Month: January 2012

Author’s note: This post was first published April 28th, 2010.  Please feel free to comment.  As I am busy climbing a mountain now, I’ll respond to all comments when I return.  Thanks!

Not a single one of you reading this wants to fail at the writing game.  I don’t either.

But statistics are against us.  After all, as the famous demotivational poster points out: it could be that the purpose of our lives is only to serve as warnings to others.

So I was blown away by this recent article about why some authors never succeed.  I tell ya, I wish I could report that there was much here I already knew, but my impression was exactly the opposite: there is a lot here I have barely given thought to or am only now beginning to wrap my head around.

A few quick thoughts after reading this article:

  • Learning about the industry is certainly key–but there is a lot to know.  Make sure you set time aside to do your homework.
  • Accepting feedback is critical, but equally important is finding good sources of feedback.  Not doing so can be a dealbreaker.  Classes and forums can only go so far–get out there and find other writers that are at your experience level and that share your interests who you can exchange work with.
  • I think right along with measuring success in book sales, measuring success in blog posts (for us greener writers who have not been published yet) can be equally misleading.  If the fiction isn’t getting done but your blog is rocking, you may need to take a closer look at your priorities.

And I think the most important lesson is understanding that you are going to fail–that sooner or later you’ll try and not succeed–but learning from your failures and pressing on.  “Fail up,” as the author notes. 

So I ask you: how do you measure short and long-term success?  What are the measuring sticks you use to judge daily, monthly, and yearly progress?  What’s your process when things don’t go as planned?

Author’s note: This post was first published February 4th, 2010.  Please feel free to comment.  As I am busy climbing a mountain now, I’ll respond to all comments when I return.  Thanks!

Let me ask you a question: If I do a butt load of work until this post screams “Awesome!”, has my work been “intense” or “intensive”? 

You choose: “JP worked ‘intensely’ to rock his readers’ world” or “JP worked ‘intensively’ to rock his readers’ world.”  Which is correct?  (Feel free to make snide comments about the truthiness of either of these statements below ;))

If I decide to shorten this post (and I am notoriously verbose–so this happens often), will I then have “less” words, or “fewer” words?  Which is the correct descriptor?

The answer to both those questions didn’t come easily to me.  How ’bout you?

Word choice is the most fundamental act in the writing process and cuts across everything a writer does, from the WIP, to the query letter to the agent, to the email to the publisher’s assistant. 

A writer’s words are like colors to a painter.  Just as the best painters have an innate ability to understand how a certain shade of red both compliments and enhances the other colors in a painting, good writers understand why a particular word fits their composition. 

Understanding the meaning behind words is a key element of this skill.  Pick the wrong word or term and you’re like the watercolor artist with a stunning oceanscape–painted in subtle greys and delicate blues–who abruptly adds a dollop of garish yellow-brown to the white wavetops for no apparent reason.  Trust me.  It’s an easy mistake to make.  Don’t be that guy/gal!

Solomon, smart fellow that he was, said in Ecclesiastes 1:18: “With great knowledge comes great sorrow” (I always wondered if knowing that bummed him out).  I will co-opt his quote and offer instead: “With great knowledge comes great writing.”  (I’ll not comment on the connection between writing and sorrow–maybe another time). 

And the good news for all us struggling writers is that the knowledge is out there.  Here is a helpful link a friend sent me to aide in making effective word choices:  Common Errors In English Usage.

A few more great examples:

  • When I want to footnote something, do I use an asterick or asterisk?  Answer here.
  • If I call someone, do I “get ahold” of them or “get hold” of them?  Answer here.
  • Do I have a “method” or “methodology” for coming up with great story ideas?  Answer here.
  • If an agent writes back and says your novel is “mediocre,” are they saying it is average or bad?  Answer here
  • If I am in the middle of a “sojourn,” am I moving or stationary?  Answer here.
  • Is my midsection my “midrift” or “midriff”?  Answer here.

And check the link for a lot more!

I hope you find the page helpful.  I certainly did.  Oh yeah, my work preparing this post was intense and all the editing resulted in fewer words.

What are the errors you most commonly make?  Also, there’s one (pretty obvious IMHO) error in my post.  Can you find it?

HINT: The error is one of the ones listed at the link.

Blog-wise, I’ve kept a low profile recently, as you’ve no doubt noticed.  To tell you the truth, I never expected to take the entire month of December off.  Truly.  But you’ve heard the story before: a break for a few days turned into a week, the week turned into three weeks, and before I knew it, an entire month had passed without so much as a whisper from me.

This is not to say that I haven’t been busy.  In fact, as excuses go for not blogging, I have several pretty good ones.  At least I think they’re pretty good, but then again, I’m probably pretty biased about my own reasons for doing things.  πŸ˜€

Of course, like everyone else, I had Christmas to contend with, and New Years.  My birthday is the last day of the year, so there was some planning and activity related to that.  Oh, and did I mention that we’re moving back to the States in less than 25 days?  Yeah, the movers already came and took our stuff.  We’re living like denizens of a strange trailer park where they provide you a cabin, but very little in the way of furniture or other sundries like pots, plates or silverware.  We have not yet succumbed to eating off paper plates, but we’re only a lazy-don’t-want-to-wash-dishes night away.  Needless to say, life has been interesting.

But the big doozie, the one I’ve been spending many of my waking moments working on is pictured above.  I leave this afternoon to fly to Tanzania for three weeks.  Planned adventures include climbing Mount Kilimanjaro, a short safari, and generally enjoying all that that part of the world offers in the way of tourismistic bliss.  (Long time readers may recall this item on my 2011 goal list).

And it’s funny, because this little jaunt ties in with writing.  Let me explain.  I first decided to climb Kili way back in 1993, after I read Michael Crichton’s Travels where he relates his experience climbing the mountain.  Something about the idea of it stuck with me, and it’s been on my bucket list ever since.  Even now, it’s hard for me to wrap my head around the idea that a book can affect someone so much, but, well, there it is–and it’s certainly one of the reasons why I’m so interested in writing fiction.

Some may laugh that it’s taken me nearly 20 years to realize my goal, but when I hear those chuckles, I just nod my head.  I see my writing career the same way.  I may not be a best-selling author next week or next year, but if I keep my eye on the target, don’t forget why I’m really doing it, and keep working, someday–with luck!–I’ll get there.

So, I just wanted to pop in and fill ya’all in on the details.  If I get a few more spare moments this afternoon, I may see about preparing some oldy but goody posts to autopost in the weeks while I’m gone.  And of course, I’m taking my journal and will have the whole story to share when I get back.

Wish me luck–and don’t forget to stay groovy!  πŸ˜€

I’m awake!  No seriously, I am! πŸ˜€

Happy New Year, ya’all!  Hope it was a good one, and can you believe it’s 2012 already?

So, to get going early this year, I signed up for the Frankie Diane Mallis’ 3rd Annual No-Kiss Blogfest!  Get all the details at the link.

This kind of scene is somewhat outside my comfort zone, but I thought I’d give it a try anyway.  Also, I took a swing at structuring the story a little differently than the usual guy/girl match up.  I’ve no idea if I pulled it off, but it sure was fun to put together!

So here it is!  Enjoy!  And don’t forget to go read everyone else’s entries also!

***** 

Sarah
(c) 2012 Jon Paul

     Sarah left her bags at the front door and walked toward me, crossing from the morning-brightened living room into the kitchen, her easy disarming smile dancing in the honeyed light. As she approached I remember thinking only one thing: she was still my little girl.
     She intended to give me a hug and a kiss on the cheek, an understood ritual, the last act of affection a daughter shows her father on the day she leaves for college. The scene was a clichΓ© of course, acted out in a hundred corny movies, but the prospect of facing my daughter in that moment had played and replayed in my mind for weeks. How would it feel, I wondered, when it came time to say goodbye?
     I set my coffee cup on the counter and returned her grin.  Doubt flickered through her steady gaze, or surprise perhaps. Sarah was not the kind of person to find herself at a loss for words. Her blue eyes swept the kitchen, as if the familiarity of the table and chairs, pots and pans and dishes peering from the shelves, might offer her a clue what to say.
     “The big day is finally here,” I said. “You all packed, ready to go?”
     “Yeah.” She blinked twice, as if a spell had been broken, then poured herself a cup of coffee. Cream. Two sugars.
     “When’s Heather get here?” I asked.  Sarah’s best friend Heather Nance had been accepted to the same school.
     Sarah looked at her watch. “In about twenty minutes.”
     “Ok. Don’t forget what we talked about.”
     Sarah chuckled and raised one eyebrow.
     “Be careful when you get to Austin or you’ll hit morning rush hour dead on. I-35 will be like a parking lot by then if–“
     “Dad?”
     “Yeah?”
     “I got it.”
     I fell silent, my overprotective words suddenly ringing in my ears. I couldn’t help but smile. It was a hard habit to break. Too many skinned knees. Too many tears over broken dolls and schoolyard crushes.
     “Dad, listen,” she began, standing close. “It’s…I-I’ll be home weekends and holidays, you know…”
     I nodded. When I met her gaze, she was reading my mind, sensing my uncertainty.
     “Sarah?” Her mom’s voice filtered down from upstairs. “I found that sweater you asked about. And a couple other things you might want to take.”
     “Be right back,” Sarah said.
     “Ok.”
     When she was gone, I sipped my lukewarm coffee, feeling too lazy to warm it from the pot. Upstairs the girls negotiating over what clothes might still fit in Sarah’s bags. The plan was for Sarah’s mother Nell and I to drive up in a couple of weekends with her furniture, once she knew how much space was available in her dorm room. The semi-furnished rooms pictured in the college brochure looked smallish so Sarah, sensible as ever, decided to pack light and make due until we arrived with the rest of her stuff. We’d suggested driving her to college ourselves, but she’d already agreed to travel with Heather. Two weeks would no doubt feel like an eternity.
     I placed my empty coffee cup in the sink, ran hot water into it and put it in the dishwasher. I caught a glimpse of my face reflected in the window. How tired I looked. I’d stayed up late looking through old photo albums, having a few too many beers.
     Eighteen years had come and gone in the blink of an eye. People always said kids grew up fast, but life is full of platitudes that barely resemble reality, so I suppose I never really believed it. I couldn’t escape the feeling that the last few years had blurred by in seconds.
     Dustin, Sarah’s brother, bounded down the stairs and came into the kitchen. His bedhead hair stood out in wild angles, and he gave me a wry smirk. “She still here?”
     “Yep.”
     “Bummer.”
     Dustin pulled a carton of orange juice from the fridge, pouring the golden liquid into a glass. Naturally, his sister’s departure didn’t seem to bother him. Sarah had vacated the larger of their two bedrooms, so he’d immediately staked a claim to it, no doubt contributing to his eagerness to see her leave.
     I left Dustin in the kitchen and went to my office. I wanted to get in a little work before a planned trip to the grocery store with Nell later. I flipped the power switch on my laptop and listened as it booted up, feeling a thousand miles away, my mind adrift. I clicked open a report from Jim Lackey, one the insurance agents in my office. He had a couple questions about my methodology for settling a recent claim for one of his customers. I tried to work my way through his notes, but I couldn’t concentrate. I kept catching myself, eyes on the wall, listening to a peculiar silence settle over the house. Soon, Heather pulled up outside. Dustin answered the door when the doorbell rang and yelled upstairs. Sarah and her Mom came down, still chatting over wardrobe choices.
     “Dad, come on! I’m leaving,” Sarah yelled out.
     “Be right there.”
     I closed the laptop, sat still for a minute. On my desk, my gaze fell on a framed photo of four-year old Sarah, dressed as a genie, her pre-school Halloween costume one year. The same smile. The same twinkle in her eye. ‘I love you, Daddy’ scrawled in crayon along the edge of one corner. It felt like the picture had been taken only yesterday.
     When I came down the driveway, Dustin was putting Sarah’s bags in the trunk of Heather’s car–a rare act of chivalry. Nell hovered nearby, arms crossed in her cardigan, a strained smile painted on her face.
     “Morning, Mr. Howard,” Heather said as I approached.
     “Morning, Heather,” I said, sounding more chipper than I felt. “You have everything, Sarah?”
     Sarah ran her eyes quickly over the bags in the trunk. “Wait. My camera bag.” She started up the driveway toward the house.
     “I’ll get it,” I said.
     “It’s on the side table in the living room,” she said as I disappeared through the door. I found the small black bag, right where she said it was, and brought it back outside.
     As I came back down the driveway, Sarah waited patiently near the open trunk. It was clear the others had already said their goodbyes. Dustin and Nell stood off to one side as Heather climbed into the driver’s seat of her car. I handed Sarah her camera bag, but she refused to look me in the eye.
     The sun, fully up, bathed the street and houses in a brilliant, sundering light. I keenly felt everyone’s eyes on Sarah and I. Gone was the intimacy of our time that morning in the kitchen, evaporated like steam dissolving in the warming air.
     I searched Sarah’s face, seeing a new maturity there. Or had it been there all along? At that moment, I really wasn’t sure of anything and I shook my head, trying to get my eyes to focus. It made no sense, but someone had taken away my daughter and replaced her with a beautiful, mysterious young woman who looked at me now with a kind of sadness. There was a new remoteness, an invisible barrier, an expansive wall constructed from the bricks of a missed opportunity.
     Did she sense it too, this strange shift in reality? Was it some defensive mechanism on her part, to put some distance between us, to make leaving less painful?  Or perhaps she was nervous in front of her friend.  Whatever it was, she seemed suddenly like a stranger to me, grown up, responsible, sophisticated in a way I couldn’t fathom. I searched her eyes for a sign, for some indicator that this was all a mistake, a misunderstanding. She returned my gaze tenderly, with great composure, and that’s when I knew something had changed.
     “Goodbye, Dad,” she said quietly. “See you in a couple weeks.” She didn’t hug me, or give me a kiss on the cheek. Instead, with forlorn grace, she turned and climbed into the passenger seat of the car, a bizarre frown turning down the corners of her mouth.
     When they had driven away, Nell came to me, took me by the arm. Dustin had already disappeared inside.
     “You Ok?” Nell said. “You look like you’ve seen a ghost.”
     I nodded, but couldn’t speak. I could only smile weakly, a spiritless emptiness gnawing my insides. We embraced, my wife warm in my arms, then walked up the driveway, alone, and disappeared inside.

~fin~

Thanks for stopping by, and don’t forget to stay groovy! πŸ˜€