Tag Archive | the craft of writing

Create Your Own World by Writing It Down

Every time I turn around, I read something that reminds me that I have the power to design my own life, create my own world, manifest good things into my life. I know deep in my heart this is true because every important thing I’ve ever wanted has come into my life. My children, Ken, a cozy home, my pug dog, my cat, and even our wheelchair van have appeared when I needed/wanted them.

After I divorced my first husband, who was a person would not leave his backyard, I finally had a chance to do the travel I always wanted to do. My adventures were shared with two wonderful women I met on a “fam” trip which landed in my lap because I did marketing for a travel agency and no one could participate in this completely free trip. After our first meeting, Jane and Robin took me along as their companion on other “fam” trips for the cruise lines.

I thought cruising was only in my dreams, but to my delight, even this exotic dream manifested itself into my life. We traveled the islands of the Western, Southern, and Eastern Caribbean. I saw Bermuda and Mexico. Then Ken came into my life and we cruised down the western coast of Mexico and South America, through the Panama Canal and into the Caribbean to land on the beautiful island of Puerto Rico.

I always wanted to have a book published, and becoming Ken’s caretaker gave me an opportunity to get six of my stories published. In this department, I still want more. I want to be published by a larger publishing house. Now my affirmation goes something like, “I will be a well-known author.” I think about this everyday. What I haven’t done is put it in writing. Funny, huh? You’d think this would be the first thing a writer would do, right?

Because I do believe in the power of words and thought, I’m very cautious about what I say. Do I want big royalty checks and all the hoopla that goes with them? I’m sure I’d like the money, but I know I will never sell my soul to get it. Life is too short. So I hesitate.

As I ponder this great question of fame and whether I want it or not, I have fallen into a deep drought of ideas for my next story. Inspiration has alluded me, and all of you are probably nauseous that I would bring up the “block” again. It frustrated me I haven’t been able to even start a short story. . . or for that matter to stay loyal to my blog. So those of you who take the time to read this post, I thank you for putting up with me. I truly hope that you manifest what you want in your life. Remember, it only takes a moment to put your dreams in writing and watch them come true.

Perhaps my vacation in a couple of weeks will do the trick. That’s right. The pieces fell into place so Ken has the best care and all precautions for his safety have been covered while I get away to Florida for four days. Now, if I could only control the weather . . .

A Hint of Celebrity?

Now that Ken and I spruced up our home with a few pieces of new furniture, a washer and dryer, and new kitchen chairs, I decided it was time for a little Barbara upgrading. Yup. I spent some coins on myself, and I didn’t do it at the thrift store. 🙂

The items I wanted included a pair of new glasses, some wrinkle cream and skin spot remover, along with a couple pair of new sandals. (I still think we may have at least a couple of days of summer in the near future.)

On Saturday, I went to pick up my new specs. For once the sun was shining, but little did I know in a few seconds it would shine on me. When the receptionist requested my name, I replied, “Barbara McCloskey.”

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One of the customers turned around with a surprised look on her face and said, “Barbara McCloskey? I know that name. Sure, there’s somebody by that name who is an author.”

I replied, “That’s me!”

The customer’s voice went up an octave as she said, “No kidding?”

I whipped out my business cards I got for such opportunities and gave  one to each customer in the store.

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For a couple of seconds, I felt like a big shot. Fame shown it’s fickle light on me and I smiled in the illumination. Even though I hadn’t been facially recognized, somebody did recognize my name.

I’ve emblazoned this scene in my mind with the exception someday I will be facially recognized, and my “fan” will have read all of my books.

I truly believe this is the first step to fulfilling my dream–to become a successful author. This first step is simple, but necessary.

Here’s the bottom line to this tale. I don’t believe dreams happen. Having a clear vision of what we want to achieve is key, then we must share it with others. In the meantime, put your nose to the grindstone and work, work, work. In my case, I need to read and write everyday. Persistence is key–you can’t give up even when the ugly face of writer’s block crosses you path. Then grab opportunities when they come along. Do radio interviews. Get your name in the local paper. Pass out business cards advertising your genre and titles. Get your book reviewed. Don’t hide your light under a bushel basket — no one can shine hiding. Perhaps you might even get a little “luck” as you go through the actions of working toward your goals. No one can turn down good luck, right?

My only caution is to be careful what you ask for. . . there’s a good chance you will get it.

Looking Back and Going Forward

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I spoke with my brother Mark this morning. I hadn’t heard from him in a week, so I was concerned. During the course of our conversation, Mark told me he had taken my first book, “Apple Pie and Strudel Girls” to the Veteran’s home where he works, and according to Mark, the book is a big success. Veteran to veteran pass the book around, and I guess the book is probably well accepted because its time period is when most of these people were young.  I’m curious about what they think about what they read. I’d like to hear their experiences at the time, and I wonder how close I came to the truth of the time.

“Apple Pie and Strudel Girls” was my first published book, and like all “first” works, I wish I could revisit parts of it and write it again. Since its publication, I’ve learned so much about writing. The biggest thing I’ve learned is that I need help with editing and proofreading. Writing in a vacuum doesn’t produce the best product. Oh, I believe the “yarn” (as my Scottish friend calls my stories) is good, but some of the techniques and writing style could be better.

Growing is all about getting better at what we do. The first time we do anything will never be as good as subsequent attempts. I remember the first time I drove a car. I had to think about every move I made. I gripped the wheel with white knuckles. I made wide right-hand turns, and I nearly took the mirrors off the side of the car as I attempted to put it into the garage.

Now, I get in a car and drive. The maneuvers are easy. I don’t think about what to do as I weave through traffic, and I can park in the garage without worrying about knocking off the mirrors.

When we write, we constantly evolve. We learn in school “writing is a process,” but do we believe what a continuing process it is? I doubt it. It isn’t until we look back and review our prior work with critical eyes. Doing so may be a learning experience, but being too critical of early work really isn’t fair. We did the best we could with the tools and experience we had at the time we put pen to paper. Going back is all right, but going forward is what is important.

My Writing Process

ground_hog_2007Have you ever felt like you were on the set of “Ground Hog Day?”  You know the movie. Bill Murray relives the same day over and over and over again. There seems to be no way out. I think I know how he felt.

This winter has been horrible for everyone. People living in the northern states have learned how to endure the never-ending grey, COLD, snowy days. People in the southern states say have winter–temps in the 50s and 60s, but this year there has been ice and snow in Atlanta.

Everyone is talking about the weather, even though I try to keep my comments to a bare minimum, but being retired now, this weather is holding me prisoner.

One day my car didn’t start because even sheltered in the garage, the temperature was ten below zero. One day my back got a chill and the muscles seized up which has put a severe pain in my backside.

Ken and I feel like a couple of grounded teenagers. Worst of all, this inclement weather has emphasized the sameness of our “normal” life. When the temperature rises above zero, we have two or three inches of snow to jazz things up . . . and because Ken’s wheelchair doesn’t have snow tires, he can get stuck in the stuff.

The one good thing this sequestering has done has been to plunk butt down in my chair and finish the first draft of my seventh novel. Now, I’m re-reading the story and putting the first pass of editing on it before I send it off to my editor.

Yesterday when I talked to a friend who has moved to Florida (who was sitting on her porch slipping lemonade), she was flabbergasted I would reread and edit my work a couple of times before any other eyes saw the text. I see this element as part of the process. I was surprised at her reaction because she likes to think of herself as a writer, too.

Do any of you come from the school of writing that I do? Do you rewrite your prose a couple of times before sending it out? Do you pass it in front of a person you trust before thinking it’s “done?” I can remember doing such a thing since I was in high school. To me this part of writing is normal.

What do you do when you complete a “first draft” of one of your pieces?

A New Day, A New Year

new yearAs we turned the calendar from the last day of 2013 to the first day of 2014, most people look at the new year as a clean slate–a time to start anew. Optimism outweighs pessimism. Joy outweighs sorrow. The ball dropped in New York. Let’s get on with it. Right?

The truth is for most of us, things change very little. The resolutions fall by the wayside in a couple of weeks, and our lives go back to “normal.” Yet, every December 31st we are all hopeful for bigger and better things. Why? Is the unknown that appealing as we look forward? Or do we look to the new year for an escape from what is too familiar? Who knows for sure?

I do know one thing, though, on the television program, “Let’s Make a Deal” contestants usually take the unknown value in lieu of what is a sure thing. The unknown for some reason is more appealing to them.

I’m the first person to get in line to try something new, but through the years I’ve become more cautious. All of my positions in the corporate world for twenty years were new ones. I blazed a trail and didn’t have to run on a worn track. I loved the challenge that the new positions gave me.

Three years ago, I took a teaching job when I never planned to teach anything and found out I enjoyed it . . . for awhile. When I discovered after three years, so many of my students didn’t have curiosity to learn and challenge themselves, I fell out of love with teaching.

This year I plan to devote myself to writing. It’s the one thing I have always come back to when other professions have beat me up. Because I deviated into teaching, I lost my zest for communing with my computer for hours and fumbled the ball. I didn’t blog everyday as I intended. I convinced myself I had writer’s block, when in fact, I got lazy and played mindless computer games for hours.

But it’s a New Year. My resolution is to get back to basics and finish my next novel. I am committed. As I watch commuter gridlock on the television news, I am thankful I don’t have to fight the winter elements to complete my tasks. I can sit on my new recliner and go to work with my little Ernie dog keeping me company in my chosen solitary profession. Life is so good.

What have you promised yourself for 2014?

An Interview of a Different Kind

interviewYesterday I was interviewed by the area public radio station. We talked about my novels, but the interviewer also focused on how the books were conceived and how I achieve the details that were including in the writing. His questions challenged me because I’ve ever discussed such things before–especially on the fly. Most of all, I wanted to sound like I had something on the ball as a writer.

If I had given the interviewer a truthful answer, I would have told him I truly don’t know how writing these books first started. Apple Pie and Strudel Girls came on the heels of having a disappointing experience with another woman who wanted her strange story of meeting a witch made into a novel. Originally, we decided to co-author the book, but in the end, she put her name on the book cover. As I didn’t earn any money for my writing and most of all fleshing out a story that was a page-turner, I felt I had been duped. The good news of the experience is I showed myself I could write over 50,000 words. Up until this point, my longest piece was a three thousand word special report I did for a business magazine.

After that disappointing experience, I decided to embark on my own, and to my surprise, I wrote a pretty good story about girls who grew up during the war years. What I didn’t realize was I needed an editor and excellent proofreader. I wish I would have considered that piece out of the gate because now I see mistakes that were missed, and frankly, I’m a little ashamed the book was published with these boo-boos.

But, back to the interview. Just how did I conceive the story and why did I choose this time period? After pondering for a few seconds, I realized it was my curiosity and love of history that drove me to want to know more about a time period when young people didn’t believe they would have a future. When bombs fell on houses in England and when one man literally enslaved every country in Europe, I wondered how people survived such horror.

With that said, I also learned I had to concentrate on the day-to-day lives these characters were living as the world events shaped their lives in a way they never conceived. This part was easier because the characters began talking to me as I developed the story. They interrupted my sleep, shopped, vacuumed, and yes, I did admit this to the interviewer. I wonder now if he thought I was schizophrenic–but this was a true fact. These pesky characters whispered in my ear until I wrote down what they told me.

The interviewer also thought it was interesting I kept an Excel Spreadsheet to keep track of the timeline. Using this tool saved me from repeating the same research in subsequent novels.

Character sketches were also helpful. Then there was the research of reading journals and personal accounts of real people who expressed how they felt when bombs were falling on their neighborhoods while they huddled in bomb shelters. I read accounts of men in battle, and got a taste of the fear they endured as they did things they never dreamed they would have to do. There is no glory in war, just dirt, grime, death and suffering. I also read letters written by women who were waiting for their men to come home. These real-life accounts helped me to immerse myself into the time period, as well as the lives of people who survived the horrific 1940’s.

The experience of speaking with an interviewer on the fly kept this author on her toes, but I would welcome the opportunity again and again. It was fun to think on my feet and project myself as a credible writer. The show will air on Thursday at 8:00 a.m. on 91.1 FM – WGTC. In the meantime, I’ll just write.

An Impending Interview

interview_in_progressI had a big surprise this morning. Greg Berg from the local public radio station called and requested an interview to talk about my novels! I’m always excited to talk about my writing, but to have a public forum like this is very special. Right now I’m basking in the afterglow and saying my thanks to the writing gods.

We’ll record the interview over the phone next Monday morning. The radio program is on the air early in the morning–I think he said his show is aired from eight to nine o’clock in the morning. He asked me whether I had anything going at that time, and I replied, “Other than sleeping, not a thing.” That got a laugh. Little did he know I was telling the truth. This retirement gig has its perks.

So, next Monday I will be talking about all my “girls” and their men who go through World War II like no other generation. As I continue to research and write about this time period, I am always awed by the way a divided America came together overnight after the Japanese attack. People assumed roles they never would have in any other circumstances as they all faced an uncertain future.

We also talked about the fact I teach at the college where the program is broadcast. I made the comment teaching basic writing and grammar has made me a better writer because I’m conscious of the building blocks of our language.

Perhaps this interview will also spur me on to get back to writing my latest project about. Lately I’ve lost my drive to write everyday and crank out at least a chapter a day. The carpal tunnel really derailed my efforts, but then the malady became an excuse. And the excuse became a bad habit.

After the Thanksgiving festivities, and as I stay out of the craziness on Black Friday, I will once again get back to work. Now that my intention is in writing, I WILL get back on the writing track. Carpal tunnel be damned!

Writing Restraints

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It’s been two weeks since the doctor put me in hand and wrist supports. She wants me in these restrictions 24/7, which I’m finding tough. Things have improved, though. On Sunday, I was able to get through the whole day without taking any pain medication. The tingling in my fingers has ceased most of the time, so it’s safe to say that with the supports my nerves are getting a much needed rest. Unfortunately, so has my writing.

As you might imagine, typing in these things is challenging and frustrating because I must go slower and I experience mucho typos as I go along. So all you proofreaders out there, take the next month off. I don’t need any more aggravation.

My blogging has taken a hit, and so has my novel, but yesterday I eecked out a couple more chapters to the first draft of my eighth novel. For anyone who’s been following me for a time knows it’s my quest to write and publish enough books to fill up my bookshelf in my living room. When I see an interview with Paterson or Nora Roberts, who both could fill a library with their stories, I know I’ve got a lot of work ahead of me to compete. But should I?

It’s taken a forced retirement to get to the point where I have the time and inclination to dedicate myself to to write fun stuff. I have a twenty-year career of writing for profit, as a freelancer, a copywriter, a communication specialist, a marketer for small business, and a website developer.  I’ve written just about everything, from technical copy to sales materials to website copy. I don’t claim to be great at all genres, but I have enjoyed the writing ride.

After writing novels for the past three and a half years, I can’t say this kind of storytelling is more fun; it’s just different. My imagination, along with the research I do, does a dance with my own life experiences or people I’ve been lucky enough to meet. Then I let the characters tell their stories.

What remains the same is the writing process–A draft, a second draft, a third and possibly a fourth draft, then a pass to the editor, a rewrite or two and then off to the proofreader.

I have a tough boss. Me. If I don’t like the product, I can’t sell it. If I don’t understand a product, I can’t sell it. The only thing that has really changed is the deadline because I’m the one who sets it.

So, if you ever pick up one of my books, my promise to my readers is this: I promise to do my best to weave a good story that will keep the pages turning, so you will feel your money was well spent.

And the wrist supports–well, they may be with me for a time, but I will adapt and the writing will continue. I’ll leave the typos to the editor and proofreader.

What is Carpal Tunnel, except for a Pain in the Wrist?

Today I am attempting to post this blog with a brace on each hand. I’m beginning to think the doctor might be right about me experiencing problems with my carpal tunnels. By wearing the braces to bed last night, I slept through without waking. That was the first time in over three weeks! Needless to say, though, this new development is putting a damper on my writing.

I’ve been a pretty good typist since the ninth grade when I taught myself how to use the keyboard. At the time, I was marooned at home, recovering from a broken tibia, and I was restricted to bed rest.  It was a devastating experience at the time. I lost the lead of the school musical because of my injuries, and I was isolated from all of my friends, which was certain death to a thirteen year old girl.

During that time, though, I learned so many important lessons I never would have experienced any other way. I quickly recognized my true friends. and I learned how invaluable they were to me.  Since then, I’ve cultivated and maintained many good people in my life. I also learned I could improvise. Even though I was sequestered to my bed, I developed different ways to do things. I saw the difficulties as challenges to conquer. I also recognized I could teach myself anything I wanted to learn.

Four months later when I returned to school with a toe-to-hip plaster cast still on my leg and a pair of crutches, my good friend Debbie stayed with me, carrying my books and helping me in any other way she could. The popular kids at school who tried to hitch their wagons to my brief shining star didn’t remember my name by the time I returned to school. Before I was anybody, I was a nobody. I learned the “importance” of popularity and from then on chose my friends by their character, not their status.

Even now, the lessons I learned almost 50 years ago still resonate. Now that I’m experiencing a temporary limited use of my hands, I recognize I cannot do things the same way I did in the past years. I will have to limit my computer time or perhaps invest in a tool like “Dragon” to help me keep “writing” my books. I’ll have to wear support braces until the issue is healed or resolved by surgery. But in no way, will this little setback of tingling, painful hands keep me down. I may not post everyday, but when I do, I hope I can share something that is useful to you.

Please excuse the typos, though.

What’s This? Working on a Sunday?

workI usually don’t blog on Sunday morning because I think I need the day off. That’s rather curious because other than a part-time teaching gig and being a caretaker for my husband, I don’t work.

WORK — It’s a crazy word. What does it really mean?

In our society, most people think REAL WORKING involves leaving home, driving several miles to another place, spending at least eight hours there, while most of the time we’re wishing we were somewhere else. We complain about how stupid bosses are and that we don’t make enough money for the effort we exert. Worse yet, if we don’t involve ourselves in this kind of activity, society pretty much sees us as retired or slackers.

Debating with myself over this issue I turned to the dictionary to describe to me what work really is. Here’s what the old Oxford Dictionary had to say:

WorkNoun 1. activity involving mental or physical effort done in order to achieve a purpose or result; 2. mental or physical activity as a means of earning income; employment; 3. a task or tasks to be undertaken; something a person or thing has to do.

Of course, this is just a snippet of the full definition. Most writers I know don’t go anywhere to participate in their profession. Lucky writers may have a studio in their homes or they may take themselves out the local coffee shop for inspiration.  Personally, I sit in an over-sized chair in my living room with my dog sleeping and snoring beside me as I pound out pages of prose.

My blue-collar family still makes me feel like I’m not working, and the dictionary definition confirms they are right. Definition number one comes close to what I do, but when I write, I don’t always have a purpose. Number two is certainly not my experience. I’ve written seven novels and haven’t earned a penny even though they all have been published by a “traditional” publisher. And, finally, number three isn’t accurate because I chose to write; no one is putting a gun to my head, (although sometimes when I’m blocked, that terror might help.)

So, I guess it’s true. I’m not working. I’m creating. I’m having fun thinking. I’m spinning stories many people have told me they have truly enjoyed. What is it that some anonymous soothsayer said:  Find something you love and you’ll  never work again. Yeah. That’s the path I’ve chosen. Royalties or no royalties.