Posts Tagged ‘advice’

Ok. I have to confess this. I’m sure that it will change many people’s opinions of me, but it must be said. I have a fidget spinner. There I said it. Even worse, I gave my child a fidget spinner. I know. I deserve your looks of anger and resentment.

I have to say something else as well. I like my fidget spinner. My son’s fidget spinner helps him be less of a distraction. I keep my fidget spinner close by. It helps me focus. That’s right. My entire family is one of “them.” We are the people that keep these ridiculous types of objects on the market. We are to blame.

The thing about the fidget spinner that amazes me is not how quickly that it took off, or even the backlash against it by parents, educators (my coworkers have given me no end to grief), and the public at large. What amazes me about it is how well it works without doing anything amazing. It just spins. There is nothing profound about it. Still, that simple spinning can do wonders that the most unique or profound objects, thoughts, or writing can never do.

I worry that as a society in general (and writers in particular) we expect everything to be profound. I am extremely guilty of this. Rather than using a blog to just put some thoughts out there and to speak my mind, I feel that every time I put something on my blog that it should teach something important. Everything that I say should make somebody reading it on their computer stop what they are doing and just look off into space for a moment and say, “Whoah!” in their best Bill and Ted voice. Why? What makes me think that everything must be profound? Is it because I think that only the profound ever stand out? I suppose that is why I like my fidget spinner so much. A life lesson learned from something so simplistic that many people hate it, just because it is so simplistic.

So, if you haven’t tried a fidget spinner, go out and get a good one, hold it with two fingers, and give it a spin. Rock it back and forth as it’s spinning. See if you don’t feel the urge to spin it again as it slows down. Most importantly, learn the lesson of the fidget spinner: everything you do or write doesn’t have to be profound. Simplicity has its own appeal. Even if people are talking about how simplistic it is, they are still talking about it!



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Last weekend was a really busy one for me. I started out the day as a mover, taking heavy totes and boxes from one location to another. I quickly shifted to being a soldier during the Vietnam War era. After about 90 minutes I became an MP in WWII patrolling a hanger. Four hours later I was fighting in a nearby field. Two hours after that I was a civilian eating in an Italian restaurant. I repeated the process on Sunday. To say the least, I was worn out by the time I got home Sunday night.

Obviously, one person cannot be all of these things in reality. I was at a reenacting event in which I had to play several roles. It was exhausting for me and a little confusing for some of the people that saw me throughout the day. The problem is that I have read many stories, including by some best selling authors, that seem to have characters like this. Their personalities seem to jump around in a haphazard, almost unpredictable fashion. The characters are always exactly what the situation in the story calls for, but how many people do you know in reality that mold themselves perfectly into the events of the moment? It is confusing for the reader. Be aware of this as you write. It is easy to make your character be exactly what you need when you need it, but does that pull the character out of the realm of plausibility? If so, you may be wearing your readers out by having your characters wear too many hats, helmets, or hairstyles.

I know that we have all experienced it: road rage. That unbelievably overpowering urge to let the other driver know how inconsiderate, rude, or talentless that you believe that they are. This kind of desire is especially strong if you happen to live in an urban area and commute each day. Let’s face it, driving can bring out the absolute worst in all of us! Why not turn that difficulty into something that you can use and learn from? My latest vlog explains how:

Sometimes we become obsessed with the idea that we should only do things that we can be successful at. I completely understand that. Who wakes up and says “Today, I’m going to figure out how to fail at everything!” Yes, I know that we are all acquainted with someone that seems to do that, but I don’t think that they actually do. So if success is what is keeping you from writing much, maybe you should look at what defines “success.” That’s what I explore in this week’s video.

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I never have and never will claim to be an expert on writing. I have found an appreciation for it and perhaps a little bit of talent, but in general it is something that I have improved at only through sheer determination and continuous trial and error. Because of this, there is nothing that bothers me more than when I have someone tell me, without any attempt to the contrary, “I can’t write. I just can’t do it.” At that moment I start to understand how Bruce Banner feels right before he becomes the Hulk.

I don’t believe that everyone has a best-selling novel within them that only needs to find an outlet. I understand that plenty of people do not have the communication talents necessary to be a good writer. I also understand that not everyone loves the idea of writing.  No problems there either. What bothers me is the fact that some people have been conditioned to think that you not only have to have a world class talent in order to write, but that you shouldn’t put pen to paper if you do not have that talent from the very beginning. It may sound like I am being extreme in my example, but I have seen and heard this from many people.

Part of the cause of this is probably the quality of writing that is available to read right now. While the advent of the internet and independent- or self-publishing has creating some less that stellar reading choices, it has also allowed many people who wouldn’t have had the time or opportunity to go through traditional publishing to find an audience, and many of them show remarkable talent. This seems to create a very high bar for those that enjoy reading but are afraid to try writing. They fear that they won’t measure up on their first attempt. If you are one of those individuals, let me let you in on something important: you won’t measure up on your first attempt! That’s what makes it a first attempt. It’s like a rough draft. It will need revision, growth, maturing, and change before it reaches the caliber of what you read. It may never reach that caliber. However, it doesn’t mean that you can’t enjoy it or that you can’t bring some entertainment to others that will read it.

The other impediment seems to be a fear of doing something new and failing. I knew a young man that tried following some writing prompts and did poorly on his first couple of attempts. He complained about how he just “can’t write.” Then I showed him a picture of a volcanic eruption from the news and told him to write a scene with that as the setting and to describe the setting with as much detail as he could. The work that he showed me was remarkable. It appealed to all of the senses and fired the imagination. He far surpassed me in the detail that he used. If I hadn’t kept pushing him to get past his initial failures, he would still be telling everyone that he couldn’t write.

So you think that you can’t write? You might be correct. That ability may not be within you. However, imagine what you could be denying yourself and others by rejecting the possibility out of hand. You have nothing to lose, and the possibility of limitless worlds to gain.

My newest story, Darwin’s Selection, Volume 1: A Whole New World, was published on Tuesday this week. As I often do, I ended up reading back through a lot of it. I oftentimes forget things once I write them down. I read through an interaction that I had almost forgotten about. First, a little bit of background so that you can understand. The main character and narrator, Darwin, has just started her freshman year of college. She has made friends with a young man named Clive. Several odd, almost supernatural things happen to her and Clive either witnesses or takes part in some of the events. After a particularly frightening attack by a basketball-sized tick (I shudder every time I think about that!), Clive and Darwin are trying to calm down on a bench when Clive starts rocking back and forth and humming to himself. Darwin comments about that being an unusual habit. Here is the exchange that follows:

“It’s more than just a habit. It’s a coping mechanism. I used to do it all the time in school, but I spent this summer trying to teach myself to stop so that people wouldn’t ask me too many questions.”
“What kind of questions?” I can’t believe the first thing I did was ask him a question. Curiosity can really make you do stupid things.
“Questions about me. I’m an Aspy.” I couldn’t keep the confusion off of my face. Was that some kind of local insult? I made a gesture for him to continue, but he didn’t. I cleared my throat, but he just sat there. Finally, I asked him directly what an Aspy was. “Oh, it means that I have Asperger’s Syndrome. You know, autism.” He said this with some annoyance in his voice, like he hadn’t wanted to say anything about it.
The wheels in my head started turning and I started to notice a few other things. “Is that why you hardly ever look directly at me when you talk to me?” He nodded. “Thank goodness!” My reaction made him look up in surprise. “I thought that I might have spinach in my teeth or something and you didn’t want to see it.”
Clive laughed, but he sobered again pretty quickly. “That’s another of the manifestations. I’ve worked hard to get past it, too. I guess being so stressed with the first days of school made it all come back.” He kicked at the ground with the toe of his shoe again. “People just treat me differently when they know.”
I put my arm around Clive’s shoulders. “I get bit by a giant dog that others can’t see and attacked by a monster-tick. If you don’t change how you treat me then I won’t change how I treat you.” Clive didn’t speak, but he stopped kicking at the ground. I took that as agreement.

From Darwin’s Selection, Volume 1: A Whole New World

As writers, we can try to promote ideas or positions that we find important to us. That is what I realized I was doing with this passage and a few others in later volumes. If there is something near and dear to you, you have the opportunity to promote your concern in a way that might reach your readers even if they don’t realize it. Your concern doesn’t have to be the main conflict of your story. Oftentimes, a more subtle approach yields greater benefits. In this case, I have found that it can be a challenge for individuals with high-functioning autism to be accepted for who they are by society. You see with the interactions between Darwin and Clive that individuals can embrace the unique personalities of those around them and not expect them to conform.

Everyone has something that they truly want to say. Sometimes the only way to say it is by shouting it from the rooftops. Sometimes, the subtle silence of the written word can plant the seed into your readers thoughts. I have heard it said that an author must write with purpose. Occasionally, though, I think it is good to write for a purpose.


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I’m sure that I’m beating a dead horse by now, but the more that I look around, read stories, watch movies, etc. the more examples that I find of how important details can be to the realism and reactions people have towards your characters. See what I mean on this week’s #vlog:

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There are many times that you want to figure out how best to come up with ideas for stories or characters. I’ve oftentimes pointed out that you should look to the world around you for ideas. However, the times behind you are a wonderful source as well, not just for events, but for questions. See what I mean in this week’s vlog:

I promise to get more written blogs out as soon as I can. Mine is a very hectic life.

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I would be completely shocked if I am alone in saying this, but I am way too busy! I mean completely, totally, don’t-know-how-I’ll-ever-get-caught-up busy. As a parent, a husband, a teacher, and a writer I have found myself with far too many projects, requirements, requests, and desires to do all of them, or even most of them. Obviously, the things that I need to do for my family and my career have to come first. That leaves me with a very limited time for writing. So how do I prioritize what I write?

This first thing that some writers, especially first-time writers might be asking is, “You write on your book. What else is there?” I was one of those people not very long ago. You have a story that you want to get done with and that is all that you focus on. Well, you know the old saying about how ignorance is bliss. Once that story is done and out there, that is when you realize that there is other writing that you probably should have been doing. It’s usually too late to make up for at that point and you find yourself trying to catch up, and that just adds to your stress.

So what is this other writing? Well, you are reading one right now. A blog can be a good way to get your name out into the world. Other writing includes articles, short stories, or reviews of books and stories to try and get your name to be more recognizable. It makes perfect sense from a marketing standpoint. It doesn’t make sense from a time management standpoint. This is something that I am still trying to work out myself.

So what can an amateur writer do to prioritize their writing? Well, the first thing that you can do is look at where you are in your writing process. If things are trucking along easily with your story, keep at it. There is nothing worse than trying to pick up lost momentum. Get that story completed, but before you start submitting the story, start putting out some blog posts and reviews to get yourself established in the community. This is something that I wish that I had done, and I am still playing catch-up because of it. If you are stuck in a part of your story, then make writing blogs, reviews, and articles your priority. It can help you press the “reset” button on your brain and come back to your story with a refreshed imagination and sense of purpose. Also, some of the interactions that you have through the blog or other online discussions can yield new ideas.

The second thing that you can look at is whether you can create some shortcuts in your various writings. For me, this has usually consisted of doing a video blog instead of a written blog. I do understand that there are some that prefer to be able to read the blog instead of watching it, and I apologize to those individuals, but I can put up a vlog more quickly and still share it on a number of platforms. So whatever shortcuts you can find, take advantage of them.

Finally, you have to look at what is most important to you. Some people want to make certain that their writing sells. For that, you will need to prioritize your marketing. Blogs, reviews, and social media will have to come first. Others simply want to write a story that they feel is good. That is when you make writing on the story a priority. Of course, most people want a combination of the two, and that is when I refer them to the previous two ideas I have provided. That’s where I find myself and where I imagine most writers are.

Finding a balance is a challenge. Then again, what isn’t? I hope to get to that balance soon. In the meantime, I’ll figure out my priorities for writing as I go along. What about you? What do you do to decide what to spend your time writing on?

I didn’t get a chance to put up a blog or vlog last weekend for many reasons. One of the reasons was that I was trying to work on ideas for cover art. Honestly, I should have done that a while ago. After all, anyone that is honest with themselves will admit that they tend to judge a book by its cover. That first impression is hard to get past. If you do that with books you read, maybe you should do that with books that you write as well. Here are some thought on that:



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