Friday, December 30, 2011

Finally . . . the secret to successful writing is here!

Are you ready?

Below is the secret to becoming a successful writer.

Here it is . . .

Are you sitting down?


Now write.

(okay, it's not really a secret, but time and time again, I've heard successful published authors say that the only way to become successful is by sitting your butt down and writing. That's it. Nothing fancy about it. And if that sounds like work, then you're not cut out to be a writer.)

Thursday, December 29, 2011

J. R. R. Tolkien's The Hobbit - the official trailer

It takes a lot for me to get excited about a new movie--unless it's probably Star Wars or something--but the new Hobbit movie looks absolutely awesome - I highly recommend you check out the Official Hobbit YouTube channel (I suggest clicking on this link, because I tried searching for the longest time to find the official site and was disheartened to find it very difficult)

Putting the descriptions all together from the previous day

In reviewing the last blog regarding descriptions, let's put them all together--this is something similar to a writing exercise in Stephen King's On Writing.

Here's what I came up with:

    As the whirl of the frappuccino machine thunders away, echoing to the farthest reaches of the breakroom--where one could play a decent game of football if it weren't for all the tables and chairs--I stood in line, patiently awaiting my chocolatety wonder.
    The clerk, a perky blond with a small diamond-headed stud in her nose, chats with the customer ahead of me on the latest Facebook statuses.
    Behind me, a microwave chimes and the vile stench of burnt popcorn churns my stomach.

Okay, it's not the latest award-winning literature, but it's certainly not the worst either.  I'm usually not a fan of the word "perky" because it's been so overused, but for not I'm going to leave it--that's what rewriting is for.

Honestly, I don't like to have too much descriptions without mixing in a fair amount of dialogue.  In the second paragraph, I notice there is a lot of "telling" so in the editing round, I'd probably insert "showing" dialogue about the Facebook statuses.

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Writing Prompt Wednesday - Episode #3

This one was inspired by Stephen King's recent novel 11/22/63

Insert a scene around this bit of dialogue - the dialogue itself can be anywhere in your piece: beginning, middle, or end.  I won't tell you who the characters are (except for one, which is obvious at the end) so play around with different roles, whether it's a psychiatrist and a patient, a bartender and a patron, or two strangers on a train.

"Need to get something off my chest."

"Certainly.  I'm all ears."

"Keep in mind, I've never told anyone this before.  Not sure why I'm telling you now, but here it is.  I . . . I killed the President."

"Huh?  I don't understand.  Which one are we talking about?"

"Can't be Lincoln, you dumbass!  It's Kennedy, who else?  And before you go asking, I'm not this supposed second gunman on the grassy knoll.  That's total conspiracy theory bullshit."

"Buddy, I hate to say this, but the guy who killed Kennedy is dead.  Lee somebody.  Never was any good with history, but I know his name was Lee."

"His name was Lee, but the guy who was killed was an imposter."

"Come on, now.  You're telling me all of the history books are wrong-"

"We're getting off on the wrong foot.  Let me introduce myself.  I'm Lee . . . Harvey Oswald."

**One may think this is impossible, but stretch your imagination for a bit and think of how Charles Dicken's A Tale of Two Cities ended.  Hmmmmm . . .

Happy writing!

Writing effective descriptions

One of the best ways to describe a setting is to use as many senses as you can--and if you can do more than one in a single sentence, that would be even better.

Just like hooks, there shouldn't be too much description.  There should be just the right amount--a crappy answer, I know, but let me show you how.  Besides, your setting is only there to give a sense of place for your character.  Readers want to know what happens in the story.  They don't want three pages describing a certain restaurant or the lobby of the White House.  They want to know about what the characters are doing (Okay, Anne Rice can get by with writing pages upon pages of elegant prose, describing her settings in glowing details, but she's a master storyteller and has strong characters so what else do you want me to say).

I'm going to give you an example.  At my full-time job (I can't tell you where because it's against the company's policy) we have quite a spacious breakroom.  I'm going to describe various aspects of it, then I'll pick out the best pieces to go in my story, using as many of the senses as I can.

Here we go:

Quiet murmur of chatter

A pop bottle clunking down the pop machine chute

The ripe stink of burnt popcorn

Whirl of the frappuccino machine, bubbling as it nears the top of the glass, creating a frothy wonder

Smooth, cool tables and chairs with flat, warm cushions

Clear sky, giving the illusion of warmth despite the sub-zero temperatures

Salivating smells of chocolate, vanilla, and cream from the Starbucks-like kiosk

Faint beeping of a cash register

Thunderous sounds from the floor below, possibly construction

Clunking of pop cans being set onto the tables

Slamming of the microwave doors, followed closely by the beeping alerts of yet another nuked meal

Cheap wire napkin holders with glass salt and pepper shakers, the latter with dull stainless steel tops hopefully screwed on tightly enough to prevent an overloading of spices.

Modern cash register with the customer's order displayed on one side and the clerk's Facebook page on the other.

Office personnel wearing slacks and nice shirts while the warehouse patrons don blue jeans and T-shirts--two worlds colliding with one another.

People reading more Kindles and ebook readers nowadays then physical books

Numerous people checking their Facebook statuses on their SmartPhones

Perky clerk with blond hair, a chatty demeanor, and a silver stud in her nose

A large flat-screen TV on the kiosk, displaying the latest specials and current menu

**These are just a list of quick observations.  Not necessarily the best descriptions, but I can tweak those when it comes to writing the story.  Stay turned tomorrow where I'll bring these descriptions together.**

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Hooks - the great debate of "how many"

I once read a recent interview with a thriller writer where the interviewer was asked about hooks.  The writer said that there needs to be a major hook at the end of every chapter, to pull the reader into the next and beyond.

He is dead wrong--no pun intended.

If there were major hooks at the end of every chapter, the reader would get exhausted and be forced to quit reading.  Take your favorite bestselling thriller writer (not that the one in the interview wasn't--no offense but he wasn't as well known as John Sandford or James Patterson) and examine any one of their thrillers.  Where are the hooks?  In every single chapter?  Nope.

Didn't think so.

The key is to sprinkle hooks throughout your book, without it seeming like there is one around every corner.  This may be a piss-poor answer, but there should be just the right amount of hooks, not too many and not too few.

What is a hook?

In its simplest forms, a hook is a plot technique that draws the reader to continue reading the story.  This is typically at the end of chapters--but not every one.

Also, a hook should move the story along, not be some gimmick.  Don't end your chapter with, "And he opened the door and saw . . ."   Only to open the next chapter with, "His mother, holding a birthday cake.  And it wasn't even his birthday."

In Stephen King's 11/22/63 he ends with one of his chapters with the main character stepping through the portal, from 2011 to 1958.  That's it.  No gimmick.  Just plain, awesome writing.  And does every chapter end with a hook?  Nope.

Chances are, you know what hooks are, you just had to put a name to the technique.  Once again, I stress not to put hooks at the end of every chapter.  Hooks shouldn't be what drives a reader to read your story.  If you build your characters well enough and your readers will like them, they'll read it.

Monday, December 26, 2011

Writing in your strengths

Your child comes home with their report card. On it are three As, three Bs, one C, and an F. Which one do you focus on?

If you're like me, you'd probably say ,"What the hell did you get an F in? How are you going to fix that?"

Now this may be fine, great, and dandy, but what one should be asking is: "What did you get the As in? How can we help you to focus more of your energy in that area?"

Too many of us are focused on our weaknesses. Even in job interviews, don't you just dread it when the interviewer asks what your greatest weakness is? I do.

The same goes with our writing. Some writers are great with dialogue--just read anything by J. D. Salinger and you'll be amazed by his dialogue. Others are great with descriptions and elegant prose. Anne Rice fits the bill on that one.

In my writers' group, the members have always said to me how natural my dialogue sounds. It's something I work on very hard, even saying it out loud so that it does sound natural, so for me that's a strength I'll continue to work on. Not that I won't work on others, because I will.

What is your writing strength?



Character development?

Building suspense?


Plot twists?

Find out what it is that you're good at, and work on building your strengths into the powerhouses they're meant to be.

Sunday, December 25, 2011

What were you, born in a barn?

I've been thinking long and hard about what I was going to write for Christmas Day--yes, I'm calling it Christmas.  If you have a problem with that, get over it.  And, I know, I don't usually post any blogs on the weekends, but today is a special occasion.

Several points came to mind, although all seemed to be a retelling of my Thanksgiving blog.

Two years ago, I witnessed a single act of generosity that almost brought me to tears--okay, it did, I'll just admit it.  I'm man enough to admit that I cried.  And in front of my kids too.  In fact, now that I think about it, this act of generosity had a profound effect on my kids.

Let's just say on that day we were broke.  I mean down-on-our-luck broke and it was a few weeks before Christmas.  This was a very low point in our life--funny how our lives have been like a roller coaster ride, with much of it riding along the bottom--where I would dread each day as I checked the balance in our checking account, fearful to hear the word "overdrawn".  I believe in those days we probably had more days in the negative than we did in the positive.

Being broke had nothing to do with the economy nor my lack of employment.  I had two jobs--the same two I have now--with one being a full time job as a sales rep for an electronics distributor (per company policy, I cannot disclose their name) and the part time job as a law enforcement officer.  Our money problems stemmed from our lack of budgeting--something we gladly learned because of a financial guru Dave Ramsey (for those who haven't taken his Financial Peace University I highly suggest clicking on the link and finding a class near you) and our own hard work.

On this day, it was a Saturday evening and I was in Grand Forks, ND, at a SuperOne grocery store.  I had my list of things to get (and, boy, I just got those very items and nothing more--hell, we couldn't afford it anyway).  Some things were items such as toilet paper, which there was no sale on but I could find at a bargain.  Other things were on sale.  I remember standing in the aisles, stretching the dollars as much as I could.  To say I was stressed is an understatement.  We had bounced so many damn checks in those days and even a few came back NSF--and sent on to whatever checking collection company they used to handle these.  Weird thing of it is, those checking collection companies were some of the nicest people to talk to, and understood our plight and worked with us.  Collection companies used by all of the major credit card companies like Discover, Chase, Capital One, and Citibank are not so nice--yes, I've gotten myself wrapped in their clutches too.

The grocery bill only came to a little over thirty dollars--not bad for a man and his wife's list.  For some reason, I remember the lady who was being checked out in front of me.  I'm not sure why.  It's not like she was a supermodel or a movie star or anything.  She was just a lady, probably the same age as my mother.  Probably the reason I remember her even prior to checking out is because I was running through my mind what I thought the grocery bill would come to and guessing what I had in our checking account.  The lady also, if I recall, had these canvas bags to put her groceries in, so she didn't have to use any of the store's plastic bags.  I thought this was a good idea, but when you can barely afford TP, canvas bags don't fit in the budget.

After I checked out, and thanking God for the check clearing, I gathered up my kids and started walking to the car.  That's when she stopped me.  That same lady--who I'm sure of it probably saw me in the grocery store as I contemplated which package of toilet paper was the best buy or not--was standing by the front door.

"Excuse me," she said to me, as I neared her, "but I don't see any Salvation Army kettles and I'd like to give this to you."

In her hand was $40 cash.

"Thank you," I said, the whole world seeming to close in around me.  I couldn't believe a complete stranger would just hand me money.  Some would say I probably looked pathetic enough--bargaining for toilet paper will have that affect on people--but I think it was nothing short of miraculous.

"Merry Christmas," she said, and walked out to her car.

"Merry Christmas."

My kids were speechless for several minutes as I mentally picked myself off the floor and collected myself.  I barely remember walking out to my car.  I called my wife (on a cheap Nokia cell phone nonetheless; no iPhone or SmartPhone for us) and said to her, "Do you believe in miracles?"

I told her what happened.

We both cried.

To this day, when I talk about being generous to others, my kids will ask me, "Like what that lady did to us?"

Yes, that's exactly what I mean.

Okay, $40 doesn't seem like much, but when you have nothing--and these were days when I'd go to the bank to take out $20 right after I just got paid from my two jobs and discovered my paycheck barely covered what we were overdrawn on--anything will help.

So this Christmas season, remember those who don't have much and are working their tails off just to make ends meet.  And especially remember the origin of this holiday . . . the one born in a barn.

Friday, December 23, 2011

Turning the artist into a businessperson - Part 2

Need an example of an artist turned businessperson?

One of the writing podcasts I listen to quite regularly is Writing Excuses.

On it are four authors, one of whom is a webcartoonist named Howard Tayler who tells quite a compelling story of an artist turned businessperson.  He's been writing his Schlock Mercenary webcomic full time since June 2000, all with the dogged determination and motivation that any businessperson can muster.  Very impressive.

Another example?  Read the biography of your favorite author.

Turning the artist into a businessperson

I am a writer.

Therefore, I am also an artist, with the medium of my craft being words instead of paint and a blank canvas.  Words that are molded into sentences, scenes, chapters, short stories, novellas, and novels.

Artists have a tendency to feel that their art has to be created in their own time, with no motivation to set even a deadline for its completion.  But if that artist wants to make a living at their craft, they need to wear at least two different hats.

One is the creation hat.  This is where the work gets done--although most starving ones don't view their craft as work.  If you want to make a living at it, you must get in the mindset that it's your job and you need to work at it.  I consider writing as my second job--okay, my third job, as I already have two jobs, one FT and another PT.

The second is the business hat.  This is where you need to get your mindset of treating your craft as a business.  I've spent a number of blogs exploring this notion, but let's take it a step further.  Set a deadline for yourself to complete it.  Make the deadline both realistic (subjective, I know) and difficult.  Meaning, difficult to achieve unless one puts a little bit of elbow grease--in other words, W.O.R.K.  And when I say realistic, don't say you'll complete it in two weeks.  Unless I wrote twenty hours a day, I'm not sure I could write over 6,000 words in a single day while juggling everything else in my life right now--that would be close to 30 pages . . . something I've only done a handful of times.  Honestly.

If I say I'll set a deadline of two years to complete my 85,000 word novel, that's only around 116 words a day.  But if I say I'll do it in six months, that's a little over 467 words a day--not even the minimum specified in NaNoWriMo.  To set a six month deadline may be enough for you and I'm okay with that.

Personally, I love holidays.  Any holiday.  I may say, I'll finish my novel by Memorial Day or Labor Day or Christmas (or Halloween, if it's horror).  Holidays are a perfect milestone, but really any day will do.

Setting a deadline to complete your art is a great start to getting yourself in the mindset of a businessperson.

Then, once the deadline has been set (both realistic and difficult), get to work.

Because working is the only way to turn your art into a way of life.

Thursday, December 22, 2011

Use your favorite author as an inspiration, not a boundary

There is one author out there who's name evokes emotions of horror, and his name is Stephen King.

I've been reading Mr. King since I was in seventh grade, when my cousin Derek loaned me Salem's Lot and Cujo.  Ever since, I've wanted to be like him, to share in the same level of success.  Because isn't that what we all want?

But that is the wrong goal to have.  It reminds me of the story of Roger Bannister and the four-minute mile.  The four-minute mile, in the field of running, was seen as an unachievable goal.  Runners would get close, but never run faster than it.  Until Mr. Bannister did it in May of 1954.  Not long afterwards, other runners broke the once unachievable record because it was proved that it can be done.

Everyone has someone who already has achieved a level of success that they want to be.  But I challenge you to think beyond their success . . . and achieve your own.  Be greater than that person.  Be the best you can be--don't compare yourself with anyone else, regardless of their success.  Don't get me wrong.  It's okay to be inspired by them.  Just don't think of their success as the pinnacle, the very top anyone can achieve.

I may never achieve the level of success Stephen King has achieved, but I'm going to give it one hell of a shot.  One thing I must stress, I don't view Stephen King--or any other successful writer--as my nemesis.  I think all writers should strive to be the best they can be, because we're all in a war against illiteracy.  And the better stories we create, the more people will read.  And the more people will read . . we win.

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Writing Prompt Wednesday - Episode #2

Today's writing prompt is to stretch your dialogue skills.

Write a scene using dialogue only between a husband and wife.  There will be no dialogue tags (he said, she said) to start with, just strict dialogue.  Make sure the "voices" are inherently male and female, and don't forget to insert conflict into their conversation.

Once you're done, insert the dialogue tags and other descriptions of the scene . . . with the female on your "male voice" and a male on your "female voice."  This should make for an interesting gender role reversal exchange.

Happy writing!

How can I writer sacrifice reading time?

In yesterday's blog, I asked what one would need to sacrifice in order to win.  One of the things I mentioned was reading.

But, Mark, I'm a writer.  Writers can't possibly give up reading.

True, but one may have to cut back on their reading.  When I was in college, someone mentioned that one needs to spend an hour of writing to every hour of reading.  I think, for the professor, he was stressing the importance of continual reading.  But a one-to-one ratio is extremely high.

Famed motivational speaker and author Earl Nightingale, in his Lead The Field audio program, prescribed that one has to always be learning.  He said that if you devote 30 minutes a day for 5 days a week, that would equal about 130 hours of learning towards your specific field.  How much time does one spend in college to get a degree?  I mean, actual classroom learning?  It pales in comparison.  What if you devoted 30-60 minutes a day to reading and the rest of your time--time that is set aside to working on your craft--writing?

I'm not saying to completely eliminate reading altogether.  That would be silly.  But instead of reading for 3-4 hours a day, chop that down and devote the other time to writing.

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Follow your dreams - but first, let's sacrifice something

What are you willing to give up in order to follow your dreams and succeed?

Watching TV?  Playing video games?  Reading, even?  Sitting your fat butt in the recliner, working on countless Sudoku puzzles?  Listening to music or the mindless political drones on the radio or 24/7 cable news channel?

Whatever it may be, you will have to sacrifice something in order to win.  Let me say it again: you WILL have to sacrifice something.  It is a must.  If you don't, whatever that thing is that's getting in the way is more important than your success.

But, Mark, come on.  I need to watch the next Law and Order and then Pawn Stars.  Oh, I can't forget about the five hours of reruns of Everybody Loves Raymond.  Whatever will I do with my life if I can't watch them?

If that sounds familiar, then watching TV is far more important than getting your life in order and accomplishing something that only less than 5% of the population is willing to do.

I challenge you.  Be the 5% and succeed.

Who knows, maybe you'll end up better than the 5% and be one of the so-called 1%.  Just think what good you can do in the world if you accomplished that level of success.

Examine your day and find out what's blocking you, what keeps you procrastinating . . . then step over that wall (because it's a short wall) and go what it is you are meant to do.

Monday, December 19, 2011

How I wrote the thriller "Beholder's Eye"

There is a fallacy in creative writing that in specific genres one has to outline.  Thrillers and mysteries are both genres that staunch outliners will say that these styles of stories need to be outlined or else they won't be any good.


Case in point is Stephen King--even though he writes horror genre mostly, many of his stories delve into the mystery and thriller genres as well.

Okay, okay.  Stephen King can do it, but he has to be it.

Beholder's Eye was written entirely without an outline.  In fact, when I first wrote it, I didn't even know who the killer was--how odd is that!  Halfway through the book, when I discovered who the killer really was, I did go back and tweak and foreshadow some of the earlier chapters, but hell that's what editing is for.

How about mystery writers?  I read a book called They Wrote The Book: Thirteen Women Mystery Writers Tell All  It's a fascinating read, and it's funny to note that some of these mystery writers are outliners--and are adamant that this is the only way to go--and others who discover the story as it unfolds.

Once again, I have to tell you that I do not outline but if you need to, go for it.  Every writer is different, including you.  Do what works well for you.

Friday, December 16, 2011

What not to do with a thriller

Thrillers are stories that keep you on the edge of your seat, with suspenseful tension, but how does one accomplish this?

One could write hundreds--if not thousands--of pages on this topic, but let me use a metaphor to show you.

The tension in your story is a lot like fishing.  When you snag that big fish, you don't just reel it in with all the tension and strength you can muster.  Your line will break and the fish will be gone.  The best way is to keep the tension on at times, while other times you let up, allowing the fish/reader to take a breather.

The same goes with your thriller.  Pull the tension too tight and you'll lose the reader, wearing them out.  Keep the tension too loose and your reader will go do something else.

Read up on your favorite thriller authors and see how they accomplish this feat on tension.

Thursday, December 15, 2011

The price of success - who owes you

Who's responsible for your success?

Why did you succeed while 95% of others failed?

Who failed to succumb to procrastination (most of the time) and worked for hours on end, with no guarantee that you'll succeed?

Who set goals within a specified timeframe and met those goals?

The path to success is filled with pitfalls, but nothing that hard work and time can't conquer.  There is no such thing as an overnight success.  Most so-called overnight successes took ten to twenty years to achieve.  Very, very few were able to do it in less than that--and those who did never seemed to last.

I've read most of the works of Stephen King, John Grisham, Tom Clancy, J. K. Rowling (okay, I've read the entire Harry Potter series and even her other "little" books), and Anne Rice, just to name a few.  What do these authors owe me?  Nothing.  They've all worked hard, put in the time, and achieved great success.  But do they owe me anything?  Nope.  Do they owe anyone else?  Nope, so get over it.

Now get out of the mud of procrastination and make something of yourself.

Do something.

Achieve something.

Excel at what you're good at, what you were meant to do.

And do it today.

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

New feature - Writing Prompt Wednesday - Episode #1

Welcome to the newest feature of this blog, which I have titled Writing Prompt Wednesday.

On one of my favorite fiction writing podcasts Writing Excuses they always end their 15-minute show with a writing prompt.  For a while now, I've thought this was sort of silly because there was no way I was going to participate in this when I had a novel I was working on.  Then, in a flash of inspiration, I realized the importance of it.  It gets you to write.

Pretty simple, huh?

Back in college, I obtained my second-degree black belt in Tae Kwon Do, and one of the things my TKD masters (now Grandmasters Spencer Brandt and Cindy Brandt) stressed was learning the basics.  Even in the higher belts, it was very important to master the very basics before advancing to more complicated techniques.  Because that is what an advanced more is, a series of basic moves.

The same goes with writing.  The writing prompts may seem silly, but it gets you out of your comfort zone and forces you to write, even if it's not for your upcoming bestseller.

Ready?  Here we go.

This week's writing prompt is:

Write a scene where you attend a potluck supper . . . and everyone brought the same thing.

Happy writing!

When is a story good enough?

Bottom line: a story is probably never good enough.  But the real question that needs to be asked is: when is it good enough to get published?

This is something all writers struggle with, from amatuer and professional.  The difference is the professional writer has a team of editors and readers who can help with this process.  For the rest of us, we need to write and re-write and re-write and re-write . . . all the while relying on no one else but ourselves.

I've been working on Beholder's Eye for several years now (harboring a guess at around 2002 or 2003 when the first draft was written) but it hasn't all been for BE.  I wrote a 900-page fantasy epic right afterwards--yes, I went from horror on my first three novels, a thriller on the fourth, and the fifth is fantasy . . . phew!--so my time hasn't been dedicated to this one book.  I've also written the beginning bones to about two dozen other novels and several short stories.

But I have come back to it from time to time.  Then, in April 2010, our little library in Red Lake Falls was honored to have a literary genius Ian Graham Leask speak on the publishing industry and even took questions from each and every one of us.  I asked him about thrillers.  He said that thrillers, unlike other genres like fantasy, are typically time-sensitive.  He asked me to go back through my thriller and update things to see how "timely" they are.  This made a world of difference.  In the original drafts, my cops were using paper case files when in fact they're should be using something more modern and digital.

Back to the original question on when a story is good enough for publication . . . is entirely up to other readers and literary agents/editors.  Try your story out on a writers' group.  Nowadays, I read a story so often until it "sounds" as good as it's going to get, chiseling off all the little bumps from my literary sculpture.

And, if all else fails, try write something else.  You should always be writing.  Keep in mind, Stephen King didn't publish the first book he wrote either.  Carrie was his third.

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Show vs. Tell - a quick example of a tell

A perfect example of when to tell something, in the old adage of showing vs. telling, is from Anne Rice's Interview with the Vampire.  In fact, it's in the opening lines:

"I see . . ." said the vampire thoughtfully, and slowly he walked across the room towards the window.

The "tell" is that the subject is a vampire.  Anne didn't say it was a man with white, smooth skin, almost like scupted stone.  She does this on the second page, but her opening lines tell us that this character is indeed a vampire.  We're not guessing here.  We're jumping right into who the main character is, no questions asked.

Most of the time it's good to show instead of tell, but in this case it serves a far greater purpose.

Monday, December 12, 2011

Read me a story, Daddy

One of the best ways I know of to help shape your story in the editing stage is by reading it out loud.

But I take it to the next level and I also record it.

Hearing your story out loud is electrifying, and if you find yourself stumbling over some parts, changes are someone else will too.

Don't like to read your story out loud or if you have a speech disability that affects this?  No problem.  Give it to someone else to read out loud to you.  Or record them reading it (if I could get Jim Dale--the voice magician behind the Harry Potter audiobooks--to do mine, that would be a dream come true).

This will even help with your dialogue, to see if it even sounds realistic.

I do this at the editing stage, as I mentioned before.  This is particularly useful right near the end when I think it's about as perfect as I can get it.  This would be more for micro-level editing instead of macro-level.  Then again, I've caught a few macro-level revisions needed too.

Friday, December 9, 2011

Final key to greatness

Jim Collins, in his book Good to Great, talks about what he calls the "Hedgehog Concept."

He devotes an entire chapter to this subject, in great detail, and even though I will not do it justice here, I will do my best to simplify it in terms of my writing.

Picture three interlocking circles, like the Olympic rings except there are three instead of five.  The first circle represents what you are passionate about.  What drives you, what is your "why."  The next circle is what is one thing--just one--that you could potentially be the best in the world.  Align this with your passion, of course.  Lastly, you need to be able to make money at it.  There has to be an economic value attached to it.

Me, I am passionate about writing.  I want to be one of the best in the world (these are big shoes to fill, but even if I never do it--because it's hard to compete with heavyweights like Charles Dickens and Shakespeare, and of course there's Stephen King and J. K. Rowling to contend with too--I can say I gave it one hell of a shot).  Lastly, one can make a great deal of money doing it.

Take Tiger Woods.  He is passionate about golf.  He is one of the best in the world.  And, he has made a great deal of money doing it.

Okay, take John Q. Publish (second-cousin to John Q. Public).  He loves to sit on his ass, all day long, and watch TV.  One could say he's passionate about it--most would call it laziness.  Best in the world?  Let's not even go there, because he can't make any money doing it.  Now, if we were to turn this on its head and say he's passionate about designing websites for people, now we can turn the hedgehog concept into reality for this one.

Do the one thing you're passionate about, drive yourself to perform with excellence, and you'll be successful.  You'll be . . . great.

Thursday, December 8, 2011


Stephen King writes horror novels.

John Grisham writes legal thrillers.

Tom Clancy writes military/political thrillers.

Isaac Asimov wrote science fiction.

J. K. Rowling writes YA fantasy novels.

Robert Jordan and J. R. R. Tolkien wrote in the fantasy genre.

Terry Brooks writes fantasy novels.

Danielle Steel writes romance novels.

Agatha Christie wrote mystery novels.

John Sandford writes thrillers.

Funny how when one works and perfects their craft, they become known for it.  Now, some of these writers (and countless others I haven't named) do write in other genres.  I love Stephen King's stories, yet some of his best ones in my opinion are not horror (The Green Mile, On Writing).  The same with John Grisham (A Painted House, Bleechers, Playing For Pizza).

Jim Collins in his book Good To Great talks about simplicity: getting good, being the best, at one thing.  Do something well enough, with excellence, and you will define that genre or that segment of business.

Wednesday, December 7, 2011


Jim Collins picturized momentum, in his book Good to Great, as a flywheel.

Imagine the flywheel as being gigantic gear, meant to be moved in one direction.  Push your shoulder into it, heaving with all your might, until it starts to roll.  You keep pushing in the same direction, again and again, and the flywheel picks up more speed.  Before too long, using the same amount of energy, you can keep it going in that same direction.  Using that momentum is one of the keys to greatness.

Work at something long enough, for weeks, months, years, and decades, and you're bound to change the world.  How much of the world is up to you and how much momentum you use.  There are people I've met who try something new every other week.  Sound familiar?  Guess where they are a year from now.  You guessed it: right in the same place where they started.  If you stick to one thing long enough, you'll get good.

And then, over time, you'll get great.

Find your why, as Simon Sinek says, and put it into action.  Today.

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Start a to-NOT-do list

Of all the concepts laid out by Jim Collins and his book Good to Great this one had the most profound affect on me.

Practically every business/success book or course out there prescribes the notion of having a to-do list.  This is typically at the heart of every time management book.  There's nothing wrong with this, because it lays out what needs to be done.  I use a to-do list all the time.

What Jim Collins prescribed was a "stop doing" list or a to-NOT-do list.

On one's to-NOT-do list may be as follows:

I will NOT watch 8 hours of mind-numbing television a day (or 2 or 4 or whatever your number of hours may be).

I will NOT oversleep and not write for the 1 or 2 hours I had planned in the morning.

I will NOT not write something every single day.

I will NOT drive to work listening to the latest political blow-hards on the radio or my favorite 80's rock tunes I've listened to and WILL listen to something inspiring (for me it's either a podcast by Dave Ramsey, Dan Miller, Earl Nightingale, or Writing Excuses).

I will NOT spend my breaks and lunches at work checking my Facebook status and not working on my book.

I will NOT waste my time on mind-numbing tasks on the Internet when I planned on writing or working on my blog.

I will NOT plan one weekday where I don't have at least one blog posting.

I will NOT watch the news every single day.  A 30-minute local news broadcast is fine, but not the hours and hours that Fox News/CNN/MSNBC/Etc. bring to us in their 24/7 news cycle.  Bad news is everywhere.  I don't need to fill my mind with it.

I will NOT not take a break every once and a while, simply because it gives my body and mind time to rest.

I will NOT physically devestate my body or medically devestate my mind through poor nutrition, lack of exercise, and negative attitudes.

I will NOT start my day wishing it was a different day (Monday is just a day of the week, not something to be dreaded, so get over it.).

What's on your to-NOT-do list?

Monday, December 5, 2011

I am a published writer!

Okay, self-published . . . and for now, only in this context of this blogging world.

Because every single time I write a blog, I have to click on the Publish tab at the top of the page.  Oooo, what a feeling.

So, in other words, I am a published writer.

Just not being paid a gazillion dollars . . . yet.

As you might've noticed, I updated the progress status of Beholder's Eye.  I have finished editing up to chapter 14.  And I have 62 total chapters (61 chapters and an Afterward titled Views From The Outhouse.  Sound familiar?)

"Good to Great" - merging Jim Collins's concepts into my writing

A month ago, I read a book by Jim Collins called Good to Great.  In it, he talks about how certain companies defy the odds over a number of years and become truly great, even in the midst of economic turmoil.  He compares the wide spectrum of publicly-traded companies (because their financial records and press releases are open) and whittles the list down until he emerges with a list of companies that he calls "great."  He compares them to similar companies within the same timeframe, and lists why one company failed and the other became successful.

Over the next few blogs, I'll explore some of his concepts and merge them with my writing career.  Even though he picks large companies, like Walgreens and Wells Fargo, as the truly great companies in terms of stock prices/profits, I'm going to turn back the dial and show how the concepts can be applied to one's own individual life/career.  I believe they can be used on an individual level, and lead you to a better life, to a more successful life.

Friday, December 2, 2011

This blog - it's not just for writers

It doesn't take long to figure out that this blog is mostly intended for writers . . . although the advice can spill over into other arenas of thought.

I recently listened to a podcast ( where Dan Miller talks about why he attends various seminars, even if it's not in his area of interest--for those of you who don't know who Dan is, he's a successful career coach and author.  He gave the example of attending a real estate seminar.  He doesn't even sell real estate, but the principles he learned only increased his knowledge of what he's doing.  He took out what he could work with.

The same could be said about this blog.  I'm not sure the demographics of who reads this, and although there may be a majority as writers, let me speak to some of the others right now.  Finding out what one truly loves to do--something Dan Miller speaks about a lot, so I strongly encourage you to read his blog as well and listen to his podcasts--and doing what you love to do is a journey I believe everyone should take.  As Simon Sinek calls it, find out your "why."

If you love to work on Harley Davidson motorcycles, woodworking, creating quilts, restoring classic Mustangs, painting portraits, coaching people through the difficult parts of their life, photography . . . and the list goes on . . . whatever that may look like, envision it.

To help you, let me ask you a question I've been asking people for quite some time now: if you were able to be paid $500,00 (or even a million) dollars a year to do what you love to do, what would that look like?  Be honest with yourself.  The answer could surprise you.

Speaking of woodworking, one of my cousins has found his passion in woodworking.  But not just any woodworking.  Woodworking by hand, without any need for power tools.  I've been following his blog for quite some time, and I can honestly say it's very impressive. His blog is   I don't love working with wood as much as my cousin, but it still inspires me to do what I love: writing.

Thursday, December 1, 2011

"Bah humbugs" are not welcome here

"Bah humbug!"

We all know the famous line by Charles Dicken's Ebenezer Scrooge, but more and more people lately seem to be saying the "bah humbugs" this holiday season.

2011 has certainly been a trying year for our family, one that started with two heart-wrenching events in January (quite a mess to clean up, that's for sure) and another with my wife being diagnosed with AML (acute myeloid leukemia) in April.  We worked through the events in January and learned our lessons from it as it prepared us for the near-fatal disease that turned our world inside out.  Luckily, with today being day 91 after her bone marrow transplant, she's back at home and recovering quite well.  She still has weekly appointments in Rochester for the next few weeks, and then they'll change to monthly.

It'd be easy for me to be pissed off at the world and just spout off a horde of "bah humbugs" . . . but I'm not.  Before I go on, I certainly don't need anyone to feel sorry for me.  That's not the point of this.  Because, believe it or not, there are other people worse off in this world than even us.

For those out there who have to be constantly spouting off their "bah humbugs" on everyone, I have three words for you:


Our family of five could've very easily ended the year as a family of four.  Thank God we're not.  Is the war over?  Certainly not.  We're fighting battles every single day.  Thank God we have close family and friends (and a community) who are willing to help out at a moment's notice.

Speaking directly to you "bah humbugs" out there, you could have very valid reasons for feeling that way.  I understand.  But I choose not to do so, not to have those negative attitudes.  I choose to live my life looking to the future, seeing the glass as half-full, and knowing life is going to get better.  Sure, there will be more curveballs thrown at us.  We're ready for them.  We'll work through them like we have everything else.

And always remember that there are others who can't help but get struck with those curveballs . . .

He walks . . . or he walked. Present vs. past tense.

It doesn't take a rocket scientist--or someone with a doctorate in literature--to ascertain the conclusion that the majority of books written are in past tense.  And if it feels natural to do so, just do it.

But there's a few writers out there who tackle the present tense.  And yours truly is one of them.

From as far back as I can remember, I've written in present tense.  To me, I view my writing as a portal to another age or land, and I'm bringing you on this journey.  Present tense feels natural to me, despite the countless books I've read that are in past tense.

A friend of mine described his writing of the past tense as telling a story over a campfire: "Long ago, in a far away land, there lived a princess . . ."

I'm just giving you something to think about.  I'm not trying to be clever by writing in present tense.  I just write what feels natural to me.  A few stories I've written are in past tense, and those stories felt right in that tense too.

Experiment, if you wish.

(As a side note, there is also the future tense, but primarily those are reserved for build-your-own adventure stories and such.  I've never read a future tense story - I'm sure there's one out there)