Tuesday, January 31, 2012

I am a hypocrite!

Yes, it's true, I am a hypocrite.

I've been preaching for a while now about the power of spending even a half-hour each day for a week and brainstorming ideas . . . and it's something that I sorely needed to do myself.

Most mornings, I get up around six and work on further editing Beholder's Eye.  Then, just last week, I've been tossing around the idea of a new blog, a slant on this one, with even the possibility of putting together an ebook within the next month or so.

The concept for the ebook has been tumbling around in my mind for quite a number of years--the reason I haven't written it yet is because it's nonfiction and I'm usually writing or editing (or both) a fiction novel.

I won't share quite yet the details of the concept, but look for it in the next few weeks to come.

Now, back to my hypocrisy.

I woke up at six, as usual, but I had just finished a section in my thriller, when I decided to take a break for that morning, take a pad and pen to the dining room table, and brainstorm ideas for an hour or so.

WOW!  I can't believe all of the ideas I came up with.  The concept for the nonfiction ebook really begun to take shape and the possibilities for future ebooks in the same realm as this new blog came flooding at me.  I was amazed.  At my full-time job, I even brainstormed on my breaks and lunch, finetuning details and expanding the ideas I came up with before.

Please do not forget the power of sitting alone, with a notepad and pen, and just drumming up with ideas.  Were all of my ideas good?  Gosh, no!  But the ones that I did consider good definitely outweighed the ones that didn't.

Try it this week.

Spend 30-60 minutes of uninterrupted time and brainstorm.  You'll be amazed at what you find.

If you have any brainstorming tips, please share and comment below.  I'd love to include them on future blogs.

Monday, January 30, 2012

The days of old are long gone

At last week's writers' group meeting (named Permanent Ink), aside from reading our latest works, we also talked about what the future of publishing has become and will be.

Hence, we talked about blogs.

Obviously, if you're reading this, you know I have a blog.  I've been blogging every weekday since the middle of October 2011.  The other two members attending the meeting do not, but I encouraged them to do so.  One member is a retired school teacher, an accomplished speaker (who's spoken all across the country and has even gone into Canada), and has written a column for the local newspaper for 15 years, so the content that she could share is astounding.  She's even published a few short pieces for Christian publications.  The other member is an aspiring playwright and writer, who actually had a short piece published in Redbook I believe when she was in grade school (holy cow!!!).  She writes fictional life-stories for her nieces and nephews, which have been a real hit with her family.

When their blogs get up and running, I'll make sure to feature them in an upcoming blog.

I recently finished reading Seth Godin's book Meatball Sundae which deals with the way people are successfully marketed to today.  Gone are the days of buying a Super Bowl ad or spending hundreds of thousands of dollars on an ad campaign to blast your message out to as many people as possible, because most will ignore it.  Instead, by starting a platform (i.e. a blog) and having it filled with a lot of content, if you were to advertise a new product on your site, the number of people who will buy will go up exponentially.

My favorite quote from the book is this: "If you want to thrive, you need to do two things: make something worth talking about; and make it easy to talk about."

If your message is worth talking about, and you engage with your followers, you will succeed.

A milestone!

I am posting a quick note of thanks to all who have been reading my blog, as I just hit a milestone.

I surpassed 1,000 total views!

This may not seem like much to those who have been doing this a while, but I've been watching the number creep up and up, edging closer to the 1,000 mark.  I set a goal earlier in the month to hit this number by the end of January . . . and I did it.

Most of these views have been in the last two months, so once again I say, "Thank you!"

Friday, January 27, 2012

The four-letter word NOT to avoid

Nobody, and I mean nobody, is entitled to anything.

To create a successful life, you must put in the work.  Nobody is going to bail you out, not your parents, not your employer, not the government.  Nobody.

Stop waiting for a hand-out and go out into the world.  Go something.  Even if the work you do is temporary, imagine what that better life is for you.  As financial guru Dave Ramsey says, "Leave the cave, go kill something, and drag it back home."  Okay, okay, we're not actually killing anything, but it's a metaphor for putting in the work.

Leave the safety and security of your home.

Go to work.

And do it today.

W.O.R.K. is not an evil four-letter word.

The great inventor Thomas Edison once said: "Opportunity is missed by most people because it is dressed in overalls and looks like work."

Well said.  Now get to it.

Thursday, January 26, 2012

The true tale of our inspiring writer's "day in the life"

Wake up at six to two sets of alarms, torn between another forty-five minutes of sleep and fifteen minutes of writing or a full hour of writing.

I hit the snooze.

At ten after six, the snooze alarm blares.  I shut it off, blurt a few choice swear words, and get up, feeling so tired that I could probably sleep for a week or two.

I drink a cup of lukewarm coffee (made it the night before and forgot to put it in the carafe), go to the bathroom, and then sit down to write by six twenty.

Seven o'clock comes too quickly, for I only wrote two pages.

Now is the time to get the kids up, make their breakfast, tame arguments that seem to crop up for no reason except for one kid looking at another (because what else are they going to look at?).

By seven forty, the kids are out the door and I can finally get back to writing.

But no, the wife is stiring awake and is asking me constant questions, and is pissed when I don't give her the answers she's seeking.

Eight thirty rolls around and I finally say what the hell and start getting ready for work.

Spend both breaks and the half-hour lunch editing the hard copy of my novel or writing a new story long-hand in a tablet.

Back at home for supper finds me putting out the same arguments from the kids as before, except now their mother throws in her two cents and demands that I do something to stop it.

Between nine-thirty and ten, the kids are finally asleep.  I sit down to write--and do it for a half-hour or so and crank out a handful of pages--and then start to fall asleep.

I set the alarm for six and promise myself that tomorrow I'll write more.

A day in the life of an aspiring writer

As dawn breaks, the birds fly onto my windowsill and chirp.  I rise to their sweet sound, fully rested from a fitful sleep.  The night's inspiring dreams sparks the day's creations.

I step into the kitchen, and a pot of herbal tea is already brewed.  It's the perfect temperature, and I sit out on the porch, my feet up, while a small herd of deer wander through the yard.

Once the sun is fully up and I drain my third cup of tea, I take a long soak in the hot tub, letting the bubbles and the intense heat remove any aches from my back.  I grab a hand-rolled Cuban cigar from the humidor, light it up, and breathe in the rich, smooth smoke, blowing smoke rings that float ever-so gently up into the treetops.

Afterwards, I take a long, slow walk along the trails, taking note of the spry wildlife and gorgeous sunny weather.  I find a large stump, cut out into the perfect pattern for a chair, and I sit.  I remove a leather-bound notebook from my pack, uncap my gold Montblanc pen, and write down the perfect prose.

I fill up eight to ten pages without a single scratch-out when I see a small table has been set up, covered by a gleaming white tablecloth.  On the table is a plate of rare China, filled with two slices of white toast, a matching bowl of strawberries, and a creamer filled with rich, cold milk.

"Is the meal to your liking, master?" a tiny elf asks, standing off to the side, dressed in a white and black tuxedo.

"Yes, it is."

"If there is anything else, master, please ring for me."

The elf places a small crystal bell on the corner of the table.

After breakfast, the elf clears the table away in a puff of magic, and I write another eight or ten perfect pages of perfect prose before walking back home.

I enter back at home, only to find that the family of elves that live in the attic have dusted and cleaned every surface, and have even set out a pair of silk pajamas for my late morning nap.

Lunch is followed closely by another soak in the hot tub, another cigar, and another pot of tea.

I ring for the elf.

"Yes, master?" he asks.

"I'm ready for my afternoon drive."

"Which will it be today, master?  The Harley-Davidson, the Porsche, the Lamborghini, or the Corvette?"

"I'm feeling dangerous today.  Let's go with the Lamborghini."

The elf smiles.  "Good choice, master."

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Writing Prompt Wednesday - Episode #7

Take your favorite fairy tale.

Change the protagonist and antagonist around (example: the Three Little Pigs are now the Three Little Wolves and the Big Bad Pig).

Happy writing!

The lost art of learning for yourself - part 3

Welcome to part 3 in exploring the lost art of learning for yourself.

When I first posted this a few weeks ago, I received such an overwhelming response that I decided to delve further into this subject.

Back at college, I started writing my first novel . . . the first one that I finished.  Prior to this, I had started several over the years, but didn't get much more than 20-30 pages done before quitting.  Looking back, I'm not sure why I quit.  Some of the stories are good--they'd need a lot of refining, though, so they'll sit on the back burner for a number of years.

My first novel was a deer hunting horror story--something that was a pure homage to Stephen King, my second favorite author (yours truly is number one).  When I started it, I decided that it would take me five years to write.  Given that I was going to school, I felt this was a decent time frame, but in looking at it now, five years is WAY to long to write the first draft of a novel.

At the same time, I read a number of books about Stephen King and what his life was like, how he wrote, and the story of his success.  This was even before his monumental book On Writing.  So, as you can see, I was already taking the initiative on studying successful people in the field I wanted to be in AND I was setting a goal on how I wanted to get there.

Who, today, has achieved the level of success you've dreamed of in the field of work you wish to participate in?

You can even go beyond this and explore the biographies of any number of famous/successful people.  Their achievements should inspire you.

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Video games are NOT the root of all evil

I never grew up playing hours upon hours of video games, which is probably a good thing because I usually spent much of my time reading or playing with my Star Wars toys.

My parents only had one TV in the house (something almost unheard of nowadays, except when I look around our house right now, we only have one TV hooked up and two others sitting in the basement because we've been doing a little "remodeling").  We did have a Atari game console, with a few dozen games, but my time playing it was very limited.

I will admit that, a few years ago, when I bought our laptop, I bought a few Star Wars computer games to go along with it.  And although I've spent a few hours here and there playing them, I usually use the time as a reward for myself in accomplishing some task (finishing a chapter, etc.).

Video games (and even TV in general) are NOT the root of all evil, like some people will have you believe.  A recent TED Talk by Gabe Zichermann said how games help kids solve problems, and I agree with much of it.  However . . . when kids (and adults) spend hours upon hours playing games and accomplishing nothing, then we have a problem.

One of the results of my meager video game playing has resulted in a book--see, it did do some good--which I have only about 60 pages written right now.  In the next year or so, I'll finish the first draft and start sharing some of it.  But until then, my lips are sealed.

Monday, January 23, 2012

Watch your language

I'd like to write but . . .

I'd like to get out of debt but . . .

I'd like to lose weight but . . .

I'd like to start a business but . . .

I have an idea that'll change the world but . . .

Watch the language you use.  Do not make excuses for not wanting to achieve your goals for the future.  Start them today.

And win.

Because before you know it, you'll be on death's doorstep and you'll reflect on your life . . . and wonder whatever happened to it.

Set a goal for what you want to achieve.  Write it down.  And start . . . NOW!

Friday, January 20, 2012

The lost art of learning for yourself - part 2

Don't feel overwhelmed.

The amount of information out there is mind-boggling.  Who do you listen to?  What books should do you need to read, what blogs to follow, what blogs to comment on, what podcasts to download . . . the list goes on and on.

I feel your pain.

But take a moment and hit the pause button.

Then, once you've taken a breath or two, hit the play button and do one thing.  Just one.  Do it with excellence.

Stephen King started his career writing horror-genre books, excelled at it, and because of it is forever known as the King of Horror.  John Grisham has written most of his career in the legal thriller realm, and has excelled.

Kregg, a friend of mine who lives in the Twin Cities, is a general contractor.  He didn't start out this way.  Years ago, he bought a power washer to clean off his deck.  Afterwards, he thought he could make a business out of it.  He excelled at it, and soon expanded his business into remodeling, general contracting, and even home inspections.  Did he do it by sitting on his butt and whining?  Nope.  He got up and worked.  I'm sure he hit some bumps along the way--what small business owner doesn't?  But he overcame them and became a success, even landing on an episode of HGTV's Curb Appeal--however, I couldn't find a link to it on YouTube.

Don't let the overwhelming tidal wave of information stop you from turning your dream into a reality.  Pick one thing, do it today, and do it with excellence.

Thursday, January 19, 2012

Could you do any better?

For years, my son played hockey for the local team (from the young "mites" team to the PeeWees).  This year we decided not to continue, but during those times when he'd play, observing other parents' behaviors always gave me a moment of pause.  For most of them (present company included), they couldn't skate worth a damn (if at all), yet they ridiculed their sons for not playing their absolute best, even in the face of great odds.

Okay, you always want your children to do their best, but to yell at them when a puck slides on by or when they missed shot, I feel like saying to them: "Why don't you get your ass out there?  Could you do any better?"

The same goes for what are called armchair quarterbacks.  These are people who live and breathe the success or failures of their professional sports teams and ridicule them for not doing their best.  Don't get me wrong, a number of professional atheletes do screw up from time to time (hey, they're human, what do you expect), but when you look at the hours upon hours upon hours (should I go on?) that they spent perfecting their craft, one should admire them for it and apply the same principles of success to your own life.

I grew up in a small Minnesota town who lived and died by its high school hockey team--and still does to this day.  There are a few who have gone on to the NHL.  Very impressive.  One was even on the 1980 U.S. Olympic "Miracle" Hockey Team.  Do you know how he did it?  He woke up very early in the morning, went to the ice rink, and worked on his skills for hours at a time.  He did this practically every day.  The high school team at the time didn't have early morning practices, but that didn't matter to him.  He loved hockey so much and wanted to be the best at it.  Nowadays, many of the teams (from most age groups) in that town have early morning practices because of what this young man did, in the hopes that every single player will be the next Wayne Gretzky.  One of my cousins was on this team, but quit a few years ago.  When I spoke with him, do you know how often they had practices?  Seven days a week.  Let me repeat that: they had practices seven days a week.  Unless there was a game, of course.  Do these kids go to practice for the pure love of hockey?  I'll bet if you sit down and ask them to answer honestly, you'll get very few who will say "yes."

So the next time your favorite sports team misses a catch or a basket or whatever, don't riducule them.  Ask yourself: could you do any better?

As an aside, I am not a sports watcher.  I never grew up watching sports.  I have watched games from time to time, but it's not something I avidly do.  I understand that a good many people do and love watching them.  That's great.  Cheer on your favorite team to your heart's content.  Everyone needs a fan, even the Minnesota Vikings.  But remember: they're only human.  And if you really are a fan, study the lives of the players and the sacrifices they made to get where they are today.  You might be more impressed when you see where they came from.

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Writing Prompt Wednesday - Episode #6

Stretch the imagination a little on this one.  We're going on a journey, time-traveling back to the age of Jack The Ripper at the height of his atrocities.  But we have a companion on this journey.  Pick a serial killer from this age (alive or dead) and have him (or her, because there are a few female serial killers too) ride on a train together with ol' Jack.

What would they talk about?

Happy writing!

Dream Team

In Napoleon Hill's classic book Think And Grow Rich one of his chapters is devoted to what is called the Mastermind Group.

A Mastermind Group is synonymous with a Dream Team.

These are a group of people, that although they may individually exhibit great talent, together they can form an unstoppable force.  Napoleon Hill said to create, in your own mind, a Mastermind Group and use that group when making decisions.  For example, one of his members was Abraham Lincoln.  Pretty hard for him to attend in person, since he's been dead a little while (even in Napoleon Hill's time), but if you've read enough about a person, it's almost like channeling their creativity or talent.

Dan Miller and Dave Ramsey have been part of group of thirteen men they call the Eagles Club, which is the same concept of the Mastermind Group with other members of the business community that they trust and are great friends with.  You can have more than one Mastermind Group--possibly one in person and the other in your mind.  One could be your writers' group and the other be a group of famous authors you wish to "channel."

Who would be on your own dream team?  Mine would possibly be:

Stephen King

George Lucas

Steven Spielberg

J. R. R. Tolkien

J. K. Rowling

John Grisham

Brandon Sanderson

J. D. Salinger

John Gardner

Am I dreaming?  Yeah, I probably am.

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Passion creates energy

A recent local news broadcast caused me to pause for a moment.  In the video it shows supporters of the University of North Dakota (Grand Forks) in the recent battle of the college's nickname, the Fighting Sioux.

Despite whichever side of the argument you support, I noticed supporters to keep the nickname speaking with such passion about what the nickname meant to them, that it got me to ask this question: what if they used that same amount of passion to drive their life, to lead themselves to win, to succeed?

What drives you?

Seven years ago, my grandmother passed away.  She had Alzheimer's disease.  In the small community that she lived in, with three of her five children living relatively close, my mother and aunt found that there were no resources to educate anyone about this dreaded disease.  So, instead of whining and complaining, they took up the mantle and created a movement.  They started a support group that has now spread throughout much of northwestern Minnesota, educating others about Alzheimer's.  What drives them?  Passion.

What are you doing?

What are you passionate about?

What is your why?

Find it?  Good.  Now put that passion into action.  Today.

Monday, January 16, 2012

"I Have A Dream" - have a dream, and live it

I can honestly say that I never really had a decent history teacher--or if I did, I was daydreaming about flying an X-wing fighter alongside Luke Skywalker and Han Solo.  It wasn't until this past summer, while reading Simon Sinek's phenomenal book Start With Why and he mentioned Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.'s "I have a dream" speech, that it dawned on me that I've never seen it.

With today being Martin Luther King Jr. Day I figured I would pay a small tribute to him.  Dr. King's speech is about dreams, obviously.  It is about freedom and the racial injustice of that age.  When I first watched it, I was completely moved.  Why was this speech never taught in school?  The speech deals with racism, which was predominant in the early 1960's, but it also inspires people to dream.  He inspired people to rise to new heights, to be better people, to excel.

I love that.  Yes, I may have done a little too much dreaming when I should've been paying attention in my classes, but for crying out loud I was battling the Empire!

Close your eyes, listen to the 17-minute speech, and be inspired.  Then, be free, let go of your fears, and achieve the success you were meant for.

Friday, January 13, 2012

Microsoft Excel is my friend

If it wasn't for Microsoft Excel . . . well, I'd probably find another spreadsheet program to organize my writing.  Although, now that I think about it, I've worked with other spreadsheet programs and Excel seems to "excel" above the rest.  If you don't believe me, a recent post by marketing guru Seth Godin tells all.

Whatever works for you to organize your writing, use it.

My method of madness are Microsoft Excel spreadsheets.  I have a master spreadsheet, where I have a "worksheet" for each novel, a worksheet for a summary of all of my novels, and even ones for my short stories.

Submitting to agents or publications?  Keep track of who you send your queries to, because if you don't, you're bound to send it to the same one twice--been there, done that, got the T-shirt.

If you're going to be a successful writer, you need to be organized enough to know what stage your projects are and where you're at.  Even for editing novels and new novels, I have a separate spreadsheet showing the current chapter I'm working on, the number of pages, and the number of words--because, somehow, agents and editors want to know how many pages you're book is, and if you're keeping track of it, you can have that number right at your fingertips (pun intended).

I can't stress enough the need to be organized.  Act like a professional, and others will take you seriously.

Thursday, January 12, 2012

You're never too old to pursue your dreams

I'm not really sure why, but I've always loved the movie The Paper Chase.

In a way, it's a David vs. Goliath type story, where the young first year Harvard law student is up against a hard-nosed contracts professor played by the brilliant John Houseman.  I think this is what fascinates me about it (and for a brief time, as a kid, I thought about going to law school but then went back to playing with my Star Wars toys).  Sports movies are loaded with this same type of David/Goliath story.

Back to The Paper Chase, John Houseman was 71 years old when he stars in it.  Let me repeat that: he was 71!

Holy crap!  That's past retirement age, is it?

Not so fast, you whipper-snapper.  You're never too old to pursue your dreams.  Mr. Houseman had some sparse acting gigs prior to The Paper Chase, but afterwards he acted almost nonstop.  Very impressive.

C. S. Lewis has a great quote: "You are never too old to get another goal or to dream another dream."

Please do not think you're too old to pursue something you feel is reserved only for the younger, hipper generation.  Pursue your passion with excellence, and you're bound to win.

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Writing Prompt Wednesday - Episode #5

Look around your house (or apartment or wherever you call home) and pick five random objects.

Now, take a character and stick them in a locked room, with only those five objects.

Write a story on how he/she will escape.

Happy writing!

Stirring up a bit of brew, my pretty

If you're going to be a writer, the first you need to be is creative.


And being creative means you need to be receptive to channeling new ideas.  Your mind is like a cauldron, where you stir in a bit of this and a dash of that (eye of newt, perhaps) and they spark together to form something worth pursuing.

Ideas (even great ones) fall on everyone.  But if that's the case, why aren't more people richer and more successful?  Because most find themselves tossing the ideas away as silly and risky for their way of life.  It's safer just to go through life, not rocking the boat, and drifting through an existence.  Pursuing a fresh idea would be challenging, and could be dangerous to those around you who just want you to "get a job and be like everyone else."

It's risky to pursue your dreams, and boldly put yourself out there, working hard to make a difference.  Is it easy?  No way.  Is it worth it?  Yes!

I carry a notebok around with me most places, and for times when I don't I use the "note" feature on my cell phone.  Ideas can come to you at any time.

Ideas are like rain.  Rain falls on everyone.  Most people, however, just put their umbrella up and let the ideas bounce off and fall into the gutter.  I'll bet that the idea for Microsoft and Apple hit dozens upon dozens of others before Bill Gates and Steve Jobs (and Woz, can't forget him) took up the mantle and risked their ideas on humankind.

I challenge you to walk through life with an upside-down umbrella, capturing as many ideas as possible.  You may use only a small percentage of them, and that's okay.  After a while, you'll start to recognize the good ideas from the bad, and even a few of your good ideas will become great.  Because even Harry Potter and Star Wars started out as an idea.

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

"But I can't think of anything"

"But I can't think of anything to write!"

Sound familiar?

Famed motivational speaker Earl Nightingale, in his classical audio program Lead The Field, said that he gets up 30 minutes every morning before anyone else and brainstorms ideas.  In that 30 minutes of peace and quiet, how many ideas could you think of?

Will all of your ideas be worth the next mega-bestseller?  Probably not.  And not all of your ideas will even be considered good.  But if out of ten or twenty bad ideas comes one spectacular one, then it's all worth it.

Try it tomorrow morning (or evening, if you're more of an evening person).  Grab a cup of coffee (or tea or a glass of orange juice).  Find a quiet place.  Sit.  And think.  Have a notebook open to a fresh page, and write down every thought that comes to mind.  Shoot for twenty ideas.  At the end of the week, you'll have one hundred ideas!  And, like I said, not all will be worth pursuing.  However, if you keep it up, you'll have hundreds of ideas to draw inspiration from and pursue your next project.

Then try it again next week.

Keep it up for the entire month, and you'll have roughly 400 ideas!

Monday, January 9, 2012

The lost art of learning for yourself

First, I don't believe anyone learns in a vacuum--no, I don't mean inside a Hoover or a Dyson, I mean something devoid of outside influences.

These days, especially from my thirteen-year-old, I hear a barrage of "Dad, what does _________ mean?"

Fill in the blank with whatever you wish.  Now, don't get me wrong, I don't mind answering questions for my children.  But I'm finding more and more often they already know the answer.  When I was young I wasn't much of a question-asker.  I sought out the answers to whatever questions tickled my fancy.

While growing up, my parents had a large set of encyclopedias.  They took up one whole shelf, with a volume for each letter--what, you don't know what an encyclopedia is?  Imagine Wikipedia in physical book form.  I was constantly looking something up in either the encyclopedia or the dictionary.  You do know what a dictionary is, right?

At our town's little library, over the past few years, we've had a few writers grace our presence and give enlightening talks--two of which were award-winning Minnesota author Will Weaver and literary coach and publisher Ian Graham Leask.  During both of their talks, someone undoubtedly asked the old standby question: how do you get an agent?  This question did not come from me, for I've been researching how to contact literary agents for years.  How did I do it?  I sought out the answers.

I don't mean to sound like I am completely against asking questions, and I get a lot of questions asked of me on a daily basis, but I just feel that sometimes one should be accountable for themselves and try find the answer.  Especially in today's Information Age, where the answers to your wildest questions (for the most part) are at your fingertips.

Friday, January 6, 2012

The evils of adverbs

I've had a pet peeve for years and didn't know it.


A very well-known fantasy author--whom I will forgo speaking the name, as he's been an inspiration into the fantasy world, second only to Stephen King--wrote a highly successful novel a few decades ago now, and even to this day something irks me about it: his liberal use of adverbs.  If he got paid a dollar for each adverb, he could probably afford a decent-sized home.  I'm not kidding.

Here's the weird part.  The second book of the series had much fewer adverbs, with one exception: he used the word "wordlessly" in so many places that I almost wanted to throw up--I didn't, simply because it was a decent story.

If I ever get a chance to meet him--Mr. Famous Fantasy Author Who Will Remain Nameless--I'd like to ask him if the use of adverbs was ever pointed out to him.  The reason I say this is because the third book in the series had very few adverbs.

Okay, elementary students, what's an adverb?

Wordlessly . . . silently . . .. awkwardly . . . most anything with an "ly" at the end of it.

Strunk and White, in their classic book The Elements of Style said to eliminate all adverbs completely, and even called the use of adverbs lazy.  In a way, it's a way of "telling" the reader, instead of "showing" them.

If you find yourself loaded down with adverbs, try take as many of them away as you can.  Strike them all, if you have to.  Then, stretch your imagination and find ways of replacing them, if you feel the need.

Thursday, January 5, 2012

What If

What if a young lawyer found out the firm he worked for turned out to be run by the mob?

What if a young orphan boy found out he was a wizard?

What if someone heard a knock at their door, and their ordinary simple life was going to be turned upside-down by a great adventure?

What if a school teacher found a portal to the year 1958, and set out to stop the assassination of JFK?

What if a teenage girl fell in love with a guy who turned out to be a vampire?

What if a farmboy found himself thrust into an epic battle of good vs. evil?

I don't think I have to tell you what novels/movies these ideas point to, but you get the idea.  What if questions are a great way of generating ideas for stories.

Here's my favorite: ever heard of the phrase from a movie trailer that starts with "in a world" - that's the creation of the late Don LaFontaine.  I use his voice to work through many of my what if's.

Try it.  See if it works for you.

Wednesday, January 4, 2012

Writing Prompt Wednesday - Episode #4

In a previous blog, I pointed out techniques in writing good descriptions.  Here, let's try our hand at it.

Pick five different places to sit for fifteen minutes, and write everything you can from your surroundings.  Use all five senses.

Then, once you're done, pick three to five descriptions and write a short scene using them.

Happy writing!


Aside from publication, getting an idea for a story is one of most favorite parts of the writing process.

Okay, I love all parts of it, but there is a special chamber in my heart reserved just for ideas.

There is a great feeling when you come up with an idea for a story.  Where this comes from, I don't know.  It feels like, to me, as if a Higher Power--once again, I call this God--has tapped me for a special project.  I know how absurd that may sound, especially if the idea is filled with blood and gore, but the feeling is unmatched by most other feelings.

When I came up with the idea for Beholder's Eye I got a chill down my spine and spent the next five minutes throwing ideas down on a page.  This was odd for others to watch, because it was minutes before a class was starting and the fellow students around me were wondering what in the hell I was writing, for the instructor wasn't even lecturing yet.

Some ideas unfold and blossom right before my eyes while others take a lot of work to uncover.

My suggestion is to keep a notebook handy at all times and write down every single idea you come up with.  Who knows, you could come up with one idea, not have anywhere to go with it, and come up with another idea a month or so later that fits with the first one . . . and pow!

Tuesday, January 3, 2012

The stages of writing

I always say there are essentially four stages to successful writing.  Not all writers will go through all four stages, hence I used the adjective successful.  In a nutshell, here they are:

1) Getting an idea

2) First draft

3) Editing

4) Publication

When I mean that not all writers go through all four stages, it's fairly self-explanatory.  All writers have an idea for a story.  And that's where they stop.  They never get to stage two.

And if they start writing it, do they ever finish?

Once again, most don't.

If you can make it through all four stages, you are the elite of the elite.

Okay, Mark, what about self-published authors?  In today's ebook market, anyone can publish a book.  That's true.  But then we have to delve into the quality of the work.

And that's what will set you apart from the other hacks out there.

Write.  Every single day.  Work at improving your craft.  Excel.

Be great.

Monday, January 2, 2012

"Where do you get your ideas?"

This would be a fun experiment.  Take a simple concept for a book, and ask a handful of bestselling authors to write a story based on it.  I'll bet each author will come up with something different, even though the basic premise is the same.

I've read numerous interviews by Stephen King when he tackles the question of where an author comes up with their ideas.  He usually comes up with a humorous response to this, but in truth no one really knows where ideas are generated.  They just happen.  It's something that gets created when an idea starts to grow, almost like a crop.

Don't believe me?

Start with the basic premise of good versus evil.  Countless stories are these types of stories, from mythological epics to the fantasy wonders of today.

Then, let's say this is a good versus evil . . . in space.

Mix in a little swashbuckling pirate and western themes, and you get George Lucas's greatest creation: Star Wars.

Break down your favorite stories into pieces.  This may give you some insight into the creative process.  But I also believe that the key to this is . . . creativity.

Sunday, January 1, 2012

New Year's Resolutions - why I don't believe in them

"I'm going to eat right."

"I'm going to write that book."

"I'm going to start that business."

"I'm going to take some college classes."

"I'm going to get out of debt."

"I'm going to lose ten pounds." (or twenty or thirty or fifty or . . .)

"For my New Year's Resolution, I'm going to ________________ "

Do any of these sound familiar?

If you answered yes to any of these or were able to fill in the blank, then you're like most people.  But, also, most people don't fullfill their resolutions.  Why?  Because they have a habit of not keeping with their resolutions and procrastinating.

That's why I say when I came to something I want to do--write in a blog, Monday through Friday, as a way to both promote my writing and give back the lessons I've learned to help other people achieve their dreams--I didn't start on January first.  I started in the middle of October, the moment I thought of it.

I listen to a lot of podcasts, as I've said before, and one that I had been listening to at the time was by career coach Dan Miller.  In the particular podcast, he said that he's been blogging for the past few years, Monday through Friday, and hasn't missed a day yet.  When I heard that, I said to myself, "That's what I'll do.  And I'll do it right now."

And I've committed myself to doing it every weekday.  I've even committed myself to posting a special blog on certain major holidays (New Year's, Valentine's Day, Fourth of July, Thanksgiving, and Christmas, at least, with some of the others thrown in the mix at times)

I have also committed myself to simply writing everyday--not just on weekdays but every single day.  This would be for my novels and short stories.  That resolution I've had for the past several years--with the exception of a few days here and there, I've pretty much kept to that resolution.

What's your resolution?

Better yet, what is it that you want to do?  Know what that is.  Start it.  Today.  Any day.  You don't need a holiday to give yourself permission to start (even though I'm posting this on a holiday).  I'm giving you permission.