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Rules for Storytelling

Do you have rules for storytelling?

I'm not really sure I do.  When I think about it, the words of advice I regularly dispense--make your character want something, add more conflict than you think you need, have at least a general notion of where you're going next--echo in my brain, but I'm not sure they add up to rules.

(An old writing buddy of mine who I've since lost touch with felt that men like to create and follow rules, whereas women are more freeform.  Perhaps that is why.)

But still and all, I'm always looking for any rule or guideline or even vague idea that will help me with my writing.  And I often tell anyone who will listen students, clients and readers that screenwriters come up with lots of helpful bits to apply to story.

So I was interested to find this link, to an infographic on Pixar's 22 Rules to Phenomenal Storytelling. These rules were developed by Brave artist Emma Coats and are the lessons she's learned working at Pixar.   The list has some good stuff in it.  Here's the infographic:

The really cool thing is that you can buy this as a print on Etsy.  Follow this link to learn more.  Wouldn't it make a wonderful Christmas present for your favorite writer?  Like, maybe, yourself?

So, what of it--do you have rules for storytelling?  Which of these rules resonate with you?

A Short Post on the SemiColon

Awhile ago, I wrote a short post on commas, confessing that it was a short post because I really didn't know much about them. 

One of my writing friends, Anthony (who is not only an amazing writer but a judge, for God's sake) suggested I write a post about semicolons.  Sure thing, I wrote him in an email.

And then I didn't write the post.

Because, guess what?  I think I know even less about semicolons than I do about commas.

But then I decided I liked this short post thing I had going on and that I'd give it a shot.  So here goes.

You use a semi-colon when linking two complete clauses.  (Think of a complete clause as a sentence.  I'm sure there's a more complex definition of it, but if so, I don't know it.  And won't know it.  So let's keep things simple.) 

So, two complete clauses:

The room was elegant and dark.  The woman who sat in it matched the decor.

Linked with a semicolon:

The room was elegant and dark; the woman who sat in it matched the decor.

As far as I'm concerned (and I'm willing to admit I could be wrong) you use a semicolon in circumstances when you want to link the complete clauses in some way.  In the example above, it makes sense to link the two phrases, no? 

But, honestly?  Either style works for me.  True confession: I tend to think of semicolons as a bit stuffy and pedantic.  I rarely use them, to the point that the grammar check on my computer hates me because it corrects my commas with semicolons so often.  Sometimes I put the semicolons in just to make it happy.

Because I have done a relatively lame incomplete job of discussing the semicolon, I present you with these resources to further enhance your understanding of this bit of puncutation.

How To Use a Semicolon (the most feared punctuation on earth).  This post from The Oatmeal is funny, charming, and actually informative.  I highly recommend it.  The author also discusses the theory of the pause in grammar, which is how I do commas.

Semicolon.  I find this Wikipedia page complicated and obtuse, but you might like it.  I'm willing to admit that my dislike of the semicolon is coloring my opinion of it.

The Semicolon.  I can't figure out what this site is, but it features a clear explanation of the punctuation in question.

What are your feelings about semicolons?  Do you have feelings about semicolons?  It's okay if you don't, but let's discuss anyway.



Bassbuds Review

Note: this is a compensated review, in that I received the pair of ear buds. 

So, I got offered the chance to review ear buds and I agreed, because ear buds are one of my essential tools.

Why does a writer need ear buds?  The main ways I use ear buds are to talk to clients and to teach classes.  I also use them to listen to teleseminars.  When I first got my smart phone, I was a dedicated hold-the-phone-up-to-my-ear-and-talk type.  Headsets and ear buds seemed unwieldy to me, awkward to don when the phone rings--"Wait, wait, let me put my earphones on!"

But then I started listening to teleclasses through the phone, and soon it became clear that I needed my hands free to do other things while I listened.  And then I started getting more clients, and talking to them on the phone, and I wanted to be able to take notes. The clincher was when Oregon passed a hands-free law.  If I wanted to talk on the phone while in the car (I really don't all that often) I needed ear buds.

And now I'm totally hooked on them.  I can barely stand to talk on the phone in the traditional way.  So getting a really cool pair of ear buds to review seemed like an excellent idea.

And the Bassbuds are really cool.  They come in a snazzy box that contains all kinds of goodies--like extra rubber rings for the actual buds.  And they are gorgeous.  Mine are white (though multiple colors are available), with a Swaroski crystal decorating them and a silver, anti-twist cord.  They are comfortable, too, resting delicately in the ears.

The problem is, I can't hear very well through them.

Yeah, I know.

The times I've used them, I've been dissatisfied. I talked on the phone for a few minutes this morning and the call seemed muffled and distant. The person on the other end could barely hear me.  When I switched to the cheap original ear buds, the clarity was fine.

I have a feeling that the issue has something to do with me, because if you go google Bassbud Ear Bud Reviews, you'll find glowing testimonials to how wonderful they are.  Also I noticed that most of these people were using their ear buds to listen to music, so that might make a difference.

I'll try them again.  In the meantime, call me befuddled.

Guest Post: Writing a Book With a Homeless Man

Please welcome guest poster Alene Snodgrass, who talks about the fascinating process of co-authoring a book with a homeless man.  You may remember Alene from a guest post she wrote earlier this year.  Welcome back, Alene, and congratulations on the successful launch of your book!

Writing is hard! Graffitibook

There, I said it. It takes diligence and discipline. You must create the quiet time to sit down and form those words that are stirring within your soul into something that others can understand and relate to. It takes focus.

Writing a book with a homeless man is even harder!

Once you decide to share book space with a co-author, everything changes. There are two voice styles to incorporate, two schedules to work around, two different ideas about the project, and two times the amount of coordination. Can you imagine how many more obstacles there might be if that co-author happened to be homeless?

Well, about a year ago, I met a homeless man.

As we passed, he walked up to me and began reciting poetry. It was beautiful. The tone and inflection in his voice were captivating. Come to find out these were poems he had written and memorized. I dutifully asked, “Is there any way you can write those down for me?” He did. And the rest of the story can be found in my newly released Kindle eBook Graffiti: scribbles from different sides of the street.

What transpired the months following was nothing shy of miraculous.

My homeless friend began bringing me writing after writing. Mostly poetry at first. When he found out that I am an author he started stretching his writing skills. He was shy at first thinking I was judging his grammar. I wasn’t – I was enthralled by his love for writing.

We didn’t know each other that well at the time so earning his trust was of most importance. As his trust in me grew, he began to branch out and write more about his life. There was hurt and pain. There was a life story that made me wonder, “How did you end up on the streets?” I asked for more. I stretched him to write more about his life.

I could see that there was so much potential and story behind that worn and tattered body. I continually encouraged him and asked for more of the story. Maybe selfishly at first, because I wanted to know more of his story, but seriously the more he wrote the more I wanted.

It was interesting that the more he revealed of his life; the more I realized we had so much in common. He from his dysfunctional family, which eventually led him to the streets. And me from my blessed family, which led me to help the homeless on the streets.

As I sat and stared at his writings, I knew our story had to be told.

However, we wanted to write less of our life story and tell more of our heart story. The story of how we decided to trust each other, step out of our comfort zones, and love another who was different.

In weaving those facets of our writings together Graffiti: scribbles from both sides of the street was born.

About Alene: Alene loves to tell the story. With a heart for the broken, Alene Snodgrass speaks, writes, and blogs about her real life experiences serving people in the inner city. Alene’s blog,, is where many come who are seeking and searching to be challenged to find their purpose through serving others. You can connect with her on Facebook or Twitter. Graffiti reached #7 in free Kindle rankings the first day it was released. Download it here.

Radical Gratitude

Today is Thanksgiving in the United States.  It's a day when we pause from our normal routines to eat a lot of turkey and be grateful.  Accordingly, the Internet is inundated this week with posts about gratitude. Turkey_gobble_dinner_268746_l

It is not in the least coincidental that my spiritual community has just begun a 21 day gratitude process, which involves writing what we're thankful for in a gratitude journal.  It is especially meaningful for us because we've come through a lot in the last year--a conflict that split the congregation this summer, and just a couple of weeks ago, a flood that destroyed the lower level of the church.

Maybe not exactly things you think of to be grateful about.

But the kind of gratitude I'm discovering is what I call radical gratitude, and it involves saying yes to everything in your life, good and bad.  It involves realizing that everything that happens to you is designed for your own good, and saying yes to it is a lot easier than resisting it, which is usually my knee-jerk reaction.

This can get tricky, however.  You can repeat to yourself "I'm grateful for my bum knee" over and over again and not really believe it.  So over the time I've been attempting to apply gratitude to my life, I've developed a bit of a system.  Here it is.

1.  I say I'm grateful when I truly am grateful.  Like for you, my readers.  For the fact that my novel will be published on February 12. For my wonderful family.  For my amazingly talented friends, online and off.  For the fact that I am a creative person.  For the gorgeous autumn leaves on the tree in front of my daughter's house.  And so on.

2.  I bless something when I'm not overtly grateful but want to acknowledge it.  For instance, the rejection letter you got from that agent you really wanted to work with.  It's hard to honestly be grateful for such a thing.  But what you can do is bless it, which acknowledges it and leaves the door open for perhaps being grateful in the future.  And it takes away that knee-jerk resistance, as in, "No! Why is this happening to me!"  Remember: what you resist, persists. 

And that's it.  That's really all there is to it.  Radical Gratitude.  It's the easiest--and the hardest--thing to do in the world.

What are you grateful for this Thanksgiving?  I'd love to read about it in the comments.

Emma Jean Update & Pub Date

Black_glasses_publish_263961_lSo, auditorally is not a word.

Who knew?

But this, my dear writing friends, is why God created copy editors: to tell us such things.

I recently finished going through the copy edits for my forthcoming novel, Emma Jean's Bad Behavior, and my wonderful copy editor researched the word auditorally in three dictionaries before deciding that it really isn't a word.    I think I may have made up a couple other words along the way; I know for certain I made up usages of a word here or there.

Going through the editing process of this book has made me hugely grateful for the art of editing.  It's been a wonderful experience all the way through, and I know for certain that the editing has made it a much stronger book.


I have a publishing date!

Drum roll please.....

It's February 12th.

By my reckoning, that is the second Tuesday in February, just in time to buy as a gift for Valentine's Day.

I'm very excited.

And oh so grateful.

**Are you eager to become a published author but not quite sure how to get there from where you are?  Perhaps some gentle assistance is what you need.  My students and clients have published award-winning books, finished novels and book proposals and submitted stories and article galore.  I love watching writers thrive like this!  Check out my services page if you'd like to join their ranks.

Photo by ugaldew.

Deconstructing Sacred Writing Cows

Property_ranch_estate_243078_lI'm tired of people telling me what to do.

I'm tired of people telling me how to eat.  (Don't eat dairy! No grains! No eggs! And puh-leeze, no sugar!)

I'm tired of people telling me to exercise.  (Walk.  No, walking isn't enough.  Run.  No, running is bad for your knees, interval training.  No, you have to do cross-fit.)

I'm tired of people telling me how to think.  (Case in point: the recent election.  Or every day on the Internet.)

And so the thought occurs that you, my dear readers, may be tired of me telling you what to do, or more precisely, how to write.  And that maybe it might be time to reconsider some of the tenets by which we live.

In my forthcoming novel, Emma Jean's Bad Behavior, our heroine discusses her three sacred cows: her fans (what she calls her readers), her students, and her husband, Peter.  "They were the three things in life, besides writing, that Emma Jean cared about most—the holy triumvirate, her sacred cows."

And so, herewith, let's consider some common sacred writing cows and decide if they should be upheld or not.

1.  Meditate.  This might not be one of your sacred writing cows, but it is to me.  However, meditating is like exercise--we hear so often how good it is for us that we might tend to rebel against doing it.  At least, that's how my mind works.  You may be a bit less prone to fight yourself.  I'm certain I'm a lousy meditator--my mind is all over the place--but I'm also sure that this is one time when trying is what counts.  I find that not only is my meditation session my favorite time of day (besides writing), but it also helps me focus on my writing and worry about it a lot less.  So, yeah, I still count meditation as a sacred cow.

2.  Writing every day.  Stop groaning.  You know it's good for you to write every day.  And you know you want to.  This is advice that every writer and her uncle, including me, offers up on a regular basis.  And those of you who lead busy lives most likely want to plug your ears and stick out your tongue when you hear it.  I get it, I do.  It can be overwhelmingly difficult to find time to write every day.  But the rewards--oh, the rewards are so many!  Even writing a measly few minutes a day can net you massive benefits, not the least of which are momentum.   And besides, when I miss a day of writing, as I did earlier this week due to getting stalled, my day just doesn't flow as well.  So I'm afraid I'm going to keep beating this drum also.

3.  Use prompts.  Most of the time, I'm a fan of prompts (I better be, I've got tons of them on this site.)  Prompts can get you going when nothing else will, and using them can help you learn to let your writing flow.  When all else fails and you don't know where to go in your writing, grab thyself a prompt and write without stopping for 20 minutes.  And, sometimes prompts can lead you astray.  Or waste valuable writing time while you go on about something that is relatively unimportant.  So I can see both sides of this sacred cow.  I give it half credit.

4. Let it rip.  Or, in other words, write one draft start to finish (what Anne Lamott calls a Shitty First Draft), then go back to the beginning and rewrite, start to finish.  Rinse and repeat for as many drafts as it takes.  This is how I write my novels.  And it's how I tell you to recommend you do it, also.  Because I've seen too many people--myself included--get hung up trying to make the first part of the novel perfect. And then guess what happens?  You don't make any forward progress because it gets frustrating.  And soon that novel is consigned to a drawer and you've set aside your dream of writing.  Thus, letting it rip remains one of my sacred cows.

5.  Don't multitask.  Do I even have to go into this sacred cow?  Multitasking is death to creativity.  How can you get in the writing flow when you're texting and checking emails and reading a story on the latest scandal?  You can't.  Period.  This one stands.

Those are the sacred cows that occur to me.  What are yours?  Do they hold up under your scrutiny?

Lower Your Standards

As I've mentioned before on this blog, I am currently doing Nanowrimo in a cheating sort of way.

Cheating because the rules of Nanowrimo say that you can't have written any of your novel before November 1st, and I'd written, oh, 60 pages.  But I wanted to use the energy of the event to galvanize my writing and get back to a regular writing schedule.

So I set a goal for myself to write 2,000 words every day and I met that goal every day in November until Sunday.

When my writing screeched to a halt.

I knew exactly why the flow stopped.  It was because I only had a couple day's worth of work until I didn't know where I was going in the book.  Up until this time, I could let the words roll because I knew what scene happened next.

Now, after a few more sessions, I'd be stuck.

And I let the fear of that moment stop me.

But I really didn't want to lose my momentum.  So I did what any self-respecting writer would do.  I lowered my standards.

First, I told myself that I only had to write 1,000 words a day.  Then I reminded myself that I could write as badly as I wanted.  Not only could, but should, write what Anne Lamott calls a Shitty First Draft. 

Lowering my standards did the trick.  Writing 1,000 bad words a day is at least making progress, and that was the point of participating in Nanowrimo in the first place.

Today my assignment is to figure out what comes next.  I have ideas, they just aren't in any logical order.  And even if I lower my standards to only spending 15 minutes on this project, I'll have met my expectations.

I'm telling you, lowering your standards is amazing.  It will help you get the writing done.  If there's one thing I know for sure, to borrow a phrase from Oprah, it's that we're all way too hard on ourselves anyway.  Lowering your standards is one way to subvert this.

Have you ever successfully lowered your standards around writing?

**By the way, sometimes even lowering your standards doesn't help.  If you're well and truly stuck in your writing, I can help.  Check out my services page for more information.

Time and the Writer

Metal_mechanics_type_221267_lLast week, in at least most of the United States, we set our clocks back one hour in order to return from Daylight Savings time to standard time, which means that it gets darker earlier (I personally love this) in the evening and lighter earlier in the morning (sort of).  It also means, on the day of the switch, that we get to sleep in an extra hour.  Which in my case meant I got to write an extra hour because my body didn't get the message about the time change so I woke up early.

And all this time changing got me thinking about time as it applies to us writers.   Seems like for most of us, time is the enemy, because we never quite have enough of it to do our writing.  Our chosen profession--our passion--takes time, and lots of it, because you can't rush genius.  Right? 

Well, maybe not.

Maybe it's time to rethink time in a more positive way.  Here are some things I've learned about time the hard way:

1.  Good things can happen fast.  Not always, but sometimes.  This is the theory behind Nanowrimo, which so many of us are participating in.  When you're writing 50,000 words in a month, you're not pausing a lot to worry about which word to use next.  You're just writing.  And really great things happen in the writing.  Always.  It's getting to it that is so hard.

2.  There really is enough time.  We just convince ourselves there's not, because it's a matter of how we're choosing to use our time.  I know if you added up all the time I'd spent surfing the internet over the last few years, I could have written at least one novel in the time I wasted.

3.  When you do get time to write, maintain a laser focus.  I've shared this tip a gazillion times and every time I do people write me and thank me, so I'll say it again:  set a timer for 30 minutes and do nothing but write for that time.  When the timer goes off, get up, take a break, then come back and do it again.  This is the most efficient way to use time that I've found.

4.  Take time to stand for yourself.  If I'd had the confidence in myself and my writing that I have now when I was younger, I'd be a world-famous writer by now.  When we don't have confidence in our worth and the worth of our writing, we don't take time to write.  Procrastination is a fear issue, always.

5. Take time to make time.  I have a list a mile long this week, and I'm not certain how I'm going to get it all done.  And yet, this morning I took time to meditate.  It's counter-intutitive, but taking time to meditate, or pray, or walk, or swim, or dance will create more time later because you'll be rested, open and alert.

6.  Quit telling yourself you don't have enough time.  I know, I know.  I just did this in #5.  There's an epidemic in this country of people rushing around telling each other that we don't have enough time.  The more we say it, the more it comes true--if only because we waste so much time saying it.  Turn it around.  Tell yourself you have plenty of time, because you do.

7.  Get up early.  You night owls hate me for this one, I know.  Sorry.  But for me it is absolutely the best way to get to my writing done.  Once I've gotten my quota in, I'm happy all day long because I know I've already accomplished that which is most important to me.

What are your best time tips for writers?

***Struggling to find time no matter how you try?  Perhaps you need some coaching.  Check out my services page for all the options I offer writers.

Photo by clix.

Reflected In You: The Hullabaloo About Erotic Romance

This is a paid book review for the BlogHer Book Club, but the opinions expressed are mine.

Reflected in You, by Sylvia Day, is currently number one on the New York Times trade paperback bestseller list.  The reasons for this are a mystery to me, but then so is the popularity of Fifty Shades of Gray, and by many accounts the Crossfire Novels, of which Reflected in You is book two, is a Gray clone.

I thought it would be fun to review this book to see what all the fuss around erotic romance is about.  I do have a bit of experience with the genre, having endured a brief career editing it a few years ago, but I thought things might have changed since then. (Read a post I wrote about writing erotic romance here.)

As in, I thought maybe an actual storyline might have become important.

But, no.  Not so much.

Because in erotic romance, the story is all about the romance.  So once the two lovers have mated, there needs to be ways to keep them apart.  And therein lies one problem I have with this genre, which is that keeping two people who are attracted to each other apart can come across as contrived, to put it mildly. Very mildly.

The other problem is that the main story line is the romance.  All the rest of it--minor career issues, a roommate with love problems of his own--seems thrown in for seasoning, nothing more.  And honestly, watching two people histrionically come together and break up over and over again is not my exact thing.

But I am no doubt in the minority here, because erotic romance is a hot, hot genre.  If you're interested in writing it, I think the Crossfire series is probably an excellent introduction to the field.

Writing Every Morning

I'm participating in Nanowrimo this year.  Sort of. Lightfx_landscapes_nature_273036_h

I doing it, but not really doing it.  The Nanowrimo rules state you can do as much prep work as possible up to November 1st, but you can't actually start writing until the first day of the month.  And I'd already written about 60 pages of my next novel, so I can't actually compete.

But I can use the energy of a gazillion people writing novels to boost my own creativity. 

And that is exactly what I'm doing.   I've been clipping along, writing by hand every morning, but my muse warned me I was coming up on the time when I didn't know exactly what happened next in my story.  And I realized that this was a danger zone, a time when my every-morning writing habit might fall apart under the weight of uncertainty.

So I resolved to use Nanowrimo to take me to a new level of seriousness and commitment to this novel.

I committed to writing 2,000 words a day, as I had when I wrote Emma Jean, and  carved out a bit of time on Halloween to get organized for the next push, as in, please God and handsome Muse, (my muse is a hot young male who favors tight jeans and T-shirts that show off his muscles), please help me to figure out where I'm going next.

What became evident immediately as I pawed through the hand-written pages of my notebooks was this:

I didn't know where I was in the story.

And if I didn't know where I was, how could I figure out where I was going?

So my first order of business was to get my hand-written pages onto the computer, 2,000 words at a time.  I had to abandon my hand-writing habit if I was ever going to wrap my brain around the entirety of this novel.

This morning I finished feeding the words in and got to the part where I'm writing new stuff.  I was a bit nervous, because I'd also asked my muse if we could please compose on the computer again.  I'm so, so grateful for the month I sat on a chair in the living room and wrote by hand every morning because it got me going on the novel again.  But it is hard to keep track of story and characters doing it by hand.

Today, the words flowed.  I organized the next few chapters in my mind, and whipped along, typing away.  It actually took me less time to write 2,000 words of original material than it did to feed those hand-written words in.


So here are my two take-aways from this experience that might be helpful to you:

1.  Writing every morning is glorious.  It is the best thing ever.  Period.  After I've written my 2,000 words every day, I feel great.  I'm in love with the world, because I've done the most important thing to me first.  And that makes everything flow better.

2.  It's helpful to stay flexible throughout the process.  I'm learning that the process for every novel is different.  You might write the first one in strict chronological order and then find out that doesn't work for the next one.  Like me, you might start our writing on the computer, switch to writing by hand, and then return to the computer.  The point is, it doesn't matter.  Do what gets the words on the page.  Do what works for you in the moment!

 What about you?  What's your writing process?

 Photo from Everystockphoto.

By the way, if you're truly stalled on your writing and can't make any progress, my favorite thing to do besides writing novels and blog posts is coach writers.  Check out my services page for more information.

I Won An Award

I am sometimes leery of awards, especially in the blogging world, where they often seem to be given out with suspicious frequency. Let me be clear, I'm always deeply grateful to be singled out, but often awards come with requirements that don't fit the goals of this blog.  Requirements like "list your ten favorite flavors of ice cream and then choose ten others with whom to share the award."

Again, deeply grateful, but this blog is not about ice cream.

So when I received an email this morning saying this blog had been chosen as one of the Top 25 Reading & Writing Resources for English Buffs, I was like, yeah, yeah, yeah.  Big deal.  (I'd also not had very much coffee yet.) Sometimes sites like these are blatant come-ons for advertising dollars, just a collection of poorly written posts in between heavy doses of Google Ads.

The email said something about how they'd combed through a gazillion blogs to find the top 25, and so on and so forth, blah, blah, blah.  But I clicked on the link provided.  There were some quality blogs listed--some I'm familiar with, others that are new to me.

And I realized something.

Awards are worth something when they introduce you and me to worthy new blogs, and/or reconnect us with old favorites.  So go check out this site.  You have to weed through some listings that are specific to teaching, but be patient.  There are some good writing blogs to be found there.

I'm in good company, and that makes me happy, no matter what the ulterior motives of the people giving me the award might be.

What about you?  Have you received an award for your blog? How about for your writing?