Thursday, April 28, 2011

"W" Is For Word Count

When I started writing, I obsessed over word count.  I panicked when chapters were too long and banned myself from moving forward until they were trimmed to a manageable size.  I worry about not having the 'room' to complete my story.  At times, I even catch myself going into earlier chapters and compulsively deleting, just so I feel better about my length (Thankfully, I save the original so when I come to my senses, no permanent damage has been created).

I can't say I've cured my obsession, but I'm better than I used to be.  I still run a word count for each chapter and keep a cumulative total for the manuscript.  But, I also understand everything at this stage is tentative. I anticipate cutting a good 30,000 words in revisions, which will put my manuscript in the average range for a YA Contemporary.

How does your word count change during the revision process?  Do you find yourself doing more adding or subtracting?

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

"V" Is For Vision

As a writer, I begin each project with a clear vision in mind.  My current W.I.P. began with a concept; I wanted to explore a contemporary issue, and have designed my novel around that topic.  My knowledge of the characters, setting, and plot line was limited.  It took months of researching and experimenting before the story unfolded.  Throughout the creative process, the story has taken many twists and turns.  Characters have been scrapped; chapters have been rewritten.  But, the vision I had in the beginning is still alive today.

I started this project in hopes of producing an engaging story to teach a topic I am most passionate about.  If readers walk away with an understanding of the protagonist's perspective - if they are able to empathize with his situation and use their new knowledge to reflect and evaluate their own decisions - then I have done my job.  This book is being written to spread awareness - to get people talking about a contemporary issue that continues to plague teenagers around the globe.  And because the problem continues to grow and adapt with cultural changes, there is a need for new literature that takes the latest trends into consideration.

There are numerous visions that bring writers to begin a project.  Where some of us begin with a character, others begin with an idea or topic they wish to explore.  I know writers who begin with a title, and others who begin with that first sentence.  Some of us even sit before a blank page and wait to see where the words take us.

Where have some of your visions began?

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

"U" Is For Uncertainty

My favorite Barista was working today.  She is a writer herself, though situations in her life have not allowed her to write much recently.  Since the store was dead, we had a chance to talk before I began an unproductive writing session that left me tempted to dive into an oncoming SUV and call it a life.

Anyway.  We began discussing the uncertainty of this writing - specifically, how does one justify spending so much time on a project with no guaranteed outcome.  Nobody will dispute the amount of time it takes to write and sculpt a novel.  And all writers are aware that time could be used for other things, specifically things that may yield more immediate results.

I don't remember much from twelfth grade Economics.  I do remember discussing opportunity cost, or the cost of an activity measured by the value of the alternative forgone.  By writing full-time, the income I would earn from what mortals consider a 'paying job' is my opportunity cost.   So, in the eyes of some, writing this book is costing me a great deal of money.

Everyone with a dream will eventually find themselves at the same fork in the road - the one where we choose to either follow a dream or do something more practical.  I went for the dream.  And I don't regret it.

The only thing I have ever griped about is the uncertainty of writing a novel.  Sometimes, I wish it worked like other careers - apply to agencies or publishing houses, pitch an idea, and get hired to write it if they become a fan.  Man, wouldn't that be nice?

But for good reasons, it does not work that way.  Nobody breaks into fiction until a book has been written.  For some, it takes years - and others, a few months.  Some rewrite a book ten times - others scrap books altogether.  Some accumulate hundreds of rejection letters - others hit the jackpot in their first round of queries.  We never know how the game will end, and for most of us, it's an unsettling feeling.

I try overlooking uncertainty by reminding myself nothing is guaranteed.  Going to college and earning a degree doesn't guarantee you a job any more than writing a novel guarantees publication.  The only thing we can do is continue pursuing our dreams and working toward our goals - the rest is out of our hands.  The only way to abolish uncertainty is to stop trying.  And then, we'll never know what might have been,

How do you overcome uncertainty?

Monday, April 25, 2011

"T" Is For Top Ten Ticks

If you're like me, your 'ticks' are always changing.  Here are ten that have me irritated at the moment:

1.  Bad Teachers: In 2011, there is no excuse.  Thousands of qualified applicants are available and willing to work.  Continuing to protect bad teachers is asinine.  You can read more of my thoughts on this topic by clicking here. (I blogged about this topic in detail back in November).

2.  Haters: Humans have the right to think whatever they want.  Nobody can control this, nor are we entitled to do so.  However, disagreeing with the choice one makes does not grant you the right to spread negativity to those pursuing a dream.  Everyone starts somewhere.  Know your place.  

3.  Salesmen:  If I want your product, I know how to find it.  Do not track me down.  Do not tell me about the "one day only deal" I will miss if I don't "sign up right now."  Do not tell me about the discounts you can offer - I know all about the 'sliding scale' used to make a sale.  I worked in an office that pulled all that crap - you can't fool me.  And if I tell you I'm not interested, I'm not interested.  Whining, nagging, and begging will not change my mind (I hope the personal trainers at my gym read this).

4:  Politics: Instead of focusing on your own agenda, you make fun of the members of the opposing party.  You don't recognize there is no right answer (isn't that why we call them political beliefs)?  Anyone who disagrees with you is a schmuck.  Everyone you disagree with is a retard.  Anyone who votes against you is ignorant.  Campaigning has become a bantering soap opera.  But more than anything else, I can't stand when people tell me my opinion is wrong.  Excuse me?!  How can an opinion be WRONG?!

5.  Bullies: As a teacher, I can't tell you how many times I wanted to grab a kid by the collar and ask who the ______ they thought they were.  Of course, we can't do that; we must do everything in our power to ensure an accused bully is as comfortable as possible during the interrogation process.  You know, because they extend the same courtesy to their victims:  Hey ____er!  I'm almost done beating the crap out of you, but in the meantime, can I get you a pillow for your back or a cup for your groin?

6.  Reality Shows and Stars: The United States is facing the worst recession in history.  Yet, the cast of Jersey Shore is paid $100K per episode, raking in $1.3 million per season.  And for what?  Substance?  Higher order thinking skills?  Promoting education and hard work?  Why it's all of the above, of course!  That must be why Snooki was recently paid $32,000 to speak at Rutgers University.  How many of you know someone who didn't earn $32,000 in 2010?

7.  Crying Babies in Bookstores: Bookstores are quiet environments where people read, work, and study.  If your toddler begins to pitch a fit, kindly escort them to the parking lot instead of allowing them to disrupt the rest of the customers and give us mild tinnitus.  If the manager asks you politely to remove your child from the store, don't cop an attitude.  Had you done it on your own, he wouldn't be asking.  It's nothing personal; if I hear them crying at the park, I'll never complain.

8.  Alarm Clocks: Does this need further explanation?  Anyone not agree?

9.  Crappy Friends: My friend is a musician.  Recently, we were discussing the importance of friends supporting each other.  He mentioned that an extremely close friend of his would not 'like' his facebook page.  Pretty obnoxious, no?  It's not like it costs anything - or takes more than a second to click on.  Dear friends, it means a lot when you support us.  It means more when your support is unsolicited.  

10.  Greedy Unions: This issue has made the news every night for two years.  Yes, I was once part of a union (though aside from collecting $865/year, they never did much for me).  It's 2011.  Times are tough.  Suck it up, pitch in a few bucks for benefits, and call it a day.  You are painting a horrible image in the eyes of the public.  I promise, regardless of how unfair you find it, or how much better you think you deserve, the alternative is worse.  The next time you picket, I'll be across the street holding a sign that says: I will work for the CURRENT contract.  Contributing $125/year for quality healthcare sounds absolutely delightful.

What makes you tick these days?

Saturday, April 23, 2011

"S" Is For Sensazione

SENSAZIONE: The continual refinement of the senses, especially sight, as the means to enliven experience.

Earlier in the challenge, I introduced Michael Gelb's Seven da Vincian Principles when I discussed Dimostrazione, or learning for yourself through hands-on experience.  Sensazione, the third principle, involves using the five senses to enliven daily life.  Da Vinci believed the secrets of Dimostrazione are revealed through the senses, especially sight.

The following is an excerpt from Michael Gelb's book, How to Think Like Leonardo da Vinci:

What is the most beautiful ting you have ever seen?  The sweetest sound you've ever heard?  The most exquisitely tender touch?  Imagine a sublimely delicious taste and a haunting, delectable aroma.  How does your experience of one sense affect all the others?

touch-all-senses.gifAs writers, we understand sensory details enhance our work.  Likewise, we understand all five senses must be included, allowing readers to see, hear, taste, touch, and smell life through the words on the page.

If you are like me, visual details are the easiest to incorporate.  My writing process is like a movie playing inside my head; I see my characters and the situations they encounter.  As the movie plays out in my mind, I transfer what I see to the page.

With the right kind of training, a writer can strengthen his or her ability to tap into all five senses effortlessly.  Gelb discusses a variety of application exercises to develop this skill.  Listen to a song and sketch what the music looks like in your mind.  Blindfold yourself and describe the texture, weight, and temperature of an artifact in your hands.  Sample different brands of the same food and describe the differences in taste and smell.  Study a photograph or piece of artwork - after distracting yourself for a few minutes, describe it from memory.  Find a place of complete silence, away from any humming or background noise, and describe what you hear.  Compare different genres of music, as well as different artists in the same genre.

And, whenever possible, role play the experiences of the characters in your story.  Eat what they eat.  Hear what they hear.  Feel what they feel.  Smell what they smell.  See what they see.  Live their life to the maximum extent possible.  Bring them to life.  Let them take over your body and write down everything you learn.

Do you have any exercises for awakening the senses?

Friday, April 22, 2011

"R" Is For Redirecting

Today I am sharing the best posts I recently bookmarked.  All of these come from reliable sources - aka writers and/or agents further along in their publication journey.  These posts opened my eyes to things I had not known previously.  In fact, they opened my eyes to a lot of things I had not known previously.  Most importantly, they made me feel more prepared for future steps in this industry.

For those of you who take the time to check them out, I hope you find them just as helpful.

1.  The Biggest Mistakes Writers Make When Querying Literary Agents by J.M. Tohline, author of The Great Lenore (Atticus Books, June 2011).

2.  The Best Query Letters Do What - also by J.M. Tohline

3.  Formula For A Query Letter by Jill Corcoran, Literary Agent with Herman Agency.

4.  Building Your Pitch by Elana Johnson, author of Possession (Simon & Schuster, June 2011).  *This post is based on a presentation by Laura Rennert, Literary Agent with Andrea Brown Literary Agency, Inc.

5.  How To Write A Query Letter by Nathan Bransford, former literary agent with Curtis Brown Ltd.

6.  Query Letter Mad Lib - also by Nathan Bransford.

7.  Successful Queries: Agent Michelle Humphrey and "Losing Faith" - posted by Chuck Sambuchino, manager of the Guide to Literary Agents Editors Blog.

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

"Q" Is For 'Quap! I Missed This One!'

Today got away from me.  I worked out for two hours and devoted another five to the W.I.P.  It went well for an hour.  Then, my quiet and peaceful bookstore was invaded by obnoxious teenagers with nothing better to do than cause a ruckus in a working environment and piss off paying customers.  It's one thing to sit and have a quiet conversation, but these kids were disruptive.  They screamed and yelled and acted like they owned the place.  They weren't reading.  They did not purchase anything.  And they harassed the poor Baristas for free ice water every ten seconds.

Is it still illegal to punch a minor?  Dang.

Anyway, as I'm about to lose yet another scrabble match to wordsmith master Josh Weed, I thought I would take this opportunity to help those I've slaughtered in the past - now that I know how it feels to lose, it seemed like the right thing to do.  Chivalry remains alive in my blood.

Avid scrabble players quickly learn the chapter James Lowen missed in Lies My Teacher Told Me: the letter u DOES NOT ALWAYS follow the letter q.  Shame on you, elementary teachers!  I'm looking at you, Ms. Maniago.  (Oh, and by the way, my handwriting has improved).

So, fellow scrabble players, today I will share my secret weapon.  For the most part, I have this list memorized.  Good luck in your next match!  And don't play against Josh; it never ends well.  Unless you're Josh, of course.

Q Without U Words: Alphabetical Order

FAQIR (Muslim or Hindu monk)
FAQIRS (plural of FAQIR)
MBAQANGA (a style of South African music)
QABALA (occult or secret doctrine, variation of CABALA)
QABALAS (plural of QABALA)
QADI (Islamic judge)
QADIS (plural of QADI)
QAID (a Muslim tribal chief or senior official)
QAIDS (plural of QAID)
QANAT (gently sloping underground tunnel for irrigation)
QANATS (plural of QANAT)
QAT (leaf of the shrub Catha edulis)
QATS (plural of QAT)
QI (a circulating life energy in Chinese philosophy)
QIS (plural of QI)
QINDAR (Albanian currency, variation of QINTAR)
QINDARS (plural of QINDAR)
QINTAR (Albanian currency)
QINTARS (plural of QINTAR)
QIVIUT (musk-ox wool)
QIVIUTS (plural of QIVIUT)
QOPH (19th letter of the Hebrew alphabet)
QOPHS (plural of QOPH)
QWERTY (the traditional configuration of computer keyboard keys)
QWERTYS (plural of QWERTY)
SHEQEL (any of several ancient units of weight)
TRANQ (sedative)
TRANQS (plural of TRANQ)

Want to impress me?  Use one in a sentence!

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

"P" Is For People

A young gentleman approached me in the bookstore this afternoon.  He asked if I was Paul, and after I nodded, he asked what my book was about.

His question caught me off guard.  Although this was a customer I have seen regularly (he tends to come in during the late afternoon to read), I was stumped to learn he knew I was writing a book.  I assumed he overheard me talking or glanced at my laptop and put two and two together.  I later learned a barista outed me as the "local writer" - a label I find both complimentary and confounding.

Since rudeness is not in my DNA, I entertained his inquiries and we had a nice conversation.  He expressed an interest in my writing and subject matter of my book.  Since I was in a mood where I felt like talking, he lucked out and caught me on a good day.  Our discussion escalated when my teaching career inspired the book, and he mentioned he'd be starting college as an Elementary Education major.

The guy made several comments that reminded me of myself six years ago.  Had I closed my eyes and listened only to the words, I could swear it was me speaking.  Our philosophy and ideas are similar.  His passion and enthusiasm for education was evident; he was entering this journey with the right attitude - for all the right reasons.  I hope someone gives him a chance.  It will not be an easy road, but I wish him well.

On my drive home, I thought about our conversation on a deeper level.  As writers, we put great effort into building our platform.  We blog and tweet and interact on facebook.  We join critique groups and attend conferences.  But nine times out of ten, we are interacting with other writers.

Today, I interacted with a potential reader, and realized this is a population I don't pay enough attention.  Should my novel ever land shelf space in that same bookstore, he might see it and remember me.  That could prompt him to read it.  If he likes it, he might tell a friend.  That's cool to think about.

Social media is a great tool for writers.  Nobody will deny that.  But, we must remember the benefits of face-to-face contact - with fellow writers and readers.  You never know when you're speaking to someone who will love your story as much as you do.  The person I met today is on my side.  He gave me hope that an audience is out there waiting to read my words.

It was a good day.

Oh, and if anyone is interested, this is my 100th post.  Umm...yay?

Monday, April 18, 2011

"O" Is For Organization

I'm an incredibly organized person.  When it comes to most things, it's a level of severity many would deem unhealthy. You will never find a piece of trash in my car (if trash should somehow enter, I will get rid of it immediately - even if that means stopping at the nearest gas station and removing it).

My closet is arranged by clothing type first, then again by color.  Important documents are sorted into categories and filed in alphabetical order.  Pens and highlighters are organized by color.  Pencils are organized by mechanical or lead.  Computer documents have a proper place - in a proper folder - in another proper folder.  Bathroom products are lined up by size.  It is impossible for me to put socks and undershirts in the same drawer.  Actually, it's impossible for me to put dress socks and sports socks in the same drawer, even if space allows such a situation to occur.  I'm serious; please don't commit me.

But, when it comes to writing, organization is not in my vocabulary.  I don't outline.  I have no structured system for taking notes; I have ideas on post-its, scrap paper, envelopes, junk mail, and napkins.  My notes are disjointed, so much that I've had to spend hours deciphering my thought process.  I have notebooks everywhere - in my glove compartment, next to my bed (on both sides), at my desk, and in my gym bag.  There may have been situations where I jumped off a machine mid workout and bolted to the locker room to jot down my latest thought.  That was, of course, before I had an iPhone.

I often wonder if I am the cause of my own aggravation.  Methinks I am. Wouldn't it be easier to take the time and structure my thoughts in an organized manner?

Unfortunately, my brain does not allow this.  When it comes to my stories, my mind operates twice as fast as the rest of my body.  Ideas pour out faster than I can type, write, or scribble them down.  Although it's stressful and often inconvenient, my disorganized organization is an accommodation I must make. For now.  I remain hopeful my second W.I.P. will run much smoother and allow me to organize my ideas in a more logical manner.  It seems like a reasonable request.

How do you organize your ideas?  Do you outline or write as you go?

Saturday, April 16, 2011

"N" Is For Nasty Nor'easter

April has been ugly around here.  We were blessed with two beautiful days, though they turned out to be nothing more than a tease.  After our brutal winter, I am more than ready for clear skies and warm temperatures.  Lately, every day has been a different season, which is murder to those of us with seasonal allergies.  And I'm rather tired of living inside a black and white movie.

Weather affects my mood.  I'm an outdoors kind of guy and I hate when that privilege is taken from me for an extended period of time.  My best work takes place after breathing in fresh air.  When I get stuck in a scene, I need to be able to take a walk - or a drive with my windows down and the music off.  It clears my head.

Ongoing rain puts me in a funk; it sucks out my creativity and diminishes my motivation.  The sound hinders my concentration.  I avoid leaving the house if possible.  And, if I can actually bring myself to crank out a few words, anxiety controls the session.  In my neighborhood, the power fails every time someone sneezes.  So, even writing during a mild shower forces me to break character and save my work after just about every sentence.  Believe me, weather has claimed more than it's fair share of words from my manuscript.

Unfortunately, weather is not something I can control.  So, I have two choices: sit and complain or suck it up and write.  Most days, I choose the latter, but I can objectively recognize my work is not the same.  To many, it sounds silly - how can weather impact our writing?  But, I suspect every writer has a quark or two that leach onto our mood and knock us off our A-game.

What factors affect your writing?  How do you overcome those barriers?

Friday, April 15, 2011

"M" Is For Management

Writing is simply one thing on my list of things to do each day.  It fights a number of bullets for time, including reading, blogging, social networking, chores, eating, and sleeping.  The majority of unpublished authors have full-time jobs.  Many have children to raise.  Some are involved in community organizations.  Some may even be working two jobs during these tough economic times.

Writing is not something we want squeezed into our schedule.  We need to take our time; rushing does not allow us to produce our best work.  Writing requires focus and concentration.  Interruptions must be avoided.  Many writers wake up ridiculously early to ensure uninterrupted time before the day begins.  Others stay up late, fighting off exhaustion to meet a word count goal. 

For me, having a set routine has been necessary.  I can't be flexible with my time.  If I wake up and tell myself I have all day to write, I find myself sitting down for dinner having accomplished nothing.

But, not everyone is in a position where they can follow a daily routine.  Jobs, families, and prior commitments tend to get in the way.  Time management is a skill that seems to become more difficult the older we get.

Where does writing fit into your daily schedule?  What are your biggest time management obstacles?

Thursday, April 14, 2011

"L" Is For Laughter (And For LATENESS...)

My W.I.P. is not a happy story.  Sure, positive moments occur, but it isn't a book anyone will pick up to lift their spirits.  The plot is dark; the protagonist is sad.  And as the writer, the amount of time I spend in this depressed mindset really catches up to me at times.

I've been listening to the same playlist for a few weeks now.  The songs are a combination of the protagonist's favorites, as well as songs that ignite the proper mood in me.  And since not one of them is a fun, happy, upbeat melody, they are getting to me.  All the more reason to finish this sucker, right?

When it comes to getting into character, I spare no expense.  I watch movies and TV shows that portray similar situations.  I read articles based on actual situations that match the story.  I spend hours looking for interviews and testimonials.  I watch youtube clips and podcasts.  I do whatever I can to bring this story alive - to live the life of my character.  To breathe the air he breathes.

But, I have realized breaks are important.  I have to pull myself away to avoid forgetting there are enjoyable moments in life.  For me, the key to breaking this mood has been laughter.

Since switching to earlier writing hours, I make it a point to watch something funny every night.  Usually, I default to the Nick at Nite lineup (I'm not very exciting when it comes to television).  But, I'm not watching for entertainment value, either.  Whether it's a sitcom episode or a light-hearted book, I'm using it to detach myself from my book and my character. 

Although it's vital for a writer to connect with his or her story to the maximum extent possible, we must not lose sight of our own world in the process.

How do you remove yourself from an emotional storyline?  What distractions do you find helpful?

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

"K" Is For Knowledge

There are a number of reasons that motivate one to write.  For some, it is an indescribable passion for the written word.  Others write for cathartic purposes; writing provides an outlet to get things off our chest, and in the end, we may or may not wish to pursue our story further.  Some write for hobby; some write simply for the love of creating.

Many factors pushed me to the keyboard on August 13, 2009, the day I began my first YA contemporary.  Longtime readers are familiar with my reasons, which are basically a combination of those mentioned above.  Additionally, life had yielded time to take on such a project, so I decided to take advantage of my circumstances and seize the moment.

All writers have thoughts they hope to share with readers.  Regardless if your goal is mainstream publication, a self published e-book, or writing for hobby, we all envision how our words will impact readers.  For me, creating a compelling story to engage a diverse audience and pull them into my character's lives is a huge part of my mission.  But, I also write with the goal of disseminating knowledge and providing readers opportunities to learn.

For me, spreading knowledge is a mandatory component of good writing.  It is not enough to hook readers and draw them in if the story lacks substance.  When I open a book, I want the author to show me a situation through a perspective I never considered.  I want to be taught through the voice of the character.  I want to learn little facts between the first and last page.  I want to be prompted to look up a topic and learn more about it.

I want a moment where I think to myself: Wow...I never knew that! 

Is knowledge a necessary element in good writing?  How do you incorporate knowledge in your own stories?

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

"J" Is For Junk

Writers produce junk.  Lots and lots and lots of junk.  It's part of the creative process.  When plugging through early drafts, it's impossible to know everything we want in our final product.  So, sometimes, we experiment.  We create unnecessary characters.  We send folks places they never needed to go.  We give our protagonist an extra sibling, friend, or significant other, who has no relevance to the story we are trying to tell.  Every writer does this; in order to learn what works, we often need to test out what doesn't work first.

Our vision evolves as we navigate through a project.  We begin with one idea, only to learn it has taken a life of its own.  Our characters become the boss; they tell us how the plot unfolds.  Sometimes, it's as though we're simply along for the ride.

In my current W.I.P., I have written close to 40,000 words that have already been cut - and I'm still in my first draft.  When I started my novel, I had a concept and vague sense of the main character - nothing more.  After months of pre-writing, brainstorming, and researching, the story revealed itself, as did the protagonist.  He told me how the story went, leaving me with an awful lot of junk needing to be scrapped.

At first, I placed everything I removed in a separate document.  I was convinced I could use it elsewhere.  Never delete anything, I told myself.  The minute you do, you'll want it.

On occasion, I attempted to pull material from my junk pile and insert it into my manuscript.  You know what?  It didn't work!  The voice was different.  The ideas didn't fit.  The flow was choppy.  The poorest reader could tell the words were forced inside like a puzzle piece that didn't quite fit.  And so, after evaluating the current state of my project, I decided to delete it once and for all.  It was a good feeling.

Junk clutters my head the same way it clutters my house.  Just as I tell myself I'll wear those sneakers I haven't fit into for five years - or I'll use that extra piece of furniture in my next place - I tell myself I'll use the words I've scrapped as well.  Unfortunately, if I do that, my writing will read like the same way a room looks when put together with random odds and ends.  No theme; no coordination.  That isn't what I'm aiming for.

As writers, we have to trust our own judgment, especially in the earlier stages of the process.  It's hard; we are getting rid of our own words - thoughts that came from inside our own head.  It makes spotting the clutter a bit harder.

How do you identify the 'junk' in your manuscript?  What do you do with it afterwards?

Monday, April 11, 2011

"I" Is For Imagination

I love when people ask where my ideas come from.  On occasion, I can give a direct answer.  Certain scenes were sparked from experience.  Others derive from observation.  But, despite my W.I.P. being a realistic novel based on contemporary issues, the bulk of my characters and plot have evolved strictly from the thoughts in my head.  And normally, I can't explain how.

I always considered myself to have an overactive imagination.  In school, I was frequently caught daydreaming.  I wasn't trying to be rude; the events in my brain were just far more exciting than the events in the classroom.  Yet another reason creativity should be an integral part of public education.

As a teacher, imagination let me bring lessons to life.  I wasn't content lecturing or having kids complete worksheets.  My goal was to bring the topic alive and have students learn through all five senses.  Music, food, costumes, and props were often incorporated. 

My job connected me with the creative process on a deeper level than anything prior.  Today, I realize this contributed to my writing developments, even though writing was not on my mind at that point.  Both endeavors train the brain in similar ways, as we are all forced to engage an audience and hold their interest for an extended period of time.  The key to doing so lies in the imagination.

Where do your story ideas come from?

Saturday, April 9, 2011

"H" Is For Hiatus

Greetings, friends.  Today I am exercising my right to cheat.  And I don't feel the least bit guilty, either.

Okay, maybe a little guilty.  But, I'm tired.  My brain wasn't cooperating last night and it remains overloaded today.  All my ideas were done my more than one fellow challenge participant.  So, rather than reiterate what they already discussed, I'm simply granting myself a little break from the blogosphere.

I'll be leaving shortly to drive out to my Alma mater.  It's been quite some time since I enjoyed the beauty and creative energy of my college campus, and I'm rather pumped to see what ideas I can soak up during my visit today.  Some of my most productive thinking spots are at that university, and given today's beautiful weather, it's the perfect time to do a little refection and soul searching.

And of course, a pit stop at my favorite coffee shop will be in order.

Have a great weekend, all.  Should you need me before Monday, look here:

Friday, April 8, 2011

"G" Is For Gates, As In BILL GATES (Plus Winner Of TGL!)

Last night, I was exhausted, and struggling to think of an insightful "G" post.  This morning, I awoke to an e-mail from an old co-worker (aka my second mother) that happened to say it all for me - both as a former teacher, and as a 20-something battling a world I was not prepared to enter.

In the name of Friday, I'm giving my brain a rest and sharing that e-mail below.  I'm not saying I agree with everything.  I'm not saying I don't, either.  But this is some lofty food for thought.  I feel sorry for my former students because they have absolutely no idea what they are in for.  And in many cases, neither do their parents.  I also know nobody is allowed to tell them.

If we focus on making others comfortable, we can rarely teach the truth.

Bill Gates recently gave a speech at a High School about eleven (11) things they did not and will not learn in school.  He talks a bout how feel-good, politically correct teachings created a generation of kids with no concept of reality and how this concept set them up for failure in the real world

Rule 1 : Life is not fair - get used to it!

Rule 2 : The world doesn't care about your self-esteem.  The world will expect you to accomplish something BEFORE you feel good about yourself.

Rule 3 : You w ill NOT make $60,000 a year right out of high school. 
You won't be a vice-president with a car phone until you earn both.

Rule 4 : If you think your teacher is tough, wait till you get a boss.

Rule 5 : Flipping burgers is not beneath your dignity.  Your Grandparents had a different word for burger flipping: They called it opportunity.

Rule 6 : If you mess up, it's not your parents' fault,so don't whine about your mistakes, learn from them.

Rule 7 : Before you were born, your parents weren't as boring as they are now. They got that way from paying your bills, cleaning your clothes and listening to you talk about how cool you thought you were.  So before you save the rain forest from the parasites of your parent's generation, try delousing the closet in your own room.

Rule 8 : Your school may have done away with winners and losers but life HAS NOT. In some schools, they have abolished failing grades and they'll give you as MANY TIMES as you want to get the right answer.  This doesn't bear the slightest resemblance to ANYTHING in real life.

Rule 9 : Life is not divided into semesters.  You don't get summers off and very few employers are interested in helping you FIND YOURSELF.  Do that on your own time.

Rule 10 : Television is NOT real life.  In real life people actually have to leave the coffee shop and go to jobs.

Rule 11 : Be nice to nerds.  Chances are you'll end up working for one.

Do any of these 'rules' hit home for you?  (I'm digging number four.  And the last one.  Though, I doubt you will work for me - you'll just have to read my books one day!)



Congratulations to COURTNEY LOVE, who is receiving a FREE copy of J.M. Tohline's The Great Lenore

This giveaway returns on Monday, May 2.  Be sure to set a reminder and stop back in to enter again.  All previous entries remain in tact, but participants are permitted to reenter each month until this event is over.

Thursday, April 7, 2011


Honestly, is there anything scarier? 

Every writer, published or unpublished, knows what I'm talking about.  We all start in the same place: an aspiring novelist hoping to catch a break.  And, as every writer knows, the road to that break is far from easy.

Given the time we spend on a project, it is inevitable that certain fears will creep inside our heads.  What if this doesn't work?  Am I waisting my time?  Will anyone want to read this?  Does my story suck?  Is my writing good enough?  Do I have what it takes?  Am I wrong for spending so much time on this?  Should I focus my time elsewhere?  Though, by granting fear the attention it craves, our focus drifts and the quality of our work suffers.

We don't know it will happen.  We don't know it will not happen, either.

Longtime readers can tell you I have more confidence in learning to fly than I do in my writing.  But, at the same time, I am determined to complete my novel and make it the best it can be. 

Personal mindset is one of our greatest controlling factors.  Plugging through that first draft is psychological; it requires stamina and motivation - and that derives from confidence.  We must believe in our work before anyone can be expected to do the same.

Passion and appreciation aside, it is my belief in the story that keeps me going.  When I sit down to write, I dismiss the unknown and treat the project as a done deal.  It will be read.  It will land on shelves.  It will be held in the hands of many.  Most days, it seems to work. 

How do you overcome the fear of failure?

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

"E" Is For Empathy

My undergraduate coursework focused extensively on six facets of understanding.  As a history teacher, I went to great lengths to ensure one was incorporated into every lesson: empathy.

Achieving this goal is no easy task.  Topics like segregation, the Holocaust, and civil liberties require diligent planning and preparation.  If students walk away understanding these events, the teacher has done a satisfactory job.  If students leave empathising with those affected, the teacher has executed an exceptional lesson.

Empathy plays a vital role in my approach to writing young adult fiction.  In his article titled The Value of Young Adult Literature, Michael Cart states the following:

Another value of young adult literature is its capacity for fostering understanding, empathy, and compassion by offering vividly realized portraits of the lives – exterior and interior – of individuals who are [unlike the] reader. In this way young adult literature invites its readership to embrace the humanity it shares with those who – if not for the encounter in reading – might forever remain strangers or – worse — irredeemably “other.”

To me, empathy is an essential characteristic of good writing.  It is not enough to provide an engaging story with teachable moments; the writer's role is deeper.  Readers must feel the protagonist's experiences.  They must be provided with the means to tap into his brain - to share his soul and see the world through his eyes.  If a reader completes a novel empathising with a character, the writer has created an exceptional story.

Is empathy an essential characteristic of good writing?  Does it play a role in your current project(s)?

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

"D" Is For Dimostrazione

DIMOSTRAZIONE: A commitment to test knowledge through experience, persistence, and a willingness to learn from mistakes.

In his self-help book How to Think Like Leonardo da Vinci, Michael J. Gelb discusses seven principles drawn from an intensive study of man and his methods.  Named after the Renaissance man himself, the Seven da Vincian principles are most helpful when remembered, developed, and applied consistently throughout one's lifetime. 

Dimonstrazione, the second principle, means learning for yourself through practical, hands-on experience.  As writers, experience shapes our characters, plots, and style.  We learn the most by doing; it is the act of writing that teaches our greatest lessons.

The following is a brief excerpt from Gelb's book:

Think of the ways you have learned what you know. 
Do you learn more from your successes or failures, from good times or bad? 
We all know that good judgment comes from experience.  But we also know that we often gain experience through bad judgment. 
Do you make the most of your mistakes?

When I began my manuscript, I came from a place of anger.  I was blinded by disappointments that prevented me from moving forward. Once I had a story, I included unnecessary characters.  I fought for them because I wanted them there; the fact they were irrelevant never phased me. 

I have learned.  I have grown.

Every writer makes mistakes; what we learn from these mistakes is up to us.  I'm not going to pretend my failures don't sting.  Because they do.  But, I'm not going to pretend I can change certain outcomes, either.  Because I can't.

All I can do is learn.  Success comes through experience.  Growth comes through experience.  The rest is out of our hands.

How have your previous mistakes created better writing?

Monday, April 4, 2011

"C" Is For Contest, In Support Of My Cool Compadre

Prior to signing up for A to Z, I planned a giveaway in support of my dear writing friend.  Lucky for me, it fell on the "C" day, so it was easy to intertwine both.

J.M. Tohline's debut, The Great Lenore,will be released from Atticus Books on June 15.  It is currently available for pre-order from all major booksellers (Amazon, B&N, and Borders), and from Atticus Books with free shipping.

Read A SampleJ.M. has deemed the first Thursday of each month TGL Awareness Day.  On this day, we spread the word about The Great Lenore. 

In celebration of this event, I'm happy to send one lucky winner a FREE copy his novel. And the best part is, entering is quite possibly the easiest thing you will do today!


To Enter: Fill out the entry form below no later than 11:59 PM on Thursday, April 7, EST. That's it!  No gimmicks; no fine print.  I'm not running a fitness center, folks.

If you entered this giveaway in March and were not the winner, your previous entries are still included.  However, you can now enter again, which will only better your chances. 

Early Friday, will generate a winner and I will notify you via e-mail.  I will also announce the winner in my post that day.

Prize Requirements: Anyone who visits this blog and fills out the entry form is eligible.  As stated above, the winner receives one (1) FREE copy of J.M. Tohline's The Great Lenore, a personal gift from me to you. The novel will be shipped from once it goes on sale. The approximate shipping date is June 15, 2011.

The proclaimed winner will need to provide his or her mailing address so I can pre-order your copy. Once shipped, I will e-mail you the confirmation notice and include the tracking information.  This contest is open to participants anywhere in the world.

Bonus Entries: Additional entries will be awarded for doing any or all of the following:
  • E-mail the author at jmtohline (AT) gmail (DOT) com for a set of business cards that can be distributed in your town to help spread the word.  The cards will be mailed to you at no cost.  (+10 entries)
  • Mention and link this giveaway in a blog post (+5 entries)
  • Tweet this contest (+2 entries) - please tag @ImPaulJoseph in the tweet.
Thank you in advance to everyone who participates. Good luck to everyone!

This contest will repeat the first week of May and June as part of TGL Awareness Day. Stay tuned!

Saturday, April 2, 2011

"B" Is For Big Blue

Longtime readers know I am a hardcore fan of the Kentucky Wildcats.  I spent eight years growing up in Louisville, KY.  During that time, the Cats played in three consecutive championship games (1996-1998) and brought home two NCAA titles.

Tonight, we return to the final four for the first time in thirteen years.  It's a good day to bleed blue!

I recently shared why this team is so important to me.  Our relationship goes beyond winning, performance, or the game itself.  And, since publishing that post, I've learned writers and athletes have more in common than I previously realized. 

Successful athletes consistently train and practice to improve a set of skills.  Each loss develops into a learning experience, unlocking opportunities to learn and grow.  Just as athletes demonstrate perseverance and resiliency in their game, writers must apply these traits on the page.

Although the specific "drills" of writing differ from athletics, the concept is the same.  By writing AND reading regularly, we enhance our skills, learn techniques, and hone our craft.  I believe a successful writer cares for the mind, body, and spirit equally.  By nurturing all three components, we throw our complete selves into our work, thereby developing a final product reflecting our best effort.

How do you "train" as a writer?  What drills ensure a well-rounded workout?

Addendum: It turns out, "B" is also for BUFFOONS! Did Rutgers University REALLY pay Snooki $32K to speak to students?  And will these students one day be responsible for crucial decisions involving my well-being?  YIKES!  C'mon, higher education!!

Friday, April 1, 2011

"A" Is For Americano - Or Something Highly Caffeinated

This month I am participating in the A to Z Blogging Challenge.  And, after giving it a great amount of thought, I discovered the perfect theme: the theme of not having a theme!  HUZZAH!

My approach is simple.  I will continue doing what I normally do, but the title of each post will be linked to the designated letter of the alphabet.  I want new visitors to get to know me; forcing creativity that hasn't arrived naturally would be unfair and fraudulent.  For me, the true challenge will be completing the posts and finding time to visit some new people each day.  Wish me luck!

For those who do not know, I am currently crawling through the climax of my first YA contemporary.  So, my weekend plans revolve around ambitious writing goals, with a smidgen of time allotted for crying, screaming, and the occasional temper tantrum.  And, the UK game, of course, which I'll talk about tomorrow.

On weekends, I frequently write in cafes at local bookstores.  It gets me out of the house while still being productive.  And I have constant access to caffeine, a requirement for productive writing in my book.

When I write, there is always coffee next to me.  ALWAYS.  I never had a "usual," though I seem to be on an Americano kick.  I've noticed myself ordering them more often the past few months.

What is your writing beverage of choice?  Or, what is always next to you during a writing session?