Thursday, February 24, 2011

Inexpressible Loss: Don't Leave Your Feelings Inside

The news that YA author L.K. Madigan died yesterday of pancreatic cancer has hit the writing community hard. I never met Lisa but I know she was a fighter, based on her previous battle with breast cancer 20 years ago. I know she was a generous and giving person based on the comments I've seen from writers touched by her life. Her death is a sobering reminder that our lives are fleeting. But it means much more than that.

For starters, we sit and mourn her death while looking in the mirror and asking many questions. One of those is: am I doing all I can in this life to encourage others along their own road whatever that may be? Do we spend time coming alongside people, aiding where we can? This could be as simple as offering a smile or a compliment to the teller at the bank or waitress at the restaurant. Life consists of more than just ourselves. Life is all about relationship. Yes, as writers we spend many lonely hours cloistered in our offices or coffee shops seeking the perfect words. But we all need relationships. They are what enrich our lives and make it worth living. The words we write may or may not live on after we're gone, but the relationships we build; those are eternal.

Cancer is nothing new to me. I've lost a dear family friend to breast cancer. Another dear friend has battled breast cancer, fought it off, only to have it return in her brain. Six years later she battles on. I lost my uncle to a fast-moving cancer five years ago. I've seen other friends lose loved ones to it as well. To say I hate cancer is an understatement.

That's why I believe it's so important to LOVE those special to you while you are here. Don't miss the opportunity to give a hug, offer a smile and say those three precious words, as often as possible. None of us are guaranteed long years on this earth. We should be investing in what is truly important: people. Whether that be friends, a spouse, children, other writers, or extended family, make it happen.

Life is far too short. Make every moment count. No regrets.

Friday, February 18, 2011

Progress Report

Sorry about the virtual silence this week. Work has been a bear and I've been a bit bogged down as a whole. I plan to post this weekend so stand by.

In the meantime, for those of you interested, I wanted to provide an update on my fiction projects. Once I complete my WIP, I will be focusing on revising both it and novel #1. I'll curb back my writing and either work on some flash fiction and short story pieces I've started, or perhaps some articles I've been neglecting to finish.

Up to the minute:

Novel #1 - First draft complete; revision 1 complete through chapter 7 - current word count, just over 80,000 words

Novel #2 (WIP) - 82,515 words completed; closing in on writing "The End"

Monday, February 14, 2011

Showing Some Book Love

I had every intention to post a blog entry last Friday but I was tending to a sick child while my wife and youngest were at Children’s Hospital awaiting liver biopsy results. Everything is fine. Sarah, our 2-year-old, had a liver transplant at 7 months old. We’re at the mercy of lab results more than we would like. When they take a turn up, a liver biopsy is likely.

So here we are at Valentine’s Day 2011. I’ll be spending some quality time with my wife today. I hope those of you with a significant other were able to get out this weekend.

In the meantime and in the spirit of love, I would like to discuss those books or authors you can’t get enough of. It could be a timeless classic, a new series, or one of the great writers of our time. You can take it anyway you would like. It would be great to hear everyone’s favorites. Oh, and by all means, you don’t have to limit this to fiction.

Without a doubt, the book that set me on the path of reading was J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Hobbit. Soon after that I read The Lord of the Rings which left an indelible mark. Fantasy would become my favorite genre to read and write. I’ve enjoyed many of Terry Brooks’ Shannara books and David Eddings’ Belgarion series. I’ve begun reading The Chronicles of Narnia to my kids just in the past week and they’re loving it.

For many years, I read only non-fiction but in the last couple – particularly since I began writing again – I’ve gravitated back to a more balanced reading schedule.

Now it’s your turn. What are your “classic” reads?

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

The First Draft: Joy and Pain

The first draft. It can be agony or ecstasy to write. Some writers breeze through it, acknowledging they’ll return and tear it limb from limb in order to create a more “perfect” story. Other writers throw their best into the first draft and spend minimal time revising. Still others (I don’t know any of these people personally!) complete a first draft and, well, it’s their finished product with very minor tweaks.

The first draft is essential. Our stories can’t move forward without them. We don’t really know our characters until we’ve written it. Even then, we may go back and rewrite or remove so many parts our final product may no longer resemble that precious idea or outlandish plot that first set our heart on fire.

Most of you have written far more first drafts than I have. I completed my first novel in November and am closing in on completing my second one. I consider myself blessed to have finished even one. The sweat, the toil, the joy and the pain were all worth it.

I sat for years staring at blank pieces of paper or a blank computer screen waiting for those magical words to appear. It wasn’t until I forced myself to write daily (under penalty of death) that I made tangible progress. No longer would I wait for the words to appear, I would just write them. Hideous though they may be, those words were real; something tangible I could see and track over the month.

Now, I write at least 25,000 words per month. I set daily word count goals to keep me on task. I write whenever I have a moment free of work or children rushing around me. The pain comes from the work required to write a truly fantastic book. Revising and editing – those are the monsters that loom ahead of me now.

But the joy – the joy is in finishing the first draft, knowing I have written a book, that I have seen something to its end. Starting something, that’s no big deal. But writing THE END? It’s something so many people dream about and so few accomplish. All of us who call ourselves writers deserve to celebrate each time we complete that first draft.

Do you celebrate when you finish a first draft? Or do you jump right into a new story and save the celebrating for later?

Monday, February 7, 2011

A Sense of Belonging

We can all agree the work of writing can be a solitary journey. You sit behind a computer pounding your heart and soul, molding a story you have to tell. Some of us plot and develop detailed character sketches in advance of beginning the actual story; others possess a slight plot, maybe just an idea, and get onboard for a ride, following the story where their characters take it.

The entire journey of writing, of finishing a novel, is exhilarating. I finished the first draft of my own novel in November. I’m very close to completing my second. Obviously, much work lies ahead. A first draft is simply that.

So, we write and write and write…alone. Yet, our worlds are hardly devoid of human contact. We mingle with each other virtually through Twitter, Facebook and blogs. We attend conferences and writing workshops, seeking relationship – some kind of connection – as much as we seek to learn & grow as writers.

Belonging.  That’s what we seek. A place with like-minded people, immersed in a similar journey. I won’t pretend to speak for every writer out there. Everyone possesses their own goals or agendas. For me, a sense of belonging is paramount.

It’s been a very slow road for me. I’ve joined an in-person crit group and an online group, both of which failed. My focus has turned to bonding via Twitter and commenting on blogs I enjoy reading.  Writing is in my bones; something that has to be done. But friendship is what I ultimately seek. Walking a lonely road, without encouragement or insight, is a difficult road. I’m still looking for what I term a writing mentor but I’m willing to wait and see one grow organically.

Do you have the need to belong to a writing community? Do you already have a group of fellow writers how encourage and challenge you?

Thursday, February 3, 2011

Paying It Forward

This week Shelli Johannes is hosting a Pay it Forward Contest here where she will recommend ONE lucky winner to her agent, Alyssa Henkin at Trident Media.

Contest participants are asked to post their own "pay it forward" tribute to someone who has encouraged them. My life is so full of awesome people, it's difficult to pick just one.

Since this is a blog about writing, I'll choose someone who has encouraged me in that pursuit. This person is most dear to my heart: my wife, Patty.

Patty has poured more into my life than any other person. When it comes to my writing, she has jumped 100% on board since I dove in. She provides time for me to focus on writing every week, sacrificing some of her own free time. Patty reads my material and offers feedback. And, no, she doesn't let me off the hook if the writing's bad!

I know many writers can attest to being more relaxed and able to focus when a spouse or significant other is standing behind them, urging them forward.

Thanks, Patty, for your love and your constant encouragement.

Now it's your turn. Who should you be thanking today?

Useful Words?

How useful are the words we write? Do we expect the fictional words we write to be helpful to our readers?

I fully understand part of our job (maybe the primary job) is to provide entertainment. In fiction, many times, that includes helping our reader escape from their current circumstances. When I was growing up, this was one of my primary reasons for reading. It wasn't that my life was that difficult but I found books to be a safe place to which I could escape. Providing that safe place can be pivotal in a young person's life.

As writers we want to challenge our readers not only with a rich vocabulary and dynamite worldbuilding. We want to challenge their ideas, how they perceive their place in the real world and stretch them beyond their comfort zones. Lofty goals? Perhaps.

If our stories don't serve a useful purpose, do we still call it a success? Do we write with a specific purpose in mind? I'm not talking about lecturing the reader but engaging them fully in life. Please share your thoughts.