Sunday, July 27, 2008

Where does the time go?

"Be wise in the use of time. The question in life is not how much time do we have. The question is what shall we do with it." ---author, Anna Robertson Brown

One of Aesop's most famous fables is about an encounter between a grasshopper and some ants. All summer long the ants had been toiling away, saving up grain for the long winter. All the while the grasshopper merrily--yet foolishly--squandered his time without a care in the world, without making any provisions for the cold season to come. When winter came, the grasshopper found himself starving and begged the ants for food. They replied, "If you were foolish enough to sing all summer, you must dance supper-less to bed in the winter."

Where does the time go? Every Monday morning I get out of bed, excited about the prospect of a fresh week stretching ahead of me and I think of all the things I'm going to accomplish by Friday. Somehow Monday gets away from me and it's Tuesday and I'm thinking of how I need to make up for wasting yesterday.

I am amazed every time I go to the library and read the new releases. There are invariably three new Heather Graham Bell's, two James Patterson, two more Karen Kingsbury, and a Debbie Macomber. How do some of these prolific writers keep pumping out the books? You might say they are simply repackaging the same formula over and over. It may seem that way with some, but most of them are incredibly talented and disciplined individuals.

More so than me.

If you aren't accomplishing as much as you'd like to in a week, ask yourself how you spend your free time. What free time? you may ask. Okay, I see your point. We're all busy. But we find time for what's really important to us.

You may have no aspirations for writing the next New York Times bestseller. You may just be trying to find time to enjoy a date night with your husband. Examine your day. See where you are frittering time and where you may be able to delegate little jobs or say no to constant requests by family and loved ones.

Starting at midnight, we will be given 168 hours wrapped up as a brand new week to do with whatever we choose. At the end of your 168 hours, what will you have to look back on? I might just have written that new bestseller. Or at least the first chapter.

Happy Monday.

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Spark People revisited

As you may have read here in the past, I joined an online community called SparkPeople for people who want to adopt a healthier lifestyle. Since joining I've lost a few pounds--very few compared to some--but more importantly, I'm thinking about what I put into my mouth, incorporating activity into my day, and feeling much better than I have in years.

There are tons of resources and articles on SparkPeople to encourage and teach you how to live a better life. But it isn't just about losing weight. I have found that much of the advice reflects what I read in the Bible.

It's not all about me.

Make yourself feel better by doing something nice for someone else.

Take your eyes off your own problems.

The list goes on and on.

Many of the tips and quotes I've found can also be related to the writing life. Most of us need more discipline in every area of our lives. Most of us are inspired when we read or hear about someone else reaching his or her goals. Most of us can learn from someone else's mistakes. Most of all, most of us need written goals in order to accomplish everything we want to do.

Now that my latest manuscript is ready to head out into the world, it's easy to take a break from writing. I can afford to take a few weeks, or even months, off to regroup. But I need to keep going. I'm sure there are plenty of writers out there who don't suffer from taking a long sabbotical after finishing a project. I, on the other hand, need the momentum of a finished book to spur me on to the next project. If I have too much down time, the next thing I know it's Christmas and I'm still outlining my next book.

Most of us thrive on; Momentum. Discipline. To-do lists. Encouragement and inspiration from those who have been there.

I'm already playing around with ideas for the next book in my Jenna's Creek Series and almost chomping at the bit to get started. Now if I can just keep that creative juice flowing long enough to put the pen to paper...

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Forming New Habits

On Joyce Meyer this morning she talked about forming new habits, and how it's one of the hardest things we need to do. Whether it's exercise, or to stop smoking, or eating better when all you crave is salty stuff, or turning off the TV, forming new habits is work.

People tell me all the time they want to write a book, but they just don't guessed it...the time. Lack of time doesn't only prevent us from writing. We use it as an excuse not to visit our aging loved ones. Not to attend an event with a friend. Not to play ball in the yard with a kid.

"I just don't have the time."

I'm as guilty as anyone else. But I've found that I manage to find the time if it's something I really want to do, if it's really important to me.

So if you've been talking or thinking for years about writing a book or tackling some other project that's been on your mind, you need to develop some new habits that will help you carve the time necessary out of your schedule.

Stop surfing the Net and checking email every five minutes and tell yourself you're going to write uninterrupted for one hour. At least. You can build up to an entire evening after you make a habit of the one hour.

Maybe you need to turn off the TV. You've probably heard yourself say there's really nothing worth watching anyway. But have you ever noticed how easy it is to sit down with the intention of watching one program or just one Seinfeld episode because it's one of your favorites, and before you know it, the whole evening's gone? You get up feeling tired and guilty and wishing you could have the last two hours back.

As I said before, I'm as guilty as anyone. I'm home all day and consequently I probably waste more time than the average person. Every morning I get out of bed with the best intentions, and before I know it, it's four in the afternoon and I should be planning dinner, and I haven't even reached my daily word count yet, not to mention updating my website like I meant to do and mopping the kitchen floor.

Where did the day go?

Forming better habits. I try to start each day with an exercise program. I'm pretty good about doing that one. But by mid-morning, my determination to accomplish my list is breaking down and I'm thinking, "Well, there's always tomorrow."


What wastes our time? What little things are we doing, or neglecting to do, that could free up a lot more time so we could accomplish what we want?

If something is important to you, you'll find the time, whether it's playing with the kids or taking salsa dancing lessons or writing the first chapter of that book that's been haunting you for years.

Let's decide to form some new habits this week. Set the alarm twenty minutes earlier so you're not running late out the door and sniping at the kids like it's their fault. Turn off the TV tonight and the IM alarm and focus on writing. Whatever is keeping you from doing what is important, strive to develop a more productive habit.

It's all within your control.

Monday, July 14, 2008

Contest Winners

I never thought picking the winners for my two contests would be so hard. All the entries were wonderful and I had a hard time going through them to find just one winner. Next time I might recruit someone to help.

First off, I'll announce the winner of my Blizzard of '78 contest. Thanks to everyone who sent their memories and anecdotes about the blizzard. I loved reading through them. It helped me remember the storm even better. I would like to have used them all, but then the book would've been 500 pages long, and we already know how wordy I can be.

The one I chose to incorporate into the book was sent in by Liz Reid of Hillsboro, OH. In Liz's account, the tiles in her bathroom froze and popped off the wall. She and her husband thought they were under attack. You will have to read the book to see which character suffers through Liz's ordeal.

Liz, I hope you love my version of your story.

Second, is my contest to find a suitable stage name for Calvin Trotter. Calvin, as you all remember, goes to Nashville in EVIDENCE OF GRACE to become a big star. This contest has been going on for such a long time, some of you may have forgotten your name suggestions.

I reread them this morning and they were awesome. Many of you chose variations on the same names. "Buck", "Cal", "Austin", and "Johnnie" were very popular.

I received entries from all over the country, but the name I chose was sent in from practically my own backyard. No preferential treatment was given, though it might look that way.

The name I chose...DRUMROLL PLEASE...
was sent in by Dottie Kohler of Peebles, OH.

This was Dottie's complete entry:
"Dear Sirs,

I think Calvin should use the stage name of either CJ Jefferson (Calvin Jeremiah) or Jeremiah Jefferson. This way he doesn't completely lose his own identity and he honors his grandmother Dolores Jefferson who so far has been his only guiding force in knowing his Savior. Thank you for considering my opinion."

Thank you, Dottie. I loved the reasoning behind your choice.

So Calvin's stage name is CJ Jefferson. Calvin's new persona will appear in Book 5 when he comes home to Jenna's Creek from Nashville where he has made a fortune writing the soundtrack for a Hollywood movie.

For sending the winning entries; Liz and Dottie will receive an autographed copy of the Jenna's Creek books they contributed to as well as be acknowledged in the front of those books. A character named for Dottie will appear in Book 5, the final Jenna's Creek installment.

Congratulations, ladies, and thanks to everyone who entered. I loved your entries and appreciate your participation in the contests.

I hope to hear from all of you soon.

Enjoy the rest of your summer and Happy Reading!
Teresa Slack

Thursday, July 10, 2008

Writing your way out of a wet paper sack

Sometimes we take ourselves too seriously. I found this at and thought your might enjoy it. I know I did. If you have the time to check it out, you'll find plenty of funny and inspiring info there.

Posted August 30, 2007 by John Hewitt

Has anyone ever told you that you couldn’t write your way out of a wet paper sack? It really isn’t that difficult. The important thing remember that this is not a job for a computer. You are much better off using a pen or a pencil. You should press down very hard when you write. That will be helpful because, as you remember, the paper sack is wet. You can use that moisture to your advantage. Wet paper sacks tear more easily than dry paper sacks. Keep that in mind at all times. The key to writing your way out of the wet paper sack is to write in such a way that the wet paper begins to tear. Once you’ve torn a hole in the wet paper sack, you’re halfway out of it.

Write on the side of the wet paper sack (either from the inside or the outside depending upon the size of the sack you find yourself in). Press down hard, preferably with a pencil or a high quality pen. This should get the paper, weakened by the moisture, to tear. Once it begins to tear, you will probably want to increase the size of your letters. Writing with small letters is great in the beginning, when you want to establish a hole, but tiny handwriting will become an impairment later on. In the later stages, You will want to write large, swooping letters because this will help to open up the tear in the sack. The larger the tear, the easier it will be to write your way out of it. Towards the end, you might want your letters to be several inches, or even a foot or so high. This will broaden the hole until the entire sack tears away.

Note: Avoid felt tip pens. A felt tip pen or a marker may prove to be insufficient for the task at hand.

Now you are almost done. In the final stages, it is important to remember that you are writing your way out of a wet paper sack, not acting or dancing your way out of a wet paper sack. Those tasks require an entirely different skill set that we won’t go in to here. Keep your pen or pencil in hand. Use it to remove the individual pieces (wet paper sacks tend to fall apart). Place the pencil over the remaining pieces of wet paper sack and let your prose flow. Write with a slight flicking motion so that the paper seems to almost fly off your pencil. Be diligent. Make sure that every piece of paper sack is off of you. At that point you will have written your way out of a wet paper sack. Congratulations! You can proudly tell all of your friends that indeed, you do have this skill and have proven it.

Note: You might want to have someone film your escape from the sack so that you can avoid having to perform this act multiple times. As important as the skill is, writing your way out of a wet paper sack isn’t particularly enjoyable, so you will probably prefer to perform this task only once.

Hope you got a chuckle out of this. I surely did.

Wednesday, July 09, 2008

Lazy writing

I belong to an online community called SparkPeople. Highly recommend joining if you want to lose weight or adopt a healthier lifestyle. As someone who sits at a desk all day, I need the support.

Today I received a SparkPeople mailer about creative ways to incorporate healthy eating and activity into your day. As writers, we know all about creativity. People tell me all the time they couldn't imagine coming up with 100K words to write about anything. A book is totally beyond their comprehension. For writers, it's pretty elementary. In fact, with each book, I have to make myself stop writing and then I have to go back and slash huge hunks of my book to trim the thing down.

The key is to deliver the biggest message in the least amount of space, using the least amount of words. You will end up with tight, page-turning scenes that will blend effortlessly into the next. Acheiving that requires thought and creativity. We could take the easy way out like we see on prime time television all the time. When they don't know how to work out a problem, they fast forward to the next scene and let the viewer fill in the blanks.

That's lazy writing, and as a writer, it makes me mad when I see it. I want a reasonable, logical solution.

How can you solve a huge problem using the least amount of space? You don't want to condense every scene down to the bare bones, but you don't want your reader to have to wade through twenty pages of set-up before you get to the action.

Read through your manuscript and see if you have too much setup or not enough. Do scenes drag? Are you repeating information you gave earlier in the story? Your reader will remember your heroine's bedroom is on the second story with French doors leading out to the balcony, where she used to climb down as a teenager.

Surprise me. Think outside the box. Get your hero out of a situation in a way I never saw coming.

Saturday, July 05, 2008

It's done, it's done, it's done!

Finally, after five to six months longer than it should've taken, I finished my current work in progress. Book 4 of my Jenna's Creek series, though still untitled, is now with a proofreader in the final editing, polishing stages before I send it off to my publisher.

So why did this book take so much longer to write than it should have? What was the problem? I already had the story line. I pretty much knew what was going to happen and to whom. I had outlined extensively and done all my character studies months ago. What was the hold up?

While outlining is probably the more efficient way to write, for me it takes the fun out of writing. Without the daily discovery and anticipation, I have no passion for the project.

That probably reveals what an undisciplined hack I really am, but it's true and I'm tired of apologizing for what works for me. I am a dyed in the wool seat-of-the-pants writer. I don't go totally blind into a project. With a few exceptions that have turned out pretty successful, I usually know where I want to go. I'm just not sure how I'm going to get there. I know a little about my characters. But I learn more about them as the story progresses. I can't do elaborate character sketches about how my character would react if he won the lottery because I don't know him well enough from page one.

It's a process of discovery. I probably don't even know how I'd react if I won the lottery. I like to think I'd keep my head and not turn into a complete horse's behind or drug fiend, but who knows. Who really knows how one would react in extreme situations.

It's okay if you don't know everything about your characters or your storyline before you start writing. Write a sentence about what your story is about. Then a paragraph. But if you don't have an in depth, 200 page, chapter by chapter summary, don't despair. You can still write a great book. You might even love the process instead of feeling like you're back in school writing a paper about something you don't even care about.

However you decide to work, learn what works for you. Maybe you need the extensive outline to be productive. Maybe you work better with a rough sketch. Play around and figure out what works for you. This is a job. It's work, even though a reader told me today that I don't seem to have any problem cranking out easy to read storylines.

If she only knew...

Regardless of what works for you, just do it.
Happy Writing.