Sunday, September 30, 2007

Wanted: Conflict and Tension for Writers

My good friend Kathy on her blog Well Placed Words had an excellent entry about sagging middles. Which, like all of her entries, got me to thinking about writing. And now specifically about tension and conflict.

So here are five ways to increase tension in a manuscript.

1. Have your main character struggle with decisions. And the bigger the decision the bigger the tension. Moral dilemmas are best.

2. Pose questions that aren't answered right away. The reader will continue reading to discover the answers.

3. Have your characters possess opposing goals.

4. Clue your reader into something that the main characters are unaware of, but that will have a great impact when revealed.

5. Subplots: If each subplot has a tension-filled story arc as well as the main plot, the reader will be pulled through the book.

What are some ways you create/maintain tension in your writing?

Saturday, September 29, 2007

Meditation fast and easy #3

This is wonderful for focusing the mind:

Pick an object that possesses beauty. The lovely Navajo lady in the illustration above is a ceramic piece by R. C. Gorman that I have used when doing this meditation.

Focus on the object. Pay attention. Clear your mind of all else but the beauty. See with all of your being.

This meditation is a lot of fun and often easier to begin a meditation practice with as the mind has something lovely to focus upon.

So, here's three quick and easy meditations.

Do you have a favorite meditation? Do you have a meditation practice? If so, what have you discovered by meditating? If you don't have a practice, why not? What stops you?

Friday, September 28, 2007

Meditate=creativity, Meditation #2

Mantra meditation:

Pick a word that has meaning for you. Classics are: ohm, Rama, and Christian prayers "Mother Mary, etc."

Sit relaxed and with each relaxed breath, breathe your mantra. When you find yourself forcing the word or playing with the word or your mind drifting so you're just listing your mantra (all this will happen) gently return.

Remember: There's no right way or wrong way to meditate! You can't do it wrong! It's a tool to help still the mind so all those lovely creative ideas can come.

Thursday, September 27, 2007

Three minute meditation #1

Cats are naturals at being in the moment!

First meditation style: This is a classic:

Count your breaths. Inhale on one and exhale on and and inhale on two and... or vice versa. Count up to 3 or 4 and then start over.

Focus on breathing gently and calmly. Focus.

Sit comfortably. Relax. Focus on the breath.

Relax your eyelids. But it is not necessary to shut your eyes. You can if you want.

When your focus drifts, return to the breath.

Easy and difficult at the same time. When you first start, you may want to use a timer if you tend to "watch the clock." As you gain the habit of this meditation, you can do it anytime, anyplace, standing or sitting.

It's as simple as breathing.

Wednesday, September 26, 2007

Meditate to create

What a gorgeous smile.

People talk about the benefits of meditation all the time. Here's another benefit: it increases creativity.

It creates flow. Blood flow. Thought flow. A slipstream of calm.

So, why doesn't everybody meditate? I believe it's because of one main reasons:
We think we have to do it right, do it daily, do it for a long time and...

...sit on those cushions cross-legged.

None of this is true.

Three minutes--a mini-meditation--every other day works. Works incredibly. Tremendously.

Next: a couple of meditation styles that can be done in 3 minutes.

Saturday, September 22, 2007

Editing on a deeper level

And it's online! Margie Lawson gives great workshops on writing. And with her online classes you don't even have to leave home!

This upcoming class is Deep Editing. I've taken a couple of workshops from Margie, both in person and online. She has a way of teaching that makes it easy and simple and almost sub-conscious to incorporate her tools into your writing.

October is crazed for me, but I'm seriously considering signing up...

Unique and universal, the struggle to be both

An excellent post over at my friend Kathy's blog Well Placed Words got me to thinking about this difficult subject. Her entry is about knowing your audience and writing for them--always a good idea.

A well-known author expanded on that idea: what you want to write is "unique and universal." I can't recall the name of the applies to all creative work, however.

Think about a favorite novel, or piece of any artwork. What draws you to the work? What keeps you there? It's unique, there's nothing else like the composition or the characters or the subject. Yet, it resonates.

How to be unique and universal? We're all both. The skill to develop is to recognize and use our uniqueness to be universal. Not easy. Worth the work.

Thursday, September 20, 2007

Blogrush--what do you think?

Hi all,

There's a new element on my page and I need your input. I'm fairly new to blogging. And "Blogrush" is new.

So, I'm giving it a trial run. One of the things I'm concerned about: I believe that writer's blogs are for our readers. Yes, writers, too. But as a reader, I've discovered great books by reading blogs by different authors--and not necessarily that particular author's blog! My concern is that the rush box is too narrow in scope...maybe.

What do you think?
Do you like the little list that you can click on and surf?
Or is it too distracting? Or just another element on the page that you ignore?
Is it useful? or not? Why or Why not?

Comments welcome and encouraged!

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

Saving Time, Saving Money and a Recipe

Everybody wants to do both. Of course. Seems impossible? Here's one SECRET:
Follow your own bliss and you'll do both, automatically.

For example, I love to bake. I do it often. I have little time to indulge my love--so I've found and use the recipes that are quick and easy. Still, it amazes me how quick the recipes are to make and how very little they cost, usually pennies a serving. And delicious.

All this from indulging myself in a passion.

Here's one quick and easy recipe that makes cookies that everyone raves about:

No Baking Chocolate Oatmeal cookies:

2 C. granulated sugar
8 tbls butter (1 stick) (or margarine)
1/2 c. milk (can be soy or low-fat)
1/3 c. baking cocoa
1 teas. vanilla
3 c. oats (quick best, can use old-fashioned, but cook longer)

In big pan (everything goes into one pan) combine sugar, margarine, milk and cocoa. Over medium high heat bring to a boil and cook for 6 minutes, stirring often.

(Now is the time for a mini-meditation on your current project.)

After six minutes, add vanilla and remove from heat. Stir in oatmeal and let set in saucepan 6 minutes. If old-fashioned oats, 9 minutes.

(Now is the time for you to run and write down your new ideas. If you do, set a timer!)

Drop by generous tablespoons onto wax paper. Leave alone (gooey but good if you eat now) until set up and then store in tight container.

Makes lots, freezes well, not unhealthy, remind people the cookies are full of fiber and not to eat too many at a time!

Monday, September 17, 2007


My dog and cat are best friends. They support each other. When my little dog became ill, my cat was the first to notice.

Without my friends, I wouldn't be almost finished with my w.i.p. I wouldn't be an editor of two magazines. My life would be empty. Instead its full.

So this entry is a BIG THANK YOU to all my friends!

Thursday, September 13, 2007

Modeling for creative folks

There's a number of ways to model, all of them useful and fun. Including business models--I'll bet you didn't see that coming! But the most successful businesses are the by people that are creative and innovative and thrive in change.

There's a short, little quick read of a book titled The Dip: A Little Book That Teaches You When to Quit (and When to Stick) by Seth Godin. And yes, it's all about business. So, why read it?

Because it's also about engaging your passion, being the best that you can be--and also realizing when you need to "let it go" and when you need to "keep on going." Don't we all struggle with that? And I believe all creative people perhaps "let it go" a little too early OR "keep on going" a little too long. Since every project is so close to the heart and so much a passion...a business model creates a tiny bit of objectivity.

Hint: If you step away from your current beloved, take a break (a small one) often you can return with renewed energy and enthusiasm and a touch of objectivity--and those "insurmountable" problems can be solved!

Monday, September 10, 2007

To Read or Not to Read?

This is a tough question for beginning writers--and the advice can be confusing.

One of the agent blogs: Caren Johnson, has a post on whether a writer should read or not. And that got me to thinking about the whole subject.

What works for me, so well, (so well that it has been an ongoing writing course): critical reading or critique reading. Donald Maass, another agent and the author of Writing the Breakout Novel, suggests strongly doing this. It does negate some of the pleasure of being a reader, because you're always working on your craft while reading--but it is such a valuable tool.

So, critique reading: when I read I pay attention to several different things: First and absolutely foremost is: Do I "stay in" a work of fiction? Do I continue to read, despite distractions? Despite needing to make dinner? Despite a work schedule? Despite it being 2 a.m.? If I have to put the book down do I find moments to snatch it up again and read a paragraph, or only a sentence? Critical reading means noticing when that happens and asking WHY? What has the writer done to keep me so engrossed? And what have they avoided doing (pages of only description, for example)?

Or, do I put the book down a lot and walk away? WHY? Why am I NOT compelled to read on? Sometimes this is the best teacher--what stops me? And horrors of horrors--when I don't finish a book, that's when to really think--what made me "give up" on a novel? Sometimes the answers surprise me.

But it's no surprise how valuable developing a "critiquing eye or eyes" while reading is. Margie Lawson in her fabulous workshops uses many examples of excellent writing, as does Donald Maass. When I first starting attending I used to think "That's great, but that author is a best-selling writer and I don't want to just imitate them!"

With "critique reading" there's no chance of inadvertent imitation and plenty of opportunity to learn better writing techniques!

TIP: After I read a novel, I sometimes go online and read the Amazon critiques--and learn that readers catch the same things as a writer does--another valuable lesson.

Sunday, September 9, 2007

Common as dirt

Not a great photo, but I took it with my phone--ain't modern technology wonderful? And since this entry is about being okay with being okay, I figured it was a perfect picture--because there is no such thing!

And yet us creative types struggle every day with this--wanting to be perfect--or at least better than we think we are--or at least as good as what's in our heads. But if you're like me, if you're a painter, you're better than Rembrandt or Monet or Picasso, if you're a writer, you're better than Hemingway, Dickens and certainly Rowling! IN THE VISION OF THE WORK IN YOUR MIND!

Should we all strive long and hard to create the best that we can? Certainly! Should we use every tool we can discover to improve ourselves in the creative endeavor we love? Yes! Should we never release an imperfect creative piece that's common as dirt anyway? NO!

Because, like the photo above, everything is imperfect. Like the sunflower above, everything share a commonality. When I look at this photo, I smile. Not because it's perfect. Not because it is what I thought it would be when I took the photo.

It's lovely. I love sunflowers.

Friday, September 7, 2007

More on great sites

There are great sites on the net. There are horrid sites on the net. And everything in between. Like Wikipedia--the info can be completely accurate and well done--or not. So the net is an augment, an addition, another source.

And when it comes to creative endeavors--which is 100 % subjective anyway--proceed with all critical faculties going full bore!

That having been said: here's an inactive blog that is excellent for beginning writers with a finished or about-to-be finished first novel: Miss Snark, the Literary Agent. Miss Snark is famous, or infamous, depending on who you read, but either way, her archives (still available) are a guerrilla course in the world of agents and publishing. And whether you agree with her or not--vastly entertaining reading!

What sites have you discovered, good or bad, about this strange behavior: being creative?

TIP: Approach the net like you would a car salesman, caveat emptor, if it sounds too good to be true--then it isn't true. Anything goes on the net.

Tuesday, September 4, 2007

When it's the end...

Okay, I couldn't resist. Since this entry is about endings or the end or the living end or...okay, okay, enough!

When is it the end? Or when is a creative project DONE? The short, simple answer is when the piece is sold. You no longer own it. However, that's a little too simplistic. When is it finished--or released to go before the "public?"

I've been thinking a lot about this for a couple of reasons: I'm getting close to needing to say "The End" on my w.i.p. and like everybody else, it can be hard to send my baby out into the cruel, cruel world. Also, I'm teaching a class in How to Edit the Novel at the True North Creative Learning Center and one of the major pitfalls of editing is never stopping. There's more than one tale of terror of a writer trashing a good work by over-editing, or a painter overpainting, or a sculptor cutting just a bit too much. So, knowing when to say, "the End" or "Done" or "Finished" is a skill to be cultivated.

How do you decide when a work is finished? Why?

HINT: One way to know the work is finished: you change it just to change it and sometimes change it back again! Let it go!