Tuesday, April 26, 2016

An Ambivert Walks Into A Writing Conference...

Photo by Cara Lopez Lee
Fifteen thousand people at one writing conference are enough to bring out my inner introvert. That’s what I learned at my second springtime leap into the swarms of the annual AWP Conference, this time in Los Angeles. (AWP stands for Association of Writers and Writing Programs, so can anyone tell me why it’s not AWWP?) People often talk about creative writing and introversion as if they’re inseparable, but thanks to writing’s dual requirements of solitude and communication, I believe it attracts a spectrum of introverts and extroverts.

I’m an ambivert: exhibiting qualities of extroversion and introversion in almost equal measure. In Myers-Briggs personality tests, I typically score 51% extrovert/49% introvert. I’ll bet if the tests were not designed for bilateral results, I’d test 50-50.

Non-writers often seem surprised to meet an extroverted writer. Meanwhile, writers who know me seem surprised to learn I’m half-introvert. “But you’re so social!” That’s what an author friend told me when I attended her reading at one of the pop-up events that are my favorite part of any conference.

With that, we both fell into mutual confession, admitting that, although we enjoy such events—typical for extroverts—we feel drained afterward—typical for introverts. She said something like, “I enjoy readings, but I spend most of the time leading up to them dreading it, and most of the time afterward going over every dumb thing I said.”

Without prompting, she volunteered that on Myers-Briggs, she scores 51% introvert/49% extrovert. We laughed over our identical but flipped numbers. I drew an imaginary bubble around us with my hands and said, “We’re both safe here.”

She and I don’t know each other intimately, but I like to believe that for a few minutes after that we both relaxed, eager to get better acquainted with each other, without the pressure of meeting strangers. Then a third author, a stranger, joined us. She was smart, funny, and apparently extroverted. The tension rose, but I enjoyed the conversation. I’m comfortable with being uncomfortable. Still, I missed the one-on-one.

I expected to join a close friend—an introvert—at that event, but she never saw my text confirming our plans. She later texted that she feared being alone so went to another event in hope of finding friends, which is how she ended up alone. It struck me as the classic approach-avoidance conundrum writers face at conferences, the simultaneous desire and fear surrounding social contact.

To write well, we don’t shy from sharing ideas that scare us. How can we ask less of ourselves in a roomful of writers? Yet how will we broach such frank talk with strangers?

I’m convinced that extroverts and introverts are often equally overwhelmed by writing conferences, though perhaps for different reasons. Something like:

Introvert: Why is this person talking to me? Why is she so excitable? Why does she keep talking about herself? Why is she asking me so many questions?

Extrovert: Why won’t this person talk to me? Why is she so disengaged? Why won’t she tell me about herself? Why is she making me do all the talking?

Exhausting. Still, I crave intimate dialogue. That’s one reason I write: the intimate relationship between writer and reader.

In that vein, I prefer events where the halls don’t feel like a pedestrian freeway at rush hour; where presentations are not one-sided, with an invisible boundary between presenter and audience; where I don’t feel lost in a crowd.

At AWP, many fellow-writers and I exchanged the same confession: “This is overwhelming.” A few of us shared ways we deal with that. Here are mine:

1) I only attend two or three classes a day.

2) I spend mornings or afternoons writing in my room.

3) I often choose to eat in solitude.

4) I emphasize offsite events and don’t struggle to meet people. If I do, great. If I don’t, I watch and listen.

5) I don’t feel compelled to go to that thing where “everyone is going,” unless I’m dying to go.

6) I typically attend smaller conferences, seminars, workshops, and retreats, especially where I can spend time with a single group of maybe a dozen.

Those approaches still challenge both my inner introvert and outer extrovert, but I find it worthwhile: reaching within for questions and answers, reaching out to share questions and answers, and synthesizing it all into an improved ability to create and communicate. Introverts or extroverts, we’re writers, and until we share our words we have not completed our purpose.

Cara Lopez Lee is the author of the memoir They Only Eat Their Husbands. Her stories have appeared in such publications as The Los Angeles Times, Denver Post, Connotation PressRivet Journal, and Pangyrus. She’s a book editor and writing coach. She was a faculty member at Lighthouse Writers Workshop, a journalist in Alaska and North Carolina, and a writer for HGTV and Food Network. An avid traveler, she has explored twenty countries and most of the fifty United States. She and her husband live in Ventura, California.

Tuesday, April 19, 2016

On My Mind...Avoiding Distractions

To write, you need to focus. You can write anywhere - in a coffee shop, at your dining room table, on the train - but you need to concentrate on the words you’re putting on the screen or the page not on the world around you. You need - -

 Question: What colour does a Smurf turn if you choke it?

- - - to shut your mind to distractions. To immerse yourself in the world you are creating on the page. You must listen to your characters. Discover their rhythms. Their flaws. Their - -

 Question: Why is the letter called ‘double u’ when its two ‘v’s joined together?

 - - motivations. Every character is unique because so is every writer. We all crave different surroundings. Some write best while listening to music. Many require silence. Others write while surrounded by people, while a number crave solitude. But all writers - - -

 Question: Why do we press harder on the tv remote when the batteries are dead?

 - - - must develop discipline. You must be able to ignore the distractions of the work-a-day world - -

 Question: Why are homes called ‘apartments’ when they’re all stuck together? 

 - - to close the door to everyday concerns - -

Question: Why does ‘fat chance’ and ‘slim chance’ mean the same thing?

 - - to turn off the internet. Don’t get me wrong. The internet is fantastic. Magical. The conduit for you reading this post. But it is also - -

Question: Why do psychics need to ask for your name?

 - - possible to lose hours popping from one site to another. This is called ‘going down the rabbit hole’. True, it is a wonderland down there, but time does funny things. If you want to get whatever it is you’re working on finished, then don’t follow that rabbit. Be curiouser and curiouser about what’s going to unfold as you write, not on what’s through that little door in the wall. Concentrate on your words even when you start wondering - -

Why is the alphabet in that order?

Elspeth Futcher is an author and playwright. Thirteen of her murder mystery games and two audience-interactive plays are published by host-party.com. Her A Fatal Fairy Tale, Deadly Ever After and Curiouser and Curiouser are among the top-selling mystery games on the Internet.  Elspeth's newest game, Nice But Naughty is now available from her UK publisher, Red Herring Games, as is her Great British Bump Off and Once Upon a Murder. Elspeth's 'writing sheep' are a continuing feature in the European writers' magazine Elias and also appear on this blog from time to time. Connect with her on Twitter at @elspethwrites or on Facebook at Elspeth Futcher, Author.

Thursday, April 14, 2016

On My Mind…Senior or Seasoned?

Back in the early nineties, I published a mini-magazine called the Seasoned Citizens Gazette: The Journal for the Not-Quite-Over-the-Hill-Gang. Because I lived in the Pikes Peak area, I invited seniors from Colorado Springs and surrounding towns to submit short stories, articles, poems, columns, etc. I, too, wrote pieces that were aimed at the AARP squad. My magazine was distributed free in senior communities and centers, pharmacies, and other places seniors frequented; it also could be subscribed to and mailed monthly (not for free) to private homes. Ads covered the printing. Beyond that, it was primarily a labor of love, as well as a fun way to keep my mind both occupied and creatively directed and provide an outlet for fellow seasoned citizens who had something to share.
by Verbaska on MorgueFile
It’s hard to believe that was some twenty-five years ago. A large number of my contributors are no longer with us, and I look back nostalgically at the experience of working with so many whose lives—and contributions to my journal—brought love and joy to others. I also reflect on what makes some of us “senior citizens” and others “seasoned citizens.”

What is a “seasoned citizen”? We have seen many seasons come and go; we can be spicy, tart, peppery, or sweet; we have weathered life’s storms and are still in there punching; we are survivors, persons for all seasons. It’s a mindset.

The Seasoned Citizens Gazette focused on ways to help ourselves, do for ourselves, share of ourselves. For the most part, we are still vital, healthy, life-loving folks. We are not a throw-away generation; in fact, we have more to offer in the way of wisdom and experience than any other group of people living today.

by Mockingbird on MorgueFile

What does this have to do with writing? Perhaps a lot. When I was publishing the Seasoned Citizens Gazette, I distributed hard copy by hand—after writing, editing, doing layout, paying printing costs, and buying gasoline to deliver the finished product. Today, it could be circulated worldwide on the Internet with little to no out-of-pocket costs. Advertising could still be an income source, and the yearly price of subscribing to the journal could be affordable for almost any budget. We could distribute nationally or even internationally, reaching an audience far wider than I could ever have done back in the day. We could advertise our books and/or our editing services in addition to publishing our own pearls of wisdom, as well as the gems contributed by others. We could encourage our contemporaries to get out of their rocking chairs, so to speak. We could launch a blog as Dani has done so capably here at Blood Red Pencil. We could build businesses based on our knowledge or learn to build websites to help others expand their businesses. All this requires written communication, aka writing. The pen is still mighty, and we can wield it with the proficiency of many years' experience.

Are you a senior citizen or a seasoned citizen? Or, if you’re still a young thing, which do you plan to be when you qualify for AARP?

Linda Lane and her editing team mentor and encourage writers at all phases of the writing process. To learn more about what they do, please visit them at www.denvereditor.com.

Tuesday, April 12, 2016

3 Steps to Reinvigorating Your Writing

I have a confession to make.

I am a writer.

Well, I was before life stepped in.

Well, I was before I let life step into my home and make itself comfortable while my writing wilted in the back of a stuffed closet.

And, yes, I write here for Blood-Red Pencil, I write in preparation for teaching, I write in my journal, but you all know what I mean, write, er, right? I'm talking about the writing that transports you into a new world that you create, a world full of angsty characters and obstacles and drama and love and hate …and all the other wonderful components that go into making a story.

THAT's the writing I HAVEN'T been doing.

And when you are a creative at heart, this is painful. When you have characters and ideas taking up space in your mind, but your heart isn't moved to write, this can be extraordinarily painful.

Right now, I'm at an impasse. There has been NO progress in my writing life, and there will be no progress until I stand and make a choice to reinvigorate my writing life.

My most favorite quote is "Start where you are. Use what you have. Do what you can." The brilliant athlete and person Arthur Ashe definitely knew what he was talking about when he said this.

As a writer, I'm in a place of non-movement. I think all people have been there before. You feel you know what you need to do, but for whatever reason, you are catatonic.

When in this state, the answer is not to remain stagnant—but to move. You don't have to move fast, but you have to move forward to get yourself out of the thoughts, feelings, inaction that keep you immobilized.

I want to act in my writing life, so I am slowly putting Ashe's thought into practice by doing three things.

Finding an Accountability Partner. I used to be good at keeping myself honest with work, but then life came and made me focus more on my circumstances than on what I could do while in those circumstances. My best friend, who also happens to be an excellent writer, Samara King has stepped into the role as my accountability partner (AP). As such, every month, we are telling each other our overall monthly goals and our smaller weekly goals, and we are e-mailing, calling, texting—whatever we can do to make sure we do the work…and to have the whip at the ready if we don't do the work.

Setting Goals. Ask anyone who knows me, and they will tell you that I'm a girl who loves to set a goal. I'm excellent at it. One problem I have, however, is focusing too much on the BIG picture and becoming so frightened by that picture that I stall and complete few things. To help combat this issue, I'm using the app todoist. I'm using it on the web, my phone, and my tablet. There, I am able to set those BIG picture goals, and I then set the small stepping stone goals that will eventually get me across the finish line. I have even connected my AP with this objective as she and I share a project to-do list so that we can cheer each other on and shake a ruler when our progress slows or stops.

Taking Little Steps. Go Hard or Go Home. Rise and Grind. Good Things Come to Those Who Hustle. We live in a world that suggests that if you're not living and doing at Red Bull Addiction speed, then you're not going for what you want. And that's simply not true. If you have the ability to go hard, to grind, to hustle, do so. But some of us who are unsure of where to step next should not feel the need to go for leaps and bounds moves—or to feel bad about ourselves if we can't make those lightning-fast moves. This is why setting big picture and small step goals is so important. This is where Ashe's quote definitely comes into play for me.

  • Start where you are. Where are you right now in your writing life? What are your big goals? 
  • Use what you have. What do you have in your world right now that you can use to achieve these goals? 
  • Do what you can. What can you do—right now—to achieve these goals? That "what can you do—right now"? That's the little step that you need to think about—the little step that moves you closer to your big goal, that ultimately makes you want to take more steps.

Finding an accountability partner, setting goals, taking little steps—these three things are all connected by one more aspect: habit.

I'm not saying it will be easy. In fact, I have done these three things before and not lived up to my own hype.

But with habit—with actually taking the calls, texts, e-mails from my AP; with looking at my calendar and happily checking off work completed; with taking those small steps toward an ultimate goal—I can learn to make these things as normal as breathing.

Like they used to be.

What's on your mind? How does it relate to writing? How can you use it to further develop your writing?

Creative Passionista Shon Bacon is an author, a crafter, an editor, and an educator whose biggest joys are writing and helping others develop their craft. You can learn more about Shon's writings at her author website.

Thursday, April 7, 2016

How to Get Readers Hooked

I don't claim to know all the ways to get readers hooked, but I know some I can share with you.

1. Get a Fantastic Cover. That's not so easy. One approach might be to study the covers of bestselling authors in your genre, and determine if those covers have anything in common with each other. Or, if an author you happen to know has a cover you really like, ask who designed it.

2. Start Each Book With A Hook. In this fast-paced world, an author has to grab the reader immediately. This may sound obvious, but it can be the most difficult to do. One way to accomplish this is to begin the first paragraph in the middle of an action sequence to pique the reader's curiosity about what's going on and what'll happen next. Or, pose a question. If it's a good one, the reader will want to know the answer.

3. Write a Series. If readers like your character(s), or a certain locale, they're more likely to come back for more, kind of like watching a TV series.

4. Do Giveaways. If you sell e-books through Amazon's Kindle Direct Publishing, you're in luck, since they offer more than one way for you to promote an e-book through Giveaways, or a Price Countdown. If your e-book isn't with Amazon, you can still do a Giveaway through your newsletter, blog, or website. You can also do one on Smashwords, for a limited time, or all the time.

5. Make One of Your E-books Permafree. Click Here to get my permafree thriller, Two Wrongs. If your ebook is free at another venue, Amazon will match that free price and keep it free,even if it's not part of KDP Select, for as long as it's remains free at the other venue. A free sample, especially one in a series, can lure a reader to read more of your work.

6. Try For Followers on Your Amazon Author Page. Include the Follow button at the end of your books, also in links on Facebook, Twitter, Linkedin, and Google Plus. If you get enough followers,(last I heard the magic number was fifty), when you release a new book, your followers will be notified by Amazon. Every bit of publicity helps. That said, I'm trolling for followers, so if you're so inclined, please click Here to get to my Amazon Author Page. The Follow Button is on the left, under the Hailey's Chance cover there. For those who do so, I thank you.

7. Get a Mailing List Going and Send Out a Newsletter. Put a signup on your blog, also mention it on Twitter, or any egroups you belong to. Two popular sites with templates and other newsletter information, which can help you get started are ConstantContact.com and MailChimp.com.

I hope my suggestions have been helpful for you. Does anyone else have an idea on how to get readers hooked? Or, maybe you'd like to share how an author got you hooked.

Experience Morgan Mandel's diversity and versatility. Check Out Her Standalone Romantic Comedy,  Girl of My Dreams, the romantic comedy series, Her Handyman, and A Perfect Angel. For Mystery/Suspense, try Killer Career or Two Wrongs. For the small town of Deerview series: Hailey's Chance: Will Baby Make 3? and Christmas   Carol.Websites:Morgan Mandel.Com Morgan Does Chick Lit.ComTwitter:@MorganMandel

Tuesday, April 5, 2016

Reinventing the Hero

So many posts circulating on Facebook perpetuate stereotypes about men and women. They get a lot of likes and shares. They are funny on the surface and touch on shared experiences. But not every guy is into beer and cars and not every woman wants flowers and chocolates.

Eliminating gender assumptions allows for a more interesting spectrum of characters to work with and can help send healthier messages.

Traits such as introversion versus extraversion, sensing, feeling,thinking, and judging exist on a spectrum and transcend gender definitions. They are further shaped by our childhood wounds, nurturing (or lack of), and etched by society.

There is a movement to change the messages we send girls about how they should manifest in the world, but the messages are still tainted by gender stereotypes.

An equal amount of focus should be on the messages we send to boys about their presence in the world, without perpetuating unhealthy gender stereotypes.

What a man wants and needs is different for each individual. If you want to win a person's heart, you must first learn their currency.

So often, through fiction, men are told a hero must be a wealthy, kick-ass but sensitive alpha male.

They have to plan perfect dates and shell out serious dough to impress their dates.

They must be able to mutter sweet nothings and pithy phrases while using impeccable fighting skills and super intellect to save the day. 

Being sensitive is often looked upon as being weak, intelligent as being nerdy, kindness as being a sucker. However men with ordinary skills who move through life with kindness, consideration, honor, and steadfastness make the best life partners, parents, and citizens.

Some men need to have their reality validated. They come home with their stories and they need someone to act as their witness. Some men like to "talk."

Some men like loving words and small tokens to remind them they are cared for. The same things make other men very uncomfortable.

Some men need a generous amount of physical touch. Others may not enjoy non-sexual snuggling.

Some men want to be appreciated for all they do to take care of their family. Going to work every day and providing financially are their version of hearts and flowers. They need their effort to be recognized. Some resent being the sole breadwinner.

In addition to rehabilitating the needy, desperate heroine of the past, it is time to reconsider what constitutes the hero.

If you are interested in learning more about improving messages to young men (and women):

Check out The Good Man Project, which is dedicated to international discourse about what it means to be a "good man" in the 21st century.

I am a huge fan of Tom Selleck's steadfast character on the television show Blue Bloods. The actor is co-founder of Character Counts.org, which is dedicated to working with schools to instill good character and ethics.

For more information on building characters through personality types and nature/nurture, pick up a copy of Story Building Blocks II: Crafting Believable Conflict and SBB: Build a Cast Workbook.

Continue reading about heroes and romance with the following posts:

Diana Hurwitz is the author of Story Building Blocks: The Four Layers of Conflict, Story Building Blocks II: Crafting Believable Conflict, Story Building Blocks III: The Revision Layers, and the YA adventure series Mythikas Island. Her weekly blog, Game On: Crafting Believable Conflict explores how characters behave and misbehave. Visit DianaHurwitz.com for more information and free writing tools. You can follow her on Facebook and Twitter.