekend. Before we go to sleep at night, we take turns reading to the kids. They can read on their own, but there is something about having that time, reading aloud to the kids to get them to sleep. I have one book I’m reading to the twins and I had another I was reading for quite awhile to my oldest. He had gotten the book, The One and Only Ivan, on his school librarian’s recommendation, at the last book fair at school. We always end up spending a boatload at those book fairs by the way. 🙂

We read this book for a little while, though it is a children’s book with very short chapters. (I love short chapters for night time reading sessions!) The story is basically about this gorilla, Ivan, who has lived his life in a small cage, not in a zoo or in the wild, but doesn’t seem to mind too much until he meets a baby elephant named Ruby who needs his help. He makes a promise to his friend Stella the elephant to help save Ruby.

It’s a sweet and easy read, which I’d recommend reading, regardless of your age. What I wanted to share with you, though, was that I had one of those ugly cry moments (as Oprah might say) reading it to my son. I thought he was asleep so I’m just all choked up and unable to get any words out, then I look over and see he is waiting patiently for me to continue. It took me a few minutes to get myself under control enough to finish reading it to him.

I admire writers who can tell a story that makes a reader feel so strongly as to break into an ugly cry. I admire writers who can make a reader feel sad, or happy, or even angry reading their stories. The book I was reading myself over the weekend wasn’t the Great American Novel, but rather a feel good romance novel I knew exactly what to expect from the author as soon as I checked it out from the library.  This author may not give me much that is unexpected, but she manages to stir the emotions up from time to time in each book of hers I read.

I like reading books that make me feel and hope to be the writer that manages that for my readers someday.

Thanks for stopping by and for your forgiveness for the lateness.

Have a great week!

~CJS

Thankful

As impossible as it seems to me, it’s already that time of year to celebrate Thanksgiving here in the U.S. Christmas will be soon around the corner, but as my children actually like to point out whenever they see Christmas displays already showing up at stores and on the street – you can’t just skip right over Thanksgiving. And for me, taking the time to be thankful is just as important as the turkey and dressing and time off work and school with family and friends.

I am blessed with a great many things in my life, family being at the top of my list, but since this is a blog that always comes back to writing (and reading sometimes too), I’d like to share some things I am thankful for in my writing life. Maybe some of these things are shared by others as well? Please feel free to share with me in the comments which ones we share and also the ones I may have missed. And since I won’t be posting on Thursday, let me take this chance to wish you and yours the happiest of Thanksgivings. 🙂

In My Writing Life I Am Thankful For:

1) Fellow Writers – Meeting other writers, whether through writer’s groups or online, has helped me tremendously. I have learned from others through their stories and blogs and critique of my work. I have enjoyed sharing the twisted writer side of myself that thinks of new characters watching people at the park or dreams up new dialogue while waiting in line at the grocery store. It helps to know I am not alone in in getting lost in thought that way. It is also comforting knowing that I’m not alone in my doubts and second-guessing myself. Fellow writers help in so many ways and I am thankful.

2) Office Supplies – Am I the only writer nerd who loves to pick up new notebooks or pens or pencils or Post-its or dry erase boards or who knows what else because I know I may fill those notebooks or Post-its or whatever it may be with ideas or even snippets of my next work in progress? There’s so much potential in an empty notebook. There’s so much possibility in a blank page or new ink or a stack of index cards. It may be silly, but I am thankful for office supplies.

3) Time to Write – It doesn’t always come easily or often, but when I am lucky enough to make the time to write, it is something for which I am always tremendously grateful.

4) Inspiration – I find inspiration in many places, at odd times and sometimes even in dreams, but always I am grateful that inspiration has been found. It is a gift to stumble upon an idea or feel a story start to take on a life. I am thankful to see with a writer’s eye all the possibilities that lie beyond what is on the surface.

5) The Work – I am thankful for the feeling of having written. I feel grateful for the creative outlet that sitting down to write allows in my life. I like having the need to put words down on the page. I feel lucky to have the opportunity to pursue a dream of writing and I am grateful each time I work to make that dream reality.

 

Truth strange and beautiful as fiction

But there’s a story behind everything. How a picture got on a wall. How a scar got on your face. Sometimes the stories are simple and sometimes they are hard and heartbreaking”  -Mitch Albom

I recently stumbled upon an interesting Facebook page that some had “liked” and I keep having show up in my Facebook feed. Sometimes it’s extremely annoying when Facebook throws a post into your feed just because one of your many friends “liked” it and thus you have to look at it to whether you choose to or not, whether you like it or not. In this case, however, the unsought out post was a bit of a gift.

Humans of New York Facebook page posts random pictures and brief stories of people’s lives ranging through a wide variety of experiences and perspectives. There is a collection of books associated with the page, the one I am most interested in checking out being one published last month, Humans of New York – Stories. This collection gives stories along with the pictures that seem simple but can be powerful. One of the starred reviews reads, “There’s no judgement, just observation, and in many cases, reverence, making for an inspiring reading and visual experience” – Publishers Weekly

The Facebook posts caught my attention for the little flashes into a person’s life. Many stories have the feel of a confession. Not perhaps confessing something they did wrong necessarily, but an unburderning of themselves by sharing the story. Many I have read have left me thinking about them afterwards.

As a writer whose job it is to create characters that feel authentic in situations that are not only believable but that also capture hearts and imaginations, these glimpses into people’s lives are fuel for the fire.

I’ve always loved the idea of each of us being a collector of stories. We have our own stories, we have our family stories and we have other shared stories with those around us that all help to define us. When we create our characters, it’s important that they too have their own collection of stories that have shaped and helped to define them.

What about you? What would you say our stories say about us? Have you built your characters with a collection of stories? Would you ever consider putting together your own collection of stories to share with others like Humans of New York? I’d love to hear about it in the comments. Feel free to share a story if you’d like.

Thanks and have a great week!

~CJS

 

Are You Ready For Some Motivation?

In my house full of guys (a husband and three boys), you can imagine I watch my fair share of football. There’s a tagline for football broadcasts, “Are you ready for some football?” We always are. Today I ask though, “Are you ready for some motivation?”

Many writers this week are beginning their NaNoWriMo challenges, but whatever challenge you may be facing today, I’m guessing a little motivation can’t hurt. I know I can use a little, so I’ve compiled some favorite motivational quotes here that can help us get started or keep going with whatever we’re working to accomplish. All of these quotes were taken from 365 Days of Wonder – Mr. Browne’s Book of Precepts, a book full of lovely thoughts that came out as a follow up to one of my favorite’s,a RJ Palacio’s Wonder.

 

Those who try to do something and fail are infinitely better than those who try to do nothing and succeed. – Lloyd Jones

You are braver than you believe, stronger than you seem, and smarter than you think. – Christopher Robin (A.A. Milne)

The future belongs to those who believe in the beauty of their dreams. -Eleanor Roosevelt

Use what talent you possess: the woods would be very silent if no birds sang except those that sang best. -Henry Van Dyke

Whether you believe you can or you believe you can’t, you are absolutely right. -Henry Ford

Great works are performed not by strength but by perseverance. – Samuel Johnson

You miss 100% of the shots you don’t take. -Wayne Gretzky

Far away in the sunshine are my highest aspirations. I may not reach them, but I can look up and see their beauty, believe in them, and try to follow where they lead. – Louisa May Alcott

You can never cross the ocean unless you have the courage to lose sight of the shore. – Andre Gide

Nothing will work unless you do. – Maya Angelou

 

You’re Not Alone

November is quickly approaching and for some brave souls that means NaNoWriMo (50,000 words in 30 days). Perhaps I will include myself in that group, if I can muster up a bit more bravery.

For many, October has therefore been all about NaNo Prep work. For those out there who are giving this a go and perhaps having a little trouble, I’ll tell you this much: you are not alone.

You are not alone if you have spent more time coming up with reasons why you can’t do NaNoWriMo than reasons why you can.

I fight off the instinct to list the many obstacles to actually getting 50,000 words written in the month of November. It is easy to see the difficulty of committing to such a significant word count goal. Sticking to a commitment to write with a specific goal in mind truly will be worth the difficulty however so I have to move past the excuses and keep looking at the reasons.

You are not alone if you’ve spent more time reading articles on the best way to prep for NaNoWriMo than actually prepping for NaNo.

Fortunately there are some excellent resources available, both through the NaNoWriMo site and through all sorts of other sites as well. However it is very easy to spend much more time reading about prepping than in actual prep work. I’ve begun limiting the exploration of ideas and just applying what I’ve already found.

You’re not alone if you struggle against the plotting nature of NaNo Prep since you tend to be a full time “pantser”.

I have never done an outline prior to writing, so this is a big step for me. I’ve played with completing character sketches that are much more detailed than I’ve tried in the past. I’ve also worked on a plot summary more detailed than previously done on work I let come freely (but a bit more haphazardly).

You’re not alone if you are not nearly as ready as you should be.

I am quite sure I could be doing more to get ready and if I do this again next year (heck if I make it through this year! Haha), I will definitely learn other things I coulda, shoulda, woulda done differently. Live and learn is, I suppose, the only way to handle it at this point.

How is your writing or writing prep (or thinking about writing or prepping for writing) going? Do you feel alone in your struggles sometimes? Does it help to know we all have our struggles? Feel free to share with me about NaNoPrep struggles/victories or any of your current challenges. I would guess whatever it is you may be struggling with (or succeeding at), you are not alone. 🙂

Thanks for reading and have a good week!

~CJS

 

A New Twilight?

This past week, Stephanie Meyer, the best-selling author of the teen vampire series, Twilight, upon which the blockbuster movies were based, made a big announcement.

With the 10 year anniversary of the first Twilight books’ publication, Meyer has announced a new Twilight book, Life and Death – A Twilight Re-Imagining sold in conjunction with the 10th anniversary edition . Well, it’s not really *new*, it’s a new version of the first book.

This release is not like her unreleased and incomplete version that was leaked and then given for free on her site at one point, Midnight Sun, which was told from Edward’s POV. The new re-telling is the same story with – wait for it- gender swapped characters! (Cue eye roll).

In this new book, Meyer now has the teenage vampire as a female character and the love struck human as a male. Instead of Bella, we have a Beau. Instead of Edward, we have Edythe. Other characters are also gender swapped, like Carlyle, but the story is the same.

Meyer has said that this “new book” is not really a new book and she views it as more like “bonus material”, however new book or not, it will get a lot of sales I would imagine, given the series success.

Here I will admit I enjoyed the Twilight books. I know, the writing wasn’t good. I know she totally ignored the vampire tropes and gave the world the sparkling vegatarian vampire. (Cringe) I know the female lead isn’t the strong character I prefer to read about and see portrayed in film. I know. But I enjoyed them. Yes, part of this had to do with liking the British actor who portrayed Edward in the movies. (I love the Brits okay?) It absolutely had to do with the fun of the first movie and the great soundtrack. For all of the books’ (and movies’) faults, I enjoyed them. Chalk it up to guilty pleasures if you must. I’m coming clean here. I liked Twilight. Judge me all you want. 😉

Having admitted to that, I can tell you I think it is absolutely ludicrous to re-tell the same story with changes. I’ve seen her defense that it’s a response to the harsh critisism she’s faced with her ‘damsel in distress’ main character. I think the flaws with Bella go beyond a simple gender swap to play with the weakness not being female. If she wants to respond to giving us a weak female character, she should write something entirely new with a kick-ass female lead.

If she wanted to capitalize on her well-loved existing series, she could take one of her other characters in the world she has already created and explore her story. Alice was a cool and capable character that she could make the heroine in a new series. It could still be in the same world people are already plugged into and could be either before Bella or after Bella.

She hasn’t done that with this new “book/bonus material”, so I have no interest in reading it. I hope for her that she gives her audience a better option in the future. Better yet, perhaps all the readers who fell in love with Twilight can continue enjoying all the great books that have been published since in the same young adult category that are really worth the read. Susanne Collins’ Hunger Games series is fantastic and has a kick-ass female lead. Marie Lu’s Legend series is a great read. Ally Condie’s Matched series is also great and her prose is beautiful. Cassandra Clare’s Mortal Instruments and Infernal Devices Series are both captivating. (The Infernal Devices series was my personal favorite between those two series, by far.) I also enjoyed the very popular Divergent series but didn’t like the writing as much as others. The YA audience has a wealth of strong options to choose from, so I would say, let’s just skip this “new” Twilight book and look nearby on the shelves for another instead. 😀

What do you think? (Amanda and AJ you don’t get to chide me for my Twilight guilty pleasure! 😉 ) Is a re-tooling of an existing story ever a good idea? Does her gender swap accomplish anything? Should successful series ever be re-visited? I’d love to hear about it in the comments. (No, Amanda, nothing about the Twi-Hatred you may have haha).

Thanks for reading. Have a great week!

~CJS

The Write Stuff

If you’ve tuned in lately to all our Twisted Writer posts, you may have noticed an inadvertent recurring theme cropping up in some of our posts. We all seem to be touching on challenges writers including ourselves can be (or are) battling against. You’ve seen “Writer’s Angst” from Joe; “Getting Back into the Swing of Things” by Amanda; “The Hardest Part of Being a Writer” by Jesi and now you have me chiming in here with this post which touches a bit on all of those topics.

This week I posted on my personal blog about how in the last few months I have really been out of it with my writing, my blogging, my Twitter, my writing group attendance and well, pretty much anything besides work, back to school, and the new football season for my oldest. Despite getting off track, I am fortunate to have people around me who can help remind me of where I want to be and/or kick me in the behind to help me get back on track.

At this week’s critique group, our Fearless Leader prompted all of us to share our goals. I haven’t really been thinking about or following any real goals for my writing lately. No wonder I am so off my game! Without setting some clear goals and then following through with achieving them, how do I expect to ever have any success with my writing? Have I just been thinking if I kept ignoring the writing that I would just magically have a finished novel?

Sadly there is no  magic shortcut to getting to something I am proud to have written. To get where I want to go, I need to force myself to set some solid goals along with an action plans go with them.

I imagine I am not the only one out there who has reached a snag like this before. Maybe you are there too. Maybe you got mired down in the muck of a difficult work in progress and let things slide like I have. Maybe you have been busy and overwhelmed like I have been. Maybe you just fell out of the good habits like I have done. Whatever the case may be, the good news is that it isn’t too late to get back on track. It’s not too late to get back in the swing of things. It’s not too late to tackle our writer’s angst. It’s not too late to do that hardest thing about writing and just show up. It’s not too late to show that we have the “write stuff”. 😉

I will keep you posted on my progress. Please feel free to let me know where you are at, if you are struggling too, or how you have managed to get past the times you get off track. I’d love to hear from you in the comments.

Thanks and have a great week!

~CJS

Brings Back Memories

My family and I just recently tried a local restaurant, Babes, famous in the area for down-home fried chicken and all the fixins served family style in a really homey setting. As soon as we walked in, the smell alone brought back memories of meals shared at my grandmother and grandfather’s house. The food was pretty yummy, but couldn’t quite compare of course to what I had growing up.

It is just remarkable how the smell or taste or sound or sight or feel of something can carry such a powerful memory. The smell of the food took me back to sitting in the kitchen while my grandmother fried chicken. I could have been sitting at the small table next to my Paw-Paw cutting up small bites of potatoes to boil and cream to go with the chicken, which by the way we always snuck a few bites of the raw potato when my grandmother wasn’t looking.  Did anyone else ever do that?  I could see the tomatoes fresh from the garden sitting on the shelf behind the kitchen sink that we might cut up to go with dinner or just sneak a bite of as a snack while we were waiting. I could hear the pop of the grease as my grandmother would put a new piece of chicken into the pan. I was back in those moments with just the little smell of the food at the restaurant.

When I write I have to be careful to remember details like the tomatoes on the shelf, or the kitchen sink facing a window that looks out to the garden, or the process of cutting up the potatoes. I don’t want to get lost in the details, but those type of little sensory details can help paint a much larger picture in a simple way that the reader may later color in with their own memories.

I could also fill in a character’s backstory with what he/she may remember based on a certain taste or smell or other sensory detail. Does the character deal with grief by listening to a song that he used to listen to with his wife? Does the character buy the house that is the setting for our story because the yard makes him think of the one he had growing up? Does the character hate the taste of beans because that’s all she ate growing up since beans and rice was all they could afford? Sensory triggers could be a starting point for a whole character sketch.

A solid go-to writing prompt can be taking one of the five senses and throwing it at your character. What is my character smelling in this scene? How does that smell affect her? Does the smell make her think of anything? It doesn’t have to be elaborate, but it could be. How might your character react to the taste of a dish offered to him? And why? Does your villain try to torment your character with the sound of a certain song? Why might that impact your character?

For me, I am going to think some more about the beauty of the simple moments like sitting in my grandparent’s kitchen and wish I could somehow take a time travel moment back in time to be with them again. Perhaps someday I will write about that. 😉

What sensory details always trigger memories for you? Is there a certain smell or taste that takes you back? Have you ever read something that really did a good job capturing a sensory detail? Do you try to include these details in your writing? I’d love to hear about it in the comments. 🙂

Thanks for stopping by. Have a great week!

 

~CJ

To Blurb or Not To Blurb

I subscribe to a blog called The Passive Voice, and if you are a writer you should be subscribing and reading this fantastic blog. Yesterday there was a post about blurbs that I found fascinating.

What is a blurb?

blurb    /blərb/
noun
a short description of a book, movie, or other product written for promotional purposes and appearing on the cover of a book or in an advertisement.
or
verb
write or contribute a blurb for (a book, movie, or other product). 
The article was about the second definition.
What we’re basically talking about here are endorsements from other authors and/or celebrities, those compelling “reviews” popped onto a book’s back cover or first few pages, to get the reading public to buy the book.
For a self-publishing writer these acclaims can help sell books, and when you are talking about having to self-promote, every little bit helps. Including blurbs.
For example? Go Google The Martian by Andy Weir. Completely self-published beginning as an online serial then going onto Amazon at $.99 then selling 35,000 copies in four months in 2013. That’s when it got Hollywood’s attention. In March of 2014 the book was no. 12 on the New York Times bestseller list, and by November that same year the book sold 180,000 copies. A huge coup for self-publishers.
But what happens when you get people to read your book and leave reviews on sites such as Goodreads and Amazon?
This became a huge concern of mine just before summer. You see, Amazon, in all its amazing glory, decided to take down any reviews if it was discovered that these reveiws were written by friends of the author. I have put up reviews for writers who, at the time, were not my friends. I met them through blogging and became a source to them for helping their promotion efforts. Eventually, through further interaction we did become friends but does that make my blurb/review of their work any less credible?
What about those well-known authors who seem to write blockbuster after blockbuster? Do blurbs really help them since they are well-known already in the industry? I mean, honestly, what more can you say about a famous author that hasn’t already been said, or read? Critiquing their current work is one thing, but seriously, how many times do we need to hear how he/she is today’s  Tolstoy, Austen, or Shakespeare? And let’s be honest, they aren’t those writers, and their writing resembles the classics the way a goose resembles a swan. They may be birds and have feathers and can swim and fly, but one look tells the truth.
Personally, when I buy a book, whether it is self-published or traditionally published, I ignore the blurbs. I don’t care for them. I’m looking for word of mouth and my own interests. If someone I know tells me I should read a certain book then I am more likely to do so than reading an endorsement from a celebrity or well-known author. Those people do not know me, but my friends and people I talk to often know my tastes or can guess easily. And if there are people I know personally endorsing a book then you can bet I’ll be reading that book. In fact, I have a lengthy list of books on my Goodreads Want-To-Read list thanks to those friends whose books I have read and heartily endorse.
To blurb or not to blurb, that is today’s question? Should blurbs be done away with and the writing stand on it’s own? Or do we like blurbs and think they are a useful marketing tool? Sound off in the comments.
Jesi

Writing to Come Alive

Don’t ask what the world needs. Ask yourself what makes you come alive and then go do that. Because  what the world needs is people who have come alive.” – Howard Thurman

I saw this quote this week and just loved it. “Ask yourself what makes you come alive and then go do that.” It seems simple enough, but how many of us find a way to do this?

For me, there are quite a few things that really make me come to life. My family, of course, is my life in many ways, and in moments with my family I come alive. Traveling has also always made me come alive and I know this is something I would love to do more often. But one of the things that has always consistently allowed me to come alive has been writing.

Whether I am re-tooling a current work in progress, or creating something entirely new, writing helps me come alive. Whether the work is poetry, or prose, or even a new blog post, writing helps me come alive. Whether I write for five minutes or several hours, writing helps me come alive. Whether the writing is good or downright awful, writing helps me come alive.

I imagine I am not the only one who has felt this way. If you are a writer, I suspect putting pen to paper has a similiar effect for you as well. I’ve seen quotes from writers that lead me to believe they have felt the same as well. Here are some of my favorites.

Gloria Steinem:

Writing is the only thing that when I do it, I don’t feel I should be doing something else.

Russell T. Davies:

“Writing isn’t a job that stops at six-thirty…It’s a mad, sexy, sad, scary, ruthless, joyful and utterly, utterly personal thing. There’s not the writer and then me. There’s just me. All of my life connects to the writing. All of it.”

Anne Frank

I can shake off everything as I write; my sorrows disappear, my courage is reborn.

Neil Gaiman

“Tomorrow may be hell, but today was a good writing day, and on the good writing days nothing else matters.”

(And one more because I can’t resist and love it so much.)

William Wordsworth

Fill the paper with the breathings of your heart.”

Can you think of something in your life that makes you come alive? Is it writing, like those of us “Twisted Writers” who share our writing adventures and thoughts with you here? Or is it something else? Painting? Yoga? Music? Monster Truck Rallies? 🙂 Feel free to share with me in the comments.

Thanks for stopping by and have a great week!

~CJS