Stepping into the forest of my mind

Stepping into the forest of my mind
Just as every journey begins with a first step, every story begins with the first word.

Tuesday, January 15, 2019

Let 2019 Be the Year You Believe in Yourself #AuthorToolboxBlogHop

            Happy New Year, fellow writers and bloggers! Believing in yourself is what life’s all about, isn’t it? Whether you are a college student struggling with classes or a writer struggling with a manuscript, you need to believe you can do it. You need to take the chance and at least try.  Otherwise, you’ve already failed.

            Is it easy to truly believe in yourself? No. At least it’s not for me. I can’t seem to get out of my own head. Insidious thoughts keep voicing their ugly opinions. In other words, it’s easier for me to help my children think positively and help fellow writers find the point of their manuscripts than it is for me to commit to a point for my college memoir and move forward with the manuscript. You see, I’m not trapped inside other people’s heads, only my own. I can hammer away at their negative thoughts from the outside, offering positivity, focusing on the good rather than the bad. I don’t have to live in their thoughts.

            This college memoir is my first attempt at a book-length manuscript. I have a first draft that is more a summary of what happened during my college experience rather than a memoir story with a “because of this, the next thing happens” trajectory.

Even though this is a book-length manuscript, I’m trying to break down the writing process as I do in my short story writing. Do you break down a difficult project into smaller pieces to be able to move forward?

Let me answer a few questions for the memoir project. Please offer any insight you may have as this truly helps me to move forward.

The main goal of the protagonist in the college memoir story is to help her special needs daughter, her oldest. Victoria needs to find the courage to believe in herself and her abilities enough to complete a college degree as a nontraditional student, a mother of 5, because this is the only way she thinks she can truly assist her daughter, and by extension her other children.

The main conflict: Abandoning her own derogatory thoughts about her abilities, built through her backstory, and finding the foundation and time needed to be able to reach her goal of an undergrad degree, thereby demonstrating to her children how to succeed.

The premise of the story [I hope] is that determination will overcome all obstacles.
Why does it matter that this story is told?
People need to see that it’s never too late to embark on a dream, to commit to attempting something that scares you to death, to finally learn to believe in yourself. I hope to inspire others.

I need to take baby steps and begin telling the journey again. I wish you all a healthy and successful 2019. Thanks for reading!

And thank you for visiting Adventures in Writing. Please follow my blog if you haven’t already and connect with me online. Leave your blog link in the comment so I can be sure to do the same for you. To continue hopping through more amazing blogs or to join our Author Toolbox blog hop, click here

Wednesday, January 2, 2019

Insecure Writers Want to Know: What are your favorite and least favorite questions people ask about your writing?

I like how IWSG phrased the question with “favorite” coming first. I think everyone wants others to be interested in their work—especially writers. To show true interest in what someone else is doing, though, a person needs to ask specific questions about the project. Sometimes I think this can help a writer move forward in her story when she’s stuck because a specific question may trigger a path the writer hadn’t thought of before.

As for a favorite question to ask me generally, it’s all in the word choice. My children always ask me what fine adventure I was on today. So did my mother. I think it’s the best way to approach my story writing. As any writer knows, word choice is important, especially when handling a neurotic story teller. Unfortunately, my name’s at the top of the neurotic list!

But about those specific questions I like to be asked about my YA adventure stories, I need people to ask: what are the internal and external problems in this story? Where is it taking place? What are the family dynamics? I need to be able to answer these questions in order to move forward with the story. Of course the person needs to know me and how I write to be able to ask these specifics.

My least favorite question of all time that people ask about my writing is: “Did you ever finish your memoir?”
Instead of actually saying: Yes. Two different versions. I just answer: Nope!

It’s not that easy. I’m not just recounting what happened to me. That’s not memoir. Memoir is a story about a certain time in someone’s life and the life lessons that person learned from the experience. And—man! Is it difficult to do well.

            Asking a writer if they’ve finished a book they’ve been working on is like asking “So what did you publish today?”

            Writing book-length manuscripts take time—lots of time. This is why it’s a celebration when the story is complete even though there is much more work to accomplish in revision before sending it out for representation or self-publishing it. Then there’s marketing the work. I think when people ask a writer about their writing life, they’re only thinking of the story, and many times they’re only asking generally. Non writers might not understand there is much more to the writing life than just creating stories.
So how do you handle when other people—especially non-writers—ask about your writing endeavors? Please share any thoughts or tips here at Adventures in Writing.

Thanks for visiting! Please follow Adventures in Writing if you haven’t already and connect with me online. Leave your blog link in your comment so I can be sure to do the same for you.

This post was written for the Insecure Writer’s SupportGroup. We post on the first Wednesday of every month.  To join us, or learn more about the group, click HERE.  

Tuesday, December 4, 2018

Insecure Writers Want to Know: What Are Five Objects You'd Find in My Writing Space?

            So let’s see…five objects in my writing space. I guess the five children don’t count. Unfortunately, they’re always in my space. But that’s a different story. What would be considered useful in my writing space that could help you in yours? I like my posts to be helpful to my fellow writers.

            I like quiet when I write. I know! That’s funny coming from a mother of five. Maybe that’s why I like the quiet. I don’t get enough of it in my house. But the only one I want talking in my writing space is me. And yes! I do talk to myself. Or maybe I’m really talking to my characters. Many times, I’m looking for the sense of the plot, the why of an action or decision for my characters. I’m a concrete and logical person. I need real reasons for things to happen in story. I think many readers come to story to find a logical world. Because of this, the next thing happens. Many times in real life, we can’t find—or understand—the reasons for actions and decisions. This doesn’t mean that your story logic should be simplistic. On the contrary, the deeper the story, the more likely the reader will stay with the character to the very end, hoping for a happy [or logical] ending. Do you talk to your characters?

            Another thing I like in my writing space is a fresh, hot pot of tea. I must have been English in my last life. Brewing a fresh pot of tea relaxes me. It helps me think. Taking the time to step away from the computer to pour another cup of hot tea allows me to consider my story as a whole and decide what should happen next. I don’t drink coffee. I don’t drink wine. What’s your mental go-to drink when writing?

            A pad of paper and pen are essential to my writing space. Most of my YA adventures deal with journeys through forests or caves, down rivers or across mountains. I like to draw crude maps to keep me focused on the literal journey while my characters are struggling on the inside with personal problems. I also write key words or notes on the pad of paper. How about you, do you draw maps for your story or plot lines?

            I also keep my family camping journals handy because they’re crammed with details of the national parks we’ve visited with the five kids. Many times, one of my YA adventures begins at a park we’ve visited. I peek inside my journals to find our family’s real life adventures, looking for ideas to fictionalize for my characters.  Do you keep journals of real life events to fictionalize in story?

            How about photographs of places and people? They help me visualize a scene or a character in my stories. Then I begin to ask questions: if a storm comes up in the mountains here at Rocky Mountain National Park, where could I hide until it pasts? What about a fire in the desert? Who could be living in that cave or who could I meet on the trail that would add more tension to the story or assist my protagonist to finish the journey? Stories have both internal and external problems, remember. How about you, do you use real photos of places you’ve been to or do you search online to find locations to set your scenes in?

So how do you find creativity in your writing space? Please share any information here at Adventures in Writing.

Thanks for visiting. Please follow Adventures in Writing if you haven’t already and connect with me online. Leave your blog link in your comment so I can be sure to do the same for you.

This post was written for the Insecure Writer’s SupportGroup. We post on the first Wednesday of every month.  To join us, or learn more about the group, click HERE.  

Tuesday, November 6, 2018

Insecure Writers Want to Know: How has your creativity in life evolved since you began writing?

            How has creativity in my life evolved since I began writing? I expect more from myself with anything I write. And I feel others expect more creativity from me once they learn I’m a writer. Whether it’s a letter [remember those?] or a response to an e-mail, a blog post or even an answer to an essay question, I feel pressure to create something pithy, something memorable, something witty.

Creativity to me is like leaves in autumn. Some seasons are better than others. Whereas trees need successive days of sunshine and warm weather during their growing season for colors to be their most radiant in autumn, so too does my creativity require days of sunshine—or at least  calm—and the warmth of positive thoughts for my stories to become the best I can make them.

            Positive thoughts. Calm. It’s what every person needs—especially writers.  How can we become creative if we don’t believe in ourselves? How can we remain calm?

            Don’t get me wrong. Life’s not meant to be easy; at least mine isn’t. But neither should our characters’ lives be easy. Our own struggles help us to create stories with meaning.

            I remember learning in my Story Genius course that writers need to make things as bad as they can for their protagonists. Thanks, Lisa Cron. And then, she adds, make things even worse.

I have this problem about being mean to people. And our characters are people. At least they are to me. I feel sorry for anyone who’s having a bad time in life.

I know. Why am I a writer, then? It’s a good question. The answer is: I feel compelled to write. I can’t just not write. This makes life a bit more difficult for me. When my life is exploding all around me, I fight with myself that I must write. I need to accomplish something worthwhile in the writing realm; whether it’s a blog post, a eulogy, or a short story.

My battle lies clearly defined between trying to find time to write and trying to find time to maintain [or is it create?] a social media presence so that when I ever finally finish the next [hopefully better] draft of my memoir story about attending college as a mother of five children, I have the necessary connections and presence to submit it, either for critique or to publishers.

            But I need this time, in my writing life, to concentrate solely on my memoir. And I need to truly recall the events during those frustrating college years when things got harder and harder for me [the protagonist in the memoir] at college or where family life—or the guilt of not finding any “down time” to spend with the family—lodged deeply in my psyche, almost paralyzing me from moving forward with my college career.

            The best thing for authors to realize, when creating story or memoir, is when they need professional help for the book to come to fruition. I feel I’m at that stage. I’m seriously considering becoming a part of Author Accelerator where each writer has his or her own professionally trained editor offering concrete feedback to the manuscript. I need someone to help me find the “because of this, the next event happens” structure to the college memoir.

            Where or who do you look to for professional guidance in preparing your story? Please share any information here at Adventures in Writing.

Thanks for visiting. Please follow my blog if you haven’t already and connect with me online. Leave your blog link in your comment so I can be sure to do the same for you.

This post was written for the Insecure Writer’s SupportGroup. We post on the first Wednesday of every month.  To join us, or learn more about the group, click HERE.  

Tuesday, October 16, 2018

Types of Secondary Characters in Fiction or Memoir Part 2 #AuthorToolboxBlogHop

To pick up where we left off in June about secondary characters in story or memoir, there are many types of secondary characters in writing. Some secondary characters come to the writer at the time she begins creating the story. I think of these characters as the primary secondary characters, the ones who are most involved with the protagonist and appear the most in her story.

While I knew my family would be in my memoir journey attending college, I never thought about including some friends and professors. But they are secondary characters, nonetheless.

Secondary characters can be thought about like this:

Primary secondary characters are the ones involved closely with your protagonist; i.e. family members, close friends.

Initial secondary characters are the ones that come to the writer at the beginning of the story writing. Let’s say you need a pivotal character to help move the plot along; i.e. a police officer or doctor, a co-worker, or murderer.

But there is a third kind of secondary character. They are the ones who come to you as you create the story. The unexpected acquaintance at a bar or café or the cab driver or stranger you meet at the airport. Someone who offers key information to help move the plot forward or to a satisfying conclusion.

Secondary characters can help establish what’s considered normal in your story world. In my case, my family establishes what life is like for Victoria prior to starting college.

But the family also becomes not so much enemies for the protagonist like in fiction, but rather obstacles at times during Victoria’s college journey.

My family’s role in the memoir is threefold. They set up the memoir story world before Victoria begins her college journey, they become the impetus for her to actually begin college, and they become both sounding board and obstacles along her journey.

The third kind of secondary characters holds important information for the protagonist. In my college memoir, this kind of secondary character is a friend who informs Victoria that she can attend a community college part time. A professor encourages Victoria to slow down and listen to the students around her. The Phi Theta Kappa Advisor informs her that the Ivy League is a possibility. These are the characters who push Victoria beyond—she believes—her capability. They force her to see and then seek the possibilities in her college journey. A scary endeavor to be sure. They move the memoir story forward.

*Please feel free to offer comments or ask questions on any secondary characters in my memoir. This helps me to move forward in my writing.*

An example of a secondary character who holds a key piece of information is like Moaning Myrtle in Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets when she informs Harry where she heard a male voice and saw the yellow eyes coming from the circle of sinks in the third floor girls lavatory.

All characters require a backstory to help them feel real to the readers. The backstory doesn’t need to be as involved as it is for the protagonist. Remember, backstory is what happened to the character BEFORE the story present. In Myrtle’s case, she was a student at Hogwarts who was killed in the girls’ lavatory because she wasn’t a pure-blood witch.

Secondary characters should continue through the story so the reader isn’t wondering, “Hey, whatever happened to Moaning Myrtle?” In J.K. Rowling’s Potter series, Myrtle pops up whenever she has information to share with Harry and the reader. In other words, whenever she can move the story forward. And that’s the key.    

            Why exactly do you need secondary characters?

            In reality, we don’t go through life alone. Neither should our protagonists. We have [and need] family and friends, work associates and strangers who help us with life issues or events. Don’t cheat your protagonist out of needed connections throughout your story. No one really lives in that deep, dark cave, seeing to their own personal needs. Never having troubles. Content. Happy.

[Although sometimes, I’d like to hide in a cave to be able to finish this memoir, one with electricity and internet hook-up of course.]

The protagonist is not the only character who affects the story world. Secondary characters impact your protagonist’s journey. Remember, your protagonist is still driving the story, but the secondary characters can support or impede the main character’s journey. But all the characters need to move your story forward. And each character needs to be different and have an important part in the main thrust of the story.

This is particularly difficult in memoir.
Story is not only about the external plot details and obstacles. Remember that story is the internal struggle of the protagonist. Secondary characters add tension to the internal problems of the protagonist.

In every story, the tension and problems are shown through scenes, the lifeblood of story. These are the interactions between characters, not just narration.

            Like I said before, in memoir or fiction, each secondary character needs to have a specific personality, a reason to be, that benefits the main storyline. As the writer, you include only the facets of secondary characters’ lives that pertain to the story you are telling.

Thank you for visiting Adventures in Writing. Please follow my blog if you haven’t already and connect with me online. Leave your blog link in the comment so I can be sure to do the same for you. To continue hopping through more amazing blogs or to join our Author Toolbox blog hop, click here

Tuesday, October 2, 2018

Insecure Writers Want to Know: How do major life events affect your writing? Has writing ever helped you through something?

            Yes. And yes. Frankly, I don’t see how major life events can not affect someone—especially writers. As many of you know from last month, my mother passed away in late August. And I was part of the hospice team caring for her. Mom came to my home to live out her life. But before that, she was sick for a long time. All this has affected my writing greatly.

            Have you ever tried to concentrate and write when you’re preoccupied with something else? For me, it’s next to impossible. My brain keeps circling back to my primary concern. In this case, my mother. I felt I would be lost without her. [And I am!]

            However, my writing has helped me through this dark period in my life. When my mother was living with me, to keep myself sane—in between caring for her, a 24 hour a day job—I tried to remember the gift of her life in my family and my extended family. Photos from her life journey, when she was well, helped prompt me to write a moving eulogy. [At least the people who attended the funeral told me it was moving.]

I crafted Chicken Soup essays about the advice Mom passed down to her children, to me. I made a memory book of her life for my siblings and the great grandchildren who won’t know her. Mom was the first reader of my short stories. Now I bother my busy husband and children to be first readers. Don’t tell anyone, but they’re not as pleasant about reading my work as my mother was.

You see, my mother was more than a first reader. She was my sounding board, my mentor. She’d sit there quietly for hours as I brainstormed nonsense and stared into my computer. I always knew what I needed for story, but I couldn’t figure out how to make this particular story work—at least in the beginning. And that’s where Mom came in. She’d offer her good judgment, the concrete, typical situations and events that would normally happen in any situation. This would shake my brain loose from the common truth to dive into the realm of exciting adventure or tense danger that lives in my stories.

            Mom’s gone now, although I still seek her advice in my writing. She lives on in my heart and mind. Occasionally, I hear her words spill out of my children’s mouths. I smile. If only Mom would channel some of her wisdom about my memoir to either my children or me. Here’s hoping!

Thanks for visiting Adventures in Writing. Please follow my blog if you haven’t already and connect with me online. Leave your blog link in the comment so I can be sure to do the same for you.

This post was written for the Insecure Writer’s SupportGroup. We post on the first Wednesday of every month.  To join us, or learn more about the group, click HERE.  

Tuesday, September 18, 2018

What Are You Trying to Prove Through Your Writing Part 2 #AuthorToolboxBlogHop

Elle, in a comment to my July Author Toolbox post about intention in writing, had it right. She said, “purpose must infuse each scene, each chapter of our stories.”  This is true. Each character needs to be necessary for the story you are telling--complete with its themes. And each scene needs to not only fit into the purpose of the story, but also build the story logic.

            I’d like to add that story needs to say something about life, and it does so by character growth. I think writing with purpose infuses our scenes and therefore our stories.

What are you trying to prove to the reader?
In my present college memoir, I feel I’m demonstrating that naiveté comes in all forms, even a mother trying to go to college and thinking she knows how the classroom works.

Before Victoria begins her college journey, she thinks all she needs to do is pay attention in class and learn what the professor teaches.
Not quite!

It started with the Math I review course. Supposedly, Victoria scored high enough on the math entrance exam to take a week-long crash course in math. She was excited. She thought if she purchased the math book and studied, she’d be fine.

A few intense days of the children making her peanut butter and jelly sandwiches because she was incapable of creating anything edible once she returned home from class, woke her up. The professor had been handing out worksheets without explanation, stating that she wasn’t going to insult their intelligence by re-teaching these math procedures.
Victoria finally looked around the classroom. She was the only non-traditional student in the bunch. Her own children were the ones who told her to ask the teacher for help. Once the prof showed her how to do the first problem, she had no difficulty completing the worksheet. But the prof needed to show her a problem for each math topic.

When she took full-length semester courses, for many of the subjects, there was more teaching in class.
            However, Victoria’s naiveté didn’t stop there. Continuing with the assumption that a student just needs to listen to learn, Victoria discovers in the higher levels of education at university, the professors offer insight and maybe guidance, but then allow the college student to come to her own conclusions. Or be lost in the swirling details—like Victoria! 

*Please feel free to offer your thoughts or comments regarding Victoria’s naiveté or ask questions about how a non-traditional student may feel lost when attending college with students young enough to be her children. This helps me to move forward on my memoir. Thank you!*

Let’s look at a few books and see if what I think the point of the story is matches your own. I’m hoping you might have read one of these titles.

Consider E. L. Konigsburg’s middle-grade novel From the Mixed-up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler first because it’s short and a classic. 

In this middle-grade book, Claudia Kincaid is like many children. She wants to be recognized for who she is; a smart 12 year old who plans things meticulously and always seems to know where she’s going and what she’s doing—until now. I don’t wish to rehash the plot, but I feel the point of the story is finding something to help you feel important.

Or how about this adult novel?

Celeste Ng’s Everything I Never Told You is about mixed families [Asian and white] and mixed feelings, racism, and fitting in. But it is also about understanding each other and understanding happiness and how to find personal happiness—not someone else’s. I feel the point of this story is how miscommunication can ruin families or relationships.

            And because I write memoir, I wanted to include a non-fiction example.
Pulitzer Prize-winning author A. Scott Berg wrote Kate Remembered and showed the interconnectedness of Hollywood and Broadway during Hepburn’s life time. He also demonstrated how Hepburn was always in charge of her own life. And that’s the way it should be, right?

To move forward in any project or plot, both writers and characters need to come to terms with whatever is keeping them from achieving their goals. For me, it is my fear of uncertainty. Would I be able to complete this new task of obtaining a bachelor’s degree from college? I need to consider that many people struggle with fear and doubt before starting something new, something that might take years to accomplish.

Thank you for visiting Adventures in Writing. Please follow my blog if you haven’t already and connect with me online. Leave your blog link in the comment so I can be sure to do the same for you. To continue hopping through more amazing blogs or to join our Author Toolbox blog hop, click here