Blog, Writing Blog

Why I Unsubscribed From All My Writing Blogs

After publishing my first book of flash fiction, I fell into a pretty deep writing slump.

I should have grabbed hold of the momentum from my publishing win, but I didn’t. And I paid the price. I decided I would get another volume out and set a pretty aggressive, but not impossible, date in my head. I cranked out a few stories early in January, and then, nothing. I would try to edit some stories I wanted in the collection, nothing. I would sit down to write, nothing.

This feeling is nothing new for me or for, I imagine, every other writer out there. But it’s still the worst.

In the past when this has happened, I’ve turned to the internet. When I am in a slump, I hunt for inspiration through other writers. Blogs, newsletters, webinars, courses, etc. I figure the more I see about writing in my inbox on a daily basis the more inspired I will be to write, right? Wrong.

At least it was the wrong approach this time.

Suddenly, all those emails telling me how I should write or outlining the successes of other writers, and giving tips on how to up your game or get published, were suffocating…

You can read the rest of this post on Medium.com!

Blog, Writing Blog

You Cannot Applaud Your Own Story: And Other Rules I Ignore

I recently started publishing on Medium. I’m not sure why, I still don’t really know what I’m doing but I figured, hey, the more places I have my writing, the better. Right? So, it’s there if you want to check it out.

Poking around in my first post, I noticed a clapping button and when I hovered over it, it gave me a message, “You Cannot Applaud Your Own Story.” My first thought?

Eff that.

You can’t tell me what to do.

Which led me down a rabbit hole of a bunch of other things people tell writers they should and shouldn’t do. And ya know what? We probably became writers because we don’t really like doing things the “normal” way.

So, here’s some writing advice that I do not like.

Don’t open with.

A dream sequence…someone driving..someone doing this or that or the other thing.

I think that’s bad advice. My advice? if you’re going to do it, do it well. Do it differently. Do it in a way that will make people say, whoa. Some of these things are cheesy and cliche but only if you do it the same way everyone has always done it. So do them, but do them your way.

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Write What You Know

I HATE this rule. Absolutely hate it. If it pops into my head while I am writing, I literally freeze up with self-doubt.

If you really think about it, in the grand scheme of things, I don’t know a whole lot. And if I let myself realize this, I just can’t write. So, I have to forget it.

Now, maybe what I hate is that this rule implies, “Write ONLY what you know.” Because I obviously do write what I know. But I also write about things I don’t know because if I only stuck to what I know, I would run out of stuff to write pretty quickly.

This is what Google is for. And Wikipedia. And research. If you want to write about something you don’t know much about, write about it AND research it.

Don’t Edit While You Write

This one is tricky. Since I work best under a tight deadline, sometimes I HAVE to edit while I write. I don’t have time to go back later and polish something. If, like me, this is how you work best, just do it. Ignore the haters. Read the last sentence you wrote and change that pesky work before you move on. Reread your last paragraph before you move to the next.

But here’s the thing; I still do shitty first drafts, I just do them FAST. If editing while you write is going to keep you from getting anything done, don’t do it. But for me, this is not a hard and fast rule.

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Write every day

I do not write every day. But I do give myself goals. Right now I am trying to write a story a week. This does not mean that I sit down and work on this story every day. It might mean that on Monday I brainstorm an idea. On Wednesday I jot down notes and on Sunday I feverishly write the whole thing in order to meet the deadline (when is how I do my best writing).

Writing during the week is hard for me. But, I can sit down in my PJs on Saturday or in a coffee shop on Sunday and crank out some words. And it works for me. You do what works for you.

You Cannot Applaud Your Own Story

And, finally…thanks, Medium. While this isn’t really advice I’ve received, that little error message really triggered me.

You cannot applaud your own story.

Bull. Shit.

Writers are notoriously self-conscious and we typically hate our work even when we have people telling us they love it. This sucks because, according to the Dalai Lama, “90% of negative energy is mental.” So, I say we try something different.

Applaud your own story. Be your biggest fan. Love your work. Love your shitty first drafts for the same reason you love your children…because eventually, they will be functioning people that can wipe their own butts. Eventually, your shitty work will be better work. So love it now. Nurture it. Help it grow. Share its milestones. Cheer every time you finish you something. Applaud your own goddamn story.

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What writing rules do you choose to ignore?

 

Blog, Writing Blog

Get That Song Out Of Your Head

So, last weekend we went to see the new Mary Poppins movie. This movie is delightful, Emily Blunt is delightful and the music is delightful (go see if you get a chance).

But, I’ll tell you what’s not delightful. The fact that, since going to see it, the boyfriend’s kiddo plays the soundtrack, or sings that soundtrack, pretty much every chance she gets. Particularly the song, The Cover is Not The Book.

Now, I like this song, I really do. But, what started out as a lovely little diddy has now turned into the earworm from hell. It’s in my head all. the. time. And when it’s not, she turns it on and it wriggles its way back in.  

While many of you parents may not be surprised by this (Frozen, anyone?) I am new to this parenting/step-parenting thing and have not yet experienced the mania for a certain song.

So, in order to counteract this and get the song out of my head (before I started to hate it) I needed to take action.

I decided to put another song in.

Any other song. Any other catchy, obnoxious song. The Gaston song from Beauty and the Beast made its way in.  We’re Off To See The Wizard made an appearance.

And, it worked. When the original earworm would start to sneak back in, I would just repeat, “Because, because, because, because, becaauuuuse…because of the wonderful things he does.”

After the success of this method, I wondered…could this work in other areas of life?

If you don’t like the current song going through your head…change it.

If you’re not succeeding at your current focus, change your focus.

If you’ve been repeating, “I’m going to write a book, I’m going to write a book,” and you’re not writing a book, quit beating yourself up. Change your goal. Try, “I’m going to write a chapter.” Or, “I’m going to write 500 words.” And repeat that over and over until it’s true.

Or, shift your focus completely.

Writing goals have always been front and center for me. My head is constantly full of pesky earworms like:

“Write every day.”

“If you’re not writing, you’re not a writer.”

Or other not-always-helpful-idioms. It can get exhausting.

This year, I’ve shifted my focus a bit to my physical health. I’ve been spending time doing yoga, reading about it, going to the gym more, and trying to meditate. And ya know what? I started writing more.

Taking my focus off the song that was always in my head (the pressure to write all the time) and replacing it with a new song (go to yoga once a week, read a yoga book) made it easier to enjoy the original song again.

So, if you’ve got the same thing going through your head over and over, try changing the tune.

“I’ve already failed at my New Year’s Resolutions,” could be, “Today is another chance to set new goals.”

“I can’t find time to write every day…” could be, “Ten minutes is enough to get a few hundred words in!”

Don’t let a song stuck on repeat exhaust you. Get that song out of your head and pick a new tune.

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*I do not own the image associated with this post:

Creator:Photo Credit: Jay Maidment
Credit:Jay Maidment
Copyright:© 2018 Disney Enterprises, Inc. All Rights Reserved..
Blog, Writing Blog

We Hope For Better Things the Perfect Book for a New Year

We Hope For Better Things by Erin Bartles was the perfect book to finish on the first day of a new year. A book about learning from the past to create new beginnings, it leaves you with feelings of hope, renewal, and an appreciation for those that came before you.

One of the first things I thought to say about this beautiful book was that it helped me rediscover my love of reading. A true page-turner, this was the first book in a long time that helped me recapture that feeling of needing to get to the next page, pushing it past my bedtime just to read another line and thinking about the stories and characters until I could again get back to the book. We all know how easily life gets in the way of reading. But true book lovers also know, and relish, that feeling of being so immersed in a book that you can’t wait to pick it up again. It’s been a little while since I felt that with a book. This book helped me recapture it.

Told from the point of view of three different women living in three different generations, each story is captivating and unique and immerses the reader in the lives of the storyteller. In a lot of books with more than one point of view, there’s typically one that holds the reader’s attention more than others, one that causes you to rush through the others so you can get back to the more interesting storyline. Not so in We Hope For Better Things. Each story, a journalist in modern-day Detroit, a farmer’s wife during the Civil War, and an upper-class white woman in the tumultuous 1960’s Detroit, has its own unique pull. When one chapter ends, you are sad to leave that time period only briefly before you are pulled into the next.

The stories that it highlights are important stories, stories that many, even those of us that live near Detroit, do not know, understand, or appreciate. I’ve always heard about the Detroit Riots, but that’s it….just heard about them. I was distanced enough from them in geography and time that they were never more than a historical event in the not-so-distant past. This book gave them life. It gave them faces. While fictional, it helped bring them to life for a new generation.

Beautifully written, the stories told in We Hope For Better Things, will stay with you long after you put the book down. I am happy to go into 2019 with the ghosts of these characters dancing my head. The front of the book contains a quote comparing this story to To Kill a Mockingbird and– much like Scout, Atticus, Jem, and Boo– Mary, Nora, and Elizabeth will now follow me wherever I go, reminding me that no matter the time period, there are always those that imagine that things can be better.

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Is Life Just a Series of Changes?

For me, the last five years have been a constant swirl of changes…jobs, relationships, new apartments, new cities, back to old cities, endings, beginnings, second chances….it’s exciting and, frankly, a little exhausting.

I’ve been known to say, in the midst of all these changes, that I’d be happy when things just settled down a little. When I was in the same place for more than a year, heck, even the same city, I could feel calm. When I wasn’t switching jobs (I guess it’s a millennial thing?) or healthcare or getting used to new situations, I’d feel at peace. But, I’ve been saying that for going on 5 or so years (I don’t even know anymore…time is irrelevant). And, as I step into something new once again, I step out of a year filled with moves, ending, beginnings, and second chances and face another year of intense changes.

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Faced with this reality, I have to ask…is this just life?

Do we ever really settle into life? And do we really want to?

I often hear friends or family say, “When things slow down we’ll…” or “When things are less hectic,” or “when I’m settled…”

But I’m starting to wonder, are things EVER less hectic?

It makes sense that I would crave stability. I lived in the same house for 13 years, attended school within 1 mile of that house and lived in the same town until I was 18. My brother and I thrived on tradition because, due to certain unstable characteristics of our home life, anything that was the same from one day to the next brought us comfort. So, it makes sense that when I am feeling burnt out or pulled in all directions I find myself wishing for the stability of a long-lived in home, familiar faces, and welcoming neighbors. But, the truth is, even when I had these things again in my late twenties, I wasn’t at peace.

I SAY I crave a life without constant change, but do I really?

If you think about it, there’s no growth without change….if things are constantly the same, you’re constantly the same. I am definitely not the same person I was before all this change kicked off and I sure as shit like this person a lot better. I know a whole lot more about myself including how strong I can be when I need to, what I want and don’t want in a relationship, what I’m willing to sacrifice and what I’m NOT.

“There’s no growth without change…”

Without all the changes of the last few years, I wouldn’t know any of that, and I would probably be very unhappy. Or, if not unhappy, definitely not satisfied. If all the tiny details of the road behind me hadn’t landed where they had, if any detail had been different, I might not be where I am. And while where I am isn’t perfect, I am happy with it. And because I’ve faced so many changes, I know I can face more.

I mean, even Disney addresses the need for change through Belle in Beauty and the Beast:

“There goes the baker with his tray like always,

the same old bread and rolls to sell…

Every morning just the same, 

since the morning that we came,

to this poor provincial town…”

belle

(Fun fact: I didn’t have the look up the lyrics for that…some things DON’T change…)

She’s bored with her life and hungry for change, even if it means living in an old castle with a grumpy beast.

So, it seems, despite my hopes for settling and calmness and stability, life is only going to keep changing and maybe that’s ok. Maybe that’s all life really is, one change after another to help mold us, change us, and turn us into the people we want to be.

2019 is going to be a crazy year, people. And I can’t wait.

Blog, Writing Blog

How Country Music Inspired My Flash Fiction

From a poor girl living in a run-down, one room shack to a wealthy woman living in an elegant, New York townhouse flat, Reba McEntire tells the tale of a girl named Fancy, pushed out of poverty by her dying mother…and she tells the story in about six minutes.

Martina McBride tells the story of an abused woman who frees herself from her relationship by burning her house to the ground with and her abuser still inside…in about four minutes.

Garth Brooks tells us what can happen when the thunder rolls and a cheating husband comes to home to his fretting wife (it’s not good) and Reba tells what happens when the lights go out in Georgia and they hang an innocent man.

These sagas have all the elements of a good story; intriguing characters with backstories, sad beginnings, middles full of conflict, and dramatic endings…and they all wrap up in six minutes or less.

Like most writers, I’ve been asked some form of this question: “What inspired you to write? Where do you get your inspiration? What inspired you when you were younger?” I was never really sure of the best answer to this question. I’ve just always liked to write. And I’ve always liked to read. And of course, I was inspired by books like Matilda, Harriet The Spy, and, eventually, Harry Potter. But, if you look at my writing now, those didn’t exactly inspire my style. I ended up leaning more toward the style of the Fear Street books by R.L. Stine (which I also devoured) but, looking back, there was something else.

I figured it out when I discovered a Spotify playlist featuring nineties country. I started shuffling through that and, whoa, those songs took me back. I could see myself sitting on the floor with a new cassette (yea, I’m old) and reading along with the lyrics on the inside flap. I remember crying over Don’t Take the Girl by Tim McGraw, Faith Hill’s A Man’s Home is His Castle, and the previously mentioned Independence Day (I was a pretty emotional kid). I can see myself parked in front of the TV the day my dad died, tuning the world out, completely focused on a CMT music video marathon, soaking in story after story about the tragedies of others. And they were stories–elaborate, complete, deep stories.

The country music of my childhood could present a moving and emotional tale, beginning, middle and end, in just a few minutes. A few verses and a chorus were all you needed to get sucked into the life of a frustrated wife, a couple falling in love, or a woman finding her independence. At the time, I didn’t recognize why I liked them so much, I just knew I did. But now, looking back, I know that the writer in me recognized their ability to weave a complicated story in a short amount of time. Given how big of an impact these songs had on me, it’s no wonder I ended up attempting to mimic them.

In flash fiction, you have around 1,000 words to present a complete and engaging story. You have to do what a novel has about 75,000 words to do. Even though it’s short, it still needs to have compelling characters, include enough history to suck in the reader and wrap up neatly enough to keep them satisfied. It also needs to pack a punch. Like Garth’s twist when the wife in The Thunder Rolls goes back into the bedroom for her gun, many of my stories don’t end happily. But they are memorable (so I’ve been told). I thought about these songs long after the last notes died out, and I still do.

I want my readers to do the same when they put down my stories. It may not be normal for a writer to say they were inspired by country music, but now, when I get that perplexing question, I can safely say that I try to write stories that move others like I was moved by the stories of Garth Brooks, Reba McEntire, Tim McGraw, Faith Hill, and so many, many more.

 

See what kinds of stories country music inspired me to write in my book of flash fiction, “Flash in the Dark: A Collection of Flash Fiction.”

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Posts About Nothing: Good Morning, Alexa

Warning: This is a post about nothing. Nothing other than the random thoughts that pop into my head at any given time. Remember Seinfeld? They’re kinda like that. Amusing, but not really about anything in particular. You’ve been warned. Enjoy.

Alexa, Amazon’s AI helper, is great for a lot of things.

“Alexa, what’s the weather like?”

“It’s raining.”

“Alexa, set a timer for 25 minutes.”

“25 minutes and counting.”

“Alexa, turn on the living room lights.”

“Here you go, ya lazy SOB…”

Just kidding, she doesn’t say that last one, that’s just how I feel sometimes.

But don’t get snarky with her.

“Alexa, that was a half-hearted effort…”

“I think you’re talking about flatulence. Here’s some information about farts…”

“Umm…no?”

She really did say that last one.

We also had Alexa and Siri have a rap battle. Alexa won. Hands down. She also has a really nice singing voice.

So, she has her perks and I enjoy telling her to turn on the light when I’m right next to it and asking her about the weather when I could just look out the window. What I DON’T enjoy is yelling at her first thing in the morning.

Boyfriend thinks connecting all the lights to her is brilliant. At night, it’s just, “Alexa, turn off the bedroom lamp,” instead of reaching allllll the way over and flipping it off. Which, I have to admit is nice on cold nights when I’m already curled up under the blankets. BUT, the mornings are a different story.

To turn on the lamp beside my side of the bed, I have to say, “Alexa, turn on Alli’s lamp.” Seems simple enough, right? The problem is, I don’t want to talk to anyone in the mornings. Especially a sassy AI with an attitude problem and a really loud voice.

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I’m telling you, Alexa can be a real bitch in the mornings.

In a grumbly morning voice, “Alexa, turn on Alli’s bedroom lamp.”

BRIGHT LIGHTS, LOUD VOICE

“I’M SORRY, I CAN’T FIND AH-LI’S BEDROOM LAMP.”

From under the covers…”Noooo….”

“I’M SORRY, I DON’T THINK I CAN ANSWER THAT.”

“ALEXA, STOP.”

Silence. And it’s still dark.

At this point, I feel like I need coffee before I can even get the lights on and I am regretting letting Boyfriend bring another woman into the bedroom.

“Alexa, turn on Alli’s bedroom light…I mean, lamp!”

“I’m sorry, I don’t recognize that device.”

“Ugh, I give up.”

“I think you’re talking about flatulence…”

“ALEXA, STOP!”

So, while rap battles and talking about farts are all well and good, I think I’m better off waiting until after coffee to converse with the AI in my bedroom.

Anyway, if you’re ever frustrated with AI, just remember…it could be worse than Alexa. Find out how by picking up my book, “Flash in the Dark: A Collection of Flash Fiction” and checking out the story, “The Angels Inside Me.” You can get a sneak peek of this story here. 

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