Tuesday, August 31, 2010

She Quit.

Yesterday my one solitary employee had the nerve to quit. With no resignation letter. No two weeks’ notice. No chance for me to even suggest a goodbye party.

We exchanged words in the Michael’s parking lot. Actually, I was the one speaking. (Or shouting… that’s up to your interpretation.) It sounded a little like this: “Noooooo… don’t leave me…” [#%*@]

I never knew until that moment of desperation how much I was able to imitate a good country song – despair, anger, and… fake profanity.

Eternal hope came in the form of my husband as he pulled up in the parking lot. Despite my inability to talk sense to my employee, my husband coaxed her (the Director of Transportation for the BJ Company) into sticking around for a few more moments.

But that’s all it lasted.

I shudder to even talk about it now, but I’m going to call my employee by her name – my Jeep.

I loved that Jeep. But she gave out on me. 20 feet from the gas station she died on a hill so steep we couldn’t even push her off the road.

As much as I wanted to blame my girl, kick her tires, and maybe yell a little… I couldn’t.

Because it was my fault.
I failed to refill her.

This may seem obvious, but the same rule applies to our writing. We can’t get mad at our mentors, at the publishing industry, at magazine editors – at anyone but ourselves when we fail to put in our best efforts.

There are a million writers with a million excuses out there. But guys, blaming our “employees” for our failures only makes us powerless to fix the problem.

So today I encourage you, along with myself, to put on our big girl panties and do something with our writing.

Rejection? Failure? Defeat? Just bumps in the road.

Let’s refuel... whether it's a writers' conference, an internship, a focused study on writing, or just actually WRITING...  let's give ourselves what we need to be our best.

It's either that or resort to fake profanity in the Michael's parking lot.

Monday, August 30, 2010

The entire season is resting on Rowengartner's shoulders!

An extra 50 bonus points to whoever can name that movie!

My husband and I have recently gotten into this kick where we've been Netflixing (if you can verb that word) a lot of the old sports movies we watched as little kids. The Mighty Ducks, Little Big League, The Big Green, Angels in the Outfield... I think we grew up right in the thick of when all of those movies were released.

Aside from the duplicate actors in a lot of them, have you ever noticed the similarities? Most of them include most, if not all, of the following:

* Single, attractive parent with single, attractive child
* A team of losers
* No hope in sight for a winning season
* A strange, strange, strange man who is usually the assistant coach
* Coach or other single, attractive man or woman who is of course attracted to the parental unit of the child
* Singularly gifted kid

Take a couple of those elements, change out the sport, add or subtract Emilio Estevez and bang! A brand-new, all original movie!

Or not. Basically, we've got a dozen or so movies with the same exact plot line. My question to you - is this any different in writing?

One of the speakers I heard at a writing conference one time suggested that it wasn't. According to him, there are no original plots anymore. There are original stories, but every plot can be traced back to one very similar to it.

His point? Our job as writers is to write amazing stories, not amazing plots.

So here's my question for you! Do you agree with that? Do you think there aren't original plots anymore? And if so, how do you take those unoriginal plots and create original stories?

Sunday, August 29, 2010

Do you have to be called to write?

I recently asked my blog readers for interview question suggestions to include in the back of my next novel, Bound by Guilt. One person asked me this: "Do you view your writing as a calling from God? If so, how did you come to understand calling? Do you think you have to have a calling to write Christian based novels?"

What a great question! I want to try and answer it here.

Yes, I do view my writing as a calling from God, but for many years I didn't know for sure he was calling me to it. As I've thought about it, I realized God places dreams in our hearts as children for a reason. I always loved to read and write little stories as a kid. I didn't think it was anything more than playing around until later. But God knew. When we grow up, lots of times we let those childhood dreams fade for various reasons. I bet if all of us would think back to our growing up years and remember what it was we loved as children, and then tried to actually do some of those things as adults, we would find ourselves in a much happier place.

That's how I came to understand callings. By finally realizing my dreams were from Him. It doesn't mean everything's been easy, mind you. But now I have something to fall back on. I can know, yeah, he put those there. I need to pursue them.

But here's the thing. Do I think you have to have a specific calling to write Christian based novels? Let me put it this way: Do we have to have a specific calling to go out and share the Lord with our neighbor? No, because God has already commissioned every one of us to go into all the world and share the gospel. True, some are called to a more specific type of evangelistic ministry like standing behind a pulpit, but we're all called to share. The same could apply to writing. If you use your writing as a means to share Christian truths and principles, then you're fulfilling God's greatest calling right there.

I think if you have a desire to write, that's a good clue God wants you to pursue it. You don't have to have some lightning strike moment to know. I didn't.

Thursday, August 26, 2010

Amen, Sistas!

I don't know about you, but I've totally been tracking with what my fellow Scribble Chicks have been saying this week about prioritizing, settling manageable goals, productivity and well, writer burnout.

It's always good to know that your fellow writers not only experience the same emotions you do, but are still figuring out the whole time management thing with writing, too.

This week has been a really challenging one for me in the ol' writing department. I've had no trouble meeting my deadlines because when it comes right down to it, I have to finish or I won't get paid (always a plus when you're a freelance writer), but I've had a little trouble actually getting excited about the task.

Now there's no question in my mind that I still love to write. It's just when you do it all the time (like everyday, and I'm not just talking novel writing), sometimes it's a little more difficult to get excited about sitting in front of the computer yet again. And because of that, not to mention a slew of freelancing deadlines, I haven't had much time to actually work on my baby, my WIP.

Then when I start thinking about that, I get really bummed because that's what I really want to be working on. Now before you think "Wow, she's just one giant whiner," let me be clear. I'm thankful for each and every freelance assignment—especially in this economy. But without some of those manageable goals that Erynn and Betsy was talking about, well, that probably wouldn't change anytime soon, and my WIP would always be on the backburner.

So all that to say, we're here to encourage you (and each other), so if there's ever anything we can help with, just let us know. Now, back to that regularly scheduled writing assignment...

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Wait just a minute...

Erynn's post Monday about being overwhelmed really rang true for me! I hope it did for you too. I typically multi-task really well and stay productive, but every now and then I have my days of whining, complaining, and feeling tired and unmotivated, where I just want to sit down and STOP.

Is that bad?

Erynn's right...sometimes we need to prioritize and downsize and focus on small goals that will make us not only feel productive, but truly SEE the productivity we are already producing. It's not a manipulation - we ARE being productive even when we set smaller goals. We don't have to do everything and be everything at once. Thanks for the reminder, girl! :)

Someone posted an article on facebook the other day about writer's block that made me think along these lines. The article focused on how to refill your creative tank - through rest, prayer, reading, exercise, etc. My response to the article was that "yes!!" I often give the advice many published authors do - fight through writer's block, make yourself write something/anything until the block is lifted, etc. And sometimes that is necessary - but in today's rush rush world, I think we don't stop long enough to refill.

There is a delicate balance there. Productivity versus replenishment/rest. Maybe instead of pushing through the hard times, we need to stop first and pray. Read a Psalm of encouragement. Take a quick walk and ask God for direction and guidance.

And like Erynn suggested, re-prioritize. Focus on the good. Downsize your expectations if necessary...and keep in mind the Reason you are writing in the first place....

Monday, August 23, 2010

If it's not one thing, it's two...

My mom told me that the other day and it's really rang true for me considering the issues I've been having with the whole nursing thing. ;)

But, I started thinking about it beyond my two issues (not to be too TMI here...) and I realized that it's true in my writing as well. If I'm not having a hard time coming up with great, well-rounded characters, then I'm struggling with getting a plot started or finished. If I'm not dealing with a plot that doesn't connect, then I'm having a hard time getting my butt off Facebook (thanks for the pep talk this weekend, CJ!) and onto more productive activities...like finally sending in that proposal.

And then I spend my whole time bemoaning the two things rather than focusing on the one thing that is going well. Non-writing related example - C-section has healed really well, but I never think about that in the wake of my other problems. Are you guys like that? I can talk myself out of sitting down and writing faster than anything else if I'm only focusing on the part of the book/proposal/process that I hate.

Yesterday, I was talking to a lady at church about my two issues and she said something that also stuck with me. "Set extremely small goals," she said. And I realized that too could relate to my writing, especially considering the fact that I haven't touched anything in the last six weeks since Nathan was born. Instead of getting very overwhelmed by thinking I need to finish a proposal by Friday, maybe I'll start by setting a goal to finish one section - or even one paragraph! - of the proposal by Friday.

How about you guys? What is your one and two things? And how are you going to get over the complaining and start setting goals to overcome them?

Saturday, August 21, 2010

When saying "No" is really right

I don't know about you, but it's really hard for me to say "no" to people. That's a good quality for us to have in life, I think, to a degree, but there comes a time when it can be detrimental to our writing.

If your schedule is too full to write, it might be time to look at all the things you're saying "Yes" to and maybe saying "No" to a few of them in the future.

See, there are lots of great things we can do in life. Some of them even feel like writing (think going to the library, surfing the internet, or even reading a writing how-to book). But if we're not producing the pages we'd like in our respective projects, it's time we did something.

I once asked Sibella Giorello, a fantastic author and good writing friend, her advice for aspiring novelists. She said, "Ask yourself: 'What do I love to do, besides write?' Then kill it."

Each of us will have different things to um . . . kill. Maybe it's your time on Facebook, going to the movies, or even reading a novel. I'm not saying you have to completely give up everything in your life besides writing. Not at all. Having outside interests keeps our wells primed. And they help to keep us sane sometimes too! But there's always something we can cut.

For me it's definitely internet time. What is it for you?

Thursday, August 19, 2010

Thriving in the Chaos

I saw this quote today and absolutely loved the double meaning: "The wastebasket is a writer's best friend"—Isaac Bashevis Singer

Not only does it emphasize the importance of editing and trimming the proverbial fat from our prose, (an essential element of the process that I can't recommend enough), but it could also be a helpful reminder to, well, clean up our offices and writing nooks so they don't like this lady's.

I don't know about you, but sometimes when I'm feeling a little short on inspiration, rearranging my writing space (and getting rid of the clutter) is key to regaining my mojo. It could be just my nerdy, neat-freak nature, but I find the neater the space, the more productive I am.

And when I'm really low on new ideas, I might even switch the furniture around, light candles or add some new music to the situation, anything to keep those ideas coming fast and furiously.

So what works for you when inspiration is running a little low? Or do you actually thrive in the chaos?

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Time? Where?

This week on Scribble Chicks, we're chatting about how to make time for writing despite already having to make time for other priorities in our life - like, our children's tummies getting fed, our bills getting paid, and our husbands getting clean underwear.

(Oops. 2 out of 3 isn't bad, huh?)

The other chicks have given you stellar pep talks and firm nudges this week toward the keyboard. So I thought today I'd offer a few practical tips, because, hey - I'm a practical kind of gal.

(Unless I'm behind the wheel of a sports car with a stick shift in my hand - but hey that's another blog for another day. Don't get me started on the pathetic red mustang today that couldn't beat my four door Sebring off the line without any effort on my part whatsoever. Downright shameful!)

Ahem. Back to practical.

Did you know there are actual E-How instructions on "How to Find Time in a Busy Schedule?" Genius, I say. Genius. Here are E-How's tips...

1. Map out your time. Make a time grid that has cells for 24 hours a day for 7 days of the week. You can use paper and a pen or spreadsheet program to create the table. (Betsy's note - so, besides the obvious fact of needing to write with a paper, pen, or computer program...not a bad idea)

2. Block off 8 hours a night for sleeping first. Then block off your work time, your lunch hour, and your commute time. It is helpful to shade or color code the blocks of time if possible, and by creating a table in a word processor or spreadsheet you will be able to easily mark the blocks of time. (makes sense. I'm all for color coding. Pass the pink, please. And PS - if you don't work outside of the home, you're already golden here! Haha, get it? Golden? Sorry.)

3. Mark off any other you have regularly committed. Include the time you need to get ready for work in the morning, breakfast, dinner, and any after work activities. (Don't forget the potty breaks!)

4. The remaining block of time is basically your free flexible time. You might find a certain amount of time each night and on weekends. (unless you are a mother. Oh wait. I'm supposed to be encouraging you!)

5. Look for time that is either wasted or flexible time. Look for time such as commuting time, lunch time, time you have to wait to pick someone up. (I have nothing sarcastic to say here)

6. Look for any time that is truly free time. If you have a tight schedule, you might have only an hour of time on weeknights, or early on weekends where you are not committed to do something. (I'd like to tell my schedule to the writer of this E-How post and watch their reaction. I'm thinking there would be jaw dropping, eye popping, and possibly bowing.)

7. See how you can most efficently reallocate wasted, flexible, and free time. For example, if you take mass transit to work, you may be able to read. If you drive to work, you might be able to listen to audio books during your drive. Lunch time might be able to be used to run errands that would otherwise take up valuable free time. For example, you might be able to pickup something at a store during a lunch break since you are out at lunch already. Picking up the same item might eat up an hour or more if you made a special trip on a Saturday morning. (I still don't think this E-How writer has children, but hey, otherwise, good tips! hehe. Just replace "read" with "write" and "listen" with "write" and "run errands" with write or else I'm just showing you how to do all kinds of things besides write...)

8. Plan your time wisely. Do not waste your larger blocks of time, or time you need to relax on things that can be accomplished at other times. For example, you might be able to do your bills while waiting on an oil change, or waiting on soccer practice to end. (Soccer practice! Aha! He does have a kid! Soccer Dad!)

So all joking asides, what do you guys think? Are these good tips? Do they work? Are you already trying some of them anyway? Are they common sense? Are any of them a waste of time? Oh wait... =P

What are your favorite time squeezing methods?

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

When Life Surprises You

I will never forget how my heart pounded. I will never forget how my head spun. I will never forget how my hands shook as the hairdresser whipped my chair around and my eyes caught the first glimpse of…

Oh. My. Hair.

I now possessed the one thing I’d dreamt of. The one thing I prayed for. The one thing my 13-year-old mind believed would make the 13-year-old boys forget my flat chest and tumble head-over-heels in love with my…

Big hair?

So this wasn’t exactly the look I’d had in mind.

But neither was this the hairdresser I’d had in mind. At age 80, his idea of a good perm was the one on Little Orphan Annie.

(The entire youth group’s Richard Simmons impressions weren’t exactly the response I'd had in mind either…)

The point is, sometimes life surprises you.

I think we’ve all been a little surprised here on the Scribble Chicks Blog lately. Life’s thrown a lot at us – moves – babies – trying for babies (wait – sorry – that wasn’t exactly “G” Rated).

But this week we’re talking about what to do when that happens. The whole life surprising you thing, I mean.

What happens when you wonder really – in the middle of this crazy uproar called summer – or LIFE – do you find time to write?

Do you:

• Make lists

• Prioritize

• Lock the kids in a suitcase and hope for the best?

While all of these are good ideas ;), I have a little suggestion that I need to follow:

Just do it.

(OK, I stole that from Nike, but after my ripoff hairdo from Richard Simmons, I figured I couldn’t stoop any lower.)

Do it. Leave the dishes in the sink. Let the lawn grow thicker, taller, and… we’ll say lush-er, even though we’re thinking more snake-infested.

Arrange a carpool. Sign the kids up for swim lessons (we’ll give you until next year on that one, Erynn).

Just write.

And while you write, the Scribble Chicks will write too.

Even if it means our hearts will pound. Our heads will spin. And our hands will shake as we pick up our pens (or keyboards) and…

Follow our dreams.

BJ Hamrick is a writer and the author of The Bare Naked Truth, a blog about love and a boy named Ethan.

Monday, August 16, 2010

Busy, Busy, Busy!

First off, I have to offer an apology for my complete lack of posts lately! Nathan was born, I nursed and cleaned up spit up and rocked a crying baby and lost a lot of sleep and suddenly he's a month old - I have NO idea what happened to most of July!

But, I'm hopefully back! At least during his sporadic nap times. ;) Hoping we work our way to a schedule here in the next few weeks so I can make a little better plans!

And I can't resist showing off my little Nater-Tot... :)

Have you ever had a fabulous story idea brewing in your brain right when there is absolutely no chance of writing it down? You are either too busy or too distracted or not around a computer or notebook?

That is what the last four weeks have been like for me. I've been plotting a whole proposal in my head - and you guys all know that I am not a plotter!

So what do you do when days like that happen? Despite the complete and total chaos that is my life right now (and my living room and my kitchen and my office...) and even the total lack of time that I have (as soon as I figure out that one-handed breastfeeding while also typing, I'll be good to go!), it's important for me to not completely set my writing aside. Even if that means that it's all in my head right now, eventually it will make it to the paper.

I hope.

In the meantime though, I'm going to take a shower. And maybe a nap. And maybe today I'll actually get my bed made. But even though nothing gets done anymore, I might be okay with it. After all, he's worth it. :)

I hope you all have had a fabulous summer! What were you guys up to?

Friday, August 13, 2010

How to Write When the Calendar's Full

Hope you're having a great summer! Sometimes it's hard to make time for our writing when our schedules are filled with beach trips, swimming, chilling in the AC, reading great books, and the fun things of summer. Not to mention the daily activities of life that kept us busy in all the other seasons.

But here's something I've been pondering: How important is my writing to me? It's a valid question we all need to ask ourselves. Is it the first thing we put on the back burner when our schedules get crazy? I have to admit, that's often been the case for me. Which is not what I want. When God puts the desire to write in your heart, it's there for a reason, and it's up to us to answer that call.

How do we do that in our crazy busy lives? Pretty much like with everything else, we have to choose to make the time. Now I'm not saying you have to sit down every day for five hours or else you're a failure. But what if you tried setting a word count quota for yourself?

My writing mentor James Scott Bell (author of some amazing books on the craft as well as terrific novels) has advocated them for years. And now I see why they're important. How many of us can sit in front of a computer and just stare at it for HOURS? Um, yeah. Setting a word count quota will force us to write. It doesn't have to be 5,000 words. What if you just started with 500? Or even 300 or 100 if that will get you to write. Those words will add up, and you'll feel better at the end of the day.

Thursday, August 12, 2010

How I Spent My Summer "Vacation"

Hello lovely Scribble Chicks readers!
Yeah, it's been a while—a long, long while, and I apologize for being majorly M.I.A. this summer. Truth be told, I've really missed y'all, and I'm glad to be back in the blogging groove.

I don't know about you, but I'm in major denial when I look at the calendar and see that it's August 12th! I mean, where did the summer go?

Oh yeah, I was MOVING (more on that in a minute, I promise)!

Remember when you'd head back to school with your bouquet of newly sharpened pencils and composition notebooks and your English teacher decided that your first order of business was to write an essay about how you spent your summer vacation?

Yeah, I was always a bit of a dork because I really enjoyed that assignment—even if the bulk of my summer days were spent babysitting or holed up in the basement of our local library, reading everything and anything that looked interesting to me.

Even then, I loved writing, and obviously, I still do. So with this blog post, I've decided to take on that assignment...how Christa Banister spent her summer "vacation."

When you're working for yourself, summer days are really just like any other work days—just hotter. And this summer, I had the pleasure of adding several extra tasks to my weekly to-do list: packing up our entire home, arranging for movers to come and pick everything up, and of course, finding a new place to live, setting up new utilities, cable service, and the list went on and on and on. And sadly, because my hubby's promotion required him to be in Dallas only two weeks after we got the news, we had to spend an entire month of our summer apart, which definitely wasn't fun in the least.

As you can probably imagine, I was a mess. I spent the majority of the summer days stressed out and in tears—not a pretty sight. And I have to say, while the evil packing tape and I finally became friends, I hope I won't have to pack another box for at least two years—if not longer.

And just when things were finally supposed to settle down (that was July 2, when I officially arrived in Tejas and was reunited with my beloved), we ended up having to wait three weeks for our movers to even show up with our stuff. Cue: living out of a suitcase.

Yeah, our movers had told us exactly what we wanted to hear when we booked them: It would only take a week, not a day longer for everything to arrive. But alas, that was only the beginning of the craziness that would go down. Needless to say, I didn't do well with the whole "patience is a virtue" adage after spending almost every day on hold with these jokers.

Little did I know, however, that wasn't going to be the last time my patience was tried. Once our stuff actually arrived on a sunny Sunday afternoon, the majority of it was broken—including major pieces of furniture, our flat-screen TV and countless dishes—not exactly the way we'd envisioned settling into our new home.

Of course, the experience was a valid reminder that stuff is really just that—stuff. But it was still heartbreaking to start my life in Texas in a place that looked like it had been ransacked by looters.

In the past week or so, though, things have been slowly but surely getting back to normal. All the broken stuff is in the garage, just in case the insurance company wants to get a better look. Our bed and TV have now been replaced. Internet and cable has been installed. The pantry is no longer empty. Our yard is now (almost) a lovely shade of green instead of a homely yellow. I no longer sit on hold for at least 30 minutes with my least favorite movers in the whole world.

In three words: Life is good.

I'm still getting adjusted to living in the Dallas metroplex. It's way, way too hot for my pasty, pasty skin's liking, (but I can't wait for the winters to be sooo much warmer) and the drivers are more than a little nuts. But after a little while, I think I may actually like the place—or at least that's what I've spent my summer "vacation" thinking about...the day that I will.

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Don't be a Copycat!

Hmmm....Not sure where my Chicks are! I'm the sole Chick this week! lol

Heellloooo (helllooo....hellllooo.....)


I decided to answer Tonya's question from a previous comment. She asked: Do you know if there are any rules or special permission needed in taking a sermon, talk, or non-fiction book you've heard/read and applying the points in a fictional story?

Obviously, copying without credit is a no-no. It's also hard to give credit in fiction format, because fiction novels don't typically have footnotes. The best way around this issue, in my opinion, is to simply reword the point or quote you'd like to use into your own words.

I don't have this problelm often in my fiction writing, but I do freelance for a local newspaper, and I have to do this a lot when using information from other articles or sources. It's often a tricky balance in being accurate, but not copying.

A good way to practice this is to take a newspaper article and try to rewrite it yourself - keeping the major points of the article but rewording and reorganizing the information presented. Then compare the two when done.

When it comes to quoting movie quotes, song lyrics or even brand name items in fiction, one rule applies - when in doubt, google! A lot of hymn lyrics are open for free use, etc. But if you can't find accurate copyright info, the best thing to do is just not include that particular song, lyric, or reference. Better safe than sorry!

Any other questions pertaining to copyrights or using nonfiction references or points in a fiction story?

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Do the twist...

Last night I went to Painting With a Twist (http://www.paintingwithatwist.com/), where you can sign up to paint in a classroom type setting (with wine and beer if you are so inclined! lol) with an instructor giving you literal step by step instructions. Its great for amateurs who just want to go have fun. My mom, sister, cousin and I went and painted daisies.

Here's me, ready and nervous that my daisies are going to turn out more like weeds...

Everyone got started and at first, I thought, this is not a good project for a perfectionist! But I relaxed and started having fun and once I stopped caring so badly about the particulars and just painted, I actually improved.

As I looked around the room, I realized at everyone's painting, though technically the same, they were all so very, very different. Some were better than others. Some had a slight abstract feel to them. Some were worse than others. Some chose different highlight colors for their petals. Others used more black than white and vice versa. The final result ended in everyone's painting being unique to them, despite the same picture. And they were all beautiful...

It reminded me that the same is true with writing. Even if we have a similar idea or plot line as another writer, our story will be unique to us because its OUR voice. Our brush. Our vision. We need to stop comparing ourselves to other writers and just WRITE. Just paint your picture the way its meant to be painted and don't worry if your neighbor is painting what appears to be the same picture. Don't worry if her strokes seem more steady or her colors more vibrant. Worry about your own picture, and the final result will be pleasing not only to your eye, but more importantly to the Lord's.

Finished product :)