The Magic of Reading

unnamedBooks. They amaze me. They captivate me. They are true magic. Imagine this.

You get a new book to read because someone recommended it to you, or the cover just looks freaking awesome, or it’s a promising jewel you happened to stumble upon. It sits there in your lap eager to be read, but the cover, the title, the words splashed across the pages are meaningless. It’s just a book. Like all the other books taking up space on the bookshelf. But you open the cover and begin to read anyways, because it’s calling to you. There’s this pull to open it you can’t quite explain. So you do and you begin to read it.

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How Do We Become the Person We Always Wanted to Be?

The Mirror of Merlin

 

“But you also have choices. Yes — and choices are nothing less than the power of creation. Through them, you can create your own life, your own future, your own destiny… By your choices you might even create an entirely new world, one that will spring into being from the ruins of the old.” — T.A. Barron from The Mirror of Merlin

 

Is it luck? Is it perseverance? Is it some combination of the two? Or maybe its an age-old secret only handed down to a select few? Or maybe the answer lies somewhere else entirely? How do we truly become the person we always wanted to be?

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My 2013 Writing Goals

Oh man, I have to come up with more goals? Don’t I already do that almost everyday of the week? And didn’t I just kick butt with my 2012 goals? Okay, so maybe coming up with some new things to strive for may not be a bad idea. Here are some things I would like to accomplish in 2013.

Read
This is a goal I still need to keep on doing. I did better in 2012, but I can do even better. My goal to read at least a chapter or short story every single day.

Write
This I have been doing pretty good in, but I’m putting it down as a goal to remind myself not to become a slacker. I must write everyday!!!! 

Beef up my Self-Editing 
This is something I have been wanting to do for awhile. I have a great ability of finding plot holes, character flaws, and inconsistencies in stories, but when it comes to grammar, spelling, and punctuation I don’t shine as bright. My goal for 2013 is to read a few books, and take a few classes so I can become a super editing machine!

Finish Blood Feud
Do I have to say it? Really? My goal is to have Blood Feud completely finished by the dawning of 2014. I’m nearly done with my first draft, so it has a possibility of happening. I’m going to keep fighting the good fight and see how far I get!

Work on Short Stories
Because I have thrown so much time into Blood Feud, my short story writing has fallen mostly by the wayside. I’d like to try to at least finish several short stories I have on the back burner, and maybe even come up with a few new ones. I can do it! I know I can!

Do More Posts for My Blog
I really do need to be more proactive at posting for my blog. I actually do have a list of ideas to write about, but I haven’t taken the time to write them out. My goal is to try and post something every two weeks at minimum.

Break into Travel Writing
This is something that has interest me for awhile now. I’m not sure what it will take, but I would at least like to try my hand at travel writing and see where it leads. I know I love to travel, and I have several awesome vacations in the works this year. Well, see how it goes.

Wow! I’m already excited to get things going and I can’t wait to see what happens next! So what are your goals for 2013?

Books Anonymous: Are You Hooked on Books?

Are you an addict? I’m an addict and a big one, a book addict. It seems I have no self control when it comes to books. I pick one up and start reading. I reach a certain point (usually the 2nd to 4thchapter) when I can’t stop reading. The house could be burning down around my ears and my eyes wouldn’t move from the page. It’s sad but simple fact. 
I have tried to restrain myself, but my efforts always end with failure. So what’s my solution? I stopped reading, which then affected my writing. It’s a proven fact (I’ve tested the theory myself) that if you want to be better at the craft of writing then you need to read every day. This made my so-called solution no solution at all. Is there a real solution to the problem?
Oh, I know… How about becoming more disciplined? -yeah, tried that. I suck at it. It then occurred to me that I couldn’t stop reading because I became so involved with the characters and story I was reading. The thought occurred to me. What if I switch from reading whole books at a time to reading a short story every day? Now that would be more manageable. 
So that is my new goal to read one short story every day. I don’t know how it will go, because I just started this endeavor at the beginning of the month. I am glad to be reading and I can already feel the dam in my head starting to break open only after a week of reading. For now it seems I’ve found a way to get that addiction under control and still benefit from the wonderful world of reading!

The Missing Muse Part 2: Rediscovering the Magic

Part one of this series talked about the Muse or magic and how it can slip away on us at the most inopportune times, but here are some ways to get that creativity back. Nothing inspires inspiration more than other’s creativity, so that is why the first 4 suggestions are listed first. All the asterisks are the things I do on a regular basis to help stimulate the Muse. As you can see, it usually takes more than one way to keep the Muse strong. It’s about overlapping the inspiration to what works best for you and creating a lifestyle that the Muse feels stimulated to stay in.

*Listen to inspirational music What types of music inspires you to write? Make a playlist and play it. Write to it or simply play it in the background until the Muse decides to speak.

*Find a picture that touches a cord within There are may times when surfing through the internet or looking through books that I find a picture that I have to stop and stare at. It calls to me and something inside blossoms. Find those pictures, remember those pictures and create a scrap book of them (either online or an actual book) to reference for when the they are needed the most.

*Read things that move you: Read everything and anything. Find things you like and things you hate. Know what is out there so that it can be used in future stories or avoided like the plague. Mostly just read and you might be surprised when and where the magic might hit. Read blogs (a blog post from A Place For Writers inspired me to write this blog), inspiring emails, a good book, short stories, magazines, the backs of cereal boxes, anything and everything is game so dive in and be prepared to be inspired.

*Find quotes that inspire It’s amazing how a short cluster of words can be the catalyst to an spectacular moment when light bulbs go off and the Muse kicks into to high gear. It’s happened to me many a time, so get in the habit of looking for quotes that inspire and make a library of them to be gazed upon when the Muse grows distant. Check out this site to search for your quote.

Go for a walk Sometimes it is a simple matter of displacing oneself from the normality and routine of the everyday to get in touch with the Muse. A great way to do this is to go for a walk. It also gets the blood pumping, which is also a good way to get the brain working. So drop what you’re doing and get outside to enjoy the beauty in the world around. Inspiration might just be down the block from your doorway.

*Mediate on a regular basis Another great way to get the Muse to come is to meditate, especially on a regular basis. Meditation is all about clearing the mind of the everyday clutter and junk so that the mind can rest, once rested the mind can then focus better. So sit down and take 10 or 15 minutes a day to sweep out the trash and be amazed at what you find in the cobwebbed corners. Check out this website to help learn how to meditate and here is a video as well.

Try something new: Sometimes finding the spark of creativity is about stepping out of the normal and trying something new. Is there something you’ve always wanted to do but haven’t? A sport, learn to dance, learn a new language, learn to scuba dive, be more out-going, ect… Try it and it may even earn a spot in your next story.

*Take time out to observe the world around you and become inspired by what you see: The knowledge we posses is what makes us great writers and gives us tools to create the prefect character and universe, if we stunt out knowledge then we stunt the Muse within. Get inspired by observing the world around. Sit on a park bench and watch kids play, go to the mall and watch people shop, get outside and observe nature around you, let the world around you bring the Muse back to life.

Watch a movie that has inspired you in the past It’s important to note here that if you want REAL inspiration you should turn the television off because it is usually more of a distraction than a help, but at times there are movies that can inspire writing. For me that would be movies like Gladiator or Adaptation. And the TV series Doctor Who. Every time I watch these emotionally charged movies and show, I always leave with a deep sense of profound wonder as it sparks the beauty within.

*Spend time and talk to other writers This can end up a two way street. The writer(s) may inspire you and in return you might be the one to inspire, either way it’s a wonderful thing to be able to share your successes and failures as a writer. Some times talking to someone who shares your passion of writing can make all the difference in the world.

*Free write: To be a good writer one must first develop the habit of being a writer, which means writing everyday. This can be difficult sometimes, especially when the Muse is playing hide and seek, but I find free writing a great way to expel the the clutter from the mind and allow the Muse to flow. Several ways to free write is using writing prompts or just write for a period of time about anything that might come to mind usually 10 to 15 minutes.

Sometimes the spark of creativity is so buried that it might need some “extra” help.  This is when the big guns should come out. It then becomes a matter of peeling back the thick layers that are keeping you from reaching your muse.

Extra help (the big guns)

Face a fear Fear can be our biggest hurtle in life and it can often hold us back on multiple levels. Facing a fear (fear of failure, fear of success, fear of talking to people, ect.) can help unlock the Muse and let it flow more freely.
Address an issue that’s been a problem: There are others things that can cause interference with the Muse. If a problem becomes so big that it dominates all other thoughts, it can quite literally choke the life right out of the Muse. These problems can include things like: an issue with a friend or family, financial difficulties, something that’s always on your mind that normally wouldn’t be, a medical issue that you’ve been avoiding, ect.
Take a piece of writing from when you first started writing and compare it to your current work This can be a real eye opener. It’s easy as a writer to become discouraged and think that the progress we are making is not going anywhere. You begin to think, “What’s the point.” The next time this happens take out a piece of writing from when you first started, or even a year ago, and compare to what you’re currently working on and see for yourself just how far you’ve come. You might be surprised at what you discover.
It really all boils down to your mind. If you want to be more creative, if you want to rediscover the magic, if you want to get in touch with the Muse, change your mind. Once your mind is in the right place, then you’ll be free to focus on the creativity within. Don’t let the world distract you from being who you want to be.

Beginning Writers: What You Should Know

You’ve decided that you have a love of writing and would like to pursue it further whether it be as a hobby or a career, but you just don’t know where to start. As someone who has “been there and done that”, I can sympathize with your predicament, so decided to compile some basic information that will help on your journey to discovering the imagination inside.


Take it slow
The very first thing you need to remember is to take it slow. Don’t become too overwhelmed by all the possibilities, story ideas, or writing information. I know it’s easier said than done, but the last thing you want to do is to become so bogged down that you just don’t write at all. Also, a lot of pressure can have a negative effect your creativity, so try to keep it positive and fun!

Get the story out of your head
If you have a great story idea then don’t let it disappear in the chaos of your head, get it down on paper! Even just a few short sentences to get the gist of what you want is fine. You can always go back and write it out later.

Keep a journal or notebook
Where do you put all those story ideas? If you haven’t already, then you need to keep a journal or notebook. It can be a paper notebook or files on a computer. Whatever works for you. Just make sure you put it somewhere you remember, so it won’t get lost and it’s easily accessible.

Just write
If you feel the urge to write then do it, even if it’s for a few minutes. In fact, writing EVERYDAY is the best way to go. It keeps you in the habit of writing and the more you write the better you will get at it. So just let your thoughts pour onto the page (even if it doesn’t make sense). You have to get the junk out of your head before the real gold nuggets can be found.

Read
Reading is very important. It can inspire new ideas for stories, but it can also teach you how to write. The best way to learn the craft is to study what other writers have done. So read and read often. Read about how to be a better writer, read the area you want to write in, read areas that interest you, read things that don’t interest you (even areas that may not interest you still have great writing, the point is to be open to new ideas no matter where they might come from). Reading a variety of books, magazines, blogs and more will give you a bigger toolbox to pull from and will widen your reading experience. That being said, keep in mind if you read bad writing then you will produce bad writing. Reading a badly formed novel or story every once in a while isn’t going to kill your writing abilities, in fact, it will show you what NOT to do. Just don’t steep yourself in it.

Rewrite
Another way to be a good writer is to practice, but more important that that is to rewrite pieces you’ve worked on. Don’t just write it and put it away. Keep writing and rewriting until you find something you like then put it away and come back to it a few weeks later. This will allow you to learn to rework a piece until it becomes better and also it will eventually help you find your voice. Voice is the unique tone in a story that makes it special and stand out. This only comes with lots and lots and lots of practice. It also usually comes when you least expect it. Read my blog on Finding Your Writing Style and Voice for more information on Voice.

Get Feedback
Getting feedback on writing is essential to any writer, but most especially in the beginning. It is how you will find out what areas of your writing need work and what areas you excel at. It is important though that you don’t rely on just anyone to give you that feedback. The best kind usually comes from fellow writers, but not always. I have read critiques from writers that were not very helpful at all. They key is to look for someone who can give you constructive criticism that helps and doesn’t tear you down.

Join a Writing Group
This is the best way to find fellow writers whether you join a local writing group or find one online. It is important to be surrounded by people who think the same way you do. The will be instrumental in providing the support you need and will also be there to give you the feedback to make your work better. I found my writing group through www.meetup.com. Check them out and see if there is a writer’s group near you!

Discover your weakness and strengths
When you first start out writing, you might feel like you have no strengths and all weaknesses. Believe it or not, this isn’t true. We all have areas that we are better at than others, even in the beginning. Yes, all of your writing will probably need help at some point in time, but there will be some things that you are naturally better at, and some you will need lots and lots of help to get right. What I do, even now, is to I pick an area I feel I need the most help with and focus on that area only. Once I feel like my skills have improved enough, I go to the next area I want to work on, and so on. This keeps me from being too overwhelmed with what I don’t know and helps give me goals to shoot for. It’s also a lot easier to see progress if you focus on one area instead of jumping all over the place.

Have Goals
If you want to be a good writer than you need to set goals for yourself. This will keep you motivated to write and will keep it interesting. Set some short term and long term goals of what you want to accomplish in your writing and it will keep you moving forward. Also realize that life happens and that sometimes you’ll have to adjust those goals every once in a while.

Good luck with your writing experience and feel free to post comments with any questions you might have!

Writing Tips for the New Year

In the last few months, I have dedicated a portion of my time to reading more about writing and looking at different things I can do to be a better writer. The following are things I found that have made a big impression on me on my journey of discovery, and wanted to share them with any who might share the same love of writing that I do. Enjoy!
Read, read, read
Reading is the fastest and best way for a writer to become better at his or her craft. I once heard somewhere that a truly avid writer is always in the middle of reading a book and will never be caught saying, “Um… well, I’m between books right now.” Read everything and anything, but mostly read books that are written by writers for writers. Below are a list of books that I have recently acquired that I have found to be treasure troves of information. 


The Art of Fiction by: John Gardner
It explains the techniques of good fiction writing and is quite the humorous read too. He helps explain what fiction is and how you can make it work for you in terms that anyone can understand.

What If? By: Anne Bernays and Pamela Painter
An excellent source of writing exercises for a writer at any stage. Do one of these a day or a few every week and get those creative juices flowing!

This is a book that breaks down each element of writing (plot, dialogue, characterization, tone, ect.) and explains how they work and how to use them properly. It’s a great source to learn proper techniques and brush up on ones you’re already good at.

Self-Editing for Fiction Writers by: Renni Browne and Dave King
If you are like me and have problems with editing your own work, look no further than here. It helps turn your manuscript into a color collage as you edit and pulls all those nasty mistakes to the surface. It will be your new best friend.

Writing Fiction by: Gotham Writers’ Workshop Faculty      
It’s another wonderful source of how to write fiction by looking at each element of writing in detail and exercises to put lessons into practice.

The Elements of Style by: William Strunk Jr.     
It has everything a writer needs in terms of language and some aspects of style and presentation. It’s a must have for any serious writer.

Manuscript Makeover by: Elizabeth Lyons
This will help you get that manuscript ready for the editor by showing you common techniques, grammar and punctuation mistakes and how to correct them.

Another great source for the serious writer is to read Writer’s Digest. The magazine is full of great articles on what writer’s should know and may want to know. It also holds multiple writing contests throughout the year, offers online writing workshops, and much more. I recently read an article published on the site by Jenna Glatzer entitled What Editor’s Won’t Tell You (But We Will). I found it to be illuminating.

Also, read a variety of things. Don’t stick to one genre or read too much in the area you write or you may find yourself channeling that writer’s style. Have you read any Charles Dickens, Ayn Rand, William Shakespeare, James Clavell, O Henry? Or how about horror, romance, science fiction, pulp fiction, westerns, fantasy, courtroom dramas, ect.? If you haven’t made a reading list, make one now!

Is there a particular genre you don’t like? Why? Look deeper and see what lies beneath. You might dislike it, but it doesn’t stop the writing from being noteworthy, something to think about.
Write, write, write
If you want to be a good writer then you have to write, and you should do it everyday. Even if it sounds bad and you know it will go in the trash, even if it’s a muddle of nothing that grates on your mental ears, do it anyways. This unleashing of the inner trash and emotional bog will help you get past some of the hang-ups that keep you from being a great writer. It also gives you practice. Every word you write gets you that much closer to being better at your craft, because you have to write bad to know what good writing really is like.
Make goals and a schedule
Make up goals that you want to reach as a writer. Think of some short term (that you want to complete in a few weeks, in a few months) and then think of long term (what you want done in the next year, where you want to be in five years). This will keep you focused on where you want to go and give you a driving purpose behind your writing.

Also make up a schedule of when you will be able to write. Time gets away from us all. If you don’t make time for writing, it certainly won’t make time for you. Come up with times that you can spend a solid hour (if you can) or more to write. Some can only manage to do 15 minutes here or there, and that’s fine. Do what you can when you can, but know in advance times of the day that work for you and be ready to write at that time. Have your pen, paper, laptop, or whatever ready to go.
Overcome procrastination
Procrastination is a writer’s worst enemy. It eats at your time and leaves you frustrated because of your own shortcomings. It’s what will hold you back from realizing your full potential and if it isn’t reigned in can completely destroy your self confidence and ability to get things done. Most people struggle with it at some time or other, for me I find it a constant battle that goes from glorious peaks to devastating valleys in a dizzying fashion.

A good friend of mine, frootbat31, recently posted a blog on this topic and I found it helpful. She basically spoke of just getting the project started and it would compel you to want to finish the dreaded task. She also posted a link to an article by Timothy A. Pychyl entitled Just Get Started from the web site psychologytoday.com.
Believe in yourself
Believe that you can be a great writer and you will be. It’s all in having the confidence in your own abilities and reaching them by knowing you will get there. It sounds simple, but you would be surprised at how hard we can be on ourselves. For some, like me, it becomes a reflex to always go to that place that says, “You’re no good. Your stuff stinks and you’ll never be what you want to be.” If you imagine yourself successful you will be, if you imagine yourself a failure you will be.

Something I have recently been doing is meditation. It helps calm the mind and releases the stress of everyday. In meditation, you focus on the breath and push all other thoughts from the mind. When you do this, you create a few minutes of complete stress free time that isn’t being constantly bombarded by the thousands of thoughts that go through your mind at any given time. You’d be surprised at the amount of quiet strength you find at doing this for only a few minutes a day.

You can also do this to help you focus on something, like writing or any other project that you want to complete, by taking a few minutes each day to envision yourself actually completing said task(s). It’s about getting your mind in the right place to do what you need to get the task done and allowing yourself to be successful even if for the time being it’s only in your head. What a self-confident boaster that is!
Helping others helps yourself
This one may not be for everyone, but in my experience I have found it immensely helpful when I help others. This has never been truer than in writing. I think some of most revealing moments have been while reaching out to other fellow writers. You can do this in a number of ways; offer to critique other writer’s works, be encouraging when others are feeling down or lost about their work, pass on helpful information that has worked for you (you never know when it might turn the light on for someone). It’s also a great way to get out of a funk and get you writing again!
Join a writing group
I’ve been a member of the Western Maryland Writer’s group for a little over two years now and am glad for every movement I’ve spent, at meetings. It has really been the catalyst that moved my writing from a passing fancy to something I would love to do as a career. Every meeting I attend motivates me to write.

If you haven’t already, finding a writing group is a must to any serious writer. If you are lucky enough to find a good group, it will be an invaluable resource to tap into. A group not only supplies important information about writing, but also acts as a support group through the good and bad times of writing. Having a place you can go with questions, concerns, or simply a shoulder to cry on makes all the difference in the world.
Keep challenging yourself
Never be satisfied with the status quo. If you feel comfortable with your writing then mix it up a little, try writing in a different genre than usual, write from a point of view you’ve haven’t written before (male, female, a dog, a table), or focus on a trouble area (dialogue, plot, characterization, meeting deadlines). It not only helps to push you, but keeps things interesting. It isn’t until the limits are pushed that you know what you are truly capable of doing.