Author on Sabbatical

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Everyone needs to get away from work now and then.  I prefer the concept of the mini-vacation.  It’s basically a day here,  a weekend there.  However sometimes the work we do can require something a bit more than the mere day trip once in a blue moon.  Sabbaticals can be great ways to step back, evaluate your goals, revise your plan, and see what your next steps to success might be.

As an author I enjoy the whole writing process!  It can be tough at times: there are moments when I feel like I’ve hit a wall, that I’m pulling out my hair to meet a deadline, or come up with ‘what happens next, but overall I love to write.  As big a part of my life as writing is it can be necessary for all of us to take a break now and then.  I often take a small break a couple days, or up to a week, after finishing my first draft of a novel or short story.  I call these events my sabbatical.

Just as with any career a sabbatical can be a great opportunity, and you don’t have to quit cold turkey to do this.

I do think that it can be equally important to take a sabbatical now and then especially after completing a writing project.  There are different ways to do this both in a small way or in a grand, completely exclusive, cut-off from writing type of way.

Some great ways and reasons for taking a sabbatical from your writing can be to stop after a first draft (as I just mentioned) because it gives you time to separate yourself from the story in the last bits you were just writing, and provides you the chance to focus on the story as a whole.  This will be a necessary step in connecting the dots and smoothing out the rough edges of your story– a good reason to keep a notebook handy.

Another way to take your writing sabbatical is to try and write something completely different.  To keep your writing muscles strong and flexible, and maybe even expand your horizons, try your hand at composing  a poem or song, give a script for a film or play a try–something that is a different narrative form than the project you just completed.  Maybe even try some informational instead of a narrative.

The sabbatical itself doesn’t have to be very long for the simple reason that you don’t want to start having memory gaps about your project.  Another good reason why we should have a notebook handy for jotting down bits of information and story details that you couldn’t see before.

If nothing else, if you can’t stand to be away from your project for any great length of time at least take a brain break for a day or two and head out to enjoy the real world away from your laptop so you can get a new perspective on things and come back to your story refreshed, renewed, and ready to make a good book better.

Happy writing!

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Attack of the Dictionary

New words for 2016 include a variety of terms that combine two words into one (Photo Credit: Shutterstock).

Summer is here and I’m sure many of you are planning to do some seriously cool stuff this season!  I myself am going on a trip, as are some of you, but even if you’re not jet-setting anywhere there are plenty of cool things to do around your area.  Summer is a time when anything can happen!  It’s also a great time to catch up on some stuff you’ve always wanted to do, like take on a challenge for yourself.  Well…have I got a CHALLENGE for you!

      READING THE DICTIONARY!!!

     One of my favorite summer activities is I like to read, which if you know me is no big revelation.  I’ve read lots of different books, and within those lots of different types of books.  Never, though, has it crossed my mind to try and read the dictionary.  Yet there are plenty of people who have.

One of the most notable is a guy named Ammon Shea who, back in 2008, read the entire Oxford English Dictionary in one year, a grand total of 59 million words according to an article published in The Telegraph.

According to Oxford there are 228, 132 words in their dictionary; I imagine other collegiate, official-looking dictionaries wouldn’t be too far off from that number, if not exceeding it.  Now Shea’s 59 million words came not just from the dictionary words themselves; they also came from the definitions for those words.

Reading the dictionary to increase your vocabulary is a great way to improve your knowledge base of your own language which can, in turn, help you learn other languages more effectively.

So if you’re wanting a new challenge (such as reading the dictionary cover to cover this year) what’s the best way to get started, you may be wondering?

The key to reading the dictionary in the course of the year, according to those who’ve gone before you, is to handle it the same way you’d an elephant: one bite at a time.  Reading the dictionary the way Ammon Shea did is the same equivalent as reading an NYT Best Seller’s list book each day, so it’s important to chunk your reading into a reasonable amount that can be conquered each day.

Another important tip (my favorite in fact) is to have plenty of coffee on hand.  In fact you may just want to take your dictionary and plant yourself at Starbucks™.

Now if I were to attempt this I’d run into some really cool words along the way, but I’d be worried I wouldn’t remember them, let alone remember to use them so you should probably have a notebook nearby so you can write down the words you want to use later and impress your friends with your new vocvokvobab…list of words you know.

A Tale That is Told

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In the last blog post we went over different narrator points of view and how each one could tell a different view of the same story.  The interesting thing to note is that narrator isn’t the only factor in telling the story.  The type of story itself can be one of many different styles.

Plot types can be based on many different events that occur within the story itself, such as:

The Contest Plot – Any time someone is going head to head, toe to toe with someone else to win something we run into this type of story.  The plot is wrapped up in the competition between the protagonist and antagonist, not necessarily the victory or defeat (although it is advisable to show that part).

The Hunter Plot – someone is chasing something or someone; in this version of the plot the story is wrapped up in who is chasing after who (or what)

The Personal Loss Plot – this is the story in which your character will be required to give up something that means a lot to them in order to succeed.

The Destiny Plot – in which your character is chasing after something they seek to find (typically a treasure hunt plot, but it could also be a search for a life purpose.

The Relationship plot – The idea here is to make the entire story about the relationship of one character to another.  This isn’t just about romance between two people in love; it could just as easily be about friends, family members, business partners, etc.

These are just a few versions of plot.  There are many more types of plot to consider; a visit to the 811 Dewey Decimal Section of your public library will provide you with tons of other resources on this subject.

Happy Writing!

Through Whose Looking Glass?

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Stories are amazing things to hear!  I love reading them, listening to someone tell a story, I even enjoy hearing someone tell their own story!  Whatever method of storytelling is going (literature, musical, visual, etc.) the story, if it’s a good one, has many component parts: setting, style, vocabulary, characters, point of view, and it’s this last one that is so crucial it could make or break the story.

The point of view, essentially the window into the story, is the narrator and what a varied personality this can be!  Of all the freedoms an author can experience in the crafting of their work the narrator is one of the few, true joys.  It can make or break the tale for the reader.

Choosing a narrator is often left to chance, sadly.  The default setting for most stories is the ever popular third person omniscient narrator.  While often selected without a single thought it’s perfect for new and inexperienced authors as well as veterans who don’t want to run the risk of the boxing in their story’s scope.  As popular and useful as it is, however, many of the greatest stories ever written do not use this particular method of narration (Moby Dick by Herman Melville and Great Expectations by Charles Dickens just to name a couple).  The second most popular narrator choice is Third Person Limited Omniscient which is similar to that of the former narrative style, but this particular narrator can’t see past the end of their nose usually, or is often limited to one or two characters, but is never privy to the secret thoughts of anyone else in the book.

Essentially Third Person Omniscient and can see, hear, and know everything about that has to do with everyone almost as if they are all knowing.  The other (more limited) version doesn’t have the powers of the Almighty within the story, but they do have a very elaborate security camera network.

Third person is not the only way to go, no no my friends!  There are two others: First and Second and both are capable of the limited or omniscient narration style, although they get a little trickier to write.

First person narration is not always the hero (or protagonist as it’s often called).  Sometimes it can be the villain (antagonist) or a friend of either, just another character in the book who may or may not be directly involved, but is definitely around to catch sight of the action and report on it in their own words (not the author’s) as the events of the story unfold.

The first person narrator is basically that nosy friend or coworker of yours who has to be in on all the gossip and happenings then likes to talk to other people about it behind everyone’s backs.  How in depth they get into everyone’s gossip is completely up to the author; this is determine by whether or not they are omniscient or are limited only to the happenings of a particular individual a la entourage.

The most neglected point of view is the second person point of view.  That is because it is the most challenging, and on occasion confusing, point of view for  an author to successfully pull off.  It’s so difficult that almost no one uses it, opting out for one of the other two easier narrative styles.

When I teach a writing class about point of view narration I describe the three styles to my students this way:  the First Person narrator is telling you a story about something that happened to someone else and they can describe the whole of the events as if they were a courtroom witness; the Third Person narrator is telling you a story that happened to an entire network or community of people and they’ve got all the juicy gossip and gory details.  Second Person narrator, though, is like you had an amazing adventure, hit your head, are suffering from amnesia, and need someone to tell you exactly what just happened since you don’t remember a thing.

These are the four narration styles.  Other subtleties that you want to add (such as the narrator only showing up at the beginning and end like Rod Serling in Twilight Zone, or popping in and out of the action like George Burns when he and Gracie were wishing everyone good night) is up to you, the author.

Whoever you choose to tell your story just remember that each character in the book has a point of view that could change the way the story is written.  Pick your narrator carefully!

Happy writing!

The Value of Thanks

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Have you ever felt depressed?  Without being able to hear your answer I’m guessing that’s a ‘yes’.  Depression is a fairly common occurrence.  Over 14 million people are affected every year in America, and a whole lot more if we factor in the other nations of the world.  For some people it’s seasonal, but for others it’s a constant.  What makes us all feel so hopelessly sad during this bouts of depression?  Is there a cure or is the temporary treatment of medication our only remedy?

No, actually–it isn’t.  Depression isn’t always psychological.  Technically it’s an emotional reaction to outside stimuli.  It can be traced to the weather or seasons, an event that occurs in your life (or doesn’t), sometimes it can even be an issue of pride or arrogance, which might sound like opposites, but they are often related.

I myself have suffered from depression multiple times in my life.  When I was younger (even elementary school age) it had to do with my social standing most of the time.   In early adulthood my depression was caused by concerns for my future and the inevitability of my own mortality.  I’ve even suffered from Seasonal Affective Disorder (S.A.D.) most commonly associated with the colder months because of the shorter days and longer nights, but is equally as possible in the warmer months, especially summer when it can be extremely hot outside and feel stifling.

Remedies for depression are varied, of course, but I would like to suggest one that I have found useful in each of these circumstances where I struggled over the years.  My particular successful cure?  Thankfulness!

I learned about the hold that depression can have on a person and how great a cure being thankful can be.  It might sound strange to say that being thankful is a way to rid yourself of depression, but let’s just take a minute to consider this as a possibility.

Depression is not some mystical cloud that suddenly settles on you for no apparent reason.  It’s a weed growing in your life that has taken root.  We need to attack the root cause of it, not just the growth.  What, specifically, is making you feel depressed?  When did it start?  What was going on in your life when you began to notice it?  What happened just before it began?  Once you figure out the root of the problem it can be easier to deal with your depression.

With the root cause in your mind what would the opposite of the cause be?  When I had S.A.D. it was because it was winter: less light, less time outside–a place I loved to be.  I realized two things: that I missed being out in nature (so I bundled up and stayed out a little bit each day), and that I needed more light in my life so I bought stronger watt bulbs and left them on a bit more than I usually would at night; I’d also open the curtains and blinds wide from dawn to dusk.  As helpful as these were I also adopted the act of thankfulness.

I realized that when I was depressed I inverted my emotions, attitudes, and perceptions.  I made my life all about me and the problems I was having.  I wasn’t connecting well in my relationships with other people, especially not with my heavenly Father.

I suffered from another condition besides depression (still do, in fact).  It’s called pridefulness.  Usually we tie pridefulness and arrogance together, and they do hang out a lot–they’re practically BFFs.  However, pridefulness is basically an intense selfish focus on just you and the things that matter most to you.  When I am in this state being thankful is often far from my mind and heart.   I don’t thank the people around me, and I don’t thank God for all that He has done for me, provides me with (from the day that I have before me, food, health, friends and family, etc.), and continues to bless me with because He loves me.

When depression comes around we may be tempted to try the latest medication, or go pay a small fortune for therapy, and if you think those will help give them a try.  However, at the same time, ask yourself what the root problem is and try to find ways to show thankfulness in spite of your depression.  Having a thankful heart may just turn your frown upside down!

Psalm 107: 4 – 8

     Some wandered in desert wastes, finding no way to a city to dwell in; hungry and thirsty, their soul fainted within them. Then they cried to the LORD in their trouble,
and he delivered them from their distress.  He led them by a straight way
till they reached a city to dwell in.  Let them thank the LORD for his steadfast love,
for his wondrous works to the children of man!  For he satisfies the longing soul,
and the hungry soul he fills with good things.

 

 

 

 

What do we need to know?

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Years ago I used to work with someone who once said in a staff meeting that all the things we used to learn in school, which our teachers made us memorize, is now useless.  This person further proceeded to share their opinion that trying to get kids these days to memorize anything is pointless because they can just look it up online.

Suffice to say I have a problem with this statement.  Okay, more than one problem with this statement.

I admit that there is a ton of information on the internet and a good portion of it is most likely true.  I also have nothing against using the internet to educate ourselves as long as the source is reliable.  I’ve used the internet in conjunction with books, magazines, interviews, etc. for research that I have done for things I’ve written or for other projects (like travelling) that I plan to do.

My chief problem with the above statement is that it implies that teaching children facts and information is a fruitless task.  Just because we have calculators doesn’t mean we don’t need to know our math facts.  We shouldn’t stop paying attention to where we are driving to just because the GPS is on.

The internet is a tool, and a useful one, but it shouldn’t be a replacement brain.

Part of the problem here is that some of us are becoming too reliant upon our machines.  We use our devices to teach us things, tell us the time, help us make choices, keep our information organized, each time having to use our brains less.

There is something to be said for the use of technology in these ways.  I, for one, have trouble remembering when certain appointments are so I keep them on my online calendar app.

If we are going to operate on the assumption that there are tasks we don’t need to use our brains for anymore my question becomes this: what are we using them for instead?  How does not using them affect our brain health as we age?

An article from Harvard Medical School reminds us of several ways to stay sharp as we get older.  Number 4 offers a good point/counter point discussion:

 “If you don’t need to use mental energy remembering where you laid your keys or the time of your granddaughter’s birthday party, you’ll be better able to concentrate on learning and remembering new and important things. Take advantage of calendars and planners, maps, shopping lists, file folders, and address books to keep routine information accessible. Designate a place at home for your glasses, purse, keys, and other items you use often. Remove clutter from your office or home to minimize distractions, so you can focus on new information that you want to remember (Robb-Nicholson, 2018, Harvard Health Publishing) .”

    Picture it like cleaning out your attic of all the stuff that you don’t need up there, but be sure to keep your new valuables in a safe place.  Your brain is one of those parts that you want to keep super healthy since it affects the function of all other parts of your body.  It needs to be exercised as well, so keep your brain healthy and learn something new this year!

National Doughnut Day

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Happy National Doughnut Day everyone!  Hopefully by now you’ve enjoyed at !  least one of these tasty concoctions!  Perhaps the single most adored manufactured food these taste treat delights can be found just about anywhere in the world.  They come in different, shapes, sizes, and can accommodate any palette with their myriad of flavors and styles!

Finding doughnuts on this day each year is as uncomplicated a task as trying to breath in air!  They seem to be popping out of the woodwork; they’ll show up in your office, in your break room at your place of business, you’ll see people walking around with them many, many times throughout the day and it will require all the self-control you have to snatch the doughnut out of their hands and gobble it down before the other person has a chance to realize what happened.  Kudos to those who have that level of self-control BTW!

One of the things I like best about them is the fact that there are so many kinds!  You’d have to be the pickiest eater on the planet–no, no!–in the history of the world to not have at least two to three favorite doughnuts you look for in the box, or hope they have at the store.  There are even bakeries that sell ‘gourmet doughnuts’ in case you want to try something bold and have your tastebuds scream for joy like those clips they show of teenagers back in the sixties at the Beatles’ first concert.

The history behind them is also fascinating!  The first mention of doughnuts was in the early 1800s, which is not very long ago in the grand scheme of things, and to see how far they’ve spread around the world in just a couple hundred years to permeate culture and become ingrained and recognizable in that amount of time is astonishing.

What’s even cooler than that is the fact that they were mentioned in literature by Washington Irving (the guy who wrote the Ichabod Crane/Sleepy Hollow story) in 1803!

My favorite doughnut fact, though?  The holiday we are celebrating today was started by none other than The Salvation Army in 1938 as a way to honor American soldiers who served during World War I.

That makes it your Patriotic Duty as an American to eat a doughnut today!  Even more so to share with a veteran you know!

So enjoy your holiday and have at least one doughnut!

**And if you could save me a blueberry ring doughnut–I’d appreciate it!**