New Project, New Risk, New Opportunity

Gears changed in my writing machine. The truth: I’m sick of reading my manuscript, and I’m bored with the revision process. I know, I know—writing is mostly revision, but I need a diversion, so when a writer friend asked me to spend January collaborating with her on a screenplay, I jumped at the chance to put away my mystery manuscript for a few weeks and take on a new project.

Sometimes you have to take a risk and try a new opportunity. Michele and I talked about this collaboration in late December, but I traveled the last week of the year, so we were able only to plan and outline. Last week, we had a three-day writing marathon. So far, we love our story and the work we’ve finished.

Collaboration has been easy because we complement each other’s talents, and we both have good ideas but are willing to listen to new concepts, to accept constructive criticism, and to eliminate lines we’ve written when necessary for our goal: sell the screenplay.

We will have another writing marathon this week, which should net us a finished screenplay. Then on to the agent. But that’s another story for another week. I’ll let you know the outcome of our efforts. I’m keeping the faith that we will sell this screenplay.

This week, I encourage you to take a risk and do something new—preferably something physically safe. No jumping off tall buildings to see if you can fly; you can’t. My young cousin is an inspiration to me this week. Just out of college, he left his lifelong home, friends, and family in Tennessee to move to Los Angeles. He’s taking a risk and a huge step toward achieving his dream of becoming an actor/writer. Good luck, Mitch!

Take a risk to bring one of your dreams a step closer to reality—Write Now!

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2011: A New Year of Opportunity

Here we are, facing a bright new year with 361 days remaining to form into whatever we want. Three hundred sixty-one days of new opportunities to do something that makes us happy. 

For me, this translates to writing. If I write, I’m happy; if I don’t, I’m not so happy. My writing schedule was a little off during the Christmas season because my aunt passed away on Christmas afternoon. The family grieved as we all came together for the funeral and burial. But we also, laughed, hugged, shared favorite stories, relived family memories, and pondered about how long it had been since we had seen each other. Finally, we said goodbye to my aunt and to each other as we parted ways and traveled to our respective homes in several different states. For a funeral week, it was fun. 

Did I write last week? No, but I have some great ideas for characters in my next book! Family and friends are the best fodder for story and character ideas. A snippet of conversation here, a body movement there, a cut of the eyes, a hand motion. All are useful in a character. Even though I wasn’t at my keyboard clicking away, I wrote in my mind thinking up new characters, new situations, new locations for my next novel. 

Writing this blog today gives me inspiration to get back to my “happy place,” my center of being and write every day. I’ve set my new writing goals for 2011, and I hope you’ve set new goals, or at least updated some old ones, for whatever you want to accomplish this year. I’m a firm believer in being ready to act on every opportunity that presents itself. So be ready to pounce if an opportunity arises that will propel you toward your goal. Without clearly written goals, you may not recognize an opportunity, so write those goals. Unwritten goals are only pipe dreams. Written goals become reality. 

Take the challenge: put your goals on paper—Write Now! 

In memory of my aunt . . .
Frances Johnson Lazzaro
May 29, 1921 – Dec. 25, 2010
WWII Veteran — United States Army

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So Many Words, So Little Time

Last week, as I stood with my mom by her sister’s hospital bed, I realized this frail, semi-conscious woman with tubes connected to every possible part of her body was only twenty-five years my senior. Twenty-five more years, and not all those years will be productive writing years, yet I have so much to write. 

In a hospital a few miles away, my cousin’s daughter-in-law gave birth to a baby girl. As I gazed at the newborn only hours after seeing my aunt, I thought of all the wasted time between birth and present day that I could have used to learn something new, to read, to help others, to write, to inspire, to have fun, to do anything I dreamed of doing. Now, as I meander through the youth of my old age, I’m doing less yet accomplishing more of my priorities and living at a less hectic pace. 

We have twelve days until Christmas, the magical time of year. Seven days later, 2010 will be only a memory. I gave up writing New Year’s resolutions years ago, but this week, I will begin planning new life goals just as I did twenty years ago when I wanted a divorce, an education, a career, a new home, new furniture, etc.  I put a goal on paper and made it happen—almost like magic. At this moment, I don’t know what my 2011 goals will be, but by the time I next write this blog on January 3, I will have them on paper. Perhaps I will share some with you; perhaps you can share some of yours with me. 

This is the last blog post of 2010 as I am taking time off to visit with family for the holidays and to complete yet another manuscript revision. One of my 2011 goals will be to submit it for publication. Each revision brings me one step closer to that goal. 

This week I encourage you to ponder how you will use the 12 months, 365 days, 8,760 hours of 2011 and set your goals for the new year. Life is short; make each day count. 

Take the challenge: put those goals on paper and make magic happen—Write Now!

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Read and Write

I’ve recovered from the writing marathon of November, ending with 33,017 words. I didn’t make my original goal of 50,000 words, but I’ll take the 33,000 and a fun month with family and friends! Last week, I completed a detailed revision of the first one hundred pages of my mystery manuscript. I can see a great improvement since the summer versions. This is encouraging and inspiring. 

This week, I have unexpected travel because of a family medical emergency, but I’ll take my trusty computer—I really should name this little box that is my constant companion—with me so I can work even while sitting in a hospital waiting room. This week, I’ll revise the second hundred pages of the mystery manuscript and begin planning another humor essay—topic as yet undetermined. The good thing about travel is that I have no housework, no dishes to wash, no food to prepare, no grocery shopping. This leaves more time for reading and writing. 

As a writer you should read the genre you’re writing. Recently, I read Margaret Maron’s latest book, Christmas Mourning, two Michael Connelly books (his latest—The Reversal and The Lincoln Lawyer), and two David Baldacci books (his first—Absolute Power and his latest—Hell’s Corner). All five books are page turners. I read each in only two days because they are so intense, I couldn’t stop reading. That’s the kind of suspense I want in my manuscript, but I have a long way to go before I run with these big dogs. 

This week, I encourage you to read a book in your genre. Read often, especially if you plan to write and publish. Not all readers are writers, but almost all good writers are avid readers. Visit your library or your favorite book store and find yourself in a book. Once you read a book, record it in a reading journal and write a few sentences about it. 

Take the challenge: read a book and record it in your journal—Write Now!

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Writing as Therapy

Sometimes I write to learn more about myself, to unleash hidden emotions buried deep within my psyche. November has been a trying month as I wrote at least 1000 words per day, and most days I wrote many more. Some of the words were difficult to write, too revealing. Even though I often wrote fiction, my own character came out, so I decided to run with it to see where it led me. At different times, I felt scared, sad, and happy.

Scared that I had exposed too much of myself. Sad when I remembered pieces of an unhappy childhood, yet happy when I considered other memories from my youth and early adulthood. Writing the truth is difficult, but it makes writing come alive for readers and is often therapy for the writer. For me, writing my past helps me understand how far I’ve come and how many obstacles I’ve overcome. Writing also leads me down new paths where I remember my past,  celebrate my present, and decide my future.

My essay “Save the Best for Last” appearing in the upcoming December issue of Sasee (www.sasee.com) is an example of my therapy writing. I wrote the essay to let go of events from many years ago that continued to trouble me. Then, I debated for several days before submitting it for publication because it revealed situations only close friends and family knew. Finally, I decided to submit the essay because I felt comfort after writing it. I’m not the only woman who’s experienced these situations. Perhaps my words will help other women see that they are not alone in their pain.

This week, I encourage you to look within to find words to help others through pain you’ve experienced. It may take only a short note to a friend or to a friend-of-a-friend. No matter what your experience, somewhere another woman is going through similar pain.

Take the challenge: Write a note to let her know she is not alone because you’ve been there and survived—Write Now!

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Count Your Blessings

“Over the river and through the woods to Grandmother’s house we go. . . ” my children sang each year as we drove to my mom’s house for Thanksgiving. I spent this past weekend with my mom, sisters, nieces, and nephews for our celebration of the holiday. While driving home today I recounted my many blessing. Of course, family is the most important blessing, but I’m also thankful for my talent as a writer, my sense of humor, and my love for the written word. I’m thankful for friends and family who support my writing efforts and give me good constructive criticism. A serious writer needs someone to say, “This sucks,” when it really does.

While I’m still writing the love story I began on November 1 for the NaNoWriMo 30-day writing challenge, I’m also putting together a book of humor essays for submission, and I continue to revise my mystery manuscript and to write new humor essays for publication.

You can read my latest essay, “Party of One” in the November issue of Sasee magazine at www.sasee.com. Another of my humor essays, “Magnet Mommy,” won an Honorable Mention in a writing contest and will be published in Grandmother Earth 2011. The publications and awards keep me writing on days when it seems that no one is reading my work. For these things, I am thankful.

Although my travel this week is complete, my daughters and their families will celebrate Thanksgiving at my home with a traditional Southern turkey dinner and all the trimming, so my preparations for the holiday are just beginning. For the remainder of the week, we will shop ‘til we drop and then watch football. Go Gamecocks! Go Hokies! (Apologies to my nephew Chris from Clemson and to my friends Marion and Ted from UVA.)

This week, I wish you countless blessings as you share time with loved ones, and I encourage you to count your blessings instead of your calories. Gobble-gobble!

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Re-evaluating Goals

Sometimes we take on more work then we can handle. I did this with the NaNoWriMo commitment for November (see October 31 post). Now I must decide: abandon the project or re-evaluate my writing goals for November. 

Abandoning the project means the 20,000 words I wrote during the first fifteen days of November would join several other unfinished manuscripts in the recesses of my archive file drawer. If I revise my writing goals, I would continue to work on the current manuscript and complete it. Abandon or re-evaluate goals? 

The story is worth telling, and I want to tell it, so I chose to revise my goals and continue working on it at a less intensive pace. This means I will not finish the first draft by the end of the month, but I will be able to enjoy my writing and other affairs in life a little more.

Writing is important to me. However, I need time to visit with friends and family, take walks in the sunny, humidity-free autumn days of the Southeast, and read. Otherwise, writing—something I enjoy—becomes a burden. 

Goal revision is as important as goal setting. Golda Meir once said, “I must govern the clock, not be governed by it.” This can be said of goals. When we become slaves to our goals, life loses its sparkle; we lose our creative spark. With my revised writing goal, not only will I have time to write every day, but also to spend time outside enjoying the beautiful autumn weather and reading. 

This week I encourage you to re-evaluate your goals to incorporate something that brings you joy. Remember, you are not giving up anything; you are rearranging the time you spend on each task. 

Take the challenge; put your revised goals on paper—Write Now!

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Balancing Writing with Family Life

Wednesday will be a milestone in my life: My older daughter turns 40, so I will officially enter the realm of old age. I’ll be another old fart rambling around in life, confused with the latest technology, unimpressed with celebrity lifestyles, complaining about the price of groceries, and driving too slow in the fast lane.

However, I’ll still have my writing, and being an old fart will bring new situations to write about in future books and essays. The new manuscript I began on November 1 for NaNoWriMo is taking shape and promises an interesting story. I’m ahead in my daily 1667 word count to make up for the time I’ll lose this week as my younger daughter and I plan the 40th birthday party. 

As we head into the holidays just around the corner, I suspect we will all be challenged to find time for writing in our busy lives as we interact with family and friends, but family and friend time is important to us as writers. Where else can we find all the delicious situations to write about in our stories? 

This week, I challenge you to look to family and friends to find fodder for a story, an essay, or a novel. Whether you type notes, make an outline, or scribble a few words from an overheard conversation on a cocktail napkin, just do it—Write Now!

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NaNoWriMo 2010

November is National Novel Writing Month. Something I’ve heard about but never attempted the challenge of writing 50,000 words in one month. I’m not good with numbers, but the way I calculate it, that’s 1,667 words per day, seven days a week. Okay, for you mathematicians, I’ll have ten extra words by November 30 because of rounding, so I’ll cut myself a little slack one day. Maybe take a mini-vacation to the bathroom or the refrigerator in the time it takes to write ten words. 

The purpose of NaNoWriMo (http://www.nanowrimo.org/whatisnano) is to inspire writers to write a novel in a month. If you’re a writer, then you probably know of NaNoWriMo, and you’re prepared with your story arc, characters, and conflicts waiting in your mind—or on paper—to come to life as you write away during the next thirty days. Unfortunately, I was reminded of the writing challenge only last Friday, so I’ve had little time to plan. 

Perhaps this is a good thing. I’ve always wanted to write a love story. Not a tragically sad, Nicholas Sparks love story, but one where the two lovers actually live and prosper in happiness and joy—a concept Sparks doesn’t seem to understand. Love stories can be interesting and entertaining without tragic endings. There’ll be conflict and tears; but I’ll write in lots of laughter too. That’s what makes my heart zing. I’ve shed my share of tears. Now, I want to laugh and be happy–at least most of the time. 

This week I encourage you to write with me. If you can’t write 1,667 words per day, then decide how many you can write and commit to that number of words each day. Remember we are not editing these words; we are just writing, getting words on paper or screen. Read the few rules of NaNoWriMo on their website and follow them: NO EDITING ALLOWED! Each week I’ll give you my completed word count. 

Take the writing challenge with me. My daily goal is 1667 words—less ten words on the fifteenth day; something to look forward to midway. Leave a comment for me if you accept this challenge to write the story you’ve wanted to tell for years. I would love to hear about your progress each week. Even if our words never make it to a published book, we will have told our stories. This post contains 462 words and took ten minutes to write, so 1000 words per day is possible for most anyone. If you have doubts, you aren’t alone, I have doubts too. But damn it, if we don’t try, we’ll never know whether we can do it. I have to try. 

Take the challenge: Set your daily writing goal and make the commitment—Write Now!

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The Conference Event

The South Carolina Writers Workshop Conference (www.myscww.org/conference/) filled my life for the past weekend. After workshop sessions, critiques, and camaraderie with agents, editors and other writers, my mind is whirling with new ideas of ways to improve my writing. No matter how many writing workshops I attend, I always learn something new at each one 

This weekend, I attended informative workshops on fiction, non-fiction, and mystery writing, and how-to workshops on crafting first pages, choosing an agent, finding a publisher, and what to expect after the sale. The faculty was knowledgeable and friendly—and, best of all, approachable. Each evening between the day’s workshop sessions and the dinner hour, we mixed and mingled with other participants and faculty. Writers are friendly people who are willing to share writing experiences with other writers. At different stages in our writing careers—some participants have published several books; others are working on the first one; most are somewhere in between—we want to help each other succeed. 

Writers farther up the literary food chain inspire us, the newly-published or soon-to-be-publishe writersd, and we encourage newer writers to keep writing. I’ll never forget the editors, agents, and published writers who gave me advice,  reviewed work and gave a brief critique, and showed patience and understanding while answering my questions. In return, I do the same—share what expertise I have—for beginning writers who want to move up the food chain. 

Energy filled the atmosphere at this conference. I came away inspired by the accomplishments of others and motivated to keep learning and writing. This week, I listed my weekly writing goals on paper. Of course, my goals will differ each week, but one thing is certain: the goals will propel my writing forward. 

My goals include sending thank you messages to all faculty members whose session I attended at the conference; sending a message to all participants who shared their business cards with me; researching a book an agent requested I read; finding ten agents who handle my category of writing and writing a query letter to those agents; deciding whether I’ll make major changes in my novel’s protagonist. Whew! That’s enough to think about today.

This week I encourage you to set writing goals. Without goals, you cannot focus on serious writing because you don’t know where you’re going or how to get there. I hope one of your goals is to find an affordable writer workshop or conference and register for it. If you need help locating a conference near you, visit www.writerdigest.com or www.writermag.com.

 Take the weekly challenge and put your writing goals on paper—Write Now!

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