Friday, May 31, 2013

Appreciating Platforms

A couple weeks ago at writers' group, we started talking about the recent trend of publishers and agents wanting authors to have an established platform. Several people in the group were less than excited about this fact, feeling overwhelmed at just the thought of trying to juggle writing, blogging, websites, and social media accounts, all at the same time. I totally get it. It takes a lot of balance. There are times when I start to feel overloaded, and it's not like I have a huge following to interact with. But at the same time, I understand the value of this idea because I appreciate it, not just as a writer, but as a reader.

The easiest way for me to explain this is to share with you some of my favorite people to follow, and why: 

I'm lucky enough to have a few signed copies of Erin's novels on my bookshelf, thanks to contests and promotions on her Facebook page and blog. Not only is she a phenomenal writer, but she's the most kind and open author I've ever had the privilege of interacting with online. She's constantly engaging in conversations with her fans, asking and answering questions, and passing on encouragement to those of us who aspire to be as successful as she is. Her blog posts are always inspiring, honest, and real. I don't think you could find a better example of how an author platform should be used.

Jon's book START (see my review here) is all about figuring out your dream and turning it into a reality. What better topic for aspiring writers? Not only does Jon offer lots of encouraging and inspiring tweets and posts, but he's also hilarious. From comedic observations of every day life, to TV and sports commentary, to his knack for finding extremely awkward Pinterest posts, it's impossible to follow Jon and not laugh out loud at least once a day. 
Tony DiTerlizzi (@TonyDiTerlizzi) 
If you follow author and illustrator Tony DiTerlizzi on Twitter and/or Instagram, you'll get to see a constant gallery of his sketches. I love seeing his process when it comes to creating the beautiful images for The Spiderwick Chronicles and The Search for Wondla. He's also replied to several of my tweets, sometimes answering questions, and other times simply thanking me for a compliment. It's awesome to get an inside look into his books and their stunning artwork.
Ksenia Anske (@kseniaanske/ 
There are so many reasons I love following this woman. Blogger and up-and-coming author, she delights in interacting with her followers. Every day you'll find her answering questions, giving pep talks, celebrating victories, and generally boosting moral in the Twitter writing community. Do you need someone in your corner who will push you to write, write, write and never give up? Follow her. She has an incredible work ethic and is a great example of what it means to be dedicated to writing. And not in an intimidating "I'm so much better than you, you could never compare" manner, but in an uber-inspiring "You can do it, too!" sort of way.

I could add so many more...Bob Goff, Isaac Marion, Don Miller, Becca Rose, Kristin Lamb...the list goes on. 

Inspiration, encouragement, support, humor, writing tips, a glimpse into the lives of my favorite authors...all because of  their Twitter/Facebook/blog. All because they take the time to interact with me--the reader, the follower, the fan. I think if you can experience the excitement that comes with interaction like this, the idea of being able to provide the same for your own followers will seem a little less stressful and a lot more fun.

Monday, May 27, 2013

Picture Quote Monday {Memories}

In honor of Memorial Day I wanted to post something appropriate for the holiday. This photo is of my grandmother and great-grandmother. I'm doing some family research to try and identify the young man in uniform.

Thank you to all the men and women who have displayed honor and courage and given the ultimate sacrifice for their country. And thank you to all those who have served and serve now, many of whom I am lucky enough to count as friends.

Friday, May 24, 2013

Off With Its Head

Last Sunday my pastor asked us the question "What is intimidating you?" It was an interesting question, going a bit beyond "what are you afraid of?" By the time I was in the car headed home, I knew my answer. I told my husband I thought I had my answer figured out and that it seemed a little weird to me. But when I told him what it was he just nodded and said "Yeah" in this emphatic, no-you're-not-crazy-that-makes-total-sense, kind of way. (If I haven't mentioned it before, I'll say it now: I LOVE my husband. He's awesome.).

What intimidates me? One word: Success.

Once I'd figured it out, I jotted down why. Here's what I wrote: Because if you're successful, people will expect more of you. The voice of intimidation tells me, "You did it once, but can you really do it again?" What happens if I can't meet others'--or my own--expectations?

I just finished writing my first children's book. When I finished writing it, I was super excited to move onto the next project. It was going to be great; I'd figured out a method that works well for me, I knew what I was doing now, right? But as soon as I started planning my next novel, Intimidation came on the scene. It started reminding me that each project is different and this might not go as smoothly as the last story. Who was I to think I could ever become a full time writer? Don't I realize how hard that dream will be to accomplish? What if I run out of ideas? Are you sure that plot isn't a bit too complicated? And on and on, twisting facts and turning them into half truths that left me feeling powerless and weak.

In his sermon, my pastor used Goliath as his illustration for the character of Intimidation. He presented the idea that Goliath wasn't really there to fight. He was there to Intimidate--to cause the Israelites to run away or be frozen with inaction, ensuring they wouldn't reach their goal of victory. And frozen they were, until David came on scene.

The more I think about it, the more I've realized Intimidation is playing the same game with me. This last week, despite understanding what I was up against, I started listening to its voice. I ran to other manuscripts, trying to find a different story that would be easier to write. I froze, and essentially ended up with writer's block, feeling so stressed and anxious about my plot that I stopped working on it altogether. I allowed intimidation to overwhelm me. I let it dismantle the effective writing routine I had gotten into. And it sucked the life and the passion right out of me.

But I know I can't let it win. So I fought back. In his book START, Jon Acuff talks about answering the exaggerated lies of fear with truth. I sat down and organized all my hastily scrawled story notes that have been laying around in notebooks and on scraps of paper and filed them by title. You think I'm going to run out of ideas, Intimidation? I've got eight different book ideas that I've written down over the last three years. Think my ideas are horrible, that I'll never figure out my plot? Take a look at the original notes for my now finished book. They're a mess. They're horribly written. But look what came out of it. Think I can't handle the hard road ahead? Look at what I've already accomplished. I can--and I will--do it again. I went back and re-read the beginnings of my in-progress manuscripts and fell in love all over again with the one I had planned to work on in the first place.

Bit by bit, the drive and the energy and the passion has returned. The voice of intimidation may still be there, but that doesn't mean I have to listen to it. When Goliath shows up, I'm going to bring David to his house. I may have to slay Intimidation and cut it's ugly head off over and over again. But that's okay. Because I have a dream worth fighting for.

What about you? What is intimidating you right now? What steps have you taken to silence the negative voices in your own life? I'd love to hear your thoughts!

Monday, May 20, 2013

Picture Quote Monday {Sum Total}

So often we hear words involving "daily" in a negative context. The daily grind. Day in and day out. Day after day. It's like these phrases are trying to convince us our daily lives are boring and meaningless. But it's our daily lives that lead to our future. It's like that old saying, "The journey of a thousand miles begins with one step." But I like this saying better.

(Created with A Beautiful Mess app - read about it in my latest Small Things post)

Saturday, May 18, 2013

Calvin On The Creative Process

With the things I sometimes end up researching for a story, I'm almost positive the FBI has pinged on my Google searches.

Friday, May 17, 2013

START by Jon Acuff

I've been following Jon Acuff's blog Stuff Christians Like for a while now, and if there's one person I can count on to bring humor to my Twitter and Instagram feed, it's him. In his NYT Bestseller START Jon brings his wit and wisdom together to create a phenomenal book about leaving average behind and traversing the path to awesome. 

One look at the cover, and you know this book is going to be great. Punch fear in the face? Do work that matters? Flip the awesome switch? Let's do this.

Jon begins with his signature humor before launching into a detailed road map of the 5 stages every successful life goes through: Learning, Editing, Mastering, Harvesting, and Guiding. He tells us what to expect in each stage, how to find victory and avoid pitfalls, and gives light bulb worthy advice on determining what finish line we hope to reach. He encourages and instructs, all while constantly nailing home the truth that age/experience level/money doesn't matter--you just have to start.

What Love Does did for my heart, START did for my dream. I closed this book inspired to continue to chase my dream and empowered with the tools I needed to do just that. Jon's writing has a way of drawing you in, making you feel like you're having a one-on-one conversation in his living room. He holds nothing back, opening himself up and sharing his great--and not so great--moments, all of which he uses to illustrate what he's learned in his own journey toward awesome. And there's a whole lot of awesome in these pages. Want to know how to silence the schizophrenic voices of fear? How to make time for your passions, ignore the critics, master your craft, and live life with an exclamation point instead of a question mark? Want to learn all that without being bored to death by a dry self-help manual? Read this book.

Whether your dreams seem too far gone to be realized, or you've already started down the road to awesome and are actively pursuing your passion, there's a vast amount of wisdom, motivation, and encouragement to be found here. Pick up this book and give yourself the chance you deserve. START will not only light a fire under your dream, it will give you the fuel to keep it burning.

Thursday, May 16, 2013

The Small Things - May Edition

Encouraging Words

I've started getting feedback from my beta readers and I gotta say, they've put a gigantic smile on my face. From my mother-in-law's (slightly biased) praise, to a mom who was inspired to read it aloud to her kids, they've been both helpful and super encouraging. But the highlight was this week at writers group when my friend brought me a message from her two boys: They like my book so much they've already planned the movie trailer. *Cuteness overload* Combine that with their love of the characters and the fact they beg for more at the end of each chapter, and my day was made. Heck, my year was made. I'm more excited than ever to take the next step toward publication. A huge shout out and thank you to all my beta-readers!

An Old Favorite

I've been revisiting one of my favorite children's books, The Wind in the Willows. My own book's style and characters were hugely inspired by this story, so it has an extra special place in my heart. What makes it even better is the fact that this particular copy is part of my collection of vintage and antique books. I love the delightful simplicity of the cover of this 1933 edition, but the best part is the inscription inside, from a mother to her son on Christmas. I love imagining that little boy curled up on a snowy winter day, absorbed in the very same book I now hold. You can see a photo of the inscription here, in my Instagram feed.

A Beautiful Mess App

Now that I've finally joined the current century and upgraded to an iPhone, I'm even more in love with taking and sharing photos. As a lover of doodles, type, and creative flair, A Beautiful Mess is everything I could dream of in a photo editing app. With beautiful hand-drawn borders, great fonts for custom type, and fun doodles and phrases, it's the perfect way to add your own funky style to your pictures. You can also create custom backgrounds using a variety of included images/patterns (like the vintage library card in the Beta-Reader thumbnail above). Just to show you how awesome this app is, I used it to create all the images in this post. It's well worth the $0.99 to download. You can also visit Elsie and Emma's lovely lifestyle blog here.

Monday, May 13, 2013

Picture Quote Monday {Critics}

I love this quote because it really puts into perspective something that writers (and anyone else who has a dream and a passion) have to deal with: criticism. And not the constructive kind. In Jon Acuff's book START, he has a great section titled "Critic's Math". In it he says, "1 insult + 1,000 compliments = 1 insult." It can be so hard to look past that one negative. So the next time someone hates on your dream, think of this, have a little giggle, and as Jon says: "Leave the haters behind you."

 P.S. Look for my full review of START on Friday! You won't want to miss this one.

Friday, May 10, 2013

The Crazy Train

There's nothing like preparing to query an agent to make you question everything you thought you knew.

Grammar, punctuation, genres: suddenly every time you look at your manuscript, it feels like that moment when you write a word and you say to yourself, "Is that how that's spelled? It looks weird." And then you google it and it turns out it was right all along, but you still can't shake that feeling that it's totally wrong.

This is why there are so many jokes about all writers being slightly insane.

So I'm spending every spare moment editing and polishing and triple checking every punctuation rule and trying to find an official statement on the difference between a chapter book and a novel, and suddenly I realize tomorrow is Friday and I should publish a blog post. And then I feel guilty for not having something amazing prepared because after all, you've got to have a platform. How else will you reach your potential readers? And then I think about the average number of readers my posts get, and I start think, "Who are you fooling? What readers?" And then I tell myself to shut up.

See what I mean about being crazy?

My emotions are a constant seesaw of I-can-do-this to I'm-not-good-enough. Everything I read about publishing is filled with encouraging words that upon closer inspection sound more like code for "prepare yourself for rejection." And if I can't remember when to use a semi-colon instead of a comma, can I really call myself a writer?

Where am I going with all this?

I don't know.

The fact is, I could turn this into a disgustingly positive, ultra inspirational post that goes on and on about how you've got to just go for it, the learning never stops, battle the monsters of fear and doubt...etc, etc, etc. And those posts are great. Sometimes we need those posts. But sometimes, we need to hear about someone else's struggles so we can say OH MY GOSH, I'VE SO BEEN THERE. It's instant relief to know it's not just you and maybe you're not as crazy as you thought. And for the whole twenty people who will read this post, I hope that's what it will be.

Did I just end my sentence with a preposition?


Monday, May 6, 2013

Picture Quote Monday {Continue}

I love this quote by Winston Churchill. As a writer, you quickly learn to try, try again. If you want to succeed, you can't be discouraged to the point of defeat each time you get a rejection letter, or when your plot has holes in it, or when your story isn't flowing as smoothly as it was yesterday. And now that I've finished my first book, I'm discovering how easy it is to fall prey to insecurity even after success. Can I really do it again? I have to battle the voices of fear and doubt and keep going. Whatever your passion, don't let failures, mistakes, or temporary setbacks cause you to give up. And when you reach one goal, celebrate it and set your sights on the next one. It's all part of the learning process. Continue.

Saturday, May 4, 2013

Literary Confessions

I've heard quite a few people talking recently about how it's really easy to put your best self out there when it comes to social media. Posting only the stuff that reveals our awesomeness has become the internet version of showing your mom your clean room, when really everything is just shoved under the bed. So being a writer, avid reader, and now blogger, I decided I should come clean about a few things in my literary life. (After all, I wouldn't want you thinking I'm perfect or anything.) So here goes...

I cannot get through a Jane Austen novel.

I've tried. Both as a teenager and an adult. I even went so far as to buy the fancy, gold-edged, embossed cover, hardback, 4-in-1 Austen collection at Costco a few months ago. And now it just sits on my bookshelf mocking me, the little blue ribbon marking the point of my failure on page 30 of Sense and Sensibility. I would love to cross this off my bucket list, but for now it looks like Pride and Prejudice and Zombies is as close as I'm gonna get.

I've read more Young Adult novels as an adult, than I ever did as a teenager.

When I was a teen, they all seemed whiny and angsty and cheesy and dramatic (the one exception being the ever wonderful Anne of Green Gables)--and I was soooo not into that. So, aside from a brief love affair with Cedar River Daydreams (the Christian equivalent of Sweet Valley High--don't ask) I went straight to adult fiction. Thankfully, I'm a writer of middle grade and young adult fiction, so when I'm thirty-something and still picking up books in the teen section of the library, I can call it "research" and not "denial." Let's just hope by then I actually look like an adult and stop being mistaken for a high-schooler by the librarians.

I don't always like the book better than the movie.

Case in point: see my review of  The Silver Linings Playbook. Although, I have been trying much more intentionally to judge books and their accompanying films on their own individual merit. Case in point: Blue Like Jazz. Both different. Both equally amazing. (As in top 5 of my book and movie lists). I do prefer to read the book first. Because I really must be able to compare everything that was or was not in the book while I'm watching the movie. At least until my husband tells me to stop talking and just watch.

I have never read the Harry Potter books.

I can see you seriously considering clicking unfriend--unfollow--unsubscribe, so I won't mention the other series that I've also not read. *cough*--vampires--*cough*

What about you? Any confessions to make? Unread books that make fellow readers gasp in horror? Films you loved based on books you were less amorous over? Novels you're slightly embarrassed to admit to reading? Go ahead and share. It's good for the soul.

Thursday, May 2, 2013

Scrivener (Or How to Make Your Life Easier)

This week I completed the final (for now) draft of my first children's novel and sent it off to some beta-readers for feedback. Though the idea and inspiration for this book came to me over three years ago, it was only six months ago that I actually sat down and began writing it. I was able to get a first draft finished in only 30 days, thanks to NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month - which I will wax eloquent about later in the year as November draws closer. For now, click the link to learn more). But one of the biggest things that has made my writing and editing life so much easier, and helped me to keep up the pace without getting burned out and frustrated with the 50,000+ words sitting in front of me, is this amazing writing software called Scrivener, by the folks over at Literature and Latte.

I'm not kidding. It's amazing. It's phenomenal. I ask every single writer I come into contact with what software they use, and if they're not using Scrivener, I tell them all about how amazing and phenomenal it is.

If I were to detail all the great things you can do in Scrivener, the sheer size of this post would have you discreetly backing away without making eye contact. So I'll do my best to keep it short and sweet and focus on the top reasons why I love it, and how it has changed the way I write.

3 Things I love about Scrivener: Index Cards, Folders and Pages.

You see that? There on the left sidebar? Those are all the things you can get to IN ONE SCREEN. Gone are the days of having a million windows open in order to look at all your research photos, character profiles, chapters, scenes, and all the other stuff you have to constantly refer to as you're writing.

The Index Cards: There is a handy little index card attached to each folder. I used these to jot down the plot points I wanted to hit in each chapter. Not only can you add text to these, but you can label them (Idea, Character Notes, Chapter, etc.) and mark their status (First Draft, Revised Draft, Final Draft, or a custom status for those who need to note they're on the Eleventy-First Draft). If you're like me and need an outline in order to make sensible progress, but hate having to create said outline, these provide the perfect middle ground between pantsing and planning.

Folders & Pages: Each folder is a chapter. Contained in those folders are your pages for that chapter. Why is this awesome? You can keep multiple drafts of one chapter--on their own separate pages--inside the folder. You can keep your scenes separate--especially nice when you're changing POV's. But the best part about this: No more scrolling through a manuscript that is page after page after page of text! I want to edit chapter 16? Click on chapter 16's folder. BAM! (Let me tell you, it is so much easier to edit when your manuscript is cut up into nice bite-sized chunks and you can face 2,000 words at a time instead of having the whole 50,000 in your face, laughing maniacally over how long it's going to take you to fix everything you did wrong in the first draft.)

These are just the top three things I love about Scrivener. I haven't even begun to scratch the surface of the wonders contained therein. There's the compiling settings, which make it super easy to make your manuscript submission ready. The trash can, which removes the files and folders you select for deletion, but keeps them in the little can in case you realize, in a moment of panic, that what you thought was rubbish was actually brilliant. And oh, the wonders of full-screen mode.

And you don't have to be a novel writer to love this program. It has templates for scripts, research papers, short stories--you name it, if it needs to be written, it can be done in Scrivener.

At $40 for the Windows version and $45 for the Mac, this software will make your life easier without being hard on your wallet. You can even download a free trial before you commit. So pry yourself away from my totally awesome blog and go here to check it out.