Talk to Text: A Writing Lesson

My mind whirls at a pace my fingers simply can’t keep up with, so getting my thoughts down on pen and paper or on the computer can be difficult at times. Then an idea came to me: what if I tried talk to text? Speaking is one of my better skills, so why not? Nowadays most computers and cell phones offer some version of this (Dragon, Voice Recorder apps, etc.), making it easier to get our thoughts, ideas, and writing topics more organized. Or so I believed.

As I recorded this thought string, I found myself at a loss for words, except for the ums and ahs, of course. (It doesn’t help that I was walking down a busy street, running an errand, while I did this. Not recommended.) Ironically, I don’t normally use ums, ahs, or other filler words during a recording or live radio broadcast because they’re annoying and make me sound less intelligent. I’m not at a loss for words – most of the time – but trying this talk to text, for some reason, has me stumbling and mumbling.

It’s also good practice for enunciation and how you come across in an interview, which can make or break book sales. (Note to self: do I really sound that nasal? Ugh.)

It’s a good experiment to record your book or article ideas; then you can go back and listen to the quality of your words and better understand your thought process. We speak and write differently and using the talk to text will help flush out the filler words as well as provide a template for the writing process that is unique to each of us. Even if you’re writing from a narrative point of view, it’s important to watch for and listen to word flow in the story.

Go ahead, give it a try. Hope you have better luck than I did!

 

 

Every Life Has a Story…

One of the ongoing contentious issues where I live is how to deal with the considerable number of homeless citizens. Our city has estimated that there are several thousand folks, at any given time, in this difficult and frightening situation. I frequently pass snacks from my car window to a homeless vet or other individual and have even purposely sought out hungry homeless (that’s redundant) people  in my area to pass along a leftover sandwich or drink. I often consider trying to talk to one of them, to find out what happened.

Police, politicians, and the community express a wide variety of opinions on how to handle this devastating situation (they’re not, actually, they just spend time arguing about resolutions that never materialize). The constant harassment by police, who then dispose of the camping equipment, blankets, and other personal items, is a sore spot for the community and especially the homeless. While many of these less fortunate people have addiction and/or mental health issues, it’s not the same story for each person. It was because of this controversy that this occurred to me: Every life has a story and every story has a life.

As writers, whether fiction or nonfiction, for journalism or some other purpose, it is our duty to share the stories that bind us together as a race (humanity), a community (your area), and as predecessors to a new generation of writers/storytellers. We are responsible for being honest in our characterizations,  even with the creation and convincing representation of fictitious characters.

Go forth and listen to what people have to say. Get their stories. Then tell those stories in a way that moves people (emotionally, to take action, etc.). Don’t be afraid to tell the tough stories about misunderstood people (real or imagined). Use these stories to color your fiction work, whether they be shades of gray or bright pastels,  and paint each life/story as important because it is.

A friend once told me each person that crosses your path knows something you don’t.

What have you learned today that can be a part of a story?

 

Walter Mitty and Me

It’s Memorial Weekend and am actually off today…so a bit of relaxing and writing is in order. I watched a movie while eating lunch, instead of sitting in my kitchen staring out the window. I watched the remake of “The Secret Life of Walter Mitty” with Ben Stiller. Cute movie. And a reminder of something I’ve written about before – a life on the road – or at least some adventures peppered with some bad decisions.

What caught my eye was at the end of the movie where Walter is re-writing his resume, since he’s lost his job at LIFE magazine. Instead of the usual humdrum skills checklist and god-awful BORING summary (Professional with a strong work ethic and multiple years of interaction with people in various work settings…yes, this is mine…), he listed his adventures (jet boarding down some road in Iceland, jumped from helicopter into the sea, etc.). It got me to thinking..if we are to get out of that conformist corporate box of a day-to-day J-O-B and move into our lives, how would a resume like that go over? 

As a writer, I often dream (like Walter Mitty) of writing and traveling and earning enough to live on. Competition is stiff in most fields these days, so thinking out-of-the-box is essential to succeed, especially as a writer. I’ve got that looping tape in my head of my mother telling me to “just get a job.” It’s been there for over forty years and I’ve yet to figure out how to erase it. The movie reminded me that when we’re busy living our lives we don’t have time for daydreaming, because we’re actually living our dreams. So I’m going to re-think how I present myself to the world, because I have had some great adventures (including some based on bad decisions) and I need to give myself more credit for them.

As a writer, I know I’ll never be a New York Times bestselling novelist. I’m okay with knowing that I’m a mediocre writer – what’s so wrong with average anyway? I may have a smaller audience but they’re an audience nonetheless. The fact that there are folks (like you) out there, listening and hopefully gleaning something from my work, is what’s important to me now. I no longer strive to reach or grab the brass ring. I have dreamed for years of becoming a writer, only to finally admit that I AM a writer – with or without the audience or brass ring.

Lesson: Dream your dreams. Take a chance every now and then to live one out, just to see where it takes you. Then you can write all about it.

Book Promotion Tips

 

I didn’t make a notation at the bottom of this list, so I don’t remember where I got the information. Sorry. I’ve also added advice (Note) and links based on personal experience.

So you have written a book and had it published. Congratulations. Now you face the challenge of what to do next. Many authors think that marketing is a job for the publisher so they sit back and wait for the royalties to roll in. You might have a very long wait. The market for books is extremely crowded and most books do not sell well. However, there are a number of actions the author can take to move from writing to marketing:

  1. Send review copies to all the journals and magazines that review books in your genre. This is something that most publishers do for you but if you’re self-published (like me), this is all on you. Don’t forget the many online sites that review books. (Note: might want to ask them first, see if they accept review copies, as there might be a fee involved or a very long wait list.)
  2. Get friends, colleagues, clients or anyone who likes your book to place reviews on Amazon and other online book stores. Amazon is highly influential and the reviews matter, so encourage anyone who says they enjoyed your book to place a review. 
  3. Offer yourself for interviews on radio stations. Most radio stations/podcasts are looking for interesting interviews and the author of a newly published book has a good chance of getting on air. (Note: I’ve done some good interviews via Radio Guest List. They have a HUGE database of  a variety  of podcast shows – in other words, something for everyone, and are always looking for guests. The audience size varies, so check the websites of the podcasts where you want to be a guest for guest criteria.)
  4. Create a web page for the book. Ideally you should have a separate website with an address that features the book title. Now you can exchange links and drive traffic to the site with comments, blogs, quotes and extracts. Be sure to show people how they can buy the book. Encourage user feedback, comments and reviews.
  5. Offer sample chapters as free downloads. Take a couple of your best chapters and turn them into pdf files. Let people download them for free. Think of this as the equivalent of letting people browse through your book at a bookstore. (Note: With self-publishing sites like Lulu, this is offered with each published item.)
  6. Use material from the book in your blog. Start a blog and quote from the book. Lift sections and acknowledge the book as the source. Build a community of interest around the topics in the book.
  7. Review other books in this field. Become a reviewer on Amazon. Use your own name accompanied by ‘author of the book……’. Review other books and when people read your reviews some will click through to your book. 
  8. Start an email newsletter. Encourage people to subscribe on the website and then send out an occasional newsletter with interesting new material in this book’s field. But you cannot just plug your book – you have to add value with new information and comment.
  9. Give away copies to the right people. Use the book as your calling card. Give copies to potential and existing clients. Encourage them to read it and pass it on. 
  10. Offer books as prizes. Local radio shows, magazines or societies will often be interested in running competitions and will give you valuable publicity if you give them a few books to give away as prizes. (Note: I did this on Goodreads – they offer the opportunity to do ‘giveaways’ and it’s good publicity.)

Some authors do book signings in local bookstores but unless you are well-known (or have a good relationship with the store owner), this activity is unlikely to produce worthwhile results. Finally, you could consider using the book as a platform for launching your speaking career. You will need a different set of skills to succeed here but the book can make an excellent starting point and every talk will help sell more books. (Note: I teach my nutrition book as a seminar/workshop in local community colleges and adult learning programs.)

 

Bad Choices = Good Stories

This week’s blog was inspired by a t-shirt worn by a man who strolled by me the other day. It read: Bad Choices Make Good Stories. I laughed to myself as I fondly remembered some instances where that was most certainly true in my life. Like the time I “hijacked” a limo with a friend…that one always gets a good laugh and a “I can’t believe you weren’t arrested!” response. We were young (and very drunk) and, many of you would agree, almost obligated to make bad decisions at that age (the ripe ol’ age of 23). Or the time the police paddy wagon showed up at our overly-raucous beach house party, headlights beaming on the idiot standing in the driveway with a bottle of Stoli’s in her hand (yep, that was me; and no, I wasn’t arrested that time, either, cuz I ran like a jackrabbit).

Artists paint/draw from painful experiences, as do poets and writers in general. We draw upon those bad choices and negative experiences that life throws our way. In other words, as writers/artists, when we’re given lemons, we make lemonade. The badder the choice, it seems, the saucier the story (probably why I made so many; keeps the stories interesting). Those bad choices add color to our lives, not to mention bragging rights with the grandkids and anyone else who’ll listen.

My point is this: don’t be afraid to make bad choices. They make life more interesting, create the tall tales of adventure and hi-jinks, and carry us into old age with a certain wisdom and appreciation – which can only be gained by making those bad choices – preferably in our youth. (Although I admit I still like a little naughty in my life. At my age, it keeps the blood circulating!)

Inspiration Explosion!

I have to admit I’ve been a bit down-in-the-dumps as of late, which is why I haven’t been consistent with my blog. Gotta love menopause and the emotional roller-coaster ride it takes women my age on…like I hadn’t had enough wild, roller-coaster style adventures in my youth…only this one takes me to dark places instead of exciting ones (that and I’ve got to bite the bullet and get wifi in my new home, so I don’t have to pack up and go elsewhere to work).

It finally hit me one day last week, while I struggled to just get out of my pajamas on a day off, that as one trained and licensed in Chinese medicine I should know how to resolve this problem. Instead of running through a list of signs and symptoms in my head (the traditional intake and diagnosis approach), I simply fixed a cup of herbal tea containing four gentle but powerful herbs (hence the name of the tea – Four Pillars) that pretty much resolves emotional roller-coaster situations.

Why? Because these herbs move Qi/energy in the digestive system (stomach/spleen/pancreas region), where food and thoughts (in Chinese medicine, this is the emotional aspect of our digestion) become stuck, leaving one feeling tired and listless, with poor focus and little motivation (in spite of the desire to act) to do much of anything. I fixed a cup of that tea for three nights in a row, after dinner, as a carminative to help digest my meals and get things moving down there. Wow. Since last week, I’ve been bursting with energy, inspiration, and motivation to write, including creating some new additions to my nutrition book, which I will (notice I didn’t write plan to, a less confident choice of words) re-publish as an expanded, second edition some time later this year. Wahoo! Inspiration Explosion!

And that inspiration has led me to think more about making my own herb teas and tinctures (I am a medical herbalist, after all, and feel I should try to use at least some of my medical skills in creating an independent lifestyle). I also unpacked a few more small containers left unopened since I moved into my new place in February, and now my jewelry/accessories are nicely displayed and organized. Amazing what one can accomplish with just a little “boost” – which has carried me into this week!

So if you find yourself feeling “stuck” in your life or your writing and need a little help “moving” in a forward direction, make a cup of this tea and you’ll be amazed…

Four Pillars Tea

2 teaspoons fresh dried peppermint

1 teaspoon fennel seed

1 teaspoon dried orange peel

(you can find this in spice sections at the market)

1 teaspoon fresh dried ginger

(or about 3 fresh slices ginger root, bruised)

Put all herbs in an empty tea bag, add boiling water, and steep for five to seven minutes. No sugar or sweetener needed (and shouldn’t be added as it is congesting), the tea will be sweet enough on its own.

Sit back, sip, wait for the fog to clear, and the inspiration explosion to arrive!

herb tea

(generic herbal tea)

Learn From Your Book Reviews

Hi all, I’ve been out of touch the past couple weeks – no excuse, really, just no desire to sit and write another blog on writing. I mean, how many topics can there actually be? Yet here I am, with another blog…

So I’m going to cheat a little and let Sandra Beckwith, owner of Build Book Buzz, share some neat tidbits on how we can all learn from negative or not-all-that-nice reviews of our work. I’ve been lucky so far; all my reviews are 5-star – then again, I only have THREE of them for my fiction novel. I’ve asked people to say something nice when they finish reading the book, but they do seem to forget or get distracted elsewhere. 

I’ve never written a negative review; if I can’t say something constructive, why bother? Then again, perhaps some positive critiquing is necessary from time to time, as we often can’t see the weak spots in our work as easily as the reader. So don’t take it personally. Use it to your advantage, as an opportunity learn where you may have missed something – with characters, dialog, or scenes/chapters – and go back to the original work with fresh eyes.

Why Authors Shouldn’t Obsess Over One-Star Reviews

Authors, prepare yourself for the inevitable one-star review. In the publishing industry, one-star reviews are practically a rite of passage.

And no one is immune. Whether you’ve got 10 best-sellers to your credit or it’s your first book, you can expect at least a single one-star review.

There are the one-star Amazon reviews that make you roll your eyes.

“If possible, I’d give this pile of garbage zero stars.”

“Not really of much use for me. Seems like just a lot of useless information to fill up a book.”

“The best part of this book is the cover photo.”

https://buildbookbuzz.com/one-star-reviews/

Feng Shui Your Writing

I don’t how many of you are familiar with the principles of Feng Shui (fung-shway), but I have found it to be an eye-opening experience in how positive energy flow can affect every aspect of your life – including your writing. One of my favorite feng shui sites is www.fengshuiforreallife.com, by Carol Olmstead. I have followed her newsletter for years and have gained much insight into the practical everyday use of energy flow. As a writer, it’s important to set the tone of one’s working space; how well you organize and arrange your home office (or wherever you write) is vital to the writing process and outcome. By making a few adjustments (some more so than others, depending on your needs), you may get to experience the shifts in energy flow that can occur relatively quickly (I’m talking within a week).

Here are some suggestions from one of Carol’s articles on how to arrange your desk/office for greater success:

If you work from home, the first Feng Shui consideration is which room or area of your home to use. If at all possible, avoid locating your office in the kitchen, where it could symbolically interfere your health, or in the bedroom, which could interfere with your love and relationships. 

Here are five quick fixes you can make in your workspace to give your office a Feng Shui makeover. 
Problem #1: Your desk is in the wrong location.
Quick Fix: The most auspicious location for a desk is positioned diagonally across from the door. The worst place is with your back to the door. When you sit with your back to the entrance of a room you can’t see what’s going on behind you, making you vulnerable to being “caught off guard” by your competitors, clients, or colleagues.

Things literally and figuratively go on “behind your back.” If you can’t relocate your desk, hang a mirror in front of you or place a reflective object on your desk so you can see behind you.

Problem #2: Your desk is the wrong size.
Quick Fix: A desk that is too small for the work to be done makes you feel that your ambitions and aspirations are restricted. On the other hand, a desk that is too large makes you feel that you are not up to the challenge of the work. Choose the appropriate size work surface for the job you have to do. And make sure you have enough room to spread out, create, and expand in your career.

Problem #3: There are sharp corners pointed at you.
Quick Fix: In Feng Shui, the edges of walls pointing at you are called “poison arrows.” These sharp edges send harsh energy toward you, making you feel uncomfortable, threatened, or insecure. The best way to cure or fix this problem is to place something between you and the sharp edge to block its negative energy. Good things to use include furniture, a healthy plant, soft fabric draped over the edge of the wall, or molding. 

Problem #4: You are surrounded by overhead fluorescent lights.
Quick Fix: Fluorescent lights represent the Metal Element that can be too hard and cutting when it comes at you from overhead. Plus this kind of lighting can cause headaches, eyestrain, and a whole lot of stress. Whenever you can, turn off overhead fluorescent lights and take advantage of natural daylight, or use desk and floor lamps. If you can’t turn off overhead fluorescents, try to have them replaced with full spectrum light bulbs. These simulate daylight and make you feel more comfortable.

Problem #5: Your office is cluttered.
Quick Fix: In Feng Shui, clutter represents postponed decisions and the inability to move forward. When you have so many files and piles of papers that can’t even see your desktop, it’s hard to concentrate on your work. Clear as much as you can off your desk, then use colorful folders and wicker baskets to contain the rest of your paperwork. Here is one way to jump start your office clutter clearing — Set a timer for 10 minutes, take a large plastic bag, and thrown 27 thing into the bag – things you don’t use, don’t want, and don’t need in your office. You’ll be amazed as how much more space you have opened up in your office to allow new opportunities for success to reach you.

Resource: http://fengshuiforreallife.com/Detailed/222.html

 

Grammar, It Ain’t That Hard, Right?

Is grammar dead? Read any number of internet articles, including those written by journalists and professional writers, and you just might think so. In a previous article, I criticized the overuse of the word thing. It is supplemented far too often as a noun where a more respectable and appropriate noun would do. Grammar clarifies both our writing and our thinking. They are forever joined together; the more clear and precise our thinking, the more clear and precise our writing. Hence, a better story or article is the result of that positive relationship. The lazier our thinking is, logic dictates, then the more muddled our writing is. As writers, we want to inform and/or entertain our readers, so doesn’t it make sense to keep our words as precise and concise as possible?

I was (un)fortunate enough to have been sent to a private Catholic grammar school for eight (long) years. I have vivid memories of nuns with their rulers and clackers, kept at the ready for any expression of unacceptable behavior, including mistakes in grammar when called upon to read (yes, out loud) or conjugate (yes, out loud). The following is an excerpt from a funny and informative grammar book, Who’s (…Oops!) Whose Grammar Book Is This Anyway? by C. Edward Good. The scene is eerily familiar to me (my comments are in parentheses):

“Up front, under the watchful eye of Miss Hamrick – our no-nonsense English teacher – Billy Wombie tries to diagram a sentence on the chalkboard. Momentarily uncertain where to put the prepositional phrase, he regains his composure and finishes with a flourish, smirking at Damron, the troublemaker in back taking aim with spit was in cafeteria straw.

Miss Hamrick spots him. “Up front with you, Damron. On your feet. In front of the class.” (I have similar embarrassing memories.)

“All right, Damron. Now perhaps you can help the class with verb conjugation.”

“Yes, ma’am,” Damron dutifully responds.

“Good. Now conjugate the verb to ride in the third person.” (How many of you have done this or can do this now?)

Third person?” Damron groans. He knows what will come. (I’m groaning, too, I’ve been here.)

“Third person. That’s right, Damron. No go ahead.”

“He rides, he rode, he will ride…”

“Damron, be fair. Include all third persons.” (Still following?)

“He/she rides…”

“No, Damron. Don’t forget to include it.” (Sheesh. You getting this?)

Beads of sweat forming on his troubled brow, Damron begins, “He/she/it rides, he/she/it rode….”

The class erupts, delighting in Damron’s pronunciational discomfort.

“He/she/it rides, he/she/it rode, he/she/it will ride, he/she/it has ridden, he/she/it had ridden, he/she/it will have ridden.” (I still don’t know how to use all but the first three; better read more of the book.)

“Very good, Damron. Now the progressive tenses.” (Huh? Don’t remember those…)

“He/she/it is riding, he/she/it was riding, he/she/it will be riding, he/she/it has been riding, he/she/it had been riding, he/she/it will have been riding.” (I give up.)

Grammar, a forgotten relic of the past? Nowadays, schools aren’t offering it in their English classes. Why not? As you can see above, it’s vital to understand the tenses and which one to use. I, for one, will be reading more of this delightful book so I can be more like Miss Hamrick. Sheesh.

 

good grammar

 

 

Early Words

In my previous post, Walking and Writing Down Memory Lane, I wrote about discovering my early works. Today I added the poems to my computer files; I’ll add the lengthy papers later. As I typed the words, I wondered what I’d been thinking/feeling/experiencing at the time. They were mostly written, according to the dates, during my senior year of high school – a year no more or less traumatic than the other three years, as I recall (but I could be wrong). Home life was, as always, precarious, so perhaps this is where the sadness and despair in my words originated. I’ve decided to share some of these early words with you – feel free to comment and I hope they touch a place deep in you. I don’t know that I identify with those early words as much as I once did; I like to believe I’ve become a bit more optimistic over the decades. Wisdom, after all, does come with age (well, so do wrinkles but we won’t talk about that here).

Blank Mind

Blank mind.

Must think.

Keep mind ever-moving.

Thoughts drift –

Clouds in semi-windless skies.

Blank mind….

Blank mind.

What is real?

Unreal?

Untold stories –

Untruthful.

Understanding much about nothing.

Blank mind….

Empty head.

Air pockets swiftly passing….

Sounds….

Unknown,

Unheard,

Understood, yet.

Thoughts of thoughtlessness.

Empty head….

Blank mind.

Empty feelings.

Passages of senses.

To nowhere.

Seeing nothing.

Knowing everything.

Numb…wandering…roaming to find…BLANK MIND.


A Question of Depth

Body connects us…

To the soul…

To the ever-deepening cavities

Of ourselves.

We are not deep,

But mere shallow molds…

Showing nothing

But what is to be seen.

Ever-digging…

Searching for

What should be seen.

Frightened depths hide away –

We do not show…

We parade nothing but

What is expected.

Hide…

Run…

Do not show

Reality.

It hurts;

It frightens…

Much too deep…

Don’t go too deep…

It’s not right…

Stay hidden

Among the relics of the soul….

Everything is much too deep………

©All rights reserved for original work (1979, 2016).

Walking & Writing Down Memory Lane

As I continue to unpack my life in my new home (hey, the older we get, the longer the process takes, wink wink), I discovered some long-forgotten gems I’d packed away. A friend is bringing by a TV with stand later today, so I had to make room. There were still two containers, one packed with Christmas decorations and the other marked “Memorabilia” that I needed to either put away or go through and discard unwanted items. I stored the Christmas box in the storage closet then set about rifling through the box packed with memories of my past. 

That container walked me through parts of my life I’d long forgotten, including many of the papers I’d written while earning my Psych degree back in the late 90s. I chuckled and snorted my way through the papers – Philosophy (the life of Socrates), English 202, and several of my clinical psych papers on serial killers (yep, that was my specialty – their psychopathology and crime scenes). At the bottom, tucked in an old scrapbook, I discovered some poems and short stories I’d written as a teenager. Seems I’ve been writing for longer than I remember. I stacked those papers in a neat pile to scan into my computer at some point. I enjoyed reading them again, to see how much I have (and have not, in some ways) changed over the decades.

Strong memories flooded my mind; in particular, of my favorite professor, the late Dr. Eugene Policelli. This man was not only a brilliant professor and writer; I clearly remember he was also fluent in Italian and, of all languages, Latin. We’re talking old school here. But his exuberance, kindness, generosity, and gentle guidance were what I remember most of him and his writing assignments. Because of him, I wrote some damned good stories. One of which he liked so much that he told me to “tighten it up” (I wasn’t sure what he meant by that at the time) so he could have it printed in our local paper (he had a friend who worked as an editor or something there). I remember it was a Christmas story of my family. Then I came across handouts he’d given us on the writing process and I share one with you here. Take notes.

the-writing-process

 

I also discovered a booklet printed upon my graduation from high school and, there among the poets, was one of my very own poems. I’d completely forgotten about that booklet, and even about writing the poem. I realized some of my emotions and perceptions have remain unchanged by time.

We take many turns along the road of life but in looking back we can see patterns emerge that shape who we are or will be at any moment in time. I realized this morning that I have been a writer for most of my life and the need to express myself is part of who I am, memories and all.

 

memory-lane-quote

Mood, Weather, and Technology

Hello All, I’m baaaaccckkk…

I know, I went missing for a bit there…that’s because I was busy packing up my life and moving to new digs while breaking in a new day job. The older I get, the longer it takes for me to unpack and get the rhythm of my life in order, including my writing (this blog, my novels, etc.). Here in NorCal we’ve been hit with a deluge of rain over the past six weeks (I’ve actually lost count as to how long this has been going on) and I am showing signs of wear. This much rain reminds me of Seattle; I lived near there for about five months many years ago but left because the weather was depressing and so was I from a lack of vitamin D. I don’t know about you, readers, but weather – especially consistent torrents of rain – quashes my ability to express myself in any uplifting way. That, coupled with the fact that I’ve yet to get internet in my new home, has made for the only dry season around here. So I am in both an emotional and technological desert, brought on by relocation and mood-deflating weather. What’s a writer to do?

Tomorrow is a day off from work and a state holiday. Since most businesses are closed, I plan to work on my novel (the sequel to Rescue on White Thunder), see if I can get any closer to resolving the main issue: the darn thing is too short. I’ve got to stretch it out, perhaps a sub-story, to make it at least as long as the first novel. I’ve had writer’s block on that subject for over a year. The upside is that the weather is supposed to be pretty stormy, meaning I’m staying in for the day. I have some movies to watch (no cable at the moment either, but I do have my DVD player); hopefully I’ll spend the morning and part of the afternoon writing before vegging in front of the movie screen.

I have to admit I haven’t missed the internet all that much. Nice to come home and not worry about checking emails (which I can do from my phone), updating the new residential address, or checking in with the latest round of idiocy from our new Il Presidente. My home is definitely more quiet and I admit I’m in no hurry to busy it up again. Except with some good writing…which I will endeavor to accomplish, in spite of the mood, weather, and technology issues.

 

A Sense of Place

I’m reading an interesting book titled “This is Where You Belong” by Melody Warnick. The title of the book struck me one day as I walked past a New Selections stand at my local library. She writes about loving where you live (and how to learn to, if you don’t). It’s as if she wrote the first chapter just for me. I know I’ve blogged about all the moving around this country I’ve done, in search of a connection, of a place to call home. She presents an enormous amount of research in a readable (and often humorous) way and includes checklists at the end of every chapter so you too can go out and learn to love where you live. (Many of which are quite doable and actually sound like fun.)

While still new to the area (13 months ago), I went to a reputable psychic reader for some guidance. One of the first things she said to me was, “you know California’s not your home, right?” I felt like someone had punched me in the chest and knocked the air out of my lungs. Did I seriously just spend 11 days on yet another (my fourth and hopefully final) cross country road trip, to end up in a place where I don’t belong? Story of my life, it seems. Perhaps she was wrong (since our futures are not written in stone and we change directions on a whim), and I can learn to fit in here instead of always trying to find the “right” place for me. Perhaps I’ve had it wrong all this time and I need to fit in before a place can fit me.

Moving offered absolution for whatever failures I’d amassed in my present town: the disappointing friendships, the inescapable, guilt-inducing commitments, the taunting list of unfinished home renovation projects. Each time the moving truck pulled away from the curb, these petty vexations and regrets vanished. Thus freed and forgiven, I’d relish the prospect of beginning again in the next city. Things would definitely be better this time. I would be better in Blacksburg. I believed so thoroughly in the healing power of geography that I didn’t bother to make plans for how these changes would occur. By stirring up the better angels of my nature, the right place would simply complete me.

A new city presses the reset button, forcing you to at least temporarily abandon old patterns of thought and environmental triggers. The Melody I was in Virginia would not, fingers crossed, turn out to be the Melody I was in Texas.

Ouch. Sound familiar to you? Certainly does to me. The right place would simply complete me has been my reigning affirmation – up until now. I have to participate in loving where I live? Who’d a thunk it!

Does where you live affect or inspire your writing? Think about it: the conversations overhead at the local cafe, in line at your bank (if you ever bother to go there in person), or when passing people on the street. I find myself listening to the conversations and watching the behaviors of people around me here, perhaps in an attempt to connect to the (my) community. And sometimes what I witness makes it into one of my stories, whether it be a conversation or a particular way someone dressed. But by reading this book I have realized that no one place can complete me. No, I must learn to love where I live, let it in and allow that love to filter through my fingers and into my stories. Because my stories are an expression of me and my life experiences – and they are what complete me, giving me a sense of place within myself and in my community.

Research: The Monster Over My Shoulder

I finally got some writing “juice” this past week and worked on a fiction novel that’s been sitting untouched on my computer for some time. While adding pages to the second chapter, I realized that certain pieces of information were beyond my grasp until I did some research on the subject at hand. Then I stopped writing.

Research – it’s a lurking monster for me, since I tend to procrastinate until the end of the book to begin the necessary research, filling in the many [bracketed words/phrases/ideas] peppered throughout the story. It’s where pertinent pieces of information need to be inserted – like details on the type of plane used in an aerial shooting, embezzling schemes and how they work (or fall apart), or researching the appropriate lingo used to describe a fire scene. The brackets are notes to myself to go back and finish that thought, get more information on that process, or add a character description. I complete an idea or part of the story best I can, add some brackets where more information/detail is needed, and move on. Most of the time.

Granted, the Internet makes research much easier and more accessible, on most topics. There are, however, still some areas of expertise best shared by experts in that field (for example, the type of plane used in an aerial shooting scene, how it flies, the gears, size of the engine, etc.). This is where I get lazy and it’s probably why some parts of my fiction works could use a little “lift” from more detailed descriptions.

How do you approach research? Do you research as you write? Do you begin your research before you start the story? Do you hire an intern? (Nice to be able to afford that option!) Let us know!

Part of it is I have a bad habit of convincing myself that the experts won’t talk to me, because my work hasn’t made it to the NY Times Bestseller List. I have to get out of my own way and learn to approach the research with as much gusto as I do the rest of the story.

After all, the devil is in the details, eh?

“If you don’t know where you are going, you’ll end up someplace else.” Yogi Berra