A Beginner’s Mind

iStock_000002339863XSmallDid you ever watch a child try to stand for the first time? My elder nephew’s attempts fascinated me. He’d strain on chubby hands and feet to push his diapered rump into the air, doing the baby Downward Dog until he’d cry in frustration and fall back to the floor of his playpen. He did this over and over. I felt so badly for him, because he was so clearly in anguish about not being able to stand and walk like the Big People. Then one day, he got up. It wasn’t a linear progression. Some days were better than others.

Now he’s in graduate school.

Writers go through much the same process, although hopefully, with fewer diaper changes. We were all once wobbly beginners aching to run before we could even stand.

When we’re new, we write with the heart-pumping joy of a story sizzling through our fingers, harboring secret fears that it’s all a pile of crap, that we don’t know what we’re doing, that any praise we get is accidental. Criticism is a stab through the heart, a corroboration that we should take up fencing, or haberdashery, or register for nursing school like Mom always hoped.

To paraphrase a popular grass-roots campaign, it gets better.

Do anything enough times and you will learn.

We all learn. All writers were amateurs once. Your favorite author, the one whose work keeps you up way past your bedtime, the one you’d stand in a block-long line to meet, once didn’t know how to write his or her own name. Didn’t know how to conjugate a verb. Didn’t know how to write dialogue or sustain dramatic tension. I could regale you with story after story about the rejections certain well-known books or authors received before someone decided to take a chance on them.

So go a little easier on yourself. As an “apprentice” writer, you have a couple of things working for you.

1. A beginner’s mind is an enthusiastic, thirsty little sponge. Take the opportunity to learn all you can about writing. There are some good books on writing out there. Two of my favorites are Anne LaMott’s Bird by Bird and The Art of Fiction by John Gardner. But one of the best ways to learn is by reading. Read a ton: good, not-so-good, something outside your favorite genre. It’s a great way to see the craft in action, to see what works and what doesn’t, and to begin to get a feel for why.

2. You don’t know yet what you don’t know. A frustrating bit of tautology, perhaps. But I noticed this as a long-time judge for a local school district’s yearly literary contest. The stories written by the younger children were so free and imaginative. Unicorns turned into flying sailboats that turned into rocket ships that took them to Saturn, where they had tea parties with space creatures. Something happened to these children as they get older, though. Maybe a teacher told them that unicorns aren’t real or if they really tried to have tea on Saturn, they’d die. Or a parent criticized their work in some less-than-thoughtful way. By sixth grade or so, many kids were writing with critics on their shoulders. Their writing got smaller, more contained, less imaginative. They began to associate writing with homework and grades and red ink. This analogy, I think, also holds true for adults beginning to write fiction. Unhampered by an internal critic that parrots back things like, “Never use flashbacks,” “Write what you know,” or “No one will ever publish this,” the apprentice writer may feel more free to experiment, to try different points of view or tenses or genres. Take advantage of that and play. Otherwise, you might never know that you’re really good at writing horror. Or poetry. Or stories about flying to Saturn on a unicorn-sailboat-rocket.

I hope you’re taking some time to enjoy the trip.

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Sliding Past Vertical: It’s Here!

Sliding Past VerticalIt’s here! Sliding Past Vertical, at least the e-book version, is now officially live on Amazon, and I’m celebrating! For today only, you can pick up a free copy on Amazon for your Kindle or Kindle-app.

A bit about the novel:

Sarah Cohen is a walking disaster. She means well, but the ex-diver’s hasty decisions wreak havoc on her life in Boston. Good thing Emerson is a phone call away in Syracuse, with a metaphorical mop to clean up the mess. Their long-distance friendship can be excruciating for him, though. Years after they shared a brief college romance, he’s still in love with her. When everything goes wrong, Sarah takes another plunge: back to the scene of her last mistake, to start fresh. Unfortunately for Emerson, the move puts her too close for comfort. Her attempts to straighten her life’s trajectory are sometimes amusing and sometimes catastrophic. With Sarah around, is anyone safe?

Want to know more? Read the first chapter here or check out the trailer:

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Have You Read a Banned Book Lately?

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Have you ever read a banned or challenged book? Chances are that if you had a public school education, you’ve already read plenty of them. The Grapes of Wrath? Banned for its religious and labor union references. Brave New World? Banned for references to drug use and sex without benefit of marriage. The Catcher in the Rye? You name it. One of my favorite novels, Lolita, has been on a banned or challenged list pretty much every year since its publication.

First launched in 1982 and held during the last week in September, Banned Book Week celebrates and supports the freedom to read. It seeks to bring together everyone in the book community—schools, libraries, bookstores, publishers, writers, and more—to preserve the freedom to share ideas, even those out of the mainstream.

Part of that celebration has included some great videos on YouTube. For weeks now, people have been uploading videos either about banned books or of someone reading from a banned book. Why not make your own? Or check out some of the other events going on this week, like Twitter parties and virtual hangouts. Here are a few of my favorite videos.

A Catcher in the Rye

About Banned Books

Bookmans Does Banned Books

What’s the last banned book you read?

(Note: Part of this blog has been stolen, er, borrowed, from one I wrote on the subject for Indies Unlimited.)

Get What You Want, Part 1—Are We Being Busy or Fruitful?

I really resonated with Kristen Lamb’s blog today. It made me think about how I’m using my time and ways I can be more efficient.

Kristen Lamb's Blog

We live in a society that feeds us a lot of lies. The biggest one is about TIME. Oh, if I only had more time, then I could (fill in the blank). The truth is we are all given the same amount of time—24 hours a day. Of course the next big lie that’s easy to believe (and I’ve been guilty) is Well, if I only work HARDER, that will get me where I want to be.

That’s crap.

More time doesn’t equal MORE AWESOME.

Thus, today we’re going to look at some of the lies and time-stealers and ways to be masters of time, not slaves to it. We need to be vigilant and proactive so we don’t fall into Hamster Wheel Management. We’re called to be fruitful NOT busy.

We Can’t Find Time, We Can Only SPEND Time

One of the most common phrases in the English…

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Risk and the Novelist

iStock_000017146993XSmallOne summer afternoon, not too many months after Husband and I had bought our house, I walked up the hill to a neighbor’s. She and her family were hosting a barbecue. We’d been invited to events at their home before, but that was during the winter. As I reached their yard, another neighbor screamed up to me in her little red sports car.

“Get in and hold my watermelon,” she yelled out the window. I asked why, which felt like a perfectly natural question. Weren’t we here already? Where were we going with a watermelon, and why did I need to hold it? She didn’t seem to understand my confusion. We went a couple of rounds and she finally said, “Just get in the freakin’ car already.”  Continue reading

The Kindle Book Review Awards: Finals!

Don't-Tell-Anyone_cover1Most of you might know by now that out of the danged amazing writers chosen to be semifinalists in The Kindle Book Review‘s 2013 Best Indie Book Awards (several are friends and three of those friends are fellow Indies Unlimited minions or alums), the final five have been chosen in each of the eight categories.

I’m still in a bit of shock that out of those amazing books, Don’t Tell Anyone is in the top five in the Literary Fiction category. I’m also Snoopy-dancing for Nicole Storey, making the finals with the first book in her Grimsley Hollow series, and Rosanne Dingli, chosen for her  Camera Obscura. Also, once again I’m standing beside Hugh Howey in a final, and once again grateful that we are in different categories.

Hugh Howey!

Hugh Howey!

Cooler still is one of the perks of reaching the finals. The forty finalists have been asked to write two guest posts for a contest sponsor’s blog: one, a dream interview; the other, a dream review. Stephen Woodfin, the gentleman who sent me the email request, set a high bar for entries. Informal “bragging rights” for last year’s finalists went to, yes, Hugh Howey, for his dream interview done by Natalie Portman while giving him a massage.

So I could not resist having a bit of fun with that. Here’s my entry, Good Things Gone Bad.