Wednesday, April 18, 2007

Would One Matter?

As a writer and one-time American studies major, I often find myself looking at news and media and wondering how much of what I'm hearing is truth and how much is a step to the right or left of fact. After the horrible tragedy Monday, I listened to several news reports and watched with horror as the number of dead rose. There are no words in any language that can describe such carnage, or that can adequately express the grief of those who lost loved ones in such a violent senseless way. I don't mean to be part of the cacophony of voices expressing opinion, horror, or national grief. There is no way my shock can compare to that of parents, students, wives, husbands, children who are living first-hand the consequences of selfish and sinful humanity. I won't dare touch on motive, won't mention the killer, won't debate sin versus sickness. To those who lost people close to them, those things don't matter.

What matters is that they lost someone they loved. That someone is not a group lying broken and bloody on a classroom floor. S/he is an individual, loved, cherished and now gone. As the media repeats over and over again that this is the worst mass murder in American history, one must ask - would this much attention be given to one soul, one broken body, one grieving family? Are we horrified by the sheer number of deaths, by the violent manner of the murders, or are we truly grieving the humanity lost that day?

Media and opinion aside, let us not lose sight of the fact that this act was not committed against a group of thirty-two, but rather against thirty-two individuals. Each should be mourned, his life remembered not because he was part of a national catastrophe, but because he was loved.

Shirlee's word count for Tuesday - 2,025

Saturday, April 14, 2007


That has nothing to do with writing....but maybe it does (if I try hard enough).

I was watching t.v. last night instead of writing (which is what I should have been doing). Actually, I was going through my normal procrastination routine - write a word, watch t.v., write two words, watch more t.v. In one hour's time, I'd managed to write a paragraph and see two programs and a LOT of commercials. One commercial in particular caught my attention. There's a school bus, a bunch of rowdy children, a school bus driver who walks onto the bus, looks at the kids with horror, opens a DVD player and turns it on. Immediately the children go into a state of near coma - staring wide-eyed at the screen, mouths gaping open as whatever is playing plays. The bus driver smiles and the commercial goes on. Something about a car providing you with what you need to keep everyone happy.

Is that what it takes to make people happy? Keep the kids quiet and occupied, keep the parents free from irritation, keep everyone doing their own thing rather than engaging?

Years ago, I read a book for a college class titled THE PLUG IN DRUG. An interesting read, the book compared the physiological response to television to that obtained by drug use. It's been a while since I read it, but I found it on Amazon plus a revised version.

Silly as it may seem, there's truth in the statement that American children spend more time with other people, on the computer, or plugged into video games and t.v. than they do with their parents. Sharing space in a house or a ride does not mean active communication is occurring. It only means we're sharing space.

As a writer and a mother, I must work hard to balance work and motherhood. Staying involved in my children's lives is key to creating a lasting relationship with them. Personally, I think that's much more important than a peace and quiet.

Shirlee's word count for 4/13 - 1500.

See, it is about writing. :0)

Tuesday, April 10, 2007

Whatever Works

There are a lot of writing how-to books on the market. There are books on writing from the heart, books on writing the novel that lives inside you, books on plotting, characterization, word craft, synopsis writing, proposal writing.

As a reader and a writer, I applaud the concept of the how-to book. As a pragmatic person not given to believe there's only one way to do any particular thing, I'm doubtful any book can make a writer's path easier. The fact is, all the plotting, all the word crafting, all the writing from the heart can't create a book that's going to sell. While reading books about writing may clarify our writing strengths and weaknesses, it does not guarantee success because it only provides tools for a job that takes both craftsmanship, creativity and talent. Hand me a book about painting, a paint brush, canvas and paint and I will prove my point. I may be able to paint, but I'll never be able to paint well.

This is not meant to be a discouraging post, but rather one that will give you a practical look at a career that takes a myriad of abilities. An author must have a small measure of writing ability, a fair amount of story telling talent, a large amount of self discipline and an even larger amount of determination. Even if a writer sells her very first novel, there is no guarantee a second or third sale will quickly follow. To be a writer, one must be willing to commit to a career that has more ups and downs than the stock market and just as much uncertainty.

As I ready myself to mail in a proposal, I realize anew just how uncertain what I do is. Just because I sold a book yesterday does not mean that what I write will still be relevant today. My goal as a writer is always to press on through defeat, disappointment and disillusion. When I doubt myself, when others doubt me, when I wonder if I really have what it takes to be an author, I return to the root of who I am - a persistent, optimistic story teller who may not sell the next story, but who will keep writing. There is no magic bullet, no quick fix, no short cut. I work one plodding word at a time, one page, one paragraph, one idea. I don't use charts, graphs, or note cards. I do things my way with grim determination and an eye for detail. It works. For me.

The question is...all those writing books and conference workshops aside....what is going to work for you? How will you take your idea and lay it out on paper, craft it into something beautiful, something worth spending late nights reading? How will you take the rules, the devices, the words of wisdom and shape them into something that is uniquely yours?

Saturday, April 07, 2007

Snow and Other Good Reasons to Write

It's April 7th and snowing. I'm not quite sure what to make of it. One thing is for sure, it doesn't feel like spring.

Fortunately, the book I'm working on takes place in winter. It's hard to write warm weather when it's freezing out!

Speaking of which.....

If you've been procrastinating, putting off, perhaps even avoiding here are a few good reasons to write -

It's the Best Kind of Therapy.

Sad? Angry? Feeling a little crazy? Sometimes it's hard to write when we feel emotionally drained or overly excited. Really, though, that's the best time to put words to page. To write compelling characters we must understand the depth of their pain and the height of their joy. Don't be afraid to let your own emotions color the sentences and paragraphs you're crafting. It's easy enough to tone down emotion in our stories, but not so easy to add it in once the story is complete.

Little Steps Bring Big Success.

Any task can seem overwhelming if we look at it in its entirety. Piled-high laundry, overflowing sink, too-tight jeans. If we look at all we have to accomplish, we often feel like we can't accomplish anything. While I tend to be a big-picture person, the big picture is often overwhelming. To keep myself moving forward, I focus on one small task at a time - one load of laundry, one load of dishes, one pound, one paragraph, one page. Sure one page doesn't seem like much, but over the course of a year, I'll have written a novel.

It Isn't the Destination. It's the Journey.

I can't remember who said that, but I agree. If you're putting off writing because you don't think you'll get published, or because you're not sure you know enough about writing, or because you can't (pick your poison) attend conferences, afford a good computer printer, network, enter contests, etc, then you're missing the point of being a writer. The truth is, a real writer writes. Published or not. Certain of success or not. Ready or not. She writes. It's part of her journey and part of her life, a gift knit into the very fiber of her being. The rhythms of words and sounds, the melody of characterization and plot, those are things she learns as she experiments with stories and ideas.

So, on this snowy April day, write. Because you should. Because you have to. Because it's your gift and your burden.

Thursday, April 05, 2007

Writing Through the Chaos

It's no secret that I've got four kids home with me all day every day. It's no secret that those children are noisy, active, and interesting kids. They require attention. They require interventions. They require love, affection, meals, clean clothes. Normal stuff for normal kids.

It's also no secret that I'm an author. I write inspirational romantic suspense stories. I write about women who aren't married and who usually do not have kids. I write about peaceful worlds thrown into chaos. These stories do not reflect my life.

My life is a normality of chaos. Of noise and fun, excitement, irritations. Challenges. Blessings. To fit writing into the that takes creativity. If you're having trouble finding the time for your writing you may find these suggestions helpful.

1) prioritize.

What's really important in your life? Full time job? Family? Kids? Clean house? Make a list of what you need to accomplish. Decide which things cannot be neglected. Decide which things can wait. Laundry will be there tomorrow. People may not. If you've got a kid that's struggling, a friend that needs you, a husband who wants to go pick out light fixtures for the office, those are things that shouldn't be put off. If you've got dirty clothes sitting in a hamper...Yeah, that maybe can wait (unless your kids are running naked through the house). Put writing on your list of priorities somewhere between people and laundry. Then make time for it every day.

2)Learn to go with the flow and write in the moment.

Yeah, the kids are loud, but don't make that your excuse for not finishing the manuscript that's been on the burner for two years. It is possible to write when there is noise and interruptions. The key is to be happy about it. IE, don't let yourself focus on the noise. Take advantage of those moments when the kids are bouncing on the bed, or cheerfully playing hide and go seek in the house. Write when there's time. Don't wait for the time to write to come. It won't.

3) Banish the excuse demon.

Because he sure would rather you make excuses than fulfill your calling. Whether it's writing, mothering, being a missionary, getting a new job, buying another house. We can always find excuses to not go in the direction God is leading. Mostly it's because we're afraid. We convince ourselves that tomorrow, or next week, or next month, or next year will be better timing. Remember, though, you might not have tomorrow, next week, next month, or next year. You are only certain of having this moment. Whatever it is you're putting off, do it today. Once you begin to do the jobs as they come to you, you'll find that you've got a lot more time on your hands.

4) Trust

In His timing and His plan. If there really isn't time now to work toward your goals and toward the desire He's put on your heart, spend as much time as you can readying yourself for the moment when the time will be right. Save money so you can stay home, devote yourself to what He's put in your life now, trust that eventually He'll open doors that will allow you to move toward your dreams. Most of all, learn your place in the world and your purpose. After all, God really does have one for you.

Wednesday, April 04, 2007

Exciting Stuff

There are several exciting things going on in my life lately. I'm sure you're not all that interested, but that's okay, I'm going to write about them anyway! :0)

First, I've been dieting. Yes, I know. I've been down this path before. Usually with little success. However, this year has been different. As my weight has crept up, so has my fatigue. You see, I had mono years ago, and haven't had good energy level since. So, extra weight = less energy. Less energy is never good when you're homeschooling four kids and writing books. I won't say cleaning house because my hubby will laugh if I do. Anyhow, less energy is really bad when you don't have high energy levels to start. Thus, the diet. Or should I say - a new way of eating? I think that fits better. I'm down 23lbs. 17 more to go.

And, yes, I feel better.

Second exciting thing in my life - I've been invited to attend the BEA in New York City.

I don't know if that link will work, but the long and short of it is this - BEA is the largest book expo in North America. There will be tons of book publishers, some really famous authors, other not so famous authors, and me. I'm signing VALLEY OF SHADOWS on June 2 from 12-12:45. I'm really looking forward to it.

Third exciting thing - my husband and I are looking toward adoption to expand our already large family (I'm adding that because we do know that we have a large family). Nothing is final, yet. We've still got a long way to go in this particular journey, so we'll see what happens. As with everything in life, this is in God's hands. We met with the social worker Monday and filled out a bunch of forms. Now we're filling out a bunch more. Thankfully, my youngest sister has been through this before and is going through it again, so she's helping me with some of the detail work. Rodney and I don't know if we'll actually end this journey with a fifth child, but we know that God wants us to at least try. So, here we are, trying.

One thing I've realized as I've gotten older is that not making a decision is the same as making one. If we choose not to pursue things (whether weight loss, book signing, adoption, new jobs, moves, writing books, etc.) we've actually made the choice not to have those things in our lives. Sometimes that's because God has told us clearly not to move forward. Sometimes it's simply because we're afraid. Maybe we're afraid we'll make a mistake and ruin our lives. Maybe we're afraid we'll fail and be disappointed. In the end, I think the real issue is lack of faith. As Christians we believe that God will allow what is good and right in our lives. He sees our lives stretching out - a beautiful tapestry of His making - and He knows what is right and good for it. When we choose to not take a certain path because we're afraid it may not lead where we want, we're taking control out of God's hands and putting it in our own. Sometimes we've just got to step out in faith, knowing that the path we're on may lead to a different place than we first imagined it would, but knowing, too, that wherever we end up will be exactly where He wants us to be.

Tuesday, April 03, 2007

The Truth About Being An Author

It's hard work.

And when you're a mom, a wife, a husband, a father, and/or working another full time job it is even more difficult. Fatigue and stress kill creative energy in much the same way as those bleach cleaning products kill germs - 99.9% gone. Sure there's a glimmer of something there, but it's doubtful there's enough to catch.

Don't get me wrong, it's not a bad life. As matter of fact, it's a great life. But it's work. The fact that we do it home, the fact that we do it on our own schedule, the fact that our bosses aren't standing over our shoulder telling us what do doesn't negate the facts. Work is work. Whether we love it or hate it. Whether we feel it's our calling or it's just something we chanced into. Work. Tedious sometimes. Frustrating sometimes. Fulfilling sometimes.

Why am I saying this?

I've heard people say that writing is easy for them, that they love it so much they'd do it all day, that writing is their calling and God just gives them the words to put on the page. I think that's wonderful, but I think they're the minority.

Most of us struggle sometimes. So, if you're struggling to finish, to polish, or to get that characterization just right, rest assured, I'm sitting at my computer doing the same. You're not alone in your journey and you're not alone in hitting roadblocks and brick walls. Don't let frustration and failure (either your idea that you've failed, or rejection from editors or agents) get in the way of success. Think of writing as hard work. Combine it with passion, drive, and creativity. Those four things together are the beginning of success in any area of our lives.